Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Simple Beauty of Carnations

If your birthday comes in January, first, let me say "happy birthday to you!" and apologize for the lateness of this post. Now, let me tell you about your birth flower, the carnation.

Long ago in ancient Rome, carnations were known as "Jove's Flower"; a tribute to one of their beloved gods. Later, it became known as the national flower of Spain, the provincial flower of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands and the symbol of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution. In Korea, red and pink carnations came to be used for showing love and gratitude toward parents on Parents Day. Again, on Teacher's Day, the Korean people express admiration and respect for teachers with carnations as the flower carries for them the meanings of admiration, love and gratitude.

In Victorian times, the complex language of flowers known as floriography assigned different meanings to each of the most common carnation colors: pink for a woman's love, white for disdain, purple for capriciousness and whimsy, red for "my heart aches for you", yellow to say "you have disappointed me" and rejection, and striped carnations for refusal. Later still, in 1907 America, as Anna Jarvis founded our Mother's Day holiday, she chose the white carnation as its emblem—the color white to represent the purity of a mother's love, the flower itself because it was her own mother's favorite.

The state flower of Ohio is a scarlet carnation; a choice made to honor William McKinley, Ohio Governor and U.S. President, who was assassinated in 1901. He regularly wore a scarlet carnation on his lapel. And most of us are familiar with the iconic "white sport coat and a pink carnation" of 1950's music and fashion. (Extra credit if you know who sang that song)

The simply elegant carnation arrangements you see here were designed by lifestyle expert and favorite blogger Eddie Ross. Known in design and decor circles as the carnation's biggest champion, Eddie has managed to elevate the status of this humble flower through such creative endeavors as you can see here and here and here. If you are planning a wedding or any other special occasion and searching for big style on a not so big budget, consider using carnations. With guidance and inspiration from Eddie Ross.

While you're clicking around through Eddie's beautiful blog, you may notice a celebration taking place. Recently, Eddie was asked to represent Elle Decor magazine with the design of one of three rooms on view at Bloomingdale's. The 2010 Big Window Challenge was then judged over a two-week period by viewers who voted via text or online. Voting closed on the 28th and results were announced yesterday.

No surprise to those of us watching and voting, Eddie's window won! You can see two of my favorite vignettes below and read the whole story of how the window came to be here. Congratulations, Eddie!

Top image "Carnations" by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell via All other images via

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Few More City Farmhouses, Jill Brinson and 21 Things You Need

With my last post, I showed you scenes from the NYC apartment of designer, author, home designer/builder and Country Living magazine contributor Randy Florke. His style of dressed up country is my personal favorite and, in this post, I thought I'd show you a few more examples of the same by other designers. Here are some of my favorite farmhouse-in-the-city spaces :

The space above and the two below were designed by Hillary Wallace for an Oklahoma native turned TriBeCa loft owner in New York City. The farmhouse elements: Clean, creamy white walls. Warm wood flooring. Simple window treatments. Textural fabrics on traditional furniture shapes. Rustic accessories and needlepoint rugs. The city: A wide open floor plan. An L-shaped sectional helping to anchor one of two separate seating areas in the living room. Recessed ceiling lighting to create illumination throughout. Art framed in a contemporary fashion.

In the bedroom, below, the designer used feminine pieces like a small chandelier, curvy bench, and lacy white linens as counterpoints to the loft's original brick wall. See more of this space here at

In his own Scottsdale, Arizona condo, designer Christopher Coffin left the kitchen's white marble floor as he found it and built a French-inspired kitchen on top of it. This is all pretty fancy as farmhouses go (click on the photo to see the rest of this gorgeous home), but what I think is important to note is this: farmhouse can be dressed up or dressed down. With its vast use of marble, curvy iron center table and faux limestone walls, this is definitely an uptown look.

Christopher Coffin again mixes plain with fancy in his dining room, below. It should be noted too that while Hillary Wallace's farmhouse design for her client was reminiscent of American country, Coffin's country look is of French descent.

Mary Jo and Jim Donohoe brought the feelings of the French and Italian countrysides to their new home in Bethesda, Maryland, asking their architect, David Neumann to "capture the feel of an old French barn". This is a grand room and a beautiful home (to see more, click on the photo, below) . However, there are many elements you can borrow to use in your own interpretation of farmhouse: rustic wood, iron details, provincial pottery and utilitarian furnishings like the antique corner cupboard. The "city" here? Brand new construction and modern efficiency in the heart of a bustling suburb.

This 1932 brick Tudor in Atlanta, below, could have been given an overstuffed, collected over time English treatment, but designer Kay Douglass chose to keep it simple. Her pared down, clutter-free designs focus on texture and form with a minimal use of color. Where she does use color, as in the room shown here, it is to great effect. Bright solids on chairs and in the artwork and accessories give this farmhouse look its contemporary spin.

In an even more colorful "farmhouse" in another New York City loft, textile and interiors designer Annie Selke joined forces with Country Living magazine's Jennifer Vreeland to bring loads of country character to blank, boxy spaces, below. Together they layered on warmth with natural wood, textiles, and leather. Clean profiles, rich textures and personal collections create the character of a country house within a cozy retreat that offers all the conveniences of modern city life.

Of the pale blue walls and liberal use of white linen the designer says "The colors were chosen to inspire a bit of calm from the city experience, so you come in and feel relaxed without giving up sophistication." Hits of classic country red appear throughout the apartment to provide continuity and fun.

I know this particular look, whether you call it "farmhouse" or "country", is not for everyone, but I do think there is something to be learned from every well-designed space. Traditional or contemporary, transitional or modern, whatever you gravitate toward first, it's been my experience that most people prefer "a little bit of this" and "a little bit of that" in their homes.

Designer Jill Sharp Brinson's gorgeous Atlanta home, as recently featured in House Beautiful magazine, has rushed around the blogs like wildfire. Apparently, her brand of country appeals to a lot of us! (click here to see and read the online article) Brinson's style is definitely a European take on farmhouse design with influences from Belgium, France, Italy and England. Toss in some Morocco and Mount Vernon, and it's a unique version indeed. In her interview with house Beautiful's Lisa Creagan, Brinson explains her attraction to farmhouse this way: "We live in total denial that we're smack in the middle of a big city. My husband, Rob, and I have a love affair with rural settings... It's part farmhouse, part loft. The style is a blend of our interests in both humble, rustic houses and turn-of-the-century industrial-style warehouses". I'll just let my favorite photos from the article speak for themselves :

Luckily for us mere mortals, Jill Sharp Brinson is the Creative Director of Ballard Designs. She brings her great eye to this popular source for decorating ideas, inspiration and a huge variety of products that provide the crossover appeal of the country in the city look I've shown you here. I used their Eldridge Pendant light at the top of this post. Simple but sophisticated, it illustrates perfectly the look of modern country. If you're not familiar with Ballard, click on the graphic below to go to their website. You'll be taken first to a fun feature in which they've collaborated with Traditional Home magazine to show us twenty-one things every well-designed, efficiently functional home should have.

Now, you and I both know that this feature is meant to help sell Ballard merchandise. But I think it's a good list to keep in mind—wherever you go to get the things you need—when you're rethinking the spaces in your home. How many of these "must haves" are you lacking?
1. a place for your drink
2. a nomad console
3. a lamp to read by
4. knock-your-socks-off art
5. a cushy chair
6. party-friendly portables
7. grown-up dinners
8. a versatile bookshelf
9. natural fibers
10. a welcome entry table
11. a pretty place for laundry
12. a hang-out bed
13. a mirror mirror
14. a french connection
15. a place to put your feet up
16. a truly comfortable sofa
17. a pillow wardrobe
18. eye-catching accessories
19. patterns that make a statement
20. a touch of modern
21. a well-adjusted dining table

While you're taking inventory, look around and tell me, if you don't already live in an actual farmhouse (lucky you, if you do!), what elements have you seen here that you would like to add to your interiors? What favorite farmhouse things do you already use?

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Closer Look: Randy Florke's Farmhouse Style

In my last post about rainy day reading, I used two images from the New York City apartment home of Randy Florke. You may recognize his name from his contributions to Country Living magazine. In addition to being a designer, Florke is also an author, real estate broker and home designer/builder/renovator. I'm not at all surprised that I inadvertently featured two of his spaces because I have always been drawn to his farmhouse-in-the-city aesthetic. These first several photos are from the apartment he shares with his partner and their three children. While not your typical farmhouse by location, this home exudes the kind of casual, put your feet up living one would expect from an old-fashioned country home but with a modern sensibility and even luxurious use of fabrics and accessories. Look closely and you'll see that this home is as welcoming and family-friendly as it is beautifully put together.

The photo above is from a feature in Country Living magazine published a few years ago. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it looks completely different now—most designers don't leave things alone for long—but these rooms have the timeless appeal that Florke brings to all of his work. No unfortunate, dated trends are apparent. Classical elements and antiques mix freely with thrifted and reclaimed utilitarian objects and furnishings. Florke does tend to use fresh, new fabrics; mixing and matching patterns with abandon. There is always an underlying harmony though, as in this living/dining room dominated by glowing yellow gold. The creamy painted walls and crisp white woodwork provide a soothing, orderly backdrop for the other colors and patterns used throughout the space.

In the detail at the top of this post, you see the tray on one of the living room's tufted, checked ottomans, above. On it, Florke has gathered a collection of silver tea and coffee pots, left charmingly tarnished, and filled them with flowers and berries. That's just one of the ways in which he creates his own brand of farmhouse style—by using fine and classical elements in a casual manner. In his home, silver serveware, gilt-framed artwork and silk drapes live side by side with cotton tickings, chippy paint finishes and folk art. One more word about those twin ottomans : two smaller ottomans instead of one large was a very smart choice. The designer has achieved the look and function of a large surface but with much greater flexibility for this modest space. For a party or larger than usual gathering, those two ottomans can be pulled apart and repositioned as extra seating while a single large ottoman would be difficult to reposition.

Custom bookcases with the look of built-ins flank the living room fireplace. Above, in the unit to the right of the fireplace, a collection of rustic, painted stools is displayed in a way that lends a sense of importance and value. Raised in Iowa, Florke brings a Midwestern sensibility and appreciation of simple things to his decor choices. The beadboard cabinets with backs painted a sunny yellow are as homey as can be and yet the arrangement of objects within them is quite sophisticated. Country dressed up for the city.

In this modest-sized apartment, the dining and living areas share the same space. You can just see the dining table and chairs in the whole room photo two pics up. 19th century Swedish chairs surround a nothing special oak table that's been dressed in a floor length cloth—proof that a clever disguise can dramatically improve the appearance of a less than perfect piece. The large painting on the wall, left unframed, says Florke, so it wouldn't seem "too important", is a much better choice for this space than a collection of smaller items or artwork. Having a single item to focus on, especially one that is so beautifully calming with its soft colors that flow right into the room, expands the space and is a more contemporary touch that situates the room firmly in this century.

Another contemporary detail : the sleek swing-arm lamps that flank the mantel. Leaving the mantel itself free from the clutter of more objects was also an important choice. The scroll work on the fire screen, topiaries in what look to be concrete garden urns, and single large painting are all the decoration this area needs. It's a nice break that allows the eyes to rest between the two bookcases brimming with shapes and colors.

In this corner of the living room—see the colorful stools of the bookcase arrangement reflected in the mirror?—a rustic chest does triple-duty as an end table, bar and long term storage space. (Quadruple duty if you count the space-saving ipod dock and speaker system that's so small it wouldn't have to live here full time)

On the wall opposite the other set of bookcases and near the dining area, is a large French mirror that serves to expand the space and light in the room. If you look closely at the photo above and the three that preceded it, you'll see an element that repeats throughout this space. The amber glass tableware, barware and junk-store lamp add a warm glow to the room that was very intentional. Textiles too add to the warmth. From the vintage patterns on the area rugs to the more subdued stripes and checks on the furniture and windows, all of Florke's choices for this space add a familiarity and homey quality that I'm sure make both occupants and visitors feel instantly at home.

In the master bedroom, the dominate color scheme changes from warm yellows to a mix of soft grey-greens. This room feels much cooler and quieter than the main living space. Patterns are subtle mixes of green and cream. Decorative objects are kept to a minimum—except where they can be contained within bookcases and what appears to be an antique sideboard and hutch to the left of the bed. Again, the fireplace mantel is left bare while a single large mirror fills the wall space above. It appears also as if the designer has used the very same swing arm lamp in this room as those seen in the living room. Such continuity in decorative elements throughout the rooms of a small home give the viewer a sense of expanded space, just as repeated color schemes and architectural elements and hardware will do. A patternless seagrass rug brings a sense of simplicity and calm to this room that likely also serves as a daytime getaway for busy parents.

In this tiny bedroom shared by young sisters, below, decorations are again kept to a minimum but the space doesn't feel spare at all. Tight upholstery lends a clean, contemporary feel to the gingham-checked beds that must feel like snug little cocoons. I wish there was more to see here. Fitting all the belongings of two little girls into what appears to be a very tight space was, I'm sure, quite a challenge even for this very accomplished designer.

Only one photo of the kitchen appeared in the article too—a tight shot of the sink area, below. Even still, there's an awful lot of that country-in-the-city look going on. Two-tone, beadboard-faced cabinetry is a look straight from the heartland. Countrified accessories like the chalkboard, canister and spice mills look right at home next to the clean lines of the glass fruit bowl. Items like the clock and box of wheatgrass on the windowsill could go either way—country or modern—while the glass tile backsplash and solid surface countertop bring on the contemporary in both function and appearance. Add in that great view of the adjacent building and you know you're a long way from the farm.

Step into this bathroom though, close the door behind you, and you just might forget where you are. The industrial storage cart does bring an edge to this otherwise country-inspired space, but nothing about this room says modern day New York City. The apartment is in a building built in 1928. I wonder how many authentic elements remain in this little space—or if the clever designer simply remodeled with authenticity in mind.

Wearing his realtor/broker hat, Randy Florke is the owner of The Rural Connection, a company that specializes in locating homes for city buyers who want to spend their weekends in the country. The company is located in Sullivan County in upstate New York, a place Florke knows well and values for its quiet tranquility and natural beauty. That it's close enough to the city to make day and weekend trips easy is the big bonus for homeowners. The Rural Connection offers a variety of properties from humble farmhouses like the one below with the Delaware River in its backyard, to estates on large acreage and land parcels waiting for a builder.

For buyers looking to build their own, Florke advocates modular homes as the new solution to obtaining an old-house look. Through his partnership with the company New World Home, he implements sustainable and green technologies to design and build modular homes that look like the Cape, Greek Revival and Federal farmhouses of the nineteenth century but work with modern-day efficiency.

The homes are factory-built, delivered to the site in modular units, then finished with classically inspired details like covered porches and wide-planked wood floors. The interiors of one of his modular houses, below, was decorated with Florke's winning combination of salvaged items, reupholstered vintage furniture and contemporary art.

Pics above and below show the front exterior of the home plus two views of the living room. (You can click on these pics, and some of the others, to open up larger views.)

Randy Florke's decorating style can be explored more thoroughly in his book "Your House, Your Home". Published in 2005 by Country Living, the book features ideas from Randy's own homes in Iowa, Harlem, Sullivan County and New York City. He refers to his beautiful and affordable heartland aesthetic as the "anti keeping up with the Joneses". It's a great book for anyone who finds the farmhouse look appealing but is also a source of inspiration if you wish to learn how to mix fine with found for an eclectic, individual look that is yours alone. On the book's cover, below, you can see the author standing in the entry area of the NYC apartment I have featured in this post. Notice the half wall and column he's leaning against? That's another space-expanding idea that is both modern in concept but has been treated here with the farmhouse elements of painted beadboard and simple forms.

A new book is due from Florke in May of this year. It appears that "Restore, Recycle, Repurpose" will bring even more focus to this designer's desire to live beautifully but sustainably. From the publisher : "Providing inspiration as well as instruction, Florke shows how everyone can achieve a look that’s both harmonious with the environment and beautiful... Anyone hoping to transform a home from ordinary to extraordinary will find eco-friendly, thrifty, and stylish ideas... Comfort, style, and economy are the bellwether elements of his approach to decorating." As much as I love his first book, this one is a "must buy" for me.

On its website and in its newest catalogs, Pottery Barn has proclaimed that farmhouse style is "what's new for spring". Those of us who love farmhouse and cottage couldn't be happier. Melissa and Carol both gushed over the new catalog and Jessica recently showed us some wonderful pics of modern-day farmhouse interiors. Their commenters were every bit as enthusiastic about this "new" version of the timeless look of American farmhouses. And I'm so happy to be "in style" myself for a while!

Now, I can't speak for Randy Florke, but I would have to imagine that he would not want us to shop exclusively at Pottery Barn (if at all) for our farmhouse decor. But if you don't have time to run off to the flea market every weekend or pop in and out of second-hand shops in search of "the thing", I think it would be perfectly fine to add a few of PB's new pieces to your collection of farmhouse finds. I already added a pillow to mine. And I'll probably go back for something more. Ssshhhhh! Don't tell Randy!

All images from and except the last from

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comfort is. . .

. . .a cozy place to curl up with a book while, outside, it rains and rains.

Books and fireplaces and big, soft chairs are the antidotes to cold and wet.

With a companion or without,

by lamplight or by firelight,

in a quiet corner or a wide open room,

grab your favorite throw, a big stack of books and stay inside for a while.

Record rainfall. Blizzard-like conditions in our local mountains. Flooding and mudslides. Even a funnel cloud or two. Treacherous driving conditions. High winds and intermittent hail. This is quite a storm we're having in Southern California. Don't worry about me though. I'll be working right here at home. And when my work is done, I'll be curled up with a book.
Have a safe and warm weekend.

Images via Southern Accents (1), Country Living (2, 6, 7), Better Homes & Gardens (3), House Beautiful (4), HGTV (5).