Easy Home Aquaponic System

Home By Design

august | september | 2017

age of aquariums

Maintaining Your Personal Fish Tank Garden


For centuries, farmers have cultivated plants with aquaponic systems. Since at least 11,000 B.C.E, in China, rice has been grown in paddies. When the fields are flooded, fish come in. Ducks also arrive to enjoy the wetlands. The fish and fowl waste feeds the plants, and the plants keep the water clean. When the paddies are drained for harvest, the fish are easy prey, and they too are harvested.

In South America, the second-century Aztecs learned to build chinampas: a series of rectangular raised beds created in Lake Texcoco’s shallow waters. A system of canals between the beds irrigated the plants and provided access by canoe to care for them. Plants flourished in the nutrient-rich lake water, making it possible to harvest at least seven full crops a year.

Now this time-honored symbiotic growing technique is making the leap from commercial agriculture to homeowners. Instead of vast flooded fields or acres of floating gardens, manufacturers are making decorative fish tank systems that combine the soothing pleasures of an aquarium with indoor herb, flower, and vegetable gardens.


This closed-loop, self-cleaning ecosystem frees owners from the necessity of cleaning an aquarium or fertilizing and watering plants. Here’s how it works. Fish waste has high concentrations of ammonia. In streams where the water is continuously running, the waste is flushed away. But in a closed fish tank, the concentrated excretions become toxic to the fish. If you add plants, beneficial bacteria that grow naturally in the potting medium convert the ammonia into nitrates, which fertilize the plants. As the plants continuously take up the nitrate nutrients for growth, they are also cleaning the water for your fish.

Typically, a pump moves the water in the aquarium up to the planting bed, where it continuously flows over the roots. The plant roots take up the nutrients, and the cleaned water runs out through the drainage holes back into the tank.


Maintaining a balanced miniature aquaponic system is easy. When the water level drops due to evaporation and transpiration, top it up with room temperature dechlorinated tap water, maintaining a water level at about one inch from the bottom of the grow bed. According to Tom Sanford of Back to the Roots, an innovative company that sells complete miniature aquaponic kits, it’s not necessary to exchange one-third of the water every month, as is recommended for an aquarium system that is not being purified by plants.

Back to the Roots

Back to the Roots is a California-based company with the goal to help families get back to the roots of growing and eating organic, nutritious, and pure food. Founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora have grown the business to include accessible aquaponic kits, mushroom farms, garden kits, and self-watering planters.


Age of Aquariums

Photography provided by www.backtotheroots.com.

Feed your fish daily, but only as much as they will eat in about five minutes. Otherwise uneaten food will rot at the bottom of the tank. Don’t be overzealous about washing the grow stones. The beneficial bacteria that grow on them are key to the process of converting ammonia to nourishing nitrogen.


Depending on the size of your system, you can grow anything from microgreens such asradish sprouts and wheatgrass to something much larger, such as a braided Japanese money tree (Pachira aquatic). The important thing is to have a balance between the volume of fish waste and plants. The more fish you have, the more plants you’ll need. The goal is to have all the fish excretions taken up as nutrients for the plants. If you purchase a kit, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the ratio of water volume to fish and to plants.

A number of companies offer kits that come with everything you need to get started. The Back to the Roots kit comes with a 3-gallon fish tank and gravel, a submersible water pump, the plant bed, organic seeds and grow stones, natural fertilizer (to jump start the process), fish food, and a coupon for a betta fish. Fin to Flower Aquaponics offers several size options and configurations ranging from a 2.5-gallon tank with three, two-inch grow pots to a 5-gallon tank with two planting tiers, which each hold three, three-inch grow pots. These systems each include a waterfall that returns the circulated water back to the tank, aerates the water, and is visually appealing. Check online to learn more about the many options available on the market.

A home aquaponic system combines the pleasure of tropical fish with the fun of growing plants indoors. You’ll have no weeding, no soil pests, and no watering. It is a great project for the entire family.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on September 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Meshing Modern with Historic

Home By Design

august | september | 2017

timeless in toronto

A Historic Townhome Gets a Modern Face-Lift


It was a blank canvas for designers Ashley Tracey and Laura McLellan. The design principals behind the wildly successful firm The Design Co., which specializes in blending old with new, were tasked with designing the interiors of a three-story, circa-1910 historic townhome. Located in the Casa Loma neighborhood of Toronto, the property did not have a buyer but the duo had one in mind when they imagined just how everything would come together. “The buyers would be Toronto professionals who were rather design savvy, well-traveled, and looking to downsize to a luxury town house such as this,” explains Tracey.

To keep the look consistent throughout the home, the designers installed rich, walnut hardwood floors. And they decided to forgo window treatments to take advantage of the home’s substantial natural light.


Working side by side with developers allowed the designers to have input in the layout of each floor from the beginning of the project. “We started with a super functional and open floor plan,” explains Tracey. “One that would be amazing for entertaining guests. Each room is connected such that guests can flow between rooms without breaking up a party or gathering when entertaining.” Once that was in place, the designers began to address the finishes of the home, which, they say, “needed to ooze luxury.” Rich, walnut hardwood floors run throughout the home and are complemented by sleek Calacatta marble featured in the first-floor living spaces on the floors and counters. “It was very important to Laura and I that the home had good flow and consistency,” says Tracey. “We don’t want rooms to feel choppy and mismatched.”

Because of the home’s original facade—the only part that remains from the 1910 structure—Tracey and McLellan wanted to reference that classical, Georgian-style architecture on the interiors while still bringing a fresh, modern feel to the space, which was all new. “This is why we included many classical design features such as carved marble fireplace surrounds, wood floors, detailed crown molding and baseboard, a classical kitchen design, and more,” says Tracey. “But we also made this place feel new and fresh with furniture and finishes, and modern technologies in the form of appliances [and] speaker systems.”

The fairly neutral color palette would mimic that sleek, classic-yet-modern feel the designers created with the hard finishes and architectural elements. The designers layered various textures—tweeds, cowhide, fur, wood, metal—to help break up the neutral hues but still keep the flow consistent from room to room.

Layers of various textures such as tweed, cowhide, fur, and metal provide interest to each space without impairing the neutral aesthetic.

Timeless in Toronto


Meshing Historic with Modern

Designer Ashley Tracey of The Design Co. offers these tips on designing with old and new.
Keep Finishes Classic
“The hard finishes such as hardwood floors, molding and trim, countertops, [and] kitchen cabinets in a home should be timeless, because you cannot easily change them out without a major expense,” says Tracey. “When designing a home we try to pick hard finishes that are rooted in tradition and will not go out of style in a few years.”
Think Neutral for Your Soft Goods
Invest in furniture that’s neutral and timeless and change it up by layering accessories and textures via pillows and throws. “We recommend choosing classics for the main furniture pieces, the ‘investment-pieces’ such as a sofa, bed, dining table,” says Tracey.
Use Trends in Small Doses
“The element of ‘new,’ contemporary, or ‘trendy’ should come in the form of side tables, art, and accessories,” advises Tracey. “These decor items are easy to switch out if you tire of them or they need a refresh without a substantial cost.”

One of the biggest draws of the home, though, is its hidden rooftop terrace and outdoor living space. On the former, the home boasts spectacular views of downtown Toronto and CN Tower, not to mention breathtaking sunsets. While downstairs, black garden doors run across the entire backside of the house and lead out to an open flagstone courtyard. “It was important that in the summer months, which are decidedly short here in Toronto, homeowners could open up these garden doors and extend their entertaining space into the courtyard,” says Tracey.

Though the resulting design was so impressive that the home sold fully furnished by the exact buyers the designers envisioned for the home, it was still a challenge for Tracey and McLellan. “You are trying to create a stylish, exciting home but you don’t necessarily know who is going to buy this house and what their style is,” says Tracey. “So when we are designing a home like this, we try to appeal to those who appreciate good design, a functional home, and we make sure that there are touches of luxury throughout—because who doesn’t like a bit of luxury? We definitely try to get into the heads of potential buyers and think about how they live and what they would appreciate in a home.” Challenge accepted and fulfilled.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on September 6, 2017 at 8:08 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Ring The Dinner Bell

Home By Design

august | september | 2017

gather round

A Wild West Chuck Wagon Dinner


Did you ever wonder what might have been served at a chuck wagon dinner? Just like dinner around a campfire, food at the chuck wagon was often simple but loaded with flavor and texture. Chuck wagon cooks prided themselves in using creative ingredients for their recipes and treating their diners to a satisfying meal. I’ve taken a few traditional recipes and recreated them with some modern twists while keeping the essence of the chuck wagon meal true to its rich flavors and simple ingredients.

Gather Round


Green beans and shallots are a traditional fall harvest dish. But when cooked in a skillet they taste more like summer. This simple recipe will encourage your whole family to eat their greens.

Serves 4

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or ghee, divided
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ lemon, squeezed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating to a boil, prepare a large bowl of ice water. This will help stop the green beans from cooking after they’ve been blanched in the hot water.

Once the water is boiling, gently add the green beans and then let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then gently transfer them to the ice water with a slotted spoon or mesh spoon. Once the beans have cooled, transfer them to a paper towel–lined plate. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the shallots and sauté until brown and slightly crispy. Season with a little salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate or bowl.

In the same pan, add 2 more tablespoons of oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the blanched green beans and let the beans cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the beans are slightly browned or seared.

SKILLET GREEN BEANS WITH CRISPY SHALLOTSSeason to taste with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Top the beans with the crispy shallots and serve warm.


This chili is filled with hearty pieces of beef and flavorful aromatic ingredients that play perfectly together. It’s a delicious dish that will make everyone in your family come running when they hear the dinner bell ring.

Serves 8

  • 4 ounces bacon, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, if needed
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup finely ground Masa
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups canned or jarred crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup cubed butternut squash or sweet potato
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
  • Dash Tabasco
  • Pickled jalapeno, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream, for garnish

In a large pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until the fat has been rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside.

Season the stew meat with a little salt and pepper and then brown the beef in the bacon fat, adding additional oil if needed. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and reserve.

Next, add the onions to the pot and sauté until wilted. Then stir in the garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. In a small bowl stir together the masa, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, and oregano. Add this to the onions and garlic and stir.

CAMPFIRE BEEF CHILIThen stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, bay leaf, the browned stew meat, and cooked bacon. Bring it to a boil and then cover with a heavy lid and turn down to a simmer.

Simmer for 1½ hours or until the stew meat is almost tender. Add the squash or sweet potato and beans to the pot and continue to cook the stew for 1 hour longer. If the chili liquid is too thin, leave the cover off the pot the last hour of cooking.

When the stew meat is tender, the chili is done. Let the chili cool for at least 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco.

Serve warm with garnishes. This chili can be made a day or two in advance and held in the refrigerator. Just reheat on the stove top before serving. Like most stews and chilis, this dish will taste even better the second day.


Sourdough biscuits were considered a special treat when dining at the chuck wagon. The cook would make a sourdough starter and keep it on the wagon in a dark ceramic crock and use it for biscuits, breads, and sweets. You can find several recipes online to make your own sourdough starter, which takes about three to four weeks. Or, you can order them online and then keep them going in your kitchen for these tasty biscuits and more.

Makes 8 biscuits

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 1 cup unfed sourdough starter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and then using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles little crumbles.

Stir in the sourdough starter and mix until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough into a small disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. This isn’t absolutely necessary; however, I find that cooling the dough keeps the butter from getting too soft and yields a flakier biscuit.

To make the biscuits, add a little flour to the top of the disc and then roll out the dough to about ¾-inch thick. Cut biscuits with a 2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter and then place them in a buttered cast iron skillet, round cake pan, or pie plate.

SOURDOUGH BISCUITSPlace the pan in the oven and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or when the biscuits are golden on top. Remove the biscuits from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes. Serve with jam, honey and butter, or slices of ham and cheese.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 9:28 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Adult Seaside Decor

Home By Design

august | september | 2017

by the sea



The owners of this stately seaside retreat didn’t have to look far for inspiration. To begin, their interior designer, Eileen Marcuvitz of Plum Interiors with locations in Newport, Rhode Island and Naples, Florida, tries to translate her clients’ thoughts into a design that embodies the feeling and flow they desire. In this case, she says, “They wanted the living room to reflect back the colors they see out their window of the sky and blue green of the ocean.”

Another goal for the more formal space in the 8,500-square-foot residence was for it to feel elegant, serene, and comfortable, says the designer who describes the interiors as refined yet comfortable, elegant yet functional, and clean yet richly detailed. “Featuring a serene palette and sculptural shapes, it’s classic with a modern sensibility,” explains Marcuvitz.

Trusses add warmth and detail to the twenty-four-foot ceiling in the living room where the designer relied on her ethereal go-to paint palette consisting of creams and pale blues and greens. “We all lead such busy lives,” she says. “I often strive to create a serene flow of colors in all the projects I work on.” The tranquil space, adjacent to the dining room, features a custom limestone, wood-burning fireplace flanked by cabinets lined in creamy shagreen.

Living Room and Beyond

Texture plays a major role in the living room and beyond. “I like to combine high gloss on some moldings and the wool and silk carpet has a shimmer to it,” says Marcuvitz. “There’s a little bit of leather, soft linen, chenille, and velvet for a combination of textures. Even though the palette is serene, the texture really adds visual interest. It’s truly beautiful.”

Entertaining is a given for the homeowners who often host extended family for weeks at a time in their peaceful retreat. “Everyone feels better there,” says Marcuvitz. “Of course being on the ocean helps!” Though the living room is reserved for more formal gatherings, the wife spends a lot of time there, too. “It’s an escape room for her,” she adds. “It isn’t used as much as the other rooms, so she’ll think nothing of going in there and building a fire.”

In contrast, the family room, which opens to the kitchen, offers a more casual spot for watching television and entertaining. “I often will use outdoor fabric on some of the pieces that we know will be used a lot, such as the family room sofas,” says the designer. “Treated leather is another useful material because it’s washable, stain resistant, and does not scratch.”

The family room in this elegant residence is filled with soothing shades of blue inspired by the glorious oceanfront views.

The Family Room

The Living Room Trend

The Living Room Trend

Designer Eileen Marcuvitz shares her thoughts on why living rooms and grown-ups make the perfect match.

Marcuvitz sees a resurgence in living rooms being more formal and less like family rooms. “Other parts of the home tend to need to be more practical and kid friendly,” says Marcuvitz. “[Living rooms] are getting smaller and they tend to be considered almost sitting rooms.” Yet, she believes the concept that people want luxury and elegance still exists. “The living room is the place to do that because it’s kind of reserved for the adults and intimate entertaining,” she says. This space can provide a peaceful place for a homeowner to escape because it typically doesn’t see as much activity as other areas of the home. You can give your living room a distinct identity like Marcuvitz did with this featured design. While the family room features mostly blues, the living room blends blues and greens.

Most of the furnishings in the two rooms that face the ocean are custom pieces. For the family room, the designer chose practical, durable materials, while the living room is more elegant with variations in texture and shine.

In the family room, another custom wood-burning fireplace features a collection of vintage pottery that lines the mantel for a lovely display. For casual gatherings, a walnut wood coffee table with a glass top sets the stage for an array of wine and cheese and other goodies. “She loves to create a real homey kind of feeling,” says Marcuvitz.

The designer, who has already teamed up with her clients on another residence in Boston, Massachusetts, says working on this project was such a joy. “They really complemented each other as a couple and they were a pleasure to work with. They gave me direction and then the freedom to make the best use of my design and resources.”

Perhaps what makes these rooms so livable is the fact that Marcuvitz has found many homeowners are now embracing the less-is-more approach. “I encourage clients to have a minimal look and they seem to gravitate toward it to minimize the clutter,” she says. “It makes everyone feel more comfortable. When we go out into the world, we have such busy, crazy lives. People want to come home and live in a really serene environment; they can achieve it and they strive for it.”

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on August 14, 2017 at 9:33 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Add Some Color and Update

Home By Design

august | september | 2017

old, new,borrowed, blue

A Chic Update to a Longtime Living Room


“When people have been together for a while, they have their own collections [and] special things gathered over time or inherited from family,” says Linda Weisberg, owner of Newton, Massachusetts-based LW Interiors. This was true of the couple who sought Weisberg’s help to update the family room in their ninety-year-old, Tudor-style home, also in Newton.

Weisberg’s design process helps homeowners critically review their possessions and discover what matters most to them. “As a designer, you help families make decisions so that everyone feels they are getting what they want and what they like,” she says. “After I get a sense of what will stay, I try to bring a fresh look by thinking through how things can be reused or repurposed.” For this project, Weisberg transformed old pieces, purchased new pieces, borrowed items from other rooms, and drew inspiration from the blue color in a rug that the homeowners loved.

First, Weisberg tackled some of the most overwhelming elements of the room’s architecture. “This room originally had orange cedar walls and red brick,” says Weisberg. She used warm-beige paint to neutralize the materials while maintaining the character; the roughness of the brick and the holes in the cedar paneling give depth to the neutral color. Tudor homes are also known for dark ceiling beams. Painting the beams white to match the ceiling allowed them to recede into the background. The old beehive fireplace was also modernized. Once wood-burning, it was converted to gas, which required adding custom doors. “That updated not only the function, but also modernized the look,” says Weisberg.

Originally, there were valences over each blind-covered window. The valences were removed but the blinds stayed. “The look of the blinds was very clean, so we kept them,” says Weisberg. Another element of the room was kept as-is. “They kept the chandelier that came with the house, and I thought they should keep it,” explains Weisberg. “I have a New York Times design magazine that’s twenty years old with that chandelier pictured in it. Sometimes people paint a chandelier like that, but I thought we should leave it in its original form.”

In the living room, the chandelier and blinds were kept as-is, and a repurposed console table was placed under the television; all elements now blend seamlessly with the redesign.

Living Room

Updating an older home doesn’t always mean rip and replace. In this home, paint neutralizes the walls and ceiling, allowing reupholstered furniture to take center stage.



Colors used in the room were drawn from the homeowners’ existing Oriental rug. “I think it’s very pretty. It was a good decision to start with the colors in it,” says Weisberg. The rug inspired the reds, blues, and neutrals used in the room, as well as the use of orange hinted at in the rug’s red undertones.

The homeowners’ sofas were several years old but were still comfortable and in good condition. Weisberg reupholstered them in blue velvet similar to the color found in the rug. A second chair was borrowed from another room and reupholstered in a neutral velvet. The other two chairs in the room were vintage finds purchased for their unique styles. One is a Louis XIII–inspired design with elaborately turned legs and stretchers. “I like to use these old styles but then add a fresh fabric to make it different,” explains Weisberg. The high back and fluid arm design are common for that era and the chair is covered in an orange, quilted velvet. The other chair is Jacobean style with a low back and straight arms, now covered by blue-and-white ikat. Throw pillows covered in the ikat and velvet fabrics grace the sofas and tie all the seating together.

The iron and glass coffee table in front of the sofa is a new purchase. “I love glass coffee tables with Oriental rugs or rugs with beautiful patterns on them because it opens up the space visually; it creates a better expanse,” says Weisberg.

An old coffee table was repurposed and adapted into a console table that now sits under the TV. “The original coffee table was oversized and very dark. I thought it would be good to lengthen the legs and make it a library table,” says Weisberg. “I had someone add architectural pieces to that table to lengthen it and then stain the colors to match.”

When accessorizing the room, Weisberg again drew from the homeowners’ collection. Milk-can lamps, borrowed from another room, flank the sofa. A brass skeleton clock hangs on the wall as do several framed vintage posters. A weight hook hangs near the fireplace and a wrought-iron weather vane sits above it; both were obtained during travels by the homeowners. Blue chinoiserie accessories finish off the room—garden stools, a cushion embroidered with a Chinese dragon, a decorative jar, and ceramic lion figurines.

“I had great pieces and great bones to work with in this room,” says Weisberg. “Redoing, remaking, and reusing some of these pieces was challenging, but I would say it was a labor of love.”

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 6:54 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Growing Beautiful Citrus Fruit

Home By Design

june | july | 2017

zest and zeal

A Get-Started Guide to Cultivating Citrus Fruit


With their fragrant flowers, rich green foliage, and delicious fruit, citrus are among the most rewarding trees to grow. Those living in USDA Hardiness zones 9–11, where temperatures don’t normally drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, can grow citrus outdoors year round. In colder regions, the trees should be grown in containers and brought inside for winter. But the warm temperatures of the summer months help sweet citrus thrive. Consider the following tips when embarking on your fruitful venture.


Citrus are easy to grow, untroubled by most pests in a home garden environment, and adaptable to a wide range of soil quality. If the soil is heavy clay, water the plants slowly and deeply with drip irrigation laid around the edge of the leaf canopy so the moisture is absorbed into the soil. In loose, sandy soil, water more frequently. Citrus prefer deep, infrequent watering. Ideally the moisture should penetrate down 36 inches. Between watering, the soil should become almost completely dry, as citrus will languish if over-watered.

The key nutrients for healthy citrus are nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, boron, and molybdenum. Most California and Arizona soils have all the necessary nutrients, except nitrogen. Have your soil tested and analyzed for citrus requirements, then apply organic fertilizers as needed in spring and summer.


Once picked, citrus will not continue to ripen. Unfortunately, skin color is not a helpful guide to ripeness. It is cool nights (ideally 40 degrees Fahrenheit) that turn an orange orange; in Thailand, oranges are always green. Many citrus fruits are fully colored months before they are ripe, and some will develop splotches of green skin after ripening. The best way to determine readiness is to taste a fruit from the tree when that variety is known to be ripe. Use pruning shears to pick, leaving a little of the stem attached to the fruit.


The best citrus for you depends on where you live and what you want. Talk to your local Cooperative Extension agent for advice on citrus varieties that grow well in your area. Varieties that do well in Florida are different from those that flourish in the West. To take up less space, consider growing dwarf varieties; they mature at about half the size of a standard orchard tree, but produce nearly as much fruit.


Any type of citrus can be grown in a container (for a while). Lawrence London, an expert on biointensive gardening who lives in USDA Zone 7, grows Persian lime, calamondin (a natural cross between sour mandarin and kumquat that’s good for jam-making), and Meyer lemon in pots indoors. He reports that he had an indoor Meyer lemon that produced ninety lemons one year.

Zest and Zeal

Photography provided by ©iStockphoto.com/spooh.

London yields indoor fruit from his citrus trees with well planned (yet simple) care. When his plants arrived in 1-gallon containers, he repotted them into 2-gallon sized pots with drainage holes and set them on a large plastic tray to protect the floor. Ultimately, as the trees grow, they’ll need to be moved up to 15-gallon sized containers or half barrels. He added compost and garden soil to the larger pot, and topped the soil with charcoal lumps from a wood fire. The charcoal raises the soil’s pH, improves air circulation, and increases the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients. When the plants need a bigger pot, he’ll add commercial potting soil, more crushed wood charcoal, kelp meal, rock phosphate, greensand, and azomite (a crushed mineral, which supports plant growth and vitality).

To prevent overwatering, London waits until the tray under each pot is dry. He fertilizes with compost tea once every four waterings, and when he takes the plants outside in spring, he fertilizes with a small amount of Peruvian bird guano.

You can grow any citrus indoors or out as long as the conditions are right. Because they are sun-lovers, citrus need a spot that gets as much sunlight as possible; try a south-facing window or sunny spot on the patio and prepare for a treat.

Orange You Glad?

Each variety of citrus fruit offers something special. Here are some fun historical facts gleaned from John McPhee’s 1966 book, Oranges.

Archers from the Chou Dynasty made their bows from orange wood, which was prized for its fine, straight grain. It was the preferred wood for archers for 3,000 years until supplanted by fiberglass.

Tangerines originally came from Tangier, ergo the name.

An orange’s flavor is affected by its position in the tree where it grew. Low growing fruit that gets less direct sun is not as sweet as oranges growing near the top of the tree. Fruit on the south-facing side of the tree are sweeter than those on the east or west sides; those on the north side are the least sweet. The Vitamin C content of each orange is affected by the same variables.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on August 4, 2017 at 9:15 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

“Summer Tastes”

Home By Design

june | july | 2017

tart & tasty

The Season of Summer Fruit


The summer fruit season, brimming with color and flavor, always feels festive. Versatile summer fruit is delicious in savory and sweet recipes that are perfect for entertaining. Berries complete cocktails and complement grilled cheese sandwiches. All it takes is a bit of sweet fruit nectar to make any meal feel like a celebration.


Tart and Tasty


Whenever I prepare this dish I feel thoroughly indulged. It might be the sweetness of the roasted summer heirloom cherry tomatoes or it could be the decadence of the burrata cheese. Whatever it is, these ingredients pair deliciously together and make a delightful summer pasta dish.

Serves 4

  • 1 to 2 dry pints of heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 12 ounces of your favorite pasta, cooked to package directions
  • 1 cup basil pesto
  • 1 bunch basil, sliced chiffonade or coarsely chopped
  • 8 ounces burrata cheese, carefully sliced
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the halved cherry tomatoes with the extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet and roast them in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes.

Gently toss the cooked pasta with the basil pesto, half the chopped fresh basil, and half the roasted tomatoes.

Pour the pasta into a serving bowl or onto a platter and top with the remaining roasted tomatoes, burrata cheese, and fresh chopped basil.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.


One of my favorite starters or desserts to serve during the summer months is fruit kebabs with strawberry yogurt dip. The platter is fresh and tasty and a snap to put together, making entertaining fuss-free and delicious.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 2 (8-ounce) containers of strawberry Greek yogurt
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 6 teaspoons strawberry-flavored gelatin mix
  • Assorted fresh fruit such as strawberries, cubed pineapple, sliced kiwi, sliced starfruit, cubed melon, sliced peaches
  • Small skewers or party picks
  • Fresh mint, for garnish (optional)

In a food processor or electric KitchenAid stand mixer, mix together the yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, and gelatin mix until smooth and creamy. Pour into a container and refrigerate until served.

Pour the yogurt dip into a bowl and place it in the center of a platter. Place the fruit around the yogurt dip and serve with skewers. Or, create mini skewers of fruit and place the skewers around the yogurt dip. Garnish with fresh mint if desired.



Blueberries have a permanent place on my kitchen counter during the summer. They make the best fresh and instant snack, and my family is always pleased when I serve them in a dessert or add them to this timeless cocktail. This seasonal mint julep is refreshing, calming, and celebratory all at the same time.

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, plus extra for garnish
  • Fresh blueberries
  • 1 part blueberry schnapps (optional)
  • 2 parts bourbon

To make the mint simple syrup, add the sugar, water, and fresh mint to a pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool. Strain the simple syrup, removing all the fresh mint.

To make the cocktail, add ⅓ cup of fresh blueberries to the bottom of a glass and muddle them. Add 1 to 1½ parts simple syrup, 1 part blueberry schnapps if using, and 2 parts bourbon. Give it a stir and then top with crushed ice. Garnish with fresh mint and enjoy!

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on July 26, 2017 at 8:26 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Summer Home Easy

Home By Design

june | july | 2017

Welcome Back

Opening Your Vacation Home for the Summer

It’s finally here. The sweet summer season has arrived, and with it, your plans to spend days, weeks, or months at your vacation home. But if you only enjoy your getaway during the summer, there are a few things you’ll need to take care of before getting settled.

To make opening and closing your summer home a breeze, keep it maintained during the winter months. If you don’t live close to your vacation home, have a friend check on the house from time to time or hire a property management company to address any off-season issues. If the temperature drops below the freezing level, pipes could burst; and there’s always the chance that an appliance could leak or the electricity could go out and reset timed systems.

Assuming there aren’t any major maintenance issues when you first arrive at your summer home, setup shouldn’t be too complicated. Turn on any circuit breakers that were off and plug in appliances. Check and replace or refill smoke detector batteries, light bulbs, and any propane tanks if needed. (If your home is heated by propane, keep track of the level throughout the year and, if possible, have the tank refilled before you arrive for the summer.)

Vacation Homes

Open windows, blinds, and doors to get the fresh air circulating. Even if your home doesn’t smell musty, you’ll want a clean start. Hire a cleaning company to spruce up your space before you arrive, or do it yourself. Give all the rooms inside a deep clean, but you can simply uncover and wipe down outdoor furniture.

Finally, take inventory of pantry goods, cleaning supplies, and paper products, and make a run to the store to stock up on essentials. Purchase a surplus of items like toilet paper so you can enjoy your days at home instead of making regular trips to the store.


Some people prefer the “do nothing” style of vacationing. If your everyday life is hectic, it can be a relief to know that there’s nothing on the agenda but sleeping in, sipping lemonade on the patio, reading a good book, and enjoying evenings by the fire. But if you’re hosting multiple generations or “keep busy” vacationers, you’ll want to have plenty of entertainment options on hand.

Start with a basic selection of board games: Monopoly, Clue, Life, and Risk are all classic options that take up a fair amount of time. Word games such as Taboo, Scrabble, Apples to Apples, and Scattergories stimulate brain activity as will trivia games like Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. Include simpler games, such as Candy Land, Cootie, and Chutes and Ladders, for a young audience. And it never hurts to have a few sets of traditional playing cards and other card games like Memory, Old Maid, or Uno.

If you have the space, think big. Arcade games can keep people entertained for hours, and they can be a special attraction that’s only featured at your family vacation home. Consider adding a standing video game, pinball machine, air hockey table, or all three. You can’t go wrong with a billiards table and a dart board. The pub games are fun for all.

If the weather is pleasant, take full advantage of the outdoors with lawn games. Croquet, badminton, and bean bag toss games are all easy to store over winter and set up in the backyard. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 7:58 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

Beautiful Park City Home

Home By Design

june | july | 2017

Mountain Chic

A Home with Rustic Charm and Modern Sophistication


Deer Valley is an alpine ski resort in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Located in Park City, Utah, it is known for its upscale amenities and is consistently ranked among the top ski resorts in North America. It also turned out to be the perfect destination for a San Francisco-based family of six who was looking for a ski vacation locale that was a quick flight from home. They decided on Deer Valley and this beautiful, 5,800-square-foot, three-story rambling lodge with spectacular views. And although it’s nestled in the mountains, the home is also within easy walking distance of the slopes.

The family brought on Melissa Warner Rothblum, co-owner and principal designer of Los Angeles– and Seattle-based Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design and Decoration. “The owners wanted a place to spend the holidays with friends and family, so the seven bedrooms, six full baths, and two half baths were perfect,” says Warner Rothblum. “The woodsy exterior of the home, built in 2009, was classic for the environment, but the interior needed to be freshened up. With the help of local contractor Thomas McPhee Construction, we totally gutted and updated the kitchen and baths, and turned the rest of the space into a cozy, relaxing retreat.”

The designer used the existing living room fireplace as the inspiration for much of the color palette. “The oak floors had been stained a dark acorn tone,” says Warner Rothblum. “We sanded and bleached them and then restained the wood a taupe driftwood color that blended with the stone in the fireplace. We carried that tone throughout the living area.” The architectural detail against the 16-foot-high cathedral ceiling in the living room replicates the exterior accents, but the designer stained the interior trusses in driftwood and painted the metal features black. “We brought similar industrial elements into the rest of the home,” she adds. The vintage red patterned rug adds a punch of color and warmth to this living space.


Designer Warner Rothblum’s goal was to introduce intimate, comfortable seating areas throughout. The cozy nook by the window in the dining room and the plush seating and ottoman in the family room invite adults and children to curl up with each other or a good book.


Lodge Lessons

Although Melissa Warner Rothblum’s design emphasizes comforting neutral tones and warm wood details that relate to the mountain environment around the home, it also adds intriguing industrial elements and an accent of red to make the home fresh and interesting. The powder room, for example, mixes an antique, wood-framed mirror, industrial style vanity, and wallpaper that creates a wonderful ode to the quilting tradition so appropriate to a mountain community. The kaleidoscope quilt pattern emphatically continues the accent color in a variety of tones. And, the small room introduces a little fun into the overall design.

Plentiful large windows, with minimal treatment, showcase spectacular mountain views in this updated home.


The living room, kitchen, dining room, and family room are open to each other. “We wanted a smooth flow between the rooms,” says Warner Rothblum. “We used neutral tones and natural colors throughout to unify the space. Then added a pop of color where needed.” The living areas and many of the bedrooms have walls painted in Farrow & Ball No. 3 Off-White. This same color was used on all the wood trim pieces. A delightful and powerful color accent—bright red—shows up in a variety of decor items and furnishings.

The kitchen has an off-white canvas, but the cabinets are done in Farrow & Ball No. 47 Green Smoke, a lovely gray-green that relates to the beautiful natural environment. Countertops are locally sourced marble. “We found and fell in love with a small rug with red accents and used it to introduce that touch of red once again,” explains Warner Rothblum. “We continued the industrial feel with the brass pendants and stools. The stools have a brass base and reclaimed wood seats. The Shaker-style cabinets have exposed hinges and simple brass handles.”

The interior and exterior communicate throughout the home. Warner Rothblum used the same colors of the fireplace stone in the columns on the exterior deck. Neutral tones dominate the decor, but vintage pieces and antiques, interesting textures and an industrial influence contribute to a certain uniqueness. Kitchen cabinets are a soft gray-green to blend with the natural tones outside. Countertops are locally sourced marble.

A ten-foot-long antique farm table commands the neutral-toned dining room. The bench along one side of the table breaks up the formality of having all the same individual chairs around the table. “The bench offers a different text for the design, as do the two custom upholstered chairs that are used at each end,” says Warner Rothblum. She brought in several elements to cozy the area, including an intimate built-in seating nook.

The family room is a “hang out” room and has a cozy, relaxed feel according to the designer. “We used more color in this room and more upholstery to make it comfortable for family use. The rich browns and reds and creams add an intimate touch,” she says. The lush draperies were custom designed. A large upholstered ottoman, also custom in bright red and cream, invites guests to put their feet up, and serves as a coffee table too. The vintage woven strip carpet offers a neutral accent to the intense colors of the furnishings. Antique children’s chairs in front of the fireplace give the room a lived-in, child-friendly feel.

The challenge for Warner Rothblum was to transform this family’s vacation home from a lovely but typical mountain abode into something new. The result was a fresh, chic interpretation of a mountain retreat . . . relaxing, cozy, and family oriented, yet excitingly unique.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on July 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |

A Caribbean Jewel

Home By Design

june | july | 2017

BeautifulSaint Bart’s

Bask in the Luxury of One of the Caribbean’s Most Fantastic Islands


Caribbean islands are like politicians—everyone has a favorite and everyone has an opinion about them. So when you ask your neighbor, coworker, sister-in-law, whomever, without fail, someone will tell you to go to Jamaica or Aruba or St. Lucia, either because of a particular resort, the weather during their trip, or their favorite beach.


But what oft goes overlooked is a destination that truly combines everything from world-class dining and five-star resorts to adventure and ultimate relaxation. The truth is, while everyone may have his or her own opinion on which island is the best, the reality is that there’s one that is leaps and bounds above the rest: Saint Bart’s. The eight-square-mile island epitomizes everything a tropical destination should be. There’s truly something for everyone—foodies, fashionistas, beach lovers, adventure seekers—here, and it’s offered on the highest level of service and detail. It is without a doubt the reason celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and Kevin Hart flock here for their getaways.


Two of the best options for accommodations on Saint Bart’s are a private villa or one of the many boutique resorts on the island. If you choose the former, book through Wimco or Sibarth, two of the premier villa rental agencies. But if you’re really looking to splurge, contact Eden Rock Villa Rental. This option gets you the best of both worlds with options for luxurious, well-equipped properties nestled in the hillsides of the island while also giving you exclusive access to the resort’s coveted beaches and amenities. If you simply want an intimate resort feel with world-class service, book a villa at Le Sereno, the most recent honoree of the number-one resort in the Caribbean by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards. This unpretentious yet luxurious property sits in a quiet cove where kite surfers skim the horizon while you can relax under swaying palm trees. The oceanfront villas are decidedly private and romantic, and provide stunning views of the moon casting a glow over the ocean at night.


From beach lounging to water activities to refreshing hikes, there is plenty to do outdoors.


Sure, it’d be easy enough to lounge on the beach with a glass of rosé every day. But don’t. You’d be missing out on the island’s natural beauty and scenery (not to mention fantastic shopping scene). Hike to one of the island’s most secluded spots, Colombier Beach. (For years it’s been known as Rockefeller’s Beach as David Rockefeller owned the Nelson W. Aldrich-designed property that overlooks the cove.) The 30-minute or so hike—wear sneakers!—affords you panoramic ocean views, but it’s the final destination that’s the treasure here. This secluded beach is only reachable by foot or boat, which means much of the time you’ll have it all to yourself to watch amazing sunsets, snorkel about the water, or picnic after the long hike.

Water is everything on Saint Bart’s, from activities to incredible views. Rent a small inflatable boat from Jicky Marine Service for a half day and tour the island’s quiet coves and rocky coastline. Better yet, let someone do the driving for you on a sunset sail where you’ll weave in and out of the mega yachts in Gustavia’s harbor while sipping a cool beverage as the sun dips below the horizon.


If world-class dining in a relaxed setting is your thing, then Saint Bart’s is the place for you. Culling the best flavors and ingredients from all over the world including the Caribbean, chefs here create dishes that range from French to Asian to contemporary American. Do not miss Tamarin. Nestled among dimly-lit trees you’ll find private, alfresco tables where your culinary adventure will take place. The food is just as impressive as the setting: fresh tuna tartare in coconut milk and lime juice or squid and shrimp served tempura style in ginger-lime dressing are delectable.

Head to the beach for restaurants in the luxe resorts Eden Rock and Cheval Blanc. At the former, notable chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has created an incredible array of options for the resort’s three restaurants. The St. Barths Lobster Salad (on the Sand Bar lunch menu) is an absolute must. The lobster is perfectly tender while the champagne dressing is truly mouthwatering. At Cheval Blanc’s La Cabane de L’isle, dig your toes into the sand while noshing on one of the most decadent grilled cheese sandwiches. Lightly toasted bread is covered in a flavorful truffle oil with just about every cheese imaginable, resulting in a gooey, flavorful treat. Don’t forget to hit celebrity-loved Le Ti St. Barth. This cabaret-inspired show/restaurant/bar is the place to see and be seen, especially during the high season.

Photography by (top) ©iStockphoto.com/yanta, (above from left) ©iStockphoto.com/mtcurado, ©iStockphoto.com/JudyDillon, ©iStockphoto.com/NinaRuseva, ©iStockphoto.com/LanaCanada.

Maria Walker

Maria Walker


Where Dreams Come Home

Featured Magazine

Posted on July 6, 2017 at 9:44 pm
Maria Walker | Posted in Uncategorized |