Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Fifi Shoot and a Review of 'Romantic Prairie Style' by Fifi O’Neill

Reviewing pictures on Dan's laptop, 18 May 2010.
Photo: Todd Foster

My King and Zuzu watching Dan and Fifi.

Photos: 1 & 4 - Sandy Foster, 2 & 3 - Fifi O'Neill

Photo: Fifi O'Neill

Zuzu amid the foxgloves after I just missed capturing
the first hummingbird of the year on them!

What you don't see in magazines: the detrius.

As I decorated my studio last year, I always thought, “Hm, now what would Fifi do?”

I am a lucky girl.  I got my wish.

When I was a fledging blogger, I shyly emailed the Editor of Romantic Country magazine requesting permission to use one of her interior photos here.  Days later Fifi contacted me at work.  The answer was ‘yes,’ and she asked if she could shoot my studio for Romantic Country and her upcoming book.  I had to shut the door to my office so I could giggle and hop.

When she called to firm things up, I mentioned the only florist in the area was Price Chopper’s--did she mind wildflowers?

“Wildflowers are the best,” Fifi replied.   Gotta love her.

The hard-working Editor/Stylist/Author Fifi held her day job heading Romantic Country and went on several grueling shooting tours for weeks at a time.  For example, for my house she flew to New York 17 May 2010 (on her 64th birthday) then drove 3 hours up to the Catskills to rest briefly at Dan Mayer’s weekend farm in nearby Andes.  The following morning, lilacs were picked and they arrived at my property at 9 a.m. and shot until 4 p.m. on a day pestered by chilly rain.  They got back in Dan’s car and headed for the next stop: Rhode Island, 5 hours away for tomorrow’s shoot.

Fifi’s a delightful human being.  She has a gift for making everyone comfortable.  She speaks just the way she writes on her wonderful blog, soft-spoken yet possessing a delight in making up witty word associations in her French accent.  She breaks into a face-splitting grin whenever she encounters farm animals.

Fifi didn’t mind when our clumsy black Lab Momo practically licked her face off with doggie kisses. (We took pregnant Momo’s temperature every hour during the shoot because we thought it was her whelping day, but as it turned out her breeding failed and she simply was fat.)

If Fifi had a fear of heights and crossing streams, to her credit she didn’t show it.  A self-described ‘high-heel’ sort of girl, I warned her how steep and rugged my place is, and she came prepared.  She wasn’t, however, prepared for the size of my stream, which she called ‘a raging river’ in a hysterically funny blog post, nor the fact she had to cross it on our log slide for the firewood we cut in early spring.  She hesitated, then did it.  Inspiration personified.

Photographer Dan Mayers is a great guy; laid-back and funny.  Dan said to stand perfectly still while his wireless shutter release took pictures because movement would shake the floor and blur them.  I tried to make everything as easy and efficient as possible – boxes to move props, a snack table with fruit and homemade cookies courtesy of my Italian-born neighbor, cleaning supplies.  I made sure Fifi was alone for long periods of time to compose and create by steering my friendly pets and dear husband (who will talk your ear off) on to other things.

We delighted at the pictures on Dan’s laptop before he packed his gear up, I gave them little gifts, wished them well, waved them off, and slept until the next day I was so cold and tired!

In September I spoke with Dan Mayers about shooting me as I worked on my ‘second studio’ for my book.  We chatted, and I learned he wasn’t shooting Fifi’s book after all because Ryland, Peters, and Small don’t allow the photographers in their books to sell their pictures again.  My friend Bella over at Bella’s Rose Cottage excitedly emailed me after her garden was featured in Italy’s Casa Romantica, and she noticed my studio on the cover of a subsequent issue.  It was the story Fifi and Dan shot, and it found a great home.  So, I don’t show the final shots in case Mary Forsell (the anointed editor of Romantic Country, Fifi left to chase new dreams) decides to run the story.   A fun day.   I'll remember it always.

*           *          *

Book Review: Romantic Prairie Style: Homes Inspired by Traditional Country Life

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Emily Dickinson

Before the book is even opened, the dust jacket lifts and transports you to a sweet world where:

“Prairie Style is much more than a way of decorating—it’s a way of life…The influences—from traditional country life—are nostalgic, sweet, rustic and chic, often all at the same time.  They are personal and universal—and as enduring as the prairie itself.”

We know this isn’t a Pottery Barn catalog of brand-new furniture and accessories for tract-home suburbanites primarily interested in surrounding oversized wall-mounted TVs with places to sit and play video games.  It’s a book for those that cherish family heirlooms and prefer to shop in flea markets, yard sales, and antique stores:

“Value on the prairie relies less on an object’s age and provenance than on its usefulness…and other beloved trinkets that are typically of little financial value are treasured for their deep emotional meanings.”

Fifi’s exuberant Florida cottage of course is featured, leaving one rapt with her originality and fearless yet tasteful use of color.  Titled “Prairie Chic”, and other sections feature homes (many of bloggers) showcasing other styles, giving the book excellent variety in its three main chapters, “Traditional Prairie”, “Romantic Prairie”, and “Vintage Prairie”.

My favorites?  “Prairie Savvy” features antiques dealer Joy Waltmire’s home with industrial accents and patio by a tin-roofed shed where their white picket fence is swallowed up by hollyhocks and clematis.  “Refined Prairie” shows Carol Spinski’s skill at mixing chippy paint architectural pieces with Louis XV and French industrial furniture.  “Perfect Prairie” enchants with Nordic-French style at the upscale farm of antique dealers Caroline Verschoor and Jon Paul Saunier.  “Inspired Prairie” is a delectable stay at Maria Carr’s elegant yet childproof ‘French Ranch’.  “Rustic Prairie” tugs at my homesteader’s heart with Michelle McCauley’s cabin mixed with vintage-find flair.

What touched me the most is Mark Lohman’s landscapes of working farms and his skill at catching tender moments with children, pets, and farm animals.  It’s clear he woke up early, walked around for the best shots, and stayed up late as the amazing dusk shots at Anne Marie’s Na-Da Farm attest.  Kudos to the book design team for using Mark’s black and white farm scenes between chapters.  My only regrets are a fine book like this should have a linen cover (publishers are cutting costs), and I'd like to see the author’s cottage on the dust jacket cover.

Inspiring poetry and pose peppers the book, each section is packed with tips from the featured homeowners, and there's a well-stocked source index, so rush and buy a copy to find out how they can help you!

“The time has come for a gentler world and a simpler life.”
– Fifi O’Neill from Romantic Prairie Style.


I'm on my annual spring 'workation' up at my farm next week,
and getting to the library to check email will be harder, I apologize in
advance for desultory replies to email and comments.
Enjoy the holiday!

Until next time, stay shabby!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring Approaches, Difficult to Capture

Belleayre Mountain, a popular ski resort near my home, early May. 
The leaves on the summit emerge when the man-made snow melts: June.
Serviceberry blossoms in my pantry.


He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

-William Blake

I don’t think I set foot in my studio this month.   My feet, in my worn pink rubber boots, have been making sucking noises in the soggy overgrown meadow near my studio where my husband and I have been bucking up next year’s firewood.   I take such satisfaction in homesteading; just my soulmate and I transforming a tangle of third growth trees into a pile of fuel, branch by branch, exposing a slope fat and green with grass.    Only the song of the stream, chickadees, and red-winged blackbirds accompany our chainsaws.   We chat, thinking of the Native Americans and Scotch settlers that did the same in this area (without chainsaws), proud we’re part of the legacy.

We’re not real homesteaders.   I long to kick responsibility to the curb and move to the country, but we need the medical benefits and I’d default on the car loan just selling eggs and veggies.   I like high heeled shoes, bleaching my hair, tropical vacations.   I don’t fit in anywhere!

My photography class at the local community college on Long Island is fun.   It’s not geared for people studying to be a professional photographer, but the instructor is knowledgeable and of course you learn so much just by talking to other enthusiasts.   I appreciate the feedback.   I want very much to know if something I did stinks.

Like this picture I took during class, where we were challenged to go outside and find something to shoot.   I picked viburnum and shot it on my scarf.   My instructor thought the scattered florets looked contrived.   He’s right.   I wasn’t happy with any of those pictures.   The viburnum is pretty but all flowers are pretty.   I failed to show how I saw it.   How hard it is to capture something in limited time!    I must learn how to do this—a photographer generally has only one day to shoot a house for a magazine.  

This is why I love the Japanese cultural sentiment for cherry blossoms and their fleeting beauty that, in truth, can never be captured, only experienced.

Speaking of photographers, yet another fabulous interior décor book will hit the market in October 2011: Vintage by Nina styled by none other than oft-imitated (myself included) stylist Nina Hartmann with heavenly photos by Maria-Isabel Hansson.

Photography by Maria-Isabel Hansson.
Photos used with permission.

Have a store and wish to carry it?   Please email them here. 
It’s a safe bet to assume it will it will be available on Amazon
or Book Depository in October.

Sound familiar?    This team has been in Jeanne d’Arc Living, Vakre Hjem, and a host of other magazines. If you like the ‘Dansk-Fransk’ style, check out these wonderful blogs—they’re at least a potent antidote to this boring post.

Vintage Chic (Stine’s decorating her new apartment, very exciting!)

Next post, I will share pictures from the very first shoot in my studio: Fifi O’Neill’s styling and Dan Mayers’ photography.   A review of Romantic Prairie Style will accompany now that I’ve received my signed copy back from Fifi.

Until next time, stay shabby!

please join in on Kathleen’s 100th party and her giveaway!