Design, living and trends for home and garden


Tile fingerprints

For Earlysville potter Suzanne Crane, it’s all about the local. Crane is a former English teacher who learned her craft (and discovered her talent) by taking pottery classes at PVCC. Now she’s traded grading papers for creating handmade, botanical-inspired ceramic pieces that are rooted (pun intended) in local materials and plants.

Dan Zimmerman clued us in to a creepy-fun site.

With builder husband Matthew Crane, Suzanne has steered her small operation in the direction of architectural pieces, creating handmade tile backsplashes, sinks and murals. She describes the bizarre experience of peddling her tile samples from a 10’x10′ booth next to acres of mammoth big-name brands at the national trade shows that she and her husband attend, but stresses, “Competing is not the issue here. What we’re trying to do is catch a special group of people who want something very, very different.”

For Suzanne, what’s different about her tiles is their local origin and the fact that “each sink is unique as a fingerprint”—mainly because she presses a different leaf or vine into the wet clay of every piece she makes. Sometimes it’s even a bit of plant life from a client’s own garden—local times two.

To get your own piece of Earlysville art, you can make the drive over to Mud Dauber Pottery, Suzanne’s studio and gallery, or check out samples of her work at—Lee Vanderwerff


Who: Dan Zimmerman, partner in local design/build firm Alloy Workshop

What’s on his browser:

What it is: An oddly absorbing series of animated photos from East German industrial buildings, where sounds of footsteps and dripping water lend a haunting air. It’s interactive, too: Find and click the object that allows you into the next room.

Leaves of grass: Suzanne Crane’s botanical tiles give a bathroom some pedigree.

Why he likes it: “I feel like through collage each of the rooms are being added to—not unlike a renovation. Some of the [animations] are obvious and jump out, and others you have to look for. I don’t necessarily get practical ideas for projects here, but conceptually, it serves as inspiration.”

Gutter funk

So autumn has left you with piles of leaves adorning your gutters, and you’re realizing that your neighbors don’t buy your excuse that all those leaves are just leftover holiday decorations. Cleaning out your gutters takes an afternoon, a sturdy ladder and a healthy dose of caution.

Leaf out! Cleaning gutters takes more guts than skill.

Most maintenance experts recommend cleaning your gutters twice a year. Start by placing a gutter scoop (what, you don’t have one of those? A garden trowel is an easy substitute) and a rag in a bucket with a handle that you can take to the top of the ladder. Start cleaning out the area by the downspout, where most debris usually gets stuck. Work your way down the gutter, scooping out leaves and dirt into your bucket (hello, compost pile).

Dried patches of dirt can be loosened up by wetting them with a garden hose. When you’re done, give your gutters a final clean by spraying them all down with your hose. Finally, if your downspouts are clogged, try blasting water pressure through the pipe from the bottom up. If your gutters are damaged, or if you have a house taller than one story, it’s probably smart to call a professional to handle the job.—L.V.

Downtown shuffles

Got a nest to feather? You’ve also got a lively scene of local home and garden shops to stay on top of, which is why we’ll now be bringing you regular updates on the retail scene. Here’s the latest news:

A couple of established Downtown spots have improved their digs so as to better furnish yours: Quince now peddles its accessories and furniture from a large space across Garrett Street from its former location—a cavernous storefront that once housed Home. In turn, Quince’s old spot was taken by the fashion arm of Posh, letting that purveyor of hand-picked antiques devote its entire original spot—in the Downtown Design Center, just over the railroad tracks—to home items. 

All kinds of unexpected things are behind glass at Partridge & Grace Designs.

Meanwhile, Partridge & Grace Designs, tucked away since April on Third Street NE, sells a whole variety of things in frames—tiny silver spoons, antique maps, botanical prints—and offers framing and art consultation services. We were intrigued by a shelf made from a salvaged railroad tie from colonial-era India, and also by a framed 1945 Fortune magazine cover. Why don’t they make them like that anymore?—Erika Howsare

Sale away

Writing about sales makes us feel weird; it’s so hard not to sound like a screaming radio voiceover when you wield phrases like “dining room furniture, 20 percent off!” Sometimes, even going to a sale makes us feel weird, as though we were falling for a carnival barker’s invitation to step right up and lose our shirts. But there’s no denying that January can be a great month to save money on new stuff, as stores purge before spring. If you’re not too burned out after last month’s march down the gift gauntlet, let us gently inform you of a few local bargains.—E.H.

Beddie-buys. Bedroom furniture on sale at Kane Furniture, along with dining room furniture, artwork and accessories.

Seasonal steals. Holiday stuff for a song at La Bastide in the Townside Shopping Center. Next Christmas, you’ll be able to say, “I got that half off! Now have some full-strength egg nog.”

Cheap sleeps. Moyanne in Lynchburg will have a trunk show on next year’s lines of Bella Notte bedding, January 25 and 26; they tell us this is one of the only chances to get these high-end linens on sale.


"The home place is full of ordinary objects. We know them through use; we do not attend to them as we do to works of art. They are almost a part of ourselves, too close to be seen. Contemplate them and what happens?"—Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Design, living and trends for home and garden


Custom flavors, on ice

Design-your-own cone: If supermarket ice cream just doesn’t deliver what you need, try ordering custom flavors from a local kitchen.

So your BFF has a birthday and you know her favorite treat is apple pie ice cream. You design her ice cream’s base and ingredients, name it and write a note. Then it shows up at her door, shipped in dry ice. Such is the scenario imagined by Lynsie Watkins, whose new business enterprise—Perfect Flavor, a sustainable, environmentally-conscious boutique ice cream kitchen (what will they think of next?)—is set to be in full swing by mid-December.

The idea was born when Watkins was flipping channels and saw Paula Deen make ice cream without an ice cream maker. "I was so blown away by it," she says, "that I started creating different flavors." Neighbors started calling for their own bowl of lemon-curd custard or strawberry ice cream, people started asking Watkins to cater their events, and the idea took off.

Watkins’ interest in the local food movement, fueled by a move to Charlottesville, has led her to create a business that aims to be as local and sustainable as possible. "When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, I didn’t know where my milk came from," this ice cream maven confesses. In her adult life, Watkins is trying to change that. "We use all local products for everything we can," she stresses, and she has based her kitchen in Waynesboro "because we’re closer to the suppliers that way." Get your fix—starting at $49.99 for four pints—at—Lee Vanderwerff

And we all shine on

How to polish your pieces

There’s more than one way to get the gleam.

Hauling out that old silver tea set or those cute little sterling dessert forks for your holiday meals? You’ll have to polish more than your lingo (hint: your better families just call it "the silver"). Especially if it’s been in storage for a while, silver may be tarnished, so you’ll want to shine it up before it graces your table.

Renee Baker, who works at South Street’s home shop 2 French Hens and collects vintage jewelry, told us that she’s relied on Wright’s Silver Cream ever since she brought a tub home from her grandmother’s house. Wright’s comes with its own foam pad for scrubbing, and—along with "good old-fashioned elbow grease," says Baker—works just fine. She’s much less enthusiastic about so-called "dips," which require no scrubbing but, she says, are "too harsh. …What’s so beautiful about silver is the age and the patina, and I just think that the silver dips strip everything away."

Baker hadn’t heard of another method we’d read about: Line a bowl with aluminum foil, fill with hot water, add salt and baking soda, then submerge silver pieces until they look clean. An electrochemical reaction does the cleaning here. If you’re feeling skittish about possible damage to a family heirloom, try this method out first on something less valuable.

Oh, and one final tip: Never wear rubber gloves while polishing silver; they corrode it. Instead, go for cotton or plastic.—Erika Howsare

Farm fresh

What makes a table a farm table?

A farm table made by John Casteen IV exemplifies the genre: sturdy and simple.

We keep spotting heavy, rustic "farm tables" dotting kitchens and dining rooms around town—not to mention the displays of certain retailers—and got curious: First of all, what the heck is a farm table? Turns out, they’re either antique tables from country houses or reproductions of same. Local craftsman and owner of Fern Hill Furniture, John Casteen IV, weighs in: "Most older farm tables were designed to do double-duty as work surfaces and dining tables." So, Casteen says, sometimes their dimensions don’t exactly lend themselves to our purposes—ie, dinner parties rather than butchering or canning. 

Still, even with contemporary reproduction pieces, "what makes it a farm table is the design, not the dimensions," Casteen says. "They tend to be free (or almost free) of the kind of jewelry furniture makers put on fancier stuff—inlay, carvings, that kind of nonsense."  But, what they are is "simple and pretty, made of vernacular materials, and they’re designed to address what we now recognize as a modernist ideal: form and function are united." 

To unite form and function in your own pad, check out Casteen’s own design at or browse the farm table line-up at Les Yeux du Monde or Verity blue.—L.V.

To market, to market

Finding a real home for a Charlottesville favorite

Pining for the tomatoey days of yore? Help Market Central ensure their return.

If you’re a devotee of the City Market, you might be fighting withdrawal since the Saturday morning fixture ended its season for the year. But there is a way to stay connected. Four years ago, a combination of vendors and customers interested in the future of Charlottesville’s farmers’ market got together and formed Market Central. They are in the midst of a membership drive, having attained nonprofit status last year, which allows them to take your money and give you a tax deduction in return.

For an annual membership fee of $10—heftier donations welcome—Market Central will keep you updated through newsletters and e-mails on their efforts to secure a permanent site, as well as plans to add amenities such as real bathrooms with running water and permanent stalls for vendors.

The market’s current open-air location on Water Street is one of the last pieces of undeveloped land Downtown and thus an unsecured base for a weekly event like the farmer’s market. Market Central’s focus is on creating a conduit for the public to influence the use of this space. Future plans include building on the market’s long-standing ties to the community through educational programs tied to cooking, healthy eating and the sustainable gardening that feeds them.

Hungry to get involved? Send e-mail inquiries to—Cathy Clary

Lay your head here

Anita Davis’ Pilow Mint will sing you a lullaby.

If you’ve seen the chalkboard signs for Pillow Mint around the Glass Building lately but were unsure exactly where this mystery shop was hiding, look no further. Pillow Mint is tucked into the back side of the Glass Building, on the opposite side from the X Lounge. This two-month-old boutique offers customers a friendly bowl of complimentary, er, pillow mints, as well as walls of "contemporary fine bedding" of both the adult and kiddie variety. Also on the shelves are childrens’ books, royal-looking slippers, paper star lanterns, candles, and lots of other good-smelling stuff. "Zen" alarm clock, anyone?—L.V.


"From the earliest human gatherings to the era of radio and television, the setting for transmitting family and cultural lore was the gathering place defined by the fireplace, chimney, and semicircle of seating."
– Anthony Lawlor, A Home for the Soul

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Mum’s the word
How to grow the official flower of fall

Seeing mums everywhere you look? Eltzroth & Thompson’s Corann Ley tells us that if you want to add chrysanthemums to your yard, you should look for the garden mum variety—they’re hardy and will reappear next year. At the nursery, pick out the plants with barely-visible buds (not already-exposed flowers) so that you’ll get a full bloom cycle. They can be planted anytime, and bloom from September through the end of November.

Mad for mums? There are reams of them filling garden centers right now, like Eltzroth & Thompson, shown here.

“If you’re using your mums as a garden plant, they like full sun and well-drained soil, so no standing water or hard clay,” Corann says; “the less light they receive, the quicker the blooms will fade.” Mums work in pots, too, but should be planted in the ground before the first freeze if you want them to stick around. They should be watered the average garden amount of about 1" per week, and if they’re in pots, don’t let the soil dry out.

And here’s Corann’s tip for keeping your mums happy year-round: Next year, “cut the plants back by 1/2 to 3/4 the week after the 4th of July and they’ll bloom back much tighter.”—Lee Vanderwerff

Trim time
In limbo about tree care? Here’s how to spot trouble

Ahh, fall, the season that brings crisp mornings, football games, pumpkins…and those endless Saturdays of yard work. If you’ve noticed during your hours of raking that your yard’s trees are looking a little, er, scrubby, then it may be time to call a tree expert.

No surprise that Bart McDowell, an arborist with 17 years under his belt at Bartlett’s Tree Experts, says that homeowners should have trees inspected annually by a certified arborist. But he also shared some warning signs you can look out for yourself that show your trees need attention: premature leaf dropping, large dead branches, branches that are dying from the tips backward toward the trunk, and pockets of decay on the trunk. Also, McDowell says that mushrooms growing in your yard are a red flag that your trees’ roots may be diseased.

Your trees may need a second look this fall—and not just because their leaves are changing.

Tree companies offer services from doing pruning maintenance on large trees and pruning young trees for strength and structure to controlling insects and disease. The cost is going to depend on the size of your property and number of trees, but the average cost of maintenance pruning on a mature tree will run somewhere between $400 and $1,200.—L.V.

By the Numbers


(number of homes included on this year’s Parade of Homes)

New housing divisions calling your name, but don’t know where to start? The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association Parade of Homes will give you more options than you can shake an appliance at. Whether you want to snoop around new neighborhoods, collect business cards from local builders, or get ideas for energy-efficient windows for your own home, this four-day expo of everything from $160,000 condos to $2.6 million single-family homes will deliver. This annual event is free to the public, and homes will be open noon-5pm on October 6, 7, 13 and 14.

Brand-new houses are on parade this month. Smell the fresh paint?

If you’re really ambitious about your home-browsing and want to pack in as many granite countertops and crown moldings as possible, then take advantage of a new feature offered with the Parade this year: a comprehensive website with maps and pictures of every home on the tour. At the website (, you can stake out a route that works for you, from Old Trail to Spring Creek and back again, while sorting houses by price point (lowest to highest, please…), builder and neighborhood.

And if you like a little eco-consciousness along with your fresh sawdust, look for the four homes on the Parade that are built to EarthCraft standards. These homes are designed with energy efficiency as the top priority; builders of these homes must be EarthCraft-certified and pay attention to everything from efficient building materials to water conservation in the finished home. Plus, they boast lower utility bills than older homes—one detail that might make just about anyone feel the pull of the subdivision.—L.V.

Starting anew
In Staunton, a group of young architects to watch

Hoping to find an architect or designer who’s both free-thinking and high-minded? Keep your eye on Umbau, a two-year-old architecture school in Staunton whose website prolaims, “At Umbau you will set the paradigms…Total departure. Radical…What the world needs.”

An Umbau student works on a project—and breaks a few barriers—in Staunton.

“In 2005 we opened the doors for the first set of risk-takers,” says Kim Moody. “I was one of them.” Two years later, she and five classmates have emerged from a heavily studio-based program to become the school’s volunteer administrative team. The school’s guiding figure is William Tate, a James Madison University professor and Umbau’s founder. As Moody and her classmates learned architecture by means of real-world apprenticeships, she says, “It was under [Tate’s] consistent supervision.” The students worked on projects ranging from an Alabama church to a fine arts center in Southwestern Virginia.

Though it’s not yet accredited, Umbau is aiming for legitimacy: Moody says the team aims to enroll 25 to 30 students in an accredited Master’s of Design program, with paid faculty and staff in place, in 2008. “It’s really similar to how the Bauhaus got started or Black Mountain College got started,” says Moody, citing two famously vibrant, interdisciplinary collections of artists. Taste the excitement at—Erika Howsare.

Little mountain living

When we spotted an ad recently for a line of housewares inspired by North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, we felt miffed. Not because our sensibilities couldn’t handle the thought of Vanderbilt-worthy hand towels, but because, hey! We have our own famous, classy ex-resident right here in Charlottesville. Why not a line of Jeffersonian accessories? Call it Monticello Modern:

*Complete set of linens for an alcove bed, available in Lewis and Clark print with images of compasses and rifles. Match with special buffalo-hide coverlet.

*Inspired by Jefferson’s device for writing two copies of
a letter simultaneously, a remote control that channel-surfs on two TVs at once!

*Museum kit. An instant collection of Old Masters paintings, early surveys of the Virginia colony, and the Declaration of Independence. Originals available at extra cost.—E.H.

Bright idea

“1. Wander around your neighborhood and look for things of beauty, things of interest, or things that are unique. 2. Write about these things on a piece of paper. “Notice the single tree to your right,” or “Notice the purple curtains on the third floor.” 3. Post the notices for people to read.”—Keri Smith, The Guerrilla Art Kit

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Feeling your way
New book advocates an emotional approach to interiors

Some interior designers publish books that bombard readers with exhausting lists of dos and don’ts and overly specific how-to guides. World-renowned designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz turns this method around with his open-ended guide to home decorating, Emotional Rooms. Instead, Noriega-Ortiz encourages readers to concentrate on themselves—how they personally want a room to feel when they walk in.

Don’t cry: It’s just a great-looking living room.

While Emotional Rooms is heavy on room romance and light on theory, it is nonetheless inspiring. The book begins with Noriega-Ortiz’s autobiography (he started his career with hall-of-fame designer John Saladino and has since worked for author Laura Esquivel and rocker Lenny Kravitz) and focuses on how the places he’s lived—Puerto Rico, Europe, and NYC—have influenced his style. This cosmopolitanism allows Noriega-Ortiz to dismiss hegemonic design theories and concentrate on people’s emotions. Here’s a sample: "If you want the room to feel calm and serene," he advises, "make sure you repeat one color as much as possible."

These essays take up fewer than 20 pages, however. The other 150 are rich photographs that let the reader walk into each room and feel its mood. Sometimes Noriega-Ortiz’s overloaded style combinations are a little much, but his concept is hard to argue with. It’s just his personal style coming through, he would say, and his book is simply a nudge to help you tap into your own.—Carianne King

Housework in a vacuum
Suck it up, skip the new purchase, and revive your old vac

The disposable household is so last century. Use it up or wear it out. Don’t toss that conked out vac in the landfill (that’s where it goes after you kick it to the curb). It’s so clunky. It lasts so long.

Vacuum cleaner seen better days? Don’t toss that old friend; you can have it repaired locally.

If the suction fades, cease operation and check the brush rollers to make sure no hair or other stringy substances are interfering. If they’re operating smoothly, and there’s no obvious clog in the pipe, it’s probably a belt.

If you keep vacuuming with the belts off kilter, their burning rubber can ruin your carpets. Bad suction: Stop. Take the thing in to a shop that specializes in maintaining machines. With even more moving parts, sewing machines repay regular maintenance as well.

One local option: the franchised Vac & Sew City in Rio Hill Shopping Center (975-6888), which Terry and Roger Sparks took over a little more than a year ago. Terry does the vacuums and Roger does the sewing machines. A basic tune-up on a vacuum—replace the belt, clean the roller brush, lubricate the bearings—runs $28.95. A sewing machine tune-up is a bit pricier at $69.95, but all those clutches and gears need adjusting, cleaned and oiled to continue operating at their best.—Cathy Clary

By the Numbers


[percentage of kids ages 8-18 who have a TV in their rooms]

That’s according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, which also found that many of those plugged-in kids can access cable while lying in bed. If parents put TVs in kids’ rooms, they’ll face challenges in keeping their young ones from becoming couch potatoes—kids watch an extra 1.5 hours daily if they have their own sets—and the necessity of keeping a 9-year-old from secretly tuning into late-night Oz reruns is a concern for lots of families, too. What to do?

If your offspring are going to commune with the cable box, make sure there are limits to what they can see.

The company that’s cornered the local cable market, Comcast, offers a Family Tier in some markets (a package of kid-friendly channels like Nickelodeon and National Geographic) but not, at this point, in Charlottesville. However, you can still put the kibbosh on your kids’ access to whatever you think is inappropriate (even if it’s just the sight of a suspiciously skinny starlet that, you might reasonably worry, could damage your daughter’s self-image). The main way to do this is with Parental Controls, with which you put locks on specific channels, program ratings or titles. You yourself can still watch whatever you want by entering a PIN and bypassing the locks.

Then there’s the V-chip, contained in most TVs made after 1999. The principle is similar to Parental Controls, but you’ll activate and program the V-chip through the TV itself, not through the cable service. Either way, it’ll be a bit of programming that, no matter how bewildering, you probably shouldn’t ask your kids to help with.—Erika Howsare

Save it
With a drought warning in effect, here’s how to stem the tide.

We’ve had a low-flow year. If this is what you see as you’re brushing your bicuspids, you might think of conserving.

It shouldn’t be news to anyone by now: 2007 has been a distressingly dry year, and both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville have declared drought warnings as a result. Seems like a good time to offer some suggestions for minimizing water use around the house.

The washer, toilet and shower are usually the biggest water hogs indoors, so:

  • Only wash full loads of laundry.
  • Take shorter showers, and save the water you’d otherwise waste waiting for the shower to heat up. Then use it to water plants.
  • How can we put this delicately? Only flush if you, um, need to.

There are some other, smaller places to save:

  • Use your dishwasher, if you have one, and only run it when it’s full.
  • Don’t just stand there with the water running while you brush your teeth.
  • Look into low-flow showerheads and devices that make your toilet more efficient (and see September’s Green Scene for a great tip on where to get these items).
  • Put some food coloring in your toilet tank to check for leaks; if, without flushing, the color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak worth fixing.—E.H.

Rummage around

Love bargains and puppies? We’ve got the store for you. The new SPCA Rummage Store, which opened July 13, is a sprawling retail space where the goods are donated and the proceeds go to finding homes for dogs and cats. Along with tons of clothes, the store carries plenty of feathers for your nest—furniture, framed art, lamps and so forth. There’s also a “table boutique” carrying higher-end donations—nice stuff, but still priced to sell. The store is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am to 6pm; donation hours are 10am to 1pm on those days. Call 293-8475 or visit the store at 943 Preston Ave.—E.H.

Good news for thrift-store junkies and felines alike: A new store offers great deals to benefit homeless pets.

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Design, living and trends for home and garden

“As wood grew scarce in England and France, laws were decreed limiting its use among commoners…In the mid-1600s, the British authorities decreed that Virginians who owned a hundred acres or more must build in brick.”—James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape

Kansas City, come to me

How one local couple designed their kitchen from afar

Several years ago, Stephen and Martha Stearns found themselves in Kansas City visiting Stephen’s elderly parents. Looking for a fun outing, and wanting to gather ideas for an upcoming renovation to their Charlottesville house, they headed out to a kitchen design store called Kleweno. “Remember in the movie Pretty Woman when she goes into the store and they treat her like ‘You couldn’t possibly afford this?’” says Martha. That’s exactly what the Kleweno saleswoman didn’t do. “She didn’t make us feel bad that we didn’t want the new Sub-Zero,” says Martha. “You never felt intimidated.”

Is that a kitchen on your screen? Stephen and Martha Stearns weren’t afraid to go digital with their remodel.

So enamored were the Stearnses of the service they received that they hired Kleweno to oversee their kitchen redo from half a continent away. The company twice sent representatives to the site—once to size up the existing kitchen and again later to install cabinets. Between visits, Kleweno and the Stearnses exchanged designs and ideas via email.
“We certainly paid them to come out here,” says Martha, but she nonetheless feels the finished kitchen—with black granite countertops, cherry cabinets and small copper accents—was worth some extra cost. The Stearnses hired local companies for other parts of the process: for example, the contractor who removed their old kitchen components.

There you have it: In today’s interconnected world, you may be able to work on feathering your nest even during your vacation—and if you really connect with a certain business, a faroff location doesn’t have to be a barrier. “I was mostly just sorry they don’t do bathrooms,” says Martha.—Erika Howsare

Furniture with a literary pedigree
Local artisan lets words speak to wood, and vice versa

In an age of over–specialization, John Casteen IV prefers to be the master of several trades. His company, Fern Hill Furniture Works in Earlysville, turns out lean, elegant pieces that are both functional and artistic. There is a fresh sophistication to the work, which combines Shenandoah Valley and Scandinavian styles. He describes the pieces as “traditional forms made of extraordinary materials.”

They’re both crafts, after all: John Casteen IV fashions both furniture and literature in Earlysville.

Meanwhile, Casteen’s first book of poems, Free Union, will be published in 2009 by the University of Georgia and The Virginia Quarterly Review, where he is on the editorial staff. 
“The furniture, the writing, it is all part of the same package,” he explained. “The creative side of furniture-making feeds my writing.”

A graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Casteen writes in several different forms—in addition to poetry, he writes political pieces about gun control and environmental policy. “Everything important in writing, observing things closely, paying attention to detail, transfers to making furniture, and vice versa. Each for me has always been a metaphor for the other.”

To see John Casteen’s furniture, check out, or visit  the Les Yeux du Monde gallery at 115 S. First Street.—Beth Herman

By the Numbers
(inches of rain we’ve gotten so far this year)

An arid May got us wondering: Are we in a drought? Actually, no: By mid-year, Charlottesville normally receives 21.8 inches of rain. Year to date for 2007, total precipitation was at 20.6 inches as we went to press. 

Even though water is relatively plentiful this year, being proactive about conservation—especially with your lawn and garden—can‘t hurt.

Rainwater harvesting systems are one way to conserve, says Garnett Mellon, Easement and Education Programs Coordinator with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. To do this, simply install a rain barrel on your gutter to collect the water.

You may also want to think about xeriscaping, the water-conserving landscape design concept that all the cool kids are into. “The idea behind it is you plant species that are drought-tolerant so they don’t require a lot of water and don’t need a lot of irrigation,” she says. Drought-tolerant plants include cacti, yuccas, sedem, portulaca, and herbs like thyme and lavender.

Mellon also says adding two inches of mulch around plants helps water retention in the soil. 

Another tip: Install a drip irrigation system instead of showering water on your plants from overhead. Water from on high will just evaporate in the heat, Mellon says, while the drip system trickles water directly on the root zone.—Jennifer Pullinger

Let’s play scribble
How to make any surface into a chalkboard

If your kids (or you, for that matter) can’t stop doodling on the walls, and you’re sick of scrubbing their masterworks off the satin-finish paint, devote a space to homegrown and temporary art by employing chalkboard paint. The stuff is made for virtually any surface, including wood, metal and plastic—even glass.

Buy chalkboard paint from any hardware or arts supply store. Then prep the surface as you would any other painting project. The final step is paint. Voila: instant canvas.

Benjamin Moore makes an acrylic-based chalkboard paint, while Rust-Oleum has a latex version. One quart is about $14. If you want the chalkboard to be magnetic too, simply slather the surface first with a magnetic paint undercoating. Or buy MagnaMagic’s two-in-one magnetic chalkboard paint. One quart covers 25 square feet and costs about $40. 

Having your own in-house chalkboard allows you to write all of those things you were afraid to scribble on the Downtown Mall’s Free Speech Monument. Feeling like a censor? Removing the magnetic chalkboard altogether is also easy: Just sand it down and paint over it.—J.P.

Trouble tree

One of the most common invasive species in Virginia—visible along any roadway and, if you’re unlucky, your yard—is ailanthus, puzzlingly also called tree of heaven. Native to Asia, ailanthus propagates wildly and is alarmingly tough. We searched for an organic method of controlling ailanthus and came up short: cutting will not kill the plant and digging up the roots is nearly impossible for all but the youngest seedlings. Those unwilling to cut year after year apply herbicides to cut trunks in late summer; for more info, call the Virginia Cooperative Extension at 984-0727.

Design, Living and Trends for Home and Garden

Design, Living and Trends for Home and Garden

The most interesting thing about faux simplicity is that it’s anything but simple, actually requiring more trouble and expense than most decorating styles. The aesthetic isn’t based on giving up possessions but on having lots of custom closets and cabinets that conceal them from view.
—Winifred Gallagher, House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live

Arthouse chic
Homes of art giants decorate new book

The homes that make the pages of most glossy home rags—whether the hipper-than-thou modern lofts in Dwell or the aggressively eclectic spaces in Elle Decor—all share a certain perfection that can be intimidating. If it’s a freewheeling spirit that you seek in arranging your house, rather than a specific, planned look, you might draw some inspiration from a new book, Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey. Guerrero’s memoir recounts his 60-plus years spent documenting the homes of art-world heavies from architect Frank Lloyd Wright to sculptor Louise Nevelson. The artists’ spaces reveal creative confidence that’s more playful than prescriptive.

How do real artists decorate? The short answer is, not much like the magazines.

Nevelson, for one, had a thing for black: black walls, black furniture and black kitchen cabinets. Inside the warrenlike complex she occupied in New York’s Little Italy, dark shapes were relieved by the occasional burst of color: green bottles or golden boxlike sculptures.
Alexander Calder, the sculptor famous for modernist mobiles, was just as daring, but in a more earthy way. His houses, in France and Connecticut, were cheerfully stuffed with plants, hooked rugs, paintings and of course his mobiles. The Calders’ bedroom, writes Guerrero, “was bold and simple with a primitive tapestry over the bed and a gorgeous combination of two pure colors in the yellow and red wool blankets.”

Wright and other architects also make appearances in the book, along with a bit of design history. Oh, and Julia Child’s kitchen? That’s here, too.—Erika Howsare

By The Numbers


(percentage of custom houses to sport dual master bedrooms by 2015)
That’s according to a February survey of builders and architects by the National Association of Home Builders.

What’s behind the rise in solo sleeping, even among happily married couples? The New York Times, reporting on the trend, says that snoring is the main culprit—that, and other disturbances like the hectic schedules that have some spouses coming and going in the wee hours. Wanting to enjoy a full night’s rest, more couples are amiably splitting up for shuteye, installing second master bedrooms or converting guest rooms.

Up all night because of a noisy nose? Trends suggest you might get your own room soon.

Like many trends, this one appears to be delayed in its arrival to greater Charlottesville. Randy Rinehart of Rinehart Custom Homes says that, in his travels around the country, “I have seen houses…with the master bath in center and two large bedrooms connecting”—but he can only remember one local client who requested double bedrooms. “I haven’t seen or heard of it here locally, but I think it is happening on a national basis,” he says.

So, you could think of this two ways: Either snuggle up to your sweetie and revel in the old-fashioned togetherness that still informs Charlottesville life. Or, go for the dual bedroom and color yourself ahead of the curve.—E.H.

Last stop

If your file reads “cancelled,” there’s
one more phone call
you should make.

Losing homeowners’ insurance is downright scary. The Glen Allen-based Virginia Property Insurance Association provides basic property insurance for people who can‘t secure coverage through the voluntary market, says Leland Nye, general manager. Rates may be lower in some areas and higher in others, but “we are right in the same ballpark” as regular coverage, Nye says. Coverage may be more limited, though; Nye says, “When they can resolve their insurance issues, we encourage them to go back into the standard market where they have a lot more choices and are better off.” Call the VPIA at 800-899-7973.—Jennifer Pullinger

Move it!
How to survive the prime season for moving

Have you heard of the fashionable new workout, the one where you drop unwanted pounds by lifting heavy cardboard boxes in the sweltering heat from one location to another? That would be “moving day.” The summer months—May through September—are typically the time when most people move.

Paul Breaud, vice president of Student Services Moving in Charlottesville, knows how hectic this time of year is. “I’ve been on the phone since 6:30 this morning doing nothing but scheduling last minute student moves,” Breaud said recently. “I go form running three trucks a day during the school year to running as many as ten trucks a day during the summer.”

The laws of supply and demand suggest that prices should go up when fewer trucks are available. But Breaud says his company doesn’t have a seasonal rate. Year round, you can get four guys for less than $135 per hour.

U-Haul doesn’t have seasonal rates either. Rather, they factor in several variables to calculate the cost of a move, including equipment size, point of origin, destination, and the date of your move, says Joanne Fried, spokesperson for U-Haul International. 

No matter who you choose to move your boxes of tchotchkes, if you need a truck on a specific date, call at least a month in advance. And the consensus is, if you are moving in the hot weather, drink lots of Gatorade.

“Make sure everything is packed and ready to go. Make sure you have plenty of liquids for the guys. It’s a hot time of year,” Breaud says.—J.P.

Summer veg-out
Cooking farmers’ market goodies the simple way

Peppers and lettuce and kale, oh my! Local produce needs only a light touch to shine.

Let the games begin…in my kitchen. The farmers’ market is open, the weather is warm, and the greens are just waiting to be plucked and dashed into my skillet—and they’re much too good to ruin with tons of spices or a huge mélange of ingredients. To let your summer produce shine, keep it simple! Here are a couple of ideas:

Kale. Kale really loves olive oil, onions, lemon juice and salt. If you cook long, thin slices of onion in the olive oil on a low temperature until they are clear and soft, they’ll make a perfectly sweet addition—then just throw the chopped kale directly in the oil and let them release some of their own liquid, add salt, sprinkle with water and cook them slowly. Dress with a bit of lemon.

Sweet peppers. They’re best friends with fresh tomatoes, and all they need is a bit of pan roasting to be spectacular. Light, thin-walled peppers can be cut into large pieces and fried in olive oil until they’re starting to brown, then removed to a paper towel. Tomatoes go in with a bit of garlic and salt, cook slightly, then get mixed with the peppers as a fresh sauce. Done.
The City Market, by the way, is open every Saturday from 7am to noon in the Water Street parking lot.—Katherine Cox

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Design, living and trends for home and garden

Custom prefab?
It’s coming to a factory near you

Listen to Per Sjolinder describe his company’s method of homebuilding, and—even aside from the enormous mountain views that frame the conversation—you’ll likely be impressed. Sjolinder says he can build all the walls that make up an average house in just a couple of hours. What’s more, he says, the venture he calls EuroHomes can do it at a 20 to 30 percent lower cost.

Per Sjolinder, right, and colleague Bob Amacker are bringing superfast construction methods to the area.

The secret is a system, imported from Sjolinder’s native Sweden, in which complete walls, including everything from insulation to wiring, are built rapidly in a factory and then assembled at the homesite. And lest you picture a double-wide with vinyl siding when you hear the phrase “manufactured home,” Sjolinder has a 6,200-square-foot model home he’d like to show you, complete with a two-story foyer, home theater room and outdoor kitchen handy to the in-ground pool.

Despite this house’s lavish features and dramatic Ivy location, Sjolinder means for his soon-to-be-built Augusta County factory to serve the common homeowner. “It’s more important that mid- to lower-end homes be built well,” he says. And though the massive house doesn’t immediately conjure the phrase “green building,” it does feature geothermal heating, anti-mold and -mildew materials, and high energy efficiency.

EuroHomes is working now to partner with local homebuilders, so you may see custom manufactured houses enter the local market soon. Sjolinder says they’ve been standard practice in Sweden for decades: “This is not a test.”—Erika Howsare

(Number of local Realtors with newly minted construction smarts)

Consider it a sign of the times. With all the new-home construction churning along in our area, one local real estate agency has invested in educating 16 of its agents about the building process. Michael Guthrie, CEO of Roy Wheeler Realty, says it just makes sense for agents to know a floor joist when they see one: “Agents who have gone through [the program] can explain why things are the way they are…You’ve got a number of national builders coming into the area and agents need to be aware of what it takes to build a house.”

Local builder Stephen Jacques recently completed this home in Ivy, and while he was at it, educated 16 Roy Wheeler agents about the building process.

To that end, agents spent about 60 hours over a nine-month period under the tutelage of Stephen Jacques of Jacques Homes as he constructed a new $1.5 million dwelling in Ivy. Agent John Updike explains that the course wasn’t so much a matter of Realtors pounding nails and putting up drywall. Rather, it was a chance to see a house built from the ground up, so as to prepare for the task of shepherding buyers through the decisions they make when under contract for a home that’s being built. “Once you’ve got the floor plan in place you select components including countertops, flooring materials, appliances [and other features]…The building schedule can be hectic and certain deadlines have to be met,” he says. “The Realtor can serve as a liaison.”

In other words, that’s something to think about if you’re signing a contract for a home that only exists on paper: Pick a Realtor with whom you’ll enjoy discussing tile options in about six months.—E.H.

Know your neighbors

Ever heard of cohousing? The Scandinavian planning concept is coming to Crozet. It’s like a modern village—a 20- to 40-house community, providing private housing with public benefits like playgrounds, courtyards and a common house. Intending to create a strong sense of community, cohousing residents periodically share common meals, take on most of the property management, and help each other with tasks like child care. Longing for company? Check out—Katherine Cox

Fairy godmother for hire
Stuff to delegate, if you can

Need to dig out? Maybe a concierge could help with that mounting domestic agenda.

Busy? Can’t find an extra few minutes to pull all the jam and hot sauce remnants out of your fridge? This is exactly why the Cville Concierge and Errand Service was created: to relieve the stress of all the little tasks that add up and make your workday into a nonstop management routine. There’s little that Sue Battani can’t help you with. Here’s the crème de la crème of her services:

1. Research and reserve vacations. Like…“Sue, I really want to do some topless sunbathing in the tropics. Hook it up.” And she’ll find you the best little B&B in the French Antilles.

2. Gift shopping! Fellas, think it over: a woman who’ll save you from the jewelry store—tell her about your honey’s weakness for rhinestones, and she’ll do the rest.

3. Special occasion planning. Dream up something good for your best friend’s birthday (Flaming Drinks of the World? Prince concert pregame?) and do no more: the invitations are as good as sent, caterer called, flowers arranged, living room de-cluttered.

If you want to check out the full range of concierge offerings, visit Battani’s website at, or give her a call at 409-0119.—K.C.

Quick release
Eight renovations you can do in a day

We’ve got renovation on the brain, but we realize it’s not always a good time to tear off the roof or knock down walls. If you’ve got the remodeling bug but want to keep the scale reasonable, here are eight ways to refresh your surroundings with minimal time and expense.—E.H.

It’s not just a plant: it’s a quick room makeover.

1. Paint—but just the trim. Got white trim on green walls? Try blue.

2. Add plants. A few well-placed philodendrons will green up the place and are hard to kill.

3. Move rugs around. Maybe that bedroom rug wants a turn in the living room.

4. Change lampshades. Your trusty lamps will look all dressed up with different toppers.

5. Take it all off. Kitchen cabinets look trendy and crisp without their doors.

6. Reflect on things. Add a large mirror to double a room’s apparent size.

7. Switch seats. Have you seen some of the funky toilet seats you can buy? Well, what are you waiting for?

8. Use a room as a gallery. Choose one type of item—say, white plates from thrift stores—and devote a wall or hallway to displaying only that item.