May 30, 2011

The Sweeten: The Perfect Source for Hiring a Contractor, Architect or Decorator

Jean Lauer of The Sweeten
There's no denying the stress that comes with the hunt for a contractor, interior decorator or achitect. The Sweeten aims to make the search easier by giving people the chance to post photos showcasing the work of those they have hired for their own home projects. I had the chance to catch up with Jean Lauer, an architect and CEO and founder of The Sweeten, for some quick tips on hiring the perfect professional for your home project.

Decor Musings: How did you come to launch The Sweeten?
Jean Lauer: I was an architect, working in the high-end residential area for a number of years. I worked on interiors in Manhattan and the Hamptons, and also did some retail architecture. When I started working at Coach, I lucked into a whole new career developing websites to help manage construction in all of their 1,800 stores around the world. Management really liked my work and I was good at it.

At the same time, I was renovating my house in Brooklyn and having all this trouble. I was trying to figure out why there weren't any Web tools to help me facilitate the construction process. I finally took the learning from my four years of handling Web development at Coach and applied that thinking to start The Sweeten. I've personally used The Sweeten to hire a number of contractors to finish renovating my house.

DM: Where does the name The Sweeten come from?
JL: It's a take on the "home sweet home" saying. The idea is that if your home isn’t sweet enough, the website can help you sweeten it.

DM: What's one factor people should consider when looking to hire a contractor, interior designer or architect?
JL: A lot of times, people let price dictate their decision-making too heavily. They choose an architect, interior designer or contractor who might be cheap, but ultimately pay the price in the end for all the delays and other conflicts. Price is key, but it's also important to find someone who is similar to the way you work. You should have checked this person's references and professional licenses to make sure he or she meets all the criteria for your job from a technical standpoint, but it also needs to be a person you feel comfortable working with.

Before and after shots of Jean's Brooklyn apartment.

DM: What's the best way to explain the job at hand to the person you've hired?
JL: A picture is worth a thousand words. If you have a few tearsheets or pulled a few images from the Internet that you love and clearly articulate what you love about those spaces, that will really help. Explain why you love the archways, the cabinetry. Be really specific about the things you like in the photos.

DM: How can people ensure the project is completed to their satisfaction?
JL: Communication is key. Make sure to establish the modes and frequency of communication with whomever you hire before the project starts. Decide if you would like to get status reports weekly or daily, and determine anything else you require personally to make you feel at ease throughout the process.

May 23, 2011

Brimfield Eye Candy

Brimfield is really a flea market lover's dream. Every year, thousands of vendors gather in Brimfield, Massachusetts ready to unload their best vintage finds. Even if you're not in the market for anything in particular, it's simply a great source of inspiration for rearranging your furniture or figuring out how to weave antiques into your home. Enjoy this selection of photos from the tons I snapped while there.

May 18, 2011

Flair + One Kings Lane's Tag Sale


I had a great time last night at a cocktail party in celebration of the "Tastemaker Tag Sale" One Kings Lane is hosting with FLAIR. One Kings Lane is a website that gives its members access to high-end home items at discounted rates, and FLAIR is known for its European and American vintage home furnishings. Designers, along with George Nunno and Jon Marato, the owners of FLAIR, have personally selected home accessories and furniture for this special sale.

The party was held at the FLAIR store in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood and was buzzing with interior designers and editors (I had an enjoyable conversation with Michelle Adams of Lonny, and yes, she's as lovely as you'd imagine). To add to the fun, the sale went live on the One Kings Lane website while the party was in full swing. iPads were on hand for guests to shop on the spot or just browse the inventory for fun. It was such a nice touch. The sale ends on Sunday, so do make sure to check it out. I have.

May 15, 2011

The Queen of European Bedding: Pandora de Balthazár

Beata "Toni" Antal, a sales rep at Pandora de Balthazár.

Many studies have been conducted on sleep, from how to prepare for it to how to get more of it. I received the best tip ever this weekend while at a tweetup dinner, organized by Gretchen Aubuchon Design, The Daily Basics and Benjamin Moore, for the Brimfield Antiques Show. Cynthia Bogart of The Daily Basics raved about how well she sleeps with the pillows she purchased from a Brimfield bedding vendor by the name of Pandora de Balthazár, who ironically is the Show's "Exhibitor of the Year."

I decided to check out these pillows for myself, and I have to tell you, there's absolutely nothing like them out there. Upon walking into the Pandora de Balthazár tent at Brimfield, you're immediately put at ease with the smell of lavender. I had the pleasure of speaking with Beata "Toni" Antal, a rep for the company, who invited me to test out one of the beds, fully equipped with these oversized pillows made of Hungarian goose down. They are just so soft and luxurious that I honestly could've fallen asleep on the spot.

I especially like the "EuroQueen" pillow, which retails for $280.00 (pretty pricey), but because they're washable, they should be able to last for a good while. I highly recommend them for those of you who are super serious about your sleep. 

And the shop itself was so well put together with tons of throw pillows, some monogrammed and others with pretty embroidery, tucked away in armoires. It was hard to leave the place.

May 14, 2011

My Best Brimfield Purchase

I spent yesterday scouring the many vendors at the Brimfield Antiques Fair, which is unlike anything I've ever experienced. There are thousands of antiques dealers at Brimfield, meaning there's tons of walking to do, not to mention the traffic you'll be up against. Nevertheless, making the trip is worth it, as long as you don't forget your patience at home. Whatever you're looking for, whether it's an industrial lamp, artwork or vintage jewelry, you'll find there.

Typically, when I'm shopping at a flea market, I'll walk through the space once to get an overall sense of the items available for sale and then do a second run to spend more time with specific vendors that caught my attention. However, at Brimfield, I was forced to ditch this tried-and-true plan just because it's massive. There was no way I'd come back to a vendor a second time, so if there was an item I had to have, I just purchased it on the spot. And don't forget to negotiate. To this point, I even saw a vendor with a sign that read, "Prices subject to change based on your personality." So you get the idea. Dish out the charm, and you might land yourself an amazing deal. It's all part of the fun.

I've been on the hunt for a side table that goes beyond the standard wood options you'll find in stores, and I'm delighted to report that I found it. It's a pedestal made of alabaster, and the height and details make it the perfect option for resting magazines or beverages. Check back soon for more images from my Brimfield trip.

May 11, 2011

Breakfast Boards from Ritzenhoff

There's rarely a day where I'll go without having breakfast, so I'm all for anything that makes it feel extra special. In July, German manufacturer Ritzenhoff will be releasing these fun "breakfast boards" that are made of shatter-proof glass and are safe for use in dishwashers. Wouldn't it be lovely to start your day with one of these? They're perfect for kids.

May 9, 2011

Small, Easy Ways to Give Your Home New Energy

We're all pressed for time, so while at home, it's all about relaxing in a comfortable, stylish pad. Try these five no-stress tips to breathe some new life into your space in just no time at all.

Plants: Not only are plants great for purifying air quality, there's something about taking in nature while indoors that really can do wonders for your spirit. Ferns and palms are my top choices.

Colorful Accessories: It can be as simple as buying a lamp with a colorful base as seen above, or opting for colorful accessories like picture frames, pillows or pottery to set on a coffee table.

New Paint Color: If you've been stuck with the same old neutral paint color for years, go bold with a new shade that is on the opposite end of what you'd normally choose. Going outside of your comfort zone will not only make you see your home in a new light, it can give you an energy boost as well. Change is good.

Artwork/Photos: I live for moving artwork from room to room and switching out family photos to keep things interesting. And it's so much better than running out to buy something new every time you're seeking a new look.

Photo: Bear-Hill Interiors via Coco + Kelley

May 5, 2011

Paris On My Mind: Bistro Chairs

On a trip to Paris years ago, I fondly recall loving the bistro chairs that flooded all the street cafès. They honestly aren't the most comfortable, in my opinion, but like fashion, trodding down the road of chic often means forsaking comfort. And it couldn't be more worth it when it comes to these chairs.

They've been highlighted in a slew of shelter magazines, as seen above in Domino's feature on Katie Lee's home a few years back, and rightfully so. I'm partial to the armless versions in colors like green, blue and red, and see them being used in a small kitchen nook for having a quick breakfast or lunch. Here's a website that carries a bunch of bistro chairs, all for under $300.

Photo: Domino via La Dolce Vita

May 3, 2011

Work a Room with Stripes

For people who might be fearful of decorating with color, trying to weave in a pattern, like stripes, into their decor might be a more comfortable alternative to add an element of interest to a space. Aside from having universal appeal (have you met a guy who didn't love them?), stripes are just plain stylish. And there's no better time to experiment with them than with the spring season.

I personally like to see stripes used on rugs (like this one from West Elm) and throw pillows, but you can definitely go for a more bold statement by painting stripes on a wall, for instance.

Photo: Mark Lund via Real Simple