Kind and Dear

It’s January and cold – in Washington these days the thermometer rarely tops 32° and sinks to 22° – making me long for our usual winter 42° and appreciate house and heat.

This month I try to turn my attention to the house, clearing Christmas, which stops looking jolly and becomes clutter (except the tree, those lights are still so welcome). And January also invites more organizing, seeking comfort and cheer from order.

But in numerous ways I avoid those tasks. Although this year, I happily reboxed Christmas on January 6, energized after reading about the Irish tradition of “Women’s Little Christmas,” the old, but still observed celebration of the women (and surely now men), who worked so hard to make the holidays for their families.

A more typical stalling maneuver is to look at books about houses, including a Christmas present, Ben Pentreath’s “English Houses,” a beautiful book full of photos of loved houses that creak with tilted floors and worn Turkey rugs. Pentreath introduced a room new to me, the “snug,” a tiny room with books and fireplace looking just like the word. (I discovered while writing this that Pentreath writes a blog about his life in Dorset:

And this January I miss “Red House West” – may it return soon! I did see a Pin from the blog’s proprietors of an imaginative under-the-stairs bed, cozily curtained off. And I began thinking about how certain house elements, sunny French windows, odd but comfy chairs, deep window sills, long pine tables make me stare at a photo and want to be there.

Leanne Shapton, an illustrator I admire, said she processes life by employing series and repetition in her work. Maira Kalman does that too. And an artist, Debbie George, I discovered while painting teacups last November, paints antique teacups and flowers one lovely image after another.

January lets such thoughts string together into a project. So, I’m going to look for little moments in rooms that make a difference – quirks, rumples, using houses I know or photos from books or the Internet. Done up doesn’t always do it, but personal often does.

And I can start with this little poem that William Morris had embroidered around the top of his four-poster bed:

     The wind’s on the wold

     And the night is a-cold

     And Thames runs chill

     Twixt mead and hill,

     But kind and dear

     Is the old house here,

     And my heart is warm

     Midst winter’s harm…

That’s the idea!











Flowers from the Archive

A few weeks ago Red House West wrote a post about titled “Feeling Floral,” and they rehabilitated the word floral in my mind with their updated look at flowers in design. I loved their post, of course, relishing the flower-infested objects they featured in needlepoint, oil paintings, and fabric – often big blowsy blossoms on black.

Reading the post and seeing the end of the garden and flowers for this year (though we haven’t quite given up here in the Northwest – nasturtiums still rampage), I got nostalgic for my flower painting days. I’ve had a folder on my computer’s desktop for some time with “low res” images, made from slides of paintings done in the 90s.

They glow with the blue of slide film – but they bring back so many memories of their making. I picture glass jars full of flowers across my workroom’s white tabletop (now a happy room with Lady Baby’s teepee and toys – times change) and many hours spent observing these flowers to try and render them in watercolor.

The Himalayan blue poppies (with small yellow Welsh poppies) grew in my garden – and now I remember that they were painted in the garden because I couldn’t bear to cut them. I perched on the edge of a garden chair, paper balanced on a little table (that now lives again as a bedside table at Downtown Abbey) – trying to capture their palette of blues.

And this triptych – each panel a full sheet of watercolor paper 30″x22″ – the flowers from a friend’s very fine garden in Anchorage – in September. Lupine, foxglove, poppies, lilies, lavatera, malva, anenome, sweet peas – the painting took ages, flowers collapsing, water cloudy by the end. Was a huge ordeal for the framer – but the gallery sold it – and I’ve always wondered what it looks like in place.


And sweet peas – my favorite flower – a joy to draw and paint with their tendrils and shadowed petals – a deconstructed bouquet scattered on the page. Painted on another full sheet of watercolor paper, hot press (for all these paintings). I entered this in Watercolor U.S.A.’s annual competition, and it won an honorable mention and a big box of fine watercolor paper. I was thrilled!

Sweet Peas

Thank you for indulging this walk down a floral memory lane. I could add more – but it’s November – time to put away flower things  – for now. (Oh, except those Red House West florals!)

“Red House West”

A spirit-lifting announcement today! I want to point you toward a newly launched blog – “Red House West” – a partnership between Mrs. Hughes and a dear friend of hers. By happenstance, though now separated by geography, each lives in a vintage red house.

The blog’s tag line reads “two old friends and two old houses,” but the proprietors of this blog are not at all old. Their friendship is long and strong though, and the tale of their houses, and what they are inspired to make of them, promises to be the foundation for a pleasurable and interesting blog.

“Red House West” will be about how you find furnishings and do things to houses when you don’t live in Brooklyn or Los Angeles or any hotbed of design. These bloggers love “thrifting” and fixing up. They love design, write well, have terrific senses of humor, and find much to contend with – and potential – in their old houses.

They aim to post three times a week, and on Fridays will feature “Good Scores” – intriguing finds from local second-hand shops or online sellers – inviting readers to submit their own discoveries.

It’s very exciting to watch such a creative endeavor begin, and I wish them every success! I hope “Her spirits rose…” readers will have a peek at “Red House West” – its fun to be in on the beginning.

The address is simply: – please stop by!