Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pretty Bedroom

Earlier this summer, Jill and Bob asked me to help them redecorate their master bedroom.  They had recently finished the adjoining bathroom and were hoping to bring a little polish to the bedroom.

They specifically wanted more bedside storage and lighting, a comfortable lounge chair with a view of the back garden and an overall “pretty” d├ęcor.  I wanted to give them more varied, practical storage and display options and a space that reflected their tastes, related to the new bathroom and brought the outdoors in.  Jill and Bob already had some special pieces we wanted to showcase:
fine antique furniture,
charming vintage accessories from her grandmother,
a lovely upholstered bed
and beautiful black and white family photos.
Detail of antique highboy we relocated to a more prominent place in the room
Detail of vintage mirror
Lovely winter view right outside the bedroom
We decided a soft blue-green palette, with brassy gold metal accents, would bring everything together.

Nailheads on new storage ottoman... we added little touches of metal throughout the room.
We chose new textiles in very natural, touchable fabrics.  The boldly embroidered draperies and shams are linen and rayon.  Roman shades are a nubby raw silk.  Decorative pillows are cotton, linen and viscose, and the duvet cover is a linen-rayon blend… with a watery scroll, almost ikat pattern on the main side and a muted floral on the other.  We ran both fabrics through the washer and dryer to shrink the fibers.  The duvet cover will get softer and softer every time it is washed.
Fabric for draperies and shams
Very nubby raw silk for Roman shades in bedroom and bathroom
New bed linens and decorative pillows
Floral fabric on reverse of duvet cover
We found an extremely comfortable chair, which is perfectly sized for the room, and had it upholstered in a velvet herringbone.  All the window treatments and bed linens described were made by Cathy Mares Custom Sewing.  The chair was special ordered through The Second Yard.

The bathroom had been painted in Benjamin Moore’s Sleigh Bells, so we chose Beacon Hill Damask for the bedroom.  It is a slightly citrusy cream that changes throughout the day from alabaster to the faintest gold to new growth green.  The ceiling is Ice Mist, a white with just a hint of gray.

The new bedside lamps are by Alex Marshall Studios and have the most beautiful aqua glaze.  I know they look very sleek and contemporary in photos.  But they have so much variation of color and texture in person.  Plus the added light was greatly needed!  We found an oval shade to freshen up Grandmother’s hand-painted Asian lamp.

We chose painted finishes for the new double dresser and Bob’s bedside table.  No new wood could really compare with the gorgeous cherry of the antique highboy and Queen Anne table.  The curvy upholstered bench and a funky, birdcage-like box bring more texture and storage to the space.  We decided to keep the doors and molding in their original stain to relate to natural elements throughout the house and the woodland outside.


Birdcage-like box adds extra storage under antique Queen Anne table

Overall, I think the room redecoration has been successful.  Jill and Bob seem very happy.  The greatest hiccup was Bob’s bedside table.  We had ordered it in August from a major home furnishings catalog (which shall remain unnamed).  Shipment was delayed until mid-November.  The rest of the room was complete, and this was the last piece of the puzzle.  But in November, shipment was delayed again until the end of December.  And to be honest, I had real concerns... would the table actually arrive?

So we cancelled the order and had something similar made locally.  We should have done that from the start!  We didn’t realize it was within our budget.  It’s a great time to purchase custom products.  All of the new furniture in the bedroom is American made.
We always wanted something simple and sturdy and painted for the new bedside table.
I hope Jill and Bob’s pretty bedroom inspires you to create a beautiful, restful place of your own in the new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fungi of the World, Part 2

Fungi are everywhere, including the home.  I’m sure you have noticed how, after decades of relegation to just a color – a sort of gray-olive-taupe, mushroom is again a regular motif in home decoration.
Lars Bolander often decorates with French mushrooms carved from poplar wood.

Biotroph Cookie Jar from Anthropologie

Sweetly embroidered pillow cover I found at our local Yves Delorme boutique.

I suspect Fungi’s recent popularity has to do with our greater environmental awareness and renewed appreciation for the natural world and handmade craft.  But I also think there is an element of nostalgia: a link to fantasy and folklore and favorite stories.  The mushroom conjures up our childhoods of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
Mushroom Soup wallpaper from Ferm Living has a retro feel.
Rhode Island artist Ashley Van Etten is inspired by woodland mushrooms and mid-century textiles.
Barbara Barry's Swell accent table for Baker is both sensual and a bit Sputnik.


In fact, mushrooms have been favorite images long before the 20th century.

One of a set of framed French engravings from Vandekar of Knightsbridge

The rustic, antique stone mushrooms we now value as garden ornaments began life with a much more practical purpose.  They were originally used as staddle (or steddle) stones to elevate storage buildings, like granaries, off the ground… away from damp and vermin.  The mushroom shape is a case of form follows function.  The cap provided more stability and made it difficult for animals to reach building foundations.

Staddle stones were then reused ornamentally and probably inspired future mushroom-garden embellishments: reproduction staddle stones, cast concrete sculptures and planters, wood and ceramic garden stools and quaint birdhouses and feeders.
Genuine 18th century staddle stones, like these from the Antique Swan in Austin, Texas, are difficult to find.
Haddonstone offers brand new reproductions.
Barbara Israel is the premier American dealer of garden antiques.  She often handles staddle stones, as well as vintage garden ornaments, such as these faux bois mushrooms from the 1950s.  Check out the baby mushrooms "growing" out of the bases!
Mushroom Birdhouse created by ceramicist Michael McDowell in Denver. 
You can order this charming nest depot from Charleston Gardens.
Fill it with twigs, twine and plant materials to help neighborhood birds build their nests.


Although most Fungi are inedible, they can look beautifully appetizing.  The curvaceous mushroom shape is familiar and exotic and… surprisingly functional for the adornment of tableware.
Set of hand-painted Champignon dinner plates, designed by Alberto Pinto, is available at Branca in Chicago.
Detail of Champignon plate


Vintage dinnerware is fun and reasonably priced.
Above: Franciscan's Woodlore pattern
Below: Noritake's Merry Mushroom
Mushroom-shaped housewares can be infinitely practical like these mills from Crate and Barrel...

Or stunningly sublime.
Buccellati silver mushroom salt and pepper and mustard jar are available
at Michael C. Fina and Lakeview Home Accessories.

Earlier this spring, Situ Studio created an amazing installation in the Great Hall of the Brooklyn Museum.  They essentially reinterpreted the neo-classical columns originally designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1893.  Constructed out of plywood, metal, white fabric and light, these new columns are like fantastical, ethereal (and enormous!) mushrooms that entice and envelope visitors.

Even when more modestly-scaled, decorative mushrooms always convey a little magic and mystery.
Miniature porcelain (above) and mercury glass (below) mushrooms,
all by Two's Company/Tozai Home, can be purchased at Digs in Washington State.

Set of vintage Blenko glass mushroom candlesticks for sale on Ebay... right now!

Mushroom votive candlesticks by John-Richard
Apartment Therapy is a great website to track the latest mushroom designs, and you can find a wide selection of vintage, fungi-inspired dinnerware at Ruby Lane, Ebay, Etsy and Hill House Wares.  Situ Studio’s exhibit, reOrder, will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum for a couple weeks more, until January 15.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gifts of the Season

Traditionally, December 25 is the true start of the Christmas season.  It is the first day of the twelve days of Christmas that lead up to the Magi’s arrival and the Epiphany.  Although pre-Christmas shopping and Santa’s visit now rule the calendar, gift-giving was originally celebrated during the almost-two-week-period after Christmas Day.

And in a way, our Christmas decorations are our gifts to everyone who sees them, even folks we don’t know.  They express our joy and brighten the darkest winter night.
So, I want to say “thank you” to the decorators who really go all out.  I know there are those who disapprove, but they are probably missing the point.  When it comes to love and wonder and sharing… more is more.
So enjoy!  And remember, Christmas lights are gifts of the season!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Latin in Winter: Mahonia and More

Winter is an excellent time to examine the shape and hardiness of plants you want to add to your garden.  But, of course, it is important to know their proper names.  So, why not have another lesson in plant nomenclature?

First, I want to mention that the Latin we use in botany is not ancient spoken Latin.  It is a scientific system developed and adapted since the mid-18th century for study and classification of the natural world.  Each plant is identified first by its genus, say Acer, and then its species: palmatum.  Usually these names are “Latinized” from various languages.  Cultivar names are listed after the scientific name, such as ‘Atropurpureum’.  Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ is a Japanese Maple with wine red leaves.

Now, let’s start with Mahonia.
As in…
ma                   (not your Pa but your Ma)
HOE                 (the garden implement)
nee-ah             (the end of Romania or Albania).

The emphasis is on HOE.
You’re actually supposed to say mah-HOH-nee-ah, but that seems a little breathy.

Often known as Oregon Grape, Holly Grape or Leatherleaf, Mahonia is an upright, evergreen shrub with glossy, spiny leaves, almost like those of a Holly or Acanthus.  It is related to the equally prickly Barberries.  Mahonias always look rather sturdy and ferocious, as if they could withstand a ten-foot blizzard.  But they are native to temperate regions of Asia and North and Central America and prefer a little shelter in the garden.
Mahonia is popular for its racemes of fragrant, bright yellow, bell-shaped blossoms that bloom from late autumn to early spring, depending on the species.  The flowers develop into clusters of blue berries that birds adore.  Most plants at garden centers are cultivars of Mahonia aquifolium, M. fortunei, M. bealei or M. nervosa.  M. repens is often called Creeping Mahonia, because it grows less than a foot tall and spreads to over six feet wide.

M. eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ is a recent introduction that resembles a small bamboo with dark green leaves.  As the name suggests, it is the most touchable of all Mahonia.

In truth, Mahonia has never been one of my favorites.  Many gardeners inherit these evergreens in established landscapes but then struggle to incorporate them with other plants and tend to neglect their maintenance.  So the shrubs often appear sad and gangly and top-heavy.  But behold this lovely specimen I discovered last month in Richmond.
It definitely renewed my interest.

Thuja
As in…
THOO-yah (like Booyah with a TH).
The emphasis is on THOO.
You could also think of it in baseball parlance:
“I threw ya out at home” without the r.

Thuja is an especially long-living conifer native to North America and Asia.  Its most common, common name is Arborvitae or tree of life – perhaps because of its long life span or because of its medicinal properties.  Thuja belongs to the Cypress family, but some people call it Red or White Cedar.  They often compare it to relatives like Cupressus x leylandii (Leyland Cypress) and Chamaecyparis pisifera (False Cypress).

Thuja occidentalis is Eastern Arborvitae, native to the northeastern United States and Canada, and Thuja plicata is the slightly more feathery western native, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and British Columbia.
Thuja occidentalis
Thuja evergreen foliage is soft and fan-shaped, like scaly coral silhouettes, and cultivars have been bred in almost every green imaginable from lemon lime with a hint of peach to the deepest inky hunter.  I personally love how the leaves become slightly bronze in the winter. Thuja is well-known for its easy care.  It is often grown in dense hedges without any need for shearing.  And unlike many evergreens, it can happily handle wet spots in the garden.
Threadleaf Thuja cultivar
T. occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ and ‘Smaragd’ are widely used as “exclamation points” in mixed borders.  But there are many other cultivars: T. occidentalis ‘Filiformis’ is a threadleaf, slightly weeping form; ‘Little Giant’ and ‘Teddy’ are dwarf cushions and ‘Nigra’ can quickly grow to over 25 feet tall.
Old Thuja occidentalis is like a giant green cloud in a neighborhood cemetery.

Tsuga
As in…
SOO-gah (the end of A Boy Named Sue and Lady Gaga).
The emphasis is on SOO.

Tsuga is also a conifer native to North America and Asia.  It is from the Pine family and has the needle-like foliage and cones we normally associate with evergreens.  Tsuga is commonly known as Hemlock but should not be confused with Conium maculatum, which is the poisonous perennial herb famously given to Socrates.
Here in the East, we usually find Tsuga canadensis, (Eastern or Canadian Hemlock), in our wooded mountains and hillsides and at our local garden centers.  T. caroliniana (Carolina Hemlock) is native to a much smaller region, mainly southwestern Appalachia.  In the wild, both species like cool, slightly humid, protected habitats and can grow into truly magnificent trees.
Several cultivars have been bred for home landscape use.  Some are broadly conical, like traditional, if-a-little-fat-on the bottom Christmas trees.  T. canadensis ‘Pendula’ and ‘Sargentii’ are weeping forms.  The charming ‘Jeddeloh’ is small soft mound with a natural indentation that resembles a bird's nest.  Dwarf forms, such as ‘Beehive’, ‘Jervis’ and ‘Stewart’s Gem’, are especially popular in rock gardens and hypertufa trough planters.  Iseli Nursery is a wholesale grower of dwarf conifers in Oregon, and their website provides a lot of information about employing these plants in garden beds and containers.
Weeping form of Tsuga.
A couple things to consider before planting Tsuga:
No matter what the size, all varieties prefer slightly shaded, protected spots.  They can suffer from wind burn, winter desiccation, drought and sun scorch.  They are also sensitive to salt spray.  Even if you don’t live at the beach, think about their proximity to roads and sidewalks and possible damage from snow-removal chemicals.

Many plant catalogs and retailers describe Tsuga’s range as Zones 4 to 8.  But I suspect it is more likely Zones 4-7 for T. canadensis and Zones 5-7 for T. caroliniana.

And finally, Tsuga is threatened in the wild by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an Asian transplant that was introduced to the U.S. in the 1950s.  The U.S. Forest Service reports Adelges tsugae was first found in Virginia in the 1950s, but other sources claim it traveled here via the West Coast, starting in the 1920s.  The Forest Service maintains maps of the spread of infestation since 1951.  I’m not sure how the Adelgid affects cultivated varieties.  But you should check with your local Cooperative Extension office to see if there are infestations in your area and if you can order Tsuga from certain companies.  For example, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and all of Canada are trying to limit the Adelgid’s range and will not allow shipments of Tsuga from the Mid-Atlantic and South.

Loropetalum
As in…
lor-oh              (like Lori with an O instead of EE on the end)
PET                  (you pet your pet)
ah-lum             (you are an alum of your alma mater).

The emphasis is on PET.

Commonly known as Chinese Fringe Tree or Chinese Flower, Loropetalum has gained huge popularity in southern gardens over the last twenty years.  It is an Asian member of the Hamamelidaceae family and its strappy, starburst blossoms are similar to those of our native Witch Hazels and Fothergillas.  Loropetalum chinense has evergreen green foliage and white flowers.  I’ve read varying reports of its ultimate size in the wild – anywhere from five to twelve feet.

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum is a naturally-occurring red-leaved, pink-flowered variety that has led to a wealth of Loropetalum options.  There are all sizes of mounding shrubs, and even some upright ones, that can be used as groundcovers, low hedges and ornamental trees in the garden.  Their leaves change hues throughout the growing season: black-green, muddy maroon, bronze-red, burgundy and plum.  And hot pink, bright fuchsia or rose flowers explode in April and continue blooming intermittently until November.
Loropetalums can grow quite large.
Still blooming in September.
L. chinense ‘Purple Pixie’ is from the Southern Living Plant Collection and has the most purple leaves I have ever seen.
All types of Loropetalum are evergreen in Zones 7 to 9; and are hardy down to about 15 degrees.  I believe they need some chill for flowers to set.  They all prefer slightly acidic soil and need regular water.  We are just on the edge of Loropetalum’s northern range, and I thought about pairing one with an established Crape Myrtle.  In the end, I decided I actually wanted deciduous foliage in that spot.  But I’m sure I’ll add a Loropetalum to our garden soon.

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas and all your “long winter naps” are filled with dreams of beautiful gardens!