Fruit Forever

 

I am so fortunate to own two mid 18th century flower and fruit paintings from the Dutch Master Jan van Os. These reside in my apartment in NYC. 

My still life of fruit piled in a brass wine cooler echoing the painting behind.

When I look back over the endless amount of photos taken of the tables and floral decoration for my various homes, fruit or fruit mixed with flowers is a constant theme in decoration.  As I perused the photos (of just the last few years – I could easily go back 35 years and find more examples) I started thinking about the source of my inspiration and loyalty for this classic duo, and know it came from my love of the 17th and 18th century Dutch Masters who created the glorious still life paintings that I have always loved. 

Fruit was used by the Dutch as a sign of the shortness of life (vanitas.) It was also the perfect subject to display their extraordinary talent with the lifelike quality of the fruit and flowers, through their mastery of color, textures, light and shadow.  Total realism when one looks at each object, but with the completed composition the painting becomes a tableau of fantasy that has always captivated me. The beautifully executed bunch of grapes where a butterfly sits, or the crazy insect that wanders across a luscious flower. My eyes wander through this magical world and get totally captivated as they travel through the painting.

     

        

I often use a fusion of fruit with flowers for a classic piece, but when certain varieties are not in bloom, you cannot beat an individual fruit arrangement. The ingredients are so accessible, even more so than flowers, and I usually just use my local grocery store – cherries, pineapple, oranges, apples, pears, grapes, berries all work well. To avoid any waste, we freeze the fruit once taken off display, and use later in smoothies.

I lightly sugar coated the grapes to give them a frosted look on a table in Charleston.

I have used this type of fruit arrangement for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the autumn table I added lemon leaves, although colorful autumn leaves would also be lovely. To change this table for Christmas, I mixed boughs of evergreens and boxwood.

                 

Tips for fruit arrangement :

  • If using a basket or bowl, stack crumpled tissue or craft paper underneath the fruit to build up the base, enabling you to need less fruit
  • If using a platter, lay lemon leaves (or other greenery) underneath the fruit as it frames  the fruit
  • If you need the display to stay in place for a while, you could use floral clay, or attach the fruit with a glue gun (I do this at Christmas to crate topiaries, garlands, mantle decorations or wreaths of fruit)

     

I also use fruit on packages, gift wrapping, cookies, table settings…..and of course it as been a muse for my watercolor paintings – a far cry from my Dutch heroes, but I can only try!

        

Regardless of your style and mood: light and playful, or elegant and formal, the use of fruit alone or coupled with flowers works in every environment, modern, rustic traditional and in my classical world.

              

Just remember the new is built upon the shoulders of the old. 

Stay tuned for Venice and Julian Fellows dinner – should have already posted them but have spent the last week digging up 3,500 dead boxwood and many other deceased plants who were victims of Hurricane Matthew – bah humbug or stronger words…..
cr 

What’s Black & White and Red All Over?

What’s Black and White and RED all over ?

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I am obsessed by my camellias as you will see through out this post.

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I already had a couple of these pieces in the studio and Weatherstone, but for 3729 dollars, I could not resist.

Do you remember that saying, joke, expression or whatever…oh yes, a riddle. It seems a  silly  echo from a more innocent time. I cannot exactly remember when I first heard it as a child, but when I arrived back in Charleston the black, white and red expression popped into my head.  The mind is an extraordinary thing; a dog , a floor, some wallpaper and red camellias set in motion an entire thought process. I find it FASCINATING that once a thought or vision enters the brain, it seems that everywhere one looks the same vision reappears.  An analogy: I decide to buy a white Toyota, and all of a sudden, I see white Toyotas everyplace. So here is a short tale of returning in early March to Chisholm House and seeing black, white and red everywhere.

For the first time, I brought one of my beloved dogs down to  Charleston to keep me company. Little Dusty is a black and white Havanese.  As she pranced around the house on my painted black and white floors and I carried a basket of glorious red camellias in from the garden, my mind clicked onto that old riddle….

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Black and white Dusty on the checked floor brought a  vision that reminded me of the riddle from my childhood.

I came down to Charleston to do two benefits. The first was a patron’s party for Historic Charleston’s Antique Show and the second was a party for the patrons of the Gibbs Museum of Art. These wonderful institutions play an important role in this fascinating town. I had made these commitments a year ago, and so I came down three weeks in advance to work in the garden and to organize the house.

In preparation for the events, I trotted off to one of my new favorite stores.  Southern Seasons is a culinary experience filled with a wonderful assortment of unusual products. I am sure other places have many of these products, but this store is beautifully merchandized and a lot of fun. I passed the pasta department and found some wonderful black and white pasta bow ties. I had an  “ah ha,”  moment and decided then and  there I was experiencing yet another black and white image and therefore only the red was missing and this required  some type of red sauce to complete the  story that had started to take over my brain.

Next I discovered a great little shop that has all sorts of products from Italy. I walked into The Hidden Countship and felt as if I had been instantly beamed back to my beloved Florence. There I spotted some great looking dinner plates  and service pieces which are, of course, black and white.  Now I have the right plates for my zebra pasta. I go  to my next stop and, of course,  find a black and white chair that I had admired in the past… now  on sale. I needed another set of dishes like Imelda Marcus needed more shoes, and I certainly  did not need another chair, but it gave me the inspiration to have a dinner party for some friends visiting from out of town.

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The Zebra pasta and my new pasta bowls

 

 

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My pasta with a very simple shrimp and tomato sauce that I love.

 

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The first course was a very simple  chopped mozzarella, tomato and basil salad. I love how the food looks in the black, white and brown bowls.

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Little Dusty looking out the library window. The room is a deep deep brown that is almost black

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This little painting is in the library , as are the next three snapshots—-and are part of my unintentional black,  white and red theme.

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The glorious red camellias on an 18th century book in the library

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I am mad for these red camellias that were in their glory at this time in March!

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The table set in the library (more about that room later) for the black, white and red dinner—Dusty enjoyed it very much!

More about Charleston and other things to come after I get out of the grip of my black white and red obsession. Just for the younger generation …who probably does not read this blog the answer to” What is Black and White ands Red all over?”   is….A Newspaper– I know pretty lame but we were young and innocent and easily entertained in the midwest —cr

Sorry I fell of my Blogging Post…

 

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Sorry I fell off the  blogging post the last months, but I have been so busy doing that I couldn’t find the time and energy for blogging. When I first created the blog I assumed  I would be updating Charleston every time I was there, or as I was making progress  on any design front, but, alas, I am almost a ” one man (lady) band ” and it so difficult to keep all the  balls of life afloat in the air.  My friend Frances Schultz had a fabulous quote on her blog (please check it out she is a wonderful writer) “We overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what we can do in  five years.”  Boy oh boy, do I find that so often the truth.

Throughout the winter I triangulated between Aspen, creating my new book on the 35 years of my  gardens at Weatherstone; Charleston, working busily on Chisholm House (much more on that next week); and Connecticut, witnessing the worst winter in New England in recent memory.  The destruction in my garden was massive: hundreds of roses, wisteria, and boxwood were lost or badly damaged by continuous record low temperatures, ice, and snow.

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The above two pictures were taken the 16th of April when Old Man Winter returned with a vengeance to dump snow on the daffodils. Spring 2014  seemed never to arrive.

Pictured below are results of winter damage. The boxwood were so burnt I threw in the towel and took the middle section of the formal garden in the back of the house totally out — really depressing to take all of that away! In the allée you can see the severely burned boxwood that I will probably lose as well. As a friend said “this winter was like building a beautiful sand castle,  then watching a bad tide wash it all away.”

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With a heavy heart I cut down the damaged trees and took out the boxwood and once again started anew.  But I’m not so sure how many more times I can do this….

The  beginnings of a new garden: NO BOXWOOD here!   To create a bit of instant structure I relocated a statue from another area of the garden and I placed some topiaries that overwinter in the greenhouse. I am now planting the perennials —  if it proves worthy I will show pictures when the garden matures.  untitled1-8

But to leave you on a happier note, spring finally did come to Connecticut.  Even with all of the damage there  are moments of joy, confirming that life in the garden does go on …. hope springs eternal!

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Tomatoes and onions grown from seed for the veggie garden.

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Every spring the geese have their babies.

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The crabapples survived and bloomed again.

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My first bouquets of the spring 2014 season.

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The lillies of the valley were late, but they finally bloomed.

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And, finally, Monkey says that his mom is getting back up on her blogging horse and will attempt to be more constant. I leave for a bicycling trip in Bordeaux for 6 days and will try to post what is beautiful and inspiring to me along the way … internet willing. But if I am lost for a week, please know I shall be back with tales of  progress in Charleston .

cr

The Richness of Autumn Texture for Fall Tables

Even though the frosts and an early snow have robbed me of my flowers, I still find plenty of inspiration in the berries, rose hips, seed pods, leaves, and harvested fruit to create wonderful autumnal centerpieces and bouquets. For me, these type of concoctions are traditional in my November — especially Thanksgiving — decorations.  If I use flowers from the market they are still mixed with elements found in my garden or along country roads. Back in Missouri, every fall I went off with my grandmother searching for long whips of bittersweet, rose hips, and viburnum berries. She always planted multicolored gourds and pumpkins and there were varieties of apples and pears with which to fill bowls and baskets. I love the mix of interesting textures-something I learned to incorporate with my flowers when I worked in the flower shop in Paris. The French were so far ahead of us in the creative juxtaposition of plant material. Now we have caught up, but when I first published A Passion for Flowers in 1996 that was not the case. It seems hard to imagine from our present perspective that most florists still at that time used mostly baby’ s breath, leather fern, wax flower, and statice. There were  exceptions of course, but they were not the rule. What seems ubiquitous now was not so then. I suppose because of my grandmother’s interest in design and the fact that we lived in the country (where just traveling down a dirt road gave one armloads of material for decoration), this mixing of elements has been a part of my “ arranging” from a very early age.

So my advice is don’t over look anything when thinking about your autumn flower arranging! Chokecherry, peppercorns, viburnum, seeded eucalyptus, hypericum, rose hips, bittersweet, flower pods such as poppy and echinacea, wisteria, colored branches such as redwing, red willow,and white birch, and of course beautiful leaves and grasses are just a few of your options for a wonderful addition to flowers. The autumn harvest of fruits and vegetables provide quince, persimmons, apples, pears, and concord grapes. Also the odd things like chestnuts, buckeye, walnuts, and all sorts of crabapples bring beautiful texture and color to arrangements. So have fun, be creative, and remember that just because something is not in full bloom does not negate its potential interest in an arrangement or creative decoration.

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Everyone has favorites and after hundreds of autumnal tables I have created over the last 40 years ( yikes!) this is still one of mine.  In fact, as this was table was done years ago I feel like redoing it for this Thanksgiving (hope I can find the old iron urns).  They are simple to make: select a pair of containers, fill with oasis,  and then cut branches of small crab apples to stick into the oasis.  Next, build a mound of pomegranates (held in place by putting a floral skewer in the fruit and then sticking them into the oasis), then drape clusters of a larger variety of crabapples around, being sure to cover all of the oasis.

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What I love about this table is the way the colors of the fruit blend so beautifully with the antique Scottish paisley that I used as a tablecloth. The centerpieces are dramatic with the tall branches,  but one can see still see through them.  Thus, you can have drama without blocking your neighbor across the table.

You cannot easily see in this photo,  but the colors of the paisley shawl and the centerpieces are picked up in the early 19th century English ironstone plates. Make a theme by relating colors from one table element to the next.

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Everything in this bouquet ( pictured above and below)  is from the flower market, but because of the mix of fall colors one has a ” sense ” of  them having come out of the garden.  On this point: even if I do not have plant material from my garden, using seasonal colors gives a sense that the flowers are a product of the garden at that moment.  For instance, I would not use baby pink in November in  any of my homes because at this time of the year in the northern hemisphere it is not a color that one finds in nature.  (Now if you are doing a shower for a baby girl you could and probably would use that color, but that is an exception.)  I prefer to follow a seasonal logic that at least appears authentic and in tune with nature.

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Rich russets, oranges, and the deep mahogany of the ripe hypericum speak of autumn to me. I like their warm colors against the velveteen chocolate walls of my New York apartment, but also like these colors juxtaposed  against the cool blue and putty 18th c. ormolu mounted pots from China. Sometimes one complements a color palette, and at other times one uses contrasting elements to create an exciting tableau.

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In doing events where there will be a lot of people milling around, scale and drama are important. When I did one of my book parties in the elegant gallery of Carlton Hobbs I needed impact to compete with the beautiful objects and the grandeur of the rooms. Strong color, such these wonderful shades of red, and the height of the beautiful ilex was perfect. IMG_1897

I often use juxtapositions of size to create interest, especially when the the plant material is in the same color. By having the large velvety amaryllis nestled against against the tiny berries of the ilex, one weaves a rich tapestry of textures. Another  design element  is surface finish:  the berries are shiny and the petals of the flowers are matte, creating further contrast and interest. One must think of all these things in design regardless of the medium.

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The same type of bouquet in an even larger scale– I love that this  bouquet works equally well in polished silver and this beautiful rich mahogany urn from Carlton.IMG_0049

I always liked this arrangement because of the unusual colors. For another Thanksgiving in Paris I decide to use a set of French 19th c. transferware that I bought  there years ago.  In a  fabulous discount fabric place in Montmartre  I found 10 meters of a brown and white cotton that married so well with my dinner service — and thus became the tablecloth for that Thanksgiving . I was thrilled when I  found chestnuts in their shell as they added such wonderful texture.  I  combined them with musky concord grapes, miniature rose hips, small yellow crabapples, and small bronze pears. All of that seasonal bounty rested on a frame of deep red leaves.

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When mounding fruits and vegetables I use a sticky floral clay called Cling so the elements do not end up rolling across the table.

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I like to have bittersweet “wander” around an arrangement —notice the baby pumpkin (right side of large one) echoes the big bouquet.. these babies were scattered around in front of the place settings.

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I love colored glass and use it throughout the year. This combination of amethyst and amber was inspired by the antique mustard shawl I bough years ago in India. I selected different varieties of pears and some wild berry from Africa that I found at the flower market (sorry I can’t remember the name–it was in the exotic section where you find protea and such). The colors are muted and unusual, and the sparkling glass popped like gemstones off the table.

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Although the nasturtiums were long gone from the garden, I had also planted some in terra cotta pots and they continued to bloom after I took them to the greenhouse. I love how they mix with the rose hips, one of my favorite fall decorating textures. All three bouquets are simple but I admire how they look in the 19th c. Scottish oak and silver vessels.13e13f

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The red French boutis I bought in Provence years ago inspired this table, with a quick  bouquet of red Japanese maple leaves, red dahlias, and red viburnum. I surrounded this large bouquet with plates and compote dishes of apples from the orchard.

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I enjoy doing tables as vignettes where elements such as this old painted screen are part of the tableau. Notice how the colors of the screen are picked up ( intentionally) by the combination of flowers and textural elements in the bouquet.5d5k

The red is a constant from the screen, to the print on the chairs, to the cranberry glass,  even to the flowers in the needlepoint carpet.8c

Yellow crabapples wander down and through out the parade of pumpkins and gourds on the country table.  The amber hurricane is decorated with a crown of bittersweet and the glassware and service are a mix of autumn yellows and ocher.

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Here is a last ode to texture for autumn decoration (you will see  this photo again in the next post about food for Thanksgiving).  Normally I detest dyed flowers — my feeling is that mother nature is the best artist and does not need us to be dyeing carnations blue (ick!) —  but, occasionally, there is an exception to all rules. I found this seeded eucalyptus that had been dyed an unusual red-violet and I liked it mixed  with the natural green eucalyptus, hypericum, and roses in reds, oranges, and golden yellows. To bring out the orange and to give volume to the bouquet I placed clementines throughout the arrangement. These were mounted on floral skewers and stuck in to oasis that held the entire bouquet together. I love the richness of all of the patterns, from the antique paisley shawl that I used as the table cloth, to the patterns on the dinner service, to the textural variety of the plant material  in the centerpiece.

So happy autumn decorating!  I hope these images have given you some food for your creative thoughts.-cr

 

 

Mums the Word

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Once, years and years ago, I was a dinner guest at Lambert, then the Rothschild’s mansion on Île Saint-Louis, Paris. It was an extraordinary evening and such a pleasure to be a guest of the baron and baroness. It was there that I saw a photograph of a long table set for a dinner party which had taken place at Lambert. On the table, in this beautiful and stylishly bedecked manse, were pompon chrysanthemums. And they looked perfect.

Mums are often maligned, but they don’t deserve it. That photograph I saw at Lambert was confirmation that you can take something that costs practically nothing and put it in pretty surroundings, and it will look great. The photograph at Lambert served as the inspiration for the cozy dinner for four that I created for these first few photos. (Please excuse the reproduction quality here, these are scans of chromes from my archive.)

What follows is a myriad of mums in an array of colors and settings… And hopefully proof that we should drop any cynicism we have for this grocery store darling, the chrysanthemum.

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The gold pompons nestled tightly together in the glow of candlelight signal the season.

When the dahlias are finished for the year, chrysanthemums hold on through the fall in New England. Mums are one of the few flowers I enjoy at Weatherstone, but which I don’t grow. They’re so affordable and easy to find at the local nursery that I prefer to pick them up in pots when the season sets in.

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I love the way the dark fuchsia variety look with the ornamental kale.

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The russet color is the perfect shade to echo the changing leaves.

The earthy tones of the chrysanthemum arrangements in these following photographs of a luncheon I hosted in the stable not only mirror the season but also the rich, dark wood paneling, windowpanes, and furniture. White linens give clean contrast and show off the raw and burnt umber shades.

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Mixing a species gives a variety of scale and color.

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Berries add texture to these tiny daisy mum bouquets.

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The rust detailing on these early 19th century English creamware plates by Copeland, is the signal that the warm fall colors will work with the blue and white palette. (Bill Blass collected the brown and rust colorway of this transferware, but I’ve always thought the Greek colorway, as the blue and white is called, is more feminine.)

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Warm russet, burgundy, Bourdeau, garnet, yellow-orange, spiked with the hypernicum berries. I love the way the chartreuse centers are echoed by the green in the crabapples—an element I brought in from the garden.

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These big, yellow California mums remind me of the homecomings of my youth. It was the custom to wear a mum corsage to the game and dance. In the U.S., mums are often associated with thrift. Yet in other countries, particularly Japan, they are considered a flower of great beauty.

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Above, in this Japanese vase, they work well with the strong lines and look thoroughly modern. Are you surprised that this is a Japanese bronze vase from the early 18th century?

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Switching color palettes —one of the other things to love about mums is that they are available in so many shades — I’ve played off of the rosy shades in this Majolica pitcher. The flowers here have petals that fade from rose pink in the center to shell pink on the outside. The snowberries mixed in have had just a touch of frost, which gives them the pinkish hue.

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In the autumn, I have a tendency to mix fruits and flowers. The plate of grapes, pears and apples, picks up the colors of the majolica and the burgundy browns in the fabric.

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In another part of the barn, I hosted a little  lunch for three, using English transferware, fabric I love and simple baskets of rosy colored mums. I just love the huge variety of mums and the zillion different looks you can get with the same flower.

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Browns and ambers abound here. Country earthenware and amber goblets are the perfect shades and weights to go with these large rust and yellow beauties.

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Always thinking about how the food will look on the table, this pastry-covered poached pear is one of my favorite fall desserts. Nancy does a beautiful job of “dressing” the fruit for dinner.

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Purple, purple, purple. Surprise your guests with the royal shade of little pompons, daisies, and big blooms that almost looks like a strange gerbera daisies. Pick a color that you like and bounce it off of objects you already have, in my case amethyst — sometimes matching and sometimes contrasting.

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Be glad chrysanthemums are cheap. They’re also chic, so go nuts with them this autumn! They’re guaranteed to bring cheer when it seems as if everything else is dying.

 

 

Carolyne Roehm at The Skirted Roundtable

Just in time for spring to start popping out, we have a wonderful chat with the multi-faceted and talented Carolyne Roehm.  From her start as a fresh faced mid-western college grad taking on the famed New York garment district in the early 70s to her long tenure with Oscar de la Renta, her own fashion label, personal ups and downs and some pretty romantic sounding adventures in Europe – Carolyne shared much of what makes this gentle presence such a long lasting force in American style. Her passions are well documented in several publications and her latest is titled simply Flowers which showcases the amazing beauty found in her own gardens at Weatherstone, her Connecticut home. While she does have help, she is clearly a hands-on gardener. In order to capture her flowers at their most beautiful moments, Carolyne realized that she needed to be the one to shoot the images for the book as well, and so she did. It’s truly a feast for the eyes.

To hear the entire interview, click here.

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Divine Design by The Classic Preppy

I cannot tell you how excited I was to know that Carolyne Roehm was coming to Richmond to speak at The Woman’s Club.  Ms. Roehm and Charlotte Moss are my two favorite “go-to” style mavens. As you may remember, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Ms. Moss only a few months ago.  Although I only met Ms. Roehm briefly as she was signing books after her talk, she was gracious and hospitable in every way.  Both women are American treasures.  They have redefined classic elegance for the modern age.

To see more of this week long series of articles on Carolyne Roehm, go to The Classic Preppy. 

Lunch with Carolyne Roehm by Jaimee Rose

The patron saint of blue and white visited the Phoenix Art Museum this week to share her life’s story about being an independent woman. Author and interior designer Carolyne Roehm grew up in the midwestern “boonies” and dreamed of being a big New York fashion designer. She married fabulously, was divorced oh-so-publicly, and still made her dreams come true. I loved listening to her funny, self-deprecating tales and admiring the tablescapes created by local designers in her honor. Ellen Katz always brings illustrious talent to town. Would you like a peek inside?

To see more of the Jaimee Rose article, click here

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Like a Bear Coming out of Hibernation…

 

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Setting a happy table makes the guests feel that they are indeed special…

It is still cold and gloomy in New England but somehow the daffodils and tulips are peeking out from the wintery earth fueling hope that spring is not too far away. After thirty years in Connecticut, I know we can even have blooms and then a snowfall into early May, l but sighting the tips of spring bulbs awakens the hibernating bear in me (I figuratively go under the covers in Jan.,  Feb. and at least half if not all of March). But I see those first tips of green and the hibernating bear awakens and I think of spring cleaning and preparing for guests in the spring and summer  seasons

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Veranda about guests rooms and as I begin the “spring spruce up” I thought it might be useful to post that article plus more pictures I have taken since that time. Hope you enjoy it……..

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It is not a huge or expensive effort on our part to make our guests feel that they are special. Water by the bed, an alarm clock, a plant or a small bouquet of flowers, nice towels and hand towels, writing pads and implements….it’s the little details that make a big difference… and please don’t forget good pillows…

What a difference and night makes! My most vivd memories of other people’s guest rooms run the gamut from unforgettable nights of splendid luxury and comfort, to endless nights of tossing and turning in dreary sleeplessness. Omitting outside emotional influences such as being madly in love, or at least madly infatuated, I believe the factors that promote or detract from a good nights sleep and a sense of well being in the morning are quite simple. I also believe that creating a cozy and gracious guest room is a pre-requisite to being considered a great host or hostess.st. water 2 0386

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I take left over fabric from decorating a room and make little kleenex holders that coordinate. Ironing linens with scented water makes the bed smell so fresh when you turn back the covers!

One of my most memorable guest room experiences was at Blenheim Palace as a guest of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. After dinner, a butler asked each of the guest what they would like for breakfast and what time they would like their morning tray delivered to their room. As a working woman, I never indulged in breakfast in bed, so this was a fabulous treat.

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I find that house guests arise at all different times. For the really early risers I leave a tray with breakfast fixings so they don’t have to twiddle their thumbs waiting for my staff or me to show up.

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I print a little information card and leave it so everything can be easily found. It makes it nice for the guests and takes the pressure off me.

To top things off, when I arrived back at my room after dinner, it was warm, cozy and all aglow from a fire in the fireplace and a candle next to the bed. As if that were not enough, when I stretched out on the luxurious canopied bed and felt like the princess and the pea but completely comfy, I encountered the coup de grâce: a toasty hot water bottle under the covers near the foot of the bed. As someone who always has cold feet, I thought I had died and gone to guest-room heaven!

I am so lucky to have experienced luxury at that exalted level, as my own world is a lot simpler and a lot less grand. I do not have little fairies who whisk breakfast trays onto the beds of my guests and stoke dying embers in a fireplace, but at least I do try to make my guest rooms inviting and supply my visitors with the necessary items that I would like to find in a room.

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One of my passions are beautiful bed and table linens..there is “almost ” nothing as wonderful as slipping into pretty, fresh, scented bed linens for a good nights sleep. Doris Bryner at Doir in Paris selects some of the prettiest I have ever seen. I cannot resist shopping there every time I go to Paris.

 

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Lily of the valley is my birth flower and I have an entire collection of them for one of my guests rooms. Everything here I bought in Paris but the best is when my lily of the valley are in bloom and I have big bunches of fresh ones that I place on bedside tables in all the bedrooms mine included. It is so wonderful to wake up with their beautiful scent in the morning.

Two of my earliest experiences of wonderful guest rooms were decades ago in the country and island homes of the designer Oscar de la Renta and his wife Françoise. As a French woman of infinite style, Françoise filled her guest rooms with special things that provided a sense of refinement and ease. None of the items were extravagant-each was practical and stylish.

These days, America has come a long way in the art of hospitality at home. The things that Françoise used in those guest rooms-such as scented candles-are now enjoyed everywhere. But what is often missing in our newly discovered civility is a lack of finesse. For me, it is unnecessary to find chocolates or presents on my pillow when I retire to a guest room. I don’t expect to feel as though I am in a hotel. What I want is a restful night in a comfortable setting.

The opposite of that generous but perhaps ill-guided guest room exuberance is worse. I have spent nights in perfectly lovely homes where it is evident that guest rooms are clearly of little importance to the hosts. I find this surprising given that those same hosts enjoy offering their guests, wine and entertainment but in the morning seem oblivious as to whether or not their guests had a pleasant night. I like to ask guests if they had a good rest.

Guest deserve to be given sufficient closet space for their clothes. Out of season apparel and the kids’ stuff can be moved out, even if only temporarily, and more than one drawer in a chest may need to be cleared out too. No guest will feel truly welcome if they have to pull their belongings out of a suitcase each and every time they get dressed! Have a luggage rack available in the guest room. A visitor should not have to kneel on the floor to retrieve items from their suitcase.

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Matching hangers make a big difference when a guest opens a closet door to hang their clothes. I hate opening closets and finding a collection of old hangers from the local dry cleaners. With stores like the Container store or Bed, Bath and Beyond there is no reason to have a crumby guest room and bath. There are extremely affordable things to make your guests room welcoming. I restock medicine cabinets several times a year to make sure everything is up to date and fresh.

Planning and attention to detail can ensure that visitors have a happily memorable experience. Making this extra effort says to them “You are important to me”. And this is the nicest thing you can give your guests.

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Of course true  luxury is breakfast in bed and if one has staff, it is the ultimate pampering touch! My poor  guests alas do not get that treatment —but my mother and my god-mother do once in a blue moon.!!! As I like watching movies with guests at times , setting a pretty tray makes sitting at a T.V.  on a tray extra special.  When I am alone I always have a pretty tray–it just makes me feel like a guest.

More tips

Start with a good quality mattress. It’s better to be on the firm side than too mushy.

  • Use only one hundred percent cotton sheets. Yves Delorme, Dea ( my favorite),  Frette and Pratesi are among the luxurious brands. Williams-Sonoma Home and Wamsutta are also great sources for old-fashioned, pure cotton bedding.
  • Take the time to do a little ironing. At the very least, press pillowcases and the fold over hem of the top sheet. A good trick, in a pinch ,  is to pull the sheets out of the dryer when they are still a bit damp. Put them on the bed and  then press them right on the mattress. Of course that a quick fix especially for fitted sheets but nothing replaces the ironing board or mangle.
  • A variety of good pillows is essential. Keep on hand soft, regular and firm, as well as non-allergenic pillows for any one who can’t use feathers or down. There’s nothing worse than suffering from insomnia because a pillow is the opposite of what you prefer.

Vladimir the Ultimate Artist and Artisan

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A table set for lunch with friends. The porcelain is a 19th century English pattern I collect. The stemware is new, but the wine rinsers that I use as either soup or desert dishes are English Regency. The flatware is by 18th century silversmith Paul Storr.

Many of you know from an article that I wrote in Veranda that I have always been an admirer of the work of Vladimir Kanevsky. I have collected his beautiful porcelain flowers since the late 1980’s when he first came to this country from the Soviet Union.  He is one of those  artisans who raises the bar for refinement and beauty, creating  magic out of clay and metal.

Years after I starting collecting, I received a letter from Vladimir.   To my delight, he wrote that my first book, A Passion for Flowers,  had inspired many of his creations and that he regarded it as his ” bible” of reference for flowers. Of course, I contacted him, and a new friendship was formed. I have enjoyed many a glass of wine with him and his lovely wife  Edita as we have talked about our mutual love of flowers. When I decided to do a new book of my own photographs of the flowers I grow at Weatherstone, I knew I wanted Vladimir to interpret some of my favorites. I also wanted him to create some mixed bouquets  — something he had previously resisted doing!

I decided to launch my latest book, Flowers,  at the wonderful New York gallery of Carlton Hobbs, presenting Vladimir’s exquisite flowers as well. Vladimir ” blew up”  the scale of dahlias and  parrot tulips, making them very strong and graphic. I was the lucky recipient of a beautiful parrot tulip from Simon and another one from Vladimir and Edita for Christmas. I also bought eight of his smaller single flowers that we displayed at my book party on a wonderful Rococo plant or porcelain stand. Of course,  I ended up buying the stand from Carlton myself!  With it, my wonderful porcelain flowers will be in the new Charleston master bedroom. So the first thing I shall see upon waking are these magical flowers…..what a way to start my day!

I hope you enjoy looking at Vladimir’s flowers as much as I do. I am providing the link to his website if anyone is interested in owning some of them and I shall also put a number here so you can contact Edita, who helps him with his business.

http://www.vladimircollection.com            201-592-1176

 

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I love how the amethyst glass picks up on the colors in the bouquet.  Can you believe these breathtaking flowers?

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I love the sinuous movement of the foxglove and the reaching arms of the hollyhock buds. The naturalistic asymmetry of the bouquet is wonderful.

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I grow lots of “black” flowers — of course, there are no real black flowers but I was always intrigued with the story of The Black Tulip by Dumas. I plant black tulips every year and I love mixing them with lilacs in particular.

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I know I say ” I love” a lot of things, but I only want to share with you all the things I do love!  Please forgive my repeated use of the phrase ( remember, I am a designer, not a writer!).  I  do love variegated flowers of all sorts: tulips, roses, camellias, peonies. This is a close-up of Vladimir’s interpretation of a variegated tulip I grow each spring.  Amazing.

 

 

 

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Besides the mixed spring bouquet shown above, Vladimir did super-sized studies of favorite flowers from my garden. I adore these because they are bold and sculptural, making them very modern.
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The size of the tulip head is about 4.5″ … all in matte porcelain.

 

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Look at the detail of these flowers!

I should really do this post in two parts because I have so many pictures I want to show you …but now I must go and prepare dinner.  So more to come!

The Vladimir Collection.com

 

Escaping The FFFFFrigid ….Cold

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DSC00837Escaping from a world of gray … boy oh boy, it is so cold outside!

When the skies are gray for days on end I find myself retreating to my little glass house at Weatherstone.  It is like being transported to another climate: warm and humid with signs of life from the topiaries and geraniums that I keep there in the winter. As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, I recently did an overhaul of the old glass house. It was functional but rather a mess, it needed some tender loving care, and at that moment  I needed a project. (This was before I bought the Charleston house.)   I took it upon myself to be actively involved in the dirty work, not just the decorating part (perhaps you remember that awful photo of me cleaning?). Now my little house has turned into a place of serenity in the spring and summer, and a refuge from the harsh winters of New England. This weekend I took a pot of tea and a breakfast roll up there to look over the seed catalogs in preparation for the coming summer’s garden. My iPod, a light snow, two of my pups with me, and I was in heaven! What a perfect way to spend a Sunday.

I wanted to keep the greenhouse rather simple, using zinc and glass hurricanes and rustic tables and chairs.  As far as “decorating, ” I have found a wonderful source for garden-oriented things in a tantalizing shop called Pergola  located in New Preston, CT. The owners, Peter and David, have the most sophisticated eye and have collected a refined and interesting selection of products mixed in with plants, books, and furniture. They create beautiful vignettes with items made from simple materials such as concrete, ‘found wood’ in interesting shapes,and the work of a few artisans with whom they share an esthetic.  One such artist is Christopher Marley, whose work I have started collecting. I have always been fascinated by the concept of  cabinets of curiosity.  (The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture.)  I used to live near Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop in Paris where one could wander  for hours, fascinated. Well, this is my beginning collection, modern-day version, and I thought it would be perfect in the redone greenhouse.  My intention is that someday the walls will be covered with these extraordinary creatures.

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The little hedgehog and the copy of an antique basket used as a planter are made out of concrete.

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A pot of tea and even a candle on especially dreary days make the glass house cozy for me as I peruse the flower and seed catalogs.

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DSC00905Pergola found a man who makes wonderful molds of old baskets, books, and animals, and then recreates them in concrete. Pictured in this story are a little hedgehog and baskets made in concrete — I think they are so chic!

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These copies of lovely old baskets are made in concrete.

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Nature never ceases to amaze me.   Isn’t this guy wonderful?

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Christopher Marley

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My beau Simon bought me all of these wonderful bugs and butterflies for Christmas.

 

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Look at the amazing iridescent blue!

Chasing the Winter Blues Away With Recipes

 

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I love the lengthening days of late January, but for many of us winter stretches on for three more months!  For me, neither Aspen nor Connecticut sees a hint of green until the third week of April.  I always thought spring came in March, but it seems I am wrong about that in my neck of the woods. Last week in Aspen it was a lovely 13 below zero, and this morning in Connecticut it was a toasty 16 above!

I am back east, working on Charleston plans and shopping the market (will show you some of that before too long).  I looked out on a dreary winter’s day and thought, “Time for some stick-to-your-ribs soup.”  Since I am trying to clean up my act in the eating department (no more chocolate chip cookies for breakfast),  I decided to do a hearty lentil soup and a healthy salad. I had tried Michale Anthony’s ‘Slow Food Fast’ recipe from the Wall Street Journal of a couple of weeks ago, mixing raw kale and cabbage with a creamy caper dressing, and it was quite good.    Inspired,  I  invented my own kale salad with red cabbage, a few thin slivers of red onion, a sprinkling of dried cranberries, and toasted pine nuts. It was tasty, colorful, and, oh, I felt soooooo virtuous!

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IMG_0657As wholesome food alone cannot push the winter blahs away (though a glass of wine helps), I decided that we needed a flash of spring. So I ordered five bunches of white tulips and set the table you see. I loved the clear simplicity of the white flowers on the white linen — it just looked so fresh, like the shot of bright energy I was seeking.

For those of you who are interested in china, a brief side note: I bought these plates from the YSL auction of Yves’s Chateau Gabrielle in Normandy.  I had wanted to buy, as a memento of this great designer, something from the historic first sale of his things from Paris. But as you may remember,  the prices went through the roof and I got nothing. It seems the rest of the world wanted a piece of this remarkable talent as well. The YSL Collection Sale, Part II,  made for my lucky second chance.

Back to a happy and healthy lunch or dinner.  If anyone is interested in the recipes please let me know and I shall post them.

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Lentil Soup

16oz Lentils
8 cups Water
3.5 cups Beef Broth
1 Smoked Ham Bone
1 cup Celery, chopped
1 cup Carrot, chopped
3 Onions, chopped coarsely
2 tbsp Minced Garlic
1 Bay Leaf

We used regular lentils, however, any variety of lentil will work.

Sort and rinse lentils, then put in a large pot with 8 cups of hot water. Simmer gently, with tilted lid for 15-20 mins until tender.

Add remaining ingredients to pot and simmer for 90 mins.

Take bay leaf and ham bone out of the pot. Remove ham from the bone, chop into small pieces and stir back into the soup.

Serves 6-8 people

Kale and Red Cabbage Salad

1 bunch of kale leaves
1/2 red cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (or to taste)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pan roasted pine nuts
1 tsp. white balsamic vinegar

 

I was taught by a young friend that in order to make kale more tender, chefs are massaging kale. Go figure!  You can probably look it up online, but basically, put olive oil on your hands and massage the kale between your fingers. Remove the spine of the kale and chop or tear  into 1/2″ pieces ( approx.). Mix kale with the red cabbage and onion. Salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Roast pine nuts in a skillet until golden. Add cranberries and pine nuts to salad and toss.