Tag Archives: home decor

Tips for great holiday party lighting.

I have a lot of friends who work in stage, film, and video entertainment. One has been a “lighting designer” for going on 40 years. What that means is that he works with the set designers and comes up with just the right type of lighting to set the mood of the story.

“Lighting is everything, and it’s nothing,” he says. “When I’ve done my job right, nobody notices that I’ve done it. It’s all about the mood, the actors, and the set. The lighting makes it all come together, without anyone thinking about it.”

So, imagine you’re the director of your own stage production of “The Holidays at My Home.” What are you going to do to set the mood for a great party? Nothing better than perfect lighting that nobody notices.

I love to use candles. Of course, everyone notices candles. The trick is making it all about your guests and the environment, not the actual candles themselves. The warm flickering light will look and feel glamorous. People seem softer, food tastes better, and wine in glasses – so much more delicious.

I went to a huge gathering in Italy in a castle near Trieste. They had tables lined up, and each one had tall tapers glittering amid the glasses and flatware. I close my eyes and imagine what a breathtaking scene that was and how much fun we had that night.

Tapered candles not your style? Try white votive candles in groupings to define party spaces. The elegance will be just as breathtaking, but maybe not so much in everyone’s faces. And when using candles, make sure you use the unscented ones! That way nothing interferes with the wonderful aromas coming from your carefully planned food.

Turn down overhead lighting; turn them all off as much as possible. Anyone who’s ever taken a selfie under ‘down light’ knows that overhead lighting creates terrible shadows. Downlight ages everyone, just ask anyone who works onstage.

Replace lamp bulbs with low wattage (25 watts), soft white (warm) if you can. This is the most flattering light, and they cast the most natural shadows. Use opaque lamp shades. These will throw light either up or down while not allowing bright light to pass straight through (direct light is never a great way to set a mood). Gold lined shades create the most glamorous glow.

If you have a fireplace and the weather is cold enough – light a fire! Your guests will want to gather around the fireplace and watch the fire.  Evening conversations around a fire tend to involve telling stories which is a great way to connect and make some fun memories.

Pre-light your powder room with the light set to a dim level. The one exception to my “no scented candle” rule is here. Place a small scented candle in the room. Your guests will thank you.

Use reflective pieces in your party décor.  Maybe bring in a mirrored bar cart or serving trays.  Candlelight does some beautiful things when you let it bounce off mirrors. It always adds instant glamour.

Now, for the holiday touch, how about an alternative to blinking decorative lights? Remember, the best lighting is the one we don’t notice. Instead of the strings of gaudy blinkers, add groupings of colorful glass objects to your tables. Bring in colored glass candle holders and tuck them in groups in the corners of the room. The glitter and sparkle of all those colorful gems will make a holiday statement in itself.

And now, the stage is ready. Make some lovely memories.

Check out my video and see examples of lighting ideas for this post.

Conversation Starters: The wonder of Salt Cellars

blog photo of salt cellars on Fran's table

“Above the Salt” Idea: Entertain guests like a pro with great salt cellars for your table.

Do you know someone who can really throw a fabulous gathering no matter how large or small? I have to say I’ve been lucky enough to know some party planning geniuses and, to be honest, I spend a lot of time paying attention to them – what they do and how they get it done.

What I’m describing here is the subtle art of home entertaining. Creating an intimate setting where the drinks are flowing, the food is excellent, and the music sounds fabulous, but at the very heart of the party is the conversation: electric, happy, and memorable.

THAT’s the key, right there: the trigger for a great conversation. Without it, you could host a party with a five-star magician as the main entertainment, and still watch it flop. I know. I’ve seen it happen. So, what IS the secret? What’s the trick to triggering conversation and keeping everyone talking?

Consider these examples:

  • When friends come to visit a friend of mine’s home for drinks, he pulls out old AOL sign-up CDs from the 90s and uses them as coasters. Boomers laugh. Millennials gape at them as though they’re museum collectibles.
  • Another friend uses “vintage” Melmac cups, saucers, and plates from the 1960s – a very nice retro look that goes with her retro décor. Along with her movie posters (also from the 60s), her home really is like a museum, but you should hear all the conversation!
  • An author I know collects photos from pre-World War II Europe and has framed reprints all around his home. For people who have traveled to Europe – especially Italy and Germany – these are very precious images that never fail to trigger a conversation.

The truly cool thing about this “trick” is that, for it to work, you don’t have to go all out and redecorate your home. Add things that complement your existing décor and personal tastes. But, do your research and be THAT person who knows a bit about whatever you’ve add to make things just a bit more interesting. In my case and for my taste, I like curios that I pick up from estate sales, often for the tabletop or kitchen.

Recently, I rediscovered Salt Cellars, also called ‘salt pigs,’ which were used to hold and dispense salt. They can be either lidded or open and vary significantly in size, shape, and materials – from very simple to incredibly elaborate made out of precious metals and stones.

Salt cellars of various shapes and sizes have been found dating from the time of the Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages very elaborate salt cellars were placed at the head of the table as a sign of status and prosperity, so they were often crafted in silver and decorated with sea motifs (remember – it was sea salt that was being put into the salt cellars). 

In addition to the large bowl placed at the head of the table, smaller ones would be set around the table for the guests. Social status was measured by where guests were seated relative to the master’s large salt cellar. So, high ranking guests sat ‘above the salt’ and closer to the host while lower ranking ones sat ‘below the salt.’

Some of these master salt cellars were so large and ornate that they were called ‘standing salt’ because they weren’t passed around the table.  The tiny spoons first appeared in the 17th century as the use of these larger salt cellars increased. Common salt shakers didn’t appear until the Victorian era in England but remained unpopular because salt tended to clump up due to moisture in the air.  After anti-caking agents were introduced in 1911, salt shakers became more popular and cellars were eventually demoted off most dinner tables.

Salt cellars are now a collector’s item, but I like to use them around the table with different salts in them.  Sea salts come in many shades and flavors that can really add excitement to your food. Using different salt cellars with different salts is another way to kick-off conversations, and keep the memories flowing no matter how you’ve been “salted.”

Check out my video for more ideas on home entertaining.

Home Entertaining in Style: The best way to build a collection of fine silver and crystal

The secret: estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores. And they’re fun!

For some folks, having the perfect set of home entertaining “ware” is a matter of inheritance. If you are one of the lucky ones to have inherited crystal, china, and silver–family heirlooms–then you have my envy.

Not me, not my mother. She didn’t want anything that my grandmother had. To be honest, I have no idea what my mother passed up and certainly don’t know what happened to those pieces. My parents preferred a very casual form of home entertaining, so the thought of polishing silver and washing crystal and fine china was just too much of a hassle.

I get it.  I have great friends who love to entertain like that – no silver, crystal, etc. and they throw some of the best parties around! One couple not far from me—celebrity film writers—own the biggest collection of mismatched vintage Melmac ware I’ve ever seen. It’s really something to behold. They even have some pieces that date back to the 1940’s.  It’s very cool and is completely their style.

I love to mix and match items on a dining table or buffet as well—but my style is more along the lines of silver, crystal, and fine china – sometimes mixed in with more casual items when the mood strikes! They don’t all match and they’re not all from the same time period. But, that mix of different styles, patterns, and materials creates lots of interest for my guests, so they’re great conversation starters. You never know when someone will point out an item that they love and want to know all about it. Even if I don’t know the exact story of that particular piece I do know where I got it and that starts the fun.

So, if you like finery or really any particular entertaining style, and if you’re like me with no family heirlooms, there’s the joy in finding different pieces while building a collection, adding to what you have, and replacing what gets broken (it happens). And, there’s no better way to do that than going to estate sales, flea markets and second-hand resale shops.

Estate sales can be found by simply googling – you will come up with a great website like Estatesales.net.

This site is convenient. You can search by state and then zip code for estate sales that are happening in your area.

There’s also Hughes Estate Sales here in Southern California where you get into whole collections of great pieces provided in a controlled environment.

They start on Fridays but I really like to go there on Sundays when the discounts are the biggest! This is where I found my Lalique juice glasses that you can see on my recent video.

Flea Markets can also be fun. I recommend checking Google for the best ones in your area. In Southern California, the one I like best is the Rose Bowl Flea Market, which happens on the 2nd Sunday of every month. Flea markets are hit and miss— so, don’t be sad if you go and you don’t find anything that day – there’s always next time. Bring along a friend and plan to spend some time looking around and having some fun while you’re at it.

Here are some basic collector tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

For either estate sales, flea markets or second-hand shops, be willing to take your time going through what’s there. Understand that just because on one day you find nothing doesn’t mean that the next week there won’t be a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Don’t go out looking for a perfect set of 8 or 12. In these venues, items are very often odd numbers in a set. For instance, I found a really nice set of nine etched crystal goblets at a Denver second-hand shop. That’s okay with me—my table only seats 6!

It helps to set goals. Think about what you need to build your collections. Maybe look at patterns, designs, and styles ahead of your outing: so easy to do with the Internet. Get familiar with types of things that you like and price ranges that you’re willing to pay so that you don’t spend a lot of time with dead ends.

And, always remember, silver turns black if not kept polished–so don’t be afraid even if the item is blackened. Pay closer attention to the overall quality of the article in terms of damage (dents, missing parts, and so on). If you find a tray you love, but the silver plate is worn out in some areas–don’t worry- you can always have silverware re-plated at a fraction of the cost of new.

Most of all, make it fun and bring your found treasures home with great stories to tell your guests.

Flowers for Home Décor – How to keep Hydrangeas fresher longer

Hydrangea and Fran Berger

A popular ornamental plant is our favorite home flower decoration – hydrangea!

The name “hydrangea” may or may not ring any bells. But if ornamental horticulture happens to be your “thing” or if you have ever seen the plant and its distinctive bloom, you might ask, “What’s that flower?”

You may see hydrangeas at florists, but it’s also just as likely this favorite ornamental plant already lives somewhere in your garden. It’s a favorite of landscapers and garden hobbyists because they are hardy plants, the blooms are huge and last a long time, and it has a long flowering season (from early spring to late autumn). The best part is that the cut flowers look fantastic in a vase in just about any home.

My mother had hydrangeas in the front and backyard. I’d cut the blooms and stick them into vases. We were surprised by how long they lasted.  Plus, the color (white, blue, purple, lavender, violet, red or even green!) and size of the flower can really help add a fabulous spring/summer touch to your indoor décor. Interestingly it’s the acidity of the soil that is responsible for the color.  Here’s a link to my video, you’ll see what I mean.

A bit of history, the Japanese are thought to be first to domesticate a wild variation of the plant found in Asia. Archeologists have found hydrangea fossils dating back 40 million years – pretty much all over the world. One story I read says that sometime in the mid-18th century, a European botanist brought back a North American variation of the plant to Europe and it instantly became a landscaping favorite.

A small warning – even the most common varieties of the plant have low levels of cyanide in the leaves – so don’t eat them. Only one varietal grown in Japan, called hydrangea serrata, is used in brewing a sweet tea for an annual cleansing ritual practiced by some Buddhists. They claim that the tea can help alleviate autoimmune disorders, malaria, and kidney stones. Native Americans have been documented using the root of the plant as a diuretic. In some cultures, the bark of mature hydrangea bushes is used in a concoction that dulls muscle pain.

But, in our culture, we love them because they are so beautiful. And after years of experimenting, I have some cool tips to pass along for keeping this gorgeous flower alive in your home for a long time.

If you happen to have a Hydrangea bush, it’s best when you cut the blooms in the morning by 7 am – or right after sunrise. Pick the ones that are fully open. Also – this is important – place the stems directly into a bucket of water while picking. Don’t let them sit long without water. They’ll dry out very quickly, and they won’t last long in a vase.

When you’re ready to put the stems into a vase, re-cut the ends at a sharp angle with a very sharp knife (very important). If you can manage it, cut both sides of the stems – like a “V” shape – to increase water intake.

After a few days, they may start to wilt. Don’t toss them! Just re-cut the stems and submerge them (blossoms and all – I know this sounds crazy) in a large container of cold water! Let them sit fully immersed in the water for several hours until they rehydrate entirely. Depending on how long they have been drying out, you may need to leave them overnight.  Hydrangea are the only flowers that absorb moisture from their blooms as well as their stems.  This is why it’s important to have them fully submerged in water – they will float to the surface and that’s OK.

When the blooms are perfectly restored, cut the stems again and arrange them in your vase as though they were fresh cut!

I’ve extended the life of my hydrangeas for weeks using this method. Just keep dunking them and bringing them back to life.

Enjoy.

How to get the perfect rug size for your dining room.

Dining room rug

Tips for Home Décor – creating the right “balance” between look and function.

When I buy rugs for my home, I think about how they’ll look in my home – color and style, and how they will ‘get along’ with everything else that is already in the room. But for some people that’s not enough.  They like to go a bit further with themes, shapes and symbology.

I have a friend who is a professor of history at a university and, logically, is a real history buff.  He says that his biggest problem is that he can’t look at anything (including furniture and rugs) without thinking about its story and that sometimes creates a small problem (like if he needs to buy a rug!). But sometimes it’s fun for those of us within earshot to hear the history and stories behind a design.

Not long ago, we were at an event together and he noticed a lovely ornate rug with all sorts of little designs around the edges. There was other furniture in the home that was equally impressive but, my friend couldn’t take his eyes off that rug.  He proceeded to wax poetic about how in ancient times each of the designs in a pattern had a separate meaning.

Because rugs were more durable than flags or clothing, the stories of the family that commissioned the rug were told in the designs and symbols within the pattern – their accomplishments, alliances, and very often how they got their wealth.  Rugs (think medieval tapestries that were hung on the walls to keep warmth inside) were incredibly expensive to own so the families that did own them wanted everyone to know (without actually using words) their family history.

Today the rugs you choose can still tell so many stories about who you are – what you like, the style you’re comfortable in, etc. – things that can start a conversation.  That one little ornate rug at the event we were attending not only got my friend going, but he eventually had three or four other people listening to his stories and asking questions.

For a dining room (or any room) think about all the furniture in the room before you start – not just the table and chairs but any other pieces that will ‘live’ in the room.  Every item in the room should work together – in unison they convey the look and feel that you’re trying to create. The rug anchors the space – helps it look appropriately balanced.  Rugs can not only add to a room but, if not chosen carefully, can also take over that same room.  So, before you go out and buy that rug, place all the furniture in the room exactly where you want it.

Pay attention to the functionality of the rug you are looking at – that gorgeous maroon and grey floral design might be the perfect color for your chairs, but is it the right rug for the room it will ‘live’ in? Is it practical enough to deal with the occasional spill?  Is it the right size?  Too large and it will just look like wall to wall carpeting and your furniture will look crowded.  Too small and your chairs will scrape the floor when they are pulled out and likely catch the edge of the rug when they are pushed back in.  When it’s just the right size the feet of the chair remain on the carpet when the chairs are moved away from the table.

Here are my three easy tips to help you figure out just the right size for your dining room:

  1. Pull out all the chairs as if you are just going to sit down. The back of the chair should be 18-24” from the edge of your table with about 8-10” from there to the wall or the closest piece of furniture.
  2. Pick a rug that is the same shape as your table to create symmetry.
  3. Remember the basic sizes, and plan accordingly:
    • For a 6-chair rectangular table the ideal size is an 8-foot by 10-foot rug.
    • For an 8-chair rectangular table the size goes up to a 9-foot by 12-foot rug.
    • If you have a 4-chair round or square table, then either an 8-foot square or 8-foot diameter round rug will look perfect.

An excellent online source is Rug Studio – pictures alone will help fuel some ideas.

Restoration Hardware – another favorite source of mine – is also a great site for some truly inspired design ideas.

 

Upgrade your Coffee Table or Dining Room Table

Fran Berger home decor ideas

Make a statement with cool accents and fabulous conversation starters.

A lesson I learned from my mother: if it has dust on it, it’s been out too long. The lesson from that idea may not be what you immediately think. She tended to toss things out and wasn’t very fond of collecting (even silver I’m sad to say). BUT she did like to change out her home décor from season to season so that the whole house seemed to constantly renew itself. Truly, one of the only things that stayed the same was the amazing Chinese Red silk wallpaper she had put on the ceiling in the living room!

The focal point of your living room is your coffee table. It really is the center of the room, you literally sit at it. For that fact alone, it’s probably one of the first things in your whole house that your guests notice. Imagine what happens when you go to a friend’s home and you see this beautiful Fabergé egg on the coffee table. You know the kind – intricate porcelain design – amazing colors. It’s a fabulous egg. It’s gorgeous. But year after year it’s in the same spot and is never moved. It now becomes a boring egg, doesn’t it? What fun is it once everyone has seen it so often that it becomes ‘old news’?

Because it is the center of attention, the coffee table is potentially your best tool for starting conversations. If you want to be a star in home entertaining, this is your stage. At least, it’s one of them. From the time that guests first arrive until the last one leaves; what’s on your coffee table can trigger icebreaker conversations. Sometimes there’s a lull in the conversation but the décor on your coffee table can help keep the ‘buzz’ going.

True story: a friend of mine collects what she calls “stupid stuff” like toys and bobbleheads. It is kinda silly – I have to admit – and I’m not the biggest fan. But there we were at a recent gathering, laughing and giggling over these silly things. It really started off a great evening on the right foot. She’s a terrific cook and always serves some of the best food and drink but I think it even made everything she served taste that much better.

Let me put one big caveat on what I mean by “changing out” your home décor. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t be attached to certain items in your home, even if they have to be dusted off, from time to time. But, think about what can easily be refreshed which might mean only adding a couple of items but moving what you do love to different spots so that they look new.

I have some examples that can start wonderful conversations. They’re easy upgrades for your coffee table or dining room table: cool accents that will set off just about any room. Watch my video to see them in my home.

Let’s start with what we can call the center attraction. I’m already getting ready for a spring look (it’s been pretty sunny here in Cali), so I looked around and found glass sculptures from Kosta Boda. I fell in love with a piece called “My Wild Life” by master glass artist, Ludvig Löfgren. The pieces are not mass produced – each piece is a unique work of art.

Then I found a collection by Michael Aram that I think complements the room. I selected a piece called Butterfly Ginkgo Centerpiece that’s made from natural bronze and nickelplate. The Ginkgo Biloba or Butterfly Ginkgo is a tree that has leaves that look like butterflies.

I liked the Kosta Boda piece so much that I went back for more and found these colored glass brick candle holders that are especially lovely for tea lights. Remember, design looks best in odd numbers – in this case three, especially candles and candle holders. And if you don’t like the hassle of real candles, I recommend flameless candles from Crate and Barrel.

Finally. A nice ‘coffee table’ book is always a great way to set off a conversation. If you pick a travel book, make it someplace you’ve been or is on your ‘bucket list’. I have books about Italy, India, and places all over the U.S. Other types of books work – depending on your interests: historic photojournalism (e.g., great moments in history), art books, astronomy, architecture, flowers – or even pets, if you have a penchant for cute and cuddly.

The point is – make the centerpiece the center of conversation. That means it should change with your life and the seasons. Your guests will love it. And to be honest, so will you!