Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Morning Classics.

My pick for this week's Sunday Morning Classic was made last Sunday night. My wife and I were watching the season finale of Sherlock (one of our absolutely favourite shows) on BBC America when a piece of classical music came on that my wife knew that she knew but didn't know what it was. It was one of those pieces that most everyone has heard dozens of time in movies or on television but just don't know exactly what it is that they are listening to. Kristina later figured out that the movie she remembered the music from was A Clockwork Orange.

The piece in question is the overture from Gioacchino Rossini's opera semiseria ('semi-serious opera')  La Gazza Ladra, better known as The Thieving Magpie. The clip I choose features the world renowned Austrian Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic), one of the oldest orchestras in the world and considered by many to be the finest orchestra in Europe. The performace is done at Musikverein Golden Hall, the home of the orchestra. Musikverein, called the "Great Hall" due to its highly regarded acoustics, is considered one of the finest concert halls in the world.

Some will recognise the piece very quickly, most will know that they have heard it before at the 4:14 minute me. Enjoy.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Art of the Auction 101: The Basics.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking with an old client. She called because she was planning on going to her first auction later this month in New York City. Knowing that I had been to many auctions she thought I might be able to give her a few basic tips to help make her initial foray into the auction world, in her words, "a little less completely nerve racking."

We spoke on a number of topics from how an auction works to advanced bidding techniques. My best piece of advice? DO YOUR RESEARCH. Make sure you have properly informed yourself before placing a bid on anything.

1. Learn how the auction house does business; understand their "terms of sale", understand the final cost of the purchase (buyers premium, sales tax, delivery costs, etc.) as this will need to be taken into consideration when figuring out your highest bid price for any given piece.

2. Learn everything you can about the piece(s) you intend to bid on; get a catalog from the auction house, inspect the piece in person if possible, ask for the written condition report for the piece(s), check market trends/values for like pieces sold at auction ( & are good resources for this) or on the open market.

Beyond these guidelines here are a few additional tips to take into consideration when attending an auction:

1. Set a spending limit value prior to the can be all to easy to get caught up in the emotion or excitement of the moment. I learned this the hard way...a few times.

2. Visit an auction simply to observe dynamics and procedures before you go with the purpose of bidding. Ask questions of other potential buyers. Listen carefully to the auctioneer.

3. Remember that the auctioneer is primarily a tool of the seller.

4. Never be the first to bid.

5. As I told my client, "Don't be afraid to scratch your nose."

And there you have it, all the basic information you might need to successfully navigate attending an auction. Please check back next Tuesday for the all to logical (and I am sure to be highly anticipated) follow up post, The Art of the Auction 201: Bidding.

Happy Bidding,

P.S. Good luck at that auction Sarah, I'm sure you'll do great.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Morning Classics, with a wolf.

For some reason I've had the selection for Sunday Morning Classics rattling around in my head for the past few days. It's one of those things where it just popped in their, I wasn't watching anything that had the music in it, I wasn't thinking about it, I don't even recall thinking about anything that would have unconsciously referenced it.

At any rate I present to you, and it would be amazing if you hadn't heard it before,  Sergei Prokofiev's Peter And The Wolf March from the 1936 opera Peter and the Wolf. This opera has always held a special place for me as it was one of the first one's I remember going to as a child. Here is a wonderful video of the piece from  The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, it definitely captures the playful mature of the music. Please enjoy


Friday, May 18, 2012

Christian's Window On The World.

Recently the La Cienega Design Quarter in L.A. held their fourth annual Legends of La Cienega, Windows To The World event. And it just so happens that a friend of mine and fellow interior designer, Christian May, was asked to design one of the windows. Christian had been covering the event on his blog Maison 21 for the past three years and, thanks to his casually mentioning to the right person that he would love to do a window, they asked him to participate in this years event.

The event was created to celebrate the La Cienega design quarter, which is considered to be the heart of  interior design community in L.A. The idea is for designers to create window displays using resources from the design showrooms on...well, La Cienega. The Windows To The World theme dictates that each designer picks one of their favourite places in the world and design their window to look like that place. Christian chose Palm Springs (California) as his inspiration and his window is in the Gray Morell showroom. So without any further ado...

Palm Springs?...He nailed it! Wouldn't you agree?
This has such a great lighthearted use of colour and balance.
I love the pyramidal shape of the composition.
The man himself, my friend, Christian May.
(Photo courtesy of Amy Benton)

If you find yourself in L.A. between now and Monday make sure to find your way to La Cienega (between Santa Monica Blvd. + Beverly Blvd.) and check out Christian's, and all the other designers, window. You won't be disappointed. If you'd like to see more coverage of the event Christian has a three part series on his blog (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3). There you will also find a list of all the resources he used in the creation of his display.

Well done my friend, the window is wonderful. I only wish I had been able to make it out there to see it.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Return To The Cocktail Party.

"The Cocktail Party" by John Koch (1956)
I think people always remember what their parents drank. At least I do. Mother drank martini's and father had scotch, every night. Even though it was a nightly ritual their cocktail hour was exciting and very adult. But it was when they had friends over to partake in the libations that it was most thrilling. From a very young age, and as the eldest son, it was my place at these gatherings to pour drinks, a family tradition for generations. Now it has never been completely forthcoming as to how young I was when these responsibilities started but gut feeling tells me that it was before I could ride a bike.

Some time back, I found myself talking with my father about a time when people had cocktail parties at homes, unlike today, where it’s more typical to meet at a bar or restaurant. For this, he expressed regret: “Young people don’t have parties anymore.” I took his words to heart, so the next month, Kristina and I had a party at home. I did a few things different than my parents had, we hired a bartender and a waiter to serve hors d’oeuvres (both in bow ties of course). As we don't have children I couldn't make them do it for me.

You see, in a day and age where seemingly anything goes, when it comes to drinking, there are rules. And while we may all know them, either through practice or upbringing, it never hurts to get a little refresher.

If you are the Host..

 (image via Slim Paley)

Stock the bar. I always have liquor on hand. Vodka, gin, scotch, and bourbon (rum is optional) and of course, offer red and white wine. We have tequila and Champagne, as well as a cabinet of tonic, club soda, Coke, Diet Coke, and ginger ale. Knowing what your guests drink is the key to being a successful host. Also, consider the season, it’s the norm in the summer for everyone to drink gin and tonic; in the winter, dark liquors are more popular. If you’re having a large party, ask your liquor-store manager or your bartender about quantity. And remember to serve something for nondrinkers.
Be clear about what you’re serving. After you’ve stocked your bar, make no apologies for what you don’t have. Exceptions would be if a certain drink is your specialty and guests are expecting it, or if you’re serving brunch. I do milk punch or Bloody Marys in the morning. The difference is that at brunch the drink is part of the meal, but at dinner it’s a prelude. A good host avoids embarrassment, on the part of both host and guest, by letting friends know what’s available when they walk in the door. If you need a couple of idea's for what to serve here is one of my older posts with a few ideas, Ode To A Summer Cocktail.

Open up space for serving. Though it’s most appropriate to open only one or two rooms in your home for cocktails, your guests will want to circulate. Inevitably, the bar becomes the center of attention, so be sure it’s easily accessible (move furniture out of the room if it will disrupt the flow), and consider a larger bar, or two bars, and more bartenders for a party of 60 or more. For a large party, consider hiring waiters to pass food. If your guest list is small and you don’t have a bartender, setting up a self-service bar is perfectly acceptable and may make people feel more at home. A friend of mine, Irene Turner, wrote a post for her blog "Little Bits of Beauty" with some great images of home bars that you should find most useful (HERE).

Serve hors d’oeuvres. Pick two items and go overboard. Put a big bowl of strawberries in the middle of the table as your centerpiece, and add a big platter of sliced ham with cheese biscuits and artichoke relish, a personal favourite. A table scattered with 15 dips feels cluttered and chaotic. Serve something that can be easily handled, and offer appetizers that will whet the appetite, not fill up the guests before dinner.

Use glass. Avoid plastic at all costs. This is so important it bears repeating, "Avoid plastic at all costs." It makes one feel good to hold a fabulous glass in hand - something with a great shape, a nice stirrer, and an elegant little cocktail napkin. If your party is too large to pull out the heirloom crystal, rent what you need; it’s cost-efficient and the cleanup is simple.

If you are the Guest...

Be on time. The cocktail “hour” should be just that -- enough time for everyone to have a drink or two. Forty-five minutes is the optimum length if dinner is being served. If no dinner is being served and people are coming and going, the time frame can be looser, but it’s generally best to be punctual, especially if the host specifies an ending time on the invitation.

Help out. If the party is informal and you notice an overworked bartender, help him out by helping yourself, especially if everything is accessible on the table. If you’re a close friend, greet guests at the door if the host is busy talking to other guests.    

So there you have it, all the basic tools one needs to throw a successful cocktail party. If you are considering hosting one and are in the Chicago area I wouldn't turn down an invitation.


My thanks to an old friend, C. Tennis, for his assistance putting this together.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spring Cleaning, A Storage Primer.

I am quite secure in my belief that most people who live in the larger cities (in apartments where storage space is at a premium) are constantly on the hunt for ways to create or find more space. This often translates into wasting money on expensive storage units. Money that could be put to much better use purchasing that stunning George III Secretaire Tallboy that recently came in to that great antique dealers showroom downtown...what, just me?

What are these units filled with? How long have these things been in there? Most importantly, is there a GOOD reason for them to be there in the first place? What is in your storage units, or tucked away in your closets, basements and garages?

Spring, now fully in swing, is a great time to sort and clean things out. I have an office spring cleaning day each Spring and am always so excited to return samples, recycle and/or put out of date paperwork in storage archives. I really should take some of my own advice and go to my own storage unit and clear out things that I just don't need any more (that last couple of yards of fabric that I have been saving for no good reason, those lamps that I now hate that I bought at the Brooklyn Flea market in NYC, that old table that I keep meaning to refinish, etc.).

 Why do we hold on to these things? Do we really think that we will end up using these things someday? Is there guilt with hanging on to family pieces?

 I believe in pieces in your house being functional. I often look around at my own home and ask myself, “When was the last time that I used that?” I do this with clothing and kitchen equipment all the time. If the answer is “more than a year ago” I decide whether the item should be donated, recycled or thrown out. This is the same approach I take to clearing out storage spaces, no matter how big or small.

 I find it so incredibly rewarding at the end of a big clean up to see everything organized, it always feels like my world is so much less if a huge weight has been stripped from my shoulders. The real trick in all of this is to not start immediately thinking about all the wonderful new stuff you have room for now

 What are your own spring cleaning stories? What do your tips and tricks?

 I have created a brief primer on making self-storage work for you.

As I always..ALWAYS, need some great upbeat music when cleaning (it tends to explain the dancing around like an idiot so very very well), here is one of my favourites to help get you started.

Happy Cleaning,

Monday, May 14, 2012

Smathers & Branson Contest on TKSK.

The Company She Keeps, an extremely charming blog, is having a contest to give away a needlepoint hat, one of your choice from the collection, from Smathers & Branson, one of my favourite companies. There are a number of ways to enter, six actually, so I'd suggest heading over and entering in as many ways as you are able.

Their needlepoint hats are the newest addition to Smathers & Branson's product line. Here are a few of my top choices.
Jolly Roger (Navy)
Rainbow Fleet (Sage)
Marlin (Red)

Pretty great right! As a New Englander I am drawn to needlepoint like a WASP to a flame (see what I did there?).

Good Luck,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Morning Classic, for Mother.

So today is Mother's Day and I still find myself slightly conflicted and a tad confused by it, having only lost my mother a short time ago. At any rate I could not let this day pass without doing something for it and as it just so happens to be a Sunday morning choosing a classic for her seemed most appropriate.

My mother, little brother and myself at a petting zoo (at some point in the if that isn't obvious. Good lord, that shirt...what was I thinking.)

Therefore, my selection for mother today is Dvorak's Songs My Mother Taught Me, written in 1880. If your mother is still in your life I do hope you are either spending time with her today or at least letting her know how much you care. If your mother has passed on I am sure that, like me, you are thinking of her today.

Happy Mother's Day Mom, wherever you are.

A loving son,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.

This Saturday (5 May 2011) will mark the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, the "Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.". Horse racing, the sport of kings, has long been one of my favourite sports and the Kentucky Derby is indeed the height of it. While there is regretfully no horse in the running for the Triple Crown here are this year's two case anyone asks.

#4, 9-2 Odds, Jockey = Julien Leparoux, Trainer = Michael Matz

Chadd Ford Stable's silks

 #6, 4-1 Odds, Jockey = Mike Smith, Trainer = Bob Baffert
Zayat Stables' silks

For me the best part of the Derby, aside from the race, are the traditions that go along with it. Well dressed men (a true rarity in most American sporting events), women in their wonderful hats, the music, the cuisine and everyone with mint julep in hand. Which brings me to the point of this post, the Derby Party.

I make it a point to do something every year for the Derby, be it heading to Churchill Downs to personally take part (something I would do every single year if possible), going to an event in town or hosting an all out Derby party. For those of you who may be thinking of throwing a Derby party here is the one absolute must have.

The Mint Julep.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Early Times Kentucky Whisky
  • Silver Julep Cups

  • This is the official recipe used at Churchill Downs. Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
 * These are also a great drink any time during the summer, trust me.

I also have a great recipe for Kentucky Burgoo and Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie if anyone is interested. Either send me an e-mail or leave a comment with your e-mail address and I'll send a PDF with the recipe's.

I thoroughly believe that setting the right atmosphere is the key to a great Derby party. At the ones I host  party/dress attire is required and men must have neck wear in some form. Second to attire is definitely the music. I recommend getting the official play list of the Derby, "Party Up at the Downs." It is a great introduction to the sounds of the Derby and can be downloaded from iTunes.

To keep with a more elegant affair, be sure to use your finest silver, crystal, linens and china (paper plates are for Superbowl's and tailgating). Decorate with fresh flowers in large bouquets. If you have the time and inclination ask your florist to design a horseshoe shaped wreath of roses as a centerpiece for your table. Be sure to start your party at least a couple of hours before the big event, this will help build up the excitement for those wonderful two minutes. Now all you have to do is wait for the call...

And there you have it, all the basics needed for a fabulous Derby party.

See you at the races,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Day at the Fair, Part 2.

So we find ourselves in the final half of the "My Day at the Fair" post. If you missed Part 1 please click on the link to check it out. As I said pretty much everything that needed to be said in Part 1 let's simply get to the wonderful antiques...shall we.

This series of dressage prints are incredibly impressive. I know, I goes Brion with the horses again.
(Dinan & Chighine, sorry no link couldn't find a website)
Yes more horses.
(Dinan & Chighine)
Perhaps a bit more folk are than antique but still a great piece.
I couldn't believe my luck finding a dealer with duck decoys, they even specialize in them. If you haven't heard before...I LOVE DUCK DECOYS. The only question was which one to buy.
This was one of the most amazing giltwood convex mirrors I've seen in a long time. The best part was the size, at 5 foot tall it is quite rare and quite impressive.
I had to go to their site to find a great detail of that eagle to share.
Amazing right. This is from one of top three dealers at the fair, William Cook Antiques. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mr. Cook at length about a couple pieces.
Just can't pass up a fabulous tantalus (the little wood case with the decanters) or a painting of fowl. And these two are amazing examples of both.
Say cheese Brion.
This settee was even more beautiful in person.
This amazing cheval mirror may find its way into my bedroom.
Perhaps the nicest Regency period console table I've ever seen. Best of all is that it is only 11 inches deep, which is somewhat rare. I sent this image off to a client immediately.
Such wonderful detailing.
This is the kind of piece that makes one's heart skip a beat, it did mine at least. This was in the M.S. Rau Antiques booth. For the record M.S. Rau is my absolute favourite antiques resources in America. I even had the honor or meeting Mr. Rau.
The marquetry is upperly amazing.
I was instantly enraptured by this painting. It is so lifelike one might think that if all the lights in the building were turned out you could still see the light in it.
Chairs fit for a king, or for me at the very least.
I think I am in love.
And for the most fascinating, unexpected find of the honest to goodness vampire killing kit.
A rare pair of silver gilt double wine coaster wagons. These outstanding antique wagons were created for the Drax family and bear their coat of arms and were part of the famed Al-Tajir collection. I originally did not intend to put any prices with anything but to give you an idea as to the importance of these I will, they are listed at $685,000.
To amazing to put in to words.
My picture did not turn out so I had to get one from Mr. Rau. This is an Irish Mahogany Hunt Table, it is very rare and without question my favourite piece at the fair (another piece sent instantly to a couple clients). This was used in a two ways. First, it was placed in front of a fireplace with a screen hanging from the top brass bar, the brass middle piece can move back and forth so everyone at the table could easily get whatever beverage was being served. Secondly, the brass pieces would be taken out and it would be taken outside where a server would stand in the middle and hand out drinks to hunts as they ride up to the table on horseback. Sorry for the long description but it was so good I could not help sharing.

And there you have it, My Day at the Fair. I do hope you have enjoyed seeing all of these amazing antiques as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you.

Happy Antiquing,

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