"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Window Shopping: Rejuvenation

A recent expedition in search of authentic-looking reproduction door knobs led my husband, Justin, and I to Rejuvenation, a home decor shop situated in the historic Helms Bakery complex in Los Angeles. Friends had raved, the website looked intriguing, and (happily) the store lived up to the hype.

An unusual mix of one-of-a-kind found objects, vintage treasures and authentically styled reproduction lighting, furnishings and fixtures, Rejuvenation seems to have found a retail sweet spot.

Although similar to stores like Pottery Barn (part of it's parent company), Restoration Hardware, and perhaps even Anthropologie (without the clothing and soft goods), Rejuvenation offered something different, and the experience, like the merchandise, felt fresh. (Which is sort of ironic, since it's all sort of old, or old looking...but I digress.)

Founded originally by Jim Kelly as an architectural salvage shop in Portland, Oregon, Rejuvenation has become America's largest manufacturer of authentic reproduction lighting and house parts.

With only four brick-and-mortar stores located along the West Coast, the company continues to sell primarily through their catalogue and website

I have a feeling it won't be that way for long. You heard it here first.

In case you were wondering, we found exactly the kind of interior knobs we were looking for (thank you, Pattie!) -and of course, many other things that weren't on the list! (We'll be back!)

Now, I just need to find someone who can work with my old doors to put them on! Any ideas? Let me know.

Rejuvenation's industrial designer Tim Wetzel: A video about his process & style.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

California Wine Month: Van Ruiten Family Winery

Lodi, California lies East of San Francisco and about an hour South of Sacramento. It's a small town surrounded by grape vineyards and when I was a kid, most people knew it only as the dubious inspiration behind a well-known Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

That was then. A funny thing happened after I moved away more than twenty-five years ago, Lodi got cool. (Coincidence?)

Now, when I visit my hometown, I'm not just driving down memory lane, I'm smack dab in the (self-proclaimed) Zinfandel Capital of the World boasting its own appelation and enough wineries and tasting rooms to rival Napa Valley. 

On my most recent trip, I stopped in at the Van Ruiten Family Vineyards to buy a bottle of 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel (dubbed the Best Zinfandel in the World by a Wall Street Journal wine panel in 2007) and found myself on a fantastic backstage tour -no I didn't let myself in...

Actually, I was skulking about the premises taking photos and waiting for the tasting room to open when I had the good fortune to run into the family's newly hired winemaker, Matt Ridge. I'm pretty sure I startled him as I snapped away behind an old grape press, but he recovered quickly and graciously offered to take the boys and I on a tour (probably to keep me from trampling the flowers). We were thrilled.

We entered a cool, cavernous building stacked with aging oak barrels and pallets of hand-picked grapes. The strong scent of wine filled the air.

 Matt gave us a brief history of the winery and a glimpse into the process of wine making.

A view into a 2,000 gallon vat of fermenting Chardonnay.

The Van Ruiten's story is one of the American dream: John Van Ruiten, a young, Dutch immigrant, arrives in the U.S. shortly after World War II with the idea of growing quality grapes and producing fine wine. Through hard work, sweat equity and a farm bought on a handshake, his dream took root and John and three generations of his family have grown the business to become one of the largest suppliers (approx. 1,000 acres) of grapes in the region. 
  In 1999, the family decided to expand beyond their role as a grower for large wineries, and to harvest the best of the grapes for their own label. In 2000, the second half of John, Sr.'s dream was realized. The Van Ruiten Family Winery had arrived.

Today, the winery is a state-of-the-art, environmentally-conscious facility and although Matt was enthusiastic and knowledgeable in his explanation of the wine making process from start to finish, what I retained was: no one stomps it with their feet anymore. 

That, and the fact it never ceases to amaze me how much hard work, passion, and technology go into things we take for granted.

Recently, Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, declared September, California Wine Monthand if you haven't started celebrating yet -there's still time. 

I think I'll break open that bottle of Van Ruiten. Cheers to making dreams come true.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Out and About: Scout Vintage Finds

 Karen King is my version of cool.

 A theatrical costumer, Karen also creates a line of millinery while owning and operating, Scout Vintage Finds, a small shop of vintage collectibles and original artwork in Gloucester, Mass. This past weekend Karen reports she relocated her millinery studio into the shop as well. "Now it feels like all the pieces have fallen into place...I hand-block the hats on antique hat blocks, then finish and trim them with vintage findings. Voila, new hats with old soul."

Instead of fracturing her focus, the pursuits dovetail beautifully. An artistic flair for presentation shows up throughout well-merchandised displays, and I would bet front row theater seats that her passion for vintage and historic detail merits kudos in her design work.

Curtains up...

Karen says she has had a fondness for vintage, "ever since I became aware that this world is full of beautiful, well-crafted things that happen to be old."

 "The kind of shop I was dreaming about didn't exist, so I guess I created it," says Karen. "It's an unexpected combination that works, because it was created with passion and love."

 "I've surrounded myself with pieces that possess a quiet dignity, or beautiful design, or playful humor. I painted the walls delicious colors, I listen to great music, I bring in treats I've baked and offer them to customers. I do all this simply because I can. That's the gift, the amazing thing: you can do what you want - it's your shop!"

"I think about my shop and what's in it all the time," says Karen who admits she is constantly on the hunt for new finds. "And when I'm out and about in my world - which looks like your world, just older - I'm always looking for gorgeous things to bring back to the shop...and for [customers] to bring into [their lives]."

During my visit, Gloucester artist, Linda Bourke's work was featured on Scout's walls. Bourke is also the Chair of the Illustration Department at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Her dangling sculptures made from found objects, repurposed wood and recycled bits were chock-full of personality and spirit. LOVED them! The wooden-bits people are priced at $125 and the seed-pod sculptures are $75.

When asked to describe herself in 3 words:
(Sorry, it's 4!) "Born in another time."

Karen has this advice for kindred spirits considering their own endeavor: "Open!"

"I love this Bittersweet lyric..."The only thing that makes it a part of your life is that you keep thinking about it. If you absolutely love what you're doing and selling, others will respond to that. So, do or sell what you love to do or sell...because if you don't, who will?" 

"Don't become distracted by what others think you should do," says Karen, "and you will receive lots of suggestions...And don't pay any attention to the naysayers and vampires! Surround yourself with those who encourage and support and love you. Unless your idea is truly untenable (and your friends will let you know if this is so) keep moving towards your dream. It's your dream."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Country Living Blog Contest: You Are Not A Winner (yet!)

About this time last year,  I was reading Country Living Magazine, one of my favorites, when I came across an article profiling the winners of their first annual blog contest. Intrigued, I logged on to each of the winning sites, and even those of some of the runners up. Huh. Cool stuff.

I liked the winning blogs, but imagined how I would do things differently.  I loved the idea of working on my photography, and a blog would be a great excuse to finally get around to some home improvement projects and seek out inspiring people and places -all in the name of the research! Brilliant!

I decided to give it a try, and set off into the blogsphere like a pioneer with fresh horses and a vague idea of how to claim my land and riches. That was in December. Yee-haw and giddyup! (To steal a line from wildly successful blogger, The Pioneer Woman. Okay, actually, I just imagine she says stuff like that...but I digress.)

Six months and more than 100 blog posts later I entered my own efforts into the magazine's 2nd Annual Blog Contest in the lifestyle category and waited. And waited. No phone call, no one at the door with balloons and an over sized check -oh right, different contest. Still, nothing. Except for that creeping sense of knowing something you don't want to admit.

But no one enters a contest to lose, and I clung to hope with what some may describe as stubborn willfulness, but I like to think of as faith in miracles.

Two days ago, however, while skimming through my Twitter feed I was forced to face reality in 140 characters or less. Time was running out to vote for the finalists of the blog contest, tweeted the folks at Country Living. Finalists.

Surrender Dorothy.

I went to the site and clicked on the links of the finalists with a mixture of dread and jealousy.  Confirming my fears, and to my complete horror, the finalists were nothing short of amazing. Beautiful. Something snapped. I immediately sought escape and found myself staring into the cool recesses of the freezer contemplating ice cream before lunch.  Luckily, however, as the cool air rushed out at me, the voice of my Weight Watcher leader intervened in my head, and I took the dog for a walk instead. Daisy was thrilled. In my next life I want to be a Goldendoodle.

As Daisy pranced through our route and I trudged along behind, I thought about something I read years ago about how jealousy should be used as a tool to discover what you really want out of life. The author proposed that when we feel the green-eyed monster make our stomach turn leaden and our darker sides emerge, we should take note of exactly what it is that is making us feel that way because that is the direction of our own heart's desire. Then we can plan and act accordingly to achieve something similar. It's advice I have never forgotten. 

Thankfully, jealousy doesn't strike me too often,  so as I considered the winning bloggers I thought about what they had that I wanted and how I could make that happen.

Looking at the websites of the finalists, I realized that there are many ways to improve This American Home. I just wish the process were easier. Learn new ways to utilize my computer, think creatively and work hard? Okay. What's my other option?

Seriously, though, I'm going to give it a try. Back on the horse.

In the weeks ahead keep an eye out for tweaks, updates and experimentation with format and content. If you like a change, let me know, and if you don't, let me know that too.

We're in this together. Win or lose -let's enjoy the journey.

P.S.: Country Living is going to be announcing the winners in November, so stay tuned, I'll be sure to post them here!

Photography: Courtesy of the Country Living Magazine website

Monday, September 17, 2012

On The Map: Rocky Neck Artist Colony

 During last month's summer sabbatical, I thought of you often my dear blog friends, I really did. Not in a creepy, stalker sort of way, but more along the lines of, Wow, I can't wait to share this!

 Rocky Neck Artist Colony in Gloucester, Massachusetts is one of those wish-you-were-here destinations.

America's oldest continuously working art colony, Rocky Neck has been inspiring and nurturing artists (including world renown talents: Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Frank, Vuveneck, Childe Hassam, Milton Avery) for more than 150 years.

Overlooking busy, Gloucester Harbor, of movie (Perfect Storm), and reality TV show fame (Wicked Tuna), the galleries and restaurants along 'the Neck' are charming, authentic and utterly unassuming. Save the attitude for elsewhere.

In spite of a distinct lack of posturing, the folks and the work they do here are the real deal. Painters, potters, photographers, print makers, jewelry designers, ceramicists and fine furniture makers live and work in an atmosphere of community and creativity. (with great access to lobster and fresh-off-the-boat seafood...)

The Rocky Neck Gallery is a cooperative exhibit space featuring a variety of work by the area's Art Colony members.

Sailor Stan's serves up breakfast and lunch April - December, and for dinner I highly recommend, The Rudder! Delish!! It's one of the places we return to every year and it's the perfect spot to spend a summer evening. Great seafood, fun atmosphere, a view of boats floating in the marina, and a glass of wine...

The jewelry store is a treasure box! Be prepared!

Although it's definitely a place that encourages visitors, it doesn't have a cheesy, tourist trap feel. It's more like the kind of place you feel lucky to have stumbled upon.

This year, one of the things I enjoyed most about my visit was listening to the artists discuss and describe their work and their process. In my opinion, that's not an easy thing to do -describe something so personal and visual.

Since I have once again signed on to participate in the Long Beach Open Studio Tour coming up in October I had an ulterior motive in listening more closely, and was particularly interested in observing how the pros presented and spoke about their work.

Although I have had great experiences showing my own pieces, and meeting people who for the most part are very kind (there was that group who thought my still life display was an appetizer...I totally get the confusion) I find the process more than a little intimidating.

Ultimately, I think it boils down to honesty and maybe not taking my-own-neurotic-self so seriously. 

 I especially loved the whimsical entrance to the Elynn Kroger Gallery, and I completely agree: wherever you go, there you are! It is, what it is. 

Wish me luck, I'm going to try and go with that.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Perks of a Work-in-Progress

It's hard to see the gifts that come with living inside a work-in-progress when it's well, in progress, but as my family and I suffered through the dust and indignities of our latest home improvement project I realized the journey had its perks.
When the contents of my home were pushed to the center of rooms and covered with plastic, the floor a patchwork of drop cloths and the whine of electric sanders droned incessantly, I felt the same way about people stopping by for a visit as I did when I lounged poolside nine months pregnant.
It's sort of freeing.

  You can suck in your stomach wearing that pregnancy poncho they call a swimsuit but it's not going to make one bit of difference, and the same goes for the dust and chaos. In a way it's a golden opportunity to let it all hang out. 

I should have had a party. Except I looked like hell and there were times I couldn't reach my desk to contact friends. At one point, I accidentally directed the painters to cut my phone line. My bad.

Plastic sheets taped to doorways attempted to separate the dust from rooms that were being worked on from rooms that weren't, but that was about as helpful as Lamaze breathing. Escape was futile. 

I wonder why there's no reality show about living in a house undergoing repair?  I may have to pitch that to the networks. A cross between Survivor and the Great Race, but with home projects. The scenario's got everything: endurance, drama, living by your wits, sleep deprivation, fight scenes, transformation, the ruthless culling of the weak, and ultimately, hopefully, a happy ending. I'm not sure where the hot bachelorettes come in, but maybe they could deliver the pizza.

Daisy loved the action. Look out reality tv.
Which brings me to my next point of adding restaurant expenses to the reno/revamp/repair estimate.

Sure, I've had friends who tell tales of washing dinner dishes in their bathtub (while very pregnant!), and others who cobbled together makeshift encampments in the backyard to cook for their young. No microwaves or take-out for these folks.  However, despite my fondness for Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and the fact I am about one-eighth (or is it one-sixteenth?) Native American I would have lasted about two seconds on the prairie. I've always believed if I did have an Indian name it would be something like, Lazy Squaw Who Sleeps in Shade. But I digress.

And why, during home repair, does it not only become acceptable, but encouraged to allow complete strangers into your house around dawn and then let them come and go as they please throughout the day? It's like getting a house full of roommates without filling out a "preferences" survey. Sure, everyone is going about their business, but what are the rules of engagement? Should we chat? Is it polite to just walk by your team of workers with barely a nod, or should you constantly think up new pleasantries: "Looking good!", "Wow, it's a hot one today!", "Team Cullen or Team Jacob?".

Of course besides the obvious work-in-progress advantages: not being able to fold or put away laundry because the dresser drawers are mummified and the closets boast shiny wet paint; significantly reduced housework; a free pass to eat dinner away from the chaos; and a host of new friends for the Christmas card list, I was surprised by another unintended perk: namely, my kids began to crave order.

All in all, they were pretty good sports about the disruption to their lives, and I probably wouldn't have voted them out of the house for several episodes, but as the project came to a close they developed a real appreciation for calm, quiet and clean. Not to mention a fervent thankfulness for TVs and video games that were unwrapped and plugged back in...but I like to focus on the fact they were actually thrilled to put their rooms back together and clean up.

At one point, they even rhapsodized about keeping those rooms neat and clean permanently. Where's the video cam when you really need it?

We're not out of the woods yet, our project is not completely finished and there will always be another repair on the horizon, but in my attempt to keep calm and carry on, I relied on two internal mantras, This too shall pass (you know it's bad when you revert to old English); and, I am grateful to have a home I can work on

And now, writing in a quiet house, with relatively normal levels of dust and clutter, surrounded by a few awesome repairs and a fresh coat of paint on the office walls, I remain very grateful indeed.

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