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

How to choose the perfect area rug


A few years ago, I got rid of the wall-to-wall carpeting in my townhouse and switched to hardwood floors. I love the look of hardwood floors, but more important, I found them easier to clean than carpeting, especially with dogs that like to walk through mud. The one downside, however, was I lost the cozy feeling of soft carpeting under my bare feet. And getting out of bed in the morning is even more of a jolt to the system when you land on cold, wood floors.

The solution, of course, is area rugs. Not only are they practical for keeping your feet warm, they provide a vital design component for the room — they’re art for your floors. 

But I’ve found, with friends and clients, that the task of choosing an area rug puts them in uncharted waters. Most people are not sure of the size needed, the type of material, the style or the color. And considering how expensive area rugs can be, I understand the trepidation. I follow some pretty simple guidelines for picking area rugs, and hopefully they’ll help you the next time you have to go rug shopping.

The right size

I always start by deciding what size is needed. In a living room, where you have a sofa and chairs (or some configuration of a seating area), the rug should be big enough so that when someone sits down, their feet will touch some part of the rug. This means that, at minimum, the front legs of your sofas and chairs should be sitting on the rug. It’s fine if all the furniture is on the rug, but that can be expensive — plus a lot of the rug will be hidden.

The color and style

Think of an area rug as one of the largest furniture pieces in a room. Because of its size relative to other furnishings, use it as a design counterpoint to the other pieces. If there is already a lot of color and pattern on the walls and furniture, balance all the visual commotion with a solid, neutral-colored rug. If everything else around it is more subdued, kick it up a notch with brighter colors and bold patterns. (Except don’t do chevron. I’m really sick of chevron.) 

Although it makes sense to match the style of your rug with the overall style of your room — for example, a modern rug with a modern decorating scheme — sometimes it’s advantageous to mix genres. An antique Oriental rug makes an impressive statement in a contemporary home. The converse — a modern rug in a more traditional space — doesn’t work as well, however.

Textures

As with colors, look for contrasts when choosing a texture for your area rug. In my den, which has sleek, angular furniture and aluminum-covered walls, I chose a super-thick, high-pile shag rug that is heaven to walk on. (A rug’s pile refers to the density and length of its fibers — low pile has shorter fibers for a flatter rug, and high pile has longer fibers for a shaggier rug.) It’s a nice balance to the cold surfaces in the room. That’s why fluffy high-pile rugs work so well in modern lofts with concrete floors or walls. Likewise, if a room is full of soft, overstuffed furniture and billowy pillows, a rougher, natural-fiber jute rug provides a nice textural balance. 

Consider the traffic

What kind of foot traffic will your area rug be handling? High-traffic areas such as entryways or dining areas benefit from darker colors, detailed patterns (to hide dirt) and lower pile. Synthetic rugs, which tend to be stain-resistant, are also ideal for high-traffic areas. Areas that don’t get a lot of foot traffic, such as bedrooms, can accommodate fluffier, higher-pile carpeting and lighter colors, as well as rugs that are more difficult to care for such as cotton, silk and other natural fiber rugs. 

Think outside the box

One of my favorite alternatives to traditional area rugs is FLOR carpet tiles. They are square sections of carpet, each about 20 inches long and 20 inches wide, that you can configure to whatever size and shape you want. You can mix and match colors and patterns to create your own design, and the tiles attach to each other with adhesive strips on the bottom of the rug. Because the resulting area rug is modular, you can replace any tiles that become irreparably stained. 

And how’s this for something different: In my design studio, in lieu of an area rug, I have a 12-by-12 piece of artificial turf — the really bouncy variety that resembles real grass. It was actually more affordable than an area rug of the same size, and I love how it feels to stand on. It vacuums easily with a Shop Vac, and I can even take it outside to hose it down. I have to keep my dogs away from it, though. They find it a little too tempting.


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

Remembering Vidal Sassoon


It was only a few weeks ago that I was sitting with Vidal Sassoon in the living room of his sprawling Bel Air home. It was a chilly early evening and we warmed ourselves by the heat of the fire that was roaring in the fireplace.  We were drinking green tea – it was always green tea for Vidal – and he’d been reflecting on his earlier years in Hollywood.

He stared at me intently across the coffee table, his eyes probing mine.  Penetratingly. And then with a sudden sigh, he leaned forward and carefully, softly, uttered the words.

“I’ve got leukaemia,” he revealed flatly.  Before I could react, he inhaled deeply and added, “I’m really quite ill.”

He saw the shock in my face and continued softly, “I’m resigned to it. I’ve had a wonderful life. A fantastic life.” He gave a slight smile that was tinged with sadness. “I can’t complain. I’m 84, I just had my birthday a short while back. It’s been a fabulous ride.

“I got diagnosed two years ago but I wanted to keep it quiet. Now it’s progressed and I have to go to the hospital for treatment a couple of times a week. My life revolves around that now. And reading.  I used to swim every day for exercise but I don’t have the energy to maintain that regimen.

“I get terribly tired. It’s very difficult for me to walk far. I have to rely on a walking stick, in case I get into trouble. Some days I’m okay, others I’m just overwhelmed by tiredness.

“But what can you say about it. I’m not in pain. I just get very tired easily.”

It was devastating news. I’d known Vidal since I was a child –  my ‘uncle’, Robert Zackham, was Vidal’s oldest friend and working colleague, and my hairdresser father had partnered Robert in his salon, where Vidal often came to visit.

Our last rendezvous took place very recently. We’d talked on the phone some days earlier and arranged that I’d go to his house a few days later. I wanted to capture some of his memories for a BBC radio documentary I was writing.  He was happy to oblige. “As long as I’m fine on the day,” he added cryptically before ringing off.

Little did I know that it would be his last interview.

His house on Mulholland Drive on the outskirts of Bel Air was partially hidden behind a clump of trees, the number barely visible from the road. Like his previous home in Beverly Hills, it could only be reached via a long, winding driveway flanked with exotic trees and plants. It felt like driving through the Botanical Gardens.

When Vidal emerged from his bedroom and walked down the long hallway, its walls showcasing exquisite sculptures, I was shocked to see him looking frail and gaunt. He was leaning on a cane. “I use it to keep myself steady,” he waved off my concerned questions and offered a swift smile. “I’m no spring chicken after all.”

He had lost weight since I’d seen him last. I put it down to his health regime. He was always a health nut. And he spoke not slowly, yet without speed. I put that down to his having had a busy day.

I was so wrong.

In the vast living room of Vidal’s architecturally-magnificent minimalist home, we sat in front of the fireplace and reminisced. He felt a tremendous pride in everything that he’d done and last year documented it all in his autobiography and a riveting documentary. Yet behind the pride lay a humility. Often self-effacing, never arrogant, Vidal’s demeanour was dreamy and reflective. 

Every now and then, Ronnie, his devoted wife, popped into the living room to check that all was fine. On one appearance she was followed by their two little grey Lhasa Apsas, Lulu and Yoyo. On another, she brought with her a blanket which she lovingly draped over Vidal’s lap in case he got cold. His faithful manservant brought tea for us and with it a plate of English biscuits.

We’d just been discussing some of the voluminous tomes on art and architecture that adorned the room. His passion for the subjects knew no bounds. And he was as knowledgeable on each as if he had made them his life’s work. He viewed hairdressing that way. As architectural shapes. Works of art.

Then he had dropped that shocking news.

There was always something about Vidal Sassoon that set him apart from other men. It wasn’t that he was the best haircutter in the business, although he was. It wasn’t that he was the most famous hairdresser in the world, although he was that too. And it wasn’t that he had turned rags into riches, which he had.

No, it was his gentleness that stood out. Moving in a world notable for being cutthroat, Vidal was that most unlikely of souls –considerate, gracious and very gentle. Devoid of arrogance, he exuded confidence, yet with it a humility, rare in one so successful and ruling over a multi-million dollar empire

In early years, I often saw Vidal (‘Viddy’ to my parents) at hairdressing functions. My father sometimes let me play truant from school and took me with him when he was entered in one of the international hairdressing shows. He knew they excited me and he harboured hopes of my following in his footsteps. I remember one occasion – I must have been about 10 – when my father was designing the hair of a beautiful blonde model and Vidal was doing the same in the next chair with a brunette Miss World. I watched him, glued to his hands, fascinated by the way he worked. Deftly and with immense concentration. Snipping creatively and running his fingers through the hair and letting it swing back naturally into shape.  Layer after layer.  Building the form. He could have been layering and designing a block of flats the way he went at it.

In later years he told me he had always approached hairdressing geometrically, like architecture which he adored. If his mother hadn’t had other plans and if he’d been able to have an education, his dream would have been to become an architect. (“To me, architecture was the extreme art form.”) But in those war years, kids from the East End didn’t have a lot of choice over their career directions. Especially when they came from a single parent home – his father had abandoned the family when Vidal was three; when he turned 5, his mother put him in an orphanage for seven years because she couldn’t afford to keep him.

She’d had a premonition that Vidal would become a hairdresser, so for her there was no question about it when she carted him off to Adolph Cohen’s Whitechapel salon where he became a shampoo boy at 14 by day, while at night vicious German bombs lit up the skies “and rearranged the streets of London”.

He secretly joined the underground Jewish group, The 43, a group determined to quell fascism and anti-semitism. Vidal was its youngest member and was horrified by some of the things he had to witness and even carry out himself. He finally dropped out when it became too violent for him but he continued throughout his life to fight against anti-semitism.

He became a dedicated friend of Israel. A devout Zionist like his mother, in 1948, at 20, wanting to do his bit in the fight for Israel’s independence, he joined the paramilitary arm of the Israeli army and fought in the Arab-Israeli War. Israel remained in his blood to the end and he visited many times. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he later established the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Stamping out anti-semitism remained a fervent pursuit throughout his life.

He would have stayed in Israel had his family not needed him back home. He returned to London and to hairdressing. Just a few years later, in 1954, at 26, he opened his first salon in Bond Street.

“I decided if I couldn’t change things from the hairdressing art form into what I considered architectural hair cutting art form then I would leave the craft,” he told me.

He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and revolutionized the industry by turning hairdressing into an art with his headline-making cuts.

Vidal was the quintessential ladies’ man. With his dazzling smile and keen eye that always spotted the best in a woman’s face he was able to design a cut and style that played up her bone structure. (“You cut according to the angles of the bones, the body, the shape. You never cut to make people look pretty. That’s not what it was about. That was the old way.”)

His ‘Sassoon look’ became the fashion of the day. Movie stars and ordinary people flocked to his third floor salon.  It was there that Vidal lopped off 4 feet of Nancy Kwan’s hair. And where Mia Farrow and Lee Radziwell – “she always said she’d bring her sister (Jackie Kennedy) but it never happened” – were among his huge clientele.

After opening a salon in New York, he eventually moved to Los Angeles and landed a television talk show. It was short-lived but established his immense popularity among those who only knew him through his slogan “if you don’t look good, we don’t look good”.

Vidal was a raconteur par excellence and never failed to amuse with a story or two. One of his favourites revolved around a meal in a Moscow restaurant when a bunch of menacing looking Russians walked in.

“These guys heard us speaking English and one of them leaned across the table and said ‘Bobby Charlton!’  I’m a soccer fan you know. So I said ‘Lev Yashin!’ who was the great Russian goalkeeper. ‘Aah, Lev Yashin!’  So then they ordered vodka. And it kept on coming. Well after Pele and Bobby Moore and goodness knows who else, I finally staggered out of there. But we’d made these great friends who hugged us as we left. They couldn’t speak a word of English and we couldn’t speak a word of Russian. Just footballers’ names. And so much vodka it was ridiculous!”

Vidal had four children, the oldest of whom, Catya, died of a drug overdose. He never recovered from the pain of losing her.  But with his fourth wife, Ronnie, 23 years his junior – they met when he was 62 and she was 39 – he found a tranquility that had been previously missing. For 20 years, Ronnie was his anchor. And “my tower of strength throughout this illness.” 

His legacy will be the phenomenal contribution he made to the world of hair fashion. But it will also be his lifelong devotion to Israel and its causes. And his efforts to quell anti-semitism.

“You do what you can in this life,” he told me once. “And if what you do can make a difference then that’s all you could ask for.”

Vidal Sassoon made a difference.

The unconventional dress


After Talya Ilovitz (née Strauss) got engaged, the hunt for a dress for her Orthodox wedding felt endless. She never imagined her best option would be a sleeveless white cocktail dress a few sizes too big. But after searching widely, every other possibility was either too expensive or didn’t have sleeves.

“I liked this dress more than anything else I could find,” she recalled. 

So, together, with the help of a seamstress, dedicated friends and her sister, artist Avra Strauss, her crack team gave the dress a makeover from top to bottom. 

“We cut the arms off a blazer to make sleeves and changed the very straight sheath shape to a mermaid shape that flared out. Then we added four layers of tulle to create a much fuller skirt,” Strauss said. “I also cut fabric into the shape of a few hundred leaves and we attached them with beads to the bottom of the dress. I liked that it was a little bit unusual, with a different texture and shape, and had a feeling of movement.”

The unique look of three-dimensional, raw-edge leaves suited Strauss’ personality. The result? A stunning one-of-a-kind creation, reminiscent of a tree in bloom, evoking the bride’s love of the outdoors. The stunning long-sleeve gown put an unconventional spin on a look appropriate for an Orthodox ceremony. 

As more brides opt for inventive solutions to classic wedding dress dilemmas, retailers are following suit. Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier are among the household names of designers now producing bridal gowns in unconventional colors to match their ethereal, dream-like styles, employing shades of blush, nude and (gasp!) black. In fact, Wang’s upcoming fall 2012 bridal collection relies on colors primarily reserved for under- rather than outerwear. But these are far from the only unconventional options for contemporary brides. 

Transforming undergarments into outerwear has long been a traditional method of creating non-traditional attire. In fact, vintage trousseau “dressing gowns,” and other slip dresses once worn only at home, are frequently sold on etsy.com and other sites as potential wedding dresses for unconventional brides. The site is a great resource for unique treasures, including an eggshell- and champagne-colored 1930s boudoir gown with matching peignoir jacket found on a recent search. Silk nightgowns and other unusual pieces that traverse unconventional territory can be easily identified by searching with the key words “unconventional” or “experimental” to discover wedding dresses with unusual details such as raw edges in silk chiffon or georgette. 

Vintage pieces, unusual colors and Ilovitz’s DIY option are among the appeal of the unconventional wedding dress. As the character Carrie Bradshaw illustrated in the feature film “Sex and the City 2,” some brides might prefer a vintage suit. The look not only expressed Bradshaw’s on-screen personality, but the option also, in theory, presents the opportunity of a repeat appearance at other events. 

According to Jewish law, there is no halachic requirement to wear white under the chuppah (the wedding canopy) although it is considered a ritual convention suggesting spiritual purity. Among Orthodox couples, the groom, too, wears white in the form of a kitel, or ritual robe-like garment placed over a suit. The kitel is reserved for life’s most poignant moments: one’s wedding, Yom Kippur, Passover seders and, ultimately, burial. 

The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) discusses the tradition of women wearing white dresses in association with marriage. Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses … and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself …’ “ These days, Tu b’Av, the 15th of the month of Av, which falls this year on Aug. 3, is commemorated as a Jewish day of love and is a popular time for weddings. 

Like all fashions, bridal attire takes cues from celebrities. When today’s brides say “I don’t” to a conventional gown, their choices may take the form of a two-tone dress. One of the most widely noted examples was singer Gwen Stefani, who donned a white Galliano dress that dramatically transitioned to a bright coral pink as it reached the floor. 

Some brides opt instead for more subtle twists, such as adding floral appliques or a contrasting sash, as Wang has done with a vivid black sash against clouds of white skirt for her spring 2012 collection. The look is one of the most anticipated trends for spring 2013, along with her debut of deeper blushing tones for gowns ranging from shocking fire engine red, to maroon, burgundy and deep wine. 

Some brides wearing color flip tradition by dressing their bridesmaids in white, with a colored sash on A-line or empire waists to match the bride’s colored gown. 

The operative concern when it comes to an unconventional dress is will it evoke regret years later when brides look back on their choices? Despite her on-screen “Sex and the City 2” white bridal attire, when actress Sarah Jessica Parker married husband Matthew Broderick in 1997, she chose a black dress. In a subsequent interview with Bazaar, Parker admitted that if she could do it all over again, she would definitely opt for a beautiful white gown.

As Ilovitz’s experience suggests, with thoughtful attention, even the most personalized white can be far from conventional.

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug has written hundreds of articles for mainstream and Jewish media outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Jerusalem Post. She is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award Finalist. Her next book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts October 2012, everywhere books are sold. cooljewbook.com.

Recycling on the fashion runway


Ever since the nonprofit organization Earth Pledge teamed up with Barney’s in 2005 during New York’s renowned fashion week to demonstrate that sustainable fashion and style can coexist, eco-fashion activists have been quipping that “green is the new black.” Almost overnight, environmentally conscious designs shed their reputation of looking like burlap sacks made for hippies and were transformed into stylish, chic and fashionable clothes.

On the New York runway, Richie Rich’s striking yellow-and-pink skirt, made out of corn fiber, was topped off with a flashy silver bustier made from recycled polyester. And Linda Loudermilk’s luxury eco line has an express goal of giving eco-glamour “a fabulous look and a slammin’ attitude that stops traffic and shouts the message: Eco can be edgy, loud, fun, playful, feminine (or not) and hyper-cool.”

Levi’s recently released a line of “green” jeans made from 100 percent organic cotton and fashion icons such as Oscar de la Renta and Proenza Schouler hail the use of sustainable materials. Even celebrities are taking part in the growing global trend; Bono launched a new line of eco-fashion titled “Edun.”

New, organic raw materials that are both sustainable and grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are more widely available too. Far beyond just organic cotton and hemp, contemporary eco-fashion designers can now choose between bamboo, soy and corn fibers, cottagora, eco-fleece, organic wool, linen, silk, tencel and ecospun — to name just a few. Eco-friendly, low-impact dyes and responsible manufacturing processes (employing people in good working conditions with fair wages close to home) are also part of the “reuse, recycle and renew” philosophy that define eco-fashion, according to the Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP).

The widespread international movement has not escaped fashion designers in Israel, more and more of who are starting to incorporate eco-friendly principles into their own creative, unique styles.

But there have been bumps in the road. Organic fabrics are almost impossible to find in Israel and have to be imported at great expense. But for some young Israeli designers, this is an opportunity rather than a detriment. Instead of bringing in costly fabrics from abroad, they look for ways to use inexpensive materials that already exist at home.

For Irit Vilensky, the fabric of choice is plastic. By recycling the ubiquitous plastic bags that litter Israeli beaches and parks, she makes an uber-chic, colorful line of accessories called: Satik.

“I wanted to create something beautiful out of what everyone already has at home, so I decided to make things out of plastic bags,” she said.

Each one-of-a-kind bracelet, wallet and purse is handmade, and Vilensky says that the concept of using noxious non-biodegradable plastic bags, already banned in many countries due to their widespread damage to the environment, serves two purposes: to reuse waste and to rid the world’s landfills of a few more plastic bags.

Elanit Neutra was heavily influenced by environmental concerns in Toronto, where she studied film production. Two years ago she began using the inner tubes of black rubber tires to make her stylish, soft leather-like accessories.

“I have always been a collector, taking things from the street to make new things, and when I saw the tires, I decided to try and make something nice from the raw material,” she said.

Although the process of finding material and cleaning the rubber is long and difficult, Neutra said part of what makes her work original is that she maintains the texture and any imperfections.

“Each piece is handmade, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right composition and shaping the rubber into something elegant,” Neutra said.

Gili Ben-Ami makes brightly colored necklaces by stringing together car fuses, and Ayala Froindlich recycles comic books, inflatable pool floats and even encyclopedias to make her eco-friendly handbags. Artist Ossi Yalon paints new scenes on vintage clothing in order to refurbish the old.

“Today’s society, especially women, is obsessed with buying new clothing all the time and throwing everything away,” she said. “I am trying to point out that the same therapeutic endeavor can be accomplished by recycling the old and rejuvenating it.”

Recycled plastic bottles filled with colored water are crushed into funky toothbrush holders, mugs and vases in Doron Sar-Shalom’s designs for the home, and Zohar Yarom puts leftover sofa fabric samples to good use in her unique handbags.

“Each bag is reversible and designed to last for many years,” she said. “Part of the unique thinking in Israel requires reinventing ourselves and using what we have available, because importing is not as good for the environment, and materials from abroad are more expensive.”

Despite the greater challenges that pro-environmentalists face in Israel, such as the Israeli government’s lackadaisical interest in efforts to be more environmentally friendly in the fashion industry, some stores are still finding ways to create eco-fashion.

Cotton is an eco-friendly clothing chain in Israel founded in 1992 that now has 12 branches across the country. It is owned by fashion designer Galit Broyde and her husband Erez Moded, and Broyde designs all of Cotton’s stylish and comfortable clothing out of organic materials that are easy to clean and durable. The company adheres to environmentally friendly local production, sells reusable shopping bags, and tries to promote education in Israel.

“For us, green fashion is not a trend; it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that we always did at home, but we started to do more in Cotton in recent years,” Broyde said. “We do everything we can, but no one is ever 100 percent green. For that, we’d all have to go back to caves.”

According to Nirit Sternberg, the owner of Le’ela, a design store that sells exclusively Israeli creations, the number of designers exhibiting eco-friendly work in the store has seen a tremendous increase in recent years — so much so that she was able to put on an eco-design exhibit with more than 35 creators this February. Nevertheless, she points out that it’s still not as popular in Israel as one might expect: “Eco-fashion is still just beginning here. The awareness is not there yet.”

British immigrant and organic baby clothing designer Sohpie O’Hana agrees. She started her own line, called Tinok Yarok (green baby), about a year ago, after searching futilely in Israel for eco-friendly baby clothing.

Gear Up for an Israel Vacation


With summer travel to Israel around the corner, now’s the time to plan your packing strategy. From new high-tech gadgets to easy-care clothing, from hybrid shoes to crushable sun hats, there’s plenty to choose from as gifts for loved ones and must-haves for your own comfort. We’ve identified select products to help with common travel dilemmas. Peruse our list for solutions to help you pack light, avoid sunburns, save on batteries and more. An added bonus: nearly everything — except for new prescription contact lenses — is available online or by phone.

Threads
Women visiting Meah Shearim and other religious sites need cool clothes for modest cover-ups. The hip, Pack-N-Go Cotton Crinkle Skirt ($59) stores in its own pouch and welcomes wrinkles; ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com, (800) 547-1160.

A convenient handbag is a woman’s travel must. The Space Saver Bag ($29.50) offers plenty of pockets to tuck it away with outdoor style; Sahalie. A microfiber Convertible Bag ($50) doubles as a compact backpack; Travelsmith.

For him, a Pre-Wrinkled Shirt ($45) works for daily and Shabbat wear; Sahalie. Cotton Kenya Convertible Pants ($69.50) double as shorts by zipping off the lower portion; Travelsmith. And the Intrepid Travel Hat ($52), a lightweight fedora, breathes, bends and repels water. Wrap it into itself for travel and then pop it back into shape upon arrival; Travelsmith.

For him and her, breathable CoolMax blended with cotton wicks away moisture while providing sun protection. A variety of styles, polos, tees, long sleeve shirts and undies, are available. Travelsmith ($40 and up). Avoid insect bites and sunburns with Buzz Off Convertible Pants with UV30+ protection for him or her ($79); Sahalie.

Footwear
Multipurpose sandals for hiking, touring and synagogue are the ticket. Chacos offer great support (even for those who usually wear orthotics) and come in a variety of designs. New thin-strap styles better conform to your foot. Lug soles offer great traction; ” target=”_blank”>REI.com ($60 and up).

Cool Mesh Low Quarter Socks ($9) keep tootsies cooler, drier and blister-free; Sahalie. And for shower wear and beach duty, Adidas ClimaCool Slides ($30) offer air mesh screening underfoot. Ventilated running shoes, warm weather sports tops and other products in the ClimaCool line are also available; ” target=”_blank”>Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943. And prevent carry-on security problems by packing the TSA-approved Personal Travel Kit ($70); Sharper Image.

For in-flight comfort, consider collapsible MP3-Enhanced Headphones ($35) and the ultra-cozy Nap Travel U-Pillow with Eye Mask ($25); Brookstone. Breathe in cleaner, fresher air with a personal Ionic Breeze Air Purifier ($30); Sharper Image. To relieve motion sickness, the watch-like ReliefBand ($89) sends gentle electrical pulses to interfere with nausea messages from the brain. Flight Spray ($15) helps relieve nasal dryness. And for bad backs and skinny tushies, select specially designed pillows and pads; Magellan’s.

In Israel, cool off Aussie-style with a Cobber Neck Cooler ($15), which features lightweight nontoxic crystals that stay cool for up to three days; Travelsmith. A Mini Misting Fan ($13) simulates playing in sprinklers — even in the back of the bus. The even larger Personal Cooling System ($30) fans the neck; Sharper Image.

Forget the need for constant batteries with electronic devices that you can crank up by hand. You “churn on” the Freeplay EyeMax Radio/Flashlight ($50) or juice up its solar cells in the sun; Sharper Image.Volunteering on kibbutz or studying abroad? Tune in with the AM/FM Grundig Emergency Hand Crank Radio ($50), complete with built-in flashlight and cell phone charger. ” target=”_blank”>rhythmfusion.zoovy.com, (831) 423-2048. Bird-watch with Micro-Zoom Binoculars ($99); Magellan’s. And take home memories with the Canon Powershot SD600 ($349), an economical solution for super high resolution in one tiny package.

No Small Actors, Only Fake Parts


“Le Grand Role” has laughter, pathos, in-jokes, heartburn, self-caricature — in other words, it’s a really, really Jewish film, even though the characters insist on speaking French.

The film’s concept is cute, although it could have gone astray in less-skilled hands.

Maurice (Stephane Freiss) is one of four good buddies in Paris, all Jewish, all in their late 30s, and all actors who scrape by on commercials, dubbings and bit parts.

The big chance comes for Maurice when legendary American director Rudolph Grishenberg (Peter Coyote doing a takeoff on Steven Spielberg) comes to town with his latest project: an all-Yiddish movie version of “The Merchant of Venice.”

After his buddies ambush the director in shul, Maurice gets a tryout for the role of Shylock. He does a curiously moving rendition of the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” monologue in Yiddish and gets the nod from Grishenberg.

The actor rushes home to break the life-changing news to his beautiful wife Perla (Berenice Bojo). The two are crazy about each other, to the point where Maurice surreptitiously takes photos of his wife at work in a clothing store.

Perla stuns her husband with some news of her own. She has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only a few weeks to live.

A couple of days later, Grishenberg finds a name star to play Shylock and dumps Maurice. But how can the actor tell Perla, when only the belief that her husband has finally made it brings her some last bit of happiness.

So the four buddies concoct a scheme pretending that Maurice still has the part and is doing just great. Every morning, a limousine picks up Maurice to take him to the “studio,” he poses for fake photo shoots and interviews, and when Perla phones Maurice on the “set,” the buddies provide the necessary background sounds.

In a final desperate move, the friends kidnap Grishenberg and convince him to visit Perla’s bedside and tell her what a great actor her husband is.

To get the director to that point takes some doing, and when his kidnappers ask him to lie about Maurice for the greater good, Grishenberg delivers the movie’s top laugh line, “I can’t lie. I am an American and Americans don’t lie.”

The bittersweet ending is honest, if not entirely satisfactory, but director Steve Suissa, working off Daniel Goldenberg’s novel, maintains an unforced balance to create an appealing slice of life, French Jewish style.

“Le Grand Role” opens this Friday (9/30) at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

 

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve


Tired of wearing designer clothes and lining the pockets of fashionistas?
These days, clothing companies are banking on Jewish pride and charity as the
impetus for their labels.

Jewcy and Jewish Jeans are both joining a growing clique of
edgy Jewish enterprises, such as Heeb magazine and JDub Records that deliver
secular Jewish culture in pop culture formats.

Jewish Jeans (www.jewishjeans.com) donates a portion of its
sales to victims of suicide bombing attacks in Israel.  It offers shirts embroidered
with “Nice Jewish Boy” and “Single Jewish Girl,” and political messages such as
“Pursue Peace” and “Support Israel.”

“Whether you want to make a statement about your social
status or your political views, Jewish Jeans delivers powerful messages in a
stylish and fun way,” the Web site asserts.

The company was founded by Columbus, Ohio residents, Steven
Verona, 34, a successful inventor, and Daniel Wolt, 36, owner of a home
remodeling company who recently resigned his post as social director of the
Young Jewish Community of Columbus to work on the project.

Verona said he became involved in Jewish Jeans in an effort
to combat anti-Semitic sentiment and promote a positive Jewish image.

“Jewish Jeans allows you to make a statement of pride in
your heritage … proudly wear your Jewish Jeans clothing knowing that you
helping to make the world a better place,” the site promises.

Another label, Jewcy, is selling T-shirts, hats and
underwear branded with the bold “Jewcy” logo, in which the “W” is actually the
Hebrew letter shin.

“We did it purely to amuse ourselves, but it’s touching a
chord and that’s gratifying,” said theater producer Jenny Wiener, 34, who
conceived of Jewcy with her husband and business partner, Jon Steingart, 35;
Jason Saft, 25; and Saft’s boss, Craig Karpel, 36.

Although they don’t define themselves as actively religious,
the Jewcy people are proud of their heritage and believe there are enough
likeminded Jews out there to sustain a line of clothing, as well as what they
plan to be regularly scheduled live events.

According to the Jewcy.com Web site, being Jewcy means being
“pro-Manischewitz, pro-Jewfro, pro-Barneys Warehouse sale. It’s knishes with a knasty
attitude.”

The ‘Uglification’


"So, how’s the ‘uglification’ of the house coming along?" Gabe asks as he walks in the front door.

By uglification, he means that we have removed the dirty, shredding wallpaper that adorned many of our walls.

By uglification, he means that we have replaced the cracked and peeling vinyl flooring in the master bath.

And by uglification, he means that, for the first time, with the help of a design consultant, we will live in a house that doesn’t look like a student apartment.

But, as Woodrow Wilson once said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

Danny, 11, still mourns "couchie," the dilapidated, threadbare brown corduroy sofa he knew for the first three years of his life. Jeremy, 13, wishes we still lived in our old house, where he spent the first nine years of his life. And Gabe thinks we should be painting the entire house white — or blue.

"Look at these depressing kitchen walls," he says. "What kind of color is ‘badger’? Have you ever seen a happy badger?"

"How about a happy 15-year-old?" I ask.

This home decorating project — chalk it up to premenopausal madness, pre-bar mitzvah anxiety or post-Sept. 11 cocooning — began last January.

Previously, it made no sense to invest emotionally and financially in our surroundings. Not with four boys who regularly punched holes in the plaster walls, treated the den couch as a mechanical bull ride and rearranged the living room furniture into an armed fortress, using every blanket and toy weapon in the house.

Previously, my husband, Larry, and I, who see eye-to-eye on sex, money, religion and child-rearing, the issues most couples fight over, couldn’t choose a new paint color or silverware pattern without a highly charged battle ending in stalemate.

But now the boys are less destructive.

And now, in a capitulating and generous bow to marital harmony, Larry has given me, within a prescribed budget, full reign. "Surprise me," he said.

I admit to being style-challenged. I don’t know the difference between feng shui and fen-phen, between Martha Stewart and Martha Washington and between colonial, contemporary, craftsman or counter-culture.

But, like the Supreme Court definition of pornography, I know ugly when I see it.

Like coral-colored bedroom walls.

Like an incongruously ornate living room fireplace mantel.

Like a wrought iron dining room chandelier, sporting, in the exact center, an oversized rooster.

And I know the value of professional advice.

The penchant for never completely settling in might be attributed to my being a Jew, who is not called "wandering" for nothing. From escape from Egypt to exile in Babylon to expulsion from Spain, we Jews are always in transit. Under constant threat, even to this day, of persecution or annihilation, our lives are better suited to the fragile, temporary huts of Sukkot.

This penchant might also be attributed to my being an American, a person who, on average, moves every seven years. I myself have moved 17 times, from the Midwest, to Israel, England, New England, Northern California and, finally, Southern California.

Or to my merely being a Californian who, having experienced the 1994 Northridge earthquake, learned the transient nature of material possessions as I witnessed, in a matter of 15 seconds, all of our household belongings crash to the floor. But now I want a home that serves as the center of our Jewish family, a bulwark against the outside world, a comfortable refuge. A place where the kids, as they begin to move out and establish families of their own, can return for Shabbat dinners, for seders, for Sunday barbecues.

I have no illusions that our house will ever be a showcase. Nor do I wish it. We will always have to accommodate Larry’s old radios, Felix the Cat collection and Coca-Cola paraphernalia; my myriad rabbits and needlepoint projects; a shot-glass collection belonging to my oldest son, Zack; and all the boys’ baseball caps and sports trophies, LEGOs and trading cards. As well as countless boxes of papers, projects and artwork, representing 49 cumulative years of school and preschool.

Plus, I have no illusions that my sons will stop leaving their shoes and balled up, inside-out socks in every room in the house. Or using the front hall as a dumping ground for their backpacks, binders and books. Or doing their homework on the living room coffee table.

Nonetheless, I think it’s time for a change. After all, as I constantly remind Larry, "My next move is to the Jewish Home for the Aging."

If You Had Her Moves


Gouging out eyeballs and hitting people with chairs are just some of the actions taught by Wade Allen. For Allen, the director of Krav Maga Worldwide’s Hollywood division, it’s all in the name of self-defense.

Krav Maga, (pronounced krahv muh-GAH), was originally developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but this martial art looks nothing like the moves you saw in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In typical Israeli fashion, Krav Maga is all about efficiency, which means down-and-dirty, kick-’em-in-the-groin fighting — whatever it takes to win.

This combat style also claims to put women on an equal footing with their male counterparts, an essential consideration for the IDF, in which both men and women serve. This factor made Krav Maga ideal for Jennifer Lopez’s latest film, "Enough," in which she plays a battered wife who fights back against her bigger, stronger husband.

To look believable in her big showdown at the film’s climax, Lopez trained with Allen for two months, taking the abuse Allen dished out — and then some.

"She got bruised and battered around a little bit," Allen says, "but she’s a tough lady. There’s a swagger in her walk that isn’t something that you’re taught. She definitely has that in her."

And it seems that others are following Lopez’s example. "There’s definitely been an upward swing in our student attendance," says Allen, "Sept. 11 and Jennifer’s movie did a lot to get women in."

Be Your Own Interior Designer


The most important thing to remember in decorating your home is editing. (The same is true of organizing schedules and handbags). Decorating is not about acquisitions but rather about fine-tuning what we have, ruthlessly. Clutter is just that, and a nuisance to tidy and dust. Needless to say, the one design category where accumulating may be acceptable is when you live in an old farmhouse in Wales and you are unaffectedly doing “Sweet Disorder.”

Things

All you really need for great home design are a few great pieces. The selection of these pieces may vary. Look for a great painting or photographs, an amazing old piano, a serious piece of furniture or chandelier. You still must take care to mix these with some other pieces, but the overall viewpoint will be distinguished by the more designed items.

Colors

The best color that I have found for walls is named “Linen” on many paint lines. Use an off-white color to contrast slightly on the trim work and doors. If you want to go bolder, consider doing one wall in Rothko Orange or Georgian Rust and the other walls in a warm but neutral coffee shade. This way, the overall look is not overwhelming. Several paint lines are now offering small, reasonably priced “tester pots” that allow you to try the paint on the wall for color and quality.

Floors

When you are purchasing a few great pieces, do not forget to buy several area carpets in wool or silk. Traditional patterns with dark ground colors are the best, as they wear well, do not look dated and do not need a lot of cleaning. Wood floors are then the main flooring. Sisal or coir matting is also good as area carpets, and it can be replaced when needed.

Style

It is best to not cultivate nor indulge in any specific style. Waking up in a lime green bungalow or the mall’s version of French Country is just not okay. Well-designed pieces that you appreciate will naturally sit well together.

Experiment

Do not forget the shmatte! When you go to a fabric shop or showroom, take swatches of the fabrics that you like. Then, ask good questions about the pieces that you have chosen, to be sure that the fabrics will be suitable for specific rooms. For example: Is the fabric durable enough to upholster a sofa that is used by children and dogs when lounging? Will the fabric fade in a sunny window if I purchase it for drapery? What is inter-lining? I am looking for fabric to recover my dining room chairs. Do you have a fabric that is Shabbat-friendly; i.e. crowd and stain resistant? More to the point, fabric that is Uncle Manny-proof?

Theme

Just a quick note about children’s rooms: avoid an abundance of novelty and storybook prints that have a theme in mind. Avoid themes altogether.

Being a designer, I naturally want to style everything, and I confess to being overly concerned about my domain. Perhaps my daughter, like all children, will rebel against her mother’s sense of aesthetic control. I tease myself with the thought of her someday living in one room with naugahide seat cushions and plastic mini-blinds. She will be under-styled, unfussed, and, no doubt, altogether happy. And that’s the point: the real secret to designing is to help yourself feel at home.

Grown-Up Chanukah


I bought my first menorah when I was a graduate student. My roommate, Pat, was the first non-Jew with whom I’d ever shared a kitchen, and my celebration was predictably tentative. The chanukiyah was disposable, made of a cheap paper-like tin, and unstable, needing to sit on a glass plate. I fried latkes for Pat, who never understood why we ate them with both applesauce and sour cream. After the eight days of candle burning, every nook and cranny of the foil cups was coated with wax, and the get-up was easily tossed.

My other chanukiyot have not been so easily disposed of. There’s the regulation brass menorah I bought when we first got married, still crusted with blue and red tallow despite more than two decades in and out of the dishwasher.

What a testimony to how styles of worship have changed. My “married menorah” is functional; it stands nine inches tall, with the semicircular upswept arms known to Jewish homes since time immemorial. Its three-tiered base is stamped with ersatz menorot, as “creative” and inspiring as the Jell-O glasses embossed with Disney characters my family used for juice when I was a child. Chanukah in the ’70s was an also-ran holiday, second best to Christmas. My husband and I were acting “natural” in those days, trying out sweet potato latkes with friends, some of whom had living pine trees next to the fireplace. It was the days of Dansk salad bowls, of handmade coffee mugs bought at local art fairs, of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, when not caring about style was a style all its own.

Then came the child-blazing years. Samantha made a new menorah each winter, first at preschool, then at Hebrew school. At age 3 she decorated an untreated 2-inch-high slab of oak with six Popsicle sticks formed into a Star of David; metal nuts served as candle holders. At 4, she painted the wood slab a deep chocolate brown and pasted a tall wood spindle as the shamash. About 5 she got festive, sprinkling blue glitter on a thin white wood strip and painting the metal nuts pink! We were gourmets by then, eating Caesar salad and homemade cheesecake, filled with cheer.

Soon it was the age of Renewal. Our friends caught fire with the holiday spirit, which came to symbolize both tolerance and the triumph of individuality over repression. We took the Midrash literally, explaining that while there had to be at least one menorah per household, there could be one menorah per person. My dining room was aflame with candles, and it was no longer a burden to use up the entire box of 44 multicolored tapers. We were busy families. I learned to make latkes the Sunday before and freeze them.

As the years went by, without quite realizing it, I’d been stylistically left behind. My poor brass menorah was outclassed by the exquisite handmade silver set made in Hungary, or even the Agam knockoff (himself inspired by the commentator Rambam) with the diagonal arms now available at places like Bed, Bath and Beyond. My mother bought us a “Happy Chanukah” hanging quilt, in which multicolored Velcro tapers and detachable yellow-and-red flames are placed each night in shiny golden lame pockets. No heat but a decorative delight.

How fast the candles were burning, and not just because Chanukah flames last less than an hour. I didn’t see it happening, for love of the glow. One year we burned our candles with Hillel, adding one each night until there are nine. The next we tried Shammai, decreasing the flares until there were just two. In the end, Edna St. Vincent Millay was right: burning candles at both ends gives a lovely light.

Where does this leave me now, now that my daughter has grown up and the days of the metal-nut candleholder are gone? It leaves me on fire, that’s what, to finally get the menorah that I deserve.
So I did what any Jewish shopper does seeking ritual solace: I went online to anymenorah.com (really!) for a journey into the might-have-been and the what-will-be.

I wonder how our lives might have changed if we had, at our family table, not our Home Depot creations but the Curious George menorah, featuring not just the beloved monkey but the Man in the Tall Hat. Could I have resisted Pooh’s Latke Party, in which the adored bear joins Rabbit, Tiger, Roo and Eeyore for a party of scrumptious latkes? What about the “ball and bat” menorah, available in both aluminum and “poly resin,” for the Little League years?

As for adult fantasy, I could choose (but won’t) the “Golf menorah” (club and ball), nor the “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Lower East Side,” or “Dreidel at the Western Wall” varieties, the Starbucks-inspired “Coffee Time!” with crystal mugs nor the Mah Jongg menorahs in clear or fake ivory.

I am drawn to an expensive menorah, which commemorates lost Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and to a silver-plated number called the “Tree of Life.” I’ve got eight on my wish list, and time to choose, choice being the first step of personal freedom.