Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Garden Structure

I woke this morning to a fresh dusting of snow. It blanketed the lawn and garden with a downy quilt, tufted by the undulating greenery that is our simple border garden. At the end of the row stands a moss-covered stone cherub. In his snow cap and cloak, he stands sentinel as some form of punctuation, pausing the eye before it explores further into the woods.

My little friend reminded me this morning of the power and importance of structure and hierarchy in the garden. When abstracted to its simplest form, as ours was in its snow-covered essence, a garden should have a clear, legible concept. Because we split time between Martha’s Vineyard and our Vermont home, I have not had a real garden since our days as innkeepers. But the principals of good design are pertinent on all levels, from formal parterres to simple flower beds.

When planning a garden, I like to think not only of the context of the environment (Solar orientation, nearby structures, approach and point of view), but also of the experience and story it wants to tell. And so, I look at the layout as the story outline that will be in-filled with colorful words and phrases. However, it is the permanent forms which add punctuation and structure that outlive the panoply of seasonal greenery.

Whether intended as passage or pause, the offerings of garden elements are unlimited. Garden gates and paving materials speak of movement and regulating the gate at which you pass through the experience. And while benches and shelters are often literal destinations for pause and reflection, garden sculpture acts as visual respite, and a place to stop, observe and mentally regroup.

Sentinel Lions from Barbara Israel Garden Antiques

Sentinel Lions from Barbara Israel Garden Antiques

There are many different styles and aesthetics of garden elements. If looking to add a sense of history to your landscape, one of the East Coast’s greatest sources is Barbara Israel Garden Antiques in New York. Her inventory of both period pieces with significant provenance and impeccable reproductions is unparalleled.

A Pair of Munder Skiles Benches by John Danzer

A Pair of Munder Skiles Benches by John Danzer

For a fresh approach to garden furnishings, check out John Danzer’s hand crafted designs at Munder Skiles. His updated pieces add elegance in their abstraction and grace of form.

One of my benches photographed in an historic garden setting

One of my benches photographed in an historic garden setting

I like to bring color to the garden that doesn’t rely on what is in bloom. Painted pieces that compliment your pallet can add an exciting pop of color like a Cardinal in a snowy woodlot.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Re-use, Replace or Reupholster

When working with clients on interior projects, one of my first tasks is to inventory their existing furnishings and artwork. I am often asked by my clients the benefits of reupholstering versus buying new furniture. Here there are a number of questions I ask to establish the viability of recycling a piece of upholstery.

A well loved family sofa re-invented as a fun focal point

A well loved family sofa re-invented as a fun focal point

Does the piece have sentimental value? Was this your father’s chair that was reserved solely for him when you were a child? Does it evoke visceral memories of pipe smoke, single malts and newspapers?

Is it beautiful? Ignore the thread-bear arms that are held together with duct tape. Does it have sensual lines or unusual massing. Think about it as if it were a person. Would you be interested in knowing it’s story if you met it on the street?

Is it exceptionally comfortable? Does it have the perfect seat depth for your extra-long legs or the ideal angle of repose for napping?

If you cannot answer one of these questions with a resounding “yes”, it may be time to reassess your relationship with this house-mate of yours. And while jettisoning an old couch and finding a fresh new shape might be OK in the world of furnishings, I don’t recommend taking this approach with spouses prior to serious soul-searching and intense counseling!

The truth of the matter is that, depending on the condition of your frame and internal support system, it may be cost effective to buy a new piece altogether. Some things to look for in an older piece might include:

A well made antique wing chair midway through restoration

A well made antique wing chair midway through restoration

  • Solid hardwood frame construction with mortised and pegged connections
  • Hand-carved details (And not those that are “hand-carved” by women and children on a production linein an emerging country)
  • Horse-hair stuffing and edge-roll
  • Down filled cushions
  • Hand-tied springs

One of my closest friends, Isaiah McCauliffe, is an exceptional upholsterer. And I am often intrigued by seeing his patients lined up in the waiting room, ready to go under the knife of this skilled cosmetic surgeon. Each has a story. Some are nostalgic, like sofa that was laden with presents every Christmas morning for as long as memory serves. While others are tragic, like the chair with three broken legs that was the collateral damage from a dormitory brawl, or the couch who’s back panel was chewed by a teething puppy.

This chair is NOT too far gone and worth the investment of reupholstery!

This chair is NOT too far gone and worth the investment of reupholstery!

My friend, Isaiah, was quick to remind me not to give up hope when you think a piece is too far gone. Even with internal organs trailing across your living room floor, that beloved ottoman may be salvageable. “It’s what I do!” said Isaiah, referring to the reconstructive surgery of his trade.

If, once you have weighed the pros and cons of the decision of rehabilitating versus replacing a piece of furniture, you still cannot decide, flip a coin. If you’re not happy with the outcome of the coin toss, you had already made up your mind!