Christmas Time at The Biltmore!

January 5, 2018

This Christmas, I had a wonderful opportunity to revisit the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.House

America’s preeminent “castle” built by George Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, this unbelievable estate was officially opened on Christmas Eve, 1895, after six years of construction.  I had toured the Biltmore once before on a beautiful summer day, but I knew that at Christmas, this gem would dazzle like no other.

It didn’t disappoint!

The moment you enter the Winter Garden, you are greeted with a profusion of bright poinsettias and palms, while the Banquet Hall next door is dressed for 30 guests in whites and ice blues, and several bedecked trees in the same colors.


The Banquet Hall

One of my favorite spots is the Breakfast Room down the hall – cozy and intimate.  The room’s peachy overtones must have made everyone look great in the morning!Breakfast

The Breakfast Room

Breakfast 2

If I lived here, I would choose the Tapestry Gallery for my hang out spot. An amazing room (size of a football field) of huge hearths, Loggia

plenty of comfortable chairs and sofas and good reading lamps.

Loggia 2 Nativity

Nativity scene in the Tapestry Gallery


Sargent portraits of family members grace both sides of the Tapestry Gallery walls

Sargeant 2

The profusion of flower displays everywhere is dizzying!

This hall leads you into the wood-paneled Library, with floor-to-ceiling doors (unlimited views of the distant mountains) and two balconies of books.

LibraryLibrary 2

The Library

Once you climb the winding staircase, you enter the second floor Living Hall, which the map describes as a combination picture gallery and formal hallway.  I interpret this as the place where once you’re dressed for dinner, you meet your fellow guests for a tete a tete and maybe a little champagne?Chandelier 22nd floor

A second floor hearth

We strolled through George’s Bedroom, George and Edith’s Sitting Room, and Edith’s amazing Boudoir – all decked in fanciful trees and garlands and dazzling lights.  I might add that Edith’s bedroom is built as an oval, with huge paneled and curved doors that complete the geometry when closed.  Fascinating!Hall

Mr. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom 

Bed 4

Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom

Bed 5

Next came a procession of guest rooms with interesting names reflecting various aspects of the spaces:  the Damask Room, with silk damask draperies and wallpaper; the Claude Room, with prints by French painter Claude Lorrain; the Tyrolean Chimney Room, with a hand-painted 18th century Swiss porcelain tile overmantel.  Filled with garlands, all cozy and inviting for the holidays.

Guest 2

The Damask Room


Chimney 2

The Tyrolean Chimney Room


Love this decorative idea!

The Louis XV Room was another one of my favorites.  This is where Edith chose to give birth to her daughter, Cornelia, in 1900, and spent several weeks here as part of her convalescence.Nursery 2Nursery

Cornelia’s little cradle?

On the lower level, we were greeted with a bedecked swimming pool, a huge gingerbread house in the main kitchen, and several lesser rooms important to day-to-day operations:  Potting Room, Vase Room, Laundry and Drying Room, and of course, the Servants’ Rooms.


The Potting Room


The Vase Room

Staff 2


The Servants’ Dining Room

I was most intrigued by the first floor finale called the Bachelors’ Wing.  Here the grandest room invited you to billiards, dominoes and other parlor games.Billiards

The Billiards Room

And two others – the Smoking Room and the Gun room – showed off the latest in art deco decor, straight from Paris. This was an interesting departure from the rest of the house furnishings.

I wondered if the bachelor types even noticed…

Smoking 2Smoking

The Smoking Room


The Gun Room

As we left this wing to depart, I observed a final, grand Christmas tree by the exit.  It actually had antlers sticking out of the ornaments…such clever bachelor decorations!AntlersAntlers 2





Color My World, Please!

December 12, 2017

Something weird is going on in my neighborhood, and it’s a little troubling.

As I walk my dog at night, I see interiors of the new and huge houses going up everywhere.  Shockingly, most of the rooms are painted stark white — with white furnishings and lighting!

Balboa Peninsula Residence contemporary-family-room
Contemporary family room design

White is a perfectly wonderful choice for a beach setting.
My dog Billy’s ears always perk up when he hears me arrrggghing.  How can people live like this in a climate where winter bombards us for at least six months?  It seems like a frigid existence.  Give me cozy and comfy  – – low lights and fire glow.Soucie

Interior by Soucie Horner Ltd.

Thankfully, there are still people out there who crave a little color in their lives!

I’m totally sucked in by a color combination I’ve been seeing in print lately.  Deep aqua and rosey/melon.Dresser

Photo by Good Living Home

Several shelter publications recently featured ads and articles that offer a most interesting take on this color duo.  The colors are loosely at opposite ends of the color wheel, and they certainly complement each other.Room 3Cavalli

Maybe it all started when Benjamin Moore announced “Caliente” as the color of the year for 2018.  It’s bold but not shocking, and vacillates between a pepper red to magenta berry depending on your state of mind.  And the aqua counterparts certainly keep in step with it.Caliente

I try to project a year or two from now to see if I would get sick of this combo.  But I think the richness of the colors and deep moodiness of the contrast would keep everyone inspired.Room 1Architectural Digest

Anyway, it’s my current antidote to the boring, sterile world of white interiors…Room 2


Book Smart

October 16, 2017

When I was a kid, going to the library was always a treat.  It was quiet, smelled great (like books and wood polish), and seemed to me to hold the knowledge of the world.  I hope that kids today still feel that reverence for books.

In fact, my grand nephew who just entered kindergarten recently exclaimed, ” We got to go to the library today, and they let us check out a book!” (his voice full of wonder…).Cat

Fast forward to last week.  I met a realtor at a large, two-million-dollar-plus condo to see about some staging for resale.  She led me into the master bedroom, which had a 20-foot wall of book shelves and a beautiful sliding library ladder.  She couldn’t quite believe that several moneyed millennials had come to the open house and stepped out of the bedroom muttering, ” What do we do with that crazy wall of shelves!” (their voices full of wonder…).  This makes me sad.

Non-book case
Four books in this entire shelf!

I see bookshelves in all sorts of interiors getting smaller and shorter and filled with family photos, college trophies and toys. Sometimes even underwear.

What’s up with getting rid of books?  I know it’s old school to keep a lot of books around,  and yet, books are timeless.  Not only are they the perfect design backdrop for any great room, but they hold knowledge and adventure and directions and advice and beautiful photos — and authors’ signatures!Anthropologist

Textile Designer Signa Pearson (Metropolitan Magazine)

Yes, they add weight and history to a boring room.  And they speak volumes (ha!) about the person who owns them and nurtures them.

You can’t stroll around someone’s Kindle and figure out what that person finds interesting or might be passionate about – or even what trashy novels happen to be their guilty pleasure.  But you can hover around their wall of books and find out all sorts of things about the owner…Interior 2


Think of the last time you were in someone’s personal library.  You thought they were smart and cultured – right?  Books have that effect.

I interviewed my millennial daughter recently on why she created a library in their TV room.  She says that her books make her feel more intellectual.  They add presence in the room.  She described the feel and smell of her books – going so far as to say that she enjoys the different fonts and covers. Cat's library More importantly, when she glances at her library, the books become time markers, reminding her of certain events that took place while she was reading them.  “I love being able to take one off the shelf when a friend is looking for a good book.”  Try doing that with your phone or Kindle…

Then I called my other millennial daughter in Brooklyn to interview her.  She happened to be arranging her hundreds of books alphabetically by title when I called.  Enough said.  I have never seen this young woman easily give up one book from her collection.  cuppa

“They’re all an experience I may want to have again someday…”.

My point?  I don’t have one except that I have great kids!  And I wish more people their age weren’t so quick to give up on books.

One trend in retail stores that I really dislike is the idea of turning books backwards on shelves, or wrapping them in brown paper and turning them into design objects that have no purpose except as place holders.Blank BooksBlank Books 3

Come on, West Elm.  You’re better than this!

wrapped Italians

Really, DePadova?

Let’s not throw books on the bonfire of technology!  Let’s hang onto them and smell the pages and hold the shape and put them lovingly on our shelves as a wonderful art form in their own right – whether it’s their cover color, title, size, weight or subject. Blank Books 4

Books gracing the Nelson Daybed, DWR

Take your Kindle on vacation and leave your books in their rightful place…in the most important room in your house!  It will say a lot about your character and depth.Stack o books

Story Bookcase by Afteroom, DWR exclusive


Ralph Lauren’s Fifth Avenue Duplex (Elle Decor)

Books are constant and good friends who never grow old or run out of batteries.Book Cartoon 2


If The Shoe Fits…

August 25, 2017

I’m endlessly fascinated by people’s collections.  I understand the psychology of collecting, because I do it myself!

I recently visited a friend of a friend who is crazy about shoes.  She throws out words like “dazzling!,” “gorgeous!,”  “true works of art!”  at the mere mention of shoes.  And once she showed me her shoe collection, I was pretty gaga myself.  Apparently, she’s had a love for shoes since college, when she would save all her money for that next great pair.  She confessed that she spent more on shoes than clothes, because, for her, shoes make the outfit.

When she and her husband decided to renovate two years ago, she painstakingly video taped her old closet , counted her shoes, created plans and drawings for at least a year, then doubled the space.  She credits Eiseland Builders of Glenview with achieving every one of her closet desires. Shoes3 They include back to front double spaces for her beloved shoes, a built- in velvet seat where she could put her shoes on, a major purse nook (they’re organized by color), shoes1and a secret jewelry closet that doubles as a full-length mirror.Cab2Cab1

As I wandered around her closet like I was in a candy store, she pulled out the piece de resistance- her new Manolo Blahniks.   Marie Antoinette jewels on the toes…the perfect kitten heels. Mani1Mani2 Yes, I get the allure, as I stroked the suede like it was a rare animal…

Actually, what prompted my  interviews with shoe collectors was a recent article in the Chicago Tribune:  “Cultural shift:  Men are the new shoeaholics.”  We pretty much knew that women were afflicted with this illness – but MEN?Newspaper

The guy collector I talked to has a closet full of cool Nikes.  Not just any Nikes…so I asked him if I could dig a little deeper into his shoe obsession… and into his closet.

Apparently he started collecting shoes when he first joined a basketball team at 7 or 8 years old.  His mom bought him a pair of Nike Air Maxes, which he wore to school every day.andy3

Custom Air Max 90s – with the name of his son and dog.

You should see his eyes drift to the distant memory of his “Air Max 90s” that were white and black.  That was the birth of his obsession/collection.  He says when he wakes up in the morning and glances at his closet of shoes, it makes him happy.andy2Closet

Today there’s a huge market aimed at  millenials who can now afford to collect the reissues of old styles that have special significance for them from their younger years.  The new/old styles are introduced 3 or 4 times a year.

“There’s a magical transference from the star who wore the shoes to the person who then buys the same shoes,” according to my friend.andy5

Jordan 12 “Flu Game” shoes (Michael Jordan wore the originals one game when he was ill.)


This collector frequents several different websites and apps to stay in the know about upcoming release dates.  Sources such as Nice and Flight are websites he scouts, and on release dates, sets up multiple computers and iPads, so that he can buy his size instantly before they sell out.   He’s nice enough to buy a pair for his California cousin who can’t compete with the time zones.  andy8

Jordan 11 “Space Jams” (worn by Jordan in the Space Jam movie)


Jordan 3 “True Blues”


So there you have it -two very different types of collectors, but two starry-eyed shoe afficianados who were willing to invite me into their world .  I’m sold on the passion of collectors.  It just reinforces what Iris Apfel once said, “More is more; less is a bore.”Dog-shoes


A Visit to Charleston Farmhouse

May 19, 2017

The book Bloomsbury Rooms  on my library shelf has often inspired my interiors.  It’s a large book that delves deeply into the lives of Virginia Woolf and her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and critic.

Virginia Woolf, an English novelist and critic


Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s artist sister

These sisters and their influence on the 20th century are  huge subjects — ones I’m not equipped to go in depth on, but subjects that have probably inspired more artists, writers, and designers than you can imagine.

The story unfolds that in 1929, Dorothy Todd, the editor of English Vogue, collaborated on a book called  The New Interior Decoration,  which put forth the very edgy idea of two home design approaches capturing Europe:  “One praises the high-tech look of International Style design…led by Le Corbusier.  The other hails domestic design as a refuge from mass-production and standardization, promoting the home as the ‘last refuge’ of “that individuality which modern conditions are suppressing in our public life.”Savoye

La Villa Savoye, Poissy, France by Corbusier


The library, Charleston Farmhouse

Here’s where Vanessa and Virginia come in.

When the girls’ father, died, Vanessa happily left Victorian Kensington with Virginia and brothers Thoby and Adrian and settled in Bloomsbury, an area of London full of “bookshops, museums, concert halls, art schools and students’ lodgings.”

Vanessa and Virginia were giddy with their unconventional lifestyle, “full of experiments and reforms.  We were going to do without table napkins; we were to have large supplies of Bromo instead; we were going to paint; to write; to have coffee after dinner instead of tea at nine o’clock.”  Breaking free of strict Victorian dictates, the sisters traveled, took lovers and delved into an alternative lifestyle with several young intellectuals, reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s salons in Paris.  Virginia wrote; Vanessa painted – in a loose, romantic style.

Fast-forward several years, and Vanessa and artist lover Duncan Grant moved to Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex.  Here they imposed their decorative styles throughout the house and a vast, walled garden, covering their domestic scene with patterns, abstract designs, symbols and rich color.Duncan

Duncan Grant


Self portrait by Duncan Grant

Charleston Farmhouse

Charleston Farmhouse


The garden at the farmhouse

Their London friends often gathered at Charleston Farmhouse.  Called the Bloomsbury Group, from where  they hailed, the group included writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists — John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, and of course Virginia Woolf, to name a few. is still offering Grant’s and Bell’s artwork in poster form, suitable for framing. Vanessa Painting

Painting by Bell

Grant Flowers

Grant’s flower painting

Interior with a Table 1921 Vanessa Bell 1879-1961 Bequeathed by Frank Hindley Smith 1940

An interior by Bell

Bell, Vanessa; Interior with Duncan Grant (1885-1978); Williamson Art Gallery & Museum;

Bell, Vanessa; Interior with Duncan Grant (1885-1978)

As a decorator, I am fascinated by the idea that they lived within and through  their art, and expressed themselves and their philosophy in almost every aspect of their home decorating, while supporting themselves with important commissions in libraries, educational halls and private mansions.Decorated Window

Decorated window and ceramics at Charleston Farmhouse


Farmhouse detail

Drawing ROom

Farmhouse drawing room

Garden Room 2

Farmhouse garden room


Farmhouse studio

Ref: 1717-330-1 Title: Charleston, Sussex Home of artists Vanessa and Clive Bell and Duncan Grant from 1916

Studio perspectiveBedroom

Farmhouse bedroom

Library Detail by Duncan Grant

Detail of library by Grant

(c) Henrietta Garnett; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Bell’s flowers

Bell mural

Mural by Bell

I’m reminded of a quote by Thomas Jefferson that I have printed on small calling cards. “That which we elect to surround ourselves with becomes the museum of our soul and the archive of our experiences.”

Charleston Farmhouse lives and breathes with their bohemian style that still inspires, to this day, fashion, textiles and entire interiors. It seems obvious that Virginia Woolf, who lived down the road in a small 18th century cottage, found ‘”a room of her own” in her writings by freeing herself from the Victorian mores that the Bloomsbury Group encouraged her to reject.Virginia's room Monk's House

Virginia’s bedroom at Monk’s House, her 18th C. cottage

Virginia's Quote







April 1, 2017

Recently, I bought this little trinket box for my sister’s birthday.  She’s a Pisces, and I thought she would enjoy this mid-century take on fish done in wire.Ann's boxInside of Ann's

She loved it!  Its totally useless little presence will grace her table somewhere, and she’ll enjoy remembering who gave it to her (I hope).

Apparently Martha Stewart loves trinket boxes as much as I do.  I saw this wonderful montage of boxes in one of her recent issues.  The writer agrees that “these decorative little containers possess a certain well-traveled charm…and sit pretty on a coffee table, casting a worldly impression.”Boxes

If you go by the rule that three of anything is a collection, then I must say, I have a lot of collections.  And one of my best is a collection of trinket boxes!

Shit Box

I found this handmade box at an antique mall. Notice the inlay.

Small inlay

And someone had watercolored under the lid!

I’m attracted to these little gems for a number of reasons.  I have a lot of small things to keep in them; they are decorative and unusual; they make great gifts, depending on a person’s interests; they are often handmade, which I love; they’re generally affordable, unless they’re by Tiffany; and they mix nicely with other tabletop items in display.

I usually find interesting decorative boxes in vintage stores, although I’m seeing more of them offered in retail stores that sell them as jewelry boxes (because I think they don’t know what else to call them).

Glove Box

A Victorian glove box I bought on Etsy as a gift and never gave.

Etsy also has a million boxes to choose from.  And there are many other websites that sell Victorian boxes of all shapes and sizes. Inside Glove Most of the wooden food boxes are from the the ’20s and ’30s.

Old candy and makeup tins are so decorative and colorful. They make great gift "boxes."

Old candy and makeup tins are so decorative and colorful. They make great gift “boxes.”

Carved Top

This is a handcarved tribal box, one of my best, that I bought years ago.

Cigar Box

My sister gave me the handmade photo box on the left. I paid $5 for the cigar box. Just love how festive it is!


We keep our TV tuners in this old box, handmade in Thailand.


This old Chinese box holds two decks of cards.

Inside Chinese

And I’m sure many of us remember the cedar boxes (some call them caskets) purchased from tourist spots in the U.S., that were big in the ’30s and ’40s.  That is my full knowledge of decorative boxes…

So I’m not going to say a lot more about trinket boxes, other than that they come in all shapes and sizes from all eras.  I would suggest that if it interests you to have your own collection, you should choose a focus (wood, tin, bakelite etc.) because there are just too many boxes for sale in the world!Elizabeth boxes



Do You Have a Hygge Home?

February 8, 2017

I got my hygge on recently reading a New York Times article on Christmas Day, with a steaming cup of tea next to me.  Entitled “Wintering the Danish Way,” the article went in depth on the Danish concept of “hygge,” which translates loosely as “anything that makes you feel safe, happy, secure and snuggly.”NYTSocks

Pronounced “HOOga,” I guess you could say it’s the Danish word for cozy.  But it is so much more than that.  In fact, there are whole books written about it.  I just had to buy one and see for myself.  The book much touted is the newest guide to establishing hygge in your life called The Little Book of Hygge. Book Written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this little gem is truly a step by step guide to getting the most benefit out of the bleaker months – and that’s one thing we Chicagoans can really use.

After reading that book cover to cover, I could write my own book on creating the kind of home we all need to weather our weather.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll give some easy tips provided by Mr. Wiking, and as you think about them, you may realize you’ve already created the perfect hygge home intuitively!

The Danes insist that we should burn candles in the home — a lot of candles.  Wiking’s survey shows that 30% of Danish households have candles burning all the time.  (But you also have to open windows occasionally to air the soot out.)

PAOLA LENTI AMBIANCE contemporary-porch
Contemporary porch design by other interior designer escale design

I remember recently at the cabin when friends were staying over; I got up early, but not as early as my friend, Marie, who had every candle burning — in the morning.  It was absolutely magical.

stone facade AutumnLeaf mediterranean-dining-room
Mediterranean dining room design by st louis home staging premier health living
 Something I probably would never have thought of until dusk.  So I’m all for candles.

Wiking then moves into the correct lighting for creating the H-mood (I just made this up, but I like it).  Design Within Reach will enjoy this reference.  Their very Scandinavian/modern lighting is the perfect addition, over the dining table or the coffee table, or standing next to your favorite comfy chair.Danish PendantDanish floor lampNight light

(I splurged on their Grasshopper Lamp  for next to my sofa.)




Overhead lighting is NEVER mood lighting.  That’s from my rule book, too.


A hygge nook created by Martha Stewart for the holidays.

Once the right mood is established in your home, then Wiking expounds on the most important ingredient — friends to share the mood with.  As one writer put it, “Get hygge’d by settling down, wrapped in a blanket, drinking a cup of coffee (or whatever your preference) and watching a Danish police procedural about a serial killer with your friends.”  Maybe Homeland would work for America?


My own little hyggekrog

Wiking also talks about the right foods — cake is big on his list, as are Danish.  And anything baked at home.  As he did his research, he thought food and candles would be at the top of every Dane’s preferred list.  But it turned out to be coffee.  “Kaffehygge,” another compound word, is used everywhere.  “Come to kaffehygge,” — and cake, or knitting, or working out. He says there is a website dedicated to kaffehygge that states, “Live life today like there is no coffee tomorrow.”  I can subscribe to that!


Life without coffee would be very bleak!

There’s even a guide in the book on how to dress like a Dane.  Seems like the look is already popular, because the author suggests scarves, wearing all black, bulky tops (but nothing sloppy), layers and woolen socks.  I would guess most Chicagoans look something like this almost all winter.  There’s also a mention of having a worn pair of baggy pants waiting to slip into that you would never wear in public but serve as the perfect complement to you hygge evening.


I’ve kept all my old ski sweaters.

My favorite word to come from Wiking’s book, since decorating is my passion, is “hyggekrog,” or “a nook.”  This is the place where you have all your favorite things, such as snuggly blankets, books, a footstool, a favorite view


West Elm carries some great hygge enhancers!


A CB2 reindeer hide, from Scandinavia, labeled by- product and humanely obtained.

…The author says his spot is by the kitchen window.  “I’ve put some cushions, a blanket, and a reindeer hide there, and I also sit there to work in the evenings.  In fact, many of these pages were written there.”  I can just picture this setting…


Sheepskin featured at CB2

Wiking offers a simple hygge wishlist with “Ten Things that Will Make Your Home More Hygellig”:  1.  A hyggekrog (cozy nook) 2.  A fireplace  3.  Candles  4.  Things made out of wood  5.  Nature  6.  Books  7.  Ceramics  8.  Think tactile  9.  Vintage  10.  Blankets and cushions.

The book goes on to discuss hygge outside the home, and during office hours, and finally, how to create hygge year-round (which to me, seems more of a challenge).

This morning I opened the Tribune to yet another article on the latest lifestyle trend –“Hygge at Home.” Tribune Suddenly this concept seems to be appearing everywhere!  So there you have it.  It’s obvious that hygge has permeated cultures the world over, and may go by many names — in Canada, hominess; in Germany  gemutlichkeit; in Norway, Koselig, and in The Netherlands, gezelligheid.  In our country, we have to go with cozy, I guess, because English isn’t big on concept words.  But more than a word, truly an all-encompassing feeling, “(hygge) is about gratitude and savoring the simple pleasures in life.  In short, it is the pursuit of everyday happiness.”

Happy hygge-ing.










January 4, 2017

When your child tells you she’s having a child, it’s a sublime moment.

Flashes of your own dear grandmother run through your head.  A quick take on yourself with gray hair and an apron is quickly rejected.  A few moments on the idea of a continuum causes some eternal sparks to fly…

Then for me, the most important thought popped in:  we get to design a nursery!

My daughter (future mother) and I are great collaborators.  We enjoyed many long sessions talking about the furnishings and colors in their new home two years ago.   She has her own style, which I appreciate, yet she often consults with me on various decisions.  Now her home office would become the greatest nursery ever created!

I’m a huge fan of Land of Nod.  I look forward to receiving their catalogs, and really love what the stylists come up with for children’s rooms that are imaginative without the cutesiness.


One of many wonderful Land of Nod nurseries


Another nursery by Land of Nod

My daughter sent me a photo of a nursery with chalky white walls, a hit of gray and a few gold and peach accents that the company had recently featured.original

We could recreate it!  Then the shock.  My grandchild is a grandson.  Good-bye gold and peach.  Hello to – what? Another hackneyed mural with dinosaurs in construction trucks?

I mentioned to her that Land of Nod recently introduced a line of Charlie Harper items – graphics, pillows, quilts and toys.  I have always admired the Charlie Harper design approach.  Especially the animals.  He’s taken cubism to the forest and created the most appealing, colorful creatures.bug


Charlie Harper pillow and quilt


Charlie Harper design

This discussion led to other ideas for graphics, which often become the pivotal item in a room that dictates many of the other elements.  We thought maybe we could impart a love for nature to this child by finding antique national forest posters.  Even better, they’re now issuing new designs for the national parks that are truly inspirational.  My daughter ordered three of her favorites for the crib wall.  A roughhewn frame gave the trio a perfect vintage look.poster-1poster-3poster-2

I stepped in with some paint ideas.  I’ve never been afraid to go dark in a small room if you want cozy.  Our first choice was Benjamin Moore Tate Olive#HC-112, a very deep olive, with White Dove #OC-17 for trim and accents.  The birch tree and forest animal decals that my daughter and her husband painstakingly applied to the entrance wall were the perfect enhancement to add depth and interest.  (The pine ceiling creates even more of a woodland feel to the room.) decal

We searched for the perfect area rug.  Something that could withstand all types of stains (from baby and dog).  Refreshingly, my daughter’s choice was a Moroccan wool creation with colorful zigzags and tassels. Such a departure from the typical nursery offerings.  I really love its unusual presence in the room, and it pulls all the colors into play.rug

Natural wood blinds at the windows were already perfect – we simply added a touch of orange in the drapes. drapes My daughter ordered a fabulous mission -style crib that converts to a single bed.  crib


A “woodland/sports” mobile custom designed on Etsy

At that point, the Charlie Harper quilt with woodland animals was a shoe-in!


Craig’s List provided an opportunity for us to buy a beautiful antique dresser for the changing table.  The three big drawers will really hold everything she and he need!  And of course, now you can order the top for changing tables online – no need for Grandma to get out her sewing machine. changing-tabledeerrabbit


Animal heads from Land of Nod


My artist daughter depicted the family dog as a forest ranger!

Our friends at Closet Works turned a strange little open area under the eaves into a functioning, beautiful closet with double doors and built in drawers.closetdrawersvignette


Cushy tree stump from Land of Nod

My daughter ordered an oversized rocker/glider (with ottoman) that was the ideal corner piece.chair

Some of the unusual items she found in Michigan antique stores added charming accents.bookcase

The final piece of furniture was a must.  We needed a small console table to hold a lamp and miscellaneous paraphernalia.  The West Elm Mid-Century Console offered a wonderful medium warm wood tone, and even better, a lower shelf for the humidifier.


Lantern from Cabelas; paint by number from owner’s collection


At last, the nursery is finished.  Now we’re just waiting around for this little boyscout to be born.  I’m crazy about his room.  It’s really magical: cozy, a little mysterious, inviting, and full of friendly wildlife.  I am hopeful that it’s a door to his explorer self, and he will always love roaming in the wide-open spaces.




Defining “Italian Style”

December 21, 2016


We just got back from a week in Rome.  What an amazing city.  Hard to define.  Its ancient roots and modern outlook seem to collide at every charming intersection.

A few weeks before we departed, I attended a seminar to hear interior designer Alessandra Branca speak about her beloved Rome and its influence on her work.  Branca has offices in Chicago, New York and Rome, and a family apartment in Rome where she spends several months each year.


Alessandra Branca speaks about her approach to decorating and design in her “New Classic Interiors” book.


The Italian style is in her DNA!

Her book, “New Classic Interiors,” published in 2009, gives great examples of her extravagant and glorious rooms which are both world-class and classically Italian.  Since I was traveling to her hometown, I decided to take mental notes about Italian interiors and how to achieve even a hint of the bellissima touch called “the Italian style.”


A corner of the Forum from our hotel room window.

When I heard her speak, Branca filled the room with her passion about decorating, and described how her beautiful Rome was her inspiration at every turn.  She challenged us to visit the sites that inspire her every time she returns to this magical city.  She even offered to email everyone in the audience a list of her favorite haunts.

Of course, I couldn’t resist calling and getting her list to add to our agenda.  I’d been to Rome several times, but many of the names on her list were new to me.  And, as we discovered, there is so much more to see in Rome now than in years past.

Branca peppers her book with quick, meaningful little quotes such as “I love details.  I’m obsessed with them.”  And I get that.  Details – accessories – are my downfall.  Sometimes I don’t get to choose them for clients.  I’m often thinking on a bigger scale when selecting furniture and draperies.  But I’ve carefully collected the “details” in my own home.


Details, ancient or otherwise, add texture to any room.


An antique desk in my living room displays details collected over many years.

And details are certainly an Italian state of mind.  Every door handle and piece of trim; every garden and pot we saw at the palazzos had been carefully chosen.  Mosaics, faux trim either marbleized or highlighted with dazzling colors; painted doors and window frames; decorated staircases; every small table and chair in bright gold leaf. It was easy to see that if you  grew up in this atmosphere, Italian style would be part of your DNA.


Amazing door handles!


Gilded details at the Borghese Gallery.


Intricate trompe l’oeil trim at the Farnesina.


At the Villa d’Este, every room had its charm.


Intricate doors with murals, surrounded by faux marble trim.


Painted window niches with faux marble and stone.


Intricate mosaics with minute pieces of stone.


Gilded furnishings in every corner.


An inlaid stone staircase with painted murals on each shutter.

Branca’s list led us to the Palazzo Barberini, filled with important, ancient statuary.  But what Branca pointed out were the true-divided windows that we now find so charming.  The Italians had the idea first, apparently, because they were taxed on the size of their window panes.  So even the wealthy took advantage of the “muntin” to save some money – and add unexpected warmth to those chilly halls.


Palazzo Barberini


A vast hallway at the Barberini.

The designer also states in her book, “I have no fear of color.”  And to add to that boldness, “Even elaborate patterns become almost neutral when used everywhere.”  I really saw what she meant around every corner.  At the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, outside of Rome, every room was covered with murals – some bright, some muted.  But I don’t think I would have a problem decorating them, because they enclosed you in the coziness and warmth of history.  Only the rare client will fill a room with historical murals, but you can also choose wallcoverings and graphics to evoke the same sense of history and permanence.


Main hallway at the Villa d’Este.


A bedroom at the Villa d’Este.


Hunting murals, Villa d’Este.


A main room with fountain at the Villa d’Este.

In her book, Branca mentions that “stripes are like architectural columns.  They raise your eye.”  Needless to say, we saw our share of columns in Italy.  They are an architectural phenomenon in Rome – starring in everything from the ancient Forum to the local McDonald’s.  At the Villa Farnesina, the wealthy owner had commissioned a mural of columns in his bedroom, adding height and grandeur.


The ancient Forum.


Columns gracing a street on the way to the Pantheon.


A mural in the master bedroom, Villa Farnesina.

Touring the Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, we’re told that the large circular dome with a conventional temple portico front is “unique” in Roman architecture, yet it became the standard when classical styles were revived.  I often see new homes being built with columns, in a sort of hopeful salute to grandeur.


The Pantheon by moonlight.


A new home in Chicago.


A portico featuring columns on new construction in Chicago.


Floor to ceiling ripple fold drapes can pull the eye up in the same way stripes do.


Columnar and fluted, floor to ceiling drapes can add grandeur to a room.

At the Musei Capitolini they featured an amazing and quite large model of one of Rome’s ancient temples, done in plexiglass!  you could actually get a feel for scale and construction, looking at the miniature stick figures.  But this display defied being photographed.  I remember thinking how brilliant the display was – such an Italian approach to museums – choosing modern materials to demonstrate ancient ingenuity.  Later, at the museum coffee shop, I sat on a traditional style opera chair – done in smokey plex.  Brilliant!


The plexiglass opera chair, Musei Capitolini.


Truly the most exciting suggestion on the Branca list of musts was the Centrale Montemartini, or the Montemartini Power Station.

This was where I began to see the Italian style that resonates everywhere.  Some clever individuals on Rome’s city council decided that this abandoned 1912 power plant, in Art Nouveau style, would be the perfect home for an overflow of classical sculptures.  It created an intriguing juxtaposition of massive turbines and engines with ancient marble sculptures housed in huge, colorful rooms.  It was Italian style at its best!  If only we would all feel so free to experiment in our own interiors.  Of course, most of us don’t have 20 foot ceilings with floor- to-ceiling doors and art molding, let alone giant turbines.  But I digress…


Centrale Montemartini


An ancient statue with her own turbine.


Famous heads joined in the main room.


An athlete, well-lighted and with colorful background.


Juxtaposition of industrial and artistic inhabitants.


Mosaic fragments depicting the seasons.

Throughout the trip we saw great shop windows done in modern Italian furnishings.


Contemporary furnishings on the Via Veneto.

We all know the look.  Sleek, low, sometimes geeky (especially floor lamps).

Our friends in Rome stayed at a very modern hotel housed in a renovated vintage building near the Spanish Steps.



A corner of the lobby.



The vintage hallways done in sleek white.



Lobby artwork.

This, too, is Italian style that surprises and pleases and challenges us to say – what IS Italian style??


Comfort, richness, colors – be bold!

It’s a style that’s overbearingly obvious and yet elusive at the same time…Certain buzz words come to mind if I’m forced to describe it:  drama, grandeur, edge, boldness, color.  Comfort also works in somehow.  Because that crazy Italian way of expressing everything with fast talk, gestures, and big smiles, comes through in Italian interiors, as well.  Comfort in not caring when centuries clash or when colors might offend.  it’s so Italian!






Have a Seat!

October 16, 2016

There are way too many chairs in my life.  I’m sort of obsessed with them.

When I look at chairs, I see types of people.  Not necessarily the people who would sit on them, but actual personalities.  That’s why I can’t leave a decent chair that’s been put in the alley.  It’s like a lonely soul sitting there waiting to be saved.  I used to feel that way when I saw good shoes in the alley, but I don’t see them much anymore, and usually people take them immediately.

Not so with chairs.  Cast off chairs are headed for – who knows where?

But many of them have ended up on my cabin porch with a new coat of paint!

Several years ago I inherited a few Barbara Barry chairs from my husband’s office when we remodeled. living-room-chair Yes, they’re office chairs, but they seem right at home in our living room.  When I look at them, I see an older European fellow who wears horned-rim glasses.  He adds to our social gatherings with wit and thoughtful reflections.  And he’s also extremely well-mannered.

Am I in need of a therapist?  Perhaps.  But let’s keep playing this game, because I’m enjoying it.

I recently purchased new dining room chairs at Design Within Reach.  In their chair gallery, I felt like I had an audience of chairs.  Some were calling out softly, some with a baudiness I couldn’t tolerate.  And then I spotted the Prouvé Standard Chair.  prouve-fullThe jokester of my dreams!  In black and Japanese red, this chair looks like a vintage harlequin that has been dusted off and shined up.  Angled, clever, hard-edged with a few casual silver buttons!  And six of them around my table make me happy.prouve-side

For the host chairs, I introduced myself to the leather Bottega Side Chairs in black leather.  They’re the serious disciplinarians in the dining room, keeping all those Prouvés in line…sturdy, silent, and heavy.bottega-full

When I pull the dining room group into the living room for bigger gatherings, I hear a wonderful cacophony of accents and opinions – from the chairs, I mean!

Let’s look at a few more chairs, just for fun.

One of the earliest chairs ever recorded is the klismos.524px-colorful_interpretation-1klismos_side_chair  Such an ancient woman.  Buxom, with lots of curves, and she lets you know she doesn’t suffer fools.  I fell in love with her long history, and fortunately found a klismos stool at a house sale to put in my living room.  She enjoys holding art books and occasionally filling in as an extra guest.stoolklismos-with-books

And this little sweetheart had been jilted and left on the front porch of an old farm house. sweetheart

Totally out of her element – she needed a couture cushion and a quiet corner in my living room to feel at home.  She now calms the tribal elements next to her with her elegance and perspective…chair-and-tribal

I recently purchased “Chairs by Architects,” a book by Agata Toromanoff, who reminds us of the greatest chair designs of our century. chair-book

Why is it that so many important architects wanted to have a chair in their portfolio?  I think they were drawn to the humanness of the chairs, a trait that isn’t as easy to find in a building.

Some of these famous chairs are constantly reproduced and reintroduced because, I think, they are like historical figures.  They remind us of times in design that were especially significant, and are the voices of their times (Also, they are easier to live with than many real people!)couple

These chairs, b.1944, by Dorian and Massimiliano Fukasas, are a sensual couple that doesn’t work, lives on martinis, and wouldn’t dream of

This Gerrit Rietveld chair (Red Blue Chair, 1917) looks like a transformer hiding a friendly wing chair personality.


Alvar Aalto’s No. 41 Lounge Chair, 1929, is everyone’s lanky, geeky cousin who is an engineer and a little anti-social.


The Ralph Pucci chair, 2016 – no doubt, she’s a voluptuous woman whose heels are killing her!

I could go on and on.  Chairs.   They’re everywhere – and everyone! – if you just start to notice the personality in each of them and the energy they project in our interiors.

Take an extra moment to pull up a chair and get acquainted.