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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Posts about Design + Architecture

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?


Five-minute holiday decorating

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: November 30, 2012 - 1:12 PM

Got 5 minutes? 
I consider myself a holiday speed decorator.  When I transform my home into a festive sparkling wonderland, I have one rule: Spend 5 minutes or less on what designers call “vignettes.”


Holiday decorating ideas in magazines and online always make it look so fast and of course, easy.
Make a candy cane wreath?  Right. Watching the how-to video alone would break my 5-minute rule.

Or else the materials required are expensive and impossible to find. One “simple” tabletop centerpiece was composed of white tulips clustered in glassware surrounded by pinecones and ornaments. I’m pretty sure Bylerys isn’t offering bunches of tulips in December.

I recently was inside a house gorgeously decorated by pros for a fundraising home tour. The garland draped across an antique sideboard was so lush and rich — not your typical fake wintergreens.
The designer explained that she held three different artificial garlands (pine,  cedar and one with silver foliage) in her hand and twisted them together. Then she tucked in pinecones, jingle bells, and shimmery picks. She assured me it was easy.  I was far from convinced.  Plus, it would definitely push the 5 minute limit.

It’s true that setting a red poinsettia on a table is fast and easy -- but hardly creative. So here are some of my 5- minute speed decorating ideas, using items you probably already have:

Tie ribbon around tiny ornament balls and hang from your dining room light fixture.  I stole this from a  Pottery Barn showroom.

Sprinkle fake snow on a glass or ceramic cake stand and arrange stylish  ornaments.

Frame some favorite Christmas cards and hang in groupings on a wall.

Place ball ornaments on different height candle holders and arrange on the mantel.

Tie silver ribbon around silver icicle ornaments and suspend one on each latch of a bank of windows.  I copied this from the Bachmans Ideas house a few years ago.

Place ball ornaments or jingle bells,  all one color, inside glassware displayed in your china cabinet. 1 minute tops.

What are some of your fast & festive holiday trimming tips?  Please share.


The curse of an open floor plan

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: November 14, 2012 - 8:01 AM

Is it wrong to be jealous of a TV?

There are times when the television holds the attention of my family better than I do, its sound carries farther than my voice and, thanks to the nature of our open floor plan, it is ALWAYS in plain sight.

Of course the TV isn't always on, but its proximity to our main living area exacerbates the challenges of our living space.

When we first moved into our modest rambler more than a dozen years ago, the open spaces were welcome. We had two small children, and I liked being able to keep an eye on them. Plus, they didn't take up much room. Our living room was filled with toys, and our girls' kitchen sets sat alongside mine. It was cozy, and I loved it.

Now the girls are bigger, and there's a boy, dog and piano added to the mix. I am finding that what I once found cozy now feels cramped. And cluttered.

I have this piece of Pottery Barn furniture, and it never looks this neat.

I have this piece of Pottery Barn furniture, and it never looks this neat.

The living room, dining room, kitchen and entry are all THISCLOSE, which means it doesn't take long for the backpacks to spill into the kitchen or the eating area to spill -- literally -- into the living room. The Little Tikes toys have been replaced by Legos, algebra books, folders, binders, iPods and Kindles. The noise can be deafening, and there are no doors to shut.

And then there's the clutter. When you walk into our home, you hit the foyer, which is on top of  the kitchen. It becomes an everyday battle to keep the mail, homework, etc., off the kitchen counter. And it's annoying to have to step over shoes and backpacks just to get to the clutter in the kitchen. I've tried cubbies, bins, baskets, shelves, cabinets -- you name it.

I've been threatening to take the overflowing cubbies out of the entry and shoo the teens into the basement, which is where THEIR living area is. It's only fair that if they have their cluttered living area, I can have my clutter-free one. Right?

Ah, but the open floor plan continues to the basement. The teens, dubbed "the sisters" by their little brother, like listening to music (loudly) and playing music. I don't mind either, but often long for a door to the basement to at least muffle the sound, which can turn into noise if there happens to be a dispute over the remote.

I do need to be careful what I wish for. It won't be long before the sisters will start to leave home, and I will miss being able to see them sprawled out on the living room floor surrounded by books or playing the piano as I prepare supper. But I do hope they take their clutter with them.

What do you do to control clutter in your house? Is it even possible?


Where's the eye candy on the Parade of Homes?

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: March 30, 2012 - 2:40 PM

Sunday is the last day of the Parade of  Homes.So far, I’ve been underwhelmed.

Where’s the shimmery glass walls, bright juicy colors and mod Jonathan Adler furnishings? I’d like to see countertops made of recycled glass and sleek concrete instead of  eye-glazing granite.

Last year, I toured a fantastical home in Minnetonka awash with the creativity of local interior designer Jaque Bethke. She suspended an arty glass fixture with Medusa-like tentacles above the master bathtub. Stacked glass chandeliers doubled as columns in the living room. It  was one of those  "wow" homes that was worth a stop.

After driving from house-to-house, navigating with a tiny stamp-size map, squeezing into a parking spot and slipping on blue booties at the front door— I want to be rewarded with

 jaw-dropping eye candy.This year, I found the same old hand-scraped mahogany floors, “Old World” charm, rolled arm sofas and the obvious Gs — gourmet kitchen and granite. Mixing dark walnut and white enameled woodwork in one room was about as edgy as it got.

 I get it that most of the homes are built on spec and have to appeal to a wide range of tastes and decorating styles (think neutral) in order to get sold. Many boast smart, functional design with lovely must-have amenities. But like many Parade gawkers, I’m not buying —  just looking.  Where are the homes in which a designer and builder were allowed to go a little crazy and deviate from the beige-on-brown-on-beige?

There’s more than 300 homes on the Parade and the brief descriptions typically don’t go beyond “exotic woods,” “artfully crafted living spaces” and “HGTV flooring” (whatever that means).

So I need your help. Have you toured any of the spring Parade Homes that you remember five minutes after you walked out the door? And urged your friends to check out?  Please share — and don’t forget to include the Parade number and city.


Color me crazy!

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: March 27, 2012 - 10:32 AM


Spring fever made me go a little nuts on Sunday. I bought some paint samples and started splashing them all over my kitchen walls.


"What are you doing!" my teenage son said in alarm. "Now you have to paint the whole thing."

"Exactly!" I said.

The kitchen walls have been bugging me for a long time. They're beat up and grimy, thanks to years of him and his friends putting dirty hands on them and bumping trucks and Xboxes into them.

But they're also the wrong color. They used to look white. But after I replaced my kitchen countertops a couple years ago, the walls took on a cold, greenish cast that fought with the warm, earthy tones of the countertops.

My walls now needed a richer, warmer tone, I decided. So I went to the paint store, picked out three colors and gave them a test drive on my walls. All of them looked terrible. One looked dirty, another too blinding white, the third somehow turned pink once it was applied.

For inspiration, I headed out to the Parade of Homes, where I saw an awful lot of gray and taupe and taupey-gray paint colors. Maybe that's the direction I should go, I decided. So I went back to the paint store and picked out two more paint samples -- a pale warm gray and a soft taupe.  

They looked even worse on my walls. "Purple? Are you kidding?" My husband asked.

"Don't worry. No purple," I assured him.

But I admit I'm now stumped. I like all the interesting whites, grays, off-whites and browns that are currently popular. But picking the right one apparently requires professional help -- or going through a whole lot of samples. 

Designers sometimes call these colors "complex neutrals" or "chameleon colors" because they shift and change based on light sources and surrounding colors. That's an understatement!

How do you choose paint colors? Is it a struggle, or do you have a good eye for what will work in your space?



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