Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Show House, Two Kitchens : Part 1

Two small photos of the kitchen, in the official Showcase program, were the only ones I was allowed to take away from my tour of the estate and grounds. No photography permitted. As two simply weren't adequate to tell the story, I wasn't even going to try. Until I snooped around online and found lots of "unofficial" photos of the Cravens Estate including plenty of the kitchen. You'll remember that the Cravens Estate is the home used for this year's Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts in Pasadena, CA.
And let me remind you too that the house itself is an imposing 50-room mansion built in 1930 to resemble the baroque Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, the 17th century French chateau that was also an inspiration for the palace at Versailles. Since 1962, the estate has been headquarters for a local chapter of the American Red Cross—that's why you see a cross pattern laid into the brick drive in front of the house. The home's original owners, John and Mildred Cravens, never had children so they lived in this nearly 20,000 square foot home all alone. With their 32 servants. (Do you realize that at a total of 34, that still isn't enough people to fill the house at one person per room?)
I would imagine a good number of those servants worked here, in the expansive kitchen. Cooking away for the Cravens, fellow staff members and guests. The Cravens were very active in local charities and business and used their lovely home to host many meetings and special events. This room would have been central to their success. The photo above shows the kitchen as the Showcase House designers found it. Everything I've read seems to indicate that what you see in these before photos is original to the house.
The clean-lined, glass-front cabinets wore their original crystal knobs and a coat of lifeless white paint that had seen better days. The same can be said for the slim wood counter tops and simple white tile backsplash. Both seem almost painfully plain compared to the grandeur found in other parts of the home, but in the 1920's and 30's, kitchens were for work, used by staff, not the homeowners, and certainly not on display for guests as our kitchens are today.
Clearly, the Red Cross staff and volunteers who have worked in the house for the past 48 years have been using the kitchen as a strictly utilitarian area much like the original estate staff would have. Not one thing in the space is purely decorative. The only splashes of color are found in the bulletins taped to the walls and fridge and on that lovely blue bag of paper plates. In the photo above, you can see the original cut-out drawers that were preserved in the makeover. The designer calls her approach to the kitchen renovation "not just a face-lift, but an actual restoration".
The Pasadena-based company responsible for this space spent three months on the job, working hard to preserve as much of the original kitchen cabinetry, floor tile and other materials as possible—including the silver safe, above. In the finished kitchen, the "safe" became a small supplemental pantry. According to what I've read, there are two other, original pantries somewhere nearby that weren't part of the show house makeover.

Here's another look at the full kitchen "before". The doorway you see at the back under the clock leads to an interior hall that in turn leads to a family/media room to the right and the main dining room to the left. To the immediate left of the photographer's position is a door leading to an outdoor terrace. Another indication that this is an old-fashioned working kitchen are the few and rather small windows. You can see one over the sink on the left wall in this view. The "after" of that window is the top pic on this post. Behind the photographer is a pair of similar small windows, and the door to the terrace holds its original leaded glass. That's it for natural light. Very different from the way a kitchen would be designed today. Now, here's the "after", from the same angle:
Quite a dramatic difference, wouldn't you say? Let's start our tour at the bottom and work our way up. The original tile floor in a classic brick basketweave pattern is spectacular. The most perfectly variegated shades of turquoise. On the Showcase website, it is said that the designer was thrilled to find such a bright surprise hidden under layers of grime and built-up cleaning products. From this vibrant shade was born the room's copper, teal, white, turquoise and brown color scheme. Most of the lower cabinets were stripped and stained a warm dark brown to match the restored wood counter tops. All of the glass-front upper cabinets were restored. Most are painted white. One set, near the door to the hall is finished to match the lowers beneath it, creating the look of a tall hutch.
Other counters and the new island are topped with copper-colored Metalcrete, fabricated to look like hammered copper, and pale, stain-resistant Nucrete, a concrete-based material made from 50% recycled products. In fact, all of the products used in this kitchen restoration are considered in some way "green". Anything new in the kitchen is made from sustainable and eco-friendly materials. And, of course, recycling the existing flooring and cabinetry is as green as green gets. In the photo above, you can see all the shades of the color scheme. I especially like the brick-colored upholstery on the fat counter stools that tuck under the island. They contrast beautifully with the turquoise floor and relate to the home's brick facade that can be glimpsed through the window over the sink. Notice too that the window valances are that same brick color.

All of the new appliances are energy-efficient. The refrigerator and dishwasher are disguised behind dark cabinetry or in the island, respectively. You can see the tall fridge enclosure in the two photos above. It serves to visually divide the long room into work area and storage/display area. The range wall was made a focal point with the addition of a top to bottom tile backsplash and extra-large copper hood. Copper pots and canisters continue that part of the color scheme and serve to obscure some of the expanse of wall tile. Standing in the room, looking at this view, I was torn trying to decide whether the green retro tile pattern was a good fit with the turquoise floor tile. My first impression was "wow, that's a lot of pattern!", but the longer I look at these pics, the less it bothers me. The wall tile lends a dose of light and softness, even a bit of "sparkle", with its starburst pattern, to the hard surfaces in this end of the room. And the more-green-than-blue color, rather than competing with the turquoise floor actually complements it. What do you think? It's a strong look that's definitely not for everyone.
Here's a fuzzy photo, above, that looks like a sneaky cell-phone pic. Thanks to this angle, we get a different view of the opposite end of the room. There on the far wall is the other of the two windows in the room. On the right wall, where you see the break between the two sets of white upper cabinets, is the door that leads outside. You can also see that there is a second sink on the island. And, in this photo you can see three of the four pairs of schoolhouse lights that hang from the ceiling and the decorative painted diamonds that join them. Standing in the space, that seemed like too many pendants and too much visual clutter overhead. Without the painted diamonds, the pendants may have been less intrusive. On a ceiling so large though, something has to break it up. With no room for beams and in the absence of texture, a paint treatment seems like a good idea, but I would have preferred something less "distracting" than what was done here. Try this with the photo below: hold your hand near your monitor in the "thumbs down" position. Now place your thumb so that it covers the painted diamonds but still allows you to see the pendants. Doesn't that look better?

Here's another look from the dining end so I can talk about the seating. Where the center area of the room was formerly filled by three sets of tables and chairs, there is now only one. All of the room's colors come together in the striped fabric on the chairs and in the charming tablescape. The small seating area is cozy and warm and makes this very large kitchen feel more homey and welcoming. With the trend in contemporary kitchens being to open them up to the activity of the household, it's nice that the designers found a way to bring visitors and other activities into this essentially closed-off room. The glass-front cabinets bring light in the form of reflection and through interior illumination. Their colorful contents—vintage pottery in greens and terra cottas—add more interest at eye level, bridging the bright floor and art on the ceiling.

So that's the first kitchen. What do you think? Good? Bad? Your style? Not? Next post, I'll show you the second kitchen. The photo above gives you a look at what we'll see on the way...

Photos found at,,, and

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Notes From A Show House

Fresh from my visit to the 2010 Pasadena Showcase House of Design, here is what I learned...

1. I can love a really large space and a really small space for exactly the same reasons. The Drawing Room, above, and Retreat, below, shared the following: honey-toned panelled woods, decorative ceilings (one painted, one panelled), beautiful overhead lighting (a pair of antique reproduction chandeliers in one room, a single Fortuny pendant in the other), furniture that actually looked comfortable and not just set out for show, and direct access to the outdoors. That I could be equally happy and at ease in each space says something about my personal preferences but is also a credit to the designers who made them both so approachable, functional and warm despite the challenge of size.

2. It really is the details that make the difference when it comes to good design. All through the house, the things I took note of had less to do with the overall look of a room than with a specific detail that could be reproduced in a room of any size and at nearly all price points. For example, the double ruffle on the top edge of a sheer, fixed, shirred curtain panel hung for privacy at the lower half of a very tall window. The narrow ribbon edging each of those ruffles was a slightly darker tone that added a dressed-up crispness to an otherwise nondescript window treatment.

3. It is very frustrating trying to recount such details about the show house when no photography is allowed. Can anyone explain to me why that is?

4. Good design repeats itself and repetition brings order.
Like multiple dog prints on the mudroom walls, above. A row of potted succulents lined up down the center of a table or winding through a rose garden. Books with similar colored bindings massed into a bookcase of nearly the same hue can unite and "neutralize" a large wall of built-ins; what could have been chaotic visual noise became a calm but still interesting background.

5. In a residence of 50 rooms, there are a lot of redundant spaces. Morning Room, Breakfast Room plus a table and chairs within the kitchen itself. Three Sitting Rooms and a Drawing Room, also for sitting. Solarium on the first floor, Sun Room on the second. You must be very clear about which bedroom you say you'll take your breakfast in when there are eleven of them. I have decided that I am very happy not to have this particular problem. But, for the record, as I don't have one now, I wouldn't mind a private Sun Room next to my bedroom. Or an upstairs Retreat with connected balcony. Or both.

6. I am too traditional to enjoy juxtaposition simply for the sake of it. The Cravens Estate is a beautiful house built in 1930 with elements borrowed from a classic French chateau. Original details still present include a series of large murals in the entry. For the Showcase, the murals were preserved and restored. Then the designer of the space added these:

An ultra-modern, glossy black totem, a space-dominating black console down the center of the room, lime-colored accents and upholstery, and a black Lalanne-esque sheep the docent called "Tommy". It was all a bit too much for me. What do you think?
7. I may be traditional, but I do love an eclectic mix of styles and colors. The large, formal dining room with its original murals and painted ceiling was furnished with two round tables rather than the more expected long rectangle. It appeared as if the guests had momentarily stepped away from a lavish birthday party in progress. Seating was a mish-mash of brightly upholstered chairs and an ottoman or two. Even the mix of lighting styles is appealing in this photo, below, but I swear those Ikea Maskros pendants were not in the room when I was. Could I have been so distracted by the party that I missed them? If they were removed, I wonder why?

8. There really is such a thing as too many crystal chandeliers. A narrow, lady's closet contained five. The connected dressing room, a few more in sconce form. The adjacent hallway, yet another. Too much, too many.

9. I hope no client of mine ever wants to outfit her office with a desk chair straight out of an Austin Powers movie. The room below displayed a very creative mix of colors and textures, but I am not the person to call if this is your style. I know my limitations and exactly to whom I will refer you.

10. When dining out of doors, there should be plants to admire near the table as well as a mature garden in the distance (even if that distance is only twenty feet further away at the edge of your small yard). The outdoor dining area my friend and I enjoyed was bordered by a row of espaliered apple trees under-planted with colorful, textural ground covers and small border plants. Plants near the table add a closed-in coziness that alters your perspective of the surrounding garden; having something to look beyond makes the "beyond" appear further away than it is.

11. I discovered an interesting new-to-me way to achieve a unique display of art in your home. This bit of fun needs its own post. Stay tuned...

That's all I have to say for now about the Showcase House. Should you go? I can't really say. There was a lot to see, but I didn't like being herded through like cattle. The shops offered unique and beautiful things but were expensive for someone who doesn't drop two hundred bucks on jewelry and table linens without more than a few minutes' (or a few days') thought. The Wolfgang Puck dining experience was lovely but my quiche was under-cooked. The house itself with all of its original elements is gorgeous, some of the decorating decisions too "showhousey" (but that's to be expected). If you have a good friend to share the day and the drive with, as I did, you'll have a wonderful time even if you don't agree about the kitchen.
Cravens Estate rendering by Eva Margueriette.
All photos by Alexander Vertikoff from the official program.
No, I didn't talk about the kitchen in this post. There were simply too many contradictory ideas and treatments and I still can't make heads or tails of it. The nicest thing I can say is that my friend and I agreed that the restored, original turquoise tile floor was fantastic and the best element in the room.
Thanks for the day, Leslie!
If you want to get a look at the house yourself, go here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Daisy Fresh

The daisy, birth flower for the month of April, has long been celebrated in art and poetry for its simple beauty. Poets like Chaucer, Phoebe Cary and James Montgomery used the flower to symbolically express devotion. Hairpins decorated with daisies have been found in ancient ruins dating back 4,000 years. A European native, the daisy is widely naturalized in North and South America. While its most recognizable form—white petals and a golden yellow center with grassy-green stem and leaves—belongs to the family "Bellis perennis", its common name comes from the term "day's eye," a reference to the fact that daisy blooms are only open during the day and close up at night.
There is a myth that tells of the daisy's creation when a nymph transformed herself into a charming but unassuming wildflower to escape unwanted attention. Through the centuries, daisies came to be associated with innocence, childlike joy and playfulness. No other flower captures the essence of spring’s happy-go-lucky, forever-young attitude like the daisy. Daisies have long been associated with love. The "she loves me, she loves me not" method of pulling petals from a flower was first used with the daisy to tell love's fortune. Daisies are customarily given in bouquets to new mothers as a way to celebrate the birth of their baby. Did you, as a child, make "daisy chains" to wear on your wrists and in your hair?

Happy birthday, April babies!
Inspired by a meadow filled with flowers on a blue-sky day, here is a daisy chain of ten fresh-as-a-daisy spaces just for you:









If I had a little blond dachshund, I would name her Daisy and buy her a soft blue settee. We would sit side by side. I would sip tea and read poetry aloud. She would nap quietly, dreaming of sunshine and endless green meadows.

See, the grass is full of stars,
Fallen in their brightness;
Hearts they have of shining gold,
Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,
Bees they love the clover,
But I love the daisies' dance
All the meadow over.


Top photo by Baslee Troutman (isn't it gorgeous?). Other daisies via stock photo sources, photographers unknown. All interior photos via Daisy facts via, and

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green House

For Earth Day, a little green house that seems to grow right out of the ground. A vine-covered metal framework in the classic shape of every child's first drawing of home, this small structure is in the Children's Garden at The Huntington.
Flower-filled boxes adorn the little windows. Under the gable is a tiny doorway. I'm sure that's how the topiary bears get in too. See their green heads in the photo above? Don't they look like they're headed home?
Inside the green house is a table and benches scaled just right for children (or small leafy bears) where they can relax in the cool shade created by the creeping fig vines covering the walls and roof. High up in the rafters is a succulent ball chandelier. See how it echoes the shape of the round windows at the roof's peak? Good design is important, even in a house of wire and vines.

The Children's Garden is a magical place. There are child-size tunnels, arbors and a maze. Water features, musical rocks, magnetic sand and a volcano. Plants with whimsical shapes and fantastic fragrance. And, as my daughter discovered, blue-bellied lizards that stand still and let you touch them. In every corner, senses are stimulated, imaginations activated and a greater appreciation for the wonders of our Earth is born. If you have young children or grandchildren, this area of the Huntington's vast gardens is a must-visit. But don't think you have to be in elementary school to thoroughly enjoy yourself. Even a nineteen-year-old kid and an old mom like me can have a splendid time.

Earth Day is this Thursday. Take action, have fun, enjoy a garden, learn more.

[ Thanks for the pics and the wonderful day, Katey! ]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Local Color : Garden Events

I spent a day this weekend at The Huntington again. With my daughter this time. She has a paper on 19th Century art due this week so we took our time with the exhibits before making the rounds through the gardens. They are so beautiful this time of year. The roses are spectacular and I have never seen so much color in a desert garden. (read more about my last visit here)
While we were in San Marino, I realized I was missing a local garden viewing that is my long-time favorite. Sharon is my gardening guru. The plant whisperer of our inland foothills. I have followed her advice via her email newsletters and open garden days to much success in my own garden. She advocates planting for your own specific conditions, being water-wise even with roses, and using perennials almost exclusively, all without forcing or babying anything into growing that doesn't really want to. Knowing what grows best in our corner of the world is her secret—here it's hot and dry in the summer, sometimes excessively windy, and can go below freezing in the winter. That bit of wisdom alone takes a lot of the headache out of the process. The pics above and below show Sharon's garden as it looks right now. Her garden (and one or two others) will be open again in May. If you're interested in details, please leave a comment or send an email.

There are so many home and garden events happening in this area over the next month or so, it will be nearly impossible to take them all in. Besides the small, neighborhood events like the one I just mentioned, there are larger more elaborate goings-on, some of which are listed here in the LA Times. Here are a few I'm most interested in:

I already have my tickets for the annual Pasadena Showcase House which opened today and runs through May 16. This is the 46th Showcase to benefit arts programs in and around Los Angeles. The historic, chateau-inspired Cravens Estate, built in 1929, has been given a makeover inside and out by 25+ local interior designers and landscapers. You can view their progress and get ticket information here.

After attending the Showcase House this coming Friday, I hope to make time on the weekend to head down to the O.C. for the 20th Annual Spring Garden Show held April 22-25 at South Coast Plaza. More than 75 specialty vendors will be on hand as well as display gardens full of great ideas for our own yards and patios. A big bonus: shopping at Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, NapaStyle, Restoration Hardware, Sur la Table and the Macy's Home Store all in the same wing.(learn more here) From South Coast Plaza it's just a short drive to one of Orange County's most beautiful garden centers: Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. It would be a shame to be so close and not stop by.

Closer to home, from April 30-May 2, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden will hold its annual LA Garden Show. This show focuses on green living in Southern California offering workshops, lectures and demonstrations on such things as edible gardens and water-wise plant choices. (learn more here)

Back down the coast again, on May 7th, the Laguna Beach Garden Club will host a tour featuring seven private gardens in Woods Cove, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. (learn more here) The 7th is a Friday so it will take some rescheduling in order to attend. Perhaps I'll just drive down on Saturday the 8th and take a stroll through the neighborhood on my own. Any day spent in Laguna Beach is a good one.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Advice About Paint

My May House Beautiful is here. "The Big Advice Issue". Though I've paged through it only briefly, I've seen enough to know that it delivers what it promises. All the inspiration we've come to expect plus nuts and bolts, real-world decorating advice backed up by examples and reasoning. The stand-out tip for me so far? This from the editor's page: "Pick your paint colors last." Woo hoo for me! Validation from none other than Stephen Drucker! (Why, oh why, is he leaving HB?! I'm so sad about that. Happy for him though. Read more about it.)

Let me tell you a story... A few years ago I attended a series of classes at a local college, refresher courses if you will, as I prepared to re-enter this field. One of them was a basic overview of interior design principles and techniques that I used as an opportunity to pick up the tools and get the juices flowing again. For one assignment, our instructor divided us into groups of three. Each team was given a program—the objectives and goals of a specific space and client—and was asked to use the resources in the classroom to design a concept board.

My partners insisted that we select paint colors first. I said "Let's choose upholstery first", "Let's look at flooring" and things like that. Repeatedly. They ignored me and, I sensed, considered me quite annoying. They successfully overruled me, chose a couple of paint colors, and we set about searching for fabrics, carpet, tile and wood finishes. A process which took far longer than it should have and here's why:

We live in a world of limitless paint color choices. Every conceivable hue, tint, shade and tone is out there somewhere. And if you haven't the time to search for just what you think you want, custom color mixing is as close as your nearest home-improvement store. There will, however be only one sofa that you fall madly in love with. One hand-scraped, reclaimed hardwood that you must have as your kitchen floor. One, and only one area rug that makes your antique dining set sing.

Most new homeowners will rush to paint all the rooms before moving in. "Toasty Taupe in the living room!". "Cloudless Sky in the bedroom!". It seems to make sense. Painting while the rooms are empty. But choosing paint colors without first knowing what you'll put into those rooms could be a big mistake. Adding other elements after paint could cause a clash of undertones. Now the paint looks too pink, too yellow, too gray. What seemed like the perfect fresh green for your living room walls might look dirty or dull after you bring in your new sofa. Even if you don't plan to buy a whole room full of new furnishings right away, know what you will buy when you can buy and base your paint choices on that. Or base your paint color on an element in the room you know won't change: your heirloom chair or a cherished piece of art.

It takes some planning and thinking ahead, but in the end, it will always be easier to find a paint color that complements your new chairs and carpeting than it will be to find an upholstery fabric you love that goes with a hastily chosen paint color. One more tip about paint from House Beautiful via Stephen Drucker: "Never, ever paint an entire room until you've lived with big sample boards of three possible paint colors for 24 hours". Or, as in the above photo, samples painted directly onto your walls. However you go about it, give yourself time to see the paint colors you're considering at all hours of the day. In both natural and artificial light.

To read a step-by-step guide for choosing paint colors, click on the photo above. The solid, basic advice is easy to follow. If you still don't trust your own judgement, hiring a professional who's done this countless times before will be worth the cost—in both time and money. For a fun way to explore your favorite color combinations, click the image below. Seriously. Click on that cabbage. And to see how one amazing artist interprets the color schemes she sees in everyday objects and nature, click here to visit Kris. Her love of color is contagious.

Color is fun! Choosing color can be too. But, whenever possible, do it last to get it right. Oh, and my classmates who chose wall color first? They also dismissed my suggestion to paint our imaginary room's ceiling a soft, complementary color. Never heard of such a thing, they said. I hope they've learned more about choosing and using paint colors by now. (Or have chosen different careers.)