Years ago, about 16 years I suppose, I saw the above picture in a magazine - I don't remember which magazine it was, but it was probably Southern Accents. I fell completely in love with this room. I adored everything about it - the then, in vogue taupe and white striped linen fabric on all the furniture, the creamy stucco walls, the french furniture, the fireplace, the blue and white porcelains, the books, even the platter balanced above the molding. Years later I learned it was designed by Dan Carithers from Atlanta, someone whose taste I have come to admire greatly. It's fitting that my favorite room was designed by Carithers. Over the years whenever I've had a client present a picture from a magazine of a look they like, it's always a room by Carithers, always. I digress.
Sixteen years ago, a few months after the birth of my long awaited first and only child, Ben horrified me one night when he casually informed me we were moving from Houston to Ft. Worth, Texas, otherwise known as Cowtown. ok. I couldn't physically walk for days from the sheer horror at the thought of moving so far away (a long, exhausting, 30 minute plane ride!) from my family and friends. But, move we did. Although we had planned to start a new life there with a new job for Ben, we actually only ended up staying for a year and 1/2 before we moved back home. But, at the time, we truly believed we would be there forever, and so we bought our first home in Ft. Worth. I loved decorating it - it was the first time I got to really design my home with an actual budget, as opposed to just acquiring hand-me-down furniture or inexpensive upholstered pieces. It was new construction, so I was able to choose the finishes: dark hardwood floors for the living and dining rooms and Mexican saltillo tile for all of the rest of the house. I made a huge mistake with the paint, which was supposed to be a cool taupe, but ended up with a decidedly lilac tint to it. When it came to picking out furniture, I decided I was going to try to copy Carither's striped room. I bought a sofa in the exact same striped taupe and white linen fabric, and I recovered a pair of French fauteuils given to me by my mom (they were her mother's chairs) in the same striped fabric. I slipcovered four small side chairs also in the striped fabric, and bought a rattan chair and ottoman and covered the cushions, again in the striped fabric. To break it up a little, I had a skirted table made in a complementary taupe and cream ethnic print. On the sofa, I had two pillows made out of plain white linen and one in an accent leopard print. To cover the floors, I bought my first sisal rug, not seagrass because I couldn't find a source. So, I had to make-do with the itchy sisal instead. Though the living room fell far short of looking anything like Carither's room (the architecture of Carither's room was impossible to recreate in my small, starter home), I was ecstatic with the finished result. We were young and with a new baby and we loved our first home, even though it was in Cowtown. I found a few pictures from that room to show you here:
The day after we moved in I took these pictures - the cushions for the rattan chair hadn't come in yet. My fledging opaline collection is on the skirted table.
My oh so young husband Ben on the striped sofa with the accent pillow. He's petting Reggie, who was run over a few months after this picture was taken. :( The oil painting came from my mother.
The slipcovered card chairs. I guess I didn't have any blue and white porcelain then - even though it was such an important element in Carither's room. The oil painting over the mantel was bought in Europe by my father.
After our year and a half in Siberia, we moved back to Houston and planned our new home. We bought a lot in West University to build on and copied a spec home that had already been built in our neighborhood, making only some cosmetic changes to the plan. I still had all my faux Carithers' furniture, barely even used, so I furnished my new, ultra small, not quite two story living room with all of the striped linen fabric furniture. I bought an antique mirror in Austin one game day. And, influenced by the Colefax and Fowler book, about a year or so later I bought a red and celadon kilim rug to use instead of the sisal. The room basically stayed like this for a few years.
This pictures was taken a few years after we moved in our new home in Houston. I can tell, because I've already gotten rid of the ethnic skirt and replaced it with a paisley shawl. Also, the white pillows are now long gone. That's my cat Quilty sleeping on a paisley shawl. The opaline collection has grown a little. That's an opaline lamp that I had bought at my mother's antique store she had. The lamp has since broken in pieces!!
As time went on, I started getting into an English landed-gentry design phase and tried to pretend that I was living in Dorset or Gloucestershire in an ancient English country home. Hence, the changes in the living room during this phase: I had a batik bedspread covering the striped sofa, I bought bamboo furniture (couldn't really afford anything else), there were wool paisley scarves over tables and anything else I could cover, and there was a huge bamboo shelving unit that I bought from Shabby Slips (before they were ultra chic). I just HAD to have that shelving unit and bought it on impulse, probably motivated by how inexpensive it was. Boy, these pictures are REALLY humiliating!!! Nothing actually fit properly in the room. The striped sofa was always too big for the space and that shelving unit was terrible from day one. It finally dawned on me that I wasn't Prince Charles' neighbor (not that I had fooled anyone) and something had to give. My nephew took the shelves off my hands and the Urban Outfitters bedspread went into hiding. By this time, I was sick to death of the striped fabric which was no longer trendy, but terribly dated. I wanted a total change for the room, but just had no direction and no idea of where to take it.
Oh, God, how horrible! My English period: Urban Outfitters bedspread hides the too big striped sofa, massive shelving unit is on the right, bamboo tea table is in front of the french chairs. By this time, I loathed my wooden blinds and raised them all the way up to try to hide them. I could be easily blackmailed by this photo.
A close up! Not sure what that is growing on the top shelf there! Those are Oriental figures on the pedestals next to the mirror. The clear glass urn lamps have been replaced with celadon green peeling painted lamps that I actually still have. The opaline has been moved upstairs.
One more picture for good measure. Here, I have finally taken off the lovely Urban Outfitters bedspread! I bought those antique gold candlesticks on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Love the print sitting in the chair like an unwanted houseguest.
While I was trying to figure out what to do with all my outdated and, and now, loathed striped furniture, my friend with the English house that decided to go Swedish was unloading some furniture and I jumped at her offer to buy her small sofa from her sunroom. It was an expensive upholstered piece, down filled cushions, well made, and she sold it to me at a very reasonable price. I sent it out to get a white linen slipcover with a scalloped hem. I then played merry go round with sofas: my bargain den sofa was given to my sister in law (the one on the ranch) much to my husband's chagrin. To this day he claims it was the most comfortable sofa we ever owned. In its place, I moved the loathed, striped Carithers sofa to the den after I first had it slipcovered in a plain khaki linen. I had all of the striped Carithers French chairs recovered in two different Bennison fabrics. And so, the Carithers striped furniture era came to an end.
The day my new living room sofa came back from being slipcovered, I was crestfallen. It looked like a white pincushion. It was tiny. I had done what I would never, ever do to a client: not measured! I felt like an inept fool. The scale of the sofa (really- a love seat) was totally off: it was much too small for the room. But, I had no alternative at that point. It was mine, paid for (barely) and newly slipcovered. I had to live with it and I did, for a few years. Despite the size fiasco, I was basically pleased with the new look in my living room. I loved the Bennison fabrics on the chairs and pillows. The kilim rug was now gone, replaced by proper seagrass. A few years later, I finally installed curtains, yellow silk ticking, and I repainted all the walls from the original coffee au lait color to a subtle yellow with a brown undertone. The moldings I had painted a light French gray. All was well and good - for a while.
An early version of the post Carithers stripe/English landed gentry look. The new tiny sofa sits under a collection of celadon plates. I bought a needlepoint rug to sit on top of the seagrass rug. The blinds are finally gone. The walls have been painted. The chairs and pillows are Bennison. My garden lady is stuck in the corner then.
Here's another shot with the chairs and tables moved around.
In the left corner, you can see my new collection at the time - Oriental altar fruit on a newly acquired 'French wine table.
When Katrina devastated New Orleans, Antique store owner Tara Shaw was stuck without a place to sell her new shipment. Tara owns the eponymous Tara Shaw where she sells French, Italian and Swedish antiques to the trade only. Really. No cheaters - its the real thing. She came to Houston to open a new store and took Houston by a storm, which is probably a bad choice of words, considering. Everyone in the design business went crazy at her prices - they were unbelievably low - honest, true, trade prices - something Houston had never seen before. Of course, I had to get in on the fun. Loaded down by a commission check, I bought a buffet a deux for my living room from Tara and promptly filled it up with Masonware from England. The new antique piece towered over my poor little pincushion of a sofa. So, one day, I spied a green antique French daybed at Tara's. I had it painted Swedish gray, but instead it came out lavender and Don from Custom Creations saved the day when he repainted it a whitish taupe-y color for me. Ceci, also from Custom Creations, made the slipcovers for the daybed, again with a scalloped hem. The pincushion was banished to my master bedroom, replacing the Pottery Barn chairs up there. Finally, after 14 years in our house, I had a living room with a sofa (sort of) that fit the room properly. So, I was through with that room! Finished. Happy......
The day bed slipcovered in a brown and cream check.
The garden lady statue is now in between the front windows. The windows are softly draped with silk which hides a lot of hard angles. The store bought seagrass has been replaced with a custom cut piece that fits just up to the molding, as it should.
A close up of the day bed with the scalloped hem. The two pillows and the chair on the left are covered in Bennison's famous Roses fabric. This picture was taken before I had the sconces installed next to the mirror.
A close up of the buffet a deux with the collection of Masonware inside.
There was still one thing missing from the room that I had planned to buy, if I could ever find it. One day last year, I was at Tara's (of course) when I spied a crystal chandelier - antique, but not period. It was a French Empire light fixture. There had been one just like it before that was "mine." At least, I thought it was mine, I was promised it was mine, but that other fixture got sold out from under me by mistake. And there was yet another one after that that was sold before I could buy it. I didn't want to lose another chandelier that I loved again, so I bought the one at Tara's after thinking on it for a few days. The great people at Alcon fixed it up for me - wired it, cleaned it, put it all back together, replaced missing crystals, and gave it new sleeves. And yesterday, it came home:
The new chandelier! Isn't it gorgeous???? I'm in love! Ben and Elisabeth and I keep staring at it - it's just amazing!
Here's how it hangs - over the center table. Not too low, but not high at all. Bennett Fan expertly installed it for me - as always, thanks guys!
Here you can see it reflected in the mirror. Mirrors should always reflect something beautiful and finally, after 14 years, mine does.
Looking back today through all these old photos of one small room, it amazes me how much the room has changed. It didn't happened overnight, it was a very gradual process, which some people like for their own home, while others prefer big changes all at once. I do know that I am not one to furnish my house and then leave it alone. Being "in the business," I'm constantly exposed to new things and it's a challenge to resist the urge to change. But, of course, I do give into that temptation. To me, a house is a changing thing - a vehicle to express the way one feels, to showcase the things that one loves, and to feel cozy in - warmed by the presence of the love of your family. I enjoy my house - I love to be home and just putter around, changing things, moving things, putting out fresh flowers and lighting scented candles. It sometimes still takes me by surprise to think that I actually own a home and can fix it up and do whatever I want to it! Playing house was always my favorite thing to do when I was young and I suppose I'm still doing that just on a bigger stage. This love of house is something my mother and I share and we talk about it all the time. Some people "do" clothes, we say, but we "do" house!
Note: While my chandelier is an antique, there are a few companies today that produce fixtures just like it. One such company that comes immediately to mind is Julie Neill Designs from New Orleans. Julie custom makes her fixtures to the customer's specific size or needs. She's wonderful to do business with - I know, because I recently purchased one of her fixtures for a client and facilitated another fixture for a friend. If you think you might want a chandelier something like mine - or maybe even something completely different, I recommend you visit her web site and look at her products! Her fixtures are just gorgeous!
Here's a picture of one of Julie Neill's designs. This chandelier is very similar to mine! Beautiful!