Hill Country House


I want to welcome a new blogger to the design blogosphere: Hill Country House. She's a native Texan, born in Dallas, but now living in Fredericksburg with her husband and children. Fredericksburg is a great town - small, atmospheric, and home to Carol Bolton's famous Homestead. Bus loads and car loads of antiquers flood the town on the weekends and during the summer. It's become a hub of unique bed and breakfast places which have enjoyed volumes of national press these past ten years or so. If you've never visited the Texas Hill Country and especially, Fredericksburg, it is well worth a trip.

There is tons to blog about from Fredericksburg, and Hill Country House is starting out writing about her gorgeous "house" - a term I use loosely. It's a large home, on over 20 acres of beautiful countryside. It's actually more of a resort than a home. It's fabulous! She is taking her readers on a tour of her house, room by room, and I suggest you take the tour if you are at all interested in seeing how other people live. And it's quite a life she's living over at Hill Country House!

In order of fair disclosure, I admit Hill Country House and I are more than blogger friends. Once, a long time ago we were married to brothers. Alas, no more. Imagine my surprise when one day, I received a tentative email from a reader of mine - "could you be, is it possible, but is the Ben Webb you are writing about THE Ben Webb I was once a sister-in-law to?" Of course he is! One and the same - a flurry of emails were exchanged late into the night. Our wrists were sore from emailing each other so much! And oh, so much lamenting that we are no longer related because we share so many interests!!!! So, it is with great pride and much happiness that I introduce you to my former sister-in-law: Hill Country House - enjoy!

Hill Country House, built of Texas limestone and long leaf pine, the home is evocative of the houses that Germans who settled in the Texas Hill Country built and added to over the generations. The limestone, the tin roof, the deep porches are all elements that Hill Country House shares with older, German homesteads.

David Easton and his Balderbrae


Years and years ago, when I still formulating my design aesthetic, I stumbled across a magazine article that featured Balderbrae, the summer home of David Easton and his partner, artist James Steinmeyer. The home was large, but consisted of just a few rooms - a living and dining room, master bedroom, and a study, along with two large porches or loggias. This house, a study in symmetry appealed to me on every level: the studied, cluttered look similar to English country estates, the copious use of antiques, mostly rustic rather than signed, formal pieces, the casual linen fabrics, french windows lending the house to indoor-outdoor living, the beautiful fireplaces, terra cotta pavers, lighted sconces and pedastals mounted on walls, blue and white porcelains everywhere, mirrors - in short, the house was everything that I loved - then and now. Over the years, the house was used in advertising campaigns for Lee Jofa, the fabric company where Easton has a popular line. For twenty years, Easton and his partner reworked the property, added gardens, rebuilt the existing stone cottage on the property as a guest house, and built a swimming pool.

Last year, the two decided to move on. They sold the house and the entire contents went into a warehouse. Rather than keep everything there, it was decided to sell the lot at Doyle's auction house last March. A family friend works for Easton and mailed me the gorgeous catalogue. Item after item - there's not a stinker in the bunch. Realistically, I couldn't find much that I wouldn't want for myself - the catalogue is that impressive and desirable. In all, 600 items were auctioned off to a tune of $1,600,000 plus. The original estimate was $773,300 to $1,154,800 - so the duo must be happy with the results. Asked if he was sad about selling 20 years worth of possessions, Easton said he wasn't, he was looking forward to building a new, modular, modern home in Virginia, featuring a two story library. Looking over the entire contents on display at Doyle, he planned to buy back a few items that he said had slipped by him.

Here are pictures from the estate before it was dismanteled. And following, are pictures of the most publicized items that went on sale. Even though these pictures are at least a decade old, Balderbrae still appeals and serves as a design inspiration to me personally and in my business.

The great yellow room at Balderbrae: the symmetry of the room and it's furnishings is apparent despite its cluttered appearance. I love the center table piled high with books - a look I have copied in my own home. The terra cotta pavers, yellow walls, and wood beamed ceilings add a warmth and coziness to the large room that might have seemed cold and overwhelming.

A close up of one side of the living - dining room. Note the tea table in front of the blue french chair - this was a much publicized piece from the auction. Also notice the blue and white pieces hanging on the walls - this is just a very small portion of the blue and white from the auction, which featured over six pages of these pieces in the catalogue.

Another view of the living room - close up of the skirted table. I like this version of the table more than the previous image. I prefer the airy branches over the green plant in the blue and white vase.

The gorgeous master bedroom with the same high ceilings as the living room. Two story french doors bring the outside indoors.

The master bedroom again. This mirror is one of the more well known pieces from the auction.

One of the porches. I love the outdoor fireplace.

Updated view of the same porch or loggia, as it is called.

Artist and home owner James Steinmeyer's painting of the loggia.

View of the interior courtyard looking towards one of the two loggias.

Auction item: $27,000.

Rare Victorian Tilt Top Tables bought from Geoffrey Bennison! These tables were the most talked about items of the auction.


Louis XV commode (this reminds me so much of the Amy Howard chest).


Dutch chandelier from the living - dining room.


Set of 4 Swedish style chairs designed by Easton


Another Louis XV commode.


Italian sunburst mirror. Oh my - Easton, way ahead of the current trend, had quite a few sunburst mirrors. Non antiques, valued in the $1,000 range, these items went for outrageously overpriced sums.


Set of 4 Louis XVI gray painted armchairs.


Italian Mirror from the bedroom. Another well recognized auction piece made familiar from Lee Jofa ads.


Painted sunburst mirror. Ouch.


Set of eight painted armchairs. I love these chairs!


William IV gilt wood mirror.


Unusual Dutch colonial brass and walnut side table.


Italian Sunburst Mirror. Oy! What a crazy price.


Italian chandelier.


Regency style center table designed by Easton.


Carved antlers. Easton was again way ahead of this current trend with his faux stag heads. Estimated to go for $1,000 - the sale price was ridiculously overpriced for a non antique.

The auction was a huge success for Easton and Steinmeyer, but still, I can't imagine selling my possessions like this and completely starting over. Apparently, his new home will be very modern as Easton has said this is the direction design is taking him right now. I'm anxious to see his new summer home, and something tells me there will be lots of press accompanying his new venture.

Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado


If you are looking for a western styled, romantic getaway this winter or summer, Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado might be the answer. Dunton Hot Springs - where? Actually, it's a ghost town located deep in the Rockies Mountain Range at the "four corners" area of Colorado where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona all meet. Once a mining town abandoned in 1918, the town has been at times a biker and hippie hangout, a dude ranch, and now, a world class resort. From the outside, everything looks just like it did back in the 1800's. Inside though, the rustic log cabins have been totally redone, updated, and remodeled with pillow top beds, down comforters, Egyptian cotton sheets, wi-fi capability(!), antiques and first rate photographs. Think Ralph Lauren meets Butch Cassidy. The resort's main attraction though, are its five hot springs. There's a bath house cabin built over the largest of the springs which the entire "town" can use. Another hot spring is located in a private guest cabin. The high mineral count of the springs make them physically therapeutic. There's a cold water plunge outside and a large waterfall which adds to romance. Of course, there are yoga classes, exercise classes, and other spa amenities, like hot stone massages. All meals are included and while the menu looks heavy on game fare, the food is all organic.

Winter sports include cross country skiing and heli-skiing where a helicopter drops you down on the slopes. There is no ski in or ski out here, so if that is what you need, this probably isn't the place for you. Telluride skiing is an hour away, though. Summer sports include fly fishing, horseback riding and hiking. The rates are high, but not unreasonable for the luxury and remoteness of the resort. The nearest town is 38 miles way, and the word "town" is stretching it. For details on this resort, click here.

The Bath House with its large hot spring and roaring fire to keep warm in the winter.

The cold water plunge.

Two guest cabins, except one is actually a teepee.

The interior of the guest teepee.

The library - isn't this wonderful? A reason to visit.

Winter at the resort.

One of the outdoor springs with it's high mineral count.

The commons area.

A guest cabin.

An interior shot of a log cabin.

Summer activity: horseback riding in the Rockies Mountains.

Another cabin interior - note the iron stove in the corner.

The Wedding Chapel for destination weddings.

I love this picture - look at the bride "walking down the aisle." The dog is the maid of honor.

Another log cabin guest house.

The restaurant.

How peaceful and inviting can you get?

Summer at Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado.

Antique Judaica


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The Jewish Bride, by Isidor Kaufman

Jews all over the world are celebrating the holiday of Chanukah this week. Chanukah, or The Festival of Lights, is a very minor holiday with little religious significance. It's history is thus: Almost two hundred years before the birth of Christ, a battle was fought between the Greeks and the Jews which lasted for three years. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the battle finally ended when the Jews drove out the Greeks and then began the rededication of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Olive oil, which was needed to burn the temple's eternal flame, was scare. There was only enough oil to last one night, but miraculously God enabled the oil to burn for 8 days - the time it took to process new olive oil. Today, Jews celebrate this miracle by burning candles for eight days during the holiday of Chanukah.

Alongside the spread of the commercialism of Christmas, Chanukah has also become a widely commercialized holiday. Both holidays correspond to the winter solstice, so Chanukah has become known as the Jewish Christmas. The most visible symbol of the holiday is the menorah, or the candelabra with its eight candle holders plus one which is used to light each individual candle. Most Jewish families have several menorahs, a new one given perhaps as a wedding gift, and an old one that has been passed down for a generation or two or three.

These old menorahs are widely valued in the antique field known as Judaica, or, the collecting of Jewish ceremonial and secular items. This field has grown enormously in the past decade and major auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's have their own Judaica division. Perhaps it is the hunger for a more spiritual life that has fueled the collecting of Judaica or maybe it is result of the Holocaust that has caused a feeling of pride of religion. Regardless of it's reasons, Judaica is a hot collector's item - not quite reaching Major Trend Alert status, but prices of antique Judaica are going through the roof.

There are three components of Judaica: manuscripts and books written in Hebrew, fine art, and ritual objects (of which the menorah would fall under). Items can be either secular or religious. Since Jew migrated from the Holy Land up through Spain, into Eastern Europe through Germany and finally Russia - before they began their westward flight to the Americas, Northern and Southern, Judaica comes from many different countries, with each country's unique influence upon a single object. Religious objects are universally either silver, pewter, or brass. Gold is rarely, if ever seen. Fakes abound. Ebay is filled with gold "antique" Judaica - if it's gold, it's fake. So, while Jews worldwide are celebrating Chanukah this week, take a look at some examples of the finest Judaica on the market from Sotheby's and Christie's. Shalom!

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A silver, Polish Chanukah menorah, from the late 19th century.

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A box, in the form of Rachel's tomb. Jerusalem, 1915. Estimated at auction to go for up to $40,000.

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A Chanukah Menorah: German, rare, silver tree-form, late 18th century.

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One of the most beautiful pieces of Judaica: a breastplate that fits over a torah's cover. After reading the Torah, one literally "dresses" it before it is placed back in the Ark. From Germany, 1830s.

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In addition to the breast plate, a torah is dressed with silver finials placed over it's scrolled handles. Here, silver finials from the Netherlands, 1768, estimated to go at auction for up to $90,000.

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A silver filigreed book binding used to cover a prayer book.

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A silver Polish Chanukah menorah, very ornate, from the 1860's, estimated to go at auction for up to $180,000!!

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A prayer book used in a ritual circumcision, leather with gold tooling, Italian, 1750.

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From Germany, 1700's, a set of tools used by the moyel during a circumcision. Ouch!!!!!

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A pointer, used to read the tiny, handwritten Hebrew of the Torah. Usually, a pointer is gifted to the Bar Mitzvot. These pointers are passed down generation to generation to be used in the Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

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A Kiddush cup, or wine glass. A staple of the Friday night Shabbat service in every Jewish home.

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The interior of a synagogue, painted by Johannes Basboom during the 19th century. Note the brass candelabras and chandelier. The large box to the left, is the holy Ark that houses the synagogue's torahs. Also note the women are separated on the left from the men on the right, a practice that is still adhered to today in orthodox temples.

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Rare Derby porcelain figures of a Jewish peddlar and his wife, 1760s.

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A neoclassical Polish menorah from the early 1900s.

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An ornate mezzuzah. Commanded by God to be used to identify a Jewish presence in the house, Jewish people today continue to place these pieces at their front door. Inside each and every mezzuzah is a copy of important passages from the Torah, in miniature. Recently a new Jewish neighbor stopped by to meet me - she had walked up and down our street looking for the familiar Mezzuzah!

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An antique Passover plate. Used during a Passover service, or Sedar, the ceremonial foods are placed on a plate like this.

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A very elaborate spice cellar used to mark the end of the Shabbat on Saturday night. This ceremony, called the Havdalah, celebrates the reentry into the work week. A special braided candle is lit and the sweet spices inside are smelled to remember the sweetness of the Shabbat.

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A tzedakah box, or a charity box. Typically the mother will place coins in this box for charity. In olden days, a man would come around all the houses and collect this money for the poor.

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A pair of silver candelsticks, one of the more recognizable pieces of Judaica. At the beginning of each Shabbat, the mother will light two candles and say silent prayers before an elaborate traditional Friday night supper.

To see antique Judaica pieces like these in person, most large synagogues have museums which house these beautiful symbols of religious ceremony. Here's wishing all my readers either a Happy Chanukah or a Merry Christmas!!