Monday, January 16, 2012

Books and Houses

"Ah!  There is nothing like staying home, for real comfort" --   from "Emma" by Jane Austen.

In keeping with my British theme this month, there is probably no more beloved English writer that I could talk about than Jane Austen.  Her books, written two hundred years ago, continue to be read, made into movies, rewritten and turned into sequels.  Many people believe that this is because Jane Austen was writing about truths, truths about life and about human nature.  Truths that are still relevant today.  And she definitely had it right that most of us just want to be home for real comfort.  Sharing our homes with good friends is even better.

And so on a winter day in January, I can think of nothing better than welcoming a group of women to my house for lunch and a literary lecture. I am very excited to be hosting a special event to benefit Robinson Gardens, an historic home and gardens that was built in Los Angeles in 1911.  The Friends of Robinson Gardens raise money to support and maintain this historic property.  Our guests will have lunch at my house to be followed by a lecture given by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti  of the popular blog "A Bloomsbury Life."  She will be talking about her concepts of creating a warm and welcoming home in her lecture "The Hearth of the Matter:  How I Discovered My Design Style Through Books.


I  love Lisa's richly literary blog and her topic for this lecture.  I will be curious to hear about her favorite writers and how their books have influenced her design style in the homes she has lived in.  How we decorate our homes is very individual but many people agree that it is our personal collections of art, books and travel souvenirs that make our homes warm and inviting.   I have been collecting old books for a long time and years ago when traveling in England I was thrilled to find some treasured books by members of the Bloomsbury Group and I guess I could say that this collection influenced the look of some of the rooms in my house.  I am working on a needlepoint pillow that is a reproduction of one that was designed by Duncan Grant.  I can't wait to find a place for it on a couch or chair.   I have always been inspired by the friendships and devotion to books and art that motivated this group of writers and artists. They spent many happy days at Charleston, the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and it is their idea of home as a gathering space for friends and fellow artists that has always attracted me.

Charleston in Sussex, England

With Lisa's lecture coming up, I began to think about some of my favorite books and I realize that I often return to them for their cozy domestic scenes as well as their compelling stories and characters.

"Emma" reminds me that some of the most fascinating people are flawed and complicated, though still lovable and nothing is more important than nurturing our dear friendships.  This classic book by Jane Austen also fosters a desire to stay at home and be cozy.


"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens always inspires me to celebrate at home with the people I love.

My two favorite characters Margaret and Helen Shlegel of "Howards End" by E.M. Forster encourage me to bring together the fabulous and dynamic women I know and have them at my house.   I love the scenes of the two sisters having great discussions with friends in their elegant house in London.


An eccentric and fascinating English home I visited recently was the Dennis Severs house in London.

The Dennis Severs house at 18 Folgate Street in London

I had never heard of the Dennis Severs House in London until I read about it on "A Bloomsbury Life."  I am so glad I decided to make it a priority on my recent trip to London.  It is a recreation of an 18th-century house belonging to a silk-weaver in Spitalfields.  The rooms are deeply atmospheric and history is suggested by evocative still lifes and vignettes in every room.   It is truly a unique experience to walk through this house.  There is such an immediacy to the rooms, it is as if the inhabitants had just left before you entered.  The idea of home and all that goes on within the walls of a house is evoked in this experience.

One of the most important things I have learned since I have been blogging is how interconnected everything is and that most people who blog have a passion for something that is often infectious and can lead to many new roads in our lives.  The connections between people, their experience and discoveries, are what make this world of  blogging so interesting.

A room at the Dennis Severs house

And so I look forward to learning about the literary discoveries, connections, and experiences that Lisa has had that have formed her aesthetic sensibility.  I think we will all come away from this lecture with many new books to read and many new ideas for decorating our homes!   I wonder, which writers have influenced the way you decorate your home?


  1. Ah, you are in for a treat!
    An afternoon with the delightful Lisa. How I wish I was going to be on the west coast that day!
    You are so right about the Dennis Severs house. One of the highlights of London. I adored it.
    Like Lisa, books have greatly influenced my personal style, both in decorating and in fashion, I'm sure. From Thornfield to Manderley. Mrs. Dalloway's flower shop to Gryffindor common room. Who would I be without books?

  2. How fabulous and fun!

  3. What a smart topic. Sounds fascinating!

  4. I would LOVE to live in Charleston! I'd also love to hear the lecture. Maybe someone can record it? xo

  5. Meg, Charleston is really the coziest place. And it is just so beautiful inside with happy and colorful art work everywhere. You would love it! I will take notes at the lecture so I can let you know all about it!

    Pamela, yes I agree, the books I have read are such a part of who I am. They are everywhere in my house, and so many of their stories have influenced my personal style, in decorating and fashion. And all the places they have taken me!

  6. I wish I could teleport to your lecture! Sounds fabulous. I'll have to go check out A Bloomsbury Life--sounds fascinating.

    My style is definitely rooted in the interwar British country house (with noble but impoverished inhabitants!). My biggest literary style inspirations are Alconleigh, St. Mary Mead, Angela Thirkell novels and anything written about Oxbridge dons.

  7. I would love to be at your luncheon and hear the lecture given by Lisa Giramonti. A worthy cause and wonderful event for your guest. Interesting topic, and thoughts to ponder. Now I am thinking about what writers have influenced my lifestyle. Like you I enjoy cooking and having a cozy evening at home especially during the winter season.

    The French Hutch

  8. Your posts are always so stimulating to read! I love Jane Austen, and have just finished reading Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in the last three months). Reading Pride & Prejudice during these last few months has definitely influenced the current look of my home. I have turned my thoughts toward the entertaining of friends & family, family dinners and board and card games and have rearranged the furniture to accommodate the festivities.

    I have not visited Charleston, but I hope to when my travels take me back to England. The photos and descriptions of its interiors really intrigue me. Have fun working on your pillow. I would love to see it when you have finished!


  9. What a fabulous luncheon and what a treat for your guests. Books have been such an influence on my life from the classics to contemporary writer, to all kinds!!

  10. How fun--I can't wait to hear about Lisa's lecture!

    I'd say my decorating has been greatly inspired by various novels featuring British country houses, especially those in which the inhabitants have traveled widely and brought home treasures from the "Orient" and Europe.

  11. So wish I could come especially since you and I were clearly on the same page today!! Yours with a more literary bent to be sure!

  12. The luncheon is today, right? I know it'll be a very special day, and I do wish I could be there. Maybe next year?

  13. 'Many people believe that this is because Jane Austen was writing about truths, truths about life and about human nature.' So true. I do like it when you blog about Austen!