Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Home Lust: Airy Mexican Abode in Echo Park

Yet another LA home I can't get enough of. I think I might have grown up on the wrong coast....

By now, you may see a theme emerging in the interiors I most love: white walls, airy spaces, bright textiles, eclectic furniture... And despite being very much anchored on the East coast growing up, I seem to have a real affinity for West Coast style — probably due in part to the climate and indoor/outdoor feel in many of my favorite spaces.

This home definitely doesn't disappoint. I remember stumbling upon this house tour on Apartment Therapy not long after discovering the site and falling in love. Those home tours can be quite addictive ;) This "Cultured Casa" (dubbed as such by AP) is owned by shoe designer and hairdresser Beatrice Valenzuela and Ramsey Conder and is situated in LA's Echo Park neighborhood. Beatrice grew up in Mexico and I adore all the vibrant Mexican textiles she displays throughout the house (not to mention the many touches of turquoise!). 

And I also love how lived-in and loved this home feels, and the obvious emphasis on a "connection with the outdoors and imagining what it would be like living in a foreign countryside" —  the owner's inspiration, as stated on AP. Simple curtains, lovely textiles, ceramic wares throughout, wood details, and lots of greenery... me encanta.

Be sure to check out the original feature for more pictures and details!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tailor Tales: Using African Wax in Western Styles

Remember when I said I was going to the tailor to have this kaftan dress made?

Whelp, I'm going today, four months later. Better late than never, am I right?

Last time I talked about visiting the tailor in Senegal, I focused more on Western-style pieces made from standard fabrics. This time I'm going to take you through the process of designing and commissioning Western Styles in African Wax with local tailors, starting with my prep for the first visit to the tailor (today!) all the way through to the finished product. Here we go!

I'm still on board for the kaftan-inspired dress, but I'm also bringing a whole host of things to alter and I have a few new ideas up my sleeve as well ;) The truth is I have hoards, and I mean HOARDS, of African wax that I've been collecting over the past several years. I also have quite a few failed fashion attempts that I want to remake into something new.

Besides the kaftan dress, I'm going to use this wax fabric, a kind gift that I don't exactly love, but I'll definitely be putting to good use.

The pattern has full ovals and is quite large. The scale is hard to determine from this picture.

To start, the three best methods to getting what you want from the tailor are to either:
  • Bring printed photographs of the designs you want, showing seams and details... especially if you don't have the expertise or vocabulary to specify those things (like me).
  • Sketch the style you are looking for... similar to printing a photo but not as accurate/specific. This method is hit or miss, because the tailor might seem like he understands what you want... when that isn't the case at all. This can be hard to gauge, especially if language is a factor.
  • Bring an existing piece of clothing to have copied directly (maybe with some minor changes). This option is the most fool-proof, but you need to keep in mind the fabrics... if you bring in a flowy dress to have copied in wax... the results might be questionable. But who knows?! 

Wax fabric is best used in structured clothing with appropriate darts and seams to create shape. I don't know anything about sewing so its really hard for me to explain this to the tailor. (I don't know what kind of dart you need to make something fit me properly! That's your job, Mr. Tailor). Beware that most tailors here are used to "standard" African body-types and traditional designs. Because my body does not have the "typical" proportions of most African women (obviously generalizing here), I always try and point that out. I don't need my skirts to be extra baggy in the derriere ;)

That being said, most major African cities have tailors who have worked with expats before and are more familiar with Western designs. Ask around the expat community for recommendations. Also, I've noticed wax in modern styles is becoming more and more popular with African men and women, especially in countries other than Senegal (Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso for instance). It can also be fun to try a modern twist on a traditional outfit. Down the line, I'm thinking of a modernized tunic with intricate embroidery.


Here's my plan for today :)

First, I want to make a simple, empire waist dress with a black jersey top and wax bottom. My goal is comfort, not always easy with wax fabric which is pretty stiff and a touch scratchy. I want a jersey top because it has a some stretch and will be much more comfortable close to my skin, while the bottom half will more structured. Plus the black top will hopefully balance the large, geometric print on the bottom. I was considering going with a maxi length dress, but I think knee-length is more modern and versatile. I actually plan to draw a simple sketch for the tailor, but here are some similar dresses I've had made or purchased in the past.

The dress on the left I bought ready made... its a little bit short and was originally strapless, but I had spaghetti straps added on. The right-hand dress I designed and the tailor surprised me by using a thick polyester on top. It actually worked out pretty well though!

With what's left of the fabric, I've decided to have a peplum top made. Wax fabric is best used in structured designs because, like I said, it is fairly stiff, especially before its been washed a few times (but then the colors start to fade, so don't wash too often). I'm no fashion designer, so there are probably much more technical terms for these things ;)

I like the back on the black top, and the African print top is cute but definitely too short for me. I also plan to bring the waist up slightly like the white top, to make it more flattering on my body. Links to these tops here.

Here's another structured blouse I've had made that worked out nicely:

Unfortunately this is the only picture I have wearing this shirt and you can't see it toooo well, but I think you get the idea?! Fun fact: this blouse was made from a dress that I designed that came out horribly. I had to salvage the peacock pattern :) I drew a simple sketch for the tailor and this time it really worked out!

And now for a few points I'm going to insist on today with the tailor (because these have caused reoccurring issues in the past):
  • The length of the shirt: As a rule, I like my shirts long-ish, and I have a somewhat long torso. Traditional tops for women here are cut very short and that is definitely one of my pet peeves.
  • The arm pit holes (?!?!) need to be cut low enough so that I can BREATHE in these dresses/shirts. Wax fabric does not breathe, and again, this is one of my personal pet peeves. I hate when fabric is too tight/constricting under my arms, causing chaffing and sweating. Ugh!
  • A fitting before he's totally finished. I've heard this is standard in most places that have a lot of custom tailoring, but not so much in Senegal. The tailor normally presents you with your ready-to-wear outfit.... but for me, it never, ever fits on the first try. Of course the tailor will alter what he's made, but I really want to work in a fitting before all the final touches are completed. We'll see if he agrees ;)
  • High(er) quality zippers. Good luck on this one.... Zippers here almost always break or have a hard time opening and closing. I try to avoid zippers in general, but I'll definitely say something this time. You can only try!

Let me end with a little disclaimer: I am very, very particular about my clothes and their fit. This is not to say I am a fashionista by any means whatsoever, but I hate wearing clothing that is uncomfortable or fits my body wrong. It makes me feel icky and self-conscious. Some of my friends are much more open to clothing that doesn't come out quite how they imagined it... Unfortunately, that is not me. Because I'm so particular, I normally get clothes made in spurts, and then give up for a few months. I would suggest that you go in with an open mind, ready to go into extreme detail on what you're looking for! And don't be afraid to ask for alterations after the fact... that took me awhile to learn.

Fingers crossed for today. I'll come back with updates and the finished product. Idea phase to completion... We'll see how it works out!

P.S. If anyone out there have any suggestions or tips to add, please do so! I love hearing about other people's experiences with tailor-made clothing ;)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Life Lessons from Christophe

Day Three of Blogtember: Pass on some useful advice or information you learned and always remembered.

My dad is French. He has lived in the U.S. for the past twenty-two years, give or take, and he's pretty much assimilated to America.... football hysteria, workaholic hours, a love of barbecuing and pruning the garden on the weekend, boxer bathing suits (thank God). America suits him, really, and I can't imagine him ever moving back to France permanently (especially since my step-mom is American). 

Frankly, I often forget he's French, and I never noticed his accent until my friends pointed it out to me. We have always spoken English together, from as early as I can remember. I attribute this to being born in France so my parents spoke to me in English at home and I learned French out in the Frenchy world (and with my grandparents). Our households have always been English-speaking (with my mom, dad, and stepparents). It almost feels strange speaking French with him now, and I always rebelled against his efforts when I was younger. Especially because he loves to correct my grammar, as the Frenchies do.

The only other time I am really struck by my dad's French-ness is when we are in the presence of my grandparents, who live in France and live to criticize the U.S., particularly its food and strip malls. "Kim, try the broccoli... you've never had French broccoli, you will like it."

Take it or leave it... its just the French way ;)

Priceless memories from teenage years: Life lessons from Christophe, often French proverbs translated directly and literally into English. (Also: texts written in T9 that had absolutely no meaning whatsoever.) (Also: uncomfortably blunt dating advice given to a very awkward teenage girl.) (Also: French words pronounced with an American accent.... just in case they in exist in English as well?!)

Take for example, whilst driving somewhere with no escape in sight:

"You must not... give away... sell the... hide, er, skin...? of the bear before slaying it."

(Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué.)




Can you figure it out? Well, in English we'd probably stick to the much less violent saying "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." Good advice, when bear killing isn't distracting me from the actual meaning of this phrase.

There were many even more obscure proverbs he loved to translate... but I am blanking at the moment. I will have to come back with Part II. Just take my word that some just did. not. work. in English, but always provided a good chuckle ;)

P.S. Second most memorable advice (/slightly disturbing): "The key to a good kiss is in the tongue."
P.P.S. Why were these nuggets of wisdom always imparted on me in the car? With no escape...?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kimtopia for Three Months

Day Two of Blogtember: If you could take three months off from your current life and do anything in the world, what would you do?

Oh, wowsa. The possibilities. Actually, I'm slightly concerned by how much this question resonates with me right now. And with three months, that leaves a LOT of time for this imagination of mine to go wild! 

Here is my dream for three months off my current life: to create a Kim-utopia where all my best friends and family live relatively near each other in a bustling metropolitan area near a body of water, preferably the ocean, with AMPLE free time to spend quality time together. Not too much to ask, eh?!

One of the hardest things about living abroad for an extended period of time is the lack of quality time I get with my best friends from home. With limited trips back to the U.S. and the fact that my close relatives are spread out in the U.S. and abroad, my family is the priority when I plan trips home. Even when I do see my friends, my base is still at my parents' homes and it can be quite the juggling act for everyone involved.

As a result, I deeply miss spending quality time with my besties. I always make sure to have at least a few days to spend clocking in quality time, and they make a real effort as well, but it just doesn't come close to when we were roommates in college living under the same roof or in the same neighborhood! Sigh. I worry too about missing out on major milestones in my friends and family's lives, growing more and more removed from everything because of the distance :( But I guess its also normal life evolution... demanding jobs, relationships, families, friends... I imagine it can be a lot to juggle even when you do live in the same zip code!

So in these fantasy three months of mine we'd plan weekend trips, a full-fledged, care-free beach vacation amongst friends, I would work on creative projects during the day, and I'd have time to see my family at leisure, taking part in every day activities I normally miss out on. Bonus if I'm present for some key milestones--engagements, new jobs, or first day of school!

This House on Cape Cod

Plus these lovely people (and new friends too... come join Kimtopia!):

... Basically three months of everything I miss the most about living far away. Womp, womp.

But, since we might grow tired of this Kim-inspired utopia after two months... and I can't say no to travel--I'd spend the last free month traipsing about Italy with C. I was lucky enough to travel extensively in Italy as a kid with my grandparents, but I dream of returning as an adult, especially with C. in tow. Food, art, natural beauty, romance... gratzie!


Palio di Siena, a famous horse race I witnessed when I was twelve.


Cinq Terre, of course.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who I Am, in a Design Nutshell

My design philosophy is to let my personal life experiences and influences guide my aesthetic and design choices. I love to collect mementos that represent me and where I've been (literally and figuratively) in some way. I want every bit of my space to tell a part of my story: a brass door handle from a trip to Marrakech, brightly colored bowls from a market in the South of France, a painting from Vietnam-a gift from my grandmother.

Today I'm starting a blog challenge for the month of September and the prompt for Day 1 is to,

"Describe where or what you come from. The people, the places, and/or the factors that make up who you are."

So allow me to introduce myself a little bit through my varied love of design, greatly influenced by the places that have shaped me. My dreams is to someday combine these various elements in a home filled with love and family :)





What life experiences have impacted your design aesthetic?

All images are either my personal photographs or sources can be found on my Pinterest page.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Home Lust: A Moroccan-Style Solarium in LA

Amber of Amber Interiors (my favorite interior designer, btdubs) featured this house last week and oh my goodnesssssss, I am in love. Its the home of Katie Tarses, designed by Pam Shamshiri of Commune Design.

Amber did a great "Get the Look" post with links to some similar pieces--check it out! I'm happy to say much of the bamboo furniture can be custom-made here in Senegal, plants-no problem, and why not a quick jaunt to Marrakech to add some Moroccan touches ;) The architecture and mid-century modern furniture? Might be a slight challenge...

The solarium comme living room is so enormous. I might have found the size daunting but... the various seating areas, the textiles, plants (check out the TV wall!!!), glorious nooks and crannies with Moroccan pieces interwoven.... it is just gorgeous. And check out few other spaces by designer Pam Shamshiri and Commune Design at the end of the post :)


And some other spaces by Pam Shamshiri/Commune Design I found whilst looking around....

* * *

Which one is your fav?!? I am a sucker for the first house (Morocco + plants = sold), but Elsinore Street looks so cozy and eclectic too, with antique wood moulding on top.... its a toss up! All they're missing is a little African-print-quirk thrown in the mix... some Six Bougies love ;)

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