Design Diary: Bookshelf Styling Tips from Designer Valerie Darden

Designer Valerie Darden of Brexton Cole Interiors solved two issues in her Northern Virginia home with one bank of bookshelves. She and her husband  loved every feature in their new home, save for a diagonal wall near the entry, just around the corner from the stairs. Not only was it dead space, the wall had an ugly air vent, a thermostat, and outlet, and light switches. (Scroll down for the before photo.) An investment in custom cabinetry and masterful shelf styling hid the jumble and created a functional and beautiful feature wall. 

How To Style Bookshelves

Darden balanced old and new to create an chic mix of art and objects among her collection of design books. “As much as I enjoy new and shiny items, I love to venture to Loudoun County to search for vintage art, books, and decorative objects,” she says. One of her favorite sources is Lucketts Market and Antique Center. 

 As for new books, Darden tends toward  fashion, travel, photography, history, and architecture titles by Assouline. For contrast she adds older books from her thrifting adventures. Here’s a fun pairing: “I’ll place a Chanel book next to a 1950s book about ladies etiquette,” she says.

Here’s a pulled back view for context:

And a before photo from the same perspective:

Careful configuration allowed them to hide the ugly grate behind a cabinet door.

Cabinets That Hide An Air Vent

Then the fun part: Styling the bookshelves.

How to Style Bookshelves

Valerie Darden’s Tips for Perfectly Styled Bookshelves

• For a not-trying-too-hard-to-be-perfect vibe, arrange some books vertically and others horizontally. Also, place larger books with smaller ones.  

• Incorporate your favorite candle. Dardens’s favorite candle is Diptyque BAIES. “I love to burn the candle wax to the end, then use the glass as a vase for roses,” she says.

•  Pair high and low.  Along with that pricey Diptych candle, Darden’s shelves hold a H&M vase and a  gold-framed vintage painting scored at a local yard sale for $10.

• Pay attention to scale. A small sculpture in front of a large book draws the eye in. And use mostly odd numbers  of things.

• Metallics are a must. “When I began decorating my shelves, they looked bland,” Darden says. “Then I placed a  decorative brass paper weight on top of three books and it immediately came  to life! “

• Plants too. “Small succulents have done wonders by adding color and a peaceful feeling,” Darden says.

Photos by Valerie Darden

•            •            •
Get Succulents By Mail

Design Diary: Desk Refresh for Zooming

Are you still Zoom-ing? Did you re-adjust your workspace to make it easier?I know you spruced up your backgrounds (I hope so anyway), but what about the nuts and bolts of the computer and iPhone situations?

When StyleCarrot partner (and Boston-based company) Wayfair suggested we collaborate on a sponsored office envy post for a desk refresh this fall, I  realized it was time to ditch my yoga blocks and other precarious props for more stable desk accessories

I found a couple of desk accessories on Wayfair that allow me to work remotely with ease (and beauty). As you’ll see from the images, I did not need a desk or desk chair, but I discovered some tech accoutrements in the school furniture and business furniture sections. And I certainly took up the opportunity to prettify the decor.

Here’s the setup in my workspace. When I’m recording a webinar, which I prefer to do in my dining room, I can easily bring my new laptop lift and collapsible phone stand downstairs. (And, I use it by my bedstand at night.) The faceted vase makes the trip too, looking gorgeous in my art and floral-filled background.

Desk Setup For Zoom Meetings

Collapsible Iphone Stand

Collapsible Iphone Stand

Collapsible Iphone Stand

Desk Setup With Iphone Stand For Zoom Meetings

Desk Setup For Zoom Meetings

Photos by Marni Elyse Katz/StyleCarrot, LLC

I’ve done two webinars for Boston Globe Magazine—one with Boston designer Holly Gagne detailing how to create a calm space in your chaotic home and the other with New England designers Jodi Schwartz, Tyler Karu, and Heather Alton on kitchen redesign tip. These would have come in handy. Well, I’m prepared for the next one.

Desk Tech Accessories From Wayfair

1 Origami-Inspired Ceramic Vase
2 Multipurpose Monitor Stand
3 Foldable Universal Phone Holder

Design Diary: A Fire Pit For My Patio

Wayfair Sponsored Post Firepit Patio

I’ve been sheltering with my family on Cape Cod. After isolating in our condo in Boston for two weeks, we decided to pack our cars with food and supplies, and head to our house in the woods. We have plenty of space here, which we appreciate given we have two teenagers, along with fresh air, and no communal doorknobs. We are very lucky. I hope you are also healthy at home.

While the magnolias bloom in Boston, the Outer Cape landscape is quite a bit starker. Normally, we arrive here in early June, always surprised to see that the plantings around our patio are still sparse. Sometimes it’s much colder and rainier than one expects in June, even in New England.

April has gifted a few gorgeous, crisp and sunny days, along with many stormy ones. There are some daffodils (which seem out of place for the environs; much too manicured for the wilds of the National Seashore) and some forsythia. I’ve even seen a spot or two of dark purple. The only true moments of color, other than the sky and ocean, are  the pine trees and  lawns. As you can see from these pictures, my yard is no exception.

I added a firepit to my patio on Cape Cod

When StyleCarrot partner (and Boston-based company)Wayfair suggested we collaborate on a patio refresh post this season (last year’s patio post is here), I  immediately started browsing for the outdoor living section for propane fire pits.

Sure, we could use some sofa-like seating for entertaining, since we only have two loungers and a bistro table, but even more, we need warmth. Since we’re out here in what feels a bit like winter, I figured, let’s try to make the most of it. So a fire pit it would be.

I love the concrete fire pits you see at boutique hotels, but good ones can be pricey. I wanted something that would last. I settled on a large square propane fire pit. It’s a bit bulky, but it’s sturdy and gets the job done.

Firepit with cheese platter

Yesterday was our nicest yet. I assembled a plate of snacks and wine from our local winery. (I shot this during the day, prompting my son to ask if I was day drinking.) The platter made for a nice lunch; I actually set the wine aside for later. I’m always on deadline. The fire threw enough heat that I could work outdoors, actually.

Backyard Ideas with A Fire Pit

Polyresin + stainless steel propane fire pit by Orren Ellis, Wayfair.

MORE:  See StyleCarrot’s patio refresh post from last July
for flowers in bloom + ombre summer sky.

Photos by Marni Elyse Katz/StyleCarrot, LLC

Design Diary: Scandinavian Style Kitchen Renovation by Helios Design Group

I write a lot of one page design columns for Boston Globe Magazine. This one, published last fall with photos by Jared Kuzia, is one of my favorites. A restaurant industry couple hired Ariel Roth of Boston-based architecture and interior design firm, Helios Design Group, to renovate their kitchen in Jamaica Plain in a simple Scandinavian style, with an eye on the budget.

Roth started by moving the exterior door to the patio (and swapping it out for a full glass version that lets in light) in order to fit cabinetry and a new Wolf range with red knobs on a previously blank wall. Speckled penny tiles from Discover Tile are a fun touch that add a bit of color and interest. Love the inky blue walls? It’s Farrow & Ball Stiffkey Blue. The color allows the cabinets to stand out.

Speaking of kitchen cabinetry, Roth collaborated with local eco-friendly business Boston Building Resources on the cabinetry design, and donated the old cabinets to them for repurposing. The surface of the cabinets are done in simple white laminate, moments of exposed plywood edges, as well as the modern cut-outs in place of hardware, make them interesting. Roth says, “The plywood accents developed as we went along. The homeowners were into it, so at one point had exposed all the edges. Ultimately we pulled back and use plywood edge accents.”

Scandinavian Style Kitchen Renovation Helios Boston

Photo by Jared Kuzia

The homeowners initially fell in love with a $2,000 light fixture, but it just didn’t fit into the budget, so they decided on this acrylic orb. It’s the Bel Occhio 16 pendant lamp by Pablo Designs.

The Compass dining table from CB2 designed by Ceci Thompson  has an engineered wood high-gloss lacquered top and a glossy powder-coated, radial-shaped steel base. The red molded plastic chairs with wood legs are less expensive versions of the Eames fiberglass shell chair by Herman Miller.

While you’re down there, check out the floors. Roth used Avenue 12-by-12 cork tiles from APC Cork. This makes a lot of sense since it’s low maintenance and easy on the feet (they spend a lot of time in here). It also brings in an element of warmth.

Scandinavian Style Kitchen Renovation Helios Boston

Photo by Jared Kuzia

The above photo shows the rest of the sink wall. Roth enlarged the window to let in lots more light. You’ll notice that some of the kitchen cabinets are door-less, specifically in spots that are harder to access. These cubby-style cabinets are lined in charcoal Formica. The countertop is a quartz composite. “It’s a plane of solid grey that looks pretty with the cabinets,” Roth says.

Scandinavian Style Kitchen Renovation Helios Boston

Photo by Jared Kuzia

The photo above shows the other side of the range, and the adjacent wall. The bookcase makes use of a shallow space—an existing chimney is right behind it. They reused their fridge, which is right next to the bookshelf, in case you’re wondering.

Scandinavian Style Kitchen Renovation Helios Boston

Photo by Jared Kuzia

The shallow shelf is perfect for cookbooks, and a makeshift bar.

Design Diary: Living Room by Meredith Rodday

Boston area interior designer Meredith Rodday, who you may know from her blog View From My Heels, transformed this formal living room into a light and airy space. I wrote about it here, in a recent issue of Boston Globe Magazine. I’ve included more about Rodday’s design and sources below. Photo by Jessica Delaney.

White Living Room With Colorful Art By Boston Designer Meredith Rodday

Jessica Delaney Photography

“I’m not known for formal rooms,” Rodday told me. As such her signature style of light colors with a coastal touch, was just what the homeowners were looking for.

They started by painting the room Benjamin Moore “Navajo White” to tie it together with the home’s family room. Using the warm, creamy white as a base, Rodday added soft white upholstered and warm wood pieces, a dark grounding coffee table, and pretty artwork for a pop of color.

All the fireplaces in the home had awful green marble, which Rodday replaced with classic Cararra marble. The blue/grey veining is reflecting in the gray striations of the Restoration Hardware Nahla rug , which adds a touch of interest but keeps things neutral.

The Lee Industries sofa is upholstered in Serena & Lily washed linen in sand. The McGee & Co. Blaine armchairs have a wood frames with a driftwood finish that adds a bit of earthiness. The baluster profile and finish tie into the Arteriors Everett table. Its oxidized iron-clad surface and base connects with the dark color of the large cocktail table, custom covered in navy Phillip Jeffries Juicy Jute grasscloth.

“The room is very large,” Rodday says, “We needed an anchor on the fireplace, which is off-center, and this worked well.” The Visual Comfort Morris chandelier with polished nickel finish further establishes the center of the seating area, without blocking the artwork.

The colorful artwork cements the focal point for the seating area and is the jumping off point for the accessories which bring color into the room. The piece is “Sapling Grove” by Peter Batchelder, an oil on canvas from Powers Gallery in Acton, Mass.

The indigo leafy vine pattern of the Belgian linen drapery, Novella by Massachusetts textile designer Ellisha Alexina, stands up to the painting without overwhelming it.

Rodday used the fabric for a throw pillow too. Other throw pillows include, from left to right, Susan Connor New York in Madu, Zak + Fox in Postage, Peter Dunham in Kashmir, and a cognac leather McGee & Co. pillow. The brushstroke lamp is by Jana Bek.