Welcome Spring: Creating an Inviting Outdoor Space

Happy Monday!  Last week, I decided I wanted to reclaim our screened-in porch from what had been a long winter and pollen-filled spring.  After a thorough power washing, it was ready to be transformed!

Creating an inviting outdoor space is relatively easy if you think of your deck or porch as a mere extension of your home.  The same elements that make the inside of your home inviting will make your outdoor area a relaxing retreat:

  • Colorful throw pillows
  • Outdoor rugs
  • Throw or light blanket (for cool nights)
  • Candles & Lanterns
  • String lighting and/or lamps
  • Art
  • Accessories
  • Tables for various purposes (dining, end tables, coffee table, & even console tables)
  • Plants and flowers of various sizes and colors.

I made it a point to approach this space just as I would my living room or bedroom, wanting it to reflect our family and what we enjoy doing outside: dining, entertaining and reading.

BEFORE...

BEFORE… The pollen is strong in the South, y’all!

AFTER: I stored all of the pillows and cushions in large, plastic garbage bags over the winter so they were ready to go!

AFTER: I stored all of the pillows and cushions in large, plastic garbage bags over the winter so they were ready to go!  No cleaning or anything required because I did it all last fall.

Our new puppy, Gypsy, thinks it's pretty great to be out here!

Our new puppy, Gypsy, thinks it’s pretty great to be out here!

A fun tablescape adds SO MUCH to your table.  Use elements from the outdoors like shells, sand, stones, lanterns, candles and more.  Vary the height of the objects on the table and mix up textures.  Here’s a close up of the one I created on our porch.

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Ready for dinner on the porch – one of our favorite things to do in the spring!

Finally, I decorated our old console table with art and candles to create a vignette that adds interest to the porch and makes it feel more home-like.

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In the end, creating an inviting outdoor area is all about mindset.  If you approach this space as an extension of your indoor space, you’re bound to create an area that seamlessly integrates into the rest of your home.  It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Most of my throw pillows and even the furniture are from Target.  I used Pottery Barn to source interesting accessories for the tablescape, but went to Home Goods for other items.  Look around your own house….you’re bound to find something that you can use outside. (I repurposed our old living room console table and discovered it was perfect for the porch!)

Finally, I want to leave you with this lovely and appropriate quote from Melissa Michaels of The Inspired Room…

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I hope I’ve inspired you some.  Have a great Monday!

~Maria

Bring Home Order Feature in Durham Magazine

Today I’m really excited to share a feature that will appear in this month’s Durham Magazine.  This article has been in the works since JULY!  I’ve been waiting for a while, but it’s definitely been worth it.  I am humbled by the article.  Jessie Ammons, the writer, and Briana Brough, the photographer, are so talented and were just lovely to work with.  They made the entire experience of having your home photographed and exposed to thousands of people a pleasant one — and I am not one that approaches things like this with calmness (just ask my husband!).  However, they both relaxed me the second they walked through my door.

Jessie and Bri, I’m sure I owe you both my first born – or at least dinner somewhere nice!  Thank you SO MUCH to the entire Durham Magazine editorial staff for a great piece.

The magazine is available around town TODAY!  Look for it at places like Foster’s, Guglhauf, etc. if you don’t normally receive it in the mail.  To view it electronically, link up to the magazine here:  Durham Magazine December / January 2015-16

Here is a copy….

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My husband is still trying to figure out how to solve a problem like Maria!  Neil, you were so supportive getting the house ready and putting up with my craziness in getting things just right.  Thank you.  And Sydney and Dylan – you bring our house to life. Our house would not be a home without you. I love you both.

And for all my readers out there, tune in tomorrow for another great Friday Find I’ve discovered here in Durham!  Can’t wait to share it with you!  xo Maria

 

Holiday Entertaining Made Easy

Good Monday morning, all!  I hope you had a great weekend.  As next week is Thanksgiving and I’m sure you are all starting to think ahead to either hosting or attending a dinner, I wanted to share some tips and inspiration for general holiday entertaining.  I presented these ideas last Thursday at the “Ready for the Holidays” event and they were well received.

As things start to get busy and your calendar fills, please remember:  entertaining during the holidays should be about connection and creating memories. Don’t let the stress and pressure of trying to be perfect and do it all take that away from you and your family.  Here are some ideas to help you embrace this concept.

  • Keep a well-stocked pantry, freezer and wine fridge.
  • Delegate food items to friends and family members when you are hosting a large group.
  • Order food items from places like Parker & Otis, Fosters, Med Deli, Q Shack, Nana Taco & Whole Foods.
  • Order sweets from your favorite bakery.  My favorites for cookies, pies and the like: Sweet Cravings (see contact information below), Daisy Cakes & Guglhauf (all Durham-based).
  • Keep several boxes of fine chocolates on hand for both hosting and as gifts for hostesses. A large “chocolate bar” is such a fun & easy alternative to desserts. Have your kids make decorative “labels” for all the various types of chocolates. Couple this with a “hot cocoa bar” (mini marshmallows, chocolate shavings, cinnamon sticks, etc.) and you are set!
  • Embrace brunch as an alternative to a full dinner. It’s so much easier to do than a full dinner and still gives you the opportunity to see friends and family.
  • Another option to hosting a full dinner is to do a meal of heavy appetizers. Yes, it’s not as formal, but it can be a lot more fun. Order some things, fill in the rest with homemade platters of cheese, crackers, salamis, etc. and viola – you’re done!
  • Another option is to go out to dinner at a restaurant and return home for dessert, coffee and aperitifs. This is such a great way to still carve out bonding time in the privacy of your home, without the pressure of preparing a full dinner (and this is minimal prep and clean up!).

Sample Menus for Easy Holiday Entertaining

(* Denotes items you can keep in your pantry or freezer)

Mediterranean Tapas Tex-Mex Round-Up Southern Gathering, Y’all! Asian, Tapas Style
*Jarred olives * Corn chips Pimiento cheese dip *Pot Stickers
* Crackers of various flavors * Jarred Salsas * Cheese Straws *Egg Rolls
* Cornichons & other pickled items * Quesadillas (I keep tortillas and shredded cheeses in my freezer) * Peanuts Sushi
* Spiced Almonds Guacamole Order-in Fried Chicken or buy it frozen; pulled pork sandwiches

 

*Seaweed crackers

 

*Edamame

Assorted Cheeses & spreads like *fig jam, quince paste & cranberry relish Black Bean Salad (combined rinsed blacked beans, corn, diced red peppers & onions, cumin, cilantro, s&p, and EVOO with a bit of lime juice) * Cornbread muffins (make from mix in your pantry) * Mahi-Mahi skewers or grilled fish with soy sauce, garlic, ginger & honey glaze
Assorted cured meats, such as prosciutto and salami (these will keep for a while in your fridge so keep them in stock)

 

Rice & tortillas (El Superior Latin Grocer in Durham makes them fresh daily! $1 per pound) Mac ‘n Cheese / hush puppies *Sesame Noodles with a toppings bar: shredded chicken, julienne carrots, slivered green onions, cilantro, chopped peanuts
Hummus or other type of bean dips Bar of fixings: shredded lettuce & cabbage, diced tomatoes, shredded cheeses, diced green onions Biscuit sandwiches Seaweed Salad
Baguette slices Grilled fajitas (simply slice up peppers & onions with s&p) Deviled Eggs Dumplings / Wontons
Drinks: Wines from Spain, France, Greece or Italy & don’t forget the bubbles: Prosecco, Cava & Champagne Drinks: Sangria, Mojitos, Margaritas, Coronas with limes Drinks: Mint Juleps, Bourbon-based drinks, various beers, refreshing white wines to complement salty foods Drinks: Sake, Asian Beers

For our event last week, we actually sampled these ideas and created a wonderful appetizers offering.

Here, a chocolate "bar" with various boxed chocolates and mini-cupcakes we ordered were offered alongside cheeses, dips, cured meat and crackers. All of this took one grocery store run and one bakery stop.

Here, a chocolate “bar” with various boxed chocolates and mini-cupcakes we ordered were offered alongside cheeses, dips, cured meat and crackers. All of this took one grocery store run and one bakery stop.

My biggest piece of advice is to order some items and take things off of your “to-do” list.  I don’t love to bake so I always order my pies and cookies from a great baker, Jessica Satterlee.  She’s a local Durham baker and does an amazing job with pies, cookies and cakes.  Check out her offerings @ www.sweetcravingscookiecompany.com.  She also does custom orders, so if you don’t see something you like, she can work with you.

I hope this gives you some ideas and most significantly, helps you take a less stressful approach to hosting your friends and family.  Embrace “easier” this holiday season!

Cheers,

~Maria

 

 

Creating an Inviting Outdoor Space

It’s been crazy hot at times this summer, but other times, it’s been so refreshing to be outside reading, playing or even napping.  Creating an inviting outdoor space is relatively easy if you think of your deck or porch as a mere extension of your home.  The same elements that make your home inviting will make your outdoor area a relaxing retreat:

  • Colorful throw pillows
  • Outdoor rugs
  • Throw or light blanket (for cool nights)
  • Candles & Lanterns
  • String lighting
  • Art
  • Accessories
  • Tables for various purposes (dining, end tables, coffee table, & even console tables)
  • Plants and flowers of various sizes and colors

I recently updated our screened-in porch decor with the mindset of, “This is another room in my home where we spend time and entertain.”  I made it a point to approach this space just as I would my living room or bedroom, wanting it to reflect our family and what we enjoy doing outside (dining, entertaining and reading).

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Our porch has a dining area where we often have dinner during the warmer months and a seating area, where we like to read and entertain. I defined these distinct spaces by using indoor-outdoor rugs in complementary colors and patterns.

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In the seating area, I added elements of home by incorporating plants, colorful throw pillows, tables and a tray complete with entertaining-ready accessories. (The decanter and wine glasses are acrylic, making them break-proof!) Mixing textures, (here seagrass tables, ceramic stool, canvas pillows) is a great way to achieve a more relaxed feel.

Plants made this area much more inviting and added an element of the outdoors to the scheme.

Plants made this area much more inviting and added an element of the outdoors to the scheme.  The plants create a natural connection to the outside garden and make them feel integrated.

The dining area is ready for dinner anytime with a beach-themed tablescape and chargers.

The dining area is ready for dinner anytime with a beach-themed tablescape and chargers.

A fun tablescape adds SO MUCH to your table.  Use elements from the outdoors like shells, sand, stones, lanterns, candles and more.  Vary the height of the objects on the table and mix up textures.  Here’s a close up of the one I created on our porch.  For more ideas on summer tablescapes, check out Bring Home Order on Pinterest.  I’ve created an entire board called, “Summer Tablescapes” with beautiful images to provide all of you with some additional inspiration.

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Finally, I decorated our old console table with art and candles to create a vignette that adds interest to the porch and makes it feel more home-like.

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The, “Welcome to our beach house,” wooden plaque was a gift from my kids. I had to put it out here because this porch may be as close to owning a beach house as we ever get!

In the end, creating an inviting outdoor area is all about mindset.  If you approach this space as an extension of your indoor space, you’re bound to create an area that seamlessly integrates into the rest of your home.  It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Most of my throw pillows and even the furniture are from Target.  I used Pottery Barn to source interesting accessories for the tablescape, but went to Home Goods for other items.  Look around your own house….you’re bound to find something that you can use outside. (I repurposed our old living room console table and discovered it was perfect for the porch!)

I hope I’ve inspired you some.  Have a great Monday!

~Maria

Summer Entertaining Made Easy

I love entertaining so much that I will find any excuse to gather friends and family. This weekend while shopping at Target, I discovered square-shaped marshmallows and was inspired to have a bonfire. I texted my neighbors while waiting in line, and low and behold, we were on!  Later that night, we sat around our fire pit catching up and roasting s’mores for almost three hours!  It was particularly endearing to watch the older kids from our street entertain the younger ones, as it wasn’t so long ago that they were the little kids. (Now they’re driving!)

All this wonderful evening required on my part was a box of graham crackers, some Hershey chocolate bars, and the aforementioned marshmallows.  Oh, and a bon fire.  But the point is, this was easy.  No one cared that there was no other real food or that the evening was somewhat thrown together.  I think it was actually more fun because it was so last-minute.

The Joy of Entertaining

I’ve talked to many people that are intimidated by, and even afraid of entertaining. I think some people put so much pressure on themselves to have magazine-worthy parties that they psych themselves out and give up before they even try. Let me be the first to reassure you that no one cares if you have matching linens or if you use paper plates. The joy of entertaining comes from gathering friends in your home and making them feel welcome. If you can start and end with this premise, entertaining becomes a whole lot easier.  And anyway, most of those parties in magazines are staged!

Pantry Preparedness

With a few simple items from your pantry, some drinks, and a willingness to share your home, you’re ready to host a gathering. Below are some ideas for casual summer entertaining, complete with menus that can easily be assembled with items in your freezer/pantry and a quick run to the grocery store (or local restaurant!). Remember to keep it simple: if you want to use paper products, do so. If you want to order in a few items from a restaurant, do it. Just don’t deny yourself the joy of sharing warm summer evenings with your friends because you feel like you have to entertain like Martha Stewart.  But by all means, if you like going all-out with flowers, linens and decor, go right ahead.  Just do what will allow you to enjoy yourself and spend time with your friends.  If you are relaxed and having fun, your guests will follow your lead.

All of these menus are meant to be ideas – just pick a few items or make up your own. Serve them as a buffet or tapas-style for casual gatherings.  Add a few tea candles around the food for ambience, or don’t.

Mediterranean Tapas

Tex-Mex Round-Up Southern Pickings, Y’all! Asian Delights
*Jarred Olives * Corn Chips Pimiento Cheese Dip * Pot Stickers (keep them in your freezer)
* Crackers * Jarred Salsas * Cheese Straws * Egg Rolls (keep them in your freezer)
* Cornichons * Quesadillas (I keep tortillas and shredded cheeses in my freezer) * Peanuts Sushi
* Spiced Almonds Guacamole Order-in Fried Chicken * Seaweed crackers
Assorted Cheeses Black Bean Salad or 7-Layer Dip (Beans, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, corn chips, and salsa) * Cornbread muffins (make from mix in your pantry) * Asian Cracker Mix
Assorted cured meats, such as prosciutto Taco Bar: meats, beans, rice, tortillas, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, etc. Mac ‘n Cheese * Edamame
Hummus or other types of dips, like white bean, eggplant or lentil-based  Tortas: Mexican-style sandwiches Biscuit Sandwiches Seaweed Salad
Fresh Crudites Platter (Blanched Vegetable Platter) Churros or Flan  Deviled Eggs  Cold Peanut Noodle Salad topped with shredded carrots, green onions and toasted sesame seeds
Drinks: Wines from France, Greece or Italy Drinks: Sangria, Mojitos, Margaritas, Coronas with limes Drinks: Mint Juleps, Bourbon-based drinks, various beers, refreshing white or sparkling wines to complement salty foods

Drinks: Sake, Asian Beers

* Items you can store in your pantry or freezer for impromptu gatherings. I like to keep such items on hand so that I’m ready when the entertaining itch strikes.  Remember…

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Cheers!  ~Maria