Monday, 28 January 2013

The Cheer of Pottery

Blue Bowls

On dark rainy days, there is some solace in pretty pottery in the home.  Deborah Needleman writes that having pottery is one way of adding a sense of history to a home.  I can picture the potter's wheel turning, as it has for millenia. I think of John Keats, meditating on pottery from ancient Greece, and humanity from a different time, and mortality.

In my case, I also picture the potter who made it. Most of our pottery is made by Elaine Futterman of Creek Clayworks in Roberts Creek.  She and her husband, my now retired science teacher Mike Allegretti, make a few different colour lines, but my favourite is blue.

A few bowls by Creek Clayworks.

A small casserole by Creek Clayworks.

I think it is fair to say that the entire main colour scheme of our house has been transformed by wanting everything to look a little like these pots, or to look good with them – even the walls and furniture.

A spoon rest and garlic bowl on a green tray. The garlic braid doesn't fit in the garlic bowl!

It mixes well, I think, with my grandma's old cookie plate and even the Sophie Conran wooden spoon holder. But Elaine makes those, too. Maybe I will get one next summer.

You've seen one of these before, with peaches, here.

We often buy ONE BLUE THING at the summer craft fair as an anniversary present to ourselves. When you have been married as long as we have, you tend to form a collection, even though we do occasionally crack a piece.

When I see some of Elaine's blue pottery in someones else's house, I feel like we must be related. Their Christmas Open House is like a community gathering; I always see some old friend there. One year, I saw one of my colleagues, who had been off work fighting cancer. I'm so glad I saw her there, because that was the last time I saw her.

All summer, this vase is full of garden roses on the dining room table.
Elaine made this cookie jar just for us.  Ode Written Upon a Roberts Creek Cookie Jar, anyone?

The fruit bowl is often transformed into the salad bowl, especially for cesar salads.

I am happy whenever I look at one of these bowls. I think about when we bought each piece, and about Elaine and Mike and how long they've known me, and the kind of people they are. (The kind to move from California to the Sunshine Coast, B.C., during the Vietnam War.) The kind to dedicate their lives to forming and firing the beautiful and useful.  I hang out with them whenever they let me, during their open houses and craft fairs.

Last summer, while on holiday, we did something quite radical. We bought pottery by someone else.

Bud vase and water jug by Elaine Hughes-Games of Westbank, B.C.
At the Naramata long weekend craft fair, after much deliberation, we decided to branch out, and import pottery from the interior, made by someone we didn't even know.  It looks good with our other pottery.

I feel lucky to live on the west coast, where so many potters and other artists live.  Almost everything in our homes, from the 2x4s and drywall to the tiles, dishes, cutlery, tea towels – heck, almost every thing in the house – is mass produced.  We live in the most mass produced era in history, though everyone since the Industrial Revolution has experienced some alienation from the handmade. By buying hand crafted pottery I love, as Deborah Needleman writes in The Perfectly Imperfect Home, I "can help add originality and humanity to (my) home."

Humanity, with all its history and all its fragility.  Still, it isn't like looking at my dental x-rays for that sense of mortality. It is a cheerful feeling, like a connection to what has gone before.

Friday, 25 January 2013

My Midlife Decor Splurge

Recovering a Couch

Some women buy a red sports car. Some leave their husbands. Some go to Africa. In my mid-forties, I have recovered my couch, or chesterfield, as my dad used to call it.

Telfer recovered couch.

(This photo reveals our too-small sea grass rug.  I hope to replace it soon with two borderless ones sewn together.)

We bought this couch in 1996 with some of the money my mom left me. It was solid, made of kiln-dried wood and all those other good things, made in Vancouver and sold by a small company no longer in existence.  The maroon, vaguely William Morris-ish fabric lasted through babies, toddlers, preschoolers, children, and teenagers doing their damage to it. By that I mean four to six year olds running from the dining room and doing flying head stands onto it, their legs flopping over the rounded back.
My son, looking a bit younger, and the late beloved Beauty, with the old couch behind, and even the old ottoman; also, a picture that needs hanging!
Eventually though, the fabric started to fray and tear and the seats started to sag. In the picture above, you can see some tearing above the T.V. remote. It was still completely sturdy, though, and unlike some shorter-lived family room couches, was by no means at the end of its life. So we took it to Arbutus Tree Interiors in Sechelt, (where we had taken the ottoman, also in view here) and had it recovered in a green cotton velvet. Just to be clear, I did not do the actual work myself. It cost about as much as a cheap couch with a life span of five years would cost, but it looks better than ever and we could never afford such a good couch now.

It took years, however, to choose the colour.  When I look at photos of Miles Redd interiors, I can see what influenced me.

Miles Redd - House Beautiful

Miles Redd- Elle Decor
I loved these rooms before I knew who Miles Redd was or registered that the couches were green velvet (though more olive green than the green I chose, and probably silk velvet.) I was also captivated by Bunny Williams' Kips Bay Show House room.
Bunny Williams' Kips Bay Show Room - House Beautiful
You can't really see the colour of the couches from this angle but they are olive green. If she could use olive green with those bright turquoise walls, I thought, I could use green couches with the more muted and greyed GM Blue Grass.

Don't forget, also, the green sofa in the Keats drawing room.

If you have an older couch that is of solid construction, consider recovering it, both for environmental and budget reasons. Also, you will get exactly the couch you want, instead of whatever is in the storeroom. If you have a short-lived replacement couch near the end of its life, is it possible to save up for a kiln-dried frame couch that will last the rest of your life, with a few recoveries?

"After" couch with Robert Allen Silpada "willow" recovered cushions to match the ottoman.
You'll notice that I still like the rounded arms and back. In other words, mid-century modern is not what I want in a couch. Comfort is.

As midlife blowout purchases go, this one was pretty harmless. I'm happy, and so are the T.V. viewers of the house. I, in fact, am going to sit there tonight to watch Wuthering Heights. It's also a sweet place to sit in the morning with my lemon tea, and write in my journal, or to curl up and read at night. I feel very lucky to have such a beautiful and soft place to sit.

The only problem is that our new S.P.C.A. dog, Daisy, likes to sit there as well. We cover it with that plastic they used to put on carpet at open houses when we go out and bought her a new dog bed with white piping to go beside it, which she is happy to sleep on at night. Do you see my pre-photo dust-buster marks on the velvet?

Daisy wishing she were up on the couch.
Deborah Needleman, of The Perfectly Imperfect Home, which I seem to be quoting a lot, says that every room needs a bit of ugly. I consider beige ugly.  Does this apply to a beige dog bed in the living room?

In the west, a couch in the living room is as expected as a car in the garage. Money spent here is money not spent on travel.  If you are going to have a hulking mass of fabric and stuffing in your house, I say make it beautiful and comfortable. For me, that means asking for some down in the pillows and back and covering it in green velvet. (This green, incidentally, matches my kitchen chairs.)

Looking for new surroundings is supposedly a sign of a midlife crisis.  It is possible to have new surroundings by staying just where you are, and even with contributing little to the landfill. A renewed, velvety spot for me, my family and friends (but not my dog) to sit is enough to keep me calm.
No dogs allowed!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Is Wallpaper Poetic?

Wallpaper in my Favourite Poets' Homes

I have wondered before if poetry is good for catching muses, and I thought I'd look into history to find out. In particular, I thought I'd look at images of the interiors of two of my favourite poets: Emily Dickinson and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  To let you know how obsessed I am with these writers, I have a picture of Emily Dickinson on my bookshelf framed.

Emily Dickinson
It looks a lot like this one and sometimes people ask me if that is my great-grandmother and I say I wish and if they are charitable, they say she is in spirit.  In my desk, I have a laminated post card of Shelley that I bought in the gift shop of a museum in London, probably the National Portrait Gallery, over twenty years ago. I have considered ordering a Keats is my Homeboy sticker but didn't trust the website, and told myself I was an adult anyway, and I am taller than he was and he is long dead. But when I think about that too much I cry.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
It is well known that both of these writers had direct access to the Muse and that both were noticed the intricate details of their surroundings.  So I thought I would look again at images of where they lived.

Here is the much documented bedroom of Emily Dickinson, where she sat a tiny desk every night and wrote poems.

Emily Dickinson's Room
Before I had noticed the narrow sleigh bed and the windows, but can you see in this picture the faint damask pattern on the wallpaper? Since she spent so much time in her room she looked at the pattern a lot. Could it have influenced the pattern of her thought?

Keats Interior

Here is room in a recently restored home in England where Keats stayed for a few years while writing some of his greatest poems and proposing to Fanny. (Notice the green sofa!) Was this Farrow and Ball pattern the one there at the time and if so, how did it influence Keats, who was influenced by all he saw?

Here is a Waverly damask I am thinking about for the front hall, perhaps above wainscotting.  It goes beautifully with Georgian Green. Would it put me into an Emily Dickinson frame of mind when I walk in the door?  Would it make me write great poems?

It would certainly be more interesting than what is there now, which is plain cream paint on drywall.

To see more of my wallpaper obsession, look at my new Pinterest board, Wallpaper Obsession:

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Wallpaper in an Open Concept House?

Finding Niches and Alcoves for Pattern

Many years ago I saw this dining room by Sarah Richardson, for a charity lottery house in Vancouver, in Canadian House and Home. I cut it out. I knew one day I wanted my dining room to look like this.
Since then, I have seen countless other gorgeous wallpapered dining rooms in magazines and books, and I'm sure you have, too. I wonder how many poets of the past ate in wallpapered dining rooms?

In the Master Class of the December/January House Beautiful, Alexa Hampton says, "Dining rooms can be challenging to decorate because the furnishings are so prescribed. A table and chairs, always in the center of the room, with perhaps a sideboard. How do you make it interesting?"

The answer, of course, is wallpaper.

But the dining room in my new house was actually a dining area, defined by a light fixture, a partial wall, and little else, part of a larger open space.

One advantage of an open concept house is the feeling of spaciousness, even in two thousand square feet. However, for one who loves pattern, the opportunities to wallpaper are not great, as I mentioned here. Besides bedrooms, and other separated spaces, like the powder room and maybe even the front hall, there are little spots which seem to want to draw attention to themselves. The pattern of wallpaper can help make these spaces special, as I have read.

In our dining room, there is a little bumped out space where our sideboard perfectly fits, which eases dinner time space issues.  At first I painted it BM Blue Grass, but then the whole front two rooms became Blue Grass, so it needed something else to distinguish it.

Something like this tropical house featured in the book Rooms to Inspire by the Sea, which I bought last summer.
(If I put grasscloth on my sloped roof, would it look like this one?)

Dining area alcove with Shand Kydd Budgie in aqua/green.

Here is the alcove in my house. If the wallpaper looks familiar, that is because it is in my bedroom with a different background colour.  Why so repetitive? Because I love it more than any other pattern and this colour wallpaper is almost a perfect match to Blue Grass.  How could I resist? I also think in a small house, it is comforting to the eye to have repetition of finishes, and that's a paraphrase of something I read Michael S. Smith write in his book Kitchens and Baths, which I have signed out from the library.

Here it is from a wider view, from the stairs.
Dining Room from above

Dining Room

The lamp is from my grandpa's house, as was the dresser I wrote about. The sideboard was my parents', which will be in a future blog, and is painted Georgian Green. I got the idea of putting beach sand in the base of the hurricane lamps from Frances Schultz's dining room in Bee Cottage.  The green buddha is there to confer peace on the diners. While I have read several books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron, and therefore influenced by Buddhism, I am not a real Buddhist. The hydrangeas were my birthday flowers.  The painting is by Manly MacDonald, a nephew of J.E.H MacDonald.

It does make the nook special, yet blends in perfectly, n'est-ce pas?
I think it is a little bit of my inspirational picture of the dining room by Sarah Richardson.

It makes me wonder if there is another little spot to use up more of the roll?  Yes, I have a few ideas, but I will save them for another day.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Canadian Pecan Pie

John Bishop's Pecan and Maple Syrup Tart 

Happy Birthday to me! I spent part of the day baking a pie. (My son also made me a chocolate cake but it is not iced yet.)

Maple Pecan Tart
This is not a budget pie. It has two cups of pecans in it and one cup of maple syrup. Of course we had 3/4 of a cup of maple syrup left so I went shopping on my birthday to get more. Thankfully the grocery store is near and full of Uncle Luke's real maple syrup from Quebec.  I used Vancouver chef John Bishop's recipe from his book Simply Bishop's: Easy Seasonal Recipes. The Pecan and Maple Syrup Tart is aptly in the winter section and was easy.  In fact, I have made it many times before.
John Bishop's Simply Bishops
By the way, Bishop's is a fancy restaurant on 4th Avenue in Vancouver. When we were newly weds, living in Kitsilano, we used to go to that restaurant, but could only afford dessert.  Which was delicious.

At lunch, we also broke out the preserves I canned last summer, now that we are in the depths of winter.
Canned applesauce and peaches.

Canned peaches in bowl from Creek Clayworks, in Roberts Creek, BC.

If you want to know how much I love peaches, grab a copy of The Planet Earth Poetry Anthology, which will be out soon from Leaf Press, which will have a copy of my poem "Charm" in which I swoon over peaches and the Similkameen Valley.

While we are on topic of special food, here are some more pictures of baking.
Buche de Noel at Christmas

This Caramel-Pecan Buche de Noel recipe, which I have made every Christmas for six years, is in the December 2006 issue of Bon Appetit. Yes, I love pecans. And dark chocolate. 

Party Cake

Party Cake
And this is the birthday cake I've made every year for my daughter since she was two. Luckily, her birthday is in raspberry season. It is from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef Takes Off.
For any of these melted chocolate toppings, I use Denman Island chocolate, either Simply Dark or Coco Loco.

Yes, birthdays are about food. What is your special holiday cake?

Monday, 21 January 2013

My Husband's Great Decorating Insight

Recovering an Ottoman

Telfer ottoman "After"

Actually, it was really a team insight made by both of us discussing a decore problem in our house.(Usually I decide and he acquiesces, so in this case I like to give him credit.)

Last spring, he had just come out of the hospital (everything is all right now) with some clear insights about what was important in life. One of these insights was that he wanted the comfortable ottoman in the living room, because it was high enough for him (and our tall sons) to sit on while watching T.V. without having their knees in the ears, like the retro one he wanted to switch out.

The problem was, this is what the comfortable ottoman looked like:
La-Z-Boy Ottoman "Before"

How did this piece ever get into the house? Ignore for a moment the old dog bed, the wrong paint colour, and my desk which I have since moved and the chair I am about to paint.  Focus on the bulbous, ugly brown thing, as some of us called it, or the chocolate donut, as others did.  Notice the middle tufting button which wouldn't stay fixed, causing trays of food to slide off.  We had ordered this thing from La-Z-Boy as we were about to move into the house and had been pressured into this colour. I was also unaware at the time of the texture of fake velvet.  This was the thing my husband wanted in the living room, near the front door.

Luckily, I had recently read Deborah Needleman's The Perfectly Imperfect Home two or three times, and remembered one of her "Nice to Know" tips:  "Because the stuffing for an ottoman is not nearly as important  as it is for a sofa, you can easily buy one cheap from a catalog or find one on eBay," she writes, and I add in my head, or find a five year old chain store one in your home, "then recover it with a fabric that you love."

I just happened to have a fabric that I loved (and love) in mind:  Robert Allen's Silpada in Willow, which I had been considering for curtains, or a chair, or something.  It is a faded linen print, which looks beautiful next to Benjamin Moore's Blue Grass.  Being very agreeable to the newly released patient, I replied, of course you can have it in the living room, as long as we get it recovered to look decent in there. To which he replied, O.K. It was the shortest and best decorating discussion we have ever had.  I phoned Arbutus Tree Interiors in Sechelt and off it went. I asked them to add more tufting and to firm the whole thing up a bit.

A few months later my daughter and I walked onto the porch. We had caught the bus into Vancouver to go to the art gallery and were just returning.  Sitting on the porch, wrapped in plastic, was a beautiful piece of furniture I didn't recognize.  Here it is now, in the living room in morning sun:

La-Z-Boy ottoman with improved tufting. "After"

After: not too bulbous anymore either
Looks so pretty, but still seats men over six feet tall to watch hockey or basketball on T.V.

And makes the living room look better too, with a pattern that coordinates well with the sofa and walls, and is floral without being granny.  Where else can I put this fabulous fabric? "Don't be too matchy-matchy," says my teenage daughter. OK, but maybe just one more chair, and a few more pillows.

How easy it is sometimes to make everyone happy through negotiation.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Greyed greens and blues

Paint Colour Inspiration from Nature

It is no wonder that I favour greyed greens and blues in my interior decor. All I need to do is take my dog for a walk to see my influences. This morning there was fog in the harbour.

Can you see why I love a colour like Blue Grass (CC-460)? Or Stratton Blue?

This kind of fog is pretty at sunrise, but I actually don't want pure greys on my walls or furniture.  (I do have one grey linen table cloth.) I need a bit of colour during these months of low overcast clouds we live in on the west coast.

Glazed Green(CC-580) is another colour I can't live without in my house. Can you see why every greyed green from Georgian Green to Misted Fern seems like a good choice to me?

Every poet needs to get away from the desk, out of the house once in a while, to breathe some foggy air, walk some hills and look at the beauty around her in the world.  Then try, through paint, wallpaper, and fabrics to bring some verisimilitude of nature back into the shelter, and through pen and paper to wake up the reader to the world.

Friday, 18 January 2013

I'm Dreaming of a Green Kitchen

Kitchen Paint Plans

There is much blogging about white kitchens and certainly home design magazines are full of very few other kinds.  And today The Decorologist wrote about the trend of darker painted lower cabinets and white painted uppers.  Because I spent so many years in rentals and then our first spec house with those white melamine cabinets with the strip of oak across the bottom, I don't think I will ever want a white kitchen, maybe not even a half-white kitchen. Still, I know that our 'knotty alder' kitchen cabinets, now six years old, which came with the house, will some day soon look dated.  Maybe they already do and I haven't noticed. When I do paint them, however, I think they will be green, which seems to be my favourite colour to paint anything in my house.

Here is my current favourite green kitchen:
Meg Braff - House Beautiful

Wow, I love this kitchen. The paint colour is Benjamin Moore's Forest Moss (2146-20).
Forest moss on a log by path near our house.
I love actual forest moss, stopping to stare at it on my daily walks, and I would love this colour to work in my kitchen.  It does with the tiles, floor and counter, but I'm not sure about with the green kitchen chairs.

My kitchen chair

It might.  Here is another amazing green kitchen from House Beautiful designed by Gideon Mendelson:

Gideon Mendelson - House Beautiful
While my kitchen ceilings are eight feet, I would love to have green plaid curtains. He has only painted the island green.  

Here are some others of my favourites:

Katherine Ireland

I also love the scalloped bottom edges of the above cabinets. Mine aren't like that, but I could buy a hutch with a similar shape, in the same colour as my chairs.  This hutch, my kitchen chairs and table, are made by True North furniture.
I know that sometime, maybe this summer or next, I will paint the cabinets. Probably sooner I will paint the walls and ceilings. Eventually, I will find green checkered curtains or the fabric for them. Slowly, my house turns green, I tried to write in a poem once. Green, the colour of fresh peas, beans and lettuce from the garden just outside our kitchen door, seems the right choice.

I just remembered the first picture of green painted kitchen cabinets I loved. It was in the old House and Garden and was a small picture of the owners' of Anthropologie's tiny apartment kitchen and the cabinets were painted what looked like Benjamin Moore's Georgian Green, which I wrote about here.
It looks good in my kitchen too, and would certainly provide a continuity of greens throughout the house.  The time it takes me to think about painting wood, though, it could be a few years before I actually start.