Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to the Future

About 15 minutes north of Winston-Salem,  lies the sleepy little town of Bethania, the only remaining independent, continuously active Moravian village in the southern United States.  Founded in 1759, it is the only known existing Germanic-type Linear Agricultural village in the South.  Houses are organized along The Old Plank Road, now Main Street closely situated to one another, with long deep gardens in the rear, enough for an orchard, vegetables and livestock.

Our friend, I will affectionately call Gypsy, has highly eclectic interests. A spectacular collection of antique furniture and textiles, flows seamlessly with Art Deco,  women's World War II recruitment posters, Haitian primitive landscapes and various pop art objects.  The house is a study in Pop Art: "Pop removes the material from its context and isolates the object, or combines it with other objects, for contemplation.[1][2]"  

Warm, primary colors dominate this house, as mid century upholstery,  emphasized with a bright yellow fabric trim, socialize comfortably with an early American Antique day bed and contemporary modern prints. 

Old homes still need modern kitchens and bathrooms! This kitchen was converted from an enclosed porch. The former exterior log walls support Gypsy's extensive collection of family portraits. The juxtaposition of a shiny modern steel refrigerator, with antiques, and photography makes the wonderful Haitian primitive landscape pop. 

A laundry/mud room convenient to the kitchen and downstairs master bedroom, is a luxury for an 1840's house.  It holds excess china and vases as well and triples up as a flower room.  Placing prints over the washing machine and dryer transform the space from simple utility into a pleasant room. 

The second floor houses our friend's extensive collection of books, two guest rooms and a wonderful modern bath. A keyword internet search landed this cool mid-century, Art Deco grouping. The bright red, new shelving creates continuity with the downstairs, with a fresh dimension. 

A contemporary soaking tub, surrounded by fresh modern mosaic tiles animates the simple lines of the chair and old fashioned charm of the tole tray. 

What could make a guest happier than a comfortable bed, an extensive library and a long hot bath?  

Up in the rafters,  our hostess has created a well organized home office and a comfortable television viewing area.  A lover of  pop culture literally, Gypsy displays her soda bottle collection, which is rivaled only by my daughter's soda cap collection.  They are a couple of quirky kindred souls. 

Stepping into the deep, characteristic garden to the rear, we'll take you on a quick stroll through Bethania. 

Stunning Moravian stonework and a lovingly tended garden

Shady front porches create a sidewalk social life for residents

A weathered urn sits decoratively at the edge of a lawn

Last but not least....A Dovecote!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Our first brides bouquet!!

My friend's 73 year old Mother was planning her wedding for October. Her 80 year old fiance was naturally impatient, and an impromptu visit to the city hall, was a delightful solution. Knowing my garden is loaded with hydrangeas, the bride's favorite flower, she asked me to pick a few that would make an easy little bouquet. We knew we could do better than that!

With white and blue hydrangeas as the foundation for the bouquet, I wanted to mix in some complementary shapes and textures. If Kate Hepburn carried calla lillies on her wedding day, in a movie, I think everybody should. Cottage flowers recall charming gardens, lovingly tended over time, old fashioned values, rewarded with splashes of light, color and tantalizing fragrance.  A wedding is a day.  A marriage is, hopefully, a work of art in progress--a cultivation. Even if you are going to city hall at the age of 73 and 80, your day should reflect your chosen path. Flowers and gardens have always been highly symbolic. 

Lace cap hydrangeas produced a wonderful cascading effect.  


The white roses added a touch of elegance and love reflecting the occasion, not to mention our bride. The stock in the end, pulled the entire composition together, adding a soft peach hue and more dimension. The unopened buds lend an airy balance to the compactness of the hydrangea.

Happy Wedding Day!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Museums with price tags

When my children were very small, we lived in "East Jesus" Virginia, and I was called a Yankee. On visits to my parents in Long Island, a short walk from the train station, I would pop into the city for some retail therapy. I loved the Kentshire Gallery, my museum with price tags. As I bounded out the door, my father would knowingly call out: "Train your eye dear," completely aware that I was not coming back with collectibles. Imagine my glee when online auctions became a reality. 1st dibs is my idea of heaven, so I have decided to become my own celebrity shopper, from the bargain side of the store, looking for affordable value.

height: 15 in.
depth: 20 in.
width/length: 20 in.

This architectural pair of 1960's teak side tables by Henning Norgarrd of Denmark for Komfort, sell for $650.00 each. Wonderful joint work, great scale and clean form fuse to create a timeless, functional grouping that mix in any setting.  A $1,300 price tag for a signed Danish modern classic in beautiful condition is a no brainer. They can also be paired as a coffee table grouping. Glass top coffee tables are especially desirable if you have a beautiful rug to highlight, they are easily replaceable if damage occurs, never stain, and make a room look larger and brighter. The glowing orange finish gives them a zen like, oriental aura, and I love them!

height: 26 1/2
depth: 1 1/2
width/length: 40 in.
This is a charming turn of the century American hand hooked rug, on a frame for hanging.  It would be delightful over the headboard in a girl's or guest room, over a mantle in a farm or mountain house. I love folk art in contemporary spare settings.  In our new green, eco friendly world, this is the precedent. The patterns are made with scraps of fabrics from their rag bags. It blows my mind, that they could sort out their scraps by color and texture, in gas or candle light, while imagining a design. For me, this is love-- striving towards making a hard life beautiful.  I like to think about the woman that made this. She woke up before the roosters, lived from the land, probably milked cows, raised and lost children--it takes my breath away. For the price of $495.00 this is a heart warming treasure.

My oldest and dearest friend's Mother (ODFM) has a passion for miniatures. Her collection was inspired by the fabulous rooms of Mrs. James Ward Thorne

A35: California Living Room, c. 1935-1940, c. 1940
Miniature room, mixed media
Interior: 12 1/4 x 29 7/8 x 23 in.
Scale: 1 inch = 1 foot
Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, 1942.515

My ODFM's collecting escalated to a collaboration with her wonderful husband. They concocted miniature greenhouses, with diminutive pots and trowels, tiny wood houses for little mice from my adored  Mouse House in Cold Spring Harbor, L.I.  I caught the bug, and have included this splendid early 20th century, intricately carved closed bed cupboard, from Brittany. 

height: 13 in.
depth: 6.25 in.
width/length: 14.5 in.

I must digress about the persistent archetypal wagon wheel motif. It traveled from ancient India through Europe with the great migrations, and was retained by the Celtic Breton's. It symbolizes the circularity of of life. The eight spokes are still maintained and originally represented the 8 Buddhist paths of righteousness: right, faith, intention, speech, action, livelihood, endeavor, mindfulness, meditation. The Breton's also followed the Eastern tradition of deliberate error, setting one spindle upside down, because only God is perfect. This little darling is packed with history and symbolism. I find its pagan roots calling my Celtic Kelly soul.  
1st dibs
Male figure- 7"H, x 4 1/2"Dia., Female- 5"H.x 5"Dia. and Female with "upswept do"; 7"H. x 3 1/2"Dia. All signed
Materials/Techniques: Pottery forms, polychromed under glaze.
$375.00 each

Bjorn Wiinblad's work can be found in museums all over the world. These whimsical classic figure vases are all signed and were created in his studio in Denmark, during the 60's. My good friend (you know who you are!) should buy them! I think the collective price of $1,125.00 is tres reasonable for museum worthy collectibles. You can see a smattering of Wiinblad on e-bay. They are admittedly, very small, but would work well for low dining arrangements. I would love to see how they work with different floral hairdos!  

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Entertaining

Long evenings, abundant fresh produce, and blooming gardens cast a spell for magical, summer gatherings.  The best dinners are always at home. Beautiful settings, invite guests to linger over food and conversation. Friends and family feel cherished with sparkling  china and silverware with lovingly arranged fresh flowers. The table can be set a couple of days ahead, leaving time for cooking and shopping. Providing ambience and good company is the primary intent for memorable get-togethers. If you aren't comfortable in the kitchen, be responsible for one or two dishes you do well, and ask your friends to bring their specialties.

Alas,  Mottahedeh has discontinued my adored tulip vases. Scattering low bouquets through out the table spices the setting, without impeding interaction.  Charles Masson, my flower guru, says in The Flowers of La Grenouille: "A bouquet of flowers is an entity; its container plays a decisive role. " Honestly, small vases are easier to arrange. 

An antique staffordshire sugar bowl makes a perfect low vase. Benji showed me how to use crisscrossed scotch tape, creating sections that support the stems. I selected flowers with an "evenness of value" using a range of orange through peach, with pink and golden hues, complimenting my interior palette. 

My oldest and dearest friend's mother was a blue ribbon winner at Garden Club of America competitions--a seriously tough crowd! Her great dictum for successful floral design was: "No tortured flowers!" I have embraced this adage, believing that arrangements should be organic and natural.  Cottage garden blooms-- roses, stock, snap dragons and ranunculus are better choices than the offensive florist factory cliche of daisies, chrysanthemums and carnations. 


Cold summer soups are a favorite of ours, so when I discovered these Italian covered bowls in the shapes of fruits and vegetables, a collection was born. Large majolica chargers are complemented by antique leaf form dishes for bread and butter. The fruit and vegetable motif is echoed on the unusual black background Italian plates, displayed in the cupboard.  The motif replays on the table with an assortment of ceramics, a few by Mary Kirk Kelly (a favorite artist of mine). Etched glasses add dimension and informality to the table. If you have an obsession, don't worry about your house "flowing.  It doesn't even need a plan--it happens. 

For minimalist table dressers, this clean setting feels more formal, designating a special occasion. We have become great fans of Paperless Post. Click this link to see our blog launch invite: (  Nudge over Mrs. John L. Strong, this elegant, virtual custom stationery website, is an event planners dream. Traditional, contemporary, location or holiday themed templates are available, with a variety of fonts for your individual message. Guests receive an e-mail with their names in calligraphy on an envelope, evoking Crane's. When you click, your unique invitation rises up to greet your friend. The tracking application indicates whether your note has been opened, commented upon or R.S.V.P'd and will automatically resend after a few days. The service is less expensive and more reliable than the U.S. Mail, conserving paper and energy. It is a perfect and special way to announce a little dinner party or charitable event. My mother might not agree, but I am delighted with it. 

My favorite thing about summer? Bring the inside out, and the outside in. If the weather is reliable I always open up an old mahogany drop leaf table on the terrace, seating eight--knee to knee. We carry out the breakfast room chairs, and include more substantial seating for the big guys.  When rain threatens our happy evening, we eat in the dining room with the doors open, savoring the ozone. In addition to the flowers, I'll carry in a few container plants, being sure to place glazed saucers beneath. 

My house is your house! Set up the bar with beverage selections and ingredients so your guests can take care of themselves. Entertaining at home is about making your friends at home. Here is a list of ingredients for my favorite parties:
  • Mixing generations encourages children to eat different foods and to interact socially. Meals are all about conversation. Remember the elderly, they love to get out and seem to have more energy and better stories than the rest of us. 
  • Combine different social groups. People love to expand their horizons--the usual suspects get old.  
  • If you hate to cook, get everybody to pitch in. Hot dogs and hamburgers are delicious. Popcorn is a worthy appetizer.
  • Do not be a lunatic about clearing and cleaning--it harries the crowd. I assign different people (especially the children) to clear the courses. 
  • Entertaining is not a performance, it is interaction, love and friendship--it is a demonstration of affection.
  • For some great menu ideas go to:  My neighbor Margaret is an accomplished chef and photographer. Also, my new blog friend Rebecca has a wonderful repertoire, traveling extensively throughout the world. I love her new post on the spice market in Istanbul!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Well Appointed Birdhouse

Dovecote Decor has a special appreciation for birdhouses, so you can imagine our excitement when we opened the June 2010 Architectural Digest and saw the article "For the Birds" highlighting Wilmington, Delaware's Thomas F. Burke and his designer bird homes.

The intricate detailing of these, and other, custom bird "homes"are bench made, CAD drawn, and use exterior-grade materials, much like our own dwellings.  It is truly amazing to see how far the birdhouse concept has come since its inception in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Dovecotes were among the first birdhouses, dating back to the 13th Century, and clearly form followed function.  They were typically found on the grounds of monasteries and manor houses, and were an indicator of wealth.  The birds were used as a fresh food source during the winter, they produced fertilizer for the gardens, and worked as couriers year round, thus proving to be a valuable asset, deserving of a comfortable home.

Mustard Gambrel Barn from Goldsmith Birdhouses

In the 21st Century a functioning dovecote is a rare thing, and birdhouses have become less of a necessity and more of a decorative element and a hobby.  In fact there are several major birdhouse building competitions, and craftsmen creating custom birdhouses in the style of your own home!  Our favorite is Goldsmith Birdhouses.  In the birdhouse spectrum, they fall in the higher end, starting at about $450.  Each birdhouse is one of a kind, and handcrafted from 150 year old reclaimed lumber.

At Dovecote Decor headquarters, we have two classic dovecotes that are a nod to the history of bird keeping throughout time - one perched on the roof, the other built into the eaves of the house. 

Modern bird houses can range from reinvented tin cans to ceramic cupcakes.  A designer's creativity is the limit!  Bird houses are a great way to express oneself while simultaneously dressing up one's lawn.  This Old House has a good online article for setting up your own birdhouse.  Happy birding!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Organizing your move

June is the month when most people move. It is a monumental task. With clever organization, moving is a great time to take inventory, purge, and regroup for your new setting. The last time we moved, a cousin, who was a veteran of transition, shared her tips with me. It has been one of the best exercises of my life, and I will share.

Purchase a large binder, dividers, graph paper and sheet protectors. It doesn't take long to photograph your furniture, pictures, and rugs, noting--height, width and depth. This is essential for insurance purposes, as a reference to their condition. If you are lucky enough to have plans, or the ability to measure rooms in your next house, take the time! Armed with furniture dimensions and a floor plan, you can experiment with placement, in advance of the expensive hours teamsters charge. All the world of templates, plans and architecture exist in a state of 1/4" scale--meaning 1/4 inch=1 foot.  Measure the room by foot, noting mantles, doorways, windows, built in cupboards etc.. and reduce them on graph paper to architectural scale. Make numerous copies to experiment with variations. Furniture templates are available in all office supply stores, and have standard sizes (to scale) for club chairs, sofas, and beds that will often match your furniture dimensions, saving time from drawing out every little piece with your ruler. I think its fun and its not that hard. 

Here is my dining room. I drew my existing rug and table on the floor plan. The table looks diminutive with the scale of the room, but it works fine. I have a drop leaf table that I open in the bay window to expand seating. I knew it would be the perfect spot for our Christmas tree.

Here is the point: On paper, you can imagine the function of each space. You can determine which pieces to eliminate and what pieces you need to acquire. Sell your old buffet if it doesn't work or isn't
sentimental--stalk a new one.  Here lies the beauty of sheet protectors; you can break up the binder and take your floor plans shopping.  When you discover the perfect cupboard at an amazing price, you can pull the trigger, with confidence. 

This is the previous occupant's arrangement for the breakfast room. It functions well, so why fight with success? I measured her rug, so I knew what size would work. We had more casual furniture for the space, but it is a workhorse of a room. 

This room functions beautifully as Dovecote headquarters. The baskets in the first bookshelf hold sunscreens, dog leashes, the odd pair of gloves and shoes, as every back door needs a catch all space. The top holds an extensive collection of hats. For me, this space works best as dining, office, mud-room, design library, and storage. When you move, its great to take cues from previous dwellers, yet in the end, the house must become your home.

I still refer to my house book, after nine years! Below is my table of contents:
  1. The realtor's brochure has a plethora of excellent details regarding materials, provenance, and manufacturers. It often contains floor plans and site map. I have referred to it frequently.
  2. The first section is everything purchased for the house--fabric invoices, receipts for furniture, lighting, with inspirational photos and a wish list.
  3. The next sections are the room by room floor plans, and terrace measurements. 
  4. In the back, I have resource lists, warranties and the mover's inventory from the previous house. It is a good idea to copy your invoices and inventory for insurance purposes and store them in your safe deposit box. 
  5. I have a separate section with instructions regarding water pressure adjustments, how to clean the oven and other mundane idiosyncrasies.