Renovation and Decoration Report

Is It Copy Cat Chic? Or Is It Just Copying?

Lately the design press has been full of incredibly liveable eclectic spaces, none more so than this NYC apartment designed by formerly rising star – now arrived – Nick Olsen that was just featured in the August World Of Interiors. What caught my eye were the mass market bookshelves, the very same Ballard Designs Sonoma Bookcases I have in the TV room here at the shore.

WOI Nick Olsen bookcase 1

Positioned on either side of the fireplace, they are beautifully arranged by color, but have a natural well-used character to them and not that overly styled look I am not a fan of.

WOI Nick Olsen Bookcase 2

I looked pretty closely at them because back when I got my Sonoma bookcase (on the left), I hadn’t realized that Mecox had their own version, the Provence Open Shelf Baker’s Rack (on the right) priced about 4 times higher – $499 versus $1995. Now ironically, the real Copy Cat Chic blog holds up the Ballard Designs Sonoma Bookcase as the expensive option, comparing it to lower priced similar versions from Overstock and the like. So it becomes a copy cat spiral from high to medium to low to lower.

Ballard Designs Sonoma BookcaseMecox Gardens Provence Open Shelf Bookcase

I look back at this NY brownstone that Nate Berkus designed for Katie Lee, Billy Joel’s ex-wife, having assumed he used the Ballard Designs version, only to come to the conclusion that these look more like the Mecox Garden variety. So my question for you is whether this is such a classic vintage inspired shape, produced by many, or is it a copy of something original?

Katie Lee Joel Nate Bekus Brownstone dining room bookcases

The bookcase has been on my mind because yesterday saw the installation of my long-awaited curtains in the TV room and I’ve been wondering if I should shift my bookcase over a bit.

TV room sonoma bookcase curtains

As my long-term readers will know, I had been hemming and hawing over pulling the trigger and purchasing this Brigitte Singh Cream Hibiscus Branch fabric – choosing between it and its companion Hibiscus Flower Buta – until I almost missed out and was only able to get the final few meters available from Aleta Online last year. Luckily, my ingenious seamstress and I were able to come up with a plan to “stretch” the fabric, using a matching linen and framing the panels in such a way that I actually prefer it to just having used the one fabric.

Brigitte Singh Hibiscus Branch TV room curtains

Since buying my fabric over a year ago, I have become addicted to a fairly new online site called Jaypore, which is a bit like an Indian version of One Kings Lane and the other limited sales time sites. The prices are fabulous, many of the goods are really lovely and the shipping is free. One of the items that caught my eye was this bed sheet, which costs all of $35 and is 60″ x 90″, basically 3 meters long. That’s a lot of yardage for $35! In the right space you could line it to make very inexpensive curtains. I may cut it up to make Euro shams for my elder daughter’s new bedroom decor in Doha. Either way, it was a fabric bargain.

Jaypore Indigo Motif Bed sheet

But the truth is that it is the Brigitte Singh Hibiscus Flower Buta pattern exactly – no bones about it – if you look below. Now what I don’t know and would love to, is whether these patterns are so traditional that they have entered into the cultural lexicon, or whether it is a unique design that has been copied, again a similar question to the one above. When I think back to the block print flower I used on the walls in my bathroom, I do know I have seen that particular flower pattern before and that there were multiples of the block available for purchase at the shop in Singapore. I think I’ll have to write to Aleta and ask her.

Aleta Cream Hibiscus Flower Buta

So how do you feel about copy cat chic? It’s a complex question as it addresses everything from income divides to intellectual property rights. I’d love to hear from you on the topic.

On a lighter note, for more on the Nick Olsen project, including this boldly colored dining room with its ship chandelier, head over to Mark D. Sikes.

WOI Nick Olsen cover ship chandelier

And there is so much of this rich teal and blue going around these days, that I may have to revisit it in yet another post!

Addendum added August 15, 2013

I heard from Aleta and wanted to share her personal thoughts with you.

I just snuck a peek over at your blog and read your post on the Jaypore site and the ‘copycat’ issue, and as it’s quite an emotive subject with Brigitte Singh, who is the creator of your Cream Hibiscus fabric, I thought I should share a little more information as well as my own personal view on this very hotly debated topic.

From the beginning, Brigitte has always worked with the ancient motifs and floral designs of Mughal India to create her textiles. In some cases, her prints are faithful reproductions of historic textiles, using the ancient and traditional method of block printing to produce them. I don’t think Brigitte herself would ever suggest that she should have the exclusive right to print Mughal designs, but that is often how her point of view is interpreted by critics. In fact, where a design is taken directly from an archive reference, it is already often produced, quite legitimately, by other manufacturers -the Cream Pise, for example, is also made by Bennison in England, and Green Antelope by Caravane in France. I myself reproduce Mughal designs quite independently of Brigitte when it’s appropriate to do so.

The general argument for ‘copying’ is that the designs belong in the public domain as Brigitte’s original inspirations were sourced from designs that belong to no one, but the situation is more complicated than that.

Some prints like the Poppy, Cypress, and your Hibiscus have also been derived from historic textile pieces, but over the years Brigitte has refined the lines, changed leaves, colours, and subtly ‘tweaked’ the designs. This is when the issue becomes quite a grey area: Brigitte’s own printing blocks in the past have been stolen, these in turn have been recarved and recarved, and several ‘generations’ of printing blocks on, what you see being produced by some block printers in India are not reproduction Mughal prints, but reproduction ‘Brigitte Singhs’. Her printing blocks have also been used by the printers, without permission, to print for other companies.

Brigitte has built her reputation on two things: first, the quality of her textiles is completely and utterly unrivalled. This includes the printing process itself, from the skill of the block carving, to the fineness, accuracy and complexity of the actual printing; it includes the quality of the cottons and hand woven khadi that she uses to print on; finally, it includes the haute couture tailoring and exquisite attention to detail in her soft furnishing pieces and garments.

Second, the way that she puts together the disparate parts of various ancient designs -combination of borders, the layout and scale of motifs, and in particular her amazing use of colour, has created a very distinctive and instantly recognisable trademark. This is very personal to her, it has come from her own unique heart and soul, and it cannot be created by anyone else.

I would have no qualms about seeing or even purchasing the same print as one of Brigitte’s if I know that the original source of inspiration came directly from a historic textile piece (the exception to this is the Poppy, but I am irrationally protective about it because it was her very first and is still hugely popular), however I am concerned when I see her very particular combination of designs and colours being reproduced, often randomly and of poor quality, regardless of where Brigitte’s own original sources came from.

My personal feeling is that buying any ‘copy’ is ultimately a false economy -it will never compare in quality, or have the same sophistication, and it certainly won’t have provenance, although I try not to judge too harshly as I think we’ve all been guilty (if that’s even the right word) of it at one time or another. I do believe that you should always buy the best that you can afford -and if you can’t afford it, buy something different that you can afford and doesn’t compromise on quality. It is far better, creative, and honest to forge your own individual look based on the budget and lifestyle you have, rather than try to emulate someone else’s, possibly unattainable, style. But I’m starting to stray into social discussions far deeper than copyright! I’ll leave it there, and I hope I’ve provided some insight and not just gone on a long ramble. :-)

Related Posts:
A Television Solution From My Notting Hill and Ballard Designs
All Tied Up…Power Cord Bundling
So Long Summer…Vignettes and Views Around the House
Just in Time…Last Piece of Cream Hibiscus Branch From Aleta
On the Blind’s Side…Sudare and Curtains

Today’s Column

So progress on the house has been moving a bit more slowly than I would like this summer and I am struggling to find the pieces I want to finish up the bedrooms. We had a dead and empty corner in our bedroom that I planned to furnish eventually, but it was not a priority and I wasn’t sure what I wanted there anyway. But the emptiness had been bothering me.

I checked in at a few of my my usual haunts and picked up this simple Doric style wood column. I’m not sure whether it was an interior or exterior architectural feature or perhaps more likely from a piece of built-in furniture, but I didn’t care. I had to have it and it was a bargain to boot! I brought it home with the idea stirring in the back of my mind that it might be just what I need to balance the French chaise and fill the dead space with some vertical interest. And I was right! It’s worth clicking to see the large photo for details.


The patina on it is lovely, although it is slightly rickety and needs a bit of love and tightening. I can’t date it for sure, but it seems to be late 19th or early 20th century.


Like I said, I hadn’t planned on one for the space, although I do recall this page from the winter issue of Lonny magazine catching my eye. This fluted column pedestal, in case you can’t read the fine print, is almost $1500. And good antique ones can be even more than that.

Lonny Jan Feb 2013

Now the big question about mine is whether I should add a plant…

column with ivy via my design chic

…a bust…

Suzanne Rheinstein At Home via Stylebeat

…a vase or urn…

Mark D Sikes House Beautiful

…or just leave it plain?

Column behind chair Lonny

Any thoughts on my column today?

Related Post:
Finding the Thread…Between Boston Ferns and Japanese Spools

Image Credits: 1-2. me, 3. Lonny December/January 2013, 4. via Design Chic, 5. Suzanne Rheinstein via StyleBeat, 6. House Beautiful December/January 2012, photo credit: Amy Neusinger via Mark D. Sikes, 7. Lonny June/July 2010, photo credit: Patrick Cline.

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 4…Full Reno Inspiration

So today’s post basically contradicts everything I wrote yesterday. Gut it all! Uncover the beadboard, uncover the wood floor. Get a counter depth fridge. Do open upper shelves, so I only need about 5 lower cabinets (which is not so expensive) and can panel and disguise the dishwasher if it still needs to sit next to the stove. I’d still want a repurposed island of some kind and I can still hang the ribbed glass pendant lights, and best of all NO MORE ALMOND!

I’ve covered the basics of inset vs. overlay doors, marble counter tops and farmhouse sinks in an earlier series of kitchen posts. My biggest conundrum for this kitchen is stainless steel. There really is no other attractive appliance option (in my budget anyway), but I don’t want a showy fancy kitchen. Luckily, I’ve thought of a solution to that which is to paint the cabinets a lovely dark blue-gray which helps to blend with stainless stove and refrigerator. I’m thinking Benjamin Moore Wolf Gray 2127-40 might be just the thing.

Benjamin Moore wolf gray

1 - Palenville kitchen - fixedI’m feeling grumpy though that this has become a massive trend as I have had a long-running love affair with this look. I renovated a kitchen in 1999 in just that way – dark purple-blue-gray cabinets with a Carrera marble top and dark wood floors. Digital cameras were not very good back then and this is the only photo I could find of the project before it was completely finished. If only all my photos weren’t on a container ship steaming towards Doha, I would have one to show of how nice it was when completed. The implication for me personally is that this combo is a keeper.

I’m going to run you through a stream of inspiration photos I’ve been saving, which I am sure you have already seen all over Pinterest. Sally Wheat’s kitchen started the gray trend although she has gray upper cabinets too.

sally wheat's kitchen  3 on cote de texas

The no upper cabinets/white uppers/white shelves came a little later…

grey doors and latches

Jamie Grey

blue cabinets white marble



white-upper-gray-lower-kitchen-cabinets HGTV via centsationalgirl

See how nicely the dark cabinets soften the stainless? It looks particularly good with open upper shelving as I’m not as much of a fan when it is paired with a big bank of white upper cabinets. These examples above all have white marble or marble-like counters but the gray also looks good with wood counters too…

gray and wood

gray kitchen atltanta homes mag wood counter

I’d like to use a combination of wood and marble surfaces in our kitchen with the island and the counter being different from each other. So as I’d like the island to be a “found” piece, it does make it hard to know which surface will go where. But I think I am leaning towards marble counters on the cabinets.

So stop and look at this photo one more time. Imagine a kitchen similar to the examples above through this doorway – the same dark wood floor as the dining room running into the kitchen, white beadboard covering the back wall, deep blue-gray cabinets, Carrera-like counter and the refrigerator out of your sight line and integrated into the cabinets. Imagine a more seamless color palette instead of the jarring switch from cool to warm.


Imagine a simple stainless range, centered on the wall between the windows (the asymmetry of the stove is another thing that drives me crazy) with either a real hood or no hood – I haven’t needed it for 4 years, so why worry about it now as almost everything is cooked on the grill outside? Maybe small shelves for spices and oils on either side. I can’t really use that 12 inch lower cabinet to the left of the stove, and we would narrow it down anyway when centering the stove and just use it for cutting boards/cookie sheets. We would also gain a few inches to move to the counter on the other side which will be important in the next paragraph.


The sink is a full 36 inch cabinet space and I would go down to a single bowl of 30 inches or more likely 24 inches – probably farmhouse style – which would free up more space. I think if I add the space from the stove side to the space from the sink side I might even be able to fit a small bank of drawers in between the dishwasher and stove and get rid of the appliance-touching-appliance look that I hate.


liebherr-integrated-refrigerator-CS1660And look at this beauty – the Liebherr CS 1660 – all 30 inches wide and 24 1/4 inches deep – narrower than what is there now and fully counter depth but with more and better cubic feet of storage. I’ve hated leaning over to get things out of the low fridge I currently have and much prefer freezers on the bottom. The house is certainly too humble to merit the expense of a Sub Zero and this is less than half the price and very well rated. It is simple and streamlined and tall enough to balance next to the pantry with nothing above it.

I’m searching desperately for a set of salvaged French doors that are a similar match to those into the kitchen as we would build out the pantry to meet the side of the refrigerator, making it substantially sized. The shelves have been designed so I can even put the microwave inside! And that bit of cabinet you see on the right lower side of the photo would be gone, replaced by the freestanding island. Since this kitchen will be less vintage looking, an antique island will be a key part of the design, providing patina and contrast.


So there you have it. Four days of unrelenting posts on the kitchen here at the beach. I’m sure there are some details I forgot, but I think you get the picture. Ideas? Comments? Opinions?

I’ll be reading your comments in London where the Duchess of Cambridge is patiently waiting for me to arrive so that she can give birth to the future heir of the British Throne. She knew I’d be grumpy of she did it before I got there. While hanging out in bonny England for the next ten days, I’ll be visiting markets and antique shops as well as some other favorite haunts like the shops of  Robert Kime, Ben Pentreath and Bennison. I’ll be on Instagram for sure and hopefully able to post from my iPad.

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 3…Cheap and Cheerful Renovation Inspiration

Photo links can be found on my Pinterest kitchen pages.

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 3…Cheap and Cheerful Renovation Inspiration


Each and every person who visits our house finds one thing about the kitchen more egregious than another. For my mom, the sink always looks and feels dirty. My brother can’t stand the false vent over the stove. Some people hate the cabinets, others the floor. You already know I can’t stand the behemoth fridge. But if I change just one particularly bad item, it doesn’t fix all the rest and may well not be what I want for the long term  - just a stop-gap improvement. And of course keep in mind that there is lovely wooden floor under the linoleum that would involve a full gut job to get to.

But lots of other people say “just live with it” or “be environmentally friendly” which is definitely worth considering. If we don’t gut it (and that is still on the table) or while we wait for the magic salvage items to appear, there is much that could be done to continue to improve the space. I have come up with a cheap and cheerful renovation plan – but the key to it is that I don’t want to spend more than $500. Seriously! Anymore than that and it starts moving towards a real renovation, which I don’t want to do piecemeal. That is the only way it makes sense, otherwise, we should go ahead and just renovate the whole thing.

A number of blogger friends have made silk purses out of their sow’s ear kitchens with very very small budgets, including Camille’s before…

Camille kitchen before

…and after.

camille kitchen after

Steve’s kitchen before…

steve kitchen before

…and after. Both used every trick of the trade, painting things that aren’t usually painted, styling techniques and eye-foolers – note they both have mirrors hanging on their backsplashes. You can read more about their journeys at their respective blogs, A Vintique Object and An Urban Cottage, where both happen to be talking about the kind of kitchens I like this week!

steve kitchen after

My plan rests on making my personal peace with the almond color of the appliances and the Benjamin Moore Linen White and thinking about it not as a compromise color, but as a real color, much the way I would with gray. If you told me I would have a gray and white kitchen, I would be perfectly happy, so the idea is to think of this as a beige and white kitchen. To add to it I would bring in warm metals like aged brass and copper (and in preparation I lugged all my copper pots back from Tokyo last year) and textured materials like baskets and wood cutting boards.

The first step is improving the cabinets and after being at a loss of what to do for a few years (laminate with wood edges! Impossible to paint!) I came across an incredible and easy DIY kitchen make over on The Sweetest Digs. In a three-part post (here, here and here) Gemma and Guy utterly transformed their kitchen with similar cabinets for almost nothing. They went from this…

sweetest digs kitchen before h

…to this by simply painting out the wooden bits and adding new hardware.  The ugly cabinets are still there, but so much less noticeable without those delineating wooden edges.

sweetest digs kitchen hardware

I could use the Linen White to paint out the wood parts of the cabinets and perhaps add some inexpensive but charming unlacquered brass pulls from Martha Stewart’s line for Home Depot (and I just noticed but these might be the very same ones Camille used in her kitchen.)

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 9.25.01 PM Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 9.25.18 PM

Gemma and Guy also did a bold peel-and-stick tile pattern on the floor, which wouldn’t be suitable at our place, but perhaps some kind of cork or a cream and white checkerboard would feel fresh.

sweetest digs kitchen after

Peel and stick flooring would let us cover the hole under the cabinet piece we would like to remove and we could get a great repurposed piece to use as an island. No matter what we end up doing in the kitchen, some kind of interesting island is a definite. I’ve written an entire post on that subject before and you can find it here. But how about something like this?

printers table on ebay

I’ve got lots of stash hidden away over the years (and I consider it all amortized in terms of this project) like this John Robshaw block printed cotton voile called Shree Teak (which he used to cover the lampshades in his bedroom by the way). It would make lovely cafe curtains hung from simple brass rods. Until we are ready to build out the rest of the pantry, I have enough to make a curtain to cover the doorway of that too.

John Robshaw Shree Teak

Another coup is this pair of ribbed industrial pendants I probably bought and put away 15 years ago. I rediscovered them in the basement (along with other goodies) and I love them just as much as I did when I bought them. The only expense involved with them is the electrician to hang them. And again, whether I go with a cheap and cheerful or a full gut, these are definitely going up!

pendant lamps

Some vintage brass cookie cutters from the Oedo Antiques Market in Tokyo would look sweet in there too!

vintage brass japanese cookie cutters and crimper

If I want to be ambitious, we could take down the upper cabinets and hang simple wooden shelves. One again, that’s an idea I am serious about no matter what plan we go with! Heather Bullard has a lovely kitchen with a corner nook by the window that I could mimic between the window and refrigerator. I even have that basket and plenty of white ironstone already. And look – its beige and white and pretty!

Heather Bullard kitchen

So that’s plan number one. It’s cheap, but it involves a lot of labor on my part. I’d need to take down upper cabinets and add wooden shelves, peel and stick a new floor, paint out wood edges of cabinets and install pulls, sew and hang cafe curtains, hire electrician to hang the pendant lights and finally style and decorate with accessories. What do you think? You might want to weigh in now, or you might want to wait for tomorrow’s post to see which plan you vote for.

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally

Aaron Hom kitchen from HB via deliciously determined

The closest photo I have ever been able to find of what my kitchen may have looked like originally is something like stylist Aaron Hom‘s at left. It’s a simple small white space, with a layout not too different from mine, not fancy – note the inexpensive old fashioned white refrigerator – but it has something I absolutely love – original kitchen cabinets with old glass doors. The counter is just wood and there is not a drop of stainless steel in sight. It just looks right in terms of time and place and if you scrolled yesterday’s photos I think you’d agree. Had the base color of my appliances and kitchen been white, I think I could have turned it into something approaching this, but the almond and the knowledge of the hidden wood floor and original beadboard under the sheet rock on the back wall (which I forgot to mention in the previous post) leaves me hungry for something more.

I still can’t help fantasizing about original cupboards – I just love them – in particular as so many of today’s fancy kitchens look all the same and just don’t suit my humble cottage space.

original cabinets HB

It’s an obsession I’ve had for years and it crushes me when I watch people rip out lovely old butlers pantries to make modern giant kitchens.

antique wooden kitchen cabinets

Even cobbling together old doors looks great.

Sean Scherer vintage school locker cabinets CL1111 pc Dana Gallagher

If the house couldn’t come with any original cabinets, why couldn’t it have had an old cast iron sink with an integral drainboard? Here one is set into some original cabinetry…

original sink and drainboard

…and here done in a more-for-looks-than-function newly installed old style. I just don’t think I can cook for 20 – and often we are that many – with a room that looks like this, however pretty!

Andy Newcom antique porcelain kitchen sink

I also love original wooden counter tops and drainboards and they are authentically found in houses here along the shore.

kitchen wooden drainboard martha stewart

Look past the cute girl playing dress up (which is hard to do cause she’s so cute!) and you can see one in my friend’s house nearby.

Screen shot 2013-07-15 at 11.33.50 PM

But other than that aforementioned wall of beadboard and the pair of pretty windows, there is not much else old or original in my kitchen. The truth is I have been looking for four years, since we bought the house, hoping that some nearby late 19th or early 20th century house with original fittings will decide to remodel and somehow I will find out and be able to buy their stuff and magically make it fit.  A bit of a pipe dream I know! My local contractor laughs every time I remind him to be on the lookout. For a while, I was tracking antique kitchen cupboards like this one on eBay, hoping to adapt them to my space. The problem with this idea is that I can wait forever and as I have so little space, it might not be possible to make something logical and efficient.

butler pantry glass doors

So I know I haven’t really moved forward in my kitchen story by delivering a whole post on the fantasy of what the house doesn’t have, but it certainly gives you a sense of my mindset.

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently

Photo links can be found on my Beach House Kitchen Inspiration Pinterest page.

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