From the category archives:

ask design mom

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Image and text by Gabrielle.

Question:
I was wondering if you or any of your readers have suggestions for what to do with Christmas stockings when you don’t have a fireplace or mantel to hang them on? We live in a 900 sq ft, one story home. We don’t have kids *yet* but we want to start a family soon. As I am decorating for the season, I have found no good spot to hang stockings. (Is it strange that we are two adults in the house and yet I still want to hang stockings?) Any ideas would be appreciated! — Thanks! Meaghan

stockings

Answer:
Such a good question! We’ve definitely faced this dilemma. In our 2 New York homes, we didn’t have a fire place. In Colorado and France we did. And here at The Treehouse, we do have a fireplace, but there is no mantle. Here are a few ideas:

In our first house in New York, we had a stair case with a white wood railing. We hung each stocking with a piece of ribbon (there were 5 at that time), along the stair rail, oldest at the top going down to the youngest. Then we wrapped the rail with green garland. It was very cute.

In our second New York home we made a display of the stockings (now numbering 7) above our piano in the living room — we hung them from tiny nails, filled them with the pine boughs trimmed from the bottom of the tree, and accented them with a few simple ornaments. Very festive! And this sort of display would work anywhere — above a sofa, or on any stretch of blank wall.

Here at The Treehouse, we put a row of brass teacup hooks in the ceiling just in front of the fireplace, and hung the stockings (now 8!) from a piece of twine. The display is pictured here. I think they look great! And this solution could also work against any stretch of wall, above a hall table or couch — it doesn’t have to be a brick fireplace.

For all of these displays, when it’s time to fill the stockings, Santa simply takes them down, fills them, and sets the now heavy stockings on the floor below the display, or near the other presents.

And one last idea, you could skip the stockings and fill wellies instead like I did here!

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever celebrated Christmas without a fireplace and mantel? Where did you hang the stockings?

P.S. — It’s been awhile since I’ve fielded an Ask Design Mom question here on the blog, but you can find the archive here.

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By Gabrielle.

Question:
Hi Design Mom. I am wondering how the time difference from France to the U.S. affects you and your husband’s work days. I work from home, too, and dream of living abroad. Any thoughts? — Rebekah

Answer:
Great question, Rebekah! Before we moved, I hadn’t actually given the time change much thought, but it turns out it has affected our work — and our life! — in a big way. I have several assorted thoughts on the subject, but they feel a little disjointed in my head, so I’m going to put them in a list and see how that goes:

- I love, love, love waking up 6 hours before East Coasters (and 9 hours before Californians!). When I sit down with my laptop and tackle my inbox, I can actually make progress! Because most of the people that email me are fast asleep and my inbox stays quiet while I answer emails. And it just feels like I’m getting a head start! Basically, I get my posts done for the day and scheduled — but they don’t go live until 3:00PM my time (which is 9:00AM in NY). So if we have an outing that day, or guests in town, I know I have until 3:00PM to get things going.

It’s a really nice feeling. Ben Blair and I have discussed that it will be one of the things we miss the very most when we move back.

More good and bad on the topic. Click here!

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Question:
Hi Gabrielle. Where have beautiful little nightgowns gone? Two of my daughters (11, 13) would love a nightgown for Christmas. You know: flannel, old-fashioned, actually pretty. Does that even exist except for in my imagination? — Liz

Answer:
Great question, Liz. I actually get this question more often than you might think — classic nightgowns are hard to find! I’ve got two sources for you today. Land’s End is carrying a pretty flannel option right this minute. And I just heard about Auraley. It’s a UK line of “luxurious” nightwear for both girls and boys. The prices aren’t as reasonable as the Lands’ End option, but the photos are certainly swoon-worthy. : )

Tell me, Dear Readers: Any favorite sources for classic nightgowns? And speaking of nightwear, are new pajamas on Christmas Eve one of your family traditions? Did you find any cute ones this year?

P.S. — If you’re looking for grownup sleepwear, I recommend classic men’s pjs.

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By Gabrielle.

Question:
Hi Gabrielle! I have a little girl who is 2 and twin boys who are 1. Last year they dressed up as Little Bo Peep and her sheep.  This year I am having a bit of trouble trying to coordinate their costumes. Any ideas? Thanks, Brandy Tucker

Answer:
Hi Brandy! I’m with you. I think coordinated costumes are so much fun! And we’re not alone, because I receive similar questions every year. : ) Little Bo Peep + sheep sounds like it was adorable! Maybe this year it would be fun if your daughter was Wendy, and the twins were Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Or how about Bella, Edward and Jacob? (Kidding!) Smurfette and any two other Smurfs?

Fun fact: the mime photo above wasn’t actually from Halloween. Maude and Olive were just goofing around. Which is awesome. But, Ralph was a mime for Halloween once!

What do you think, Dear Readers? Have any great suggestions for Brandy? And how do you feel about coordinated costumes? Do you commit to them every year? Or just when a brilliant idea comes to you?

P.S. — Photos from some of our earliest Halloweens here. Plus, a glimpse of me with super short hair. As in, so short that Ben Blair would cut it at home with our electric clippers!

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Ask Design Mom: Naming Baby

September 4, 2012

Question:
I absolutely adore the names that you chose for your children, and I was wondering if you have any names that got away?  If so, would you be willing to share? I have to say, I’m always curious what you would name another handful of children! — Thanks so much, Trisha

modernkidsblairfamily32

Answer:
What a fun question, Trisha! I love the phrase you use: the names that got away. That’s perfect! I do have a list. Or at least a couple of little stories. When I was pregnant for the second time, and we’d found out it was a girl, we started chatting about names. I suggested Claire, (which I love!) And Ben started laughing. “Claire Blair?” he asked? Ugh! I hadn’t even thought about the first and last names together! When I realized they formed a full-on rhyme, which I was not okay with, I about burst into tears.

Then, when I was pregnant for the 3rd time, I was positive I was having a boy (I wasn’t), and we starting picking out names. We really liked one of the Blair family names: Charles Sargeant Green, and we planned on naming baby number 3 Charles Sargeant Blair. But baby number 3 turned out to be Olive! And when the next boy arrived (Oscar), Charles Sargeant didn’t feel quite right, so we saved it for a possible future son. Since we’re done having babies, it’s now officially a name-that-got-away.

Other names that have made our short list over the years: Mabel, Maxine, Beatrice and Hazel. But I can’t remember any of our boy names! In general, we’re drawn to the names from our grandparent’s generation. Easy to pronounce. Easy to spell. But currently uncommon. A name with some history. A name our kids will discover as they get to know great books. As a mental test, whenever we were talking about names, I would imagine my kids as 80-year-olds, sitting at a card table playing canasta. If the name we were considering fit at the table, it got a green light. : )

And now, I’m so curious I have to ask: Do you have any names that got away too? I’d love to hear them!

P.S. — I’ve been answering Ask Design Mom questions since 1996! Light stuff like this and heavier stuff like this too. You can find the whole series here. Also, the image of my kids was shot by Sarah of Modern Kids.

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Ask Design Mom: Pajamas

July 23, 2012

Question:
Hi Gabrielle. I have a question. What are your favorite pajamas? What do you wear to bed daily? In respect to this travel season, what pajamas do you wear to bed when you have company staying over and you know you will meet them bright and early at the breakfast table for coffee? I have 3 little ones and lots of family bopping in and out during their travels. I always wonder-how do I look put together (ok, at least presentable) in my pajamas?  — Melissa Kane

Answer:
Hi Melissa! Thanks for the question. Personally, I am a huge fan of 100% cotton men’s pajamas — preferably pin striped. My pajama drawer is piled with almost nothing else! I like the coverage in front of guests — they don’t cling when I’m running around the house sans-bra. They’re season-less. They’re comfy for lounging. And if I want to surprise Ben Blair (I do!), then I can wear something lacy/racy underneath. I think the contrast of the masculine cut + the feminine underthings is perfect.

I pick up a pair in the men’s department whenever I spot a size small — they can be hard to find! I’m 5′ 6″ and the size small typically has a pant with just the right length. I’ve found them at my grocery store in France. I saw this houndstooth pair in Target (I only wish it was all-cotton). And department stores often stock them as well. If you need something smaller, sometimes you can spot a pair of pajamas in the women’s department that are inspired by men’s pajamas, like the pair from J.Crew pictured.

How about you, Dear Readers? What do you wear to bed at night — especially when you have guests in the house?

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Christmas in France

December 16, 2011

Today, our family was discussing some of the observations we’ve made about Christmas in France and I thought you might be curious. Plus, I wanted a good excuse to to share some photos of our ornaments. : )

- December 1st was the first day I saw real Christmas Trees for sale. Corner tree lots don’t really exist. Instead, you can find them inside the big grocery stores, under a big tent in the grocery store parking lot, or at a Nursery.

Click here to read more observations.

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Question:
I’m stressed out thinking about Christmas gifts. How do you figure out what gifts are from Santa and what gifts are from the parents? I want Christmas morning to be so magical that I’m afraid I’m buying too much and it will backfire. You have so many kids that I figure you’ll have some advice. Can you help? — Abby

christmas ornaments

Answer:
Great question, Abby! Every year around this time, I get similar questions, so I know this is something that many parents think about. I’ll answer in 3 parts.

1) As for buying too much, here’s what has worked for our family. I use a guideline I learned from my sister-in-law: Santa Claus brings something to read, something to wear and something to play with for each child. Just three things. They end up with other gifts too — from siblings and grandparents or other relatives, but Santa only leaves 3 under the tree.

Having a guideline in place makes it much easier to curb the amount of stuff coming into our house and to keep our holiday budget in check.

Read part 2 & 3 after the jump.

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Question:
My kids really want to put up some lawn decorations for the trick-or-treaters, but I’m having trouble finding anything that isn’t expensive. Any ideas? — Cassie P.

Answer:
Thanks for your question, Cassie! The idea I bookmarked this year is from Martha Stewart. Very real-looking gravestones made from gray paper bags! The instructions look super easy and the bags are only $4 for 25.

For something slightly harder, but still very inexpensive, try these spooky scarecrows I created. They have BIG impact and you can use them year after year.

What about you, Clever Readers? Any budget-friendly ideas for outdoor Halloween decor?

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Question:
Hi Gabrielle. I am looking for an oversize cushion like the one featured in this scan (below) from the May 2009 Cookie Magazine (yes, I still have many, many ripped out ideas from that magazine which I still sorely miss, sniff, sniff). Anyhoo, I’m wondering if you/or your readers have any ideas where I could find something just like this. Thanks!
— Mary

Answer:
Hi Mary! That cushion is adorable. I haven’t seen that exact one, but I’ve been coveting these jumbo knitted bean bags ever since I posted about them. What about you Dear Readers? Know a source for that great stripey cushion? Or maybe you know someone Mary could hire to make one?

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Question:
My dining room is newly painted, new table and chairs, but nothing on the walls… because of the busy pattern and unusual shades of green in the dining room chairs (which I LOVE). I’m at a complete loss for what to use as wall decor. If you have any suggestions, I would be thrilled to hear them! — Amanda

Answer:
Hi Amanda! I saw this image in Marie Claire Maison and immediately thought of your question. My first advice: don’t be afraid of putting pattern with pattern. I adore the space above and it has like 10 different patterns going on. My second advice: don’t feel like you have to go matchy-matchy. The wall art does not have to match the greens in your chair patterns. It might match, but it doesn’t have to.

My best advice: remember that interior designers are more accessible than you think. Make some inquiries and see if you can find services within your budget. Sometimes, all you need is a person to bounce ideas off and respond with confidence.

What about you, Dear Readers? Does the pattern + pattern look appeal to you?

Click here to see a peek of Amanda’s dining room.

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A Few Things

August 5, 2011

image by Dan Cutrona

Hello Friends! Thanks so much for making this the best ever Ask Design Mom Week. (I think it totally felt 5th Anniversary worthy!) I love your questions and I so admire your wisdom and clever ideas.

If you’re craving more Ask Design Mom, you can get your fix anytime over on the FB Discussion Board. All sorts of topics are being covered. Black Flats. E-Readers. Make Ahead Dinners. You can add your own questions or help out with answers. And anyone who participates is automatically entered to win a Clarisonic Mia! The winner will be announced on Monday.

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:
- The gorgeous slideshows continue on Kirtsy. (I found the image above on August 1st.)
- She calls it the Baby Bachelor Pad.
- A ruffled cake.
- Hats shot by John French.
- I judged a cute kids quote contest. Winners here.
- Carnations hanging from the ceiling.
- A photo job chart.
- French s’mores.

I also write for Babble.com. Here are this week’s posts:
- 10 fantastic cupcake liner projects.
- Plush toys for hipsters.
- Sometimes less is more.
- It lights up when it rocks!
- The cutest lamp ever.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Question:
Anyway, I have been looking for quality and cute kid-friendly dishes. The walmart plastic ones that show every knife mark and are probably full of BPA are not holding up. Any thoughts? à bientôt! — Allison Francis

Answer:
I love this question, Allison! Although we didn’t purchase them with our (future) kids in mind, the pewter dishes we registered for when we married have been fantastic. The kids can’t hurt them! We use them indoor and out, dress them up and down, and they have a matte finish that has aged beautifully. According to the manufacturer, they should be hand washed, but I’ve always thrown them in the dishwasher.

I’m guessing pewter is not what you have in mind. : ) So I can also suggest the great-looking options sold at Mighty Nest.

Chime in, Dear Readers. Do you have kid-friendly dishes you like to recommend?

P.S. — Real pewter is actually poisonous, our dishes are actually a new, safe pewter-like metal.

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Two Questions:
I’d love your thoughts on a gift that I could get my husband for the birth of our second child. Do you have any ideas on a gift that could be memorable, celebrate his role as a dad and supportive husband, yet not fall into the “too-fancy-that-he’ll-put-it-away-and-we’ll-never-see-it” category? Thanks in advance. — Erin

I’m about to have my first baby (a little girl and I couldn’t be more excited about it!!) and was wondering if you had any suggestions for gifts for my husband and our families. I want to give them gifts from the baby when she arrives and have some picked out but am having a terrible time with others!  Any suggestions? Thanks! — Allison

Answer:
Great questions! I love the idea of giving something to your husband to celebrate his role as Dad. So sweet! Though I confess, Ben Blair and I didn’t exchange gifts for any of our babies. : )

I think books are a wonderful idea. You can pick out something classic for your husband to read to your new baby. Ask his parents what your husband’s favorite book was as a small child, buy it, and write a note in the front cover. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

What about you, Dear Readers? What sorts of gifts do you like to give to your husband?

P.S. — I think Maggie is a genius when it comes to gifts for men. I love her suggestion of the bacon of the month club.

image here

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Question:
As a designer and a mother, would you say many of your household purchasing decisions, even for basic necessities (children’s socks, toaster, blender, sippy cups) are often chosen for their beauty of design? Or are you purely practical and just have your husband pick up what’s needed or grab the first thing you see? Sometimes design sense is so much a part of one that it becomes part of one’s choices that others don’t even think about. Thanks! — wordplayhouse™

Answer:
What a fun question! I would say, yes, pretty much all of my household purchasing decisions are chosen for their beauty of design. Definitely. And if something ends up in my house that was purchased purely for practical reasons, it will likely drive me crazy. Currently, we have a fly swatter that was picked up at the checkout stand on the spur of the moment. We needed a fly swatter, but this one is so ugly that it makes me mad every time I see it. : )

But it’s not all about aesthetics. Really, when I search for “beauty of design” I’m looking for something that works well and looks good too. For example, I love Salt Water Sandals for children. My kids think they’re comfortable, they last forever and look great. They’re designed well functionally and they’re designed well visually too. Function + Form.

That said, sometimes I can’t resist a purchase that’s more aesthetic than practical. Have you seen the 3 new styles of Joy Folie shoes? They’re clearly not made for puddle jumping, but they’re pretty darn irresistible and would be a fun splurge.

What about you, Dear Readers? Are you driven by practical decisions or by visual decisions? Or both?

P.S. — Joy Folie wrote in. They’re offering $10 off a pair with the code DESIGNMOM for the next 3 days. Dibs on a pair of booties!

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Question:
I’ve just finished nursing my 4th child and have absolutely no boobs left. Really, none. When I put on a size A the cups just cave in a bit on there own. Yes, it is embarrassing a little but it is what it is. Any suggestions for a bra that will give a little something without looking fake (or concave)? — Emily

Answer:
Great question, Emily! I am in the exact same boat and I have a wonderful bra to recommend. The brand is Wacoal, but to find the right bra, you have to find their petite line. Their petite line is totally comfortable, made for very small chests and is built with just enough padding. Try the 32AA. In New York, I would buy mine at Lord & Taylors. In Colorado, I think I found them at Nordstrom.

They’re not an inexpensive bra, but I buy two at a time and rotate them every other day, handwash and air-dry as needed, and they last for ages. Well worth the price in my opinion.

Anyone else out there (small chested, big chested or anywhere in between) have a bra they can’t live without?

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Question:
I want to make my home a little more grown up and entertainment friendly and I’m pretty sure I need some professional help. How do I go about finding someone that can help me freshen up my home without going all out and hiring a designer? Or, do designers do this sort of thing? I don’t really want to purchase a lot of new items, I just want to use what I have and make it better! Help! — Christy Nelson

Answer:
Hi Christy! I love your question. And yes, there are designers who do exactly what you’re describing. They’ll come to your home and work with what you have. For sure! The best way to find them locally, is to start making inquiries. Call a few interior designers and tell them the kind of services you’re looking for. If they can’t help you, they’ll probably know someone who can.

Another option is to get an online consultation. Last year, I wrote a post about this topic and listed four services that offer interior design served up over the internet. You send in images of your space and you get back suggestions. For very reasonable rates. You can find the links here.

Your turn, Dear Readers. Who or what would you recommend to Christy?

image via Oh Happy Day

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Question:
I have three children, two of which share a room. As they get older, there is much grumbling of why they have to share a room. Having six children, have you come across this issue and if so, how did you deal with it? Many thanks for your time. — Meg Grant

Answer:
Hi Meg! We’ve never lived in a house with 7 bedrooms, so as you guessed, we have lots of experience with room sharing in the Blair Family. It’s one of those things. Some kids love it. Some don’t. Olive loves it — we tried a solo room with her and didn’t last 2 days. Maude, on the other hand, begged for her own room for ages, and finally has one! But who knows in the next house…

When Maude would be especially frustrated, the best fix for us was to help her do a mini bedroom makeover. Switch furniture around. Add a new piece of art. Decoupage some furniture. Make an inspiration board for her next bedroom. A trip to Target for a new throw pillow. Something small or big that would help her feel ownership of the room and be excited about it.

How does it work at your house, Dear Readers? Do your kids share rooms? Did you share a room as a child?

P.S. — The bedroom pictured is Oscar and Betty’s room in Colorado. We built the beds for super cheap! You can find instructions here.

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Question:
I am attending an outdoor wedding party in Germany in August. I have no idea what to wear. I think it’s a casual affair. The Bride and Groom were officially already hitched here in the states. So there won’t be a ceremony. Just a party to celebrate with the Bride’s family and friends at her family farm. I know I won’t fool anyone into thinking I’m European but I don’t want to look like a total FOB (fresh of the boat.) Can you please help me? Thanks Gabrielle! — Lauren

Answer:
A wedding in Germany? How fun! If I were getting dressed for a casual party/wedding in Germany, and I wanted a European vibe to my outfit, I would think: Layers. My observation is that Europeans seem to wear more layers than Americans. Instead of a tee with jeans, they’ll layer a button-down under the tee, top it with a light jacket, and top that with a scarf. Go for neutral colors — a great skirt, light blouse, sweater or jacket. A scarf (you can add color here!). Bracelets. And some fabulous summer clogs.

Chime in, Dear Readers. What would you wear to an event like this? Any Germans reading? Lend your advice, please.

P.S. — I love the images of Mysti and Dietrich’s wedding. Also. The Design Mom Discussion Board is going great! 23 topics already. Join in and you could win a Clarisonic.

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Question:
We are expecting our second child in November. I am curious to know how you prepared your children for the birth of each new sibling. Our son will be three and a half when the baby arrives, and I am looking for unique ideas in getting him excited for his new brother or sister. Thanks Design Mom! — Dena

Answer:
Congratulations, Dena! It’s hard to predict how any child will react to a new sibling, but one thing that worked well for us, is having our kids participate in naming discussions. Even if we didn’t love their ideas, we would add them to our list and make sure the kids knew they were being heard. A cute twist on this, one family I know let’s the kids give the growing baby a silly name to be called during the pregnancy.

What about you, Dear Readers? How have you prepared your child (or children) for a new sibling?

P.S. — You can see how my children welcomed Baby June home here.

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