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Lucky me. Along with my colleague Cameron MacNeil, I was sent to High Point, North Carolina for one of their semi-annual furniture market shows. I guess you could call it a pilgrimage of sorts, if you are into furniture. And if you are into blossoming dogwood branches, the spring show (which we attended) was also a bit of a pilgrimage. The fall show is scheduled for October 22-27. Yes, I drove Cameron crazy, for many reasons, but mostly by pointing out all the big dogwood trees, which are a local wonder. I think he was a convert by the end of the trip.

But other highlights from the show were many. I thought I would just share a couple here.

Favourite item: José Thenée sketches.

BoBo Intriguing Objects was a standout for both Cameron and I, with its showroom filled with mostly vintage and some repros. But one line in particular stood out to me. Somehow Bobo had acquired a collection of original ironwork renderings by José Thenée (perhaps his whole collection?), a world-renowned ironworker from Argentina. He was arguably the best of the blacksmiths in the 1920s and much of his work is seen throughout Buenos Aires. And if his sketches are any indicator, I can see why his work is so important. The showroom was filled with them, obviously for wholesale. And I have since seen them in a few advertisements for Atlanta and other U.S.-based retailers. These are definitely something I wish I could have bought.

Favourite display idea: Old rope.

Many of the showrooms do a great job of merchandising so that you feel like you're in a well-displayed retail space instead of (well, technically) a wholesaler at an industry event. Many of us love nautical in the spring and summer, when we're thinking of cottages and cottage decorating. Above is just one of many ideas on how to get a nautical vibe with minimal effort. A lovely pewter charger filled with old rope (probably new rope to be exact, that has been painted or stained) is the perfect hit of Shipping News style. It's also a great way to create a non-floral centerpiece. I think I would just beef it up with some pewter or wooden candlesticks with drippy candles. Loose and casual — this was one great idea.

Favourite new take on a tried-and-true look: Vintage sport added to industrial.

I'm a fan of the industrial look, and have been worried that it is on its way out these last couple of years. We've seen it in too many places, sometimes not well done. But a company called Halo masterfully mixed industrial with Brit sport to give it legs for longer. This was a great way to add some colour and some cheek to the industrial look. It's very masculine, but I love old trophies and rugby balls. It was a terrific merge of two strong looks.

Plus, Halo gave the best party of the show. To celebrate their British bent, they hosted a Clockwork Orange party (arguably one of Stanley Kubrick's best movies and a personal favourite of mine). The champagne was flowing, all the waiters were dressed like Droogs (punks) from the movie, and the film was running upstairs on a wall in the old firehouse they were using as their showroom. Now that was a highlight.

See part two of my favourite finds from High Point.

Photo credits:
1-5. Meg Crossley

We all have guilty pleasures here at the office. One of the gals absolutely loves real fur, while another gets girly over feathers. I secretly love leopard print (often printed on cowhide, brushed cotton or velvet). As with all our guilty pleasures, the reason we feel embarrassed by them is because so many people do them badly. How not to wear leopard print: Google Edith Prickley for a reminder.

Of course leopard print comes around every ten years or so and sticks for about three. We are on the tail end of its run now but I am happy to know that it will still be here for fall 2011, if runway shows are any indicator.

The key to leopard print is moderation, whether in fashion or home. And moderation doesn't always mean small scale. In fashion, it can be one fabulous coat or a small handbag. In homes, it can mean one big sofa, or a small cushion or throw. I think designer Charles Spada hit the right now in design with his French Chateau sofa. The leopard print is a showstopper, but there is only one thing in leopard. And so many other lovely and subtle things to balance the bold print.

Of course I would love to have this Yves Saint Laurent handbag from 2008 (left), but since it's sold out, and far out of my price range, I opted for a cute vintage one (right) on Etsy instead. And sorry for you others out there who secretly love leopard print, this bag is marked sold.

For more animal inspiration, see Kathryn Bala's blog post on spots.

Photo credits:
1. Thegloss.com, photography by Stan Wayman
2. Blugirl Fall/Winter 2011
3. Boxwood Terrace blog
4a. YSL Majorelle Leopard-Print Bag, Neiman Marcus
4b. Etsy

To me, the perfect summer embellishment comes in the form of grosgrain ribbon. I like how full-bodied it is — no frothy girly ribbon, this. Often in clean colours and crisp stripes, grosgrain is fresh, sporty and preppy. Three words I could use to describe my favourite teenage summers spent lifeguarding (in the 80s, when preppy was first truly big, and now I am dating myself, ouch). No wonder I have such a fondness for grosgrain. But when trolling fashion sites and leafing through mags, I see I'm not the only one. While I may consider this my indulgence in nostalgia, I think others see grosgrain for what it truly is, a North American classic.

This summery belted shift dress looks trimmed in black and white grosgrain to me, also perfectly crisp and cool. And look at the many colours of striped grosgrain available online. Imagine what you could do with those.

You could trim a hipster hat (similar to the one I might have rocked in the 80s, on the lifeguard chair). Or dress an outdoor table with grosgrain ribbon mini-flags.

Or, make the ubiquitously preppy string of pearls more casual. And how about dressing up your summer napkins in grosgrain belts?

Basically, anything you can trim with ribbon can be done with grosgrain, and when applied sparingly and paired with something crisp, you can create your own North American classic.

For other fun uses for ribbon, try lining a wallpaper blind or lampshade.

Photo credits:
1a. Alexis Mabille Spring 2011 RTW collection
1b. Pink Hedgehog Paper Crafts
2a. Above The Fray Cap, Anthropologie
2b. Martha Stewart
3a. Girls' Pearl Medley Necklace, J.Crew
3b. Martha Stewart

Photo Blog April 7 Spring Entertaining Bar Cart Table

Once spring is here, a young girl’s fancy (okay, I’m not so young, so let’s say my fancy) turns to entertaining. I want to have people over: for dinner, for drinks, for anything to jolt me out of the winter blahs. But in a small house, the question is, “Where do I set up the bar?”

Obviously, the lovely bar above has to belong to someone with not only a big house, but a big capacity for boozing. I am neither (although some friends may beg to differ). But I love how designer Thom Filicia stays away from the ubiquitous bar cart and pulls in something unexpected. Here, he uses a very large workman’s table, one that would take up my entire dining room. But even though this idea wouldn't work for my space, I do love that he wants to hobble something different together. And there is a bonus: the workman’s table can do double duty. It could be a bar one night, buffet the next, a desk in the day, anything. And so, I am on the search for creative ways to set up a bar.

Photo Blog April 7 Spring Entertaining Bar Cart Domino

Photo Blog April 7 Spring Entertaining Bar Cart Art

A second idea that I think is quite attractive is using a living room side table as an impromptu bar, as seen in the photos above. Of course, this would need to be tucked out of the way of traffic — you don’t want guests toppling the bottles. But you can see how subtle yet still glamorous this idea is. It feels like a movie from the ’30s — the bar has to be where you are seated, no walking that extra 10 steps for replenishment!

Photo Blog April 7 Spring Entertaining Bar Cart Mantel Fireplace

Of course, this last shot is my favourite — what a fun idea. How about setting up the bar on the fireplace? I love this. My fireplace has a deep mantel, is out of the flow of guest traffic, and it’s easy enough to tuck away the display bits and bobs for a night in order to bring out the bottles. And it strikes me as fun that people can sidle up to the bar, albeit a high bar, to help themselves to another.

So what do you think? Should I do the typical, “help yourself, the bar is in the kitchen,” or try something different like the fireplace bar?

For more entertaining tips, check out our Summer Entertaining Guide.

Photo credits:
1. Thom Filicia's bar, The Kitchn
2. Domino

3. Thom Filicia's bar, House Beautiful
4. From the Desk of Lola

Something that gets talked about a lot by House & Home design editors is scale. This is mainly because we are often producing some kind of story that requires bringing in a lot of furnishings from disparate sources in order to create a “room” — without having time for it to evolve slowly, the way decorating a real room would. So we are working from instinct, asking questions such as: “Is this lamp going to be too tall?”, “Is this side table going to be too short?”, or, “Is this chair going to be too big?”

Still, some of the images I like best in either our own mag or others, are those that involve messing with scale.

Photo Blog March 24 Scale Art

This shot is one of my favourites and has been sitting on my desktop for ages. With the framed artwork being twice the size of the chest of drawers it hangs above, I am sure this is breaking every old-school rule about scale, yet it works.

For playing-with-scale novices, there are a couple of tips to been gleaned from this photo. The artwork is graphic, sure, but still subtle and simple in both its colours and content. Big and quiet works in a way that big and loud would not. Also, take a look at how it’s hung. A wall space border of about 8” (I’m guessing from sight) surrounds the artwork on top and both sides — using the beam on the left as an indicator of where that area ends. So, they are keeping it even. And despite it hanging over both sides of the chest in terms of width, they are keeping the overhang even, too. Lastly, the art is the only big thing in the room. It’s not an Alice in Wonderland room full of very big pieces, therefore it’s more of a statement piece.

And we in the design business love statements.

For more tips on hanging art, see our Art Advice Guide.

Photo credit:
1. Forge River, Carrier and Company

Everywhere I turn, a friend or co-worker is starting a kitchen reno. (Good sign — the economy must be getting better if so many people are willing to update their homes!)

One of most common questions asked of me is: “Should I do an island?” And it is asked in such a way that tells me they don’t want to put one in, but somehow feel obliged. To which I say, despite seeing some pretty beautiful islands, that it seems the harvest table is back.

Photo Blog March 10 Kitchen Islands White Marble

This is a lovely kitchen by French architect Joseph Dirand. And you must admit, this is a pretty spectacular island. It isn’t too big (some islands are so oversized they make actually working on them ridiculous). The almost Shaker-like trim fashioned out of marble is a clever design detail, too. You can really imagine this put to good use.

Photo Blog March 10 Kitchen Islands Wood Table

But compare it with this kitchen by designer Steven Gambrel. The palette is similar; the marble is similar; sheesh, even the floor is similar. But the difference lies in the use of the old farmhouse table instead of an island. And I think it is used to great effect. The worn wood warms up the space — it is a nice counterpoint to all that grey/white marble. It could be used for anything from a prep station (as seen above) to a casual dining table with a mix of chairs pulled around, or even a place for kids to do homework comfortably, while mom or pop are cooking. Double or triple duty — always a bonus! And there is just something about it that begs you to linger in this kitchen.

I often think that while we try to reinvent the wheel, the old ideas have so much heart — this is about a family or friends gathered in the farmhouse kitchen, actually spending time together. And whether you have a big farmhouse kitchen or not, isn’t that the vibe you want in your life?

Still deciding? Get inspired by even more kitchen island photos.

Photo credits:
1. Remodelista
2. Steven Gambrel

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