November 28, 2007

Gracious Entertaining the 60's Way

Last week, there was a great article in the Home & Garden section of the New York Times, which I almost missed. The article came out on Thanksgiving, and I was too busy watching my nephew's football game with a friend who edits Men's Vogue, and whose nephew was also playing. Unfortunately, we both missed the boys' three minutes of playing time, but I got lots of fun gossip.

As you know, I love old books, and I always find gems at the Book Thing. The article in the New York Times referenced some of my faves, including the other Dorothy Rodgers tome, "My Favorite Things". Even in "The House in My Head", Mrs. Rodgers includes recipes, which in today's weight-watching world are likely to make you run screaming to the carrot sticks.

The one thing in the article that resonated with me was that entertaining these days is "outsourced", done by caterers, event planners, and florists, rather than by the host and hostess. I will grant you that a lot of us don't have the same time to spend entertaining as our parents did, but with good planning, it can be done. If you take a little from here and a little from there, it is more reflective of you and your tastes than some big money style maven.

The women who wrote these books, Joan Crawford, Mary Rodgers, and even Liberace, were not selling a lifestyle like Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray, but giving the masses their ideas of gracious entertaining.

As we move at the speed of light towards the holiday entertaining season, are you going to be a mini-Martha, or are you going to let your inner gracious self shine through?
Image: New York Times

November 25, 2007

Helping for the Holidays

I have received several private e-mails from readers asking what they can do to help the children in our care at Woodbourne. As I've mentioned, we care for 50 boys from ages 12-18 on the main campus, and another 100 children from 8-16 at our short term diagnostic and treatment center.

Many of these children are with us because their parents are not able to care for them. Most of our children come from families in grinding poverty. Many have never had anything new and many have never even had a birthday cake. Our wonderful kitchen staff makes every child a cake on their birthday.

We recently heard from a woman who was at Woodbourne about 20 years ago. She's now a nurse with a family of her own. She told one of our long-time workers that the thing she remembered most about her stay at Woodbourne was that it was the first time she'd ever had anything that was new and that still had the price tags on it. In this day and age, when we all have so much, it's hard to imagine what that meant to her.

If you would like to make a contribution to make a lasting memory for one of our children, please send it to The Woodbourne Charitable Trust/1301 Woodbourne Avenue/Baltimore/Maryland/21239. Alternately, make a contribution to a similar organization in your area.

On behalf of everyone at the Woodbourne Center, thank you for thinking of our children.

November 22, 2007

Holiday Quiz

Now that Thanksgiving is done and gone, I feel like I can begin to write about Christmas and the holidays. Don't want to rush the season!

This is from Baltimore Snacker by way of Chris at Take the quiz and pass it on. Let me know if you post it... I'd love to see your answers!
1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Egg nog is just too thick. So, it's hot chocolate with big marshmallows...and a shot!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
He wraps them in coordinated paper for different people

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White, non-flashing, non-moving.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No. I am not tall enough

5. When do you put your decorations up?
About the second week of December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Cranberry and orange relish. Spiced pecans.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Being old enough to go to the big caroling party downtown with my parents and their friends.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
What truth?

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
We didn't used to, but we do some now.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Minimally. All one-colour balls which I buy by the box at thrift stores and then donate back.

11. Snow: love it or hate it?
Have to agree with Snack on this: Love it, as long as it doesn’t make things difficult on the road. Ice, though, is evil.

12. Can you ice skate?
Yep. I used to ice skate after work at the Rash Field Rink.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
A trip to the Costwolds for the entire family. It took two years of planning, but all 15 of us went for from two to six weeks.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
The planning. Writing cards to friends scattered across the globe. Seeing family and friends at parties. The cheer and good will. This year, it's also making sure all of the kids at our residential centers have presents.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Mince pie with a sharp cheddar cheese.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
It used to be caroling downtown with the family and friends, but now it's the Monument Lighting on First Thursday. Kitchenography said it better than I could ever... read it here. I also never miss the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge that is played on Christmas Eve. I hope one day to attend in person

17. What tops your tree?
It varies.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Giving... I love finding the perfect present. Last year, I gave my niece private knitting lessons at a shop in Fells Point. I wrapped clues in a ball of yarn and we had the best time watching her unravel it. One year I gave my parents, who have everything they could want, a website.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
Some of the old English/Latin carols like
Personent Hodie or Gaudete.

20. Candy canes:
Only red and white peppermint ones.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Don't have one, although I love watching the Nutcracker ballet.

22. What do you leave for Santa?
The dog usually snags it first!

November 21, 2007

Tivoli House Painting is Complete

The estate manager did a walk-about with the job foreman this morning and finalized everything on the punch list. Since it's semi-sunny day today, and pretty quiet at the office, I thought I would wander around and take some photos of the finished project. I must say that for a 150+ year old house that was used as an orphanage for many years before we built cottages, it is in remarkable shape.
A few weeks ago, when the painters were working on the upper floors of the house, I talked them into letting me go up on their lift, and was able to get some photos. Unfortunately, it was at high noon, so the sun blew out the sky, but you can get a good idea of the main section of the house. The two windows on the second floor left side are mine, and you can see that one's cracked open to let fresh air in.
On the west side, in the original parlour and master bed- and sitting-rooms, there are lots of floor to ceiling windows with graceful arched tops. They are now shaded by some pines. In the 1850's, these windows would let the summer breezes into the house. We replaced all of the plexiglass windows with new quarter-inch glass panes to help the house become more air-tight. Apparently, the glass used to rattle in the frames during windy winter days. Brrrr...
There's a small wing on the east side of the house, which was probably the original kitchen, and maybe the quarters for a high-ranking house staff. It and the building we use as our school, appeal to me more than the Italianate main house. The picture above is the kitchen wing and the one below is the school. We used a similar shot, taken in the summer, for a PR postcard we just sent.
We've been trying to figure out what the school was originally used for, and have discounted slave quarters for several reasons, not the least of which was the Enoch Pratt, who owned the house was a Quaker and very anti-slavery. He and some friends sat out the Civil War here at Tivoli, which was self-sufficient with its own farm and springs.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 18, 2007

Book Thing... again

Yep, I know you hate reading about what fabulous things I've gotten at the Book Thing, and are thinking, OMG, she's writing about them again? My mother is de-accessioning my father's books to make room for even more of his books that are in storage, so I have to drop the ones she doesn't want at BT for her on my way back downtown from visiting her. And of course, I have to go in and look around and hope that I find some amazing treasure!

Today's haul, on my part, was a little light... another copy of The House in My Head (up for grabs for the first person who responds that they want it!) and a biography that I might not have otherwise looked at reading. It is Pierre Balmain's "My Years and Seasons", written in 1964 and translated from the original French version.
I was pleased to see that the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has included this among their couture books to read. I don't know a lot about this designer, but did think that this would be an interesting book to read. Balmain won a Tony Award for his costume design and women as diverse and Josephine Baker and Katherine Hepburn wore his theatrical designs.
Oscar de la Renta designed for this house until 2003, and it seems to be on hiatus right now.

November 14, 2007


My colleague just came back from presenting at a conference in Europe and had a layover in London. Knowing that, I gave him a shopping list for WHSmith in the airport. It was simple, really... Just a design mag or two and the day's newspaper.

I really lucked out with the 60th Anniversary issue of House & Garden UK. The magazine's cover is what looks like every cover they've published...about 70 in all.
They did some fun and clever things in the magazine, including looking at the decades from the 50's to the 00's, and talking about the designer, fabric, furnishings and food of the era. Of course, favourite David Hicks is the designer of the 70's, and Laura Ashley's sprigged prints are the fabric. Additionally, they asked each of the section editors to give their favourite resources, most of which are scattered around London and the UK, but some are in the States.

One of the features I liked the most was the chairs they covered in specially created fabrics, using Dover Publications clip art books, which I use all of the time. The stripey chair looks just like the inside of the Dorothy Draper book, Decorating is Fun!
I had to post the photo below for numerous reasons, not the least of which is my new book and secondly as a shout to Cote de Texas and her lovely house. It's from Tindle Lighting in the UK, and of course, it's not on their website... But FYI, it's £895 or $1800.
It was a sad irony to see the UK H&G celebrating 60 years, while the US version has ceased publication.

November 11, 2007

Sunday Morning Musings

This is my 200th post. It's been a lot of fun blogging and I am, more or less, sticking with my original intent: to keep in the habit of writing, and to take more photographs. Thank you so much to everyone who reads this. It means so much to me to get your comments.

I bought the final issue of H&G this morning. I am looking forward to spending some time reading every word of it. Style Court and her great eye managed to spot a copy of "I Married Adventure" in Aerin Lauder's bedroom.
A lot of us have commented on the demise of H&G. I was a fan of the magazine and was a subscriber before I moved to Wales. In a comment on Mrs. Blandings, I said that it represented a middle ground. I got hit hard for that comment by Anon, who said, "This so called "middle ground" is the death of good taste. "High brow" is the whole point! We must look at and understand "the best" in order to educate our eyes so that we can create something great of our own."

That got me thinking about what the best actually is. There's a huge difference between the best and the best I can afford. I liked H&G because it had some incredible interiors that I loved to see, but it also featured items that were more affordable than most of the things in Archictectural Digest. I would love the Asprey calfskin photo album featured in the H&G article on Aerin Lauder, but at $425, it's just not in my budget. But the lovely little blue and white bowls shown just above it are affordable at $18 to $20 each.
Anon says "high brow is the whole point". I don't agree with that statement at all. The whole point is living as well as you can, within your means. Some of my best times have been fairly low-brow... sitting around with friends, eating, drinking and laughing... playing with the children and dogs at the local beach... sanding the bottom of the boat in preparation for a new sailing season. Life is not always about museums, opera and culture. I understand about educating your eye to know what the best is, but always having the best is just not realistic. I'd rather settle for the best for me. What do you think?

November 10, 2007

Cote de Texas

If you have never visited the Cote de Texas, take some time to hop on over and see my friend Joni. She's a multi-talented designer from Houston whose house is featured in this month's House and Home from Houston. The article is in PDF for you to look at and download. This Texas gal has made a warm, gracious and welcoming home for you to visit. I love her lampshade made from a vintage map of Paris... I may have to do this for my guest room/office!

Congrats, Joni!

November 8, 2007


I just got word that Restoration Hardware is being sold to a private equity firm for $267 million. This is interesting in that companies are often sold like this when they're not doing well, in hopes that the equity company can turn them around (see: Chrysler). This isn't a huge surprise to me. A few weeks ago, I went to their warehouse sale outside of Baltimore, which they generally have twice a year. They've been having them every month recently and the warehouse was full of unsold furniture. As I said in that post "Good for us, bad for them". Hmmmmm....

Chair Couture

I love Thursdays because that's when the New York Times and Washington Post have their Home & Garden and Fashion & Style sections. There's always something yummy to discover there.
This morning, I found Margaret Elman's amazing Chair Couture chaise. So I started poking around her website and found more great things. The chaise above looks like it's got a traditionally patterned fabric, but if you take a good look, it's the sun reflecting through water in a swimming pool. Margaret takes one-of-a-kind French antiques and upholsters them in fabrics printed with photos from nature, including green grass, sunlight through trees, dandilions and more. Each piece is made to order, using either Margaret's own or high-end (Kravat) fabrics.
Chair Couture has been featured in Elle Decor, House & Garden, O Home and many others. Take a look at her website. These pieces are really fun.

November 4, 2007

I Married Adventure

... well, not yet, but I hope to find a middle-aged Mr. Adventure to marry some day (soon). However, I did find I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson today at the Book Thing!!!

I've been longing for a copy of this book ever since I saw it featured on Style Court's blog back in January 2007. The great thing about this book is its eternally chic brown and cream zebra print cloth cover. My new copy is in great shape, with a book plate dated 1940, and it's the third printing.

Style Court says that it's one of the books that is most frequently seen in styled photographs in shelter magazines. Brilliant Asylum and Beach Bungalow 8, among others have also mentioned this book. In September, I commented on Brilliant's post about this book, I am praying to the gods that i find a copy of this hidden at the Book Thing... and that no-one knows what it is!.
As recently as two weeks ago, I commented to someone on my post about the Book Thing, "it is so completely totally random what you find there. I try to go every other week, but that said, it's a crap-shoot. Russell, who runs the place, told me that someone would ask about a book on the sex life of Mongolian goat herders, and low and behold, one would come in a week later. I must try that trick for "I Married Adventure".
In fact, I went to the Book Thing yesterday morning after the Load o'Fun market with Kitchenography, and the local uptown Farmers Market and had a cruise around the shelves. I went back today on the way to my mother's to drop off a huge bag of books, and thought I would just pop in for a look around. Damn if I didn't find "I Married Adventure" sitting there in the biography section in all it's zebra-striped glory. And yes, that was me doing the happy dance out of the building and telling Russell that I loved him! WOOHOO!

images: Style Court

T-Style Design Magazine

If you don't normally get the New York Times, this is a day to try and pick up a copy, if it's available near you. The Times does an occasional magazine called T Style, which I've written about before, because it's packed with so many interesting goodies. Today's edition of T Style is the winter design and living issue.

Even the adverts in T Style are great... One of the first things that caught my eye was the delicious Kate Spade ad with the brightly-coloured tights and shoes atop the brightly-coloured Mirriam Webster dictionaries. (sorry for the bad scan)Alain Decasse shows off his shopping list, Hamish Bowles talks about Vogue's new book and some of his instant decorating ideas, a mini-map of Sao Paulo Brazil shows hot spots and wine storage is discussed at length. The $5.00 news stand price is well worth it for T Style alone!

November 1, 2007

Carleton Varney, Part X - Books in Decorating

It's been a while since I've done a Carleton Varney post, and since I just saw the book buried under some art I've been working on, I thought I'd see what he has to say.
Well, thank god I wasn't one page earlier, or you would have gotten Decorating the Ethel Merman Way. That's just too scary to ponder. Instead, the magic book opened to a page titled Books Are Great Guns in Decorating. At first I thought he was going to talk about a gun room, and that had me worried. Carleton says that books add great personality to every room in your house. He says a good size is 36"wide, 12" deep and 60" high.
Of course, I totally agree with Carleton on this one. There isn't a room in my house without books, except maybe the bath. I only have two book cases right now, but am planning on getting one or two more when I finish my office/guestroom. I like to keep books in stacks around the house. With the Book Thing so conveniently located, I can try books out for size, and keep them if I like them. Anything I don't want to keep, either goes back to Book Thing or to the Goodwill.
This is from a NYSD interview with Charlotte Moss. NYSD:"What are the warning signs indicating clients you don’t want to work with?" CM: "Bad shoes. Polyester napkins. A ‘library’ with no books. Very wealthy people who are not philanthropically inclined." I couldn't agree more! That's her library above.

The house where I grew up had a library with a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves which my father built for his book collection. Unfortunately, the people who bought our after we moved ripped them out. Obviously, illiterates. It does give me pause when I see houses with either no books at all, or "books by the yard" bought specifically for decoration.
This is the amazing David Easton's bedroom, lined books and some objects to break up the lines. He says "I have more than 4000 books – that’s a plea for help! It's like having 4000-plus friends entertain, educate and give you comfort. Books have given me great solace in looking to the past. I have books in almost any category, from history, religion, architectural, furniture, travel and reference materials."

Images: New York Social Diary, Designer Series. Click on each image to read an interview with the designer.