Turning the Tables in 2011 – More time with Family and Friends

It’s The Design Tree’s New Year’s Resolution Week

Spending time with family and friends is always a popular New Year’s Resolution.  Why not create special moments around your table?  These pieces of furniture are your ticket to some good old fashioned family fun.

The Dining Table

Greentea Design's Ebony Dining Table completes the perfect dining space for that big social dinner

Between work schedules and extra curriculars, it can seem impossible to settle down with family to share a meal – let alone entertain friends!  But as social creatures dining together is one of life’s simple pleasures and it shouldn’t be onerous.  Check out Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals, or Canadian Living’s one pot dishes for easy clean up for those mid-week sit down dinners at home.

The Coffee Table

The Maru Coffee Table is a nice sized coffee table to gather around for cheesy board games night. Throw down some comfy oversized cushions and let you inner Cranium freak loose

For those of you unwilling to get your board game on, as a recent convert to the cheesy pass time, might I suggest you give it a try. Perhaps a friendly game of cards is more your speed?  Whatever your choice, some time unplugged with family and friends will leave you feeling recharged and reconnected.

The Kitchen Island

The kitchen island is the new heart of the home, where meal prep, homework, catching up, and neighbourly visits happen

We recently moved into an open concept space where our beautiful kitchen is central to the main living space.  And whoa did we start to entertain!  It’s just so simple: not being sequestered in the kitchen away from guests!; getting help with meal prep from visitors!; plus our island is beautiful and big and just invites folks to crowd around it.  If you’re looking to renovate your kitchen I couldn’t recommend the open concept layout and kitchen island more.  It’s brought a new level of pleasure to cooking, entertaining, and socializing.

Posted in Culture, Design

Why the One Word Resolution Won’t Disappoint

It’s The Design Tree’s New Year’s Resolution Week

Rather than picking a lofty goal like losing 10 pounds, why not try choosing a word or sentiment you’d like your life to embody?  Mandy’s doing it this year, choosing productivity as her word.  For me, the idea is flexibility.  It’s interesting to think about how an idea might manifest in your life and in your space.

via Desire to Inspire. For more breathtaking images of this space click on on over to them.

View of the kitchen where most certainly only magic can be made with that island. Via Desire to Inspire

This beautiful home belongs to designer Marie Olsson Nylander.  If flexibility is my word of the year,  I’ll need to organize my space so that it functions that way too.  Setting up an open concept multifunctional space where I can work, parent, and create while keeping up with the quotidian will be key.

How one word can bring about change

via Design Sponge. A lovely home office, light filled with a poster of my favourite city. Perhaps one way to exercise some flexibility this year can be to work remotely avec un croissant et cafe noisette en main?

In lieu of a long list of goals that you’re likely to lose interest in or one big one that won’t mesh once life kicks it into high gear, this one-word approach acts more as inspiration lending the transformative impact  we need to create the life we’re striving for.  Take my word – flexibility- and how this might impact daily living:

  • There’s the physical – making time and space for yoga practise
  • The mental – letting go of expectation, rigidity and control in the face of stressful situations is sure to bring a new sense of calm
  • Work life – working from home is tricky business.  But perhaps the remote work can also happen from places more remote than the dining table or office.  Central Park is wifi-fied; or la gaie Paris or Milan’s Design Week… a girl can dream!

Why this works better than standard resolutions

Surely lots of fun could be had rolling around in this colourful, textured space. Some yoga, some toddler playdates? via Living Etc.

New Year’s Resolutions are pretty popular.  One study suggests, 44% of Americans set them.  They also have an amazingly high failure rate.   Rather than treating the resolution as a to-do list item to tick off, keeping a word or theme functions more as mantra, or a gentle guide open to life’s twists and turns.  Rather than setting yourself up for disappointment when your resolution proves unattainable, the one word resolution allows you to interpret it in the context of what’s happening now as well as allowing it to be the overarching theme of the year.

What would your word be and why?

Posted in Design

Creating an Inspiring Home Office

via Living Etc.

This year instead of coming up with a list of resolutions,  inevitably abandoned by February, I’ve decided to take the word of the year approach. Basically, you pick one word that will represent how you want to live your life in the coming year.  My word is going to be productivity, which for me is just a fancy way of saying “do stuff”. While I always have a million projects floating around in my head I far too often find my free time spent watching youtube videos or scrambling around the office looking for the scraps of paper I wrote all my brilliant ideas on.  To start things off right I’m going to work at creating a more productive space, because tackling my out of control inbox and finally writing that Pulitzer winning novel will be much easier in a fabulous environment to keep me inspired. Creating a perfect home office is more then just finding the perfect desk (although that is imperative) It’s about combining beauty and function, and here are a few spaces that do just that.

via rumid.dk

A muted colour palette and subtle feminine details create a calming place to work. The dressmaker’s dummy is a clever take on the inspiration board.

via Living Etc.

Bold art and modern elegance give a small office plenty of personality.

via Poppytalk

Vintage mailboxes are an amazing and practical approach to storage.

via Desire to Inspire

This office is so bright and cheerful. I love all the greenery and the yellow
mirror above the desk.

via ApartmentTherapy

Lots of sunlight and maximized storage space keep this home office clean
and clutter free.
Posted in Design

Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Cooking, Happy Eating

This post kicks off The Design Tree’s New Year’s Resolutions Week!

Healthy, hearty bean salad. Photo credit Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks.com

This time of year many of us commit to eating in a more healthful and conscious way.  It’s no wonder, with the amazing range of choices available to North Americans when it comes to all things food, that we sometimes steer away from the better among options.  And it’s not only what we eat, but how we prepare our meals that counts.  My husband and I tend to get sucked – and suckered – in to many a silly gadget purchase.  (Heart shaped sandwich anyone?) But truly, fancy things and fancy ingredients don’t make for better cooking.  It’s the simplest dishes – requiring few instruments, instructions, and ingredients – that are the most satisfying. More alarming still,  some of these gadgets may do more harm than good.

Always a health nut, wary of over-processed living, here are a few things I’ve learned about cooking and the kitchen.

Organic – why to choose it and what it means

I love heirloom carrots, their taste, their beauty. Heirloom seeds are passed down through generations, grown on a small scale using traditional techniques like open pollination.

For me organic foods just taste better.  It makes good sense that choosing organically produced foods would be better not only for us consumers, but for the environment. Generally organic means food cultivated or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, sewage sludge, growth regulators or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are rules too governing soil condition – for example farmland needs to be free from chemical contamination, including previous pesticide use for a minimum time, typically 5 years.

In North America, these are good standards to keep an eye open for.  Seeing these logos in grocery stores lets you know the product has met the strict demands for organic certification:

USDA Organic – the use of this seal means that an item contains 95% organic ingredients, while 100% Organic USDA Organic, means just that.

Canada Organic – the national standard in Canada

Certification, however, is a lengthy and expensive process, the cost of which belongs entirely to the farmer/producer.  Visit your local farmers’ market and talk to them about the practices they use.  They may be somewhere in the middle of obtaining certification, but employing organic growing standards that you’re comfortable with.  (There are even plenty of winter markets in urban centres these days.)

What’s in your cookware matters too

Cast iron, clay, glass and silicone (which is just glass processed differently and still chemically inert and stable) are great choices for your cook and bakeware.  The simple and nontoxic materials that go into the production mean there isn’t the same risk of toxins leaching into your foods as there are with those with a non-stick coating. Plus in the case of cast iron and clay, there’s nutritional benefit to using these materials as each leach much-needed minerals into your food.

Stay clear of plastic utensils for stove top stirring and flipping.  Many contain BPA, phthalates and other chemicals, the adverse affects of we’re just now learning about. Stainless steel, wood, and silicone utensils are really great alternatives.

Cleaning Products

Lemon has long been used in natural cleaning recipes

If you’ve got babies or pets scampering around, you might want to consider using natural cleaners given that residues will end up in their mouths.  There’s also the ridiculously real danger of your creating mustard gas by mixing common household cleaners – they’re that toxic!  Some experts are also saying that known neurotoxins in cleaning products might be contributing to some cognitive and behavioural issues in kids.

The great news is that there are more non-toxic options available on store shelves these days.  Or you can always make your own.  Here are two recipes for homemade household cleaners that will take care of most messes:

All purpose cleaner from BlissTree.com

Mix a few drops of natural soap, 2 cups water, and 15 drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oil. Spray this on all surfaces, like cutting boards, counters, toilets, walls, (except it will streak glass).  Check out all of Bliss Tree’s 25 safe non-toxic homemade cleaners.

Santizer Spray

Pour 1 quart cool water + ¼ teaspoon 6% chlorine bleach into spray bottle and mix vigourously.

Discard after use and like all cleaning products keep away from kids and pets!

Brown-bag It

These adorable reusable snack bags are one example of a plethora now available. Look for lined ones that allow you to carry wet foods for added bang for your buck!

A home-cooked meal, even if it’s leftovers, will generally be healthier, tastier, and cheaper than what’s found in the cafeteria or restaurant.  But I like to store food in the growing number of non-plastic alternatives popping up on store shelves everyday to reduce exposure to and reliance on plastics.  From wooden bento boxes to stainless steel food containers, even fabric options are available when you opt to brown bag it. Though, as my sister-in-law points out, nothing’s going to leach into food if the kids lose their lunch box twice a week.  Touché.


Goodbye 2010!

The Seed Cathedral by Thomas Heatherwick, from Coolist's Best of 2010 Architecture

I can hardly believe it’s the end of the 2010!  When I reflect back personally, it’s been the busiest one on record (dazzle- and dizzy-ingly so for me as a first time parent).  Here are but a few great 2010 Best of Lists I happened across if you’re looking for some re-inspiration:

Image of Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes, from Brain Picking's Best of 2010

What would make your list of best moments of 2010, be they personal or newsworthy? For me, writing here sure makes the cut!  How wonderful to spend time spilling over beautiful images, reading, writing, and learning about design and aesthetics and the wonderful and unexpected ways it connects with our daily lives. How lovely to join an online community, and to hear from readers. I hope 2011 is a wondrous year for you, full of health and happiness, good food and adventure and inspired living.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Culture, Design