Chairs With Arms

After drawing Virginia Woolf’s reading chair, I began noticing armchairs and asking myself why they appeal. Partly it’s location, wanting to sit and have tea with a friend – our two armchairs classically pulled up by a warm fire. Or it’s longing – to be curled in a commodious armchair lost in a book, friendly feline apurr. Armchairs in bedrooms imply a generous room and a place to retreat. I know a double armchair in a bedroom – holds baby, mom, and older sibling – and it rocks!

The anthropomorphic character of armchairs, their limbs and heft embrace us. Accompanying adjectives reveal personality: overstuffed, shredded, or worn, floral, velvet, or leather. The few armchairs in those modern houses in the enjoyable TV series, “Big Little Lies,” appropriately look firm and toned.

Armchairs most often include pillows for color and comfort, or to beef up a saggy anatomy. They hang out with footstools, ottomans – some place for feet – whether of matching fabric or something repurposed, a trunk, a pouf. Armchairs need a lamp and a table right within reach, landing spot for teacup or beer and chips.

My parents had a voluminous armchair with sturdy square arms, slipcovered in an awful faux-tweedy fabric – I loved it. The arms held coffee cup and books, and I could hole up there for hours. With an old cabin, we inherited wooden-armed chairs with uncomfortable cushions, but so useful the flat surface of those broad arms.

My clever friend gave me a wicker armchair. It sits near my workroom with a little footstool and a great view. But, filled now with three old wool sweaters, fur-lined and curled into a nest, and occupied most days, all day, by Frances, it’s lost to me for afternoon tea.

You can probably sense a series coming – armchair pictures and paragraphs on “Her spirits rose…!”

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Sweet Baby Travels – England

After a little more than a two-hour flight from Sevilla to London Gatwick, we exchanged T-shirts for sweaters, sandals for umbrellas, tapas for pub food, and formal gardens in dry terrain for the lush gardens of England.

By this time Sweet Baby expressed definite opinions about tolerated confinement, whether pack or stroller, car seat or high chair. But she is always glad to ride in her pack on her dad, the family gardener, and we planned three garden visits with lawns and space for running.

In the Kent countryside we stayed in tiny Biddenden Village (a pub, a post office, and a smattering of other buildings smack beside a busy road) in a 400-year old Tudor house – low ceilings, creaky floors, steep staircases, and comfortable rooms.

At Great Dixter (made famous by garden writer Christopher Lloyd), in spite of borders of glorious color and meadows of wildflowers, we loved the house best. Built by Lloyd’s father and the architect Edwin Lutyens, it combines two 15th century dwellings to reimagine a medieval manor. A great room with vaulted ceilings and leaded windows downstairs, and a solar upstairs, with worn rugs, bookshelves, and lived-in chairs cozied up to a huge fireplace. A little hungry for home comfort by now, we might have settled in.

The day of our Sissinghurst visit we woke to cold rain, but after Sweet Baby’s morning nap the clouds lifted. Sissinghurst (my favorite garden) is romantic and full of story, and in spite of summer solstice and the full bloom of Vita’s famous roses, weather kept the crowds down. We walked paths through the white garden, the herb garden, the cottage garden, and climbed the tower. For lunch we ate ratatouille made from produce grown in the Sissinghurst vegetable garden.

The threat of Brexit had begun to color things even before we left Spain, and in the UK tension was palpable. In the village, angry Brexiters complained to us about Obama’s statements to remain, and in London the night before the vote, vocal supporters of each side lined tube station entrances. Our old friends were divided, he to stay, she to leave. And the day after the vote, people looked stunned as they carried on.

Founded in 1673 as an apothecaries’ garden, the Chelsea Physic garden is a tranquil, walled space overlooked by buildings, full of labeled medicinal plants from around the world. On the same day as the huge and sad memorial for Jo Cox in Trafalgar Square, I walked the paths, pushing a sleeping Sweet Baby in her stroller, thinking about the commonality and continuity of plants, looking for solace in the centuries-old garden.

On our last day – a final walk through London and history. From our place near Covent Garden, west through Trafalgar Square (setting up for the Gay Pride Festival), along the Mall to St. James’s park (many visitors, a polyglot of language), ate waffles sitting on a bench, and watched the crowd gather near Buckingham Palace. Then we circled back past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, toward Parliament (posters and stickers littered the sidewalk). We turned onto the Victoria Embankment along the Thames, and crossed the Millennium Footbridge (a bride and her wedding party walking in the midst of the crowd). We spent time in the Tate Modern (Sweet Baby running the ramp in the Turbine Hall), then walked on to the Borough Market for lunch.

Sweet Baby took her parents home for the afternoon nap, but the two old, true London lovers finished it out – back across the bridge and up to St. Paul’s, along Fleet Street and the Strand, and through Covent Garden.

Overhead a jet plane flyover trailed tricolored smoke and thunderous noise – and a downpour began, wilting feathers and costumes and melting face paintings on passersby.

That evening, in the midst of post-festival crowds, Sweet Bride miraculously found us a table at a Thai restaurant where we ate and replayed Sweet Baby’s first big trip.

“Wow!” we said.

Sissinghurst I

Sissinghurst II

 

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June Gatherings

My husband tells me he will “KonMari” his closet. Slowly, in his own way, employing some complicated system of discarding one item one day, two the next, then three, and so on. Only just begun, he assures me that the end result will be as dramatic as Marie Kondo’s magical tidying.

How would it be to take your keen tendency toward tidy and, in no time, have your name become a verb! People either swear by Kondo’s methods or absolutely dismiss them (and you can probably see the difference in their houses). She loses me with her book ruthlessness, but I try with clothes and get most hung up by sentimental things (although I think she allows a few such items if they “spark joy.”)

But hearing my husband’s plan, I thought I should KonMari my workroom, specially the drawer of little drawings I have from all these years of the blog. What sparks joy? Then it occurred to me that this summer I might delve into that archive and select related images for some posts.

And so here we are into June – the last international postcard sent to my young friend as she headed home – and then some remixes.

And I’m wishing you wonderful summer days!

Int'l postcard #5 1

 

 

“Novel Interiors”

January, oh January – in need of a jolt of color, a list of possibilities, a gathering of beauty, an inspiration of visuals – and so I offer Lisa Borgnes-Giaramonti’s “Novel Interiors: Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature.” It’s so good!!

On the afternoons of Christmas and Boxing Day I devoured Lisa’s book in the best possible setting, propped on the daybed in our living room, covered by a little plaid blanket, surrounded by pillows while the fire blazed for hours, fed by the younger son who sat reading gardening books in an armchair nearby.

And then I reread “Novel Interiors” in the harsher light of January – and loved it even more. I’m a fan of Lisa’s blog and wrote about her here, so I knew about the book as she worked so hard on it. I recognized her very clever idea – to meld her love of literature with her equally intense passion for stylish living. She’s done a terrific job of noting those moments of scene setting in favorite books that linger long in our minds.

She’s organized her book into chapters illustrated with fabulous photos by Ivan Terestchenko of real houses, lived in, imaginative, comfortable houses. Chapter titles hint both at books and the “distinct design aesthetic” each chapter focuses on – “Shall I Put the Kettle On?,” “Anything Goes,” “Remembrance of Things Past.”

Lisa seeks both style and comfort and writes with charm and wit, “Patina is what gives our possessions – and ourselves – character and meaning.” I’m often suspicious of books heavy with quotes, but Lisa knows these 60-some novels, and she lets her chosen authors speak: Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, Willa Cather and Isak Dinesen. “I Capture the Castle” is here, which in my mind has always been about green velvet, and I like it that “Buddenbrooks” and “Cold Comfort Farm” both provide inspiration.

My favorite chapters are the ones with a bohemian anything-goes-in-an-orderly way vibe – comfort and color being primary. But I also respect the “rooms designed with order and purpose in mind” that fill chapters on elegance and glamour.

Lisa adds “lessons” learned from the novels in each chapter. And here is her voice, a modern woman with a family who must throw a great dinner party, and loves to curl up with her cat and read and read (“literary wandering” she’d call it). The lessons suggest in doable ways how to create cozy corners, memorialize mementos, or add “drama with portieres.”

Nowhere in my house could a portiere hang, but oh I love the idea of it, a curtain or heavy drape to add mystery. I could, however, right away make her velvet pillow 12 by 18 inches, filled with dried lavender and buckwheat hulls, and settle down to dip yet again into this treasure of a book.

Treat yourself to a January break in the fascinating world of “Novel Interiors!”

windowseat - January

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Words & House Pictures – Escapees from a House Journal IV

“I visited Charleston [Farmhouse] last December on an extremely cold, gray, day, and immediately felt its Chekhovian beauty and sadness. The place has been preserved in its worn and faded and stained actuality. It is an artist’s house, a house where an eye has looked into every corner and hovered over surface, considering what will please it to look at every day – an eye that has been educated by Paris ateliers and villas in the South of France and is not gladdened by English prettiness. But it is also the house of an Englishwoman (an Englishwoman who on arriving at her rented house in St. Tropez in 1921 wrote to Maynard Keynes in London to ask him to send a dozen packages of oatmeal, ten seven-pound tins of marmalade, four pounds of tea and ‘some potted meat’) – a house where sagging armchairs covered with drooping slipcovers of faded print fabric are tolerated, and where even a certain faint dirtiness is cultivated.”

Janet Malcolm “A House of One’s Own” (The New Yorker June, 5, 1995)

teacups II

 

But clean teacups.

I love Charleston Farmhouse – Vanessa Bell’s house in Sussex – so inspiring and so lived-in.