Sunday, August 25, 2013

Castle Tours - The Home Office

Hello, Viewers and Visitors!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we make a right turn, and proceed into the Home Office, where the Home Secretary is busy secreting away his secrets. Careful - don’t trip on that rug!

I wish there had been a “before” picture to show you, but I can’t find a single one where the office figures, even as a background glimpse. So, we will have to rely on a verbal picture: beautifully solid medium lilac walls; along the short wall a guest bed covered in dark red with many pillows; in front of the window a smallish folding table "functioning" as a very makeshift desk – too tall, too narrow, altogether irritating; on the opposite wall a couple of book cases and a tall cabinet. At that point I did the best with what I had, and the budget didn’t go much further. And so it went for a year and a half…

Enter the Home Secretary, with bells and whistles, and life got crowded. We would queue to get to use the desk, and swear at each other for having moved important papers – AGAIN! (actually, the swearing was mainly done by me, I seem to remember); we were cramped and annoyed, and the bed took up many valuable square feet without being much in use. After a few years of this aggravation I had a breakdown: budget or no budget, there had to be a drastic make-over – or homicide.

The first move was to get rid of the bed, against my husband’s fervent objections (which had held me back for a long time, but - no more!), that a proper home must be hospitable and have a guest bed. I certainly agreed with him in principle, but I felt that our daily exasperation was too high a price to pay for a hospitable bed that was only used 2-3 times a year. If that. I tried selling it, but there were no takers, so finally I just dragged the thing down to the curb and left it to its own devices. The worn and sagging book cases went the same way. The cabinet found a new home with a neighbor.

Transformed! Unscrewing all the hardware wasn't
too complicated, and 2-3 coats of spray paint
turned an eyesore into an attraction.
(Of course, you have to remember how
to put it all back together again...)
Then the paint. I didn’t dislike the lilac – au contraire – but I thought the north-west-facing room needed more light since it was now going to be a full-time office. What to choose? I agonized for a long time over this quandary but finally, I selected white. So help me G-d, I don’t know what came over me! I have always regretted it, but to move everything again, and start over – I just don’t have the strength anymore… (It’s not that I don’t like white – I adore it! I would love to have an all-white room, with only a few select whispers of silver mirrors and the palest of pink roses. It is this combination of colors and patterns and stuff against a boring white background that drives me up the wall!) I also took the tall grey filing cabinet that the Home Secretary had brought with him to the nest and spray painted it lime green. A clear improvement!

Then – IKEA to the rescue! Everything was bought there. The room is a veritable IKEA catalog. With a bigger budget, and more patience, I might have wanted to mix it up a bit, with vintage pieces and such, but I was so tired of not having a functional office that I felt it all just had to happen immediately. There was also the issue of square footage to consider – in such a small room (7 x 13 feet), every inch would count, and it all had to fit together like a puzzle.

I spent a long time with my tape measure, the IKEA catalog, and in-store research and comparisons, and finally came up with a shopping list. Many of the items are no longer available since the merchandise changes from time to time, and I don't know all the product names.

This was the shopping list:
Jute rug
Two desks
One filing cabinet (for me)
A small computer cabinet (for my PC - the Home Secretary has a laptop)
"Billy" low book case with doors
"Bestå" storage wall - many, many pieces (drawers were added with time)

And this was the result:
The view from the door end - standing with my back against the green filing cabinet. The slim desks, 
only 24" deep, and the 15"-deep storage wall leave a floor strip that is just wide enough to shove in
a twin-size air mattress for an over-night guest. My new filing cabinet holds the printer, and separates 

the two desks. The chairs we had already, but they also came from IKEA. Obviously!

Now with my back to the Billy cabinet - the view in the opposite direction. It is a tight squeeze,
but the green filing cabinet manages to carry on a precarious existence between the entrance door
(right) and a closet door (left). The jute rug covers most of the dark green floor which looks
nice and shiny in this picture, but - believe me - 
badly needed covering!

The magnetic board above my work space also came from IKEA - originally it was white,
with black caddies - they were also given a treatment with the spray paint cans.
So much better in green and pink!
The lamp base was a vintage gift, for which I found the perfect pink shade.
The Home Secretary's work space is a little more sparse, but I hung his collection of pens and toothbrushes on the curtain wire for amusement. The white curtains have since been replaced
with florals - one for him, and another for me.
This view shows four of the five vertical sections of our Bestå storage wall.
Some drawers have been added over the years, and it houses great amounts of stuff.
The 15" depth lets us line up our
 books in double rows. Much needed!

The room really became amazingly functional and very pleasant and we love spending time in here, in spite of the white walls, ...

This concludes today's chapter of the castle tour - if you are in the mood we'll meet again and explore further... Thank you for your attention!

Regards from Rosebud!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Castle Tours - My Victorian Parlor

Hello, Viewers and Visitors!

Welcome, and thank you for joining me on this guided tour of one of our local landmarks. The tour will cover some of the best features of my castle, and I hope you will enjoy it! Let us begin with the Victorian Parlor. Watch your step!

When I moved into my (two-bedroom rental) apartment in the early weeks of 2003, I knew I wanted a living room inspired by the Victorian drawing room. It was never my intention to try to recreate an accurate period piece – even if I had had the patience or the money, I don’t have an interest for it. No, what fascinates me is to pick an idea, a concept, and then adapt it, a little tongue-in-cheek, according to my own taste and means, using it as an inspiration, rather than as a blueprint.

So let me show you what I did.
A view of my Victorian Parlor. Wicker chairs from Pier 1 Imports are gussied up with throws and pillows.
The lace tablecloth comes from an antique mall; with some small imperfections, it was a steal!

The starting point was red walls – a very Victorian choice, and one that I had long been hankering for – it creates such a warm, intimate ambiance, especially in a small room. (My living/dining room is only 11 x 12 feet, facing north-east.) I picked a color called Chinaberry by Benjamin Moore, which had the perfect balance – a fairly dark red, without yellow or brown tones – rather a pinkish, raspberry undertone. It morphs beautifully throughout the day, as the light of the room changes from sunshine to shade to artificial light. It is a wonderful background color for art or any other frills. Since the ceiling and the walls above the picture rail are white, the room remains surprisingly light. I also painted the picture rail in antique gold to add to the period glamour. Then I got carried away, and added a string of fairy lights, camouflaged with rose garlands, all around the room.

The draping of a picture is a typical Victorian trick. The peacock panels were a marvelous find
in the same dime store that yielded the rose print. The tole trays below are part of a collection
that will be explored later in this tour. 

No Victorian parlor could ever be complete without an enormous, heavy, gilt-edged mirror. A less expensive, and more playful, option was to gather some small mirrors of various shapes that I already owned – and later added to – all of them with gilt frames. I made a collage of them on one wall, and – voilà! My Victorian mirror impersonation was in place.

The mirrored wall - a marvel to behold! The peacock lamp, left, looks like it might be
a priceless antique - but it comes from Lowe's!

Potted palm trees were another specialty of the era, which I dared not undertake (black thumbs!), but two artificial palms by the window easily recreated the Victorian fad – my own mini-orangerie.

The lamp base (including the rose finial), was a $25 flea market find, to which I added a very basic cream-colored shade, that I covered with an embroidered overlay, then tied a fringed scarf around it.

The rattan chest holds odds and ends.

Perhaps I should point out that when I say Victorian, I am referring to the English era – I am European, after all. Therefore, the style would also include references to the British Empire in the shape of oriental rugs and artifacts, the odd tiger skin, and other trophies from the Colonies, such as this little pagoda, from goodness knows where...
The tiger "skin" was a $30 find in an online toy store!

Heavy drapes, fringes and tassels abounded in the Victorian drawing room, as did peacock feathers, lace cloths, pillows, foot stools, what-nots, and, of course, endless amounts of knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, doodads and gimcracks, also known as “stuff”.

Peacock feathers, real and fake, are a necessity! The throw glimpsed at left is made from sari fabrics, the prettiest textiles I know! I bought it many years ago at Pier 1 Imports, and it brings in the colonial motif again - specifically India, "The Jewel in the Crown".
A corner vignette with an inherited rose painting and a few other useful objects.

An Indian pouf or a choice of foot stools - excellent when the grandbabies come to visit!
The floors were in a very poor condition (and I didn't feel like investing in repairs), so I layered rugs - one "real" but worn beauty that I have had for at least 20 years; a curb-side find (upper left) and various remnants.

Some additional stuff, like the tapestry that I found in Jerusalem, with three star-burst
mirrors hanging in front. The mask is from Venice - it was a crazy splurge, but I knew I would never have forgiven myself if I had not grabbed the opportunity! (Our visit to Venice in 2011 was unforgettable - a place I would love to see again.) Lanterns is another of my weaknesses - these are fromTJ Maxx.

A bit of extra stuff hanging out on a plant stand in front of the window...

The thingamajig with the stuff on top of it houses tablecloths, napkins and the like. It consists of a
cheap, simple, plastic storage shelf, 
with a slightly larger slice of plywood duct-taped onto it, then
draped with three different textiles. It was an emergency solution that became permanent, and it sort of works, but I can't help dreaming of a more functional piece - just try finding the right tablecloth in there!
I don’t think anybody but the most perfidious villain could accuse me of not having enough stuff in my parlor (should you ever hear rumors to that effect, know that it is vile slander!). The room is, indeed, a veritable Museum of Stuff. But if I am ever accosted by a niggling doubt that maybe, just MAYBE, I should pare down a little, perhaps remove two or three pieces of stuff, I am immediately validated and encouraged by Ms. Robin Brown, also known under her trade label Magnolia Pearl, who in her gorgeous, inspiring book “A Bit of Velvet & ADash of Lace” speaks rousingly of “layering beauty on top of other beauty”. That’s what it’s all about, see!

Well, enough for today! Good-bye! See you soon, in another room!

Regards from Rosebud!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Meet the Fairies!

Hello, viewers!

About a year and a half ago, I started a Fairy Club together with my two bonus daughters. 

(Here an explanation is in order. There seems to exist a universal dislike of the word "step-" as in stepdaughter, or – horror of horrors – stepmother.  So a few years ago, somewhere in Europe, a campaign was set in motion among the general public to find a positive substitute for this hated word, and the result, which caught on with an enthusiastic, surprisingly over-all acceptance, was "bonus". As in: "When I got married, I was fortunate enough to receive a bonus in the shape of three delightful grown children." Feel free to adopt this term at any time, America!)

Yes, my bonus daughters are truly delightful, and like me, they were experiencing a severe need for more gossamer wings, sparkly wands, and fairy dust in their lives. Said and done! We discovered (or uncovered) a few more kindred spirits, and our group now consists of three mature fairy ladies and four of the daughters we have among us, at this time ranging from 18 to 27. This was the first time I have ever done anything inter-generational and it turned out to be a great success and a lot of fun – I suspect it is all our seven internal five year-olds who are coming out to play with each other on equal terms! Another bonus was that I think it brought me and my bonus daughters even closer than before.

So, what do we do? First, let me explain that, unlike many similar clubs, we are very careful to avoid any hints of paganism in our games. We do not worship nature – only its Creator. Therefore, we strictly limit ourselves to only such frivolous aspects of “fairiness” that are acceptable within the framework of our outlook: femininity and fabulousness, frills and frippery, friendship and fun finesse! And lots and lots of sparkly fairy dust.

When we get together there is a seasonal theme for the table decor, a dinner that ties in with the theme, a craft project for all to get busy with, and substantial amounts of shrieking and laughing and waving about of wands. It is our firmly held belief that more women need more frou-frou and fairy wings in their lives! And more sparkly fairy dust. Obviously.

Our first Fairy (or Faerie, as we also like to dub ourselves) Convocation took place on Thanksgiving 2011. The event was put together rather impulsively, with short notice, and the format wasn’t quite in place yet. You know how it is when fairies start clubbing like that – they need a little time to fully grow into the concept. Being the self-proclaimed hostess, I more or less grabbed what I had handy, or could get hold of locally – and quickly! – for the décor, and put together some turkey thighs, sweet potatoes and pecan pies. And voilà - instant  Thanksgiving! A note on the menu later... 

A view of our first ever Faerie table. A white lace cloth sets the stage...

Being that we were almost into the winter season, and that I wanted to strike an ethereal note with what I had available, I worked with white, silver and pale pink, rather than the more traditional fall colors. Being that I was also feeling lazy, I used disposable clear plastic plates and  wine “glasses”. 
Close-up of a place setting: Clear plastic plates, layered with white paper doilies, on top of a silver charger; a white paper napkin is rolled up with yet another paper doily, held with a "diamond" napkin ring.
Small, square mirrors act as coasters, and the champagne "glasses" (with built-in silver rim) have been gussied up with white feathers and a sparkly pink ribbon. (Glue gun is key!)
The silver flatware is also plastic, hard as it is to believe!

Since then I have actually continued to mainly use disposables, though not out of laziness, but because that way I can transform my tablescape dramatically each time without spending a complete fortune. And after all – we are “only” playing!

Close-up of the center piece: a wide, low glass bowl (from IKEA) filled with water, glass pebbles for added shine, and floating pink rose candles; surrounded by a garland of sparkly pink hearts.
In the middle, a pink mercury glass holds a candle, and additionally, two silver mercury glass votive
holders are flanking with tea lights.
The first craft project was - it had to be! - Fairy wands. In preparation, I had bought thin wooden dowels, glued on cardboard hearts, and coated everything with silver spray paint. These basic wands were then presented to the Fairies together with glue guns and a big goody box of ribbons, feathers, flowers, tulle, diamonds, sparkly fairy dust, and other sundries, so everyone could create their own master piece. (And a center piece like this one comes in mighty handy, let me tell you, when the hot glue gets all over your fingers!)

A historical moment - the first ever Meeting of the Wands!
(Shimmery curling ribbons are hanging from the chandelier.)
What was really fun and sweet, and even surprising, in a way, was the unmitigated joy and enthusiasm with which all  the Fairies threw themselves over the goody box. It made me realize that there is a part of us (most of us?) that needs to let loose with pretty, girly things. None of the women present (with the possible exception of myself) is what you would call "artsy", and yet they were going at the sparkles and fluff like there was no tomorrow. I had one of those almost profound moments, where I reflected over how much women need to have a little innocent fun sometimes. We are so often credited - and rightly so! - with being the backbone of civilization, carrying on our shoulders all the responsibilities that go with this role, but we also need, from time to time, to be "allowed" to let loose and indulge our lighthearted, girly, playful side. 

In this context, I am reminded of an anecdote from the life of my maternal grandmother, may she rest in peace. She was a textile artist, quite influential, with a professional career already in the nineteen thirties and forties, at a time when most women barely had jobs. At one stage of this career, she was involved with the way textile arts and crafts were taught within the national school system. (In large parts of Europe these things were, and are, taught as a normal part of the curriculum.) Decades later, still scandalized, she would recount how once, during a visit to a certain girls' school, she was told by the head textile craft teacher: "Oh, we always remove the pink and purple yarns - otherwise all the girls would want to use nothing else!" My grandmother was outraged (as we all should be) at this grotesque, patronizing mentality that probably did much to stifle the creativity of the students

Girls need pink and purple! Give us our pink and purple back! We want it - and we want it now! I was deeply heartened to see my Faerie Friends indulge in an orgy of pink and purple - and lots of other girly stuff!

Menu Tips

Personally, I prefer dark meat to white - and I find I am not alone in this; whether it is turkey or chicken, the breast meat has an unfortunate tendency to come out dry. Therefore, I buy turkey thighs, season them with salt & pepper, maybe a little thyme, and shove them in the oven at 350° until they're done - a practically no-fail Thanksgiving dinner staple. It is much quicker than baking a whole turkey, obviously. One thigh per person is (more than) ample, and everyone walks away happy.

That year I also came up with a slightly different take on the traditional Pecan Pie: Individual, crust-less pies. I thought: "who needs the extra starch of the crusts - it's the filling we're after anyway" - so I made the nut filling as per usual, poured it into greased ramekins, and baked until ready to serve. I recommend it!

Fairy Pecan Pies

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar (brown or white, according to your taste)

3 eggs
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp chocolate syrup OR 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
As much Bourbon as you feel you can get away with (anything from a splash to 1/3 cup!)
1 ½ cup pecans - coarsely chopped
  • Heave all ingredients, except nuts, in mixing bowl; beat lightly with hand-held whisk until well mixed
  • Stir in nuts
  • Pour into greased ramekins, or other small molds 
  • Bake at 350° until done - approximately 30 minutes
Serves: 8 Fairies


Regards from Rosebud!