Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Prettiest Blue and White Décor Ever: Victoria Magazine July 1991

Photo: William P. Steele

I’d love to share with you my absolute favorite feature in any periodical ever.  

Photo: William P. Steele

The symphony of stunning décor and sweet storytelling is more than an ode of the joys of a summer vacation home—it transcends that and becomes the archetype of a summer vacation home.   It beckons you to follow the lifestyle always.

The harmony and repetition of form and color in this kitchen is extraordinary.   The stripes in the blue and white wallpaper are echoed in the vertical strips of beadboard wainscoting, and the square floor tiles are sympathetic in color and shape.   There are more vertical elements – in the backs of all the mismatched flea market chairs, and the freshly laundered linens and curtains.

And then, there’s the opposite element: circular forms.   Feminine hats on the rack, a pair of platters on the wall, wildflowers including scabiosa and Queen Anne’s Lace tossed on a chair as if the picker just went to find an empty mayonnaise jar to put them in—all counterpoint the linear suite of the space’s backdrop.

An old house with a real butler’s party or larder.   Pure utility and luxury in the same place.  
Photo: William P. Steele

If you’ve never stayed in a vacation home for the summer (I haven’t), it matters not.   You will feel as if you have after reading.

This essay brings a tear to my eye after I re-read it twenty years after the first time it arrived in my mailbox when I was a freshly minted college graduate.   Written in the proper but warm tone of a Victorian lady penning a letter, it vibrantly depicts the ripe details of a fleeting thing as summer, and how they so permanently affix in one’s memory.

                                                *                        *                       *

Porch Swings, Old Novels, and Memories of Summers Past
by Catherine Calvert
(Originally published in the “Leaves” section of Victoria magazine, July 1991)

Though many a house has sheltered me in the course of summers past, one memory serves to tie them all.  It’s early afternoon, and all is sweet peace.  Just a shift of the pillows sets the porch swing swaying gently—pillows covered in faded chintz with the slightly musty scent that attests to their long winter’s nap in the shed.  The book lying tented across my chest is slightly musty too, foxed with the brown spots of age, since it was left downstairs in the bookcase 30 or 40 years ago.  You may be sure there’s nothing in it to tax the brain: it’s a romance and Cressida and Percy are settling their futures over a game of tennis.  But I shall simply revel in the pleasures of the present, listening to the burr of the lawn mower down the road, watching the hornets busy themselves with their nest, biting into the slice of lemon I’ve fished from my iced tea.
     Ah, the joys of a summer place!  Unlike year-round houses filled with serious furniture and serious concerns, this is a house that transcends utility, that summons up the joys of summertime when you cross the threshold.  Shuffle off your shoes and pad across the cool floors, search out the porch (there has to be a porch with the traditional blue painted roof).  Count the beds, with their white counterpanes and sagging springs—all is as it should be, as it was, and ever shall be.
     The proper summer house exists out of time and has a sort of parallel life to our own workaday existence.  I’ve been lucky living in some of the classics—breeze-swept houses by the sea in towns where generations of voyagers have spun out their summers under the maple trees.  Whether turreted Victorians or restrained 18th-century houses with center halls, they had much in common.  You’d pry the door open, as it stuck from winter’s dampness, and be met with that curious scent of past summers, compounded of damp bathing suits and Sunday morning bacon, dried wildflowers forgotten in vases, and sofa cushions that had seen too many wet towels.  The floors were usually broad expanses of painted boards, so welcoming to sandy feet, with dust kittens rolling about under the furniture, testimony to haphazard housekeeping.  
     Everyone would claim a bedroom, searching out the one with the mattress that least resembled a hammock and longing for the sound of the sea singing in the ear at night.  The kitchens and baths were mere utility—if that.  Many of these houses were old, having belonged to families who’d farmed potatoes in the neighborhood for 200 years.  If they were content with a toilet the rumbled and a stove that spit, surely these city folk could make do.  And who planned much time inside anyway, when beach and meadow summoned?  
     Summer houses serve as the last repository for many families:  Grandmother’s parlor suite sits next to a 1950s plywood table, and always wicker squeaks under its layers of paint, a protest, perhaps, against generations of spring spruce-ups.  Any decorating scheme is as much a matter of memories as of material possessions.
     Making our home our own was always easy.  We could add what we liked—and subtract.  Sometimes we’d spend the first few hours hiding the owners’ plastic lobsters, fake fishnets, and seagull mobiles in a deep dark closet to allow a clean sweep of our time there.  There was always the delicious sense of being temporary, of freedom never knew at home.  Drape a Marseilles spread over the sofa, swap the lamps around, drag the softest chair into the landing that overlooks the lake—all is permissible, all is comfortable.  The point is to put one’s stamp on the house and settle in.
     As June faded into July and then August, each house would become more and more ours.  Our accumulations grew, the sum of summer days.  Someone would gather a bucket of irresistible shells, as pink as the first light of morning, and scatter them along the mantelpiece.  There were always tomatoes ripening on the windowsills and handfuls of berries found on country lanes.  A seagull feather was dropped on the duck decoy, and wildflowers filled every jelly glass, shedding their petals on the table.
Books mounted on every surface.  My favorites were the long-forgotten lode in every bookcase, the frothy reading of previous generations, school stories and adventure tales, courtly romances and memoirs of the Spanish American War—all to be gobbled, as they had originally, while we were ensconced in the porch swing.
     We’d line the sideboard with jars of beach plum jelly from the Ladies Beautification Committee Fair and hang a watercolor of a rose discovered at a tag sale—and consider all of it quite beautiful indeed (if anyone had paused to look in between dashes to the tennis courts or bike rides to the beach).
     The most important piece of furniture in the house was undoubtedly the dining room table, which was large, square, and surrounded by ten mismatched chairs that wobbled when discussions grew animated.  Dinnertime was precious, and not a few morning hours were devoted to driving to the lobster pound and idling in the farmer’s market, hefting the green bundles of basil, or eyeing the corn with the concentration of a connoisseur.  At twilight, an intrepid friend would crouch, under the cover of rising mists, and scratch through the neighboring field for forgotten potatoes.  After that, the whole glorious pile of provender would be cleaned and steamed and served, with rivers of butter and some herbs, to the impatient table.  Conversation dwindled as everyone ate, the only arguments rising over whether this was, in fact, the best corn all summer, or whether lobsters should be plunged into cold or boiling water.  Then the evening would spin on, as the fireflies flashed through the screens, and everyone talked through the night and felt the glow of sun-warmed skin and good friendship.
     Thinking back, I realize that the only time I ever really looked at any of our summer houses was on the last day, just before I turned the key in the lock to go home.  My ostensible mission was to search for anything forgotten, but that final survey was always poignant.  The house never seemed so tidy—already the tides of family life were receding.  I’d walk from room to room, looking at and then lowering the windows and pulling the shades.  In the kitchen, I’d reach for the bouquet of wildflowers, then leave it there, knowing it would surely wilt on the journey home.  But I would seek out one last shell from the mantelpiece to carry with me, my fingers searching its cool, smooth contours, a shell as empty, and as beautiful, as that tall old house by the sea.

by Catherine Calvert
(Originally published in the “Leaves” section of Victoria magazine, July 1991)

                                                                        *                            *                            *

Photo: William P. Steele

In the spirit this essay, I switched out my pink things and to “allow a clean sweep” 
in honor of late summer.  

Rachel Ashwell pillows from Mervyn’s I bought on Ebay nearly ten years ago for $20 each.  
I sewed her ‘Brolly Blue’ ticking poplin on the reverse as I never cared for
the original sprigged print because there was too much red for me.  

The swatches from my ‘idea folder’ during my blue and white stage.  
From left to right: Ralph Lauren’s “Saratoga Toile” in blue, Rachel Ashwell’s
Simply Shabby Chic “Amanda” fabric from a shower curtain, Ralph Lauren’s
“Sarasota Stripe” wallpaper, and Rachel Ashwell’s “Brolly Blue” poplin ticking. 
The only way to get these would be on Ebay as they’re no longer offered 
with the exception of the “Saratoga Toile”.

Sometimes, a little powder blue makes pink prettier. 
Book cover graphic: Tattered Vintage #308 $3.75 

My dogs show up outside my screen door, meaning My King wants me down to share “the whole glorious pile of provender…steamed and served with rivers of butter and some herbs at the impatient table”, so I must blow out the candles and descend from my hillside accompanied by fireflies and cricket song to join him.
Though my style no longer is so ‘farmhousey’, I never tire of staring at the home featured in Victoria, for when I was working, dreaming, or renovating and felt discouraged by the long way I still had to march before I reached my goal of a home of my own, I’d take this magazine out and gaze at these pictures.   And I’d feel at home.   This is the magic of Victoria.

Catherine Calvert is Victoria’s Writer-In-Residence again, so we may enjoy more of her prose once more.

What is your favorite Victoria article?

Until next time, stay shabby!

I'll be sharing this with:
for Victoria: Return to Loveliness

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Bella said...

Hi Sandy... Enchanting.. I have never heard it expressed so well, that feeling I want to create within my home:-)
I hope you and your king are having a fabulous weekend and enjoying the best corn of the season :-)

* French at Heart * said...

~*~LOVE your post! I cant believe those images are from beautiful and timeless~*~Thanks for sharing~*~*Rachel :)

elinAnita (eddaskreativiteter ) said...

Absolutly beautiful_)I love al of it..
Have a great sunday

Fågel Blå said...

So lovely photo!!!!!
So wonderful romantic!!!!
Have a nice Sunday!

Laura @ 52 FLEA said...

I adore blue and white and these pictures are classics. I have all my old Victoria magazines and still love to pull them out when in need of a bit of inspiration! :)Laura

Dreamy Whites said...

Hello Sandy
What a beautiful post! I love the Victoria Magazine!

Your studio is amazing! You are so creative and talented!
I hope you are having a great weekend!
Take Care,
P.S. I want to thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog and leave me such kind comments about my bedroom! I really appreciate it!
Thank you

Bea said...

Wow! thats soo cool!

elsamarianne said...

Your posts are beatiful.Love this one especially.
I return to my old Victoria magazines once in a while for inspiration and for rememberance of the years of 1980-90 when we buildt up our new life. We left the city for a country life, and Victoria inspired me when we decorated the house. Have a nice sunday

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning Sandy!

I have enjoyed your journey to reach your goal, and what lovely results. I cannot tell you how much you have changed the décor in my bedroom, yes, YOU! You don't even know me, but your vision and taste has reached to the mid-west, in my home in Minneapolis! I loved Victoria in its beginning stages, and this style will always be my first and foremost choice. My bedroom as well as my studio are decorated in this fashion, while the rest of my house has a French country feel, using organic and EARTHY tones with darker woods. Keep going dearest, you have inspired many!!!! Anita

Tina Eudora said...

Oh Sandy you have brought back such lovely memories! I used to live for Victoria magazine and I believe I have all but maybe 2-3 that were published. I was always in awe of Toshi Otsuki's photography each month.
Like great music in a film Toshi's pictures made everything so lovely and unforgetable.
I will definitely have to go through my Victoria's and find my favorite articles, there were many!
Have a great Sunday...
Tina xo

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

Dear 'Victoria'!

Favorite? Way to many, from which to choose.

Dear, dear 'Victoria'...

A Cottage Muse said...

How lovely! I love to browse through all my favorite magazines I have saved over the long, cold winters. Although I don't want summer to end I do have something to look forward to!

Jojo said...

Sandy, Maybe you don't have a summer home but you have your very own grown up playhouse and in some ways that is even better!

I had to smile when I saw the pictures from old issues of Victoria. I don't have all issues but I do have a number of the issues from the 90s and no doubt I can read them over and over again.

Have a great week.

Debby said...


Ozma of Odds said...

...when I come for a visit to your blog, I feel as though your glorious spaces have been amongst those Victoria pages...timeless beauty ~ Oh what an inspiration you are!!
xo, Rosemary

Lilla Blanka said...

Hi sweet Sandy!

Oh... what a great post!

I really agree, those pictures show a magnificent home, classic, timeless and absolutely lovely!

I always leave your blog with a smile and full of inspiration, thanks!

Wishing you a lovely Sunday!

Marie Arden said...

So dreamy! I too have saved every issue of Victoria and use photos for inspiration keep them forever.
I am thrilled it is being published again. My favorite articles were ones about Paris I used them as guides first time I went in 1980's.
Marie Arden Pink Living

Linda said...

Beautiful, Sandy...the soft blue is restful! I don't know that I could pick a favorite Victoria article~ it's always so wonderful...

Connie said...

I remember that issue of the magazine well, sweetpea! I remember because of that pantry or larder and wished I could duplicate it. The old Victoria was my favorite magazine. New one, not so much. Maybe it'll get better but there was nothing like that old one.

CHERI said...

I'll never have a summer home but I'd be content with a little "dollhouse" like yours! I always love looking at all-white, feminine, "prissy" decor....but it's not really me. My hubby would hate it and I tend to like color, color, color! If I had a little retreat like yours though I would probably fru-fru it all up!

Mariette said...

Dearest Sandy,

Lovely blog, as I too have been a fan of Victoria from the beginning and it was a SAD moment when they stopped. So glad they're back in print, even if it's only every other month! Guess it still is the style of many more readers like us... Maybe we can convert some more readers by showing them the bliss of some romantic home!

Have a great week with King and Furry friends!

Greetings from Georgia,


June said...

Sandy I have so many favorites and I love almost all the issues of my Victorias. When they would come in the mail it was like a special guest had arrived. I would steal away to be with my dear friend and I was not to be disturbed. LOL!
Your style is amazing and it speaks to my heart.

Nellie's Cozy place said...

Hi Sandy,
What a lovely lovely post. That first pic where you see the kitchen with all the white and light blue,
the hats on the wall and the plates and the flowers on the chair, just a breathtaking scene, almost makes the heart stop!! So Beautiful, your cottage has that same joy to it!
I used to get Victoria magazine, but I haven't had a subscription this year and have missed it, but it still takes my breath away when I see those Romantic simply beautiful pics.
Hope you are having a delightful dinner and weekend.
Blessings, Nellie

chateaudelille said...

Victoria has definitely been my favourite for such a long long time. I was so happy when they started publishing again.Every magazine, no matter how old, is still gorgeous and never seems to date, not like others do. I will never part with mine!Fiona

Angie said...

These rooms were so gorgeous and calming. Thanks for sharing.

shari @ little blue deer said...

Your home is stunning! I love it, so, so gorgeous! I miss Victoria, I used to work in a little drugstore in high school and we were allowed to read the magazines, that was one of my favorites! Yup, I was in high school in 1991! Love your gorgeous, gorgeous blog, happy to be your newest follower!

Rebecca of Sunny Morning Farm said...

Oh Sandy, where do I begin? Love the house in this post! Love the larder/pantry very much!

I do have a vacation/retirement home that we are renting on a nightly basis but we have just been talking about selling it to scale down some of our time spent on the upkeep of that home. Now that I read this article about summer homes I think I am going to rethink that!! I will look at the place differently with each visit now!! A lot of what she said hit home with our place. It's a different life there than what we have here, the house is always cleaner and not cluttered with the many things that we call life!! That home is cluttered with fun!!Thanks for sharing that article!

If you go to my blog you will see that I also have a small or should I say "Tiny" 8' x 10', hair studio that we are finally after 7 years finishing. I had always envisioned it painted white but he wanted it to be vinyl siding. I showed him the pictures of your studio and he agreed with me and then the work bagan immediately!! Almost finished! I have drolled over yours for several weeks now, many times each day!!

Thanks so much for the inspiration!!!

cityfarmer said...

you'v captured my ❤ again ....

missn u dear new friend

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Hi Sandy! Thank you for coming over today! I hope you are enjoying yourself, by the looks of your beautiful ongoing cabin project, I would venture to say that you are having the time of your life! You are so sweet to come by in your busy schedule!

Peace and love to you, Anita

Jacqueline said...

I do believe the end of my magazine buying coincided with the demise of Vic Mag. It was, for a good decade, a monthly highlight for me! I LOVED just holding it in my hands and doing a quick, hungry scan before settling in for a good long read ...

So many favourites, but I loved the Fall issues, and have a soft spot for the ones that included Tasha Tudor. OH! And the features on women entrepreneurs, of course!

Kathy said...

Hello Sandy,
I loved this..As summer is fading away - I can feel that last look as the key turns in the lock...I loved the pictures shared as they are some of my favorite too. This was quite lovely. So glad you joined me this week,
God Bless,

Candylei said...

We used to devour that magazines pictures and we're so glad they are publishing again.
I love your rose pillows...nice soft, rose fabric is getting harder and harder to find.
Are you going to plant any bulbs soon?

Yellow Rose Arbor said...

What a lovely post! The photography is gorgeous! We live in FL therefore have never had a "summer home," this is it year around!

I enjoyed this very much!


mo said...

Dear Sandy, I love your blog! Everytime I visit I am guaranteed a wonderful escape into your exquisite photography. How dreamy and I thank you so much for letting us share your "Blog World" with you. *hugs*

Crystal said...

I just picked up a copy of Country Victorian.....guess who I found???? Congrats on another wonderful publication!!!!! I'm so happy for you!

gail said...

ok now I have to go to Barnes and Noble and get the latest Country Victorian!
What a beautiful post and beautiful photos.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sandy,

Love what you have done with your streamside studio! You have such an imagination & creativity. I appreciate your love for Anne of Green Gables.

Warmest Wishes,


chantal(paris) said...

oh lala ..comme j'aimerai vivre dans votre univers....merci pour toutes vos belles choses ....j'adore.
amicalement chantal de paris
et mon blog/

Anonymous said...

i love that magazine, i have every victoria magazine ever published...even the new ones....i get them out from time to time and read them....i love them all...those older ones are the best...thanks for sharing, i'm going to get out my july 91 issue now... : )


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