May 31, 2007

Gardenias & Number 100

My family has had a gardenia plant (bush) for about 40 years now, and my siblings and I have taking cuttings from it and propogated them into full-size plants. The original plant had grown so large that my brothers-in-law were recruited to move it outside at Easter and inside at the October birthday celebrations. Unfortunately, my parents' plant got a black fungus and has been dying off a hunk at a time for about a year.

When I moved to Wales, I entrusted my plant to my sister, M, who's not a big gardener. Luckily, it thrived and although it's a little leggy, it looks good. Last night a friend came for drinks and we sat outside. The scent of the gardenia flowers filled the night air. I have about six or seven flowers with more to come. I wish you could smell their peppery sweet scent.

This is my 100th post on Pigtown*Design. Thank you to all who've been reading since I started in January and thanks for your nice comments, for your links to my blog, for your tips and suggestions and for your friendship over the ether. It's been lots of fun. Now on towards 200!

May 29, 2007

Hermès Garden Bag

Even though my back garden, and I use that word loosely, since it's all cement and potted plants, is tiny, I am not sure I would use this yummy bag as a gardening bag. I do have a tool or three, and there is some dirt out there, but paying from $1300 to $1550 for a gardening bag, even if it is Hermès, isn't something that would occur to me. Instead, I will just keep using the cotton garden bag from Target that costs $25.
But I sure do like the Hermès bag. It comes in blue/black, pink/black, black/black and orange/orange.

May 28, 2007

Thank You

I just wanted to send thanks from me, and also from my family, for all of your nice words of sympathy over the past several days. This has a difficult time, but it is made easier knowing that we have the love and support of friends, both known and not-yet-met, from across the world.

In the eulogy my brother gave, he used the line "an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life". I told him that it was the same line I use on the title of my blog, and that is the way I try to live my life. Obviously, a lesson well-learned from my father.

May 23, 2007

GWF - Writer, Gardener & Collector

My father passed away this afternoon after a long and happy life. He was born in Nottingham England in 1924. He served in the British Navy during the war years and spent time in Africa, Asia and India. After the war ended, he emigrated to the US in 1947. He became a US citizen in 1953, but also retained his UK citizenship. He also married my mother that year.

Dad was a writer for the Baltimore Sun and he maintained ties to the paper for many years, writing articles and features for the paper. He then moved to become the director of public relations at the Walters Art Gallery where he initiated many art in public programs, including the Art Abroad trips to Europe. Finally, he was the special projects for the Baltimore County Library system. After his retirement, he wrote for many publications on a range of topics.

Dad enjoyed many hobbies, especially reading, gardening and collecting. He was president of the Maryland Horticulture Society and the Baltimore Bibliophiles. He was very interested in history, cooking, travelling and classical music and opera. He loved to read and at one point had more than 4,000 books in his library. He read the Sun, New York Times and Washington Post every day.
My father, three days short of his 83rd birthday, will be missed by all who knew him, especially his three daughters and one son, his seven (soon to be nine) grandchildren and of course, my mother, his wife of 54 years.

May 21, 2007

Photoshop & Wedgwood

One of my guests this weekend was a professional photographer. She spent the night and yesterday morning, we spent some time working on Photoshop tips. She knows how to manipulate photographs for maximum effect and I know how to do graphics and create collages. So we both picked up lots of tips from each other. Photoshop is expensive to purchase, but there are a lot of online resources that you can work with, including a new fave, Photojojo, and Rasterbator.

One of the photos we talked about for its composition and its content was this one. It looks like a contemporary bowl, but in reality, it is from the 1800's and was used for dairy products. The photograph looks like a 18th century Dutch still life with the contrasts of light and dark, as well as the clear lighting.

May 20, 2007

Preakness Party

Despite all that's been going on with my father, I managed to pull off the Preakness party on Saturday. I went to the farmers market first thing in the morning to get the salad ingredients and some other things, then off to another market to get breads for the bruscetta. Then to the hospital for a while with my mother and brother.

Then from there, to the real grocery store to pick up the booze for the Southsides, good cheeses and some staples. Final stop was the local city market for thick butcher-sliced bacon for the tenderloin and some black-eyed susans. I was briefly prepared to paint the eyes of the flowers like they do for the blanket of flowers at the Preakness. Zipped back home to make the cupcakes, which were mini and had black-eyed susans piped on them in lurid yellow, with brown centers (it's green and red that you combine to make brown icing). I made the salad and then my superhero friend, Dog, came to the rescue and came over and cooked the tenderloin for me. He poked around the cabinets in the kitchen and found some ingredients for a brilliant sauce. I set the table with a hot pink tablecloth, and used parts of my collection of willow-ware in blue and pink. I had gorgeous blue napkins with went wonderfully with the willow and contrasted with the hot pink. Lots of glassware, with only one broken! After I barricaded Connor, aka Houdini Dog, upstairs and everyone began arriving, it was time for the fun surprise to arrive, too. I had arranged to have a pony tethered to the tree in front of my downtown city rowhouse when the guests arrived. It was hilarious to see their reaction to Cash the pony, courtesy of Tony, in front of the house.

Then it was time for the featured race... I had almost fainted when Curlin's jockey took a fall in an earlier race, but he was ready for the big race. I had printed out slips of paper with each horses' silks on them, along with their post position. We went for the big purse, with each person chipping in the grand sum of $1.00. And they're off... and Curlin won!!! Much excitement and cheering and to the winner went the spoils of $9.00.
Here's an excerpt from the post-race interview with part-owner of Curlin:

Q: George Bolton, as a Baltimore native, can you discuss your feelings winning the Preakness?
GEORGE BOLTON: It is a dream come true. I grew up on a farm that my father owns, only about ten miles from here, across from St. Timothy's School on Greenspring Avenue. So very close. The team was all there last night.
You never think you are going to ever be in a race or win a race like this. This is something that is very surreal. The Derby was surreal. The Arkansas Derby was surreal. I am just very proud to be associated with this group, and to win a race ten miles from my father's farm is a great, great honor.

After leaving the hospital, my brother had a chance to spend some time at the Bolton's farm with the families, who were all in town for the big race. This has been a nice bit of fun during a very trying time for our family. Congratulations to George, his partners and to Curlin. Well done!


WOW! I hope that you had a chance to see the Preakness. We were all so excited to see Curlin win by a nose! We all bet on the race by drawing names from a hat, or in our case, a colander. So the winner was drawn at random. I am still up cleaning up the aftermath, and will post the details, and the big surprise tomorrow sometime.
Thanks so much to everyone who's extended good wishes for my father. This is terribly difficult for all of us, but we know he's getting great care.
Image: The Baltimore Sun

May 16, 2007

Carleton Varney, Part II

Sorry not to be posting much, but my father's in hospital, and I've been going back and forth from there - and trying to get things ready for Preakness. Anyway, I thought I would do another Carleton Varney post. I decided to randomly open the book and see what I found:
The Morrocan Look: Think how smashing a black, yellow, shocking-pink, white, orange and purple Morrocan rug would look in a living room with pale yellow walls and white trim. Unfortunately, there's not a photo of what this would look like, but you can bet it would be vibrant! CV also talks about brass, Morrocan cushions, hassocks on wooden feet with embossed leather seats. These say North Africa in any setting.
You know that one of everyone's favourite blogs is the amazing My Marrakesh, the story of an American family's quest to build a guest house in Marrakesh. It's beautifully written and illustrated, and if you haven't already taken a look, do so instantly (after leaving me!). Maryam has incredible taste and does loads of interesting things. It's an education to read her blog.

I was in New York before Christmas and had stopped in at John Derian & Co. They have an imports section along with their glorious decoupage items. They had a stunning collection of Moroccan poufs in candy colours. I also look the look of pierced bronze lanterns in the yard during the summer. They cast the most delightful lights and shadows.
I think that the verdict for Morrocan influences in that it was in in 1971 and it's still in in 2007. Stands the test of time.

May 14, 2007

Curlin to Race in Preakness!

I am so excited to read the news that Curlin is going to race in the Preakness on Saturday. As I mentioned before, he's owned in part by a friend of my brothers. I found an article, and the photo above, in of all places, The Wine Spectator. Plans are coming together for my little Preakness get-together, with the menu pretty much settled. I am making this salad from blog-pal, Kitchenography. I think it sounds brilliant for a spring afternoon. I am going to do a beef tenderloin, with much input on the recipe and prep from chef friends, Cat & Dog. I have a fun surprise for everyone as they arrive, if I can pull it off... I won't tell until next week!
Ohhhh... I think my little surprise is going to work and I am well excited! Here are the silks I designed for the afternoon. I am going to convert this into a long-sleeve t-shirt to wear. Tell me if I am being a bit silly!

May 13, 2007

The Carleton Varney Project, Part I

Once again, I scored a coup at the Book Thing! My father's in hospital again, so on the way up to see him, and to give my mother her Mother's Day present (thanks to Petite Tresor), I stopped by the Book Thing. As with most of my treasure stores, I have a route that I always take. At BT, I go to the DIY/Home Decorating/Garden section first, then Baltimore books, humour, mysteries, travel & maps and then biographies.
Anyway, today's swoop through the BT unearthed Carleton Varney's 1971 Book of Decorating Ideas (BODI). Check out the hair and sideburns!! I glanced through the book, chucked it in my bag and danced a little jig. Of course, I kept looking and came up with another few books.

As soon as I got home, I zoomed through a little of BODI, and came up with an idea. The book is divided into about 125 sections, which sounds like a lot, until you see that they're about a page or two each. As I was scanning the titles, I picked out a couple to read immediately and wondered if the ideas that Mr. Varney had in 1971 would still hold up today.

Here's the plan: Once a week or so, I will post one of the 1971 BODI ideas and then see how it translates into 2007 design. About half of the stories are illustrated with black & white photos, so I will do a then and now comparison with a little bit of text from the book. Here goes:
The See-Through Look: "When you are looking for new tables, chairs, lamps, accessories - consider the see-through look for the look of today." The colours in this room are pretty incredible - citrus yellow shag-plus carpeting, sheer white draperies, shocking pink walls and white ceiling and trim. The upholstery on the chairs is also shocking pink.
One of the see-through designs that shows up a lot in 2007 is the Louis Ghost Chair by Phillipe Stark, introduced in 2002. There were some examples in the Kips Bay Show House in New York and you see this chair a lot in design magazines. Visually, it doesn't take up much room, so it works in many places. Stark also has the Victoria chair (charm without arms) and a bar stool.
So, I think that the see-though look has held up for more than 35 years. What do you think?

300 Years of Wedgwood

On Friday, I was invited to a press conference at Mount Clare Mansion to hear about a new exhibit there called "300 Years of Wedgwood". It was just a spectacular display of hundreds of pieces of classic Wedgwood that is open to the public until June 9, 2007. The exhibition is being held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Wedgwood International Seminar in Baltimore later in May.
When you hear the word Wedgwood, the typical image that comes to mind is the blue jasperware with the white figures in relief. However, there is so much more to Wedgwood than that. The jasperware also comes in a darker blue, black, green, lilac, yellow and red, as well as combinations of these colours. There are also black basalt, rosso antiquo (red), majolica, caneware, Capriware (floral decorated) and the famous bone china.
Interestingly, there were some signed artists' ware including a gorgeous green and white Deco-style pitcher and mug. My favourite pieces were a blue and white jasperware tea set which had sterling silver accents, a green jasper tea set with bamboo decorations and a pale pink lustre ware tea set.
If you're in or near Baltimore before June 9, please try and take the time to see this stunning collection of 300 years of Wedgwood at the incredible Mount Clare Mansion.

May 11, 2007

World Market

Yesterday, my pal, Miss MA, her darling new Chinese daughter and I took a road trip. It was a short one, as we had a nine-month old with us, but it did involve the Capital Beltway. I've always heard about the World Market, usually on one of those HGTV design shows, when the designer comes up with some fun accessory from there. Miss MA is going to do her house in a British Colonial theme, so we thought that WM would be a good place to find rattan and grass baskets, bamboo accessories and more.
The World Market is like a version of Pier One, but without the furniture selection. There were copious amounts of things for the kitchen, including tons of china and glassware. They also have a large food selection, which thrilled me no end as I raced around getting huge bottles of Ty Nant water, Girabaldi biscuits, and some sweeties. Miss MA and I took notes and photos of some things she's interested in for her new house, including this fun rug below.
There were lots and lots of little piggies around the WM, so I liked that a lot, although I managed to resist buying any. It could get very cliched quickly!

World Market has more than 290 locations around the US, and many of them sell beers and wines along with the fun imports.

May 8, 2007

Preakness Party

We are so excited that Curlin came in third at the Derby - a respectible showing. So, in honour of maybe having a hometown-owned horse in the Preakness, and to celebrate an interesting new job offer, I am going to host a small Preakness party for 10 or so friends (I have an 11-foot wide house, so I can't have crowds!).

I designed an invitation using the George Stubbs horse portrait called Whistlejacket and then made the background a little more green. I added some copy and then saved it as a PDF to send with an e-mail.
Even though the Preakness has a signature drink - the Black-Eyed Susan - it's not as much fun as the mint julep. The recipe is two parts bourbon, one part citrus vodka, three parts sweet & sour mix and one part OJ. Sounds vile to me. So I think I will just have beer, wine and champagne.
I want to serve hors d'oeuvres and then a light supper. I have been mulling over exactly what, and haven't made any decisions, but think it should be buffet-style service and not too heavy food. I was thinking southern biscuits and Smithfield ham sandwiches, but that's too lunchy. For dessert, I want to make cupcakes and ice them with yellow flowers for the black eyed susans, which are Maryland's state flower. Suggestions are appreciated!


I know that this topic doesn't really have anything to do with either Pigtown or design, but I was reading the obituary of Isabella Blow in the UK's Guardian newspaper. I also just read a hilarious book about the new form of obits, and this all tied in. The book has the wonderful title of "The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries". Obituaries are one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper, and with this new form, they are even more popular. Instead of thinking of reading obits as being morbid, think of them as mini-biographies of people who are now gone.
I am from a family of newspapermen, and my sister's first job at the paper was writing obits. This was many years ago when obits were dry and purely informative, with no indication of the personality of the dead. This new wave in obit writing is telling the story of the dead. Here's a line from a New York Times obit written in the new way: Selma Koch, a Manhattan store owner who earned a national reputation by helping women find the right bra size, mostly through a discerning glance and never with a tape measure, died Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 95 and a 34B.

The final line in the Guardian's obit for Isabella Blow is "She is survived by Detmar [Blow] and a considerable hat collection."

May 7, 2007

Kinetic Sculpture Race

Saturday was one of those days when everything was happening. In addition to that big race down in Louisville, there was the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race at the American Visionary Arts Museum. I wandered over to meet Hue and her husband and catch up with some other friends. Before the race even begins, there is the mandatory brake check where the sculptures head down a hill and must brake at the bottom.
More than 40 sculptures were entered this year, a record. Some were very elaborate and some were simple. After playing the National Anthem on our kazoos, and being amazed at the marching band/drum line (best line of the entire day: I am too beautiful to sweat like this!), we watched the start. Later on, I went to Rallo's (where the elite meet to eat) to meet up with some other friends. I had forgotten that the first leg of the race would go right by Rallo's, so we sat outside to watch. Even after less than a mile, some racers had already broken down and dropped out.
Each sculpture is required to have a "barnacle" which is a person who rides along and can't be part of the powering of the vehicle, and a sock puppet. The sculptures ride along a 13-mile long course, which has a mud pit and a section where they go into the harbour and try to complete a small lap. The imagination and creativity of the teams are the most fun part of the race, and the winner isn't the first to finish, rather the one who comes in as the middle of the pack.

After we finished watching the Derby (and Curlin came in a respectable third!) we watched some of the Kinetic Racers making the trek home...thinking about next year.

May 4, 2007


Well, this year's horse of choice for the Kentucky Derby is Curlin. I found out last night that this terrific horse is owned by a friend of my brother's, George Bolton. The Boltons have a small racing stable outside of Baltimore and won the Hunt Cup in 1998. Curlin will be racing under George's colours, as the owners take turns running the horse under each of their stables' colours. Curlin is in the No.2 post position, and will be wearing orange and blue stripes with white sleeves, and a blue cap. The morning line on Friday is 7-2.

Image: The New York Times

May 3, 2007

Hats Off to HM

We're all in a spin here in MarVa (Maryland & Virginia) with the arrival of HM Elizabeth II on these shores today. Apparently, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a website of royal protocol which as gotten 300,000 hits in the last few weeks.
Here's my HM story: My last night in Wales coincided with a visit to Cardiff by HM and the Duke. They were attending a shindig about a half a mile from our house, so A and I wandered over to see her. It was dead foggy out and very creepy and by the time we got to the venue, she'd gone inside. So A and I decamped to the bar and chatted up her protection force. Unfortunately, after some bottles of fizz later, we completely missed HM zip out to her waiting Rolls and disappear into the night. At least I can say I was in the same building at the same time. I did see Charles and Camilla (Park & Ride) though.
HM will be attending the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. She's a huge horse fan, as was her mother before her. The family are big breeders and follow the bloodlines of favourite horses. HM always wears a hat, and the Derby will be no exception. Although outrageous hats are standard at the Derby, don't expect hers to be too flamboyant. Her hatmaker, one of the 800 holders of Royal Warrents, is Pateys Hats. This list is loads of fun to read through as you can find out who makes her knickers, her waterproof clothing and her stockings.
Bottom image: The Washington Post

May 2, 2007

Design, Layout & Display

In a couple of blogs I read, there's been some talk about design, layout and display. Hue talked about how appealing Anthropologie is in their displays. They do clever things like putting the glass door knobs on a bed of beans so the glass wouldn't chip. (image by Hue)
When we opened the furniture warehouse at Second Chance, the two guys who ran that warehouse had everything jumbled up with no rhyme or reason. One day I went in and started organizing things. I made vignettes with dining room tables and chairs, china and glassware, silver and napkins. I took antique beds and made them up with old quilts and blankets, added dressers and lamps. I worked so people could imagine the items in a home-like setting. It worked very well and sales went up.

Looking at catalogues is a great way to educate yourself with an eye toward layout and display. See how things are arranged in a room. The bed may be on the diagonal or in the center of the room, or the sofa may be facing away from the main entrance to a room.

Think about the stores you like. Consider a generic Hallmark store, with rows of cards and gifts stacked on shelves, with an overlay of corporate mandated layouts. Then think of a little boutique with fun cards on spinning racks, gifts arrayed in thoughtful ways, personally selected items, all displayed with thought and intent by the store owner.

Where would you rather shop?

May 1, 2007


As you may have noticed, I am playing around with a new logo on my blog. I actually don't need a logo, since I don't need to establish a brand recognition for myself, but I do some graphic design work and thought it would be fun to play with some different looks.

Logos are so important in sending the right message to consumers. Recently, as Hue reminded me, the Maryland Institute College of Art redesigned their logo. Several years ago, they made the quantum leap of removing the comma between Maryland Institute and College of Art. Their old logo was the name of the school in an all-caps typeface, with some sort of splash of paint below it. They just paid a consulting firm $75,000 to come up with a new logo.

When you see the logo up verrrrry close, the diagonal slash spells out Maryland Institute College of Art.

Think about the logos you see everyday and then think how they represent their product.