Becky Lights it Up!!

Good lighting is essential to your environment both at home, in an office or retail space. But lighting can “trick” you too. Ever notice how nice that produce looks in the grocery and when you get it home, not so good? Or how great you look in that swimsuit in the dressing room – and then when you try it on again at home it doesn’t seem to fit as well? On a side note I once herniated a disc in my neck trying on a bathing suit that was sized incorrectly – as in way too small. Any of you who know me, good luck getting this picture out of your head.

Anyway, lighting is vital to our natural well-being and as a tool for our lives. Let’s address regular day to day lighting in your main living space, great room, family room etc. Height and wattage are the most important issues. Depending on the height of your end table (or whatever you are using as one) the lamp height will vary. When you are seated, the light (not the shade) source should fall over your shoulder and down.

The teensy lamps are really decorative only and can be used to light up a kitchen counter at night or fill in a space on a bookshelf or are pretty in a powder room.

Ambient lighting, like those interesting candlestick lamps (sold everywhere from $-$$$$) are really decorative and lovely to turn on at night to light up your foyer or dining room or a small corner – but they are not suitable for tasks or reading.

To really have functional light, you need good wattage. I prefer the three-way (I am not talking about Skyline Chili here or any other weird thing that might pop up in your head) bulbs, that have a 150 wattage at their highest point. A lamp has to have a broad enough shade to actually let the light spill over you. Dark shades of course are cool looking, but they won’t give enough light unless they are very wide at the bottom and tall. Light colored shades have a glow from top to bottom. A mix of shades and styles work the best in a room (please no matchy matchy) but to actually read or do needlework or whatever, keep the lamp close and bright.

*Becky Knows Everything: I would love to see pictures of your favorite lamps or comments on what works for you! Send them to me at beckybarras@hotmail.com or leave a comment on my blog.


Birthday Time

Hello everyone - I am back home again after having spent the last 5 days in Cincinnati visiting family and friends.

So great to see everyone. We attended a lovely birthday party on Saturday night at a private residence. The decorations reflected the birthday girl's love of all things French with dramatic black and white accents. I took a photo of the main table for you.

The menu was terrific - tiny lamb chops, tenderloin mini sandwiches, marinated shrimp and a variety of sweets and treats. We had a great time but now it’s back to work. Hope you all had a great weekend too and thanks for all the comments!!


Watching the Food Network

Many years ago, when the Food Network consisted primarily of Emeril, I became an avid viewer. My mom and I would get on the phone and watch it together, discussing the menu, techniques, etc. Now of course, the Food Network has evolved into variety of programming almost 24 hours a day. We can watch Paula Dean slather that butter or sour cream on everything while speculating on the question –“Is she wearing a wig or what?” Her hairstyle and color change so much, it is difficult to tell. And on a side note, I do think those Dean brothers are pretty cute too.

We can watch my personal favorite, Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) make classic dishes for her wide assortment of friends and “Jeffrey” her husband. Its fun to watch her drive her convertible in the Hamptons and shop locally for beautiful flowers (always one color and usually orange), veggies and breads. The only problem I have is I sure wish she would change out of that baggy blue work shirt once in awhile. She must buy those in bulk. And can she please lose that annoying giggle and the phrase “how bad can that be?” But overall her food is delicious and I highly recommend her cookbooks.

Bobby Flay, why does he ALWAYS lose the throwdown???

If you haven’t watched the Food Network, give it a try. Don’t miss “The Next Food Network Star” series which I think starts in June. Totally fun to watch a novice chef cook and talk on camera at the same time. Deliciously funny disasters often happen!


Save My Living Room (SMLR)

I had the greatest question from Lataisha M. from NYC (those Becky Knows Everything readers are everywhere). She writes “Becky, is there a more interesting way to display my pictures other than straight across the wall? What about family pics? Should I have them on the walls or should I get a shelf to put them on? These pics are 11x13 and 8x10 and are of my young daughters. Becky, I need your help. SMLR (Save my living room).”

The answers to Lataisha’s questions and some example photos from Pottery Barn are below. Take a look, you may get some good ideas or think “Oh crap, I have been doing this wrong all along.” I love hearing from all of you, so please send in the questions!

Lataisha, I can offer you some good tips and ideas. First, do you have enough wall space or enough pictures to group them in an interesting arrangement? I am talking about stacking them (you put one on top of the other, the smaller one centered over the larger one). That look of one large picture over the sofa on the main wall is very 70’s and I know you are up-to-date and stylish! If you have enough space, you can fill it up with a myriad of pictures, the frames do not need to match (as a matter of fact they shouldn’t) and the subject matter can be diverse too. I love it when clients use personal things to display on walls (not family pics) but pictures they have purchased on vacation or framed paintings of their former residences – that type of thing. And, don’t be afraid to mix media – watercolors, photographs, oils, and even dimensional pieces, like a large clock.

One tip: do not “stairstep” art (meaning hanging 3 or more photos one gradually higher than the other) unless the art is actually going up the staircase wall, which is the only time it is appropriate. And please don’t hang these too far apart – you don’t need to use the entire staircase.

As far as family photos are concerned, you can group smaller ones in interesting frames on your end tables or sofa table. The larger ones are a little more difficult. Usually I recommend hanging these in a personal space, like your bedroom or den, or a bit out of the way like in the hallway. But if you have a few large ones that you love, they can go in the dining area or on a side wall in a main living area. Just don’t have them be the focus of the room. We all know we have the most beautiful children/grandchildren ever, but we don’t need to have large photos of them everywhere.

One other thing that works well is to do an interesting mix on a wall - like buy a wooden shelf from Pottery Barn or Ballard Designs (pricier but very well-crafted and pretty) maybe in a couple of sizes – like one 2’ one and one 3’one. Hang them (the smaller one higher than the larger one) with enough space apart to hang a picture, and then “decorate them.” Put a few small family photos up and hang a couple of hooks from the bottom and hang something sentimental, like small things your girls have made. Then to fill out the area, hang other pictures, artwork, a clock, plates, etc. This method works great on a kitchen wall, powder room wall or in a hallway. If you are doing it as your main wall in the living area, don’t use too many family photos, just your very favorite ones, or even ones of you when you were a teensy girl.

Good luck Lataisha. Write back and let me know how it all turns out. Thanks for reading Becky Knows Everything.


Easter Brunch Success!!

My Easter brunch was a delicious happening. The Ham and Cheesy Brunch Bake turned out bubbly and oh so pretty. The Macadamia Nut French Toast was crisp and when you poured on the maple syrup, you were in brunch heaven.

I even had some wonderful responses from readers who tried a few of my recipes. E. from NYC says “I made your Easter Ham & Cheesy Brunch Bake AND Parmesan Mushrooms for my brother. It was delicious!!!! He literally ate half of the Bake in ONE SITTING!!! Yum!”

And T. from San Diego writes “What a delicious casserole and since you could make it the night before, it was even better. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” WOW! I love positive responses. So great to hear from all of you. Keep cooking, keep having fun and send along any recipes you think readers might enjoy. Happy Spring!


Berber Basics

Kathy S. from Cincinnati writes “What do you think about a large loop berber for my family room? We are thinking of having it installed and want your input!"

Kathy is an interior design client of mine so I am very familiar with her family (big, busy and beautiful) including her dog, a chocolate lab named Millie. I no longer live in the same city as Kathy, but am happy to help her whenever I can – and we have had many a fun conversation about her design questions.

I am not a huge fan of berber carpet, particularly the large loop berbers. The loops get squashed WAY too easily, and any dirt or stains go directly to the carpet base. When you use a small loop or tight berber, your neighbors and friends can come over and have fun and have a few drinks. Anything they spill will sit on top of the loops, making it easier to clean. Kathy’s dog, Millie (who by the way always wears a cute seasonal kerchief) can get her paws stuck on berber loops, causing snags – and no one wants that.

One nice thing about a neutral berber is that the colors are often mottled, using a number of shades of beige and brown so traffic pattern discoloration (you know, walking from the family room to the kitchen and out to the grill) is less noticeable. I know berbers are still very popular, but if you are going to go this route, be sure you buy one with a manufacturer’s guarantee and question your salesman on the installation procedure. More on this in a future blog. There are a few “must ask” questions and they all are not about how cute the installers are.

There are a lot of options out there right now in carpeting – not just plush. There are cool patterns, wonderful colors and even sculpted patterns (NOT like your Grandma had). I vote for a dot pattern or a tone on tone geometric shape. Kathy, berber is fine, but a tiny bit boring and you certainly are not!


Centerpiece Sense

A bit ago, I wrote "Top Ten Design Things I Wish We Could Change" Let’s choose one and discuss it. I know it's not really a discussion since it’s only me telling you what I think, but that seems to work best for me! I do welcome your future comments and questions and hope you will post a comment on my blog.

Centerpieces, floral arrangements (real or silk), deco pieces, accent pieces – they all need to fit the space. They can do a lot of talking all on their own, bringing color to a room, adding a variety of line and texture and they can even highlight a personal interest.

On a dining room table, be sure the centerpiece you use when entertaining dinner guests is not so tall that your guests can’t see over it. How distracting to be peering around the centerpiece to make eye contact. If the table is not being used, put something great on it—a huge glass bowl, beautiful fruit (no fake fruit please), a decorative vase, cool candleholder (you get the drift) and then, when you are using the table move the centerpiece to your foyer table or the buffet (or put it in your master bath as far as I’m concerned). Then, switch to something sweet, like a bud vase at each place setting with a fresh bloom or a line of cool votives glowing down the center of the table or just put a “favor” at each place - a treat to take home like a chocolate truffle you’ve made (or bought at Godiva), a chocolate dipped strawberry in a pretty container tied with a ribbon or sealed with your initial. Often, if you’re lucky, you’re husband or boyfriend will let you eat his too – and that is a yummy treat all on its own.

My advice is to look in magazines, steal ideas and modify them to make them your own so the “centerpiece” of your life is as creative and beautiful as you are!


Jeannine's Ham and Cheesy Brunch Bake

I'm gearing up for Easter Brunch and thought I'd share my recipe for "Jeannine's Ham and Cheesy Brunch Bake". I thought this was a family recipe and I have been making it for 30 years, but I have learned a variation of it is in many cookbooks - so here you go anyway. It is wonderful.

3 c. cubed French bread (sometimes I use regular bread with the crusts removed so it is not so “bready”)
3 c. cubed ham (buy one or two of those nifty ham slices and cut into cubes)
8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. sliced mushrooms, sautéed
Small can of sliced black olives
3 tbs. flour
1 tbs. dry mustard
4 tbs. melted butter
5 beaten eggs
3 c. milk

Combine first 5 ingredients. Place 1/3 of the mixture into a 13x9 pan that has been sprayed with a “Pam” type product. Mix flour and mustard, and sprinkle 1/3 of this mixture over first layer. Drizzle 1/3 of the butter over top. Repeat with two more layers.

Beat eggs, milk, and add some salt and pepper. Pour over casserole and chill overnight (this is the good part - you can do it in advance). Take out of fridge about 2 hours before you will be serving. Bake at 350 for one hour.

*Becky Knows Everything: I serve this with fruit salad and sometimes blueberry muffins.


Stenciling: Paint by Numbers Without the Numbers

Have any of you ever stenciled? I have done plenty of it and many years ago (like 25) stencil designs were very limited, while today it is incredible what is available. There is one great source I will get to later.

When we lived in Seattle and I had just begun to get my degree in design, I decided to use my creative energy and stencil my family room. These were the days of “American Country” or whatever you wanted to call ducks and hearts.

I found a stencil in my area that featured a wavy border with start. Upon completion, it looked too skimpy to me so I added another border below it in a checkerboard pattern in the classic Williamsburg blue. I loved it until a friend of mine visited and said “Wow, it looks just like the Ralston Purina dog food ads.” Apparently the checkerboard design was part of their logo and not willing to change it, I just hoped no one else noticed.

My neighbor came over, loved the design and asked where I had purchased my supplies. Guess what? A week later she had the exact color and pattern in her family room. The day I saw it I came home and painted mine out. Imitation may be flattery but to me it just meant mine wasn’t special anymore and isn’t that what we really want?—to be special?

*Becky Knows Everything: Check out Jan Dressler and order their catalog series for $5 - $10. These are the coolest, easy to use stencils that even famous faux finishers use. Or call them at 888-656-4515.


Quack Quack Easter is Calling

We are having friends for an Easter brunch this year and I wanted to talk to you about it. I am serving stewed bunny rabbit stuffed with dressing made by combining melted chocolate eggs, bread cubes and sautéed onions. YUM! Just kidding – a little Easter humor. I am actually serving a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, “I’ll Cook When Pigs Fly”, one of the great cookbooks from the Junior League of Cincinnati. It is Macadamia Nut French Toast (p. 205). You must try this, it is so easy to make and fabulous! You can buy the book on Amazon for about $15. Check out When Pigs Fly.

Along with the French Toast, I am serving a traditional ham and egg cheesy brunch dish, a big fruit salad and a basket of croissants. Oh and I almost forgot – there will be Bloody Mary’s available as well as Mimosa’s to get us into that holiday mode.

My table centerpiece will be spring tulips in a crystal vase filled with jelly beans. If you do this, you might have to “tube” the flowers as the jelly beans lose their color in the water if they sit too long. I was going to give as party favors one of those Martha Stewart crystal eggs that are so pretty and look simple to make, but can you eat those? I think not! So a chocolate bunny it is, wrapped in a party bag tied with polka dot ribbon. Don’t you think the ears taste the BEST? Happy Easter!!

*Becky Knows Everything: In case you don’t know, “tubing” flowers means you put the stems in little tubes you have filled with water. These are available at any florist or grocery florist or at the craft store.


Blog - Personal, Technical, or Both??

I can never decide if this blog thing should be personal or informative. I read quite a few blogs and some are so cloying and so personal, in a way that makes you say to yourself “who cares?”

But, I do offer design tips and recipes – so those I figure are the informative areas. The trick is to entertain you (and me) without it being so introspective it loses the funny. Like today, not that much funny has happened. I was watching the “The Real Housewives of New York” from the other night (God bless the DVR and its inventor) and laughed out loud a few times. Do any of you watch this show? It is so much better than the shows featuring the housewives of Atlanta and LA but I am not sure why. It's really hard for me to believe these wealthy women want to be filmed bickering, drinking and snarking at each other. Someone always has hurt feelings, then there is a confrontation, and then they are hugging each other at the next party.

When I walk down Madison Ave in New York City and peer into the ritzy little boutiques, (you know the ones with 20 black dresses, largest size is a 4) I have often wondered who shops there. The stores all have the same interior designer apparently since they all have bleached floors and giant framed mirrors and leather ottomans and no one speaks above a whisper. And the clothing is very pricey. Now I know who is shopping there. It is the cast of the “Real Housewives” since all they seem to do is go out for lunch and dinner everyday in a different sleeveless sheath dress that shows off their toned arms. I am not sure what my point is, but I do want to ask this—for those of you who watch this show, how creepy was it watching Simon get a massage?