Holiday Gift Idea: Candle-Making Checklist

Homemade candles are a great gift idea, but be sure to follow these safety tips before you start melting wax. From Homemade: The Heart and Science of Handcrafts by Carol Endler Sterbenz.

• Melt wax in a double boiler.

• Replenish the water in the double boiler.

• Use a wax or candy thermometer.

• Know the wax’s melt point and pouring temperature.

• Never leave wax unattended on the stove.

• Remove smoking wax from the stove immediately!

• Read the manufacturer’s recommendations when choosing wax, molds, and wicks.

• Allow ample ventilation when making candles, especially when using fragrance oil.

• Add scent to liquid wax just before pouring, when the wax is off-heat, to avoid dissipating the fragrance through evaporation.

• Preheat molds and containers before pouring in hot wax.

• Do not flush hot liquid wax down the drain. Let unwanted wax cool and harden for proper disposal.

• Do not microwave wax.

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5 Steps to Decoupage Anything

5 Steps to Decoupage AnythingIf you’ve never decoupaged before, don’t be scared. It’s not as fancy as it sounds, but the end result is beautiful using this how-to guide from Tori Spelling’s CelebraTORI: Unleashing Your Inner Party Planner to Entertain Friends and Family.

If you graduated from kindergarten, you’ve got all the skills you need. You are basically just cutting out pictures and gluing them onto a surface.

1. Pick your surface. You can decoupage anything from wood, to bottles, to garbage cans, to wine bottles (which make nice candleholders).

2. Cut out the pictures you plan to use. You can choose photos, labels, postcards… anything that works for your concept.

3. Glue the pictures onto the surface.

4. Paint over the whole collage with diluted white glue. There are special decoupage glues out there, but regular school glue works just fine.

5. Let your work dry, then paint it again. About three to four layers of glue should do the trick.

Now your collage is transformed into a shiny, finished surface. So crafty!

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Energize Your Office Space

Ensure that your work environment is working for you with these tips from Jeffrey Wands, successful psychic medium and author of Knock and the Door Will Open: 6 Keys to Mastering the Art of Living.

Your office should reflect who you are in the same way your home does. To make whatever time you spend in the office as productive and positive as possible, you need to make sure that you’re working in an energizing environment.

Here are a few tips for making your office a place where you flourish:

  • Do you know who worked there before you? It’s just as important to clear negative energy from your office as it is to clear it from your home.
  • Clean out the drawers, the shelves, and the file cabinets. Pitching the previous occupant’s personal belongings (or your own leftover clutter) will eliminate negative energy.
  • Shift the energy by making the space your own. If you can’t actually move or replace the furniture, bring in a photo of a loved one or another personal belonging that has positive associations for you.
  • Bring in something you can look at that makes you feel calm and peaceful and reminds you of the greater meaning of your life.
  • Create a “success” or “fame” corner in a color associated with recognition (see page 114).
  • Bring in something metal to help you gain clarity and precision in your work.
  • If you’re moving your own things from a previous office, make certain that you leave behind anything that had a negative meaning for you.
  • If you’ve been feeling sluggish and stagnant in your job, clean out your workplace. Go in on a weekend if you have to and just be relentless — pitch, toss, get rid of all the stuff that’s been preventing the creative energy from fl owing.
  • Place your desk as far from the entrance as possible to draw chi or life force toward you rather than blocking it, and make sure that you sit facing the door so that you’re inviting in more that’s good and profitable, not turning your back on it!
  • If your office has fluorescent light, augment or replace it with a desk lamp that has full-spectrum light, which most closely simulates natural sunshine. Cool, white fluorescent light has been banned in Germany because studies have shown that it has a negative impact on health and well-being, which in turn negatively impacts productivity.
  • Bring in touches of red for increased energy, orange for concentration, purple for inspiration, and yellow to make it a happy space.

Jeffrey A. Wands, the author of Knock and the Door Will Open (Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey A. Wands), Another Door Opens (Copyright © 2007 Jeffrey A. Wands)  The Psychic in You (Copyright © 2004 Jeffrey A. Wands) appears frequently on national television, is a popular guest on radio programs across the country, and hosts his own weekly radio call-in program, “Psychic Sundays,” on WALK 97.5 FM. He has thousands of clients worldwide who wait up to a year for a reading at his Port Washington, NY, office.


What’s Your Design Style?

What you like — from food to fashion to museums and movies — reveals a lot about what you’ll love to have in your home. Discover your design style with this eight-question quiz by Ty Pennington, author of Good Design Can Change Your Life and host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and learn how to infuse your personality into your home decor.

1. The places you like to shop include:
a. uncluttered contemporary stores where white, black, and a little gunmetal gray reign.
b. flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops.
c. department and specialty stores with wide ranging choices; quality antique stores.
d. stores that showcase the handcrafted wares of other cultures.
e. shops with environmentally responsible items made from natural materials.
f. all of the above.

2. The museum show you’d run to see is:
a. twenty cutting-edge London artists under twenty.
b. French advertising posters from the ’20s.
c. Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters.
d. Tibetan treasures.
e. an Ansel Adams retrospective.
f. all of the above.

3. Your clothes tend to be:
a. white or black.
b. funky — vintage pieces mixed with new.
c. buttoned-down and conservative with lots of khaki.
d. African-print shirts or Indian skirts.
e. jeans, organic cotton T-shirts, and boots.
f. all of the above.

4. The music you favor is:
a. intellectual rock like Radiohead, the White Stripes.
b. pop like John Mayer and Sheryl Crow.
c. classics like old Sinatra and new Diana Krall.
d. world music like the Gipsy Kings and Buena Vista Social Club.
e. earthy and raw-edged like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
f. all of the above.

5. Your favorite movies from another era are:
a. mod films from the ’60s like Blow-Up and Bullitt.
b. Casablanca and film noir flicks like The Maltese Falcon.
c. anything with Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn.
d. Out of Africa and foreign films like the Brazilian Black Orpheus.
e. Born Free and nature documentaries.
f. all of the above.

6. Your idea of a great vacation spot is:
a. Stockholm.
b. Paris.
c. a golf resort in Hawaii.
d. the farthest reaches of Mexico.
e. the mountains of Wyoming.
f. all of the above.

7. Your favorite type of restaurant is:

a. the “it” spot everyone is talking about.
b. funky old Italian dives with checked tablecloths and red leather banquettes.
c. the classic steak house.
d. Ethiopian restaurants and ethnic food hole-in-the-walls.
e. organic eateries.
f. all of the above.

8. You like to throw parties that are:
a. evening soirées with chic cocktails and gourmet hors d’oeuvres.
b. casual buffets that let you break out all your flea market bowls.
c. sit-down dinners served on your grandmother’s china.
d. Indian or Catalonian food nights.
e. barbecues on the beach over an open campfire.
f. all of the above.

If you answered mostly a, your style is minimalist.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you probably don’t have lace curtains in your dining room, fringe on your pillows, or Grranimals in your closet. Chances are, you like a home that’s clean and modern and maybe you even stick to a palette of all white: white napkins, white towels, white sheets, white walls, white shirts. Maybe you even eat white cheeses and have a white dog. (You still, though, cling to your black leather jacket; that you’ll never give up.) You might also like vintage modern but only as long as it fits in with your minimalist scheme. You’re undoubtedly up on the latest in art, music, and design. You’re hip, you’re mod, you know what’s going on.

I’m an admirer of modern minimalism (not to mention the latest hip things). Keep in mind, though, that your home is more than a showcase for what’s new and cutting-edge; it’s also a place where you and your family and friends should be able to feel comfortable and relaxed. If everything is flawless, you may be miserable. I respect the fact that you always have a coaster handy for the person who wants to put a drink down on your one-of-a-kind industrial coffee table, but don’t be afraid to let your guard down a little. You need at least a few pieces of furniture that aren’t works of art but places to curl up or put your feet on after a long day.

You want to live in a home not a museum. Sit on your couch and wrap yourself up in that lumpy blanket your mother crocheted, maybe even put on the ugly plaid pajamas that Uncle Jerry bought you, and survey the landscape. Think about how you can make your home both a temple of minimalism and an inviting, restful place. You might try mixing in a few organic elements like plants or natural wood pieces, as well as a little color. Think about furnishing your home not only with what’s hot, but also with what gives you a warm feeling. Make it personal and you’re on your way to creating a home that, while still chic, is a place where people want to hang out.

If you answered mostly b, your style is maximalist.

Okay, it’s not really a word — I made it up — but I think it describes perfectly the kind of person who just can’t get enough of, well, stuff. Your idea of heaven is probably Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, a day when everyone breaks out all their old things and sells them in the street. In Amsterdam, it’s basically one big citywide fl ea market. Going into your house is like going into a high-end garage sale, and you’ve got collections galore: lamps, movie posters, pottery, old radios, silver spoons. When you walk into a thrift store, you get an adrenaline rush (and just a little high from sniffing the mothballs).

You probably like to stay home and nest with all your finds, but you’re also a pretty fun and enthusiastic person to be around. And if it sounds like I know you all too well, it’s because I do: I, too, collect vintage wares. I’ve got a lot of stuff . . . but I also try hard to rein it in so that my house doesn’t feel like it’s bursting at the seams. After all, sometimes “collector” is just a polite term for “pack rat.” So try to open up your home and give yourself more space. Pick the best of your old radios and arts and craft pottery; leave some empty wall space between retro posters. From experience, I can tell you that you’ll feel so much better about your place if you can actually see what you have. Concentrate your design efforts on creating rooms that are airy and well edited when it comes to showing off your finds.

If you answered mostly c, your style is traditionalist.

They just don’t make things like they used to — that thought probably pops into your mind pretty often. For that reason, you tend to keep things the same. I’m willing to bet that you’ve got lots of family heirlooms in your home and those pieces that haven’t been handed down look like they could have been. You’re probably most comfortable with elements of style that are nice but not showy. Elements like a sofa covered in a subtle paisley fabric, a quality Oriental rug, or maybe a maple four-poster bed with a white chenille spread.

There’s nothing wrong with being a traditionalist, and I’m with you on the fact that sometimes there’s nothing better than a classic. We should hang on to some things that have been around forever (like letter writing — I bet you still send letters through the mail). That said, does it have to be steak and potatoes every night? If you keep your home too traditional, you risk it feeling boring and stale after awhile. So consider spicing it up a bit. Maybe paint one wall in your house an offbeat tangerine and trade in your Oriental for a chunky sisal rug. Perhaps you could replace your chenille bedspread with an Indian print or some modern color-blocked bedding. Obviously, you’ll need to use a careful eye to blend the traditional with splashes of nontraditional, but that’s the only way to make your home seem like yours — not your parents’ or your grandparents’. Loosen up a little and look beyond the familiar to find a style that’s truly your own.

If you answered mostly d, your style is ethnologist.
Although this sounds like you administer anesthesia, what it means is that you’re into different cultures: ethnology is the comparison of cultures (so glad I have a dictionary on my computer). In other words, you like things kind of worldly. You probably love to travel (or at least take armchair journeys through the Travel Channel) to out-of-the-way places where life is extremely different from your own. And your clothing probably reflects it. Maybe you’ve got lots of cool jewelry from around the world, and you dig anything that’s handcrafted and representative of the art of an indigenous culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve got tapestries and African masks on the wall, Balinese furniture, rugs from the Middle East, and Chinese cooking utensils. Maybe there’s even Indian incense burning and beads hanging in your doorway (which reminds me of my mom’s ethnic phase in the ’70s, although I think the incense might have been more a necessity owing to our very bowel-troubled dogs than a nod to India).

One highlight of my own travels is to bring home beautiful things made by other cultures, so I see the appeal of ethnic chic. Where you can get into trouble, as with anything else, is by overdoing it. I personally love to see ethnic pieces mixed in with complementary modern pieces from our own culture. Again, you want to make your home a reflection of your personality so, while you may have a deep feeling for another culture — maybe that culture is even part of your ancestry — do try to mix in elements of your own life. For instance, one family I know has antique Japanese dressers and a few Japanese prints in their bedroom combined with a soft rug (rather than, say, tatami mats) and contemporary American bedding. When you walk into their room you don’t feel like you’ve been transported to Tokyo, but instead get a nice taste of Japan and a big bite of their own personal style.

If you answered mostly e, your style is naturalist.
If you’re a naturalist, you probably not only love anything having to do with nature, you’re very protective of the natural world. Maybe your home is filled with items made from recycled materials; you might even have solar energy. Perhaps you’re vegan. I’m guessing that you have plants around the house, lots of nice wood furniture (including a coffee table laden with National Geographic and Outside magazines), and that the predominant shades in your home are earth tones. You might have some souvenirs from your trips to the beach, mountains, and desert lying around: shells, pinecones, rocks. On the walls are landscape photos and maybe even a shot or two of polar bears.

To tell the truth, I’m stoked that you’re a naturalist. I’m all for bringing the outdoors in and for using renewable resources like bamboo flooring. But of course, I’ve also got a few caveats about the potential for naturalism to turn ugly. First, be aware that when you bring Mother Nature into your home — whether it’s driftwood, shells, starfish, leaves and branches, or anything else right off the land or sand — it may bring along some little friends, namely bugs that will end up all over your sheets. Before you bring some of those things home they need to be kiln dried, treated, and sealed to make sure they’re house-ready. So don’t be just a naturalist, be a realist.

The other thing is, go easy on the earth tones. Even though it’s nice to do your home in warm beiges and browns, don’t forget that nature is also a source of incredibly vibrant, gorgeous color. Think of the oranges of autumn, the new green of spring, the turquoise of the Mediterranean, the purple mountains’ majesty. Bringing in some color doesn’t compromise your devotion to what’s natural; it just gives it more life and greater depth. If you can do that — as well as quit terrorizing your friends who don’t recycle and refrain from bringing home every stray dog in the city — you’re going to have a great house and a pretty nice life.

If you answered mostly f, your style is all of the above. That is, you’re me.

That’s right, I am a minimalist, maximalist, traditionalist, ethnologist, and naturalist all rolled up into one. For instance, I love modern furniture and clean lines. There are areas in my home that are very simple and actually kind of spare. But that’s only one facet of me. I am also a collector. I collect vintage guitars, vintage furniture, and vintage fabrics among other things. I do try to organize them well and periodically reduce the number I have, but, you maximalists who have to cope with chaos? I feel your pain.

Ty Pennington, author of Good Design Can Change Your Life (Copyright © 2008 by Furniture Unlimited, Inc.), is the host of ABC’s hit series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He has won awards in graphic design and worked as a set designer and as a model before being cast as the carpenter in The Learning Channel’s series Trading Spaces. Ty has developed his own line of home products for Sears, Howard Miller, and Lumber Liquidators and has launched Ty Pennington at Home magazine.


Stylist Secrets for Decorating with Flowers

A bouquet of blossoms or a single dramatic stem can add character to any room. Weave flowers — and other natural objects — into your decor with these refreshing ideas from Flowers: Style Recipes by Samantha Moss.

Flowers have the rare power to create atmosphere. With a little clever arranging, flowers can instantly change the look and feel of a space and make you want to spend time there. Even a few blossoms can refresh a room and decorate it to suit the season or a special occasion.

When accessorizing with flowers, keep in mind that the height and size of an arrangement should be scaled to a room’s architecture — an oversize urn of snapdragons, for example, is best reserved for spaces with high ceilings. Take your cue from other items in the space: match the soft hues of a dining room with ranunculus, roses, and young bittersweet, like the bouquet at right. Gather inspiration from the paintings, fabrics, and colors in your home, and you’ll soon see how flowers and their environment work together in a stylish partnership.

Arrangements need not be confined to a table or shelf — in fact, you can be as creative with placement as you can with the flowers themselves. Use flowers and foliage to screen a fireplace, accent a windowsill, or decorate a staircase. As an alternative to a traditional arrangement, drape homemade flower garlands along an entryway or around a banister.

Experiment with the drama of single stems. Instead of one large-scale arrangement, divide a bouquet among a series of mismatched containers. Everyday objects — glass bottles, soup cans, teacups — take on surprising new character when used as vessels for flowers. Choose flowers whose color, shape, and fragrance complement the space or occasion. For added color and fragrance, incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables: asparagus, fig branches, and lemons are all versatile, long-lasting options that can anchor and accent an arrangement.

Samantha Moss, author of Flowers (Copyright © 2005 by Weldon Owen Inc. and Pottery Barn), is a writer and editor based in San Francisco.



Stylish Decorating Solutions for Small Spaces

Ty Pennington, host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and the author of Good Design Can Change Your Life, shares his tricks for making a big design impact in even the smallest of spaces.

Space is the ultimate frontier. Who doesn’t want more of it? I’ve lived in Japan where space is at a premium, as well as in tiny dorm rooms, and in overpriced, under-spaced NYC apartments so I don’t take a millimeter of free space for granted. And neither should you. Space makes you feel like you have room to grow, so don’t box yourself in, even if it means that you don’t get to put everything you want into a room.

The first design rule of thumb for a small room is to scale your furniture. Personally, I’m not a fan of big, soft, fluffy furniture to begin with. Especially big, soft, fluffy sofas: Sit down in one and you end up getting sucked into it, then the next thing you know you’re totally enveloped in pillows, which is comfy but can put you to sleep in seconds, and I like to try to stay awake most of the day. If you do like big, soft, fluffy furniture, fine — just don’t overstuff a small room with it or you’re not going to have any space to walk around. Try to limit it to one fluffy comfortable chair or maybe just a fluffy ottoman. Or, if it’s a bedroom, keep all the furnishings and the bed itself fairly streamlined and top the bed with a big fluffy comforter and pillows.

Better yet, get furniture that’s sleek and low to the ground. Also consider having a few pieces on the sidelines — say, tucked away in a corner or pushed up against a wall — that you move to the center only when you have guests over. Those pieces might be stools for extra seating or even a couple of side tables that nest inside each other and can be pulled out for a cocktail party or the Super Bowl. You’ve got to have somewhere to put the chips, right?

If you’re creating an entertainment room, also think about housing your electronic equipment in the most streamlined way possible. For instance, in my entertainment room (page 141), instead of putting my TV and stereo in a bulky cabinet or armoire, I built low, simple shelving on the wall with some little drawers and narrow shelves for storage and display. It makes the room feel more open, doesn’t take up much floor space, and yet still has a decorative feel.

Probably the most important thing to remember about designing a small space is, keep it simple. Choose a few wonderful things for the room and leave it at that. Think quality, not quantity.

Ty Pennington, author of Good Design Can Change Your Life (Copyright © 2008 by Furniture Unlimited, Inc.), is the host of ABC’s hit series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He has won awards in graphic design and worked as a set designer and as a model before being cast as the carpenter in The Learning Channel’s series Trading Spaces. Ty has developed his own line of home products for Sears, Howard Miller, and Lumber Liquidators and has launched Ty Pennington at Home magazine.


Moody Hues: Use Color to Set the Right Tone in Your Home

Color is much more than a design statement: The hues you use in your home have the power to evoke very specific moods, like harmony, creativity, stability, purity, power and more. Learn how to make the right mood-hue connection in your home decor with these tips from Kathleen Cox, author of The Power of Vastu Living.

By reading Hindu mythology, we see that Vedic scholars understood that the sun’s energy created the seven colors in the visible spectrum. In many legends, Lord Surya, the sun god, is portrayed as a charioteer on a chariot that is pulled by seven steeds. Each steed represents a single ray of color in the visible spectrum. The ancient scholars also understood that color has a deep influence on our well-being. The physical associations, along with the emotional and spiritual properties attached to each color, are commonly used to symbolize characteristics ascribed to Hindu deities and aspects of Hindu rituals.

Lord Vishnu, the Hindu deity of preservation, is the color blue. Blue, which is the color of the sky and the oceans, represents the heights and the depths of our physical world. In the metaphysical and spiritual realm, blue represents the infinite, the unending, and the everlasting. Emotionally, blue is cool, calm, reflective.

Yellow became the Vedic color connected to the knowledge of the Truth. Many Hindu deities, such as Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, and Lord Krishna, wear garments that include the color yellow. In the physical world, yellow is equated with the sun, which is the source of all light. In the metaphysical and spiritual world, the light of the sun represents knowledge. The sun’s light banishes the darkness that accompanies ignorance. The sun ultimately speaks of clarity and understanding.

White, which contains all seven colors, also contains all their characteristics and speaks of purity. Consider the sacred nature of the ash in Hinduism, which is often smeared on the forehead as a blessing from the priest at a Hindu temple or at the conclusion of a holy ritual. This blessing is rich with meaning. The fire flickers red, yellow, orange, blue, green—all seven colors dance in the flames. When the fire dies, it goes black and gives up its color. But the fire’s residue is the white ash, which encompasses, once again, the seven colors of the sun’s visible spectrum. So white and the blessing of ash symbolize the everlasting nature of the soul—its purity and its never-ending connection to the divine.


In Hinduism, red is auspicious and represents the spiritual power that overcomes evil. Red motivates us, increases our vitality, and makes us passionate. It gives us power and courage that strengthens our conviction, confidence, and strong will. Red reinforces loyalty.

In Hinduism, orange or saffron represents the sacred fire that burns away impurities and signifies the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Swamis and others who choose a spiritual life commonly wear this color. Orange increases our sensitivity, generosity, and compassion. It builds up our energy and our zest for life.

In Hinduism, yellow represents the spiritual light that illuminates the Truth. Yellow stimulates our mind and intellect so that we acquire wisdom and clarity, which increases our inner strength and self-esteem. Yellow also increases our creativity and curiosity.


In Hinduism, rituals include green leaves from sacred plants to express the importance of nature. Green creates harmony, balance, and feelings of inner calm. Identified with nature, green has healing properties, which are therapeutic and stimulate our growth. Green is associated with renewal.

In Hinduism, blue represents the imperishable nature of the soul and the infinite presence of the Supreme Creative Force. Blue represents the cool side of nature, which we associate with the water and the sky. It inspires harmony, serenity, and calms down our emotions. It quiets our mind so that we can think clearly. It promotes integrity, trust, and faith.

In Hinduism, indigo is frequently used in mandalas, which are visual aids to meditation. Indigo strengthens our intuition and imagination. It helps us turn inward so that we can understand the true nature of our soul and our connection to all existence. Indigo creates an inner balance that is stabilizing and reinforcing.


In Hinduism, violet is also commonly used in mandalas. Violet inspires self-respect and enhances our creativity and inspiration. More spiritually potent than indigo, violet intensifies the experience of meditation. It provides us with inner strength and the wisdom to be mindful of our thoughts and actions. It guides us along the path to Enlightenment.

In Hinduism, white represents purity and the nobility that comes with pure thoughts and pure actions. White, which contains all the seven colors, brings us peace and comfort. It purifies the body, the mind, the soul.

Kathleen Cox, author of The Power of Vastu Living: Welcoming Your Soul into Your Home and Workplace (Copyright © 2002 by Kathleen Cox), studied Vedic philosophy in India for ten years . She is the founder of Vastu Living and and is also the author of Vastu Living: Creating a Home for Your Soul.


DIY Fall Flower Arrangement Ideas

Bring the hues of the season indoors with a fetching fall flower arrangement. Here’s the step-by-step how-to from Flowers: Style Recipes by Samantha Moss.

In late summer and early fall, when the vibrant hues of dahlias and zinnias are at their peak, create an artful display by tinting the water in the vases to match the flowers.

Dahlias and Zinnias in Layered Vases

  • 12 dahlias (various varieties)
  • 12 zinnias
  • 5 rectangular vases
  • bleach
  • food coloring
  • paring knife

Choose different flowers all in a single color, gather a harmony of yellows, oranges, and reds, or mix and match complementary colors (such as yellow with purple or red with green).

Select zinnias that are completely open, and dahlias that have flexible petals and partially closed blossoms. If the dahlias start to wilt, remove the outer petals to keep them looking fresh. The deeper the water, the longer flowers will last, so angle stems in the vases for maximum submersion. In spring, try substituting tulips; in autumn, use chrysanthemums to create the same effect.

1.    Sterilize the vases with a spritz of bleach before filling them with water. To prevent bacterial growth and prolong the flowers’ life, add 2 tablespoons of mouthwash or other antibacterial additive.

2.    Mixing colors as you would paints, add several drops of food coloring to the water in each vessel. The color for each vase can either closely match or be harmonious with the hues of the flowers it holds.

3.    Using a kitchen whisk or other stirring tool, stir the food coloring into the water to gauge the saturation of color. Add a few drops of the same color or of other colors until you get the tint you want.

4.    Using a paring knife, cut each stem on an angle. Arrange the stems in the vases so that most of the stem is under water, which prolongs the life of the flower.

Samantha Moss, author of  Flowers (Copyright © 2005 by Weldon Owen Inc. and Pottery Barn) and Photos, is a writer and editor based in San Francisco.


12 Tips for Working with Contractors During a Home Renovation

Helpful advice on dealing with contractors when building or remodeling your home from Rita Konig, author of Domestic Bliss: Simple Ways To Add Style To Your Life


  • Do not leave anything to your contractor’s judgment in the taste department, like where to put the outlets and the light switches. If you do, be prepared to find them in the strangest places. Mark on the wall exactly where you want everything.
  • With any changes that you make you must ask them how much it is going to cost and if it is going to add any time to the project. There is nothing they love more than telling you that the reason why the bill has doubled and they are four months late is your own fault.
  • If there is anything you have said you will buy, like paint or fittings, you must get them to site on time. There is nothing worse than paying people to sit around waiting for you to get things to them. You must therefore find out on your contractor’s schedule of works when he needs things by. Remember that there is very little that does not take six to eight weeks for delivery. Paint takes less, but give yourself a week.
  • Do not start choosing paint when the painters are ready to start. You have got to choose carefully what you want and it takes time. It is not really possible for them to paint one room entirely while you flit around choosing the colors for the other rooms. They will want to start on another room while the first coat dries in the first room.
  • Remember to ask your contractors if their quote includes paint. If it does it will probably be for the cheapest paint available on the market. If you are planning on using a designer paint it is going to cost you more, so let them know that. They will not be keen because they will probably be making a markup on their paint. They may try to persuade you they can match the color with another brand. If this is the case, be careful: their eye for color is not what they are being employed for.
  • This is most important to remember when they start commenting on your choices. I had my confidence knocked by contractors when I first started doing bits of decorating. “Ooow, I wouldn’t do that, it’s awfully dark.” Just don’t listen; follow your convictions. Not every room has to be blazing sunshine, and we do live in the age of the electric lightbulb; dark rooms can be wonderful.
  • They will have an opinion about eggshell paint, too. They will tell you it is too shiny for the walls. It isn’t; it is as shiny as an egg. The truth is they don’t like putting it up because it takes longer. The benefit of eggshell is that it will look better for longer, you can clean it and flat paint marks very easily and is absorbent.
  • When you get your cans of paint on site, check all of them. I have had rooms painted in the wrong color and it is hard to get the paint company to pay for someone to repaint the room, even when it is their fault. Mark every can with the room it is for and where it is for (walls, woodwork or ceiling) and then put it in the rooms. Make sure your foreman has a paint schedule stating exactly what color is going where. If you want closet doors to be painted with the walls you must remember to specify this or they will be painted with the woodwork, and this will again cost you money to rectify.
  • Whether you are starting from scratch on a whole property or you are just doing one room in your house, it is worth working in the same way with your contracting team. They need the same guidelines from you. Be professional and straightforward from the beginning and you won’t run into trouble. Sometimes you can feel embarrassed that you are doing too much with your schedules and drawings of what you want, but don’t worry. Your contractor will appreciate it and the most important thing is that you will end up with what you asked for.

There are things that you must insist on from the beginning and it is worth going through these ground rules with your foreman before you start.

  • First, insist on no smoking on site. This does sound really miserable but it is dangerous and sloppy. So many fires have started from cigarettes falling between floorboards and it is just kind of horrid; it makes the site even dirtier than it is already.
  • The workmen should clean up every night before they leave. A good firm of contractors will do this instinctively. My mother taught me this and at first I thought she was just being over the top, which she usually is, but as so often happens she was right. No one can start work every day in a place that looks disgusting. All the tools need to be cleaned and put away every night, all the dust sheets picked up and folded away, all the mugs washed, tea bags in the trash and the entire site vacuumed and ready for work to commence the next morning. Contractors who won’t do this will be sloppy and it will be reflected in their work. It is just the same as arriving at your desk first thing in the morning and it looking like chaos; it is really hard to start the day like that. Your builders should have their own vacuum cleaner — don’t let them near yours as it will just collapse under the pressure of all the sawdust and old nails.
  • And NEVER, EVER lay a carpet until the last contractor has left the site.

Rita Konig, author of Domestic Bliss: Simple Ways to Add Style to Your Life (Copyright ©2002 by Rita Konig), pens the idiosyncratic column “Rita Says” in British Vogue and has a weekly column in the Saturday Telegraph Magazine. She has also written for W and in the United States, House & Garden. Previously a buyer for her mother’s company, Nina Campbell Interiors, Konig lives in London.