My Travel Notebook: Italy

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my last post about my travels to France, I shared the places I went, delighted with how they inspired me in my work in interior design. My trip didn’t stop at the border of France, however;  my husband, Frank, and I continued on into Italy. And the longer we were away, the more I thought about how it is that beauty can inspire us not only in the design of our homes, but also in the design for our lives.

 

 

As a fine artist who became an interior designer, something I loved in Italy (and in France) were the beautiful colors. In Verona, the buildings were a perfect foil for the brightly shining sun with their citrusy shades of tangerine, gold, pale yellow and sunburnt red. Life lesson: the world is a colorful place!

 

 

All the colors of Italy are subtly glorious. This old synagogue in what was once a Jewish ghetto shares the golden tones of the buildings in Verona, but it also inspires awe, as religious buildings are meant to. You must look closer to see the many intricate designs that proclaim it a Jewish house of worship.

 

 

Looking closer is one of the requirements of travel. At first glance, we see the bigger picture: the architecture, the ruins of this ancient amphitheater in Verona, the cobbled streets. It is only when we look closer that we see the faces of the people, their smiles, what they carry, who they are. (An earthquake in 1176 destroyed the amphitheater here; this is the only remaining fragment of the outer ring.)

 

 

Close attention to detail is also a requirement for an interior designer. Details bring a room to life, give it movement, personality and that elegant je ne sais quois. The ceiling in the breakfast room at our hotel in Villa Cordevigo near Lake Garda reminded me of both an important design rule, and one for living: lift your eyes. Look up.

 

 

The Murano glass chandeliers there were a source of light and delight. Shouldn’t every light fixture be both? I think so!

 

 

Italian is known as the language of love, and Verona is known as the City of Love. Romance is celebrated where Shakespeare set his story of star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet, sadly, were based on a real life feuding family. Today, people in search of love, forgiveness, or who simply want to celebrate their own unique love story write letters and leave them here. The city of Verona receives over 5,000 letters a year to Juliet.

 

 

The statue of Juliet is said to be good luck to lovers. When the original bronze statue, cast in 1969, was removed for repairs, restoration staff found hundreds of letters from star-crossed lovers that had been squeezed into the statue through cracks in the exterior. In addition to notes, there were tiny padlock keys. Couples often buy padlocks, write their names in indelible ink, then either hide or throw away the key.

 

 

People come from all over the world to stand beneath Juliet’s balcony. Don’t you love the symmetry of the Romanesque windows underneath?

 

 

We saw many villas designed by the 16th century architect, Andrea Palladio. Palladio based his work on a study of classical Roman architecture, which gives much of the region its unique appearance.This is Villa Emo, designed by Palladio in 1559. It remained in the Emo family until it was sold in 2004. The landscape has a continuous history since Roman times, and it has been suggested that the straight lines of the villa reflect the straight lines of Roman roads.

 

 

 

In the land where the Renaissance began, with a culture and architecture heavily influenced by the Classical ideals of Greek and Roman civilizations, rich detail can be found everywhere you turn.

 

 

Villa Barbaro, also known as Villa di Maser, was built by Palladio for Daniele Barbaro, ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and his brother, Marcantonio, ambassador to King Charles IX of France.

 

 

 

The frescoes in Villa Barbaro are by the artist Paolo Veronese. He painted the wife of Marcantonio Barbaro, Giustiniana, along with her youngest son’s wet nurse, her parrot, and her spaniel dog.

 

 

Here is our tour guide, Janet Simmonds, with Frank, standing outside the Villa Foscari, also known as La Malcontenta. In the 16th century, rich patricians of Venice had villas built to expand their empires through agriculture. (The name La Malcontenta has several explanations, all hinging on a supposedly unhappy wife many years ago.)

 

 

We stayed in one 16th century villa, the Hotel Villa Franceschi, the former residence of jewelers to the Doge (the Italian chief of state). The villa stands at a bend in the River Brenta, and is the gateway to Venice.

 

 

The end of day is always a favorite time for me, when the sun begins its descent toward the horizon, and gently slants against the buildings. The quality of light is different in different locations. I’ve always found sunlight on Nantucket to be especially luminous. I love the sunlight in Italy, too.

 

 

This is our room at the Villa Franceschi. The guest rooms are opulent, with marble fireplaces and terra cotta floor tiles, and the ceilings have their original wooden beams. It’s important to revere our history, and restore our ancient buildings. I felt the same way when I restored a sea captain’s house on Nantucket years ago.

 

 

I have always found a mix of old and new, layered throughout a home, to give both grace and grounding to the interiors I create for my clients. I came home feeling more strongly than ever that in a home with a modern look and feel, there is still room for antiquities and fine antiques.

 

 

Many of my clients have inherited pieces or vintage collectibles that they want retained in their homes. By combining new with old, a recently decorated room has the look of one that has evolved over the years. The end result is a cohesive blend of style and comfort, as it is here at the Villa Franceschi.

 

 

You find symmetry, balance and order throughout Italy, including in formal gardens, as in the maze at the abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore.

 

 

Also called the Borges Labyrinth, it was created in honor of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, to recall one of his best known stories, The Garden of Forking Paths. Because Borges became blind at age 55, a handrail was installed so blind people can walk the maze without assistance.

 

 

Italian gardens are beautiful, with or without a maze. There are many paths to follow, as in life. Since we can’t do everything and be everywhere, we have to choose which ones to walk.

 

 

Let’s walk toward beauty.

 

 

I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of water, and the end of our trip found us floating through the canals of Venice, following the same route George Clooney took with his bride Amal following their Venetian wedding. That was only fitting for a trip planned to celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary!

 

 

Janet arranged a private boat tour for us, and it was a magical day.

 

 

Passing under the Bridge of Sighs was a solemn moment. It is said that Casanova was one of the prisoners who sighed while crossing from the Hall of Magistrates to the prison on the other side. The glimpse of blue sky beyond was the last view of clouds and sun the prisoners would see for some time. (But Casanova escaped in 1756, slipping out of his cell into the palace, where a guard let him out. A happy ending!)

 

 

The last time Frank and I were in Venice, we were here to oversee the printing of my interior design book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior. We met my London-based book designer, Stafford Cliff, in Padua where the printer was located, but were able to take in a bit of Venice before we returned home to the states. That was a working vacation, though, which is a contradiction in terms!

 

 

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think that the world must be examined, too. Luckily, we don’t need to travel to Italy, or to France, to find inspiration. It’s all around us. We just have to look for the angels of beauty that are everywhere, and remember we are blessed. (This angel can be found in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, in Venice).

 

 

Like Casanova, we had a happy ending too: we made it home in time for the Peony festival in our own front yard. So we had a glass of wine to celebrate.

 

 

Saluti!

Building Noah’s Ark

Reka and Zeya, CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s two rare Amur tiger cubs

There are many things in life that demand my attention, but some of them leap to the front of the line. Zoos had not been on my radar screen, but that changed with the news that Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo was hand-rearing two critically endangered Amur tiger cubs.

 

Zeya, shortly after birth

Having my little grandsons visiting with me when the tiger cubs were born was good timing, as we learned about endangered tigers and the Zoo’s work to save endangered animals together. I found out that without the help of accredited zoos, my grandchildren’s grandchildren may never see a live tiger, or any number of other species on earth today.

 

The Amur leopard is the rarest big cat on earth, with fewer than 60 individuals surviving in the wild.

The world around us is changing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last 40 years. We are confronting the loss of wildlife on a massive scale, largely due to human interaction. One estimate says that there are currently 16,938 animal and plant species threatened with extinction. One in three on the list are amphibians, one in four are mammals, and one in eight are birds.

 

Northern white rhinos are functionally extinct, with only a handful of rapidly aging individuals left in captivity.

Lists of the most endangered animals in the world today include the Amur leopard, gorillas, sea turtles, orangutans, Sumatran elephants, the Saola, the Vaquita porpoise, the tiger (all subspecies), rhinos, and pangolins. There are many, many more.

 

 

The single largest cause of threats to animals? Habitat loss, due to deforestation, the expansion of farms across fragile areas, and logging. In addition, many of these animals are poached for their horns, tusks, or bones, have organs that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or are persecuted and hunted. Other factors include climate change, resource depletion, and territory fragmentation, which keeps healthy, genetically different animals from successful breeding.

 

Tigers at CT’s Beardsley Zoo.

There are many organizations fighting to help animals in the wild, with varying levels of success. The “wild,” as it used to exist, is rapidly disappearing. While some well-intended activists call for animals to be released from captivity, their perspective does not address the fact that wild habitats today are facing environmental degradation and animals are being hunted to extinction. Many animals in the wild are theoretically protected, but that does not mean they are safe.

 

Deforestation is causing a decline in the Red panda population as their nesting trees and their primary diet, bamboo, are being destroyed. This is Meri, CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s four year old female, who may help sustain her species. 

Today’s accredited zoos and aquariums have had to become Noah’s Arks, sustaining populations through carefully monitored captive breeding programs, and providing a home, nutrition, medical care, and survival to some of the world’s most endangered species.

 

Most of the areas the Golden Lion tamarin call home have been poorly protected. A sustained Zoo breeding program beginning in the 1970s allowed Brazil’s GLT population to rebound somewhat due to reintroduction. Continued loss of forest habitat, however, keeps the GLT on the endangered list. 

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), of 2,800 USDA licensed animal exhibitors in the U.S., only 230 are accredited members of the AZA. Why does that matter? Because the AZA requires that its member zoos meet rigorous standards for animal welfare, conservation, education, and science. One of its primary rules for membership is respecting the dignity of animals in a zoo’s care, and acting with the animal’s best interests in mind. (Here’s a list of accredited organizations.)

 

An endangered wolf cub born at CT’s Beardsley Zoo

No baby animal is ever born at an accredited zoo without a specific breeding recommendation from experts at the AZA, who keep careful track of genetics. Zoos also contribute to animal conservation efforts worldwide. Extinction rates for many species, though, continue to rise. Accredited zoos are many species’ last hope to survive total elimination.

 

 Endangered South American maned wolf cubs born at CT’s Beardsley Zoo

On November 25th, the Zoo’s female Amur tiger, Changbai, gave birth to four Amur tiger cubs, although only two survived.  The two surviving cubs, both females, were removed from Changbai when she showed no interest in taking care of them.

 

Handfeeding an Amur tiger cub in CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s animal Health Care Center

Both cubs were taken to the Zoo’s animal Health Care Center, where staff handfed the babies and housed them in a 90 degree ambient temperature nursery, to maintain their body temperature.

 

Amur tiger cubs only a few days old 

At first, the cubs were given only a 25% chance of survival. A feline replacement formula, supplemented with vitamins, was prepared for them five times a day, around the clock. Today, the cubs are four months old, healthy and active. Their survival is an important step forward in maintaining the genetic diversity of Amur tigers worldwide.

 

Reka, at two months old

Over the last century, tiger numbers have fallen by about 95%, and tigers now survive in 40% less space than they occupied just a decade ago. The Connecticut tigers are Amurs, and sadly, there are only about 500 Amur tigers left in wild places–specifically, the Amur River Valley region where Russia, China and North Korea meet.

 

Wild Amur tiger in the Amur River Basin, Russia

Michael Hutchins, director of conservation and science for the AZA said, “Millions of dollars go to house artwork in museums, but there are more Rembrandts in the world than there are Siberian (Amur) tigers.”

 

Amur tiger cub at CT’s Beardsley Zoo. The cubs’ survival is important to sustaining the critically endangered tiger species.

The AZA says: “We believe in a better future for all living things. We envision a world where all people respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places.”

Want to watch the tiger cubs on a live web cam? Click here.

To contribute to Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, or to help fundraise for a new tiger habitat, click here.

 

Welcoming Your Guests with Style: Part Two

 

 

How do you share the spirit of the holidays? The holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving and doesn’t end until after New Year’s–officially on Twelfth Night, which is January 5th–has grown to include Christmas, Chanukah, and other winter celebrations as well. It’s a challenge to balance merriment with the solace of quiet evenings at home, but your approach to decorating your home can help you and your guests celebrate in style!

 

 

 

From fragrant evergreens that symbolize eternal life to wreaths that remind us of the circular nature of the seasons, it’s time to surround ourselves with holly berries, mistletoe and sparkling lights. It’s hard not to feel uplifted when everywhere you turn are beautiful floral centerpieces, pinecones and ribbons!

 

 

To help with fresh ideas for decking the halls in truly elegant fashion, my friend Adam Manjuck returns for Part Two of Welcoming Your Guests with Style. Adam is the owner of Flowers and Flowers, a floral boutique located in the very quaint town of Darien, Connecticut. His years of experience in making the most beautiful floral creations are why I turned to him for advice on the most decorated time of the year! (If you’d like to read more of my holiday tips with Adam, see Welcoming Your Guests With Style Part One.)

 

 

Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, or whatever the winter season means to you, traditional doesn’t have to mean old-fashioned. There are many ways to create striking tableaus. Your garlands, wreaths, and swags should always match the feeling of your home. For that reason, Adam likes to use vintage pieces from your home as a base for flowers and foliage. “They fit your decor beautifully,” he says. “And they’re part of the sentiment we feel at the holidays.”

 

 

 

There are so many flowers to choose from, says Adam, who gets deliveries fresh from Holland three times a week. He may use olive branches, Japanese maple branches, or astilbe to give an arrangement an unusual focal point.  But some of his favorites at the holidays are red Peonies and red Amaryllis–very Christmassy but a little unexpected.

 

 

“Potted plants make a beautiful statement, too,” he says. “The more, the better. When you mass them it’s like sitting under a tree canopy. Adding lots of candles makes it magical.”

 

 

About those candles: “You need a warm glow,” Adam says. “I love using mercury glass or bronze tones for votives or candle holders. Don’t be afraid to get eclectic–mix and match!”

 

 

 

Adam always considers the style of the home when making recommendations. “For a beachy Christmas, I love boxwood or magnolia leaves. I keep it very clean with one kind of foliage for the garlands. For a historic or Colonial Christmas, it’s more natural: pheasant feathers, magnolia leaves, lots of fruit.”

 

 

 

Asked if he has a favorite Christmas evergreen, Adam immediately points to the German boxwood. “It stays fresher than pine, and doesn’t dry out as quickly.” Of course, he makes his garlands extra thick so if they dry out a little over a month-long season, they don’t lose their lush appearance. Golden Cedar branches can add natural light and brilliance.

 

Here are Adam’s Seven Ways to Transform Your Holidays: one to try each day for a week!

1. Always change your ribbon.

 

 

Your ornaments are an investment, says Adam, and they may have a lot of memories attached. He recommends using the same ornaments year after year for the wonderful feeling of tradition we love, but freshening the look with new ribbon. His shop stocks many different styles and colors, giving him ample choices to match any decor.

 

 

2. Let go of what you loved last year.

 

 

That includes the dried arrangement you tried to save in tissue paper. Adam says he understands. “Some things are so beautiful it’s hard to let go of them,” he agrees. But in the next breath he insists there is a time for everything, and a time to get rid of what was beautiful–last year.

 

 

3. Never leave an outdoor container empty.

 

 

 

The photo above is my door-side containers after Adam worked his magic.  Whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall, your outdoor containers can be filled with welcoming color and textures. He loves Red Twig Dogwood, or birches with peeling bark. He recommends keeping it natural and organic through the winter.  But “two empty urns are just depressing,” Adam says.

 

 

4. The holidays should have a scent.

 

 

The beauty of your home’s decor should be matched by a tantalizing hint of fragrance in the air: white pine and paperwhites, for instance, or cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. If some people in your gathering have allergies or asthma, be kind and burn only unscented soy candles made with organic wicks. Natural scents are always better than anything from a bottle or a can.

 

 

 

5. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little bit.

 

 

Go ahead and try something new that truly expresses your personality! Be bold–have you ever thought of using black, red, and gold? Or mint green?  You’re not married to it. It goes away in 30 days.

 

 

 

 6. White lights add the sparkle.

 

 

 

“I love white lights,” Adam says. “If the kids really want colored lights, then do two trees: a family version and and then the beautiful all white lights in the living room.” Twinkling white lights add the magic.

 

 

7. Keep it natural.

 

 

 

As much as possible–unless you’re allergic–never resort to fake evergreens. “You don’t get the smell and you don’t get the look,” Adam warns. The tradition of hanging evergreens has always been to emphasize life in the long, cold months of winter. “If you’re allergic, use magnolia leaves all over the house instead of evergreens.”

 

 

Whether your Christmas is over-the-top, crammed with every one of your treasures, or marked by a stately display set apart to be admired, or something in between, don’t forget the single best way to approach your holidays: counting all your blessings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailors for the Sea

 

I have always loved the sea. The ocean is a source of peace and strength for me. The beauty of its waves, beaches, animals and plants has been my design inspiration for years. My love for our oceans is part of my passion for creating homes that support our health and well-being, and that respect the fragile ecosystem around us.

 

 

My eco-elegant color palette often includes the infinite blues of sea and sky, the velvety greys of the fog, the bleached white of seashells, the sandy beige of the beaches, and the soft greens of pine trees and bayberries for island or coastal homes.

 

 

No wonder, then, that when I learned about the organization Sailors for the Sea, I knew I had to support their work, and share their message. A new friend who serves on their Board of Directors, Vin Cipolla, introduced me to Sailors for the Sea, explaining that their mission is to unite boaters to save the ocean. According to scientists and environmental groups, our oceans are in trouble:

 

 

 

The 8 million tons of plastic waste that enters the ocean each year? That’s the equivalent of about 1.5 million cars. While battling these problems is a formidable task, Sailors for the Sea refuses to be daunted by the challenge. Through four primary programs, Sailors for the Sea is working to reverse the tide of destruction.

 

CLEAN REGATTAS

 

The Clean Regatta Program unites sailors by offering support and resources to protect and conserve the ocean. Regatta organizers are equipped with a sustainability plan to reduce the environmental impact of their event. A “green team” is assembled to plan sustainable initiatives. The number of best practices followed determines a regatta’s certification level.

 

 

KELP

 

Kids Environmental Lesson Plans help children understand the oceans’ influence on them, and their influence on the ocean. The goal is to help today’s children become empowered as tomorrow’s ocean stewards. Lesson plans include topics such as Catching Fish; Beaches, Bays and Rivers;  Living Underwater; and Aquatic Animals. The KELP program wants children to know and love the ocean before we ask them to save it.

 

OCEAN WATCH

 

Ocean Watch is a resource where dozens of informative articles on topics such as ocean wind power, boat disposal, the loss of Lion fish, and how to save turtles are made available to the public. Knowledge is power!

 

GREEN BOATING GUIDE

 

Sailors for the Sea provides a free, downloadable guide for boaters, filled with critical information for everyone from the smallest boaters to the largest mega-yachts. Topics include: Pollution Prevention, Reducing Your Impact, Eco-Friendly Products, Greening Your Getaway, Wildlife and Habitat Protection, and Boat Maintenance. As someone famous once said, “When we know better, we do better.”

 

 

There are all kinds of ways to get involved and support Sailors for the Sea. My husband, Frank, and I have contributed as Ocean Guardians. Our participation with this wonderful organization is part of our commitment to give back to the ocean communities that sustain us, and that we love.

 

 

The American naturalist Henry Beston once said that “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.” Sailor for the Sea’s wish–and mine–is that everyone who hears the sound of the ocean may one day be assured that the water rushing to shore is clean, and remains a rich environment for all the wild things under and around its waves.

 

 

 

I hope you’ll join the more than 1.3 million people engaged with Sailors for the Sea. And “be the change you want to sea.”

 

 

Counting Stars in Your Own Backyard

 

Summertime is perfect for travel, to see new sights, taste new foods, and refresh our spirits. Sometimes we return from a vacation, though, only to sigh with relief at the sight of our own front door.  There’s something to be said for a chance to relax without packing a suitcase, airport delays, and crowds of tourists. With a little advance planning, we can turn a stay at home into a luxurious retreat.

 

 

Start by thinking about what you love when you travel. If the feeling of luxury and being pampered is part of what makes a hotel stay desirable, then recreate that escape at home. Toss out old bedding, and invest in good quality organic cotton sheets. They’ll feel wonderful against your skin, and will support your health by being toxin-free. Buy new pillows, and add a soft alpaca throw at the bottom of the bed.

 

 

Rejuvenating your body as well as your mind and spirit should be your priority for this vacation. Consider purchasing a room air purifier. A HEPA filter will remove allergens and particulates from the air you breathe, then recirculate purified air back into the room.

 

 

I have a whole house air purification system that keeps the air in my home pristine, and my guests tell me they’ve never felt better or more energized.

 

 

Bring the best summer has to offer inside! I love the look of nautical throw pillows. Add shells and beach-inspired decor to keep you feeling like your toes are in the sand.

 

 

I love my collection of vintage sand pails, reminding me that this is the season to remember the delights of childhood, or enjoy them again with little people you love.

 

 

 

Plan a day trip (or three!) to places in your area that you just don’t have time to get to on a regular basis. One of my favorite destinations on Nantucket is Pumpkin Pond Farm. My good friend Marty McGowan is an organic farmer who blesses the island with gorgeous flowers and delicious homegrown produce. The recent Tomato Tasting there was a delight for all the senses.

 

 

 

Indulge in all the bounty of fresh summer foods–tomatoes, corn, peaches, plums, and fragrant herbs. Try a new recipe every night!

 

 

 

When the afternoon sun starts to make you drowsy, there’s nothing like a window seat where you can curl up with a book to read or to nap.

 

 

Since you’re staying home, family and friends may be traveling to see you. Arrange guest rooms with the kind of touches that help people feel at home. A small table or chair where they can place their luggage is appreciated. Fill a basket with books you’ve enjoyed, soaps and lotions, and extra towels. The best way to decide if your guest room is ready is to sleep there for a night yourself.

 

 

There’s nothing more romantic than a summer evening, so don’t stay indoors and miss it. Be sure to make your patio or deck as comfortable as the interior of your home, with tables, umbrellas, and lots of wonderful places to sit, with cushions and throw pillows so you can relax.

 

 

String white lights with vintage lanterns..

 

 

Light lots of candles.

 

 

Then listen for the owls, and count the stars in your own backyard.

 

 

 

 

Organic Spring

 

Many of us grew up playing on lawns years ago that were soft underfoot, cushioned our falls, and smelled delightfully grassy after mowing. They were different in several important ways from today’s lush green carpets, however. According to Chris Baliko, co-owner of Growing Solutions in Ridgefield, CT, they likely were a happy mixture of grass, crabgrass, dandelions, and clover. Perfect for their time, but less appreciated today.

 

 

 

People often prefer their lawns to be “golf course perfect,” a standard unheard of until marketing efforts from the chemical lawn care companies began to be widespread. “Before the 1940s to 1950s, the more clover you had in your lawn, the more prestigious looking your lawn was,” explains Chris. “Marketing helped to shift our perspective of what a beautiful lawn is.”

 

 

 

A lawn that is always richly green, without a weed in sight, is often the result of the frequent application of chemicals that present some environmental problems. Rain can cause nitrogen runoff into Long Island Sound and other waterways, encouraging algae bloom and seaweed growth. Algae and seaweed use up oxygen, killing fish.

Long Island Sound is an estuary, a mix of fresh and salt water, that is home to dozens of species of birds, 170 species of fish, and more than 1,200 species of invertebrates. Historically, it has supported fishing for lobster, oysters, blue crabs, scallops, striped bass, flounder, and blue fish. You can read more about the problem here.

 

 

I believe that a healthy home should be surrounded by a healthy garden. Chris Baliko has helped keep my property a pristine, but beautiful, oasis. His organic program supports a healthy ecosystem with less reliance on potentially harmful chemicals, as seen in the photo of my house, above. Here are his tips for a healthy, organic lawn:

 

1.Get a soil test.

 

You need to know what’s going on in the soil from a chemistry standpoint, says Chris. A soil test will measure your soil pH, as well as the calcium/magnesium ratio, and the nutrient composition, taking the guesswork out of fixing any problems. One thing that Chris warns about is liming your soil every spring and fall, without being aware of the alkalinity/acidity levels. “One client was liming every year, and had a lawn so alkaline we had to add sulphur to rebalance it,” explains Chris.

 

2. It’s not just about fertilizers. 

 

 

It’s not as simple as changing from synthetic fertilizers to organic ones. The soil also needs to be aerated, as compacted soil is not good for the grass root systems. Growing Solutions also recommends adding compost to build up the soil. “If you have good soil, you’ll have a healthy lawn,” says Chris.

 

3. Apply the right fertilizers.

 

 

Organic lawns companies are not supposed to put more than four pounds of nitrogen down for each 1,000 feet of lawn, although many commercial lawn care products have double or even triple that amount. That causes a lot of green growth on top, but a lot of that nitrogen goes to runoff, plus you have to mow more often.  An organic fertilizer has 10% or less nitrogen content. The other nutrients provide the strong root system your lawn needs to look its best.

 

4. Set your mower blades a little higher. 

 

Chris recommends grass to be cut at a height of 3-4 inches.  That height doesn’t stress the lawn as much, and it keeps the soil a little more shaded from the sun. Crabgrass and weeds like hot, dry soil. Cool, shaded soil offers less opportunity for weeds to grow.

 

5. Rethink weed control. 

 

 

Growing Solutions suggests using corn gluten products to control grab grass as a pre-emergent, as crab grass is the one of the only weeds Chris doesn’t find beneficial to the lawn. “My personal opinion about weeds is that they serve a purpose,” explains Chris. “Dandelions, for instance, have a deep tab root which helps to aerate the lawn, provides space for earthworms to travel, and acts as a conduit for other nutrients, bringing them up to a level where the grass roots can access them.”

In addition, dandelions are known to be the first food for bees in the spring, making them an important part of a thriving ecosystem.

 

Clover is also good, Chris says. “Clover takes nitrogen out of the air and delivers it to the soil in a usable form. Organic lawns are going to have weeds, perhaps 10-15% of the total lawn.” He emphasizes that we need to return to an earlier viewpoint of what a lawn should look like.

In addition, Growing Solutions brews their own “compost tea” and applies it to lawns to add essential micro-organisms. Although not a fungicide, it helps suppress fungal issues in the lawn.

6. Leave moss alone.

 

 

People often call to ask what can be done to remove moss, but Chris says the best thing to do is to keep it. It’s green all year round and doesn’t need fertilizing or mowing–the perfect compliment to grass!

 

7. Reduce the size of your lawn.

 

There’s nothing more high-maintenance than a lawn. Chris recommends creating more garden and planting beds, which helps to reduce runoff, offers food and shelter for birds and bees, and adds beauty to your property.

People love the look of a green expanse of grass, and it’s a delight for children to play on. There are ways to have a lawn and contribute to a healthy eco-system, too. It takes a little planning, and the right help.

You can reach Chris Baliko at Growing Solutions here, or search for an organic lawn care company in your area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Ode to New England

After touring Florida and the Carolinas a lot in the last few years, and trying to decide where to live ~ and our tax advisor letting the tax tail wag the dog, so to speak (as many of you know I was born in South Carolina and have family there) ~ we finally realized how much we love New England! It’s home.

Snow and ice welcome us home!

We love the change of seasons, and snow is a celebration of nature for us. So no one is complaining here! We’ve made our choice. We love all the changes and the beauty. One day when it was sunny with brilliantly clear, blue skies, and 63 degrees, I picked a snowdrop flower and brought it inside for my 93 year old dad. What a smile!

First snowdrops of the season!

For us, there is nothing like curling up next to the fireplace with a great book and watching the snow outside with our three little pooches. All cozy and protected.

Here I am with Frank, G.G., Tuffy, and Ellie

Our “green” home in East Norwalk was renovated by us with all non-toxic building materials and finishes ~ it took two years. The property hasn’t had a chemical or pesticide on it for over 22 years. That’s hard to replicate.

My Connecticut Home in Winter

Talk about stimulation! We’re only a one hour drive to Manhattan with all the culture, plays, some of the finest medical care in the country (we also like Cleveland Clinic), and incredible museums, not to mention the cuisine. Frank loves Arthur Avenue!

 

A New York City bakery!

This all feeds my soul, but we can retreat to Connecticut for peace and quiet and cleaner air.

My Connecticut Home in Summer

A winter vacation to a warm climate is always a treat, but we usually end up staying close to home with so much design work to do before getting our clients ready for their summer homes on Nantucket.

A window seat I created for a client to frame her view

Spring will be our next magical treat. The daffodils and croci are already pushing their way through the earth. God’s work. Renewal. I know it’s not for everyone, but New England is home for us. We’re grateful for all the beauty and excitement of nature–all 12 months of it.

A single crocus

Soon we’ll be back on Nantucket for the summer. Cooler temperatures and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We are only a block away from Madaket Harbor where Frank keeps his boat for fishing, clamming, and just plain being lazy.

Island evening

Plus, we have the Nantucket Whaling Museum (rated one of the top ten museums in the country), and all of the history of the island. I work on a committee for the Nantucket Historical Association and help with their fundraisers and often do design displays for them.

 

 

It’s a full life for a transplant from South Carolina. Did I ever tell you how one Fourth of July, I had to be medi-vacced off the island in a helicopter to Mass General for a gastric hemorrhage? Now that was a trip! All was fine in the end but I was there for two weeks. That’s part of the reason I don’t want to live on Nantucket full time, although we have so many wonderful friends there. Plus, I would miss Connecticut and New York City. Right now it seems as though we have the best of both worlds ~ for us, anyway.

Nantucket Harbor

Stay cool or warm, whichever you need right now. God bless you all!

My porch in Madaket on Nantucket

Fall in Love with Your Bedroom

Trudy Dujardin

“When I woke up this morning, my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said, ‘No, I made a few mistakes.'”–Stephen Wright, American Comic

It’s hard to seriously imagine making mistakes while you’re sleeping, but if you’re designing a bedroom, there are good and better choices for your lifelong health. During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins that you were exposed to during the day.  A beautiful, serene environment that soothes you at the end of your day is best when it also supports your health.

Sleep is the time for cellular repair, for rejuvenation, for restoration of energy and health for both body and mind.That’s why, more than any other room in the house, you want your bedroom to be a pristine environment. You may be surprised to learn that your bedroom can be a repository of potentially harmful chemicals. Conventional mattresses, for example, are made with petroleum-based polyester and polyurethane foam, then treated with flame retardants. Those chemicals can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that become part of the air you breathe.

Pillows are also often made of synthetic materials that are treated with chemical finishing agents. Other sources of possible chemical contamination: Carpets, wall paint, wood furniture, even your cotton pajamas. With everything else you have on your mind, you don’t need worries about the health of your bedroom to keep you up at night.

Fortunately, there are products available to ensure your rest is undisturbed by allergens, toxins, or chemical vapors. For my interior design clients, I recommend using natural furnishings and finishes free of formaldehyde, VOCs, and petroleum-based products. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure a healthful night’s sleep:

Choose low or no-VOC paints for your walls and wood trim. Paints can emit VOCs over a long period of time, so just airing out the room may not be sufficient.

Choose hardwood floors (easiest to clean), finish them with water-based sealants (one of my favorites is Basic Coatings), and finally, cover them with organic wool or cotton area rugs.

Select an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton. Be sure your pillows are natural as well. You can find pillows filled with organic wool or natural latex foam, and covered with organic cotton. Non-organic cotton is a heavily-toxin laden fabric. Cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper, and zinc.

When choosing wood furniture, consider eco-friendly wood products that are FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. Antique furniture is beautiful, and has the added benefit of no longer emitting harmful gases from wood or finishes.

Clear the air by adding a room air-purifier, or go one step further and install a central filtration system. Models are available that filter particulates (pollen, dander, and mold) and vapors (formaldehyde).

Remember that a good night’s sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. If you follow even one of these suggestions, you’ll be taking a step forward in improving the health of yourself, your family, and the earth. After many years of devoting my work to sustainable design, my clients tell me they sleep easy. I want that for you as well.

My Christmas at Caprilands

 

Once upon a time, in the little town of Coventry, Connecticut, Christmas had a fairy godmother. Her name was Adelma Grenier Simmons. She’s gone now, but there were years when one of my most eagerly anticipated days during Advent was taking a drive with my dear friend Catherine Reischer to Adelma’s eighteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by fifty acres of fields and woods.

 

Herd of Sheeps and Goats on a mountain Road at Sunset

 

Adelma was the owner of the herb farm she named for the purebred milk goats once raised there–capra is Latin for goat. As time went by, she converted the rocky land to an herb farm, and her home became a cafe and visitor’s center. She was a bit of a character, almost like a diminutive white witch, a little rotund while standing only five feet tall, and always wearing a cap and a cape. Today, the farm she loved is in the process of being converted to a non-profit organization called Caprilands Institute, and is only open by appointment.

 

A Christmas Wreath on an old Farm Wagon

 

But years ago, December was the month to go visit if you loved Christmas. Adelma celebrated every part of what she called “the glorious Christmas season,” and studied to increase her knowledge of the legends, rituals, and plant lore that informed her elaborate decorations. She loved ceremony, and made a ritual out of “touching a flame to kindling and candles, and by fire and candlelight enjoying the pungent fragrance of fresh evergreens and rosemary.” She knew the stories behind the traditions she loved. She shared many of them in the dozens of books she wrote.

 

Dirt road and trees covered with snow after winter storm

 

Catherine and I made the long drive to Coventry into a celebration of our own. We sang Christmas carols as we drove through the countryside, sometimes even in snowstorms! Caprilands was a magical place to us. It was where I I learned to cook with herbs, inspired by Adelma’s delicious recipes served at the farmhouse luncheons and lectures. In December, I learned from Adelma that having a home beautifully decorated is a way of living life to the fullest. Like Adelma, I love to pull out all the stops, whether celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s, or the Winter Solstice.

 

christmas-greenery

 

There’s so much to do to prepare for our largest festival of the year, but I achieve my dreams by not trying to get it all done in one day. I plan for weeks in advance, and then do a little at a time to pull together the theme I’ve decided on. I know that elegance is in the details, and there was no detail too small to be overlooked at Caprilands.

 

different kinds of spices and dried oranges with christmas tree

 

One of my favorite things about the farmhouse was seeing each of the trees that Adelma decorated. Although the decorations varied from year to year, there were always six fragrant cedars, each trimmed differently for her celebration that lasted from Thanksgiving to the end of January. Her Harvest Tree was trimmed with fruit and included straw figures and a Swedish straw star to emphasize the harvest theme.

 

 

Zweige vom weihnachtsbaum geschmückt mit Christbaumkugeln, goldenen Schleifen und Lichterkette

Her Spice Tree was trimmed with pomanders and tiny bells.

 

Golden bell on the tree

She believed that evil spirits were frightened away by the sound of bells ringing, so bells were tied to the ends of the branches to disperse the evil spirits and invite the angels in.

 

Festive Christmas close up of tree decorated with gold glitter robin, tinsel and holly berries. Bokeh copy space.

 

A Bird Tree was decorated with dried sea-lavender and little birds. She thought of the Bird Tree as her “Peace” tree, so the decorations were more minimal. It was topped with a green and silver sequin star. Her Jesse Tree was decorated with cards and quotations that foretold the coming of the Christ child. along with red and gold paper roses, little harps and crowns, and a lamb and a dove.

 

Christmas decoration background with felt ornaments

 

Her Gilded Birch tree was for children, and was covered with felt and wood snowmen, doves, hearts and horses. She hung spice cookies and handmade candies for the children to take from the branches. And last, she created an Artemisia Tree, made by wrapping a wire frame with the stalks of Artemisia albula, requiring the sacrifice of at least twelve established plants.

 

Gypsophila (Baby's-breath flowers), light, airy masses of small white flowers. Shallow focus.

 

I was always inspired by Adelma’s dedication to creating magic for everyone who visited. One of my own favorite decorating ideas I borrowed from her is tucking small bouquets of fresh baby’s breath into the Christmas tree branches and along the mantel, to simulate a fresh snowfall. It’s the tiniest touches that bring this beautiful time of year to life, and I never overlook a single one.

 

corn soup with sliced bread on wooden board

 

Another takeaway from my time at Caprilands is the delicious Curried Corn Soup she served at her luncheons. It’s not for the diet-conscious, but it’s perfect for indulging yourself on a wintry December afternoon!

 

Curried Corn Soup

1 /4 lb. butter

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp powdered freeze-dried shallots

2 1-lb cans cream-style corn

1 1-lb can whole corn

2 cups cream, warmed

1/8 tsp ground rosemary

2 tbsp chopped chives

Melt butter in pan, add curry, stir until smooth. Add shallots, then corn, stirring slowly; then cream and rosemary. Garnish with chilves. (Evaporated milk or half and half may be substituted for cream). Serves 8

I hope I’ve inspired you with some of what’s inspired me. However you celebrate, Frank and I, along with G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, wish you a very Happy Holiday Season!

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Living Zestfully!

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It’s been a beautiful and busy summer for Dujardin Design Associates: new projects, co-chairing the Nantucket Historical Association’s Nantucket by Design Week and creating a Pop-Up Lounge Design, sponsoring the Walk for Autism on Nantucket, and feature articles in Review and ONLY Nantucket, Nantucket Today, and Aspire Design and Home! We just had enough time to catch our breath and we’re off to a fabulous fall! Here’s a peek at all we did this summer:

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August 2-7 was the Nantucket Historical Association’s Nantucket by Design Week. Dujardin Design Associates was one of four designers asked to create a Pop-Up Lounge Design. Here’s ours–we mixed contemporary and vintage with a classic navy and white color scheme. Perfectly Nantucket!

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On August 20th, we once again sponsored an event near and dear to my heart: The Walk for Autism Speaks. The Walk was especially poignant this year as it recalled the life and contributions of Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright, a longtime client and friend, and beloved Nantucket resident. Suzanne used her time on earth to break the silence around a disorder that affects 70 million children, teens, and adults every day. In doing so, she not only gave a voice to Autism Speaks, but she encouraged everyone in her path to take compassionate action as well. That’s a legacy I admire.

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Also this summer we saw a compilation of beautiful outdoor spaces created by Dujardin Design Associates in Nantucket Today’s July issue, in their feature article Pretty Porches: A Private Pleasure.   I’ve always said that the joy of a summer cottage is partly to be found in fresh sea breezes and sunshine in a clear blue sky, which is why I love creating what I consider outdoor living rooms. There is nothing more relaxing than a sheltered spot that has all the best of the indoors and outdoors combined, including furniture designed for comfort and the weather, tables to hold an al fresco lunch, and beautiful blooming plants to make you feel like you’re on vacation, even with work in your lap.

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Review and ONLY Nantucket was home to three Dujardin Design articles. In July, readers enjoyed my favorite Dujardin-designed island homes that celebrate the natural world and engage all of our senses in It’s Only Natural. I often remind my clients that because we are part of nature, not separate from it, our homes enhance our health and wellness when we rely on nature’s beauty in our interiors.

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In August, an article in Review titled Bringing the Garden In shared my tips for adding beauty in color, texture, and form through fresh flowers. Flowers connect us to nature, and add a touch of grace to our rooms. I like to keep a small vase of flowers on my desk to brighten my day as I work. My favorite bouquets have always been white, in any combination of flowers, but truly any blooms work: snowdrops in teacups, peonies in pitchers, and anything at all in blue and white Chinese export porcelain.

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Before the summer season on the island was over, For Love of Whales appeared, a celebration of all things whale on Nantucket. Whether used as a subtle backdrop or a dramatic focal point in homes ranging from traditional to contemporary and everything in between, artwork celebrating the whale is one of my favorite elements of design, and many of my clients agree! Included in the article are facts about how to help whales, still under siege today from commercial whaling, drifting nets cut loose from large fishing vessels, toxic chemicals entering the ocean through run-off, and loud noises created by sonar testing.

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Trudy Dujardin

And with the beginning of fall, Aspire Design and Home published a Dujardin-designed Manhattan Park Avenue apartment, aptly named Orange Zest, for its sophisticated neutral color palette of grays and whites enlivened with accents of Hermes orange. Built in 1912, the 3,500 square foot apartment feels more like a house, with two living rooms–one for the parents and the other for their teenage children–that open together in a remarkable light-filled space in a 52 foot enfilade. Aspire Magazine is on stands now–don’t miss this one!

Sand house made with his own hands Children

Summer 2016 was fabulous, as are my wonderful memories of so many Nantucket summers. We were blessed with interesting projects, great clients, fun collaborations, and opportunities to give back to the island community we love. Now it’s back to life in Connecticut, ready for a new season. Thanks for coming along on our trip through June, July, and August. Happy Fall!