Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How to Create Elegant Halloween Entertaining Tablescape & Home Decor ~ Redux

Halloween Tablescape Update

Photo Oct 26, 6 39 33 PM.jpg
Spooky Halloween Tablescape Original Creation 

This Season's Updated Look 
Everything design can be updated, refreshed and given a spark of a new look.  In that spirit - well, perhaps a bit of a ghostly spirit! I turned this year's tablescape design around a bit to achieve a slightly new charm.  I built off of last year's Halloween table design and the desire to celebrate the spooky season with a bit more refined, glamorous tablescape and hallway greeting than the usual gourds and orange pumpkins.

I was looking for a refined “adult” version of happy trick or treat.

I wanted it to be more about the Art of Tablescapes for this most favorite holiday.
(Did you know that, in fact, Halloween is now only second to Christmas in terms of popularity?)

Given that Halloween has, at its core, dressing up in costumes, it only seems apropos to “dress up the table and noteworthy home spaces with some inspired, seasonal masquerade.

Especially when the harvest season screams out for luncheon, dinner, and cocktail parties to celebrate the abundance we enjoy and share this time of year.

So let’s delight in dressing up.

I began my Halloween tablescape and home decor compositions as I always do -- by dreaming a bit.

And by answering the question: “What story do I want to tell?”

Tablescapes, of course, are more than mere centerpieces. The overall tablescape look comprises the entire table, amplifying an event or holiday or your guests -- with your personal style, color, and dimension.

It tells your story; your fantasy… While making your guests feel welcome and relaxed.

The visual stimulation of a compelling composition sparks fun and conversation.

Good tablescapes create a sense of balance, harmony and personal style.

For this Halloween tablescape look, I was drawn to artful skeletons - more as sculptural objects.

I went for the skulls, especially... Skulls and skeletons can be pensive (Rodin?!) or rather sweet - even humorous.

In terms of color, witchy black was the spooky shoe-in, right? Dark, mysterious - and sophisticated.

To harmonize, I thought the color gold and gold accent pieces would add that touch of elegance, along with the basic black.

I use the tiny white (battery operated) string lights for most every tablescape. The evening twinkle is frothy and romantic - and can stand up to our cityscape view that sparkles out on the horizon - seemingly within reach.

And I always create a trompe l’oeil or a kind of “vehicle” that allows me to hide the battery pack for the two light strands. After all, we’re creating illusion..

For the last tablescape display, I used the decorative blue box designed to look like a grill - that the wood fish came in which styled perfectly with the fish and beach composition - complete with live Beta fishing fish in their own four, individual glass vases with plants.

What could I use for the Halloween to hide the battery pack in?

Keeping with the gold color and elements theme, I repurposed two small gold urns and topped the batteries with store-bought mini green and gold gourds that caught my eye at a store.

It’s always best to lay out the designs and look on the table; then determine what you have in your own decor inventory or household items that could work in the design. You’ll be surprised how many items can be repurposed.

Next up is to make a list. This keeps you focused when you get to the store and become overwhelmed or distracted by displays there.

My initial ‘search and shop’ was in a local store where I could get those spiky succulents.

There, I also found perfect small black lacquer pedestal urns - (they looked as if the front porch big urns had incubated teeny offspring!)

The shiny, black urns were perfect: size and price wise so I got four - two for the table and two for the entranceway.

Halloween Horticulture!  

I also found spiky air plants to use.
And delightful architectural succulents - with ghoulish spikes and a blood-red hue. 
I kept all the plants healthy and pretty all year so just had to post them back on full display this year!

Last year, I got small chile plants -- one with yellow pepper plants and the other with purple peppers.

This year I got cut flowers that look like eyeballs! The baneberry (Acetaea pachypoda) is probably right in your yard - or local grocer.  Red-Twigged Dogwood's berries work too. 
What I wish I could have in the garden is the skull look of the Antirrhinum majus - the snapdragon's seed pods look like a Dragon's Skull!  Crazy creepy!

I was building the composition.

I bought a black, felt “spiderweb” table runner.

I got packs of “eyes” to place inside the web. This is a whimsical element that is so much fun when dining. All those “peepers” looking back at you!

I also got eye rings -- where the eyeballs actually roll a bit - and placed them on the runner, too. Fun-as a kind of kooky cocktail ring!

Skull banks worked - just like the live Beta fish-filled vases did for a previous composition. This year I stuck some black "spiders" into the back of the skull's coin slot.

The point here is not to limit your design to items that are expressly made as decor - but to think of elements that can add charm and style - whatever their original utility might have been.

I placed the plants in two of the black urns. In turn, I placed them on the round mirrors. The mirrors amplify the main element’s value in the composition.

I wanted gauze to add that spidery look and to help cover the lights’ “wires” but when the party store didn’t have the gauze - I just went to the pharmacy and bought a roll of gauze (for a lot less money) and wrapped that around the urn and over the lights.

Then I placed teeny, tiny skulls around the mirror, on top of the gauze.

You don’t see the wires and at night when it’s lighted -- the illusion is dramatic and elegant.

I also spray-painted four artificial pumpkins gold (no real pumpkins that would go bad and get mushy on the table). And this year I added the squash and pumpkin soup

And I purchased the most adorable (to me, anyway) gold insects for the four corners of the spider runner. I figured they could work for a multitude of future tablescape designs.

Creepy, elegant, fun.

When all was in place, it just needed something more. As if a hand was directing me, I was compelled to turn to the fireplace and shazaam, targeted the four wrought iron candle holders. Perfect! They and their gold, battery operated candles were soon transported to the tablescape. That finishing touch completed the look.

Halloween Tablescape Luncheon
For a “Ladies Who Lunch” affair, I found mini pumpkins in the garden and used them for the name placeholders.

Black napkins and gold napkin rings accented the table look, as did the ceramic gourd soup bowls (Williams-Sonoma).
New Look this year

Redux Tablescape elevated look 

The seasonal menu included most everything from our garden: onions for the French Onion Soup: (Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

Fresh-grated Consider Bardwell Farms Rupert cheese - An aged, raw Jersey cow milk cheese inspired by great European Alpine cheeses like Gruyère and Comté.

We enjoyed Mother’s homemade bread, and garden-fresh eggplants for the Eggplant and Pasta with truffle buffalo mozzarella entree.

(photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

Photos courtesy of Angie Lambert 

I couldn’t resist making my trademark punch with garden ice floating ring for the Ladies Lunch.

(Photo courtesy of Angie Lambert)

I used Mint as the frozen in ice greens. This you must start a few days ahead of time, freezing distilled water halfway in a bundt pan. When frozen, place your greens or flowers or whatever you want that will amplify a party theme - on top of the half frozen mold.

Then, fill the bundt pan with more distilled water to help cover the greens or flowers. Some will stick up from the mold -- which makes it all the prettier.

As the ice melts, the greens stay in the circular shape -- so that it comes to rest in the bottom as the punch is consumed. Lovely…

Ladies Who Lunch guests: Angie (L) and Maria enjoying the smoky punch.

For Halloween, I had to try the dry ice to produce a holiday, smokey drama.

I ordered the dry ice from our local Party Store. They told me I had 15 or 20 minutes to experience once I broke up (be sure to wear winter gloves) and ignited the dry ice with water.

It lasted longer than that but be advised.

The result was even better than I hoped for. It was giggling-good!

I encourage you to try this hostess treat for your next party.

Garnish the punch cocktail with fresh, local green apples.

Entry Hall

For the hallway table, I already had two “hands” that look like Thing from the the long-ago TV show, “The Addams Family.” (They’re creepy and they’re spooky…)

For the entry hallway, I was inspired by those “menacing-looking” spiky, small succulents.

Heading to our garden, I cut the spent hydrangea macrophylla -- the ‘Lady in Red’ cultivar offers gorgeous petioles and a red-veined style that I interpreted as a bit of blood-red color that paired well with “eyeball” picks decor for the vases.

I purchased glow-in-the-dark rubber-like “insects” that rest on the prickly succulents and red-swirled Murano glass bowl that is perched atop the antique Asian table there.

The “Thing” hands are sparkly, with an insert for a candle; I put little light globes in them.

And behind the bowl I placed white globe battery lights that I had previously purchased for holiday decorations.

The hallway table has black wrought iron sconces topped by battery operated candles - so with a few masks and tiny tin buckets filled with candy treats -- along with the shadow art the sun etches across the walls there - it’s a welcome Halloween tableau.

The little spiders are available in black - for the tablescape - and orange - which complemented the saffron/orange in our garden room so I strategically placed them on the spiral staircase. So whimsical!

Front Door Entry
For the front door entrance’s black urns -- one on each side of the front door - the ferns are still looking good in this warmer than usual weather (I read today of ‘Hotumn’) and I already had two happy witches from years past. So I nestled our girls in among the ferns.

To add to the look, I got two of those Mexican, Dia de los Muertos skull heads to place in the big urns along with the witches. I love their colorful look and the significance that they represent prayer and remembrance of family and friends who have died.

The PS / funny part is that the squirrels knocked out one of the skulls - but the glue job made it only all the more realistic!

A string of pumpkin fairy lights illuminate the spooky but welcoming entry.

Boo to you! 
What will your table be wearing for Halloween?

And the arbor twinkles with a view of the harbor

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...