December 23, 2010

An Ornament of Friendship

A few months ago, I met Christopher Radko. I've learned a lot about him through our conversations, but also through his crisp descriptions and observations he writes about in the Huffington Post. I don't think he realizes I share a similar opinion of snow which you'll see below and knows exactly what he's talking about as I grew up on a farm. When asked to help me out with this Christmas Eve/Day blog entry I think Christopher feared all I wanted to talk about was Christmas ornaments (he sold the company that bears his name in 2005). I assured him that there was a lot more to talk about during the winter holiday season ... he agreed to help.

Q: In your Huffington Post articles you have this great description of fall that I really enjoyed reading. What do you love about winter?

For winter, I love the going within time... Time to recharge my batteries and prepare for the new year's cycle of spring... The shorter days give me time at home to catch up on projects, repairs, renovations and such, and also to cozy up to a good book with a glass of red wine...
[note, click here to check out Christopher's article at the Huffington Post's website]

Q: Does your border collie like winter?

Kyla, my ace border collie, who came to me as a thank you from the NYC FireDepartment after I had created a commemorative ornament for them after 911, loves all seasons. She loves the snow and digging in snow drifts to try to find the frisbee I just tossed... I love snow too, for the quiet it brings... but neither of us like shoveling...

Q: What is your favorite holiday tradition growing up?

My favorite tradition has to do with incorporating traditions from other cultures and from my ancestors into the basic American ones.. so 7 courses of fish on Christmas Eve, poppy seed and barley stew on Christmas Day, carols in French, Polish, and German... things like that, along side Rudolph and Frosty...

Traditional, seven-fish-course Christmas Eve fish dinner
La Vigilia di Natale, or Vigil of the Holy Night, when only fish and no meat is consumed.

Poppy seed and barley stew.

Q: When entertaining for the holidays, what do you do to make the time special?

For any holiday entertaining, I think a welcoming enthusiasm is key. Good drinks help, so do great decorations and food, but if your heart is not in it, it's just not as much fun.

To all my readers of Design Guy University™, thank you for a wonderful 2010. I'm off to a warmer climate for a few weeks but will return by visiting Chicago in mid-January meeting a friend from Toronto and some fellow designers in the windy city. I'll also preparing for a new set of my Design Guy University classes in the Spring and Summer in other U.S. cities (more later). I already know 2011 will be fantastic.

Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings, and to all a Happy New Year!


December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas y'all... Southern Style

Christmas in the south can be a lot of fun. Be prepared with a lot of food, drink and a lot of laughs and good times. Ben South is nothing short of charming, smart and fun. Ben and I share a birthday, March 29th. He's a great friend and I just get inspired reading his southern ramblings about life, design, and anything else he writes... and it leaves me usually laughing my tail off. I couldn't think of a better time than the holidays than you introduce y'all to 'em.

Q: What do you like about the winter and the holiday season?

Southerners are sensualists. We didn't have Puritans down here, praise the Lord, so we eat more, drink more, dance more, anything that's pleasurable, Southerners do it more...Southern cooking really is some of the best in the world. On one groaning huntboard, you'll find African fried techniques, French sauces, British vegetable traditions added to great, garden bounty. Once the intense, Southern summer is over, the winter is a wonderful time for baked goods and heavier spices.

Southern houses have the smell of pine logs in the fireplace and... the sounds of a Southern season include hearty laughter, Elvis singing "Blue Christmas," and Brenda Lee "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

Q: What don't you like about this season?

Blase', perfunctory, obligatory shopping like you've got a gun to your hayyud. I like handmade gifts, thoughtfulness-on-steroids, imagination and tradition. Every year, amongst other gifts, my mother gives my more outdoorsy, younger brother a subscription to "Garden and Gun," this century's finest, Southern magazine and I get "The New Yorker." Please don't out me on my Yankee reading preference. To warm me after I was divorced a few years back, my siblings gave me gift certificates for soups and other comfort foods. Such thoughtful and nurturing gifts are hugely appreciated in the bleak midwinter.

Q: How does one decorate Southernness chic and fun?

First rule, it's gotta be clean. I grew up in the cleanest house in Alabama. Shining the silvuh is very much a Southern holiday tradition. We rub it til the copper is coming through. It's probably the most aerobic exercise I take on all year and it's fueled by eggnog, or more likely "nognog" and mama's fruitcake cookies... So, clean it and then green it. The actual decorating involves lots of evergreens and natural elements from the farm and sentimental family things saved from many decades. One Christmas decorating "No No," I do not like to have sacred things and pop culture Christmas in the same room. It seems sorta schizophrenic. I feel the same way about a Christmas music CD that has some mash up of "Frosty the Snowman" with "O Come All Ye Faithful." And, honestly, even though I grew up on a farm and we had hogs and horses, I don't like Christmas carols that involve livestock. "Away In A Manger?" No, thank you.

Antique silver with greenery (from Southern Living)

Q: What inspires you design-wise during the holidays?

The wit of Simon Doonan's windows at Barneys. Some huge, visual wonderment by Preston Bailey. Seeing a long-married couple holding hands around a shared mug of cider. The timeless table-scapes of my friend, Patrick Dunne, at his shop, Lucullus, in the French Quarter. The shiny, happy, sunniness of Angela Byrd's shop, Nest, in Little Rock. The historically inspired googaws at the great gift shop at the Atlanta History Center.

One of Barney's window displays in NYC

December 19, 2010

Buon Natale

I was trying to figure out when I met the writer and garden designer Paul Gervais for the first time and really gave up because I couldn't remember. His partner Gil Cohen and I have been writing back and forth forever (he teaches English part time at a school). They both live in a beautiful 16th century hunting lodge on a hillside in Lucca called Villa Masei which they've lovingly restored, including the gardens. Paul is another gift of friendship and I'm so happy to share him with you this holiday season...

Villa Masei, home of garden designer Paul Gervais

Q: Paul, since you're a noted garden designer and have traveled all over, what garden would be wonderful to see in the winter?

A garden I love seeing under the snow is Chateau de Jonchet, the country home of Hubert de Givenchy. He designed the amazing parterre himself, a series of enourmous circles and in the snow it makes the most elegant impression. It's the great French garden reduced to essentials and it's almost zen in its peaceful simplicity.
Chateau de Jonchet

Q. Having lived in Italy for more than 20 years, what are some Italian Christmas traditions that you celebrate during the season?

Christmas in Italy is a bit more understated than it is on other parts of the world, but it's still a very festive time if not so decorated up as we do it. The evening walk through the narrow streets of Lucca, where I live, is a chance to see and greet all your friends and to stop together for an aperativo and an exchange of Christmas wishes.

Streets of Lucca

Q. Knowing that you grew up in the States, what are some personal Christmas traditions that you enjoy?

I always make my mother's lobster stew for Christmas eve and no one will allow me to give up the tradition. On Christmas day we have a long standing date at Villa Orlando and our great friend Marilu. It,s one of Lucca's most noble villas, an imposing 16th century house, and this is where we gather for a traditional capon meal with home made tortelli.

Villa Orlando

Q. What plants do you love to have in the house during the season?

While we always seem to have orchids in the house, at Christmas we fill vases with greens found in the woods. We pick myrtle and sweet bay and wild holly, with both white an red berries, and this is the kind of simple decoration that makes the season what it is for me.

December 15, 2010

Holiday Swank

James Andrew at The Frick - photo by Justin Williams.

Several years ago when I started blogging I came across another blog entitled What is James Wearing featuring James Andrew, a New York interior designer. James designs homes as he dresses himself... impeccably. James and I have become friends over the years discussing everything from the joys of our pets to where to stay at the Amalfi Coast... he reminds me to be good to myself. It's not an idea of selfishness, but it's a way of respecting yourself and confidently living one's mantra of uncompromising design. The same message one conveys to one's clients. James is a gift to me and now I'm sharing him with all of you.

Q: You grew up on the East Coast, what were your favorite things to do during the holiday season?

We would go to the Newport mansions to see them decorated for Xmas- there was something quite magical about that.

Q: What is one of your favorite places to go in NYC for the holiday season for dinner or a night out?

The Four Seasons restaurant is one of my favs here in NYC for a festive holiday meal , for something more cozy I adore Waverly Inn; the Monkey Bar makes me feel like I have stepped back in time to an era that is oozing with glamour and elegance.

The Monkey Bar

Q: Since everyone knows you dress impeccably, if we were to go shopping and you'd dress me for a holiday party, what would you suggest?

A: It depends on the party - something dressed up but not formal - might be a tartan jacket, black jeans, white shirt and a black satin tie and velvet slippers, more dressed up - perhaps tartan wool slacks with a velvet dinner jacket , white tuxedo shirt and a fab bowtie, patent leather on your feet.

Bow ties by Tom Ford.

Q: How do you decorate your home for the holiday season; or do you?

A: I have clear glass containers planted with paper whites and white and red striped amaryllis and place them in my entrance hall and in my living room, along with vases with masses of red roses, I hang a monumental magnolia leaf wreath on the book case in my dining room and burn Rigaud Cypress candles , I set the table with over the top china, ruby red water goblets, tiny mercury glasses filled with mini bouquets with gilded poppy pods all very festive and glam.

December 12, 2010

Noël canadien

Unfortunately, I think Americans forget about our northern neighbor, Canada ... especially this time of year when everyone is concentrating on going somewhere warm. Juliane Wilbee, owner of Norbridge Antiques, lives in Toronto, Ontario. We e-mail and talk on the phone all the time and I wanted to share a bit of her with all of you.

Q: You grew up in Montreal, what were your favorite winter activities growing up?

As all children in Montreal, I had ice skates from an early age and went skating regularly all winter. Because it stays consistently very cold in the winter, the city had ice rinks in most public parks. Skiing took over as my favourite activity when I received my first skis at the age of eight. The Laurentian mountain range is easily accessible just north of Montreal making ski day-trips very convenient. Some of my best memories are of my older brother who was nine years older than I taking me skiing when he was a teenager and young adult.

Q: Where is the best place in Toronto to go for a special holiday dinner or to get the food to prepare one at home?

For a special holiday dinner out, my favourite place is the Auberge du Pommier on Yonge Street just north of North Toronto. The restaurant from the outside looks like an old French cottage. I like a restaurant for its food, of course, but there are other factors that add to the pleasure of being there. The Auberge serves superb French food, the service is consistently excellent, it is always full of other patrons, and it is inviting. The decor is modern, but at the same time it gives you a feeling of timelessness.

I always prepare the meals at home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My first choice is Pusateri's, the local market, for the freshest meat, fish and other food.

Q: How do you like to decorate during the holiday season?

I like decorating with natural evergreens as much as possible. I always have a real tree, and find the Fraser fir to be the best for staying fresh. The ornaments are clear glass, a few are silver coloured, and a few are white. The tree lights are white. For practical reasons, I use a mixture of fake and real fir boughs for the mantel, and I add lots of fat white candles. Outdoors, I have fresh fir wreaths on the doors; I put little fresh fir trees in two urns on the patio, and fill the planters at the side door with fresh fir. I also use only white lights on the evergreens in the front and on the fir trees at the back. I use very little colour during the holiday season other than the green from the evergreens.

Q: As a purveyor of antiques, what is an antique you have at home that you love to have out during the holiday season?
May I tell you about two? The Dutch marquetry games table circa 1840 which I love is always there beside the fireplace. When I came upon it at an auction preview two years ago, I found it so beautiful I could not get it out of my mind. Whoever owned it before must have loved it as much as I do now, because it is in excellent condition.

detail, top of table when closed

I also want to tell you about the Birks Louis XV sterling silver flatware I found at an auction preview of a top auction house in Toronto when I was in my mid-twenties. I researched prices and decided on the price I would pay. Going to the auction was exciting. It was even more exciting to win this beautiful set of flatware, made circa 1917. The pattern itself goes back to the late 19th century and was also produced by other silver manufacturers. It is popular still and can be purchased new at Birks which is also called Birks & Mayors in the United States.

December 9, 2010

Christmas by the Bay

I told you I was going to share my friends with you this holiday season. I want you to all meet Philip Bewley from San Francisco. Philip works at Therian & Co. Both of us share the love of beautiful things, but in addition, we appreciate the history of the object's existence. I speak with Philip from time to time over the phone ( we have a great time ) and recently I asked him to help me out with a holiday blog posting... enjoy!

Q: If we all lived in SanFrancisco like you do, what would you want us to all do or see during the holidays?

A: Well, I love looking at the city from different vantage points at night: The top of Telegraph Hill with Coit Tower illuminated, and the view of the city to Nob Hill with Grace Cathedral at the summit, the expanse to the lit towers and cables of the Golden Gate Bridge; the wall of skyscrapers seen from Potrero Hill with a light like a star on a Christmas tree surmounting the pyramid building, the Skyscrapers of the Embarcadero defined by lights along their length. The Bay Bridge strung with myriads of lights for the season; the top of Twin Peaks to take in the full expanse of the lights of the city and the necklace of lights encircling the bay beyond.

Q: Knowing I've been a good boy this year [laughs], what's the one thing Santa would bring me from Therien & Co?

I would present you with a gift of the Nawab, or the Nawab of Arcot to be exact. This CA 1790 ivory-inlaid miniature writing desk enriched by fine pen-work is an example of a small number of gifts given by the East Indian Nawab in the 18th century to European royalty.

You can find similar examples of your piece today in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and private collections such as belonging to HRH Windsor. A gift for a Queen!

It is interesting to note that the penwork reserves depict a kind of fantasy idea of the West that is as “exotic” as parallel imaginings of the storied East!

Anglo-Indian Inlaid Ivory and Pen-Work Miniature Writing Table
Of sandalwood; the rectangular cornice with single long apron drawer over two hinged doors enclosing fitted interior, centering four short drawers over base cabinet of one long drawer and slanted fall-front enclosing similarly fitted interior and raised on bracket feet; the whole enriched with floral and foliate decoration with reserves depicting pavilions and landscapes borrowed from Dutch and English engravings
Circa 1790 - Vizagapatam, India Overall dimensions: 25” wide x 11” deep x 31½” high

Q: You had shown me awhile back some vintage department store Christmas photos from SanFrancisco. What is one of your favorite memories growing up?

For anyone living in San Francisco (or surrounding the city, as I did growing up) we all went downtown before Christmas to look at the magical department store windows, the giant tree in Union square and to take in the ambiance of “The City”. This is how we referred to San Francisco in those days when we all read Herb Caen in the Chronicle (Don’t Call it ‘Frisco) and where we all dressed up, with my mother, aunt, and grandmother behatted and “begloved”, as it were. Gumps at the old location was where most presents were purchased. I remember watching the tree in the Nutcracker grow to the ceiling in a performance by the San Francisco ballet, and thinking I was so lucky to be there with my family in the most beautiful city in the world.

The rooftop of the old Emporium store with rides.

A vintage shot of the Christmas tree in the City of Paris San Francisco store.

Q: What decor do you have in your home during the holiday season you enjoy the most?

Two years ago I would have told you about ornaments and the like, but since then my mother was very ill, and has since made a remarkable recovery! It was she who has made Christmas so special for all of us over the years, so, the fact that we will all be together as a family this Christmas is the most joyous thing of all!

December 5, 2010

Christmas Chic

The holiday season makes me realize how lucky I am to have the friends I do and be appreciative of the talent around which I'm surrounded.

I've been friends with Jennifer Boles, Contributing Editor at House Beautiful and the founder of the blog The Peak of Chic for a few years. We caught up the other day and I asked her some questions that she allowed me to share with all of you…

ST: Jennifer, it’s the holidays and although it doesn’t get too cold in Atlanta, what do you like about winter and the holiday season?

JB: Taking a deep breath of cold air (it’s becoming a rarity down here!). Good for the lungs. Classic Christmas music by Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and Johnny Mathis. Very fragrant candles redolent of pine and spice. Eating and drinking too much and not feeling guilty about it.

ST: What DON’T you like?

JB: Wreaths on the front grills of cars. Newfangled Christmas music by Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and the like.

ST: As a perveyor of everything chic, how do you like to decorate for the holidays?

JB: I keep it pretty traditional, tailored, and classic. Traditional greenery, white lights (though to be perfectly honest I prefer colored lights. Sacrilege, I know), paper whites, red taper candles. I avoid anything too theatrical. I also like those pretty pale pink-y poinsettias that are kind of hard to find and amaryllis. Now that I live in a high-rise, I stick to a wreath and garland on the mantel. Getting a tree up in the elevator is too difficult, so I leave that for my parents’ house. And lately I’ve been burning the Ralph Lauren Holiday Candle, which is to die for.

ST: What inspires you design-wise during the holiday?

JB: I suppose that my holiday inspiration over the last two years has come from Tiffany Christmas (the John Loring book from about a decade ago?) and Nigella’s Christmas cookbook from last year. Those holiday cocktails in there are really good…and lethal too.

December 2, 2010

Writing and the Season of Love

I put an ad in a holiday concert program every year and the headline for this year’s ad was 'Celebrating the Season of Friends, Family and Love' coupled with a lovely picture of a tree I decorated for a client. I thought about that all day and decided to reveal something personal with all of you that I hope you will share with others.

Not that long ago I had lost my job as a Creative Director at an ad agency, like so many others, the tragic year of 9-11. Within a year I ran out of savings, lost every possession I had … I didn’t have money for food. It was very serious. That year for Christmas I wasn’t able to purchase gifts, but decided to give a special gift to everyone … a special gift of love.

With pen in hand I wrote a note to everyone on my Christmas list. I revealed one loving memory I had of time spent with the person to whom the letter was addressed. Topics ranged from a special dinner, a pillow fight, a meaningful conversation, a trip shared and a time that one was there for the other. Whatever the memory, I wrote it down. Each letter was carefully thought about, written and sealed. It was the best Christmas I ever had.

As a successful interior designer now, I’m known as a purveyor of things. But I'm reminded in this holiday season as we all long for our troops to be safe, the bullying of people and children stopped, the end of foreclosures and job loss, that I concentrate on what really matters: Friends, Family and Love.

Monday, I’ll share someone special in my life as through her friendship I’ve received bounties of encouragement, designer insight, and lots of laughter. I can’t wait to share her with you.

December 1, 2010

Bead Brilliance

Kim Seybert with her dog, Sophie
(photo from Diane James Home)

Always looking for that fresh way to dress up a table setting, I often go to Neiman Marcus. They always have the right thing. This time I met up with Jamie Thurston, the Galleries manager of the St. Louis store, and we looked at Kim Seybert's new line.

Table settings used to be predictable, conservative and traditional... well.. not so much now thanks to Kim. Branded as "Designer Lifestyle Accessories" on her website, the uncompromising detail and craftsmanship of her product line coupled with great designs leave the competition under the table... leaving hers on top for everyone to enjoy!

In fact, Kim Seybert will be at Neiman Marcus Dec. 8th at 10:30 am. for brunch. She will be doing a presention on holiday table setting. Everyone should go! I hope to be there to meet her!

I love these Oval Bead Burst napkin rings. It's like fireworks right there on your table.

The close up of the Oval Bead Burst napkin ring shows the detail... unmatched anywhere else.

This is my favorite. Used for a non-traditional table for the holidays or even for a glamorous New Years, this paisley beaded Cher placemat is like no other. I used the greek key napkin with the Spider beaded napkin ring Kim designed.

Check out the detail. All handmade.

I love the beaded frames used to enhance the look when a plate is placed atop. The napkins are beautifully embroidered. The Sprig Napkin Ring is from the holiday collection.

Here I used one of her napkins and a Gum Drop Napkin Ring. The plates? I chose Vietri china made in Italy... the perfect thing for casual or formal dining.

Stay tuned... more fun holiday factoids, history, and cameo appearances by special guests this holiday season!!