Annie and the Queen




Detail of Annie Leibovitz photograph

A few nights ago Barbara Walters hosted a special on the Queen of England using footage from a BBC documentary based on a year in the life of the Queen and her family.    As it turned out, the most fascinating segment of the two hour special was a photo session with famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz and the Queen Elizabeth.  Leibovitz was hired by the Queen to take her official portrait to commemorate the royal visit to Jamestown in celebration of  its 400th birthday.  The documentary captured a few tense moments when Annie asked the incredulous Queen to remove her tiara because "the garter robe is so.....," Annie paused, and the Queen snapped back "Less dressy?  What do you think this?" while angrily pointing to her over-the-top garter robe.  This exchanged caused a major controversy in England when the BBC's aired the special. In the BBC version, the camera cuts to the Queen storming out after the exchange with Leibovitz.  It then shows the Queen testily saying  to her Lady-in-Waiting:  "I'm not changing anything.  I've had enough dressing like this thank you very much."  Someone at the BBC was actually fired for showing this scene out of context.  Barbara Walters got the context correct.  The scene with the Queen stomping out and refusing to "change anything" was actually filmed as she was walking INTO the photo session with Leibovitz not OUT of it.  British Fleet Street had a  field day with the BBC's deception and Barbara Walters wasn't about to repeat the error. 

Regardless  of all the uproar over the photo session, the actual footage of it was amusing and it showed the Queen acting "human" in front of  the cameras for the first time in memory.   What is not surprising is that Leibovitz' resulting photographs  are stellar.  Leave it to Leibovitz, more used to photographing rock stars and actors,  to capture the Queen as she has never been captured before.  The photographs are moody, regal, dark, atmospheric, and mesmerizing.  Rarely has the Queen been successfully shown both artistically and beautifully.  Most artistic portraits of Elizabeth to date have been downright hideous.  Leibovitz released four pictures from the photo session.  Each is fascinating.



Critics of this Leibovitz photograph say the Queen looks like a vampire. Instead, I find it hauntingly beautiful.


Contrast the above Leibovitz picture with this official one taken by the Queen's brother-in-law, Lord Snowdon.  Nice, but utterly boring. 


Another photo from the Leibovitz sitting.  This one was inspired by the portrait of Queen Charlotte that hangs in the National Gallery in London (below).  The room is regal enough, but the windows look like they were stolen from a government building.


Queen Charlotte, Leibovitz' inspiration for the  photograph shown above.


The third Leibovitz photograph:   The Queen in her garter robe, taken

right after she was asked to remove her crown.   I love the composition here with the Queen to the right while the room takes up most of the space.


Contrast the above Leibovitz photograph with this one of the Queen in her royal robes taken by Calder.  Leibovitz' pictures look like paintings rather than photos.   Here, the Queen looks like she was just told a funny joke.


This is a still taken from the documentary at the exact moment Leibovitz asked the Queen to remove her tiara.  " Say what????? "   She doesn't look too pleased with Leibovitz here!   The Queen's main concern was how her hair would look if the tiara was removed.


The final photograph released from the photo shoot.   Again, this picture seems more a painting than a photograph.  Art critics raved about the photos, while the public was mostly appalled by them.


The Queen painted by Lucian Freud, one of the world's most famous and accomplished artist.  The public severely criticized this portrait, but the art critics loved it. The Queen was said to be not amused.  Knowing what a Freud looks like, she should not have been surprised.  Note:  She's wearing her tiara here!


This commissioned portrait painted by Rolf Harris, was more accepted than Freud's and Leibovitz' images of the Queen.  I think it's just terrible and doesn't even look like her.


The Queen as a cabbage patch doll by George  Condo.  Believe it or not, this actually hung in the Tate Museum of Modern Art.


The Queen,at her coronation photographed  by the great  Cecil Beaton.  The contrast between Beaton's style and Leibovitz' style could not be greater.


Royal portraiture from another age:  The first Queen Elizabeth painted by Damley.        


Which is your favorite image of Queen Elizabeth - and don't say  The Cabbage Patch Doll!

Dream Hotel



Fields of lavender near the Hotel Crillon de Brave

It was so gorgeous in Houston today - the sun was warm and bright - that I really got spring fever, which can only mean that summer is just around the corner.  We vacation at the beach every summer and sometimes I like to think where we'd go if we ever did go someplace new, someplace exciting, someplace like Provence in the south of France!  And so, if I'm going to play that game, where would I stay?   Obviously, since it's just a game, money is no object.  After some searching around, I finally found a hotel that looks like a place I could spend some time at, relaxing by the pool, reading, and eating some really, really good food (no Wendy's salad in France!)  My pick:   The Hotel Crillon le Brave Provence.  It's a Relais & Chateux hotel, so you know it's going to be fabulous and charming.  Located in Provence on a hilltop in a tiny village, the hotel actually consists of seven centuries-old buildings clustered around a central courtyard. The rooms are housed in a former school building, a stables, a Priest's house, a grocery store, an artist's studio and several houses.  Together they now are all part of the Hotel Crillon le Brave Provence.  Care to join me there this summer?  Care to pick  up the tab, as well?



The hotel sits atop a ridge at the foot of Mont Ventoux .  That's the complex with the tower pointing upwards.


The seven restored buildings that make up the hotel.


The Maison Reboul with vistas to the valley.  I love the courtyard with the grass growing between the stones.  So, so charming!


Check in at the Maison Philibert building.


Outdoor massage by the pool.


Reception area.  Everything looks so authentically restored.


Breakfast in the courtyard under a romantic umbrella.


Breakfast in the main garden.


The lower terrace swimming pool.  This terrace looks like it was carved out of the limestone.


Views of the valley and Mont Ventoux.


The Maison Roche houses the restaurant and several bedrooms.


A salon in the Maison Roche.  I love the oval portrait on the back wall.  The colors - terracotta and sage green are so beautiful together.


You can have dinner in either the garden or the stone vaulted restaurant.  Aren't these chairs wonderful?


The view of the Mont and the valley at late afternoon.


Rooms in the Maison Salomon were renovated in 2007.  Black and white photographs are of the property and surrounding countryside.


A suite in the Maison Salomon.  I love the blue door with the number plaque.  The ceiling is wonderful, as is the old tiled floor. 


A Maison Salomon dressing room with a french day bed.


A room in Le Jas, one of the smallest houses on the property.  This room is so lovely with its print and checked fabrics.


A room in La Maison Reboul.  I adore the bathroom open to the room.  Great for the newlyweds.


Another room in La Jas, the small house.


A Maison Philibert room.  The blue walls are a departure from the brighter yellows and oranges found elsewhere.  The windows add architectural charm here.


La Maison Reboul suite with matching tubs overlooking the valley and Mont Ventoux.


A charming country French styled room in La Maison Berton de Balbe


La Maison Philibert - guest room.


The bedroom of the suite in La Maison Berton de Balbe.


Another room in La Maison Berton de Balbe.  I love the light colored terracotta floor used in this building.


What is you favorite "dream" destination and hotel?  I would love to get your suggestions!

Happy Birthday to a Design Mentor!



new chandelier 029 

My living room with inherited French antique chairs

Ask any interior designer who their mentor was, whose style first influenced them, who introduced them to a certain look - and most likely they will have a long story about that person and how important they were in shaping their aesthetic.  Ask me and I'll answer with two words:  Betty Rae!

Betty Rae - just the name itself goes so far in describing her:  A southern lady, gracious and beautiful, with an accent that matches her name.  I always say that Betty Rae's style influenced mine more than anyone  - bar none.  Who is this Betty Rae you are probably wondering?

Legally, she's my step-mother, but we don't use the word "step" - she's my mother in every sense of the word and today is her birthday.   I've been wanting to write about her and how she influenced my design style, so today - her 78th birthday, seemed the perfect time to do it. 

Betty Rae came into my life when I was 14,  after my mother, Sonia, died unexpectedly at the age of 42.  My father had one date and was hooked.  Who wouldn't be?  She was beautiful with dark brown hair and eyes, sweet and loving, and very stylish.  She introduced me to antiques and french design and for that I'll always be grateful.



That us, me and Betty Rae at my high school graduation.

Thinking about it, I guess you could say I came out of the womb interested in design.   When I look back,  it must have been well known in my family that I was into decorating.  One of my more vivid childhood memories is when a elderly cousin brought me all her old home magazines.  I was so excited to get them - in those days back in the 50s, there weren't a lot of design magazines like today.  I remember after my cousin went home, I sat down to look at the magazines and was utterly disappointed.  She had brought me her old magazines and I was expecting new ones!  They were probably from the 40s (ones I would kill for today!) and were such a let down.  I must have been only six or seven years old at the time - I know this because we still lived in our old house.  A few years later, my parents built a home across town and that experience was a further strengthening of my interest in interior decoration.  They let me help design my room all in lilac and white, I even had a lilac sink!   We all pored over the architectural drawings for months and this fueled my fascination with floor plans.  For years, I drew plans - doodling them in school instead of listening.  At that time, it was thought I might become an architect - but those hopes were dashed when the reality of my lack of math skills became apparent.  And so, when our lives changed for ever, and I ended up with a new mother - her sense of style was an extra bonus in the package.    Betty Rae was into French antiques, two words I knew nothing about, but which would form the basis of my design aesthetic forever. 

In contrast, my own mother who had immigrated as a teenager to the United States on the heels of Hitler invading Poland, knew nothing about interior design.   A redhead and a natural comedienne,  she only knew to hire someone to fix up our house in the popular "modern" style of the 50s and 60's.    Because of this,  modern design was all I knew - everyone in my life decorated their houses this way.  It's not that I wasn't interested in other styles, I just had never been exposed to them.  French antiques weren't a part of our lives or of our neighbors.

When I first met Betty Rae and her two daughters who would become my sisters - they were living in a fashionable high rise apartment, something that was an anomaly to Houston at that time  and something that was extremely exotic to a teenager from the suburbs.    I can remember that apartment vividly:  the living room was designed around a blue and green flowery fabric on a cream background which covered a down filled sofa.  There was a light blue velvet skirted table in the room and French antique chairs were scattered about.  The family room had an antique bakers rack (what's that?!!) that doubled as a tv stand and a bar.  The master bedroom was done  in blue and white, with a french headboard and a huge, fruitwood antique armoire that housed the tv.  Picture this:  Jacqueline Kennedy's personal space in the White House and you can get an idea of what the apartment looked like.  It was as if Stephane Boudin had decorated it himself, instead - the french antiques and reproductions were bought from a Mrs. Handy. 

I can not begin to explain the effect that this apartment had on me.  It was so beautiful, so feminine, so foreign to me.   I just loved everything about it then and still do today.  My love of french antiques was born on that day I first visited them in their apartment.   They say good taste runs in families, and Betty Rae's was no exception.  The youngest of three daughters, they all shared great style.  Her  two sisters both lived in New York, so their more cosmopolitan exposure trickled down to Texas.  At one point, Betty Rae and her best friend opened a small antiques store that specialized in accessories.   The two went to England to stock their inventory and were nice enough to let me work there sometimes on the weekends.   Over the years, as I became more and more exposed to french antiques, Betty Rae was always there to help guide me and teach me about them.  We would often go to antique stores and shows together, along with her daughter - my sister - Cathy.  We had so much fun antique shopping together, most times not even buying, just looking.  We even flew to Dallas to antique there.  We would go the Round Top antique fair twice a year and slosh through the mud to find some great piece of Masonware for Cathy or transferware for me.  We still will rehash the new Veranda or Southern Accents over the telephone or talk about some great new design book.   For fun, we'll go together to someone's new home to admire their antiques and ooh and ah.  In short, Betty Rae and I developed a great closeness centered around our love of French antiques.

Betty Rae's taste has remained impeccable and she can "kill" something with a just a glance.  She will quietly say, "Oh, I don't...know...." and she might as well of have shouted "I hate that with all my might, don't buy it!!!!"   She's my best sounding board and I never make major decisions about decorating my house without talking it over with her first.  When I bought my own armoire, I needed her and Cathy to approve it and say, "buy it" and the decision over which buffet a deux to choose - I left to Betty Rae to tell me which one I should pick.  Her vote of approval, whether it's for a dress or a husband, means the world to me and I would have trouble making a choice she didn't approve of, even though I'm 53 years old now and not a shy teenager any longer. 


My mom and dad:  This was taken on Betty Rae's birthday a few years ago.

While I still love French antiques and live with them, Betty Rae's tastes have evolved over the years.  She and my father now live with Biedermeier antiques.  Their look is more sophisticated and eclectic these days.  But, whenever she gets lonesome for her old furniture, she doesn't have to travel far.  In fact, much of the furniture from that first apartment that I so admired is now in my own house, slowly accumulated over the years as Betty Rae's furnishings and houses changed.   The french chairs in my living room are from that apartment and so is the french secretary in my entry hall.   Her bakers rack is in my breakfast room along with her antique tole light fixture.  I have her french desk and antique nightstands from her master bedroom.  The armoire?  She sold that to someone else!

I hope that one day my daughter will share my love of antiques and that we might be just like Betty Rae and I are.   I even secretly hope that one day Elisabeth will join me in my interior design business, but she doesn't seem to have a great love of it, like I did at her age.  I was really lucky in my life, to have met Betty Rae who always encouraged me to put my heart into my home and fix it up and I try to instill that in my daughter.   I wonder, sometimes, if I had not met Betty Rae and she wasn't my mother, would I even be into antiques and French design today?  I honestly don't know that answer.   Maybe, but I'm not positive about that.  We talk about how few families out there get along with their stepmothers and stepchildren and we count ourselves so lucky that we aren't like that.  Not only do we get along, we are all the best of friends.

And so, today, Betty Rae, even though you are sick with a "full fledged" cold, happy birthday and thank you!  I love you!


Betty Rae, Happy Birthday!

Oy Vey: New Design Books at Amazon.



A sampling of my design book library, spread out all over my house.


Last holiday season, there were so many new design books published that I almost went broke buying the titles I wanted.  So, I expected a long, long respite from Amazon and design books, I mean - how many new ones could possibly come out so soon after Christmas?   Lurking around on Amazon last week I got my answer.   Amazon is just too clever -  they somehow always know when I'm on their site - "Hello, Ms. Cote de Texas ! Welcome Back!"  their screen  screams at me  (they love me at Amazon!)  They even have a list of books they recommend for me,  and it's uncanny just how their recommendations are exactly the books I want.    Below, is the list of books I now have on order at Amazon.  Most of these books are not even released yet, but if you pre-order, Amazon tells you eagerly, you save lots of money.  So,  of course, I told Ben that I am saving him lots of  money.   He's not pleased, he's heard that song and dance before.   So, sit down and relax, my list of ordered books is sort of longish.


The Queen, Charlotte Moss - her new book is due out soon.   A fellow blogger has seen an advanced copy and says there are lots and lots of pictures, something that some of Charlotte's previous books don't have.  I can't wait for this one!


This is a DVD starring Charlotte Moss narrating the behind the scenes of the 2006 New York Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club show house.  Not sure if this is going to be good, but I'll let you know.


Charles Faudree's soon to be released book - I'm a little skeptical of this one.  Florals?  And the cover really doesn't excite me.  But Faudree's two other books are great French-American style reference books, so this is a must have for me.


Veteran author Suzanne Trocme's new one.  The cover looks intriguing.   Soon to be released.


Chinoiseries - soon to be released from Rizzoli House -- they always have the best books.  This one looks great.


Another Rizzoli book - If this cover is indicative of the contents, I'm ready!  Apparently, this is about houses and horses and the hunt, something middle-aged Jewish women know nothing about, but I'm willing to learn.


Another fabulous cover, another not yet released book. 


Any book that has the word French in its title, I usually buy.  But this cover is irresistible, regardless.


Prolific writer, Mary Emmerling's last book was a stinker.  But the one prior was fabulous.  This one will probably be fabulous too, I hope!  Not yet released, of course.


French in the title, but I'm a little leery of the "25 step by step projects" - not sure what that is about and I'm not exactly "crafty."


Magnolia Pearl's long awaited first book.  The title says it all.  She's not my favorite, but some things she does are interesting, to say the least.  To be released.


This was really looks great to me.  Cliff May and California Ranch Style homes are synonymous.  Not yet released.


Probably awful, but the pre released price is pretty cheap.


Lulu's long, very long, awaited book.  Almost as long awaited as Ruthie's L.A. House.  If either of these are ever published it will be a miracle.


A book written by bloggers Carrie and Danielle.  Have to support the bloggers!

New books already delivered:


A French book on opaline glass.  One of the prettiest books I've ever seen.  The opaline pieces in this book make my collection look like junk.  Gorgeous.


You know the rule:  French in the title.   Actually, this is pretty good for ideas.


Staub, the architect that developed Houston's toniest neighborhood River Oaks.  This book is gorgeous and a must have for any Houstonian interested in its architectural history. 


This is a wonderful book about all the other houses of Marie Antoinette's beside Versailles.  Beautiful little book.


And last but not least, a book on the history of mural style wallcoverings in the Gracie and de Gournay tradition.  Put out by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

There are some talented designers left who've yet to write a book.  Ones I'd love to see do so:  Dan Carithers, Suzanne Kasler, Bobby McAlpine, Gerrie Bremermann, David Easton, Tom Scheerer, Mary McDonald, and Suzanne Rheinstein to name a few.  Who else needs to write a book?  I'd love to know who you think should.