19 April 2009

Mimmi O’Connell

Sometime ago, I wrote about one of my favorite international designers – Mimmi O’Connell, a forerunner, if not the originator, of the fusion look in design, combining Asian and  European antiques, a mix of high and low – with lots of contrasts, iron, linens and stripes – and all with a wonderful linear quality.   Through the years, O’Connell was an inspiration to my own design sensibilities.  She proved over and over again, that beautiful design doesn’t have to mean fancy fabrics or period antiques, that the everyday object with beautiful lines can be just as important to the final design as a priceless piece of porcelain; that art can be a woven fabric, or an oriental screen – it doesn’t have to be a canvas created by a master; that wicker and rattan and iron are just at home in a living room as marquetry or parquetry.  In short – O’Connell made it acceptable to bring in handmade items from exotic locales and not just the priciest auction houses.    With her favorite elements, she created a mixture that became her trademark.  Her look was so fresh and innovative that she opened her own business and later a thriving store – Port Of Call - which became a famous haunt of the best designers throughout the world.    Through the years, O’Connell never comprised her vision, her love of the Euro-Asian look is as strong today as it was thirty years ago.   When I wrote that initial article – I wanted to share her aesthetic with my American readers.  O’Connell was my little secret and I wanted everyone to enjoy her designs as much as I did.    European readers, though, already knew all about Ms. O’Connell.   After the blog post came out, I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised to receive an email from O’Connell.   Mimmi then graciously agreed to an interview, which I posted here.    And so times passes on.     This week, I heard back from O’Connell with an offer to look at her apartment just recently photographed by the incomparable  and uber-talented Fritz  von der Schulenburg.  The photographs are so gorgeous, they practically sing.  They are the work of two true geniuses collaborating.   So, please enjoy this wonderful peek into Ms. Mimmi O’Connell’s life in England and as an added treat  - her life in Italy. 

 

ENGLAND:

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The apartment is located in Eaton Square, Belgravia in London.  It is quite large, with three bedroom suites.   Here, the living area is divided by a large Asian table.  On the right, two sofas face each other.  On the left side of the room is another seating arrangement.  The floor is scrubbed clean – white washed, and the wall color matches.  Notice the two blue and white garden seats – you can thank O’Connell for starting that trend, oh about 30 years ago!   The printed sofa is covered in a Fortuny inspired fabric by Claremont.  The curtains are two tones of Irish linen.   Notice the chairs – their vertical lines are repeated throughout the flat.  

 

 

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O’Connell loves to design using candles and lanterns, again, something she has been at long before candles were all the rage.   O’Connell also likes the use baskets – especially to hold logs – in her designs.  I adore the lamps – again, repeating the vertical lines –as do the lanterns. 

 

 

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On the opposite side of the living room – the seating is made up of chaises – what a wonderful idea!  As usual, O’Connell uses a cotton ticking stripe from Pierre Frey, again, mixing the low with the high.   Mimmi proudly announces that the only art work in the apartment is this Chinese lacquer screen made in the 20’s that she purchased in Shanghai.   Living with art that comes from furniture, such as the painted box below the library table, is just how Mimmi likes it.  This is part of what she calls “my own simple luxury philosophy.”    Notice how the table is staged, with tons of books and even more orchids.  TIP:  There is beauty in numbers.  If a mass of orchids is out of your price range – substitute a  mass of carnations in glass milk bottles, or cut flowering branches from your back yard, or even leafy branches from bushes.  The key to this look is in the massing of a single element. 

 

 

 

 

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The dining room introduces a favorite color of O’Connell’s:  Oriental red.  The table is set with mixture of textiles.  Against the back wall are lacquered Oriental cabinets that hold the dinnerware.   Since the cabinets are short, O’Connell puts her favorite boxes on top to elongate the line, another great tip to take from the designer.   The chairs are slipped in black and white ticking – a favorite fabric of hers. 

 

 

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So gorgeous!  What a table setting.  Antique red Papier Mache bowls become chargers.  Traditional red and blue porcelains are the plates.  The napkins are antique monogrammed towels.  Large blue and white bowls finish the look.    I adore the spoons.  This is truly a  beautiful tablescape and quite an inspiration.  

 

 

 

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In this bedroom one of Mimmi’s bespoke daybeds takes center stage.  She tells me she sells quite a lot of these – they come in all sizes.  Here it is upholstered in the Pierre Frey ticking.  Notice how she ties the ends of her pillows!   I love the little desk, so simple – yet so effective.  The floor is covered in simple wall to wall seagrass – a perfect texture to pair with her possessions.  

 

 

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The second bedroom is used as a media room.  The focal point is the “sensuous,” as Mimmi calls it, opium bed.   Here Ms. O’Connell watches movies – day or night.  And if she falls asleep – she’ll stay the night in this bed, rather than her proper bedroom.   The opium bed has twelve pillows on it – making it quite comfortable.   Notice how she tied the ends of her bolsters – with an exotic accessory.   Antique paisley throws are used as coverlets.   The shelves are loaded with photos and books.  If any designer is due to write a book – it’s Mimmi.  She said she is considering it – she has piles of work that has been published in magazines and other design books over the years and all the projects shown together would make a sure-to-be best-seller.  Notice the red ladder and the tassels placed on the curtain rods.   Though everything is pared down and streamlined – it’s the little flourishes here and there make the flat all the more interesting.   Mimmi says that although she likes things simplified – she is not, and never will be, a minimalist.

 

 

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Ah, yes!  Mimmi’s bedroom – the Piece de Resistance!    Her trademark -  two chairs, in her beloved black and white ticking, flank the bed – facing it.  I love how she used two floor mirrors for symmetry besides the four poster.  The lamps – simple balls of light on tall, thin rods, are found throughout the apartment.    The creamy linens match the color of the walls.  And at these windows – the linen sheers are paired with a heavy crewel fabric.   Absolutely gorgeous!!!!     TIP:  a copy of this bed, at a fraction of the cost, is available at Anthropologie.  And – to duplicate the mirrors, see Ikea.   They have a wonderful floor mirror, framed in black, that would provide the same effect. 

 

 

ITALY:

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When Mimmi tires of London, she leaves it all behind and goes home to Italy – where she was born.  There Mimmi has designed her own vision of heaven – a 7 bedroom villa.   The villa started life as a rather austere school house – built in the 60’s, which O’Connell completely renovated and turned it into the perfect vacation spot.    The villa is Zen meets Italia.   It has a contemporary feel  due to its architecture – though the furnishings are all pure Mimmi:  Asia antiques mixed with French and Italian pieces, gorgeous four poster iron beds, huge baskets, candles everywhere and tables piled high with books and more books.    Her color scheme seems to have been influenced by the native terrazzo floors.   The villa is available for rent year–wide, so check out its web site for all the details. 

 

 

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The drive up to La Scuola, Mimmi’s villa.

 

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The first glimpse of the former schoolhouse.   I love the fence!

 

 

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The former classrooms were all turned into ensuite bedrooms (The Queen’s English for – bedrooms with attached bathrooms.)  The suites all  have doors that lead to outside patios.

 

 

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Across from the bedroom wing is the living area, to the left.   A large open terrace is where daytime sunbathing takes place and evening meals are taken.

 

 

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   And, the view of the terrace, to the right.  

 

  

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The property overlooks the hills of Siena in southern Tuscany.  La Scuola is located within walking distance of the small medieval town of San Casciano dei Bagni, which boasts a recently remodeled old Roman spa.  The piazza is centrally located – a  mere 1 1/2 hour drive from both the Rome and Florence airports. 

 

 

 

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A close up view of the terrace with its teak furniture and candles, of course!

 

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At night the terrace comes alive with candle light – one of Mimmi’s favorite decorating tools is candlelight and lanterns.   So beautiful!

 

 

 

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The bedroom wing is sparsely decorated with lanterns and benches.  At the end – a cabinet becomes the focal point – pulling the eye down the long terrazzo hall.

 

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Close up of the decorated cabinet – flanked by yet more lanterns. 

 

 

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The main living space is located in the former teacher’s lounge.  As always – Mimmi chose to use Oriental chairs with their lean, vertical lines.    The four chairs – strength in numbers – become the focal point here.    Bookcases are filled for the guests’ reading pleasure.   The atmosphere is elegantly relaxed – perfect for a vacation spot!

 

 

 

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The dining area is located in the large main room.

 

 

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Outdoor French park chairs are used inside –  Mimmi loves to use garden furniture indoors.

 

 

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One of the guestroom has a large four poster bed, made of bamboo, as is the desk.   The bamboo is offset by the vivid black and white ticking, in two sizes.   Mimmi cites Pauline de Rothschild as one of her influences – Rothschild was known for floating four poster beds – as is done here. 

 

 

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One of the bathrooms has a decidedly Zen like feel to it. 

 

 

 

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This bedroom is decorated with an Italian four poster iron bed, reminiscent of the ones that Mimmi slept in as a child.  Again, the Oriental chairs contribute to the linear feel of the bed.   This room is all about lines and contrasts.  Antique oriental chests are stacked on top of each other for an end table, and are used as benches at the end of the bed.   Each room has crisp white linen bedding, piled high with down pillows – just as Mimmi likes it.

 

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The other side of the above bedroom shows the tufted ottomans and chairs, covered in a, unusual for Mimmi, floral fabric.

 

 

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Twin iron four beds, decorated in shades of red and black. 

 

 

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This bedroom has Mimmi’s famous upholstered daybeds.  Ticking fabric was used for the curtains – trimmed in tape.  Notice the “end table” – a high card table placed between the two beds.    I love how O’Connell always uses Oriental chairs at the foot of the bed – facing inwards!   Here they make great bookstands.

 

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This bedroom actually has two beds like this, side by side.  This is my favorite bed of all those in the house.  I love the vignette with the French window mirror and gray console.

 

 

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Another view of the same bedroom.  Again – lines and contrasts.  Notice how Mimmi lined the box spring in the cotton ticking.  She says that she always uses a patterned fabric instead of lining – especially in her curtain applications. Another great tip from the designer.

 

 

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Floor plan of La Scuola in Italian.  The bedrooms are all lined up along the hall.  The living area is to the right, above – with the kitchen and servant’s room next to it.

 

 

 

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    So, what does the medieval Tuscany town of San Casciano dei Bagni, where La Scuola is located, look like – exactly?   Well – is this a good enough picture?  The villa is located within walking distance of the piazza – but it is still quiet and secluded.

 

 

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This view clearly shows the old fortress.   I wish I could see where the villa is located – it must be very close to the town because it was once the school!!

 

 

 

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In this picture taken at sunset – you can see how the town was built on the highest point – for safety, to warn that marauding armies were coming.

 

 

 

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Inside the town, the streets are very narrow.  Many are lined with flowers.   It all looks so clean!

 

 

 

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Here is a charming house inside the town.  I wish we could see inside it!

 

 

 

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Another beautiful flower lined street inside the town.  

 

 

 

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Going home. 

 

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The town is famous for its old Roman spas, or baths, which have recently been renovated.  Apparently these waters are very close to La Scuola.

 

Design Philosophy and Tips from Mimmi O’Connell:

 

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Fritz von der Schulenburg;

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The photographs of O’Connell’s London apartment are so gorgeous – they got me wondering about the photographer, Fritz von der Schulenburg.  A quick google search disclosed just how extensive his resume is.  Besides shooting interior design work – he is named as principal photographer on so many design books – I was mightily impressed.  I think you will be too!  Several of his books are my personal favorites.    How many of these books are either your favorite or do you own?

 

 

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Whoa – what a list. And this isn’t all either, just some of Fritz von der Schulenburg’s work.

 

I hope you enjoyed this peek into Mimmi O’Connell life!!!  Be sure to read my two prior articles on her here and here.

62 comments:

  1. I remember your original posting on Mimmi O'Connell and was thrilled to read this follow-up. Her homes are stunning!

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  2. A lovely look into her beautiful homes. I especially like the way she used the lanterns in so many areas; especially by the pool. Wonderful!

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  3. You post such amazing blogs!. They are always such an inspiration! and valuable learning tool! There are just too many wonderful things about Mimmi's work to comment on, but I love her style. Thank you for providing the opportunity to enjoy her work AND the fabulous photos!
    marcie

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  4. Always been a great fan of hers and her Asian fusion. She very kindly recommended me to a client in Monaco for Chinese red lacquer trunks, (as in those atop the cabinets), which I manufactured as CD storage. Your post shows off her work very well indeed.

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  5. How fabulous! Love her work, what a great treat to have such an inside track peek. Living in Rome means that we go often to San Casciano, i think i even posted about it a while back. The town & surrounding area is WONDERFUL. Restaurants, nature, spa, the whole works. Her school house looks stunning... and browsing local real estate agencies in Tuscany I see that it is not only for rent but also for sale. A stylish in town retreat awaits some very lucky buyer. Good reporting Joni!

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  6. love her london apartment, especially the living area- nothing too matchy-matchy, a bit of a disheveled air while remaining refined.

    lovely.

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  7. Oh my god. Those pictures of Italy are breath taking. How beautiful, the streets so neat with gorgeous flowers on their sidewalks. Isn't that lovely and romantic?

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  8. Thanks so much for this wonderful post. I lobe her simple elegant style and now I finally think I know what I want for my living room drapes. I'm inspired!

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  9. Great post, Joni. And lucky you - getting email from Mimmi! Looks like you better go visit La Scuola soon - just let me know when, and I'll meet you there!

    –Lana

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  10. What a wonderful post! Spectacular photos! I am in love with Mimmi's gorgeous draped bed. Scrumptious.

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  11. So beautiful, I'm jealous! I especially love her curtains - so unique using 2 tones of linen. Linen curtains are my favorite things!
    An even cheaper 'copy' of that empire styled iron daybed is ( or at least used to ) be available from CB2 -you can find it online.

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  12. Joni, another masterpiece posting. I love Mimmi's style and could move right in to either property. (I might just add a work of art or two):)

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  13. Once again you introduce me to people and places I would never have known - thank you! And the pictures of Mimmi's Italian home are just wonderful. I am going right to my easel after seeing the photos of the countryside - I had just started work on a canvas Friday of just such a view! Thank you for the inspiration to get back at it this morning.

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  14. As always - I am equally amazed by the designers you showcase and your ability to wrap it all up in a nice package for us.

    You're the best !

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  15. Joni, thank you for the wonderful blog on Mimmi! It was delicious! What is not to love? It really gets the creative juices going!!! Thank you, thank you, for the tremendous generosity of your time and spirit!

    Judy

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  16. What a wonderful post on a Monday morn! Everything about Mimmi's style speaks to me. Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Michelle

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  17. This is the first I've heard of Mimmi O'Connell. She is good at her craft. There are so many talented individuals and it brings me pleasure to look at their creative genius.

    Thank you, Joni, for opening the door to so many interesting and diverse designers throughout the industry. I've said it before, "You are the best." When are you going to write that book yourself?

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  18. I'm hearing the beating of the book drum again. Don't you think it's time to really seriously consider this? We have your back, sister!

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  19. I'm not normally fired up by white/neutral interiors, but damn...I would live in all of these quite happily. My favorite designer that you have featured so far. Love the asian elements...so clean and sensual. Bravo!!

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  20. Thank you so much for this post! I love the almost (but not quite) minimalism that lets my soul breathe, it all is so pure.

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  21. Another amazing post Joni- thanks for the endless inspiration!

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  22. I love that she is not afraid to repeat. If you love it, why not repeat it?!

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  23. When am I going to be able to renovate a Villa in Tuscany? Life is so unfair! Gorgeous post as always!

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  24. I especially love her philosophy on kitchens! And the bones of that London flat are to die for!! If only my rich uncle would get out of the poor house, I would head straight to a Belgravia real estate office!!

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  25. What a great post, Joni. You have introduced me to so many wonderful designers! Hope you have a great week! XO

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  26. Hi Joni,
    I have seen La Scuola before in a book. But not so many pictures! Thanks for this great post. And the other two posts I read with great interest.
    I love this this Venitian style terazzo floor. And do you know that Mimmi designed her own dishes for La Scuola?!
    Ciao & thanks for sharing

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  27. Joni -- it is wonderful images like these you've posted; that makes one wish 'teleportation' was possible. HAVE A GREAT WEEK!
    -Brenda-

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  28. I've loved her Italian home ever since I first saw it in one of Clifton-Mogg's books.. the rest of the house is just as lovely as I would have imagined!

    I love the details she's done with fabric. Very inspiring.
    Thanks for the great post Joni!

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  29. Joni,
    Thank you for making me feel as though I just sat down with a good, design magazine. You are so thorough and really illustrate each post so that I don't feel as though I've missed a thing!

    I am a ticking freak and really appreciated seeing it used in a different, less traditional way.
    Black chairs?
    They do it for me every time!

    The media room... a dream come true.

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  30. beautiful post joni! And thanks for stopping by my blog... I always enjoy a comment from you. smiles

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  31. I admit I never heard of Mimmi and it was a nice discovery: I particularly liked her London flat, linen curtains, oriental red,Pierre Frey fabrics, lots of books, plenty of atmosphere. Gorgeous.
    Not so fond of the Italian place, I don't find it inviting (starting with the name "School"...)
    Thanks Joni for another great Post

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  32. oh Joni - I WANT that house in Italy. Is that just the coolest thing ever that it was a school! I love the floor plan. Of course that beautiful room was your favorite, and mine was the black and red with the iron beds! I just can't resist the color, even though the other is so gorgeous and peaceful.I love what she does with chairs by the bed, but I would be bumping into them in the night! Very, very handsome ,though. Great post, as always.

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  33. loving the outdoor spaces and the bedrooms - those four posted beds are just so simple and fantastic - the bamboo one is amazing!!! once again, an amazing post ;) thank you for introducing me to mimmi!

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  34. Oh my goodness! I wanted to crawl inside my computer screen, pluck a book off the bookshelves and curl-up on that 'opium bed' to read, daydream and nap! Again and again Joni, you make head swim with eye candy rooms! Many thanks!

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  35. Joni, I've seen some pictures of her work before, but loved seeing them with your commentary. Of course, I've never seen anything from her new flat, so that was so special. I also went back to see your previous posts on her. I've spent a very long and enjoyable night on your blog. She just has such a unique way of designing a room-there are always surprises in her designs. Enjoyed all 3 of these posts. Oh! You made me want to go order all of those beautiful books! I ony have the Bunny Williams one. laurie

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  36. I am always blown away by your posts and this one was no exception. It's all so amazing and it's given me a few ideas I can do on my own right now with what I already have! Thank you!

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  37. Joni, this could have been four different posts! Amazing.

    I love the table filled with orchids. That is truly luxurious and beautiful.

    Eaton Square is just a few blocks from where I stay in London. I have walked through Eaton Square many times wondering what beautiful interiors might be behind the curtained windows. Thanks for this little glimpse into Mimmi's world!

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  38. I love learning about all these desingers!! I think you need to do a huge book/ bio. seriously.

    my FAVORITE room is the ones with all the grays, whites with the french window mirror & console, the 2 beds... love it!!!!

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  39. Oh I just loved this post...I have to add Joni that your pictures are the BEST in blogland..just wonderful !!!

    All the best,
    Kathy :)
    jokaj@comcast.net

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  40. Speechless. What a gift she has...

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  41. What a lovely little town! I know that I have seen the mirror that you describe as a French Window Mirror in the wisteria.com website.
    Mimsy

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  42. Cote de Texas University....
    I learn every time I open your blog!
    You are most amazing, where are you taking the time to think it all up and post???
    THANK YOU!
    Victoria

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  43. I think I first started reading you regularly when you introduced me to her work the first time, and she's remained one of my all time favorites ever since. She has a unique balance in her work, which is both clean, modern, and luxurious with a collector's sense of textiles and antiques. Now I've got to revise my amazon wish list...

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  44. My favorite room was yours as well. Great minds???...

    I loved her rules regarding the kitchen. To many designers have forgotten that.

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  45. The pictures were absolutely delicious, and reminded me of my honeymoon through England and Wales. Thanks for the images -- and the memories!

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  46. Wonderful post. I really love the two seperate seating arrangments in the living. I love the chaise seating arrangment, that is truly brillant. The orchids I adore, and lastly her placement of high-back chairs is genius. Thanks for introducing me to Mimmi's designs, she is fanastic.

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  47. I loved the materials she uses I love stripes and ticking and the plain Linen. Thanks for sharing this with us. I did go Mimmi's site thanks. I love the way you always tell your storys in your posts, thanks Joni.
    Julie in Holland

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  48. Joni,
    You are amazing! Not only a long gorgeous tour but great insider information also.
    She does love day beds!
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos with us. Have a great weekend.
    All the best.
    Lisa

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  49. Your home looks great. Thanks for sharing these. I've just redecorated my home and i found the best home decor pieces at Ballard Designs.

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  59. Yes, Mimmi is a good designer. She designed my bedroom. Upon her advice I put the my cars big trolley jack right next beside the entrance to the room. Also, Mimmi gave me advice of how to fix the broken drawer on my kitchen cupboard. Last not least, upon Mimmis advice I replaced the light coloured carpet in the living room with a dark brown carpet because on a darker carpet you don´t see dirt as much as you do on a light coloured carpet. Last not least, Mimmi adviced me to put some posters over the tiles that had fallen off in the bathroom. Thank to Mimmi my flat now looks better again.

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