What is up, people of the vast and illustrious world-wide web? I mean, you’re world-wide. There’s probably a lot going on. AB Chao, for example, has various things happening and can’t be blogging for a minute. She’s out DOING. Let’s face it, she’s dewing. You’re at your house like, “I think I’m going to get up and go do that thing that I have been thinking of doing,” and you go to do it and it’s done. Because AB did it while you weren’t looking. You’ve been planning to put scented drawer liners in your linen closet for three years. Go check it right now – she’s already done it, and you owe her time-and-a-half, because she did it on a Sunday while you were supposed to be at church but were actually sleeping off a slangover. (A slangover is when you go out on Halloween dressed as, let’s say, a Sexy Supreme Court Justice, and you’re having a beer that’s actually 13 beers and you think “I am going to be really hungover, tomorrow” but you’re old now so it’s so much worse than that – you’re SLUNGover.) You can’t even get up to let AB in your house to do everything that needs doing, so she has to come creepin’ down your stovepipe. Do people even have stovepipes anymore? I don’t know, but she’s coming down it, and she’s wearing a stovepipe hat and stovepipe jeans, and now you have to go out and buy those things to wear because she makes them look so good. Here is your new wardrobe:

Stovepipe

 

I’m silly, but a lot of people I know, AB included, really are busy with just… DIFFICULTY, man. I guess that’s true every day, everywhere. Maybe with you, too. Hard times. They appear to be upon those near and dear to me on a serious level right now. Upheaval everywhere. Friends facing illness; loved ones experiencing heavy losses; compatriots in crises all around. And, while I try to inject some levity with my $2k Chimney Chic stylings (and, be aware that I almost made you go out and buy stovepipe trousers that included a peplum, but instead showed mercy), 2013 has been, if you can stand a major understatement, NOT GREAT for my crew. It’s a rough time and all I can do is rally, long distance. So, as we move through this month of gratitude prior to the annual time of renewal (I sound like a Wiccan, but y’all know what I mean), I want so badly for the good times to roll again. I want my people on solid ground. Yes, I pray for the, I don’t know, serenity to look back and be thankful for whatever but, Lord, help us get on the road to whatever’s next. And let it be good. Because we all need good.

I once wrote a song, in AB’s dining room, about a house on fire. I needed to write it, literally and metaphorically, because I had been through hard times and was coming out the other side. I struggled with feeling and showing gratitude. I struggled with believing that newness would come, but it did, because it does. We’ve got two months left in this dumbass year. If we’re using them to prep for 2014, how best to get started? Do we all need to go on a master cleanse of some kind? Do those work? I used to be so good at drawing the Hard Times Recovery Roadmap. I’m obviously not, anymore. So, in lieu of knowing The Right Thing to say; instead of providing The Perfect Solution; and forgoing the urge to leap in and fix everything with some kind of Take Care of Yourself List, let me offer this, just in case you are going through some BS.

Your house is on fire. Let it burn. You will be reduced. You will have less. You will suffer pain. But, fires consume and then they burn out. Every day, keep running, until you get out of the house. You will rise up. You’ll be covered with ashes. And you’ll stylishly sweep them away.
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An important part of this balanced breakfast.

A while back, I asked y'all to comment on a post and ask me any question you wanted. I got a ton of responses, and I'm hoarding many of them for later use. But I thought it might be fun to answer some of the personal ones today, for your enjoyment and edification. Ready? Go:

How old are you? Eeeeep! Don't be mad at me for asking. I'm just dying to know!

I ain't mad. And I feel like I have mentioned this before a bunch of times? Maybe not. I turned 37 in November. My mother introduces me to people as “almost 40,” which is weird and so, so wrong. STOP IT MOM. Anyway, I was born on November 25 and share my birthday with JFK, Jr. (RIP) and Christina Applegate. Trivia!

How did you manage to become a successful blogger and Internet Famous after the challenges of pre-teen motherhood?

I became a successful internet writer by impressing Sarah Bunting with an unsolicited writing sample. I had already been blogging for a year or so, but TWoP was my first actual paying internet writing job. Which led to my stint in television writing in 2007, a thing that gave me the courage to do all manner of dumb things (quit my job, quit my job again, become a full-time blogger/decorator/camp director) But really, a lot of it was just work + luck + an appalling lack of good sense. I also have a great network of friends and family whose support allowed me to quit my job and take this leap.

As for doing this all after pre-teen motherhood, many of you know that I was just in my second year of college when Mad was born. So, you know, after her pre-teen years I was still in my early thirties -- plenty of time to work on successful blogging and internet fame.

If you can't answer all [of my] questions, I would appreciate you answering this one. My husband and I have one awesome 3 1/2 year old son who has high functioning autism. He is the cutest smartest little guy I know! I'm 38 and thinking about whether or not we want to have another child, so here goes my question(s):

Did you make a conscious choice to have one child?

Well, it was sort of decided for us : Vince and I experienced secondary infertility and weren’t able to have another child. It was very painful, of course, but each consecutive year has been easier, and has revealed a larger light at the end of that particular tunnel. And we are so grateful that this particular girl is the one we get to share our lives with.

FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS, Y’ALL!

What are the pros and cons for you having one child?

There are no cons, in my mind, but that may be a function of Madeleine’s personality. She likes being an only child. She likes that our house is always quiet. She likes that she has two rooms to herself in which to watch TV and read and play her weird XBoxes.

Also, I sort of like that we did all the hard parent stuff in our 20s. Our friends are having babies right now, and we are helping Madeleine fill out college applications. That shit is AWESOME. I can’t wait to send her care packages next year, for her to come home from school so I can wash her laundry, to get frantic texts for twenty dollars TO EAT OMG PLS. Bonus: I never have to attend another Christmas singing program.

Will you help your daughter decorate her dorm when she heads off to college?

Hells yes. She really has no choice in the matter.

What does your perfect day look like?

Coffee, SportsCenter, shrimp po-boys, Bloody Marys, hours of television, dinner out, good wine, lots of dancing. At the beach. With my dog. And books.

What other artistic or intellectual interests do you have beside interiors?

I love photography of all kinds, I love writing, and I also love the graphic design aspect of blogging. But really, I have many outside interests, and they change on a daily basis, so ask me again tomorrow and I will tell you something different. Also: Competitive ping-pong.

Will you answer a yes or no question?

No.

How did you know when to take the leap and leave your day job? Were there doubts? 

I didn’t know when to take the leap; I just did it one day. See above, re: no regard for self-preservation or common sense. I discussed it with my family, of course, but it wasn’t a long-term planned thing. I definitely had doubts, such as my concern that we would all end up in a beautifully decorated cardboard box, but my very wise friend Eliza said to me one day, “Here’s your new motto, AB: Leap and the net will appear.” And it did.

Why do you hate eggs?

Because they are super gross. I can offer no other explanation.

What is your favorite joke?

Q: How does Snoop Dogg keep his clothes so white?

A: Blee-atch!

Aaaaaaand, scene. I hope you have all enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and into my mind. And I hope you all have amazing weekends. Please don’t eat any eggs.

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Oldnavy0
 
Last week at Camp Mighty, I partnered with Old Navy to present a workshop called "Fashion Forward: 5 Rules For Changing Your Life From the Outside In." Now, I am not actually very fashion-forward in the definitive sense of the word, but I do have some rules for dressing that make my life much easier and help to ensure that I don't look like an Olsen twin exploded all over my closet. As you may know, my favorite wardrobe theories are "French Person" and "Elegant Cowgirl," and I find that these rules help me to achieve both looks with a minimum of work and a maximum of awesomeness. In my presentation, I shared the five rules, and now I am sharing them with you. Let's go! (All clothing and accessories are from Old Navy except where noted.)
 

1. LESS IS MORE: This is pretty straightforward -- having good style is a lot easier when you have fewer things to choose from. Restrict your color palette, define your neutrals, and build a traditional foundation of classic pieces. Pictured above: The New Neutrals. Our color palette may be restricted, but stripes, metallics, animal prints, and dots can definitely stand in as neutrals.


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2. TAKE YOUR TIME: It takes a while to build a wardrobe of good, quality basics, so don't be afraid of a blank space in your wardrobe. Build slowly and you'll find that you have fewer clothes, but the ones you have will be high-quality classics that you can wear for years. If there are items you really, really want but find they are out of your price range, make a list of them and save for one every year. It's like a life list for your outfits. Pictured below: The vintage man Rolex, number one on my "That One Thing" list.

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Photo: Rolex

3. FOLLOW YOUR HEART: If it makes your heart skip a beat, buy it. There is no start too small: it could be a white t-shirt or a pair of gloves. If it evokes a reaction, it’s the right decision!

4. BE BRAVE: Confidence is the most important aspect of style -- if you act like you know what you are doing, you will look like you know what you are doing, even if you're wearing a gigantic neon pink hair pouf. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and take risks! Don’t be afraid. If something doesn’t work out, move on. One way to get started being brave is to wear something ridiculous, but awesome (see: Gigantic neon pink hair pouf).

 

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Left and right-hand photos: Ban.do; Nail polish: Essie; Pineapple handbag: Kate Spade

5. HAVE FUN: The whole point of this is to have fun and feel good while you're doing it. So don't stress -- once you have your traditional foundation in place, it's time to go nuts with the fun. One way to do this is to pay attention to the details, whether that means getting crazy with your nail polish or wearing a jacket with a secret bright yellow lining. Jonathan Adler's decorating motto, "95% chic + 5% fun" totally applies to your outfits, too. So go forth and accessorize like you mean it.

 

Before my presentation, I shopped for props at Old Navy and chose several items that illustrate the traditional foundation + 5% fun thing, and also that were just really cute. Please review:

 

So now you know my fashion secret: follow a formula, then accessorize funly. That's it! I hope you have enjoyed this time we've spent together. Get out there and figure out your neutrals, y'all!

 

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Photo: JetKat Photo

Old Navy was kind enough to provide every person in attendance with a gift card for a free pair of jeans, which meant I got to fulfill one of my greatest wishes: to holler, Oprah-style, "LOOK UNDER YOUR SEATS!" Whee! It was basically the greatest thing ever.

PS: In addition to free jeans for campers, Go Mighty found out that Larkin Street Youth Services needs both jeans and gift certificates as part of its holiday gift drive for the homeless teens they support. They are sending certificates for 50 pairs of jeans -- thank you, Old Navy! -- but you should also note the wish list of simple things they need by December 14.

So, while you're building that traditional wardrobe foundation, go ahead and throw a gift certificate or clothes in your cart for the kids. If you do so, please let me know in the comments honor-system style, and I'll enter you to win your own free pair of jeans from Old Navy. Hooray!

 

I'd like to extend a huge thanks to the sponsors of these shenanigans: Camp Mighty, who were so kind to give me the opportunity to do this; and my partner extraordinaire, Old Navy, who were all-around awesome and made me feel even better than Oprah. Yay! Let's all go put on something cute.

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Andrew asks:

Design question! I would desperately love some nice window treatments for my old house, but at some point mid-century, my old house was retrofitted with these flat-against-the-wall-type radiators. It's a colonial with small rooms and lots of windows, but that also means one or two windows in every room have a radiator under them. These bad boys never heat up enough to actually BURN a drape, but I'm wary of that. It also gets ridiculously cold here, and I don't want to block the heat. 

Right now, we have lovely 2-inch blinds in every room we're sick of. My rooms feel so unfinished! WHAT DO TO?!

So glad you asked, Andrew! A lot of people have this problem, and there are a couple of options for your dilemma. First, I'd look at installing roman shades or bamboo shades instead of curtains/draperies.

I do love a dressed-up bamboo shade -- and this type of shade is great for letting light in while still maintaining privacy.

Even plain white roman shades can look finished and beautiful when implemented correctly.

Another option is to throw caution to the wind and go with the draperies you really want. According to my main man Nick Olsen, cotton fabric has a higher flash point than your radiator's steam heat maxes out at (The numbers I researched vary -- and by research, I mean "searched on Google" -- but the general consensus is that cotton fabric ignites at several hundred degrees more than a radiator can manage.). As for the heat-blocking issue, you can always combine shades and curtains so that you still have privacy when the curtains are open, to allow for heat to escape. Plus, as I told my campers yesterday, shades and drapes in combination look really nice and layered and texture-y, and also like a rich old lady's house. I know your dream in life is to feel like a rich old lady, Andrew.

One of my favorite ways to combine the two is to use the same fabric for the shade and the curtain, like so:

If it were my place, I would order the combo platter and never look back. Thanks for writing in, and let us know what you decide!

PS. Andrew also would like to know about good Etsy clothing recommendations for men that aren't graphic t-shirts. If you have any, leave them in the comments!

 

All photos via Lonny Magazine except the first one, via Sara Lowman Interiors.

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Welcome to the first installment of Ask AB! I think I have, like, sixty-something questions to work through, so here are the first...three. Yeah. This is going to take a while. Anyway, please enjoy this small sampling. There's more to come. Much, much more.

Elizabeth asks:

You mentioned at the Austin camp that you were contemplating making an iced coffee how-to video, or did I dream that?

Yes, Elizabeth, I did mention that. And I'd like to show you this video to illustrate why it has taken so long.

There are a lot like this. A WHOLE LOT. (But yes, it's coming soon, and it is sure to be as entertaining as it is educational.)

 

Amy asks:

Is it OK to hate throw pillows? I mean, I love how they look, but hate sitting on a chair with them so they always end up in a pile on an unused chair. I just want to get rid of them. But chairs/couches need some oomph so should I just get over it?! UGH.

Lots of people hate throw pillows, Amy. They are not really comfortable for leaning against or sitting near. So, in the words of the inimitable Caity Weaver: THATZ OKAY.

One thing you can do to make your throw pillows not so annoying, though, is to change out any poly-fill inserts to down inserts. Your pillows will be squishier and so much nicer to lean against. Also, they will have a better shape AND down inserts respond really well to the decorator karate chop. You know, like this:

Photo: Jamie Meares, who has been killing it lately, BTW.

 

Teresa asks:

You and Lori Andrews (The 10 Cent Designer) seem to be experts in the effortless looking shirt partial-tuck. Do you have any basic guidelines to determine where to tuck or how much of the tail should be tucked? This seems like a very dumb question I'm sure, but I always feel disheveled or sloppy when I try it.

I am a fan of the half-tuck, but I think it only really works for super-casual outfits. My method involves a) doing it only with t-shirts, b) while wearing a belt, and c) only tucking a little bit. If you go too crazy -- like tucking in only one side of a button-down -- it can look weird and dumb.

Perhaps Miss Lori can add to this in the comments -- she is the real expert. I mean, come on. This is GOOD:

Photo: Lori Andrews

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Today was maintenance day on this here website, which is why there is no new and/or fabulous content for you to enjoy. I fixed some stuff, and re-wrote some stuff, and re-designed some stuff, and unsuccessfully tried to decide on a new bio photo since the current one is so old I actually have short hair. I hate all of the new prospects, and now that Ben Corda is gone, I am in a real pickle and look like this:

Aw. That is real sad. So y'all know what that means, right? It means it's time for Ask AB: Anything Goes Edition. The last time we did this was almost a year ago. It was pretty fun. So, what do you want to know? Beauty, hair, clothing, decorating, personal? Ask, and you shall receive. To the comments!

Photo: Ben Corda *sob*

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Y'all, I had so many entries for this giveaway that I didn't think it would be fair for me to pick one, so I let random.org do my work for me once again. And, yay! Excitement! The winner of the room re-vamp and camp giveaway is MEGAN.

Awesomely, today is also Megan's birthday! Happy birthday, Megan. I hope this is a good present.

Megan writes:
1. What is the PURPOSE of the space?  To eat in and to be a main passageway connecting two of the biggest rooms in the house (living room and family room). That's about it. We don't need the table to do double duty or anything like that (like for homework or crafts or any of that shiz) -- we just need a dedicated space to eat all of our meals. It's connected to our kitchen through a doorway on one side, and to a hallway/bedrooms on the other side. Both ends are wide open (except for the white built-in shelves you see at the far end). There are four of us (plus our dog, Shorty and our guinea pig, Brian, but they don't sit at the table) -- my husband and myself, and our two boys, ages 7 and 9. We sometimes squeeze up to eight people at that table, three on each bench and one on each end, but it's not that comfortable.
 
2. What are your most pressing NEEDS for the space? The biggest issue with this dining space is that it connects the front of our house to the back of our house. So it needs to have some flow. I'm sure this is all kinds of wrong as far as feng shui, but it can't be helped. We need to be able to easily walk through our dining room, all the time. And we really need to be able to have a bit of storage in here (not sure it's possible), for dishes and the like, as well as seating for four regularly, and at least eight occasionally. Because my kitchen is so small, many of our dishes and serving pieces are stored in our mud room currently, which is so not convenient. Also, we need better seating -- those benches are pretty annoying and heavy, especially to any elderly guests we might have over. And the table is a dark beast.
 
3. What would you like the MOOD of the space to be? Hmm, the mood. I love a white + wood + green vibe, with a good dose of nature and a pinch of yellow and black tossed in. My grandmother always said every room needs something black in it. A space with simple lines -- maybe a neutral base of white walls. Think "Amish botanical". And I do love a good Thonet-style chair. I'd like it to kind of flow from the living room (which you don't see in the photo, because it's behind me), which is pretty neutral with white walls (except for one wall, which is wallpapered with Cole & Son 'Woods' in taupe/cream), a white sofa, and gray chair with bits of green and yellow thrown in. And you see the dining room as soon as you walk in the front door, so I'd love to have the light fixture make you swoon when I open my door to you.

So: lighten it up, make it more pass-through-able (technical term), give it some storage, and make it swoon-tastic. Here's the space as it looks now:

Structurally, the first thing I would do is remove the white shelves on either side of the archway. They are not really serving any purpose, and they are blocking your egress in a big way. A handyman (or you!) could do this in an afternoon.The hardest part would be patching/re-painting the molding where the shelves were nailed in. I would also remove the corner chair, as it is also taking up valuable pass-through space. I would not remove the dog: he is cute.

With all that out of the way (heh), here is my wowie-zowie vision for the space:

Yes? Wood, white, green, Amish, a touch of black for your grandmother. From the top left:

1. You really have no other light source in the room except for the overhead light. And since you don't really have the space for a piece of furniture that could hold lamps, I would recommend some wall lights. The ones I have chosen -- by George Kovacs -- are awesome because they don't have to be hard-wired; they come with a cord cover and can be plugged in. But you can certainly hard-wire them if you like. And in that case, you should put them on a dimmer.

2. These paint colors are Benjamin Moore Witching Hour (top) and Benjamin Moore Super White (bottom). We'll come back to this.

3. Before I even noticed that you already HAD Cole & Son Woods wallpaper, I thought: "You know what would be PERFECT for this room? Cole & Son Woods wallpaper." So I am going to ask you to take a leap and use the same wallpaper in both places. The one I have chosen is sort of the reverse of the one you have, except with black, so I think it will be different enough, and yet add a nice continuity.

4. I also want you to paint the ceiling black and the floors white. I know. I'll let that sink in. My reasoning for the floor is that a rug, which I would normally recommend, will be tripped over at all times by your family passing through the room. But a white floor will add that texture + interest to the space without using a rug, and it will be so totally Scandinavian-Amish-minimal. Also, it's a really tiny floor to clean if the floor gets dirty. And a really tiny floor to strip if you hate it, which you won't. In fact you will probably want to paint more floors in your house, so this is basically a gateway floor. I am sorry for getting you addicted to drugs.

5. This Orbit chandelier is so, so good in person, and is relatively affordable compared to other high-wow-factor pendant lights. It's white, although it looks silver in the photo, and it should also be put on a dimmer for maximum ambience. I have one in my house and I love it a lot. And Miss SF Girl By Bay -- who is basically taste personified -- has one in her dining room and it is really gorgeous in there.

6. Your big, dark wooden table is beautiful, but I would love to streamline the space with narrower, more airy-type table. This one, the Woody Dining Table from CB2, fits the bill perfectly: it's 36" x 72", so a bit narrower than your existing table, and much lighter-looking.

7. Chairs: How about 2 black Eames eiffel chairs on either side of the table, and a fabulous green Thonet at either end? You can get Eames reproductions just about anywhere, and it doesn't bother me a bit that they're not real ones or whatever. Who cares? You have two boys. These are made of metal and plastic. The end. The Thonets, however, I would order from DWR, because they cannot be reproduced and also they are on sale right now. Go get 'em!

As for bringing in some botanicals, I would love to see the ones you have framed in black, or a set of smaller ones framed in a grid pattern, as above. If you use different botanical prints (I love the ones with the black backgrounds), that is where you can bring in your touches of yellow. You can also use one of your old benches, which don't appear to be too wide, for extra storage/seating/whatever. I'd place one of the wall lamps on either side of the prints.

On the other side of the wall, maybe three narrow shelves for dish storage? They can be floating like the ones in the above photo (IKEA has tons of them), or you can make them yourself with inexpensive shelf brackets and painted wood. 

And that, birthday girl, is all I would do. It is clearly a total redesign of the room -- you don't really get to keep anything that is currently in it -- but it is fairly straightforward, packs a major punch, and will look great with the rest of your house. And it will KILL from the front door walking in. Thank you so much for your submission! I had so much fun re-imagining it.

Everyone wish Megan a happy birthday and a happy dining room! I'm out. No, for real, I have to go pack for Seattle. 

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