Posted by Cobi on Monday January 14, 2013 at 07:00 AM
One of the privileges of being a magazine editor (as I was for many years) is that the odd time, you get to feature something of your own personal experience.
This home sits around the corner from my own and I have always admired it - as most people in our neighbourhood do.
A few winters ago we captured it on film for Gardening Life magazine.
The use of red against the winter snow is fantastic and looks great well beyond the holidays.
Our neighbours make the most of their little cottage in the city and really know how to create charm without fuss.
Even the big city blogs agree as it was featured in Habitually Chic this past December. Who says the suburbs aren’t chic?
Posted by Cobi on Monday January 16, 2012 at 07:00 AM
I was interviewed recently and one of the questions went something like this…“Cobi, we all put lots of energy, excitement and time into making our homes beautiful for the holiday season. Then January comes we simply take it all down and the house ‘goes back to normal’. Can you give us some ideas of how to overcome the winter blahs and find inspiration when it comes to winter decorating?”
It forced me to put into words something I’ve been feeling this January and many before. I love this time of year - partly because I’m Aquarius and feel a certain ownership about the month - but mainly because of the big ‘sigh’ that it provides us all with. January is like a giant exhale for me, and my house, and after the holidays, boy do we both need it.
Decorating for winter is as close as I get to being an anti-decorator. For me, it’s the one time of the year that less is more.
The winter months are about appreciating all things clean, quiet and pure. I suggest using this time to clear the clutter, purge unused stuff and put not only yourself, but your house, on a diet. Welcome the purity and quietness that comes with an unadorned, simple, functional home. Put out a few favourite things and let them steal the spotlight! One nice candle on a windowsill glowing in the evening. If I do any seasonal decorating at this time of year, I use white and winter white…it gives the house a peacefulness like new fallen snow.
Have you ever noticed how some people seem to make the most humble objects appear special - almost like art? I think that has to do with the fact that they provide breathing room around those objects so there is space to appreciate them. Try that in your house. One lovely old bowl or vase on a table. Nothing else. Don’t worry about ‘grouping’ and ‘styling’ and ‘layering’ … just let the quiet light and space surround one thing. It’s quite magical.
Just before the holidays I let a talented photographer friend rummage through my kitchen cupboards to use some of my things as props in a photo shoot she was doing for PaperChef. Now as I said, my friend and photographer, one Miss Margaret Mulligan is very talented and can find beauty in a brown paper bag - or in this case, baking parchment - but I have to say, I was astounded at how beautiful some of my humble (and often jumbled) odds and sods look when given “the floor” or “the counter top” in this case.
So whether fine or humble, give your favourite things some appreciation this month. Clear the clutter, do some cleaning, and see how your old stuff sparkles. Conveniently (in the month of credit card bills) it’s the cheapest decorating you’ll ever do.
Posted by Cobi on Monday December 20, 2010 at 07:00 AM
Hope your Holidays are Sugar coated!!
And may all your Christmases be white…. see you next year! Cobi.
Posted by Cobi on Monday February 08, 2010 at 07:00 AM
This weekend coming up is an amazing time to throw a party. I can’t believe we’re not having one, but the family cottage beckons thanks to the long weekend.
If we were going to be home, I would definitely be doing a combined Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Party. Just think of all the decorating possibilities with that tomatoey Chinese New Year red clashing up against the pinky reds of Valentines. Yikes!!
Bob and I have a lot of fun planning dinner parties for friends - especially in the winter when life isn’t as busy. Last year we had a Valentine’s party since it was on a Saturday night. I just pulled out everything I own that’s red and/or pink to decorate the table and had lots of sinfully rich foods along with champagne and chocolate of course. We seated the women on one side of the table and the men on the other and had a lot of good laughs as Bob played Bob Eubanks and commandeered a personalized version of the “Oldie-wed game”.
I didn’t take pictures of the table or I would show them to you. I do remember, instead of place cards we put a pink lei on each chair for the ladies, and a red lei on each chair for the men - everyone likes to get lei-ed on Valentines!
A great place to get inspiration for a Valentine’s party is to rent the movie Julie & Julia. Meryl Streep/Julia Child throws a wonderful old fashioned Valentine’s dinner party - I love the idea of red roses and red felt hearts on everyone’s lapel - so classic and french!
Here are a few shots from a Chinese New Year party we threw the year before… I got right into it as you can see from the decorating. One guest asked me where I was going to keep all the stuff afterward, “in your Chinese room?”. I wish I had one! Right now it’s all in plastic boxes under our pool table. But I always find ways to reuse (you already saw my paper lanterns in use again last summer at an outdoor party).
I picked up Chinese newspapers when I went to Chinatown to buy the bbq duck we served, and lined the table with it. I also bought some cute plastic Chinese food containers and did little crocus’ down the table. I looked all over for colourful chopsticks but only found red and green - they worked fine with the colourful glazed bowls I bought and paper napkins and lanterns. Cheap and cheerful!
I found little ‘laughing buddas’ for each of the men and pretty paper fans for the women. Can you tell how much I love getting lost in Chinatown? I think sometimes the shopkeepers wonder who this strange 6’ redheaded lady is who keeps showing up.
I used fishing line to hang little paper lanterns between our ceiling lamps and from the curtain rods.
For decoration I bought extra oranges in Chinatown too. At this time of year they pack them with some leaves, which are so pretty in a simple glass pedestal.
I bought 12 restaurant style little plates for dessert (they were something like $1.00 each) and I already had the tea sets.
For dessert, I made an almond cake with an orange glaze - simple but at least it was homemade.
And did a second platter of traditional cookies, oranges and lychees.
We had a ball. I can only imagine how good it would be if we combined Bob Eubanks with my laughing buddas this year….maybe we should talk to the kids and re-think this whole cottage thing…
Posted by Cobi on Monday February 01, 2010 at 07:00 AM
It’s February 1st today and I’ve got mini marshmallows on my mind….
I own 3 hot chocolate makers, and to all of my loved ones who gave them to me - don’t worry - they ALL make me very happy!!
My kids love hot chocolate in the evening, but not only that, I like to serve it as dessert at dinner parties in the winter.
I actually find that many people don’t eat dessert any more, and we’ve all had the disappointment of working hard on a homemade dessert, to have only a few people eat it, and even the ones that do, say “just a sliver!”, which means there’s a great big ‘ol chocolate cake for ‘guess who’ to nibble on in the days to follow.
I also find that many people don’t drink coffee after dinner - or maybe that’s just a “getting old thing”. Whatever it is, I’m not big on going to the trouble of making things that don’t get eaten or drunk. Drank?
And so I have decided, the solution to all the world’s problems is Hot Chocolate!! (Or at least a few of mine )
Hot Chocolate brings back heartwarming memories to anyone who grew up in Canada. How can you skate on a river, build a snow fort after the plow goes by, or toboggan down an icy hill, without coming home to a warm, milky cup of hot cocoa?
To serve it to adults, I like to make it in a pot on the stove - it’s easy to have ready beforehand so all you have to do is warm it up when dinner is done. Then pour it into one or two of my lovely jugs to ‘froth’ at the table. A bowl of mini marshmallows to pass is a must, or even better, homemade ones! (I’ve never made marshmallows and would love to hear if anyone has, or has a good recipe.) I have tried homemade ones from Whole Foods and they are amazing and really add an ‘elegant’ touch to the table.
My bodum insulated cups are wonderful - simple, classic and really work - I like this size (although they come in many) because they have room for some foam and marshmallows on top.
Here are some leads on my 3 pots if you’re interested….the glass one is also made by Bodum and has a plunger built into the lid that swirls the cocoa.
The ceramic one is made by a company called Bonjour and comes with a battery powered frother that sits nicely on a plastic lid.
And the beautiful, more old fashioned looking one, with removable wood handle and manual frother is really made for the thick and rich chocolat chaud, served in every good restaurant in France….. My dearest friend got it for me from my favourite store in Montreal, Arthur Quentin.
And on that note, I thought I’d leave you with a recipe for the best Hot Chocolate in the world. (For the real thing, you have to jump on the next plane to Paris and tell the taxi driver to drive directly to Laduree. Heaven is closer than you think….)
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Ladurée
Serves 4 people.
Use any bittersweet chocolate but keep in mind that it should be one you love, since its flavor takes center stage.
3 cups whole milk
5 Tbsp. water
5 Tbsp. granulated sugar
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, water, and sugar. Place over medium heat and whisk occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture just to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate. At this point, blend the mixture. If you have an immersion blender, you can do this directly in the saucepan; or if you have a fancy jug like mine, you can awe your guests at the table while you froth. Either way, blend for 1 minute on high speed - and take care, as hot liquids expand when blended. The finished mixture should be very smooth and frothy.
Serve tout de suite!
Posted by Cobi on Monday January 11, 2010 at 07:00 AM
One of my favourite things in the world is a winter afternoon sunset.
So many people complain about winter and travel far and wide to feel the glow of a sunset, but all I need is a sunny afternoon and a drive in the country, when the shadows are long, and sky is rosy and I’m lulled into submission.
I envy those who live in rural farming areas and get to feel that sense of quiet, open, sparkling, white space on a regular basis.
I guess that’s why I love paintings of ‘winterscapes’, even ones that are done with an amateur’s hand. I have a few in my home and at the cottage and I love them all…
I often take another little painting down somewhere in the house and put one of these up for the winter.
This one stays up all the time at the cottage. It was painted by an older man we knew and makes me happy whenever I look at it.
When I go to flea markets, I keep an eye out for others. It’s that old thrill of the hunt….
I hope you get a drive out to farm country on a sunny afternoon this winter. And if it doesn’t come naturally, just steal away with a friend. It won’t be a waste of time. Things like that are food for the soul and we all need something to warm our hearts in January.
Posted by Cobi on Monday November 30, 2009 at 06:59 AM
I taught my darling daughter to knit this summer while on holiday at our cottage on Prince Edward Island.
We used very large needles and big chunky yarn and so the results were quick and rewarding.
My mom taught me to knit about the same age (10) and I thought it would be fun to share the hobby with Charlotte even though I hadn’t knit myself in over 30 years.
It came back quickly and we had lots of fun talking about how grandma used to cast on and off for me and so I never learned that part and now I would have to use the little book I gave to her to teach myself so that I could do the same for her!
We also had a good giggle over the story of the infamous sweater I knitted for Bob when we were dating - long before we were married. It was the summer of 1982 and he had made a snap decision to travel from the west coast of Canada to the east coast, with only a back pack and a mission to meet as many provincial Premiers as he could just by knocking on office doors. It wasn’t the usual snap decision that a 20 year old man makes, but it was for Bob. He ended up with a full page story in the Toronto Star and stories of meeting five Premiers plus Joey Smallwood that will last him a lifetime.
What does this have to do with knitting you ask? Well guess what the poor girlfriend did while she pined away at home, working as Jr. Editor at Chatelaine magazine?? Of course, I knit him a sweater!
It was a nubbly gray wool and it was one of the first patterns I’d ever followed. It actually didn’t turn out too bad with 4 big exceptions: 2 armholes that only a broom stick could fit through (Bob was rake thin in those days but not that thin!) and 2 sleeves that reached his knees.
I recently read on a knitting website that you haven’t really knitted until you’ve made a sweater with arm holes too small and sleeves too long and so at least I can call myself a pro!
Anyway, Charlotte and I have had fun knitting ever since the summer. She caught on quickly and enjoys picking it up while watching tv or in the car. But the biggest surprise is how much I love it. In fact, I can’t stop knitting! The only thing is, I only want to do scarves. I don’t want to follow a pattern or ‘think’ while I knit. Just knit.
I know knitting’s satisfying that terrible trait I have of always needing to feel like I’m ‘getting something done’. So instead of just watching tv (which I seldom do anyway), I knit and watch tv. Or instead of just enjoying a drive to the cottage, I knit and play passenger. Or instead of visiting with girlfriends, I knit and chat. It’s kind of a sickness. But on top of feeding the need to be productive, I do also find it relaxing and I actually look forward to sitting down and knitting a few rows just like I look forward to my fiction novel at the end of a long day. ?
Most of our scarves are thick and long. Very long. Charlotte and I both agree that a scarf looks more ‘fashiony’ if it’s extra long.
They only cost the amount of 2 rolls of yarn (under $20 each) and so at that rate, lots of people are getting them from us at Xmas. We initially thought we’d do them for ALL of her teachers but that was a bit ambitious considering she likes to give gifts to everyone from the principal to the custodian. Maybe we’ll just stick to her key teachers this year . But I do think it’s a sweet gift for her to give and not expensive.
Anyway, I hope you’re inspired to pick up a couple of pointed sticks and get knitting again. If your mom isn’t around to cast on for you, I promise it isn’t that hard.
Posted by Cobi on Monday November 16, 2009 at 07:00 AM
There’s nothing better than shopping in your own closet….
Rather than store your beautiful wraps and pashminas at the back of your closet, get them out at this time of year and drape them over furniture. Of course some colours will work better than others, but if you’re a sucker for accessories like me, you’ve got a few to choose from!
Pashminas cozy up any chair without being bulky and add rich colour to your room at the same time.
Here’s my dining room (I’m really not loving the chocolate brown anymore but it’s an expensive change) ~ it made me happy this weekend when I draped my chairs with my orange and red pashminas. I’ll save my turquoise and cream ones for the spring….
Here are a few more images I found to get your juices flowing…more orange….
If you don’t have a closet full of accessories but like the idea, affordable fake pashminas are all over the place. Last year I noticed Chapters was selling them and called them ‘reading shawls’ ~ a nice thought indeed on a cold winter’s eve.
If you want to indulge in the real thing, I know the place. Kumari’s in Toronto. She has every colour under the rainbow and such good quality…deeelicious…and now you have a second excuse - you’re decorating your room not just your shoulders!!
Posted by Cobi on Monday November 02, 2009 at 07:00 AM
Halloween’s over for another year but here’s a way to keep the lively warmth of pumpkin in your home all winter long…sumptuous velvet drapes.
The moment I saw this photograph of Ina Gartner’s Manhattan apartment (you know and love her as The Barefoot Contessa cookbook author, magazine personality and television host) in House Beautiful a few years back, I knew I loved it.
Just the words alone ~ “pumpkin coloured velvet curtains” ~ mmm..if that doesn’t warm up your living room on a bleak November day, what will?
But if that doesn’t suit, how about eggplant? Or olive green or red current? Ina would love that we’re using food for inspiration!
This room is a wonderful example of what I believe to be a simple recipe for successful decorating: livable neutrals on the walls, floors and some furnishings, livened up with a punch of intense, forthright colour that creates instant look-at-me interest and personality.
Without the shot of orange in this room it would look like any other. And yet the orange doesn’t have to be orange - it could be any other intense hue.
It also doesn’t have to be on the drapes (although I think it’s a great place to add softness and luxury to a Canadian room), it could be on the sofas instead and the curtains done in natural linen.
Remember my own red sofa? It steals the show with white walls and beige/brown floors.
You’ve likely got the neutral room, now just pick a place for a pow! of colour.
Easy to change. Easy to live with. Definitely a statement.
Ok, if I haven’t convinced you, I’ve convinced myself….I don’t know where I’m going to put it but I’m off to find “pumpkin coloured velvet!” … “yards and yards of it!” … she joyously exclaims!
Velvet to match the flames in the crackling fireplace on a cold winter night…heaven.
Thank you for another great recipe Ina!
Oh, I meant to mention that Pottery Barn carries some nice colours of velvet drapes…here’s an image….