Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 4 Worst Interior Design Trends of 2014

Two terrible trends in one kitchen: honey wood and black granite.

Every year around this time, interior designers declare which trends are the ones to watch (and that we should probably all redecorate our homes with, ASAP). This year, a few completely miss the markand will invariably be met with "what were you thinking?" stares come 2015. 

Not-So-Hot Trend#1: Macrame

Los Angeles designer Betsy Burnham recently told the Wall Street Journal (where everyone goes for decorating tips, obviously) that 2014 is going to be the year of macrame. "We haven't seen it since the 70s," she said. "I think it's time." I think she's wrong. And, unfortunately, she's everywhere: In another article, Burnham advised replacing accent walls with macrame art from Etsy. Sorry, but replacing one wrong with another wrong doesn't make a right.

The only macrame I've ever seen was in my muumuu-wearing great aunt's apartment, which was also decorated with shag carpeting. Macrame just might work if you're a pothead, but for those of us seeking a chic look? No way. 

Not-So-Hot Trend #2: Honey-Tone Woods

Just when I thought I'd never have to tolerate the ubiquitous oak kitchens of my childhood again, Elle Decor has predicted a resurgence of lighter, honey-colored woods. What's nextthe return of the boxed-in space above kitchen cabinets? Formica countertops? 

Not-So-Hot Trend #3: Pastels

Don't get me wrong, a little pale pink can be sweet. But an entirely pastel palette? Hello, $60-a-night hotel room. When I was a kid, my sister claimed her Barbie's babies were allergic to bright colors, so she forced me to redecorate my Dream Home every time her Barbie family came over. So, yes, maybe I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to pastels. But I still can't fathom going back to the blush tones of the 1980s. Should I expect oversized florals and vertical blinds to make a comeback, too?

Not-So-Hot Trend #4: Black Kitchen Counters

Black granite or quartz countertops are going to be a hot item this year, according to the Zillow Digs Home Design Trend Report. Perfect! After we've all spent years trying to brighten up our kitchens, let's suck out all the light! I can maybe get on board with a black countertop for an island. But the whole kitchen? Spare me. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

8 NEW Treats for Dessert Fiends

Crest Mint Chocolate Toothpaste

I'm a Crest loyalist, but I have my doubts about chocolate-flavored toothpaste. If I really wanted my breath to smell like chocolate, I'd eat a piece ofget thischocolate. Yet Crest claims the "rich, creamy cocoa flavor" is a calorie-free way to indulge, although I usually like to swallow my chocolate, not spit it in the sink. Skepticism aside, I'll probably be suckered into buying a tube, just to say I tried it. Or maybe I'll go for one of the other slightly more palatable-sounding flavors: Vanilla Mint Spark and Lime Spearmint Zest.

Cookie Dough Oreos

Who, you might ask, buys all of the bizarre flavors of Oreos that have come out over the last few years? Me, that's who. I'm a sucker for novelty products, and in this case, I'm legit excited, because two of my favorite flavors are colliding. These limited-time Oreos hit shelves February 3rd. I'll be the first in line.

Marshmallow Crispy Oreos

If you can get past the stupid nameno doubt, a way to avoid the inevitable trademark trouble of using the term "Rice Krispies"these Oreos sound just as promising as the cookie dough ones, as long as the marshmallow flavor is authentic, and not some artificial-tasting knock-off (like cheesecake ice cream, which is always a disappointment). These yummies also debut on February 3rd.

Starbucks Tiramisu Latte

Now that I have an Italian last name, I'm obligated to include the new Starbucks Tiramisu Latte, even though I actually hate the dessert. (Just don't tell my in-laws.) I also hate coffee, so I won't be trying this creation, which consists of espresso, mascarpone flavor, and cocoa espresso powder. Unfortunately for tiramisu fans, it's only being debuted in two cities this winter: St. Louis and Jacksonville, since, you know, those Floridians are the ones who really need a hot drink. 

Hershey's Spreads

My mom recently tried Nutella for the first time (a little late on that one, right?), and she loved it. Lucky for her, the food world has finally caught onto the whole hazelnut/chocolate trend, too: Hershey just released a Nutella knock-off, as well as plain chocolate and chocolate/almond spreads. I've yet to try them, but will probably buy a jar the next time I go to the supermarket hungry. 

Hershey's Chocolate Bar 3-D Printer

Don't get too excited, because I'm a little premature on this one: Hershey has partnered with a 3-D printing company to allow people to create custom chocolate bars. No word on when it's going to debut, or how much it'll cost. I foresee the world's first $100 candy bar. 

Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups

My mourning period for Butterfinger B&B's may officially be over. I'm a Reese's Cup fiend, and I feel confident the crunchy, Butterfinger texture will add an extra layer of intrigue to the classic candy. Expect to see a commercial for this new Nestle creation during the Super Bowl!

Dunkin' Donuts Heart-Shaped Cookie Dough Donut

I felt my heart skip a bit when I read the name of this Valentine's Day donut, but then I read the kind-of-disappointing description: The "cookie dough" is really just buttercream filling, with chocolate icing and chocolate chips on top. (Dunkin' claims the vanilla flavor is "similar" to cookie dough.) That doesn't sound like cookie dough to me. Alas, I'm still willing to take my chances.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Make Your Own Chevron Coffee Table Tray!

As I mentioned before, I'm in a bit of a blue phase. Unfortunately, it seems that the rest of the decorating world is not. I have an insanely difficult time finding blue accessories for my living room! (Maybe I should take that as a sign...) But not to be deterred, I've resorted to making my own blue accent pieces.

Several months back, I purchased this tray for $5 from a garage sale:

It was originally red, and I painted it orange. (I had some pillows of a similar color I wanted to match.) But when I realized the pillows didn't match my living room, I was left with a tray that didn't look right, either. 

After months of staring at it with disgust, I finally got around to redoing it. I had some leftover high-gloss royal blue paint from another project, which, on top of the orange (I was in no mood to prime), came out closer to navy. The high-gloss looks great, almost like a lacquered finish, which is all over the place these days.

For the middle of the tray, I bought some blue-and-white chevron scrapbooking paper. I wanted a pattern in the middle, but the size of my tray meant I'd have to buy a million sheets to achieve a seamless look if I chose something crazy like a floral. But chevron? It's just the same thing over and over and over again, making it super easy to match up and keep the flow of the pattern going. 

To apply the paper, I used high-gloss Mod-Podge, and to avoid wrinkles, applied the bottom layer first, pressed down the paper, and waited several minutes for it to dry. Then I applied the top layer of gloss. Of course, a few wrinkles/bubbles are pretty much unavoidable; I fixed these by poking a sewing needle into the bubble, then pressing out the air and applying a little more Mod-Podge. Voila, a classy-looking tray for about $10!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Can You REALLY Paint Upholstery?

Before & After

Reupholstering a chair is expensivelike, upwards of $300 expensive. Of course, going the reupholstery route makes sense if you've invested in pricey furniture. But I've never been willing to take the plunge, since most of the chairs I want to change are Goodwill cast-offs. It's hard to justify dropping $300 to redo a $10 chair. 

Most recently, I decided one of living room chairs needed a facelift. I purchased this one a few years back, and while it looked good in my last apartment's living room, it felt too modern in my current one, with its sleek black legs and off-white fabric. My vision: Make this contemporary piece look like an antique, but with a little colorful flair. 

I chose a daffodil yellow paint for the upholstery (to match a West Elm chair on the other side of the room), and gracefully curved wooden legs to replace the contemporary ones. 

Did I really say PAINT an upholstered chair? Yep! You simply mix acrylic paint with textile medium (sold at Joann Fabrics) and water, which, together, keep the fabric from becoming stiff when you apply the paint. Hint: For about $6, you can get a quart-sized paint "sample" at Sherwin-Williams. (For more detailed instructions, check out this how-to from Hyphen Interiors.)

I bought the legs from Home Depot, which I stained and then accented in a few places with a very light coating of silver spray paint. I can't take full credit here, though: My husband had to put them on for me. (He's handy to have around!) Finally, I added upholstery tacks, following the subtle curve of the arm, with a few more just above the leg. 

I've already gotten lots of compliments on the final product...totally unsolicited, too! So would I do it again? Absolutelyalthough I'd probably limit my upholstery painting to pieces that are more decorative than functional, since the paint does make the fabric firm (although not crunchy by any means). 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Truth About HomeGoods

Framingham, MA, is perhaps most known for the Framingham Heart Study, a decades-long research project tracking the health of its residents. But the New England town is also the heartbeat of a company that millions of Americans love: TJX, which includes T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, and my favorite, HomeGoods.

The company dates back to 1919, when two brothers, Max and Morris Feldberg, opened the New England Trading Company, based in Boston. A decade later, they opened their first retail store, which specialized in one item: women's hosiery. (Kind of weird, right?) 

Fast-forward to the 1950s, when the Feldberg family opened a discount department store chain, Zayre (which means "very good" in Yiddish). It wasn't until 1977 that the first T.J. Maxx opened, and from the beginning, the store specialized in "off-price" merchandise—a model that was passed onto HomeGoods, launched in 1992. 
HomeGoods is the mecca of discount home decor, essentially Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Crate & Barrel all rolled into one—if everything was on sale. So how does HomeGoods achieve this caliber of incredible?

The store's parent company, TJX, is notoriously secretive about its buying habits. Case in point: When a business analyst asked a very specific question about the company's purchasing strategies, CEO Carol Meyrowitz bluntly replied, "Good try, Paul, but we don't comment on that." She frequently refers to the company's sourcing as its "secret sauce," refusing to share more than the vaguest of details about TJX's behind-the-scenes action

Perhaps the most repeated question: Am I buying past-season stuff that just didn't sell? The short answer: no. HomeGoods practices "opportunistic buying," a strategy also used by Ross Dress for Less. Here's how it works: Most retailers order products six to nine months in advance, and send out buyers just four times a year. But TJX does it differently: The company's buyers are on the prowl 40 weeks of the year, purchasing primarily for the present season (so buying for spring in the spring, instead of the fall prior). 

That means they're able to scoop up stock other retailers left behind a few months prior, while still buying in-season goods. TJX considers this an advantage: Opportunistic buying allows them to wait for trends to emerge, then score hot items at a reduced price. "They get better pricing because they're waiting until the last minute," said Morry Brown, analyst with C.L. King. "It could be apparel manufacturers made too many goods and need to sell the excess or it could be some department stores canceled or pushed orders back."

Reps insists this is the company's primary mode of stocking shelves—Merowitz says 85 percent of the product is in-season—although the stores do sell some past season items, which are labeled as such. (For example, in a 2002 lawsuit, Limited Too revealed that it sells past-season clothing to TJX.) And, occasionally, the warehouses stock up on items for later seasons, but that's not the favored approach.

Buying late in the game isn't the only way the company avoids stocking up on items doomed to the clearance aisle. HomeGoods purposefully keeps its inventory "lean" by buying a limited number of each item (sometimes as few as 100), allowing for quick turnover and a fresh flow of new treasures, keeping people like me coming back on a near-daily basis. (Merowitz says she's seen people come to HomeGoods with U-Haulsand even admits to being a bit of an addict herself, revealing, "I filled up my trunk last week, and I have to stop doing that, because my husband is going to be furious with me.") 

So where does HomeGoods find its seemingly endless supply of one-of-a-kind lamps and accent chairsenough to fill up every 27,000-square-foot store with unique inventory? Let's start with the website's (somewhat vague) explanation:

HomeGoods buyers travel the world to find the most exciting and unique merchandise available--many of the same items seen in high-end catalogs, specialty and department stores. Through innovative buying approaches and positive vendor relationships, HomeGoods is able to offer a wide assortment of high-quality goods, providing shoppers with a vast selection of unique merchandise along with substantial savings. 

This doesn't tell us much. So I did some digging, and found a 2010 lawsuit against HomeGoods, when a man sued because he sat on a bamboo bench at the store and it promptly collapsed. (The case was dismissed, BTW). Here's the tidbit of note: HomeGoods had purchased the faulty piece of furniture from a distributor, CBK. There's a company, Midwest-CBK, which according to its website, sells "exclusive, innovative, artist-driven products of the highest quality that reflect traditional and updated design trends." Check out a few pics from the showroom...

Totally looks like HomeGoods, right? (The company has showrooms across the country, but you have to be a retailer to gain access. Bummer.) But CBK definitely isn't HomeGoods' only supplier, lest you think the big shots are lying about those global shopping trips. (A quote from a company rep: "A buyer's life here is a lot of travel.") In a HomeGoods blog post, a buyer recently revealed the itinerary of a shopping trip: Italy, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

So, yes, the merchandise really has as much international flair as the colorful shelves suggest. In fact, in 2012, The Journal of Commerce named TJX one of the United States' top 100 importers. How massive is its scope? The company works with over 16,000 vendors, has 13 buying offices in 10 different countries (including Australia, China, India, and Italy), and has a purchasing team of 900 people (one report said 700 of these buyers work for HomeGoods), who shop in 60 countries, pretty much year round. "Our global sourcing is one of our most powerful drivers, which allows us to buy virtually anywhere at any time," a company insider has said. 

It's taken TJX 36 years to master this merchandising system, which is built on solid vendor relationships. A "very high percent" of the sourcing is done in Europe, although the goal is to create a "very unique exciting assortment" of product. As a result, buyers are encouraged to take "intelligent risks," which may explain the quirky home accessories that seem to be exclusively sold at HomeGoods. (Random aside: Did you know there's a Canadian version of the store, called HomeSense?) 

In a USA Today article, Merowitz said that 85% of the company's products are purchased directly from the manufacturers (although some big-name brands like Coach say they only send 'excess discontinued inventory' to the stores). "We're absolutely fine with every vendor saying they don't do business with us," she said. "It's a very important part of our relationship." So, apparently, in the retail world, TJX is like the friend you secretly hang out with, but would never tell the cool kids about. And TJX is totally cool with that. 

Part of the deal: Unlike department stores, which can return unsold inventory to designers at the end of the season, TJX stores buy stuff and commit to it. In other words, if a buyer purchases a batch of lamps that totally bomb, HomeGoods will keep them until they sell (and yet again, someone like me finds the unloved item on clearance and takes it home). 

My only remaining question: Can I tag along on the next HomeGoods buying trip?