Monday, June 30, 2008

Chic Treat

Of all the wonderful things blogging has brought me, the introduction to creative and talented people is the most thrilling.  What a treat Saturday night to be included in a dinner in honor of Heather Clawson, blogland's own Habitually Chic.

It was a lively crowd, and HC has done a much better job than I would have capturing the evening.  I'm thrilled that Kansas City made such a nice impression; now you will know I'm not on the take from the Chamber of Commerce.  (I'm not.  Really.)

My editor, Zim Loy was a gracious and lovely hostess and we were all treated to the magic of her culinary cohort, Merrily Jackson, who is aptly named.  The highlight of the evening, besides the sparkling conversation, was Merrily's dreamy coconut cake.  Even if you don't think you like coconut, you'll be begging for a second piece.

Miss Merrily's Heavenly Coconut Cake

1 18.5 oz box yellow cake mix, the kind with pudding
3 eggs
1 c. whole milk
1/3 c. vegetable oil


2.5 c. heavy whipping cream
1.5 c. sour cream
1.75 c powdered sugar
1 7 oz. can Baker's sweetened coconut

Prepare cake according to package directions, substituting milk for water.  Bake, as directed in two round cake pans.  Cool and split each layer, making four thin layers.  Prepare frosting by whipping cream and sour cream together until soft peaks form.  Whip in sugar, then stir in most of the coconut, reserving about a quarter cup.  Frost top of each layer, stack and frost sides.  Sprinkle reserved coconut over top.  Serves 12.

Can be make a day ahead.

Mrs. Blandings, left, Habitually Chic, obviously, right.  Recipe originally printed in Spaces Magazine Oct./Nov. '06.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Branksome (not Break-some) China

There is a wonderful article in the June issue of World of Interiors that chronicles the history of Branksome China.  The company was founded in 1945 but was facing closure last year.

Husband and wife, Philip and Charlie Johnson, bought the company in October with a passion to rescue and revive it.  It's hard to believe that it was struggling as the shape is so clean and modern, the glazes so clear and appealing.

The prices are not outlandish, even with the exchange rate, and custom color combinations and personalization are available for a modest up-charge.

I love the graphic nature of the black with the colored glazes.

Art pieces are available as well.

Oddly, as I was clicking around the site I came across a story on their news page.  Seems when they reintroduced the dog line, the boxer's head was missing and they were unable to reproduce this breed, which was a frustration for collectors.  A bit of luck uncovered the mold and now this dashing breed is back in production.

He even has floppy ears like Rosie.  Could be the birth of a new collection.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Friend of a Friend

Back in December folks were ohhing and ahhing over Aerin Lauder's home in the December issue of (the much missed) House and Garden.  I seem to remember a bit of discussion about the choice of blue candles in the dining room.  I'm usually an all white girl when it comes to candles, but could see that, for the image at least, white would not be right.

Then, one of the features I always look forward to in Elle Decor, "shortlist" featured Steven Gambrel's list of things that he cannot live without.

And look.  Number 8 is slate-grey tapers by Creative Candles.  I adore Creative Candles; they are on my list as well.  Unfamiliar with the slate grey I emailed my friend at the company and asked if she could provide an image.  I was expecting a snap of her holding a handful of said shade when she provided a link to the image below.

Courtesy of Grace Ormande Wedding Style, the slate grey tapers preferred by Gambrel.  I have to say, I can see the appeal.  I am drawn to the crispness of the white, but the grey is more subtle.  It does not become the focal point.  Graceful and lovely, it does the job without screaming for attention.  I need to listen to Jennifer; this color deserves a second look.

Lauder image, and style inspiration, courtesy of The Peak of Chic.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Morning After

Mr. Blandings and I had the pleasure of attending one of Kansas City's most lovely fundraisers Saturday night.  A benefit for the Kansas City Symphony and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Ball is held in the Gallery and it is nothing short of spectacular.  The space itself is majestic and the artful arrangement of boatloads of flowers by Bob Trapp and Kenneth Sherman make it a fantasy land.  

You might remember that a while back I was mulling over what to wear.  I had ordered a dress and kept trying it on, fussing with this and that.  It just didn't seem to be the thing.  But then again, no one is particularly looking at me except Mr. Blandings.  When I tried it on for him, he diverted his eyes from the T.V. briefly and said, "Honey, really, I think it's fine."  As you might expect, "fine" was not exactly what I was after.  "Fine" was, in fact, the kiss of death.

The only problem was finding a better than "fine" replacement in time.  I circled back around to the Brooks Brother's skirt.  The women here were lovely and had it sent for me to try.  While the color and shape were not buzz-worthy, I loved it.  A new white blouse (oh, how this is a weakness; I have a dozen, but adore them on the initial wearing) and a few alterations and I was out the door.  The manager who helped me when the skirt came in totally got me.  The blouse needed a slimmer fit.  Tie instead of tuck.  Yes, she agreed, collar and sleeves up.  A woman in the fitting room blinked and said, "For that party I prefer to stick with black."  Yes. Fine.  Another observer noted, "It's cute!  Don't some people really dress up?"  Needless to say, these women were not getting me.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time.  The next day was a dose of a reality.  Cinderella Kansas City style.  Sunday is laundry day at the dream house, so we started off with gathering and sorting.  I'd neglected quite a lot of things in the Spring and my housekeeping was one.  Once the first load was in I started editing the wardrobes of boys 1, 2 and 3.  T-shirts and jerseys multiply like rabbits in their dressers and they need to be thinned out about twice a year.  While I sorted and begged the boys to focus, Mr. Blandings went down (to the scary basement) to switch the laundry.  When he came back up he had a sheepish request.

"Honey?  I don't want this to be a thing.  I mean, don't take it personally, but I think you might need some new underwear.  Like today."  Cinderella looked up from the piles of nylon jerseys.  The blue birds momentarily ceased singing; the mice paused their merry dance.  "What?"  "Well, it's just...I mean they are basically threadbare."  

Shamefully, I knew this to be true.  When you hate shopping, you really hate shopping for things like undergarments.  In Mr. Blandings's defense, he was not fishing for fishnet.  He's long past hoping for something racy and raucous.  It was more like your mother and the accident thing.  So off I went.  To reconfirm that I hate shopping.

Brooks Brothers and Hall's is one thing.  The Gap and Victoria's Secret are quite another.  Loud.  (Oh my heavens I am so old and grouchy.  Why must it be so loud?) And messy.  These stores make me blanch when I walk through the door.  The indifferent, unmotivated teen-aged sales girls don't help and I mean that literally.

After very little success I headed back to the car.  My route took me past Barnes and Noble, and while I usually buy my books at Rainy Day, they are not open on Sunday and I thought it might be just the thing to calm my nerves.  

As it turns out, it's only clothes shopping that is so painful.  My arms heavy with design books and the new World of Interiors I headed home.  As I came through the door my darling husband inquired, "Any luck?"  Absolutely.  A complete success.

This image is a bonus.  I've had this open on my desk for a week.  House & Garden, 2000, from The Well-Lived Life.  Photography by  Dana Gallagher.  The rose is the "Sonia Rykiel."

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Dog Party

Patricia sent some wonderful images from her "party" file as inspiration for the patio.  This is helping as thinking of it as a place to have a party certainly piques my interest.

Yes, black and white stripes do seem chic.

You have all been so generous with your advice.  We are just getting started, and you're right, it looks a little bare.

In an effort to avoid more custom expenses, these striped pillows from Pottery Barn might provide a bit of pop.  The umbrella, too, adds to the Draper-esque feel, though the one from Z Gallerie, top, is irresitable with it's jaunty tassels.

But my biggest concern, the one that has me scouring the net, is darling Rosie.  She was welcome to sleep in the sun on the old cushions, but seems to know that that is a "no, no" now.  But, adorable pup, she certainly cannot be expected to lounge on the ground.  Heavens.

This charmer (the bed, not the Boxer) might be just for you if you admire the style of Mies van der Rohe or Marcel Breuer.

Butterfly chair in the family room?  Rover might enjoy one as well.

Blandings tend to be more traditional when it comes to canine accoutrements.  This will likely do the trick for the lollipup.

So I need to order Rosie's cushion first.  In black and white, of course.  Sometimes it's hard for me to think outside the Boxer.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Inside Out

I don't really like outside.  Even as a kid I was much happier inside with a book than outside doing, well, anything.

And Kansas City, as much as I love it, it's not so much about the weather.  Which makes not wanting to be outside easy because there's always an excuse.  Too hot.  Too humid.  Too cold. But for the fifteen days a year (there might be more) that it is truly gorgeous I'd like a place to sit outside and read my book.

Our outdoor situation has been somewhat pathetic.  In fact, I can't even show you the "before" pictures as it would have been too shocking and you would have lost all respect for me.  But recently I had new outdoor cushions made and things are looking up.  The furniture is mostly hand-me-downs from Mr. Blandings's parents and I have always been grateful to have them.  These chairs in particular are beloved.  The downside has been that retail cushions won't fit.  My life, it seems, leans toward custom.  When I called my upholsterer he said, "You realize that foam is a petroleum based product, right?"  Friend, it's the story of my life.

I still need to plant some annuals.  I know it's late.  I don't like outside, remember?  I'm getting around to it.  Anyway, while a wall around the patio would be nice, it's usually an extension of the playing field, so it seems like a hazard to put a two foot stone wall in the back field.  But I was thinking some planters might be nice.

Elle Decor, July 08 (which I just received and nearly everyone in the free world has already memorized.)  Home of Bob Weinstein and Eric Hensley in Sag Harbor.  Photographs by William Abranowicz.  As an aside, I think I went to the estate sale here before the current owners purchased it.  As the article mentions, "It needed a lot of work." 
Then, I noticed as I was going through my files, almost all the outdoor furniture I have pulled from magazines was selected for a potential indoor use.

Domino, May '08.

This table, available from Conran would be indestructible as the Blandings' breakfast table.

Or this one, from Sue Fisher King, which is available in these really amazing colors.  Fab, huh?
And finally, this table from Marston and Langinger, also available in about a million colors, would make a handy side table for the kitchen sofa.

 Maybe I don't have to go outside after all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New and Improved

On Monday, Decorno threw out the question to her readers, "Is it All Too Much?" And she posted a few rooms that made some folks furrow their brows and say, "geez, yes."

But, being a great over-thinker, I couldn't leave it at that. (You should read the comments if you haven't already; it's an interesting discussion.) We of the shelter magazines and the tear sheets and the vintage design books, we like to see patterns. I'm not talking trends, the things of the moment that suddenly every it-girl with an it-address must have.

A very valid question was, is the age of excess and trying too hard to be wacky (there is an old HG Mayer Rus column on "fun" in decorating on just this subject that is classic) a backlash against the Liagre of the 90's? Perhaps.

But, I think there are a couple of other things at work here. One is definitely the swing of the pendulum. Once we tired of the mid-century resurrection and felt the need to mix we might have gone a little fusion-crazy. If you can pull your period chairs in with the Nelson coffee table, then maybe you can add the antlers and the coral and the rococo mirror and the garden seat, too.

And the other thing is where you choose to gather your information. I'm not in the business of marketing or demographics, but I am fully aware that I while I sometimes enjoy domino, I am not its target market. So, if it's geared to a younger market maybe that is why it's seeming so frenetic to me. And, as one of Decorno's readers noted, a lot of what we see is over-styled and I'm not sure that is the designers' fault. Even in one of my favorite magazines I've noticed in the last few issues that many of the rugs look as if they have been unrolled just for the shoot. And it bugs me.

There are two publications that don't seem to get a lot of press in the blogs I read. Metropolitan Home may be a bit too modern for some, but their features are not styled-to-death. The other is Western Interiors, which seems to be picking up some steam. This is not to disparage any of the other stalwarts of the news stand, just a nudge to cast your net a little wider to see what you might find. A reason to buy more magazines - who would argue with that?

The images above are from Metropolitan Home, July, 2008. Architecture by Francine Monaco and interior design by Carl D'Aquino. Photography by Peter Murdock.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Home on the Range

When my grandmother died, my mother and my uncle decided the best thing to do with her 1970-something Plymouth Scamp was to give it to me.  The questionable body style and the indescribable color, somewhere between swamp green and dirt brown, made it one of the ugliest cars in my high school parking lot.  But I made my peace with it because it provided freedom.  The only real problem with it was its lack of FM radio.  Confined to AM, my choice was news or country and western.

So I listened to C&W radio for two years and acquired a respect for it.  There have been times since that I've tired of whatever else I'm listening to and I'll go back to it.  When I drove down to the Kansas Flint Hills last weekend I opened the sunroof and turned the radio up and reacquainted myself with what some people call "both kinds of music."

Mr. Blandings and I were staying with our friends from town who also have a ranch just outside of Alma.  They had invited us to stay with them and attend the Symphony in the Flint Hills.  For the last three years a group of folks committed to the pure beauty and majesty of the area has organized a concert with the Kansas City Symphony in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Kansas plains.

 It's important to note here that the Kansas of The Wizard of Oz  is the Kansas of the Dust Bowl.  I've driven in the northern part of the state from the Missouri border to the Colorado boarder and on a diagonal route from Kansas to Texas and I've never seen the nuclear wasteland that that black and white classic would lead us to believe is Kansas.  (And by the way, if you meet someone from Kansas or Kansas City, please don't make a Wizard of Oz/Dorothy reference.  We've heard them all.)

This is Kansas and as you enter the middle part of the state you enter the largest remaining tract of tallgrass on the continent.  Coming in from Kansas City, you come over the crest of a hill and the wonder of Manifest Destiny spreads out before you.  

This is Kansas with its low rolling hills and an expanse of blue sky that brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.  I'm speechless at the thought of the settlers who traveled these hills on horseback and in wagons.  It's a magnificent setting for the Symphony.  The event site moves from year to year to allow the small towns in its proximity to benefit from the 6,000 visitors who journey to see it.

We went with our friends and two other couples to see this year's event just outside of Council Grove.  Some of you have expressed concern about the Blandings' safety and our unpredictable weather, but the weather that day was perfection.  Barbecue is our traditional meal, of course, and the food was delicious.  

After the concert we stayed for a while to listen to the country and western band that followed, not in the amphitheater but under a tent.  We talked instead of two-stepped, but it put us in the spirit of where we were.

The walk to the car was a long one, exponentially longer than the walk from the car had been.  Our host informed us that we were going to the campsite of his friend Geff Dawson, a ranch hand and cowboy poet.  Geff and his family were camping at nearby Council Grove Lake, and while they were in a camper and not a tent, the site was complete with all the cowboy trappings.  Tin cups, oil lanterns and a guitar were joined by sunscreen, bug spray and a Yorkshire Terrier.  The setting echoed the message of his poetry and music, the blending of the rural tradition and the influence of the city, forever moving closer, if not physically then technologically.

Geff still works cattle with his horse and avoids the Kawasaki four-wheelers that have become so popular in working the herds.  I asked him the first time I met him how he felt about these city dwellers setting up their weekend homes in the Flint Hills.  Grateful.  Grateful that people can still appreciate the beauty of the land while some of the folks who grew up there are making their way somewhere else.  "They are saving the Flint Hills, " he told me.  

Geff's songs and his poetry make you want to be a part of it, even me who is so devoid of pioneer stock that I can't sit in the back of a SUV driving on a twisty road because it makes me so queasy.  But like Jeff, I respect my friends as they are discussing the impending delivery of a calf that they fear will not go well.  I envy their children's experiences as they recount the hilarious stories of castrating bulls and their son's reaction and the tales of camping out in one of the outbuildings with a pot-bellied stove.  Their work and their life is real and their accomplishments are concrete.  

As you drive across the state you pass billboards that say, "One Kansas farmer feeds 129 people plus you."  Don't talk to me about Dorothy, but make any corny comment about the heartland that you like.  This is Kansas.

Next year's event will be June 13th near Florence, Kansas.  Check the website for ticket sales information; this year's event sold out in a day.  Mark your calendars now.

Friday, June 13, 2008

River Market Antique Mall

One of the great things about my Spaces gig, is that I get paid for something I was doing anyway.  Under "hobbies" I should be listing "Haunting antique shops and not buying anything."  A really great spot for this is River Market Antique Mall.  These three floors of warehouse space in a neighborhood with legendary "alleged" mafia ties (now a super spot filled with lofts and restaurants) are chocked full of stuff.  Some great, some junky, always reasonable.  Like the four Heyward Wakefield chairs, above, for $375.

Or these vintage sea creature prints for $20 a piece.

Really, really great, huh?

Russell Wright pitcher for $35.

Adorable, no?
Look, the work is already done for you - $35 a piece.

The place is full of character.  I don't think you need to be worried that the floors are patched with odd pieces of metal.  I don't think you do.  I don't.

There are some booths I just like the look of every time I'm there.  

I keep going back to one dealer who had this great "Eames era" planter which was basically a metal cone that set in a tripod base.  Which would have made the most amazing outdoor cooler for wine.  Ok, here's the punch line.  It was $85 and I just thought it was a smidge too high.  I know, sometimes you make a bad call.  I even went back again and it was there.  Didn't buy it.  A week later when I couldn't stop thinking about it I went back.  Gone.

So now I go back to the same booth every time.  Do I really think it's possible that he'll have another one?  No.  But he might.

There is a lot of stuff to weed through and it's best not to go in a hurry.

But treasures abound if you are patient.

Like me.  This last trip I found a copy of Billy Baldwin Remembers for $12.  It almost takes the sting out of missing the planter.  Almost.