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My 50th birthday rolled by 3 years ago and now, it's that time again on the 20th. To my complete and utter surprise, two of my favorite blogging friends conspired to wish me a happy birthday in a most creative way, or course! Patricia Gray, the fabulous Canadian interior designer of Architectural Digest fame, asked Ronda Carmon of the delightful AND informative All The Best to contact Ronda's new friend and artist, Patricia van Essche of PVE Designs. Ronda asked PVE to design something special for my birthday and, wow, did she ever: her watercolor completely captures Cote De Texas and me.

If you look closely, you can see my Springer Georgie and also, my baby Cavalier Sammi Jo sleeping on a French chair. There's a Texas armadillo (how did PVE know about my Armadillo days in Austin all those years ago????). I love the flowery urn and the French wine and cheese. A starfish hails all the from South Padre Island. PVE even managed to draw my design books in. I can't remember ever receiving another gift as creative as this and I'm anxiously awaiting the watercolor's arrival.

PVE is available for custom watercolors. Besides her character studies, she does delightful paintings of homes. Be sure to visit her web site and check out her work. Ronda and PVE rendezvoused this fall in NYC and Ronda has nothing but praise for Patricia. She described her to me as a lovely woman, extremely warm and caring, well mannered in the Southern way, and an absolute pleasure to be with!

To Patricia Gray and Ronda: I owe you both a big one! Somehow I'll repay you in kind one day. You helped make this one of my best birthdays ever. I felt so loved by your gift and just walked on air all day yesterday.

Houston House and Home

What is this doing in my den? I usually don't show old home movies on Monday mornings!

Who are these people and why are they studying a computer in my kitchen?

And now, they are eating - don't they know I don't entertain except for my two family holidays - Hanukkah and Father's Day????

The story of these pictures is this: A short while ago, the editor of Houston's oldest shelter magazine, Houston House and Home stumbled upon my blog while googling different Houston interior designers. Linda Barth, the editor, lurked on my blog for awhile and then emailed unsuspecting me one day. Would I, she politely asked, allow her to come invade me privacy and the sanctity of my home, to determine if her magazine would be interested in plastering pictures of my house all over the Houston area? Would I? My first inclination was to say no and I had many reasons why, with which I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Linda not to photograph my house. My reasons against: my house is too small, it's not a new Mac Mansion, there aren't a lot rooms to shoot, I'm too shy, I don't seek out publicity, you won't like it, the floors need refinishing, I'm in the middle of updating the hardware, and on and on. The editor lady was unmoved by my excuses: we like small houses she claimed! This cat and mouse game went on all week, until finally I reluctantly relented and Ms. Barth arrived for the scouting shoot. The next day, she emailed me to say that her committee did indeed want to feature my home in the next issue and probably wanted to put my guest room on the cover. My guest room? OMG, you've got to be kidding me! You mean the room with the silk headboard that has a huge grease stain front and center from my husband's hair? That guest room? They must be nuts, I muttered to myself.

So, the good news, I suppose, was that I had been accepted by some "committee," the bad news was I had exactly one week to get my home "photo ready." I was totally overwhelmed by this news, but my family was ecstatic and promised to help me clean it up, which I knew would be a lie (it was.) There was so much to do to get my house "photo ready" - two words I would come to loathe. The list of rooms that couldn't be photographed was growing: my office is such a disaster even I hate to go in there, my daughter's room is a typical teenage mess, the kitchen, with it's outdated appliances, has new pewter hardware clashing with the brass plumbing fixtures which are awaiting their turn to be replaced. This same problem affected all the bathrooms. My decorating crises didn't leave too many rooms "photo ready"so I had to get the rest of my house in tip top shape and fast. Like most people whom I sure don't have "photo ready" rooms, my house is filled with the clutter of everyday life: piles and piles of unopened junk mail, back issues of unread magazines stashed everywhere, an overcrowded garage -- not that they would want to photograph my garage, but after the grease-stained headboard cover story, who knew? In other words, my to-do list was very, very long, so long that I dreamed of calling the magazine to cancel. My suddenly publicity hungry husband threatened me with divorce if I did. And so, I proceeded on to d-day.

In order to make it "photo ready" I did major spring cleaning in the fall. I moved my televisions, phones, radios and anything with a vile electrical cord into the garage. Bookshelves which have remained the same for years were rearranged. Stylish vignettes magically appeared out of scattered nick-nacks. In short, every inch of my house was cleaned, arranged, polished, dusted, or painted in order to become the dreaded "photo-ready." God forbid Houstonians see my house and how we live with any degree of realism. At a mad, frantic pace, I stuffed my already overloaded garage with the flotsam and jetsam of every day living. Baskets of throws and magazines were banished there, along with computers and work files and anything else that wasn't "designer." My guest room got a HGTV instant redo with the help of Restoration Hardware, my daughter was forced to hang up her clothes, I had a bench and chair slipcovered overnight in Chappell Hill via a series of stealth maneuvers that the Army would envy. I had my workroom rush a pillow order for the den, only to loathe them on sight. Thankfully Daniel at Area provided the backups I needed. With all this work going on, I didn't sleep much that week. And there was more. My "regulars" disappointed me: the window washers managed to clean the outside of the panes, but vanished before doing the inside. My gardener promised to bring me fresh annuals for the patio, only to show up the day after the shoot laden with a gorgeous array of fall flowers. I moved around every accessory I owned and discovered such dust that even my housekeeper was disgusted. And finally when I announced I would be kenneling my two dogs for the big day, I was told: No, don't, we LOVE dogs! How true I would find this to be.

In the end, the dreaded Monday came and went, and I found I actually enjoyed the experience. For instance, the crew was professional but fun. Milo, the red headed Croatian photographer was the sweetest, kindest man whom I plan to use in the future. The art director was hysterically funny and put me at ease when he promised to "vertically" stretch my photograph to melt away my extra pounds. The editor, Linda, who's fault this all was, could not have been nicer. She was supportive and complimentary to a fault, all the while orchestrating the shoot efficiently and with much grace.

All that was left to do now, was to wait for the magazine to come out. It was a fast shoot and I was lucky the wait wouldn't be long. In the interim, Linda emailed me my quotes to verify, which absolutely horrified me: did I really say THAT? How pompous, how obnoxious! She asked me to go over the photo's captions and together we came up with a short list of resources. I learned so much more than I expected to from the process, about photography and wide angle lenses (the key to great design photos) and I learned that maybe I was not quite as shy as I thought. Yesterday, the magazine finally arrived on the stands. I was waiting in line at the bagel shop when I spied its cover - a picture of two darling dogs on the cover of the new Houston House and Garden. My dogs! They looked so adorable - their coloring even matched the decor - but I knew how tortured they had been that day, asked to perform and do things they've never been asked to do before. Looking at the cover picture though (the guest room didn't make the cut), all I saw, and all anyone will see, are the two most beautiful dogs in the world sitting in a "photo ready," just-OK decorated den and that's OK with me!

To see the entire article online, click here. If you would like a copy of the magazine, email me your mailing address and I'll get one out to you. Hey, this is my one and only shot at fame, and I'm pretty excited about it!

The Cover Shot!

My Marrakesh, My Maryam


My Marrakesh is one of my favorite blogs. If you aren't familiar with this blog, you should be. It is written by the adorable and quite beautiful Maryam, a warm, sweet, funny and loving woman who moved to Marrakesh some years ago and continues to live there with her husband and son and daughter. Maryam, American by birth, is a social activist - a human rights and democracy specialist. She is also a writer of much acclaim, and a very, very popular blogger. She has thousands of readers who adore her infectious style of third person prose. Her readers check in regularly to share in her adventures in Marrakesh and in her exotic travels to Africa, the Middle East, and India, to name a few.

Right now Maryam and are husband are in the process of building guest houses on their fragrant olive tree-filled property. The Peacock Pavilions, as the guesthouses are to be called, are named after their numerous pet peacocks. Maryam's husband is the architect of the Moroccan styled guest houses and the building process has been a combination of love, hard work, obsession, and desire. It's been a long road getting them up and ready for business and they're almost through. Maryam is tired and anxious and ready to greet her guests. She's in need of a little TLC right now. Recently, her blog was nominated for Best Blog of 2007, International Division. Voting closes on Thursday and currently she's in second place. Would you please consider voting for her - she could use a "lift" right now. You can vote once every 24 hours, so hopefully you can get two votes in before it closes. Click HERE to vote. On top of all her accomplishments, Maryam is a wonderful photographer. Her blog is filled with her shots of Morocco and of her travels. I've pulled some of my favorites off her blog to share her exotic life with you. Enjoy!!! (All pictures are copyrighted by Maryam.)

Beautiful bougainvillea in Morocco.

A candle lit table set for dinner.

A Moroccan door.

One of my favorite pictures that Maryam's taken.

Twin caravans.

Famous Moroccan roses.

A pet peacock.

Maryam's daughter trying on saris.

A guest house in Morocco.

An exotic mannequin.

Tiles which Morocco are famous for.

A bazaar and tapestries.

Maryam likes to take pictures of her adorable, bunion-less bare feet (I'm jealous!).

Ready for a party in exotic sandals.

I love the color of her men's Moroccan shoes against the black and white striped rug.

I told you she likes to take pictures of her bare feet!

Aw, the beautiful couple at their wedding.

Please be sure to visit My Marrakesh and please vote today, here.

Au revoir Blanc d'Ivoire

Almost like a death in the family, I am faced with the loss of my favorite vendor: Blanc d'Ivoire. Recently this French furniture company decided to close their NY office, thus making it nearly impossible for small independents like myself to order their merchandise. They now require you to buy a container and that's unrealistic for a designer with my sized business. So, I am now forced to buy their product wherever I can find it and just hope that I can find it. I know Indulge in Houston recently bought a container full so I'm anxious to see what pieces they ordered. But still, this is a loss that I am taking hard! My favorite client and I perused their web site so much we only referred to it as BDI in email exchanges. Their merchandise is everything I love: white, crusty and grey patinas, french and Swedish inspired designs, and cheap. Did I say cheap? OMG, you can't imagine! It kills me to think I'll be paying retail for it now, but even at retail prices, it's still a bargain. And so, here is my final ode to Blanc d'ivoire - thanks! It was a blast while it lasted.

Not only do they sell furniture, there are wonderful plates and vases all in the creamy and white tones BDI is famous for.

They also make wonderful French quilts and bedding.

I love their mirrors and light fixtures, along with wonderful consoles and buffets.

This is a dining table from their new line of furniture.

This traditional headboard comes in different fabrics and colors. They also have a large range of lamps and chandeliers.

I might have ordered this bench from BDI more than any other independent designer in the U.S. A meal for two at a restaurant probably costs more.

No, wait - maybe this lamp is my most oft purchased item from BDI.
This chair is so wonderful (and cheap) that I ordered almost the entire inventory left in NYC, "just in case."

So, now I'm thinking, with the demise of my almost free ride with Blanc d'Ivoire, what will take its place? What do I buy from other companies that are great bargains? What other good deals are out there for cheap? What catalogues do I go to time and time again to "fill in" when the big boys fall short?

Global Views: A wonderful to-the-trade catalogue. Mostly I buy tables from them. They are inexpensive in price but don't look it. This table has a black marble top and brushed brass legs. It's stunning in person, especially for the price.

This is another wonderful table from Global Views. It's perfect for drinks next to a club chair. Their tables come with antiqued mirror tops, glass tops, and white and black marble tops. They also come in silver or brass. There are square tables, round ones, and oval ones. I spot Global Views tables in all the shelter magazines, in surprisingly pricey homes. I noticed that Ivanka Trump has some in her stunning apartment. I never fail to smile when I spot one in a million dollar home.

Here on the cover of Elle Decor is one of my favorite Global Views tables.

I love these wooden pagoda shelves from Global Views. Their array of products is immense. Most stores that sell accessories will invariably stock some items from this powerhouse company.

Another favorite catalogue is Wisteria. Started by the young daughter of famed Houston interior designer Jane Moore along with her husband, this catalogue has taken the design world by a storm. In the beginning, it was stocked with an array of goods gathered from around the world. Lately the catalogue seems to be going in a new direction. Painted reproduction furniture has taken over from the exotic. Apparently, it's been a very profitable move. Most, if not all of the painted furniture is backordered for months. Above, is one of their more popular pieces from their painted furniture line.

This garden seat from Wisteria is a personal favorite. I can't count the number of times I've ordered it. It's beautifiul with its slightly muted, antiqued tones. I own three of them myself.

Primarily know for their richly embroidered fabrics, Chelsea Editions has a line of furniture inspired mostly from Swedish antiques. This company will probalby be my replacement for Blanc d'Ivoire. Their furniture is actually of a much finer qualilty than BDI and the prices, though somewhat higher, are still very reasonable. This table above is a versatle piece, perfect as a nightstand, a small desk, or a tea table. Unfortunately, Chelsea Editions is a to-the-trade only company.

When I have a client who isn't interested in paying Conrad or Hunter Douglas prices, I send them to Target to buy these tortoise shell blinds. I've used these dirt cheap blinds in the most expensive of houses. Highly effective, Target blinds are one item you can substitute with for times when the budget gets tight.

west elm is Pottery Barn's contemporary answer for the hip, young, urban crowd. When designing for a teenager, I love to use their platform beds with their wooden headboards - which come in several different styles. Besides teenagers, west elm appeals to singles and the newly married. Very good quality for the money.

If west elm is too severe for your tastes, a new contender, Brocade Home may be the answer. Frilly, damasky, and ultra feminine, young women are going crazy over this new catalogue. My favorite pieces are their chairs: french inspired, with light painted finishes, these chairs could go from a vanity to the dining table for the right client.

Pottery Barn, the old standby, recently updated it's line. These pieces are a standout: the kilim covered bench is fabulous and would add texture and atmosphere to almost any family room or library. Great look, great price.

I love this new Pottery Barn console. I think it's great looking and I am planning to use it in a room I am currently working on.

This rush seat bench is from the same group as the console, above. Again, great price, great look for the money.

Online from Urban Outfitters: this is a quilt wiht a suzani pattern. It makes a great bedspread or a tablecloth for those who want a suzani but don't want to pay the high price for a "real" one. This is suprisingly good looking and effective in person.For young clients, I love this velvet bench from Urban Outfitters online. I've used it in a teen's bedroom. Target carries this same piece on their web site.

Ballard Designs has long been known for their trendy items, many of which have a french provenance. Before it was sold and was still ultra unique, practically everything in the catalogue came in chartreuse. Today, they have a much larger color range. The items I buy over and over from Ballard are these chairs. Fold ups, they make great extras for dinner parties, offices, breakfast tables, and even a dining table until "real" chairs are affordable.

Originally, they only came in tortoiseshell bamboo, now the chairs come in many different patterns and colors: here they are in white cane.
And again, with a great new cut-out design.

Zebra rugs and anything zebra striped is this years coral: Major Trend Alert. I found this company, Pacific Artifacts at Round Top. Call them to buy one of their great rugs. I did! And I'm sure I'll be buying many more in the future.

Restoration Hardware makes this clear baluster lamp. It's heavy, well made, beautiful and currently on sale. I use this lamp over and over again. It's my favorite right now and it goes well with almost every kind of decor.
Oly Studio is another favorite to-the-trade only online source. This bench is hot right now and has been featured in a lot of magazines. Oly makes furniture for hip people who like trendy things.

Here are my favorite accessories from Oly Studio: faux bois bird candlesticks. Did I say Oly specializes in Major Trend Alert products? Here we kill two trends at once: birds AND faux bois. I love when that happens.

The designer Tom Scheerer loves to use this Saarinen designed table. On his web site, almost every house in his portfolio has one of these tables somewhere. Here he uses it both for dining and as a coffee table. Ikea makes a great knockoff, pictured below. To me, this is the single best item available at Ikea:

Above is the Ikea knockoff. For under $200, you can get a great designer look. Megan of Beach Bungalow 8 has one herself in her breakfast room:

Another item at Ikea that I love is their line of slipcovered sofas. Pieces in the line include a sofa, sectional, chaise, ottoman, and chair. The slipcovers come in many different fabrics, but the white is my favorite, of course! It's very comfortable seating, especially for it's dirt cheap price. I've sat in sofas that cost 10 times more that weren't nearly as comfortable. Great for a beachhouse or a playroom.

Legend of Asia has tons of blue and white pottery and just about anything else you could want from, well, Asia I guess. They have garden seats in every color, porcelains, pottery, accessories, and furniture that's new and antique (supposedly). Besides the blue and white, in case anyone cares about any other color, there's green, celadon, white, red, and orange. Best of all: trade prices! Great customer services make them an easy company to do business with.

These bird prints are popping up everywhere. Again, a room by Tom Scheerer. Here the bird prints, by a Swedish artist, are original. Everytime I turn around, I see another designer using these prints. Recently, I spied them in Bunny Williams' beach home, shown in her new book. If you can't afford the originals, Anthropology has the complete set, one is pictured below: I've not used them yet, but I'd love to find a client who is game.

Again from Anthropology, this iron bed is well priced and well made. It's beautiful when dressed up with linens like below:

Here, acclaimed designer Miles Redd uses a more upscale (expensive) model of the same bed. Redd apparently loves this bed, he's used it quite a few times.

Here, Redd, again uses the "Anthropology" bed with a more masculine feel.

And lastly, the English catalogue OKA Direct has great, inexpensive finds. The designer Michael Smith has been quoted as saying he buys all his dinner plates from OKA. He especially loves the above blue and white dinner set. I do too. One day, I plan to buy the set for my everyday dishes.

Besides dinnerware, OKA sells furniture, some of the painted variety, drapes, cushions (pillows to us Americans), accessories and rugs. I love this blue and white striped dhurri. A great item to use if you want a "Somethings Gotta Give" feel to a house.

I bought two of these vases from OKA. They are huge!!!! So huge that they overscaled everything in my house and I finally just put them on the floor on either side of a french door. Dealing with an English company may seem daunting to Americans, but OKA made it simple. A few weeks after I placed the order online, they arrived, well packed, and in one piece.

Have you ever bought any of my favorite catalogue picks? What are your favorites? Have you ever had a bad experience dealing with a catalogue or an online company? I'd love to hear about your favorite (or not so favorite) purchases. And, to those who made it all the way to the end of this post, as a reward for your endurance, if you want to buy something from the to-the-trade companies, email me and I will be happy to help you with the order.