I’ve mentioned that the French Resistance used the Vercors region as a hideout from the Nazis in WWII. Well, this stone house we discovered on our trip would be my perfect summer hideaway. I’d ditch the satellite dish just visible on the roof, which is the only change I’d make to the outside. On the inside I’d create a haven full of French country design cues—rich, textured fabrics, thought provoking, weathered antiques and abundant art work. I’ve no doubt the house would be a magnet for friends and family. Our children say that if we spent time in the Vercors they’d move heaven and earth to visit us. And why not. The Vercors is heaven on earth.
We spent a few days in the vibrant city of Lyon, and a highlight was a costume exhibit from the Lyon Opera. I was blown away by both the magnificent costumes and the inventiveness of how they were displayed. One dramatic room with rows of manikins reaching to the 20 foot ceiling showed how three different productions of The Magic Flute were interpreted over the past twenty years. The exhibit also included displays featuring all the disciplines involved in costume design and creation—pattern makers, seamstresses, tailors, embroiderers, boot makers, milliners, hat makers, wig makers, hairdressers and makeup artists. I know something about fabric and how it’s used, and the detail and boldness of these designs were impressive. Even my husband, not a great opera fan, was forced to agree that the exhibit was remarkable.
We visited a medieval French town that’s been rebuilt from a handful of ruined buildings into a brand new 14th century village. Subtle updates include modern conveniences of plumbing and electrical, but walking the cobbled lanes is something of a time machine. You are clearly in an ancient village, and yet everything is pristine. My sister tells me one of the homes has just come on the market. Maybe I’ll put in an offer!!
That’s me in the lower right of the top photo, sitting on the terrace of my sister’s country home in Beaufort-sur-Gervanne, in southeastern France. The terrain is rugged—dramatic mesa’s offer breathtaking views from impossibly narrow roads. The pristine rivers rush forcefully through the scenery, feeding powerful falls gushing from great heights into gleaming pools. The area was home to the Maquis, hardy resistance fighters who hid in terrain inhospitable to the Nazis in WWII. It was extraordinarily hospitable to us.
We spent the vacation with our children and their significant others, hiking, biking, exploring ancient villages, eating and drinking well (the local rose wine was a welcome companion at every meal), and simply taking in the natural beauty of a land that radiates an Eden-like bliss. The weather is dry and without humidity and the windows are without screens because mosquitoes are persona non grata (see view from window in lower photo). I spent two weeks without turning on my phone, going online, or looking at a TV screen. I’ll be posting more highlights of the trip soon.
Fifteen years ago I designed a home in Maplewood for a charming couple in the process of becoming surgeons. Out of the blue they showed up at the shop a month ago, having tracked me down to our current studio in Short Hills. I was out at the time and, since the only well-dressed visitors we tend to get without appointments are salespeople, my husband asked which firm they represented. To his embarrassment they explained that they were both surgeons who had traveled from their home in Galveston Texas to a medical conference in Rutgers, and hoped to see me. They had enjoyed our project in Maplewood fifteen years ago, and hoped to talk to me about helping them in their 110-year-old historic home in Galveston.
Fast-forward to this week, and I’ve just returned from a trip to Galveston, energized by the project we’re embarking on. The home is captivating, built by one of Galveston’s leading families, when the city was one of the busiest ports in the country. I’m busy researching Galveston’s rich historical and cultural history.
The style of the home is eclectic, with elements of Mission and Art Deco. Zuber hand painted panels were commissioned specially for the dining room, there are glittering French crystal chandeliers, massive arched sliding doors, and stained glass panels are featured in several rooms. The house has tremendous character, full of fascinating detail, with a wonderful floor plan. My clients have eclectic tastes, including an impressive collection of 1940s American abstract art. The result will be anything but conventional.
One day I’m going to buy an old barn and convert it into a beautiful country home. Irish architects McGarry-Moon have done just that, preserving part of the original stone structure while using modern architectural techniques to create a fascinating hybrid of old and new. They inserted a stainless steel frame within the stone walls, keeping the old door and window openings on the lower level and adding contemporary fittings above. The result is a totally unified structure fusing traditional and contemporary style. The bedroom is cantilevered off the stone base to provide more floor space and allow for floor to ceiling glass, offering the homeowners panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
This outstanding stone barn renovation has given me plenty of inspiration. I’d better start looking for the right old barn!
Accessories are the final piece of the puzzle. Without the right accents, the scheme just isn’t finished. I find accessories in many places, from antique stores to decorative suppliers I’ve worked with for many years. This past weekend my cousin, who is a leading props master for New York TV and film production companies, introduced me to another source—John Derian, on the lower east side of Manhattan. Strolling through the shop you’ll find really awesome pieces–decoupage plates and platters, as well as linen, lighting, and all manner of high-end bric-a-brac, plus Mr Derian’s own line of furniture.
Finding the perfect accessory is half serendipity, half intuition, and all fun. Especially when it takes me to cool shops like this one.
The tight weave of this elegant hand spun needlepoint is based on an Aubusson design. The dominant red floral border frames a more subdued, blue floral pattern, much as the rug itself frames the furniture resting on top. It is the quintessential foundation of a French Traditional interior.
The dimensions of a long, narrow living room required a custom rug that took six months to complete. It was well worth it. The intricate, finely detailed pattern, with sparkling jewel colors, is from an antique Sarouk design, woven in Pakistan.
Sometimes it is the texture that dominates. This plush Moroccan features a geometric pattern, which fits the scheme, but it is the layered weave of the carpet that speaks to the warm, rustic Adirondack style.
A modern Oriental design uses wool from New Zealand, hand spun in India. It works well in a contemporary setting, the symmetrically abstract design and earth tones softening the ceramic stone floor below.
The vegetable dyed wool rug covering most of a master bedroom on Central Park adds a strong dose of coziness, the soft striated blue color overlaid with branches of golden flowers, mirroring the branches on the trees outside.
Think of your floor as a canvass. Just as you prepare a canvass, so your floor is prepared by covering it with polished wood or wall-to-wall carpeting or stone. Now the area rugs—the artwork under your feet—are placed on top. They may be composed of intricate floral, geometric or abstract patterns, in solid or multi-hued colors. They can be made of hand knotted or hand woven wool or synthetics. They can be plush or stitched in thin needlework. They can cover virtually an entire room or small seating area, a staircase or long corridor.
At their best area rugs qualify as artwork that happens to be on the floor. The mood they create can set the tone for a space, providing an evocative platform that drives the design. Some area rugs are so decorative they can easily hang on a wall, as I have done on occasion, but how much nicer to feel the texture and suppleness beneath your feet.
I was introduced to the work of Will Moses at the Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck last weekend. His folk art paintings are a family tradition going back to his great grandmother—the iconic Grandma Moses. His work conveys the authenticity that is a hallmark of all great American folk art, a simple beauty that is charming, wistful and, in our post millennial world, refreshingly uncomplicated. His compositions are filled with the everyday activities of everyday people. Yet they seem rooted in their lives in a way that we can only dream about today. For more of Will’s work, click here.
When my clients asked me about finishing their lower level, I immediately saw a space that will become one of their favorite rooms—and one of their best investments. So, how do we proceed?
First, I need to know how it will be used. Entertainment center, bar, kitchen area, upgraded laundry room, game room, workshop, wine cellar—all are possible. If you want your children to be at home, nothing is a bigger draw than a well-accoutered family room. If you want the younger ones out of your hair, they will gratefully retreat downstairs, giving you quiet and peace of mind.
With all lower levels, the elephant in the room is water, as in the possibility of damage. Is it totally under control? Even in a well-protected basement, dampness can be an issue, which for me rules out wood floors. This is no hardship, with stone, ceramic, vinyl flooring or carpeting available. With natural light scarce or non-existent, extra effort goes into creating a lighting design that is at once bright and easy on the eyes. Walls can be sheet rocked or, if they’re brick, left exposed, and ceilings, when they’re as high as in the photo above, can be sheet rocked as well. Large exposed ducts can be painted for a more industrial feel.
The blank sheet of paper aspect of redoing a lower level is both a challenge and opportunity. It can fulfill a wide array of needs, but requires an intelligent, balanced floor plan to make the variety of uses cohere. I like working on these projects because they present an interesting interior design puzzle to be solved.
This room will be transformed from rough and ready workshop/storage area, to the most comfortable, versatile and enjoyable room in the house. More to come…