Monday, June 30, 2008

Feeling Small Is Good For The Soul

I received an email from a neighbor this morning thanking me for a photo I had taken of her ten year old daughter sitting in their magnolia tree. I had shot the photo during one of my evening walks with Edward. It wasn’t the first time the little girl had called to us from her leafy vantage point, and this time I couldn’t resist taking her picture. Her mother spoke of how grateful she was that her daughter valued the old trees all around their home and ended her letter by saying, “Feeling small is good for the soul”. Oh, what a wise statement that is. This little girl is fortunate, as are Edward and I, to share her life with beautiful, venerable trees all around her. As a child, I too shared that good fortune. We lived on the edge of a dense wood and that was where I could be found, always with my dog of course, every day, all day. There is something about wandering around under old trees that sparks the imagination, gently reminding one of one’s place in the grand scheme of things. Feeling small in the face of a wondrous creation does indeed enable a person to arrange their thoughts, their dreams, their lives, in an more enlightened way and that in turn bestows delight to all their days.
Poet Mary Oliver can express the wisdom and wonderment to be found in the nature all around us, infinitely better than I .

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Saturday, June 28, 2008

For Me?

Edward and I received a delightful surprise yesterday!
The lovely chatelaine over at
Life at Willow Manor gave us an award!
What a treat!
We are honored, humbled and grateful!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Worth Staying Up Late For

I love books. I love new books, I love classic books. I love bookshops, I love libraries, I love books
about bookshops and libraries. I love the look of books, the smell of them, the way the pages feel beneath my fingers as I turn them, the way the variations of colorful bindings look on my library shelves. I could not get a bigger thrill if they were pastries lined up in a baker’s window. I am the person looking over your shoulder at the airport to see what it is you are reading. I am the one who scrutinizes the latest magazines with my head tilted to one side to better read the titles displayed in the photographs of other people’s bookshelves. And not for me the new computerized little hard cold box with letters digitally reproduced inside, masquerading as written word. I will always and forever be utterly besotted with books. I ask you, is there anything better than an old bookstore on a rainy day? Maybe one with creaky wooden floors, a couple of imperious bookshop cats and a cast of like-minded characters wandering the shelves, eyeglasses perched on noses, each lost in his or her own private world of perusal. In such a place, the hours fly by totally unnoticed. If you happen to share this passion and are fortunate enough to ever be in the southwest corner of Scotland, do make every attempt to visit a village called Wigtown. It is billed as “Scotland’s National Book Town”, and justifiably so. It is a booklovers Eden. Shop after delightful shop, all bountiful with books glorious books. There’s a mystery bookshop, a cookery bookshop, a science-fiction bookshop, as well as many wonderfully eclectic bookshops stuffed to overflowing with rows and rows, and stacks and stacks, of wonderful wonderful books!
To echo the mood of the marvelous old painting by Adelaide Claxton shown above, here are just a few of the books that have been keeping me up late recently.
Do share some of yours!

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
The House at Riverton - Kate Morton
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
The End of the Affair - Graham Greene
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Rose’s Garden - Carrie Brown

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the Shadow of the Ubiquitous “They”

A while back I met with a client for a consultation. She took me through her house, pointing out all the things she was unhappy with, and they were legion. I could see the consternation on her face as she conveyed to me her frustration over her inability to get her house “just right”. She then told me the one thing a designer hates to hear upon the first meeting with a client. I was her fifth decorator. As I toured her home I tried to give her ideas on how she could brighten a corner here, improve a seating arrangement there, all the while she feverishly wrote down every word I said. Finally, when I suggested that she showcase an impressive collection of antique plates on a wall in her kitchen, she looked up from her writing and asked in a worried tone, “is that what they’re doing now?”. Oh , “
they”, are everywhere, watching, peering in the windows, hiding in the dressing rooms, lurking in the mirrors, of everyone. How do we ever please “them”? I could now understand clearly why this poor woman was on to her fifth decorator.
In my profession I would imagine there are as many different takes on design as there are designers. I truly feel that for any of us to do our jobs successfully, we need to be able to interpret our client’s tastes and personalities and reflect those into their surroundings. The joy for me is in creating an atmosphere where the client feels most comfortable, most at home, one that reflects who they really are. However, finding out who they are sometimes takes more than a wee bit of spelunking on my part. Clients can often be reluctant to express their true selves in fear of stepping over some imaginary line, or displeasing some squinty group of tastemakers. You know, “they”. My advice, Forget Them! Learn who you are and celebrate those truths. It is suffocating to live in surroundings that are more “correct” than comfortable.
For those unsure of their likes and dislikes,
and there are many I’ve found, begin to educate your eye. Visit art museums, read shelter magazines. Banish any judgmental spectre who may be looking over your shoulder and really ponder why you respond to certain art forms or designs in negative or positive ways. The more you do this, the more you will begin to learn about yourself - what makes you happy, what makes you content in your surroundings.
Of course, if everyone took this advice to the nth degree,
I suppose I would be out of a job. I do realize that pattern, scale, lighting, etc.etc. can be daunting waters for some people to navigate. Ideas and guidance that spring from experience are often needed. But my role, as I see it, is as an interpreter, not a dictator. The most satisfying part of my profession is the successful creation of rooms that perfectly frame a unique client. The best compliment I’ve ever been given as a designer? “She never does the same room twice!” No two people are alike and, hopefully, my work will illustrate that. So, celebrate your individuality! Celebrate it in the look of your home, in the clothes you choose to wear, in the way you live your life.
After all, life is way too short to try to please “

vintage vogue magazine illustration

Monday, June 23, 2008


Unexpectedly and without prediction, it rained last night. For someone like myself, living in a area dealing with drought, and with all these thirsty hydrangea bushes on my conscience, it was a wonderful gift. It was also that kind of rain that makes you want to wake up, fluff the pillows behind your back and read by candlelight. You know the kind.... distant thunder, occasional room-illuminating lightning and hard, steady drumbeats of raindrops on your bedroom roof. So that’s what I did, and I finished a wonderful book, The House At Riverton, by Kate Morton. Perfect choice for such a night. Then I just lay there and listened, relishing the sound. I was reminded of this quote from Gertrude Jekyll whose garden had also been enduring a drought. It seemed to suit perfectly.

“.....But last evening there was a gathering of grey cloud, and this ground of grey was traversed by those fast-travelling wisps of fleecy blackness that are the surest promise of near rain the sky can show. By bedtime rain was falling steadily, and in the night it came down on the roof in a small thunder of steady downpour. It was pleasant to wake from time to time and hear the welcome sound, and to know that the clogged leaves were being washed clean, and that their pores were once more drawing in the breath of life, and that the thirsty roots were drinking their fill. And now, in the morning, how good it is to see the brilliant light of the blessed summer day, always brightest after rain, and to see how every tree and plant is full of new life and abounding gladness; and to feel one’s own thankfulness of heart, and that it is good to live, and all the more good to live in a garden.”
Gertrude Jekyll 1843-1932
from a 1900 issue of Home and Garden.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart."
Celia Thaxter

“Ain’t it the truth!”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

“Now that I have built a palace, I wish I lived in a cottage.”
The First Duke of Westminster

In his editor’s letter for the latest issue of House Beautiful, Stephen
Drucker extolls the value and the beauty of the small room. I was tickled to read it and I heartily agree. Through my travels and my profession, I have been fortunate to visit many styles and many sizes of rooms. While the large and grand is often breathtaking, and inspiring - one thinks of the library at Biltmore House in North Carolina for example - I find that the small and cozy is often infinitely more inviting. I’m reminded as I write this of Beatrix Potter’s enchanted home at Hill Top, or Franklin Roosevelt’s Little White House, both tiny places, both simply lovely. Between Mrs. Muir’s charming seaside cottage or Rebecca’s grand Manderley, I’m afraid the choice would be an easy one for me. Bigger is most certainly not always better. My own home is an old one, rabbit-warren cozy, and I often feel as content as a rabbit myself as I curl up before my stone fireplace in winter with a mug of something hot and Edward at my feet, or perhaps sneak a nap by an open window on a late spring morning, with Edward sharing a spot at the end of my chaise lounge as the breeze ruffles his white fur. There is indeed something about a smaller room, a smaller house, that just seems to gift us with a cozier atmosphere. After all, cozy is defined by Webster as “snug, warm and comfortable”. Now who doesn’t need a wee bit more of that?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In Moonlight

The man in the moon woke me up last night, as surely as if he had rapped on my window. Having made his way across the back garden during the night, he topped the trees surrounding the house and popped, full strength, through the lace curtains, past sleeping Edward, and right into my eyes like a winking giant. It’s hard to be miffed over some lost sleep when the garden atmosphere created by a full moon is so lovely. I had to get up and take a look. The deep shadows, the glow of the white flowers, the otherworldly light a full moon provides enables an alternate reality to exist in one’s very own garden. No wonder Vita Sackville-West created her famed white garden at Sissinghurst. She obviously appreciated the grand old man in the moon, as well. Can you imagine that garden in moonlight? Atkinson Grimshaw, whose painting, Silver Moonlight, is above, created many magical pictures of moonlight, and Longfellow must have experienced a moonlit night or two in his time, as evidenced by his sublime poem on the topic.
There’s a full moon tonight. Remember to take a look!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a pale phantom with a lamp
Ascends some ruin's haunted stair,
So glides the moon along the damp
Mysterious chambers of the air.

Now hidden in cloud, and now revealed,
As if this phantom, full of pain,
Were by the crumbling walls concealed,
And at the windows seen again.

Until at last, serene and proud
In all the splendor of her light,
She walks the terraces of cloud,
Supreme as Empress of the Night.

I look, but recognize no more
Objects familiar to my view;
The very pathway to my door
Is an enchanted avenue.

All things are changed. One mass of shade,
The elm-trees drop their curtains down;
By palace, park, and colonnade
I walk as in a foreign town.

The very ground beneath my feet
Is clothed with a diviner air;
While marble paves the silent street
And glimmers in the empty square.

Illusion! Underneath there lies
The common life of every day;
Only the spirit glorifies
With its own tints the sober gray.

In vain we look, in vain uplift
Our eyes to heaven, if we are blind;
We see but what we have the gift
Of seeing; what we bring we find.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had a dinner party last week, which is always a treat for me. Lot’s of work, I know, but still a treat. Choosing the menu, the table settings, the music, who sits next to whom, all to best suit the guests that are expected. And the very best part? The flowers! Winter parties unsually entail a visit to the flower market where, in the icy chill of the cooler, I proceed to lose my mind over the vast array of temptations spread around me. The holiday green of fir branches, the velvet aubergine of calla lillies, the quintessential red of Christmas roses! Lord have mercy, it does make my heart beat faster when I visualize these placed all around my home and I ususally leave the market laden down with a rainbow of selections and nursing a numb-struck case of sticker shock. But in the spring, summer and fall I am the luckiest girl in the world. Surrounding our home are fifty-four of the most gorgeous hydrangeas; blues, pinks and whites, the happiest flowers in the world. Last week I almost felt guilty in my riches when I went out, early on the morning of the party, to cut some for my vases. Choosing just the right flowers for the right vases and later, to wander through the house and view all of these blowsy beauties gracing my tables? Well it just made my heart sing.
No wonder Mrs. Dalloway said she would do the flowers herself!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thinking it Over

Yipes! I'm it! I was tagged a couple of days ago by sweet Mary over at Across the Pond. Seems I am supposed to complete a questionnaire that’s been circulating around. I finally have found some time to sit awhile and think about this. So here goes:

What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was just beginning an extensive decorating project for a couple from Norway with a lovely lakeside house and European sensibilities. So much fun! My husband and I were also planning a trip to The Inn at Castle Hill in Essex, MA for the fall and, as it was summer, I was no doubt limp and whiny about the heat. Edward, of course, wasn’t even a gleam in his momma’s eye.

Five Snacks I Enjoy:
1. Raw carrots - Edward’s favorite snack as well, by the way
2.. Fresh and crunchy cucumbers
3. Strawberries
4. Gingersnaps
5. Horlicks Light Chocolate Malt - before bedtime

On My To Do List For Today:
1. Bake Bread and Strawberry Cheesecake for tomorrow night dinner party
2. Finish a Wedding Keepsake Box!
3. Cut flowers for house arrangements
4. Finish a woefully late letter to some friends on the Isle of Skye
5. Take Edward and Apple for a long walk after the sun goes down and it’s cooler

If I Suddenly Became a Billionaire:
1. Give scads away to people who need it. Anonymously.
2. Tell my health insurance company to take a hike
3. Totally fund my local animal rescue shelter. Edward would insist on that.
4. Buy an idyllic cottage on a lot of land near Glenfinnan, Scotland
5. Indulge in several Loro Piana shawls.
It’s so funny. The billionaire question makes me realize how happy I really am with my life as it is. I wouldn’t want to move my primary residence here in the states. I wouldn’t want more “things”, and I love my quirky, romantic home. Happy facts to acknowledge occasionally. Of course, there are those shawls.

Five Places I’ve Lived:
1. Mississippi
2. Tennessee
3. Georgia
4. Does “in a Fantasy World” count??

Five Jobs I’ve Had:
1. Baby-sitter
2 Secretary for a Horse Racing Stable
3. Receptionist for a Veterinarian
4. Copywriter for a radio station
1 thru 4 - early stuff
5. Interior Designer and Artist

Five Random Facts About Me:
Let’s see, I
1. Can find four-leaf clovers on demand
2. Am addicted to the NY Times Crossword Puzzle
3. Once met George Lucas on the monorail at Disneyworld
4. Prefer baths over showers
5. Use SPF 70 every day, rain or shine

This was fun and I think I’m supposed to tag someone else, but since I’ve not been at this very long, I’d better not.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Early Morning Visitors

Outside my office window hangs a cerulean blue glass birdfeeder with a metal umbrella top. In the early morning, before it gets too hot, I like to open the window so I can hear the windchimes in the trees and watch the birds as they flutter on and off the blue feeder eating their breakfast. For the past couple of weeks I’ve had the delight of receiving frequent visits from a family of bluebirds. Usually rather elusive around here, we’ve had more than our fair share of these lovely little fellows this past winter and spring, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen the youngsters. They have the same bright blue wings as the adults, but with spotted backs, very pretty. The most striking thing about them however, is not their appearance but their sound. They are really quite noisy, like kids on a playground. There are three of them and they flop on the feeder next to a much more docile parent, and proceed to chatter and banter away. Then they rather awkwardly fly down to the birdbath and have a splashing good time. They stayed there yesterday for the longest while, with Mum and Dad watching from a nearby branch almost as though they were sitiing on a lounge chair with a beach book and iced tea, peeking over their sunglasses at the kids in the pool. It’s such a treat to share my everyday life with the wild creatures that are, thankfully, still around outside from time to time. And of course, to share it also with the tamer ones asleep at my feet.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Story of Edward

I have been receiving questions about Edward so while I am working on some new keepsake boxes to post, he has requested that I fill you all in on more information about him. Edward is four years of age and came to live with us when he was about eleven months old. He was adopted from a wonderful no kill shelter and appears to be almost a 50/50 mix of a Chow-Chow and a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. The shelter had rescued him from a local animal control facility where he was taken in as a stray after heing on the streets long enough to be pretty dirty and matted and where he was just two days away from being euthanized! It had taken us a year and a half to get over losing our previous dog and we were just starting to think about adopting when late one evening after a big Christmas party here at our home, my husband was perusing the web when he saw Edward’s photo up on the rescue shelter’s website. He called me in and just sat there in front of the computer pointing silently at the screen. Well. One look, and we were smitten. We immediately emailed for an adoption application, which turned out to be almost as dense as those required to get into Harvard. When they emailed us back, we were told that Edward had already been adopted by a family who wanted a second dog to go with the one they had earlier adopted, but that they would keep us posted in case the two dogs didn’t get along. About a week later, just a few days before Christmas, the shelter called to tell us that the other dog simply would not accept a companion and Edward was to return to the shelter that afternoon. “Would we like to meet him?” Well needless to say, about two hours later the three of us were on our way to Orvis to purchase the best dog bed available. Edward walked into our home, ate his dinner, and fell asleep in front of the Christmas tree. He was home. Edward is a true gentleman who brings delight to everyone he meets. A few months after he moved in we adopted a little sister for him, a ten week old puppy that had been born at animal control, a furry girl with large paws and even larger ears. Her name is Apple and she is a complete joy and Edward’s very best friend. Edward and I will post a photo of her soon. We are now a happy family of four and we all highly recommend adopting pets from shelters! They are true treasures.
"There now, Edward. They know more about you. Happy?"

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Hot Day's Blessing

I am blessed with a gargantuan Magnolia tree that resides just outside my front door. She was here when we moved in many years ago, although much smaller then, and she has flourished in our Southern climate. She now shades three rooms at the front of our home. We even have another room that she provides under her branches where we often have lunch or morning coffee in our hidden little wonderland. We hang lights in her branches and lounge around an old table and chairs that sit under an enchanting candlelit chandelier. It is wonderful. But some of the most spendid provisions of this grand old lady are the magnificent blooms she bestows upon us every Spring. I’ve been eagerly, or greedily, awaiting the opening of two of her fragrant beauties for a couple of days and this morning.... here they were! Placed in an old Weller Woodland vase upon the kitchen table they scent the room with the most delicious lemony fragrance. I love looking at them, smelling them, and I also love the sound they make when they open and all their little insides tumble out onto the table. You have to be there at just the right time, but they make the tiniest little sound when they fall. It’s a treat to hear.

by Mary McNeil Fenollosa

O flowers of the garden, of skilled and human care,
Sweet heliotrope, and violet, and orchid frail and fair,
Pour out your love to happier hearts; the woodland flowers for me,
The pallid, creamy blossoms of the dark magnolia tree!

I close my eyes; my soul lifts up to float with their perfume,
And dull the body lying in this narrow city room.
Again I am a happy child. I leap and joy to see
The great curved petals wavering slip from out the gleaming tree.

As holy grail, or pearl inwrought, or carven ivory cup,
They stand on bronze and emerald bough, and brim their sweetness up;
And underneath a happy child! --- O days that used to be!
In distant land, the flowers still stand upon the dark green tree.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Porch Party!

Welcome Everyone to Our Porch!
We are happy to take part in the porch party that some of you kindly alerted me to.
Although it's quite hot here today, Edward has ventured out to peek over the front porch gate and say hello.