Month: September 2011

Snap judgment

Did you know that Gwyneth Paltrow is the new face of Coach? I must admit, I was surprised to hear it. Doesn’t it seem a little – how shall I put this? – downmarket for GP? I say this as someone who thinks she’s kind of awesome, but Paltrow has always struck me as being all about the exclusive, cooler-than-thou side of the fashion spectrum, while Coach seems to have spent the last few years trying to appeal to the masses, with the proliferation of its outlet stores, more affordable Poppy line, etc. Nothing wrong with it; it just doesn’t seem like Paltrow’s cup of tea, or (more importantly) a fit with her public persona, at least up to now. I mean, last time I saw her in an ad, it was for Tod’s. From Tod’s to Coach …. hmmm?! Is someone trying to tweak her image, or just taking whatever opportunities come her way? That country music movie bombed, but her new gig, Contagion, has enough star power (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard) to get even the most reluctant germophobe into the movie theatre.

Anyway, speculation aside, GP showed up at a recent Coach dinner/public relations shindig dressed with her usual flare. Who else would pair a bright orange dress with bright red shoes?

First of all, I love the dress, and hate the shoes. It’s a style which I find can be challenging, and I don’t see the point of adding a peep-toe to the mix. And while I’m all for mixing “clashing” brights (I love me a red-and-pink pairing), I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Maybe a different, less pigmented shade of orange would work better? And a cooler shade of red? 

What do you think?

New beginnings, part 2

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, our home renovation story was a long, meandering tale, with its fair share of expected (and unexpected) setbacks and detours. Counting among the more traumatic episodes – luckily with a happy ending – is what I call “The sectional sofa: a drama in two acts”. At the end of it, we were left with a re-designed family room, not to mention a different basement (style-wise) than the one we originally envisioned. Not surprisingly, the process involved some heated discussions, a lot of heavy lifting, and maybe a few tears. [What?! Third trimester’s a bitch, let me tell you.] Here’s what happened.

As with most things that involve yours truly, our renovation odyssey started with a budget. Unless you’re a candidate for Million Dollar Decorators, I can’t stress the importance of preparing one before you undertake any significant home project, particularly a do-it-yourself-er. Things can quickly spiral out of control otherwise, and the shock to your bank account can be worse than any unexpected plumbing fiasco you might encounter along the way. [Speaking of which, always build in a solid contingency into your renovation budget. Because something will always come up – and it might be a stinker.] One of the ways in which my husband and I decided to keep our costs on the basement reno under control was by shopping smart for the new furniture we’d need for our brand new space. Enter Kijiji.

Now, I know some people will probably be turned off by the idea of using a stranger’s discarded furniture (and, yes, the idea of a used mattress does squick me out a bit), but I see it as no different from buying clothes at a consignment store, or driving a second-hand car. It’s good for the wallet, and it’s good for the environment; and unless, like me, you decide to tell everyone, no one will be any the wiser. 
Case in point: our microfiber sectional sofa. 
I knew that I wanted something big and comfy for the basement, since it would end up being our family’s entertainment/recreation area and new home of our relocated big screen TV. A sectional made the most sense, offering plenty of seating, the right comfort level, and the “presence” needed to fill a big space. [Our 500 square foot basement is essentially one big room, plus a 4-piece bath.] After a few unsuccessful trips to various furniture stores, I was unimpressed with both the selection and the prices available; the cheapest option we saw was still over $1,000. That’s when I decided to turn to Kijiji. Sure enough, amid a variety of over-priced sofas, I found something that fit the bill – a fairly new (less than a year old), well maintained, neutral colour microfiber sectional for $500. The seller was even happy to deliver it for $20 … good thing since, at 7 feet long and half as wide, the two component pieces positively dwarfed our car. 

Since we were, at that time, a few weeks (actually, as it turned out, months) away from finishing our basement, we decided to jump on the good deal and store the sofa in our garage in the meantime. So we did. Fast forward a couple of months later … With the framing and drywall finally up, we were starting to see some light at the end of the renovation tunnel; naturally, our thoughts began to turn again to the “fun” part of the project – the decorating. This is where things started to go off the rails, quickly. Although we had measured the sofa before buying, to make sure it would fit our basement family room, we had tragically failed to take into consideration once crucial aspect: getting it down there. Putting up the new walls and ceiling on the staircase to the basement resulted in the loss of crucial inches of height; this compounded the difficulty presented by the sharp bend in the staircase itself, which makes the space a tight squeeze at the best of times. Simply put, there was no way to get our sofa into the basement. [The windows down there being far too small as well.] Oh, we tried. And tried. And made a big hole in our brand new drywall. And failed.

There were only two options left. One, try to re-sell the sofa. I was disinclined from doing this for a variety of reasons. It’s much easier to buy than sell on Kijiji; in this case, the aggravation would be worse since we would have no way to deliver the pieces (thus limiting our buyers’ pool further) and we would most likely have to take a hit on the price, even though we’d never used the darn piece at all. Plus, we’d still be left needing to buy a new sofa – and, at this point, we were skeptical about the likelihood of getting anything bigger than a Chihuahua down the basement stairs. 

The second option was to re-purpose our sofa. Given its size, the only feasible plan was to move it into the upstairs family room/library. At this juncture, I came across an unexpected obstacle – my husband. Although I had been largely responsible for decorating that room (not always to my husband’s immediate delight), he had, over a number of weeks, grown fond of its overall “feel”. As one of the only fully “finished” rooms in our house at that point, he was also really reluctant to starting messing with its decor again. However, after much grumbling, he agreed to give it a shot. Minus the built-ins, a couple of lamps and a chair, everything in the room went out, and the sofa came in. The good news was that it fit – up the stairs and into the room. The bad news was that my husband absolutely hated how it looked in there. 

Admittedly, it took some getting used to. The sectional had a completely different style and vibe than our much-loved IKEA couch (and all the old pieces that went along with it) and, because of its sheer size, it totally dominated the room like a giant brown mushroom. But I knew we could make it work; we just had to – I was not about to admit defeat. So I set to work on the design, for the second time; back I went to the drawing board for new accent pieces. Given that this was my second pass at “finishing” the space, my budget was pretty tight. Luckily, I found some great deals at IKEA, HomeSense and Jysk, and was able to complete the transformation for under $200: new coffee tables ($7.99 each), throw pillows ($45), decorative vases ($43), and picture shelf ($30).
Here, as a comparison, is a photo of our bonus room as it was under its previous owner’s occupation:

And, as a reminder, are a couple of “Before” pics, taken after our first round of renovations:

And:
And here is the “After”:
And:

We both ended up loving our new (new) space. My husband had planned all along to add a projector in this room, and the new sofa will make his much anticipated movie/sports nights all the more cozy. The room is also a little less cluttered, which will come in handy once Junior starts needing more floor space. And I love the bright colours and eclectic vibe.  So our “sectional drama” ended up with a win all around. As an added bonus, our old family room furniture will now grace the basement, making it a much more stylish space than we had originally planned. 

And, yes, we did get the IKEA sofa all the way down the basement stairs.

The September issue

It’s that time of the year again; time for the fashion world to tantalize us with a new season’s worth of style, and the most important season at that – fall/winter. And that means is that it’s time for the fashion mags to put forward their biggest issue of the year (literally): the September issue. How do they stack up this year? Here are a few of my perennial fashion bibles:

InStyle

Cover: Beyonce in a sparkly, spangled metallic mini, accessorized with gold stars, and promising 638 pages of fall fashion. For some reason, the cover seems oddly Christmassy to me.
Ad Pad: 60 pages of ads before the table of contents 

Highlights: As promised, the magazine covers off many of the trends showcased on the fall/winter runways including head-to-toe colour (in bold jewel tones), maxi dresses and skirts, the new ladylike trends (longer pencil skirts as opposed to last year’s fuller skirts), fur, capes, lace, and knits. In addition, there are pages and pages of new and droolworthy bags, shoes and other accessories. A handy guide to layering (another fall/winter trend) is also provided, although I have to say that their visual aids gave me flashbacks to the early 90s (although retro everything also seems to be a big trend this season, so that may have been intentional). 

The “Instant Style” section provides some cool ideas for putting together outfits for various types of work functions, although I would have to caution that their appropriateness would depend on the nature of your work environment.


The article on cover girl Beyonce is kind of “meh”, but it’s more than made up for by a piece on the very awesome Helen Mirren. The brief interview is cool, but the best part are the photos – sultry, supernaturally elegant, business as usual for Dame Mirren. It’s so rare, and refreshing, to see a woman over the age of 50 photographed as a glamour queen (when photographed at all) in a mainstream fashion magazine. While it must be said that Helen Mirren is not exactly representative of the average 60-something, this is still a step in the right direction.


The awesomeness is compounded by a piece on Alexander Skarsgard, aka my Sunday night boyfriend, who (I might add) looks in mighty fine form in the accompanying pictures. Finally, although I remain resolutely anti-hipster, and am not normally a big fan of her red carpet style, the photo spread on Alexa Chung features some lovely outfits (many incorporating pieces from her Madewell collection), including this one, my fave:

What you can’t see in the photo is that the blouse has little black polka dots on it (adore the collar! another trend this season); I love the overall contrasts in this ensemble: sweet yet boyish, casual but put together.

Vogue
Cover: Kate Moss is a gorgeous plum-coloured princess gown. This is my favourite cover by far, though, again, it doesn’t exactly scream “fall” to me. Vogue promises a whopping 758 pages full of “something for everyone”, but despite also advertising a “fall fashion extravaganza”, a lot of the magazine is devoted to articles on things unrelated to the fall runway collections.
Ad Pad: 67 pages of ads before the table of contents 

Highlights: The article on cover girl Kate and her recent wedding to Jamie Hince is accompanied by some truly lovely photographs, including a close-up of her wedding gown, designed by John Galliano. Galliano’s recent and very public downfall (and ouster from Dior) are not mentioned in the article – fairly so, perhaps, given that it might have otherwise distracted from the story’s main subject – but he does turn up in a photo with Moss, and it appears that, unlike many others, she is standing by him. In the article, he says (in relation to designing her wedding gown) that she “dared me to be John Galliano again … [i]t’s been my creative rehab.”


There are a number of other interesting articles in the issue, including one on IMF’s new chief, Christine Lagarde, another on Jon Huntsman, one of the Republican candidates for the presidency in the next US election, and one on the cultural scene in China. As for the fashion pages, my favourite spread features Natalia Vodianova in mod-inspired pieces (“My Generation”); I especially love the styling. 

A close second is another retro spread on this season’s ladylike trend (“Lofty Ambitions”) – glad to see it’s still going strong.


Elle
Cover: Gwyneth Paltrow in not one, but two outfits (it’s a dual cover). I don’t have the hate-on for GP that so many others seem to have, so I was happy to see her on the cover, and enjoyed the accompanying article. [As an aside, she happens to be BFFs with our other cover girl, Beyonce. At least, it sure seems like it if you go by all the name-dropping in the interview.] The cover promises a more modest 556 pages of fall fashion, but still doesn’t quite deliver, in my books.
Ad Pad:  58 pages before the table of contents

Highlights:In addition to the Gwyneth Paltrow interview, the issue also features articles on Kate Hudson and Demi Lovato. While I would not expect the latter to turn up on the Elle cover any time soon (although her name does appear on the cover), I was somewhat surprised to see the Hudson piece buried in the back of the magazine without nary a mention on the front. Granted, she isn’t currently publicizing any movie (instead, the article focuses on her new jewelry line), but it’s interesting to see that she wasn’t picked to be the cover girl this time around.

I found the rest of the issue to be somewhat uninspiring, to be honest. None of the fashion spreads really stood out to be, clothes- or photography-wise. Elle always does a good job of highlighting new trends in its Elle Fashion Trends pages, and this issue was no exception. Polka dots are back, y’all!
Another thing that Elle does very well is highlight lustworthy, “only in a dream” pieces – you know, the kind that are always “price on request”. Like the new Miss Dior handbag introduced by Dior this season:


Or a peacock cuff from Chopard:



Did I say that I wasn’t interested in winning the lottery any time soon? I stand corrected.