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Travel

Tea Time at Lavanda Casa de Te

February 3, 2009

Karina who authors the El beso blog based in Argentina, thought I’d like a post she wrote about a tea house that she recently visited. Why of course! It’s called Lavanda Casa de Te and at first glance you’d think this to be Provence but it is really Frutillar, a small German style town within Chile. What a beautiful place. Doesn’t this transport you out of the office today straight into the land of lavender breezes, cozy cottages, and delicious teas and cakes?

This just  makes me long to visit South America even more.

(images from El beso)

Travel

Iceland: Visiting Reykjavik

January 30, 2009

Tara Hogan from INK & WIT just got back from Reykjavik and asked if she could share her take on the city with all of us today. I’ve long been fascinated by Iceland, it’s one of those places that I imagine being really hip, really cold, and really well… off the map. We don’t hear about it that much here in America as is the case I think with most countries that are relatively small and peaceful. Tara, the stage is all yours….

A new INK & WIT print inspired by her travels.

Iceland… Geothermal Bliss by Tara Hogan

I recently visited Reykjavik – the capital and largest city of Iceland often referred to as the land of ice and fire. I had been to Iceland before on a layover en route to Helsinki and back en route to JFK. It was pure sadness being trapped in the airport where I could not get out into the geothermal pools or feel the landscape. But, I knew I would be back. Two of my closest friends and I paid Iceland a visit two weeks ago. Geothermal spa soak for three, please?

Please note during this time there is minimum sunlight. The sun rose at 10AM and set at 4PM. However, if you are going to be somewhere dark most of the time this is the place as it never ceases to be beautiful or mysterious. Furthermore, I live in Syracuse, NY currently belted by snow and frigid weather. Iceland is not this cold. Some of my friends thought the weather there would be more extreme than here but this not the case. It was indeed cold at times but mostly where you have no barriers from the wind near waterfalls and state parks. You are in the great wide open. And, really in it. You stand in spots where the earth’s layers were molded by lava pools.

Iceland is relatively small and has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000 km². It is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland’s landscape is defined by large-scale volcanic and geologic activity.

While this country is sadly going through an economic crisis it did not feel so two weeks ago while I was there soaking up, literally, all it had to offer us. People were pleasant and calm. The issues of economics were blasted all over the papers just like our economic crisis but there was a sense of calm. Maybe it is all the pure water they drink? And, yes, it is the purest in the world.

Nature dictates life in Iceland especially since 25% of the island is active. I think you surrender to nature when you truly understand it is bigger than you. You respect it more. You do not try to control it or run away from it. You simply know you are a part of it, good or bad, like it or not.

There is so much to say about this eco friendly island. The 18th largest island in the world. My grandest memory was our stay at the Blue Lagoon (shown above). The Blue Lagoon is a man made spa but one look at it and you would not even think man made. It appears so natural as it is out in nature and the surrounding architectural structures are so simple and non intrusive to the natural surrounding beauty. That is one of the most amazing design aspects of Iceladn specially Reykjavík. The landscape is the dominant concept. In addition, there is no Starbucks or Sephora to distract you. Well, there is a Sephora at the mall and a LUSH but it is out of view from the greater picture. It is a modern, intelligent place that has respected its resources and evolved from burning coal at one time to utilizing its plentiful geothermal energy. This energy heats 87% of Iceland homes.

Geothermal energy, water, and bathing all go hand in hand in Iceland whether at the Blue Lagoon or in the bathroom. You will smell sulfur in the water everywhere and also find that saunas, relaxing heather pools, geothermal pools, geothermal spa pools, and bathtubs in your hotel room, if lucky, will be present at all times. You can also look forward to several different aromatherapy saunas, power steam rooms, thermal pools, and lap pools at the 5 star Laugar Spa in Reykjavik. A short cab ride from the city center.

For accommodations, allow me to recommend the CenterHotel Thingholt in Reykjavik (above). Think vampire gothic Eames chic. I could have done without all the animal skin products but the place was amazing. My friend and I even ended up getting the upgrade to have the bathtub right in the room. Pure water and a deep well designed bathtub? You cannot go wrong. Nothing bad to say about this place. Actually, if you stay in the city on a weekend plan on going out until 6:30AM because Icelanders know how to party. And, that does not necessarily mean bars and surliness. They just stay out late and have a good time. So, if you cannot beat them join them. We went out dancing until 6:30AM.

A Naestu Grosum

Getting to the design scene of things and creative stimulation… well, I guess it depends on how much you love nature. I believe environments shape people. And, if Iceland shapes people then the creative people here are in the middle of a strange, strong, and beautiful scene full of grand volcanic scale and intricate definition of black deserts. Homes are rich in reds, cobalt blue, and sunny yellow. Roofs are red, white, green, yellow and black. I was completely inspired to draw the whole place. People and all. Iceland has a young design scene but it is growing rapidly in its desire to be a eco conscious, critical, and an edgy dot on the map. There is a mysticism and vast open amount of space here that feels it would fuel room for strong concept and fluid design sensibility. I am excited to see what is to come out of the design scene in Iceland.

TIPS: Some designers I came across in my travels: Studio Bility, Ingibjorg Hanna, Helene Magnusson (who also has an Etsy shop with felted lighting), Thora Breidfjord, Katrin Olina (don’t miss the Cristal Bar she recently designed in Hong Kong), Photographer Elsa Prinsessa (also on etsy), and Bjorg Juto. You can find more listed here. Here are some great shops: Kraum, Kisan, and Sirka. Also check out the Icelandic Design Center online. If you’re looking for design bloggers in Iceland Olof Jakobina is a good starting point. If you are visiting Iceland, don’t miss the Reykjaik travel guide at Time Out. For some music out of Iceland, listen to Hjaltalin, Sigur Ros, Maus, Calder, and of course Bjork along with many others that you can find here at the Iceland Music website. Restaurants/Cafes: Greaenn Kostur, Silfur, A Naestu Grosum, Ice Bar at Restaurant Reykjavik, and Vox (they happen to serve high tea, too).

Want to watch a video about Reykjavik? Here’s a great one on You Tube.

Thank you Tara for the beautiful post featuring Reykjavik! I’m always interested in a good travel post so if you’re a reader heading to a fun city, design event, or anything else you’d like to show us please send me an email (holly AT decor8blog.com) with your story ideas. I’d love to hear from you! – Holly

(images by tara hogan)

Arts + Crafts, Travel

Art in Train Stations

January 27, 2009

I woke up this morning thinking about art in train stations most likely because these images are the last I saw before going to bed. I’d like to ask you, during your morning commute did you see art like this in your train station?

Do you recognize this work? I’m sure you do… it’s Camilla Engman, an artist based in Göteborg, Sweden for those of you not familiar with her illustrations and paintings. Camilla is well known, especially in the online world, as most of us have swooned over her work at one time or another. She’s exceptional, her work seems to connect with so many and now it has a chance to reach out to her neighbors passing through the local train station. She must feel beyond honored. The city and its citizens should feel honored too. Art in unexpected public spaces, yay!

Seeing her work like this — public, free to all, meant to be enjoyed by the thousands passing through daily gives me chills. I’m always asking why we don’t see more art in public places. We see tons of soda and department store ads but they don’t go out of their way to be pretty. Just a logo slapped on a solid red background, for instance. Bleh. I am so tired of ugly ads on billboards.

There is this massive forest in Hannover, Germany with small orange trash bins suspended from the ground and hooked into a short wood pole usually around a park bench. When I walk through the forest I imagine these bright orange bins displaying graphic patterns, sporting pretty papers, dressed up a bit. I’d love to take on a project where I’d commission a group of artists to come out and do something creative to the bins to make them beautiful. My husand said that the city did do exactly that years ago in one part of the city but nothing recent. Imagine having the bins in the forest spruced up and then those same artists involved put together an Art in the Park event where they show their art and make the work you see on the bins available as prints? Of course, the art would have to be local, the goal would be for the city to learn about the creatives living there and to be exposed to their work. Let’s face it, not everyone goes to galleries but many go to the park so it would expose a whole new audience to artistic works.

I think more objects around us in our everyday life could stand to be made more ‘special’ in addition to serving a function.

I once saw two dumpsters painted bright fire engine red near a brick building and what a difference it made to the vibe of that area. I think that those of us reading design blogs think about this stuff (maybe a little too often) and care about it more than perhaps others who are not that ‘tuned in’ to this kind of thing. Because let’s face it, not everyone thinks about this stuff until it’s actually there and then they say, “Whoa, that is really, really cool”. I think it’s why most of us coo whenever we see Japanese products or visit cities in Japan — the Japanese really invest an interest in making functional everyday items cute. They kick American butt when it comes to product packaging alone. Although I couldn’t live around all of that ‘glow’ I do love the idea of introducing art to the public in subtle ways. I think graffiti is great when it’s not on my house or on historic buildings (in a designated space for instance) but often the complaint with graffiti is that it’s very bold, “look at me”, it tries very hard to make a statement. While some graffiti can be amazingly artistic and interesting, it does tend to scream at passerbys (due to the typical bold colors and graphics) and often when things scream we learn to block it out and no longer notice it.

This is why I’m inspired today seeing Camilla’s work in the Göteborg train station. It’s there, but it’s subtle, it feels special, it’s almost watching over everyone as they go about their day. It’s not screaming for attention yet you can’t help but notice it, be intrigued, maybe even pause to photograph it. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing in public spaces locally. It’s great exposure for independant artists, but aside from that, it can raise the bar so that people who may not normally care about this kind of thing start to expect it and demand it because now that they’ve been exposed and want more. It can help others to become more aware of art and design. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I want more! Do you? What do you think?

If you are in a position to make art happen in a public space, by all means put yourself out there and go for it. Make it happen.

(images from camilla engman)

Arts + Crafts, Events + Markets, Rooms, Travel

Nahcotta Exhibition – Inspired: This I Believe!

December 31, 2008

I’m not officially back to blogging yet (I’m back Jan. 7th) but I just had to write about this for those of you in New England since this event kicks off on Friday at the popular Nahcotta gallery in historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire (they also run the show and website for tiny art called The Enormous Tiny Art Show).

I happen to be part of the show (I was so excited when they asked me), it is called “Inspired: This I Believe” and includes the words and artwork of writers, editors, artists, community activists, bloggers, business owners and teachers. Some of whom I’m honored to be alongside of include Maria Vettese, Marisa Haedike, Stephanie Congdon Barnes, Amy Ruppel, Mati McDonough, Jennifer Judd-McGee, Jen Renninger, and more!

The goal is to inspire recognition and respect for the differing beliefs of others (read more about it here). I submitted an essay, which you can read at Nahcotta between January 2 – February 1, called My Declaration of Interdependence. You are invited to attend the opening reception this Friday, January 2 from 5-8 pm if you’d like.

Nahcotta, 110 Congress Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

(image from nahcotta)

Travel

Tschüss Germany!

December 17, 2008

It’s time to say goodbye and so long, I leave Germany tomorrow and head back to the states! For the next few days I’ll be on the road and in the sky but back on Monday, December 22nd to say hello and leave you with a few posts before the holidays. I want to make a special dedication here in this post if that is okay with you? It’s just that decor8 is such a personal space for me and I frequently refer to the archives to see what I was up to at certain times so when I look back at December ’08 I know this post will be very special to me to read again. For anyone who has ever lived outside of their country and tried to adapt to a new culture, you must understand why I have so many lovely people to thank as the past 5 months of my life here have been extremely life changing and I really mean it, I have so many ideas, big plans for 2009, and I’ve made a few new and very special friends that I absolutely cherish. I have loved setting up my 2nd home in Germany and can’t wait to return in May!

  • First I’d like to thank Danielle, Yvonne, and all the wonderful ladies at the decor8 Meet and Greet in Amsterdam for the lovely time together. I plan to hopefully meet up with these ladies again in the future, it was so special to meet and spend time with so many woman that I’d only known via their blogs prior to the meet and greet. Thank you all again for coming out to meet me, also the editors over at 101 Woonideeen for taking the time to visit with us and to give everyone so many issues of your magazine – what a delight!
  • A big thank you to Peggy at Gruner & Jahr and the lovely Jenny who is the Editor-in-Chief of Living At Home. These ladies invited me up to Hamburg for a wonderful meeting, a 5 star hotel and dinner, and cocktails overlooking Hamburg in a gorgeous lounge. I really enjoyed shopping with Peggy and seeing the Living At Home test kitchen tooo. It was great!
  • Hugs to Elizabeth and the DaWanda gang for the decor8 & DaWanda event in Berlin. It was a huge success! Also to Nic and all of the other great new friends that I was able to meet there. It was exciting for me to stand before such a large audience to talk about something I’m so passionate about – blogging and building a small business through networking online. Thank you DaWanda!
  • And of course, thank you to Petra for the many cups of mint tea in your studio, Anne for our trips to the salon together (curly hair – oh my!) and fun times in Berlin, Esra for everything you did for me (you’re in my circle, baby!), and the many other friends and family that I have in Germany who treated me like a princess and gave my husband and I lots of help in our new home here. I cannot believe my apartment is a before and after success because of your help, rides to pick up everything from hammers to paint, the many trips to IKEA, and for your support and love.

Some light reading for my journey home…

And so I depart Germany in the morning feeling mixed inside — sad but at the same time excited because I’ll soon see my family and friends waiting on the other side of the pond. It’s always bittersweet to have to exchange one life for the other but I’ll be back in Germany for 5 months again starting in May (right after I attend the ICFF this year in NYC) so until then I wish you farewell and a safe and happy 2009. Until we meet again Germany!

I need to finish packing but I’ll be back online Monday to say hello and leave you with some nice posts to read over the holidays. You can also look for me today and Friday over at Real Simple if you’d like.

And to all who wrote to me to ask, yes we FINALLY have power in New Hampshire after the ice storm. My friends checked out my house last night and the lights finally went on so we’ll be flying home to a warm and cozy house (thank goodness!).

xo,

Holly

(images from holly becker for decor8)

Arts + Crafts, Travel

Interview with DaWanda: Part One

December 5, 2008

When I helped pull together an event with DaWanda this past Autumn in Berlin (photos here) I was a bit surprised to learn that few decor8 readers outside of Europe knew about DaWanda and what their online marketplace is all about. I thought it would be a good idea to interview the founders and talk to them today so more could learn about them and what they are doing here in Germany. But first, a little background from my perspective on crafting in Germany and my personal opinions…

In Germany DaWanda is the equivalent to what Etsy is in America, ‘the’ site to go to when you want to shop handmade. They are gaining popularity throughout Europe as being based over here gives them a definite competitive edge as they are the first handmade online market based in Europe with sites available in three languages – German, French, and English (British) with more languages to come. This is really helpful, but aside from language is how the payment method differ from other online sites outside of the EU — the ‘standard’ form of payment here when purchasing products online is to wire money via your bank account. Credit cards are not nearly as common as they are in the states and though Paypal is gaining popularity it is still not as popular as wire transfers are. There is also something called the “EC” card, which is what residents can apply for, you basically go to your bank and have them issue one for you and then you shop using your EC card in stores. I have one, it’s pretty much the same as using a debit card in the states, the money is deducted from the bank account that it is linked to. But I won’t bore you with that. Simply put, you cannot use the EC card to purchase online so again, the wire transfer is the preferred form of payment and DaWanda offers this with ease.

Celebrating their 2nd DaWanda anniversary… Founders Claudia and Michael P?tz share a crafted cake and a smile.

In addition to different languages and payment methods, there is also the difference in aesthetic to notice that makes DaWanda unique from other online marketplaces. The Martha Stewart perfection isn’t part of the culture here, you can barely find a book authored by her in any local book shop and the crafting magazines are, well to put it gently, crap. Television isn’t loaded with crafting and decorating channels as I’m used to in the states and art supply stores are easy to find but a variety in supplies is a bit harder and the prices are quite expensive. The German equivalent of a store like Michael’s back home is called Idee but they have about 25% of what Michael’s offers. There also isn’t a lot of competition here yet within crafting circles. Crafts also tend to be much more personal, freestyle, and even a little wild at times as rebellion to ‘the man’ (large retailers) is popular and being overly formal with crafts (sticking to set instructions and ‘looks’ aka Martha style) isn’t a trend here at all. When you look at the DaWanda website you will immediately notice the difference in product offerings from other online marketplaces.

With that being said, do you know much about DaWanda and how it got started? I’ll interview them in Part Two (a post to follow this one) so stay tuned. First I’d like to give you my personal impressions. I met the founders, Claudia and Michael, in person obviously because we did an event together but I had no idea that they would be so down-to-earth, warm, and extremely welcoming. When I first met Michael though I thought he was going to beat me up, he came across a bit like he did not know what to expect from me and that he was not that keen on me. It was funny because I understood immediately why he was coming across a bit unfriendly. Here I was from America and set to speak for 2 hours and he only knew me from my blog so of course he was a bit nervous about it. I was nervous as well. A few hours after first meeting him, I was exiting the stage and felt amazingly relieved when he patted my shoulder and told me I should do this for a living (public speaking) and he gave me the warmest smile ever. I immediately felt like Michael is my new homeboy. He gave me what I call the “typical German treatment”. What I mean by this is that many northern Germans are skeptical at first but then you have a friend for life the moment they understand who you are and gain trust. It’s actually different for me as everyone I meet in America is my best friend the moment I greet them, we all a culture of ‘insta-friends’ just add water as I put it… Here in Germany it takes longer but the effort is worth it. Michael is a really warm and friendly person so I’m glad I’m in his circle. :)

In fact my entire visit to Berlin to meet DaWanda and to speak at the event was (gladly) not what I expected. Before the event started, I was talking to as many people as I could but everyone seemed a bit shy and unsure, you know those ‘pre-event jitters’ where no one knows the other, each one is checking out what the other is wearing trying to make some kind of assessment, and the vibe is a bit of fear combined with Why Did I Come To This Thing? The moment I hit the stage and started speaking, faces in the audience warmed up, arms unfolded, pads and pens surfaced from handbags and people started taking notes. Then laughing was heard and I saw hands raising to ask me questions, then more laughing and in the end, I was quite pleased with my welcome to Berlin and to part of the very large crafting community there in which DaWanda is at the very center of and this is just excellent.

I guess when I thought of young up-and-comers from Berlin I expected very fashionable, snobby types with very large brains and egos to match. It’s funny, the city is nothing like that, they are fashionable at least within the independent arts & crafts circles but they are not snobby at all, in fact those I met were extremely encouraging, eager to learn, and very friendly at least once they feel like they can trust you — then they are very friendly. I cannot believe what a melting pot Berlin is, everyone seems to live there from Polish to Turkish, to Scandinavians and even a huge American population. In the audience I met people from all over the world, all had flocked there because it’s affordable and filled with culture, it’s a great city for artists to live in because so many reasonably prices spaces exist that America sadly doesn’t have as much of these days thanks to greedy investors buying up so many great artists lofts and knocking down former artists spaces to build high rise condos. If you are ever interested in visiting a really large, really cool city go to Berlin. Or better yet, move there and be part of this amazing growth period because after the event I spoke to so many people and I was immensely inspired by the reasons for their move there.

With a little history behind us, I will now proceed with my interview with DaWanda founders, Claudia Helming and Michael P?tz Stay tuned for Part Two: The Interview, in just a moment…

(images from DaWanda and Mathias Meyer who has awesome photos on Flickr so do visit him there)

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