9/26/09

My Tile Makeover

Does your list of household projects, like mine, seem to keep getting longer, instead of shorter? If you have an old house, it probably does. There are always the "needs" and the "wants" – and, of course the "needs" usually win out. The "need" this time was a new roof. Yikes. That's a big one, especially when the roof is clay tile. But we managed to include a "want" at the same time, which helped offset the pain and gave me something to get excited about. And one more thing to check off the list.

I've been wanting to tile the entry porch for years. And, when we added two back porches a couple of years ago, we wanted to tile those too.

My front porch, before. Click on image to enlarge.
The floor was concrete that had been incised to look like tiles, and was painted a terra-cotta color. I have cursed those grooves more times than I can count, while trying to clean the floor. The paint was not a pretty color, and getting scuffed, to boot.


Choosing tile is a big decision. It's expensive, and without the budget to re-do anything that doesn't work, I knew I'd have to get it right the first time. (No pressure from husband there.) Since our house is Mediterranean Revival, built in 1926, I wanted to use cement tiles for these areas. But when it came to choosing patterns/colors, that's where the trouble began.

After much deliberation and delay, the tiles are finally in and I am thrilled. The black/white tiles on the front porch were a risky choice, as they are visible from the main rooms. I was so afraid it would be too dramatic and busy for me, since I am all about neutrals and soft colors and not much pattern. But the design is a classic, so it was my fall-back when I couldn't find a pattern that really spoke to me. I hoped it would add a lot of style.

My front porch, after. Click on image to enlarge.
What a difference. But of course, now I really need to get a proper linen slipcover made for that ottoman, and just a few other things to complete the room.


"If you get the background right, you don't have to overdo what you put into it."
Suzanne Kasler: Inspired Interiors*

I wasn't quite prepared for how much the tile would change the feel of the entire house. What I also wasn't prepared for: the need to re-think the furnishings in the room to work with the patterned floor. I had never used the space at all, except as a pass-through to the living room. Admittedly, some of the furnishings were there because there was no other spot for them in the house. Mainly, my two beloved antique French wicker chaises and the bench, given to my husband by his mother.

The bench got to stay; sadly, the chaises will have to find a new home.
The great news, and the biggest surprise of all, is that we now have a room that is a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a morning cup of tea and the newspaper, or to flip through a design or art book for inspiration. Who knew that just tiling the floor could create a new living space? And such an elegant one, at that. Reading Suzanne Kasler's new book, I realized that, by putting too many things in the room, I had been trying to over-compensate for its shortcomings: the too-small windows on the front wall and the scruffy floor underneath.

The view from the living room into the porch. The front door can be seen at left.

What you can't see well in photos is the irregularities in the colors and patterns of cement tiles - they almost remind me of block-printed fabric. They are rustic and sophisticated, all at once, and don't feel like you'd expect cement to feel. They are very cool, smooth and almost silky to the touch. Similar to marble, but denser. Really nice, and even luxurious on bare feet.

I chose a different tile pattern for the back patios. I think it adds a lot of pizzazz, but is just subtle enough to work conceptually with the entry porch (although you don't see them at once) and with the ceramic tiles that will eventually go on the in-ground fountain in the back yard (which needs to be re-built - oops another project.) Now I just need to get the new patio curtains made up. I have the fabric, a nice white open weave that will billow nicely in the breeze. I'll need new white canvas for those chairs, and then there is the matter of the landscaping ...

Wait, wasn't my list supposed to get shorter?

A closer look at the tile pattern. Click to enlarge. This patio is directly off the living room, and there is an identical one off the master bedroom, that is being tiled to match. Hmm, I spy a little face at the door, looking quite peeved. Mitz likes to be in the middle of everything!

Other projects on my list: removing the modern slate floors in the kitchen and master bathroom and replacing them with antique terra cotta tiles. I'm insisting on antique tiles because they have so much character, so I may have to wait a long time for that. Then the kitchen countertops will need to be redone in Calcutta marble or limestone. And the stainless steel backsplash replaced with white beveled subway tiles. I think I need a job!

It really never ends ... but for right now, today, I'm happy.
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A special thank you to my great friend, Nina Long, former owner of Wholesale Tile + Assoc. Porch design by Roger Grunke. Tiles from Wholesale Tile by Aguayo.
More about cement tiles here.
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* I'll have a sneak peak soon of Suzanne Kasler: Inspired Interiors, by Suzanne Kasler with Christine Pittel, Rizzoli New York, 2009. Available November. Preorder here.
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9/25/09

Absinthe vs Chartreuse

Did you know that absinthe is no longer just a drink? Yes, it is now a color. According to the October issue of Traditional Home magazine, absinthe is the new chartreuse.

I agree that absinthe is quite a terrific word (it is of French origin), but there exist those dark connotations and connections – to the seamy, forbidden (and now romanticized) world of struggling artists and ladies of the evening in the decadent days of Paris in La Belle Epoque. Apparently, enough years have gone by to give the spirits an air of legitimacy and yes, chic – and absinthe has now been welcomed into the color palette of the design world.

Actually, Traditional Home wasn't the first to grant legitimacy to the once-whispered name. The color palette of textile designer Dominique Kieffer's wonderful line of fabrics in 2003 included Absinthe, Aniseed, Vert d'Eau and Noir. Those appellations seem somehow appropriate for Keiffer's opulent, moody fabrics, many woven of natural fibers with dark undertones and accents.

I'm always up for whatever is new, but appropriateness has to be the standard. For most applications of that acid, yellow-green color, it will always be chartreuse, for me.

Besides, I don't think Chartreuse was ever accused of driving anyone mad.
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Photo from House & Garden, 10.03, of fabric samples from Dominique Kieffer's line of textiles.

9/6/09

The Gardens of Chateau Gabriel

Click on any image for a larger view.

A little more about Chateau Gabriel can be found in the wonderful book, French Garden Style, which includes a few glimpses of the landscape and gardens, located in the idyllic French countryside at Deauville.

Looking down onto the rose pergola, with a view out to the sea.

The property had been abandoned for many years when it was purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Their vision for the landscape included: a walled garden of fruit and flowers, a rose garden, masses of lavender, a japanese garden to commemorate a trip, a wildflower meadow and a woodland garden – all of which were carried out by designer Franz Baechler. Hundreds of full-grown trees, from 30-50 years old, were transplanted onto the estate to give the gardens a sense of maturity.

The old stone pavers and antique brick columns of the rose pergola create a romantic and timeless setting for a leisurely stroll outdoors.

Interior designer Jacques Grange added garden ornaments, such as Diana the Huntress – seen here gazing over the meadow to the chateau – and a bridge for the Japanese garden, a decorative kiosk, a stairway leading up to the rose garden and a marble basin for its center. Many other design details and descriptions of plantings are included in the book.


Along with Chateau Gabriel, French Garden Style includes tours of more than 30 of France's finest gardens, including Monet's Giverny and the grand and elaborate Villandry.

French Garden Style, by Georges Lévêque and Marie-Françoise Valéry with foreward by England's esteemed garden designer, writer and historian, Penelope Hobhouse.
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Images from French Garden Style.
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9/3/09

Chateau Gabriel

Please click on any image for a closer look.

Do you think you'd ever grow tired of, or blasé about, coming home to this wonder of a 19th-century Napolean-style manor? Would you, at some point, pull up into the front parking court, and find yourself oblivious to the charm of the ivy-covered brick walls, and the romance of the steeply pitched roofs and highly decorated gables of this Anglo-Norman fantasy? When you place it in Deauville, France, on 74 acres of land with breathtaking views leading out to the sea – it becomes even harder to imagine not being swept off your feet, every time you thought to steal a glance around.

I know, for me, familiarity and comfort do have a way of shifting my attentions to the new, the next thing. So perhaps that was the case for Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who in 2005, had decided to sell their fairy-tale country home. According to an interview then, in the NY Times, the decision was made with sadness: 'If you don't go to a place, then you must get rid of it." Sigh. Priced at $25 million, Chateau Gabriel was finally snapped up this past February by a couple of Russian tycoons, for a bargain price of 9.6 million euros.

Perhaps it was this dacha out back that sold the new Russian owners on the place. It is surrounded by a birch grove, a waterfall and lake, a rose garden and an apple orchard that produces the house cider. Somehow, I would never have imagined Yves and Pierre lounging about sipping on apple cider, but I'm sure it must have been delicious.

Architectural detail of the dacha.



Two interior views of the dacha.

You may have seen photos of this reception room in the main house, with its Monet-inspired wall murals of water lilies.

The drawing room in the main house feels artistically moody, with its color scheme of purple and navy.

What a masterful design stroke to create a helicopter landing pad that, when not in use, becomes a lovely landscape feature – a grassy maze on a hillside.

Chateau Gabriel was Jacques Grange's first major collaboration with Yves and Pierre. His take, in 2005, on the news that it was for sale: "Pierre and Yves adored it - they love it still. Perhaps they have too many houses in their lives."

They also owned two luxurious garden apartments in the 6th arrondissement in Paris, and houses in Provence, Marrakech and Tangiers.

"Of all the houses I have decorated, the ones I have done for Saint Laurent are the most important part of my work," he said. "I love this place. It is unbelievable, extraordinary. I would like to dismantle it all and spirit it away."*

Too bad he couldn't have. On Nov. 17-18, the Saint Laurent-Pierre Bergé collection of art and antiques from Chateau Gabriel will go on the auction block at Christie's in Paris.
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Closer to the auction date, I'll have a sneak peak for you of Flammarion's new book, scheduled for release at that time:
YVES SAINT LAURENT – PIERRE BERGÉ COLLECTION: The Sale of the Century
Text by by François de Ricqlès and Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery
Flammarion, 2009
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All images from luxuryculture.com.
*The New York Times

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