All My Children

 

Every year at this time, I share the story of a special charity that I support. Someone once said that “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts,” and I believe that’s true. It’s important to me to make the holiday season about how we can help one another in a dark and cold time of year.

 

 

This year, I’d like to tell you about my children. I am blessed with a family of stepchildren and grandchildren, all of whom I love dearly, but there is another family I hold in my heart. I have supported ChildFund International for years, and am now on my fourth sponsored child: a boy, Nikhil, in India. He has the same birthday as my stepson, Nick, September 10–that feels right to me. A connection from his family in India to my family here.

 

 

Here’s how it works: you select a child to sponsor on the ChildFund website, and they connect you with pictures of your child, and news of their progress. You learn about the geography of their country, the community structure and their social beliefs. You can write letters to your child, and they will write to you. Beyond material assistance, a bond is formed with a little person in need.

 

 

When my last sponsored child turned 19, finished school, and began working with his uncle, I was asked to take on a special case. This family was so poor that they couldn’t afford the father’s diabetes medication. He was unable to work, so the family had no income at all. The first photos of Nikhil broke my heart.

 

 

He was so thin, and shy, and fearful. All big eyes, looking frightened. Just a few years later, the letters, report cards, drawings, and photos show so much improvement! He stands tall and happy–even smiling! Nikhil and I correspond and I send photos of my family. His social worker sends me photos of the supplies he purchases for himself and his family with our birthday and holiday gifts. He’s so thoughtful–always a sari for Mom and work pants for Dad, and chocolates to share with his friends.

 

 

It’s been years now, and Nikhil is growing up, too. I’m always sad when I have to let them move on, but there’s always a new life to work with.

 

 

I usually sponsor a child from age 5 or so to 18 or 19. Chandra was my first, and Nikhil won’t be my last. They are all emblazoned in my memory.

 

 

“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”–W.T. Ellis

 

Watch a short video about ChildFund here. 

 

Curried Corn Soup

 

Years ago, one of my most eagerly anticipated days at the holidays was a trip to the little town of Coventry, Connecticut, for a visit to Caprilands Herb Farm. My dear friend Catherine Reischer and I would drive to Adelma Grenier Simmon’s 18th century farmhouse, surrounded by fifty acres of fields and woods.

 

 

Adelma was the owner of the herb farm she named for the purebred goats she 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. Adelma is gone now, and the farm she loved is being converted to a non-profit center called Caprilands Institute, and is open only by appointment.

 

 

I still have several of the books she wrote, and the recipe for the delicious Curried Corn Soup she served at her luncheons. It’s not for the diet-conscious, but it’s perfect for a chilly November day.

 

 

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 chives. (Evaporated milk or half-and-half may be substituted for cream.) Serves 8.

This is a delicious indulgence. Enjoy!

Spring Beauty

 

We celebrate our New Year on January 1st, but Spring has been a symbol of new beginnings, and for some cultures, the new year, since ancient times. Our ancestors believed that there was a connection between the seasons, the moon and stars, and the magic of new life.

 

 

It’s easy for us to miss the change of seasons when we are busy commuting, working, and living indoors, unless we stop and pay attention. As an interior designer, I’ve always been inspired by the change of seasons, with new colors, fragrances, and the way the sunlight changes. Lately I’ve been inspired by the beauty of spring as I experienced it as a child.

 

 

On their winter trips to visit my grandparents in South Carolina, my mom and dad used to bring me back boxes full of camellia blossoms packed in soft green foliage to keep them fresh on the drive back to Connecticut. My grandmother had two camellia shrubs on the corners of her front porch. I loved the fragrance. They overlooked the Koi pond where the fish were dormant for the winter. That was always magic to me as a child–such a mystery when they came “alive” again in the spring!

 

 

One of my favorite places to experience spring is Middleton Plantation just outside of Charleston. Henry Middleton began the garden design in 1741, wanting to recreate the grand classic style popular in Europe at the time. The camellias bloom early there–red, pink, variegated–large shrubs bloom in beautiful walled gardens that even in winter hold the promise of what’s to come.

 

 

Grazing Sheep at Middleton Place – SC

 

I loved walking those paths and imagining the history of the antique house there, and the grand esplanade down to the river where the boats came in with supplies. There’s a little chapel there, too, and it’s a repository of Civil War history.

 

 

If you feel like taking a short road trip from New England, I recommend the gardens at Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware. Henry Francis du Pont’s museum there houses the finest American furniture and collections in the world–a lovely source of design inspiration!

 

 

Another beautiful spring trip to take is to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The legacy of Pierre du Pont, a relative of Henry Francis du Pont, the Gardens exist today to inspire people through garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts. They are a living expression of all that Mr. du Pont found inspiring, meaningful, and beautiful. If you’re interested in more botanical gardens to visit, a gardening site called sproutabl.com has a list of 50 gardens you shouldn’t miss!

 

The Pierce’s Woods Love Temple, a Pergola at Longwood Gardens

 

This is a wonderful time of year not only to enjoy the outdoors, but to use that inspiration to re-imagine your home! Think of using light, bright colors, bringing in fresh flowers from the garden, and refreshing the air in your house by opening the windows while spring cleaning.

 

 

No detail is too small to proclaim spring! The curtain tieback below is made from opalescent 1880s Sandwich milk glass in the shape of a flower.

 

 

Colorful artwork paired with bouquets of fresh flowers awaken all your senses.

 

 

Try changing your bed linens for a lighter weight and brighter look.

 

 

Floral prints remind us of the flowers outside our doors. This is a close up of a custom rug I designed for a Nantucket home.

 

 

A pattern doesn’t have to be floral to be engaging. Blue and white always sparkles, as in this beautiful Chinoiserie wallpaper.

 

 

Inspiration is everywhere! Take a walk outside and look around. Happy Spring!

 

 

 

 

East Coast Home + Design Article

We love when our projects appear in magazines, where we can share the beautiful photography and background on our design choices with all of you! This month, East Coast Home + Design Magazine featured one of my favorite houses on Nantucket: the Pavilion-style home by famous architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Open, airy, and light-filled, our task was to revitalize the interiors with gently green principles. Editor Shelley McCormick and writer Deborah Brannon did a wonderful job. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of a Blessing Bag

Young homeless man holding cardboard with painted house.

There’s a movement in the world toward helping the homeless in a very practical way. Many of us know the uncomfortable feeling of encountering a homeless person and wanting to help, but often, we aren’t sure how. Giving money is an option, although that’s discouraged by some mental health professionals and addiction counselors. Walking by and ignoring their plight doesn’t feel right.

 

Plastic transparent zipper bag isolated on white background

 

Someone along the way created a solution that I can embrace: the Blessing Bag. The idea is to take a extra large ziplock bag and fill it with essentials, then keep it in your car in the event that you encounter someone in need. It’s such a simple idea.

 

Toothbrushes in the drinking glass next to body lotion and neseser on the wet bench, outdoor shot, concept of travel

 

Items that you might put inside are basic tolietries: toothbrush, toothpaste, shavers and shaving cream, soap, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, and deodorant.

 

Woolen clothes for woman on old rustic wooden background, womanly accessories, gloves cap shawl sweater, warm clothing for autumn or winter

 

Other welcome items are gloves, hats, scarves, and socks–maybe a few pair–always top of the list of requested clothing in charity drives! (Imagine having wet feet and not having warm, dry socks to change into.) You may also consider tampons and sanitary pads for women, diapers for babies, cleaning wipes, and even condoms.

 

Granola bar with dried fruit and nuts on white background

 

Adding small food items such as crackers, peanut butter, fruit, nuts and other non-perishables will be helpful. Some people add some cash for bus fares or to pay for necessities they haven’t covered.

 

New York, USA - May 16, 2013: homeless man sleeping with dog on sidewalk on 8th Ave and 42th Street, Manhattan, NY.

 

Since some street people have pets, a small bag of dog food or treats might be appreciated, too. You can donate to organizations that help, for example, the National Coalition for the Homeless. But this is one way to help the person in need before you, especially at Christmas.

 

Sleeping on the streets at Christmas time

 

“It is only with true love and compassion that we can begin to mend what is broken in this world.” –Steve Maraboli

More than Skin Deep

assorted personal hygiene products on white background

There’s great news from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in their mission to help consumers make healthy choices! From mascara to shampoo to toothpaste, more than 400 products will now carry the EWG VERIFIED mark. When you see it on a product, you’ll know that that item meets the EWG’s strict standards for health. Any item with the EWG VERIFIED mark has submitted a list of ingredients which EWG has tested for health hazards.

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Unfortunately, too many personal care products contain harmful or dangerous chemicals. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and anything placed on the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, sometimes within seconds. According to a study by the EWG, most people use nine different products daily. These include shampoo, hair conditioner, soap, deodorant, body lotion, sunscreen, lip balm, make up and shaving products. Many of us feel safe, believing that product safety has been verified by the government. In fact, no pre-testing or health studies are required.

Hands holdings liquid lipsticks for the production

Personal care items are manufactured with 10,500 chemical ingredients, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, or are known to disrupt the endocrine system. A listing called Skin Deep has long been available on the EWG website, representing the EWG’s attempt to rate products for safety.

Lavender moisturizer on bamboo with purple lavender flowers in the background. Lavandula anugustifolia

The EWG VERIFIED mark takes this work one step farther, allowing consumers to see on any product whether it has been verified by the EWG as having gone above and beyond the green standards set by the industry. That’s good news for all of us.

 

A Healing Oasis Right in Our Midst

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The art of self-care and healing is something we should all learn from an early age, but unfortunately, too many of us don’t. That’s why places like the  Arogya Healing Holistic Center in Westport, Connecticut, can be an important part of our wellness plan. “It’s all nature,” Wei Bertram, Arogya’s founder, says, looking around her at the serene space she created. “Healing is about being in nature. It isn’t normal to sit in front of a computer all day, and drive through traffic to commute. Our brain is not made that way. Arogya is about living in harmony with nature, and bringing body, mind, and spirit into a new awareness.”

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“People get many things done in a day, and then there’s more to do,” she added. “I work on myself. I take care of myself. No one will take care of you other than yourself, but we have to be taught. More than what we say, people walk into Arogya and want this feeling in their lives.”

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Wei explains that she has always been fascinated by her traditional Chinese heritage, and the mystique of Chinese medicine. By founding Arogya in 2000, her intention was to bring the healing traditions of the east into our contemporary lifestyles, which she sees as being in desperate need for true balance and well-being.

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As a longtime believer in holistic lifestyle practices, I was delighted to find Arogya so close to home. It’s easy to forget self-care until our bodies are in a chronic state of dis-ease, but as I have learned and as Wei believes, the best time to support our health is before we lose it. Luckily for those of us in Connecticut or the greater New York area, Arogya is a healing resource right in our midst!

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Arogya means “whole health” in Sanskrit. In addition to integrative Chinese medicine, yoga and massage therapy, the center also offers a wide selection of organic teas, all natural skincare products and personalized herbal remedies. The beautiful store also offers natural candles, essential oils and artisan perfumes created by Wei.

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If you aren’t close enough to experience the beauty of a treatment at Arogya spa, be sure to check out their blog, which has dozens of articles on self-care and holistic healing. Here are five ideas from Wei and Arogya to help you be the best caretaker for yourself:

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1.The first step is to make a choice: Either you stay on the path of conventional, emergency-based medicine, waiting for serious symptoms to arise, or you make every day about your health and well-being, knowing every moment is an opportunity for wellness and wholeness.

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2. Making your life a wellness journey not only means feeding yourself nourishing foods, and taking care of your body, it means transforming every aspect of your life so you can truly be your most radiant, present, loving, and grounded self.

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3. Chinese medicine says, “It takes more than one night to freeze a pond.” Likewise, the accumulation of decades of poor nutrition, stress, negative feelings, etc. can result in poor health. If you want to thaw the pond, it will take more than one day or one treatment to magically transform what ails you. Though the road may be long, every step you take towards healing yourself ripples out into your life and relationships.

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4. In Taoist philosophy there is a saying: “It’s best to eat healthy food. And if you already do that, you still need to exercise too. And if you already do both of those, best of all is to meditate to nourish your heart, the core of your being.” With meditation, we can see the conditioning that keeps us falling into the same traps again and again. From a place of awareness, it’s easier to make better choices.

clear

5. Though stress is a real and valid experience, it need not run your life. Read Arogya’s blog post, Combating Modern Day Stress. From first recognizing where your stress is coming from to to getting rid of all kinds of clutter, including toxic relationships, to finding time for your own creative pursuits, Wei’s gentle guidance can help you transform your life.

nature

One of Wei’s final de-stressing tips is “find time to be in nature.” Understanding the limits of our own nature, and how we are part of the amazing world around us, is a wonderful way to live a deeper, richer life. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

One tree in field

And you must also be the change you wish to see in yourself.

Watch Wei discuss the importance of tea here.

 

 

 

Our Planet’s Blue Heart

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“Why is it that scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation?  Because they’ve spent time in and around the ocean, and they’ve personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet’s blue heart.” –Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist

As spring turns to summer, many of us will travel to our island homes, or vacation destinations on the ocean, in diverse locations all over the world. The brilliant blue sea and its whispering waves speaks to something elemental in all of us, whether it is our playground for boating, fishing, scuba diving and surfing, or if we simply don a sunhat and relax under an umbrella with a tropical drink and a book.

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Although our oceans are our world’s largest natural resource, the human impact has been undeniable. From overfishing to manmade pollution, from coastal development to chemical runoff, scientists have identified many areas of decline. We must all be stewards of the water, just as we are of the land, to protect.our wild and healthy oceans. Here are some current concerns about ocean health, along with ideas about what we can do to help.

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1. Problem: A massive volume of plastic garbage now litters every ocean on the planet, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC):. Hundreds of species of marine life, including seabirds, whales, and sea turtles ingest or get entangled in plastic, as well as netting, fishing lines, and other debris. Fishing trawlers with huge drift nets can trap species other than the target fish, and lose the nets or cut them lose (ghost nets) where they spell death for any marine animals caught in them and unable to free themselves.

Solution: Public support for waste management measures, creating incentives for industry to use less plastic packaging, reduce single-use plastics, and encourage more recycling. On trips to the beach, carry out what you carry in. Retrieve all fishing line, lures, and gear. Because it will never biodegrade, nylon lines and nets will continue catching and killing turtles, dolphins, manatees, pelicans, and even human divers and swimmers forever. The European Union bans drift nets, as do the waters from Monterey, California to the Oregon Coast for part of the year, along with some other locations.

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2. Problem: The ocean is downstream of everything: Chemical runoff from land, including pesticides and fertilizers from farms, lawns, streets. and construction sites is a major cause of ocean pollution. Silt, nitrogen, and phosphorous can create “dead zones” in the sea where nothing can live, robbing waters of light and oxygen.

Solution: Use fewer chemicals and fertilizers. If you live on the water, plant a buffer zone of trees, shrubs, and grasses to filter runoff and provide shelter for shorebirds and other mammals. Decrease your water use at home, so you can decrease the amount of water that must be treated with chemicals before entering the ocean. Sweep your walks and driveway rather than hosing them off, as water transports chemicals to the nearest storm drain or waterway.

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3. Problem: Noise pollution threatens marine life: Loud noises created by sonar testing by the Navy have been linked to deaths of dolphins due to massive internal hemorrhaging. Noises from boats can interfere with whales trying to hunt for food or communicate with each other, blocking their hauntingly beautiful songs.  A particular problem is the noise created by large tankers cruising the oceans, and underwater exploration for oil. To the fish and other marine life, it can sound like the loudest day in New York City with sirens, horns, and traffic.

Solution: Now that we’ve recognized the problem, we must take all necessary steps to mitigate the noise we create. Marine mammal protection laws must be enacted in coastal nations around the world. Major shipping routes should be moved away from important marine mammal habitats. Ships can be designed so that the engine is isolated from the hull in order to reduce noise. Regular ship maintenance can reduce noise considerably.

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4. Problem: Additional issues impacting our oceans include oil spills, habitat destruction, and human sewage spilling into waterways. Marine scientists measure yearly changes in marine animal populations related to all of the problems outlined here, plus others.

Solution: Technology has given us the ability to monitor even small changes, and share information rapidly. Reading information from a variety of experts is important, as nature is highly complex and issues change with new developments. There are a number of wonderful organizations doing very important work to heal our oceans and protect them for the next generations.

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A Connecticut-based organization that’s doing a wonderful job is SoundWaters. It was founded in 1989 to protect Long Island Sound, a delicate estuary within 50 miles of 25 million people. Humans–and their activities which pose a threat to the health of the Sound–prompted Len Miller to found an organization to educate people both about the Sound’s wonders and the dangers it faces.

soundwaters schooner

SoundWaters began with a schooner that is a teaching vessel, a floating classroom where students –both children and adults–learn from a hands-on curriculum. Lectures and workshops are presented by ecologists, musicians, artists, and historians, in addition to land-based programs, a summer camp, community gardens and nature programs for older adults.

soundwaters terrapins

“Try to consider having a healthy, viable community with unhealthy air and polluted waters. We cannot, and the connection of a healthy environment to a healthy community, and, in fact, to healthy people, will be one of the many premises we will try to teach at the SoundWaters Community Center,” said Mr. Miller, when the center opened. Today, their schooner, SoundWaters, conducts 250 experiential sails each season for school and community groups throughout the region.

soundwaters schooner two

You can donate to SoundWaters here, or find out how to take an afternoon schooner cruise with your family and friends.

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Here are some other organizations working to protect our oceans that you might consider supporting:

Natural Resource Defense Council: The NRDC works to safeguard the air, the water, and the wild, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas Project: The Pristine Seas Project’s goal is to convince governments to protect more than 2 million square kilometers of ocean, and has financed ten scientific expeditions to remote areas of ocean around the world.

Oceanic Society: The Oceanic Society works to improve ocean health by addressing the root cause of its decline: human behavior.

See Turtles: A project of the Oceanic Society, See Turtles protects sea turtles through education, travel, conservation efforts, and Billion Baby Turtles, working to get turtle hatchlings safely to the sea.

Ocean Conservancy: Science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our oceans.

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With all of our concerns about the health of the ocean, it’s good to remember that there are so many people doing so much good work to protect our beautiful blue waters. One of the best ways to encourage conservation is to gently love our waterways with your family and friends, so boat, swim, fish, or dive to heart’s content, and have a wonderful summer!

Mentoring Young Designers

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Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” As an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, teaching Sustainable Design and seminars on The Business of Design to young design students, I’ve long been aware that one of my greatest joys  is passing along what I have learned. Fostering new students in the Interior Design profession is one way I can give back to the industry that has given so much to me. A side benefit is that I learn so much from my students, and their fresh, enthusiastic approach to the art of interior design.

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Here I am, on left, with DonnaJean Fredeen, on right, Dean Emeritus of Southern Connecticut State University’s School of Arts and Sciences

Unfortunately, too many young people today find themselves in mentoring relationships that are little more than glorified Gal Friday positions, where they’re filling coffee cups, making copies, and doing busy work. By contrast, I have always been committed to immersing my mentees into the life of the interior design world, giving them real work to do, having them shadow me and other designers in my firm, and taking them along on trips to the D & D Building and other design-related events.

d and d building

Part of fostering future interior design professionals for me has included conducting portfolio reviews and mentoring sessions at the Shintaro Akatsu School of Design at the University of Bridgeport. My great pleasure this spring is welcoming Sarah Dezelin to my office as my mentee from Southern Connecticut State University, my alma mater.

Sarah Dezelin

 

Sarah and I already have a lot in common! She’s interested in art and the environment, and I can’t wait to share my world with her. Another quote I love is “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” Looks like we’ll be a perfect match!

…to be continued~

A Window on Your World

edwardian home

 

Many of us live in the homes we do because of our first glimpse of the house as we came up the drive. Perhaps it was the sound of the sea and the smell of salt water that led us there, and the drive through the dunes romanced us all the way. The creamy yellow daffodils bobbing along the borders, or the dignified old Sugar Maple spreading its arms across the lawn were like love letters from the property, delivered straight to our hearts.

 

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When the front door opens, if the house isn’t just right, well, that can all be fixed. Take down a wall here, widen a doorway there, refinish wood floors, replace sagging windows, and you’ve made it your own, which is one of the goals of interior design, and a very important one. As Billy Baldwin said, “Nothing is interesting unless it is personal.”

 

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No matter how beautiful the interiors are, however, I always feel that the room is blessed when there is a glorious view in sight. Particularly for a home on the water, whether its on the ocean, a river, or a lake, you’re aware of the view. My intent in a home on the waterfront is never to obscure the home’s setting.

 

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In this house, the center hall leads you right to the ocean. If you keep going, as the crow flies, the next stop is Portugal.

 

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Another signature of my design work is my love of window seats. They’re perfect for sitting in the sunlight with a cup of tea on a winter morning to watch the snow fall, or to catch the sea breezes as the day falls to dusk.

 

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They also are functional, as they provide extra seating for guests..

 

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…and in a bedroom, can be designed with drawers for storage underneath.

 

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Whether your view is a sandy beach, an English garden, or your children splashing in the pool, a seat by the window is the perfect spot to take a closer look at your world.

 

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