Improvised Life » dining room If you can't hunt with a dog, hunt with a cat... Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:24:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Confetti Bomb Your Party or Table Top Wed, 19 Feb 2014 21:00:24 +0000

Although regular confetti often has a slightly cheesy feel, Etsy seller Knot and Bow’s colorful fat tissue paper confetti dots would make a swell way to “dress” a tabletop or party space. How fun to do a planned  bombing before-hand, or a suprise on in the midst.  (more…)

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Find: Big, Stylish, French Striped Dish Towel / Napkin Mon, 13 Jan 2014 22:16:32 +0000

Over the holidays Ellen Silverman gave a dinner party for 14 and wanted a special napkin that guests could take away with them to remember the event. She found some inexpensive but wonderfully stylish big red striped cotton dish towels// that a friend machine-embroidered with a pretty design. They were in perfect keeping with the wonderful bistro-ish meal Ellen made featuring a pot au feu.  And, at 18-inch-by-28-inches, they are wonderfully ample, giving you that “tucked in” feeling when you place them across your lap at table. (more…)

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More Vegetable Table Decorations Thu, 05 Dec 2013 21:00:04 +0000

Cora Büttenbender

Although we’ve tried out hand at herb bouquets and vegetable decorations for the holiday table, we realized there are LOTS of possible improvisations on those themes when we saw these swell ones from iiiinspired.  We love that they’re composed of everyday vegetables. The trick: (more…)

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maria robledo: the perfection of everyday imperfections Mon, 02 Dec 2013 21:30:21 +0000

Maria Robledo

Writing about “as-is messed up walls and floors” made us remember a quote from our friend Maria Robledo, whose work invariably captures the wondrous imperfections in the daily world that make them so completely perfect. (It echoes the principle of wabi wabi we love so much.) Eagle-eyed Susan Dworski stumbled on the quote in Naked: Flowers Exposed//,  accompanying Maria’s photo of a white calla lily. (more…)

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Cheap, Chic Holiday Table Inspiration Tue, 26 Nov 2013 23:53:22 +0000

Amy Dickerson

As we start to wrap our heads around decorating the Thanksgiving table, we stumbled on this image from a dinner party in an artist’s studio, published in Anthology Magazine. This place setting incorporates a number of ideas we’ve featured over the years, in an especially charming way. The placemat is simply a sheet paper ripped from an art pad with the menu artfully printed on it; we love that it drapes over the edge of the table. Kraft paper also works fine with a handmade artwork or drawing.  (more…)

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hanging wine bucket keeps chilled wine within reach Tue, 05 Nov 2013 18:40:55 +0000


We found this bit of unexpected brilliance on Rough Linen‘s slideshow of reader’s applications of its lovely linen products. A rustic zinc bucket hung above the table serves as an easy to reach wine cooler: practical, charming, fun. It is the very inspired improvisation of Austalian stylist Kara Rosenlund.

We also love the bunch of fragrant fresh herbs hanging above the table…

Just in time as we start planning he holidays!

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il reader julie houston’s brooklyn renovation Tue, 18 Jun 2013 17:28:54 +0000 julie houston

julie houston

We are always thrilled to hear (and see) how ‘improvised life’ resonates in our readers lives. Sometimes it’s a “shift” of mindset, sometimes it’s a daring diy. In Julie Houston’s case, it was a major renonovation of the back parlor of her Brooklyn brownstone,  transformed into kitchen/dining area.

When children and pets leave — as is nature’s way, aka “the empty nest” — the house goes silent.  The element of surprise, embedded in their activities, is gone.  
After a few long-delayed home improvement projects (too busy to do them for decades), it dawned on me that I was merely trying to make my own noise, create my own element of surprise around here. 

Our favorite bit: Julie’s take on an idea she’d bookmarked from ‘improvised life’ in 2009: Margot Wellington’s long shallow stainless steel sink that doubles as a work surface. (that’s 4 years of fermenting an idea!) (more…)

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laziness and handwritten recipes in the digital age Wed, 12 Jun 2013 08:41:48 +0000 handwritten sour cream cake recipe

photo: susan dworski

Rainy days always slow me down and tuck me in, seducing me to perform unnecessary housekeeping chores unimaginable in bright sun. When my ancient, duct-taped, binder of recipes tumbled off the top of the fridge in a splat of disorganization, I remanded it to the top of the clothes dryer. Now, a few drops of rain have induced guilt and curiosity. As Japanese poet Ryokan wrote:

Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about disillusionment and enlightenment:
Listening to the rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.
I sift through the pages. Fifty years of recipes slip through my fingers, many handwritten in spindly, old fashioned, cursive handwriting by women who have passed from this earth long ago, leaving behind their grease-spattered, thumbed, much loved meals handed down through generations. (more…)
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pasta with asparagus, morels, favas or peas…improvise! Fri, 03 May 2013 08:52:07 +0000 fava beans being shucked Sally Schneider

photo: maria robledo

This weekend when we go to the farmer’s market, we will have Tubetti Pasta with Asparagus,  Morels and Fava Beans from Sally’s award-winning cookbook A New Way to Cook in mind. It the perfect spring-into-summer pasta recipe because it lends itself to endless improvisation, depending on what look’s best in the market, or how much energy we have.

It plays on an essential principle of improvisational cooking:  most foods harvested in the same season — in this case asparagus, morel mushrooms, and various members of the pea family— have an affinity for one another.

The recipe is built on a basic technique: braising the vegetables in a flavorful fat and a little water, then tossing them together with small tubetti pasta and fresh herbs. If you’re pressed for time, use the essential method as a foundation and use only one or two of the vegetables or whatever else looks good in the market. Or swap out like vegetables: use other firm mushrooms like maitake instead of morels.

Shucking fava beans or peas can be a delight when done with friends, but if you’re pressed for time, frozen peas are a fine stand-in.

For those who want to improvise, here’s the basic approach: (more…)

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clever kitchen renovation using new and original cabinets Thu, 21 Feb 2013 18:44:11 +0000

Desire to Inspire recently posted a reader’s mid century-style renovation. The kitchen’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures were not side-by-side and we found ourselves moving the cursor up and down to really understand the clever transformation.  Ahh, we get it: Beth, who’d masterminded the kitchen’s update, thought carefully about what REALLY needed to be taken out of the  kitchen, and what could be revamped a bit to give it a new look.

She replaced the upper cabinets with sleek white modern ones, and replaced the doors on the far left cabinet to match them. She left the lower cornball-paneled oak cabinets in (more...)]]> 3 reminder: you don’t have to iron or hem linen cloths Thu, 20 Dec 2012 19:54:28 +0000 unhemmed linen remodelista

photo: aya brackett

Two images in a recent Remodelista post illustrate an essential principal that just might let you off-the-hook over the holidays: linen table cloths don’t need to be ironed to be beautiful, nor do they even have to be hemmed. We offer proof below, in the lovely tables set ‘au natural’.

But if prefer an ironed look but are short on time and energy (and don’t need more stress), here’s a way of making linen LOOK pressed without having to iron it; we heard about it from a reader named Joan who learned it from her sister-in-law: (more…)

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‘improvised life’s emergency pantry Mon, 29 Oct 2012 08:41:44 +0000

The wind has picked up in the huge trees in the park across the way. TV news is reporting mandatory evacuations around the city, as the confluence of full moon, the jet stream and hurricane Sandy’s massive size threatens major flooding and power outages. The sky is straight our of a Ghostbuster’s movie; we’re waiting for the storm to hit.

We spent the morning walking around Harlem gathering supplies, as others did…prescriptions, cash, batteries. We stopped to listen to the joyous gospel that spilled from the windows of a church. As we wandered, we planned our supplies and strategy should the power go out. We’re definitely not into Powerbars; but into REAL as long as we can maintain it.

We’ve stocked up on (more…)

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plydesign: an essential guide to diy plywood projects Wed, 12 Sep 2012 18:35:41 +0000

As we’ve mentioned, ‘the improvised life’s laboratory is something of an homage to plywood. We’ve used it for many things, from window sills to cabinets to floors. We love the stuff, and are constantly hatching plots in our head for furniture, housewares, endless inventions. So we are smitten with carpenter and author Philip Schmidt new book PlyDesign// which presents 73 ideas for sleek, smart home furnishings that you can make from off-the-shelf sheet materials using only basic hand and power tools. It features designs contributed by more than 50 creative builders across North America for tables, stools, workstations, benches, laptop stands, shelves, art panels, organizers, headboards, and more.

Each project includes photographs, designs and lists of tools you’ll need. One of our favorites: Barnaby Gunning‘s 8 x 2 tables: (more…)

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chic’d-up paper towel napkins in a fab minimalist setting Wed, 05 Sep 2012 18:02:34 +0000 paper towel made into a chic napkin

2 or 3 things i know

We recently stumpled upon a wonderful post from 2 or 3 Things I Know that we bookmarked AGES AGO (1/3/09!); it is a divinely minimalist place setting with a philosphy to boot:

The key is to not turn to
magazines for design
advice. buy buy

It’s all about
the placement of
(just a few) objects.

and resourcing
cheap, found, basic
elements /materials

Cerre gives a little how-to and her favorite sources for creating a setting like this. (more…)

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