Living in a nut Shell

It’s in the Mail: Succulents in a Vintage Postal Box

Succulents in a Vintage Postal Box

My love and awe of succulents continues. Now that my succulent bouquet in a cement-covered dollar store urn has been thriving,  this girl born with a brown thumb was starting to feel confident. I wanted to hang a unique planter to a new garden gate that wraps around my cottage. My flower boxes always end up looking a little faded, so  low-maintenance succulents in a vintage postal box was the way to go.

Vintage Postal Box Planters Are Ideal for Succulents

Because succulents have a shallow root system, they don’t need a lot of soil to grow. Succulents have no problem squeezing into a small, narrow vintage postal box, and I was lucky enough to find one close to home. One of my favorite places to find vintage treasures is the Newport Avenue Antique Center in Ocean Beach, California. On my first day of the hunt,  I found a small cast iron mail box from the 1940s, which was 40% off. It was already painted a dark French green, perfectly matched to the shutters on the front of the house. Because it is made for the outdoors, I didn’t have to worry about rust and it not holding up in harsh weather.

Close Up Succulent Materials

Succulent Prep

Cut a coco plant liner to form a cone that fits snugly into the mailbox. You’ll need to trim and cut a little flap in the front to allow the succulents to spill out.  Add a potting mix made specifically for cactus and succulents. Once the liner is in place,  pack in as much soil as you can and insert small succulents to form a pretty bouquet. Water when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Give it a whirl!

Xtra Close Succulent

Brooklyn Bridge Memories: Add Personal Touches in a Petite Home

Brooklyn Bridge Elephant Poster 1883

Decorate a Petite Home With Personal Touches

One of the top, small-space design tips that I stand by time after time is to layer a petite home with personal mementos that extend beyond family photos. Maximizing a space-deprived home is not only about square inches but how to make those inches matter.

I was trying to organize a gallery wall in the guest room, but I was having trouble gathering the right mix of images and art. I began to ask myself what moments and places make me smile, and the many walks across the Brooklyn Bridge to and from my old apartment in Cobble Hill came to mind.

Bring in a Bit of History

Rather than framing art photos of the bridge, I liked this print that celebrates the year 1883; 14 years after the Brooklyn Bridge was completed when P.T. Barnum (Mr. Circus himself) proved to the world that this architectural wonder was safe enough to allow 21 elephants and seven camels to walk across it with great fanfare.

Brooklyn Bridge 1883 Poster Close Up


Look out for a built-in, wide mat border, which gives this image a sense of importance. Here is a delightful children’s book called Twenty-One Elephants, which tells the story of the exciting elephant bridge walk. You could even frame a copy of the book cover for your wall.

Twenty-One Elephants Book Cover

Grow Up: Maximize Vertical Green Space With Espalier

Jasmine Growing in an Espalier Lattice Pattern

Make the Most of Vertical Garden Space

My petite beach cottage is blessed with a compact outdoor garden.  With not many green square inches to work with, I managed to turn a vintage bike into a slim standing planter, and now it’s time to take advantage of the little porch. Summer is winding down, and it was the perfect opportunity to grow up and maximize the vertical green space. A solid wood lattice railing borders the porch,  which inspired my first try at an espalier climbing vine.

Espalier Vines Fully Grown

Espalier Goals

Yay! Espalier Basics

Espalier is an old-world method of pruning and tying live plant branches flat to a wall or lattice to create a pattern. I decided to plant confederate jasmine for my espalier design since it grows pretty quickly in partial shade, and the fragrance is oh, so sweet.

Espalier Jasmine Close Up

Espalier Wire and Screws

Thread galvanized wire through eye screws (Everbilt #210) and install a crisscross patterned frame for the jasmine to cling to.  I planted the jasmine two days ago so it will take a little time to prune and guide the vines into full shape. But the basic steps for creating an espalier are relatively easy, inexpensive and a lot of fun. So far, no casualties. If space is limited in your neck of the woods, give espalier a try.

This vine training video boosted my confidence and made me feel like the basic espalier techniques could be mastered without too much risk or frustration.

I’ll be updating its progress on instagram: living_in_a_nutshell.


Once the espalier frame is fully covered, it can camouflage an ugly fence and give you a little extra privacy where needed.


Armoire Sunny Refresh: Chalk Paint Makeover

Chalk Painted Yellow Armoire

Chalk Paint to the Rescue

The move to sunny California ignited a complete design overhaul of my dark, heavy NYC furniture and accessories. The new sunny zip code also heralded the creation of chic, budget-conscious ways to transition my  shack into a cozy beach cottage. I knew chalk paint by Annie Sloan was going to be the key to this transformation since my chalk-painted leather chairs turned out smashingly well.

Gray Chalk Painted Leather Chairs

Gray Chalk-Painted Leather Chairs


Wide Yellow Armoire

Most of the transformation has to be kept under wraps for now until the release of my new book, Decorate This, Not That! in spring 2018.  But I can share the recent style refresh of the dark, espresso-colored TV armoire that used to be an eyesore in the living room.

Bye-Bye Black Armoire

Black Armoire BEFORE

First on the makeover To-Dos: add some architectural oomph to this plain Jane armoire with inexpensive O’verlays in a double Greek Key pattern.  The overlays are very easy to cut and glue (E6000 did the trick), and they give a style nod to the Hollywood Regency era that I love so much. The overlays shipped in two days and totally fit the slim décor budget.


Before ordering overlays sight unseen from the internet, use white chalk and measure out and draw the exact proportions of the molding directly onto your furniture.

Before Overlays

Citrus yellow (on the green, chartreuse side) along with Kelly green and black accents make up the overall color palette in this room. I had half a can of Annie Sloan’s English Yellow chalk paint left over from another project, and I thought it would brighten up the armoire nicely. The color treatment just needed a little twist in texture and finish so the room didn’t look too matchy. It took two layers of yellow paint and two top layers of Annie Sloan Old White (watered down by 30%) to get the coverage I needed.

White Layer Armoire Demo

The white layers were sanded down to reveal the yellow underneath, giving the overall piece a vintage, unique distressed pattern. Once dried, clear wax enriched the color and protects the paint.

Close Up Hardware Yellow Armoire

The armoire was not designed with hardware pulls. Instead it opened and closed with a spring loaded latch which left annoying fingerprints with every press. Adding these gorgeous Harvey Handle brass pulls from Anthropologie was like finding the perfect earrings for an outfit.

Don’t be afraid of repainting a large piece of furniture. It does take some sweat equity, but in the end you’ll have a custom piece that is unique to your petite abode.

Swell on Dwell On Design 2017: Brand Ambassador Invite

Dwell on Design 2017

Who, What, Where

Mark your calendars! I’ve been asked by Dwell on Design to be one of their design blog ambassadors in Los Angeles, June 23-25, 2017. Dwell on Design is the largest modern design fair on the west coast presented in partnership with Dwell Magazine, which brings together the brightest people, latest design materials, furniture, technology, garden and accessories under one roof.

You don’t have to be in the biz to enjoy the many design fair lectures, tours and shops. Here are some of the events I am putting on my must-see list:

Kim Lewis' Tiny Home

Kim Lewis Tiny Homes, the former Lead Designer behind ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Kim Lewis, is launching her own line of Tiny Homes at Dwell on Design. She’ll be there in person to give us a tour and to share her tips on maximizing space and style.


The Home Tours allow design-seekers to fully immerse themselves in “Dwell-like” domestic spaces. These unique homes located all over Los Angeles are specially selected by Dwell to reflect the rich diversity of livable, innovative modern architecture and design found in the city.

A Little One-On-One Design Time

One-On-One Consultations are back by demand at Dwell on Design. Now is your chance to talk to real, live architects, designers, and tile experts in a series of free, no-commitment consultations. Make an appointment online via the link for your free, private design session.

Hope to see you there June 23-25 at #DODLA17! Grab your passes at and use promo code NUTSHELL to save on your pass.

Set in Cement: Cool DIY Planters

Cool DIY Cement Planter

DIY Cement Planters For Less

Cement planters give any petite garden or terrace a touch of cool modern,  but the $100 and up price tag motivated me to take design matters into my own hands.

Dollar Store Plastic Planter

Dollar Store Plastic Planter Parts

On a recent visit to my favorite Japanese dollar store, Daiso, I bought a plastic planter urn. I drilled a few extra drainage holes to prevent soggy plant roots later on. Now, for the fun part!

This Just In: Mold-able Concrete

I had a little bit of Shapecrete left over from a previous project, which is a mold-able concrete mix that works like clay. You just add water. It comes in a large 20-lb size, but you will be surprised how many projects you can create with it.  Make sure and use gloves. I do not have allergy-sensitive skin, but working with this clay with my bare hands made them feel itchy for a few hours.  Check out Shapecrete’s how-to video here.

Shapecrete DIY Moldable Cement

Drape and shape the clay over the outside of the urn and just over the top lip, leaving the inside of the urn uncovered.

DIY Cement Planter Close Up

According to Shapecrete’s website, their product will alter the pH of the soil which may or may not affect some plants.  Being a card-carrying brown thumb gardener, I didn’t want to risk it. Instead, I lined the inside with a coco liner and added the soil on top.

Extra Close Up Succulents in Cement Planter


Living in sunny California, succulents have truly become my friend. They’re drought-friendly and so easy to grow in almost any container even an old postal box. My succulents look happy and are thriving in their new home.  Be sure not to overwater.

Smile! Time to Take a Bed Shelfie


I always like to support any independent design entrepreneur who is trying to help us small-space dwellers live smarter and happier in our tiny digs.

David Eng photo

I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Eng, the inventor of the Bed Shelfie, a sturdy, chic, affordable and portable mini-nightstand that easily clips onto a bed frame. It’s compact and made from sustainable materials like bamboo. I only wish I had thought of it first!


Here is a bit of the interview with Chris that may inspire you to live better with less:

  1. What art or creative background do you have? Are you full time Bed Shelfie, or did you keep your day job?

I went to the University of Southern California to pursue entrepreneurship – you could say the intersection of design and business to meet the world’s needs. Most of my technical creative experience comes from Master Planning Disney Theme Park which took on a heavy Guest Experience focus to inform immersive, transformative experiences.

Working at Disney Imagineering was a childhood dream (literally) and the more I better understood Walt’s underlying message behind the parks, the more I realized he wanted us to understand we all (already) have the courage to pursue our deepest dreams and aspirations – mine being entrepreneurship. That said, I left Disney after seven years to take on projects like the BedShelfie, full time.

  1. What life event/needs inspired you to create the Bed Shelfie?

The BedShelfie was inspired by the magic of living with less. Some combination of constantly moving around for work and reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” inspired me to free myself of his clunky furniture starting with where I started and finished my day – the bedroom.

From working at Disney, I knew the best design accomplished multiple goals. To replace the nightstand the solution had to be equal parts beautiful, sturdy, easy to use and eco-friendly.

My first ‘aha’ moment came when studying the incredible strength and versatility of the time-tested clamp mechanism. The design question, at hand, became finding a way to translate the strength of something that was traditionally metal, into something both beautiful and eco-friendly.

  1. How difficult is it to go from concept, to engineering and construction of prototypes to marketing it?

I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed that’s missing from the innovation process, is what is typically thought of as the “last step” – marketing.

In taking concept to reality, I’ve had many personal breakthroughs around the importance of integrating marketing throughout the ideation and design process. Discovering who you’re serving and then engaging that audience to turn your hypotheses about their needs into facts about their needs, strengthened and informed every step of the development process from design specs, to material choices, to packaging, to brainstorming future improvement.

  1. How many prototypes did you go through before you knew this was it?

We iterated through 4 prototypes until we locked into something that achieved both the initial design objectives of aesthetics, load bearing requirements, overall weight and cost feasibility from a manufacturing standpoint to ensure the product was ultimately affordable.


  1. Who do you see as your target consumer?

The target consumer is someone who wants a minimalist approach to furniture to free up space in a smaller home. Think, a millennial who is design savvy but doesn’t want to invest in clunky furniture that would weigh them down from moving because they don’t expect to stay in one spot of the world too long.

  1. Was it important that you keep the materials sustainable and the product affordable?

Building a sustainable future is our highest priority and I’m in love with how much bamboo forwards that conversation. If there was a super food of building material, bamboo would be it. The strength, character and renewable characteristics of bamboo is what enabled this idea to move forward.

Product affordability was also absolutely part of the conversation the entire time, given this is a nightstand replacement.

  1. What is the Bed Shelfie manifesto? What are the core beliefs behind the product?

The BedShelfie manifesto is simple, to forward the magic of minimalism (the counterintuitive notion that less is more) while creating a future with a sustainable approach we can be proud of now.

Given population growth is something we can expect to reduce the size of our homes globally, the BedShelfie and the products I want to create help us rise up to that challenge.

Check out Chris’ Kickstarter video and find out how to put your name on the pre-order list.

File This Under “O” for Organized

Final Closeup Chalkboard ToolsSpring has sprung, and it’s time to get the petite guest room organized. For most small-space dwellers, a spare room adopts multiple personalities by necessity. This room needs to be a cozy retreat for out-of-town guests, while it stores an extensive fabric and paper collection. Throw an array of tools and art supplies into the mix, and the bedroom starts to look like a storage locker.

Embrace Open Storage Solutions

Final Chalkboard File Cabinet Tools

Closet and under bed storage is already filled to capacity so some  tools, like large levels and even a handsaw, have to be displayed out in the open.  Keeping tools hanging on the sides a metal file cabinet was a quick and handy solution; now the challenge was how to make this look good.

Julia Pots

Chalkboard Paint Keeps Tools Organized

Taking a style cue from Julia Child and her genius peg board pot and kitchen organizer, I painted the sides of my file cabinet with chalkboard paint. Chalkboard paint and I go back a long way, starting at the front door of my New York City apartment. It is not a novel design idea, but it never fails to become a focal point. Instead of going with utilitarian black,  I kept things light with Martha Stewart’s chalkboard paint in graytaupe. Try creating a stylish border with scallop painter’s tape. Finally, my hanging tools are displayed more like a collection than clutter.

Final Chalkboard Paint Demo Final


Organize craft tool drawers for less with Dollar Tree glass canisters. White chalkboard pens keep canisters labeled so nails, upholstery tacks and staples stay corralled and easy to find.

Metal File Drawers

A few of My Favorite Things: Decorate With What You Love

Dad's Framed Art

Decorate With What You Love: Large and Small

When I first approach designing a small space, I think of all of the grand gestures I can make in key spots, from a large glass desk to voluminous layered curtains installed up to the ceiling, to combat that cluttered, compact look. Lots of little collections and junior-sized chairs can actually shrink the appearance of a room. But once the larger anchor pieces are in place,  it is the small design gestures that make a house  feel like a home.

Layer With Mementos

Here are some of my favorite things. Most of them are tiny, found objects or gifted treasures from people I love. Above I framed one of the art drawings that my physician father was famous for. This one is called “Rat Orchestra,” an homage to the critters he worked with in the research lab.  Since he recently passed away, his art truly brings me joy and a sense of connection to him.

Dog Door Stop

Vintage Finds Add Warmth to a Small Space

Shopping in vintage shops is an outing I really enjoy with my mother. We always marvel at how in sync our tastes are and for my birthday, she bought me this little cast-iron Boston terrier door stop that faithfully greets me in the foyer.

Green Mason Jar

Green Mason jars make me happy. I found them at Walmart and use them for mixing salad dressings or drinking lemonade, and if I am short on party cocktail shakers, they stand in quite well working a self-serve martini station.

Jonathan Adler Vase

My first Jonathan Adler pottery was a gift from my sweet sister.  After a day of shopping in San Francisco, she knew I had to have this piece.  It has been featured in my last book and again, in my second. It’s a keeper. Thank you, D!

Love Paper Weight

What home doesn’t need a little extra love? Paperweights are a home office must-have. They make sense of the paper piles on top of a desk, organizing stacks of odds and ends to look intentional. This one also stands upright on a bookshelf.

Open Book-Decorate This, Not That! Coming in 2018

Book Promo Table

Decorate This, Not That! Coming in 2018

Hold the phone! This just in.  After a year of road testing chic and smart small-space design ideas on my petite beach shack turned cottage, I am thrilled to share personal tips and style breakthroughs that will help you live LARGE in your tiny dwelling in a new upcoming book, Decorate This, Not That!

Book Promo Bed Final

The book will be published in early 2018 by Glitterati Incorporated,  and I am still in the process of writing the last chapters gearing up for a very fun photo session in the next month or so.

Updates and Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Peeks

I’ll be posting lots of behind-the-scenes photos on Instagram and Facebook so please follow me there for the latest. Special thanks to my friends and fans who have been with me every step of the way.