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


Monday, August 23, 2010

My Summery Blue and White China

Old or rambling roses left to right: Apple Blossom, De La Grifferaie, and Constance Spry.

I haven’t collected blue and white transferware china in a decade.
As a native of Long Island, NY, I was attracted to it for its sea-and-sky colors.

Burleigh Asiatic Pheasants Platter with phlox, nepeta, and a bud
of the climbing rose New Dawn in a craft store julep cup.

Photo: Troy Campbell for Creative Home 2007
An oft-seen picture on the Web: Nikki LaBelle’s dreamy beach house.
Romantic perfection.    I ached for this so badly!

My public library didn't have a book including these marks, but my friend and follower Jacqueline found it online.
The mark is from Davenport Brothers, a Greenwich Village, New York department store that imported the Staffordshire pottery of Joseph Clementson (1794-1871).   The pattern is called "Claremont", and it’s considered to be ‘light mulberry purple’ transferware, both are rare and highly collectible.   The diamond-shaped British Registry Mark indicates registry on 30 April 1856, Bundle no. 7.

But, I saw this cute little plate depicting Greek amphorae in a classical setting wreathed
in old roses at a yard sale for $1, (got it for fifty cents), and thought how nice it would
look with my sweet peas, hosta, dame’s rocket, hydrangeas, nepeta, and wild ladybells.

Sweet Peas (lathyrus odoratus) sown back in March.

Over the years, I’ve come to favor ultra soft colors in my personal garden.
But, something about these colors we have around the barns
and on the side of the lane are so right in late summer.

I am re-reading Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Interiors, and cannot stop gazing
at her homey blue-based linen closet.

Photo: Amy Neunsinger from Shabby Chic Interiors by Rachel Ashwell (Cico).

So, I took out all my blue and white and had
one of those perennial summer events – a reunion!

Unmarked transferware creamer with Burleigh Asiatic Pheasants platter.

Until next time, stay shabby!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Late Summer Evening in My Screen Porch with Anne of Green Gables

I have a 1920 (48th Impression or printing) edition of L.M. Montgomery’s
Anne of Green Gables, bought for a dollar at a yard sale during the town of Andes’
Community Day two Augusts ago.   The sewn binding is separated from the linen cover,
the pages--foxed with age spots and frayed along the edges--are soft as fabric.
It’s even more magical reading the story with an old copy.    My dream of having my own
little house in the country first began after I read this excellent novel as a child.

Asters and a sunset in August.

I privately call my loft ‘the east gable’, after Anne’s room at Green Gables,
her very first personal space in her whole life.   After my internet and farm chores were done
for the day, I went there to settle in my twee bed and down pillows with my doggies curled up
on either side of me to have a good re-read by the light of an antique lamp
of that most charming story.

But, the loft space gets very hot by the end of a summer afternoon, so I decided to make
a bed in my screen porch storage room.    It’s so tiny my cushions filled the whole thing!
I strung up white and pink lantern lights to read by.    They make the porch look like an
Oak Bluffs summer cottage .    I could feel the breeze coming across the mountainside,
rustling the firs, and hear the crickets, an owl, and most pleasantly of all my stream.

I’ve revered this book above other ‘important’ writers-- you know, usually those who write
sad tales with unhappy endings.    I did my thesis on Canadian writer Margaret Atwood,
and I wished so much Montgomery, also Canadian, was considered as important in academia.
It is a heart-warming tale of hope, with vividly drawn characters, and nature-centric prose as
delicious to drink as raspberry cordial.

In 1985, when I was going through a very difficult time, even Kevin Sullivan’s film adaptation
could transport me away from my problems.    I haven’t read all of Montgomery’s other
books so I can look forward to savoring them for the rest of my life!

Graphic backgrounds from Tattered Vintage

Until next time, stay shabby!


please join Cindy's party!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gifts from Beth, Fifi, Mary, Rosemary, and ‘A Lady’

This is an Ode to A Lady, correction, five Ladies.   
I've given my sincere thanks to dear new friends that presented me with tangible home decor 
gifts this past spring of dizzy joy, and now I’d like to share them with you, gentle reader.

The first gift is from Fifi O’Neill, and I hope all her dearest dreams come true for her as she made 
mine: a feature in her magazine Romantic Country .    A French grave-marker memorial heart 
of iron and enamel, rescued from further rotting in the ground of a forgotten Gallic grave. 
These relics are dismissed by the natives, but some of us foreigners find them lovely.

“ICI REPOSE AUSSINE Marie, decedee le 4 Avril 1931, a l’age de 86 ans, regrets eternel”.

The Edwardian Lady Marie Aussine and her welcome ‘French accent’ will live on 
in my tiny studio, no ‘regrets eternel’ here.   Going forward, every time I see this heart, 
I will be reminded of Fifi’s heart—her love of life, beauty, animals, and having 
the heart to handcraft her dreams into reality.

The second gift is Mary Randolph Carter’s  latest book For the Love of Old
I don’t have a picture of it as it’s still on its way to me because she was moved by my feature 
in the Times.    If its spine turns out to be a color that doesn’t harmonize with my décor's
 palette, I will employ the book cover Beth of Tattered Vintage  gave me.    She instinctively 
knows what I need – even though I bought a cadre of her designs for the first of two tapings 
for a show I'm going to be on (I signed documents prohibiting me from sharing that with you
at this time, but I will later), she included this in the email.    
It’s the one I chose to illustrate for the segment, and I hope it makes it in.

The third isn’t a present in the literal sense because I bought it, the present was the gift 
of time and trouble from Rosemary of Ozma of Odds.    I know the lip of my loft is 
unfinished and ugly, but I am wondering how to resolve it cheaply and practically, 
for I still need to draw the curtains and place ladders there. 

Five days before the taping of the show I keep hinting at, it came to my sluggish mind 
that a pair of her $9 each pretty rose petal garlands would do, only in white.  

 A pair of Ozma of Odds rose petal garlands along the edge of my loft's facade.

I received them from the other side of America not only in time, but with her usual 
thoughtful packaging.    Needless to say, I was in such a hurry I didn't take the time to 
photograph the package, but it was lovely as always.   
Doing business with artists is bliss. 

An anonymous artist I will call ‘A Lady’ sent me multiple packages of art supplies 
of great desirability and use.    Pretty jars hold the good sort of German glass glitter, 
vintage pearls, lace, and ribbon.    I opened the latter up so quickly I tossed aside the idea 
of posting about that part, for I desperately needed lace trim for a eurosquare pillow 

…and bows for Lady ZuZu! 

I’m not sure how I deserve such tender gestures, but I sure am very grateful 
I have such sweet followers.    My blushing thanks to every one of you, each 'A Lady'.

Until next time, stay shabby!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Antique Roses on a Misty Summer Morn

Another quiet, misty summer morning on my steep hillside, with only the company of 
shy animals and HRH Königin von Dänemark and her court…

...similar 18th and 19th century antique roses 
Général Kléber (Moss), Celsiana (Damask), Félicité Parmentier (Alba),
New Dawn (Wichuriana Rambler, 1930 actually), and Blush Hip (Alba).

They all need their glasses filled with refreshing drink.

Graphic Art Backgrounds -
Tattered Vintage

Until next time, stay shabby!

I’ll be sharing this with:

Please come over and see all the pretty gardens!