Home Decorating for Couples 101

I’ve been working with a young couple, Kim and Ryan, who recently bought their first house – so exciting! They couldn’t wait to get started on decorating and transforming the new house into their home. We began with a questionnaire that I had them work on together, it had a lot of the usual design type questions and then some that they really had to think about. For instance, their color tolerance. Color tolerance in terms of home design simply means how much color are you comfortable with in your space. Do you like lots of bright color everywhere or do you prefer neutrals? This can be an eye opening question for couples as it was for my clients. Turns out Ryan has a very low color tolerance and Kim is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Creating your sanctuary is much like creating a relationship with your significant other – you each come into the relationship with a distinctive personality, likes and dislikes, behavior quirks and beliefs. The challenge is to blend these unique characteristics into a harmonious balance without losing your individuality. Designing your home together is much the same way.

It takes a shared common vision and yes, comprises. I remember years ago when Micheal (my future husband) and I were making the decision to live together I asked my dad, “how do you and mom create a home together?” My home has always been of the utmost importance to me, it’s my nest and my ‘safe place’ when the world gets overwhelming – I was more than a little hesitant about sharing the design decisions with Micheal as our styles and taste didn’t seem compatible. My dad’s words of wisdom were, “I let your mother make all the design decisions.” I had to laugh because I don’t think my mother would see it that way – I can distinctly remember skirmishes over sofa styles and furniture placement more than once while growing up!

So back to my clients. Ryan and Kim agreed upon the overall design they wanted – Modern Tropical. I then created a design board incorporating the elements we had discussed that were important to them with neutral furnishings for Ryan and bright pops of color for Kim creating a harmonious blend of their individual aesthetics.

They both loved the design board and were ready to get started with purchasing furniture and accessories for their new home. The first purchase was a sofa that was comfortable for Ryan to sprawl out on (this seems to be a major factor for men!) and stylish to suit Kim’s taste. Next the area rug was purchased along with brightly colored throw pillows and some fabulous poufs to provide extra seating when entertaining friends. And then came the first hurdle – the chairs.

It’s no surprise that Ryan’s top priority is comfort while Kim is focused on the feel and style of their home. As a side note, I purposely used the word ‘feel’ as this is often how women create – we want our homes to literally feel a certain way when we walk in the door. So I put together another board with a selection of various styles of chairs that would fit well in their Modern Tropical home. After hours of deliberation, Ryan and Kim selected a chair that they both liked – only to find it’s out of stock so back to the drawing board!

Here are some suggestions and practical advice for couples who find themselves in a design dilemma:

Have a Shared Vision

As I mentioned earlier, having a design board – either one you create yourselves or one that is done for you (shameless promotion here – yes, hire me!) – can save you countless hours of frustration and also a lot of money. By having a clear vision of what you want and a budget in mind, you’ll have a good foundation and will stay on track. Each design board that I create also has product links with prices so that clients can get an idea where they want to spend their hard earned money, and they can purchase the pieces directly with no markup.

Decide on Priorities

This is often overlooked and then everything can become a battle. So sit down and figure out what’s really important to each of you. For instance, if you love to cook and your partner hardly ever does, then decide up front that you have final say on the kitchen design. And really get clear on just how important the overall design of your home is to each of you. 

Years ago when Micheal and I were renovating our first house, we had a major knock down drag out at Home Depot – over cabinet hardware. Yup, cabinet knobs and drawer pulls! You’d think that they would be insignificant but you’d be wrong. Basically we ended up with no hardware on our cabinets for months because we each refused to compromise. That’s when we instituted our ‘form and function’ policy. If it has to do with how it looks, I have the final decision – if an item involves function, Micheal chooses. For instance, the color of the walls, the cabinets, the accessories etc. are my domain. Micheal selects all of the ‘equipment’ that goes into renovating ie tankless water heater, HVAC, etc. And yes, there are overlaps – this is when compromising comes into play. It’s also where we long ago determined that how our home looks and feels is of more importance to me. As long as it’s comfortable, Micheal is good with what I choose (for the most part)!

You can divide up the decision making however works best for you and your partner, either by room, by form and function or anything that suits you both. But it’s important to have a system in place so that you don’t split up over kitchen hardware!

Enjoy the Journey

Keep in mind that creating your home – your mutual sanctuary – is a journey, not something to be rushed through in order to reach the finish line. It takes time to select each piece, choosing things that have meaning and bring you joy. Most of all, have fun! Make a date to go furniture shopping – plan to grab a bite to eat first (and maybe a cocktail or two), set the stage for an enjoyable experience. Get up early on a Saturday morning and hit the flea market, searching for treasures – maybe a unique piece of art or a coffee table you can have fun rehabbing together. Don’t be afraid to take a design break. Sometimes you need a little breather to make decisions, sometimes you need to live in your space in order to decide on a wall color – it’s ok, there’s no pressure. Be grateful that you’re on this journey together!

Ryan and Kim are still working on finding just the right chairs. They’re enjoying their design journey – my heart smiles when I get excited texts from Kim after they find a piece they both love! And they’re navigating the unforeseen pitfalls – like agreeing on a light to hang over their kitchen island. I have full confidence that together they’ll create the perfect sanctuary – a place to make memories with friends and family, a place to soothe their souls after a long week, a place to kick back and relax … a place to call home.



Note: After too many years of being out of the design world, I’m jumping back in and will be starting my new business, Soulful Home Design. I’ll also be starting a new lifestyle blog – stay tuned for further details soon!

Friday Faves and Finds – October 25

At the risk of causing panic – Christmas is two months from today! My first find for this week is a wonderful website that will surely help out with your holiday shopping, from the comfort of your own home. Seeds For Kindness is full of gifts that give back to the earth!  I first stumbled upon this site when I read an article about these enchanting flip-flop animals. These adorable animals are playful art pieces that have positively impacted many by cleaning up over a thousand tons of flip-flops from the ocean and waterways in Kenya, as well as providing steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans. I bought myself a panda – and can’t wait to start on my holiday shopping!

The combination of the full moon this week, along with all the negativity in the news, has had me feeling on edge. I’ve been having a hard time focusing and even my meditation practice has been a struggle. Thankfully, I’ve discovered some great guided meditations that really help when I’m having a hard time settling down. One of my faves is “Let Go” by Power Thoughts Meditation Club. Their home page features some helpful information on meditation and they have so many great guided meditations! Ommmmmm …

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling on edge I crave PASTA, my fave go-to comfort food! This is an issue as I’ve been trying to cut grains out of my diet. I bought a spiralizer, but let’s get real – when you’re craving pasta, a big bowl of zucchini just doesn’t quite cut it! My fave find of the week is this completely grain free pasta by Cappello’s. When I spotted it in the freezer section of Whole Foods I was cautiously optimistic. After cooking it up for a quick dinner (takes about 2 minutes) along with some bolognese sauce I had in the freezer, I was in pasta heaven! Finally, a delicious guilt-free pasta – I can’t wait to try their lasagna noodles.  Buon Appetito!

Any dog mom – or dad – knows that our BFFs (best fur friends) are also affected by the full moon, perhaps even more than we are! Hope loves to chew, especially if she’s feeling anxious or bored. We’ve tried all different kinds of bones and chews – and either she demolishes them in record time or she tires of them quickly. And then I found Benebones! These nylon chews are made in the US and feature 100% real food ingredients, such as bacon, chicken, peanuts, mint or maple wood. Hope’s faves are the bacon flavored, she gives them two high paws! And I love that the company donates to shelters around the country, win-win!

Wishing you a beautiful Fall weekend! I hope you’ll take the time to relax, pamper yourself, enjoy a good meal with loved ones – either 2 legged or 4 pawed – in the comfort of your home and preferably in your jammies!



Note:  The beautiful photos of Hope were taken by The Soulful Dog.

Friday Faves and Finds – October 19

It’s the beginning of the weekend and time for me to share some of my latest faves and finds! There’s nothing I like better than curling up with a beautiful magazine and these are two of my latest finds – full of inspiration with page after page of the most stunning pix and inspiring articles on everything from designing your own sanctuary to mouthwatering healthy recipes. I found them at our local Harris Teeter – you can check out their website for locations nationwide http://www.mantramag.com. I have to caution, their website is as enchanting as the mags, so you might lose an hour or two getting lost in the gorgeous images and energizing articles!

Why use ordinary almond milk when you can transform coffee (either iced or hot) into a guilty pleasure with none of the guilt? I just stumbled upon this toasted coconut almond milk and I’m obsessed! It’s also a great addition to smoothies – my fave nighttime treat is to blend with frozen dark cherries and Ceylon cinnamon … absolutely delicious and cherries are touted as a sleep aid and beneficial in fighting insomnia. Much tastier than a cup of warm milk!

And while we’re talking treats – don’t forget to whip up something special for your BFF (best fur friend!). My girlies, Daisy and Hope, love their froyo paws – I use Siggi’s plain yogurt with a touch of honey, natural peanut butter (please check labels as many brands that are ‘low sugar’ are starting to use xylitol – a sugar substitute – which can be deadly to our beloved pups), and bananas. Blend and then pour into paw shaped silicone molds and freeze. Your pup will be doing the happy dance!

I recently discovered Saffron Marigold, an online company featuring globally inspired artisanal handmade textiles and I’m totally gaga over their products! There are so many gorgeous textiles that I’m having a hard time choosing.  I ordered a free sample and it’s so beautiful that I draped it over a dresser. Check out their website and subscribe to their blog for some great boho design inspiration!

Whatever you have planned for this weekend, I hope you’ll remember to take time out to relax, day dream and follow your bliss!



Boho Bungalow – New Beginnings

After what feels like the summer that wouldn’t end – it’s time for me to sit down and get back to writing. My mind is a jumble and it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll just jump in and see where this leads!  Our downtown chapter ended when we sold our building in July. With a quick close, I was in panic mode trying to pack everything up within three weeks. Keep in mind that the building was our live/work space so I had a household plus my art studio and Micheal’s office to pack up.  Oh, and did I mention that we had no place to go? That was fun, scrambling to try and find a rental with five animals and only a few weeks’ notice. After much searching and no luck on a temporary home, Micheal was finally able to talk the tenants in one of our rental properties into moving out early and we paid off the rest of their lease.  Phew, we had a place to go.  But damn, I wasn’t prepared for what was in store!

After weeks of sorting, packing and labeling, it was finally moving day. I was frazzled but ready to just get on with it. Everything was organized based on destination – storage, Micheal’s new office, and our temporary home. The move went fairly smoothly, and since we were planning to purchase a new bed for our master, we left the mattress downtown and spent one last night in our ‘dream’ home, the building that we had poured our blood, sweat and tears into for three years as we rebuilt and designed every square inch ourselves. It was bittersweet to say the least, but honestly I was so tired there were very few tears.  Those would come later.

The next morning we got up and started cleaning – I had decided to forgo a cleaning service as I was confident this wouldn’t take too long. I’m kind of a neat freak so the house is usually clean, this would be a piece of cake, or so I thought! Without going into all the boring details, let’s just say this was much more labor intensive than I anticipated. I had forgotten about things like pulling out all of the picture hangers and patching holes, taking apart the fridge (geeze, when was the last time I did a deep clean??? Yikes!) and scrubbing the endless white trim and builtins.  

At the end of a very long day we headed to our new (temporary) home. A simple little nondescript ranch house that Micheal has owned for decades, had seen countless tenants, in need of TLC – but really, how bad could it be? As long as we were all together that’s all that mattered, right? That’s what I told myself as I pulled into the driveway, bone tired and emotionally drained.

The first thing I noticed was that the house was hot as hades and the tenants did a half ass job of cleaning – just great, more scrubbing ahead. Boxes were piled everywhere and all I wanted to do was plop down on the couch and zone out with a glass of rose and mindless TV. I walked into the kitchen and it hit me – this house is a wreck!  To say that the appliances are outdated is an understatement, the cabinets and all of the walls in the kitchen and dining room were a dark oak – creating a depressing cave-like atmoshphere. The rest of the house was painted a dreary beige. And don’t even get me started on the bathrooms. How did I think I could live here? Me, who believes our homes should be our sanctuaries, a place that feeds the soul! 


What a mess – but at least Hope found her bowl!

It was then that it hit me. This is HOME for the foreseeable future. That’s when the meltdown started. The tears and then the accusations, calling my sweet husband a slum lord … it all came spewing out! I knew I had gone too far, but at that moment I didn’t care – how could he think I would live in this house, it was a dump! He stormed outside to see about fixing the A/C and I poured a large glass of wine and sat, sweating and distraught, in the middle of a hodgepodge of furniture and boxes. When he came back inside I apologized and we attempted to move things around enough so that we could sit in the living room and relax.

All the warmth and coziness of a prison cell – but at least Hope is comfortable!

When we finally went to bed – on a double mattress from our former guest bedroom laying on the floor with no platform or box springs – I started crying again. I couldn’t stop the tears. It had been an emotional time, putting our beloved building on the market, going through months of showings then all the back and forth negotiations, and finally the move. Micheal put his arms around me and whispered “we don’t have to stay here, we’ll find another place.” In between sobs, the only words that would come out were “I want to go home.”

The next morning I woke up at 5:00. I felt lighter than I had in months, as if a huge weight had been lifted. As I walked into the backyard with my coffee, the quiet was almost deafening (after ten years of living in the city I was used to constant noise!) and then it hit me, this is not an ending but rather a new beginning. I also felt something else I wasn’t expecting, gratitude. At that moment a deep sense of gratitude overcame all of the frustration of the previous night. I was so thankful for my husband, for having a roof over our heads, for having my fur babies with me and for the next chapter that was about to unfold. I realized how incredibly blessed I am and that I have nothing to be complaining about.  I was actually looking forward to the challenge of fixing up the little ranch house.  If this is where we’ll be living for the duration while we renovate our boho bungalow, then I was determined to make it our HOME!



Note:  I’ll have more updates on the boho bungalow renovation – and also decorating and design tips as I spiff up the little ranch house. I need to come up with a name for this place, boho rancho? Haha! If you have any ideas, would love to hear them! Make sure and check in on Feel Good Fridays – I’m planning to share some of my favorite boho and design blogs, magazines, books, recipes, dog mom tips and more!

Boho Bungalow – Finding Hidden Treasure

On a particularly hot and muggy day, I was feeling restless and more than a little snarky. We’d been waiting for our realtor to call us with news on the sale of our current home and I was on pins and needles.  Micheal suggested that I join him over at our future home, the Boho Bungalow, to do some demolition work to help channel my frustrations. Normally I don’t have anything to do with the demo portion of the project, but I figured what the heck … maybe hitting something with a sledge hammer would make me feel better!

First I have to preface by saying that our demo work is never done in a day as is seen on the popular TV show, Fixer Upper. Unless you have a lot of money, it almost never happens that way. For one thing, we don’t want to shut off power and water until absolutely necessary and for another we don’t have a big crew just standing by to clear out the building and haul off all the debris at once.

And so I headed over to the Boho Bungalow determined to quell my anxiety by ripping out a wall or two. A few weeks earlier, Micheal had discovered exposed brick when he ripped out some sheetrock on our two back bedrooms.

This will become a featured nook in our master bedroom!

As is often the case with older bungalows, the house had been added onto and they sheetrocked over the existing exterior brick. Jackpot! I love exposed brick and it will fit in perfectly with my eclectic boho design, blending the old with the new and adding layers of texture. We also discovered the same thing in our foyer.  Micheal knows how much I adore old brick walls and so he knew I’d be thrilled with the discovery – but it also means more work for him as it’s far more difficult to trim out a brick wall versus sheetrock. Some men wine and dine their wives, my hubby surprises me with vintage brick walls and I’ll take that any day!

I walked into my future nest and looked around trying to decide where to start. And then it hit me … I got that excited, tingly feeling when you know you’re just about to discover hidden treasure.  As I was standing in the kitchen looking into what used to be the laundry room and will eventually be our butler’s pantry, I nonchalantly asked Micheal if it was original to the house. He got a funny look as he answered ‘no’ and it dawned on him that I was on the hunt for more exposed brick! I couldn’t wait to tear into that sheetrock and sure enough, there it was, hidden for umpteen decades, that pot of gold at the end of designer’s rainbow … another brick wall!


As I began ripping the sheetrock off we discovered that the wall originally had a window so we’d have to brick it in to complete the wall. Piece of cake, I told Micheal. Really, how hard could it be to add a few courses of bricks?

As you can probably guess not as easy as it looks. And let me just say, if like me, you didn’t like playing with mudpies as a child, brick laying probably won’t be your jam. It’s a messy job! Thankfully Micheal is resourceful and determined and we now have a complete brick wall in our butler’s pantry. I can’t wait to get to the point where I can start painting and sanding the bricks – I promise to keep y’all posted and share my techniques!

Wall in the Butler’s Pantry with the window filled in – and our job site girl, Hope!

So remember, if you’re renovating an older home and you’ve got rooms that aren’t original to the house, you may have hidden treasure – either brick or shiplap – behind those sheetrocked walls!  Happy Hunting!



Boho Bungalow – Renovation Survival for Couples

The mere idea of a renovation project can strike fear into the hearts of many couples. And for good reason. While the reason for undertaking a renovation is exciting – a new kitchen, updated bath, an addition to allow for more living space – the thought of going through the process can be daunting.  Whether you’re opting for the DIY route or hiring a contractor, the process can be challenging and fraught with emotional land mines that can derail even the strongest couple.

When Micheal and I did our first renovation nearly two decades ago, we started out like most couples – excited at the prospect of transforming a rundown house into our home.  And for the most part we were in sync throughout the project.  Until we got to the cabinet hardware.  You don’t see it coming, but all of a sudden, a renovation project can go from smooth sailing to DEFCON 1 over the smallest issue!  We were at Home Depot on a summer evening, this was back in the day when Charleston only had one big box hardware store and so Friday nights became our shopping/date nights.  We’d drive up to North Charleston, shop for supplies and then go out for dinner.  As we were standing in the middle of Home Depot looking at cabinet hardware it didn’t dawn on me that we were headed into what can only be described as a frosty weekend!  I picked out the draw pulls and knobs that I wanted but Micheal vetoed them because he was controlling the budget.  He looked at me and said, “try again”.  But I insisted that the ones I had picked out were perfect for our kitchen.  He pointed to the ugliest low end hardware and I seriously wanted to smack him!  So I found some others that were a bit less than those I had originally picked out and his response was “no”.  I reminded him that I had come down in price and it was his turn to come up a bit, so I wasn’t expecting his response, “how about no hardware?”  I was so damn mad that I yelled, “FINE!” and stormed out of Home Depot.  We didn’t have knobs or drawer pulls for quite some time.

A few weeks after the kitchen hardware incident we were at Home Depot again and when we walked into the store there was a young couple standing off to the side – she was crying and he had a calculator in his hand.  I knew exactly what was happening and wanted to go over and give her a big hug!  That’s when it dawned on me that the big box hardware stores should offer mediation – I can hear it on the loudspeaker now, “there’s a couple in appliances on the verge of meltdown, marriage counseling aisle 13 STAT!”

Since that’s obviously not an option, Micheal and I devised a system on our second renovation project.  We divided everything into form and function. Since he’s a mechanical contractor and I’ve got a design background this was the perfect solution for us.  If it had to do with how something looked, I had the final say – and if it had to do with function, he had final say.  And contrary to the old adage, form doesn’t ‘follow’ function in our system.  They’re created equal – or so I like to think!

Here’s how it works, we discuss the overall design, finishes, paint colors etc. and I take Micheal’s input into account but in the end I make all the final decisions in these areas.  He, in turn, makes all the decisions on things like heating and air, electrical, plumbing, electronics, etc.  And yes, there can be some crossover and this in when it gets a little dicey.

Case in point – we renovated a darling 1940s bungalow before we moved downtown.  We both fell in love with the house and all it really needed was some cosmetics.  Our last project was the guest bath.  We both agreed on the tumbled marble tiles and I found a great second hand dresser that was ideal as the vanity once I painted it and found the perfect drawer pulls (yup I got to choose – form won out!).  We even found a great piece of ‘scrap’ marble for the vanity top.  Everything was just about finished, the soaking tub was installed, we’d done the tile work and all that was left was the toilet.  You’d think this would be a simple thing, buy a new toilet, right?  Wrong.  We headed over to Lowe’s and that’s when form and function went to battle.  Micheal thought the original toilet was fine and he actually preferred it to many of the newer water efficiency models.  The problem was that the original toilet was ecru and our tub was white.  He argued that it was a function decision, and of course I steadfastly insisted it fell under the heading of form.  I really felt sorry for the poor salesman who walked up all cheery asking if he could help us find something.  One look at our faces and he quietly stepped away.  I don’t know why I got so emotional over a toilet, but I did.  The second time the salesman came back to check on us, I was literally in tears – just sure that the wrong toilet would ruin the entire bathroom!  This is what can happen when you’re in the midst of renovation, the smallest issue becomes magnified and all reason flies out the window.  To make a long story short, we ended up keeping the original toilet – and it looks just fine in the room.  At least now we can laugh over the ‘damn toilet’ debacle!

So my advice to couples undertaking a renovation project is to determine a system that will keep discourse to a minimum.  Don’t just assume that you’ll agree on everything because I can almost guarantee you, you won’t!  If form and function doesn’t work for you, consider dividing the decision making by room.  For instance, whoever does the majority of the cooking has final say in kitchen decisions, likewise if the entertainment area is more important to hubby, let him make the decisions regarding the great room. If you’re doing a major whole house renovation or even building a new home, consider dividing it by interior and exterior.  The point is you need to have some sort of system in place to avoid long drawn out confrontations with no resolution.  You also want to play on each other’s strengths which will result in harmonious teamwork making the process much more fun!

Keep your eye on the end goal – creating a home that you both love.  And remember when all else fails, step back, take a break and ask “will this decision really impact our lives in a year?”  Usually the answer is ‘no’ … you won’t even notice the color of the toilet after a while!

As Micheal and I embark on renovating our Boho Bungalow, we’re sticking to our form and function rule – I’ll keep y’all updated and will share our progress along the way. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what has helped you maintain harmony during times of renovation conflict!



Boho Bungalow Renovation – First Step

Last year when my husband brought up the subject of selling our building in downtown Charleston, I was less than receptive. For three years we had poured everything we had into what was once a falling down 1840s grist mill that had been used and abused over the years and created the perfect live/work space complete with my dream art studio. And now nearly a decade later, not only do I love our building but I love living in the city – so the idea of moving to the burbs nearly had me in hives. How could I give up my daily walks with Hope along Upper King? What about all the restaurants just minutes from our front door? And this might sound odd to many, but how would I sleep without the cacophony of the city?

The before and after of our building in downtown Charleston.

We sat down and tried to talk through the benefits of selling, and you can imagine there were tears and a lot of tension. It’s hard when, as a couple, you’re not on the same page regarding the big issues like where to live. After several rather ‘chilly’ weeks, we sat down again and this time I surprised Micheal by saying, “I’m ready to make a change.”  I’d been giving it a lot of thought and over the past few weeks I’d been driving over to one of our rental houses, just over the bridge and close to the city. I liked the neighborhood with its big oak trees, sidewalks, a large greenway for walking Hope and most importantly the ‘walkability’ factor with restaurants and stores within walking distance. The houses are all 1940s bungalows – and although they’re charming, they’re also quite a bit smaller than our current space – the one drawback.

And so we talked late into the night – weighing the pros and cons of selling and moving out of the city.  The more we threw around ideas, the more excited we both became at the prospect of another renovation project! The next day we did a walk through of our rental property – to say it was a mess is an understatement.  We still had tenants in the house and more than a decade of renters had taken a toll on both the interior and exterior. Thankfully that doesn’t faze me. Micheal and I have done numerous renovation projects together and I’m used to seeing a building at its worst – I’m blessed with the ability to be able to have a vision of what it can be and I easily look past its current condition.

A few before pix of our Boho Bungalow … many more to come!

After the walk through we sat down for another in-depth conversation, and I laid out what I call my ‘non-negotiables’. I wanted to: add onto the two back bedrooms, creating a large master suite and an art studio; French doors leading to a covered patio from the two back rooms so we could have a beautiful outdoor living space for relaxing and entertaining; a pool so that Hope could practice her dock diving and I could survive the brutal Charleston summers; and a butler’s pantry off the kitchen.  Being the ‘money guy’ Micheal reminded me that all of this was going to be costly and I reminded him that if he wanted to move me out of the city, I needed to create my perfect nest – and I assured him that I had complete confidence that he could make it happen!

And so once again, Micheal and I have decided to embark on a renovation project – the Boho Bungalow.  Our downtown building is on the market and we’re crossing paws that we’ll find a buyer who will love and treasure this old gal as we have.  I hope you’ll join me as we venture down the renovation path – I’ll share our secret to maintaining a happy marriage during what can be a stressful time; my three Fs for renovation success, focus, flexibility and fun; the design process including tips for creating pup friendly environments; dealing with the bureaucracy of renovation, permitting, surveys, etc.; selecting everything from appliances to wall finishes; and ‘the b word’ – creating within a budget!  Renovation takes a courageous heart, a lot of faith, and a good sense of humor – there will be tears and there will be laughter but the most important thing to remember is to enjoy the journey!



My First SEWE – Leaving it All in the Pool

Written from the viewpoint of Hope – my little rescued black Lab mix girl, the light of my life.

Last Friday, I had no idea what awaited me.  I knew there was something called Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) and I was going to participate in a DockDogs event – but I never dreamed that it would be a baptism by fire!  Just to give you a little background before I tell my SEWE story – I went to my first Palmetto DockDogs practice last summer.  I’d never jumped off a dock before but I loved retrieving my sharky in the ocean and water is my happy place.  After that practice I was hooked!  I went to one more practice and then competed in a small one day event last November.  Other than that, I’ve been practicing at my Auntie Sally’s house with her girl, Gracie, my diving bestie.

So when I got to Brittlebank Park early Friday morning, I was excited to be going dock diving – I knew what we were doing cuz mommy brought my fun bag filled with my bumpers, towels, etc.  What I didn’t know was just how big of an event it was going to be!  I was a little surprised when mommy and Auntie Sally put me and Gracie in crates under the tent and then zipped up the sides.  Why aren’t we going jumpies?  They left us there forever while they went to register – ok, it was probably less than half an hour, but it felt like much longer!  We were ready to go dock diving!


Photo by Valerie and Co. Photographers

And finally it was time … me and Gracie got out of our crates and headed towards the pool with our mommies – but when we got there, we saw TWO pools!  Oh wow, this is going to be so much FUN!  We discovered that there was one pool for practice and there were lots of people lining up.  As I stood there with mommy I was quivering with excitement.  I couldn’t wait to race up those stairs and get to the water.  When it was our time, I flew onto the dock with mommy in tow.  She put me in a sit-stay and walked to the edge of the dock so she could call me and throw my bumper in the water.  There were a LOT of people around and so many dogs barking, I was a little nervous and overwhelmed.  But I tried to focus on mommy and jumping into the pool!  I had a few practice jumps, they weren’t my best but I don’t remember the dock being that high!  I’ve only done one other competition so this is still new to me.  When we practice at Gracie’s pool we have a little platform, but nothing like the big dock at DockDog events.

After practice we went back to the tent and Gracie and I stayed in our crates.  Mommy said it was so we could rest up but I was raring to go!  And then daddy came to see me and mommy put my slip lead on and we headed to the other pool – the one for competition.  I was so excited as I sat there waiting for my turn.  When I heard my name, I went racing up the steps to get on the dock.

I got in my sit-stay position … it was hard to focus, there was so much going on!  “Where is mommy?  Oh, there she is way at the end of the dock … Listen to mommy … Watch mommy … Do I smell corndogs? … Why are all these people yelling my name?  Should I go over and say hello? Is that pluff mud down there, oh that would be fun to jump into … wow, that funnel cake looks yummy!” So many thoughts were racing through my mind as I sat on the dock.  And then mommy called my name I started running towards her – but just as I got ready to jump, I stopped!  I don’t know what happened, my paws were glued to the dock.  Mommy was cheering me on and so were all the people around the pool.  But I just froze.  And then I looked up and saw mommy next to me and I knew it was ok, so I jumped into the pool to retrieve my bumper!  Not a great start, but I knew I’d do better on my second jump!

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

I jumped in two waves on Friday – Big Air 2 and 4.  When we weren’t competing, Gracie and I hung out in our tent, curled up in our side-by-side crates.  We had some veggie and cheese snacks and took short naps.  I have to admit, it was nice having the tent – when all the sides were closed, it was our safe place. I ended up taking 3rd and 2nd place in the novice category on Friday – not bad for my first BIG event!

When mommy got me up early on Saturday I thought maybe we were going walkies, but instead we went back to the big park for more jumpies!  I was excited and a bit overwhelmed all over again.  There were even more people and pups lined up at the practice pool.  I still don’t understand why I can’t say hello to all the doggies – but mommy says I’m there to compete not socialize, kind of a bummer.  She explained that it’s for everyone’s safety cuz us dockdog pups are amped up and ready to go and not everyone would appreciate the fact that my preferred greeting is to bop others in the face with my paws!  So I tried to sit by mommy’s side while we waited to practice.

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

Mommy decided to try something different since I was having a hard time staying connected to her with all that was going on at the event.  She took me to the edge of the dock, threw my bumper in the water and then she pulled me back and held me, asking if I was ‘READY’ … then she let go and yelled, ‘GET IT’!  I didn’t hesitate as much at the end of the dock and so this seemed to be working.  After practice, me and Gracie went back to our safe place and we waited.

When it was time for Big Air 7, we all gathered at the competition pool.  OMG, there were SO many pups and their peeps!  The DockDogs official said it was the biggest wave he’d ever officiated over – 50 competitors … wow!  Mommy didn’t seem too nervous, so that was good. I kept checking in and touching her leg with my nose and once in a while I’d get on my hind legs and wrap my paws around her arms just to feel close.  Some of the pups were really excited, they were howling and barking and jumping around!  I just got kind of quiet and watched it all.  Until it was my turn – then I went bounding up the steps ready to jump!  I did much better with mommy using our ‘new’ method – I was able to focus on her more and tune out some of the noise.  I got 1st place in the novice division – woohoo … my first 1st place medal!  We went home after Big Air 7 and I was kind of happy to have a short day.

Photo by Valerie and Co. Photography

Sunday morning was another early one.  And this time daddy came with us.  We got to the park and went for a little walkie with Gracie and Auntie Sally.  It was fun to walk around and take it all in before the crowds got really huge.  I even met a deer!  Gracie and I kept sniffing his butt and when he didn’t respond we thought he was kinda rude until we figured out he was stuffed!

After we relaxed in our safe place, it was time for our last Big Air of the weekend.  Gracie and I got leashed up and we headed towards the competition pool.  I’ve never seen so many people of all ages and dogs in my life!  They were everywhere!  The music was blaring and it was like a big party, I had to remind myself that I was there to compete and I needed to focus.  I was on sensory overload at this point.  I started my mantra – ‘stay with mommy, stay with mommy’.  That helped calm me down as I waited for my turn.  And then I was back up on the big dock and ready to jump!  I came in third in the novice category again.  Mommy kept telling me how proud she was and that next year we’d do even better!

I had one last event – Speed Retrieve – my favorite!  It seemed like I waited forever, but finally it was time.  I love Speed Retrieve and I practice all the time in Gracie’s pool.  Me and mommy even play Speed Retrieve at home in the house!  So you can imagine how excited I was to get in that pool and swim for the bumper!  What I lack in jumping distance I make up for in speed, mommy says I’m like a little speeding black bullet in the water!  We got up on the dock and mommy walked me to the edge and pointed to the far end of the pool where the bumper was hanging – but who were all those people?  Why were they standing at the edge of the pool crowded around the bumper?  And where was daddy?  That’s when I started to get a little nervous.  Focus on mommy, focus on mommy.  But this time I could sense that mommy was nervous too.  Uh oh, what’s wrong?  I got into my ‘settle’ position and mommy crouched over me like she does when we practice.  She asked if I was ready and then all of a sudden she yelled “GO” … I raced to the edge of the pool and came to a screeching halt.  I think I actually face planted!  I was frozen and I couldn’t move – I could hear mommy yelling ‘GET IT’ and so many people were all shouting my name at once.  But I just couldn’t move.

Photo by Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema

Mommy put my leash back on me and said it was ok, we got one more try.  When we got off the dock she gave me a hug and said she was proud of me no matter what and she loves me to pieces.  That made me feel a little better cuz I didn’t want to disappoint her.  Well, the same thing happened on my second try.  I just couldn’t get off the dock.  I wanted so badly to race for that bumper but I just got too scared.   We went back to our safe place and I couldn’t wait to get in my crate!  Mommy said it was ok, we’d keep practicing and I’d get over my nerves – and so would she!

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up to go home, our friend Tom (Duchess’ daddy) came running over yelling, Hope and Gracie made it to the finals – you need to get ready!  Wait …. What?  I was in the Big Air finals???  I was so tired, but I knew I had to get out there and try my very best!

And so when it was my turn, I raced up those stairs determined to have my biggest jump ever!  And you guessed it … I stopped at the end of the dock.  By that time, I think there were like a gazillion people crowded around the pool – it was so loud and the sounds and smells were overpowering.  I just stopped at the edge of the pool with a blank stare, I forgot what I was doing!  But I had one more jump.  One more chance to do it!  I heard daddy whisper to mommy, “I don’t think she’s going to jump” – mommy just gave him one of ‘those looks’ and said, “she’s going to do it!”  We got up on the dock and mommy told me we were just gonna go for it, back to our ‘usual’ routine.  She put me in a sit-stay and walked to the edge of the dock, we made eye contact and I focused really, really hard … repeating over and over, I can do it!  And then mommy threw the bumper in the water and called my name, I went running … and yup, I stopped at the edge of the pool – until I heard mommy say, “you can do it Hope” … and I did!  I gathered every bit of oomph I had left and I leapt off that dock and into the pool!  Looking up with the bumper in my mouth and seeing mommy’s big smile, I felt like I’d won the world championship!  As she was putting my leash on as I got out of the pool, I saw tears of pride and joy in mommy’s eyes.  I came in 6th in the Amateur Finals – I may not have won, but I didn’t give up and at the end of the competition I left it all in the pool!

Photo by Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema

Dive, Swim, Luv, Hope

Too Tired to Pose for Victory Pic

I want to give a big bark out to so many people and pups who were so nice and encouraging to me and mommy!  I may forget some, but please know we really appreciated all of your pawsitive vibes!  Thank you to Deb Feller at Palmetto DockDogs for giving me my start and for always being there with advice and support!  And thank you to my other Palmetto DockDog clubmates – Tom and Duchess, Kaitie and Jon Snow, Laurie and Ella and so many others, I’m so blessed to be part of such an amazing club!  And big high paws to Tim Lake and Melanie from Carolina DockDogs – y’all were so encouraging and helpful, can’t wait to see you again!  To everyone at DockDogs who was working the event – pawesome job, most of all a big thank you to Thomas Platts for all your hard work to make it a fun and safe event for all of us!

My Diving Bestie Gracie – 5th Place in Big Air Amateur Finals; 1st place novice in a Big Air wave; and 3 ribbons in Big Air amateur waves.

And of course, a big smooch to my bestie diving buddy, Gracie and my Auntie Sally – best teammates ever!  Finally, a big bark out and lots of smoochies to my daddy, Micheal, who encourages and supports me and mommy and makes it possible for us to continue indulging in our dock diving obsession!

Big High Paws to Valerie and Co. Photographers and Stephen Blackmon Photo + Cinema for the pawesome pix!!!

Ending on a Pawsitive

(Written from the viewpoint of Hope, my 1 1/2 year old rescued black Lab mix dock diving addict – who always inspires me to end on a pawsitive!)

I was so bored and feeling sorry for myself as I laid on the couch Thursday afternoon in what mommy calls my ‘woe is me’ pose.  Then something weird happened – mommy came out of the bedroom in her workout pants but she had on a heavy sweater so I didn’t think she was going to the gym … maybe we were going walkies early, but why was she wearing boots?  Hmmm, I wonder where’s she going?  And then she asked if I wanted to go.  Go where?  I didn’t care, I was up and at the door ready for whatever adventure awaited!  Mommy leashed me up and then she got my favorite thing in the world – the FUN BAG with all of my diving bumpers and towels!  Oh boy, we’re going swimmies, I thought as I jumped in the car ready to go!

As we drove over the big bridge I knew for sure – we were going to Auntie Sally’s house so I could swim and dive with my bestie, Gracie!  It seemed like forever since I’d been swimmies – mommy doesn’t take me as much when it’s cold out so I’ve been kinda bored lately.  As we got closer to Auntie Sally’s, I sat straight up next to mommy and then I tapped her on the shoulder with my paw – when she said, “yes we’re going swimmies”, I started to do my excited little hum!  We pulled into the driveway and I was ready to go!  But something strange happened – mommy told me to stay in the car.  What is going on???

I watched as she got the fun bag and walked in the gate without me.  Then I saw other cars pull up with dogs that looked a little familiar but I wasn’t sure who they were.  I waited in the car forever – finally mommy came to get me.  She wasn’t too thrilled when she discovered I had chewed my seat belt in half, maybe she shouldn’t have left me in the car so long!  I hopped out and was raring to go … Gracie was in the front yard on a leash with Auntie Sally.  This was a really weird day, usually I just run in the side gate and Gracie meets me at the pool.  And again I wondered, what is going on???

Then I saw Thomas and Duchess (a yellow Labby) and Kaitie and John Snow (a black Labby).  We all stood around with our pawrents, excitement in the air.  I was trying to be calm so I could say hello to the other pups and finally we all got to sniff each other and do our meet and greet.  Then we all went in the yard – but mommy didn’t unleash me like she usually does.  Even more confusing, why did I have this stupid slip lead on to restrain me when all I wanted to do was dive into that glorious water?  What is going on???

Duchess and John Snow went in their crates that were set up in the yard.  Me and Gracie hung out with our mommies, but we were still on leash.  Then I saw a big metal thingy hanging over the pool.  I wasn’t sure what it was but I thought it might have a bumper hanging off it so that’s a good thing.  The pawrents stood around as Auntie Deb (Feller, the president of Palmetto DockDogs) talked about EV –extreme vertical.  I was starting to get bored and was straining on my leash when Thomas let Duchess out of her crate and she went running up to the diving platform that Auntie Sally made for me and Gracie to practice our dock diving.  I was still stuck on my leash trying to see what Duchess was doing.  What is going on???

And then all at once, I heard yelling and clapping and Duchess was sailing off the platform into the air and she grabbed the bumper off the metal thingy right before she splashed into the water!  So pawesome!  I was up on my hind legs, squealing with excitement … I wanted to dive into the pool too!  Duchess did a few more jumps – and each time she grabbed that bumper all of us pups started barking and squealing as we cheered her on!  Then it was Gracie’s turn.  She went up to the platform with Auntie Sally and Auntie Deb was showing her the bumper, as Gracie got more and more excited I finally figured it out … I knew what was going on, we were each going to learn how to do EV.  AND I figured out why mommy had been playing ‘touch’ with me – she taught me how to put my nose on her hand when she said ‘touch’ and then she started holding a toy up in the air and when she yelled ‘touch’ I had to jump up and grab it.  Mommy was getting me ready for EV!

Gracie got a few EV jumps, she didn’t get the bumper at first, she kept trying and then she did it!  After what seemed like hours, it was finally my turn!  I raced up to that platform and mommy was showing me the bumper and saying ‘touch’ … I knew what to do!  Mommy pulled me back as far as we could go and she pointed at the bumper dangling over the pool, when she let me go I went racing down the platform and jumped as I reached for the bumper – but I missed it!  Wow, that bumper is really far away!  I tried again and again … Duchess made this look much easier than it is.  And then it happened, I dove off the platform and grabbed the bumper on my way down into the water – I did it!  What a rush, everyone was clapping and cheering and the pups were all barking … fun, fun, fun!

When it was John Snow’s turn, like Duchess, he made EV look really easy.  Wow, he was jumping so high!  As I watched him I was determined to jump even higher on my next turn.  We spent the rest of the afternoon taking turns practicing EV – I was quivering with anticipation each time I watched the other pups jump.  When I finally got up to take my last jump, I raced down the platform … and then I froze!  My brain was saying JUMP but my body just stopped at the edge of the platform.  Mommy grabbed me really quickly and pulled me back, then she ran down the platform with me as everyone was cheering and mommy yelled ‘touch’ – and again, nothing.  I just screeched to a halt and stood at the edge of the pool squealing!  I was so frustrated, I didn’t know why I wasn’t jumping up for the bumper.  Then I heard mommy ask Auntie Deb, “can Hope do a speed retriever?” I heard Auntie Deb respond, “absolutely, we want her to end of a pawsitive.”  I love speed retrieve – I crouched down with mommy and she pointed to the other end of the pool where Auntie Deb was holding the bumper.  Then mommy said, “get ready, set, GO” and I went flying down the platform and jumped as far as I could, when I splashed into the pool I swam like a little speed demon to get to the other end.  When I got the bumper from Auntie Deb, I jumped up out of the pool, feeling victorious!

As I sat in the car waiting for mommy to say goodbye to everyone, I was thinking about what a fun day it was.   It’s always good to try something new and it’s always important to ‘end on a pawsitive.’  I had forgotten all about freezing at the edge of the pool, all I could remember was that feeling of bliss as I swam towards the bumper!  Now I understand why mommy likes to meditate at the end of the day.  And why we always have snuggle time and a kiss before I drift off to sleep at night.   We always end on a pawsitive.

Dive, Swim, Luv, Hope

Diving into SEWE – Tips for Getting Ready

(Written from the viewpoint of Hope, my 1 1/2 year old rescued black Lab mix dock diving addict!)

The other day I heard mommy talking about SEWE (Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, February 16-18) – apparently it’s a big deal here in Charleston … at first all I heard was blah, blah, blah … but then my little ears perked up when I heard DOCK DIVING!  What???  They have a dock diving competition?!?  I started getting excited at the very thought of running down that long dock and jumping into the water!  Mommy told me that it’s one of the biggest DockDogs events in the Southeast and people come with their pups from all over to compete.  There are two pools set up, one just for practicing.  Oh yippie, I’m doing my happy wiggle dance, this is going to be so much fun!

Of course, as a pup, all I care about is the fun stuff.  But mommy has to take care of all the ‘details’ or as I call it, the boring stuff!  Mommy called Auntie Deb (Feller), the president of Palmetto DockDogs to get the scoop on what we’ll need to be ready for SEWE.  As you might know, although there’s a slight chance in might be warm here in Charleston for SEWE, it could also be really cold.  So it’s best to be prepared!  If you’ve never participated in SEWE, here are some good tips from Auntie Deb to help you and your pup get ready:

Condition Yourself and Your Pup to the Cold Weather

As with any other sport, ease into it.  It’s like training for a marathon and you don’t want to do it all at once.  BUT, the more time you can spend with your pup outside in the cold, the better acclimated you’ll both be for SEWE.  My mommy hates the cold, but like most Labbies, I love it, so she bundles up and we go walkies and I have play dates with my friends in the frigid temps!  Take your pup swimming – we love the polar bear plunge (just make sure to wear water proof clothes so you don’t get wet and freeze!).

Dry Your Pup Off After Leaving the Pool

This may sound like a no-brainer but many pups have a thick undercoat and it’s not so easy to get completely dry.  Auntie Deb tells her champion Dock Diver, Doni (my idol!), to shake after getting out of the water.  I haven’t quite mastered that one! I do just normally shake when I jump out of the pool – but usually I do it all over mommy, oops!  When there’s no visible water coming from your pup’s fur, here’s a great dock dog hack – use a car shammy (like the infomercial Shamwow).  Make sure and dry your pup very well with the shammy and then use a big fluffy absorbent terry cloth towel like a beach blanket.  Pay a lot of attention to get your pup’s hind legs, hips and base of tail making sure those areas are completely dry.  While you’re drying off your pup, massage the areas to increase blood flow and keep those muscles warm. Remember cold stiff muscles are an enemy of any sport, and your pup is an athlete!

Don’t Kennel Your Pup Yet

Go for walkies first to keep moving around.  It’s a good idea to have a coat to put on your pup once they’re mostly dry.  Walk around the event grounds, this will help you both stay warm!  The main reason for drying your pup off really well and then walking around is to avoid the dreaded (and painful, ouch!) “cold tail” which is simply a cramp in the muscles at the base of the tail. Pups who use their tail vigorously while swimming sometimes over use these muscles.  If they don’t get dried off really well and then warmed up properly they’ll get a painful cramp.  It usually doesn’t last long, a few days at most, but it’s treated with rest.  Which unfortunately would mean you’d have to stop dock diving and drop out of the competition for the rest of the weekend – no fun!

Setting Up in Dog Town (where the competitors stay in between events)

Bring a canopy/easy-up/pop-up tent.  It’s nearly essential to have ‘walls’ to keep the wind out – the dock dogs competition is on the water and it can get chilly!   If you don’t have walls for your tent, bring a tarp and heavy duty clips to fasten.  It’s a good idea to have a propane heater or a generator with an electric space heater, too.  You’ll also want to have chairs, a crate for your pup so they can relax – I wasn’t too thrilled with this initially, but after a few jumps at my first competition, it was really nice to have a place that I could take a nap.  Bring a blankie for the crate and also one to cover it so your pup can snooze in peace.

Things to Bring to Keep Your Pup in Tip Top Condition and Ready to Compete

In cold weather both pups and their peeps often forget to drink enough water.  Auntie Deb brings a thermos of sodium free chicken broth and then adds in some warm water for Doni to drink when it’s cold, that sounds delish!  High fat snacks.  Yes pleeeeze!  Fat is the most calorie dense food and us pups need extra calories to stay warm.  Auntie Deb learned about this cool hack from the ‘mushers’ – sled dogs are fed chunks of lard at bedtime to stay warm.  Now this doesn’t mean that we pups get to gorge on fat – but freezing some bacon grease in ice cube trays is a great idea for a bite sized snack.  You can also make coconut oil cubes and add in some blueberries, yummy!

Human Comforts to Stay Warm and Dry

Most important thing is to keep the feet warm and dry – mommy would agree with this, her tootsies get cold easily!  So waterproof boots are a necessity.  You’ll also need water proof/resistant pants – even though you won’t be going swimming, your pup will most likely be shaking water all over your legs and feet.  Ski pants are a good option or check out water resistant golf pants, too.  Jeans are not a good option as they’ll get wet and then you’ll get cold!  Layering on top is best.  Long sleeve t-shirts, a sweater and then a fleece or down vest or pullover works well.  It’s a good idea to bring a couple of extra pieces with you so you can switch out if your tops get wet.  And finally, several pairs of warm gloves.  You won’t want to wear these on the dock, but you do want to keep your hands warm up until then!  And as with the pups, don’t forget to bring lots of water for yourself – and some snacks!

A Few Things to Keep in Your Dock Diving Competition Bag

Mommy always has a ‘go bag’ for events – she brings some extra trash bags, zip ties (you never know when you might need one!), a pair of scissors, small first aid kit (sometimes I get overly excited and accidentally scratch mommy), small packs of tissues (just in case the portalettes run out of toilet paper or paper towels), hand sanitizer, hand lotion, and of course, you don’t want to forget poop bags!

If you’ve never competed in a dock diving event, the first thing to remember is to have FUN!  But there are also some basic rules that you’ll want to get acquainted with, so check out the official DockDogs Rules and Policies . Dock Diving is like any other sport and there are rules to ensure that it’s a good experience for everyone!

If you’re traveling from out-of-state, make sure and book your hotel rooms early.  SEWE draws tens of thousands of visitors to Charleston and accommodations book up quickly.  Palmetto DockDogs has posted pup-friendly hotels on their FB page

I’m so excited to be participating in my first SEWE – I can’t wait to see you there!

Play, Swim, Dive, Hope