Scenes from the India pied-à-terre

I recently returned from India, from our “second home” apartment there in Chennai. With construction done (after 6 years! including breaks to recuperate), we started basic decorating. It’s the first layer of decorating, like the necessities for privacy and comfort — curtains, sofa, chair, pillows, plates and bowls. Of course in my mind, things like a silver-leafed table and stenciled wall are necessities! So you’ll see those here too!

I will share more details, sources, and DIY project tutorials later. Right now, I’m recovering from major jet lag and flying out again for a work trip. Meanwhile, I wanted to share SOMETHING here quickly!

First some of the color you might expect from India:

Tassel Bowl

Sofa pillows in India pied-a-terre

One of my fav spots – this little space between two bedroom doors:

Alcove in India pied-a-terre

There are a lot of calming neutrals, and patterns keep things interesting:

Stenciled Wall in India pied-a-terre

Curtain and Lamp Shade

Silk Saree Curtain

Kerala Chair

Stenciled Coasters

I call my style “Natural Nomadic Luxe” and this really captures it:

Nomadic Luxe

“Luxe” doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. The above pic shows an inexpensive polyester cushion cover purchased in India many years ago. The platter is from Turkey, found at HomeGoods. More than from money, the style comes from the choices of color (gold for bling!), pattern (paisley!), etc. The “nomadic” part of my style comes from mixing things from many countries and cultures together.

Follow along at Instagram to see things faster than they’ll appear on the blog!



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Doin’ the DIYs and Painting in India this Summer

We’re booking our next long flight from O’Hare to Abu Dhabi to Chennai! It’s gonna be a scorcher of a trip. We’re visiting India in late July/early August — the hot summer months I never before dared attempt in India. We’ll be cranking the A/C, as we won’t be lounging with books and cabana boys to bring cold drinks for us. I can’t do vacations like that. I gotta keep moving. I’ll be painting and fixing things up in our apartment in Chennai, the India pied-à-terre.

I’ll be adding color, like this photo of vibrant Indian color shared on Facebook to the Roots of India group:

Painting in India Roots of India Facebook

So now the prep begins! The paint color samples. The piling of stuff to pack in suitcases. The weird things we take on vacation! Drills, sandpaper, wood glue, sewing machine, nails and screws, lighting hardware, paint brushes and paints.

Here’s my local paint dealer in Chennai. They see me coming and know I’ll order 5 samples of similar colors that they argue are the same, but they are definitely not the same!

Asian Paints T Nagar Chennai

They’re just a 10-15 minute walk away from the India pied-à-terre. Don’t let the looks of the street fool you. There is good stuff here and you can do a lot of wallet damage on the way to get paint! On the way to and from Asian Paints, I can cover my arms with 24K gold bangles in another shop, and buy a vacuum cleaner and Bluetooth BOSE speakers in another. I really want the BOSE to crank up the music in the apartment. If I kept walking past Asian Paints, I would reach the silk saree shop for celebrities.

First thing I’ll do is finish the “headboard wall” in the master bedroom — a stencil feature that will serve as a floor-to-ceiling headboard. Here’s the inspiration:

India pied-a-terre Master Bedroom Wall Inspiration

Here’s the current status, as I left it in September 2015:

Gray read lavender on the wall. Oh no! It did pick up some gray/lavender in the floor tile, but it’s not the color I wanted as a base. So I covered it with Asian Paints “Silk Route” color — the perfect name for this nomadic abode.

We will get this finished! It’s gonna happen this time! A really low platform bed has been delivered, and we’ve had a queen size mattress for awhile (sitting on the floor). So we’ll have the proportion of very low vs very tall in the inspiration photo. And I found two small black Chinese cabinets on our last trip to Chennai. I was surprised to find Chinese furniture in Chennai, but there you go, we now own them and they will flank the bed as nightstands.

Second thing I’m doing is painting this stencil in the living area:

I’ll be painting this stencil with inspiration from the mud hut paintings in Gujarat, like this image from FabIndia’s Flickr — with raised patterns, beige on white, and mirror or silver — and add a little crumbling dilapidation into the mix because I like that sort of thing:

And oh, wait until you see the curtains, and the cushions … so much to do …

Beyond all the DIYin’, I’d love to squeeze a trip to Pondicherry in search of some old furniture for the apartment, loading up on block print caftans at Anokhi and Soma, and trips to the best hotels for restaurants (wine & cheese please) and something tells me I’ll be needing a spa …



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The India pied-à-terre: Video Tour of Big Construction Mess & Confusing Electrical Outlets

First, I am so so so SO sorry! I’m so sorry I’m one of those people who hold their phones vertical when filming video. Yeah I’m one of them. After uploading a bunch of vertical videos, I will never do it again! But you’d think with everything technology can do now, couldn’t phones give us a warning when we hold our phones vertical: “Ummm, hey vertical lady, how about considering filming video horizontal? Really, it’s highly suggested. You might like the result better.”

There was no warning. So here’s some vertical videos for you. These are from our apartment in Chennai, India, filmed last September. I shared them on my personal Facebook, but not here yet. Video is the best way to get a feel for the place and see all my confusion with the electrical outlets. :)

These first two videos give a glimpse of all the workers in the apartment at once, and all the frenzied progress. Hit the “Full Screen” button to see these videos big enough to actually see them:

Sorry if you got seasick watching that. I learned fast and filmed this one slower:

I’m still surprised at how much we accomplished in 3 weeks last September. We finished two bathrooms, painted all the walls and ceilings of the whole entire place plus the outside stairwell, repaired the balcony railings, lined all the walls with baseboard molding. We also installed A/C, clothes washing machine, hot water booster, oven, range, fridge and kitchen sink. And we installed a lot of electrical lights indoors and outdoors. Whew!!! AND we attended my niece’s 3-day wedding.

After the first morning’s work, we popped into the apartment around lunch time and found it was nap time! And I also found a big mess:

Everyone worked on the floor. Some built tools on-site, like a miter box.

Also to explain my shoes … it’s customary to remove your shoes at the door in India. Even in all this construction mess, the workers removed their shoes. I wasn’t going to walk barefoot for safety reasons. I work for a safety organization and there were so many hazards here (note how they were using the electrical outlets to power their tools). My shoes didn’t go out on the streets so I hopefully wasn’t tracking much stuff into the apartment.

Here, I could NEVER figure out all these light switch panels! I still haven’t figured them out! (also please excuse my voice, I already am not thrilled with listening to it and it’s bouncing around all the hard surfaces of this place):

This was filmed on our last day in India last September. The apartment as we left it, after all the workers were done. You’ll see confusing light switches again:

I can hear here, the cough I always pick up from exposure to the road pollution. I get out there in the roads, walking to the paint store and other shops, walking to restaurants, and riding in rickshaws.

Finally, here’s the place cleaned up before we locked the door … until next time …

I showed super cool detail on the farmhouse table imported from Indonesia. Love it! And the three ceiling pendants I stenciled and had our electrician install. Love those too.

And you see that the electrical switches that I know very well are those that control the ceiling fans and the air conditioning. Very important electrical switches in the heat and humidity of Chennai, India.

I have some videos showing bathroom details, which I’ll share later! This is enough annoying vertical videos for now.

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DIY: Affordable Faux Fortuny Fabric

Have you ever lusted after Fortuny fabrics, the luxury Italian brand where pillows can cost $500+? I’ve written about Fortuny fabrics before — how they can be costly, and how you can frame inexpensive sample sizes of Fortuny fabrics and hang them on a wall as art. Because Fortuny fabrics are works of art.

I recently made my own DIY Fortuny-style pillows, with silk fabric, stencils and shimmery paint! Here’s two of them on my living room sofa:

DIY Faux Fortuny Fabric

Today I’ll share with you:

  • The tutorial showing how to DIY your own faux Fortuny fabric
  • Real Fortuny pattern inspiration
  • Stencils that will give you the Fortuny look


For the steps to paint this fabric, tips to get the luxury look, and a supplies list, click over to my guest post at Paint+Pattern blogzine:

Stenciled Fortuny Pillows Tutorial

Two things I suggest at the tutorial post to get the rich Fortuny look:

  1. Use real silk fabric. I found that a heavier silk taffeta looks nice. I think silk dupioni is too slubby-looking for the fine Fortuny look, and thinner silks like crepe de chine are too flimsy. Taffeta is just right.
  2. Use the Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes. They give just the right amount of luxurious shimmer to look like Fortuny.

Here you can see a close-up of the Stencil Cremes on my silk taffeta and silk velvet:

Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes

Real Fortuny Pattern Inspiration

Now here are examples of real Fortuny fabrics, to give you some inspiration:

Fortuny Patterns

I think Fortuny’s damask patterns, like those shown above, give the classic antique and vintage Fortuny look. They also have tribal and Moroccan-inspired patterns, so there is variety to the Fortuny style.

Stencils to get the Fortuny look

It’s not a surprise that stencils can give you the Fortuny look, because Fortuny uses stencils. Here are a bunch of recommended stencils, all from Royal Design Studio, that can give you the classic Fortuny style.

First, for my pillows I used the Corsini Damask Stencil size Small and Damask Modern Masters Stencil:

Royal Design Studio Damask Stencils

Here are a few more ideas:

Delicate Floral Wall Stencil (left) and Donatella Damask Stencil (right):

Royal Design Studio Stencils

Encantada Damask Wall Stencil (left) and Florentine Damask Wall Stencil (right):

Royal Design Studio Damask Stencil

Fortuny Wall Stencil (left) Isle of Palms Damask Wall Stencil (right):

Royal Design Studio Damask Stencils


I think all of these would give you a Fortuny look! Now, some stencils cost more than others so you may also want to choose a stencil based on your project and whether you would re-use the stencil for other projects. I made three pillows for my living room sofas, and I’m sure I’ll be using these stencils again in the future. You can also stencil on bigger pieces of fabric to make bigger things:

  • Recover chair cushions
  • Make a long bench cushion
  • Stencil on a duvet
  • Make a wall hanging
  • Stencil on curtains

Royal Design Studio often runs sales. Sign up for their email list to get notices!

When stenciling on fabric, I recommend that you use a textile medium. It’s a liquid that you mix with paint so that the paint will stay softer and pliable after it dries, instead of crunchy feeling. You can find textile medium near the acrylic paints in a craft store. I also give more tips for using textile medium in the “faux Fortuny” tutorial post at Paint+Pattern — check it out!


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DIY Project: Silk Lined Picture Frame

Wow, I never thought I’d go nearly a month without posting. Over the six years blogging here, that’s the longest break. The truth is I’m suffering from a dis-ease. The dis-ease of being busy. Oh so, so busy. This article is an interesting reminder that we’re supposed to be human beings, not human doings.

Though I do like to do. I like “do it yourself” projects for the fun of it, when I’m not busy being busy. And today, here is an easy, fast DIY project I made recently that appears somewhere in this room:

DIY Silk Lined Picture Frame

Here’s a clue. I thought the area above the sofa looked boring with only the big mirror there. This is how it looked for 12 years!

Before Wall

I like to keep things simple, but it was time for a change.

I made a silk-lined picture frame to display tribal brass spoons that I found at My Dream Canvas. If you love brass pieces from India, Anu at the My Dream Canvas blog and shop has beautiful brass collectibles!

Where did the idea to line a picture frame with silk come from? Well, I had silk left over from another project. And I remembered silk-lined wall niches I saw in Thailand, and how they can add rich color to a wall.

Jim Thompson House Wall Niches WSJ

Those wall niches add so much color to this room in the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok.

Why not get the same look by lining a frame with silk?

Here are supplies you would need:

Silk-Lined Picture Frame Supplies

l found a deep picture frame because I needed a frame deep enough for the brass spoons. You can also use a shadowbox.

Deep Picture Frame

Iron your silk, if needed, so it is smooth.

First, cover the backing of the frame with silk. Pull the silk taut over a solid backing like foam core board or thick cardboard. Tape the silk in place on the back side. I used blue painters tape because there was a roll sitting literally right behind me, and I was too lazy to search all over the house for more appropriate tape. I know there is a lot of tape in here! I just can’t find it when I need it!

Silk Covered Frame Backing

For the sides of the frame, I just needed tiny strips, because my frame wasn’t super deep. I found basswood that’s so lightweight, I could cut it to size with scissors!

Cutting Strips to Size

Testing Size of Strips

Cut pieces of silk and pull the silk around your side pieces, and tape the silk in place on the side that will be pressed against the frame (it won’t show).

Covering Side Strips

Because my strips were so thin, I was working with small everything, including skinny slivers of tape.

I did not use glass, but if you want glass, place your frame with the front laying face down. Place the glass in the frame. You are next going to glue the side strips in, and this is going to make the glass difficult to remove later, so be careful to not break the glass.

Next, run a line of glue along the sides of the frame, and push the silk-covered pieces into place against the glue.

Gluing Silk Strips Into Frame

Then assemble your objects or artwork on the silk-covered backing. I actually did this after my frame was finished and hanging on the wall, because I didn’t use glass. So if you don’t use glass, you can assemble your display later.

Push your silk-covered backing against the silk-covered strips on the sides, and tape the backing to the frame. Again, I used blue painters tape. Because it was convenient and it works.

Blue Tape

I think this silk-lined frame idea is great for displaying objects. It gives them a nice colorful background, and silk fabric elevates the luxe factor and makes things look more expensive.

Silk Lined Picture Frame

Picture Frame with Silk Lining

Here’s the frame on the wall, and here you see how the orange silk ties in with the pillows on the sofa and other things in the room:

DIY Silk Lined Picture Frame

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Don’t Read My Blog While Driving

Do you think that’s a crazy headline? Who would do that? Well someone has! Someone recently commented and said she read one of my blog posts on her phone, while sitting at a red light.

What?! It’s just design, decorating and paint here. It’s not that important. I am happy you are reading here! But please visit while sitting in a chair, couch or bed. Please don’t read while sitting in a car, even at a red light.

You may know me here as a decorating and DIY blogger. But this blog is not my job. My full-time job is … guess it! … preventing distracted driving! I work on preventing distraction from technology like our cell phones and dashboard infotainment systems. I’ve worked on traffic safety for 20+ years and distracted driving for the past 7 years. I’ve reviewed about 600 fatal and serious injury crashes involving cell phones. These crashes really do happen. A lot. So I was shocked to see someone read my blog while driving.

This month, April, is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Nearly everyone knows it’s dangerous to use phones while driving.* So why do people still do it? A lot of people think it won’t happen to them.

And a lot of us are trying to squeeze things in while driving because we’re too busy. We brag about our busy-ness. “How are you?” “Oh, soooo busy!” You know how that conversation goes!

Personally I love that my car is an escape. It’s an escape from the electronic communications coming at me 24/7 from my phone, computers and TV. Research shows listening to music is not very distracting to us (as long as you’re not lip-syncing on video while driving like Sam and Nia, don’t even get me started!) and if music helps you be less stressed or bored while driving, that’s good. I have great speakers and an amplifier in my car and it sounds like a concert hall. It makes driving easier. I protect my time in the car as time to re-charge my energy. It’s a time to take a break from all the communicating.

Why not “Take Back Your Drive” this month? Put the phone away and just drive. Drive more peacefully. Try it for 30 days. You may find there are benefits to that! A lot of skeptical people try it, then find they’re more rested, creative ideas pop in their minds, and if you’re driving with children, it’s a time to connect as family.

If you try it, I’d love to hear how it went, but please don’t comment while driving! ;)


* Nearly everyone knows texting while driving is dangerous. Most people still don’t know that hands-free talking and voice control features are distracting! If you’re curious, click here to learn more about all that.


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India pied-à-terre Update: The Great Headboard Debate

What can happen if your bed doesn’t have a headboard? Is it really a terrible thing to not have a headboard? Will you really get a circle of hair oil on the wall from leaning on the wall? Will you really smack the top of your brain on the wall and render yourself useless to the world, unable to earn an income, and fated to a life of being hungry, nearly-naked and homeless? All because of a missing headboard? We are having this debate.

Husband: Definitely a proponent of the headboard. Must protect the brain at all costs.

Me: Steadfast on no headboard. Design is more important than protecting the brain. Of course!!

Because, this:

India pied a terre Master Bedroom Wall Paint Inspiration

That’s the inspiration photo for the master bedroom of the India pied-à-terre. A design inspired by those mother-of-pearl doors will be painted on the wall, behind the bed. Here’s the current state of the design when I left the India pied-à-terre in September 2015:

Beginning of Wall Feature

Yeah I know, looks nothing like the inspiration! Yet! It’s the first coat of many, many layers of paint and perhaps other things like metallic foils and leaf. I have the stencils, I’ve been painting samples. Here’s a stencil after I was playing with metallic foils (I may build up more foil and pattern on the stencil itself then cut it and frame it, why not!):

Foil on Stencil

Just get me to India, and give me enough time to finish the design — it will happen!

Here’s the thing … you can’t block any of this with a headboard! Right?

I’m standing ground on being a “no headboard hold-out” in the interest of design integrity. Now, I’m not saying we put the mattress on the floor, like the inspiration photo, which I believe was a styled situation for a Vogue photo shoot, not a real permanent set-up. The mattress should be on a platform. But a platform without a headboard.

It’s hard to find a bed without a headboard. Like, 99.8% of modern beds in India have headboards. People really need to think more flexibly! So as a compromise, I’m seeking beds that have a removable headboard, or if you have to assemble the bed, a headboard you don’t have to attach to maintain structural integrity of the bed. This means lots of hours of life scrutinizing bed diagrams on Indian furniture websites — not what I expect to do with the dwindling hours of the rest of my expected lifespan. But this is how important no headboard is to me!

See, like this one from seems to have an easily removable headboard:

FabFurnish Bed

That headboard could even be turned into a console table top, so it’s not wasted.

This, my friends, is ideal:

FabFurnish Mattress Base

This might be even better:

FabFurnish Platform Bed

Yes it’s boring! But wait! Do I leave any surface untouched? I will paint tote bags from Old Navy for cripe’s sake. Give me a plain glass table top and I will paint under the glass to make it gorgeous. So you know this bed won’t stay plain!

I’ll be painting and stenciling the base of the bed. See these wooden printing blocks:

Indian Printing Blocks

I want to turn them into stencils, and then use the stencils to apply raised shapes onto the bed base, then paint it to make an old antiqued look. The process will be similar to what I did on this cabinet in my bedroom in Chicago:

Painted Embossed Cabinet

So the bed base will look like carved wood that you often find in India. I think making this vision a reality will be a fun DIY! I like the idea of applying block print patterns to surfaces other than fabrics, in different ways.

The room will eventually have layers of various patterns, but the wall feature will be the star of the show. All other patterns will be more subtle like the supporting characters of the room.

I see it all in my head.

What I don’t see is a headboard.

My husband made one point that gave me pause to … maybe consider, possibly not but really … what if you lean on the wall and over time make a circle of hair oil on the wall? Like I used to see on the back wall of classrooms in college. Yuck! His concern was for the protection of the painted design on the wall. After all that painting work, would I want a circle of head oil on it? Well, no! But here’s the thing. Are we really going to be sitting there leaning against the wall? I don’t think so. India is not an easy place for me. I crash at the end of the day. I want my head to meet a soft pillow, immediately! My husband argued he might read in bed. But is he really going to read with his head leaning against the wall, which means he’d be looking straight ahead and thus holding a book way up, arms sticking straight up, and very unnaturally? I don’t think so? I have never seen him do that in the nearly 20 years I’ve known him.

Also, pillows don’t need to be propped up against a headboard. Pillows are fine laying flat on the bed. Pillows really don’t care what they are doing.

So, no, I am not yet convinced we need a headboard.

Stay tuned in the future to see how this room shakes out!


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