Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy. Holly. Daze.

The weather outside was delightful, if your taste runs to wet and wild.

But inside, it was cozier still.

In the parlour, there were wellies drying by a winter fire...

...and a hearth crackling with sweet-smelling logs of olive, almond and eucalyptus.

Breakfast was cooking on the Aga...

and a snug, warm corner yearned impatiently for someone to sink upon it...

...with a gripping read, a stack of paper-thin pancakes...

...and a steaming libation.

(Should tastes run a bit stronger, there were a myriad of concoctions waiting to be mixed, heated, jostled and stirred, depending on one's preferences.)

Of the two young creatures in the house, one was stirring...

...and the other -- who had earned some iPad time -- sat cross-legged in a joyous trance.

The rooms, though not overly large or grand, were full of calm and comfort.

And the lights, they twinkled.

I send all of you warm wishes for the merriest and most peaceful of holiday seasons and hopes for a prosperous 2011.

* * * * *

It is with a pang of regret that I must tell you I have decided to take a two-month sabbatical from this blog in order to explore some opportunities which have arisen; as much as I love to write "A Bloomsbury Life", there just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything. I shall miss your funny, wise comments and our wonderful dialogues about all and sundry. You have transformed my view of the world: it now feels to me like a great big rollicking dinner party welded together by friendship.

I hope to return to you in March refreshed, revitalized and ready to go full steam ahead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Best Of 2010

Christmas looms.
Are you ready?
I confess I'm still wrapping my head around it.
(Photo by Graeme Robertson)

Below, a highly personal list of the things that thrilled me, sated me and inspired me this year -- all still deliverable by Christmas if you act promptly. (Note: Links are in orange.)


The subtitle says it all: "How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc...and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place." Carter is a woman after my own heart -- I have long espoused a similar philosophy. This book (with its gorgeous photos and eclectic soulful homes) is visible proof that tidiness isn't always next to godliness.

Perceptively written by Ingrid Abramovitch, Editor-at-Large of Elle Decor, this is one of those design books you keep near you at all times because leafing through it never fails to instruct and inspire. Lavishly photographed, it's a must-have for anyone seeking to create a home steeped in character, comfort and style (whether it's a house in the city or an apartment in the country).

I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about colors, textures and patterns from the uber-decorators of our time and I wasn't disappointed. From Peter Dunham's cozy Hollywood home to Carolina Irving's Upper East Side aerie to Muriel Brandolini's New York brownstone, each home is a vibrant case study in personal style. Mixing styles from bohemian luxe to neo-traditional, each interior designer offers a revealing glimpse into what works and why.

Carlos Mota, ex-House and Garden editor, shows you how to use blooms from the local deli or garden to create your own couture masterpieces. Quick, simple and beautiful arrangements are easy to put together once you know Mota's secret tips and tricks.

Okay, I haven't read this book yet but I've been obsessed with it ever since The New York Times wrote about it last month (click HERE). Apparently, punch held quite a pedigree back in the 19th century. Who knows, maybe Charles Dickens' flaming punch will become the Cosmopolitan of 2011?

Whether you're a yoga aficionado or you have yet to sign up for your first class, this book by MacSweeney's/Vanity Fair contributor Neal Pollack is one man's very funny journey from "yet another doughy, 35ish white man with a goatee and thinning hair" to a leaner, calmer version of himself (albeit still a self-professed dorky one). He explores everything from kundalini to rockstar yoga to yogathons and corporate yoga and in spite of his confusion and skepticism, the deeper meaning of it all can't help but eventually take hold. I know Neal personally and I have to say, witnessing his physical and spiritual transformation has been nothing short of inspiring.

I have always wanted to feast on chef Skye Gyngell's cuisine at London's Petersham Nurseries, and this book has given me hope that I can do so from the comfort of my own kitchen. Filled with 16 of her most beloved foods, the book offers simple, creative recipes for seasonal eating that's heavy on flavor, not elaborate techniques. I want the Salad of Warm Torn Bread, Poached Egg, and Parmesan Dressing...and I want it now.

Gripping intrigue, nonstop action and brutal passion kept this book about 16th century antihero Thomas Cromwell in my hot little hands from the first page to the last. Hilary Mantel brings Tudor England kicking and screaming to life with her brilliantly atmospheric tale of Cromwell's rise to power in the court of King Henry VIII. It's been four months since I read it and I am still bewitched. Supposedly there's a sequel in the works and all I can say is if you know Hilary personally, don't disturb her.

Eccentric, scandalous and impossibly glamorous, the Marchesa Luisa Casati was the Isabella Blow of her time. Everywhere she went, she inspired and captivated; artists flocked to paint her, poets wrote about her and designers wanted to dress her. I'm fascinated with her metamorphosis from dutiful Italian girl to a flame-haired temptress who wore live snakes as necklaces. "I want to be a living work of art," she said. Mission accomplished.

Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter found love late, but once discovered, they held on tightly. "Must You Go?" is a portrait of their marriage as revealed through thirty-odd years of Antonia's diary entries and recollections and is a touching testament to the power of domestic happiness. Am reading it now. Don't want it to end.


Compiled from the illustrious sound archives of the British Library, this 3 CD set features rare clips from some of the world's most admired writers like Somerset Maugham, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Noel Coward, Rebecca West, P. G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf and many more (there are 30 tracks in all). I play it in my car when I'm busy doing errands and believe me, hearing Nancy Mitford's dulcet tones on my surround sound makes going on a grocery run seem a lot more civilized.

If you haven't seen the movie "Birth", Netflix it immediately. If you have seen the movie, then you're in a special little club with me because you know how incredible this score is by French composer Alexandre Desplat. Remember the film's opening scene in snowy Central Park? I must have listened to that song ("Prologue") a thousand times and I still can't get enough of it. Ethereal, dreamy and enigmatic, this album has a classic beauty that stays -and stays - and stays with you. (Note: It's not a new soundtrack, but it was new to me this year.)

My husband Piero and I listened to this on a drive up to San Francisco a few weeks ago and it's the only time I've ever not complained about spending six hours on the I-5. I actually couldn't wait to get back in the car on Sunday for the return trip home. Keith's tales of sex, drugs, rock and roll will keep your mouth hanging open and Johnny Depp's velvety tones add a sly drollery that make his portion of the narration very, very funny.


A friend of mine gave me this linen tea chest a few years ago and I had such fun working my way through the enticing (and generous) variety of teas inside. For the longest time, they were out of stock, but no more. And they've reissued it in red just in time for the holidays.

This delicate pink-wrapped libation has been making frequent appearances at The Kenmore Arms lately. It's festive, it's light and it's perfect for dinner parties or just sitting down to watch new episodes of "House Hunters International" (is anyone as obsessed as my husband and I are with that show?).

Add one of these edible hibiscus flowers to a glass of sparkling wine or champagne and watch as it unfolds its crimson glory. It's been quite a hit with our friends, especially as the flower tastes not unlike red licorice.

I had a champagne cocktail at the Tower Bar recently and the drop of bitters the bartender added to it had the most seductive scent of cardamom. My search for a similar tincture resulted in the discovery of this handmade line of organic bitters devised from old world recipes. Flavors include lavender, chocolate, orange and celery...and yes, cardamom.


1-14 February, 2011

If your pockets are slightly deeper, then I can't imagine a more transformative adventure for the spirit than discovering Mother India with celebrated "Slow Love" author Dominique Browning. I've been fortunate enough to visit India twice and I still think about it every day. I've also been fortunate enough to meet Dominique recently at a book signing and she was just as warm, gracious and funny as I hoped she would be. The combination of these two forces sounds pretty life-changing, don't you think?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Desperately Seeking Style

Chedva over at Bellys Button asked me to participate in her great "Outfit with a Past" weekly feature. Of course I said yes; my closet is filled with items that have memories clinging to them. Sure, I could have chosen something a little less embarrassing. But I didn't.

Click HERE.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Passion to Inspire: Miguel Flores-Vianna

There are some people who just have a genetic flair for the art of living well.
Miguel Flores-Vianna is one of them.

A former editor-turned-photographer (not to mention artist/global nomad/bon viveur), Miguel embraces life with an ardor that spills over into every corner of his existence.
(Photograph courtesy of Miguel Flores-Vianna)

Trust me, you know Miguel's work -- it's been featured everywhere from World of Interiors, Elle Decor, C, Domino, House & Garden and countless others. His warm, vibrant photographs exude the kind of seductive beauty that makes you wish you could crawl inside them.

(Above two photos via Miguel's website)

Take the one below, for example. Deceptively simple at first, gaze at it for a moment and the emotional tension created by all those contrasting motifs practically explodes: Ephemerality versus permanence. Man versus nature. Remembrance of times past versus the fathomlessness of the universe. It almost makes me weepy.
("Kardamily" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

Recently, Miguel alerted me to the fact that he's having a One Kings Lane Tastemaker's Tag Sale on Tuesday, December 7th at 6pm PST. (Lucky, lucky us.)

As he told me, "It's a very personal sale of my photographs, art, furniture, fabrics, china and travel mementoes. All of the items were at some point part of my homes or were bought with a specific project or place in mind. I always welcome certain changes in my life; therefore, when OKL asked me to participate, it felt right to put some things up for sale."

Despite his hectic schedule (he was en route to the airport), Miguel was kind enough to answer a few questions I put to him. I've interspersed them with some of the items that will be available to purchase on Tuesday. Enjoy.

What inspires you?
People and travel inspire me the most.

(Vintage Greek royal flag, $199)

(Louis XVI style chair upholstered in brown and white stripe, $629)

What color palette are you continually drawn to?
Color preferences tend to depend on my mood and yet there are certain colors which have stayed with me forever. I always and only wear orange socks. My favorite shirts (of which I have countless) are in blue-and-white striped fabrics. I marvel at the beauty of faded red velvets and of course I love "l'heure bleue", that magic moment at the end of the day when the light is almost gone and night is around the corner.

("Piamonte" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

Who are your style icons?
I don't have style icons and yet I am so inspired by the life of the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, traveller, war hero, sportsman, architect and erudite - and of course amazing - writer.

("Siracusa" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

Where is your favorite vacation spot on earth?
Although I have been to all the oceans and continents of the world, it is the Middle Sea, the Mediterranean, that represents for me the ideal summer vacation. That mixture of azure waters and dry rocky coasts enhanced by gnarled vegetation, the fragrance of honey and pine and the amazing presence of rich cultures and old histories is my idea of paradise. The sounds of cicadas by the sea, whether in Greece, Italy, Spain or Turkey, is the most beautiful music I could ever expect to hear.

("Alessandro, Lulu and I/Home" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

How do you relax at the end of the day?
I like baroque music a lot - Ignaz von Biber, for example - and ideally it is snowing outside and there is that gentle quietness of snow, soft and crunchy and mysterious, and maybe it is past midnight, the perfect time to have some tea sweetened with fruit preserves, to give it the scent of past summers. This is the time to remember the color of someone's eyes, to hear the gentle snores of the dogs one loves and to dream about the next mountain to conquer.

("Bed/Home" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

What do you serve when friends are coming to dinner?
I grew up in Argentina - so much red meat, I rebelled against it! To this day, in these complex times, I still think that roast chicken is heaven.

("Lars Table" photograph, 24" x 24", $699)

Is there a novel that changed your life?

I am not totally convinced that a book could change my life. But the sum of a few have given me a sense of direction...

As a child, my mother read a lot of Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm to me.

My adolescence was peopled by the romantic visions of Alexandre Dumas and the wild Norse myths.

In my twenties, there was only "The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles.

My thirties were consumed by the Russia I saw in "Anna Karenina" - it made me appreciate anything that was produced by that amazing country in the 19th century and introduced me to Napoleon who, through further reading, became so much more real and human and interesting.

Now, in my forties, I have finally given in to biography and Patrick Leigh Fermor has become my blazing star.

(Turkish dervish dancers, set of two, $159)

(Pair of marbleized plates handmade by Miguel Flores-Vianna, $89)

(Watercolor by Yuri Suzuki, $769)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
These days I am at my happiest when I am with Daisy and Nacho, the two - to me - most lovable Labradors in the world.

Last question. An easy way to make life more glamorous is...?
Humility is the sign of true glamour.

("Mama" photograph, 12 x 12, $399)


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