Great Gift Books About Beautiful Lifestyles

You can’t go wrong with a book, that’s the good news as we round the Christmas clubhouse turn. Here are a handful of design books, a history-style-picture book, a royal historical novel, and a charming how-to-live-a-lovely-life book by a fellow blogging friend.

What I love most about Veranda Interiors Editor Carolyn Englefield’s A Passion for Living is well, everything. The focus is on her years in Europe and the subjects range from Tuscan farmhouse, to English manor, to Provençal mas, from simple to grand. Much to inspire and many take-home ideas. 

Veranda – A Passion for Living, by Carolyn Englefield

 Sometimes you look at design books and think “Who the hell lives here?” ‘Scuse my French. I look at Markham Roberts’s book and think “These people must interesting. I’d like to know them.” The cover alone had me at hello. And Markham is a lovely man.

Markham Roberts – Decorating the Way I See It

 Midcentury Houses Today is my out-of-the-box choice, giving me a new-found understanding and appreciation for the exciting architectural movement of the 1940s and ’50s that continues to resonate so strongly today. Features 16 houses in New Canaan, Connecticut. Interviews with architects, clients, and current residents really bring it alive.

Midcentury Houses Today, by Michael Biondo, Jeffrey Matz, Lorenzo Ottaviani, and Cristina A. Ross

 Jean-Louis Deniot. Fresh, French, modern, soulful, fun, and occasionally out there. Crave him, crave his work, and confess to slight crush on him since I interviewed him (via telephone) for House Beautiful years ago. But I am a married woman. Also must blow a kiss to author Diane Dorrans Saeks, one of my design writing idols. Her blog The Style Saloniste is the bomb. You would also enjoy Diane’s pick of fall 2014 style books.

Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors

 While I’m in gushing mode, fabric and accessories designer Michael Devine’s lovely book came out earlier this year and deserved its own post. Didn’t happen and my bad, but don’t hold it against him or this beautiful book. An Invitation to the Garden and place at his welcoming table are just what we need to get you through the winter.

An Invitation to the Garden, by Michael Devine

Modern, glamorous, expensive. Nobody does it better than Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz.  Designer of Mondrian Hotels and rock stars’ mansions, BNO here showcases more than 60 projects, including the cribs of Lenny Kravitz and Puff Daddy Combs. Or is it P Diddy? Sean? What are we s’pose to call you now?

Suspending Reality – Interiors by Benjamin Noriega Ortiz

Old-world with a contemporary twist, glamorous, and just the right amount of stunning. Nobody does it–and much more–better than Robert Couturier. In his Designing Paradises, he leads us through his beautiful house and garden in Connecticut and to clients beyond, conveying to us his authentically beautiful life and love, not only for the people closest to him, but for the work about which he is clearly so passionate.

Designing Paradises, by Robert Couturier

What luck I had having writer and cultural historian Charlie Scheips as a dinner partner some weeks ago. I had read about his new book on Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris with relish. Frivolity before the Storm is the subtitle, as if the subject alone isn’t enticing enough. Read and see all about the legendary decorator and hostess’ extravagant parties and elegant guests in the fraught and turbulent years in Europe between the world wars. 

Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris – Frivolity Before the Storm, by Charlie Scheips

A dear friend gave me a signed copy of The Queen of Four Kingdoms, a historical novel by HRH Princess Michael of Kent, and I can’t wait. Set in the 15th century about the clever and ambitious Yolande of Aragon, “It was a time of high stakes and high risk,” wrote Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes in a blurb, “of lives wrapped in gilded velvet, but drenched in ambition and blood…I loved it.” 

Princess Michael is clever herself, but don’t get in her way. Years ago, we were in a van together in Italy, on the way to a dinner outside Venice. I’ve forgotten what made me laugh (okay snort, if you must know), but I have not forgotten that HRH shusshed me. Shusshed me.

My apologies, Ma’am. It is said I have a laugh like a horse, verily like a horse upon sensing his favorite cowboy about to present him with a filly and bale of fresh hay, and thus it has always been so… You ol’ bat.

And finally, here’s a super new book self-published by a fellow blogger whom I admire and consider a friend, though we’ve never met in person. Dense with text and widely varied in topic, Shannon Ables’s Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life is what your mother would tell you if she were Coco Chanel, Diana Vreeland, Lady Bountiful, Mary Poppins, Oprah, and Depak Chopra all rolled into one. You can pick it up and read for five minutes or an hour, and you’ll get something good from it. (Spoiler alert: I’ve ordered copies for each of my nieces and daughters.)

Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life, by Shannon Ables

And if you’re still looking, James Gaddy’s picks in Wall Street Journal Off Duty section books is excellent.

Ho! Happy Reading, Frances

Posted in Blog, Decoration & Design, Fashion & Style, Little Life Enhancers | 18 comments

Making a Little Space for Life

Making a Little Space for Life

Have not forgotten you, nor fallen off ladder while decorating, nor been engulfed in Yule log flames, figurative or otherwise. Just been trying to make a little space for life. I've been out of the habit so long I don't know quite how to go about it, especially at Christmas time. My old New York apartment was awash in amaryllis. I do love them. Haven't ordered a one this year... I started trying back in November. Results thus far are mixed, to be honest, but I'll have more to say in the next few weeks.  What about you? Is this the year you've reminded yourself of what you told yourself last year? That this year would be different? Not so crazy? Not so over-programmed? Even letting go of one little thing makes a difference. I let go of the whirl of New York and planning a Christmas party. And yet here I am thousands of miles away at our ranch, and I still feel slightly frantic, and I'm not sure why. Is it just my holiday DNA or what? What about you? We'd all like to hear. This is a time where One Little Thing can make a big difference. What have you let go? Or what might you let go to let it a little space?

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Posted in Decoration & Design, Humor, Insight & Inspiration | 41 comments

Mabel, Mabel, Strong and Able, Keep Your Cell Phones off the Table

Mabel, Mabel, Strong and Able, Keep Your Cell Phones off the Table

Can we all agree here? In this week of Thanksgiving, as we gather together, let’s be there, with one another,  eye to eye. Much as I want to see the picture of your cat in her pilgrim costume, it can wait until after dinner. Much as you want to text your boyfriend for the seven-thousandth time, he can wait, too. I’m not going to insult you by saying calls, pings, Facebook, and Twitter can also wait, because you know that. Tell me you know that.  Sarah Aynesworth, etiquette consultant in Texas, says, “ENOUGH.” I can listen and text at the same time. I can multi-task. Not. Screen Shot from The Britishes ''Stop Looking at Your Phones'' “Manners,” she says, “are about how you make others feel. More important than any rule is making the person you are with feel like she is important to you. Would you verbally say to your fellow diners, 'You eat your salad while I answer this email…' ? Never! And yet that is what happens." Oh sorry, I didn't think you'd notice. Screen Shot from The Britishes ''Stop Looking at Your Phones'' “We’ve all seen a table of teenagers, sitting across from each other texting instead of talking. I only hope they can make eye contact and carry on a conversation in their first job interview,” she continues. Srsly! But Sarah believes adults are beginning to be just as bad. “Beginning” is generous if you ask me… “Rarely can you have a phone-free evening these days,” she says, woefully correct. Phones on the table are not okay, either. A table prepared for a meal, be it humble or grand, is a place of sustenance and nurturing, of coming together and camaraderie, of story-telling and family squabbles. Whatever. These are connections. These are relationships. These are life and love. We should respect the table and hold a reverence for it, however light-hearted. Slapping a cell phone down beside your place is just that: a slap. Right then, all phones in the middle of the table. Whoever answers first picks up the tab. Unless of course it is at your own house. But hey, that's a thought...Screen Shot from The Britishes ''Stop Looking at Your Phones'' Stop Looking at Your Phones, a funny Downton Abbey-ish spoof is circulating on YouTube, btw, where they all heave their huge, circa-1914-ten-pound phones to the table… We are amused. And yet not. (Warning: video dialog includes f-bomb and c-word. :o ) They make the phones so small nowadays... Screen Shot from The Britishes ''Stop Looking at Your Phones'' And finally, advises Sarah, “With the holidays approaching and dinners with loved ones and business associates ahead, I challenge you at least to think about it. Put your phone away and focus on your fellow diners. Be present, appreciate the moment, give your full attention, make them feel like the most important people in the world.” Talk about a gift that keeps giving. Thank you, Sarah. If it's really important, you'll get word soon enough. Screen Shot from The Britishes ''Stop Looking at Your Phones'' To learn more about the lovely and superbly etiquette-d Sarah Aynesworth, or to contact her, visit her website here www.sarahaynesworth.com.

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Posted in Blog, Humor, Insight & Inspiration, Social Graces | 10 comments

Holiday Centerpiece With Birch Bark, Foliage, Fruit, and Flowers

Holiday Centerpiece With Birch Bark, Foliage, Fruit, and Flowers

Here is an impressive but easy centerpiece for the holidays or any day. For mantel or table,  the size and height are easily varied. Use any combination of foliage, fruit, and flowers. Make a mess and it will still be beautiful. It's an anything-goes thing. Birch bark or any ol' hollowed out log will work. The former is available at crafts stores and floral supply shops online. The latter you sweet talk someone into the woods for. Don't take that the wrong way. This is the smaller version we did last year for the children's table.  Birch Bark Centerpiece with Persimmons, Roses, Oak, and Moss Moss for the base is also available at crafts stores and floral supply shops. The fruit and foliage you can be creative with and use what is available in your area. Autumn leaves and apples. Dried seed pods and hydrangeas. Persimmons, pomegranates, pears, apples, bunches of grapes, squash, eggplant, cabbages. Even kale--hell they put it in everything else. You may want to do the arrangement on a tray or piece of plastic, something to protect your table. Then insert any low-profile containers into the bark, and let the bark curl around it. The containers don't matter. Birch bark centerpiece DIY I found I needed oasis, so I put that into the containers, having soaked it in water for several hours before hand. Oasis, btw, is a dense foam that absorbs water so you can stick flowers and foliage into it. The plant material stays put and hydrated. Here you can see the oasis in the containers and the beginnings of the sticking-in. I used oak foliage from the trees on the ranch. You can use anything, really. Okay not "anything," like old tennis shoes or something, but stuff in your yard, along the roadside, in the woods,   in your neighbor's yard... I did not say that. That is trespassing is what that is. You would never do that... during the day... For the "grown-ups' table" we had a slightly larger rendition, this one with pomegranates, apples, berries, roses, oak and olive foliage. Birch bark centerpiece DIY Be sure to cover the ends. And you know my motto, do as much as you think you need, then do a little bit more. You want the look of abundance! Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Centerpiece Detail - Roses, Berries, Apples, Pomegranates, Oak and Olive branches Another good thing about these is that they are low, so everybody can see everybody. Birch bark centerpiece DIY with Oak, Roses, Pomegranates, Berries If you'd like to borrow my watercolor place cards of shotgun-toting turkeys, click here. And to see the previous post of Thanksgiving decorating at Rancho La Zaca, click here. Oh, and if you have any questions, lmk, I am happy to help you. Y'all have a great Thanksgiving and we'll be back soon. I am so grateful for you, my readers, and all you have given me. Wow, thank you.

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Posted in Decoration & Design, Entertaining, Flowers & Gardens | 12 comments

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca, and a Printable Place Card

Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca, and a Printable Place Card

Is Thanksgiving your favorite? Mine too. What is that about? Is it what Christmas used to be about? You know, family, friends, congenial gatherings, gratitude? Just a thought.  It's also one of my favorite times at our home, Rancho La Zaca. Here are a few highlights from last year and perhaps some inspiration for you this year. Longtime readers have seen these turkeys before. I got them I know not where on the Internet, never to be heard from again. This is their fourth Thanksgiving, still standing praise be, in opposite corners of our entry hall. This is Horace. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca  And this is Henry across the hall. Henry is His Grace's (my husband, for new readers) middle name. It's a strong name, Henry. You don't meet many Henrys these days, come to think of it. This post could change all that... Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca  Last year on the mantels I combined dark, glossy green camellia foliage with our California pepper tree, olive, seeded eucalyptus, and bay. Pumpkins and pomegranates add color. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca  I do love how the sun comes into the room and highlights whatever's on the mantel. The concrete artwork is by Ruben Ochoa. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Mantel  Across the room under Hunt Slonem's butterflies,  persimmons have worked their way into the scheme. The large twig cornucopias came from Pottery Barn four years ago and, like the feather turkeys, haven't been seen since in the ether of commerce. You see these things in catalogs and think they'll be there forever, but they aren't. So if you see something that works, go for it, because it may not be there next year. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Mantel  Longtime family friend Julie "Junebug" Williamson, who is also a chef, gifted us with these gorgeous flatbreads. Ohhhhhhh my and they were as good as they looked. Also a nice  way to call attention to the seating plan. I like to put it front and center so you don't spend the entire cocktail hour unwittingly talking to your dinner partner, JIC you run out of chat. Which even yours truly does on occasion. Hard to believe, I know. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Seating Plan and Junebug's Famous Flatbreads The dinner table with mis-matchy chairs but that's okay. The centerpieces are birch bark with oak and olive foliage, roses, berries, apples, and pomegranates on a bed of moss. You can order the moss online. There are many sources. The birch bark and flowers come from a wholesaler down the road in Carpenteria (California). Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Table Centerpiece  Here's a close-up. I made it up as I went along. It's all in there higgeldy-piggeldy, which pretty much sums up my philosophy of entertaining. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Centerpiece Detail - Roses, Berries, Apples, Pomegranates, Oak and Olive Branches, and Moss We don't always have a children's table, preferring to jumble everyone together (see above: higgeldy-piggeldy), but last year it made sense. I had a larger top made for a small flea market round table, and it does the trick just fine. Now I leave it on all year and use it for a puzzle table. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Children's Table  As in past years, I painted a watercolor menu/place card/souvenir. We are a shooting bunch, so last year I keyed off of that. This is ol' Henry holding a shotgun, with a shell bag around his waist. If turkeys have waists. I don't have much of a waist myself by the end of the day. Though I don't have much of one to start with, to tell you the truth. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - Place Card For your very own printable place- or menu card, click here. Drag image to your photos and print on watercolor texture paper. Boom. You can do the vertical version above or a larger, foldable horizontal below. It does dress up your table, and people feel special when they have a specially designated place, don't you think?  Chef Stephanie Valentine's beautiful grilled turkey, simply trimmed with rosemary. Sorry I don't have a download-able version of a grilled turkey. Turkey trimmed in rosemary. Thanksgiving at Rancho La Zaca. Friend and literary agent Tricia Davey's jewel-like cranberry tart. Julie Davey's Cranberry Tart - Thanksgiving at Rancho La Zaca As we are a family of mixed faiths, and as 2013 coincided with the beginning of Hannukah, we also lit a menorah. Thanksgiving Decorating at Rancho La Zaca - 2013 - Lighting the Menorah What we are especially thankful for this year is the life of Frances "Frannie" Dittmer, below at right. For new readers, Frannie was the mother of my husband's children and a fabulous gal. "F-1" to my "F-2," nicknames I believe we were both flattered by.  Thanksgiving 2013 was our last with Frannie, who died in a plane crash in February. She was something, and you can read about her here.  At left is darlin' Junebug of the famous flatbreads.  Julie ''Junebug'' Williamson and Frances ''Frannie'' Dittmer, Thanksgiving 2013, Rancho La Zaca  In August, Frannie and HG's daughter (mine too :) ) and her husband adopted a baby girl. And thus grace is born again in the inscrutable circle of life. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude not just for what we have, but for whom we have--in our lives and in our hearts. Amen. Coming up: DIY for the Birch Bark Centerpiece. It's easy!

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Posted in Blog, Decoration & Design, Entertaining, Flowers & Gardens, Sketches, Paintings & Projects | 17 comments