Saturday, March 7, 2009

Casual Elegance Decorating Design

There was a time when 18th century looks and traditional styles seemed to dominate home design. No more. As people spend more time in their homes — entertaining, working, unwinding — they’re choosing instead to create home environments that reflect their own individual sense of style and sophistication. Not willing to sacrifice comfort for design, they’re mixing different periods, fabrics, even styles and furnishings to bring a sense of relaxed, casual elegance into their homes today.

“Comfort comes first today,” explains one interior designer. “The days of the formal living room that was never used are gone. Now, people want to create a sense of sophisticated elegance for every room in the house and they’re doing it with ‘collected’ or mixed looks as opposed to the pure period looks of the past.” For example, one might mix a comfortable, casual over-sized chair and ottoman with antique or formal pieces. “The contrast and surprise of blending formal and informal styles together are what make home design so exciting today,” adds another designer. “It’s more of a conservative approach carried out in a casual way, where less formal, less ‘period’ pieces mix in naturally with classic anchor pieces. The old standards can exist side by side with more contemporary styles, and the results are often extraordinary.

”For another look, people are even blending contrasting architectural and furniture styles. “I’ve even found traditional furnishing styles in homes with very contemporary architecture,” notes another designer. “While the home might not be as full of furnishings as a traditionally styled dwelling, the contrast is much more extreme. I think that people are working so hard and so much today that they’re turning to their homes as almost a warm, safe retreat. And, as technology continues to advance at such a rapid rate, it’s pushing its way into our homes. To some extent, I think these modern advances cause us to start searching out the comfort of the familiar. We start looking back to historical things and styles that seem to soften technology’s hard edges.

”In addition to furnishings and accessories, the latest fabric design and introductions are also helping people create the casually elegant, relaxed looks they seek.

“The Country look has trained people to relax their homes, and when we look at the imagery of its styling, we see fabrics with simple stripes and dots. People have loved this look and grown with it. Now we’re starting to seek out more refined styles, but we’re not willing to give up this relaxed look. As a result, finer fabrics are starting to replace simpler cotton prints, and we’re seeing a shift to chenille velvets and washed damasks,” says one designer. “Fabrics not normally seen in slip covers are starting to show up. It’s that wonderful contrast of a rich fabric used in a relaxed and casual way. People want to strike the middle ground between great looks and livability.

”Product designers are responding to this increasing demand for relaxed, yet sophisticated looks by creating furnishings and accessories that blend different textures, tones, finishes and styles together.

“This continued emphasis on casual elegance has led designers to take classic looks and styles and make them more approachable,” states one trend-spotter. The newest furniture finishes are also contributing to this sense of comfort and styling. “Many of the finishes today are leaning to more antique,” says one designer. “These finishes make the pieces look like heirlooms that have been passed down through generations.” Often these pieces are given a wood finish and then paint is applied over it. Then they’re intentionally “distressed” to allow the finish to peak through where the paint is “worn away.” The end result is a piece that has the charm of an antique, but is styled for modern uses. Chairs with more comfortable seats, hutches and armoires that can accommodate what people own today. It's about getting the look without sacrificing modern convenience. The bottom line? There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for this quest for comfort.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Feng Shui Way.

Love your environment as part of you, and it will embrace you with universal peace in return. This is Feng Shui in its purity.

Feng Shui (pronounced fung shway) is not superstition, religion or magic. Literally meaning “wind and water,” it is steeped in a philosophy based on the benefits to be gained from creating harmony and balance around us. Originally devised in China, Feng Shui was a system to protect people from climactic and environmental conditions, such as harsh winds and untamed waters. Thousands of years later, it has developed in complexity and is now used to enhance every area of peoples’ lives. You do not need to become an expert in Feng Shui to create harmony and balance around you. Simply developing an awareness of how these energies affect your living space will benefit you tremendously.

The fundamental principle of Feng Shui is similar to notions of modern physics: all things contain their own energy. From people to structures to plants, everything has a life force called Chi … and it’s possible to tap into this energy to affect and change our lives.

The Chi or energy of one’s environment should be balanced so it can flow freely and effortlessly, like fresh air. (Visualize water flowing through your home to get the image.) Chi enters and leaves rooms through windows and doors; it should never become stuck, stagnant, depleted or too concentrated. To change the energies in your living space, rearrange furniture and accessories so your flow is meandering and leisurely. This will produce more auspicious energies than if the flow is straight and fast.

In addition to rearranging your furniture and accessories to change the flow of Chi in your home, you can improve your Feng Shui with the use of a tool called a Ba-Gua. As far back as Confucius, the Chinese linked a moral order of five virtues -- humanity, righteousness, decorum, wisdom, and good faith -- with the natural order, as symbolized by the five elements -- wood, metal, fire, water and earth. Each of these virtues is represented by an element and associated with a life aspiration (such as career or family), a color and a compass direction, as mapped on the Ba-Gua. Use the Ba-Gua to improve different aspects of your life.

For example, let’s say the life aspiration you want to improve is your career. The virtue you want to focus on is wisdom, the color to use is black, the element is water and the direction is north. One solution to energize your career aspiration would be to place an aquarium with black and gold fish (eight gold and one black is an auspicious combination) in the north sector of your living room or home office.

To use the Ba-Gua, first determine the orientation of your home, using a compass if necessary. Superimpose the Ba-Gua’s eight trigrams on your home, room, garden or office and look for clues about the interrelationship of what is happening in your life as it relates to your environment.

Once you know where each sector lies in relation to your own home, you can change your life aspirations by applying an appropriate element and color in the right location, or removing an element or color that’s in the wrong location. The elements can be represented physically or symbolically … red drapery or a triangle-shaped object can add the fire element to your living space just as strongly as a stove does.

How can you tell if you are suffering from bad Feng Shui?

One clue is a string of bad luck. Be sensitive to things going wrong, especially in patterns. If you’re trying to attain a goal but keep getting blocked, look at how you’re treating the nooks and corners in your living space: they may be causing obstacles to your energy flow.

Look for "poison arrows" that may be harming your home by sending out "killing breath" and blocking good Chi. These include exposed beams and open bookshelves. Soften these harmful edges by placing a plant in front of them, sandpapering the edges to "blunt" the blade, or arranging your books to sit flush with the edge so the blades disappear.

QUICK TIPS: The best ways to improve Feng Shui in your home include removing clutter, rearranging furniture, adding or removing decorative features and the use of “cures” such as plants, water, wind chimes, color and crystals.

The front entrance is where Chi enters your home. It should be well-defined, clear of clutter, bright and open.
Remove mirrors opposite your entryway door. The mirror will reflect beneficial Chi -- and prosperity -- out of your home before it has a chance to enter.

The heart of family life, the living room is where you kick-back, relax and enjoy. The energy flow of this all-important room is essential for good Feng Shui.The living room should be clutter free and not over-furnished.
Arrange furniture to create a leisurely meandering flow. Soft, rounded sofas and chairs with high backs symbolize support in the lives of family members.
Hang pictures of friends and family on the east wall to enhance the family and health sector (refer to the Ba-Gua). Place stereo equipment on the west wall to bring extra luck to your home. Dispel negative Chi caused by televisions (due to the electrical field they emanate) by hiding them behind entertainment center doors or strategically placed plants.

Occasional insomnia might be the result of unbalanced energy in your bedroom. Try the following suggestions, but if your room design doesn’t permit perfect Feng Shui, be creative. Experiment with variations and modifications of these ideas to find what works for you.
Place your headboard against a wall to ground your power.
Place your bed diagonally opposite the door so you have a commanding view of the mouth of the Chi and will be in the best position to receive life-force energy as it enters the room. Sleeping is a vulnerable state, so it’s important that your bedroom be supportive to your being.
Do not sleep with your head or feet directly pointed at the door. It’s believed this is a disruptive sleeping position because when a corpse leaves a room it goes feet first.
Avoid putting the head of the bed under a window or exposed beam which gives off bad energy and can lead to unbalanced sleep. If it must be under a window, keep the curtains drawn.
The use of mirrors in your home can create energies that are either very good or very bad, and bedroom mirrors are strictly taboo. Believed to cause infidelity and bad luck, avoid them in this room, particularly opposite the foot of your bed. If you must include them, drape them with cloth or suppress the negative energy with plants or wind chimes.

The energy of the chef is imparted into the food so it’s important to create a balanced environment. Placing your stove next to or directly opposite your sink or refrigerator will cause a clash between the fire and water elements. Leave space between them and place your stove in the south, rotating your use of each burner to encourage the flow of prosperity.

Place portraits of food or a large mirror in your dining area to promote abundance.

At last you can give the men in your home a good reason to keep the toilet cover closed -- doing so prevents Chi being unnecessarily flushed away.

Fix and repair windows. They are the eyes of the Chi and affect one’s clarity, so replace broken glass panes and clean the windows. Chi flows through windows even when they’re closed.

Spiky leaves generate "poison arrows." Choose round leafed varieties instead. Plants are cures for protruding corners and exposed beams that are believed to give off bad energy.

If you have long corridors or cramped spaces in your home, paint them white and keep them well lit to ensure your Chi does not become stagnant.

Adequate natural lighting, as well as artificial lighting is important. You can enhance light further with mirrors to boost the energy in the home, increase opportunities and broaden possibilities.

Mirrors are referred to as the aspirin of Feng Shui. They can correct many problems, but they must be used properly. When placed badly, mirrors can cause problems, especially in the bedroom.
When part of your floor plan is missing a corner, place a mirror on the opposite wall to “create” the missing area. A mirror at the bottom of stairs will slow down the Chi going downstairs.
Use mirrors to open up small, cramped spaces and amplify light. This will prevent Chi from becoming stagnant.
Draw in the good energy of pleasant views. Mirrors should reflect something you want to see more of, such as your garden, trees or light.

A carpet should blend with all the elements of the room, but the ruling element (ie: wood if the room is in the north) should help you choose the color and pattern. A rug can activate healthy energy flow into and through your living space by highlighting specific parts of a room.

Anything made of crystal is good as it acts as a prism and brings in more good Chi. Wind chimes are excellent Feng Shui tools. Use six or eight rods to enhance good luck, and five rods (preferably made of metal) to "push down" bad energy. To attract influential people into your life, place a wind chime with six or eight metal rods in the north-west of your living room.

Use colors to create balance. Every color has a unique vibrational frequency and the five elements are each represented by color, as shown on the Ba Gua. For example, if you want to relax, green -- associated with the element wood and life aspiration for health and family -- is the most soothing color and a great choice for bedrooms. If you have white walls you can balance out your colors with rugs, pictures, chairs, etc. Avoid too much of any one color.

Place a fish tank in the north sector of your living room or home office to energize the career aspiration which is governed by water. Place one in the south-east sector to activate the wealth area. The best fish to use are arrowana or goldfish: eight gold and one black or two gold and one black are auspicious combinations.

From fish to wind chimes to crystals, it’s easy to go overboard and become overwhelmed by Feng Shui. But you don’t have to do everything at once, so go slowly and carefully choose what works best for you. Looking for a good place to start? -- Learn how to say it (fung shway) and remove clutter. In Feng Shui, neatness definitely counts.

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Making Room for High Definition Televisions

High-definition entertainment was the must-see celebrity at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Over 150,000 people descended upon Las Vegas to ogle the latest gadgets, including HD camcorders and memory sticks that stream HD video.

With all the static about digital, you may be thinking about creating a media room. Such rooms were once reserved only for residences like the Hearst Castle, which had a 50-seat screening room. Fast-forward to today, and there are do-it-yourself solutions for all budgets. Make sure your media room is a hit with our helpful tips about location and furniture.

The room with the least amount of daylight is the best place for a media room. In most homes, this room is the basement. Formerly the domain of pool tables, these sub-levels are being rediscovered by those of us seeking insulated walls and freedom from shouts of “quiet on the set!”

Face the TV away from any windows and use window treatments to prevent picture washout. To further reduce eyestrain and glare, place a light with a 10- or 15-watt incandescent (or 5-watt florescent) bulb behind the TV. Choose a white light rather than pink to enhance the accuracy of how on-screen colors are seen. Tip: To further improve how colors appear on-screen, use a neutralizing, flat gray paint on the wall behind your TV.

When it comes to equipment, it’s recommended you enlist the help of a gizmo-savvy friend if you don’t know your TiVo from your Xbox. Basically, a home theater consists of a speaker system, AM/FM receiver, DVD/VCR player, and of course, a television.

The ideal screen size depends on your budget, as well as available space and viewing preferences. An advantage of high-definition is a more refined picture, without the visible scan lines of analog televisions. This means you can sit close to the screen and not worry that “you’ll ruin your eyes,” as Mom always said. Many people find sitting close gives them a more theater-like experience, which means a small screen, as well as a small media room, might be all you need for edge-of-your-seat, lump-in-your-throat entertainment. Tip: The larger the screen, the farther away viewers should sit for an optimum picture.

Like all stars, your home theater equipment needs a supporting cast. In this case, it’s the furniture. Media room seating is a quickly growing category and there are abundant choices in padding, motion and size. These designs promise double-feature comfort, and because soft materials absorb sound waves, they also improve the audio quality of your room.

When choosing a home entertainment center, keep two shady characters in mind: dust and poor ventilation. Avoid stacking electronics on top of each other, which can block vents and reduce performance. To control dust, close cabinet doors when the system is not in use. Also, look for furniture with adjustable shelves to ensure you have enough room to frequently wipe components clean. Tip: Experts recommend small media fans that turn on automatically when temperatures rise.

That’s a wrap. Finally, while the focus of your media room is what’s on screen, you can still have fun with a theme. Consider a collection of vintage television sets. Many are inexpensive, and quite striking, such as the 1950 12-inch, mahogany-framed Admiral TV.