"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

Add your email address here & receive new posts from This American Home!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Guerilla Crafting: DIY Hot Water Bottle Cover

In a winter of Polar Vortexes and Bombogenesis, may I suggest we consider an oldie-but-goody: 
the hot water bottle.

An vintage idea that deserves a comeback. Sometimes Nana does know best.

Available in drugstores and online (Amazon) in a number of (affordable!) sizes, shapes and colors, slipping a hot water bottle beneath cold sheets on a chilly night feels like absolute luxury.

The best part, a hot water bottle can stay warm until morning --which means maybe you won't have to crank up the heat quite so high...

In spite of my warm clime in Southern California, I have been a fan of hot water bottles (and drafty old houses!) for years. Recently, I upped my game and made my own hot water bottle cozies using cashmere sweaters from the thrift store! 

You can too:

To start, you'll need a super soft old sweater (nothing scratchy!).

Next, place your hot water bottle on top of the body of the sweater with the mouth of the hot water bottle facing the finished hem of the sweater. The finished hem will be the opening for the cozy, aka, cover.

Step two: Using a permanent marker draw around the hot water bottle leaving an inch margin that will allow for sewing a seam (Note: my photo shows about a 1/2 inch margin - I would recommend extending that to an inch!). Draw extra wide around the mouth of the hot water bottle because you need to be able to be able to transfer the hot water bottle in and out of the cover easily. (See photo below)

I decided to use one side of the sweater as a finished edge to eliminate the need for unnecessary sewing. Brevity is the wit of the soul. Laziness may have played a part too...

 Step three: Using a pair of pinking shears (or sharp sewing scissors) cut just outside of your marking.

I used a large zig-zag stitch (but if you have an overlock machine this would be the perfect time to pull it out!) -and sewed the cut pieces together creating a sort of pocket shape with an opening at the neck. Then, since I expect the cover to see a lot of use, I sewed around it a second time for durability.

*Disclaimer: I never claimed to actually be good at sewing, think of it more like guerilla crafting...

Finally, turn the pocket right side out, slip in your hot water bottle and placing a towel around the neck to protect (pre-heated!) hot water from spilling onto the cover -fill 'er up!

Finally, select a length of ribbon or twill tape to tie around the neck of the bottle to hold the cover snug.

Bringin' cozy back. 

Next time those temps take a dive --you'll be ready.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Style At Work: Mary Pankiewicz

I recently finished up writing my second bookazine (hooray!) which is due out in stores in the coming month (I will keep you posted!), only this time instead of flea markets my topic focused on how to get organized for Spring. It was a terrific project, and as some of you may have guessed -I needed to get some expert advice...which is how I met Mary Pankiewicz.

Mary is a certified professional organizer (CPO), the owner of Clutter-Free & Organized in Tennessee and the mother of seven grown children. Needless to say she was a tremendous resource  --and you can look for her insight and expertise coming soon in Organize: Spring.

While I was checking out her website, I ran across this photo her darling office.

To be filed under the heading: How Cute is This? I asked Mary to tell me a little more about the clutter-free cottage she calls, The Biltmore Birdhouse. (Named after the family of house wrens that took up residence during construction)

Orginally constructed by her son, Kenneth Pankiewicz, as a place to store a windfall of inherited antique furniture, the vision changed after a particularly inspired shopping excursion.

"I went to TJ Maxx," she recalls, "and they had the most beautiful wastepaper basket --it was just so me!" Ever the organizer, however, she says, "I looked at it and thought don't buy it unless you know what you're going to do with it --and then it hit me!...I could turn that building into my office...so now I think of that as my $8,000 waste basket!"

"At the time, there wasn't electricity, it was really just a framework of a building," so once again her son got to work and transformed the structure into a dream office for mom. A place of her own, ironically after all seven kids had left the nest. Her favorite part: the french doors that face the barn and look out onto the meadow beyond.

In fact, Mary says after purchasing an L-shaped desk for her space she put the piece on gliders for easy repositioning in the room, "I would not let them put a hole in the floor [for an electrical outlet] until I knew that I had the right view out of all the windows."

In addition to the desk, Mary says she also created a second, 'stand-up' desk using her father's art board. "It's a hollowed out door on top of two A-frames that I painted white," she explains. "I put my laptop on the stand up desk because I found out I was much more efficient with my emails if I am standing up...we make much faster, better decisions when we're on our feet and we're standing," says the CPO. "If you have stacks of paper to go through -if you go through it on your feet, you'll go through it a zillion times faster."

Although, the mini-farmhouse that mirrors the design of Mary's main address just 50 feet away is all hers, she admits she shares the digs with an adopted cat and the occasional hummingbird. 

Mary suspects the cat may be under the impression the space is actually his. "He's even walked across my computer," she explains, "and I've had to have a computer person out to figure out what he stepped on."

Photo courtesy of Clutter-Free & Organized.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

5 Tips for Clever Cupcakery

I love the quote, "A party without cake is just a meeting", and I completely agree.

After getting jiggy with the sprinkles recently, I compiled the following 5 sugar-coated tips:

Grab a cupcake and read on...

Beyond Birthday Candles

Cupcake toppers don't have to be fancy. I found these Valentine's Day straws at Target and cut them in half. Cheesy or easy? I kind of liked them -instant gratification!

Inspiration could also take the form of plastic dinosaurs, edible flowers, origami, pinwheels, poker chips (the chocolate kind!), flat unwrapped lollipops, little green Army men (remember: if you're making them for kids make sure everyone knows what is edible and what is not!), or mini flags of paper or ribbon.

There are also a number of online templates for do-it-yourself printable toppers that are easily affixed onto decorative straws or lollipop/cake pop sticks from the craft store. 

That's a Wrap!

Cupcake wrappers have become much fancier over the years, although the pastel papers remain a classic. I found these paper cups "Le Petite Gateau" from Robert Gordon at Marshall's. They are sturdy and don't even require a muffin tin -you just place the cups on a baking sheet! Neat! I really liked the way the cupcakes looked, but I also liked the way cake baked into tall cylindrical shapes. This shape would be perfect for cupcakes that feature fillings.

Other ideas: Tying a slim ribbon around a plain cupcake wrapper; wrapping a wide ribbon around the plain wrapper and instead of tying them use a couple small dots of glue from a glue gun to hold in place (frost after gluing!); or choose your favorite printed scrapbooking paper and create personalized cupcake wrappers! Brilliant, check out the step-by-step how-to directions on the 52 Kitchen Adventures blog by clicking here.


I recently tried a pastry bag with a frosting tip for the first time. Which just goes to show, you can teach an old dog new tricks. 

If you don't want to rush out and buy pastry bags, a clever friend suggests using a Ziplock baggie and snipping off one corner. Presto! Instant frosting bag.

If you would like to use frosting tips with the baggie method, they can be affixed with the standard coupler piece just like on a traditional pastry bag. 

Keep Calm & Carry On

And I do mean carry. Did you know there are cupcake carriers for transporting the treats in individual style? A friend who had an extra triple-decker-cupcake-carrier, which I now fondly refer to as the cupcake condo, gave me mine, but you can find them at places like Organize It, Amazon, and Cooking.com.

Be Fresh!

After your cupcakes have cooled from the oven, if you are going to wait to bake them be sure to keep them fresh by wrapping them with plastic or storing them inside a container (i.e., Tupperware). If you are making them in advance of a party or event, unfrosted cupcakes freeze well!

Once they have been generously frosted, I like to keep my cupcakes in the refrigerator. I have absolutely no baking credentials to back this up, but I love the way it sets the frosting -and the reviews have been positive!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Anthropologie: The Mother Ship

 On a recent excursion to Philadelphia, I wasn't sure if I would get over to see the Liberty Bell (I did!) -but I knew nothing would stop me from making a pilgrimage to Anthropologie's Flagship store. I was not disappointed.

Housed in a 19th century Beaux-Arts mansion once owned by Sarah ("Sallie")  Drexel-Fell, the fourth daughter of the founder of nearby Drexel University and the widow of a Philadelphia coal magnate, the home must have been a showcase in its day. Sallie moved into her dream house in 1898 with her second husband, Alexander Van Renssalaer. It remains fabulous, and the best part -we get to go inside.

 Located at 1801 Walnut Street, in the trendy (and historic!) heart of Rittenhouse Square, the building faces an expansive park circled with restaurants, shops and cafes. Inside, the period design details of the mansion hold their own against the unbridled creativity of the Anthropologie display artists.

One parlor-level room featured not only an amazing tiled fireplace (see first photo above), massive windows and elaborate moldings, but also a ceiling completely covered with the gilt-framed portaits of Italian princes. Ever get that feeling you're being watched...? 

The scale of the home -which was also once an athletic club --lends itself to dramatic, sweeping displays such as the garlands soaring from vaulted ceilings above the cash register area.

A grand, 3-story spiral staircase is the centerpiece of the structure and the display team took full advantage of its potential for drama. White cups were suspended from a stained glass domed window and appeared to float like a coffee cup cloud over the kitchen wares.

Although the manse was gutted in 1974, the facade and several period details were left in place.

Here is a romantic detail of cherubs from an elaborate mantle piece that sits on one of the staircase landings.

If only these walls could talk!

The photo (second image from top) of the exterior of the Anthropologie flagship store is by Kate Young from the Chronicles of A Country Girl Blog. She has an amazing site and warm, friendly voice. I am now a follower myself!

As usual, the rest of the photos are by yours truly, but I must have been so swept up in the moment I wasn't thinking straight and actually forgot to take a few key images...oh well, next time! I'll be back...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hello, Cupcake!

Did you ever stop to wonder how cupcakes got their name?

Me neither. 

Can you guess where this is going?

I was reading my gorgeous new cookbook, Vintage Cakes (a thoughtful and much appreciated Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Dawn! More about this amazing book later!), when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a recipe for --little cakes, made in teacups...cupcakes!

Who knew?

Well, evidently several people, including Ms.MarmiteLover, AKA, Kerstin Rodgers, originator of London's The Underground Restaurant and pioneer of the British supper club craze. She is also a blogger (winner of the UK's 2013's Guild of Food Writers Food Blog of the Year Award) and lover of cupcakes. See, so like, we have so much in common...I like cupcakes..

On Ms.MarmiteLover's blog, she offers a cupcake recipe (which looks delish!), and a few words in favor of baking with teacups: "I figured I'd try...After all porcelain and pottery are baked in a kiln at a very high temperature so an oven should be safe. Less washing up and they look cute!" 
I completely agree. 

Just to be on the safe side, however, don't go using your very best teacups right away.

Some teacups are designated as 'oven safe', while others will require a sort of baker's roulette.

I chose a few of my own mismatched teacups that were a bit heavier than delicate china cups. Although I like them very much, I was willing to sacrifice for the sake of science --not to mention cuteness.

Pretty please with a cherry on top?

Then, to be safe (and possibly avoid a big mess in the oven) I took Ms.MarmiteLover's advice and set the teacups filled with cake batter on top of parchment paper lining the inside of a roasting pan (lid off). In Rodger's version, she uses a tea towel inside of roasting pan which just screams fire extinguisher to me, but what do I know, I'm not the food blogger of the year...

Anyway, big chicken that I am, I used parchment paper. I buttered the inside of the teacups, filled with them with cake batter (Duncan Hines Devil's Food, mea culpa); placed them into the roasting pan and set it inside a preheated oven (according to directions on the box). Then I prayed.
 I was afraid to open the oven door for fear of being blinded by shards of exploding teacups, but again, the quest for cuteness prevailed. Vision be damned.

(*If you try this at home, please be very careful!)

Finally, holding my breath and kind of squinting my eyes shut a little just in case...I checked on the cupcakes a bit earlier than the packaging suggested. 

Since the teacups I used created a larger than an average cupcake size, I kept checking the cupcakes incrementally until the testing stick came out clean. I am thinking bake time will vary depending on your recipe, your oven and the size of the cups. However, for a little extra watching, I think the results were worth it. 

How darling would these be for special occasion, a tea party or a shower? My family gave them two enthusiastic thumbs up -and the novelty of eating cake out of a teacup was part of the fun.

 Scouting yard sales or flea markets for inexpensive, baking teacups for experimentation could also make for a terrific treasure hunt.

Adventures in baking! Who needs Everest --bring on the cupcakes!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dream Big: 50 Years of Inspiration

 Fifty years ago on August 23, before a crowd of more than 250,000 spectators in Washington D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., set aside his prepared speech and spoke from the heart, "...I have a dream..."

Today we celebrate King's birthday, the civil rights he lived and died for;
 and the impromptu speech that inspired a nation.

 Let's keep dreaming, one person can make a difference.

Photograph from the National Portrait Gallery, by Bob Adelman.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Get Organized: Springpad

While I was working on a bookazine about organization (due out this Spring!) I was introduced to the online digital organizer, Springpad.

The site allows users to create a variety of "notebooks" to store everything from recipes and travel agendas, meeting notes and to-do lists --to renovation ideas, party planning checklists and summer reading lists (which are always longer than anyone can read in three short months...).

The Washington Post said, Springpad is, "Better than Evernote for managing information;" and Time magazine called it, “One of the 50 Best Apps of 2013.”

Available through free apps via iPhone, Android, tablet and computer, I have added the site to my organizational toolbox and plan on giving it a try in the months ahead (think to-do lists; movies I want to see; ideas for the dream kitchen renovation). 

Similar to learning the functionality of like-minded digital organizer Evernote, Springpad appears to have a lot to offer for those willing to explore a new site. Stay tuned (and check out the video below).

If I love it, I'll keep you posted.

If you're already using Springpad, let me know what you like most about it (and give me your best tips and tricks for using it!) in the comment section below! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year: 2014!

 “For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.”
 — T.S. Eliot
 Every day we write the story of our lives, doesn't it feel great to have brand new blank pages? Ready or not, here we come --let's do this!

Happy New Years to you!
I wish you all the things that bring you joy in the months ahead!



Follow American Home here!

There was an error in this gadget