Monday, May 26, 2014

Not Your Typical Summer Book

Well, I did it! I finished Middlemarch by George Eliot, a book I have wanted to read for a very long time. It wasn't easy but after a while I got into the rhythm of the prose, connected with the characters and grew to love it. Though I never thought I would finish it on a vacation in Hawaii!

 I was sitting poolside when I read the final chapter "Finale" with tears in my eyes. This is not exactly your typical beach read. But I have to say that the last one hundred pages were gripping and I couldn't put the book down. For me it was the perfect vacation read.

"Dorothea, he said to himself, was forever enthroned in his soul: no other woman could sit higher than her footstool."
-- George Eliot, "Middlemarch"

Have you read "Middlemarch"? Did you like it?


I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend!
And reading something fabulous!

Next Up:  Ten Books For Summer Reading

Monday, May 19, 2014

If You Love Flowers...

The Library at Robinson Gardens

May is a glorious month for gardens and if you live in Los Angeles you probably know that May is the month for a very special garden event. It is when the Robinson Gardens Tour happens (this year on May 17) and the house that Virginia and Harry Robinson built in 1912 is decorated by florists and designers and opened to the public. It's the best garden party in town!

The Living Room

Part of the event is the opportunity to see four private gardens in Los Angeles. After seeing those gardens everyone arrives at the Robinson estate ready for lunch and festivities. It is always fun to walk through the house first before going out to the great lawn for lunch. If you love flowers, you will be in heaven. Each room is bursting with gorgeous floral arrangements. Here are some of the highlights of  the Robinson Gardens House this year.

The living room was decorated with sumptuous flower arrangements by Sticks and Stone

Interior design by Marcie Bronkar

The Morning Room
Interior design by Kathleen Spiegelman and Hollyhock

The morning room feels old school and could easily be the setting for a tea tray brought in by Mr. Carson from "Downton Abbey." This room's femininity was enhanced by the gorgeous flower arrangements bursting with pink peonies created by Eric Buterbaugh.

Love the blue and white vase filled with peonies

The Library
Floral design by Mark's Garden, Interior design by Mindy Weiss

For me the library was the stand-out room. The theme was books, flowers and enchantment. The designers created a fantasy dreamscape for garden and book lovers. Mark's Garden designed a bridge table made out of roses that was absolutely amazing. The florist created ropes of greenery and roses which he hung on library ladders. These were displayed all around the room and looked very pretty against the leather bound books. This room was magical.

There I am taking a photo of the mantel

Master Bath
Flowers by Beverly Hills Garden Club

Dining Room
Flowers by Mark Byrd

Kitchen Patio
Flowers by Edie Zaratsian
Patio Glassware from Mayfair House

Le Creuset ceramics from Mayfair House
Such a gorgeous shade of green!

"There is material enough in a single flower for the ornament of a score of cathedrals."
-- John Ruskin

If you love flowers and are in Los Angeles next May, be sure to get a ticket for the outstanding Robinson Gardens Tour!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Eye Candy

Eden roses in bloom
April, 2013 

"Do you ever find yourself bursting into a sort of lunatic laughter at the sheer prettiness of things?
-- Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols has to be the funniest garden writer of all time. Now is a great time to read him. Of course, writers have been writing odes to spring forever. It must be the quintessential season of "prettiness." It is easy at this time of the year to develop a serious case of spring fever. You know the feeling -- you walk outside and everything looks so beautiful and smells so fresh you want to jump for joy. Here are a few of the best things about spring, along with some quotes by writers who were inspired by "the sheer prettiness of things."

Seeing a favorite flower return
Garden Conservancy's Open Days -- May, 2014

"I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one." -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Going to a garden party
Garden Conservancy's Open Days -- May, 2014

"And after all the weather was ideal. 
They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it." -- Katherine Mansfield

Admiring the blossoming trees
Our pear tree -- April, 2013

"There are so  many bird-cherries round me, great trees with branches sweeping the grass, and they are so wreathed just now with white blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding."
-- Elizabeth Von Armin

 Reading a beloved garden writer
Down The Garden Path by Beverley Nichols

"A garden is a place for shaping a little world of your own according to your heart's desire."
-- Beverley Nichols

Watching a garden come back to life
The Cotswolds, England -- Spring, 2010

"Spring drew on...and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggests the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps."
-- Charlotte Bronte

Celebrating with afternoon tea
Mother's Day -- May, 2014

"Tea was served in the dining room -- a wonderful spread with farm butter, honey in the comb, home-made cakes and currant loaf, served in a pink lustre tea service." -- Gerald Brenan

Going on a garden tour -- Robinson Gardens Tour is on May 17
Virginia Robinson Gardens -- May, 2013

"It is spring again,
The earth is like a child
that knows poems by heart."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke

It may be that spring has inspired the greatest outpouring of joy by writers. Do you have a favorite book that conjures up the season? Mine is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin. It tells the story of four unhappy British women who go to Italy in April and are reborn. It gets me every time. And what about a favorite quote? There are so many. I love the one about the trees by Elizabeth Von Armin (from Elizabeth And Her German Garden) and may never see blossoming trees any other way!

 "...they are so wreathed just now with white blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding."

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Virginia Woolf Kind of Room

 "Mrs. Dalloway" window designed by Catherine Kwong at George Smith on La Cienega Boulevard 

I was so excited when I heard about the theme for this year's La Cienega Design Quarter 6th Annual Legends: "Novel Interiors: Storytelling by Design." This is a highly anticipated weekend of design events in West Hollywood that includes panels, parties, and incredible window installations by some of the best interior designers. On Friday I went to see the window displays on La Cienega Boulevard and they were fabulous. The designers went all out and used novels such as "Mrs. Dalloway," "Passage to India" and "Out of Africa" as their muse. Among my favorites were "Mrs. Dalloway" by Catherine Kwong at George Smith, "The Enchanted April"by Krista and George Everage at Egg and Dart (a shout out to my friend Krista -- great job!) and "A Moveable Feast" by Thomas Calloway at Holland and Sherry. They were all brilliant. It was hard to take photos in the daytime with the window reflections so I borrowed these image from Lonny Magazine which did a fantastic job covering the event. Go here to see more of these beautiful windows. And be sure to take a stroll along La Cienega at night to enjoy these creative interpretations of great books by some very talented interior designers.

"The Enchanted April" window designed by Krista and George Everage at Egg And Dart

Inspired by the windows on La Cienega, I realized the the idea of connecting home design with literature is one I have always loved. When I visited Charleston, the country retreat of the Bloomsbury artists and writers in England, I bought some fabric that was designed by Duncan Grant and had two pillows made from it. They sit on the leather chairs in my library, with a letter from Virginia Woolf and a photo of her hanging above. I found some ceramic pieces on La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles that look as if they could have been painted by Vanessa Bell and put them on the bookshelves. Whenever I walk past this room, I feel a little of the Bloomsbury spirit.

My collection of design books and magazines is growing by leaps and bounds and recently I found an article from an old House Beautiful magazine called "A Henry James kind of house." I loved the idea of identifying a design style with a writer. It is a different and interesting way to look at design. In that article Michael Smith said "there's something quite romantic and beautiful about an old New York, Henry James kind of house." It was fascinating to think about which writers would inspire with memorable interiors, which ones created rooms that are so thoroughly evoked we can practically move in. Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James all did this. The homes and interior spaces in their novels are like characters themselves. They have that lived in and layered look that tells a story. Looking at images of rooms by some of my favorite decorators, I found some great interiors that look as if they could be right out of a novel. Take a look...

This living room corner lit by candlelight captures the romance of old New York found in the books by Henry James
Design by Michael Smith
Photo via here

 This library in a Manhattan town house could be Lawrence Selden's study in "A House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton.
Design by Jeffrey Bilhuber
Photo via here

This elegant, ancestral-looking room could be right out of a novel by Elizabeth Bowen
Design by Michael Smith
Photo via here

This feminine library reminds me of Vita Sackville-West, author of "The Edwardians," who grew up in her family's ancestral estate in Kent. Like Virginia Woolf, she believed in "a room of one's own."
Design by Charlotte Moss
Photo via here

This room has the well-traveled look you might find in a book by Evelyn Waugh
Design by Bunny Williams
Photo via here

This room captures the intimacy of tea with the vicar, a recurring scene in the books by Barbara Pym
Designer unknown
Photo via here

This room could be the setting for a tete a tete between Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse in "Emma" by Jane Austen
Designer unknown
Photo via here

This Bloomsbury-inspired room from Domino Magazine (2007) has the artsy and bohemian style of Virginia Woolf and her set set - love that rug!
Photo via here

This kitchen looks as if it could be part of the country house at the center of  "Howards End"  by E. M Forster
Design by Ben Pentreath
Photo via here

And this hallway looks as if it could be in the London house belonging to the Schlegel sisters in the same book by E.M. Forster
Design by Ben Pentreath
Photo via here

This foyer captures the 1920's glamour of a Noel Coward play
Design by Miles Redd
Photo via here

If you live in Los Angeles and want to be reminded of how great novels can inspire decorators, be sure to take a stroll along La Cienega Boulevard. Go in the evening when the windows are lit. You will see how some very talented designers interpreted their favorite books. The windows will be up through the end of the month.

P.S. Go here to see Flavorwire's pick of "The 25 Greatest Homes in Literature"

Monday, May 5, 2014

Inspiration Everywhere

We had such a wonderful trip to New York. Not only was the weather perfect and the tulips blooming, we also saw some great art and theater. There was inspiration around every corner. Between walking everywhere and enjoying the cultural treasures of this city, this trip was one of the best. Here are some highlights:

Seeing the breathtaking revival of "Cabaret"starring Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams

Alan Cumming was born to play this role. He is outstanding as the emcee. The play is so different from the film and for days afterwards I couldn't stop thinking about it. Tremendous performances, a haunting story, and a chilling ending -- all came together for an unforgettable experience.  

Hanging out at Pierpont Morgan's study in The Morgan Library

This bastion of literature and old New York is one of my favorite spots to visit

We saw this letter from Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins saying he was changing the ending of "Great Expectations"!

And this fabulous exhibition of "The Little Prince"

Did you know that this French tale was written and published in New York City during the two years that Antoine de Saint-Exupery spent here at the height of World War II?

Basking in the beauty at the Frick (always!)

And visiting this painting of  Lady Hamilton by George Romney

After reading The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag years ago, I became fascinated by Emma Hamilton and the love affair she had with the British naval hero Lord Nelson. She was a famous beauty and her romance with Nelson was the biggest scandal of the time.

Being wowed by one of the vast halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Learning about the history of books at The Grolier Club. This organization was founded in 1884 and is the country's oldest society for bibliophiles. We saw the The Dean of American Printers exhibition.

Reading this at a photography exhibition at the Met
Paris really was where it was at and Gertrude Stein was at the center of it all.

 Sitting on a bench at the Met and gazing at this

Shopping for books and finding this gem at Crawford Doyle, my favorite old-fashioned New York bookstore

As well as this Bloomsbury treasure -- Vanessa Bell designed the beautiful dust jacket 

Walking past this amazing place -- I named it the "Daffodil House" -- on one of our walks

And indulging in the best french fries at Balthazar!

When we got home we were greeted by this:

Our new rose bush is starting to make its way up the arbor. Have you ever noticed that when you go away, even for just a short time, the garden seems to have performed miracles while you were gone?

P.S.  And this weekend a little something magical happened in West Hollywood:

And it happened so fast. I was there and they were there. The owner of the restaurant knows I am a big fan of Downton Abbey -- a piece of information he decided to share with this group who happened to be sitting right next to me. Prior to this I had been stealing furtive glances in their direction to confirm in my mind that yes, they were indeed members of the cast of "Downton Abbey." The next thing I knew we were all talking and this happened! These four charming Brits (Rob James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt and Sophie McShera) were in town promoting their hit show and were kind enough to take a photo with me. They could not have been friendlier. Rob James-Collier who plays Thomas asked me which one of these four was my favorite character. I had to admit it was Mrs. Hughes. After all, doesn't she hold the downstairs staff together and keep Mr. Carson in check? Phyllis Logan plays Mrs. Hughes and she is beautiful. As is each member of this group. What a magical night it was!