Monday, March 30, 2009

From My Inspiration Board

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

This quote is one I took from my "inspiration board" this morning. It's just a big bulletin board in my office at home on which I tack up various quotes, pictures, fabric samples, etc. Although I would never be so presumptuous as to place myself in a category with the great Monet, I certainly think that I totally understand what he is saying here: color in a designer or artist's world is an absolute obsession. It brings you joy when the right one comes to you, and it brings you torment when you are searching for just the one that is perfect and it seems to elude you. Seeing color this way is both a blessing and a curse. But I am sure that Monet was thankful for this glorious gift of loving color and so am I.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Southern Style Defined

If you read my profile you know that I am from the South and incorporate my heritage into my work and point of view. Recently I found an article from Southern Accents touching on this very subject. The magazine interviewed several top designers and architects about what it is that makes our region unique. I decided to share some of the article with you along with some random photos I compiled which convey the feeling of Southern design and architecture.

What do you think are the attributes that define Southern Style?

Southern style is unpretentious and extremely comfortable with an air of informality and relaxed elegance. Josie McCarthy

A sense of one's heritage and the importance of making a home welcome to family and friends. J.R. Miller

A sense of gracious invitation. Warm, personal colors. Respect and reverence of our past. Subtle intelligence. Barry Dixon

Southern style speaks of gracious living, hospitality, and restrained taste. Betty Lou Phillips

Gracious and eclectic with a strong architectural basis. John Chrestia

True "Southern style" has a subliminal sense of theatre and joie de vivre, complimented by a definite bend toward elegance. Joseph Paul Davis

Are there elements in your own work that are uniquely Southern?

I would like to think that like most Southerners, my work exudes quality and consistency with style and grace. Charles Gandy

Painting the porch ceilings sky blue. Using fine things in a relaxed way, say silver julep cups for water every night at supper. Suzanne Rheinstein

Wood floors, especially heart pine. A "generational" feel to new design; incorporating the look and feel of grandma's back porch that was enclosed to enlarge the kitchen once electricity became available in the area or to incorporate a growing family. High ceilings. Great detail on the front door. Jim Strickland

A not-too-perfect mix of new, antique, primitive, and found objects with some traditional values to create a very personal and timeless space. Never be a slave to perfection and rules. You need a little attitude! J.R. Miller

How has Southern style changed in the past 25 years?

Southern style is much more relaxed and less formal but still embraces its traditional nature. Jackye Lanham

With a clientele that has exposure, travel, and communication with Europe, Southerners have reconnected with our past. We have allowed ourselves to borrow what we feel a connection with Europe and our homes are showing a diverse, eclectic look. Cindy Smith

Southern style has been "distilled" over the last quarter century, reduced to its purist, most individual form. But it has remained warm, witty, and personal. Barry Dixon

Sparser, more pared down, and eclectic. John Chrestia

Southern style is as unique as the area. I feel it can't be reproduced anywhere else. Our heritage brings something special to the our way of living, and it shows in our homes and gardens. Several words and themes were repeated over and over in these interviews; gracious, welcoming, hospitality, refined taste, and relaxed elegance. Southern designers are adept at interpreting these qualities; combining old and new, low and high, and rustic and refined. Researching this post made me proud all over again of Southern heritage and design!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hello Spring, Goodbye Winter

Spring begins Friday and I am looking forward to it. But I also always feel a little sad to see winter end. I know many of you will think I'm crazy, but there are things I actually like about winter. I like the coziness of sitting by the fire on long winter evenings. ( We took out our gas logs and replaced them with andirons and real wood several years ago.) I like to cook a lot in the winter, too, which my family appreciates. I make a lot of the good old Southern comfort foods that always bring my family home. I have a winter evening ritual of lighting candles around the house, burning a nice woodsy scent in a diffuser, and dimming overhead lights in favor of lamps scattered throughout. There's just something about being home on a cozy winter evening, not having to worry about yard work or any other outside chores. Winter gives us the chance to reconnect with our families, and really our homes too, because we spend so much more time in them.

So in honor of bidding winter goodbye, I think I will stir up a pot of spicy chili, light a fire if it's cool enough, and look forward to saying hello to Spring.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Memory of a Beautiful French Home

By now if you read my blog you know that I am a lover of all things beautiful, both in the fine arts world as well as the decorative arts. I believe that you are a product of everything that comprises your past, present, and future. I'm not sure where I stand on reincarnation, but I sure have to wonder why certain things have such a magnetic pull over us for no apparent reason.

I often think about my life as a whole and how I arrived at this particular career. It has been a rather circuitous route, but somehow I always knew it was the place for me.

One early memory I have is visiting a beautiful home that I am sure influences me still to this day. The house belonged to a elderly but very stylish lady that had been my parents' landlord when they were first married. Her name was Mrs. Witt. She had been a hat buyer for a major department store chain in the South and made twice yearly buying trips to Paris. Her husband was an accomplished attorney.

Even though my parents had moved to another house nearby, my father would still occasionally do odd jobs for her. I will never forget one Saturday visit I paid with him to her home. I must have been maybe six or seven years old.

The house sat in the middle of a good sized farm that had once supported tobacco crops. Small workers' houses dotted the hill above her grand home. A large barn could be seen from her windows. A tree-lined, winding driveway enhanced the anticipation approaching the house.

The best way to describe it I guess would be a French Country house. It was one level, brick, with a hipped roof, to the best of my recollection. (I don't remember the exterior details as vividly as the interior.) It had an entrance with a handsome broken pediment door-surround. My Dad was a friend so we used the more intimate rear entrance. Large boxwoods framed the sidewalk and door. I still remember their fragrance.

As we entered the back of the house, we were in a rather small sunporch where I could tell she now spent a lot of time watching her small television with her many cats. It was charming, filled with windows all the way around three sides with views of the farm. I remember thinking that I wasn't accustomed to such a house and that my Dad would want me to behave. A banquette-style sofa covered in a brightly colored, though faded, floral fabric was the main piece of furniture that I remember here.

For some reason, I don't remember why, she rose and began to lead us through the rooms of the house. Who knows, maybe she sensed my little-girl fascination with her home and her life. She
led us through a small hallway and into what I would describe as a gallery-type area that ran crossways of the house. It was here that I glimpsed the room that will live in my memory forever. It was was she called "the ballroom". It stepped down from the gallery hall. It contained large floor-to -ceiling windows with faded velvet curtains tied back. The floors were beautiful hardwood. The piece de resistance of the room was a grand piano. I had never seen anything like this! She talked about the parties that she and her late husband had enjoyed in this room and how much she missed him and those days. How she could still hear his Cadillac come "purring" up the long driveway.

Wow. That's all I can say still to this day.

From here she led us into her bedroom suite. This I think was the room that solidified my love of French furniture. The room was lighter in feel and held a double Louis XVI bed. It had a dressing screen in the corner that I could tell she actually used. Clothes were casually thrown over it. I vaguely remember it to be painted with some sort of scene. Also in the room was a skirted vanity with a small French bench stool. It was laden with an assortment of perfume bottles and other ladylike paraphenalia. There were of course hats of all designs scattered about as well as fancy hat boxes. Again, in my little mind, Wow.

It couldn't get better than this for me. We followed her through more rooms. They were obviously not used much anymore. Spare bedrooms with dusty old things and boxes. One room held white painted French chairs with red velvet upholstery. I remember being brave enough to touch a chair and my Dad giving me "the look". I still remember how the fabric felt to my little fingers. As we walked, she would casually mention the things she had picked up while in Paris. Paris!
There was a small dining nook as well as a kitchen with white-painted cabinets that obviously didn't get much use anymore. (She watched her fashionable figure until her dying day.)
As we bid our polite goodbyes, I was enthralled with all the things I had just seen. The faded grandeur of the house and the obvious love and romance that had once filled it left an indelible impression on me. I was never in the house again. Later it fell into disrepair and was razed. But it lives forever in my heart and mind, the embodiment of all things beautiful and French.