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Designs by Alina:  Handcrafted jewelry fabricated with gold, pave diamonds, and choice pearls for the sophisticated modern-classic woman. Beauty and inspiration forever entwined. Lifestyle blog on design, travel, fashion, family.

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Designs by Alina Lifestyle Magazine

Blog, Travel, family, interior design, jewelry design and fashion.

 

 

HOW TO ARRANGE FLOWERS LIKE THE PROS

Alina de Albergaria

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“Why tempt perfection?” I thought.

Yes, I was once a purist when it came to flowers, rarely mixing them until our two year stint in San Francisco compelled me to turn over a new leaf. Our family has been fortunate to have had beautiful gardens in Santa Barbara from which I frequently cut flowers to embellish our interior spaces. The city however, challenged my penchant for floriculture as we hadn’t as much as a square inch of green. Determined to bring the outdoors in, I began to pay weekly visits to The Bud Stop near our Pacific Heights home, where my favorite floral artist created gorgeous bouquets for her clients on the spot.

Before long we were designing my bouquets together laying the foundation for my own exploration into mindful blending with varietals from San Francisco’s Flower Mart (second only to the one in L.A.) The joy I derive from flowers is such that a vendor once told me that I looked like a child in a candy store with covetous eyes and wide grin. He’s right, and I am happy to relive those moments while sharing some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

Mamma’s little helper at the San Francisco Flower Mart

Mamma’s little helper at the San Francisco Flower Mart

 1) Grouping

Elevating or placing focal flowers in front as well as infusing round shapes with elongated ones for balance and drama is key. Balance can also be achieved by designing in odd numbers. I typically use three or five of a kind versus four or six unless I am using a very large number of a single variety in which case I add them one by one until I achieve the desired look. Designers are often taught that symmetry is crucial. While in most scenarios I tend to agree, when it comes to floral art, a departure from the norm such as elevating fillers on one side while allowing foliage to cascade on the other can be absolutely stunning.

2) Adding fillers

I have never been a fan of tiny floral fillers like Baby’s Breath, favoring instead solid greens like lemon leaves, myrtle, or eucalyptus leaves depending on the hue and shape of the blossoms. This gives the arrangement a cleaner, more refined look. Another filler I love that is currently in season are Hypericum berries (below) which are available in white, green, and shades of pink, peach and red.

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3) Vases

Opt for vases that complement your blooms and their placement in the home, keeping in mind that some flowers like tulips and lilies continue to grow in water. A taller vase would be better suited, for example, to an entryway or kitchen island than a nightstand. I like to infuse classic with modern by collecting glass, stainless steel, pewter and wooden containers. Recently I purchased the classic vase below with a gold accent which mirrors similar hues our dining room (below.) But when I am in a whimsical mood, I might tie cork ribbon or raffia around a vase (above.)

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4) Buy local

I have much respect for farmers who are up shortly after midnight setting up their booths at 3:00AM. While it may not always feasible, especially in some agricultural zones, I strive to support local suppliers who offer the freshest blooms. Furthermore most imported flowers negatively impact the environment as they require refrigeration and contain many chemicals to preserve them in preparation for transport.

5) Learn about seasonal varietals

Purchasing seasonal flowers to me is as natural as opting for seasonal vegetables and fruit. In Southern California we can still find garden roses well into November. As we head into winter, I enjoy designing with hydrangeas while incorporating gourds and pomegranates into my arrangements. Lilacs, which are mostly harvested in late April and May are an all time favorite of mine so I am always on the lookout for them. If a flower you love is out of season, consider similar ones. Garden-style spray roses, for example, are very similar to Ranunculus. And if you are peony obsessed like I am, you will be happy to discover that some garden roses are very similar to peonies (bottom left) like these David Austin Yves Piaget and O’Hara roses from our garden (below right).

6) Feed your flowers

Always use flower food, especially on the first day as it really does make a difference. In a pinch I find that a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of bleach keep the flowers happy and water clear. One of the Santa Barbara Farmers Market vendors swears by a penny in the vase which seemingly aids in preventing bacteria growth, though I haven't found this method to be very effective.

7) Flower Maintenance

Cut the stems at an angle to insure maximum hydration and repeat this practice along with changing the water in your vase every 2-3 days. This is crucial to discourage bacteria growth. I don't find that refeeding makes much of a difference but feel free to do so, it will never hurt.

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8) Tip for hydrangeas

Have you ever bought perfect hydrangeas only to discover that a couple of hours after placing them in your home they droop over seemingly on their last leg? I used to get quite frustrated until I discovered that they were simply thirsty. These elegant blooms need A LOT of water and unlike most flowers they hydrate not only from the stem but from the petals too. Cut the stem at a very sharp angle and immediately submerge it in one inch of very hot water for 30 seconds. The heat breaks down the sap allowing the flower to absorb water. If they need an additional boost, try removing larger leaves because as gorgeous as they are, they may be robbing nutrients from the bloom. You can also try misting the with water, but be mindful of adjacent flowers, most of which have an aversion to moisture.

The most important tip I can impart is that you give yourself ample time to experiment. On several occasions I have spent the better part of an hour on a single vase! So pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the journey which is just as delightful as contemplating your finished bouquet!

Where to Stay in the Newly Gentrified Downtown L.A.

Alina de Albergaria

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When our daughter asked to see Billie Eilish perform in Los Angeles, I froze remembering that I had promised myself never again to attend a large venue concert. In 2014, our then eleven-year-old son reintroduced us to the Beatles while learning to play the bass. He could never have imagined the beautiful impact his musical choice would have had on our family. The memories of the five of us dancing around the kitchen island to Here Comes the Sun and his favorite All My Loving are forever etched in our minds. My husband and I were excited to take him to see Paul McCartney at Candlestick Park, the last scheduled event in the 54-year-old stadium. His joy that evening was priceless, but being stranded until the wee hours of the morning in an unfamiliar town, had me literally shaking in my boots. I vowed to forever forego the urban madness in favor of our beautiful Santa Barbara bowl, where top notch performers like Rod Stewart, Katie Perry, and Sting perform under the stars.

But…

Three days before Billie Eilish was scheduled to play in LA, I was told that the venue was not the beast I had imagined but the Shrine Auditorium where I had covered the Academy Awards in the late nineties. At one tenth the size of its Candlestick Park cousin, the Shrine was definitely doable so a few moms embarked on an L.A. adventure with eight preteen/teen girls to see the concert of their dreams. Like five years ago with our son, the experience was thrilling. Nothing compares to bearing witness to your child’s emotionally charged cries of joy.

 
 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the South Park district of downtown L.A. where we stayed, was completely devoid of trash, a permanent fixture along with many homeless people just a decade ago.

An iconic beacon of change in an ever-evolving downtown, our Hotel Figueroa oozed L.A. culture with a nod to the past, not least by showcasing compelling works by local and international artists, continually reminding us that we were experiencing the city’s thriving art scene at every turn.

The boutique appeal of this downtown landmark is undeniable. Flanked on one side by a Spanish style fireplace and on the other by Veranda restaurant, the pool is in equal measure breathtaking and quaint. Rather than defying the skyscraper surroundings, Hotel Figueroa embraces them with a multistory mural reminiscent of the classic-modern fig tree wallpaper I fell in love with in our bathroom.

The hotel boasts three restaurants and two bars, one of which is located in the lobby lounge where the breakfast buffet is served. Bar Figueroa is in one word “sexy,” with perfectly mismatched furniture and trendsetting art exquisitely juxtaposed with Spanish Colonial architecture, an ambitious design aesthetic which Hotel Figueroa achieves flawlessly. The idea of kicking off the day in a sun-kissed room, hinting at the night before, is yet another example of opposing design elements which coexist in perfect harmony.

 
 

The room decor echoed that of the lobby, an exquisite marriage of today and yesteryear. The only downside is that there was neither a mini bar nor room service at night which seemed like an opportunity lost. We returned from the concert at 11:30 with our hearts set on some pintxos (the Basque word for Spanish tapas or appetizers) from the hotel’s Breva Restaurant which had closed a half hour earlier. The concierge recommended ordering from L.A. Cafe, but our delivery arrived nearly an hour later when we were already asleep.

 
 

I am not eager to attend an event at the nearby Staples or Convention Center, but there is no question that next time DTLA calls, I’ll come running…straight to the Hotel Figueroa (and I will be certain to order some pintxos when I do!)

Hotel Figueroa, 939 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, California 90015

Photos 1, 3, 9, 10, 20, 21 : courtesy of Hotel Figueroa. All others: Designs by Alina

 
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Embracing Happiness and Melancholy

Alina de Albergaria

Change is cathartic even when we don’t like it.

For the most part I have been flying high ever since we returned to our beloved Santa Barbara in 2016. Two weeks ago we took the children to Spain and Greece, an experience replete with ups and downs, the latter, I assume due to modern day society in which families ostensibly live separate lives under the same roof.

As a child, I spent most of my free time with my brothers, riding bikes, jumping rope and playing jacks, later spending it with friends and absorbing new cultures for I had lived in three continents by the time I was sixteen. Television was enjoyed alongside my siblings and/or parents, daily family dinners were never optional, and on Sundays my father would usher us into the living room to share new discoveries from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For better or worse, human interaction was the norm as my life unfolded.

Cut to the Computer Age.

Never in the history of humankind has man experienced such rapid change. Gone are the days of continuous sibling interaction, spontaneous bike rides, jump rope and jacks. Instead parents carpool their children all over Timbuktu for exercise and social interaction. Now that our teen twins and their friends drive, that lifestyle continues to keep them entertained, though more often than not, the interaction between a half dozen kids in the same room is usurped by their iphones. We strive to follow weekend brunches with board games which our youngest has wittily dubbed “bored games,” her fingers itching to tap, type, and scroll. We encourage the children to sit with us in the library to read, but I find myself getting irritated with their inability to stay focussed and end up insisting that they place their phones in the kitchen. Our three television sets take a back seat to laptops which lure them away from us and each other with infinite on-demand entertainment choices. Sunday family movie nights have become increasingly challenging as we all struggle to agree on what to watch. My husband and I are no exception. Hard-wired with “Encyclopedia Sundays”, I desperately seek educational or inspirational content from which the children might learn while my husband wants them to simply have fun. (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who is the first to get outvoted.) In an effort to keep the peace our Sunday movie nights have dwindled down to bi-monthly movie nights, and even then the five of us are rarely, if ever, present.

Our aforementioned trip presented its share of challenges. Being together in tight spaces (airplanes, taxis, hotel rooms) with intermittent internet access meant that we were obligated to interact with one another continuously, something that modern life does not foster. Furthermore we were scheduled to visit friends and family in Barcelona, including my elderly mother who is in an assisted living facility. Less freedom of choice was tantamount to conflict. Images of my childhood and adolescence surfaced leading me to crave a roadmap for present day child rearing. But all I could think of was: “We are the guinea pigs of digital age parents,” while trying to remember that so too are our children.

 
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I am infinitely grateful for the sometimes arduous trajectory which brought me to the present, life overflowing with love and abundance. Notwithstanding, excessive scrutiny of modern day parenting coupled with the fascinating book I am reading, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, led to a myriad feelings which may have been responsible for my melancholic mood today, lending credence to the aphorism “ignorance is bliss.”

On my way home from dropping our daughter off to her city college class, I decided to take the beach route home for some respite. Listening to I Know by the Gypsy Kings, the Spanish band which saw me through my thirties, with the morning sun and palm trees in view, I was disappointed to discover that my somber mood did not ameliorate, quite the contrary it deepened. Rather than fighting the feeling I decided to embrace it, parked the car and set foot on the ground of my beloved Santa Barbara, owning my melancholic mood.

 
 

Feeling calm with a renewed perspective, I returned home and reached out to our tween daughter with whom I had experienced the most friction on our trip. I encouraged her to come to my room, where the Gypsy Kings belted out a tune, and we ended up dancing to my music and hers (Billy Eilish) to our heart’s content.

The true value of introspection is clarity. It is important to slow down, to step away from questioning and judging ourselves, especially in today’s inattentive world. My job as a parent is critical, and while my parenting skills (and those of my husband) are far from perfect, I am certain that we are doing our absolute best. That should be, and is, good enough.

Today’s events left me with the realization that I may have been confusing melancholy with nostalgia, a desire to revive, not my own past, but that of mankind, despite knowing that I am happier today than ever before. And because the present cannot be fully appreciated without the past, I will continue to exhibit deference to all the feelings (melancholic or not) that life brings, cognizant of the fact that the ability to feel is life’s greatest gift.

An Oasis in California's Central Coast

Bernardo de Albergaria

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Chances are that if you don’t live in California, what first springs to mind are sandy beaches, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge. But farmland?

Absolutely!

Meet Marfarm, a chic new bed and breakfast located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the heart of Edna Valley’s wine country. The converted barn, which is attached to a working horse stable for a true farm stay experience, is set upon sixty luscious acres with a 360 degree view of rolling hills, each acre meticulously cultivated.

 
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We met the proprietors, Jill and Hamish Marshall, several years ago at a dinner party and became fast friends. Our better halves exchanged stories of life abroad while Jill and I bonded over our joie de vivre and love of design, in particular the use of juxtaposed textures, colors and design elements. In fact, it was Jill who inspired me to launch Designs by Alina back in 2014.

 
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Hamish’s “no worries mate” attitude coupled with Jill’s warmth, wit, and exceptional eye for design, make them the perfect gatekeepers of this secluded oasis. And while Edna Valley may not sound like the place a gifted designer and Aussie adventurer would call home, a simple glance at the haven they have created makes it clear that this is exactly where they need to be.

“Hamish was based here for development back in 1995,” explains Jill. “When I graduated from design school with a jewelry degree, I was persuaded to fall in love with him by my mother. I finally conceded and we’ve been very happily married in Edna Valley for 22 years.” The Marshall world has grown since then with two daughters, four dogs, a cat, a cow, a pig, sixteen horses, twenty-two chickens, a donkey, a new B&B and llamas on the way.

In deference to its roots, the barn interiors are accented in green to complement the original 1930’s dairy floor. Every detail from the Spanish chandelier pendant fabricated with recycled soda bottles and grasses, to the linen bedding, rugged Argentinian throws, and Moroccan tiles hinting at old Americana quilts, attest to Jill’s unrelenting attention to detail and superb design aesthetic.

While beauty and originality abound at every turn, the 9 hand carved wood horned bull heads are a sight to behold. Imported from Bali, these fascinating sculptures can be showcased with 1200 possible light scenarios, though the Marshalls have opted to greet their guests with warm shades of green and sunset rose.

 
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Marfarm’s refined rustic-meets-modern design, perfectly suitable for a wedding or weekend getaway, is an ongoing labor of love. A designer after my own heart, Jill espouses the idea that subtle details speak volumes: “Just being there, placing flowers, cutting fresh fruits, setting the dimmers just right, lighting French candles, making the bar look perfect with wines and fur beer cozies is like playing house, and all those little details offer our guests a visual explosion.”

 
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So next time you wish to discover a place less traveled and simply divine, look no further than Marfarm in San Luis Obispo, where beauty, serenity and joy await. www.marfarm.com

Photos credits: Marfarm and Alina de Albergaria

Springtime in Santa Barbara

Bernardo de Albergaria

I love words.

Having earned a living for the better part of two decades as a television producer, host, and writer, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. However, sometimes words are superfluous, detracting us from the point. So I will merely mention that following a seven year drought, Santa Barbara has finally taken her sweet revenge. Verdant hills and unfamiliar flora abound like the proteas I discovered in our garden yesterday.

Yellow Protea Pincushion

Yellow Protea Pincushion

Aren’t they stunning? In a state of sheer fascination, I fetched my camera to immortalize them and their many companions. Budding persimmons, cherries, plums, peaches, grapes, apples and guavas lie in wait for summer, while avocados, lemons, oranges, grapefruit and tangerines are on the verge of being devoured. Ah, but the roses!

Each spring I feel increasingly grateful for life’s abundance.

And I am fairly certain that this year I am in good company.

Dedicated to Neri, whom our family misses dearly, and to our 🐩 🐩 who love the garden as much as we.