Monday, January 30, 2012

Downton Abbey: The Dining Room, Olioboard style

Am playing around with Olioboard and decided to go for a Downton Abbey inspired dining room for contemporary living.

Check out the board in Olioboard including links to all products shown.

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Downton Abbey: Dining in Splendor

Well, here in the States we've just finished episode 4 of Dowton Abbey, Season 2, on PBS.  It's really quite remarkable how much they pack into each one hour episode. And this week's installment left me weak and weepy, to say the least. Season 1 was filled with the glamorous dinners and festivities of the noble Crawley family. Many scenes took place in the dining room, filmed in the State Dining Room at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. This gorgeous room is filled with BIG art as befitting a BIG room. The biggest of all is the prominent painting of King Charles 1 painted by Flemish master Anthony Van Dyck in 1633. Interestingly, The Royal Collection website lists this painting as part of Queen Elizabeth II's collection. It hung in Windsor Castle throughout much of the 19 Century. The website says paintings are loaned to galleries and "royal households and palaces", I'm not sure if this would include the nobility such as the Earl of Carnarvon, but here it is.

The dining room is filled with portraits of Carnarvon family ancestors and one very long table. It's clear from the various images that table has many leaves in it and is sized for whatever event is at hand. The above image shows a relatively few ten chair set up for what looks like a meeting.

The image above shows a more stately 18 or more chairs and a view of the windows, side boards and heavily fringed window treatments. It's interesting to note that not all the chairs are alike. While all are Hepplewhite in style, and possibly genuine Hepplewhite, they are not a fully matched set. The paintings are all hung from wires off of picture rails and the room features a gorgeous carved wainscot. 

This image shows the "Crawley" family at dinner, as well as the camera crew in the background. Don't hit the Van Dyck with the boom mike!

This image shows the family dining en famille with footman at the ready. In the Edwardian era and even past the first world war, it was common for families of this status to dine formally every evening with gentlemen in white tie and the ladies in formal dinner gowns. Titled ladies, such as the Dowager Contess (above, left) might wear their tiara as well. Note, amongst the greenery, that each seat has its own salt celler and pepper shaker. There was no passing food or condiments from person to person at the table. Dining en famille was not the same as dining family style.

During the war, Robert, the Earl of Grantham was recommissioned into the Army. He spends much of the time in uniform, including the dress red coat for formal occasions. Very sharp.

And below we have an image of the undressed state dining table at Highclere Castle, aka Dowton Abbey. I count 5 or 6 leaves. Gorgeous, isn't it?  We also get a better view of the ornately carved sideboard/buffet under the Van Dyck. I'm not sure if this is a real piece of Renaissance furniture or a 19th Century Victorian reproduction, but it certainly is a knock out.

And yes, you too can dine like an Earl and Countess:
Additional links for Downton Abbey:

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks!
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Missing my Daddy, the real DIY guy

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you may recall that my father, Bob Merrill, passed away a while ago. In fact, it was three years ago today. A hard day that time has most certainly softened, as is meant to happen. I don't cry every time I think of him any more, we can make jokes about him coming to haunt us and I enjoy mimicking him and some of the funnier expressions he used to use - it keeps him alive.

photo by Michael J. Lee

Four years ago for Father's Day I wrote this post called "Daddy's Girl" where I extolled his Daddy-like virtues, including how he was so good at woodworking and refinishing furniture - check the post for a couple of pieces of furniture that he worked on. He was the ultimate DIY guy - growing up we never met a contractor because he did literally everything from hanging window treatments and wallpaper to electrical wiring and swapping plumbing fixtures. In all honesty, I am today sometimes surprised (warning: stereotyping is about to happen!) how few straight men, who are not already in the business, care as much about their homes as my Father did and can just do things. The room above, which was the setting for my Holiday 2011 magazine cover features much of Dad's handiwork, including:
  • Found and hung the wallpaper and installed and painted all the woodwork
  • Refinished the floor
  • Shopped for the window treatment fabric. After month's of searching on both my parents parts for the exact shade of blue they wanted,  he found it. He then measured and ordered the treatments, which did not come mounted to a board, he did the board mounting and hung them. 
  • He also probably selected and hung chandelier. 
  • And refinished the table top once or twice over the years and covered the slip seats. 
  • This was one ugly room when they bought the house. 
Here are some more examples of work my Dad did throughout his life: 

This secretary desk dates to the 18th century and my Dad and his Dad found it in a barn sale somewhere in northern Massachusetts or Southern New Hampshire probably in the 40s. The story goes that it was covered in pea soup colored paint and the original base was missing. They restored the entire piece, adding a new base and refinishing. Of course, antiques experts probably scream over that sort of thing - but this is much better than a pea soup green desk! This is the story I always heard. I asked my mother and she said this was the story she'd been told when they first met, but years later my Dad said no, they did buy it in a barn sale, but brought it somewhere to be stripped and restored. Somewhere in the middle is the truth because I am certain I talked with my dad about the ogee foot base and how it wasn't accurate to the desk, but that's what he did. So, it's a bit of a mystery. I prefer to stick to family legend that he and my grandfather did the refinishing themselves.

 Normally the cubbies are filled with the usual stuff one hides away in a desk. I moved all for the photos  - but the dust obviously.

The secretary was always in my parents living rooms in our various homes and usually just held photo albums, playing card, etc. The real working desk of the house was this massive 19th century oak roll top desk below.

Sometime in the late 1960's, my Mom came home to find a pile of gnarly-looking oak drawers and various other pieces and parts in the middle of the garage. He must have been poking around an antiques shop or junk yard, who knows.  My dad completely rebuilt and painted the whole thing - replacing all the brasses and  porcelain drawer pulls. The original desk top was missing, so he used a "wood look" formica top which was a popular choice in the 1960's. While it may not be today's choice, it worked and has held up beautifully. A little story about the beautiful carved drawer pulls. Apparently, these were also missing, or perhaps one remained. He brought the single pull - or maybe it was a photo - to a local wood carver and ordered 10 large and 2 small hand carved wood pulls. When he went back to pick them up, he asked how much was owed and the man said "no charge, you can't afford it". How nice was that? A true craftsman who took so much pride in his work that he was willing to do them for free because he didn't want to lower the cost by cutting corners.

This desks holds everything. My eldest brother is making plans to move the beast to his house. Dad would be very proud and possibly surprised how much we value his handiwork. And, yes, that's him in the pic when he volunteered at the Rehab Hospital of the Cape & Islands (now Spaulding) after he had his stroke and they helped get him back on his feet - literally.

Dad made this grandfather clock in an adult education woodworking class in the 1970's. He had found plans for the clock somewhere - perhaps from an ad in Woodworker's Digest or even their bible Colonial Homes. Truth be told - there are no works - the hands are attached to a small battery pack and the case is empty - shhh.

The clock face was painted by Dad's sister Better Merrill Wasserboehr and her husband Paul Wasserboehr. Bette was a fine art painter and Paul was a graphic illustrator. She did the background and decorative motifs and he did the numbers - by hand. Dad must have cut out the face to fit the clock and built it and they did the painting. There are actually two faces - the one in the clock and an all off-white one which I've had for several years. Since it was built, the clock has been in an open space kitchen/family (in two different houses) and has gotten grimy (not to mention both my parents used to smoke). So, between kitchen grease and cigarette smoke - yuck.  I spent some time today cleaning off the clock face with simple paper towel and water. It could probably use a soft brush and water with a very mild detergent, but since I can't easily get it out of the clock, I did it in situ. The above pic shows half the clock face cleaned - amazing and gross, huh?

And how it looks now. At some point I'll pull the bonnet off and really have a go at cleaning it up a bit more. Although it looks great with some age showing, it could stand to look a little better.

Every year that I've done a post on this day, I include a piece of music. My Dad loved music. This year's selection is Frank Sinatra's "That's Life"  My Dad played this album all the time when we were little and it's very much part of the sound track of my childhood. So, raise a martini and tip of the hat - this one's for you Daddy!



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Friday, January 27, 2012

Pretty linens and baubles - a big thank you!

I wanted to send a big thank you out to Andrea Drexelius from French Basketeer  and Metis Linens for sending me this beautiful package of vintage linens and vintage French brass curtain rings that can be used as napkin rings.  I won these lovely items in a giveaway on Karen Albert's blog Art By Karena. The brass rings are incredibly gorgeous and the two linens towels have the most beautiful texture to them, owing to their age and use. Something that cannot be replicated. They are also huge and could nearly be used as small table cloths!

The French Basketeer, in business since 2008, sells authentic French baskets and totes. Their chic totes come in many amazing colors and styles:

They also carry the classic rolling market carts as well, seen in French markets and US Design Centers everywhere. (A side note, a past client of mine sent me one as a gift as I'd mentioned in passing that I wanted one - wasn't that nice?!?)

Metis Linens Boutique, aka Le Magasin de Metis,  is a partnership between Andrea of The French Basketeer and the lovely Laura Ingalls Gunn, interior designer and writer of the blog Decor to Adore. Le Magasin offers French textiles and they "sprinkle in a few fun and flavorful antiques"

If you've not yet heard about blogger Karen Albert of Art by Karena, head on over there now. Karen is one of the blogosphere's most supportive bloggers - supportive of artists and artisans, small business and other bloggers. Her blog offers some of the best giveaways around, which in turn introduces large audiences to artists and small business vendors that we might not otherwise hear of. An artist in her own right, Karen manages to read and comment on about a million blogs a day and always has a kind word for everyone.

Again, thank you to all the ladies above - I love my prize!

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How I'm Using Pinterest for Work and a word for designers and pinners

Ah, the red P for Pinterest. Are you using it?  As the use of this relatively new photo pinboard website started growing, there were more and more tweets in my Twitter stream extolling the virtues of the site, with comments like "I'm addicted to..." and lamentations on the hours spent "pinning" away. I was skeptical. Were people just mindlessly gathering photographic images and for what purpose besides just looking at them? Hmm. Sometimes I'm an early adopter and at other times I decide something is a cult and I don't want to just run along with the herd. Eventually, there was so much chatter and I'd received a fair share of emails about it from various SM connections that I figured it was time to check it out. I tried to create an account, only to be told I would be placed on a waiting list or would need to be invited. What??? How is it everyone was doing it, but it was invite only??? Irritation ensued, followed by an indignant tweet, which of course brought me several invitations. I still don't understand the need to be invited and waiting lists, other than to create buzz, which is probably all that is.

Anyway, I got in and started following people I knew there. And suddenly my inbox was flooded with notifications about who was following me, who pinned what, etc. I did not sign up for more mail, I get enough as it is! I didn't realize the social media nature of the beast, but luckily found that all notifications can be turned off (whew). I played around with it a bit, saw what others were pinning and basically didn't get too excited over it. Until I figured how to make it work for me.

For the return of Downton Abbey on PBS, I decided to resurrect my long time series of "Get that Look" posts. Historically, these involved a lot of searching and saving images and links to resources. With Pinterest, I can simply create a specific pin "board" for the post I am working on and throughout the week as I ran across items that were right for the post, I could pin them to the board and forget about them. The pins link back to the source, which is the first time I've been easily able to track sources outside of copy them into the post directly. What a time saver!

From the Pinterest board, I can easily drag the images off the screen into a document (Apple's Pages program) to create a simple design board on the topic, which I put in my post as seen here. Since all the Pinterest images link back to their sources, I can simply direct readers to the pins and from there the sources and photo credits. Please note that I do watermark my board with my website (bottom right) so it always comes back to me in some way.

I write several articles a month freelance for the website Many of my pieces are called "Designer's Picks" where I select a bunch of products within a theme and describe them.  Pinterest has revolutionized this process for me. An article published today illustrates this well. The above image is my board specific to the recent assignment of "Discreet, foldaway desks for small spaces". I first searched within Pinterest for products, following links back to the seller or manufacturer and repinned to my board. I then, over the course of several days, searched the web and pinned items I liked. Since all pins go back to the page where the item was pinned from, I can easily transfer the links to the Word doc I write the article in. I may end up pinning more items than make the article, but I end up with a selection to choose the best from.  You can click the image below to see the article in full.

I've also found Pinterest incredibly useful when working with clients. I am currently working with a woman who is planning the opening of a yarn shop. She came to me to help create a space that is not the typical old musty yarn shop that is common in our area.  I gathered ideas for her to view and comment on in two different boards. One was on an Industrial Chic theme and the other a softer more White Washed look that will still clean and simple. Both can be achieved on a tight budget with some elbow grease, which is what she was looking for. As we emailed back and forth, I pinned new images and rearranged things until we came settled on the Industrial Chic/Natural look with splashes of a warm orange. I then created a new board, seen above, that pulled in all the ideas into this one design inspiration board. It includes images of other offices or stores, plus products. I also uploaded my digital renderings of her space so she had one place to go to see everything. This has really fast tracked the design process - both on the inspiration end and on the communications end. Of course, since she's still not "announced" the shop opening, I am not sharing names or locations, but it begins the pre-publicity for her as well as promotes my work as a designer. I was able to do both by including this in my recent newsletter to my mailing list as well.

I created a branded digital design board which went to the client and also showcased in my recent newsletter. Since many on my mailing list are local, this sets the stage for her store opening announcement. Cross promotion is the name of the game here. Of course, all of this was done with permission from my client and I would never have shared so much of the concept without that permission. I'd love for Pinterest to offer the option of a "private" board, even if this were a pay feature. I've been creating these on my own website for clients for several years, but it's time consuming to create and update. I'd pay to have the ease of Pinterest in a private setting. As of yet, this is not a feature, but I would bet that it will happen in the future.

 As a designer, I want to get my name and work out in front of as many people as I can - after all, why else do we as business professionals put so much time and effort into social media? I wondered if other designers pinned their own portfolio images into their boards on Pinterest and tweeted the question out. I received only one response (hello, I have nearly 3,800 followers and 1 response?) from someone who said they were not a designer, but would certainly do it if they were. I decided that it made sense to post my own images and get them out in the viral world. But of course, they need to come back to me as well by virtue of viewers knowing whose work is in the image. I decided to re-upload the images in my portfolio with my website watermarked in the bottom corner and then pinned the images into a board called "Linda Merrill Portfolio".

A nice feature of Pinterest is that the source website with a direct link is attached to each pin and travels with the image as long as it's repinned within Pinterest. You will see in the image above the link near the top: (my original business name that sticks to me like glue!) and will go directly to my website page featuring the image. You will also see my URL in the bottom right hand corner of the image. If this image ends up on a blog or some other site outside of Pinterest and the user doesn't properly link or credit the image, it's still branded as mine. Although it's not shown above, I also list my photographer Michael J. Lee with a link to his website in the description field. These links become live automatically which is a nice feature.

 You will notice that the two images above are of the same kitchen, but staged differently. The color rendering is a bit different too. (On a side note, this is a good lesson about viewing colors on a computer - same kitchen, same photographer, slightly different color result). The second image was shot for a feature story in Country Living Magazine, which you will notice is the link listed in the above. I went back and forth about watermarking this image as well, but since it's not mine, it's technically the magazine's (where I pinned it from) and Michael's, I decided not to. You will also notice where I credit Michael in the notes section. In less than a day, all but two of my images have been pinned onto other boards. I've also seen a significant upswing in hits to my website from Pinterest. Pretty good early results I'd say.

I know this has been a long post, but I do want to say something about the nature of photo rights and the attribution of work shown in interiors photos. Once upon a time, a photographer was hired to shoot a designer's work. Photographers retained the rights to the images and licensed them to the designer or publication for their use. These image licenses could be simple or complex, involve cash payments, or not. But it was fairly straight forward. With the advent and growth of the internet, the ability for any of us to swipe an image to use in any way we want to is made easy. But just because it's easy doesn't make it right. Designer's work hard and would like to receive proper credit for work well done. Photographer's work hard and would also like to be credited, if not paid a license fee, for their work.  But for the most part, neither party has much power over the swipe and distribute nature of websites, blogs, Tumblr and yes, even Pinterest. It's too prolific. But that said, law suits, especially in the form of a class action suit, is not out of the question and large websites such as Pinterest and others will need to be working on how to limit the uncredited distribution of images.

This was apparently an issue that came up at the recent Alt Summit that I picked on up in a tweet from Grace Bonney.

In the meantime, if you're a blogger and use images that are not your own, please make sure to credit the image as best as you can WITH A LINK back to your source. It's being noted that many bloggers are merely saying "Via Pinterest" with or without a link and if there is a link, it's to Pinterest's main page, not the source page of the image. This is wrong and unfair to the person responsible for the work you must admire enough to use on your site. This holds true if you use images from a magazine or other online source. It's not enough to say "House Beautiful", you should be linking directly to the page on the HB site where the image came from. You should also be listing the designer and photographer where you can. But at minimum, a link should be made to the page, because that information will be there for anyone who wants to find it. And if you're pinning to Pinterest, try to drill down to find the source of the image and pin the image from its source. This means if you see a beautiful image on a blog and it references Traditional Home or Architectural Digest with a link, then click on that link and pin the image from the original source. It usually only takes a few extra seconds, but that simple act shows your support of the people behind the image.

If you're a designer or architect, you should absolutely be watermarking your portfolio images. Why let your work float around the internet without attribution? It may happen anyway, but there is no need to help the matter along. Watermarking an image simply means that you add type to the image with your name, or URL or some identifying information. It can be discreet so as not to interfere with the image, but it's important nonetheless. You can do this using Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or the latest version of Preview on Macintosh computers. You can also use Picnik which is currently a free web based program. You upload your image, add the text and save back to your computer. Picnik is part of Google and will become part of their account based family of offerings within a few months. But for now it's free.  My photographer Michael just wrote an excellent post about the subject of pinning and watermarking as well, which you can read here.

And finally (I know, finally!) here is a link to an article on which lists the brands who are very adept at harnessing the power of Pinterest to further their marketing goals, including High Point Market, Matchbook Magazine and Mod Cloth.

A final word about using Pinterest. If you're on a diet, do not go on after 9PM in the evenings. More often than not, your screen will be flooded with delicious looking images of sweet and savory delights. Torture.

Sorry for the long post!

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::

Monday, January 23, 2012

Get That Look: Downton Abbey and the Outdoor Life

One of the loveliest parts of all the period British dramas is the depiction of the outdoor life of the British noble and gentry classes.  Certainly, the Brits are known for their love and expertise at gardening, riding and hunting and the exquisite lawn parties filled with ladies and gentlemen dressed in white enjoying simpler pursuits. I thought in this weeks post on Downton Abbey, I'd focus on the outdoor pursuits of the Crawley's and their friends.

The Cora, Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern) takes tea on the lawn of the estate with her mother-in-law mother-in-law, the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith)
From this view, we can see just how far away from the big house their little tea time is. Which was likely a fair burden on the serving staff who had to shlep all the furniture out side (no Sunbrella then!) as well as the full tea service, including still hot tea. One has to assume, however, that these were some of the few times the ladies could chat in complete privacy.

Outdoor sports such as riding and hunting have historically been very important aspects of British country life. This is one of the iconic images from the series featuring Lady Mary Crawley (played by Michele Dockery) getting ready to ride out. Although riding in full dress, with corset, and side-saddle to boot must have been incredibly uncomfortable, it sure looked pretty! 

The Crawley family, and friends, go shooting on a chilly autumn day. The dress is decidedly less formal than Mary's riding habit above, but dashing in its own way. 

Of course, thrashing about in the bramble after the dogs must give one a hearty appetite. And once again, the servants are tasked with serving a meal in an out of the way location such as the barn. Romantic looking, though, isn't it?

Countess Cora, recovering after losing her baby in the last episode of Season 1, stays warm and out of the way at their annual garden party.

Middle daughter Lady Edith Crawley (played by Laura Carmichael) watches her suitor as he leaves without proposing (oh that scheming Lady Mary!) in front of the picnic tent that is filled with skirted tables, folding chairs and flowers. An interesting note is that the dress Lady Edith is wearing is purportedly a rented costume that was previously worn in Merchant & Ivory's Room With A View starring Helena Bonham-Carter. I actually scrolled through Room to see if I could spot it, but could not. The time periods and thus the dress styles were so different between the turn of the century Room and late-Edwardian era Downton (in this scene). Possibly it was used as an under dress or its scene was edited out. Or I could have missed it.

Here we have a sky shot of the grounds at Highclere Castle, setting for Downton Abbey. Interestingly, the current Lady Carnavon of Highclere has been re-building these gardens from scratch and the cast and crew have not been allowed to go in them. One wonders if this is a bonus of the funds earned from the rental on the property to the production. If so, it's a great use of the money!

Additional links for Downton Abbey:
  •   Visit my Downton Abbey Country Living Board on Pinterest for additional images, links and credits for all of the above above.
  • Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times relates to Carson the Butler.
  • Claudia Juestel from The Adeeni Blog is inspired by Downton Abbey and has a great post about the show, including beautiful large photos from the show and other similar manor homes. 
  •  Styleture blog offers a great collection of Downton inspired bathroom fixtures
  • WNET Channel 13 in New York offers their Downton Dish - which is truly hysterical.
  • The "fabulous and opinionated" Tom + Lorenzo maintain weekly recaps of the series, which are not to be missed, especially if you have missed any episodes! 
  • Vic over at Jane Austen's World has a fantastic recap of the newly aired "Secrets of the Manor House" which goes into the societal changes leading up to and influenced by the first world war. For some reason, this hasn't aired on WGBH/Boston (hello @masterpiecepbs - care to respond to my tweet??) but I did see a ten minute portion of it, and it looks like a perfect companion piece to the series. Can't wait to see it. (WGBH - are you listening? Don't make me come up there!)
If you've seen a great post on Downton Abbey, or are covering the show yourself, please be sure to leave a link in the comments, or email me, so I can add it to next week's post.

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::