featured designer: Beth Webb on beauty and rooms that speak to the senses

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In 1897 when the iconic book The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr. was published, one critic bemoaned its focus on beauty as a guiding principle. Thankfully many others embraced this approach and understood that the book’s thesis, if you will, had to do with restraint (at a time when that was not in vogue) and as Wharton put it, “the supreme excellence in simplicity.”

Designer Beth Webb is of this school. Read more

the scrapbook: interior, flowers and parakeets, Matisse 1924

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This painting by Matisse is one of my favorites at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I could look at it forever with its layers and layers of textures and patterns and light. I love the plain wooden table with the embroidered runner and the lovely pale flowers in the china vase alongside a simple cup and saucer and two lemons. Then, there is the exotic birdcage of parakeets, the shadows on the strips of mix-matched wallpaper, the pulled back curtain, the blue and white screen, and the undressed window offering a glimpse of the world beyond this room. It has been noted that this was Etta Cone’s favorite painting of those that she and her sister Claribel collected. And their own apartment in Baltimore looked something like this—with rooms that pulled you in like a story about the art of living.

the scrapbook: near-black green

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In Edgartown proper on Martha’s Vineyard it is called “near-black green” and in the South it is commonly referred to as “Charleston green.”

It’s the deep, inky green found on shutters and doors in many historic homes in historic towns, and what I love about it is how it gives a house a classic, clean, slightly formal look with a hint of mystery: is it black? Or is it green? At the moment, I’m on Martha’s Vineyard, but reading about Southern style, so this color that intersects both worlds and is part of each regions vernacular is quite intriguing.

In Charleston the story goes that residents added hints of blue and yellow to a government issued black after the Civil War as an act of independence. And in the New England area, I am told that it has to do with the harsh climate and the Puritan heritage. Neither of these tales can be officially verified, but it doesn’t really matter to me…lovely stories, lovely color.

onthresholds_edgartown near-black green

Happy Hump Day!

the scrapbook: chinoiserie


chi·noi·se·rie | noun | the imitation or evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century.

In a new book about timeless Southern style (more on that soon!) there is chinoiserie everywhere, and I have to admit that I have often confused it with toile. Toile is a pattern that is French and often depicts the French countryside, while chinoiserie means “Chinese-esque” and includes all different kinds of Chinese images which can be found on fabric, wallpaper, furniture, folding screens and so on. I have been calling my foyer wallpaper toile when it is actually chinoiserie—so thank goodness I’ve gotten that straightened out for us (and now to actually pronounce it correctly…).

If you are a little bit afraid of something like this, the pattern above is a removable wallpaper from tempaperdesigns.com.

last trip: the town of Oxford, Maryland

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We have come to think of Labor Day weekend as our last chance at summer—last dip in the pool, last ride on the boat, last burger on the grill, last stroll on the beach, last ice cream cone, and so on. The days will get busier and shorter and chillier, and so we throw ourselves into a long weekend of all things “summer.” And even if it isn’t actually “the end” (for September can be warm and full of outdoor activities), sometimes a symbolic end is just as meaningful, if not more so than the real thing. Read more

a light, late summer supper

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August can be a tricky month—one minute we are frolicking in the sea and sand, and the next we are shopping for school supplies and getting back into a hectic daily routine. So, I thought I’d share this recipe for The Simplest Salade Nicoise because not only is simple what many of us need right now, but also because it allows us to use some of the late summer fresh vegetables and tuna in a jar or in a can (see note below about this!). It’s perfect for this time of year: elegant without being fussy, so it would be nice for Sunday supper, and, light and quick enough for a weeknight after a busy day. Read more

Sundays at the farmers’ market

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These late summer days have brought sudden storms and torrential rain followed by glorious days with billowing clouds, soft winds, and no humidity. They’ve brought sunflowers and dahlias and peaches and sugar snap peas. And, for me, the feeling that I must get to the farmers’ market for all of these things, not to mention the best tomatoes and corn on the cob before they are gone for the season. Read more