All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What else is new, what can I do but play this valley winter song I wrote for you...

Another Christmas come and gone. I realized I should have done my big end-of-year cleaning and community donating post this week and suggested some holiday songs last week instead. Well, I've only been doing this regularly for the past year, so give me a break. I'm still getting the hang of this whole editorial calendar thing...

But as the year comes to an end I thought I might offer a few more Martha Stewart-type activities for you. I was inspired by the fact that so many people in Southern California and the East Coast are completely trapped/stuck/stranded due to the extreme weather. That--and the fact that the financial district here is a ghost town--makes me think that a lot of people are taking this week off from work. (Of course, just a few blocks away in Union Square all those people are shopping up a storm, taking advantage of post-Christmas sales...)

1. Join the crowds and get some holiday cards for next year. I must say, I found some cute retro cards for half off. The trick is to stay local and support a local business, if you can. I certainly did!

2. Make some treats for a New Years Eve celebration. For the second year in a row, I made those gooey corn flake wreaths (I only just learned about them, thanks to my partner who's from Ohio and grew up with all this marshmallowy goodness.) We also decorated some fresh gingerbread cookies a friend made. I thought this could be such a fun thing to do with kids, especially if you're snowed (or flooded) in. I had just started sipping a glass of wine and couldn't stop laughing and giggling as I wrestled with the gooey mess--and I don't even have any kids!

3. Catch up. This is the best thing to do if you have this week off between Christmas and New Year's. (I don't this year, but I used to and I really miss it.) You could:
     a. clean the house
     b. really take the time to get over that cold/flu that's been nagging you
     c. catch up on movies, books, magazines, or TV shows (great if you're stuck indoors)
     d. spend time with your loved ones. Play a game like Scrabble. Get your minds working!

4. Celebrate the fact that the days are going to get longer from now on.

5. Put together that playlist for a great seasonal New Years Eve party. There are some wintery songs that I now always associate with the holidays. Here are some non-denominational ones that you could use for next year, or this weekend:

- "Valley Winter Song" by Fountains of Wayne. Wonderfully melancholy lyrics.

- "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" by Tavares. Heard it at the Gap during the holidays 11 years ago and now it'll always be associated with December.

- "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" by Annie Lennox and Al Green. Yes, I used it last week, but after hearing it a dozen more times since then, I still think it's great.

- "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles. What can I say? It's all about the bells.

- "Calling On Mary" by Aimee Mann. Part of her magical holiday album from a few years ago. It's a great original Christmas song.

- "Celebrate Me Home" by Kenny Loggins.

- "New Year" by Sugababes. It's bubblegum pop, but not too many people Stateside have heard this British girl group before.

- "Walk Out To Winter" by Aztec Camera.

- "A Great Big Sled" by The Killers. It's Christmas-y, but so sweeping and epic I could listen to it year-round.

- "Goodnight" by Etienne de Rocher. A sweet, sweet song. Maybe the best way to end your night and ring in the New Year this Friday. I'm so glad I got to interview him years ago for a magazine article...

Any other suggestions? Let me know--I'm always looking to expand my holiday playlist for next year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand. Put a little love in your heart...

Wow, this is it--the week of Christmas (if that's what you celebrate)!

This year has been pretty low-key for my little household. We decided to just exchange a few little gifts, and for the ninth (?) year in a row, we're having a big Chinese dinner with some (mostly) Jewish friends on Christmas Eve.

So what's the big how-to tip for this week? I wish I had photos from all my various "theme" trees over the years to share with you. I've always started with some "base ornaments" of plain silver and clear glass balls that create a foundation from which I used to add handmade decorations each year. One year it was all white origami cranes. Another year it was papier-mache Day of the Dead-style Mexican skeletons and cardinals and crepe paper snowflakes. The year I did homemade gingerbread ornaments with popcorn/cranberry garlands didn't work so well--the gnats started appearing after a week or two...

But I had a better idea for this week: How about decluttering your home and getting rid of some old things that could be better used by others?

For instance, my partner and I just donated a big box of books to Community Thrift in San Francisco, where you can designate the beneficiaries of your donation. So when/if these books sell, community organizations that we've chosen like the SPCA or Pets Unlimited will receive part of the proceeds. A good friend of ours is also having a book exchange party on Tuesday that allows us to part with a cherished book and receive another one that was once equally important to someone else. What a great way to share.

We're going to give our old (clean) towels directly to Pets Unlimited, where they can be used to wash/dry/comfort dogs and cats who have been rescued from the area. This local no-kill shelter has a special place in our hearts because it's where I got our magical cat over eight years ago.

And old electronics (even broken ones) will be sent to Goodwill, where they can be recycled even if they no longer work. I must say, it's better than throwing away those tools and gadgets with missing parts or chargers. Old (but working) cellphones will go to Verizon, where they either recycle them or donate them to victims of domestic violence.

At Ye Olde Dayjobbe, we had a surplus of paint from a commercial project (25 gallons of off-white interior latex paint!) What to do? I contacted our local school district, who are more than happy for the donation. Other places that can accept business donations or large quantities of things are SCRAP (who will provide my old interior samples to teachers who can re-use them for art/craft projects) and Habitat for Humanity. Local mural artists Precita Eyes would have also taken the extra paint from my office. Check in with your local organizations and nonprofits--they might be able to use your in-kind donations, too.

It feels good to not only get rid of "stuff" that's cluttering my back storage room, but to know that's it's going to a good cause. That's two-thirds of what Retrograde is all about--rethinking and recycling!

These days, not all of us can give monetary donations (I know I've had to tighten my own belt a little since making the transition to interiors.) So these in-kind contributions are a way for many of us to still help. Share your own links and organizations with your family, friends, and colleagues.

Put a little love in your heart...and have a good holiday!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hang me up to dry

Short post this week (and late) because I got sidetracked by a few things: a bathroom remodel I'm working on is having some tile issues; Ye Olde Dayjobbe is getting busier for some reason; and I got a callback after going to an HGTV audition.


Yeah, that's right. Keep your fingers crossed, true believers.

One thing I talked about during my initial casting and subsequent callback was overcoming inertia just doing something. So many folks have art, posters, or even wrapping paper that can hung on the walls. "But I don't have any frames!" I hear. Or, "custom framing costs too much and takes too long!"

Well, something I've been using for years are steel bullnose clips. They're a little more old-school/retro/stylish than your average black-and-metal binder clips, and they're good for hanging art. For large pieces, like my old London bus roll which I've had for years now, I specifically choose bullnose clips for hanging.

But they're also great for quick, down-and-dirty hangings, like right after you move into a new place, or to just experiment to see if you like the placement of something.

Maybe you'll have that print or poster framed eventually. But in the meantime, enjoy the no-fuss hanging!

Got pictures of cool things you've hung with bullnose clips, or even pant hangers? Send me photos--I want to see 'em!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Smells like teen spirit...

I know it's December and it's getting cold out there, but with a big cat and a partner who likes to crank up the heat, my home can get pretty dusty and dry any time of the year. So what do I do? I try to open up the windows and doors to air the place out every week.

I remember when I was staying with my aunt and I noticed that her family kept most windows every so slightly cracked open during the days, even in the winter. I used to wonder why it was always so cold in there during the day, but now that I'm in a never-ending battle against dust and mold, I can understand why she did it. Before we moved in together, my partner used to live in a studio apartment and kept his heater cranked up in the winter, letting the windows get all steamy. One day I noticed something on the wall next to his bed. Pushing the bed aside, we discovered all the condensation on the walls and windows allowed a huge patch of mold to grow on the wall!


So opening up windows while you clean is a nice, natural way to air out a room. But what do you do when it's too cold outside and things are starting to smell a little stale in your house? (I know there are some readers in the midwest and east cost!)
  • Try vacuuming with a HEPA filter to trap all those allergens that are making you sneeze (cranking up the heaters can dry up your skin creating even more dust)
  • Wash your bedding, sofa/TV throws, and towels often, using a naturally scented detergent (Trader Joe's and Method use essential oils)
  • I'm not a big fan of air purifiers, but if you have to use them, go for it--science wins!
  • Fresh cut flowers are another natural way to scent a room (unless you're allergic like me--stargazer lilies are my kryptonite)
  • Instead of heavily scented candles, invest in a nice room spray like something from Diptyque or Mrs. Meyers.

Seriously, I've become a convert to these sprays--they beat the heck out of those cans of Lysol, Glade or Wizard from my childhood days. At my office we use Diptyque's fig scented spray and it (ahem) really works.

Last time one of my colleagues went, they also picked up a ton of samples, which are also used in their line of personal scents--I ended up liking the light citrus scent of Oyedo so much, I started wearing it on occasion.

Hey, it's better than Axe, and it's considerably cheaper than what I normally wear. All good stuff, and good for holiday gift giving!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I walk the line

When hanging art, I've been extolling the virtues of salon-style groupings to achieve an eclectic look and casual feel.

Why? Because it suits a variety of different frame styles, which is what a lot of my Retrograde clients have. And also because it takes away the pressure of having your art and photos spaced perfectly or aligned. For me, it's more important to get those pieces of art out of the storage boxes and up on the walls. However, the process isn't totally random. I like to use key lines to arrange art on walls. (That just means lining up certain edges of your pieces.)

Here are some examples (the key lines are marked in red):

In this example (above), you can see that the key line can also go down the center of several pieces.

Top and bottom key lines are easy ways to line things up, especially if you're really keen on maintaining order.

For this family gallery mockup, I layed out a 4' x 8' area of white space to simulate the portion of wall I was working with in a single family home. (When planning a grouping of so many photos or art, it can help to lay things out on the floor first...)

It's like a big puzzle, so go ahead and give it a try--play around! Like I said before, it's better than keeping your art and photos in storage. And if you mess up, just invest in a tub of spackle from your local hardware store to fill in the holes ;-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I see your true colors shining through...

One of my clients has been going through a lot of paint samples to see what will work in several rooms of their busy family home. I know that once they're ready to start painting the final colors, there will be some questions about the process. These same questions will pop up whether you decide to do the painting yourself or hire professionals. (I know--I've done it myself and I've worked with professionals through my dayjob.)

Luckily my friend Caroline Myers recapped the process step-by-step on her blog. Her instructions ensure that the color you choose from those tiny paint chips becomes the final color on your walls/cabinets/furniture/whatever. There are some extra steps that I didn't use 10 years ago when I painted my first "adult" bedroom, but trust me when I say that those steps are vital.

She used some kitchen cabinets as an example. Here's the BEFORE picture:

And here's the AFTER:

Here are her two vital tips to remember:

1. Get brush-outs of your paint samples. The paint chips at the paint store are not actual paint, so therefore there can be (and will be) color variances. Having a brush-out will give you an accurate picture of what color you are looking at.
2. ***THIS STEP IS KEY*** Once you have selected your paint color from your brush-out samples, order the paint and have them BRUSH OUT YOUR ACTUAL PAINT. This simple step can save you soooo much time. We spent two days getting an excellent paint job on our cabinets. We left for dinner to let them dry, came back and started putting in drawers and holding up the cabinets to get a sneak peak on the final picture. Once we held them up it was VERY apparent that we had the wrong color. We then painted some of our quart of paint to our original brush-out and sure enough the paint store had mixed it wrong. This color was incredibly blue compared to the color we had selected. So we had to spend an extra two days applying the correct paint color to the cabinets. So please please have the paint store brush out the actual paint so you can compare it to your sample brush out.

She has even more tips for painting cabinets or wood. Check out all the steps on her blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I've been looking so long at these pictures of you, that I almost believe that they are real...

Last week I showed how I customized a pretty basic piece of Ikea furniture. In the original post (about a young doctor on a budget) I also mentioned a bulletin board I created from another Ikea piece, the Ung Drill frame.

This week I want to show you how I created this:

This one is also really easy to do. I began with the $29.99 Ung Drill frame, which is basically a piece of black plastic--but it has a great shape. You could do this project with any thrift store frame.
I took out the glass and cardboard backing (save the cardboard--it's going to be the backing of your bulletin board.) I actually had some problem getting the glass out, but after I bent back the brackets holding it in place, I left it out in a cold space (my utility room) and by the next day the glass had contracted and came out easily.

Next, I used some metallic spray paint (Krylon metallics in Bright Gold) and gave the black frame one really light coat. After it had dried for an hour or so, I distressed the edges of the frame with some fine-gauge steel wool so parts of the original black came through. Then I used the glass (you can also use the cardboard backing) as a template for cutting out the fabric and other materials.

For the fabric (I used jute from Cliff's Variety, but you could use canvas, linen, or any other fabric), be sure to leave at least an inch of extra material so you can wrap it around the backing.

Originally, I was going to use cork as the "soft" material under the fabric, but the price of cork tiles and rolled sheets was a LOT more expensive than I I used something else I had lying around: quilt batting. I realize not everyone has this stuff in their home, but once again you could recycle other materials for this. Maybe a bunch of old t-shirts or even denim...the point is to get about half an inch of padding so your thumbtacks won't go through the cardboard backing.

This material should actually be cut to the exact same size as the backing.

I actually used four layers of this particular batting (also originally from Cliff's) to get half an inch.

After I put the batting on top of the cardboard and wrapped the jute around everything, I simply used good ol' Scotch masking tape to take the extra jute down. I know it seems...ghetto. But it honestly works well. One of my old teachers at FIDM taught us how to wrap and tape fabric samples for display boards and it all came down to regular masking tape.

The entire process was quick--kind of a fun rainy day project (yes, it was actually raining when I did this--hard to believe with the current heat wave we're having!) And the finished piece is something that really suited this young woman's apartment and newfound style.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You...doing that thing you do!

Last week my friend (and peer) Jolene asked me how I created the faux inlay on the Ikea Malm drawers. I figured some of you out there might want to know too, so I decided to write about the process this week.

Let's begin!

Step 1:
I use AutoCAD all the time to create furniture plans and construction documents, as well as for general space planning. So I figured it was the best way for me to draw a precise template for the inaly. Of course, everyone works differently. You could also simply draw it out on paper or cardstock using a ruler and a some circle templates, if that's easier for you.

Step 2:
If you do choose to use a computer program, you can tile your template so it will print over several pages. This means you can add cut/crop marks to multiple pages and then cut and tape them together into something larger--this is an easy way to print out something big using only regular pieces of paper at home. As you can see below, I was able to take this large drawer template (it was 31.5" wide) and print it onto five standard Letter-sized pages:

Step 3:
After taping the pages together to form a template, use an X-Acto knife or a utility knife (or even scissors or a razor blade if your template is simple enough) to cut it out.

As you can see here, I used an additional circle template to help me cut out the curved parts.

Step 4:
Then I rolled out some dark wood-patterned Contact paper ($4-6 a roll, depending on where you live) and taped my paper template on top. The back side of the Contact paper has these handy grid lines that really make it easy to draw/cut straight lines.

Then I traced my pattern onto the Contact paper and cut it out with my X-Acto knife.

Step 5:
I cleaned the surface of the Malm drawers with rubbing alcohol and then peeled off the backing of the Contact paper "inlay." Slowly, I stuck it on, smoothing out any bubbles that appeared.

Shazam! Customized Ikea furniture!

This week marks a change in the direction of my Retrograde blog. Y'see, last week I also had the chance to talk to another friend, the original co-founder of Retrograde, who is still pursuing the idea of transforming peoples' lives through health and bodywork. Over some happy hour drinks, she encouraged me to make the blog to more how-to and hands-on.

"That way you can reach even more of the young, stylish, crafty people you seem to be targeting," she said.

And later she added, "Then you can get a book deal, fool!"

Sounds like a plan.

Alright, Chronicle Books, I'm ready for ya.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What a girl wants, what a girl needs...

Last week I posted about a crafty project I did for Monica, a doctor who came to me with a limited budget and multiple challenges. After living in one temporary white-box apartment after another down the peninsula, she finally decided to move to the city and put down some roots. She had just purchased a new sofa and wanted to work around that with a total budget of about $2000 (not including the sofa and a few other pieces she just bought.) She could swing $2500 if she, "pulled a few extra shifts at the clinic." Yikes!!

We talked about her school debts and how her particular focus in medicine wasn't terribly lucrative (she's in it to help people, not make money) and I cut her a deal. I'd try to do as much as I could with my lowest level of services and give her homework--she'd have to handle the purchases herself. In the past, she had acquired most of her domestic pieces online through Google Shopping, which had left place looking a little...clinical. When I suggested that her black metal tubular TV stand be replaced, she asked, "Why? I just bought that and I love it."


I had to use a little tough love and explain to Monica that her apartment looked a little like an '80s bachelor pad: teal sofa, black metal TV stand, bookcases from Staples...She asked if there was a way to work with what she already had.

"Sure," I said. "I can get you some Nagel posters and we can call it a day."

When my Duran Duran "Hungry Like The Wolf"/"Rio" reference clicked, she laughed, so I was relieved she could see the humor in my critique. She had never thought about design before (hello, medical school!), so it was going to take some time to figure out her tastes--what she loved and felt strongly about. Over several weeks we talked and e-mailed about things she liked and didn't like. Being the daughter of Indian immigrants, she felt a link to many organic and hand-crafted items that reminded her of certain family members. And being super budget-minded, she scoured Craigslist endlessly during the days and sent me links to treasures she found (ah the perks of working from home--I really miss it!)

We found a great mix of old and new pieces. Check it out.

Bedroom before and after:

Living Room before and after:

Additonal "afters":

Another area of the Living Room before and after:

Office nook before and after:

Hall/Dining Room before and after:

Another Dining Room before and after:

We kept the sofa, dining table, bedroom furniture and some side tables. I also loved how she had taken almost all of the photographs in the apartment herself. We added new dining chairs, accent chairs, bed linens, lighting, rugs, art, curtains, and bookshelves. There were a lot of cheap vintage finds as well some well-placed Ikea hacks (like the bulletin board I made for her kitchen.) It was quite a transformation from the clinical severity before. In fact, Monica told me last week, "I've learned two very important things during this process--I'm not some frat boy bachelor; I'm Indian, and I'm a girl."

Rad. My work is done.

Next stop: New York, where I kill two birds with one stone!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

...Where my love can be found and my heart rings true

Okay, last post was about going back to the roots of Retrograde and my mission to reuse as much as possible. This week it's time to show you how by getting crafty again!

I'm finishing up a project for a young doctor on a budget (girl's got some loans to pay back.) She didn't want to get rid of her well-functioning Ikea pieces, but agreed with me that they were really large and boxy--not what we had in mind when transforming her place from an '80s bachelor pad to a feminine retreat. (More photos will be posted next week after we hang up some art!)

So here's a look at her bedroom furniture before:

No real nightstand, Malm chests placed side by side...this room needed some help. I placed the small Malm next to the bed and encouraged the client to get another 3-drawer Malm to balance things out and give her more storage for things that were sitting in a plastic bin next to her bed (not shown.) The Malm chests were still pretty severe and masculine, so I gave them a faux contrasting inlay to break up the boxiness:

Tune in next week for all the before and after photos from this apartment!

RuPaul : Back To My Roots

Steven the Accursed

Myspace Video

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm going back, back, back to my roots...

Quick post this weeeknd because...

I'm donating some Retrograde services to an eco-minded fundraising event this Thursday!

As part of a slient auction/dinner/dancing fundraiser for a new documentary film, Out on a Limb, I'm offering up to 6 hours of interior design and decorating help. This personalized service includes an at-home consultation, measuring, specifying, and budget tracking for 2 rooms. Value: $400.

After wrapping up a project in Sacramento and hanging some curtains for a Potrero Hill project this weekend, I'm beat. But my filmmaker friends convinced me this is a good project and cause, and I can't wait to go to the event and see some footage from the project. They thought that Retrograde's main philosophy of reusing and recycling items fit well with the feeling of the documentary, and having met one of the film's subjects, I wanted to help in whatever way I could.

"Out on a Limb is a road movie, nature documentary and adventure film all rolled into one photographer's odyssey across America -- getting people to reconnect with nature, themselves and each other, while bringing attention to endangered trees across America. A transformative journey that takes photographer, participant and audience out on a limb."

'Nuff said--how could I not help?

If you're interested in supporting the film, having a gourmet (and I'm sure sustainable) dinner, and dancing the night away this Thursday, October 21st, check out for more information on tickets and donating.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dream A Little Dream...

Oooh, I've been bad at keeping up my self-imposed policy of once-a-week posting.

Anyhow, last week (or was it two weeks ago now?) I posted some crazy-expensive designer pieces and wrote about a couple of my favorite sofas that I'd love to have if I could re-do my own living room.

Well, I realized I'd keep my current bookshelves, which I love. Even if we lost everything in a fire, I think we'd try to re-create this combination of shelving again. You know it wouldn't take long for my partner to replace all the books!

Here's what an ideal living room would look, at least for this week/month/year:

It's got my usual mix of geometric and organic shapes, hard and soft materials, shiny and worn finishes. Here's the cost breakdown:

Hahn Sofa by Vladimir Kagan, $1899
Bookshelves, custom configurations at The Container Store
1930s-40s Navajo Rug, East Meets West Antiques, $1450
Arabesque pillows, Williams-Sonoma Home, $98
Greek key side table, $595
Onyx coffe table, One Kings Lane Tastemaker Tag Sale (Michelle Nussbaumer), $1999
Sketch, One Kings Lane Tastemaker Tag Sale (Michelle Nussbaumer), $549
Turquoise pot, One Kings Lane Tastemaker Tag Sale (Michael S. Smith), $49
Petrified wood lamps, One Kings Lane Tastemaker Tag Sale (Michelle Nussbaumer), $3199

I know a lot of stuff up there just came from One Kings Lane, but I've really been loving their site recently. Some of the stuff is still pretty pricey, but there are also quite a few deals, too. You never know which big-name designer is going to sell stuff on their weekend Tag Sales!

$3199 for a pair of lamps...sigh! Yeah, it's a bit of a dream for me. I know I could probably find comparable items for everything above at thrift stores and flea markets. But for now, just for this blog post, let's dream big, okay?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yeah glitter, glitter everywhere, like working in a goldmine...

I have to say, working at the day job has desensitized me to a lot of sticker shock over the past few months, but a little while ago I was slapped back into reality when I found out how much a piece of furniture(/art) could be worth.

These pieces were made by the same conceptual designer, each carved from a single piece of marble:

I found out one of theses pieces cost over $50,000.


Having worked at an educational nonprofit as well as a healthcare organization, I couldn't stop thinking about how that money could be someone's (or even two peoples') entire salary for a year. Heck, it was more than I used to make when I worked at the educational nonprofit six years ago!

(This week the record was blown by an antique folding table that was 140,000 Euros. Euros, people.)

Personally, I tell my Retrograde clients that their money and energy can go towards other things like family vacations, time with loved ones, or a memorable meal or event. If they ever want something pricey, I'm more than happy to get it for them...but let's face it, the dayjob can be unreal sometimes.

I dunno. Having studied art and having trained to be a Young British Artist, I think there's something to be said about conceptual pieces that make you do a double-take. It's a reaction--hopefully delight or something positive. But in interior design, I think there are tons of affordable, conceptual pieces out there.

Take the classic Togo sofa, for example:

Originally designed in the '70s, it still looks as hot as ever. (I know where to get a knockoff in SF, in case you think the $3K+ price is a bit much.)  It also reminds me of the modern sofa that caused Ted Knight so much mayhem in the wacky SF sitcom, Too Close For Comfort:

Even more affordable is the Hahn sofa at Room & Board, designed by Vladimir Kagan:

If I ever lost everything in a fire, this would be the first thing I bought with the insurance money. To me, it's like looking cream. Or a smile.

Something else more recently designed was the Ikea Vagoe chair, which is sadly no longer available. It was sleek with a deep-set seat to encourage lounging. Originally sold for about $20, it was a great example of affordable design:

In fact, I scored four of them second hand a while ago! The white ones look so sleek in my living room and are surprisingly ergonomic and comfortable:

I still have a pair of black ones up for grabs too...maybe I'll hold onto them a bit longer until they appreciate in value ;-)

Until then, I'll stick with the dayjob. Waitin' on the last train, flickin' through the highlights...