Thursday, October 29, 2009

Embroidery: Purly Wurly Takes a Picture

("Purly Wurly Takes a Picture", 1998,
embroidery floss on linen, 11 inches by 16 inches)
*click to enlarge*

The above embroidery was sewn over a three month period in the late 1990's when Piero and I were living in London. It was a heady time. Tony Blair was riding the wave of "Cool Britannia", a pickled shark had the art world agog, and the bands Piero worked with (Radiohead, Blur, The Verve) ruled the airwaves. On October 3rd we were married in a quickie 15-minute ceremony at the Chelsea Registry Office. When the book was placed in front of me to sign, I was a bit taken aback to see the word "Spinster" emblazoned in huge writing next to my name. Evidently, holding off until the age of 32 to get hitched had consigned me to that rather mortifying appellation. Piero of course had a sexy hand-written "Bachelor" next to his name.

One weekend we were invited by some friends to spend a few days at an ancient manor house in Scotland with a gaggle of their acquaintances. (If you read this blog, you'll know I'm referring to Gargunnock House.) It was our first time meeting most of the other people and you know me, I'm always up for an impromptu adventure. Our fellow houseguests included a Brazilian backup dancer for the Pet Shop Boys and his saintly boyfriend (appropriately named Angel); two PR women from Piero's office at EMI Records; a glamorous vermillion-haired DJ named Princess Julia and her semi-brutish boyfriend (seen at front left of the embroidery) who fought constantly; and a celebrated makeup artist named Purly Wurly who spent the entire time looking for her drug buddy Leonard (the one in the camouflage shirt) who had set up shop in one of the spare bedrooms.

During the dinner pictured above, the feast Piero cooked remained largely uneaten and various people kept disappearing only to return minutes later with a sudden case of the sniffles. Despite the occasional drama, it was a rollicking, laugh-laden weekend, complete with midnight wellie walks, candlelit games of sardines and an actual costume ball. A few weeks after our stay there, I heard that Princess Julia cut up all her boyfriend's clothes and tossed them out the window of her Clerkenwell flat. And sadly, Purly Wurly never overcame her battle with substance abuse. She died a few years after this piece was completed. I look at it now as a woven snapshot of a highly colorful moment in time, when life felt unrestrained and some of us were either unafraid or unconscious of how our actions would affect our futures.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thank You, C Magazine

I am chuffed to announce that this month's issue of C Magazine has a little article on yours truly in it (page 66). But equally as exciting as seeing my name in print was the fact that best-selling author/editor/bonne vivante Diane Dorrans Saeks penned the piece, and so I had a few phone conversations with her. If her name sounds familiar, it's because you totally know her. She's written dozens of books. Perhaps some of these look familiar:

Michael S. Smith: Elements of Style

Santa Barbara Living

Paris Style

Orlando Diaz-Azcuy

Interiéurs de la côte

Hollywood Style

(I know. Not too shabby, huh?)

Anyway, I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet her through this blog. The woman is remarkable. My conversations with her lasted for hours...not because we were talking about me but because I became so enthralled with her life I couldn't stop asking questions about her! She's lived all over the globe, has read every book ever written and is chic beyond all comprehension. She's so old-school cool that this impromptu paean to her will undoubtedly alarm her, but no matter. She's just going to have to deal with the admiration.
(Diane Dorrans Saeks)

Her blog The Style Saloniste has become one of my favorites because of all the first-hand stories and insider glimpses she reveals about her glamorous, design-filled life. She doesn't just merely discuss Picasso...oh no. She shows you personal photos from when she visited his house in Provence.
(Photograph courtesy of The Style Saloniste)

And when writing about Axel Vervoordt, she doesn't resort to source material. Pshaw. She flies to his castle, interviews the man and cajoles him into getting on his horse so she can snap an impromptu photo.

I know.
Just click over there now and we'll convene for kvelling later.

Decor Detective: Guess The Homeowner

Yesterday I received an email from a reader named Brenda alerting me to this Montauk property recently mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.

The oceanfront parcel spans six acres and is currently for sale in the mid-twenty millions, although other offers may be tendered (in case you're interested).

But what I would like to know is, can you use your sleuthing powers to investigate the following photos and determine its celebrated owner? (Hint: it's a man.)

I'll stay by your side during your Sherlockian journey to make sure you don't veer too far off the beaten path.


The property consists of five ramshackle cottages strewn amid fields of untamed brush and wild grasslands. There was a main house once, but it burned down in 1979 and was never rebuilt. It's charming, but certainly not in any way ostentatious. So I think we can safely cross Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld and Andre Leon Talley off the list of possibilities, don't you?
(Two of the guest cottages)

Here's one of the guest cottages. So pretty. But don't let its bucolic beauty fool you. In the 1970's, this property was known more for being a sybaritic epicenter of cool than for being a Emersonian refuge. Every A-lister of the era partied here.

Here's the interior of one of the cottages. Setting aside the fact that it feels completely Bloomsburyish, what grabs your attention? Look at the furnishings. They're a mixture of antiques and well-worn classics. If I was to translate these attributes to a person, I might envision someone with good bone structure, craggy skin and beaten-up khakis. The owner also harbors a definite fondness for ethnic textiles, I would say. And the room manifests an undeniable confidence that may well indicate a fearless approach to life.

In the photo below, I spy an animal skull, global relics, more artful clutter and more drawings featuring wildlife. And is that a bottle of red paint on the wooden tray? The vase of humble wildflowers could reveal a passion for nature, as opposed to hothouses.

This next photo doesn't show much, but the vibe is definitely sexy, moody and mysterious and you know what they say: si monumentum requiris, circumspice (If you want to know me, look around).

Any guesses yet? If you know the answer already, skip to the comments section. If not, here's another photograph (and clue). The owner allows indigenous wildlife to roam free on his property, not surprising considering his profession.
Most of you are frantically raising your hands now, right?

For those who are still in the dark, this is the absolute last clue. When his biography is written, this titled sylph will feature in it.

Come now, what say you?

Answer to be posted tomorrow.

(Update: I shamefully confess that I woefully underestimated you people. You're a big pack of culturehounds, you are. As everyone guessed from the comments, the owner is Peter Beard. My next "Guess the Owner" quiz will have to be much, much more obscure to have any chance at all of stumping the rarefied likes of you.)

(All photos via here.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Giddiness Of Indecision

Sometimes the most memorable adventures arise from not knowing where to turn first. More often than not, this exciting quandary arises when travelling:

"Should we take this treasure-laden passageway in the souk or that other one?"

"Should we keep driving south to San Gimignano or scrap it and head for the Dolomites?"

"Should we be safe and order the chicken kebabs or live on the edge and brave the sheep intestines? After all, when in Istanbul..."

But on the home front, the thrills of equivocation can also loom large, especially when faced with a glossy stack of brand new, untouched, waiting-to-be-pored-over monthlies.
(Sunday lunch, The Kenmore Arms)

Piero and Luca were off doing something testosteroney, the house was quiet and I found myself craving a pulse-quickening dose of paper. I fixed myself my new favorite lunch (wok-sauteéd sugar snap peas with hoisin, grilled chicken burger topped with peanut satay sauce -- cooking time twelve minutes start to finish, including cleaning the pans), I fanned out the magazines and while I ate, deliberated with no inconsiderable gravitas over which one to open first. Each promised lush locales, stylish adventures and a rich reservoir of inspiration.

Would I plunder The World of Interiors and lose myself in some Austrian nobleman's castle retreat? Or leaf through Vogue or W and live vicariously through some indie designer's Corsican getaway? Or drool over Gourmet's Old Master-like spreads of cuisine as fine art?

There were no wrong answers because, just as in travelling, all paths lead to knowledge.

Who says domesticity doesn't still provide the occasional adrenaline rush of blood to the head?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tulu: Too Too Fabulous

At my monthly girls' dinner on Tuesday night, my fabulous friend Clare leant in toward me with a cryptic smile. "Tulu," she whispered provocatively. "Too what?" I replied. "Tulu. Check it out. It's this amazing textile company run by an American woman living in Istanbul. You'll kind of freak."

She was right.

What John Robshaw is to India, Elizabeth Hewitt is to Turkey. Talk about an exotic story: Married to a Turk, she's been living in Istanbul for the last five years and has parlayed her background in design and antiques into starting a company that creates original hand-printed textiles, bedding and pillows inspired by motifs from the past. I screen-grabbed some of her gorgeous photos so we could all ooh and aah together.

Refill coffee/cocoa/Campari now. I'll wait.


Let's parse.

This entire bedroom works for me. That black wooden headboard is pretty incredible, methinks. It adds a sexy (choose one) Anglo-Indian/Goth/Edwardian/Ottoman Empire vibe to the space that contrasts brilliantly with the beguiling femininity of the bedding. And those Venetian mirrors on the back wall fuel the exotic tension that is rampant in that room already. It's all very "Wilder Shores of Love."

These pillows below are achingly lovely, especially set against that black inlaid mosaic piece. This is a great example of how two completely disparate patterns working together can create a "gestalt" in which the sum is greater than the individual parts, and it's a good mental reminder that soft, muted hues + ornate black accents = Fresh and Modern in 2009. (Whew. Long sentence.)

I'm on a temporary spending freeze due to my spree at the Hollywood at Home and Lucas Studio sale last week, but these gilty (guilty?) pillows have me hankering to click on Tulu's stockist locations.
But umm, can we just talk about that insane antique brass tabletop for a second? I want to buy it and sit on the floor surrounded by Turkish cushions and sip mint tea out of a delicate cup. Of course, in reality, it would become a repository for my son's collection of Lego. No biggie. Disorder = charm = life, right?

Here's a lovely selection of her more ethnic-inspired pillows. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I think those little circles are mirrored.

In case you haven't completely succumbed to her vision, here's Elizabeth's utterly charming company philosophy:

Tulu is cabbages, lotuses, tin cans, turquoise tiles, tulips, alvin ailey,
harold melvin, grandmother's curtains, dusty uzbeks on horses,
pasha's daughters in kandilli, mahatma spinning his khadi, mafouz...

I strongly recommend that should you be in the vicinity of Istanbul, you hop on this...

...and head here.
(All images via Tulu's website)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Strangers At My Table

The plan was simple. Dinner for six at our house on Saturday. The menu was set, the flowers were in full bloom and the fridge was stocked with ingredients. Then, that day, an unexpected illness created two empty seats at the table. We were down to four.

I called my neighbor two doors down to invite her and her husband over last-minute, but as fate would have it, they were throwing a dinner party as well.

Suddenly, an impulsive notion hit me. What if we combined our friends and our food and had a spontaneous communal dinner party at our house? They and their guests could dine here and then afterwards, we could repair to their home for al fresco dessert in their sumptuous garden.

My neighbors, being good-natured and fun-loving souls, agreed. Plan B was a go. In three hours, eight people -- four of them total strangers -- would be at our doorstep. As I hung up the phone, a brief twinge of panic coursed through me. Would this really work?

The Divine Italian was galvanized into action. From the kitchen, I heard the opening strains of a culinary orchestra. A lush cacophony of chopping, slicing, dicing, blending, pulsing and grinding filled the air.

I added four more place settings to the table and sent out an urgent bulletin to every chair in the house that I was calling them in for immediate conscription.

Extra champagne glasses were set out, a doppelganger hors d'oeuvres tray was assembled and the house was subjected to an intense primping session.

I had just applied a last lashing of lipstick when, suddenly, the brass bird knocker announced our guests had arrived.

As soon as I opened the door and saw the smiling faces on my doorstep, I knew that this would be a night to remember. The spontaneous nature of the evening had us all in a state of heightened excitement. We ate, we drank, we chattered, we laughed and we toasted to strangers becoming fabulous new friends.

Our menu:

Sweet pea soup with mint and creme fraiche

Main courses:
Filet of halibut with salsa verde
Beef tenderloin with carmelized onions

Microgreen salad
Sauteed stringbeans
Roasted acorn squash and new potatoes

Toward the end of the meal, I finally remembered to take a photo for posterity.

Afterwards, we hiked one hundred feet to the next house, sat outside in a sexy Shangri-La of a garden, feasted on an extravaganza of marzipan cake with raspberries and a whipped cream and fresh fruit tart straight from heaven, and lost ourselves in wee hour conviviality.

Oddly enough, feeling slightly on the delicate side this morning. I'm chalking it up to lack of sleep (because it couldn't possibly have been the Prosecco. Or the wine. Or my neighbor's legendary pomegranate martini.) I'm craving something fresh and straight-from-the-fields and check the fridge for some of the pea soup from last night, but it's all gone. In a massively kind act, Piero whips me up a fresh batch from scratch.
That, coupled with "Widow Barnaby" by Mrs. Fanny Trollope (funny! divine! j'adore!), comprises my recipe for a night and a day well-lived.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Old Masters at A New (Low) Price

I just can't let the weekend go by without letting you know that Dutch Touch, the company that offers exquisite hand-painted reproductions of Old Master paintings, is having a two day sale over on One Kings Lane. They sell their works through Ames Ingham here in LA and I can tell you, having been to the shop, that the paintings are absolutely breathtaking; in fact, I bought this little piece last year.

("Still Life with Red Box")

This is not one of those companies that paint by numbers and sell en masse in airport hotels. Everything from the careful attention to texture, detail and lighting to the lush color palettes makes makes these works of art almost undetectable from the real thing. (I know, I know, it's heresy to even think that, but it's kind of true.)

One Kings Lane is pretty fabulous, too. They offer two day sales events with top-notch homewares companies like George Smith, Chelsea Textiles and John Derian and the discounts are always huge. You have to go through the rigamarole of becoming a member, but it's free and really only takes a minute.

Here are a few screen grabs from Dutch Touch's website so you can get a sense of their insane style and sophistication. And it's David Netto-approved, which is always a good thing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

W Magazine, Part Five (The Finale)

A sincere thank you to everyone who has been reading my guest blogging posts for W magazine. They've asked me to come back in January for another gig and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Today's theme is all about wanderlust, a word so evocative of its meaning that, in my experience, it has been known to bring about the inescapable impulse to travel merely by uttering it aloud. Use it carefully.

Click HERE and have brilliant weekends, everyone.

(from "British Watercolors of the Eastern Mediterranean",
currently on display at the Huntington Library)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

W Magazine, Part Four

I've long dreamt of owning a bag that evokes animals in Old Master paintings and lately it's been haunting my waking thoughts too.
(Follower of Marmaduke Craddock, c.1660-1717)

I don't know why this is. Maybe because in these uncertain times, the idea of walking around with a bit of art history slung across my body seems strangely grounding. Or maybe because anything old and curious feels very modern right now. (That whole quasi-Edwardian, New Antiquarian thing.) Or maybe it's just because pets have been proven to keep your stress level down.
(W.E. Turner, c. 1870)

Whatever the reasons, I've recently discovered some bags that afflict me with a glassy gaze and labored a good way.
They're hand-stitched, made from distressed, overdyed leather and recycled materials and somehow manage to be rough and delicate at the same time, which is an instant sell to me as I devoutly believe that great style is all about oxymorons. (Terrible beauty, ornate monasticism, rough-hewn lushness and all that.)
To discover the designer, click HERE and scroll down.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Marriage of Art and Nature

This past weekend, I flew to Michigan for my brother's wedding. The ceremony took place at Cranbrook House and Gardens, part of a 319-acre National Historic Landmark campus which includes three schools, two museums, a church and an academy of art. It's one of my favorite places on earth.

(Courtyard of Cranbrook House.
The Little Prince and I are next to the car.)

Designed for George Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth in 1908 by architect Albert Kahn, the house is a glorious example of English Arts and Crafts style.
(The house in 1925)

But even more than the house, it is the gardens which absolutely transport me. Everywhere you turn, there is a hidden corner aching to be photographed...

...a lush fountain nestled in a copse of forest...

...or a crumbling urn marking the way to a secret lawn.

And everywhere, everywhere, art sheathed in the unruliness of nature.

We still have a few minutes before we have to take our seats. Let's pass through this archway at the side of the house. See that black railing on the right? We're going down there.

That path is so calling out to us.

Look, a sunken garden. Despite being in the throes of decay and dormancy, it's still captivating. I'd like to get a closer look at that crest, though.

From this angle, it's getting harder and harder to believe I'm not in England.

And look over to the right: a little gardener's cottage straight from the novels of (take your pick) Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell or Anthony Trollope.

I think I need to sit down for a moment.
Would you look at those stunning casement windows? Why, oh why, do so many people in period houses replace them with the vacuous deadpan stares of plate glass? To me, gazing out through a framed vista is so much more pleasing.

(Lest you assume -- as I did -- that they don't make flat iron casement windows anymore, I found this one after an exhaustive ten second search.)
(via here)

Come on, one last adventure. Let's walk up the steps and take a look at that stone fountain in the distance.

Am I alone or does anyone else think that the discoloration on it adds to its charm? It gives it a well-earned patina that heralds the years of service those two muscular gentleman have provided. And do you see that bust of Zeus in the background?

Here's a little secret: Stand on a certain brick at its base and you trigger a secret mechanism that makes it "cry."
(Thanks to Amy B. for this photo)

How do I know this? Because I spent many preteen summers attending theater school at Cranbrook and am well-acquainted with this fellow. On performance nights, my friends and I would lead unsuspecting guests along a dark trail to Weeping Zeus. After uttering an incantation, we would surreptitiously press the lever and completely unnerve them. Oh, the glorious gullibility of young minds.

According to the Cranbrook website, no less than The New York Times Magazine called it "the most enchanted and enchanting setting in America."
I can't disagree.


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