Friday, August 25, 2006

entertaining cottage style

Ah, the cottage life—lazy mornings, fresh air, strawberries in a pretty bowl, colorful conversation. Cottage ambience is fresh and uplifting in so many ways, so creating the look should be just as carefree. April suggests her favorite tips for a quick cottage makeover. The best part is that you don't have to have a cottage or be on vacation to enjoy the feeling; use these ideas in your own home to brighten rooms and live the cottage life all year round—even in your big city apartment!

How-to: Get the Cottage Look

Think colorful eclectic. A cottage can be unpredictable; don’t be afraid to experiment with a lot of bold color. Accent with warm, organic elements: wooden chairs, wildflower bouquets, and fresh fruit centerpieces. Extend it to the porch or veranda with plump pillows on a wicker swing.

Here’s a summer suggestion: Toss those cloths!

Wake up tired rooms the easiest and cheapest way with bright textiles. Beautifully printed fabric can take the place of expensive art and even change the layout of a room. Bring your basket-full of linens to the cottage, throw open the windows, and hang fabric on walls, in doorways, and over cluttered cabinets. Use tablecloths and quilts to cover and brighten dark, old furniture. Frame placemats, cushion covers, or collectible tea towels. Every once in a while, relax, stand back, and assess your surroundings. If there is something you don’t like – throw a pretty cloth on it! The great thing about decorating with cloth is that it can be mixed up and moved around quite easily, and switching a single cloth can have the effect of reinventing an entire room. There are no rules at the cottage – just relax, be yourself, and enjoy!

How-to: Entertain with Cottage Ambience

The lively and entertaining spirit of the cottage—whether it’s a cabin in the hills, or a camp on the lake, or even a jazzy apartment in New York, with the summer breeze coming in through a raised window cottage-style—is a carefree attitude. This happy style presents ideas to inspire your own entertaining when creating an atmosphere of relaxation in your summer place.

Enjoy a fun, eclectic look by putting a few tables together bistro style. Mix up your tablecloths: use a classic floral on one table, a conversation print on another, and on a third table, a jacquard. Adding a check cloth will make the setting more casual and retro in feel. As long as the same colors are threading their way through all of the tables, the total look will be unified. Garnish your dishes with edible flowers (see Flowers on Your Table and on Your Plate). Add the cottage look to your napkins and table settings, by tucking a wildflower into your napkins, or add a jug of black-eyed Susans to your centerpiece. Decorate chairs with placemats and ribbon tiebacks. Make it jazzy in the evening with tea lights and great music. Or play golden oldies that everyone can sing along to. Make sure to provide plenty of plump pillows for a relaxing snooze—an old couch and a cotton blanket are the best part of a cottage afternoon!

In the mornings big bowls of fruit can greet the early risers, in the afternoon lemonade. A slice of watermelon cools the sting of a sunburn, and the cottage is a great place to pull out Grandma’s brown sugar fudge recipe – at last time to relax and enjoy simple activities.

Remember to have a pack of cards on hand – and a book of Hoyle’s Rules to calm the disputes that are bound to occur among summer card players.

Key ingredients for decorating—cheerful color, a mix of old, new, and found, ample food, comfy chairs, and the people you enjoy!

(this article was first published in the spring 2005 issue of April Cornell - The Art of the Everyday)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

some tips on thrifting

I've been asked by several friends how and where I find my great finds: a pair of Ferragamo riding boots for $10, a vintage Dior scarf for $1, an even more vintage pair of Dior sunglasses for the unbeatable price-tag of 50 pence (that's about 75¢ in American currency). Whether you're looking for a great deal, a great treasure, or both, thrifting is an obsessive hobby that requires a lot of practice and patience. I go by certain guidelines when rummaging through old things and I'm willing to tell you my secrets.

1. Check for quality and wear & tear: Such as linings intact and sturdy seams (few thrift-store items are worth bringing to the tailor).

2. Find fine fabrics: Natural fabrics such as silk, linen, cotton, wool and cashmere hold up better to age and can easily be machine or hand-washed. Say no to synthetic fabrics that require dry cleaning only: these items still cling to all of their 40-year-old smells.

3. Make sure it fits: especially in the shoulders. But sometimes, the fit can be flexible: shorter arms can sometimes pass for 3/4 sleeves (common with jackets from the mid-20th century). Jackets or sweaters that are big in the waste can sometimes be cinched with a belt or broach. Unlined skirts can easily be taken in.

4. Approach accessories first: especially if you are new to thrifting. You don't have to worry about fit there. Plus, accessories are the easiest items to incorporate into any wardrobe. For vintage accessories, steer clear of synthetics unless it's a statement piece: they tend to disintegrate with use. Instead choose leather or faille purses with satin linings.

5. Avoid "vintage" boutiques: they'll charge you an arm & a leg. Instead opt for church basements, yard sales, and estate sales. The down-side of the cheaper places is that you have to rummage through a lot of junk to find anything good and you must be willing to walk away empty-handed. If you don't have a lot of time and don't mind paying more, then vintage stores might be your best bet, because all of the good stuff has already been weeded out for you. IHowever, I still see this as kind of cheating, and less gratifying than finding a treasure on your own, on the cheap.

6. Look for the label: Older, quality woven labels usually signify a vintage item. They are typically better made and boast unique features and retro cuts.

7. Try to bargain: This is a guilt-free and expected practice at yard sales. However, at charity shops and church thrift stores, you should be more sensitive to the organization and its volunteers. If you can afford the asking price then pay it, and even make a donation if the moment so moves you.

8. Be one-of-a-kind: my best finds have been in places where nobody else would have wanted what I was looking for. The funky pieces, for instance, only sell in rural Vermont during halloween, because there's really no market for them there. so, they're pretty easy to find and don't usually cost too much. Fancy items like Gucci heels and black lace dresses are more expensive and much harder to find in places like New York City, because they're more sought after there.

9. Consider the source: who's making the donations? Finding thrift stores in more affluent neighborhoods will sometimes prove a jack-pot of couture labels at thrift-store prices, because the individuals who are supplying the goods are typically quicker to dispose of higher quality items, regardless of their value.

10. Lastly and most importantly: have the attitude that anything goes. Be creative, be resourceful, and don't be afraid to be a little different. It can be a little scary, but it's invigorating and you will be noticed for it.


Monday, August 21, 2006

happy home

An artist friend used to say: "the best home is a balm for busy people to find spiritual replenishment. If you think of your home as food—as nourishment for your spirit and creativity—then you must fill it with beautiful things." I've kept this mantra in the back of my mind for some time now, always assuming that I'd bring it out and dust it off a few years down the road when I'm more mentally and monetarily capable of approaching the subject.

Last week, I got a nudge when I read an article along the same vein in The New York Times (August, 17 2006) entitled "Is this what happiness looks like?" In it, the author lays claim to the importance of living space in shaping one's overall sense of well-being.
"In ['The Architecture of Happiness,' Alain de Botton] argues that physical environment is a crucial contributor to well-being. Like it or not, he suggests, the spaces we live in shape our sense of happiness and of self, so we had better choose them carefully."
It seems to me an obvious deduction; who doesn't want to live in a beautiful space? But what exactly does a beautiful space look like? And how can we choose carefully if we don't even know what to look for? What if attaining that space is beyond our means? After all, beautiful can be as simple as broken sea glass or as intricate and extravagant as a baroque harpsichord. In any case, the article certainly got me to thinking, particularly due to my own recent relocation into an apartment that I consider the most personally fulfilling and functional in my entire living history.

Already, within the first few weeks of moving in, I've noticed my clenched-up self giving way to change. I'm now able to step back and breathe, to ponder situations before acting on them. I enjoy washing the dishes and taking out the trash. Doing laundry is now a ritual. Cooking, though always an important factor in my life, is a new creative outlet and source of personal accomplishment. Most importantly, I am able to sit down and just write, or read, with no other obligations weighing on my mind. Every action that I take has beauty and meaning and pause. And I say this with no exaggeration.

But I never would have guessed that the relatively simple act of changing homes would have such an impact on my personal happiness. I've always been somewhat comfortable in my surroundings, even though that comfortable always carried with it a yearning for something better—perfectly natural, I think, for someone who grew up moving from house to house, with little in terms of material things. The truth is—and we all know this—you don't necessarily know what you're looking for until you've found it. That should be some inspiration to those still searching for the key to kingdom—a space that fulfills through form and function—to look even harder or to work even harder at creating that space. That perfect space is out there, just waiting for you.

For me, it's windows with a view: the power of a beautiful sky is enough to awaken my senses as I begin my day, and to calm them down after long hours at work. My beautiful home is a quiet, simple place of light. I know that now.

But what does yours look like? And more importantly, are you happy?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

hammock land

Wet, verdant, cool grass on my
naked feet
draws me like a leash
into the shade where I
can see the heat,
but the heat can’t see me.
The hammock accepts my fall loosely
wraps me up and holds me
I float on the breeze that
sings and breathes against my skin.
Back and forth, I sway
like a ship
and my lead body
doesn’t try to prevent
the daisy dust and
heady scent
of wild thyme hugging the slope,
to enter and heal me
and make me more sleepy.
I hear my mummy hum
from the window that’s open
she’s carried away
with the big heavy cars
and the high open wind,
the earaching bugs and
the fine lazy day,
and on the way,
grabs my consciousness’
and takes it away to
hammock land.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the flying trapeze

Tumbling Series
For the past few years, I've been quite obsessed with circus performers and the flying trapeze. They represent to me all of the vulnerabilities of the human body and psyche. At the same time, they exhibit a power of the mind & body—when faced with these vulnerabilities—to transform in protection against them. Extreme circustances allow for extreme transformations. Much like a chameleon or an actress on the stage, when faced with danger, we put up a front or put on a protective layer, or mask, to distance ourselves from being vulnerable. It's really all just a form of theater.

Recently, I came across a 5-part ink sketch I painted in college called "Tumbling Series." The pictures illustrate the fall of a trapeze artist in quick succession as she metamorphoses into a beautiful tragic form. She’s falling, but she could also be flying, or even jumping. It’s difficult to say. I decided to paste a picture of myself on top of one of those drawings, and with a little manipulation it fit surprisingly well, just like a mask.

At that moment, I felt the significance of being fully—albeit somewhat superficially—in control.

Monday, August 07, 2006

wild honey

Sophie's houseAbout this time one year ago, while on a visit to my beloved Provence, I trekked into the Alpilles countryside to visit my bee-keeper friend, Sophie Berton. We feasted on honeyed delights: pork glazed with rich and potent chestnut honey, plum tarte with delicate lavender honey, beets and oranges flavored with tilleul honey (that of the lime tree blossom), and we tasted countless others collected from all the wild flowers and herbs of provence. It's a sacred thing, honey, with as many varietals as regions in the world, with as many distinct flavors and hues as the blossoms that inspire them.

Honey is also believed to have healing and nutrional values not only for the bee, but for humans as well. It's said to have been found--well-preserved--in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years. But what's most fascinating about honey is its power to evoke a piece of nostalgia in all of us.

olive tree and Provence flowersIt's much more than a sweetener to me; it conjurs memories of wild clover, Vermont summer meadows, and long-lost friends; it reminds me of Heath apple orchard just north of the Canadian border where we'd suck the sweet nectar right from the honeycomb and then chew on the beeswax to savor every last drop. Slowly drizzling honey on a pot of fresh yogurt takes me away to southern France, where on one lovely summer day, I lunched on honey, goat cheese, mint, olives, and rosé in an ancient Roman ruins not far from Sophie's home.

These memories and more wafted out of my honey jar last night, and so I say, if you want to savor a moment forever, sweeten it first with wild honey.

LinkWithin - 4 posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...