Best gifts gift guide

I was originally going to stop this series after Christmas, but I have one more to share, one that I think makes an incredible gift any time of year, but it’s sentimental enough to think about for your love this Valentine’s Day. Not that any of the gifts in this series wouldn’t make your sweetie melt—like the things that made Scott and I emotional,  a sentimental map, a homemade gift, a thoughtful addition to a collection, a piece of childhood, a treasure passed down, a family tradition, jewelry, or an heirloom.

Jessica Teves, managing editor at Refinery29 shared a family oil painting that had been passed on to her several years ago. You can read the story here.

It made me think of something my brother has in his home.


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Best gifts gift guide

A vintage map makes a great gift. For the second installment of the best gifts gift guideFouth Floor Walkup blogger Lauren Caron, the antique map of Paris, which predates the Eiffel Tower’s 1889 debut that her mom gave, her tops her list of favorite gifts. You can read why here.

I actually used this idea even before I wrote this piece for

Brendan was my bridesguy in my wedding. He is literally my oldest friend. Our families used to go camping together when we were kids. We would spend days fishing, hunting for buried treasure and playing hide and seek in the woods. Some of my fondest childhood memories center around these weekend excursions.

Since I was personalizing each of my bridal parties’ gifts, I decided to give Brendan something that showed him how much these times as kids meant to me.

Brendan's map

I decided finding a vintage map of Arizona was the way to go. I purchased this fun 1950s vintage state map. It kind of resembled something we would have used to hunt down that buried treasure I mentioned. I added my own touch of childish whimsy to it by coloring in some of the forests and mountains where we set up camp over the years.

I found this map here but ebay has a selection. Majesty Maps & Prints sells beautiful maps specifically for interiors, or you can search for vintage maps on Wikimedia Commons, download any of them for free, then have it printed to your frame size specifications (take my advice on finding great large frames inexpensively) at a local copy shop.

Best gifts gift guide

I recently finished writing my favorite story. Ever. I asked some of the bloggers I follow to tell me about the best gift they ever received and wrote about them on Today, starts the first installment of the best gifts gift guide.

It got me thinking about the best gift I’ve ever received. I asked Scott about his, and without hesitation, he said the money we received to buy Miles, our golden retriever puppy (thanks, Kent!).


Mine is a wee bit more sentimental. Several years ago, my mom converted all of our childhood home movies from VHS tapes to a collection of DVDs for me. I cannot tell you how special it is to have my dad’s voice, laughter, humor and jokes on something I can watch—and eventually share with my children.

Blogger Angie Gubler also named something sentimental as her favorite gift: A painting her husband commissioned that captures Angie’s favorite spot in the world, where she made fond memories as a child. You can read the full story here.

Want to give something similar? Finding a fantastic local artist to commission is actually a lot easier than you may think. Check Etsy first. Scott and I both love La Jolla Cove, where we were married. I did a quick Etsy search for La Jolla Cove art, then narrowed the search to paintings, and found these two.

La Jolla Cove

You could also search local art festivals, like San Diego’s Art Walk, the Old Town Art Festival or La Jolla Festival of the Arts. Scope out the artists’ works, then ask them about creating something custom for a loved one—or you!

DIY home improvements that cost almost nothing

I confess. I procrastinate. A LOT. I always say that I am most creative when it’s the 11th hour and I’m on a deadline. So it would only be natural that I write a story for This Old House about super fast fixes, quick upgrades and easy DIY home improvements that you can do on your home before company arrives. Haven’t yet hung pictures on the wall, even though you’ve lived in the place for months? Gave up on a set-in carpet stain (you don’t have to!)? Need to rid the guest bath of rust? All these answers—and 32 others—are in the November/December issue of This Old House and here too. And you can do most of them in a few hours. Don’t wait until Aunt Bethany comes knocking to get your home in entertaining-ready shape. Start on this list this weekend.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 1.58.31 PM

Here’s a peek at some of my favorites that are super cheap too:

1. Perk up your front or back landscaping with potted boxwoods. Could be my favorite plant of all time. Why? Because boxwoods grow like living sculptures in a pot, look just as good in January as they do in June and require almost NO maintenance (they’re drought tolerant). Oh, and they’re incredibly affordable. Home Depot and Lowe’s have them for about $7.


I planted four on our patio last December (part of Scott’s Christmas gift; full post on that coming in a few weeks).

2. Hang some photos—or not. I have a trick for hanging heavy items with two hooks on the back. It involves painter’s tape and a level and can be found here. But why hang when resting and layering looks incredible and requires no quick—and rash decisions—and zero commitment, like I did in this dining room. Or here in this office, resting photos on a bookshelf looks modern, fresh and relaxed.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.26.20 PM(Photo courtesy of CasaSugar)

3. Light the walkway with lanterns instead of standard landscape lighting. I like the flexibility that lanterns give. We lit the aisle at our wedding with lanterns, and now I have those same lanterns scattered around our tiny patio to create a bit of ambiance when we’re using the space at night.


What do you have to fix, repair or upgrade before family arrives for the holidays?




A small sensual master suite

A couple I worked with wanted their bedroom to feel like a romantic hideaway, the kind of place you experience on your honeymoon. So I went to work creating luxury without breaking the bank.
Sensual bedroom
To create the bedroom of their dreams, I brought in an upholstered bed and added textured bedding and a plush pillow and a whimsical one (you never want to take any space too seriously). I covered the hardwood floor in a supersoft flokati rug and suggested they order these curtains (neither one of them was up to DIY curtains even though they are so easy, remember?) to create atmosphere. The couple craved some sensual art so I fashioned a small gallery of tasteful prints–a nude hangs centered above the bed flanked by photographs that are a bit fun. The unkempt bed is titled Well Read, and the other is i love….

The room gets a lot of natural light so in keeping with the romantic mood of the space, I opted for candlelit lanterns to hang from the ceiling on either side of the bed.

And even the smooth high-gloss white dresser screams sexy in this space.

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