Monday, December 27, 2010

All was calm...

all was bright! Christmas Eve is my thing, the whole day and night. It's all the magic and mood of Christmas- the wonderful food and good cheer, friends and family gathered around a table, the late-night service- that comes before the opening of gifts that for me makes the holiday. And this year was no different: great friends, a wild mushroom lasagna, green beans with caramelized shallots, and piping hot chocolate souffles.

This year also consisted of variations on familiar themes: poinsettias and pine cones and splashes of red. There is something about a lush red poinsettia that is undeniably "Christmas". I've pounced back and forth between white and red poinsettias, but the constant has been to use either a terra cotta pot and saucer or basket to conceal the plastic growers pot. This small, yet important, detail creates a more earthy, richer look than the flashy foil liners the plants come with. Also something that I try to do is to raise the plants so they don't get lost in the shuffle. My stacked Chinese boxes and a wooded 'chessman' stool from Bungalow 5 come in very handy for this purpose!

Another constant in the past several years has been carnations (I know, I know- I sound like a broken record!) and this year, what's come in really handy has been these terrific glass bud vases from Crate and Barrel:
The one I really love is the taller necked vase with the bulb base. These were perfect for small, festive arrangements of red carnations with a stem of Star of Bethlehem that mixed with my grandmother's Canton bowl filled with gilded and plain pine cones that created a nest for my faux red apple and berry sphere, or several Stars of Bethlehem stems and a cuff of galax leaves.

These can make a florist out of anyone! I have to say that I try to have at least a dozen of these handy at any one time for dining tables, side tables and for gift giving. A pair of small arrangements in these vases can make a very personal gift (the recycled Tiffany box is an extra touch!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Merry Red Christmas!

I'm sure Bing and Elvis would change from white and blue Christmases to red with this as their inspiration.

I think carnations are simply amazing! They last forever (if they are fresh and you remember to change the water, they can last a good two weeks), have a wonderful clove scent (which you can intensify by adding a few drops of clove oil in the conditioning water), and give a great pop of color. What else can you ask for in a fresh flower?

This is the counterpoint to the more whimsical white carnation arrangement in the candy cane vase from last week. This is a bit more dramatic with its mix of the deep burgundy and bright scarlet red flowers and the use of the black glass cylinder, but it still says Merry Christmas!

Again, I use boxwood cuttings as the matrix (this time, all green, not variegated as with the white arrangement) and also incorporate the mini variety (in the deeper red, all the wholesaler had!) but also added a shiny galax leaf cuff around the base of the arrangement to finish it off. Also added as a flourish is the stalk of a carnation spike, almost as a feather in the band of a hat. Sometimes you run across these when cleaning the flowers, and I definitely save them for this purpose.

These would look great in a team down a long dining table or by itself on a smaller table with candles as a centerpiece, or on a coffee table or end table. They mix well with traditional Christmas greenery and plants like red poinsettias and white hydrangea, and you can readily find them. The thing you have to remember is it always takes more flowers than you think! This arrangement has about 50 stems. By the way, if you're in Phoenix, you can stop by Stupid Cupid, voted Phoenix's best gift shop, and see this in person. This arrangement was made for the store. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past...

The first book about working with flowers that I bought was Ronaldo Maia's Decorating With Flowers, which was published in 1978. I bought it about 10 years after its publication, and while some of the ideas might seem out of favor at the moment, there is still a lot of inspiration to be had, and it is still a great source of ideas!

One of Ronaldo's ideas that has always struck me as charming is his candy cane vase arrangement. For my interpretation, I use white carnations, which are such great flowers to work with! I know, I know, Sex and the City's Charlotte HATED them ("They're filler flowers!" but Carrie LIKED them, "especially the pink ones"), but they can be quite spectacular when they are on their own, and NOT used as "filler flowers"! And for Christmas, I have two "go to" carnation arrangements that I love: the all white arrangement, which is in the candy cane vase, and the tonal red (cardinal and scarlet) arrangement in a more simple container (a black glass cylinder looks really slick, or use a silver vase for a more festive look).

Today it's about white and the candy canes. I had a lot of practice creating this arrangement... When I worked for Los Angeles custom florist, David Jones, I would make two of these each week that would be delivered to Harry Winston, Beverly Hills. For the jewelery store's arrangements, we used clear glass cubes, but it works equally well in this cylinder. David taught me that this technique uses more flowers than you think you need! In this vase there are about 50 stems altogether. The matrix of the arrangement is oregonia, which resembles boxwood, and then the flowers are worked in. Another touch that David taught me is to also use the mini variety in the arrangement, as well. The buds and smaller blossoms create texture and movement in the arrangement, and loosens it up a bit.

For the vase, again, more candy canes than you think are needed. This vase took about 70 canes! I used to make these by taking florist clay, which comes in a long ribbon, and creating 2 rings, an upper near the opening and a lower, near the base. This clay never dries, but does its job holding the canes. This last time I thought I'd use a glue gun (channeling my inner Martha!), but quickly found out that once water was inside the vase, it broke down the bond of the glue on the glass. Some of the canes loosened up... go figure! If you don't want to use the clay, or want something more permanent, use a glass cement made for adhering things to glass.

After the canes were attached, I tied a piece of red grosgrain ribbon around the cylinder and tied a simple knot.

For a different look, here's the same technique in an antique silver waste pot, which is from my grandmother's tea service. Also in this shot is another idea from Ronaldo, his galax wrapped votive candles. I love these and use them all the time on my table!

Monday, December 13, 2010


The whole process of setting up a home can be daunting. Whether you are remodeling or refurnishing a space you're already in, or moving into a entirely new space, it often is a good time to reflect on who you are as a family, and what story your home tells. I've written about New York Social Diary before, and recently, in their NYSD House section, there is an interview with New York designer Campion Platt, in his city apartment. In the interview, Platt discusses his process he undergoes with his clients and that, with the client, he first develops an overall story to tell. Once the client signs on to that story, he then can present a few options within the parameters of the story and say,  "If the story is this, then it follows that these are... two options (of x) that work in this space... I'm very pragmatic about it. I try to stay to that storyline so that the theme runs all the way through."

When asked the difference between 'story' and 'inspiration' his response was, "You have to have a story before you can become inspired." His approach is a cerebral one and that inspired the writing of a book, Made to Order, which delves into this approach in more depth.

Having a story. It's a large part of what makes a house a home. Often times, storylines aren't completely obvious, but people just seem naturally comfortable in spaces. This usually elicits questions about what they see or experience in the home, and gives the homeowner a chance to share a bit of themselves and their own history. That's what a home should be, a collection of stories that tell about you and your family.

When asked the story of his family's apartment, Platt said his wife wanted a white, downtown loft which he infused with a more "with it" vibe. Based on the photos, it looks like that story rings clear!
An oversized painting by artist Hunt Slonem hangs on a wall behind a Swarovski Crystal chandelier suspended from the dining room ceiling. A LED lighting system diffuses a soft purple hue across the dining space of the loft. The dining table and chairs are designed by Platt.

Friday, December 10, 2010

All Aglow

Many of the shelter magazines have a last page feature, and Elle Decor has its Etcetera page. In this month's magazine (Dec/Jan), the page features candlesticks, appropriately enough. Like many things, candlesticks can be very personal. Some people like a mix of materials and styles, and others keep to a more tightly curated collection. Among the candlesticks featured in in this editorial, one caught my eye, the Mandara candlestick from ABC Home. These are oversized turned, natural pine and are really beautiful (the black Del Mar beeswax tapers would look spectacular in them!). Their classic shape belies the rustic nature of them, and they come in different sizes from 12.5 inches to 26.5 inches tall. They'd look great as a pair, or grouped together on the table or sideboard, or mixed in among your other candlesticks and are priced extremely well. I love my brass sticks, don't get me wrong, but these might just be finding their way into the mix as well!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let there be light...

Light. It's so important, especially at this time of year. The natural light is diminishing as days are becoming shorter. Family traditions and winter religious rituals call for a different quality of light. For me, there is no substitute for beeswax candles.

For my whole life, I can remember Del Mar candles in our home. There was a lovely store in my hometown, The General Store (don't let the name fool you- it was a pretty fancy store!), that carried these and that's where my mom purchased them. She had quite the collection of old brass candlesticks that needed to be filled that had been given to her by my grandmother. Ivory was the color of choice, but after a time, she began to mark the seasons with different colors: red for Christmas, blue for spring/summer, green for fall...My grandmother's collection always had black, which was such a great look!

Needless to say, I caught the brass candlestick bug. I keep a part of my collection on the Baker sideboard that I've written about before and have found no better candle than the Del Mar beeswax solid taper in ivory. The candlesticks are very old and have a beautiful glow to their finish- all I do is wipe them to shine them up. Every once in awhile, they do get a bit of a polishing, but I don't like them when they are too gleaming bright. Silver, yes, but brass, no! The sideboard also has my mom's creche on it for the holidays. It's the only one  I've known and was hers as a child. I love the peeling paint and the patina of over 80 Christmases of use on the figures ...

The General Store is no more, but living in West Hollywood for years I easily found a source for the candles. Then the move out to Phoenix... no luck. I tried other brands of beeswax candles, but they failed. Either the wick didn't light or it would be buried in wax after a lighting and then need to be dug out- not a good look. Then, success! I found the source, the Holy Grail of the Del Mar beeswax candles! The story of the Del Mar candle is as compelling as the product itself:

Ferdinand Knorr came to the United States in 1904 after fleeing from his native Poland and the Russian Czar. Tinkering in his machine shop and enjoying his hobby of beekeeping proved to be a successful combination. Fred produced an improved honeycomb for his bees and his famous candles soon followed ... candles that were drip-less, smokeless and had a gentle fragrance.

The candles were developed in 1928 and initially sold to gift shops and a local inn. The business has been operated by successive generations since 1950. Henry, Judy, and new owner Steve have made Knorr Candle Factory, which makes the Del Mar candles, a continuing success by using only the finest materials and holding on to traditional manufacturing methods. Knorr's high quality drip-less 100% beeswax candles with top notch wicks are a welcome addition to homes and are regarded truly as an art. They are the highest quality beeswax candle available.

The meticulous craftsmanship that goes into Knorr candles follows the industrious efforts of thousands of bees. 160,000 bees must travel 150,000 miles collecting nectar to produce 60 pounds of honey that yields only 1 pound of beeswax. Pure 100% beeswax candles burn at a rate of 1 to 1 1/2 inches per hour and should be arranged about 4 inches apart out of the way of drafts.

They are equally beautiful on the table and come in solid pillars as well as the tapers. They also sell sheets of wax and honeycomb candles as well as hollow tapers. But for me, the product to have is the solid taper for candlesticks and the pillar for hurricanes. They are expensive, but I truly believe they are something that is really worth their price.

There is nothing better than to bask in the glow of these beeswax candles. The gentle fragrance and the quality of light recall the great churches of Europe, but the good news is that they are made right here!

Monday, December 6, 2010

In the Christmas mood!

We had another wonderful class this past weekend! The rose variety we worked with was Vendela, a soft ivory rose. The students were eager, the roses plentiful, and the outcomes beautiful! This classic soft colored rose makes for a beautiful arrangement, classic and modern. But with some additions, it can become a very cheerful Christmas arrangement.

In the last photo, I mixed in some silver brunia, red hypericum (variety called Dolly Parton, go figure!) and ceder in a black cylinder.

The first cut is the deepest... A good clean cut on the base of a flower will help allow it to hydrate.
Establish your points! Setting compass points for your arrangement helps you know where you're going!
Room for just one more! The technique works every time!

It's a wrap! Literally, wrapping up the class...
 In the Christmas mood!