Category: shopping

Buying vintage stuff online

Buying vintage stuff online

I’ve long been skittish about buying vintage stuff online. But my taste has been skewing more antiques-y over the years, and lots of older furniture is built better than the stuff you can get at a reasonable price point these days. So I’ve been slightly emboldened lately.

I read tips from savvy bloggers like Emily Henderson and Jenny Komenda, and I see loads of curated collections on sites like Chairish and One King’s Lane. I feel like I’ve done my homework. But it’s not enough, people. It’s never enough.

I’m picky, you know? I’m a former software tester.  I’m an online dating coach now. I’m paid to notice the little details other people aren’t bothered by. I often see new products online that look great, but prove disappointing in person. (This is so often the case with Target furniture—little stuff like side tables are fine, but anything you need to sit on or open/close doors/drawers on is worthless.)

So buying a vintage chandelier online was kind of terrifying. But it had to be done! Grant and I have been trying to agree on a new lighting fixture basically since the day we bought our house in 2011. Nothing that we both like was ever in a reasonable budget.

When I spotted this mid-century gem on One King’s Lane for $200-ish, I fretted and dithered, tried to buy it and couldn’t because it was on hold, and eventually managed to snap it up. (I actually researched the brand, Laurel, and saw loads of Laurel Lighting pieces for thousands of bucks on 1st Dibs. So I figured if it didn’t work out in person I could always resell it.)


Looks fine, right? Clean and modern and masculine and a little space-agey and mid-century, but not so aggressively so that it feels like it needs a home full of Eames chairs and those retro offset legs I hate so much. Unique but not in-your-face spiky-Sputnik weird. And while the fixture is brass, it’s a soft, brushed brass that fits in with our 1946 home’s hardware without clashing with the adjacent stainless-steel-filled kitchen.

I went out of my way to create contingency plans. I asked One King’s Lane what would happen if the fixture arrived broken, and whether I would in fact be stuck with a no-refunds purchase in that instance. (They said no, though I imagine it’s a real bitch to sort out after the fact.)

I even emailed One King’s Lane for more details about the fixture, since the listing didn’t tell me what size bulbs it took, nor did it show me the top of the fixture (thought it said it was “plug in”).  One King’s Lane reached out to their vintage vendor, who took several days to reply, and all they said was that it took “standard” bulbs and clarified that it had no canopy. They also sent this photo, which I guess was somewhat helpful, maybe? I felt better seeing another shot.


When I actually unboxed the thing and put it together (amazed that it arrived in one piece), I discovered that “standard” 60-watt sized bulbs don’t fit under the glass shades. This is *exactly* the kind of shit I emailed about, you know? ;) But 40-watt bulbs with the same “standard” (Type E26) base type fit just fine, so that’s OK.

(However, it *is* harder to find LED bulbs in that size, but I’ve done it before so I know I can do it again, even if I don’t have as much choice regarding LED color temperature at that not-that-standard size. Fine. I’m picky, but I can live with that, even though I still think “standard bulbs” would have been an insufficient/misleading reply for some customers out there. Google a fucking bulb type like I did, ya know?)IMG_2214

The thing is a little less pristine than I’d hope (pardon the cat, who insisted on being in the shot)—two of the legs are wobbly but I can’t figure out where there’s any hardware to tighten them, so I’m not sure if that will annoy us or need tweaking once it’s in place.

The whole thing is covered in a slightly sticky residue on all the metal and wood veneer parts, which is fine, probably, but kinda ew. You couldn’t clean it *before* selling it?

The glass shades have some minor damage/dark gray marks that are not visible in either of the pictures, but they’re subtle enough for me, even with the chips around the top which are more visible in person. The shades are more frosted and less opaque white, but OK. All in all, I think I still like the thing.

The brass chain (not shown to me super well in either pic) is unlacquered, whereas the brass on the actual fixture and most of its pole appears to have a lacquer finish that has protected it from aging. I actually *prefer* the natural patina of unlacquered brass, but it’s kind of annoying that it isn’t consistent, you know? And that that part of the equation really wasn’t clear before making this non-refundable purchase.

I’ll sort it out—I have to buy a canopy anyway, and the gal on Etsy who’s selling me mine gave me the option of buying an untreated brass one and she even said she’d burnish it a bit on her end to get the aging process going. I can look up tutorials and do some weird science experiments to alchemize it into a color that hopefully matches both areas well enough. That actually sounds fun. :)

The quirks, in the end, are acceptable to me. Especially since Grant and I have learned over the years that lighting fixtures are really hard, as evidenced by my overly exhaustive Pinterest lighting board—I dislike “boring” fixtures, Grant often dislikes “interesting” ones, and the only ones we agree on are super weird and like a thousand dollars. So this mid-century Laurel thing is a winner, warts and all.

I’m excited to get my canopy and get this sucker installed—getting this new fixture is the domino that set a bunch of other home improvement projects into motion. Yippee/goodbye money.

But I thought the buying experience kind of sucked, you know? And I just don’t think I’ll be comfortable buying anything again that’s “expensive” vintage if I can’t see it in person. No eBay rugs or Chairish sconces or 1st Dibs furniture (like I could afford it anyway).

Case in point:



The other vintage piece I had my eye on from One King’s Lane is this ridiculously cool-seeming pair of Milo Baughman swivel chairs that are bafflingly well priced. We really need chairs that have a small footprint and low back, swivel to face the TV or the rest of the room as context demands, and are comfy enough for our giant bodies to sit and relax in. And ideally, you know, look amazing and coordinate with our existing stuff and don’t cost a ton.

Here’s how much help I got (same One King’s Lane form response as with the chandelier; emphasis mine:)

I have contacted the vendor and requested more information about the Milo Baughman Swivel Chairs, Pair. I will contact you as soon as I hear back from them, but it may take more than one business day. Please keep in mind that our sales typically last 72 hours and quantities are limited.

We want you to love every purchase you make at One Kings Lane. Unfortunately we are unable to cancel orders or accept returns on nonreturnable items.

I get that their hands are kind of tied here. I get that vintage reselling is hard. But that policy just feels like I can’t ever buy anything that needs to be sat in or messed with or tested, you know?

The chairs I have in mind are listed as being brown, but they look sort of red-orange to me. Red-orange we kind of like; it matches our rug. Brown we don’t; it doesn’t. A swatch would be amazing, but I’d settle for being told the fabric name and manufacturer so I can track down my own swatch (which takes time).

They’re listed as having all new upholstery, but it doesn’t specify if the foam/springs/etc. was also replaced or just the fabric. A chair with new foam/padding is probably comfy. A chair with 1960s foam and janky old springs probably isn’t.

The site lists their overall dimensions, but it doesn’t list the height, width, or depth of the seats, nor the heights of the armrests. We of House Roberts are giants, with tall bodies and wide asses. Dimensions matter a lot for us.

My first email about these chairs was March 27th. I don’t expect a reply that fully satisfies my every picky question within a time frame that would allow me to purchase these chairs, which I’m not sure I’d be comfortable doing sight unseen/ass unsat even if all the answers pleased me. Sigh.

I can’t shake the feeling that I’m the weirdo here. It sort of feels like how I held off on depositing checks with my phone until just a few months ago. Is buying old/nonreturnable stuff online just something everyone else is comfortable doing, and I’m the old-school brick-and-mortar holdout here? Or is it only fancy design bloggers who feel comfortable taking these retail risks?

If you care a lot about interior design, would you buy that perfect vintage piece online if you couldn’t inspect it in person, knowing it wasn’t returnable? Under what circumstances? Humor me! :)



Intellectually, I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions—heck, I’m not even sure about how you capitalize and punctuate the phrase. :) I like to think that the time of year shouldn’t have a massive impact on deciding to make improvements in your life, you know?

But I’m in a weird spot this year. My part-time tech writing contract comes to a close at the end of January, which means I’ll be circling back to working on The Heartographer full time. I’m launching a few new products and initiatives soon that just happen to be coming out in Q1 2015. And I have a medical procedure coming up in March that will go much more smoothly if I can get a better handle on my physical health in advance.

For me, January 2015 will end up being a time to spark change and transition, whether I meant it that way or not. And while the philosophy of “make improvements independent of the new year” is a sound one, I never actually implement changes. Like, ever.

Discipline and follow-through have long been huge weaknesses for me. But as I prep for business and life shifts over the next year, it’s increasingly important that I get a better handle on the part of me that resists working hard to effect positive change in my life. It’s time to start actually trying instead of pooh-poohing the whole idea.

On La Dolce Vita, Paloma Contreras shared a few thoughts about how to make 2015 the best year yet. First on the list was setting intentions instead of resolutions. This totally jibes with me—on the one hand, I’d love to not give myself wiggle room to bail on what I set out to do, but I’m self-aware enough to know that the whole fear of failure thing would make me drop all my firm resolutions as soon as the going gets tough.

So, in the spirit of actually following through with some intentions, even if the outcome isn’t as drastic or simple as I’m hoping, I’ll share with y’all some of my intentions for the new year and beyond.


I’ve been wanting to get savvy with photo and graphic software for ages, so I can better self-help when I need to create a quick visual asset for my business or one of my many sites. I’ve made my poor husband (who is a video game designer, NOT a graphic designer) create and modify SO MANY business cards, ad graphics, logos, header images, you name it.

Photoshop is top of the list in terms of learning to create my own stuff, but OmniGraffle is next, as well as learning a bit more about actually manipulating a camera to take better pictures.

And this may sound frivolous, but I’d like to get the hang of applying false eyelashes. I’ve read how-to guides online and grilled every makeup artist who’s ever applied them for me, but I think what I need more than anything is a few extra pairs and some dedicated time to practice.

Falsies (I swear they’re called that) make a huge visual impact in the videos I produce! Of course they’re fun in social settings too, but I really mainly wear them for business. God, how weird and boring is that? You’d think I was a burlesque dancer or something! :)


I’m working on an iPhone app with Brandon, who does 99.9999% of the actual coding. While he’s helplful in teaching me some stuff, I can only have a certain impact in how much progress we make—but if I stay motivated, ask questions, meet regularly with him, and generally keep the marketing and production balls rolling, we tend to do more actual coding work too. I’d love to see a working app prototype on my device by the end of this year, even if we don’t actually get a smoothly tested version for sale on that timeline.

I’ve been writing a book since 2009, for Frey’s sake, but I finally started making true progress this fall after applying a sort of GTD-like system to the project. I’d like to either get that book fully self-published this year, or have a firm deal with a traditional publisher.

I’m launching some video courses soon, which have been in the works since last summer. I expect those to ship in Q1 of this year, yay!

I’m also FINALLY launching a podcast soon. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Woohoo!

I’m also launching another blog at some time this year, which will be a more personal but specific venture. I’ll post here when it goes live.


What a douchey word, right? But I need to make it a greater focus in 2015 and beyond. I spent the first seven whole years of my business under-charging, partly because I love what I do but also because I wanted my focus to be on great service and customer experience instead of great profit. But I’ve grown up and come to learn that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s OK to make a decent living doing something you love.

Now that I’ve laid that foundation, I need to have a firmer focus on monetization with every single business decision I make. Heck, even that new personal blog I mentioned is going to have ads, something I’ve kept off my other sites for the most part. The advent of sponsored content makes this so much more OK for me—I’ve seen poorly integrated sponsorships as well as amazing ones, and I’m confident I can find a way to make good money on a blog and still provide unquestionable value to readers. I’ve never ever tried making a blog profitable before, but this year I’m going to make it a focus and at least see how it goes.


We need to lose weight. Especially me. We’ve needed this for a while, but it’s particularly urgent as I have a surgery type thing in March that will go better if I’ve lost even ten pounds.

The problem, in many ways, is that my weight is HAPPY weight. I met the love of my life, found a love of video games, and have been slowly getting fatter as I enjoy sitting around doing stuff I enjoy with someone I adore. The only times I’ve ever drastically dropped in weight were both when I was living abroad, isolated, and terribly ill to the point of hospitalization. NOT a good association, you know?

We also need to limit our expenses. We’ve never made or stuck to a budget; we barely even try. But as we plan for our future, it’s more and more crucial that we not overspend. We’ve kept our heads above water and been delightfully debt-free or close to it except (now) our house, but we don’t really save and plan ahead.

I’d like to have a fund for home décor splurges, as well as unexpected repair projects. I’d like it to be no big deal when we’re confronted with astounding hospital bills from unexpected medical issues. I’d like to save up for vacations we don’t even know we want to take yet. But I need to get much more serious about seeing this desire through. Now’s as good a time to start as any.


I have a ridiculously massive wardrobe, and yet I tend to get stuck wearing the same 5% of my clothes over and over again. That sort of makes sense to a point, since they’re items I love and feel great in, but it’s a bit silly and limiting. I also want to “shop” from my previous wardrobe by trying on stuff that I haven’t been able to fit into in ages—weight loss will give me a guaranteed shopping spree.

I have tons of craft supplies for cool projects that we just finally started unearthing when we cleaned out our basement. I’m excited to, say, check my Artsy Drawer (or Dresser) before I drive my ass all the way to Michael’s.

I feel the same about home décor and hardware—sometimes, we already have the right curtain rod that would look fine in a given room if I could just set my hands on it. I’m hoping that our Giant Basement Cleanse will assist.

Oh, and I love skincare and makeup, but I barely use most of my cool products. (For someone with an entire blog about this stuff, you’d be amazed how many nights I go to sleep without washing my face and then wake up annoyed that I have irritated skin.) I always want to spend more time and energy with my fun grooming products, because they really have an impact on how I look and therefore how I feel about myself. Why the hell am I just letting them expire under the sink? Let this year involve more masques and whatnot. And eyeliner. Use it or lose it.


So yeah, that’s my summary. What are YOU resolutish about this year?

The Karlstad leather collection from Ikea

The Karlstad leather collection from Ikea

A lovely lady named Madeline recently tweeted at me to learn more about my Karlstad leather sofa collection research, and she found my lengthy email reply helpful. I’ve been eyeing this sofa collection from Ikea for a couple years now, I have a special Pinterest board devoted just to this couch and its many stylings, and I think we’re finally almost ready to bite the bullet and buy us some Karlstad soon. (We have yet to actually purchase the thing, as I have to find a good day to drag my husband to Ikea to check it out in person and sign off on all this white leather.) I figured the rest of you might find my obsessive Internet sofa research useful, so here’s what I sent her (edited to add more links, images, formatting, and information for y’all).

Oh, and my Internet Pal Paul pointed out that I utterly failed to include any pricing info. I guess I’m not used to doing retail-minded posts, haha. So I’ve gone in and stuck USD prices here. All are for the birch leg option; models that for some reason offer chrome versions ready-made are $20 more. But really, price-wise, you’re better off getting the birch version with separate chrome legs since it’s the same cost and now you have a choice, ya know?

Ikea Karlstad leather sofa: $899
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat: $879
Ikea Karlstad leather chaise add-on: $600
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat plus chaise combo: $1,479
Ikea Karlstad leather footstool: $249
Ikea Karlstad leather armchair: $549

The Karlstad leather sofa in Grann White, with birch legs.


• I could NOT find clear reviews of how the leather version of the Ikea Karlstad sofa holds up, so I tracked down every Pinterester or blogger who had a white leather Karlstad sofa, and I commented, tweeted, and emailed them ALL for feedback, haha. This included a handful of moms and pet-moms who’ve had the thing for a while. All of them said it holds up really well to family and furry abuse; no scratches and it wipes clean pretty easily. I was really skeptical about this, but everyone seems quite pleased with how it’s lasted over time. (I was specifically asking after the Grann white leather finish, but it stands to reason that the darker ones handle even better, since the leather is dyed-through. I verified this in person and thoroughly inspected models of all colors. Dyed through means that scratches on dark models shouldn’t show a light color underneath like they would with most vinyl or cheap leather, because the dye permeates the entire thickness of the hide. Ew/yay.)

The striped Stockholm rug from Ikea.• Color-wise, the Grann white is much more of a creamy white than the site shows, which is nice IMO. I have a few of those cheap Ikea Rens sheepskins and I don’t think they’d look out of place draped on an armrest (for the cat) even though they’re a bit creamier; it’s the same family. The Grann white leather finish matches Ikea’s black and off white graphic Stockholm cushion and their black and white offset stripey Stockholm rug pretty well, in case that helps. (This image is of that rug with an even creamier Stockholm leather sofa, though, which is apparently no longer available in that color.)

• Ikea Fans has a couple different posts questioning/suggesting that using the Absorb leather care that Ikea sells will darken the color an unknown amount. This isn’t a HUGE concern to me; my main concern is “What happens when my tipsy friend and/or self spills red wine mixed with Diet Coke on my new white leather couch?” because that is bound to happen at some point. Time will tell. There’s a reason we’re purchasing leather stuff as we transition away from rowdy Rock Band parties with drink spill adventures into more diaper blowout type adventures. I honestly think the latter will make for easier cleanup; time will tell on that frontier too I guess.


• Everyone online concurs that the Karlstad leather collection’s seating/cushioning remains firm and comfy, and from what I gather the leather one gets much less compressed/lame over time than the fabric model. It felt pleasantly soft for tufted leather, but much more substantial than the fabric Karlstads I’ve sat on both at friends’ houses and in the store. ALL of the complaints I saw online about Ikea couch cushioning getting compressed and wonky were about fabric sofas.

• I sat on several models at Ikea and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and durability, so I thought. It’s not as hard as it looks like it’ll be in the actual seat area, but in a good way. However, if you plan to sit with your back against an armrest instead of the back, DEFINITELY get a few thick and tall throw pillows as a buffer, and be OK with a couch that requires throw pillows in order to lean against the arm part. (Our current monstrosity-couch has these enormous padded armrests that are the same height and thickness as the back, which is lame for aesthetics IMO but awesome for comfort.) I wish they made a leather version of this Karlstad cushion to stick there, but they don’t seem to.

• Other commenters/bloggers noted that it’s a very low couch, and therefore they had to adjust to lower end tables and lamps accordingly. (I find it the right height and I’m OK with end tables that hit the exact height of an armrest; maybe I’m the weirdo.) Also, when I sat on the floor models I noted that the whole Karlstad leather collection is quite deep, too. You may want to use throw pillows behind your back both for cushioning and to adjust to a more normal couch depth for sitting. We like a deep couch, though. But…

• The dimensions are a little surprising to me, so you may want to measure your floor space and really make sure it’ll fit well. It has a smaller feel because of the narrower and up-on-legs scale of everything, but that depth really eats up quite a lot of floor space, I found, so it’s just bigger than it looks when I go by the actual numbers. I taped out profiles on my LR floor to make sure I could accommodate what I wanted (two full couches facing each other) and found that I definitely couldn’t, so we’re going with a different configuration…

• The interior seating area of the Karlstad loveseat is longer/wider than many loveseats, while still having a dainty look overall, so you can sit on one side with your back against the armrest and fully extend your legs if you’re tall like me. :) However, the interior of the full Karlstad sofa is not long enough for a tall person to fully lie down. In order for a tall person to recline comfortably (I’m 5’11” and my husband is 6’3″) you need the Karlstad loveseat plus chaise combination.

• The combo of the leather Karlstad loveseat plus chaise is cuter and comfier than I anticipated, and for what it’s worth the spacing of the seats exactly matches the loveseat, you know? Like it makes it a three-seater instead of a generous two-seater, seam-wise. We now plan to buy two loveseats with one chaise add-on for one of them. However, I was disappointed to realize that…

• There’s no leather option for the Karlstad corner sofa. I don’t know how that slipped me by! It’s a bummer because I personally think the sofa-plus-chaise look is a bit dated and not nearly as comfortable or accessible to guests as a full-on corner sectional, but I guess we will have to make do, and this *will* probably fit our space better. I actually think I’ll be more OK with it than I was with our last be-chaised sofa; that one sucked because the chaise was created by swapping in an ottoman and a longer cushion, so it never really fit well or stayed put. The Karlstad chaise add-on unit feels more like a part of the couch is acting as a second ottoman, if that makes sense. I awkwardly pretended to be my own guest at Ikea, sitting and flopping and lying all over all areas of the loveseat plus chaise combo, and I deemed it acceptable.

• The Karlstad leather footstool (or ottoman, as I like to call it) is nicer and more useful looking in person, so I think we will end up getting one and sticking a tray on top of it as an auxiliary coffee table unless we need additional seating. (I never really thought about turning ottomans into tables via trays until Emily Henderson schooled me.) The price discrepancy between a small ottoman and a large sofa isn’t that great, I know, but I think it’s like an initial dollar amount for them to produce ANYTHING Karlstad and leather, and nominal amounts past that to make things bigger, ya know? What do I know. Anyway, the ottoman seems very stable as seating, a table, or a footrest. We’ll put this in the empty space in front of our fireplace. That space is sort of wasted in our gas-heated rooms, but it looks weird to completely block a fireplace with something more substantial, so a low dainty footstool which will probably mainly be a cat-bed is just perfect.

• We prefer sofas/loveseats over chairs for our setup, but I sat in a Karlstad leather armchair and it was perfectly comfortable and nice.



Like many design snobs, I think Ikea’s standard birch block legs are ugly. I’m determined to change them even though they actually match some old Husar unfinished pine hutches we have in our dining room. Our seating area is far enough away from those that I don’t think it’ll be clear we were matching them; we’ll just look like we were cool with leaving the ugly blocky pale SO UNSTYLISH original legs on. :) So we plan on buying others (because the shape bugs me too, not just the color).

• If you want to downplay the legs while saving money, you could just paint them, or do like Young House Love and get all crazy with an oil-rubbed bronze finish. Like many unfinished-looking Ikea things, they actually have just enough clear lacquer on them to make it annoying to change them. But that’s your cheapest and probably simplest option, especially if you’re on a tight budget or you have a lot of legs to tackle. I do think that you’ll barely notice the blocky shape once they’re a darker color, if that helps make your decision.

Hahahaha I'm sorry but I couldn't help myself. This image at the end of every Ikea instruction manual always cracks me up.• For an extra $20 per set of four I think, you can get Ikea’s chrome legs. The problem is that those are uglier than they should be. If you look at this old Jezebel article recommending the prior Karlstad fabric model, you can see that the cool sleeker chrome frame extended along the entire bottom of the couch. But since we no longer have that option, we have to go with the weird chrome awkward angle-tapered ones that to me look like shelf brackets. Oddly enough, these I would like better if they WERE blocky, like the ones shown on Jezebel. Alas, if you’re determined, I’m sure you could find legs somewhere that are the right metal look, or you could even check out the rest of Ikea’s legs that are sometimes not even meant to go with couches. I’m sure their customer service can help you figure out which ones would hold up actual furniture.

• If you buy third-party legs, be careful to make sure they fit the holes (insert juvenile joke here; go ahead, I’ll wait). Ikea’s legs apparently are threaded with a metric bolt or some such, so make sure the vendor of sexy legs has a bolt that will work with that. I forget where I read about these woes but I think a lot of hackers ran into a lot of grief over this and had to jigger special solutions to make their new legs work, so either be handy or buy from a more trusted source that specifically fits Karlstad.

The folks from Our Mid Century did their own legs for cheap from Ace Hardware. Seems annoying to me and I prefer a stain-free choice for no scratches or dings showing through. But you can copy them if you like!

Alternate sofa legs from Uncle Bob's Workshop.• The legs by Uncle Bob’s Workshop are the best I’ve seen, after careful (OK, compulsive) review. The reason I like these the best is because I prefer ordering stuff that’s a solid wood that doesn’t need to be stained, since that way it doesn’t show scratches. Most other vendors only offer stained or painted legs. Also, I’m lazy and skeptical that I’ll do a great job if I DIY, and I want something totally stable and solid and gorgeous. These are made especially for the Karlstad, but you can also get a conversion option for some other Ikea models which you can select at purchase.

This Etsy store Thirteen Colonies also sells legs. They make a couple different heights, so hey, if you’re bothered by the lowness of the Karlstad maybe this is a solution.

• If you’re into upping the funk factor, you could look into legs from Pretty Pegs, or probably DIY one of their designs yourself. Personally, I think this all starts to get too busy given the texture of the tufting already present on this otherwise clean and streamlined collection. But I suppose it all depends on your room’s vibe.

• If you want a less Mid-Century Modern look, you can get more transitional legs like these. Poke around. Just bear all that Karlstad-specific stuff in mind, and also keep in mind how much buying legs adds up to your total price point! If I get all the fourteen dollar solid teak legs I need plus shipping and tax for two loveseats, a chaise, and an ottoman, I’m looking at over two hundred bucks. That’s manageable, but it adds up so that may factor into your ultimate leg choice!

I will continue pinning any cool new leg ideas I see on my Karlstad sofa Pinterest board. Gosh, I’m almost thinking you could, like, DIY gold leaf them or something. Gah. Save me from myself!


A sofa with the Bemz Loose Fit Urban Slipcover.Slipcovers: Most slipcovers are designed for fabric Karlstads and not leather ones. However, even though Bemz claims their Loose Urban Fit slipcover isn’t meant to fit the leather model, I actually think it would fit, if you ever wanted to switch it up, protect it, or change the color and look down the line. This is what Bemz said back to me when I pressed them about whether I could sneak a Loose Fit Urban onto a leather Karlstad:

Our slipcovers are custom made to fit the IKEA Karlstad model with the removable fabric slipcovers. Like you say, our regular fit covers are tight fitting and do not fit over the leather version.

But with the Loose Fit Urban covers there is the concern that the slipcovers may be very slippery and not sit properly on the sofa if there is leather underneath. This will cause extra wear and tear on the seams. As we do not recommend putting our slipcovers on leather sofas our 3-year guarantee does not cover that sort of wear and tear.

So that’s actually not such a big deal, if you know what you’re getting into in terms of warranty and wear-and-tear. If I were to buy one of these, I would get the seams reinforced by a tailor, or possibly just get the whole thing in a heavier fabric like canvas. Either way, it seems to me that since the actual dimensions of the couch are only 1/4″ different between the fabric and the leather, you just might be able to get away with some slipcover wizardry. PLEASE let me know if you try it; I’m curious to know if I can slipcover over white leather if awful stains do happen to me down the road!

For what it’s worth, I ordered some Bemz swatches just in case. I was pleasantly surprised by their quality and texture as well as free-ness, mildly surprised by some of the colors as compared to the website, and mildly disappointed that it took a very very long time for them to arrive. Duh, international bulk mail is not speedy. Plan ahead if you’re pondering a slipcover and need it in a specific time frame!

I’ve also seen the Australian slipcover company Comfort Works, but I find their site design annoying and the Bemz fabrics appeal to me a bit more.

I peeked at Knesting too but frankly theirs look cheaper for a similarly high price point, and they don’t cover nearly as many models. Boo.

Pillows: I already talked about throw pillows you can get from Ikea above, and really, I’ll let you enjoy exploring those on your own. But for what it’s worth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the very affordable pillows I snagged from H&M’s new online storefront. I’ve taken the liberty of creating an overwhelming custom H&M throw pillow search URL for you here. Go nuts! (I bought a pair of these in black and white stripes, which are actually soft black and off-white; a pair of these in charcoal; a pair of these in medium gray (violet undertones) and in peacock (lovely); and now I am forbidden from bringing new pillows into our home. None of them are AMAZING quality, but they’re all decent, and they were so dang cheap! I do recommend sucking it up and buying the H&M brand fillers since the sizes are a bit odd. But those inserts are also pretty cheap, and decent quality.

Blankets: The Karlstad leather sofa’s clean lines are kind of begging for a great throw blanket or two, maybe stacked on the nearby footstool when not in use. I’ve never been particularly thoughtful about throws before; I always used whatever weird ugly thing we had on hand just for warmth. But reading a bunch of design blogs makes me realize what a great design impact the right throw has, so I have been on the lookout for something both boldly stylish and functional. I was SURE I’d be snagging the Ikea Eivor throw based on this Emily Henderson post, but in person the thing is super duper cheap and lame looking. Obviously acrylic, ugly black stitching that looks weird on the cream parts, and just generally not nice up close. I can totally see how it makes for an amazing graphic pop in styled photographs, but I have no interest in snuggling under this thing during a movie marathon. So then I ordered this faux leopard blanket, but it got lost in shipping so they refunded it and I’m kind of glad since I was worried it is maybe a little too RAWR COUGAR for this 30-something household. :) Still searching.


I’m a bit of a leather snob, and also a cheapskate. The Ikea Karlstad leather sofa is THE leather couch whose quality and price point are acceptable to me. You can learn more about leather types here if you like, but I dug up some relevant info for you because I want you to love your couch as much as I hope to love mine.

Here is what Ikea says:

Dyed through grain leather from cattle, with an embossed and pigmented surface. Soft, hardwearing and easy care leather ages gracefully. A slight treatment allows the leather to breathe well and keep its natural structural variations.

And here is what Wikipedia says about what I can glean is the type of leather Ikea is using in this series:

Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.

What I can tell you is that the leather I touched on this particular Ikea collection felt higher quality than the leathers I’ve seen at places like Kasala, Dania, and Crate & Barrel. I was very pleasantly surprised. Also, I’ve spent like a year trying to follow Emily Henderson’s leather sofa tips, but I don’t think we’ll ever find anything that’s better than the Karlstad pricing-wise and I’ve never seen anything in Seattle that was, like, an amazing vintage leather sofa steal. Never. Nor have I seen things affordably priced enough at our Restoration Hardware outlet to justify pulling the trigger (although it’s true that if you want non-white, their stuff is way sexier than any other new leather I’ve ever seen. I particularly love their “Glove” color.)

I can also say that I now believe you should never, ever buy any furniture in vinyl. I know fancy bloggers like Little Green Notebook and good old Emily Henderson will tell you otherwise, but I just think it smells and sounds weird and is all sweaty and sucks and when a mark or stain happens it RUINS the thing, whereas with leather that’s a decent enough caliber a scratch or scuff just “adds character,” you know?

Anyway, when it comes to leather it pays to be picky, but I really think this Karlstad leather (and that of Ikea’s Stockholm sofa) is shockingly good value and quality.

So, folks, I think it’s officially time to stop writing about sofas now. I hope you find this helpful! Refer me clients if you do! ;)

Some final programming notes

• Please forgive the many linked names to the Karlstad leather series or to its individual pieces. My Karlstad Pinterest board is my most-followed social media thing except maybe my ergonomics board, and I get the feeling this post might kinda blow up with people considering a Karlstad sofa so I’m SEOing the crap out of it even though that might be a tiny bit annoying for readers. Please love me anyway; I’m only human, and I only really want everything I do on the web to hopefully have the side effect of reaching people who could use my help as an online dating coach if I can!

• If I seem to allude to your blog but I failed to actually link to you, please let me know and I will do so. I’ve done SO much deep diving on this couch that a lot of the info I’ve included is more like little memory fragments than specific references, which is why you’re not seeing the link you desire. But I will gladly link it up if you help refresh my memory, and I would totally appreciate you returning the favor! Isn’t that how this blogging thing works? (Serious question; I clearly have no idea what I’m doing here.) So far I got helpful input from Visual Jill, Ella Pretty, Denise, and Brandi.

• If you love my writing and my level of detail, and you’re single or you know someone who is, please check out my online dating coaching site at The Heartographer. Thanks! <3

Kindle MatchBook is a HUGE deal.

Kindle MatchBook is a HUGE deal.

I’m floored and very pleased by Amazon’s recent announcement of the Kindle MatchBook program. This is obviously a big deal for current Kindle customers and for ebook readers in general, but I think it’s an even bigger deal for those who haven’t yet “gone digital.” Only time will tell, but I think this will disrupt the ebook market even more than tech pundits are currently speculating, especially if iBooks doesn’t follow suit (and I don’t expect that they will).

Without breaking any NDA rules or incurring the wrath of too many former employers, I can safely share with you that I worked a few short-term contracts within Kindle, enough to have a basic understanding of how a lot of ebooks are “made.” And, consistent with everyone’s assumptions, digitizing a book, while not trivial, is quite a bit simpler than the physical print book production process, especially since you’ve basically already generated all of the assets for the ebook in the process of creating the physical book. I don’t know the numbers on exactly how much pricier it is to publish a print book than to publish an ebook, nor could I share them if I did, but suffice it to say that for all typical scenarios, for publishers and indies alike, publishing an ebook will always end up being way the heck cheaper than publishing its physical counterpart.

It has consistently blown my mind that this huge publishing cost disparity was not deeply discussed in the whole DOJ case about Apple and Amazon and The Big 6-now-5 and ebooks and price-fixing. Since the advent of ebooks, I think consumers have been understandably put off by an ebook’s price being very close to that of its physical counterpart, despite them not getting the benefit of receiving a physical product in exchange for all those dollars they spend. This mental block of paying almost as much as the physical thing in order to receive an intangible, confusing, seemingly imaginary thing is what I think holds an awful lot of less techie consumers from taking steps to adopt the digitization of their personal libraries. I’ve seen it in my own relatives and friends, and I myself have felt it with certain types of book purchases. As Amazon succinctly puts it in your account settings, “Where’s My Stuff?”

I know most of us got over this where’s-my-physical-product hurdle with digital music and video files, but I think those products were inherently different. Even back when the record was king, you didn’t generally hold a record and interact with it whenever you wanted to enjoy its contents; you stuck it in a device and let the device do the music-playing. Same with VHS on through to blu-ray. So the transition to from physical to digital is less urgent with those media formats, because while you might look at the cover/box art for either of those things, the real content itself was always device-dependent, and always a little intangible/ethereal. You couldn’t hold music or video in your hands.

Not so with books. Books themselves have always been sort of a little work of art, and the medium itself has a lot to do with the content. Just look at crazy authors like Cortazar, hop-scotching around pages, or House of Leaves, breaking your brain in new and inventive ways that (for me at least) required about a hundred Post-It tape flags. 90s CDs might try to hide secret ditties 99 tracks in, but they never quite managed to play with the format like this:

A page from the complicated book House of Leaves.

Books are an inherently visual, tactile, and physical art from. Snooty Portland craft shoppes still teach classes on book binding. Hell, there’s a schmancy restaurant here in Seattle called the Book Bindery. Books date back a heck of a lot farther than any other form of modern media that isn’t exclusively the domain of art history or anthropology. Marbling paper was (and still is) an art; how many CDs or records have you bought with hand-marbled liner notes? Leather-bound volumes always had nicer materials and craftsmanship than those cardboard record sleeves. In addition to visual design (which I admit albums have always had), books use gold foil and embossing. They have little notes about why specific typefaces were chosen. They have dust jackets and the cool sleeker part that lies beneath them. (Can you tell I have a preference for hard covers?) The edges of the pages used to commonly be painted. The book as an object is still precious to many people in ways that records, CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs aren’t… do people win awards for their collections of vintage CDs? Probably not. (Records, perhaps. Shut up; I swear my point still stands.) People decorate with books. Rooms feel incomplete without books; ask any interior designer.

The nostalgic reluctance to adopt a purely digital library is totally understandable to me: I still order certain types of books in print, I love that paper smell, I prefer a physical reading experience over a digital one if it’s an option, and I refuse to get rid of my old books to save space, even if I could get ebook versions of all of them for free or very cheap (which I can’t, yet). I’m not even a major book snob or owner, but I still consider it indisputable that the way readers interact with books has always been more personal and tactile than most other media that have gone digital, and that tactile nature is what so many readers have been understandably reluctant to give up. Rolling ebooks into physical book purchases and vice versa is huge deal, because it removes this final hurdle from “going digital.” The way we consume other media has changed too fast to make them as precious, but books? They’ll still be around when I’m dead. My kids will inherit a bunch of them. Perhaps they won’t be as widely produced, but old books like this awesome box of antiques I just unpacked from my in-laws? Those will be even cooler then than they are now. Just look at them!

Vintage books.

Being able to buy the physical version of a book without worrying that it’s yet another thing cluttering up your life for as long as you want to own it is huge. Being able to buy a physical book without feeling like you’re a dinosaur who will be stuck in the digital age forever is also huge. This kind of matching program is what I predict will make eventual ebook adopters out of my mom, my grandparents, and other folks who became voracious readers in the not-so-digital age, and who continue to consume more long-form content more frequently than the rest of us nerds with our clipped Twitter accounts and diminishing attention spans. Make no mistake; appealing to the youngsters is great, but enabling more purchasing behavior from the old ones is going to have a massive impact, too. I just hope Amazon is prepared to deal with the influx of support tickets from new Kindle users who want to get this program rolling right away and have no idea how to even sign in to the site!

Style Cure Day 10: Success and failure

Style Cure Day 10: Success and failure

Well, today is Style Cure Day 10, and the task is to make a shopping list and a budget. I basically already have that done, except that I’m still waiting on window treatment quotes. But I had a bit of a finances scare—nothing truly outlandish, but because I’ve been under the weather for so long, I’ve been less diligent about keeping tabs on our finances these past few weeks. And in checking into those, I’ve come to realize that my months of less-than-affluent entrepreneurship have been slowly taking their toll on our income and savings. So I suspect that my Style Cure will be put on hold until we feel more comfortable spending on bigger purchases like sofas. (We might still get the rug we have in mind since it’s a relatively inexpensive way to make a bold visual impact.)

I did get up the energy to paint my gorgeous Farrow & Ball large paint samples yesterday, so I’ll photograph and blog that soon. But that’s less exciting than the OTHER project I finally took on, haha.

The cover image for my ebook, "Window Treatments for Modern Pragmatists"I wrote a book! Sort of. A libellus, a brochure, a petit livre. I finally just went ahead and hit publish on this little ditty about curtains. I’m still looking into converting it to iBooks, but that’s in the works.

Why the heck did I write about curtains when I’m an online dating coach by trade? Well, I’ve been pondering and researching window treatments ever since we bought our house, and this really kicked into high gear since the room we were planning to redo for Style Cure is our living room that faces directly west. The windows have been bare for two and a half years, because we just haven’t been decisive enough about exactly what would work and look best. After all, it’s hard to part with money on an expensive fixed element like that when you know you’re going to change your whole look eventually, ya know?

But we recently had some house guests stay with us, whose squinting and sweating in the hot July sun made us realize it was time to suck it up and dress those windows. So I researched, and I blogged, and at some point my blog post was so dang extensive that it just seemed fit for book format. And I’ve been working on an online dating book for ages, so this is a convenient safe little test run just to make sure I know how Kindle plays and can hammer out any kinks before my *important* book comes out eventually.

So! As soon as Amazon lets me, I plan to switch the price to free, so my friends and clients can snag it for no money if they want. I’d make it free forever, but I kind of want to test how royalties and payment works as an Amazon author, so I priced it at the lowest US value possible. (I also made it a 99-like price in all other markets, even when that meant it cost slightly more. I doubt all of Europe and Asia will rise up in outrage over it!)

Anyway, there you have it! This is very much geared towards people with similar taste to mine, but if you’re designing a clean, modern space and you’re stuck on window treatment ideas, it just might help you out. And yeah, that goofy cover image is in fact a picture of some of my curtains, haha. I’ll probably change both the cover and title eventually, but I wanted to just hit go and get it out there, ya know?

Style Cure smorgasbord

Style Cure smorgasbord

I’ve been loosely following Apartment Therapy’s Style Cure, but a lot of their steps are either hard for me to complete or just don’t make sense given our plans. So I’ve skipped them… and then skipped other ones… and ultimately that sort of makes you not follow along at all. :) Well, now I’m stuck on bedrest and am feeling a little stir-crazy, so I figure that’s a perfect opportunity to go back and do some of the less physically intensive Style Cure chores.

Style Cure, Day 1: The Interview

First up is the initial Interview. But why, oh WHY, could they not have produced a fillable PDF? It’s 2013! I swear to the gods of excessive paper consumption that that’s the reason I didn’t initially fill it out! Have no fear, you silly geese; I hacked a fillable form with PDF Pen and uploaded my completed version here.

My baby-analysis of my Question 1 and 2 answers is that I tend to go for cleaner, sleeker classics with a modern twist. I like things that are a tiny bit trendy/edgy/fun but are mostly good solid choices that will remain solid choices for decades. For example, Vonnegut never goes off of high school kiddie reading lists; my love of Charlie Kaufman’s writing never dies; I’ve loved Robert Downey, Jr.’s classic handsome features and ability to play a slightly off-kilter genius since well before he was Tony Stark, although that role really makes him come alive; and  I’ve always gone for women who were beautiful but kinda sharp and angular, not soft and squishy. :) (Sorry, ex-girlfriends! Don’t take offense. Maybe I just seek that which my own body refuses to conform to.)

My favorite furniture stores smushed together are kind of at odds; one is sort of conservative transitional-contemporary with fairly muted tones, and one was Wild Bright Modern Funky Fun until it closed down. Turquoise in its various shades (especially brighter and more saturated) is still my favorite hue, and I’m increasingly drawn to the deeper peacock version of it for decorating.

I clearly value natural light (the living room I’m Style Curing faces directly west), having enough negative space/lack of clutter (I need to do some miniature furniture culling over time to meet this goal), bold colors used appropriately (I’m leaning black and white or cream with a turquoise or teal accent color), and a pulled-together coordination that we haven’t yet been able to pull off in our new house, at least not in that room.

Okay, most of this I already knew, but that interview was kinda fun and useful after all! I should quit being such an AT grumpus. :)

Style cure Day 2: The Treasure Hunt

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to easily do this in person, because as I said I’m stuck on bedrest. But fear not! I managed to make inspiration come to me, haha. Yes, part of my fairly massive Style Cure undertakings is to get new window treatments for the living room, and I had a local vendor come to me and help me look through honeycomb shade samples as well as linen and silk dupioni samples. There were some definite inspiration stand-outs, mainly the super slubby/slightly shiny silks, especially the rich color called midnight that really should’ve been called mermaid. The linen curtain swatches actually did nothing for me (good to know) but the faux-linen blinds were a lovely, natural, textured open weave. Those super-duper-natural-looking fabric textures always get me; they soften the glam of lots of textiles and they just scream quality to me.

The rest of my hunt has to be Pinterest-based, but that’s cool because I’ve been pinning up a storm with this room redo in mind (and nothing but time and a laptop). Here are some of my main inspiration points, annotated:

A swatch of Brazilliance banana leaf and sea grapes fabric by Dorothy Draper.This iconic fabric has been on my mind a lot lately, you know, from that Martinique Hotel wallpapered look. I toyed with the idea of buying yardage and having curtains made. However, in the long run, I think that won’t work given that the bold pattern may appeal less in a few years. I need something more neutral and timeless (aka “classic”) as window treatments, even though this pattern in and of itself is a classic. Plus I don’t know if Grant could ever be comfortable with curtains of this pattern, PLUS it might look weird to have something this tropical in the winter in Seattle, you know? But I do still love it. I’m thinking of having the seats of these vintage wishbone chairs I snagged covered in this fabric, or in the Tommy Bahama knockoff version, and painting the wood and wicker black to downplay/glam up their beachiness.

A pair of arm chairs decorated in Brazilliance fabric with hot pink piping.And although I could never do these, check out these chairs for inspiration! I ADORE that hot pink welt/piping. I just might do turquoise welt if I end up using that as an accent color; after all, I have tons of houseplants so technically this green would blend right in, right?

Rugs have also been on my mind, since we want to swap out our amazing Temple Garland rug for something with colors that are easier to design around. (That was my biggest regret in this otherwise stunning purchase; stay tuned for an entire post on avoiding rug mistakes like I made.) Ikea STOCKHOLM black and white striped rugRealistically, we’re probably going to go for this Stockholm rug since it’s a nice wool material (flat-woven so perhaps more cat resistant than tufted, turns out) and it’s so graphic and fun. But I want to make sure it looks okay with the sofas we’re planning on getting, which might be way whiter than this off-white. So we shall see. A turquoise and white patterned rug.Other rugs that have inspired me in my huntings are this crazy aqua-turquoise and white one, which is a bolder and bigger color commitment than I think we’re ready for given what a challenge weird rug colors were last time. Again, I want something more timeless, and well, stripes and black and white are pretty darn classic. And if we do choose an accent color, it should be on something cheaper and easier to swap out, like throw pillows, even though I know that’s a predictable and possibly dull way to add pops of color.

Silk bordered curtains from DrapeStyle.comNext up, we have curtain inspiration, which is a huge part of this process but tricky since I’m totally not prepared to shell out for the cost of the level of luxury I crave. I’m still investigating various options, including crying and begging my mother to custom sew them for me even though she’s very resistant because she says she sucks at curtains. I say let me be the judge of that, haha. But we’ll see. This image from DrapeStyle is a nice inspiration one, although we’d do different colors (probably black with white/off-white or gray detailing in the bands). I think we’d do a different pleat too, and it’s possible we’d do linen with silk for just the detailing. I just don’t know yet. Or it’s possible I’ll end up buying much cheaper ready-made curtains, hanging them with clip rings to fake a pleat, and begging Mom to sew on just the way more manageable detailing instead of sewing the whole thing. I’m still waiting for a quote. But in the meantime, it was also fun to toy with the idea of these bright blue raw silk ones, which are nowhere near neutral/classic enough but daaang.

A black, gray, and turquoise striped velvet upholstery fabric.And lastly, my more abstract inspirations come just as fabric swatches. This velvet pictured blows my mind, and perfectly ties together our ideal neutrals (except white or off-white) and accent color. But there are similar ones like this with more colors, and loads more incredible weaves and prints. I really do have a taste for the luxe; I bet this stuff is well over a hundred bucks a yard. But that’s why it’s mere inspiration, haha. For now! If I can track it down in a small affordable chunk I’m totally having my mom make a throw pillow out of it. Mmmmmm velvet.

A brass square-patterned open screen.Last sheer ridiculousness inspiration piece is this screen, which is way glam and blingy and Hollywood Regency and we would never have such opulence or pointlessness in our house (a screen that doesn’t screen? What) but man did it catch my eye. Maybe I need to amp up our brass accents to warm up the stately drapes and white and cool accent color we’re planning, and maybe I need to track down something with funky square-interlocky pattern like a pillow or blanket. For now, I’ll just leave this here.

Well, this was a LOT of blogging for just two days of belated Style Cure, so I think I’ll come back to blogging more after I feel like I’ve accomplished more. Despite the palette, the look I’m crafting here feels distinctly feminine, which isn’t gonna fly with my better half. But I’ll find ways to bring in more dude-like elements, maybe with a different accent color. We’re still pondering that turquoise, after all, and Grant tentatively OKd it but really we both know that’s MY color so I don’t want him feeling left out.

Sorry for being lazy about editing images here; I’m too zonked out on Vicodin to care that there’s a ton of white space on some but not others. I promise I’ll treat your design-bent eyes kinder next time! Oh, and I finally made a Style Cure Pinterest board, too.

Living room makeover

Living room makeover

I didn’t grow up super decor-minded, you guys, despite what you read on this blog and possibly see in my obsessive Pinterest habits. I grew up in a bunch of weird different homes over the years, the most stable of which had cheap-ass wall-to-wall builder-grade beige carpet, Formica countertops, those ugly schoolhouse linoleum floors, and aluminum blinds. It also had ugly pseudo-modern 90s light fixtures with that pale green glass and shit, and the first-ever energy-efficient CFLs, which were not all that C and which emitted an even greener, buzzier, flickerier lighting than today’s CFLs. I kinda thought everyone grew up with builder-grade fixtures; I was fascinated by the people in my co-housing community who had a bunch of fancy much-nicer upgrades done to their unit. I never had, like, coordinating sets of anything growing up, except the duvet and matching sham my mom made me, and I rarely cared about things like thread count. I had a preference for natural materials, but that was about it. (It blew my MIND in 1998 and 2001 that all the Spanish kitchens I saw had granite countertops. I literally never met a single person growing up who had those. Were they just not a thing before the 90s in this country?)

Because of this less Home and Garden focused upbringing, it took me a long time to blossom into someone who appreciated nesting. Before I had my own apartment, I was really uninterested in home décor stores; I’d get super bored while my nestier friends wanted to poke around looking at cute vases and photo frames and such. And my first apartment on my own was a tiny studio and I was super-broke, so I didn’t do a ton of decoratey spending there either. From that abode I moved into a house with roommates so I also didn’t feel wildly motivated to decorate outside my own bedroom. However, being annoyed by one roommate’s constant revolving door of dudes I had to awkwardly share a bathroom, kitchen, living, and dining room with meant that I really put a lot of effort into making said bedroom an amazing little sanctuary. I went high-end for Ikea (this was pre-Stockholm collection) and bought stuff from their actual-wood HEMNES collection. (I guess having a woodworker for a father did rub off on me in that way; I’m not super duper handy or crafty and I certainly can’t build my own furniture, but I do have a respect for wood itself rather than MDF crap.) I also scoured Garnet Hill and West Elm for great clearance bedding and Overstock for great basics like real down pillows and comforters, and I suppose that broke-yet-nesty period was the beginning of the home décor obsessed Virginia I am today.

It wasn’t until I moved from that shared house into an apartment with Grant that I really started to get the appeal of interior design. And that, my friends, has still been a slow process. Plus, in blending our two tastes, as well as working with the strange 50s fixed elements in that rental, we haven’t always been that interesting, because we’ve tended to stick to kinda boring palette of too many neutrals as a strategy for compatibility and for blending a bunch of different stuff together. But that All Neutrals All The Time crap is getting boring.

A picture of my house, featuring a chair with my cat Trumpet sleeping on it.

We own a house now, that we’ve been in for two and a half years with only this amazing yet possibly way impractical rug as a major purchase. We’ve been here long enough and we’ve fixed and re-fixed enough small things that we’re finally getting kinda handy, a little, and we’re getting used to the idea that we can do whatever we want to any of the walls and fixtures, and we’re starting to actually become comfortable with spending some of the money we’ve saved up.

This is not a starter home; we hope to raise our kids through college here if life permits it. (I moved around a bunch as a kid, Grant didn’t; our small survey indicates the latter is better if you can pull it off, so we saved up to avoid the Starter Home phase.) That knowledge of this being our Foreverish Home has made us yet slower to make big changes, since I’m now consciously striving to be less trend-driven and go for more timeless/classic looks, which sometimes means not updating fixed features like a brick fireplace or an old-fashioned lighting fixture since you may regret it in five or even fifteen years when the old look comes back around and it’s hard to undo and you wish you hadn’t spent that money in the first place. You can see how this type of evaluation would take me time! But over the past few years, I’ve been researching home design excitedly, and let me tell you, shit’s about to get real. Real bright and colorful and coordinated and classy and comfortable and maybe even a bit glamorous, that is. And probably real messy while we figure it out.

A picture of my dining room.

Next on my list is a combo of things: sofas/LR seating for better flow, capacity, machiness, and comfort; possible rug swap-out for better matchiness; window treatments for light blocking, coordination, and drama, not to mention energy efficiency; paint for looks; lighting fixtures for looks and functionality; and possible fireplace and surround revampification for total room coordination and possibly glamour/drama. Not necessarily in that order, but probably, sorta.

I’m taking advantage of Apartment Therapy’s Style Cure program this month to (loosely) follow along and stay motivated about making the changes we’ve been fantasizing about for years now. The primary focus is the living room, which is super important because it’s what our front door opens into, and where we spend the vast majority of our time now that we have a TV in there. (I don’t wanna hear it, hippies; it’s well documented that TV is higher quality than ever and we don’t watch the crap. Well, mostly. I haven’t stopped watching True Blood yet but I’m ashamed of and exasperated with myself, and I’m working on it, OK? OK.) PLUS, my Heartographer clients walk through that space to get to my office, so I want it looking awesome. Therefore, we’re tackling every single one of the above-mentioned topics in just that room alone, haha. With no clear budget, more like “as little as possible yet make it as awesome as possible” so yeah. It’s a bit cray.

Even though it may seem like a lot, I’m reveling in this new-found joy of decorating. And in all this research, I’ve come to realize some things that are damn near epiphanies to this cheap-historied décor novice. I’m going to start blogging about some of those epiphanies soon, in sort of mini-installments by topic so they don’t get overwhelmingly long, and I’ll also probably do a couple of round-ups of my favorite sites and resources since many friends have been asking me for those lately anyway.

First up will be one about curtain (and window treatment in general) epiphanies! So look out for that post soon if you give a damn about all this decoratey stuff, and if not, please feel free to ignore this blog until I go back to whining about iOS 7 in September-ish. ^_^

Designer collections at big box stores

Designer collections at big box stores

I’ve seen this new business fad in home décor and fashion over the last few years; sought-after designers like Missoni and Jonathan Adler releasing budget-friendly collections at cheaper retailers like Target and JCPenney, respectively. I’ve always kind of wondered how this worked; with some like Missoni everything sold out in mere hours, so it was impossible to see how well it stood up. But with Adler, I was able to check out some pieces at my local JCP… and I was APPALLED at the quality.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not appalling on its own, necessarily. It’s about the same caliber as I would expect from other low-priced crap I’d buy at Penney’s. But I specifically examined his Elizabeth shower curtain, Alexa throw pillow, and Bleecker sofa. Let the whining begin! (Proto-whine; HOLY URLS BATMAN. JCP is not skilled at that part. It actually literally says “dotcom” as part of the link structure. Sigh. I’ll code it nicely, don’t worry. And also they code the sites so you can’t right click to download images on product pages, but if you just do so from their search results page, it’s this handy TIFF tool that allows you to set the exact dimensions and it scales up in fairly high resolution. Um, thanks guys! OK, on to the design stuff for real now.)

Exhibit A: Elizabeth reversible Greek key shower curtain, $35

Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler Elizabeth Shower Curtain, sold at JCPenney

This looks lovely, right? Classy and high-end and aaah, reversible. More things should be reversible that can be, because why the heck not. But not this, turns out. The fabric is this incredibly cheap totally sheer polyester, so the side with only a border is a completely impractical choice since the other side totally shows through even with no light source behind it. (Their web tool hid THAT nicely.) The stitching around the hems is terrible, uneven, and on a silky synthetic that frays. And the top openings for shower curtain rings aren’t grommets, they’re just cheaply cut and barely sewn buttonhole-like slits, with filaments of the polyester fabric already fraying badly on the brand-new model I unboxed to inspect. Er, sorry I didn’t fold it up as beautifully, but really, let’s just call it a service to your shoppers to warn them away from such shoddy merchandise.

The thing is, I wouldn’t even care if it were cheap quality if it were also a cheap price point. But I feel like $35 for a shower curtain that feels like it should be available for $10 at Walmart doesn’t do the Jonathan Adler brand justice, you know? A perfectionist like me looks at this, assumes he’s not all that picky about quality standards for ANYTHING he puts his name on, and dismisses the idea of buying even one of his pricey Full Brand shower curtains because I just assume it won’t meet my expectations either. Perhaps that’s snotty and unrealistic, but it’s a real account of what my Subconscious Compulsive Shopper did.

Exhibit B: Alexa Oblong Decorative Pillow, $32 original, $19.99 sale

Alexa Oblong Decorative Pillow, Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler for JCPenney

I must admit that I’m very cheap when it comes to throw pillows. I wouldn’t totally balk at the $32 price tag, but I’d be much more likely to buy it at somewhere between $10 and $20. What can I say? Blame years of Ikea shopping while broke in my 20s. But anyway. This isn’t about my weirdly cheap habits, but rather, about this pillow’s weirdly cheap construction. For you see, this is flimsy thin fabric which shows the lumpy awkward inner stuffing and label (who puts a label on the inside of a black throw pillow?) and the tape that creates the design is also cheap and poorly attached. I mean, I knew it was tape and not custom fine silk embroidery or crewel work; I get that. But the whole thing felt much less refined than the look I feel like it’s trying to create, and again, at the original price point this seemed ridiculous. At least the piping was nice enough.

This other pillow was nicer seeming, although if you inspected it too closely you saw that the machine-stitched detail around the edges of the key design didn’t always match up and revealed that the design beneath was actually just one piece of printed fabric rather than two fabrics sewn together/appliquéd, which is again the look you’re going for with this sleek elegant motif, in my opinion.

All in all, the pillows underwhelmed for the price point. Not as bad as the other items I inspected, but still nothing special up close in person. And maybe you’d argue that it doesn’t matter and it even calls itself “Decorative,” but you know what? In our household, throw pillows get used. We’re constantly piling them up as lumbar or head supports, and I don’t see that changing no matter what sofa we end up with.

Exhibit C: Blecker 80″ Sofa, $2,795 original, $1,675 sale

Bleecker 80" Sofa, Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler for JCPenney
We are indeed shopping for a new sofa (or hopefully a matching pair), but this was not a true contender. It’s way too weird and modern shaped, and even the sale price is way out of the budget for this Ikea girl. Even though I know Ikea sofas can be lame, we have our eye on some of their higher end models and anyway this was not on sale when I put my butt in it. It’s actually quite a bit cuter in person and calmer and less mod looking than I had expected, but it felt misproportioned (low to a fault) and very thin and cheap. The foam used is not high resilience at all; I don’t see it standing up to the test of time. And while I actually like the color better in person than I anticipated, the fabric feels cheaper.

It’s also a much more tonal white-on-nearly-blue than I realized, in that wide kinda mid-century tweed that cats love to claw the shit out of, and the pillows don’t match which I guess is the trend right now but I feel like if you sell pillows with a sofa, match them. These pillows are ever so slightly warmer gray, but like, not different enough to clearly contrast, like I would think they were just faded or purchased to sort of try to match but ultimately fail which is a terrible look. But I digress. The quality? Fine for a cheap sofa, perhaps even fine at the sale price point if you’re in love with the design and fabric and everything, but CERTAINLY not fine for the nearly $3k original price. You’re almost better off buying from Jonathan Adler Proper at that point, since those sofas are constructed with vastly better materials. (I know because I’ve wistfully sat on many of them.)

I don’t know. I realize I’m a huge snot, and a tester and noticer of details and tiny faults by nature, and picky by nature, and one who tends to aspire to products well out of a realistic budget. I realize I’m a conundrum of a shopper, a perfectionist who’s unwilling to pay for perfection (even though I *DO* buy all Apple tech now). But these just all felt like cheap-ass products with a luxury label and a luxury price tag, sold at a retailer whose customers are notoriously not into over-spending. I would love to hear an interview in which Jonathan Adler was asked to comment on the quality of this collection and the overall experience of launching a “budget” collection like this. As an Adler fan who’s unwilling to shell out for his main collection, and was thus SUPER STOKED for an affordable version, I feel like it cheapens and dilutes a swanky designer’s braaaaaand. And while I like to fancy myself savvier than to fall prey to brand worship, let’s be realistic: I totally do associate higher-end quality and prices with some brand I know to represent higher-end merchandise. I suspect that the amount of shopping research I do as we decorate our home would infiltrate even the most cautious, brand-disloyal of folks. (Or not. But it affects me yet I try to remain aware of it and balanced in how I make decisions.)

Quality really is hard to come by at reasonable prices. As much as I knock on Ikea, I’m liking the stuff I see in their higher-priced Stockholm collection more and more, ya know? It’s still cheap, but it’s high end cheap, where as this Adler Happy Chic collection is stuff that’s still expensive even though it’s low-end expensive, IMO. Maybe it’s just easier to brand up than down. But not always; I totally viewed L’Oréal’s attempt at a salon-caliber line of hair products as being the same cheap crap as their drugstore brand. But Ikea’s lower-end stuff has always been exceptional value overall, so maybe that’s what sways me? I’d be curious to hear other picky shoppers’ input on this if I could ever figure out how to properly re-enable blog comments, heh.

Animal Crossing décor inspiration

Animal Crossing décor inspiration

Grant and I have been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on his new (pale pink) 3DS. I’m the mayor of the town, because Grant’s a sweetheart, and he’s just a citizen. We have tons of pals who are playing, too, so we’ve really enjoyed it. He played the original GameCube version, and maybe a bit of the prior DS one I think, and I worked in linguistic QA at Nintendo during the several months before the Wii version of the game was released in 2008. I’m pretty sure that’s a legally acceptable way to get my experience with AC across, haha. I’m having much more fun this time around, for what it’s worth!

I seem to have become somewhat obsessed with the design and furnishing of my house in the game. I never cared much about that before, but something about being a real-life homeowner makes it deeply satisfying. Most people go nuts with the many outlandish and brightly colored sets you can collect, but I’ve found myself drawn exclusively to extremely realistic and traditional design schemes. However, Animal Crossing only lets you customize your exterior in limited ways, so I’ve found myself incorporating elements of design that might be more appropriate outdoors into my AC rooms. Here’s my castle-style outside (new door and mailbox to come):

My "castle" exterior house in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

For example, in my bathroom, I have a pair of these statue thingies called “Merlion(s).” I don’t know if that’s sort of like the Capricorn half-goat-half-fish thing or what, but I saw them in my Happy Homes showroom and went nuts and bought a pair immediately. Pretty sure they’d make more sense in a garden or courtyard, ya know? Perhaps you can’t tell, but water is continuously streaming out of their mouths, unless you face one and press the A Button. ;) Don’t worry about where the water goes. That’s not important in Animal Crossing. (Oh, and isn’t the parquet floor amazing? I would never have something that busy or frilly in real life, probably; we never saw a single detailed floor when we were house-hunting in Seattle. But I love the look especially with that wall; very Downton Abbey.)

My Animal Crossing bathroom, with a pair of Merlions.

Here are a couple more obsessive symmetry things that possibly belong outdoors, my maneki nekotachi (no idea if that’s how you pluralize it). I love the paw-raised kitty, and I used to have two with their right paws raised (which is more traditional) but Grant spotted a left paw one in the HHA and bought it for me. Yay! Proper symmetry: deeply pleasing. I know these are kind of a weird scale to have in an indoor home; they too look outdoorsy to me. But there WAS that big trend a few years ago of giant white ceramic animals that just sit on your floor and do nothing, so maybe these sort of fit into that category?

A pair of Japanese lucky cats (maneki neko).

Either way, now I kind of want to get a pair of these for my home office. After all, the right one is supposed to bring money/prosperity, and the left paw one is supposed to bring customers (according to this). What more perfect motif is there for my growing  business? I’m going to try to find a set that’s made of matte white, cream, or black ceramic with no colorful adornment, since I find the more traditional colored ones can look kinda gaudy. (And they also don’t go with my cool turquoise office décor.) There’s a local Japanese noodle restaurant called Boom Noodle that has some gorgeous plain matte white ones of various sizes on display in their foyer, so maybe they’ll share their source. After all, I can’t just run to Timmy & Tommy Nook in real life. Bummer!

Another matchy-matchy AC thing is my two Rococo Sofas, currently dyed Gothic Yellow but probably to be changed back to their original Gothic Brown at some point. (Oh, and matching Rococo Candlestick sconces on the wall, obvs. And yes matching fireplaces shut up.) I’ve actually been dying for two matching sofas in our real life living room (RLLR, LOL) but we’re having trouble finding two of the right dimensions and price point to work in our smaller living room/entryway, so I was pretty tickled to be able to scratch that itch in game. These are WAY more traditional and feminine than anything I’d put in my real-life house on purpose, but I think they’re charming here and the detail makes them that much more recognizable in the small scale of a DS game, even on an XL device.

A pair of matching Rococo Sofas and Rococo Candlesticks in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

And yeah, I have not two but FOUR matching Peacock Chairs, because those too are lovely and feminine in game, and I also have two coffee tables instead of one because there aren’t many four-square coffee tables and SYMMETRY MATTERS PEOPLE. That probably should’ve been my post title, haha.

I used to have just plain cream sofas in my living room instead, which I liked a lot and now have in a weird upstairs den-like room because I’m smitten with the cowhide rug and retro TV. (The rug doesn’t scale well in a bigger AC room so I can just never ever expand this one, haha.) Even though I complained about retro legs in this long design post, I find them cute in this specific room, and somehow in AC all is forgiven. And I LOVE the look and idea of cowhide rugs in real life, but I don’t know that they’re all that practical in our home, and I don’t think Grant likes them that much, and I get the feeling I’d be “over” that look too soon for it to be financially viable. Again, AC to the rescue, letting me play with design elements I love in a safe space, haha. I actually love the look of two light sofas too, but in our household with a black cat already and with hopes for kids someday, cream sofas just wouldn’t fly. But something really clean and minimal with the arms the same height as the back is my favorite sleek look, even if it feels less functional. Aaaah, AC.

Cream sofas and a cowhide rug in Animal Crossing.

The one thing I really wish AC let you play with was window treatments. (Or maybe they do and I just haven’t gotten there. No spoilers, please!) Can’t you imagine big dramatic swags and valances and whatnot to fool around with? It is sort of a bummer that if you expand your main room, you lose the window along the middle of the back, and the only windows in any of the auxiliary rooms are also on the sides, so you have to manually move the camera around to view them. Maybe that’s why they didn’t bother with drapery options. But I’d go NUTS if I had that choice, especially since that’s an area I’m toying with at home in real life, too!

Oh, and I looooove my bedroom, with the matching Exotic set. I just learned the other day that you can dye it, so I’ll probably start experimenting with that next. It’s way more Asian inspired than most of my home furnishings, and while I do love getting multiple pieces of a matching set, this much feels like overkill. But you get points for having multiple pieces of a set! Which remind me of the satisfying joy of obtaining set bonuses in World of Warcraft raiding gear, haha. Since there’s no way I’d turn back to such a hardcore MMO between my current time management and tennis elbow concerns, it sure is nice to feel like a semi-competent fire mage as mayor of our little town.


Last stop is my kitchen, which is pretty boring but still kinda fun because I used the Kitschy Tile and the Kitchen Wall in there. I would never normally put something so patterned up in a real house, but it’s kinda charming and reminds me of Spanish kitchens in Barcelona and Madrid that almost all have granite countertops and ceramic Moroccan-inspired patterned tile on the walls and usually a different larger-scale tile on the floor. This isn’t exactly a replica of that, especially given that there’s no countertop to speak of, but it’s a sort of chaotic, pattern-filled yet traditional retro vibe that reminds me of living in Spain.

My Animal Crossing kitchen.

So there you have it! My basement is boring, so I won’t show you that… oh fine; you’re right. We might as well. Gotta store those gyroids somewhere. Here it is:

My Animal Crossing basement full of gyroids.

LOVE that Library Wall, but not as much as I love the Ivy Wall that’s brick covered in creeping ivy vines. That’s in my museum exhibit (aka closet) now. It was perhaps my only treatment that’s truly strange for an interior; I like to keep my AC houses freakishly realistic but the ivy on the brick was too pretty to pass up. It sort of made no sense with this Modern Wood Floor, but I might reinstate it here in my basement if I can find some sort of outdoorsy-looking alternative at some point. Something that looks like a temple floor all in ruins with vines running everywhere would be perfect, right? ;)

As part of my Animal Crossing In Real Life ordinance, I actually wound up buying two matching indoor topiaries to flank the entrance to my kitchen. They’re no giant white cats, but they’ll do nicely! Check ’em out:

Matching topiary kumquat trees.

They’re kumquat (fortunella marginata nogami) trees that were grown at Monrovia and sold by Lowe’s for mad cheap; the gal marked them down from $60-something to $30 because they’re no longer flowering (even though the left one has two little green fruits!). I’m not sure if they’ll survive happily indoors, but they seem a bit hardier and less sun-desperate than the Meyer lemons I’ve managed to kill over the years, so I’m hoping I can at least keep them alive and happy-looking, if not fruiting.

I know they were still staked here, and I know I could ideally remove that annoying white cable for a more staged shot, but REAL LIFE ISN’T A VIDEO GAME YOU GUYS. I have to pay an electrician to make it so I can unplug that cable. For now, you get the idea. (The matchiness of the left hutch is new, too.) I’m quite pleased with this much symmetry; after all, I’m learning that matching identical pieces placed like this offer a sense of polish and formality to an otherwise casual and kind of haphazard collection of furniture from over the years. If I ever find me a real-life Cyrus to dye them up all custom (read: please send me Seattle upholstery referrals), I’ll let you know!

Form over function: The Fashion Edition

Form over function: The Fashion Edition

I fell deeply in love with this purse on first glance—to the point where I probably would have been willing to shell out the $178 (marked down from $400!) even when I wasn’t specifically in the market for a new bag, because it was so beautiful and seemed so incredibly functional. But once I opened it up, the love affair was over.

Perfect color-blocking (not so much that it'll look dated when the trend subsides in a year); perfect bright punch without veering into Neon Territory; perfect silvery gray and ivory that are cool and pale yet murky enough to hide dirt. Crossbody strap for maximum ergonomics, comfort, and security. Cool looking hardware. Not too prominent a brand logo. SO LOVELY!

For you see, this purse had no pockets whatsoever on the inside. And those two flimsy external pockets were too short to hold an iPhone (as well as being prohibitively exposed and annoying to open and close). So it’s essentially a purse that size exactly right for a full-sized iPad, but with no room to carry an iPhone, let alone a stylus, headset, wallet, keyring, or anything else you might want to carry with you along with your tablet and I guess the condoms that fit easily in the outer pockets. Hair ties. I don’t know. Not a f-cking wallet or phone or keys, that’s for sure. Anyway, my point is this: what percentage of women do you think own an iPad, but don’t own an iPhone, AND are willing to shell out for a purse that’s very clearly an iPad-intended form factor? (You can’t totally tell from my shot, but it basically looks like a case with a shoulder strap and some detailing.)

Furthermore, this bag was also less than an inch deep inside, and just exactly wide enough for the standard size iPad, naked. Which means that I couldn’t carry my iPad in the bulkier hardshell keyboard case that makes it extremely easy to type during meetings. (Does it surprise you to learn that that’s my case of choice? It is if I’m actually going to do anything with my iPad that warrants bringing it along with me in a purse and not a full-sized commuter bag.) Grrrrrrrr^n.

I may sound ridiculous to whine about this one bag, but it’s not just this bag. I find this problem coming up quite often in the women’s handbag design. There are rarely enough pockets to keep all of your crap in a useful location that makes it easily accessible and unlikely to ding up the other glorious brushed aluminum items in your bag. I even tried to have one custom made once, but the gal who made it underestimated the size of the iPhone (and so did I since I had it made about a month before the first gen came out). So it fits the crappy feature phone I had at the time, but anything as tall as an iPhone falls out. I would LOVE to re-line a bag (all bags) with a custom lining that is an entire wall pockets for different items, including all the basics I mentioned above, plus a business card holder and some makeup. I even tried to have such a thing commissioned twice, but it’s hard to find craftsperson who will work with leather these days, and I don’t think I’m willing to invest the time to become skilled enough to solve this problem myself.

In the same casual Nordstrom browsing this morning, I also opened up a flat wallet made by HOBO International, a strangely named company that purports to make handbags and other small leather articles “designed by women for women.” The wallet I examined boasted a smartphone pocket, and it was advertised as such with a little card that said “smartphone pocket” with an arrow, in a way that would grab your attention when you opened the wallet (which any shopper is CRAZY not to do!). I tried putting my iPhone 4S in there in its incredibly thin case*, but of course it didn’t fit in this slim flat wallet. I tried removing the case as well, but no dice there either. And keep in mind that the 4S is thicker but shorter than the more current 5 – I don’t think a 5 would have fit height-wise, let alone one of those crazy Samsung phablets that make me get all size envious. (Edited to add, the reviews confirm my suspicions.)

You may not appreciate the look, but you've never opened and closed a more satisfyingly clicky, solid, metal lipstick case in your life.Suffice it to say, I’m not buying the purse, but now I’m also mad at Marc Jacobs for not thinking this stuff through. Carrying my technology in a way that’s useful and accessible and fashionable matters a lot to me… to the point where I would probably spend full price for something that really accommodated that goal, even though that $400 price tag is crazy sauce to me, because I’m so frustrated at NEVER having owned a purse that makes proper use of space and fully addresses all my tech needs (let alone my Where Do I Put This Pretty Real Metal Designer Lipstick Tube So It Doesn’t Get Scratched By My Keys And Whatnot needs. Apple’s not the only one with great industrial design, ya know.). Do I put another period there, Chicago? ANSWER THIS USE CASE. GOD. See? Marc made me all capsy and it’s only Monday.

*Yes, I have a case on it. I’m disappointed in me, too. But I’ve shattered or chipped so many glass fronts and backs of so many iPhones now, and I drop the thing so many times in a given week, that it’s simply a requirement even though it saddens me to cover up such beautiful design. Gorilla Glass my ass.