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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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Retro, Handmade, Eco-Friendly: Our Top 5 Post-Holiday Etsy Finds

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Photos courtesy Birch Pack.

By Lisa Brunette

As suggested in our last post, the best time to shop for holiday items is in the weeks just after the previous year's holidays. We've been taking advantage of some great sales this week from the comfort of our own home, in our jammies, because you know, 2020. I've singlehandedly scoured the Etsy holiday shop for great deals that fit the criteria retro, handmade, eco-friendly, so you don't have to. Here's what's in my shopping cart right now. Maybe you'll even get them before I do!

1. Handmade birch bark tree ornaments

Finnish company Birch Pack offers these delicate ornaments made of the top layer of birch bark from already felled trees. According to the shop's site, "Birch bark has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial characteristics." You can order them in several different designs, such as the tree below, or an assortment, as pictured above. Right now they're 50% off, too.

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2. Retro 70s cast iron trivets

Cast iron has been making a huge comeback with the homesteading/bespoke/back-to-basics movements, and with its durability, timelessness, superior cooking and toxin-free qualities, it's easy to see why. You might've heard I'm stalking the Etsy pages for a Dutch oven, but until then, maybe I can feed the cast iron need with one of these fun trivets. But I'm torn between the Christmas tree and winking Santa. I swear my mother had one when I was growing up...

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Photo courtesy Pretty Leftovers.
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Photo courtesy Kitschy Vintage.

3. Felted garland

As you might've seen, I like to drape our pipe-pole Edison bulb chandeliers with felted balls at Christmastime. Felt is a warm, renewable resource, and just like the birch bark ornaments, they give a natural feel to your home. I've let our dramatic stair railing go naked each year so far, but next year, I'm thinking they're gonna get felt up. How do you like this peppermint-themed felt garland

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Photo courtesy Handcrafted Buffalo.

4. Macrame candy canes

Speaking of warm and natural, another trend from the 70s that has made a comeback we can be happy about is macrame. It's been around for a bit now and seems destined to become classic, as evidenced by these make-you-wanna-smile macrame candy cane ornaments. If you've been following along the blog, you know all about our pink living room by now, so of course we need to get these in pink and white stripes. Which is a good thing, because at 30% off, the red and white options are already sold out. Long live pink!

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Photo courtesy Frayed by Design Co.

5. Bubble light night lights

The same fabulous human being who gifted me the KISS Rock 'n Roll Over ornament mentioned in our holiday tour post also gave me a bubble light night light long ago. I set that beauty up as I moved to various homes across America - from Miami, Florida, to Seattle, Washington - until it finally expired just before we moved to the Midwest in 2017. So I've been without this crucial item for a couple of years now. When I saw this Etsy retailer had not one, not two, but three different bubble light night light color options, I hit 'favorite' right away. Red and green seems classic - that's what I had before, but the red/yellow and green/yellow options are equally fab. And at 10% off, I might have to once again say yes to the bubble.

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Photo courtesy 1820 Lamp Company.

I hope this roundup inspires you. Especially with small, independent retailers getting hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and quarantines, it feels important to highlight their work. When it's handmade, antique or retro, or eco-friendly, that's even better, in my book. Happy post-holiday shopping to all, and to all a good buy!

Note: This post contains Etsy affiliate links. If you make a purchase, Cat in the Flock may earn a commission.

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4 Cost-Saving, Eco-Friendly Post-Christmas Moves You Can Make Right Now

Xmas Cards
Holiday cards deserve a second life.

By Lisa Brunette

Now that the gleam of Christmas has lost a bit of its glimmer, you might be looking at your living room full of spent wrapping paper and holiday cards cluttering the mantel and mentally planning when you're going to clean-sweep the whole thing and move on. Because if there was ever a year we wanted to move on from, it's this one, right?! But before you abandon the holidays, tossing everything into recycling and jumping feet-first into 2021, here are four cost-saving, eco-friendly moves you can still make as the whole kit and kaboodle winks out.

1. Keep Your Holiday Cards

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, and other winter holiday cards are often made of high-quality materials, featuring heavy card stock, embossed imagery, and other details that are just too nice to throw away. They deserve a second life. Consider framing them as holiday-specific art, using them in arts and crafts, or even repurposing them as gift tags next year. With a scissors and hole punch, you can turn one card into several cute gift tags. This way you save money on buying separate gift tags, and you also keep the cards out of the waste stream. Even though you might think you're a good eco person because you put them into the recycling instead of trash, recycling is not really the answer, as oftentimes that card isn't being recycled at all. We need to shift more toward reuse instead.

There's also the sentimental value - while we all want to Marie Kondo our way to clarity and spaciousness, it can be a beautiful thing to sift through old cards each year, musing on all the snippets of wisdom that Grandma took the time to impart before she died or the slices of life that come through in those old Christmas letters from the 1990s. Besides, with holiday cards waning as a thing, you might find these precious missives become vintage relics in no time at all.

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Repurposed ribbons and bows, with a gift tag made from a Christmas card.

2. Keep Your Bows and Strings

Along with cards-cum-gift tags, another opportunity to divert items from the waste stream surfaces when it comes to bows. If you're using fabric bows, yay you for the style points, but that should be an even greater incentive to keep and reuse them. Um, they are fabric, after all! Plus, a great many items packaged and mailed from retailers, especially before the holidays, come with nice fabric bows adorning them already, as in the image above. Every single one of those bows came from retailer packaging, even something as mundane as a package of socks! We repurpose them to wrap gifts every year. We even store them in a zip-locking type of bag that was used to ship a pair of sweatpants.

Wrapping
This especially thick craft-style wrapping paper makes great 'brown' matter.

3. Compost Your Gift Wrap

Our compost operation is continuing to run through the winter, and I recommend you keep yours up, too, if organic gardening is your jam. Since almost all gardening activity has ceased now that it's officially the dormant season, we don't have the same ready access to 'brown' material that balances out all the 'green' coming from our kitchen in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. That's where wrapping paper comes in. Though it used to be a tree, it's now dead and, in our case, literally brown. Into the compost it goes!

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In our downstairs bathroom, an antique fishing tackle box and festive hand towel.

4. Stock Up on Christmas Stuff for 2021

You'll get the best deals on Christmas ephemera in the week just after Christmas, when retailers are eager to ditch their stock and mark items down as much as 75 percent. I've pretty much never paid full price for wrapping paper or Christmas cards because I always buy them after the holiday the year previous. You can sometimes get other items at a discount as well that are really only tangentially related to the holidays. This morning, in fact, I scored a rolling pin and 12x12 baking pan along with wrapping paper and Christmas towels from World Market (not a sponsored endorsement). Anthony's birthday is in January, which can catch me off guard, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, but I've learned to use this to my advantage. Last week I 'favorited' my top picks for him on Etsy, and then this morning, I checked to see which ones were offering the best after-Christmas deal and quickly snapped up just the thing.

Speaking of Etsy and deals, now is the time to order your own set of personalized Christmas stockings, as featured previously on the blog (totally an affiliate link this time) because THEY ARE NOW 50 PERCENT OFF. Not only is this a great deal, but by shopping Etsy, you're supporting small, independent makers of unique, handmade items. If, like me, you failed to take advantage of a parent who offered to teach you to sew, and now you do not know how to sew, you can still have a handsewn thing because of Etsy.

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The risk with my after-Christmas shopping approach is that you might lose out on certain items - ornaments seem to fly off the shelves before Christmas every time (much like they fly off our tree thanks to Chaco) - or that what's trending in 2020 might not be cool in 2021. But I note that the Christmas llama thing has been going strong for two years now and doesn't seem to be fading, and maybe that's because it's moving from trend to classic. If I have my way, it will... Besides, do you really care about what's trendy?

Happy New Year!

This post contains an Etsy affiliate link. If you make a purchase, Cat in the Flock may earn a commission.

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Xmas_Window

By Lisa Brunette

One of the fun activities Anthony and I participated in pre-COVID-19 was the holiday parlor tour here in St. Louis' Lafayette Square neighborhood. It was a treat to tour historic homes - some dating as far back as before the Civil War - all done up for the holidays. We look forward to a day when such in-person events are possible again. In the meantime, we've given the 116-year-old Dragon Flower Farmhouse a holiday makeover and invite you to tour it from the comfort and safety of your own living room.

Fa-La-La-Llama

Speaking of comfort, the below llama pillow comes out only for the holidays... I'm not sure why a pink llama says Christmas, but it certainly does. As you might have learned from our last post on the living room makeover, we've got complementary colors pink and green in the main downstairs space. Complementary means they're opposites on the color wheel, and that makes them a vibrant pairing, as in the pink pillow on chartreuse here.

Llama pillow

The llama theme is echoed in the Christmas tree, as a key ornament. I've hung this one and a couple of other ornaments behind the tree to make the smallish tree seem a bit grander, as well as fill the blank walls left when I removed an antique leather whip and two vintage family photos that didn't look right as backdrop for ol' tannenbaum.

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The tree is strung with white lights and colors that harmonize with the room's palette: pink, green, white, gold, and natural tones from straw and wood. Rather than spending a lot of money just to color-coordinate a tree, I simply split our ornament collection into two categories, these muted tones and another crop all in primary colors, which fit the smaller tree in the dining room. But before I move onto that room, I want to linger here a bit in the living room, with of course the mantel as the focal point.

This Mantel Moment

Xmas_Mantel

I really love how the mantel looks for the holidays. The candelabra on the left is a vintage 1960s Brutalist design, which I found at a tiny thrift window shop that used to be part of a sweet little café owned and run by two women in Chehalis, Wash. The mercury glass candle holders are from World Market, and the brass deer is an antique mall find. I wish I could say I made the stockings myself, but they're from Etsy. (At least I hung them with care!). Yes, Chaco gets a stocking... what did you expect? Zander has one, too, but he's staying in Seattle for the holidays. 

The cube vase on the left is a collectible piece of memorabilia - a brick from the old St. Louis Arena, a major concert and sporting venue for 70 years before it was imploded in 1999. The other vase is handcrafted by an artist, but I picked it up at an antique mall on the cheap and unfortunately don't know anything about who made it.

Here's a variation on the mantel from 2019, with the Brutalist candelabra replaced with a star hurricane lamp, and the balance shifted.

Mantel 2019

Ornament Lament

Thinking about that Arena brick puts me in the mindset to share this holiday tragedy. You see, I went to a good number of heavy metal concerts at that place back in the day, but one of the acts I did not see was Kiss. I've related the whole story previously on the blog, but basically my parents were super strict sort of beyond reason, and they would not allow me to go to this particular Kiss concert in the late 80s, which would have been something to remember and tell your kids about, you know? What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament, gifted to me by my friend Alyssa Naumann back in the 90s, after she heard my Kiss concert sob story and wanted to give me something to make up for the loss. 

Kiss Ornament

Yeah, that's a Rock and Roll Over Kiss ornament right there, and you'll notice up above I used past tense: What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament... Past tense because a day or two after I took this photo, Chaco BROKE it. My wonderful Kiss ornament, which I have looked forward to getting out each Christmas for the past 25 years, on the floor, shattered to bits. Because of the CAT.

Words were said, my friends, and a grudge was held... for at least an hour, anyway. Chaco wormed his way back in pretty quickly, I have to admit.

Sigh. 

Red Tree

Have a Ball

The Kiss ornament was on the 'red' tree in the dining room, where a brighter palette prevails, all inspired by the ironic and iconic Miss Fortunato painting, done by Monica Mason, the wife of an old colleague of mine from the St. Louis Science Center. It was part of a series on circus side show acts; Miss Fortunato is "the luckiest woman in the world," because she's so beautiful, all manner of butterflies flock to her face, as if it's a flower (obscuring her face from the viewer). This painting originated in St. Louis, has traveled with me to Miami, Florida, and Seattle, Wash., and has now returned to just a few blocks from the home where it first hung. It fits well in between the moulding detail.

Here we are, all ready for a small dinner party before the holidays. The wool felt balls are from World Market (I can't help it; I'm a fan), and the turquoise table settings are Fiestaware. The vintage side cabinet is probably from the 1940s and was left behind by the previous owner of my house in Tacoma; I added heavy caster wheels and painted it black (it had been puke pink). The top comes off but was damaged in our last move, alas. The pewter candle holders in the two paneled areas are from my sister, Amy, who had them in her home for many years and then kept them in storage after the glass hurricanes broke and her décor changed. When she saw our dining room, she realized they'd be perfect, and she is right.

Dining Room Xmas

This dining room is actually next up for renovation, as that aforementioned brown paint is on full display here, too, covering all of the window and doorway trim, as well as a chair rail that runs the length of the room, which you can see above. We're thinking about a deep blue-green, as this room faces southeast, gets plenty of light, and could handle a darker hue. I'm considering painting the walls, trim, and the above white cutouts all the same color, for a more dramatic, rich effect. Maybe even the ceiling? What do you think? My brother keeps crying 'earth tones,' but that's not really my jam.

That concludes our virtual tour. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate the holiday. And to all, may 2021 bring you peace, happiness, and the freedom and safety to go... maskless!

Note: This post contains an Etsy affiliate link, but all other recommendations are non-sponsored.

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A Peek Inside Our Sloooow Living Room Redo - Finally Finished This Fall!

Living_Room_Sweep

By Lisa Brunette

We just passed the three-year mark here at the Dragon Flower Farmhouse, and I'm excited to announce that the living room is finally 'done.' And it only took us two years

I realize that timeline flies in the face of every home improvement reality show HGTV has ever aired, not to mention every slick interior design blogger claiming to have completely redone a whole house in one weekend, etc. But this is real reality here, folks, and like us, I'm sure you've done your share of slow reno - the kind that takes place in between things like raising children, launching your own business, or planning a wedding. You know, life.

The work began in earnest in the fall of 2018 when we tackled the living room window frames. They were a muddy brown hue, not wood stain but dark brown paint on top of a faded, cracking stain from a previous era. I'm not sure what the developer who flipped the house was thinking, but trying to amend scuffed-up wooden features with a thin layer of brown paint should never have been the solve. For the whole first year, we lived with a bad curtain job as well, high-water drapes on rods drilled right into the moulding. So much wrong, as you can see. Plus that dirt-colored paint had a dreary, darkening effect. 

Living Room Windows Before

I know you're thinking that 'before' shots are always dark and out of focus to make sure the 'after' looks great. But seriously, there was just no brightness to the living room between the wood floors (which we love, but they are dark) and all that muddy paint.

Even though it devoured the room's light, and that black box covering the fireplace hole super depressed me, I always thought the mantel, which as far as we know is original to the house, was a stunner.

Living Room Mantle Before

We chose to go with white to match the trim in other parts of the house. Now I know there are wood purists out there who shudder at the thought of painting wood trim, but we went white with good reason. First of all, the floors. They are original hardwoods, refinished and stained with a deep walnut tint. Natural wood trim paired with them would just seem dull by comparison, and again, together they'd eat the light. White by contrast looks fresh; to use that interior design buzz word, it pops. Second of all, stripping layers of paint over layers of antique stain and then sanding, re-staining, and sealing would have been a nasty, toxic job, and nobody here wanted to do it.

You can see how the white primer already begins to lighten up the room as we transformed the front window frames from dreary to dapper. 

Living Room Painting

By the way, I find Emily Henderson's design blog really helpful when it comes to the right way to hang curtains. Her treatise on the subject, "Hanging Curtains All Wrong" is my repeated go-to. Here's how the windows looked with the fresh coat of paint and new drapes, sized and hung more appropriately. 

Living Room Windows

And that was kind of it for 2018. I founded Brunette Games that year, and going into start-up mode here in middle age proved to be a huge distraction from home improvement. As evidenced by the holiday styling photo below, the mantel was still all chestnut-y for Christmas that year.

Living Room Mantle Before

It remained brown for most of 2019 as well, along with the rest of the trim in the room. Still, I think I was able to do the best with what we had. Early on, I realized I wanted to base the room decor on two paintings given to us by my late mother-in-law. As I mentioned last week, the main inspiration came from the Marta Gilbert painting of a young woman holding a slice of watermelon. Its vibrant pinks really got my imagination going. The other painting is also from A. Grace - a Georgia O'Keefe-esque bloom closeup by the artist Nance Allison Cheek. Here they are side by side.

Living Room 2 Paintings

At this point I'd decided on a pink-and-green color palette for the room. Green is a complementary color to pink, and it pulls in the green tile fireplace surround. It also for me harkens back to the colors of the bedroom from my childhood, when my mother called the décor shots. The interim green and pink living room, still waiting to be fully transformed, was a work-in-progress.

Living Room Interim Sweep

Obviously, the mantel and trim needed to be painted, but so did that shelf you see on the right in the photo above. That was an antique mall find, and with its redwood stain, it just didn't fit.

In late fall 2019, we had a string of days warm enough to open the windows for ventilation, and we found a pocket of time to complete the painting. We also scored big on some winter clearance sales, so we splurged on half-price bookshelves and chairs. We got everything done in time to host Christmas at our place. But the last piece of the puzzle didn't fall into place until this fall, when we swapped out the curtains - the navy blue arrow pattern didn't mesh with the green-and-pink plan - and painted the vintage swirl lamp pink. Now the room is officially done.

Living Room Left

Living Room Transom

Why does pink work in this living room? It's a good question. First, green is a complementary color, which means it's opposite on the color wheel. That provides great balance to the vivid blushes. Second, I've included a lot of masculine elements so the room doesn't feel too girly. There's a brass cobra candlestick on the mantle, a pair of horse head bookends on a shelf, one of the side tables has pointed arrow feet, there's a shield adorning the fireplace, and we've hung a leather whip on the wall.

Living Room Mantle
The cobra candlestick and that shield emblem give the room a manly touch. For Halloween fun, I added a spider, too.
Living Room Whip
Anthony found the whip on a tour of his father's childhood home town. Surrounding it are photos of his ancestors.
Living Room Horses
Horse heads: SO Jane Austen.

I also think the brass, marble, and gold accents ground the room with a little adult luster. It never feels like a kid's space, which is not to say that my six-year-old niece doesn't adore the pink. 

Living Room_Bracket

Besides the twin chartreuse chairs and bookshelves, which we picked up just before Christmas when no one is buying furniture and everything tends to be redline clearanced, the only thing we purchased for the renovation was the primer and paint. To get a consistent color palette, we drew on those two paintings we already owned, and then it was a matter of pulling from our own collection of items picked up over years. One suggestion I have is to move through your home looking for items by color and not being afraid to repurpose them in a different room. That's how I gathered together most of the green and pink things in the living room now. 

Living Room Details

To keep the room from feeling matchy-matchy, I brought in hues from across the spectrums for pink and green. And I kept brass, gold, and the white of marble and stone as accent colors. Since the bookshelves we scored were the same walnut shade as the floors, I foregrounded white objects against that background, as in this stone sculpture and ceramic bowl pairing.

Living Room Shmoo

All in all, I have to say that spacing out a reno over two years is actually a good way to do this. It allows you to live with your decisions piece by piece, with enough time to edit, alter, and tweak as you go. It's also fun to let your wanderings through junk shops and antique malls inspire you. While everything else came with us from the Pacific Northwest, those horse head bookends are new acquisitions, as are many of the holiday accents you'll see in my next post.

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