Renovation and Decoration Report

Form Versus Function…Apothecary Chest in the Kitchen

apothecary closeupAlthough I am back in Doha there are some summer things I can’t seem to get off my mind. Work on the beach house, mainly the exterior (more on that next week), will be happening while we are away this year. I figured the unexpected outside work would use up all the kitchen renovation money we had been hoarding, but in that magical way that bundling multiple projects tends to make each individual project much less expensive (at least in terms of the contractors’ fees) I find it may just be possible to do both. On that note, I saw a beautiful apothecary/shop/printers cabinet at one of my favorite local antique stores this summer. The color and the patina were just lovely, the size was right and even better, so was the price. It had just the kind of feel I want for the kitchen, evident in past posts and a few Pinterest boards (here and here). The only problem with it is a lack of functionality. Thirty-two tiny drawers don’t hold much, now do they?

There are a host of kitchens out in the stratosphere that feature an apothecary style or shop counter style piece as a center point in the kitchen. A few spring right to mind, including this one…


…and this one. Both have been pinned endlessly and would be perfect spaces in our beach cottage. But what both of these kitchens have going for them that you can’t tell from the photos is that they are in very large rooms and offer just adjunct storage and workspace. It doesn’t hurt that the drawers are actually quite a bit larger and somewhat useful.

apothecary shop counter

The same holds true for one of my be all and end all kitchens, written about extensively before, that belonged to Peri Wolfman and Charles Good. Their Soho loft kitchen (and eponymous shop) sparked a revolution in kitchen design. They used a large shop counter as a divider, but as you see, space was never an issue.

Peri Wolfman loft kitchen via NYT

This grainy photo from Pinterest gives you a closer view. Sorry, my scanner is down, so I can’t offer a better picture.

peri wolfman soho ny kitchen shop counter

So back to my cabinet. Here it is in all its simple glory. Yes, I know the knobs are not original (you can see the old tack holes of the original handles) but they have certainly been on there for quite some time and I think they are adorable. Yes, I know the bottom left hand drawer is painted a darker color, but that seems to be part of its charm.

vintage  apothecary style cabinet photo

In order to get opinions, its important to see the space where the cabinet would go. Voila! We had been planning to get rid of a piece of cabinetry in this spot in lieu of a small island, but the chest above is narrow enough that it could work. We could also put a larger top on it and use it as the island itself. I think to truly understand the space it would probably help to read earlier posts on the kitchen renovation, like this one and this one, but imagine dark wood floors, gray, white marble, natural brass.

IMG_1545 beach kitchen

So? What say you all? Form or function? Should I just buy it for insurance either way? I will tell you I have a very large pantry in the kitchen and some of the existing cabinets are not at all full.

For an incredible look at one of the most creative uses of an antique shop counter used in a kitchen, be sure to click over to Steve’s blog An Urban Cottage. Some of the best posts can be found here, here, here and here, but his whole blog is terrific!

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 4…Full Reno Inspiration
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally
What’s Cooking? Peri Wolfman’s Kitchens Through the Years and That Marble-Topped Bakers Table
Still Dreaming of a French Marble Bakers Table
Ingenious Repurposing…Unusual Kitchen Islands and Printers Drawers
My Kitchen Island is Back on the Table
Opportunity Knocks…Shopping, Storing and Saving Stuff for Later
Other Posts in the Form Versus Function Kitchen Series

Updates on an Oldate…Beach House Bathroom

Some finishing touches happened this week on one of the earliest projects I took on here, the downstairs bathroom renovation. Long planned, Mally Skok‘s gorgeous and utterly perfect fabric Nichola in Aqua/Sand on Canvas went up as a Roman shade on the window. I have long adored this fabric and in this space it reads like bits of coral and sea life.

mally skok nichola roman shade

There’s not really anything left to do in this space – finishing touches aside. I still can’t quite figure out where to put or hang the toilet paper.

beach house bathroom mally skok nichola

The brass has all been patinating very well. I could not be more pleased with having chosen unlacquered brass and the exposed shower workings shine like jewelry through the glass doors.

beach house bathroom shower

The sink faucet is also looking great, although as I showed in my last post, the sink bowl not so much. I’ve been reading up on reglazing and porcelain home repair kits but I am still really unsure of what to do about this.

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

There is still a bit of room for finds – and certainly more sand dollars and shells – on the display shelves. With my iphone there was no way to get the upper ledge of kashigata in the photo, but the patterns in them look wonderful with Mally’s fabric.

beach house bathroom shelves

I do have one little marriage to make, between this Japanese print and vintage frame, and then its simply a matter of placement.

japanese print and frame

I think we can call this one finished, don’t you?

Related Posts:
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom
Renovation Report…Do You Throw Good Money After Bad? Thoughts on Fixing My Master Bathroom
Freshening Formal Furniture With Mally Skok Fabric

Mid-Summer at the Shore

montana purple sunset

Sometimes you just need a full on vacation. For the first time in four years I took one – from the blog, from social media (well, there was a bit of instagramming), from the kitchen renovation that’s just not quite getting off the ground, from everything. I took a physical one as well, traveling out to Flathead Lake in Montana with 27 other members of our family for a week of kicking back, riding horses and extraordinary sunsets. But the net result of the relaxing is that here we are at mid-summer and there is much to do and much to fill you in on.

An absolutely brutal winter here on the East Coast left gardens decimated. Mine fared better than most, but everything still suffered, most importantly the hydrangeas which bloom on the previous years’ wood. Unlike some neighbors, mine survived, but had very few flowers – no comparison with last year or even the year before!

beach house hydrangea summer 2014

The new Aleppo (Leila) inlaid tables from Serena & Lily (which arrived after we had left last summer) look amazing in the master bedroom.

beach house master bedroom inlaid night tables

A few local finds and a change of vintage duvet have been keeping things fresh.

beach master bedroom inlaid serena lily nightstands

I tried out a beautiful silk lampshade made from a vintage sari – Robert Kime style – from Xenomania in the East Village, but it was too big and matchy-matchy. By luck, I stopped into Just Shades on Spring Street on the day I was bringing it back and walked out with the perfect simple green shade instead, for about a tenth of the cost.

master bedroom lampshades

With my mind on the move to Doha, I never shared a few of the things that got accomplished right at summer’s end last year. The Bennison ticking trimmed valances in my elder daughter’s room, for example, which came out more beautifully than I could have imagined…

Bennison lilac ticking trimmed valence

…or the sweet art wall developing in the blue hall bathroom.

beach house blue bathroom art wall

It’s more than a year later and I am still kicking myself for passing up a $15 wicker headboard at a garage sale for my younger daughter’s bedroom. That’s all she needs, along with something like this Maine style pine painted cottage dresser. If you see either on Craig’s list or at your favorite shop, be sure to let me know!

wicker headboard Maine cottage pine painted dresser

Local antique stores here haven’t been as rich with goodies as normal and many have gone under, their land being redeveloped into condos or strip malls. I find it depressing but the truth is that the house needs very little outside of these few specific pieces so it hasn’t been a personal tragedy. I have stumbled into a new shop I quite liked, finding a great pair of 1855 Morris Gull prints (which will probably be added to the blue bathroom art wall)…

1855 Morris Ivory Ross Gull print engraving

…as well as an amazing antique lidded Seto porcelain dish (because of course, as one Instagram friend put it, I need MORE blue and white porcelain)…

antique Japanese Seto blue white porcelain dish lid

…and a salvaged mantel shelf that might be perfect for over the stove in the upcoming kitchen renovation (which hopefully will get started).

vintage antique mantle shelf

At the end of the day, the house here is so tiny that even an extra chair can’t fit. Found this diminutive charmer at my Brooklyn favorite Fork & Pencil, but it is going to have to make its way to a client’s house. There is simply nowhere to put it!

Fork & pencil brooklyn chair

And speaking of chairs, I’ve seen a pair of bergères her in New Jersey that look like they might be worth shipping back to Doha to replace the ones so unceremoniously taken from me.

vintage bergere NJ antiques

On a negative note, my vintage sink in the downstairs bath developed a rust bubble over the winter. I am in desperate need of advice on how I might repair/reglaze it. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

rust bubble vintage porcelain sink

I’ll be looking for more input on upcoming posts, including major decisions needed on new exterior paint colors. I’ll also be having a giveaway for a beautiful book on ukiyo-e by Fred Harris. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your summer!

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.

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