Seven Ways To Make Your Home More Inviting

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the welcome wagon

Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.

  1. Always Have a Spare Toothbrush

Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.

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Our L.A. cabin always looked best during Christmas

2) Firestarter

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…

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Our backyard bonfire featured hot dogs roasted on sticks, s’mores and a blanket on every chair.

3) S’mores. Always.

Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an  impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.

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Don’t toss your mums – place a dying plant in the ground and it will bloom the following autumn. Give it a head start by surrounding it with compost, then mulch for winter.

4) The Eye Has to Travel

Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of  your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.

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a dimmer with dinner

5) Be Enlightened

Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh.  On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.

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my limelight hydrangeas

6) Cutting Garden

Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.

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debutante camelias in vintage bud vases

7) Bring the Outside In

Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.

Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!

vintage Christmas lights are kind of my thing

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Road Trip to Monticello

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The house was stately, but overshadowed by the wild things in his garden.

When it comes to road trips, I get worked up Elle Woods’ sorority sisters in Legally Blonde. Minus the screeching. Well, a bit of the screeching. Sometimes a road trip can be better than a faraway vacation; zero airports and quality time with your dogs.

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View of the vineyards at Monticello (Italian for “little mountain”)

Tucked away in the mountains of Charlottesville, overlooking apple orchards and a vineyard owned by Dave Matthews lies this historic home, which is Italian for “little mountain.” Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s home sat on the plateau of a small mountaintop, and you could walk from one opposite slope to the other in a couple of minutes. Much can be said about the interior of Monticello, which is smaller than I had anticipated, much like Graceland. I blame tacky McMansions for this distortion.

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cock’s comb

I would be remiss if I described the grandeur of a place without mentioning it was built with slave labor. Monticello truly is an homage to the hard work the slaves put in; they created a haven. Even Monticello itself is trying to reconcile it’s darker past. They discuss Sally Hemings on a specialized slave tour, and it’s about time.

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A cool underground tunnel ran beneath the house, featuring all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into an estate. An ice cooler, wine storage, a kitchen; even Jefferson’s personal toilet.

What intrigued me about Monticello were the gardens. Jefferson enjoyed the beauty of unusual plants and delicious heirloom vegetables – many of which aren’t sold in grocery stores due to their shorter shelf life. He liked variety and appreciated the abnormal. I was thrilled to find that I could buy seeds that came directly from Thomas Jefferson’s garden. Here in Richmond, I’m continuing this line of ancient seeds.

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Strolling the grounds, I could see why Jefferson often wrote about how he would rather be home at Monticello. The tour inspired me to make my home even more of a haven, more of a gathering pace. And I thought nothing could work me up more than Pinterest!

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In the distance, you can see one little mountain on the range that was taller than Jefferson’s.

We’re currently planting a weeping willow in the yard, for a romantic backdrop. I’m painting a few interior doors Tiffany blue, with white trim. We’ve hung Moroccan lamps from wooden posts surrounding our brick patio. This patio will of course be accented by the heirloom plants we’ve grown from Monticello.
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SLUMBER PARTY!

IMG_1278Childhood slumber parties were pure magic. It was the freedom of being together after the adult world had fallen asleep. It was in the thrill of the ghost stories, the unchecked amount of sugar in our candy stashes. Growing up doesn’t mean that slumber parties should be a thing of the past. In fact, we need them more than ever! Between our careers and growing families, there’s an ever-increasing need for quality time with friends and pampering.

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Whatever sense of wonder that’s missing from adult sleepovers, we make up for in luxury! Forget sleeping bags on the floor. We loaded down our sofa bed with linens and pillows.

Instead of frozen pizza, we opted for pan-seared sesame salmon, homemade pesto on spaghetti squash and new potatoes, and a summer salad with peaches and feta.

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Our movie popcorn was dusted with truffle salt we brought home from an unforgettable trip to Monaco.

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We had fun doing a 60s-style slumber party photoshoot – pure camp!

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We watched movies, then capped it off doing what girls do best at slumber parties.  We talked! Until the wee hours of the morning, we dished about boys, our careers, movie stars, and everything in between. Even if the giggles were fueled by my spiked watermelon & mint slushies, we still laughed all night. Just like old times.

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Backyard Pop-Up Wedding!

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A sweet chalkboard message and carport strung with white curains serves as a warm welcome.

Attorneys Marcus Lange and Zawadi Brown were already engaged, but when a San Francisco law firm offered Marcus a dream job, he and his fiancée decided to start this new venture as man and wife.

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the happy couple

We had two weeks to pull off one of the happiest days of their lives, and it was a success!

Sans Fancy Venue!

Everyone knows that a wedding date is at the mercy of the wedding venue. Since official venues were out, we chose our backyard! Since it’s the East Coast, we got a spacious white tent in case of rain.

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Sans Caterers!

Instead of locking down official caterers, the couple cherry-picked their favorite foods, and dishes that highlighted their heritage. The groom is German, which meant schnitzel and sauerkraut potato balls. The bride is from Trinidad with a Rastafarian and vegetarian family, which meant a mix of vegetable patties, jerk chicken and plantains. They also offered one of their favorite dishes: mutton biryani from India.  Guests are still raving about the All-Around-the-World menu!

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Sans Bakery Cake!

Instead of trying to score a last-minute wedding cake from a bakery, they called on food artist Carol Brown, known for her impeccable baking at Dixie Donuts and beyond. She outdid herself, with a homemade red velvet cake, chocolate brownies and a classic pound cake. For good measure, Marcus and Zawadi provided chocolate-covered strawberries as well.

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Sans Decorators!

Rather than hiring a decorator, Zawadi and friends, (including myself) created hand-made decorations in various shades of purple, the wedding color. Silver was the accent color. Billowy tissue paper balls were strung about, wisteria hung from the railings and the ceremony took place under a tree that was positively dripping with colored ribbons and strands of crystals. When the wind blew, it was ethereal.

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Sans Florist!

The couple skipped major florist fees by marrying outdoors, as our yard has a peach tree, fig free, Concord grape vines, a weeping cherry, daisies, hydrangea bushes and more. In fact, every flower from the purple hydrangea was snipped and placed on every table. Adding to the rustic theme were mason jars filled with sand and lit candles, lanterns hung from the trees and burlap runners featured ladylike polka dots.

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The ceremony was short, sweet and personalized with the couple’s own vows.

Sans Bartender!

Rather than hiring a bartender, the couple offered a conveniently pre-mixed signature drink, the Trinimeister. Combining both their heritages, it was a mix of Jaegermeister, coconut rum, pineapple juice and Sprite, which fit right in with the summer day. Beer and wine were also available, though as the party went on, more and more bottles of liquor filled the bar.
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Who needs a wedding planner when you have friends?

It was a day with zero humidity, sunshine and a cool breeze. It may well have been the prettiest day of summer. Mr. and Mrs. Lange were surrounded by love, with friends and family who all rallied together to make this day unforgettable.

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Bree Hall (pictured right) was a force during the wedding planning.

We wish Mr. and Mrs. Lange the best of luck with their new adventure in San Francisco!

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Hydrangeas popped on every table, and wedding toasts made guests laugh and cry.

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Silver accents complimented the purple and white decor.

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Gift bags were filled with homemade air freshener spray (created by the bride’s brother) and German beer.

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The couple’s friend Mark is also a taleted musician, who performed a warm, personal tribute.

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happy to open our home

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Build Your Own Taco Bar!

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Dixie Donuts food artist Carol Brown and her son Acie

The late, great Nora Ephron once said that people love to play with their food. That might explain my obsession with Korean BBQ.

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I had friends coming to dinner with their three boys in tow. As a kid, it can be a bore being dragged to adult dinner parties. So I took a cue from the Nora Ephron playbook and decided we would play with our food. I created a Build Your Own Taco Bar!

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It was a weeknight, so the dinner needn’t be fussy. The mother and children are vegetarian, so I served alternative proteins and and kicked the veggies up a notch with chipotle-spiced eggplant and Southwestern-style summer squash. I laid all the toppings out, and we had a great time building unique tacos – no two were the same!

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This greeting lets the kids know it’s not all about the grown-ups!

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The drinks let grown-ups know it’s not all about the kids!

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I get to rock my fabulous Mexican folk art runners!

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For extra long tables, be sure to place fixings to both ends of the table. Less passing, more eating!

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A sweet end to the meal: Carol’s homemade pound cake

 

 

Top Five Ways to Spring into Spring!

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My son and I, soaking up spring in the South of France

Finally! Those deadly icicles have dropped from the roof. They stabbed the dirt. They fed the roots and bulbs biding their time below. Without the bleakness of winter, one cannot fully enjoy the excitement of spring. It’s more than the burst of colors pushing through the brown. It’s the promise of things to come; a summer filled with barbecues, beach outings, and the smell of coconut sun lotion.

Too many people are content to admire the warming weather from office windows. That will not do. Here are the top five things to help you spring into spring!

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weeping cherry tree

1) Buy a flowering tree or shrub, and plant it in the yard.

Studies have shown that when people literally get into the soil, they don’t just feel more in synch with the outdoors, but are happier and live longer. Year after year, this plant will be the first to bloom in April, a beautiful congratulations for surviving winter.

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The biggest challenge with a hammock is staying awake

2) Buy a hammock!

You don’t need two perfectly-spaced trees, or even a yard! Hammocks can be sold with a stand, and can even fit on balconies. The best part? A hammock forces you to look where you usually don’t: UP. You’ll slow down and notice the blue jays, passing clouds and gorgeous sunsets.

3) Make a fresh batch of sweet tea or lemonade.

Never underestimate the power of taste buds. A refreshing, warm-weather drink can transform your mood and offer something a little more interesting than ice water.

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I uncovered this mysterious gem while hiking the woods along the James River in Richmond, VA

4) Get moving!

Whether it’s a volleyball game or a hike along the river, enjoy the cool air before summer ushers in humidity or scorching heat. Not only will you feel great toning up your winter body, but you can work on your tan as well!

5) Do a mini-makeover in your home!

I would suggest spring cleaning, but cleaning is so awful! Instead, lighten up your home. Replace heavy draperies with sheer ones, lighten your bedding, switch out your jewel-toned throw pillows with pastel ones, which look great with a geometric pattern. If you have a backyard sitting area or balcony, spruce it up so it’s ready for last-minute company or a solo glass of wine.

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The Boathouse in RVA knows how to deck out their outdoor seating area!

Happy spring!