Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Go Ask Alice

I cast local actors Matt Weiss and Heidi Van who were perfect as Alice and the Mad Hatter. My styling past taught me actors bring so much more to the table than professional models, especially when it is such a styled story. (Not shown to the side, a giant green birdcage filled with black crows.)

Happy Halloween everyone. The issue is out!

Many months ago, I produced and styled an editorial for Better Homes & Gardens, Halloween Tricks & Treats magazine. This special edition issue is BHG's biggest seller of the year so I was honored to be asked to participate. The following pictures are from the feature story but the magazine is full of many other wonderful pictorials and ideas as well. Be sure and pick one up which are available almost everywhere now.

Read along as I give you some behind the scenes info on this shoot.

Above, the background of the title page was hand drawn by Diane Tompkins. I had asked her to just photocopy a mans shirt but she wanted to make it original! The inset shows the art I made for the party invitation (available for download).

I got a call just three days after closing the shop (January 12) from editor Ann Blevins at BHG. She had an idea of doing a Halloween feature around an Alice in Wonderland theme and wanted me to produce it. I admit, not being a reader, I didn't have a firm grasp on this classic fairytale so I rented every movie and scoured the internet doing endless hours of research to get familiar with it. Come to find out, a lot of ideas were out there as Alice has been recreated in every genre imaginable.

Ann also noted she wanted to use a different color palette than the normal orange, black and green so I chose a twist on those typical Halloween colors by using coral, dark brown- and teal and I was maniacal about it too making sure every bit of wardrobe, teapots, candles, food, and props fell somewhere in that palette.

The lovely staircase at the Simpson House.

Finding the location for the Mad Tea Party was one of the biggest challenges I faced. From Craig's List to Facebook, I sent out a search request to everyone to help with the hunt and finally someone reminded me of the wonderful Simpson House in Kansas City. This historic home was restored specifically to use for special events and many a reception and wedding have been held there. In this case, all I cared about was the staircase (for the shot below) but it also had an enormous kitchen which was perfect for the food stylist and three empty rooms ready to stage any way we wanted. It was also available for an entire week which was great because the mess of furniture, props, photo equipment, crafts and food we schlepped in would have sent any homeowner into a spin.

Small tables of varying shapes and sizes was my desire over one giant tea party table. Next came the layers of velvets and lace, teapots and teacups, platters and objects.

With only a few weeks of pre-production left, I spent a few days at various thrift stores gathering different pieces of clothing that could be manipulated into costumes for our two characters. The color palette was all I cared about so I pulled anything interesting in brown, coral and teal. The Mad Hatter's jacket was actually a two piece Dana Buchman suit for women and I had local wardrobe mistress Linda Flake redesign it into a tailcoat. We all met Linda for a fitting while she ripped and cut and rebuilt a pile of used clothes into these colorful costumes.

Doll faces I found at Round Top were glued inside giant paper flowers I sourced. I made the glitter masks from this wonderful glittered foam peel and stick paper I found at Michaels.

Next was the gathering of props; from thrift stores to flea markets to antique shops and even a van full from my own home, I gathered for three months this and that and emptied my garage to store tubs of props and furniture that started to accumulate. I also contacted about a dozen vendors asking for newer merchandise to help with the story so boxes and palettes of items were delivered to my front door. The Mad Hatter and Alice's chair proved to be the biggest problem to find. Alice's chair was so cool (a pale teal color satin brocade) which you can barely see in the story but here is a look prior to the final styling.

This crazy Victorian umbrella I found helped the actors get silly.

The masterful silhouettes on the wall are from local artists Diane & Madeline Tompkins. You can see their original art here on their Etsy shop.

I loved this little chandelier I made from antique sconce shades. I found these at Clutter in Warrenton and wired each one with a bulb. I added about 10 feet of cord to each so we could suspend it from the ceiling and I wrapped different colors of grosgrain ribbon around the cords. It is barely seen in the shot but it was really great, especially because it had all the right colors.

One of my favorite props was the owl statuary to the right.

Above as seen in the magazine; below what was not.

From my own camera.

Ann had the wonderful pumpkins above carved for the story and others stenciled using the custom silhouettes. I meticulously placed them inside the fireplace for this shot but we needed something else along side. So I ran to the thrift store the night before and bought about 30 hardback books and lined them straight up the fireplace- it looked so great but it didn't make the cut which always happens, you just never know what will work out.

From Diane's silhouettes I designed the art above to adhere to the backs of an 8x10 playing card. The background was a vintage shirt pattern I scanned and each one was printed on semi gloss photo paper and spray glued to the original card. Our goal was to make small things large and large things small and throw in a little wacky where we could.

Just one one of the many set ups the cast and crew made during the shoot. This was the master food shot on the giant buffet shown below.

Yes, it is a CAKE! The glorious Mad Hatter cake from Kansas City's master, Natasha's Mulberry and Mott.

When Ann said we needed a wonderful cake for the party I knew right where to go: Kansas City's own Natasha's. Cake designer extraordinaire Natasha Goellner and her mom Vicki have been long time fans of Curious Sofa. They even bought many of my furnishings to outfit there shop, so I knew she would be the perfect fit to design the Mad Hatter's top hat cake. Come to find out she was mad for anything Alice so they were very excited about the project. They also made the giant dice marshmallows, their famous macaroons, as well as skull and key cookies.

When food is involved in a shoot, look out. You can never have enough platters, plates, linens, serving forks, glasses, trays, and vessels for whatever the food stylist or editor needs. We had tables and tubs full throughout the house. This was the feature story so the food ideas and recipes were crucial to coordinate with the theme of the Alice party. BHG brought their food stylist and assistant in from Des Moines (and you should have seen their stash of stuff!). For two days they made and remade and tinkered with every morsel of well, every morsel.

An idea that came to me was to find a hutch that I could pile with tea sets and have it leaning to one side as the Mad Hatter might have done. I didn't want to pay for tubs of fine china so I went to a couple of thrift stores and found complete sets of cheap ivory dishes and then found a teapot here and there too. The cabinet was found on Craig's List. This vignette was one of my favorites.

The set up.

The image that was used above. We kept adding books under the right side of the cabinet to get it to lean more but then the dishes started falling out.

A set up not used in the issue: My own blurry picture above was a mantle full of owls I collected and a crazy branch I added to a teapot that was covered with teabags used like leaves. I stamped each tea bag with a picture of an owl too.

I loved the juxtaposition of the giant marshmallows with the tiny doll dishes I found.

Because this story was 13 pages long we needed to create various shots throughout the house to add to the spread. I suggested an area where the Mad Hatter would sew his crazy hats so BHG added a little top hat download to their site. I created all the hats you see behind him here as well as the little hat Alice wears. I gathered scrap fabrics from my personal stash of ribbons and trims, borrowed the mannequin from Raised in Cotton, found the sewing machine at an antique shop and once Matt sat down, this expression came naturally to him.

Lovely Heidi as Alice who announced she was pregnant that day!

Alice's top hat was made from the BHG pattern and then I printed out a clip art clock face on fabric paper, added the pleated element from an old thrift store blouse and glued everything together.

Even the little shots above were meticulously placed to see all the details everyone worked on.

So there you have it. Three months of planning, three days of shooting and about three weeks to pack it up, ship it off and write all the credits and sources. It was one big job but the project was perfect for me to hunt & gather all the unusual antiques that I love. My only disappointment was that the images were not shot with dramatic lighting to make it feel a little more halloween-esque. But then I learned the photography had to be iPad/app friendly so bright and crisp was what they needed.

Be sure and check out the issue, the app and get crafting!

The cover.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Spy at Anthropologie

One of my favorite vignettes above; found objects
repurposed as graphic art or retail display.

Our second Anthropologie opened in Kansas City a week ago, so I wandered through yesterday to do my usual research. 15 miles away, our first Anthropologie premiered around 2001 and I was the first customer in the door! Sometimes feel I need to create a national Anthro club because I make a point to visit one in every city I find myself in. I have seen a dozen so far and each and every one has their own unique spin and ideas abound.

This new store is really different. I felt I should forgive them a bit because they just opened but then I thought, hey wait a minute, these guys are seasoned retailers- they shouldn't have a grace period! First, I had to look long and hard to see if they were even open. The front door is heavy, solid wood with no glass. Surrounding the left side of the door is about 8 feet of painted green plaster. The display windows do not start until the end of the space. Once in, I could literally drive a bicycle around the store which I am not sure is intentional or the results of a 'soft opening'.

Raw wood was the focal point; floors and display shelves were thick and chunky. Custom made industrial fixtures were used everywhere as well as the usual $4,000 giant antique tables and counters. Despite it being a little sparse without the usual jam-packed departments, going into an Anthropologie and not leaving with ideas would be impossible- so enjoy my discoveries:

The word was TEXTURE.
Found in everything: floors, rugs, storage, and shelving.

Ornate antique mirror.

Upholsterers webbing woven as wall covering.

Pleated sculpture on the ceiling:
not sure if this was paper or fabric.

Fall clothing also had many textures with lots of poncho styling:

And great display ideas of course:

I loved the graphic shape of the garden tools but also the
burlap wallpaper and unfinished painted edge over it.

Weld (or screw) an old wheel to one leg of a table!

A cluster of derbys made into a chandelier.
Only one bulb was hanging in the center.

One of the highlights above; a natural light courtyard was made against the back wall. I can't wait to see what they do here at Christmas time.

This shadow box with deer horns makes the perfect
display to hang accessories...

...and used here as a jewelry holder.

Probably my favorite idea I'll use some day: glossy white paint stops at an unusual spot to expose wood legs. So easy to do!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Color Full

I love this large pink wallpaper pattern used against the tiny iridescent tile.

I was criticized recently for implying that "color offends me to the core!" Nothing could be further from the truth, but I can see how a reader might get that idea. I have never explained my love of an all-white palette because it has not always been that way.

Maybe wallpaper, maybe tile but the mix of blue patterns works against bright white.

The navy blue chaise compliments the turquoise pots.

I have been interested in design all my life. As a teen, I redecorated my bedroom every year much to the horror of my mother. I recall a rock-n-roll period with red walls and black trim. A year later I was into my Manhattan Transfer period with green and silver deco wallpaper. My first apartment was a full-on 50's theme using turquoise and pink with zebra trim! Then my Wanda Jackson/Dwight Yoakum phase turned my loft into a full-on vintage cowboy collection. A quick romance changed that decor into mid-century modern (because that was what he liked) with shades of pumpkin and okra accented with retro black furniture... and then I became a retailer.

The large map was obviously the inspiration for this color scheme.

Yellow is one of the hardest colors to get right.
This is used well by keeping it as an accent color.

In 1998 a friend of mine opened a large antique store in the country and she asked me to rent a large space from her and sell some of my stuff. Because she was a full-on interior designer, I knew her store would be a serious mix of lovely things and selling my junk was just not going to stand up to the rest of the store. I decided to jump head first into serious selling and invest into the line of Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic slipcovered furniture. This was purely a business move on my part. Yes, I liked some of the shabby chic look; mostly the faded floral sofas and rusty accessories but at that time the all-white thing was just not my style. But I thought if I was going to carry this line, I needed to be true to what Rachel had intended and carry her style all through my space to help sell the furniture. Rachel's first book had just come out and I devoured it from front to back a dozen times. Those of you who know me know I am not a reader. Turning page after page and reading line after line bores me to tears- I need pictures!! This is one reason I do not know more bloggers or designers because I never read their info, instead I am just memorizing photographs under my magnifier. But this book I read, over and over.

The book that started it all.

Suddenly I found myself shopping for anything that would go with the Shabby Chic fabrics: painted furniture, crusty mirrors, crystal chandeliers, iron candelabras. Once I got into a routine with it, I realized how much easier it was to go to a giant flea market or antique show and sift through all the dark merchandise and hone in on a white item. I got in a groove with it and started to like it all the more. I will always remember one customer walking into my booth for the first time and saying, "Oh my! This is like heaven!" I could see the reaction of the customers and how the white and ivory palette seemed to calm them.

This purple sofa was the first thing I spotted but then I
noticed the lovely, dusty lavender walls.

Suddenly I became known as the Shabby Chic gal but my own home was still dark and rustic (I was in my log cabin/Legends of the Fall stage now!). I eventually, left that first shop and opened Curious Sofa two years later. I decided to take a little of the Shabby Chic palette with me but because I was moving to a downtown area, I added a few urban touches as well. A year later a magazine called and wanted to shoot my house. That was when everything changed. Knowing I had to take full advantage of this press to advertise the store, I repainted my entire house white, ordered a slipcovered sofa, and added Curious Sofa accessories throughout. Afterwards I found myself being calmed by the white style too, so voila, a personal style was born. Throughout the last four years (and after other magazine shoots) I have changed the white walls to tea stained, then to shades of grey, but my neutral palette is still there along with painted furniture and vintage accessories.

There are a lot of bad pink interiors online but this muted version looks great
against the dirty gold bed. Over the top? Maybe, but if the headboard had been
pink also, it would have been all wrong.

Having a specific color palette was crucial to my style at Curious Sofa. Not only was it easier to shop for but it set the tone for my branding. I did use color accents in the shop by always adding accessories or themes based on the season. My explanation was always two things:

1. With a thousand pieces of merchandise to look at in a store, a neutral palette was just easier on the eyes and made the store appear less cluttered.
2. A neutral palette is timeless. Keeping larger items in your home neutral (ceilings, walls, sofas, rugs) was easier and cheaper to then accessorize with color.

Want colorful drama? Wall murals have come a long way.

Another great example of dusty color.

Now, all that said, I still love color but unfortunately (no thanks to the DIY decorating shows) many people use it badly! If I were consulting or talking serious about interior decorating, I have three rules:

1. Pick a palette for your entire home based on three colors. Now from this go lighter or darker but stick to it so your home flows. If you are using all neutrals then pick one accent. Example: Four years ago, I repainted the exterior of my home for Country Living magazine based the colors of three things I couldn't avoid:
1. The blue spruce tree in my front yard. (This is one of my favorite colors of all time!)
2. The red brick chimney on the side of the house.
3. The tan colored stone around the base of my home.

The colors I chose to repaint my home.

2. If you are not into neutrals, pick your favorite color combination but find a dustier version of the colors you love. A crisp, sharp color is just that- a little jarring. Look for the swatch that has a little grey or a dirtier version.

The red dot shoes a brighter version where as the dustier version is more soothing.

3. When looking at a few samples to use in your home, use them across the board. Line up your swatches and do not jump from the top color of one to the bottom color of another. I have never heard anyone suggest this, this is just my opinion, but it works for me every time. I think they blend better for some reason. Here is what I mean:

The red dots show jumping around your color swatches may not always coordinate well.
Choosing across the board might be better.

Now go out there and paint something!

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And, on newsstands now, Bedroom & Baths features (an old) picture of my bedroom, originally seen in Romantic Homes magazine, 2008.

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