Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just in Time for New Year's

Between a very busy Christmas and an early January vacation that just can't come soon enough, New Year's has snuck right up on me.  We've decided to welcome the new decade in a low key fashion... a candlelit dinner with the hubby and perhaps a good start on one of my favorite Christmas gifts:  Underbelly season two.

If we change our mind (yep, we're kinda last minute people... good thing our friends are too!), I'll definitely go with a casual dinner centered around a 'Counting Down' theme.  Grabbing a few things from around this house, I put together our New Year's table this evening.

To establish the 'Counting Down to 2010' theme I included a few clocks and watches from around the house.  Borrowing this brushed silver Pocketwatch Clock from a guest bedroom was a cinch.  By pairing it with our stainless steel Bloom Candleholder, available from Georg Jensen ($100 for a set of 2), the well-lit countdown becomes an eye-catcher at the end of the table.

Pottery Barn Pocketwatch Clock available in bronze, nickel and pewter finishes and in a variety of sizes.  Ranges from $29-$59.

The clock theme is extended down the table with this espresso wooden clock with silver accents borrowed from our bedroom.  Part of the fun in using multiple clocks will be setting them in the time zones that your distant friends or family will be celebrating in... Nothing beats celebrating the new year more than once!  A layered effect is achieved with this Vera Wang vanity box.  It has been left partially open, allowing the vintage gold pocket watch - a family heirloom - to make its presence.

Although this clock is no longer available from Restoration Hardware, they do carry the Federal Alarm Clock - a very beautiful square clock similar in size and sold in either oil-rubbed bronze or nickel finishes for $49.

Pictures of past New Year's celebrations will lend to great conversation...  reminiscing of the good old times... evolving into discussions of new year's resolutions!  Illuminate your photo with the Georg Jensen Lilia Candleholder ($90 for a set of 2) that I used at the bottom left-hand corner of the frame.

Picture frame from Myer in Sydney, Australia.  Any 8x10 nickel picture frame matted for a 5x7 will be a great start for the centerpiece.  Photo of Lou and I (complete with my party hat!) celebrating New Year's 2006 in Atlantic City.

Layer your frames with both portrait and landscape photos to add visual difference and interest.  Two similar yet unidentical frames are ideal.  Use the same metal finish (nickel, brushed, etc) with other points of variety within the frame.  Or, use matching frames in different finishes.  

Jubilee Pearl frame from Lenox sold at Macy's in a 5x7 or 8x10, $72 or $86 respectively.  Lou and I took this photograph of the fireworks spectacular off of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year's Eve, 2008.

Another point of difference can be old versus new.  Using both our vintage champagne glasses and new champagne flutes adds interest and varying heights.  Different centerpiece heights can also be easily achieved through varying either your candle holder heights or that of your tapers.

The Waterford Colleen champagne glass (left) has been discontinued; However, pieces can still be found on websites such as  The Waterford Colleen Encore flutes (right) were purchased at Macy's ($60 per glass).

Finish off the 'Count Down' theme by replacing traditional napkin rings with watches.  Old and new watches in any metal will be beautiful.  Even a metal face on a black or brown leather band could be cool and uber-large watch faces would be very chic.  I stacked our silver chargers (Hotel Silver-Plated Chargers, Pottery Barn, $34 each), Lenox dinner plates (Lenox Solitaire White available at Macy's, $40/plate) and the Williams Sonoma Home glass salad plate.  The silverware, our 'refined casual' (Reed and Barton), is wrapped in Lenox 'Laurel Leaf' napkins (Macy's, $7.50 each).

Bringing out more of the 'old' with this vintage white gold watch, another one of Lou's family heirlooms.

I softened the strictly-silver table by adding some vintage yellow gold watches too.

The clock is ticking, but don't fret... pulling your table together will surely take less time that it took to read this post.  Just go grab all of your table clocks and watches... some picture frames and candlesticks... and you'll have put together a new year's themed table in no time!

And, if you cannot find the 'right' pieces in your home, just make a dash to your nearest Pottery Barn for these amazing clock plates.  They're an easy and cool way set the mood for a fab new year's dinner.

Picture from  Plates currently unavailable online, however can still be found in stores.  The 8" plates come in a set of four.  (The Roman Numeral plates are my fave.)  4" bowls also sold in a set of four.

Whether you plan to have a low-key New Year's over an intimate candlelit dinner and a bottle of champagne (ice bucket below from Williams Sonoma) or you ring in 2010 in Times Square, I hope that it's done in great style!

Until our next rendezvous ~

Monday, December 28, 2009

Farewell to the Griswold's

Our first Christmas back in the states was the quite the family affair.  This year was my first time hosting a large holiday gathering (hence the long posting absence!) and we couldn't have asked for more.  It was so much fun spending six days with our families.  My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew came to stay as well as my hubby's mom, her friend Steve and Lou's brother Tony.  So, including our doggie, we had a houseful of ten!

This pic makes me laugh so hard!  Such a typical shot of our fam.  Wanting a 'posed and planned' shot... Instead, getting me with maybe 4 hours of sleep and no make-up, Lou before he even brushed his hair and 'wait, hang on... come here Tampa... sit boy... take the pic, wait, NOW!'  Ha ha ha!

This past month was filled with LOTS of work and sleepless nights preparing for our house guests (it was so very worth it).  We wanted to do a lot a finishing touches to our house since we had only lived in it less than a year.  I also tried to personalize everyone's Christmas away from home as much as possible this year while our only 'child' right now is Tampa and I had a little more time on my hands.

Hand-sewn stockings that I made for everyone...ten in total!  (Notice who's stocking is first... spoiled, spoiled, spoiled ;)

Thanks to my wonderful friend and neighbor, Jen, I was able to use her sewing machine (since I didn't own one) for a large part of the making of the stockings.  Besides replacing buttons and repairing seams, I had never really sewn anything.  The fabric that I chose was Christmas sheet music and I went with quilted backing and made velvet cuffs.  Choosing to use an ivory silk cording gave them a more 'finished' look.  Wanting to personalize the stockings in a fashion other than the usual monogramming, I decided to go with silver frame ornaments (these were from Restoration Hardware).  I replaced the red ribbon that came on them with the ivory fancy-edged ribbon for a style more similar to the stockings.  Fun black and white photos were then put in the frames to identify each family member's stocking.

Steve in his temple, the Eagles stadium and Tony taking in the sights during a trip to visit us in Australia.  

Food was a main event throughout the week.  Other than an evening out for Texas BBQ and a farewell Tex Mex lunch, all of our meals were homemade with lots of fun and good times in the kitchen (except for the clean-up... not as much fun... maybe next year we'll trade-in the china for chinet ;)

With cute reindeer plates like these, why would I have wanted to use Chinet this year?  I got these from Pottery Barn a few years ago and I believe that they still sell them in stores.  They came in a set of the eight different reindeer and we also have the large Rudolph platter.

Lou and I have a long-standing tradition since our very first Christmas together that we were able to share with our families this year.  Each year we buy our gifts for each other ahead of time, wrap them and place them under the tree before Christmas.  Then, on Christmas Eve, we go 'Santa Shopping'.  It has always been a really fun time and gets us into Christmas spirit overload right before the big day.  So this year, we shared the experience with the family and they LOVED it!

We started the day with a big Christmas Eve Brunch.

My hubby found some great orange-cranberry and white chocolate bread at Hubble & Hudson.  So we whipped up some french toast and pork roll (a yummy New Jersey meat) and had lots of specialty syrups for the family to taste.  

Mimosas are a must in our family!  I wasn't able to squeeze in the time to concentrate on our dining table centerpiece, but I do really like the uber-tall candles.  I picked them up at Hobby Lobby for super cheap.  They're quite a bit shorter here than they were originally, as we burn candles all of the time! 

After breakfast, we all headed out to Market Street to go Santa Shopping.  Santa presents cannot be 'pre-determined' or 'planned' gifts.  Since the 'real' presents are already bought, there is no pressure during this shopping trip.  If you see something that you think someone will love, you buy it and it's 'from Santa' (which also lends to the 'no pressure' atmosphere... no one knows who bought the gift!).  Our pressies from Santa have historically always been our favorites gifts.

Then, that evening, we put up our Santa tree, a.k.a Lou's dream tree.  Filled with the old-fashioned colored bulbs, santa ornaments and silver tinsel - it was tacky but it made us feel so warm and fuzzy on the inside.

The more the merrier... and messier!  This was the skinny artificial tree that we used before finding our love of real trees.  Scrawny it may be, but we filled it like it was a big ol' fat tree!  (A couple of elves actually hid a strand of lights from Lou because although there wasn't any more room, he kept trying to add more lights to the tree!  Shhhhh... mum's the word on the identity of those elves.)  We ordered this Santa-inspired tree skirt from Crate and Barrel post-Christmas last year and got it for a bargain!

After the tree was set up all of the 'Santas' split up and wrapped the gifts from their Santa Shopping. The presents had to be wrapped in Santa paper with Santa tags and no pretty bows or decor, just fun and messy wrapping.

Brother-in-law, Jeff, getting into the Santa fun.  He was using my favorite Santa paper... old-fashioned Santa.  Poinsettias are not my favorite, but they are an easy way to add a lot of holiday cheer to a room.  We went with an off-white poinsettia in the 'beach' guest room to keep it light and airy.

This ornament was one of the few other Christmas details that were added to the beach guest room.  It was an easy an inexpensive way to throw in a touch of casual holiday decor.  I just hung it over the frame of this mirror that I had whitewashed.

After all of the little elves had gone to bed, Santa came!  It made for a long but really fun night for Santa.

Santa filled all of the stockings with lots of goodies (Note to self: Although the long skinny stockings are the look I was going for, wider stockings would be much easier to fill!)...

Next, Santa checked the presents under the 'pretty' tree...

And transferred all of the gifts that were on our sleigh to under the tree.

Then, Santa headed upstairs with the sacks full of Santa presents and put them under the Santa tree...No need for straightening or 'perfecting' this display... it's all about the hodgepodge!  I just love all of the different Santa wrapping papers and crooked tags.  

Then Santa put all of the candy canes (even some for Tampa) on the tree.  This is an old tradition from my side of the family.  

Finally, Santa had a few cookies and milk (ok ok, this year it was champagne... it had been a really long day for Santa;) and left a note for the family.  I love our new Christmas cookie plates.  The rectangular one is a vintage-looking nutcracker plate from Williams Sonoma.  The large round dish has a winking Santa with a cracked effect.  We got this one from Pottery Barn and the design also comes in a large bowl and a set of four small plates.

We started the morning with stockings... Lou's family tradition.  (Either that, or it was because he had put a 'big' gift in my stocking :)

Everyone loved their stockings and we took our time getting into them!

After my grabbing a Vixen plate full of my mother-in-laws famous crumb cake (and a mimosa of course), we headed upstairs to see what Santa had brought.

A few Santa gifts for everyone really got the spirit going!

My niece, Emma, was the 'passer-outter'.  Awwww... a 'Santa' used my favorite paper again!

Once everyone was in Christmas spirit overload (Santa shopping was a HUGE success!) we headed back downstairs to open the other gifts.

Tampa caught on quickly!  He was such a good puppy on Christmas Day.  The oversized ornaments that you see in the foreground are from Pottery Barn.  They come in three different shapes and we decided to go with one of each.  For added texture, I used a reclaimed wood bowl to put them in and added a few springs of berries for color.

Lou tearing into a gift from me with a little help from Tampa.  Tunes occasionally provided by my nephew, Landon, created a nice backdrop for opening gifts.  The sculptured bush in the background is real and stays throughout the year (provided my green thumb doesn't turn black again!).  Lou strung it with white lights for some added festiveness.  The front door had a eucalyptus wreath hung on the outside and the cubby of windows above were adorned with lots of berries sprigs.

4 1/2 Hours Later...

And a nice big Christmas mess!  (Please excuse the drapes pulled shut... it was a very sunny Christmas morning :)  Can't wait for all of those Craftsman boxes to be put to good use by my handy hubby... I'm thinking a girlie room complete with built-ins for my new sewing machine!  Thanks sis!!!  I so already know what my first sewing project is going to be.

Much more important than presents and the gift-giving spirit ~ the week was filled with lots of great family time, laughs and - of course - food!

A Guitar Hero play-off.  Sorry for your loss, honey, my nephew is in a band though.

A nice little fire and heated pool (can't wait to get that gas bill....eeeek!) kept us warm on our late night swims.  Love the look from the guys - 'Come on!  Enough with the pics... can't we get back to our cannonballs?!'

More games and yet another win for Landon (I bet that one hurt my previously undefeated Monopoly hubby).  The game board came from Restoration Hardware and it makes for a really nice display when not in use.

I'm not sure where my sister, brother-in-law and I were in these fun game pics... oh that's right... we were holding down the fort in the kitchen!

Mmmmmm... cranberry-pear chutney... and Tampa taking a break in the background.

Basting the bird.  We ended up with so many cookie plates this year that we didn't need the silver stand in the background.  So instead, we stored some copper cookie cutters on it to tie-in my copper pans.

In our home, we believe in using our 'nice' things and who cares if they get broken (fyi, only three things got broken this year... oops!  ha ha).  We also don't like to 'control' the kitchen... the more hands the more fun!  So, the kids played a big part in the table settings which gave a warm feel to the sometimes not-so-centered place setting.  I think that they did an awesome job!

The farewell dinner with our families.  What a crazy group of peeps! Looking at this photo is making me really want to get the matching sconces soon!  I'm debating between the 2-light or 3-light sconces which will flank the mirror. Any suggestions/opinions?

So the last family members left early this morning which leaves me and my hubby with a very quiet and empty house - and a sick dog :(  ... but finally some time for blogging!  I plan to write many more design posts and I'll be updating the blog a couple of times per week.

Thanks for letting me share our home and old fashioned holiday with you.  I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday season with your families.

Until our next rendezvous ~

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Real vs. Fake: Finally a Woman's Opinion on the Matter!

Everyone seems to be pretty set in their opinion on these types of matters.  So I was wondering, what about faux Christmas decor vs the real deal? 

I used to be a 'fake' girl myself.  I had this beautifully large pre-lit tree with faux pine cones and all!  It was too big to bring with me to Australia, so we downsized to this smaller artificial tree for the first couple of years there.

We loved our view of Queen St. (in Brisbane) so much that we didn't seem  to miss a big tree!

Then last year my hubby (the king of great surprises) came home with the cutest REAL tree ever!  My very first real tree!!!  He and our good friend Chip had been ALL over Sydney and surrounding suburbs looking for a real one for me (Christmas tree farms are apparently not a hot commodity in Oz).  Finally they found one!  It was well, the only choice.  But it was an awfully cute choice ~ a short little fat thing.  I was SO surprised!

We decorated it all whimsically.  'Real' seems to bring out all the fun!

I have to say, after now having both, that REAL is definitely the best for me!  Mmmmmm, the smell... the look... hauling it home... it's all so fun and festive.  When it came to picking out our tree this year it was a no-brainer for us.  Real and TALL (sorry last year tree!).  I wanted a nine footer so we went before Thanksgiving to ensure that we'd get first pick.  (Don't worry, we're not your typical retail store... we stored it in the garage until after Thanksgiving!)

Ahhhhh... it's just the right tree for us!  Not too big, not too skinny.  We went with a red and silver theme for the ornaments.  It has exactly 100 ornaments on it now, which still isn't enough!  Charcoal dupioni silk drapes normally dress these windows; However, we decided to try red for the holiday!  I was nervous about this (too much red + too much green = too cheesy for me), but we went with a dupioni silk again which kept the sophistication of the room.  The 'red' drapes are actually a dark henna, which is a much richer shade.

We also went with real garland this year.  I love that I get to choose the length!  Most artificial garland that I was looking at came in only 6 ft strands.  We purchased this garland at Lowe's for just under $7 for 20 ft!  I was so excited that we decided to buy 240 ft!  I put it up the weekend after Thankgiving and (with the exception of actually putting it up) we haven't seen many needles laying around at all!

The garland is very 'workable' and you can easily re-wire it to suit your design needs.  I preferred to 'let it do its own thing' here and look a little messy (a.k.a. natural!).

The staircase railings were draped (instead of wrapped) with garland for a no-fuss feel (and a no-fuss effort!).  I love that the chandelier lights up the garland and that the garland sort-of frames the chandelier.

Here's a view from the inside.  Say 'Hi' to Santa!  Everything appeared smaller in this pic...he's actually pretty huge!  It's a canvas from Pottery Barn and probably my favorite Christmas decoration in our home.

Live pine can also add some warmth to an otherwise formal room.  Here I've tossed some extra strands into a wide vase and paired it with some berry branches.  (Yes, yes... I know that my table needs some serious work!  Just wanted to throw something together using the extra pine.  I decided to save this and all of my 'fun projects' for next week.  Any table decorating ideas that you would like to share would be great!)

The buffets also got an extra accessory.  I just love how thick and full the live garland is!

And of course it's floor-length!  I'm so happy with the look and feel of our 'real' garland that I think it'll make its way into our home every year!

The only downfall with the tree is its 'shedding'.  Luckily I have a dog that likes to shed a lot too... so pulling out the vacuum a few times a week isn't out of the ordinary for us!

And one last close-up of the tree branches.  Now if I could just find a way to do 'real' berry branches!

What's your take on real vs fake?  Thanks for listening and letting me keep it 'real'!

Until our next rendezvous ~