Monday, May 30, 2011

Adventures in Lecturedom, Part Two

I stood nervously before the podium.
The audience was silent, waiting.
The moment had arrived.

Breathe, Lisa, breathe.

I smiled, took a deep breath and began to speak.

When I think about living meaningfully, I think about all the books I've read and how they've taught me facts and concepts and taken me to the furthest reaches of the globe -- YES -- but how they have also shaped me on a fundamental domestic level. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that more than any other factor, my life is what it is today because of the books I have loved.

* * * * *

Sometimes the most wonderful things happen when you do exactly what you are most afraid to do.

I said yes to speaking at the Mercantile Library because I knew that passing up an honor like that would have haunted me forever. Sure, I was a little (okay, a lot) hesitant about speaking in public -- but who isn't? Was I really going to claim that as an excuse for not sharing my passion for books and design with a larger audience? For turning down an opportunity that -- for all I knew -- could be life-changing?

* * * * *

When I read a novel, I think of myself as a domestic explorer, always on the lookout for clues on how to live a more simple, meaningful life. John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" and in stories, it's what happens in between the plot points that really pulls me in. The beautiful moments, the tiny details -- the passage where the characters have an impromptu tea party on a blanket in the garden -- those are the images I find myself seeking to recreate in my life.

* * * * *

I realized this invitation had provided me with an opportunity to decide -- once and for all --exactly what kind of person I wanted to be. Someone whose tombstone would read, "She almost had the nerve"?

Or someone who -- like all of the Victorian adventuresses I so admired (Jane Digby, Isabelle Eberhardt, Aimee Crocker) -- would say "Yes" to the unknown?

I thought about Thoreau's famous quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

A tiny voice materialized in my head, gradually becoming more and more insistent.

"If not now, when?"

Exactly right, I thought.

If not now, WHEN?

* * * * *

My life is what it is because of the books I have loved. Thanks to "Tender is the Night", I know how to throw a magical outdoor dinner party.

Thanks to "The Pickwick Papers", I know how to make a house feel snug and warm and welcoming.

Thanks to "I Capture the Castle", I know that there is sometimes more glamour in disorder than in order.

And thanks to "Brideshead Revisited", I know that even if you live in one of England's grandest estates, sometimes the only place you want to be is up in Nanny Hawkins' cozy little attic room, sipping tea while she sews.

* * * * *

When I finally sat down and began to write my speech, I pored through my favorite novels, sifted through stacks of old photos and thought about all the ways in which books had been a powerful influence on my dreams and on my life.

It was a joy.

And a funny thing happened: The more emotionally invested I became in my speech, the more my fear of giving it began to fade. All I cared about now was inspiring my audience -- moving them and making them think and laugh and leave with their heads full of images. One woman, they told me, was driving all the way from Iowa to see me. I desperately wanted her trip to be worthwhile.

Is that the key to courage? Thinking about other people?

* * * * *

Everything I've talked about tonight can be reduced to two things: books and dreams.

When you go home tonight, I want you to think about all the books you've read over the course of your life. What details in them -- what styles, what time periods, what rituals, what moods, what colors -- move you the most? Which ones best reflect your personality and passions? What would your Charleston House look like?

* * * * *

At 7pm on May 16th in Cincinnati, I discovered something truly shocking about myself: I like giving speeches. All those years of anxiety were so silly and misplaced...and a colossal waste of time. The truth is, it was a huge privilege to stand there and share my passions with a roomful of like-minded souls. For one hour, we shared a journey, beginning as strangers and departing as friends. And every murmur, every laugh and every nod of recognition touched me deeply, deeply.

And so here's my question to you:

Is there anything in your life that you have been resisting? Anything you are afraid of trying? Anything that has become a stumbling block to your happiness?

Take it from someone who said "yes" to all of these and lived to tell:

If not now, WHEN?


Oh, and if you know of an organization/association that would be interested in having me come and speak, email me. I'm ready.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Adventures in Lecturedom, Part One

I think I left my heart in Cincinnati.

From the moment I walked up the steps of the Cincinnati Hilton (née the Netherland Plaza Hotel), I knew this would be no ordinary adventure.

Would you feast your eyes on this lobby?

A quick Google search revealed that the 1931 building is among the finest surviving examples of French Art Deco -- Brazilian rosewood panelling, silver-nickel light fixtures, soaring murals -- and was used as a model for the Empire State Building.

It was very "The Hudsucker Proxy." All that was missing was Tim Robbins and a hula hoop.

I had a double capuccino in the restaurant the next morning and basked in the glow of all that flattering lighting. For a few brief moments, I was un-jet-lagged and bags-under-the-eyes-free.

Suitably caffeine-laden, I walked two short blocks to the Mercantile Library to meet up with the ever-so-charming Albert Pyle, the library's Executive Director and his Literary Programs Manager, Mary Gruber.

Stepping off the 1oth floor elevator, I was greeted by this lovely vignette.
Light meets dark.
Curved meets straight.
Strong meets delicate.
Blogger meets smitten.

Then, on the other side of the heavy oak entrance doors, this.

To say The Mercantile Library is merely a readers' refuge is to grossly understate the emotional effect it has on a visitor. There's a palpable beauty to the interior that's inexpressibly poetic.

Honestly, the heart soars.

Mary beckoned me over to a table artfully propped with books. "I put a few things together I thought you'd like," she said.

I was so touched. In front of me was a collection of first editions by English writer Beverley Nichols. (And you know how I love my Beverley Nichols.)

Will you promise not to laugh if I tell you that I caressed their covers and spines and inhaled their papery scent with an ardent abandon?

In addition to Mr. Nichols, Mary had also chosen a selection of rare design books for me to pore over, including this uber-cult one by Edith Wharton. Leafing through it was so heart-poundingly exciting I was in need of a beta blocker.

Everywhere, everywhere, there were cozy reading areas just begging for you to sink into them.

I love the brass reclining rails on these vintage armchairs. Why can't La-Z-Boys be like this?

And can we discuss the color palette of these books for a minute? I want to design a room around all those muted jewel tones and gold accents. There's an incandescence to them that makes them almost seem lit from within.

Up at the far end of the room was a raised platform where Mary told me I would be speaking that night. So crazy chic. My heart did a quick Riverdance (72.2% excitement/26.4% trepidation/1.6% all-out fear), but I'm pretty sure she didn't notice.

The library recently went a multi-million dollar makeover and I love that they kept the original steel stacks from 1902. How great is the chalk writing on the ends of those shelves?

Membership to the Mercantile Library is just $55/year and you get to take home fascinating books like these and pore over them from the comfort of your bed. If I lived in Cincinnati, I would so have "Europe in Zig Zags" on my nightstand right now.

And "Footloose in India." And "Cannibal Quest." Duh.

After I had run my eyes over every book in the place, Mary led me up a soaring spiral staircase...

...and down a hallway... this gorgeous room which holds the library's rarest books (incredibly enough, you can still read them, you just can't take them home)...

...and which is painted with the names of some of the past speakers there.

No biggie.
Just everyday folks like George and William F.

And Tom and John.

And Julia.

And William Makepeace.

And Harriet.

Once again, my heart did a Michael Flatley.

* * * * *

After this introduction to the library, I met up with the glamorous Deborah Ginocchio, President of the Mercantile Board.

I liked her immediately, but when we got in her car and she drove me straight to her favorite auction house our friendship was cemented. She was One Of Us. It was exactly the kind of shop I love -- crammed full of unheralded treasures. (I've gone blank on the name; will get back to you.)

I couldn't help myself from bidding on these two fabulous old Venetian paintings done in verre eglomisé. (In a stroke of luck, I won them.)

After a whirlwind architectural tour of the city (including a trip to her house which I will detail at a later date), it was back to the hotel to relax for a few hours before the big speech.

Up Next:









Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Night of Living Dangerously

(My fabulous audience)

Just arrived home from giving my (first ever) speech at the most beautiful membership library in the world. Had the BEST time. Need to get some sleep and upload photos. More soon....


Friday, May 13, 2011

Time Travelling to Charleston House

5/13/11 Editors Note:
The website crashed last night and my original post about this seems to be lost in the ether. I copied this from my RSS feed (thank God Heather from Habitually Chic told me to always sign up for your RSS feed!) ; alas, your lovely comments are missing.

* * * * *

Wondrous thing, life.

I woke up in LA yesterday morning, but by noon I found myself deep in the heart of the English countryside at Charleston House.

Don't look at me like that.
You know Charleston House.

I'm sorry to press the point, but yes, you do.

Home (and living canvas) to the Bloomsbury Group?
Who moved there in 1916 to live a life devoted to art, friendship and emancipated pleasure?

Ah, it's coming back to you now, is it?


Anyway, I was there yesterday.

And the crazy part is, I didn't have to go all the way to Sussex, England.

I just had to drive down to 819 N. La Cienega Boulevard.

Let me explain.

May 12-14th marks the annual Los Angeles Design Quarter "Legends" event which celebrates style and design. There's lots of free lectures and fun cocktail parties (click HERE for details) but the real excitement is always reserved for the spectacular windows created by prominent designers in honor of legendary artists.

Well, this year designer Schuyler Samperton chose Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant as her inspiration. (FYI, she's just as gorgeous in person).

And Dan Marty, designer/owner of Maison Au Naturel, kindly lent her his showcase window.

~ And Now A Brief Aside ~
* * * * *

Speaking of Dan Marty, have you been to his store? Europe meets California. Old World meets new. Crazy meets fabulous. I highly recommend thou get thee there now.
Maison Au Naturel.

Maison Au Naturel.

19th c. French post office desk with built-in chair. Maison Au Naturel.

Vintage horsehair salon ottoman, into which I carefully stuck a finger.
(Because I've always wanted to touch horsehair, that's why.)

I hereby declare that this chair wins the award for Best Name ever.
"Man Plus Dog."
Am I right or am I right?

* * * * *
~ And Now, Back To What I Was Saying
Before I So Rudely Interrupted Myself ~

Back in March, Schuyler Samperton emailed me. (A big hug to designer Diane James, who connected the two of us. Meeting her has been such a thrill, Diane.)

Hi Lisa,

I wanted to let you know that I'm going to be a part of the LCDQ event in May, and my window design at Maison Au Naturel will be inspired by the Bloomsbury Group! Anyway, I know you're a fan, and wanted to pass that along. We're having the best time recreating the mantel, stenciled walls and painted vases of Charleston.

You can imagine my excitement. But even all of my anticipation didn't prepare me for the incredible spot-on reproduction that Schuyler created. Everywhere your eye lands, there are painstaking details that makes Los Angeles feel six thousand miles away:

A handwritten postcard.
A faded photo of Vanessa.
A reproduction Duncan Grant painting.
Some crinkled-up tubes of oil paint.
Some perfectly imperfect flowers.
Some intricate paintwork on the mantel.

Painter Katie Golden worked her magic on the mantel, the stenciled wallpaper, the planters, the painted pots and the "Duncan Grant" painting. Touché, my dear. Touché.

It's not just an art installation.
It's a time capsule.

At one point as I was standing there, I thought I was growing a goiter. I then realized this was because I kind of wanted to cry. In an "I'm so grateful to be alive to see this" kind of way.

Confession: I made a very small contribution to Schuyler's window. Something I made about ten years ago and which, for at least the last three, has been living a quiet and blameless life in my upstairs closet.

Yes, the pillow.
It's a reproduction of one designed by Duncan Grant and needlepointed by his mother, Ethel.

Thank you, Schuyler, for giving it a beautiful moment in the sun.

* * * * *

Editor's Note:
I made the pillow from a pattern I found in the book "Bloomsbury Needlepoint" by Melinda Coss. If you would like a less arduous option, Charleston House sells ready-made pillow kits (complete with instructions and materials) on their lovely website.


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