Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nothing a Little Shame Can't Help

Here I am, Day 4 of being sick at home, and still looking around me in a cold-induced fever of home redecorating.

After yesterday's post about reframing wallpaper, I realized it's been half a year since I'd eBayed those suckas. My own public shaming finally got my ass in gear and forced me to start looking up some cheap frame sources. I finally found and ordered some oversized frames from, to  embark on my wallpaper framing project, at long last. Getting them custom framed at 28"x48" could cost up to $1K at a custom framer, so I'm hoping my roundabout $90 version (for 2 frames) will work fine. Updates on that soon.

Since I've been home sick, I've spent a lot of time in my office, trying to figure out why I don't spend more time in here on a regular basis. There's a garden view and the room is nice and spacious, but somehow Alex and I always opt to do our work in the front living room.

In an attempt to make this room more conducive to creativity, I'm embarking on another public shaming. Nothing better to get my ass in gear than publicly showing off the most embarrassing parts of my home on a home decor blog, right? Gulp. Here goes.

Here's what I need to work on for the office:

1. Create a thinking/lounging space.

Right now all we've got is a leftover media stand from my old TV, which a friend has on temporary loan. Good for storing DVDs, but a major space-hogger and an Ikea-style eye-sore. Plus not a very comfy seat. I'm thinking a small couch or armchair, a comfy pillow, and a side table will make us want to hang out here more often. And, of course, some wall art. Right now, the only seating options are our desk chairs. Once we have some comfortable seating, let the procrastination brainstorming begin!

2. De-clutter.

Need I say more? I can't even stand looking at my mess of a desk. There is so much leftover wedding planning stuff that I need to go through and throw out, my head hurts just looking at it. Oh, and that opens the Pandora's box on a whole slew of wedding things that need to be taken care of-- cleaning and selling my dress, selling the table runners, making our photo album, bla bla bla. Those things may take a while, but at the very least, I should be able to clear off my desk, right? In the long run, I'd also like to re-stain that desk top black or a very very dark brown.

3. Storage wars.

Dear lord.

I'm not a fan of ugly file cabinets, but anything would be better than stacking boxes on top of boxes. Here's the problem: I have boxes of head shots, boxes of postcards, boxes of old head shots, boxes of resume paper, boxes of 3-hole paper for scripts, boxes of labels. We have two printers, a paper shredder, a tripod, a C-stand, and lighting for when I shoot my own videos. How do I organize and categorize all these things and have enough drawers or compartments for all of them, without my office looking awful? And how do I cover up that fugly file cabinet?

4. Toss old furniture.

The Chinese in me cannot waste. So when the old tenant left a bunch of her furniture in here, we inherited a bunch of pieces rather than throwing them on the sidewalk to be picked up by the trash collectors, like any sensible person would do. This, on top of having extraneous lamps, stools, etc. as the result of melding two apartments into one. This means I have a random assortment of chairs, tables, everywhere. Time to clear these out and make room for storage furniture. Those two chairs, that lamp, even the giant 80s-style desk-- They've gotta either revamp or hit the road.

There it is-- my dirty laundry, aired out into the universe. Don't laugh at my undies! Shame, do your worst!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sick Daze

Since I've been home with a bad cold for the last few days, cabin fever has been setting in and I've already read every possible tweet, instagram, and Facebook post in the world there is to see. Netflix has proven to be full of bad movies (or maybe it's just my bad choices made with fuzzy sick-brain). What better to do than pick up where I left off on the whole redesigning my home thing?

Anyone who sits around in sweatpants for more than 24 hours in the same place is bound to find things that can be improved. Now that I'm forced to be home, I can finally start thinking about some of the DIY projects I've been meaning to tackle.

I first fell in love with the dark wallpaper look when I saw it in the now-defunct Domino Magazine years ago:

Welcome home.

I love the birds and the floral pattern against the dark background.  Very charming/creepy Victorian England, no? For my own project, I bought this vintage wallpaper off eBay a few months ago. 

Since I don't want to deal with actual wallpapering in our rental, I wanted to try this trick, also found on Domino years ago:

...except with 3 uniform panels instead of one giant floor-to-ceiling one, to frame side by side as art. 

I can't seem to find any cheap framing options in Los Angeles (but if you know of one, please do tell!), so this may turn out to be a DIY project. I'm thinking I may have to get some particle board from Home Depot and actually sticky spray the wallpaper onto the board, then look for some cheap framing options at Michael's or something. Else wait til we're millionaires and I can own my own beautiful house in Larchmont, and then actually wallpaper our entrance with this vintage stuff.

Maybe it's just the Nyquil talking, but I'm thinking DIY before millionaire. Right?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

High/Low Style

They should make blinders for Target like they do for carriage horses; that way I wouldn't go in needing to buy paper towels and walk out 2 hours later with 3 shirts, a new pair of shoes, towels, a yoga mat, and 2 DVDs (sans paper towels).

I'm not into politics. I'm into survival.
I can't help myself...Target is just so full of damn cute stuff. Particularly fun is when they have guest designers or curators--high-end brands who do a collaboration with Target to cater to the masses. Do 40-year-old moms in middle America care about Prabal Gurung or Derek Lam? Probably not. Do I? Who knows. All I know is that on my last quick Target trip to buy cat food right before the holiday season, I got very distracted by a silver Marc Jacobs pouch purse, a Diane Von Furstenberg dress, Band of Outsiders cookie cutters, for Pete's sake, a Derek Lam skateboard, and what we've all been waiting for, an Oscar de la Renta pet bowl.

I was somehow able to walk out without buying any of these things, but this caught my eye this week:

Target's partnering with modern furniture designer Blu Dot to create TOO, an affordable line of furniture for plebes like us! Granted, Blu Dot isn't prohibitively expensive for good-quality craftsmanship, but it does hover slightly above the levels that I can easily dole out money for. Not everything is a clear hit in the line, but there are enough cute things in their line that it's worth taking a second look.

For example, I love the bright yellow and dove grey on this TOO lounger, and the clean lines of the steel against the blocky cushion. It's a mere $220 (on sale from $299). Beat that, Ikea!

And how about this sideboard? I'm loving the whitened birch and the aqua sliding door. Again, so clean and simple, and only $225 on sale (regularly $299). We coud use this in our entry way by the front door.
Once I get rid of the huge monster of an '80s desk in my office, I'd love to have something bright and bold like this steel yellow TOO table. Nothing like a pop of color to fix my home decor humdrums. It's only $245 (on sale from $349). Imagine all the novels I'd write if I had this color desk to sit at to drum up my creativity.

Compare this to a similar table that's a graphic pop of color on Blu Dot's site that's currently going for $699.

I currently hate our living room couches and am dreaming up my next sofa, which I want to be modern and simple, yet comfortable. I love the clean, modern lines of this TOO couch. Very mid-century mod. Can't you just picture it in Don Draper's office? This baby is only $449! Unheard of outside of Ikea.
And compare it to a similar Blu Dot couch (not on Target), at regular price: $1,699. I think I might actually prefer the Target version's design (though the Blu Dot one looks slightly more comfy).
 This TOO trio accent table is uber cute at $75 (normally $99)...

...and reminiscent in design (though not as beautiful) to a trio table being sold on Blu Dot's site for $400:

 I LOVE this TOO office chair. It's like R2D2 lived in the Mad Men era ($220, normally $299):
I also love its unpadded cousin in walnut ($180, normally $249). So sleek and clean and modern, yet warm with its wood tones:

Here is his fancier (and arguably prettier) cousin on the Blu Dot site, going for $799:
These TOO pieces are only available online via only, so luckily you can avoid picking up two bathmats, a new dress, stationery, and bulk-size Cheez-its while looking for it in store.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Big Chill

We've been having a spate of what my friend Raza and I like to call "Boo Radley weather"-- dead leaves swirling at your feet, brisk wind nipping at your ears, the smell of wood-burning fireplaces aloft in the cold air--except in Los Angeles, our version has giant hunks of palm trees strewn about the street and people looking ridiculous in winter parkas and snow hats. Which led to this piece of brilliance:

It's true. Living in Los Angeles thins your blood and knocks every bit of East Coast-bred Chicago-living cold-weather survivor instinct out of you. I remember a time in Chicago when I walked to campus when it was 70 degrees below zero with the windchill. 70 BELOW. My nose hairs and eyelashes would freeze with little icicles on them, like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

The view out our back window in the East Coast.
I've gone soft, I guess, but I'm probably the only one around here who also enjoys this sort of weather -- it reminds me of my childhood days in the East Coast, snuggling back into bed when school was cancelled by a snowstorm, smelling the wood burning in the fireplace, wearing boots and sweaters to brunch with my girlfriends and sipping hot chocolate from City Bakery on the west side of NYC. There was the horrific side of it too--like weirdly enjoying being blasted by the hot, polluted exhaust from a passing city bus just because it warmed you up a little bit. This weird LA version of cold--with crappy Uggs, palm trees incongruous in the sunny horizon,  swimming pools still uncovered--It's not right. Just not right. It leaves me feeling chilly but has no "cozy" in it at all.

Yeah, yeah, you're pretty, LA, but you ain't cozy.
So here are some of my sad attempts to cozify the home to make it feel more like a wintry haven and to recapture that Boo-Radley-ness of the East Coast cold.

Make your bed cozy.

You spend half your life in bed, so it may as well be a comfortable little slice of heaven. Snuggly comforter, floaty curtains, calming colors, and a view of our garden makes it easy for me to stay in bed underneath the warm covers.

Roooowr! Furry alarm clock
A warm landing pad.

This super-soft flokati rug from Design Within Reach does the trick for warming up your feet by the fake fireplace. It can double duty by the bedside, making the mornings a little easier to step into, or triple duty as a throw on a chair.

Steaming hot tea.

Nothing better than curling up with a book and nice hot cup of chai while the police sirens wind is howling outside. Anthropologie mugs courtesy wedding registry. 

Snuggle up with warm bodies.

Preferably with a few SAG screeners to watch.

I started off this post meaning to make some sort of uplifting statement about how to get cozy in LA's winter chill, and I realized at the end I haven't done such a good job. What are your favorite ways to get warm and cozy in LA's cold weather?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to Cheat a Stress-Free Dinner Party

The Martha Stewart in me wants to throw all sorts of fetes, in which I, clad in a colorful Anthropologie apron, cook up some five-star, multi-course meal to my guests at a beautifully adorned dining table, preferably on the back veranda of my villa in Tuscany. Since that's probably not gonna happen anytime soon, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. My ingredients? A tiny apartment, not enough table space, and a bunch of enthusiastic eaters.

1. Find an excuse.

My friend Kai was the social vortex of many of my friends here in the LA writers/filmmakers/artists/activists community, and since she moved to NYC I've seen them much less. When she came back to visit for the holidays, it was the perfect excuse to get drunk get crunk have a civilized party.


2. Scam a chef friend into doing all the cooking.

Usually, if I'm cooking for friends at my place, I end up frazzled and running around with an uncooked chicken in my hands, unable to focus on hosting and cooking alike. Our friend John, chef at fine dining establishments and king of the Annual Arroz Caldo Cookoff!, volunteered to manhandle (aka, mandle) the food. To be fair, I didn't entirely scam him. He got a brand new shiny cast iron grill pan out of the offer!
Here's the menu he designed...

Kai Ma Brings People Together ®

3. Recycle, repurpose, reuse!

Boy did all those months of wedding planning come in handy. Now I'm a bastion of useless knowledge about table settings and proper etiquette. We had all these leftover thank you notes, so we ended up repurposing them as place cards. Out came my Box-o'-Crafts from the wedding. Markers, glue guns, ink, stamps. Out came the extra napkins, linens, vases, candle votives...

Kai made some seating arrangements to avoid that awkward "ummm where do I sit?" moment where everyone's just hovering over the table and trying not to sit next to a dud.*

*No duds at this party, thankyouverymuch.

4. Manage the kitchen.

By which I mean "Hover over the chef and sneak bites of food when he's not looking."

Mmmmmmmm, brined pork.
5. Set the table.

We watched some Youtube videos to figure out how to create a pocket fold for our napkin to hold the silverware.

After some failed attempts... ta da!

Mismatched chairs? Can't notice when everyone's sitting down.

We also ran out of space. With 14 guests, what can ya do but start crowding into the living room?

 6. Mingle.

Open bottles of wine, eat some cheese, offer people drinks.

Note to husband: Don't bump head on overhead dining light, busting a fuse and turning off all the lights  and the stove in the kitchen.*

*We got a new chandelier out of it from our landlord, so win/win us.

7. Serve and protect.

Or just serve. As host/sous chef, it was my duty to help the kitchen dish out...the dishes.
First course: The most delicious, rich, umami butternut squash soup I've ever had (and believe, I have had LOTS of butternut squash soup in my day, I'll tell you whut), with crispy lardons and pumpkin seeds. What are lardons, you say? Bacon. Friggin BACON, in SOUP. I know, right? [Head explode]

I was already full by the time I finished my soup, but we still had our main course coming up: big-ass juicy pork chop over maple yam puree and sauteed brussels sprouts, crimini mushrooms, and golden potatoes. Isn't that just autumnlicious? Best yam puree of my life, and I don't take yam puree lightly. I am Taiwanese, you know.

Speaking of Taiwanese, I'm not normally a pork-eater (high school vegetarian habits die hard), but this pork really won me over. Tender, perfectly seasoned...Gasp! I felt like Anton Ego, with one bite transported back to my childhood days of frolicking in the French countryside eating mom's delicious pork chops at our kitchen table.

Lastly, dessert: In the holiday spirit, Chef John decided to educate us on what we'd all been singing mindlessly about all these years: "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding..." What the hell is figgy pudding?

Plating said figgy pudding.

This deliciousness:

Vintage dish "junk" courtesy Rose Bowl.
To be clear, this was figgy pudding soaked in rum, topped with a rum creme anglaise and a huge branches of mint (that was my and Kai's fault). It was sort of like a bread pudding, and you're supposed to light it on fire, but I didn't want our house to burn down in some sort of fiery inferno. Pretty sure my hangover the next morning was solely due to dessert.

There you have it. Fourteen of us, stuffed to the gills with good food, good wine, and good company, all for the cost of dinner for two. Not too shabby.