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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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Updated! Alison's Panamanian Pad

Alison, in portrait by extremely talented artist named Seth Haverkamp. (updated with his name!) He's totally brilliant - one of the best portrait artists in the country and is still in his 20s. See for yourself.

I met Allison when she was just a lass, when she answered my ad on Craigslist for a roommate. I instantly loved her -- very sly sense of humor and no fear of bugs or half-eaten mice because her mom is a zoo keeper -- and had the real pleasure of watching her turn from young girl to full-on woman. When she moved in, she would get a bit mopey about not having grabbed the world by the throat yet, and she would say things like "all I want is a masters degree in politics, to work on a presidential campaign and to get into the foreign service to see the world" mope mope mope because all of that had not happened.

I razz her about this mercilessly, because in the intervening years, she got a masters degree in politics, worked on Hilary's campaign in Iowa wearing very fashionable wedge-heel snow boots, taught herself Turkish with cue cards, moved to Turkey for three months to hone her skills, fell in with a gorgeous Fijian, came back to the US, got into the Foreign Service, became fluent in Spanish and moved to Managua. Or Panama City or whatever is the capital down there. She took with her Louis, her disapproving French bulldog.


So Alison -- former roommate, then former tenant, current friend and now bad ass cultural affairs something or other at the American embassy in Panama -- has a terrible government apartment (in truth, I don't think it looks too bad. Big windows, airy spaces. She says it gets no direct light, which can be a bummer. But that's probably a good thing when the a/c bills kick in.). But I will grant her that the furniture leaves something to be desired.


The Living Room

The dining and entry

dining and living areas

the balcony. Seriously. Girl has a pretty nice place.

the bedroom. To which I must ask, where are the gorgeous orange wallpaper lamps I gave you Alison?? Where!?

clean this mess up, Louis!
I like the floor-to-ceiling drapes and the windows. The chair isn't bad either.

excellent storage. hideous finish.

I like the red thing hanging on the TV.

OK, that's what she has, and she sent me desperate notes for help.

I think the apartment has a lot going for it. It's spacious and has great windows. But I agree the government-issue furniture -- that terrible Sheraton-style stuff -- is troublesome.

However, Alison has (bravely) made an expensive and brilliant purchase -- something unusual and beautiful that I think she'll keep forever.

A new dining table: Lookit!

I love the juxtaposition of the shiny silver legs and the rough top.

She now needs to get some chairs. I suggested these from Ikea-- $39 each, and their white smoothness would look great against that table.

And she found this picture on Apartment Therapy -- a great solution. She can keep her current chairs and slip cover them in white sheer fabric. It's easily done with an iron, seam-binding tape, some ribbons or seam tape, a pair of scissors (and about 3 yards of fabric for every two chairs).

Cut the fabric into 3 yard lengths, then cut it in half lengthwise to have two equal pieces. One piece will go with one chair. Lay the fabric over the chair. Fold the sides in and under until they are the right width for the chair. Pin. Remove, and use iron on seam tape as the instructions say on every unfinished edge. Drape the fabric over the chair again, pin where you want ribbon ties to go, remove, and tack the ribbons on with a glue gun or a few hand stitches. Now tie that slip cover on.

See? Neato.
But it might not be the best answer, because I really want that table to shine, and I'm afraid these chairs would compete. I love the rough top and I don't want all that diaphanousness to distract the eye.

She also toyed with covering the chairs in Saran Wrap and spray painting them (she can't paint them directly because they are government property) but I nixed that because it's totally insane.

She's also in the market for a couch, and is looking at these. I think she has already selected on but I am not sure which.

Nice, clean lines, and dark so the mud that Louis tracks in won't show. There is the matter of his blond hair all over everything, but we have to pick our battles. With some awesome graphic pillows -- she can order pillow covers online and have them airmailed -- the couches will be great. Jonathan Adler may have just the ticket.

She's talking about painting the walls a couple of different shades of blue -- darker in the entry, a little lighter on the wall behind the dining table, and lighter in the living area. I like this approach, but suggest going about it this way: get a paint chip that has several levels of intensity of the same shade (that's most of them -- they go from lightest on top to darkest on bottom) and select three. I like Benjamin Moore's Santa Clara, How Blue Am I and Seabrook -- greeny blues. (She wants blue).

And I think she needs to do something around the door leading to the bedroom -- there's no molding and it just looks kind of unfinished. So perhaps a graphic stencil running all the way around the door? It could be repeated in some other corners... Here's one stencil i like.

And here (below) is a stenciled tent -- its sort of what I have in mind, only I would want her to take it down about 40 notches (and apply it vertically).

I also found this picture and thought it would be cool -- especially for temporary digs like these.

A great big graphic statement all the way around ... it becomes the decoration. Imagine it in white on a blue background...


  1. Thank you, Pam! I got the brown couch. Any thoughts on replacement light fixtures? It's hard to tell in the pictures, but the one in the bedroom is particularly offensive.

    I would have cleaned up a little before taking photos if I'd known it would be going on the internets!

  2. The lighting is indeed awful -- luckily its easily replaced. Consider something from Ikea -- maybe one of the large paper lanterns. Easy for a friend to send you! I don't know what's available down in Panama-way. You can also look at and lampsplus...