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Monday, November 30, 2009

Some magic carpets

 ...designed by Wm Morris:

Bullerswood Carpet (detail), 1889

Holland Park carpet (detail), 1883

The Redcar carpet, c1880

Drawing Room at Standen with Morris carpet

And, in Morris's own home.....

Kelmscott House dining room decorated with a Persian carpet hung on the wall (photograph taken in the late 1890s)

These last two photos were taken from a lovely book called William Morris Decor and Design by Elizabeth Wilhide.

Some modern-day high end merchants of Morris design carpets: Burrows and Co. and English Wilton.

And on the other end, a good place to find some inexpensive "Arts and Crafty" alternatives: e.g., the McIntosh, WillingtonBishop, and Karaman rugs, among others.....



Saturday, November 28, 2009

You gotta know your Greek myths..... truly appreciate Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites.  I recently finished reading Desperate Romantics by Fanny Moyle (see previous post here).  Ultimately, it was a sad book that reads like an extended Vanity Fair article (e.g. lifestyles of the flawed and famous).  Two of the main protagonists, Rossetti and Ruskin, were particularly screwed-up individuals who brought nothing but grief and misery to themselves and the people closest to them.  Morris is one of the more sympathetic Pre-Raphaelites but, ultimately, his tragedy is his beautiful wife (Jane) loves another (Rossetti). 

And here is where the myths come in.....

In the pic above is one of my favorite Mythology Fandex.  (When that can't deliver, I pull out the biggies, Mythologyby Edith Hamilton and The Greek Myths: Complete Editionby Robert Graves.)   The fandex is open to the myth of Persephone illustrated by Jane Morris in Rossetti's famous painting (reproduced below).   Of course we know she's Persephone because she is holding a pomegranate (okay, I didn't really know that).  When Rossetti painted this picture of Jane she was spending summers living with Rossetti while Morris traveled---read the myth and you'll get it.

Proserpine (Persephone), 1874,
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Makita

Given that it is Black Friday and thoughts turn to Xmas gifts, here's a few words about my cordless drill that I bought 18 months ago after my old drill died.  I love this tool and use it all the time.  I bought it with the two-battery kit (from Amazon) and then got another free battery by sending in a coupon (look for the link on Amazon).  This Makita has fantastic torque for tough jobs but is lightweight and easy to use around the house.  I can't imagine any homeowner not having one of these nearby.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Get organized beautifully....


I love my Profolio portfolios  (left side of top pic, before it has been Morrisized).  Inside they have archival quality polypropylene sleeves that are perfect for organizing projects, recipes, house ideas, or any other kind of information you happen to be stockpiling.  You can easily slip whatever paper you choose down the outside spine and above you can see my notebooks with both Wm Morris paper and Art Nouveau paper (the ring binder has a bookmark from the Fortuny Museum).  The Art Nouveau paper appears to be out of stock on Amazon but the Wm Morris paper is a steal at $4.95.  Combine this with the Profolio portfolios (here and here are 8.5" x 11" sized ones) and you can make a lovely gift for someone who likes to be organized.  FYI, the Morris paper pack has four different designs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two (R)Evolutionary Giants of the 19th Century

             Hi Charlie.....                                         Mornin Bill.......

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s game-changing The Origin of Species.  Less than 50 miles away from Darwin's home, William Morris and Philip Webb built Red House the same year, founding the Arts and Craft Movement in the process.

Morris chairs, a nice place to sit after a long hike

The Highland Center, Crawford Notch


Mt. Washington with the Mt. Washington House (1902) in foreground

 A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch), Thomas Cole, 1839 (National Gallery of Art)

This past Sunday I was driving through Crawford Notch in the White Mountains and stopped in to see the Appalachian Mountain Club's newest lodge, the LEED certifiable Highland Center.  It was quite beautiful, with siding, shingling, and stick work reminiscent of the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century.  The main room of the lodge, that looks out over the mountains through two story-high windows, is filled with Morris chairs.  These reclining chairs are the original La-Z-Boy, first manufactured by Morris's design firm and later named in his honor by Gustav Stickley who popularized them in the U.S.  Today, you can spend thousands of dollars buying beautiful hand-made reproductions from craft firms across the country.  You can also find more modestly priced versions at L.L. Bean and on Ebay.  But my favorite place to look for Morris chairs is on Craig's List.  Try it....let me know what you find.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gesamtkunstwerk.....a word to live by

Original William Morris interiors, including the hallway of his own Red House at the bottom. 

I discovered the word Gesamtkunstwerk a few months ago and came across it again last week while researching the Fortuny post.  It is a German word that translates to "a total work of art".  It came into common usage with the German opera composer Robert Wagner who believed the operatic experience should be the perfect synthesis of all the arts (music, literature, poetry, dance, theater, architecture, painting, etc.)---in other words, a Gesamtkunstwerk.  It is just a small step across the English Channel to find Wm Morris living out his own life of Gesamtkunstwerk epitomized by his most famous quote:  "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

While looking on-line for any discussion of Gesamtkunstwerk and Morris I found this wonderful essay on exactly this topic on the blog of NY artist Doug Blanchard.  And I'll end with the words of my polymath friend Cliff:
"All of one’s life MUST be a gesamtkunstwerk, or just phone it in...."

Friday, November 20, 2009

In praise of dimmers -- electrical, part 2

Last week I wrote about push button switches and this week it's dimmers.  Few rooms in my house do not have dimmers (the laundry room comes to mind) and yes, do this yourself, just don't forget to turn off the electricity.  There is no easier way to make a room feel inviting and beautiful than to dim the lights---that pile of tools in the corner fades into the shadows and you look better too.  Like most people I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and put much thought into the lighting in this room while renovating last year.  There are four sets of lights in this room (five if you count the hood light) and all are on dimmers.  This includes six overhead can lights (Lightolier 5" incandescent/aperture cone) spaced over the room on a dimmer rated for multiple lights; three Lightolier 3 3/4" low voltage overhead lights with halogen bulbs and pinhole trim over the sink counter (these are on a special low voltage dimmer); a rewired light found in a Maine antique shop over the table (normal dimmer switch); and two very inexpensive Xenon undercabinet lights from Home Depot under the wall cabinets on either side of stove (they are dimmed with a built-in rocker switch).  Add candles and votives and, voila, you've created an inviting cocoon of gustatory delight.  Salut!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Earthly Paradise", A Really Long Poem by Wm Morris

......about the quest for true love.

Cupid Finding Psyche, Edward Burne-Jones (ca. 1865)

An excerpt from: The Story of Cupid and Psyche.....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fortuny Museum, Venice in November





A Venetian jewel is the Fortuny Museum.  Like Morris, Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was an accomplished designer in many mediums--textiles, interior decor, photography, stage-design, fashion, and lighting to name a few.  The museum, set in the Gothic palazzo that served as Fortuny's atelier, feels little changed from then.  Like Morris and wallpaper, Fortuny is best known today for his beautiful (and extremely expensive) silk lamps. I wonder if they ever met?
The view from my room at the hotel Domus Ciliota, a renovated Augustin Monastery near the Museum (yes, the canal actually did a ninety degree turn right outside my window.).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Albert, Righter, and Tittmann -- Modern Traditionalists

Last Thursday night my friend Dan Cooper, who the leader of the free world calls when he needs an historically accurate carpet for a certain famous bedroom, invited me to accompany him to his book launch at the Tavern Club in Boston.  The book is New Classic American Houses: The Architecture of Albert, Righter & Tittmann and while Dan is a fantastic writer, it is really the photographs that are the stars of this book.  I met the architects Albert, Righter and Tittmann, who were lovely and gracious, but I left wondering if they intentionally ordered their names so as to spell AR&T (how perfect) and what's up with architects and bow-ties?  Their "Modern Traditional" designs hearken back to the days of McKim, Mead & White and I sure Wm Morris would agree with Robert Stern's very Morris-sounding sentiment in the foreward to this book: “What a pleasure it is to have an architecture so beautifully naturalized—to site, to purpose, and to tradition.”  Here are my favorite AR&T houses/interiors......

A wooden wonder......

This one reminds me of the traditional architecture of the Gaeltacht of western Ireland....

Shouldn't everybody have a porch with a fireplace?.....

The Checkerboard House....

The Guest Cottage.....the yellow sashes are inspired....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In praise of push buttons -- electrical, part 1

above:  single-pole switch, single-pole dimmer, three-way switch


 Almost any house built before the 1940's had push-button switches, typically with a mother-of-pearl accent on the button.  About twenty years ago Classic Accents started reproducing these switches (to meet modern electrical codes) and shortly after that I started putting them back in my-old-house (now three houses later...).  The company's customer service is excellent and they recently replaced one of my switches at no cost even though I had bought it years earlier.   They offer a large array of plate styles but I typically order the forged antique brass (or is it the aged brass?  I never can remember).  It is very easy to change a switch (look for directions on the internet)---just don't forget to turn off the electricity!!!