Welcome to Homegirls. You'll find a sassy sampling of décor and design tips, frank conversation about everything from holidays and homekeeping to home improvement and our picks and pans of new products, stores and events.

Contributors: Kim Palmer, Lynn Underwood, Connie Nelson, Kim Ode and Nicole Hvidsten.

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Guy-friendly design

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: February 5, 2013 - 11:56 AM


Man caves are so last century! Today, manly style influences are inching up from the basement and making themselves comfortable all over the house.


As a reporter who talks to a lot of homeowners about their new homes and makeover projects, I've noticed that I'm talking to more men than I used to. Some guys still delegate "decorating" to their wives and girlfriends, but more men appear to have informed opinions about design and how it can make a home feel like home.

Increasingly, guys are expressing those opinions to influence the design process, and often taking the lead on design projects -- such as a Twin Cities man who hired a designer to put a masculine spin on his formerly feminine interiors (www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/146480965.html).

"In 2013, interior design will begin to mirror male preferences like never before," declared Freshome, a design and architecture blog that last week published its "Top 10 Most Talked About Interior Design Trends." (http://freshome.com/2013/01/29/top-10-interior-design-trends-for-2013/)

No. 1 on Freshome's top 10 trend list: "A New Relationship Between Men and Interior Design." Men in developed countries are spending more time at home than in the past, sharing childrearing and household chores, according to the blog, with the result that they're exerting more influence on their surroundings.

The proliferation of design-oriented TV shows, magazines and web content also has to be a factor, in my opinion. More guys are being exposed to design principles and conversation -- even if they're just accidentally seeing or hearing the shows that someone else turned on. With more exposure comes more opinion and insight.

How will male influence play out in home decor? Expect to see more "functionality over 'cuteness,' less-flashy colors and sober furniture details," according to Freshome. And this is good news, from an aesthetic standpoint, because it creates "visual  balance" that makes both sexes feel at ease.

What do you think? Are guys as a group getting more comfortable with -- and more opinionated about -- home decor? What does guy-friendly design look like at your house? And does male-female balance make for better design? 



Star-struck at home?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: January 29, 2013 - 4:23 PM


During awards season, a lot of us have celebrities on the brain. We're inundated with tidbits about Jennifer Lawrence's peekaboo SAG gown and Jodie Foster's cryptic speech and whether "Argo" will trump "Lincoln" at next month's Academy Awards.

After the Oscars, all the buzz about who got snubbed, and who looked hot -- or horrendous -- on which red carpet will quickly disappear.

But the homestyle industry now seems permanently star-struck year-round. When the celebrity-branded furniture trend  first reared its head, many thought it would be a short-lived fad.



Yes, many big-name brands have come and gone (Elvis bedroom sets, anyone?) But the broader trend of hitching home goods to a star appears to have survived the recession and is still going strong. 

Just in the last year, we've seen the launch of Brad Pitt's high-end furniture collection, Justin Timberlake's "curated" line of art and accessories for HomeMint, Nate Berkus' Target launch, and the Kardashian sisters' "kollection" of bed and bath products for Sears.

We've had furniture and home goods headlined by jocks (John Elway, Steffi Graf/Andre Agassi), fading glamour girls (Cindy Crawford, Kathy Ireland, Jaclyn Smith) and moguls (Martha Stewart, Donald Trump).


We've even had furniture branded for dead celebrities (Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis) and people associated with dead celebrities (Princess Diana's brother and her former butler).


It's a safe bet that the High Point furniture market in April will feature at least one new collection with a famous name and face attached to it.

I don't get it, frankly. I want my home to reflect MY style, my family members' style, not the style of some famous person I know only from the pages of People magazine. Although I suppose if I fell in love with a particular piece I wouldn't let a celebrity brand stop me from bringing it home.

So how about you? Are there celebrity home collections you like? Have you bought anything for your home with a star's name on it? And if you were a furniture maker, what famous face would you try to partner with? 

Dream homes, from "Girls" to grown-ups

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: January 15, 2013 - 12:16 PM


I spent Sunday night with my 22-year-old daughter, watching the Golden Globes. She stuck around long enough to see Lena Dunham and "Girls" pick up awards, then headed home to her apartment in Uptown, where her roommate and the "Girls" season 2 premiere were waiting.


Like the characters on "Girls," my daughter doesn't make a lot of money and can barely afford her rent. Her apartment is nothing glamorous, but it's in the heart of Uptown. That makes it perfect in her eyes. 

It's also a magnet for her friends and their friends, which is both good and bad. Everyone wants to hang out there, which is fun at happy hour but kind of a drag at 1 a.m. when random acquaintances want to crash on her couch rather than pay for a cab.

Hearing her stories -- and watching "Girls" -- reminds me of my own early 20s, and the "perfect" and not-so-perfect places I called home during those dramatic years.

There was the duplex in Prospect Park, the one I shared with my two best friends from college. I couldn't afford a car, or even much food, but at least I got skinny.

Then there was the duplex in Seward that I shared with two other friends and an army of mice. (Couldn't wait to get out of that one!)

My first solo apartment, at age 24, was actually in a senior citizens' apartment complex, where my comings and goings were closely monitored by self-appointed surrogate grandparents.

Finally, at 25, I found my "perfect" home  -- a freshly renovated century-old house with a built-in buffet, pocket doors and a fireplace. It was still a rental, but a palace compared to my previous dwellings.

A decade later, I was a young mom, and the perfect home became one with a good school district and a cul-de-sac full of little playmates for my kids. But now that my kids are young adults, I'd like to unload my too-big house, leave the 'burbs and find a perfect little house back in the city. 

No doubt, my daughter's definition of the perfect home will continue to morph as well. I think she'll remain an urban dweller for years to come, but maybe she'll tire of Uptown's constant bustle and sky-high rents. Or maybe, as her career -- and hopefully her paycheck -- grows, she'll be able to afford a slightly more spacious and stylish apartment.


The cash-strapped girls on "Girls" can only dream of the apartment inhabited by Charlie, Marnie's ex-boyfriend, who used his architectural and handyman skills to put a distinctive spin on his space. ("'Girls' has a breakout star: Charlie's apartment")



A blogger at Houzz has even imagined the homes the "Girls" girls will create once they grow into their own style -- and have the cash to express it. (http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/2518280/list/Screen-Style-Forecast--When-the--Girls--Grow-Up)

What's your idea of the "perfect" home? And how has it changed over the years? 

Homes of the 1 percent

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: December 11, 2012 - 12:05 PM


As a reporter who writes mostly about homes and gardens, I don't get a lot of hate mail or angry phone calls. Nothing like the days when I covered city hall and could expect at least one or two a day.


Life is calmer, but I have  sometimes wondered if anyone -- other than my mother -- is reading my stories at all, or just glancing at the pretty pictures.

But homes, in this economy, are a lot more controversial than they used to be. Just this week, the Star Tribune published two letters from readers critical of the Homes section. Here's today's:  "Opening this section makes me sick. I am usually not a bitter person, but I can only wonder how anyone can afford this stuff." (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/letters/182904101.html)

I also fielded a few annoyed phone calls last month when we published a story about pianist Lorie Line's $4 million lakeshore mansion, and then, three days later, a story about it heading into foreclosure. (www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/179217631.html)

Featuring rich people's houses is "rubbing it in readers' noses" that they will never live like that, one caller told me.

For what it's worth, we do try to feature a mix of houses -- big and small, expensive and modest -- as well as overall home-related trends that affect everyone. When we do have a grandiose home in our section, we try to balance it with another story about something more accessible.

Before the recession, big, expensive homes rarely generated comment. And their owners were, on the whole, happy to share them with readers.

The faltering economy changed that dramatically. Affluent homeowners got a lot more reluctant to showcase their affluence when so many others were struggling. When we did feature a big, expensive house, we got a lot more negative feedback. 

Last week, I had lunch with a freelance writer who told me she's changing her focus. "I can't write about rich peope's houses anymore," she said. 

Me, I'm still fascinated by all the spaces we call "home" and the people who create them. I love the quirky starving artists' homes and the freedom they feel to glue rocks to their woodwork and paint murals on their ceilings. I love the elegant old mansions, and the sleek modern dwellings. I even loved the "punk house" I wrote about a few years ago, where a bunch of young musicians were staging shows in their filthy basement.

How about you? Are you sick of seeing homes that you can't personally afford? Or do you like peeking inside all kinds of homes?


Cast-off couture

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: December 4, 2012 - 12:06 PM


Our front entry got an instant upgrade last week. That's because I finally ditched our beat-up old console table and replaced it with a new one that I picked up at a bargain price because it was a floor sample, too imperfect to sell for full retail.


It's got a couple dings on it, but it's still way better than the one we had, with a finish that had cracked and peeled away in strips, as though a giant had raked his fingernails across it.

But the old table quickly found a new home -- in the apartment of our 22-year-old daughter. She and her roommate were as happy to get it as I'd been happy to get rid of it. When the roomie carried it inside, a guy who helped her maneuver it through the door even commented that it was "a nice piece." 

Really? It had looked nice enough when I bought it, about 25 years ago, when we were newlyweds. But it was so cheap at the time, and so damaged and dated looking now, that I never considered it an heirloom. Still, it's real solid wood, which is more than can be said for a lot of new furniture today.

Our daughter wants to strip and refinish it, to get rid of the scratches and give it a more stylish espresso color. I explained the process to her, what she'd need and how to do it. When I said goodbye to her, my eye fell on the two little accent tables that I'd refinished myself when I was her age. They were somebody's cast-offs, bought for a buck each at a garage sale. Yet they still have a place in my family room, and they still look good.

There's an awful lot of good-looking used furniture out there. My daughter and her roommate have beem pleasantly surprised by the offerings at local consignment stores and thrift shops. A couple years ago, I toured a new Parade home (pictured above) that had been completely furnished with secondhand stuff from the warehouse of Bridging, a program that helps families in need set up households. 

If you have used furniture that you'd like to find a new home for, there are lots of options. Bridging (www.bridging.org) is one; it accepts "quality gently used furniture." The Hope Chest (www.hopechest.us), a foundation that helps breast-cancer patients and their families, also accepts "upscale" furniture donations for sale in its consignment shops. The Arc, a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, accepts "select furniture with manager approval" at its Value Village thrift stores (www.arcsvaluevillage.org). 

What do you do with furniture that's past its prime or no longer useful to you? Do you refinish or reupholster it? Sell it? Donate it?  Or hand it down to your kids?


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