Sprouting up at the Botanic Gardens

Booth“a pair of re-imagined chairs receive a dramatic debut”

Chairs beforeLast weekend I had a terrific time participating in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s “Antiques and Garden Fair.” I was invited to provide the furnishings/set for the “Style Blogger Panel” held at the fair that Saturday. From there I decided to take on a booth and put together a small space519 pop-up for the weekend; prominently showcasing a few furniture items I had scouted for the occasion (pictured above).  Central in this dual effort were a pair of Square Chairs circa 1960s. The chairs came to me from Coyle and Herr (a most favorite resource run by my friend MB Coyle and her partner Dot Herr). They were found in a Lake Shore Drive apartment – covered in dated green and white polka dots  – and most certainly surrounded by loads of chintz (pictured above, bottom left). However, when I first saw them I instantly recognized that they had great lines and solid construction. Back in my workshop the chairs were completely reworked.  First order, I removed the skirting around the bottom and had the legs stained dark black. Next up the chairs were completely reupholstered in a felted grey Ralph Lauren flannel. As always, my upholsterer did a masterful job – maintaining the overall square effect of the chairs while softening things a bit through the subtle curved lines on the cushion. These Chairs received a lot of attention throughout the fair and found a great home on Chicago’s North Shore. Not bad for a pair of old bitties.

imageFor the blogger panel set (pictured above) I paired the Square Chairs with a few other great pieces.  An Gilded Italian Rope Coffee Table circa 1960s, a vintage Iron Chair with Moroccan Details and Brass Finials (enhanced by two new midnight blue velvet cushions), a pair of circa 1970s Victorian style Elephant Garden Stools (which I had restored by the folks at Broken Art Restoration), and a Teak “Hand Chair” (an homage to the style made famous by noted Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg), and some great Hand Painted Throw Pillows from designer John Robshaw.

medium_reedhambiscuitsThe panel was a huge hit with solid design observations from The Peak of Chic’s Jennifer BolesStylebeat’s Marisa Marcantonio, and design historian Emily Evans Eerdmans. But the discussion was certainly dominated by the moderator, the ever-amusing Julia Reed (noted writer, Southerner, cook, Garden & Gun contributor, and a generally savvy lady). Things scribbled in my notebook while she talked: Marshall Biscuits, Sister Schubert Yeast Rolls, Spinach Madeline, VD Spinach, Tomato Aspic and Reed’s cookbook, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialities. So typical of me, listening to a panel about home design and all I focused on was the food.

botanic gardensWhat a terrific spring weekend.  If you haven’t been to the Antiques and Garden Fair it is well worth attending. They have a remarkable mix of vendors in a truly gorgeous setting. Look for us at the garden again next spring, we are already thinking about our booth enhancements for 2014.  And in the meantime, since spring seems to finally be upon us, head to The Chicago Botanic Gardens for some terrific botanical inspiration. I was really taken by the green houses, filled with lush plants and trees in widely varying hues of green accented with small pops of color throughout (see photograph left ).  Perhaps I’ll even vary my all green and white outdoor color scheme at The Richmond this summer.  After all, a man can not live on box hedges alone.


Chicago Botanic Gardens
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440


Celebrating The Year of the Snake

Chinese New Year“A Uber Stylish Chinese New Year’s Dinner inaugurates Canada House”

My good friend Toni Canada and I christened her new pied-a-terre (hereafter dubbed Canada House) and ushered in the new year (the Chinese one that is) with a fabulous dinner party in her stylish new Gold Coast home. The setting – her over-sized dining room which was transported to the far east with a table filled with potted orchids (tagged as gifts for departing guests), vintage silver chop sticks and antique blue and white porcelain (collected by Toni and her sister), rolled lunar calendars with favor boxes at each place (I learned I was born in the year of the dog), and dramatic white paper lanterns hung in each of the three gigantic windows (a dramatic contrast against the illuminated city scape beyond).


The ten guests began their evening in the living room with 5-Spice Pear Cocktails created by dinner guest/mixologist Amanda Puck (a signature drink she created for the Evening). Dinner started with a velvety smooth hot and sour soup made from scratch by Toni (see recipe at the end of this post) and homemade pot stickers which we pan seared. We divided and conquered on the 4 entrees, each created from scratch, and all served family style. There was Rainbow Chow Fun (wok fried noodles with lobster, chicken and filet), a classic General Tso’s Chicken (lightened up a bit with crispy white meat), Fiery Garlic Shrimp (spicy Schewaun flavors were a common across all dishes) and Dry Woked Green Beans with Mushrooms. And for dessert a deliciously light 20 Layer Crepe Cake ordered from Lady M’s in New York (served with fortune cookies of course).

The evening was a huge hit. Our main takeaways: authentic woks make the cooking process loads easier (I loved the Joyce Chen Carbon Wok I bought for us at Sur Le Table), the organized and pre-prepped mise an place made cooking à la minute possible (there was grated ginger and garlic for days), the steamed white rice we picked up from a Chinese take-out place next door was a super smart call (it easily reheated in the microwave and saved us that step while we were simultaneously woking the 4 entrees), surprisingly all of our ingredients could be found at Whole Foods (however using authentic Asian brands made the difference flavor wise) and I personally couldn’t have made my portion of the menu without the wisdom of blogger Diana Kuan (her book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook is now stocked at our store). And finally we both gained a heightened appreciation for ordering Chinese in. In fact we considered finishing the night by going next door to the aforementioned Chinese restaurant to buy the kitchen staff a closing round. But instead I somehow ended up toasting our success around the corner with a last call martini at Gibson’s.

Canada House Hot and Sour Soup
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A Cozy Chic Birthday Supper

Kimberly Birthday Dinner“a stylish December birthday dinner sans kris kringle”

I helped my friend Randy Burt with the decor for a 35th birthday celebration he hosted for his wife Kimberly – also a dear friend of mine.  I too have a December birthday, so I know the angst of seeing Santa invade your big day.  Accordingly, my motif was cozy winter with lots of feminine flourish for the very girly guest of honor..

The dinner was a seated affair in the basement wine cellar of the cozy and always delicious Rustic House in Lincoln Park (kudos to their talented chef Jason Paskewitz). And to keep things super intimate we decided on one long narrow table keep everyone a part of the same celebration.

Kimberly’s favorite flowers are hydrangeas, so to stay in the spirit of the season I paired them with sprigs of winter greenery and white queen anne lace . To build on the outdoor forest feel I lined the clear round vases with pliable 1/16″ sheets of birch bark. One long piece of thick cedar roping bisected the table, weaving through the center pieces.

Kimberly with CakeAlong the long cellar wall I draped twenty yards of fresh cedar roping (accented with juniper) along with metallic pennant banners and jute letter flags which spelled “K I M B E R L Y”) both constructed from children’s birthday supplies found at The Land of Nod. To keep it extra cozy, I turned the lights way down and let three dozen candles (votives and tapers) light the room. It almost felt as if we were dining by firelight.  And then the cake arrived – glowing like a torch in the dim room.

All in all, a warm, chic celebration in the city.  What more could a birthday girl wish for?


“Chairs For Charity” Santa Fe Berger

I was excited to be asked to participate in the 5th Annual DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) “Chairs for Charity” event held on November 7th at Consentino.  The event was sponsored by Chicago Home + Garden Magazine and featured the designs of 15 area design professionals.  The parameters were clear – we were asked to take a vintage chair and rework it as a submission for the event’s silent auction.  My inspiration came from trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico – where my parents live. On my last trip I came across this handsome and very old Mexican Blanket at a local resale shop. In spite of its age, the color and condition were fantastic. The blanket served as the primary upholstery for a circa 1960s Bergere Chair which I came across at a North Shore estate auction. For the piping and trim I used a silk burlap which complemented the geometric pattern in the blanket beautifully. The deep honey color of the wood strongly framed the piece – reminding me of the waxed wooden vigas seen in and around New Mexico.  At the end of the night my chair sold (woo hoo), the perfect finale for an inspiring and affirming night.