Inspirations from the Irish Countryside

My family was privileged to be invited to the wedding of one of my son’s best friends in Dublin last month.  After the lovely two-day celebration (including a post-wedding trip to the Glendalough Monastic site in Wicklow), we headed south to County Wexford to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Irish countryside. Walking and rambling around we found stunning sea cliffs, gorgeous flowers, and other inspirations for design. Luckily I had my iPhone with me so I can share a few of those moments with you.

Inspirations from Nature

The purple flowers above are Bell Heather, a short evergreen undershrub that is also known as “Ling.” It covered the ground along our cliff walk in Ardmore, below.  A bright discovery in the midst of all of that gray and green.

I found the Irish to be very modern and committed to sustainability. For example, the house with a living roof (below).

This is the first living roof I’ve seen in person and which we discovered along the cliff walk.  This roof was covered in a reddish succulent, with a bed of stones providing a border. I’d like to see a boom of living roofs in Montclair, although the covering would have to work with our climate.

Hedges are the fences of Ireland, the primary way property lines are defined. Most are wonderfully wild. But this length of manicured hedges in Enniscorthy was a delightful sight, made particularly interesting by the use of several shades of green.  You might be thinking that the different tones in the photo below are due to a play of light. But no, the hedges on the left are light green while those on the right are darker.  And that beautiful lawn–perfect for croquet!

I expected a fairy or leprechaun to jump out from this mythical glade next to Blarney Castle. Could this be reinvented in a Montclair garden? Hmmm.

New Irish Design

Architects, artisans and artists all over Ireland are reinventing the country’s traditional designs and ways to use the abundant natural resources.

Not your grandmother’s Waterford crystal. John Rocha is an Irish fashion, jewelry, and home décor designer who is reinterpreting the Irish crystal legacy, like the bowl above.

Isn’t this a beautiful kitchen island? I found it in the window of a custom cabinet workshop near the Kilkenny Design Centre.  The rounded cabinet, detailed paneling, little feet at the toe kick all speak to amazing craftsmanship.

At left, an eye-catching stone column in the bar at the Cliff House Hotel.  Layers of flat fieldstone disappear into square wooden molding at top, which conceals recessed lights. The stream of light ripples down the façade and shows off the stone. (Do you think the designer was trying to replicate this Ogham stone dating from the 4th century?)

Yes, I admit that I took my phone into the bathroom to take a picture of this really cool shower door in our room at Ballinkeele House.  On the left you can see two panes of glass, one narrow vertical, which is a stationary wall of glass. The other pane, with the rounded edge, is a “door” that swings open like a book cover so you can reach the faucets, and then you pull it closed behind you.  The water doesn’t splash out.

Ireland’s Tradition of Weaving

When you walk or drive through Ireland you realize why the country has a long history of producing quality woolens: there are sheep everywhere.  We were only a short drive from Avoca, and made plans to visit the village and the Mill of Avoca Hand Weavers.

From the company’s website: The Mill at Avoca Village, County Wicklow was set up in 1723 “as a co-operative where farmers could spin and weave their wool, the Mill’s uncoloured yarn was turned into tweeds and blankets. However, colour soon came to Avoca as vivid natural vegetable dyes in reds, greens, and yellows brightened the Mill’s output. These were soon recognised as Avoca Handweavers’ signature hues.”

Now their bright-colored wool is finding expression in home furnishings. I especially like the chair, which have an unusual design element. The buttons for the tufts are all bright red, a simple but brilliant idea that takes the chair from ordinary to a stunning accent piece.

Be sure to visit my Pinterest  page to see other design ideas for your home.


Design Trends and Tips From Color and Design: Dorm Room Style

In just a few weeks students will reconvene in the halls of dormitories to make new friends, catch up with old ones, and decorate their new living spaces. Creating a homey feeling in a tiny space can be challenging but we have some great ideas on how to keep your living space livable yet beautiful.

The Focal Point Of The Room

In a dorm room the bed is often the most prominent piece of furniture. Begin your room design ideas with your bed and then work the rest into that theme. 

Poised and Playful Complete with feminine pillows, a plush throw, and a butterfly-printed duvet it’s the perfect combination of girly and sophisticated. This palette full of cool tones and fun patterns is just right for the girl who wants her room to reflect every side of her personality from poised to playful.


The All Out Jock

These athletic students may have a more simplistic dorm style where their room essentials are more minimal. They may want a solid colored comforter like this blue one below. Additional decorations such as photos of the family and sports team posters can be the perfect finishing touch. 


Chevron Printed California Girl

Bright yellows like the sun, cool teal like ocean, and pure white like the sand give this collection the ultimate relaxed feel. Perfect for the girl who wants to chill-out in her room after a long day. Where summertime is everyday, this combination is truly fine, fresh, and fierce.


Preppy Ivy League

These buttoned up students may want a more traditional style room. To create this preppy Ivy League look use tailored fabrics that are crisp and clean. Bring the comforts of home to the dorm with plaid’s, classic stripes and laid-back style.

PB Teen

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Sectional Sofas

An inviting furniture arrangement includes a sectional sofa- great for conversation or for lounging and relaxing. The simple color plan of soft neutrals combined with accents of cinnamon and berry tones are a beautiful contrast to the nicely groomed outside area.

A sectional sofa big enough for the entire family makes a great spot for movie night, lounging, and afternoon naps. Choose one in a durable fabric with texture and a soft feel.

A sectional sofa is perfect for small spaces where you want to maximize seating. The armless and backless feature helps to give the room an open feeling.

Sectionals can also give the room an elegant yet comfortable impression.

If you have the space, you can add a chaise to one end of the sectional. Everyone will be clamoring to get this seat!

Use a modular sofa to define space within a room. Sofas can be custom sized to fit the floor plan of your home.

Two sectionals are better than one. A creative way of connecting the interior and exterior spaces.

For a glance of more sectionals and design tips please check out my Pinterest boards.

*Color and Design is an authorized furniture source for Cisco Brothers and Nathan Anthony.

Completing Your Outdoor Room: “Walls” and “Ceilings”

Once you have chosen the flooring and overall style of your outdoor room you will want to add elements that create privacy as well as shade or shelter from the elements.

Some things to think about:
  • How much light do you want, how much do you need? A canopy of trees is a natural ceiling. A permanent fixture like a pergola can provide some overhead shelter and help define the space. A sailcloth awning or canopy can provide real protection from sun and rain.
  • How green do you want your room to be?  Is maintenance an issue? Living walls made of shrubbery are beautiful but need seasonal pruning, although many feel the benefits outweigh the effort.
  • How will the room be used? Do you want a cozy spot to curl up with a book or a series of linked spaces designed for entertainment?
  • How much privacy do you want? Consider your geographic location, amount of screening, wall density, and resources.
  • Are you interested in using the room in the spring and fall as well as summer? A fireplace can turn your garden room into a three-season outdoor respite. Or use outdoor heaters to prolong use of the space.

Each of these options can be dressed up or down.  Here are some of my favorites:

 Living Walls

The uniformity and repetition of the living hedge, the scale, and the mixture of plants used to create the garden wall below gives it a sculptural feel.  It’s somewhat formal but would work well on a far wall in many different settings.  Extensive pruning would be required but it really makes a statement.


When you’re aiming for privacy and space is an issue, assemble stakes horizontally in a frame to create an effective screen. The corner screen below has been softened by adding a pair of stunning bronzed jars with dramatic plantings. They help turn a hum drum corner into a dramatic focal point.

Transform an Ugly Feature

If you love your garden but don’t know what to do with that ugly garage wall, here’s an idea: Paint it.  You can make the outdoor room a true extension of your home by continuing the indoor color scheme.  Or pick a dramatic color that complements your indoor environment to create a backdrop for your outdoor room. Layer it with built-in planters of mixed materials. In this image planters are made of formed concrete wood decking. A screen of bamboo or tall grasses softens the wall and sets the stage for your favorite seasonal plants. Bamboo and grasses also provide winter interest as they dry at the end of summer.  This solution can be adapted to any style.

Simple, Impressive, and Flexible

Containers offer an easy, flexible way to define your outdoor room.  Use 3 to 5 planters, and keep them uniform to create the sense of a wall. Use the same plant arrangement in all of the planters, like the image below, and select slow-growing evergreen shrubs. Consider your location, whether the space gets full sun, partial sun, or shade, and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. A reputable garden center will be able to help you make the best selection. And if you are making these plans for next year, wait until the end of summer and to buy pots and plants–when they go on sale.


A pergola can create both wall and ceiling for an outdoor room, and they can be designed in a variety of styles, from casual to modern. For example, the rustic Tuscany-inspired style below can be covered with grape vines or trumpet vines, creating a freeform living wall with plenty of open space.

Or instead of plants weave strips of sailcloth through the pergola, either across the whole structure or only one section to create a partial cover.

Fireplace: Beautiful Focal Point

Fireplaces can bring three-season functionality to an outdoor room.  But it doesn’t have to be a big wall of stone or brick. Like the stunning examples below, an outdoor fireplace can transform a dull wall or exterior area into a stunning visual feast. I hope they inspire your own interpretation of an outdoor fireplace.

Nap Time

You’ve been working hard to create your beautiful outdoor room. Don’t forget to include a place to nap. The cozy nest below caught my eye–simple but elegant, natural materials–it’s both functional and decorative.  Irresistible.

There are more images on my Pinterest  page and great ideas in the other posts in this series. I hope they inspire you to create an outdoor room for your home

Designing a cozy inviting space for outdoor living begins with the general layout, the overall style, and the type of materials I would like to include.

The outdoor floor needs to function well with the changing weather, but it also has to fit the style of the outdoor room that is being created. For my family, it has to feel good on their bare feet. And for me it has to be pleasing and interesting to look at, like the stone and gravel combination in the picture below.

The floor of your outdoor living room does not have to cost much if you’re willing to be imaginative with the use of materials and the space available. From brick to cedar decking to concrete pavers, choose a type of flooring and style that fits your space and your budget.

Here are five design ideas to stir your imagination about the possibilities for your own outdoor space.

1.    Stone and River Rock Create an Exotic Space

The exotic style of the outdoor space below begins with the stone and river rock flooring laid in a pattern that looks like a Moroccan rug. Cement is also used for the base of the seating area and the fire pit, which ties it all together.

Image source:

2.    Brick Creates a Sense of Movement

Brick is a popular material for outdoor flooring and works particularly well with traditional and rustic style homes. But brick doesn’t have to be boring. In the image below the designer used a contrasting color brick to define the dining space while creating an area with visual movement.

Image source:

3.    Fieldstone and Concrete Blocks Bring Old into New

Look at the space below without looking at the flooring. It looks dark and foreboding — almost Harry Potter-esque. To create a welcoming outdoor living space a mix of a lighter shade of fieldstone and concrete blocks were used for the flooring, bringing both continuity and an updated feeling to the space.

4.    Bricks and Pebbles Combine to Charm

This incredibly charming and imaginative use of brick and pebble for the flooring in this picture creates a defined conversation area. In this example the owners chose an eclectic mix of rustic (and rusty) seating, but any comfortable outdoor furniture would work well with this floor style. This fire pit creates a focal point but can be moved to other areas of the garden as needed. This could a fun do-it-yourself weekend project. Just level the underlying surface and invite a few friends to join you.

Pebbles can also be used to create fantastic mosaic patterns, like this pebble Persian rug.

Image source:

5.    A Wood Deck that Borrows from Arts and Crafts

Outdoor In the image below a beautiful outdoor living room starts with a deck floor, which is an extension of the interior space defined by natural wood frame French doors that open onto the outdoor room. An Arts-and-Crafts style was used for the seating, planters, and the overhead structure. The wood feels good under bare feet and is easily maintained but as you can see can also be beautiful.

Image source:

I found many other images of creative outdoor flooring when I was researching examples for this blog. I’ve Pinned them on my Pinterest board so you can get ideas for your own amazing outdoor room.

I’ve been so busy thinking about outdoor living rooms that I was surprised last week to see that Memorial Day weekend is only a few days away. So the next installment of outdoor living ideas will be put on hold until next week. Today I’d like to talk about how you can create a memorable picnic or barbecue with just a few inexpensive and imaginative ideas.

I enjoy surprising my guests, and a great way to start the party is by offering them a signature cocktail that fits the theme and has been created just for this occasion. My cocktail for this weekend will remain my secret until it’s revealed this weekend, but has a few new spring drinks that feature seasonal ingredients, like the Strawberry-Basil Margarita pictured here. And it looks even more special in a Depression glass pitcher and poured into vintage pressed glass tumblers.

strawberry margarita

For the outdoor space I incorporate seasonal colors and flowers, and add a fantastic color combination of plates and napkins–like the picture below from Real Simple. Clever, subtle, or not-so-subtle elements will show your guests that all was devised to please their senses once again.

Living Centerpiece

Add a great center piece, the way the bar and food service is arranged, ambient lighting, music that complements the affair, and scrumptious food, and you’ll have a perfect get together.

The images below show a few inexpensive and imaginative ways of accomplishing the special outdoor dining experiences that might inspire your next entertaining event. Real Simple has a party planning checklist on their website, which can help you think through all the details.

A potting stand doubles as a garden bar. Add a splash of color with paint and a skirt made of upholstery fabric.

 Potting Table as Bar

Image from  Coastal Living

Mix rustic elements with classic dinnerware.

Rustic and elegant table setting

Image from

Borrow an idea from France (they did help us during the Revolution): A slate board can be used for cheese or as a tray to carry out drinks.

Slate serving platter

Photo from

Use holiday colors as an accent. I like to incorporate the holiday theme through one or two accent pieces, like this berry parfait, which can.

Holiday Parfait

Photo from Martha Stewart Living. Click here  for more centerpiece ideas.

Surprise your guests with under table lighting. Drift gracefully from day to evening.

Fun outdoor lights

Photo from

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Relaxing Garden Rooms

The warm weather of a few weeks ago has been drawing us outside. As a garden girl at heart, now that the lilacs are in bloom and trees are blossoming I don’t want to go back inside. So I came up with a solution: I added a garden room to our house. With my garden room I don’t have to trade the comforts of home to spend more time outdoors and love sipping an iced tea under the branches of our 200-year-old tulip tree, watching the robins feeding their young.   


A garden room is essentially the same as a room in your house, only it’s outside. It’s a defined space with a general theme: a comfortable living area for reading and conversation; or a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen; or a space designed for dining and entertaining. It can even be multifunctional and include a play area for children.  Most importantly, it allows you to live outdoors for months until the leaves start to fall.


If you don’t already have a garden room, create one. If you have an established outdoor space now is the time to refresh it.

Photo source

Whether you are creating a garden room from scratch or want to refresh the one you have, it can seem like a daunting task. But think about it in steps, the way you would design a room in your house, and it will soon come together.

·     Define how you plan to use the space.

·     Select a style that works with the style of your house and reflects with your personality.

·     Choose colors and materials for “walls” and “floors.”

·     Select furniture and accessories that complement the look and feel and work in the space..


Since this is first and foremost a garden room, we’ll begin by talking about some of the different garden styles you can use for inspiration.


If your style of living and entertaining is formal and classic, borrow the carefully planned and sculpted look of French and Italianate gardens. They are known for symmetry in design, angular, defined shapes, sculpted shrubbery, and a pleasing, orderly appearance accented with large-scale planters and other sculptural features. Formal gardens work best with classic-style homes. Adapted to a suburban setting such a garden might look like the one below.


Photo   source  

For tranquility, consider an Asian-inspired theme. Minimalistic is the key word to describe this style. An unadorned space–usually gravel or sand–lies at the heart of a setting that could include Japanese maples, flowering cherry trees, bamboo, and scented plants like viburnum. Think about feng shui and add a water feature like a small pond or gentle waterfall. A rock garden can be added for a meditative focus. Ommmm.


Photo source

   Wild and wandering, seasons of changing shapes and colors. That’s the style of English gardens from the      Bloomsbury era, which are still very popular today. Rooms built around an English garden theme are perfect for nature lovers. Think of rambling rose bushes, plants climbing over stone walls, honeysuckle, lots of perennials, and other plants that attract birds and butterflies. Picture a cottage in the Cotswolds imagine the feeling of an English garden room.


Photo source

     If you love the Adirondacks but can’t get there every weekend, a rustic garden room can provide a rural retreat in your back yard. Raised beds of railroad ties or decking, classic American plantings like dogwood, oaks, maples, and a dedicated space for entertainment are the perfect counterpoints to an oversized grill, a bar area, and stone fire pit. This style works best for families that love weekend barbecues with their friends.


Photo source


Or you may find that you need an outdoor space that is multifunctional—a children’s play area within sight of the house; a bar and outdoor kitchen for cooking and cocktails; and a dining and entertainment center with seating for 10 or 12.


Print and online magazines like House and Garden, Elle Décor, and Garden Design can help you think about the style of garden that works for you. Save clippings of all images that appeal to you, and remember to save the resource information as well. Don’t limit yourself to one style too quickly. Your style will find you. You’ll be well on your way to taking the first step in creating your own garden room.


Next week: Floor, Walls, Ceiling: The Elements of a Successful Garden Room


My fanatical devotion to interior design began at an early age. Growing up in Budapest, I was surrounded by spectacular the architecture of master builders and crafters who lived in the reign of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. In fact, the apartment where I grew up was directly beneath the famed neo-Gothic Fisherman’s Bastion.

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest

Indoors I lived with the fine wrought-iron pieces created by my maternal grandfather, Denes Sarvary, and his father, Janos – fabulous lamps, mirrors, and inlaid tables, among other things. One of his hand-crafted mirror frames – a gold medal winner at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris – was the daily looking glass of my formative years.

top of mirror

Detail of wrought-iron mirror

Once we moved into our own apartment my parents began to collect modern art and furniture, which was popular with their circle of friends. All of this planted in me a deep love of art and design, from the modern to the baroque. My appreciation for the detail, beauty, and decorative pleasure of fine craftsmanship took root and grew.

Hungary in the 1950s was under Communist rule. The city soon saw schools and apartment buildings that reflected Soviet style: big blocks of gray.  It was such a stark contrast to my home life that beauty and comfort in the home became even more precious to me.

When I was 13 life suddenly changed. My parents got a rare pass for the entire family to cross “into the West” to visit my aunt in Austria. One summer day we left home and never went back.  What we wore on our backs was all we had in the world. Six months later we immigrated to the United States. In this new and strange place “home” took on yet another new meaning. Living in a warm, nurturing, safe environment became all-important to me. In the years that followed I created homes for my own family and my clients. From all of these experiences I developed my philosophy for designing a living space: Make it memorable, lovely, welcoming, comfortable, and the very expression of your own family’s life style.

As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz – there is no place like home. I feel the same way. But without the red shoes.

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