Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Covert Operations


They say confession is good for the soul, but myself, I find that playing dumb goes a lot farther….

I’ve mentioned before, my crippling inability to leave a “treasure” behind, a problem which has only been magnified over the years.  So, as a result, I’ve had to get creative with ways in which to sneak incorporate these pieces into my home. 

I have found that the best course of action is to wait until everyone else has left the house and then stealthily retrieve said items from their safe haven under the jackets and beach towels in the back of my oh-so-roomy car. (Which, may I say, I can pack 4 dining room chairs into, when the rear seats are down--reason #1 why I bought her!)

The next step in the mission is to quickly consolidate these finds into the decor before anyone has returned home.   This part can sometimes prove tricky, because I do what I tell others not to do--that is, to purchase items without a plan.  I know better, but I’m afraid that knowing better sometimes isn’t enough. 

I would like to add, however, that in the end, because I love them so much, I can always find a way to make these treasured finds work. 



Take for instance, “Pablo” here (my 8 year old finally named him--don’t ask)….  I lugged him home from the local flea market one day this spring.  The entire LONG walk out to where I was parked, I had him hoisted over my shoulder like I was burping a forty-pound newborn (really, it was ridiculous--children pointing and giggling.)   At the time, I  had no idea where I wanted to put him, I just knew that I had to have him.



After much rearranging and head scratching, he has finally landed a home in my dining room/soon-to-be-library on a console in front of the window between two large wheat-sheath Italian tole lamps (also rescue-pieces.)

Often, actually almost always, new finds must spend some time being triaged in my dining room--aka “Design Purgatory,” before transitioning into their semi-permanent home (because you know, nothing is ever permanent-permanent.)  



When the items are large, like say, a 7’ antique COLUMN, the whole operation must be taken to a higher level.  (This baby took lots of jackets and beach towels.)  Like all the other impulse purchases, it is now serving it’s time in design purgatory.  I have a few ideas for where to put it, but haven’t had the “aha, I’ve got it!” moment yet.




I nearly wrecked my car when I first spotted this darling chair.   Running late to get child #2 to baseball photos, I was trying to save time by taking a shortcut when… Rrrrrrh! Hit the brakes.  There she was, sitting on a driveway full of junk at a neighborhood yard sale.  What to do?!  Risk missing pictures altogether, or go inquire about the chair?  Well, let’s just say, it was like garage sale-ing on crack…

I run across the street, phone to my ear, telling the team mom that I’m “…in the car RIGHT NOW,  just around the corner. Hold the pictures, we’re almost there!”  

Me, to the nice man at the sale (wondering how much cash I have in my wallet):  “How much are you asking on the chair?”

Nice Man: “I’m asking $20, but I’d take less.”

Me:  “Would you take $15?” (Seriously, could I be more of a cheapskate?!”)

Really Nice Man:  “Sure, can I help you load it?”


(BTW, we made it to pictures by the skin of our teeth--no one the wiser.)

I don’t think I can make the pink velvet work in my home (love it, though).  So, I’m thinking I’ll reupholster it in a light oatmeal colored linen.  The cushion is down filled--I couldn’t have even bought the feathers for $15, let alone the frame, which is in perfect condition.



I kind of hesitate to post this picture, because it’s such an ugly duckling at this point, and I haven’t done anything yet to make it a swan--so you’ll have to use your imagination.   Think Swedish country. 

I came upon this cute little roll-top desk some time ago and again, with no plan in mind, I just couldn’t bear to leave it behind.  So, into the dining room it went. (I have very large double doors that swing into the dining room which, when opened,  create perfect corners in there in which to “store” things temporarily.)

Several months later, I caught my husband searching Craig’s List for “roll-top desks.”  When I asked him why in the world he was looking at those, (believe me, it’s totally out of character for him to look at anything remotely design related) he said that he wanted somewhere to set up his fly-tying (fishing) stuff.    Currently, the bits and pieces are in a big plastic tub that he drags out periodically to the kitchen table and it’s a big messy production whenever he decides to create some bugs. 

“Well” I say, “It just so happens….”

So I show him the desk I bought that’s now been sitting behind the doors for a couple of months. 

“That’s exactly what I need.” says Mr. Bass-Pro  “When did you get that?”

Me:  “Oh gosh, I bought that ages ago….”

Him:  “That will work out perfect!”

See, I told you playing dumb goes a long way. I managed to kill two birds with one stone--I got to save a cute little desk and he’ll have somewhere to keep his hobby stuff that won’t be an eyesore and drive me crazy.

These are just a few of the larger pieces that I’ve brought home without any idea in the world where they were going to go.  There are many, many more small accessory items that have been dug out of the dark corners of antique stores and estate sales.  They are much more quickly and easily absorbed into the decoration than some of the big pieces.

I am so not an “off the rack” kind of girl.  Consequently, when I find something I like at a great price, I grab it.  Certainly not a process that works if you want the instant gratification of a completed room, but I much prefer a space that looks as though it has been curated over time.

I am comfortable waiting for pieces to find me, big and small.  But if you’re not willing to wait, I suggest purchasing the large items, like sofas, beds, etc. from the design center and let the accessories and artwork evolve over time.  The result will be a space that is truly reflective of your own taste and that your friends and neighbors will envy (and will never be able to knock-off, because it was created with one-of-a-kind items.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Please forward my mail….






While browsing through French real estate listings this weekend, I came upon this lovely “petit” chateau.  

Listing price you ask?   580,000 Euro-- that’s approximately $710,000 U.S. !

Call the movers, I’m packing my bags right now! 



The front door leads into an impressive entrance hall with gorgeous stone flooring with inlays (cabochons).  A wrought iron and stone staircase sweeps up to the first floor.  

  Had I the opportunity to do my own entry room over again, I would have done a floor something like this.



To the left of this entrance hall, a door leads into a dining room with stone fireplace and exposed stone walls.




An eat-in kitchen with amazing stone walls, modern appliances, a farm sink with a bridge faucet and wonderful gray cabinetry.  Unlike so many old residences, this kitchen needs no updating. 



A different view of the kitchen.  LOVE the zinc finials and the sunlight streaming through the French doors.



Here is where I will sit with my laptop and blog.  When I need inspiration, I can simply refer to one of my design books housed nearby in the lovely arched cabinetry.



Although I’ll likely replace the red striped upholstery on the sofa, it is here where I’ll offer you a cup of tea and a croissant when you come to visit.



After a hard day of tending to my garden, I’ll retire to my chamber with my latest design book and a glass of local wine in hand.



I suppose I’ll have to change the wall color in the boys bedroom.  And, perhaps some new lamps….



On the grounds, there is a guest/guardian's house consisting of sitting room, 2 bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom.




From the listing:

“This pretty little chateau is set in the centre of a small village in the northern Vienne region of France. The property has undergone a complete restoration with superb attention to detail. Many original features have been retained. There is also a pool and a small caretaker’s cottage. The property comprises:

Reception Rooms: 4      Bedrooms: 7      Bathrooms: 7”

(Why don’t American homes have as many bathrooms as bedrooms?!)

Although there are plenty of listings for very grand French Chateaux, I would be content to steward this little gem for the next forty years or so. 

Can anybody recommend a good international moving company?

Friday, June 11, 2010

I just had to….

As many of you know, I live in a house full of boys--even the dog.  I jealously look on as my friends decorate their daughters’ bedrooms and throw princess birthday parties for their little angels, while here at “Chateau-de-boy”, we’re collecting bugs and making home-made slime.
So, forgive me for a moment while I indulge in a little girly pink loveliness….


Ahhh,  that feels better!

   Now, off to Little League….

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Design CPR: Bring your rooms to life - Element #1

Do you have a room that never seems to get used?  Unlike our bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens,  spaces like the  formal living room or dining room, which typically don’t fill an everyday need, often remain largely unoccupied and are left to be admired only in passing.   To me, one of the few positive effects of the recent “economic downturn” is the now widely accepted opinion that the showy displays of wealth and wasteful behavior of the past decade are now considered bad taste.
Rooms that are just for show and never used are wasteful. 
That said, I also realize that sometimes there are spaces in a home that just don’t seem to invite you in.  I have found, through trial and error, that there are a few elements that consistently succeed in bringing a rarely used room (even the most formal) to life.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of these suggestions.   If you have a space in your home that is feeling ignored try adding one or more of these:

Bare-bulbed Light Fixtures

Nothing lights up a space like, well, lighting….  But not just any old lighting will do.  A single fixture in the middle of the ceiling and a lamp on a table in the corner does not a lighting plan make.   A proper lighting plan involves several layers of light and addresses all of the room’s functions, from reading to watching television, to sleeping, and yes, even blogging.   While one could easily devote an entire blog to lighting design, there are several types of decorative fixtures and bulbs that I think are especially effective in imparting that inviting ambiance to a space.

My top two favorite fixtures are pictured here:  Lanterns and candle sconces.  When dimly lit, the bare bulbs on these types of fixtures emulate the allure of candlelight. 

I love, love, love tabletop lanterns.  This pair is outfitted with real candles, but they could easily be converted to electric. 

A Blanc d’Ivoire tabletop lantern brightens a corner in my family room. 
(Pardon the fingerprints on the glass--remember, I live in the “Maison-de-boys”)

peter dunham
Wall lanterns and a hanging lantern set the mood in this room by Peter Dunham.

 bevolo lanterns over island
Instead of a pair of boring pendants, why not a use a gorgeous pair of Bevolo lanterns over a kitchen island?

This trio of star fixtures are the perfect accent lighting to draw you down a long hall.  Notice that they are supplemented by up-lighting from the decorative bases of the ceiling vaults.

Also at the top my list of favorite fixtures are antique and quality reproduction chandeliers.  Here again, the bare bulbs suggest candlelight and the crystal beads and drops on this type of fixture reflect the light throughout the space.

A suite of modern reproduction candle fixtures.

Mirrors are a great way to double the effect.

pleated slipcovers
Two beautiful Empire style fixtures grace this large dining room.

Note the thicker candle sleeve on these fixtures.
On a side note; I also make it a point to always change out those awful white plastic candle sleeves that are often included with fixtures of this nature.  My favorite sleeve replacement is a hand-dipped beeswax candle cover in a neutral color.

 Ivory candle covers
An electrified tabletop “candelabra” is a great solution for gently illuminating a dark corner.  Different versions (iron, gilt, tole) of these versatile fixtures can work in virtually any type of room. 

black tole lamp     P1010177
I wish I had the actual “before” picture of my lamp, but this gray Swedish looking candle fixture on the right started out life as a brass-shaded, toleware table lamp, very similar to the black one pictured on the left.   All of the parts were saved, so if I change my mind someday, it can easily be converted back.
Alternatively, a single stem candlestick fixture makes a perfect nightlight for a hall bathroom or a child’s or guest bedroom.

 3 watt bulbs
The bulbs I like best in these exposed-bulb fixtures?  3-watt silicone dipped clear candle bulbs.  I have tried dozens of different types of candle bulbs in different wattages and I have found these to be the most attractive.  And, at only 3 watts each, I don’t feel a bit guilty leaving them on during the day.
Now, bear in mind that none of these fixtures alone are anywhere near enough wattage to illuminate an entire room--they are just there for effect, (thus the term decorative).  Nonetheless, they are equally important to the lighting design of a room as ambient and task lighting.
These too-often-forgotten fixtures are the layer of light that can bring a space to life.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A design legend weighs in on design sensibilities….



“We like to think our taste is a permanent attribute, rather like having blue eyes or being a certain height.  But taste changes all the time, in greater degrees for some people, in lesser degrees for others.  The aging process is the first and most notable reason.  As we grow older,  we become more informed--about what we like as well as about the world around us.  We usually become more serious too.  Growing prosperity enters in; so does a greater need for comfort.  Finally, there is the question of the things we have been accumulating:  Do we still like them?  Or do we want to trade them in?  for most of us, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  The things we keep gain in importance as time goes by.   At least they should; otherwise we shouldn’t keep them….”


Mark Hampton

Architectural Digest,  December 1995

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