Salted caramel fondue  One flavor that I absolutely love this time of year is caramel. I mean, I love caramel all year long, but it's especially good when paired with crispy, slightly sour apples. And with apple picking season starting up, I just had to make some homemade caramel. The flavor compared to most store-bought caramels I've tried truly is WAY better. 

Salted caramel fondue The caramel dipping sauce is made on the stovetop and can be kept warm in a fondue pot for hours of easy dipping fun. :) I actually tried quite a few times to see if I could get a method down to make the sauce in my electric fondue pot instead of the stovetop, but it just didn't work as well. Caramel is a bit temperamental because different variations of heat can cause sugar to do all sorts of things...too much and you can end up with solid candy caramels instead of a dip-able sauce. So you need a bit more control than an electric fondue pot really allows for, or at least that has been my experience. 

How to make caramelSalted Caramel Fondue, makes about 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt* (plus more for serving)

*I love all kinds of salt, but one of my very favorites that I recommend for this sauce is Maldon sea salt. It's flaky and great for topping desserts in general, but it also has a wonderful, ocean-y taste. I don't know another way to really describe it. It's awesome and a small box will last you a long time provided you protect it from excessive moisture. But you can use any sea salt for this if you don't have Maldon salt. 

Maldon sea saltIn a medium-sized pot with a heatproof spatula, heat the sugar and water over medium heat. The sugar will release more moisture and begin to boil. It may also clump some as it begins its transformation process, so don't fret if it does.

Increase the heat a little and the sugar will begin to breakdown into a liquid and turn a dark amber color. Don't allow it to burn (you'll be able to smell it if it does), but I do like to let my caramel get to almost burning before removing it from the heat. I like the rich flavor it adds, but that's just me. This takes a bit of practice. So if it's your first time making caramel, just take care not to burn it and you'll be OK.

How to make caramel sauceOnce it's amber and you've removed it from the heat, stir in the butter. Be careful as you add it to the pot because it will probably sputter at you, and you don't want to get hot sugar on your hands or arms because it will burn and stick, unlike hot water which would just roll off. So take care! 

Once the butter has melted, slowly drizzle in the cream. Again, be careful. You may need to return the caramel to low heat if it seems to seize up at all. Slowly drizzle and whisk or stir and it should all come together. Then stir in your salt.

Salted caramel fondueThere's that nice, almost-burnt amber color. :) 

Now you can keep your sauce warm in your fondue pot and serve it with a little more sea salt sprinkled over the top. 

Salted caramel fondue    Serve with plenty of apples, other fruit, cookies, or even tiny maple Eggo waffles. Why not? Enjoy! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

Awesome Instagram accounts!! @splendid_ragsI told you guys I had WAY too many favorite colorful Instagram accounts (not to mention all the other categories that I also want to share). So here's volume two! 

@Splendid_Rags Leslie is so talented with color. She makes it look easy, and her feed is always full of amazing colorful spots, lots of Palm Springs and really cute outfits. She's got all the positive vibes. Give her a follow! 

Awesome Instagram accounts!! @lellopepper@lellopepper I love Elise's airy, pastel feed. It's full of crazy photos, and I love it. 

Awesome Instagram accounts!! @thetiffanypratt@TheTiffanyPratt It's rare to run into a person as unique and comfortable in their style as Tiffany Pratt. I am obsessed with everything she does and love her strong, bold personal style. 

Awesome Instagram accounts!! @graymalin@GrayMalin Gray Malin is an incredible photographer. You probably recognize his work. (It's on every blogger's wall, ever!) I enjoy daily doses of his beautiful photography and fun behind-the-scenes peeks as well. 

Awesome Instagram accounts!! @rclayton@rclayton I LOVE Rosie's feed. If you follow the ABM Insta, you've seen us repost her photos. I actually have to limit how many of her photos I pick to repost because she shares so many amazing photos with our hashtags. She's a very sunny person, so I know you'll love her feed! 

Well, that's it for this round! We got a lot of requests to keep this series going, so I'll be back to share more inspiring feeds soon! xx- Elsie 

ps. In case you missed it, view volume 1 here

At Home with Shannon SmithLove this painting!Table/Home Decorators, Painting/Shannon Claire Interiors, Stools/Target.

Are you guys loving this feature as much as we are? It's so much fun! Today we are sharing Shannon Smith's gorgeous apartment. We can't pick a favorite room! Also, you're about to see the cutest dog everrr. Shannon works full-time in marketing at a major university in DC, and has a design business and blog on the side. She's also an artist (she sells commissioned pieces-- the painting above is hers. And, she's opening an art shop soon.)

The perfect ceiling!"I moved to Washington, DC and this apartment a year and a half ago from North Carolina. My husband and I have long been in love with DC. So we took the plunge, downsized and moved to the city! We knew that we wanted an older apartment with a lot of character, and we certainly got that (and more)! The building was built in the 1920s, so we're still getting used to the old radiators and the super textured walls, but the high ceilings and french doors more than make up for it.  

MaxShibori dyed pillowPillow/DIY.

Perfume and jewelryKate Spade DIY dishDish/DIY.

"My favorite spot in our apartment is probably our bedroom. It's large (by apartment standards) and bright. When we moved in, the walls were already painted white. The light was so great in this room that I left the white and brought in some color through other things, like our banana leaf headboard. We built this king-sized headboard in a weekend—it was difficult and time-consuming, but oh-so-worth it! I love waking up in the bright morning light with a fun pattern on my headboard and the city out my window. 

At Home with via abeautifulmess.comPink ceiling!"Renting presents a different design challenge. Try to think of things outside of the box! Mount shelves to the wall instead of taking up floor space, like I did with my Ikea hacked wall shelves. And if your landlord lets you, paint, paint, paint! I painted both my bathroom and hallway ceilings, so make sure to consider putting paint in different spaces as well. I love to switch out the lighting—it's an easy way to customize a basic rental space. Just make sure to keep the original lighting so you can make the swap when you move out! 

Office decorOfficeDesk/Ikea (painted).

Pretty pillowsSectional/Macy's.

"One of my favorite things in our apartment are the mid-century chairs in my living room! I found them on Craigslist for $140 from a man whose mother purchased them in the 1950s. She kept them in pristine condition for over 50 years, and they even had the original citron velour fabric on the cushions. I kept the original cushions so that I can switch them out when I like, but I also had new ones made with a gray tweed fabric from Lewis and Sheron Textiles. I also am in love with my dining chairs—my friend Cassie found them on Craigslist and sent them to me because she knew I'd love them. I recovered them in a spotted fabric from Minted, and I love the finished look. Chairs are my favorite second-hand finds!

Bamboo bar cartCart/Mintwood Home.

Gallery wall"We had to donate or sell a lot of things when we downsized, so we were able to pretty much start over in this new apartment. That being said, it's taken me almost the entire time we've lived here to consider our home "finished"! I have an interior design business, so I am constantly furniture and accessory shopping. I've learned to live with what you have until you find what you really love! When you do, it will be that much more rewarding." 

Thanks, Shannon! You can find more of Shannon via her blog, Burlap and Lace, and on Instagram. xo.

Credits//Author and Photography: Shannon Smith.

State of the bizHey, friends. Welcome to our yearly post where we share what we're working on, how we're tweaking our business and what we're most excited about that's coming up! 

If you tuned in to our Livestream a few weeks ago (you can still watch it here), then you heard that we've been working on this post for a while. In some ways we are sort of always working on this post, because, like most small business owners, we are constantly thinking about how to improve and grow. It's something we talk about almost every day.

Our little business keeps growing and it's on track to have its best year yet! (YAY!) With that, we feel like we’re in the best place to reflect and decide where we want to be headed. The industry is constantly changing and so is how we run ABM. We like to think of blogging as an evolving career. I mean, ten years ago we had no clue that we'd be able to make our blog into a side business, much less the "mothership" of all our creative projects and a full-time career for us plus a small team. Blogging will probably go down as our life's most surprising opportunity. And we truly never know where it will take us next. 

The importance of change
Depending on how long you’ve been following us, you’ve probably seen a few phases of our business. When I was the only owner, I sold paintings and art prints on an Etsy shop. When Emma joined, we sold vintage clothes and cupcakes from a Springfield storefront, custom made a small fashion line with a couple local seamstresses, and eventually moved into full-time blogging. That’s let us expand into apps, online classes and product development. Business, no matter how calculated your risk may be, is always trial and error. We're always learning and moving forward. 

We started blogging for fun. We ended up full-time blogging because it worked and showed the most opportunity of all the creative ventures we were dabbling in. Find what works and grow it the best you can. But just because the first thing you tried wasn’t working doesn’t mean you should beat your head against the wall. Or maybe what was working just isn’t anymore. Change and adapt. Find another risk you can afford and take it. There’s a famous Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And yes, those who fear failure more than you will always be there to kick you while you’re down. But you only really fail when you stop trying. 

The Nashville move and the studio house
For the first time since becoming partners, Emma and I will be working remotely. I’ll be honest. It's sad and a little scary, but we have a game plan, and we are both 100% committed to making it work! We're gonna be on FaceTime a WHOLE lot more! We're already embracing the transition and starting to create a new normal. Anyway, you can read more about the move in my post here.

When I decided to move, Emma decided she really wanted to work from home too. (We LOVE working from home—I cannot explain how much we missed it these past two years.) That meant we didn’t have a need for a whole studio house anymore. We moved our more office-y staff to the space above Emma’s upcoming bar in downtown Springfield. Then, Emma, Laura and I (as well as most of our contributing writers) will all be mostly working from our homes.

This is going to be an exciting change of pace from what we’ve done these past two years! Of course we love all the ideas we dreamed up in the studio, but you might’ve noticed we weren’t sharing as much of our own homes. We really, really missed that. So we've decided to bring the focus of our content back to projects made and photographed in our homes. For me that will be mainly home decor updates; for Emma it will mean more food from her home kitchen. We're both SO excited. 

This shift really feels most natural to us! Working from home might seem like a small change to you (you can't really see where we're working from anyway, right?), but to us it's a HUGE change and a really exciting one. The small change I hope you will see is an overall cozy-ness in our vibe. That's the goal at least. 

Making room to simplify
I know it probably seems like we're running in a lot of different directions...and we are. But this year we're continuing our quest to simplify. We're evaluating our priorities, what's working and what we can see ourselves growing into in the future. We're feeling, more than ever, that we want to focus A Beautiful Mess on home projects (both renovations and decor) and food! We're exploring ways to hone in on those things while staying challenged! 

The change in social media
Instagram: This has been a super exciting year for Instagram. We started an official ABM account, and it’s grown so fast we’re not even sure what to do about it! I think the most interesting part about it is how much it's changed the way we communicate with you, and hear from you. When we first started ABM, we had no social media (none!). So it was simpler in some ways. We posted, then we read the comments. These days, we're getting comments on each post and through all the different social media channels. We're still figuring out how to prioritize our efforts. I mean, if you guys are all going to engage with us via Instagram, it makes sense to put more effort into that space. Kind of a fun challenge! 

Pinterest: So this has been one of our largest traffic sources (outside direct and Google) for a couple years now, but recent changes to Pinterest have caused a bit of a shift there. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but your feed is no longer sorted chronologically. It’s now shuffled per Pinterest’s recommendations, which results in pins showing up in your feed from sources you’re not even following. It’s a similar move Facebook made a few years back. So it’s shifting the control of your feed from those you’re following to those running Pinterest. It definitely makes sense from a business standpoint, as it gives them an easier path for advertising. We’ll see how it affects the user experience over time. Here’s an interesting/helpful write-up I found

Newcomers (to us): So I just started making my Snapchat public, (@elsielarson), and I have to admit I’m pretty much obsessed with it. I’m too new to it to comment on how it is affecting the business, but I can see that thousands of you are viewing my snaps each day, and I'm enjoying sharing a less curated, more random side of my world with you. We’ve also got a Periscope account, (@abeautifulmess), but I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. We’ve only used it a couple times. Should we do more? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Both Snapchat and Periscope are a ton of fun. I love that they delete after 24 hours because it removes a lot of pressure for us to be too "produced" and makes it feel more lighthearted. But, to be honest, it also kind of bums me out to put a lot of effort into things that don't archive. I LOVE having over eight years of blog posts I can go back and read at any time! Even though some are highly embarrassing, I love that they are archived. So, I guess that's the number one thing that puts me on the fence with those two social media apps. I'd love to hear your thoughts, because basically the only reason I'd put more effort into either one of them is if YOU enjoy them! 

New projects we’ve got coming up soon!

- The new app! I feel like we keep teasing it and never giving any details...sorry about that. It’s just not quite done yet. But we're in the testing phase, so it's not too far away now! I CAN tell you it’s going to be a photo app focused on creating fresh, clean colorful images. Augh—so excited! 

- We’re launching a new small business e-Course soon. We’re now almost a decade into running this crazy business, and we’re going to share everything we’ve learned. It comes with over two hours of video lectures. Can't wait to launch that! 

- We're working on a cookbook, but it won't be on bookshelves until 2017. We already told you all about this one, but we’re still SUPER excited. We're just beginning the development, and we'll be working on it and shooting all fall, winter and spring this year! Follow @emmaredvelvet and @elsielarson for behind the scenes peeks. This is definitely a passion project for us, and we're so thrilled to have the opportunity to do this!! 

-New home tours! One of the things I am most excited about for the coming year is oversharing every detail of my home renovations and decorations. I am so passionate about this home, and I know Emma and Laura are in the same state of mind. There will be lots of fun home inspiration coming each month alllll year. 

Alrighty! Well that's what we're up to at the moment! We're excited to enter this fresh season which I am calling "cozy time" with you. We can't say enough about how much we love and appreciate each of you who read A Beautiful Mess! Thank you for coming here and being a part of our world. WE LOVE YOU! 

Feel free to give us any requests or constructive feedback you have on your mind! I think I've already said it 40 times in this post, but we're always looking to improve and we'd love to hear what you love and what you'd like to see more of. xx. Elsie (+ Emma too) 

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!When I was a kid, I used to shut myself in my bedroom and rearrange all of my furniture in strange ways just for a fresh feel in my personal space. My parents had no idea how I managed to drag my four-poster bed and cedar chest around my room, but bless them, they let me do it, and my obsession for space planning has only grown since then!

These days I have the luxury of moving furniture around on paper before any manual labor becomes involved. Space planning is made easier with a simple floor plan to help you maximize your room's full potential before any design decisions are made. I always create a floor plan and arrange a space on paper before buying furniture to fill it. And because of my planning, I've never been disappointed by how things fit into our home.

You can easily create a floor plan for your home too without ever setting foot in design school and without any special computer software. Check out how simple it is to plan your space!

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Take Measurements

The first step to creating a floor plan is to measure your space. It's helpful to have someone assist with holding the tape measure across long expanses to get accurate measurements. I usually roughly draw out the space, including doorways and fenestration, before taking the actual measurements. Then, as I measure, I jot down the feet and inches on my crudely drawn floor plan.

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Transfer Measurements to Graph Paper

Transform your notes into a to-scale floor plan with the assistance of 1/4" graph paper. (You can print out the graph paper I used here.) Traditionally, interior plans are drawn at quarter-inch scale, which means a quarter inch on paper is equal to one foot in real life. You can make a quarter-scale floor plan by using the boxes of the graph paper as your guide—no need for a t-square, triangle, or architect's scale, and definitely no need for autoCAD here! Each box of the graph paper equals one foot in reality. So half of a box equals six inches and half of that is three inches. You get the idea!

Count out the boxes according to your measurements, using the lines of the grid to draw your walls. Keep in mind that interior walls are usually about 5" thick, so be sure to account for their thickness when creating your plan.

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Create To-Scale Furniture Cut-Outs

After your floor plan is complete, you're ready to fill your space with furniture or cabinetry! If you haven't purchased furniture yet, use the measurements available in the product details from a catalog or website to draw to-scale versions of items you're interested in. If you're using furniture you already own, just take measurements and transfer them to the graph paper.

After your furniture and fixtures have been drawn, carefully cut them out, making sure not to cut away the black outlines.

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Arrange Furniture and Fixtures

This is where things get fun. It's a bit like playing with paper dolls! Now that you have all of your furnishings and fixtures drawn to scale and cut out, you can arrange and rearrange them in your space. If things aren't working out, you might decide that the furniture you were considering might not be right for your home. Or maybe the space you're considering renting or buying isn't right for your needs. Planning like this can be so helpful for lots of reasons!

When arranging furniture, be sure to note spacing standards for major and minor pathways.

- Major Pathways: Allow 30-48 inches for areas where it is common for two people to occupy the same pathway.

- Minor Pathways: Allow 24-36 inches for areas where one person will be traveling, such as entries to a seating area.

- Furniture Spacing: Allow no less than 18 inches between furnishings where passage is required, such as between a coffee table and a sofa. Less space is acceptable (and usually beneficial) where no passage is required, such as between a side table and chair.

Handicap Accessible Pathways: Allow at least 36 inches for spaces where wheelchairs must have access. 48" is required for a space where a wheelchair must maneuver to make a u-turn.

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Create a Presentation Plan

Once you've arranged things how you like, you might decide to create a presentation version of your floor plan just for fun, or maybe so you can decide on decorative details, like furniture colors and rug styles. To do this, lay a translucent paper (like marker paper) over your floor plan and trace around everything. For a presentation copy, you'll probably want to use a ruler to draw straight lines, and a thick marker is nice for filling in the walls.

If you've used marker paper for tracing your presentation plan, my favorite way to render interior drawings is with Prismacolor Markers. The best paper to use is Bienfang marker paper—just make sure you're drawing on the correct side! It takes some practice to figure out blending techniques and such with markers, but the end result can be really, really nice. You can easily use colored pencils instead of markers, though the process will be more time consuming. I also really enjoy the look of watercolored floor plans but have never mastered the control it takes to watercolor a floor plan in quarter scale. These days I tend to use Photoshop for most of my work, as shown here, because it's easy to correct mistakes, drop in textures, duplicate things, and change colors with the click of the mouse. Even when rendering digitally, though, I find that I try to replicate the look of markers.

How to Draw a Floor Plan- without any special tools or computer programs!Of course, you don't need to render your floor plans if you're just space planning, but it can be a lot of fun to visualize your space coming together before even moving one piece of furniture or spending a dime on accessories. Once you've mastered making a floor plan, drawing elevations is really fun too, and will give you a great sense for how your space is coming together, decor-wise. If you like planning, why not give it a try? -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.


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