my week in objects (mostly).

    December 9, 2016

    five little things that made my week.

    1. this little paper tree.paper tree | reading my tea leaves 

    {because it was left behind by a visiting grammy.}

    2. these bits of color.ribbon | reading my tea leaves

    {destined for tiny presents for tiny people.}

    3. this popcorn string.
    popcorn | reading my tea leaves

    {for still being mostly intact after several nibbles from a human mouse in this house.}

    4. these bags. bags | reading my tea leaves

    {for keeping wintry things organized.}

    5. this stack of books.books | reading my tea leaves

    {cause nothing beats a good seasonal book pile.}

    other things:

    baby, it’s cold outside

    the best kind of maine souvenir, made pretty.

    illustrated impact.

    how to report a bias crime in new york city.

    the sturdiest part of its shell.

    gifts for hobbyists.

    matzo morsels.

    sustainable style.

    ps. there’s a newsletter coming later this afternoon with a special treat just for you.

    simple matters 11: suzie ryu.

    December 7, 2016

    simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Suzie Ryu | Trollhagen & Co.

    I’ve been following Suzie on Instagram for years now. Catching glimpses of the progress she and her husband have made on the historic schoolhouse they’re renovating in upstate New York has been a joyful lesson in resourcefulness. In this interview we chat about finding a home to love, tackling renovations, and designing a homewares brand that reflects a commitment to functional simplicity.simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Erin: Let’s start by you sharing with RMTL readers a little bit about yourself and your work.

    Suzie: I live in New York with my husband Kana—he’s lived here for the past 20 years, 16 years for me. Brooklyn has been (mostly) home for the past 12 years, but now we split our time between upstate and downstate. My husband works as a creative director and I work as a marketing director. We both work for startup businesses and much of our time is spent in front of computer screens, so during off-hours we like to work with our hands, spend time outdoors, seek a more visceral experience.

    Three years ago, we started a homewares brand called Trollhagen & Co., selling my handmade ceramics. Most pieces are functional and designed for everyday use, though I do mix in an objet d’art here and there to keep things playful. I enjoy making them, and experimenting with new forms is one of my favorite parts of the development process. I tend to stick with shapes and glazes that I think lend themselves well to the object’s purpose, so the overall aesthetic is simple, yet refined; quiet, but not too delicate. I love different textures, and I like to embrace this in my pottery without detracting from its core utilitarian value. For example, my two-tone series is partially glazed so you can feel the contrast of the rough exterior stoneware against the smooth, cool interior glaze—very helpful in minimizing broken bowls, and makes for easy dish duty. Currently Trollhagen & Co. sells pottery only, but soon we’ll be introducing other objects for the home.simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Erin: You and your husband Kana have spent your weekends for the past three years renovating an 1820s schoolhouse in upstate New York. What inspired you to find another space to call your own? How did you find it?

    Suzie: Our search for a home upstate was spurred by a magical, tiny home we rented in Brooklyn. It was a stand-alone house set farther in from the street, nestled close to the center of the block. It pre-dated most of the surrounding buildings and looked much like a classic gingerbread house, complete with white, lacy trim on the eaves. The place was small, about 400-500 square feet, but we had two floors and a private yard and patio, so there was plenty of privacy with a nice division of space. We were creative with our limited space, and had a blast coming up with an efficient, but cozy setup. Kana made custom furniture to fit, and I became much more careful with how we were filling our space – everything needed to be functional and make sense spatially. We spent a lot of time outside, tending to the garden, mowing our plot of grass, and grilling dinners with friends on the patio. It was the first true home we had created for ourselves and our life together. We were so proud of what we built. In fact, we loved our home so much we named it “Trollhagen”. Kana grew up in Vermont, where he had a neighbor who called her house “Trollhagen” after its cottage-like charm, and it only felt appropriate to adopt this for our perfect home. Unfortunately, our bliss was cut short. Three months in, we received notice that developers had purchased the plot and were planning to demolish the structure and construct a condo in its place. Within weeks, we packed up and moved into another apartment in Greenpoint, but our hearts were set on recreating the magical home we just left. (Needless to say, our time at Trollhagen also inspired me to also start making pottery under its namesake brand.) simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    For us, upstate was a natural place to start exploring, with its close proximity to the city and to our families in New Jersey and Vermont. We started spending our weekends upstate, taking a ZipCar and exploring different areas in the Hudson Valley. One such excursion took place over 4th of July weekend, 2013. We decided to check out an old schoolhouse with an addition that Kana had been following on Trulia. It was the first and only house that we looked at with a broker. The property included a barn and 10 acres, and had everything we were looking for—age and character, clean architectural dimensions, outdoor space, and living space small enough to be efficient but with plenty of room to grow. After one night’s sleep we pulled the trigger and made an offer. In two months we closed and started our new upstate adventure.
    simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leavesErin: It looks as if you’ve largely approached this project on your own. What’s been your approach to making the schoolhouse a place you love to spend time in? What was the first project that you tackled when you bought the property? Is there something you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try?

    Suzie: Thus far, we’ve mostly performed renovations on our own, which includes everything from demolition to plumbing to finish details. Some of which we are still working on (and which you may notice in some of the photos!). A friend handled most of the electrical work, and I wired in the light fixtures and switches. The previous owner was a DIY-er himself and his hand was visible in the early version of the Schoolhouse. We loved the added charm and personality, but unfortunately his was pre-YouTube era (how-to videos are a godsend), and much of the work needed updating. So we addressed most of these things early on, and in the process Kana and I began making the house our own.simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    The first project we tackled was updating the bedroom. We removed a built-in bed that was awkwardly positioned, and installed shiplap walls as a study for what we had in mind for the Schoolhouse. It worked out, but we definitely learned a few things along the way (note: it’s worth investing in the higher quality paint, especially if you’re doing white). Over the course of the renovation we were really able to make this home our own.simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Kana fell a tree on our property and hand-hewed a beam that rests across the Schoolhouse, I made our brass light fixture by modifying Lindsey Adelman’s DIY You Make It Chandelier, we built and installed the book cases, Kana put in every nail into the shiplap lining the Schoolhouse walls and ceiling, and I think I’ve gone over each one of them with putty. From floor to ceiling, our hands are in this house and when I look around our home, I am reminded of all the work we’ve put in. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling. Throughout the whole process our guiding principle has been simplicity. I love the idea of creating more with a small space, whether it’s maximizing light, leveraging unused areas, or finding a floor plan that makes sense. For us, having a bright and airy place in which we can easily work, entertain and function, has been key.
    simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Erin: In terms of your belongings, how have you split them between Brooklyn and upstate? Did you need to find objects in duplicate to meet your needs in both places? Is your approach to furnishing the Schoolhouse different from your approach in your city place?

    Suzie: Over time, more of our belongings have shifted upstate, but since we split the time, sorting items between up- and downstate has been relatively easy. Typically we’ll each bring a backpack when we head up to the Schoolhouse. We pack light! I will say I am really excited to have all our books in the Schoolhouse. As you may be able to tell from the photos, we’re in the process of shifting these.simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves
    In Brooklyn our approach to furnishing has been mostly driven by spatial parameters and multi-purpose functionality— the love seat that fits perfectly in our kitchen / living area, the large farm table that Kana built, and which serves as work space when needed. Since we have more space upstate, the Schoolhouse has been more focused on quality. Because of this, we’re still deciding on some of the bigger ticket items, but we started furnishing with a few mid-century modern classics—a pair of Jens Risom chairs and a pair of Bertoia wire chairs—which we got from Samuel Ivan in Williamsburg. simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leaves

    Erin: Do you spend your time differently in each place?

    Suzie: We tend to be more active at the Schoolhouse. I throw Trollhagen & Co. pottery exclusively upstate. Kana is a writer, and spends the quiet mornings working on his novel. We spend much more time outdoors – taking walks and exploring our property, swimming in our creek in the summer, doing yard work. The nearby farms are fantastic, so we cook more meals at home.
    simple matters with suzie ryu of trollhagen & co. | reading my tea leavesErin: You describe Trollhagen & Co. as being “founded on the love for creating objects and spaces that are simple, functional, and beautiful.” How do you put those guiding principles into practice in both your ceramics and your home?

    Suzie: Trollhagen & Co. was conceived as a homewares brand with an offering of goods that would complement a lifestyle striving towards these principles, and in renovating the Schoolhouse, I think we did a pretty good job of creating the space the ceramics were designed for. Enforcing these values is not always easy, and we certainly stray at times, but I find the process of figuring out how to make it all work is the best part, and the end result is something to be proud of.


    To see more of Suzie’s work, head to her online shop, Trollhagen & Co.

    To keep up with Suzie and Kana at the Schoolhouse, follow @theschoolhouseny on Instagram.

    Photos by Suzie Ryu.

    The Simple Matters Series is inspired in part by curiosity piqued while writing my book of the same title. I wanted to know what simple matters were for other folks. And why simplicity mattered to them in the first place. My own story came out in January of 2016. It’s available right this way.

    clutter-free holiday decorations.

    December 6, 2016

    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves
    We needed to take things up a notch with our holiday decorations this year. I knew we’d put up the usual lights and candles and tree, but I had a hankering for something extra sparkly, extra magical, extra jolly. Hell, I totally lost my mind and brought red into the picture.

    If it’s looking like my adult Christmas tree is merely a vehicle for me to live out my childhood dreams of time traveling well, then, mission accomplished.

    I love a good old-fashioned Christmas tree, not just because I think they’re pretty but because they make sense in a small space. I’ve written before that we try to keep all of our holiday decorations to a single shoe box and with the exception of one special addition this year, we’ve stuck to that rule by making our tree a little more festive through the magic of compostable decorations. Here, four simple ideas for decking the halls a bit more lavishly, without breaking the bank (or needing to invest in a storage unit).clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    Cinnamon and Applesauce Ornaments

    What you need

    Apple sauce + Cinnamon + Heat + Time + Upholstery Needle + String

    One of my cousins makes them every year for Christmas, but I hadn’t made a batch of my own since I was in elementary school. Happily, these guys couldn’t be easier and if you omit the traditional use of Elmer’s glue, you’ll find that they still hold perfectly well together. (Caveat: It might be that without the glue these guys get crumbly after a year in storage—I haven’t tested that—but for now, they’re as solid as the glue-filled alternatives.) I got cinnamon in bulk from my neighborhood spice shop, bought a jar of plain apple sauce, and used my friend Katy’s recipe to make a batch. 
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    We ended up with so many stars, that I’m planning to use them to decorate presents this Christmas, too. I used an upholstery needle to make the holes and string the stars, but any poky thing you have around will do. 
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    Cranberry Garlands

    What you need:

    Cranberries + Needle +  Thread

    We made these a few times growing up and I was glad for a little something in a pretty shade of crimson to add to the tree. The good news is that in the week or so following Thanksgiving fresh cranberries often go on sale, and you can make a festive garland or two inexpensively. The cranberries are easy to puncture with just about any sewing needle (and if you use a blunt-tipped needle even little helpers can join in). No hugely extensive tutorial needed here; just string those berries and tie off the ends of the garland!  (Update: As with all things, please make an effort to source sustainably! Industrial cranberry agriculture is something of an environmental disaster. I found sustainably harvested, organic berries for just $2.99/bag at my local organic market!)clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    One tip: For both cranberry and popcorn garlands, I find that it’s easiest to drape them nicely in the tree if I make several shorter lengths that wrap around the girth of the tree just once, rather than trying to string one very long garland neatly around and up the entire tree.
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    Popcorn Strings

    What you need: 

    Popcorn + Thread + Needle

    Stringing popcorn is admittedly slightly more tedious than stringing cranberries (sometimes it takes a few times to strike the sweet spot that will let the needle through the popcorn and sometimes the popped corn crumbles under too much pressure) but generally making these is a cinch, very inexpensive, and something meditative to do while watching a movie in the evening. I make a batch of stove top popcorn that I leave plain—no need for butter or salt or za’atar here—and string it onto cotton thread. For my tree this year, I chose to alternate all-popcorn and all-cranberry garlands, but of course you can mix them up and add other interesting things to your garlands as your heart desires.
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    Dried Fruit Ornaments

    What you need: 

    Sliced apples, pears, and oranges + Heat + Time + Needle + String

    A bit of dried fruit on a tree is another inexpensive and easy-to-make alternative to traditional holiday ornaments. You can follow last year’s tutorial for dried oranges if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide. I concede that I was a little impatient this year and had these guys in too hot an oven, so my pears and apples were a little more on the brown side of golden than I would have preferred. No matter, they still look pretty and apparently they’re still delectable, too—Faye took a gigantic bite out of a hanging pear and was very pleased with the results.
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    A tip: In general, the oranges take a little longer to dry out than the apples and pears, and so it might be a good idea to cook them separately, or at least to check in to make sure your apples aren’t getting too cooked.clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    All put together, I think the finished tree is every bit as cheery as we needed, without being overwhelming in a small space. 
    clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    For our tree-topper this year, we decided to go the decidedly heirloom route. My dear internet pal Ashley of ABJ Glassworks made us this five-pointed glass star to add to the top of our tree. Needless to say it’s quickly become a treasured gift and a reminder that you don’t have to be overly dogmatic about any of this minimalism stuff. Strike a balance that works for you, treasure the things you have and that you love, and otherwise get on with it. If you are wanting to go a simpler or smaller route for your tree-topper, I happen to think a lovely length of mustard-colored grosgrain or velvet ribbon would make a mighty fine bow atop an otherwise compostable tree (and of course it would be very easy to stash in a small space for future years). clutter free holiday decorations | reading my tea leaves

    In case you’re not into the the compostable Christmas tree look (and yes, I admit I had one reader email me earlier this year to say that she needed something a little less…homespun), here are a few more ideas for finding ornaments with a bit more polish.

    Shop Vintage: While we really don’t have the space to store them, I can imagine one day starting a collection of vintage glass ornaments. (And likely there are plenty of folks who have boxes of family ornaments that might eventually get passed their way—or that already have.) There’s no shortage of beautiful vintage options on places like Etsy, but it might be worth keeping in mind that in addition to being fragile, some of these older ornaments likely include things like lead paint, so they might not be best choice for homes with small children.

    Shop Fair-Trade: There are lots of artisans around the world making beautiful ornaments this time of year (and always). Businesses like Ten Thousand Villages or Fair Indigo are committed to sourcing fair-trade ornaments from around the globe, so they might also be a nice place to start looking. These sparkling snowflakes from Bangladesh caught my eye. 

    Shop USA-Made: If you’re looking to invest in brand-new traditional ornaments, you might also consider seeking out Made-in-the-USA options. While I can’t vouch for the products or company personally, I did notice that Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Michigan has a section of their site devoted to USA-made products, including sets of very classic glass balls.

    Shop Small: Finally, my personal favorite route is to turn to small designers making beautiful ornaments and decorations by hand. Here are a few beauties that have caught my eye:

    + Beveled Star Ornament by ABJ Glassworks

    + Carved Wooden Bell by Pilosale

    + Balsam Fir Embroidered Ornaments by Quite Alright

    + Big Dot Ornaments from Pigeon Toe Ceramics

    + Patchwork Stockings by Ace & Jig and Kou Kou

    + Homespun Christmas Star by 86 Home

    + Porcelain Moose by Art et Manufacture

    What about you? Any favorite sources for ornaments? Any favorite things to make yourself?

  • gifts_give_back

    gift guide: gifts that give back.

    Since we find ourselves in a season of gift giving, I thought it might be nice this year to pull together just a few of the lovely things I’ve come across this season that also…

    December 5, 2016 27 Comments
  • branches_reading_my_tea_leaves_img_5970

    my week in objects (mostly).

    five little things that made my week.1. these cinnamon sticks. {for being 18 inches long.}2. this cluster of stars.{more on these next week, but for now this toddler installation kind of breaks my heart.}3. these…

    December 2, 2016 20 Comments
  • maureen_paal_reading_my_tea_leaves_img_2637

    simple matters 10: maureen bleeker paal.

    Maureen Beeker Paal | The Moksi CollectiveI first met Maureen when we bumped into each other on the street here in Brooklyn. She mentioned that she was a reader of my blog and mentioned…

    November 30, 2016 18 Comments
  • tradlands_november_reading_my_tea_leaves_193a0970

    wintry layers with tradlands.

    This post is sponsored by Tradlands, a women’s clothing brand specializing in menswear-inspired staples for women. Just in time for cold weather, a post with Tradlands to showcase what they’re doing to keep folks cozy this…

    November 29, 2016 24 Comments
  • charitable_gifts_reading_my_tea_leaves_img_5808

    gift guide: a charitable giving primer.

    Many people feel especially motivated to lend a helping hand around the holiday season and for some folks, that might mean taking a look at their coffers (or skill sets) to see who else they might…

    November 28, 2016 44 Comments
  • sign_reading_my_tea_leaves_img_5825

    my week in objects (mostly).

    five little things that made my week.1. this mini protest sign. {because, truly.}2. the piles we packed.{and the family we saw.}3. these pumpkin oatmeal cookies.{for providing train ride nourishment.}4. these skinny washi tapes.{because ’tis…

    November 25, 2016 15 Comments