In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

How Ciara Should Finish Her Back Yard

This is not her back yard, yet.

Ciara is a gorgeous, globe-trotting diplomat (she's just returned from 16 months in Afghanistan, and spent her early 20s in Malaysia or somewhere and lord knows where she was in between. I think working for the mayor of NY?) She is now settled in DC (temporarily, I presume) in a gorgeous, small one bedroom townhouse on my beloved Capitol Hill.

Said townhouse comes with a typical backyard -- tiny by suburban standards -- about 12 feet wide by 14 feet long. But it's as big as her living room, so a space she makes use of -- mostly as a dining area.

She's a great cook. Sunday dinner: crab dip, clam and fresh corn chowder, grilled flat iron steaks, heirloom tomatoes, gnochi with cream and bacon and peas... and a homemade rustic peach tart with ginger. And Breyers Vanilla. Perfection. (Just to be clear, I don't let my ice cream touch my pie because it ruins the crust. You can do what you want, but I will look down on you. That will be the subject of another post: How Not To Ruin Your Pie)


Marginally Less Ruined. But these two things should be on separate plates.

Her backyard is all brick -- lovely old worn brick -- and high wooden fences covered in vines. She tends toward candle lanterns, and she is not sure yet what to do with the somewhat crumbling outdoor fireplace and grill that sits in the back south east corner.

If I have my way, she'll be keeping it. It's a great feature, and gives the yard a reason to exist in the winter... feet up on the bricks, a fire, hot chocolate spiked with Baileys, a wool blanket...

So: She is looking for ideas on what to do with her backyard. She wants to use it for dining, of course, but it should also be a space to hang out at a party, and to stretch out and read and nap.

I sent the image above to her and she loved it. She said she wanted a mix of Tuscany and Asia... so that's what's guiding me.

As I said I am dealing with a 12X14' rectangle. The kitchen backs up to the yard -- it forms a wall of about 8 feet wide across the top of the drawing. There's a short breezeway connecting the kitchen door to the back area. I don't show that in the drawing below, which is as to scale as I could make it on my Paint program. Which is not much.

So: I am calling for 8' by 2' built in benches in an L shape. The tops should hinge so she can store pillows and lanterns inside.

I am showing her existing table pulled up to them -- it's about 42 inches in diameter and is iron or steel. I like its strength and visual lightness. There is going to be a lot of wood back there, so I welcome another element.

Ciara can lie down on the benches, or use them as dinner seating, or move the table away for a party so lots of people can sit.

Alternately (or when the table isn't in place) Ciara should get three ceramic garden stools and place them in the middle of the dining area -- they can be cocktail tables, ottomans or additional seating. And they bring color and another material - ceramic - to the show. They are also an Asian element.

I'd like to see at least one comfortable chair -- maybe two -- in wood, to pull up to the back fireplace or to sidle up to the table at dinner.

She needs a fountain -- either something Asian looking, or something really modern and shiny steel. And lights: lanterns and large outdoor globe lights. These are 6 inches in diameter... These lights are more unexpected than just a string of globe lights (though I like those too) and it will feel like my grandparents backyard, in a good way.

(My Grandpa Kohler built us a “carousel” of little plastic animals and polls attached to the limbs of a huge grapefruit tree, and they had wonderful colored lights all over, casting strange shadows on palm trees and giant tropical plants. Clearly feeling nostalgic, though that particular grandmother was all kinds of cray cray.)

Over all of this will be a 12X9' pergola -- spanning the width of the backyard and just the dining area. The spaces in between the posts -- I show six on the diagram above, but only four in the drawing below for ease of viewing -- will be cedar lattice, to provide honeysuckle and wisteria vines a place to climb. I'd like to see the entire pergola and the built in benches painted either black -- gorgeous in a garden, especially a shady one -- or a deep, dusty, peacock blue. It will shortly be covered in greenery, so the blue will jsut peek out and make the space feel a little more exotic. The black will make it feel more traditional, but is in no way stodgy.

Observe what it would look like, standing next to the built in fireplace (not shown). For whatever reason I can't load the image of this in my computer so I had to take a picture of the drawing, which is more or less to scale.

These are the items I pulled for Ciara: the globe lights and lanterns, outdoor cushions, a host of garden stools to choose from (3, in different colors please), three fountains, a large planter that picks up on the orange cushions I favor, and an ornate mirror I just found on craigslist that can be hung above one the bench facing you in the drawing above -- to reflect the fire in the winter, especially.

Here are the links!

Get on it, Ciara!


  1. Your wrongheaded opinions about pie touching ice cream make me question everything you write.

  2. Hello Miss Pamela, I just found your blog and I love it. You are so funny! So I have a question, do you take requests for suggestions from anyone, or are these your friends that you are making suggestions for? I am in a decorating dilemma. Would you be willing to help?


  3. @jensdesign772 -- bring it on! post your design dilemma below and you can email me pictures at and tell me what city you live in. I LOVE telling people how to decorate.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I just removed the above post because I wrote something with a grammatical error and was unable to fix and being a writer... ugh. It had to do with pie and ice cream and just so we're clear: Steve is very very wrong.