Year End Wrap Up

Johanna Roselle’s Bolognese Sauce

Inspiration is everywhere.

 We began 2017 at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, happily wandering through room after room of priceless artwork, and decorative objects from all over the world. Often people remark on how beautiful our store looks, and are amazed that neither Keith nor I have a background in design.  Over the years we’ve gotten very good at selecting and presenting the objects we sell basically by just looking at everything, everywhere.  Most of the largest museums have several floors filled with completely furnished rooms from different periods and even other countries on exhibit–making it possible to soak up several centuries of interior decorating–in just one afternoon.

Next up in January was Atlanta and the America’s Mart, literally over a million square feet of the latest and greatest in Home Furnishings and Accessories, and we wandered around there for several days.  Besides thousands of vendors and products, America’s Mart featured a series of room-size vignettes styled by a half dozen leaders in American interior design.Everything old is new again.                                                                                          While the first interior is from 18th century England, on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the second by a very 21st century Austin Texas designer, you can see similarities.  Pattern, color and texture are blended, not matched.  And some objects are simply  timeless, like blue and white porcelain, or an architectural mirror. Which leads me to the next bit of wisdom.

Don’t be so quick to get onto the next trend.                                                      Sometimes a tweak, an addition or a subtraction is all you need.   Maybe adding a contemporary lamp, or a modern painting  will add a dash of spice to a room that is beginning to look dated.  In the photo above, the owners of a fabulous century home were over their formal, darkwood dining room, but they were not about to give up on elegance either.  The answer?  An oversized rustic table partnered with contemporary art and an antique crystal chandelier.  Who wouldn’t want to linger over coffee and dessert in this room?

It doesn’t hurt to try something new.                                                                          One of the happier moments at British Cottage has been the introduction of upholsteryWe started with Hickory White, a third generation, family-owned company from North Carolina and then in the spring added Century Furniture.  Also, family owned and based in North Carolina, Century offers us access to the new miracle fabric, Crypton and a whole host of different designs.

Listen to the experts.                                                                                                       When we get the chance, we buy the floor samples at the Century and Hickory White showrooms when we go to the furniture markets.  That way we get the latest fabrics (which may not be in stores for months) and the newest styles–put together by world-class designers for the next season’s looks in home furnishings.  Along the way, we get a free lesson in design. I mean, who ever thought you would find mid-century modern at British Cottage?  But we loved this sofa with chaise by Century Furniture so much we decided to give it a shot.

Don’t be afraid to take it up a notch.                                                                              We get why RH went all gray.  It takes some thought (and balls) to add in color, but the payoff is huge when you do. Lillian August used these ancestor portraits in her showroom and after thinking about them for a year we decided to get them.  That pop of color and the scale of this artwork makes the whole store look better.  Lastly, have some fun.                                                                                                                   Decorating is all about making your home, and by extension, your life more enjoyable.  It does not have to be perfect; it has to be welcoming.  When I grew up in Rumson 1000 years ago many of my friends lived in huge houses with huge rooms with matching carpets and couches and window treatments and guess what?  Nobody was allowed in them!

Meanwhile, our kid-centric, (there were six siblings plus innumerable chums) pet-friendly house was filled with mismatched, hand-me-down furniture and we had people everywhere. No rooms were off limits; the sunroom might house a ping pong table one year, a pool table might be in the dining room the next.  Trust me, the joint was always jumping.

Mealtimes were huge in our family.  Our happiest moments were when our mom  (of Anglo-German descent who, fortunately for us, grew up next to a large Italian family in Rhode Island) cooked up a Sunday Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs.  However, I think we might have enjoyed this Bolognese Sauce from the Roselle family just as much.  Gene, and his wife Johanna, live in Tinton Falls and have been British Cottage customers for years.  It took nearly a year of pestering, but I finally got the recipe!

Johanna Roselle’s Bolognese Sauce

Add a glug of olive oil to a large cast iron pot, and saute 1/4 pound of diced chopped pancetta until brown.  Then chop and add one  medium sized onion, one stalk of celery, half a red pepper, and four large garlic cloves then cook until soft–about eight minutes

Add one and a half pounds of ground pork or two pounds of ground sirloin (I mixed them together when I made this recipe because it is a known fact I am unable to follow directions). Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about ten minutes on low heat.

Raise the heat to medium and add one and a half cups of whole milk and a dash of grated nutmeg and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated–stirring frequently.  Then add one cup of dry white wine, and cook until that nearly evaporates.

Add two cans of plum tomatoes roughly chopped and one cup of chicken stock and gently simmer for at least one and a half hours.    Keep remembering to stir the pot and add more milk if the sauce gets too thick.  Add some fresh basil at the end.

Serve over pappardelle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

And don’t forget the Christmas Crackers.  Happy Holidays!

 

Home Again

Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad Recipe

Basically, we have been on the road all spring, finding inspiration and beauty everywhere we go.  Nothing, however, tops young Charlotte here. Our newest grandchild, and look, at just seven months, already a lady who does lunch!We started out in April in North Carolina at the  High Point Spring Furniture Market where thousands of furniture manufacturers from all over the globe presented their wares to retail buyers–also from all over the globe.  One of the many highlights was at Hickory White, the company that makes most of our custom upholstery.  (Don’t worry; Keith is only looking so glum because he has just figured out exactly how much we spent there!)

Although I always say never paint your walls dark blue, this Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore really was stunning.  The rug is from Fiezy, all wool and surprisingly affordable.  See how it ties the whole room together and softens the intensity of the wall color?  We did not buy the rug (only because it was not for sale), but we did buy this fabulous ecru velvet Chesterfield sofa along with the two coordinating armchairs. Classic, elegant, vintage, but with a smattering of modernity, that is our British Cottage story.

But I digress, back to little Charlotte.  After High Point we flew to Omaha to visit with the littlest Nelsons; we’re up to three now!  Naturally, we had to check out the local furniture scene.  Which was easy because there is basically only one player in town–maybe even the state–and that is the Nebraska Furniture Mart.  Owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, it is a colossal 420,000 square feet on a 77-acre site.  It’s huge.

Sadly, big was not better.  I think Warren needs to hire me.  While I get that a store of this magnitude has to appeal to a variety of tastes and budgets, I refuse to believe that the Midwest really deserves furniture this, I hesitate to say ugly, let’s go with design challenged–and it wasn’t inexpensive!  After walking one million miles at the High Point Spring Furniture Market I can personally attest there is no shortage of well-made, attractive, and affordable furniture.  Looking at this vignette, you have to wonder;  is this really the best a billion dollar company can do?  Crank it up.  Go get those Fiezy rugs and a coffee table that doesn’t clash with everything.  While you’re at it, rethink your artwork.  And accessories.  Come on Warren, it’s definitely time to up your game; hire some new buyers, and show Nebraska some style.

But time to move on.  Next stop was Seattle to visit with our daughter, and of course, we had to go to University Village to see the latest Restoration Hardware extravaganza.  Hopefully, they had a billion dollars because that is what this four story, 60,000 square foot structure must have cost.It was architecturally awesome; I loved the polished concrete floors, the M.C. Esher-esque seemingly never-ending series of arched doorways, symmetrical room settings, and the high-reaching ceilings.  Sadly the products were every bit as lacking, in their own way, as the items at Warren’s Nebraska Furniture Mart.  Not that they were ugly or poorly designed but, after you’ve seen one crystal chandelier, one upholstered linen chair, and one low-slung couch, there’s fifty more to look at.  Enough already!

In the RH world, we all live in grey hued palazzos, with fragmented light, dispelled by 1000 watt crystal chandeliers that look like their last home was Versailles.  We spend our days lolling on oversized sofas and dining like lords on massive plank topped tables.  It’s all too Brobdingnagian and blah for my taste, even with all that bling.But we had other fish to fry:

Sights to see:

And beers to drink:Nordstrom’s to shop:And Farmer’s Markets to frequent.  

And lest we forget, dinners to eat and family to visit.

Peter Morse’s Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad

No matter where you are, or what is on the menu, you can never go wrong with Peter’s Salad.  When you were married, like Peter was, to a fabulous chef, it is not easy to get some play at the table.  Yet with this salad, rest assured, he got game.

I always made sure when inviting the Morse family over to dine, that Peter would be in charge of the salad.  Invariably he would arrive laden down with supplies, including several heads of romaine lettuce, and start rummaging around the kitchen for my non-existent salad spinner.  He was ever hopeful, but it never appeared, so he would sigh and then, finally get down to washing, then hand drying, all that lettuce.

Next up was the dressing.  In a large wooden salad bowl, he would take a fork and smush up a nice hunk of gorgonzola cheese.  (Peter always measured precisely but I just toss in chunks depending on how many I am serving–figure about a quarter of a pound per head of lettuce.)  What does really matter is the quality of the cheese–don’t use supermarket brand or pre-crumbled in a plastic container cheese.  And don’t use blue cheese either.  Spend the money and get some decent gorgonzola and your guests will love it–and you.

After smushing the cheese, add enough olive oil to turn it into a soft paste. Figure 4 or 5 tablespoons or so per quarter pound of cheese.  You want it to be almost like peanut butter in consistency.  Then add a tablespoon (or two–you will have to do this to taste) of red wine vinegar to make it more liquid, but make sure not too liquid; this is a pretty thick dressing.

Next, add about 1/2 cup of pecans–chopped finely.  (And you can substitute walnuts or other nuts but really pecans taste the best). Stir into your mixture and let sit until you are ready to dine.  Then just tear up your lettuce leaves into a bit larger than bite size pieces, add to the bowl, toss and serve.

There are lots of ways to enhance this recipe.  You can toast or caramelize the nuts; add some ripe pear, or toss in a few cranberries.  But I like Peter’s way best; it’s simple and delicious and that always works for me.

 

More High Point High Jinks

Banana Bread Recipe

img_7203Keith and I are huge fans of the show, Fixer Upper.  I confess to having spent countless evenings mesmerized watching to see what a hundred grand could do in Waco Texas–where we live in NJ that’s basically a master bath.

So sadly when we visited the Magnolia Homes Showroom at the High Point Furniture Market it was a bit disappointing.  Overall we were not overwhelmed by the furniture; it all seemed a little underbuilt.  We kept looking for a Clint Harp kind of table but instead most everything was like the coffee table in the photo above, flimsy with a kind of post-modern vibe so I didn’t even bother to take many pictures.

One exception was the beds.  I thought quite a few of them had that romantic,  je ne sais quoi that makes furniture exciting.  This vignette to me reflects the Joanna Gaines we have come to love:  romantic, country style that is surprisingly sophisticated.
img_7208-907x1024I have a vendor who makes a bed like this and now I just might get it.  I just love the iron canopy, the dark hue and the dreamy styling.

And I thought the beds for little girls were both sweet and charming.img_7207-854x1024All the bedding was lovely and from a company called Bella Notte Linens. I had just purchased similar bedding for the store from a company called Amity Home so it is nice to know Joanna and I are on the same page.

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One thing I totally loved in the Magnolia Homes showroom was the kitchen; it was classic Joanna with subway tile, a farmhouse sink and a massive island topped with zinc.  With freestanding shelving instead of upper cabinets, wide-planked flooring, and an industrial-style chandelier, it was inviting and practical. (Although not so sure about the galvanized garbage can.)

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Banana Bread Recipe

What I am sure about is that this kitchen looks like a fun place to whip up a loaf of homemade Banana Bread; here’s Joanna’s recipe and boy is it delicious!

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September Already!

Sorry, August clearly got away from me. 

Between exhibiting at the NY Gift Show, visiting with my son Colin and his wife, Melissa, who enjoyed a little r&r at the Jersey shore (cooler than Houston, but not by much) and just my usual days at the store, I missed my August blog.  However, not to worry, I have great plans for September.   

Basically we have covered bedrooms and dining rooms, I think,  but have we ever talked about the foyer?  It’s huge.  If you haven’t cleaned in weeks, there’s dishes in the sink,dust bunnies reproducing as only rabbits can, it doesn’t matter–as long as your foyer is well designed and attractive.   The reason I say this is strangers have no reason to go any further into your house.  Play dates can be dropped, business can be conducted, and neighbors can peek in without anyone knowing you haven’t made a bed in weeks. 

All it takes is a little planning and some cunning.  Banning the children and your husband from the area may sound mean, but that is why mudrooms and garage entries were invented.  Put some hooks and a bench by the back door and only allow relatives and close friends access to that part of the house.  They know you so there is no use pretending.  

Next you need to find a piece of furniture which is not too deep, unless you have a McMansion and then you have help so this blog really does not apply to you. 

In your case all you need is a gorgeous round table and a fabulous flower arrangement–I recommend my new best friends from the gift show, Diane James and her daughters, Caroline and Cynthia.  They make the most beautiful flower arrangements you can imagine–their wholesale customers include Neiman Marcus and Gumps.  Just go to their website, DianeJamesHome.com and you will see what I mean.  They are not inexpensive but when you consider one arrangement could last a really long time (the flowers are all artificial but you would never guess unless you touch them).  And Caroline blogs three days a week, clearly an overachiever, but it is fun to read.     However, I digress.  For those with moderate to small foyers, the answer is a table or a chest. 

Something with a few drawers to stash the bills, park your keys, and hold a hairbrush.  Next comes a beautiful mirror, which not only makes the space look larger but also affords you the opportunity to make sure your hair is neat, teeth brushed, and zipper zipped before exiting your home or answering the doorbell.      

Next some lamps, a basket, or a small flower arrangement to put on the furniture you selected.  Try to leave very little of the top showing for two reasons.  The first is beauty, second you prevent family members from leaving their junk on the top.  And try to refrain from parking family photos here.  Unless someone in the family is a supermodel, these belong in more personal spaces (like the backstairs or an upstairs hallway).  

Now I fully intend to illustrate this blog with photos from the store and home (I actually have two of the vignettes I described because I could not figure out which one I liked best) but first I need to eat lunch and then pay my September bills…but after that I’m on it!  have a great day and enjoy this fabulous weather.Cheers!  Tricia

Countdown to the NYIGF (New York International Gift Show)

 As usual it seems it is the end of the month and I have yet to blog, which is amazing because I have so much to report.  The big news is Keith and I have been furiously preparing for the New York International Gift Fair,  which takes place in mid-August at the Javits Center and Piers in NYC.  The show is designed to present the latest innovations in furnishings, tabletop, accessories and more to retailers and designers in the metropolitan area.

We feel this will be a good opportunity to expose (there has to be a better word) our British Cottage products to a wider audience.  For years we have been manufacturing our own designs, first in England, and now at our factory in Hungary.  Bespoke, handmade, and hand delivered are our standard operating procedures, not a marketing ploy. 

So this will be a test to see if our British Cottage vision is viable out of our comfort zone in Red Bank.  Our pricing has always been reasonable, partially because there are no middle men, we are direct importers, and also because we are committed to staying affordable.  While we may have one or two rock stars and three or four moguls as customers, mostly we sell to people with tuitions and car payments and orthodontistry to worry about. 

Which brings me to my next point, one of the problems with selling a product that is built to last is that the customer only ever needs to need to buy just one.  There is no built in obsolescence at British Cottage.  A pine farmhouse table never goes out of style; it doesn’t break.  In fact, it can actually improve with age.  So we are happy to widen our customer base.  According to some reports as many as 35,000 will attend the gift show.

And we are not only bringing furniture but also one-of-a-kind antiques and accessories we have picked up in our travels to Europe.  We’ll have dough bowls and Staffordshire china, antique maps and botanical prints, authentic British flags, watering cans, you name it.  The items in the photograph are just a few of the things we plan to exhibit.  We’ll be on Pier 94, booth # 43060, come see us if you get a chance.  Or stop by the store; Red Bank is easily accessible by car or train if you are coming from the city.

The Last Day of June

When I first decided to blog I set myself a weekly target which soon ratcheted down to once a month; thus I better get cracking as it is the 30th of June already!  But boy has it been a busy month…
much of it was spent in England, scouring the countryside for quintessentially British items to use in our booth when we exhibit at the New York International Gift Fair in August!

For those of you who don’t know what that means, the Gift Show takes place twice a year in NYC at the Javits Center and the Piers–it is enormous.  Thousands of vendors, selling everything from candy bars to couches, present their wares to retailers in the tri-state area, all 35,000 of them.  So what is British Cottage doing there?  Hopefully branding ourselves. 

For at least 15 years we have been building our own furniture designs, first in England, now at our factory in Hungary.  Always bespoke and bench made, sometimes with reclaimed timber, sometimes beautiful, lovingly harvested new pine from a managed Scandinavian forest (but that is another blog, how we were green before we even knew what green meant).  Anyway, we muddled along quite nicely, enjoying a very solid customer base in the the centrally located coastal community of Red Bank. 

But then things changed.  Our cherubs grew up and away, the dogs went to heaven and instead of enjoying our leisure time we were working twice as hard for half as much money as the dreaded recession caused business to slow to record levels.  So instead of packing it all in we decided to take it up a notch.  We’ve had several wholesale relationships in the past supplying stores in Westfield and Nantucket, so why not the whole metropolitan area?

So that is the plan.  We’ve produced several items that we think are truly unique and would work in a variety of homes. We’re going to layer those with all the British Country style accessories we all love, real Staffordshire, garden items, vintage maps and prints and hopefully we’ll take New York by storm.  As many of you know our pricing for our quality is extremely reasonable and if all goes well hopefully many more will find out!