December 18, 2017

Last Minute Holiday Shopping Ideas

We are less than a week out from Christmas and if you haven’t already started your shopping yet, you better get a move on it! As a public service, I have a few last minute ideas for your consideration.image

One of my long-time favourite places to get last minute gifts is museum shops! Each and every museum on earth (practically!) has a museum shop generally featuring an array of goods which reflect their mission. Our local historical society has re-purposed an old store-front to use for their shop, which features a selection of consigned goods including old silver and china, and some antique furniture.image

Does your town have a fun and funky shopping street? Baltimore’s Hampden neighbourhood, close to where I live, is four blocks of small independently-owned shops. I love shopping at these little stores because their merchandise is always unique, and I know that my money is staying in the community, and not going off to some mega-corp somewhere else. image

Another great idea, but maybe one that’s too late for this year, is the local craft/maker shows that are so popular. One here in Baltimore, the Holiday Heap o’Craft is held in an old church and is absolutely packed with makers and buyers!image

A very simple gift is a few paper-white narcissus bulbs, along with some stones and a glass container. Garden centers and big box home improvement stores usually have the bulbs and you can pick up glass stones and glass containers from the dollar store. In the depths of January and February, it will be nice to have some blooming flowers!image

Food is always welcome, especially if you make it yourself. Fellow blogger, Pinecones and Acorns, had a great seasonal recipe which I can’t wait to try out. It’s an easy Cranberry-Apple Chutney, which would be beautiful paired with a soft goat cheese and a box of water crackers, bundled on a fun cutting board. Click the link for her recipe. She also has a few other quick and easy last minute food gifts. image

In the past, I’ve made caramels, imagemy father’s lemon curd, image

candied grapefruit peel, image

and puff pastry palmiers or elephant ears from Ina Garten’s recipe. image

Finally, a trip to your local antiques mall or auction house can yield a unique gift or two. I like to pair an great tea-cup and saucer with some elegant teas. image

Or a single plate loaded with some good cookies. image

Or an elegant knife, paired with some exotic cheeses.image

Regardless of what you choose, the main thought is to keep the recipient in mind.

December 13, 2017

Holiday Decorating

Traditionally, I don’t do too much decorating at my house, mainly because I am almost never home, and the dog really doesn’t appreciate my hard work. I put up a few flameless candles which actually look pretty good and won’t burn down my house. I burn my favourite Thymes Frasier Fir candle which makes my house smell amazing. I also have white lights strung on my huge gardenia which is looking rather pitiful after I left it outside too long and most of the leaves turned brown.

I love looking at other people’s decorations and appreciate the work that goes into making them beautiful. I adore white fairy lights, and the new tiny bee lights and think they can look magical.


The holidays are a time to be totally outrageous and over-the-top with your decorating, using items like these oversized bows!image

This is a super minimalist decoration that could actually be used all winter. I might add a few shiny red balls on the mantle.image

My favourite shop in London, VV Rouleaux, has a wonderful oakleaf spray that can be used for a range of decorations. image

And here are some holiday decorating pictures from VV Rouleaux’s owner’s house in the English countryside. (article here)image





Even if you just use some glass balls and sparkly lights, you can bring the spirit of the holidays into your home.

December 6, 2017

Picking A Wreath

For many years, I made my wreaths by hand, picking magnolia and boxwood branches and trying to fashion them into an amazing artistic expression. Mostly, it went okay, but with much sweating and swearing. My ambitions and aspirations are great, but my talent is limited.

I think that this was a cheapie wreath from Ikea with a ton of boxwood tucked in behind it.image

My friend, Andrea, is a master of wreath-making!image

I bought a bunch of pheasant feathers last year, and think they make a great addition to a wreath.image

I did this one year. I collected tons and tons of vintage ornaments and glue-gunned them to a wreath form. Hung it on my front door.
Then it rained, all the glue dissolved and the ornaments fell off. I was broken-hearted.image

I really love magnolia leaf wreaths, but I might embellish this a little more.image

Like this one with some gilded leaves and a few tiny lights.image

In a fit of insanity one year, I made this cranberry wreath. It was gorgeous but I don’t know if the glue-gun burns were worth the effort.image

It’s always fun to collect pinecones on a fall walk in the woods. image

Last year, I bought Williams-Sonoma’s jingle bell wreath. This year, I think I will re-visit it with some sprigs of boxwood surrounding it.image

November 21, 2017

Lunchtime Safari

Luckily, my office is in the center of the city, and I always try and get out for a bit during lunch, just to clear my head and get some fresh air. I can get almost anywhere in the city and back during my lunch hour, so I set a goal of a building to see or a neighbourhood to explore and see what I can get done.

I’ve hashtagged images from lunch as #LunchtimeSafari, so that I can easily access them on Instagram, although some other people have snuck theirs in as well! Take a look…

A dramatic sky and a little photo-editing combined to make this moody photo.image

I stumbled across this gorgeous Georgian-style school building, only to find out later that it’s by the same architecture firm that designed my offices in 1909. image

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this is also Ellicott & Emmart, the architects of our building. image

Speaking of which, this is my offices, built in 1909 and overseen by our ghost, Marcia. IMG_0004

St. Katherine’s Church looks like it belongs in a country village, not the heart of the city.image

I just found this Italianate villa, perched on the top of a hill overlooking Baltimore. image

This is part of the Montebello Water Filtration plant. I love the Moorish look that this has.image

This is on the same property. I think it would make an amazing house!image

The old Beaux Arts Congress Hotel. image

I love discovering new-to-me buildings, and revisiting old buildings that I’ve known for years. Thanks for coming along!

November 13, 2017

Team Tea Caddy

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a project with two friends: the exhibition “As Precious As Gold: The History of Tea Caddies from the Bramble Collection.” Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, we call ourselves Team Tea Caddy because each of us has had a critical part in putting together the exhibition, which opened last week at Homewood House & Museum in Baltimore: Mark Bramble is the collector, Stiles Colwill is the curator and I am the tech support, photographer, scribe and general dogsbody.image

In the early 1700’s, tea was as precious as gold, and was parsed out in small batches, and kept in a place of honour in the home, often under lock and key. imageThe journey from China to England, Europe and America was long and arduous and so tea was quite expensive when it reached its final destination. And today, after water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world.

If you were affluent enough to have tea, you stored it in decorative containers that would be brought to table and the hostess would mix the tea with hot water in the presence of her guests. imageThe word “caddy” comes from the Malay Chinese “kati,” which means a measure of tea weighing about a pound and one-third. By the second half of the 18th century, tea mania had taken hold in Europe and especially in England where it was all the rage.image Of all the different items used in the tea service, the caddy is the object upon which craftsmen and artists lavished their greatest skills and materials.image

Mark Bramble, who is a Broadway author and director, has traveled the world with his shows, and that’s given him the opportunity to also scour antique shops and markets searching for tea caddies.imageHe took over the collection from his mother after her death and has made it into one of the best and most extensive in the world.

Because he wanted to share his knowledge with the world, in conjunction with the exhibit, Mark has also published an accompanying book, A Tea Caddy Collection. image

On Thursday, November 16, a reception, tour, book talk and signing will be held at Homewood House and Remsen Hall at Johns Hopkins. imageMark will discuss his multi-generational collection as well as stories of how and where he found some of the caddies and the history of tea and tea caddies.image

The event is free, but you must make a reservation here. I know that it will be an amazing evening and you won’t want to miss how beautiful these caddies look in a historic house of the same period. I hope to see you there!

November 6, 2017

Dinner in the Barn

On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be invited to “dinner in the barn”, which, on first thought sounds like it might be a hoe-down or a square dance. But I assure you, it was neither. Okay, I concede the food was country-like with amazing fried chicken and a delicious cobbler, but everything else was more elegant than most people’s homes!IMG_5768

The barn is a big rectangle, and in three of the corners, little gathering areas had been set up to have a cozy chat with a few friends. IMG_5786


There were seven tables, ranging from six to twelve seats at each. Seating was a combination of Chippendale-style chairs, small love seats, benches, and casual bamboo and cane chairs at each table. Old chairs had all been re-covered with fabrics in a variety of brown and green prints, some the reverse of others. IMG_5764IMG_5773IMG_5779IMG_5791

Many of the tables had the same cloth, but all had the same china, silver and glassware. The centerpieces varied wildly – one had a classical staircase in the center, IMG_5769another had a rosemary plant, IMG_5776and a third had a small farm scene. IMG_5784

The walls were lined literally from floor to ceiling with artwork the hosts had collected over the years. The pictures ranged from early 19th century architectural plans to an assortment of male nudes (my view at dinner!). Small vignettes of farm life dotted the tables, like this one of the farm’s two pet steers, Alexander and Napoleon. IMG_5815

Despite the heaving rain outside, the inside of the barn was warm and cozy, lit by iron chandeliers hanging from the rafters, table lamps on many surfaces, and dozens of battery-powered candles scattered everywhere. IMG_5775

All in all, it was a great celebration of the opening of our friend’s tea caddy exhibition and the publication of his accompanying book… more on this in the next post.