A minimalist’s holiday decorations

I know some of you get your kicks from decorating every nook and cranny of your homes with Christmas decorations: you have every kind of Santa; you have nativity scenes and train sets wending thru winter wonderlands; your roof is draped with icicle lights; you have bells and baubles and angels and fake snow; you may even have blow-up reindeer on your lawn. And in your garage (basement/attic) you have boxes and boxes of decorations you simply don’t have places to display.

christmas overkillI’m exhausted just thinking about it.

I’m a holiday minimalist. Even in the old days, when we had a big house and kids at home, our decorations consisted of The Tree, which was carefully thinned out so our ornaments could have space to breathe, the ornaments (most of which were made by us or in some other way special), and The Tree Thinnings, which were arranged on the dinner table and mantel with a few special decorations and candles among them. The stairway always had a tinsel strand winding up the banister. That was IT.

It still was a fair amount of work to assemble and dissemble, but it was very much US.

decorations. Tiny tree, home-made decorations. Joy Overstreet, Color and down-sizing consultant, Portland, OR. Creatingjoyfulspaces.com.Now I live alone in a small urban condo. I have a 30″ tall twig tree with LED lights (and decorated by my grandson with tiny pompoms) that collapses to almost nothing after New Year’s. I get my tree thinnings from walking around the neighborhood after a windstorm, and from a friend’s yard. Some nandina berry clippings from another friend, lilies and clementines from the grocery store, and a handful of ornaments I have in a little box under my bed. That’s it.

Home-made holiday decorations. Joy Overstreet, Color and down-sizing consultant, Portland, OR. Creatingjoyfulspaces.com.

But. The papier maché snowman my older son made for me in kindergarten 40 years ago has his place. Heimg_4949‘s fallen off the mantel to knock off his hat more than once, and yet he lives to lord it over another holiday. The two table reindeer were a gift from a dear friend at about the same time, and my children think they’re ridiculous, which makes me love them even more. All these things give me enormous pleasure and they travel with me to wherever we celebrate the holidays. Last year, they went to Oakland; this year they’re going to LA. I think next year they’re going to France.

What this means is I can focus on what’s most important to me: the people I hold dear. What about you?

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How to create an unfriendly home

You can take minimalism too far. Way too far. I experienced this on a visit to Amsterdam.

My friend and I stayed with an AirBnB host in the newer IJ waterfront area east of Central Station. Many modern multi-story apartment buildings have sprouted along this attractive waterfront, most quite boxy and simple. The entrance to ours foreshadowed the prison-like atmosphere within:

Amsterdam apartment entrance (from inside)

Amsterdam apartment entrance (from inside)

Once inside, we found ourselves in an imposing many leveled atrium, ringed by identical unmarked (but for tiny numbers) apartment doors at each level.

Apartment building atrium - more like a prison block

Amsterdam apartment building atrium – or a prison block?

Entering the front door of the apartment, you could choose the narrow white corridor to the right or the narrow white corridor straight ahead. Both were lined with lots of shut doors. The one with the red bag in front was the owner’s room – so marked to indicate it was not for us:

One of two white corridors

One of two white corridors

Once you entered the main living space it was open and airy. But furnishings were super spare. No color, no art. Because the couches faced into the empty room (rather than to each other) they were not conducive to friendly conversation.

Minimalist living room

Minimalist living room

In fact the only piece of art in the entire apartment was the depressing Edward Hopper print of a tired woman, slumped alone at the edge of her hotel bed. (Depressing or violent art in the home is a big feng shui no-no.)

Edward Hopper's Hotel Room

Edward Hopper’s Hotel Room

The bathroom was CLEAN and tiled from floor to ceiling with shiny white tile. It could have been the staff bathroom in a hospital. Our host didn’t even keep her shampoo or toothbrush in here. Did I say it was CLEAN?

Stark bathroom

Stark bathroom

This is the home of a single career woman with not a lot of observable fun in her life. And, no, she didn’t just move in. With this sort of cold unfriendly home environment, do you think her life will perk up any time soon?

What would you do to enliven the space?

 

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Portland Craftsman before and after

It makes me very happy when my clients are very happy. Here’s what they said when they sent the “after” photos:

We did all the changes and LOVE the outcome. We couldn’t be happier with the new “feel” of our home.
 – Jill W.

This young couple wanted to make their new (old) home more warm and welcoming without spending much money. Paint to the rescue! (Plus a few other minor purchases.)

Living room before and after

Living room before and after

Before: rug too small, corner light distracting, wall color dull, art behind chairs is lost and on other wall it fights with the cabinet which crowds the armoire.

After: gray taupe wall color brings out the color in the handsome chairs, rug brings together colors in living and dining room, art scale and placement much improved, mirrored table widens room and plays well with the armoire, folks on couch now have a coffee table.

Portland Craftsman dining room before and after

Portland Craftsman dining room before and after

Before: Wall color is blah and cold, draperies way too short and busy, chairs too light-weight and “country” for a Craftsman.

After: All those things are fixed. So warm and welcoming!

Not shown well in either photo – kitchen color is now a warm tan to work better with the linoleum floor color.

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Throw a “come and get it” party! Offloading for charity

De-cluttering party for charityHow do you make disposing of your treasures easy and fun, while also benefiting  a favorite charity?

When I was preparing to downsize to a smaller home, I sold what I could on Craigslist, but still had way too much stuff that I didn’t want to take with me. I also did not want the distressing hassle of doing a yard sale — been there and done that! Pricing every little item, haggling with strangers, hearing their snarky remarks about my dear possessions — no thanks! Nor did I want to haul it all off to Goodwill.

The stuff had to go: was there a better way?

YES! I decided to throw a “name-your-price” downsizing party. I invited friends via email and Facebook, and suggested they invite their friends as well. I also requested they bring food or drink to share as well, since I had packed my kitchenware.

My cleverest idea was to let everyone know that half of the proceeds from the moving sale would go to a local educational foundation we all believed in, “I Have a Dream”. Guests were asked to donate into a basket what they thought was a reasonable price for their take-home treasures.

On several tables I arranged all the stuff I wanted to free myself from, and set up another table for food and drink (wine always helps boost sales!).

Everyone had a great time, especially me. My treasures ended up in friendly homes, and because a good cause was involved my guests probably paid twice as much as they otherwise would have.  “I Have a Dream” got $220, I got $220, and my tables were cleared.

A win-win-win.

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This is “my” house

Joy Overstreet, color and down-sizing consultant, Portland OROr at least it was a few years ago when I wrote this post for my blog, Getting to Less, to consider some philosophical questions about ownership.

We speak so possessively of our homes and our things. “This is my house.” “This is my couch.” “Fritz is my cat.”  As if the house, couch or cat were really ours to own.

Even if you built the house yourself stick by stick, if you built it well it will live long after you’ve moved on. Someone else will call it “my house.”  It was also built on land that was here millions of years before you were born, and belonged to ???  The couch belonged to someone else before you bought it and you hope will be useful to a new owner after you’re done with it.  And think about it:  is your cat really yours? He may feel attached to you, but he’s certainly his own self.

As I try to loosen my attachment to “my” house and “my” things, it seems helpful to step back from the whole possessive pronoun description of it all.  Many languages describe our relationship to stuff quite differently – “the house of me” – which is more like “the house I’m in relationship with” than something that I have dominion over and is part of me.

Before I came to live in the house of me, which was built in 1972, three other families lived here. After I move out, other families will consider it theirs. And I hope they treat it with the reverence I feel for it.

Thinking of myself as just one in a line of people who live here for awhile, (slightly) eases the pain I feel knowing I must relinquish the house sooner than later.  And I can even rejoice that the “books of me” will soon be the books of new readers.

After all, in the grand scheme of the universe and over an infinite period of time, me, my house and my stuff are barely specks.

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French kitchen color makeover

My French friend Christine is a color lover, like me. When she remodeled the upper flat of her home in southwest France, she went all out with color. The kitchen is at the far end of what will be the living-dining area.

Here is the blah “before”:

And the “after”…

A friend brought us an enormous flat of tomatoes and peppers from his garden. I had to style a photo before I turned them into a big kettle of sauce.

Flat of tomatoes

It’s much more fun cooking in a colorful kitchen! Here’s the sauce:

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A Down-Sizer’s Blessing

ripplesA friend of mine and her husband are in the process of getting rid of a lot of Stuff in preparation for a move to a much smaller home. Down-sizing necessitates a great deal of reflection about what is and isn’t important, and about what our Stuff means in the grand scheme of things. Even if you’re not trying to get to less, such reflection is always good for us.

This is what she wrote:

Blessed are they for whom downsizing has no meaning;
For they have been downsized since they were born.
Blessed are they who carry all their worldly possessions
on their backs;
For they are denigrating Mother Earth far less than we.
Blessed are they who suffer transitions they do not choose;
For surrendering to whatever is change is in their DNA.
Blessed are they who cultivate whatever soil is available;
For they must grow what they eat.
Blessed are they who travel dangerous roads and seas;
For they are desperate for freedom and safety from violence.
May we live in profound gratitude for the abundance
in which we live.
May we cherish and sustain our freedoms.
May we preserve and heal our Mother Earth.
– Gretchen Meyer  © 2015

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French chef + handy husband = Amazing Kitchen

We dined the other night at the home of Hervé and Chantal, a retired couple who live in Besançon, France. Chantal is a wonderful cook, and her husband likes to build beautiful things. Their kitchen was typical 1980s ugly, of a style common in the French countryside – dark, inefficient and seriously lacking in electrical outlets.

Before: French kitchenHervé was at loose ends after retiring and decided to build Chantal a dream kitchen, which he designed and crafted himself. It’s a galley kitchen (two parallel sides), with the sink counter (not shown) looking out the window to the garden. The drawers under the counters are unusually deep because they run all the way under the appliance garage. The top cabinet fronts are frosted glass which lift, slide or pull out on heavy duty German mechanisms.

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Note the two plugs at the edge of the appliance garage. As if there weren’t enough inside… the French LOVE their cooking machinery; there are ten additional outlets across the back of the appliance garage. Below you only see the left half.

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Below, the Thermomix (a Vitamix on steroids and the queen of many French kitchens) sits for the moment on the cooktop. Behind it, those three pipes are Hervé’s invention to suck steam and smoke out of the kitchen. They unscrew for easy washing.

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The garbage can is embedded in the sink counter.

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Heavy duty German hinges and drawer sliders (you can’t find this stuff at Ikea…):

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The meal we had was typical French dinner party cuisine, and it took hours. Bread is on the table from l’entrée through le fromage. Salad usually served after the main dish, but here it was the entrée:

  • L’apertif – served in the living room: champagne (always champagne), petite gougères (totally divine cheese puffs), cherry tomatoes from the garden w salt to dip
  • L’entrée (first course): salad of finely grated garden veggies – different colored carrots and radishes w. sauce vinaigrette
  • Le plat principal: Blanquette de veau (veal stew with mushrooms)
  • Le fromage: a selection of five amazing cheeses
  • Le dessert: Oeufs à la neige (floating islands – egg white meringues cooked in milk atop a crème anglaise sauce). PLUS madeleines (the adoration of which made Marcel Proust famous) and curled almond crisps.
  • Le cafe: Espresso–intense, in tiny cups.

Blarggh I was stuffed! … but so delicious!

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How to personalize your chateau with paint

“Bah, a chateau is a chateau is a chateau; you seen one, you seen ‘em all, right?”

Not exactly. True, there is a chateau in almost every village in France, sometimes amazingly grand and restored to the last stone, sometimes modest and crumbling. But not one of them looks like the former Chateau Lalande in Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, in SW France.

Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia

Old chateaux are basically money pits, so their owners try to find ways to staunch the losses. The Lalande, some parts of which date from the 13th century, and others from the 16th to 19th was last restored in 1992 and made into a luxury hotel. The hotel eventually failed and the chateau sat abandoned until 2008, when a very successful local entrepreneur, Philippe Ginestet, picked it up for 780,000 euros (slightly shy of a million dollars at the time), including 22 acres of grounds.

Ginestet is not short of imagination. With the help of architect Jacques Bru and a LOT of paint, they have forever disrupted the image of the classic chateau. Renamed Le Stelsia as a luxury hotel, it just opened in late June (2015) and despite initial skepticism, people are coming in droves.

Is it garish? Maybe.
Is it well done? Definitely.
Does it work? Well, I think it’s fabulous. Look at my pix, and you can decide for yourself.

P1000267 Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia

Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia

The grounds are also fabulous, with scattered sculptures, a quiet tree-lined brook, and a silent swarm of little 24″ x 12″ electric lawn mowing robots, that chomp their way across the lawn and park themselves at their charging stations when they run low on juice.

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Chateau Lalande - Le Stelsia
We could only go inside to the cafe, but what we saw there was quite spectacular. The chairs in the waiting area are done in shimmering crushed velvet.
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We couldn’t leave without indulging in “lunch”, if you can call our feast by such a lowly name. Finishing it off was the lightest baba I’ve ever had, swimming not in rum but in Armagnac. The center was a prune jam. WOW!
Baba a l'Armagnac et pruneaux - 2
This was just the cafe… Ginestet is aiming to make the hotel restaurant a Michelin 5-star. I’ll be back.

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Cheery paint colors perk up an exterior

These clients of mine live in a development near Portland where most of the homes look pretty dull from the street, including their own. They wanted a makeover with fresh colors that would warm and brighten the house during our dreary gray Pacific Northwest winters, but not so bright that the homeowners association approval committee would nix it.

Exterior Paint makeover

Boring Beige Before

Exterior paint makeover

Echoing the warmth of the brick

The house next door was already a kind of yellow, so we ruled out that warm color. I decided to key the body color to the brick trim, which led us to pale apricot, and to add a little excitement with blue-black for the front door,  porch posts and railing.

They are very happy with the new look, and particularly the “daring” (at least for their neighborhood) black porch trim.

Joy Overstreet, color consultant, Portland OR, exterior paint makeover

After: front porch with black trim

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