Silver makes everything better


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 2: Silver makes everything better


The rustic nature of my dining room in the Blue Ridge Mountains was one of the factors that informed my entirely misguided and thankfully short-lived decision not to accept my family’s multi-generational collection of fine tableware. The floor was tinted concrete and the windows framed with vinyl. But I discovered that once I dressed up the table, no one noticed the room’s shortcomings. People are delighted when they walk into your dining room and see a gorgeously set table, and there is nothing like a bit of silver to add to its drama. The eye travels to things that glitter, so if there’s something not quite right about the room, no one will notice. They’ll just be delighted by the beauty they perceive.


Last year, I was planning a relaxed summer luncheon for my friends. I decided to use plain white plates purchased at Target instead of china, because un-patterned places worked better a patterned tablecloth. This was definitely the case with the French block-printed fabric my sister had purchased in Provence as a birthday gift. Then I dressed things up, using silver water goblets and a centerpiece combining silver julep cups and baby cups of different sizes. Wild flowers gathered that morning on a walk with my dog were placed in the julep cups and, with the help of a little oasis, arranged into tiny bouquets in the baby cups. I chose my grandmother’s silver in the Etruscan pattern for the flatware because it’s clean, geometric pattern worked well with the tablecloth. Then I took a picture of it because it was just so pretty.


I love the way the silver cups reflect the pattern of the tablecloth. Etched wine glasses I found in an Asheville antique shop added another touch of simple elegance. Most of all, I was excited to find a way to use my silver baby cups. That’s one of the things we inherit that seem destined to languish in boxes, drawers, or the sideboard. I think they were really happy to brought back into the light.

Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

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Magic in Macon

I’m taking my new book and hitting the road next week with lectures and book parties in Macon and Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham and Harpersville, Alabama. Please come if you’re in the area and celebrate the joy of living with heirlooms and antiques.

Macon—my first whistle stop—is one of my favorite Southern cities because of its beautiful 19th-century houses and lovely gardens. Discover Macon during the Hay House Spring Stroll of Macon Houses and Gardens from May 6th to 8th and come to one of my keynote lectures on May 6th and 7th at 2:30pm. For details, contact or call (478) 742-8155.

Macon is such a trove of fine architecture and antiques employed in highly individual interiors that I included three houses from the city in my book Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques. One is a spectacular Italian baroque style villa designed in the 1920s by revered Southern architects Philip Trammel Shutze and Neel Reid.

Today the villa is owned by Charlestonian Tommy Bennett, who has brought an eclectic and minimalist approach to decorating the house. “The architecture is so strong that it doesn’t need any jewelry,” he says.

An equally fascinating dwelling is composed of a mid 19th-century that was once Macon’s waterworks station. Present-day inhabitants preservationists Chris Howard and Carey Pickard have decorated the interior—where most walls are rugged brick—with gilt sconces, antiques both fine and simple, and a crystal chandelier.

They have also done extensive landscaping, taking advantage of the sloping site and cistern to create a dramatic garden with Italianate structure.

In an 1854 cottage on College Street, one of the richest veins of fine architecture in the city, artist Joe Adams and his wife Evelyn decorate with an eye to color, shape, and composition.

The front parlor gets a dose of bold style with a European tapestry, mounted Kudu head, gilded console with massive lions-paw feet, and collection of Chinese jars. The kitchen sitting room has a much quieter appearance, appropriate for sipping coffee and gradually awakening.

All of these houses are featured in my book and lecture, so if you like what you see, please come. And then you, too, can discover the magic of Macon!


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.


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Lecture at The Charleston Library Society


Please join me for the inaugural event celebrating

Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques





Lecture and Booksigning on Thursday, May 5, 6:00 PM

The Charleston Library Society, 164 King Street

Charleston, South Carolina

(843) 723-9912





Providing a sneak peak inside my new book, the lecture will offer myriad ideas about how to integrate objects from the past into contemporary lifestyles, whether you live in a historic home, a modern high rise, or a suburban cottage. While the book is designed for readers of all ages, it’s the perfect piece of propaganda for every mother who wants to see the family heirlooms find a home. I love that it’s launching just before Mothers Day.





I also love that the inaugural event will take place at The Charleston Library Society. Established in 1748 by nineteen young gentlemen wishing to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain, the library is one of the oldest cultural organizations in America. It is still one of Charleston’s most vibrant institutions, with lectures and exhibits on topics as widely varied as the collection’s books and archives.





The Charleston Library Society is definitely a place where the past meets the present in vibrant style. Furthermore, it has one of the few remaining card catalogs in the country. Talk about living with heirlooms and antiques!






Click here for more information about The Charleston Library Society.

 Please come to the lecture and buy the book there–proceeds from book sales benefit the library.

You can also buy the book at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.


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Find new ways to use old things


Just in case you missed my Monacelli Press Instagram takeover (@monacellipress), I will be posting twenty tips about ways to live creatively with heirlooms and antiques.


Tip 1: Find new ways to use old things


I enjoy pouring water from a silver pitcher. It’s so elegant and sensual. Somehow silver and water go together. I have a set of silver goblets and guests love sipping from them. Recently I was sitting in the backyard of my home in Charleston, South Carolina, on the bench my sister and I gave to my parents on the occasion of their 50th anniversary. I noticed an utterly delicious fragrance wafting on the breeze and discovered that the wisteria was in bloom. Some people think of wisteria as a pernicious plant because it’s invasive and, if unattended, engulfs trees and fences. But I’ve always loved it. Lavender is probably my favorite color. And the blooms hang from the vines with such languid grace.




Suddenly, I imagined filling a silver pitcher with wisteria blooms. I thought about how pretty the lavender petals would look against a silver surface. Into the house I ran and out came the pitcher from the silver closet and a pair of clippers.  Once I filled the pitcher with water and arranged the blooms to cascade from its rim, I realized I had transformed my water pitcher into a dramatic water feature. Arranged on top of a pretty linen placement, with a waterfall of pale blooms falling from its rim, the pitcher took on new life. This is just one example of how re-envisioning and repurposing a familiar piece can create a sense of drama and the unexpected.


Buy the book now at AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Indiebound.


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Antiques take over the World


I’ve loved antiques since I was a little girl. My mother entertained frequently and when she did she opened the sideboard to reveal a trove of treasures—a sparkling cut-glass celery dish, gold-rimmed saltcellars, and a wooden box with blue velvet lining holding a panoply of silver flatware. I helped set the table, caressing each piece while she recounted back-stories—cut glass collected by her mother; porcelain painted by my great-aunt Janie—who later became a scientist; silver given to my grandmother on the occasion of her wedding to a cowboy. (It didn’t last.) These things and the stories they told captivated my imagination. When no one was looking, I used to sit on the floor and open the sideboard—a chest filled with jewels of incalculable worth.



Fast forward to the present—a year in which I’ve inherited all these things and more. Over the generations, my family has dwindled in size and as a result I am the lucky recipient of nearly all the booty. When my mother moved into assisted living and began dispersing the heirlooms, I was living in a rustic cottage in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In a moment of temporary insanity, I nearly said no to the boatload of linens, china, silver, and crystal. Then I came to my senses and said YES to everything. My advice to anyone facing the same dilemma is Just Say Yes . . . and then figure how to use it all. If, over time you can’t find a way to employ something, save it for a wedding or christening gift. Your friends will be touched—even if they do end up selling it on Ebay.

In my efforts to use all the things I inherited in settings ranging from my mountain cottage to the mid-century brick house I now inhabit, I’ve come up with a lot of ideas. Dented silver baby cups make great containers for tiny bouquets and linen tea towels can be made into pretty pillows. But still, I was baffled about integrating many of these antique things into my modern, more casual lifestyle. That’s why I wrote my new book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques. Looking for inspiration, I sought out the experts—antiquarians, interior designers, collectors, and people who just know what to do with stuff. I learned innumerable tricks, ranging from how to mix antique and modern tableware, making intriguing wall arrangements, and displaying quirky pieces in bookshelves and on occasional tables. I love sharing these ideas in my book, my blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Talk about finding new ways to use old things!

Buy the book here.


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The Importance of Being Furnished

The importance of being furnished finds no greater expression than in the language of chairs—their arrangement for conversation, their comfort, their compatibility. There is infinite variety in the world of chairs—klismos chairs with saber legs, velvet slipper chairs with diminutive yet comfortable proportions, sleek art deco chairs, classic modern chairs with precisely limned lines. Each chair possesses its own personality—and the best thing is that chairs get along well with others, equally at home with like-minded colleagues and unexpected guests.





Madame chairwoman—interior designer and writer Florence de Dampierre—author of Chairs, Walls, and her most recent title French Chic Living, combines a masculine Empire chair by 19th-century American architect Benjamin Latrobe with a curvaceous French nursing chair designed to embrace a woman and her child. While the silhouettes of the two chairs are quite different, the dark lines of their wooden forms energize the lilac, lavender, and plum palette of the light filled conservatory.






Birmingham artist Ashley Spotswood and interior designer Mary Evelyn McKee give a pair of traditional wing chairs a contemporary look with a broad stripe of ivory linen offset by darker upholstery. Juxtaposed with an antique trestle table, chest of drawers, and cabinet, they appear crisp and modern.





Collectors of furniture made by the Dominy family, East Hampton’s revered 18th- and 19th-century furniture makers, Charles Keller and Glenn Purcell decorated their East Hampton getaway with pieces representative of that period. In the dining room, Dominy Empire furniture includes a rare set of six matched chairs, circa 1810. Arranged against a pale yellow wall, Dominy Queen Anne chairs with black paint and flat backs add strong, graphic lines to the room. Although dating from the same century and made by the same family, the distinctly different chairs engage in a lively dialogue, enhanced by a glimpse of a mid 20th-century leather club chair in the adjoining living room.





Style writer and editor David Feld and collector Kurt Purdy transformed a set of Brno chairs designed in 1934 by modernist designer Mies van der Rohe into sexy dining room chairs with napped velvet upholstery in a soft shade of gold. Once furnishing a corporate boardroom, the chrome and velvet chairs now grace an inviting dining room that also includes a 1980 Racetrack table designed by Joseph D’Urso and an 18th-century French trumeau mirror.


To learn more about these and other chair aficionados, take a seat and be an armchair traveler with my new book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques. Buy it now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.




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Living with Heirlooms and Antiques




Not everyone knows how to live comfortably with antiques and heirlooms—especially more formal ones. We are tempted to treat them with awe and even anxiety—don’t use the “real” china…it might get chipped. Don’t sit in that chair…it’s a hundred years old…and it’s French! Don’t put that Directoire armchair next to the Danish modern one! They won’t go together.


When I recently inherited a wildly varied assemblage of furniture, fine tableware, and art, and began integrating them into my life, those don’ts began whispering in my ear. But I countered them with a new set of rules. The first was never to assume that one thing doesn’t go with another. It just might. Life is full of texture and surprise, and so should be your home.


My next rule is to be glorious greedy. Use everything you have and revel in it. Set the table until it groans. Try out every whatnot, oddment, and bibelot on every available surface. Keep adding chairs of different shapes and styles to a room until you discover by experience what really does look good together, when enough is enough, or that there is no such thing as too much.


The best way to learn something new is from other people who are doing it well—each in a different way. That’s why I wrote my new book, Past Present: Living with Heirlooms and Antiques (The Monacelli Press, April 2016), traveling from East Hampton, New York, to Central Texas in search of the experts. Architects, interior designers, magazine editors, collectors, house-freaks, history lovers, and people who just have a lot of stuff and know what to do with it—each one taught me something new about living with heirlooms and antiques. Now I am happy to share these insights with you in my new book and blog. Here are just a few things I’ve learned.




Shelter magazine writer and editor David Feld and Kurt Purdy combine mid-century modern chairs by Paul Frankl with a mahogany reproduction Regency table and contemporary photographic prints by Marc Quinn. The result is surprisingly compatible and inviting.




Historic preservationists Carey Pickard and Chris Howard cover a tilt-top table with small objects grouped by color. “But what is more important to us is the relationships between these things and memories they hold,” Pickard says.




Rhoda Brimberry and Anna Crelia of Loot Vintage Rentals in Austin, Texas ( intermix several floral patterns of china and pressed glass goblets to create a dressed-down dressed-up table setting. Fresh apple place-card holders make this inviting table even more, well, fresh!


Now that we’ve tabled this topic, chairs will be next. Vive la difference!



Flower magazine ( publisher Margot Shaw brings new life to a reproduction French chair with a shiny coat of spring-foliage green paint and tulip-purple upholstery.

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Inspired by Tradition





This long overdue and much anticipated celebration of the work of one of America’s finest architects, Norman Davenport Askins, is finally here, and it’s been receiving rave reviews. Southern Living magazine calls Inspired by Tradition (The Monacelli Press) one of the Fall’s best new Southern design books. That magazine chose Norman as the inaugural recipient of their A. Hays Town Award in 2013, recognizing his lifetime devotion to studying, practicing, promoting, and playing off the South’s rich architectural traditions.





As Norman and I first began discussing ideas for the book, which I co-authored and photographed, we knew we had hit on the right title when the words “inspired by tradition” bubbled up into our collective conscious. Why? Because Norman is not one of those architects who is hobbled by tradition, stiffly and slavishly recreating the past without paying heed to the way we live now, nor is he simply paying lip-service to it, slapping a few classical details onto an otherwise insipid dwelling. Pursuing a lifetime study of historic architecture ranging from Deep South Greek Revival and Virginia Piedmont houses to the little castles of the Dordogne region of France and rustic-revival English country houses designed by Voysey and Lutyens, Norman drinks straight from the well of tradition.











Because he is so deeply infused by traditional architecture–knowing it from the inside out and the outside in–he can do what many neo-traditionalist architects can’t. While he can sing the cant, he can also play with the canons, which allows him to create houses that are as fresh, individual, and surprising as the originals that inspired him. In the book, Norman writes: “When it comes to employing the elements of tradition, the principles of appropriateness, logic, and continuity are important, but they can only take you so far. If a house lacks imagination, romance, intrigue, drama, and a little bit of fun, the design falls flat. Buildings that are informed by tradition need to be precise, but they also need to be as quirky as the people who create and live in them.”









Featuring fifteen houses that include Italian-inspired villas, a Palm Beach Mediterranean Revival, a Sea Island melange of Dutch-West Indian and Cuban style, and several exquisitely detailed neoclassical dwellings, this book promises to delight any reader who loves architecture–and interior design). “While it’s the exterior photos of each house that lull me into daydreams, it is the interior shots that make me sit up and take notice,” wrote Jennifer Boles in her review of the book on her blog, The Peak of Chic.







On her eponymous blog, Frances Shultz also notes that Norman’s book is “filled with beautiful architecture and (bonus!) terrific interior design.” She also aptly describes it as “a brilliant reference for anyone considering building, renovating, or adding on.” Thanks not only to its many pages of photographs showing the big picture and small detail, but also to the depth and breadth of information offered in Norman’s charming, low-key voice, the book is sure to become a treasured volume in private libraries as well as those of architectural and design firms.
The many days I spent with Norman reviewing his life’s work, discussing the contents and design of the book, interviewing him, photographing the houses he designed, and occasionally even recruiting his services as photo assistant, are among the most delightful of my career. I am truly honored to be a part of his life and work–and glad to share it with the many people who already know and love him and those who don’t yet. How could you not love a serious traditional architect whose earliest commissions included a trio of classically inspired “houses” for a goat named Billy T. Sherman, a pig named Ulysses S. Grunt, and a rabbit called Rabbit E. Lee? Note: The clients were Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge and his wife.




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Stirred by Shakers

Imagine a group of Hare Krishnas descending upon a small New England village two hundred years ago. That’s how a witty guide at Hancock Shaker Village described the arrival of the Shakers in Hancock, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s. I’m sure the Shakers made similar impressions in other parts of the country, including Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, the site of America’s largest restored village. Although I haven’t made it there yet, I did have an opportunity to visit the almost eerily well-preserved Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires this summer.



One reason my guide likened the Shakers to Hare Krishnas was their form of worship, which involved ecstatic singing and dance (click to learn more). But he also drew a comparison between the brightly dressed HK’s and the Shakers, who often embellished their buildings and furnishings with vibrant shades of yellow, red, and green.



Many decorative arts aficionados are familiar with the graceful purity of Shaker furniture, but not as many have visited the villages where it was made. If they did, they’d discover the Shakers’ genius for creating architecture that is just as inventive, lovingly detailed, and perfectly suited to its purpose.



The round barn at Hancock Shaker Village is a stunning example, with a circular stone base, polygonal clerestory upper level, and cylindrical lantern topped with an almost whimsical pinnacle. The upper levels’ windows ventilate the barn and flood the cool stone interior with light. Lucky cows once roamed the outer area of the circle, poking their heads through the vertical railings to munch hay tossed down from the lofts, barely noticing hands that milked them while they dined.



I visited Hancock Shaker Village on a quiet, rain-polished morning when only a few other guests were present. I had each building nearly to myself and could almost feel the presence of the former inhabitants. Their craftsmanship spoke to me in the language of texture, color, and shape and invited me to come close and then closer to appreciate every detail.






When I left the village hours later, I felt as though I had been in communion with a fellowship of spirits who understand that the places we build—where we live and work and sleep—should be simply beautiful and beautifully simple.






‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.



When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

“Simple Gifts” a dance song by Shaker Elder Joseph, 1848







Now I can’t get enough of the Shakers, but until I can travel to the Shaker community in Kentucky, I am savoring the luminous photographs of it Pieter Estersohn published in his new book from The Monacelli Press, Kentucky, Historic Houses and Horse Farms of Bluegrass Country. This is one of the loveliest books to be published in recent years. If you are drawn to old houses and their quiet ways of speaking, this is a book for you.


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Art of the House: Reflections on Design


I’m delighted to announce that Art of the House: Reflections on Design (Rizzoli), the long awaited sequel to Bobby McAlpine’s best-selling The Home Within Us, is now available. Written by Bobby McAlpine (McAlpine Tankersley) and Susan Ferrier (McAlpine Booth and Ferrier), this book represents an distinct departure from the portfolio-style book that has dominated the interior design and architecture shelves for the last decade. While the book provides an inside look at several houses created together by Susan and Bobby, its deeper offering is a series of meditations on the meaning of design. Having had the honor of working closely with Bobby and Susan as co-author and principal photographer, I can attest that it offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of the house–and of these two extraordinarily gifted professionals.





Each chapter begins with a meditation on an aspect of design accompanied by a related still life composition artfully photographed by Susan’s husband, Adrian Ferrier. Together, these words and images describe aesthetic principles and the sensual, emotional, and spiritual meanings they possess. Images of rooms and the carefully chosen and arranged objects within them follow, illustrating the power these ideas carry when embodied in a house. Accompanied by Bobby’s and Susan’s observations, these images give readers an opportunity to find new inspiration and insight into the meaning and importance of home.



The objects we surround ourselves with form our private language. When we put these into play with personal memories, mythologies, and points of view, we express a rich and personal world.



In addition to providing a visual feast, the book provides readers an opportunity to witness the creative processes of two iconoclastic design professionals. I’ve heard beautiful architecture and design volumes called “envy books.” Art of the House is not an envy book–it is a profound and generous offering intended to inspire and transform.



Riches are always present as long as we are willing to make the necessary investment in time and attention to see them. The definition of luxury is to be totally aware of our surroundings.



In the first chapter, Lessons in Light, Bobby describes how his lake house at Lake Martin, Alabama, heightens awareness of the beauty within and without its walls.





“My house at Lake Martin is a carefully calibrated machine for seeing—as well as being—at the lake. Like a camera obscura, it is a plain brown box on the outside with an interior that frames beauty and captures light.”





“Light’s journey through the house offers an irresistible invitation to bring more and more objects into its path, coupling unlikely partners and challenging their compatibilities. Picking up your possessions like plants and moving them into the light allows you to see them all over again.”


If you have something important to say and you want it to be heard, sometimes the best thing to do is whisper. Receding and projecting simultaneously, white whispers this same way.



In the chapter entitled When White is Present, Susan and Bobby muse on the power of white to calm and enliven a room and heighten our perception of surrounding textures, colors, and forms.





“Painted in with the fewest, broadest strokes, white creates a sense of calm and balance. Once the eye perceives white, it begins hunting for highlights elsewhere, finding a rhythmic sense of unity.”





“Next to white, everything else finds its truest expression—black becomes blacker and silver shines more brightly. In its absence, colors and textures tend to collide or clamor for attention. Like the dogwood that blooms in the woods at springtime, white endows everything around it with the promise of a fresh start and a new day.”



Everything in this still life might have been discovered on a walk by a lake or in the woods—a pair of feathers dropped by a bird, a chunk of mica, water-worn glass floats that drifted ashore, a piece of metal left out in the rain, books carried into the shade for an hour of reading and forgotten there.



In the chapter entitled From the Forest Floor, the two reflect on how, when brought inside, colors, textures, and objects drawn directly from nature create a sense of harmony and unity with our surroundings and within ourselves.





“A massive wall of local field stone divides the living and dining rooms. Stacked without visible mortar, it appears to have risen directly from the earth. Excavated from nearby fields, the stone literally grounds the house to the land on which it stands. . . . When nature and design combine in seamless unity, dissolving the division between what is outside and inside, the invisible walls separating us from our higher selves come down as well.”





“Like diffused reflections on the still surface of the lake, the contents of the room mirror those of the landscape. Without pretense or exaggeration, they are inspired by it. Wood walls brushed lightly with a greenish-gray glaze appear to have grown a skin of lichen. Textiles evoke the subtlest and often unnoticed nuances of nature—the brown velvet underside of magnolia leaves and the blurred pattern of leaves reflected on water. Linen curtains and upholstery the colors of moss and mushrooms suggest the undergrowth of the forest’s floor.”



This room is the quiet hour you ask for every moment of your life–a place to sit quietly and be exactly where you are. There is a comfort that comes from being in a place and feeling connected to it.

* * * * *


A thoughtful celebration of the power of architecture and interiors to shape who we are and how we live, Art of the House is a rich addition to anyone’s design library–or library of any kind. Although I’m a little biased, my advice to anyone who cares about the home is to bring it into yours as soon as you can!



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