Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seasons Greetings

A very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. May your holidays be filled with great joy. (And I assure you that despite the look on Alfie's face, he is looking forward to Christmas.)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all,

Jennifer and Alfie

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Inspired Christmas

I know that envy is not in keeping with the holiday spirit, but I do envy those people who decorate their homes for the holidays in a most imaginative way. Take, for example, that homeowner who wrapped his home in thousands of blinking lights and created a light show set to the music of the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Admit it- you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's that video that made the YouTube and email rounds last year and if you see it one more time you're going to scream. Now, I don't want to decorate my home like that, but I've got to give that homeowner credit for his creativity.

Another way of decorating for Christmas is with a theme. Jonathan Preece of
Bunny Williams Inc. does this but in a most unique way. (You might remember that I wrote about Jonathan's Thanksgiving table for a client.) For the holiday tableaux that he creates, Jonathan looks to Charles Dickens and Medieval England for inspiration. You won't find chasing lights in his decor either. He prefers using natural materials like evergreens, Juniper, Magnolia, and white flowers. And like all good designers, he is ever mindful of scale; you'll see that Jonathan usually incorporates one large objet within a mix of symmetrical and asymmetrical items in order to create balance.

Over the years, Jonathan has assembled some truly stunning vignettes in the Main Gallery at Bunny Williams Inc. After seeing these photos, I've decided that next year I'm going all-out in my own home. Just don't expect to hear the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background.

For this tableau above and at top, the theme was Saturnalia, the ancient Roman celebration of the Winter Solstice. Jonathan used greenery, a traditional symbol of hope that Spring will soon be near. The assemblage was set in a circular fashion, another ancient symbol meaning eternity.

Jonathan chose 19th century stone garden finials as adornments on top of the painted, mirrored cabinets. The chandelier was a dilapidated, antique woven basket with defunct sockets which he transformed into taper candle holders. The life-sized 19th century plaster bust of Apollo took center stage in Jonathan's tableau. For many years, Apollo resided at John Rosselli's shop, but now he is ensconced in Jonathan's Tudor City apartment. (Jonathan says he's the best kind of roommate- looks pretty, doesn't talk back and never touches the drinks tray! I'd like one of those please.)

Surrounding Apollo were terracotta pots of narcissus, variegated mini Cedar plants, Granny Smith apples, bleached oyster shells, and cotton seeds. And of course, the single pineapple representing hospitality had a prominent role.

With another Christmas came a different scheme. This time Jonathan took his cue from two turtle doves. In the entryway to Bunny Williams Inc., two Regency Carrera marble busts on claret colored scagliola columns were crowned and mantled with cedar, spruce and juniper garlands.

The centerpiece here was the 19th c. zinc bird cage from Treillage. Yes, those were real doves inside, but don't fret. The birds took a Christmas vacation from All Tame Animals and were fed daily by one of the company's animal experts. Doves are a symbol of purity and life and were also chosen to commemorate a dear friend who had overcome cancer.

The table was covered in a late 18th c. silk gold on silver cloth in a fleur de lys pattern. Flowers and plants included potted Amaryllis, Hydrangea, succulents, and cedar branches. Seeded Eucalyptus was incorporated into the scheme because of its silvery tones which were in keeping with the blue tones of the painted cabinet, mercury glass, and antique zinc cage.

And finally, there was the Boars Head tableau. The Boars Head is an English tradition which dates back to the 16th c. and is still celebrated at Queens College, Oxford today. There was a celebrated carol, The Boars Head, which described the ancient custom of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head as part of a Yuletide feast. According to Jonathan, this bringing in of the boars head was later incorporated into the traditional Madrigal feast.

Now, regarding the boars head which was used for this particular tableau- I'm sure that some of you are angry at the use of taxidermy in design. I think it's important to note that this head was used for many years as a prop for an Iowa school's Madrigals. No boar was killed for this decoration.

An English Regency table was covered in an 18th c. Kilim rug. An early 19th c. sterling gallery tray was set with compotes filled with chestnuts and mini Bartlett pears. Garlands of Cedar and Magnolia were arranged with white grapes, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, kumquats, plums, and cherries.

So, not only did we get a design lesson today, but a history one as well. I wonder what Jonathan will come up with next year?

(All images courtesy of Jonathan Preece)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Lesson in Tableau-ing

I think that creating successful and effortless looking vignettes and tableaux either comes naturally to you or it doesn't. The biggest issue that I have is that my tableaux come out looking too forced or too uptight- a result, I believe, of my need for symmetry and order. I realized that I needed help, so who better to turn to for advice than the master of the tableau, Deborah Buck. That's Deborah at top in her recently relocated shop Buck House, holding her recently published book titled, what else, "Tableau". But for most of you, I'm sure you already knew that.

Deborah approaches creating tableaux as an artistic and intellectual endeavor, one that requires some thinking on one's part. She recommends first finding a common thread that can be woven throughout your vignette, but it shouldn't be one that's too obvious. OK, so how do you do that? By listening to what the objects have to say. (Did I mention that Deborah likes to anthropomorphize objects? For example, a vase is a "she" because it's a vessel, while a heftier piece is a "he". Makes sense to me.) The idea is to create a conversation between the objects, and in order to foster a pleasant conversation between these pieces, you have to listen to them. If you just force disparate objects together, you might end up with an argument on your hands.

Going back to what I said earlier about my need for symmetry, I asked Deborah about how you achieve a balanced composition without the rigidity. The answer to that is through the use of odd numbers. Deborah advises against putting four of something together, for example. If you have a pair of something, that's fine because they serve as guardians. And the other key is to give the objects their own oxygen. You want enough space around them (and around your vignette) in order to keep your eye moving. If things get too crowded, your eye gets stuck. As Deborah said, "soak an area and then create an area of rest around that." Oh, and how do you know where to put something? Deborah said wherever your eye rests, put something there.

Deborah includes such interesting objects in her tableaux, so I was curious if there was anything that she didn't like to use. As it turns out, she loves to use almost anything as long as it speaks to her. It might be something priceless, or something from the five and dime. The one thing that doesn't speak to her, however, are skulls and skull motifs. That's something that she feels is too dark for her tableaux. And in regards to trendy accessories (the ubiquitous coral, for example), Deborah said that if you love it and it's very "you", then embrace it and use it in a way that hasn't been done before.

The most important thing that Deborah stressed is to keep your vignette personal. After all, these objects that you've culled must say something about you. Otherwise, would you have purchased them? Compiling your objects into a tableau is like creating a narrative, one which might reflect your history, your travels, or your interests. Figuring out the narrative means that you'll need to start thinking- really thinking- about your past, your present, and your future. The end result is not just a beautiful tableau, but perhaps a different and more sensitive way of thinking.

(For more information, or to purchase Deborah's book, visit the Buck House website.)

A few vignette shots from Buck House with Deborah's signature striped walls:

An image from "Tableau"

(All photos courtesy of Deborah Buck)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finally in the Christmas Spirit

You haven't seen many posts about the holidays around here because quite honestly, it snuck up on me. It dawned on me last week that Christmas is this Friday. Have I been out to lunch or what? But someone who has been in the Christmas spirit for a few weeks is my friend Bob Garner, owner of Fabulous Things in Atlanta. Thanks to the creative eyes of Bob and David Duckworth, the shop looks amazing with wreaths, bows, garlands, and trees everywhere.

Nothing to do with Christmas, but I adore this custom Pagoda lantern. Too fabulous.

A few weeks ago, Bob hosted a very festive Christmas party in the shop for family, friends, and clients. I have to share with you some photos of the dining table laden with food. To me, this is such a wonderful example of gracious entertaining. Bob prepared most of the food himself- favorites like cheese straws, sausage balls, and pimento cheese- and served it from his grandmother's silver trays and bowls. If you don't have Grandmother or Mother's silver, it doesn't mean you can't have an elegant gathering. The point is that when you make an effort, when thought and care have got into the food and the setting, when things look lovely, and when you have plenty of booze, a good time is sure to follow.

A display of famous (or infamous) Claxton fruitcakes.

If you see something you like (perhaps that Pagoda lantern?), contact Bob at (404) 350-0916 or The wreaths you see above are now being offered at reduced prices and can be stored for use next year- much like the Claxton fruitcakes, which will taste the same whether you eat it today or a year from now.

And A California Christmas

One place I've been meaning to visit in San Francisco is the Crown & Crumpet Tea Room, located in Ghirardelli Square. (I bet Grant Gibson has been there!) In time for the holidays, proprietors Amy and Christopher Dean have opened a pop up shop filled with all kinds of unique fancy goods from around the world: mini baking sets from Japan, Cath Kidston accessories, sweet treats and holiday decor. You'll need to hurry because it's only open for a few months. What better way to spend an afternoon than having tea and doing a little shopping?

(Crown & Crumpet's Holiday Shop is located in the lower plaza of Ghirardelli Square. For more information, click here.)

All images taken by Kristen Loken

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's In Their Library: Miguel Flores Vianna

Miguel Flores Vianna probably doesn't know this, but I first became familiar with him thanks to the Barefoot Contessa. It was the airing of the first or second episode- A Moroccan Feast- and Miguel was working his design magic on one of Ina's parties. I remember thinking that Miguel seemed like an awfully nice person, and his decor for the party was gorgeous. But what I realized not too long after this was that I had been familiar with Miguel's work for some time. It was he who had styled and produced some of my favorite interior stories in magazines like House Beautiful, Veranda, and Elle Decor. And when my sister and I were in Los Angeles a few years ago and we saw Miguel across the room at Nathan Turner's shop, well, I got as excited as I would have had it been George Clooney! (I'm serious. I think I got the shakes.)

Miguel has now branched out into photography, an artistic endeavour which obviously suits him to a tee. He has shot for World of Interiors, Domino, and most recently Lonny. I encourage you to spend some time looking through his
online portfolio as you will certainly come away with loads of inspiration. But in the meantime, I think you'll find Miguel's list of his favorite books to be most interesting. Miguel finds inspiration in auction catalogues, books on interiors and history (my kind of guy), and fiction. And if you're wondering, those are indeed Miguel's photos of his favorite books.

"The two bibles: Vogue's Book of Houses, Gardens, People and Bruce Weber's A House Is Not a Home. I live by these books; they never cease to inspire, awe, and move me."

The Artist in His Studioby Alexander Liberman and Barcelo by Jean-Marie Del Moral.

The Chinese Pavilion: Dream and Reality

"Catalogues are a great source of knowledge and also provide with priceless voyeurism some of the places where very few go. On the top of that list is Sotheby's catalogue of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sale. I loved the rooms in her apartment, the faded gentility, the footprints of history in the making. On a grander scale, perhaps less poetic but certainly inspiring were the objects at the Alexis de Rede sale. These two are my favorites."

"A house without art is like a man with no soul. My favorite artists are Caravaggio and Cy Twombly. I can only afford books on them, no oils by them for me just yet. But I own almost every single book and catalogue on both of them. My favorite Caravaggio book is one published by Rizzoli, which contains reproductions which open up to poster size. Love it. The closest I can have in my apartment of his grand visions. My favorite Twombly book is almost an opposite in concept. It is the book published to accompany an exhibit on his flower paintings and photographs at Inverleith House in Edinburgh. Not only do you see the paintings and photos, but also there are pictures of the way they were hung. Lovely, gentle spaces full of the power of Twombly's art."
(Cy Twombly At Inverleith House Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh and Caravaggio (Rizzoli Quadrifolio))

"I love ethnic paintings. Both the schools that were born in the different corners of the globe and the schools that show the view Europeans developed as they began to discover the world. A favorite book is King of the World (Azimuth Editions- Sackler Galleries). It is a 17th Century manuscript of courtly life in India, filled with drawings and paintings, which reproduce the color and richness of that culture. The original, today housed at Windsor Castle, was sent by the Moghul emperor Shah-Jahan to Charles 1st. Another book is Casta Paintings, by Yale University Press. In the 18th Century, Spaniard and Mexican artisans began painting representations of the new emerging ethnic groups in Mexico as European, Native Mexicans, Africans and Asians began to form multiracial families. The paintings are of great beauty and also depict in great detail the interiors where these families lived. "

"I grew up in a house where travel was a daily topic of conversation. Behind my father's chair at the dining table was a trolley with two atlases and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Those books were indispensable at meal time as it was then that most of our trips were planned. I love atlases and I have the catalogue of an exhibit that I saw at Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris on Encyclopedias and Libraries from Sumer to the 21st century. I think I went about six times in less than four days!"

Voyages : Trois Siècles d'explorations naturalistes and "Paysages et Imageries du sentiment Romantique- Un Autre Monde"

Lartigue: Album of a Century

"Russia... I love Russia, with all its contradictions, the mightiness of Petersburg, the grimness of its poverty. The vastness of the landscape, that rich and turbulent history. I am fascinated by all of the photographic work done before the fall of the Czar in 1917. They show a country that I cannot sense anymore when I visit it now, but those brooding photos never cease to give flight to my imagination. My favorite book is one of photos taken by Tolstoy's wife Sophia; they show a quieter side of her turbulent marriage to the author of War and Peace (Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy). The other book is compilation of photographs of Czarist Russia across the social divide- Russia in Original Photographs, 1860-1920 by Marvin Lyons."

Landscape And Memory by Simon Schama and The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants by Anna Pavord.

CATHERINE II ET GUSTAVE III . Une Correspondance Retrouvee and
Italian Journey: 1786-1788.

"Of course no library can be complete without prose and biography. My two favorite novels are Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. What can I say: the layers of both novels are mind boggling at times and yet the simplicity of their message is moving. Love and change, the swift knocks of history on two lands-Russia and Sicily- that know about change and yet stay the same."

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov and Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor.