Jewel Tones

Inspired by our tour of parts east, our love affair with jewel tones has gone from slow burn to colorful blaze.  In the semi-precious stone floors at Cappelle Medicee’s Chapel of the Princes and again in the crimson damask at Windsor Castle, a rich rainbow of tones affirm that great palettes are always in style.  And in humble taverns and cozy teahouses, we were reminded that European design has long celebrated dynamic color. Even in the modern aesthetic, pops of kelly green, coral, and cobalt punctuate spaces designed around light-handed neutrals.

Here is a smattering of the colorful treasures we toured; view more by following our gallery on Instagram here.

prince chapel floor

Ruby and Emerald, Semiprecious Stone Floor, Chapel of Princes, Cappelle Medicee

Sapphire and Gold Heart, Milan

Sapphire and Gold Heart, Milan

Mosaic, St. Peter's Basilica

Vivid Azure, Mosaic, St. Peter’s Basilica

Inner Courtyard Ceiling, Rome

Pungent Yellow, Inner Courtyard Ceiling, Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo, Florence

Sapphire and Crimson Robes, Santa Maria del Popolo, Florence

Heraldry Reds, Fischer's, London (David Collins Studio, Designers)

Heraldry Reds, Fischer’s, London (David Collins Studio, Designers)

Blood Ruby, Renaissance Religious Art, Musee Accademia, Florence

Blood Ruby, Renaissance Religious Art, Musee Accademia, Florence

Sapphire and Terracotta, Pop Art, Murren

Sapphire and Terracotta, Pop Art, Murren

Arrivedarci,  Auf Wiederluege, and Au Revoir!

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Old Loves

At the birthday party of a friend last weekend, taxed from added project hours and feeling not as sociable as one wants to at a gathering, I took refuge in the house, where I was able to capture photos of my friend’s collections.  He is an antique dealer with an eye for handsome accessories. While the party guests talked and laughed out on the lawn, I tried to get the camera on my phone to capture light in these dim, romantic rooms.  Looking back over the pictures kindles that pleasure I feel in old homes with good bones and interesting appointments.

carl's black and white porch

The welcoming side porch of our friend’s house, fresh and crisp with black and white paint.

My first memory of an old house with fine collections takes me back to childhood, up along a winding path where shaggy lilacs and intrepid honeysuckle wrestled together in the heat of a summer twilight.  A small, clapboard cottage with deep porches and long casement windows, it was elegantly proportioned if not grand.  Even then, though the eaves were swept clean of spider webs and the beds jealously guarded against weeds, it was a house in genteel decline.  The paint on the siding was crackled and dry; the tin roof sagged ever so slightly, a sway-backed horse too long in the fields.

It was Mrs. Hansberger’s house.  There was a Mr. Hansberger, too, but somehow it was the wife to whom everyone attributed the ownership of the place.  It may not have been an ownership of deed and dollars, but rather the heart-felt possessiveness of steward to keep.  I only went there once, standing in the dimness of the living room with a handful of other children from the church, come to check in on the elderly couple.

Mrs. Hansberger showed us things from their travels in India and Africa: a pierced fan that smelled of spices; a bentwood screen that cast curly shadows on the wall; the doors of a walnut armoire groaned as she opened them.  Within the case, her mix of fine china gleamed brightly.  It had been a long time since they had a dinner party, she said, taking out a saucer and tracing a finger over the design.  As I recall it, she seemed wistful.  But perhaps her memories warmed her.  A night under a tent in Africa, laughing into a tilted glass of wine while a hand-cranked phonograph played a drowsy waltz.   Beyond the wash of lamplight, there came a rustling from the grass.  Birds called from the tops of trees that melted against the sunset.

The devilish keeper of the flame, rendered in brass, looms from the shadows of the dining room.

The devilish keeper of the flame, rendered in brass, looms from the shadows of the dining room.

I’ve grown poetic, slightly cinematic, in attributing to plump little Mrs. Hansberger memories that more justifiably belong to the life of Karen Blixen.  But that is the romance of old homes, fine old things.  They can transport us to times when there was elegance in the smallest domestic rituals.  It is marvelous to live in an era of medical advancements, social progress, and ever-evolving communications.  Yet the keepers of antiques carry our past into the rooms of our futures, reminding us that even as we download the latest app onto our phone, we might choose to light candles tonight as if it were our only light, to take out our best china, setting the table as if a baroness were coming to dinner.

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Comfortable Elegance

In the project pictured below, our mandate from the clients was precise: comfortable elegance.  To achieve formal balance, we exaggerated the architectural symmetry of the room through the use of matched pairs in lighting, furniture, and drapery.  Our selections of textiles bore features of elegance, such as embroidery and damask-like forms, but were uniformly soft to the touch and devoid of the pomp glossy finishes might have suggested.

Living Room, Hearth Room Shenandoah Valley

Living Room, Hearth Room
Shenandoah Valley

Using rich, dark woods in flooring and furniture, we suggest the gravitas of age, while allowing that the newly constructed home is of today.  The client’s Persian rug – dramatically figured in chocolate, taupe, and pale aqua – provided us with the basis for a light-handed color palette that keeps a densely-furnished space from feeling cluttered or engulfing.  Custom upholstery allowed us to tailor the sofas for maximum seating.

Lighting, Interior Design Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Lighting, Interior Design
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Perhaps the most pleasing detail of a room filled with beautiful elements, is our selection of four dramatic pendants, a choice that eschewed the architectural draft calling for a single, central chandelier. The quadrant of pendents spreads the overhead lighting more evenly in the space and, resembling to some extent the fixtures in old cathedrals, references the very architecture that inspired vaulted ceilings such as these.  Additional recessed lighting and sconces (not pictured) fill in the lighting gaps, while dimmers on all lighting provide a variety of mood options for any use of the space.

Living Room, Interior Design Detail Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Living Room, Interior Design Detail
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

From the large overview to the smallest detail, we enjoyed finding the balance between elegance and comfort.  A lovely project for lovely clients, this one stands out as a memorable recent exercise in thoughtful restraint.

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Silver Beauty

Today there is snow in the woods outside our cottage.  The white pines are lilting on the white sugar hill, as honest and elegant as haiku.  The beauty of it reminds me of a scene from the David Lean film ‘Dr. Zhivago’, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.  In the twenty years since I watched it, the particulars of the love story have faded, but my fascination with the ice palace has not.

Image

In order to create the look of an abandoned summer estate, reclaimed in the midst of a Russian winter, the design department formed much of the set from beeswax, which registered as ice and snow on camera. Knowing the trick of their creation makes it no less romantic and intriguing to me.

Studying the still above for details, I now marvel at design elements that did not stand out to me when I was a callow teen, watching the soap operatic tale unfold over the top of a cereal bowl.  The byzantine carving of the cornice in the grand entry, to include the stags emerging from the pillars, underscores the opulence of the home.  While the bass relief is refined, the use of leaves and animals speaks of Russian folklore, recalling grim and magical stories of wolves attacking wedding parties deep within frozen forests.  The decision to leave the crystal chandelier clear and sparkling enlivens the shot and harkens the glamor of balmy days passed, when the house overflowed with guests.  The fragrance of orchids and caravan teas would have filled the halls; piano music would have rumbled lustily from a distant salon.

In the story of Dr. Zhivago, our lovers find and take possession of the abandoned home, living for a while in happiness in its remote splendor.  The milky dream scape captured above is chased away by hearth fires, but the house that emerges is lost to my memory.  Only the bitter frost version stuck with me, much like the home of Mrs. Haversham in Dickens’ classic ‘Great Expectations’.  That is another of my fascinations. Though I enjoy the craft of making homes warm and friendly, I have a never ending love for scenes of lost places, windows crusted with frost, corners strewn with webs and everything silvered by chill and dust.  The absence of cheer and order is somehow more intriguing to me than the presence of it.

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