30 July 2010

Confessions of a blog-aholic

Oh, how I wish time would stand still while I'm blogging! For the past three days, I have set out to write a post on the Italian design house of Missoni, only to get side-tracked right from the get-go, and have spent most of the rest of each day looking at other people's posts. Here's a typical chain of events: I start by reading my email and my Facebook wall, both of which will have updates from several blogs I follow. My morning coffee is always accompanied by at least two excellent blogs, Cote de Texas for decorating, and David Lebovitz for food. One that I get on Facebook, every week or so is At Home with Patricia Wells, about food and French living.

Attractive pictures like these, from the three blogs mentioned above, always entice me into the stories they accompany.
(top to bottom: David Lebovitz, Patricia Wells, 
Cote de Texas)

Okay, so I start by going to one of these blogs to read the entire post, and my eye gets drawn over to the sidebar, where I see a list that is typically called something like "my blogroll" or "blogs of note". I click on one of these and read it's most recent post, but of course, I get side tracked into looking at that author's favorite blogs, and click on links out from there...so it continues on and on. In fact, sometimes I get so far off the beaten path that I wish I were Hansel and Gretel, leaving breadcrumbs, so I could follow my path back to where I started! Since most of the bloggers I like are interested in various different aspects of lifestyle and design, I go from cooking, to art, to interior design, to crafts, to table settings, back to cooking...you can see where I'm going here: in "no time at all" I realize I have burned up half of my day!

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. In so many ways, other bloggers have opened up new ideas to me, and I count lots of inspiration as having come from them. The only thing is, I'm not writing my own blog while I'm reading everyone else's. Do other bloggers set a time limit on how much surfing they do? Or do they set aside a specific time each day when they do nothing other than write their own posts? I wish I knew, as I am positive most bloggers spend a lot of time, just as I do, looking at what others have to offer.

My own blog list is divided (as you can see in the left column) into various categories, to make it easier for people (moi included) to find certain subjects. Even so, my lists are all growing to the point where I have just decided to list them all in alphabetical order. That way, nothing gets lost in the shuffle. I have to say that I really enjoy all of the blogs I have listed as my favorites. Each and every one is superb quality in terms of written descriptions, as well as photography (in my opinion!) If I decide I don't care so much for a blog after a while, I delete it from my list.

Some blogs are so gorgeous they practically make me weep with pleasure. Others have great DIY advice, and a lot of the food ones make me incredibly hungry - usually at a time of day when I shouldn't be thinking of eating (actually I think about food most of the time...but still!)

I want to highlight all of my favorite blogs/websites, over time. For today, here are some of the ones that I consider to be so beautiful and inspiring, I could practically eat them up (and I'm talking about the photos and styling - not necessarily food.) I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. (Click on the name to visit each blog.)

Australian interior designer with lovely photos, happy colors,
and DIY projects.

Written by a Basque chef/photographer, currently living in the United States. Gorgeous photos, interesting commentary and fabulous recipes, such as Lavender and Orange Macaroons.

Carolyne is, bar none, my favorite book stylist and author. Her site will have you hooked at the opening peony. (You'll see what I mean.)
I own all of her books.

I have met Charlotte and she is as charming as her photos. Her blog has beautiful decorating ideas, and is a great source of inspiration.
I also own all of her books.

Lovely French recipes and photos that make you long to be there!
An interior designer with a modern take on old French sensibilities, Joni often features other designers, as well as in depth reportage on specific houses. She puts an amazing amount of time and thought into her research - always worth reading. Tons of pictures, too.

An American in Paris and former pastry chef at Chez Panisse (I'm jealous already, David!) who is also the author of several terrific cookbooks, and has a wry sense of humor. His food posts and recipes are always good, as are his other posts involving subjects such as travel and flea market finds in the countryside.

Eddie is incredibly talented, and not just because he worked for so long with Martha Stewart and then House Beautiful. He has an innate sense of design in everything he touches, plus he styles such pretty photo settings! To top it all off, he's an alum of the Culinary Institute of America, where my son is.
(I soooo want to meet this guy!!)

By a private chef and cookbook author. This picture just about says it all. Divine recipes to match.

My favorite muralist of all time, Graham Rust has also written and illustrated some of my favorite books, such as The Painted House.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but I also love the descriptions and recipes. Too beautiful!

Italian cooking, recipes and local photos. Includes podcasts in English.

Basically, I want to move right into this place in Normandy. The owner, Sharon, is welcome to stick around, too, as I know we'd have such fun together, creating table settings and other vignettes.

Written by an interior designer from Australia. Interesting pictures and commentary on international locations.

Dutch site with monochromatic styling. Very peaceful interiors.

Coty started out at a young age, working for Vogue Living Magazine. Her incredible styling talent is evident in all of her photographs. Truly charming commentary, as well.

Nice photos, and interesting ideas, such as this post on closets.

Real life decorating! This site features diverse creative thinkers from around the world, in their own homes - all highly personal and generally eccentric. (I also adore their book.)

British blog with mouth-watering pictures and great recipes. Unusual plating combinations.

This is my latest discovery - so much fun to see everyday! What could be better than different artists describing their recipes in their own style? Drawn or painted, they are all different and all tickle my fancy!

Features mostly French Flea Market style. Every post is simply a
joy to look at.

From Northern California. Beautiful photographs, with a focus on even more beautiful table settings! Apparently, Delores has a china/tabletop accessory obsession like me.

This California couple loves to photograph, travel, cook and write - and share this winning combination on their beautiful blog.

Lastly, I simply must mention Donna Ruhlman Photography, although I can't grab any of her food photos to display here. She has the most outstandingly gorgeous pictures of food that anyone could imagine. Her lighting is spectacular. Check it out!

How anyone writing in the blogosphere gets much work done, without detouring off the path constantly, is a mystery to me. I love looking at all of my favorites, even reading the ones in foreign languages, (as well as trying to figure out what the ones in languages I don't speak are saying). This is a daily journey that I adore, and I hope you will have picked up some new blog diversions, here, as well.

Happy reading!

24 July 2010

Outdoor living - terrace colors

As I've said, there is still so much to be done inside the house, but the weather has been spectacular since we moved in...and with a pool and perfect terrace for al fresco meals and entertaining, I decided to jump right into making this outdoor space comfortable and inviting.

Generally, I am not a big fan of "outdoor rooms" unless they are attached to the house, like a patio off the family room, or a dining pergola off the kitchen. For me, being outdoors should not feel like being indoors. I see exterior spaces in decorating magazines that have everything from a living room atmosphere around a grand hearth to gourmet kitchen to outdoor movie screen, and I think "what ever happened to just enjoying the good old out-of-doors for what it is?" My kind of outdoor comfort includes chairs and tables that were clearly designed to be in the garden - not plush, weatherproof versions of fancy interior furniture. I prefer to keep the atmospheres separate. It makes each more special by celebrating their differences.

There is so much joy in owning a pool, although we never thought we'd have one, and would never have built one. Luckily for us, this perfect house just happened to include a pool, so we are the lucky beneficiaries. When I say the weather has been great, I should also mention
H-O-T!! The pool has been an absolute blessing and is responsible for keeping tempers at bay when the heat and humidity threaten them. Just look at this color - so cool and calming!
I know pools are a lot of work - maintaining the proper pH levels, etc., but this one seems to be worth every moment of time devoted to it - which I have to say isn't much, so far!

Before we moved, we picked out all the furniture we'd need to relax on our new backyard terrace. Bistro chairs and tables were a must, considering how much of our happiness revolves around food and wine. Then, we needed comfy spring-rocking chairs for chatting and reading, and finally chaises longues for sun bathing. I did not buy cushions ahead of time, as I wanted to use designer fabrics and make my own. I had a scheme in my mind's eye, which included a glorious floral outdoor fabric from Missoni, a company I simply adore! (MissoniHome fabrics are available to the trade, through Stark.) But after we got here, I looked at the color of the water, as well as the terrace tiles, and realized turquoise and terra cotta would be so much more in keeping with our hardscape.

As luck would have it, Home Depot had striped cushions in exactly the right color combination, so I bought those for the reading chairs. Home Depot had no cushions for the bistro chairs, and only wildly different patterned ones for the chaises longues. However, I bought those anyway, planning to cover them.
Jo-Ann Fabrics now carries an extensive collection of indoor/outdoor textiles, and there, I found a very similar turquoise in a fine printed strie, along with a terra cotta which I got to make cording. When I went to another Home Depot, I lucked out with throw pillows in a Japanese cherry branch pattern on turquoise, with accents of rust. These were obviously made to coordinate with the stripe I had purchased.

I covered the crazy chaise cushions in turquoise with matching ties and punctuated them with terra cotta piping, in order to give them a little zing, both close-up and from a distance. I love the way the rust color outlines the blue. I often make my own cording/piping, as it is truly easy, and adds a custom touch to whatever is being made.

Then, I made matching round cushions for the bistro chairs. I decided to skip making the ties for these cushions, as I felt they would look too fussy, on such small chairs.
At yet a third Home Depot, we were able to find more of the matching striped cushions, which we bought and I cut up and pieced together to make "box striped" throw pillows.

These are a fun way to add a different pattern, using the same fabric. Simply cut right triangles of the striped fabric, and piece together to form a square.

A beautiful pottery bowl by Clay Calderwood of Clayton's Clay Works, right here in Brewster, completes the scene. Clay happens to be my sister-in-law's brother, and I have actually had this bowl for many years - a gift from Jack. I am thrilled with the way it echoes the pool color.

Another piece I've had for a long time, which just goes so well on the terrace, is my antique ceramic elephant table. Originally purchased for our sunroom in Hingham, I have also used it in a showhouse bedroom, and most recently in my younger son's room.

Look at how versatile this piece is - below is a guest room I did for the Newport Showhouse Guild a couple of years ago. I have to say, though, I think this elephant has found his supreme spot on our terrace.
(Photo: Michael J. Lee)

Here's an overview of the finished cushions in various seating areas. I like that some chairs are in the sun, and some in the shade.

The bistro table in the foreground has an umbrella, and is a favorite spot for lunch, as it is just outside our kitchen door.

Finally, around the corner, and accessed by another door from the kitchen, is a charming antique set of table and chairs, which we inherited from the previous owner here. The carrera marble top long ago lost its sheen, and it has the patina of a piece of stone that has withstood the elements for generations. Four more seat cushions in the turquoise, piped in rust, complete the wrap-around color scheme of the continuous terrace.

The colors of our Italian pottery, some of which we have purchased in Italy and some of it imported by Abbiamo Tutto, go well with the terrace colors and have inspired the color choices for our future kitchen. I envision the kitchen color palette flowing out and connecting seamlessly with that of the terrace. These bright yet earthy colors are so easy to live with, an attractive presentation for food, and just plain cheerful.

The best part of indoor/outdoor fabric is that it can stay out all season. It doesn't fade, dries out quickly after rain showers, and is stain resistant and easy to wash. Besides all the fabulous choices available through designers, there are so many options these days, for consumers, including Calico Corners, whose all-weather fabrics I find very pretty. While I am sad not to have used my Missoni idea, I'll just have to file that one away for some future project!

Or better yet, these gorgeous Missoni beach towels are ONLY $297 each. I need a whole set of these (in my dreams!)

23 July 2010

The facade - how important is the front of a house or business?

It's true for buildings, just as it is for human beings and filled chocolates - it's what's on the inside that really counts. But think about this: isn't it such fun to open a box of chocolates, look at the outsides first and try to imagine what's inside each before taking a little nibble of one (or all) to find out for sure? It's the beautiful coatings that make me long to try each one, for different reasons.

Well, I feel that way about houses and other buildings like boutiques, galleries, workshops...any building that says on its facade "I'm interesting - come inside and see what I'm all about."

This is what we've been focusing on, this week, with our new house/art gallery. Changing the trim and door colors was a huge improvement in making the place look warmer and more inviting from the street. but that still wasn't enough. This week, we ripped out the hedge, which had been half covering the walkway, in front of the building. We hemmed and hawed over this, as it's not easy for either of us to uproot a healthy growing plant, unless it's clearly a weed. However, it turned out to be a great decision. It "opened up" the front of our building to passers-by. Instead of looking like a fortress, it is now approachable. Several people have commented on how clean it looks and I enjoy seeing the angular architectural features under the bay windows, which had previously been hidden by the yew hedge.


... and AFTER

Now, the new question is: what to put in its place? Clearly, the dirt cannot and should not stay as is. Grass is a simple choice, but frankly kind of boring. I want something that beckons visitors, something colorful like Jack's art, and cheerful like those who live here (OK, we're cheerful most of the time!) Since the front of the house gets morning sun, but shade the rest of the day, I'm thinking of impatiens, in lots of different colors. They thrive in indirect sunlight.

I adore how amazingly plump they get when they are fertilized for a couple of months. Incredible!! It's a bit late to get this look this summer, but maybe for next summer.

Another option would be to go with a classic Cape Cod border of hydrangeas, which is so charming and bright. I remember, as a child, being enthralled with hydrangea borders we would pass on our way to shop or to visit friends on the Cape. To me, they just say "welcome". They form a lovely border, and gracefully walk the line between casual and formal. My preference is for a combination of different shades of blue, purple, lavender and light pink.

Another consideration for facades and landscaping is: what will it look like in different seasons? Will the facade look barren after the impatiens have died or the hydrangea hedge has lost its leaves in late autumn? It's important to me to have a welcoming charm in mid-winter, when there is such a paucity of green and floral color in New England. Should we put back some evergreens for this reason? Perhaps a combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, like boxwood and hydrangeas.

Despite the indisputable fact that it's what's inside that counts, the facade is incredibly important in drawing people to a house or shop, and conveying a feeling for what might be inside. So...we're off to visit garden stores. (I may have to visit a chocolatier, and contemplate some creamy filled chocolates as well, to help me through this state of deliberation.) Stay tuned to find out what we decide.
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