Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Press: Palm Beach Daily News


Leta Austin Foster: Time to give outdated furniture a fresh look

By Christine Davis

Special to the Daily News

Editor’s note: This article inaugurates an occasional series that looks at strategies for solving specific design challenges, with advice from decorating professionals who work frequently in Palm Beach and vicinity. First up, Leta Austin Foster discusses updating outdated furniture in a Palm Beach condominium.

Leta Austin Foster of Leta Austin Foster & Associates in Palm Beach explains how to reposition outdated furniture — and her technique has little to do with seating arrangements. Instead, it’s all about creative re-use and decorative recycling – a hallmark of the interior designer’s work.

Her clients, who have seven children, own three condominium units in a row: one for themselves, one for their unmarried children and the third for their married children.

“My client said she wanted to use her mother’s furniture in the condo that her married children and grandchildren use,” Foster says, “and her children said, ‘We hate it.’

“I told them not to worry. ‘You are not going to know it’s your grandmother’s furniture.' ”

In the living room, the sofa by the bar was the grandmother’s, but Foster had the arms and cushions altered for a more modern look — and covered it in a commercial-grade, blue-and-white cotton tweed. She then copied its look for a second sofa to create a sectional seating arrangement.

The living room of a revamped Palm Beach condominium features blue and white, 
one of Leta Austin Foster’s favorite color schemes, 
and mixes tweeds with plaids and prints for a fresh Florida feel. 
Much of the furniture was recycled and refinished using items the family already owned.

Meanwhile, she “untufted” two of the grandmother’s club chairs to give them a more contemporary feel, recovered the lampshades on grandmother’s ceramic palm-tree lamps and painted her mahogany faux-bamboo tables white. New furnishings rounded out the refreshed look — rattan chairs, bar and stools from Objects in the Loft and a clear-acrylic coffee table from Palm Beach Modern Auctions. She also chose a patterned area rug by Stark.

“This is a wonderful, 60-something-year-old building, so we put in a new floor and added beams to the ceiling,” Foster says. “We didn’t use curtains. Instead we put white wooden Venetian blinds on the windows for a more modern look.”

In the bedroom, the grandmother’s chair and headboards were reupholstered, and her night table got a new white finish and new clear-acrylic hardware.

“We toned down the headboards, covering them in a plain fabric, and we made dust ruffles to match,” says Foster, who was assisted by colleague Della Lee on the project.

The right wallpaper can easily give a room an “expensive” feel, Foster says. The bedroom’s washable paper is a prime example — “Todd” by China Seas. The new linens came from Foster’s boutique in the Via Mizner, and the carpeting from ProSource. At the windows, the wooden Venetian blinds were repeated from the other rooms.

In the kitchen, Foster ordered new fronts to update the cabinets and added pewter hardware. Countertops were fashioned from a material called Cavastone, and the floors were recovered in an engineered product that’s sustainable.

Especially for the condo owners’ grandchildren, 

the vinyl-covered breakfast banquette is spill-proof.

Foster had the dining area’s banquette built by Patrick Darczuk and painted it white. The seat covering was vinyl in bright red “so the kids could spill.”

Completing the dining area were a zinc-top table from Faustina Pace, a whimsical poster, two light fixtures from Palm Beach Modern Auctions and a lantern from Alan J. Alan. And the linens and accessories came from Foster’s boutique

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Best Professional Assets: My Daughters


I am always writing about great decorators and great decorative eyes, and suddenly, today, probably because I am getting ready for a trunk show at Locust Valley Design Shops this coming up weekend (Friday and Saturday, the 20 and 2lst of June) where Sallie has a “shop within the shop,” I began thinking, “Why in the world don’t I write about my own daughters?”  After all, they are immensely talented and hard-working.  So today, I am starting on a series which I will sneak in every so often—I don’t want you to get tired of us.

Due to the trunk show, which I hope so many of you will come to, I am starting with my middle daughter, Sallie Giordano.  Sallie is head of our New York office, and she has, in addition to working with me, her own clients who love her and are extremely loyal to her, coming back to her time and again on projects.  She works with two wonderful people, Mansi Singhi and Alexandra Wernink, and they have created some spectacular spots.

I think this room is just masterful.  Sallie used the soft palette of light, almost neutral colours, embellishing that with a judicious use of embroidery and formal curtain styles in modern fabrics with the dark handsomeness of the antiques.  This room keeps coming up on Pinterest, so lots of people respond to it.

Another room that keeps getting “pinned” is this handsome Living Room (above) with its beautiful combinations of paint colours on the walls—those wonderful blue rectangles!

A constant play between the old and the new—the traditional shapes of the great black tables with their white lamps and the introduction of the “modern” in the Plexiglas table is definitely a trademark of Sallie, as seen in the picture above, as is the pared-down aesthetic, shown below.

But Sallie also loves the pure traditional as is evident in this lovely little guest room all ready for someone to come in and cozy up…

As much as she loves the more modern

Photo Credit: Karyn Millet

She can be pale-y neutral

Photo by: Karyn Millet

Or jumping with colour

Photo Credit: Karyn Millet

Sadly, like so many of my clients, her jobs do not allow her to publish pictures of them.  Thus, usually, the pictures of her work in magazines are of her own homes.

Now that you have seen a small sample of Sallie's immense talent, do yourself a favour—come over to the Locust Valley Design Shop (96 Forest Street, Locust Valley, New York) this Friday and Saturday and see the trunk show she is putting on—lots of linens from our boutique in Palm Beach and her own wonderful furniture and bibelots—all for sale.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Graduation News

Today I wanted to congratulate my granddaughters Leta and Isabel on their middle-school and elementary school graduations. 

Isabel on her graduation day

Next year, Isabel will be attending Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles. Just to show you how interlocked the world is, the new headmaster of Harvard-Westlake is the old headmaster at Groton, where my daughter, and Isabel's aunt, India Foster went. Good luck to both, the new headmaster and his new student, and to India, who last week was on her way to the Golden Door, the famous Spa, which we are redecorating. 

Leta and her friends at their
middle school graduation.

As for Leta, it seems like only yesterday she was just a little thing, traveling around France with Ridgely, India and me, only three months old, and now she is moving on from middle-school and going on to Westminster. We are all so proud.

Congratulations to graduates everywhere, whether from elementary school, middle school, high school or college. Best of luck to all of you


Monday, June 3, 2013

Shopping at T.J. Maxx

My wonderful friend and—lucky me!—client (full disclosure here—we met when she hired me to do her apartment in Palm Beach, and we have become best friends, since she is charming, kind, and exceptionally endearing), Judith Giuliani, introduced me to this store.  Because she is also a careful and considerate person with money, she loves T. J. Maxx.  And thanks to her, so do I.

I don’t usually like outlet type stores—I am able to zoom up I-95 passing Freeport, Maine, without a tremor, not even a frisson of desire, -- they too often have especially made (and especially terrible quality) goods.  After all, I am, in addition to being an interior decorator, a purveyor of the finest quality merchandise imaginable in my own beautiful boutique.  But Judith kept telling me about the amazing bargains she got there, so last summer—without her—I was taking my adorable and wonderful housekeeper, Stiny, to Ellsworth for her day off.  She loves to go to the stores in the strip malls there, and since I could never do so many nice things for her as she does for me, I was driving her to them.  Right there, next to her favourite, The Fashion Bug, was a big old T. J. Maxx, so I decided to check it out while Stiny was in her choice of choices.

In I went, got my shopping cart, and then spent a long, long time inside.  Actually, it was great fun—and I did find some bargains.  Now time has passed, and I have learned a lot—first of all, that the merchandise in the different T. J. Maxx stores is chosen for the location of the store.  Supposedly, the best selection in clothing is for the store near Southampton.  Well, that makes sense.  And in the Ellsworth, Maine, store I found lots of Polo (Ralph Lauren) shirts—the short, somewhat cropped ones which I love (I am not very tall, and these are better for me that the longer ones).  I have done a lot of comparison shopping on these—with the small horse (I HATE the big horse—I mean, who would wear that?), and you can do almost as well price-wise at Belk’s, a little bit more at J. C. Penny’s, but the nice thing about T. J. Maxx, in addition to being the cheapest, was that there was a lot of other stuff there too.

BARGAIN ALERT: always look in the sale section too.  The things get looking a bit tatty there, but the prices go way down, and if you look carefully—a shirt had an opened seam on the neck, but that was easily fixed, and that shirt was only $11.00.  The others were $24 each, and there was a good selection of colours—although I don’t like that bright turquoise I see so much in outlet stores.

On that same day, I found a great Calvin Klein dress for 49.00.  I wear it with a brown alligator belt and brown alligator flats proving the point that both Judith and I make—“you can get away with a cheaper dress if the accessories are good”—advice given to all of us by our mothers, but actually, as usual, quite correct.

On another Stiny-Day-Off (full disclosure here—I take Stiny to the malls—she goes with me to the antique stores—we have such fun together.), I found a great Ralph Lauren shoulder bag in brown leather, reduced from 595.00 to 149.00 which I bought as a Christmas present for one of the designers in my firm.

I found another great bag, which I was going to give away, but it matched exactly to a pair of orange Escada linen trousers I had, and with a blue blazer, well…….I am afraid I was a bit selfish.

By the way, this picture was on E-bay for $249.00—such a deal, but at T. J. Maxx, it was $49.00.

My find of finds was on the sale rack at the Palm Beach Gardens store—a black Escada tuxedo jacket—way to big for me, but reduced from $1500.00 to 69.00.  Even after I had it re-tailored, it was a real steal—now at about $200.00, and I will wear it with black velvet jeans or white silk pants—with a great fish brooch which I happen to own sitting up on the shoulder.

Basically nightgowns and underwear were awful.  And I have yet to find a good pair of shoes at any of the stores to which I have gone.  Bras were very iffy; same goes for underwear, unless you are very, very thin.

There are lots of beauty products and shampoos, etc., at T J Maxx.  These can be controversial, as some people don’t like to buy this kind of product at an outlet store, but they have lots of different brands, including the grandmommy of creams, Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream which lasts forever without going bad, and is THE product for your nails.

Basically, I thought all of their main housewares were pretty terrible.  Bad sheets of poly and cotton—although I guess if I looked there all the time, I might find some nicer ones—but sheets are my business and they just didn’t cut the mustard there.  They seem to have an in with Ralph Lauren, but Ralph Lauren sheets are awful.  Their towels can be okay though, and I did buy some towels for my pool in Maine at Marshall’s—a sister store of T. J. Maxx.  But they seemed to have a better kitchen buyer.  And one thing they seem to have in all their stores is the cookware from Cuisineart—I love this brand—I love the pots and pans.

And of course, I love the food processor.  I couldn’t have any house without one.  Why are they about 60% off main line nice stores—and even better than bargain stores such as J. C. Penny except when they are having a sale.  Then it’s anything goes.

I wasn’t that pleased at all with Home Goods, their housewares store—basically cheap goods from the Pacific Rim.  Maybe it will get better.  At any rate, it’s a good way to spend a day while Stiny checks out The Fashion Bug, and we can always go grocery or antique shopping afterwards.