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Jan 27

Sep 16

Surreal Architecture, René Magritte Museum, Brussels, Belgium
photo by gbatistini

I wanna go…


Surreal Architecture, René Magritte Museum, Brussels, Belgium

photo by gbatistini

I wanna go…

Mar 2

In Search of The Perfect Wardian Case

Old Wardian Case Drawing
Back in the 1970’s, we had something called terrariums. They were extremely popular, and consisted of a fish bowl or lidded jar into which people placed miniature plant specimens, rocks, mosses and other natural items to create a small, decorative eco-system. But did you know that in the early 1800’s, something very similar was invented by a doctor named Nathanial Ward?
The Wardian cases, as they were called, allowed the Victorians to collect and keep plant specimens away from the polluted air of London. The cases were also used to transport rare plants from one locale to another. The plants thrived in their sealed, miniature environments and could withstand long journeys. And we all know the Victorians were crazy for plants! Now they could grow exotic specimens shipped from all over the world.
an original Wardian Case
-An original Wardian case specimen
Original Wardian cases are quite rare. Maybe it’s my fascination with Victorian conservatories and greenhouses that draws me to the Wardian case, for the ones I like best are those that look like miniature versions of conservatories.
Modern day Wardian Case
Wardian Case-modern version
My Wardian Case
African Violet
Terrariums and some Wardian cases are meant to be lined with a soil mixture and the plants placed directly into the soil. They are sealed fairly tightly, but should have some amount of air so as to keep the plants from rotting.
A glass bell cloche placed over a plant acts in the same way, creating a humid environment that benefits many plants, like ferns.
Covered Plant Jars
Inside View
Here are some Wardian inspirations:
Real conservatories! I love all the glass and the cross-pieces that hold the glass together. I also love the Victorian wire plant stands used back then.
Beautiful Conservatory
from Porches & Sunrooms by Jessica Elin Hirshman
Flower Pot Stands
Lady Jane designs some beautiful miniature glass houses! They are very expensive, but aren’t they amazing? (Not Wardian cases, but great inspiration!)
Double Conservatory Roombox

Golden Gate Park Conservatory
-Workers repairing the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park Conservatory 2

I’m also drawn to the wires of a birdhouse such as this beauty! Maybe that’s why I use them in my garden. The size and shape would make a very impressive Wardian case!

Bird Cage Inspiration
from Formal Victorian by Ellen M. Plante

Mushroom Birds inside my Wardian Case
Well, with all this Edwardian inspiration, I’m off to the Philadelphia Flower Show to see what else I can find to advance my perfect Wardian search! I hear the American Orchid Society has a fascinating exhibit of Wardian cases and terrariums…Stay tuned to see how the exotic world of orchids intersects with intricate world of Wardian cases!



Shown here: love notes from Jimmy Hendrix, Henry VII, Gerald Ford, Frida Kahlo, Charlie Parker.

12 Hand-Written Love Letters From Famous People, From Henry VIII To Michael Jordan



Soup is a photo series that documents the millions of tiny pieces of plastic floating in our oceans. Pollution has never looked so pretty.

Beautiful Photos Of The Ocean’s Deadly Plastic 

Dec 20

Create A Scene (at your doorstep)

From our house to your house-

Formal or…


Exotic or…

Au natural

We’re ready to hang at your door!

Create A Scene, Malvern, PA. 19355 www.createascene.com

t. 610.827.2168

Custom wreaths, orchid baskets, tabletop and mantle pieces. All created from what’s gathered right here in Chester County.

Happy Holidays!

Nov 17

Winter Gardens


 (Compliments of Slow Love Life)

Instead, I’m going to admire its silvered, disheveled beauty…

…its rotting nobility…

…its thin-skinned, fading glamor….

and wonder at the arrogant brute that brought a noble hawk down to my bed and ravaged it and left only a few bits of fluff clinging to dried sticks….for a few more months. An easy way to garden.

Nov 7


This is a photo from the new advertising campaign for Numi. Can you guess what Numi is? A fashion icon? A post-modern interior design component? A virtual dating service? Wait, more clues- this is how Numi’s features are described:

*Motion activated *Advanced functionality *Integrated hair dryer

*Deordorizer *Heated seat *Feet warming *Illuminated panels for a soft ambient  glow


Sounds like features in the latest luxury car? Nope- this is Numi:

That’s right- a toilet! Complete with a touch screen remote control for all those luxury features listed…

Numi, designed by Kohler, lists for around 6K and can be found at your local bath supply showroom. I found it at Weinstein’s which is having an opening party complete with other “A-list” plumbing accessories on Thursday, November 10, 2011, 5:30-8:30.

Better hurry and beat the paparazzi!

Weinstein’s Kitchen and Bath Showroom, 904 Old Fern Hill Road, West Chester, PA. 19380

Nov 5

Paint Perfect

10 Easy Pieces: Eco-Friendly Paints

A simple coat of paint is an affordable way to revitalize a room. And, thankfully, there are now many paints on the market that are friendly to the environment and your health. A good resource is Inhabitat’s Green Home Guide to eco paints, which rates paints from conventional manufacturers like Benjamin Moore to newcomers. Here are ten paints we like.

Marstons Premium Paints

Above: Marstons Premium Paints from Marston & Langinger are available in three types: a gloss for inside and out, an exterior eggshell finish for exceptional durability, and a fine-finish matte interior paint. Marstons Premium Paints are water-based, non-toxic, non-flammable, and virtually odorless, and when dry, completely safe for pets and children.

C2 LoVo Paint

Above: C2 LoVo Non-Toxic, Low-Voc paint is a premium low-voc paint with infinite color options. LoVo paint can be customized in any color, and is available in the full range of Philips Perfect Colors (see Paints & Palette: Philip’s Perfect Colors) at G & R Paint Company.

Devine PaintsDevine Paints

Above: Devine Paints is an Oregon company founded by artist Gretchen Schauffler. The paint is low odor and meets the strictest green standards, requires only one coat, and creates a luminous surface. We especially like the Northwest-inspired palette.

Kinder Paint Palette 1

Above: Bioshield Natural Paints offers “beauty without the beast.” Their products include clay paints, milk paints, and solvent-free paints, including a special children’s (Kinder) line with a soft pastel palette.

pic_fourcans.jpgYolo Paint Poster Swatches

Above: Portland, Oregon-based Yolo Colorhouse offers premium, environmentally responsible paint products with a user-friendly color palette. Yolo offers poster-size color swatches with real paint ($5.95 each) and repositionable tape on the back that lets you try colors out on different walls and rooms without ever using a brush.

Old Fashioned Milk Paint

Above: The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company originally developed paint for wooden furniture. They now offer Safepaint, a newly formulated milk paint designed for use on walls. Milk Paint is environmentally safe and non-toxic (there is a slight milky odor when it is applied, but it is completely odorless when dry). The paint is safe for children’s furniture and toys, and can also be used for interiors of homes of people who are allergic to modern paints.


Above: Benjamin Moore Natura Paint is a new, non-toxic, environmentally sensitive paint line from Benjamin Moore; the waterborne paint is now available in WA, OR, CA, and TX and will be available nationwide in spring of 2009. Mythic Paint

Above: Mythic Paint is a non-toxic, ultra low-odor paint that provides the durability and coverage you expect from a premium paint without the off-gassing VOC’s and cancer-causing toxins that continue to emit for years after application. Made by Auro, a German company that now distributes in the US.

Horizon Paint by Rodda

Above: Introduced in 1995, Rodda Paint Company’s Horizon Paints are low-VOC, Green Seal–certified (free of all restricted components as defined by Green Seal), and contain an agent that inhibits the growth of mold and mildew on the surface of the paint film.

Green Planet PaintGreen Planet Paint

Above: Green Planet Paints are zero-VOC paints that have moved away from petroleum to a truly sustainable product made from plant resins and mineral pigments. Available in three finishes (flat, eggshell, and semigloss) and 120 mineral and clay-based colors.

Oct 17

Oct 16


On a recent trip to NYC, I stumbled upon these these great pieces of furniture made from re-purposed wood stumps, slabs and tree trunks. For those of you who have visited us here at Magnolia Manor, you know we have many slabs, stumps and various free form accents all around our property- both inside and out!

These painted pieces were spotted at ABC Carpet & Home:

Cocktails anyone?

Nothing like a subtle accent of blue!

One of our cocktail tables at home.

A perch in the guest room up in the treetops…

Fall is a good time to “harvest” your furniture. Happy hunting!

Oct 10
Fast Company Oct 10, 2011 

How To Design “Manly” Household Products For The Involved Dad

With more men spending time at home and taking care of kids, everyday products should speak to both sides of the parenting equation.

[This is part of the Femme Den series from Smart Design. To read the introduction to the series, go here.]

We’re witnessing a major cultural shift in the work that men and women perform. Just as some women are earning salaries that exceed their partner’s and achieving the highest positions in the workforce, men are breaking ground in roles their own mothers used to play single-handedly.

While some men have been forced into this situation—more men have lost their jobs in the ongoing economic recession—others are entering the “involved parent” lifestyle by choice. The 2010 U.S. Census showed the number of single-father families nationwide is at 1.5 million, a 27% jump in the past decade, and an additional 150,000 men are stay-at home fathers. But the biggest change is how involved men have become at home. In 2010, according to an article in Time, men did an average of 53 minutes of childcare a day. That’s almost three times more than in 1965.

Despite this shift, the marketplace hasn’t fully embraced the “involved dad.” Since women continue to drive purchasing decisions for the family, most businesses have yet to look up from their traditional markets to notice men’s changing role in the home. For instance, how do you balance the design of cleaning products so that they appeal to both sexes? And how do you design products that help men feel comfortable and connected to their work in the home?

Let’s look at two very different products for the home and family that manage to include men without alienating women:

Dyson gets even more transparent.

Dyson has found a sweet spot in what Erica Eden describes as “transparent design”—or design that appeals to both sexes but for different reasons. A bigger ticket item like a vacuum will most likely be discussed between a couple, despite the final purchase being made by the woman. How does Dyson make it easier for both a man and a woman to say yes on this purchase? Dyson’s designs emphasize the benefits of suction performance and maneuverability, which spurs women to buy the machines. But once those vacuums make it home, it’s the men of the house who become Dyson fanboys.

If you look at a Dyson DC02 or DC25, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Overall, they resemble typical “man” stuff. In yellow and black (their principal color scheme), they recall DeWalt power tools or Caterpillar construction equipment. The bulging air chambers look technical and functional—more rocket engine than home appliance—and the visible inner suction chamber showcases performance almost like an exposed engine of a hot rod.

Whether Dyson intended the design to appeal specifically to men, it certainly didn’t stop women from making it a market leader. Of course you could argue a lot of women would be happy just to find a product that encourages their husbands to clean!

Diaper duffels for dads

When out in public, even the most rational dad might shun parenting products that make him feel less “manly.” For instance, my friend Chris is a tough-on-the-outside social worker by day, but he also stays at home part-time with his daughter, Sarah. Every time he goes to daycare, the park, or play dates, he has a routine of emptying the entire contents of his wife’s handbag-like diaper bag into his own duffel.

Companies that make products for parents are addressing these kinds of insecurities with designs that defy gender classification and make members of both sexes, especially men, feel comfortable performing their parental duties. For example, a company called Skip*Hop models many of its diaper-changing bags after the gender-neutral messenger bag.

The reality is that the home-product user is no longer the “she” of past generations. It’s also the “he” of the new millennium. As men continue to share responsibilities in the home and with the kids, designers need to cater more thoughtfully to him. At Smart Design, we recently worked with OXO to launch a new line of kids’ products called OXO Tot. While designing the brand and product line, we spent a lot of time understanding the needs of both moms and dads so that the resulting products appeal to both gender sides of the parenting equation. At home, men and women share life and many of the responsibilities. Good design makes both feel welcome.

[Top image image courtesy Skip*Hop; other Skip*Hop image by Wendy Copley]

Sep 29

American Design Fast Asleep?

 Below is a fascinating article by Robert Fabricant on the state of American design. Here, he focuses on product design, but he delivers a provocative thought if you apply it to the process of not only products, but interior and architectural design.
Sep 28, 2011 

American Firms Now Embrace Design, But They’re Aging Fast. What’s Next?

Frog’s Robert Fabricant argues that American companies no longer stand for real innovation in design—and that includes Microsoft (obviously), Google (okay), and Apple (really?!). So the trick is to empower a new generation.

[This is the first in a series of posts drawn from a sprawling survey we conducted about the state of American design.—Ed.]

This question has been troubling me for some time. Have we lost our edge at a particularly dynamic (and economically troubling) moment in our nation’s history? I look around at the aging leadership at the leading American design firms—organizations like frog, IDEO, Continuum and Smart—with some concern. This group has accomplished a huge amount in the last few decades, to be sure, providing design leadership on a global scale. This is particularly significant as one would have expected major firms to emerge out of Asia in this period given their economic influence, and dominance in making stuff. But American firms have led the way, with most of the Asian talent locked up in corporations or designing for markets, like Japan, that are increasingly isolated from the global mainstream or China, which continues to be hobbled by the lack of protection for IP.

American designers have fought and won two major battles.

If we look back on this remarkable period of growth, I would argue that there have been two major battles fought, and largely won by American designers. The first battle concerned the adoption of user-centered design within the engineering and technology culture of corporate America. I remember my days as a summer intern at Microsoft in 1996 attending a reception at Bill Gates’ house and the confusion on his face when I introduced myself as a designer (not an engineer). He seemed truly perplexed—what was a designer doing at Microsoft? Yet today user-centered design, which emerged largely out of software development in California in the ’80s, has been embraced by corporate America. There is no better example than General Electric, the archetypal American company, which has epitomized bottom line efficiency for most of its history, leaving little room for design. Today GE is a leading patron of design. And they have just hired Greg Petroff as their first general manager for user experience for the entire company. User-centered design is officially part of the establishment.
[Microsoft’s Windows 7 mobile OS, which Fabricant likens to “an aging man who starts shopping at boutiques for tight shirts.”]

The second battle concerned the “strategic” nature of design. Designers don’t just make things easier and simpler to use, we open up new opportunity spaces through a more creative approach to problem solving. This movement also came out of the American design establishment, with IDEO leading the charge and business schools and magazines supporting it. Much debate remains over whether “Design Thinking” has been or can be fully adopted by large corporations. But that is largely an intramural debate. We can (and probably will) fight among ourselves about this for some time. But the battle is largely over, with corporations recognizing creativity and collaboration as key ingredients for innovation even if they will never fully know how to embrace and nurture these qualities.

But it was the recent redesign of Gmail that truly signaled to me the aging of American Design. Only a few years ago Marissa Mayer was proudly trumpeting the supremacy of data over emotion in design decisions. Reminding designers everywhere that in America, analytics trumps inspiration. And reaffirming that Google, the company that best represents the next generation of American corporate leadership, would be resolute in approaching design on its own terms. Armed with real-time behavioral data from billions of users, Google was issuing a serious challenge to designers to substantiate the value of what we do. But two years later Google has softened its stance considerably. Larry Page referred to “design” several times in their most recent earnings call as a driver for recent success. Is Google’s adoption of a blandly attractive design language really a victory for American Design? I can’t imagine that Marissa tested every pixel of the new Google style before it launched. Would Americans really choose a black navigation bar? While many talented designers, like Khoi Vin, are heralding Google’s change of heart, I think it is cause for concern.

Gmail’s redesign truly signaled the aging of American Design.
If Google is mellowing with age, Microsoft is having a full-on identity crisis like the aging man who suddenly starts shopping at boutiques for tight shirts, eager to take on any style that will make him seem less fuddy-duddy and old. The first sign was the Zune, with Redmond grasping for Vignelli-like cool. While this was a sideshow, the new look of the Windows Phone (which they are rapidly extending to their core products like Office) is truly eurotrash, aping the flat grids and minimal typography of Swiss design—like something purchased in an airport mall in Zurich. Is this really Microsoft? Is this really American? Gone is the chrome and with it the truly American desire to stuff more and more into the UI like a bloated car dashboard. How can Windows exist without the look of “chrome”? Is this is what happened to American auto design in the ’80s? There is something demoralizing about watching ferociously design-adverse Microsoft go “Swiss” at this stage in the game.

And what about Apple, unassailably cool and inarguably the global tastemaker of our time? Apple defines American design more than any other company. But I would argue that design at Apple has also hit middle age. Jobs, who is aging right before our eyes (like one of the astronauts in Planet of the Apes), has become the champion of nostalgia. Apple products are starting to have a distinctly Disney-esque, almost kitschy quality. The iBookstore with its burled wood panels looks straight out of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Nostalgia is everywhere, as cutting edge technology, once radical and transformative, is now “magical” and comforting. Under Apple’s influence we are watching an entire generation of aging geeks recycle their early experiences with technology as iPhone apps with the look of Pong or Blade Runner. It feels like Back to the Future. Is this the future of American Design?

[Apple, Fabricant argues, is in danger of becoming a parody of itself]

I believe that the best American design comes out of ambivalence and tension. The strong desire to conceive of, and design, a better future combined with the healthy dose of skepticism and self-determinism that resists uniformity. It is this self-determinism, in particular, that is at the core of what is “American” about design today. America continues to be the model of entrepreneurship around the world as new markets have opened up through the proliferation of social media and mobile platforms. Startups are embracing a lean, agile model not just in Silicon Valley, but in Nairobi, Cairo, and Cambodia with small teams working through the design and development of new products and services in real time. Even companies like SAP are adopting agile models that allow them to launch new products in less than 90 days. This is a very exciting period in which product ideas can be developed and launched at warp speed. Small teams are able to engage end users in unprecedented ways as they launch and adapt new services with their user communities in real time.

Attracting VC capital is the next big mission for American Design.
This wave of “agile innovation” poses a new set of challenges for designers, as many of the tools of design are already in the hands of entrepreneurs and engineers. Designers can’t wait to be “hired” to enhance or improve these offerings. We must be active participants at their inception. If designers are truly skilled at identifying unmet human needs and creating the breakthrough products to address those needs, then, increasingly we will need to prove our value as entrepreneurs. American designers can and should lead the way in showing how you adapt the design process to rapid, real-time product development. And lead the way in demonstrating what can be achieved by designers as entrepreneurs in our own right. Ten years from now I hope to see designers able to attract VC capital at the same rate as MBAs and software engineers. That is the next big mission for American Design.

Click here for more thoughts on the state of American design.

[Top image by Thomas Leuthard]

Robert Fabricant

Robert Fabricant

Robert Fabricant is a leader of frog’s health-care expert group, a cross-disciplinary global team that works collectively to share best practices and build frog’s health-care … Read more


(Article compliments of Fast Company)

Sep 15


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