gracious rooms

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Barbara Westbrook’s rooms aren’t all in the country, but her way of decorating a house has roots in the countryside of Virginia, where her grandparents had a farmhouse that she loved and remembers fondly—and these memories infuse her work. I stumbled upon her book Gracious Rooms at my local library (I love when this happens, when I’m not looking for anything in particular, and something beautiful appears). I’m always on the lookout for unexpected ways that elegant country style is expressed. Continue reading “gracious rooms”

a mantel vignette

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The mantel, as we know, is the perfect place for a still life vignette because the fireplace is often the focal point in a room (especially in a country house), and because most mantels are shelf-like, with space (but not too, too much space, for vignettes should be smallish things) to create an artful display of objects.

(And there is indeed an art to the vignette, which I find fascinating because they might be formal or casual, and they might be short-lived or permanent, and they tell a little story of the house, and I will be exploring them much more in future posts.)

Interior designer Justin Bishop’s American country vignette in black on this bright white mantel is thoughtfully balanced and interesting (if not whimsical, then certainly curious with the dangling leg of the figurine, the top hat echoed in the antique print hanging above, the shadowy hound, and the small American flag, a trinket). There is a silhouette quality at play here that takes us back in time, but instead of being stale is crisp and fresh. And like a good vignette should, it makes me wonder: what will come next?

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.

an elegant butler’s pantry

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Historically, a butler’s pantry was a transitional space between the main kitchen and the dining room where the last minute preparations before service of the meal took place (because those dining were not to be exposed to the messiness of the kitchen), in a house, or estate, wealthy enough to have a butler, and therefore this luxuriance.

These rooms and this concept have gone out of style. We are more likely to have open kitchens and great rooms in our homes today. But there is something lovely and romantic about this butler’s pantry above with its double arches and blue and white mural and the ceiling-high plate rack and charming collection of delft wall sconces. For those of us who favor smaller rooms and spaces with distinct boundaries and who have a fondness for old-fashioned, out-of-style notions, why not embrace the idea of a butler’s pantry, with or without the butler.

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.”

a Vuillard vignette

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Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) focused on domestic, everyday objects and moments in many of his paintings. I love his use of patterns and fabric (his mother was a dressmaker), and here, the rough brown sack hanging against the delicate floral print, roses, lace tablecloth, and simple candlestick. With Vuillard, it’s always as if someone has just left the room.