Stalking Houston Real Estate

Whenever I'm bored (well, before I discovered design blogs) I search the MSL for Houston homes. I always start with the most exclusive neighborhoods: River Oaks, Memorial Villages, West University, or Tanglewood. It is so fascinating to me to take a glimpse inside a stranger's house. Mostly, though, I am searching for interiors that speak to me.

The biggest "find" is to see a house decorated by a designer whose work I recognize. If the designer is locally well known, they will be mentioned by name. A successful search yields an interior by Carol Glasser, Babs Watkins, Ginger Barber, or Pam Pierce, to name a few of my personal favorites. I've even spotted a few of their personal homes on the web site. Some of the houses for sale have been featured in national design magazines and finding one of these is a special high for me. I save the pictures of the homes that attract me. Here are a few of my favorites pictures from this year. Looking at the ones I picked, I realized - gee I LOVE seagrass!

My Designs: Thoughts on a Design Process

I had seen this picture in a magazine, it was of Atlanta's Suzanne Kasler's dining room and the lovely pink draperies struck me as such a daring choice, and yet, they were so beautiful. Several weeks later I had an appointment with a client whom I profiled earlier and I mentioned that I wanted to bring pink into her room. The walls of her living room were already painted in a light celadon, darker celadon stripe (or maybe they are more of an aqua) and she wanted to keep the stripes. Pink would go nicely with them, but the hue had to be deeper than Kasler's pink. The next time I came over I brought several taffeta samples from cerise to fuchsia and the design took off from there. We chose a large Chelsea Editions cherry check and a gorgeous Lee Jofa classic chintz to bring the deep pink in. A celadon Nancy Corzine silk grounded the custom sofa and another Chelsea Textiles seabreeze small check graced the Swedish sofa.

The crowning fabric, though, was a complete afterthought to fix a huge mistake. Originally a pale Bennison linen was to go on the skirted table. Once it arrived, it just died where it lain and at a great personal expense I added this gorgeous damask, in, of course, a berry color. The adjoining walk-in bar was repapered in a deep pink Cowtan and Tout oriental toile.

To look at the finished room it bears no resemblance in any way to the original inspiration picture, which is strange. What I do know, is, that if I hadn't originally brought this picture of Kasler's dining room to my client, her room would look completely different today.

French Wing Chairs

A few blogs prior I showed you my new French sofa that's coming to live in my family room, one day soon - I hope. I've been struggggggling with what kind of chairs to go with it. I think I've finally decided: French wing chairs with a mouton leg, like the sofa. Too matching? Probably, I've given up. Here's a picture of the chair I've chosen. Also I've posted a picture from the Houston Real Estate web site showing famed Houston designer Ginger Barber's living room. She has two wing chairs similar to what I've chosen. Is this a good choice, or should I continue looking? Que pensez-vous ?

www.New York Social

One of my favorite web sites to read is the New York Social Diary. Not the whole site, but one part only - House. Here different designers are interviewed in their own homes. The question & answer is only slightly more interesting than the fabulous pictures. This week interviewed at his home in Paris is the designer Juan Pablo Molyneux. Can you say gorgeous? An empty space is completely paneled in red lacquer - how decadent. There are several pictures of an enfilade of rooms - oh how I want an enfilade! The interview is a fascinating glimpse into the uber cultured world of J.P.M. He defines the word debonair. If you visit this site, be sure to read the archives - they don't stay forever as I notice that the interview of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli is now gone. Still available to read are the ones of Charlotte Moss, Carolyn Roehm, and David Easton amongst others.

My Summer Garden - My Spot of Heaven

My backyard is at its prettiest this year, I think. Pink and white caladiums are up and smiling as big as life. The multicolored impatiens are tall, almost ready for cutting back to start over again this summer (or should I not?) Newly laid gravel looks fresh and clean. The fountain is a little green from the heavy, daily deluges - but that will change next week when it will be clear and clean again. A few of the climbing roses are peeking out here and there. Everything is so pink - bright pink, light pink, coral pink - every shade of pink. The lavender lantana is not as prominent as it was during the spring, but that's ok. I'm into pink these days, inside and out.

It may not look like it from these pictures, but my yard is very small, very, very tiny. 50 x 15. I've done the best I could do with it and after 13 years, I'm finally happy this summer. The calming sound of the water falling from the urn into the pond, the twinkling lights on the arbor, the fluttering butterflies that seem to love the flowers as much as I do all combine to calm my nerves as I sit outside, day and night, usually reading design blogs on my computer. It's my spot of heaven.

The web site for the magazine Southern Accents is one of my favorite places to visit. It's an extensive site filled with pictures from their magazine plus other magazines owned by the house: Southern Living and Coastal Homes to name a few. Highlighted are separate sections on gardening, architecture, and decorating and masses of articles are reposted on all aspects of design and how to's.

One great feature of the web site can be found under the Decorating section - pages and pages of pictures organized by room. Even better, you can enlarge the pictures and save them to your own computer for easy access. Here are a few pictures from the site featuring some of my favorite designers: Charlestonian Amelia Handegan, New Orleanean Gerrie Brennerman, and Dallasite Cathy Kincaid.

The best part of this site, unlike some other magazine sites like Better Home and Gardens - it's totally free and no annoying pop ups. Compare the two sites and I think you'll agree with me that BHG has a lot to learn from Southern Accents.

New French Mouton Leg Couch

I've bought this couch! It will be coming home soon: the slip cover (white linen) needs to be made and the nailhead trim will be removed. I hate to do that but, it shows through the linen and I can't see the point of that. This couch was a special order, made in Houston and shipped out to LA. Upon arrival there, it wouldn't fit through the client's door, so they shipped it back to Houston's famous Hien Lam, upholsterer extraordinaire. At least this is the story she tells me. We've haggled over what kind of back cushions it should have - she wants to make three box shaped ones and I'm skeptical because of the gorgeous curved top. Today we decided on knife edge 26" cushions. As soon as the decision was made, I regretted it. What I don't understand is why is it so easy for me to make decisions for clients but for myself - forget it. Truthfully, the discussions over this couch have gone on for weeks and weeks. I'm trying to finalize this because I want it home with me! It's so comfortable and my current family room sofa is so uncomfortable.

Next, is what chairs? I really can't decide. I want French, of course, but upholstered? I want the comfort, but do I want the look? I'm going to search for French wood frame chairs on tonight, maybe I'll buy the chairs instead of making them. Or should I buy a frame from Savoia Chairs? This is a great company is you have a refinisher. M'aider !

French Library

I am working on a library, French style a la Texas Cote. My client and I had decided to either recover and restyle her old sofa or maybe go with a newer version of a traditional, cushy one. The two armchairs hopefully are to be French antique bergere's, if not, then English saddle arm ones. Everything will be covered in linen, linen colored with pastel pink and white pillows. The dark paneled walls are going to become very light and creamy colored with an undercoat of brown barely peeking through (maybe!).

The issue is tonight my client went 1st Dibs surfing and found this French settee. We both adore it, but decide her husband would veto it immediately with comfort concerns. He loves it. The settee is in France and is expensive. We can't test try out. Should we buy it? Would you? Or, would you buy this one from 1st Dibs, also from France?

For the Birds

At Indulge, in Houston, I bought these beautiful faux bois candlesticks featuring birds perched on the limbs. I lusted for them for a few months and finally couldn't resist any longer. They're at home on my dining table now, for a while at least. Have you noticed the trend this year is birds? They are everywhere: on designer file folders, on fabrics, on notecards, on prints with cheesy frames. It reminds me of coral. Yes, they've exploited coral to death. And I hate that because I do love it so. As you can see:

The funniest and truest article ever written about the over use of le trendy coral is by David Feld, a columnist for D Home Magazine (Dallas, Texas). Here's a small taste to whet your appetite:

Enough Already
Coral is a prime example of when decorating trends go bad.

In one form or another, real or fake, coral is replicating itself in every house in America. There's the real stuff, which has ossified in its naturally beautiful state of white, pink, or blackish red. Then there are the plaster fakes, which have been turned into sconces, and the cast-bronze copies, which have transmogrified into vases. The Alberto Pinto-designed china we see everywhere was interesting for about three minutes. There's not a textile house in the country that isn't producing a coral wallpaper print (why stop at red when 22 designer colors will do?), even Pottery Barn's coral sequin-embroidered pillows are flying out of the pages of its everyman catalogs.
Read the rest of the article here.

So, birds, fly around really fast. Your death knell is ringing already. Such a shame!

My Designs: French Design - Before and After

This beautiful living room is located in a client's house that has undergone a total design transformation. Originally I was called to this house to finish up details my client's previous designer had left undone. She and her husband had recently "downsized" to this townhome and tried to use all their furnishings from their previous, much larger, home. They wanted an area rug - that was their first request. At that time, this room was gray and contained a large, gray velvet sectional - I kid you not!! As I listened to the wife and husband bicker back and forth, I realized the wife was toying with the thought of changing directions from soft contemporary to French design with an emphasis on antiques. She knew that in order to realize her dream, all the previous designer's work would have to be changed and everything else would have to be replaced, all at a considerable expense. To her it seemed an insurmountable task.

At the second meeting I was honest how I felt about their current decor. This honesty gave the wife the courage to change it. She convinced her husband to let me redo the house once again. We spent the next two years hand selecting every antique, fabric, wall color, accessory, and vibe necessary to achieve the total French design that she truly wanted.

Today, the room is a mellow yellow, with French gray trim. The curtains are a flowing pinstripe silk. The upholstery fabrics are linens and silks. The furniture is antique. It's been a long strange trip, but wow - it was worth it!

Blue and White and Transferware

I collect transferware in many different colors: blue and white, brown, lilac, black, and red. For reasons that I can't explain, it just attracts me like the proverbial moth to a flame. I'm also partial to toiles, so I suspect it's something in the patterns that appeals to me. I started out with blue and white, then moved on to black and white, red and white, and on and on. I love to see all different colors of transferware mixed together on a breakfront, but for some reasons I don't personally display my collection like that. I keep my colors separate.

I never buy new transferware, such as the blue and white reissues from Spode. I only buy antiques. When I started collecting about 15 years ago, you could buy a plate for around $50. Today, that same plate is over $100. Once in Austin at Whit Hanks, an antique mall, a dealer was selling a set of brown and white plates for an insanely cheap price. I purchased it and now it hangs on the wall around a vaisellier that holds blue and white transferware.

I like to collect different pieces besides plates: vegetable dishes, pitchers, meat platters and others. Once in a hurry I put a valuable and gorgeous fruit compote dish in the dishwasher - it disintegrated. I was so furious at myself! To date, my most valuable plate is a yellow and brown color. There's only one though, their price is too high.

Besides transferware I also collect blue and white oriental exportware. I'm no snob about this collection, though. If a new piece is somewhat muted in tone, I'll buy it even if it was produced yesterday. The top picture shows my collection of mulberry transferware on a antique French wine tasting table in my entryhall. I've mixed in some blue and white and a gorgeous lilac hydrangea. You can also see an amethyst crystal next to the transferware. A large selection of design books are stacked all around the table: on chairs, the floor, and in an antique French basket. Dividing the table is a large, old, wooden birdcage. Recently, with the help of Ebay, I've amassed a new collection of Masonware which I'll save for another post. The more the merrier I like to tell myself.

My Designs: Romantic Bedroom on the Cheap

This is a bedroom I just completed for a client who was recently separated after many years of marriage. Her friend talked her into redoing her bedroom and I tried to make it cosy and romantic for her to start her new life in it, hopefully, with a new man one day. She was wary of decorating while newly single, so I told her we could do it "on the cheap."
The budget was small, so I found her this toile bedding from Pottery Barn - Martine. The color is a soothing, calm, aqua with a hint of gray in it. From PB, we bought the slipcovered headboard, the duvet, shams, and sheets, plus a painted end table just visible off to the side. I used a skirted table to save more money and filled in with inexpensive silk fabrics from Calico Corner.

The sconces come from Blanc d'Ivoire - a fabulous and very reasonable French company with a branch in NYC. The lamps are theirs also. The french chair and ottoman came nude from Savoia, another reasonable company from Canada. The painted bookshelf is from GJ Styles, and yes, it too is a very reasonable company! The mirrors are from a local lighting company and the carpet was ordered from Home Depot. While very nice, the carpet is one element of the room that I am not enthralled with. It was my wish that we run seagrass wall to wall, but my client disagreed, and so we chose a deep aqua sculpted piece. It works, but I'm a seagrass girl to the core. Plus, the seagrass would have cost less!! The drapes were custom made with matching material ordered from Pottery Barn and the shades are from Target.

I had fun working on this room. It was a challenge to keep costs down on everything and I don't think I splurged on any one item. My client was overcome and actually cried when I finally let her see the finished space.


I love using sconces in my designs. Nothing says romance more to me. I just finished a bedroom yesterday where I added a pair of sconces over the headboard. The room is so dreamy and seductive - without those sconces, I'm not sure I would be able to say that. These sconces shown to the left are from Tara Shaw of New Orleans, and now Houston, fame. French, antique, though I'm not sure they are period. Probably not, but I don't care. When I bought them, they weren't wired and were missing one of the bigger, hanging crystals, which I had to go to great lengths to get replaced. At my home I presently have 4 pairs of sconces lit at all times. I only use the silicone tipped bulbs which are either 5 or 8 watts. Presently I have two more pairs being wired in the shop right now. I wonder, can you use two pairs of sconces in one bedroom???? hmmmm, probably not, but still I WANT to!!!!

When I want to use sconces in a design and the client is stylishly naive, I usually don't tell them about it before the installation. They just magically appear with the help of two excellent electrician brothers (whom I secretly call Daryl and his brother Daryl - you probably have to be around 50 to understand that!). I've never yet had a client ask me to remove them and I probably won't because nothing adds more atmosphere than dimly lit sconces.

Here's a picture from Charlotte Moss' New York apartment with a pair flanking her fireplace. Dreamy.

Pool Room - Texas style

This client had waited nine years to furnish her pool room, a large area off her kitchen that leads to a beautiful backyard with a large pool that helps her family and friends keep cool during hot Houston summers. For nine long years this beautiful room stayed empty. When we met, she knew what she wanted - the Pottery Barn seagrass sectional. I chose outdoor fabrics from Lee Jofa (floral) and Perennials (stripes) to cover the pillows and windowseat. The blue and white porcelain garden seat comes from the Wisteria catalogue - a steal at $179.00. I've used that particular garden seat innumerable times. The blue is somewhat muted and I love that about it. Recently I found another web site that sells tons of garden seats in every color imaginable: Legend of Asia. Their storefront is located at 8515 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90301.
When this picture of the pool room was taken, the room was not quite finished. Missing is the seagrass rug and slipcovers for the wood chairs. You'll have to visualize those details. My client and her family are thrilled with the room because now they have a place to sit down all together and watch their new plasma screen TV. It's been a long wait, but, they say, it was worth it.

Kurt Aichler - Houston Architect

This is my dream house. It was built by architect Kurt Aichler for himself and his wife Dana. They sold it years ago and it's changed hands at least three times since. It's back on the market again. I swore if it ever came back up for sale, I'd buy it - but alas, it's still out of my price league. The house is located in the City of West University, a tiny old-fashioned town located right in the middle of Houston. It's on a cul-de-sac which is really unusual for West University and the lot is bigger than the average 50x100 sq. ft. size. The neighborhood is filled with new, huge homes squashed onto these tiny postage stamp sized lots. Slowly, these larger houses have replaced the WWII era cottages which have mostly been deemed "tear downs."

I love the facade of this home, the antique french front door, the stucco half wall surrounding the front courtyard, the two front gates (especially how the left gate has no walkway!). The interior was updated by the current owner, an interior designer. The room I most love is the lady's master bathroom. Notice the tiled floor, the pedestal sink and the claw foot bathtub. It's the height of luxury to have separate master bathrooms.
Check out Kurt's web site to see examples of his other designs. He doesn't specialize in French design, but for his own home - he was a master of it.

Goodbye to Ugly Hardware!

A broken front door handle has changed my life and yes, for the better. After 14 years of hard duty, it was dead beyond repair and thus, began the dilemma: do we replace the handle in the same hated brass finish or do we buy it in one of the "newer" more fashionable finishes??? You probably can guess my preference. Sweet husband said to change the finish and he well understood that that meant ALL the hardware in the house would have to be changed also, because, well, it HAD to match! Sweet words: new hardware. After a few months of searching, I finally decided on Emtek hardware. It's relatively inexpensive for the quality and essentially, it's a knock-off of the much pricier Rocky Mountain Hardware. My hardware has been installed this past week and I don't miss the brass at all. Instead I have beautiful, hand-applied silver finish hardware. I still need to change my plumbing fixtures, but I want to change my countertops to Carrera marble at the same time, so that may wait for a few months. Here's the new hardware in place. Notice how the handle is placed on a backplate, instead of directly on the door. That's the one feature I really wanted in my hardware. It's gorgeous, if I may say so myself. And so French!!!

My Designs: French Design Client

I visited a client today about a year after we stopped working on her house. This is the view from her front door and it's heavenly I think! Her living room and entry are filled with French antiques that we purchased especially for each space from Tara Shaw. The period chaise is in the entry, though today we decided if she ever moves, it would be perfect as a room divider in a bigger space. Just through the arch, is one of two period French fauteuils, upholstered in a luscious linen raspberry check with a smaller silk check on the back. Past that chair, peeking on the left, is an armchair upholstered in a classic Lee Jofa print. You can just barely make out the scalloped hem! I loved working on this house because my client and I share the same taste and that is always the most fun job to have. Working with these fabrics - bluish greens and raspberries reaffirmed something that I had just begun to realize and utilize in my design: using colors that make the owner's complexion look good is the perfect starting point. This owner has blond hair, blue eyes, and a bright glow to her skin. She's the quintessential Lily Pulitzer type (who 40 years ago wore Denise dresses and Pappagallo shoes) and she just looks perfect sitting on the raspberry pink upholstery. I'm finding that nothing is better than when the owner looks good in her home.
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