Confessions of a Mag-a-Holic

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We moved into the house my Mom still lives in when I was 5, and my Mom spent the next 20 or so years lovingly restoring it. I grew up surrounded by decorating books, and pages torn out of magazines, all flagged with yellow sticky notes adorned with my moms perfect cursive handwriting. We used to go to the book store all the time. Normally I would get the latest Nancy Drew while my Mom stocked up on her monthly mag haul. One day, I remember asking my mom if I could buy my first YM Magazine- side note, does YM still exist?

Anyway, it had, like, a shirtless Devon Sawa or someone on the cover and my mom thought “YM” must stand for “Young Men” and was mortified. I explained that no, in fact it stood for “Young and Modern” which I guess I had decided I was, and that it was a very important periodical pertaining to my interests, and through some convincing she bought it for me. That year, I asked for a YM subscription for Christmas, and my obsession with magazines began.

I didn’t just read magazines, I savored them. I still do. I first go through them back to front, reading only the headlines and evaluating which features are of the most interest. I then go through and read articles in order of least-interesting-but-still-interested-to-read saving the best for last. Then I look at the pictures and tag pages of interest. I revisit the issue, front to back, back to front, eventually getting to the articles that weren’t appealing enough to be read on my first pass through. If the issue is especially juicy, I buy a second one so that I can tear from the first and still have a pristine copy for the archives. And then, when I am finished, I put them in little magazine organizers and save them forever because- let’s be honest, I am never really finished with them. I mean how could you be? They are invaluable resources!

Like for instance, when Reese Witherspoon married Ryan Philippe I suddenly remembered a few years earlier when she was included in YM’s list of New Hollywood Starlets they asked her who her Hollywood crush was she said Ryan Philippe. And luckily, since I had saved the issue, I found the article and sure enough, there it was! And they had spelled his name wrong! Madness! Unfortunately no one I showed the issue to was as impressed with the whole thing as I was. When I left for college I was finally forced to throw out the YM’s, but that was fine because by that time I had moved on to shelter mags which I was finding much more enriching.

My “Decorating Binders” from college are full of pages torn from House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Domino and the like because there was no room in my tiny dorm room to hold onto full issues- space efficiency and all. I still have these binders, they sit on the shelves in my office along with my complete set of original Dominos, 1960’s House Beautifuls, and all of the other usual favorites.

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The cover of one of my “Decorating Binders”- the front sleeve is a photocopy of a page I found in one of my moms design books when I was in highschool. When I was 10 my mom found a sticky-note I had marked in the book, which she then wrote a note to herself about, which I then found 8 years later. I come by all this nonsense honestly.

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Inside one of the binders…aka Peppermint Bliss beta version.

When I first started decorating I never even imagined I would be published. When HGTV reached out about publishing our Austin house I am not ashamed to say I cried actual wet tears of joy. I was going to be in a real-life magazine I could go buy at the book store! Just like Devon Sawa! Except with my shirt on! And I could hold it in my hands and read it back to front, and then front to back, and save it on my shelves forever with the rest of my beloved magazines. When I got my copy of the issue I couldn’t even open it for a few minutes because I was so excited my body spazzed and I couldn’t make my hands work.

I have been lucky enough to have had that experience a few times since over the years, and it is never any less exciting. I still go to the bookstore every month to stock up, and I still read them back to front. I really tickle myself when I can tell by the pictures who did the design before I get to the headline page- and I really feel smug when I can identify the photographer. I follow the careers of my favorite editors as they move through the industry, and love noticing how each magazine evolves under different directors.

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Beyond being a huge fan, I am creatively inspired by the work of my design idols, and I spend hours studying images of their published work and trying to learn something new about how to trim a window treatment, arrange furniture in an oversized room, or read about the process behind the design. Pinterest makes it easier for me to file, and refer back to, these images but nothing could replace the physical copy. I love how much inspiration is available online. Having different avenues for publication has opened it up and allowed fresh talent to get exposure- I would be nowhere without Rue and Matchbook and this blog for that matter- and I have discovered so many of my favorite designers whose work I might not have otherwise seen online.

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At the same time, I feel sad that the internet has challenged the print industry, and I hope that it never gets to the point where it’s not worth it or financially viable for magazines to produce monthly print issues. The internet is great for a lot of things. Like exposing new talent. Also, online publications and websites can produce spreads with squillions of pictures showing several angles and details in a room without having to consider the cost of visual real estate on a printed page. On that note- Magazines, I know you can’t include every shot and angle but if you are going to spend a paragraph describing the gorgeousness of a paint finish PLEASE include that image. It’s honestly just rude to tease a girl.

For all of the reasons the internet is great, magazines (to me) are inversely valuable. I like that editors have to, well, edit their pages discerningly. With all the noise of the internet, I like having a resource that is more filtered, that has a clear perspective, that was put together and re-worked and touched by many different people over a period of time. I love their permanence- you can always go back and delete a controversial image online or delete posts that eventually feel off-brand- but physical magazines are little time capsules. I collect vintage magazines as well, and I love to see not only the designs, but the ads and letters to the editor and the whole context of the issue. It means something to me that now that some of my designs have been published, my work gets to exist in the same way.

So now that I have revealed myself as a probable Magazine-Fetishist (whatever, it’s fine, if the internet has taught me anything it’s that we are never alone in our weirdness and I expect at least ONE of you is in this with me) you can imagine how much it meant to me to have Biscuit included on House Beautiful‘s list of their Top Trends for 2016.

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They asked us to send them samples of some of our prints a few months back, but I had no idea it was going to be…that. I don’t have good words to adequately express the gratitude, but it’s lots and lots. All of the Thank You’s.

Also- all of the Thank You’s to those of you who have come back to read what I am writing here these days. And to those who have asked about seeing the new house, I’m sorry if the glimpses have felt like a tease. Trust me, as I mentioned above, I am not into that feeling at all. BUT I also don’t want to rush to have everything “photo ready” like I have in the past. I am growing up and trying my hand at the long game. And, honestly, I hope it will be published somewhere and I want to keep that option open when the time comes. SO! I hope that’s cool, y’all are so cool to have come here again, and I truly appreciate all of the welcoming feedback.

images by Molly Miller for Peppermint Bliss

Christmas is coming…

We had a great Thanksgiving at home hosting family and friends, and are now in full-on Christmas mode. Pete and I are in the midst of some tense Christmas tree discussions (Real or Fake- and if fake, Flocked?) which is stalling our decorating attempts a bit, but not our general spirit.

Last year I had a pretty big Christmas Fail. One of my favorite traditions that I inherited from my mom is picking/customizing really special, intricate stockings for my family. You can pick a canvas from a local needlepointing store, and change some small details here and there to make each stocking a personal treasure that- for me at least- is a highlight to hang each Christmas season. The only issue is that, because of the customization and detailing in the stitching, they take a really long time. Like 9+ months. Which should have been fine because Harry was born in January- plenty of time. The problem was, Harry was born in January. When Christmas was the last thing on my mind.

I remember having the fleeting thought of “oh, I should go pick out his stocking” during one late night feeding. But I never had the thought again literally until I went to hang the stockings and realized I had never done his. It wasn’t even like a few months before I realized it was too late and ordered a temporary backup for that year- nope, I had nothing. So I took to the internets to search for a suitable replacement, and was truly shocked at how few appealing options there were! We ended up using my childhood stocking for Harry, and I don’t think the incident did any permanent damage- which is good because we are probably going to have to do it again this year since his still isn’t ready (!#$?#%&!)

ANYWAY when we were planning Biscuit Christmas this year, I remembered the dearth of options, and thought we should design a few stocking options that looked like they could actually live in our homes.

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We used our family Christmas stockings -which are nice and roomy- as the pattern guide and came up with two different styles; One that is a little southern Christmas in the country, and the other a bit more fancy shmancy.

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We used one of my favorite fabrics by Brunschwig & Fils as the inspiration for the collection, and created a tree-skirt out of the fabric as well.

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We wanted people to be able to mix and match their favorites for a more collected look, or if one in particular was a better fit for each style to be special enough to look good hanging all in a row.

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For the checkered style, we banded the top in one of my favorite embroidered tape trims. I am getting these for our Shmamptons stockings, and I am thinking about adding a little charm to the stocking loop with each of our names.

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The other style is a luxe flame-stitch velvet with cording along the top. They are lined in silk and could be embroidered with individual names if you wanted, but I love how they look as is.

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Both stockings work perfectly with our tree skirt for a look that is festive and cohesive, but still fits with a year round design vibe we favor.

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We rounded our stockings & tree skirt by bringing in a few ornaments and other decor options for an heirloom-inspired Christmas collection.5N2A8959_fireplace

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I love how this room looks all cozy for Christmas. I am so enjoying putting out our old decorations in our new house- especially because it helps the house feel more homey lived-in since there are a few things we have been taking our time in finishing- and I can’t wait to get our tree up and use our Biscuit tree skirt and never look at our fug faux velvet/gold appliqué/burlap mess I used in previous years again.

AND! If any of you want to help yourself to some Christmas Cheer ala Biscuit, on this cyber monday we are offering 15% off everything site-wide with the code CYBER. Merry Merry!

Thanksgiving Appe-teasers

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Pete and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and while it’s not our first time, it will be our first time in our new house which makes it feel extra special. I really love entertaining, it’s fun for me, but I also know my limits and am always glad to take people up on their offers to contribute. Especially for Thanksgiving when people have such strong opinions about the dishes, it’s always nice to let guests bring the dish that is the most important part of the meal to them and know that it will be prepared to their liking.

This year, my mom will be bringing a special appetizer, gravy and rolls, Pete’s mom will do the stuffing and mashed potatoes, and Molly & Sally are in charge of dessert. That leaves me responsible for the rest of the appetizers, turkey, a salad, veggie side, and a mac n’ cheese we are trying out this year. Super manageable, which means I will be able to actually hang and enjoy time with my people. Still, this weekend Molly and I decided to host a little “Friendsgiving” with some of our coworkers to recipe-test some of the new dishes so we could feel extra confident on the big day!

We chose three recipe’s from the new Garden & Gun cookbook that I have been obsessed with lately, all of which could be made to some extent ahead of time- as well as a festive beverage from my favorite cocktail book Shake. All three recipes ended up being delightful- and I thought I would share with y’all in case anyone needs a last minute idea for their own Thanksgiving feasts!5N2A8715

Slice & Bake Cheese Wafers

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, sliced

2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon thyme leaves for garnish

-Combine butter, cheeses, salt cayenne & flour into food processor and pulse several times until crumbly. Then process for 30 seconds until a mass of dough forms.

-Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper and roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap like a tootsie-roll and refrigerate at least 1 hour to overnight.

-Preheat oven to 350 and cut chilled dough into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on parent-lined baking sheet. Top with thyme garnish and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

-Immediately sprinkle with salt and transfer to cooling rack.

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We decided to add a little flair to the recipe and used some fall foliage cookie cutters. I didn’t think about it before, but it would have been better to roll a bigger log that was closer in size to the cookie cutter. Instead, I cut 2″ thick slices of our log and pounded it out to the correct 1/4″ thinness and cookie-cut. I recombined the scraps, and rolled into another dough ball that I did the same with. I put them into the freezer for a couple of minutes before popping them into the oven so they would chill off a little after they warmed while I worked with them. These were SO delicious! Like extra-special cheese-its. I think these are going to be a strong feature in my repertoire from now on.

Devilish Eggs

Ingredients:

12 large Grade-A Eggs

2 Tbspns white wine vinegar

1/2 cup mayo

1 1/2 tsp grainy mustard

1 tbsn sriracha

1 1/2 tbspn bacon greese

Salt & freshly ground pepper

-Hardboil your eggs (the book is very detailed about how to do this, but I’m lazy and don’t want to write it all out, and you should buy the book anyway)

-Combine egg yolks, mayo, mustard, sriracha, and bacon grease in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk ingredients until smooth.

-Pipe mixture into the egg yolk halves and garnish

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Pete made these guys, and they have become his favorite party trick in the past few weeks. He garnishes with a scrumptious bacon bit. So delicious and a great southern classic.

Sausage Balls

Ingredients:

1 cup fine-ground cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tbspn brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp minced fresh sage

2 tbspn sliced fresh chives

1 10 0z block extra sharp cheddar grated

1 lb bulk spicy breakfast sausage

2 tbspn grated onion

2 tbspn buttermilk

-Preheat oven to 350 and whisk together cornmeal, baking powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper, sage, and chives in a large bowl. Add cheese and toss with cornmeal mixture to evenly coat.

-In a separate bowl combine sausage, onion, and buttermilk. Pour cornbread and cheese mixture into the sausage and mix with your hands to thoroughly combine.

-Roll packed tablespoons of dough into 1 inch balls and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

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The recipe says to use parchment paper, and I don’t know if it was the kind we used, but ours stuck to them and we had to tear them off. Which was a pretty huge bummer because those little crusty bits at the bottom looked delicious. These are so moist and have a much more complex flavor than your usual party balls.

Rosemary Maple Bourbon Sour

Ingredients (makes 2 drinks)

3 Shots Bourbon

1 & 1/2 Shots Fresh Lemon Juice

3/4 Shot Dark Amber Maple Syrup

2 Springs of Rosemary

-Crush 1 sprig of rosemary in your hand and add it to the shaker.

-Add the bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, and ice to above the level of the liquid and shake for 15 seconds.

-Strain the mixture into a rocks glass over one large ice cube and garnish with rosemary sprig.

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This cocktail from my favorite, Shake, has changed my whole perspective on bourbon. I had felt like I was in a tequila/margarita rut, and wanted to branch out to some other spirits because sure why not? I used to think I hated bourbon, but was feeling adventurous and tried the recipe for this cocktail. Turns out, I LOVE bourbon. Which may not be the best thing, but it’s the holidays and I’m pleased with it.

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What a delightful little spread! Shake and The Southerner’s Cookbook are two of my favorite cookbooks right now, and I would highly recommend both. Wishing y’all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

All images by Molly Miller for Peppermint Bliss

Our Houston home, now & then

Thank you all for the warm welcome back! Y’all are making it much easier to dust off the keyboard after so much time away. Continuing the farewell tour of our old house, here are a few more “now and then” shots! As you can tell, we didn’t really change much over our three years in our old home. For the most part, it was more a process of growing into the spaces.

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The kitchen was always one of the rooms I was proudest of. It came together exactly like I had hoped, and it never stopped delighting me. We eventually added shades in one of my favorite fabrics by Peter Dunham, that we carried into the attached breakfast nook as well…

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There are actually quite a few changes we made here, but they are subtle. I switched out the table from a reproduction that wasn’t quite right to the real deal, reupholstered the window seat cushion, added a shade in a matching fabric, brought in some art, and switched out the light fixture.

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Soon after our first shoot with Emily we hung curtains we brought with us from our Austin dining room, which really brought things together. We eventually added in a rug, which you can’t really see in this shot, and hung some more art, but otherwise this room pretty much stayed the same. And, I cannot stop laughing at my super creative styling efforts of the table in 2012. That would be an embroidered shawl layered over a linen table cloth? Goodness. Gracious.

While not a lot changed downstairs, we did do a mini-makeover on our master bedroom…

2012

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Those who have been around here for awhile probably have heard this all before, but I had purchased the DeGournay wallpaper for our bedroom in Austin. As I mentioned in my last post, almost immediately after we moved into our house in Austin we felt like we had made a mistake and should have stayed in Houston, and so I held off hanging it since the super special panels wanting to save them for wherever we ended up.

(Our Austin bedroom for reference & funsies)

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When I decided not to hang the wallpaper, we painted the walls a similar gray/blue thats in the paper but the room felt unfinished, so we put up an accent wall of a much less expensive paper from Osborne & Little that had a lot of the same colors, but it never really came together like I had imagined.

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Obviously, we did decide to move back less than a year later, and so when planning our Houston master bedroom I pretty much just applied the original plan for our Austin bedroom. We hung the wallpaper, which I loved, and used all of the same furniture we had in Austin including cutting down the rug to fit our new smaller space- except for the side tables which we switched out for the side tables we had in Chicago, and new lamps.

One thing that never quite felt right about version 1.0 was our bed. Our bed in Chicago was low and cozy with a canopy, and the yellow bed (which was a restoration hardware bed we had painted and recovered in the yellow velvet) was much taller and more open. I always felt a little Princess and the Pea perched up so high, and so eventually we decided to add a canopy and go back to a lower bed. Choosing a canopy fabric was tricky since I didn’t want to mess with anything else in the room (rug/curtains/wallpaper) so I had to choose something that worked with the colors & patterns we already had going on. The hot pink Les Touches worked for me because it was more graphic and modern than the wallpaper and that contrast makes it interesting, but still reads somewhat classic like an animal print. The color matches a subtle accent in the wallpaper, and the small scale of the print balances the larger scale floral. I matched the hot pink in the velvet of the bed, and tied it back into the chartreuse accent with a trim that was already on the windows.

Looking at our original bedding combo from 2012 makes me smile. We had just launched Biscuit and it was my first chance to put my own line of bedding on my bed. I was so excited I couldn’t choose a pattern, so I went with our Austin in a multi, the Paul pale blue (which stayed), coral border duvet, and I think there was a Katie coral dot in there as well. All of the things!!!! By the time we left we had paired down to just the Paul, which is one of my all-time favorites, and brought back some monogrammed shams that were a house-warming from my Mom when we moved to Austin.

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It finally came together! I think the smaller size of our Houston room helped make the design feel more lush and layered and cozy. We got amazing light, and the wallpaper is still one of my all-time favorites.

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This picture! Pete is clean-shaven, my hair is super house-wifey, and Gigi is so LITTLE with so much ‘tude! Love it all.

2015

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Then, of course, the best change we made to the house in our three years there was adding our wild, sweet, HarrBear to the mix! Thank you to everyone who has checked up on Harry, he is doing much better, and he and his big sister are becoming the best little odd-couple buddies you ever saw. I feel like the luckiest. ♥

2012 Images by Emily Johnston // 2015 Images by David Land

Home again, home again.

We moved a few weeks ago, which even though it was time, felt bittersweet. We were in our last house for over three years. After having to move suddenly from Chicago when we found out G was sick, and a short time in Austin, it was the first place that felt like “home” for our little family. When I was 5 we moved from our first house into the house where my mom still lives 24 years later, but every time I pass that first house where we probably only lived for two or three years, I feel a little pang of “that’s my home”. It’s funny how we attach to homes and the lives we lived there.

I have stayed very attached to our Chicago home. A few weeks before we moved we were in town visiting Pete’s family, and as I always do, I took a walk around our old neighborhood and past our house we lovingly called “Clifford”. The new owners were very gracious to let us go in and tour it a few years ago, but they have been there longer than we were now and I didn’t want to impose. I wondered what would have happened if we been able to stay in Chicago- would we have lived there forever like we thought, or eventually trekked out to the suburbs like so many of our friends are doing now?

I actually got an email from the current owners a few days later- apparently they have had two kids since they bought the home, and felt it was time for more family friendly space and that they were planning to sell. It was fun to see the listing and how much of the design they kept, and what they had changed to make the house work for them.

Before our most recent move, I had our house shot professionally one more time for my own memories. The first time we shot the house for Matchbook we had only been in a few months, and I wanted to capture how the house had changed and grown as we settled in with our family. It has been fun to look back on how the rooms changed over the past three years, and to compare them to their counterparts in our Chicago and Austin houses. My favorite part is seeing how much has actually stayed the same.

Chicago 2010 :: Photos by Emily Johnston

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Continue reading “Home again, home again.”