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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: Decor

Enter If You Dare: Halloween-Inspired Décor

Marc-Ryan Group

Each year as Halloween approaches I get excited for the start of the Autumnal season of holidays and traditions.  The weather starts to cool off, spiced apple drinks start to flow (I like mine spiked!), and Halloween inaugurates the holiday celebrations with fun and creativity.

There are many directions to go when decorating for Halloween.  From kitsch to all-out ghoulish crypt-keeping, often I am left with piles of decorations in November that immediately need to be stored to make way for Thanksgiving.  This year I decided to take a different approach.  Less pumpkin tchotchke and no conversion to a full cemetery in my living room.  Instead, Halloween this year will be paired down to be sophisticated, chic, and best of all done in minutes!

My inspiration for a sophisticated Halloween theme is to utilize a monochromatic color palate of sumptuous black tones, and then to create focused vignettes in specific areas around the apartment.  This keeps the decoration contained and easier to manage and is visually more dramatic.

I also approached my theme with classic easy-to-find decorations in the seasonal aisle in my grocery store and drug store, but layered them in a more curated way.  As beautiful as many of the high-end Halloween decorations can be, they have to be stored year after year, and may not fit your style or space the next Halloween.  All of my decorations fit in a plastic boot-sized storage container for all holidays (except Christmas, of course).

The simplicity of a monochromatic palate is enhanced with different textures in the same black tones, which adds depth, interest, and a more layered look.  Use this visual All-Hallows-Eve photo series as inspiration for your own SPOOKtacular décor!  Pick and choose the elements that resonate with you, play some Halloween-inspired tunes (Pandora: Halloween Party Radio is my choice!), and just have fun adding some BOOtiful elements to make your space come alive – if you dare!

Happy Halloween!

Cobwebs, Spiders, and Crows - OH MY!

Everyday Items Get a SPOOKtacular Makeover!

A Centerpiece Worthy of Frightful Screams!

Classic Halloween Icons Perfect for Place Cards or Food Markers!

BOOtiful Halloween Details!

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Small But Mighty Kitchen!

Marc J. Sievers

My kitchen is my workshop, my office, and my playground!  I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen recipe testing for my new book (coming later this year!) and my blog La Vie Piquant, and of course creating all kinds of dishes and desserts for cocktail and dinner parties.  I have put a lot of thought and love into my kitchen, to make it both functional and inspirational.

Recently, I had a few renovations done to further improve the look and feel of my small but mighty kitchen!  In fact, I’m so excited about the updates that I kicked off Series 4 of From My Kitchen to Yours with a webisode dedicated to giving you a tour of my mighty little kitchen and some of the thinking and purpose behind my design choices.  This is my real kitchen in my apartment in Chicago.  No studio or sets involved!  This is where I do all my creative development for my books, blog, and professional services.  Watch the webisode below, and here I include a few more ideas and detail that didn’t make it into the webisode.

While I didn’t outline each and every detail of my new kitchen, I think that ones that I highlighted are really ideas and concepts that can work in any kitchen, regardless of the size.  When you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, having a space that is as customized to fit your needs is essential.  The kitchen, for me, has never been a place for the latest trendy things—it is a place that artfully combines the functional and the beautiful.  Timeless tools, like a food mill for example, will always have a place in my kitchen, along with cozy details that reflect my tastes and personality.  (Did you catch the photograph above the doorframe?  That’s my Nan’s kitchen where I first learned to cook.)

Here are some of the highlights I mentioned in my webisode, as well as some additional design ideas:

Under-Cabinet Lighting

This small details adds instant warmth to any kitchen.  It also offers a lovely glow during dinner parties, particularly if your kitchen can be seen or is open to the dining room.  I opted for LED lighting that simply plugs into any standard wall outlet—no electrician needed!

Peg Board

My board is the “work horse” of my small kitchen.  Not only do I store some of my most-used kitchen equipment, but it also holds items that are either bulky or hard to store.  For me, having things out in the open reminds that I have them (and to use them!).


Even though my refrigerator is just a standard size and design, I have customized it to suit my needs.  I changed the function of the crisper draws by removing them completely and lining the base with a rubberized mat to store bottles of Champagne, white wine, and other bottles.  Now, instead of fresh produce disappearing into a drawer to be forgotten, all of my fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits are stored in line-of-sight on the shelves, making it easier to “shop” my own refrigerator. 

That works only because I also organized all the other “stuff” that shares the shelves with my produce, grouping bottles of condiments and other items in clear refrigerator-safe plastic bins.  This saves me from the unwieldy mess that can happen with refrigerator shelves, and the dreaded “lost bottles” or “mystery cheese” that are only ever found again then they break, stink, or you move.

No Microwave

My microwave was positioned directly over my stovetop and was what I stared at all day when in the kitchen cooking—it drove me CRAZY!  So, I had it removed and installed a decorative (but functional) glass shelf in its place.  First, that got the hulking beast of a thing out of my face, and opened up the space.  It also allowed me to free up my limited counter space from the myriad little things that seem to multiply, like salts, pepper, oil, etc.  Now, I store things I use almost every day when cooking:  Salts, pepper mills, a timer, Cognac, and more.  I replaced the microwave with a much smaller model and moved it to the top of the cabinets.  This works for me since I don’t use my microwave very often.  I drilled a small hole in the top of the cabinet to feed the power cord through and plugged it in to the existing power source inside the upper cabinet where the old unit was plugged into.  One the best visual and functional changes to the kitchen.

Baking Center

I purposely segmented my kitchen into areas for different types of cooking:  Savory and sweet.  It also helps when Ryan and I are in the kitchen together.  A planned space is a harmonious space!  My baking center is where I store all of the baking accoutrements, ingredients, pans, and flat sheets of parchment paper.  I store all of my chocolate-based ingredients and nuts and dried fruits in small plastic bins.  This allows me to pull down the bin and riffle through it looking for exactly what I need without making a mess of the entire cabinet every time.

Wall Mounted Knife & Spice Rack

Because counter space is limited and a true commodity in my kitchen, I try to keep as much off the countertops as possible!  I mounted a magnetic knife strip to the wall, opting to get rid of a clunky knife block.  I also did the same with spice racks.  Even my utensil crocs are taller, narrow, and have a small footprint.

Upper Cabinet Storage

Since my cabinets do not go all the way to the ceiling, I have utilized that precious space for storing glass jars with dried grains, beans, large appliances (like a small microwave, convection oven, Champagne/party tub, etc.), and bottles sparkling and still water.

All Food, No Dishes

Only one cabinet has mugs and everyday drinking glasses in it, otherwise I made a conscious choice to store only food and equipment for preparing food in the kitchen.  That way the kitchen is fully functional as the place for food prep and cooking, and the dining room is fully functional with all of the dishes and glassware at the ready in the cabinets and buffet that are located right near the dining table.  At first, it felt like I was breaking some sort of kitchen rule.  But, once I realized that it was functionally awkward to do it any other way, it just made sense and works so well.

Décor Updates

I had the countertops replaced with a light quartz and changed the wall color from a dark chocolate brown to a lighter French gray.  I kept the blond cabinets as the wood tone softens the space while keeping it airy.  My signature color is orange (have you noticed around here?!) and so I chose to paint the peg board orange and let the color peek through the utensils, pans, and equipment.  It gives a lively energy and really makes the peg board a fun focal point that’s part of the ambiance and design of the kitchen.  But, I didn’t use the orange any other place.  In small spaces it is easy to overdo it.  And on that note, I removed many of the decorative bobbles I used to have on the walls.  Over time it started to feel a bit cluttered and became a bit heavy.  With the new lighter French gray, I decided to pair everything down to what is most meaningful to me.  The uncluttered look helps when I get whipped up into a frenzy in the kitchen and don’t feel overwhelmed.

Lastly, I had the tile floors redone to match the wood floors in the rest of the apartment.  The darker floors actually soften the space and make it warmer without making it feel smaller.  In fact, by having the wood of the apartment extend into the kitchen it actually feels more cohesive and connected, and even a bit larger.  It is amazing how updating just a few square feet of space can have such a dramatic effect.

Over-Head Lighting

I mentioned the under-counter, but I also updated the lights in the ceiling with “daylight” toned LED lights and put them on dimmers.  When I really need bright light in the kitchen I can crank them up and see what I need to see, without additional heat.

Little Adjustments

My kitchen, like everyone else’s, has its quirks.  One of which is no dedicated ventilation.  So, I bought a tower fan that hides just outside the kitchen.  When I’m baking or using all the burners at once, it slides over and circulates the air wonderfully.  A little addition that has made an enormous difference.

I also have a very shallow sink (the dishwasher is below it) with no possibility of a sprayer.  So, I found a fabulous Italian spring-mounted faucet with a sprayer built in!  And lastly, I softened the door frame (which has no door) with an asymmetrical curtain, which can be drawn to close off the space visually if I ever want to during a dinner party.

I hope these design ideas and tips that I’ve developed for my kitchen are useful and you find some inspiration for taking a fresh approach with your own space.  I’m always curious and trying to innovate, so if you have your own ideas please share them in a comment below!

Happy kitchening!

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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Soup Tureen Floral Arrangement for VRAI Magazine

Marc J. Sievers

Architects and designers call it “adaptive reuse”—I call it savvy uses for what you already own.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  I did, and for once I think I can actually stick to it (unlike that “use less butter” one I made two years ago).  This year, I have vowed to shop less for home décor and kitchen accoutrements and to find new and savvy uses for things I already own but that do not get used every day.  I have a complete and utter love (or obsession, if you ask my husband) for all things entertaining related.

Each day, as I walk by one of my china cabinets (I may have six—shhhh!), there is a beautiful French soup tureen that just begs to be used.  Pure white porcelain with lion head details and an elegant profile—it is probably one of my favorite pieces.  Upon a closer observation, it is just a bowl, a vessel that can hold anything, not just soup!  I was planning a dinner party a few days ahead and wanted to surprise my guests with an arrangement for the coffee table (where cocktails would be served) that wasn't my normal low-lying flower ball.  Since soup was not on the menu, I imagined my tureen could be my “vase”!  My thought wasn't even complete, but I bundled up and headed out to my local grocery store in search for my favorite flower—white hydrangeas.

  1. Cut a piece of floral foam (oasis) to fit the size of your tureen (or other vessel). It does not have to completely fill the interior, but should be large enough to rest securely on the base of your container.

  2. Fill your kitchen sink with tepid water. Place the foam on top of the water and allow it to gradually soak up water, until it is completely submerged. Gently remove the foam from the water and place it into your vessel.

  3. Cut the stems of your blooms, on a diagonal, to the desired length. This will ensure each bloom can drink the most water.

  4. Arrange flowers as you would in a vase, pushing each stem into the foam to the desired depth.

  5. Add small amounts of water to the foam daily to ensure flowers are kept as fresh as possible.

**TIP:  Floral foam is very forgiving.  If you don’t like the shape you created using the flowers, gently pull the flowers out and start again!

If flowers are too fussy, try these other ideas:

  • Line a tureen with a linen napkin and use as a bread basket

  • An elegant fruit bowl

  • A cache pot (think how elegant an orchid would look!)

  • An ice bucket with silver tongs for cocktail parties

  • A silver tray filled with canapés set on top adds height to a food table or buffet

  • As a punch bowl filled with my Pear and Orange Punch

  • As a serving bowl – pasta, mashed potatoes, and of course soup

My original article was on VRAI Magazine - January 2015

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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Fall Entertaining Ideas

Marc J. Sievers

My philosophy for entertaining has always been “love is in the details”. It’s the little details that can really make your soirée a day or evening to remember. Details do not have to be elaborate, complicated, or expensive. They should be savvy, creative, and re-creatable time and time again, but with a twist. Oh, and fabulous! With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to show you how you can transition simple concepts, textures, and ideas into inspired details for Fall parties, whether you are entertaining two or twenty.

Whether you are entertaining in your studio apartment, on your kitchen island, or in an expansive dining room, having a centerpiece or focal point helps to ground everything around it. For a smaller table, just one piece will do. For a larger table or sideboard, use multiple of the same arrangement to create a more impactful look.

Here I used a simple glass hurricane, white pillar candle, cake pedestal (for height), wreath picks (that you can save and reuse year after year), and mini pumpkins. This arrangement will last for weeks without any maintenance, except for changing out the candle as your burn through it. The same hurricane can be used for other holidays of everyday décor.

Look to your local grocery store for fabulous supplies for your table! My local grocery store is my #1 place where I get all my flowers. I buy like-colors and arrange them in multiples down the center of my table, add one to my guest bathroom, coffee table, and bar top. This will help carry my theme through the entirety of my chateau apartment.

Here I used clean, covered tomato cans as vases. I also turned turnips, which are the epitome of Fall, into votive holders. Because of their natural texture and tones they take on a pottery feel and add such rustic-chic charm! Mini pumpkins also make adorable votive holders.

Details like these place card holders with fresh rosemary (you can also use thyme, sage, or your favorite combination) adds lovely aromatics as well as a statement to your table. Guests can then take their little bundle home with them and cook with the herbs and use the place marker as a book markers for their favorite cookbook.

Wreath picks and mini pumpkins take on another concept in my favorite French antique wooden bowl. For years this has been my “seasonal bowl”. It gets a makeover once a month and is always filled with fabulous goodies. This can be set out on September 1st and kept through Thanksgiving.

Starting out organized is the first key to a successful soirée. Here are my top 5 tips to follow: 

  1. Start by choosing the style of party; a plated dinner (more formal feel), family-style (informal, casual), buffet or potluck (great for large groups), or cocktail party (perfect for a specific theme).

  2. Focus on a special dish or “show-stopper” and use the following tips and tricks for everything else to help you along the way. This won’t be your last dinner party or soirée, so focus on one thing and do it fantastically, then try something different for the next!

  3. Balancing your time and resources will help both you and your guests enjoy the party to the fullest! Don’t feel obligated to pull out the “big-guns” for every element you are going to serve. Find store-bought brands that you love and trust, and integrate those pre-made components in the steps that make the most sense for the assistance that you need to successfully host your soirée.

  4. Having a theme to your soirée and the food you serve is essential, but don’t go overboard. Try not to be too literal with your tablescape and décor.

  5. If you don’t have a coat closet (or it’s full!), set up a portable garment rolling rack in the foyer or bedroom for coats. Make sure to have plenty of wooden hangers at the ready.

Happy Fall entertaining!

My original article was published on VRAI Magazine - October 2014

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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