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    Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods That Reduce Stress

    For those of us whose concept of a happy meal is a healthy one – this is a quick Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. This is my take on “Happy Meals” with no-cook recipes with step-by-step instructions on and how to create them for your family. Sometime back, my daughter (she is away at college) had mentioned that she was ordering pizza more often than she liked to because she didn’t want to have to cook.  Knowing how strongly she feels about eating right and staying healthy so for all those who like my daughter lacks the time or the will to produce home-cooked meals, I say – don’t beat yourself up for ordering Pizza. There are worse things in life I tell her! Nevertheless I understand her concern. So I sat down to create this how-to guide for her and others that are concerned about the food they eat to how it affects their physical and mental health. It was the beginning of my journey to find “happy foods” or ingredients or foods that make you more happy and less anxious.

    Here’s how to use happy foods that reduce stress to draw up a Weeknight Meal Plan. If you don’t want to cook, you don’t have to. By following the steps you can save time, eat healthy and avoid worrying about your health because you’re ordering out, not to speak of wasting money. It is a process, one step at a time.

    Shopping for groceries


    When you shop for groceries, plan a little and buy stuff so you don’t have to cook at all. This way you’ll eat healthy and feel good about yourself. And you’ll be happy There’s a ton of meals that require none to minimum cooking time. Yes….Really! Let’s face it with everything thats going around, planning for a meal can sometimes be stressful and exhausting. Let’s talk healthy no stress meals with little or less cooking time and no elaborate planning.


    A big stress buster – this I have learnt from my daughter – is to make a quick list, a sort of a template – in your Iphone’s “notes” or “reminders app. Make a list of staples each week (it makes life a lot easier) and switch them around week to week. You can add or take away items as you need, before you go to the shops.


    Here are some of my basic must-haves for a Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress:

    • Quinoa – believed to be among those foods that make us happy – or rice or flax seeds
    • Lentils or beans or black eyed peas. All simple and easy to make ahead or right at dinner time with no stress.
    • Cereal
    • Onions, Carrots and Peas – good for any kind of veggie sautés  or meat stir fries
    • Potatoes – looking for a weeknight meal plan with happy foods that reduce stress need very little work and time?Potatoes are great for the occasional french fries or a quick Indian style curry with potatoes AKA Aloo dum.
    • Yoghurt is another one of my staples. They are rich in probiotics which is known as one of those happy foods. You can put it in an Indian style curry such as Spicy Egg Curry or Mom’s Chicken Curry. It gives the sauce its creamy texture without adding cream or butter. The secret is out!

    Rice and Lentils are easy to make however most other ethnic cooking like Curries – chicken curry or fish curry – usually require more prep and more elaborate cooking. Either way, cooking elaborate comfort foods from one’s own culture following mother’s recipe may or may not be included on a how to guide on creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. But to make that once in a while, Indian food on a weeknight I have some quick tips as well. For that reason I have a list of basic ethnic food ingredients as well that I keep stocked in my kitchen for when the mood strikes:

    Ethnic Store Basics

    • Basmati Rice
    • Naan Bread
    • Lentils – Moong daal and/or masoor daal and/or Rajma
    • Turmeric
    • Coriander seeds (dhania)
    • Mustard Oil – small bottle (Fish sometimes smells a little, unless cooked in Mustard oil)

    If you can’t make it to the Ethnic store, don’t worry, you can still eat yummy healthy meals all week long, with my guide to creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress with minimum cooking. Start by making a list of some staples each week at the grocery store. 

    Ethnic food

    Grocery Store Basics

    • Jasmine Rice 
    • Tortillas – alternate between while wheat or corn or Spinach Tortillas
    • Lentils – alternate between split pea or kidney beans – (the latter takes longer to boil and must be soaked overnight before you cook)
    • Lousiana Fish fry mix OR just bread crumbs – plain or seasoned
    • Garlic Salt
    • Sardines – I buy the ones in water – not in oil or tomato sauce which are fatty or mushy and tasteless …blah!!
    • Cereal – I usually get Kashi with or without berries 
    • Milk – Almond Milk or Coconut Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Honey
    • Corn chips or alternate week sweet potato chips
    • Hummus – 2 different kinds alternately – to use as spread on toast in the morning or for lunch sandwiches with cold cuts or cheese and tomato or for cucumber sandwiches
    • Soup – alternately clam chowder or minestrone or tomato soup or split pea. I don’t like the chicken soup because it just tastes like water and salt and does not fill up my tummy satisfactorily

    Produce Section

    • Tomatoes – they go with everything – in curries to make the sauce thick – or in tomato and cheese sandwiches or tomato slices served on the side with rice and fried fish. 
    • Onion – small bag – for sautes and/or curries
    • Garlic – a small one will last you weeks.
    • Small potatoes – 1 bag – for curries or fries or lightly seasoned potato wedges
    • Mixed Vegetables – buy an assortment of fresh veggies – they stay fresh for a week, My favourites are squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans and cauliflower
    • Broccoli – 1 bunch you can just eat them steamed for 10 – 15 minutes
    • Radish – 1 bunch – you can eat them raw (wash thoroughly and soak in water) or steam for 10 minutes!!
    • Baby carrots – with the green leaves – these cook in 5 minutes. Besides they are sweet and tasty.
    • Fresh Greens – Spinach or Kale or Bok Choy
    • 2 different kinds of salads in bags. A trick to creating WeeknightMeal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. I buy salad kits. They make life easier. Besides, they have toppings and berries all planned out.
    • Light salad dressing of your choice and alternate the flavour every two three weeks.
    • Lemon  – a squeeze of lemon juice goes well with steamed rice and seafood besides adding flavor to lentil soup.

    Frozen Section

    I try not to buy anything from the frozen section – because I don’t like preservatives – except frozen peas. I have not bought fresh peas in the longest time, as I don’t have time to sit down and shell them. Not that it wouldn’t be a nice thing to do in the kitchen. Gather around as a group, shelling and swapping stories, like old timers. Slow down – celebrate the past. Maybe someday! For now let’s get back to Weeknight Meals To Make You More Happy

    Bakery Section

    • Bread – sourdough, whole wheat, multi grain, garlic bread or focaccia. Rotate every week so you don’t get bored.
    • Cookies – 1 bag or box only every two to three weeks. Once again, you can rotate the kind of cookies you get.

    Deli Section

    • Cold cuts – 2 different types  – I get the turkey breast from the Real Simple line (something like that, I forget the name brand) but its the one with no additives. i like to make sure there is no Sodium Nitrite – I am told it can cause cancer but I guess as per the FDA the jury is still out.
    • Rotisserie Turkey Breast or Roasted Chicken
    • Cheese – 1 or 2 kinds
    • Olives


    Don’t get too overly concerned with cooking in order to eat. If you plan the shopping, then you can eat what you have in your fridge when and if you’re hungry and not worry about the specter of cooking hanging over your head.

    Happy Cook


    (1) Steamed Rice or Quinoa or Naan Bread

    On Sundays I sometimes make a quick cup or two of quinoa or boil a couple of cups of rice ahead of the week as a way of my rudimentary food prep. That will go for a week. I buy Naan bread or Tortillas. You can make any number of quick and easy entrees throughout the week to go with the main dish.


    (1) Lentil Soup

    Plan ahead and prep and even pre-cook – if need be – your main dishes for the week. I like to spend some time over the weekend and get this part done. Then combine them with meat and fish entree from my weekly list.

    Lentils are a great source of protein and fibre. Here’s how I do lentils to make daal. Boil a half cup of lentils or black eyed peas in 3 cups of water, When it looks and feels mushy, take it off the heat. Take a fresh pan – heat a little bit of oil. Add a pinch of coriander seeds, Then slice a couple of green chillies lengthwise and add to hot oil. Roughly chop some tomatoes. When coriander seeds begin to sputter, add the tomatoes, stir for a bit until they begin to lose color. Add frozen green peas. stir a bit until they begin to lose color and feel a little softer. Next pour the boiled lentils mush into the pan. Sprinkle salt and turmeric. When it begins to sizzle, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Take off heat. Pour very carefully into a deep bowl. Add some cilantro on top. Enjoy with boiled rice and a squeeze of lemon juice.  

    (2) Bok Choy in Olive Oil

    Bok Choy is a green leafy vegetable that appears on the list of happy foods as well. Lightly toss these in olive oil with some sesame seeds until the greens begin to turn soft – but not mushy. Season to taste with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. flakes. Best served with seafood.

    (3) Spicy Kale

    Kale is a versatile vegetable. I like to follow my quick and healthy easy recipe for Kale and Eggs

    (4) Sauteed Mixed Vegetables

    Cut the vegetables in equally sized pieces. Heat Olive Oil in a long-handled wok. Add onions. cook until they turn transparent. Add the other veggies. Grab the handle of the pan and flip the pan up in the air tossing the vegetables to coat them evenly with oil. Alternately you can use a spatula as you would toss a salad. Cover with a lid and cook for a few more minutes. ad a splash of water if they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Test the cauliflower with a fork to see if its cooked through – but not soggy- to know when its ready to eat.


    The above should see you through a week of healthy meals combined with one or more of the following easy poultry or seafood entrees to choose from :

    (1) Pan Fried Fish

    I use Salmon, because of its health benefits. Food that promotes mental well-being and happiness. You can use any other fish that is available. What I do is on Sunday with the rice and lentils or daal, for a few minutes extra I cook a  basic Salmon Fry. If you like that, heres how you do it -(beat a couple of eggs together in a bowl, dredge the Salmon fillets in egg, then cover with breadcrumbs or Louisiana Fish fry mix). Heat Mustard Oil, fry both sides until brown, carefully lift out of the frying pan on to plate lined with paper towels.  

    (2) Turkey Rotisserie

    Buy a split Turkey breast or a whole rotisserie chicken. Carve and serve with the rice and lentils with tomato slices on the side.  Make a quick and easy Raita or yogurt dip. Beat a cup of yogurt with a fork. add some red pepper flakes and salt to taste. No cooking today!

    (3) Baked Salmon in Mustard

    Make sure to get the spicy style mustard – not the sweet one. Put the fish fillets in a baking dish, cover and coat with mustard. add mustard oil, add two slit green chillies and bake for about 30 minutes – turning once – 15 minutes on each side.  

    (4) Fish in coconut Milk

    You can substitute coconut milk (in a can) for mustard and follow the instructions from the above recipe. Add a pinch of turmeric – which is another “happy food” and cook the same way.

    (5) Sardines on the Side

    Open a can of sardines – heat it up with rice and lentils then serve with some pita chips on the side. No cooking!

    (6) Cold Cuts of Meat

    Warm up some cold cuts (lunch meat). Serve with rice and lentils, with cucumber slices and halved radishes on the side.  No cooking and you can still have the benefits of the meat protein.

    (7) Soup for dinner

    Open up a can of soup – hot clam chowder OR hot Tomato soup with a little bit of milk added, served with toast spread with hummus or guacamole on the side.


    (8) Dinner Salad

    A big bowl of salad with your choice of salad dressing and some cold cuts and chips added on top.  

    Do not overthink or sweat about an entire week of meals. It can drive you nuts.  If you’ve planned the shopping you can now eat whatever you have in the house!


    I like to eat one big meal through the day. For instance, rice with vegetables and a fish or chicken entree. Usually it’s Lunch – because then it has all day to get digested as we are running around doing stuff. I eat a bunch of small snacks in the evening as soon as I get home from work. I cut a piece of brie along with some grapes – another “happy food” and a small piece of bread dipped in olive and some salami or chicken sausage. Sometimes I’ll either have a bowl of salad or hot soup with toast for dinner – I try to avoid bread or rice at dinner. Try not to eat a heavy meal late in the evening as it might keep you up at night. 

    If I get hungry later when I’m writing or watching TV, here’s my quick fix for a snack.  A bowl of cereal with yogurt sweetened with  a little honey or a tiny bit of brown sugar. It tastes like ice cream.  That way I get the fibre from the cereal and get my sweet fix at the same time.


    • Try to carve out a time – preferably a fixed time every afternoon or evening, for tea (or coffee). Drink it from a cup and saucer.  Sit down with the teacup or coffee cup and savor each sip. Serve yourself some crackers or cookies in a little plate to go with it, or salami or olives.  Make sure you are not watching TV or reading at the same time. Just have happy thoughts and enjoy your tea. I like to sit outside and enjoy the view.
    • Try not to focus on what you did not get done that day but instead focus on how amazing a person you are – because you are!  No one tells you that nearly enough, neither do you.
    • Try to get to bed early and get up early. Try not to focus on what you need to get done that day as you get ready for the day.  You have a calendar for that. Do not stay up late. It will lead to sleeplessness.
    • Instead of your list of tasks, try to focus instead on how amazing the day is and how lucky you are to get to enjoy it. It’s not gong to be easy but you have to keep working at it. If you wish to be happy there is no other option.
    • Try to rotate your routine for simple everyday tasks. Even something small as switching your toothbrush holder and soap pump from one side of the sink to the the other makes you feel good in the morning.
    • Smile into the mirror. Notice how your face lights up. How you look more attractive than when you wear a frown.  


    Hopes that my simple guide of Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress will help simplify your life. Also hope the 6 stress busters work for you. Try them – and try again – until they start to work. The objective is to turn your mind around so as to perceive your actions as just something essential. Accept what you did or did not do in terms of not right or wrong – just in terms of you being YOU. To not be sad or angry at things you did or failed to do or things that others did to you because your only obligation is to yourself, your only goal is to make you happy.  Tamp down negative thoughts as soon as they crop up. Then turn then into the positive thoughts.

    Weekday Meals to Make You Happy

    In reality, one may have to do this repeatedly because the neuro-pathways may have become used to thinking that negative is productive. That is only because the negative may have become a habit – stressing out or worrying may have become familiar. But familiar does not necessarily mean right. In some cases indulging in worrisome, anxious thoughts at night or at bedtime may have become routine. Make the effort to identify them as counterproductive and move to the positive. Keep in mind, fear has no basis and worry has no outcome. We must keep fighting those until being sad stops feeling familiar and being happy becomes more commonplace. 

    I feel we must devote time and energy to controlling our stress on our own – spend more time on ways to avoid stress and less time in stressing. Therein lies the biggest secret. As in every thing in life – the important thing is to keep at it – practice, practice, practice. Because….

    ….The only place where SUCCESS comes before WORK is in the dictionary – Anonymous

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    Slow Cooked Beef Stew

    Slow-cooked Beef Stew is a Fall special in my house. The house fills up with the tantalizing aroma of cooking.  My daughter loves it. Having said that, there is no rule that says one may not cook beef stew in the middle of summer, right?  So I decided to make it over the weekend. Since we’ve been having the kind of hot summer that sends one into a stupor, so digging up the recipe, shopping for ingredients, the preparations etc., revived me.

    Tip #1

    The trick to a really great Beef Stew is to simmer for a long time and there is simply no workaround to slow cooking.  Beef cuts can become tough and chewy if cooked quickly. However if the meat is allowed to cook slowly, the fat within melts to tenderize the meat. Besides which, it also add tons of flavor and body to the broth.

    Cut of Beef

    Tip #2

    Nonetheless, if you are like me and the idea of slaving over a hot stove for long hours does not appeal to you, but you do enjoy feeding your flock good home cooked meals, do what I do. Use a slow cooker.

    Ingredients –

    • Beef Cubes – 2 Lbs.
    • Chick-Pea Flour – ¼ cup
    • Sea Salt – salt to taste
    • Ground Pepper – to taste
    • Onion – 2
    • Garlic – 4 garlic cloves
    • Cinnamon sticks- 1
    • Cloves – 2-3
    • Cardamom – 1
    • Bay Leaf – 1
    • Carrots – small 5-6
    • Celery- 8-10
    • Potato – 1
    • Beef Stock (Low Sodium) – 1 can
    Beef stew

    Directions –

    Prep –

    1.  Chop the onions into quarters
    2.  Mash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife handle to take off the skin then chop finely.
    3.  Dice the potato into quarters
    4.  Chop the carrots into thick rounds
    5.  Thickly chop the celery
    6.  Mix the chickpea flour, sea salt, and ground pepper in a large mixing bowl;
    7.  Add the beef cubes.
    8.  Toss them in the flour to coat;
    9.   Next, roughly mash the cloves and cardamom in a marble mortar and pestle –

    Cooking –

    Step #1

    Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil. Sauté the bay leaf till it begins to turn brown add the cloves and cardamom.

    Step #2

    Then add the meat and sauté till it turns brown and gets a slightly crispy crust;

    Step #3

    Transfer the meat from the skillet to the slow cooker.

    slow cooked beef stew

    Step #4

    Now add onions to skillet, cook onion for about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2minutes;

    Step #5

    Transfer the onion-garlic mixture to the slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover the cooker, turn it on and allow to cook for 4-6 hours ;

    Step #6

    Garnish with fresh finely chopped herbs – thyme and chives – if you want.

    Step #7

    Serve with steamed rice or toasted garlic bread or just some oven warmed deli-fresh bread rolls in a bread basket. Bon Appetite…!

    Bowl of beef stew


    I first saw a version of this recipe on and tried it. However over the years one has been adding to it, tweaking it to my family’s taste and now they swear by Mom’s version of it….or so one would like to believe 🙂

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    The Many Myths of Decorating

    Thanks to a plethora of decorating shows and reality TV which sometimes oversimplify design tasks rather than present a real life picture due to lack of screen time etc., among the many myths of decorating tossed around these days, the following are a few of Tori’s favorites:

    Myth # 1 – Accessories Come Last When Budgeting for Your Home Decorating Project –

    WRONG:  Tori says – Accessories are essential in that they “finish” a room and spell the difference between blah….bam! Do not wait until the end of the decorating process to start buying accessories.

    Myths of Decorating  - accessories come last - Toris Design Box

    Keep your eyes open from the start. Attend flea markets and estate sales, where there’s a chance you might score a deal. Use your own treasures and collections to personalize your space. Include antiques, if you own any, even if you live in a contemporary space.

    Myth # 2 – Decorators Know How to Make Cheap Look Like a Million Bucks –

    WRONG: it’s all about balance and about observing the rules.  Decorators know how to mix and match cheap with a million bucks (manner of speaking) to dress up a room, but do not be fooled by tall claims.  Discount-store items will never look like designer furniture, neither will they be as well-built or last as long as the real deal. 

    Learn about the Many Myths of Decorating  - Toris Design Box

    In decorating as in life, you get what you pay for.

    Myth # 3 – Save a Bundle by Hiring Cheap Labor or DIY With the Help of a Friend or Cousin –

    WRONG: Well, of the many myths of decorating, this one’s only partially right, because maybe you can save a bundle…but it shows…in the outcome. 

    Tori says, never scrimp on labor. Always use a licensed contractor, with good referrals who is able to deliver your project with in a timely manner without the added cost and hassle of having to “re-fix” mistakes. The talent and experience of the people that execute your project are what makes the difference.

    Myth # 4 – Spend Big and You Cant Go Wrong –

    WRONG: Don’t pick the most expensive fabric or furniture item. You can save money on fabric that functions well, is reasonable and durable. However, make sure, the only reason you buy a specific furnishing or furniture is not because it is “reasonable” because then it will look just that….. “reasonable” not chic!

    Learn about decorating myths and how to avoid them - Toris Design Box

    When buying furniture I do advise buying the best you can afford, but nowadays, consumers have access to more furniture options at a range of prices, thanks to the Internet. However, buying before you have a color scheme planned out or have created a furniture layout or master room plan – buying “blind” as I call it – is tricky.  Try to find middle ground between low-end furniture (it’s cheap for a reason) and the stuff you see at designer showrooms.

    Myth # 5 – Saving Money Means Sacrificing Quality –

    WRONG: It doesn’t necessarily.  Not unless your idea of saving money means settling for a particleboard desk or cabinet.  Consider looking for a good quality used/re-purposed items at a thrift store, antiques shop or flea market.

    One myth of Decorating is save money sacrifice quality - Toris Design Box

    More often than not, you always get more value in vintage  says Tori. The quality will be better, and you can paint it or refinish it yourself, or send it out for professional restoration.

    Myth # 6 – Splurge on Living Room & Dining Room and Scrimp on Bedroom & Family Room –

    WRONG: Don’t! If you’ve decorated the public spaces of your home, walking from these well designed areas of your home into the rest of the house with its underwhelming decor or cluttered and disorganized private spaces will bring you down. Don’t put off decorating these, unless you are planning to decorate those less public rooms at some point  in the future, sooner rather than later. 

    White Kitchen - DIY or hire a pro - Toris Design Box

    The idea is to first, decorate the rooms that you spend more time in – those would be your bedrooms and family rooms, rather than the formal Living Room and Dining Room which you may only use once or twice a year. Nevertheless, the overall objective is to decorate the whole house. Otherwise, as you move about the house, the disparity of the different “class” of rooms will make you feel tired and anxious to “get started”.

    Myth # 7 –  Decorators Use Items That Will Only Work in Your Current Home –

    WRONG:  Sometimes, that is.  This one depends on how long you will be staying in your current home. have your designer work with you on that.  Statistics show Americans change houses more than they do furniture and furnishings.

    If you don’t plan to remain in the home for long, you would do well to find a decorator that will advise you on how best to invest in things like window coverings, wallpaper etc., or offer tricks and tips to purchasing items that will go with you when you move. Among the many myths of decorating is this one I hear from time to time – that designers are not adjustable to that fact. Wrong again!

    A designer that chooses unique yet normal-size furnishings that can work in a variety of settings — not items scaled to that particular home is the one to go with. Among the many myths of decorating it is generally accepted that TV shows will show us what the current trends are so that we may duplicate it to get a cool look for our home. Untrue! It is a mistake to go for what you see on TV without fully assessing what your house needs and what your requirements are. One example of what not to do – no matter what they show on TV – avoid buying oversize sectionals, corner cabinets or towering armoires just because they look good on TV. They might not fit in your next home — or make it through a doorway or elevators.

    Myth # 8 – Hire a Designer/Decorator and Nothing Will Go Wrong –

    WRONG: Even the best plans can go awry. With over a decade of working as a designer I myself have run into projects where there were a fair share of surprises. Of the many myths of decorating, I would like to dispel this one by asserting – the difference is hiring a designer and hiring the right one with training and experience. Above all, be a girl scout and follow the scout motto – be prepared! Also always include a little cushion in your budget whether you are working with or without a professional designer.

    Learn about the Many Myths of Decorating  and how to avoid them - Toris Design Box

    Image credits – pic of accessories courtesy | image of designer living room courtesy | image of blue bedroom courtesy | image of modern living room with vintage piano courtesy | pic of white kitchen courtesy |

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    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    6 best dressed desks while WFH

    Industrial Tanker Desk

    The first choice on my list of 6 best-dressed desks while WFH – is also the desk in my own home office. It is a red circa 1950 Tanker Desk in fire engine red. One that I have sat at every day while working from home. It is big on fun and makes work a breeze. It keeps me cheerful on days when my to-do list seems never-ending – which is almost every day of the week 🙂  What’s more, it even has a spacious file drawer so one can happily avoid the additional clutter of a rolling file cabinet in the office and still stay organized.

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Traditional Vanity Dresser Desk

    When we lived in Santa Monica, in my daughter’s bedroom lived a white farmhouse chic Vanity Dresser that I bought for her when she was a little girl. She and I had a lot of fun re-finishing it in silver, as a fun craft project.  The three drawers provided ample room to keep pens pencils notepads and all other work paraphernalia out of sight yet still close at hand. With a large 3-part folding mirror a luxury vanity or dresser can do double duty as a fashionable lady’s dressing table as well as a very fancy desk. Move over Ms Miniver, design trends are changing.

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Chinoiserie Secretary Hutch

    I am still looking for a Chinoiserie Hutch desk in black lacquer finish that does not look dated. One that I can fall in love with every day. Haven’t found it yet. Nevertheless, the hunt goes on. The kind that has a bunch of cubbies and cabinets for ample storage for everyday items along with deep drawers to store floor plans and design boards

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Modern Corner Desk

    One has also been on the lookout for a Corner Desk that is not too overpowering and not too droll-looking. A modern non-generic incarnation of the ubiquitous modular desk system. The slightly more sophisticated version of the everyman desk that dots the office landscape here and around the globe.  

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Antique Gate Leg Table

    In my erstwhile Corona del Mar studio, my Design Assistant and I would sit around an antique Gate Leg conference table from England while brainstorming ideas for design concepts on client projects. I have also designed a home office for a client with Tulip Chairs around an antique William & Mary Gate-Leg Table for a bit of fun contrast. This is a version of a library table or a conference table for the eclectic home office of a design-conscious individual with varied tastes. 

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Art Deco Lucite Waterfall Desk  

    Last but not least on my list of 6 best-dressed desks while WFH in 2021 is a clear acrylic Waterfall Console Table slash Desk. It can easily blend into a range of room styles from Mid-Mod to Art Deco. It gives the room not only an airy lightness but also makes it look sleek and spacious – a posh home office.

    6 Best Dressed Desks While WFH

    Picture credits – Image of grey Tanker desk courtesy Etsy | Mint green Vanity desk – courtesy Frontgate | Image of Secretary Hutch courtesy Town and Country | Modern Corner Desk courtesy  Trenduhome | Gate Leg Table image courtesy Flickr | Lucite desk image courtesy Clearhomedesign

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    A Foyer With Flair

    Should we be invested in creating a foyer with flair, when decorating? The one-word answer to that question is – absolutely! Well, let’s explore why and how to create a foyer marrying visual appeal with high functionality.  

    The foyer has an important place in the hierarchy of rooms in a house – function-wise as well as design-wise. Oftentimes the smallest room however, this gives us a good excuse to use superior materials that are a bit more expensive, without breaking the budget. More importantly, it is a preview of what a guest first sees, and what kind of statement it makes about the kind of house and its owner. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Grand staircase hallway

    Is the foyer a room? 

    A well designed foyer creates a warm and welcoming first impression for a visitor to your home. What’s more, it is also the first room you enter when you come home after a hard day’s work. It should put a smile on your face. 

    Function with finesse

    A Foyer With Flair - Hallway with black walls - Tori Black Homes

    A foyer also performs an important function. However, if the entryway looks like a place to dump keys, backpacks, shoes, and the dog leash – in other words, if it is an eyesore, you have your work cut out. Upon entry, if it’s a reminder of all the things you need to get to before bedtime, it will make you anxious and irritated instead of welcomed. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Functional hallway

    A home without a proper entryway is like a Christmas tree with no ornaments, and that’s just bad luck. That’s the why. Now for the how – how to dress up that room right behind the front door to your home. Foyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some homes come without a foyer per se. 

    A non-foyer and how to fix it. 

    Some houses have the living room start right at the front door with no foyer. The solution is to create one. First Trace the pattern of traffic in and out of the room, on paper. The rule of thumb is to have 3 ft of clearance around doors. Make sure there is a straight path leading to the front door as well as to the next room. Then plot out a furniture layout to scale to ensure everything you intend to buy will fit, allowing for traffic pathways and enough clearance. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Hallway - Tori Black Homes

    What goes here

    What kind of furniture should you buy for a front hallway? A foyer is not just about aesthetics. An important function of this space is to provide a place to pull on boots or shoes ready to step outside, put on a coat and grab the keys. A hall console table and a cabinet as storage for shoes are two major furniture items in an entryway. 

    Just add drama

    How do you deal with a blah entryway that while not lacking in space does lack in character – the large foyer with no focus? When you have too much space and nothing interesting going on, you create a wow factor. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Hallway with marble flooring

    Look down.

    Start from the bottom and work your way up. If you see builders grade generic orange oak underfoot – it’s time to make a change. Think new flooring – in a material that’s resilient yet chic. If the budget allows – here us where you splurge. Coming home will mean something and make you happy. 

    Go for a handcrafted hardwood parquet floor. Or marble tiles in a herringbone pattern or a slate tiled floor. Then add layers – such as an antique Persian or a bold zebra print rug.

    Mirror the mood

    A foyer needs real furniture and furnishings that echo the style and mood of your home. If you are decorating a mountain cabin, add a soft plush rug and hall table finished in a warm wood tone to add warmth and coziness. If it’s a beach cottage bringing in a textured sisal rug and painted furniture will do the trick. Add a pair of wall sconces instead of table lamps and an oversized artwork instead of the usual wall mirror for added effect. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Hallway with artwork instead of mirror

    Look upwards

    If you are lucky enough to have a sweeping circular staircase use it to advantage. Buy a round hall table to mirror the curved staircase. Place a tall vase on the table and fill it with long-stemmed flowers or dried branches thus drawing the eye upwards. Tuck in an armchair in the curve of the stairs. Make up a cozy nook to sit down and take off your high heels after a long day at work as well as a waiting area before heading out the door. 

    Cut a long story short 

    Some homes have a long and narrow hallway running the length of the house. This is a good problem to have. A long foyer can be a great blank canvas for creating a transition to the rest of the house. First divide the foyer into two parts. Make the first part a transition from the outdoor. The second part is a transition to the rest of the house. 

    Decorating a Foyer with flair

    Look around

    Pull in what is in the adjoining spaces to create harmony. If the front hallway also has a set of stairs going up, spring for a fancy storage unit such as a tansu chaser against the wall opposite the stairs to draw the eye across the room and stretch the space visually. 

    Look inward 

    Some houses have a small foyer that does not have a window. An obvious solution for a tiny window-less foyer is – wall sconces. Let there be light! 

    A Foyer With Flair - Hallway with sconces

    A small front hall can also benefit from wallpaper. There are many options to choose from for example a geometric print or a mural. a subtle pattern or a bold oversized print. 

    A carefully chosen wallpaper can turn a cramped room into a jewel box of an entryway without spending a lot of time or resources. It can upgrade your style setting the tone for the rest of your house. 

    A Foyer With Flair - Modern Hallway with wallpaper

    Image credits – Entryway with pink carpeted stairs | Functional Foyer | Hallway with Marble floors – pics courtesy Verandah. Hallway with yellow walls | Entryway with black wall and painted furniture – pics courtesy Tori Black Homes. Foyer with Artwork | Long Narrow Hallway | Entryway with wall sconces | Bold Wallpaper Front Hall – pics courtesy House Beautiful.

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    How to Create a Design Budget

    Here is a step-by-step guide on how to create a design budget – whether you’re hiring a designer or DIY.

    What’s in a budget?

    Designing around a budget (regardless of its size and scope), is a fine art. At times we feel the impulse to splurge in what caught our eye in the designer furniture showroom. Then there are times when sticking to a bottom line comes with the cost of being dissatisfied because the finished project doesn’t quite look like the inspiration photos.

    In between these two extremes is a happy medium. It involves a bit of both of the two above scenarios. In reality, it is possible to shop with your heart and your brain. A designer may help because there isn’t an emotional attachment to your home or to the individual items they purchase on your behalf. They will also build in some flexibility spending-wise just in case you come across that “must-have” piece.

    While figuring out how to create a design budget start by asking yourself how are you going to use the purchased item. Is it a functional piece? Or is it an antique or an artwork? If it’s one of the latter two, is it something that fits style-wise as well as color and size into your master plan? Or is it that you just love the piece for itself and don’t quite know whether it might fit in the house? If it’s the latter, think again.

    FYI artwork is tricky. Anything that’s under $200,000 is not technically an “investment ” in the art world. However, there are art investment funds that you can get into with a minimum of $2000. Aside from that, just because you like the piece may not be a sound enough reason to bring it home. Not if you’re unsure whether it will work with the style, colors, and mood of your home. Art is subjective. Nevertheless, it’s worth getting the input of a trained interior designer about which pieces might work or otherwise.

    To splurge or not to splurge?

    When it comes to allocating your design dollars where should you let loose and where should you tighten? A rule of thumb is – movable vs permanent items. For example, it is a good idea to splurge on a really gorgeous flooring in your foyer. It’s a small space so you can keep the cost of materials and labor down. Create a customized pattern with dark wood and inlaid marble tile. Or lay light wood flooring in a Herringbone or Chevron pattern. Since it’s a small area you won’t break the bank when it comes to installation and it will make for a luxe entrance thus adding value to the home.

    Kitchens and bathrooms are also spaces you might want to put in the extras. Start with the flooring and work your way up to cabinets, countertops and backsplash. Use the same flooring materials that are in your foyer – for your kitchen and bathroom – it helps maintain continuity throughout the home and makes the space look well finished and opulent.

    Whether a trendsetter or a follower be?

    When decorating – with the help of a designer or without – the question is whether to follow what is trending or set a new trend of your own by following your gut. You could be just re-decorating with furniture and accessories. Or you could be planning a remodel by stripping down to the studs. The thing to remember is that trends are useful only as a guide. Also, all trends are not created equal.

    how to create an interior design budget

    Your designer should be helpful in advising which trends are worth the ROI (return on investment) and which ones are not. A good designer may – and should – open your eyes to fresh ideas, new styles, unusual patterns, interesting textures, colors, and materials that different and unique however at the end of the day, all of those must be distilled into creating a home that reflects a style that is you. Your travels, your personality, and your culture – your peeps – just in a new way that layers all of the above harmoniously.

    How to create an Interior design budget

    Now that you understand some of the basics of how to create a design budget you can get the help of a designer to help you to pull your style together, but be sure to hire someone you understands and believes that your space should reflect you – through a celebration of things, people, and moments that are valuable and meaningful – but a more put together, efficient, distinctive you!

    How to create an interior design budget

    Image credits – Artwork photo credit Neiman Marcus – Monopoly artwork image credit Etsy – White and Gold Modern Kitchen with Obsidian Phillip Jeffries Wallpaper – pic courtesy Verandah – Trends – Multi-functional space photo courtesy Lonny – Image of designer-created home courtesy Harper’s Bazaar

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    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades

    Of the 6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades, by far the most popular one is to……

    #1 – Paint The Cabinets

    If you’re looking to refresh your boring kitchen without the commitment of a major remodel or you’re living in a rental or recently bought a house with dated 90s cabinets, don’t rush out to replace them. Painting your cabinets will add instant drama and designer style to your kitchen. Be careful and when picking a color. Brightly colored kitchen cabinets look great in a magazine but when it comes to living every day with a particular shade – it is better to err on the side of caution. Just be sure the color is exactly what you want. Make sure the tone works with your existing flooring – because unless you plan to do some remodeling in the near future – choose something that will work with what you got – rather than try to match it what you might get in future. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.

    No matter what your style and design affiliation, when thinking about sprucing up your kitchen, refinishing your traditional OR modern cabinets with a touch of paint never fails to hit the mark – in one easy step. Well, technically 5 easy steps. Nevertheless, these steps are easy to remember as the 5 Ps.

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades
    First Step – Plan 

    First, empty the cabinets. You’ll be sanding later, which might get dusty. Then, remove all drawer pulls and cabinet hardware. Remove the doors, drawers if possible. Use the labels to make sure the doors and drawers go back in the right spots. Next, clean the wood surfaces. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is the best cleaner for the job, and you can pick up a bottle at most hardware and paint stores. Soak a sponge in the TSP solution and start wiping down your cabinets. Also, focus on corners and any other areas where grease can build up.

    Second Step – Plug

    Fill up any holes or cracks with wood putty. Use a putty knife to press it in and smooth it out. Follow directions and let it dry. If you’re replacing your hardware, you might need to use wood filler for holes that don’t line up with the new hardware. Needless to say, If you’re using the same hardware, do not fill the hardware holes. 

    Third Step – Prep 

    Sand them down with a fine grit sandpaper or use a rotary sander for plane surfaces. This is especially important if you are painting cabinets that have a natural wood finish. The sanding must be done thoroughly and evenly. Clean all surfaces with a hand held vacuum and a tack cloth. Everything should be dust-free before painting. 

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades
    Fourth Step – Prime 

    This ensures that the paint will adhere to the surface without looking lumpy or irregular. Placing painter’s tape on the wall along the cabinet edges is helpful. 

    Fifth Step – Paint 

    Use a roller for flat surfaces. Alternately, use a brush to get into corners and detailed areas. Paint with light strokes. Try not to pile on the paint or make it gloppy. You may use an angled brush for angled corners.

    As a designer when I’m working on a client’s kitchen, I  like to suggest doing a chalk paint base coat. Thereafter, apply an enamel as a topcoat. You can just as well do a one-step paint job and have perfectly good results. There’s no one way to do it. As I always tell my DIY friends, do your research if need be, but don’t get bogged down by niggling details. Plan, paint then be ready to stand back and be amazed. 

    Extra step (optional) – 

    Apply a clear top coat if you want. Finally, reassemble the cabinets and hardware. 

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades
    Types of paint – 

    Most paint comes as oil-based paint or water-based latex paint. Cheaper paint will require more coats, but it is less durable and will show brush strokes more readily. 

    Types of finishes –

    The glossier the finish the easier it is to clean. However glossy paint shows up imperfections in the wood very easily. Satin -​ Provides a low level of shine while retaining some ability to hide flaws and is washable.  Semi-gloss: – With a higher sheen, this finish is ideal for kitchen cabinets as well as for millwork, trim, and doors. Eggshell – This paint finish is durable — which explains its popularity among professionals — besides it has a low sheen. It is this designer’s go-to finish for walls but not kitchen cabinets. Flat -​ Flat paint is forgiving and hides flaws due to its low sheen, but it does not stand up to finger marks and spots. Also, cannot take scrubbing and hence not suitable for cabinets. 

    Painting cabinets will take a few days to complete, so plan accordingly.

    Things you’ll need – 

    All of these are readily available from a local hardware or paint store.

    • Trisodium phosphate (TSP) or any other Grease cleaner
    • Wood filler
    • Fine grit sandpaper
    • Sanding block or rotary sander
    • Steel wool
    • Vacuum
    • Tack cloth
    • Painter’s tape 
    • Paint – the two most popular paint brands are Sherwin Williams and Behr. My favorite happens to Benjamin Moore because of their subtle color tones as well as ease of use.
    • Paint tray
    • 2″ brush
    • Mini foam roller
    • Primer sealer
    • Brown builder’s paper
    • 2″ – 3″ angled brush
    • 3′ – 4″ square brush
    #2 – Add a Glamour Rug

    The next super easy kitchen upgrade is to add a rug or runner. The general consensus is that the ideal material for a rug in the kitchen is a flat-weave as they are easier to clean than rugs with a higher pile. 

    Having said that, the single most overlooked way to upgrade a kitchen is to add a vintage or designer rug underfoot and marvel at the results. It is a quick and easy fix that never fails to impress.

    #3 – Switch Out The Hardware

    Of the 6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades, replacing your tired old kitchen cabinet hardware is the quickest and least expensive ways to immediately upgrade your kitchen’s face value.

    Remove door handles and drawer pulls, replacing with fresh new ones, if this is the only thing you do to upgrade.

    #4 – Lower The Lighting

    To counteract the builder grade can lights up in the ceiling, add some designer touches. A ‘designer’ kitchen needs a unique chandelier or ceiling pendant. When it comes to chandeliers, there is no rule that says these beautiful – ornate or simple – fixtures need to be restricted to grand parlors or sweeping entryways. 

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades

    Depending on the style of your home – bling out your kitchen either by adding a chandelier with a rich dark metal finish, or one with sparkling crystals, or add modern drama with three identical ceiling pendants above the breakfast bar. Then, add shades that cast interesting patterns on the ceiling or walls such as, Moroccan style pierced metal shades complemented with updated modern eclectic style accessories and signature artwork, or textured woven bamboo shades coupled with classic beach chic décor.

    #5 – Create a Feature Wall with Wallpaper

    Another super easy kitchen upgrade – as a designer one often suggests creating a vertical feature wall to dress up a  kitchen. For example, it could be a marble or limestone or slate backsplash. Or one created with tiles set in a herringbone pattern or black and white ceramic tiles behind the cooktop or above the kitchen sink. Needless to say, a marble backsplash is a big commitment. However, there is another option that nevertheless looks just as great and is super quick and easy.

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades

    The quick and easy equivalent to this designer feature wall would be to install a wallpaper with a unique but subtle pattern on one wall to make it stand out, adding instant style and character to your kitchen. This is one more small and simple trick in my list of 6 super easy kitchen upgrades that always has a huge impact

    #6 – Add Butcher Block Countertops

    Butcher block countertops are an affordable choice that has character, adds warmth to your kitchen, making it look curated and chic. They can be the heart of a Classic kitchen a la Laura Ashley or add interesting texture to a Modern European kitchen a la Habitat. However, butcher block countertops do have their fair share of pros ad cons. 

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades

    Pros – If you show these countertops some love, your butcher block countertops will in return, reward you by aging gracefully. Keep them clean and scrubbed. Oil them regularly. All it takes is one to two coats of food-safe mineral oil or walnut oil applied with a soft cloth. Every 10 years, or as needed, sand it down first using a 80- to 100-grit, then with 220-grit sandpaper as the surface smoothens. Then, re-oil the sanded surface and it will look like new.

    Cons – If you do not keep up proper upkeep, these countertops can dull and crack and end up looking just cheap. Moreover, wood can gather germs, grow mold, stain, or even warp in shape when exposed to moisture. You will need to seal your butcher block countertops immediately following installation and on a monthly basis afterward.

    6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades

    Hope you enjoy my list of 6 Super Easy Kitchen Upgrades. Happy decorating and please send your comments and feedback as I enjoy receiving them.  

    Photo Credits

    Tangerine Orange cabinets – courtesy HGTV. Modern White Kitchen with Black Painted Cabinets – photo courtesy of Elledecor. Photo of Modern Industrial Farmhouse style Kitchen with White and Avocado green Cabinets and Multi Colored Metal Counter Stools – photo courtesy of Goodhousekeeping. Canary Yellow Colored Kitchen Cabinets – photo courtesy of homedesigning. Grey Persian style rug courtesy in front of cooker courtesy Ruggable. Blue kitchen cabinets with hardware courtesy Forbes. Pic of Grey Kitchen with Crystal Chandeliers – courtesy of decorpad. White and Gold Modern Kitchen with Obsidian Phillip Jeffries Wallpaper – pic courtesy Verandah. Butcher block countertop – photo courtesy Bobvila

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