Archive for January, 2010

Art and Soul

OK, I promise I won’t inundate you with redecorating posts, but I’m gonna sneak one more in because I have a question for you guys.

What kind of art do you like to have around you in your home? (I mean, if you DO happen to like having art around you.) And by ‘art’ I’m not necessarily talking high-brow stuff, I just mean any type of decorations on your walls or on your shelves that makes your house feel like a home to you. It can be paintings, prints, photographs, figurines… whatever! I’m curious because, as I mentioned before, I find myself drawn to a lot of the same kind of subject matter in all kinds of different forms and I wondered if you do too. In my case, I always lean toward figural art, especially paintings that feature people (mostly women) with very arresting or kind of mysterious faces. That’s not the only kind of subject matter that interests me, I also like landscapes, trees, birds, and things from the art deco period. I like photography, especially black and white pictures, and I have some wonderful scenes from New York that are framed in the downstairs powder room, but I particularly like paintings- oils, watercolors or sketches.

When we were in London this summer I met this fascinating older gentleman at the Portobello Road Market. He had a small booth just off of the main street with some beautiful watercolor paintings of what appeared to be interiors, or rooms. They were vintage, apparently from my favorite eras which are the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. The gentleman told me that these sketches and watercolors were actual set designs from theatrical productions that had been mounted in London’s West End theatre district. He had worked as a stage manager for years, and every time they were preparing for a new play the designers would sketch and paint their ideas for the sets. Over the years he had amassed quite a collection, dating back to the early 1900’s, and he used to have a little gallery where he sold them exclusively. He had recently retired and he came to the Portobello Road Market every week to sell off the last of his inventory. I just LOVED everything he had, and I finally decided on two of them: one was a watercolor, not quite finished, of an outdoor scene with people in a park. It is beautifully worn with some crinkled edges and you can still see the pencil marks the artist made to center his drawing. Here it is:


And here it is in my den:


**The other painting I bought is a formal drawing room set, very stylized with a chaise lounge and a candelabra. The colors are gorgeous, rich corals and teals. I hung it in my bedroom:


I’ll try to get a photo of two more of my dark, mysterious women paintings and post them later– especially that one over the couch that Momma Lloyd keeps trying to get me to move! But I want to leave you with the latest addition to the house. I found it at an antique mall here in Nashville that I just love called Gaslamp Antiques. I spotted him– yes, it’s a HIM this time– hanging on a wall and he got my attention immediately. For one thing, he cuts quite a dashing figure. Lord Ward (that was the name on the tag) is standing under a draped curtain of sumptuous red velvet, and he is striking a formal pose with one hand in his pocket and the other one holding a walking stick. He is dressed to impress in a flowing coat or robe of some sort over a black suit with a string tie and a gold watch and fob. His hair (what there is of it– dude is kinda losing it on top) is white, as is his Van Dyke moustache and beard. Is he a Shakespearean actor? A judge? I had no idea, but something about his oh-so-serious pose just delighted me. He appears to be taking himself very seriously. Everything about the painting was so over the top theatrical that I wondered if it had maybe been part of the decoration for a movie or play– it almost looked like a caricature of an old family portrait. I reluctantly left Lord Ward at the mall, though I was sorely tempted to take him home– the booth he was in was having a MAJOR sale and he was marked down, which I feel sure would be quite an insult to his dignity .The next day I called Gaslamp and asked if they would talk with the owner and give me any information he had about the painting. They called back and said that the owner had bought it at an estate auction from a grand old home in Atlanta, and that though he didn’t know a lot about it, he did indeed think that it had been used in a theatrical production of some sort in the 30’s, but that it might also actually be a representation of a real person because on the back of the painting it said “Lord Ward, MP”– which means Member of Parliament in England– and it also said “drawing room”, which was probably where it was to be hung. Well, come on. ANOTHER picture that was used on a set, from the same era as my other two, AND the subject represented was from London? Obviously Lord Ward belonged in the Taff home.

I enlisted Madi to help me and we went the next day. I counted on her to talk me out of it if need be, because like me, she is very picky about faces– it’s all about the expression in the eyes. When she was little she chose every teddy bear and beanie baby by carefully examining every single face out of a shelf full of seemingly identical toys until she found the one she responded to. I told her we needed to sit for a minute and spend some time with Lord Ward and make sure that his pompous pose and serious face was something we wanted to live with in our house. Because there’s another issue with Lord Ward that I haven’t mentioned yet– he’s FREAKIN’ HUGE! This is a large painting, folks. Madi and I sat side by side on a bench in the booth and took a long hard look. “I like him,” Madi finally pronounced. “He looks like he’s trying so hard to be impressive, but he comes off looking kinda dorky. And if we hang him in the den, he will be looking directly across the room at that hoochie lady in the painting over the couch, so it’s kind of like we’re matchmaking!” It took a burly antique store worker to load him in the car, and it took Madi and I both to get him in the house, and it’s gonna take Russ to get him hung on the wall, but ladies and gentleman, may I present to you…

The Honorable Lord Ward!


(Isn’t he fabulous?! I told you he was huge!)

OK, your turn. What kind of decorative items do you respond to? What kind of art makes you risk a hernia carrying it up the front stairs? Do tell!

By Popular Demand: Fireplace Before and After

OK, “popular” might be a little strong. Actually “demand” might be a little strong. The truth is I’ve gotten a few random casual inquiries about that fireplace I was whining about painting a couple of months ago,  like, did I actually ever finish it? In my book, that translates into Popular Demand, so here you are.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, lately I have been poring over a lot of home decorating blogs and I really love those ‘before and after’ photos! I’m the kind of person who needs to actually see an example of something in order to successfully mentally translate it into what it might look like in my house. (Looking at a 5 square inch wallpaper sample does me no good, but seeing a photograph of a whole room covered in it gets my creative juices flowing… OK, wallpaper is a bad example– after stripping 4 rooms full of wallpaper when we moved into this house because I’m too cheap to pay someone else to do it, I doubt if I will ever use it in my life!) Decorating blogs are so inspiring to me. I’ve made my peace with the fact that any house I ever live in will never be totally “done” as far as decorating goes; it will always be a work in progress, because I keep changing my mind every time I see some wonderful picture of a particularly stylish/unusual room. Also, the voyeur in me just loves a peek into other people’s houses! So, in case there are any fellow nosy people reading the ‘bloomr this morning, this one’s for you.

Now, let me go on record as saying I have nothing against brick fireplaces, or brick in general. Gloria Gaither has a beautifully weathered old brick floor in her kitchen that I just love, and my mom’s house has a great brick fireplace in the living room that matches the brick counter island in her kitchen. But the den in our house– which is between the entry hall and the kitchen with french doors that lead out onto the deck– isn’t a huge room and the wall o’ brick seemed a little overwhelming. It has cherry-stained wood wainscoting and crown molding that would probably make the whole room kind of dark  if there weren’t the french doors and another window in there to let light in. And I am all about the light, folks– I always gravitate towards natural light, and in my opinion there’s no such thing as too much of it so I want to maximize what I’ve got. The brick fireplace goes all the way up to the crown molding, and trust me, it’s a LOT OF BRICK. I toyed with several ideas (Box it in with wood and then paint it? Tile over the brick with marble or travertine?) before coming up with the idea of just painting it to match the walls, which are a warm, light gold color called Warm Muffin. I wanted to keep the mantle, which is a big chunky one stained to match the wood in the room.

**Here are a couple of ‘before’ shots. This one is from Christmas a few years ago–there IS a mantle in there somewhere, it’s just kinda buried in nutcrackers.


** Prepping everything before I started painting took a while. That big honking mantle just lifted right off, but Madi and I almost dropped it because we sort underestimated the WEIGHT of it.


**I meticulously taped everything off with painter’s tape, which takes forever but I really didn’t want to get any paint on the wainscoting or the rug.


** (I like that bright blue painter’s tape better than that boring ol’ tan masking tape, don’t you?)


**Next I removed the grate, cleaned and swept out the interior of the fireplace which was really messy. After sticking my head waaay up inside of it with a flashlight, I finally figured out how to get the glass door unit out, too. I’ve never liked those doors, they were shiny ‘builder’s brass’ and those little wire mesh curtains that keep the sparks from popping out were permanently off the track and coming apart. Once I finally got the sucker out, I could see that the strips of insulation inside were shredded and just filled with ash and dust. All in all, the whole thing was in bad enough shape to justify replacing it with something newer and less… shiny.


**I prepped the brick by using a wire brush to get rid of any loose mortar which was actually messier than cleaning out the dang fireplace! It left a fine layer of mortar dust EVERYWHERE, but luckily I had already covered most everything in big plastic sheets. The brick soaked up the paint like crazy– I used a roller with a really thick nap and it took at least two coats. I let the first one dry overnight and finished up the next morning. Madi helped me put the gargantuan mantle back up, I replaced my art deco watercolor (another 1920’s pensive woman, go figure) and my two Old Time Pottery vases, and voila! Finished!


**Here’s a last shot (in natural morning light– I just love how this paint color changes subtly during the course of the day) with the new plain black glass fireplace doors. In person the doors are not as stark and black-hole-ish as they look in this picture, it’s just kind of a more understated, unadorned look and doesn’t draw attention away from the other things in the room, which is what I was going for.


So, whaddya think? Opinions are welcome– I understand that to a lot of people painting over brick is a criminal act, so you won’t hurt my feelings if you prefer the ‘before’. Also, let me know if this kind of post is remotely interesting to you or not… I’ve got a lot more ideas percolating around in my head (fed by my new diet of home decorating blogs), so nothing in this house is safe right now… There might be a lot of ‘before and afters’ to come, if you’re interested!

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