Friday, January 18, 2008

2007 Magna Awards

I T' S T H E 2 0 0 7 M * A * G * N * A' S


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:08 PM


For a few years now, I’ve been seeing newspaper articles about the ‘trend toward smaller homes’ but I think such articles are nothing but a combination of wishful thinking on somebody’s part and an editor’s need to fill up space. Certainly, I’ve seen no evidence of any such downsizing around here, or, at least not any evidence where the small size of a dwelling— usually a new condo—was attributable to anything except a desire to keep the cost down & the profits up. A house right down the street from me just sold for 3.6M, and it’s nothing special, but then, it’s only 2 houses off Lake Shore Drive, and in most of the houses in that price range out in the suburbs, you get a lots of space. Of course, to make up for all that square footage, builders uses bland, generic materials, but that’s a whole nother issue. The point is that the new houses I see going up are way bigger than most people need, not smaller.

And of course, with the sub-prime mortgage debacle causing problems in other areas—the NYT said this morning that stock prices are down 9% since January 1, although the news isn’t all bad, since I figure that if the decline continues at the same rate, we can paper our powder rooms with stock certificates by August—new houses are bound to shrink in size, but let’s face it, there’s a difference between shrinkage by choice and shrinking because it’s either that or living on the street.

Anyway, the good news in the face of such gloomy forecasts as we’re getting lately is that bigger isn’t always better, and in her vintage Cape cod, Brittany Dog mom proves just how appealing small spaces can be. Cape Cod houses came into widespread popularity in another period of less than boom times, and typically, their rooms are small, but that didn’t stop BDM from giving her 10 x 25 living room just as much style as many rooms with much bigger dimensions. For that matter, size isn’t the only thing she had to contend with; there’s also a lack of light—only two windows, and one of those small-- and a major traffic path that cuts right through the center of the room.

It doesn’t matter. BDM used what was just about the only possible furniture arrangement, but her decorating choices make up for the spatial limitations. Some people say to keep furnishings in small rooms to a minimum, and they end up with rooms that seem even smaller because with nothing to look at, you focus on the walls. Other people say to fill a small room with fewer, larger pieces, and then it’s like a herd of elephants squeezed into the elevator with you. Sure, with massive upholstery, you’re perfectly comfy, but only as long as you’re sitting down because as soon as you stand up, it’s like an obstacle course just to get through the room.

Brittany Dog Mom’s room has plenty of seating, it’s all big enough to hold normal-size people, and she hasn’t skimped on the accessories, but you don’t notice how densely the room is furnished because everything in it is cool. Every horizontal surface is crowded with stuff, and the space under the desk and the armoire have shallow baskets for more stuff,, but it comes off as cozy, not crowded. Part of the reason is that she’s used pale colors on her walls and part of it is because her upholstery doesn’t match, and she uses pillows that contrast rather than match, so no one piece of upholstery appears too massive. It’s the camouflage principle: break up a surface into areas of other colors and you visually dissolve its mass. It works on a battlefield and it can work at home. Remember that the next time you’re contemplating one of those huge solid-color leather sofas. If it looks big in the store, it will look twice as big in your living room. BDM has avoided that problem, she’s used unmatched lamps--which keeps your eyes from playing connect-the-dots with them--and she’s positioned her mirror in such a way that although it doesn’t reflect a lovely view like people always recommend, it reflects light and therefore keeps the room from feeling cramped. Too, some of the things that make the room work are things she didn’t do. She didn’t add crown molding. It’s popular right now, and it can be handsome in itself, but in a low-ceilinged room like this, it would just emphasize the boundaries of the space. Sometimes, less really is more.

No, as I said, never let all the focus on vast open plan and volume ceilings convince you that small rooms are in any way lacking. In fact, on a weekend like this, when the radio’s saying to expect temperatures barely above zero & winds 25-30 mph, a warm & cozy room like this is just about perfect, especially when two beautiful dogs are part of the deal. Congratulations, BDM, on one of the friendliest rooms I remember seeing all year. Thanks for sharing it with us.


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:17 PM

MOST REASSURING NEWS--There is Life After Red—Lmccarly, Paintlady,& Phobe

Finally, after five years, the tidal wave of red paint that washed over the dining rooms of America is beginning to recede. Not, as I’ve always said, that there’s anything wrong with red, even in a dining room. The Victorians loved red dining rooms. The most beautiful room in this country—the Red Room at the White House—is Knock-Em-Dead Red with shiny white trim. I have no problem with red. I’m just tired of seeing it everywhere I turn.
So, it turns out, are a lot of people. The problem is that for people—OK, usually women—who had always relied on “neutrals” (that is, beigey taupey tannish browns) going red for the first time was a huge revelation. It was, as one woman I know described it, like burning her bras at a big student rally back in the 197Os. What an incredible feeling of Liberation & Release! (Of course, she went on, she realized within a few moments that although bras may very well have been oppressive, they were also warm, and as she walked back to her dorm room, freezing in the frosty November night, she was already practicing her phone call home to ask mom for some money to replace her bras that had been “stolen from the laundry room.” That’s what’s so great about college. You get education in lots of situations you wouldn’t expect. Bras = warmth. Who knew? But I digress.)
Anyway, going with bold red walls was so wonderfully empowering to some formerly color-deprived women that now they’re hesitant to backtread on the red for fear that they’ll automatically go back into their old mousey no-color personalities. Not to worry.
Here are the dining rooms of three of our long time posters who went for red in a big way a while back, got a striking result at a time when the Wow Factor! was all anybody seemed to care about, and who, after a few years of punching & popping color on their walls, are ready to move on to more nuanced colors, colors that let you make some other statement. Red is, of course, still useful, and it still shows up in these rooms, but as a side dish in a meal, not the main course, as the oboe or the French horn in the orchestra, not the tuba. A tuba can produce a wonderfully mellow tone, but it can also drown out every other instrument on the stage, as it did in many rooms, lo, these last 5 years.
Here, in three small vignettes, you can see the dining rooms of Lmccarly, Paintlady & Phobe, in their former red getups and in their beautiful new ensembles. Here, wood tones which were once swallowed up in the general ruddiness come to the fore, red transferware that would have once been swallowed up by strong color looks its best, and a room in a house with a strong period feel now acknowledges that period, in a treatment featuring natural wood and historic wallpaper patterns and colors.
Not, as we said, that these rooms weren’t handsome already in their old color schemes. But they are just as handsome in their new decors, and if these posters can do it, so can the rest of us. So if you’re tired of red, don’t imagine that your new d├ęcor needs to be equally strong, equally saturated in color. There’s always something to be said for subtlety. And fortunately, if you’re new at the whole decorating game, and red seemed like an easy solution to the no-furniture problem, well, there’s obviously a whole board of experts here to help you. Is this the year for you to make your escape?


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:21 PM


OK, I gotta say, I don’t spend much time over at the Trash-to-Treasure board. That is, I think I’ve been there maybe twice, and I had to turn around and leave. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it, and I’ve seen plenty of projects there that—well, I’d better just not get into it, and I’m not even talking about stuff like the genuine 1850s John Henry Belter table—basically a twin for the one in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom—that I once remember seeing a newspaper feature on, where a clueless woman with too much time on her hands & not enough sense had sawed said table in half to make two consoles, then painted its carved rosewood fruit & flowers & birds in garish realistic colors. It couldn’t have been easy, and she probably spent days working on it, but that little project made some of the Donald’s furnishings look almost tasteful, which isn’t easy to do. The sad part is that this was a woman in the low-rent end of the town where I lived, and that before she started her little project, that table was probably worth more than her house was.

So I’m not a big fan of things dismantled & recombined & turned intoPwell, something else. There are just too many chances for something to go wrong, and if you don’t know what I mean, watch the 1932 version of Frankenstein. The risk of that kind of outcome is always lurking just around the corner, out of sight.

But sometimes, the planets align and Genius strikes unexpectedly, and that’s what exactly happened with Robolady as she was recyling and putting together this shelf deal out of a bunch of odds & ends, and I’m not hyperventilating here: I mean it. It was genius.

If this same gym-basket and plywood tower had rested on a big wooden plinth, or on a set of cabriole legs off an old dressing table, or some turned feet off a 192Os armchair, I would have probably scrolled right past it & never paid it a moment’s notice. But with the impromptu addition of a pair of mannequin’s feet, the whole thing rises, like a newly-evolved species, out of the primordial ooze of Crafts Fair furniture to the level of ART. Maybe Outsider Art, rather than Art-School “art”, but art nonetheless. This amazing piece ranked right up there in visual power with Salvador Dali’s fur-lined teacup & the stool designed by another 1930s Surrealist that was perched on the knees of three shapely female legs in high-heeled shoes. OK, maybe Robolady’s piece wouldn’t have landed in a major museum, but it could have taken center stage in the marble-lined entrance hall of a private collector, or in a small & pricy private art galley. It was that unique. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. Instead of recognizing the incredible visceral power of the piece she had so innocently created, Robolady had second thoughts about the feet’s potential creepiness, and she pulled back from her original inspiration that created the piece and traded the mannequin feet out for regular ball-turned wooden ones. With what result?

With a terrible result. Her amazing sculpture reverted to being just another piece of furniture, in the same way that Cinderella’s glittering coach turned back into a pumpkin. The magic was gone, absolutely. Sure, Robolady can take off the turned-ball feet and put the mannequnin feet back on—and I hope she’ll do just that, if she hasn’t already sold the piece for a hundred bucks to someone who’ll stick it next to the back stairway of their big house in the suburbs and never think another bit about it—but what’s even more important for Robolady to do (and what’s equally important for all of us to do) is to learn to trust our instinctual inner voice, rather than to second-guess ourselves by listening to that inner committee of unimaginative nay-saying critics with their predictable, boring, middle-class tastes. The philosopher Nietzche said “H*ell is other people” but what he meant was listening to their ignorant (even if well-intentioned) opinions. What do they know?

The worst part of following trends as we decorate our homes is not that our home will look like our neighbor’s house, or even that our home will look like Pottery Barn, but that in copying somebody else, we miss out on the chance to do something totally, absolutely our own, something that, no matter how long we look around at what other people are doing and what other people are selling—or trying to sell-- we’ll never find in the pages of a glossy catalog.

Will everything we do, every one of our ideas, always be a wonderful success? Hardly. But the odds in our favor go way up when we try something out of our own brain. What’s the worst that can happen? We have to do something over because it didn’t work the first time? Big deal. Never be afraid to fail.


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:27 PM


The transformation over the last year or so of Phobe’s house has been remarkable, but this wonderful room is my favorite. The simple color scheme, the lack of flashy new materials, the mismatched chairs gives this the look of a room that has been this way forever, which is amazing, mainly for the reasons that over the last half century, so many rooms that once looked like this have been ripped out in favor of flashy new decors that are now themselves dated, while this look endures. Better yet, it’s also practical. Granite counters need special cleaners to stay good-looking, stainless needs special polish to maintain its look, but the more scratches & dents an old wooden table gets, the better it looks. This one looks great now, and it will just continue to get better. Congratulations, Phobe. It takes a lot to get me to notice a kitchen. Yours is a beauty.


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:33 PM




Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:37 PM



Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:41 PM


.....Text difficulties due to writers' strike. Please join us tomorrow.

"That's bunch of **********!"--Miles


Posted Jan 18, 2008 09:49 PM



Posted Jan 18, 2008 10:24 PM

Well, except for that part where the envelopes with the wonderful, witty commentary didn't arrive because the writer monkeys were on strike, everything went off without a hitch this year. Well, so far, I mean. And anyway, those monkeys will have those missing sections cleaned up as soon as they learn how to edit my terrible, terrible typing.

You may notice there are fewer Magnas this year. Why, you may ask. Easy. Fewer pics = fewer Magnas. Too many posters store their pictures in off-site links but don't post their photos here, so when I open a thread titled "Here's the pics of my finished room!!!" there'd be nothing inside but a stack of links.

Magnaverde doesn't hand out awards at Shutterfly or Photobucket or Picturesworth or at Berate my Room. Other people will have to do that.

No, for something to get a Magna on the HGTV Forum, it has to appear on the HGTV Forum. I don't have time to go through every single post looking for foreign links. Nor do the pictures on Joyluck's wonderful compendium count. Not for the Magnas, anyway. Don';t get me wrong, that's a wonderful thing she does there, and there are some great-looking rooms there, but many of those rooms have never appeared here, so the can't get a Magna.

And considering that I had to go through almost 200 pages of threads to make sure I hadn't missed anything--and that was just the titles of the threads, not all the pages inside them--you see why I couldn't have gone through all the outside links to see what amazing things were might have been inside. What can I say? I'm a busy guy.

What's my hope for 2008 year? Well, obviously that people will post their photos here directly, in addition to their off-site albums. But mostly, I hope that, after showing us a whole 2-month-long string of before shots, sample boards, product shots & in-progress shots, people will actually take an official portrait of their room that they worked so hard to finish. You wouldn't believe how many rooms I saw all the way up to the last minute, and then the final shot posted had a ladder in the middle of the room and a pile of paint-spattered clothes on the floor. No money shot. It was like reading a book and finding the last chapetr missing. I know all about real life, so I can overlook the debris in a picture, but still. It only makes sense to do the best job we can to document what we've done, and not give up right before the finish line. I've been shooting my own place for 30 years, clear back to the days when I was a brand-new hire at the Phone Company and whan I had no idea I'd ever get an ID degree. If I did it then, thinking my whole life was going to be in engineering, we can all do it.

That--more finished shots of finished rooms, more natural light or lamp-light shots rather than weird flsh-light shots--and maybe some pictures of Modern or Rustic or Contemporary rooms would be good. We seem to occupy a very narrow band on the decoratin spectrum, and I think we're a lot wider-ranging that that. I just don't have the proof.

Anyway, friends, that's what we got for 2007. Have at em. Or, for some of you, have at me. Either way's good. Now, however, you'll have to excuse me while I go see what's the holdup with those da** monkeys. They should be done editing tomorrow. They're off on Saturdays.

Meantwhile, stay warm. It's 2 degrees in Chicago. Yu may now post to this thread directly. Thanks you and good night.

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