Monday, October 22, 2018

Unleash Secrets of Creating A Bespoke Fragrance With Essential Oils

Creating an Artful & Therapeutic Signature Fragrance 
If you are even close to being as plant-obsessed as I am it might not come as too much of a surprise to learn that I’ve long wanted to create a unique, signature fragrance -- a Duchess perfume - so named from my garden design and entertaining and tablescape passions that I operate as Duchess Designs.

My vision for the fragrance has always been to see it as a natural extension of my passion for the botanical arts.

Moreover, it will be a kind of tribute to my adored father, George, who bestowed that Duchess nickname upon me when I was a child. Hard to believe my Father left this world 10 years ago...
He was and always will be my inspired, creative muse - in no small part because he taught us kids how to look at the majesty of nature, to take regular forest walks and hikes with him - careful to observe/not disturb, to look at the glory of the sky and ephemeral shape-shifting clouds, to stop and smell the roses - and other pretty flowers and, well -- always and completely embrace the seasons, natural habitats, and the artful aesthetics of an arcadia that delights all our senses.

So you see, I’ve long been smitten with an aspiration to design a true -- and affordable luxury -- to create and share a fragrance that tells a natural - and personal story…

You may be tempted to ask, “How can a fragrance tell a story?”

And just like that - I can tell you that, of our five senses, smell is the one that evokes memory the greatest.
Did you know that our limbic system - that portion of our brain that connects our neurons to our brains and its three key functions of memory, emotion, and arousal, mood and memory -- is directly impacted by our sense of smell.
Limbic System in our Brain 
As an example of memory and fragrance - here’s a story. During my tenure as Director and Vice President at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, we’d pointedly note to our guests as we rounded a bend on a garden tour while approaching the Lilac Collection - we would advocate guests to “follow your nose,” (in fact, arriving at the lilacs long before you actually get there) and asked what’s the first thing you think of. This exercise helped explain the association between Mothers and lilacs (Syringa vulgaris - in the olive family) as a natural one, as the shrub blooms around Mother’s Day. So most everyone thinks of their mother when they smell a lilac.

Most every home featured a lilac shrub or two - so the combination of the enduring scent and mothers is quite evocative. That’s just one example of how scent and memory are linked.

My dream for the Duchess perfume would be to embrace and capture not only the pure organic oils (vs. the chemicals abundant in most commercial fragrances) - but to also blend with the essence of certain scented elements of nature with those memory-stimulating scents that are important to me and my memories or dreams...

I’ve made no secret of my desire to design a custom, branded perfume that will combine my favorite floral scents - some exotic from afar and some personal, local, and historically forgotten; along with the healing and therapeutic - and re-discovered - healing properties of plants’ essential oils.

The history of perfume itself is a swoon-worthy field of study all its own. Lust, love, and culture blend into heady scents, romantic legends, and powerful dramas filled with emotion.

Add in the artful and vintage decanters and atomizers perched on a beguiling, romantically-arranged vanity or table -- along with elegant, mobile perfume alembics -
Alembic example -Photo: Met Museum

Combined with the simple, sensual application of the perfume on our pulse points to make us happy -- and to attract subtle attention -- is what makes fragrance so darn sexy. And an enduring seduction that is at once personal and yet popular.

I learned of a perfume making program in Grasse, France - the acknowledged, historial, world capital of perfume-making. I researched -- and am most excited to plan next year’s student experience.

But in a kind of prelude -- I signed on for The New York Botanical Garden’s “Essential Oil Perfume Workshop” as a kind of training wheel, scent-making class. I could learn some basics and see if I had a talent or faculty for this artisanal endeavor…

The day of the workshop was a beautiful August day -- and I was not only excited to spend a morning learning about perfume but also was to meet a favorite friend post class, for a “Ladies Who Lunch” - with one of my most treasured friends, Joanne. It was one of those rare, perfect days.

The Class:
According to the class description we were to learn:

  • The history of perfume
  • What are essential oils
  • Essential oil uses
  • Discussion of specific essential oils
  • Carrier oils and their properties
  • How to create scents
  • How to create solid perfumes, roll-on perfumes, and aromatherapy sprays
  • We were also going to learn blending techniques -- and key: how to identify and keep perfume “notes.” 
  • Safety tips. 
  • Recommends using latex gloves (I didn’t!) 

How was the class?  As the French say - Encroyable! The morning sped by - the instruction and hands-on workshop was fascinating and fun - and all of us students left with three fragrances we created ourselves, made with carrier and essential oils: a solid, wax-based one, a roll on, and an aromatherapy room spray.
While I love to learn most anything -- I daresay I could study these elements exclusively for the next decade or more...

The course offered an overview of how perfume could be traced back thousands of years to an ancient Egyptian tradition, beloved by Cleopatra -- a great dame if there ever was one. We learned ancient folks used flowers, bark, and roots boiled in water to create fragrance. Centuries later, the French refined the extraction methods. Madame Pompadour - member of the French court, art patron, and mistress of Louis XV is a legend - said to have first used perfume as part of her seduction thereby making fragrance popular and forever a key part of romancing.

Today, distillation remains the main way we get essential oils - which is concentrated plant oils from those roots, seeds, bark, flowers, and leaves. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Before we got to the hands-on part of the workshop, our instructor, Karine Gordineer - a knowledgeable, experienced, and supportive, self-described “green girl,” a master herbalist, plant spirit, and a healing and shamanic practitioner. She had everything set up for the students; first reviewing a handout brimming with a list of more than three pages of essential oils and their descriptions - from Amber to Ylang Ylang - along with their plant pedigree and their historical uses.

We learned what essential oils and carrier oils and their properties are. You can too. You can reference Gordineer, take a class, research, and/or as she recommends, read the books: The A to Z of Essential Oils by E. Joy Bowles.

And Kaitlin Stone’s book, Organic Perfume: 55 Ultimate Recipes for Beginners

  • Look for Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
  • Some essential oils are quite expensive so be mindful of what you’re buying. You can use some blends to stretch your investment and creative fragrance-making. 
  • Start with a few Essential Oils - don’t buy everything that strikes your fancy
  • Work with the oils in a well-ventilated room
  • When creating or making your fragrance, add the Essential Oils one drop at a time - Build your Fragrance
  • Black Pepper Essential Oil can be a “fixer” - tying together other scents
  • Use airtight Essential Oil bottles with screw tops. Air will diminish oil scent. 
  • Keep Essential Oil bottles away from light.
  • You should date your oil bottles 
  • Write down the number of drops you add when creating a blend
  • When blending, mix Base and Middle Notes, then stir. Give it some time. Smell, stir, then add the Top Notes one drop at a time. 
  • Creating scents is a little like music - the different notes interact with one another creating something new and different
A variety of Essential Oils were set up for us to experience and use 

The Notes are the Anatomy of a Fragrance

Base Notes: Simple is best. Three essential oils as Base is maximum. Makes up 50% of a blend. Approximately 25 essential oil drops. The Base is the foundation and the heavier element that will linger on the skin.

Examples of Base Notes:
  • Amber
  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Frankincense
  • Musk
  • Patchouli
  • Sandalwood
  • Vetiver
Middle Notes: Makes up to 20% of a blend. Approximately 15 drops. These are the love notes - they make their appearance after the top note(s) evaporate. The Middle Notes interact with your body, combined and tied with the Base to sustain the scent. Usually the Middle Notes are floral.

Examples of Middle Notes:
  • Black Pepper
  • Chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Gardenia
  • Geranium
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Neroli
  • Nutmeg
Top Notes: 3-5 drops. This is a fragrance’s first impression - it attracts you. It will dissipate before the other two notes - usually after 30 to 60 minutes because they are lighter notes that are meant to evaporate sooner.

Examples of Top Notes:
  • Anise
  • Bergamont
  • Clary Sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange 
I loved all three of the fragrances I made in class that day - but especially the solid fragrance. Even the instructor seemed impressed. Further, everyone I share it with does too. Very exciting. I liked the bright yet smoky, yet powdery mix of scent - and I think it works for all genders. It’s sexy and alluring…
My first fragrance blending up
I used quite a variety of essential oils including, Oak Moss (love this EO), Amber, Ylang Ylang (intensely floral and uplifting, similar to Jasmine, Ylang Ylang has aphrodisiac qualities) White Gardenia, Clary Sage, Orange Oil Sweet, and more.
Taking Notes of the Fragrance Notes! 
Quick method to making an Aromatherapy Spray
Materials needed:

2-ounce dark colored glass spray bottle with spray top

1 ½ ounces distilled water

¾ ounce witch hazel

15-20 drops of essential oil blend

Glass to mix oils



Place water and witch hazel into the glass bottle

Blend your essential oils

Add to the bottle


Store away from light and heat

I hope you enjoy creating your own, natural, organic fragrances and perfumes. It’s an affordable luxury - and a very personal one too. That’s glamorous…

And so was the walk through Rockefeller Center to meet Joanne.

Ahh, the sweet smell of success...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Celebrate National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day - EVOO = LOVE

Image result for national olive oil day

While it can be argued that every day is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day, this year the miracle that is “Liquid Gold” marks its very own, very special day, Sunday, September 30th.

Because Sunday is so often heralded for its big, family dinners, punctuated by a varied menu; accompanied by avid conversations with family and friends, it’s only natural that Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is commemorated on a day set aside for eating.

Plus, it’s now harvest season - when thoughts turn to getting the best ingredients from nature’s bounty to the table.

Olives, too, are harvested this time of year in Italy and Spain -- Mediterranean regions that can boast of their premium, quality EVOO lovingly tended by local farmers -- many from family-run farms that have cultivated olives for centuries.

It’s no secret that a Mediterranean diet is recognized as promoting wellness and good health. According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes: “Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.”

Underpinning the region’s good health and good taste is quality EVOO.

But with all the different olive oils at the market -- along with a spectrum of costs, how is one to know which olive oil is best - and why? Answers to all questions about olive oil taste, storage, and cooking are readily answered by the region’s quality olive oil experts.

Further building on their Mediterranea heritage and pedigree, the Consorzio di Garanzia dell'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva di Qualità - Quality Extra Virgin (CEQ) was established in 2001 to support the principle of providing correct information to consumers, as well as to protect and guarantee the quality of extra virgin olive oil released on the market.

The Consortium - now 37 members strong - also aims to demonstrate and promote the culture of quality extra virgin olive oil quality through its education and sampling outreach efforts to culinary professionals and home cooks alike.

Likewise, QvExtra! International - QvExtra! - was founded in early 2013 as a result of the work of 15 Spanish producers who were convinced of the need to promote extra virgin olive oil on both a national and international level.

Together, the Italian and Spanish producers and brands are committed to the high-quality EVOO consortium. CEQ Italia and QvExtra! lead campaigns that strive to increase the awareness of the nutritional, sensory, and health benefits of extra virgin olive oils of the highest quality.

Led by experts, the Consortium offers lectures for student chefs; special trainings for gourmet store staff including buyers and workers in the trade industry; and conduct in-store workshops and tastings with cooking demonstrations for consumers at local gourmet stores.

If you’re not exactly sure what makes a quality EVOO better than another, the Consortium is dedicated to help explain the properties - from the olives and their best growing practices to the processing and distribution - so that you can choose your EVOO with confidence, authority, respect, and love.

The International seal of quality between producers is a guarantee that you can trust you are cooking and baking -- and drinking - with the very best olive oil nature has bestowed to us.

For oil producers, the quality production represents a code of conduct. For consumers, it represents a guarantee for characteristics of oil and modes of production.

We invite you to schedule an interview with president of Monini USA, Marco Petrini - one of the Consortium’s member brands, and/or with Iron Chef, Mario Rizzotti. Rizzotti is a passionate advocate for cooking with the taste of EVOO.


Tasting a raw oil allows the detection of its highest bitter-spicy fragrance which, during cooking, tends to dissolve.

A quality oil is characterized by the intense taste of olives, together with more or less intense bitter and spicy sensations, that gives the olive such fresh flavor.

EVOO is best for drizzling on plated dishes, ready to serve.

Tips: What the Positive Attributes of a Quality EVOO Are:

Bitter: Characteristic primary taste of oils obtained from green olives or olives turning in color.

Spicy: “Biting” tactile sensation of oils produced at the beginning of a crop campaign from still unripe olives. Such a sensation may be particularly intense in oils rich in healthy antioxidant substances.

Fruity: a combination of sensory characteristics, depending on olives varieties, pertaining to oils
obtained from fresh and ripe fruits (green fruity/ripe fruity).

Grass: Distinctive shade of fruity oils that may recall the smell of cut grass.

Apple: Flavor recalling the taste of apples.

Artichoke: Flavor recalling the fresh and pleasant raw artichoke.

Sweet and Bitter Almond: Characteristic aftertaste flavor recalling almonds.

Floral: Very pleasant sensation recalling flowers; penetrating fragrances.

Green Tomato: Flavor recalling the fruit.

Woody: flavor recalling the smell of brush woods.

Green Leaf: flavor recalling the leaf slightly bitter fragrance.

Cooking Tips:

According to the Consortium, combining food and oil is best made “in harmony.” For example, light fruity oils pair with delicate dishes, while medium - intense fruity fragrances generally pair with richer and flavored dishes.

Olive oil is very resistant to heat and is suitable for use in cooking, baking, and more.

Cooking over low heat is the best way to enhance its characteristics.

Once cooking is completed, the original fruity and herbal notes of the raw oil will lightly turn in terms of intensity, according to cooking modalities and ingredients used.

After the food preparation, the oil and its presence may also contribute to the formation of new aromas, as well as retain its original flavor.

Recommended EVOO Storage:

The Consortium suggests that proper storage is key to maintaining safe and intact extra virgin olive oil qualities. Light, air and heat can damage oil, thus a suitable storage is required since these factors can affect the quality.

Storage Tips for EVOO:

  • Keep out of direct light. 
  • Keep away from heat. 
  • Once a bottle is opened it should be carefully resealed as to prevent contact with air.
  • Bottles of oil should be kept away from sunshine and heat (stoves or ovens) as well as from cold places. 
  • If poured into smaller containers from a larger can, aim to reduce contact with air. 
  • Bottles need to be clean and dry.
  • Best temperatures for olive oil storage are from 15 to 10 degrees centigrade or around 50 degrees fahrenheit. 
  • Olive labels display the preferable consumption date that reads: “Best Before” date and not the expiration date - noted as “Use By” date.
  • This is easier to accommodate than you might think. Like good, quality wine, use your olive oil daily for best taste and freshness. 
  • Re-use once used for cooking is not recommended.
  • It’s best that once you open your bottle of “Liquid Gold” to enjoy it’s unparalleled taste - and consume the contents within two weeks or so. 
Wellness and EVOO

EXTRA HEALTHY LIVING is the three year campaign in the US led by the Italian Consorzio Extra vergine di qualità CEQ Italia and the Spanish partner QVEXTRA! financed by the European Union to promote the wellness features of European high quality EVOOS.

With an ever-burgeoning pursuit of wellness and healthy living, EVOO is the go-to natural ingredient that supports a healthy lifestyle and high quality food, especially from Europe’s Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil contains a greater percentage of monounsaturated fat acids, if compared to other oils. These fats are healthy, indeed, for human beings. They help reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and help increasing HDL levels in a significant way. Furthermore, antioxidants such as polyphenols and tocopherols contained in extra virgin olive oils, play a purifying action on blood - restraining the free radicals production.

A diet rich in extra virgin olive oil may:

1. Strengthen the immune system;

2. Have an anti - inflammatory effect;

3. Prevent cardiovascular diseases;

4. Reduce cholesterol levels;

5. Decrease the formation of free radicals and cellular aging correlated infarction;

6. Reduce the risk of thrombosis and atherosclerosis;

7. Lower blood pressure;

8. Reduce the incidence of some cancers;

9. Improve the operating capacity of the pancreas;

10. Have a positive impact on the emergence of adult diabetes.

Besides being an excellent dressing to enhance the flavor of foods, olive oil is a complete food and essential for keeping fit at any age. Rich in antioxidants and beneficial substances, it has a high nutritional value and helps preventing many diseases, increasing life expectancy.

It facilitates the intestinal absorption of vitamins, aids digestion and regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood: for this reason it has been scientifically proved that a diet rich in olive oil
reduces the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis and cancer.

All healthy properties are particularly enhanced in the EVOO, the highest category of quality in the family of olive oils. EVOO is a true, natural “functional food.”

EVOO is a useful food for all ages. It is suitable for the nutrition of infants and children because it is highly digestible and helps a harmonious development. It also helps adults to stay young. Indeed, it is recommended for the elderly diets, not only for its high digestibility but because also because it promotes the assimilation of minerals and vitamins. And last, but not least, thanks to its high nutritional value, it is also suitable for athletes, because EVOO promotes the high energy inputs necessary to high performers.

EVOO is the healthiest of all fats because it is the only vegetable oil extracted simply through the milling of the fruit without using solvents or industrial refining processes. Other oils or vegetable fats are generally blended and over-processed.

All the natural health-giving properties are retained through the simple “squeeze of olives.”

EVOO Recipes from Chefs: Mario Rizzotti, Antonio Ortuno are available upon request.

Recipe from Chef Antonio:   
Photo courtesy Chef Antonio Ortuno 

Leek with Chickpeas Cream, Leek leaf chips, toasted Pine Nuts, Orange zest and Extra Virgin Olive Oil 


- 1 leek per person

- 100g Pine nuts

- 2 oranges

- Boiled chickpeas

- Extra virgin olive oil


- Steam the leeks for 20 minutes.

- Clean the leeks of hard leaves and cut them very thin and fry them in a pot with extra virgin olive oil/EVOO

- Remove and set aside in paper towel.

- Sauté the pine nuts in a frying pan without oil until they are golden, reserve.

- Add into the food processor the chickpeas, the orange zest of one orange, salt and EVOO until it is creamy.

- Sauté the leeks both sides in a pan with a little bit of olive oil.

- Cut each one in small pieces.

- Serve the leek on top of the chickpeas cream, season with drizzle of EVOO and salt, add the orange zest and the toasted pine nuts on the top and finally the crispy leaves.
Photo courtesy Chef Antonio Ortuno 

Some Fun Olive Oil Facts

  • Did you know an olive tree can live for more than 200 years; some live a century or more.
  • PDO oils are a precious product able to supporthe Italian quality productions since they own several sensorial, healthy and nutritional virtues
  • The variety details and distinctive traits of cultivation areas give rise to a wide range of fragrance and tastes, quite precious to safeguard the Mediterranean cooking fame in the world. 
  • The fatty acid ratio of olive oil is similar to mother’s milk and this means that it is very well tolerated by both infants and elderly. 
  • EVOO is the best ingredient for deep frying, as it contains more stable fat acids, if compared to those contained in seed oils, and its temperature is definitely higher than the usual ones. 
  • The only rule that one should strictly observe concerns the deep frying duration. If the oil starts smoking means it’s overheated.
Cheers to the magic of the olive plant, and the miracle of EVOO.  Remember, the best ingredient is love. .. Celebrate National Extra Virgin Olive Oil with those you love.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The ABC’s of Designing a Captivating Back-to-School Tablescape

Artful Back to School, Seasonal Harvest Tablescape 
While it was time for students to trade in their summer swimsuits to return to school, it was also time for me to change out the red, white, and blue patriotic-themed tablescape design that was in residence.

The summer’s look was fueled by Independence Day and the Fireworks and Mother’s Birthday party. The design proved to be very enduring; with a few minor updates and edits the look took us straight through Labor Day.

I was sorry to see it go.

But as the ornamental grasses were sending out their inflorescence, the summer style was looking jarringly out of sync… Out of style... It was time...

Part of my rationale was I had so many other garden and writing priorities - but I was clearly pushing the limit. Even my yogi master told us today,”It is a time for change. And be mindful of the change,” he admonished. I will be mindful, I promised myself.

Upon reflection, I knew I wasn’t yet ready for Halloween. So what was the inspiration to be for an end of summer/September look?

Not a surprise, it happened at the Greenmarket. I took one look at those irresistible and happy-looking Teddy Bear sunflowers and I was immediately smitten.

It was an easy next step to broaden the design concept to include the harvest! And to complete the Tablescape story, to add a bit of whimsy -- in this case, the "Back-To-School” element. I always look to add a wink and some charm when designing a tablescape.

The art of a tablescape’s storytelling is what distinguishes it from being just a pretty table. Furthermore, the story makes it unique -- no one else can tell your artful story.

Of course -- the very edibles we’ve been nurturing all summer in our farm-ette need to be celebrated. Just as the cornucopia of yore spilled forth with the bounty of the garden, I wanted to give our pretty - and delicious -- fruits and vegetables their own time to shine in the spotlight.

We revere our food -- so it’s only natural then they were to become the stars of a Harvest Tablescape.

What would be the best receptacle for the sunflowers? See, I don’t always use a traditional vase. Floral designs can often be best showcased in other, repurposed vessels, including liqueur glasses, antique or vintage glasses or jars, local glass works, napkin rings - I have ghost ones that have a side pocket insert for buds and blossoms. There’s also plenty of cocktail and baking items that are cute and clever enough to re-purpose within a tablescape.

I discovered a long-forgotten vase that seemed to jump out from my tablescape inventory shelf -- and why not? After all, it is adorned with -- drum roll, please -- sunflowers!

It made the cut, of course. To balance out the center of table floral display - I looked for two others. The glossy black urns would work in scale and the color looks crisp with the yellow of the sunflowers. I had to find a way to keep water inside the urns for the flower stems, and found that egg cups did the job -- in turn placing them inside the urns.

I also brought out the autumn soup tureens that look like squash and pumpkins that I got some years ago at William-Sonoma. Pretty. And functional.

Overall, you can see and understand how the tablescape design gets layered. Each element adds to the story and suggests yet another object or component that will enhance the look.

I kept the mirrored plates with the gold glitter on the table (preserves the integrity of the antique table -- and well, you just can’t have too much glitter!)

Gold and black was fashioning a bold and striking color statement for this emerging tablescape. It was infusing an elegant, eye-catching appearance.

I spray painted small faux pumpkins last year and placed them at key spots on the table.

I also used the big gold pollinators: bees, grasshoppers and butterflies. After all, the pollinators are key to growing our gardens -- in the real world!

Clear glass square vases could best hold the harvest -- a colorful display of peppers of all colors, and topped off with lipstick red tomatoes.

We grow shisito peppers (these are super delicious to enjoy at your evening’s cocktail hour - just blistered and seasoned with sea salt), jalapeno, chile,

and this year we grew chef Dan Barber’s Row 7 peppers. We were delighted with the beautiful Habanada Pepper -- all the taste without the sizzling tongue burning.

Love it! It’s a perfect ingredient for so many dishes - from salads to soups.

The whimsical “pièce de résistance” that anchored the Back to School story line was the placement of little chalkboards on a tripod -- used to label or identify food / dishes on a buffet. You’ve seen them at events, probably.

I used the chalk that comes with the mini blackboards and wrote out a few “lessons.” Arithmetic: 1+1+1=3; The Capital of NJ is __; A,B,C, and “Teacher’s Pet.”

They looked great - - so engaging and fun -- plus, the blackboard’s color accented and harmonized the black and gold cover style that this composition had taken on.

To add sparkle when the sun goes down -- outside (ha) -- I added string lights to the tabletop to keep the spotlight on our sunny, sunflowers, inside.

Concealed in short gold cups that are repurposed from a previous, floral display; topped with mini green-striped faux pumpkins to hide the mechanics of the string lights. This way, the glitter peeks out, adding just the right amount of enchanting glow to the sunflowers and table decor.


Today’s “lesson” in tablescape design is:
  • Tell a story with your tablescape look; 
  • Design with the season; 
  • Use what you have -- repurpose items 
  • Celebrate the “food as character” design element
  • Add in some fanciful or playful elements that solicits a wink and smile for you and your guest

Enjoy your glamorous, Back-To-School tablescape. Or contact me and I’ll design one for you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How to Reimagine a Dated Fireplace - A Lesson in Interior Design

After the Paint and re-design but previously ----

This was the old fireplace "before" or the "mid-before" - after the first deconstruction 

Oh, if I’d had a dime for every minute I spent designing the interior decor around a dated piece of a pre-renovation, fixer-upper element of our country house home. 

We inherited a fireplace that extends from floor to ceiling. The imposing structural piece sported what is commonly referenced as a 70’s harvest gold influence - even though the fireplace might’ve been there since the house was first built in the swinging 60’s.

First the paint: Gold? Terracotta? Putty? Beige?

I posted color swatches

I looked to color coordinate the gold stones with a complimentary wall color that would also work with the butter yellow of the kitchen, the dreamy blue quartz island and counter tops, and the dining space that are part of the area’s open floor plan.

We worked the furniture reupholstery swatches

We chose the French blue and yellow and gold tailored fabric to redo the two couches.

From the copper inserts in the new tile floor to the rich, jewel-toned coppery, nutty-colored fabrics…

I was coming around to be quite satisfied that the blue and gold and yellows and the brown wood of our new, antique table, were working together nicely.

Eventually, the colors, including the new putty or terracotta - or is it cinnabar? - of the new rug - all came together. That element, along with the textures was balanced and well, rewarding.

I very much subscribe to the Dorothy Draper style of orchestrating adjacent rooms that allow the flow for the eyes -- and the experience -- to gracefully unfold and moreover - move you through from one space to another.

I had managed to go from a soft blue in the entry hallway to the soft, butter yellow to gold - onto to that melon/terracotta/sunrise-inspired saturated “glow” color of the Garden Room beyond.

So life went on. Terrific tablescapes; divine dining…

But then, maybe four or so years later, while enjoying one of my “Ladies Who Lunch” with an award-winning interior designer, Mary Fran - who I was introduced to by another accomplished woman - seamstress and designer Aimee Humphreys (Love a good “Ladies Network”) - that the design look took a decided turn. For the better.

For those who don’t follow regularly - I am so committed to learning from great, accomplished, artful women that I schedule as many “Ladies Who Lunch” experiences as I can. I’m always open to learning and seeking the counsel and advice of experts - especially the best dames. I continually long for more…
Back to the design issue at hand.

While Mary Fran and I were touring my house and garden designs - the inspired design epiphany floated in.

Allow me to readily admit that Bill and my taste runs to the eclectic. Each and every element is hand-picked, artisanal, unique -- utterly charming and sophisticated and elegant and personal; over time, reviewed by media and friends and family alike - as top-tier… We so appreciate and are so grateful for the decor feedback… It’s been a true labor of love creating the look.

Yet, you can understand when I say there could’ve been some awkward moments showing a professional interior designer my own designs and compositions. But there wasn’t any of that. Just lots of mutual, simpatico, love of interior and exterior design.

Winding up the tour, I asked Mary Fran: “Anything you want to critique - feel free to suggest and share…”

And then, so gently and honestly and refreshingly, Mary Fran flicked her decor head, nodding towards the end of the room to answer my challenge. “I’d paint the fireplace.”

What?! I eagerly replied. Followed by a quick, “How can we do that?”

“Simple,” Mary Fran said. “ Just like you had your front-of-house bricks painted, here too you can paint the fireplace stones.”

The logic was embarrassingly overwhelming. A head-smacking epiphany.

Here it was. A timely design alternative.

Now that I learned I could readily paint those buggery gold harvest stones, I was design engerized.

Happy day! I was excited to change the room’s look to better enhance the elegance of the room; to coordinate the true decor and spirited ambience, with the open space kitchen and dining area that embraces the fireplace.

I eagerly headed to select a palette of blue-grey paint colors.

I monitored the painter and the application of the variety of the different paints to achieve the subtle hues and shades to achieve the natural grey/blue/slate look, including the hearth.

Bill painted the fireplace grill a basic, sophisticated matte black.

Now, the wall behind the fireplace could be completed -- and painted to compliment with the other kitchen and dining room’s pale sweet butter-colored walls. Voila!

The change has most assuredly updated and changed the look of the entire space. We love it. And in fact, the change prompted me to reconsider the color palette of the furniture. I determined we could redo the couch that’s there - giving it a more tailored look and new fabric, along with the dining room seats.

I visited my go-to fabric emporium here in Gotham, Mood Fabrics --

home of Project Runway - and the cutest, most revered pooch, “Swatches.”

I came away with a valise full of fabric swatches to consider and rifled through them in situ - and surprisingly came to choose the fabric for the seat and reconfigured couch rather quickly. Both are a kind of textured, almost ultrasuede, in two different soft shades of a blue-ish, grey-ish, green-ish celadon.

Now, the colors better capture the greys and blues and seafoam of the fireplace - and the persian rug under the dining table -- and ultimately to the water views just beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows that face the dining room and kitchen. Do you want to see?


And we retained that iconic Dorothy Draper room flow that leads the eye

Thank you, Mary Fran. I couldn’t have been more appreciative and honored.

Until -- until I saw Mary Fran featured in NJ Design Magazine! She’s a star.

And I was lucky she was in my constellation. I love the design community - so creative and giving.

So glamorous…