December 31, 2008

Happy 2009!

Winds are whipping through Balimore today, with gusts up to 60 mph, so we're not sure if the New Year's Eve fireworks over the Inner Harbour will be shot off tonight. I am going to a dinner party on the harbour and then racing home to make sure Connor doesn't try to hide behind the {gas} stove again this year. Connor won't be too unhappy if they cancel the fireworks. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and wonderful New Year!

December 30, 2008

Year End Retrospective

This has been an amazing year for Pigtown Design. This little blog I started almost two years ago has become an important part of my life, as have its readers. Over the past year, I have had the great good fortune of meeting some of you and corresponding with others. I've sent readers books from the Book Thing, and gotten lovely gifts from some of the same readers as well as others.

Pigtown Design has been an ever unfolding adventure. Each and every comment you take the time to write means the world to me! Thank you so very much.

I took a look back at the 200+ posts I've written this year and in some cases I've been surprised at which ones have generated lots of comments, and also surprised at which ones didn't. In no particular order the top posts are:

The House in My Dreams, and The House in My Dreams Again. I was very fortunate to be able to spend much of my life with this house in the center. My family lived there for nearly 30 years, so it was the backdrop to many parties, great meals, quiet moments and even a wedding.
I LOVE This House, another house I wrote about which resonated with a lot of you. This is in London and I used to pass it as I was travelling from London to Cardiff, and from London to Heathrow. Coincidentally, I found it for sale in the Guardian, right after I came back from England.

Clotheslines and Teatowels received a lot of comments, which pleased me greatly. I love using vintage teatowels, especially the linen ones, as they don't leave lint on your glassware. I was shocked to find out that some homeowners associations outlaw clotheslines because they're low class. How incredibly short-sighted.

Spoons and the monogramming of silver and china received a lot of attention. I love a good spoon and bought some in London, but then bought more at Target upon my return home.

I Coloniali remains one of my touchstone scents. It conjures up so many memories of good things, and when I shared it with you, everyone was intrigued. House of Beauty & Culture was kind enough to send me a box of it, and I just received a gift package of assorted I Coloniali items earlier this month.

Thank you again for taking the time to read Pigtown Design and to comment. I know that you lead a busy life and it means so much that you make the time to visit my blog.

Happy New Year from me and from Connor!

December 29, 2008

Books and Things

As I was posting about my most recent find from the Book Thing yesterday, I was also reading an article in the New York Times about the state of book-selling today. Both chain and independent bookstores are closing up, and on-line sales at and others are not doing much better.
The cause? Not really places like Book Thing (which is unique), but small amateur sellers who are selling out of their spare room or kitchen, or in conjunction with a reselling website. Interestingly enough, in today's Washington Post, there was an article about a huge re-seller outside of Baltimore with more than a million books waiting to be sold. They were shipping about 3,000+ orders a day before the holidays.
Some books are sold for as little as a penny. When that happens, the author is obviously not receiving royalties and the money that is made comes from the shipping and handling fees. And of course, authors don't receive any royalties from the books I get at BT.
At the Book Thing, I often struggle with whether I should take books. I have donated my fair share of books to BT, and my family's donated hundreds of books as well. If I wanted to buy books, I could afford to. But should I leave the books there for someone who can't afford to buy books?
I have found books that I would have never looked for, but when I've stumbled across them at BT, I've taken and read them. Perusing the aisles at BT has opened me to so many books I would never have known about otherwise. I could look at every book in every local or on-line bookstore and never see some of the books I've found there.
The book industry is changing rapidly with the introduction of Kindle and with the resellers. Do you think that books will survive? I sure hope they do!
Images: books that i've found at book thing (and one from the WashPost).

December 28, 2008

James Lees-Milne's Buildings

The last few weeks at the Book Thing have been rather sparse, with some of the shelves being completely empty.
I had a busy weekend, but did manage to stop by Book Thing to drop off a big bag of books. The decorating section was filled to the brim with old copies of Architectural Digest, dating back a dozen or more years.

I headed around to the travel section, looking in vain for some small volume on Wales. But among the decade-old copies of Lonely Planet, I found James Lees-Milne's National Trust Guide book, Buildings. At the point that this book was written in 1948, the National Trust had only acquired 100 buildings, compared to 300+ today. Interestingly enough, there were only three listed buildings in London, including No. 3 Cheyne Walk in one of my favourite sections of that city.

The foreward to the book is written by Lord Esher, and the illustrations are by S.R. Badmin. There are little notes for each of the houses, including opening times and admissions listed in shillings and pence. One house mentions that "the key may be obtained next door from Miss J. Jupe".

Mr. Lees-Milne is the husband of Avilde Lees-Milne, who wrote The Englishwoman's House, which I wrote about here. I am looking forward to reading this book and comparing the 1940's era line drawings and notes to current day websites.

December 26, 2008

Totally Irreverent

I read the Guardian from the UK, because it offers a completely different point of view from American newspapers. I was catching up on the news of the past few days and stumbled across this spoof of the Queen's Christmas Speech.
PG Tips is one of the large tea companies in the UK and their puppet character is called Monkey (pronounced Mon-keh), for rather obvious reasons. This picture is Monkey playing a pirate, not the Queen.

December 25, 2008

Another Christmas Tradition

I remember hearing my father speak of the Queen's Christmas Speech as I was growing up. Her Majesty has entered the 21st Century, and last year, began putting her Christmas Speech on her channel on You Tube.

Regardless of what you think of the monarchy, HM makes some really good points and lessons. If you have a few extra moments, you might also watch this video about the tradition of the Crown giving Christmas Trees from the Windsor Crown Estate.

December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Best Wishes for a Wonderful and Happy Christmas!

Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols

One of the most important parts of my preparation for Christmas is listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve morning as I am preparing for the festivites later on in the day. This is a quite contemplation of what Christmas is all about, and comes from the spectacular King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England.
The BBC's weekly radio newsletter puts it beautifully: As the winter evening shadows lengthen, a solo chorister sings the first verse of “Once in Royal David's City” in the expectant stillness of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The experience we have here is shared with millions around the world... The solo chorister is chosen minutes before the service begins so that he won't have time to get nervous. Every time I hear the opening notes of "Once in Royal David's City", I just burst into tears. There's just something so moving about this.
The Festival was something that my father and I both loved deeply and I was lucky enough to spend a summer afternoon at King's College Chapel with him and my mother. I have an abiding image in my mind of my father and his sister as children in England listening to the service on their old radio while their father prepared their Christmas dinner.

There's also a lovely line in the service about remembering "all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light", which was a reference to those lost during the Second World War, although I used to think it referred to my grandfather in England.

The Nine Lessons tradition began in 1928 and has only not happened once, in 1930. The service continued during WWII even though the magnificent stained glass windows of the chapel had been removed for safekeeping.

You can listen to this service on BBC World Service or on public radio stations in the US. It is usually repeated on Christmas Day.

Reprinted from Pigtown Design, December 2007

December 23, 2008

Is Brocade Back?

Recently, in the past few days, I've been getting e-mails from Brocade again. It seemed like they'd closed up virtual shop in the summer, and had left a lot of people who had ordered from them, with no answers. Now, they've got a temporary Christmas shop in Soho, NYC, open until Christmas Eve.
Anyone know what's going on?

December 22, 2008

Dower House, Bristol

I was looking for an image in my pictures from my UK trip and stumbled across a couple of photos I'd snapped as I was travelling from London to Cardiff. There was an incredible yellow house on a hill above the M-32 which I'd never noticed before. Apparently, it's the Dower House, a 1563 building at the center of a 140+ acre park.
It was once owned by the Duke & Duchess of Beaufort and then was used as a hospital for the care of "mental defectives" and "inebriates" until the 1980's.
In 2005, the Dower House was converted to 14 apartments, saving as many of the original features as possible, including oak flooring, timber skirting, fireplace surrounds and ornate cornices.
Unfortunately, there's very little information to be found about these apartments.
This house is why I got into the habit of always carrying my camera with me when I lived in the UK, and why I still carry it with me. You never know what's around the next corner.

December 21, 2008

Choirs at Christmas

If there's one thing that totally gets me into the Christmas spirit, it's listening to a choir singing Christmas carols, especially in Latin or French. My father was in the choir at Norwich Cathedral in his native England. My young English cousin sang at Cirencester Church in Gloucesteshire and his choir produced a CD of Christmas songs a few years ago.
One of my favourite songs is called Gaudete. It was probably composed in the 16th century, in celebration of Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent. The earliest mention of this song is in a Swedish/Finnish book of songs, although the words are Latin. I like this version sung by the choir Libera, a group of boys from a church in North London.

I remember singing this song at Christmas concerts in prep school. It's called Personent Hodie, another Latin song. I always loved the chorus, which went "Ide-o-o-o"... This song may have been written for the Feast of the Innocents, when King Herod had all the baby boys killed in hopes of eliminating the baby Jesus. I couldn't find a very good version of this song.

Another carol I love is called "Riu Riu Chiu", a Spanish song. Oddly enough, one of the versions I found on You Tube is by the 60's group, The Monkees! Riu Riu Chiu is the sound a nightingale makes and is the inspiration for this song.

On Christmas eve morning, as I have done for years, I will listen to the choristers at King's College Cambridge and their presentation of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
It is my ambition to attend this in person one day.

Sorry for the bad formatting... it just wouldn't format the way I wanted it!

December 20, 2008

A Song for Joni

Dear Joni,

I heard this version of Dreidel and and thought of you,since you are always doing a twist on the classic. This is Erran Baron-Cohen's hip hop version, and it's really quite a lot of fun. It's from his new CD, Songs in the Key of Hanukkah.
Happy Hanukkah!

xoxo, Meg & Connor

December 18, 2008

Tall Cabinet

In between designing Christmas cards for one of my besties, and doing everything else that needs to be done, I started putting things in the tall cabinet. It needs a shelf on the top part, but Ben says I can have a piece of glass cut to fit. In the meantime, I put some little halogen Christmas lights in the top. The glass is waved vertically on the outside of the pane and horizontally on the inside to make an almost basket-weave pattern.
Right now, I am storing dry dogfood in an old enamel pail, wet dogfood in a copper pot and then all of my coffee-making accoutrements, including the stove-top espresso maker, the french presse and the milk frother, on the counter section. I haven't yet decided what goes in the two drawers or the lower cabinet. That fun is still to come!

December 17, 2008

Doctor's Cabinets.

This afternoon, after submitting a major grant for work, I went over to Housewerks to pick up the two cabinets I bought. They're old doctor's cabinets from the early 1960's and have a ton of storage space, which is essential in my little house. Of course, bringing them into the house, means re-arranging everything else. They needed a good scrub, which I've now done and I am getting ready to dis-assemble my kitchen to make room for the taller one. It fits in the space with about a quarter-inch to spare between the corner of it and the fridge door. That's one of the perils of living in an 11.5' wide house!
Now it's time to get back to work!

December 15, 2008

Give a Little

You may know that in my real life, I raise funds for a charity that cares for children in the most desperate circumstances. But things are getting desperate for a lot of people who never thought they'd be at a food bank or in a homeless shelter.
As a public service announcement, I just want to ask you to make a contribution to the charity of your choice. It doesn't have to be a huge gift, maybe just the cost of that double decaf light soy latte at Starbucks for a week. Regardless of what you give, and who you give it to, it will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

December 14, 2008

Christmas Greens

For the past week, I've felt like the Greens Elf, making deliveries of the bags of greens I got on the Eastern Shore last Sunday. I had so much greenery that I wanted to share it with friends and family. Today, I finally got around to putting up the greens at my house and at my mother's house.

For the front door of my 1880's era house, I made a wreath of the magnolia leaves, taking a square styrofoam form and then adding the leaves around it. I lightly painted some gold, and then added a gold bow.
For the little window box, I stuffed the planter full of boxwood, so it looks like a boxwood plant.
On either side of the steps, I just stuck the Harry Lauder Walking Stick branches into the potting soil and then filled the space in with a variety of the other greens. My neighbour's parents are coming in from out of town, so I went over there and basically did the same thing to her pot. I used some yew as the centerpiece and then added more greens around the edges.
At my mother's house, we found a pot filled with dirt and I just stuck the magnolia branches into it and placed it in front of the fireplace.
I found a little christening cup and put some of the boxwood into that.
I also stuck some of the boxwood behind the clock on the fireplace surround. I love the smell of boxwood - it reminds me of the holidays.
A crystal vase on the bookshelf was the perfect thing for some of the juniper, complete with blue berries.
I love the look, and the smell, of lots of fresh greens tucked around the house. It's important to always have living greens in your house, especially if they're live plants. They help keep you healthy and the air clean!

December 10, 2008

More from the Shore

This is a total cop-out post because I am trying to get things ready for the art show and sale I am participating in this weekend at Mount Clare, a historic home near my house. But I thought you'd like to see some more pictures of the house I visited this weekend.

This is the first part of the drive, and the family uses the needles from these pines to mulch the gardens. At this house, it's all about being environmentally friendly and green.
The seed pods from the magnolias are so interesting. You can see the red seeds in this one.
As usual, Connor is doing his best to get outside. He'd rather be someplace else, regardless of where he is!
This is another view of the incredible Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree. During the summer, when it's leafed out, it's nothing spectacular. But when winter comes, you can see the twisting and corkscrewing branches.
M was explaining to me how they're making "rooms" in the garden. The trees you see planted here are hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana). When they fill in a bit, they will create an enclosed area around a small bench and folly.

December 9, 2008

Some Small Corrections

I got an e-mail this morning from my gracious host on Sunday with some changes to my post about the visit to their house.

The chandelier is an “Argand Chandelier” - so called because of the type of lamps or burners – it is English c.1830. The house had a chandelier similar to this one and in the same room! It is described in an inventory taken in the late 1830’s. The chandelier that was once here is nearly identical in form – but slightly earlier – it hangs in a house not far from this house and descended in the family.

I took a guess, but the colour of the paint in the red room is Farrow and Ball Blazer. Blazer is described by F & B as “ A bright vermillion red similar to the colour of the sports blazer worn at St. John's College, Cambridge. Use Undercoat No. 49.” M had first thought of a Pompeian Red – but this does the ticket with the porcelain, the marbles and the French furniture.