Category Archives: how-to

the how-to: my never-fail, super-secret holiday shopping tips

Well. Have you had your fill of gift guides yet? Have I officially stuffed your stocking with oodles of holiday ideas? If you’re still stumped, don’t worry: I’ll have more ideas as the Big Day draws near. And if you just can’t wait, send me an email. I do love a good challenge, and I’m more than happy to handle the whole thing for you.

To wrap up (yep, had to do it) this little annual tradition of ours, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gifting tips for those of you who are still on the hunt for that perfect fit. And so…drumroll please…allow me to present Becki’s Top Five Never-Fail, Super-Secret Holiday Shopping Tips! (I’ll admit, the name needs some work):

Read on

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make over my house: the lookbook

{Editor’s Note: As I mentioned last week, I’ve teamed up with one of my absolute favorite home stores, Manor Fine Wares, and a few other wonderful sponsors you’ll be hearing about, to complete a total redesign of my main living areas.}

As I told you all last week, when I moved into my new house, I needed serious help transforming it into the light, airy, clean space I had in mind. Luckily, the amazing people at Manor Fine Wares came to my rescue!

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I first met with Shannon (my designer extraordinaire) – after all, I’d never had a design consultation. So, I came armed with lots of adjectives about what I wanted (and didn’t want) the space to be, color preferences and loads of photos.

What actually happened? She walked into the room, and immediately said “Yeah, this isn’t working, is it?” and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Sadly the biggest offender in the new space was my beloved bird chair (you can see it in the “before” pics). I positively adore that chair, but it was taking over the room in the new house. Shannon’s immediate reaction made it clear: the birds had to go.

Next, it was time to talk about musts. What furniture has to stay? Well, the sofa…because I’m too cheap to replace it, and I love it. And my secretary desk/china hutch in the dining space. And a few pieces of art that I could never part with. But beyond that, I was flexible. And what is a “must have” in the new space? The husband’s recliner…he’s a miserable mope without it. Also, said recliner must face the television. Marriage/life lesson: some battles just aren’t worth fighting.

Beyond that, we talked more about mood and feel than specifics – I told Shannon that my last place had been cozy and filled with books, knickknacks and bright art, with color and clutter everywhere. This time, I wanted a clean slate. Something soothing to my eyes, very little visual clutter, even less color, and a light, airy feel. Urban beach house, without the cheesy ocean-themed accessories, I told her.

And this is what she gave me (click the arrows to see the full lookbook):

Pretty wonderful, right? (I’m especially in love with that souk rug from Rugs USA) One of the biggest challenges in this space for me was layout. I was really resisting the traditional placement of the dining table (it felt like a huge blockade when you walked in the door), had no idea what to do with the alcoves on either side of the fireplace, and was stumped by which direction the couch should face. Shannon solved every problem. And honestly, just having that voice of authority to tell me this was the solution was pretty priceless.

I’d have never, ever come up with those chests of drawers flanking the fireplace. And it would have taken me ages to realize that my round dining table was never going to work in this space. But Shannon just knew…and saved me months of agonizing over what would have made this room work.

Plus, take note: not all of the pieces in that lookbook are from Manor. My budget precluded the full-on, high-end design orgy I had in mind. My total budget for the project (yep, I’ll just tell you) was $7,000. Not cheap, certainly, but not even a drop in the bucket compared to most design clients. But Shannon didn’t balk. She went to West Elm. She went to Cost Plus. She went to Rugs USA. And she found pieces that blended seamlessly with her picks from Manor.

Next week? A little Q&A session with Ms. Shannon, where we’ll nab all of her best design secrets! Stay tuned.

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make over my house: the before

{Editor’s Note: Friends, I am so, so excited for this series! I’ve teamed up with one of my absolute favorite home stores, Manor Fine Wares, and a few other wonderful sponsors you’ll be hearing about, to complete a total redesign of my main living areas. It was a huge project, and I can’t wait to show you everything over the next few weeks!}

For those of you that follow me elsewhere (ahem, Twitter and Facebook), you’ll know that I moved earlier this summer. Specifically, I moved from a cozy old Victorian to a sleek, modern/traditional condo (with a killer view).

As soon as the movers pulled away and I saw our furniture in the new space, I knew it was all wrong. All of my beloved bright colors were completely overpowering in the new house. What had felt warm, bright and inviting in our old space was now just plain too much. The furniture was too big, the colors were too bold, and it felt like nothing was working.

In my dream scenario, HGTV would have swooped in and saved the day. But in reality, I got something that was even better: a chance to work with a designer at a store I already know and love, to get all that personalized expertise, but none of the “Oh lord, I hate that chair she picked!” or “I hope they leave soon, so I can repaint that green wall.”

From the day I arrived in Portland (almost literally), I’ve harbored a fantasy that I’d hire a local store called Manor Fine Wares to redesign my house. The store is utterly unlike anything else in town – sophisticated and fun, rustic and surprising. Want to see a few of the many, many reasons I heart Manor?

Oh, it’s so good, friends. So good.

When I knew a redesign was in order, I thought I’d start at the top – and luckily, when I approached them with the idea of teaming up to redesign my space, they jumped at the chance. As it turns out, working with a designer is actually nothing at all like HGTV…but it’s no less awesome. Shannon Riordan, my designer extraordinaire at Manor, is pretty much a mad genius with layouts, details and creative solutions – all of the things I’m terrible at.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you the skinny on what it’s really like to hire and work with an interior designer – how the process works, what real-world design budgets look like, and Shannon’s best tricks of the trade. And then, of course, we’ll cap it all off with The Big Reveal, which I just know you’re going to love!

Next week, I’ll show off the mood board and layout that Shannon came up with to get us started. Can’t wait!

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off the rack double feature: cropped pants

Cropped pants. I should probably disclose, before telling you that I’ve just bought two pair, that I really, strongly dislike them. Sure, they’re adorable on Audrey. But then, what isn’t? Not exactly the best measure for success. In general, they tend to be seriously unflattering on women with curves – too loose in the backside, too tight on the calves, too short to create that long, lean line that lends us all a hand every now and then.

And yet. Spring rolls around and suddenly longer trousers just feel out of place. So, I was determined to make these work for me. And I found some options!

First rule of cropped pants: length is key. Subtitle: Capris are terrible. They make your calves look huge, and instantly beg the comparison in size between your calves and thighs, which no one needs. If you’re going cropped, the only way to get that long, slim silhouette you’re after is if the hem hits that flattering spot right around your ankle bone. No part of your calf should be exposed.

Second rule of cropped pants: tailoring. Bubble butt is a huge problem with this style for some reason. But, it’s easily solved by your favorite tailor. A couple of well-placed darts on the backside, and you’ll have a fabulous fit – best $20 you’ll ever spend.

So, my two finds? First, an ankle-length printed pant from Talbots.

The paisley print felt more modern, and a bit more unique than all the florals floating around out there (it also looks an awful lot like something from Stella McCartney’s spring line, but no complaints here). The length is just about perfect on me, so anyone 5’8″ or less is set. They’re also insanely cheap just now – $45, plus an additional 40% off. They do require a little tailoring in the rear department, but you can more than afford it at that price.

Next up is the ubiquitous Minnie pant from J.Crew (which does not photograph well…sorry). They’re surprisingly flattering, but too short. So, semi-genius solution: I ordered them in a Tall size. Perfect! J.Crew is one of those brands with faux-tall sizes – all they do is adjust the length, with no change to the rise or any other measurement. So I often order a tall since I’m right on the cusp – better to hem than to flood. I went with boring black here, as I thought too many of the other colors looked like aerobic leggings once on. Give yourself a little room in this style to prevent that. I could have worn an 8, but went up to a 10 so they looked less legging, more pant.

What are your feelings on the cropped pant? Are you two old friends, or are you phobic like me?

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the how-to: easter for grown-ups

I’ll be traveling for Easter this year, but it’s a crying shame. Lately, I’ve been seeing so many ideas for an adult-friendly Easter fête that I’m wishing I had the chance to host a swanky brunch soirée.

It all started when I spied these fantastic egg-shaped placemats from Chilewich (who else?). They say Easter without screaming it from the rooftops, and  would be the perfect nod to seasonal décor without going overboard: elegant, easy and still right on message for the season. Plus, they’re subtle enough to be useful throughout the summer, instead of being relegated to the back of a drawer.

I’d add an oversized bunny – in deep dark Vosges chocolate studded with pink Himalayan sea salt – as a centerpiece (just be prepared with a tiny hammer when it’s time for dessert)…

And maybe a grown-up version of an Easter treat for your guests (sold out online, but still plentiful in stores)…

That’s it – a celebration that’s perfect for all of your childless friends. To make my life even easier, I’d pick up a spiral-sliced ham, soft-boil some eggs (leave them in the shell, and they’ll also look gorgeous on the table), whip up an easy hollandaise (I spilled all my secrets at Shelterrific last year), and have everyone make their own Eggs Benedict. Add a bit of roasted asparagus and some bakery-grade English muffins, and you have the world’s easiest party in the bag.

Of course, if you’re up for a lower-key version of the festivities, you might consider wrapping up one of Creature Comforts’ spot-on Easter basket ideas for grown-ups. They’re exactly what I’m hoping the Easter Bunny brings me!

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asked and answered: stylish shoe storage

Friends, one of you sent me this question back in January, and I am incredibly tardy in responding. But in my defense, it wasn’t that I forgot, or that I had more important things to do. No, it’s that it was a genuinely tricky query, and I needed some time to marinate on the best options.

The attached photos you may recognize as Jenna Lyons’ closet.  I love the shelving she uses to store her shoes and would like to recreate it in my own closet but I don’t want to spend a fortune. I’ve tried to find some shelving that looks nice…..not so industrial but no such luck. Any suggestions?  ~Jaime R.

{Photos c/o Trulia}

See what I mean? Jaime wants me to do better on a closet storage option than Jenna Lyons? Talk about a tall order. And so, I just sort of pushed her question to the back of my mind, where it’s been rolling around aimlessly for the last month (or two).

But, I think I finally have a suggestion that will work brilliantly. Those shelves you see in Jenna’s closet are actually glass, with powder-coated metal framing. I’m guessing it’s the frame you’re not crazy about – and, to be honest, I’m guessing those shelves are commercial display models, so you don’t have to worry. You’d never be able to find them anyway.

I trolled all sorts of home design stores looking for solutions, but I think they’ll all still have that industrial bent you don’t love. Then it hit me, like a bolt from the blue: floating shelves are what you need. Glass would be the closest to Jenna’s look, but I think it depends on the space and your personal preferences. A few parameters:

  • The shelves need to be at least 10″ deep; 12″ if you wear anything larger than a size 9 shoe. Just remember, the deeper you go, the more cautious you have to be about installing – they’re at a higher risk of ripping out of the wall if you apply too much weight.
  • Most glass shelves aren’t very long, so you may need two per row to fill a space. You’ll have more length options if you go for a non-glass option, so it just depends on the look you’re after.
  • Please, please make sure you enlist some help when hanging these. They need to be anchored in a stud to support your shoes, and that’s not something you want to DIY unless you’re experienced.

If you play your cards right, you should end up with something that looks a bit like this:

{Images c/o Architectural Digest /}

As for sources, your best bet for glass (after an exhaustive search) is Home Depot – they have every shape and size you could ever wish for. If you’re after a non-glass option, IKEA has dozens of choices in everything from wood to laminate to metal, and it’s hard to argue with their prices.

If you don’t love this option, I heartily recommend the current issue of Lucky, which includes a fantastic how-to section on closet storage ideas (including some great shoe storage options). It’s definitely worth a look before you make any decisions.

One last tip: Jenna has her shelves incredibly overloaded…which makes me both envious and stressed out. Leave some space between your shoes, and you’ll have a much cleaner look.

Good luck, Jaime! I expect an update when this project of yours is completed.

Have a fashion, beauty or design question that’s leaving you stumped? Send it my way, and I’ll do my best to sleuth out a solution. editor {at} shoppingsmycardio {dot} com

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crafty girl: be your own valentine

Editor’s Note: I’m so very excited to introduce a dear friend and kick-ass designer as our guest for today’s Crafty Girl. Arrs is the mad scientist behind GemKitty, a fantastic website that basically allows you to staff out your DIY jewelry fantasies. Pick one of their dozens of beautiful designs, come up with a color combo you love, and presto – they’ll ship it to your door in no time flat.

Oh, and the best news? Order today (it’s the last day for Valentine’s Day orders), and get 30% off with code ROMEO –  forward it to a significant other or take matters into your own hands!

In the meantime, Arrs has cooked up an exclusive DIY design for your Valentine’s Day delight. I can hardly wait to get started on this pretty – if only I could decide on a color combo. Lapis beads with bright yellow jasper accents? Pale green aventurine and orange carnelian? Where would you start? (Yep, I totally used her amazing website as a gem cheat sheet for that, by the way.)


DIY fashion is all the rage (again) and while I heart marathon crafting sessions, I presume most of you aren’t reading this with hot glue gun, plumbing parts, and yards of fancy ribbon in hand.

So, for you crafty novices, I’ve cooked up a DIY necklace project that is the perfect way to wish yourself a happy Valentine’s Day. It’s simple (no special tools required), can easily be made while imbibing your favorite cocktail or gossiping with your girlfriends, and absolutely everyone can pull it off with style.

Necklace made with tiger’s eye and carnelian beans and suede cord.

To make your very own, just click below for all the gory details:

Read on

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asked and answered: job interview attire

Friends, last week I asked for reader questions, and boy, did you deliver! I have so many great questions (and hopefully some good answers) ahead…I think it should make for some quality programming.

I hardly knew where to start, but this question from a sweet reader who’s headed off for a job interview got first dibs, just because her interview is tomorrow!

Hi, Becki! I’m a loyal follower of your blog, and I have a wardrobe challenge/question for you. I’m interviewing at an environmental non-profit and meeting with “senior management.” The atmosphere is very different from my current corporate job. I went to my last interview dressed in a suit and was met by the hiring supervisor in jeans and a sweater. I need a professional, non-suit outfit that reflects me. Are you up for the challenge? ~ EB

Oh, you know I am! It’s tricky, to be sure. Unless you’re looking for work at a law firm or a bank, the reality is that most business dress codes have taken a step down in recent years. Personally, I don’t think a great suit ever does you a disservice, but there are definitely interviews for which you’ll want to put a slightly less formal foot forward. The bonus here is that it’s also a great chance to show off a little bit of personality, as well as your ability to embrace a casual dress code with class.

The trick is to still be the best-dressed woman in the office, without looking like you’ll be woefully out of place if they give you the job. My favorite option for a non-suit environment is a classic silk shirt with a great pair of trousers in a straight or wideleg cut (no skinnies, please). I’m always more likely to embrace solid colors for an interview – prints are highly subjective, and you never know what little detail will turn an inteviewer on or off.  To accessorize, skip big earrings and scarves in favor of a necklace that adds a little bit of personality (nothing too long or too bold). Add a great pointed-toe flat or kitten heel and a classic tote, and you’re set.

Madewell silk shirt, $80 / Alberta Ferretti trousers, $300 or Gap trousers, $60 / Dahlia dress belt, $3 /
Madewell necklace
, $33 / Loeffler Randall Quinnie flat, $250 / J.Crew bag, $328

The other way to go, if you’re after a more ladylike look, is a dress. Steer clear of wrap styles (you’re just asking for a wardrobe malfunction), and instead look for a sheath or a classic shirtdress. If the fabric is dressy enough, it’s definitely work-appropriate, but still reads a bit more casual than a suit. Make sure it’s not too body-conscious, at least knee-length, and if you go the shirtdress route, steer clear of shirttail hems. With a dress, keep jewelry minimal, just a simple belt and a classic pump (3.5 inches or under!) will send you straight to the head of the class.

Talbots Sash dress, $160 / Talbots Olivia dress, $150 / Ann Taylor belt, $30 / Graf + Lantz tote, $229 / LK Bennett pumps, $250

So, E, I hope this helps…and I’m crossing my fingers that you get the job!

Got a pressing query of your own? Tell me all about it: editor{at{shoppingsmycardio{dot}com!

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