Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving and a Tale of Two Brothers

Window at Ehlers Winery in Napa, California
Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and it is this time of year I do think about what I am thankful for. I am always thankful for my family and friends, my health, for my continued opportunities to work with wonderfully enthusiastic clients who are so very kind. I am thankful for my sweet dogs who make me smile every day and for my home where it is a pleasure to wake up every day. There is much to be grateful for. 

But when I think about a small adventure I had last Saturday, it expanded my reflection about what I am thankful for. 

Original Stone building built in 1886 at Ehlers Winery
Tim, and I drove to the Napa Valley last Saturday with my Mom to reunite with some of my cousins that I rarely see. I have a cousin, Tom, who was out from Chicago with his wife, Anne. He had gotten in touch with a mutual cousin from another family and we all decided to meet for lunch in Napa. All of our parents were siblings: my father and Tom's father were brothers. Their sister was the mother of two more cousins, Norton and Frank, who met us at Farmstead in St. Helena for a delicious meal and much reminiscing. We got to know each other all over again after being apart for decades. It was a happy gathering and was way too short.

Bocce Ball in 100 year old Olive Grove
 I was thankful that we had the time together and also that we planned to renew our friendship by getting together again much sooner! While this reunion was so much fun, there is so much more that happened that day leading me to a moment of wonderment at the strangeness of coincidence.

After lunch, we parted ways with Norton and Frank, continuing on to our next destination: Ehlers EstateWinery. Now, Tim had made a reservation for wine tasting based on a recommendation from a friend. When we arrived, Tom declared that his mother, my aunt, had the maiden name of Ehlers. Just a little coincidence. I had never been to this particular winery, even though I have been to many and even though it is one of the very oldest in the valley. The 100 year old Olive grove is testament to its age.

I wandered around the grounds taking photos not even noticing that everyone else had already gone inside. The beautiful historic stone tasting room was built in 1886. It was a rainy day and lovingly restored by the current owners. I cannot imagine a better place to relax and enjoy the rainy afternoon. 

Ehlers Winery Tasting Room 
I sat down in a space reserved especially for us in a circle of comfortable couches and chairs with our own coffee table on which perched a little "welcome" sign. 

And then we met Nikki. Nikki is where this story turns..... she served us our first delicious taste of a Cabernet, which immediately warmed us up. I was sort of expecting her to pour the taste and go back to her other guests. But it turned out she was there to join us and tell us stories and listen to ours. Her story started with a description of the wine, but then turned to the establishment of the winery, its history, its current owners and what its purpose is today. And this is where the hairs on my arms rose up....

Notice the "heart" in the Ehlers Estate Logo
The Ehlers winery has a colorful history. Most recently it was  purchased by Jean Leducq and his wife, Sylviane in 1996.  Together they established Ehlers as one of the premier wineries in the region. Known  for their 100% organic farming methods, I personally appreciated the fact that a minimum of sulfates are added (I react those pesky sulfates with very irritating headaches!) After some years enjoying their success, Jean passed away in 2002 due to a heart condition, cardiomyopathy. Ownership of the winery passed to the trust of the Leducq Foundation which devotes itself to combating cardiovascular disease. 100% (yes, 100%!) of the profits from the Ehlers Winery go to fund research in the areas of Congenital Heart Disease, Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, Heart Failure and Stroke. The Foundation has awarded over $200 million in grants to fund this research as of 2011.

When Nikki told us this story, my cousin, Tom and I looked at each other in a bit of shock. We had been reminiscing all day about our fathers.....two brothers that were so very close that our families almost grew up like one. We cousins spent every summer together sailing and body surfing and generally carousing at the family beach house. Almost every weekend we spent at one family's house or another. Our fathers won international sailing races crewing for each other. They told us all stories of their youth as rascals pulling amazing pranks, some of which landed them in some trouble (Dad ended up picking peaches for a summer as punishment for one particularly bad prank.....but that is a story for another day.). There was one more thing they shared that was not so ideal. They both developed Cardiomyopathy, probably congenital, and both passed away at the young age of 54. Those were the days right before research developed strategies to combat this condition, and both families lost fathers way too soon....

Another coincidence, and another opportunity to memories bring Tom and I together on a rainy day in a cozy winery surrounded by people we love.

So we celebrated our fathers, two brothers, with a bottles of wine aptly named "120 over 80". With smiles at our good fortune to have had such great Dads and a wink in our eyes to each other,  we were reminded that "coincidence" may not be random after all. We were happy to contribute to the Leducq Foundation knowing our dads would have been happy we were toasting their memory with an excellent wine, and thankful we were together again.

Wishing you all the Happiest of Thanksgivings!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kit, and Kaboodle

There is something about rooms designed by Kit Kemp that makes me want to settle in with a good book. So I am so glad that book can now be Kit's very own! Kit Kemp has been on my design radar for quite awhile. I love her confident and striking use of textiles and her talent for layering patterns, her use of antiques mixed with modern and a strong dash of quirky accessories thrown in.

I was so happy to receive a copy of her book, "A Living Space" from the kind folks at Rizzoli! As you know, Rizzoli never fails to produce wonderful design books with beautiful photographs, wonderful quality paper, and gorgeous covers. I am not sure about you, but I do love a beautifully designed book!

So here is but a sampling of the talented Kit Kemp's work to get your attention.....

Kit Kemp's own home...so cozy an happy!
Kit Kemp resides in London, and it seems to me she does have an English flair in her approach to design. It all seems to be about comfort and livability while also being lovely. Antiques are prevalent, but Kit also brings in whimsical touches, Flea Market finds and contemporary art to bring a space to life.

Kit is also very well known for her co-ownership of the Luxury hotel group, Firmdale. She, of course, is also the design director. The hotels are in New York and London and can credit their success with the brilliantly stylish interiors. Many f the hotel interiors can be found in the pages of A Living Space, although it is sometimes hard to distinguish between private residences and the lovely hotels. In my opinion, that is why her hotel design has been such a huge success. They are luxurious, while personal and cozy and feel like a home away from home.

303 Convent Garden in New York....one of the many hotels Kit has designed.
Kit designs so many of the fabrics and rugs. It looks like almost all of her upholstery is bespoke. The fabrics that are not designed by Kit are often vintage textiles that are unique and so beautiful. Kit says she starts her design concepts  with inspiration from textiles.

Kit seems to be able to give herself permission to design both traditional and contemporary spaces without  any qualms. The thread that seems to hold her design quality together s the confidence to have a vision and see it through with a sense of humor and an adventurous spirit.

In the book, Kit writes about the elements she considers in her designs. She devotes a chapter to Bespoke and one-of-a-kind items and how they are so important to make a space one's own. She discusses the importance of keeping the scale of the architecture in mind bringing the outside scale into play with the interiors. She talks about mixing antiques with modern elements. Her opinion that the stories told by antiques are important for a modern space to keep it from being sterile. And vice versa, modern touches will help a traditional space from being dated and too staid. (A woman after my own heart!) She is a proponent of contrast...whether in style, color or texture. Mixing things up will always be more interesting. Kit also talks about bringing nature inside...using organic pieces in a space "to make it feel comfortable rather than grand". Hear, hear! And this is something anyone can do in their own home. Find and interesting branch and put it on top of an armoire.....put shells or rocks in a silver bowl.

And dogs.....Kit has a love of dogs, devoting a whole chapter to man's best friend. She uses their images in art, upholstery and accessories....and of course the living a breathing variety are always welcome!

She talks about collections....after all, life is a series of collections....of memories and things that help us remember.

Perhaps most importantly,  she talks about taking risks and also of living with things you love. Yes...we should all do that.

I love her philosophies about life and design....especially her opinion that....

 "too much is never too much."

A Living Space
by Kit Kemp, Hardie Grant 2012
All photos by Simon Brown

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Look Familiar?

Does anyone recognize anything in this beautiful garden? Anyone? Well perhaps you need a little reminder...

Tim worked off more than a few pounds building this wall fountain in our back yard a couple of years ago. Things have grown in since then and I have been meaning to take new pictures, but the season got away from me, and it was time to bring in the cushions for the rainy season. You may remember our foray into fountain construction HERE. It took some trial and error. And there are some things that in retrospect we should have done differently....not so much with the fountain wall, but with the pump system...(filters are VERY important it turns out.)

Anyway, more to the point....I had a reader who read the story and she contacted me about construction details. We have been corresponding ever since and Cindy emailed photos of her version of the fountain this October. I have to say, practice makes perfect. Her version is MUCH more polished and her back yard is gorgeous! Cindy has inspired me to do a little more polishing myself!

I love the wicker chairs, the verdigris clock that works so well with the table...and the pea gravel is perfect! Our plan is to have the concrete in our patio covered with blue stone at some point. We will be saving up for a bit there.

Cindy also sent photos of the rest of the yard including her zinc topped table. I am not sure if Cindy ever saw photos of our whole yard, but I have the same type of table. Cindy said a friend of theirs made the table for them. Great minds think alike.....Tim made our table base, and a wonderful metal worker I work with made the top for me. I promise to show photos of our table when the weather gets better! Here is Cindy's table:

And here is ours:

You can see I took his photo before we painted the house last summer! (That is a whole other story! I hope the painting gets done during the next dry spell.)

It is clear the Cindy has a very talented crew to back up her very artistic eye!  Thank you Cindy for inspiring me to finish up the back yard before next Spring! I hope it will look as lovely as yours......

Click on over HERE to see more of Cindy's yard and see what else she has been up to!