Friday, October 29, 2010


The other day, my friend Teri asked me if I'd seen Pilot Pen's new program that lets you write emails in your own handwriting.

"Whaaaa?" I sputtered. "How did I not know about this?" I raced to the computer and nearly hyperventilated when I saw the website. It's that cool.
(Pilot Handwriting screen grab)

Like most of you, my penmanship rarely gets a workout anymore. Honestly, I do lament this, but what can one do? I have boxes of gorgeous Smythson stationery which are used mainly for thank you notes these days, because let's face it: email has increasingly become the 21st century way.

But wouldn't it be odd and delightful to use your computer keyboard to reacquaint yourself with your handwriting?

Pilot's website has a chic little video that shows you how to do everything and in about five minutes, I was indeed "writing by hand on the computer."

You just print out their template, fill it in...

...upload it via your scanner, webcam or digital camera...

...and presto! The computer instantly processes it into your own personal typefont.

Here's the template I wrote and scanned onto my computer...

...and here's a sample letter that I typed out for you all.

I still have to figure out how to get my lowercase letters to connect, but all in all, it's pretty darn cool. I'm looking forward to writing some chatty emails to long-distance friends and having them take on a whole new dose of personality.

* * * * *

Postscript: And now moving from bespoke handwriting fonts to bespoke Halloween costumes...

This is what happens when you let your son watch "Project Runway" with you.
("Percy Jackson" gladiator breastplate. Sewn by me.
Conceived, designed and superintended by my son.)

After avidly watching the last two seasons of the Bravo show with my husband and me, Luca was horrified when he caught me trying to slip a boy's gladiator costume into my Amazon shopping cart.

Luca: Mom, no! That's totally lame. We have to make it from scratch.
Me: We do?
Luca: Percy Jackson would not wear a costume from Amazon.
Me: He wouldn't?
Luca: No. And that guy...whatshisname?
Me: Tim Gunn?
Luca: He would say to "Make It Work."
Me: He would?
Luca: (exasperated) Fine, I'll design it and you just sew it up.
Me: Oh, really?

You get the idea.

It actually worked out fine -- that is, after our little contretemps over the faux leather vs. real leather at the fabric store. (At $19/yard vs. $85/yard, the faux leather won, although it's still a sore point with him.) A little stitching (by me), a lot of micromanaging (by him), and he's been wearing it ever since.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Forget Diamonds, Give Me Chestnuts

It's true. In fact, I'm willing to go on record and state that I'd choose those glossy, burnished orbs over a colorless gemstone any day. (Note that last adjective. Rubies, emeralds and sapphires are exempt from this declaration.)
(Illustration by John Mille, 1779)

My ardor for chestnuts was stoked in England in the 1970's when my classmates and I would hunt for them in the dense copse behind our school. I remember them blanketing the ground in such abundance that we could hardly walk without stepping on one of their hard spiky shells. Greedily gathering up as many as we could hold, we would take them home, poke holes and thread a string through them and bring them back to to the playground the next day for fiercely competitive "conker" tournaments.
(Me with my siblings during the height of my chestnut obsession.
I'm second from right.)

Years later, I discovered the pleasures of eating them, either roasted on the streets of Manhattan or wrapped in gold foil from Clement Faugier, undisputed king of marron glacés (chestnuts candied in a vat of vanilla syrup and then glazed). My passion quietly intensified.
(Clement Faugier marrons glacés, the caviar of candy.)

I always dreamed that one day I'd have a chestnut tree to call my very own, but sadly, importing them is apparently against the law in California due to agricultural restrictions. (Every time I put one in my online shopping cart, a stern warning pops up).

So imagine my surprise when this past Saturday, I received a box in the mail from my former art director during my days as an NYC advertising copywriter. Despite distance and busy lives, Alex S. has remained a treasured friend, a 21st century aesthete (think David Niven meets Cecil Beaton) who lives and breathes a kind of classic style one rarely encounters these days.

The package was heavy and rattled alarmingly. Luca was convinced it was full of Legos.

Oh, it was a thousand times better than that.

* * * * *
Lisa and Family,

I remember you said you liked chestnuts -- Enjoy -- A bounty harvest from our beautiful 100-plus year old tree -- part of the original Auchincloss estate....

* * * * *

Can I even begin to tell you how touched I was? (Plus, how often does one receive chestnuts with a bloodline?) Inside the box were hundreds of them, painstakingly de-shelled by his children. I upended them into a glass bowl and thrust my hand deep into the container, rolling them between my fingers in such unhampered bliss that my son looked on open-mouthed.

Of course I immediately incorporated them into a "memory-scape" (what I'm calling a tablescape filled with meaning) for my dining room. Every time I look at them, I am transported to somewhere long ago and far away.
Seriously, instead of a cold, hard stone, wouldn't you rather have a bowlful of shiny, glossy conkering heroes?

Monday, October 25, 2010

And The Winner Is...

...contestant number 16.

Congratulations to "Laura"! Please email me your address and the couriers at Royal Apothic will have your gift in the mail posthaste. Thanks to all who entered -- the flurry of activity on this blog has been very exciting. In fact, Sean is so overwhelmed by all your lovely comments that he told me he's extending the 20% discount on Royal Apothic online until Friday. (Just type in "bloomsbury life" at checkout.)

* * * * *
Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Feast of Scents: Royal Apothic Giveaway

The email arrived out of the blue in March of 2009.

Hi There,

I am getting ready to launch a new home fragrance company. Would you mind if I used one of your pics of the London garden in a post on my blog? One of my fragrances captures the scent and the image is exactly what inspired me.

("A Cutting Garden", Luminarie candle)

Of course I said yes. And thus the foundation was laid for the beginning of a delightful friendship between Sean O'Mara, perfumer and founder of Royal Apothic, and me. We traded emails, we met for lunch and I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the tale of how his business was founded when the past reached out its dusty fingers to him...

"On a sabbatical in London, I came upon a book tucked high upon a shelf in a forgotten Notting Hill antique stall. This hidden treasure revealed itself to be an apothecary manual from the 18th century. Listed within its pages were the formulas of concoctions created for many of the great monarchies of Europe."

Is that like a plot point out of "Great Expectations" or what? As a former beauty industry veteran, Sean immediately grasped that his discovery was game-changing. Realizing he could tie his own expertise into the formulas, he returned to Los Angeles, began duplicating the fragrances listed in the manual and presto, Royal Apothic was born.
("Firewood" and "Black Walnut" extracts, The Extract Collection)

I knew the company was going to be a success as soon as I tested out the scents and candles that Sean gave me to try at lunch one day. (I wasn't alone. Just last month, Royal Apothic won Best of Show at the New York International Gift Fair.) From its launch last year, the line has now expanded to include interior scents, eau de parfum and single fragrance roll-on extracts (which you can mix and match to create your own bespoke scent).

Herewith, a few of my faves...

Distillation of: Edwardian Fireplace mingles white birch cinders, smoke plumes, clove and amber in a blend so redolent of a certain time and place that I swear I rushed to my bookcase in search of my battered copy of "Howard's End." According to Sean, this scent has become a cult fragrance and sells out immediately whenever it appears in stores.
("Edwardian Fireplace" Interior Perfume)

Although Sean's inspiration for the Violette Pastille single note extract comes from the candies his grandmother always used to carry in her purse, for me it brought a completely different Proustian flashback - that of a little troll doll with purple hair I had as a child in Sweden. The doll's hair was faintly scented with something that all these years I've never been able to pinpoint...until now. It was violet. Fresh, subtle and ever so slightly shy.
("Violette Pastille", "Green Tea" and "Hydrangea" extracts,
The Extracts Collection)

But it's Distillation of: Mulholland Drive that made a hero out of me. I placed it on the table in my foyer and when my husband came home from work, he said, "What is that? That's the best candle I've ever smelled."

When I told Sean that he managed to elicit a positive comment about a candle from a straight man (which must be some kind of record), he said it's because it exactly captures the scent of Los Angeles.

"I took a field trip to The Arboretum and asked the botanic experts which scents defined Los Angeles. They told me the Santa Ana winds come down from Santa Barbara carrying the scent of the ocean, pick up notes of eucalyptus as they wind their way through the forests, head downtown and then circle back to grab night-blooming jasmine from the hills. All these elements are in my candle."

The Royal Apothic Giveaway

Sean has offered one lucky reader of "A Bloomsbury Life" a set of four candles from his brand-new collection, available exclusively at Anthropologie.
The set includes one each of the following candles (pictured above; for more information, click on the links below):

- a fresh pick of orange tree blossoms, currants and rose leaves -

- gardenias, jasmine, lily and tuberose with a light base of fern -

- earthy, green, woodsy and fruity notes of fig -

- a seaside breeze of eucalyptus and night-blooming jasmine -

The winner will be announced on Monday, October 25th. To enter, just leave me a comment on this post (only one entry per person, please) by midnight October 24th and I'll use a random number generator to determine whose lucky day it's going to be.

Editor's Update:

Sean just emailed me that he's also giving a 20% discount on Royal Apothic online to all readers of this blog. Just type in "bloomsburylife" at checkout, and you're good to go. (The giveaway candles are exclusive to Anthropologie, but there are lots of amazing things to buy online, as you'll soon discover.) Thank you, Sean!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Catch Them If You Can

Lately I've been waking up in the dark of the night with a brain incubating with words. Half-formed rhymes dance tantalizingly overhead and threaten to fly away unless I commit them to immediate memory. For a few intense minutes, I attempt various mnemonic devices (Create an acronym! Build an association chain!) in the hope of staying in my warm bed, but eventually I shuffle off to my office and pit myself in a typing race to catch the winged little creatures before they fade to nothingness.

Here's a poem that came to me recently at 4am and was complete by the time the sun came up three hours later. I may embroider it for an upcoming project I'm thinking of doing on Hollywood - I like the idea of stitching words like "Balenciaga" and "Prius" and "ahi"; they are so redolent of our 21st century narrative.

* * * * *

In Search Of An Ending

She sat in the penthouse bar,
Stylishly wrapped against cold
A capelet adorning her shoulders
A vision for all to behold.

Lace adorning her torso,
(Zac Posen last season, on sale),
Her shoes, Louboutin, half off,
(Via Gilt Groupe's biweekly email).

Neiman's had sold her the handbag,
A Balenciaga, in black,
She felt ill when she thought of the price tag,
And was thinking of taking it back.

The credit card bills were mounting,
The lease on her Prius was due,
The rent on her studio had increased,
Her landlord was threatening to sue.

The bartender reached for her cocktail,
Warm from sitting so long,
She gave him a look, and he left it,
She needed it there to feel strong.

Her Hollywood dreams were still pending,
Auditions had not gone that well,
She had to curtail all the spending
Or it was back home to Tampa to dwell.

The business men wolfed down their ahi,
And knocked back their Grey Goose on ice,
And burped when they thought no one saw them,
And leered at her over their rice.

Her God-given red lips sighing,
She blinked, and surveying the room,
Shook off her creeping exhaustion,
And prayed luck would come to her soon.

(Photo credits: First image, me; second image here; fourth image here; fifth image here; sixth image via; last image, painting by Christian Schad, 1924)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

R & G Collective: It's A' Happenin'

Right now, in Brentwood, there is something very chic and buzzy going on that anyone with a love of design needs the immediate 411 on. It's a new pop-up shop called R & G Collective and it's my favorite place to hang out these days.
(All photos by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Hollywood art director and set designer -- and longtime friends -- Andrea Gibbin and Wendy Riva have spent the last few months amassing one-of-a-kind gems from their recent travels to Syria, Morocco and other far-flung destinations. Think of it as your very own global bazaar, no visa required.

To help them in their exciting new venture, Wendy and Andrea have joined forces with wunderkind LA designer Nathan Turner and NY's fabulous Eric Hughes. Here's a glimpse of one of the rooms Nathan and Eric put together last weekend. Burlap walls, Indian dhurrie rugs, vintage maps and an exciting mix of heirlooms and treasures. Doesn't it make you long to sit down with a cup of strong Kenya coffee and a copy of Osa Johnson's "I Married Adventure" ?

This store window effortlessly captures the global mix-and-match sensibility that I so admire. A room shouldn't shout, "Look at how much money I cost!", it should whisper, "Come sit down next to me and let's have a great conversation."
Yesterday when I stopped by, Nathan was there on a brief break from filming his upcoming Bravo reality show, "Million Dollar Decorator" which was shooting literally around the corner. (It premieres in January.) He is so funny and interesting and charming that I have no doubt the show is going to be huge.
Macie Sears, the very fun owner of the uberchic Sears Peyton Gallery, was also there, and I fell in love with this painting by Clay Wagstaff called "Contrail #2."

Everywhere you turn, you can't help but elicit an involuntary "OMG." In this corner, you can spot textiles from Syria, leather ottomans from Morocco and even a stool covered in Peter Dunham's "Ikat " fabric.

I can't stop thinking about this cute mosque alarm clock that Wendy and Andrea found in Aleppo. The entrancing call to prayer on it (surprisingly loud, perfect for heavy-sleepers) reminds me exactly of waking up in Marrakech.

Andrea and Wendy are planning upcoming trunk sales from Minnie Mortimer, Soledad Twombly (whose striped caftan can be seen on the right) and cult handbag designer Clare Vivier (that's her leather tote hanging off the bench).

Here's the deets:

R & G Collective
11981 San Vicente Boulevard, Brentwood (near Saltair Avenue)
Mon-Sat 11-4pm
Through October and November only

See you there!

* * * * *
Editor's Update: Ah, the never-ceasing miracles of the internet. Within an hour of posting this, I received an email from Marcos in Italy who works for Oficina Inglesa and recently travelled to Damascus on a furniture shopping expedition. He was blown away by the talent of the Syrian furniture artisans who sculpt "each tiny piece of mother of pearl to fit the hand-carved wooden spaces." Here's a link to his fascinating short little video.

My goodness, Marcos. It makes me appreciate the detail in a piece like this in a whole new way.
(Syrian mother of pearl dresser, R & G Collective)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Camping at the Kemps

When I was in London in August, we switched it up and stayed at the Knightsbridge Hotel, part of Tim and Kit Kemp's Firmdale Group (they own the Covent Garden Hotel and the newly opened Crosby Street Hotel in New York, among others). It's a stunner of a place, small, discreet and tucked into a leafy court just steps away from Harrod's. Designed by Kit Kemp in her signature English eccentric style, it was filled with so many inspiring details that the memory capacity of my Nikon SLR was sorely tested.

One detail that especially struck me was this lovely use of grosgrain ribbon to border the turquoise wallpaper in the hallways.
(Ribbon detail, Knightsbridge Hotel)

It's a great example of how a small detail can add textural finish to a pattern in the same way that contrast piping adds sharpness to a cushion.

Editor's Note: I had no idea this little detail had a name until I read a post on the impossibly erudite An Aesthete's Lament about Deborah Mitford's vicarage at Chatsworth. Aesthete writes:

"The fillet... in case you didn't know, is a narrow strip of fabric, metal, or gilded wood that outlines a room and its architectural features. It is especially useful when one wishes to provide detail without actual bulk, particularly when a room is, well, deficient in architectural charm.

One could also use grosgrain ribbon to similar effect."

Thank you, Aesthete, for bringing my discovery full circle.

* * * * *

Now back to The Knightsbridge. Seriously, it was so lovely that I wished we could just lounge there all day. The main sitting room off the lobby was decorated with the kind of soulful eclecticism that makes everyone sitting in it seem completely fascinating. I felt as though if I were to ask someone, "When do you next go to Cairo?" or "How is your novel coming along?" or "Is it true that your fall collection was inspired by traditional Hungarian costumes?" that I would definitely get answers.

Beyond the sitting room is an intimate library and it's here that we sat every morning and had a cup of coffee before venturing outside. I am completely in love with the color palette in this room. The muted greens, blues, reds and pinks harmonize wonderfully with each other and it somehow feels moody and cheerful at the same time.

Here's a close up of the fireplace fender upholstered in the same fabric as the club chairs. I love fireplace fenders and think somebody needs to start manufacturing them in the US for a reasonable price (not $4,000 which is how much all the UK ones I like seem to cost. Hello, anyone?) They can be classic or modern, can be upholstered in anything, take up no room and make great extra seating in a pinch.

And look over here. The library ladder is neon. It's these kind of tongue-in-cheek design touches that I love so much because they remind me that great style should be personal, witty and not overly serious.

While I was rhapsodizing over the decor, it was the Honesty Bar that my son absolutely could not get over. When I informed him that beyond it lay a room filled with snacks and drinks for guests of the hotel to enjoy, his eyes grew as big as saucers. "But wh-wh-why would they let us do that?" he stuttered. "Because the staff TRUSTS that you are going be HONEST and WRITE IT DOWN so they can CHARGE YOU LATER," I said.

Luca: Can I go in?
Me: All right.

After much deliberation, he selected an Orangina and a chocolate bar and wrote it carefully down in the hotel ledger in big capital letters. When he emerged, his bearing was more confident and he had a maturity about him that seemed born from newfound responsibility. Who would have thought that a room filled with bottled sodas would turn out to be a watershed moment for an eight-year-old?

* * * * *

I wish I had taken better photos of the room, but I didn't think about it until it was filled with all our things. It overlooked the little tree-lined court and had a fireplace and lovely ceiling-height windows. But what really blew me away were the closets and bathroom -- large, light and beautifully designed with every possible desire anticipated. As a thoughtful touch, there were two full-length lighted mirrors inside the closet doors so I could get a 360 degree view of exactly where all those scones I'd eaten had ended up. (Sadly, I kid only slightly.)


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