Saturday, May 30, 2009

Green Grows the City

We moved into our present home in December of 2007. Built in 1935, it's a style called Monterey Revival (50% Monterey Colonial/50% Colonial Revival), especially popular here in Los Angeles in the 1930's. 

I loved it on sight. It was a demure little house, full of airy rooms and a bearing a confidence that belied its bijou size. It was in perfect condition and full of original details and I instantly felt it was the sort of place a family such as mine should live in.

We embarked on a flurry of projects, the first of which was to add a brick wall surrounding the front of the house to create a private garden, where I could grow flowering privet, a teeny field of lavender and have a little green patch to call my own.
(March 2008)

Work moved fast. Two months later, the wall was up, the lampposts and wooden gate had been installed, the exterior was freshly painted and we had commenced work on the interior. At the time of this photo, landscaping had yet to be planted and the poor little house looks slightly embarrassed to be so exposed. Even now, I can hardly look at it without averting my eyes from its gleaming white nakedosity.
(May 2008)

What a difference a year makes. It's still a work in progress, but the ivy is flourishing, the privet hedge is straining to be seen and the climbing roses are making a run for the balcony. It's becoming clothed in a delightful, disorderly charm.
(May 2009)

Here's the laissez-faire glamour I'm going for, as evidenced by a past visit to Charleston House. 
(Charleston House, Lewes, East Sussex, England, 2007)

I still want to add some more flowering vines to the left side of the house (it's north-facing - any suggestions?) and continue wrapping my roses in a circle around the guest room window, and I must confess that knowing nothing about gardening or horticulture doesn't deter me in the slightest. I'll learn as I go. My gardening hero, Beverley Nichols, said it best:

The greatest service of the amateur in the art of gardening - or, indeed in any of the arts - is that he does things wrong, either from courage, obstinacy or sheer stupidity. He breaks rules right and left, planting things in the wrong soil at the wrong time of the year in the wrong aspect. And usually, we must admit, the result is disastrous. But not always.

Isn't that wonderful?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cover Girl

Once in a while, you find someone so talented it takes your breath away.  I recently stumbled onto a blog called My Book Covers, a compilation of jacket designs by Random House designer Megan Wilson. I was absolutely gobsmacked by her utterly arresting visual style and had to find out more about her ASAP.

When I contacted her about doing this post, she wrote, "I will be blushing madly if you go ahead with this." (Blush away, Megan.) 

A selection of her book jackets is below. To see her complete collection of covers, click here.

Away we go...

I adore the stark simplicity of these two covers. The triangular motif adds a sharp tension to the delicacy of the artwork. 
(Vintage Classics. Photograph by Katherine Wolkoff.)

(Vintage Classics. Painting by Philip Taaffe.)

What does she add to an unforgettable photo like this? Restraint. Result? Perfection.
(Vintage Books. Photograph by Slim Aarons.)

I own this Beaton book and totally admit that I bought this edition because of the cover. It was a win-win situation as I also fell for the man inside.
(Alfred A. Knopf. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.)

I love how Megan chose to abut the soft, muted portrait up against the dramatic black border. It gives the cover a slight sense of unreality (and if you've read the book, you know that's exactly what the story's about).
(Vintage Books. Painting by Meredith Frampton.)

These next two covers kill me with their elegant fragility, so appropriate for Forster's novels.
(Vintage Classics. Wallpaper design by C. F. A. Voysey.)

(Vintage Classics. Design for woven silk by Anna Maria Garthwaite.)

Her style is wide-ranging... 
(Anchor Books.)

...and not without wit.

Oh, Noel. You're in good hands.

This one I find haunting.

This one feels very "Mad Men." 

The pink here reminds me of a Laduree macaroon.
(Vintage Books. Photograph by Cecil Beaton.)

I own this book in its plain gray Persephone cover; when I saw this new edition a few months ago, I almost bought it again just for that portrait. The colors! (But I didn't. Did you read my last post?)
(Persephone Books, London. Painting by Sir James Gunn.)

Megan also has another blog called Ancient Industries, of which I'm a huge fan. If you don't know it, you are in for a treat. (And it appears that her online shop is nearly up. Yippee.) 

The book covers whetted my appetite, but I still hankered to know about the woman behind the designs. Fortunately, Megan agreed to give me a bit of dish. It follows.

Megan, can you tell us a little about yourself? Start from the beginning.

If I can talk in terms of pop culture, my father was Don Draper, a Madison Avenue ad exec in the early 1960's...
...and by the time my (identical) twin and I came along in 1965, my mother was stuck in the suburbs with four children, crashing her station wagon into trees with us kids rolling around in the back. We had an old English sheepdog and all sorts of long-haired animals and my mother had a pash for decorating (cue "Please Don't Eat The Daisies.")
This then evolved into "The Ice Storm"...
...and my mother, in a fit of pique, looked at the NY Times real estate section and found two houses for rent far, far away. One was in Seville, Spain; the other in a little village near Henley-on-Thames, England.

How fabulous! Which one did she choose?

Well, she decided that learning a new language on top of everything else might be the final straw so she chose England. Because it was 1972 and you could move to a foreign country with four kids in tow and no visible means of support, she did just that.

Where did you live?

We moved to Holland Park which was still very shabby and bohemian. The houses in our square were pink, purple, orange, lime green, several abandoned, some lived in by squatters. I have strong memories of the dark insides of these houses and their overgrown gardens.

At this point, the story becomes more like "Hideous Kinky"... my enterprising mother illegally sublet our house (with sheepdog thrown in) and took us off to Menorca, Spain for the entire summer, every summer. She was still young enough to enjoy herself, and we twins remember being dumped with strange non-English-speaking Catalans in the evenings, and hitchhiking to the beach during the day. 

Megan, that's quite an eccentric childhood!  I think you have enough material to fill up a book, not just the cover. Tell me some more. 

Well, my mother somehow managed to send us to quite posh schools (Putney High, followed by Godolphin and Latimer) all against the backdrop of imminent deportation and expulsion due to late fees. Occasionally, packages would arrive from Don Draper back in the States. Eventually, she managed to become much wealthier than my father by buying houses, getting them into glossy mags and then flogging them, but this was before the really big real estate money began. After that, I went to Chelsea, then St. Martins School of Art which was seriously good fun. The soundtrack to those days would be The Specials, The Smiths, Madonna and your friend Belinda.

And now you live in New York City.

After three years designing book covers -- my office was in the Michelin Building on Fulham Road (very nice) -- I came here to New York for two to five years...and that was back in 1991. Hence the constant harking back to England, where my twin still is as well as various family members. 

Any last words?

No, I don't draw the pictures (you'd be amazed how many people ask this) and yes, one should judge the book by its cover.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Art of Shrinkage

We are slowly, slowly emerging from an Age of Extravagance in which a relentless quest for status and perfection ruled supreme. 
(Las Vegas Strip, 2009)

McMansions. Hummers. "It" bags. Truffle burgers. Gold-flecked cocktails. Super-sized everything. Many of us lived beyond our means in one way or another. It was a glamorous rollercoaster ride and we rode it until it all came to a crashing halt.

And halt it did.

So here's what I've been wondering lately...

Can we learn to be happy with less?
(Monk making soup, Lhasa, Tibet, 2007)

Can we go back to keeping it simple?
(Grilled acorn squash, olive oil, salt. End of story.)

Can we remember to inhale the moment?
(My uncle Johan and aunt Kirsten, Norway, 2008)

Can we not be so hard on ourselves?
(Yosemite, 2008)

Can we honor the beauty of the ephemeral?
(Rishikesh, India, 2007)

Can we be happy in our skins?
(My dad, 77 years young, Alaska, 2006)

Can we teach our children to find pleasure in non-Wii-related pursuits?
(Luca's tower of fun, 2009)

Can we spend time together instead of money?
(Home, 2009)

Can we aim for one moment of joy in every day?
(Last day of school, 2008)

I'm ready to give it a try. Who's in?

(If you want to learn more about walking the walk, click HERE.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Color Update: Easy Paint Conversions

Color sleuthing is in the air, all right.  

Part One:
Yesterday I received a comment from Jason about my May 15th post. He stumbled upon a site that translates RGB hex colors (those cryptic numbers they give you on Colorhunter) into actual paint swatches from a huge list of companies like Benjamin Moore, Pratt and Lambert and countless more (although no Farrow and Ball...yet).

Here's how it works. 

 I used one of my Colorhunter-generated palettes as an example and entered the first color, #5C7C7C ...

...into the site's "HTML color here" box and selected "Benjamin Moore Color Preview" collection.
Here are the Benjamin Moore paints it gave me...
...along with their names: "Caribbean Teal; Aegean Teal; Charlotte Slate; Steep Cliff Gray."
Jason helpfully pointed out that the site also shows you how to check the color resolution on your monitor (a good idea to make sure you're not surprised when you go to the store for swatches.)

Part Two:
And then this morning I opened the New York Times Home section to discover a brand-new iPhone application that allows you to zoom in on a color in a photo you've taken and match it to a Benjamin Moore paint chip. 

(Courtesy of NY Times)

It's called "ColorCapture Ben" and will be available June 1st. Oh, and it's free.

Also, I have to thank ex-Domino editor Nick Olsen for mentioning me in his latest post on his fabulous new blog, "Nick's Dream House." This makes TWO design blogs for him (talk about time management!). If you don't know about his eponymous one, give yourself a chic style fix and click here now. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reflections of a 24-Hour Hermit

I did not receive visitors yesterday. 

On Saturday night, my son's elementary school held its annual fundraiser and I was one of the many foot soldiers who, over the past four months, helped bring the night to fruition. It was a success. But I woke up Sunday morning absolutely shattered. So I decided I needed to spend Monday on a self-imposed retreat.

After Luca left for school, the front gate was locked, the phone ringer was turned down and I put a temporary moratorium on the computer. The camera was allowed, for verification purposes only.

Here's what I did:

1. Sat in the refuge of my garden with with a Gulliver-sized teapot of Earl Grey beside me and sipped at leisure.

2. Finally finished Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols and Looking Back by Shusha Guppy.  (I had only a chapter or so to go on each.)

3. Flirted with beginning Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, Leonard Woolf's The Wise Virgins, Francoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse, and Green Grows the City by Beverley Nichols.

4. Toppled into bed at noon. 

5. Woke from a deep sleep at 1:30pm to the chirping of birds.

6. Made myself a great simple sandwich.  Roast turkey, Jarlsberg cheese, sprouted pea shoots and baby arugula on a buttered crown roll.

7. Discovered some forgotten chocolate in the kitchen pantry. Ate it.

8. Went on a trip through my bookshelves. Lost track of time.

9. Concocted an afternoon cocktail: iced Campari mixed with San Pellegrino Aranciata and a sprig of mint. For some reason, those ingredients brought Gore Vidal's home in Italy to mind, so I hereby dub it a "Ravello Restorative."

10. Cobbled together this post.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Art of Color, Demystified

Like most of you, my computer is chock-a-block with files of favorite images that I've culled from various websites. I turn to them whenever I need to be creatively galvanized, when I want to be reminded of the design elements I love or when I'm just craving a jolt of style. When it comes to colors, though, it can be a bit tricky to pull a specific shade or hue off the screen and onto a curtain, couch, wall or pillow. 

Until now.

That's because yesterday I stumbled upon Just upload an image onto their website and they instantly analyze it and break it down into its five most recognizable color components.  

Warning: Extreme caution must be used with this application if you are a design junkie. Addiction may rapidly occur and result in severe sleep loss, hunger, dehydration and cranky spouses.

Here are some color palettes I created when I should have been eating/sleeping/lavishing attention on my family.

("Farm at Watendlath", Dora Carrington, 1921)

(Illustration of Jackie Kennedy in Jaipur by Jacqueline Duheme)

(A tartan-clad, red-tressed Linda Evangelista )

(Ruthie Sommers home, courtesy of the late Domino)

(Morrissey and Edith Sitwell, from here)

Cool, huh? Colorhunter also offers a million color palettes you can search through by hue, category or even by typing in a hex color code (if you're thinking, "A what code?", click here). 

Try it. But clear your schedule first.


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