Monday, March 28, 2011

Garden Transformation: Part 2. . .3/28/11

I won't say that our garden transformation was for the purpose of a party, because it wasn't. It was for our family's enjoyment, for entertaining and for participating in outdoor life. But having TWO imminent family celebrations (my husband's 35th birthday and my daughter's first) did up the ante by setting a deadline for completion. . .and thank heavens because as we all know, "home projects" can sometimes take longer than you even plan on keeping the home, am I right?

So, we transformed our sad back yard (these photographs were taken several months ago, but it all became worse with the winter freeze) into a place that we can all enjoy (until the miserable hot summer months arrive anyway). Here are some recent photographs :)

A lovely array of colorful blooms nesting on a plant stand I found in the Heights.
I've had these stone crosses for two years in a hallway closet. I knew I'd find a home for them someday. . .where better than next to two little galvanized metal pots filled with succulents :)
A corner view from the deck. I recently bought that cute fire pit at Home Depot for only $22!!
The table is bare in this photo only because I had just cleaned up outside after the party and had not returned the outdoor centerpiece to its home - usually there are three stone and galvanized metal buckets with succulents sitting there.
A nice shot of the pea gravel yard (which used to be dead grass and mud) trimmed with perfectly manicured hedges, including Japanese boxwood, which I love!! The star jasmine will grow into diamond shapes along the fence.
The deck. I'll continue to add plants and pots as I find cute ones and let that gorgeous bougainvillea grow onto the fence :)
There's my centerpiece!!
This basket of plants is on this short wall next to the garage but I like it because this is visible through my back door.
I planted all these pots myself and I'm trying really hard not to kill any plants!!
A closer look at the hedges on the side of the garage wall where lovely ivy has grown all the way up to the roof!!

So, what do you think of my new yard?? I'm so in love with it!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Epic Party!!. . .3/27/11

For my husband's 35th birthday I planned a party that required a good bit of effort on my part. For starters, we really had to get moving on my latest home project, our back yard. Once that was taken care of (pictures to come), the food, lighting, mood music, and setting up was next. It doesn't seem like a lot to do when you list it in general terms like that but when you break it down into all the different smaller aspects - grocery shopping (at more than one place), cooking, hanging lights, planting, cleaning, hosting, etc. (all while caring for two small children - including one that is barely crawling) it can become much more complicated. I think the party turned out EXACTLY as I wanted. I dare say it was actually better than what I'd hoped for. Everyone had a great time, especially the guest of honor, and to make the weekend evenmore fabulous, we were fortunate to host two of our dear friends, John and Lindsay Wagner for the entire weekend!! We loooved it and had plenty of good laughs and memories to reminisce upon!! It was so much fun, if not completely gluttonous all weekend ;)

I hate pictures of tables where things aren't all the way set up but we had not yet brought all the food when our guests started to arrive. I was still in the kitchen hustling to put all the food onto platters!! I'm just so grateful someone thought to take a picture of what was out AT ALL! By the time I did make my way outside with the camera in my own hands, nearly all the food was gone! . . .which would explain why I tucked into a pizza that night at 2:43 a.m. ;)
Half eaten food doesn't necessarily make for an appetizing photograph but I'd kick myself if there were none at all after all the work I put into this party! It was well worth it though - I had so much fun!!
Another view. . .
I love this photo - shows a little of everything that made that little corner of the party sparkle. . .my antique clock face in the living room peeking through the window, the lighting, the great set up, the gorgeous color of my freshly planted bougainvillea that has already started growing like crazy!! Spring has sprung!!
I have three of these beautiful antique French garden spikes. I staked one in a large planter with bougainvillea and the other two flanked the steps down to the gravel. I found the hurricanes at Michael's - they fit to a tee!
At some point my camera was hijacked. This is one of many random (but creative and fun) photographs that was taken. I love it.
A rare pre-party photo of a portion of the back yard. . .
Roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil and herbs de Provence. So yum!
This was the drink station. Below was a galvanized bucket filled with ice, diet coke, and beer. We added a pitcher of water with lemon slices, a pitcher of delicious mojitos and a few long loaves of French baguettes to this this station - post picture unfortunately :( The stemless wine glasses really added something in my opinion. Find them at Cost Plus World Market for $1.99 each!
Au revoir! Happy 35th Birthday. . .love you!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Bientot! See You Soon!. . .3/18/11

It’s no secret that I have a flair for the extraordinary and unexpected. I like to flirt with the boundaries of style and fashion; maintain my Blair Waldorf classic headband and ballet flats on Sundays and let down my hair a la Carrie Bradshaw with a surprising skirt and remarkable wedges on Saturdays. Every other weekday in between is as eclectic and distinctive as my new favorite Houston shop spot: À Bientôt.
I’ve never experienced a drug high but walking into the River Oaks boutique is as close to it as I think I’ll ever get. It’s my new crack-cocaine ladies and I am officially addicted. Allow me to paint a proper picture of this boutique for you…until you make your way over for some serious retail therapy of your own that is. A Bientot is stocked floor to ceiling (literally) with jewelry, kurtas, shoes, handbags, more jewelry, shawls, headbands, gifts, pillows, more jewelry, stationary, party décor, children’s layette and even monogrammed travel gear. Did I mention there’s LOTS of jewelry? It is a feast for the eyes; a color explosion; it’s the place where women whose accessories you covet shop; it’s the place to go when you want to make a statement with what you wear on your neck, wrists, fingers and ears. Most people have a happy place. Me? À Bientôt is MY euphoric place. I am going to give it the ultimate shopping classification by going as far as actually creating my own word online to describe A Bientot: shopgasmic! You are welcome Urban Dictionary.
After living in tres chic Paris and subsequently spending fifteen years working in the fashion industry in New York City, À Bientôt founder Betty Newton eventually moved back to Houston where she began designing and manufacturing little girl’s dresses. The native Texan opened a small shop near her current location at the corner of River Oaks Boulevard and Westheimer that operated only one day a week for three hours. In fact, a fun bit of trivia for our Loopsters, many of the little girls who shopped Newton’s designs fourteen years ago are currently employed at A Bientot, which means “see you soon” in French. “Kathryn has been with us nine years and we’ve known her forever,” says Newton of one of her store’s chic and youthful managers.

As time passed Newton expanded her business and began buying accessories and other fabulous accoutrements by designers such as Big Buddha, Jeffrey Campbell, Bernardo, Kenneth Jay Lane, Tom Horn, BLVD, Replica, Susan Shaw, Moyna, J. McLaughlin, Sulu, and Gretchen Scott, which are only a few of the 250 lines the boutique carries. Nestled still within all of that is Stacy Perlitz’s shop, Creative Paperworks. “We’ve known each other since college,” says Perlitz of Newton. “I did a trunk show at the other location and Betty just asked me to stay. We’re like family here.” Perlitz, who carries everything from Lily Pulitzer designs to stationary, napkins, customized cups, travel accessories, notepads and the Mecca of personalized items, is only part of the team that comprises this inimitable boutique.
Just one year before coming aboard, Newton welcomed partner Cristiana Anderson in 2000. Since then the style mavens have traveled all over the world shopping for unique pieces to add to their collection. “You have never seen two people who like to shop more than Cristiana and me. And eating is second!” says Newton. “We go everywhere and find inspiration everywhere.” Indeed, the mother of two recently returned from a trip to Morocco with arms full of bags donning multicolored tassels which are presently causing a frenzy in the front windows and drawing in customers like mad. “We discovered these fun bags in Marrakesh but jewelry is still our first love,” says Newton. “Then shawls, then handbags, then shoes.”
Newton, who says one of her favorite parts of owning À Bientôt is that she gets to dress up every day, has an innate ability to create and combine accessories in a way that few people really can. She is dripping in magnificent jewelry from her boutique that doesn’t make a “statement” so much as an earsplitting declaration, and when I interrupt to tell her that I simply adore the chunky necklace she is wearing, which is actually a necklace AND a bracelet hooked together, she tells me that it is an estate piece she found years ago. I continue our conversation though privately I am terribly disappointed that I can’t own the necklace when I suddenly perk up to learn that Newton loved the jewelry pairing so much she had it replicated for her boutique. Fortunately for me in this case, À Bientôt manufactures about 30 percent of its own products, which includes the piece I am coveting. Already envisioning how I would make the robust necklace my own, I purchased it before leaving and even wore it out that evening to dinner. And the next night out for cocktails too.

Indeed, Newton has a talent in her industry and she is quick to tell you that she views jewelry and accessories as one would view art. Treating them like collector’s items, Newton even has handbags strewn about the house on shelves, coffee tables, and in her dressing room. “Santi is a Thai handbag designer we carry. We love his creations so much and they are so unique, I just have to display them like art.”
Seems À Bientôt’s customers love the store’s unique designs too. I am marveling at the variety of patrons eagerly snatching up items ranging from $28 to $600. “We have all types of customers here,” says Newton. “From strollers to wheelchairs. We just like to let people shop without pressure or a salesperson over your shoulder.” And she is right. This is my second time to visit the boutique in one day. I arrived when the store opened and scooped up a gold chainmail handbag ($42) and layette ($16) for my baby fashionista, then claiming I needed “more information” made my way back in the afternoon for some more personal shopping. It’s like I said, addiction ladies; a devilishly irresistible addiction.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Olivine: Luxe Living. . .3/11/11

“Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, Luxe, calme et volupté”
- Charles Baudelaire, nineteenth century French poet
“There, all is just order and beauty, luxury, peace, and sensual delight.”

There are some retail boutiques that are so inviting; so fetching and intoxicatingly beautiful that husbands everywhere absolutely shudder to know that their wives are even aware of the shop’s existence. Like a Siren’s song these rare boutiques carry a consumer appeal that is so enticing, purchasing is nearly impossible to resist, and I should know. Nestled in the heart of Rice Village is one such place; a place where romantic glamour and elegance meets relaxed comfort and impeccable style; a place where anyone who has ever savored the essence of French living can bring a touch of Provence into their own home.
After spending five years in Uptown Park, Olivine has found a more suitable home at 2405 Rice Boulevard. For those of us who like to have all of our favorite places at arm’s length and thus suffer from what I affectionately refer to as “inner loop syndrome,” this new locale will give you yet another reason to make your way over to the eclectic shopping district also known as the Village Arcade. Conveniently situated next door to Salento - where one can grab a delicious cup of Joe before entering the French-inspired living boutique – Olivine offers everything from one-of-a-kind oil paintings to unique industrial lighting; linens to flatware; a cashmere bathrobe to fragrance, furniture, antiques and even children’s layette.
“The great thing about this store is that it’s practical. We carry high-end stuff too but the price points are all so different,” says store manager Cathy Stevens. Indeed, some of the more luxe brands Olivine carries include bedding from Bella Notte and Pom Pom at Home. But if thread count isn’t something you are in the market for, perhaps brands such as Le Cadeaux, Baby Cie, Kai Perfume, Lollia, Kiss that Frog, Vagabond Vintage, Pixie Lily, Les Indiennes, Cotton White, Dash and Albert, and even Aidan Gray might pique your interest. “We really try to make this a cozy, comfortable, homelike environment. Everything we sell is washable and lends itself to easy carefree living. Life’s too short to live in a home where you have to worry about what your pets and children will break or ruin,” says Stevens. “Absolutely,” echoes boutique owner, Helen Stroud. “We are very opinionated and vocal about our products and we care about the environment too. We sell practical things that people can use forever and none of our fabrics are made with toxins or require dry cleaning.” The word “olivine” even means a greenish mineral.
For me, the first time I walked into Olivine, it was like coming home. I smiled, closed my eyes and sighed oh-so deeply. I had found my happy place. This reaction is exactly what Stroud hoped to achieve when she opened her exquisite store nine years ago. “I wanted a place that was a little old fashioned; a place where we recognized customers. Music; scents. Come in, talk and enjoy. People even come in for free therapy sessions with Cathy,” says Stroud, with a roar. “We’re like a local bar but without the alcohol. We wanted this to be a place where people could walk through the door and even if they didn’t make a purchase, they could have an experience.”
A moment within the store is all it takes to recognize that Olivine is indeed a unique shopping experience. Customers walking in are typically greeted by Stroud’s enormous red dog, Pippi. The part Chow Chow, part Golden Retriever has become a store staple as has Olivine’s reputation for personal attention and service. When not tended to by Stroud herself, who charms with her Louisiana Steel Magnolias-esque southern drawl, you can be sure to catch manager Cathy Stevens delighting people with her lovely Australian accent. The women at Olivine are as diverse and eclectic as the store itself. Spend ten minutes gawking at Stevens’ amazing aptitude for store display or admire original artwork byStroud’s daughter Catherine. “She spent three years living in France,” she says proudly. “She’s incredibly talented.”
And don’t expect to hear the stereotypical sounds of Edith Piaf or Charles Trenet playing at Olivine either. Even the store’s atmosphere music breaks the cookie cutter mold of most French-inspired boutiques. “We do play French music but it’s funky French; unheard of bands,” says Stroud, whose artistic children help inspire her vast musical selection. “We like a broad mix that includes Carla Bruni and lots of alternative music. My kids are always telling me about new music and people love it. They always ask whose playing.” She’s right. The Decemberists are playing at the moment and it’s a total jam.
As our conversation moved past the interview and into spouses, health, potty training, the benefits of organic eating, and even European lifestyle, it became more and more evident that Stroud and Stevens are real women who put their money where their mouth is. Stroud for one is not only mother to five children but also raises eight dogs, though two recently passed of old age, two cats and three cockatiels. “I actually started this business because I needed a way to make my own money just to cover my pets’ vet bills,” she says with a laugh; an infectious laugh that makes you instantly feel like you’ve been friends with her your entire life. Indeed, after more than two hours of laughing and conversing with Stroud and Stevens, I allowed them to continue unpacking their newest shipment of inventory and made the inevitable purchase (twelve melamine glasses from Le Cadeaux) on my way out the door. I waved and assured them I’d be back soon. Very soon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Garden Transformation: Part 1. . .3/9/11

I don't know why it's taken me this many years to recognize that my love language (See The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) is Acts of Service. It makes TOTAL sense because outside of my children I don't communicate the words "I love you" to people that I love as often as I should. Rather, I show it by serving them in different ways - whether by running an errand for them, hosting their wedding AND baby showers, planning a birthday surprise, helping them address thank you notes, helping them register, having the fridge stocked with their favorite foods, cooking and baking, accompanying them to an appointment, organizing their closets, etc. I give of my time. . .and all too often, I give time I don't necessarily have, but I always serve them with my heart.

So, as I was saying, recognition of my love language dawned on me TODAY of all days?! How you might ask? Well, let me preface that by telling you that I am two weeks away from my husband's 35th birthday and four weeks away from my daughter's FIRST birthday, and because they are both Spring birthdays I decided loooong ago that we would celebrate both in our postage-stamp-sized back yard (if you'd even call it that?!). The problem there is that out backyard is hideous. I call it: "the place where plants come to die." So, in preparation for both their parties I started planning the overhaul of our yard, among other things, in October 2010!! But, with a new baby and another child whose schedule keeps me on my toes, it's hard to work on much, so after my husband sanded the deck, and I repainted it, in October, everything basically came to a halt. UNTIL about a month ago when we had someone indefinitely kill all the grass back there (it kept dying - we'd replaced it three times in as many years) and replace it with pea gravel (which my son loves because it's what they use at his school playground) . . .I then found a table and six chairs I liked. . .bought outdoor string lights, posts/stakes from Home Depot to hang them, then decided it was time for some planting, which is where we are now.

Once the yard is done, I just need to buy pots, plant flowers and plants, plan the menu, get food, drinks, plates, lights, decor, tableware, etc. . .no biggie. . .I can do all that in two weeks with a baby on my hip, right?? We'll just have to see. . .

Here are the BEFORE pictures!! Stay tuned for the redo as it continues to progress :)
This is the side plant bed. It looks a lot better in this picture than it did in person. . .trust me on that. . .we've also removed the monogram flag.
This is a view from the deck toward the garage and the driveway.
Opposite view standing at the edge of the deck by the garage.
Head on view of the deck. I built and stained those Adirondack chairs but recently gave them away.
A strange and empty curve near the garage/driveway. I think it looks so sad here :(
Another vantage point from the yard.
An aerial view of our mini yard.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Muse: A Fashion Xanadu. . .3/2/11

As a seasoned shopper, I like to pride myself on the fact that I can take a passing glance at any store front, or even take a quick peek in the door, and within three seconds determine if it is worth my coming inside. With Muse, however, I merely had to park six feet from the door to know that I should definitely come in and I should definitely leave my credit cards in the glove compartment of my car. With its signature lamp-shade-head mannequins donning the latest fashion trends in the front windows, Muse is a store begging to be walked into for browsing AND buying. It’s the kind of store in which a gal could do A LOT of damage.

It’s been nearly four years since co-owners Margaret Morris and Lindsay Mousoudakis opened their stylish boutique in River Oaks and as I walk in with my six-week-old fashionista-in-training in tow, I begin to salivate at the rich colors and variety present in every square foot of the boutique. I might even go as far as to say it is sensory overload, but in a good way. Everything is so tempting in fact that I almost don’t know where to start shopping – I mean browsing – first.

Should I start at a wall cleverly displaying a collection of multi-hued ruffled vests in a way reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s color-block? Or should I eyeball a tiered round table near the front door that parades Boho style summer kurtas in every shade and pattern imaginable? If neither suits me, shoes, jewelry, handbags and playful trinkets to complement every outfit are strewn about the store in inviting arrangements as well.

I’m still barely taking it all in and already feeling a bit like Veruca Salt in the Wonka Factory; the only thought running through my mind at this point is, “I want it daddy! I want it!” Good thing I left my wallet in the car. I finally make my way over to the counter where I introduce myself to Morris. Though elegantly understated, she is as in vogue and up-to-the-minute as her tasteful boutique and as she speaks I begin to wonder if she is wearing-slash-advertising the store’s merchandise.

Morris is one half of the mother-daughter team that dreamed up Muse and she is quick to tell you that her daughter Lindsay is the actual mastermind behind the store. “I always wanted to open a tea room and one day Lindsay asked if I wanted to open a boutique together instead and we just went for it. She did all the work and got everything together."

Indeed, Mousoudakis, who started out in public relations before moving to Los Angeles and helping open the Tory Burch boutique in Beverly Hills, has definitely done her homework and pulled together an enviable assortment of designers that even Neiman’s and Saks don’t carry. “We are the sole carrier of the Calypso brand in the entire city of Houston,” says Mousoudakis. “I just love that brand so much. It’s so different. Any age can wear it and when you do you look dressed but feel comfortable.” “Even women my age can wear it,” echoes Morris, to which I have to roll my eyes and laugh because despite knowing she has a daughter my age, Morris has the ageless beauty of Lynda Carter and even eerily resembles the icon.

The vibrant boutique offers a blend of fragrance, clothing, accessories and even splashes of home accents by designers including the Dori Collection, Roberta Freymann, Avenue Montaigne, Fifteen Twenty, 49 Square Miles, Calypso, Jarbo, Linea Pelle Handbags, Tracy Reese, Nanette Lepore, Hila and much, much more. And with luxe brands like those ranging anywhere from $25 to $600 plus, what type of woman shops at Muse I wonder? Mousoudakis, who counts Roberta Freymann among her favorite designers, tells us the store typically caters to women between the ages of 30 and 45. “Our customers are fresh, modern, funky, colorful, youthful women; lots of young hip moms too,” she says.

With such an eclectic array of styles and colors, the question begging to be answered is who are Mousoudakis’ and Morris’ muses? “I’m very inspired by my customers. They are always so stylish, darling, fun and they let me play; they give me ideas,” says Mousoudakis who describes her personal style as that of “funky, classic, not quite bohemian but eclectic. I like to mix it up.”

Mix it up she does indeed. The newlywed is wearing black shorts, a tee and a loose silk tank over it – the kind of effortlessly chic outfit that would take the average women several outfit changes to pull together. Seeing her style, I get the sensation that she is actually the one that inspires most of her customers. “We just want people to be able to come in here and know that it’s comfortable. It’s like your best friend’s closet; come in, try on and hang out,” she says.

Muse is located at 2411 W Alabama, Houston, TX 77098. Visit them also at http://www.musehouston.com.