Gift: Twig Terrariums

I’m a sucker for the layered worlds of dioramas and Joseph Cornell boxes. So when I happened upon the mini ecosystems with figurines held captive in glass created by Twig TerrariumsI couldn’t resist. The titles alone, like “Grazed and Confused” with its sheep wandering the fields of an apothecary jar and “Namaste” featuring a super yogi in a headstand while reading, made it hard to choose just one.

I went with a squat box with a lone prisoner sitting in the spongy greenery next to a ladder leading to the container’s opening. A twisted yet hopeful tableau called “When One Door Closes”.

With an array of scenes––from the idyllic to the flat-out bizarre––you’ll find the right sentiment for every occasion. The low maintenance landscapes of succulents and mosses have more staying power than fresh flowers and are harder to kill than your average plant. Plus, they offer DIY kits so you can build your own green scene.

Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow are the masterminds behind these brilliant worlds in miniature. I stopped by their Brooklyn studio (where you can take a terrarium making workshop) and chatted with Michelle about her love of growing things and fondness for vagrants.

When did Twig begin? We started making the terrariums in our apartments in April of 2009. They caught on and we now have a dedicated store and studio space and four contracted employees. It’s very much like a dream.

Do you have a green thumb? I’ve been growing plants since I was a child. My first plant was a potato. I kept replanting it and it grew so tall that it scared me. I had to have my parents take it away. That’s really how it started for me. Katy has a black thumb. But when we started with the terrariums it was a gateway into the botanical for her. Now she’s really amazing!

Were the figures always a part of it? Yes!  As soon as we started making terrariums we knew they needed little people to complete the scene. Then people started requesting to see friends or themselves in the terrariums. Like the woman who had us depict her 8-year-old granddaughter hula-hooping while playing the violin.

What’s the oddest request? You would not be able to print it. But we made it.

The figures and scenes are out there. How do you come up with them? A lot of it is just us being quirky––like depicting murder investigations or CSI scenes…we love making zombie scenes, cemeteries…we like to have vagrants, bums and punk rockers hanging around. Also, great pastoral scenes with hikers or someone looking introspective on the beach.

Aside from tons of imagination, what basic elements are a part of each mini-world?  The only common factor in all of our terrariums is rocks and plants. We use shade loving plants and sun-loving succulents. Everything else varies.

What about general care tips? Always keep out of direct sunlight. Follow the watering directions that come with your terrarium which vary based on the the type of mosses and containers used for each.

Yout can shop Twig online. And in Brooklyn at their studio or booth this month at the Brooklyn Flea (December 16, 17, 18, 21 and 22).



Ed Ruscha, The Act of Letting a Person Into Your Home, 1983, The Emily Fisher Landau Collection

This piece reminded me (in stirring, glowing waves of oil paint) what a gift it is to extend an invitation and be welcomed into a home. We chat virtually, work and dwell remotely and spend most days staring at blinking screens. Simple human connection is somehow, well, less simple. But, in the more analog space of a home over coffee or candlelight, we are afforded the luxury to kick shoes off, sink into a couch and reveal our true selves.

By exploring updated etiquette, comforting places to wander and be a guest, and thoughtful tokens to make or pick up for those who host us, Good House Guest hopes that we can reconnect and feel a bit more at home, together.



Gift: Cheers

I recently brought a set of cloth cocktail napkins to a friend in her new home. They were a hit, especially since her napkins were hiding out in a moving box. Useful, but slightly indulgent too since it’s not something you might splurge on for yourself––which is always the mark of a good gift.

Beyond a housewarming, fancy(ish) cocktail napkins are perfect for any holiday glass-clinking occasion.

I like the random pattern assortment of these cotton squares stitched by Sarah Keack of Yellow Bird Designs.

Cloth Cocktail Napkins, Yellow Bird Designs

Toronto based designer Avril Loreti imparts secret messages with five themes: wisest words, future, travel, success, dreams. Kinda perfect for a New Year’s Eve party.

Fortune Cookie Napkins, Avril Loreti

Simple and elegant in white and red from CB2. Embellish with a monogram or embroidery.

Restaurant Cocktail Napkin, CB2

Bright linen block-printed napkins by Blake Kahan of Willow Ship are almost too pretty to use. Or give away.

Strobe Design, Willow Ship

Create: Saucepan Brownies

I met my best friend in the first grade. So I’ve probably gobbled up dozens of her mom’s brownies over the years. But I didn’t fully appreciate them until last summer when I sat, with my son in my lap, watching as this mom from my childhood stirred and mixed her specialty cocoa confections. Could you imagine finding one of these packed into your lunch box? You’d never put that up for grabs.

Beyond appreciate, I have declared Mrs. Gatti’s saucepan brownies the best straightforward chocolate brownie around. According to a very informal (and unsolicited) taste test, these easy-to-make little squares of bliss have turned even those who aren’t much for brownies into believers too.

Next dinner invite you’ve got dessert covered.

Saucepan Brownies

  • 4 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • (optional: 1 cup chocolate chips)

Grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat oven to 325° for glass pan or 350° for metal pan. In a medium size pot over medium-high heat, melt together the chocolate and butter. Stir continually and watch the heat to avoid burning. Remove from heat. Once cooled slightly, stir in sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add salt. Gradually stir in flour until blended. (Optional: stir in chocolate chips). Pour evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and watch them disappear. (I like to serve with berries or a scoop of vanilla ice cream).


Ps&Qs: Stay Within Limits

The holiday couch surfing season is upon us, so time to revisit some guidelines. It’s really generous when someone opens up their guest room (or pull-out couch) to you, but determine the length of your stay ahead of time. And hosts, understand your own limits. Stick to them without feeling guilty––it’s for the good of the relationship.

As I found when visiting my sister-in-law’s welcoming family in Italy, these boundaries differ greatly. For the Italians, no visit is too long. And when I suggested staying in a hotel for a few nights to give the family a break, they read this as a commentary on their hospitality. Do they not like our cooking? Are the beds uncomfortable? Hardly, I could have hung around there for weeks on end.

But, an extended stay isn’t the norm for space-conscious Americans. Especially those of us living in cramped quarters. With that in mind, I generally follow a three day rule. And, as Benjamin Franklin bluntly stated, “Fish and visitors smell after three days”. In other words, don’t spoil a lovely visit by overstaying your welcome. Unless, of course, you happen to be in Italy.


Wander: Fallingwater

If I could be a stowaway guest anywhere right now it would be Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered creation which hangs over a 30 foot waterfall in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Completed for the Kaufmann family in 1939, it served as their retreat from Pittsburgh, a city so smog-choked that the street lights never shut off. And what an escape it was.Japanese-inspired custom seating. A Picasso casually hung near a bathroom. Ando Hiroshige woodblock prints in the master bedroom (gifts from the architect). The rhythmic splash of the waterfall piped naturally into every room. It was all too much. And then we wound our way to the guest house (where Frida Kahlo is said to have bunked) tucked away beside the giant soaking tub of a pool.At this point I lost all focus on the otherwise engaging tour, and I started scheming my stowaway plan like a 10-year-old. Wonder if I could squeeze beneath the bed? Or curl up in a cabinet. What if I just crouched down behind that Mies van der Rohe chair? Irrational thoughts that could only be inspired in a place of such impossible beauty.

Next time I return I’ll be invisible (and camped out in the guest house).

Note for Parents: Children under six are not permitted inside the house. A very special shout out to our Pittsburgh hosts, the Garces family, who demanded we take the tour while they explored the surrounding woods with the under six set. They were right, it was not to be missed.