December 31, 2007

Happy 2008!

All of my very best wishes for a very safe, happy and prosperous 2008.
Thank you so much for reading Pigtown*Design. This blog came about as part of my 2007 resolution to write more and take more photographs. I can't wait to see what happens in 2008!

December 28, 2007


On these chilly nights and mornings, I am so glad to be able to snuggle under my eiderdown. If you don't know, eiders are actually a northern sea duck with especially fluffy light down feathers, and the origin of the word is from the Norse languages.
I have two heirloom eiderdowns which are still as light and warm as you can imagine. Eider down is very lofty and light and can last for decades if properly taken care of. You can wash them in a machine, but add tennis balls to re-fluff the down.
When I was in London on some trip, I remember going into Alfie's Antique Market and watching some posh couple trying to bargain with the dealer for a matching set of eiderdowns.

Many of the vintage eiderdowns have tightly woven cotten covers, often in a paisley or flower print or sometimes a shiny satin (which slides right off the bed). You will sometimes see quilts advertised as eiderdowns, but unless they're filled with eider down, they're not.
If you happen to find a real eiderdown in your travels, and you live in a cold climate, snap it up immediately. You will never go back to feather/down comforters.

December 26, 2007

The Dog Cooperated

Poor House... his dogs were not cooperating for his holiday photo of them. My dear Yellow Labrador Retriever, Connor, is the canine Greta Garbo and just wants to be left alone - especially when there's a camera nearby. I pull out the camera to download photos or shoot some still-life photo and he just heads out of the room.

Some magical Christmas spirit must have taken hold yesterday when he actually practically POSED for photos. Maybe it was because he knew how sweet he looked in his Christmas bow. He loves to prop his chin on things, regardless of whether it's a footstool or a toy.

My lovely mother gave me Bunny Williams' Point of View for Christmas. She and I had both seen the same article in the New York Times a couple of months ago and commented on some of the things Bunny had said. I can't wait to spend some time devouring this book and the gorgeous photographs.

December 21, 2007

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 these opening notes, I just burst into tears. There's just something so moving about this, and it will be especially poignant this year.

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. 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.

December 20, 2007


There is an interesting article in today's New York Times about trends that have risen and fallen over the past year. Included are riffs on David Hicks' geometric look of overlapping squares, antler lamps and plastic, resin and wood "trophy" heads, cowhide rugs and (gasp)suzanis. The article includes a slide show of things that have been determined to be "over".

The feeling is that once design items go from the designer showroom or show house to the catalogues like Ballard Design or West Elm, then the trend becomes ubiquitous and is over.
Image: New York Times

December 17, 2007

A revision

As I said yesterday, I've not been totally in the Christmas spirit, but today, something happened to make me feel a lot better.

At Woodbourne, we've been working with Best Buy for a few months on some of their community service projects. The staff members of two stores came and painted all of the children's rooms in September. One of the managers told her mother about our place and the children there.

In September, the mother began making quilts for our children and just delivered them to us. There were more than 30 quilts, and she told me that she cut out more than 6,500 6x6 inch squares of fabric to make them. Not only that, she flew to Baltimore from Georgia to deliver them!I have also been overwhelmed with the generosity of some of my readers. Thank you so very much. These lovely acts of kindness are what the season is all about.

December 16, 2007

Christmas Ennui

I can't believe it's less than 10 days until Christmas and I still have not done some of the major things, like finishing shopping, sending cards and feeling the spirit...
We're heading up to NYC for a day of shopping this week, so hopefully that will put me in the mood. The Blonde, the Redhead and I (the Brunette) have been taking this trip in December for many years, with varying degrees of success. One year, some of the group wanted to go to a bar in the Village where one of the bartenders was a character on a soap opera. I declined that and found my way to Soho for some power-shopping.

We always spend a little time in Chinatown, mostly because of my affection for Pearl River Mart, which I remember from the old days on top of the stalls on Canal Street. It took several tries to find it, but when I did, it was worth it for its amazing silk-brocade covered books, beautiful china and "ivory" and "tortoise shell" toothbrushes.
This year, the Redhead wants to go to the new CB2, the younger sibling of Crate & Barrel in Soho, I want to go to Muji, the Japanese minimalist store, which I loved in London. They are very close to each other, but I am sure we'll all go in both.The Blonde wants to get shoes. She's also going to go see The Color Purple on Broadway and got a great deal on tickets.
We will end the day, as we always do, with a photo in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center.

December 13, 2007

Oh Christmas Tree!!!

Yep, Christmas is in 11 days. I have not finished shopping. I have not sent any cards, and am especially late for the overseas ones. I did put up my wreath. I did buy a tiny little silver tinsel Christmas tree from Target for $1.00 because I don't have space for a real one. It's semi-tasteful and when I am finished, I can put it back together and store it in a paper-towel roll.

I am fairly traditional and have always had a live tree. We used to tromp around the country-side when we were children and chop our own trees down. Of course, there are housing developments there now.

I do like some artificial trees and fully understand the need for them. My blog-buddy, Le Coterie has a terrific pink one called "Oh, Shift" decorated with tiny little Lily Pulitzer print ornaments.* Cute, clever,funny and tasteful!
Honestly, I don't think there's any way I would ever have a black feathers Christmas tree like the one I saw at Target! Or a 14-foot tall red shimmering tree that cost $1600, unless I was in some new circle of hell, possibly a designer one. The red one comes in a new slim size, too!
If I ever contemplated buying a Musical Lights Christmas tree, I would trust that one of my family or friends would see fit to lock me up until the contemplation passed. I can't imagine anything worse than walking up a pathway and having the fake tree light up and start singing. I think that would be a certain cue to leave... or drink a lot to recover from the shock of it all.
As my mother says "there is no accounting for some people's taste" and this time of year, there's no accounting at all!
*Oh Shift image reprinted with permission

December 10, 2007

What Is This?

I was poking around my favourite junk store the other day when I came across an interesting piece. It looked like it would be a perfect thing to hold frequently-used files in my new-but-not-yet-finished office space.
It seems a bit big to be a toast holder. I have one of those that I use to sort mail. It's made of some sort of silver-plated metal, and as you can see, it didn't polish up too well. One of the little round metal feet was missing, so I found a glass marble the same size and put it on, as you can see on the right foot. Any hints and suggestions? I'd love to know what it was. In the mean time, I will be using it to hold files.

Update: Some people have suggested magazine holder. It's pretty small, as you can see in relation to the letter-sized files. Since it's fairly decorative, I am thinking it might have been used on a table. Also, with the center handle decoration, it may have been used for something small, so it could be seen and carried. Mail, maybe?

PS... I found the files at a local stationery store, and also get nice-looking ones at Tuesday Morning. I figure if I am going to file things, the files should be pretty. I have also gotten some pretty files at the dollar store.

December 9, 2007

Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton has always been a fascinating character to me, ever since I saw his beautiful costumes for My Fair Lady's horse racing scene. He was also one of the British Royal Family's photographers in the 40's and 50's. I don't know a lot about him, but I am going to find out by reading his diaries from 1965 until 1980.

I found two copies of his diaries which were published in 2002 at Book Thing this afternoon, along with a couple of copies of House & Garden from the Louis Gropp years. The diaries are about 800 pages total, with lots of illustrations, so I better get reading.

December 8, 2007

If You've Never Heard...

...the southern anthems "Rocky Top" and "Dixie" played on bagpipes, then you're really missing something. Thanks, Ian!

December 5, 2007

First Thursday

The first Thursday in December is one of my favourite days of the year. It is a day full of warm memories, good friends and the launch of the holiday season. It is the day that Baltimore has the Annual Monument Lighting.

Baltimore's Washington Monument is actually older than the one just 40 miles down the road in Washington, DC. It's in the center of downtown and at the intersection of four parks that look like they could be in a city in Europe.

My friend Jack, who was the manager at the Brass Elephant, one of Baltimore's best restaurants, and I used to serve hot chocolate to the crowds at the Lighting for several years. Now, all of the businesses around the Squares have parties that evening, so you can go from one to another for drinks.

Another year, I had just gotten back from NYC and had a great new pair of diamond earrings. I entertained friends Peter & Michael with a slightly boozy rendition of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend". They were shocked that I knew all of the words. As we walked back home, the snow began to fall and it was the perfect end to another fun evening and the beginning of a season of endless parties!
One very cold and snowy year I took a friend from Cape Town, who'd never seen as much snow as we had... Some years, it's been quite warm though! Tomorrow should be cold and we just had a couple of inches of snow today.

Everyone counts down and then all of the lights are lit. But then the fun comes: They shoot fireworks from the top of the monument and the huge iron urns around the bottom of it! It only lasts about 10 minutes, but it's the prefect launch of the season. The Monument Lighting is one of those events that reminds me that this is really a big small town.

This year's Lighting should be just as fun and memorable. I am meeting up with Kitchenography for a glass or two of wine, and then we're going to hang some pictures!

December 4, 2007

The Notebook

I've been having a dialogue with Rita Konig, over on Domino Daily Dose. She was lamenting that she only had one page left in her favourite notebook. I chimed in that I loved notebooks too, and explained my system for being organized. Now, I know several of you out there who know me are laughing unattractively at that comment, but I am organized in some aspects. I love making lists, which became a huge help both when I moved to the UK and when I moved back.

Years ago, I was a caterer. We did a wide range of events, from crab feasts to wedding receptions, all in the same weekends. I had to learn to be very organized so I didn't show up with crab mallets at the wedding, or monogrammed napkins at the crab feast. I couldn't carry all of my client files with me, so I devised a notebook system involving coloured pens. Here's the system:

    • I start a conversation with you about a project we're working on. I grab a pen and make notes. If you're the first conversation of the day, the date goes on the top line.
    • Then my boss comes in and we talk about a proposal I am writing. Again, I grab a pen and make some notes, but on the next page.
    • The phone rings and someone wants to make a gift of stock. I grab a pen, and make notes about what his intentions are.
    • I look through the to-do list that I made on Monday and begin adding notes in a different colour than the original one.
    • The notebook must be lined and be able to lay flat. If it has a ribbon book-mark, all the better. I get these great-looking brocade-covered notebooks from Pearl River in NYC. They're about $4.00 each and make nice hostess gifts.
    When I need to go back and look up something in my notebook, I can just refer to the date at the top of the first page of that day, and then see where each conversation stops and a new one begins by seeing where the colours change. In the image below, you can see where I added something new to the list later on in blue.

    I am the type of person who retains information by writing it down, so this system works really well for me. I also like having a list so I can cross things off it and have a sense of accomplishment. In fund-raising, which I've been doing for ages, I have to juggle many projects so this is another way of being organized. I don't have specific colours for specific people, I just grab a pen from my little urn of pens and start writing.

    December 2, 2007

    Weekend Update

    It's been a busy weekend, as I am sure it is for you! There's so much going on in every part of town that it's hard to decide what to do.

    More or less last minute, we decided to create and send a holiday card from Woodbourne, so after some mis-adventures without a tripod, I got a good shot of the building in all its finery and sent it off to the printers. We have wreaths on the windows and candles on the sills.
    Yesterday was the Army/Navy game, and since the stadiums are just a few blocks from where I live, I took the dog and wandered over to watch the pre-game festivities, which included two parachute drops, flyovers by some jets and Blackhawk helicopters and a rousing version of the National Anthem. Here are the Blackhawks buzzing my neighbourhood!
    Both the Army and the Navy parachutists jumped, the Navy specializing in coming down with speed and the Army, with aerial gymnastics. The amazing thing was one of the men setting down right on the 50-yard line!
    After traffic cleared, I headed up to the local Craft Mafia's winter show, the Holiday Heap. There were some fun vendors there, including Rebound Designs who makes handbags out of books. Since I am such a book nut, I thought it would be fun to make a bag out of my "I Married Adventure" copy! Just kidding... but if you're looking for a copy, check ebay.
    Since I was just a few blocks away, I heeded the siren call of the Book Thing. Unluckily, I had missed Kitchenography by thismuch. Luckily, she didn't take the "vintage" copies of Martha Stewart Living, issues 6-10 and then some early Christmas issues. When I went back today to drop things off, they were ALL gone!

    Next weekend, I am showing some of my digital designs at my neighbour's jewelry show. She's got an etsy shop, so take a look there. She's an art-teacher in the public schools and is very creative and talented.
    If you want to read about one of the dinners, click here!

    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

    H&G UK

    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.