collecting: fern ware

I'm easing back into this blogging thing. Thought I'd start a series about collecting. As you may know Mr. A and I are pro shoppers. We like stuff. Especially the good interesting old stuff. You could call us collectors but please, do not refer to the things we acquire as "collectibles". It's just a term that makes me shudder. Conjures images of troll dolls and beanie babies (OK fine, I have a couple of beanie babies, but they were gifts from a former boss who was a crazy serious collector of them. Truth. She use to delight in telling us what they were all worth. Seriously hope she sold hers before the bottom fell out of that craze. But I digress). 

Alas, back to the topic at hand, which will be Fern Ware. Now, I guess, strictly speaking 2 items is not quite enough to consitute a collection. Let's consider it a burgeoning collection. This one started about 8 years ago when I gifted this Fern Ware box to my husband on the occasion of his birthday. We have a lovely tradition of buying decortive boxes for eachother. I will tell you more about the box collections later. Today is about Fern Ware. As it happens, we also have a soft spot for fern botanical prints, fern fabrics etc. When we spotted this box at an antiques sale we both admired it. It stuck in my head so I contacted the dealer after the show to see if he still had it. He did. It was fate. 

Fern Ware looks a lot like magic to me. It originated in Mauchline, Scotland (hence why it is also called Mauchline ware) in the 1820s and continued until 1933. The fun thing about Mauchline Fern Ware is that it is essentially a little DIY project that was turned into a deorative arts industry. The effect is produced by laying actual ferns on a sycamore wood object, colouring around the ferns using dark brown, removing the ferns and then varnishing the finished project. (By the by, I once overhead a young buck DIYer claiming ownership over this reverse print idea -- my eyes almost rolled out of their sockets - No, you most certainly did not invent this technique. Some poeple.) As an aside, the same town in Scotland also produced Tartanware. Also love.

Not long after, Mr. A found this pretty volume and gave it to me. It is the Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, 1870! So in love.

It's probably the most beautiful book we own.

As if I needed further convincing of its charms, here is the inscription in the most glorious hand.

1st Prize

Awarded to

Simon B. Briekes 

For general proficiency

in 5th Class

New Dundee March 23, 1870

C.B. Lawlor


Take another look at that P.

So beautiful.

my tweed kitchen lantern

photo: Donna Griffith

This isn't so much a blog post as it is a public service announcement. The public service is to help beautify the world one oversize lantern at a time. I dunno if it's thanks to Pinterest or what, but it seems my inbox receives a few inquiries per week regarding the light in my Tweed House kitchen, above. This shot is obscurely filed in the Interiors section of my site as the "River" project, so I haven't made it very googleable. And the sourcing is nowhere to be found. Sorry.

So here's the deal on the lantern. It's the Montgomery exterior pendant light by Troy Lighting in XL size in the charred iron finish with clear glass. It was installed in 2006 when I renovated the kitchen and I still love it, which is a miracle given how fickle I am. Here are a few other members of the Montgomery family:

Here's a pretty brass version (although, entre nous are you not tiring of the brassification of the world?). 

The closed top gives it a little more visual heft. I like, but for my kitchen I wanted maximum light emission since I had banned potlights.

The post light is a handsome devil. I chose the wrong post lights for our Tweed place and secretly wish I could switch them for these. 

If we ever get to the stage of replacing lights at the front door I'd like a small one of the wall version on either side of the door. This natural rust finish is interesting. If I were doing my kitchen today I'd be tempted to go for it -- has a nice patina.

Troy Lighting is widely available - click the Find a Distributor button on their site to find a retailer in your area. And the prices are very reasonable. I think I paid about $675 for mine in 2006. The antique versions I found at the time were $2,500 and they still needed to be rewired so add a could hundred for the final price. 

So that's the story of my lantern.

(The next most popular item in this kitchen is the island -- sorry kids, that's a one-of-a-kind antique. Keep your eyes peeled at antique shops or have a something similar custom made. Base paint colour is Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball.)


modern history

First of all, my goodness, my last post here was in July. Crazy. And the topic -- permits to finally get the work going. HA! Just two days later the whole shebang that was to be the summer of 2013 went waaay off the rails, including the startup of said reno. Whaddaya gonna do? Regroup, new plan and move forward.

That forward movement landed Mr. A and I in Washington, DC last weekend. We breezed in and out of there before that wench of a storm Sandy blew over. Our getaway was strange and wonderful. It was brief, so by no means did we cover all the sites. Mostly it consisted of a lovely party at Darryl Carter's new retail/studio space, a couple of strolls through Georgetown oggling the houses and popping into a few antiques and design shops (natch). The wind down was a gossip-drizzled brunch with the charming Mr. Charles Grazioli - the Watson to Mr. Carter's Sherlock Holmes.

One of the sites Mr. A and I did manage to see was this little gem:

This, my lovelies, is the oldest standing building in Washington, DC. It is simply and aptly called the Old Stone House and dates to 1765. This home was spared from the torches of those nasty Brits who set public buildings in Washington alight in August 1814, during the War of 1812 (oh, ya, that little war, oops, right, we won that one didn't we?).  A couple of things struck me about this building. First, it's stuck in a complete time warp while the 21st century world buzzes all around it. It shares the streetscape on a busy shopping thoroughfare with Urban Outfitters and MAC Cosmetics. And second, it may be an historical museum house, but it looks so Right Now that I'm quite sure I could move right in.

Remarkably, the house finishes and structure are about 85% original. Look at the massive Rumford fireplace, which would have been the heart of the home, cooking etc. I swear you could see a room just like this on Remodelista today with a pair of back-to-the-landers cooking a locavore feast for a Kinfolk dinner. And if/when the Tweed House reno restarts, here's my dream flooring of choice for the mudroom: reclaimed brick. J'adore. Herringbone is playing itself out on a million Pinterest boards, but here it is c. 1765 proving the original is always best.

More inspiration for Tweed: def. want to do a plate rack of some sort. Already have the pewter and crockery collections ready and waiting.

Please enjoy the thickness of those walls, the construction of that door and that hardware. 

The upstairs parlor looks like just the sort of room that you might see on the pages of Ben Pentreath's new book English Decoration. The detail and buttery-good colour of the millwork, the chandlelier, the table, the chairs, the floor - yes, yes and yes. I could walk in here and live -- and I don't mean done up in a historical costume as a guide. 

 another view.

This kids bedroom is tucked under the eaves on the third level. Looks so cozy.

Here is the master bedroom. The blues and greys are very soothing, and so modern. And if I'm not mistaken the colour oxblood is beginning to have a moment in fashion and beauty. The chest at the end of this bed would most certainly have been coloured with actual ox blood. Ok, I know, eeewwww. But still, beautiful box!

The mantel in this room is much more intricate than the other rooms - befitting the status of this room's occupant as head of house. I had to chuckle to myself when I saw the spinning wheel. Do you suppose this is the 18th century version of having a treadmill in your room? Looks it to me. PS. I would die for that floor.


permit time...again

About 6 or 7 contractors, 1 expired permit and more than a year since the first demo crowbar was wielded, we are, God willing, in "go mode" once again on the Tweed House project. The poor thing has been traipsed through by so many pairs of work boots and has witnessed heads being scratched by supposed "experts". One guy — an engineer with prob about 40+ years building experience — turned to me while we were assessing the way forward and said (and I can't make this stuff up): "I dunno, how do you want to do it?" Whaaaat? Seriously? Well, last time I checked I was a magazine editor, NOT an engineer, NOT a builder. SIGH.

On the bright side, we've had two consultations now with a serious expert with some serious credentials and he and his guys have us on their calendar. Incidentally, he bears an uncanny resemblance in looks, manner and voice to Mr. A's big brother. Do you ever take something like that as a sign? Mr. A and I both found it very reassuring. Like a sign. We're like that.

So tonight, fresh drawings, filling out forms and crossing fingers for permit issuance. Next, a little break and after that....all systems GO!

This will get way uglier before it gets better. Check back. Loins are girded. 

how to make a rope stair rail

I'm cheating again with a double post. This pretty photo runs in the May 2012 issue of House & Home and it just happens to be the back stairs at the Tweed House. The rope hand rail that my Dad and I installed about 6 years ago was a perfect jumping off point for a lovely story produced by Joel Bray and photographed by Angus Fergusson. You can find my step-by-step instructions for the rope rail on the House & Home blog. Meanwhile, here are a few other favourite rope rail images I love. 

photo credits: 1. Angus Fergusson via House & Home. 2. from the book Sailing Style by Tricia Foley, photo by Michael Skott. 3. Thom Filicia Soho Mews project. 4. 5. this image is a great web mystery. Nobody seems to be able to find the original source. I saw it on the City Sage blog. 6. Les Indiennes wallpaper by IVM Prints. 

recent acquisition: silhouette

While I continue work on trying to consolidate, revise and create posts about the Tweed House, I thought I might share with you this little gem. We picked it up a couple of weeks ago at a semi-regular antiquing haunt. I actually have a small collection of silhouettes at the Tweed House. None are of animals alone, though two are of figures on horseback. I love the detail in this piece. I'm a DIYer and I also don't hesitate to hire professionals to give a piece a facelift, but I must say it is particularly thrilling to find a piece that is perfect just as it is. Makes the buying decision so much easier. She's in now in Tweed awaiting our final decision on her placement. Or, maybe she's a he? I could always ask a neighbour, since it's a big hunting town :-(