Tuesday, May 23, 2017

UK TRIP 2017: London and Environs

Things have been quiet for some time, as I have become involved in a local historic preservation project as well as ongoing work at my own house. But over the coming weeks I’ll try to fill you in on the highlights of my recent trip to the UK, where I was able to take in a number of memorable sights and enjoy a fair amount of good pub ale.

A grand staircase at Hampton Court Palace
To simplify things, we based our stay in London; I had initially planned to book accommodations in three different cities, but there was simply so much to see—and with a pre-booked single day-trip via Eurostar train to Paris—we figured it would just be simpler to stay in one place, which in this case was a wonderful small hotel in Belgravia.

Liberty of London. This department store is just as amazing on the interior.
We took in all the obligatory London sites—Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, etc. as well as personal favorites like Shakespeare’s Globe and Liberty of London. Half-day jaunts to Windsor Castle and Hampton Courts were also on the list—as was a visit to Highclere, which my daughter requested, being a fan of Downton Abbey. Not my first choice for a country house tour; I would have preferred something more in the vein of Wightwick Manor or Cragside…but that must wait for a future visit.

The Thames at Windsor. Had a lovely lunch at the restaurant across the way.
I will get into more detail in follow-up posts. Suffice it to say that the trip was all that I had expected; the London Underground was superb and so easy-to-use, the pubs were picturesque and delightful, the people were friendly and the architecture was sublime. Everything you could hope for.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Basement Renovation: Part 2: A Modest Wine Cellar

Let me first come clean and explain that I am not really a wine enthusiast. I do drink and enjoy it at times; usually at a meal, when paired with the right food. When my wife and I travelled to Napa a couple of years ago, I loved the wineries. I loved sampling the wines—especially when they served them with some really tasty chocolates.

Nevertheless, when it comes right down to it, I am a Beer Guy. Not the vapid swill that passed for beer during most of the last 50 years, but better quality craft beer and exports.

Finding this door for $50 was one of the best
things about this project.
My wife likes wine, but generally she prefers very sweet wines—Muscato, Prosecco, ice wines or an occasional Reisling. For the most part, these are not the kind of wines that hang around very long—or that improve significantly with aging.

So, why a wine cellar, you may ask?

Well, for one thing, we have friends who like to drink wine, maybe before, during or after dinner. So it’s always a good idea to have some on hand.

In addition, I planned to store some craft beers in the cellar as well—in particular, those high-gravity stouts, porters, ales and barley wines that do age and mellow well.

A Bird’s Eye for Country House Design

While I imagine a number of people throughout the UK are familiar with the handsome work of artist Jonathan Myles-Lea, he is clearly not a household name here in the US. Best known for his house and landscape portraits, his work recalls past masters like John Constable and Johannes Kip. My personal favorites feature the traditional “bird’s eye views” of country houses—a style popular throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A view of Burghley House - from the west. Image Rights: Jonathan Myles-Lea.
Though Myles-Lea had been well-established as a noted painter of landscapes and houses, the commission he received for the April 29, 2009 cover of Country Life, featuring a fantasy 10-acre estate, clearly solidified his reputation as a worldwide talent. The resulting Dream Acres project was a central part of the 10-week series appearing in the magazine—featuring the stylized aerial views for which he has become particularly celebrated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

National Trust for Scotland Launches House Tour Program for Americans

Through its Grand Houses and Gardens Tour Program, set to run from September 15-23, 2017, Scotland’s National Trust has developed a deluxe travel package that will offer visitors a chance to explore a number of historic properties, including C.R. Mackintosh’s Hill House, Fyvie Castle, Falkland Palace & Garden, Craigievar Castle and many others.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's best known house - Hill House
The trip package is the first of its kind offered by National Trust for Scotland Foundation, USA (NTSUSA), which helps raise funds for the charity in the United States. Among the many trip highlights, art historian Dr. Evelyn Silber will lead a tour of Glasgow, taking in Charles Rennie Mackintosh's buildings, including the Glasgow School of Art as well as Hill House in Helensburgh, currently the subject of a fundraising appeal.

In the northeast, highlights will include Pitmidden Garden, the Robert Adam-designed Haddo House, pink-turreted Fyvie Castle, and Drum Castle, which now houses a contemporary art gallery.

Craigievar Castle was home to the Forbes
family for over 350 years.
"We are so pleased to offer an exceptional tour to Scotland designed with an American audience in mind, said Kirstin Bridier, executive director of NTSUSA. "This trip combines visits to iconic sites like Edinburgh Castle with behind-the-scenes access at National Trust for Scotland treasures including Haddo House and The Hill House. We can't wait to share the extraordinary beauty and history of Scotland with individuals from the US."

You can find out more HERE.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Refreshing Houzz Take on Tudor Revival Interiors

A Tudor Revival interior that embraces its unique details and original
woodwork. Courtesy Stonewood, LLC
I was heartened to see a story on Houzz the other day regarding the continued popularity of the Tudor Revival style in American homes, including an outline of its basic visual elements. Architect Steven Randal does a fine job of distilling the style's most essential design cues, and best of all, the story includes some excellent photographic examples of contemporary Tudor Revival interiors. The collection of images included with the article fully dispels the notion that these rooms are dark and dusty museum set-pieces.

Another room that blends with contemporary style.
Courtesy Margot Hartford Photography
The story was refreshing for another reason (one which I have noted more than once) regarding the “typical” rooms one sees when visiting Houzz. More and more, it seems that almost every room featured on the website is bathed in white; white woodwork, white cabinets, white floors, white furniture…all combined with a very trendy, “hip” design aesthetic that looks like it was inspired by any one of a hundred DIY-design-craft -blogs. I’ve found this to become fairly tiresome, and it’s only remedied by entering a more specific site search for rooms offering more traditional styles, more color, or more of anything not defined by “trendy.”

As I noted, the photos accompanying this story are helpful, in that they offer a clean and contemporary look that embraces each home’s Tudor details instead of painting them out (in white) or de-emphasizing them. This is not always an easy problem to solve, as we will eventually be looking to update the interiors of our own house, and need all the inspiration we can find.

You can reference the full article HERE.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Not a Change in Direction. An Expansion of Subject.

When I first created this website, I wanted to have someplace where I could talk about the kinds of houses and buildings I loved, remember the people who designed and built them, recognize people who maintain, live in and restore them, and survey related topics in design, the arts, lifestyle and popular culture—including books.

Having utilized much of this accumulated information in the design of my own home—I have chosen from time to time to write about some of the projects I’ve worked on since building our house almost 25 years ago.  Some of the posts have involved thoughts on decoration, some are how-to’s (or maybe how-I’s) - that discuss things I’ve had to fix; other posts have simply touched on my own thoughts about building and design.

This is a bar-height island I am building in the basement using 2" x 4" framing and some used bi-fold doors. More on this project later...
As I’ve mentioned before, while I had very specific ideas about the design of my own house, budgetary issues (I was 34 when we built, and modestly employed) forced a number of compromises, some of which I have been able to remedy over the years. Many still remain, and I will increasingly use the website to discuss how they are being addressed, for after all—when is a house ever truly finished? When we built, I knew I would have to plan for the long term, assuming that some materials, designs and finishes would make an appearance at a later date. Sometimes much later, as it turns out.

I am a notorious procrastinator, so the fault is mostly mine. After some deliberation, I find myself in a good position now to make it down the home stretch and finally get things as I originally envisioned them years ago, when I set plans to sheets of vellum (yes, no 3D renders for me) and started searching for a general contractor.

So, interspersed among the posts on historical houses, old architecture books, preservation/heritage issues and related commentary—you can expect to see more “hands-on” bits and pieces about things I am doing inside the house.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I have clearly noticed the popularity of so many design and “how-to” blogs; so I feel it is a natural course to develop this approach as I go along. It’s a chance to further explain—in practical terms—how I try to integrate whatever knowledge I have accumulated and my own design sensibilities into the projects I take on inside these four walls.

If, Dear Reader, you care to comment, share your thoughts or experiences, or ask questions, I will sincerely appreciate it, and would love to hear from you.