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.


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.


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.


The garbage can is embedded in the sink counter.


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

IMG_1313 IMG_1316

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.

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.
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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4 ways your brain tricks you into keeping stuff

Joy Overstreet, color consultant, feng shui, down-sizing, decluttering, Vancouver WA, Portland ORWhy do people have so much trouble throwing things out? Turns out, the answer is in our heads; our brains make at least four cognitive mistakes when we try to declutter.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of living a clutter-free life, seems to understand these brain machinations, which is why she’s had such remarkable success with her clients around the world.

Could Kondo have based her approach on basic behavioral economic theory? One economist, Financial Times columnist Tim Harford, thinks yes, at least at an intuitive level.

Here are four cognitive mistakes (as an economist would describe them) that trick us, and how Kondo helps us get around them:

The sunk-cost fallacy. “Sunk costs” are payments (of time or money) that have already occurred and can’t be recovered. We get irrational because it seems a waste to not use something that we’ve poured resources into, even though deep down we know the item is no longer (or never was 😥 ) useful to us. This pain is most acute if the item is relatively new, and/or if it was expensive. If Kondo were American, she would tell us “Don’t cry over spilt milk;” it’s done, now let it go.

The status-quo bias. Most of our stuff stays put because we can’t think of a good reason to get rid of it. Kondo turns things around. When she piles everything in a category on the floor to go through (all your books from all over the house, for example), the status quo for her is that every one of them will get gone unless you can think of a compelling reason why it should stay. You pull out and keep only the ones that “spark joy.” Backwards of how most of us sort our stuff.

Diminishing returns. One of a thing may be good, but two or three or four etc is not two or three or four times better. The more you have of something, the less valuable each successive item is, so let some of them go.

Opportunity costs. We forget that keeping unused stuff around wastes space, wastes time (maintaining, working around, locating), and a consumes lot of psychic energy (guilt, the pull of the past, etc.) When we get rid of our excess stuff, we also get rid of this mental and physical toll—and once you’ve felt that freedom, Kondo says you’ll never go back to your cluttered ways.

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How to dispose of what doesn’t “spark joy”

Getting rid of crapPerhaps you’ve taken one of my clutter clearing classes or perhaps you Just Did It — either way, you’ve made a massive attack on your extraneous stuff. Congratulations!!

However, you now have heaps and bags of things that just need to get gone. Some are worth money. Some could be used by others and charitably donated. Some can be recycled. Where to start?

First, forget about a yard sale. It’s a huge amount of work. Unless you have too much time on your hands and lots of eager helpers, it’s not worth it.

Auction it: for relatively valuable furniture, art and collectibles
O’Gallerie Auctions in Portland knows their stuff and they’re reputable. Prepare yourself to be shocked (and not in a good way) by what you can sell these things for today. You won’t get back what it’s worth, but at least you’ll know someone else wanted it and will use it. . The commission % depends on how much they are able to sell it for.

Sell it yourself
It takes some effort and patience, but it’s usually worth it.

  • Locally: Sign up for a free account to manage your listings easily. List in the appropriate For Sale section – with photos and measurements. Also note the FREE category there. It’s amazing what people will take off your hands and haul away.
  • Nationally (or further)

Furniture Consignment stores:
Some may pick up, but be prepared to rent a truck and haul to them.

Clothing resale stores
Some specialize in kids clothes, others in vintage, plus size, etc.

Paper and Photos
Digitize what you want to keep, but in less bulky form:

  • Use Evernote for emptying your brain and putting all the info in reach with a quick search on your cell phone, PC, Mac, the web. Replace all those scribbled notes and lists, business cards, receipts, warranty info, recipes, measurements, paint colors, prescription numbers and dates, books and movies, travel plans, juicy quotes. Download free at You will thank me.
  • Let a professional scanning service scan your photos, negatives, slides, home movies. (watch or call for special deals)
  • Costco Photo does this too, but the service is temporarily suspended until a security breach is fixed. Ouch.
  • Make photo books at , and others.

Just to get rid of it!!
Think beyond Goodwill to places like the Cancer Society, Humane Society, Friends of the Library, Free Geeks, your church rummage sale. Here’s a long list of charitable organizations for still usable items:

Recycling resources
Paper shredding for sensitive documents:

Electronics, automotive, construction, yard, paper, plastics, metals etc

If you missed my clutter clearing class at Clark College, it’s scheduled again for Tuesday, February 2, 2015. Catalog listing is here: “clutter-clearing class”. If you’d rather have me come to your home and get you started or help arrange what’s left more artfully, give me a call at 360-903-3659.

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Clutter Class collectibles

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 8.18.32 PMA few days before the clutter-clearing workshop at Clark College, I emailed all the enrollees and asked them to bring a small object from home that they knew they should let go of, but just couldn’t, yet. We would have a show & tell, their stories fueling a discussion of all the reasons we hold on to things.

Before the show & tell we discuss how our Stuff is always talking to us, subliminally and often reproachfully. This is one reason why we feel so relaxed on vacation; we are away from our Stuff and all those subliminal messages.

“When you’re on vacation,” I ask them, “have you ever missed your collection of ceramic frogs back home?” Wouldn’t you know, a gal in the front row then reached into her purse and pulled out her show & tell item. You guessed it: a ceramic frog.

Lee's keysAnother student, a realtor, brought a heap of about 50 unlabeled house keys which she had carried in her car for years, to houses she had sold years and years ago, just in case… well, in case she wasn’t sure what.

And my favorite moment of the class was when a student used his helmet as a representation of the motor scooter he’d had for three years and only ridden 224 miles, the last 4 miles of which were to our class. Amazingly, another student had been looking for a scooter, and after class they set about negotiating the transfer!

If you missed this class, I’ll be doing it again October 28. Contact me for more information: ( or 360-903-3659).


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Proportion matters!

Proportion False frontI was walking around the Mission District in San Francisco recently and, as one does in SF, marveled at the elegance and variety (and colors!) of the Victorian houses. The houses are not always as tall as they look from the front. But to maintain a proper sense of proportion on the second floor, the builders added a false front to give a graceful line to the flat roof behind it.

If the roof cornices were dropped to just over the windows the building would totally lose its grace.

proportion low roof ranchCompare the Victorian to this low-slung ranch house in Portland. The windows butt right up under the roof, and it feels like King Kong stepped on it and squished it down. I would always feel like ducking when I went through the front door. What were they thinking?

Proportion tall DRAnother example of poor proportional judgment is this dining room. Can you imagine eating in here? Humans are most comfortable in human scale spaces.

The exception to this rule is the cathedral, when the soaring ceilings are supposed to make humans feel tiny in the presence of God.

Spend some time looking around spaces and buildings you feel comfortable and uncomfortable in. Is proportion a factor?


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Clutter Clearing Class at Clark College July 15

paperpile cartoon(Pardon the alliteration.)

Got paper piles? Heirloom overload?  Photo fatigue? Overflowing closets? Free yourself from the tyranny of Stuff!

If you’re struggling to live a more minimalist life, with less stuff hogging your space and energy, spend a couple of hours with me July 15 from 6 to 8 pm at Clark College’s new downtown class space (500 Broadway, Vancouver WA).

rat holeHere’s what you’ll get: the tips, tools, inspiration and motivation to create a simpler, more conscious, clutter-free home. We’ll cover techniques ranging from 15-minute daily sprints to the full Monty: the Marie Kondo “tossathon.” You’ll also learn how to use Evernote, the amazing online filing and retrieval app, so you can get rid of all those random scraps of paper, shopping and to-do lists, recipe boxes, instruction manuals, serial numbers, you name it.

Register here soon, as space is limited: the workshop is only $49. Call me if you have questions at 360-903-3659.




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Curb appeal that invites passersby to stop

Poetry box

Poetry box

Walking in my new NW Portland neighborhood I marvel at how certain homes compel me to stop because what’s out front is so delightful. Today it was a beautiful hand-carved stand that held copies of the poem of the day, which passersby are invited to take.

Sometimes it’s a quirky front garden – this one sprouting defunct KitchenAid mixers, like colorful mushrooms. The homeowner is a baker.

Baker's Garden with Kitchen Aid Mixers

Baker’s Garden with Kitchen Aid Mixers

Or this one, with a giant drawing:

Callahan cartoon

Callahan cartoon

This owner chose to make a mosaic of river rock in his parking strip:

Parking strip mosaic - NW Portland

Parking strip mosaic – NW Portland

One simply must stop and enjoy…


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Transforming an empty white loft apartment

Me, the color queen… and I find myself renting a stark white loft apartment in a converted turn-of-the-century warehouse in NW Portland’s Pearl District. Time for another makeover – my first in a home I do not own.

Most tenants and owners of these loft apartments keep the industrial white & industrial gray “decor” of the original building. That look is fine for other people, but too grim for me. And because I am a renter, my makeover options were limited to paint and furniture placement. (I did change a light fixture.)

Kitchen before

Kitchen before – note exposed pipes

The building is held up throughout by MASSIVE (18″ on a side) old-growth fir beams, which appear at random places in each apartment. I have a big one between my kitchen and desk space (that is, pretty much in the middle of the space), and a corner of one peeking through the wall in my bedroom area. The cast iron tops were painted black but looked too prominent, so my first step was to paint the tops to blend into the ceiling.

Old growth fir post

Old growth fir post

The bedroom is not separated from the entry hall  🙁  but a bank of freestanding Ikea “closets” separates it from the living room area. Unfortunately the backside of the closet was super ugly – melamine with pressed wood edges – totally unpaintable. You see a little of it to the right below. My desk was to go against it. The long bare wall is where my couch and bookcase were going.

Living room wall and backside of Ikea closet

Living room wall and backside of Ikea closet

First order of business was to bring some of the gray on the pipes into the rest of the space. So it went on the lower part of the kitchen wall. A little more went around the large warehouse windows. (Color in this photo looks more blue than it is in reality, and blends well with the slate countertop.)

Kitchen after – gray wall

Next job was the long white wall that went from behind my bed through to the couch wall to the windows. My bedroom looked cold, my couch looked lost, and the white did my art no favors. Dusty rose did the trick.

Dusty rose living room wall

Before I could bring in my desk setup I had to cover that Ikea closet back. Fabric was the only option. I found a pair of textured gray curtains at Target which weren’t big enough to cover the whole thing (but they matched the kitchen gray), so I bought a piece of navy fabric to cover the lower third, and repainted my ancient file cabinet navy to blend in.

Desk space on closet back

I also painted the humongous white pillar navy and now use it as a changing art gallery, since I have little space elsewhere for art.

Navy pillar art gallery

Navy pillar art gallery

My bedroom space was pretty grim in white. The dusty rose feels super cozy now.

Bedroom area before

Bedroom area before


Bedroom area After

Now if I were a guy, I would choose some color other than dusty rose… but I’m not.

The bathroom was also totally white, with an icky ochre-ish colored vinyl floor. I found a color that warmed the space and also blended with the floor.

Bathroom before

Bathroom before

Bathroom - after

Bathroom – after


I have a year lease, and hope to hell the landlord will extend it, because I am very happy here. Besides, fixing up a new place to suit my standards is a butt-load of work. At some point I will write about down-sizing yet again – this time from a 2100 sq. ft house (with garden) to 730 sq ft (plus one potted plant)….

[Not shown, my dining room area – because it’s too difficult to photograph because of a mirrored wall.]

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