Monday, November 18, 2013

Buckling Down

("Young Woman Writing," Pierre Bonnard, 1908.)

I haven't spoken about it much, but I'm nearing another big deadline for my book and after  going over all the chapter revisions that need to be done and counting out every hour that remains between now and the morning I have to email it to my editor, I have to admit it's going to be an incredibly pressure-filled race to the finish! And although I would hate to think the dark hollows underneath my eyes have taken up permanent residency, at the moment they provide an excellent explanation for anyone who asks me what I've been doing lately.

You have always been most gracious in understanding when I have to take a small step back from ABL, and this is another one of those times. I have to shut out the world and go inward now.

I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and promise to return refreshed and with plenty of exciting December posts...including my Holiday Book List (which is especially fabulous this year).


(And just out of curiosity...does anyone have a favorite under-eye concealer?)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hogarth and the Art of Messy Chic

William Hogarth (1697-1764) understood what it meant to really inhabit a room. In his paintings, he shows ordinary people enjoying their personal spaces in a manner that can only be described as -- shall we say -- "soulful." Beds are left unmade, chairs are toppled on their sides, tablecloths are wine-bespattered, and there's usually at least one person so brutally hungover they can barely sit up straight. This is the world of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker -- unbridled, sensuous and flagrantly alive.

I love it.

This is what rooms are for, people. For living in. Leafing through design magazines it's easy to get the impression that a house should be perfect. But trying to be perfect is a losing proposition because there's no endpoint -- you'll never reach it. (I speak as an ex-perfectionist.) 
("Marriage a la Mode: The Tete a Tete", 1743)

In a Hogarth painting, tables aren't for sitting primly at--they're for leaning on, eating on, gambling on, putting feet on and sometimes drooling on. They may be spread with white tablecloths, but they're usually stained. Chairs are for perching on sideways, scooching across the room, or teetering backwards on so no one else can see your cards. Okay, maybe his characters push the line a little, but erring on the side of messiness is better than living  in a room that doesn't accommodate any degree of personal freedom, don't you find?

A perfect room intimidates. It foists an unspoken question upon the visitor: "Can you live up to me?" I actually know of a home where nothing but clear-colored drinks are served. Perhaps it works for the people who live there, but I feel strongly that our personal spaces should be a judgment-free refuge, and if there's no room allowed for human error -- or comfort, for that matter -- I think I would unlock the front door every night with a heavy heart.  
("Marriage a la Mode: The Settlement", 1743)

A home should be lived in, not worshipped. So the floors get scuffed. So the furniture gets worn. So the tables get scratched. So what? Why do you think chefs reach for their favorite seasoned cast-iron pan and not a new teflon one when they want to cook something that's got their heart and soul in it? That's right -- because the cast-iron one is a repository of all the love that's been inside it. Your house is no different.

So make it interesting.
Make it creative.
Make it loud.
Make it convivial and filled with laughter and ideas and crazy plans and dream projects and anything else that gets your heart pounding faster.

And for Hogarth's sake, make it messy.

("The Orgy", 1735)

Editor's Note: 
Stare at one of Hogarth's paintings long enough and you can practically HEAR it -- a polyglot cacophony of laughter, grunts and high-pitched squeals. If you want to hear the way I think the above painting would sound if it came to life, click HERE.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Question: When Is a House More Than a House?

Answer: When it's also an art project, a collaborative labor of love and a 3-D ode to enchantment.

(Welcome to Acorn Manor. Could it be called anything else?)

I'd been hearing about it for months. My friend Vanessa Leigh Price had been hired to decorate the home of an LA musician, and every time I ran into her, she would drop another beguiling nugget.

"Did I tell you the house was built in 1910 and is shaped like an acorn?"

"We're ordering a cream Aga." 

"We're doing one of the bathrooms based on a photo you posted on your blog of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace." (Wow, really?!)

My invitation to see Acorn Manor arrived last week and I am extremely honored to be the first one to show it to you. It's a house with great personal warmth, the kind of place that makes everyone who enters it feel immediately at home. 
Ready? Let's go.
(Stained glass windows hint at the decorative story that lies within.)

Do you mind if we head straight to the kitchen first? I want to do a quick genuflection in front of the Aga. I love the dramatic paint colors in this room. And how about that leggy teal chair? It's such a great visual counterpoint to the monumental heft of the stove.

Interesting Fact: Vanessa and the owner were so intent on having every detail in the house convey the historic sensibility of Acorn Manor that even the names of paint colors were taken into account. Case in point: The kitchen walls above are painted in Churchill Hotel Ecru and Lincoln Cottage Black from Valspar's National Trust Collection. (See, that's what I mean about it being an art project.) 

Cheeky Detail That You Would Never Know Unless I Told You: What color do you think they painted the food pantry? What else but Farrow and Ball's "Arsenic"?

The cool autumn light creeping in bounces off those mini subway tiles in the most enticing manner. (Vanessa found them at Lowes  -- I love when something cool doesn't cost a fortune.) And what's better than dark gray grout? I'll tell you. Nothing.

Fancy a cup of tea? There's some mugs on the top shelf of the butler's pantry. The cabinet interiors are painted in Farrow and Ball's Hague Blue -- grand, right? -- and Vanessa had the wood doors sanded and stained to their original color. There's a coziness to this room that makes me want to sit down with a cookbook and lose all track of time.

This is the "Pub Bathroom." Did I mention that every room in the house has a name? The Timorous Beasties wallpaper, antique brass details and red boudoir curtains have a sexy decadence perfectly in keeping with late nights. All it needs is an antique dartboard on the wall.  

Down the hall is the "Rebel Room", so called because of its remote location and because upon moving in, the owner discovered an old peeled Bacardi sticker on the door mirror -- a memento from a former teenage tenant, perhaps? (Side note: The sticker's considered part of history and is still there.)  There's a creative calm to this room that whispers, "No hurry. The idea will arrive when it's meant to arrive."
(Creative gods Marcel Duchamp and David Bowie offer inspiration from on high.)

Here we are in the Great Room. The warm hues of that antique rug inform every piece of furniture around it. And look at the light. This is a house that accommodates all weather. How wonderful to be inside this room on a rainy day -- can't you see yourself on that window seat, stack of books at your feet, music going, logs crackling on the fire?

Decorative Details: The red chair is from Obsolete, the fringed lamp is from Ray Ferra's, and the poufs are from Nicky Kehoe.
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

If I had to name the style of this house, I think I'd call it "Domestic Libertine."

Come upstairs for a minute. I want to show you the "Stable Bathroom." I'm extremely chuffed that the design is based on one of my photos. 
(Royal Mews. Photo by LBG, 2011.)

And here's the bathroom. Note the same green tiles, the same dark panelling (Farrow and Ball's Blue Black), and the same cream walls. Vanessa and the owner even carried the pop of red on the bottom of the stable post over into the bath mat!
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

Stroke of genius: Vanessa found the brass towel rack at an equestrian shop -- it's made for hanging horse blankets.
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

Look at this bathroom, would you? It's been dubbed "The Oval Office" because it sits directly off a large oval sitting room. Those tiles. That tub. That green pendant lamp. It has an Old World sensibility to it that conjures up a country estate in the Cotswolds.

Have you noticed the running theme of red and blue and green throughout the house? 

I find that interesting because red, blue and green were popular colors with eighteenth century artists like Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray and Isaac Cruikshank --it adds another layer of meaning to the owner's passion for historic accuracy. 

Shall we step outside for a moment? Yes, that would be a vineyard.

Now you're in a separate studio called "The Lodge." This is obviously where the magic happens.

Upstairs is another creative refuge especially designed for audio odysseys and mental wanderings. Soundproof velvet curtains add a layer of intimacy and keep the neighbors at bay. 

Admittance to The Lodge is strictly by invitation only.

To contact Vanessa Leigh Price, you can email her at excelsior Or just click HERE.


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