February 16, 2014
Presidents’ Day – and what is the more significant focus for interior design on this day that celebrates the preeminent leaders of our country and the world? Well, the relatively modest (by some country’s standards), but significant home in which they reside, the White House.
Many years before I had a glimmer of interior design in my purview, I remember the buzz of my mother and her peers surrounding the exciting and noteworthy changes that Jackie Kennedy was bringing to her White House. The exhilarating tone of that time was super-charged with the young, beautiful Camelot couple who made such an indelible impression on all they touched. I sat on my father’s shoulders on November 17, 1962 at the dedication of Dulles airport – Washington’s “jet airport” watching and listening to President Kennedy describe this “distinguished ornament of a great country.” At the same time he recognized the value and beauty of historical properties that warranted restoration and protection. Back then it was a little too much for me to digest, but their sensitivity and appreciation regarding the importance of good design and their influence on the world of fashion and design was astonishingly profound. Everyone was touched by their style and discriminating sense of all things surrounding art, architecture, fashion and interiors.
Having graduated from Mount Vernon College in Washington DC in the first graduating class that was a model for FIDER accreditation in Interior Design, I was surrounded by architectural history and American decorative arts. From the State Department to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, Washington, DC to Williamsburg – we had an exhilarating education that mere books cannot convey.
Aileen Mehle wrote in Architectural Digest of the first ladies and their very public opportunity to leave their mark on many elements of popular interest not the least of which is the most famous residence on earth. “As the wife of the most powerful man on earth, she commands the attention of the world, placed under a sometimes unforgiving microscope, dissected. From the top of her hairdo to the height of her heels, she is fair game. People want to know: What does she eat, drink, think? Does she like red, pink, mink? How and who does she entertain? Above all, what in her eyes is it like to be the chatelaine of the White House, the most famous house in the land? What mark will this woman make on her surroundings? What evidence of her personal taste and style will she leave behind, hoping that her loving imprimatur will last longer than the few years it was her temporary residence?”
Mehle narrowed the field of focus by highlighting two of the most effective first ladies in what I like to reference as the Department of Décor. She stated that “Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan were two of the most remarkably caring first ladies of the 20th century. Previously they had both enjoyed brilliant lifestyles.” She notes that both women “were chic and stunning, refined and impeccable. They brought these personal traits to bear almost from the moment they walked through the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How lucky (for their eras and posterity) that they cared so passionately about history. That the White House looked much more authentically beautiful and harmonious when they left than when they arrived is a testament to their exquisite stewardship.”
Jackie enlisted the internationally recognized French interior designer Stéphane Boudin, regarded as a “master of the grand and the opulent” regards Mehle. “He was the star of the renowned Paris decorating firm Jansen” and it was with his brilliant guidance that they transformed many of the more relevant rooms of the White House into exquisite statements of period elegance with timeless good design.
Catrin Morris reviewed Jackie’s fine work and quotes the White House Museum, as stating that the then new First Lady’s appreciation of antiques and fine art prompted her to “not merely redecorate but to restore the White House to a grander, more authentic period look appropriate to its role in American life.”
Decades later, Nancy Reagan, a stellar woman well recognized for her exquisite sense of style Mehle observes “left her own individual mark on the second- and third-floor private quarters of the White House, the Yellow Room, the Treaty Room, the Lincoln Bedroom and the Queens’ Bedroom. Ted Graber, a personal friend and noted decorator in the Hollywood scene was selected by Nancy to work to create an atmosphere bringing “beauty, color, graciousness and comfort.
It was during her reign as matriarch of the White House’s Department of Décor that I had the good fortune and extraordinary opportunity to have a private tour behind the scenes of the White House. It was in the middle of my career and the wives of a visiting NFL team had just been through earlier that day and although velvet ropes cordoned off many areas beyond which tours could not step, we were escorted by a longtime family friend to get behind the scenes and experience an intimate exploration of the stately rooms. President and Mrs. Reagan were not in residence that weekend. I remember touching Dolly Madison’s tea service and remarking how incredible that felt. Priceless decorative arts – significant artifacts of history were not only on display but presented in a way that suggested that the past Presidents and their wives were still present as following Presidents and their families passed through the halls. This melding of an ongoing, living history is quite unique and inspiring to witness first hand. From the Oval Office where a dutiful agent sat behind an outer desk granting us access to peek inside this dauntingly important headquarters to the spotless stainless steel subterranean kitchen…we explored it all.
Although our tour was limited to a daytime excursion, at that time, any guest privileged enough to stay overnight Mehle offers “might sleep in the Queens’ Bedroom, where five visiting queens have slept in the canopy bed. All was pastel—the Turkish rug, the striped silk taffeta on the bed and at the windows. The 19th-cen-tury painting and mirror over the antique mantel was a gift to the U.S. government from Queen Elizabeth when she was still a princess. Nancy kept intact the cerulean-blue fabric that covered the walls of the adjacent Queens’ Sitting Room.” Such extraordinary history of our fairly recently established great country preserved and made available for view in this exceptional context!
Mehle also tells readers that “many of the furnishings were authorized gifts from the Reagans’ devoted friends and others who loved and respected the White House. In nearby rooms, she kept her own collection of Battersea boxes, blue-and-white porcelain and jade on small tables. Paintings by Cassatt, Cézanne and Peale adorned other spaces in the private quarters.” Said Graber, “She was responsible for its same elegance and easy charm she herself epitomizes.”
Alas, despite the discriminating efforts of these extraordinary First Ladies, much of their fine work has since been modified as is the prerogative of those who follow. Historians have recorded the periods and transitions while history will determine and confirm the contributions of all who have the key responsibilities for the contents and presentation of the treasures within these walls. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet in the final analysis, good design reads through and hopefully transcends attempts at transient change for mere ego. The value of sensitivity is priceless.
February 10, 2014
Creating a romantic and interesting table for a special Valentine’s dinner offers so many opportunities for presenting your heart-felt feelings. With a little effort to select some key pieces to dress the table and by selecting some simple yet scrumptious delights, you will have a wonderful memory to cherish. Here are some suggestions and a couple of easy menu ideas too!
We’ve heard the truism of “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But the same can be said in reverse as there is something irresistible about a man in control of his kitchen. Pairing the two is the ultimate love cuisine when a couple cooks together sharing the tasks, sipping cocktails and enjoying the process.
The recipe for a romantically successful Valentine’s Dinner at home is so easy. Realize that you don’t have to drive – thereby eliminating that concern after enjoying your cocktail and bottle of wine over dinner. Not to mention the after dinner sip of brandy or bubbly.
Starting with cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, go to your favorite online foodie place for recipes for things such as stuffed ripe red cherry tomatoes – luscious and sensuous. For the carnivores, a rich and savory pate with toast points is a delectable treat. Maybe shrimp cocktail – easy cooked shrimp with a spicy valentine red cocktail sauce. It’s fun to have your appetizer someplace other than at the dinner table. If you use different places to enjoy the different phases of the evening, it will create more interest. So perhaps around a coffee table or at a bar counter-top.
Consider taking a walk after the cocktail hour before you progress into dinner. Whether freezing or mild, as long as it is not terribly windy, the temperature shouldn’t matter. Strolling under the darkness of night – perhaps moonlight – is a great way to transition through the phases of the evening.
Candles are a must. There cannot be too many. They don’t have to match. They can be tall tapers, multi-height columns, squat votives or all of the above…Obviously, on the dinner table…but don’t forget other end tables and cocktail tables, fireplace mantles, window sills, bookshelves, counter-tops, bathroom counters or shelves. Watch what’s above – or use artificial candles to avoid burning an upper shelf or art above them. Any light fixtures should be on dimmers. Avoid over-head lighting as it is generally not flattering, casting unpleasant shadows that can ruin the mood. Lighting is like a paint color – it bathes the space with ambient light and also task specific spots – getting the right balance controls the mood.
Main courses are easiest by minimizing time in the kitchen. Grilling is perhaps the least complicated. To make it special, select something that is a little different from your norm like lamb chops or bone-in rib-eye steaks. Potatoes are classic in many forms baked, twice baked, mashed with various herbs, but don’t forget something fast and festive like quinoa. It is a fabulous grain-like nutritional bead that cooks in less than 15 minutes! Vegetarians might grill a shish-kabob of goodies like zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, sliced turnip…limitless possibilities – great with quinoa too! Salads fit the bill and can be varied according to your taste, sweet cranberry or strawberry laced greens or garlicky Caesars – the possibilities are endless. By putting the salad on the main dinner plate you eliminate the need for a veggie on the plate. If you prefer the more formal setting of a separate dinner salad, the veggie can also be an easy piece of the program with steamed Brussels sprouts or broccoli which take so few minutes, slathered with butter and voila!
Of course you can make the cooking more complex and complicated – but here the idea is to DO IT and not be intimidated or worried about making things too difficult to tackle! Focus evenly on a simple but romantically fun themed table dressings, menu items, and schedule for the evening and it will be easy and successful!!!
So pick up some red plates or smaller dishes or bowls for salad or dessert to layer on your existing white ones, find some fun cocktail glasses, wine stems, clever cocktail napkins, a great serving platter for hors d’oeuvres, heart-shaped confetti or rose petals to sprinkle on the table and dare I say, between the sheets?
Find a great vase in which you cluster fresh flowers for the dinner table and perhaps another primary surface like the cocktail table or bar. Buy or make a great card and/or a memorable gift.
An extra thought for this holiday…Can you think of someone with whom you would not usually exchange Valentines’ but who would be cheered by your gesture? Pick out a simple token to mark the day for someone you know.
January 13, 2014
The soft diaphanous salt air wafts through the open concept of this simple yet effective architectural design – would that it had gauze draping the sides to illustrate the motion of the ever so soft breeze. Thatch top still green from the recent construction, sturdy crooked legs like that of the broken men who braved the seas and might have found themselves beached here to build this primitive, yet artistic structure. It was picture perfectly inspired dwelling on this glorious tropical day.
Here we are lolly-gagging along…shelling, exercising, making our way across this pristine stretch of fine sand exaggerated in girth by the low tide that allows the seemingly unrestrained beach to read with expanded proportions when we come upon this precious little structure.
What a find! When you least expect it, you often encounter the best opportunities – like this one – strolling down the beach and encountering this creative little casita – beachfront for sure – organic, open and airy!!! Surfers? Nomads? The possible stories of our imagination are limitless within the physical parameters of this delightful discovery.
The roof allows filtered light in and open sides allow the sea breeze to flow through…organic material used to create these authentic and so very contextual furnishings speak volumes about the focus of the fabricators. Nestled against the out-cropping of jungle trees and wild flowers spilling onto the sand, the scene is more magical than Gilligan’s – maybe even more so that Robinson Crusoe!! Tom Hanks would have thought he had stumbled into the Ritz! Yet, the simplicity of it all was the emphasis of less is more – spare and understated – it pared down the essential elements to create this special little one room accommodation.
The furnishings are minimalist – yet so very functional. The sofa is crafted from a log supported, and suspended above the beach sand – quite comfortable and ergonomic as a seat structure. A triad coffee table is comprised from three logs topped with three handsome flat stones. Perfect! And a sculptural, beautiful branch of driftwood sits off to the side reminding us that beauty without function is essential.
Take a walk in the woods…of into the fields…onto a wild untamed beach and discover the natural elements that were the primitive beginnings of our interior design – the modified native habitats that we reside in today. And see that stretch!!!!! Evolution can reverse its course as we investigate and appreciate the value and beauty in simple things…
January 5, 2014
When in doubt – go for the gusto! The easy options were just that – too easy and after envisioning all of the obvious options it hit me. I adore color and texture and the varied effects of bits and pieces making a whole. Fragmenting and reconstructing, creating and melding, mixing and matching…mosaic is magnificent. Taking disparate shards and creating a scene, combining a collage of materials and making a mosaic of their complimentary shapes and textures.
Architecturally, walls are faced with murals of mosaics on grand scales that pull the public eye into fantasies of fine, fragmented details.
Inspired for years with this colorful, playful and loose art form, I recently attacked my fireplace surround. Why not break convention from the traditional use of material such as tile, stone, perhaps glass and use ALL of these materials in a bold collage of color and make a statement that lasts!
Mostly broken tiles from a variety of sources along with simple glass stones, broken ceramics, and even treasured polished Atlantic beach stones that my father collected and took to the glossy, glassy high polish of his tumbler that spun in the garage day and night with the different frits to gradually transform the smooth pebbles into those highly polished prizes. This sort of project can be an intensely personal collection of fragments and memories.
October 3, 2013
Baby Boomers – 1946-1964 Do YOU have an Intelligent Home? Do you want to be there for a while? Do you want to age in place without having to move as your needs change?
Life’s fast pace. So much to do, so little time…we are working hard and playing hard – harder than ever before in the history of our world. Fifty is the new forty and so on…With that lifestyle and attitude come new scenarios for living.
And if you are retired or even semi-retired, you want to get away, lock up the house with the peace of mind that your home is secure and maintenance free. How do you achieve this place?
This new age is one of redefining lifestyles, living arrangements and home design. People are renting rooms to strangers – how can you do that and maintain security for them and your personal living space? The same can be true of children returning home – how can you maintain your privacy and offer them theirs as well?
Families are being redefined as the “boomerangs” are not out of the house after college – not setting forth into the world, but rather, returning home to find their jobs and save some money before they take that next leap.
On the other end of life’s spectrum, their grandparents – YOUR parents are not necessarily going to “the home” but rather YOUR home as your house becomes a dormitory for three generations or more! These many life changing circumstances result in challenging scenarios for you and your family.
Kids, pets, grandparents, grandchildren…multiple interests, multiple activities – all taken into consideration as you make your plans and modify your life to accommodate these changes. Whether your home is larger than you need and you wish to downsize or your home is experiencing the addition of more people and their various needs and activities, intelligent design will insure making the best of what you have.
Your desire to downsize brings issues of what to take and what to discard, how to plan the new space and utilize it to the best purposes, designing it to be free of maintenance so that life is easier.
Intelligent Design is just that – good ideas to bring value, safety and enjoyment to your home. We can assist you in solving these issues and making everyone’s life better.
My own mother is experiencing these very real situations that come with aging in place. Twenty years ago we began planning the design of her retirement home. Two years later she was comfortably settled with all of her possessions perfectly situated. Having plotted each piece of furniture on the plan prior to construction, there was truly a place for everything and everything in its place. We discussed as many “what ifs” that we could imagine and designed accordingly. This one story floorplan wraps inside like a circle and at the time we tried to anticipate her every need as her requirements, desires and abilities would change. Now at 91 we continue to see the benefit of the foresight that we planned.
You want to feel great about coming home. It is your private space, it is your retreat. It is where you relax and restore and it is where you entertain and recreate. Indoor exercise space, home offices, functional kitchens, efficient space utilization, creative storage solutions, provisions for privacy, safety and security are all paramount to good intelligent design.
Aging in place…thinking about limited mobility seems an unrealistic concern…until a minor accident puts you in a temporary leg brace, crutches or wheel chair – is you home equipped to assist you to deal with this change in plans? If you never intend to move, can you really envision how you might need certain modifications to enjoy your home throughout the years?
We can come into your home and assist you in evaluating safety and accessibility issues for present and future consideration. There are helpful guidelines to make modifications to achieve maximum utilization and enjoyment of your home for many years to come.
Exterior design is equally as important – ease of maintenance, enjoyment , expansion of your living spaces, pet habitats, hobbies, etc…we can plan your landscape design, outdoor kitchens, sunrooms, covered patios, gardens, and anything that you can imagine to maximize the utilization and pleasure of your exterior spaces
Let us sit down with you to discuss your needs…your dreams. We will help you plan and achieve the maximum value for your budget. We can provide recommendations for an existing floor plan as well as assist in the evaluation of a prospective home purchase – all the way to helping you plan and design a new home with the experience and foresight of life’s changing needs.
We bring experience with a professional eye to critique, recommend, design and bring to reality your goals and dreams for a comfortable and secure life in your intelligent home.
September 1, 2013
Now so over-used as if this culinary trend which actually started 30 plus years ago just landed at our dinner tables, farm to table descriptions of valid attempts by independent restaurants to bring fresh local produce and food systems to their clientele are still growing in number. Yet while creative chefs enjoy utilizing the freshest ingredients, often grow their herbs at their cafes and support local growers as they can, it must be the next best thing but can’t beat the sensible tenets of back-on-the-farm’s honest approach to planting and harvesting for your own table .
I read Meredith Ford making the point “that we must vigilantly support eating locally and seasonally whenever possible. We must support food systems that do not deplete the environment, as Big Ag currently does. We must support the fair treatment of small farms and farmers, and we must support the humane treatment of animals in farming environments. When something as sensible as these tenets – embraced by our grandparents as a way of life – have to be outlined as a cause, something has gone astray in our food system.
To that end, the catch phrases are tossed about like the tender field greens that were just picked minutes ago for your salad. Exaggerations of the truth regarding how “local” locally grown really is and over-used fashionable references to slow food models sell well in today’s market. The nostalgic, guilt-ridden and health-conscious will bite. The consumer must sift through the fine flour of it all, make smart decisions and support and enjoy local whenever possible.
But last night was the real deal. With the warm glow of the farmhouse kitchen in western New York state illuminated from the within where happy conversation was exchanged as our hosts prepared the final stages of our dinner, I couldn’t help but whip out my phone and photo the ingredients I discovered in the kitchen and immediately go out to explore the land where most of those oh so fresh ingredients were harvested just minutes before.
Talk about farm to table – we were living it as our dear friends do every day in their picturesque rural setting surrounded this year by large green walls of corn, their bountiful victory garden and abundant orchards. Hard work, diligence, study, practice, attention to detail, appreciation for the good and bad in nature, all contribute to the successful harvest of each lovingly planted seasonal seedling or many years’ nurtured tree.
The light of the setting sun washed a warm bath of a golden aura over the brilliant green of the corn stalks and other garden delights. I caught still scenes of farm equipment in primary colors – so perfectly yet unconsciously placed ready to do the work of the day. I shot clusters of flowers that banked the side of the house. I walked through the tall grass and stepped on fallen sunflowers, tip-toes through the ruts and rows to capture shots of magnificent golden cauliflower nestled in the center of enormous smoky green leaves, green cabbage with heads the size of basket balls, plump aubergine eggplants peeking from their bushy foliage and pale purple flowers, dark green clusters of broccoli florets and left-over picked sprouts going to yellow flower, beets bulging from the earth with their stands of gorgeous green and red leaves, tomatoes of all shapes and sizes punctuating the greenery with blasts of red and then there was the orchard…
Picture-perfect Americana agriculture on the charming scale that paintings romance – the ladder standing ready for access into the taller reaches of the trees – the perfect picker’s perch. I had to climb up and pick a perfect apple and bite into its crispness with wet juice running down my chin. Now THAT’S an apple! Several varieties of both apples and pears were heavy on the limbs. Bushels of fruit ready to be harvested. Grape clusters that begged to be picked. The freshest of fresh!
Farm to table within feet, it was wonderful. Back inside it was all coming together, we enjoyed home-made wine that was crisp, cool and dry, plump baked chicken and savory sausage by local butchers, fresh mashed potatoes, roasted orange cauliflower and broccoli, freshly sliced tomatoes with basil and arugula and finished with a freshly baked peach pie.
It was an astonishingly intimate experience with good friends and good food. Which makes me realize that if only a pot of basil on your doorstep to make a pesto or garnish a tomato, or plant a row of lettuce in your flower garden we can all benefit from the satisfaction of growing your own on any scale. Do it yourself (DIY) farm to table one step at a time.
August 13, 2013
We’ve done it before at the beach with shells and stones and simple candles, then again in the foothills of the Sandia Mountain with stones and crystal votive holders. Now we find ourselves with an abundant centerpiece for a magazine spread – but for practical purposes, we tone it down – waaaay down – so that guests can visit across the table without spreading the foliage like a stalking through the jungle.
Large centerpieces are spectacular and provide a dramatic focal point for dining talbes or buffet tables…but when dining, it is tough to wrangle around the massive spray of flora between you and your would-be or wanna-be conversation partner.
In a pinch – go outside and discover what is in your yard. Here we found a simple fan palm frond – two really – and placed them opposite each other in the center of the table and added an old-fashioned Mexican dulce sugar mold as a long candle holder – now used often for candles as they are the perfect size for votive candles.
In YOUR yard it might be an oak or maple branch in the fall, photinia – a good green-leafed bush for all seasons, pine boughs, holly sprigs, long banana leaves, or round sea-grape leaves. The idea is to just scatter leaves, and add dimension. The stones and single candles in the previous scenes were dimensional. In this case, the wooden sugar mold sits atop the fronds – but in either case do not block the view and are easy to enjoy while conversing across the table.
Play with centerpieces and see what fun you can have!!