What’s In Your Toolbox: Elena Megalos

What’s In Your Toolbox: Elena Megalos

What's In Your Toolbox: Elena Megalos, on Design*Sponge

Though multifaceted creator Elena Megalos may not speak as many languages as she’d prefer, she does possess an extraordinary “ability to connect with worlds beyond” her own. The Brooklyn-based writer, artist, and animator holds an MFA in fiction writing and teaches fourth grade full-time. Though she has never formally studied visual art or animation, Elena is currently at work on her first picture book for children in addition to the breathtakingly detailed animated shorts that take a year apiece to produce.

“When prepping an animation, I rely heavily on folders and envelopes, since hundreds of tiny paper cut-outs go into a finished film,” she says. Portability is key. She makes progress on her work in the shreds of time between other activities, or even in transit to them. Elena views her various creative efforts as working in conjunction toward the same point of self-expression. “They’re all forms of a bigger storytelling pursuit,” she explains. The visual work has informed her literary process, and vice versa. “When the missing ingredient presented itself unexpectedly, I’d think: this piece has felt inevitable for a while, but couldn’t have happened until now.” —Annie

Photography by Elena Megalos

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Eclecticism on Display at Asrai Garden in Chicago

The interior of Asrai Garden in Chicago, Illinois.

Eclecticism on Display at Asrai Garden in Chicago

Opened in 1999 by Elizabeth Cronin, Asrai Garden is more than a flower shop. “Because I don’t think of this as just a flower shop,” Elizabeth explains, “this shop is literally where I put all the things that I love.” Named after an aquatic faerie found in English folklore, Asrai Garden sells fresh flowers and succulent plants, as well as locally designed jewelry, small batch scented candles, and artisanal chocolate.

The interior design is a direct reflection of Elizabeth’s personal taste. “I grew up in an 1860s home with landmark status (in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago), the only Gothic Revival style house left in the state of Illinois.” Her parents bought her childhood home from a gay couple, one of whom was a florist, who had been together since the 1930s. “They had put so much love into the house.” The couple had traveled the world collecting design elements from far-flung places: the front yard had a street lamp from Copenhagen, the backyard had cemetery gates from New Orleans, and the front doors were reclaimed from an opera house in Paris. It was not extravagant, though, it was just a little farmhouse on the north side of Chicago “that just happened to have a magical character.” It’s no surprise that the design of Asrai Garden communicates this appreciation of eclecticism and a passion for the unexpected.

But there’s more on display in this space than a collection of attractive oddities. It’s immediately apparent that Elizabeth puts her emotional intuition into her décor, creating a delicate balance of the contemplative and the whimsical. There’s genuine emotion here. She doesn’t think that a space can effectively convey a feeling unless the person designing it has actually experienced that feeling. “The most authentic space,” she says, “has your feeling in it.” —Aria

Photography by Erik M. Kommer

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A Personalized, Colorful Family Condo Near Central Park

Their main furniture items, such as the grey couch from West Elm, were purposely kept neutral. Pops of color are introduced through accessories, plants and smaller furniture pieces. The plush rug is from Rugs USA and the macrame plant holder is from Tallulah.

A Personalized, Colorful Family Condo Near Central Park

Deciding where to plant roots can be tough, and for blogger, Kid & Coe community manager and marketing strategist Nicole Gonzalez and her fiancé, Ivan, this choice was made even harder due to the fact that they had their young son, Lucas León, to consider. Both NYC natives, the couple knew all too well the overwhelming possibilities that exist in the city. Initially, when they were tossing around neighborhood names, Ivan — who was raised on the Upper West Side — wasn’t fond of the idea of the Upper East, but it didn’t take long for him to realize the potential that Nicole recognized all along. “What I loved was the proximity to everything,” Nicole shares, “and how family-friendly it was.” Two years and another baby later (a little peach named Lillie Sol), and any hesitation Ivan once had has completely gone out the window.

The family’s light and airy Upper East Side condo is filled with plenty of personal touches, but still imparts an uncluttered and minimal aesthetic in all the right ways. Although their space is only 700 square feet, and even with a big teddy bear of a dog, Humphrey Bogart, having Central Park, their favorite restaurants, and endless options for family outings at their doorstep makes up for the crammed quarters — although baskets can’t be discounted! “I have clutter-phobia,” Nicole declares, “and my best friend[s] are baskets!” Joking aside, when asked what she loves most about their home, Nicole admits “our view gets me every time.” With an unobstructed view of the East River, Nicole relishes in the moment of calm that strikes only in the early morning or late in the evening “when the house is quiet and I have a moment to myself to sit and unwind.”

For Nicole, a house becomes a home when it’s filled with family photographs and artifacts — both new and old. “It brings history and love into the house,” she says, “My most prized possessions are the pieces of furniture and art that have been passed down to us by family members. They are reminders of how blessed and loved we are.” Although their space has been lived in and loved, the next project on the family’s agenda in the new year is tackling their kitchen. “It’s pretty bare bones at the moment,” Nicole explains, “functional but not loved.” On the short-list is a fresh coat of paint, installing shelving to finally display wedding china that was passed down to Nicole and Ivan by her aunt, and a chalkboard wall for the kids. At the end of the day, no matter how many activities they have planned or how many items on the to-do list, Nicole remains house-proud “of our tiny nooks, filled with family gems and pieces that mean so very much to us… I am most thankful for the people in my home,” Nicole reflects. “My family, my loves; they are what bring life, laughter, and joy inside those walls and for that I will be forever grateful.” –Sabrina

Photography by DIA New York

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Studio Tour: MONDAYS

Studio Tour: MONDAYS, on Design*Sponge

Studio Tour: MONDAYS

After graduating from Monday night ceramics classes together, working in a communal studio, and now finally in their own space, Jennifer Fiore and Nina Lalli of MONDAYS have been making hand-built ceramics in their Clinton Hill, Brooklyn workroom for a year and a half. Signing the lease on their own 450-square-foot space was a huge step, and meant buying and installing a kiln and slab roller — both daunting and exciting investments. Now working together for a total of four years, having a place with its own sink in a renovated 1935 industrial building (with original character intact) has ramped up the operation’s production and creativity. For functional furnishings, Jennifer and Nina salvaged industrial metal shelving to hold most of their in-process and finished work. They also bought used stainless steel restaurant pieces as their work tables, and repurposed an old baker’s rack as well. A friend built a wedging table custom-made for the pair’s short statures. As part of a “cleaner” area up front for eating together and hosting visitors, neighbors Tony and Emily Mullin designed and installed a cabinet with grooved display shelves that prop up multiple plates to display sets. “When a fancy magazine editor or store owner visits the studio,” Nina and Jennifer explain, “we don’t want them to leave covered in clay dust.”

The large window in the room faces east, so save for some great light in the mornings and a lucky few minutes in the afternoons, the exterior view features a Talmudic school full of adolescent Hasidic boys in classes across the street. But inside, brick walls and a wooden ceiling are coveted details. The addition of brown clay everywhere can sometimes feel dreary in moments of low natural light, and because Jennifer and Nina are both admittedly messy, their goal was to use the space as efficiently as possible to contain their things — and fight the tendency to establish any more dark corners or form piles on the floor. They have to be able to mop thoroughly to keep from inhaling dust all the time.

Taking advantage of the vertical space, Nina and Jennifer put up shelves everywhere, but still often have to throw some plywood across a couple of buckets to hold more work. They are about to receive a second kiln to help keep up with demand, and are grateful to each customer who has helped to grow their business. A place outside the home in which to think, make a mess, and experiment with new ideas is an incredible luxury in an expensive city. Jennifer and Nina are thankful to have that, “And enough orders to pay the rent!” —Annie

Photography by MONDAYS, Annika Jonssen, and Doug Young

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Studio Tour: Munster Rose

Studio Tour: Munster Rose | Design*Sponge

Studio Tour: Munster Rose

A multidisciplinary company mastering floral design, event design and styling, Munster Rose started as a side business out of Jackie Reisenauer’s home in Minneapolis, MN. Jackie and her mother, Barb, quickly outgrew Jackie’s home and also needed help with the high demand of their services. So nine months ago, Munster Rose moved into this St. Paul, MN studio and added designers Jessica Sequeira and Kelsey Knight to the mix. The ladies at Munster Rose had high standards for their workspace, and this studio has proven to meet all of their needs.

Jackie and Barb’s young company needed a studio with ample work space, a private area to meet with clients away from the mess of floral arranging, a place to store props, and a place to keep flowers chilled. They have had to make some adjustments to the studio to allow it to function well for them, but it is becoming everything they could ever want. “We’re design-minded people in a design-minded industry. We wanted to create a space we, and our clients, found inspiring. [Our goal was] a studio that felt like a home to great ideas,” Jackie says. “We slowly decked the space out with pieces we really, truly love. Whether that’s custom artwork or what have you. In retrospect, it made more sense to do it this way – accumulate pieces over time as we began to understand how we move and flow within the space.” The result is a studio that isn’t just functional, but also an inspiring place to both work and design.

The giant windows, open floor plan and high ceilings are the architectural elements that make this studio a showstopper. The pieces that the Munster Rose team has added have brought even more personality into the space. They have everything they need with a walk-in floral cooler, work space, consulting space and even a nursery so Jackie’s son, River, can be near while his mom works. All in all, the minimal yet lush design fits their brand well — a combination sure to garner and accommodate more floral-loving clients. –Lauren

Photography by Wing Ta

 

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Fine Art Focus: Maiko Takeda

Fine Art Focus: Maiko Takeda

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Conceptual fashion or accessory design isn’t something I often research, mainly because my passions seem to fall in the home textile or decor realm. But every now and then, I come across something spectacular and get excited to dive back into the world of fashion and accessories. Artist/designer Maiko Takeda is my most recent excuse for researching fashion, and I’ve fallen head over heels for her truly stunning collection of clothing, accessories and “body adornments.”

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I first discovered Maiko Takeda’s incredible headdresses when I saw a photo of the Icelandic music queen herself, Björk. Björk makes a point of working with visionary and up-and-coming artists and designers, so when I see her wearing or supporting an artist, I generally trust she’s found something great. After researching more deeply into Maiko’s work, I was thrilled to discover that her inspiration for her latest collection, Atmospheric Reentry, came from a Philip Glass opera, Einstein on the Beach. The way she can transform materials like clear film, cashmere and perspex into otherworldy fashion objects takes my breath away. I can only imagine that putting on one of her pieces feels like stepping into the future — or onto the set of a tragically glamorous science fiction film. Read on to learn more about her work, her process, and where to see more of Maiko’s amazing pieces. xo, grace

Artist: Maiko Takeda
About: Maiko was born in Tokyo, Japan. She received a MA in millinery at the Royal College of Art in London and a BA in Jewelry Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Maiko has worked with artists and designers like Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy and is currently working for Issey Miyake on a line of accessories.
Work: Maiko creates what she calls “ethereal adornments to the body,” inspired by natural elements like wind and gravity. She works with a mix of natural and manmade materials to design futuristic head pieces and fashion that often glow in the dark.
More: You can read more about Maiko and her work here, here, here and here.

All artwork (c) Maiko Takeda, images from Maiko Takeda.com by Bryan Huynh. Portait by Dan Wilton for Ignant.

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DIY Decoupaged Floral Ornaments

DIY Decoupaged Floral Ornaments

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With Christmas only days away, there’s a good chance your place is decorated and ready to go. Right? Well… maybe. If you’re still looking for the perfect set of ornaments, try making these vintage-inspired floral baubles. The best part is that these pretties can be made in an afternoon. Plus, it’s an excellent way to spice up your traditional set of sphere ornaments. Keep reading to learn how to make them! —Kirsten

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About Kirsten: Kirsten Nunez is a lifestyle writer and craft book author focusing on DIY, food, health, and creativity. Since 2010, she has been sharing DIY projects at WildAmor.com (formerly Studs & Pearls). In May 2014, Kirsten published her first book, Studs & Pearls: 30 Creative Projects for Customized Fashion; you can find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and select independent bookstores. She spends most of her time writing, crafting, traveling, and dreaming up new recipe ideas. Kirsten is a born-and-raised New Yorker currently living in the Bay Area of California.

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Best of the Web + Beautiful Chinatown

Best of the Web + Beautiful Chinatown

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Age, experience and beauty are things I think about a lot these days — and the amount of the first two affects the way we see beauty and the world. I’ve become increasingly interested in appreciating and understanding the way those with more life experience see the world. That interest led me to one of my new favorite Instagram feeds, Chinatown Pretty. I first discovered this feed through Gregory Han and have been following it happily ever since. Run by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, Chinatown Pretty celebrates the incredibly stylish residents of San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood. I once read that as we get older, we dress more for ourselves and less for others, and this feed truly relishes in that sort of style. If you need a little visual inspiration this weekend, check out their feed for uplifting images, stories, color and pattern. xo, grace

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In the Kitchen With: Sarah Coates’ Arctic Roll

In the Kitchen With: Sarah Coates’ Arctic Roll

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For our last recipe this month, I chose something that is a bit more complicated than Michele Iadarola’s Cherry Crostata and Tara O’Brady’s Sticky Double Ginger Cranberry Cake, but not too difficult that you won’t want to try it. Sarah Coates, the author and creative mind behind the Brisbane-based blog, The Sugar Hit!, has combined chocolate cake and peppermint ice cream into a roll which she calls an Arctic Roll, and has topped it with hot fudge. I think this is a super decadent way to celebrate Christmas or bring in the New Year. If you’re looking for savory food to precede the Artic Roll, you can see Sarah’s Sweet Potato Chips with Rosemary Salt, or her Frenchie Burger. A perfect meal! —Kristina

Why Sarah loves this cake: In Australia, it’s the middle of summer come Christmas, yet we have strong ties to old world British roots. The one flavor that seems yet to have broken through into the Australian holiday psyche, however, is peppermint. We have peppermint candy canes, and maybe the odd obsessive person who hunts down a peppermint latte, but the rest of Oz is still pretending to enjoy mince pies, or eating nothing but tropical fruit throughout December. It’s time that this refreshing, delicious, and totally appropriate flavor made its way onto our holiday tables. This Peppermint Arctic Roll — a chocolate sponge, rolled around peppermint ice cream, and topped with hot fudge sauce and crushed candy canes — is my attempt to win over a nation!

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Life & Business: Ashkahn Shahparnia

Life & Business: Ashkahn Shahparnia

Life & Business: Ashkahn Shahparnia, on Design*Sponge
Some people seem to come equipped with an intravenous tap to creativity, and Ashkahn Shahparnia, the “BOSS” at ASHKAHN Studio + Co., is one of these lucky few. He spends every day making “the coolest” things he can dream of, because the generative art director, illustrator, and graphic designer would not know what to do with himself otherwise. “There was no other option than to create my own world within the world I live in.” But harnessing his boundless energy into a successful business, however, at first appeared less certain.

Wanting to help clients execute projects about which he felt passionately, Ashkahn began his career by establishing a reputation for having good ideas, and then rode the waves of variable work cycles. “Not knowing how you are going to put food on the table turns you into a beautiful monster that enables you to achieve your wildest dreams with hard work and determination.” Eleven years later (and now with a lofty Downtown LA studio space for a staff and fluorescent letterpress stationery collection), Ashkahn has mastered both commerce and creativity. “Learning how to balance business and art is the most important thing ever,” he says. “Period.” —Annie

Photography courtesy of Ashkahn Shahparnia

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Fine Art Focus: Tamara Gonzales

Fine Art Focus: Tamara Gonzales

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Layering is an art I’ve never quite mastered. Not in cooking, clothing or artwork. I understand a simple shape and uniform and cling to it for some sense of safety and understanding. But the people who can master the layering of patterns, colors and textures? Those are my artistic heroes. Brooklyn-based artist Tamara Gonzales is one of those incredible artists who has a way with layering beautiful textures, patterns, fabrics and colors.

Spray paint and lace are two of Tamara’s chosen materials to work with, and in her hands they are transformed into stunning, large-scale artworks that call to mind Baroque art and decoration. Tamara says that in her work, “popular culture marries mythology,” and that mix of modern and ancient feels most clear in the way she combines highly ornate textures with bold shapes and forms. Read on to learn more about her work and where to find more. xo, grace

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Artist: Tamara Gonzales
About: Tamara was born in California and has lived and worked in Brooklyn since 1994. She graduated with a BA in Liberal Arts from Vermont College ADP in 2005 and received an AAS in Fine Arts from the Parsons School of Design in 1990.
Work: Tamara creates large-scale abstract paintings that combine pattern and bold, collage-like forms. She frequently works with lace and spray paint to create a combination of colors, textures and patterns. Her work has been shown across the world in galleries.
More: You can read more about Tamara and her work here, here, here and here.

All images (c) Tamara Gonzales, via Tamara Gonzales.com

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Printable Freebie: Holiday Wrapping Paper

Printable Freebie: Holiday Wrapping Paper

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It’s been an extra cheery week here at Design*Sponge, thanks to talented graphic designer Penelope Dullaghan. The exclusive watercolor and linocut printables she’s created for us have each been endlessly charming. It’s a little bittersweet, but today we’ve got the fifth and final piece in the set for you — two styles of wintery wrapping paper. Simply print them out at your desired size, and your packages will instantly go from cookie-cutter to customized. And for free, no less! Click here to download this pretty pair of gift wraps, and if you missed any of this week’s other printables, the entire set can be seen here. Thanks again, Penelope, and happy holidays everybody! —Garrett

Photography by Penelope Dullaghan

Before & After: A Labor of Love for a Designer and Contractor

Before & After: A Raenovate Labor of Love, on Design*Sponge

Before & After: A Labor of Love for a Designer and Contractor

When thinking about purchasing first homes, excited buyers envision not only the changes they want to make, but also the times that will be spent there. Five years ago, Rachel and Tyler Grace weren’t just dreaming about sophisticated crown moldings upon finding their single-story 1920 Craftsman bungalow in Haddon Heights, NJ; they were also planning for the future arrival of now-two-year-old daughter, Selby Lake. Rachel, an interior designer and manager of furniture and lighting product development for Anthropologie, chose to put special emphasis on her home’s architectural details while keeping the place family-friendly. Tyler, an interior remodeling contractor, is the principal and head carpenter of TRG Home Concepts. Through various collaborations on professional projects as well as their own residence, Rachel has learned about the technical side of renovating, while Tyler counts on Rachel’s aesthetic design eye.

The homeowners completed one room at time. In total, it took them five whole years to redo the house to their specifications, as Rachel found herself booking Tyler’s time as would any of his customers. Beginning with the bathroom and finishing in the kitchen, Rachel and Tyler introduced at least one type of molding in each area. For overnight guests, walls paneled in white-painted wainscoting await. Selby’s room received an intricately-coffered ceiling. The living room fireplace is surrounded by built-in bookcases, and shiplap in the kitchen lends traditional texture. The bedroom closets were not even deep enough to accommodate standard hangers, so Tyler also rebuilt and expanded them to accommodate clothing (and Rachel’s few too many pairs of shoes). She’s thankful to have such a talented partner “who jokes that renovating has been a labor of love,” Rachel shares. “A labor for him and love for me.”

The home’s 1,100 square feet won’t hold the brood forever; with two adults, one small child, and eight-year-old chocolate Lab Shammy, Rachel anticipates wanting more space in the not-too-distant future. “We’re going to outgrow it and it’s going to break my heart,” she admits. “We started our family in our house and have literally put our blood, sweat, and tears into it.” —Annie

Photography by Courtney Apple

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Comfort Zone: Kelsey Harp

Comfort Zone: Kelsey Harp

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Growing up in Houston, TX, Kelsey Harp‘s family moved nine times. Each home underwent a renovation, and all of them were located within 10 minutes of each other — but no matter the locale, each house always maintained an open-door policy. Friends and family always felt welcome, and this sentiment has stuck with Kelsey ever since. To her, being the epicenter of laughs and good times is synonymous with home, and as an adult, this penchant for sharing and community has translated into a career as a content creator and consultant with a focus on culinary and lifestyle brands.

This newly-renovated kitchen within her Austin, TX ranch house is not only the heart of her home, but the hub for family gatherings, and — at times — Kelsey’s office. Today, Kelsey is inviting us into her home (which she shares with her husband and Louie, their shepherd/lab mix) to chat about her hopes, her fears, and her happy place. –Sabrina

Photography by Katie Jameson

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Life & Business: Gail Johnson

Life & Business: Gail Johnson

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

After achieving lofty goals in corporate America, Gail Johnson was one of those intrepid travelers through life who realized her true calling and simply moved on. Recognizing that she would never find satisfaction in working for someone else, she launched Gail Johnson Weddings & Events in Decatur, GA with a newfound freedom to determine her own path. Gail had the benefit of meticulous research talents as well as prior experience helping plan milestone occasions, so the people who knew her were eager to hire and recommend Gail right out of the gate. Her unique ideas and flawless execution continue to attract new clients.

In addition to mastering the service one is selling, Gail also stresses the importance of being a competent businessperson, or at least delegating administrative tasks to someone who is. The day-to-day running of a small company won’t always go smoothly, but “you must be committed to the dream and be patient as well.” It is prudent, however, to have a specific plan in mind for how to generate revenue. “Most businesses fail because the owner didn’t figure out specifically how the business will make money,” Gail considers. “Being able to approach the profitability of your business with an objective eye is key.” Thankfully for Gail, she possessed the ideal combination of entrepreneurial acuity and creative flexibility to make her dream thrive. “If you don’t know where you are going, no road will take you there.” —Annie

Portrait by Latisha Baker

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