11 Tips for Hosting an Idyllic Summer Picnic

IMG_2116.jpg

A guy walked by with his dog and stopped dead in his tracks to say something like “wow, this is really cool”. Then a couple stopped to take in the scene and comment. In fact, anyone who walked by stopped to comment. They couldn’t seem to help themselves. You would think men wouldn’t care much about a picnic and how it was set up, or really anything about it, but even they would stop to say “wow”!

I just giggled. I mean, I was thrilled that others found my picnic set-up to be stunning. It’s kind of what I was going for. Phew! Mission accomplished.

It was a special picnic I set up for a photography class I was teaching. It was meant to be beautiful and breathtaking. It was a styling shoot, after all. However, after we finished taking photos we all sat on the layers of blankets and pillows and enjoyed a crisp white wine along with specialty cheeses, loaves of crusty bread, Mediterranean salad, grapes, veggies and hummus, and a carrot cake made from scratch.

It was pretty fancy. But fancy in a fun, lighthearted way.

I don’t know what kind of picnic trips you have planned for this season, but I can give you some great tips on how to make it fabulous! Especially if you want to throw a picnic for a special occasion and wow your guests. Something like a small bridal shower, baby shower, girls trip gathering, or as a way to celebrate any special occasion.

One of my favorite things to do is to create events and spaces that cultivate the kind of love, laughter, fun, and coziness that you don’t see on the average. I like to go over and above what most people expect and create something spectacular for people to enjoy. You can do it too, if that is your thing! If you are reading this then I imagine it is.

So here are some tips and inspiration photos to help you get that idyllic picnic scene that “wows” the onlookers, especially the guests that get to be a part of it!


1. Be selective about your location.
Steer clear of parks that are too busy or that have an off-leash dog park that isn’t fenced in. Choose a place that is calm, heavily shaded, lush and has a lot of nice green grass, unless of course you are going for a beach picnic. If you are doing a beach picnic, I suggest a quite one, by some trees or pretty rock formations.

2. Plan for the right time of day.
Scope out the spot ahead of time and see where the shady spots are at the time of day you are planning for. The last thing you want is to get blasted by the sun halfway though and either have to suffer through it, or have to move everything.

IMG_2055.jpg

3. Bring tons of blankets and pillows!
Seriously, tons. I start with a large outdoor rug on the bottom layer and then put the prettiest blanket on top of that. Then start creating pillow piles that will basically be places for people to sit and lean up against. Add a couple of throw blankets in with that and you have yourself a cozy little space.

IMG_2080.jpg

4. Add some dimension.
Add height by bringing little side tables and a center table. Something low to the ground since you will be seated on the ground. These side tables will be handy for drinks and other items. Think of using little plant stands. Ikea has some great items that I love to use on picnics!

IMG_2565 (1).jpg

5. Use an array of pretty dishes, wooden boards, glasses, etc. No Plastic allowed.
Not only are you saving the planet by not using plastic, you are amping your classiness factor way up! Don’t be too matchy, but keep a nice theme of neutral tones. Nothing too busy, keep the dishes solid to showcase the food. Always use fabric napkins! My favorite is linen. I bought a long cut of an oatmeal colored linen from a fabric store, cut it into 14” x 14“ pieces and washed them so that have a raw edge. I use them all the time!

IMG_2143.jpg

6. Bring some fancy-ish foods.
You don’t have to break the bank here. I love to go to the cheese section of the market and get the artisan cheeses when they are discounted because they are getting close to their “sell by” date. It is a great way to try new cheeses, just grab what is on discount. Do, however, spring for the fig jam. It will take your cheese board to a whole new level! Grab some veggies and fruits, make a dip or buy some hummus. Loaves of bread from your local bakery go a long way. A giant salad with a homemade dressing in a mason jar is delicious and stylish. Grab some cured meats or turkey, if you eat meat. Get creative with appetizers on Pinterest.

7. Bring an easy game to play.
Something simple like a box of trivia cards is an easy and fun way to have that little something for entertainment that doesn’t take up any space.

8. Bring plenty of water and beverages.
Wine, iced tea, and water is nice to have in glass bottles. I like to save old liquor bottles to put water in. A carafe with a cork is great for iced tea, either a box of wine or a bottle is always a great addition. Just bring some nice glasses that will do the trick no matter what you are drinking.

IMG_2031.jpg

9. Get there early.
Give yourself plenty of time to set up before your guests arrive. You want to have the place already looking perfect so you can see the look on their faces when they realize that you aren’t the average picnic-er. You go for that little extra.

10. Have a shoe section.
Think about having a small mat where people can take off their shoes before they sit down. You don’t want to be dragging pine needles, dirt and leaves into this cozy, clean little space you have created.

IMG_2161.jpg

11. Slow down and enjoy.
You took a lot of time to create this environment, be sure to slow down and enjoy it. Sip your wine slowly (apparently I am pushing having wine at this thing…). Tear your bread with your hands and live into the moments where you are spreading a delicious soft cheese onto your bread, dipping it in left over salad dressing, savoring the flavor combinations. Laugh. Don’t be uptight if something unexpected happens that you think might ruin the ambiance. Just be light. Sometimes, when things are a bit fancy, people can feel uncomfortable. They think they shouldn’t touch anything or do too much because they feel they might ruin the perfection. Make them feel at home and welcome by passing around the wine bottle and having everyone serve themselves. No biggie if there is a spill. Be laid back and show your friends just how fun fancy can be!






The Perfect Meal

IMG_1652.jpg

Last Sunday was one of those rare, perfect days.

It began with a long beautiful bike ride to the unusually “Sunday-quiet” downtown Portland with my husband, followed by a nice lunch.  Around 3 pm he went to play golf.  I could have relaxed but I was feeling super motivated to work on my food photography skills. 

I messaged a photographer friend, Moose, and she and I embarked on a journey of pure delight, and a little nerd-ism.  If you don’t know, I am an interior designer, stylist and a photographer.  If I can make my own title, I’d like to be called a Lifestyle Curator!  I imagine that definition to be something like “one who creates perfect settings filled with perfect activities to compile perfect days”!  (Definition is still a work in progress)

Anyway, I went to the market and purchased 2 whole trout, a rustic baguette from Grand Central Bakery and some seasonal veggies to toss into a farro salad.  I pulled out a bottle of a delicious tempranillo from Red Lily Vineyards in Applegate, Oregon, and…. Damn.   It was amazing!

We wanted to photograph the whole process and so we did!  I took 330 photos that afternoon.

We started by stuffing the center of the fish with lemons, fennel, shallots and garlic and then we cooked them to perfection in a cast iron skillet, over an open flame, in my lush jungle of a backyard.  It was magical.

I sautéed some garlic scapes and shallots, grilled some zucchini ribbons and tossed them into the farro with lemon and olive oil.

We tore off chunks of bread and smeared them with salted butter, dipped them in the grilled lemon and garlic juices left in the skillet with the fish, and sipped on the most perfectly paired wine you can imagine. 

This all took place after we stood on the table taking too many photos of the amazing feast and laughing about how nice it was to have an equally nerdy friend who was as excited about this as me.

Here are some of my favorite shots from that day!

IMG_1652.jpg
IMG_1693.jpg
IMG_1719.jpg
IMG_1759.jpg
IMG_1781.jpg
IMG_1812.jpg
IMG_1817.jpg
IMG_1864.jpg
IMG_1872.jpg
IMG_1881.jpg

A Real life look at a massive DIY Bathroom Renovation

IMG_0319house.jpg

Does it ever feel like you aren’t getting the whole story when it comes to DIY home renovations?  Maybe you want to know what it’s really like before you go all in.  Maybe you wonder if you just aren’t cut out for it because you can’t stop crying throughout the process and it really shouldn’t be this hard.

Well, brace yourselves because I’m going to take you behind the scenes of a major DIY bathroom renovation by yours truly, and my husband in our 100 yr. old home in Portland, OR.

I want to note that we aren’t completely new to this. I practice Interior design and have a education in the field and my husband is quite a handy builder. Even still this was our biggest challenge to date!

It started 11 months ago as I was having some tile installed in the basement, when we hit a major problem that continued to snowball until we had a bathroom/laundry room that was nothing more that an empty hole with a dirt bottom.

Today, that bathroom is my favorite room in the house, and we did every inch of work ourselves with the help of some very kind friends.  However, the process was quite painful.

Ok, rewind…

The tile guy was here to install tile in a bare area of the basement and I wanted it to continue into the basement bathroom.  While he was tearing out the old linoleum tiles in the bathroom he found some dampness and told me that he thought there was a leak and if he had to guess the shower pan was likely leaking.  I told him to tile everywhere but the bathroom and we would figure it out. 

When my husband got home we started to do some tear out to see what was going on.  Just as the installer said, the shower was leaking.  As we dug deeper and deeper it got wetter and wetter until we discovered that the shower, installed by the previous owner, didn't have a shower pan at all.   Meaning that for 7 years the shower has been leaking into the floor.

IMG_3968.jpg

Obviously we had to tear out the shower to get to the root of the problem.  During tear out, the wood was so wet that old, gross, wood water was squirting up into our faces.  So gross.

IMG_4016.JPG

Now, this bathroom is my husband’s bathroom (so we don’t have to share) it is also our laundry room and it is right next to the "guest quarters" so it is the guest bath as well.  Needless to say this was a pretty big bummer.

We tore out the shower and tore up the floor down to a wood subfloor and we were overwhelmed with where to go next so we just left it.  It sat like that for 9 months. 

This is how she sat for about 9 month. Talk about a weight on your shoulders (relatively speaking).

This is how she sat for about 9 month. Talk about a weight on your shoulders (relatively speaking).

Fast forward 9 months…

My wonderful mom was coming to visit and she cannot live without her own bathroom.   I was tired of the bathroom hanging over my head so we decided it was time to tackle it.  After a lot of contemplating how to get the flooring done we decided to do self-leveling concrete as the actual flooring.  I don't want to get into the specifics, but basically, if we tiled it would have created a giant, awkward step up into the bathroom that would have been a definite tripping spot.  

I had chosen new shower doors already and had a general idea how I wanted the room to look. A little bit classic, a little bit modern and a little bit industrial.

On a side note, this room was the only room that was not on foundation but, rather, a giant whole beneath the subfloor, we are guessing it is because the foundation was dig out to put in plumbing. Another problem!

We wanted to pour the leveler over the existing floor, but we couldn’t for a number of reasons.  We decided we needed to pull up the sub-floor and lay new sub-floor that was level and didn’t move under foot. Of course, we wasted time and money by trying it the wrong way first, laying cement board over the wobbly, uneven sub-floor.  After a full night of work, we came back the next day and tore it all out, salvaged what we could and started fresh.

What we found under the sub-floor of this large bathroom/laundry room was 3 rickety joists holding up the entire thing. 

Quite the hack job from the previous owner.

Quite the hack job from the previous owner.

My husband’s mind being blown!

My husband’s mind being blown!

It is crazy that this unsecured mess held up the weight of all that was previously happening.  Luckily, we have a friend who knows framing, he helped us frame out the space and fill in the gaps with concrete.  And we got this....

IMG_6040-1-2.jpg

The new shower base drain fell in a different spot than where the old drain was so we had to move that as well.  That was pretty stressful since it requires some precision. 

That, and the fact that the toilet (unfortunately not pictured) sat on cement slab that was considerably higher than everything else, posed another annoying dilema.  We had to build up the floor higher. Of course, we needed to protect the pipe while still having a sturdy base to pour concrete over.

Next, we laid cement board and poured our concrete!   We had to pour it very thick in some places and very thin in others so we did it in steps.  It took a few days. In retrospect, we would have done that a bit differently, but live and learn, right?

IMG_6048-2.jpg

While pouring the final layers of leveler, we added a black dye and let it naturally swirl around giving the floor a unique touch.

Installing the shower base was a little scary as well.  I think we were traumatized by the hack job that had been done by the old owner and were so afraid of messing up the plumbing. It was a weird process that, again, required precision.  We got a couple of quotes and it was around $600 just to install a shower base.  And the plumber wanted to install it without mortar even though the directions clearly stated to use mortar. Long story short, we did it ourselves, but I’m pretty sure we procrastinated for about a week.

Once that was in, we installed tile, and shower doors, sink, cabinets above the washer and dryer and so on.

I want to tell you that once we installed the shower base things moved quickly, but that would be a lie.  It seemed that everything that could go wrong in that bathroom did.  I’m talking everything.  It felt like the room was cursed or something.  It was a very frustrating experience.  We were angry, I cried a lot, we fought, we wanted to burn the house down at points, but it finally came together.  We did a lot of watching YouTube videos, studying structure and material and how to apply them.  We learned about framing, plumbing, pouring self-leveler, etc.  Without a precise design plan I chose finishes and, well, everything.  Blake made a unique vent cover and shelf that encased the washer dryer.  I put in some plants to soften up the space, a large rug and boom!!  The bathroom was ready, just in time for my mom to visit. We are so happy with how it turned out.  Doing it ourselves, with the help of some friends, saved us thousands of dollars when all was said and done.  Trust me, we got quotes!

IMG_8289house.jpg
IMG_8331house.jpg

I hope this gave you a little dose of reality.  It wasn't as glamorous to do as it is on TV but it sure was rewarding when it was all said and done! I would say that it isn't for everyone and certainly not every couple. It can add a lot of stress to a relationship and to your life in general and if it isn't something you are truly passionate about then I would absolutely hire professionals. However, if you own your own home, have plenty of time, a high tolerance for stress, and have the means to fix it if you mess up, go for it!

(For anyone out there wondering exactly how much it cost us to do this bathroom, the total was $3,089.82. Since we tore out an entire bathroom and rebuilt it from the dirt up, moved plumbing, etc., we easily saved $10,000+.)