This summer, Hallmark designer Ashley Harms has already helped us create a Father’s Day table with a high wow-to-work ratio. Now she’s back with a simple back-to-school idea to make any kid’s day (including an adorable selection of free downloadable lunch-box notes for a sweet surprise inside).
I have to admit, I do not pack my kid’s lunch bags everyday for school. But when I do, I try and make it somewhat special. And by special, I do not mean cutting the sandwiches into unicorns or turning a piece of string cheese into an octopus. I tried that in the beginning, and my daughter didn’t really notice. But what she did notice was when I just took the time to doodle something fun on her brown paper sack or drop a sweet note inside. Sometimes the simplest gestures end up being the ones that are the most appreciated.
We gathered some of the finest folks at Hallmark to join together and doodle on brown paper sacks with limited supplies for one hour. The results were fun and fresh.
I know what some of you may be thinking: “These lunch bags are awesome, but I can’t draw like that.” Well, I am here to tell you, your loved one doesn’t care how you draw. A simple smiley face or a heart is all you need. Make a stamp out of a potato and repeat it on the bag. Get inspired by things your kids love. Remember, it’s that simple gesture that matters.
And as an extra treat, be sure to download our lunch-box notes. Drop them in your sweet little one’s lunch box and make their day. And if you’re looking for actual lunch inspiration, check out these seriously cute, one-of-a-kind bento box ideas on Hallmark.com!
We heard from Andy Newcom, photo stylist in Hallmark’s Union Hill Studio, earlier this week when he shared several tips for bringing your garden to life indoors. He’s known for his generous spirit and ability to make any space he enters instantly more beautiful. Today, we’re lucky to have a tour of his (latest) amazing home in a small suburb of Kansas City. It’s full of family, fun stories and French décor. Read on!
Friends are quick to ask what my current address is because I have a history of moving around a great deal. I’ve lived in a 750 sq. ft house in the woods that I built with my parents when I was a school teacher. I lived in a warehouse loft in the early ’80s when downtown Kansas City was a ghost town. I’ve lived in a grandma house in a small town in Missouri, an old two-bedroom home in Roeland Park, a ranch in KCMO and now finally a little fixer upper in Fairway, Kansas. I really like moving and fixing up houses. I can’t be blamed for this trait because I grew up in a family where my parents did they same thing. They have lived in about 15 different homes.
Today we are taking a tour of my latest project and one that is very special to me. This is the last project that my mom was able to work on. My mother had Alzheimer’s during this home renovation, and yet she still found a way to help with the work that had to be done. My father is 86 years old, and he has also been actively involved. So this last home renovation project has been a true labor of love. It’s like the great cathedrals of Europe: It will never be done! There are always more projects in the future. Hope you enjoy the tour.
I’m holding a photo of the house when I purchased it. It was built in 1945. Seems like a grandma should live there, and you know there is going to be a tuna casserole in the oven. After taking the roof off and making the upstairs attic a livable space, the house took on a very French look and feel. I’ve never been to France, but this is what I would imagine a small house there to look like.
The screened-in porch was made into a three-season sitting room with casement windows that open up. I extended the fireplace chimney, and added the copper dormer and the columns. My dad made all of the exterior shutters and gates by hand. He is truly amazing!
There was virtually no landscaping in the yard, so I have added all of that as well. I add and I add and I add until I have to move because I have added so many plants.
The first thing that I did to the living room was add some character. Dad and I created crown molding and installed old, heavier baseboards. We then added the trim panels to the walls. The columns and old fireplace mantel were then added. My dad made all of the interior shutters by hand. Have I mentioned already that he is freakishly talented?
My dad is also very “old school” and doesn’t want to see me spend any money or waste anything. He’s definitely a product of the depression. A typical trip to the lumberyard will consist of me picking up a piece of trim and dad asking, “How much is that?” I may say, “$4.50,” and then dad will say, “Oh, that’s too much,” and I will say, “DAD, I can afford to get this board for $4.50!!!” Dad will come back with, “Well, it just seems like the other day that I was buying that same piece of trim for 15 cents!” At this point I do a major eye roll and walk off with the board in my hand while dad is figuring out how we can piece together scraps in the trash to make do. If you think I’m exaggerating, follow us sometime in the lumberyard.
The dining room received a very fancy and formal dose of plaster crown molding and a plaster medallion on the ceiling. The plasterwork was made in the Back Bay of Boston and then driven to Kansas City in the back of an old van fitted with foam shelves. There were still hairline cracks in the plasterwork upon arrival.
I love old and new, contemporary and antique, and pretty much any kind of contrast when it comes to interior design. The coffee-cup rack is from an old garage and was used to display industrial gauges. I found it in an antique mall outside of Columbia, Missouri. The metal cabinet it sits on holds little antique collections.
My interior design partner-in-crime is another Hallmark photo stylist, Zoe Karro. Zoe found my dining-room table online from an antique warehouse in Philadelphia.
The kitchen was a total gut job. It is very small, and you know what? I’m fine with that. I know, I know, I know. Kitchens are supposed to be big, flow into a big family room, have stainless steel appliances, and the list goes on. I’m obstinate enough that if I hear some rule about what I’m supposed to have, then I will do anything to break that rule. The main point I would make here is not that I am obstinate or pugnacious, but that you need to do what is right for you and what feels like the best home for your style and your quality of life.
I had the old farmhouse sink in storage because I knew that I would have a home for it one day. If you can visualize it, it will happen. It took a hydraulic lift to get the sink in place, but it was well worth it. I love that sink. Zoe found the kitchen table at the Brass Armadillo in Grain Valley, Missouri, when we went there after work one day. When I told my contractor that I wanted small beams on the kitchen ceiling, he came up with the idea to use the horizontal rails from a split-rail fence. Genius!
Shelley Knapp, an Art Director at Union Hill Studio, is a good friend who has taught me a great deal about antiques. She is responsible for my love of the white English Ironstone from the 1800s that I both display and use. Damn you, Shelley Knapp!
The boudoir. (That’s French, you know.)
This is a very white room. You will notice gray walls in my house also, which is a big change. Usually all of my walls are white. I’m not into trendy stuff; I’m a basic kind of guy. I like vanilla ice cream.
I had the ceiling vaulted when the construction crew took the roof off the house. It looks great, but it’s very unpractical. In the winter the bedroom is cold, and in the summer it’s hot. Oh well. I believe in sacrificing for drama!
I’m a sucker for a good story, and people feed me good stories all of the time. The mirror in my bedroom is supposedly from France. And, Lord have mercy, if anyone says that something is French, then I am all over it. French = Fancy! The problem with this mirror is that whenever I pull it away from the wall to clean behind it, the top piece falls on my head. Fortunately, I don’t clean very often.
My dad and mom and I made my bed out of 4x4s. I still smile when I think of my sweet little mom, in the midst of Alzheimer’s disease, holding eight-foot-long 4x4s while my dad and I bolted them together. Even if you don’t have home-project skills, do projects with your family and loved ones. Laugh a lot and hang on to those memories. That’s what is really important.
The library. (Nose in the air and a look of superiority when you say this.)
I know. Who has a library anymore? For that matter, who buys books? I can’t help it: My mother was a librarian, editor, proofreader and copywriter, and my brother was a librarian, also. Everyone in my family has a profound fondness for books and reading. Ask any of my friends (both of them), and they will tell you that whenever they start to talk about something, I will respond with, “Well, I was just reading about that…” I’m annoying.
Mom and Dad found the little armoir (that’s French, too, you know), and then Dad built the library shelves around it. I had the columns in storage because I knew I would use them someday. Say it with me, “If you can create a vision for something, you can bring it to life!”
Beams and the old chandelier were installed, and the library spotlights are old biscuit cutters that I had made into lights. This was originally the second and only other bedroom in the house. Where there are now French doors (oops sorry to mention that word again), there was a window that looked out onto the rotting screened-in porch.
First just let me say, because it shows up in the photo, that I ran out of room for books in the library, and Dad had to make more bookshelves for me in the sun room. He asked me the other day if I knew what a library card was. I can’t help it; I love books, and I want to own every last one ever created. There. The dirty truth is out, and it has set me free.
Zoe found the coffee table at an antique shop in Platte City, Missouri, home of the orange water tower. The table is very strong. It’s a good thing because sitting on top of it is a 500-pound urn. The elephant in the room is literally everything in the room is the weight of an elephant.
Ask anyone that has helped me move, (Kevin Sisemore or Katie Fencyk, who both work at Union Hill, too) and they will just roll their eyes and say, “If you get a call or text from Andy Newcom, and he wants to know what you are doing…RUN! Run like the wind!” Everything I own weighs 500 pounds or more. Remember the sink that had to be placed with a hydrolic lift.
Even though I am in my fancy-pants pretend-French décor phase, I can never take myself too seriously. I have concrete rabbits that hold up an old dresser that I purchased in Lexington, Missouri, for $50. The concrete rabbits are whimsical; I like bringing the outside in. I have tons of rabbits that live in my yard, and I smile when I see them.
Upstairs is the new bedroom/studio and bathroom that I added when I moved into this 1940s house. Dad and I installed the old plank floor, and then, true to form, I painted everything white. Shocker.
This room is filled with artwork that I haven’t hung yet, an old cubby-hole desk and a work table that came out of an old church-school classroom. The painting of the man’s head is a self-portrait of Lou Marak, father of Hallmarker John Marak.
The stairwell railing is from one of my favorite antique stores in Stanely, Kansas. It sat outside for years and years, and I always looked at it but had no idea how I would use it. When I started this renovation project, I about jumped out of my skin when I realized that it would work as my stairwell railing. Originally, it would have been on the exterior of a building as a balcony railing.
The garden shed is probably my favorite part of my home. This is the very fancy little shed that my dad and I built in honor of my mom after she died. (We made a Hallmark video to share our experience building the shed, if you’d like to see more.) My dad and my shed became a neighborhood project, too. My amazing next-door neighbor Aaron Heldt and his daughter, Anna, would come over and work with Dad and I. My neighbors on the other side had me over for dinner because they couldn’t do construction, but they could sure cook. Another neighbor across the street would let us borrow tools, and it didn’t hurt that he’s an architect, too.
This is a little 8-foot by 20-inch structure that is built purely out of love. Whenever people come to visit, I want them to feel that. Dad and I continue to work on it; we are installing more brick patio out in front of it right now, and a fountain will be featured. I know it looks like Liberace should be raised from the dead and come strolling out of the shed wearing a 500-pound cape—now that would make me smile. The room on the right houses the lawn mower and tools that can’t fit in my one-car garage. The room on the left is the potting shed with shelves for various containers. And the middle room is a place to sit with friends and family.
I love to make jokes about my life and my family escapades, but I also am so grateful for how fortunate I have been to have had a creative family who always had a vision and asked, “What if…”
Andy Newcom, an expert photo stylist at Hallmark’s Union Hill Studios, knows his way around a garden. Today, he’s helping us bring the outside in with some of his best innovative (and easy!) floral tips.
I go a little crazy each spring. After a long Kansas City winter, I love getting back outside and spending a day working in the yard. Part of the attraction is just being outside without wearing five layers of clothing. Part of the fun is checking on plants that have been dormant for several months. Part of the joy is planning for new additions to the garden, and I get great satisfaction from the meditative quality gardening provides.
I feel such a connection to nature that I find myself dragging it inside on a regular basis. I want to give you some tips on how you can experience a dose of greenery with little-to-no garden and little-to-no experience.
Weeds get a bad rap, as do vines that have a tendency to take over. Usually they are the first signs of life in spring that are cursed and then plucked. I understand the reaction, but in the right light they posses a beauty all their own. Really!
I have wild onion that seems to spread and grow every spring, and they crack me up. Onion grows amazingly long with a little round ball of a flower at the very end of this exaggerated, upside-down exclamation point.
I can’t help looking at these Dr. Suess-like strands combined with invasive ivy without smiling. I tend to look at plants the way I look at people: There are certain people who may seem annoying and pop up where and when you don’t want them to. But if I change how I look at them, they start to take on great individual and quirky charm that I’m quite fond of.
You don’t have to have a garden or even access to one. I do not want to leave out those who are apartment or condo dwellers. There are great, inexpensive plants and natural souvenirs available to everyone.
Yellow Billy Balls can be purchased from local florists and even online. They don’t need water and will last for years. Billy Balls are cheerful and add visual interest to any room. Just be careful when you search Billy Balls on your computer…and I dare you to go into your florist and ask with great confidence where Billy Balls can be found!
Daisies may seem common, but they are one of my favorite flowers. They are readily available through grocery-store flower departments and florists. They are relatively inexpensive and will last a relatively long time. They make me smile.
If nothing else, go on a hike in a local park and collect objects from nature. House your souvenirs in a decorative bowl. (Learn which plants are dangerous to small children and pets and avoid those at all cost!)
Make a powerful statement with color. Hydrangeas come in such beautiful values of purple, pink and blue. I love to put them on display with non-floral interior objects that pick up those same colors. Think of it as the “Garanimals” of floral design.
Most people don’t have access to massive garden material right outside of their front door, but something as simple as a flowering branch can be snipped from a tree and tucked into a glass bottle.
Speaking of right outside of the front door, I have a Sweet Bay magnolia right outside of mine. I planted it there so when I come home—or people come to visit—we will be enveloped in the beautiful, clean, lemony smell of the Sweet Bay blossom.
If you bring a great-smelling plant inside your home, put it on display where you can take a big whiff every once in awhile. If you bring in a stinky plant, like a daisy or a pear tree branch, keep it a good distance from your nostrils; they are not to be whiffed. Keep all smelly plants, good and bad, from the dinner table. You don’t want dinner to taste like potpourri.
SO SWEET: DITCH FLOWERS
I don’t know if this is true for every part of the country, but out in the countryside around Kansas City are plants lovingly referred to as “ditch flowers”. These are flowers that grow wild in ditches along the road. Flowers that hang out in wrong places, if you know what I mean.
I don’t want anyone going to jail, and I don’t want to be an accessory to criminal activity, but let’s just say it’s a beautiful summer day, and I’m going for a drive out in the country, and let’s just say I pull over to take in all of the natural beauty of my surroundings, and, hypothetically, let’s say there happens to be a ditch full of Queen’s Anne’s Lace right next to me! I might pull up a stem or two and drop them in my “Big Gulp” cup and take that delicate little wonder home with me. Because I don’t want to be greedy, I only take one or two, and to enhance their sweetness, I put them in a tiny antique saltshaker. How could I get in trouble for something that cute?
I love peonies because they are a little bit country and a little bit fancy-pants. When I think of peonies, I think of small towns, farmhouses and grandmas. When I think of peonies, I think of French, manicured estates with lots of gold gilt and sterling trays piled with pastries. (I always work French pastries into anything I’m thinking of).
Peonies are both farmhouses and French estates, and if you are lucky enough to have some in your yard, cut them and bring those awe-inspiring blooms inside. If you don’t have any, but your neighbors do, bring those inside. (I don’t think they’ll mind.) Don’t fret about arranging. Just cut those beauties and plop them in a pitcher. You can’t go wrong! Anyone who comes into your home while your peonies are on display will automatically think you are a floral genius.
NO SKILL REQUIRED
Brown Bracken, peonies, roses and other big-boned flowers can be cut below the bloom and floated in a container of water. What could be more simple or beautiful? Sometimes simple and understated is best.
I not only love nature, but I love all kinds of containers. (If you can love that type of thing, and, as a photo stylist, let me tell you that it is sickeningly possible.) I love 1800s English Ironstone and 1700s hand-blown glass with its air bubbles and all of its glorious imperfections showing. But I understand that most “normal” people are not into this.
I also have my simple, down-home, let’s-have-a-big-shin-dig-after-the-barn-raisin’ country-boy side, and I equally appreciate plopping a bunch of fresh-picked posies in a tin can. Just wash out the bean residue first.
Anything that can hold water can be a container for flowers.
A few times a year, I find myself trimming trees in my yard. Unlike my dad who likes to trim bushes and trees and anything in his sight within an inch of its life, I try to show a little restraint. But not always. I am his son, after all.
I have a grove of redbuds that I trim on a regular basis, partly because they are planted close to one another. After giving them a spring haircut, I started to put the debris in a garden sack, but then thought better of it. Why not bring one of those magnificent branches with beautiful heart-shaped leaves into my home?
What I really love about large branches inside is that they take on architectural significance, especially in a simple interior environment. Just make sure your container is heavy enough to support the branch so that the branch doesn’t fall over and bonk somebody on the head. Beauty doesn’t need to hurt.
BRING IT ON HOME…LITERALLY
I hope that I have been able to show that you don’t need an English garden full of beautiful blooming flowers to enjoy elements of nature in your own home.
Use and take advantage of what you have available. Most importantly, surround yourself with the natural world as often as possible. Respect nature, and the benefits will be great and varied. Share what you grow with others; this little act of kindness and goodness is more meaningful than I can express. I still have fond memories of spending summers in Lamoni, Iowa, with my grandparents and the many flowers that went from garden to inside and from garden to neighbors’ homes. I cherish those simple memories.
I leave you with a walk through my backyard as I gather branches and greenery for an arrangement I’m putting together in my garden shed. I’m not sure who will receive it, but it will be fun to think about the possible recipient. Get outside, get dirty and enjoy the garden—you will be better for it.
Speaking of my garden shed, go to the Hallmark Facebook page to watch the video of my dad and I building my garden shed in memory of my mom. My mother is the one that gave me my love of gardening and I am eternally grateful.
Jennifer Dreiling is a Senior Producer for Hallmark’s video team at Union Hill Studios. In 2014 she decided to start choosing experiences over things. And in January she declared 2015 The Year of Adventure. She and fellow Hallmarker Jane Kortright, who shot this story, have been discussing the idea of adventures for sometime now. This is their first one together…but not their last.
I grew up near the tallgrass prairies of Kansas. I have found great peace in their quiet magnitude—and some seriously good times.
It’s a nearly indescribable event. A full orchestra is plunked down on the endless prairie, where they play under the setting sun. Poets read verse on the virtues of nature, and some legendary BBQ is plated and served up hot.
And though I can get down with some Kansas City BBQ, I much prefer to pack the perfect summer picnic.
I work at Hallmark’s Photography & Motion Studio, and I’m surrounded by the “pretty” on a daily basis. Walk into any of our studios, and you’ll find dreamlike settings being created for various projects. And I’ve learned from my time here (and from nature) that pretty doesn’t have to be fussy. It can be simple, thoughtful and practical.
Knowing that we would have a 45-minute hike to the orchestra’s clamshell, it was important to me that all our provisions could be tucked away in my backpack: a soft-as-can-be blanket for lounging, an oversized tea towel to serve as our table on top of the blanket, tin cups for beverage sipping, and a few colorful snacks and salads to bring it all together. For food prep, I like having a few recipes that I can go back to again and again to help lighten the mental load!
The simplicity of our summer picnic allowed for the music to be heard, the sun felt, the experience absorbed…and an adventure to be told.
A Healthy Version of the Asian Cabbage Salad We All Secretly Love at Potlucks
1 head of purple cabbage (or Napa or whatever, but the purple adds such great color)
½ red pepper, sliced
½ cup green onion, chopped
¼ cup slivered almonds (optional)
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sesame seed oil
2 t. sesame seeds (I use both black and white seeds for party-good-time-vibes)
1 T. local honey
½ t. sea salt
Combine dressing ingredients and shake like a maniac. Pour over slaw mixture and toss. Stores well in the fridge for three to four days. I like to add a few avocado slices to the slaw. (Actually, I like to add avocado slices to everything.)
Carrot Ginger Dressing/Dip
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
2 T. fresh ginger, chopped,
1 T. sweet white miso
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. sesame seed oil
¼ cup grapeseed or olive oil
Pulse the carrot, shallot and ginger in a blender until finely chopped. Add the miso, vinegar, and sesame seed oil and whirl about further. While the blender is running, drizzle in the remaining oil until smooth and velvet-y.
Angela Snyder is a graphic designer on Hallmark’s visual merchandising team. Off-hours, she and her husband create delightfully nerdy found-object robots that you will probably dig as much as we do. Today, she’s giving us the behind-the-scenes scoop on how her team created the innovative fixtures that highlight Hallmark’s newest Keepsake Ornament lineup.
It’s July, one of the hottest months of the year. Chances are you’re planning your summer vacation, soaking up some sunshine and spending long lazy hours poolside. However, if you happen to work on Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, your summer is consumed by something a little more unexpected, because it’s Christmas in July around here.
July 11 marked the big release of this year’s line of Keepsake Ornaments, artist-crafted ornaments so popular with our consumers and collectors that they start selling in the summer and don’t let up until after the holidays are over. As visual merchandisers, it’s our job to show off Hallmark’s products in the best way possible within our stores, and Keepsake Ornaments present a unique opportunity to create a large, dimensional display that showcases these hundreds of little pieces.
We started early on the concepts for this year’s wall. After deciding that we wanted to focus on the artistry and craftsmanship behind our ornaments, we gathered research and created mood boards that supported our theme. We scoured local antique stores, hardware stores and art supply shops looking for unique materials that we could use. Each of us brought in little things we found interesting for pieces of inspiration. We embraced materials like peg board, wood and unfinished corrugate for our display.
Because we wanted to pull the curtain back on the ornament-making process for our consumers, we met with several Keepsake artists to learn what goes into making each piece. It was fascinating to hear how different artists use different methods. Many start with sketches and then use little tools to sculpt their ornaments out of clay. Molds are made and paint is applied. Some even use special software and 3D printers to bring their ornaments to life.
We decided to add several vignettes into the display that show the behind-the-scenes work for specific ornaments. Visit a Gold Crown store to discover the inspiration behind the ornaments, view process sketches and see the artists working on their creations.
Our final wall design is a custom cut and painted pegboard with wood details sprinkled throughout. We added in a few sections of printed corrugate and brought in holiday illustrations for color and visual interest. Because we wanted to emphasize that each ornament is created by an actual Hallmark artist, we gathered all of the artists’ signatures and printed them next to their finished pieces.
After months and months of research, planning, design and production, we’re so excited to finally share our finished display with our customers. Drop by your local Gold Crown store to see it for yourself and make sure to come back after October 3 to see the second iteration of the wall, complete with a brand-new design and even more ornaments!