05 Nov 2010

The Beauty of Things Remembered, Part 1

Antiques, Architecture, Bunny Williams, Dublin, Interior Beauty, John Rosselli Antiques, Mirrors, Neoclassicism, New York City, Philadelphia, Treillage, Wallcovering, Window Treatments 14 Comments

Sunset at Clearwater Beach, FL

Whenever I see beauty, whether it be an object, an event in nature, or in a person’s soul, it makes my heart smile. Beauty to me is a glimpse into the heart of God, and that creates joy.  But what makes something beautiful to us?  This is what I seek to learn about each of my clients.  It’s a hunt for the key that will unlock the way to give my clients the joy of living in a beautiful home.  Being surrounded by beauty makes my heart sing, and I want that experience for my clients.

We all have our own definition of beauty – whether or not we know what it is – but the joy of beauty is an emotion we all share.  I’m always on the lookout for beauty and it’s not hard to find if one is looking, but it is easy to pass by.  As an example, I’m a sucker for cute puppies.  In fact I love the Advantix TV commercials, I actually want to watch them!  One of my favorites:  Advantix cute puppies commercial

When it involves nature or children or puppies and kittens, most people would agree they are touched by their beauty.  When it comes to man-made objects, we are drawn to certain things, and what one considers beautiful may have no effect on another.

When I visited New York City, I fell in love.  I fell in love with the architecture.  I fell in love with the tall buildings snuggled close, huge blocks of stone and brick fashioned decades ago into beautiful homes and shops.

I'd love to live here

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13 Aug 2010

World's Most Extraordinary Pools (and mine)

Florida, swimming pools 9 Comments

Living in Florida where it seems almost every house has its own swimming pool, it’s easy to get a little blase about pools.   Pool companies here come up with new and fun ways to personalize pools.  No, that is not a real dolphin in the pool below!  Now you can swim with the dolphins right in your own backyard and never have to feed them either.  As cool as these are, they don’t make the list of the world’s most extraordinary pools.

gives new meaning to swimming with the dolphins

Animated Tile has all kinds of possibilities – turtles, sting rays, sharks (yikes), dolphins, frogs, you name it.

This is a mosaic tile murals with a 3D effect

I remember how excited our family was when we moved from New Jersey to Florida many years ago.  We’d actually have our own pool!  No more loading up the car with towels, sunscreen, reading material, floats, swimmies and giggling kids to head to the community pool.  No more whining about when could we go or can’t we stay a little bit longer either.  Since the entire house had sliding glass doors opening up to the pool, even if I was preparing dinner, I could keep a watchful eye on the kids as they played.  Then our kids grew up and we didn’t need such a big house or big pool, so we downsized.  This pool (below) isn’t that small to me, but it’s small for the area.  It’s not too big to take care of or fill with water.  And for me, it’s just right for Sunday afternoons lazily floating around on pool floats as comfortable as air mattresses.  Many afternoons we’ll see the bald eagles gliding overhead (our community is adjacent to a bald eagle preserve).

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09 Aug 2010

Interior Design Without Borders

Color, Interior Beauty, Interior Design, Interior Design Process, Online Design, Redesign, Technology, Window Treatments 23 Comments

BMW the Ultimate Driving Machine (advanced technology)

I love technology.  I didn’t always feel this way, not until I switched to BMW and Apple.  I’m definitely not a PC; Windows and I just didn’t work well together, somewhat ironic since decorating windows is a big part of what I do.  I remember hearing Melissa Galt, interior designer, business coach and speaker, say how she just didn’t click with her BMW; she disliked the I-drive, and was much happier with (I think she said it was) her Lexus.

I love the I-Drive

Me, I am a diehard BMW fan.  I learned the I-drive without ever reading the manual, we just clicked.  Melissa thought the BMW must’ve been designed more for men, but I don’t think so, since obviously I am not a man.  I was a tomboy though, so perhaps there is some truth to her comment.  But the point is that I click with my BMW.  It is very fuel efficient, safe, and incredibly fun to drive and I plan to drive mine until one of us dies.  As much as I love my BMW, I hope it’s not me first.

It’s important to click with your technology.  What fun is it to spend your hard earned money on a laptop, cell phone or digital camera if trying to use it results in hours of frustration?  In the same way, it’s important for clients and designers to click.  Personalities and styles play a big part in the design partnership, and I’m not talking about style as in Mid-Century Modern ala Irwin Feld Design.  No, I’m talking about the fit between designer and client.  There must be trust or the design process will be thwarted, and trust me, it won’t be any fun for either of you.

Irwin Feld Design

As in everything in life, it’s important to know what you like and what works best for you.  Is it possible to design your surroundings without knowing what you really like?  Sure you can, but without being clear on what you like, what are the odds you’ll end up with a room you’ll love?  It’d be smarter to buy a lottery ticket.

Knowing one’s style is an exercise in discovery many of us never figure out, at least partially because our tastes are always evolving.  This is one way I help my clients, by helping them figure out what will make them happy.  I really enjoy this aspect of decorating; one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up was a psychologist, and being a designer is a little like that.

Should I paint or wallpaper?

There’s so much more to interior design and decorating than simply picking colors, fabrics and furniture .  It’s never, ever boring.  Well, except for the paperwork.

The other day I was in the car on the way to meet with a client and I decided to listen to the lovely ladies of The Skirted RoundtableLinda Merrill, Joni Webb, and Megan Arquette.  In this particular podcast, they were interviewing interior designer turned architectural photographer Michael J. Lee.  Michael described himself as loving every aspect of his switch from interior design to photography, and among his reasons was that he loves to tweak his photos in PhotoShop.  That little remark made me laugh out loud because I can so relate.  It is techno art to take a photo that is sad and make it better. (I’m humming “Hey Jude…”)

When I first started decorating homes, I would hand draw space plans and elevations, which was time consuming.  At my first IWCE (International Window Coverings expo) in 2006, I learned about a software program that would enable me to design drapery treatments on top of a photo of my clients’ windows.  Upon learning that I could also do space plans to scale, I was sold. Now I can more quickly show my clients different space plans in addition to a pretty darn good idea of how different drapery designs can transform their room.  There are much more sophisticated software programs out there but for my purposes, helping homeowners visualize their options, this one did the trick and didn’t break the budget.

Computer rendering is faster than hand drawing

This technology has come in very handy and all my clients love it.  But it’s invaluable when doing online or long distance design.  Such is the case with my Facebook clients and friends Susan McCarthy and Bruce Barone.  They live in Massachusetts and I live in Florida, but the distance isn’t a problem because of the technology.  I used my design software to help them select a new paint color for their bedroom.

Susan & Bruce before color MBR

bored with sage green

We started with my asking lots of questions that got them soul-searching about how they wanted their room to look and feel.  Susan and Bruce were bored with the sage green and wanted to add bold color to the room, but they were awash in paint chips and weren’t sure which would add the pizzazz they desired.  Because color is not rendered accurately on computer monitors, I asked Susan to send me a pillow sham and I asked Bruce, who is a professional portrait and nature photographer, to send me photos. Having the fabric in hand allowed me to see the true colors in the sham.

Working with the pillow sham

From there I selected paint colors and had samples mailed to them.  Using my software, I created renderings on top of the photo of their bedroom, showing the walls in 3 different greens.  I also showed them how a headboard would give their bed its rightful presence.  Only a small percentage of the population have the ability to visualize, or see in their mind’s eye how something will look, so being able to see actual renderings of different possibilities was a big help to Susan and Bruce, as it is with almost all of my clients.

Here’s a rendering of the wall color they selected:

deep delicious green

That inspired them to go forward with a custom upholstered headboard and bedskirt and I showed them a few options:

light, bright for high contrast

Jade blue

jade blue and green

deeper, cozy caramel

And here’s the final result, with which they are delighted.

the new wall color and headboard

I always tell my clients that light is an integral component of color.  With the lights on (and regal Nadine posing) the walls take on a richer, warmer hue.

A new cozy bedroom

Susan, who makes fabulously scented soaps that are gentle and natural, was so happy she sent me a box of her soap.  You can’t imagine the wonderful fragrance that wafted out of that box; I bet no other UPS truck has ever smelled so good!  (soapsusan@aol.com)

soap for the soul, i love it!

Now Susan and Bruce are redecorating their dining room.  They found a beautiful dining room table and chairs and painted their dining room a daringly deep color called Get Back Jack.  I’m not sure why it’s named that, but it’s reminiscent of a complex Cabernet Sauvignon, perfect for these two oenophiles.  I’m designing a drapery treatment for them using this beautiful silk chinoiserie fabric and custom iron hardware, but that’s a post for another day.

silk chinoiserie will pop against the wall color

30 May 2010

DIY'ers and the Painful Truth

Architectural Digest, Castle, Do It Yourself, Elle Decor, HGTV, honesty, House Beautiful, Interior Design, Interior Design Process, Traditional Home, Veranda 60 Comments

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy

This painting is Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy by Francois Lemoyne.  There are many things that make it difficult to tell the truth.  Who among us hasn’t been in this position:  We’ve been asked for our opinion by someone who doesn’t really want the truth.  The person asks for our opinion, but we know that to be 100% truthful would create hurt feelings, disappointment, and maybe even jeopardize the relationship.  The problem is that when people ask us for our opinion, often what they really want is our validation.  They want us to like whatever they did.

As Guylaine Rondeau, a graphic designer at Guylaine Rondeau Design wrote, “In a world becoming quickly and obsessively a do-it-yourself-everything, someone will inevitably one day come and ask you the painful question.  The most difficult time for being honest is when someone designed something on their own and asks a professional designer for their opinion on the final result.”

As interior designers, we get DIY’ers who show us their do-it-yourself projects and wait expectantly for our response or ask us outright for our opinion.  It’s awkward because we know what they really want to hear is that they did a good job and it looks beautiful.  It’s awkward because 9 times out of 10, we see the mistakes and how we would’ve made the project better.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.  We all hire experts all the time to get the best results.  The tailor, the plumber, the caterer, to name a few.    Few of us dare risk ruining our expensive suit.  Hardly anybody feels competent enough to fix their hot water heater.  The very idea of preparing a gourmet meal for our daughter’s engagement party has us calling our friends for help–to find a good caterer, that is.  Oh and let’s not forget the hair stylist.  I don’t know a single person over the age of 5 who doesn’t get their hair cut by a professional.  Who’d want to risk having to wear a hat for 6 weeks?

The Doves

So why do people feel they can be their own expert when it comes to interior design?


HGTV has fueled an explosion of interest in interior design and decorating.  Decorating shows appeal to people who have a genuine interest in making their homes beautiful and I’m all in favor of that! Unfortunately, viewers often infer that interior design and decorating are not difficult, that anybody can do it, that it can be reduced to a formula.  This can lead to the totally unrealistic expectation that everyone “should” be able to decorate their homes beautifully.  People need to realize that decorating shows are entertainment, not education.  Sure you can pick up tips, but don’t be surprised if your results don’t look professional, because there is a lot that goes into designing interiors.  The shows do not tell the whole truth about what good interior design involves, nor can they in 30 or 60 minutes.  Most of the real work is done off camera, somehow labor costs are usually not included in the budget, and beautiful furniture can be picked up for a song.  Watching a design show in order to learn how to design and decorate your home is like trying to learn what giving birth is like by watching a woman having a baby on a sitcom.  You can see what’s going on but still not know what the experience is really like – and the baby sure appears a lot  faster than in real life.  Not that there isn’t a wealth of design talent to learn from.  It’s always inspiring to see good design; one show I’ve always enjoyed is Candice Olson’s “Divine Design”.

Candice Olson always pays attention to all the details

You can learn a lot about what you like and don’t like by looking at pictures in shelter magazines and reading the articles.  My favorites are House Beautiful, Veranda, Elle Decor, and Traditional Home.  There are always good tips and beautiful rooms you can study to help train your eye.  That’s still not enough to make anybody an interior designer though.

House Beautiful

Elle Decor


Traditional Home

While I believe we are all born with creativity and an appreciation for beauty, that doesn’t mean everyone has the talent to create interior beauty  in their home.  People can learn the elements of good design, and which steps to follow, but good interior design goes beyond following a formula.   Anyone can take an art class and learn to paint a landscape, but that doesn’t make them an artist.  Good design involves more than education, there’s artistic talent involved, and while appreciation can be taught, some talents are just inborn.  This applies to anything creative:  writing, painting, music, cooking, dancing, singing, anything design related.  Expressing beauty is harder than it looks.

Chuck Berk Fine Art Gallery

Interior design is a marriage of right brain and left brain, of creativity and art with analytical and project management skills.   And we may have talent but not enough, like Salieri in the movie “Amadeus.”  I have clients who have an eye for beautiful furniture, but not how to combine colors; who know how to arrange accessories but not pull the room together.  I sing well enough to get compliments in church, but believe me, nobody would ever compare my singing with Celine Dion or Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga

And this leads to my next theory on why people feel the desire to be their own interior designer.   I suspect they think if they hire an interior designer, they can’t take any credit for how good their house looks.  That can be true with some designers who are more concerned with “The Look” than with the client, but they are in the minority.  That’s certainly not how I work.

What I absolutely love-love-love about interior design is the creative design process, the happy satisfaction I get from helping people discover their own style, their inner creativity.  It’s the joy that springs from the synergism of collaborating together to create a space that perfectly reflects who they are and how they want to live in their home.  It’s a partnership not a dictatorship.


Maybe people think hiring an interior designer is expensive.   Consider that it can easily cost a few hundred dollars to have the plumber come fix your water heater, to have your carpets cleaned, your trees trimmed, etc.  Anytime you have a professional come to your home to perform a service, it costs but it’s worth it because in the long run, it actually saves us money.  Surely spending that much to make sure your DIY project isn’t heading for mediocrity or disaster is a worthwhile investment too.  Nobody ever thinks their DIY project will come out anything but great, but there are a lot of not so great DIY projects out there.  It’s a shame to spend your budget on furnishing and decorating a room, or remodeling a bathroom, only to have it turn out just okay, or worse.  If you’re going to work that hard, you want it to turn out great!

Many designers, including myself, do consulting work for a reasonable fee as well as offer complete design services that are well within budgets much more modest than those seen in Architectural Digest and other shelter magazines.  It doesn’t matter how big our homes are, we all deserve to feel our home is our castle!

Castle in France via Architectural Digest

Which means that before you buy that furniture, hire an interior designer to design a space plan for you.  That way you will know before you go shopping what the focal point will be, which pieces will work best for how you’ll use the room, which pieces it’s worth spending a little extra on, and what pieces you can spend less on, and you’ll know the furnishings will be in appropriate scale to the room.  You’ll know that your investment of time and money will pay off in a beautiful room that’s just right for you.

You may not be able to afford Mario Buatta’s designs, but most designers don’t charge his fees either.

Mario Buatta

And certainly before you go painting your living room, hire an interior designer to help you select the right color, one that won’t have you gasping in dismay when you see the painted room.  This is a very reasonable fee, one that can save you hours of back-breaking re-painting.  [Don’t even think of trying to duplicate the above wall finish on your own, this is a project that needs to be specified by an expert and accomplished by an artisan!]

But what if you didn’t hire a professional and you chose to do it all by yourself, should you ask a designer their opinion?  And if you’re the interior designer being asked, should you be honest?

What would Honest Abe say?

I think if the selections haven’t been ordered yet, and there’s still time for a designer’s input to be implemented, and one makes it clear that one really is looking for guidance, then it makes sense to ask a designer for their opinion.

But if someone has just spent thousands of dollars on new furniture or a basement remodel, would that person really want to hear how the project would’ve been improved if XYZ had been done instead?

Let me put it this way:  If you’re at a party where the appetizers are just okay, and the hostess who’d made them asks you what you think of the hors d’oeuvres, how would you feel?  What do most people say?  Right.  Good manners trumps Truth.

When I’ve been put in this awkward position, I say what I like and hope that’s enough.  I’ve toyed with the idea of saying what I would’ve done differently, if only to demonstrate that I really do know what I’m doing, but I don’t.  I don’t want to jeopardize the relationship.

So I say that if you really want an honest opinion, ask an interior design professional, but ask them at the beginning of the project, not the end.  If what you really want is validation, ask your friends.  But please don’t ask an interior designer for their opinion when what you really want to hear is how good a job you did.  As Guylaine says, “if you can help it, please don’t ask, we love you and we just don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Billy Joel's "Honesty"


Sorry, Honest Abe and Billy Joel, sometimes it’s more important to be polite than honest.  And sometimes, as in Lemoyne’s painting above, time will tell the truth!

What do you think?

24 May 2010

A Tour of Bunny Williams' shop: Treillage

Antiques, Bunny Williams, Color, Interior Design, John Rosselli Antiques, Mirrors, New York City, Tabletop, Treillage 31 Comments

Blue is big at Treillage

Come with me on a little tour of the shop Treillage in New York City, owned by Bunny Williams and John Rosselli.  With my gracious new friend, New York City interior designer and blogger Tamara Matthews-Stephenson of Nest by Tamara fame, we found unique and beautiful juxtapositions everywhere in the shop.  I love shops where my eye is drawn toward different vignettes and tableaux, one more beautiful than the last.  Treillage is full of unique and charming pieces I wanted to take home.

I’m not sure if the styling was intentional or not, but the fresh blue in the vignette above is set off by reds and oranges and brings to mind her Kips Bay Showhouse 2009 All-in-One room.  I know there was a controversy over the red chair, but I like it myself.  My eye zooms right to the red chair and then meanders around the room, taking in all the details.  A blue, red and yellow color scheme is one of my favorites.

Bunny Williams Kips Bay 2009 All-in-One Room

This framed tile mural from Spain caught my eye with its fine detail and riot of color – and birds, I love birds!  I’d love to hang it where I could see it everyday.  It is haunting me, it would look wonderful in my lanai or kitchen.  You can just see a little of Tamara on the side.

closeup of Spanish tile mural

If wishes were dishes, I’d have an entire room set aside just for china.  I love to mix and match to create different place settings; it spices up the table, just like seating unknown guests next to each other.  Sometimes you just have to experiment and see what happens!

Placemats edged with a row of circles

This table setting is interesting yet understated, and it would not overshadow the food, important for a foodie like me.  Aren’t these Greek Key Hurricanes marvelous?  The compotes are sitting on French hand-painted Limoge porcelain plates.  The flatware is pretty wonderful too.

One of the things I love about Bunny Williams’ style is how she uses color.  Triadic color schemes are one of my favorites because they feel so well balanced.  The neutral seating gives the eye a place to rest and the touch of blue helps turn down the temperature.  The plant in the Chinese urn reminds me of a boiled egg in a cup, a touch of whimsy, or maybe I’m just hungry!

love these Indian hand embroidered pillows!

I have a small collection of blue and white Chinese pottery and could easily go overboard.  The designs painted on these vases are striking!

blue and white, and birds

This is a set of 18, Boch Vieux Luxembourg plates from the 18th Century.  There’s something so fresh about blue and white.

antique plates

Can you believe these tangerines are not real?  This Tromp-l’oeil tangerine dish is extremely realistic.  My eye is certainly fooled, how about yours?

no they are not real!

Purples, greens, and gold, backlit with blue, another luscious color combination.  Sparkle always catches my eye too.

Here’s a closeup of the silver fluted flute vase/votive holder that Tamara and I both liked.

texture and sparkle

The petal-like footed bowls hold a glass insert so they would make charming candle holders as well as compote dishes.  I have a set of blue glass compotes from Spain that I confess I don’t use often, but nevertheless, I love looking at how they glow in my china cabinet.

The number of patterns here is amazing but restricting the colors makes them play nicely together.

a masterful use of pattern and texture

It seems every store we visited that day featured a stone deer, but none so attractive as this deer from France (circa 1890) with its peaceful, regal air.  The gilt faux bois mirror is perfect with the deer on the rough hewn console, an elegant rustic luxe look.

much nicer than just the head on the wall

Who could resist looking at their reflection in this star mirror?  Love that chandelier too!

An antique armoire with interesting lines, although I prefer curves with straight lines.  More interesting to me are the chairs with their beautiful backs that incorporate both straight and curved lines.

antique armoire being held for a famous designer

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of Treillage.  To see more, you can visit them at their two locations in NYC.  I visited the shop on Lexington but next time I’m in NYC, I’m making it a point to visit the shop on East 75th.

A profile of Treillage (the E. 75th St. shop) in New York Magazine states:  With exposed beam ceilings, huge skylights, and the soothing sound of running water from an indoor fountain, this expansive space feels more like a sanctuary than a home and garden design store. Co-owners Bunny Williams, an interior designer, and John Rosselli, an antiques dealer, met while attending the Chelsea Flower show in London, where they bonded over a mutual dissatisfaction with how difficult it was to find lovely things for the garden. In 1991, they opened Treillage in a former nineteenth-century blacksmith shop. Today, they fill the rooms with a mix of new and antique furniture (cast-iron tables, hand-carved limestone birdbaths, Chippendale garden chairs), lighting (copper-and-glass hand-blown lanterns, porcelain lamps, scrollwork sconces), urns, finials, topiary forms, and an assortment of vases and pots. While the staff is generally attentive, service can be a bit fickle on busy days. And they have much to keep them busy: They’ve been featured in Elle Decor, House & Garden, and Martha Stewart Living and have an impressive clientele (including Oscar de la Renta) rooted in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. — Bree Sposato

You can also shop online at www.treillageonline.com.

business card (on top of fabric)

My Facebook & Twitter friend Tobi Fairley of Tobi Fairley Interior Design featured Bunny Williams recently in a series of blogposts about her books and designs complete with a contest to win her books.   I already own Bunny Williams’ Point of View so I entered the contest hoping to win An Affair With a House but alas it was not to be; guess it’s time to pull out my credit card!

The next day I visited John Rosselli Antiques, which I’ll be blogging about soon.  I have a love affair going with blue and white Asian pottery and could barely pull myself away!

from John Rosselli Antiques