Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Great Day

"It is always an adventure to enter a new room; for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we breast some new wave of emotion..."
--  Virginia Woolf, "Street Haunting"

I was very excited to be hosting a lunch and lecture by the very talented writer Lisa Borgnes Giramonti of the richly literary blog "A Bloomsbury Life."  It turned out to be a very special day, a day of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, and Nancy Mitford.  It was a day of talking about homes and the people who make them.  It was a day of learning how some of the great writers created memorable domestic scenes in their books, scenes that could inspire us in decorating our homes.  Maybe it is the unsettled times we are living in right now, but it seems as if everyone is in nesting mode and interested to hear someone talk seriously about the art of making a home. 

This event was to benefit Robinson Gardens, an historic home and gardens built in Los Angeles in 1911.  Lisa would be giving her lecture called "The Hearth of the Matter:  How I Discovered My Design Style Through Books."

After a lunch that included butternut squash soup, salmon, and sticky toffee pudding, we assembled for Lisa's lecture. She is a warm and engaging speaker, funny and bright, always encouraging and inspiring in her ideas.   She has thought long and hard about how to live a meaningful life and has some very interesting things to say.  She started with the concept that the books she has loved have formed the person she is today.  Her personal style, especially in the way she decorates her home and lives her life within that home, has been influenced by the beautiful moments that occur in books in between the big events -- the descriptions of the food and the houses and the gardens and the parties -- all these things influenced who she is today.  She has learned to live a meaningful life from these great passages and her intention today was to share with us many of the books that made a difference. 

She told us that when she reads a novel she thinks of herself as a domestic explorer, always on the lookout for clues on how to live a more simple, meaningful life.  From the time she was a child she delighted in reading, like so many of us, and would fall into a book and be swept away.  And it was the beautiful moments, when the characters would have an impromptu tea party in the garden, that she wanted to recreate in her life.

A collage of images from Lisa's home in Hollywood

She told us that thanks to "Tender is the Night" she knows how to throw a magical outdoor dinner party

And thanks to "The Pickwick Papers" she knows how to make a house feel snug and warm and welcoming.

And thanks to "I Capture the Castle" she knows that there is sometimes more glamour in disorder than order.

Charleston Farmhouse, where the Bloomsbury Group spent much time

She told us about inheriting a collection of Bloomsbury books three years ago and thus was born her love of the Bloomsbury Group.  Through these books she got to know Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, and others and admired their zest for life, passion for art, and dedication to the ideals of friendship and honesty.  They were born into the Victorian era but became fierce advocates for freedom and modernism.  They lived with flair and no pretension in the bohemian household of Charleston, a house that was beautiful and imperfect, filled with art and love.  As Angelica Garnett has described it, life at Charleston seemed bathed "in the glow of a perpetual summer."  This warm and happy house was another inspiration for Lisa and she talked about her fascination with the Bloomsbury Group and the environment they created.

The entry hall of Lisa's home 

She showed us several pictures of her home in Los Angeles, and we saw the ways it has been influenced by her favorite books.  It is a deeply personal home, layered with history and meaning.  Her beloved books are everywhere and I love that she decided to paint her bookshelves black like the ones at Hatchards in London, because the books really look spectacular that way.  Her entryway is papered in a "Secret Garden" style wallpaper so she can imagine she is in a country garden when she walks in the door.  Her Aga stove presides over her kitchen and evokes a kitchen in one of the great country houses, such as in the novels by Nancy Mitford.  There are many British touches throughout and the home feels warm and inviting, well loved and well lived in.  The sheep sculpture by the door gives the feeling of an English pastoral scene right out of "Mapp and Lucia."

Everyone loved the lecture.  It was a magical day filled with many things to think about and nobody wanted it to end. As everyone said good-bye, we all agreed that it was a day we wouldn't forget and somehow I think what we heard will have a lasting influence on all of us.  We loved Lisa's suggestion to pull a table or sofa out onto the lawn and have a party.  Or to use the good china and not care if a piece gets broken.  What good is it if you never use it?  And when our rugs start to look worn, that is the natural wear and tear on a house and it adds lovely patina to a room.  All of these thoughts are part of her warm and comfortable approach to decorating a house.  But most importantly, I think we are all determined to read more and look for inspiration for our homes in our favorite books.


Later that day I thought about a scene from "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf that has always stayed with me, when Clarissa Dalloway is rushing around her neighborhood in London, buying flowers and getting ready for her party later that night.  I have always loved it for the happiness and excitement the character feels as she is about to have her party and anticipates bringing her guests together in the warmth and comfort of her home:

"Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street.  For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh:  but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on the same...they love life.  In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses...brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved;  life;  London;  this moment in June."

All photos --  except the first one, the one of Lisa and the one of Charleston  -- are by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti via


  1. This post has touched a chord with me. I love what you said, "Maybe it is the unsettled times we are living in right now, but it seems as if everyone is in nesting mode and interested to hear someone talk seriously about the art of making a home." That describes me completely. I can't control the stock and real estate markets right now (two things that effect my life greatly), but I can affect the atmosphere of my home. During times when things are most uncertain, I seek the comfort of the familiar: places, people and things.

    In the past year, I have reread many of my favorite books and have found that I paid closer attention to the domestic scenes and arrangements. Last fall, I rearranged my living room furniture trying to conjure the feeling of a relaxed and comfortable English country home with all inherent feel of warmth and stability that time-worn pieces bring.

    I do so love reading your posts. I love photos too, of course, but in a world of Pinterest and Tumblr it is also nice to have something wonderfully stimulating to read too.

    Have a wonderful Sunday, dear friend!


  2. Keri, you have really made my day! I can't tell you how much your kind words mean to me. We obviously have much in common and I know exactly what you mean about at least being able to affect the atmosphere and comfort of your home. Our homes can feel like a haven when the rest of the world seems so uncertain. I have always been a homebody and love surrounding myself with books, art, travel souvenirs and photos of my family. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and enjoy our favorite show -- "Downton Abbey" tomorrow night.
    Sunday xx

  3. Lisa's talk sounds so interesting. I can't say that I particularly take notice of the domestic arrangements in novels (apart from Wind in the Willows - I love Mole's snug little home), but I certainly will now. I am also glad to learn that 'there is sometimes more glamour in disorder than order.' I can reassure myself that I have an extremely glamourous home.

  4. What a wonderful post. Lisa's lecture sounds so magical, and I'm glad you were able to capture some of the highlights here. Perhaps because I was an interior and architectural designer for so many years, and was exhausted at night from it, I never paid that much attention to the descriptions of interiors in novels I was reading. I would see films, that might inspire me (Out of Africa, for example) ~ but I'm going to re-read all of the above novels, and pay more attention to those other descriptions. I've read "Tender is the Night" probably 10 times, and I have very little memory (other than what happens) of the visual details of the outdoor parties. Thanks Sunday, for a great post.

  5. I'm going to have to start paying more attention to the specific things in books that inspire me. Since you mentioned Nancy Mitford, I just thought of Fanny and Alfred's house in Oxford. I truly think I may have either been an Oxford don or married to one in a past life. ;-)

    Oh my goodness--I can't wait to have an AGA. Someday!

  6. And..
    "Tender is the Night"
    first line of a beautiful song by Blur 1998.

  7. What an absolutely wonderful experience to enjoy a sumptuous lunch and then listen to Lisa with all of her knowledge and enthusiasm. I have always paid attention to the descriptions of lives, homes in books, but didn't necessarily take it for my very own. Thank you Sunday and Lisa for exhancing my reading.

  8. I've been looking forward to this--thank you so much for sharing details from Lisa's talk and the lovely lunch you all had together!

  9. I was lucky to be there and completely agree this was a great, great day! Thank you for hosting something so special.

  10. This is such an interesting post! I'm a fan of Lisa's blog and really enjoyed hearing about some of her home's literary influences. I'll definitely be reading with a new eye toward home inspirations from now on.

  11. I certainly think that homes can be inspiring for a lot of people and they can actualuence literature. I once read a book about a woman who had travelled to Argentina and had decided to rent apartments in buenos aires only to see new things and get new ideas for her writings!