House Beautiful is under new management - and yee-haw! It’s better than ever. Newell Turner, the new Editor-in-Chief, kept the features that made the magazine so unique under former Editor-in-Chief Stephen Drucker, who has moved on to Town & Country to turn it into a magazine for the rest of us.
The entire issue of the current House Beautiful - from the one-day makeover to all the interiors featuring small spaces - was packed with real content and beautiful photography. To me it showed the power of print magazines vs. DIY websites and decorating shows on cable (not to say I don’t love the latter two categories as well). The magazine showcased thoughtful, deliberate design for grown-ups.
I examined the article “Living Big in a One-Bedroom” (page 92, Dear Reader) as though it held the secrets to the universe. Two adults - no doubt very thin - and one child inhabiting 390-square-feet. 390-square-feet! This would be like living in a garden shed for most Americans. Yet designer David Kaihoi was so sophisticated and clever, managing to pack so much style into his family’s take on small-space living that he makes most of us look like neanderthals in our multi-thousand square feet of cave. The colors were hypnotic. I never - not in my wildest dreams - could have come up with that interior, which is why he is a pro, and I am just…whatever I am. A dabbler with an apparently limited color sense.
For me, the best aspect that editor Newell Turner brought to his first issue was a little messiness, for lack of a better word. The whole enterprise seems a bit more down-to-earth in this issue, which contributes to a different atmosphere than the one created by the previous Mr. Editor, who came from Martha Stewart’s Living. One gets the sense that, at MS Omnimedia (what a creepy name for a business), everything from the props to the stylists themselves goes in for a good scrubbing both before and after a photo shoot. The aesthetic of House Beautiful had been a little spare and precise at times - not that there’s anything wrong with spare and precise - but it can feel far removed from the world most of us live in, both worlds actually - the virtual one of design blog debates and reality TV and the actual world of mudrooms with mud in them. I get the feeling that the new editor of House Beautiful doesn’t mind mixing a little lowbrow fun in with his high design - or even better, believes that lowbrow fun can actually be a medium for high design. (Jeff Lewis designing a kitchen for House Beautiful? A new media/old media love match.)
One last thing for this session of Magazine Talk, ‘cuz I can’t seem to write a post about magazines without bringing her up. Yes, I’m talking about Kelly Wearstler. Maybe I’ll start a sub-section of Magazine Talk dedicated to her. I’ll call it “Oh, Kelly.”
How the editors (and readers) love you, with your special-somethingness. This go-round, we got a peak into Kelly’s favorite room at the latest hotel she interior-designed. At first it appeared to be exasperatingly boring. But, just when I thought: hey, so-and-so could have come up with that! I took a close look at the photo of Oh Kelly perched on the bed. And bless her, if she didn’t have eyebrows painted on like two giant earthworms stretched across her forehead. I guess I knew eyebrows were back in, but, as usual, Oh Kelly took it to another level. My thirst for her kookiness satisfied, I could feel okay about admiring her hotel room design. (page 30. Don’t miss it.)
Oh - I do want to say one more - just one more - thing… this one about the ongoing series on Annie Selke’s discovery of the joys of mid-century design. (page 54. Feel free to skip it.) We get to watch her re-do a ranch house to her specifications in issue after issue. She’s like the anti-Kelly Wearstler: a trend-driven Queen of Products who goes where the crowd goes (in this case all of Scandinavia and Brooklyn) chasing after them with her cart full of rugs and bedsheets. A little harsh I know. But c’mon. It’s hard to take sometimes. I’ll tell you when my Selke-bias topped out. It was a few years ago, when I read a feature (I really need to find the link) detailing how she is so sickened by the furnishings of her two-week vacation rental on Nantucket, she had to truck in (or bring by barge, rather) pieces from her entire line of home products - linens, rugs, slipcovers, etc. etc. etc. - so that her delicate sensibilities wouldn’t be ravaged by 14 days of someone else’s taste. Even though you would hope that, while on vacation, she would hardly have time to notice her surroundings in between rounds of Scrabble and lobster rolls. Anyway, clearly I need to get over my aversion.
That’s all I gotta say for now (thankfully). See you next time for Magazine Talk.
One aspect of having a store - whether in the real world or online - is trying to deal with an excess amount of stuff. The constant rotation of acquisition and de-acquisition - over and over again - brings a hamster wheel to mind.
My usual feeling when I sell something is uncomplicated happiness. But then, over the course of the last several years, there are those pieces I’ve acquired that, for whatever reason, cause a little pang when the time comes to say goodbye. My shop counter was just such a piece - I found it languishing under minimal shelter outside an antiques store. It had devolved from life as a built-in at an estate (shreds of felt still remained from the lining of the silverware drawers) to life as a workbench, slopped with a dozen different paint colors and many dozens of nail holes. I felt very fond of it after rescuing it and planned to keep it forever, regardless of the fact that I don’t really have the space. But then Abby of 5th Joy came along and offered it a home. And what a home! She had the good sense to see its potential and took it up a notch by topping it with a beautiful, thick slab of marble. Now it has returned to its former glory, surrounded by her friends and family as they help themselves to delicious food (for a glimpse) served from that lovely marble. I feel as though I have played a small part in this very happy circumstance.
Photo via 5th Joy. (Be sure to stop by Amy Meier Design for many more inspiring images from this talented interior designer.)
My son’s habitual slobbery - though he is but a wee lad - is already breathtaking at times, prompting one of his aunts to make the following observation more than once while watching him dribble through his meals: “You know, there are messy babies and neat babies…and he is a messy baby.”
And yet. There are moments, even in his celebrated messiness, when some sort of innate desire for order - at some level, no matter how humble - penetrates the pile of detritus in his room like a shot of sunlight through fog. A few days ago I demanded that he clean his room and told him I would check on his progress. When I arrived, I found this:
He had sorted his books, previously scattered throughout the four corners of his room, into a grid. Then I began to observe the other little signs of order amidst the chaos and realized each visit to the beach over the last several weeks yielded a stone or shell, which he lined up along the porch railing after returning home. And the items are all white, except for a purplish one I placed there and to which he objected - a fact I hardly noticed at the time.
My house (my life) falls far short of what I hope it will be - what I know it can be. I look around and think: “There are neat homes and messy homes…and I have a messy home.”
But I think of my son and know there is hope. The desire for order, to make sense of the chaos, will triumph, even if only for a moment, in the smallest of ways, a line of white rocks against the looming dark.
The Critic: Classical Architecture and Corn Country
The following excerpt is from a not-so-recent article in the New York Times about the resurgence of classical architecture. I deviate from the focus of the article to rejoice in the fact that the writer pointed out that:
In upscale subdivisions across the country, for example, the Palladian window has become a prominent architectural feature, letting plenty of light into double-height living rooms, while still summoning up echoes, however murky, of early-19th-century gentility. But paired with an eyebrow window, an off-kilter gable or two and a rambling ranch floor plan, the traditional look becomes something very different: what might be called neo-hodgepodge.
Ah, yes. The neo-hodgepodge look. I know it well.
Were my mother in possession of a digital camera, the knowledge to upload a photo, and a DSL connection instead of a dial-up one, I would ask her to race down the lane of the house I grew up in, cross the road, and take a picture of the house in the field opposite so I could post it here. This photo, of a relatively new house, would reveal all one needs to know about the trend toward the hodgepodge mentioned in the article. Except for the “upscale subdivisions” part.
The house is first house to be built on our road among the corn and soybean fields in approximately 130 years. It wears its newness like a cheap dress - no, not the cool second-hand cheap dress you got at Goodwill - it’s more like the cheap dress you picked up from the floor under the sale rack at Wal-mart, where it had fallen in a heap after slipping off its disposable plastic hanger.
I don’t really consider the depressing inappropriateness of the house in the field across from my parents’ farmhouse to be the fault of its new owners. I blame it on the cabal of building companies and the architects who work for them, squirreled away, far from sunlight and fresh air, scratching out plans for kit houses with neo-hodgepodge as their guiding principle. And seemingly in the center of all these new houses is the apple of these architects’ design eye: the Palladian window. The vaunted Palladian window, reduced to presiding over cornfields, when a plain old double-hung would do the trick nicely. Even moreso if this window was set squarely over a front porch.
This is one of the sorrows of my midwestern heart, to see the fields of my youth blossoming with homes strangely inappropriate to actually living in a field. I don’t think homes need to be custom built - bring on the pre-fabs! - but there should be a prevailing common sense to these designs and their customer base. This doesn’t seem like too much to ask of designers.
So as classical design principles resurge, I hope that everyday architects and builders will discover a way to bring the Palladian window back home to the piazzas and villas, and leave the farmhouses of the midwest to a more modest version of upward mobility.
Here’s a photo of a wire birdcage with a little painted canvas bird (wearing a little crown, apropos of nothing), created for a Roving Home customer. I enjoy working with wire, even if my hands protest at all that twisting and crimping, and thought I’d include a few more - and more elevated - examples of wire sculpture.
In my brief research into the subject, I even discovered that a museum dedicated to the art of wirecraft exists in Zilina, Slovakia, should you happen to be in the neighborhood.
The following works are by a sculptor from the last century, Alexander Calder and a contemporary wire sculptor, Elizabeth Berrien.
In keeping with the decorating-on-the-cheap theme, here is a photo of the lighting fixture in our dining area, discovered amongst a pile of junk at a Pile of Junk store. No, that’s not the store’s name, but it should be, as this particular place of business likes to stash the items they sell in heaps so that shoppers can experience the joy of scaling mini-mountains of other people’s leavings. But I have no problem trading in my dignity for a potential find - especially when it comes at a $5 price tag, as did this light.
This fixture originally sported smoked plexiglass panes, but I just wasn’t feeling it, as they say, and while I love the boxy modern frame couldn’t quite envision the ’70s vibe of the smoked plexiglass working with the antique table. I planned on replacing the plexiglass with clear glass panels, but after hanging the light decided I preferred the streamlined look of just the frame with lightbulb; it looks a bit primitive, and as such makes a stronger connection to the old table. That said, I’m still not completely sure the combination of antique and contemporary works here. I just know I have so much old brown furniture in this corner of my home that putting a period chandelier over that table would put me deep into grandma territory. And by the way, thank you Grandma, for that table. (It really did come from my Grandma, and my gratitude is very sincere).
Finally, a word about the centerpiece, which is where the “trash” part of the equation comes in. I originally had my flowering branches in a conventional vase, but then noticed this giant can sitting on our counter - label dutifully removed and innards cleaned out on its way to the recycling bin - and my mind went to Elle Decor, as it so often does. I remembered that Jenna Lyons, the J. Crew taste-maker, was featured in the last issue with a list of her favorite things. Guess what was among them? Porcelain vases, cast from real tin cans, in a shiny silver metallic glaze. Well, Ms. Lyons can afford to be ironic with her fake trash vases - but I am the real deal and in the spirit of real-ness choose to use actual tin cans for my vases. I must say, I like it. I like the way that tin can looks with flowers, so - amazingly enough - I have Elle Decor to thank for the trash component of this Interiors feature.
A few years ago I spied a copy of Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life in a stack of coffee table books at my mom’s house and asked if I could borrow it. The borrowing has since become an act of thievery, which I justify because I will give the book a loving home whereas it will just languish, forgotten, at my mom’s house if I return it. (Hmmm…what else can I apply this reasoning to?) And yes, I’m counting on the fact that my mother won’t read this post.