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inspiration: richard scarry

29 Jun

Apple car shirt,

I recently found a great book on the closeout pile of one of the big bookstores. Called “The Busy Busy World of Richard Scarry,” this tome of a book could be best described as a love letter to Scarry, written by his long-time editor (Walter Retan) and art director (Ole Risom), and dedicated to his fans worldwide.

There’s a lot in this book; certainly too much to cover (and too many great images to be nostalgic about) for a single post.  So I thought I’d start with a list of three things I’ve learned, which now endear him to me even more than before:

Richard and wife Patsy, courtesy The Busy Busy World...

1.  He met his wife (Patty) through his work – she was an accomplished copywriter, he was an art director.  They both left advertising.  She became a children’s book author.  He became Richard Scarry.  The two of them led quite a glamorous life, jet-setting and sailing, then moving from Connecticut to Europe and eventually settling in Gstaad, Switzerland.

Best Word Book Ever, biography, Biggest Word Book Ever

2. His books were truly trail-blazing in concept and design.

In 1963, “Scarry wanted to create a different kind of word book for children, one that would arrange words by categories instead of by the alphabet.”  His publisher at Doubleday rejected the idea.  He took the Best Word Book Ever to Golden Press, and ten years later, over seven million copies had been sold.

In 1985, Scarry’s Biggest Word Book Ever was the largest scale children’s book ever published to date (2 feet high), and also one of the most expensive (at $29) and costliest to manufacture.  Random House sold out the entire run.

photo from the book

3. He never thought it was beneath him to sell (a selection of) merchandise based on his work. (I was too old for the video series but hear that it was quite wonderful).  I laughed out loud when I saw the caption under this photo.  It reads, “Dick looks at a variety of samples of stuffed toys based on his characters.  Merchandise and other licenses resulting from Scarry’s enormous international popularity added considerably to his income.”

lowly worms, amazingly handmade by stitchcraft creations

But what’s amazing about Scarry’s influence is that, to this day, people are still inspired to create their own Scarry-ific toys, stuffed animals, busy worlds and clothing.   The McDonalds toys are still around on Ebay, and the videos (as above) still exist, yet folks are staging their own birthday parties (check out stitch/craft’s website) and turning Scarry’s book pages into amazing up-cycled playthings.

Here are two of my favorites, courtesy of Etsy artisans:

blocks by LiliaRose, Etsy

Lilia Rose covers oak wood blocks with vintage ilustrations, then glazes them with a non-toxic, water-based sealer.  The images on the five blocks above are sourced from the Best Word Book Ever.  Find them here for $15.

collage by aboundingtreasures, Etsy

Wow.  Dallas, at the Abounding Treasures shop, makes amazing 3-D collages.  This one happens to feature hand-punched butterflies from Scarry books.  I love the delicate, yet sophisticated, beauty created in these collages – and at $15 for a 5.5″ x 7.5″ you really can’t go wrong (save your money for double-matting and framing!)  And please check out her shop to see other patterns and shapes.

storybook wristlet,

Lastly, one for the nostalgic moms out there. I found this wristlet, created from the pages of Please and Thank You, then coated with some type of vinyl to keep it from tearing.  It’s $35 and such a cute piece – maybe it could be used in a nursery or kid’s room to keep wipes or small toys?

The only thing I haven’t been able to find is any kind of textile; I suppose you can create your own via Spoonflower … that is, f you were to keep it to yourself (no one likes a copyright infringer).  I’m sure a Richard Scarry bedding set could do a cracking business – has anyone out there seen any?


jungle room inspired design

5 Apr

I had a dream last night that I was at Graceland.   Maybe I was listening to too much Vampire Weekend, which reminded my brain of Paul Simon.  Who knows.

Elvis’s famed Jungle Room

Regardless, if you’ve never been to Memphis, I’d highly recommend a visit.  The Mansion, well, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  (Unless you’re a die-hard fan, once will be more than enough).  The Jungle Room is one of the most (in)famous rooms in the house – I haven’t been there in almost twenty years and I can still remember the indoor waterfall and shag carpeting (on both floor and ceiling, I think).  The story is that Elvis decorated this room in one day against the wishes of his father, Vernon, who Hated it.  But as with everything in the house, the room still has its OTT charm.

I was thinking how great an inspiration/jumping-off point the jungle room would make.  Of course, the trick is to maintain that precious balance between homage and kitsch while staying on the good side of taste.  And, of course, time heals many design wounds, such as the ones caused by shag carpeting.  We’re at the point where I’d actually consider it, whereas my mom would make a puke face at the mere suggestion.

So here goes.  The first thing I found was this awesome vintage-looking safari print bedding from the Company Store Kids.  (It reminds me of the Star Wars sheets my brother had as a kid, except with animals).   I built the room around the green rug and yellow accents (very 70s), including faux animal print textiles and lots of wicker and wood.

Clockwise from bottom left:

Giraffe print kid’s rocking chair, Toddle Rock, $54.95
Benjamin Moore color swatches
Half Moon snake charmer basket (aka hamper), Target, $65.99
Big Game Safari comforter cover, Company Kids, $69.00
Zebra mini-print photos by Amelia Kay Photography, Etsy, $12
Vintage amber glass pendant lamp by Fishbone Deco, Etsy, $98
Large cardboard rhino, PopDeluxe, $48
Surya green shag rug (3’6″x5’6″) Rugs USA, $285
Live edge coffee table by Lorimer Workshop, $775
Wood grain vinyl blinds, Target, $10-$18

Then all you need are some fun stuffed animals, a Land Rover play truck and some plastic snakes, and you’re all set for safari.

kids theme rooms in hotels

21 Mar

Until today, I never knew theme rooms in hotels existed.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I had heard about certain ‘hotels’ in Japan and their theme rooms… but this is a family-friendly blog.

I’ve clipped images from two hotels: one is a resort in Phuket, Thailand and the other is attached to a shopping mall in Edmonton, Canada.  They’re not the most stylish of rooms, but I’m thinking they could inspire some ideas. 

The Ramada Resort Karon Beach Phuket is known for being family-friendly, and this extends to room design. 

Top: Undersea room; Bottom: Space room 

These two rooms seem a bit budget to me, but I really adore the work put into the “castle/princess” design.

The tufted cushions on the headboard and footboard are especially sweet, and I really like the use of curtains to create the feeling that you’re living in a turret.

On another level entirely is the Fantasyland hotel in Edmonton, Alberta.  I don’t hold much hope for a hotel that advertises itself as being part of the largest mall in North America.  (This review on Trip Advisor confirms my suspicions).   But how can you resist a hotel that boasts 120 theme rooms in 11 different styles?

You’ll have to visit the website to see the full collection, but below are images from my favorites, the Truck Room and the Western Room.

Take it easy.


The Western room features some clever details, like the rear ends of horses at the head of the stagecoach, and bunk beds in ‘country jail’ (back corner in this photo).

Here’s a great description, courtesy of the website:

You open the door, say the only one thing you can say at a time like this, “Yee-Haw!” You and family mosey in, sit down and set a spell. When you’re done chewin’ the fat, it’s time to rustle up some grub. Long after the dinner bell has rung and you’re bellies are full, it’s time to retire for the night. There’s just one last thing to do before you turn in and that’s lock up your little rascals. The county jail has two comfy bunks to accommodate cowpokes of any age, so you make them sleep the night behind bars while you and your significant other curl up in a mighty fine bed in the back of the stagecoach. But make sure you git some sleep, because tomorrow’s another day and the trail leads back to the world’s largest entertainment and shopping complex.

Goodnight, y’all.

bringing the circus home

12 Mar

 Old carnival water fountain, Olde Good Things

There’s a huge architectural salvage shop in the Flatiron/Chelsea area of Manhattan called Olde Good Things.  The prices are mostly nutty, so I haven’t really shopped there.  But for a few weeks during the spring and summer, their inventory spills out onto the street, revealing some quite amazing finds.  I used to pass by the store on my way to work and find myself fantasizing about this huge pair of lion statues.  On closer inspection, I noticed a spigot inside the wide-opened mouth (right by the fang), then discovered another pipe down by the base, near the tail.

My Encyclopedia Brown-style curiosity piqued, I constructed a little story in my mind about the backstory of these adorable circus runaways.  I’m assuming they used to grace the entrance to a carnival, as water fountains.  How cool would that be as a child to stick your head in a lion’s mouth for a drink of water?!

In all this time, I haven’t yet mustered the nerve to approach an OGT employee to ask about the origins of these fountains. It doesn’t really matter.  And to most people, I’m sure they look like bashed-up pieces of old metal.   But, man, if we had a backyard, restoring these lions would definitely be my summer project.

All of this got me to thinking about carnivals, circuses, and play time.   As readers of RFYO know by now, I’m very much NOT a fan of the theme room.  Added to the fact that I’m personally NOT a fan of circuses overall, clowns in particular, and caged animals of any kind, this could be a tricky one.  But I’ve been so inspired by some circus-related items I’ve discovered online that I just had to share.

Old Pottery Barn Kids catalog image

Remember this post about painting on the ceiling? If you’re going whole-hog on this circus thing, and you’re incredibly patient, the big-top stripes would definitely be the way to go.  Unfortunately, PBK has discontinued their circus bedding, which is incredibly sweet and well-designed.  But I actually prefer a design from Boodalee Kids.

Boodalee Circus Tree Twin Bedding set, Zac and Zoe, $95 (on sale)

This is not going to last.  At Zac and Zoe, a fantastic online retailer, you can get the entire sheet set for $95 (down from $190) or just the duvet set for $55.

 Circus Seal color palette,

As this color palette suggests, blue, red, orange, gray and beige look great together.  Blue and red seems to be a popular color combination in kids rooms nowadays, probably because it’s clean, bright, and unisex – great for shared rooms and small spaces.  It’s also easy to match and decorate around.

Boodalee’s matching circus pillows illustrate the point.  Also available at Zac and Zoe, I want them for myself.

Elephant rocking chair,, $67

Any circus-loving fan needs an elephant.  Available on, this rocker (shown above) is the nicest one I’ve found at this price point. 

L: Restoration Hardware (sold out), R: Bazoongi Kids, CSN Stores, $94

Given the reception the PBK rocketship tent received in an earlier post, I set out to find a big top tent.  My favorite by far is the one from Restoration Hardware, but unfortunately, it’s not being sold any more.  If you were interested, I’d scour Ebay for a week or so and one might pop up.  The Bazoongi one is cute, but a bit, um, bold for my taste. Regardless, I’m sure kids would love it.

Doorway Circus Puppet Theater, Restoration Hardware, $35

Alternatively, Restoration Hardware is now selling a circus-themed puppet theater – which may actually be just as fun, and more interactive.  As with the Boodalee bedding, it’s also on sale (from $89) so it may sell out soon.  What’s great about this piece is that the curtain hangs from a tension rod, so it’s easy to move and take down when playtime’s done.

Circus Penguin Print by Watotodesign, Etsy, $27

I just had to end the post with this picture.  Not sure how often you find penguins at the circus, but in the name of artistic license, this print gets a pass.  Watotodesign’s shop is full of whimsical animal prints, featuring penguins, elephants and monkeys.

As always, let me know if you’ve got any circus-related suggestions of your own.  I’d love to hear, and if you’re interested, I’ll follow up with another post sometime soon.