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

Onthresholds_Webb book_4 IMG_0069

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

summer reading: very stylish women

onthresholds_how they decorated

“There are many celebrated women who lived with great style but are lost to pages of old magazines or books, waiting to be rediscovered,” writes P. Gaye Tapp in the first line of her newly released book How They Decorated: Inspiration from Great Women of the Twentieth Century. There is a lengthy history of interior designers looking back at their predecessors with respect and admiration—a nod to the past as a way of showing us what we can learn from this backwards glance. Gaye P. Tapp, interior designer, author, and blogger, joins this legacy with her book, which is well-researched and quite stylish itself with introductory essays, photographs (some that have not been published before), and charming illustrations of interiors, also an aspect of interior decorating with a long history (the cover is a Cecil Beaton drawing that sets the tone of the book perfectly). Read more

blooming: new favorite flower books

onthresholds_peonies close up

I’m not entirely sure why, but flower books seem to lift the spirits almost as much as the flowers themselves. It might have something to do with how flower books allow us to cross so many thresholds:  what I mean is the blurring of boundaries between home and garden that happens on the pages and in our minds as we read and look at the photographs—for we are invited into the world of living a flower-inspired life no matter what our real circumstances are. So that even if we have no garden or cut flowers that particular day, we have the book itself to cheer us on.

Here are three recently published flower books that I have very much enjoyed poring over.  I hope you will too. Read more

consider the oyster


There is no question in my mind that I have indeed considered the oyster lately. Two things have prompted this mild obsession: a recent visit to St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (once known for its famous Chincoteague Salts) and finally getting around to reading M.F.K. Fisher’s classic Consider The Oyster published in 1941. Read more

that I may gloat on thee


The first day of December has brought sun and wind, and this morning at my desk I watched the bare oak trees sway in a fading and rising light, which made me think of the winter days ahead and time moving on…I was reading about Emily Dickinson and her scraps of poetry and how on one of the scraps she wrote, “Slower go/That I may gloat on thee.”

before the frost



I was up before dawn reading about autumn bulbs. If you are a real gardener (I’m ashamed to admit that most of the time I am reading about gardens and gardening more than I am actually digging in the dirt), you are thinking of bulbs this time of year. Lately I have been spending time with the real gardener Katharine S. White. Her book Onward and Upward in The Garden is a collection of essays that she (a beloved editor at The New Yorker) wrote between 1959 and 1970, many of them after she retired. The book was published posthumously by her husband, E.B. White (yes, of Charlotte’s Web). Read more


onthresholds_iron scroll porch in Shepardstown

The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless owing to the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region; it breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land.

           ~ from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Because this is the appropriate time of year for ghost stories, I decided to reread Washington Irving’s classic tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow—it’s been many, many years since I actually read the original.  Read more