Why your house will never look like Pinterest


When decorating a home, good sources for ideas are social media sites, such as Pinterest. Whether you’re doing a small project like making a front door wreath or tackling a major bathroom renovation, you’ll find countless photographs to give you inspiration, along with tutorials to show you how to do everything yourself. 

It’s easy to go down a virtual rabbit hole, getting lost in Pinterest board after Pinterest board as you fantasize about what your home should, and could, be. No wonder people call it “house porn.”

And while Pinterest can give you a jolt of creative adrenaline, the perfectly lit, exquisitely styled photographs being “pinned” set the bar much higher than most people can possibly achieve. The fact is, your house is never going to look like a photo from Pinterest. It’s just not happening. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — here’s why.

It’s not real life

No human beings live in the perfect homes you see on Pinterest. Only androids. How else can you explain how no bathroom on Pinterest ever shows rolls of toilet paper? Or how no nightstand in any bedroom has an alarm clock or a box of tissues? Or how these dream kitchens don’t have any actual food in them, which is, I don’t know, kind of the point of having a kitchen?

No one’s that clean

Unless your housekeeper is Joan Crawford, your house cannot look that spotless. We all have crap just lying around — remote controls, phone chargers, ATM receipts, mail. Once, when my home was photographed for a Los Angeles Times spread, I spent three days cleaning and hiding things in the garage to get ready. And on the night before the shoot, I ironed the duvet and pillow shams, pulled them taut on the bed, and slept on the floor so I wouldn’t disturb the pristine illusion. Being immaculate is hard work. Being messy is much more fun.

You don’t have monochromatic tchotchkes

Perfect Pinterest homes feature tasteful displays of books and accessories that are all in the same color family. While I wish all my Jackie Collins books were the same color, unfortunately they are not. And choosing tchotchkes solely because they fit your home’s color story strips them of any sentiment. They become props rather than reflections of your life or personality.

Your electrical devices have wires

One of my pet peeves in looking at Pinterest boards, as well as photographs in magazines and catalogs, is that lamps, televisions, computers and any other things requiring electricity never have any cords or wires. What is this miraculous home that’s run entirely wireless? I jest, but the truth is the removal of practical, messy, real-life elements creates an impossible beauty standard. It’s the equivalent of Photoshopping imperfections — and a few pounds — off of fashion models.

And while Pinterest can give you a jolt of creative adrenaline, the perfectly lit, exquisitely styled photographs being “pinned” set the bar much higher than most people can possibly achieve.

The DIY tutorials don’t always work out

They make it look easy on Pinterest. But after you spend a bunch of money buying materials and realize that you’re not as creative as you’d hoped, you’re stuck with an expensive art project that you hide in the closet. It’s not that you should avoid DIY projects. I myself have featured numerous decorating and crafts tutorials in this weekly column. Just know that the beauty shots of many tutorials you’ll see are taken with Pinterest in mind. They are styled professionally, with many attempts at creating the project before a “hero” is chosen. (Don’t worry, my tutorials aren’t that fancy. I don’t have that kind of budget — or patience.)

Not all Pinterest ideas are good

I blame Pinterest for some of the worst decorating trends of the past few years. Like burlap. There is way too much burlap going on these days. It’s itchy and it smells. And all those Pinterest boards about the joys of repurposed wood pallet furniture are downright irresponsible. Most used wood pallets are unsafe to use because they are contaminated with toxic chemicals, dangerous bacteria or bugs. And don’t even get me started on Mason jars.

Your home is more than a photograph

Home is where your dog barks at the mail carrier. It’s where you and your family watch the Lakers on TV. Where you found out you were pregnant, or where your son found out he got into Harvard. It’s where you have had countless Netflix marathons and Shabbat dinners. It’s where you’ve lived and loved. And that, simply, is more beautiful than any photograph on Pinterest.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Interior design: Giving in to the dark side


One of the myths of decorating is that lighter colors work best because they make your rooms look larger and more cheerful, while darker colors make rooms feel small, drab and gloomy. Because of this preconception, many DIY decorators shy away from deeper shades and instead opt for old reliables such as off-white and beige. But the truth about light and dark colors is not so black and white.

Dark walls, flooring or furniture add considerable drama to a room, and they also envelop you like a warm hug. Just flip through any current home décor catalog or magazine and you’ll see that stylemakers are embracing the dark side — from navy blue walls and charcoal gray wood flooring to midnight black accessories.

So go ahead and be bold. With these tips, you don’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore.

Dark can still mean color

Think beyond black, gray or navy. A dark color palette can include deeper shades of red, green, brown or even purple. These deeper shades are, in fact, much richer than their lighter variations and add an instant chic factor to a room.

It’s all about balance

Dark colors make more impact when there’s contrast. If you have dark walls, balance them with light floors or furniture. Allow the dark elements to bring out the light ones, and vice versa.

Don’t go dark in every room

Again, contrast is key. A whole house of dark rooms would be monotonous, not to mention very “Addams Family.” It’s very comforting for the eyes — and relaxing to the spirit — to go from a light-colored room to a dark one.

Keep it simple

Dark colors are bold enough, so allow everything else in the room to be more subdued. Avoid busy textures or patterns that might fight with the intense hues.

Try an accent

If you want to just dip your toe into this design trend, choose a dark color only on an accent wall or a door. (I’m asked all the time if accent walls are still a thing, and I say “definitely.”) Dark colors also are dramatic on floorboards and window frames.

Use it in small rooms

Rather than making small rooms look tinier, as many people believe, dark colors give presence to a room and make it feel expansive. My favorite example to illustrate this point is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland, where the ceiling is painted black to suggest an infinite sky.

Add pops of color

Dark walls and furniture are perfect backdrops for bright colors such as yellow, orange and pink, which can provide striking contrast. Try these pops of color with pillows, candleholders or picture frames.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

How to lose weight — by working around the house


It’s January again, which means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. (Can I hear an unenthusiastic “yay”?)

One of the most popular resolutions every year is to lose weight. But before you get a gym membership or vow to lay off the pastrami, keep in mind that there’s an easier way to burn calories — by doing things around the house.

According to CalorieLab, an online health and nutrition database, simple household activities such as redecorating, cleaning or gardening can burn just as many calories as some exercises. The following are some common household tasks, along with the number of calories burned per hour for a typical 150-pound person. So this year, resolve to give your home a makeover, and you’ll be doing your body some good as well.

Moving furniture

Calories burned: 340

The new year is a great time to take a fresh look at the furniture and accessories in your home — and move them around. Besides rearranging larger furniture pieces such as chairs and tables, I also love the idea of switching accessories around in different rooms. For example, move some tchotchkes from the living room into the various bedrooms and vice versa. It will feel like you have new décor items without spending a dime. January is also the time to pack up all the holiday items, box them, and carry them to storage — all calorie-burning activities.

And if you have to go up and down stairs as you move your household items, you burn even more, up to 544 calories. For comparison, vigorous weightlifting burns 340 calories per hour, while circuit training burns 476 calories.

Painting the walls

Calories burned: 238

Giving your walls a new paint color is one of the most effective ways to freshen up your home — and get the heart pumping. The continuous movement of the paint brush or roller also helps condition your arms. And while you’re waiting for the paint to dry, do a few bicep curls with the paint cans for some extra toning.

Sweeping and vacuuming

Calories burned: 156 to 170

I always work up a sweat cleaning the floors. And quite frankly, it takes me more than an hour to do the whole house, so say goodbye to even more calories.

Cleaning the gutters

Calories burned: 272

In the winter months, it’s important to remove fallen leaves and debris from your gutters, as a well-maintained gutter system will help prevent water damage to your home. The next time it rains, check to see if water is running freely from your downspouts. If water is trickling out of the spouts, it’s probably time to clean out the debris, either with your hands or by flushing the system with a garden hose.

Refinishing your wood furniture

Calories burned: 238

If your cabinets or wood furniture could use a new finish, the elbow grease involved with buffing, polishing and waxing is a major calorie crusher. You’ll also no doubt be moving the furniture around as you go, which means burning even more calories. 

Gardening

Calories burned: 136 to 340

Whether you’re weeding, trimming shrubs, hauling branches or chopping wood, working in your yard is great exercise. Even casually strolling through the garden to pick flowers or vegetables can make a difference. And the fresh air will do you good.

Cooking and setting the table

Calories burned: 68 to 102

All that work around the house is bound to make you hungry. The good news is that the process of cooking actually burns calories, and setting the table burns even more. So does that mean the more you cook, the more weight you lose? Hmm, I’ll test that hypothesis and get back to you next year.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at

Dorm decorating ideas that will give you an A+ in style


Dorm life isn’t usually glamorous, but with a little inspiration, it can certainly be more chic than you’d imagine. You can up the style quotient with creative thinking for wall decor, furniture and accessories — without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a college student living on campus or a parent helping to furnish your undergrad’s home away from home, here are some decorating ideas to move your dorm room to the head of the class.

Wall tiles

” target=”_blank”>mioculture.com) are three-dimensional, 12-inch square tiles made of recycled paper that can be mounted with removable tape. Because they’re modular and sold in sets of 12, the tiles can cover an entire wall, serve as a headboard or be displayed as art. As an added bonus, they help dampen noise. I’ve been using these wall tiles for years for temporary wall installations, so I know firsthand what a practical, yet stylish wall treatment they are. 

Peel and stick

Another wall covering that makes a big design statement is peel-and-stick wallpaper, which you can customize using your own photographs at Pet pillows

” target=”_blank”>uncommongoods.com, or if you’re the DIY type, check out my tutorial on how to make your own pet pillows at Get lofty

Hang a canopy

Aesthetically, a canopy hanging above a bed provides an unexpected design touch to a dorm room, but more importantly, it can provide some privacy in very cramped quarters. And if the canopy makes you feel like a princess, all the better. (But you still have to study for your midterms.) 

Monogrammed towels

Chicken wire DIY

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What I learned as a designer on a TV home makeover show


Have you ever wanted to have your home redecorated on a television show? Several years ago, I was cast as an on-camera designer for a cable home makeover series. 

It was fun being on the show, and I enjoyed the challenge. In addition to the demands of decorating a room and keeping to a strict budget and a tight timeline — all while smiling for the camera and making sure I didn’t have lettuce from lunch stuck in my teeth — I also had to please the producers and the homeowner. The experience helped me to be better at thinking of solutions on the spot, at making fast purchasing decisions and at holding clients’ hands to assuage their fears. 

The makeover show also taught me some valuable lessons about design that have greatly influenced how I approach decorating.

Color transforms a room

I’ve always loved color. But for makeover shows, a paint job is the most important ingredient of a good “before and after” video montage. Without a pop of color, there is simply not a big enough change. And we’re not talking a nice shade of tan here. The more vibrant the color, the more dramatic the reveal. 

But I also learned from filming the show that people can respond very negatively to color, especially when they’re used to white or off-white walls. On one episode, I painted a room a rich shade of green that I thought felt very “Zen.” However, the homeowner stole a peek at the room before it was ready, and she freaked out over the new color. To help get her “green light,” if you will, to continue with the makeover, I showed her other color swatches from which she could choose. She eventually chose another green hue that, in truth, was really quite similar to the one I had first chosen. The homeowner loved this new green, but I think that one of the reasons she did was that she’d had time to get used to the room not being white anymore. 

Now, when I work with design clients, I warn them that there is a chance they may hate a color when it first goes on the wall, because they aren’t used to it. With that warning, they usually end up loving it.

Clutter ruins the shot

Nothing looks worse on camera than clutter. The first time I was ever on television, my home was featured on HGTV, and the host took me under her wing to show me how things looked through the lens. She pointed to one of my bookshelves on the playback monitor and said, “Look how busy that looks. The camera picks up everything.” I never forgot that. We get used to the clutter in our lives and don’t even notice it anymore. But the camera sees it and accentuates it.

When I started doing television makeovers, I was keen to make sure clutter disappeared. I didn’t accomplish this by putting everything in the driveway while we filmed. That would be cheating. Instead, I purchased bookcases and cabinets so everything would have its place. In fact, all of my on-screen clients were short on storage spaces. They actually piled up things on the floor rather than stashing them away. I have a saying: “If there’s room for junk, there’s room for bookcases.” Organizing clutter and hiding it in cabinets resulted in some spectacular before-and-afters.

The same goes for my “real-life” decorating clients. I find that a trip to Ikea — or a similar furniture store — for a storage shopping spree is often the first step in decluttering and beautifying a home. 

Good design solves a problem

Perhaps for dramatic purposes, there was always a decorating dilemma I had to solve in each of the television makeovers I did. One person wanted her “girly” bedroom to become more adult. One needed a garage converted into a home office. Another person who worked out of his home needed his living room to be a comfortable meeting space for clients. 

But even though these challenges were put into the script to create a more interesting show, they reminded me that good design isn’t about making things pretty, it’s about making things better. Having concrete goals in mind during these home makeovers actually made the task easier, because it narrowed the possibilities. I knew exactly what the problem was, so I was able to create a solution. 

When redecorating a space, we need to think of how it fits into one’s lifestyle. What is working about it, and what isn’t? How can the design help with the space’s intended use?

I recently designed an office space for a therapist who specializes in working with teens. My objective was to create a welcoming space that would be calming for the young clients, but also reassuring for their parents. Everything I chose, from the wall colors to the style of furniture to the accessories, had those intentions in mind. The challenge of making the space suitable for teens resulted in a much better design than if I had been simply designing an attractive, but generic, office.

Personality is everything

When casting for homeowners who needed makeovers, the producers looked for people with big personalities. It made for more interesting television. And you know what? It made for more interesting design. I had one on-screen client who was a poet who exuded warmth and positivity. She was one of those people who made you feel good just by talking with her. So even though my initial assignment was to create an office space for her, I gave the space a dual purpose as a meditation room, decorating the walls with life-affirming lines from her poetry so she would be surrounded by positive insights as she worked. It captured who she was.

I’ve seen a lot of home makeover shows on which they create beautiful rooms, but the spaces end up looking alike in every episode, because they don’t reflect the homeowners’ unique personalities. That’s why I encourage people not to decorate their home so they look like a page from a furniture catalog. I encourage people to create a space that shows off who they are — quirks and all. You are not generic; your home shouldn’t be, either.

You can get it done 

On television, with the magic of editing, we tried to make it look as if it was easy for me to redo someone’s space in a matter of hours — by myself. But the reality was there was an entire team of people behind the scenes doing all of the work, from painting to carpentry to moving furniture. In fact, I didn’t do any of those things. For example, the painter would paint the entire wall, and then they’d film me holding the paintbrush doing the finishing touches. 

The lesson here that I try to impart to do-it-yourself decorators is to give yourself a break. If you can’t finish your home project in a weekend, don’t worry about it. You’ll finish it when you finish it. When I’m decorating in my own home or for a client, I don’t have the resources of a television construction crew doing all of the work for me. You probably don’t, either. So feel good knowing that, considering that you’re doing it on your own, you’re very much a design star. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: ’80s decorating trends due for a comeback


The ’80s have gotten a bad rap. The decade of big hair and shoulder pads may be known for some really bad taste, but there are also some “totally ’80s” decorating motifs that will always have a place in this designer’s heart. Besides introducing us to Prince, Duran Duran and Madonna, the ’80s also gave us a delightful design sensibility that included bright colors, bold shapes and humor. If only I had a time machine (a DeLorean, naturally) to go back and get my hands on some of these decorating treasures.

Memphis style

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7 decorating trends that have overstayed their welcome


If you’ve ever consulted Pinterest to get decorating ideas, then you know there are always certain design trends that are, in the words of a certain presidential candidate, “yuuuuge.” These trends become ubiquitous on inspiration boards and decorating blogs, and, in no time, show up in the décor department at Target.

But while trends can be fun to follow, some get so overused that they lose their freshness and move into cliché territory. And that’s when they need to be retired.

Don’t get me wrong — I won’t judge you if you have incorporated some of the following into your own home. In fact, I’ve been a fan of many of them. I do want to encourage you, though, to extend your decorating inspiration beyond what you see on Pinterest — and perhaps start your own trends.

And now, let’s say adieu to these overexposed design elements:

Chalkboard paint

Inspirational wall art

Burlap

Anything with Mason jars

Chevron

Repurposed wood pallets

Faux taxidermy

Up in the air: Floating decor that makes an impact


When it comes to decorating, I’ve got hang-ups — in a good way. You see, I love to hang objects from the ceiling. And I’m not talking chandeliers or mobiles. I’m more inclined to hang delicate objects en masse, like feathers above a bed, silk rose petals above the aisle at a wedding or hundreds of gold pingpong balls above a Thanksgiving table. While these hanging decorations are typically installed for a special occasion or holiday, I’ve been known to keep them up indefinitely. (It always breaks my heart to have to take them down.)

There’s something dramatic — and certainly unexpected — about ephemera cascading from the ceiling. For me, it’s really the final frontier in decorating. The walls and floors are already taken by furniture and art. But the airspace above our heads is valuable decorating real estate that is rarely utilized. So why not use it?

My method for hanging is pretty simple. I either glue or tie objects to thread or monofilament, also known as fishing line. (I use thread for lighter elements like rose petals and monofilament for heavier objects.) Then I attach the thread or monofilament to the ceiling. If what I’m hanging is feather-light, poster putty will do the trick. For anything that is medium-weight, I use a 3M Command Strip adhesive hook. And if I’m hanging something heavy that I want to make sure does not fall, I use ceiling eye-hook screws.

The following are some examples of ways that I’ve suspended objects in the air. My hope is that you will be inspired to have a few “hang-ups” of your own. 

Floating flowers

I love to display flowers on the table, but there’s often not enough room for them during the meal, given the space needed for all the dishes of food. An alternative is to hang your flowers above the table. I chose calla lilies because their stems are thick enough to hold enough moisture for the flowers to stay fresh out of water for about two days. (Hopefully, your dinner party would be over by then.) Of course, you can also use artificial flowers. The calla lilies were hung with monofilament and attached to the ceiling with 3M Command Strip hooks. 

Rose petal storm

Probably what I hang most often are silk rose petals. Suspended as if falling from the ceiling, they look like a camera snapped a picture while the petals were in midair, leaving them frozen in time. I’ve created this effect for romantic dinners for two, as well as for weddings and special events. To assemble strands of rose petals, I ran a needle and thread through three to six petals per strand, spacing the petals apart and gluing the point where the petals touch the thread. The strands of petals are light enough to attach to the ceiling with poster putty.

Whirly chandelier

I don’t have a chandelier above my dining room table, so I made a makeshift one that is much cooler using clear-glass globe candleholders from CB2. I secured them with monofilament and attached them to the ceiling with eye-hook screws. In each globe, I placed an LED battery-operated candle. I’ve also used the hanging globes as an ever-changing exhibit, placing various objects inside the globe depending on season. 

Cascading pingpong balls

As if cooking Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t stressful enough, I got it into my head two weeks before the holiday to spray-paint 600 pingpong balls shiny gold and suspend them from the ceiling over our table. After four days of painstakingly painting each individual ball, I created strands of four to six pingpong balls by running a needle and thread through them and evenly spacing them out. Then I applied a dab of glue to the contact points where the balls touched the thread so the balls would stay in place. I attached them to the ceiling with 3M Command Strip hooks. They stayed up through December, and I’ve kept all the strands of pingpong balls so I can duplicate the look another time.

Halo of feathers

When I designed a bedroom for the Designer Showcase at Greystone Mansion several years ago, I thought the showpiece  would be an illuminated headboard I had built that featured a photograph of an angel sunning by the pool. After all, it cost about $3,000. But the first thing people said when they walked in was, “Look at the feathers hanging from the ceiling.” I had hung a halo of feathers from the ceiling using simple thread and poster putty, and it was this little unexpected decorating touch, which cost only $10, that got all the attention.

The rose gold rush and other hot décor trends


A few weekends ago, I drove to the Anaheim Convention Center for the 2016 Craft and Hobby Association (CHA) Megashow, the largest trade show for the arts and crafts industry in North America. Some people live for Comic-Con; I’m all about CHA. There, I’m a kid in a candy store (or, rather, crafts store — it’s a convention hall full of fun new products). It also helps me see what design trends are in store for the new year.

The hottest, albeit tried-and-true, trends in crafts — scrapbooking, jewelry-making and paper arts — all are here. But the trends on display also apply to the home décor market. In fact, many trends start in home décor — as well as fashion — before spreading to arts and crafts retailers.

So let’s take a peek at the design motifs you’re sure to see in 2016. Which ones will you include in your home?

Rose gold

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From drab to fab: A bedroom makeover for the new year


Change the wall color

The easiest — and least expensive — way to change the mood of a room is to paint it. This bedroom used to be off-white (actually worse — Swiss Coffee). A $25 gallon of light-blue paint washed the room in serenity while adding a much-needed base of color. We tested several blues on the wall before finding the right one. Stores such as Home Depot will sell you small samples of their colors that enable you to try out a few before making a final decision.

Spray paint the furniture

The client had a hand-me-down dresser and side tables with a light-brown finish that had dulled with age. The pieces, however, were still in good condition, and I liked their simple design with their cabriole legs. So instead of getting rid of the tables, I suggested spray painting them glossy black. Glossy spray paint is my go-to trick for transforming old furniture pieces. And you can always add new knobs and pulls to complete the luxe look.

Add a canopy

The room had a four-poster bed, but it needed some drama. The client had draped a fabric swag over it, but it didn’t do enough. I felt the bed needed a full canopy, but they can be expensive. A quick, inexpensive solution was to use curtain panels that could hang across the top and down the back of the bed. Pre-sewn pole pockets in the curtain panels, which are usually used to slide into drapery rods, slide into the horizontal bed poles at the front and back of the top frame for easy installation. Besides adding a dream-like feel, the canopy now filters the harsh overhead light above the bed. 

Raise the window curtains

Most people hang their curtains too low, using the top edge of the window frame as the starting point. Notice how this room looks more expansive once the curtains are raised to ceiling height. It’s a quick fix that can make a huge difference. 

Add pops of warm color

Because the light-blue walls have a gray undertone, I balanced this cooler hue with accents of warm pinks and coral. Colors need a counterpoint to help them stand out even more. Throw pillows, vases, candles and flowers are an easy way to add vibrant color — and a little goes a long way.

Ground the room in grays and creams

The danger in painting a room light blue is it can scream “baby nursery” or “bathroom.” But I kept the room sophisticated by grounding it in gray and cream neutrals. We applied a textured wallpaper border with the look of tin ceiling panels around the base of the walls and painted it a cream color. I used the same wallpaper border to frame a larger mirror (that had been a mirrored closet door), staining the framing dark gray to create a nice contrast with the walls. The new curtain panels are also charcoal gray.

Use mirror reflections

Speaking of mirrors, we added some decorative wall mirrors, and even a mirrored side table, to the room. Mirrors can do much more than enable us to check how we look. They reflect light to make a room brighter and they make a space appear larger. I also love how they act as ever-changing art — the colors and shapes reflected in the mirror change depending on where you stand in the room.

Use what you already have

A big lesson I was reminded of in this bedroom makeover was that you don’t always have to buy a bunch of new furniture. The old furniture had great bones, it just needed some sprucing up. Avoiding large purchases — except, in this case, for the mirrored side table, and even that was on sale — frees up money in your budget for new lamps, bedding and artwork. And saving money is always in style.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

The top 7 perks of being Jewish in December


Growing up, ours was the only house on the block with a menorah glowing in the window. This should have put me on the fast track to Christmas envy, but it didn’t. I respected Christmas but was never jealous of those who celebrated. In fact, watching my neighbors actually gave me a deeper appreciation for the simpler joys of Chanukah. Here’s why:

Early-bird shopping 

Celebrating Chanukah means I usually have an earlier gift-buying deadline to meet than my counterparts. I have to get myself in gear way before Christmas shopping madness descends on the rest of the world. By Thanksgiving, I’m usually done. I spend most Black Fridays sipping spiced cider and recovering from a turkey-induced coma. Being Jewish means never having to freeze my tuchis off in a parking lot waiting for a “Midnight Door Buster” sale.

Decorating ease

The town where I spent my childhood could probably be seen from space. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the neighborhood dads would hang Christmas decorations. They could all be found precariously perched on their roofs, stringing lights across the rain gutters. Plastic Santas and their reindeer would be dragged two stories into the air and then somehow fastened to shingles. I watched the scene, year after year, relieved we didn’t have to do the same. My dad + wires + heights = certain doom. The expectations for Chanukah decor are less labor-intensive. We plug in an electric menorah and park it on the windowsill. Done.

Time for fun

My non-Jewish friends have to find time for their kids, spouses, siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws and their great-aunt Shirley who flies in from Nebraska once a year, all within 24 hours. I get eight days to fill with lots of family togetherness. Eight. Long. Days.

The food 

Chanukah is the holiday of deep-fried everything. And chocolate gelt. 

’Nuf said.

No tall tales 

I am grateful that I don’t have to remember to hide an “Elf on the Shelf” in a new spot each day. And I don’t have to make up stories to tell my daughters about how a jolly fellow actually gets around the world in one night, or explain how a reindeer’s nose can glow in the dark. Instead, I get to teach them the dreidel game while we snack on latkes.

The music 

Only kidding. This is a category where I can’t honestly come up with a perk for the Jews; there just isn’t as much Chanukah music. Let’s see, we’ve got “I Have a Little Dreidel” and, um, what else? Seriously, what did suburban Jewish kids listen to before Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song”?

Holiday spirit 

Whether families are making Christmas cookies or sufganiyot, the whole month of December is dusted with powdered sugar and scented with vanilla. Everyone’s mood seems to lift. People are kinder and more forgiving. It’s easier to believe that miracles can — and do — happen. This holiday season, I wish everyone peace, joy and magic.

Chag sameach!

Home: 10 Common decorating mistakes and how to fix them


Decorating your home is a very personal thing — we all have different tastes. There are some common design mistakes, however, that many of us make. The good news is that even if you’re guilty of one or more of these faux pas, they’re easy to fix.

Pushing all the furniture against the wall

People seem to think that if you push everything to the four walls, there will be more room in the middle. What are they making room for — a dance floor? 

The fix: Move furniture away from the walls, and arrange the pieces together to encourage conversations. If as a result, say, a sofa or chair seems to float in the middle of the room, anchor it with a console or side table.

Poor lighting

Even a well-appointed room can look dreary when there’s not enough light. Just as bad is a room lit by one super-bright overhead lamp that reveals every fine line on our faces. 

The fix: Try to have three sources of light in each room at different heights and diffuse each with shades so that the light is soft and flattering. Also, use dimmer switches so you can vary the mood.

Not planning ahead

Don’t fall into the trap of falling in love with a piece of furniture in the store, but finding that it’s too big for the room when it’s delivered. 

The fix: The next time you consider new furniture, take measurements of your room first, and draw a diagram of your room layout on graph paper, with each square representing a square foot. Use the graph paper to help you plan how different furniture pieces will fit — before you buy them

Being too matchy-matchy

Don’t buy sofas, loveseats and armchairs in matching sets. Ditto for bedroom sets with matching dressers and nightstands. Your home is not a Sears showroom. 

The fix: Incorporate pieces that coordinate with each other, rather than match exactly. Also, feel free to mix up wood finishes in the same room. They don’t all need to be the same shade of brown.

Looking like a catalog

Some rooms are almost too perfect, like they’re straight out of a catalog. The result is a sterile environment that doesn’t reflect your own personality.

The fix: Go ahead and order from catalogs. Just be sure to include furniture pieces and/or accessories that have a backstory and special meaning to you.

An over-reliance on white walls

Unless your home is a sleek, modern work of architecture that looks like a gallery, white walls are boring. Colored walls add warmth and provide a more pleasing backdrop for your furniture and accessories.

The fix: If you’re afraid of colors, go with neutrals. Even a light tan is preferable to white. My secret weapon for color-phobic clients is the Restoration Hardware paint fan deck. Every color is a soothing neutral.

Over-accessorizing

If you’ve ever sat on a sofa or gotten into a bed with too many throw pillows, you know there can be such a thing as too many accessories. The same goes for too many picture frames, candles and other tchotchkes, which make your home look cluttered. 

The fix: Remove half of your accessories and see how the room breathes. Put the extras in storage, and rotate your accessories every few months so it always feels like there’s something new.

Hanging art too high

In almost every home, there is at least one picture that is hung too high. Artwork that is higher than eye level feels disconnected from the rest of the room. 

The fix: Position your framed art so that the center of it, measured vertically, is between 57 and 60 inches from the floor. That’s eye level for the average person who’s not a basketball player.

Hanging curtains too low

The tendency for most people is to hang curtain rods right above the window frame. Doing so makes the windows look shorter and the ceilings lower. 

The fix: Install the curtain rod as high as you can, right below the ceiling level, assuming you have a standard 8-foot ceiling. (Vaulted ceilings are a whole other discussion.) Higher curtains draw the eye up, making the room look more expansive.

Forgetting about the ceiling

Poor ceilings. They are typically an afterthought, or worse, just ignored. Having a white, unadorned ceiling can be jarring, especially when the rest of the room is drenched in color. 

The fix: Consider painting the ceiling a shade lighter than the wall color. This way, it makes visual sense with the surrounding walls and furnishings.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Affordable tips for decorating kids’ rooms


I have decorated a lot of kids’ rooms in my day. I love it. I find that decorating for the pint-sized set can be a lot more fun than decorating for grown-ups because I get to incorporate a big dose of color and whimsy into the design. And what I’ve learned is that adding color and whimsy doesn’t cost a lot.

Good thing, too, because children grow up so quickly — changing interests as quickly as they change shoe sizes. So, why spend a fortune on decorating if you’re going to have to do it every few years? With these decorating tips, you really can stretch your budget along with your imagination.

Play with wall color

I love to start with a new wall color. A coat of paint can completely change a kid’s room for less than $50 in paint and supplies. And, boy, do I have fun choosing the colors — orange, lime green, turquoise, grape purple, anything but Swiss Coffee! I have no problem choosing bold colors because I know it’s easy to repaint if you or your child wants a new look. 

Think temporary

Incorporate decorating touches that can be removed easily, so you can change them out as your kids grow up. One great option is peel-and-stick wall decals, which are available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target and many mass retailers. There are decals with polka dots, flowers, animals, sports themes, inspirational phrases — you name it. They’re easy to put up and easy to take down. 

Always keep this removability factor in mind. I once made a canopy out of a hoop and sheers to hang above a girl’s bed. Although it looked like a permanent fixture, it was actually attached to the ceiling with a 3M Command Hook, so it could be removed anytime without damaging the paint.

Follow a theme by accessorizing

Again, always anticipate a child’s changing tastes. As much as he or she might want a “Star Wars”-themed room, getting a bed in the shape of a Tatooine landspeeder is not the most cost-efficient way to decorate. (I would want one, though. Totally.) Instead, rely on easily replaceable accessories such as bedding, pillows and wall decals. The same goes for hand-painted murals: Don’t invest in custom-drawn artwork for your kids’ walls; if they want a mermaid, a storybook or a dinosaur theme, make it happen through the accessories. 

Allow kids to grow into it

I used to automatically buy twin beds for kids’ rooms. But you know what? Kids get big. Purchasing at least a full-size bed will allow them to be comfortable even when they come home to visit (or live) after they’ve graduated from college. As for other furniture such as dressers, nightstands and bookcases, choose timeless pieces that don’t scream “for kids only.” If it’s too juvenile, you’ll have to replace it by the time they hit the middle school years. 

Make it easy to keep organized

Cleaning their room is just not in kids’ DNA. At least if there are plenty of organizers, they won’t have any excuses. Outfit their room with shelving for books and school supplies, bins and baskets for toys and clothes, and under-bed storage boxes to hide rarely used items. With the right tools, cleaning their room won’t be so much of a chore.

Turn their drawings into art

Sure, the refrigerator door is a nice place to showcase your kids’ artwork, but to really encourage their creativity, treat their drawings and paintings like masterpieces. Even if your child is doodle-challenged, put his or her scribbling in a frame and mat, and it will look like it’s from a modern art exhibition. Interestingly, this kind of art, though juvenile, becomes more treasured as the years go by. I’ll bet many of us wish our parents had kept our childhood drawings. 

Make it interactive

How I created America’s most hated kitchen


You have not lived until you have been called “tacky and tasteless,” or been labeled as someone who has created “the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” But those are the sort of comments I get every time my Warhol-inspired kitchen appears on a decorating website. 

The first time it happened, I have to admit, I was taken aback. A popular shelter magazine website featured my kitchen and gave it a glowing write-up. I was hoping for some positive feedback, and lo and behold, I was thrilled to see that in a few hours, my article had racked up five pages of comments. Five pages! But then I read them. Uh-oh. Commenters had their pitchforks out for me. They were so offended by my design, they not only attacked the kitchen, they skewered me as a designer. Although one out of every 50 comments was a positive one, saying something like, “I can appreciate the creativity,” the mob became further incensed by any compliment, and voted thumbs down on the comment so it would be downgraded and deleted. I felt like a Kardashian.

I did not create my Warhol kitchen to make people vomit, as some commenters have suggested. I wanted a fun, colorful kitchen that would make me happy. My kitchen used to be all white. It had that clean European look, which was one of the reasons I liked it. But as I added color to the rest of my home, the kitchen remained white — and sterile. And when my condo was filmed for the HGTV show “Kitty Bartholomew: You’re Home,” the kitchen was the one room they did not film because, compared to the rest of the house, it was boring. The host, Kitty Bartholomew, pulled me aside and told me I had to do something about that kitchen. 

Fast forward a few years, and I was at the closing day of the Andy Warhol exhibition at MOCA. I was very inspired by the artwork, and I stopped in the museum store to get some souvenirs. It being the last day, all the Andy Warhol posters were 40 percent off. Standing in the middle of that museum store, inspiration hit me: I decided right then and there that I was going to buy one of every poster and decoupage it to my kitchen cabinets. 

I don’t know why I thought that would be a good idea, as I didn’t know whether the posters would even fit the cabinets, and, more important, I had never decoupaged anything before. For those of you unfamiliar with it, decoupage is the art of applying decorative paper to a surface. You typically see it on smaller objects such as boxes and trays, but never on such a large scale.

So, I did what any intelligent person who wanted to learn how to do something would do — I Googled it. And I found the nation’s leading expert on decoupage, Durwin Rice, author of “New Decoupage.” I emailed him, asking how I should go about putting the posters onto the cabinet doors. I wanted it to look like the artwork was printed on the cabinets, not merely glued on. Would that be possible?

Rice kindly replied, explaining the process for what I wanted to do. I was most skeptical of one of the steps — soaking the poster in water to relax the paper — because I was afraid the water would ruin it. But his directions worked! I’ve illustrated the steps above to show how easy it really is. And I’m happy to report that people who’ve followed the directions on my website have created their own versions of the Warhol kitchen, albeit with posters that reflect their own personal styles. One person, after she got tired of her decoupaged cabinets, even replaced the images with new ones by soaking the cabinets in water, scraping off the paper and starting anew. I’ve also become a decoupage fiend, decorating chairs, tables and even toilets. I haven’t shared those yet on social media — they would break the Internet.

Nowadays, I take negative online comments with a grain of salt. And I actually appreciate the really nasty ones, because at least they mean my work got a reaction. As an artist, I’d rather be hated than ignored. And you can’t ignore that kitchen.

CREATE YOUR OWN WARHOL KITCHEN

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Customize your home decor with digital printing


Seven years ago, when I designed a room at the Greystone Mansion Designer Showcase in Beverly Hills, I upholstered the walls with fabric I’d had custom printed with giant photographs of magnolias. The ability to easily custom print fabric with digital images was relatively new at the time, but through an Internet search, I found a printer in Hollywood that could do it for me. It cost a small fortune — about $250 a yard. 

Despite the high cost of photo printing, I was hooked on the potential for customization for home decor, and I was soon printing upholstery fabric for chairs and other furniture. Once, I personalized a client’s window coverings by printing pictures of his kids on the curtain panels. And when my second book, “Flowers That Wow,” came out, I even printed images from the book on gabardine so I could make a bespoke suit for the book launch party. It was a look, for sure.

Still, the hefty price tag kept me from taking advantage of the technology for most of my projects. Fast-forward to today, however, and digital printing has become so accessible and affordable that it’s transforming the home decor landscape. It all boils down to this: If you can take a photo of something, you can have that photo printed and placed on furniture, accessories and walls — at a fraction of what it cost just a few years ago.

I now use digital printing all the time. Here are some examples that I hope will inspire you to personalize your own decor in a uniquely creative way.

Fabric

As I said, custom fabric used to cost about $250 a yard. Now, thanks to print-on-demand fabric suppliers such as ” target=”_blank”>JPEG of what you would like printed, and they will ship your custom fabric to you within two weeks. Spoonflower offers 16 different textile choices, from basic combed cotton to silk and faux suede, so you can create custom fabric for quilts, pillows, table linens, drapes, blankets, bedding and more.

One of my favorite home decor items to make using custom fabric is pet pillows (above). I lay out several photos of friends’ and clients’ pets on a single yard of fabric (you can fit several photos on one yard), cut around the pictures and sew life-size pillows depicting our furry friends. They make great gifts.

Wallpaper

A peel-and-stick wall mural in the Jewish Journal’s lunch room.

Custom photo wallpaper has been my decorating secret weapon ever since I discovered the technology. I’ve been using the custom wallpaper not only for walls, but doors and cabinet fronts as well. 

My go-to resource is the website Canvas prints

The Glaze app adds brush strokes to any photo to enhance canvas prints.

Having your photos printed on wrapped canvas ready for hanging is not anything new, but the widespread availability of digital printing has made it increasingly affordable. Once only art and framing stores offered this service, but now you can have canvas prints made everywhere, from Costco to your local UPS store. 

I do have a trick that adds a fantastic special effect to make the art on the finished canvases look more like paintings than photographs. Download the free photo app Glaze, available for ” target=”_blank”>iPad, and upload your photo. Then put it through a filter that turns your photo into an Impressionist painting. The filters, which provide varying degrees of painterly brush strokes, are actually better and easier than what you can achieve with Photoshop. Once you’ve converted your photo, email it to yourself at full resolution, then use that image for your canvas print. Instant masterpiece.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Nine ways to display your books on a shelf


I recently received a decorating S.O.S. call from a friend. She had just bought a beautiful set of bookcases, and as soon as they were installed in her living room, she eagerly placed all her books on the shelves. But something wasn’t right. It all looked a little blah. Unfinished. Even haphazard. Could I do something about it, she asked.

After staring at the bookcases for a few seconds, I made two quick fixes that took just seconds to do, without rearranging any of the books. And the difference was like night and day. First, I moved all the books forward. Just because a bookshelf is 16-inches deep does not mean you should push all the books to the back to make use of that depth. Next, I lined them all up about an inch from the front of the bookshelf. All of her books, of course, had different widths, but lining them up to the same point gave them a uniformity that was really pleasing to the eye. It’s amazing how those two simple adjustments could so change the look of the bookcases.

After working with design clients over the years, I’ve realized that a lot of people are at a loss when it comes to appointing their bookshelves. Sure, you can just cram a bunch of books in a row, like most people do. But is there an artful way to display your books so that you can show you’re as stylish as you are well read?

Beyond pushing your books forward, let’s look at some different ways to arrange them. Because a picture is worth a thousand words (sorry, books), I’ve photographed nine display configurations — some you undoubtedly already know about, and a few new ones that might spark some design inspiration. 

The Classic Vertical

Design lessons from Oscar-nominated movies


This year’s crop of Oscar contenders is filled with memorable performances, meditations on life and death, nail-biting suspense and, yes, valuable decorating lessons. If you’ve ever sat through a movie and wondered not whether the butler did it, but where the butler bought that sofa, you’ll know what I’m talking about. 

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Color is a storyteller. It sets the mood. It stirs our emotions. And “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — both the movie and its titular hotel — is drenched in delicious color. From the bubblegum pink exterior in the hotel’s heyday — with the peacock blue rooftops (swoon) — to the glossy red lacquer inside the hotel elevators (double swoon), the movie’s color palette tells its story as much as the script. We know immediately that the Grand Budapest is a place of luxury and whimsy. And when the hotel becomes dilapidated in its later years, the colors turn muddy shades of olive and amber, as our hearts sink a little at its decline. 

What is the lesson here for our own homes? Color, baby! A $20 gallon of paint can transform the mood of a room even more than an expensive piece of furniture. This doesn’t mean you have to paint your walls pink like the Grand Budapest. We’re all different, and we react to colors differently. Any color you choose — even white — is fine, as long as it makes you happy. (OK, I take that back. Swiss coffee is not a color. Don’t pick that one.)

“Gone Girl”

At first, the home of the characters played by Ben Affleck and Oscar-nominated Rosamund Pike seems absolutely perfect. The patrician gray walls, the ebony hardwood floors and the oh-so-tasteful furniture look straight out of a design catalog. But director David Fincher’s lens has purposely drained the interiors of life. The perfection is sterile. There is no soul, no blood. Well (spoiler alert!), except, that is, for all the plasma Pike throws all over the kitchen floor. 

Gone Girl shows us that when it comes to home decor, perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be. Making your home look like a model home without showcasing your own unique personality results in a hollow shell. Fill your home with things that reflect the real you, and don’t worry whether it would be approved by the editors of Architectural Digest. Mismatched furniture? A-OK. Flea-market finds? Yes, please. As with people, a home’s personality is much more important than perfect looks.

“Boyhood”

There is not a lot of interior design to get excited about in Richard Linklater’s critical favorite. In fact, the director shows the passage of time not through furniture styles, but through the electronic devices used by the protagonist, Mason. One design element that really struck me, though, was the film’s use of children’s art — from the art taped to walls when the characters are younger, to the photographs and abstract paintings the older Mason exhibits. 

When the film begins, Mason and his sister share a room with a bunk bed, with murals painted next to each of their respective bunks. In a behind-the-scenes featurette on Hulu, Oscar-nominated Patricia Arquette, who plays their mother, reveals that she and the young actors actually painted those murals together. So it’s particularly heartbreaking when she has to paint over them when their fictional family has to move. 

Your home might feature many notable pieces of art, but the most valuable could be your child’s. A child’s artwork offers a snapshot of a particular moment in time. Collected through the years, they represent milestones captured in pencil, crayon and tempera paint. Honor the art. Frame it. Display it. Archive it. I wish my mother had saved all my drawings through the years. Boyhood doesn’t last, but the memories created by art can last a lifetime.

“Birdman”

Almost the entirety of “Birdman” takes place in the dressing rooms and narrow hallways of the St. James Theatre in New York. In fact, however, it was not filmed in the actual backstage area, but on a set so realistic, you can smell the greasepaint. This serves as an apt metaphor: Your life is like a movie, and everything around you is the set. 

Although we probably don’t live this fantasy to the extreme that Michael Keaton’s character does, the concept offers a great brainstorming method for decorating. For example, if your home were your movie set, what kind of scene would you want to live in — a Jane Austen comedy of manners with English antiques? Or a sleek, modern penthouse à la Christian Grey (with or without the Red Room)? Using a movie as a guide can give you ideas on everything from furniture to flooring to accessories.

Perhaps that’s the decorating lesson in all these movies. Create a space for yourself that will make you look and feel inspired — like a winner. You may not win an Oscar, but in a home that’s comfortable and stylish, you’ll certainly feel like a star.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” ”Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects on

Decorating to improve your love life


Admit it. The first time you visit the home of someone you’ve just started dating, don’t you love to snoop around the place to get some clue about this potential mate? You might look at the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, maybe the style of furniture to get an idea of their interests and tastes. But a home speaks volumes more about a person than that.

A home reveals your personality. It says where you are right now in life. And it reflects how ready you are for a relationship.

So what is your home saying about you? Is it saying you’re a real catch? Or is it telling the world you’re stuck in the ’90s? 

Even if your home is sending out distress signals, you can decorate and accessorize to invite love into your life. Here are just a few tips to boost your home’s romance quotient. Because when you make a few changes to where you live, you’ll be making big changes to how you live. 

Get rid of white walls

If you ask people why they have white walls, they’ll probably say, “I don’t have time to paint” or “I didn’t want to pick a color and then see that it was a mistake.” Think about it. Don’t these excuses sound like reasons people avoid relationships? Write this down and put it in your fortune cookie: If you can’t commit to a color, how can you commit to a relationship? 

You’re probably a pretty good judge of color already, you just don’t know it. Go into your closet and pick out your favorite items of clothing. What do you wear over and over again? Which outfits do people always seem to compliment you on? If you look so good wearing these colors, you’ll also look good with these colors surrounding you. 

Sampling colors on your wall doesn’t have to be risky. Many companies like Home Depot sell little jars of their paint colors that you can try out. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. If you don’t like it, try another, and then another. It’s just like dating. If it doesn’t work out, just move on to the next one. And you don’t have to worry about hurting the color’s feelings because you didn’t call back.

Lose the clutter

Before you get into a relationship, you need to get rid of your emotional baggage. The same thing goes for the unnecessary physical baggage that’s cluttering your home. From the looks of all their out-of-date magazines, you’d think some people were dentists. Throw all the junk away. This goes especially for items that remind you of a past relationship. That stuffed bear your ex won for you at the arcade? Dump it. Those maracas from that party you threw together? Hasta la vista! From this day forward, you are starting with a clean slate, so let your home reflect that. Then you’ll be open to filling your home with new souvenirs, new memories and new relationships.

Get comfy

Male or female, everyone loves a softie. How inviting is your furniture? Does it allow people to kick their feet up and stay a while? Without having to make big purchases, just incorporating some pillows and throws with luxurious, soft textures can help make up for a lumpy sofa. Area rugs will warm up a space, especially if you have hardwood floors. And soft lighting not only makes you look better, it casts a glow that puts everyone at ease.

Buy housewares in complete sets

When you’re buying dishes, buy the complete set for eight with the salad plates and those cups and saucers you’ll never use. When you’re buying towels, buy the whole set with matching hand towels and washcloths. (And buy more than one set.) Why? First, it shows that you are now an adult. You’re not a college student anymore, so don’t accessorize your home like you’re still in a dorm. 

The most important reason, though, is because it used to be that people waited until they got married before they got these items (and usually they were gifts). But by owning them before you’re married, you’re telling the universe that you are comfortable as a single person. You have a life. You are not waiting to get married to feel complete. And, ironically, it’s usually when you accept that you’re already a whole person that you happen to find your other half.

We spend so much effort on new hairstyles, clothes and teeth-whitening kits when we hit the dating scene that we forget it’s our homes that are the true reflection of ourselves. So the next time a date comes over, remember that your home is an open book.

Make it a book with a happy ending. 


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls that Wow,” ”Flowers that Wow” and “Parties that Wow,” and host of “Style with a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects on

The Vanishing Tree


 

The lush, fragrant green trees penned up in their Christmas tree lots waiting to be liberated, taken home, and decorated are like a

siren song to school kids everywhere. My daughters are no exception.

“I wish we could have a tree in our house. They’re so pretty,” one of my daughters will invariably say this time of year.

My daughters’ wishes for a picturesque, festive tree will remain just wishes. But for three prior generations of their Southern California Jewish family, Christmas trees were a reality — and they represented the American dream fulfilled.

My great-grandparents, and many of their relatives, came from the Lower East Side to Hollywood in 1917 as observant Jews. Like other Jews in the motion picture business they did what worked best for their careers and their fledgling industry. These Hollywood Jews embraced Americana. After all, weren’t they adapting stories into moving pictures to entertain the American public? What could be more representative of the American dream than a lavishly decorated Christmas tree with piles of gifts beneath it?

Within a few years, my great-grandparents’ house in Hollywood had a Christmas tree in the living room. When my great-grandfather became more of a Hollywood macher in the 1930s, they moved to Bel Air and had a bigger tree and a bigger pile of presents in the living room. My great-uncle remembers running down the marble hallway to find his presents. “My dad wore a Santa suit with a Jewish star on his head,” he said.

The image symbolizes to me Hollywood Jews of that era. They co-opted American culture, but they didn’t try to hide their Judaism.

I remember my dear, departed grandmother explaining to me, “We didn’t want to be too Jewish in those days, dear. The motion picture business drew people from all over the world and we all had to get along and understand each other.”

My mom grew up on Walden Drive in Beverly Hills in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Her parents had a tall, handsome tree on proud display in the living room window of their home. My grandfather had a complete Lionel train set he loved setting up beneath the tree.

“All of my Jewish friends had trees. The neighbors, who owned Lerner’s Department Store, even had a creche on their front lawn,” my mom said.

Rabbi Edgar Magnin, of Wilshire Boulevard Temple fame, lived up the street from them but didn’t seem to mind. Magnin preached a secularized form of Judaism to his Reform congregation. “We were all assimilating,” my mom explained.

By the time I was growing up in Palos Verdes, a largely non-Jewish locale, the Christmas tree was on its way out. Our tree was a 1-foot, scraggly looking pine in a pot, placed in the back room of the house “for the housekeeper.”

My father grew up in a more traditional Jewish family in Los Angeles, sans tree. He didn’t believe a nice Jewish family should have a Christmas tree. He didn’t buy into the Hollywood/Beverly Hills tree mumbo jumbo. Mom missed the pageantry, the fun of decorating the tree. We kids also felt a little deprived not having a tree.

I remember going over to the house of my best friend in elementary school and drooling over her huge, gorgeous tree, meticulously decorated with glittering ornaments and a porcelain angel on top. How I longed for a tree just like that. We all ganged up on Dad and begged and pleaded.

“No Christmas tree in this house,” he bellowed.

Mom weakly defied him by bringing home the scraggly potted pine which “we could plant in the yard” after the holidays ended and a bag of tinsel. We kids satisfied ourselves by stringing tinsel around the limbs and hanging a couple of ornaments, all that would fit. We then reluctantly carried the tree down the hall for the housekeeper.

Presently, we don’t have any type of tree in our Solana Beach home. Not even a “Chanukah bush.” The girls may have tree envy like I did, but I long ago realized that my father was right. Something about having a Christmas tree in the house feels confusing and sacrilegious. We’re not Christian and we don’t celebrate Christmas, so why the tree?

My husband and I agreed that our Jewish home would remain treeless. For most Jewish families this seems like an obvious conclusion. But my family’s checkered past on the tree issue muddied the waters. In the fourth generation, the tree has finally been uprooted from this branch of our Southern California Jewish family.

Sharon Rosen is a mother of three and is currently working on her first novel.

 

Celebrating the “Torah cycle”


The eighth day of the holiday of Sukkot is actually a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret. It means “the eighth day of the assembly.”

The Israelites gather for seven days around the Temple in Jerusalem, and they are just not ready to go home yet, because they are having so much fun. So they stretch the seven-day holiday into one more day.

These days, Shemini Atzeret is one day long in Israel and two days long outside of Israel. In Israel, the first day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah (meaning, the Happiness of the Torah). Outside of Israel, Simchat Torah falls on the second day of Shemini Atzeret — so we actually get nine days of holiday!

I hope you plan on making a beautiful flag that you can wave high above your head when you join the Torah procession. Remember, on this day we finish reading the Torah and we start all over again without even taking a breath! The cycle of Torah reading is like the cycle of the seasons. On Simchat Torah, we also pray for rain. It is time for the rain to bless our earth throughout the fall and winter months so that when the spring comes round again we will be able to decorate our Passover table with colorful flowers!

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