Leah Moss

by Leah Moss

I love all things quintessentially fall — the pumpkin picking, the boots, the savory soups, and perhaps best of all, the apple crates.

Apple crates? Yes: Perhaps you didn’t know it, but fall brings not only an abundance of hearty veggies but also hearty storage. It didn’t take long for a scavenger like me to figure out that local farmers markets and orchards’ outposts are much more willing to part with their trusty crates at the end of the season.

I have always admired the simple, rustic appeal of the wooden crates but scoffed at the idea of spending a hundred-plus dollars on the farmhouse crates that many mainstream retailers market today. Thankfully, I decided to ask around at our local haunts, and I was happy to find that, come fall, many orchards will sell there carting crates for a few dollars. I scored ours for 5 bucks a piece.

However, before I put them to good use, I made sure to give them a good cleaning. Most organic orchards won’t use harsh chemicals to treat their crates, but its worth asking. Even the crates that haven’t been treated should be cleaned thoroughly before reusing. I used a solution of white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to scrub mine down. The hydrogen peroxide will bleach the wood somewhat, but I think it’s worth the health trade-off.

Now my crates serve a thousand and one functions. I lined one of the crates with canvas drop cloth and carpet tacks (picture d above), and now it holds our placemats and cloth napkins, which allows my daughters to access them easily when they set the table. We use another next to the hearth to corral kindling and fireplace supplies:

And we use another to stash diapering supplies out of sight in the living room:

Lest my home start to resemble a fruit stand, I stopped myself at three — but were I to acquire a few more, I might employ them as shelves, like the uber-talented photographer/stylist Kjerstis Lykke:

As with any good flexible storage item, the possibilities are endless. You can check out a few more creative re-uses in the post that I wrote for Apartment Therapy a couple of years ago.

Images: 1-3: Leah Moss, 4: Kjerstis Lykke

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Savoring Fall at Home

October 12, 2011

Despite all the weird weather we’ve been getting in the mid-Atlantic region, something different is in the air these days. Sometimes that air has been heavy and gray, but it’s changing… Fall is here, and that is worth a celebration!

In recent years, I’ve realized that my best antidote to my fast-paced life is a slow approach to savoring the seasons. In the past years, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for me to get caught up in the events that each month brings without taking time to appreciate the benefits of the season as a whole at home — lots of apple-picking and Halloween parties, but not many everyday moments enjoying the simple things that make fall home life sweet.

I didn’t begin to appreciate fall until I moved to Texas for college and missed all the autumn cliches: the changing leaves and the chill in the air. Since returning to a more varied climate, I’ve been careful to eat up every second of autumn. Summer is always such a busy time for my family, and by fall I’m ready to slow down, turn homeward, and savor all the simple autumn pleasures. My list of fall essentials changes every year, but most of the time it goes something like this…

A thick cozy comforter so that you can crack the windows and embrace the fresh fall air while snuggling under a heavy blanket. It’s like camping…only comfy, and without all the bugs:

Bowls of rotating seasonal items gathered on nature walks. I feel silly admitting it, but we’re kind of wimps in the summer heat, and we usually end up abandoning our walks in favor of lounging at the pool. However, come fall, our adventurous spirits kicks back in, and my girls and I like exploring the walking paths and forest close by. Plus, there’s that extra incentive of material gain, since fall is always the best time for collecting nature’s treasures — like these hedge apples, which fall from the Osage-Orange tree:

Lots of candles! Admittedly, at our house we tend to be a little candle-crazy all year round, but fall is when we like to go overboard. It’s not quite fireplace season yet, and our little kids aren’t always up for a firepit, so we gather all the candlesticks and light up:

Break out the coziest throw blankets and arrange them near our favorite reading spots. There are few better fall luxuries than a warm blanket and a good book:

Play with rustic textures and warmer colors. To counterbalance the vibrancy of my colorful children, I tend to prefer the simplicity of whites and neutrals…except in fall. Cooler temperatures call for warmer hues. I mean, you can’t really embrace autumn without a little bit of orange, right? I also like to use rustic linen and burlap as tablecloths:

Of course, there’s baking and soup-making, pumpkin-carving and lots of crafting, too. Now it’s your turn: How do you savor fall at home?

Images: Leah Moss

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Last week when we talked about devoting a space to artistic creativity in the home, I avoided forgot to broach the topic of what to do with the finished products that result from having such a space. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls and I love their artwork, but open access to art supplies all day long translates to mountains of art. Literally. I mean, I seriously just had to dig my keyboard out from under an unwieldy tower of love notes.

Sweet as the sentiments behind them are, these beautiful little (and not-so-little) expressions of love and creativity bring their fair share of dilemmas. First, there’s the issue of stewardship. I’ve started to wonder about the scads of paper we go through in the name of creativity…but that’s a topic for another post. Today, I want to focus on what we keep and how we keep it.

While I’m a ruthless purger in some areas of my home (plastic toys and knickknacks don’t stand a chance), I’m a total packrat when it comes to artwork. I feel guilty about tossing things my girls spent effort creating. However, in my constant fight against hoarder status, I’ve been seeking out the best ways to enjoy art and not have it take over my life. After interviewing some friends, visiting a few creative homes, and scouring the interwebs, I have a few favorite ideas to share:

  • Create a file of favorite pieces. A good friend of mine allows each child one regular school folder per year.
  • Turn art into wrapping paper and greeting cards/stationery.
  • Take pictures of your children with favorite pieces of art before sending it to the recycling bin. I like the organizational appeal of this tip, but I don’t think it would work for me personally, since I love the tactile aspect of children artwork.
  • Create a rotating gallery. Anything that fits in the gallery can stay, but new pieces can only be added if others are taken down. This is my favorite method. We’ve used it in various forms over the last few years to great effect. However, due to lack of wallspace, I’m currently rethinking how I’m going to work my display.

If you decide to employ the idea of a rotating gallery, there are approximately 1.2 zillion ways to do so. My favorites…

Clothespins. Create a little display station, like my fabulous friend Meredith did with chicken wire over dry-erase board paint (above). The area functions as a family message station, and favorite artwork of the week is displayed with clothes pins clipped to the chicken wire above the weekly schedule. Or you can pin up a laundry-line style display using string and clothespins, like Meredith did in her office:

Clipboards. Nail boards to the wall and then use the heavy duty clips to keep artwork looking tidy, like Kate from Little Green Designs:

Temporary “frames.” There are so many cool ways to use the idea of a temporary frame, and all of them keep kids’ artwork looking tidy. Por ejemplo, my sister tacked a few ready-made mats to the wall and slips favorite pieces of art in at the top:

And Real Simple came up with the genius idea of creating frames out of painter’s tape, which comes in a variety of colors and won’t leave residue on the wall like other types of tape:

Okay, now it’s your turn! How do you decide what creations to keep, and how do you store and display them?

Images 1, 2, 4: Leah Moss, 3: Little Green Designs, 5: Real Simple

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Space To Create

September 21, 2011

I’ve heard it said that a creative home is a happy home, and coming from a family of artists, I couldn’t imagine life without being surrounded by creative types. That being said, I’ve found that being surrounded by little creative types is a somewhat different story — especially when they’re your own little creative types, and especially when they’re creating in your…ahem, I mean, their home.

As a parent, I find it imperative to foster creativity, but as the house-cleaner homemaker I find it really challenging to let go and let my little artists make their beautiful messes. Sadly, I didn’t inherit my mom’s laid-back ways when it comes to anything that stains…which seems to make up about 99% of all art supplies appealing to children. Happily, however, I’m in the process of learning a few ways to strike a good balance.

The first great lesson I’ve learned is the importance of setting up a realistic spot that can be dedicated to artwork. For the past few years, we’ve used an old, large coffee table with kid chairs…which may or may not actually be used. The low height means that they don’t have to ask to be lifted into their seats so they can create whenever they want. On the wall above the table, we’ve attached a few hooks that hold hanging baskets for color pencils, paper, string, chalk, and scissors. We also have jars of beads lining the window shelf. Since the beads and baskets are placed low, and within reach, they can be used at anytime. Up higher, I use vintage Coca-Cola crates to hold other supplies that require more supervision: paints, inks, glue, glitter, etc.

I’m happy to report that, for the last three years, the setup has done wonders for my nerves and their artistic development. I’ve been able to let go a little more, knowing that the worst thing that can happen is a color pencil mark on the wall (crayons and markers make much bigger messes, so they got the boot. I know, I’m ruthless). Having the other, “messier” supplies within sight has meant that my girls want to use them on a regular basis, which I like because I don’t feel like I’m totally depriving them. I let them initiate, but I try to make time to set them up with the supplies when they do ask.

And for those messy times, which are usually at least once a week, aprons and a nearby bathroom have been incredible helps.

Friends of older children have some great solutions as well. My friend Saule fills glass canisters with art supplies, candy-store style on a counter in her kitchen:

And Pam has devoted a whole room in her basement to her sons’ artistic endeavors. They get to create, hang their own art on the walls, and clean up their own messes all on their own:

How do you encourage creativity while keeping some semblance of order in your home?

Images: Leah Moss

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Help Your Home Age Gracefully

September 14, 2011

The saying goes that “kids keep you young.” However, anyone with small children or teenagers (or heck, any age in between) knows quite well that kids do not, in fact, keep your house young — at least not in the physical sense. Just the opposite: Kids accelerate the aging process. Wood dings and stains go with the territory. What was bright white today will be “antique” beige tomorrow…and let’s not even think about next year’s shade.

But choosing the right materials to furnish your house can make all the difference between a well-loved (and well-worn) Slow home and a dingy one. The key is inviting in materials that not only stand up to abuse love but that also age well.

As a parent of three kids six and under, easy maintenance is essential to anything I bring into my home. So is durability. And the tricky part: So is attractiveness. I don’t want heaps of plastic furnishings in my home, but even so I’m often tempted by label descriptions that boast the phrases “maintenance-free” and “long-lasting.”

When your daily routine already includes laundry, dishes, and diapers, you don’t even want to think about spending time waxing countertops. As a result, synthetics seem to reign supreme among families with children, at least in the US. Whereas natural materials like wood and stone come with no guarantees, synthetics are usually accompanied by the written reassurance on a label that promises great wear-and-tear. As a decorator, I see this a lot. And as a mother, I certainly understand the draw — I’ve chosen plastic chairs over wooden ones, and not just because they cost less.

However, the more homes that I rehab, the more convinced I become that using natural materials whenever possible is the way to go. Mother Nature just has aging down pat. The homes brimming with the latest and greatest of the last decade’s synthetics are always the ones in need of a major overhaul because of failing materials…whereas homes ten times their age, constructed mainly of natural materials, are usually the ones that just need a few cosmetic tweaks. You hardly ever hear of people replacing their marble countertops or floors (despite the fact that marble is an exceptionally porous stone, prone to staining), but it’s quite common to hear a friend complain about the flaking laminate in their kitchen. The point is, once you get past the first scratch, natural materials gain character, whereas their synthetic counterparts look worn out.

Recently, I encountered a design dilemma in my own home. We were about to pull the trigger on new floors for a particular spot in the house where the 20-year-old carpet was in dire straits. (Mostly thanks to our dog. Thanks, Koa.) Suddenly I found myself in a panic about what material to choose. I had two contractors advise me to use a wood alternative (read: fake wood), due to the heavy traffic (read: scooters, dog claws, general mayhem) that my home endures. I nearly took their advice.

But one day, while standing in the older part of our home with the 60-plus-year-old wood floors that have yet to be refinished, it struck me: Despite the deep gouges and the discolorations, the floors look beautiful, albeit in a weathered sort of way. The same thought hit me the next day, when my little sister was in town and we went to visit our childhood home, a historic craftsman bungalow. The home is more than 100 years old, and it’s been over 20 years since we’ve lived there — but despite the lapses in time, it looks the same as it always has: perfect. Splintering porch pillars and the occasional spots of peeling paint are charming, despite its imperfections and age. The new homes erected next to it couldn’t boast the same appeal; they’re only 15 years old, but the sagging plastic siding makes them look neglected already.

That night I happened to flip through a book I had picked up at the library, Natural Decorating by Elizabeth Wilhide and Joanna Copestick, and I stumbled across a line that drove the point home: “While there is something utterly forlorn about aged synthetics, the patina of old wood or weathered stone flags is both uplifting and reassuring.” Yes!

Of course, this is not to say that all new homes and man-made materials are evil. They’re not, and there are plenty of eco-friendly synthetic options that serve us well. Neither does this mean that we should all live in 100-year-old log cabins and shun our personal stylistic leanings. The point is that we should think about how a product or material will age…because it will age. No product, despite what the label may claim, is immune to time…or children. And I don’t know about you, but for me one of the worst feelings as a homeowner is having to toss or replace an item simply because it has lost its luster and can’t be fixed.

Some natural materials are more durable and child-friendly than others. My favorites — from both a design and parenting perspective — are linen, canvas, and denim for upholstery; seagrass, jute, sisal, and wool for rugs; and wood (solid and waxed, not veneered and heavily varnished) and stone for floor and counter/table surfaces.

Image: Leah Moss

Note: I took this picture of the home of husband-and-wife team Bill Hutchins and Beth Knox, who together run the green building collaborative Helicon Works. Green building has become a bit of a buzz word, but Helicon Works is the real deal. They have a holistic approach to design that’s more concerned with fostering human relationships and encouraging healthy living than it is with creating eco-friendly structures. And they’re always delving into something new and exciting: Currently, they’re collaborating with an NGO in Nepal to teach and assist in building homes and orphanages using materials recycled from local trash. You can check out their progress on the Helicon Works Blog. To see more of Beth and Bill’s home, check out their house tour on Apartment Therapy. It’s truly on of the warmest and most intriguing homes I’ve visited.

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I’m a far cry from a neat freak by nature. Actually, if someone were ever to refer to me as a neat freak, I’d probably beam for days…and then let it go to my head. However, having recently returned home from a little jaunt to the wilds of Colorado, I’ve become neurotically belligerent about keenly aware of  all the clutter that’s accumulated in my house over the summer. When I’m on vacation and realize that I can get along just fine with five outfits and little else, I start wondering why I actually have so many things.

But, of course, everyday life often requires a bit more equipment, and eventually I reach the conclusion that “things,” in themselves, are not bad. They only become the enemy when I forget to stick by my number one clutter-busting rule:

Saying “no thank you.”

No, we’re no talking manners here. We’re talking sink or swim when it comes to the accumulation of things.

When I was newly married — and then, shortly after, newly mommy-ed — I became the beneficiary of many hand-me-downs. So many hand-me-downs, in fact, that I soon found myself struggling to find a place or a purpose for most of the items. At first, I was afraid of appearing ungrateful or too picky, so I received all offers with open arms.  However, it wasn’t long before I felt overwhelmed by the weight of too much stuff.

Eventually I had a revelation: Nobody was forcing me to take their things. Then and there, I made a promise to myself to only accept and keep (sometimes those have to be two separate actions when others’ feelings are at stake) what I actually found to be both useful and beautiful (remember William Morris? That rockstar of the craftsman movement who wisely advised, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”? Oh, William, you saved my life…). Yes, despite my conflict-avoidance issues, I’ve learned to say “no thank you” when it comes to receiving stuff — even to my in-laws (who, by the way, have been completely receptive and understanding).

I see a similar struggle with nearly all of my design clients — especially if the clients are parents, and especially especially if the clients are youngish and have multiple kids. The details may differ, but the story is almost always the same:

  1. A client receives a piece of furniture that’s not really her style from a neighbor or a parent.
  2. The client then tries to tie it into her decor by buying coordinating items, thereby accumulating more things in the process (none of which are really her style, either).
  3. The client eventually gets to the point where she’s totally dissatisfied with her home but doesn’t know where to begin to make it better, because she’s already spent a lot of time and money on her home and has nothing to show for it. It’s hard to simply get rid of the offending piece of furniture when you’ve since purchased the coordinating (and probably equally offensive) rug and throw pillows and painted the walls to match.

Bottom line: It’s counterintuitive, but learning to say “no thank you” right off the bat will eventually save you a lot of time and a lot of money, and help you to create less waste in the long run.

Of course, this is not to say that hand-me-downs or reused items are bad — they’re definitely not! In fact, they can be a big part of Slow living. Just make sure that what you’re accepting and reusing is actually something that will improve, not clutter, your life. After all, everything we own requires care, so it may as well be something that carries its own weight, not weighs us down.

In the future, we’ll be discussing more ways to create a home that you really love — a Slow home, where everything has a place and a purpose — but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your top clutter-busting habit. Comment away!

Image: Leah Moss. I took this photo of my friend Catrin’s home.You can see the rest of her delightful home in the house tour I photographed for Apartment Therapy. Catrin is one of my heroes when it comes to comfortable, clutter-free decorating with kids.

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Entries for the Ergo giveaway package are going strong! Don’t forget to throw your hat in the ring by commenting here.

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kitchen pantry

Over at Apartment Therapy earlier this week, I wrote about how to make the most of what you’ve got when it comes to existing features in your home, such as ugly tile or dated surfaces.

Working in design, I’m often struck by our society’s disposable notions of home. We move so frequently, and with those moves come renovations and, typically, a dumpster full of the previous tenant’s décor choices. While I’m a sucker for a good home makeover, I’m becoming increasingly wary of advising people to go for a full-fledged remodel unless it’s a matter of health (e.g., mold-damaged wood) or a total functional necessity (e.g., faulty plumbing that can only be accessed by a tear-out). There is so much that can be done to amend the undesirable without creating your own little landfill or breaking the bank.

Enter paint and accessories.

These two options are ugly designs’ worst enemies and your best friends. I’m not exaggerating: There are really very few situations that a can of paint and a few good accents pieces can’t fix. They key is deciding on the best plan of attack: whether you’re going to make the bad boy disappear or make it look purposeful.

What do I mean? Well, let’s visit the home of my creative sister, Nicole, who has employed both tactics in her 1940s house…

First up: the disappearing act! Her galley kitchen was small to begin with — and she thought the multi-shades of the busy tile backsplash, added in the 1970s, made it look even more cramped — so she whipped out the white tile paint and away she went!

Painting the backsplash white gave the kitchen a much airier and open feel, and it allowed her red accessories to shine. She employed a similar tactic on the particle-board pantry (pictured at the top), added by the previous owners. Rather than sending it to the landfill, Nicole painted it with the same color used on her walls and added a white painted border that made it look like a classy built-in rather than a big-box store special.

Next up: If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Nicole’s bathroom came with a grainy, gray poupon-esque yellow-and-shiny-black bullnose tile. A common approach would have been to ignore the less-than-desirable color combo, but Nicole decided to make it look deliberate. To do so, she found a shower curtain that contained a similar mustard yellow, and she painted the walls the other color in the striped shower curtain, a gray-green blue. Next, she hung up artwork that picked up on the black bullnose tile.

Learning from Nicole, you can take the same approach in your own home. If some element is simply too distracting (in my own home, it was my dark kitchen cabinets), then paint over it. But if it’s something impractical or impossible to paint over (maybe an ugly colored carpet or a vintage, colored sink), tie it in to your décor and make it look purposeful by accessorizing with similar or complimentary colors.

What design disasters have you managed to pull off with a little paint or re-accessorizing?

Images: Leah Moss

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Fixed Branch Mobile

July 27, 2011

In the design world, there’s always a lot of talk about “bringing the outdoors in,” and for good reason. We like to feel connected to our environment, and we like to feel a cohesion between our indoor and outdoor worlds. Fresh flowers and potted plants instantly — and literally — add life to a room. They are at the tippity top of my “necessary luxury” list, and on more than one occasion I’ve been known to forgo the steak at the grocery store in order to get my potted orchid. Silly and impractical? Maybe… but the orchid is still blooming a month later, while the steak would have been digested and forgotten long ago.

But for you crafty (and not-so-crafty) people who want to add a natural element that requires absolutely no maintenance, this project is for you. Originally, I came up with the idea for my daughters’ school auction, which had a Washington Cherry Blossoms theme; but after making approximately 2 million blossoms, the thought occurred to me that the branches could easily spruce up a child’s room, too — sort of a natural, ever-so-slightly more grown-up version of an infant’s mobile.

My girls have a great bedroom with a large Kwanzan cherry tree outside. With the beautiful branches tapping against their window, the sunny room feels almost like a tree house. So, when I thought about what I wanted to do with their room, the branches were a natural choice. I wanted the space to feel connected to the outdoor environment — but I also wanted it to have the whimsical vibe of a little girls’ room. A year and a half later, the little blooms in their room still look fresh, so no complaints here.

This easy project is also suited to small hands, so round up your children, gather some branches, grab some tissue paper, and get started.

Supplies:

  • Branches (you decided on the size, but I wanted mine to be at least 3 feet long to make more of a statement)
  • Tissue paper (a few sheets goes a long way; we used around 50 for a huge room full of blossoms)
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape (floral wire or glue can also be used, but tape is probably the least labor intensive)
  • Fishing line (optional, depending on how you’d like to display the branches. We suspended ours from the ceiling with a ceiling hook, so it has more of a fixed look.)

Process:

  • Cut the tissue paper into squares (mine were about 3 inches on each side), and overlap them in a Star of David type shape:

  • Pinch them in the middle to form a light crease, then pinch in the other direction:

  • Twist the pinched parts to form a “stem”:

  • Attach a small piece of tape to the edge of the stem. (You can also use floral wire, though I got poked one too many times and wanted something easier. Once all the blossoms are attached, you can’t even tell it’s tape.)

  • Wrap the tape around an offshoot of the branch to secure the blossom, and repeat… and repeat… and repeat!

  • Attach to the ceiling. In my daughters’ room, I simply screwed in a ceiling hook and rested the branch in the nook:

I love reading books in bed with my girls and looking up at the branches and the shadows that they make!

Images: Leah Moss

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A portion of my wild crew in our hard-working den.

At any given moment, my home can be found reverberating with the chaos of children: Three little Mosses, likely three cousins from next door, and, often enough, a few more kiddos from down the street… probably all being pursued by one large dog.

So the thought of sitting down to write about Slow living comes with some hesitation. How can I write about creating a Slow home without feeling like a total hypocrite? Well, I admit that I do feel a bit hypocritical some days, but that often has much more to do with me forgetting the reason behind good home design and much less to do with the normal chaos (e.g., muddy — and let’s be honest here, probably half-naked or elaborately costumed — children) that’s often reigning in my home.

So then, what is the reason behind good home design? And what does it have to do with Slow living?

My favorite answer hails from Sir Terence Conran, one of the best designers of our time, who explains in his New House Book that “good design is ninety-eight percent common sense, two percent aesthetics. For instance, ask yourself: how do I want my family to live, and how do I want my friends to feel when they visit me?”

Simple, right? Conran’s explanation takes the emphasis off material perfection and puts it on human sensibilities. Good design and the material elements that go along with it are here to serve the family, not rule it. I think that mothers oftentimes see a beautiful home and a home with children as mutually exclusive — as in, if my home is presentable, then it’s probably because my children are asleep or duct-taped to the floor.

Sometimes that may even be the case (no, no, not the duct tape part), but it doesn’t have to be. Not if we think first about creating our homes, as Conran advises, in terms of how we want our family — half-naked children included –to really live. We’ve chosen to have children, after all, and when we set about doing so it probably had something to do with desiring the love, creativity, and warmth that family life provides. The material things that we bring into our home have to encourage and hold up to those ends.

But the material considerations should very much come second. If we don’t first know how we want to live at home, no number of Container Store organizers or designer furnishings will serve us.

This is Pam and Bryan’s Home, which I photographed for Apartment Therapy. It’s a great marriage of style and function all wrapped up in a bustling family home. For more inspiration, you can check out their full house tour by clicking on the picture.

There are countless practical considerations to explore in future posts: hard-working home materials, where to splurge and where to save, creative ways to repurpose housewares, style issues, and I’m sure much, much more.

Today, though, I want to emphasize what should be our starting point for any home design endeavor, whether it be a total remodel or a simple furniture rearrangement. Before I begin a project in my own home or with a client, I take the time to really explore how a room or whole home will be used. The last thing any of us busy mamas wants is the unrealistic and fruitless task of maintaining a magazine-ready home.

Not to say our homes shouldn’t be beautiful, because they should be. But realistically, given the family you have, would you rather spend the time wiping fingerprints from that sure-to-shatter-yet-picture-perfect glass coffee table, or actually sit down and…wait for it… enjoy your cup of coffee, children underfoot and all? Everything we own takes energy to maintain; so our things, especially our homes, should serve us — not the other way around.

My friend Angelique has one of the most inviting homes I know. Her 100-year-old home is furnished with a mix of interesting textures and hard-working materials, all with a soft appeal. You can check out the rest of her home on Apartment Therapy by clicking on the picture.

So here’s you’re blogging homework, friends. (Kidding, kidding.) (But, not really.) When you get a free minute, sit down with a piece of paper and pen, and jot down what activities take place in your home (sibling wrestling included) and what activities you wish to take place in your home (one of mine is a daily cocktail hour with my husband).

After you’ve come up with suitable answers and have a bit more time, take yourself on a tour of your home, noting:

a) What each room and its main components are used for (the living room is where we lounge, read, and watch movies; I use this chair for nursing, writing emails on my laptop, etc.)

b) Which material elements pose problems (the coffee table eats up too much floor space, the bed is uncomfortable, etc.)

c) Which rooms could serve you better (the dining room is underused, the kitchen is too cramped, etc.)

d) What you think is missing in each room (more seating options in the living room for when you’re hosting guests, better lighting, a table in the laundry room for folding, etc.)

The important thing to remember is to be honest and realistic. But once you’ve answered the questions above, you’ll have completed 98 percent of the good home design equation.

Images: Leah Moss

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This post was originally supposed to be about creating a fabulously simple and wonderfully efficient kitchen, but as luck would have it, my camera ran off with pictures of said kitchen. So, for the sake of sanity and Slow living, I’m offering the next best thing: a fabulously simple and wonderfully delicious summer recipe.

Easy to make, pleasing to the masses, and beautiful to look at, ceviche is a meal that sounds and looks a lot more complicated than it is. Traditionally, it’s simply citrus-cooked seafood, but the Ecuadorian-style ceviche that I like to make teeters somewhere between a gazpacho and a salad. Once you learn the basic recipe, you can experiment with different types of fish, or even skip the fish entirely if you prefer.

My handsome husband — a prime suspect in the kidnapping of the aforementioned missing camera — grew up in Ecuador, and this dish makes an appearance in some form or another at most family gatherings. I will admit that the first time I spotted it on my now-mother-in-law’s table, I nearly broke into a cold sweat. At the time, I was neither a seafood lover nor an adventurous eater, nor was I an especially good faker. But friends, there was just no way that I was going to offend the mother of the boy I loved. So, taste and bear it I did…

And, much to my surprise (and relief), I fell in love! I’m now happy to report that ceviche is something I make almost once a week during the warmer months. Besides being hearty and healthy and easy to adapt to the size of your hungry crowd, it’s a meal that I’ve found pleasing to the palates of kids and slow mamas (and papas) alike.

So, without further ado, Ecuadorian Style Summer Ceviche:

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