First and Foremost a belated Happy Thanksgiving! I have just spent the last month in Charleston still working on the house but also starting to LIVE in the house as well. I had my first guests for a small dinner, celebrated Thanksgiving with my mother and some dear friends, and I had my first baby cocktail for friends who live in town. So at long last I am beginning to experience ” Life in Charleston “. I can now get across the Ravanel Bridge to the Whole Foods store without ending up on a totally different island —and can hotfoot it to King street in 6 minutes. Plus the Camellia Japonicas are starting to bloom!!! I shall be going back in January to see them in their full glory.
The Thanksgiving table set for our first holiday celebration in the library, but more on the library in another post.
I know I have already given you the preview of the partially finished bird room but months later it is finally done —- although still with no curtain decision as yet!!!! But tonight I am having my first small dinner in Chisholm House and as I was taking pictures for me, I thought you might like to see the dinner table set, the furniture glazed and faux painted and some of the last touches that have been added. I am spending the month of November in Charleston finishing the endless details of the Chinoiserie room where the fantasy fireplace and Pagoda mirrors are finally in place and Kristin Bunting, the Charleston faux artist, is gold leafing the fireplace surround that arrived from England. By this weekend that work should be done and then the room will be basically finished.
As you probably know there are many ways to restore a house. In Charleston the tradition of preservation and restoration is very important. That presents a dilema for a designer because one has one’s own vision of a space and that may be in conflict with a purist perspective on preservation. In the case of the two front rooms, which are the Chinoiserie and the Bird rooms I closed off one door and reopened another in these rooms, removed the Victorian fireplaces, but the original cornice, window surrounds, and deep baseboards were painstakingly cleaned and restored. This house had NEVER seen a sheet of sandpaper in it’s 177 year history!!! With the Civil War, the poverty of the south in the war’s aftermath; reconstruction, fires, and the devastating earthquake of 1886 the house accumulated layer up on layer of badly executed paint jobs–just a cover up against the ravages of time. During two months in brutal heat with no air conditioning, two young interns scraped and sanded away while David Hueske made the plaster moulds to replace the missing pieces to restore the unusual cornice and window surrounds .
This photo does not show the layers and layers of paint and the pieces that were missing but you can see how uneven the floors are.
One can place a ball on the right side and watch it roll to the left. Besides clogged paint there is not a straight line nor a right angle in the house which is what happens to houses built almost upon marshland. This becomes a source of frustration and a builders nightmare as new cornices in denuded rooms are added and one puts in linear elements such as a fireplace.
Work photos( above and below ) of the house before I even knew it would be a bird room! The Victorian fireplaces, which burned coal at one time were added in the 1850’s but it is not my style. I am a classicist —and as the original house is in the Greek Revival vernacular I preferred to have a more classical fireplace here. Of course in the next room I let the designer in me and the long time fantasy to have a Chinoiserie inspired room lead me in another direction.
As I mentioned in an earlier post –I was just going to paint everything white-place some affordable and simple furniture in the house as I determined if, in fact, I wanted to make a life here. But designer instincts always take over, and perhaps that is a good thing, as when we started working we discovered that there were severe structural problems that had not been detected by the structural enginer and had they not been addressed Chisholm house could very easily been compromised by either falling or burning down!
The two above photos show the original crown moulding and the door and window surrounds after the work of master plasterer David Hueske and his team.
For budgetary reasons I could not take the restoration back to a museum quality level of restoration but the profiles are much crisper and fresh.
The hurricanes arrived and I bought two small drinks tables in a recent auction to finish the room.
For me the house is only alive once I have flowers in it! The only thing missing this time were some of my pups! But hopefully soon one or two will come down south but as there is still considerable work going on outside I did not want to chance a doggy accident from a gate being left open while work continues.
A finishing touch is this years Christmas present from my mother a beautiful carved English marble urn I have longed for since finding it over two years ago. When not used as a dining room table it has pride of place in the corner.
I love the purity and delicacy of the carving of the urn. Thanks mom….
My first table setting for a dinner for four–I just lit the candles for the look while I took the picture– it was prettier at night.
Hard to believe that these plates were bought over 37 years ago when I was still a design assistant and had no idea that I would someday do a Bird Room in Charleston South Carolina!
More birds have been added and as you will see in pictures below the pieces of furniture carved by Jonathan Sainsbury’s team have been glazed and faux painted.
Charleston faux painter Kristin Bunting marbleized the top of the table and I had her lightly glaze the carved dolphins and the base of the card table that served as our dining table that night.
I love the gleeful smiles of the dolphins—a Jonathan Sainbury reproduction of a famous English console.
The Quadrille fabric mix.
Finally, back in Connecticut as I watch the freezing rain come down and trying to get myself in gear for the next holiday—( OMG- Christmas in just three weeks) I want to share a couple of photos of our Thanksgiving night. But first an explanation…..
My mother arrived in Charleston for Thanksgiving two weeks after me and made the declaration that she wanted to dress as Scarlett O’ Hara for Thanksgiving. We have had this on-going thing in my family about Gone With the Wind….but more ( a lot more) about that later.
We discovered a costume store —-well really a holiday holdover from Halloween of cheesy costumes. Mom thought, without a doubt, that Scarlett was within reach. The only problem was there was no gown made out dark green velvet curtains, or a hat with green ribbons but a polyester mess in purple and pink satin. Walter Plunkett would be turning in his grave! We nixed the thing when we saw that it was also sized for a 36 C cup —- weighing in a full 104 pounds even my mother in her enthusiasm knew this would not work! I suggested, as it was Thanksgiving , she should look at the costumes for a pilgrim or an Indian… she did not think I was the least bit funny …but called my bluff and Hiawatha won the day . Here she is ( in photos below) ready for dinner. Pretty great for an 84 year old lady!!!! Love her and her spirit!
I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with happiness, joy and good food and that you are not freaking out ( ahem … as I may start doing ) with Christmas less than 3 weeks away.! –CR