The 2017 Pasadena Showcase House of Design

This rotating garden greeted visitors upon entering the property. The circular disk spun slowly giving movement and life to the walkway. Design by Haynes Landscape Design.
The loggia overlooks the pool and is a relaxing spot off the living room. Design by Ederra Design Studio.

After many years of reading about and ogling photos of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design in national design magazines, I finally was able to see it in person. Founded in 1948 as a fund raiser for the arts, this project has become a major annual event that draws people from all over the United States, and indeed the world. It features the area’s best designers, landscapers, architects, and artists at their best. It is an “over the top” experience for those of us passionate about design.

The blue and white living room is a beautifully proportioned room with a fresh coastal feel. Design by Robert Frank Interiors.

The featured home for 2017 was a stunning 8,000 square foot English Tudor style mansion built in 1916 designed for actor Samuel Hinds, best known for playing Peter Bailey in the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The house has been featured in numerous movies and television programs such as “Beaches,” “Mad Men”, “Parks and Recreation” and more recently, “La La Land.”

The master bedroom suite features a drop-down flat-screen television hidden in the ceiling! Design by Home Front Build, Inc.
The level of detail continued outside of the main house and is shown in the brass bumblebee door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass doors to the Bee’s Bliss Cottage. Design and photo by Rose Thicket Botanical Design House.

This is a large scale event that includes so much more than just a house. The outdoor areas included a lagoon style swimming pool, loggia, bee keeper’s cottage, numerous patios, waterfalls, and stunning gardens. The organizers enhanced the experience by including a cadre of carefully selected vendors in an outdoor market called “The Shops.” Vendors sold home decor items, clothing, designer jewelry, linens, natural bath and skin care products, and local gourmet foods. And in case all that design inspiration and shopping stirred your appetite, the organizers also set up a full service restaurant, bar and bistro on the grounds!

The vaulted ceiling in the grand staircase was designed and printed on fabric to resemble Trompe-l’oeil, while the tree landscape on walls at the base of the stairs was hand painted to give the illusion of looking through a window. Design by L’Esperance Design.
Design by Jessica Today Designs.

Built at an original cost of $25,000, the house is believed to have last been renovated sometime in the 1950’s. Fortunately the designers and contractors saved and restored many of the original bones of the house including the leaded and stained glass windows, carved newel posts and balustrades, elaborate wood paneling throughout the first floor, a jaw-dropping arched stairwell ceiling with corner grotesques (reminiscent of a European cathedral!) and an amazing ironwork entry door.

But it was the level of detail added by the designers that most impressed me. I loved the hand painted ceiling in the lady’s office, the pull out ironing board cabinet in the laundry room, the bee motif door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass motif on the doors to the beekeeper’s cottage. I loved the emphasis on original art which added so much personality to every room. While each designer clearly expressed their own aesthetics, the house maintained flow and felt cohesive.


The laundry room is large, light-filled, and features a small powder room. It also houses my favorite practical feature in the entire showcase house–a pullout ironing board and broom storage cabinet. Design by Dana Triano Designs.


Photos courtesy of Dana Triano Designs.

Design by D. Christjan Fine Cabinetry Design and Manufacturing.

If your city has a major design showcase house or if you can make it out to Pasadena next year, I encourage you to go. You will leave feeling inspired and with the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a contribution towards furthering a good cause in your community.

Note:  Photographs courtesy of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design except as noted. Photographer Peter Christiansen Valli.

In the Shakespeare Garden, a mosaic was created using succulents, drought tolerant plants ideally suited to the climate of Pasadena. Design by GreenLink Landscaping and John’s Tree and Landscaping.

Creating a Gallery Wall

Do you have a hallway or stairwell wall that is currently empty because you can’t figure out what type of artwork would work there? Do you have family photos that you’d like to display but can’t figure out how to do it in a tasteful way? Or perhaps you have a mishmash of disparate pieces of art and photographs that don’t seem to go together and need a way to display them?  A gallery wall just might be the solution!

We recently purchased two sofas for our family room which necessitated a room makeover. Suddenly the wall that formerly was taken up by our television was now blank. Because this wall faces the living room and is immediately visible upon entering the family room, I wanted the wall to make a statement.

Here is the room before the new sofas arrived. The modern sofas were from our previous home and didn’t go well in our 1927 Spanish style house.
With the new sofas and the television moved to the wall with the window, you can see how empty the wall now looks.

I did a quick inventory of my home to see what artwork I had on hand that might be useful. I had a few larger pieces in neutral black, white and sepia tones, all framed in black  I knew I had a few smaller black frames in storage and that I could easily put together a gallery wall which would make a statement in the space.

Here are the steps to creating a gallery wall.

  1.  Curate your art.  While gallery walls can be a mixture of frame styles, colors, and different types of artwork, I decided to put together a mostly black, white and sepia toned color scheme to create a calm effect. Adding in dimensional pieces, such as the coral in the shadowbox and the square shelf box shown in the picture below, creates interest and adds texture.
  2. Lay out the artwork on the floor.  Play around with the layout until you find an arrangement that looks balanced. You don’t want things to line up too perfectly in this style arrangement so don’t worry about making the spaces between frames exactly the same. Mix up your frame orientation with some hanging horizontally and others vertically. You can also mix in different shapes, e.g., a round or oval frame. Adding in a mirror or small shelf can add interest.
  3. Take a photograph. Once you are happy with your layout on the floor, take a picture as a reference to transfer the layout to the wall. While your original layout doesn’t have to be set in stone, you will refer to it often as a guide.
  4. Make templates.  It takes a little extra time to do this but it is well worth it.  I cut out templates from newspaper for each frame and marked where the nails would go in red marker so that it would be easy for me to hang the artwork once in place.

    If you mark where the nail should go on your templates before attaching them to the wall, you will find it makes hanging the pictures a breeze.
  5.  Transfer the layout to your wall using painter’s tape.  Attach the templates to the wall following the layout from your photograph. You will probably need to adjust the spacing a few times before you get it right, but the painter’s tape makes it easy to move the templates around. Better to play with the layout using tape than with nails in the wall!

    I used a combination of photography, pencil drawings, fabric, and natural objects that all had meaning to me. The black frames and color scheme unify what could have been a random looking assortment.
  6. Nail it down. Once you are pleased with the layout of your templates, go ahead and put nails in the spots you have marked in red.
  7. Peel the templates off the wall and hang your pictures.  Use a level to make sure each item hangs level as even one picture out of square can make the whole display look disheveled.

    Notice that open spaces remain where new pieces can be added at a later time if desired.

This is project that is especially effective in stairwells, hallways, or other areas that can be difficult for which to select artwork. Family photographs can look especially artistic on a gallery wall if they are printed in black and white (or sepia tones) and framed in a similar manner. A gallery wall provides limitless options for displaying your artwork in a unique and interesting manner.

It’s a difficult job keeping the cat out of the photo shoot!

Do you have a spot in your home that would look great with a gallery wall?

Two 2 Ingredient Desserts

No, that’s not a typo. Today I’m going to share with you two desserts that literally have two ingredients each. They are both healthy, delicious and super easy!

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

I realize chia seed pudding has been around for a little while, but I was recently introduced to it by a vegan friend. It immediately became a go-to dessert and occasional breakfast for me.

Here’s the recipe (serves one):

  • 1 cup of vanilla coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds

Just stir these two ingredients together until the seeds are incorporated throughout the coconut milk and refrigerate. It will take a minimum of 2 hours for the seeds to swell up, absorb the milk and become gelatinous. I find it’s best to put the mixture in a covered container and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The vanilla coconut milk contains some sugar but if you want a sugar free version, use plain unsweetened coconut milk. You can always add a little stevia, maple syrup, honey or agave if you prefer it sweeter.

I added some toasted coconut chips and a sprig of mint as a garnish.

To make a more decadent version of this pudding, try adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a pinch of instant coffee, and a tablespoon of coconut or nuts. For a fruity version, add a sliced banana or a handful of berries. Or switch out the coconut milk with almond, soy or regular milk. The options are endless and can be tailored to your tastes and dietary needs.

Two Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

The bananas should be very ripe with lots of brown spots. This makes the ice cream sweet without the need for added sugar.

I stumbled upon this recipe when I was making banana bread. I had frozen some bananas (skins removed) that were very ripe in order to preserve them for use at a later time. I needed to puree the bananas for my banana bread and had let them thaw slightly. I put them in my food processor to puree and realized they needed a little liquid so I added a small amount of half and half. I gave it a whirl and noticed that the mixture immediately became fluffy and custard-like, very similar to soft serve ice cream. And when I went to lick the bowl, I found it tasted just like banana ice cream. It was sweet, creamy and oh so good!

Here’s the recipe.

  • 3 very ripe frozen bananas
  • 1/4 cup half and half

Put the slightly thawed bananas and half and half in a food processor and blend until creamy and smooth. No sugar is needed if your bananas are very ripe. This recipe makes two generous servings.

If you want to make a dairy free version of this recipe, try using coconut cream instead of half and half. For extra deliciousness, toss in a handful of cocoa nibs, chocolate chips, or nuts. Add a drizzle of caramel sauce to take it to another level!

Since there are no stablizers (guar gum) in this ice cream, it does tend to melt rather quickly. If you put your serving dish in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to serving, it will help delay melting.

The best part is that you can enjoy both of these yummy desserts without guilt. They are gluten free, sugar free, and can be made dairy free and vegan with simple substitutions. I urge you to give them a try. They just might become your “go two” desserts too.



Mother’s Day Memories

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect upon and pay tribute to my own mother. My mom passed away at the age of 80, nearly six years ago. While her impact on my life is felt constantly, I feel her influence most when I’m in the kitchen.

My mother didn’t consider herself a “good cook.” She always said she felt embarrassed to take dishes to church picnics and family gatherings because she thought other people’s food tasted better than hers. (I’ve since come to realize all good cooks think this way!)  While she would, of course, have an occasional failure, I loved her food and thought she was a wonderful cook.

How I wish I had a picture of me as a child in the kitchen with my mother! But there were no cell phone cameras back then and we never thought to take pictures of such mundane activities.

For everyday meals my mother rarely used a recipe, and mostly prepared the native North Carolina dishes she had learned from her grandmother. Her southern cooking wasn’t particularly “healthy” by today’s standards. She used lard and seasoned with fatback; she made fried chicken for supper almost every Sunday, and we had bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast every single day. She knew how to use all the stray parts of an animal.  Ever heard of souse, also known as head cheese? Yep, she made that! By no means could she be considered a ‘gourmet,’ but my mother cooked three nourishing meals a day every single day when I was growing up.  Fortunately for me, she was always patient and generous in sharing her knowledge.

At 14 months, I wasn’t big enough to help in the kitchen yet.

Here are just a few cooking basics that I learned from my mom:

  • The big “T” stands for tablespoon
  • The small “t” stands for teaspoon
  • How to separate an egg yolk from the white
  • It is important to sift flour and cocoa powder when baking
  • How to whip egg whites and cream
  • How to test a cake for doneness
  • Not to over-mix pancake or muffin batter
  • Browned food equals flavorful food
  • Rinse out cans to get every last bit of goodness
  • It’s okay to take risks and make substitutions, improvising with what you have on hand. (This is a lesson for life as well!)

Over the years I’ve certainly added to this knowledge base and have challenged myself with far more complex recipes and techniques than she ever attempted, but those new skills could only be acquired after knowing the basics. She gave me a solid base on which to build.

In memory of my mother, Vada McLamb Dawson, June 15, 1930 – May 28, 2011.

Yes, one can certainly Google the answers to any cooking-related question nowadays. Cooking programs on television and cookbooks are abundant and are terrific sources of information. But Google can never replace the beautiful memories I have of learning how to cook at my mother’s side. And no cooking program or book can ever replicate the bond that grew from the time we spent together in the kitchen.


Removing Stains from Vintage Linens

Do you have any old family linens packed away that you never use because they have stains or yellowing that you can’t get out? Or have you ever come across an inexpensive tablecloth at a yard sale or thrift shop and passed it up because you thought the stains were permanent? Since I learned the secret to removing set stains from vintage linens, I no longer let stains deter me from enjoying the linens I have, or from purchasing great pieces when I find them.

I had an antiques shop several years ago and learned the secret to stubborn stain removal from a fellow antiques dealer who sold the most pristine sparkling white linens I’d ever seen. I asked for her secret and she was kind enough to share it with me. Since then I’ve used the technique numerous times with excellent results, removing most stains from natural fabrics (cotton, linen, hemp).

This is the starting point. There are quite a few stains, mostly around the border of the tablecloth. They are not terrible, but they are noticeable and I would probably not use the tablecloth in its current condition.

I recently came across a damask tablecloth with eight napkins at a thrift store for the ridiculous price of $5.00. The napkins were in great shape but the tablecloth had quite a few well-set stains and yellowed areas from storage.  Given that there was no structural damage, I decided to purchase them knowing that it was likely I would be able to remove the stains–or at least improve the situation substantially.

I enhanced the contrast on the camera so that you could better see the stained areas. They are old stains and may not come out completely, but I think I can substantially improve upon their current state.

The secret is twofold. First, put two tablespoons of Oxiclean powder into a container. Add a cup of boiling water. The mixture will immediately bubble up and dissolve. Dampen the stained areas and apply the hot Oxi mixture directly to the stains.

Then fill your wash basin with very hot water and put the entire piece in.  Extremely hot water is key!  I usually add two kettles of boiling water to a tub of my hottest tap water. Wearing rubber gloves, give it a good swish and make sure the soapy water permeates all the fabric.

Your wash water will get lighter in color with each subsequent change of water.

And here is the second and most important part of the secret to stubborn stain removal: let it soak for as long as it takes for the stain to release.  Set stains often need a prolonged period of time in the washing solution to loosen up the fibers sufficiently to release the stain.  Sometimes an overnight soak will do the job but it often takes longer. Believe it or not, I have soaked linens up to three weeks before the stains lifted!

If you are doing a prolonged soak, repeat this process daily, changing your soaking water with fresh hot water and more Oxiclean.  It takes a bit of patience but it’s very little actual work. Once you have your solution mixed up and your fabric soaking, you can walk away and forget about it until the next day. Check on the status of the stains by holding the wet fabric up to a window during daylight hours.  You should be able to see any remaining discoloration when the fabric is wet.

This picture shows the stain after 2 days in the soaking solution (center). You can see it has lightened substantially. I’m feeling optimistic that in another day or so it will be completely gone.

Whatever you do, please don’t put stained linens in the dryer or iron them before working to remove the stain. The heat will set the stains making them much more difficult to remove.

I do not recommend using bleach on vintage linens–ever.  It is much too harsh and can weaken and erode the fibers.  If after an extended soak you are still unable to completely remove a stain, try using a little hydrogen peroxide. Dampen the fabric first and apply to the stained area.  This mild bleach will often take out any remaining shading.

I ended up soaking the tablecloth for four days. It is shown here lightly starched and pressed. Upon close inspection, I saw only one area where a very light amount of yellowing remained.  I doubt anyone will notice when this tablecloth is put into use.

Always be sure to rinse your linens well.  Yellowing occurs when soap residue is left behind. Rinse until you see no further suds. As long as the fabric is not too delicate, I put my linens through the regular wash cycle in the washing machine without detergent to remove any remaining soap residue. If you plan to store your linens for an extended period of time, adding a half cup of white vinegar to the final rinse can help prevent future yellowing.

Finally, to get your white linens to truly sparkle, lay down an old sheet on the lawn and spread them out in the bright sunshine for several hours. This trick will also help with any remaining discoloration.

I encourage you to pull your family linens out of storage and put them to use! And if you find a gorgeous bargain piece with a few stains–go for it!  Knowing how to remove stubborn stains should make you fearless about using and enjoying these beautiful items.

Pressed, lightly starched, and tied up with a pretty ribbon, my $5 tablecloth and napkins are ready for my next dinner party.