When I was young I imagined working in an architect’s office, probably spurred on by my love of the Brady Bunch. Mr. Brady always had that tube with a cool set of plans. Later, when I did start working for an architect – many in fact, and came to know of some of our world’s most famous, I had an image of the lone genius frantically sketching masterful designs on cocktail napkins, or any old scrap of paper they could pull out when this moment of divine inspiration struck.
That’s not really how it works, at least not for most of us. Sure we could be inspired by an unusual color we see on the inside of a velvety petal of a flower, or the rugged texture of a No. 9 sheet of sandpaper. When you start to open your eyes to the world, particularly when you are on a quest for something, it’s amazing what the world puts in your path. It doesn’t however mean that you don’t have to do the work, and yes, it’s work. Inspiration sometimes requires a hand on your shoulder, that holds your unwilling form, firmly in the seat and suggests that you get to the business of writing, even if writing isn’t the business you feel like being in at the moment.
I have a lot of moments like that lately, but I was in fact inspired by Phillip Jeffries this weekend. Oh, I’ve been inspired by the wallcoverings in the past, but the shear volume of choices is delectable, and my eyes – not my earnings, wanted to devour them all.
Founded over forty years ago, this family owned business started with just ten selections of grass cloth wallcovering, over a garage in New Jersey no less. Today, they are one of the world’s leaders. I hope this piece shows you why.
A French born photographer based in Barcelona Spain, Julien Pounchou’s portraits have that feel of a lazy, hazy, summer afternoon. Captured within the frame is the unrushed simplicity of another time. A time when the heavy, heat soaked air was a welcome excuse to sit in quiet contemplation, to float in the water, tethered to a bobbing boat, to sit poolside and wonder about the effort it might take to slip off the side and sink into the cool water.
His use of analog cameras and 120 & 35mm film to shoot his subjects, turn the pages of time back, like a books pages blowing gently in the wind. They are Instagrammable moments, but not for their staged perfection, but rather for the absence of it. No YouTube make-up tutorial required, come as you are.
Jenny Han said: “Everything magical happens between the months of June and August.”
Julien seems to grab those months by the bikini straps and gently pin them in place all year long.
If this dang Corona V is going to have me holed up in the house, I am going to attempt to celebrate the box, both the one I happen to be in Boston, and those that interior designer Windsor Smith minted back in 2010 – a coincidence that her Room in a Box emerged just after the wreckage of our last recession? I think not. Her latest plan to facilitate connectivity, sanctity and community together in a home for the well healed may have to wait, but her 21st Century Fox style video production showcasing her new vision for this architectural template feels anything but boxy.
If you are bougie like me, you’ll need more than one box to stand on just to get a glimpse inside one of Windsor’s mansions. No worries, you’ll be able to spy the likes of her work in the glossy pages of a magazine, or just have Amazon drop a copy of her book – Windsor Smith Homefront: Design for Modern Living, on your porch. After all, you really shouldn’t be out wondering around.
I’m all about the small. Of course, some of this is out of necessity, but honestly the sheer magnitude of these mansions has me thinking about the complexity of the machine that it takes to run a household of that size. From the staff, gardener’s, cleaners, security, stable hands – lordly I can barely keep my refrigerator stocked and it’s just 24″ wide. That’s right, it’s tiny. That’s why the idea of a designer of Ms. Smith’s caliber being accessible to someone like me, is so very exciting. While it isn’t cheap – the service runs somewhere between $4K – $14K per room. I consider almost like a master class. Her process is structured, as it must be, to illicit designs that are tailored to her client’s – without ever having spoken to them. That’s right, she never talks to you directly, it’s all conducted on-line, via questionnaire’s and a custom portal that pushing you along through the process until that little blue box arrives with its diamond of a design inside.
There were many design in a box services that popped up after the crash, when people had no money to hire a designer to “do their house”, the hope was they might spring for a room that was so egregious to them that they’d rather skip lunch for a few months than keep looking at it. When times got good again, many of these services dropped off. I think it’s a shame. If I have to be boxed in, I sure wouldn’t mind some of the airy inspiration of Windsor escaping as I lift the lid.
I love the word “dust bunny” it’s sounds so much cuter than it is when you are trying to capture that illusive pillowy cloud of particulate matter. Who invited it here anyway? The beauty is in the word rather than the act of removing it for me (a task I am currently putting off at the moment, but not allowed to go to sleep tonight before it is thoroughly behind me).
After a really busy week – which is no badge of honor BTW, I slept in and appreciated the beauty of that. I finished a book – silly but satisfying, and have three others going …. Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets, Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, and Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt – stop reading whatever you’ve read about it and get to reading it. It’s amazing, and heartbreaking and hold your breath for what’s next to come…suspenseful, and it’s beautiful in between all the pain and anguish that love and loss, life and living throw your way.
So while I haven’t quite made it through my cleaning To Do list, I thought I would share some things that inspire me, make me smile, and applaud the artistry of others.
Elsie De Wolfe said: I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.” What a good life’s goal you had, and how much happiness your brought others in your bold fulfillment of it. I admire you Elsie.
I love beauty as much as the next person. I fawn over the craftsmanship of a painstakingly thought out detail, the intersection of a structural beam that kisses the wall and disappears into the great unknown somewhere above the hard ceiling, the paint job whose lines are militant in their precision, the window whose somebody’s forethought so carefully frames out the view in the backyard of the barn with its codfish topped cupola.
Instagram and social media, magazines, photo shoots, and Hollywood are all staged, and air brushed, to make you believe they were born of the imagination of such satirical thrillers as The Stepford Wives, which is to say, they are robotic in their image of near perfection. Life however isn’t perfect, unless your view is perfectly messy – then you are on the right side of reality.
I have no idea what the point of this particular rant (also known as a blog post) is about today. Maybe its a recognition that doing something well is really hard. Maybe it’s a thank you note and expression of gratitude for all the long hours, dedication, and obsessive tinkering that lead all these creators that I profile, to produce things of beauty. Maybe I am trying to cut myself some slack, at the start of this new decade, which has not been at all easy.
I’m going to work under the assumption that even if it looks effortless to me from the outside, that it likely wasn’t. Perhaps the little flaw was strategically hidden from the camera’s capturing eye, or the maker, made hundreds of that special thing that they make, before one was even close to camera ready. Putting the effort into getting good at something takes time – even if you have a propensity to do it well, and if you don’t – well then, you need to be so stubbornly determined that no collection of failures will deter you from your heart’s desire.
I love a good story. The best have a moral, a lesson, a way of turning the leaf over in your palm and viewing it through an entirely different lens. Perfection is boring you see, and whether I know the real story or not, my version is always going to be interesting. It’s always going to include a little challenge, a little strife, and an underdog that prevails.
We owe a lot to the Greek’s – in door plumbing, the olympics, philosophy, democracy, modern medicine found its way from the Greek exploration into the same. Where would we be today without any of these amazing inventions and conventions. They were also responsible for painting in the form known most commonly today as Trompe-L’oeil – a word that means to deceive the eye. Who was it that said, “people loved to be fooled”? I cannot remember, but it’s true. I supposed it has to do with the element of surprise – that moment that washes over you when you feel young and curious again.
I felt just this way when I saw NLXL’s new wall covering collection entitled: Cane Webbing Wallcovering which they market alongside a complementary wainscoting covering to be featured below your selection. Having just completed a caning project of my own – I hired a company to build me cane front doors for two amoires that were as plain and off the shelf as they come. This wallcovering is anything but! Tricked I was, and though I have yet to see it in person, it looks so authentic, magically making me believe that it has texture and dimension.
So many of the homes I take on have walls, nooks and jogs that are far from attractive. What an opportunity this cane webbing presents to transform the unimaginatively dull, the old, worn, and lackluster – into something truly special.
I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat with anticipation for No. 6, and Netherlands based NLXL is going to help me do it. Founded in 2010 this company is clearly making a splash. When your work is featured on 5th Avenue, and embraced by the fashion industry – you’re hot. Like the Greek’s whose inspirations have been around for centuries – caning made its debut in the weaving of baskets in ancient China before finding its way to France and other European destinations. From basket to chair, it revolutionized this simple household object, making lighter, and cheaper to make. Esther Viak and Rick Vintage of NLXL found a way to make it new again, and that friends, is what innovation is all about.
When my Clients told me they were leaving Cambridge for warmer climes I admit my long drawn out nooooooo was a little dramatic, but life is fluid and ever evolving. The exciting news is that I am going to have the chance to evolve too. My very first opportunity to influence the design of a southern home, followed the initial piece of traumatic news, softening the blow, as only Jonathan could.
A new emotion took over – known to many as panic, I asked myself, what exactly did I know about southern design? Naturally quick to met out a harsh judgement, I told myself, “absolutely nothing”. I love talking to myself, and frankly don’t care who hears. Some of my very best conversations, are held between, me, myself, and I, and in the end, helpful recommendations to some of my biggest quandaries result.
Kelly Wearstler’s Avalon Hotel
I actually do know something about Southern design, I had just forgotten that these influencers, for whom I have great respect, all hale from, or are known for their southern design aesthetic. Kelly Wearstler, born in Myrtle Beach, SC, has a self proclaimed style, known as Modern Glamour. Derived from the Hollywood Regency era of design, it is bold and graphic, bright and accented by enormous ceramic figurines – usually of animals. Dorothy Draper – born in Tuxedo Park, NY, known most famously for the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and for being the first socialite interior designer, has been on my radar for a very long time . Suzanne Kassler, born in Waco, Texas to an Air Force Dad, lived in many places, gathering inspiration near and far, until finally landing in Atlanta, GA.
Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier – iconic design.
So what makes southern design, well….southern? The properties are certainly much, much bigger than the urban locations that I typically design. They are grand, they are estates, they come from an era when income tax didn’t exist and amassing of wealth was easier. Aside from their size, southern design appears to incorporate the following elements:
Florals: from the gardens to the interiors, they are heavily represented,
Painted floors: intricate or simple patterns – the diamond being a favorite,
Heavy use of fabric: from slip-covered furnishings to curtain-laden windows, reams of fabric abound,
Collectables: southerns love to tell a story through “things”,
Mix of antiques and modern furnishings,
Kasler brings a fresh approach to Southern Design – she doesn’t paper the walls, but brings the outdoors in and loves her curtains!
I got this. My journey begins in just a few weeks. I’ve got a lot of research to do to pull this off, but I won’t let my lovely Clients down!
I don’t know what got me to thinking about Hable Construction exactly. I was thinking about Earth Day which is today of course, and that got me to thinking about sustainable fabrics, and patterns whose inspiration was derived from nature, and there I was, back in Nolita – NYC at the turn of the century. This one of course, I’m not that old!
There was a little shop that I would visit on Elizabeth Street, whenever I was in the city. The bright patterns, a crafty re-imagining of the mundane or tattered, a wicker lamp turned into a front stage stunner, a wall, neatly lined with colorful canvas storage totes – hip before they were mainstream, or an old broken down chaise converted into an enviable place to lounge and recover from the stress of daily life — even if it is self-inflicted, as it so often is in my case, I support my own need to recover in a happy place.
Lordly, lord I can’t wait until this renovation is complete. Which of course got me to thinking about the custom banquet I want to set prominently against the pale gray painted brick wall. That’s in Benjamin Moore’s Ice Cubed Silver in case you were wondering, and it’s dreamily calming. I’ve selected a rug that makes me smile, as much for its name: Carnival, as for it’s wonderfully unrestrained use of color. They’re all in there, giving me the freedom I so rarely have, and desire – to use whatever color I want – dare I say – throw many into the mix.
A banquet, I think, requires a fabric that is on the tougher side – all that sliding in and out of tight spaces (and trust me when I tell you, it’s a squeeze), can be hard on a fabric. It’s got to have a little metal, and canvas does. Naturally, (wink, wink) that led me to Hable Construction. A tough sounding company, whose name was derived from the founders Great-Grandfather’s Texas Road Construction Company. I can’t tell you how much I love that! Back to their roots, paving their own business road in textiles, flooring, and custom art work, these two sisters, Katherine Hable Sweeney, and Susan Hable Smith, are cool, talented, and apparently uninhibited in their reach.
Combining their talents – art, and marketing, they’ve made, and shared, their talents, and I cannot wait to make them part of my home.
While rattan always strikes me as a decorative accent best showcased somewhere down south, I find I long for it when the weather even hints (as it does here in New England, in fits and starts) of becoming warmer. It feels right that furnishings should get a little lighter, allow a warm breeze to pass through them – even if they are indoors.
Now if you have begun to conjure images of the Golden Girls in their Florida condo, let me stop you right there. This isn’t bamboo and peach palm fronds that I’m talking about. Rattan can be sophisticated, elegant even, and I am here to prove it.
Rattan is derived from the Maylay – Rotan, which consists of an old world species of climbing palms, which in turn, belong to a sub-family known as Calamoldizae, which is Greek for reed. Now we are getting somewhere, so stick with me here. Those reeds are woven into cords, which are wrapped around a wire frame, allowing the decorative object or piece of furniture to take shape. It’s an art, and oh boy, are there ever some designers that elevate the form.
Mario Lopez Torrez is perhaps my favorite for his cheeky use of monkey’s. A Mexican Artist known for his mid-century creations – though it is believed he still produces pieces today in his village – Ihuatizo. If a visual examination of the intricacies of his designs don’t convince you of his status, perhaps the price points at which his pieces sell will.
City or seaside, north or south, I have a hankering for rattan.
If Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell ( a painter and interior designer) Founders of the Bloomsbury Group, or Set, as they were known, and who gathered around them other like minded intellectuals, philosophers, artists, and influencers, could be considered frivolous by any group or gender, than I’ll eat that feather boa. I’ll do it without reservation, in protest to the outrageousness of the coinage.
Above: Allbright . London. Photographed by Tina Hiller
It’s only a wonder to me why it has taken us so long to embrace and proliferate, women’s only social and co-working clubs. Certainly we work differently than Virginia and Vanessa did at the turn of the 20th century, and Me Too wasn’t yet a movement, though it was a harsh reality, whatever the reason, a few pathfinders have helped to get the ball rolling.
From The Wing, which I have written about several times now, and if I am allowed to brag a bit, my firm, Elaine Construction is responsible for constructing in Boston’s Back Bay, to dozens and dozens across the country, women only co-working is in full swing.
Above: Make Lemonade . Toronto . Canada
Admittedly, it was the design of The Wing which first caught my attention. To my eye, it’s luscious interior is like a movie set that I could imagine Jan Morrow of Pillow Talk walking onto and sitting right down with a cup of tea and a bag of samples for her next project. It’s perfection. There are others which are worthy of mention for their jaw-dropping interiors including: Allbright . London, The Hivery . Mill Valley . CA, Make Lemonade . Toronto . CA, and Paper Dolls . LA . CA.
Above Left: Paper Dolls . LA . CA and Right: Paper Dolls Founder Jen Mojo
The names are as inspiring as the interiors and their missions. Allbright an ode to Madeline who famously stated: There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” so often quoted these days it would be hard to imagine anyone not familiar with it. The Hivery which elicits images of the Queen Bee buzzing around in control of her kingdom, and believe me, I’d be happy to Make Lemonade out of Rachel Kelly’s brainchild of a work space. I loved making paper dolls as a young girl, so Jen Mojo’s concept, born out of a dinner club that gathered regularly, brings a smile to my face.
The fact that all these spaces were designed by women, and in the case of The Wing . Boston – built by one too (yeah!) is a source of collegial pride. Allbright was created by London Based firm No. 12 Studio, founded by Katie Earl and Emma Rayner, is a stunner.
Above Left: The Hivery . Right Top: The Hivery Main Studio. Right Bottom: The Hivery Founder . Grace Kraaijvanger.
LeAnn Wanninger of Design Renegades is responsible for the clean, bright lacquered white desk tops, lucite accents, and happy yellow pops of color that make up The Hivery, and have women making the trek from the heart of San Fransisco and other Bay Area locales to get creative and get working. Grace Kraaijvanger its founder is driven to explore: “what create and supports a courageous women”. This space might just provide the bird’s eye view to answer that question.
The inspiration and pride I feel for these spaces abounds. I hope you find a little of your own inspo today.