Month: August 2011

The guiltless splurge

Some people dream about winning the lottery. I used to, until I realized that I got a bigger kick out of far less grand (and improbable) day-dreams. Would winning $10 million be, like,  totally awesome? I’m sure … but I have no real idea of how different life, post-win, would be. With that kind of figure, all I can do is assume that a lot of things would change – some with predictable consequences for my hypothetical future happiness (like paying off my mortgage), and some with perhaps less predictable ones (like never having to work again). On the other hand, a more modest imaginary windfall of, say, $100,000 offers greater scope for pleasant daydreams. Sure, my life wouldn’t change that drastically, if at all; but that amount would let me accomplish some short-term goals that would be very satisfying to check off my list – because they matter to me more, in an immediate and concrete way, than the abstract idea of early retirement (which I might end up hating anyway).
On an even smaller scale, I sometimes day-dream about what I call the “guiltless splurge”. This can be any amount of discretionary spending that doesn’t affect one’s bottom line – essentially “free money” … but free money one has to spend on something fun. [Otherwise, if you’re a fiscal worrier like me, “free money” tends to find a way into some sort of savings vehicle or practical purchase.] A gift card is a good example. In real life, of course, one is grateful for any measure of generosity on the part of friends and family, but it’s always extra nice to get a gift card that allows for the possibility of multiple purchases – it comes with the added bonus of a pleasant exercise in splurge planning.  It’s for this reason that, for the past couple of years, I have looked forward to my Christmas work bonus – a nice round figure provided in the form of a gift certificate from Holt Renfrew. Every year I face the task of having to pick a strategy for spending my bonus: a little bit at a time on various smaller things, or all at once on a big ticket item.
This is a nifty little psychological exercise, because it requires me to predict the best way to maximize my happiness yield. Will I get a bigger buzz from spending $100 five times over the course of a year, or dropping $500 in one big extravaganza? Additionally, will it be more satisfying to have five new $100 items, or one splurgy $500 one? There is no universal right answer. Some people will be happy doing the former, some doing the latter, and some (like me) will pick some sort of middle ground. For example, last year, I used my bonus to buy a gorgeous Diane von Furstenberg blazer – a practical purchase for my work wardrobe, but outside my regular budget at about $300 – as well as to partially fund the acquisition of a new bag (which would otherwise have remained off-limits). This year, I ended up following a similar strategy, though indirectly. I planned to save my bonus for one big splurge, allowing my “shopping itch” to build up to a sufficient fever pitch to get me over my instinctive reluctance for spending large sums at once. I ended up waiting more than 6 months (a long time in the BCRL shopping universe), but maybe I still pulled the trigger too soon, because my “big splurge” ended up being more of a “medium splurge” after all. What did I get? A pair of beautiful nude, patent leather wedges for $300 (on sale) – another sensible investment in my work wardrobe (in as much as $300 shoes can be classified as a “sensible investment”). The remainder of the bonus awaits my further deliberation for the time being. Needless to say, I adore my new shoes, though it may be some time before they see the light of day again. They’re elegant, comfortable and classic, so I’m not worried about their future wearability.

Your turn – ever dreamed about the “guiltless splurge” and, if so, what’s your strategy for maximizing your satisfaction?

New beginnings, part 1

This past spring and early summer were a time of big changes around the BCRL household – and that was before the arrival of baby. No, I’m talking about house renovations. My husband and I moved into our home in January 2010 – a fairly typical, “builder basic” suburban house with an unfinished basement. With two fairly design-conscious persons living in it, we knew our house would eventually need some work; with a baby on the way in early 2011, it seemed like the perfect time to tackle the biggest project of all – finishing the basement. It’s incredible how much space two people can use up. Wait, scratch that; storage space is the key here. We actually utilize, on a daily basis, a very small portion of our house, but our stuff (and we’re not big hoarders by any means) takes up a lot of room. With a third person about to claim his own share of space, expansion was inevitable.
Of course, my husband and I wouldn’t be the people we are if we didn’t immediately make things more difficult for ourselves by somehow taking on multiple additional projects at the same time … and trying to do them all ourselves on a highly optimistic (read, improbable) schedule. To be fair, almost all of the heavy work fell to my husband, who is (luckily) a very handy person … though still only one person; a crew of six or seven would have been a better bet, but we still took our chances. I’ll give away the ending and tell you that, after several months’ worth of long days and nights, much sweat, some tears and even a little blood, all our projects came to happy fruition – and just in time, too. But I’ve learned my lessons – HGTV is to real-life reno’s what romance novels are to real-life relationships, and DIY projects can pave the way to divorce court much like good intentions do the way to hell.
With that said, this post is not about the renovation process itself (though that might have made for a fascinating blog on its own) but, rather, about some of the small design projects along the way. We were not initially planning to do any significant re-decorating of the house (save for the necessary parts of the basement), but that changed after we completed our library project. To explain: my husband and I have both long harboured dreams of a having a library in our house; his suggestion was to (some day) add built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookcases in our bonus/family room to house our sundry and ever-expanding collection of books – a suggestion I happily seconded. Well, “some day” somehow became “right now” sometime this past March. [Which didn’t exactly help to advance our already-tight basement renovation schedule. But I digress.] To give my husband his due, he got us a fantastic deal on the built-ins, and did an amazing job of installing them (with help from my father-in-law). He did such a good job that our family room suddenly acquired a whole new, grown-up air of sophistication heretofore absent from our house. [It’s hard to have a particularly elegant house when your decorating strategy involves the uneasy marriage of his-and-hers sets of student-era furniture, most of it decades old.] With one room looking so nice, I found it difficult not to cast a critical eye on the rest of the house (something I now call “Diderot’s Old Dressing Gown” effect, which you can read more about in this excellent article here.) And that was the beginning of my IKEA adventure.
With my husband finally fully engaged in the basement project, I had free reign over the upstairs. Most of the design projects I ended up doing (some of which you’ll see below) started with a “tweak”. “Just a little touch here”, I’d say. And then “here” became “and there too”, and so on. I blame IKEA for that. I first went in to find a new lamp for the family room; I knew exactly what I wanted, and I knew it would be cheaper there than elsewhere. But walk around the IKEA store for half an hour (and it’s almost impossible not to), and a dozen other nifty things will find their way onto your “must buy” list: new linens, a vase, some new throw pillows, ooh, a coffee table. All of them cute, all of them reasonably priced, all of them irresistible.
Long story short, our whole house ended up with a make-over. On the plus side, it finally looks like a grown-ups’ house, with a more or less cohesive aesthetic, and furniture and accessories that actually match. Because we already owned so many IKEA pieces, we were able to update most of our rooms on a relatively small budget, by making judicious additions rather than a complete overhaul. On the down side … well, I did become a bit of an obsessive, weekly IKEA shopper. [Luckily, I discovered that my husband could be easily appeased with 50 cent hot dogs and soft serve. Oh, IKEA – you think of everything!]
Here are some of my favourite design projects featuring – what else – some of my best IKEA finds.
Books and flowers
My husband (who is the real, professionally-trained design guru in the house) refers to our respective aesthetics as “minimalist” (his) and “eclectic boho” (mine). I’ve grown to appreciate his style (it helps that I’ve always hated clutter), and he’s come around to tolerating mine. Our family room, in its first post-makeover incarnation (more on that in my next post) is a perfect example of the happy co-existence of both.
I love the crisp look and clean lines of our new white bookshelves, but I also love how the room is softened by the “shabby chic”-ness of the EKTORP couch (which comes by its beat-up shabbiness the honest way, being a million years old and having survived at least 2 out-of-province moves). The REGOLIT lamp (the IKEA purchase that started it all) adds a cool, Zen-like vibe of its own, which I wanted to balance out with a few more of my own touches. What better than flowers? My love of florals is well known, after all. So I added a mix of live, artificial, and abstract flowers to the room – a Phalaenopsis orchid, some SMYCKA silk flowers, and two EKTORP throw pillows. 

Total cost: about $100.
Bedroom Do-over
We bought our (what else) IKEA MALM bedroom set when we moved into the house, having finally upgraded to a king size bed (highly recommended for marital felicity, by the way). Again, it has that minimalist vibe that we both appreciate, and the low, pedestal-like base was a big attraction for me (I hate high, Princess-and-the-Pea-like beds). Initially, we went with the white, globe-shaped FADO lamps for the night-tables, which complemented the spare colour palette of the room, as well as the blank, white canvass we originally hung over the bed. [No, it wasn’t really a creative statement. My husband just never got around to painting anything on it.] Over time, however, it all started to look and feel a little blah – all white, birch, and builder’s beige (which, for the record, I actually really like). Luckily, IKEA is always choc-full of helpful ideas.
The DUDERO floor lamps were my own pick. I wanted something that could serve several objectives, including: (a) clearing space on our (small) night-tables; (b) adding some “height” to the room; and (c) remaining consistent with the overall style of our bedroom furniture. Mission accomplished. The RIBBA picture shelf was something my husband pointed out in the IKEA store; I immediately saw the possibilities. We used some of our favourite photos to bring some much needed colour to our walls, and really personalize the space. Plus, this was a much cheaper alternative to buying a full-size piece of art.
I also brought in more colour (and more of my floral madness) with this do-it-yourself bouquet (SMYCKA flowers, BLOMMIG vase):
I love fresh flowers, but find them prohibitively expensive as an all-year round design element. [Still, there is a reason why every Architectural Digest photo spread contains a profusion of flower arrangements; they really do help to pull a room together.] The artificial flowers available at IKEA can be a good alternative if you’re not violently opposed to, well, fake flowers. The quality can vary depending on the style/type, but it still tends to be far better than artificial flowers I’ve seen in places like Michael’s (shudder!). With prices ranging from $1.99 to $4.99 per stem, they’re not a bad deal either.
Total cost for the bedroom re-do: approximately $135.
Picture, Picture on the Wall
I love the IKEA catalogue. No, I really do. I can happily peruse it, time and time again, much like a good book. [Anyone who has copies of old catalogues they’re willing to let go, contact me!] One of the best ideas I was pushed to try as a result was the picture wall. I’ve seen it employed in various design TV shows, but it always struck me as a little daunting – how to know which pictures to pick, how to arrange them, much less how to hang them properly. My husband helped with the latter task, and I decided to try (for my first attempt) a really simple, symmetrical pattern.  I started with one of my favourite pieces of artwork, which luckily was already in a RIBBA frame. It had been hanging on a wall in the living room for some time, but looked a little lost and lonely on its own. One day, I stumbled on a set of KORT postcards at IKEA, and my picture wall was born.
The lesson I learned was not to be afraid to mix and match art. I loved the classic-with-a-twist botanical drawings on the postcards, but they were in a different category from my Art Deco-period de Lempicka reproduction; I had to think outside my pre-conceived notions in order to realize they could work together. Total cost: about $25 (not including hanging materials). Of course, that was not quite the end of it, since we later added a LIATORP sofa table ($250), SALONG vases ($16.99 and $6.99), and VATE lamp ($11) to complete our picture wall space. 

Quick take

While, strictly speaking, you could file it under “never in a million years in real life”, this photo of Cameron Diaz at her Bad Teacher premiere last month is one of my favourite examples of summer dressing.
Sure, it involves a high-waisted, baggy-crotched (!), capri-length (!) jumpsuit (!), but how cool and effortless does she make it look? The accessories are minimalistic, and work brilliantly – love the cropped denim jacket and turquoise necklace. If I had to translate this look for the “real world”, I would sacrifice some of the edge-factor, and swap out the jumpsuit for a white cotton maxi dress; some cute flats or even flip-flops would complete the look.

What was your go-to outfit this summer?