A new portfolio site

I’ve had the same portfolio site for a year or so–and you know how it goes. The baker’s children are the last to eat, or something like that. I was helping other clients with their sites and had no time to focus on mine. The old site was fine and serviceable, but last month, I decided it needed a big refresh, and just dove straight in.

simple portfolio site by Thao Thai

I knew I wanted an online identity that was a little more playful, a little more inviting. I found some amazing retro imagery and used it in a new context, adding big washes of color and cropping tightly. That merging of the old and new helped define my direction, and I cleaned up the overall look, converting to bigger images, more readable blocks of type, and even a bit of updated copy.

homepage for Thao Thai's portfolio website

writing page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

individual book cover design page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

I learned so much in developing and programming it myself, and think that the result expresses my point of view pretty well! Here are a few things I learned in trying to define my own identity:

  1. Ask for help. My good friend and former colleague brainstormed with me (over text message!) about what my style says to her. She used words like “instinctively creative” and “passionate,” which helped a lot. Then, I joked that I wanted my site to look like what Peggy Olson’s (from Mad Men) might, if she were designing a website. It ended up describing the look to a tee!
  2. Step away. This one was hard. I tend to get focused on a project to the point of obsession (Dan can attest to a few missed dinners), but the moment I got up, even for a cup of tea, I felt so much clearer about the problem and solution at hand.
  3. Explore the options. I was torn between a few different directions. A lot of my work has an illustrative feel, but lately, I’ve been more drawn to simpler solutions. So I did a bit of both, sketching and hand-lettering for one option, then paring everything down to the nuts-and-bolts for another. Of course, I landed somewhere in the middle.
  4. Be brave about what you want to say. As a writer, I’m always conscious of audience, and a strange thing happened while working on my own site. I started wondering if my message was too splashy. Was I sounding too-big-for-my-britches? Well, if I am, my britches are at least authentically oversized. :) Voice can’t be faked and eventually, I had to tone out the hypothetical voices and go with what I thought was best. My About page says it all!

See the site in action at thaothaidesign.com! I have a few more features I want to add eventually, so it keeps being a (very fun) work in progress.

Behind the Design: Emmett Malouf Textiles

When I first saw Emmett Malouf Textile designs, I knew it would be an amazing project to work on. Owner and designer Linda Walter has been heading the company for the past twenty years, and she’s curated a lovely, eclectic collection that’s a bit French country, a bit Southwestern flair. She needed a new site that would put her designs front-and-center for clients.

We started with the mood board, which helped clarify our direction (feminine and bright, with a splash of whimsy). Then we went through a few rounds of revisions, arriving at a cream and pale blue palette that could showcase the designs. As I’ve been working on my own, I’ve begun to realize that my aesthetic leans towards the clean and streamlined, with just a bit of influence from classic layout and typography.

homepage design for luxury textile brand

Then began the programming to make it all come alive! I won’t lie; this was the hardest part. But also, in many ways, the most rewarding! The home page features a slider, and each grid page displays the collections in all their colorful diversity.



The product pages feature a gallery of images, along with some lovely copy written by Kathleen Blackburn. A contact form allows the viewer to get in touch with Linda to find out more about the company.



Best of all, I built a back-end content management system that allows updating of images, copy, and products, making this site an evergreen solution for the growing business. It was a joy to work with such a great brand! See the site in action here.

Ham and Cheese Crepes

We did a fair amount of traveling this month, and as wonderful as it was to escape these sub-zero (only a slight exaggeration) temperatures in Ohio, I found myself missing home more than usual. The thing I missed most of all? Being in my kitchen. The sounds and smells. The rituals of the hearth.

I wanted to catch sight of my worn carpet runner, the yellow teapot I use every morning. I wanted to rifle through the jumble of spices on the lazy Susan and mindlessly slice onion into a hot pan.

En route back home, I saw a video of a chef making crepes. I’m not one for sweets, but these were savory, filled with Serrano ham and gruyere, brown at the edges, but still thin enough to feel light. It was just right for my palate.

Saturday morning found me padding around in my slippers, digging up some lunch meat and a bit of pre-grated cheese. A far cry from Serrano ham and gruyere, but I didn’t feel like fussing. (I rarely do, when it comes to food.) The first batch wouldn’t hold together. In my morning fuzziness, I’d forgotten the flour. Needless to say, the second batch was much better. They were light, but filling, a grown-up interpretation of a childhood sandwich.  Salty, creamy, and simple. My favorite adjectives for breakfast.

photo of a comforting yet elegant recipe

Ham and Cheese Crepes | serves 2-4
crepes adapted from Alton Brown’s Recipe

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Butter, for coating the pan
  • 4-5 slices of salty ham
  • 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese

Combine first five ingredients and whisk rigorously. Chill batter in fridge for half an hour, at least. (I was impatient and only waited fifteen minutes. Alton says the chilling removes the air bubbles from the batter, but mine was fine.)

Heat a small pan over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup of the batter in the pan and swirl to coat evenly. After bubbles start to form, flip the crepe (it’s easier than you’d think!). Fill half of the flipped crepe with ham and a generous handful of cheese. Fold the crepe over, so that it forms a half-moon. Slide onto a plate and repeat with the rest of the batter, ham, and cheese.

I had some leftover batter, so made these again the next day for lunch. They were even better the second time around.



A Handmade Headboard

When we first bought our home, I worked at a furniture company. The perks of that job are obvious–gorgeous, handcrafted sofas and beds and lamps, all right in front of me for the purchasing. We picked out a few favorite pieces, including a contemporary, upholstered headboard in the softest shade of grey linen. Then came moving day, and the sharp, uncompromising angles of our Cape Cod staircase. The headboard didn’t, wouldn’t fit, even though the movers twisted themselves in acrobatic positions trying, and back it went, to a sad little warehouse far away.

For the past eight months, we’ve been living without a headboard, which is alright. Here’s the requisite before photo (forgive the wrinkles):photo of headboard design But we read before bed and, more often than I like, stay up watching Netflix when we should be asleep. An upholstered headboard seemed like a nice cushion to have. So while I was away one weekend, Dan drew up some plans. He bought the lumber. We picked out fabric. And, a day of sanding, building, nailing, and lord-knows-what-other-tasks later, we had this:

building your own headboarddetail shot of making your own headboard

I’ll be honest, before I saw the bed come together, I was a little skeptical. We are new homeowners. We’re not builders. But apparently, Dan is a builder–and a good one at that. You learn new things about each other every day. And now, nighttime reading/movie watching is so much more pleasant. Maybe we’ll brave a coffee table next. There have even been whispers in our household about an upholstered chair for my office.

Loose on Earth: The Process

My dear friend Kathleen is one of the most imaginative, hardworking, and generous people I know—not to mention, an incredible writer of all genres. I was so fortunate to work on her website these past few months. She wanted an author’s site that could showcase her writing and describe her current book project—a full-length work about the Wandering Albatrosses of the South Arctic. (She’s traveling there next year with a team of scientists!) When we began to brainstorm about the design, we were exactly on the same page.

photos that inspired Kathleen Blackburn's website, designed by Thao Thai
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

First, we created a shared pinboard. We were both drawn to cool shades of blue and green, vintage influences, and a lot of white space. I wanted her website to feel expansive, yet contained, like a beautiful little book you want to keep re-reading.

homepage designed by Thao Thai for writer Kathleen Blackburn

The designs reflect her aesthetic, but put her words front-and-center. For that, we needed some typography that has elegance and history.

simple yet elegant about page designed by Thao Thai for Kathleen Blackburn

Each page has a slightly different layout, creating movement for the eye. Vintage woodcuts help provide context, as well as a dash of antiquated romance.

It’s a simple website, but we think it does the job! To see it in action, visit Kathleen’s website.