07 October 2009

use your towels!

I was reading a friend-of-a-friend’s delightful blog about renovating and redecorating her enviably large house, and I saw something that hit a nerve: She doesn’t let her husband use the fancy guest towels. But certainly she is not alone. I grew up in a house with just such guest towels. And little guest soaps that sat around for years, gathering dust. We even had a room that we didn’t really use because it was the “formal” living room and we wanted to keep the white sofas nice. 

Why do people decide things like this? What a tremendous waste to have a whole room you don’t use, and to have linens and soaps that exist for nothing but show. How many of us already have serving dishes that we never use because they are for a "special" occasion? Life is far too short (and it's so wasteful!) to strive to keep so many things pristine. Plus, guests can tell when the occupants of the home don't use something, and they won't want to use it either. That's hardly hospitality.

You're on notice, fancy guest towels.

I named this blog “postmodern hostess” because I love to play hostess, but I also love to break a lot of the rules that the traditional hostess is supposed to live by, and I think others should too. 

Here is my list of post-traditional “rules” for entertaining and hosting guests: 

  1. Use your guest towels, even if they are monogrammed! Just clean ‘em before guests arrive. Fancy towels never look comfy and inviting anyway. 
  2. The whole home, especially guest quarters, should never be a museum. Having dainty, delicate things around does not make guests feel comfortable. It makes them afraid of breaking things. 
  3. Make sure overnight guests have internet access. Log out of common email sites (yahoo, gmail, hotmail, etc.) before they arrive, if they might be using your computer. This replaces letter-writing for virtually all guests, so there is no need to stock stationery and postage in the guest room. 
  4. Stock the guest bath with a mix of fancy and regular drugstore toiletries. To many guests, the fancy stuff look too precious, and they won’t feel comfortable using it. Of course, others will love the indulgence. 
  5. Cook accessible, family-style meals for guests. Truffle risotto, lamb chops and a Madeira reduction may sound delicious to me, but it will intimidate some and make others feel indebted. Similarly… 
  6. Don’t use the best china when overnight guests are dining, unless it really is a special occasion. The fancy stuff doesn’t put people at ease, and it makes clean-up more involved, which takes time away from your guests. 
  7. Don’t strive for perfection when preparing for guests’ arrival. Perfection only makes people feel like they can’t touch anything, and that equals not feeling at home. Plus, if your guests aren’t budding Martha Stewarts themselves, they may feel that their accommodations don’t measure up to yours, and decide not to invite you over. What does that accomplish?

I’m sure this list will only grow with time. My bottom line: Find as many ways as possible to make guests comfortable, and try to remove anything that would make them uncomfortable.... within reason.

But most importantly, don’t live in a museum!

05 October 2009

one for the ages

Fabric rolls on the street in the Garment District

Quite the weekend! Saturday was the marathon of home decorating and garment fabrication delights, as promised, and Sunday ended up being more of an athletic pursuits day (6-mile training run, teaching my regular yoga class at Golden Bridge, subbing for Trevor's yoga class at the 24 Hour Fitness across the street, and then visiting the running store to buy a new "fuel belt"... followed by house tidying and some sewing). Somehow I never got around to that econ homework...

Here is the rundown of my epic Saturday.

LA Mart Sample Sale

After spinning and cleaning up at the gym, I headed downtown to the LA Mart sample sale. I was not alone in arriving well before the 10 a.m. start time, but it wasn't an intimidatingly long line either. Not having been to one of these things before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and decided to skip the crowds by heading straight to the upper floors (the sale was on floors 1, 2, 10, 11 and 12). Starting on 10, I perused the more modern-looking showrooms and some of the sleeker traditional-style ones, working my way up to 12. Then I headed down to 2, and finally to 1. Floors 10-12 were all showrooms, and a few had some very lovely items.

The first lesson I learned is this: apparently well-to-do people have scads of space, because all the furniture is huge. Nightstands that are 36 inches wide. Coffee tables five feet by five feet. Floor lamps with enormous footprints. But my second lesson was more of a shock: gaudy, traditional, gilded, heavily detailed furniture is back in a big, big way. Ick!

A typical set-up from one of the showrooms

This whole venture into sample sale land was motivated by the Great Nightstand Search, but I also remembered to look for a mirror for the entry way and for a bedroom floor lamp. On the nightstand front, nothing was super promising. I found one nightstand that I had seen before at HD Buttercup. Very pretty, but both out of stock (and therefore not on sale) and too big (a theme of the day).

The first that was not meant to be

 After roaming the top three floors, I headed down, and was sad to see that the only expo-type area was full of junk. Low quality, not at all on par with what was in the showrooms. So the trip was almost a total wash, other than seeing some curiosities. Here are a few...

I love the idea of bombe chests with traditional lines and carving, but done in modern finishes like lacquer. This one is super fun, but we are not badass enough to pull it off.

A possible nightstand contender, were we to want to mix contemporary and traditional. I don't think we're quite at that stage yet.


Yes, Mark, someday you can have one of these in the game room. (But first, we have to move someplace more affordable, get a house, trade up for a bigger house, and probably trade up again.)


One of about a bazillion mirrored chests on display. I like the concept, but it's a bit much for a bedroom. I'd have to start using the words "fabulous" and "darling" a lot more to have furniture like this.


I do love this idea... the classic Louis XIV chair, but done in high gloss white.


We went to the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel a few weeks ago for my birthday, and they had these chairs out front. I literally said to Mark, "I want to see what it's like to sit in one of those chairs. I wonder what the view is like." And then I sat in one. Now I know where to find one, when I have an orangerie that I'm ready to fill with $4,000 chairs.


Alas, all was not lost at the sample sale. Besides the spectacle of it all, and getting a few ideas, I found our entryway mirrors, and at a steal of a price. We had tried to buy a mirror from West Elm with a simple mirror tile frame design, but they were sold out during the last sale and the manager wouldn't give us a rain check (ahem, customer service!). But I think I like these even better. Vaguely deco, but right at home in a sleek decor scheme.

A steal, at $45 a piece


Despite snapping all the photos, I was surgical in my strike, and I was out the door at LA Mart in just over an hour. On to the garment district...

Garment District and Michael Levine

Like most people in LA who live west of Western Avenue, I had never before ventured into the garment district. And I even frequent downtown for yoga and our theater subscription, which is more than most westsiders do. So this was a bit of a cultural experience.

Besides having the most expensive parking meters I have ever seen in LA ($3.00/hour), and the most aggressive parking enforcement, the garment district is much like what I imagine Marrakesh to be. Narrow streets packed with people, full of street vendors, fabric stores, rug stores, shopkeepers standing on the street outside their stores trying to entice passersby inside. There is fabric everywhere.

If you don't listen to the language (and sometimes if you do), you could easily believe you were in a far less developed country. But I found it all really cool. I kicked myself for living in LA for more than 5 years and never visiting such a vibrant place -- a place so very different from my usual environs -- right within my own city.

My destination was Michael Levine, the fabric mecca. There are dozens of fabric stores in the garment district, and I'm sure I could have spent a whole day down there looking around. But I had limited time (especially because of the parking meter situation), and decided to stick to my original plan. I accidentally went into the Michael Levine Loft first, where there are huge cardboard bins of fabric, and everything is $2 a pound. (!!) I found some really cool light olive green jersey, a cool purple jersey, and an awesome, graphic rayon print. More than enough for three dresses. All for $12.

Then I headed over to Michael Levine proper, which I was expecting to be intimidating. Much to my delight, it wasn't at all. It was just BIG.

It took two trips into the store to get what I needed (with a trip back to the meter in between), but all told, I came back with enough to make quite a slew of garments. (In fact, I think I need to be grounded from fabric stores for a little while.) I found this really beautiful turquoise rayon crepe on the clearance rack for $1.50 a yard, and that was my most exciting find. I know rayon isn't something one should be that excited about, but it's perfect for a dress I'm making. And who am I kidding? I barely wear any natural fibers at all!

The full haul...

Culver City Mecca

Eventually it was time to head back to the west side, but I still had one very important stop... HD Buttercup for the Room & Board opening reception. And I couldn't go down there and not visit Buttercup itself.

I found this table at Buttercup, on a big sale. A cool clover-leaf design with a white marble top. Perfect height for nightstands. And they just happened to have two left. Destiny? But, I kept trying to send a pic from my phone to Mark in NYC, and my phone kept crashing. After three tries and three crashes, I gave up. Not meant to be.

More curiosity at Buttercup... this old flammable contents cabinet was for sale for two grand.


After doing the lap at Buttercup, I headed over to Room & Board, and was greeted by the most delicious reception snacks.

Fresh burrata and mozzarella from Ford's Filling Station. Transcendant. (Mental note: Eat there sometime soon.)


I went into Room & Board not thinking about the Great Nightstand Search, but perhaps it proves the age-old rule: you can only find what you need when you stop looking for it.

Lo and behold, I found our nightstands! And (relatively) affordable to boot. They had hidden from me when I looked on R&B's web site, because the company calls them kids' nightstands. But I don't care who they're designed for. The dimensions are perfect, the finish is perfect, and the price is right. Halleluia!


Are they perfect? Not even close. I would love if the sides below the drawer were open, like the nightstand that got away at the sample sale. But after looking for six months, I think I have a pretty good sense of what's out there. And my ideal nightstand just doesn't exist. I'm more than happy to settle for this one.

Of course, Mark still has to see them in person and sign off. Technicalities!

02 October 2009

the cat's away...

... time for the mouse to play!

And, oh, what a weekend to play!

This weekend is the once-yearly LA Mart Design Center furniture sample sale. LA Mart is normally only open to designers, so this weekend is my one shot to go check it out, get ideas, and -- hopefully -- find the long-searched-for nightstands our bedroom so sorely needs. (Why I say *my* one shot, and not our one shot, is that Mark is in NYC for a friend's bachelor party. When he said he was thinking about traveling this weekend, I said, "Well, if you're not here to be the voice of reason, I can't be blamed for my actions at the sample sale.") In general, I'm not a big fan of sample sales, vintage stores, or discount stores like Loehmann's and Marshall's. I just can't handle the chaos. But I have been to dozens of furniture stores, and visited dozens of web sites, in search of this lousy nightstand. I'm willing to do just about anything to find it. Also, I have developed a laser-like ability to hone in on nightstands, so I think I can be pretty efficient at the sale.

So... if I'm already headed all the way downtown, I figure I might as well make the most of my trip. That means paying a visit to Michael Levine in the garment district, the cream of the fabric store crop -- and reputed to have the best prices in LA. So far, since starting my new sewing hobby, I have visited the pro-focused and somewhat pricey F&S Fabrics twice, but both times I've felt a little intimidated. So I've mostly stuck to Jo-Ann's, the Wal-Mart of fabric stores. This trip to Michael Levine is a bit of a rite of passage... can I hang in a huge place, a "real" fabric store, where I'll need to know not just "I'd like some pretty purple fabric," but whether I want a woolen, woven or synthetic, how much stretch it should have, and all kinds of other tidbits? This is further complicated by the fact that I want fabric for at least three new dresses, and I'll choose tonight from all the patterns I have acquired which dresses those will be.

Some of my sewing projects already on deck

Fortunately, if I experience any anxiety at Michael Levine, I can relax in my very-very-comfortable-comfort zone at Room & Board, which has the grand opening of its first LA store in Culver City this weekend. Though I was a bit upset when I saw that the marvelous HD Buttercup space had been chopped in half (reducing the inventory and number of vendors significantly), I was relieved to find out that the space was bifurcated for a good reason: to make room for Room & Board, whose furniture I have aspired to own ever since we graduated up from Ikea (that's assuming that we must have some furniture from a chain, of course... though R&B is much less chain-like than Crate & Barrel, resulting in far less ubiquity). When we first bought the new condo and were in search of a blue sofa to coordinate with the blue chair and cubes, we had to make a special trip down to Costa Mesa, to visit the only Room & Board open in SoCal at the time (the candidate was the Anson Sofa, in spa blue, and it turned out to be too low for our long legs). Investigating the sofa took a nearly 50 mile trip. In LA rush hour traffic. With the store closing at 8. Needless to say, it was a little frantic. But we'll never have to make that drive for furniture again!

Besides my mega-shopping outing on Saturday, I need to teach spin and go to a friend's going away party on Saturday, teach two yoga classes and do my six-mile half marathon training run on Sunday, and somehow find time to study for econ and to finish up the dress I've been working on (the first to involve actual hems). Piece of cake, right? (Mmmmm... cake...)

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