From the category archives:

ask design mom

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

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.


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

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.


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

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.


I’ve got a (possibly scandalous!) question for you related to last week’s discussion about Cosmetic Procedures. But first, some backstory:

On our visit to the beach at Deauville, we were getting our chairs and towels situated, when I looked up and realized many of the women on the beach were topless. Not everyone, mind you — I didn’t feel at all out of place wearing my swimsuit — but there were plenty of examples. It’s not like this was an official “topless beach,” it was just a normal public beach, and if you wanted to sunbathe topless, you could. This was the first time I had ever been to a French beach, so I didn’t know, but I’ve since heard it’s the norm here. And I have to say, it was not at all what I imagined a topless beach to be.

Before I visited Deauville, the words “topless beach” brought to mind something scandalous — like a frat party from a movie or a glimpse into life at the Playboy mansion. But the women I saw on the beach were not 18 year olds, they were my peers. Some younger, some older, but pretty much all of them with children and a husband, having a regular family day at the shore. I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t help notice these were women who had evidently nursed their children. : ) I was unexpectedly impressed by these women. They weren’t trying to draw attention to themselves, and they weren’t trying to be “sexy”, but they were totally comfortable in their skin and they had very normal bodies — among the full spectrum of “normal”.

Now, I realize there are different standards of modesty in different cultures — from burkas to topless bathing. (Fun fact: I’m a Mormon, and there are some Mormons who believe showing your shoulders is immodest.) I also realize that Americans are nutso when it comes to breasts — implants are commonplace, but women go to great lengths to cover up while nursing their babies. Bizarre! So, pretending modesty isn’t part of the equation, my question is: How do you feel about your body? Are you confident enough in your skin to hang out at the beach topless? (I don’t think I am.) Also. Have you ever visited a beach with topless bathers? Was it shocking?

image by Oh Happy Day


Hi Gabrielle, Do you use any anti-aging products? And more widely, what do you think about the anti-aging industry? It’s difficult to know to what degree we should believe all of the beauty editors. From, Lola

Hi Lola. Thanks for your question! I have tried all sorts of anti-aging beauty products. I love to! When I go to conferences and retreats, samples are often in the goody-bags and it’s so much fun trying a luxurious face lotion or fancy sounding serum — but I have no idea if they actually work.

What I can swear by is my Clarisonic (in fact, your question inspired me to choose the Clarisonic as a prize this week). I’ve been using mine for about 2.5 years. It can be used twice a day, every day. But I only use it a few times each week. And each morning I put on moisturizer with SPF. That’s my routine, and I’m currently content with the state of my skin, so I’m sticking with it. : )

Please do chime in, Dear Readers. What are your favorite anti-aging products? Do you think it’s all hype?

P.S. — One last thing — but promise not to laugh. I once heard that applying your moisturizer with upword strokes helps combat the effects of gravity and I’ve done it ever since. What do you think? Old wives tale?


For the past few years I have been wanting to use French newspapers to wrap my Christmas Gifts. I have looked online, but cannot speak or read French. Makes it hard trying to place an order. Any help, tips, or guidance would greatly be appreciated. Best regards, Kate

Hi Kate! What a fun question. It brings up a memory of opening my very first Anthropologie catalog (back before there were even stores!). In between the pretty products they offered tips and bits of advice. One tip recommended ironing foreign newspapers to make them look aged and yellowed and then using them as wrapping. Such a cute idea!

If I was in America and was looking for newspapers in foreign languages, I would get on Craig’s List. In the wanted section I would say, “Calling All Travelers”. I would describe what I was looking for and offer to pay for shipping. I would do the same thing on Twitter too.

What about you, Dear Readers? Any good reliable sources for receiving foreign-language non-digital newspapers?

image for The Black Dog Store


Ask Design Mom Week

August 1, 2011

Hooray! It’s Ask Design Mom Week.

It’s actually a special 5th Anniversary Ask Design Mom Week. All week long I’ll be featuring questions that have been sent in by Readers. Some practical. Some personal. And this time there’s a new twist: I’ve got a few questions I’ll be asking you too!

Plus. There’s more!! (And now this post sounds like an infomercial!). Since I receive more Ask Design Mom Questions than I can answer, I thought it would be cool to put the Discussion Section on my Facebook page to use. If you have a question for the Design Mom Community (What’s a good party theme for a 1 year old? How do you get grass stains out of jeans? Anyone have dinner ideas for tonight? Pottytraining fail – help, please!), add them to the Discussion Page here.

If you’re the sort of person who has answers at the ready, I hope you’ll jump in to answer queries! I’ll join in too.

To encourage both the askers and the answerers, I’ve got a rad prize to offer. Anyone who asks or answers a question on the Design Mom Facebook Discussion Page will be automatically entered to win a Clarisonic Mia Skincare Brush! This is not sponsored by Clarisonic. I just adore their skincare brush and want to offer it to a lucky reader. The winner will be announced on Facebook on Monday.

I hope you’ll try the Discussion Page out. Won’t it be wonderful if turns into a place where you can find clever advice from fellow readers? Crossing my fingers it will be great!



How are you getting your Warby Parkers shipped to France? On their site, they write that they only ship within the U.S. I’m in Canada, and as so often is the case, apparently out of luck in trying out this company. — Anna

Great question, Anna! I have a few different options. 1) I have stuff shipped to my mom who lives in Utah, and then she ships it on to me. 2) I have stuff shipped to Melanie, who watches the P.O. Box I left behind in Colorado. Then she ships it on to me. 3) If I have a friend or relative coming to France for a visit, I have stuff shipped to them and then they bring it to France in their suitcase. 4) When I knew I was going to be in the U.S. for Mom 2.0, I had a few things shipped to my hotel in New Orleans. Like the shoes pictured here. : )

Don’t have those sorts of options available? No stress. Natasha told me about My US and I think it’s genius. You sign up with them for an annual fee and they give you a U.S. shipping address. You can shop from any U.S. stores you like and have the products shipped to your assigned address — then My US forwards the packages on to you wherever you live in the world. I haven’t tried this, but it sounds smart and costs about what I pay for my P.O. Box.

How about you Dear Readers? Have you ever tried a service like this? Do you have one you would recommend?


Hi Gabrielle, I love the wire basket you showed in your post about your trip South. Do you know where I might find something similar? Thanks, Mary.

dordogne region welcome basket

Hi Mary! Great question. I love that basket too — I left it with Stephanie when we were ready to head back and have been craving one just like it since. From what I understand, that particular basket (pictured above) came from a flea market in France, but happily, I found some really great alternatives on eBay. Three favorites: here, here and here. Maybe I should order all 3. You can never have enough baskets, right? : )

What about you, Dear Readers? Any good sources on charming wire baskets?


Ask Design Mom: Vacuums

January 11, 2011

Dear Gabrielle, I am shopping for a new vacuum. Is it worth splurging on an expensive one? Or are they just a lot of hype? I’d love your opinion or recommendation. Thanks! — Sara

Great question, Sara. I made do with a $40 vacuum I picked up at Costco for like 6 years or something. It wasn’t great, but it was fine. I only had a couple of area rugs that needed vacuuming. So the short answer is, if you’re not doing much vacuuming, a budget option is probably fine.

But my real answer is: I adore Dyson vacuums. (This is not a shocking statement, I’m sure. Design-centric people have long loved the Dyson.) We finally splurged on one when we moved here to Denver because we have mucho wall-to-wall carpeting. My sister advised me to buy it at Bed Bath & Beyond with one of their 20% coupons to help take the edge off the high price. It helped, but it’s still a big purchase. Like you’re buying a major appliance.

But man oh man, it’s such a great vacuum! It picks up so much more than any other vacuum I’ve tried. It’s built well and it’s easy to empty and maneuver. We chose the DC24, because it’s a manageable size for both the kids and the grownups to handle. If you’re in an apartment or other small space, my assistant Melanie swears by the new Dyson City. It’s super compact and made for all floor types.

What about you, Dear Readers? Any favorite vacuums you want to recommend to Sara?


Dear Gabrielle, how long do you let your Christmas decorations stay up? Just curious. — Janice

christmas ornaments

Fun question, Janice! I don’t have a hard and fast rule, but if possible, I do like to have everything put away before the kids start back to school. It makes me feel like we’re getting a fresh start. This year, I packed up everything on Saturday (New Year’s Day). Packing happened lazily in the morning, then we shifted into a celebratory mode and went to the King Tut exhibit in the afternoon.

I took extra special care putting things away this year because they need to stay neat and secure while they live in storage for the next couple of years. Although I did set aside a few of our Christmas Essentials (some books, a handful of decorations) that we’ll pack up and bring to France — to help us feel less homesick next December. But the kids were shocked to hear we wouldn’t be bringing any ornaments. I’m hoping to come up with something cool we can make for ornaments while we’re in France — and then surprise them with the awesomeness. : )

christmas ornaments

Last to leave the house was our tree. It did a great job staying fresh and green this year — hooray! I followed Jordan’s pro-tip and stopped at True Value to pick up a $1 plastic drop cloth. Very helpful.

What about you? Do you put away holiday decorations right away? Or do you let them linger through January?

P.S. — I took these images of our ornaments sitting on the sofa as they came off the tree. So many great memories attached to each of these! Made me happy.

christmas ornaments


Hi Gabrielle. I’m trying to find an alternative to our fire-hazard cut Christmas tree this year. Artificial trees don’t appeal to my taste; I really prefer living breathing things over synthetics. I’ve seen companies online that sell living, potted Christmas trees, but they’re not very affordable. Has Design Mom seen any other cool house plants that might work as a Christmas tree? Thanks for considering the question and for keeping up such a great site! — Mary

Images by Martha Stewart

Great question, Mary. I love the idea of real potted trees for Christmas trees! Have you seen the Anthropologie windows this year? At ours, the displays are full of potted Christmas trees with the pots wrapped in burlap. They look wonderful. I know big potted trees can be expensive, but I would recommend getting a more affordable medium size one (maybe in the 3.5-4 foot range) at your local nursery and displaying it on a low table. A medium size tree on a two foot table brings it to normal tree height and will look great. And then you can plant it in the spring!

My mom used to do something similar with our cut trees when I was a kid and I still copy her. Christmas trees on a raised surface (even cinder blocks covered in a piece of fabric or a tablecloth would work) make for more display space underneath the tree (for trains or gifts or whatever you like) and keep the branches out of reach of toddlers. They’re also smart in homes or apartments where space is an issue. In Martha Stewart’s Christmas Tree Gallery, you can see lots of examples of medium-size trees on raised surfaces — tons of inspiration!

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever used a live potted tree for Christmas? Any bargain sources you can share?

P.S. — Come back in a bit and I’ll have our first sibling gift DIY posted for 2010. It’s such a cool project! Good for grown-ups or kids.


Hi Gabrielle. I’m looking for a good looking glider/rocking chair for my son’s nursery. Something that doesn’t scream BABY! and looks smart, modern, but comfortable. Do you have any advice? Thanks — Sarah Waldman

Great question, Sarah! The search for the perfect rocking chair or glider is an ongoing treasure hunt for parents everywhere. Some families preferred upholstered. Others insist on no fabric at all. Some prefer a traditional look. Others want their rocker or glider to blend in with the living room furniture. And everyone is looking for a good deal.

Hopefully, this will help. I compiled a list of some of my favorites for my CaféMom column. Some are heirlooms (like the one above). Most are under $1000. Some are under $500. And I recommend how to find a real bargain as well. Take a look and maybe you’ll find your treasure.

What about you, Dear Readers? Do you have a favorite rocking chair you’d like to recommend?

P.S. — Other fun things I’ve found this week: Gender baby onesies (so the strangers at the grocery store don’t mistake little Johnny for little Jane), and pretty flowers for your ears — in eighteen colors!


Dear Design Mom, We recently renovated a 100 year old dentist’s office in a small Indiana town for use as a second/weekend home. The house has a fabulous porch that is glass on three sides and brick on the fourth. We are planning to use this area as a room to host large dinner parties. For Thanksgiving, we need to seat around 23 people. My husband made two large tables using metal sawhorses and wooden boards. They look great! My problem is seating!! Every chair I see that has a style I love is way too expensive to purchase in such large numbers. Do you have any ideas of creative affordable seating?  I’d love to keep it around $20 – $30 dollars per person. The style is sort of eclectic industrial — if there is such a thing. Thanks! — Amy V.

Wow, Amy! Sounds like Thanksgiving is going to fantastic. When I need a large number of chairs, I love renting them. In fact, the last time I arranged seating for Thanksgiving, I asked the rental place to show me their most vintage looking option and they brought out some beautifully aged wood and metal folding chairs (that they were sort of embarrassed about, but that I loved!), and I rented them for $2 each. They were even delivered and picked up for free.

I know you’re looking for something to own, not to rent, but until you find those perfect chairs, renting might be a great option. As far as hunting down those perfect chairs go, I would suggest 3 things:

1) Call the oldest schools and churches in town and find out if they ever have surplus sales.
2) Watch ebay and craigslist like a hawk.
3) Speak with a couple of your favorite antique shops. Tell them what you’re looking for and the price range and quantity you’d like. When they’re on buying trips, they might spot the perfect chairs.

Lastly, maybe you can take some inspiration from the haybale seating at this lovely backyard wedding.

What about you, Dear Readers? Where would you hunt for “eclectic industrial” chairs?


I have this great room for my boys and I was so excited to have the wainscoting done, but now that we are living in the house I am not so sure how to decorate the walls.  It seems so high up to put pictures, but I also think it may look silly to put something on the walls over the wainscoting. Any ideas? — Hillary

Hi Hillary! The woodwork (see left) looks beautiful. What a fun room to decorate. From what I can see in the photo, I think hanging artwork above the wainscoting would be just fine. It might be fun to do a series of many small images in small frames (I’m thinking 8 or 10 inches tall) and hang them in a row. You could put them just a couple inches above the woodwork so that the wainscoting weights them. Hint: An inexpensive way to put together a series is to buy a favorite picture book or calendar with beautiful illustrations and cut out the pages.

I also love the wall decor suggestions in this helpful article from the September 2010 issue of Real Simple.

What about you, Clever Readers? If this was your room, how would you decorate?


Ask Design Mom: Dinner Ideas

September 24, 2010

I married a man that dislikes mayo, sour cream, yogurt and all salad dressings. He’s a health nut and doesn’t like fried foods or burgers. I make dinner and end up tossing it and there is only 2 of us. Please help. I need suggestions. With a family of six I am sure you’ll have ideas. Thanks — Stephanie Lee

Hi Stephanie! Dinner and laundry are probably the two tasks that wear me out the fastest. Not because they’re particularly difficult, but because they are relentless. There is always laundry to do and dinner time comes whether I’m prepared for it or not. : ) When I was thinking about your question, two casual meals that have been successful with my family came to mind (I know they’re successful when they become a recurring part of our menu).

For one meal, we fill a bowl with our favorite tortilla chips and add lots of options to eat them with. Guacamole and salsa. Shredded cheese to make nachos. Black beans heated with garlic and cumin. Sour cream. Spanish rice (if I remember to prepare it on time). It’s easy to prepare, and when I add the beans, it’s surprisingly filling. My family likes it because everyone eats the parts they like and ignores the parts they don’t — your husband could skip the sour cream.

For another casual meal, we pick up a baguette, slice it, and serve it with a cheese plate (2 or 3 choices is plenty), fresh fruit and broiled fish. We get our fish from the Whole Foods fish counter — ask for tilapia and have them prepare it with their tequila-lime seasoning. They’ll even explain how to cook it! We cook ours in the oven on a big baking sheet. It only takes a few minutes, so this meal comes together really quickly. Everyone in our family loves this flexible meal. The fruit changes depending on what’s in season. The bread and fish are picked up that day, so they’re super fresh. And we experiment with different cheeses (sharp cheddar, smoked gouda and havarti are the favorites).

What about you, Dear Readers? What kind of meals would you suggest to Stephanie?

guacamole image via The Merry Gourmet


I am planning a 10 year high school reunion and I want to make some really cute and creative party favors. Searching online, there are a lot of chintzy/cheapy favors but am having a difficult time finding cute DIY ones. Do you have any ideas? Thanks, Athena

I love planning big parties and events, Athena — I hope you’re having a great time organizing your reunion! This question is a bit tricky to answer without knowing the number of guests or the budget, but I’ll try to get the brainstorming started and hopefully my Brilliant Readers will add their ideas as well.

-One smart place to start is wedding sites. They have tons of great ideas for favors at lots of different price ranges, many of which might translate well for your party. I found the candy and cookie favors above at Martha Stewart — bonus points if you come up with a food related to your hometown or high school mascot. : )

-A meaningful idea: give out CDs with the most popular songs from your high school years. Don’t forget to include the prom theme! Have one of your classmates design a cover for the CD.

-I wonder if you could find pennies made in the year of your graduation? You could give out little stacks of pennies for good luck in the next 10 years (packaged in a pretty way with explanatory tags, of course).

Brilliant Readers, feel free to chime in with your ideas too!


Ask Design Mom: Roman Shades

September 23, 2010

Dear Design Mom. My question is about cafe curtains or roman shades for my kitchen.  I see so many beautiful ones on design blogs that are custom made with beautiful designer fabric, but I can’t spend that much on kitchen curtains.  Is there a good resource for this online.  You have such impeccable taste, I hope you can help me out.  Thanks, Laura

You’re in luck, Laura! Roman shades are actually very simple to put together — fabric, dowels, safety pins, string — put them together and voilá! you’ve got a roman shade. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but not difficult at all. And happily, there are lots of great Roman Shade DIYs on the interwebs. Here’s a good one. And here’s another good one that uses a mini-blind as a base. So my suggestion is to seek out some fabric you love that’s in your price range. I’ve seen roman shades made with simple calicos and heavy upholstery fabric and everything in between — so you have tons of options as far as fabric is concerned and can be sure to find a bargain.

What about you, Dear Readers? Any great sources for roman shades? Have you ever made a set yourself?


What do you (and your readers) think of coordinating costumes? I have 9 month old boy-girl twins, and I am having trouble deciding on whether they should have coordinating/matching costumes or totally separate.  Also, any ideas for costumes would be helpful as well! Thanks — Erika

Thanks for your question, Erika! Can you believe it’s already time to start thinking Halloween costumes? Crazy. This is a fun topic, and I’m sure it all comes down to personal preference. At our house, we’ve had lots of fun coordinating costumes — especially when the kids were all teeny tiny. One year, Ralph and Maude were the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. I hired a seamstress to make the costumes because they were beyond my sewing skill level. The wolf was made of smoky grey faux fur. Little Red’s dress and hood were made from red silk — and lined with the same grey fur! It was the cutest thing ever.

Another year, Ralph, Maude & Olive were The Three Bears (or Three Blairs). Ralph was Papa Bear. Maude was Mama Bear. Little baby Olive was Baby Bear. All 3 wore matching bear costumes I picked up online, but I altered them slightly. I added a necktie for Papa Bear and a hair bow for Mama Bear. It was a particularly chilly Halloween and I remember being grateful for cozy bear costumes.

More recently, my kids coordinated costumes around a theme: Classic Halloween. Ralph was a mummy. Maude was Mrs. Frankenstein. Olive was a witch. Oscar was a werewolf (the Big Bad Wolf costume repurposed). And Betty was a Jack O’ Lantern. You can see photos here.

On other years, we’ve had no coordination at all.

What about you, Festive Readers? Do you like to coordinate Halloween costumes for your kids? Have you had any particular successes?


Ask Design Mom: Making Gifts

September 22, 2010

Hi Gabrielle. I’ve seen your sibling gift ideas and am thinking about trying it with my own kids this year. Have you already thought of what your kids will make this Christmas? — Steph

Hi Steph! Thanks for this question. Making sibling gifts is one of our favorite traditions and honestly, I scope out ideas all year long. Whenever I come across a project that I think might work for my kids, I bookmark it or make a note of it. When December hits, I go through the ideas with my kids and we a) use them, or b) take inspiration from them and come up with a new idea.

The other day, I received the book Simply Sublime Gifts and it’s full of great ideas. The author, Jodi Kahn, does a lot of fun things with fabric image transfers (like the Hello My Name is Onesie she sent for June). I’ve marked a bunch of the projects as possibilities for this year.

What about you, Crafty Readers? Will your kids be making gifts for each other this year? Any great ideas you’ve spotted lately?

P.S. — You can find links to the gifts my kids have made here.

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