Saturday, December 10, 2011

Approaching Christmas


The Holiday season is filled with tradition. At this time of year, we hold fast to our cultural tradition and practices that are ages-old or are family rituals.   At times we broaden the tradition by adding our own touches.  A few years ago a friend and I began the tradition of getting our Christmas shopping underway by taking time to go to lunch and later shop for the rest of the afternoon.  I’ve always enjoyed this special day.

We started off with lunch at a special café.  Later, we enjoyed viewing the beautifully designed Christmas displays.


I caught a glimpse inside Holt Renfrew.


The William Ashley Christmas tree is resplendent.


Tiffany's is decorated with fir and cedar.


Everyone could use a Louis Vuitton bag. I can't get enough of seeing the colour orange this year. It's warming in the cold.


For lasting pleasure, nothing is better than a diamond tennis bracelet from Birks.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jennifer Duchene, Interior Decorator and Author


My friend Jennifer Duchene, an interior decorator, home makeover professional, and author in San Francisco, continually impresses me with her brilliant talent, versatility, and professional approach.  I find her to be a kind and generous person with a sophisticated background, international in perspective.

Jennifer helps her clients create delicious spaces with what they already own. Using her finely tuned expertise, she takes whatever is in the room and creates a designer feel to the space.  Her advice to clients is to surround themselves with people and things they love. 

Jennifer is dedicated to every one of her clientsShe has one agenda, the client’s.

Jennifer has recently launched her new book Le Chic Cocoon: 7 Steps to Creating Your Selfish Space where she tells women to unleash their creativity and reach their potential.  She talks about the power of design and decorating and how a woman needs a space of her own to dream and be selfish in order to reach her full potential. 

On a recent call with Jennifer, I asked her some questions to capture her delightful personality, and vision.
People are often happy with their furniture and accessories but need added advice.  Why do your clients choose you?
My clients choose me because they are struggling to pull the room together, and they know from my reputation that I have the vision to make the space work.  They know that I can help them visualize what the room can be.


You bring excellent taste and creativity to every one of your projects.  Do you ever find that you cannot work with a client’s decorative accessories?  If so, what is the remedy?
Thank you.  The only time I cannot work with a client’s decorative accessories is when they don’t have anything, or they have too much.  If there really is not enough or some extra pieces are needed, I make suggestions and steer them in the right direction, or I shop for the client.  I know exactly what to buy.

I know you grew up in South Africa and now make your home in San Francisco.  I also know you have travelled extensively, to Europe, Canada, and other parts of America.  Is your international experience reflected in your client work?
I like to think that my experience influences my design work. I have a different way of looking at how to create spaces.  I am drawn to the history that a piece of furniture textile or decorative piece can hold.

Who are your clients? 
My clients are often travellers and collectors.  They are fascinating people who live rich lives.  They are interesting and interested, often love music, books, good food and wine, and want their homes to be a reflection of who they are, as their best selves. They see beauty in life and love entertaining. 

What is your dream project?
A client who has fabulous pieces, wonderful rooms, and the right attitude if combined with a traveling opportunity, adds a little zest. People who are open to creating a space that is a true reflection of themselves and their life with a realistic budget, and a willingness to buy that perfect piece to make the space sing while giving me carte blanche and valuing my contribution.  I love the incredible thrill of pulling a room or a house together in a couple of days.  I have been lucky enough to have a couple of dream jobs.  Wonderful clients offer dream jobs.


Do you limit yourself to big budget projects, or do you also work on smaller ones?
I do small budget jobs too.  Many times clients want one room done without buying anything new, a couple of hours of advice, hands-on suggestions or some help shopping.  Sometimes people need a design plan of action.  I like to think of myself as offering Design Guidance.

What is your favourite design style?
I love the mix of old and new, using textiles and color.  Bringing out the personality of the pieces.  Creating individual spaces that reflect the owner with a little design spark that gives the space an edge.  Sophisticated yet very comfortable.  I haven’t met a period I didn’t fall in love with.

Where would you most like to live?
Would it be greedy to say I want to live in two places? In a city like Paris or New York and have a cottage on the beach.  I long to live in Capetown every time I go home, but I would settle in any beach-side town that has personality, artists.

Who is your favourite person in history?
Now that is a really hard question.  I am not sure I have a favourite.  I admire Mary Wollstonecraft greatly.  I think we would have had a lot to talk and laugh about.  I think the fact that she was not born into a high powered position and yet created truths we live by and struggle with today fascinate me.  I am inspired by the artists, inventors and free thinkers of history, it is a long list.

What do you value most in your friends?
Their support, laughter, and companionship.  Being able to talk about anything, while feeling loved and liked.

What trait do you most dislike in others?


What do you like to do when you're relaxing?
Walking in nature, window shopping in big cities. Discovering new places, working in a garden (don’t have one right now), hanging out with friends, enjoying meals, travelling, visiting museums, interesting towns, observing people and architectural details.  Reading.  Listening to music.  Dancing.  Laughing.  Watching kids play. Sitting in the sun.  Learning new things.  Having deep conversations.  Connecting to the Spiritual essence of life.  Arranging my home. Playing with paint chips.  Drawing, Writing.

What do you like most in yourself?
My ability to grow and my sense of humour ( both have saved me many times).

Do you have any regrets?
Nothing in life is a waste. The past is a fertile ground for what I have become. My journey is a journey.

What is your greatest achievement?
So far it’s my book “Le Chic Cocoon”, and I like to think the lives I have inspired through my words and deeds – the rooms I have rearranged. 

When your friends and clients say Jennifer Duchene, what thought would you like to come to mind?
Hope floats and joy opens doors, life and laughter matter.

You can reach Jennifer through her website  The Home Makeover Mixtress, blending lifestyle, laughter & Chic Cocoons.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spadina House Garden in October

The Pergola, 1909.  The begonias and clematis terniflora are still in bloom
The garden surrounding the stately Spadina House goes back to 1818 when the Baldwin family first lived at Spadina and lives on, as it has beautifully aged through the Victorian and Edwardian periods to the present day.  The design and plantings were enhanced by James Austin's family and descendants from 1866 to 1978.  It is divided into a large lawn area with flower beds, a perennial garden including a kitchen garden, and an orchard with berry bushes and grapes.

The grand Victorian house we know as Spadina was built by James Austin in 1866 on the foundation of the Baldwins' house.  Between 1897 and 1913, James' son Albert and his wife added late-Victorian and Edwardian extensions to the house, including the Carrère and Hastings glass and wrought iron porte-cochère in 1905.  A better view of the porte-cochère is in my March 2011 blog post Spadina House.   
A glimpse of the front door, and the porte-cochère, 1905
I visited in early October before the first frost and entered the garden through the stone pergola toward the front of the house where the deep red dahlias were dazzling and in full bloom.


I took time to enjoy the majesty and detail of the urns dating from 1912 on the terrace balustrade. 

The large lawn area with its carefully placed trees gave me a sense of peace, and invited me to stay for a while.  This is where the family and their friends played lawn tennis and croquet.

Looking toward the edge of the escarpment
The old oak trees date from prior to 1866

The land lies on the Davenport escarpment to the south where through the trees, it overlooks the old city of Toronto and Lake Ontario in the distance.  It was from the edge of the escarpment that James Austin and his family watched the fireworks celebrating Canada's Confederation on July 1, 1867. In 1905, Albert Austin built a low semi-circular red brick crenellated wall around the concrete platform where the family sat to enjoy the view, and called it The Battery.

The Battery ca. 1905
Seeing the European beech reminded me again of the Austins' impeccable taste.  Its magnificent crown is fitting for this grand garden.

The back of Spadina House looked imposing as I walked toward the perennial border and kitchen garden. .

Spadina House, eastern façade
The kitchen garden of perennials, cutting garden, and vegetables was in the final stages of the growing season before the imminent autumnal frost.

The red cabbages were ready for harvesting.

Beyond the cedar hedge north of the kitchen garden, I found the orchard filled with many varieties of apples. Many have had to be replaced over the years, but some of the existing apple trees were planted in 1900.

Looking back from the orchard at the dignified Victorian house, I was impressed by the superb harmonious garden design, even in this utilitarian part of the garden.  

The grape arbour is on the right
When you visit Spadina House, take time to enjoy the romantic old garden.  Spadina is a jewel in the city, and has become my very favourite museum.

The Facebook page Save Spadina House was created to build awareness of preserving this important museum, an historical treasure.  I hope you will like the page.   

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Espalier at Royal Botanical Gardens

Pergola in Hendrie Park, Royal Botanical Gardens
When I walked along the pergola in Hendrie Park, Royal Botanical Gardens, I was thrilled to see that the walls of the pergola were made up of vines and trees trained in espalier form.  Espalier is a way of training a tree or shrub on an independent trellis, or forced flat against a wall.
Hendrie Park pergola, Royal Botanical Gardens
The formal design used here is known as palmette horizentale where symmetrical branches are forced straight out in horizontal form.

Hendrie Park pergola, Royal Botanical Gardens
The people in the Middle Ages first used espalier to grow fruit trees within the confines of town walls in order to maximize fruit production in a small space using as little space as possible.

Climbing hydrangea, Hendrie Park, Royal Botanical Gardens
The pergola in Hendrie Park shows that many non-fruiting plants plants can be espaliered for decorative reasons, including magnolias, service berries, and climbing hydrangeas.

Whenever I see espaliers, it makes me nostalgic for my childhood home where my father trained dwarf apple trees flat against the south wall of our house in a formal design known as palmette verrier.  Palmette verrier has the branches symmetrically forced straight horizontally, and then bent straight up vertically to form a design resembling a candelabra or Jewish menorah.  Our trees produced an abundance of fruit, were decorative, and enhanced the wall in all four seasons.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Formal Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington ON
My favourite style of garden is a formal garden. I’m also partial to a structured garden with a mix of predominately formal elements and some informal elements. A formal garden gives a sense of calm and serenity. With its symmetry, balance, rhythm in repetition, straight lines, clipped hedging, and geometrical precision, it is attractive in all seasons. In northern regions, a formal garden is stunning during the winter season.

Casa Loma, Toronto ON
The look of a formal garden is controlled. It is a tamed landscape not found in nature. It has bones and structure made up of walls, hedges, paths and possibly statuary, all of which are more important than the plants. Form is most important and plants are secondary. Most often the plants chosen for a formal garden are those easiest to handle. The plants are arranged following rigid guidelines and only a limited number of species are planted in large quantities to add a uniform look.

Parkwood, Oshawa ON

We think of formal gardens being large but even small home gardens can be formal using a dwarf boxwood or yew hedge to enclose flowers, vegetables or herbs. To achieve a formal ambience in a small home garden, it works best to have a structured garden with a mix of formal and informal elements. This can be achieved by having clipped hedges and less formal plantings as part of the overall design.

Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington ON

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Royal Botanical Gardens


Recently I visited Hendrie Park, one of the large display gardens within Royal Botanical Gardens not far from Toronto. Hendrie Park contains several formal, informal and natural gardens. I always enjoy visiting formal gardens because of their design elements.


The infinity edge reflecting pools are stunning and pick up the reflection of the gardens on each side. In June, when the roses are in full bloom the reflections on the water are full of colour.


I was there at the end of July when the full rose bloom had passed and found serenity in the reflecting pools when the jewel-toned water lilies take precedence showing their chiseled stalks and flowers softened by their round lily pads below, skimming the water.


Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) began as a work project during the Great Depression when it was given formal permission in 1930 from King George V to call the gardens “Royal Botanical Gardens”.


Patterned after Kew Gardens in England, RBG was created as both a tourism destination and as a regional environmental agency for the development of Conservation, Education, Horticulture and Science. RBG is an ecological treasure of 2300 acres of varied ecosystems connecting the Niagara escarpment to the western tip of Lake Ontario including land within the cities of Burlington and Hamilton, Ontario.


RBG is known all over the world for its wide-ranging display gardens of over 400 acres. Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the largest institutions of its kind in North America.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July 2011

US Flag

Fourth of July greetings to all my relatives and friends in the U.S.A. !  I appreciate your great spirit, and I enjoy seeing the energy with which you celebrate every holiday.

Fourth of July rose
Fourth of July rose blooming in my garden

Independence Day commemorates the birth of a unique new nation.  All Americans greet their Independence Day with great enthusiasm and patriotism.

Fourth of July berries
Strawberries and blueberries are perfect additions to the celebrations

Every year I celebrate Fourth of July in a small way with my family to honour our American relatives and friends.  I love the red, white and blue colours and make sure to incorporate them into our celebrations.

Fourth of July dessert
Our Fourth of July dessert was white cheesecake with strawberries and blueberries

We Canadians could not have chosen better neighbours.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day

Parliament Buildings

Today we celebrate Canada Day. July first was known as Dominion Day until 1982 when a law was passed to change the name to Canada Day. The name is controversial because a quorum was not present in parliament when the law was passed.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Dominion of Canada was created by an Act of British Parliament in 1867. It united four British provinces in North America, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, creating a new country within the British Commonwealth. The six other provinces and three territories later joined.

The birth of the Dominion of Canada is not without controversy. For example, Halifax on July 1, 1867 draped major downtown buildings in black to signify mourning.

Changing of the Guard at Rideau Hall
Despite an inauspicious beginning, the country has not only survived, it has thrived. It is now among the eight largest industrial world economies.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Norton Museum of Art - Street Scenes

Maurice de Vlaminck 1876-1958 Street in Epernon, Winter, 1927
When I visited the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, I was delighted to find street scenes painted by two French painters of the early 20th century whose work I admire.  I’ve always been drawn to Utrillo and Vlaminck street scenes because of their structure and because they have the contradictory effect of being both calming, and at the same time stimulating to the imagination.

Maurice de Vlaminck 1876-1958 - this painting is an example of his Blue Period 1908-1914
Maurice de Vlaminck 1876-1958 was greatly influenced by Van Gogh and is known more for his earlier Fauvism period 1904-1908, which lasted only about five years, when he associated with Derain and Matisse.  Later Vlaminck continued painting with boldness and thick textured impasto, but developed a darker toned-down palette.

Maurice Utrillo 1883-1955 Rue de Montmartre 1916/1918
Maurice Utrillo 1883-1955 was encouraged and taught to paint by his mother, Suzanne Valadon, who was an accomplished artist. He showed he had a definite artistic talent and began to paint in 1904 after a bout of mental illness.  He painted what he saw in the Paris neighbourhoods, primarily Montmartre and its suburbs.  By the 1920s his work received international attention.  The period from 1911 to 1918 when Utrillo painted street scenes is considered his best and is called his “White Period”.

Maurice Utrillo 1883-1955 Village Church 1918/1920
The works of Utrillo and Vlaminck appeal to a nostalgia for pre-industrial simplicity.

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is an important cultural attraction in Florida. It houses a noteworthy permanent collection of 19th century and 20th century painting. When you go, it is worth eating at the café which offers excellent food in an inviting setting.