Monday, February 28, 2011

Joel Kotkin cannot find evidence of a "Back to the City" movement

He puts together a table of suburban and core urban growth based on 2000 and 2010 census data.

MSA                   Core Growth                         Suburban Growth                             Total Growth

Austin 20.4%                                       56.1%                                              37.3%
Baltimore -4.6% 9.9% 6.2%
Chicago -6.9% 9.0% 3.9%
Dallas-Fort Worth 0.8% 30.2% 23.4%
Houston 7.5% 39.3% 26.1%
Indianapolis 5.0% 28.3% 15.2%
San Antonio 16.0% 43.7% 25.2%
Washington 5.2% 16.8% 15.4%
Total 3.2% 21.7% 15.7%

These are places for which the Census had released data by mid-February. Some of the places for which data has been released since then--St. Louis, Las Vegas and Birmingham--have the same pattern: in all cases suburban growth has outpaced central city growth. St. Louis' population has dropped to its lowest level since 1870.

The results seem particularly surprising for Chicago and Washington, which have had successful redevelopment in their urban cores. But redevelopment can actually reduce density. Gentrification often means that wealthy households rehabilitate mult-family properties into single family homes. This can lead to an increase in wealth in cities, but does not necessary translate into a relative increase in population.

I have long rooted for cities (although I confess that I myself live in an "urban" suburb). But facts are facts, and the facts from the 2010 census at this point do not support the idea of a reversal from suburbanization to urbanization.

Friday, February 25, 2011

DC Design House Bare Bones Tour!

If you're free tomorrow, I'd love to see you at the DC Design House Bare Bones Day!  You can view the "before" of the empty house and view designers design boards for their spaces & talk to them about their plans.  I'll be there bright & early in my updtairs bedroom at 10.  (10 is bright & early for this mama who lives way out in the 'burbs ;) 

Tickets are $20 each and proceeds go to Children's Hospital. 

We're flying out to LA for the Design Blogger's Conference tomorrow late-afternoon so I'll be staying at the Showhouse until a little after 1 or so before heading to the airport. 

Here is a little peek at a photo of the grisaille "sketch" done by John Matthew Moore for my design board:

{I want to be there}

Outside of the house in DC, there are boxwood gardens so we thought this painting of English gardens would be fitting for the room.  This little painting is based on a photo Matthew took on one of his trips.   I cannot wait to see it enlarged!! 

{John Matthew Moore in his gallery}

Want another peek of his gallery?  (I thought you would so I took lots of pics!)  The Gallery in McLean is not completely finished but is still gorgeous:

{Recognize those robin's eggs paintings?}

{Some of the beautiful frames available... art in and of themselves}

{Loove these chairs... Matthew reupholstered them in a levendar-gray velvet with jute trim.}

{the desk}


{I love these little sheep paintings hung in the window}

{The pedestal table displays some of lighting designer Rick Singleton's repurposed lighting projects}

{check out this antique beauty... I love the nailholes left over from its lifetime of different identities}

{And one last parting pic of the Gallery}

For information on Matthew, Rick and their work, go here.

I met Matthew & Rick this past September when our good mutual friends, Eddie & Jaithan were visiting.  We went to the best little burger place around in McLean & had a great time.  I was literally blown away by their work & couldn't wait to use pieces of theirs for clients.  When the DC Design House came around, I immediately thought of Matthew & Rick & how amazing pieces done by them would be.  I was thrilled when they were on board to contribute to the bedroom!  They have both had pieces featured in past Design Houses and I kid you not, I got so excited I chills when I saw the gallery the first time with Eddie & Jaithan.  It just oozes with creativity and makes you need a piece for your own home. 

Throughout the next coming month or two, I'll be sharing photos & info on all of the people and companies who are contributing to my room in the DC Design House.  They're such a creative talented group & they've all been so generous.  The Children's Hospital Showhouse definitely takes a village and I can't wait for you to "meet" everyone! 

The Design House Bare Bones Tour tomorrow will be a lot of fun, so please come if you can!! 

For the address & info for tomorrow, go here.:

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Polyphenols, Hormesis and Disease: Part II

In the last post, I explained that the body treats polyphenols as potentially harmful foreign chemicals, or "xenobiotics". How can we reconcile this with the growing evidence that at least a subset of polyphenols have health benefits?

Clues from Ionizing Radiation

One of the more curious things that has been reported in the scientific literature is that although high-dose ionizing radiation (such as X-rays) is clearly harmful, leading to cancer, premature aging and other problems, under some conditions low-dose ionizing radiation can actually decrease cancer risk and increase resistance to other stressors (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It does so by triggering a protective cellular response, increasing cellular defenses out of proportion to the minor threat posed by the radiation itself. The ability of mild stressors to increase stress resistance is called "hormesis." Exercise is a common example. I've written about this phenomenon in the past (6).

The Case of Resveratrol

Resveratrol is perhaps the most widely known polyphenol, available in supplement stores nationwide. It's seen a lot of hype, being hailed as a "calorie restriction mimetic" and the reason for the "French paradox."* But there is quite a large body of evidence suggesting that resveratrol functions in the same manner as low-dose ionizing radiation and other bioactive polyphenols: by acting as a mild toxin that triggers a hormetic response (7). Just as in the case of radiation, high doses of resveratrol are harmful rather than helpful. This has obvious implications for the supplementation of resveratrol and other polyphenols. A recent review article on polyphenols stated that while dietary polyphenols may be protective, "high-dose fortified foods or dietary supplements are of unproven efficacy and possibly harmful" (8).

The Cellular Response to Oxidants

Although it may not be obvious, radiation and polyphenols activate a cellular response that is similar in many ways. Both activate the transcription factor Nrf2, which activates genes that are involved in detoxification of chemicals and antioxidant defense**(9, 10, 11, 12). This is thought to be due to the fact that polyphenols, just like radiation, may temporarily increase the level of oxidative stress inside cells. Here's a quote from the polyphenol review article quoted above (13):
We have found that [polyphenols] are potentially far more than 'just antioxidants', but that they are probably insignificant players as 'conventional' antioxidants. They appear, under most circumstances, to be just the opposite, i.e. prooxidants, that nevertheless appear to contribute strongly to protection from oxidative stress by inducing cellular endogenous enzymic protective mechanisms. They appear to be able to regulate not only antioxidant gene transcription but also numerous aspects of intracellular signaling cascades involved in the regulation of cell growth, inflammation and many other processes.
It's worth noting that this is essentially the opposite of what you'll hear on the evening news, that polyphenols are direct antioxidants. The scientific cutting edge has largely discarded that hypothesis, but the mainstream has not yet caught on.

Nrf2 is one of the main pathways by which polyphenols increase stress resistance and antioxidant defenses, including the key cellular antioxidant glutathione (14). Nrf2 activity is correlated with longevity across species (15). Inducing Nrf2 activity via polyphenols or by other means substantially reduces the risk of common lifestyle disorders in animal models, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer (16, 17, 18), although Nrf2 isn't necessarily the only mechanism. The human evidence is broadly consistent with the studies in animals, although not as well developed.

One of the most interesting effects of hormesis is that exposure to one stressor can increase resistance to other stressors. For example, long-term consumption of high-polyphenol chocolate increases sunburn resistance in humans, implying that it induces a hormetic response in skin (19). Polyphenol-rich foods such as green tea reduce sunburn and skin cancer development in animals (20, 21).

Chris Masterjohn first introduced me to Nrf2 and the idea that polyphenols act through hormesis. Chris studies the effects of green tea on health, which seem to be mediated by polyphenols.

A Second Mechanism

There is a place in the body where polyphenols are concentrated enough to be direct antioxidants: in the digestive tract after consuming polyphenol-rich foods. Digestion is a chemically harsh process that readily oxidizes ingested substances such as polyunsaturated fats (22). Oxidized fat is neither healthy when it's formed in the deep fryer, nor when it's formed in the digestive tract (23, 24). Eating polyphenol-rich foods effectively prevents these fats from being oxidized during digestion (25). One consequence of this appears to be better absorption and assimilation of the exceptionally fragile omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (26).

What does it all Mean?

I think that overall, the evidence suggests that polyphenol-rich foods are healthy in moderation, and eating them on a regular basis is generally a good idea. Certain other plant chemicals, such as suforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables, and allicin found in garlic, exhibit similar effects and may also act by hormesis (27). Some of the best-studied polyphenol-rich foods are tea (particularly green tea), blueberries, extra-virgin olive oil, red wine, citrus fruits, hibiscus tea, soy, dark chocolate, coffee, turmeric and other herbs and spices, and a number of traditional medicinal herbs. A good rule of thumb is to "eat the rainbow", choosing foods with a variety of colors.

Supplementing with polyphenols and other plant chemicals in amounts that would not be achievable by eating food is probably not a good idea.

* The "paradox" whereby the French eat a diet rich in saturated fat, yet have a low heart attack risk compared to other affluent Western nations.

** Genes containing an antioxidant response element (ARE) in the promoter region. ARE is also sometimes called the electrophile response element (EpRE).

Apartment Therapy Design Evening in DC

If you're in the DC area, come out to this month's Apartment Therapy Design Evening on March 16th.  I'll be speaking about design, my new fabric & furniture lines, the showhouse and other random things and would love to meet you!!  (Like I mentioned, public speaking makes me a little nervous so friendly faces would be a huge plus :)  It's a great chance to get to meet other bloggers & design-obsessed people and it should be a lot of fun.  So come out if you can!!

To see details and RSVP, go here
The location listed is tentative so be sure to check back prior to the event... they are trying to get a larger space. 

Fingers crossed! eeeeek

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

From my daughter's blog: Hannah in Paris: Politics or nostalgia? » North by Northwestern

Hannah in Paris: Politics or nostalgia? » North by Northwestern

Nokia admits defeat

It's official. Nokia has retreated from the smartphone OS battlefield, dominated by Apple and Android, and announced phasing out of the Symbian OS. But the company is not giving up just yet as it will be joining forces with Microsoft and switching to Windows Mobile OS.

Nokia was once a dominant player in the industry but has failed to innovate and dropped its market share to only 27.1% , according to Gartner. Symbian, an open source operating system and software platform designed for smartphones and maintained by Nokia, is a casualty. The scale is tipping now in favor of operating system providers and away from hardware vendors and the market will now be shared between three giants – Google, Apple and Microsoft.

This new development resembles very much what happened in personal computers market a few decades ago. In 2009 I have written a post discussing the scenario of market power shift to operating systems providers. Android barely registered then in statistics so it looked like Symbian was to become the open source equivalent to Linux. Now it seems rather unlikely and this title will most likely go to Android OS. The only difference between PC and mobile market scenarios is a large dominance of open source operating system but the rest plays out almost exactly like a few decades ago (ie. Apple vs Microsoft vs open source community)! This is one more proof that history tends to repeat itself and therefore we should expect many more similarities to PC market: Dell-like handset customisation, liberation of content and apps on mobile devices as with the advent of the Internet, emergence of new service providers that will eventually muscle out the power from operating system providers, etc. etc...


More details emerged on the Nokia Microsoft deal. It looks like Microsoft it taking a gamble for long term gains, paying Nokia $1B up front to switch to Windows OS…

Related Posts:
2010 The Year of Android OS
Trends and opportunities in mobiles market

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Newest Textile Design- Magnolia

I wanted to share another little peek of my new textile line...  This design is called Magnolia and my friend (and super-talented artist), Kat Wright, painted it for me.  It will be available in several colorways and here's a quick look at two of them, both on linen.

Here's the blue colorway:

{"Magnolia" in blue by Lauren Liess Textiles}

And here's the True/Green:

{"Magnolia" in true by Lauren Liess Textiles}

I had to use my camera phone & the pics really don't do them justice, especially the True.

I love magnolias and look out at my neighbor's massive magnoilia tree fairly often, wishing it were in my yard.  For this pattern, I wanted an overscaled pretty-yet-wild feel.  It's a floral but its leaves are just as prominent as its blooms which I think makes it a little less sweet.

I can't wait to start using these in projects ----   eeeek!!

I'm still working on finalizing pricing but hope to have them up and for sale in my online store by mid-April.

ps- I looooved your ideas about outdoor fabrics so am looking into it!

ppss-- I'm headed to LA this weekend to the Design Blogger's Conference and we're taking Christian to Disneyland!!  Let me know if you've signed up for the Conference!

Also, The DC Design House Bare Bones Tour is this Saturday from 10-4.  I'll be there so stop by if you can!  Click here for details. 

Finally, I'm joining up with Apartment Therapy on Wednesday, March 16th for a Designer Night in DC.  They're still finalizing the location so as soon as I know you'll let you know.  I definitely get a little nervous about public speaking so fingers crossed.

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Video Street View

Immersive 360° videos of streets have been around for a while now but I am always very excited when I have a chance to view new and “exotic” locations. Now site has integrated video content with Google Map to show routes and direction of the currently screened content. Available for viewing are numerous Swiss towns and several locations in the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Google had an option to adopt similar technology for its version of StreetView but settled for a much simpler solution based on static images. I have written about immersive video technology and Google in greater detail in my earlier post from 2009. Immersive 360° video streaming technology is making a progress but at a slow pace. The videos are always fun to watch and interact with – enjoy!

First spotted on Google Maps Mania

Related Post:
Immersive video yet to make its mark

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Property rights and time

When I moved to LA a bit more than two years ago, I bought a dryer.  Last week, the heating element went out.  The good news is that the dryer is still under warranty.  The bad news is that when the repair guy came to my house, he didn't have the part to fix it.  As I result, someone needs to be home a second time for the machine to get repaired.

The store from which I bought the dryer will only tell you what day they will come to do repairs--they won't give you a window of time for the day until the night before.  Consequently, to get a dryer that is under warranty repaired, one might well be required to give up two days. 

Because professors have a lot of flexibility in their jobs, this is not a huge deal for me.  For my wife, however, who is a phycician, this would be a big deal.  It would also be a big deal for any production or service worker who has little to no control over hours worked. 

The appliance store that sold and will repair the dryer has essetially asserted a property right to its customers' time--it is imposing costs that it is not forced to bear.  I am not sure whether it is true that this is happening over larger and larger swaths of the economy, but it sure seems so.  For instance, sometimes when I want to change a plane ticket, I am not allowed to do so on the web.  When I call the airline's number, I am sometimes required to wait on hold for a long time before I can talk to someone.  Now it is possible that the time saved on the web when I use it and the lower cost of airfare makes up for the cost of the dreadful phone service, but I am not sure.

Christchurch earthquake

No relief from natural disasters in this corner of the world. This time the tragedy has struck New Zealand town of Christchurch. A powerful and shallow earthquake of 6.3 in magnitude, with epicentre just about 10 km south from the town centre, has severely shaken the city knocking down many houses and office blocks. Current death toll stands at 65 but hundreds are reported missing. My heart goes out to all those affected, especially those who lost loved ones.

Spatial community in New Zealand has quickly mobilised and deployed Ushahidi platform to assist with dissemination of vital information from authorities as well as that reported by individuals in the affected areas:

More maps of the event:
- US Geological Survey site
- publishes earthquake information on a shareable map (this link includes shake modelling for Christchurch earthquake)
- Geosciene Australia map with seismograms

Monday, February 21, 2011

Garden of Giants

Why is it that when we're outside, we create spaces that remind us of being inside, and when we're inside we (well, definitely me) create spaces that remind us of the outside?  Outside we make "outdoor living" spaces, treehouses, fun sheds, outdoor kitchens, patios with rugs, etc...  and inside we want our windows wide open to reveal views of the outdoors, and we use natural materials & objects to bring nature in.  I'm really not sure why but I guess I'd say it's because we want the best out of both??  As humans, the outdoors is beautiful & awe-inspiring but maybe it's just in our DNA to make shelters and/or nest?  I'm guessing not everyone has this bug, but for those of you who have it, you know it's like that pregnant "nesting" stage for life. 

{image from Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Blog}

I loved my treehouse as a kid... I seriously used to sweep it!! (and you know I hate cleaning)  Yet just as much, I loved sleeping with my windows open so that it felt almost like I was outside.  I loved camping outside but I loved going into the cozy tent to sleep. 

{our Girl Scout tents were soooo not this great... image from }

Anyway, when it gets warmer out, my mind always goes to gardening & enjoying the yard.  Last year we planted wisteria along our fence and are a backwards with it, but are adding a pergola to our gate for it to grow over this year.  There's something about outdoor spaces that are just a tiny bit enclosed & private that I love. 

This year, we're planning something really special for the kids (&us)  thanks to this book my mother-in-law gave me:

{by Sharon Lovejoy found here}

It's called Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots and I am craaaaazy about it.  Seriously, it makes you want to go out and start digging.  I planted my daffodil bulbs this weekend after taking a peruse.  (I know I'm a couple of months late on that but I heard from  good source that they might have a shot?? )  In her book, Sharon Lovejoy outlines 12 different types of gardens you can make with y our kids.  (And honestly, whether you haev kids or not, these gardens are a-mazing.)   I want to do a couple this year but the one we're definitely doing is the "Garden of Giants."   It's actually a "living fort" that the kids (and me!) can play in.  They crawl through a tunnel of beans to get to a teepee of gourds surrounded by a giant pumpkin patch. 

{image from how gorgeous are these hanging gourds?!!}

You have to wait to start planting until it stays above 70 on most days so we'll need to wait a while for that (umm... yeah snow storm coming tonight what???!!) but I CANNOT WAIT!!!  For anyone interested in joining us, you can buy pre-done seed packets for the Garden of Giants here or you can get them on your own. 

I'm curious to see how this turns out.  I love to garden {mostly on weekends} but am an impatient & neglectful gardener...  things that don't need a lot of tending (or um watering) do really well at our house.  So we'll see how this goes.  If it works, I'll take lots of pictures.

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Ryan Avent on Density and Skyscrapers

He writes:

This comparison encourages a lot of people (not necessarily Richard Green) to decide that we don’t need skyscrapers. Defenders of the Washington height limit often fall into this category. But there are two points worth making in response to this. One is that it would be harder to build Paris in America than it would be to build Manhattan. Paris’ tiny streets are more hostile to the automobile than anything in the US, including Manhattan. And Paris has relatively tall buildings over a vast area; it’s easier for me to imagine Washingtonians tolerating 30-story buildings downtown than 10-story buildings in a central neighborhood like Brookland. If you need 10-story buildings in every little Brookland-like neighborhood to generate the same density you achieve with 30-story buildings in a central business district, then you can basically forget about generating high densities in American cities. The NIMBYs are just too strong.

The second point is that Glaeser isn’t directing people to go out and build skyscrapers. He’s not a planner. He’s merely saying that, yes, allowing developers to meet demand with supply will often yield tall buildings, and that’s a good thing. It will increase densities relative to the alternative, supply-limited case, and it will improve affordability relative to the alternative, supply-limited case. People who read Glaeser lauding density and who go on to tout the advantages of Paris get his argument precisely backwards. Because density is good, it’s costly — in terms of the metropolitan economy and affordability — to adopt Parisian limits on growth. Unless your city is one of the architectural jewels of the modern world, and if you live in America it isn’t, you should work very hard to avoid such constraints.

I think the comment about Brookland is very much on point.  At the same time, I can't help but wonder if Washington would be a more attractive and affordable city if it allowed a bunch of six floor buildings almost anywhere, instead of skyscrapers in certain districts.  BTW, I think Washington is close to being one of the architectural jewels of the modern world--its vistas are among its best features.

But now let us consider Los Angeles, another expensive city that has relatively few skyscrapers. Because of regulations arising from seismic concerns, it is very expensive to build steel-framed glass-curtainwall buildings here.   At the same time, while land is expensive in LA, it is nowhere near as expensive as Manhattan.  The combination of high construction costs and (lower) land costs leaves me skeptical about whether high-rise buildings could be economically feasible here.

On the other hand, we should use our land more densely and efficiently here.  Lots of four-to-six story buildings would help.  Maybe narrowing some minor street would help--particularly in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

As I said in my original post, high rises are almost certainly the right hammer for very large cities, such as Mumbai, Cairo, Mexico City and Sao [Paulo].  Singapore and Hong Kong have proved that cities that rely on the skyscraper can be beautiful and livable (although affordable is actually still an issue in those places).  But not every city is a nail.

Stokes latest media move

Today’s big news is the latest deal of Mr “Maverick” Stokes: Perth based West Australian Newspaper Holdings (WAN) takeover of Seven Media Group in a $4.1 billion deal to create Australia's largest television and newspaper company. It is a typical complex arrangement Mr Stokes is famous for, allowing some parties to exit while others to consolidate holdings. I didn’t look specifically at figures “before and after” but general media commentary is quite positive for investors, so it must be a great deal for Mr Stokes. He will definitely be in control as his long-time lieutenant David Leckie will be in charge of the new company, to be called Seven West Media.

Only a year and a bit ago I have hinted in this blog that Mr Stokes has created a solid base from disparate media assets to “… launch an assault on top position in media business in this country”. Now he has done it!

Related Post:
Stokes set to shake up media sector Down Under

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Are Skyscrapers Necessary for Density?

I just read Ed Glaeser's Atlantic piece on skyscrapers (which is excerpted from his new book on cities that I need to read).  I agree with nearly everything he says, particularly about the need for tall buildings in Mumbai, but I also think it is worth mentioning that one can get a lot of density without a lot of skyscrapers.  The municipality of Paris has a residential density of about 54,000 people per square mile; Manhattan has a residential densisity of about 71,000 people per square mile.  Paris has about 1.7 million workers, while Manhattan has about 2.1 million workers.  Yet as Ed notes, Manhattan has lots of skyscrapers, and Paris has few, and almost none outside of Le Defense.  How is this possible?

Let's look at a Google Earth image of Paris from 50,000 feet up:

Now lets's look at Manhattan from the same height:

Notice how at this scale you can see the minor streets of Manhattan pretty clearly, but not the minor streets of Paris?  Paris actually uses its land very efficiently--it does not waste space on streets or setbacks.  As a consequence, while it can be livable (if not affordable) with 3/4 of the denisity of Manhattan and a small fraction of the number of tall buildings of Manhattan.

There is no question that Ed is correct that mega-cities such as Mumbai, Cairo, Mexico City and Sao [Paulo] require skyscrapers to house people adequately and affordably.  But as he also notes, building skyscrapers is a lot more expensive than low-rise buildings.  For many cities, more efficient land-use could go a long way toward making cities more livable, more walkable, and less expensive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where good ideas come from

I would like to share with you some insights about innovation and motivation. However, rather than writing up an essay on this topic I opted for a more leisurely approach: using video presentations from YouTube. A short introduction first.

You might have come across stories where people “just had an enlightening moment” and invented something extraordinary and became “overnight success”. But the reality is that great inventions are never borne overnight. Steve Johnson, the author of “Where good ideas come from”, explains it in more detail, and in a very entertaining way, in the first video presentation. If you still struggle to come up with that “one big idea” that will move things forward for you, don’t despair! There is hope for all of us “slow thinkers” after all!

The second video, equally entertaining, is about motivation - or rather the secrets of creating an environment that allow the innovation to flourish, increasing the chances of coming up with that elusive “big idea”. Fifteen minutes required to view both video presentations can be a great investment in your future. Enjoy!

If you like it, please share using this short URL version:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Design House Progress

First I just want to say THANK YOU to all of the amazing comments you left on the last post.  We're definitely not alone and it's nice to know that.  I nodded, laughed and even teared up at some of your comments from yesterday's post.  Each & every piece of advice is awesome so if you didn't get the chance to read the comments, check them out. 

On a totally unrelated note, things have been progressing with the DC Design House.  In case you don't know how it works (I didn't until just a couple of months ago) I thought I might explain the process.  In December, just before Christmas, the house was open for two days so that designers could drop by, choose a room and measure & photograph it.  (Like I've mentioned before, the house is amazing.)  I was seriously nervous.  It's an interesting feeling to be in a room with other designers, measuring the same space.  Everyone was really nice though & there were no reality-TV drama moments or anything like that. 

{See the balcony?!! Looooove this house... and this room.}

We had a couple of weeks to put together a design proposal & board for the room we'd chosen.  We scampered around making phone calls for donations and getting everything just right.  We had an artist do renderings of our proposed space and we submitted the board and portfolio to be reviewed by the Committee.  That was on January 7th. 

We had to wait until January 31st to find out if we had been selected or not.  Twenty-four days doesn't seem like a long time, but by the last 3 or 4 days I could barely stand it.  I got a phone call that I had been selected (eeeek) and then it was time to get to work.  I got a different room from the one I had submitted a design for (I am thrilled with my new room!! :) so I had to change the design a bit.  (The room determines its design just as much as what someone wants to do with it.)

I got the chance to measure the new room and meet there with our contractors.  The new room needs something a little different than the what the first room needed, so I tweaked the palette and of course reworked the floorplan & furnishings to fit the new space.  Here's a quick pic of the original board being torn to bits as we tried to salvage the pieces of it that we are reusing in our new room:

{Don't get too attached to anything other than the Peter Dunham Fig Leaf fabric you see in the pic}

I created a new plan for the new room and we finished up the board today.  It'll be shown on Bare Bones Day, which is when people can tour the house to see it "before."  I'll be there and if you live in the area & are free, you should come check it out!  (info here)  We've spent the past couple of weeks sourcing the pieces that will go into the room, finalizing plans, and securing donations from generous companies & contractors.  It's been crazy because it's not a normal house you can just go to whenever you need something.  There are specific times you can go & meet with contractors and everyone needs to be on the same schedule. 

{design house room before}

The Bare Bones Tour is next Saturday and work begins the following Monday.  Our rooms need to be finished by March 31st.  Press Day is April 1st and the Design House opens on Saturday, April 8th!! 

I'll keep you posted as our room progresses.  First up is removing the current wallpaper!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Mark Zandi and Christian DiRitis on the Moral Hazard of a Hybrid Mortgage System

One potential weakness of a hybrid system involves moral hazard: If private investors believe the government will bail them out if things go badly, they will take inappropriate risks. Such concerns were illustrated by the recent experience with the two government-sponsored mortgage finance agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These institutions took on too much risk, holding too little capital for the kinds of investments they held in mortgage securities. While their private shareholders were effectively wiped out, bondholders were made whole when the federal government put Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship.
Moral hazard cannot be eliminated in a hybrid model, but it can be significantly mitigated. The system we support would require enough private capital to withstand losses associated with a 25% decline in house prices. Before the crisis, Fannie's and Freddie's capital levels were designed to withstand only a 10% decline. The hybrid system's catastrophic insurance would not kick in until losses reached levels consistent with a 25% price drop, providing significant financial incentive for private investors to make sound lending decisions. 
It is also important to recognize that moral hazard exists even in a fully privatized system. Investors in such a system are likely to assume that in extreme circumstances, the government would still step in, congressional pledges to the contrary notwithstanding. Recent experience has only reinforced this belief, as the government stepped in during the financial crisis to bail out the system. In the hybrid system plan, the government's backstop is explicit and paid for by private investors. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great Western Auto Jumble 2011 Report

Otto Walker Board Track Racer
(Oil on Board)

Currently for sale Contact me for sales
Prints are also available to order.

'32 dry lake racer
oil on board (work in progress)

This piece was done as a demonstration piece over the weekend. Based on a photo graph from the Don Montgomery Scrapbook.
A few more hours and it will be done.

Roy Clarke's Replica of his 50's F1 Stock Car
(as seen in the Audi advert)

Roy Clarke was at the show and was definitely a Stock Car addict and a lovely guy to boot.
After chatting with him about heritage stock car racing I'm going to make every effort to try and make it to one of the BRISCA Heritage Race meets this year. For more info on Heritage Stock Car Racing please visit this website:

Roy Clarke's Replica of his F2 Stock Car.
Currently driven by his son Darren Clarke.

The ford display also had a nice range of old fords as well as newer stuff.
A nice little show all round.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What happens by Thursday...

...By the time Thursday rolls around at our house, it's trrrrrrrashed... Bad. 
In need of detox:

{There is this much food on the floor underneath my one year-old's high chair after every meal. 
Thank God I have a dog.}

Sometimes I look around and just wonder how in the world it happens?  How does a house get so destroyed in just 3 short days?  And the scariest part is, today's only Wednesday! Tuesday! (oh wow.  I totally wrote Wednesday and believed it until I realized my husband had class tonight, and he has classes on Tuesdays...  eeek)   We haven't even hit detox day yet!

{Clean me mommy!  Clean me!}

I sometimes wonder, "how do people do it?"  I only have two kids and it's madness here!  Last night my husband & I were hanging out in the kitchen attempting to make a yummy Valentine's Day meal, just enjoying each other's company for a few short minutes, when the dog came in, soaked and covered in PINK stuff.  And she smelled like strawberries!!

We followed her wet trail down the hall to our bedroom to find Christian (3 1/2) & Justin (1).  Justin was also covered in strawberry-flavored pink stuff literally from head to toe. 

Kids' toothpaste.  Awesome.

It was really hard not to laugh- especially when after a quick glance around my bedroom I could see that my room was okay (only half-kidding)...   And especially when it was one of the nicest-smelling messes our house has ever seen.  So I sort of laughed and hid my head and this time Dave got to be the stern parent.  All was well.

Christian has started reminding me of a little boy from Lord of the Flies. His hair goes wild at night and when he wakes up in the morning he rips all of his clothes off for his bath... but way earlier than need be.  We just need a fire.

{Christian... }

But anyway... my question...  how in the world do people do it??  I imagine nice calm breakfasts like in Lady & the Tramp where the family sits and eats and then everyone goes on their merry way.  Each dish is put into the dishwasher and the beds are made.  We rush around like crazy people in the morning and trash our house.  Why??

Case in point:  my husband just walked downstairs to where I am now writing, saying "I cleaned and I picked up, and I cleaned and I picked up, and I cleaned and I picked up..."  (I got all excited here) "...and it's still trashed."  oh.  And then he walked down the hallway and I heard,  "ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh!" and I will not tell you what he found because I still have maybe half an ounce of self-respect left but let's just say the dog's in trouble. 

The strangest part about all of this is...  I'm coming to terms with the mess, which is a little scary.  I know we fix it every week and I know it comes back every week.  It's inevitable and I've found it interesting to observe that Thursdays really seem to be the culmination of the mess.  (And a little freaked out to realize that today is only Tuesday and it looks a lot like a Thursday around here.)

So anyway...  every so often I bring up this topic on the blog, because every so often I need to make changes.  Sometimes I just want to sit down and give up on fighting the inevitable mess.  (Ummm... and sometimes I do.)   BUT, it's at times like this when we need to FIGHT THE FIGHT.  (Yes, I'm pep-talking myself here.) I have to remind myself that if we don't keep cleaning, the goverment would have to come dig us out of our house.   No really though...  if we don't keep trying, life wouldn't be as great.  It's hard to enjoy the people you love when the mess is eating them.  We have to periodically come up with new solutions to force ourselves (and our family) to keep the house neater...  to change our natural tendencies into ones that don't require detox Thursdays.  I'm too tired to come up with any enlightening solutions right now, but my question is-  how do you do it all?

xoxo, Lauren

ps- This post here from last year is a bit more helpful  (as are the comments) if you're looking for some solutions to this problem! ;)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brooke & Steve's Gilt Showhouse Room!

I'm so in love with this room by Brooke & Steve Giannetti for the Gilt Home/ Ashton Kutcher Showhouse.  The online sale of a select number of pieces from each room are on sale though tomorrow.  A portion of the proceeds will be donated to DNA, a charity started by Ashton Kutcher and his wife Demi Moore to combat human trafficking.  To shop and help the cause, go here.  (Can you believe the water paintings are Steve's?!!)

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Polyphenols, Hormesis and Disease: Part I

What are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are a diverse class of molecules containing multiple phenol rings. They are synthesized in large amounts by plants, certain fungi and a few animals, and serve many purposes, including defense against predators/infections, defense against sunlight damage and chemical oxidation, and coloration. The color of many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, eggplants, red potatoes and apples comes from polyphenols. Some familiar classes of polyphenols in the diet-health literature are flavonoids, isoflavonoids, anthocyanidins, and lignins.

The Case Against Polyphenols

Many diet-health authorities seem pretty well convinced that dietary polyphenols are an important part of good health, due to their supposed antioxidant properties. In the past, I've been critical of the hypothesis. There are several reasons for it:
  1. Polyphenols are often, but not always, defensive compounds that interfere with digestive processes, which is why they often taste bitter and/or astringent. Plant-eating animals including humans have evolved defensive strategies against polyphenol-rich foods, such as polyphenol-binding proteins in saliva (1).
  2. Ingested polyphenols are poorly absorbed (2). The concentration in blood is low, and the concentration inside cells is probably considerably lower*. In contrast, essential antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins E and C are efficiently absorbed and retained rather than excluded from the circulation.
  3. Polyphenols that manage to cross the gut barrier are rapidly degraded by the liver, just like a variety of other foreign molecules, again suggesting that the body doesn't want them hanging around (2).
  4. The most visible hypothesis of how polyphenols influence health is the idea that they are antioxidants, protecting against the ravages of reactive oxygen species. While many polyphenols are effective antioxidants at high concentrations in a test tube, I don't find it very plausible that the low and transient blood concentration of polyphenols achieved by eating polyphenol-rich foods makes a meaningful contribution to that person's overall antioxidant status, when compared to the relatively high concentrations of other antioxidants in blood* (uric acid; vitamins C, E; ubiquinone) and particularly inside cells (SOD1/2, catalase, glutathione reductase, thioredoxin reductase, paraoxonase 1, etc.).
  5. There are a number of studies showing that the antioxidant capacity of the blood increases after eating polyphenol-rich foods. These are often confounded by the fact that fructose (in fruit and some vegetables) and caffeine (in tea and coffee) can increase the blood level of uric acid, the blood's main water-soluble antioxidant. Drinking sugar water has the same effect (2).
  6. Rodent studies showing that polyphenols improve health typically use massive doses that exceed what a person could consume eating food, and do not account for the possibility that the rodents may have been calorie restricted because their food tastes awful.
The main point is that the body does not seem to "want" polyphenols in the circulation at any appreciable level, and therefore it gets rid of them pronto. Why? I think it's because the diversity and chemical structure of polyphenols makes them potentially bioactive-- they have a high probability of altering signaling pathways and enzyme activity, in the same manner as pharmaceutical drugs. It would not be a very smart evolutionary strategy to let plants (that often don't want you eating them) take the reins on your biochemistry. Also, at high enough concentrations polyphenols can be pro-oxidants, promoting excess production of free radicals, although the biological relevance of that may be questionable due to the concentrations required.

A Reappraisal

After reading more about polyphenols, and coming to understand that the prevailing hypothesis of why they work makes no sense, I decided that the whole thing is probably bunk: at best, specific polyphenols are protective in rodents at unnaturally high doses due to some drug-like effect. But-- I kept my finger on the pulse of the field just in case, and I began to notice that more sophisticated studies were emerging almost weekly that seemed to confirm that realistic amounts of certain polyphenol-rich foods (not just massive quantities of polyphenol extract) have protective effects against a variety of health problems. There are many such studies, and I won't attempt to review them comprehensively, but here are a few I've come across:
  • Dr. David Grassi and colleagues showed that polyphenol-rich chocolate lowers blood pressure, improves insulin sensitivity and lowers LDL cholesterol in hypertensive and insulin resistant volunteers when compared with white chocolate (3). Although dark chocolate is also probably richer in magnesium, copper and other nutrients than white chocolate, the study is still intriguing.
  • Dr. Christine Morand and colleagues showed that drinking orange juice every day lowers blood pressure and increases vascular reactivity in overweight volunteers, an effect that they were able to specifically attribute to the polyphenol hesperidin (4).
  • Dr. F. Natella and colleagues showed that red wine prevents the increase in oxidized blood lipids (fats) that occurs after consuming a meal high in oxidized and potentially oxidizable fats (5).
  • Several studies have shown that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension when consumed regularly (6, 7, 8). It also happens to be delicious.
  • Dr. Arpita Basu and colleagues showed that blueberries lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL in men and women with metabolic syndrome (9).
  • Animal studies have generally shown similar results. Dr. Xianli Wu and colleagues showed that whole blueberries potently inhibit atherosclerosis (hardening and thickening of the arteries that can lead to a heart attack) in a susceptible strain of mice (10). This effect was associated with a higher expression level of antioxidant enzymes in the vessel walls and other tissues.
Wait a minute... let's rewind. Eating blueberries causes mice to increase the expression level of their own antioxidant enzymes?? Why would that happen if blueberry polyphenols were protecting against oxidative stress? One would expect the opposite reaction if they were. What's going on here?

In the face of this accumulating evidence, I've had to reconsider my position on polyphenols. In the process, and through conversations with knowledgeable researchers in the polyphenol field, I encountered a different hypothesis that puts the puzzle pieces together nicely.  I'll discuss that in the next post.

* Serum levels of polyphenols briefly enter the mid nM to low uM range, depending on the food (2). Compare that with the main serum antioxidants: ~200 uM for uric acid, ~100 uM for vitamin C, ~30 uM for vitamin E.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mark Thoma on Social Insurance

Mark's postings are reliably good, but today's is especially good:

...There is a need for social insurance. I had hoped this recession would show people that it can happen to anyone, that high moral character is not enough to protect you from the vagaries of the market system. One day a job can be gone, morals or not, savings can evaporate as a result, and all those years of doing the right thing -- putting a little away each month for the future -- provides little protection against financial ruin when there are no jobs to be found.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's good to make people aware of the amount of government services they consume, and that such awareness could help some in getting support for social insurance and other programs. So I'm not saying that making people aware of their own use of these services has no value. But I really do think the key to more widespread support is to make people aware of the need for social insurance, and the fact that insurance -- by it's very nature -- means that those people unlucky enough to need it will often consume more than they put in (just as would be the case under fire insurance if your house burns down), while others will consume less. That's how insurance works and we shouldn't resent those unlucky enough to need it.

The key here is to overcome the belief that the majority of people using these services are "gaming" the system to get handouts they don't deserve. If we are going to successfully defend the social insurance system, it is this belief that must be countered. Of course such behavior goes on, there will always be people who try to take advantage of any system that is put in place (in the public or private sector), but this is not the predominant feature of these programs. The share of "deadbeats" is not large, it is relatively small given all the good such programs do, and that's the message that needs to be delivered. The social benefits clearly exceed the costs of providing these services, but it will be tough to make this case convincingly -- the opposition can always find isolated cases where people take advantage of the system and surround them with negative publicity. This has been a successful strategy, and it will take a concerted effort to counter overcome such efforts.

Four quick points about Fannie-Freddie Reform

(1) Why have an explicit guarantee?  If TARP should have taught us anything, it is that there are implicit guarantees everywhere; it is better to be up-front about the fact that the government does provide backstops in times of crisis.

(2) How to price the guarantee?  Mark Zandi has a good explanation.  The hard part is going to be to keep fees up in times of low defaults.  In the early part of the last decade, Fannie and Freddie were criticized for earning excess profits on their guarantee fees, for the simple reason that defaults on prime mortgages essentially didn't exist in the 1998-2005 period.  Complaining about Fannie-Freddie's g-fees at that time would be akin to complaining the State Farm enjoys excess profits when Florida goes a year without a hurricane.

(3) In the absence of government intervention in the market, the long-term fixed-rate prepayable mortgage will likely go away.  These mortgages are expensive to households, but they also provide a level of certainty that helps households manage risk.  Households are already facing more risk than before (defined benefit pensions, anyone?), so I am not sure it is a good idea to add even more.

(4) I worry about high downpayment requirements.  It is clear that households need to put some of their own money into a house for a mortgage to be safe (gifts and grants don't count).  But while the overall homeownership rate for the US is fine, the substantial gap between whites and minorities, more than 20 percentage points, is not.  Minorities have far less wealth than whites, and across the generations, have had wealth systematically expropriated; minorities have also been discriminated against by the government in credit markets.  Massey and Denton:
In rating the home, the FHA established minimum standards for lot size, setbacks and separation from existing structures that essentially eliminated many inner-city the late 1940s, the FHA recommended the use of application of racially restrictive covenants...per capita mortgage spending was 6.3 times greater [in St. Louis County relative to the city of St. Louis].
I suppose in light of history, direct payments to the heirs of those who have had wealth systematically stripped away makes more sense than trying to close the homeownership gap.  But the latter seems more politically doable than the former.

Friday, February 11, 2011

DC Design House Room Before

{My DC Design House Room, Before}

Yesterday was a long crazy day in the city (I'm pretty much a total suburban girl) and I have before photos to show you of our room!  My assistant, Meghan Short, has been invaluable.  (Meghan graduated last Spring with an interior design degree from JMU- go dukes!- and I'm very lucky to have her.  She's seriously talented and just "gets" it.)  To give you an idea of what our mornings are like when we head to the Design House...  Mine starts around 6:30 laying in bed pretending I don't really need to get up... oh wait, that's not what you wanted to know??   sorry :)  ....Meghan arrives at our house at 8 and helps me get the boys out the door to daycare by 8:30 or so... which has been a lifesaver.  (Any of you with kids know that getting out the door with 2 under 3 is no small task.)  From there we head straight into the city and arrive by 10.  

When we got there yesterday, there was an introductory meeting with the members of the Committee and all of the designers.  We got the rundown on the house, dos & don'ts, cans & can'ts etc.  It was fun seeing so many faces I'd only seen in photos!!  (And some familiar ones too!)  

Ok, and now what you really want to see... more of our room "before:"

{The right wall when you walk in}

It's approx 12x16.5 feet and I love its proportions.  It's currently wallpapered.  There are funky angled walls & a cozy bay window nook. I'm crazy about it!!

{The left wall.  We do have to work around the air conditioning unit in the window...  And it actually needs to be running during the Showhouse.}

Here's the view looking at the entry door.  The door on the right is a little closet:

We met with insanely talented artist John Matthew Moore who is creating something I can barely sleep over for our space, lighting designer Rick Singleton wose work I loooove, the BEST carpet guy around -Tolvin Griffin- who owns Carpet Customizer (he is cutting, binding & installing a Stark rug for us), and our new go-to builder- Mike Carr with CarrMichael Construction -who is doing the brunt of the work.  They are all generously donating their talents and this room would not be possible if it weren't for them.}

We are planning something for the bay window but need to work around the radiator.  Here's a pic Meghan snapped of Mike & I figuring out the best way to make it work:

And here's a pic Meghan snapped of what it {sadly} looks like when I'm working:

We typically spend much of the palette-planning stages on the floor in my office, so I was pretty at-home with the lack of a table in our empty room. 

And one last shot of the room "before:"

I absolutely love this house & wish I could move my family right on in.  It's a 1920s tudor with beautifully proportioned rooms - both dark & moody and sunny & light like ours- and a million little nooks & crannies.  It's the type of house you wish you could be a kid in & just run around exploring & playing hide-and-seek.   In the master bedroom closet, you can open up a wardrobe door and there is another set of doors that opens onto a balcony overlooking the massive formal living room.  I can just picture it filled with people at a glamorous party, Sound-of-Music-Style.


(yeah, I totally thought it was "Avida say goodnight" until I googled it.)

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Check out DC Design House details here