Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What About Those Old Photos?

When I was a kid riding the trolley in Philadelphia, I would often miss my stop because the person sitting beside me was telling me a good story.  I am easily fascinated by people's stories and even today one of the best parts about being a writer and a designer is talking to people and hearing their stories.
Project Picture Board - Two Kitchens

 It takes at least five working sessions with a client before the kitchen/bath design phase of a remodeling project is complete.  As those design details are being worked out, I am often privileged to be a part of their family conversations. I get to see old pictures and hear about their best vacations or the Dad that was a war hero.  And almost always the topic of clutter comes up.  Clutter is a real issue.  I have helped several clients go through cabinets and closets to dispose of items they never use.   But, the hardest part of clutter for many people is often those old pictures that tell the history of who they are and how they have come to be the persons that they are today.

After I complete a remodel I create a project board using before and after pictures of the remodeled space. And years later when I look at the board I can still place myself at their table and relive the telling of those family stories.  Those stories are priceless, yet, there is a very good chance those old photos will be thrown away and their history erased from memory.  This reality started me on the path to help people preserve their stories.

Getting rid of photos is very difficult but you don't need every photo to keep a memory alive.  You need to keep the most heartfelt ones, the ones that grab the person's personality and you need to join it with other symbols of that person's life to make the story complete.

In my story making plaques I use wood plaques and work with old photos.There is a risk in working with aged photos, especially glossy ones.  The sealers could streak it a little too much or may highlight any discoloration present in the photo.  I tend to take a picture of it before I work with it.  Many multi-media artist will reproduce the photo onto cardstock and work with that way rather than the glossy photo.  But I use the photo and keep the pic on digital incase I have to reproduce it for some reason during the process.  However, since de-cluttering is a part of this endeavor, the only physical photo is on the plaque.  I work on solid wood so it can be hung on a wall or it can sit on a shelf. The sides of the wood are painted black.

I am currently working on a demo for my P.E.O Sisterhood.  And probably in the fall I'll have a  workshop on the tools necessary and the preparation involved in creating wooden wall plaques. Plaques are more time-consuming then you may think.

The plaque on the right is about my beautiful sister Mary who died a few years ago.  That's my favorite picture of her as a young girl.  She was my oldest sister and was born in Cape May so I put the Cape May light house on there along with other references that speak to her life.  She was pretty amazing.

If you have photos where you just want to highlight the picture then just painting or distressing the wood as I did on the left may be what you want to do.  I don't like frames so I have a variety of ways to display my photos.

Other methods for preserving memories are scrapbooking using acid free products and creating a board as a poster then protect it with plexiglass.  I have used this method with old photos. Another way is to just put everything on digital software. 

Whatever method you choose, preserving memories is always worth the effort.  Enjoy the process.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Need a Dessert in a Hurry -Try the Coconut-Apricot Ganache Tart.

Several weeks ago my co-partner in our neighborhood community program ad myself chose today for our next neighborhood potluck.  I created the flyer, she passed them out and today is the day.  Of course, I'm in a time crunch.  In about 40 minutes I will be online with a friend of mine in the UK helping to work out details for a book that she is writing.  I am committed to her success so what to make for this potluck became an issue.  I decided on the Coconut-Apricot Ganache Tart, but had to substitute some ingredients.

Ingredients needed:                                                  

2 c shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 c almond flour (I used almond meal flour this time)
1/4 c xylitol (I used coconut palm sugar instead))
1/4 c coconut oil - melted

1/2 diced unsweetened apricots or more if you love them
1 can (15oz) coconut milk
12 oz dark chocolate chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a bowl combine the first 4 ingredients then
press mixture into a greased 9" tart pan.  I used almond meal this time so the mixture is coarser than with flour.  The difference between almond flour and almond meal is texture and color. Almond meal contains the skin of the almond.  I like the taste of both.

Another substitute this time was the sugar element.  I used coconut palm sugar rather than the xylitol that the recipe calls for. I like xylitol but I'm out and I didn't have time to go to the store.   Xylitol is a good product.  According to some studies, xylitol can be beneficial for your teeth because it can reduce cavities.

It takes just minutes to combine the ingredients and press the mixture into the tart pan.  Set your oven to 300 degrees and bake for 15 min.  When crust is baked sprinkle it with dried apricots.

Meanwhile in a pot over medium heat, bring coconut milk to a simmer
Remove from heat, stir in chocolate and vanilla.

Pour chocolate mixture into the baked crust.  Then chill for at least one hour in refrigerator.

My tart is in the refrigerator and about an hour before the neighborhood event tonight I'll garnish the top with some diced apricots. When I use almond flour I sometimes top this tart with walnuts to provide texture but almond meal has enough texture on its own.  There is a fair taste of coconut in this tart so I'll write up a recipe card to place in front of this dish at the potluck so people know what they are about to eat.

The only other thing to bring to the party is the wine. Ah!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The DIY Designer - Insulating the Attic

As a do-it-yourself designer I often work with clients who also want to do the work themselves.  They sometimes just need someone to work out the design, help with product selection, guide them in the process and keep the project moving.  Although I am predominantly a  kitchen and bath designer, I get a variety of questions from my DIY clients.  Questions range from How can I get more use out of this spare room? and How do I paint my kitchen cabinets? to How can I get rid of  all this clutter? and How can I soundproof this room?.  Last year one of my clients asked me about insulation.  From a builders presentation at KBIS, I had some current knowledge about insulation but  I still asked a builder friend of mine before passing on any information to my client.  Well, Saturday morning we worked on blowing insulation into the attic, so I got to use some of my own advise and leaned more in the process. It took about an hour and a half.

While Al was in the attic with the hose blowing in the insulation, I was breaking up the cellulose insulation and filling up the blower.  It's messy work, hard on the back but I wouldn't classify it as hard work.

When we built our house sometime ago we used panel insulation.  It was a bit overwhelming because bits of fiberglass would cling to my clothing and would find their way to any exposed skin I had forgotten to cover up.  But this process was a whole lot easier.

Setting the blower up was easy but you have to do it correctly for it to work efficiently.  The bigger  gauge(wire) and the shorter cord seemed to work better.  The blower will shut itself off from time to time if something isn't connected correctly.  Or it may not start at all, depending on what is wrong with the connection.

Once you are up and running, the process is simple - just keep everything moving and never put your hand down in the blower. You will have to stop from time to time though to sweep up the fibers that got away and to drink some water.

The blower works better when you break up the cellulose into small pieces, the bigger chunks take the blower longer to process.  This fiber material is not the old fiberglass material, this is an 85% recycled material made from newspapers that includes a fire retardant.  However, you still need to wear protective clothing - gloves and a breathing mask for sure. You do not want to breath in this stuff.  I don't think I would do this if I had asthma or any respiratory issue.   As with any project you endeavor always read all the instructions first.

So, that project is done.  Onto the next one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day to all my friends and clients.

I have always preferred making my own cards to buying them, but it's such a time consuming process that I rarely have the time.  This year I made time for it.

Thank you for all your support over the years.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The One Step - Amy Howard At Home Paint

As a designer I often find myself in discussions with clients about their old furniture.  They don't want to just give it away and they don't want to throw it out, so what can they do?  The one way around this situation is to give an item a new life and a new look with the paintbrush.  Amy Howard At Home One Step paint is designed for this type of application.  It is easy to apply and has a built in primer so there is no need to apply a primer to the wood first, however, you do need to clean or degrease the furniture before applying the first coat, so that the paint can adhere to the surface. There may be a tendency to forgo this step but please don't.  The Amy Howard At Home product line has an array of  rich and heirloom like colors, waxes, gold and silver leaf option, sealers and also a lacquer spray paint option, so you may need to do some research before you start your project.  It is up to you whether you want to apply a sealer.  I applied a sealer to every item I painted.  It hardens the surface, makes it easier to clean and can add a bit or a lot of shine depending on which sealer you choose.

When I'm learning  how to work with a new product, I work on  a small item that I can afford to mess up.  In order to learn more about this paint I worked on a small piece of molding with lots of design details.  When you have an ornate item to paint, you can apply a wax or a glaze to the item to add depth and enhance the detail.  On a flat item there is no reason to add wax or a glaze because there is nothing you want to stand out or highlight.  For this piece of molding I chose to use their  Good Man is Hard To Find paint and after it dried I applied a liming wax to  enhance the details.
My first project was a small coffee table that was on its way to Goodwill.  Perfect. This was just what I was looking for.  After degreasing the table I waited several hours so that the table would be dry  for the first application of paint.    First I dismantled the table because the ornate hardware would be hard to paint around.  My first decision with this project was whether to paint the hardware or not to.  It was an easy decision not to because painting the hardware makes it blend into the wood but this hardware was just too distinctive and added a richness to the look of the table that would be foolish to destroy. The paint used for this table was Cartouche Green.

My last project using this paint line was a kitchen that was in dire need of an update.  A some point in the future when the client's budget will allow for knocking out walls and  resurfacing the floor, this kitchen will undergo a major remodel, but for now, it's  Amy Howard's Ballet White and sealer to the rescue.  The best way to do a kitchen is to remove all the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and take off the hardware from each  one.  After degreasing the old cabinets, you will probably need to do more than one coat of paint depending of course on what color you choose and how well it hides the old color.  I ended up doing three coats to this kitchen's doors and drawer fronts.  The wall and base boxes only took two coats.  It took me about 2 weeks working about 8 hours a day,  And it looked great when it was done.  The white paint gave a fresh, updated look to the small kitchen.

I often work with clients who prefer to do much of the work themselves.  I work with them offering the best product line that I know that will serve their needs.  Since I have done this kitchen, I have advised two clients on the how-to of painting their kitchens.  This is a monumental task so you do need to get advise before you embark on the journey.  There are professional painters that will do this if you prefer someone else take up the brush.