Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Happy Weekend Past

This weekend has been Memorial Day Weekend, a very busy and somewhat nostalgic weekend here in Palm Beach, as so many people are preparing to leave for summer houses in points North and South.  But it is also a busy weekend socially, and it was finished off by a wonderful lunch at the Sailfish Club, given by a couple who wanted to remind all of us that this is not just a three-day-holiday, but rather a time for reflection of what the day means and for commemoration of those who have given their lives for us in wars past and present.  So there we were, all of us in red, white, and blue, and before we began our lunch, we sang—together, with nice printed song books, just like when we were back in grade school and singing, with our bright yellow song books (remember them?  I am definitely dating myself!)—while Miss McElvey stood in the front of the room waving her arms and “leading us.  We sang songs from the Civil War.

First “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (while, of course, sap that I am, I cried.  Thank God I had on sunglasses!).  Then songs from World War I.

“When the Caissons Go Rolling” and “Over There” (more tears!)

And ending with songs from World War II,

“The White Cliffs of Dover” and “The Lights Will Go on Again.”

These songs truly resonated with me because I have been doing a lot of reading lately of the novels and short stories of an amazing writer, Jane Gardam, who has just finished the last book of her trilogy, starting with Old Filth.

A wonderful book about an old man looking back on his life starting as a English boy from The Malay States, sent to England during the war, and then The Man in the Wooden Hat

Telling the same story but through the eyes of his wife, and finishing with Last Friends, telling the story through the viewpoint of her lover and Old Filth’s enemy

Obviously, we have been in even more wars since World War II, the Viet Nam War, where my second child’s godfather was killed, such a tragedy to us, Korea, and today the dreadful losses in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The luncheon songs, narrated by our host and accompanied by the great Bob Hardwick on the piano, touched on all of us, ending with “God Bless America”.  I couldn’t possibly thank our host and hostess enough for reminding us that this is a both sad and thankful holiday, not just a day at the Beach.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Things We Love: Decorative Tiles

I love decorative tile—all kinds, although I have to admit that my partialities run towards the tiles (azuelos) of Portugal.  The Portugese have been making beautifully decorated tiles for hundreds of years, and to me, their expertise shows.  Even when they are new, they are lovely.

Although, to me, the antique tiles are the most glorious.

If you are looking for antique tiles, one of the most exciting sources is…..TaDa! Antique dealers. One of the most incredible antique tile murals I ever saw was at Carlton Hobbs in New York. Suddenly seeing something as large and amazing as the incredible murals he had enjoying pride of place in his booth, at one of the major antique shows at The Armory, is like walking into a museum and absolutely gasping with delight. Antique dealers get these beautiful things, and they are the serendipitous happenings that cause whole rooms to jump up in one's mind.

Portugal is filled with tiles. They are used out of doors as convites which are figures inviting one to enter.

And as the facades of buildings...

And in gardens...

And of course, they are used over and over inside the buildings—on stair cases...

And on the walls, sometimes used by themselves and sometimes in conjunction with stone work or even wood work.

As you can see in the rooms below, I use tile a lot.  It is such a beautiful element in architecture, and so very, very practical.

Used in a kitchen or bath, it is impervious to water (so long as the grout is kept intact) and grease and dirt.  Used out of doors in a loggia or similar, it allows a lower wall that isn’t dirtied by flying-in dirt.

And it allows decoration on the walls that is not destroyed by moisture.  And anyway, it is just charming.

These last tiles are from Country Floors, but I have to admit that my favourite tile source for decorative tile is Solar Antique Tiles in New York City and West Palm Beach.

Antique Portuguese tile is an enormous subject. I have only scratched the surface here. But no study could be better rewarded.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Drapery Hardware--Something Important

One of the many things which separates “the men from the boys” (sic.) in my business is drapery hardward.  It may sound boring, but it’s truly one of the important details in decorating.  When used properly, drapery hardware finishes off a room

Room by Thomas Pheasant
Photograph by Max Kim-Bee
Courtesy Veranda Magazine

As in this room by Thomas Pheasant, shown in the May/June issue of Veranda magazine.  Here the simple but handsome dark iron rods juxtaposed against all the whites and neutrals in the space, joining the dark table and the frame above the fireplace in making the design exciting.

Used incorrectly, hardware can make a client into a screaming Mimi, and justly so.  For instance, curtains which are supposed to close behind a sofa or long table, and which do not have a proper traversing cord easily reached at one end, make the use of the curtains as they are supposed to be (ie. opening and closing as needed) almost impossible and thus highly impractical.  While I love old fashioned curtains that move by grasping the leading edge of the curtains and pulling, they are not—repeat, not—for use behind things.  A small iron rod like the one in the picture above would thus not be appropriate in such a space.

For cord drawing hardware, the grand daddy of them all is the Kirsch collection.  It is huge!  And it has everything—from the ugliest to really good-looking and from basic to complicated.  For instance, here is the plain pole—sold in 6” lengths—which you see similarly in the picture above

And here are the component parts which you need to complete the look—They are available in different finishes...

See, nice and simple, just like in the picture above.

Now, from the same company, three of the ugliest finials I ever saw—just how to ruin that nice look above

You have to really research a line to use it.  I use Kirsch all the time—they make wonderful, simple wooden rods too—sometime I order them plain, sometimes fluted, and simple rings and, of course, simple finials—again, I usually use simple ball finials or end caps,

But they also make the basic hardware which makes curtains work—every kind of rod and every kind of bracket, both regular and by-passing, and the rings and batons you need to use these looks.  Full disclosure here—I am the lucky person who has a great curtain workroom available to me, so when I want a wooden rod built with a cord within it (known as a track), I have it made by the curtain workroom.  Workrooms such as Paul S. Maybaum in Florida or A. Schneller in New York City are worth their weight in gold—they are expensive and deservedly so, since in addition to making lush and fabulous curtains, they also solve the problems of making the hardware work.  I also, because I am lucky to have the people to do it, I almost always order my wooden rods unfinished, because I have people such as Steve Falconer in North Palm Beach to paint or stain and varnish them for me.

Kirsch can also supply wooden blinds (what we used to call Venetian blinds) in many colours, although my favourite blind company is Hartmann & Forbes. 

I love their clean lined Venetian blinds—called wood blinds in the trade, although, as I said, not to me.  Again full disclosure, although sometimes I love the blinds in the finish colours in which they sell them, I often like to get the slats and have them painted the way I want—as in the “olden” days when I was young, and send them back to be strung up.  And, unless I am doing a very modern interior, I love old – style blind tape in plain off-white.

I love The Bradley Collection for their innovative drapery hardware—everything from the most intricate track system, motorized or hand or cord-drawn to beautiful Lucite poles and finials (warning—when acrylic rods are used over and over they become cloudy, because acrylic scratches)

I like the Antique Drapery Rod Company for their almost unlimited number of choices in eco-friendly (low voc paints, etc) rods and rings.  They also make zip rods in unlimited lengths.

Show the best possible picture you can from this very ugly but important web site. 

This company also sells lots of bamboo products.  Bamboo is the most sustainable “wood” product today, but beware—because it is a growing product, it will be larger towards the ground and smaller towards the end.  Be sure to order longer than you need so as to not need the narrow end.

I love a little company we have found in Dallas—Gaby’s.

 They make wonderful and very well priced iron rods, and I love almost all of their products.  They have been in this business for over 50 years, and in addition to drapery hardware—all of it—the rods, the rings, the brackets, they also make fire screens and similar wrought iron products.  They are to the trade only, so if you are not a decorator, you will need to go through one.  This is better anyway, because measuring windows can be tricky.  Here are a few things to remember:

When measuring, make sure you measure to the outside of any surround and take that into consideration.  Windows look, in traditional houses, better if they are more vertical in feeling, so if needed, don’t go too far outside our outside surround.  When I have enough glass showing, I try to only go 2” on either side of the outside.  This is not always possible.

You can make your windows look taller if you raise your rods up higher than the window.  If too much wall will then show, consider hanging matchstick blinds up behind the rod.  The blind will need to be hung backwards on his board so you don’t have to have a valance.

When having really wide windows with tricky curtains—ie. heavy linings and interlinings; curtains where symmetry is required. Etc., consider motorizing your curtains.  If you are building your house or doing major renovation, you are crazy not to utilize this on wide windows.

As said above, don’t plan on batons or similar opening treatments on curtains whose center is behind a sofa or other heavy piece

Always put a return on your curtains and have a return hook on either the part of the rod or bracket where it meets the wall or on the wall, itself.  Pinch the hook tightly inside of this hood, so that it doesn’t jump out. 

Another beautiful drapery hardware company is Fritsch, a German company where attention to detail is paramount.

This is just a beautiful, beautiful company, available through the David Sutherland showroom.   Their product is, as shown in the picture, handmade, and you can tell this at the proverbial 500 paces.

Beautiful wooden rods and rings and assorted brackets are available through Joseph Buinno’s beautiful “Finials Unlimited”.  This is where you make your rods, rings, brackets, etc., when the budget it unlimited and only the best will do.  They are as far from the Kirsch rods I mentioned first in this post as chalk is from cheese,

But that’s all right, because there is, as they say, a time and a place for everything.  Even all these different pieces of drapery hardware.