Remember that TV show on TLC called “While You Were Out“? Folks would send their unsuspecting loved ones out of town for a couple of days and then have a designer and crew (and TV cameras, of course) come in to redo a room. It aired from 2002 to 2006, and my two then high-school- and college-age daughters and I watched every episode. (Side note No. 1: We three got to meet the ultimate WYWO cast of cutie-pie Evan Farmer, super-hunk Andrew Dan-Jumbo and empowered-funny-woman Leslie Segrete when they filmed an episode in Birmingham, Ala., and I covered it for my newspaper.) The combination of designing, redecorating, renovating, keeping a secret and sneaking around, all in front of millions of TV viewers, was irresistible. (Side note No. 2: My daughters, along with Older Daughter’s now-husband, even did a WYWO on husband JP and me. While we were honeymooning after our 2004 wedding, they redid my bedroom from “divorced single mom” to “sophisticated power couple.” Using a gorgeously colored wine theme, they repainted, repositioned furniture, brought in wine accents and even replaced my grungy nightstands with super-cute wine-rack tables that we still use.) And even though he wasn’t nearly as huge a fan as we were, my husband pulled a WYWO on me while I was enjoying some cat-free mornings spending a few days out-of-town. First, when I got home, I immediately noticed that the house was clean — probably much cleaner than when I’d left. And since we have four cats, a clean house takes some work. When I complimented my husband, he admitted he’d discovered the secret of housecleaning: Do some every day so it doesn’t pile up into one big mess. I was so proud! Second, I noticed he’d replenished my supply of my favorite gum — adorable! Then, he proudly showed me our mailbox, which now sported our house number. “I thought it was about time,” he said, “since we’ve lived here for almost two years and sometimes the mail folks still can’t find us.” A clean house, my favorite gum and a properly identified address would have been enough, but toward the end of the evening, he finally couldn’t take it anymore and said in exasperation, “Aren’t you going to go in the guest bathroom tonight?” Turns out he’d put up my birthday present from this past year — a funky and wonderful blue-painted mirror made from recycled wood that we’d left leaning against the wall for months while we wondered if it were too heavy to hang. So far, it’s not. Also: I have the best husband in the world.
Let’s face it — bathrooms are important, especially when you’re out & about and away from home. That’s when the state of a bathroom particularly is vital. It’s safe to say that we women appreciate a nice restroom with elegant touches and luxurious style. And it’s no secret that we tend to judge a restaurant or an office or a public building — or wherever we happen to be — by its bathroom. It’s a sort of test: Is the restroom clean? Is it comfortable? Are there plenty of supplies? Is the style of the restroom in keeping with the style of the overall location — does it convey the same decor message of funky or chic or classic or retro? If the bathroompasses these tests, we’ll give the “okay” our girlfriends who are waiting at the table while we check it out. But sometimes we enter an alternate restroom universe and it seems as if the bathroom is testing us. As in, “If you’re smart enough to figure out how the faucet works, Ms. FancyPants, then, welcome. You belong here. If not, there’s a McDonald’s down the street.” Such was my experience recently with this gorgeous and sparkling-clean women’s room at The Club in Birmingham, Ala. The furnishings, the art work, the details all were so compelling that it took me a minute to realize I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the faucet. I mean, it looks as if you’d maybe slide those rectangles back and forth or perhaps push them on the edges or maybe there’s a motion sensor somewhere. But, no. You turned these on by a coordinated action of sliding and pushing — and it only took me two visits and some friendly advice from an employee to get it right. “Don’t worry. Nobody can figure it out,” she said, smiling at my ineptitude. I could hear the bathroom chuckling in triumph as I made my way out. But before we were ready to leave, I couldn’t resist one last visit, just to show that I could. “You do it this way,” I said helpfully to a frustrated woman standing at the sinks. “But don’t worry. Nobody can figure it out.”
This is our backyard. Oh, okay, that’s a downright lie. You know that our backyard actually is about the size of this patio table. And even if it were bigger, I still wouldn’t have the talent and skill to make our outdoor space look this cute and inviting. I mean, don’t you want to just pull up a chair and pour a nice cool drink? Love the bright red and green tablescape with lemon-yellow accents. So summery! This was only one of the dozens of inspiring “rooms” on this past weekend’s Corinth (Mississippi) Home & Garden Tour. Sponsored by Verandah House Friends, the annual tour raises money to restore Corinth’s 1857 Verandah House, a Greek Revival beauty where Confederate officers planned their Shiloh campaign. The tour included a flower show, a silent auction of amazing local art, a bake sale and a plant sale. But the stars, of course, were the homes and gardens. Three houses in one of Corinth’s historic districts were open to visitors, and it was a constant stream of admiring “ooh’s and ahh’s” as we peeked into interior rooms and wandered through outdoor spaces. I especially was impressed with the way the owners combined respect for their homes’ authenticity with modern individual touches — beloved family heirlooms were cozily comfortable sharing with cheerful 21st-century details. But, you know, that’s how we do it* in the South.
* I was going to say “that’s how we roll in the South,” but since that invariably would lead to “Roll, Tide!” references I went instead with a less inflammatory phrase. After all, this is a free and open space where we tolerate all opinions and where differences are welcome. On the other hand: “War Eagle!”
When the going gets tough, the tough clear their calendars, buy plenty of wine and head out to for a weekend near the water. And, boy, you know that things sure get tough a lot. Okay, not really — but us girl friends have to have an excuse to get away every now and then. We’re counting on one of us to retire soon and buy a fabulously big lakehouse with room for all of us, but until then we have to rent our getaways. Luckily, a couple of us are skilled at wading through all the lists of possible rentals and honing on in exactly what we need. Such as this one-level open-plan charmer we hung out at recently. It was a wet weekend so we couldn’t enjoy the inviting back deck and the peaceful view as much as we would have liked, but the interior was so industrial-modern and minimalist-funky that we were fine inside. We loved the brick walls and exposed ductwork and construction details that ran throughout the house. There even were two commercial-style garage doors that opened up to the deck to bring the outside almost completely in. The sleek upscale kitchen had plenty of storage along with stainless appliances and granite countertops. The cabinets sported gorgeous door pulls that carried out what we felt was an urban-loft theme — on a lakeshore surrounded by trees and water. And good friends. And plenty of wine.
I don’t know what it is about Mississippi and restaurant names, but any eatery in the Magnolia state that has the word “grocery” in it is bound to be a winner. Examples: City Grocery in Oxford, Pizza Grocery in Corinth. And Romie’s Grocery in Tupelo. A meat-and-three by day, Romie’s turns into a warm and friendly dining experience at night featuring a creatively eclectic menu of fresh Southern favorites. And then of course there is the ladies’ room — you know that’s one of my top priorities for a restaurant. And Romie’s gets top grades for its home-like decor, cozy lighting and whimsical art work. Also: I sort of want to take this sink and the bathroom counter home with me, but a) that would leave a huge hole in the Romie’s ladies’ room and b) my Dear Husband consistently turns his nose up at bowl sinks. I say they’re an imaginative way to add some personality and style to a bathroom. He says, “They’re just weird. And wrong.” But I believe, with all due respect, that in this instance he is wrong. I mean, doesn’t the contrast of textures among the sink and the mirror and the counter just make you believe that the whole world should be this cool? Imagine, if you can, what it would look like with your typical white bathroom sink. Ugh. However, Dear Husband and I do agree that Romie’s is delicious and we should eat there as often as we can.
This could be our dream house — literally, because it’s the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in Tupelo, Mississippi. The giveaway is a national fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. You tour the house, buy a $100 ticket and hope for the best. In Tupelo the local partner is the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the very cool downtown Fairpark development where the St. Jude house is. I love this house! And I know a big part of my instant love affair is the furniture and the decor, which naturally does not stay, but since we’re on a dream roll here, I figure why not imagine moving in as is? The decor was rich and elegant but worked perfectly with the family-friendly layout of the house. Dear Husband and I especially were impressed with the built-in desk in a kitchen hallway and the built-in bench and storage cubbies adjacent to the entry way from the garage. And this was the first shower I’d ever seen with a hinged door that could swing either in or out — brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that? Hope whoever wins this house loves it, too. The drawing was this afternoon and so far our phones have not rung — but we can still dream.
When my Dear Husband asked me to go with him to the annual Mississippi/Louisiana Associated Press Managing Editors awards luncheon this past week, I had no idea we’d be going to one of Jackson, Mississippi’s old-school-and-proud-of-it landmarks: The Capital Club. Established in 1947, it’s downtown near the governor’s mansion and the state capitol — commanding an impressive view from atop the Capital Towers building. I could just imagine all sorts of high-powered conferences going on while high-powered politicians and business folks conferred over their hand-carved roast beef. I loved all the upscale details, too — from the leather furniture in the library to the lemons and limes used in the flower arrangement. And you know I love a fancy bathroom. This one had those lovely big mirrors with chairs and makeup counters and glass decanters of hand lotion — why can’t Wal-Mart do something like this??? Dear Husband picked up a first-place award for headline writing (His paper, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, got a total of 26 awards — sweet!) and gave a talk to the group on why he’s optimistic about the future of newspapers — gaining extra points for mentioning both me and grandson Capt. Adorable. And rumors that we got thrown out of the dining room are greatly exaggerated. Truly! After we loaded up our plates at the lunch buffet (the gumbo, sweet corn muffins and fresh coconut cake were especially delicious) we thought we were supposed to sit in the main dining room with what looked to be a core group of Mississippi movers and shakers. Turns out we journalists had our own room — away from the movers and shakers. Probably a wise move. Learn more about the Capital Club at http://www.capitalclubms.com.
This is going to embarrass my friend so I won’t say her name — oh, let’s call her … let’s see … oh, let’s just randomly say her name is “Cheryl” and she maybe lives in Florence, Alabama — but I loved this inviting basket of towels in her downstairs bathroom. Doesn’t it look like a basket of Easter eggs? So pretty! And this isn’t just for company — she always has her towels like this. It’s like the most pampering and luxurious spa ever. She picks up the cheerful riot of colors in other of her bathroom accessories, and I’m particularly impressed that she uses this small piece of free-standing furniture in her bathroom to block one of the two doors into the room — offering a little more privacy and a cozy storage place all at the same time. I love how this simple thing reminds us how easy it is to add a touch of personality to a room without going overboard — or over budget — and how those small little details can make friends and family feel so special. And how you can tap in to your hidden creativity just by looking at everyday items in new ways. She inspired me to go home and, well … at least clean my bathroom. That’s a start, right?
Anybody who’s worried about today’s young people shouldn’t — at least based on their decorating skills. Isn’t this apartment absolutely adorable? I’d move in in a minute! It belongs to Rachel, a 25-year-old who’s one of Younger Daughter’s friends in Birmingham, Alabama. Rachel is a recent college graduate and recently started working — and although interior decorating is not her field, I think it should be. I loved the way Rachel used inexpensive touches — she shops in consignment and discount stores — to express her style and create a calm and peaceful environment combined with a sense of whimsy. And she’s got such inspiring ideas. For instance, she paints small wooden window shutters, hangs them vertically on the wall and puts photos in the individual slats — brilliant! She also found a practice climbing wall with various size handholds and set it up above a doorway for stress-releasing fun. And I love the way she uses the simple basic elements of candles and coffee beans for earthy and fragrant tablescapes. And she has such a good eye — her comfy thrift-store sofa and weathered chest of drawers with intriguing mismatched drawer pulls look as if they came from a top designer boutique. Rachel’s efforts have convinced me that when it comes to interior decor, money and time constraints are no excuse. Lesson learned. Thank you, Rachel!
I don’t want to sound all grumpy and old — I mean, I know who Monsters of Folk are, after all — but aren’t we rushing the holidays just a little bit? Look, it’s only early November, but I’ve already seen enough Christmas-shopping commercials and front-door Christmas wreaths to last me through December. And the thing is that I love the holidays. I am definitely a Christmas kind of girl. I believe you can never have enough wassail and frankincense and festive good cheer, not to mention yummy food, fun parties and presents for all. It’s just that I also am a fall kind of person. I love autumn leaves and pumpkins and brown and orange sweaters. I adore warm days and cool nights and those lovely 5 p.m. sunsets. And I know, I know — stores started selling Halloween merchandise in August so technically we’ve had enough time to celebrate fall. But, still, it’s the first week of November. I’m just not ready to flip the switch to Christmas yet — particularly since that means Thanksgiving gets sort of lost. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays — you get all the fun without any of the pressure. What’s not to like about that? This arrangement I saw in a Tupelo, Mississippi, hotel lobby this past week would make the perfect Thanksgiving decoration — although it’s probably gone by now and replaced by a Christmas tree. Sigh. And, really, why fight it? I have been thinking about going ahead and unearthing the holiday CDs that every year I put away so carefully so I can find them easily the next year, which never works, of course. It usually takes me a couple weeks to track them down, so that should be about right. Feliz Navidad!