I stopped for a manicure the other day, then realized, as I was heading back to my car, that Trader Joe’s (which shares the parking lot) had an interesting variety of pumpkins piled outside. Of course, I checked out the display and they were even more appealing up close, not to mention well-priced!
And that was the nudge that pushed me into fall.
In truth, I had already picked up a few cute pumpkins and updated planters with mums, the latter because the previous blooms had totally withered in the last of summer’s heat. Now, however, I was into the new season. I cut two big buckets of drying hydrangea blooms and arranged them into several plump bouquets.
More than that, however, I began my quest for my own pumpkin patch in the front yard. It’s a challenge to see how many different kinds of pumpkins I can find — green, pink, white, orange — and I also have to protect them from from nibbling by squirrels, rabbits, and whoever else stops by for a bite of pumpkin. And don’t get me started on how easily specimens with soft spots or tiny breaks in their skin can readily rot into messy, mushy piles. (If it sounds like I have had experience with this, you are right.)
This year I armed myself for serious pumpkin protection (or maybe I just need a hobby?). I washed them with soapy water seasoned with a splash of bleach. After they were dry, I spread them on a drop cloth and sprayed them with a clear coat sealer. I have no idea if these precautions will work, but they come from other bloggers who seem to know what they’re talking about. (Which really means they take their seasonal decorating much more seriously than I do.)
I’ve also done my best to spread some autumnal cheer inside. I have an admirable collection of dried gourds, collected over several years, that I rely on for inside scene-setting at this time of year, but they are currently trapped under the basement stairs behind bookcases and toolboxes re-located for the duration of our drainage repairs (which should be wrapping up in another week or two. Hooray!!). So instead, I’m using more pumpkins, fruit, fresh and faux leaves to set the scene inside.
Most importantly this has fed my puttering/tweaking gene, which spills over into a bit of fall cleaning, polishing and generally dusting-up. (My grandma would be pleased.) My house needed the attention and I needed the “therapy.”
We remodeled our kitchen four years ago, but people sometimes ask if I still like it.
Are you kidding?
Do I still like it?
I thought long and hard about every choice we made. I had more than one folder of photos and ideas I had torn from magazines. I had a growing Pinterest board.
Yes, I still like it. I like it more all the time.
The kitchen turned out better than I ever thought possible. I love it. I’m crazy about it. It is my happy place.
We live in a thirty-odd year old house in a suburban subdivision. The kitchen layout is pretty much the same as every other house here, and although we did change the footprint a bit, getting rid of a peninsula in favor of an island, what really makes my kitchen great is that it works really well. I have a professional kitchen designer to thank for that.
This wasn’t just a cosmetic update (although it certainly needed it). We thought about and planned for function. Katherine asked us a lot of questions about how our old kitchen functioned: what we liked about it and what we didn’t like (for starters, the back door opened into the refrigerator); are we avid cooks (yes); do we entertain (yes, large and small groups, often). She helped us solve some key issues.
It started with the microwave.
This is true. It needed to be replaced. Our old kitchen had a microwave/fan unit installed above the stove. In fact, we put it in. It’s a great, space-saving option. But when push came to shove, it wasn’t that great for me. I’m pretty short (less than five feet) and (1) I really couldn’t see what was going on in the microwave and (2) I was reaching high to get hot food & dishes out of there. Add to that my husband’s observation that the fan unit did next to nothing. So, better microwave placement and a functional fan were at the top of our list.
We could have put the microwave in the lower cabinets. After we chose an island layout, we gave serious consideration to that. But I just wasn’t sold on the idea. So then Katherine suggested a built-in microwave and oven unit that could be installed at a comfortable height. We would also then trade a stove for a cooktop. A bonus for this option was that we would have an electric oven, which is more precise for baking, and a gas cooktop, which we both prefer for stovetop cooking.
That decision was a win, win, win. The microwave is at eye level for me. The oven is just below it, making it much more comfortable to access than one below a cooking surface. And, can I just say I love the cooktop. It’s wider than my stove was and has a fifth burner. That sounds like overkill to some, but it’s great for us. It’s larger for big pots and, if anything, I needed to learn to dial down the heat on it. Finally, we got a great fan that really pulls cooking fumes, smoke and heat out. It’s actually a little larger than the cook top for better efficiency.
I don’t consider any of these to be glamorous choices, but they truly improved the function of the kitchen. We made other conscious choices that I appreciate daily.
I traded off shelf space for drawers in most of my lower cabinets and I love them. I keep my pots in two deep drawers below the cooktop. They pull all the way out, so I’m never fumbling in the back of a cabinet for a pot. I keep everyday dishes, serving and mixing bowls, measuring cups, and other prep and serving tools in drawers in the island. Again, I’m not fumbling in cabinets and I can see everything in the drawer at a glance. I’m not a hugely organized person. In fact, my friends will tell you I’m a messy cook. Drawers have helped me “clean up my act.”
I also asked for — and got — vertical storage for trays, cookie sheets, sheet pans, etc. Again, it makes these kitchen go-to’s so much more accessible.
Including the kitchen sink
The sink choice was the source of much debate. There are almost too many sink options out there. I have had porcelain, stainless, and, in our pre-renovation kitchen, a solid surface sink integral to the countertop. Steve was insistent on going back to stainless, which was fine by me. I was more concerned with the size of the sink. I wanted one big enough to hold my largest pots. After lots of measuring, we settled on an oversize bowl that actually holds 12-in. by 18-in. sheet pans. (There is a smaller bowl to the left with the garbage disposal. ) I absolutely love this sink! It’s big, extra deep, and holds a big dirty pan so you can really clean it. At the designer’s suggestion, I also got a stainless steel rack that fits the bottom of the sink and protects the surface from scratches.
Is it silly to say you love your sink? Probably, but I do. When you aren’t cooking in a kitchen, you’re cleaning up. Make it easy!
We also enlarged the window over our sink. It was really dead space that we leveraged to bring in more light. Here, again, the designer hit a homerun. She enlarged the window all the way around and had casements installed instead of the traditional double-hung windows we had. The casements have the same divided lights as our existing windows, but are much easier for me to reach across the sink and crank open. Even if we’d asked a contractor for a larger window, I’m not sure we would have gotten easier access.
The renovation gave us plenty of “pretty,” including some glass-fronted cabinets to show off dishes and collectibles, a stove mantle that camouflages the fan and shows off some of my transferware, quartz countertops that work really hard and still look like new, pretty moldings, and a lot more.
The nice thing about pretty, of course, is that it comes in a range of price points. Cabinets, countertops, hardware and light fixtures come at all price points to keep you on budget. The same is true for appliances. It would have been fun to go “top of the line” but the budget just wasn’t there. In fact, we re-installed our dishwasher because it was just a year old.
Pretty is easy to add. You can readily replace light fixtures or upgrade cabinet hardware to refresh the look. It’s possible to replace solid cabinet doors with glass and upgrade countertops. We’ve all seen the gorgeous before & after’s that result from (re)painting cabinets. But making the bones work was more challenging, and I don’t think we could have done it without a professional designer.
That said, when all else fails, wipe down the countertops, add a big vase of flowers and a bunch of candles, and dim the lights. Ta da!
There’s nothing like one great antique or vintage find to whet your appetite for more. At least that’s how it works for me. One thing just leads to another…
About a month or six weeks ago, I happened upon this blue and white pitcher. In fact, you may have seen it on my Instagram feed. There is something about both the colors and the patterns that is distinctive from the rest of my blue and white transferware. It’s hard to see the detail in the image, but the lip of the pitcher is actually scalloped!
I haven’t had a chance to really research the manufacturing stamp on the bottom, so its real value is still elusive. And I need to be clear about my “antique” hunting. Most of it is just old stuff that catches my fancy, suits my style, calls my name. I don’t have the budget (or at this point even the space) for the $1200 antique Swedish cabinet my friend and I saw last weekend, even if it was truly wonderful!
I have a few more finds in my porch cupboard (a very old, not-at-all-sturdy cabinet basically held together by myriad coats of paint) where I keep paper towels and glass spray to freshen up the dining table, cocktail napkins, an assortment of small vases and flower frogs as well as a flower pot (on the bottom shelf) of hand tools for the garden. (My idea of porch necessities!) I recently added a few more vintage vases to the other pieces on the top shelf. (My husband collected the vintage fans. The larger one needs re-wiring, along with a third one on his workbench, but I thought they looked cool on the porch. Pun intended!)
But wait, there’s more!
Last week I went to the Randolph Street vintage and antique market on Chicago’s near west side. This is a monthly market in the summer and I have attended sporadically for years. Sometimes there are great finds, sometimes not so much. The merchandise is definitely more vintage (30’s and 40’s) than antique, and there are a number of vendors selling old, repurposed, industrial pieces. This is definitely the place to go for “loft-sized” artwork, kitchen islands, coffee tables and more. Last week I saw at least six beautiful, old, oak drafting tables (sorry, I forgot to take any pictures). Fun to look at, but not really my style.
Surprisingly, however, this is where I bought many antique french linens in the past. (One vendor used to come once each summer. Her selection was amazing!) I’ve also found great prints, as well as some fun lamps. Last week I found this sweet little water color, currently residing on a shelf in the dining room.
I also found two neat baskets. One is huge — 23″ by 16″ by 13″ deep — and needs some repairs. I’m going to have to glue the leather straps back in place at the ends of the handles. It also has some loose pieces on the bottom; perhaps from being dragged? I haven’t decided how to handle that, except to treat it gently overall. it’s big enough to hold some pillows on the porch or quilts at the foot of a bed, but I could also put it atop a cabinet to look neat and out of the way of further damage.
And since I found one basket, I picked a smaller one up from the same vendor. It’s really a nice shape and size, perfect for magazines. I don’t know about the rest of you who shop at similar venues, but if I find one thing at a booth, I often find more from the same vendor. It probably has a lot to do with companionable aesthetics. (Price negotiations are also a little easier when buying more than once piece.)
The big find…
Of course, I’m always looking for transfer ware and ironstone. Nothing last week. Lately I’ve been searching for small vintage vases like the ones in my porch cabinet. I was sure I’d find some at Randolph Street, but no. If there were any, I did not see them. However, I did spot this bistro table and four chairs early on and I could not get it out of my head. Was I looking for something like that? Not at all. Do I have a good spot for this? No!
I looked at it and walked away. Then I met up with my antiquing buddy and showed her. She agreed it was fabulous, insisted I should really buy it and negotiated a better price (she knows this vendor). I still walked away. We looked at other stuff, stopped for a cold drink, and while we were taking our break my friend asked if I was still thinking about the table.
“Yes,” I said. “And I’m thinking I’d better go buy it.”
Actually, it’s really charming in the yard, propped with a plant. I absolutely love it. My husband does too. We’re just assuming we’ll come up with another place for it.
Most of us who shop antique markets have a mental Rolodex of the pieces we didn’t buy. We were indecisive, couldn’t think where to put it, or someone else snatched it up. But the best shoppers/collectors/decorators offer the same advice: if you love it, you’ll find a place for it. They’re right. That’s the way antiques (or any collectibles) are. They’re really kind of insidious, worming their way into your heart, your home, and finally into a corner of the family room.
What ever it is that you collect, happy hunting! Thanks for stopping by. See you next time!
What do basketball and interior design have in common? It’s actually pretty simple.
Starting in the 4th or 5th grade and continuing for several years, my basketball-loving son enthusiastically followed the career and athletic achievements of Michael Jordan. (Who am I kidding, in the late eighties and early nineties we all loved #43!) His basketball feats seemingly had no limits. There were gravity-defying gymnastics that invariably ended with a basket. But there was also the ball handling, the competitiveness and the work ethic. (I know this because Doug watched tapes of his plays again and again and again. They were the soundtrack of my life for quite awhile.)
Hero worship is something we all occasionally fall into, and, depending on the hero, it’s not all bad. We might learn some new skills and/or acquire some new interests, etc. So it’s hardly surprising that my love of dishes, fabrics, furniture, color and design — really all the decorative elements — have led me to my own group of decorating heroes.
You may recall that I wrote here about the influence Mary Emmerling had on my early decorating, but she’s not my only design hero. If you checked my bookshelves, you would see that Charles Faudree is clearly a favorite. I’m not at all sure I have ever succeeded in recreating his lush, layered designs, but I’m happy to keep trying.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Faudree, he is an American designer known for his colorful take on country French interiors and credited by many for popularizing the look. I had admired a number of his rooms in magazines like Traditional Home for some time before I realized that they were all the work of one man.
Faudree’s designs feature a lot of center tables like this one, above, in a library (often the way he referred to an office or study) and, below, in an entry. The table tops are always decked with books, flowers and other meaningful brick-a-brack. I don’t have space for a center table, but I have toyed with similar arrangements atop our dining room table and on side tables.
Different spaces, same aesthetic
One of the things I appreciate about Charles Faudree’s designs is his ability to translate his aesthetic into different settings. The image above is a very traditional dining room, but the photo below features a more contemporary, voluminous space that still maintains his country French design.
Not all Faudree rooms are huge nor are they perfectly proportioned. I love the sunroon, below, but it’s clearly a narrow space.
And what wonderful rooms, furnished with beautiful antiques, plush couches and chairs always topped by a variety of pillows in a companionable array of colors, patterns, textures and trims (always trims — elegant tapes, fringe, tassels, ruffles, etc.). So many thoughtful details.
No room is too small or insignificant, no corner too obscure to escape his treatment. This would not work at my house, but I love the powder room below, especially the little Napoleon on the vanity, not to mention the sconces and wallpaper. Why shouldn’t a small powder room be so completely imaginative?
This transitional space, below, which could be clumsy in accommodating a distinct change of level, is instead totally charming; with chairs and a lamp it’s the perfect place to have a cup of tea or leaf through a magazine.
Despite his motto that “More is never enough,” Faudree often allows a distinctive antique or piece of art to stand on its own. I think the Swedish secretary, below, is from one of his own homes. And look how he allows the brooding Lincoln portrait to dominate the space.
But that “appropriateness” just one aspect of his aesthetic. For me, the real art of Faudree’s talent is in his attention to detail, perfectly placed objets d’arts, picture frames, figurines, cache pots, mementos, etc., all chosen to reflect the interests of the homeowner as well as the overall design. Many are pricey antiques, others are family pieces or flea market finds. (Truth to tell, I think the tension between high end and low end in one room or even one vignette makes a powerful statement.) In his hands, all of this fits perfectly into the greater design scheme. It’s personal, it’s layered, it’s thoughtful.
I’m not advocating assembling and displaying “stuff” for the sake of “stuff.” And I don’t think Faudree was either. But I do think that rooms devoid of artwork, photographs, books, collectibles from a hobby or travel tend to have a very sterile look, as though anyone could live there instead of the individuals who do.
I never tire of paging thru his books, reading and re-reading his comments about how or why various elements combined into the finished design. I always learn something new, about wall arrangements or color or collectibles. I also find that I am more than a little charmed by his impish personality, stories from friends and associates about buying trips in France and his prankish sense of humor. This is someone I really wish I could have met.
Sadly, Charles Faudree died in 2013. (I know, think of the rooms he could have designed, the books he could have written!) But, you can enjoy his many books from new and used sellers and even the library. Titles include: Charles Faudree Home,Charles Faudree Details, Charles Faudree Interiors, Country French Florals and Interiors, Charles Faudree’s Country French Living, Charles Faudree Country French Signature, and Charles Faudree Country French Legacy.
What about you, who or what inspires your interests?
My blue & white transferware collection started accidentally.
Back in the decorating dark ages, before Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram, etc., I studied design magazines in search of inspiration and ideas. When stacks of magazines threatened to overwhelm the various baskets, shelves and cabinets where I stuffed them, I would page thru each issue, tearing out favorite and/or appealing photos and drop them into a file. (Sometimes I wasn’t even sure why I liked them, but I saved a lotof pictures.)
Many photos were like the ones at left and below. Eventually, I realized that often the rooms I admired featured blue and white transferware and I decided then that acquiring some of these accent pieces could go a long way to getting the “look” I was after. So, when I saw affordable pieces at antique markets and second hand shops, I snapped up what I could.
What are we talking about here?
Transferware describes a type of pottery, most often plates, cups, vases, serving pieces and the like, decorated by transferring a detailed engraving from an inked copper plate to the blank pottery before firing. Although initially I was attracted to these pieces because of the blue and white color, I have come to appreciate the technique behind transferware. (Can you imagine the skill required to create the detailed engraving and then transfer it?) Lidy at The French Garden House offered a more expert explanation of this here. (The photos she includes of her collection are wonderful, and you can check out the pieces she has for sale on her website if ayou click on the “Shop” tab.)
The pieces of red and white transferware below illustrate the detail that went into many of the designs (I especially like when designs are repeated inside a piece as on the left). If you look closely at the piece on the right you can see that the design was not perfectly applied; it’s crooked on the bottom. I suppose it makes it a little less valuable, but I think it also reveals the hand-work that went into this piece.
Most of the pieces I have collected are from England, but others are French and some are American. I think there are just greater quantities of English transferware in the marketplace. Many of these pieces were manufactured for the 19th Century’s growing middle class. Bigger, more elaborate pieces and designs were created for the higher-end market. (There’s always a higher-end market!)
It did not take long for my transferware collection to reach beyond blue and white to encompass a number of red and white and brown and white pieces as well. I’m not sure why a particular piece “calls my name.” I’m often attracted to a plate or platter by the detailed border of the design or if a piece is shaped by scallops or fluting. These days I am searching out shapes beyond plates and platters. The compote in the image above is a new find. Some pieces are antique and others are reproductions. I guess I’m an equal opportunity collector!
These sugar bowls are a great example of my haphazard collecting. They share a common shape. Although the red one is round it also has a fluted base and the red and blue versions both have interesting lids. Sadly, the brown piece is missing its lid, but I really admire the crisp detail in its design. It’s much sharper than the other pieces. And look at the upswept handles on each piece! I’m crazy abut these details!
Sometimes transferware designs use more than one color. I found this fairly large bowl on a cold, sometimes rainy day at an end-of-season antique market. It’s less than perfect (you can see where it’s chipped). However, I loved the rich colors and the floral pattern which continues inside the bowl. I snapped it up for less than $50 (it pays to shop in the rain!) and it has been the star of the china cabinet for several years since. Or at least that’s the role it assumes when it’s not holding fruit or a holiday centerpiece.
This blue and orange plate is a more recent find. It’s proof that blue and white transferware rocks the orange/rust shades of autumn. Unfortunately, it has no identifying mark on the back, but it shows significant age.
My attachment to transferware drove some of the design decisions I made during our kitchen renovation a few years ago. I insisted on the “mantle” over the stove so I could show off a few special antique pieces. And I chose the green tile backsplash because it looked so good with the transferware. (Yes, I shopped for tile with a small plate in my pocket!)
I’ve been thinking about what drives this particular collection for me. It started with color and certainly that continues to play a role, but I also love the process behind these pieces and the fact that some of these designs are so well-loved, they are often revived in contemporary versions of their antique forebears. It’s also clear that some of my pieces are well-used, and I like to think that someone long ago set their table with the same plate or platter.
This is another favorite plate. It has the kind of details I really like: a fluted edge and that remarkable light and dark pattern that repeats on the lip of the plate. Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to these design nuances when I find something new to add to my collection.
I should add a disclaimer here that not everything in my collection is vintage or antique. I do have a number of reproductions, including all of the ginger jars that I display with some of the larger platters.
After I snapped this photo of a number of pieces I show off in the living room in my grandmother’s china cabinet, I realized that whether I consciously intended to or not, I continue to channel those photos I’ve saved. Compare this image to the one from Nell Hills at the opening of this post!
This collection is not especially valuable. I’ve acquired the pieces in a haphazard, whatever-is-affordable way. And, clearly, it has morphed considerably from my first purely decorative purpose. But like any collection — cookbooks, garden plants, quilts — it has been a joy to acquire and I can’t imagine our home without it!