Spring Redecoration

Reinvigorate your living space with bright seasonal pieces

Well, it's officially springtime. The crocuses are busting out and the equinox has ended that frigid stretch where the days are mostly night. It's almost disturbingly warm out and I'm feeling all motivated to do things around the house, like clean my kitchen and get rid of the books on my shelf that I will never read. Maybe it's time for a little redecorating, too.

There are plenty of ways to spring up your living space. Make your home a happy, sunny, colorful place to be all year. Just pick up a few of these domestic accouterments to thaw your house out of its winter greys.

Brighten up your sofa: If you've been planning to swap out your primary seating anyway, might as well grab a new couch in a hue that will make you think of the springtime all year long. Flush out your standard browns, blacks and tans and opt for a tangy pink or a breezy yellow

Rock some new shades: No, we're not talking the kind that you wear on your face when it's sunny out--although you'll be needing those too as the sun climbs higher into the sky on its way to summer. We mean the kind you layer over your windows. If you're still stuck with your standard aluminum blinds, maybe it's time to filter light in via a cheerier membrane. Layer some translucent curtains over your windows, or swap in some woven bamboo blinds for an earthier, more natural look.

Bring a hammock inside: If you've got a backyard or a garden, chances are you've been tempted to hippie it up and install a hammock between two trees. But for those of us without outdoor spaces to call our own, why not bring the ultimate in outdoor luxury to your living room? Instead of a love seat or recliner, go for a full-on hammock--or even a one-person hammock chair complete with cup holder. You'll be convinced your urban studio is on the edge of the beach in no time. 

Light up your life: Unless you're living in an Amish community and not actually reading this, chances are you've already got some indoor lighting going on under your roof. But it never hurts to freshen up the lamps that light your evenings, especially if you're relying on built-in ceiling lights to illuminate your dwelling. Grab a few paper lantern-inspired floor or table lamps to give your rooms that bright, airy look that complements the warmer weather. 

Underbed Storage Eliminates the Dust Bunnies

Captain’s Beds are Growing Up

Storage beds have been a longstanding choice for children’s rooms. They typically feature a platform base that requires a mattress without box springs. Built-in drawers, usually on just one side, eliminate the need for a dresser or chest. Known as captain’s or mate’s beds, they come in twin and full size frames. Some can even accommodate an extra mattress in addition to drawer storage.

Now, this style is coming of age as a choice for many adult bedrooms. With size options spreading out to queen, king and even California king, they feature the same space-saving drawer features on both sides and, sometimes, at the ends. Some feature a lift-up platform frame on hinges that eliminates the need for drawers. Of course, they don’t include trundle options as there is probably no need for a sleepover in the master suite (I imagine).

Styles are simple, but headboards can become elaborate with leather, faux leather, and fabric upholstery. Bookcase headboards are another option that is borrowed from the kid-friendly designs.

Very few storage beds are solid wood. Most are MDF with veneers in a wide variety of finishes. Classic colors are whites and off-whites, black, and brown in dark espresso to lighter latte shades. For adult spaces, look for flush front panel drawers that slide smoothly on premium metal rails. Handles that stick out are pure ankle-busters. Whether you want to save space or just need additional storage for blankets and other bulky items, these are stylish alternatives to standard bed frames.

Photo by Bedzine at Flickr

Writing Desks do Double Duty as Consoles

Bring workspace into the open with accent tables

Not everyone needs a home office, but most people do need some sort of workspace. It may not always be practical to create a dedicated area for a computer setup. But, with a laptop and a chair, it’s easy to get down to business on a console table. While they’re rarely used anymore, writing desks are still in style for just this purpose, too.

In earlier times, correspondence and tending to household bills required a special writing table. These were often ornamental in style with slenderized legs and no storage space. It was usually the women of the household who took care of these chores, so furniture designs tended to be feminine in their detailing.

Writing tables, buffets, consoles, and sofa tables are similar in size with designs that fit even the smallest spaces. Today, it only makes sense to let them earn their keep. Open framing allows room for seating, whether it’s a stationary chair or a mobile task chair. Before company arrives, simply move chairs and equipment to another room. Many tables also feature drawer space, although it’s limited to pens, notepads and other smallish items.

Styles include formal wood tables with turned legs and shaped front aprons. They can even be found at garage sales or flea markets for a nice price. Contemporary pieces generally feature glass tops and metal framing. Just be sure to avoid frame styles that incorporate central stretchers at the bottom; those will get in the way of your feet.

Combo consoles and desks can go anywhere, too. Add them as a server in dining rooms; create desk space behind the sofa, or place them in the foyer. With a few decorative items added, there’s still room to whip out the laptop and get to work.






Illustration (Sheraton Sofa Table) public domain

Reclaim Your Space with Reclaimed Furniture

What’s Old is New Again

From coastal styles to Industrial Age inspired pieces, reclaimed furniture is showing up everywhere. Wood pieces are prominent in seating, tables and bed frames. Salvaged from old warehouses, barns and torn-down buildings, they receive a refurbishing to complement any space.

Adding a second go-around in pieces with updated components and finishes is also ecologically friendly. Lumber that might go to the landfill is still tough enough to last a few more decades. Beams lend themselves to bold, solid pieces that can pair with metal bases for use as cocktail and side tables. Planks turn into chairs, benches and dining tables. In the bedroom, headboards and other furnishings make their own statements.

Not all pieces are rough and rugged; some are edgy and contemporary. There’s a bit of nostalgia built into the lounger pictured here. While it showcases a modern wave with a metal frame, it incorporates pieces of wood from the Coney Island boardwalk. Now, that’s the way to create some unique memories as well as adding an instant conversation piece.

Local designers around the world are finding a new rush of creativity in salvage items. And it’s not just limited to planks and beams. Old wine barrels are coming back to life as tables, too. These strapped wood containers are ready to serve up a little style instead of libations and they look great in any setting.

Reclaimed wood furniture is not a bargain you’ll find at a flea market. Go uptown or online for the latest designs and be ready to lay out the credit cards. But, with their history, there is always a story to be told. Too bad we couldn’t have found a “fly on the wall” to talk about these treasures.

Photo courtesy Day1dan, Wikipedia CC license

Aktiv: The IKEA House

Pre-fabricated dwelling debuts in the Pacific Northwest

Are you in love with IKEA? Does a trip to the Swedish manufacturer's showroom fill you with joy as you envision all the ways in which you might transform your own home to be more stylish, more efficient, more Scandinavian? I'm not really sure I understand you if so (trips to IKEA terrify me more than they excite me. I think it's the maze-like interiors that inspire the fear that I'll never escape from the endless, well-decorated limbo) but hey, good for you. You can now buy your whole house from the Swedes if you're so inclined.

I don't mean everything in your house, either. I mean the actual house itself. IKEA US has teamed up with an architectural firm in Oregon called Ideabox to release its very own pre-fabricated house onto the market. Now, when I think pre-fab houses, I think those little sheds that make me laugh when I see them strapped onto a truck on the highway, but per IKEA's aesthetic standards, this one's a little more stylish than that. It's designed for Portland types, after all.

The single-story one-bedroom house comes outfitted with green appliances and fixtures, as well as IKEA-brand cabinets, floors, and wardrobes. It's built to be both environmentally friendly and inexpensive, with fiber-cement siding and corrugated metal for the exterior. You'll be able to pick one up for just around 80 grand when it hits the market. Not at all bad, assuming you don't have to put it together yourself.

Ideabox claims they designed the Aktiv house with the active lifestyle of northwestern folks in mind. I guess that means there's space to store your mountain bikes and you don't mind living in an IKEA-stamped box because you're out climbing mountains and jogging in your Vibrams most of the time. They do offer the opportunity for their customers to choose the colors on cabinets and floors when they order, allowing you to get a little more creative with the interior look of your house than you might be during a traditional purchasing experience. All that customization without the hassle of expensive home improvement sounds pretty cool, actually.

The floorplan of the Aktiv looks about on par with a decent city apartment, with a small kitchen, living area, bedroom, and bathroom. It's certainly nothing fancy, but if you're looking for cheap, clean home ownership in Oregon anytime soon, the Aktiv may just be a great option. Hopefully it's a little sturdier than your average IKEA purchase.

Bar and Counter Stools - Size and Height Matter

Backless or With Backs, They’re Entertaining Essentials

Stools are easy updates for bar areas and kitchen spaces. They can range from simple and economical to extreme sophistication with a price. New seating can make a big difference in any space, but it should be a good fit without grabbing all the attention. There are a few things to take into consideration before heading out on that next shopping trip.

Pros and Cons of Backless Stools

These are the ultimate space-savers. At counter height, they can tuck under the ledge at a kitchen island. In wood, metal or plastic, they can come with round, square or rectangular seats that swivel or are stationary. Bar heights are also popular and they work well around taller pub tables. Again, because of their compact profile, they’re excellent for nooks and other areas where you need room to maneuver.

Counter and Bar Stools with Backs

If you plan to sit for any length of time, you’ll appreciate the increased comfort that stools with backs offer. With backs only, they can still save space, but when you add seating with arms, then you’ll need more room to place fewer chairs. These are still the preferred choice for extended entertaining with styles that include sleek acrylics, comfy lounge styles and more refined traditionals.

Counter height stools are gaining popularity in pairings with gathering tables. These are replacing the family dining ensemble and becoming a spot for casual entertaining. Used for both meals and for games or gathering around for drinks, they’re both trendy and functional.

In our combined living, kitchen and dining space, we have wrought iron stools with backs and arms. They contribute to the open “great room” look and are a terrific fit at the raised bar that fronts the sink and counter space behind. With a little planning and know-how, it’s easy to find complementing pieces for any spot.

Photo courtesy Morguefile

Armadillo Chair Defies Realistic Aesthetics

May or may not be a figment of your imagination
I always appreciate those objects that make you think twice about the parameters of the reality that you know. Are you looking at a real thing, or are you starting to see gaps in the code of the program called life? Are the graphics glitching out on you? Or did someone really build a useable wireframe deck chair?
The Armadillo chair, designed by Baltasar Portillo of El Salvador, might not look like something that could realistically support the weight of a whole human. It mimics the bare-bones wire structures of virtual 3D polygons, stripped down to its edges with no surfaces in between. It could even be made out of yarn, an elaborate result from a game of cat's cradle. But it's not; it's constructed from powder-coated wrought iron, meaning that its thin lines hold up even when sat upon. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the lightest iron chair in history.
The strange-looking outdoor seat does provide the aesthetic advantage of only overlaying your view of whatever's behind it with subtle red lines. It's like sitting on nearly nothing, although I can't imagine its hard iron wires are as comfortable to plant yourself upon as air itself might be. The prominent use of negative space against straight lines creates a visual that's simultaneously grounded and weightless. 
If you're into a bit of surrealism in your outdoor furniture selections, then the Armadillo might fit in nicely on your patio. There are only three in existence at present, though, so good luck getting your hands on one. 

Bars for Small Spaces

Make it Mobile or Add an Instant Tower

If your space is small, you can still set up a bar in just about any room. The trend in downsizing homes has led designers to create cabinets and mobile carts that not only look good, they’re so practical, you’ll be tempted to entertain more often. They’re available in traditional to contemporary designs and many are customized for storing stemware along with wine bottles and other serving accessories.

Enclosed wood bar cabinets are either console or tower style and some do come with lockable casters so you can move them around at will. Others are bar heights with front foot rails and room for stools. As the bartender, you’ll have plenty of work space along with storage. Some wood cabinets also feature swing-out wings that can be locked.

Metal bakers racks and bar carts are also trendy choices for smaller spaces. They include specialty slots for glasses along with bottle holders. A word of warning on wine storage, though. Storing bottles in the open leaves them susceptible to changing temperatures and damage from sunlight. If a cart is moved often, bottles will also suffer from vibration. I don’t think designers are especially savvy when it comes to storing wine properly.

Tower cabinets are sophisticated in style with a small footprint. These can include lighted hutches, pull-out work trays and enclosed bases. As long as the doors aren’t clear glass, it may be fine to store wines here.

While you may miss some of the amenities of a built-in bar, the latest selections are great-looking substitutes that will complement furniture of any type.

Photo: Industrial bar cart, ann-dabney, Flikr

Transforming Living Room Pieces

Dutch REK line expands and contracts to fit your space

Have you ever wished that your living room furniture were a little less like your average Chevy pickup and a little more like Optimus Prime? Deceptively static, superficially single-purpose, but secretly transformable into a whole variety of shapes? One Dutch designer might just have made the fluid furnishings of your dreams.

Reiner De Jong of Rotterdam (where they have much cooler names) pushes the limits of what furniture can do with his REK series. So far, there are only two pieces in the line, but they're both beautifully designed and totally malleable constructions. 

The REK coffee table, which operates a bit like a wide, truncated Jenga tower, looks to be about the same size and shape as your average living room surface when in its dormant state. Pull out the slabs from its center, though, and suddenly you find yourself with a much higher table space to floor space ratio. You can pull out the table's pieces in multiple directions, allowing for a little creativity in how you arrange your coffee cups and novelty books on any given day. The REK looks as though it'd be perfect for folks who have somewhat limited living room square footage (or at least who like the look of a small coffee table most of the time), but still like to have guests over from time to time. It folds up to a non-obtrusive size for daily purposes, but then unfolds to house comfortably all the drinks and comestibles of your visitors.

The complementary piece in the same line, the REK bookcase, takes the same concept and applies it to your literary storage needs. Compressed completely, it's not much of a bookcase at all. It resembles more of a long, vertical maze. But start to pull its pieces apart and it reveals its book-storing compartments. The concept behind the piece is that it grows with your book collection, so you never have those awkward empty spaces emphasizing how poorly read you must be. With a snugly-fitting case, your literary accumulations will seem substantial no matter their actual size. It's also a nifty-looking stick of furniture, taking unexpected turns along its length like an overfull Tron screen. Much more interesting to look at than your standard Excel-style case. 

Being that the REK line is designer furniture from the Netherlands, it's going to set you back quite a few Euros if you decide your living room absolutely needs it. But maybe we'll soon see this design concept make its way over to the states for less. 

How Did the Chaise Longue Become a Lounger?

"Lounge away and call it what you want."

Not only did Americans bungle up the chaise longue’s spelling, they also messed up its pronunciation. It’s not a lounge chair and it’s not pronounced “chase.” This is among my greatest pet peeves in the furniture world. How could we have taken this perfectly good French “long chair” and turned it into a casual piece that begs to be an accent that generally gets in the way?

Since ancient times, folks have wanted to combine the convenience of a chair with a place to snooze. Early artists depicted their deities lounging around with underlings in attendance. In Roman times, it was a staple from cozy chambers to grand halls. Its more modern form originated in Sixteenth Century France where it was a signature furnishing in the homes of aristocrats. It also took many shapes, some with a raised back support at each end (Recamier) or with a raised end and sloped back support (Meridienne). These were ornate with heavy upholstery or detailed wood framing. In Victorian times, no proper lady would have been very far from a chaise if she felt faint.

Americanized versions were just as decadent, especially during the Golden Age. They were a favorite prop for movie stars who felt that reclining on a chaise was advantageous to their celebrity standing and their profile.

Today, we Americans just call it a chaise lounge, and it’s accepted as being proper. That’s fine, because we’ve also managed to make it available for both indoor and outside locations. It’s even gone the plastics route with slats and framing made from recycled milk jugs.

Lounge away and call it what you want.