Senses of Living® Décor

October 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


Winter is technically a couple of months away, but the days are becoming shorter, the temperatures are dropping, and my porch plants are being re-incorporated into my interior décor. As I've written, I enjoy sitting on my back porch. Now, I have the ideal solution to Chicago's winter: a year-round indoor porch, aka, a sitting area in my sunroom or solarium!

Back in 1995, when I was searching for a new home, I had a list of criteria that needed to be satisfied by the new abode. One of those criteria was plenty of windows with lots of sunshine, not only for my own well-being, but also for my huge collection of plants. When I visited what would become my current home, I was immediately excited by the presence of a sunroom with eastern, southern and western exposures, all ideal for growing plants; this room became an important reason for moving into this iteration of Casa Beall. The sunroom is actually an extension of my living room, which already has lots of sitting and entertaining choices, so I thought a "greenhouse" would be a worthy use of the solarium. Over the years, this room has provided an excellent area for fine-tuning the information I offer to my indoor gardening clients.

Because of the vast knowledge and esthetic comfort I gained by using the solarium as a greenhouse, I have no regrets about having allocated the space to that purpose for nine years. However, I was noticing that the intellectual and esthetic return from this usage were diminishing over the years. Furthermore, a number of independent factors all came together in a very short period of time to indicate to me it was time to change how I used the solarium. I realized it would make an ideal sitting area!

Getting started: I knew I still needed space for my botanical collection, so the shelving surrounding the eastern and southern exposures had to remain; it also provides excellent display space for part of my assortment of ethnic and contemporary art. However, the shelving and plant stands in the center of the room would have to be moved. My creative design juices went into hyperdrive!

Everything in the center of the room was moved into the living room (thankfully, I had no visitors during the redecorating period!). The floors were scrubbed thoroughly, while the shelves were dusted and washed. The small shelves that had been in the center of the room were moved in front of the radiator that spans the entire west window; this negatively impacts the ability of plants to survive in that area, but I have a number of hardy plants that can stand the blast of mid-winter radiator heat. Of course, the shelves were dusted and washed before being moved to their new home. This new arrangement actually served the additional purpose of camouflaging the radiator! An unanticipated success, certainly!

Floor covering: Once the solarium was cleared, it was time to start incorporating the new décor. One of the primary inspirations for changing the function of the solarium was the gift of a beautiful earth tone rug from a client of mine. It had been damaged in an unfortunate flood in her office, and she no longer wanted it. I knew it would fit in well with my overall décor, and I just had to find a space for it … the center of the solarium floor was such a space! Once cleaned, and laid diagonally on the floor, it was time to arrange the other furnishings.

Table: The other centerpiece of the room had to be the gorgeous redwood table that I had acquired at a yard sale. I had admired such tables for years, being a fan of both redwoods and organic design, but never wanted to pay the $600 to $1000 price tag. So, when I found an especially interesting redwood table, made from a "round," at a yard sale for $15 (plus $5 for a taxi ride home), I HAD to acquire it. Unfortunately, I never had an appropriate place to display it, and it got stuck in a corner of the solarium behind a living room chair. Now it was front and center, and all visitors can appreciate the beauty of the redwood grain. Of course, not everyone can find such a table at a yard sale, and I certainly do not encourage the exploitation of redwoods for mere esthetic purposes. I have learned of a fantastic source of recycled redwood furniture that I encourage you to patronize. If you'd like a beautiful redwood table for your home or patio, consider contacting Old-Growth Again Restoration Forestry, www.oldgrowthagain.org , in Graton, CA. What drew me to them was this statement from their website about their old-growth grade furniture: "When our forests were logged in the 1950's, many high-quality logs were left on the ground. [Old-Growth Again] recovers and mills this exquisite wood. Because of over logging in the past, old-growth redwood is very difficult to find anymore." As I type this, they even offer free shipping anywhere in the continental US. I have communicated with these folks via email, and fully endorse their goals and products; be sure to tell them that Bret Beall and Global Organic Designs sent you!

Plants: With the centerpiece of my new solarium in place, I needed to return several large plants and plant stands to the room. One of the previous key plant positions was now occupied by a large table, so what could I do with the plants. Specifically, I had two large plant stands, one bearing a huge Philodendron selloum, and the other with a large Monstera deliciosa (FYI, the plants stands are actually reused black wrought iron stools with the cushions removed; the swivel mechanism is ideal for rotating the plants for even exposure to sunlight, and the open framework of the chairs keeps the room as light as possible). If esthetics were my only criterion for placing plants, I would have had no problems. However, I had to find both an esthetic and a nurturing place for the plants so that they would get enough light and not get burned by the radiator heat. When one watches most design shows, it is clear that the designers know nothing about botany or horticulture, for the plants will never thrive where they've been placed by TV designers. I had to position the plants where they would flourish. The Philodendron ended up almost as a room divider between the edge of the living room and the solarium at what is probably the limit of adequate light for it to thrive, in what is an extremely dramatic position. The Monstera is more fortunate, for I was able to nestle its stand next to the edge of the table closest to the southern window where it will get plenty of light. A few other plants are currently in the process of being relocated, but ultimately, they will have nourishing, esthetic homes.

Chairs: I needed the final components: seating! This room had to be casual, cozy and comfortable, yet also chic and contemporary. I had several options since the overall décor of the living room and solarium is an earthy and elegant "equatorial tropics" (appropriate for a solarium, given the sunshine; I've seen sunrooms done in "American Country" and "French Country" that were so cutesy they made me want to gouge my eyes out). I could use throw pillows, but given the various purposes I intended for the solarium, I decided they would be inefficient and impractical. I could use teak or ebony fine furniture, but I decided those would be too formal (and too expensive!). I opted for wicker and/or bamboo, because of their comfort, their sturdiness, and from an environmental perspective, their sustainability. Now I had to figure out the best way to acquire these chairs.

I considered lots of different sources. I looked at Cost Plus World Market. I studied IKEA's website. I visited Pier 1. I kept an eye on the Freecycle website (www.freecycle.org ), and a friend steered me to Craig's List (http://chicago.craigslist.org/about/cities.html ). Here's how my search has played out.

I started by responding to an offer of a free papasan on Freecycle; I wasn't fast enough, and someone else received it. But, I was able to purchase a large papasan with a interesting green cushion, plus a stool with a tropical floral cushion for $50 via Craig's List; both are perfect in the solarium, the cats have claimed them as their own, and I was able to help a woman with a family emergency.

I had room (and need) for a second seat, so I ended up purchasing an excellent chair at Pier 1 for $75. The catch was that when I took it out to my little car, I was unable to fit it in so that the door would close … almost, but not quite! So I turned around and returned the chair for a full refund (being unwilling to spend yet another $75 just for delivery!). After manhandling the chair, I had a better grasp of its size, so when I returned home, I was able to realize that it would not have fit comfortably into the space available.

As I write this column, that space for a second seat is still vacant. I do have a nice throw pillow that I picked up at a yard sale for 25 cents (versus $14 retail!). I'm investigating some other options for acquiring a wicker chair (not another papasan, as the space is too small). One such option is inquiring among friends about the availability of a wicker chair that might be available; I'll report how the search ends.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Décor is about relationships. I now have new décor in an environment that will enhance relationships. When completed, the seating capacity is limited to two. I already had a fully decorated home to enhance relationships, but now I have a special place. Given how beautiful it is, I'll certainly meet with clients in this space. I'll also have a truly relaxing area to entertain my true friends when they visit, or for a romantic rendezvous … I hasten to say that the solarium is probably the most romantic site in my entire home (bedroom excluded … that's another column!).

Do you have a special spot in your home that you use to "really" enhance friendships and/or romances? Care to share? I always appreciate hearing about "warm, fuzzy" rooms that others have decorated. Or maybe you need some help creating that "warm, fuzzy" room? Either way, give me a call at 773.508.9208 or email me.