Saturday, October 30, 2010

Holiday project: Christmas Village Houses

It may seem that I'm a bit early with the holiday projects, but I know I have to get any new holiday crafts completed by my Thanksgiving target date for decorating.  Actually, I completed this first project during the summer, not knowing how long it might take.  Well, it was easier than expected!

Remember the cardboard Christmas Village Houses of yesteryear? I still have a sentimental spot for their presence on past family trees and love their sweet simplicity.





I now have the only two of our family's remaining little Village Houses that somehow survived the years between 1928 (when they were newly acquired at a Woolworth dimestore by my grandmother) and today. There is a cute (now faded) red house with a snow-capped roof that is missing its foundation, and a (previously glimmering) white church. The cellophane windows have been busted out of both and tape holds the church chimney together, but I could not love them more than I do!

So, I set out to make a couple of new companion houses. I can tell you that the one story structures are a breeze.  I used the following supplies:

Cardboard (recycled carton)
Ruler
Pencil
Scissors
Glue
Cellophane for windows and doors
Metallic pen for outlining
Acrylic paint
Snow
Clear glitter

Optional:
Snippets of plants to make trees


I first mimicked the vintage 'red' house, using its dimensions and color combo, and even remembered to cut the circular hole in the back so a twinkle light could be slipped inside.


That worked out well, so I constructed another. This one is a bit more of a desert abode with a bit of frost on its palm tree and rock garden.


It was after a bit of confidence-building that I decided to go all out and build a replica of my grandparent's house.  After all, this is where many special Christmas holidays were spent.


You, don't have to go to this extent to enjoy the charm of cardboard Village Houses. I have seen many in antique shops and a few in thrift stores as well. Many vintage originals are selling for $10 to $60, depending on condition.

Whether building something new or buying a post-WWI original, the little Christmas Village Houses will bring a homespun charm and a dash of sparkle to holiday trees for years to come! 

Pretty in zinc ...

I have a serious case of zinc lust! There is just something about the tactile patina of a zinc surface that makes me want to run my fingers across its smooth finish.

My first episode of zinc-phoria was in a lovely little Paris garden shop off rue St. Honoré. A handsome galvanized tabletop dressed a rustic wood frame, and from that moment on, I was hooked.

While I didn't take a photo that day of the truly fabulous table, I have since been collecting pictures to inspire and remind me of that brief encounter that led to a lasting love.

Here's a little peek at some of my favorite zinc furnishings, including this table at left (very similar to my inspiration table) made by some brilliant Brits at Quirky Interiors.



The zinc-topped garden tables above would look great at my place, just in case anyone wants to know what I would love for Christmas. Images via European Antique Market in Lexington, Kentucky (left) and Melissa Edleman Antiquaire in Higland Park, Illinois.


This beautiful outdoor table (above) is sold through Harbinger, Los Angeles. Design and photo by Lucas Studio, Inc.



Is there any way to break the magnetic attraction to these pieces? I am being pulled to the pedestal table (above) with such force, and I have no clue where I collected this image.

I have been salivating over this amazing bookcase (right) that was offered at the 1st Dibs web store.  No doubt, somewhere in Paris, a rooftop window is missing its pediment. What a spectacular transformation of architectural salvage!






The zinc trend that shows real staying power in design magazines and home decor catalogs is the conversion of antique architectural fragments and industrial items into interior accessories. Above (left) Clayton Gray Home shows off a finial that has been transformed into a chic lamp, while the great French fabric bins (right) can come to the rescue when more storage is needed, or a plant needs a new home.




If I ever build that lakeside or beach cottage, I'm thinking that a zinc counter top might just be the perfect bathroom surface! The humble bath counter at left is available through Wisteria.  The tempting zinc dining table photo (above right) is via LLH Designs.

Dish it out ...

When it comes to obsessions, I might have to put dishware near the top of my list. I have actually lost count of how many sets I own. I just know it's never enough!  I really enjoy having a variety of placesettings to complement different cuisines and themes when entertaining dinner guests.


You can see and feel the spirit in these Herlinda Morales plates, making them a great choice for casual dining. They are offered through 'Build A Nest,' a nonprofit organization that empowers female artists and artisans around the world and provides a market in which to sell their crafts.


This week's post about my zinc table desires made me think about what type of dishware might coordinate best with zinc's primitive appeal. I'm thinking handthrown pottery or seaglass with organic shapes would be superb. 'Lo and behold, I found some perfect settings.

The plates above, handcrafted in Mexico, available through Nest, are also distributed by Inhabitat for $42 each through their Green Gift Guide.

 
That's life! And, what a splendid life it is when we can dine on these adorable handthrown pottery plates from Rae Dunn. Can't you just see how they would complement a rustic, zinc table? Let's not talk about it, let's just shop at Rae's esty store and pick up a dozen for next spring's entertaining.



Ever since we planted our little olive grove three years ago, I have been thinking that some dinnerware with an olive design would be so appropriate for harvest celebrations - assuming we will some day harvest some fruit.  The beautiful plate above is designed and sold by Stillwater Porcelain.



VivaTerra's dishware is so appealing, and what a compelling contrast to a zinc table. I'm loving the Oceana Seaglass (left) with its frosted, subdued colors and organic shapes.  The Serene Sol pattern (right) is just as appealing with traditional shaping, yet totally contemporary.

Olives, fruit of the gods ...

What do you do with a gentle slope that overlooks a dry, little creekbed. Well, for us, it seemed like a perfect plot for planting a few olive trees. So, three years ago, after a lot of research, my dear hubby began planting and pampering some young Arbequena olives. And, now we have a lovely, well-established little grove.

While we should have been harvesting a bushel-load of beautiful fruit this month (like that shown a left), we encountered a tropical storm this summer that blew every bit of our first promising yield right off the trees.

Three years ago, we planted six Arbequena olive trees that we purchased from the local grower at Sandy Oaks Orchard.  The Spanish Arbequena is well-suited to our terrain and weather that closely mimics the Mediterannean region of Spain. These olives are mostly grown in Catalonia, but also in Aragon, Andalusia and even Argentina.

As well as being a table olive, Arbequenas have one of the highest oil concentrations - prized for its buttery, slightly peppery flavor.




This past spring, four of our six original trees were loaded with bountiful flowers, followed by an enormous quantity of beautiful fruit. Yes, I did say four out of six. That's because one tree is slow to mature (perhaps from too much shade), and the other tree is a new replacement Arbequena that hubby planted as a result of an over-zealous young buck deer who destroyed the bark on one older tree by rubbing his felt-covered antlers. So, the young tree and its slow neighbor didn't produce the spring show we saw in the other third year growth.


But, I was thrilled at the prospect of a real harvest!  Alas, this summer's weather was an exception, and the eye of a freak tropical storm passed directly through our property, sending our fruit into the wind and uprooting the newly planted tree and its stymied neighbor from the ground.


What a difference a couple of years can make. Just look at how the trees have grown since 2008 (left) to 2010 (right).

The uprooted trees were replanted and staked, and they have seemed to survive with little or no lasting damage. Their height is dwarfed by their 3-year-old brethren, some of the trees now reaching over 12' tall.  I'm just glad the grove remains intact, ready for the respite of cooler months before it's time to set fruit once more.

Lautrec: a culinary artist ...

The art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec has always communicated a zest for life - exhuberant and joyful. It took a bit of happenstance for me to learn that his culinary ability was equally inventive and masterful.


I had the good fortune to come across the book, 'The Art of Cuisine' at a Les Dames d'Escoffier fundraising book sale. There on the sale table was a book of Lautrec's meticulous recipes, illustrated with the paintings and drawings he used to decorate his dinner invitations and menus.

I quickly paid for my incredible find and immediately began to read the culinary legacy of one of my favorite creative talents.

Lautrec's lifelong friend and Paris gallery director Maurice Joyant, preserved their daily intercourse in art and cuisine, and as executor of Lautrec's estate, compiled this abundant trove of recipes and drawings in their original form.

Originally published in French under the title 'L'Art de la Cuisine' in 1966, the book was translated to English that same year with some additional culinary notes added to "facilitate the work of modern food lovers." I am thrilled to now own a copy from that first printing in English!




How I would have loved to be a guest at the Friday night dinners Lautrec hosted in Montmartre. The artist/gourmand showed his fabulous wit in his paintings as well as his invented recipes - both showing his indulgence in the excesses of life.

The Art of Cuisine is equal parts cookbook, art catalogue and biography.  I am so glad one of Les Dames parted with this volume from their personal library. Thank you ladies, I love it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oh! suzani ...


Exquisite, silk-thread embroidered suzani panels made by Uzbek women turned the design world upside down several years ago, and many thought the 'fad du jour' would be out like a nova. However, the Central Asian folk art trend has shown real staying power, driving the price of antique suzanis sky-high.




The term, suzani, actually translates to 'needlework,' and this amazing needlework was originally sewn on coverlets for the bridal bed. These gorgeous, brilliantly-colored textiles are stunning as bedspreads, and their design appeal is shown in the above images from Metropolitan Home (left) and Domino (right).

 

These images above from House Beautiful (left) and Hip Marrakech (right) reflect the subtle color and texture suzanis can lend to a room's decor without creating a 'theme' that is over the top.

In recent years, designers have moved suzanis from private spaces to a variety of public settings where the textile's artform can grace walls and furnishings. Below, The City Sage image shows how to create a warm entrance with a antique, suzani-upholstered bench (below left). Even new furnishings can have a broad appeal with these rich textiles, like the traditional canape sold by Jayson Home and Garden (below right).


Drape a suzani on a table like those below, and voila!, you have just upped the room's drama and appeal!




Images from Beach Bungalow 8 (above left), Elle Decor (above right), and Style Files (left) show how these textiles create a real impact wherever they are used.

If you can't spring for the real thing, there are a number of printed fabric lines with the ikat pattern. From rich jewel colors to earthtones and neutral palettes, there are suzani-inspired textiles to complement any design scheme.

Using neutral ikat patterned fabrics on pillows, accent furnishings and tabletops creates a fresh, contemporary feel when used with dark woods.


The Hillary Thomas designed living room (above) wears its Moroccan-inspired design beautifully. With a very similar use of accessories and fabric, the dining room (right) is elevated by the same fresh scheme. Image via Honey Living.

If learning more about these vibrant textiles interests you, there is a great exhibit at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC from October 16, 2010 to March 13, 2011 entitled, 'Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats.' Can't make it to the Capitol? Instead, visit the museum website and order the exhibit catalog. According to the site, "A beautifully illustrated catalog presenting all of the textiles from The Megalli Collection will be published in conjunction with Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, offering a fresh and concise perspective on the rich ikat weaving tradition in 19th-century Central Asia."

Material girl ...

I don't think Clare Watters would mind being called a material girl, because fabrics are her passion and her calling. This San Antonio resident artist was lured into the textile arts during an undergrad Fibers Program at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she learned to weave, dye and print fabrics. She also learned a thing or two about antique textiles.

Recognizing the historical value of handmade fiber art, Clare began a life-long process of collecting and transforming fabrics from around the world. This passion and Clare's understanding of the harmony between design, color and execution has led to a thriving business, aptly named  'Material Recovery.'



Clare took her design cue from a brilliant suzani couch she saw in a Soho boutique about nine years ago. It occurred to her that she could be using some of her textile stash to create something geared to the décor market. Thus, she began marrying East and Central Asian textiles with antique and vintage furniture salvaged from second-hand stores. The result is a blend of art and fabric finesse.


Material Recovery is the 'haute' shop with a vibrant collection of upholstered furnishings along with pillows and wallhangings. Clare's textile art has gained an enthusiastic following of buyers and designers from every corner of the globe.




I'm really thinking that the recycled antique Suzani upholstered chair (above left) needs to come live at my house. Its hand-dyed and handspun soft pink and cream floral design embroidered on black cotton ground is sending my heart reeling. I have no doubt that I would love it as much in the future as I do today.


With a growing demand for ethnic decorator fabrics, Clare has expanded her collections and goods, including many styles of lampshades now offered for sale (like the one shown on left).

Clare noted that she has "been keen on mixing in graphic Japanese ikats and shibori as well as antique Russian florals." With a woven sari from a textile excursion to India, she's certain that it will also "come into play at some point."

What else does the future hold for this material girl? Look for her to create a quietly-elegant line of clothing pieces based on traditional Indian fabrics and shapes.

If, like me, you share an appreciation of handmade items, or want to keep up with what's new in the Material Recovery line, click here to 'friend' this amazing artist on Facebook.
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