The Bronze Urli

Urlis (also spelled uruli and uruly) are heavy bronze vessels traditionally used for cooking in Kerala, Southern India. They can also be decorative and used to float flowers and little candles …

Via Villa Jacaranda:

Villa Jacaranda Urli

They can be used as sinks in powder rooms …

From MakaZai, an urli in the Sabyasachi store in Mumbai:

Urli in Sabyasachi Store

From Houzz, an Indian urli on a Chinese cabinet:

Indian Urli on Chinese Cabinet

Via Inside Outside:

Modern Urli Wash Basin via Inside Outside

We have one small urli we found in Cochin during my first trip to India many years ago. It has a Lakshmi on one side and a gecko on the other. It sits on our fireplace hearth and currently holds … cat toys!

Coming from the U.S. where so many things are made in machines, I had no idea how labor intensive – and so dangerous! – the process of making an urli can be:

Making Urli

Check out this video — so fascinating but I warn it might make your jaws drop and your palms sweat — of making an urli in Southern India, for the Relic Hunter show on The Travel Channel:

That video makes me appreciate my urli even more, and everything that went into making it. I feel a bit guilty for just using it to store our cats’ fuzzy balls and catnip mice! We found our urli at Crafters, which is the Fort Cochin shop featured in this video. Sonny, the owner of Crafters, has accompanied me and my husband through his warehouses as we chose a few items for the India pied-à-terre. He knows the stories behind everything there. Once, years ago, I had my eye on a curvy teak and cane chair at Crafters. Before buying it, we left to go to the mountain spice estates of Thekkady for a few days. When we returned, “my” teak chair was gone. I had totally intended to buy it and ship it to Minneapolis where we lived at the time. Who had bought it? Ian Grant – the Relic Hunter in the video above! His shop was only a few miles from our home and yes, the chair wound up there! I left it for someone else who may never go to India to buy. I know we could go to Crafters ourselves any time.

I did eventually get my chair. We returned to Crafters a decade later and there’s now a curvy teak chair in our Chennai apartment. In a few weeks I’ll be reclining in it with an issue of Elle Decor India and some warm Kerala Chips just out of the fryer down the street.

So back to urlis. Here are more photos of pretty urlis …

Urli with Etched Pattern

From Shikara Design:

Shikara Design Urli

From World Market:

Urli from World Market

If you go to India, an urli is a wonderful unique souvenir. They can fit into western décor in a lot of ways – they can float candles, display fruit, hold potpourri. The gold bronze or brass would be pretty holding a pile of holiday baubles at Christmastime. Small urlis could display little guest soaps in a powder room. But I warn, urlis are heavy so account for that in your plans with your check-in luggage weight. Or, reputable sellers will ship urlis worldwide to your home. If you ship anything, take a picture of it and be sure staff tag it before you leave the shop, so you receive the one you want.

English/Victorian Exposed Shower Plumbing

Exposed shower plumbing was a trendy choice here in the U.S. when we remodeled our master bathroom nine years ago. The look is industrial, it’s vintage, it’s a little bit country depending on the finish you choose. It’s often imported from England by brands like Rohl, Samuel Heath or Perrin & Rowe. It’s a design choice in the U.S., but in India it’s a necessity. Both our bathrooms in our Chennai apartment require exposed plumbing and pipes. Exposed shower plumbing looks like this:

Exposed Shower Plumbing

True to the name, the pipes are exposed on the outside of the wall.

It’s also called exposed thermostatic system.

The exposed shower plumbing choices we’ve seen so far in Chennai showrooms are very chunky looking and they’re nearly always shiny chrome. Contemporary shiny things are popular there. There’s limited design options available especially if you want an oil rubbed bronze, or a soft brushed brass look like this unlacquered brass from Waterworks:

Waterworks Unlacquered Brass

If you can get these finishes in Chennai, they will be special ordered and we will be there only 2.5 weeks and really want a shower while we’re there. Surely everyone around us will appreciate it if we shower too. So there’s no time for special orders. So I’m seeking shower plumbing in the U.S. to haul over in suitcases. !!! Yes. We fly Etihad and we get four large check-in suitcases between the two of us with 200 pounds of stuff for no charge. You can easily take bathroom sconce lighting, plumbing, sewing machine, drilling tools … yes that is our vacation packing list right now!

While we installed Rohl in our Chicago area home, the quality and cost were worth it in a master bath we use several times daily. But for only very occasional use in our place in India, the more upscale brands like Rohl, Perrin & Rowe and Waterworks are way too pricey. We also don’t want to risk getting docked for import taxes while bringing expensive plumbing into India. So I’m seeking other brands this weekend, and meanwhile finding the coolest showers with exposed plumbing …

Exposed Shower Plumbing

Shower Plumbing Exposed

You can also build an exposed shower system yourself with copper pipes. In the right setting, usually very simple and purposely understated, it can look charming versus just cheap DIY.



So wish me luck. I hope we’re hauling finished shower pipe systems on Etihad instead of rigging up copper pipes in a pinch!


Brass Indian Figurines

Brass figures are trendy right now. Brass giraffes, brass elephants. Well how about a brass crab or cow? Not as charming, right?! But wait …

A few years ago while visiting Bangalore, our hotel had big brass figures in niches in the dining room. Not being able to sneak them in my pocket (not that I would have done that!), I snuck pictures of them. Instead of taking pictures of all of them at once, which would have been weird, every day during breakfast I snuck a few more pictures of a few more brass figures. Also still weird.

And here’s a few of them …

Brass Indian Figurine

Brass Indian Figurines

This next one is my favorite. The cutest crab.

Indian Brass Crab Figurine

Brass Figurine from India


A Door That Took Seven Men to Carry

Watch your head — which you must if you are taller than 4 1/2 feet — when you step into the India pied-à-terre, our apartment in Chennai, India, for the height of the door is low. It’s tradition to bow your head as you pass through the door. The door is over 100 years old and so heavy it took seven men to carry it up four flights of stairs! It’s ornately carved, at least ornate for my taste. But choosing it wasn’t so much about what we like, it was more about preserving a piece of history. It came from an old home in Kanchipuram, a South Indian village where traditional saris are hand-spun with threads of real gold. Here are some door details:

India pied-a-terre Main Entrance

It is Krishna here, a Hindu god, playing a flute at the top of the door:

Krisha on Antique South Indian Wood Door

And, um, apologies for the dust and cobwebs there. We should clean up better for visitors! Please forgive us, we are at the apartment only once a year or so.

The massive doorknocker. You don’t have scale here, but it is bigger than my  hand!

Doorknocker on Antique South Indian Door

I leave the natural verdigris patina alone for now.

There are lotuses and Annapakshi birds — mythical and wise Indian birds that descend from the heavens and bring prosperity. The Annapakshi bird motif is often woven into saris made in Kanchipuram.

Everything is a symbol and everything has meaning:

Carved Antique South Indian Door

Someone, or a few someones, labored hard to carve a story into this door.

There’s a skeleton key lock that you can see through, for real.

Skeleton Key Lock

And what lies beyond?

Well, this is the first time I stepped into the apartment, four years ago:

It looks much the same today! Pretty much empty. That will change in September, when we’ll visit the apartment to do some work on it. I’m looking at old pictures of the apartment now, planning for some projects.

Here’s the back side of the main door, the very rustic side that’s inside the apartment:

Antique South Indian Door

Those shiny silver bolts need to be antiqued and sawed off flush — no detail left forgotten. As you can see in this next pic, this door is a prominent feature in the entry area. And because of the apartment’s open floor plan, the door is visible from everywhere. So it kind of dictates some rustic Indian countryside decor.

India pied-a-terre Foyer

I’m shooting for Rustic + Elegant. My moodboard to decorate this space is this:

And yes the door is to scale there — it looks weird but it is a short door!

We have a lot of work to do but there will always be this to fall back on … my curvy teak and rattan chair:

Teak Indian Lounge Chair

We found it in 2013 in Cochin and it was delivered minutes before we had to leave for a flight, so I had maybe 60 seconds to sit on it! Really looking forward to spending more time on this chair …

DIY Moroccan Pouf

I love Moroccan style and patterns, and had the good fortune to go to Morocco (Marrakech) last year with a Royal Design Studio “Paint & Play” group to do a painting project and get inspired by Moroccan design. One Moroccan pattern I really like, due to its bold geometric graphics, is Fez embroidery style.

To show you a few samples of Fez embroidery, here’s an antique pillow from Fez, Morocco on 1st dibs. The pattern is based on mehendi (henna) designs you often see on hands and feet:

Moroccan Fez Pillows from 1st dibs

Here’s a remnant of 19th century Fez embroidery from RugRabbit:

Antique Fez Embroidery from Rug Rabbit

I thought these Fez designs would look good on a DIY Moroccan pouf, to go in our basement media center along with a chair I recovered with Mali mudcloth. You can sit in the chair, put your feet up on the pouf, a drink on a side table, and watch a movie! Here’s my DIY Moroccan pouf:

DIY Moroccan Pouf

This was super easy to make! I share the full step-by-step tutorial at Paint and Pattern blogzine.

Basically, you cut two circles and a long rectangle:

DIY Pouf Pieces

I share measurements for my pouf, plus a formula to cut different sizes, at the Paint and Pattern tutorial.

Then, stencil one circle for the top of the pouf and stencil the long rectangle for the sides. You don’t have to stencil the circle that will become the bottom of the pouf. Here’s my Fez-patterned pouf pieces:

Fez Patterned DIY Moroccan Pouf

If Fez pattern isn’t your style, no worries! You can paint absolutely any pattern on a DIY pouf! I use a lot of Royal Design Studio stencils because I’m a contributor for their Paint and Pattern blogzine, and because I love them, I was a customer long before creating projects for their blog.

Here’s a few ideas for poufs. The Anastasia allover diamond damask pattern and the floral Kimono allover stencil. They are shown on walls but they work on other things too, like poufs!

Royal Design Studio Stencils for DIY Poufs

The side of a pouf is perfect for a large border stencil. Check measurements to be sure the border has more height. A few ideas are the large Brocade Border stencil at 7.75″ high and the Italianate Border at 8″ high:

Royal Design Studio Border Stencils

Perhaps your taste is more contemporary? The All the Right Curves stencil by Bari J would look great on a pouf! Or the Weave stencil by Christine Joy Design:

Royal Design Studio Modern Stencils

Once your choose a stencil pattern, it goes without saying, you can paint your pouf in any color you like. You can also choose color for the fabric. I used a beige upholstery vinyl because I wanted a contrasty graphic cream and black pouf. But you can use fabric in any color. Definitely choose a heavier upholstery fabric so there is enough heft to help your pouf keep its shape. I share more details about fabric choice, sewing your pouf, and stuffing your pouf in the tutorial post. Here, I wanted to give you inspiration to inspire you to make a DIY pouf!

If you check out the tutorial, you will see Chaai the Crafty Cat makes an appearance:

Chaai the Crafty Cat

He was involved in every step of this project. He held a stencil in place when he flopped over to sleep on my project while I was painting. He made sure I always knew where the pieces were by sitting on them. Here he is doing a quality control check on my painting. If you don’t have a crafty cat assistant you can still do this project on your own, not to discount Chaai’s contribution.

A few more pics of my finished DIY Moroccan pouf, and I hope you are inspired to make a pouf too!

DIY Moroccan Pouf with Fez Stencil Pattern

DIY Moroccan Pouf Tutorial and Pattern Inspiration

Wall Mounted Sinks for an Apartment in India

So … not long ago I shared the epic battle for a creative bathroom in our apartment in India. We’re going to India in September to *finally* do more work on our apartment there and attend a very important wedding. We need to finish one bathroom ASAP in the early days so the space is habitable. So, easy is a key word, especially for the sink, vanity and plumbing configuration. My husband wanted this:

White Porcelain Pedestal Sink

I had my eye on this:

Copper Pedestal Sink

Never mind getting it to India. We will figure it all out as we always have before. But last night, now that we’re getting serious about making decisions, I noticed something in the product description:

“Must be installed from the back side of the wall.”

Whaaa? Does that mean what I think it does? Indeed it was confirmed. You need to be able to go through the wall to install it.

Well that’s not happening in the India pied-à-terre. Because the walls are concrete many, many inches thick!

So … they say to have a Plan B and a Plan C. Oh I got lots of Plans! All the way to Plan Z. Just need to find one that will work. We need easy. But not at the expense of these:

  • Creative
  • Rustic
  • Unique, like people say “huh, I haven’t seen that before”
  • Small, the space is tiny

Some inspiration photos in the epic battle post showed wall-mounted sinks:

Wall mounted is a good solution: it can be small, simple all-in-one units eliminate need for even a basin installation, everything is off the floor for easy cleaning.

I love the stone ones but have no idea where to find a stone wall-mounted sink in Chennai, India. I don’t have the time and energy to source it. Maybe I’ll take a cruise through Alibaba but I have low tolerance right now for winding up having low quality delivered. Instead, I’m looking for something we can take in a suitcase. Yep! You read that right! The sink cannot be more than 24″ wide and if it’s approx 18-20″ deep, it certainly will fit in a large suitcase. So other constraint is weight. We fly Etihad which has generous check-in bag policy but still, stone is not going to happen.

What will work?

A copper wall-mounted unit like this shared a few years ago here, from Copper Sinks Direct:

Wall-Mounted Copper Sink

Yep, that would fit in one of our large suitcases.

Another option is mount a piece of water-resistant wood, similar to this look from Signature Hardware:

Teak Wall Mounted Sink via Signature Hardware

With interesting faucet and basin choices, a simple teakwood slab could become creative. Many bathroom fixtures in India are contemporary — think the sleekest and shiniest from Milan! — but I could easily take a unique basin and interesting faucet from the U.S. in a suitcase.

With a wall-mounted unit, I do worry about exposed pipes. It might take some doing to have pretty pipes. I don’t quite expect something this nice:

Pretty Exposed Pipes

But I would want attractive plumbing, not totally utilitarian. Certainly here in the U.S. you can find whatever you want. I’m not as familiar with sources in Chennai though they do have Kohler and other brands. We will likely be hitting up Vaigai Sanitation first days there.

Maybe building something like this — seen at PIRCH — out of wood in India would be a solution to hide pipes:

Maybe we could find gorgeous grain too. Of course it’s easy to find a square or rectangular basin in the U.S. and … you got it … you can take it in a suitcase!

Mostly I hope to finish this bathroom in September so I don’t write about it any more and move on to something else! Searching the history of this blog brings up a lot of inspiration posts for this master bathroom.

And oh … one final thing … here’s the rustic  mirror for the bathroom (going to India in a suitcase!) so whatever we choose needs to look okay with this:

Rustic Mirror

Honestly I think my husband does not like this mirror at all, but I think once it’s installed, he will “get it” and like it. It brings the rustic — and rusted — look of the inspiration bathrooms up above. The whole picture is in my head right now so it’s totally understandable that it’s hard for anyone else to see.


Magical Moroccan Closet Nook … a DIY!

Some people have huge infinity swimming pools as luxuries. Some people have fast convertible cars. Some people have wine cellars with rustic stone walls and floors. Some people have closet nooks filled with Moroccan patterns and pillows. Okay maybe only one person has that last one. Me! Until I entice you to try this …

It is a luxury to give up a closet and turn it into a space that’s pretty much only for lounging around.

DIY Closet Nook Before After

If you can carve out a space like this in your house — from a closet, under some stairs, maybe flanked by deep bookcases and shielded with a curtain — it’s the kind of spot people like to curl up in. I’m a big believer in Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” philosophy that was popular about a decade ago. Homes need spaces sized for humans. Humans don’t feel cozy in great rooms the size of office building atriums.

How did my crazy patterned nook happen? Well, I painted. I painted a lot! Sometimes until the wee hours of the morning and I had to switch contact lenses because they got dry from looking and not blinking so much. I painted an MDF board to cover a wood storage bench — see a tutorial of how to do stacked patterns like this:


There are painted and stenciled silk cushions — get tips on how to stencil on fabric like this:

How to Stencil on Silk Fabric

There’s even a painted, stenciled and beaded pillow that I created for a feature in Paint+Pattern blogzine, where all these stenciling tutorials are shared:

DIY Moroccan Stenciled PIllow


Believe it or not, I am not the only person on the planet with a nook like this. Because these nooks inspired me to pull all the clothes and junk from the closet, and make it a special space:


Now there’s a luxurious lounging nook that I can work in, read in, nap in, snuggle with a cat in. You can lounge around on a mix of pillows I bought during travels (a silk Turkish pillow actually found in India, a Moroccan Fez embroidered pillow) and pillows I made with details like jewelry fixings and long lush tassels from the Marrakech medina.

Closet Nook

But I’m not done with it yet. Oh no! Because you haven’t seen the ceiling yet …