Today the front pages of Yahoo and CNBC confirmed: The McMansion- IT'S OVER, IT'S DEAD, and hopefully it's not coming back-EVER! For the past twenty five years I've watched McMansions destroy the once upon a time quaint neighborhoods of Los Angeles like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and the Palisades. Adorable, appropriately sized cottages and little haciendas with charming courtyards were replaced with bloated "Mediterranean Palaces". In addition to looking ridiculously out of place, wasting enumerable amounts of energy and resources and encouraging owners to fill them with CRAP they don't need, these structures keep occupants captive indoors. It's bad news for two reasons. The indoor air quality in these types of homes is known to contain massive amounts of carcinogens- home toxic home. And since these McMansions contain their own libraries, media rooms, spas, playrooms (and anything else you can imagine in 3 to 12,000 square feet), residents feel less than compelled to go to the public equivalents. It causes a disconnect and breakdown in communities when folks don't interact regularly. It's a trend that's ripped through our nation for decades. And now, thankfully, it's over. Smaller homes, less waste, better health for people and the planet, more human interaction- times they are a changin'!
Hotel DeVille Paris Two weeks ago I returned from a lovely holiday in France. The SoCal Contractor and I were invited to a lady friend's 80th birthday celebration in Lyon, and there was no way we were going to miss that! We began in Paris- where else?- and were wowed by the beauty that surprises me every time I step foot in the city. What also surprised me and made me a bit sick were the hundreds of piles of empty, plastic, water bottles in trash heaps all over the city. It was hot and there were TONS of tourists. In California and many places I've visited there is a 5 or 10 cent value placed on these plastic bottles, so even when lazy people use them and chuck em, you have an army of people who collect them right out of the trash to redeem for cash. It's a system that has always left me wondering how the beaches of Indonesia (have you seen those photos???) can be filled with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of empty, plastic, water bottles. My thinking: they're worth money, if for no other reason, how can they be discarded on the beaches that way? Well, there they were, all over Paris, on their way to land fills, streams and oceans. Not so green. What was green and one of the best ways to see the city was the 10Pm-12AM bike ridethrough every arrondisement in the city, protesting Saudi oil. There we were minding our business, eating chocolate and drinking wine in front of Notre Dame when we saw about 200 bicycles cruise by us. We weren't sure what was going on and thought possibly France had just won the World Cup. I had seen a similar scene when France won in 1998. (Funny thing, is that France had been long gone from the games at that point.) We grabbed our city bikes and caught up with the parade. A few blocks later we learned we were part of an oil protest, holding up traffic, waving banners and honking our horns at every cafe in the city. I saw parts of Paris, I never knew existed during that two hours, cheered and exchanged greetings with every type of Parisian. Very Green. Pantheon Notre Dame Luxemborg Gardens We stayed in a great hotel a few steps from Musee D'Orsay and right across from the Louvre called Hotel Bellechasse. Christian LaCroix just renovated it--super funky and right next to a public, bike station. Not too expensive, it's a great place to stay on a couple's trip. Hotel Bellechasse Lori Dennis Biking around Paris on an Anti Saudi Oil Protest Musee D'Orsay Loved Paris, but it was hot, dirty, crowded and we were ready to head to the culinary capital of the country- Lyon. We weren't sure what to expect and after seeing the hotels on line, didn't expect much. There were only three nice ones. We booked one of them and hoped it would be ok. After recovering from the shock of a $100 cab ride into the city from the airport, we fell in love with the place. Our hotel, La Tour Rose, was in the Vieux Lyon-the old city, every room in the hotel decorated in a different fabric of the prominent 18th century silk houses of Lyon. I can not describe how luxurious and simply beautiful our room was with red velvet, silk covered walls, matching bedspread and floor to ceiling curtains. It was a room befitting writer Alexandre Dumas and he actually stayed there when he wrote the Three Musketeers. The town lived up to its reputation for cuisine (much more fairly priced than Paris food of lesser quality) and had two sparkling green rivers running through it: the Rhone and the Soane. People were actually swimming in these rivers and the entire experience was all too civilized. What was unexpected was that the majority of chefs, like Alain Aleaxnian, were green food advocates, dedicated to promoting and supporting local producers and organic food and wine. (Read the next three words in a French accent) But of course... it makes total sense in a clean environment, surrounded by pristine waters and forests. For a day, we ventured deeper into the countryside and visited Chamber, witnessing the fields of pure, white cows famous for so much of the region's delicious cheese. I am so happy to have been exposed to the fantastic wines of the Rhone, earthy and full bodied- yum! La Tour Rose Hotel So Cal Contractor Roi Yerushalmi and Lori Dennis Rhone River, Lyon France Cooling our feet at the Soane Beautiful Lyon Lyon City Square Chambery France We wrapped up the trip with a two day layover in London- unfortunately most of it was in the airport due to faulty British Airways planes. In Heathrow airport, terminal 5, green is alive and well. On one of our last eating and drinking extravaganzas, we were served a bottle of Belu Water. This company donates ALL of their profits to clean water in places where people don't have any. Belu has successfully created the world’s first carbon neutral bottled water, launched the UK’s first plastic bottle made from corn not oil, promotes PVC-free bottle caps and provides over 40,000 people overseas with access to clean water. So we wrapped up the trip with a nice green, ribbon and came home to see our sweet little Elle Bell.
This works well if you're single and don't like to entertain. For the rest of us, it's an example about how to downsize and do more with less.
Unlike 2009, this year's DOD had a pulse, jam packed with people and product. The producers and participants turned up the heat with every booth more stylish than the next. This year I was asked to speak on two panels: ASID Glamorous Green Secrets and the joint project of the USGBC and ASID- ReGreen. Paired up for the third or fourth time with world renown Bau Biologist, Mary Cordaro, it was invigorating to see both audiences with plenty of interested folks standing all the way in the back. My daughter and I loved the Paul Frank sponsored kid's play area and the gumball dispensed SEED BOMBS. The idea behind the green ammo is to throw them at abandoned urban lots, wait for rain and watch the wild flowers grow. It reminded me of being a bad little girl who always had a good heart. The show was a huge success and more evidence that green power continues to gain strength.
Last week we were invited to a private event with Marcus Samuelsson and Blue Star Appliances. The two have recently joined forces to promote restaurant style cooking at home. It couldn't have been better timing because we're designing a kitchen for a client who loves to cook and entertain so much that she takes it to a professional level. Forget about the usual bangs and whistles, her must have in the kitchen is a salamander. I do love to cook, but to be honest, before her request I had never even heard of a salamander. That's because they're generally reserved for commercial cooking, giving meat and fish that sizzling, finishing touch. After our meeting I got on the Internet and started my search only to find that A) THEY'RE HUGE (not ideal for pretty designs) and B) they're not approved for residential use. Finally I spotted the Blue Star salamander, the only professional quality device approved for residential use and found the invite to their event in my in box the same day. In addition to being a total sweetheart, Marcus can cook. He is a Top Chef Master, has competed against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, stars on a few of his own tv shows and prepared a state dinner at Obama's White House honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. We were walked through the preparation of a four course meal and given invaluable tips along the way. Two of my favorites were: when shopping for fish, tell the vendor you're making sushi and they will walk to back and come out with an entirely different grade than what's on display- without an additional charge. Since "we" don't cook with non stick coating because it's toxic, to prevent food from sticking, make the pan as hot as possible so you hear a serious, sizzle sound when the two make contact. We've tried this one on our Viking stainless and it does work. The food was fab (surprisingly large portions) and I really enjoyed his green message: stay home and cook to enjoy fresh, well made and happy food.
This weekend the fine shops of La Cienega opened their doors for the Legends of La Cienega Design Walk sponsered by Elle Decor. This year they upped the ante, displaying film and TV inspired window vignettes up and down the boulevard. Eat your heart out Simon Doonan! The window at upscale, vintage retailer Dragonette , designed by Melissa Levander, was my favorite. Truth is that the entire store looks like a perfected, larger than life, 60s musical, set design. It's divine and totally defines glamorous green . Some of the other eco friendly features were Mary Cordaro's living green lecture at Bausman and the living wall at bookstore-bistro combo, Assouline. Prosper Assouline chatted with me about how to curate a modern library. According to him you must have a point of view and make it come to life. He and his wife are charming folks and I highly suggest you pay the West Hollywood shop a visit the next time you need to purchase a present. Their books are really something else and who else has candles that smell like leather, old paper and cigars? Other star studded events included the Catherine Malandrino fashion show and an Elle Decor party at Baker to close the three day extravaganza. I brought Elle to meet Margaret Russell. She fell in love with my daughter and offered her an internship at the magazine. Nothing like securing a position early. Viva Legends of Design Quarter! I can't wait to see what they do next year. To top this one, I'm expecting the Harlem Choir and elephants!
For years I've been getting calls and emails from around the world asking..."where can I buy this (lamp, rug, throw, pillow, chair, sofa, etc) that I saw in your design. I've also received thousands of inquiries from people asking how they can make their rooms look like the ones I've designed. When I tell someone what is involved (especially the fees) in putting these rooms together, the average person, understandably, is less than willing to commit. So after decades of reading fashion magazines', "get the look" sections, a light went off. I'll offer "get the look" for people who love high design without the high end fees. In the Lori Dennis Shop you can instantly find the treasures that took me an entire career to locate. Everyone who has seen the shop, loves it and People magazine recently featured our sheep throw. Some of my favorite items are the beeswax candles, which are eco-friendly, 100% beeswax, long burning candles that contain no artificial dyes or fragrances and are made in the USA. Sweet, light honey smells fill the air and the wicks contain no metal or lead. Since the weather is so nice, I am also loving the outdoor furniture, especially the Maui Bed. There is nothing like getting some fresh air and lounging while returning work emails! If you have some time, check it out, I'm sure there's something you'll love.
A good friend of ours came for the weekend and graciously brought flowers --in addition to croissants, chocolates and a lilac lamby for our little one. She's fabulous, French, in her eighth decade and cares tremendously for our environment and animals. It didn't surprise me that she showed up with Earth friendly flowers. In case you don't know, most cut flowers are generally grown with toxic chemicals, preserved with even more toxic chemicals and then shipped half way around world. Not these simple, but beautiful, store bought babies- they came from less than 500 miles away and were grown with nothing that would make us sick. Even the packaging was recycled and recyclable, with a little triple R message reminding us to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. I popped them into a Baccarat Vase (that I'm sure will be passed to my grandchildren one day) and placed them next to my homegrown oranges. There you have it, simple, green elegant.
Yesterday at the PDC Veranda hosted a documentary and all star panel on Redefining Luxury. Martyn Lawrence-Bullard, Windsor Smith and Peter Campbell were among the panelists. Unlike the Westweek event a few weeks ago, which completely neglected any greenspeak, Veranda celebrated the dynamic eco duo from the Q Collection, awarding them with one of their four coveted awards for the Art of Design. Each winner and all the panelists championed the green cause, one even defined luxury as a clean glass of water. Again and again they reminded us that respect for the planet's resources and healthy built environments go hand in hand with luxury, something our firm has been touting for over a decade. The slides of their projects were breath taking and entertaining, especially the image of Kid Rock's bedroom which looked nothing like I thought it would. It was originally designed as a love nest for him and Pamela Anderson and apparently they were quite taken by a trip to St. Lucia. Windsor Smith intelligently spoke about redesigning the way we use space, sharing plans on her new Mandeville Canyon equestrian compound. I wanna be Windsor when I grow up! Dedar and Kneedler Fauchere held the reception. As always the fabrics, flowers and food were scrumptious. My favorites were the chocolate dipped macaroons. Because an HGTV camera was following me around filming a day in my life, I received extra attention and a special, little interview from Carolyn Englefield, Veranda's Editor At Large. Fun fun fun.
"I love living in our new house!" That's what my husband said when I handed him freshly squeezed orange juice this morning. We've been here for 10 days and now that everything is pretty much where we want it (NO MORE BOXES !) we have had the opportunity to start enjoying what this place has to offer. And boy oh boy does it has a lot of citrus! We spent the past weekend planting our succulents, the beginnings of an herb garden and painting the patio fence. The SoCal Contractor even made three huge planters for the patio. We found the perfect spot with the right combination of shade and sun for the orchids and figs will be ready in a few weeks. Can you say edible garden? It feels like the garden of Eden and I can promise you I won't screw it up by planting any apple trees!
Our Sara is not feeling well lately. If you read this, know that she helps to create beauty in the world and we need her to have a full, quick recovery so she can come back to film the TV pilot she helped us get. Hall and Oats Smile Sara made me think of her and I hope it inspires you to send your love her way.
I got the invite, heavy card stock, multiple layers, all the right hosts: Elle Decor, Margaret Russell, Monique Lhuillier, Windsor Smith and Julia Sorkin, but having recently gone to three events atWilliams Sonoma I still wasn't thrilled about attending. I also felt bad, that I hadn't placed in order there in quite some time. But I pulled out the hairdryer and lash curler, put on effortless cocktail attire and hit the party. Was I ever glad to have done so. I can't remember a party with a better dressed crowd. One outfit was more stylish than the next- and I did not spot one pair of jeans. The neon yellow, organza skirt paired with a biker jacket ala St. John Knits was the first blast of fabulousness to capture my attention. Even Alison Muh, President and Chief Fashion Officer of Surly Girl commented how well dressed we all were. (Alison is VERY successfully in business across the street from Channel, so you can bet she knows a thing or two about fashion. ) The showroom is so well appointed that I've officially named Williams Sonoma Home the new arbiter of interior style. They've always been good, but now they're one of the best. I was gushing over this place setting, while asking an adorable gentleman to help me turn off my flash. Turns out he was, Andrew Angel, Visual Manager for Williams Sonoma and responsible for the gorgeousness. One room glowed a little more than the others, of course this was right where Queen Margaret sat and signed copies of her new book Style and Substance The Best of Elle Decor (a portion of proceeds going to benefit P.S. Arts) . Also exciting was that the event was sprinkled with Top Design starlets, including fan favorite Felicia. As you know, I've been contemplating if Los Angeles is really the best place to live. At this point of the festivities I turned to Rachel Winokurand exclaimed, "I love living in LA!" Never disappointing, Miss Rachel showed up in true green fashion wearing Gramma Etta's vintage dress. (Etta was petite and those sleeves ended at her wrists.) I've lived in LA since I was 14, grown up with the rich and famous, and I don't get star struck. But when I saw my blogging idol Ms. Ronda Carman, I shed my uber, "I'm too cool to care" skin, grabbed her, primped her hair and shot a photo. Ronda- I love you and this was the highlight of my night! Ok... gotta get dressed and get over to the PDC for what I am sure is going to be one hell of a Westweek! ...and think about what I will be buying from Williams Sonoma for two new clients........
Compassion is part of our biology, doing good is the key to feeling good. Neuroscientists are actually discovering that feeling compassion is associated with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps calm stress and boosts immune function. Acts of loving, kindness, meditation and dwelling on positive thoughts for other people are free, easy to do and ultimately help improve your mood and health. One of my favorite charities is the Smile Train. What I love so much about this organization is that for the price of a cute shirt or a nice dinner $250, I can show compassion and literally change a child's life. They are one of the best run organizations I've come across, traveling the world and teaming up with local doctors to repair cleft palates around the planet. In poor, underdeveloped regions of the world having a cleft palate is considered as a bad omen for a family or a village. So in addition to not being able to eat or speak properly, these children are shunned by society and sometimes even their own families. Countless children are ridiculed and beaten by other children, preventing them from going to school. Unknown numbers of infants with cleft palates are simply abandoned. It doesn't have to be this way because the Smile Train has never turned away one person who arrives for a surgery- which takes just under an hour to completely repair a cleft palate. Some people walk for days with only the hope that this blessing really exists. I invite you to watch the video below. If you're feeling compassionate after, the organization takes donations as little as $25 and think about how you will smile knowing you helped a child being able to do the same. Click here to see video Smile Train Visits Somalia
Back in the 80s I heard Christie Brinkley kept her teeth white with baking soda. This was before all the toothpaste manufacturers had figured this out, so I placed a box of Arm&Hammer in my medicine cabinet and brushed. It worked well and I still use her trick to this day in conjunction with my peppermint flavored Tom's of Maine toothpaste. So after two decades of hearing how Sophia Loren stays so beautiful (Olive Oil) I decided to try this one too. It's also a fact that olive oil absorbs easily into skin. A gallon of it runs about $11 dollars at Costco and the pretty Umbra refillable pump jar costs$15 at Hold Everything. I've been using olive oil all over my face, hands and body in place of three separate creams and IT WORKS GREAT. Bye bye expensive, organic creams and all their containers that need to be recycled. This gallon should last me about 6-8 months. I'm saving a small fortune on product which I can use for the "additional" doctor visits I've learned Ms. Loren also uses to keep her youthful appearance.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a designer series lecture at the Pacific Design Center. AD 100 and Interior Design Hall of Famer Juan Montoya spent an hour dazzling us with images of his work and insider info on how he does what he does so well. Anytime I have the opportunity to listen to a person who is this successful, I take it. Mr. Montoya is in his 70s and is going strong after decades due to his common sense approach and passion for interior design and architecture. One of the things I love so much about being an interior designer, is that if you’re good, you get better with age- like a fine wine. It was reassuring to hear someone I hold in such high esteem, espouse the same principle that I hold dear- a green approach to design. No he didn’t use the words “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” or “green” but he practices these things none the less. In most of his designs he uses furniture, art and accessories from the 20s, 30s and 40s, some of my favorites being Jean Michele Frank and Jacques Rhulmann. (This one is actually one of my projects, but it's a Rhulmann table and chairs in the Frederick Lowe Estate.) He rarely uses carpets and instead creates design in a hard (more easily cleaned and longer lasting) surfaces. He is well known for his liberal use of exquiste veneer on columns, walls, ceilings- but always prefers to restore what is there vs. ripping it out and installing new. And the greenest of all is his attitude, his very best advice being to smile a lot.
My daughter Elle recently celebrated her first birthday. Checks for college funds, adorable clothes, noisy toys (she loves), a soccer ball and a super stylish swimsuit were among the gifts she received. But the tea set from one of her BFFs (whose mommy happens to know a thing or two about etiquette being a deb from Houston) was our favorite. I believe all young ladies should host tea parties for their stuffed friends. Doing so teaches grace and generosity, vital ingredients to being a social success. Of course little Elle Bell took to it like a fish to water, tiaras in tow. Plus, tea sets don’t make annoying noises and they don’t require (rechargeable) batteries. But what was unique about this tea set and the reason we loved it so much was that it is green, made from 100% recycled, plastic, milk bottles retrieved from curbside collection. The back of the recycled cardboard packaging gives a little information about how much energy green toys can save. In this case it’s equal to using 3,000 AAA batteries or enough energy to power a TV for 3 weeks or run a lap top for a month. This set also contains no BPA, phthalates or lead paint. Just a box of good ole’ fashioned, girly fun- and best of all- made in the USA. You can find one at GreenToys.com.
A few days ago we headed out to Franklin Canyon for a New Year's, first birthday celebratory picnic. While having a picnic certainly isn't a new idea, doing it without disposables certainly did drawn some attention. Our lunch consisted of free range, beef fillet sandwiches, beans, green salad, custard with blueberries (everything organic, of course) and a bottle of Champagne- not organic, but French- and we all know Europeans have higher eco standards for things that go in their mouths. It was served on 19th century Limoges china, an antique table cloth, with matching cloth napkins, silver utensils and hand blown glasses. Instead of cut flowers, we brought two pots of fragrant herbs to decorate the table. (Later that day they were planted in the ground at our house). At the end of the picnic, we had almost no trash, which delighted everyone at around the table. Everything we brought was eaten, reusable or recyclable with the exception of the champage cork/wrapper and a little plastic wrap used to cover the custard ramekins. Soon we will be able to buy biodegradable plastic wrap and we can walk away as if we never visited. THAT'S IT FOR THE TRASH! After our lunch, we loaded up the car, left the herbs in the baby stroller (because it looked cool) and circled the lake for some more fresh air and exercise. Europeans aren't the only ones who know how to enjoy a civilized outing. And now we can enjoy our "decorations" for many meals to come.
Big thanks to Grace at Design*Sponge for blowin' up our favorite green builder Mr. SoCalContractor on one of our befores and afters. BEFORE AFTER BEFORE AFTER BEFORE AFTER BEFORE AFTER Fresh, green goodness! Enjoy.
2009 was a sweet challenge...had a baby, traveled around the globe, filmed three tv shows, wrote a book, finished two huge projects, won an award, got no sleep, joined DAR, participated in a show case house, visited with friends and family, attended all "the events" -baby in tow and survived a recession. Looking back at the year reminds me that you can do anything. Here's to 2010 and our new ventures, GreenDesign.org, retailing, book tours, MORE design and awards, a new home, Ford Motor Company and maybe, just maybe... another baby in the making. Success, health and happiness to all of you!
This may be the coolest way I ever seen to display a doily. Designer Kristen Wicklund showed her collection of porcelain dipped dolies at Greenwich House Pottery this holiday season. She dips them in porcelain and fires them in a mold until the fabric evaporates. I'm wondering if I can dips granny's doilies in starch and get the same effect.
Lori Dennis is a top Interior Designer, speaker, best selling author, star of HGTV’s The Real Designing Women and co-founder of Design Campus.