Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Table Settings

With Passover and Easter falling within one week of each other this year, many people will be hosting  festive dinners. Passover celebrations occurred this past week and Easter celebrations will be happening this weekend. I thought now was a perfect time to do a post on spring table settings. I think you will agree that these lovely tables are warm and inviting settings for celebrating the holidays as well as the season. 

 A farm house table decorated with greenery
(source unknown)

An explosion of spring flowers from Carolyn Roehm

An all-white table
(source unknown)

Pinks and blues from Kathryn Greeley

Luscious blues and greens from Aerin Lauder

Purples, lavenders and a touch of glamour
(source unknown)

Classic blue and white
(source unknown)

Chic and tailored from Madeline Weinrib

Green and fresh from Bunny Williams

Simple elegance from Carolyn Roehm

 Rustic and refined from Heather Taylor Home

Wishing everyone a happy holiday!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Old Friends

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you.  And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead.  And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
-- Alan Bennett, "The History Boys"

I love this quote from The History Boys by Alan Bennett. It takes my breath away. In fact, I think it is one of the best descriptions of the power of literature. When we connect with what a writer is saying in a book, we have our most powerful reading experiences. If you are passionate about books, this has probably happened to you. Finding a special book to read or reread because it speaks to you is comforting. My bookshelves are filled with old friends.

Many people feel this way about their favorite books. Maybe the feeling comes from knowing the books so well that we can quote from them. We remember a passage that made our heart sing with its lyricism or brought tears to our eyes with its poignancy. Maybe these are the kinds of books that make us feel good when we are a little down and need to be taken to a cozy place. They are the equivalent of a cup of tea by the fireplace on a rainy day. With certain books come moments of truth, wisdom and illumination. The reality of the book reflects our own reality. And we recognize a kindred spirit.

When the four women from Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April come together in Italy, find happiness and forge unexpected friendships, many of us have felt that same sense of hope and liberation that comes from a new environment. When Margaret Schlegel of Howards End falls in love with the lovely old house in the country that belongs to Ruth Wilcox, we understand that it represents so much more than just a house. For Ruth it was a connection to the past and to the land; she knows that Margaret is its spiritual heir. We share Margaret's reverence for this house because we have all known houses that have that special something -- a life and a character of their own. When Charles Ryder succumbs to the charms of his best friend's family in Brideshead Revisited, we experienced the same thing when young.  When Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse describes Minta Doyle's "glow"and how it affects the other characters, we know exactly what she means. Some people just light up a room. When Colette writes about the relationship between a mother and daughter in Break of Day, her reflections on this powerful bond illuminate many of our own experiences. And when we read the final line of The Great Gatsby, we are filled with awe.

One of the books I have returned to many time is Mrs. Dalloway.  I am in love with the beauty of the writing and the realness of the heroine Clarissa Dalloway. The best novels take us out of our lives and put us into someone else's. When Clarissa walks out of her London house on a June morning to buy the flowers for her party, I am in her head and feel her joy. And that joy is just one part of the larger tapestry of thoughts and feelings she experiences all day long. As readers we are on this journey with her. And the last line of the book is one of the best closing lines of any novel.

  Do you have books that have spoken to you over the years and feel like old friends?

Top photo via Pinterest    

Friday, March 22, 2013


The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay
Beneath a flowering magnolia tree at Steepletop, her home in upstate New York

"I will be the gladdest thing 
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

 "Afternoon on a Hill" -- Edna St. Vincent Millay 

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Great Book and Spring Flowers

Old New York in the Gilded Age -- the setting for "The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton
Photo via here

Last week, as winter was giving way to spring and wisteria and camellias were blooming all over Los Angeles, I found myself staying in on Wednesday in order to finish The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton.  Have you read it?  If you haven't, stop what you are doing right now and get your hands on a copy of this book.  Trust me, you are in for a treat.  The heroine, or anti-heroine of the book, Undine Spragg is one of the most deliciously evil characters you will ever read about.  She is the ultimate social climber and the extent of her scheming selfishness is so vast as to be fascinating.  The story of her rise from a small-town Midwestern girl to a French countess will make your jaw drop.   This tale of old New York society clashing with the upstart American middle class is one of Wharton's very best books. Undine is one of the "bad girls" of literature who, like Becky Sharp and Emma Bovary, has no conscience and doesn't care whose life she destroys on her way to the top.  This is a compulsive read -- a great book and a thoroughly enjoyable one.   Reading it is a reminder of Edith Wharton's impressive talent -- she was a masterful storyteller, insightful chronicler of American society, and a supremely gifted writer.

Edith Wharton

Undine Spragg is an American beauty from the Midwest who is determined to move up in the world.  She convinces her parents to take her to New York where she plans to seek her fortune.  She is a force of nature and a manipulator, a beautiful woman who knows the power of her beauty and how to use it.  She somehow manages to get everyone to bend to her will.  Men fall in love with her.  But New York is a hard nut to crack and unlike Lily Bart and Newland Archer, the protagonists of The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence who are born into society, Undine is an outsider.  She is searching for a way into New York's upper echelons and it takes her a while to figure out how to gain entree into this new world.

She sets her sights on the aristocratic, young Ralph Marvell who is from an old and respectable New York family.  His family is horrified when Ralph falls under the spell of Undine's beauty and marries her.  Because she is unsophisticated and naive, Undine thinks that marriage to Ralph will be the key to her success.  But she has no understanding of the intricacies and unspoken rules of the world she has married into and doesn't realize that Ralph is cash-poor.  Although he has a law degree, he has no desire to work and is content to spend his days reading and writing poetry.  Like most men of his class, he is without a profession and dislikes the subject of making money.  They have a son, but motherhood brings Undine no happiness and she begins to look around for a better life.

And so begins her endless pursuit of wealth and position in the world, by making one strategic marriage after another. Only later will Ralph find out that Undine had previously been married before she married him;  he is devastated not only because this discovery is a symbol of Undine's dishonesty to him throughout their marriage, but also because divorce was a social stigma in New York society.  As it turns out, divorce will be a way of life for Undine as she endlessly searches for happiness throughout the years.  Her trajectory will take her to Paris and the inner circles of French aristocracy.  You will be surprised to see who she winds up with by the book's end.   Because she equates happiness with material possessions, she will never be happy.  But this is a lesson she never learns, as she is one of Wharton's most unenlightened heroines.   

You will love this novel about one of the great female villains in literature and enjoy watching her make her way in the world --  lying, cheating, and charming her way to the top.  Undine Spragg is one of literature's most memorable characters and "The Custom of the Country" is one of Wharton's most enjoyable and unforgettable books.  Don't you love it when you find a book that you can't put down?


The first day of spring is on Wednesday.  Here are some flowers from Hollyflora to get you in the mood...

And camellias from the garden!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Touch of Glamour

Miles Redd signing his book "The Big Book of Chic"

Sometimes it's fun to add a little glamour to our lives.  Interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein owns one of the prettiest home decor shops in Los Angeles.  Hollyhock is filled with beautiful furniture, antiques, accessories, and art for the home.  It is also the site of some of the best book signings around.  Suzanne hosts elegant evenings that feature interior designers who have written design books.  It is always exciting to go to these events and meet the designers. Lately it seems that many of them are writing books that are as much about their inspiration as about the homes they create for their clients.  The books are beautiful, dreamy, collage-like volumes that intersperse quotes, favorite books, photos of style mentors, images of works of art, and beautiful details of everyday life with images of the rooms they design for clients.   These are the sources of inspiration for these designers and the story of how they pull them all together and use them in their work is very exciting to see.

Suzanne Rheinstein's store Hollyhock in West Hollywood

A couple of months ago I attended a book signing that Suzanne hosted for New York City-based decorator Miles Redd and his book The Big Book of Chic.  As Miles says, "This book is about big glamour -- the kind that inspires the sensation of dancing across an MGM soundstage, silhouetted by a klieg light."

Suzanne Rheinstein with Miles Redd

There are some people that have to be described as debonair.  Such is Miles Redd.  It is almost as if he belongs to another age -- that period of flamboyant glamour between the wars when Cecil Beaton and Coco Chanel were the tastemakers of the day and Noel Coward was the greatest wit.  He is one of today's bright young things, a brilliant young interior designer whose exuberant take on traditionalism includes a mix of playful colors and eclectic glamour that has won him many fans.

After reading up on Miles, I learned that his lucky clients think his style feels like the world's most glamorous party. His sense of fun is contagious.  Not surprisingly, he writes that his favorite period of time is that "between the wars, the era of madcap, bright young things.  Frivolity gets a bad rap, but I will defend it to my dying day." This book includes the beautiful, dramatic, and cozy settings he has created for his clients as well as a medley of images of people, artists, and places that inspire him.  These include Cecil Beaton portraits, Rene Gruau sketches, Fitzgerald and Mitford novels, and royal memoirs that have influenced his unique approach to decorating.

Here are some of the quotes and images that have inspired his design aesthetic:

And here are some of the glamorous and whimsical settings he has created:

These rooms evoke old-style glamour.  They could be the setting for fabulous parties and it is easy to  imagine Noel Coward, Truman Capote or Coco Chanel in attendance.

It is true that sometimes we just need a dose of glamour to brighten up our day.  "The Big Book of Chic" by Miles Redd will do just that, with a healthy dose of wit and whimsy thrown into the mix.   The book reinforces the idea that creativity comes from many different places and is fueled by the evanescent impressions that come our way each day: the books we read, the trips we take, the art we see, the writers we admire.  All of these things live in our memory and if we hang on to them, we will be able to use them later.  Inspiration can come from many different sources -- a beautiful satin ribbon, an antique tapestry, a dinner party scene from a favorite book, a view of the Italian countryside or a painting by a Flemish master.  These impressions inspire the way we decorate our homes, plant our garden, set our dinner table, stitch a needlepoint pillow, paint a watercolor, or write a poem. 

As Miles Redd says about his book,
  "It is a piled-on mix of work and fantasy and perhaps you can make it your own."

Last seven photos via here

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Garden Gates

Have you ever noticed how enticing a garden gate is?

It is an anticipation of the pleasures in store, hinting at what lies beyond. It brings to mind the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which may be the most evocative book for anyone who loves a garden. It is one that lingers in the memory forever.

A garden gate is the transition between two spaces, the threshold into the retreat that the gardener has created. A whiff of honeysuckle may hit us, gravel crunches under our feet, a pathway beckons us to move forward. Expectations, garden secrets, surprises, the dazzle of a fountain, the language of flowers, the poetry of herbs all take us back to a childlike wonder as we contemplate the garden sanctuary just beyond the gate.

And there it is. This private Eden created by the gardener. We enter this magical spot, this outdoor room. We are bathed in sunlight and inspired by color, texture, and scent. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the fragrance of rosemary wafts through the air. A place to think, to dream, to reflect on the beauty of nature. A place to count our blessings.

Photo from "Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden"

This is the time of the year when gardens start to come into their own. Garden tours will be happening all over the country. Go here to find out about the Garden Conservancy Open Days program which allows access to more than 300 stunning properties across the country. And if you live in Los Angeles, don't miss The Robinson Gardens Annual Garden Tour.

Visit the public gardens in your city, enjoy your own garden if you have one, or think about starting one of your own. A small vegetable or flower garden is a great way to begin. There are wonderful how-to books to get you started -- The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch is one -- and also inspiring books for the armchair gardeners out there who just want to admire --  Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden by Judith B. Tankard is another. And when you travel, be sure to find out where the gardens are. I will never forget my trip to Paris when I was 21 and spent part of each day in a small garden on the Ile de la Cite reading my mail and writing postcards. The time in that garden is one of the most vivid memories from the trip. Visiting a garden will slow you down, help you recharge, and figure out what's next.

Spring is right around the corner!

First four photos via Pinterest