Yellow Patio Wall

Two NYC Designer Show Houses, Part 2

Last week I was able to preview the Elle Decor Modern Life Concept House.  Of course, amid a crush of 150 people trying to get into and photograph every small space, I headed out to the patio.  The smallish urban space was designed by Michael Tavano.  Unlike the massive impersonal terraces at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, Tavano succeeded in making an intimate, useful space full of ideas.

I wasn’t able to get great photos–it was wet and there were too many people.  So here are those I did get. Look carefully and you’ll notice that I didn’t move much more than a foot in any direction to get the shots…it was small.

My first impression was of the bold use of yellow.  I know the brand is Farrow and Ball, and I suspect the color is Babouche.

Unexpected use of color

Next was the eclectic combination of elements from super modern to tradtional.  Much of it from Restoration Hardware.  The dining table and chairs are from their new Mulholland collection.

Contemporary punctuated with traditional elements

Last was the  use of a step up to a deck that created a low bi-level space that delineated the seating area from the dining area.

Bi level deck and dining area

The cabana from Designlush included the metal gold circle pattern screens that reminded me of some Paco Rabanne dresses from the Sixties.

Paco Rabanne dresses from the 60s

Overall I thought it was packed with interesting ideas and excellent space planning.  I want to thank everyone at Kravat for arranging this for the BlogFest2012 participants.


Two NYC Designer Show Houses, Part 1

As part of Blogfest2012 I visited two New York City designer show houses.  Since I am a veteran designer of these types of temporary installations on this side of the Hudson River, I am always interested to see what and how others do it.

The, first one, the Kips Bay Decorator Show House has been an annual fundraising design event in the city  for 40+ years.  It’s reviewed and discussed and sometimes sets trends for years to come.  This year, for the first time, it was on the west side, in two sets of penthouses instead of an east side townhouse.  Each space had an expansive outdoor terrace.

The North and South Terraces, designed by Gunn Landscape Architecture, had some interesting details (it was raining when I was there) but felt empty and unfinished.

On the North Terrace, an attempt was made to define the space through a combination of concrete and ipe pavers but fell short.  The unfinished part comes from a stack of the concrete pavers that had been removed for the ipe decking, but were stacked next to a stairwell as if the contractor had just left for lunch…

Rainy terrace with paving detail looking east

Small planted areas were carved out of the ground plane as well as in boxed planters along the perimeter.

Corner planter facing south west (Love the clamshell planter)

Although beautifully done, some of the plant choices on the  northwest facing terrace were questionable…too hot, too sunny.

Planting detail


I’m totally one for capitalizing on the view and realize that outdoor space with expansive views in every direction on the 21st floor is exotic and at a premium, but I thought more could have been done to give the space a sense of intimacy despite the soaring views.

The South Terrace felt disjointed and was not holding up well in the weather.  I had high hopes when I first walked outside and saw a lovely shady planting scheme in Robert Cannon’s sculptural planters.

Robert Cannon's sculptural planters

A ‘lawn’ was a major feature on the main terrace.  With the availablitity of amazing faux turf, this felt like a weekend project made out of cheap astroturf rather than a feature in a $16,000,000 penthouse.  It should have been, and could have been, super fun, young and well crafted.

'Lawn' and outdoor beanbag chairs

There was a Wow feature on this terrace…a boules court!  I loved it.

Boules Court, 21 stories up!

If there was ever a space to use these Chanel boules, this was it.

Chanel boules

Show houses, even outside, are supposed to be about ideas and theater.  These lacked the overall design elements to achieve that despite some great ideas and details.

Outdoor Fabrics: New Neutrals

I attended the second iteration of Blog Fest.  It is sponsored by Kravat and one of the many fabulous programs they put together was in their showroom at the D & D Building.

Couple that with the fact that I believe that we are at a tipping point for the design and development of outdoor furniture and accessories that can rival those available for inside and there’s a story to tell. I’m going to start with neutral fabric. How many times have you seen a piece of outdoor furniture accessorized with boring plain beige upholstery and pillows? Too often for me, including the terraces at the Kips Bay Showhouse (more about that in my next post).

There is a tendancy towards a lack of color outside except in plantings and this doesn’t have to be the case, but if it is neutral doesn’t have to be dull as dishwater. In the Kravat showroom, I found some neutrals (if that’s your thing) that were full of texture and surface interest and when combined, they were visually compelling.

Tropical patterns, stripes and texture
Woven, pattern and chenile and texture

The fabrics were from the Soliel and Echo collections and had interesting texture and pattern possibilities. There were also some brights, but you’ll have to wait for the full story I’m doing for Leaf to see those…

On a side note…we’d love to design a collection of outdoor fabrics…who better than those of us who actually design outside?

A Curated Collection…

The flow of my daily working life changed a bit when we started publishing a magazine.  I still manage my design clients on a daily basis, but also squeeze in several hours each day to manage, scout and produce Leaf.

One of the fun things that we have gotten to do is to curate a sale of outdoor products for Joss and Main which is going on right now and ends on Sunday, 5/21/12.  Here’s a peek.

Want to duplicate this look from our spring issue?

Try these

Zinc finish troughs to plant up!

Or maybe shake up one of  Warren Bobrow‘s cocktail recipes in one of these?

Shake it in style!

Or serve guests on some high style outdoor plates? (Melamine is all grown up!)

Tree Portrait Plates

Maybe you were inspired by the benches in Shop?

Geometric green bench

Whatever it is, we hope you are inspired by the magazine and check out our sale.  We have really tried to exemplify what we show in the magazine and hope you like our picks!


Side Conversations

A few years ago I started wanting to meet people in real life who I had I met through Twitter, Facebook and email exchanges.  I have met people in New York for dinner, in Chicago for a visit to the botanical gardens, in Buffalo and Seattle for Garden Bloggers Fling, in Brimfield for the antiques market, in Portland, Oregon, in Berkeley, Napa and San Francisco,  in Philadelphia and Cleveland and most recently in Little Rock as a guest of P. Allen Smith.  Some of those face to face meetings have turned into lasting friendships.

I don’t usually take pictures of people, so there won’t be any here, but two weeks ago an unusual thing happened.  I didn’t think about it at the time–it takes me a long time to process random occurances sometimes.

Four of us were sitting in the shade talking after a hot day in the Arkansas sun.  The three others were women I had originally met via Twitter and would never had met otherwise.  They were also those I had met in real life  in New York (although she’s from Portland and we met there too), Chicago and Buffalo/Seattle.  It didn’t seem odd to me and we were all talking about the kinds of things girlfriends talk about everywhere — children, food, partners, and gardens.  These are the moments I savor…so much more than the rushed exchanges online.  So here’s an online nod to three incredible women who I count as real life friends…JeanAnn, Dee, and Amanda.



The New Southern Romantic – P. Allen Smith

I had the pleasure of being invited to visit P. Allen Smith in Little Rock last week.  I was included in an event designed to not only promote Smith’s ideas, but also those companies who sponsor and support Smith’s lifestyle brand.  As his book, Garden Home suggests, Smith’s brand isn’t about inside or out, today or yesterday, it is about the seamless transition from one to the other and back again.

A view from the sleeping porch at Moss Mountain Farm

The patina of a past that included legions of free (use your imagination–they weren’t interns) help isn’t lost in this new, pared down, but no less privileged lifestyle.  Make no mistake about it,  P. Allen Smith, who is a hell of a nice guy by the way, is a passionate and totally driven workaholic whose ideas and ideals drive a brand that supports dozens of people from marketing executives to farm hands.

The entry hall at Moss Mountain Farm

Smith’s ‘Garden Home’ farm, Moss Mountain, reflects his many interests–some of which include collecting early southern furniture, American paintings, cooking and entertaining, poultry, sustainable agriculture and building, and of course, gardens.  An avid reader, there are books everywhere–stacked on tables and in overflowing bookshelves.

A stack of books in the living room

There is authenticity to Smith and his carefully curated world, what you see is really what he is all about. I say Bravo! that he’s found a way to brand it and to support his passions and lifestyle–even if that process has him working around the clock.  He works in a beautiful place surrounded by the things he loves–not a bad way to spend one’s working life.

Farm fresh eggs in the kitchen at Moss Mountain

On the home farm, heritage poultry (Smith founded the Heritage Poultry Conservancy in 2009) exists along side the construction of an environmentally friendly farmhouse.  The coop pictured below is close to the house, but about a 1/4 mile down the road are working coops that house the birds in the breeding program Smith has established for his heritage chickens and turkeys.

Palais des poulets

Having trained as a landscape designer in England, Smith’s gardens juxtapose traditional European garden design principles with southern bones, climate appropriate plants and vernacular architecture. They are lush and romantic, quaint and super high maintenance. These are not gardens to have without skilled help. There are vignettes and rambles combined into a massive mixed border that has interesting foundation plants with great structure.  The gardens had me wondering if these throwbacks to ‘home’ in the European sense are actually a regional American style.  That’s something I’d like to explore further.

A small formal pond on the lower terrace
A circular vignette at the end of the lower terrace

I was surprised at how small Smith’s original Little Rock garden is.  Now called City Garden Home, it’s on a small urban corner lot and it’s a testament to the power of great garden design.  Each one of several garden rooms flows seamlessly into the next and nothing feels cramped or overdone.

Planter and paving in the narrow side yard at City Garden Home

I appreciated the thought that went into the design–I know firsthand how complex it is to plan and execute a small space that actually feels bigger than it is.

The shed at City Garden Home

Back at the farm, however, there is room to spread out and that’s exactly what Smith has done in the gardens there.  In addition to an expansive organic vegetable garden and a year old rose garden dedicated to American heritage roses, he has designed classic twin borders.  There is one each on two terraces down that step down the mountain from the house towards the Arkansas River.  They were the first things to be built at the now four year old farm.

Lower terrace garden

All of Smith’s endeavors are supported or underwritten by sponsors.  He also has books, videos, speaking engagements that help fund his interests and support his people.  He works with experts and if those experts happen to be able to underwrite or contribute to his endeavors then they do. I totally understand that undertaking the kind of media and lifestyle company that Smith has built and continues to grow takes money– lots of money–and that relationships with sponsors are integral to that process.  It’s not easy living as a New Southern Romantic–it takes hard work, a great support team and passion.