March 29, 2007

Top Design

I have mentioned that I only recently got a television (thanks, K&N), and that I don't have cable. I am house-sitting for K&N while they're sailing for two weeks, so last night I headed over there to play with the cats, check on the house and read the new catalogues. I was shuffling around the channels and came across Top Design on Bravo TV.

I've read a lot about it and seen loads of comments, so decided to watch and check out what it was all about. I also know everyone raves about Kelly Wearstler, but i just couldn't listen to her strange little voice. I love her designs, but the last couple of photos I've seen of her, with the wildly curly hair and the leg o' mutton sleeves, make me question her a bit.

I thought the young designers were rather obnoxious and pretentious. They all also seemed rude and spoiled and like they'd never make it in the real world. I am sure that they all have a lot of talent, but their self-centered attitudes left me cold. The episode that I saw, about redecorating a garage, may have had something to do with that. It seemed like they thought the job was beneath them. When you're just starting out, you can't be too picky about what commissions you accept. It's hard to start at the top... generally, you have to prove yourself and work your way up.

I think that these reality shows just reinforce the negative behaviour of the "me-centric" attitudes that are prevalent today. This show also reinforced the many reasons that I don't watch television - I can always find a more productive use of my time.

End of rant!

March 28, 2007

French Blue

I love the colour of French Blue. It's sort of periwinkle crossed with Wedgwood blue. Perhaps even a cornflower blue. When I was looking for images to illustrate this article, it was clear that there are myriad ideas of what the colour actually looks like. Some things were very dark, some aquamarine, some very pale blues and others just a mid-range blue.

I just got the Carolyne Roehm Presentations e-mail this morning, and she's now doing wedding accessories, such as favours and gifts, wrappings and other yummy things. Her colour combinations are brilliant and include Navy and White, Silver and White, Lilac and Green and my favourite, French Blue and White.

Carolyn Roehm's site had some beautiful Limoges plates, rimmed in gold, and with a white linen napkin. Think of how stunning this would be with loads of crystal and silver!
Cath Kidston uses this colour in some of her fun oilcloths and in her furnishings. It's a classic colour, and works well with crisp white or a pale yellow. Think some of the Provencal prints.
Williams-Sonoma has the Kitchen-Aid MixMaster in a lovely blue that they call cornflower. I would love to have this (just to have on the counter, it's not like I'd actually USE it or anything).

I think that French Blue is just a perfect colour for the spring and into the summer.

March 27, 2007

Blue Glass & Baltimore

In my previous post, I mentioned that Baltimore is known for blue glass. The Peak of Chic asked why Baltimore was known for this, so I thought I would tell you.
Courtesy of Kitchenography!

Baltimore was the home of Bromo Seltzer, invented by a Captain Isaac Emerson. Bromo Seltzer was sold in cobalt blue bottles which were made here in Baltimore in numerous glass factories which were on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. In fact, if you go to the "secret" beach behind the Wal-Mart in Port Covington (don't go alone!), you can still find shards of blue and other coloured glass that washes up after storms (along with a lot of other scary stuff!).

Several years after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Captain Emerson built the Bromo Seltzer Tower, modeled after the Palazzo Vechio in Florence, Italy. This 15-story building, which stood next the the now-gone Bromo plant, once had a revolving blue bottle of Bromo Seltzer on top. The bottle was a guide to navigation for ships coming into the Baltimore harbour for many years. The clock faces spell out B-R-O-M-O-S-E-L-T-Z-E-R.
The Bromo building can easily be seen from Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. it is now used as city-owned studio space for visual and literary artists. The studios range from 100- to 600-square feet and are rented at below market rates.

March 26, 2007


One of the wonderful things about Baltimore is its excellent and varied museums. From the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture to the Walters Art Museum, from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, you can find nearly anything you want. But one of the most interesting museums is the American Visionary Art Museum.

According to AVAM, visionary art is created by "self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself. In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as 'art' by its creator."

There are always the most interesting and fun events at AVAM, in addition to the extraordinary artworks, which range from a 60-foot high whirlygig to a replica of the Titanic made of used matchsticks. AVAM sponsors the annual kinetic sculpture race where home-made vehicles race though the harbourside neighbourhoods. They must be human powered and also be able to race on the streets, through mud and across the water. It's an incredible sight to see a 15-foot high pink poodle cruising down the streets.
One of the things I like most about AVAM is the outside of the building, which is one HUGE mosiac design. Initially, the designer wanted to use white china for the base, but since he couldn't find it in bulk, he used mirrors, which read white. People from all over donated old china and blue bottles, something for which Baltimore was known. The idea is to wrap the building in panels of mosiac, and I think that they're halfway there. I either drove or sailed by the mosiacs on my way to and from work for about five years and just loved to see it sparkling in the sun and light.

AVAM is not your mother's museum with impressionist paintings and lovely decorative arts. Instead, it makes you think about what art is, who makes it, and why they do it.
Thanks to Hue for the idea for this!

March 25, 2007

House Hunting

Pigtown, the neighbourhood where I live, was having an open house day today, so two friends and I decided to check things out. C&D each live in houses that were total gut jobs and that have been renovated by a very creative designer/builder. D's house has a sunken living room (in what would be the basement) with an open catwalk, and lots of interesting details. C's house has a couple levels, up and down a few stairs to make it interesting.

We did the walkabout basically to see what's out there and to keep an eye out for houses for a friend who's looking. The housing stock where we live is mainly narrow (12-15 feet wide), all rowhouses and all about 100 to 120 years old. The houses were built for the railroad workers at the historic Mount Clare Yards of the
B&O Railroad, so they're not posh townhouses by any stretch of the imagination.

We noticed some interesting trends that we had varying opinions on:
  • Vessel sinks - I think that these are going to be dated very quickly. We saw some that were low sinks and some that looked like huge salad bowls plunked down. Some were clear plain glass and some were coloured glass. Vessel sinks and sinks in furniture can be very interesting, if done right. As I said before, you've got to work the keep the clear glass ones looking nice.
  • Overdone bathrooms - In a house that is between 1,200 and 2,000 square feet, how much room should that bathroom take up? Do you really need a shower and a seperate tub? In one house, which all three of us HATED, there was something called the "Buddy Bathroom". It had two identical vessel sinks, two toilets, two doors and one tub/shower, which bisected the room. The areas on either side of the tub were mirror images of each other. At first, we thought there was a mirror, but when we couldn't see our reflections, we figured it out. Now, this room posed all sorts of problems, not the least of which was why would you have two toilets in the same room facing each other? Seriously, would you ever, ever, ever use it while looking across the ten-foot room at another person? Roomies, partners, spouses, lovers? Not me! (Here are C&D checking out one of the tubs! ...kidding)
  • Kitchens - Some were beautiful and some seemed to have been planned by someone who'd never cooked before. Almost every kitchen seemed to have granite counters. I think that these can look spectacular, but in a dark colour, they can also look too heavy for a small kitchen. Lots of kitchens had brushed steel appliances, again something I can go either way on. We had one in my house in Wales (an American fridge!) and the children left fingerprints all over it. It never looked good. In a narrow rowhouse, a kitchen with dark granite and dark cabinets can just suck the light out of the room. We saw a bank of cabinets in another house that were about six inches short of the ceiling, which didn't leave enough room for much of anything. We also saw one kitchen that had school-bus yellow handles on the drawers and yellow and orange flowers for knobs. I thought I would gag!

  • Space planning - The smallest house we looked at was 425 square feet and the largest was about 2,000, so clearly, good space planning is essential. One house had balconies overlooking the front wall, sort of bumped back about four feet, which resulted in odd open rooms. Others were configured so that they had closet space, but not much room for a queen-size bed. This was also the house where the bedroom door couldn't have been more than 20 inches wide. One thing that we saw a few times was a bathroom door that opened out onto a narrow hallway, so that if you were walking down the hall and someone opened the door, you'd get smashed in the face. Pocket doors are a little more expensive, but they sure solve that problem! My old house was 600 square feet and 9.5 feet wide, so I know how to make a lot out of a little bit of space.
  • Oiled bronze fittings - Is it just me, or do you think that oiled bronze fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms are going to look dated in about 15 minutes? In my mind, chrome is classic and wears well. This oiled bronze thing is going to blow over soon.

All in all, we had a great time checking out what's available in the neighbourhood, seeing what ideas other builders had, what worked and what didn't, and most of all, spending a fun afternoon walking around on this wonderful spring afternoon.

March 23, 2007


My friend, K. (the catalogue queen), is going sailing for a couple of weeks, so I am taking care of her cats - Chessie & Peake - while she's gone. I love being there for many reasons, not the least of which is that she gets ever catalogue known to woman. From Title Nine Sports to Source Perrier, from Neiman Marcus to the Chicago Art Institute. It is such fun to sit and read through these and see what's out there.
I am a very tactile person and need to feel the heft and hand of things before I buy them. I want to feel how the fabric feels, whether the lines are crisp and clean and the glass is smooth. Then there's the whole issue of ordering, because I am not home to receive things, and I certainly don't want them left on the front steps - I live in the heart of the city.

Catalogues are another good way of educating your eye towards what's current and what's classic. Which are your favourites?

The other reason I love staying at K's house is because she's got full digital cable. I didn't even have a television until about two months ago (again, courtesy of K, who upgraded to a flatscreen), so cable is well beyond me. But it is fun to sit around working on my knitting and watching HGTV, Style TV and BBC America.

My favourite show is Isaac, which is just the funniest combination of trashy gossip, style hints and interesting guests. I once saw John Waters, my hometown hero, with Issac and nearly fell off my chair laughing. This promises to be a lazy weekend of watching TV, watching the cats and reading catalogues.
K&N, I promise to take great care of the kitties, even when they're doing disgusting things!

P.S. It was rainy and bleak most of the day, so I didn't feel too guilty about watching hours of HGTV and Style Network, and reading the new spring catalogues that came in today's mail!

March 22, 2007

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. More than one billion people, or about 20% of the world's population, lack access to fresh water, and more than 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation. Regardless of who or where we are, most of us do not drink enough water. Even though we carry around bottles of water, we should be drinking about 8 oz. of water for every waking hour. Our brains are about 85% water, so lack of hydration correlates to lack of brain power.
There are so many waters available on the market these days, and the bottles are becoming increasingly more attractive. The water that I prefer is from Wales (go figure!), but I was a fan of it before I moved there. It's called Ty Nant, and comes in a cobalt blue bottle with lightly carbonated water. (The "y" should have a little carat symbol over it, but I can't get the computer to do that.) Their iconic blue bottle also comes in red, but I think it's ghastly.

I have just discovered that the local Target carries the still Ty Nant water in six packs in the most incredible organic carved ice-shaped bottle. It's won a ton of design awards and was designed by Ross Lovegrove. Your fingers curve around the shapes and it holds in your hand wonderfully. I like my water at just above freezing, so the ice shards inside the bottle are stunning.
I have to put a post-script in here: I am not a huge advocate of drinking bottled water. However, the water in my house is a little off-tasting. After some other major home disasters, including carbon monoxide poisoning, I am not taking any chances with drinking lots of water from my 100+ year (lead?) old pipes. That said, Baltimore's municipal water always ranks very high on the taste tests. Now, what's your water?

March 20, 2007

T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings

I think that I've mentioned a place in Baltimore called The Book Thing. It's a wonderful little non-profit organization where people donate books that are then given to anyone who wants them, and in any number. It's located in an old warehouse and is only open on Saturdays and Sundays.

I have found some of the most interesting books there, and when I stopped by this weekend, my luck continued. Here's a partial list of what I have found on this and other visits:

  • Goodbye, Mr. Chippendale, by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings
  • Several David Hicks first editions
  • Dorothy Rodgers - The House in My Head
  • Early issues of Martha Stewart from the 90's
  • Early edition Eloise books

I read Goodbye Mr. Chippendale with great interest, for several reasons. First, Mr. R-G is very funny, with that dry British sense of humour. Secondly, the illustrations by Mary Petty are delightful and third, he speaks several times about William Randolph Hearst and his castle in Wales (see previous post). My copy has the disclaimer about being in compliance with using war materials because it was originally published in 1944. It also has an author's note as follows: The architecture and decoration mentioned in this book are real and no reference is intended to anything imaginary.

This little book is a spoof of antiques in modern design. Mr. R-G skewers everyone from Louis Sullivan to Elsie de Wolfe. He talks about Mr. Hearst having too many houses and when he had his great auction, many things had never even been unpacked from their boxes.

Mr. R-G also wrote Homes of the Brave, Mona Lisa's Moustache, A Dissection of Modern Art and Furniture of Classical Greece, probably a little more scholarly in its tone. When you look at examples of his work, you can certainly see echoes of classical Greece in them.

Although they were made more than 50 years ago, they're still fresh today. I found this wonderful pair of chairs that were on sale for about $45,000, which puts them out of my price range! Mr. R-G created more than 200 pieces of furniture for a house in Bel Air, California in the early 50's. When the house was subsequently sold in the late 70's, all of the furniture was auctioned. Can you imagine that auction? WOW!

In a twist on Thomas Jefferson's quote on the right side of this blog, Mr. R-G says "The surroundings householders crave are glorified autobiographies ghostwritten by willing architects and interior designers who, like their clients, want to show off".

March 18, 2007

St. Donat's Castle

Aerial View

When I lived in Wales, I was lucky enough to work at the amazing St. Donat's Castle, home of Atlantic College, one of twelve United World Colleges. St. Donats dates from the 12th century and was purchased in 1928 by William Randolph Hearst. As was the case with Hearst, he plundered castles and chateaux across Europe and the UK to find rooms and wings for the Castle. He also brought electricity and phone service to that section of the coast of South Wales.

Castle with pool & barracks in foreground

Hearst used St. Donats as a place to keep his mistress, Marian Davies, when he was in Europe. He had seperate bedrooms for each of them, but there was an adjoining door for ease of use. Hearst had the lawn terraced down to the seafront, and at the bottom were the historic barracks that were used in defense of the castle (castles are fortresses and palaces are for living in). You can just see the barracks and seawall in the inlet.

Looking towards the Castle & Bay, Barracks to the right

The number of bathrooms in the castle went from three to 28 during the rebuilding. The bathroom we used was three flights down a circular staircase in a tower, and was located in the former dungeons! The dining room was from a chateau in France and could seat the entire 300+ member student body at one seating. One of the other rooms added was the Bradenstoke Hall, which is used as an auditorium. As long as I was at the castle, I never saw the entire thing, although one afternoon, one of the housekeepers took us on a long tour.

Bradenstoke Hall

Front Portcullus

View across the lawns. You can see the crenelations of the barracks at the bottom.

The tides along this stretch of coast were amazing...

I have cobbled these photos together from different sources, because the 100's of pictures I took were on my laptop that was stolen last year. That about broke my heart!

March 14, 2007


Wallpaper seems to be making a design comeback. It used to be that wallpaper was the kiss of death in a well-designed house and that paint did all of the colour work. But the renaissance of wallpapers, you can find myriad patterns both hand printed and digitally designed.

At Housewerks this weekend, I found some patterns that would as fresh today as they did when they were printed 50+ years ago. The one I fell totally head-over-heels in love with is a striped pattern. The background is a pale dove grey, with stripes in greys and blues and even a pale rose. But what makes this pattern so special is two silver stripes down the sides of the other stripes. The silver is a metallic silver, clear and bright, that just pops with light. The paper is so fragile that I am not going to be able to paste it up anywhere. I am trying (unsuccessfully, thus far) to use it as borders on some wide picture frames. But trying to mitre it is so hard, probably because the paper is hand-printed and not entirely square.

The second pattern looks like an architectural detail that might be used around a ceiling. But it comes in lenghwise stripes, so I am not sure how it would look on an entire wall. This has a little texture in it, too, so it may not be as old as the blue. It also may be easier to use for the picture frame.

What are your thoughts on using wallpapers?

March 13, 2007

My Favourite Day!

I never know when it's coming... Could be early March. Could be late February. But when that day comes, I know it by the sound.
Even over the morning news on my iPod, I could hear the geese calling and honking, moving from the front of the V-formation to the back, as they migrated north. This is a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Living on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, waterfowl are a common sight. From Great Blue Herons to snow geese, we see them all. A few years ago, we caught sight of a Kingfisher on the creek behind our salvage yard - in the middle of the city.
I am always bouyed by the sights and sounds of wildlife in the city. While it's usually the Medivac Helicopters landing at the nearby Shock Trauma Center, this morning it was the timeless sound of geese on their way north, following a path they've traced for years.

Welcome Spring!

March 12, 2007

Vessel Sinks

I was looking at a house this weekend and the bathroom was lovely. It had a glass counter top with a glass vessel sink set into it. I kept thinking how pretty it was when the house was new and not in use, but how gunky it would get once you had toothpaste, and the other things that go down a bathroom sink drain. Is this only something you would have if you've got full-time cleaning help? Or do you scrub your sink every time you use it?

Now what about this one? It's re-using on old bureau to serve as the counter and mirror. I think the world of adaptive re-use, but would this be a little on the high side? I saw a lower long sideboard that would have been a good re-fit for the right kind of bathroom, and could accommodate two sinks, too!
Are these glass vessel sinks just an ├╝ber-trend that screams 2007? Would you use one in your main bathroom? Or maybe just a powder room? What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on this!

March 9, 2007

Happy Second Anniversary, Housewerks

In January, I did a post about my friends who run Housewerks. Every time I stop by there, they have the most amazing and ever-changing selection of artifacts. This weekend, they celebrate their second year of business - and it's been hugely successful!

They're having a party on Saturday, March 11 all day long, with drinks, snacks and 15% off all of their merchandise. They're also having a Chinese New Year of the Pig Party on Sunday evening, delayed a few weeks because of a snowstorm.

On my most recent visit, I got two rolls of vintage wallpaper, although I am not sure what I am going to do with them yet. I thought I would whet your appetite by posting some of the goodies I recently saw over there.

Fireplace Insert

Canvas Adversting Poster 4' x 8'

The Final Frontier

A Collection of Cast Iron Columns

A marble sink and mirror with inset fleur de lis tiles.

Sketch for a chandelier

Tracey & Ben, all of my very best wishes for many more years of success!