Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How flexible is too flexible in design?

I went to a business networking event last night and got into a very interesting conversation with someone who is not in the home/building or interiors industries. She was asking me who I worked with on projects and I mentioned that I bring in people as needed - builders, contractors, architects, trades,etc - as the project required. Surprisingly (to me), she didn't seem to think this was the right approach - that it would somehow limit my client prospects. Her issue was that if a homeowner had their own trades - an electrician, for instance - they would be put off that I would expect them to use my own people.

My reply was that I have had clients use their own people and more often than not, the work isn't done to my specification. Even when I've supplied detailed sketches (as above), the contractors don't necessarily follow it because they aren't working for me.  So, I've not only not ended up with the design I specified, but the client hasn't gotten what they paid for either.

Several years ago, I worked with a lovely client and specified the backsplash design above. The clients purchased all the tile but their tile guy convinced them to go with an easier (for him) design. This same tile guy convinced them not to use the 1" glass tiles I'd recommended be chipped into the corners of the basic 12" square ceramic tile flooring going into their very small bathroom. It was an easy detail that upped the look of what was a very modestly priced floor.

It would have looked something like the above (only tumbled looking ceramic tile with moss green glass tiles.) But, again, the tile guy convinced her that the glass tile would break (even though it was made for use on a floor) and they should skip it. Really, he just didn't want to do the extra work and make sure the subfloor was level.

This isn't to simply cast blame solely on the contractors either, it's really not. I've had clients who had their own builder in place when they hired me to help with the decorative details. We'd selected and purchased all the lighting and it was in house when the electrician was ready to install. Unfortunately, my client was traveling out of the country at that time and her partner either wasn't aware of the design plans, or cared all that much, and the electrician wasn't given proper direction. So, lights were put in the wrong spaces, recessed lights weren't installed as expected and a ceiling light (that was meant for the laundry room) was mounted dead center in their library.

The point I'm trying to make is that when a designer wants to use their own resources, it's not just because we are control freaks (or are making some kind of backroom commission). Well, okay, we might be control freaks and we might have an arrangement with certain tradespeople or vendors, but it's not only that. In the end, we take our role seriously. We're hired to create the best design possible for a project and we can't guarantee delivery on that if changes are made after our designs are submitted. Our design work is only the start of the project, it's all in the execution.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Silver Screen Surroundings: Outlander, S1E10 "By The Pricking of My Thumbs"

At long last "Droutlander" is over. Starz network's production of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" book 1 took a very long mid-season break (5+ months) and finally returned last week. (hence the term "Droughtlander" to those missing their fix of the tales of Claire Randall Fraser (20th century English nurse) and Jamie Fraser (18th century Scottish warrior).  It all makes sense, really!  You can read my posts from the first part of the season here.

Up until now, the set design has been a wee bit brown and work-a-day. Set in the Scottish Highlands of the mid-18th century, Castle Leoch (played by Doune Castle in Scotland) is the seat of the clan MacKenzie. One of the more powerful and wealthy clans, the castle is luxe compared to how many were living in Scotland at that time. But still... as a designer there's not been much to drool over.

At the end of the first run of episodes we left off when Jamie and Claire were forced to get married. And then they fell in love (it's a bodice ripping romance, in part, after all!). The couple returns to Castle Leoch and is given a new fancier "bridal suite" of rooms. It's clearly more luxurious than what we've seen before, but dark and heavy none-the-less.

The massive four-poster has been festooned with flowers in celebration of their newly married status.

Nice... paneling. (There's a very ribald joke I could make about the image below, but I'll leave it to your imaginations.)

For those of us who have read the novels, we know that there are some really beautiful locations to come. And in this week's episode #10, we're treated to the beautiful local dwelling of the Duke of Sandringham, a foppish British aristocrat who has journeyed to the Highlands at the invitation of the Laird of the Clan MacKenzie. Of course, he would be staying in a manor house more fitting his rank.

Here is the Duke's house as we arrive at it in the show. The property is actually Hopetoun House in Edinburg. Like many old estates, the house is open to tours, filming and special events like weddings.

Interestingly, the building is actually much larger than it appears above. Showrunner Ronald D. Moore said in an interview that they wanted to find a property that was befitting the Duke, but wouldn't overshadow Castle Leoch in size. So, they digitally removed the wings to reduce the imposing scale of the actual building.

Here is the actual building from the same side.

And here is the the side which certainly shows it to be a grand estate. In fact, the

The house was build in 1699/1701 by Sir William Bruce. Between 1721 and 1748, William Adam (father of John and Robert Adam, noted architects of the period) greatly extended the original building. The scenes that take place in the in the show are happening in 1743. 

And, finally, some color and decorative beauty! Claire is meeting with the Duke in a large (but not overwhelmingly so) salon or parlor.

The Duke is played by the amazing Simon Callow - one of the few "name" actors that we've seen so far.

I thought it notable that the ebonized "Louis" style settee and chair below seem a bit "worn" looking. The fabric looks faded, as does the ebonized wood. I'm guessing this was part of Ronald Moore's concept of the property not overly outshining Castle Leoch.

That gorgeous Adam fireplace - swoon!

The duke with his secretary taking notes on an exquisite writing table.

And here are images of the room as it is today. The chairs and sofas are not the same, however, the rug, window treatments and Rococo demilunes flanking the windows are in the current space.

It's interesting that the room looks much paler in television show and a brighter pink/red in the photos.  It's even referred to as the Red Dining room by the Hopetoun House today.  My images of the television show above were screen grabs from the online version which for some reason shows paler than even the television version.

The episode bounces back and forth between Castle Leoch and the Duke's residence. Below are images of the Hall, which served as receiving room and banquet hall for Castle Leoch.

And certainly they were not short on elegant accommodations at Leoch.

I truly don't mean to disparage the Scottish Highlands of the 18th century at all. The exterior and natural environment are unparalleled. But, it's nice to have something different to look at too! The Duke's residence has been a frothy amuse-bouche, if you will. 

A shoutout and hurrah to production designer Jon Gary Steele and set decorator Gina Cromwell. Your work and attention to detail are amazing. 

More to come as the season progresses. I'd also like to point avid fans to the Tom and Lorenzo blog who cover fashion, celebrity, costumes and television. They have just jumped aboard the Outlander train and put together amazing reviews and costume posts. 

Have you been watching?  Read all my Outlander posts here

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: The World of Shabby Chic by Rachel Ashwell

I just received a press copy of Rachel Ashwell's new book The World of Shabby Chic published by Rizzoli. The book is, of course, filled with beautiful images of the soft and romantic Shabby Chic  style that propelled a huge movement in the interiors world. In the book, Ms. Ashwell talks of her childhood in England and California and of her parents - Dad an antique books dealer and Mom an antique doll restorer.  The book also gets into the meteoric rise of her brand and the terrible loss and bankruptcy that ended the business in 2008/9. The book also covers her rebirth as a hotelier (The Prairie), the stores she was allowed to re-open under her own name and more. Ultimately, it's a great story of the chances one takes in business and Ms. Ashwell's entrepreneurial spirit.

If you're a lover of pale hues, white bedding, crystal chandeliers and chippy painted furniture - this is a book you'll want to have on your coffee table. My own personal style incorporates many of these elements, though I prefer a more eclectic mix with cleaner lines. But I do love white bedding and chandeliers - which is at the heart of the Shabby Chic style.

My only quibble with the book is that the print is very small and often difficult to read. In an attempt to capture the soft essence of the style, I do think the publishers went too far. Maybe it's just me and my tired old eyes...

Thursday, April 02, 2015

One Man's (or Woman's) Treasure - When Generations Collide

Unstyled scouting shot of my bedroom by Michael J Lee

There have been several articles recently in the newspaper about the generational divide when it comes to passing down furniture.

The Washington Post's: Stuff It: Millenials nix their parent's treasures and from The New York Times: Treasures: But Only to You?  Both are interesting reads about the passing on of furnishings and personal mementos from one generation to the next. The articles are themselves interesting, but the comments are truly enlightening.

As the Baby Boomers are hitting retirement, many are downsizing after a lifetime of upsizing. I've had a couple of recent experiences with this and wanted to share my thinking on the subject. My first experience was deeply personal - selling my parents home of thirty years and disposing of its contents after my mother passed away last year. And more recently, helping a pre-retirement couple select what they would be bringing from their current home to a new smaller retirement community house. In fact, my parent's house was their pre-retirement smaller property and they too had gone through a similar process of downsizing when in their late 50's.

Real estate listing shot of my parent's living room 

I was born in 1962, which puts me on the cusp of the end of the Baby Boom (1945-1964) and the beginning of GenX (1961-1981 or 1964-1984 depending on whom you ask). No one seems to talk about GenX'ers any more as it's all about The Millenials (1982/4-2004).

As you see above, my parent's had very traditional, classic taste. Their house was filled with fine quality furniture (some mass market such as the Hickory Chair sofa) and some antiques such as the little flip top desk in the back corner. But, these days, furniture like this (aka "brown furniture) is not generally prized by the younger set. Tastes come and go, of course, as do house sizes. As it happened, my parent's downsized just as I was moving into my first apartments and it was a lot less expensive for me to take their furniture than it would have been to buy all new. Or worse, buying newish used stuff at a yard sale. Really old furniture is so much better quality! 

Unstyled scouting shot of my current living room by Michael J Lee

The little Hickory Chair settee above came into my life around 1970 when my parent's did their living room and became mine in the mid-1980's when they downsized. It was originally blue silk and by the time I re-upholstered it in 2000, the fabric was faded and shredded in places. I actually had to wrap the seat cushion in a quilt just to hide the innards.  I've used this piece in every apartment and condo I've lived in since, including my 200 sq. ft. Beacon Hill shoe-box. I used to take naps on it when I was younger, slimmer and more flexible! It would have been a shame had I turned my nose up at this little piece. On the wall, top right, you will see a star burst mirror that I most recently took from my parent's house (you can see it over the fireplace in their house photo above).  I also took from their living room the two small side tables (which now flank my bed - see top photo). The rest of the furniture was sold in an estate sale, except the sofa which no one wanted and because of its loose arm, was taken to the dump. (that killed me - but I had no room for it!).

So, a piece of advice to Millenials - Consider the quality and usefulness of "hand me down" furniture - don't just turn your nose up at it. Using old furniture is better for the environment than buying newer, poorly made stuff. You can always paint it, recover it or otherwise make it your own.

And to Baby Boomers and their parent's generation who are quickly leaving us: Offer up your left overs to your kids or grandkids, but don't ascribe a huge amount of sentimentality to them. It's really just stuff. Some of it is good, some is not so good. You bought it for yourself and used it well - that should be enough. And don't freak out if your traditional coffee table is suddenly acid yellow!

Real estate listing shot of my parent's living room 

Unstyled scouting shot of my entry by Michael J Lee

See anything that looks family between these two photos above? The cabinet which I'm currently using as a bar cabinet was originally a stereo. (Side note: it also doubled as an altar when I had my First Communion at home many years ago). Don't hesitate to create new uses, or pairings, of old things. While I do have sentimental attachment to this piece, I wouldn't have taken it if I didn't have a real practical use for it and also love the style. 

Real estate listing shot of my parent's family room 

Of course, not all Millenials are turning their noses up at the old stuff. One of my nieces specifically asked for my Dad's wing chair (seen above). It's big and comfy but not top quality and does show its age. However, it reminded Katie of her grandfather and she made a cozy little reading corner for herself with it.

Real estate listing shot of my parent's dining room 

The hardest furniture to sell or give away is, hands down, the formal "brown wood" dining room sets. Beautiful quality pieces that had the patina of age and memories imbued into every wood grain.  And yet... It was sold at the estate sale for $150 for entire set, buffet included.  No one in the family had need or room for it. It was originally priced at $750, but after two days and nearly 200 people coming through the sale, it just needed to go.

So, a word of advice for Boomers (and in the immortal words of Queen Elsa from "Frozen") : Let it go! In the end, it went to someone who wanted it and had a place for it. It doesn't matter if it went out of the family.  Better that than the trash heap.

The runner in the hall is now in my entry way (being enjoyed by RoyRoy) and the dining room rug is now in my bedroom. 

Advice for Millenials - Keep the rugs, especially if they are antique orientals!!! I don't know anything about the runner (though it's definitely very old), but the big rug is at least 75 years old (it belonged to my grandparents) and doesn't show any wear. It's not about the value (there's little value in even antique rugs these days), but you'll never find the quality in anything newer and classic orientals work with any style of decor. Trust me on this. You can always roll them up and store them in a closet until you have room. It's not about sentimentality so much as simply placing a value on quality. Though I do love knowing I am the third generation in my family to use these rugs. 

And a final word of advice for Boomers: when you're downsizing, let go of your own sentimentality. If you've used something well, then you've gotten your money's worth. Don't hold onto things you that you truly don't have use for (and worse, don't really love) just because you got it from your parents or you think your kids should take it. There is way too much guilt associated with these decisions. And after all, we can't take it with us. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

American Blanket Company

I received an offer from the American Blanket Company, located in Fall River, Massachusetts, to test out one of their soft fleecy blankets. Well, I am a girl who loves a blankie (I'll admit it!) and I have a dog who REALLY loves a soft blankie!

American Blanket Company stems from a line of family owned businesses with a long history in the textile trade right here in Massachusetts. They make top quality fleece blankets, throws, baby blankets and a new pet line.

They invited me to try out one of their Luster Loft™ throws which come in either 50"x70" ($49) or 50"x80" ($59).

All of their Luster Loft and Supple Touch blankets, throws and baby blankets come in a white gift box with silver ribbon and gift card, which is a lovely touch for such a reasonably priced product.  You can order a much more expensive blanket from a big department and it will come stuffed in plastic shrink-wrap. Plus, you can get them personalized.

I've had the blanket for a couple of weeks and we've been testing it out extensively on the sofa.

The beige blanket is the American Blanket Company item (the dark green is not). You can see in the photos the difference in quality between the two blankets. The beige is much thicker and luxe looking than the green one, it's also larger and warmer.  BTW - this photo is not a set up - he did truly crawl into the blankets like this on his own.

And given a choice, RoyRoy gravitates towards the American Blanket Company blanket every time. They do have a smaller pet size version, but my 15 pound dog feels the bigger the better!

So, thanks American Blanket Company for the new snuggly blanket!