Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gardeners, mark your calendars

Charlotte's spring gardening season is in full swing. That means you'll find plenty of opportunities to pick up new plants, tour gardens and gather with other growers for programs and social events.
Here's what’s ahead:
The largest of the annual plant sales at UNC Charlotte's Botanical Gardens returns from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (also same hours Friday), 9090 Craver Road. Special items include native plants, exotic botanicals, tropicals, succulents and carnivorous plants. Cash and checks only. Details: or 704-687-0721.
April 26:
The Charlotte Iris Society will present its annual horticulture show, noon to 5 p.m. at Blacklion, 10605 Park Road. From 9 to 10 a.m., the public is invited to enter named cultivars for judging and unknown irises for display and possible identification. Visitors to this free event may vote for the People's Choice Award.
May 3 and 4:
Friends of Fourth Ward will host the second annual "Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward" tour, noon-4 p.m. both days. See private gardens at historic homes and enjoy other activities, including free food and drink samples, and appetizers at nearby restaurants. The picture shown here is a teaser for those secret gardens. Horse-drawn carriages will provide free shuttle service between 7th Street Public Market and Fourth Ward. Tickets are $20, good for both days, and may be purchased online at or at retail locations listed on the website.

Karen's blog:;
on Twitter @sullivan_obs

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Color, imagination are top tools for celebrity interior designer Jeff Andrews

There's a good chance your weekends at home will be busy for the next month or so.
As many as 7 in 10 people are probably starting or making plans for spring home improvement projects, according to a recent National Home Design and Color survey by Sherwin-Williams.
Time with a paint roller is at the top of the to-do list for the most of the 1,400-plus folks who took the survey, or about 42 percent. Others were making plans for landscaping (39 percent) or redecorating (30 percent).
It's not surprising that painting is at the top of the list. It’s considered one of the most cost-effective ways to freshen up a room or make it look dramatic.

Great design depends on color, according to celebrity designer Jeff Andrews, who designed the rooms shown here. Other essential ingredients are imagination and inspiration, said Andrews, whose clients have included pop-culture figures such as radio and TV host Ryan Seacrest, the Kardashian reality show family and actor Michael C. Hall.
The bedroom is where most people (24 percent) wanted to focus their efforts. The living room or family room was a close second (22 percent), with bathrooms ranked third (21 percent).
Warm neutrals with accents in red, yellow or brown are one of the most popular combinations. But cool neutrals with touches of blue or green also rate strongly with consumers.
So choose colors that inspire you, focus on comfort and use imagination to finish the job.

Karen’s blog:; Twitter @sullivan_obs

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charlotte designer Traci Zeller's pillow collection is headed to High Point

Charlotte interior designer Traci Zeller sometimes is unable to find the right decorative touches for a client's home.

That was the inspiration for a new line of pillows. She believes the collection will get a boost when they are added to the CR Laine showroom at the spring furniture market in High Point, which runs through April 10.

Zeller said presenting a new product there is an opportunity that designers dream of getting. Organizers say the twice-yearly event is the largest furnishings industry trade show in the world, drawing more than 75,000 people each time.

"This is a way that I can share my viewpoint and my aesthetic with more people," she said.

The look that the Cotswold resident came up with is a twist on traditional style, she said.

The collection includes softly colored linens with velvet appliques. Those elements work well with her design style, which focuses on practicality as well as beauty.

"It's a luxe-looking pillow, but you're not going to have a heart attack if your 7-year-old boys put their heads on it,' she said.

The price is about $150 each on Other distribution points are in the works, including sales by the manufacturer, Design Accents.

She hopes others will see her collection as the right finishing touch for a room.
"It's also exciting to express your point of view on the product and then in the house."

Karen's blog:; Twitter, @Sullivan_obs

Thursday, March 27, 2014

'Granny meets punk' in NYC

If it's true that a room's decor should tell a story about the person who lives there, what do the rooms you've decorated say to the world?
Would anyone know who you are?
You know from the bold patterns and colors in the picture shown here that the occupant is no shrinking violet.
Meredith German, the resident, was born in the South and makes her living as a New York fashion designer. That's the story she asked Charlotte interior designer Barrie Benson to help her tell in her roughly 850-square-foot Upper West Side apartment.

The chairs are done in chintz – with black patent leather trim. This modern use for a fabric that many consider frumpy earned Benson a spot in Southern Living's April magazine.
"We call it 'a little granny meets punk,'" Benson said of the project.
A second Charlotte designer, Ruthie Sommers, also offers the magazine ideas for decorating with the shiny printed fabric. "It's coming back," Benson says confidently.
Benson's client wanted the Fazenda Lily pattern because she often admired it while growing up as a neighbor to The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
More recently, German was a lead designer for fashion icon Marc Jacobs, Benson said. Visually representing both aspects of her life resulted in a room that's daring with a soft side.
"I think it's really neat that a female designer in New York still wants to bring a little of her Southern past into the house," Benson said.
"It's a neat story," Benson said.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shopping is nearly free at online 'sharing' marketplace

Now there's a nearly free online marketplace to fix all the shopping days gone wrong and clear out the gifts that are yet to be regifted.
The website and Apple app for "sharing" lightly used goods is called yerdle (yes, lowercase). Sign up for an account, and you can have what others no longer want for a $2 to $4 flat-rate shipping fee.
The founders – a former Wal-mart exec and a former Sierra Club president – think this is a way we all can save money and cut waste. Why buy something new when you can dust off a similar version?
The butterfly tea set shown here, for example, was available on yerdle for 65 credits and $3 shipping. I got 250 points just for opening the account. The cheerful mortar and pestle, below, was available for 50 credits and $3 shipping.
Changing our ideas about shopping would be good for the planet and our consumerism problem, yerdle's handlers say.
Does this arrangement really get us a pass?
We've all got donation centers just a detour away. I just dropped off a trunkload of books at one. Eventually I'll probably stop to unload a box of tag sale dishes that my mom couldn't pass on years ago.
OK, the founders might be kind of right about the unchecked shopping. Mom convinced herself that I'd squeak at the sight of the circa-1950 pink floral imprints on those four-piece place settings.
And maybe somebody on yerdle would still want to set the table as Grammy did. If so, I could earn more points to use for shopping – uh, “sharing” – on yerdle.
But I keep wondering how far that box would have to travel to reach a “green” home?

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Smart homes aren't just for the luxury market

You date yourself by admitting you were an adult by the time you sent your first text message.
Now, it seems coming home to a dark house, a chilly living room and cold stove will soon make you a cultural relic.
Generation automation is here.
Researchers predict that 50 million buildings globally – the majority of them residential – will be equipped for automation by 2018, according to a report from On World, a technology research firm.
“In the past three to four years, we’ve seen a huge change in the number smart homes,” said Mareca Hatler, On World’s research director. “It used to be pretty much a luxury market.”
With costs dropping, consumers are buying automation to control energy use, lighting, security and entertainment systems, On World says in its “Smart Building Set” forecast.
Annual shipments of wireless gadgets are expected to increase by more than 600 percent over the next five years, the report predicts.
Getting home late tonight? Adjust the thermostat to save a few dollars.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will still be popular for in-home networks. ZigBee, Z-Wave and EnOcean are also names to watch for entertainment, fitness, medical and monitoring tools.
When the doorbell rings, live video on your smartphone lets you see who is outside. Tap the screen to unlock the door. Yes, your keys are headed to the time capsule, too.

Sullivan: and @sullivan_obs on Twitter

Thursday, March 6, 2014

22 types of lavender are highlight of garden tour

There are lots of garden tours in our area every year, but this one is different.
You take a drive along country roads in York County, S.C. Before long you're sitting in front of lavender fields, Italian cypress trees and a handsome Mediterranean-style home. It's a bit surreal.
Owner Chris Pinard, a landscape designer who was born in southern France, has planted more than 3,000 plants, including 22 types of lavender, 22 varieties of rosemary and around 50 different salvias.
You can sign up now for a tour of La Bastide des Lavandes, or the lavender homestead, for $25 at
Pinard is booking 20 tours between May 31 and July 26, after which he plans to harvest the lavender.
If you've struggled with growing lavender and other Mediterranean herbs, you can learn from Pinard's technique for establishing these popular plants in our climate.
He plants lavender in winter in mounded rows of clay soil – with no special amendments. So there's hope that other Piedmont gardeners can have success with these plants, too.
In Charlotte, see more local residential gardens during “Art in the Garden,” presented April 26 and 27 by Charlotte Garden Club,

Wing Haven's annual Gardener's Garden tour, May 10 and 11, also offers a peek at residential landscapes,