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!

 

Challah-lujah

Challah French Toast Recipe

The house on the Hill
The House on the Hill

Essentially Keith and I have the best jobs in the whole world.  For the last three decades we have paid ourselves to go shopping–which happily requires rambling throughout Europe and the United States looking for fabulous products to feature in our Red Bank, New Jersey store.

And that’s just the beginning.  Because once we’re done shopping, interesting people (for the most part) come visit our store in search of the perfect piece for their home, or second home, sometimes even for their restaurant or hotel.  And it is always interesting, even great fun, to learn a bit about their lives, personalities, tastes and vision.  Over the years our client list has grown, and grown and includes rock stars, politicians, plumbers, celebrity chefs, magazine editors, even some of the more infamous housewives of New Jersey–you just never know who is going to walk through the door next.

Usually once something sells, that’s it.  When I say adieu I hope for the best; rarely do I get to see how our things look in situ.  So I was quite pleased  to accept an invitation to view the rather myriad British Cottage purchases from over the years, in this home, certainly one of Monmouth County’s most iconic properties.  I would have gone even if brunch was not included!

Originally built in the mid 1800’s as a lighthouse on a hill on the eastern Middletown border, this house exudes charm and personality.  From the entrancing private lane, you enter through the iron gates to a lushly landscaped, circular drive topped by this simply lovely home.  I want to say it is the icing on the cake, or the jewel in the crown–it is really super.

Periwinkle Blue DoorI walked through the periwinkle blue door straight into a kitchen right out of the original Smallbone Catalogue.

Freestanding Viking StoveSmallbone is an English firm famous for introducing “unfitted kitchens” to the United States.  Totally bucking the trend of build-in, built-up,   over-built kitchens that are now the norm, an unfitted kitchen features freestanding furniture and appliances and a variety of finishes and materials.  Utterly charming, yet totally serious with industrial strength appliances, this is my dream kitchen.

Dining Room Table from British Cottage

Next up is the dining room featuring a huge farm table from, you guessed it, British Cottage.  The owners were over the traditional polished mahogany look with its requisite pads and table cloths and wanted a table that would encourage lingering dinners and withstand spills and splatters.

The chandelier, also from British Cottage, is a European antique we bought at auction, elegantly bouncing light off the charcoal walls and illuminating the owners’ artwork.  This space, which is at once modern and traditional, comfortable and elegant–is the look that defines 21st century decor.  These days nobody wants rooms that are too fussy or fancy, but a touch of class is always welcome.

While my host was putting finishing touches on our meal I ran upstairs to take a peek.  I loved the unexpected punch of color on the landing from the antique chest of drawers in a brilliant shade of original blue paint.  We imported it from Hungary, and it’s now looking fabulous right here in New Jersey.

Antique Chest of Drawers in Original Paint from British Cottage

The master bedroom has a British Cottage bed and small dressers that double as nightstands.  When they renovated the house a couple of years ago the owners made a vow to simplify, opting for calm serenity–but, of course, with the aforementioned pops of color to keep it happening.

British Cottage Kingsize Bed, Pine Bed

Upstairs, besides the master bedroom (which has an en suite bathroom to swoon over), there is an enchanting guest room and bath, another bedroom they use as a dressing room and a spiral staircase that leads to a ladder that leads to the cupola where the lighthouse used to be.  It is like the stairway to heaven; you keep climbing and climbing and finally you get there.  You can literally see for miles!

What you see through the window is the barn that houses a full size office space, a gym and a movie theater/media room.  Instead of whacking a full size addition onto the original house they opted to outsource those activities to the existing four stall barn and keep the original structure intact.  No McMansion here and what a relief it is.

And by the way, as it turns out, this property is for sale. Trust me, if I hadn’t already gone through the throes of downsizing, empty nesting and purchasing a cottage in Maine, I would be seriously tempted. For anyone in this so-called gig economy who needs a workspace at home, there is no way you would not be productive here.

But enough meandering. I was there for a reason–time to get fed!

Chris’s Challah French Toast

French toast is perfect for brunch.  Bread soaked in egg, later soaked in butter and maple syrup…great.  But challah, soaked in cream and eggs and sauteed in butter is truly ambrosia.  Food for the gods!

Challah (sounds like holla, rhymes with gala) is a fabulous Jewish braided bread made with a rich, eggy dough.  You can find it at Wegman’s or Whole Foods (or make your own, if you are feeling ambitious).

To make the French toast, start by slicing the challah in one inch thick slices.  Soak slices in a mixture of six eggs, 1 1/2 cups of light cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a tablespoon of sugar for about 3 minutes on each side.

Heat a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add your soaked challah and cook for three minutes or so on each side.  Serve with a few pats of butter and maple syrup.

Fresh fruit, bacon, scrambled eggs and mimosas all added to the fun…I was invited for breakfast and almost stayed for dinner!

Domestic Arts 101

In the olden days, decorating was the wife’s job; real men played golf, watched sports on the telly and stayed out of the kitchen.  Clearly those days are over.  Real women go to work, real men cook and everybody has a say in decorating.  But he likes mid-century modern and she wants comfort and warmth.  Holy smokes!  What do you do?

You compromise and together you create your own signature look.
da101-1

Take, for example, this Rumson carriage house.   When the new owners took possession they brought with them the husband’s significant modern art collection and his design sense which was perhaps a bit formal, while the wife was angling for an up-dated, yet comfortable, elegant, yet child-friendly end of the spectrum.

First thing they did was transform what had been a formal living room into a lively gallery of amazing art, complemented by a modicum of seating.  The idea was to marry comfort with spare and sleek.  They wanted room where the art could shine, adults enjoy a cocktail and their three children to romp–the walled off living room, like husbands who don’t decorate, a thing of the past.

For a while it was perhaps it was a bit too stark but once they replaced a burnished hunk of copper coffee table with this painted wooden table from British Cottage the living room finally came together.
da101-2

The modern, copper coffee table that was in the living room happily found a new home in the family room where it compliments the metal work on the fireplace and anchors the massive leather couch.
da101-3

(I’m not sure whose idea was the basketball hoop over the fireplace in the family room–we would have loved this when we were kids).  They added a couple of custom Hickory White side chairs in navy plaid from British Cottage that swivel so you can either have a conversation or watch the game on the television on the wall opposite the couch.

Perhaps my favorite room is the dining room.  They kept the previous owner’s chandelier–from the days when the house was decorated in an over-the-top chateau style–and it looks pretty and romantic.  The husband was quite sure how he wanted the custom British Cottage table to look, striking and vibrant in dark oak which works beautifully with the linen-like but really Sunbrella slipcovered sidechairs chosen by his wife. The plain white walls and woodwork were a bold choice in this time of paint the world fifty shades of grey but it really lets the art and the architecture shine.

da101-4

We’ve been making house calls to this home for the last couple of years and every time we go it looks better and better.  I think every nook and cranny  has engaged the attention of both spouses and each has allowed the other their vision creating a lovely, family friendly home in the process.  Not easy.

 

The Visiting Nelsons

T-Bone Steak Dinner Recipe

I’m pretty sure the last thing my son and daughter-in-law expected was for me to write about their house after we visited them last week in deepest Nebraska.  With a three week old infant, a toddler and a proud kindergartener just getting three meals on the table and everyone dressed in the morning is challenging enough.  No one has the time, or the inclination to worry about home decor at this stage. But hey, I liked their house so much I couldn’t resist.

colins-house

Built just last year in a subdivision outside of Omaha, my immediate thought when I learned of the purchase was great, ho-hum Midwestern tract housing-does it get any worse that that?  Well I could not have been more wrong.  Not only does their house have great curb appeal (even in this photo I cribbed from Zillow), with a lovely stone foundation, rocking chair ready front porch and an interesting roof line.

But also the interior is just as nice with exactly the right amount of architectural details, a thoughtful floor plan, hardwood–not engineered flooring and although not huge, very spacious.  In fact their house amazed me by how livable it was and I realized how having a house that is actually designed for the people living in it, a twenty first century family, makes their life a whole lot easier.

My homes have always been old, requiring tons of imagination, effort and cold hard cash just to make them function. We’ve turned porches into playrooms, attic space into master bedrooms, added bathrooms and laundry rooms, jacked up sinking garages, and waterproofed basements. We have enjoyed making our houses into homes but we have never had a house that was designed for a modern family.

Our first two houses had detached garages designed to stable the horses! The next house had an attached two car garage in which you could squeeze in maybe one mid-size auto but certainly not two trucks like their house does with its three large car attached garage.  Whoever thought of that was brilliant–space for two plus-sized family cars and all the bicycles, toddler vehicles and lawnmowers.  You, and your spouse, can actually park your cars in the garage and walk straight into the house.

Then you enter an ample mud room and off come the shoes, and jackets, purses and back packs get hung.  Not rocket science but still…img_6546-755x1024

Mudroom for children
Even the little guys can put their things away.

Next up is the kitchen.  Not huge, but with a center island, double ovens, a plus size fridge, a walk in pantry, and still room for a kitchen table, all you could wish for.

Light granite kitchen island
Kitchen Island in a granite that looks like marble

And I loved that there was another, separate dining area. Home office by day for the modern working mom, but just steps from the kitchen to make entertaining a breeze, and a bit more elegant than sitting on top of the actual work space.

Country French Dining Table
We don’t sell these tables any more but I wish we did. Inside there is a butterfly leaf that extends the table to 100″.

There is no formal living room.  The space off the kitchen is the family room with tv and just enough toys and books to keep the kids busy but not so many that they can’t be quickly put away when bedtime approaches or company is coming.

img_6549-720x800Wisely they opted to finish the walkout basement adding carpeting, a bedroom and a full bath.  Perfect for visiting grandparents and perfect for two little boys stuck inside on summer days when the temperature is over 100 or in the depths of winter when snow and ice reclaim the prairie.

img_6483-768x1024Upstairs there is a master bedroom suite with a fireplace, sitting room (where the treadmill sits), master bath and walk in closets, then three more bedrooms and an upstairs laundry room.  Here is our newest baby modeling the upstairs quest room with all its fabulous British Cottage furniture.

British Cottage Pine Bed

Now, what do you eat in Omaha?  Steak of course.

T-Bone Steak Dinner

Sprinkle T-Bone steaks from your Uncle’s farm in South Dakota with salt and pepper and grill. Serve with baked potatoes topped with sour cream and fresh chives, and the last of the carrots from the garden roasted in the oven.

Super!

Our New Shipment has Arrived!

View the New Arrivals on the Web Site.

Beef Goulash Recipe

Antique Pine Nightstands
A glimpse of the new shipment

For thirty years Keith and I have traveled to Europe to buy container loads of antique–primarily pine–furniture.  We started in England, then went to Holland, Denmark and finally Hungary purchasing hundreds of items to sell in our Red Bank, NJ furniture store.  At some point we started adding furniture made from old wood, and then new wood, to meet customer demand for specific items.  When our factory in England went bust after one recession or another—our Hungarian supplier of antique pine started building for us.

IMG_3730 (1024x955)
At the factory in Hungary

The big news this year is that we are now producing our own line of furniture made with weathered oak to meet the demand for the grey, drift-woody tone that originated in Belgium but has been happily adopted by the savvy American furniture buyer.

grey oak coffee table
Grey oak coffee table
IMG_0557
51″ round oak table
IMG_0531 (1024x879)
73″ grey oak table

In addition to the oak items we  are also introducing a whitewashed pine finish:

IMG_0572 (1024x670)

IMG_0515 (1024x772)

IMG_0492 (1024x979)

All the new items meant long days of hard work, figuring out what to make and how–but eventually dinner time would roll around.  One of our favorite restaurants in Eger is called Feherszarvas Vadasztanya.   The food served there is rustic and hardy, and we always make sure to fill up on the Beef Goulash.



Love this menu!
IMG_3650 (1024x768)

Beef Goulash

Cut a couple of pounds of well-larded chuck steak into chunks and toss with 2 tablespoons FRESH paprika (not the stuff that has been sitting around for the last couple of years),  a tablespoon of flour, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of caraway seeds–if you have them.

Pour some olive oil in a heavy casserole dish and brown the meat in batches until it’s golden and crusted and set aside.

Scrape the bottom of the pan and add two thinly sliced onions and one green pepper thinly sliced also, and more oil if needed.  When the onions are soft remove the peppers and add the leftover flour and spice mixture to the pan and stir.

Add the beef and water to cover, making sure to scrape and mix in all the bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and put in the oven at 350 degrees for two and one half hours.  Remove the lid and add the cooked peppers and cook for another half hour until the meat is very tender.

Taste for seasoning.  In Hungary, this is served with spaetzle-a soft egg noodle that I don’t have a clue how to make but adore.  Being essentially lazy I just ladle the goulash over the regular supermarket variety egg noodles.  A dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives is always nice.  As is a bottle of Bull’s Blood, or Egri Bikaver, a fabulous red wine blend from Eger.

Egyunk!  (Bon appetit in Hungarian)

On Board–My Farmhouse Table

British Cottage is now officially 30!  We opened our first store at 125 West Front Street in January 1986 with a container full of antique English pine bought with the cash buyout Keith received after parting ways with the Tetley Brewing Company.

Neither of us had a background in antiques; it was only by chance we met a Martha Stewart look-a-like from Connecticut at an auction on the grittier side of Gosport, a washed up city on the wrong side of the Solent.  We were looking for furniture to bring back to New Jersey (another part of the package was free shipping) and watched as this petite, middle-aged woman with fabulous hair and an outfit that coordinated with her pumps,  bought every piece of stripped pine that came up for sale.

Waiting to pay at the end, we met her in the queue and just had to ask what the heck was she doing there, like how did she even find Gosport?  She told us that antique English pine furniture was the heart of the “American country” look and all the craze in the states and advised us to buy every piece we could.  So we did.  And thirty years later we still are buying and selling antique pine (as well as a whole bunch of other stuff).

Looking back over the years we have sold some really fabulous items.  But we kept a few too.  This “On Board” feature will be the ones that did not get away.  Objects we’ve known and loved for years–even decades.

For us decorating is not about buying a catalog of matching items, it is all about the hunt, the experience, and the joy of finding an object that fits in a room just so–or doesn’t fit in at all –but you love it so into the mix it must go.  I’ll start with our dining room table.

It is an antique farm table from Ireland that Keith bought from Martin Dearden,  an aristocratic bloke straight out of Dickens, with a large manor home called Pennard House in Shepton Mallet, a little village in Somerset.  That is how you did things in those days.  You would go to a small shop on a High Street and invariably the owner would have a bunch of sheds or barns somewhere else so off you would go through fields and hedgerows to see great masses of furniture in astonishingly bad disrepair and then start making a deal.

The deal would usually involve tea, some biscuits and if it all turned out okay, in the end, a trip to the pub–there is always a pub in these stories.  (Pennard House is still in business today as a wedding and event venue–I’m guessing the antique barns are probably used for dining–and rinking).

Anyway, Keith bought this table from Martin and along with a number of other items it was loaded onto a container that eventually found its way to Red Bank.  When my mother walked into the store, she took one look at the table amongst the other new arrivals and claimed it immediately.  Made in the late 1800’s with three long pitch pine planks and a stretcher base, it has two drawers that reach all the way to the middle of the table and it was a beast to carry up the stairs to her second-story dining room overlooking the Shrewsbury River in Rumson.

Mother of six, friend to all, it is impossible to count the number of parties and holidays we enjoyed around her table–let alone fathom all the meals served on it prior to its arrival in America.  When my mom died, one of my brothers was quick to claim it.  A few years ago he moved to California and the table came full circle back to us, where it is now front and center of the great room above British Cottage.  We are happy to let the parties begin, again, at this fabulous table.