Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In with the old!

Our Christmas present to ourselves: Ringo Starr's wing chairs, believed to be from his 17th-century English countryside home, Rydinghurst, that was designed by Nicky Haslam in 1999. Having cleaned red glitter out of the deep tufts, I'm thinking they enjoyed rather a good time. We'll try to do them justice.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Rolling Stones, historic architecture and a good night's rest

I've long been a fan of the incredibly smart restoration work done by the Landmark Trust and I've long wanted to stay at Swarkestone Pavilion, so imagine my delight when I was assigned this Rock Star Rentals feature for RubyLUX.

I knew Swarkestone would have to be one of the places highlighted and had such a great time reading about Michael Joseph's infamous Beggars Banquet shoot. Along the way, I found some great outtakes here, and a short film on the shoot created by Mick Jagger's brother Chris, which you can watch here. For those of you who are Stones fans, architecture buffs or both (like me) enjoy!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Branham Rendlen: A different view of Big Sur

Rancho Rico, Big Sur
I spent a lot of my youth on the Monterey Bay, which exposed me to what one contemporary art history professor, Charles Gaines, not so lovingly referred to collectively as "Carmel Art." And he was right to do so. What began as an artists' community in the early part of the 20th century had become a destination for really awful painting, spearhead by the likes of Thomas Kincaid and gobbled up not only by tourists but, gasp, by locals! When I lived there (and worked at Photography West Gallery -- Carmel does still knock it out of the park when it comes to photography) art galleries were filled with cottage scenes, whales breaching in the moonlight and hotel art, huge pretty pictures devoid of any real meaning. And while the town does still have a few frightful places managing the rent on Ocean Avenue, I was ecstatic to learn about artist Branham Rendlen at the Ventana Inn art gallery during a visiting last month. Her paintings document the coastline in a way that's different from what I've seen for the last twenty-five years. They almost feel like an extension of the Bay Area Figurative movement. They're abstract, complex and intimate, yet they capture the vastness of the wilderness, even on canvases as small as 8-inches square. I'm smitten.

Castro Canyon, Big Sur
Oak and Golden Hills
South Coast, Big Sur
From Bixby Bridge
Foggy Morning, Big Sur
Little Sur During the Road Closure 2011

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My favorite new book: Parish-Hadley Tree of Life

Just reviewed the forthcoming Parish-Hadley book by Brian McCarthy and Bunny Williams for a brand-new, antiques-focused magazine. I'm pretty much in love with it. Color me happy. Really, really happy.

(And, more on the new mag later!)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's time to bring back baskets

Mention baskets and someone will make an audible groan. The 1980s kind of did a number on the craft and left us with cringe-worthy memories of country cottages cram packed with baskets of every size and shape, and lots and lots of dried flowers. Case in point: the image below from an early '80s issue of Architectural Digest. Yes, agreed, it looks terribly dated now but it was fashionable. Just like neon, shoulder pads and George Michael's short shorts.

But the past is the past and there's no reason not to revive something that's so worthwhile, and which can look so fresh. There are beautiful examples made all around the globe, available in a range of colors and natural materials like wicker, rush, straw and willow. They're sustainable and surprisingly durable. And they're popping up in magazines like Lonny and House & Garden, where a single basket, a clean and simple statement piece, now adds a very contemporary touch. 

A well-made, handsome basket is like a grounding cord for a room; it's a little reminder of the natural world that seems to somehow dispel negativity with its sensible charm.

Elle Decor


House & Garden

Below, a few of my favorite designs found online. Traditional or modern... I love them all. And do I have them in my own house? Yes, two: one a planter and the other a Fortnum & Mason picnic hamper that serves as storage for many of the antiques for sale in my webshop. See, practical! 

Straight-sided log baskets made by Irish artist Kathleen McCormick, who grows and harvests her own willow.

Fair trade African knitting basket from Connected Goods

Two-tone straw baskets from the French Connection

Soft rattan basket from Neptune

A selection of designs from the Norfolk Basket Company that were shown at the annual basket festival in Provence (where the English basket-making owners also have a gite).

The Balloon Log Basket made by the Somerset Willow Company (which I was lucky enough to visit many years ago -- a truly amazing place!) features leather trim and a linen lining.

Garden Trading's tapered rattan log basket which, even though it's the height of summer, has me daydreaming about fall, my favorite season.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday supper with the Duchess of Devonshire (sort of)

While marinating chicken to roast tonight, I suddenly remembered that just a few days ago the Lucian Freud painting Four Eggs on a Plate, a gift to his longtime friend the late Duchess of Devonshire, went up for auction at Sotheby's in London. So, after cleaning up, I had to google the sale. The painting, it turns out (not particularly surprisingly), went for nearly 10 times its auction estimate of 100,000 to 150,000 GBP... seven bidders clamoring until the bidding stopped at a whopping 989,000 GBP. (Nearly $380k per egg... or 4.5 million for a dozen!)

The Duchess famously adored her chickens, which lived on the Chatsworth estate and even joined her on the cover of one of her books, so I couldn't help but let myself tumble down the rabbit hole of images of her with the little creatures. Here, a few of my favorites. There's just something inexplicably charming about the photographs, about the Duchess herself. Clearly something Freud, who painted her several times, felt too.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Decorating with a leafy motif: Majolica begonia plates

A collection of four c. 1880s begonia majolica plates

Whether it’s tulips in the 17th century, roses in the 18th century, or the “plant hunters” of the Victorian period, every era had its fascination with flowers. But the 19th century craze had an entirely new aspect: it wasn’t just a hobby for the wealthy, it was something the middle class could enjoy too. Parks like Kew Gardens in London allowed the public to come face to face with never-before-seen plants and to this day, the Temperate House, at the heart of the park, remains the grandest surviving historical conservatory. Designed by renowned architect and landscape designer Decimus Burton, the 1860s masterpiece is an architectural confection of metal and glass. (It’s currently undergoing a massive five-year restoration. You can read more about that and even donate to the cause, here.) Because the delicate plants needed a climate much warmer than the United Kingdom’s, conservatories became a “must have” for wealthy families who often built them as additions to their centuries-old homes. For more modest homes, terrariums, or Wardian cases as they were known, proved the answer. The great plant fascination transcended societal ranks—everyone wanted them, and everyone could have them.

Flintham Hall, a Jacobean house in Nottinghamshire that received a massive conservatory addition in the 1860s.
A typical Warden case of the late-19th century

As the demand of plants grew, manufacturers were quick to create marketable plant-related necessities for the home. There were new styles of garden furniture made from wicker or iron, jardinières of every size and shape, plant stands, and a flurry of vegetal, naturalistic dishware. English potteries, in particular, fed the fire and pumped out majolica tableware. Large factories like Minton, George Jones and Wedgwood, and smaller factories (primarily in the Staffordshire area, whose wares often went unmarked) churned out fanciful dishes at all price points. Brightly hued and wonderfully lumpy plant-inspired designs surged in popularity… leafy plates with raised strawberries, ferns, vines and, above all, begonias! Begonia plates, either single leaves or a cluster of leaves, were made in the thousands. The plants, which were first discovered in Brazil in the 1690s, were easy to propagate and, more importantly, easy to hybridize—their strange mutations satisfying a grower’s curiosity. It’s no surprise that these easy-to-grow plants became the most popular houseplant of the time. The first variegated begonia was recorded in 1886, which means my plates probably date to that time. I think that’s fascinating!

These days, antique majolica is better used for display rather than dining but did you know that begonias themselves are actually edible? Not something I’ll be trying any time soon.

For fun, below are a few display ideas found on Pinterest (not using plates so lovely as mine)… which, if I’m honest, makes me not want to sell them but to rehang my kitchen wall.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Hello, new adventure!

I've spent nearly twenty years in the design world, from museums to magazines, so I'm thrilled to announce a brand new venture that brings everything together: a ** web shop ** of some of my favorite finds discovered on fun days out antiquing. I'm all about easy, pretty and functional items... candlesticks, dishes... things that have been used and treasured for so many years and that bring a very real sense of history to a room. Well-made and well-loved objects have an innate charm and hopefulness, and that's precisely the kind of feeling I want in my home. Now, you can imbue your home with it too. The first round of antiques and vintage items is up, with many more to come! 

Find out more at



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Feasting at the Getty

Last month I took my second historical cooking class with Nancy DeLucia Real at the Getty Museum. I'd done Gothic Desserts several years ago and had a blast, so was happy to find another that worked with my schedule. (And for which there were tickets, as these daytime classes sell out as soon as they're posted!) This time around it was A Renaissance in Dining: Culture and Cuisine of the Northern Italian Courts. We began with a lecture, had a gallery tour of Italian manuscripts... and then we got cooking.

Somehow I found myself at the marzipan station, so I got off rather easily in terms of effort as some of the recipes required a bit more work, like stewed artichokes, Venetian fritters, and tagliatelle with cinnamon and sage. All in all, though, things were surprisingly simple to create. Banquets of the era would have been more elaborate (stuffed peacocks and the like) but these dishes were really very easy. And it's fun to think you're making something with such a long history.

The tagliatelle dish was my favorite, and it now has me putting saffron in my pasta water to intensify yellow color of the noodles. According to a Bolognese legend, tagliatelle was invented in 1487, inspired by the long blonde hair of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Holliday Grainger was good casting in Showtime's The Borgias! But I digress. To make the recipe at home, just get your salted pasta water boiling, add a few saffron threads, and cook according to the directions. (We made fresh pasta in class but I use ready-made at home.) In the mean time, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add in a handful of sage leaves, letting them sizzle and cook for just a few minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain (reserving a cup of the cooking water) and sprinkle with about 1/8 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and the fried sage. Toss, adding a little saffron water and/or extra virgin olive oil to thin, as needed. You can then top each serving with a little parmesan. It was so simple, and so flavorful.

And because the marzipan was so easy (and because I want to document it here, so I don't lose it), I'm posting the recipe below. I spent a Christmas in England years ago and one of the holiday confections we made were marzipan-stuffed dates, decorated with a little slice of red cherry. We used ready-made marzipan but how delicious would they be with homemade, which is softer! In my book, it's never too early to start thinking about the holidays.

2 cups slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 rose water
extra-fine sugar for coating
12-14 slivered almonds for garnish (in class we also had strawberries for garnish)

Grind together the almonds, sugar and rose water in a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth. If the marzipan is too crumbly, add 1 teaspoon of water the mixture. With slightly wet hands, shape a small about of the marzipan into a 3/4-inch ball, roll it in the fine sugar and place it in a candy-size paper cup. Decorate with an almond slice. It will yield 25 to 30 balls.

See? Easy! And if you wanted to coat them in chocolate, I certainly wouldn't stop you.

To learn more about the Getty's culinary classes, click here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

On my enduring love for David Hicks...

Sometimes the best quotes aren't from the designers but from the clients: 
"David walked in, asked for a glass of port and the plans of the houseand, after only a brief tour, made all the right decisions in half an hour."   
James Hamilton, the 5th Duke of Abercorn, on designer David Hicks, whom he'd hired to redo the interiors of his family estate, Barons Court, in County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland. From Architectural Digest's 1979 book Traditional Interiors, with photographs by Derry Moore (for whom I also have an enduring love).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Paintings that comfort: the work of Japanese artist Fumi Komatsu

We spent the better part of the last few months in Phoenix, where my husband's family lives and where my mother-in-law passed away, a month ago today. The final weeks of her life were spent at Hospice of the Valley's Sherman Home on the Mayo Clinic campus, a place we all felt so lucky to have found. It's a wonderful facility--not only does it have an amazing staff but it has generous places (both indoors and out) for families to gather and process their grief. The purpose-built building puts the emphasis on nature (every patient room has a private patio and an always-filled bird feeder) but what I most fell in love with were the many naturalist paintings by Japanese artist Fumi Komatsu. I'd never heard of her, and still don't know much, but I loved her brushwork, palette and subject matter.

I don't know why Sherman House has so many of her works... perhaps they belonged to the Shermans, who funded the facility, or perhaps they were donated by another local collector. No one I asked seemed to know. The little detail I've gleaned on Komatsu is that she was born in 1930 and traveled to New York in the 1950s, after winning a Rockefeller Foundation for International Young Artists award and a one-year fellowship. After completing the fellowship, she entered a New York University competition for foreign artists, which she also won, and for which she received another fellowship. This seems to have been the pattern for a number of years, during which time her work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, Jenson Gallery and Gallery 75, among others. Patrons included William and Babe Paley, George and Virginia Ullman (with whom she stayed in Arizona during the 1960s) and foreign dignitaries. In a 1961 article in the Arizona Republic, Komatsu explained that she felt “more Japanese in America,” an idea that intrigues me. “You cannot be very Japanese in Japan—at least not in your style of painting," she continued. "In Japan, I feel very tight, very restricted. Here, I feel very free to explain and interpret myself through oils, watercolors, tempera, wood cuttings.”

Maybe it's that uninhibited freedom, a joyful expression, that I'm responding to in her paintings... they provided such an uplifting respite in a time of such sorrow. So why has Komatsu's name all but disappeared? Where have other paintings gone? If anyone knows more about her, or how to find her work, please leave a comment. Until then, I'll just keep watching for one to appear... I'd love to have one.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sweetly made: Bonbonnières

When Italian designer Luca Nichetto's new Bonbon side tables (above) appeared in my inbox last week, it was pretty much love at first sight... but they also got me thinking about the term bonbon, in general. It is February, after all, the month of all things sweet and gooey, so I'm indulging in a little history. The word bonbon, which (for the most part) means a small chocolate candy with a soft center, is of French origin and translates simply to "good good" or "doubly good." Its first known use is, according to Webster's, 1770, although various sources point to later 18th-century dates and suggest it was actually a nursery word. Some, however, take it back even early, tracing the introduction of chocolate to France by Louis XIV's bride, the Spanish princess Maria Teresa, in the 1660s. She loved her daily sip of hot chocolate and someone in the palace kitchen had the brilliant idea to create a pretty little morsel from the cooled cocoa. (You can read more about that here.) So while sweets have long been a part of the human diet and have been served in a variety of ways (some, like syllabubs and possets, even requiring specially designed vessels), the advent and popularity of small candies created an entirely new need: where to store your bonbons! Not to fear, manufacturers responded by creating pretty dishes for tabletops, as well as hinged containers that could slip easily into pockets and purses. And with that, the bonbonnière was born. Here now, a little visual history of their development:

Bonbon dish, Doccia manufactory (Florence, Italy), 1750-55, hard-paste porcelain, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Bonbonnière in the form of a pug’s head (Continental, possibly German), c. 1755, enamel on copper with hand-painted decoration; gilded-metal mount, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Bonbon dish, Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Germany), 1760, porcelain, Cooper–Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City

Box and cover, Spode (Stoke, England), c. 1820, porcelain, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Bonbonnière and scent bottle in the form of a female bust, Made by Samson porcelain factory (Paris, France), late-18th or early-19th century, enamel on copper with hand-painted decoration and brass mounts, The
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ambassador bonbonnière and cover, designed by Oswald Haerdtl for J. & L. Lobmeyr (Vienna, Austria),  1926, mold-blown glass, Cooper–Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City

Bonbon dish, designed by Robert H. Ramp for Reed & Barton (Taunton, Massachusetts), silver, 1950, Dallas Museum of Art

Prototype candy dish by Richard Meier, 1983, silver plate, The Modern Archive

Alligator candy dish (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), c. 2012, porcelain, Piselli Projects