“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








Needlework in Southern California – A Sampling

On a quick trip to California to see our younger son and his sweet bride, we had great visit to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. All the gardens were open and full of bloom, although there is much construction of a new visitor center.

An exhibition titled “Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections” (up until September 2nd) featured samplers, pictorial or plain, from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, stitched mostly by girls or young women. The exhibit also included examples of elaborate needle skills using wool or embroidery floss on coats of arms, family trees, mourning pictures, and pockets (clothing lacked pockets, making detachable pockets useful).

The gallery guide says: “Because they represent rare examples of work designed and made by women, samplers are also valued today for the extraordinary insight they offer into the early training, daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”

I recognize the historical nature of this exhibition (the pieces were made between 1763 and 1844 – see examples here), but perhaps the curators missed a bet by not flashing forward and including contemporary work.

I am thinking specifically of Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, an artist keeping this medium alive in a particularly So Cal, Hollywood way. After viewing the predictable homilies of the traditional samplers, it would have been fun to see a glimpse of the contemporary and cheeky samplers from Lisa’s show titled “Stitching Up the Noughties.”

Lettered in silk embroidery floss on burlap, the needlework offers her insights into the “daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women” early in this century. She is irreverent and wry and witty. To make it clear these are contemporary samplers, here’s a favorite text from Lisa’s sampler titled “On Being Realistic”:

“In days gone by,

a work like mine

Would have admirers

All in line.

No more are home arts

prized like rubies,

Today we must have

perky boobies.” (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti 2009)

You can see some of her samplers by following the link on her popular design blog “A Bloomsbury Life” or  here and learn about Lisa’s book due in 2014, “A design book about how our favorite novels (by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and many, many more can help us live a more stylish and meaningful life”).

I’m looking forward to it!