When I have proffered an ‘instant invitation’ –you know, someone calls to say they will be passing through your area and you find yourself saying, “Why don’t you stop for a simple lunch or dinner?”. . . but as soon as you put down the phone you moan, “Now what do I do?” Fortunately, I usually have big bowls or baskets of red or green apples around the house — or can have them with a quick run to the grocery store. That, plus a few house plants (in this case African violets borrowed from guest bathrooms) and I can create an ‘instant table’ and concentrate on what I will prepare for the lunch or dinner.
Another quickie table, featured in Veranda a couple of years back, is something I do all the time. When I have no flowers at hand (because it is winter or simply a moment when nothing is in bloom in the garden), I use house plants such as ferns — here a large Boston fern flanked by smaller Maidenhair ferns — again mixed with fruit (key limes from the grocery store). The ferns and limes strengthen the green theme of the table, which creates a sense of welcome and occasion for guests.
I spent most of this spring restoring the old Weatherstone greenhouse, a place full of charm — and full of holes. As it is not really the working green house, only the place where the gardeners had lunch and stored tools and pots, I decided that I would turn it into a ‘garden feature’ — another sort of garden room. (The huge hoop house behind the main cutting and vegetable garden is the real workhorse, where plants are stored for winter and all of the seedlings are started.) How in the world I decided that I would do the scraping and cleaning, along with my assistant Rosa, is still a mystery to me — but we got it done! We painted and cleaned while Pepe and his team and Vicky hammered, sanded, and remodeled. After so much effort I was ready for a celebration, so I invited ten friends for dinner in the ‘new’ greenhouse. We all judged it a very agreeable place to spend a summer evening.
Me—- not looking my best!!
We pulled out old shelves for the modest rebuild to begin. I wanted to keep things very simple, so on the old warming tables (with ancient heaters underneath) I placed large pots of white geraniums that I get from a wonderful Connecticut grower. I have had some of these plants for five years, and they dazzle all winter and summer long. For my greenhouse inaugural dinner, I chose smaller pots of geraniums for the table decoration. A simple secret: as the small table geraniums did not have many blooms, I plucked blossoming stems from the larger plants and stuck them into the little pots. I had watered the soil well, and those additional blooms lasted well into the next day! You know the old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention”!!!!!
This is the photo the greenhouse after all of the work–simple but clean and neat!
Click on the gallery to see more pictures of the finished green house the night of the dinner.
Carolyne Roehm is one of those people who, whatever their origins, has been born a thoroughbred filled with nervous energy and tensed for a demanding race that they set up for themselves. Unsurprisingly, she is tall, lean and elegant. There is a taut quality to her poise, and even her diction, which, despite certain unguarded moments, is very careful. But all of this is tempered by honesty, a sense that she is also quite vulnerable and cares greatly what others think. She is clearly a tremendously hard worker, having had a career in fashion design followed by a string of books on flowers and stylish living. Interestingly, despite her famous marriage to Henry Kravis and the whole Bonfire of the Vanities circus of that time, she now sees herself, probably truthfully, as something of a loner.
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I recently took a trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow with a friend who is an expert on the decorative arts in Russia (as well as France). Although I had already been to the former Soviet Union in the 80’s, and again in the 90’s, it was not until this trip that I could even begin to comprehend the vastness of the talent of the Russians in this field. We all know that Peter the Great turned his country westward, with a special regard for Italy and France, both for their architecture and the decorative arts. But while these leaders in the world of design were the source of inspiration and the reference for much that was created, there is something uniquely Russia in what I saw. I shall be writing about various aspects of Russian decor later on ( I saw soooo much and want to share it with you) My first impression was this. I think one of the most striking things I noticed was the Russian use of color. While France, Italy, England, the Austrian Empire had a lovely sophisticated sense of color, their use was more subtle. The vividness and mix of Russian colors was something I found very inspiring. I suppose their color sense seems to me to be more closely aligned with the great architect and designer Robert Adam, another favorite of mine. But the Russian palate is more vivid and more daring. Traditionally, particularly in fashion, but to a degree in interiors, bright colorings were found in more southern climates but I suppose the long frozen winters of Russia demanded color to help bring some light and gaiety into months of bleakness. The pictures below are just a few examples of color combinations that I found different.
The bright almost primary colors of red and blue coupled with a strong mint green is not a combination I have seen in either French, Italian, English or Swedish painted furniture. In those countries one sees celadon, pale blue, soft yellows and many shades of gray and white. Yes there are exceptions that one sees in Italy in particular the strong siennas, ochers and laspis blues in combination, but nothing like the color shown above.
Not even in Italy, the inventor and home of scagliola, have I ever seen such a clear lavender used in decor. That coupled with the color of the birch wood furniture is so strong and fresh. Look in the gallery below to see other combinations of colors I found fabulous.
My friend who exposed me to all this beauty is Emmanuel Ducamp and he has just publish the most beautiful book I have ever seen on St. Petersburg—a marvelous source for information and inspiration. May I suggest anyone who is looking for the most erudite and charming guide for France and Russia please feel free to contact us.
Every autumn when I was a child my grandmother and I would go on a scouting journey to find beautiful leaves, bittersweet and buckeyes to bring into the house to decorate. Those elements combined with the bounty of the fall harvest, pumpkins, gourds, grapes, apples pears and squash created some wonderful big displays harkening a new season. To this day many years later I follow that tradition and always do my annual trek amidst the wonderful country back roads of Connecticut or hiking through the blaze of glorious yellow aspen trees in the Rockies. I am so lucky to have two autumns because as Bryant said it is ” mother natures last loveliest smile” and one of the wonders of nature when trees, and fields change their colors. Aspen is earlier than Connecticut. so swathes of golden aspens contrasted against dark green evergreens and brilliant blue skies is a must see once in anyone’s life time. Three weeks later New England dons her own clothes of reds, oranges, russets and burgundy, both so different but equally beautiful!
Creating still life vignettes is one of my favorite ways of decorating tables and the house. Look to nature and art and find endless sources of inspiration. I follow what is in season so a bunch of yellow aspen leaves with touches of green are a perfect background to ripe pears nestled in a nest of loose leaves blend beautifully together.
My favorite time in Aspen is oddly enough not the ski season nor the summer–though both are splendid– but the month of September. I think that Aspen is one of the most beautiful places on earth when the leaves start to turn, the air is crisp and you can finally get a parking place in town! While finding time to hike is always an issue for me —there is always so much to do–the one time I make a concerted effort is during the last two weeks of September. Although I live in New England where one is accustomed to beautiful autumns I frankly think nothing compares to the beautiful Rockies with the swathes of brilliant yellow aspen trees , alternating with the rich dark greens of the pine trees creating colorful ribbons unfurling down the mountain. Add the dazzling blues skies of Aspen and a dusting of early snow and one hopes that heaven will be so beautiful. I find it so inspiring to walk the trails with my dogs and gaze at Mother Nature in her glory! FYI did you know that Colorado has more days of sunshine than California?
This summer I said there was three things I wanted to do, take more time to practice my piano, join the 21st century and try and do a small blog and learn to watercolor. I must say that I am not speeding rapidly with any expertise into any of these three endeavors, but I am trying and that counts for something. Three weeks ago I took my first water coloring class and I am totally hooked! At this point my talent does not match my enthusiasm but I have spent hours trying my first paintings—as to be expected, flowers are my subject. I have always loved botanical drawing and so humbly but with fascination I have plunged into copying the masters of the genre and hope that with time, practice, the 8 books I have bought on the subject and all of the art supplies I have purchased online, that I may someday be a botanical watercolorist!
A work in progress—I am copying from Mr. Marshall’s Florilegium ( 17th c.) which I LOVE, I can sit and stare for hours at his amazing work. The other botanical artist I adore is Maria Sibylla Merian and of course Roberts, Rabel, and Redoute. Maria Sibylla’s work is staggering –she painted and engraved her work so finely—and to think how brave she was to take a trip alone to South America to study, draw and paint—can you imagine this at age 52 which was quite old in 17th century Europe.
Puppies!!!!!!!! These angelic faces are saying ” what’s the matter— and who needs clippers when we do such a GREAT job!” My new puppies shredding pots of azaleas I had just sat out to water!
I love the happy faces of sunflowers no other flowers speak to me of summer the way a field of sunflowers does. I was brought up with them living in the Missouri countryside, although they are the state flower of Kansas, I still think of Missouri when I remember summer in the Midwest. I have grown many different varieties at Weatherstone, and spent a couple of weeks in a cooking school amidst the tournesol fields of France. When August arrives I want to fill my house and my dining table with sunflowers. So simple but so very strong and graphic!
Two summer dinners here one in blue white and yellow the other white green and yellow–yellow is one of those colors that works with so many colors. I am sure that is why one sees so much yellow in the great British country houses—it is an excellent foil for so many colors.
After months of nurturing seedlings, designing the layout of the cutting and vegetable garden and planting it all, it is with a great sense of satisfaction that one begins to harvest the veggies and the summer annuals. Because of our cold climate our season is late and our biggest harvests are in August and September.
Can you imagine this cabbage is 30″ across! The mid- sized tomato offers you a sense of proportion.
We use our produce in many ways; naturally for great summer meals, I also give baskets to friends who do not have such a large garden, often combining flowers and veggies in a still life and because of our economic times, my mother started a program at Weatherstone for us to give loads of fresh food to the various soup kitchens and pantries in northwestern CT.
Sharing summer bounty is fun and helps all of us to enjoy the essence of summer.
This is a long story that started with my love affair of the antebellum south at the age of ten when I first saw Gone With the Wind for the first– of probably 15 times and then proceeded to read the book (a total of three times). I always identified with the willful and beautiful Scarlet, a survivor who would save Tara at all costs. When I was young I only saw the glamor and strength and not some of the less charming aspects, I now also see her rather ruthless and sometimes stupid actions. I have always felt that Rhett Butler was the man for me and thus Clark Gable became my favorite actor.