Welcome to the Floor Show

For the past four years we’ve lived in our house, the work we’ve had done has been pretty straightforward and relatively stress-free—putting in a new deck, adding proper attic access, having a new heat/air system installed. All of that changes next week, however, when my kitchen floor gets ripped out down to the joists.

About a year after we moved in I started working on the kitchen. I removed all the wallpaper (which is quite therapeutic, if I’m being honest), sanded and painted the walls, repainted the cabinets and changed out the hardware. At that point the next step was replacing the floor, which is currently a totally awful brick-patterned linoleum. In its place I wanted a black-and-white checkerboard tile. I found the tile at Home Depot and set an appointment to have everything measured and quoted. First I was told I had two layers of linoleum and the tile couldn’t be laid on top, the existing linoleum would have to come up. Fair enough. Oh, but because the house was built in 1952, there might be asbestos under at least the very first layer of flooring. Awesome.

But then the water heater exploded, more life happened and the floor project was put on the back burner until last winter, when we took out the cabinets around the tiny fridge that came with the house in order to make room for a new one that was made in this century. Here’s what we found beneath where the cabinet was.

We decided to get back to the flooring thing so we could get the kitchen finished and move on to other projects. The guy came back to take a sample to test for asbestos. And of course it came back positive. And it turns out there’s three layers of linoleum, not two. And he tells me that while they can’t remove the asbestos, we can totally remove the flooring and clean the subfloor ourselves. It’s not hard. Just use a lot of water! And we can bag it all up and leave it for the trash collector. Yes, of course you can just remove asbestos-covered flooring yourself with water and toss it out on the curb. All I could imagine was the EPA showing up at my house and turning it into the last part of E.T., when the government quarantines the house and covers it with plastic tunnels and what not.

So, fine. I got in touch with the only “asbestos abatement” company in the state. The guy comes and looks at the multi-layered floor, and tells me that the asbestos is in the mastic, which is what’s holding the first layer to the subfloor. Which means there’s asbestos in the subfloor, not to mention between the myriad layers of linoleum. And that means the entire subfloor has to come up. They’ll seal off the kitchen, cut out the entire floor (except where the cabinets are) and dispose of everything in an environmentally safe manner that does not involved piling it up by the street. The next day, my contractor, who sounds a lot like Rick Steves, comes in and puts in the new subfloor and then finally the new floor itself.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. This weekend we’ll move everything on the counters, the stupid hutch I can’t seem to get rid of, and the refrigerator into the dining room. (And then the dogs will totally freak out because there’s a fridge in the dining room) Monday morning the work begins, and the dogs will get a two-night vacation at their favorite kennel, and we’ll spend Monday night in a hotel, since by Tuesday evening we’ll at least have a plywood floor in the kitchen. Everything should be finished by midday Wednesday, and we’ll finally, hopefully, be able to move ahead with the rest of the work we’ve got planned…because now the goal is to get this place on the market next year!

A Lamp Post

Considering it took me several months to decide which pillows to buy for the living room, it should come as no surprise that it’s taken me ages to pick out a new lamp for my home office. I admit I wasn’t nearly as dedicated to (read obsessed with) the cause as I was with the pillow search, but nevertheless it took a while to make up my mind. And also the $25 gift card to West Elm probably factored into the decision.

Anyway, a few days ago my industrial task table lamp arrived from West Elm, and after the 15 minutes it took to get it out of the box (seriously) I instantly fell in love.

West Elm industrial table lamp

First, the polished nickel is wonderfully shiny, so I was immediately mesmerized. Second, this is one tall table lamp. At almost three feet tall, it’s as graceful as it is modern thanks to the long, sleek silhouette.The lamp is adjustable at the base and the center joint of the arm, but what I really love about this part is the detailing of the knobs. Instead of the tension-style mechanism found on a lot of lamps like this, and at this price point, this lamp has knobs similar to the look of a wing nut that unscrew for precision adjusting. Did I mention this lamp was just 60 bucks?

This is the kind of lamp you want to buy in a six pack and put them everywhere. The design fits into a variety of decor styles, and the lighting is just great—it illuminates a large piece of real estate in my office, and I definitely don’t need the overhead light to work. The base has a relatively small footprint and would fit nicely on a nightstand or on an end table without taking over the entire surface. This lamp is heavy and very well made and I’m impressed with the quality after having it less than a week. I fully expect it to last for a very long time.

Southern Comfort Food

Despite having lived all of my 32 years in Arkansas, I’ve never been much of a fan of many typical Southern foods, particularly side dishes. Beans and cornbread (or worse, cornbread mushed up in a glass with buttermilk), greens, hominy, fried squash…none of these have ever held any appeal whatsoever to me, despite having it all forced upon me during my childhood. I like my greens in a salad, and I prefer my squash sauteed in some olive oil with a little garlic. Or a lot of garlic.

One Southern food I was never force-fed during my youth was grits. Grandma never made them (because Grandma only made things I loved and it all tasted good), and it wasn’t until several years ago that I first tried them, when my husband procured his mom’s recipe for our New Year’s Day feast (also the only time I’ll eat black-eyed peas, and only if my husband makes them, because they’re damn tasty). The specific recipe was for tomato grits…and yeah, I didn’t like them so much.

I wasn’t faced with the scary consistency and texture of grits until a couple of years later at a breakfast potluck at work. Garlic cheese grits casserole, to be precise. I was convinced to try them, since they did contain two of my favorite food groups, cheese and garlic. Clearly those two things would make grits edible. And oh, do they ever!

I procured the recipe and have sort of made it my own over the past few years. I like to call them Angry Grits, mainly because of how violently the grits boil on the stove top. There’s a reason you cook them with the lid on the saucepan. And also, depending on how you make them, they can be a little spicy. They’re not at all healthy, but they’re better than mac & cheese when it comes to delicious comfort food. I made some tonight, and they go quite well with crab cakes!

Here’s my version of the recipe. It fills a 2-quart casserole dish, which means plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Garlic Cheese Grits Casserole

1. Boil 4 cups of water with a teaspoon of salt. I like sea salt. Mostly because of the cute container I keep it in.

2. Stir in 1 cup of instant grits. Reduce the heat, cover and cook about 5 minutes. Stir a couple of times. (You might get splattered with rogue grits.)

3. Stir in 8 ounces of cubed plain Velveeta and 8 ounces of Mexican Velveeta. (Like I said, not at all healthy.) If you want more jalapeno-y goodness, go for more Mexican and less of the plain. Either way, mix well.

4. Add a stick of unsalted butter. (Not. At. All. Healthy.) Mix well.

5. Add garlic powder. I like it garlicky, so I mix in about a tablespoon. I also like to add in a little pepper.

6. Pour unhealthy grits concoction into casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Enjoy. But only a few times a year.

Tis the Season…for a Shiny New Grill!

So after much debate, price comparisons and checking of Consumer Reports ratings, the husband and I finally got our first grown-up grill this weekend. It’s a Char-Broil Red grill, with “Red” referring to the infrared heat the grill uses. Instead of an open flame, three stainless-steel tube burners are tucked away beneath a U-shaped trough, providing high, even heat to the cast-iron cooking surface. Not only does the infrared system save someone like me from catching their hair on fire, it also prevents meat from drying out and losing all of that juicy goodness.

Despite the horribly hot weather (100 degrees! 110 heat index!), Saturday evening we grilled a couple of inaugural rib-eyes, and they were phenomenal. The grill is easy to use, with a “SureFire” electronic ignition button and individual burner knobs with a range of temperature settings, including one for rotisserie, should we ever feel the need to purchase the electric grill rotisserie. Which we won’t. But the lower setting is ideal for fish and veggies, which can also be cooked on the side burner.

The grill heats quickly, and only uses a third of the propane regular gas grills require, and our thick, juicy steaks were perfectly cooked in about 10 minutes. Even better, it has a cleaning mode that ramps the heat up to around 700 degrees and basically disintegrates anything left on the cooking surface, rendering that grill brush completely useless!

Even after one use, I think we’re really going to like this grill. It’s not gigantic and takes up minimal space on the deck, but it’s the perfect size whether we’re cooking for just ourselves or for a few other folks. Considering the easy operation, the side burner and the storage space, not to mention the effortless clean up, I can see a lot of our cooking moving from inside the kitchen and out onto the deck, especially in the evening and when the weather cools. But for now, I’m looking forward to grilling up some fabulous burgers (I have the most excellent recipe!) over the 4th of July holiday this weekend, no matter how hot it is!

Hung Up on the Hang-It-All

The big Herman Miller sale has come and gone, and while I didn’t end up with a pair of Eames molded plastic chairs for the dining room (since there’s no new dining room table to put them at quite yet), I am, however, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my shiny new Eames Hang-It-All!

I fell in love with Charles and Ray Eames years ago when I was assigned to write an article on mid-century masters. It was one of my first magazine assignments, and I remember spending the day at a local independent shop filled with the classics I had only seen in photos, and learning about Eileen Gray, George Nelson, Eero Saarinen and of course, the Eameses.

That was the day I truly fell in love with mid-century design, and vowed to eventually fill my home with a modest collection of all my favorites. Needless to say it’s been slow going, but I’ve wanted this mini icon for my office for a while. And you know, sale! And free shipping!

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Add Color to the Garden

If you’re like me and your green thumb is the very lightest shade of the hue, you’ll love how easy it is to add a little color to your garden, thanks to some spectacular outdoor furniture offerings that Richard Schultz and John Kelly introduced at ICFF.

New from the iconic Schultz, the seating in the Fresh Air Collection re-imagines the classic Windsor chair in powder-coated sheet aluminum. Available in three highly polished classic colors, the chairs can be customized with either a tubular-steel base or an aluminum-panel base.

Equally cool is the Fresh Air table, with thick square legs crafted of powder-coated extruded aluminum that complement beautifully both leg styles of the dining chairs. The table is available with a porcelain, glass or fiberglass top. I would love this in an office or studio in a screened porch.

The Rho Series from John Kelly Furniture owes its sleek silhouette to a perfect combination of smooth curves and precise angles—and is available in 10 fabulous colors! A well-edited selection of chair and table styles allows for contemporary dining and conversation areas, not to mention a stylish way to relax by the pool.

And if you can’t choose from all the great colors, consider the stripes! I loved this chaise lounge; the striped fabric makes for a great punctuation mark within the color palette.

ICFF 2010: Everything’s Illuminated

The 22nd annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair has come and gone, and it was a complete overload of spectacular color and innovative design. While there were a few things my cohort and I deemed “same thing, different colors,” the majority of the show offered a uniquely original perspective on the modern home. And one thing that particularly caught my eye was the fantastic lighting that was showcased. So while I finish processing everything that’s bouncing around in my head, here are a few pieces that were, for me, love at first light.

Eugenio Menjivar ICFF 2010 Loto pendants

Salvadoran designer Eugenio Menjivar’s breathtaking Loto lamp series—organically inspired by the lotus flower and crafted from recycled plastics—is best described by his statement on the collection: “An eco-experimental body of work that transforms discarded household materials into precious objects, allowing plastic to be reborn to educate consumers about sustainable design.” Be sure to check out his website, a whimsical work of art in itself.

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It’s Almost Time: ICFF 2010

Anglepoise lamp

By this time next week, my friend Mandy and I will be on a plane bound for the Big Apple—plenty of shopping, visiting an old friend and hitting the 22nd annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Billed as “North America’s singular showcase for contemporary design,” the four-day extravaganza of furniture, flooring, lighting, textiles and accessories will feature products from over 500 exhibitors from more than three-dozen countries. And in addition to all of that, there’s also the ICFF Studio featuring up-and-coming designers, the Materials Matter showcase of new materials, technology and production processes (something that completely fascinates me), and a juried exhibition of work by undergrad and graduate students from six of the world’s most prestigious design schools, including Parsons and the Pratt Institute.

There are also loads of programs, parties and awards to hand out, but then there’s the reason we’ll need an extra suitcase to get home—the ICFF Bookstore run by renowned NYC independent bookstore Archivia Books, which specializes in art, architecture, design, garden and interiors books from around the world. And rounding out the shopping portion of our trip, the designboom Mart, a global bazaar-style market where designers sell one to three products each—with stock limited to 100 pieces per stall—at prices ranging from $10 to $100. Did I mention we’re going to do all of this in two days?

I can’t wait to report back on what is sure to be a complete creative overload. But if you want to see it all for yourself, the last day of ICFF is open to the public, with tickets available for $50.

Keep it Fresh

prepara herb savorDon’t ask me how, but my husband has a knack for finding cool kitchen accessories that actually live up to their claims, and this thing is no different. Because that’s what I thought when I opened it during what I like to refer to as “A Very Foodie Christmas” last year—what is this thing?

This thing is the Herb Savor from Prepara. Aesthetically pleasing in its design, the Herb Savor was created to prolong the life of fresh herbs for up to three weeks. Having been in a cooking slump, until recently the thought of cooking with fresh herbs really hadn’t crossed my mind. But last week, I decided to reinvigorate one of my favorite go-to recipes—oven-roasted fingerling potatoes sprinkled with sea salt—with some fresh Italian parsley. Noting the presence of the still-unused Herb Savor sitting on the kitchen cabinet, I figured I might as well buy a big bunch of parsley and finally give it a whirl.

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The Great Green Outdoors

Images: Design Within Reach

Just in time for Earth Day comes the Go collection of outdoor furniture, created exclusively for Design Within Reach by eco geniuses Greg Benson and Jeff Taly at Loll Designs. Crafted from 100-percent post-consumer plastic recycled from milk jugs, Go brings the indoors out with a modern spin on the classic club chair and loveseat, as well as accessories such as the side table and coffee table/bench. Built to last, every piece is waterproof, fade resistant and maintenance free. And with 90-percent of the waste from the manufacturing process being sent to a recycling plant, the Go collection’s carbon footprint is small in size and big on style.

All seven pieces in the Go collection are available in seven colors, including black, white, British green, Chocolate, Apple, Leaf and Sky, shown here. The side chair offers plenty of space to relax, and boasts a more-upright back that most outdoor “lounge” chairs, a feature found throughout the collection. Choose from the stationary version above, or get moving with the rocking side chair.

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