A Magic Carpet Ride From 1962

Tucked between two books in my mother’s studio, I found three magazine pages filled with delightful watercolor illustrations of Jacqueline Kennedy’s March 1962 trip to India that had been torn from the July 1962 edition of McCall’s. Titled Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad, the paintings are the work of French artist Jacqueline Duhème, “formerly a model and protégée of Matisse’s,” who accompanied the iconic First Lady and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, on the historic goodwill visit. Duhème’s richly detailed and colorful paintings are charming, conveying more of a sense of adventure and magic than the plentiful contemporary photographs.

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These are just a few of the illustrations from the McCall’s article. The caption for the night scene at the Taj Mahal (3rd from the bottom), accidentally cut off when I took the photo (I am currently scannerless), seems particularly sad with the clarity of time: “A moonlight visit to the Taj Mahal, romantic memorial to an emperor’s love for his wife. Mrs. Kennedy, rapt, said she had no words for her feelings”

It amazes me that these creased and torn pages have survived for 54 years which included numerous attempts by my mother to organise her studio and one involved move. They obviously meant something to her and they mean something to me: confirmation that we really had a lot in common. My studio, like hers, is filled with bits and bobs of inspiration torn from magazines and printed from online sources. You never know where the next idea will come from. I would have saved this article, too.

In 1998, Jacqueline Duhème compiled her artwork from this trip into a wonderful book, Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad, by Vibhuti Patel and with an introduction by John Kenneth Galbraith. There are many more paintings and lots of photographs, too. You can see it here.


Adventures in Interior Design: Solving Problems and Making My House My Own in the Process


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It never occurred to me, through years of watching my daughters’ enthusiastic application of glow-in-the-dark stars to their entire bedroom ceilings (with sticky putty), Peace Frog and 90s retro Flower Power stickers to their doors, mobiles made and hung, posters and bulletin boards on the walls (with surprise! industrial-strength Velcro), that someday it would all have to come down. The process has been daunting, equal parts emotion and elbow grease, but having my nose inches from the details while getting this house ready for sale has given me a new appreciation for some of the changes I’ve made.

acrossthelawn5When I first walked into the front hallway of this Indiana house, I knew immediately it was The One. I grew up in a 150-yr-old Queen Anne Victorian house in Rhode Island so the dentil moldings, framed and capped doorways, and stained glass inserts felt familiar. The previous owners built the house to recreate a Vermont inn they loved and maybe I got a subconscious New England vibe. The first floor’s rooms are all connected (perfect for parties) and the light is amazing. I never noticed that there was no shower in the (carpeted!) master bathroom and, more importantly, no bookcases. But the house had good bones and, over the years, it’s morphed to further reflect my New England sensibilities.

Bookcases in mantels. This is my favorite design accident. After building more  mantelbookcase.Nonnietraditional corner bookcases in my bedroom and installing bookcases in the study, I discovered Salvage One in Chicago. They used to have an entire floor of mantels in various states of disrepair stacked 10-deep along the walls. It was heaven; I bought four of them for $50 apiece and refinished them myself. One was installed in the dining room to masquerade as a real fireplace and the others went to each daughter’s room. Instant coziness! However, one daughter mantelbookcase.Pegsdidn’t like the empty darkness of the mantel’s interior at night so I filled the center space with a bookcase. Presto, no more night fears! I loved the look and gave the other mantels the same treatment—a perfect union of practicality and visual interest.

Painted floor. The cost of refinishing the worn hardwood in thepaintedfloor kitchen prompted me to paint it with Benjamin Moore Porch & Deck enamel instead. After 15 years, it still looks pretty good.

Pocket doors. My house has a Jack-and-Jill bathroom—a bathroom centered between two bedrooms and accessible to both jacknjill1by doors inside each room. The hinged doors required an awkward amount of clearance to open fully in such a small space. Pocket doors make the bathroom feel larger; they perform the same miracle in the master bath where access to a closet was a problem.

Interior windows. The same Jack-and-Jill bathroom had no natural light and I avoid overhead lights if I can. A small windowfrombathroomwindow punched into the wall from one of the bedrooms makes the area much more friendly to use. Another small window brings natural light from a bedroom into a closet (once used as a nursery) and several salvaged stained glass windows in the basement bridge the finished and unfinished sections.

Beadboard and other wainscoting. Wherever it was needed. To window.basementstepsparaphrase Betty White’s Mrs. Bickerman in Lake Placid, blank walls haunt me so.

Built-in mirror. The builder-basic mirror in the master bath covered an entire wall. I asked a brilliant finish carpenter if it wasmirror.masterbath possible to cut the mirror into thirds and frame it in; he took it as a challenge and did a fantastic job. Now it looks as though it’s been there forever.

I hope this house inspires its next owner as it has me. Most everything I did can be easily restored—any parts I removed were put in the basement (just in case I ever changed my mind). I learned so much working on this house, inside and outside, and look forward to more problem-solving design opportunities on my next adventure.

My Great-Grandmother’s Comfy Chair


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Nanaschair.beforeMy great-grandmother’s deep-seated comfy chair is more than 100 years old; since plucking it from my grandmother’s basement when I went off to grad school, it’s moved with me for another 30. My grandmother had it upholstered in a nubby brown cotton in the 1940s and nothing’s been done for it since. Always the most comfortable chair in the house (if not the most lovely), I’ve kept it in my bedroom. Lately, with the laser-sharp awareness of imperfection one develops when getting a house ready for sale, I had to accept that the chair’s shabbiness had progressed beyond the standard considered chic. The fabric was tearing off the chair frame’s top edge and worn down to the cotton batting on the arms; the feather cushions had lost their oomph. In a burst of inspired procrastination equal to the one that brought the chair to this sorry state in the first place, I put aside the packing and cleaning to give my comfy chair an overdue intervention.

Nanaschair.after copy

There wasn’t enough of the floral to cover the whole chair but, in a happy accident, it shared the same colors as a large-check plaid also in my stash, though they were purchased years apart. This combination, with the plaid on the back and sides, balances well and will look great in my new space. Here’s to its next 100 years!


Flora on a Ramble: Embroidery on a 19th Century Chair


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My mother bought a 19th century Louis XVI-style chair at a Massachusetts auction in 1964, the year we moved into the Queen Anne Victorian that we called home. The chair was neglected in a 3rd floor attic room (except for play—it was a marvelous throne) for most of 50 years until ending up in my sister’s garage after my mother moved to smaller digs. For the last five years, on the second floor of my sister’s barn of a garage, the chair has waited with other odds and ends from the old house, with the dust and the mice and the embroidery.chair.totalcats who mysteriously found their way in for company. Despite the fact that its guts were hanging down between its legs and one of its arms rested on its lap, it was clearly a beautiful chair with perfect lines. I snagged it and brought it into my surgery.

The best thing about taking a chair apart is discovering how it was put together. This one still wore its original hand-embroidered canvases; to my surprise, such beautiful work was placed directly on top of a layer of straw. I removed the pieces carefully and hand-washed them in Woolite.

The pieces are too delicate to reuse but, of course, I’ll hold on to them. I’ll post pictures of the chair when I’ve finished with the repairs and re-upholstery. Here are some details of the embroidery:

Seat detail.

Seat detail. The center flower appears to be a daffodil, a symbol of spring; it might be two primroses, symbols of young love, below it on the same stem.

Front detail.

Front detail. The features of her face, done in petit point, have worn to the canvas. She appears to be wearing a crown of flowers. Perhaps she is the Roman goddess Flora.

Underside showing knots and finish work.

Underside showing knots and finish work.

Upholstered Loveseat/Settee Before & After


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I bought this settee at a local antique fair 20 years ago to provide my daughters with a comfy spot at the kitchen table for doing homework. Its shape Eloisefrontispiecereminded me of the furnishings in Eloise‘s rooms at the Plaza Hotel and it has been a fun addition at the table. It needed some serious attention so I stripped it down to the frame to make some repairs (but forgot to take a picture) and then reupholstered it with a remnant I found at The Franklin Mill Store. Here it is a few steps before framedom:

bench.before.tagAnd here is the finished bench, ready for anything:

bench.after.tagAlso, if anyone can help me narrow down this settee’s style or approximate years of production, I would be grateful for the information!

Saturday Morning Redux: “Star Trek: The Animated Series”


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TASgroupThe prospect of watching cartoons on Saturday morning used to be every kid’s (certainly my) raison d’être. Saturdays belonged to kids and every major television network had its own enticing line-up. Cartoons were background entertainment as we bent over our cereal bowls; they kept us pleasantly preoccupied as the day’s plans developed. In the intervening years, the once-crowded television landscape of Saturday morning has changed drastically to one of boring info-shows and earnest programs directed at toddlers. Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) was the cornerstone of my Saturday mornings, and discovering it on Netflix recently made me more delighted than any adult should be over a cartoon. However, TAS is not a cartoon in the conventional sense—it was not created with children in mind alone and that is probably why we (all right, I) loved it so much.

When TAS first aired in 1973, the original series had been in syndication for a few TAS.formsyears. According to Trek lore, had Gene Roddenberry known his beloved series would eventually return in its many iterations, he might not have done TAS this way—he might not have done it at all. Instead, TAS picks up after the end of the original series, with the Enterprise beginning the fifth year of its mission. People with better-honed Trek chops than I can point out all the technical and script associations but, essentially, all 22 episodes of TAS are presented like their predecessors in the original series. The original characters (with the exception of Chekov) are voiced by the original actors and drawn to perfection; the introductory and incidental music are wonderfully familiar; there are new foes and a few of the old favorites (tribbles, anyone?); and its complicated organic forms, impossible on a studio budget, are rendered in a vibrant mid mod palette that is visually stunning. P1040239That palette includes the welcome but reportedly unintentional addition of pink, which read as grey to color-blind director, Hal Sutherland. Thankfully, he decided to retain the punchy color—it adds an air of whimsy that seems characteristic of the time, the subject, and the medium.

If you’d like to introduce a new generation to the Trek-verse or get a fresh dose of an old favorite, Star Trek: The Animated Series is well worth viewing.

Update: Hal Sutherland, director, artist, animator, and co-founder of Filmation Studios, died on 14 January 2014. Many of us owe the imaginative landscapes of our childhoods to this man and he will be greatly missed. Read more about him at The Fog of Ward and here. Read more about the production of TAS here. Star Trek: the Animated Series is available on Netflix and at Amazon.

Harnessing Starlight: Vintage Jewelry Trees


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jewelrytreeMom.detailThe early darkness of the winter months conspires with the natural magic of the holidays and we find ourselves drawn to the flickering light of fires and stars. This instinctive search for light and warmth can find satisfaction in the localised lustre of jeweled trees, a vintage craft as satisfying to make as they are to observe. My grandmother’s first jewelry tree, a glittering isosceles triangle of brooches, earrings, and pearls appeared in her living room before one Christmas in the 70s. It never failed to attract us in semi-circles of quiet admiration as though we were standing before a masterpiece in a museum. She was most likely inspired by crafter-extraordinaire Bobi Hall who popularised this art form in a 1973 booklet published by Hazel Pearson Handicrafts—but having her own flair didn’t hurt. My grandmother’s creations (a bejeweled wreath came later) glowed from her walls each year they were displayed and they have inspired my mother, a brother, and a sister to bejewel their own trees.

As you might expect, this craft requires a good stock of vintage sparklers. It’s not jewelrytree.Momunusual to see the surface of my mother’s dining room table divided into territorial piles of single earrings, necklaces with broken clasps, and shoe buckles that don’t buckle; it’s like the gathering of thieves in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as they barter over Scrooge’s belongings. Fortunately, my brother, John, has a Lovejoy-worthy ability to suss out vintage jewelry at the auctions and sales he attends. Many of the costume pieces thrown into these lots are incomplete or broken, making them perfect candidates for this particular holiday craft. Using desirable vintage brands like Trifari, Weiss, Coro, Haskell, and Eisenberg among others less well known, my mother has sorted, arranged, and assembled some stunning trees with layers of carefully chosen costume jewelry. One now hangs in her dining room year round and she has given a few others to my brother to sell in his eBay shop.

The process of sorting through such a wide variety of vintage pieces yields passive lessons in mid-century jewelry design and construction. My brother has inherited the family flair and has branched out with some of his own jewelry designs. For many jewelrytree2.detailfamilies, as in my own, these sparkling and unique confections become heirlooms; as centerpieces of the Christmas preparations, they are treasured from one generation to the next.           jewelrytree2

Armchair Before & After


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I’ve been very bad about updating this blog and I’ve lots of catching up to do. Let me start with a project I just finished. A local business owner asked me to re-upholster one of her chairs with a great fabric she was fortunate enough to find on sale. I did a lot of research beforehand starting with Amanda Brown‘s wonderful Upholstery Basics series on Design*Sponge and used a 1951 book titled Upholstering at Home by Page Parker and J.G. Fornia as my go-to reference as I worked. It was very satisfying to tear the chair down and then restore it using natural materials and hand sewing in place of metal hardware. I love fixing things on-the-fly and this project was filled with opportunities to make adjustments. Also, I am officially in love with my staple gun and air compressor. This was fun.


Labor of Love


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When my mother saw the study buddy I made for my daughter, she asked if I could do something similar with a picture of her Schnauzer, Dozer, who died many years ago. Dozer was the first Schnauzer in our family and my mother’s only dog. She misses that imperious beastie and I was delighted to recreate her old couch-mate in time for Christmas. The old girl, made up as a photo transfer pillow and embroidered with wool and ribbon, turned out rather well. My mother is very happy with her.


Holiday Sparkle in Rhode Island Rocks (the real thing!)


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A little holiday cheer, courtesy of the high mica content in the rocks I’ve collected from the beaches around Galilee, Rhode Island. When we were kids, we’d come out of the water or from playing in the dunes looking lightly dusted with glitter. As the temperature drops, their sparkle reminds me of those wonderful summer days.