When I graduated from high school in 1972 it was the best of times. Finally we were the seniors; we had drivers’ licenses and extended curfews. We relished the recently implemented university style curriculum and open campus. The rigid dress code was abolished and we happily tossed our circle pins and Villager skirts with their matching Pappagallo shoes for blue jeans and open toe sandals.
But it was also the worst of times. A war was raging in Viet Nam and all student deferments for the draft–except for divinity students– had been eliminated. A lottery system was established and suddenly at age 18 we realized life could be extinguished by the random act of some stranger plucking a number from a bin.
Earlier, in our junior year, we learned firsthand how painful an extinguished life could be when one of our most beloved classmates died in a car accident. Our class bonded in a state of shock and disbelief. Strangers hugged, all of us wept and with one boy’s passing, we learned grief as well as Algebra 2 that year.
Fifty years later lots of those bonds, although stretched by time and distance, still exist and this summer a group of us got together to celebrate our past and, for one weekend at least, not worry so much about the future. Friends came from all over the country to revisit their old hometowns, Rumson and Fair Haven, and it was great fun to catch up.
And it was a great opportunity for me to join those out-of-towners and run around and visit with some who stayed and see firsthand how, as fellow empty nesters, they were handling the whole decamping, downsizing, and relocating thing.
One of my faves was a house that was literally on the beach in Sea Bright. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy pummeled a two-story home adjacent to the town beach, that property was eventually sold to a developer who knocked the original house down. And then, by simply switching the new structure’s orientation, was able to build two homes front to back on the single lot. My friends live in one of them.
Admittedly due to updated coastal building codes, we are talking about flood-prone Sea Bright after all, there are quite a few steps in this four-level home (luckily there is an elevator). But what a great idea to line all those flights of stairs with family photos! And what a good idea to put the century old chair on the landing for those in need of a breather–a lucky junk week find over forty years ago from Rohallion, a notable Rumson estate.
Besides the stairs, the next biggest worry is window washing–which is a very small price to pay with views like this.
One of the highlights of the visit, for me, was to see the pitch pine breakfront front and center in this lovely beach house–that we had sold to the owner’s mother over thirty years ago! This cabinet has its own Sandy story too. Left standing in nearly a foot of water after the mom’s house was flooded, it cleaned up beautifully–except for one high water mark stain in the inside of the bottom cabinet. My friend said her kids thought she should paint the backboards a contrasting color; let’s hope she doesn’t listen to them. I think it looks great just the way it is.
Enough with the antiques though; I loved the modern kitchen and the wide-open floor plan. That backsplash is amazing. I’m not sure if it is quartz or granite on the island but whatever it is has definitely just the right amount of pattern to complement what’s going on in the rest of the space.
But the highlight, the piece de resistance as you will, of this home is the fabulous views. They’re everywhere, and seriously, when standing on the third-floor balcony, you felt like you were aboard ship.
Up there this empty nest is more like a seagull’s nest, with views and vistas all around. We could have stayed and soaked up that salty air all day–but there were things to do and people to see so we sadly said goodbye.
When, after nearly two weeks of my oldest friends coming and going and wining and dining, the party was finally over, and things settled down, it was a little sad. Thus I was especially heartened to find this recipe for Eggplant Parmesan from Food & Wine in my inbox. How in the heck did those internet spies know not only that Eggplant Parm is my absolute favorite dish but that I also had a garden full of fresh eggplants and juicy tomatoes? Normally I would make my own marina sauce but (surprise) I actually mostly followed the recipe and used a jarred Jersey Fresh tomato sauce I found at Sickles and it was scrumdiddlyumptious. So delicious that even though this recipe is meant to serve 8, Keith and I polished it off in two nights!
I know, I know, enough already with these summerize your home blogs. Once was cute, two okay, but three–get over it already right? But I just can’t. Not after reading the Design and Decorating feature in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal: “What’s Hot, What’s Not, This Summer”.
Evidently they, she actually, Sarah Karnasiewicz, asked hundreds (my italics) of design pros for the latest trends in al fresco living. Ironically everything in their forecast was the complete, utter, total, whole shebang opposite of what I think. Sigh.
But let’s give it a quick run through and see what you think. We’ll start with stools.
The classic garden stool, the iconic Chinese porcelain standby that used to come in only blue and white but has been updated in any color you desire, the one that is exactly the right height for a drink or a foot or as an extra perch is now sigh, rocking “an everyman look” that you can buy at any big box store. Instead of saying hurray, finally I can find something I like at Lowes, the word is passe and this is what’s in:
Yuk. Give me the classic garden stool any day.
Next up. Blah upholstery. “According to the experts, conservative colors like white, tan and navy are on the way out.” In: next generation performance fabrics in rainbow hues and a variety of textures.
That’s why I have a garden. I like my lawn furniture, low impact and low key.
Next up is resort style umbrellas, the more scalloped, fringed and layered evidently the better. Maybe in the south of France but my 1930’s Tutor would be overwhelmed by all that frou frou.
The good news is, there is no right or wrong way to decorate but I’m going to stick with my classic, traditional garden furniture and accessories and let my surroundings: the sky, shrubs, flowers and trees do the heavy lifting to make the space interesting and attractive.
Now it’s almost time to join Bentley on the couch for a nap. But first I needed to make some Brownies. In another recent Wall Street Journal article the author makes a convincing case for not using a brownie mix–but then supplies a recipe that looks intriguing–but exhausting. While I try to avoid dessert my sister was coming to visit and I thought she might like some of our mother’s brownies–I know I would.
Sue Beaton’s Brownies
3ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons butter, more for greasing pan–melt together and add to eggs and sugar
1 1/2 cup sugar
½cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
350 degrees 15-25 minutes
I must have made these Brownies dozens of times, a long time ago though, and I felt I could have used a little more direction, but in the end just used common sense and it worked out fine.
I microwaved the butter with the chocolate until it was melted. (Those double boiler days are happily a thing of the past). While that cooled I whisked the eggs with the sugar, then added the cooled chocolate mixture, then the flour and baking powder.
My mom always used to butter (okay margerine) then flour the pan but I liked the parchment idea from the WSJ recipe so I went with that. And she always used Baker’s Chocolate but I happened to see Scharffen Berger Baking Chocolate when I was picking up eggs at Sickles and went for the upgrade. It was packaged in grams, not ounces, so I may have used four ounces not the three the recipe calls for and probably would if I make these again.
I’m not sure why the cooking time says 15 to 25 minutes. My batch needed the whole 25. And the good news–the result was a very tasty, very chewy, very moist brownie–just like I remembered. Whew.
Meanwhile here’s the Wall Street Journal recipe:
F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, FOOD STYLING BY KIM RAMIN
Cooking or baking spray
12 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, such as Guittard or Valrhona, 60-72% cacao
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch slices
1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1¼ cups all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle position. Line a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang so the brownies can be easily lifted from the pan. Spray lightly with cooking or baking spray.
If using dark chocolate bars (as opposed to baking wafers or chocolate chips), chop ⅔ of the chocolate (8 ounces) finely using a serrated knife and place in a large, heatproof bowl. Chop remaining ⅓ (4 ounces) into ½-inch chunks. Set chocolate chunks aside in a small bowl.
Add butter to chocolate in heatproof bowl. To melt chocolate using a double boiler: Add 2 inches of water to a pot and bring it to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low and place heatproof bowl on top. (Make sure bottom of bowl doesn’t touch simmering water; otherwise the chocolate might “burn” and the texture will become grainy instead of melting into a smooth emulsion.) Stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until melted. Alternatively, to melt chocolate in a microwave: Place heatproof bowl in microwave and microwave at 30-second intervals. Once chocolate starts to melt on bottom and sides of bowl, use a rubber spatula to mix it. When mostly melted, stop microwaving and stir to melt completely. Once chocolate is melted, stir in salt and vanilla.
In a large bowl, combine eggs and both sugars. Whisk vigorously until homogenous. While whisking, drizzle in melted chocolate, and continue whisking until combined. Sift in flour, and whisk until just combined. Stir in reserved chocolate pieces.
Pour brownie batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, save for some melted chocolate, about 35 minutes.
Remove brownies from oven and place on a cooling rack until cool enough to handle, at least 15 minutes. Lift brownies out of pan with parchment paper and cut into squares before serving.
So we talked about how the change of seasons can be a reason to clear the decks and clean out the clutter, especially when we are talking about summer when less is more. Like bikinis, miniskirts, and muscle tees–bare just feels better in the summer.
But, let’s face it, for many of us that ship has sailed and we are far happier rocking a mumu these days–yet the good news is our homes can still benefit from a serious dressing down. When I was a kid we actually had different slipcovers for summer and winter. In winter they were a chocolate brown, a color I loathe to this day, and in the summer they were a leafy, green flowered chintz which I adored.
Switching slips is probably not an option for most of us–but you could change the toss pillows. Stash anything velvet or wool in the attic and treat yourself to a vibrant cotton print. Do the same with your throws. Put those fleece blankies away now and break out the linen.
If your hardwood floors are in decent shape, roll up your area rugs and put away your vacuum cleaner for the summer, especially if you are at the beach. It is so much easier–and cooler to do a quick sweep with the broom.
Treat yourself to new cloth napkins and wicker placemats and, suddenly, setting the table will be less of a chore. Even better, set the table outside. Sure it is hot out there–but that’s the point of summer. Embrace the heat now because that yard will be snow-covered before you know it.
And you’ll need some flowers, hopefully, vibrant and colorful–but just plain old green branches work to bring some of that natural lushness outside–in. The fancy word for this is biophilia and Biophilic Design is all about incorporating nature into our indoor environment.
Natural elements in the home actually help lower our blood pressure and decrease tension. It just makes sense; creating a calming space with a visual connection to nature can’t help but improve our wellbeing, health and productivity. Actually there is a whole other blog here, easily, discussing biophilia but I will leave that for another day. Right now it is time to focus on dinner.
I love salad for dinner but it is a hard sell for Keith. Growing up in New Jersey when it really was The Garden State, and way before air conditioning was the norm, we ate salad all summer: homegrown tomatoes topped with tuna or chicken salad, chef’s salad, pasta salad, carrot salad, fresh from the garden lettuce topped with blue cheese dressing salad…yum.
Keith is unconvinced. It could be because he is from England where it never got warm enough to make salad a pleasant way to beat the heat. I’ll never forget the summer Keith’s brother and girlfriend were visiting and one day, when we were discussing what to have for dinner, she actually started to cry. She could not tolerate one more night of a cold meal–she wanted meat, roast meat, cooked potatoes–and gravy. I said knock yourself out.
And she did. Even though it was easily 100 degrees in our kitchen she made a pork roast, along with a veritable mountain of potatoes and seriously buckets of gravy. And guess what? They ate every last mouthful! But I digress.
The one salad we both agree makes a great summer dinner is Cobb Salad. It takes a little planning because you need to have a ripe avocado and some bacon in the house but that’s about as challenging as it gets. If you want to be fancy you can marinate the chicken beforehand. (If you’re lazy like I am just use whatever bottled Italian Dressing you have in the fridge). You can also cook the chicken on the grill which is nice–but you must never, ever skip the bacon. Add a loaf of crusty bread to the mix if someone you know can’t live without a starch and it’s all good. Enjoy!
You can easily broil or saute the chicken in minutes but it is always a win if you can outsource that chore–especially if it is really hot–and get someone else to cook it on the grill.
Meanwhile toss the lettuce (or arugula ) with the vinaigrette. Place on a platter, add the bacon and bitesize pieces of avocado and tomatoes in separate rows–do not mix–top with feta. C’est tout.
Okay, I get it. It’s been a rough year what with the kids back to their crazy schedules and your spouse always dumping all his/her work s h i t all over the house, not to mention you’re on a deadline and still somehow have to get to that soccer/lacrosse/baseball game by four.
You need a vacation. We all need a vacation. But that, in the end, doesn’t solve anything really. What you need to do now, while the kids are still in school and hopefully you-know-who is mostly back in the office is take a moment to make a few simple changes that will go a long way towards making your home the place where you really want to spend the summer.
It’s not hard. It just takes a bit of planning and some heavy editing.
Clutter is your enemy. Clear the gangplanks–now. Those piles of shoes by the backdoor–remove anything that is outgrown, soleless, or holey. If you have a mudroom do the same with the multitudes of jackets, hats, and winter gear. This is what Goodwill is for.
No mudroom, rethink that front closet, remove the door, add some shelves and hooks, maybe a fresh coat of paint and voila! No closet? Add some hooks and a handy bench with storage–do something, anything to ease the bottleneck.
3. Making an entrance. Your foyer is huge. People are coming over again–this is where you make your first impression–you have to clear out the accumulated mail and packages. File, recycle, and use them to fire up the grill but there should be no stacks of papers or magazines or for that matter anything–anywhere. Treat yourself to a console table or chest with a bit of storage for the essentials. Then you can add a great piece of artwork or a mirror, maybe even some lamps or a new chandelier and things really will be looking up.
Speaking of wins, our favorite meal this spring has been from a recipe I tore out of TheWall Street Journal years ago. I love enchiladas but can’t be bothered with the whole cook the chicken for hours, shred it and then stuff it into tortillas—it’s just easier to get take out.
This version, however, is easy as pie–and full disclosure I have actually made it with store-bought salsa for the sauce bit (thank you Paul Newman) and it’s just as tasty.
Smoky Chicken Enchiladas
2 dried ancho chilies, stems removed
½ cup warm water
1 yellow onion, cut into wedges
6 cloves garlic
1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
1 pinch of spicy paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
14 corn tortillas
1½ pounds shredded rotisserie, poached or roast chicken
9 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
1 generous handful of cilantro leaves
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Place dried chilies in a small bowl and cover with warm water. Cover bowl with a plate and let chilies rehydrate until they become pliable about 5 minutes.
Set broiler to high. Season onions and garlic with a pinch of salt. Spread vegetables across a baking sheet. Broil until well charred in spots, 2-3 minutes. Remove from broiler and set aside. Set oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Place tomatoes, paprika, oregano, charred onions and garlic, and rehydrated chilies along with their soaking liquid in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring liquid to a simmer and cook until onions and chilies soften about 7 minutes. Off heat, use a handheld blender or food processor to purée to a thick, smooth, uniform sauce, taking care with hot liquid. Set sauce back over low heat and gently simmer to keep warm.
Coat the bottom of a 9-by-9-inch baking dish with a thin layer of sauce. Arrange a single layer of tortillas over sauce, trimming edges to fit. Scatter a loose layer of chicken over tortillas and top with a loose layer of grated cheese. Continue layering sauce, tortillas, chicken, and cheese until the dish is nearly full. End with a layer of tortillas, a layer of sauce, and a final layer of cheese.
Bake enchiladas on the top rack of oven until cheese topping bubbles and browns in spots, 15-20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and scallions and serve immediately.
It’s tempting to hold this post until March, but seriously why should the Irish get to have all the green, all the time? If you are a British Cottage aficionado then you know I skew blue, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the color green. And, in fact, nothing looks better than blue with a pop of green. But I digress.
Early last year, a long time chum arrived at the store and announced that after–I dare not say how many years–of living in Rumson she was ready to ditch the whole house and yard thing and move to a townhome. Fortunately for her, she didn’t need to look farther than her own backyard, so to speak.
In the early 1990s, the Sickles family sold their Little Silver farm to a developer, striking a deal with the town that seemed to make everyone happy. Instead of a scrum of sprawling McMansions the developer would build a thoughtful, planned community, the town would acquire a much-needed park, playing fields, and some green acres and the Sickles family could not only keep their farmer’s market but expand it.
Hence Alderbrook was born, a community of 167 two and three-bedroom, ranch and townhouse style condominiums. That looked fabulous from the get-go because, instead of grouping them on part of the land the developer cut 12 cul-de-sacs through the fields, each with an average of 10 homes, that extend to the woodlands framing the property, and wind around an interior green space.
The Alderbrook offers four models, ranging from 2000 to 3000 square feet, and because the development was geared to empty nesters, features master bedrooms on the first floor. Even better, all the homes have a two-car garage and a basement, which I’m not seeing in many townhome communities. Toss in a few Alderbrook amenities like the on-site pool, a tennis court, and a recreational facility and clearly, this is a win.
The only downside is, if you manage to get your hands on one, they tend to be a bit dated…I mean they were built over thirty years ago, and the nineties were, well the nineties; how do they look now? I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the answer is pretty darn good, but a little elbow grease is required. Let’s start with the kitchen.
I’m not going to do a before and after because that takes way too long. Suffice it to say the new owners completely gutted the kitchen, removing an oversized island and most of the walls in the dining room. Karen Barnes, at Millhurst Mills, was the mastermind behind the kitchen design and gets credit for the peninsula to the left of the stove.
The color, remember I started off saying this blog was about the color green, was all up to the wife, who over the years had been collecting thoughts about remodeling and interior home design. She was looking forward to creating a space that not only worked perfectly for her and her fellow nester but also for their children and grandchildren.
Part of the problem when it comes to empty nesting, which, around here at least, invariably involves downsizing, is what do you do with all your stuff? Especially stuff like early American brown wood antiques when all your kids and everybody else’s kids want is mid-century modern or c r a p from PB. In this case, you remove a closet to expand the dining area in the kitchen, buy some beautiful Majolica (the green plates in the upper cabinet, remember our theme) from British Cottage and call it a day.
One thing I don’t understand is how come townhomes always seem to feature cathedral ceilings. Why? Drama? Who knows, but they are a fortune to heat and cool, and difficult to decorate. Evidently, this home also came with a surfeit of molding as well as french doors to the sunroom which all got the big heave-ho. I think the result is simply elegant.
Here you get a glimpse of the role British Cottage played in all this. The stools, armchairs, and sofa are all from our store.
The upholstered armchairs are by Century Furniture in an “Inside/Out” minty green performance fabric. These were a lucky in-store find (you know, or you should know, how I love to buy the showroom samples Century offers after the High Point Markets end). But also by lucky I mean they had something to sit on while they waited for their sofa which was custom made by Hickory White, (one of the more designer-driven divisions of the mighty Sherrill Furniture) in a soft-to-touch, jade-toned fabric.
Also from Century (and British Cottage) is the family room sofa and upholstered armchair. This is possibly my favorite photo because of the little puggle (upon his matching throw) positioned in the middle of the sofa–the best seat in the house–or is he just being diplomatic? Note, once again, there is plenty of green going on here in the walls and the rug–and who doesn’t love that pop of coral in the chair–a color we also see in the area rug? Also, note how the chair has a mid-centuryesque vibe but plays well with the early American antiques in the room.
All in all my visit was quite a success. Ordinarily, I might have liked to sample some of the beverages on hand at the bar cleverly attached to the custom breakfront in the living room, but sadly snow was expected that evening and I needed to get to Sickles Market before they closed. I’d been thinking a lot lately about making one of the 11 One-Pot Winner-Winner Chicken Dinners recently featured in the New York Times and the one I picked had everything from fennel to anchovies–so getting to Sickles was critical.
FYI: JT Norman… built-ins in the living room, office, and master closet /cabinets Karen Barnes at Millhurst Mills…kitchen and master bathroom cabinets Paul Gordacyk…. Kitchen and dining room table
Now onto dinner. I bought so Keith got to be the chef.
#8. Recipe from NY Times: Skillet Chicken and Rice With Anchovies and Olives
2tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (4 to 6 thighs)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and diced, plus more fennel fronds, for serving
1medium yellow onion, diced
1teaspoon dried oregano
¼cup roughly chopped anchovy fillets
5garlic cloves, minced
¼teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1tablespoon tomato paste
¾cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1cup long-grain white rice
¾cup pitted Castelvetrano or other green olives, halved lengthwise
⅓cup raisins, preferably golden
2cups low-sodium chicken broth
1medium navel orange, 1/2 juiced and 1/2 thinly sliced
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a 12-inch skillet with a lid, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and season them with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, place the thighs in the skillet, skin-side down. Cook, undisturbed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown and the chicken releases easily from the pan. You may need to raise the heat slightly during the last few minutes if the skin isn’t browned enough.
Flip the chicken thighs and cook for 3 minutes on the other side, then transfer to a plate and set aside.
Discard all but about 3 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Add the diced fennel, onion, and oregano, and cook over medium for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Add the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until it begins to caramelize and turn rusty brown in color. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
Add the rice, olives, and raisins to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, orange juice, and a few grinds of black pepper, and bring to a simmer.
Place the chicken thighs on top, skin-side up, nestling them into the liquid so only the skin is above the surface. Cut the orange slices into half-moons and arrange them around the chicken. Drizzle the orange slices with olive oil.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. (If you’d like to crisp the chicken skin, pop the pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes.)
Top with fennel fronds, more red pepper flakes, and a sprinkle of salt. Serve hot.
You are a nice Jewish girl who was raised on Philadelphia’s Main Line in the 1960s and you grow up to be:
A Divorced Housewife
The Most Successful American Female Writer/Director/Producer in the History of Movies
If you guessed D then we are talking about Nancy Meyers, and you are absolutely correct.
There’s no doubt Nancy Meyers’ movies are phenomenally successful—the last four combined grossed over one billion dollars (2015 The Intern, 2009 It’s Complicated, 2006 The Holiday, 2003 Something’s Gotta Give), and her all-star filled casts are delightful, featuring such luminaries as Diane Keaton, paired with a feisty Jack Nicolson, and Robert DeNiro, who gave a heartfelt turn as the oldest, most junior employee on earth mentoring Anne Hathaway’s beleaguered chief executive.
While none of this is big news – there has been many a story and blog written about Nancy Meyers – for the final project for my INTD 150 class, Design Elements for Interior Environments, I used interiors from her movies to illustrate the Elements of Design. Possibly because the set designers and decorators employed to produce these movie sets are well schooled in these concepts, and any fabulous interior has to have these elements in order to be fabulous, it was easy to make the connections. While I should make it clear Nancy Meyers did not design these rooms herself, as their writer, director, and producer it is her vision and her version we see.
Briefly these are the Elements of Design: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Value–which actually refers to Light, Space and Texture. I think you could argue that line may be the most important element. Lines are created by the furnishings and architecture of a room and actually guide us through space.
As does Nancy Meyers. Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), the main character in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, is a divorced playwright in her mid-fifties. You only have to look inside Erica’s fabulous Hamptons home, glimpse the quality and beauty of the furniture and accessories to realize not only is she loaded (ergo successful) but she is classy and tasteful too… Note how the interior of the room pictured below speaks volumes about our heroine before even a single word is actually spoken.
While we have all drooled over this bedroom and wished this was our desk overlooking the ocean, Meyers is sending us a message loud and clear. This bedroom and office combo shows us that Erica is a single, independent woman. She can work late, or whenever she wants, because this is a room of her own.
The stage is set; so how does line play a part in this silent dialogue with the audience? We can start with the vertical lines: from the trim around the office area, to the floor-to-ceiling drapes, onto the mullions in the French doors and the bay windows. They all direct our eyes upward adding considerable height and drama to the room. We’re impressed.
All these vertical lines are softened by the horizontal lines in the rug and the throw by the bed; their purpose is to ground the space, and enhance the expansive luxuriousness of the room. They give this room a tranquil and peaceful feeling–essential elements, one imagines, for an author. Then the curves (more lines) of the chaise and the upholstered armchair soften and unite those multitudes of vertical and horizontal lines. By placing the upholstery pieces on the diagonal our eyes focus inwards creating nearly a complete circle! Genius at work.
When lines come together they produce shapes…when you mix and match those shapes a designer, or in this case a movie director, creates a mood that showcases how your home—or movie set—feels.
Erica’s living room has a variety of shapes starting with the Mora clock’s sensuous curves, a natural, organic shape that contrasts with the hard lines and and angular edges in the rectangular windows in the transoms and stair railings. Is Meyers trying to show us that there is more than one side to our heroine’s character? Soft on the outside and hard on the inside—or maybe just the opposite–hard on the outside and soft on the inside?
Form is a three dimensional shape.
We’re going to switch movies and meet a new Nancy Meyers’ heroine. This bedroom belongs to Jules, Anne Hathaway’s character in The Intern.
In interior design, form refers to the shape of the room, furnishings, décor—the three dimensional objects that occupy the space.
So what do these objects tell us about her character? An eclectic mix of mid-century and modern items, it’s trendy, transitional, and yes traditional—we can just see that armoire holding the tv in the far left hand corner of the room. So she’s hip, she’s young, and she’s cool. The bed is humongous, ship sized and clearly built for two. Anchoring that is a midcentury slip-covered sofa that keeps the bed in check. These forms bring strength and structure to the room, which is balanced by the rounded edges of that fabulous chaise and curved ottoman. This is someone who can break a glass ceiling–while wearing heels.
Color, of course, is definitely one of the key elements of interior design. It is used to create aesthetically pleasing combinations and also works on a psychological level.
In It’s Complicated Meyers shifts west to California. Her character, our heroine this time, is 69-year-old Jane Adler, aka Meryl Streep. Long divorced with three, mostly grown children, she lives in a hacienda-ish home and owns and operates a thriving Parisian style patisserie in Santa Barbara.
While white slipcovers are a no-brainer these days, a predictable, washable option for a lived-in family room, Myers drops a bombshell when she accessorizes with intense orange contrasted with a pop of navy.
So what does this say about our heroine? Well, if we consulted Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology, about the properties and meanings of color in our lives—colors have qualities that elicit emotions and influence people in various ways. In this case the color orange demonstrates optimism, enthusiasm, self-confidence and agreeableness. Whew. That’s Jane to a tee.
So why that pop of navy? Because navy blue evokes feelings of power and authority–rather than the sense of relaxation and peace associated with lighter shades of blue. Darker shades of blue tend to denote authority and importance. No doubt who’s the boss here.
Lighting is a critical element of interior design. It can be used in dozens of ways to change the size and mood of a space and different types of lighting vary greatly in how they define the ambience of an area.
In the movies, lighting takes on a whole new dimension. It is a science and an art to make a room or a scene visible in a way that is not only illuminating, but also contributes to the “mood.” Without adequate lighting all the other elements would vanish.
In this photo from The Intern we can see various forms of lighting from task—the kitchen pendant in the background—to ambient, the Lindsey Adelman light fixture that hangs above the dining table—to accent, where she uses a George Nelson Bubble lamp for illumination on the console. This is a design trifecta!
Space is a fairly simple design element to understand—it refers to the physical boundaries of a room.
When you are Nancy Meyers you get to choose both the dimensions of the room you are filming and how to use that area’s space and layout to your advantage.
Meyers gets a lot of credit for the popularity of open concept floor plans. In an open concept plan the walls between rooms are removed—giving them a lofty or open feel—negative space, in contrast to the areas filled with décor, islands, sofas, and tables that represent positive space. I think that is a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation, but there is no question that her kitchens are phenomenal and wide open. In Something’s Gotta Give note how the kitchen with its two massive islands opens into an equally massive family room.
Our final element of design is texture which is the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface and can refer to rough or smooth finishes, glossy or dull surfaces, and soft or coarse textiles. Everything from fabrics and furniture to decorative accessories brings different textures into a space. Texture is often used to provide an added dimension to a space.
While some may bemoan the neutral palate of many a Nancy Meyers’ flick, she always makes sure to shake things up with a ton of texture: plush rugs, linens, velvets…you name it, she’s got it in there somewhere.
For example, in Jane Adler’s cozy bedroom in It’s Complicated Meyers showcases mixed and matched antiques and finishes with aplomb. Then there are bamboo blinds layered under linen curtains, an upholstered headboard layered with Euro shams and snow white sheets and pillows, and what looks like a homespun linen khaki coverlet layered with a knitted tangerine colored throw. The result? A cozy and warm haven. What woman wouldn’t want that?
Meanwhile this woman had to come up with a new recipe for a Christmas Eve dinner that was easy to make but elegant to serve. Fortunately Melissa Clark, acclaimed food writer for The New York Times published this recipe just before Christmas and saved the day. And I mostly followed the recipe so it tasted amazing–it was meant to serve 8 and Keith and I nearly finished it off! Full disclosure I did not have fresh (or even dried) tarragon so I used a shake of thyme and we used regular pie crust instead of puff pastry because the latter was sold out. Next time (maybe New Year’s Eve even) I will make sure to have both on hand but honestly it was really good just the way I made it…
Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie
6tablespoons unsalted butter
2large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced (4 cups)
2teaspoons kosher salt
1garlic clove, minced
½cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
¼cup all-purpose flour, more for rolling out pastry
¾cup chicken stock
½cup clam juice
1pound mixed mild fish fillets, cut into 1 1/4-inch thick cubes (such as cod and pollock)
½pound large shelled shrimp (16 to 20 count)
½pound large sea scallops, side muscle removed
1cup frozen peas
1tablespoon chopped tarragon
1tablespoon chopped parsley
2tablespoons drained capers, chopped
1pound puff pastry, thawed
Butter a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish or casserole. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then stir in leeks and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until soft, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and anchovies and cook 1 minute, until the anchovies dissolve. Add wine and bring to a boil, then let simmer until the wine evaporates almost completely. Remove from heat and scrape into a heatproof bowl.
In the same skillet, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until pale golden, 1 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock and clam juice, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 1 to 3 minutes until very thick (it will thin out as it bakes), then remove from heat.
Pat the fish cubes, shrimp and scallops dry. Stir them into the sauce along with the sautéed leeks, peas, tarragon, parsley, capers and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.
Chill uncovered, for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
Before baking, heat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together egg with 1 teaspoon water. On a lightly floured surface, unroll pastry dough. Roll it 1/8-inch thick. Use a fish cutter or paring knife to cut out a fish from the center of dough. (Alternatively, you can cut circles from the dough and overlap them on top of the pie to look like fish scales).
Place pastry on top of pie and trim edges, but don’t seal them (sealing impinges on the puffing). Brush egg wash all over pastry.
Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
(Movie photos are the from the Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment)
Who doesn’t long for summer, and those lazy days sprawled on the hot sand or immersed in the ocean’s salty brine? I hated the summer I had to spend at my landlocked Michigan college but rejoiced when I landed in Sierra Leone for my mandatory foreign study–mainly because it’s summer year round in West Africa and the university was minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
Even though I continue to reside at the Jersey Shore, as I age I have limited my actual beach days. Wrinkles, heat waves, wrinkles, traffic, wrinkles…I still revel in the sea air, the brilliant blue of the sky, a southeast wind but also take pleasure in the lush green leaves, stunning flowers and velvety lawns found on this verdant peninsula in coastal New Jersey.
And now it’s my garden that brings me the most joy in the summer. The neighbors look amazed (or possibly askance) when they see me toil: mowing, trimming, dragging and spreading loads of top soil and mulch, digging in new plants and ripping out old ones. It is hot; I am always sweaty and dirty and I am perfectly content.
Our property was horribly overgrown when we bought it. In fact, our house was actually being consumed by the surrounding vegetation. There was an enormous maple tree close to the house whose roots were growing into the basement while its branches had pierced through the roof and into the attic.
It all had to go–all of it. There was mold and damp and bugs and cracks so the tree guys came, the bulldozers came and in the end we weren’t left with anything green.
It was hell: you can see it looks like we went through a war. Several truckloads of top soil, hundreds of pounds of grass seed, and a couple of thousand spent on plants, and three years later we have a garden. Proving that old adage true–all it takes is time (and more time) and, of course, money.
I heeded the advice of our friend, a landscape designer, who, noting the uniqueness of the lot, very long and narrow, with no backyard to speak of, suggested that we make a series of room-like spaces throughout the garden. Areas that would look nice but also function like interior spaces and be amenable to lounging and dining–just outside–not in.
We started by creating a paved area (okay patio) off the great room, with antique bluestone set in a random rectangular pattern that looks like it might have built when the house was, 100 years ago. See how I’ve anchored the assortment of vintage and antique benches, tables and urns I’ve acquired over the years with a Century Furniture outdoor sofa.
Who would have thought ten years ago that we could have upholstered furniture outside in the northeast? The secret is in the wide range of weather resistant fabrics (Perennials, Sunbrella, Inside/Out) that are made from solution-dyed acrylic. These fabrics, when combined with quick drying foam inserts, means you can leave your cushions outside all summer long.
There’s a second bluestone patio off the kitchen that leads to our potting shed and the driveway. We partnered a zinc-topped table we bought years ago at an antique warehouse in Holland with new teak chairs, that will weather to a soft, silvery grey. I think the secret to outdoor furniture is to choose natural materials that are not harmed by the elements and, even better, enhanced by a bit of weathering. For the record, outside furniture does not need to be plastic.
In the side yard there was just enough room for a a pocket size vegetable garden and a small lawn. We planted a hedge of arborvitae (never my favorite evergreen) but in a year or two it should give us less exposure to the street.
And finally, we made sure to include an area in the front of the house to perch and enjoy the moment.
As we all know there is nothing is better after a long, summer day than an ice cold glass of wine and a fabulous meal dining al fresco. This summer I’ve become very fond of spatchcock chicken. All white meat gets too dry and all thighs is getting boring so spatchcock gives you a bit of both. Actually spatchcocking a chicken is beyond my skillset so I buy my chicken already split from Sickles Market. I’ve had great luck with this recipe from that accomplished tastemaker–and master gardener herself– Martha Stewart.
Full disclosure, we jazz up the marinade with a splash of maple syrup and a teaspoon or two of Coleman’s Mustard (it’s a British thing) but you can’t go wrong following Martha’s version exactly.
Grilled Spatchcock Chicken with Dijon and Rosemary
It’s been nice to have a real winter this year with lots of snow. Activities in a pandemic are on the limited side so shoveling snow has had its merits and you have to admit there is nothing prettier than a fresh fall of snow.
In January we looked forward to the Super Bowl. And we even had a party–for two.
And of course now that the weather is mostly inclement we have had quite a few deliveries of furniture and accessories that were ordered what seems like eons ago but thanks to Covid disruption their arrival was delayed. However the good news is everything looks great. Like this fabulous sofa by Hickory White, the higher end, design driven division of the mighty Sherrill Furniture.
And we were thrilled to finally get our artwork order that was meant to arrive in December…and, once again, the good news is it was worth the wait. Everything is magnificent, starting with this JJ Audubon print of an Ibis…which somehow manages to be vintage, yet modern, clearly meeting that transitional genre we were hoping for.
And we have been dining well. One memorable dish was Fish and Chips. Keith is a huge fan and I don’t fry anything but we gave it a whirl one evening and enjoyed great success.
The recipe I used is by Ina Garten:
Parker’s Fish and Chips
Lay the cod fillets on a cutting board. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Cut the fillets in 1 1/2 by 3-inch pieces.
In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 1/2 cup of water and then the egg.
Pour 1/2-inch of oil into a large (12-inch) frying pan and heat it to about 360 degrees F.
Dip each fillet into the batter, allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place it very carefully into the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pieces. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil between 360 and 400 degrees F. Cook the fish on each side for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the “chips.”
While 2020 will not doubt be remembered as the year time stood still, happily we made some progress here at British Cottage. One thing we did was go long on the Bobbin Chair. You’ve seen it at the store from time to time and you see it in books and magazines all the time.
Like in this gorgeous room by Barbara Westbrook. The Bobbin Chair is derived from the heavy, lathe-turned furniture common in the 1700’s that over the ensuing centuries evolved into something significantly lighter and far less medieval looking. Some of you might have seen a spool bed in your grandma’s house, but other than that this style did not get much play until this particular style chair worked its way into the twenty first century mix.
I love them. We get most of ours from Hickory White Furniture, the higher end, designer-driven division of Sherrill Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina. They sit like a full-blown upholstered armchair but look much lighter, and the wood frames provide architecture without looking unfinished, like those silly deconstructed armchairs Restoration Hardware was flogging several years ago.
In contrast the Bobbin chair is pretty and graceful. Don’t you just love how they look in this gorgeous room by Erin Gates?
In the fall we did them in a bold, blue animal print in a dark, practically ebony finish:
And from our December shipment this bold, geometric print with a white frame:
And just last week this snazzy version in a dark walnut finish and a geometric ogee pattern fabric arrived.
Along with this one in a Lillian August striped fabric:
Make sure you come in soon to test one out–before they get sold. While we are happy to order one–or two–for you in the fabric and finish of your choice–we are equally as happy to sell off the floor.
Meanwhile I have to hurry home. Can you believe it someone is coming to dinner? (Don’t worry, she had the vaccine.)
I plan to make Turkey Chili–and before you all start whining and saying really, you are starting off the new year with Turkey Chili–just hang on a minute. Our daughter popped in for two weeks at Christmas and established herself as family chef. Who was I to argue? After nearly 10 months of home cooking I was ready to hand over the mantle. Although when Laird said it was Turkey Chili for dinner I was first seriously underwhelmed, then concerned when I arrived home at 5:30 and saw she had not even started to cook.
I needn’t have been. This goes together lickety split and tastes scrumptious. Here are her notes:
As the instructions say, “a combination of dark and white meat really adds depth and richness of flavor, so try to find a mix, but all white meat (or a mixture of ground beef and turkey) will yield a stellar batch too.” We went with ground white meat – with a bit of ground beef thrown in for good measure!
I didn’t use chicken broth (because we didn’t have any). Instead, per the comments, I didn’t drain the beans and also added a little turkey broth. Also I dislike kidney beans, so we had pinto and black beans instead. And no bay leaves, because they were not in the cupboard. No jalapeno because I forgot to tell Dad to buy it. Green bell pepper instead of red.
But otherwise, mostly followed the recipe, at least in spirit! And it’s so fast!
1large sweet red pepper, cored, deveined and coarsely chopped
1cup chopped celery
1jalapeno pepper, cored, deveined and finely chopped
1tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 tablespoon, dried
3tablespoons chili powder
2teaspoons ground cumin
3cups canned diced tomatoes
2cups chicken broth, fresh or canned
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
215-ounce cans of red kidney beans, drained
2cups shredded cheddar cheese
1cup sour cream (optional)
Sliced lime for garnish (optional)
Heat the oil over high heat in a large heavy pot and add the turkey meat. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes, chopping down and stirring with the side of a heavy kitchen spoon to break up any lumps.
Add the onions, garlic, sweet pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, oregano, bay leaves, chili powder and cumin. Stir to blend well. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
Add the drained beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes longer. Serve in bowls with cheddar cheese, and sour cream and lime wedges, if desired.
Back in 2005 Keith and I bought the building right next door to British Cottage, 130 Shrewsbury Avenue. The front area was a storefront and in the back was a small, two story, three bedroom house. Renovating the store section was easy; we just put in a new hardwood floor and replaced the existing windows. The house part was a bit trickier with three teeny bedrooms and bath upstairs complete with the original plaster and lath crumbling hither and yon. In the end, we decided to gut the whole thing right up to the roof and create one large lofty bedroom area.
When we moved from our house in Rumson to the apartment above the British Cottage store after Sandy in 2012 (we did not flood but our neighbors did and the people who bought their property built a Tuscan mansion literally on top of us which meant it was time to bid adieu), the space at 130 became a perfect spot to park visiting children and friends. We never really decorated–just filled it up with stuff. Some stuff we liked but could not use in our current situation, other items were just too valuable to leave in the warehouse, and the rest was just clutter.
Fast forward to this benighted Summer of 2020 when we invited one of our long time customers, stuck between rentals in the red hot Jersey Shore real estate market, to crash there for a couple of months. Yikes! What were we thinking? And they needed to be in by August 1!
Some people have junk rooms–this had turned into a junk house. We needed to get it cleaned out and cleaned up–stat. One good thing is we pretty much know what furniture our lodger is bringing, seeing as we sold it all to her in the first place. Her antique pine table with extensions would be perfect for this spot in the kitchen area; then we added one of the pine cupboards we have made at our factory in Hungary to serve as a pantry/storage cabinet.
Sadly her navy blue Hickory White sofa won’t fit through the narrow doorway into the living room so for now we left the Biedermeier sofa we bought at the fabulous antique store, Green Square, in Copenhagen. (The map above the couch is an original 1900’s map of the area our Maine cottage was located.)
Directly opposite the sofa is a long wall for her 84″ pine sideboard also from our factory in Hungary and above that she can hang the tv. (I am hoping there will be a Part Two to this blog when we see how the lodgers put their own stamp on our little abode).
In the corner is an armchair from The Best Slipcover Company, a leftover from our first foray into upholstery sales. For years and years I never wanted anything that was not slipcovered but now, with the new performance fabrics, upholstered furniture is a breeze to care for and certainly easier on the eye.
Up the stairs is the loft bedroom which will be shared. Here is the little girl side featuring an original British Cottage pine bed from the very first factory we worked with in England way back when, and an antique pine chest of drawers, also from the UK, that Keith fished out of the depths of the warehouse. Hopefully he will find the knobs soon.
With everyone working–and studying–from home we thought this corner would make a perfect work/study area. We grabbed the table from the store, mostly it is used as a console table behind a sofa or in an entryway, but in this case it should be just the right size for a lap top–or desk top for that matter.
Then we made a little sitting area in front of the great kas–also purchased from Green Square many years ago–that we cannot bear to part with. A kas, (pronounced kaz) is a massive cupboard of Dutch origin similar to an armoire that was popular in the 17th & 18th centuries. Used to store linen, clothing, and other valuables, they were status symbols and family heirlooms in the Low Countries. (Thank you Wikkepedia). We knew we would never find another one we could afford so stashed it up here until the right room comes along.
Tucked snugly in an adjacent alcove is a queen bed in a matte, black metal finish from the Californian company, Wesley Allen. We find a metal bed fits into most decorating schemes and like to have one on hand to show customers when our British Cottage beds are not a go. The photos over the bed are from a series of black and white images of our daughter and her friends and their ponies taken years ago. (This is a great thing to do if you are looking for artwork; everyday images, when enlarged and printed in black and white become much more visually interesting).
The bathroom area is not huge so it was lucky we had this shelf, originally purchased at Schwung Home for the Maine cottage. Then it didn’t fit into the Fair Haven house either; happily it works perfectly here.
Over the years we have sold dozens of benches but there was something about this homely antique, Hungarian bench in the original paint that was charming so we held on to it. Above it, on the gallery wall is a set of botanical prints we bought at our neighbor and renowned local artist, Barbara Cocker’s yard sale 35 years ago that Keith discovered in the painted armoire where they’d probably been languishing for at least a decade. Surprise!
So what happens if all you have is mismatched curtains, furniture and artwork? Try taking a deep breath and tossing it all together. As long as your walls are bright and your floors clean, anything can happen.
So it is boiling hot and who wants to cook? Not me. Fortunately Laird surprised us with a mid-summer visit from Seattle and she is more than happy to take charge of the kitchen. On the menu tonight courtesy of The Washington Post:
Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups With White Beans and Arugula
Here, grilled zucchini is served up in an exciting new way: Rolled into bite-size bundles filled with lemon and garlic-seasoned mashed white beans, peppery arugula and floral basil. Light and fresh, the roll-ups taste of summer and are filled with garden flavors. With the substance of creamy beans, you can savor them as a snack, starter or as a spread of small plates.
Tested size: 4 servings; makes 12 roll-ups
3 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic (1 clove)
1/2 cup low-sodium canned white beans, such as cannellini, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups (2 ounces), lightly packed, baby arugula
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
Trim the tops and bottoms off the zucchini, then slice them lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices using a sharp knife or mandolin. Set aside the outermost slices of zucchini for another use. Brush the center slices on both sides using 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.
Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the zucchini until tender and grill marks have formed, about 3 minutes per side.
Place the garlic onto a cutting board and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using the flat side of the knife and dull edge of the blade, mash the garlic and salt together to form a paste; transfer to a small bowl. Add the beans, lemon juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Using a fork, smash the ingredients together to form a chunky mash.
Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the bean mixture 1/2-inch from the end of a zucchini slice. Top with a few arugula leaves and 1 small or 1/2 large basil leaf. Roll the zucchini slice up and place seam side down on a platter. Repeat with the remaining zucchini, beans, arugula and basil.