A Pattern Language

This book was full of answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask. I’ve always been interested in the design of spaces indoors and out, but the actual science of design is so technical that it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. A Pattern Language is written in laymen’s terms and is as much rooted in psychology and sociology as it is in the study of architecture. The “language” is comprised of 253 “patterns” that anyone can use to create a space that feels comfortable. I think the term patterns is misleading. They’re really just basic principles of design, and I suppose the authors chose to call them patterns because they occur again and again in a wide variety of spaces. The authors acknowledge that not every pattern will apply to every project or even suit the tastes of every reader, but taken one by one I found many of them quite interesting. For example (paraphrased from the book):

114. Hierarchy of open space. People always try to find a spot where they can have their backs protected, looking out toward some larger opening, beyond the space immediately in front of them.

134. Zen view. If there is a beautiful view, don’t spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition–along paths, in hallways, in entryways, on stairs, between rooms. If people are able to sit and stare at the view without effort it will lose interest, but if they catch only glimpses in passing it will remain beautiful forever. Optionally, provide a special spot to sit so that enjoyment of the view becomes a definite act in its own right.

140. Private terrace on the street. Let the common rooms open onto a wide terrace or porch which looks onto the street. Raise it slightly above street level and protect it with a low wall, which you can see over if you sit near it, but which provides a sense of enclosure. The wall can double as seating or table space.

159. Light on two sides of every room. If this is impossible it can be helped by high ceilings, white walls, large windows, and deep reveals.

180. Window place. In every room where you spend any length of time during the day, make at least one window into a “window place.” Build a window seat, or provide an armchair, or surround the space with windows on three sides.

185. Sitting circle. Place each sitting space in a position which is protected, not cut by paths or movement, roughly circular, with paths and activities around it so that people naturally gravitate toward the chairs when they get into the mood to sit. Place the chairs and cushions loosely in the circle, and have a few too many.

191. The shape of indoor space. With occasional exceptions, make each indoor space or each position of space a rough rectangle, with roughly straight walls, near right angles in the corners, and a roughly symmetrical vault over each room.

249. Small panes. Windows which are broken up into small panes afford more interesting views. They also provide a greater sense of protection and help to create filtered light.

251. Different chairs. People are different sizes. They sit in different ways. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identical. Choose a variety–some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, some with arms and some without, some wicker, some wood, some upholstered.

252. Pools of light. Place lights low and apart to form individual pools of light which encompass chairs and tables like bubbles to reinforce the social character of the spaces which they form. Remember that you can’t have pools of light without the darker places in between.

I focused mostly on the patterns relating to residential design, but nearly half of the book relates more directly to public or commercial spaces. Even those that I don’t think I’ll ever have occasion to use were FASCINATING. If you’ve got even a passing interest in architecture or design I highly recommend A Pattern Language. It’s easy to skim over the patterns which don’t interest you–heck, I skipped the first 100 because I wanted to get to the residential stuff. It’s pricey, so I recommend checking it out from your local library unless you think you’ll be referencing it often.

I think that most folks associate thrift store style with vintage clothing, a la either Macklemore or the coolest girl in Theatre Club. While I love vintage finds for my home, I am not so good at wearing vintage clothing and I actually don’t see much of it in thrift stores anyway. What I do love wearing and find plenty of are popular contemporary brands. I made a vow back in April to buy only secondhand clothing for a year. Here are some of my faves purchased in just the last few months:

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This Target dress is so comfortable and flattering. It hits just above the knee and provides plenty of coverage up top so I can wear it in professional settings, but it’s breezy enough to go almost anywhere. I probably wear it at least once a week, usually with a thin belt.

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This one is made by Poetry and is more of a date night dress. The back requires a fancy bra, it’s hand wash only, and it’s a little on the short side, but I wore it out on our anniversary last month and felt like a million bucks even in flats.

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This Banana Republic top is totally adorable. I love the color and the cut. I can wear it with shorts or jeans or tuck it into a skirt for a more tailored look.

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This Old Navy top is soooo comfortable. We’ve taken a couple of road trips this summer and it’s perfect for long car rides. It feels like pajamas but looks much cuter.

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I just bought this Gap dress last week and haven’t had a chance to wear it yet. It’s definitely more of a date night dress but that waistband? It’s elastic. My favorite color, figure-flattering, and forgiving of extra helpings? Yes, please. It’s too bad we don’t have any weddings on the horizon because it would be perfect for munching on cake and dancing the night away.

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This dress is made by Lush and I’ve practically lived in it this summer. It’s perfect as a swimsuit coverup or with a racerback bra for wearing almost anywhere. It’s definitely my go-to on weekends because it’s comfortable enough to lounge in all day but decent enough for an impromptu outing.

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I didn’t recognize the label in this dress and it actually looked a bit different when I bought it. There were waaaay too many ruffles on top and my small stature just cannot handle all that volume. I bought it at a thrift store in Austin and used a small pair of scissors to remove all the stitching attaching the ruffles in our hotel room, then wore it to dinner that night! The remaining ruffles are a little wrinkly here and that is the only downside to this dress, seeing as I hate to iron. I usually just spritz them with a little water then lay them down to dry flat before putting it on and adding a leather belt.

Not everything I buy at thrift stores is a winner. I bring home plenty of duds even after ruthlessly editing in the fitting room, but the beauty of it is that no single item ever costs me more than $5. I dare say that I’m dressing better now than ever because I used to update my wardrobe very rarely. Now that I can walk into a store and come out with several pieces for under $20 I’m shopping much more often

I may be creative, I may be thrifty, but at my heart I am truly one thing: lazy. And wherever I can find opportunities to do so I employ strategies to save myself time and effort. Some of these are simple, but some you may not have thought of. And if you’ve got tips to share please do! I need all the help I can get


  1. I keep lists on my phone. I have a running to do list, a list for upcoming blog post topics, and lots of lists of random things I want to remember. I use the basic notes app in my phone as a sort of all-purpose notebook. Not only do I have it with me and easily accessible at all times, but it’s searchable. No paper notebook can compete with that.
  2. I use a grocery list. Tying into the first point, I have a basic list on my phone of everything I buy regularly at the grocery store. Before going shopping, I copy and paste the list into a new note and go through my kitchen deleting whatever we don’t need. I have a similar system for shopping at Target (I go about once a month to stock up on some things that Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry). As I’m shopping I note in the list how much each item cost, which makes it easy to estimate my total before I get to the checkout.
  3. I shop on Amazon. I absolutely love having Amazon Prime. If I need just one or two things that I’m not even sure I could find at local big box stores, like, say, the perfect pedometer, I’ll just click over to Amazon and can pretty quickly compare prices and reviews and then get free two day shipping. The selection is amazing, the prices are good, and it saves me from making a trip to a crowded store where I’m likely to spend more money buying things I don’t need.
  4. I wear minimal makeup. My makeup bag is tiny and holds everything I need: some Bare Minerals powder and blush, a brush for each, one eyeliner, one eyeshadow, one lipstick, and one chapstick. I usually put my makeup on in the car.
  5. I never iron. Ironing is for the birds. If something looks like it will need frequent ironing I don’t buy it. Everything else I just hang or fold right out of the dryer. Sometimes it takes several rounds in the dryer before I manage to get to them while they’re still warm, but I very very rarely have any significant wrinkle issues.
  6. I do my banking online. Balancing your checkbook is sooooo 1999. And I recently signed up for Mint.com so we can keep an even closer eye on our spending (spoiler: we spend too much money on cable TV and going out to eat).
  7. I save my veggie scraps. I used to do this for compost, but I decided that composting is too much work for me. Now I save them in a giant freezer bag so that when fall rolls around and I want to make soup I can use them to make broth instead of having to plan ahead by having broth on hand or chicken bones available.
  8. Speaking of chicken, I buy it in bulk from Zaycon. And when I need to shred it I do so in my stand mixer. Throw cooked chicken in there with a paddle attachment, flip it onto low speed, and watch as the chicken gets shredded before your eyes.
  9. I automate wherever possible. I use automatic bill pay, use Dollar Shave Club to keep us stocked with fresh blades, and have reminders set on my phone for anything that can’t be automated further, like remembering to give Juliet her flea and heartworm medicine.

I’m amazed by all the conveniences modern technology offers. I can’t imagine what it was like to, say, plan a vacation or research a purchase before the internet. And don’t even get me started on smartphones! Those things are amazing. I admit that I look at mine too often, but it’s become such a helpful companion that I can’t imagine life without it.

Hello, my friends! We are in the throes of potty training over here and I am pooped (pun intended). Between all that time spent waiting patiently, taking deep breaths, and mustering enthusiasm I’ve been neglecting some things. Like, you know, putting on real clothes. When I get a break from constantly monitoring for any signs of bodily fluids all I want to do is sit down and immerse myself in something completely uninteresting to two year olds. Hence: Pinterest. And my favorite idea spotted on Pinterest this week is something so simple I can’t believe that it’s not more popular–stainless steel islands.

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The Design Files | Andrea Millar

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House & Home | Michael Graydon

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Number Fifty-Three

Really more like a work table, a stainless island is just so practical. It’s less expensive than cabinetry plus countertops and more durable than pretty much any other surface, There’s a reason why these are a staple in restaurant kitchens. My current kitchen is too small for an island of any sort but I’m definitely tucking this idea away for our next house. If you’ve got a large kitchen this 3′x6′ table could be had for under $500. For smaller spaces this 2′x4′ version is only $159. The cheapest option, though, is probably to check out a local restaurant supply company. The only downside to stainless steel is that it does show a lot of fingerprints and smudges. I remember from my high school days working at Sonic that this stuff was awesome for cleaning the stainless surfaces. I’ve got a hunch that stainless appliances are on their way out, but hopefully stainless islands don’t see the same fate.