Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Silver Screen Surroundings: Outlander, S1E6 The Garrison Commander

For the most part, Outlander is very much an "outside" story. There's lots of sleeping rough on the road, horse riding through the Highlands, campfires and buggy roadside inns. In other words, unlike Downton Abbey, there's not much in the way of fine interiors and "Get that look" opportunities.  So, while I adore the story and this television production, I am a little starved for just some pretty set decorating.  This week's episode on Starz features a very beautiful interior (finally!) that could be brought right into the present day.

Our heroine, Claire, is still looking for a way back to the standing stones in hopes of getting back to her own time and husband. So, when a British officer comes across her in the company of the Scottish MacKenzie's on the road and takes interest in her welfare, she's all too happy to head off with them in hopes they will give her transport closer to where she needs to go. By this time, however, she has developed an affection for the Scots and isn't interested in turning them in for holding her captive - though they have in truth been holding her against her will.

Most of the episode takes place in the dining room of a British Garrison in a small town in the Highlands. Claire joins a group of British officers who at first seem very cordial and "her people".

Well, cordial to Claire, an English Rose as she's called, but not so much to Dougal who has accompanied her to the Garrison. Dougal (on Claire's right) is treated with great disdain by the British  as at the time they saw the Scots, in particular the Highlander's, as nothing short of un-educated savages and barbarians.

Claire has managed to charm the officers and has received an offer to be escorted back to Inverness (which is near the standing stones) without implicating the MacKenzies in any way and she's ready to be on her way. And then enters Captain "Black Jack" Randall, who is Claire's 20th century husband's ancestor (both characters are played by Tobias Menzies in a real tour de force performance).  Randall, who is clearly disliked by his fellow officers, manages to put into question why Claire spent so much time with the MacKenzie's if she is so innocent - even accusing her of bedding Dougal. Needless to say, she takes umbrage with this but he keeps needling her until she loses her temper and shows support for the Scots and criticizes the British for being occupiers. Well, them's fighting words, obviously. Eventually, Claire is left alone with Randall, who proceeds to question her loyalties and to show his hand for being the sinister and depraved character that he truly is.  While Claire keeps trying to find some good in him (since he is her husband's ancestor) he plays on this weakness of hers in a devastating way. While recounting how he flayed open Jaime's back a couple of years before in excruciating detail, he's showing how much he got off on the lashing and how he felt that Jaime played a part in the macabre dance by refusing to yell out or ask for mercy. The flashbacks are gruesome and even when the visual is only Randall talking in the dining room to Claire, we still hear the lash. I had to turn the sound off and look away for a bit - it was that awful. All the while, he's allowing her believe that he feels deep guilt for his behavior and she's thinking that he's possibly redeemable. And then he punches her in the gut - literally.

In a scene not from the book, we see Randall being shaved by his servant using a bone handled straight knife.

Here's a closeup where the blade looks fairly new:

While Claire's is watching him being shaved, she flashes back (forward?) to having shaved her husband Frank with the very same straight edge blade - which he says was a family heirloom. In this closeup, we see the blade with over 200 years of aging.

In doing research on the set decorator Gina Cromwell, I ran across a website for Whetton & Grosch who are model and props makers in England.

They made the prop blades both "new" and "aged". It's a small detail - recreating a straight edge to be new and then aged 200 years -  and one I wouldn't have necessarily noticed - that makes this production so special. From the costumes (by designer Terry Dresbach) to the props and sets - production designer John Gary Steele is creating a world that is true down to the small details that may not even be noticeable, but are so authentic.

If you check Whetton & Grosch's website, you will see other familiar props - including Mr. Bates' doomed leg brace from the first season of Downton Abbey.

Next week's episode is the one all Outlander fans (especially the women) have been waiting for - "The Wedding"!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Silver Screen Surroundings: Outlander S1E5 - "The Rent" plus, visiting a wattle house

In this week's episode, our heroine Claire is taken on the road with a pack of MacKenzie men to collect the rents from outlying tenant farmers who hadn't been able to make it to The Gathering at Castle Leoch. War Chieftan Dougal figures it would be good to have a healer along and Claire sees it as an opportunity to get out of the castle and perhaps closer to the standing stones and maybe even back to the 20th century.

At one of the stops, Claire finds a group of women who are singing a working song which aids in the rhythm (and helps pass the time, no doubt) while they prepare a large piece of heavy wool for dyeing. Such preparation includes pounding hot urine into the fabric which helps it accept dyes, notably indigo colors, and sets the color quicker. (see more information on this process here).

Edited to add: I came across a blog Three if by Space who is reviewing the series. She clarifies that it's called "waulking" the wool, not working, though they are probably related words. Anyway, she has a link to a video showing more modern woman doing the same thing with the wool and singing along with the series. Click here to view.

As this is an "on the road" episode, there aren't too many interior scenes, with the singular exception of the straw wattle house where the ladies do much of their work - and relaxing.

Wattle and daub huts have been around for millennia. This is a wonderful brief video on how they are built.

I thought it surprising that the hut used in the show still had open walls that have not been filled in with daub. The photo below shows the thatched roofs over more traditional wattle and daub structures on the right and middle, with the more open structure on the left.

I'm not sure if this is typical as my initial thought was that there would be no protection from the cold wind and rains in the Scottish Highlands, not to mention the wood would deteriorate very quickly. Plus, one errant spark from the fireplace or a candle and whoosh - there goes your romantic looking structure.

To this day, wattle fences are still very popular and are certainly very pretty.

Source unknown

image via Vogue

One of the first times I remember seeing a wattle fence was in the movie "A Room With A View" in front of the house rented by the Mr. Emerson's. (view below from inside the house).

Back to the Outlander set - I can't help but wonder if they chose to leave the ends of the house walls open structure to let in more natural light for filming, or perhaps just for atmospherics?

Well, it's pretty, nonetheless.

Meanwhile, that table looks like it's straight out of the Restoration Hardware catalogue.

Claire and Dougal MacKenzie square off

One of the most brilliant (though sometimes also the most tedious) aspects of the books is the level of detail author Diana Gabaldon gets into, particularly the nastier parts of traveling "rough", sleeping on the ground, wearing the same clothes day in and day out and little bathing.  Unfortunately, so far in the series, the producers aren't ready for the star Caitroina Balfe to look quite so unkempt as all that and in this episode, she looks a little too clean and pressed through out  to be plausible. Recalling this part of the book, Claire basically had one dress which she wore day in and day out. Her wardrobe, supposedly cobbled together at the castle from discarded clothing,  looks brand new and perfectly fitted to her. More importantly, it never looks dirty, even after she's pitched in  working the wool, which had to be a dirty, sweaty and messy task. Yet, her white scarf is as starched looking as it ever was. I would argue nothing kept in a traveling bag would be particularly pressed looking. Dougal, in the photo above payed by Graham MacTavis, is the second most important member of the Clan MacKenzie after his brother the Laird. On this trip, he was the man in charge, the boss and owner to whom all the crofters were paying their rents and asking for advice. His clothing would naturally be the best and most impressive among the men and yet he looks travel weary and his white neck cloth more appropriately grimy looking as compared to Claire's. The harshness of the setting is all a part of what Claire faces and we're not at all seeing that natural degradation brought on by lack of soap, hot water and a change of clothes.

Still loving the series though!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Boston Magazine Dream Home 2014

The 2014 Boston Magazine Dream Home will be open for public tours starting on September 10th. For the last ten years, the magazine has been teaming with a local builder, architect, designer and a charity to build a house that focuses on a specific kind of living style. This year's house, located in Salisbury, MA, is a single family house that feature's "net-zero" energy living.

The design/build team this year is Ridgeview Construction, Kaplan Thompson Architects, and the design coordinator is Lisa Wasserman Sivan. Boston Children's Hospital is the non-profit beneficiary.

The roof on the back of the house is covered with solar panels.

The amazing console table above was made by my friend Ray Bachand of 60Nobscot.

All photos by Michael J. Lee

Here is a time-lapse video of the contraction of this modular home:

Tickets are $25 with 100% of the ticket price going to Children's Hospital. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Silver Screen Surroundings: Outlander, S1E4 The Gathering, and scenic insider

This week's installment of Starz TV's production of Outlander brings us the famous "Gathering" of the Clan MacKenzie where all the men under laird Colum MacKenzie come to the castle to swear their oath of fidelity to him and to the clan (and to pay their rents and proceeds from the farms they tend). The event is filled with filial love and furor and a kind of patriotism, though not as much to the State as to the clan. Colum (subtly played by Gary Lewis) is the top guy, but he suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome and while he can walk, does so very slowly and is depicted as always being in great pain.

(Gary Lewis as Colum ban Campbell MacKenzie)

The show is doing an excellent job of following closely to the original books, while adding in new scenes and details that feel like they could have truly been in the books. Bravo for that - especially when the audience is filled with rabid readers who recall every detail of the first book. 

The Oath Taking scene was particularly well done - filled with lots of spoken and unspoken drama an intrigue. Pictured above is Colum's brother (and enforcer) Dougal MacKenzie, who is first to swear his oath of allegiance, which includes a promise to be killed by his knife if he ever commits treason. One of the things that is so nice about this series is that it didn't go down the cliched path where the second son jealously plots and schemes to take the throne from his older brother. Dougal, while not the nicest guy in the world, is allied with his brother and wholly supports his position as Laird and leader of the clan. He's also aware that his brother, due to his illness, won't live a long life and he could be in a position to claim the title when the time comes. Except (and here's where the intrigue comes in) that the lairdship is open to some kind of democratic vote where another family member could be chosen by the people.  Such as...

Our hero Jaime, who is a nephew of Dougal and Colum on his mother's side, and therefor a potential rival for the lairdship if he swears his oath to Colum and the clan MacKenzie, thus resigning his allegiance to his late father's clan Fraser. Jaime knows that while Dougal is loyal to his brother Colum, he would not be loyal to anyone else, even a nephew, if his plans for the lairdship were thwarted. Anyway, lots of drama ensues, including our heroine Claire who is still trying to escape and is the cause of Jaime having to show up at the Hall when he would have preferred to stay out of the way.

Ok, so, drama, drama and more drama. They are really letting the chemistry between Jaime and Claire come to a boil very slowly - for television. I kind of like it. I've been listening to the podcasts done by showrunner Ronald Moore where he does a commentary on each episode (to be found on iTunes) and lets out some very interesting tidbits. Including the fact that the tapestries in Colum's room (aka office) are actually paintings made to look like wall tapestries.

From TVTango on the set decorating of the castle as a whole, and then on Colum's private rooms:

 “We wanted it to look like it has been in Colum's family for hundreds of years, handed down through the generations. There's very little furniture, it's sparse basically benches, big tables, and lots of candles. It's not a nice little cozy home. It's a castle, with all of the drama that would happen in a castle.”One exception to the austerity of the Castle décor can be found in Laird MacKenzie's room, where the walls are covered in tapestries that depict scenes of the Scottish landscapes. “His disability means Colum is a bit cocooned,” explains Set Decorator Gina Cromwell, who commissioned the wall hangings for the series. “The tapestries are pictures of forests and things he can't get to anymore, so in way it's his opportunity to experience the outdoors.” 

Obviously, it would have been prohibitively expensive to commission tapestries made for the set, so they created trompe l'eoil versions on canvas.

As we know, most European tapestries of the period, and before, were made in Belgium (then Flanders) and France. Any references I found to tapestries of the 15th/16th centuries were also from France and Belgium and there appears to be no local Scottish tradition of tapestry making. So, an entire room covered in tapestries such as this would be enormously expensive, speaking to the status of the MacKenzie clan (assuming the set decorator's were going for historical authenticity.)

British actress Annette Badland as Mrs. FitzGibbons, Cook (and ring master) at Castle Leoch

In the stark, nearly bleakness of the rest of the Castle, Colum's room is certainly a standout!

Have you been watching and what do you think of the series so far? I started re-reading the books in the Spring and am mid-way through #5 The Fiery Cross. I'd started that book several years ago, but never finished it. So, I've finally caught up with myself and plan to finish out the series by the end of the Fall. Book #8, In My Own Heart's Blood was just released in June I think. 

Meanwhile, as a followup to my Friday post on my gallery style art wall in my bedroom, here's a sneak peek!

Happy September!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Nook Cottage: Hanging Art

As I'm waiting for my sofa and dining table to be delivered next week (finally!) I've started planning in ernest where I'll be hanging my art. I have between 25-30 pieces ranging from fairly large (30x40) to teeny (5x5). Half of my collection just came out of my parent's house including several watercolors by my late aunt Bette Wasserboehr, who was a noted New England water colorist, teacher, gallery owner and mentor to many painters. There is no real theme to what I have. I like photography so I have several framed photographs, some I've taken, other's by better photographers! I have a lot of framed prints of varying subjects. It's just a matter of making them all work together and showing them off well.

This Charlotte Moss space has long been my inspiration - I just love everything about it!

I've also always been inspired by this famous Hubert Robert "Grande Galerie du Louvre" (1796).

Here is a rendering of my new bedroom. Just this week I got in the custom headboard and re-upholstered chair in a cut velvet called Watersedge from Lee Jofa and I am so thrilled with how they came out!

The chair is currently in my living room since all I have in there at the moment is a little settee - which isn't too comfortable. But when the sofa comes, the chair will be moved back to the bedroom.

(Note: the wall color isn't nearly so lime green as it appears here, but it is a very strong green, which I love.)

Since the bedroom is nearly complete (draperies to come) I started selecting what looked nice with the very green walls and did a sketch of an approximate layout. One of the issues is that due to the different sized side tables, the bed itself is not centered on the wall, so the layout of the art needs to mitigate this issue and not end up looking off-center.

I'm striving for a more casual placement of the art around my house - not so formal. Sort of a planned, unplanned look.

I love how designer Lauren Liess places art in her spaces. She has such an ability to create truly organic looking layouts, even though everything is very well-planned. These from her own house:

And Lauren's method of planning her art placement:

And this from Lauren's kitchen, so fantastic!

I'm also hugely inspired by Miles Redd's use of art in his interiors. This from his house:

And this is another Miles space:

Hopefully by the end of the weekend I'll have the bedroom done. And then I can finish up the rest when the sofa and dining table come. More photos to come!

How do you like to handle your art? Do you have a mixed group, or do you prefer more classic gallery spaces with coordinating framing and white walls?