favorite things: peonies

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There is something about peonies: their lush, feathery petals, their intoxicating smell, their rich, dark green foliage, their old-fashioned beauty…and they don’t get as much attention as the rose, but they should. They don’t have thorns, and they are easier to grow. All you have to do is stake them when they flop or better yet, clip them and bring them inside. I’d love to have a field full of peony bushes like Martha Stewart does at her country house above, but since I don’t, here are a few of my favorite things that would add a touch of elegant country style to a home wherever it might be.

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Stylist and author Tricia Foley, using a simple straw bag in the photo above, highlights the striking beauty of pink peonies freshly cut and ready to be arranged. Click here for a similar bag that I love from Dreamy Whites (which of course can be used for many other things as well).

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Try floating the flower heads in a pretty bowl on a coffee table (I learned about this first from writer Katherine Mansfield, who did this often and notes it in her diary). And click here for a video from Martha Stewart with other tips on arranging peonies.

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Colefax and Fowler’s Tree Peony linen fabric is a favorite. It comes in three colors and I like them all, but this version in a muted pink and green would be perfect on throw pillows for a summer refresh on a porch or in a bedroom or family room.

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Lili Bermuda is a perfume shop in St. George’s, Bermuda where you can find notes of peony in their Pink perfume and scented soaps (and they ship to the US).

E8D46364-FDC8-4BC9-B53A-46904CC2375BInspired by 17th century Dutch still life paintings, Liberty London’s Peony tablecloth makes a perfect gift this wedding season, or a new addition to your own linen collection.

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Antique botanical prints are a way of bringing the garden inside. Here is a gorgeous white peony by artist and botanist Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840). You can find an unframed book page version on Etsy here and another printed version here.

Enjoy the rest of May and the peonies however you find them…

the gardens at Monticello

 

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Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s attempt at creating an American villa rustica, or gentleman’s farm. Jefferson wrote: “…cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty & interests by most lasting bonds.”

another transitional space

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The hanging straw hats, the long bench, the large mirror (for straightening our hat), and the freshly clipped flowering branches in the white pail suggest that this space is one where we make the transition from indoors to outdoors and visa versa. Like most transitional spaces (even the much fancier butler’s pantry from last post), it is utilitarian in nature, but also quite pleasant. This one, a mudroom or back entry hall from Martha Stewart Magazine, is spare and minimal and bright and has a touch of the Swedish country style in its look, with its unadorned windows, simple rustic mirror, painted floors and exposed beams, and the elegant wooden bench with Gustavian lines.

a chintz sofa: classic English country style

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A chintz sofa, yes, I’m aware that there is nothing at all new about it, in fact it’s a bit old-ladyish (which really doesn’t bother me in the least), but I’ve always been drawn to them (though I doubt I could make it work in my own house), and then there is this Colefax and Fowler fabric that I’ve long had my eye on: Bowood chintz in green/grey, used here by interior designer Gabby Deeming in a striking manner. It is fresh, but also full of warmth and a sense of the past.

John Fowler (1906-1977), of Colefax and Fowler, discovered this pattern in the archives of Bowood House in England. And it (along with the green painted paneling and the spare but noble feel that Deeming  has given this room) absolutely fit Fowler’s belief that, “A room must be essentially comfortable, not only to the body but to the eye…well-behaved but free from too many rules…mannered yet casual and unselfconscious.”

And I do think that that’s exactly what elegant country style is all about—being well-behaved but free from too many rules…mannered yet casual and unselfconscious.

So just a note for now…Fowler will come up again I’m sure. And his partner Sibyl Colefax. And perhaps Bowood chintz, and certainly other chintzes and lots more English country style. I hope you’ll check back and continue to follow the threads…

the story of the tulipiere

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The story of the tulipiere starts with Tulipmania (1634-1637), when tulips were the new gold, costing a small fortune and bringing along with them high social status (Queen Mary II was a huge fan). It has been said (though there are some conflicting reports on this, but isn’t that the case with all good stories) that the potters and ceramicists of the day created the tulipieres so that the much coveted, outrageously expensive bulbs could be planted in the individual compartments of the vessel so as not to be disturbed or upstaged by any of the lesser flowers. Others say that the tulipiere was not made for growing but for displaying the freshly cut tulips in an artful and practical way (as you may know, tulip stems continue to grow even after they are cut and placed in water and begin to get a bit unruly, in which case the tulipiere keeps them in place). Whatever the case may be, the Dutch, of course, made them first out of their delftware and these are the ones we are probably most familiar with.

Meanwhile, the tulip has come down, you might say (all of us common folks can get them now in the grocery store). But the story of the tulipiere seems to be having a second act. They are back in the spotlight, having their moment in the spheres of interior decorating, antique collecting, and floral design. And modern day potters (like Frances Palmer and Matthew Solomon) are reinterpreting them in whimsical ways.

Edith Wharton’s elegant country style

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It was in a country setting that Edith Wharton hit her stride. True, she was in a failing marriage and not yet a famous author, but it was at her country estate, which she called The Mount, where she met the love of her life and where she became, not just a writer, but a successful novelist. Somehow during these years (1903-1908) of glory and gloom, she was essentially building two houses: one real, The Mount, and one imagined, The House of Mirth.

 

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When she began designing, decorating, and landscaping The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, she’d already co-authored a book, The Decoration of Houses (1897), about architecture and design with architect and friend Ogden Codman, Jr., so she knew exactly what she wanted (privacy, sweeping vistas, impressive gardens, European influences, and American touches, like green exterior shutters and green and white awnings).

She would not live there long, and she would have other homes, even another country home in France. Yet, one could argue that it was here where she began her singular and abiding devotion to creating—body and soul—a beautiful house and garden and a sense of place.

While living at The Mount, Wharton wrote: “Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth.”

peacocks and potted hydrangea

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This is what I would call an enchanting entrance, and it leads (so I am told) to an enchanting place. Who wouldn’t want to follow that dirt road?

Furlow Gatewood, in his late nineties now, was born and raised in Americus, Georgia and his cluster of houses, where he currently resides, are part of his families’ original property. There is a main barn, three houses, and several outbuildings and gardens. After some time in Manhattan and Savannah, Gatewood returned to Americus and began his work designing, decorating, and living here.

He is self-taught and often begins a project without planning but relies, he says, on his vision and instinct. His knowledge about architecture, design, and antiques (not to mention “the art of living”) is widely respected and sought after. Those who know him describe him as the quintessential Southern gentleman with an exquisite eye for what is beautiful and interesting to him. There is a touch of whimsy to his style that is utterly inimitable. (See one of his rooms in previous post here.)

What I admire so much about Furlow Gatewood’s philosophy is his unstudied, yet classical approach to outfitting a room, and his willingness to take small risks that seem to say: “Just don’t take it all too seriously.”