Monday, May 31, 2010


We hope you had a fantastic day celebrating and honoring the sacrifices made by so many of our brave soldiers.  Today marks the unofficial start of summer, which means if you’re not ready to barbecue you better start preparing yourself!  Here are some of the most stylish barbecue goodies we could find, Happy Memorial Day.

These disposable cups are awesome- peel back the white paper and you’ve got an etch-able black surface to write your name, nickname, or alter-ego’s name.  No markers required!  They’re oh so cute and just $9 for a pack of 32.

These environmentally friendly disposable plates are quite chic.  They’re FDA approved food-safe and made of 100% organically grown bamboo, which means not only are they sturdier than the average disposable plate, they’re biodegradable too!  At about $0.75 a piece they’re a relatively affordable alternative to paper.

I couldn’t get over the packaging of this disposable silverware “kit”- it’s absolutely fantastic.  Is it worth the big fat $6 per set price tag?  You’ll have to use your best judgment on that one.  I for one will probably be attempting to create a cheaper knock off in the near future.  How hard can it be? (I’ll let you know when I find out.)

I’m totally sold on this 
personalized steak brander!  For $40 you can sear the three initials (or two initials and an & sign) of your choice into any and every barbecued meat on your grill.  Not only would it be fun to own, it would make an awesome gift for any grill master or obsessive monogram-er in your life.

As much as I love to cook, I’m admittedly clueless when it comes to barbecuing.  In fact, “find someone to turn on the grill” ranks high on my list of reasons why I’m eventually going to have to get married.  That being said, I could still be enticed to wander out towards the grill if I got to wear an apron this cute.  Anthropologie has a selection as fabulous as their dresses and thankfully less expensive.  This little show-stopper is $32.

I’m a big fan of this Fine-Mesh Grill Pan from Williams Sonoma.  It allows you to brown and sauté even the smallest pieces of food and achieve that smoky flavor only an outdoor grill can provide.  It’s safe for use on gas or charcoal grills, dishwasher safe, and just $30.
Friday, May 28, 2010

Que Bella

Sometimes we all need a little reminder of just how beautiful, wonderful and intricate the world we live in is.  I was going through various pictures I’ve bookmarked in the last year that really made me stop and marvel.  I’m not talking about things that are cool or trendy, but rather the kind of beautiful that literally takes your breath away.  This collection of pictures is different in a lot of ways- some are man-made while some could only have been designed by God…some could be purchased and others are infinitely priceless- but they’re all at least representative of something undeniably picturesque.  Part of the reason we launched Design Muse was as a platform to help you beautify your life, we hope you find some inspiration in a few of the following images.  If you’re in the market for an interesting long-term project, try keeping track of the things you personally find genuinely beautiful.  Yes, it will help you from a design perspective, but even more than that- it will serve as a reminder whenever you need it that today is a great day to be alive!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gathered 'round the Table

“My family is big and loud but they’re my family.  We fight and we laugh and yes, we roast lamb on a spit in the front yard.  And wherever I go, whatever I do, they will always be there.”  If you’re movie buff, you may recognize that quote from the cinematic masterpiece ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’.  If you come from a family like mine, you may recognize it as the gospel truth.  We may not be Greek (my Mom’s side of the family is Puerto Rican, my Dad’s is Italian) but I come from two cultures that value family (and food) in an equally extreme way.  We love to be together and we love to eat.  We spend the moments between meals solving each other’s problems and talking about what we’re eating next.  I can’t imagine it any other way.  My Aunt has this massive table in her house that our family loves because it’s the one place we can eat and be together at the same time.  While my Aunt would be the first one to tell you a table so large isn’t always the most practical choice for your home, we’ve all made some wonderful memories gathered around it.  Even if you’re not interested in seating the masses at one table on an everyday basis, large tables are a very big trend in event planning right now.  Whether you’re planning a wedding, graduation, birthday or dinner party, it seems the bigger the table the better.  Here are some of the most beautiful examples we could find.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hardwood Flooring Cheat Sheet

Since the hardwood flooring on our first floor was our house’s only casualty in the great Nashville flood, I’ve been doing a little research on the topic of replacing it.  In fact, I just came back from helping my cousin look at some of her options at a few local contracting stores.  Come to find out, there are a lot of variables involved when selecting hardwood flooring to suit your home. Even if you have someone helping you make choices, wood flooring is a big investment and you need to make sure you do your research.  A builder may be advising you from a ‘what’s easiest to install’ standpoint, your interior decorator may only be interested in design and your spouse may want to solely talk dollars and cents.  Someone has to be the big-picture person, and I’m thinking it may just have to be you.  Here are a few of the many things you should consider and some questions you should ask yourself and those involved in the project:

Laminate vs. Engineered Flooring 
vs. Solid Hardwood

Let’s talk this through from cheapest to most expensive, which of course means we’ll start with Laminate floors.  These are the least costly because they’re not in any way real wood.  Here’s a chart I found that best describes the pros and cons when compared to solid hardwood.  

There are a few positives to engineered flooring, it’s nearly always less expensive than solid hardwood because it’s essentially a thin layer of wood with scrap material underneath the surface.  It’s also more moisture resistant so it’s safe to put in your basement or over radiant floor heating.  The bad news, however, is that it just doesn’t have the lifespan of solid hardwood.  For example, we had somewhat minimum damage to our floors from the flood.  If we had solid hardwood flooring we simply could have sanded and refinished them, instead they’ll have to be replaced completely.  Most solid hardwood can be refinished anywhere from 7-10 times and can last up to 100 years or more if take care of properly…so when it comes to long term commitment, solid hardwood is typically the best choice.  

Pre-finished vs. Unfinished

Pre-finished wood is generally easier to install in an existing home and works better in areas that receive high traffic.  It’s the better option if you’re looking to avoid fumes or mess, or if you’re installing in a room with higher humidity as it is suitable for changes in climate.  For a fast and easy installation, pre-finished is most certainly the best choice.  If you’re attempting to match an existing floor or trim, however, unfinished wood is easier to stain.  If you’re having floors installed through your whole home unfinished floors will allow you to achieve a more uniform color and finish.  For unusual wood species or specific plank widths, unfinished flooring is a better choice and will allow for more options. 

Wood Grading, Angles and Patterns

Wood is “Graded” based on it’s appearance- the more uniform a piece of wood is in appearance, the higher the grade.  Different types of wood are categorized different ways, but here’s an example using one of the most common types of flooring, Oak.

A “Clear” grade means you’re getting a finish free of defects.  Although it may have minor imperfections (we are talking about wood here) this is the cleanest looking type.

A wood that is “Select” or “Select & Better” will be nearly clear but have more natural characteristics like color variations, knots, etc.

“#1 Common” is more natural still, with a variegated appearance, knots, flags and even small holes

“#2 Common” is the most rustic of all and will allow, if not highlight, all wood characteristics.  This is a wood with character to be sure.  

The angle at which a piece of wood is cut also has a large impact on the way it looks.  Plainsawn wood is the most common and contains more variation because figure patterns from growth rings are more conspicuous.  Quartersawing is more expensive but wears more evenly while riftsawn wood is similar but cut at a slightly different angle.  

The pattern wood is actually laid in will also effect the finished product, make sure you lay out in your contract the direction you want the flooring to go and any design pattern you have in mind for the planks.  

Questions to Ask:

Is this a high traffic or low traffic area?

The amount of wear and tear your floors will be exposed to is a major determining factor!  Darker colors show traffic faster and require preventative maintenance such as light sanding.  Satin or low shine finishes show less wear than high gloss ones.  If you simply can’t imagine life without dark chocolate colored Mahogany floors in every room of your house, than by all means go for it- but don’t do it with your eyes closed.  Plan on purchasing a lot of area rugs to protect them, or simply be prepared to be constantly cleaning and re-finishing.

Who is maintaining these floors?

Is it you?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Your maid?  Whoever it is should know exactly what the procedure for cleaning and maintaining is and be willing to do it.  If they’re not prepared to spend time taking care of them the way they should be, you may need to consider a different type of flooring or a different caretaker.  

Does the person installing these floors
really know what they’re doing?

Installing hardwood floor may seem like a good do-it-yourself project, and if you know what you’re doing you can surely save a little money.  Before you figure out just how much you’ll save, don’t forget to factor all the tools and supplies you’ll need to purchase.  Also, be sure you research details that a professional would cover, like how to leave the proper expansion area and where to rent a meter to test the surface for moisture.  If that last sentence made you nervous, you should not be doing this project yourself.  Hire a professional with good references that gives you a properly written contract with warranties, guarantees and an estimation of how long the job will take. 
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Loving Gray and Yellow

Gray and yellow always strikes me as a surprising color combination.  It could be because their metallic counterparts are conflicting gold and silver, or perhaps due to the fact that (even though it’s considered a neutral color) gray tends to cool down yellow’s traditionally warm palate.  If there are rules against this combo they must be the type that are made to be broken, because let me tell you- it works!  It’s bold, versatile, and you can use it in literally any room of your house.  Here are a few rooms I absolutely love using this fantastic palate.