Paula Hayes’ Terrariums

Paula Hayes Terrarium

As a long-time creator of blown-glass terrariums myself, Paula Hayes is my idol.  Her artistry and eye for color, materials and shape has made her the master of this form of art making and design.

The glass forms she uses are biomorphic.  Her piece Nocturne of the Limax maximus was installed in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art in New York two years ago.

Because of Paula’s amazing work with terrariums, she sparked a resurgence of terrarium’s popularity. The New York Times posted an article entitled, “Terrariums Make A Comeback” that hit the blogosphere with a vengeance.  You started to see terrariums being written about in Dwell magazine and sold in design-centric shops like Moss, Design Within Reach and many other commercial venues specializing in contemporary design. She was also given an exhibition at the world-renowned art gallery, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, in Chicago.

Paula Hayes installing Egg at MOMA

Without a doubt, the terrariums of Paula Hayes has achieved major CoolMist status.  Below is a slideshow of many of her terrariums, crystal gardens, and other inspired designs for the garden.

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Are You Shovel-Ready?

A few years ago during a Chicago election season, some candidates started referring to themselves as “shovel-ready” to take office.  It described the hardscrabble grit and preparedness required of a true Chicago politician.  I like the word ‘shovel’ and this new use of the word “shovel-ready” had me using it like crazy.  I was “shovel-ready to get a manicure” or “shovel-ready to get the dinner on the table”.

ManPlow Pro 36

Well, now as we brace ourselves for a big snowstorm, I’m shovel-ready to buy a new a shovel.  But, there are so many new designs on the market.  The ManPlow had me feeling a little resentful.  ManPlow?  A huge snowstorm in 1995 when I was nine months pregnant with my first child and shoveling the six inches of heavy wet snow from our corner lot, induced labor.  What about the MomPlow?  Guaranteed to take those last horrible weeks off of any pregnancy. With the snow falling outside my window, I must say, however, that I did like the look of the ManPlow. It also boasts of having 36-inch extra width.  Thirty-six inches.  That’s a lot of ManPlow.  It runs about $110.

Ames True Temper 26"

I also liked the look of the Ames True Temper 26Snow Boss and not just because it is yellow.  When I shovel I can’t always pick up a large plate of heavy wet snow so the smaller shovel surface appealed to me.  It is also ergonomic and very light weight.  The cost, $26, was also a plus.

Toro Snow Blower

In the end, don’t we all go for the electric snow blower and forgo the shovel altogether?  I know that my neighbor Ralph did. Ralph fell down the stairs last summer and did some major damage to his back.  His shoveling days were over.   A few days ago, the snow came down.  A few of the neighbors had already shoveled.  (Why they shovel while the snow is still falling will always puzzle me.)  Anyway, Ralph had his Toro Power Clear and he was ready to plow the entire town he loved it so much.

“It’s so easy”, he said after he had finished plowing my front walk and the area behind my garage.  “It literally pushes me along.  I don’t have to do anything but guide it.”

With Ralph’s new Toro, I am hoping that I will never have to worry about being shovel-ready. Let’s hope. Maybe I’ll make him some cookies every time it snows.  Cookies are way less expensive and easier on my back. Find a Ralph in your community. You’ll be glad you did.

Window Farming – Grow Your Own

You can farm your own tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries or cantelope even if you live in a cramped apartment and have no access to dirt or a tiny patch of lawn along the freeway just outside your window. The current official population estimate as of 2010 was 6,800,000,000 (boy, my hand was getting tired of pushing the zero key).  That is almost 7 billion people.  One-third of us live in cities and urban areas.  Food, as you can probably guess, is very big business and is doing a lousy job at keeping people fed and/or healthy. Let’s not even talk about the obesity problems in America.  With food deserts and other urban issues, people are not eating vegetables!!!

Britta Riley, an urban dweller in Brooklyn, has decided that she was no longer going to hand over the responsibility of taking care of the environment and access to healthy food to specialists and corporate interests.  She thinks that they are pretty much the cause of the mess we now see with our current food system.  Thus was born the Windowfarm!

Windowfarm System

The Windowfarm is a hydroponic growing system.  Hydroponics is a method of growing plants with a high-quality liquid soil that is fed to a plants root system.  There is no dirt which makes it a great system for creating a Windowfarm in your apartment where you can control the climate and provide natural light.  Plus, no vacuuming.


What I think is especially amazing about the Windowfarm is that its not just a product that makes money for those who sell it, it is also an environmental and food movement that invites people from all over the world to participate in improving its design and efficiency. Through social media, the creators of Windowfarm have published well researched instructions of how to build one of their systems so that anyone anywhere can build a Windowfarm system for free. asks that people who have built their own system post their customized versions on their site in order to benefit the specific concerns of those who build their own.

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There is a pump at the bottom of the Windowfarm system that periodically sends a liquid nutrient up to the top. The nutrient then trickles down through the plants’ root system that are suspended in clay pellets.  No dirt.  No mess.  But, you do, as the farmer, have to decide what crops you are going to put in your Windowfarm.

BUY THE FARM or build your own for free

One-Column Windowfarms cost $119.95, but if you buy it on Kickstarter, you will get it for just $99 (plus shipping and handling). Or, if you’ve got some empty water and milk bottles you don’t mind cutting into, you can make your own for free.  All of the “build-your-own” designs are available on the Windowfarms site for free.


Check out Britta talking about the Windowfarm movement on TedTalks.

The Nest Thermostat

THE DIGITAL DESIGN AGE – Teach Your House A Lesson

The newest and most innovative thermostat on the market is The Nest. I did not receive one of these from Santa this year so I am boycotting Santa and all of his works until I do receive one.

The Nest Thermostat

Nest Thermostat in "learning" mode

Two former Apple leaders, Matt Rogers and Tony Fadell, who worked on products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, designed this retro-meets-modern-looking digital thermostat from their startup, Nest Labs.

The Nest is a “learning” thermostat and enables you to teach it your heating and cooling habits over a seven day period.  You can also program your Nest remotely using an iPhone.  Pretty crazy. This is a beautiful design answer to the old utilitarian-looking thermostats of old.

Once Santa brings me a Nest, I’ll definitely post a picture.  If you have one, let us see it.  Send me a photo of the Nest in your home and I’ll post it here at Crane Design for Better Living.