Keep That Pet Happy, And Your Home Will Thrive!

ktphDesigner collars, beds, and leashes. Home cooked meals and afternoons at the spa. In the face of all that we can do for our animal companions these days, I sometimes wonder if I pamper my cats and dogs enough. What do pets need to lead happy, fulfilled lives?

The key to pet happiness, I believe, lies not in “luxury” items, but in understanding an animal’s nature. One reason my family and I moved to a new house last year was to give our dogs a bigger yard. I am sure their rollicking runs mean more to them than designer coats or gourmet biscuits ever could. And for cats, a quiet window perch or a towel-lined cardboard box will breed more contentment than the swankiest collar ever possibly could.

You can sort out what suits your pet’s fancy from your own experience and by browsing the vast amounts of information available in books and magazines and on the Internet. What is their natural character? What makes your particular individual different from every other of the same species or breed? What can you do to coax the best from your pet?

Many beneficial services–hydrotherapy, acupuncture, humane training methods and equipment–are available. While wonderful, some are pricey. Yet others come dirt cheap: Simple massage produces abundant joy in achy or stressed-out pets.

In addition to reading books and magazines, spend time observing your pet. What stresses him, and what calms him, during the course of the day? You don’t need to be a behavioral scientist to pick up on a pet’s message. I learned a game from my dogs while toweling them off one rainy day. They seemed to like being rubbed dry, doubling up in wags of happiness and parading around the kitchen draped in their towels. When I went further with it, wrapping a towel around Momo’s head like a scarf and calling him “Granny,” the other dogs pushed their way into the action, eager for their turn. The Granny game now enlivens rainy days for all of us.

The only prerequisite for your pet’s inner happiness is you. And what’s more, when you let your pet relax or encourage his sense of fun or competition or adventure, you will find yourself brimming with comfort and joy as well. Exercising a dog, playing Ping Pong with a cat, or teaching your bird a foreign language will lift you out of your own frazzled and overbooked life. Pet massage will lower your blood pressure. Any of these activities–even simply observing your pet–breeds a contentment that no other activity can. It is here that pets find true fulfillment, enjoying their connection with humans. Food, clothing, shelter–pets need only the basics, as long as they have their person with them. The path to pet bliss is this simple: that when they look up, you are there.

COMFORTS

Designer collars, beds, and leashes. Horn ecooked meals and afternoons at the spa. In the face of all that we can do for our animal companions these days, I sometimes wonder if I pamper my cats and dogs enough. What do pets need to lead happy, fulfilled lives?

The key to pet happiness, I believe, lies not in “luxury” items, but in understanding an animal’s nature. One reason my family and I moved to a new house last year was to give our dogs a bigger yard. I am sure their rollicking runs mean more to them than designer coats or gourmet biscuits ever could. And for cats, a quiet window perch or a towel-lined cardboard box will breed more contentment than the swankiest collar ever possibly could.

You can sort out what suits your pet’s fancy from your own experience and by browsing the vast amounts of information available in books and magazines and on the Internet. What is their natural character? What makes your particular individual different from every other of the same species or breed? What can you do to coax the best from your pet?

Many beneficial services: hydrotherapy, acupuncture, humane training methods and equipment are available. While wonderful, some are pricey. Yet others come dirt cheap: Simple massage produces abundant joy in achy or stressed-out pets.

In addition to reading books and magazines, spend time observing your pet. What stresses him, and what calms him, during the course of the day? You don’t need to be a behavioral scientist to pick up on a pet’s message. I learned a game from my dogs while toweling them off one rainy day. They seemed to like being rubbed dry, doubling up in wags of happiness and parading around the kitchen draped in their towels. When I went further with it, wrapping a towel around Momo’s head like a scarf and calling him “Granny,” the other dogs pushed their way into the action, eager for their turn. The Granny game now enlivens rainy days for all of us.

The only prerequisite for your pet’s inner happiness is you. And what’s more, when you let your pet relax or encourage his sense of fun or competition or adventure, you will find yourself brimming with comfort and joy as well. Exercising a dog, playing PingPong with a cat, or teaching your bird a foreign language will lift you out of your own frazzled and overbooked life. Pet massage will lower your blood pressure. Any of these activities, even simply observing your pet breeds a contentment that no other activity can. It is here that pets find true fulfillment, enjoying their connection with humans. Food, clothing, shelter; pets need only the basics, as long as they have their person with them. The path to pet bliss is this simple: that when they look up, you are there.

Re-Covering The Old Pieces

rcopWhether you’re incorporating a hand-me-down sofa into your living room or simply sprucing up outdated upholstery, re-covering furniture in complementary fabrics can transform mismatched parts into stylish wholes. Reasons to consider refurbishing old pieces are construction (it’s better to update sturdy antique and vintage furniture than replace them with lesser-quality pieces), design (the look of a favorite armchair may prove difficult to find again), and COST (new covers are generally priced far lower than new furniture). To make your decision just a little easier, we tried three options on the sofa and armchair above–reupholstery, custom slipcovers, and Sure Fit slipcovers.

TIME & COST

UPHOLSTERY Reupholstering a chair or sofa involves a certain investment of time and money. Your furniture will be in the workshop at least one to two weeks. The whole process can take upwards of six to eight weeks, factoring in reviewing samples and fabric delivery. Depending on the size and form of the piece to be covered, reupholstery can cost about $400 to $800 for an armchair and $1,000 to $2,000 for a sofa, not including the price of the fabric.

CUSTOM SLIPCOVERS In terms of cost and the amount of time it takes, crafting custom-fitted slipcovers approximates upholstery. But if you select a company that sends a craftsperson to your home to take measurements and make fabric cuts, you can keep your furniture while the covers are being constructed at the workshop.

SURE FIT SLIPCOVERS Available through the mail and at home design stores around the country, Sure Fit slipcovers are the quickest and least-expensive option of the three. Depending on the type of fabric and style of cover, prices range from about $50 to $80 for armchairs and about $100 to $200 for sofas.

upholstery

To reupholster furniture, existing fabric is stripped off the frame and new fabric is draped and molded In its place. (If a frame needs to be tightened or cushions restuffed or pads replaced before new fabric is applied, the overall cost will rise.) The resulting reworking conforms to every curve, making this a natural choice for formal Interiors or for furniture with especially graceful forms. For our sofa and armchair, we opted for tactile fabrics in warm caramel tones. A soft mohair blend covers the body of the sofa; in place of the two original seat cushions, we selected one long cushion and covered it with cut velvet in a complementary shade. (A coordinating cut-velvet pillow rests on the armchair.) Velvet trim on the cushions enhances the armchair’s herringbone fabric. Details like the sofa’s fringe and the chair’s exposed nailheads add extra texture.

Custom orders

Custom slipcovers follow the contours of your furniture, resulting in a look that is tailored but a bit looser and more casual than upholstery. Because slipcovers can be removed for cleaning, they are ideal for households with young children or pets. They are also a good bet for beach houses or weekend homes, where sand and dirt are often inadvertently carried indoors. Depending on your fabric choice, custom slipcovers can be machine washable or more suitable for dry cleaning (canvas versus silk, for instance); analyze your household’s particular needs before making your final decision. For this project, we chose neutral fabrics in an array of textures: For the body of the sofa, we used an off-white metelasse. Brown-and-white ticking covers the cushion–a fun twist on a traditional look. Cream damask swathes the armchair.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

ASSESS YOUR ROOM to determine which re-covering approach and which fabric patterns would be best for you. Questions to ask yourself: What decorating style do you prefer? (Laid-back country? More modern?) What is the room usually used for? (Formal entertaining? Family TV nights?) What size is the room? (Bright colors and bold graphics can be overpowering, while light hues visually expand small spaces.)

ASSESS YOUR LIFESTYLE. As important as the design details of your home are the everyday details about how you live. Do toddlers and four-footed friends enjoy free rein in your home? Or are young children and pets infrequent guests? Likewise, do the rules in your house mandate that shoes be removed at the door or can feet–shoes and all–rest on the furniture?

CARRY SWATCHES of drapery, paint color, or carpeting with you to the fabric store to help you find the best matches. Snapshots of the room can be helpful as well. Bring home swatches of the patterns you’re considering and lay them over the furniture to get an idea of how they will look with other pieces in the room. See how sunlight and indirect light affect the colors at differing times of the day.

Ready made

Sure Fit slipcovers are designed to drape over a variety of sofa and chair styles; elastic and fabric ties allow you to conform them to your furniture. This option is a good choice for anyone wanting to give a room a quick change with minimal fuss and expense. You might also keep a set of covers on hand for holidays (luxurious velvet or damask, perhaps) or a more casual selection for summer (like cotton twill). We chose rugged denim for the sofa and washable suede for the armchair. The chair’s low, English-style arms were padded with foam batting for a better fit

Bluebirds Are Just Cool

bajcThere is an old belief that bluebirds bring happiness. Watching one of these bright-colored thrushes skim above a field in my Montana valley, I feel my heart lift and know that this is true. Thirty years ago, bluebirds wouldn’t have been part of my summer. I would have been lucky to see one at all. By the 1970s, the bluebird population was in precipitous decline throughout North America. According to Dr. Lawrence Zeleny, author and founding member of the North American Bluebird Society, the eastern bluebird population had declined by more than 90 percent in the last 100 years. The pretty songster was changing from a common backyard bird to a rarity in the field.

In the mid-1800s, house sparrows and starlings were introduced from Europe and began to compete with bluebirds for the same nesting sites–cavities, often made by woodpeckers, in trees and wooden fence posts. Sadly, as competition for nesting places increased, the habitat itself began to disappear–cities sprawled into suburbs and farming changed radically. Old wooden fence posts were replaced by metal ones or simply removed when farmers abandoned ranching. Fencerows where wild berries grew all but disappeared. Bluebirds no longer could depend on the juicy fruit as a source of food when the insect season ended. And insects themselves–grasshoppers, crickets, ground beetles, and grubs, the bluebird’s main food sources–were being drenched with pesticides, shrinking the number of available bugs and making the ones that survived toxic to the birds. “Progress” seemed to be leading down a road that looked barren, devoid of insects as well as birds.

But this bleak scenario never came to pass. Thanks to concerned citizens nationwide, bluebirds are making a comeback. Groups ranging from schoolchildren to retirees have helped put up nesting boxes for them. Working on faith that nature can mend itself with some help from its friends-as well as encouragement from the North American Bluebird Society (founded in 1978)–these dedicated bird lovers have set up “trails” of bluebird boxes (above) along country roads in nearly every state. You’ll find them on golf courses in Connecticut, in vineyards in California, and in backyards in Kansas. They build the boxes. They check on them and clean them out at the end of each season, sealing the entrance holes to prevent other birds from moving in. They share their records with researchers. Many people start out with a couple of boxes in their yard and become hooked on bluebirds. They’ve gone on to establish trails with hundreds of boxes, drafting their friends to help out. Not for from my home, a bluebird lover named We ndell Oliverson has single-handedly erected a trail made up of an astonishing 1,600 boxes.

All this dedication has paid off According to the Breeding Bird Survey conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey between 1976 and 1996, the eastern bluebird population has grown by five percent a year, the mountain bluebird has increased by two percent, and the western bluebird population has plateaued, with no new losses. Although bluebirds are still struggling in states like California, overall the news is good. Here in Montana, of the more than 200,000 birds fledged since 1978, more than half hatched within the last six years. And in 1999 the Transcontinental Bluebird Trail, a coordinated network of trails stretching across North America, was begun. By the end of 2001, more than 20,000 nest boxes and 400 bluebird trails were registered.

What more meaningful legacy can we leave our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren than a world where bluebirds are as much a part of summer as trees in full leaf and wildflowers peeking out from the bright-green grass? It’s good to know, amid all the bad news we receive about the environment, that there is something we can do to make the world a better place. The return of the bluebird is nothing short of a miracle, an act of giving accomplished by caring Americans working together–one bluebird house at a time.

Vermont Is A Beaut

vabRarely does one get the chance to watch over an artist’s shoulder as she contemplates her next brushstroke, sparks a welding torch, or digs her fingers into a lump of fresh clay. During the annual Vermont Open Studio Weekend (May 24 and 25), visitors can do just that, taking self-guided tours of art studios across the state. For our trip, Burlington, a lively city on Lake Champlain, served as home base. From there, we explored studios in town and in the Mad River Valley, 70 miles to the southeast. Getting to each studio was half the fun: As we drove past hillside dairy farms, Colonial-era villages, and pristine waterfalls, it became clear why so many artisans are drawn to Vermont’s natural beauty and laid-back pace of living.

Heavenly creations

The converted barn that houses the Icarus Glass Studio (802-767-6010) sits on a small hill behind an old farmhouse off Route 100 in Rochester. Inside the barn, stained-glass artist Midge Scanlan cleans the excess grout off a memorial window commissioned by the family of a young girl who was lost in a car accident. “I haven’t seen this in the light–yet,” she says, hauling her work in progress over to the windowsill. It’s an image of Saint Cecilia–based on a 17th-century Italian painting, but with the addition of a guitar (the girl played classical guitar). Midge, who has worked on all sorts of projects during her nearly 30 years in stained glass, favors fashioning memorial windows over other types of stained glass because she feels the memorials have a timeless quality. “A memorial window is something you build knowing it’s going to be around for hundreds of years.”

Clays & glaze

Visitors can watch potter Judy Jensen at work every day at J. Jensen Clay Studio (802-767-3271), in Rochester. As they browse through her wares–which range from utilitarian to whimsical–Judy glazes porcelain pots and illuminates her capricious creative process. “When I’m tired of winter, I lean toward spring colors,” says Judy, who also confides that when she gets into a rhythm, it’s hard to stop: In March, she made five different teapots while trying to satisfy one client. “I said to myself, ‘That’s interesting–what happens if I keep going?’” She shows off the results of her temporary “madness”: some 50 unique, fanciful, and functional teapots she fashioned over two months.

The ovens at Plush Quartz Art Glass (802-767-4547), on Route 100, in Granville, glow like the center of a volcano. “Standard working temperature is 2,100[degrees]F,” says glassblower Michael Egan. “At 2,300[degrees]F, the glass runs like water; when you turn the heat down, you can work it like bread dough.” Every day but Tuesday, his three-year-old shop is open so visitors can peruse his delicate creations and watch as he plays with fire just a few feet away. “I’m going to make a footed ice-cream dish,” he says, lining up a double handful of candy-striped glass rods on a flat plate. He heats them to a dull brick-red in one of the ovens, gathers a tiny glob of molten glass on his blowpipe, and rolls the tacky-hot candy canes into a cylinder (top right). Next comes a flurry of heating, spinning, inflating (middle right), and stretching (bottom right). “Some of the techniques we use are easily 2,000 years old,” Michael says. In short order, he taps the finished bowl off the metal rod and drops it an inch onto a padded surface before moving it to the cooling oven. “The best part of working in a public studio,” says Michael, “is that I get to teach people about glassblowing all day long.”

planning your weekend

The artists participating in the Vermont Open Studio Weekend will open their shops from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Memorial Day Weekend, May 24 and 25. Before starting out, request a free map from the Vermont Crafts Council (802-223-3380; vermontcrafts.com). The map divides the state into several routes, each with many studios. (When driving, keep an eye out for the yellow signs that mark the locations.) Although you can see eight or more studios in a single day if you rush, we suggest visiting a maximum of five, so that you’ll have time to shop, sightsee, and enjoy the Vermont countryside.

the colors of nature

“I love the feeling of sky, the textures, the shadows of trees dappled in the grass,” says landscape painter Katharine Montstream as she gazes out on the sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. Katharine–whose shop, Montstream Studio (802-862-8752), is located in downtown Burlington’s Union Station-says that she draws inspiration for her art from the area’s rich, unspoiled natural surroundings and many historic landmarks. The paintings that line the walls of her gallery demonstrate Katharine’s passion for the gradations of light and color that such scenes possess at magical moments of the day. “It’s Vermont,” she shrugs. “I just turn around and find paintings everywhere.”

an iron garden

Outside Heise Metal Sculpture (802-862-8454) at 162 1/2 Maple St., in Burlington, maple trees and English ivy shade a courtyard strewn with buckets of nuts and bolts. Inside the studio–which resembles a bicycle repair shop–Bill Heise’s welding torch sizzles. A man of few words, Bill describes his craft as bending, pounding, and forging. “I’m not a purist,” he says. The results: rusting roosters, African-style metal masks, slender Don Quixote statues, and a plot of steely sunflowers. Bill’s explanation for the latter: “Someone happened to give me 1,500 can openers.”

sleep and eat

A short walk from downtown Burlington’s shops, the Willard Street Inn (above; 800-577-8712) has 14 cozy rooms and offers breakfast in a solarium overlooking Lake Champlain. The Inn at Shelburne Farms (802-985-8498), a 19th-century country estate, has 24 elegant rooms set amid 1,400 bucolic acres. Guests at the 120-room Inn at Essex (802-878-1100) can enjoy meals prepared by students of the New England Culinary Institute. The Warren Store (802-496-3864), just off Route 100, in Warren Village, is a convenient lunch stop in the Mad River Valley- try the Number Six, a delicious roast-turkey sandwich with tangy cranberry mayonnaise.

Pick The Plants, Perfect The Garden

Once you’ve decided on the overall style of your garden–whether formal, semiformal, or naturalistic–define, divide, and conquer should be your design mantra. Following these three principal steps of landscape design will make the process of laying out a garden, which can seem overwhelming at first approach, much more manageable, successful, and enjoyable.

Step 1

ptp“Frame” your garden by defining the landscape’s outer boundaries. Any landscape, no matter its size, needs concise definition to be visually effective. A landscape without a boundary is like a painting without a frame: Even the most exquisite canvas looks better with the proper border around it. Lack of boundaries is rarely a problem on small lots, especially urban ones, where living in proximity to neighbors demands that gardeners define and defend boundaries with a fence, hedge, shrubs, trees, or some other device. Where space constraints and privacy are less of an issue, however, we tend to neglect this delineating concept- often to the general detriment of the landscape’s overall cohesiveness and usefulness.

Without exterior boundaries, an open lot will look exposed and unfinished. With the simple placement of some plantings along the perimeter, the landscape begins to take shape, and the various design possibilities of individual areas become much more evident. The need for defining your garden’s perimeter, however, doesn’t necessarily mean total enclosure. Unless privacy or unattractive views on all sides are a factor, or unless you need to keep wildlife at bay, wall-like hedges or massed plantings can produce a less-desirable effect than a lighter planting consisting of trees and shrubs of various textures, sizes, and densities. This is especially true if an attractive vista or some other interesting prospect exists outside the garden’s immediate borders. In that case, it’s best to frame the view with plantings so as to be able to peer past the foreground into the distance, as though through a large picture window.

Step 2

Create interior divisions, or “garden rooms,” throughout your landscape.

In the same way that individual rooms add function to your house, to get the most out of your landscape, your garden should have “rooms” as well. Historically, American gardens were always separated into different areas by their use or function (see “Getting Started,” right). Pleasure grounds were distinct from work areas, carriage yards set apart from vegetable gardens, and so on. Obviously, there were practical aspects to this arrangement, especially in terms of keeping unwanted animals, sights, and smells away from the more recreational areas of the landscape. But there was more to this separation than day-to-day necessity: Outside spaces simply look better when their various components are delineated in some way.

As in a house, each garden room will serve a distinct function and take the shape that best suits it. Closest to a house, for example, you will often find a small oval lawn or terrace for games and other outdoor entertainment, or perhaps an herb or kitchen garden. Adjoining it, sometimes separated by a short flight of steps, may be a flower garden area with a summerhouse or other outbuilding. And the vegetable or cutting garden may lie behind the garage, screened off from the rest of the yard by an arbor and a hedge. Each space has a logical definition and purpose. Obviously, the choices made reflect the wont and habits of the owners: A swimming pool could easily have been substituted for the vegetable garden, for example. A small sundial garden off the oval lawn would work equally well as a terrace and outdoor sitting area. Some families choose tennis courts or small putting greens. Your family’s needs will ultimately determine the form and function your landscape will follow

There are many different ways to divide a property into logical rooms. Rows of trees, perennial borders, fences, walls, or changes in ground level (such as descending terraces) are all appropriate means of subdividing and defining space. The key is to choose a method that is appropriate to the feel and look of your home. Also, you should consider the degree of separation or privacy you require. For example, a formal six-foot brick wall will provide a much greater degree of enclosure than a low, friendly row of hedge shrubs such as boxwoods.

Step 3

Know when enough is enough. A landscape divided too much ceases to function as a cohesive whole.

As important as it is to divide and arrange your garden space logically, be careful not to overdo it or you’ll risk making so many divisions that your yard becomes a series of chopped-up spaces that cease to function as a whole. Each division should be justifiable and, most importantly, should seek to maximize the internal space available in each area. If you are lucky enough to have an outlying field or open space adjoining the landscape nearest your home, for example, don’t subdivide the latter into three or four little sections unless there is a very good reason for doing so. Instead, use the open area to provide a dramatic backdrop for a series of more intimate garden spaces arranged around the house. Similarly, in very small gardens, a good rule of green thumbs is to fortify the exterior boundaries and maximize interior space wherever possible, sometimes forgoing internal divisions entirely.

Remember: Once you’ve defined the style of your garden and set its exterior boundaries, divide and conquer should be your mantra. Then comes the pleasure of “furnishing” the garden rooms you have created with plants, architectural elements, tools, toys, and ornaments that bring out the best elements of the garden you’ve designed. Follow these simple steps and you will find that you’ll have created a much more useful. pleasant, and rewarding environment in your garden.