Saturday, December 29, 2007

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Over and Out

I still have scarves to finish knitting, baking to begin, gifts to wrap, and -- as my 12-year-old might say -- some serious post-holiday chill-axin' to do.

So I'm signing off for the rest of 2007. I'll be back in the new year.

In the meantime, happy holidays and a wonderful new year to you and yours from me and mine!

eBay Find of the Day: Swiss Army Blanket

When it comes to Utilitarian Chic, you can't beat a vintage Swiss Army blanket. There's that graphic red stripe and white cross, and the earthy gray-brown nubby wool. These circa-1930s to -1950s military-issue throws are perfect for draping across the back of a sofa or folding at the foot of your bed to add a shot of color and texture to the room and to help ward off the winter chill.

Photo by Don Freeman for House Beautiful

Here's one in designer John Peixinho's (very traditional) Newport, Rhode Island Home.

And here's a not-dissimilar wool Army blanket employed in a much more modern way in Portland's uber-hip Ace Hotel.

Robert Redford's Sundance catalog is hawking Swiss Army blankets for (a shocking) $289 a pop -- but you can snag one for a tenth of that price on eBay. The vintage blanket pictured at top, for instance, measures 56 by 77 inches and is in excellent vintage condition.

Current bid: $28. (If the auction has ended by the time you read this, simply run a quick search for others.)

Things I Hella Love About Oakland: The Holiday Light Show

Holiday lights at the Mormon Temple

Don't ask me why we have a big-ass Mormon Temple in Oakland. (I mean, we're pretty much a pagan-worshipping, alternative-lifestyle-loving lot out here. Seriously, I don't think you could find a more Godless bunch outside of Sodom and Gomorrah.)

But anyway, a big-ass Mormon Temple we do have. It's perched high up in the Oakland Hills, and is visible from all over the city and even from across the bay in San Francisco. It's quite beautiful, actually.

Every year, those wacky LDSers pull out all the stops and light the crap out of the place for Christmas. I'm not joking -- I'm pretty sure you can see it from space. And every year, we make a point of visiting to soak up the spectacle. Last night, our son's school had its big winter concert shindig there, and we took a few moments afterwards to stroll the grounds and snap a few shots.

I don't even want to contemplate what the church's December electric bill must look like, but the holiday lights there are an incredible sight to behold and a treasured part of our holiday celebrations. So thanks a bunch, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

(Note: We'll be skipping our visit to the Mormon Temple's grounds this year, as our own little form of protest against LDS's support for and funding of the hateful "Yes on Prop. 8" campaign.) 

The light show on Picardy Drive

We also make a point every year to visit Picardy Drive (aka "Christmas Tree Lane") in East Oakland. Picardy is an ethnically and religiously diverse working-class enclave in an often-rough part of town. The street is filled with adorable late-1920s storybook-style houses that sport turrets, towers, and parapets, despite their modest size and humble surroundings.

Each December for more than 60 years, the neighbors on Picardy have come together to decorate almost every single one of the 71 homes on the oval-shaped, quarter-mile-long thoroughfare as well as the small park at the center for the holidays.

It's truly a community effort: If someone is too elderly or infirm to do up their own house, the neighbors will pitch in to take care of it. The Jewish residents join in, too, with blue-and-white Hanukkah-themed lights and decorations. Strings of lights span the narrow driveways between each home, signifying the connection between the families who live there. And after the annual workday, the neighbors gather in the park for a tree-lighting ceremony and potluck celebration. (There's even a documentary about the Picardy Drive holiday lights and the community itself; check it out here.)

These folks really go to town, and nary a house on the street is left unadorned. Basic Christmas lights won't cut it, either -- there are lighted Christmas trees perched on roofs and front lawns tricked out with elaborate vignettes featuring gyrating Santas, grazing reindeer, and filled-to-the-brim toy trains.

(I'm sorry these pictures aren't more professional. My 9-year-old daughter basically wrestled the camera out of my hands in her excitement to capture the lights. And who am I to squelch her burgeoning creativity in the interest of clear photos?)

I've said before that I can get a bit grouchy and Grinchy this time of year, and that I definitely don't love the frenzied commercial nature of Christmas. But visiting Picardy is a much-needed reminder of what the holidays are really about: slowing down, putting differences on hold, and taking the time to appreciate -- and truly connect with -- our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

Hope you have a good one!

Cool Stuff: Bo Lundberg Illustrations

Grain Edit has a feature today on Stockholm-based illustrator Bo Lundberg, who creates fun and vibrantly colorful retro-modern designs for a variety of clients.

Lundberg's work is new to me, but I really like his aesthetic and was inspired to search out some of his products.

Take a look:

Breakfast Glass Worktop Saver, 12 by 16 inches, 12.49 pounds sterling (about $25)

Melon and Lime Glass Worktop Saver, 12 by 16 inches, 10 pounds ($20)

Melon and Lime Oven Mitt, 5 pounds ($10)

Signed and numbered Flying Over the Forests giclee print, part of a limited edition of 50, 1,900 Swedish Krona (about $288)

Signed and numbered Spring giclee print, part of a limited edition of 50, 1,900 Krona ($288)

Signed and numbered The Kitchen giclee print, part of a limited edition of 50, 1,900 Krona ($288)

Occasion Cards, 5-by-7 inches each, $21 for 12

Read the Grain Edit interview with Lundberg here, and see more of his work here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Etsy Find of the Day: Jamtart Baby

Not just for the nursery -- these winsome pillows from British Columbia's Jamtart Baby would look fetching accenting a grown-up bed or a living room chair.

Green Chick Pillow

Miss Queen Chick Pillow

Each pillow is based on an original illustration, measures 10-by-10 inches, and costs just $15.

And is it wrong for me to wish that my kids were still little, so I could buy each of them one of these sweet Little Buddy Security Blankets (Sings Like a Daisy, left, and Evie Makes Me Smile, right, both $38)?

On second thought, maybe I should just buy one for myself -- after all, we never outgrow the need for a little comfort and security.

See all of Jamtart Baby's handmade creations right here.

Cool Stuff: Anno Unni Panel

Speaking of design trends that may have played themselves out (but that I still can't get enough of) ...

I spotted these fabric panels hung in a beautiful "snowy woodland" shop window display the other evening, and rushed back inside to ask the owner where she got them. Being the proprietress of a store that focuses on independent and vintage design, she was a little embarrassed to admit that they came from IKEA. (Don't worry, J. -- your secret is safe with me. Errr ... well, maybe not your secret, but at least your identity. ;-)

How could I -- "tree tramp" that I am -- possible have missed these? I fully admit to a love/hate relationship with the Swedish superstore. I despise the shoddy construction, mass-produced nature, disposability, and ubiquity of most of IKEA's goods. But I adore being able to pop in and pick up a few fun, modern -- and yes, somewhat disposable -- home accents without bankrupting myself.

The fact is, I had just been at the blue behemoth that afternoon to get some cheap-but-funky wrapping paper, and had even wandered through the window-coverings department to see what was new. Had I seen these Anno Unni panels, I surely would have grabbed them -- as unable to resist as a junkie who stumbles upon a fix.

I still may find a reason to sneak back this week and snap them up. Our house has no more windows that need covering, but these are perfect for winter decorating, and would be great as table runners or even wall hangings. And -- as it is with IKEA -- you just can't beat the price: $30 for two 24-by-118-inch panels.

Check 'em out right here.

P.S. A couple of other IKEA items that tempted me, but that I valiantly resisted:

Stockholm Stad Cushion, $13

Unni Rug, $20

Good Reads: Trends That Are "So Over"

All photos by Raeanne Giovanni-Inoue for The New York Times

There's an interesting piece in today's New York Times on the big decorating trends of 2007 that are due for demise -- at least according to prominent designers like David Netto and Celerie Kemble, tastemaking editors like Domino's Deborah Needleman and Metropolitan Home's Donna Warner, and the doyenne of design bloggers herself, design*sponge's Grace Bonney.

One of the most intriguing reasons given for certain trends playing themselves out is the so-called "democratization of design." With the proliferation of companies such as CB2, West Elm, and even Design Within Reach interpreting high-end modern design for the masses -- and so many design bloggers out there writing about them -- these designs are destined to lose their exclusive cache.

Though the statement comes off sounding pretty snooty (I mean, if just anyone can be savvy to -- and possibly even afford -- things like baroque mirrors and geometric rugs, then of course those things are no longer desirable), the author does have a point. When we all see the same thing over and over again, of course we're bound to grow weary of it -- no matter how fresh the concept may have seemed at first. Even good ideas, like eco-friendly products, eventually inspire design fatigue when everyone jumps on the bandwagon, writer Penelope Green asserts.

Among the decorating fads on their way out?


David Hicks-influenced design (that means you, Jonathan Adler)


Cowhide rugs

Flatscreens over the fireplace

Ironic takes on "Hunting Lodge Chic"

Over-the-top Baroque Modern and Hollywood Regency style

"Green" products like bamboo sheets

Check out Ms. Green's article right here -- then tell me what you think: Do all of these trends deserve to be relegated to the design dustbin? Are design blogs and the burgeoning interest in design among the hoi polloi (that would be me and you, people) causing trends to cycle in and out ever faster?

Post a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Retail Therapy: Tazi Designs

Some nights, I dream of Morocco.

I have never set foot in North Africa, but it's long been a place that absolutely fascinated me. Very few books about Moroccan design manage to escape my Amazon wish list, and I read Maryam's wonderful blog, My Marrakesh, with a mixture of envy and acute longing. One day, I'll book a stay at Maryam's breathtaking guesthouse-in-the-making, Peacock Pavilions.

Sadly, a visit to Morocco will have to wait until our kids are bit older and our bank account a bit fatter. But in the meantime, when I yearn for a mini-Moroccan escape I can slip into Tazi Designs.

Hidden down a quiet alley in San Francisco's chic Hayes Valley, the three-storey showroom housed in a converted industrial warehouse is an anomaly in a neighborhood known for its very spare, very modern, and very northern-European-influenced boutiques. To step into Tazi Designs, by contrast, is to be instantly transported to the bustling souks and exotic riads of Marrakesh.

Opened three years ago by former telecom exec and Moroccan transplant Hicham Tazi, the shop specializes in gorgeous and authentic Moroccan architectural elements, furnishings, textiles, lighting, accessories, and tableware, as well as custom design.

Here you'll find mosaic tables ($159 to $2,220), colored-glass perfume bottles ($26 to $48), intricately carved and painted octagonal tables ($95 to $720), tile fountains ($1,100 to $1,800), hand-embroidered Turkish bedding ($350 to $550), painted clay tagines ($48), and a veritable rainbow of luscious silk throw pillows ($55 to $85).

Trust me -- this is no pseudo-Middle Eastern import-emporium crap. Fittingly, the prices at Tazi are a step or three up from what you'd see at Cost Plus and stores of that ilk. Still, many items are surprisingly reasonable.

A few of the things that caught my eye during a recent visit:

Bone-inlaid mirrors and furniture, $850 and up

Hand-dyed and -embroidered leather poufs in lots of poppy, non-traditional hues, $155 and up

Antique carved chairs and daybeds, $450 to $1,800

Embossed metal tea trays, $150 to $220

Tribal flatweave rugs, $290 to $3,400

Carved mirror, $790

Leather slippers, $35 a pair

Moroccan lanterns, $66 to $2,500

Hand-painted tea glasses, $7.50 to $9 each

The Tazi showroom is located at 333 Linden St. off of Gough in San Francisco. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. (The hours can be a bit arbitrary, though, so call before heading over: 415-503-0013.)

Bonus for you non-Bay Areans: The Tazi Designs website also offers e-commerce.


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