Thursday, October 30, 2014

New office inspiration

Now that I've protested too much, let's talk about the look I'm aiming for in our non-minimalist-but-not-too-chaotic atelier or joint home office.

Just like I did with the adult bedroom I'm turning to my Pinterest boards to try to understand what I like. My "Office" board is right here.

Let's start with a pin whose description says it all:



That's an image of the studio belonging to artist Geninne Zlatkis. (Or maybe her former studio; her husband builds houses so they seem to move pretty often -- and in each new house she quickly sets up a very pleasant-looking, functional studio. Impressive!)

Here are a couple more views:





Zlatkis works in many different media -- watercolor, collage, pyrography, ceramics, etc. Moreover, her two sons also make art and I believe they are homeschooled. So, much like the atelier that I aspire to create, her studio is a hardworking space that has to contain lots of different types of materials, and is shared with multiple family members. And it's gorgeous! So, it can be done.

Alright, I could fangirl all day (if you'd like to do the same, here is her blog and her Etsy shop -- she seems to be on hiatus now but you can get a feel for her work at both those links). But let's step back and try to figure out the elements of what makes an office space work for me. Here's what I notice in some of the other pins on my board:

A little bit vintage:



A little bit industrial:



Everything you need close at hand:



Materials as decor:



And uniform storage:



(Plenty of it!)



Inspiration from natural things, living:



...and remnant:



...and imaged:



Sound like a plan?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I'm not getting rid of my stuff

Look at this mess:



Those are from the "before" pictures of my old office space. I know what you're probably thinking. The unconventional wisdom, by which I mean the counter to the dominant narrative that by now has been stated so often as to become its own kind of convention, is clear: Get rid of it.

Don't buy stuff to store the stuff you're not using: just get the dang stuff out of your house.

Don't organize, declutter.

But I'm not listening. Not in this case anyway.

The thing is, for me -- and I think for a lot of people -- creativity requires excess*. Great artists aren't exactly known for keeping minimalist, neat-as-a-pin studios, right?

To me that excess means supplies for a project that I'm not quite ready to do yet because it's still ripening in my mind. Two unrelated pieces of fabric that happen to be lying next to each other, prompting me to realize that the unlikely pair is actually perfect together. Scraps that I couldn't bring myself to get rid of, eventually getting pieced together into something unexpected and awesome.

(*If pressed, I will also endorse the idea that creativity springs from constraints and limitations. Well hey, I contain multitudes.)

A few years ago, I entered an embroidery contest that another blogger hosted. I won -- with lines of poetry stitched on a piece of vintage tablecloth that had sat in my stash for over a year, waiting for the right use to come along.

See what I mean? Thank goodness I didn't declutter that tablecloth!

Of course, "But I might use it someday!" can become an excuse to keep everything. And a space can become so cluttered that it actually blocks creativity rather than fueling it. (See also: photos above.)

But I'm betting on the idea of a middle ground, here.

I think that taking time and making space to store my creative materials in a nice way may actually help me use them more often.

Partly because I suspect that when projects are easy to set up and easy to put away one is less likely to talk oneself out of working on them because of lack of time.

I wrote in my earlier post that "what I'm aiming for is not just space to put things but space to use things." In that sense, my hypothesis here is that creating space might actually help create time.

I might be wrong about all this. But it at least seems worth doing the experiment.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The new bedroom so far

It's about time I shared some actual progress shots of our room-swapping endeavor rather than just teasing you with plans and schemes, don't you think?

So here's where things stand today.

Let me say first that I LOVE our new room arrangement. The room just feels really right and sleeping in here is so cozy.

Cozy is often just a polite way of acknowledging tight quarters, of course.

It's true that our queen-size bed takes up most of the floor space in the room. (Though, certain members of the household don't seem to mind that at all.)

But as it happens, the amount of clearance at the foot of the bed and on the far side of the bed isn't any less than it was in our old bedroom. Believe it or not.



The shelves along the North wall of the room are the same ones, in the same configuration, that were in the old office. Now they serve as clothing and shoe storage.



Disclaimer: Yes, I know I have a lot of sweaters. I wear a lot of sweaters, so. There you have it.

My man and I have been married for 10 years and we're now sharing a closet for the first time.

I wasn't sure I was ready for this level of intimacy, but so far, so good.

I will admit that I tidied up a little bit before taking these pictures, but otherwise they are completely un-"styled." (I mean, obviously.)

That's not usually how things are done in the blog world, but there's a philosophy to my madness. I'm not styling pictures because what I want to do is create spaces that look pretty decent and feel nice to be in without styling. I don't have time for styling in everyday life (and, sure, probably lack the talent to boot).


One of my informal goals is: Nothing on the floor but the furniture. My hope has been that if we created enough proper storage we wouldn't have to constantly tuck stuff in random nooks. But look at that space to the right of the dresser: that's a package (running shoes?) that my man received recently and a Goodwill bag (old running shoes). Though for the record, I could just as easily have been the guilty party here. But it's amazing how quickly those random nooks attract "stuff." Argh.

Anyway, you can see that we have most of the functionality of the room in place, but are missing the niceties that will pull the space together as a whole.

Still on the to-do list: install ceiling track just in front of the shelves, and hang some nice, white, floor-to-ceiling curtains to cut down on the visual chaos.

Eventually I'd like to find a shorter (and better quality) dresser to replace the one that we have now. That's going to take some looking, both because most dressers are either too tall to go under the window or too wide to fit in the space between the bookshelves, and because I have a particular look in mind.



I also plan to clean up the barrister bookcase that was in the old office and put it back in its previous position on the East wall -- currently that big blank space above.

The bookcase is a nice old piece with sentimental value -- it belonged to my man's grandfather -- but it needs a good clean and spit-shine (or a liberal dousing with Murphy's oil soap and feed 'n wax, as the case may be). I think it will be a nice place to put my jewelry box and some framed old family photos and other sentimental things.

We need to get some art up on the walls and I have some pieces (that we already own) in mind, but I think it would be better to wait until the curtains and bookcase are in place.

The bedside tables are obviously a stopgap solution.

I'm thinking of a couple of small wall shelves mounted at nightstand height on each side of the bed. And a wall sconce for each of us as a reading light.

We also want to replace the godawful builder-basic ceiling fixture.


Actually I'd like to bring the one from the old bedroom in here. So the real task is finding something not-godawful to go in the new office.

The next step likely to happen in here is the curtains -- I've purchased and pre-washed the curtains, and the ceiling track is on the way. The bookcase cleanup is also a feasible weekend-level project, and we have the necessary supplies on hand. 

I think hanging the curtains will really make a big difference in how "finished" the room feels. However I haaaaaaate hemming curtains -- it's sewing that is both boring and requires extreme precision. So we'll see which task actually gets tackled first. (Not this weekend though, I have a deadline on Monday!)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Autumn fattoush



All this moving furniture and banana boxes around is making me hungry, how about you?

Here is a recipe I developed last week that I think was successful enough to deserve sharing.

I really love fattoush, a Middle Eastern bread salad that mixes cucumber, tomato, herbs, and pita bread with a sweet-tart pomegranate molasses dressing. Here is a fairly standard recipe if you're not familiar with the dish.

(My own recipe comes from a good friend, who semi-copied it from a cookbook, possibly the one written by one of her Saudi aunts, and who generously gave me the go-ahead to share my adaptation here.)

I wanted to try to create a version with fall vegetables so here is how I went about it. Peel and seed a butternut squash:



(Incidentally, I had a pretty serious run-in with a butternut squash a couple of years ago -- serious enough that I still have a small numb patch on the tip of my left thumb -- and ever since then I have been dealing with butternut squashes by peeling them first with a vegetable peeler, then cutting them up. I highly recommend this method as it is much safer!)

Dice up your squash into roughly 1" chunks:


Toss the squash with olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and some spices. Some recipes for fattoush include sumac, a tart spice made from the dried fruits of a shrub, in the dressing. In this recipe I opted to toss the sumac with the squash before roasting. The dark red speckles are really pretty!


Spread the squash out on a baking sheet (I like to line mine with parchment paper):


And roast until soft on the inside and a bit caramelized on the outside:



Now get yourself some kale:



Wash it, get rid of the tough center ribs, and thinly slice. (Here's an explanation of the latter two steps; if you are still painstakingly de-stemming kale with a knife, you really need to click on that link.)


Finely chop some herbs and add them to the kale:


Add some chickpeas for heft; this is supposed to be a hearty autumn salad after all:


Toast some pita bread (and then break it up into pieces):


Toss everything together with the dressing and you're set:



Autumn Fattoush

Some notes:
1) This makes about 4 generous servings. Nevertheless, it's not really a meal on its own. Next time I think I'll serve it with a red lentil soup, brown-lentil-and-rice mujaddara, or a Persian frittata (all three of those exact recipes are absolute staples in my house, by the way).
2) I sort of hate when recipes leave you with leftover ingredients the way this one does, because those leftover ingredients tend to go to waste before I can think of how to use them up. In this case, if you are serving a crowd, you could simply make a bigger batch of fattoush, doubling the kale, herbs, pita, and dressing, and using all of the roasted squash and a whole can of chickpeas. If not, you could take the leftover squash and chickpeas and mix up a quick tahini dressing to make this salad, which makes a great quick lunch stuffed into a pita.
3) I think this would also be very good with the addition of some pomegranate arils. As a matter of fact I bought a pomegranate and then forgot to add it when I made the salad! But I've included it below even though my photos don't reflect that option. 

For the roasted squash:
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in one-inch dice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sumac
Salt
Pepper

Toss the squash with the other ingredients and spread on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 425 F for about 40 minutes, stirring the squash and switching the position of the baking sheets halfway through.

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.
To assemble the salad:
2 large rounds pita bread
Half of the roasted butternut squash, above
1 bunch Tuscan kale, washed, tough stems removed, cut in chiffonade
Handful of mint, chopped fine
Handful of parsley, chopped fine
1 cup chickpeas (about 1/2 of a 15-oz. can, drained)
1/2 cup pomegranate arils (optional)
Fattoush dressing, above

Toast the pita bread on a baking sheet in a 425 F oven for 10 minutes, flipping the pita rounds over after 5 minutes. Remove from oven; when cool enough to handle, break up into roughly 2-inch chunks.

At least 30 minutes before serving, combine the kale, herbs, squash, chickpeas, and pomegranate arils in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top and toss well. This portion of the salad keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.

About 30 minutes before serving but no more, toss the broken-up pieces of pita with the rest of the salad. (You want the pita to soften a bit in the dressing, but you don't want it to get soggy. So if you expect leftovers, just toss together the proportion of bread and salad that you plan to eat imminently, and leave the rest separate for later.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New bedroom inspiration

I've been a big fan of Pinterest for a while now. I use the site in a variety of different ways (for example, see here for menu planning -- amazingly, I still have pretty much the same system three years later) but for home decorating I find the most useful thing is that it helps me figure out what the heck I like.

I simply pin images as I come across them to a given board, and over time the themes that tie those images together become clear. I'm a splitter rather than a lumper when it comes to Pinterest: I think creating boards with fine-grained topics like "Bedroom" and "Bathroom" is much more helpful than those broad default boards ("For the Home") that the site gives you when you sign up.

For example, here is my Bedroom board, which I've been looking at quite a bit to try to figure out how to put together our new adult bedroom.

I think it's interesting that some of the oldest images on that board are still pretty much in line with what I'm aiming for:



Apparently I know what I like, even if I can't always explain or describe it (and often don't manage the motivation and chutzpah to carry it out).

Below are images illustrating a few other common themes that show up in my pins -- in other words, elements of the style I'd like to achieve.

A simple, mostly white canvas:



Color from textiles:



And from art on the walls:



A little bit of black (or very dark color):



A plant or two:



Making space for sentimental things (more important than strictly adhering to a consistent style or period):



And finally, curtains to close off the visual chaos where necessary:



Can you see it coming together?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why I chose the smallest bedroom in the house for the "master" bedroom


When my man and I moved in to this house 9 years ago, we didn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about which bedroom should be ours, because the answer seemed obvious. The largest bedroom is usually the master, right? Done.

(The pictures in this post show the result of that decision -- the larger room in its master bedroom incarnation -- so, like the pictures of the old office in my previous post they're essentially "before" pictures for our room-swapping project.)

I should note that this was before my girl was born, so there were fewer claims on the house's various spaces then. What is now her room housed the futon for guests, the tv, and my man's desk. And when that room became a nursery, the futon (and guest room function) migrated to the office, the tv to the living room, and sort of by process of elimination my man's desk to the master bedroom. Oh and at some point my grandmother's cedar chest got put in the bedroom too and started acting as my bedside table, mostly because there was no other place for it in the house.


Still, there didn't really seem to be any reason to question the idea that large bedroom = master. So why am I doing so now, and cramming two whole grown-ups into a space roughly the same size as our daughter's small room?

To be honest, the new arrangement is mostly driven by my wanting the larger room for the "atelier" (disclaimer: when referring to the room in conversation I just call it the office, because I am only a little bit pretentious) and then trying to figure out how to make the smaller space work as a bedroom.
 

But I think there are advantages to the arrangement too. Constraining the amount of space also forces us to strip back the functions contained in the bedroom: nothing but sleeping, sexing, and dressing. And I have to admit, that old saw about how a bedroom should be a restful haven (no tv, no computer, etc.) holds some appeal.

Knowing that the space was going to be tight has also forced me to think deliberately and creatively about how to make sure it doesn't feel tighter than it is -- meaning, how to cut down on visual clutter, how to create a unified look to the space so that it truly feels clean and restorative, rather than like a bunch of unrelated stuff shoved where it juuuust barely fits.



It's been an interesting exercise, and while the ideas I've come up with won't all come to fruition overnight I'm optimistic about my overall vision.

What's more grown-up and worthy of the title of "master"* bedroom, after all -- a big room that contains a concatenation of stuff because, well, it all fits there, or a room that, albeit small, is actively designed to be restful and pleasing? You know which option gets my vote.

*After typing the phrase "master bedroom" so many times in writing this post I'm finding myself irked by the gendered connotations. Apparently I'm not alone but there doesn't seem to be much of a better alternative. Ideas?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why I'm giving up my home office


...even though I plan to continue working full time from home.

Here is the roughly 10 x 10 office I've been writing from for the last nine years. 

It doubles as a guest room -- the futon folds down into a full-size mattress when my mother-in-law is in town. But other than that, the space is all mine.


(Except the closet. The closets in our house are pretty tiny, so my man has been keeping his clothes in here and mine are in the closet in the larger bedroom.)

Moving the office into the larger bedroom will mean that all three of us -- my man, my girl, and I -- will have our desks in the same room.

"Are you nervous about giving up your own space?" My man asked me as I was packing up office stuff into banana boxes.

Well, yes, a little bit. I've been a freelancer and worked from home almost my entire career, but especially since my girl was born seven years ago having an office has been important to me, psychologically perhaps even more than practically.

I said above that I work full-time, but really I work during the hours between school bus pickup and drop-off, which amounts to about 30-33 hours per week, plus at 4:30 am when necessary (which is often). I wouldn't change this arrangement for anything, and yet when you're trying to combine a freelance career with being the go-to for kid-related logistics, it's easy to feel like you're not giving either endeavor the attention it really requires.

It's just like Virginia Woolf said: having my own office space ratifies the importance of my job.

Then why am I saying goodbye to my Room of One's Own?

Well, it's like this. Yes, the office was all mine as long as I was alone in it. But as soon as someone else -- my girl, that is -- entered the room, it wasn't my space at all. Sometimes I'd be trying to answer a quick email in my office, and my girl wanted to be near me, which was lovely, but there was nothing for her to do in the office, so she would end up jumping on the futon or messing with my work papers and 20 minutes later neither of us had gotten what we wanted. So my hope is that by making my own work space a little friendlier to her, we can be together in the space more happily.

In addition, the old office tended to become a dumping ground. If someone -- okay, now I am talking about my man -- stashed something there "temporarily" it was easy for him to forget about it, and there it would remain, cluttering up my workspace for months. By the same token, since the space was only mine, I tended to put it last on the priority list in terms of cleaning and tidying. A shared workspace might end up better cared-for -- not least of all by me.


Finally, because of its small size, the office became merely a storeroom for my creative aspirations. Oh look, a whole bookcase full of fabric -- but no space to actually DO anything with it. When I was lobbying for this project, I mostly emphasized the fact that we would gain storage space. And that's significant. But more and more I've realized that what I'm aiming for is not just space to put things but space to use things.