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My last post about our back garden was 8 months ago, and something unfamiliar and weird seems to have happened: We’re finished. I mean, nothing is ever really DONE, of course, and it’s a garden so (hopefully) everything will continue to grow and change and need to be maintained, but I’m calling this a complete project. WOW. Clocking in at 7+ years, the world’s longest landscaping project involving a tiny plot of land has come to a close. The garden is now officially a nice space where we can hang out and have guests over and not apologize for dirt mountains or dangerous holes waiting to break ankles or swallow Chihuahuas.

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We finally got some plants into the recessed planters we built last summer (each is just four boards stained black and screwed together at the corners). I had some ideas about the types of plants I wanted to use based on Susan Welti’s garden design for Carin Goldberg and Jim Biber, but I let my eyes and my wallet be my guide when it came time to buy. Fortunately, our local garden center was running a big sale on ornamental grasses, so we were able to pick up four large dwarf maiden grass plants at a good price. We also bought four variegated Solomon’s seal plants, which we’ll have to be patient with and allow a couple of years to fill out.

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Check out those HUGE spirea bushes in the mega-planters!! They were so teensy when I planted them a couple of years ago. Everyone said they would die during the winter if we put them in planters, but my mother thought they’d be fine, so I went ahead and took a chance. I love them. I’ll probably fill in the planter a little more with some annuals next spring, because the garden could really use a little color to break up all the green.

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I wound up having to take down my homemade Woolly Pocket-style planter (I don’t think I ever blogged about it, but you can kinda see it in these photos) because some industrious squirrels decided to turn the felt into nesting material. Oh well! I really liked having plants on the fence, though, so I ordered four of the new hard plastic Woolly Pocket planters to put to use in the spring! I could put them up now, I guess, but plants are expensive and I want to get a full season out of them.

And now for the time-lapse progress shots…

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Photo by Lönngren/Widell for Lovelylife

Last weekend we had another plumber come to the house to take a look at the work we need done in the kitchen — removal of two steam radiators, re-routing of steam pipes and, eventually, re-installation of one of radiators (we’re putting the other one in storage for now). While we’re waiting for his quote to come in, we’re trying to make a list of everything we need to get done once the radiators have been removed. It looks a little like this so far:

▶ Frantically tile the last two walls
▶ Frantically refinish one of the radiators
▶ Frantically pull up the existing VCT floor tiles
▶ Frantically remove the plywood subfloor, which was at some point used as a large snack for carpenter ants
▶ Frantically assess the condition of the original pine subfloor that’s underneath the plywood
▶ Frantically do something so that there’s a floor in place when the plumber comes back to re-route the steam pipes and re-install one of the radiators

But let me back up a little. A few months ago, amid all of the tiling chaos going on in the kitchen, I happened to notice that a few of our VCT floor tiles had come loose. One of them actually felt…squishy? Knowing that squishy floors are generally a bad thing (I learned that from watching This Old House), I peeked underneath the tile to see what was going on. ANTS! ANTS! ANTS!!!!! Yes, a swarming mass of carpenter ants. Ugh. The carpenter ants have since been eradicated (I may have a vegan diet, but, well, let’s just say I did NOT rehabilitate, foster, and re-home each individual ant), but the plywood subfloor is looking pretty terrible. It has to go. We definitely weren’t planning on replacing our floor — we installed it dirt cheap years ago (pre-blog), and I’ve always been happy with it — but it seems to be unavoidable.

I do know that the original pine plank subfloor is hiding under the plywood subfloor (which was already here when we bought the house — it was in decent shape, so we patched it up and tiled over it rather than replacing it for no reason), but I don’t know what kind of condition it’s in. In theory it’s the same as the floor in Evan’s studio (unfinished, dirty and rough, but mostly OK), but in reality it might have a lot of water damage, weird sections cut out of it from when the walls were reconfigured 50+ years ago, or any number of unknowns that might make it unsuitable to be exposed.

However it turns out, I know I want a painted wood floor in the kitchen. Tile just isn’t in the budget, and love painted wood floors anyway — especially in kitchens. If we luck out and the existing pine is usable, I’ll follow the same steps I did upstairs when painting them (probably black, but we’ll see). If they’re a total wreck, then we’ll install inexpensive pine on top. We used the lowest-quality cheap pine flooring available on the walls in our upstairs bathroom, and it was CHEAP — like $1/square foot or something crazy like that. Once it’s patched and painted, the knots and holes and stuff don’t matter.

Anyway, here are some inspiration photos of painted kitchen floors that I’ve been squirreling away for when the time came to make decisions about the kitchen floor, and that time is officially HERE! Assuming the plumber’s quote isn’t totally insane, this is all going to start happening really soon and really fast. GULP.

What floor color would be best in the kitchen? Stick with black? I do love black floors. Would white be too crazy-bright in there? The same gray color as the walls??

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Photo by Paul Massey

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Interior by B-Arch Studio / via Remodelista

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(L) Photo by Birgitta Wolfgang Drejer for Bolig / (R) Photo via Corcoran

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Photo from InsideOut

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Interior styling by Lotta Agaton

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Thanks to a retweet from Kate, I just discovered the beautiful home goods store Cotton & Flax. Run out of Los Angeles by artist/textile designer Erin Dollar, Cotton & Flax has a product line that is pretty much demanding to climb into a box and fly across the country to my house. I just spent about half an hour clicking through the shop, and I think I may have marked every single item as a favorite.

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Clockwise from top left:
 ♡ Black Diamonds Tea Towel
 ♡ Confetti-Patterned Wool Felt Coasters
 ♡ White Plus Tea Towel
 ♡ Linen Brushstrokes Pillow

Erin also writes a Cotton & Flax blog, where she shares some of her own favorite handmade goods, as well as behind-the-scenes peeks at her studio. PLUS!! She also shares freebies for download, like these insanely cute patterned iPhone wallpapers. I don’t know about you, but I like to try to match my phone to my tea towels.

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EEEEEE! Postcards!! I used to send postcards out all the time because they’re so low-hassle: Cheap stamp, no envelope, small space = fast writing, not to mention the fact that anyone can and will read the back keeps me from saying anything too dumb. I don’t know why I stopped, but I need to order a couple of packs — because who doesn’t like to get a little real mail every now and then? Especially if it’s neon pink.

All photos © Cotton & Flax

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When I was getting this post draft together in WordPress and entering the keyword tags that go at the bottom, the word “goals” auto-completed as “goats.” I almost didn’t correct it, because frankly, this post might as well be about goats. I think about adorable, bleating farm animals far more often than I do my life ambitions, after all. Right now, though, I do have a goal: Write a post about why I’m not a goal-oriented person.

OK, that’s not entirely true. I do have lots of bite-sized, short-term goals. Stuff like “take a shower” and “repair the porch roof.” (I guess those are called to-do lists. I love to-do lists.) What I don’t have — or have any desire to have — are the long-term vision-y kind of goals, like life lists and that kind of stuff. Honestly, my life list kind of looks like this:

1. See And Also The Trees live, but not if it requires traveling outside of NYC.
2. More Chihuahuas!
3. Conquer adult acne.
4. Don’t go skydiving or engage in any other “thrill-seeking” activities.
5. Don’t sleep outdoors.
6. Be a decent person.
7. …?

And that’s about it. I’m sure there are ambitious, accomplished people reading this who have life lists of their own — real life lists, like the kind that come up when you Google “life list.” Looking at those lists always makes me feel tired, overwhelmed, a little bit scared and a whole lot like I really don’t belong. Just to be totally clear, I don’t have anything against people for whom life lists are beneficial. I don’t think it’s a silly exercise to make one if you feel compelled to do so and it it’s helpful in your life, I’m just here to speak up on behalf of the non-life listers, the non-goal-oriented among us. HELLO, FELLOW LOSERS!!! Just kidding, we’re not losers. We’re just feel like we are sometimes.

The word “perfectionist” gets tossed around a lot, usually as a humblebrag (“My worst trait is that I’m a perfectionist! Tee hee!”), and the truth is that it’s a trait that really carries a lot of negative weight. Since I went to the Wikipedia School of Psychology for my internet doctorate degree, I’ll quote from their article on the subject:

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

Yeah. That. Except in my experience, that whole adaptive perfectionism/motivational stuff really only plays out when it comes to short-term/immediate goals (see: to-do lists), and the long-term goals/”way of living” kind of things are the ones that lead to a whole lot of personal disappointment…and that other D-word, too.

Beyond the defective brain stuff (and I say that as someone with a defective brain and as a lover of other defective brains), I tend to want to live in the moment when it comes to making plans. I don’t know if what I think I feel like doing today is the same thing I’m going to want to do next week, let alone five years from now! That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of making confident decisions. In fact, I think I’m pretty good at making up my mind to do things when the time comes, and I’m good at following through. If I decide on Wednesday that I’m going to tile the kitchen on Sunday, I’m not going to let a 102° fever and a bronchial infection stand in my way! Stupid? Yeah, a little, but the kitchen looks great.

There’s an upside to this lack of planning and goal-setting, I swear. I think it’s my lack of career ambition that’s allowed me to feel satisfied in the same job (I have been promoted several times, but I’m still a book cover cover designer at the same publishing company that hired me right out of art school) for 15 years. Maybe that sounds really dismal, but it’s not. The fact that I don’t feel like I need to constantly be looking for something “better” or more prestigious means that I’ve been able to become emotionally connected to my workplace in addition to having a professional connection. I’ve been working with the same core group of people for a decade and a half, and that’s a great feeling. It’s a little old-fashioned, I think, right? When I was a kid, my friends’ parents had worked for the same companies for years. That’s definitely not the norm (at least in NYC) for my generation, and I know very, very few people who have had the same job for more than four or five years.

Anyway, all I’m getting at here is this: You don’t have to constantly be working toward something you think will be bigger or better. You don’t have to sell your first house to buy a bigger one. (You don’t even have to buy a house in the first place.) You don’t have to visualize your life as you want it to be. It’s OK to be happy where you are right now, and to find contentment in the mundane. You can live in the same city for your entire life and still be a well-rounded, fulfilled person. Reading a book you found by chance on a park bench can be every bit as thrilling as going skydiving. It’s OK. Leave yourself open to opportunities you could never have thought of in the first place. You don’t have to be that person who’s constantly planning for the next amazing thing. That doesn’t make you boring or a loser or a failure. Everyone everywhere feels disappointed in themselves at times, and none of us are ever really living up to our true potential. That’s alright. We don’t have to be perfectly realized humans living carefully mapped-out lives. If your only goal in life is to be a decent person, that’s already a lot to think about and work toward. Human decency is an ongoing process that requires constant introspection as well as observation of those around us. That’s a pretty huge goal.

I know this post isn’t going to resonate with most of the people who read it, but I’m hoping there are one or two of you out there who will understand what I’m talking about. Cheers to us, the realists and the dreamless and the non-life listers! May we always find as much happiness in petting goats as others do with setting goals.

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Yeah, I could live there is a not-so-new, occasional D16 feature wherein I post pictures of homes I want to break into, kick out the inhabitants and move in. Today we’re traveling to 47 Park Avenue and the Edwardian-style home of Michael and Jonathan (and their dogs, Jacob Crackers, Oscar Wilde and Charlie Buckets) in Yorkshire, England.

I’ve actually been meaning to post about Michael and Jonathan’s houses (they have another one in London) for many months now, but I’ve had such a hard time narrowing down what pictures to share! Their homes are both so gorgeous and inspiring and perfectly renovated that it’s impossible to write about either without using 600 photos. Fortunately for all of us, Michael blogs about both houses himself! I discovered his blog through Jonathan’s location agency, Shoot Factory (a veritable trove of inspiration in itself — I’ve spent many hours clicking through all of those lovely London homes and fantasizing about all of my alternate lives).

So how about just one part of one house, then? The room I keep coming back to whenever I think about their Yorkshire home is the small bedroom they converted into a dressing room for Michael (Jonathan has his own dressing room, which is also lovely!). Oh, it is FABULOUS. Check out this side-by-side:

47 Park Ave, before/after

WOWZA. The room on the left looks like every sad, musty bed and breakfast, and the room on the right looks like…um, I don’t have a good comparison. It looks like a really, really nice dressing room belonging to a person with good taste and fancy clothes. (I’m such an observant and talented writer, I know.) Michael started working on his dressing room in summer 2011, and he’s still putting finishing touches on it — fortunately for those of us who like that sort of thing, he takes loads of progress shots along the way!

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The decision to leave the window casings and sashes bare wood while painting the baseboards, doors and floor makes me so happy. It also makes me want to strip off the 50 layers of paint on my own windows! I’m supremely envious of Michael’s ability to keep his clothes and shoes looking so nice on full display. If I put my own clothes and shoes in the exact same room, it would not look like that. Nobody wants to put old, scuffed-up Swedish clogs in a glass cabinet, you know?

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About a year into the project, the dressing room reached its first stage of being “done.” And it looked fantastic! An antique marble-topped mahogany dental cabinet at the center of the room, scaffolding poles for hanging clothes, a vintage Scolari chandelier, a super-duper-fancy glass cabinet for shoes…how can you possibly improve on that?!

The answer to that question is one I’d never have come up with for a dressing room, but it’s exactly right: TILE. Specifically, subway tile with dark grout. Ohhhh yeah. I don’t need to tell you how I feel about that (I feel like maybe my kitchen and Michael’s dressing room could be friends, no?).

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SO GOOD. I want to tile everything now. And how nice is that angled wall where the entry door is? The dark grout really brings out that wall and the slanted ceiling — it just looks so much more architecturally interesting, and, contrary to what a lot of people think about subway tile, the room now feels so much warmer and cozier. I really love it.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share your home, Michael and Jonathan! I’ll keep following your renovation progress at your blog (eagerly awaiting the shop, too!) and all of the beautiful locations at Shoot Factory.

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All photos courtesy of and © 47 Park Avenue

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When I was in San Francisco, I visited the new Little Paper Planes storefront, run by my friend Kelly Lynn Jones. Kelly has such a good eye for art and design, and I’ve been a fan of her online shop for ages — it was so cool to see it all come to life in one beautifully curated space.

I must have touched/admired at least two dozen objects while I was in there, but the ones I was drawn to immediately were the pieces by Brooklyn-based Small Spells, created by ceramist Rachel Howe. I picked up a crescent moon cup as a thank you gift for a friend, and made a mental note to check out Small Spells online later in the day. I’m so glad I did, because Rachel’s work is really up my alley — that perfect combination of bold geometry and soft, organic shapes and muted (yet rich) colors. I want everything in her shop!

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These planters are so sweet. I’m a notoriously black-thumbed when it comes to indoor plants, but lately I’ve been trying to practice by caring for a few smaller plants at once instead of one giant, potted creature that’s basically like having a pet. These little pots are perfect for putting on a windowsill or a small ledge in the kitchen, and I’m going to need to get a hanging planter for our bathroom. I love that wee cactus peeking out of the top!

And finally, a few pictures from the Small Spells Instagram! The mudcloth-inspired cup on the top loft is from a new series Rachel is working on. I can’t wait to see more! I’m feeling a Small Spells collection coming on…

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HELLO THERE! I just got back from a trip to San Francisco (more about that in my next post!), and while I was there, I became weirdly self-conscious about how my makeup was stored. Even though I don’t do a lot of long-distance traveling, I am constantly making trips back and forth between our house in Newburgh and our apartment in Brooklyn. I guess it would make sense to buy two of everything and not have to take anything with me, but realistically that’s not going to happen — cosmetics are expensive, and I’m super-fickle about which products I like to use on a daily basis…not to mention the life-span of products once they’ve been opened. Two coffee makers? Yes. Two tubes of $32 mascara? Not so much. As a result, I wind up throwing everything in various drawers and boxes when I’m at the apartment, and living out of Ziploc freezer bags when I’m traveling or at the house. Not cute. And much as I like the idea of keeping all of my stuff in clear lucite boxes like Nubby Twiglet, I know I’m just not tidy enough to keep everything looking pristine all the time. (Also, not everything I like to use comes in pretty packaging. Alas.)

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Nomess Copenhagen / Balsabox Personal
Earlier today I came across this cool neon pink and balsa wood storage box by the Danish company Nomess Copenhagen, and it immediately went on my wishlist. It’s actually made up of three boxes, two of which nest inside the largest one. The lid lifts off completely and becomes a standing mirror! Such a great design. It’s not good for traveling, but it’s simple enough to toss stuff in without having to worry about fitting everything into tiny, specialized compartments (I’ve never been able to make those fancy professional train cases work for me). I still need to measure to see if it can fit on the shelves in my bathroom, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be perfect.

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Coriumi / Geometric Pattern Pouch
I own another, smaller pouch from the Lithuanian brand Coriumi, and I keep it in my bag at all times to hold tissues, sunglasses, a comb, band-aids and all of the other stuff that would otherwise be floating around loose and getting lost/dirty. It’s really nicely made. I’d like to add this one to my collection to stash all of my makeup when I’m in transit. It’s big enough to hold everything I need without being stuffed to the gills — it’s basically the size of a big Ziploc. Aaaaaaand it doubles as a very pretty fold-over clutch! I usually transport my makeup brushes by rolling them up in a paper towel, which would be easy to nestle at the bottom of the pouch.

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IKEA / Pallra Box + Pokal Tumbler
IKEA has been nailing it lately with their small storage boxes (let us not forget the best box) and this happy yellow round guy is no exception. I haven’t seen the Pallra box in person yet so I’m not sure if the levels are fully separate or if there’s a swivel-hinge on one side (update: no hinges!), but I like that it’s not just one big open space. It’s only $10 and the yellow covering is paper fabric, so it really lends itself to being decorated (I’m picturing potato-stamped white triangles). Round boxes aren’t great for storing brushes, but how cute would that yellow box look paired with this pale pink stoneware cup? Yup.

Speaking of makeup storage and that kind of stuff, someone asked me how I care for my brushes. Nothing to it, really! Once a week or so, I wash them in tepid water and Dr. Bronner’s mild/baby liquid castile soap. I press out most of the water with a dry washcloth, then leave them flat to dry completely overnight — near an open window if possible. I’ve had some of my brushes for more than a decade now, so it must be working out!

OK, now tell me how you store your makeup so I can feel inadequate and disorganized.

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After waiting out The Winter That Wouldn’t End, I found myself avoiding going out into the front garden to to take care of the plants and clean up all of the dead leaves and debris (mostly cigarette butts, grocery bags and flattened Styrofoam cups, with the occasional dead mouse thrown in just for excitement) that had accumulated in front of our house. Sometimes I forget that the front of the house even exists — once we’re inside, we tend to hole up there like hermits.

Rake in (gloved) hand, though, I forced myself to do it, and I wound up feeling like I want to make an effort to make the front of the house look pretty again. When we first moved in, one of the first things we did was take care of the outside, which was just dead grass and weeds at the time. It was — and is — very important to us that our neighbors see that we care about our community when they look at our house. At the time, there wasn’t much going on in the way of landscaping/flowers/plants on our block, but over the years, I’ve noticed more little gardens and flowerpots appearing here and there. I’d like to think that’s at least in part due to us. Maybe. Front gardens matter.

In 2009, we started working on the exterior of the house itself. We had the bricks repointed and the wood cornice repaired and painted by a contractor, and we gave the porch a pretty substantial overhaul ourselves (here’s a before and after). We still need to have the exterior of the original windows repaired and repainted, but that will take time…and money. It can wait. The house isn’t going anywhere. I just never want it to look like this again.

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I made this little path a few years out of fire bricks salvaged from our chimney repair. I didn’t do it the “right” way with crushed stone and sand underneath and all that, I really just dug out an area, set the bricks down, and packed dirt into the cracks. I was prepared for it to get out of whack with the first heavy rain, but it’s been just fine. After the winter I do have to re-set them a bit, but I like how soft they look, especially now that there’s a bit of moss growing between them.

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Under the porch there’s a set of slate steps leading down the the basement entrance. At the bottom are my favorite bricks, arranged in sort of semi-herringbone pattern. They were buried under several inches of dirt when we bought the house…a happy discovery that makes my little path seem pretty silly! I love that these mossy old bricks are still almost completely level after more than 120 years.

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That’s the whole house! Our property ends precisely at the edge of our house on either side — the white cornice belongs to the house attached to ours (we’re first in a row of four identical houses). It’s CRAZY to see how much the boxwood row as grown in five years. This is what it looked like when we planted it! It’s also crazy to see how dedicated I used to be to planting stuff…and how good our carpet roses used to look. They’re so scraggly now that I didn’t even bother taking a photo. Sigh. Maybe this weekend I’ll head over to the garden center and pick up some colorful things to plant! The main problem I’ve had is that the garden gets SO much daylight — like super intense sunshine all day long (I took these photos in the early evening). There are no trees on our street, so shade is non-existent. Even plants that are supposedly tolerant of full sun have wound up croaking after a month or two.

I’d also like to rip out all of the grass between our garden and the sidewalk. It’s impossible to keep looking nice, and mowing it is a pain since all we have is an electric edge-trimmer. Maybe juniper or something else low-lying? I’m sure people will step on it, so it needs to be pretty durable.

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And for the Sylvester-fans (you know, this guy), you’ll be happy to know the neighborhood tough guy is still hanging in there and keeping guard over our house. Another neighbor (she calls him “Beauty” — UGH) feeds him, too, and he has at least a couple of porch beds to choose from these days. He’s a good kitty.

That gray cat just appeared out of nowhere last weekend, stretched out under the boxwoods like he owned the place. I don’t know what his deal is, but he’s super-friendly. I think he probably belongs to someone. I don’t like other cats hanging out on Sylvester’s turf, though, so hopefully that was his single appearance.

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I just came across illustrator and graphic designer Butcher Billy’s “Post-Punk + New Wave Super Friends” series, and I’m not going to be able to resist ordering at least a couple of prints for my walls. Butcher Billy has applied the concept of a superhero to his heroes — the pop culture icons who influenced him as a kid. As he explains it…

As a child of the ’80s I was heavily influenced by everything from Saturday morning cartoons on TV to the music coming from the radio. Ian Curtis or Johnny Rotten are as iconic to me as Superman or Batman. Real people or imaginary characters, the incorruptible ideals of perfect superheroes or the human flaws and desires sometimes so desperately depicted in song lyrics — all of those influences affect us to the point of defining our character and personality, career paths and life choices.

Well, shoot. That just about says it, right? I totally agree, and it looks like Billy and I have a lot of the same heroes.

You can order any of Butcher Billy’s Post-Punk and New Wave Super Friends designs as prints or on t-shirts, iPhone cases and other items through his shop at Society6. View the entire series of posters at Behance.

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All images © Butcher Billy / Available for sale through Society6 / Found via Slicing Up Eyeballs

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Have you been sitting around wondering which box is the best box? Probably. Me too. Guess what? I figured it out! This box is the best box: KVITTRA from IKEA (specifically the “red” design), designed by Anna Salander. I’ve been noticing Salander’s name on a lot of nifty IKEA stuff for the past couple of years, but this box is just the best. It’s made of a sturdy cardboard that’s coated with a screen-printed paper. The paper has slightly embossed texture to it, almost like fabric. And the colors! Perfect.

I actually have two KVITTRA boxes stacked on top of each other here. They’re only $9, so I picked up a couple when we first rented the new apartment without really having a specific purpose in mind for them. Last night I finally put them together, and now they’re holding all of my extra buttons, pouches, cables and so on — all of the little things that have sort of just been floating around looking for a place to be stored. I could put them in a closet, sure, but they’re much nicer just sitting on the living room floor.

And yes, there are a few other things to talk about here, like the new rug (!!!), the credenza, the lion head…and the fact that I can’t stop painting walls with that Deep Space paint. I’ll get to all of that soon enough, but I just couldn’t wait to share this box! The best box.

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