Indian block prints

Souvenirs of ShahJahan…Delhi and Agra in Instagrams

Taj Majal Agra India

I guess it’s not really fair to call this post ‘India in Instagrams’ as we only had a few days in New Delhi, ostensibly to “watch” our teenage daughters in a soccer tournament. While we did make it to the late afternoon games, the truth is it was an opportunity to dip our toes into the wonder that is India. Resplendent with color, in particular white, pink and green, it provided me with a jolt of energy after months here in the very beige desert. We managed to tack on a quick day trip to Agra for the Taj Mahal, because in the end, we needed to see that pearly resplendent monument itself, but I think we would all agree that it was not necessarily the highlight of our trip.

White marble was unquestionably one of the storylines throughout our days, from the incredible carved Mughal flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal…

Mughal Flowers marble Taj mahal

…to the ongoing and surprising details at the nearby Red Fort in Agra – which is not at all just red! It seems apropos just after Valentines Day to mention one of the world’s greatest love stories – that of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, over 22 years no less, as a tomb for his beloved wife. He was eventually deposed by his own son, but lived out his days confined to the Fort, with a perfect view of his masterpiece. Because Agra is not at all built up, some of the best views are from a distance, like those from the Red Fort and from the terrace of the Oberoi Hotel (more on that later).

Marble square Red Fort Agra

There were modern-day inspirations to be found everywhere, including this simplified arabesque floor pattern which I am planning to use as a model for a bathroom renovation back in Brooklyn.

Marble mosaic floor Red Fort Agra India

And speaking of marble and bathrooms, I must stop and mention one of my favorite places on the whole tour – the ladies washroom at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. This colonial era Art Deco masterpiece is on that list of historic hotels I have been carrying around with me and I was privileged to stay there this trip. The art collection and thousands of engravings that line the halls are worthy of a post of their own. But the ground floor loo with its bank of freestanding back-to-back sinks and mirrors takes the cake!

Imperial Hotel New Delhi Ladies Washroom Bathroom marble

We have all been told that pink is the navy blue of India and it is true. We could not stop snapping photos of the glorious pink saris everywhere, from the Sikh Temple in Delhi…

pink is the navy blue of india lady in sari

…to more subtly in Agra at the Red Fort.

Red Fort Agra Sari

Back in Delhi, we visited Humayun’s tomb which served as a model for the main building of the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful and relatively deserted, in great contrast to the aforementioned monument and therefore magical.

Humayan's Tomb New Delhi

In fact, other than the breathtaking moment when you first enter and the de rigueur perfect photo of the Taj, we often preferred the other sites for their mystery and mood.

Ladies at Humayan's Tomb New Delhi India

No trip to India is complete without shopping – and lots of it – so it is no surprise that green – the color of currency – was one of the other main hues of our visit. We hit many of the major markets including Khan market, Sundar Nagar and Santushi, along with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. I bought everything from Indian cottons – lots of scarves and kurtis at Anokhi and Fabindia – to carved wooden legs (custom ottomans anyone?) in the back alleys. I desperately wanted the stack of bracelets below, but you can imagine the price tag, so I contented myself with armloads of silver and a particularly delicate gold and raw sapphire necklace.  But all of that shopping was merely a distraction as I had come to India searching for one thing – Indian miniature paintings. At Sundar Nagar market, which sells bits and bobs of ‘antiques’ as well as all the lovely modern inlay furniture so popular today, I picked up a few fairly fine reproduction miniatures. In general these tend to be copies of famous original paintings done on old paper so as to give them a nice patina.

bracelets and indian miniature

In fact I had thought I might be content with my repros until we stopped in at the highlight of the visit, the home of Rohit Kaicker, also known as Gallery 29 Sunder Nagar. In all the rooms filled with spectacular artwork, this turn of the century painting of Shah Jahan himself on a background of malachite, surrounded by a border of Mughal flowers (remember the ones carved in marble at the Taj in the photo above?) screamed to come home with me from the very moment I walked in. I cannot recommend Rohit’s home gallery highly enough as prices are reasonable, his knowledge encyclopedic and seeing his home itself is worth the visit, although I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed. I’m actually thinking Indian miniature paintings might deserve a post of their very own so let me know if that would interest you.

Indian Miniature Painting Shahjahan Taj Majal Rohit New Delhi Mughal Flowers

And for one more glimpse of amazing Mughal flowers I must share the living room off the terrace at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra. Anyone else would be sharing the view of the Taj from the window, but then I am not anybody else. I wanted to move right in here and stay, or at least try this in a project. Any takers out there?

Oberoi Hotel Agra Taj Majal Mughal Flowers

I must give a final shout out to Fiona Caulfield‘s Love India, billed as a ‘Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond’. This book was our bible, albeit a carefully annotated one by our dear friend Lisa who used to live in Delhi. Other cities in India appear in the series and I am tempted to buy them and dream. Be sure to notice the accent color 😉

Love India Guide Fiona Caulfield

Related Posts:
Provenance: Inlay
Inlay All Over the Map…A Peek at my Collection
Toran on Provenance at Cloth & Kind
A Little More Toran Goodness
(Fabric) Bordering on Obsession
Renovation Report and a DIY…Using Indian Wood Blocks to Create “Wallpaper” in the Master Bath
A Possible DIY…Painted Inlay Vanity?

(Fabric) Bordering on Obsession

Michael Smith Courtney Barnes WSJ border article

Friday’s Wall Street Journal brought a wonderful article by one of my favorite bloggers, Style Court‘s Courtney Barnes on the charm of self bordered textiles. I have long been obsessed with traditional Indian fabrics which routinely use borders as integral parts of their design as well as modern renderings by many of my favorite textile designers, including those of Zak+ Fox , Peter Dunham and Parlor Textiles, whose fabrics are illustrated in the article. Using the auction of a pair of armchairs, covered by designer Michael Smith in a bordered textile reprinted from an antique one in his own collection as the starting point of her musings, she pulls us into the intimate story of her own passion for the fabrics. As luck and serendipity would have it, this was the very topic on my mind exactly as I was reading it.

My own Michael Smith bordered fabric illumination occurred years ago with this Santa Barbara guest house in which he used a myriad of inexpensive Urban Outfitters Indian bedspreads to upholster the walls, the furniture and make the draperies. His masterful manipulation of the borders really demonstrated the punctuation they can provide, in this case both as a fillet and curtain edge and trim. His use of these simple artisanal fabrics turned me on to the idea of their flexibility. You know I love good repurposing!

Michael Smith Indian beadspreads

The serendipity part comes in because I have been working on and off all fall and in particular this past week for my most exacting client to date – my 14-year-old daughter. When moving a young teenager halfway round the world to a new school, it’s good to have a bribe, in this case a big new bedroom and entirely new decor as she had outgrown the furniture and color scheme of her old space. Add an en suite bathroom – about the size of her old Tokyo bedroom – and the potential for happiness goes way up. While her younger sister’s room is basically finished, progress on her’s had stalled. Her request for soft blues and a bit of Indian block print had resulted in this dreamy Instagram palette, but other than actually ordering the Parlor Textiles French Ikat in blue for her headboard and bedskirt, nothing had been done.

Instagram blue design scheme for G's room

For that “bit of Indian block print” I had turned to my favorite source, Aleta Bartel-Orton (also mentioned by Courtney in the article), whose online shop sells both her’s and Brigitte Singh‘s beautiful fabrics. The bedroom plan calls for Roman shades, ideally to be made in a blue and white print, highlighted by some sort of decorative edge. In addition to yardage, Aleta has tablecloths and other finished pieces available which I thought might be perfect as they tend to have borders. But while I was scrolling around the website I realized that what I really wanted was my favorite old standby, Hibiscus Branch. Of course, the print run is finished and there is basically none left – why is it I only manage to figure out that I need a particular fabric from her only after she is out of it? Luckily Aleta was willing to search for any remaining pieces of the Hibiscus Branch (and it seems like there may be just enough)…

Brigitte Singh Hibiscus branch blue Aleta

…and also came up with this cotton panel, mainly white and unprinted but with the loveliest borders which will be added to the Roman shades to create the effect of a single fabric. The flowered portion won’t go to waste either – I’ll use it to make throw pillows. It’s good to note here that complimentary fabrics can be combined to create the bordered look.

Blue Hibiscus Cotton

This brings me back to Michael Smith’s bargain trick with bedspreads that I find works even better with tablecloths. Different projects need different sizes and tablecloths are available small to large. Both can be counted on the have the quality Courtney refers to her in her article, the constrained “frames, along with symmetry, to bring order to a profusion of ornament.” So in addition to Aleta’s offerings, other resources I have been exploring include Priya Raj’s beautiful block prints at Peacocks and Paisleys. I almost grabbed this Exotic Mint Sprigs tablecloth in the sale this weekend with an eye towards using it to make a shade for the guest room.

exotic mint sprigs peacocks and paisleys

And instead of ho-hum shower curtains, it’s not that hard to put 12 button holes in a tablecloth or bed sheet, which is exactly what I am planning on doing in my daughter’s bedroom with the block printed bed sheet I bought this summer from Jaypore. And for purpose made shower curtains in block print patterns, take a look at Saffron Marigold. I recently recommended their Wedding Day pattern for an impossibly boring yellowy-beige bathroom.

saffron marigold wedding day yellow shower curtain

I have also given up on trying to get permission to change the ugly tiles in our kitchen here and am going for a new approach which involves distraction. In searching for fabrics for the French chairs, I had an epiphany and realized Mally Skok‘s Rohet Multi on Oyster might be just the thing to link the disparate elements in the kitchen together. More on that later in the week but be sure to notice that it too has a border.

Screenshot 2014-01-18 12.13.27

I’ll be putting it to good use.

Related Posts
Sourcing Antiques for Michael Smith Interiors
Even Movie Stars Recycle…Early Homes of Cindy Crawford and James Belushi
Renovation Report and a DIY…Using Indian Wood Blocks to Create “Wallpaper” in the Master Bathathroom

A Curtain’s Leading Edge…a New Idea for Kaku-obi

Image credits: First two photos Michael Smith via 1. The Wall Street Journal, 2. Cote de Texas. Other photos mine or as linked.

New Sayonara Series…Mixing In Asian Pieces

This time of year, like always, is bittersweet. It is sayonara season in Tokyo as the school year comes to a close and people get ready to leave, some just for the summer but others forever. Jobs get reassigned back in the US or other home countries, or sometimes there are new assignments, new adventures in store for folks. I have had a flurry of new clients recently who want help sorting out what else they should rush to purchase and pack into their containers and more importantly, how to deploy it all when they get home. Many have entire households of furniture back in the States in a totally different style while others have filled their homes here with tons of Japanese and Chinese pieces that need some space inserted between them to feel fresh. I wonder if the word fusion is too trite to use these days – it is actually quite apropos – and honestly what this blog is so often about, but there is truly a need to fuse their items together to make a cohesive decorative whole.

As a result I am launching a new regular sayonara series, not meant to be comprehensive, but instead to a focus on an idea, a decorative item or answer a question from a reader specifically about integrating their old life into their new one. Since I attended a sayonara party last night – a “college graduation” party – that required me to dress as I did in college, which for me was an Indian print skirt (who else remembers Putumayo?) and Birkenstocks (which I have had to borrow as I forced my self to graduate from them years ago), I decided to focus on the mix of Chinese and Japanese antiques with Indian block prints and other South East Asian textiles to lighten them up. It doesn’t hurt that I have some of this mix going on in my TV room project at the beach house too.

This Chinese cabinet in an older version of Windsor Smith‘s bedroom is just the kind of piece that people living in Asia have purchased. Functional in any room, I love it in the bedroom where all the soft furnishings and fabrics can lighten its dark heaviness. The ruffled bed valence and mix of Indian block print textiles – in indigo no less – link through their shared exoticism to form a pleasing contrast. Vintage luggage junkie me loves the travel reference too that all the Louis Vuitton makes piled on top of the armoire. The graphic modern rug, which looks to be Madeline Weinrib, keeps the space grounded but is much fresher than a Persian.

Here’s the mix again in bedroom designed by Amelia T. Handegan for her South Carolina bungalow. The Chinese table (doesn’t everyone here have one?) and mirror play off the soft paisley of the bedding. The graphic black and white striped rug keeps the space modern and casual. Actually, Handegan’s entire cottage is an exercise in just the kind of mixing I adore and well worth scrolling through on the great new Architectural Digest website. She even repurposes an old Chinese table as a bathroom vanity.

For me personally, I have just scooped up a nice sized remnant of Michael Smith’s Devonshire for Jasper fabric, thinking the tiny print and deeply stained background will make nice pillows to add to the textile mix in the back TV room.

So send me your conundrums – include photos is if you can – and let’s start a conversation about how to integrate our wonderful finds into our larger decorative life. Cheers!


Just in Time…Last Piece of Cream Hibiscus Branch From Aleta

As always, I know my expectations of what I can accomplish at the beach house in just 8 weeks has to be tempered by reality. Posting about the brass wall sconces yesterday got me thinking that maybe a reasonable goal should just be to finish the TV room/back bedroom from soup-to-nuts and accept that everything else will only make as much progress as luck will allow me. So I pulled out my to-do list and started to work through it, which means you’re sure to be seeing posts on that space over the next weeks. Luckily, this decision sent me over to Aleta’s website as I have been planning on using one of her Brigitte Singh fabrics for the curtains with a vintage sudare bamboo blind, as mentioned in a previous post.

I had been choosing between Cream Hibiscus Flower Buta…

…and Cream Hibiscus Branch…

…but I had been lollygagging on the whole decision for a while.

While I had originally been leaning towards the Flower Buta, this autumn I came across this photo of Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux’s new bedroom in the Hollywood Hills which features the Hibiscus Flower Buta on the curtains. It looks lovely, but I decided it also looks too regimented and stripey when the curtains are open. Therefore I decided to choose the Hibiscus Flower Branch, at least in my own mind, and promptly did nothing about it.

Now the danger with artisanal hand printed fabrics like this is that they can run out easily and are not always reprinted. You’ll remember I used the work “luckily” at the top of the post – and luckily it was that I checked over the website as there was only one final piece of the Branch fabric left and it is not being reprinted! Phew, just enough for my curtain.

Related Posts:
Sweating the Details…A Round-Up of Brass Library Wall Sconces
On the Blind’s Side…Sudare and Curtains
Found! Kilim Footstools in Tokyo and Decisions on the TV Room

Image credits: 1 & 2. via Aleta, 3. via Huff Post

Renovation Report…Do You Throw Good Money After Bad? Thoughts on Fixing My Master Bathroom

For the last few days I have been here at our beach house in New Jersey pondering the age-old question “Do you throw good money after bad?” which really is a tough one to answer. Consider the following…a brand new master bathroom, with nothing “officially wrong with it” other than the fact that I hate it. For those of you unfamiliar with my house, it is a simple Victorian beach cottage, full of pale soft colors, vintage furniture and thick white original moldings. The previous owners carved out 2 bathrooms upstairs from what may have been only one. The hall bath is simple white subway tiles and small blue and white checkerboard floor, with white fixtures – just right for the period of the house and my taste. I have also renovated the downstairs bathroom in a similar fashion, with white hexagons and a vintage pedestal sink. The connundrum of this post is what to do about the master bath. For me, it has major problems of both form and function. The photo is from the sale listing almost two years ago now. While the bland colors and finishes are there, it is harder to see the silliness of the design, so I am going to try to draw a literal and a verbal picture for you. First, in terms of function, there is an unnecessarily small vanity with no counter space and about six inches of unused and therefore wasted space on either side. It has 3 ridiculous little drawers, each cut out in the center to accommodate the plumbing, so no real storage to speak of, even though it is a reasonable size cabinet. This photo is taken looking straight down into the drawer – you can see the space for the plumbing cut out – and the storage gets less and less as you move down.

Added to that is an oversized modern mirror/medicine cabinet that projects out from the wall, rather than being set in and recessed. It sticks out so far it actually makes a shadow over the sink and you bump your head into in when you lean over to spit out toothpaste.

Next take a look at the floor plan. You have to open the door inwards to enter the bathroom, then move all the way towards the shower in order to close it to get near the toilet. Now this bathroom was entirely new construction, so there were other options when building it, such as a pocket door. While I am no real fan of the pocket door, if ever a space called for one, than this is it. I hit my head on the door edge all the time, when turning from the sink to move towards the toilet, and not realizing the door is partially open. This architectural change is a must, whether or not I visually tweak the bathroom.

If you are not a floorplan lover, the photos below give a sense of the awkwardness.

And finally, the aesthetic part, which shouldn’t matter so much to me, but it does. The vanity is the worst kind of “faux French” and could not be less in sync with the style of the house. Stylistically, the modern mirror looks all wrong with the ornate vanity. The color in the room is all an unpalatable pinky peachy beige – the tiles, the walls, the ceiling – everything. Now, I love pink, and actually the master bedroom outside the door is painted Farrow & Ball’s Calamine, a wonderful dull grayed pink, as soft as it is pretty. But when it comes to bathrooms, I am a white tile and fixture kind of girl and I have just not been nor continue to be sure what to do with this mish mash. There is simply no way to pull it all out as it is new and clean. I just have to find a way to make some functional and cosmetic fixes. But the big question is when do “small” fixes cross the line in effort and expense? Would I be better off leaving it and living with it and going whole hog at some later date?

My actual fantasy bathroom is this well-known “English Bohemian” one from the beloved defunct Domino. But as the budget doesn’t call for a full gut and frankly, I can’t make the square footage materialize out of thin air, I’ll just sigh and file it away. (I will note that my bedroom has 2 beautiful threadbare Laver Kirman rugs, much like the one on the floor here.)

I had stewed on it endlessly, but still had no ideas on how to manage some kind of smaller improvement to the space. And then, voilà, just like that, I stumbled across this photo in my files of a bathroom decorated by the renowned Phoebe Howard and it gave me just what I needed. So here is the usual pitch I always give people – save inspiration photos whenever you find them. You just never know when you will need them. They give visual language to unformed ideas and can clarify and communicate thoughts that would otherwise be impossible to relate.

For me, there are a few key components here. The French mirror, pinky Indian inspired wallpaper, and jewelry faucet. I have to skip the mounted bowl sink as it is powder room friendly, not master bath friendly, and sweet husband has used his rare veto. Frankly, it doesn’t go with the house either. But I am not looking to slavishly copy this photo anyway, just to use it for exactly what I have named it for – inspiration.

First, the French mirror.

This turned put to be an easy fix thanks to a gift from a friend. Her mom runs a small antique shop in the old icehouse attached to The Gatehouse Country Inn in Shawnee on Delaware, PA. The mirror is in great condition – the circle in the center is just from the flash. In this photo you can really see clearly how silly the vanity is and how much space is wasted. (And I know some of you are thinking it is pretty, but trust me, in person, it truly is not!). One of the immediate practical improvements is the mirror sits directly against the wall and does not get in your way or cast a shadow. And if nothing else, it goes stylistically with the vanity below, unlike the former modern mirror. What is humorous though, is how the French mirror feels right – it feels eclectic – while the faux French vanity still feels wrong.

Next Wallpaper.

I keep thinking I can ignore the floor and shower tiles and think of them as a neutral background, which would work, except for the fact that they come around and line the area behind the sink, rising high to about 4 feet. In trying to simply ignore the tile work, I need a wallpaper with a white background, and some soft pink. Since the whole house has a bit of “Out of India” meets “The Orient Express” what better than spying Les Indiennes‘ new Madame de Montreuil wallpaper in a Vogue feature in February of 2010, soon after we had bought the house. I carried the photo around all winter and ran right into John Derian‘s as soon as I got home to see it in person. Loved it!

Here you can it featured in a room on remodelista. I just adore the feel of this and think it might actually look OK with that tile.

But alas, my sweet husband was a spoil sport. Our first priority upon taking possession of our house last summer just could not be wallpapering a perfectly good bathroom. There were serious things to fix first, including changing the bathroom door to a pocket one, which does actually involve tearing out the sheet rock and would need to be done before the wallpapering. His further point centered on the practicality of very expensive wallpaper in a bathroom with no window or ventilation.

I was not discouraged though! My new budget plan was to make my own woodblock print “wallpaper” by stamping directly onto the walls. I had long admired the hand printed canopy the talented Lauren Liess of Pure Style Home had made for her son’s nursery. I believe it was actually a stencil, but somewhat the same idea.

And everyone had been talking about stencils including the second issue of newish online shelter magazine House of Fifty. Courtney over at Style Court had actually block printed a pillow by herself, and it came out beautifully.

So while in Singapore on my “evacuation vacation” last spring I made sure to buy a few pretty floral woodblocks, a bit like those in the Les Indiennes’ wallpaper. I had huge dreams of the best DIY project and post for the summer of 2011 but life got in the way. And as we still hadn’t put in the pocket door…

I also came across this extremely pretty Nichola wallpaper by Mally Skok, which feels both 18th century and modern at the same time and is less expensive than the Les Indiennes paper. I adore Skok’s entire line of fabrics and wallpapers and promise a full post in the new year!

Definitely Change the Vanity

From both the form and function point of view, the vanity has to be changed. If I wanted to stay with dark wood, something like this simple Schuyler Samperton elegance would be ideal. (Note another favorite of mine – the butler’s trolley.) But in this photo, the lovely wallpaper extends behind and around the vanity. In my bathroom, the tile work extends up the wall behind and to the side, so ideally I would like to remove it. When I checked with the contractor, assuming it would be easy, he pointed out that it created a chain of events, all the way to having to take out the shower doors, cut new tiles and locate some extra bullnose tiles. That seems to be getting awfully close to actually re-doing the bathroom, which is what I was trying to avoid in the first place.

So what about an antique piece like this? The softly colored marble might neutralize the ugly tile work on the wall, although it doesn’t provide the practical storage I need.

But if I don’t take down the tiles, is a dark wood cabinet the answer? Is it different enough from what is there already to make the effort? Might a smarter choice be a neutral painted cabinet that blended into the tile? Well, if I had the answer to that one, then I’d be showing you a photo here. From an aesthetic point of view, I could finally pull out the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint I have been recommending to everyone and use it to paint the vanity, but that wouldn’t change the fact that I can’t store anything taller than 4 inches in those drawers.

The fun and the ease of decorating the room lies in the details. Additional design ideas include using my bits of pink lusterware and pink depression glass that I have managed to acquire over the years. These lustreware displays are from my files, I assume from Martha Stewart Living, but I can’t find the credit.

Luckily for me, there is no tile on the far side of the bathroom behind or around the toilet!

Here’s a little mock-up of the area over the toilet with the Nichola wallpaper sample and some pink lusterware cups on a vintage display shelf alongside my favorite Jo Malone Red Roses summer mixers.

So I am at a loss. To sum up, I need to change the door to a pocket door – that has to be done no matter what – and needs to be done before any other work. I need to change the wall treatment, whether with wallpaper or a DIY block print project. I can add cute accessories. But do I change the vanity? Do I tear out the tile? Do I gut the whole thing and start over? I wrote this post, more for myself than you dear readers, in the hope that it would clarify these issues, but I am still unsure. I would absolutely relish comments!!!

On another note. I am loving Mally Skok’s Nichola so much that I am considering fabric in another colorway for the renovated downstairs bathroom. The aqua/sand color has such a different feel, almost coral-like, a bit like the Min Hogg fabrics and papers I had considered for there too.

Don’t you think it would be perfect for a soft roman blind in here?

And while the shelves are not fully built yet, I couldn’t resist styling a few accessories for a sneak peek in there.

This is truly a plea for help! I hope someone out there has the bit of inspiration I need!

Related Post:
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom

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