Monday, May 16, 2016

Dramatic backyard furniture makeover with cushions

Does your backyard furniture need a facelift?

I have a super simple way to update your furniture. It involves an investment but it can be well worth it.

Here's the answer: Change out your cushions.

It sounds simple enough but the dramatic change it can bring is often overlooked.

Here's my example:

Our brown wicker furniture is in fine shape. But the cushions are looking a little blah. They are somewhat faded and just not as fluffy and perky as they were when I purchased them around 2011 or already that is four to five years ago. Yes, time can fly. Time to update these cushions.



Big difference, right?

I found these new cushions on sale at Pier 1.  Shop through Ebates and you can get a total of 2% cashback on your entire purchase. These cushions are treated for protection from ultra violet rays and can be used indoors or outdoors. 

As for me, I'm thrilled with the bright colors after having the muted turquoise cushions for so long.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Add color to your kitchen with new retro appliances

We've gotten a little bolder with color in the kitchen in recent years. There's also a portion of the population that not only loves color, but loves all things with a retro vibe. SMEG, an Italian manufacturer of kitchen appliances, is hoping that its latest product introductions will appeal to this crowd and win over many more fans.

SMEG’s ‘50s Retro Style Line is the choice if you want to add color and a vintage vibe to your kitchen. From pastel blue, to bright orange, to vibrant lime green – the options from this creative brand are endless.  

Below, SMEG's new retro refrigerator freezer unit is the focal element in this kitchen that includes SMEG's very contemporary range and hood. Evidence that retro and contemporary can coexist side-by-side.

Copyright SMEG
The SMEG FAB32 is the newest model, featuring a bottom frost-free freezer, adjustable glass shelves and LED interior lighting.  It is available in 12 different colors (black, blue, cream, lime green, orange, pastel blue, pastel green, pink, red, silver, white and yellow) and has a suggested retail price of $2999.00.

Copyright SMEG
Below is the SMEG Fab28 Refrigerator ($1999.00), It also includes adjustable shelving, numerous storage bins and has an inner freezer.

Copyright SMEG
If you prefer to dip your toe into the waters first before jumping right in, then consider a SMEG small appliance such as its mixer. Its stand stand mixer features 10 adjustable speeds with a smooth-start function and includes a wire whisk, flat beater, dough hook, spatula and plastic bowl cover. Retail price is $459.95. It is currently available in five colors including cream (shown below), pastel blue, red, black and silver.

Copyright SMEG
SMEG's toaster combines iconic mid-century style with modern features, such as six browning levels and a backlit chrome knob with four functions: reheat, defrost, bagel, cancel. The two-slice toaster retails for $149.95. A four-slide model is also available. Colors available include cream, pastel blue, red, pastel green (shown below), pink, black and chrome.

Copyright SMEG
With four speed settings, three preset programs and a detachable stainless-steel double blade, the SMEG retro blender has all the features of a modern appliance with the look of a vintage model.  It retails for $249.95 and comes in five colors: cream, pastel blue, red, black and chrome.

Copyright SMEG
What do you think? Do you love retro appliances or are you contemporary all the way? If you want to try a retro vibe, will you jump in with a refrigerator or take it slow and go with a small appliance like a toaster to start?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review: Chalk Ink markers

So long chalk because I just found Chalk Ink®, markers that look like chalk but work so, so much better.

Chalk Ink sent me a set of their Chalk Ink spring time set of six markers for review. I had the perfect testing ground: my at-home blackboard, which was currently dressed up using regular chalk.

Bear with me, I'm not an artist, so my work is just barely passable. However, while I used three or four shades of regular chalk on this board, it is really barely noticeable. Moreover, the chalk smears if you rest your hand on the board while coloring in a portion of your design.

So I set to work on a new design using Chalk Ink. It takes awhile to prime each marker, but once you do, the color comes out beautifully. Here, you can see that the fine point of the marker delivers fine, precise lines. Use the wider end of the marker and it delivers, too. The color was also quite vibrant.

I was enjoying the process and amazed at how smooth the colors were. Plus, while it goes on as easy as a marker would, they don't look anything like markers. These look exactly like chalk!

The only problem I see is when working on a vertical surface as I was. I had to continually prime the marker and occasionally, hold it horizontal so that the ink would flow down into the marker tip but that's to be expected.

Here's the finished piece! Very vibrant and the colors do not smear, even when I rested my hand on the design to fill in the flower designs. Chalk Ink can be cleaned off with water (I tested this first) or alcohol-based cleaners.

As mentioned, the company sent me the spring time set, but it also comes in choice of an 4-pack or 8-pack of classic or earthy colors as well as dozens of other sets including ones that are water resistant. You can try it and get a special 20% off discount with this special coupon code with your purchase at Chalk Ink. Use code: spring 16.

I tried it on a wine glass, which would be handy so you don't get them mixed up at a party. Works here, too. Wipes off easily.

With all the chalkboard surfaces available these days, you're sure to find lots of uses for these markers. I can't stop using them.

While chalkboards are the ideal canvas for these cool markers, you can even use them on chalkboard labels, gift tags and more. They can be used on any non-porous surface such as metal, glass, plastic and, of course, chalkboards.

I'm loving these! Aside from the great color that doesn't smear, I like that I don't have chalk dust on the floor below the chalkboard. What do you think?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Think spring: Spring silk florals and garden home decor now available at Michaels

We're wrapping up the first week of January and many of us are just now experiencing the first frigid temperatures of the winter season. We should be grateful that we've escaped the cold this long, right? Yet, there are those of us, me included, who is already counting down the days until spring.

So when I went into Michael's Craft Stores this week, I was happy to see that spring is in full bloom at the store.

Spring silk florals are out in abundance, now occupying the floor space just vacated by the Christmas decor. What's more, Michael's already put out a variety of the home decor items with a garden theme. I know many avid gardeners page through the seed catalogs during January, waiting impatiently for the time when they can start seeds indoors.

If you are already chomping at the bit for spring, take a gander at these beautiful spring blooms at Michael's. They are gorgeous and yes, they are also on sale!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Use your sunroom or screened porch year-around with fold away windows

Sunrooms are a great idea but unfortunately, many are only used three seasons of the year. Thanks to NanaWall, a company which makes windows that are like walls that actually fold out of the way, our sunroom is something we use year-around.

Instead of opting for traditional French doors or a sliding patio door, when we built our home we requested that the builder install a patio door that would accordion-fold to the side so that it would virtually disappear, leaving nothing but a huge opening to our sunroom.

That's exactly what we got from NanaWall.

Our sunroom is off our great room and has a door to a porch leading down into our backyard. Here it is in the summer, looking into it from our kitchen and great room. See the actual step-by-step installation here.

Copyright Norman Sizemore
Copyright Norman Sizemore
Naturally, in the summertime, we're in this room all the time. The windows in the sunroom open wide, letting the air flow through the house. The NanaWall accordion folds to a neat, unobtrusive stack on the right side, along the wall of our great room so it is entirely out of the way. By installing the NanaWall, we significantly increased the square footage of the great room when the door is wide open.

In autumn, when the temperatures start to fall, I bring in my outdoor plants to keep them over the winter. Even then, we still live in this room. A day doesn't go by when we do not have the NanaWall open.

In the winter, when Chicago gets its worst weather, we're still in this room. We have radiant heating installed in the floor and it warms up the room very nicely. If we didn't have the NanaWall, which opens up the sunroom to the rest of the house, we probably would not be using it on a daily basis in the winter like we do. Only when the temperatures fall below zero outdoors, do we keep the NanaWall closed during the day to maintain heat in the rest of the house.

Then, in just a couple short months, we'll be looking at spring temperatures again, when the room will once again become the centerpiece of our home. Installing a NanaWall was one of the best decisions we made when building this house.

Copyright Norman Sizemore
Do you use your sunroom year-around? What would make you use it more?

Monday, January 4, 2016

11 tips for decorating your home for winter once Christmas is over

It is a couple of days into the new year and you've just taken down the Christmas decorations and now your home looks incredibly blah. Now what?

Prior to Christmas your home was likely decorated with pumpkins and the warm golds and oranges of the fall harvest. So what do you put in your home now? After Christmas but before spring?

Is it too soon for daffodils?


Especially if you're in a colder climate and outdoor flowers won't be sprouting for awhile. In the meantime, you do need some seasonal decor, but what?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Make use of natural greenery. Christmas may be over but I repurpose the wooden bowl that holds pinecones and evergreen branches and colored ornaments over the holidays for the remaining winter months. After Christmas, I remove the ornaments and freshen up the greenery. I've added a little sparkle and some cinnamon sticks. The pop of red is courtesy of a faux pomegranate and a handful of wooden beads cut from a string of "cranberry" garland. The arrangement adds color, sparkle and the spicy scent of cinnamon.

2. Don't put away the apothecary or ginger jars. At Christmas, I fill apothecary jars with vintage ornaments. But with the holidays gone, I use the same jars and fill them with wine corks or potpourri. Again, I add a little color with cranberry beads.

Christmas decor
Post-Christmas decor

3. Fill your vases with winter florals. Berries are great for a winter floral arrangement. While they also are used at Christmas they are not exclusive to that holiday. They work all winter long.

4. Just as berries work in winter, so do evergreen boughs. These are artificial boughs from Michaels, but they work just as well as the fresh ones I bring indoors at Christmas. During the summer this vase is filled with a yellow mum, but until I can bring out the spring flowers, the bright red sprig of berries will warm up the otherwise drab winter months to come.

5. Not all Christmas decor is just for Christmas. I originally got these lanterns at Christmas but I loved them so much I keep them up year-around. I fill them with wine corks and during the winter, through in some berries to dress it up.

6. Use found items from outside as filler in your jars. I love these glass blown hurricane candle holders from the Sundance Catalog. You can fill the bottom half with virtually anything. Again, at Christmas, they hold vintage ornaments (see below) but afterwards, I fill them with pinecones from my yard and some wooden "berries." The flameless candles are from Pottery Barn and are encircled with cinnamon sticks. I don't think the cinnamon stick candles are available any more, but they are offering Birch Wax Pillars as well as Shimmering Bark, both of which would give the same look.

7. Use winter floral arrangements. Winter can be such a dreary time of overcast, gray skies that you need color wherever you can get it. That's why I use a lot of color, bold color, particularly red in the winter time. Here on my island is a floral arrangement that I love from I also continue to use my Winterberry hand lotion and soap from Williams-Sonoma and I keep my dishwashing liquid in the red bottle for dispensing into the sink.

I made this floral arrangement from pieces I picked up at Michaels. Again, greenery, berries and pinecones with a splash of color keep the winter theme going.

8. Use natural poinsettias and candy to accent the room.  I received a poinsettia for Christmas and there's no need to toss it when the holiday is over. Keep it going and add in some bright candy too. Here I have a dish of peppermint snaps to bring color to the room.

9. Fill up your year-round vases with seasonal floral. I hate storing seasonal decorations so I try to make them work year-around. Here, I simply change out the filler in this set of mercury vases that I have out all year. I fill them with some faux evergreen branches and they sit on this antique washstand alongside another beautiful floral arrangement from I picked up the mercury candle holders from Michaels.

10. Replace the Christmas door wreath with something more generic. The traditional Christmas wreath doesn't look good past the holidays but a natural winter wreath works. I'll keep this up at least through February or maybe mid-March before I change it out to something with a spring theme.

The same goes for my back door, which I keep to a simple, green wreath with pinecones. 

11. Don't forget your outdoor planters. Outdoor planters can look dismal in the winter months, making the outside of your home look almost as dismal as the weather. When spring isn't around the corner, fill the empty planters with winter elements. Again, my go-to items are evergreen boughs and pinecones. Surprisingly, these natural boughs will look good for quite some time before they dry out and need to be replaced. By then, I hope to go to something that evokes thoughts of springtime.

How do you decorate between January and March? What do you do to keep your home looking warm and cozy when springtime is still 90 days away?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Pantone's 2016 Color of the Year shows up in makeup, jewelry and in the kitchen

Pantone, the world leading expert on color and color trends, announced that the 2016 Color of the Year is actually two colors this time around: Rose Quartz, a dusty link and Serenity, a pastel baby blue. See my story on it here.

Copyright the Pantone Color Institute

At first glance, these colors remind me of color palettes of the 1950s, which were rich in pastel hues. However, in recent years, colors have been more jewel tone, so just thinking of the appliance industry and the car industry, which take these cues from the Pantone Color Institute's predictions, coming out with pastel products seems--at first--to be a bit of a reach.

Yet, already manufacturers are on the bandwagon. Just check out some of the products that are paying homage to colors predicted to be the hottest in 2016:

I admit, this one is the most unusual for me. Pantone has collaborated with Sephora to develop the SEPHORA + PANTONE UNIVERSE Color of the Year Matte Lipsticks $18 each at Sephora.

SEPHORA + PANTONE UNIVERSE Color of the Year Lipsticks

The companies have gone one step further and developed an eye shadow palette with pastel hues, retailing for $39 at In fact, they have an entire collection of makeup available that pays tribute to Pantone's 2016 Color of the Year Rose Quartz and Serenity, here.

SEPHORA + PANTONE UNIVERSE Modern Watercolor Eyes Palette

The home appliance market is also jumping on the new color trend. Keurig® is offering its Keurig K250 brewer in Serenity and the Keurig Rose Quartz Travel Mug will be available exclusively in starting in early 2016.
Copyright Keurig
Not to be outdone, KitchenAid has its iconic mixer available in shades to match the 2016 Color of the Year. Here, it is seen in KitchenAid's Cornflower Blue, which looks remarkably similar to PANTONE 15-3919 Serenity. 
Copyright KitchenAid

Here, the stand mixer is shown in Guava Glaze, a warm pink tone much like PANTONE 13-1520 Rose Quartz.
Copyright KitchenAid

These blue mugs from Crate & Barrel are on trend with Serenity. They range in price from $4.95 to $5.95 and are available in Crate & Barrel stores and at

Copyright Crate & Barrel

Pink mugs matching Rose Quartz are also available from Crate & Barrel.

Copyright Crate & Barrel

Lastly, look for this color pairing to show up in jewelry, too. Here's just one example among dozens. This one is from Sloan Street and shows a pink opal broiler drop earring with crystal open and pariah station. Finished in 18k white gold pink opal with a total carat weight of 22.01. Retail price: $9485.00.
Copyright Sloane Street
I found dozens of examples of this trend in action.  I'm sure you'll start seeing it pop up in stores as we get into the new year.

What do you think about these colors? Are you going to buy into the trend?