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