Room Design — Go Small to Think Big

We’ve all got BIG design plans:

  1. Renovate the kitchen.
  2. Update the living room.
  3. Get bold and more confident with color.

All good, but it can get overwhelming. What if instead we take a breather from our giant to-do’s, and gain a little perspective by going small?

The Retro Tiki Lounge by Carole Knaus

I found a group of talented designers that create the most captivating rooms. Creative, colorful, and playful. Playful being the operative word. These are rooms for our old (but strangely still quite youthful) friend, Barbie®.

‘Barbie rooms?’ you say – ‘This’ll be juvenile.’ Many rooms are pure fun—sure—but I found Babs with some seriously fashionable digs.

Cafe Set by Carole Knaus

Southern California movie sculptor, scenic artist and painter, Carole Knaus is used to working large. But when work hit a slow patch, she turned to making small sets.

“Basically with the state of the economy, jobs were slow,” said Carole. ” I got to selling things on eBay and noticed there was a market for Barbie furniture. I started buying and selling it, and then I would buy used furniture and customize it. The hobby took off for me when I started making my own furniture.”

Apartment Living by Carole Knaus

For doll collector Dawn Ellis, creating the small rooms takes her mind off her work. “I work as a counselor for youth and young adults,” said Dawn. “I enjoy my work, but it can be stressful, so creating Barbie rooms is a fun outlet.”

Dawn has picked up lessons for her own home from making her tiny ‘sets.’

“I’ve learned that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a great room. You can do sooo much with a can of spray paint or a paint brush. It is fun to challenge myself to
be creative.”

Adler Living Room by Dawn Ellis

Dawn continued, “Designing doll rooms is a fun and safe way to try new things – try things that I wouldn’t think to do with my own house. I feel free to take risks—rather than worrying about what I can and can’t do—so, that has bled over into how I select items for my own house. I feel more confident to be a bit more bold, and experiment with different styles and colors.”

Educated in fine art and graphics, Carole also loves trying out color combinations. “You are freer to experiment with color and pattern than you would in your own home,” she said. “It’s surprising what actually works!”

“It’s also about composition. I try to make the composition nice, and I have learned more about both photography and design.”

Cozy Little Room - Red Couch by Carole Knaus

Where do these small-scale designers find pieces to outfit their rooms?

  1. eBay
  2. Yard sales
  3. Castoffs from friends
  4. Online sources of ‘Re-Ment’- Japanese manufactured 1/6 scale miniatures

Both Carole and Dawn get most jazzed about customizing their own furniture and accessories. They trick-out, recycle and repurpose household items and found objects.

“It is fun to take something used or discarded and recreate it,” said Dawn. “I also look for items in everyday life or stores that I can use for my Barbie rooms. Craft and hobby stories are always a great resource, as are IKEA, Target and doll stores. You might find a small picture frame that you can turn into a mirror, or a bottle that can become a planter.”

Retro Tiki Bar by Carole Knaus

“People develop an eye for this scale and look at things through a new lens,” said Carole. “For example, candleholders make great tables.”

Sometime soon, Carole may sculpt her own designs and have them cast, so she can sell her own furniture. “Everybody thinks they can make a better Barbie chair,” she said.

I so enjoyed finding and exploring the Barbie Rooms, and learning about what goes
into them.

Barbie Chaise Lounge and Vanity Makeover by Dawn Ellis

“…the Barbie rooms and sets are fun because they are constantly changing and evolving,” said Dawn. “I think I would go broke if I redecorated my house as often as I change my Barbie rooms.”

These designers and other Barbie room enthusiasts can be found sharing their creations at Flickr. Carole goes by partydolly and Dawn is Lil Miss Vixen (Fair warning: Some of Dawn’s doll scenes show grownup situations so adults only for this one!)


Do you need some big design ideas? Why not go small?

Laptop Pods — Love it or Leave it?

Design Junkies – the second I saw these, I knew I needed to get your opinion.

Society Apartments Laptop Pods

At Work in a Laptop PodFor its design of the 242-apartment, ‘Society’ complex in South Yarra, Melbourne, Australia, the architects—Plus Architecture—wanted to create a sense of community.

Core to its concept is an active communal lobby including a lounge and bar, surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants, and with access to a ‘contemplation garden.’

These egg-like ‘laptop pods’ are part of its ‘Lobby Culture.’ Designed by Emma Selzer of stacked, laser-cut plywood, the pods are meant to entice residents to work in the common spaces, instead of tucking themselves away in their own apartments.

(via Notcot.)

What’s your reaction to the laptop pods? Tell us what you think.

Fall Colors Decor Roundup

There is a welcome chill in the air today; it’s time to freshen up our decor for the coming autumn. Enjoy clicking around these rich-toned items – offered by retailers and
talented artists.

Aspen Nightfall Painting by Jonathan Harris

ArzuMusa's Set of 3 Polymer Clay and Glass Candleholders

blueroompottery's Group of Six Wheel Thrown Bottles


Pottery Barn Authentic Kantha ThrowsBattery-Operated Timer Candles from Ballard
West Elm's Wood Boxes with Lacquered Lidsginette1223's Set of 9 IKAT Pillow Covers

Great color and texture in Pottery Barn’s Authentic Kantha Throws (top left); what a fab idea—battery-operated, programmable timer candles, coated in real paraffin—from Ballard Designs (top right); add an autumn sheen your table with West Elm’s wood boxes with lacquered lids (bottom left); and update an entire floor for fall with ginette1223’s set of nine IKAT pillow covers.

And Hurry if you want to get this painting on auction: Autumn Birch Tree Painting from Bukov_ART Studio

Violetq's Pine Needle Gourd Basket

Foliage Rug in Chili from Company C

merritthyde's Orange Metal Dragonfly Magnets

clubaloha's Sunflower Decorative Pillow

etcArts Set of Three Bud Vases

Garden Decorating to Reflect Your Style & Personality

by Steve & Cathy Lambert

Let’s move our decorating wand outdoors, with our Garden and Landscape Design Experts and Contributors Steve and Cathy Lambert. Steve and Cathy share with us great advice for creating beautiful gardens and outdoor living spaces.

Garden ornaments add personality, style and whimsy to your garden. For centuries, gardens have been used as outdoor galleries for displaying collections of sculptures and other works of art. Garden decorating allows you to express your artistic taste with art of your own creation, or with found objects that have captured your eye and beckoned to be placed in your yard.

Bronze Dancing Ladies

There are many styles of garden ornamentation, but the most common are natural, classical, modern/minimalist, Asian and whimsical, all with a wide variety of choices.

Rain Chain Used as Fountain

When choosing a decoration for your garden, ask yourself:

  • Will it complement the plants and the theme of my garden?
  • Does it fit with the style of my home?

Combining too many styles will result in a ‘yard sale’ look. Here are some ideas for adding a unique personal touch to your garden through the use of garden décor.

Stainless Gazing Ball

Gazing balls are a popular garden embellishment for the rainbow of colors they mirror from the plants and flowers that surround them. Traditionally in silver—to reflect the true hues of their surroundings—gazing balls are now available in a large variety of colors to add some pop to your garden even when there is not much in bloom. If you have kids who play sports in your yard, you may want to choose a steel ball over the more common glass globes.

Gazing balls can enhance a classical, whimsical or modern garden depending on the color and material of the ball and the style of its stand. In a modern, minimalist garden, we installed a grouping of stainless steel balls, in varying sizes, laid directly on a gravel pad. We’ve also floated gazing balls in a formal pond and placed a purple ball in a child’s fairy garden atop an ornate wrought iron stand.

Antique Iron Gates

Adding an old, rusted antique object to your garden will give it an old-world feel. This works well with a traditional or romantic garden style. We have two garden antiques in our own yard. The first is a bike-style, knife sharpener which traveled across the ocean from Denmark with Steve’s great grandfather. The rusted colors of the metal and sharpening stone are set off by the moss rock wall behind it. The second is a laundry press. Both pieces add interest and are great conversation starters.

Our Antique Laundry Press as Garden Decor

A client of ours had been hauling around (through several moves) a beautiful, rusted wrought iron gate that he’d salvaged from a dumpster. His wife was threatening to have it taken to the dump until we mounted it to two 6 X 6 posts with a backdrop to their chartreuse Elderberries. The combination of the rusty, elaborately detailed gate with a background of bright chartreuse foliage is truly breathtaking. Old gates and headboards are great finds for an artful climbing trellis.

Rusted Iron Gate with Chartreuse Elderberries

Antique lanterns can be given new life by adding low-voltage wiring. For one client we wired and hung six old brass lanterns in the branches of an oak tree while another had us light up a fairy house to add a touch of fantasy to their garden.

Fairy Home

Planted Antique Chair

A few of the other more interesting antiques we’ve installed include, old millstones as fountains, a 300-year-old Buddha, an ornately carved Indian temple door, and a large brass gong which hung from a frame at the end of a pool so its reflection could be appreciated
at night.

Bubbling Fountain in Gravel PatioColorful Bubbling Fountain
Tiered FountainBubbling Fountain with Eden Rose

There are literally thousands of different fountains available to today’s gardeners. From small bubbling pots to large, multi-tiered styles, there’s a fountain for every taste and space. These garden ornaments will please both your eyes and ears.

Little Girl Sculpture by Spa

Statues are another common choice to adorn a garden. It’s always fun when we’re asked to landscape around statuary or a sculpture. An artist client whose medium was large scale bronze had us design a garden around her two, 9-foot tall bronze ballerinas. These sculptures came to life at night with the addition of amber accent lights (see photo at top
of article).

Kinetic Sculpture

Our Kinetic Sculpture from Chimey Flue with Industrial Rooftop Fan

Kinetic sculptures add another dimension of movement to the garden when the wind blows. We made a simple and inexpensive, wind blown sculpture for our yard by topping a terra-cotta chimney flue with a painted, industrial rooftop fan.

Glass Bird Bath with Candleabra PrimroseVictorian Bird House

Birdbaths and birdhouses are popular choices for garden decorating. Cathy has an affinity for interesting and rustic birdhouses and dressed up our boring back fence by using her collection to top the fence posts. The beauty of adding a birdhouse or birdbath to your yard is that you can find one to fit any style of garden.

Mailbox for Garden Tools Storage

An old or interesting mailbox can also be a fun and functional fence post topper when used as a handy place to store your garden gloves and trowels.

Antique Window Dresses Up Plain Brick Wall

Dress up a dull fence or wall with an attention-grabbing object. We used an old window frame, with mirror replacing the glass, on a boring brick wall to add sparkle and color with its reflection of our flower border.

Mirror on Boring Stucco Wall

Consider using a pedestal in an otherwise dull spot to show off a variety found or seasonal objects. Ours holds a ceramic egg in the spring and summer, our best looking pumpkin in the fall and three white pumpkins stacked and decorated as a snowman in the winter.

Snake in the FlowersAntique Horn as Garden Decor
Rusted People SculptureBlown Glass Flowers

When shopping for garden décor, consider the following:

  1. Think about the object’s size and shape. How well does the ornament fit with the overall scale or flow of your garden?
  2. Consider its color. Does it blend with or add a complementary contrast to the colors of your garden and home?
  3. What type of material (wood, iron, concrete, metal, stone, etc.) would best blend with your garden theme and other existing objects?
  4. Take into account how the weather or nearby sprinklers might effect your chosen object. Will the ornament be able to withstand the elements without fading or chipping or will additional weathering enhance its look and appeal?
  5. Most importantly, is it something that expresses your style?


Cathy and Steve LambertSteve and Cathy Lambert have created distinctively dramatic, custom gardens since 1989, through their award-winning Garden Lights Landscape & Pool Development in Orinda, CA. They share with us their advice and expertise on all areas of garden and landscape.

Landscape Designer/Contractor and Master Gardener Steve envisions and creates romantic, welcoming and functional outdoor living spaces. His writer-wife Cathy wordsmiths Steve’s technical advice into something easy to understand and fun to read for the everyday DIY gardener. Together they also write the “Way to Grow” column for The Orinda News.


What kind of garden ornaments do you like?

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