Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chinese Highways

China now has about 65,000 kilometers of freeway criss-crossing the country. In 1989, the number of kilometers was zero. To get a sense of the magnitude of this achievement, the Interstate Highway system is about 75,000 kilometers long and took about 40 years to complete.

This does not mean the US should go on a freeway building spree (the marginal productivity of length almost surely decreases in length); it is just one measure of explaining how China has developed so rapidly.

Friday, July 30, 2010

There they go again

I enjoy David Brooks. From everything I can tell, he is smart and has a good heart. I would guess he is a terrific dinner companion. So I was disappointed when I read in his column this morning:

What we have is not just a cycle but a condition. We could look back on the period between 1980 and 2006 as the long boom ...

Sorry, David, but 1980 to 2006 was not a long boom. Consult the National Income and Product Accounts tables, and you will find that real GDP over that time grew about 3.1 percent per year. In the "awful" Nixon-Ford-Carter 1970s, growth was 3.2 percent per year; in the 60s 4.2 percent; in the 50s 3.5 percent, and in the 40s 5.6 percent.

It is not that 1980-2006 was bad, just hardly a boom relative to the previous 40 years.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steve Malpezzi is not happy

He blogs:

When I first heard of HAUP, I was excited, but my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. Among other problems, it requires that unemployed homeowners go through a fairly bureaucratic procedure to apply for what is (more or less) three months forbearance. And that' s merely the application; forbearance may or may not be granted for the 3 months. Remember, at the present time, the AVERAGE duration of unemployment is 9 months and rising.

(The fine print says you can extend beyond 3 months, but it's not clear that will happen, and will certainly not be clear to potential applicants).

The website's FAQs does not even tell people if the differences between the original payments and the reduced payments, are forgiven, or wrapped into the loan. (When I inquired of the experts in Washington, it turns out part of the loan is forborne, adding to the loan amount, but it’s amazing that they ask people to apply without clearly explaining such a key element of the program!)

What if your unemployment lasts more than three months (which is true for most unemployed today?) After two months you are given an application for HAMP, the dog that won't hunt. As far as I can tell, most unemployed will still not qualify for HAMP after they fill out this application.

There are other details that limit the program’s scope, and hence its effectiveness at halting the skid in housing prices. Homeowners can't get relief on the second liens. And if I read it right, HAUP does nothing for the unemployed not receiving unemployment insurance.

My bottom line: Treasury is still spitting on the fire and leaving the hoses coiled up.

Sneakity Peek: Rugs for Pure Style Home!

As I recently mentioned, we're working on getting an online store up & running for Pure Style Home.  It's going to be filled with one-of-a-kind things I absolutely love and want to keep.  (But because I'm not independently wealthy and don't have ten houses, must sell ;)  I am SO INSANELY EXCITED over the rugs we just recently found to be sold in the shop!!  (We were only able to buy 4 to start out with-  rugs are a serious investment- eek!)  All of the rugs chosen are hand-knotted, have an antique washed feel, and I want to keep every single one.  I'm in the process of photographing them and was just too excited not to share with you.  This one is a Mamluk rug, created in the style of rugs produced during the Mamluk Dynasty in 14th Century Egypt.  It's full of golds and browns with splashes of pale blue-green:

It's approximately 8 x 11 and I'm seriously in love,  Here's a close-up:

I'm really not a sales person but have started this venture out of my love for stuff.  Yeah, there I said it, I LOVE STUFF.  But I can't keep it all, and in my job, I see so many beautiful things that it's hard to walk away from them.  It's hard for me to "sell" things to anyone, but if I don't, I'll end up with either a house smashed-full of beautiful things and an empty bank acoount or having to continue to walk away from all of these treasures.  So, the new shop will be my outlet for making these items available to clients & others who love them as much as I do...  a place for my "uncommon finds."  I hope you never feel that posts like this are "salesy" and that I'm trying to push anything on you...  I hope you see it as me being so excited that I want to share things with you because that's truly what it is.

{A bunch of the other items in the photos above will be for sale too, but I'm not sure which ones yet as I'm having trouble parting with them- ha!}

I'm adding inventory to the store daily and am trying to get it up and running as quickly as possible.  I'll keep you posted!!  Would love to know what you think of it!!

xoxo, Lauren

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

David Leonhardt writes that Kindergarten matters

From the encouraging article:

On Tuesday, Mr. Chetty presented the findings — not yet peer-reviewed — at an academic conference in Cambridge, Mass. They’re fairly explosive.

Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.

All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.

The economists don’t pretend to know the exact causes. But it’s not hard to come up with plausible guesses. Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime — patience, discipline, manners, perseverance. The tests that 5-year-olds take may pick up these skills, even if later multiple-choice tests do not.

Two really important points here: (1) early education does seem to matter; (2) the multiple choice tests we give older students may be deeply flawed. This is particularly problematic if these later tests are the foundation for evaluating our educational system.

The Hidden Leverage of Mortgage Securitization

Ed Glaeser has a nice piece about the debate over whether securitization should get the blame for the subprime mess. But it doesn't address one of the problems created by securitization: hidden leverage.

When banks (commercial and investment) sold off mortgage backed securities, they got them off their balance sheets, and so there was a pretense that they were no longer liabilities. But in order to sell the MBS, the lenders had to offer repurchase agreements, which said that if there was something materially wrong with the loan underwriting, the investor could return the mortgage backed security to the lender at par. Lenders also often kept residual positions of mortgage backed securities, meaning that to reassure investors, the lenders (i.e., the sellers of the securities) would take first loss positions.

Both repurchase agreements and residuals effectively increased the leverage taken on by lenders. Let me illustrate: suppose a lender has an whole asset and capital of ten percent, and the asset loses one percent of its value. The lender takes a ten percent hit against capital, because it is levered at 10 to one. But now suppose it takes a first loss position of ten percent on residuals, and the mortgage underlying the residuals lose one percent of value. The residual loses ten percent of its value, which means it wipes out the capital that is implicitly backing it. The combination of ten percent capital and a ten percent first loss position implies actual leverage of [updated: 100 to 1].

Ironically, the fact that financial institutions ate some of their own cooking--something that should have mitigated moral hazard--made them more vulnerable.

The Tempel Lipizzan Legacy

A few miles from my dad's lake house (where we're visiting now) are the Tempel Lipizzan Stables which house Lipizzans, Europe's oldest domesticated horses, owned by the Tempel Smith family (of Tempel Steel).  The grounds are incredible and we love going to see the shows.
{The Stables}

According to, "Lipizzans are Europe's oldest domesticated breed of horse. They not only possess beauty and nobility, but also a rare combination of courage, strength, ability, temperament, and intelligence.

The Lipizzan breed had its beginning in 1580"... and was created by a combination of different breeds... They have been moved throughout the past 400 years numerous times to survive various wars including the Napoleanic Wars, and World Wars I & II.  "In 1945 General patton executed a daring rescue of the Lippizzans, the story of which is told in Disney's The Miracle of the White Stallions."

{photo of a photo I saw in the stables}

"In 1955, millionaire Tempel Smith (Tempel Steel) of Chicago, imported 20 Lipizzans from Austria, 11 from Hungary, and 6 from Yugoslavia..."

{Me creepily taking photos of one of the riders who was resting between performances...  he totally caught me- oops!}

..."Tempel Smith devoted 15 years, until his death in 1980, importing and breeding his herd to over 400 horses. Since Tempel Smith's death, much of the herd was disbursed. However, Tempel Farms still breeds a number of Lipizzans each year, and they still successfully compete Lipizzans for Tempel Farms."
{The Show...  The woman above was so beautiful & poised...  exactly what you would imagine. }

This year, the weather was perfect when we took Christian & Justin to see the show.  The horses are just incredible:

I can't believe how high they jump!!!

The boys had so much fun and even 7-month-old Justin was into it...


 {I loved this photo from the stables}

And Christian loved the old "fire truck"- 

I'm apey over the Guest House, which sits high up on a hill overlooking the grounds:

It can be rented for private events and there's a pool in the back:


... which overlooks this:

And the stables house some of the best design I've ever seen:

The hallway was gorgeous. 


They've kept everything as it was in the 50s:

Check out the heat lamps the horses use when being bathed:

...And of course I can't see all of this and not start to think about interiors.  Oh my gosh, please someone call me with a horse fetish!!!  (err passion ;)  I'm dying to do a home for a horse-lover now!!

  Check out these photos taken by Roger Davies for Elle Decor of Mark Badgley and James Mishcka’s home:  Mmmmmm.. love it!

 And this one from Nuevo Estilo Magazine via La Dolce Vita:

(I can't help but get a little bit excited for Fall when looking at all of these images but I'm holding it back because Summer's still in full force.)  

And one last picture of the horses as we drove by another day on the way home to the house...  You can see them right on Hunt Club Road: 

{The Tempel Lipizzans}

xoxo, Lauren

If you're still in the mood for horse-inspired interiors, definitely check out these 2 posts full of equestrian eye candy:  (so gorgeous!!!)

Chic Equestrian Style in Home Decor by Simplified Bee
Equestrian Chic by La Dolce Vita

Monday, July 26, 2010

Debra & Scentimental Gardens

{Love fig trees!!}

Last week we got to stop over to see our friend Debra Phillips at Scentimental Gardens in Geneva, IL and I was in Heaven!!  {Debra also recently opened up another store on Grand Ave in Chicago and writes the blog 5th & State. }  Debra & Sarah (below) greeted us at the shop and they are so warm & sweet.  Debra's amazing with kids & even gave Christian an adorable little concrete turtle he promptly named "Sammy."

{Sarah & Debra}

I was totally in love with this room and wanted pretty much everything in it.  The slate tile floors were hidden underneath blah carpeting when Debra first moved in. 

How adorable are the chalkboard signs/ labels? (below)  What a cute way to label a drink.

Check out the industrial tabe below (mm mm!) and lately I've also been been loving silhouettes.

And here's one last photo at Scentimental Gardens of us all before a yummy lunch:

{Dave, baby Justin, me with Christian, and Debra}

While we were in Geneva, we also stopped at the butterfly house at Peck Farm.  Christian's been very into butterflies lately (there's a Little Einstein movie about them) and loved it:

I thought this one, called a "Julia," was awesome:

If you can get to Geneva, it's so worth it!!  ...  Lots of great shops & an adorable town and of course you have to stop in and see Debra!! (And the butterflies if you're into that) One of the things I love most about blogging is making & meeting new friends.  It's so much fun to be with other design junkies & to feel like you already know someone before you've even met them.    

xoxo, Lauren

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Parkour Visions Summit and Talk

On August 13-15th, my friends Rafe Kelley and Tyson Cecka are hosting a parkour summit at their Seattle gym Parkour Visions. For those of you not familiar with the sport, here's a description from the Parkour Visions site:
"The essence of Parkour can be stated simply: it is the art of overcoming obstacles as swiftly and efficiently as possible using only your body. The fundamentals include running, jumping, and climbing, and we build on these fundamentals to improve our ability to pass over, under, around and through obstacles with more complex movements. Parkour is a system of fitness training that improves strength, speed, agility, co-ordination, stamina, endurance, and precision. It offers a full-body workout at any level of experience, and improves your ability to move, to harness your confidence, to change how you see the world. Parkour practitioners are called traceurs."
The summit will include seminars on strength training, injury prevention and rehab, and nutrition, as well as parkour jams, a roundtable and a dinner. I'll be giving a talk titled "Natural Eating for Sustainable Athletic Performance" on Saturday, August 14 from noon to 1:00 pm.

Registration is $40 for the whole summit. You can read a description of it here, and find a link to the registration system at the bottom of this page.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Raphael Bostic on housing tenure policy

From Newsweek:

Another senior HUD official was more direct in an interview with the Washington Post recently: "In previous eras, we haven't seen people question whether homeownership was the right decision. It was just assumed that's where you want to go. You're not going to hear us say that."

That official was Raphael Bostic, a leading scholar on home finance [rg note: and USC professor] and key policy adviser. An NPR report on Thursday morning said senior officials have acknowledged that their HAMP plan was largely a failure, and were leaning toward policy goals that promoted renting rather than buying. As a result, the report said, Fannie and Freddie might be entirely liquidated.

Zit Cure: Plantain (I am so serious!)

I love plantain.  Not banana plantain, but Great Plantain, the stuff that grows all over fields and yards (like mine) that aren't quite all grass.  It has medicinal properties and I've even transplanted a bunch of them from my yard into my garden into a pretty row.  I don't have a photo right now but check out this photo below from here

I've always loved herbs & plants and spent a lot of time when I was younger researching the medicinal properties of plants, fruits, etc.  I collected volumes of books (before the internet was big) on the subject and used to go hunting for the herbs and would make herbal teas & concoctions.  My friends would make fun of me and I totally creeped them out with my weirdness.  One of the best herbs around that's readily accessible is plantain.  A puree of it is great for cuts and scrapes and even zits. (!!)  I wish I could say I'm past them, but I'm not.       So, first you pick a couple of the leaves: 

Next, wet the leaves and make a puree of them (I like to do it with a chef knife...  my dad made the one above and it's the best!!)  Below is the yummy-looking mixture ready to be applied:

hahaha okay and I seriously can't believe I'm sharing this picture with you....   but then you apply it to any trouble areas and just use scotch tape or a band-aid to keep it on your skin for 15-20 minutes. 

{Please forget you ever saw this}

hahaha ok, but I'm serious when I tell you that it really works.  If you don't mind looking like a fool, then this stuff is the best.  (And it also gives the whole family someone to make fun of.)

Have an awesome weekend!!

xoxo, Lauren

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No people with memory loss in my back yard

In the midst of doing research on how NIMBYs fight facility for housing the elderly, I came across this story from last March in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

When a released sex offender plans to move in next door, or a drug-treatment center is scoping sites for a new halfway house, a neighborhood's red flags invariably follow.

Now, the list of objectionable neighbors is growing.

In the face of overwhelming opposition from residents in an upscale community called Stonemill Farms in eastern Woodbury, plans for a 45-unit assisted-living facility for people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia have been put on hold.

The Alzheimer's facility is the latest in a growing list of projects across the metro that are meeting resistance from neighbors who perceive a threat to their communities or fear their property values will erode.

A decision on whether to recommend the Woodbury project for approval was to go before the city's Planning Commission on April 5, but the developer on Wednesday asked for more time to address issues, including concerns raised by neighbors, said Eric Searles, associate planner for Woodbury.

The move follows nearly a month of intensive protests and petitions by neighbors who mainly object to locating the facility in a failed retail site near a day care center and across the street from an elementary school. Many have also expressed a sense of betrayal that the original plans for the community never envisioned an assisted-living facility.

The facility would go into a dead retail center: turning vacant space into useful space usually improves neighborhoods. The idea that Alzheimer's patients pose a risk to children is beyond preposterous. I understand having land use controls so that property owners don't have to deal with genuine nuisances, such as oil refineries. But what kind of people seek to deny the infirm a decent place to live? One hopes that once these neighbors are stricken with Alzheimer's, they retain enough of their long term memory to remember how badly they behaved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Dream to Life

There are some projects that just get me deep inside.  Whenever designing a space, we think of all of the functions the room needs to have.  In this case- it was my dad's lakehouse bathroom and it needed to be practical and be able to handle lots of wear & tear from guests.  But beyond the functional, I always want something more. 

This cottage has been in my family since the 50s.  We've been been making memories here through now 4 generations.  I remember coming here as a little girl and the whole family piling into the cottage on summer weekends:  Beds pushed together, laughing & talking late into the night to the hum of the window air conditioning units.  This cottage was built in the 1930s and when my dad inherited it in the late 90s, he completely redid it.  I've been there helping along the way & we've had our disagreements believe me, but most of the time, I win.  I want to share with you one of my favorite finished spaces, the kids' bathroom.  We started with nothing.  There wasn't an original bathroom there, jusgt a small sitting room.  My dad raised the roof on the original cottage and made room for a large bathroom.  When I started on this space it was just rough- framing, sans-drywall. 

{Little galvanized buckets hold kiddie washcloths and toys}

There are details that my dad has filled in that were not the ones specified by me (such as the wall color, chrome outlet covers, etc.) but I am seriously trying to LET GO.  (It's not easy for someone like me..)  I got to this bathroom in spurts on visits and so it's not exactly as I want it but it feels good, which is what matters most to me.    I used fun bright colors- corals and aqua- to pull in the glass floor tiles and the scheme from the kids' bedroom.

A while back we made these little framed stamps of Christian's hands and feet:

I used the lobster print from the Natural Cuiosities centerfold:
{Still waiting to be properly matted}

And, finally, after years of waiting for the house to be finished, I got my dream last night:

The kids piled into the clawfoot tub!!  (It's not original to the house, but a new 7 footer.)  It was exactly as I'd envisioned and was seriously awesome.  I'm sure many of you feel the same way about creating a space:  you envision the way things will play out and "making memories" in the perfect setting.   We'd had a nice long day at the lake and then it was easy & fun to just run the bath water in the massive tub and pile them in at the end of the day.

i loved seeing them having such a blast. 

{Andrew, and poor Lily being squirted by Christian}

This is what it's all about and I just wanted to share with you.   When we're creating rooms we really are doing more than designing spaces.  We're affecting how we'll live.  I love it!!

xoxo, Lauren

*Sink: American Standard 
*Paint: "mountain haze" by Behr...  Eventually, I'll switch it to a more bluey/aqua-gray instead of the green-gray it is (the current undertones are wrong with the aqua floor tiles) or a creamy-warm-beigey-neutral  that works better with the glass floor   (...My dad used the leftover paint from another room ;)