Spring Comes Home to Roost

northern_cardinal_1The winter red cardinal and I regarded each other in silence. Only on my departure did he resume his song from the high, bare branch serving as his doorstep. I picked up my walk, too, and couldn’t help feeling that in spite of ice and cold there was something of spring in the air thanks to his voice. The cardinal’s doorstep will soon be leafed out in a sharp fresh green. His doorstep is totally self-renewing. My doorstep, however, could use some work.

In my city, the front doors of houses are often sheltered by broad and welcoming porches.  We have a comfortable and lively porch society in my neighborhood where the entry becomes part of our outdoor living space. If you are on your front porch you are extending your welcome to neighbors and conversation! No matter where we live our front door and its surroundings send a message about who we are and what we care about. That message gets amplified when the entry also serves as a living space.394760_564205200266219_1782298459_n

There is the clutter of kids shoes and skates, gardening tools and brooms in summer. Salt buckets and snow shovels in winter. It’s easy to let familiarity blind us to the messages that we send at our doorstep. This was brought vividly home to me when we were scheduled to have our house re-assessed. Part of this process requires that every room inside, and every aspect of the house outside, be photographed for the appraisal. Since we all want to put our best foot forward, especially when financial concerns are involved, the assessment process was highly motivational!

Knowing photographs would be taken of everything, I decided to make use of the same tool myself. By taking snapshots I could really see what had become too familiar to notice day to day. As a decorator, I witness daily what a powerful tool a snapshot can be. A photo puts everything in a different context. It creates distance between what it represents and the viewer, which makes it an excellent tool for critical review. Try it. There’s nothing like a photo to help you see the ratty doormat, the rusty mailbox or the dirty light fixture.

I was not surprised to see that after the long winter my doorstep photo revealed the need for a good cleaning: the porch floor, the ceiling fan and the crown molding where cobwebs gather. I cleaned out the covered basket that provides handy (and hidden) storage for gardening tools, gloves, citronella candles and cat brushes. I washed down the wicker chairs that offer summer hospitality, and gave them new cushions with classic stripes in my favorite colors. I continued the transformation with a new doormat in place of the ratty one.

My 1926 original-to-the-house mailbox was showing a bit of rust and paint wear. I removed it, gave it a sanding and a coat of fresh black paint. I used the same paint on the weathered wicker bicycle basket wired below the too-small mailbox years ago. It catches all the magazines and small packages. Now, painted the same black color, the basket no longer looks like an afterthought. The old glider was painted a few years ago. I dusted it down, and used an inexpensive patchwork quilt to drape the cushions with an invitation to comfort and conversation.

One of the most important issues to address when thinking about sprucing up your entry is the door itself. It should stand out and announce itself. Often the best way to accomplish this is with a distinctive color that harmonizes with, but is different from every other paint color on your home exterior. I never fail to notice the slender Victorian door painted a dusty purple or my neighbor’s sunny yellow cottage door.  These colors say “this way in” in no uncertain terms.Yellow Door

My door is painted a shiny, shiny black complimenting the old leaded glass in it’s upper half.  All the other trim on my sturdy brick house is white with plumy purple shutters and accents.   Happily the paint is in good condition and the door just needed to have the dust of fall and winter wiped away along with a bit of polish for the old brass hardware.

The last thing was also the best thing.  I filled the large planters on either side of the porch stairs with bright-faced pansies that virtually shout a welcome to spring yet are tough enough to flourish in the fickle weather of late March and April.  After a long, cold winter, the cardinal and I are ready for spring on our doorstep.

Spring is here!

Spring is here!


Are You a Collector? I am!

I turned out to be a collector. I didn’t plan on it, but the proof is everywhere. Candlesticks, books, painted plates, glass plates, mirrors, silver butter dishes, fanciful pickle forks and an oddity resembling a long handled fork crossed with a spoon with a hole where the bowl should be, surround me. Glass paperweights mingle with candlesticks, and dangly crystal bits hang in the windows turning shards of light into dancing rainbows. Like magpies and courting crows, I am delighted by bright shiny objects. Some were intentional, like the many books I have read and loved. Many were accidents. I am a victim of beauty that followed me home.

Garage sales have always been a source of exciting finds. My first candlesticks appeared at one. They are an elegant, art deco design in fine, clear glass, and remain a favorite to this day. I now have mercury glass candlesticks, tall iron candelabras, slender silver candlesticks and small sparkly tea light holders. There are rusty, mixed metal and glass mash-ups, and dozens of beautiful glass candleholders in many colors. I love them all.

I also seem to have a certain passion for urns. Looking at my accumulated treasure, I find shapely urns of all sizes and materials. There are glass urns and metal urns, wire and ceramic ones. I did not intend to amass a collection. I was simply drawn to the shape again and again until there they all were, jostling for shelf space. Some of those urns have collections of feathers inside or long wiggly branches, dried hydrangeas, jeweled fruit, or simply sparkling glass “stones” designed for flower arranging. One collection is nested inside another. I am not a minimalist.

It is unlikely I will divest myself of my collections any time soon. In fact, a plate followed me home just the other day. And while I have become more selective, I have not lost pleasure in these material treasures. What has changed is my determination to display all these things, and to do it beautifully, rather than squirreling things away. Many pieces have been waiting patiently on shelves in my basement, a place my friend and neighbor dubbed  “the glittering cave of wonders”. Needless to say I have enjoyed digging through storage spaces rediscovering forgotten treasure all over again. The question remains: how do I meet my goal of beautifully displaying and enjoying my collections?


Grouping:  I have found that grouping my items gives them greater presence. This kind of grouping does not feel as cluttered as a scattering throughout the room.

Grouping allows you to create relationships between different sizes and shapes.  Suddenly the collection becomes a single bold statement greater than the sum of its parts.

Consistency: The rule of consistency is a natural for collections. Choose pieces for grouping based on a common feature to create coherence. This commonality can be color, shape, style, texture or even common purpose of the objects. I have a small collection of funky pitchers and vases from the twenties and thirties. Grouped on the mantelpiece the various shapes, sizes and colors are brought together both by the recognizable design style of their era and their common purpose as containers. They make a cheerful and light-hearted tableau. Likewise, grouping items of a single color creates impact and calls attention to objects that might not be noticed without a supporting cast. Consistency reinforces the grouping as a whole and allows it to be seen.

Shiny and MatteContrast: Flip consistency on its ear. Juxtapose objects that are opposites in shape, color or texture -  smooth with rough, light with dark, organic with inorganic, large with small. For example: point up the textural, organic quality of antlers by arranging them with smooth shiny objects such as glass paperweights and a silver bowl. Point out the beautiful color and shape of a yellow vase by filling it with blue flowers. Contrast showcases the unique quality of objects by emphasizing their differences. Try displaying items in surprising ways and configurations. Bring shells up by displaying them in a tall glass cylinder vase.  Mount typewriters on the wall and globes on the ceiling!

Framing: Hang or lean an empty frame or a framed mirror behind your collection. This strategy literally demands attention by “framing” the collection creating drama and depth. In my dining room, silver and glass candlesticks unified by white candles mass together in front of a silver framed mirror. The sparkle of candlesticks with the flickering warmth of candlelight multiplied in the mirror is magical. Less literal frames can work too. A mantle, entry table, box, shelf or window can bring focus to your collection.Years ago glass shelving fitted into window frames brought light through my aunt’s collection of colored glass “knick-knacks”…still a charming idea. Or, think about setting the stage for your special collection on a strikingly painted accent wall.

Hanging: Consider having special collections professionally framed or mounted for hanging. I have seen this done beautifully with items as diverse as christening gowns, silver spoons, fishing flies and antique Chinese screen panels. This approach allows you to enjoy the artifact or collection more fully, and professional framing/mounting protects and preserves your collectables.

Standing Alone: Some objects are too large, too important or too unusual for grouping. These beauties should be given space to shine. Consider placing such objects on lifts or pedestals to emphasize their singularity.

If you don’t want your home frozen in time, change collections and arrangements occasionally. I like to change table-scapes and mantle displays using colors and textures that echo the season. Shells, feathers and brightly colored flower vases come out in summer. Pinecones, russet candles and amber glass paperweights greet the fall. Put a few things in storage, and bring other things out to enjoy in new, surprising combinations. You might also really enjoy shopping in your own storage cupboard. It can feel as satisfying as scoring a new find at a garage or estate sale!





Return of the Light

As a child I felt unsettled when evening was drawing in.  By mid-winter in northern Wisconsin the school day would begin and end in cold and darkness.   That can be difficult for anyone of any age.  Even in mid-summer I dreaded the waning of light that signaled the end of the day.  Once it became truly dark my uneasiness evaporated.  My mother said it was just the gloaming that made me anxious.  The gloaming, she said, was the transition time when the veil between the worlds of fairies and humans was thinnest.   Today I am sure to begin turning on small table lamps early to push back the growing darkness and make the transition to night less noticeable.  As I grow older it is no longer just the gloaming I dread but the long hours of darkness too.

After the winter solstice we in the northern hemisphere are already enjoying noticeably longer days by mid-January.   It seems ironic that while our little planet’s orbit is closest to the sun during the winter months, the tilt of earth’s axis keeps the sun low on the horizon making nights long, days short, and the weather cold.  It is now that we gardeners peruse those promising plant catalogs next to a favorite reading lamp while the potted begonias over-winter in a huddle under the plant lights. We have faith that the glitter of icy snow under the street lamps will eventually give way to long evenings and the fairy dance of fireflies in the garden.  February will surely bring more snow and cold, and darkness too.  But the gradual march toward spring has begun and with it the return of the light.

Here are some lighting strategies:

Traditional Living Room design by Denver Architect

Contemporary Living Room design by Mark Pinkerton

Contemporary Living Room design by Boston General Contractor

While outdoor lighting can come on at dusk with the help of light sensors, most porch and entry lights are still my responsibility so they are turned on at dusk to welcome those coming home after long days at work and school.  Good outdoor lighting provides safer footing on exterior stairs and sidewalks while enhancing home security.  Motion sensing lights should be adjusted and carefully positioned to light what is necessary without annoying your neighbors.

Inside the house low wattage lamps create a sense of warmth and comfort.  Intentionally lighting the corners of any room visually expands the space making it feel larger and brighter while making the most of any wattage.

Chandeliers, wall sconces and even some of my lamps are on dimmers in order to be fully adjustable for whatever the situation requires.  Dimmers provide soft light for dining and relaxing, and brighter light for reading and family game night.

Returning to a dark house is daunting for me.  One or two lamps on timers help mitigate the emptiness in mid-winter.

My window shades come down at dusk partly for privacy and partly to cover the dark reflective rectangles of the windows.   Beyond the psychological benefit, window dressings can work to amplify light by bouncing it back into the room rather than letting it escape through the glass.  Shades and drapes can also provide some insulation against the cold in winter and heat in summer… a nice energy saving bonus.

Thoughtful lighting design can enhance your interior and exterior design, define living areas, and make work zones user friendly.  Best of all, good lighting can make the end of the day feel more like a new beginning.
Good lighting strategies usually include three categories or “layers” of lighting:

Ambient lighting provides general light indoors and out.  This category would include that surface mounted kitchen light, chandeliers, sconces, or that array of recessed can or pot lights in your ceiling along as well as most outdoor porch and garage lights.   Indirect lighting that bounces up onto a ceiling also fits into this category.  Such lighting can mimic light from natural sources or function as accent lighting to emphasize a special architectural feature such as a cove ceiling.

Task lighting provides light to facilitate particular tasks like reading in the living areas, applying make-up or shaving in the bath and counter level tasks in the kitchen.  This category would include table lamps, lighting near the mirrors in your bath and under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen.  Task lighting can also help to define different living and work zones in an open plan.

The third category is accent lighting.   Accent lighting calls attention to special features of your home and enhances the aesthetic qualities of the environment both indoors and out.    Think of wall-washing light sources that create drama by highlighting a fireplace mantle, or up-lights washing light over the texture of brick and stone walls and highlight plants, trees or architectural features both inside and out.  Accent lighting can bring emphasis and focus to paintings, sculptures or special collections.

Wallpaper, Magic, and the Rapper

As a child my room was on the first floor near the living area of our farmhouse.  I remember the comfort and sense of security I felt hearing the conversation and laughter of adults in the adjoining room as I drifted off to sleep at night.  But sometimes sleep just wouldn’t come.   It was then that the wallpaper came alive.

In the dim light of my room the pattern of lush pink cabbage roses sprawling around the walls grew petal eyes that blinked and petal mouths that spoke.  Vines and leaves gesticulated like arms in the animated conversations the roses carried on with each other.   An over-tired six year old can find a world of magic in her surroundings.  To this day, I never see cabbage roses in wallpaper or textiles that do not spark the memory of that long ago wallpaper and the wonderment and warm feelings attached to it.

So that covers wallpaper, and magic, but what does a rapper have to do with all this?  For me the connection began when I read about Mike D., iconic rapper of the Beastie Boys, and his desire for toile wallpaper for his Brooklyn home.

Toile as you may know, is a pattern usually depicting bucolic scenes of French maids picnicking in lush country landscapes with cattle, cottages, birds and trees.  Toile patterns are experiencing a fashionable revival in decorating just now.  But while Mike wanted toile wallpaper, he also wanted it to be more than just a reflection of the fashion of the moment.

He wanted the toile pattern personalized, contemporary and reflective of where he lives and who he is.  Collaborating with artists J. Ficarra and Adela Qersaqi of New York, and wallpaper maker Flavor Paper, he designed his own Brooklyn themed wallpaper.  Rather than a bucolic countryside this toile has scenes of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Coney Island Cyclone with Notorious B.I.G., pigeons and Hasidic Jews walking by.*  He created and honored a very real connection to his neighborhood, his culture, and his place in time.

Brooklyn toile rather than french countryside!

Brooklyn toile rather than french countryside!

While I’m fairly certain few of us are able to have wallpaper designed and made to our specifications, we can all reflect who we are and what we care about in our design choices.  Colors, patterns and objects that reflect your unique connection to the world do more than decorate, they help to tell your story.  They can make magic.  But most of all they remind us of who we are.


More information on Mike D for those who are curious and aren’t really sure who he is! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_D 

*Credit for the wallpaper goes to neatorama.com

January and Beginnings

Early mornings in January the skies become the domain of crows.  They patrol their territories inspecting what is left after the long riotous summer of nesting songbirds.  In January everything is stripped bare.  Nests are abandoned and silences are deep.  My days in January seem to parallel those of the crow.

The December rush is over, kids have returned to school, and routines are re-established.  I am left to put away all the shiny bits of the holiday.  Like the crows I patrol the territory of the house.  It’s now that I notice the chipped paint of the woodwork, the cracks in the plaster, dusty sills and over-stuffed closets.  All of this was of little concern in the rush of the holidays, but now I can see with fresh eyes that which was there all along.  Familiarity (and holiday decorations) can blind me to all of it.


In the tradition of the New Year I resolve to scrub, de-clutter and re-organize. But I also promise myself the reward of a new plant to fill an empty corner, a lamp to brighten the short winter afternoons, or a delicious new paint color to bring life to a dreary room.   Candlesticks get shuffled and furniture gets re-arranged and everything feels new like the year.

I love this fresh clean look. The eclectic mix of furnishings, calming colors, and patterns that echo each other keep my eye interested but not overwhelmed.

Do you decorate for Halloween?

Bat mobile!

Almost Halloween! Do you decorate for that holiday? Some of the decor inside is as good as the outside…I just ran across this bat mobile! No, not the car of Batman, this is a mobile with bats. Kind of batty. I like it…but I might hang it on the porch outside. Maybe they don’t have a porch?

Halloween does bring out the kid in us! I remember way back when my daughter was trick or treat age. My best friend’s husband always took the kids out treating while she and I stayed home, doled out the candy and ate chocolate. I recall she always got Snickers because they were her favorite. Yum.

When the kids got back with the loot, we checked it for tampering, of course, and confiscated all suspicious chocolate.


Kind of Pirates of the Caribbean, isn’t it?


It’s fall and harvest time!
Enjoy your holiday! And don’t forget the treats?

Hello from Bower Birds Home Design!

Bower Birds is a small business with big ideas about interior design. We start by listening to you. We then go on to collaboratively create an innovative design plan for your home. We specialize in using your existing furnishings in fresh ways as well as presenting ideas for new purchases that both meet your needs and suit your budget.

Color choices, window and floor coverings, lighting and storage strategies are all part of our creative approach in meeting your design goals. We will be glad to work with you whether you want an all-inclusive plan or simply a color consultation. It’s simple really; we tailor our approach to fit you and your home.