The First State

Biden Barn on route one in Delawre

We’ve always been a hit with senior citizens. When we opened British Cottage 38 years ago we imagined the people buying our imported antique pine furniture would be just like us–thirty somethings who were looking to find anything other than heavy darkwood furniture that screamed polish me.

Nope. Instead we sold container load after container load of stripped pine tables and hutches and cabinets to their parents who happily unloaded their faux–and sometimes real–antique mahogany dining room sets on their upworldly mobile young’uns.  Who even wanted a formal dining room when a large farmhouse table in an open plan kitchen could be enjoyed three meals a day without any fuss? One more knick or scratch on a pine table was just part of the package.

Fast forward to 2024 and we are still selling to senior citizens! The only difference is we are seniors too. Our offspring, for the most part, are evenly split between rocking a mid-century vibe (a look from my youth that still seems cold and underdesigned), finding their mojo in the heavily enhanced catalog retailers like Pottery Barn, West Elm and Serena & Lily, or falling prey to the cheap wares found online.

But nonetheless we persevere! Last week we hastened to the state of Delaware to deliver a hutch to long time clients who sold their mostly empty nest in Little Silver to a young family full of fledgelings, thereupon relocating to our First State on the Delmarva Peninsula, a slice of sand nestled between the shores of the Atlantic and the states of Maryland and Virginia.

Why Delaware you ask? I know I did. And here’s the answer. It’s not all about property taxes; it’s about a quality of life. Many of us can remember when not only was the Monmouth Mall a farm, but so was The Grove, most of Middletown, and all of Colts Neck. You could get to the beach in Sea Bright in ten minutes from almost anywhere, and the only traffic lights were in downtown Red Bank.

Delaware still has farms, historic towns with abundant charm, and the beaches are pristine and close by. While a million dollars doesn’t seem to buy you much in Monmouth County New Jersey these days, about half that will get you your very own brand new Craftsman or Victorian-style home, tree-lined boulevards, first floor primary suites, full basements and a clubhouse with pool and a fitness center in Milton Delaware. And it doesn’t hurt that the Dog Fish Brewing Company is just around the corner…

But I digress. On a sunny Sunday morning in January the ride from Red Bank to Milton took just under three hours.

Our destination was Heritage Creek, a brand-new community just minutes from historic downtown Milton with its own Williamsburg-esque flavor. I’ve been to dozens of new developments and I’d never seen this much curb appeal in one place before. Window boxes, front porches, dormers, shutters and custom millwork made this look completely different than the soul-less many-storied architecturally challenged complexes that seem to be the norm in our Garden State these days.

heritage Drive in Milton Delawre,
British Cottage Delivery

Although technically a down size, this home felt anything but small.

There is a generous front porch, a welcoming foyer and a massive great room.  I admit to a certain amount of scepticism when they kept returning to British Cottage whilst furnishing these new digs. Dudes, I thought to myself, this is supposed to be a downsize, nothing’s going to fit. Fortunately it turned out they were totally right; it was I who was mistaken.

From our factory in Hungary (sadly now shuttered), this 96″ wide breakfront/bookcase looks like it was custom built for the space. The distressed black finish and warm pine beadboard interior help ground the room and make a feature out of an object that for most of us is a necessity. You cannot retire without reading material!

Furniture from British Cottage

The other rather large purchase was a ten foot table. Seriously? We’ve all seen the strangulated areas dedicated to dining in today’s mass construction, right? I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked us to squeeze a table into an undersized nook. Well take a look at this. There aren’t that many newly built kitchens today that can hold a 10′ table. Also note how the kitchen cabinets continue to the ceiling–always a good sign that the builder is on the ball.

Antique Pine Table

Our mission today was to bring an eight foot tall antique English pine hutch into the picture. At this point I was a believer so there was no more naysaying from me. Seriously how great does this look here?

Antique Pine hutch, Antique pine table

There was a lot more to see: the full basement with lodging, gym and entertainment facilities. Then, on the main floor, two capacious guest bedrooms, a full blown primary bedroom suite with his and hers closets you could get lost in, and three and a half baths (!). Best of all though is the wide open, high-ceilinged kitchen and dining area where we sat down for a delicious lunch and caught them up on all the news from home . We would have lingered longer, maybe even strolled to the brewery, but we had a ferry to catch.

Originally our plan was to head west up to the Brandywine Valley for an overnight in the Chadsford area, think Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, and the acclaimed Brandywine Museum. But with snow on the ground and the day rapidly fading we pivoted and went north to Lewes and boarded the Cape May Ferry

Cape May Ferry

While on the ferry we searched hotel options in Cape May and decided to book into the Virginia Hotel. Which turned out to be the right decision for all kinds of reasons starting with the gorgeous over-the-top decor, and amazingly helpful staff.

Hotel Room at the Virginia Hotel

Then there was a cozy bar.

The bar at the Virginia Hotel

And best of all, the Ebbit Room, their award-winning retaurant managed by chef Jason Hanin, a wiz at sourcing local ingredients and giving them a signature twist. I already know what you’re thinking… there goes the budget. But it turned out, maybe because it was a Sunday night, that they had a number of specials and $9.00 wines so not only was the meal super delish but relatively pocketbook friendly–hooray!

The next morning after we enjoyed a marvelous breakfast on the enclosed outdoor porch, we took a long walk on the windswept, silky sanded beach.

Cape May Beach

Next up was a stroll through the delightful downtown area of Cape May, which evidently was America’s first seaside resort.

Cape May house

Big deal you say…who needs to see another boardwalk and a bunch of shuttered up stores and rides? Au contraire. Here, my dears, the “Cape May Historic District comprises one of America’s largest collections of free-standing 19th century architecture. The 600 buildings that form the District feature hallmarks of Late Victorian, Eclectic, Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Colonial and French Second Empire style. Mansard roofs, ornate turrets and painted moulding dominate the city’s skyline, while the streets below are lined by porches that showcase intricate wood-carved detail.” (For more details go to my source, the Cape Resorts website.)

Or take my advice and go see for yourself. Now. Don’t wait for summer–or until you are a senior citizen–to enjoy the charms of this one-of-a-kind only in New Jersey treasure. You won’t be sorry.

The Virginia Hotel, Cape May

Usually I end my blogs with a recipe, so I reached out to Chef Hanin to see if he would share how he made the marinated skirt steak I had for dinner last Sunday night. Meanwhile, I promise you can’t go wrong with this Blueberry-Riccotta Breakfast Cake from Ina Garten’s latest: “Go To Dinners”. We made it for a New Year’s Day brunch and it was excellent, not too sweet and very, very flavorful. We love you Ina!

Blueberry Ricotta Breakfast Cake

Blueberry Ricotta Breakfast Cake

  • 10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (12 ounces), divided
  • Sifted confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch round springform pan, shaking out any excess flour.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the ricotta, sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well. (The batter will look curdled.)

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter, mixing just until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, fold two thirds of the blueberries into the batter. Transfer the batter to the prepared springform pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining blueberries on the cake, pressing them lightly into the surface.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and lightly dust the top with the confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.


My Portfolio

When the Covid lockdown basically cancelled shopping in 2020 and things at the store slowed down to a crawl, I suddenly had a lot of extra time on my hands so I signed up for a drafting course at Brookdale, our local community college.

Clearly I was not a quick study! But I perservered. And perservered. After mastering printing (not easy) I eventually learned how to draw fairly legible dimensioned floor plans.

And Furniture Plans. A furniture plan is a 2D, top-down representation of a space, created to scale, that gives you an idea of how a room’s furniture can be laid out. These plans enable you to visualize what items can fit where, and see exactly how much space there will be for walking around in the room.  (Before you buy even one piece of furniture you should always measure your space and make a plan to make sure it fits! Or ask me to.)

I also mastered how to make elevation drawings which are scaled two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional space. When designing an  interior, these drawings of a wall (or series of walls)–with varying degrees of detail–illustrate how your room will look furnished.

It was a huge amount of work to make all of these drawings by hand to scale, but I had to pass this course in order to take CAD–Computer Assisted Design.

That wasn’t a walk in the park either but, oh my goodness, what a difference a computer made! Here is a floor plan I created in CAD for a senior living apartment project. Pretty cool huh?

And look at these elevations! Still drawn to scale but so much clearer in CAD.

This past sememster I really upped my game and took a Sketch Up class. Sketch Up is a widely used piece of software that in interior design allows you to transform 2D drawings into fully customisedable 3D models–you get to add all the furniture and accessories you can ever imagine.

Our final assignment was to take the barebones floor plan for an actual apartment at 130 William Street in the city and create a fully furnished home for an active family of three. This is what I started with.

And this is where I wound up.

What’s really cool, is how you get to create actual three dimensional spaces, move walls, add millwork, create roofs, even if you can’t quite master the art of printing!

It’s like playing with a dollhouse–only better. With just a touch of the mouse you can change the paint color, add a chandelier, replace all the marble in the primary bath or add a sectional to the living room. The options are limited only by your imagination. For the final we were asked to make a video of the interior we created. How do you think I did?

To back up a little, I should probably mention the concept was to provide my (fictional) clients, a busy, very successful professional couple in NYC, with an Urban Oasis.  In ecology, an oasis is a fertile area of a desert environment that sustains plant life and provides a welcoming habitat for animals.

In this case the idea was to create an environment with style and verve that would enhance and sustain the interests of both spouses (she the owner of a chic gallery in Soho, he a musician/composer) while at the same time shelter their teenager from the storms of upcoming adulthood. They were looking for a combination of traditional style with a splash of boho chic. Ultimately, they wanted an uber-sophisticated home with room for all to work—and play!

Usually I include a recipe at the end of my blogs, but in this case my imaginary couple made it quite clear that they were not moving to NYC, one of the restaurant capitals of the world, to cook. While the kitchen is highly functional, it is more for having a cup of coffee and a bagle than creating five course meals. So I will take a page from their book and trot on over across the street to the B-2 Bistro and enjoy someone else’s cooking for a change!

Happy New Year!

Smoke and Mirrors

Pecan Sour Cream Coffee Cake

One of the upsides to downsizing is getting rid of the big yard and all the attendant landscaping chores, woes, and expense–though not for my friend. While she was willing to give up a few floors, scads of rooms and the Olympic-sized pool–the yard was not negotiable. Finally, after viewing dozens and dozens of listings, and a few wrong moves, she hit gold–green really.

In, well almost in, tony Sea Girt this acre plus property with its senior friendly ranch style home had nary a shrub but, to one beholder at least, potential galore. Over the past few years, from the safety of the store, I have heard the saga of the plantings; extensive. The kitchen reno, a master class in geometry; as for the bathroom remodels–let’s just say budget busting–but worth every penny. Or so my friend said. Finally, I was invited to go see for myself.

Upon entering the house the first thing I noticed was the British Cottage cupboard in the foyer from our French Country Era–say early 2008. I think it was employed as a server in one of their former dining rooms but certainly now it is more than up to its job front and center here. With the addition of a mirror (the first of many featured throughout this home) wrapped in brass and a table lamp in the same metal, an engaging entryway is achieved with a minimum of fuss–and most importantly in this case–space.

Because two steps later you are in the living room.

When a space is tres petite in scale, the temptation is to use all tres petit furniture but the bold move, for the win by the way, is to introduce a few oversized pieces to the mix–like the fairly massive French armoire in the background and this gorgeous antique pine table pictured below.

You’re barely through the living room when the dining room is upon you. Dining room you scoff. Who needs a dining room when space is at such a premium? Basically anyone over the age of 50 is the answer. We like a space out of the kitchen where dirty dishes can be forgotten; a dedicated place of beauty where we can feature our gorgeous linens, polished silver and lovely china, linger over drinks, over dessert, or over just about any darn anything we choose!

Make sure to note how the oversized mirror enlarges the room visually, a great trick when space is tight.

When downsizing there is an unwritten rule to never buy anything new. But sometimes the furniture from the first, second, or even third house simply does not fit the new one. In this case the space just cried out for a round table and we (British Cottage) were happy to deliver. In a warm oak, with faux bamboo chairs, also in oak, dinner parties are happily back in the picture.

Next up is the family room. Pocket sized, anyone with less bravado would have tacked a tv to the wall, set up two armchairs and called it a day. Not here. Here we have not one, but two sofas, two robust upholstered wing chairs, and, and a massive (well sort of) pine breakfront for the television from yours truly (this was for house number 2 I think).

The wing chairs in question have also been around for numerous moves and have seen better days but made of flexsteel and beloved by the man of the house they are, yet again, en route to the upholsterers. I like the tone on tone animal print that reads as a neutral and balances the boldness of the teal on the Hickory White mid-sized sofa (another new purchase) that fortunately fits like a glove–measure, measure and measure again is a good thing to remember when every inch counts.

There are three bedrooms with three dressers from British Cottage and two British Cottage beds (from the good old days when we used to manufacture our own line of bedroom furniture in England). They were bought, I think, for their Spring Lake house and were a perfect fit for that cozy coastal beach home–and even better–twenty years later they still are for this one.

We used to make them in either an antique white or natural pine.

Pecan Sour Cream Coffee Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter an 8×10-inch baking dish.
  2. Make the topping: Mix pecans, white sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, cinnamon, and salt together in a mixing bowl until thoroughly combined and all components are coated with butter, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Make the cake: Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  4. Mix sugar and butter together in a large bowl with a spatula until well blended. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Gradually whisk in flour mixture until flour is just incorporated; do not overmix.
  5. Spread 1/2 of the batter over the bottom of the prepared baking dish, then sprinkle with 1/2 of the topping. Carefully spoon remaining batter over topping, then sprinkle with remaining topping; very gently press topping into batter.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until a bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly before servingThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Saying Goodbye to Summer

Ready to eat: Lobster With Grilled Veggies

I adore summer. From the clothes–or rather lack thereof–not that I am a midriff baring grandma but nothing feels better than tossing a frock over my head, fluffing my hair and flip flopping my way out the door in the morning. At  home everything is airier in the summer; my bedding is stripped down to the basics: white cotton sheets and a lightweight quilt, the shades are always at half mast, the rugs are stashed away so the floors are bare and the house stays cool.

Who cares if it’s too hot to go outside? This is why we have gardens to look upon. Even better when your rooms have a view like mine suddenly has this summer–now that new owners knocked down the century home that was there. I’ll miss the old girl, a more than one hundred year old structure that was originally the boarding house for the actors employed by a local summer theater up river (another blog in itself).

But I am really happy we are finally post-Covidly being invited over to join other neighbors, once again, to wine and dine. Especially for an al fresco spread comme ca.

Even if you don’t have neighbors to host you, the good thing about summer is there are numerous en plein air waterfront dining options in our two river communities. One of my longtime favorites (they are way older than I am) is Bahrs in Highlands. The food is delish, the atmosphere authentic and the salt air restorative.

And less we forget the reason we live at the Jersey shore is, well the shore, keep in mind the best way to get there is by boat.  If you don’t have one, now is the time to find a friend who does!

I grew up on the Shrewsbury but for cruising you cannot beat the Navesink River. Nowhere else in New Jersey (or anywhere) can you see a governor’s mansion, several historic boat clubs, numerous stately homes–and still be back in time for dinner!

The Murphy Home
Monmouth Boat Club

Seriously who needs to go to Bar Harbor with houses like this right in our neck of the, well not woods exactly, but river maybe?

Finally, eventually, there will come a time in summer when it is your turn to host; but don’t panic. If you follow my lead you will never have to actually cook, (it’s too darn hot anyway). First hop over to Sickles and pick up a tray of their already grilled vegetables.

Add some sliced tomatoes with their homemade mozzarella, then order a slew of fresh from the Maine seas lobsters from  The Lusty Lobster (they’ll even steam them for you) and dinner is ready to be served!

Cheers!

Summer is for friends and fun–and food!

Rooms with a view…

Redirect to Parker’s Fish And Chips

Unlike the infamous Cat in the Hat, I wasn’t frustrated because it was too wet and cold to go out and play–it was just too darn hot to even think about making a move out of the A/C. The beach was baking, the pool jammed with little kids and my garden felt like a steam bath.

Fortunately I have friends in cool places, like The Channel Club Tower, the chic-esque high rise in the exclusive waterfront community of Monmouth Beach, so off I tootled. On the northeast corner of the eighth floor, my friends, empty nesters, had landed themselves an aerie with incomparable views atop luxurious accoutrements–valet parking, heated pool, state of the art gym facilities and meticulously landscaped grounds.

Although they are renters, they are renters with sensibilities so it was a bit of a shock to move into a big white box in the sky–a far cry from their Colts Neck spread with its lush landscaping , wrap around porches and rooms galore, but hey sometimes you just gotta move on down the road or in this case–across the river.

The floors throughout their new digs are in an engineered neutral hardwood that they left mostly bare, and they furnished with bits and bobs from their Colts Neck manse that give the space a Sister Parrish oh my gosh are we at the island house in Maine aura. (Full disclosure there is another house fully furnished Downeast but that is for another blog).

Although this was clearly a downsize there is still ample room for their looks antique but made of antique wood 96″ farmhouse table and 8 gorgeous Windsor chairs from West Barnstable Tables on the Cape.

And you know how they say every picture tells a story? Well there is no shortage of raconteurs  here, each wall has something delightful to say.  Garage sale finds cavort with listed artists to make an engaging mix.

But what does British Cottage have to do with all this? Well, there is the table in the foyer and then this robust chest of drawers from our factory in Hungary. Along with the blue and white ginger jars, a classic way to accessorize just about anything for the last 4 or 5 centuries at least, and look another wall is won. And that shell on the pedestal? Oh my!

Mostly it’s fun to know someone who loves stuff as much as I do. In this minimalist moment in interior design, when people own neither hutches nor breakfronts, bookcases or credenzas, it’s awesome to see someone else care about the art of antiquing and the joys of tablescaping. I mean take a look at this grouping. Love it. Love it. Love it.

And what about this carefully curated vignette in the kitchen? In anyone else’s home this is where the coffee maker would sit.

But time was going by fast and I was getting more and more peckish so we ambled over to the riverside restaurant just across the street. In my day, many years ago, it was The Haul Out–a fun bar and burger joint on a dock–now it is The Beach Tavern, still dock side but much more Palm Beach than Jersey Shore.

My friend had the steamers and said they were delicious but if I’m eating steamers I need at least two dozen, maybe more.

And steamers are a breeze to cook, just get a mess of clams from Lusty Lobster, toss them into an inch or so of boiling water, cover and they are done in a few minutes. (Just make sure to rinse them first if they are at all gritty).

I had the Fish Sandwich which was good, and another thing you can easily make at home if you are in the mood for a classic shore meal. Try this recipe for Fish and Chips that Keith makes all the time.

Meanwhile, my friend has promised to send over her recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms–something I LOVE and never make. TBC

What’s the couch got to do with it?

Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Spicy Peanut Sauce

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Basically everything.  From the annals of psychiatry (over 400 articles have been written about the various roles the couch is reputed to play in psychoanalytic settings) to its more mundane, but nonetheless fundamental function as the backbone of modern living and family rooms, let’s face it, your space is only as good as its sofa.

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As our lives become more layered, hectic, and maximal–are you working from home, not working and at home, everyone is home, no one is ever not home? More than ever you need a place to park your tush and just chill.  Couches, even the most minimalist in design, have an essentially cocooning purpose; this is where we get to nest, regroup, recharge, and relax.

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It’s what’s on the inside that really counts:                                                                         So what makes a couch great? Oddly enough it is not the design or style that matters most–it’s what’s under the hood–what’s inside–that really counts.  The frame should be made of hardwood, or solid, engineered wood, with eight-way hand-tied spring systems, Marshall unit spring backs, and premium spring-down cushion and filling materials. A single sofa can take over forty hours to complete and have over 250 individual parts and components!

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Measure up:                                                                                                                                       Next up is size. The best couch in the world is no good at all if it won’t get in the door, down the hall, or in the elevator. And while lounging may be paramount in your book and when you are in the store that 48″ deep sofa may seem perfect for laying prone in front of the tv, you will need a crane to get your 5′ mother-in-law out of it.

Focus:                                                                                                                                                         On fabric choice. There are multitudes upon multitudes of fabrics out there. Century Furniture offers at least 1700! It used to be if you had dogs or kids, slipcovers were the smart way to go but now the new “Performance Fabrics” are stain and odor resistant. Also don’t overlook the hundreds if not thousands of natural and synthetic fibers available with have high rub counts and are easy to clean.

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On style:                                                                                                                                                   This is where therapy–or couples counseling–may be needed. If he likes a traditional, over-stuffed zaftig profile and you are all about clean, modern lines and straight angles, Houston you have a problem. And keep in mind that often opposites do attract and a modern sofa in a traditional setting (or visa versa) may be just what you need to shuzh things up.

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Just try to remember you get what you pay for. A good couch may cost a few thousand dollars you don’t have–but if you do–go for it.  Their hardwood frames are often guaranteed for over 30 years and certain styles are timeless. Fabrics may wear out but recovering is a desirable and sustainable option for a sofa made by a reputable company out of non-toxic materials. Do we really need to add more s h i t to our landfills?

Meanwhile, it is summer and so hot and humid out there that I don’t feel like cooking anything. Fortunately, we have half of a Costco chicken left in the fridge and a bunch of crisp vegetables, that combined with a spicy peanut/ sesame noodle sauce and a bowl of chilled pasta–we’ve got dinner tonight!              

Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Spicy Peanut Sauce

First, boil some water and cook about ten ounces of linguine. Rinse under cold water and set aside.

In a food processor or blender combine at least 1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth, chunky, all-natural whatever is in the cupboard), 1/3 cup soy sauce, at least two tablespoons maple syrup, the juice from 1 lime, 1 glug sesame oil, chile oil to taste, and a chopped clove of garlic. Add warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is semi-liquid. 

Next, take whatever vegetables you have in the fridge: radishes, peppers, cucumber, red onion, carrots…and cut into thin matchstick size pieces and add to the bowl of pasta along with a tablespoon of sesame oil if you have it–but olive oil works just fine.

Transfer the veg/pasta mixture to a large platter and pour the peanut sauce over the top. Then add shredded chicken, chopped scallions, parsley, or cilantro, and serve.

Chinese Peanut Sesame Noodles: Easy Asian Recipes | Unpeeled Journal

Design Inspiration: Phoebe Howard

Easy Barbecued Chicken

As many of you know for years and years, decades in fact, Keith and I only sold antiques we imported from Europe. But eventually we ventured into the world of normal, regular, new ?  furniture. I am not sure what the word is exactly, but over time we transitioned into an all around, home furnishings store.

It helped that we happened upon Hickory White, the designer upholstery division of the mighty Sherrill Furniture Company and Al Melchiano, an old school won’t take any nonsense furniture rep who convinced us that it just made sense to add some sofas and armchairs to our mix.

It was in their showroom that we happened upon a whole collection designed by Jim and Phoebe Howard, Mr. & Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture that was totally gorgeous. But getting the line meant a large purchase, and we did not have the funds at that time.

Anyway this year we finally bought in and could not be happier. Probably, if you are at all design savvy you’ve come across Phoebe Howard before–she’s been featured in all the major design magazines as well as authored a number of books relaying her design strategies. In a nutshell she offers a blend of traditional and current, adores saturated color, especially shades of blue and is not afraid to lean into her feminine side. I love this bedroom!

So if you are a fan come to the store and see for yourself. We basically bought this whole room in the photo below and many of the key pieces are still here.  And note nary a bit of blue, which is a bit of a change for us–but how can you not love how fresh and polished everything looks? It is easy being green!

Meanwhile Father’s Day is coming up and I’ll be doing the cooking. We’re not eating much red meat these days so I think we’ll go with a classic menu that everyone loves–Barbecued Chicken, homemade potato salad, and cole slaw. Maybe I’ll even bake an apple pie!

Easy Barbecued Chicken

  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup red vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Put in a sauce pan and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.

This is seriously easy and very, very tasty. You don’t need to make your own barbecue sauce–but it does taste better if you do. Like it spicy? Add some more. Bourbon flavored? Go for it. I tend to use chicken thighs and legs but breasts work–just pay attention so they don’t dry out.

Put the chicken skin-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour half the barbecue sauce over the chicken and cover with foil. Bake about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Remove the foil and turn the chicken skin-side up, add remaining barbecue sauce and bake until golden and browned in spots, about 25 minutes more.

If you want a bit more char, you can always toss the chicken on the grill or give it a turn under your broiler. But you need to keep an eye on it because a little char goes a long way.

Serve with potato salad, fresh cole slaw and a local IPA and trust me, someone will be having a Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day

Baked Rigatoni With Lamb Ragu

Phew. Is it me or are things really back to normal? Local traffic is terrible so people are clearly out and about again and again.  And am I the only who does a double take when I see someone in a mask?  All good. Even better, spring is in full swing making now the best time to fly through the house, throw open the windows, literally and figuratively dust off the cobwebs and get that house in shape for summer fun.

Remember fun? Growing up we never had the best house or the best snacks but that didn’t stop the whole neighborhood from hanging out at our house. Our house was the fun house. Dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, even ducks were welcome.  Inside and out there was space to breathe. We all need to remember to breathe–just breathe.

Usually I blog about a whole house but today I’m just going to share some images I’ve taken or that people have sent to me over the last couple of months. Like this one with a furry cat atop a reclaimed pine coffee table from British Cottage. The chairs are from Homegoods, the corner cabinet vintage and the parquet floors were the cat’s meow–in the 1960’s! But somehow it all comes together.

This photo comes from my friend Andrea who cleverly revamped her fifties-ish Colts Neck cape into a light-filled transitional space with a gorgeous open plan kitchen. Anchored by this free standing pine cupboard and farmhouse table from British Cottage. The best rooms are the rooms that everyone uses–and trust me with a family of chefs in the wings, this kitchen gets used a lot!

It wasn’t so easy getting this British Cottage table to a brand new home just blocks from the beach in Montauk, a vibrant beach community at the way end of Long Island. Montauk has more of a down-to-earth could be Cape Cod feel than the Hamptonesque posh that comes to mind when we think of Long Island, and I can only imagine the multitudes of meals, games and chats that will be enjoyed around this table.

One thing I can never stress enough is the importance of lighting if you want to freshen up a space. And that does not mean turning up those horrendous high hats, cans or whatever you want to call them. (In fact if you are building a new house or renovating ignore your architect, your builder and your electrician and don’t put them in).

There’s plenty of other ways to get light into your life. I particularly like table lamps for ambient and task lighting. Fortunately many of my customers agree so we sell a lot of lamps–like this pair of blue and white porcelain ones in the cozy living room below.

For a more modern take on lighting you can’t beat this architectural pendant that is now residing in Fair Haven along with a sideboard, table and chairs all from British Cottage. We love this relaxed country house vibe that combines a ton of pattern with texture to make this dining room truly reflect the homeowners’ aesthetic and fun loving personalities.

The idea is to make your house your home. There are no rules, or at least none that can’t be broken.  No matter what day it is, your home is where your heart is so enjoy!

Meanwhile I had to decide what to have for my Mother’s Day dinner and found this recipe from the fabulous Ina Garten that combines two of my favorite Italian meals, Lamb Ragu and Baked Ziti into one. Keith signed on as the chef and the result was delish!

 
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 large)
  • 2 cups (½-inch) diced fennel, cored (1 medium)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, such as San Marzano
  • 2½ cups dry red wine, such as Chianti or Côtes du Rhône, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed with your hands
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni, such as De Cecco
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • ²⁄₃ cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound fresh salted mozzarella, divided
  • ½ cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp parsley, minced (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a medium (10 to 11-inch) heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and fennel and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown. Add the lamb, garlic, and fennel seeds and cook for 8 minutes, breaking up the lamb with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, 2 cups of the wine, the oregano, red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partly covered, for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the remaining ½ cup of red wine.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt and the rigatoni and cook according to the directions on the package, until barely al dente. Drain.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Add the rigatoni and toss well. Grate half of the mozzarella on a box grater and add it to the rigatoni mixture. Add the lamb mixture, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper and toss well.

Transfer a 10 × 14 × 2-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Slice the remaining mozzarella and arrange it on top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is hot and bubbling and some of the pasta is crusty on top. Sprinkle parsley evenly on top. Serve hot.

Canyon Cool–in New Jersey

Coconut-Almond French Toast

Originally from New Jersey but living west of Chicago and suddenly (it just seems to happen) empty nesters, a nearer-to-retirement couple was faced with a major housing dilemma. Clearly, their home with its thousands of square feet and multitude of rooms was too big for two (heads up: you can get a lot more bang for your buck in the middle of America).

They had tried Florida but that was not floating their boat, and with all their kids happily settled across the heartland–been there, done that– they happened to hear the siren call–of the Jersey shore. Let’s face it; it’s why we all still live here. There’s easy access to the beach, golf enough if you do, only 45 minutes from Newark Airport, an hour from the city, with a temperate climate (especially when compared to Chicago) and with siblings galore already in situ they decided yes, you can go home again.

Making this kind of move mid-Covid was not the easiest but they lucked upon a 60-ish cape on a large corner lot on a little hill in Little Silver and pounced. It needed work–I believe the term is gut renovation–but with the help of their architect, local hero Steve Gassert and the team at Continental Construction, they have a lovely new home in just under a year.

First off they jettisoned the formal living room, combining it with what was a congested kitchen and adjoining laundry room to make one open, unified space. He’s the cook with an Italian pedigree so space for family dinners, breakfasts, lunch–you name it–was not negotiable–there had to be room at the table for everyone.  And I admit to feeling a bit skeptical when they said this ten-foot table would work in the space but clearly there was nothing to worry about.

It’s tempting to bring the kitchen cabinetry into the dining area for additional storage, but if you can find furniture (like these pine cabinets from British Cottage) you get a decorative boost without sacrificing function.

The kitchen was stunning, with a massive island and gorgeous appliances and I apologize for so few photos of it but my eyes were on this generously sized sofa/console from our store.  No one wanted to look at the back of the sofa, which is all you saw upon entering what I believe to be a newly added great room, but what size and sort of table would be best in the space?  As part of the discussion, it was great to see the solution. There’s nothing like a bit of distressed paint to add some charm to a newly built, light-filled room.

Kitchen Glimpse

I couldn’t stop marveling over this gorgeous pantry/wet bar area. Not that fabulous, state of the art kitchens aren’t to die for, but seriously I have never seen anything like this generous space, located right next to the kitchen, just a stone’s throw from the dining room, and open to the back veranda.  Genius. Not only is it a killer bar, (love that mirrored subway tile) but it also serves as a way station to make entertaining al fresco a breeze!

Through the doorway you see to the left is the primary bedroom. While stairs are nary a problem now–it just makes sense to build with an eye toward the future.

Also vaulting the ceiling here was another great idea–the extra height gives the space room to breathe and adds a spa-like vibe.

 

Note how they made the shower accessible–this is just smart. I’ll never forget the hurdles Keith’s mom had to go through to take a shower when her knees were shot. She was living in senior housing in England, built for seniors, but the shower was in a bathtub. What were they thinking?

Often I am underwhelmed by the space that is dedicated to laundry rooms these days. I mean the wash goes in the washer, over to the dryer, and back in your drawers. Here the equipment is neatly tucked away in a closet adjacent to the primary bedroom–and home of the primary laundry doers. Perfect.

Yet another good idea is this media room/den. Sometimes someone wants to watch football and someone else wants to sip scotch, read a book, or drink tea-toute seul. It’s nice to have separate, adult spaces for adults.

It’s even better to have a whole, walk-out basement for when the young adults visit and all the cousins come over. Not to mention it’s a handy space to have with a drummer in the house; it’s the perfect place to practice without rattling your spouse–too much.

With two more en suite bedrooms upstairs, it’s amazing how large this house lives in its deceptively small footprint. In terms of square footage, it might be a big downsize from their old house in Illinois, but in terms of amenities, it gets five stars.

Although the true test of any blog is the recipe I always ask for, a selfish play to enlarge my repertoire as I grow older and tired of almost everything I already know how to make. This could be just the thing for Easter morning. (Via the Food Network Kitchen.)

Coconut-Almond French Toast

The buttery coconut-almond crust makes this French toast casserole truly special and offsets the creamy, fluffy texture of the bread. You’ll want to assemble the dish the day before to give the bread time to soak in the custard.

Ingredients

French Toast: 

Unsalted butter, for greasing dish

9 slices Texas Toast or other thick-sliced bread

6 large eggs

3 1/2 cups half-and-half

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Coconut-Almond Crust:

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sliced almonds

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk

Confectioners’ sugar and berries, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
  2. For the French toast: Lay the bread slices in one layer (it’s OK if they overlap a little) on a baking sheet. Bake the slices (to dry them out a little) for 6 minutes, then flip and bake for 6 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Dunk each bread slice in the egg mixture to coat thoroughly and shingle the slices in the buttered casserole dish. Pour any remaining egg mixture over the bread. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  4. For the coconut-almond crust: Put 1/2 cup of the coconut, 1/3 cup of the almonds, granulated sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the butter, egg, and egg yolk and process well to form a smooth paste.
  5. To assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the coconut-almond mixture evenly over the soaked bread slices. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup sliced almonds and 3 tablespoons coconut and bake until puffed and lightly golden and the custard is set (the center of the casserole will no longer jiggle when shaken), 45 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 1 hour before serving, or serve at room temperature.
  6. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and berries if using.

Location, Location, Location

Chicken Basil with White Wine and Artichoke Hearts

I’ll never forget my first meeting with a real estate agent. I was 25 years old and looking to buy a small bungalow in Rumson when the middle-aged been around the block a few times agent leaned his paunch over the desk, shook his index finger vigorously in my direction and proclaimed: “There are three things that matter in real estate, location, location, location.”

Even though the guy was a bit of a plonker, what he said is nonetheless true, which is why Fair Haven NJ is such a coveted spot. Sure you can buy a larger house, or get a bigger yard for less money in a neighboring Monmouth County town. And those towns probably have just as good schools and equally safe and scenic environments, but what sets Fair Haven apart is its network of closely-knit neighborhoods that are incredibly child friendly. Where else do most kids ride their bikes to school, stroll out to lunch at local restaurants, or cycle themselves to baseball (football, tennis, soccer) or even sailing practice?

So, when they found out they were expecting twins, it was a no-brainer for our clients, a  couple, who had met and bonded in NYC, to look for a home in Fair Haven which is just around the corner from the Jersey Shore town where one of the moms had grown up.  Add grandparents at the ready, plus only a 40-minute ferry ride to the city to the whole family-centric vibe, and the deal was sealed.

Fortunately, in an extremely tight market, they managed to score a four-bedroom home on a lush corner lot with hardwood floors, custom millwork, and a fairly modern kitchen. At the time they were a bit underwhelmed by the interiors, all in off-white, creamy monochromatic tones that screamed suburban torpor.  But, in barely 8 months, they have managed to not only get those babies born (and sleeping through the night) but also introduced a design-driven, maximalist flair to their home.

You will probably guess from these photos that one of the owners is a professional interior designer just by the mix of design elements that blend more than match, a stylistic achievement often sought after but rarely accomplished. And her partner is no slouch either with a few remodels in her past and probably design in her DNA if we take her –full disclosure–longtime British Cottage customers–and very talented, decor-driven parents into consideration.

I mean just take a look at this dining room. From the robust, reclaimed pine farm table and whitewashed sideboard from British Cottage, to the startling realism of the painting, the architectural pendant, and the iconic William Morris Strawberry Thief wallpaper there’s tons to catch the eye. The fact that nothing matches but the room with all its variety is still balanced and harmonious is a decorating trifecta. The table grounds the profusion of print, while the painting by Michael Fratrich provides a focal point demonstrating how a fabulous piece of art can anchor a space.

Across the way in what they call the adult living space, the walls are painted in the same dark green with a hint of blue hue you see in the wallpaper. The color is called Weekend Upstate and the manufacturer is one I am not familiar with, Backdrop Paint an online find that clearly panned out. Often the idea of four chairs placed in a grouping seems like a better idea than it looks but in this case the size of the chairs is in proportion to the rest of the room. I love how their curved shapes are repeated in the lighting fixture and coffee table–even the round bellies on the fish prints from yours truly.

(So is the bookcase but that was a local estate sale purchase–evidently, the secondhand market in British Cottage wares is excellent).

Although we all love our adulting areas, more often than not you will find this busy couple cuddling up in the family room with the children. If you look under the layer of toys you’ll find a healthy splash of Hale Navy (by Benjamin Moore) on the walls, an awesome stacked stone fireplace, serious art, and a stunning lighting fixture that lets you know this is one room to be reckoned with.

Lately, the all-white kitchen (still my personal favorite) has been taking a bit of criticism but I think the highlighting of the island with that pop of navy goes a long way to appeasing the naysayers. Also, note how fab these updated pendants look–they’re relatively simple and contemporary and give the space some added depth.

And it is important to remember when fearfully confronting a large white box that wallpaper is your friend. And the best place to start may well be the powder room. See how they used this dynamic wallpaper to totally transform a ho-hum space into a visual delight and major design win.

Meanwhile, who said playrooms had to be a train wreck? Once again a sure hand with wallpaper proves to be a solid design move by adding a blast of pattern that gives the room (one that we would usually might rather not see) a ton of visual interest.

Sometimes, just a striking photo (another British Cottage find) is all you need to make things interesting and anchor a space–in this case, the upstairs landing.

Our clients are not afraid of quiet moments. Clearly, with twins and full-time jobs, it is essential to have a bedroom that exudes calm and fosters serenity. With its comfy, oversized chaise lounge for naps, the transitional shelf unit from British Cottage to corral the collections, and a ton of natural light, this spa-like setting makes you feel like you are on vacation and not the momager for a minute–or two.

The only thing out of place was little Olive’s bed, but that’s what happens when the first child has four legs and makes their own rules!

Finally, it was time to bid adieu–the babies were due to wake up from their morning naps and I had to get to work but stopped to snap one last photo.  I loved the paintings by Guy Hembling, the Rumson artist and builder, (and big brother of a childhood friend of mine) and I have to find out where that chandelier came from. You’ll notice throughout this house there is quite a unique mix of antique and new, refined and rustic, pattern and none, and it is those juxtapositions that make this home so charming. It is sophisticated without being overwhelming and the perfect backdrop, in a great location, for the whole family to enjoy for years and years to come.

But I wasn’t leaving without a recipe. I think this one checks off all the boxes.

Seriously how can you go wrong with a chicken, basil, artichoke, and wine combo? I did add a pint of cherry tomatoes that had to be used up, along with some grated cheese but you could easily leave those out.

Chicken Basil with White Wine and Artichoke Hearts

Cook the pasta of your choice to just about al dente and put it aside.

Heat a glug of olive oil and a healthy pat of butter in a large saute pan. Add a tablespoon or two of minced garlic and a pint of cherry tomatoes and cook on low for about five minutes. Then add one pound of boneless chicken breasts cut into 1/2 ” cubes, a teaspoon of chicken bouillon, a handful of minced fresh basil, and a large jar of drained artichoke hearts and cook on medium heat for a minute or so.

Then cover the mixture completely with dry white wine and cook on high until the bottom of the pan is slightly brown; be careful not to stray too far from the stove while doing this!

Cover again with white wine, add the al dente pasta of your choice and cook down for a minute or so.  Top with more basil and grated parmesan cheese and serve.