Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring at Our Cottage

Spring has sprung in DC, AGAIN! After being teased repeatedly by Mother Nature, it finally feels like spring is here to stay. Tom and I couldn't be more thrilled!

The gardens at our cottage are brimming with fresh growth. Every day brings new discoveries. From muscaris to scillas, there are thousands of bulbs blooming. Yes, thousands! The show started with snowdrops and crocuses on the big lawn, and now, daffies and hyacinths in the borders are doing their things. We are grateful to the previous owners who planted profusely and passionately.

I've been a busy bee marking everything as there are plans to redesign, regroup and refresh the gardens. So much for downsizing and simplifying. Actually I told Tom that this property will be lower maintenance, and I intend to keep my promise. Please remind me as you know how I am easily tempted by those manicured gardens - ok? 😉

More to come. In the meantime, here's a sneak peek....
Well, March certainly is living up to its reputation of "in like a lion and out like a lamb." Just a couple weeks ago, snow blanketed our Tudor, and spring seemed so distant (with much concern for the fate of the cherry blossoms). BTW, we are spending our last days at the Tudor before moving to the cottage soon.

Today, the snow is gone, and good news: the cherry blossoms made it through just fine. Here is one starting to bloom in front of our new home.
Built in 1928, the original stucco was deteriorating. Tom and I decided it was time to restucco, and hired Robey, Inc to do the work. They have patiently and meticulously worked with us to restucco both the house and garage. We're so pleased with everything including the texture plus color - a neutral greige. I look forward to sharing closeups of the final work.  
Throughout the property, I've staked and marked various flowering bulbs. There are many, many clumps of Tete-a-Tete daffodils, which are usually the earliest daffies to bloom.
I am 90% sure the beauties above are Pink Charm daffodils.
Also blooming now are pink, white and purple hyacinths. They are incredibly fragrant.
I couldn't resist picking a few generous bunches to enjoy inside in our freshly painted entry mudroom. The arched window with leaded glass is one of my favorite features.
H a p p y  S p r i n g !

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Mantel Refresh

I have terrific news to share: our Tudor is under contract! Yay! A solid offer, from a lovely young family, came in a day before the scheduled open houses, and we accepted it. Tom and I along with our wonderful agent, Mary Lynn White, all decided to cancel both open houses. I apologize if that caused an inconvenience or disappointment to anyone. 

Many thanks to those that left good wishes - I received your comments, emails plus messages with much gratitude. I'll keep you posted on our move.

In the meantime, let's revisit a serene and sophisticated home that I decorated and recently refreshed. It belongs to Susan and Greg, special friends and longtime clients. I had the pleasure of featuring this project back in 2012. Take a look here - go ahead.

Now compare that to today: 
Gone are those bright gold silk curtains (which were installed by the previous owner, and conveyed with the house). Per my advice, Susan replaced them with cream linen panels that complement the quiet beauty of the palette of warm neutrals accented by Swedish blues and grays. 

Speaking of Swedish, there are a number of furnishings from my shop throughout this home. But I didn't want the decor to scream antique Swedish showroom, so I layered in plenty of upholstered seating for comfort, English and French furnishings for variety, and one-of-a-kind accessories for originality.
Many of the pieces I actually repurposed from early architectural elements. The iron grate in the coffee table that's in front of a Swedish settee came from a Parisian balcony. The zinc fragment on the mantel was once part of a door lintel; it's the latest Tone on Tone acquisition that inspired my restyling of the mantelscape.
Here is the new mantelscape incorporating my zinc fragment plus sentimental items including family silver and the sublime drawings of acclaimed artist and dear friend Jill Bateman. Jill is also a good friend and client of mine. I'm grateful to her for bringing Susan and me together. BTW, the dramatic seaside painting (shown in fourth photo from top) is another work by Jill.
Let's take a quick peek into the dining room where two more items were repurposed from architectural elements. I found both the zinc window dormer, known as oeil-de-boeuf, and wrought iron balcony guard in Paris. Together they make a striking statement as well as a fun topic of conversation. And how cool to have the zinc pieces in the living and dining rooms speak to each other.
In addition to the beautiful art, Susan is a passionate collector of mercury glass and ironstone china. Here is part of her collection catching the morning light in one corner of the living room. The French cabinet and mirror are from Tone on Tone.
Thanks very much to Susan and Greg for inviting us back into their elegant home. I love the updates!
PS - For more, please follow along on my INSTAGRAM. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Our Tudor Home

Hello, there!

I'm proud to say that our Tudor went on the market today. After working on it for a year, Tom and I are thrilled with how everything turned out.

To recap, we purchased it in early 2016, and spent most of last year renovating. Here's what we did: gutted a bathroom, updated a powder room, finished the third floor, upgraded to a new two-zoned AC system, insulated the roof, replaced the asphalt roof tiles with Vermont slate, installed custom built-in bookcases and plantation shutters, added ceiling beams, painted walls, refinished floors, etc. This was going to be home for a long time, so everything had to meet our standards. There was even a plan to convert the side porch to an enclosed sunroom for my topiaries.

Then our dream cottage, which we stalked for years, became available in December. It's the same size as our Tudor, in the same neighborhood, and built around the same time (late 1920s). The biggest difference is the lot. The cottage is another small home, but on a large lot with fabulous garden potential. And it needs updating so we just couldn't say no to another project 🔨🏡!!

Tom and I are selling the Tudor not because we don't love it, but because we found another home that we love even more. BTW, the cottage will be house number six for us (in the last 20 years)!

Helping us with this sale is good friend and expert realtor Mary  Lynn White. This is the fourth house that we've entrusted to Mary Lynn and her team. Regardless of size and price, they treat each of our homes with the same level of attention, professionalism and passion. Tom and I couldn't imagine buying or selling without Mary Lynn.

There will be open houses on Saturday (18th) as well as Sunday (19th). Please contact Mary Lynn here for info. And please help spread the word. Thanks very much!  UPDATE: THE OPEN HOUSES ARE CANCELED AS WE ARE UNDER CONTRACT. SORRY FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE.  
Our enchanting brick and stone Tudor for sale! Note the dramatic tall chimney, stone lintels and arched front door. We had the slate roof, copper gutters plus downspouts installed. The curved walkway is granite with brick edging.
Please come inside! The entry foyer is small but so sunny thanks to two windows along the staircase. There is also a deep coat closet. Speaking of staircase, I had the beautiful wool runner custom made; it continues to the upstairs hall.
A view of the dining room and kitchen from the foyer. I designed the arched doorway to repeat the arched front door. In the dining room, Tom and I installed, with the help of carpenters, pine ceiling beams after personally distressing and staining them ourselves. We spent many hours figuring out proportions and placements. They ended up being beautifully centered over the windows, fireplace and doorway to the living room; it took much effort to get everything to line up.

Also, I designed the wall of built-in bookcases to house my art books and creamware china. Now the room feels like a library as well as a dining room. It's a pleasure to dine, casually and formally, surrounded by treasured books. 

I love designing built-ins, and have done so in every home we've owned. Tip: when adding built-ins, try to incorporate existing moldings such as crown, casing and baseboard to make them look original to the house. 
Let's move into the living room with its lovely bay windows that bring in abundant light all day. Actually this used to be the dining room. I knew it would make a bright, warm and comfortable sitting room with its southern exposure and views to the garden. It's cozy and private. French doors can be closed for even more privacy. 
Since there isn't a family room, our TV is here inside the Swedish armoire. In the evening, you'll find us on the down-filled George Smith sofa watching favorite shows like The Crown and The Great British Baking Show.
We'll occasionally pry ourselves out of the sofa to come into the kitchen for a cup of tea. Honed soapstone countertops and crisp white Shaker cabinets give the kitchen a timelessness. There is radiant heating under the painted linoleum floor.
Two of the four bedrooms upstairs. All bedrooms on the second floor have new plantation shutters. They also have their original paneled doors with glass doorknobs and brass plates.
Two bedrooms share a charming Jack-and-Jill bathroom updated in a vintage style.
A completely renovated bathroom with marble hexagonal floor. 

For more info, please email Mary Lynn. Don't forget to spread the word. Many thanks! UPDATE: THE OPEN HOUSES ARE CANCELED AS WE ARE UNDER CONTRACT. MANY APOLOGIES.

Follow along on my INSTAGRAM site.

Monday, January 23, 2017

All About Myrtle Topiaries

Happy New-ish Year! 

2017 is my sixth year of blogging - time flies! Is there anything you'd like me to blog about? Please share your suggestions in the comments section as I'd love to know.

One topic I frequently get questions on is my myrtles. Each time I post a topiary photo here or on INSTAGRAM, everyone wants to know how I care for these fabulous but fussy houseplants with such distinctive forms. Well I'm delighted to shed some light on this personal passion of mine. In the right environment and with a bit of TLC, anyone can keep myrtles happy and healthy for years.

The variety I favor is myrtus communis compacta or dwarf myrtle, an herb with fragrant foliage when crushed. These can be grown outdoors as evergreen shrubs in warm climates. Planted as a hedge, they are a lovely way to delineate parterre beds in formal gardens. The small leaves, which are an attractive glossy dark green, make them suitable for close pruning; a reason they are popular as shaped topiaries.

As topiary houseplants in colder environments, their needs are quite different than those of hardy shrubs living outdoors in warmer climates. Before sharing how I grow these verdant gems, let's look at those currently in my shop: 
Both photos above are from last week. See the three on the French round table? They were repotted just before Thanksgiving, and are doing great. All have fresh growth, a good sign that everyone is happy, as well as plenty of moss plus weeds. For now the weeds can stay because I welcome the extra pop of greenery during these gray wintry days. When they start to overwhelm, time to yank them out to conserve nutrients for the myrtles. The velvety moss stays; its roots are not as deep or invasive. 

For scale, here I am 😊 next to one of my giant triples. Now twice their original size, this handsome pair came from the nursery of the late Allen C. Haskell, a fine horticulturalist and nurseryman with a passion for topiaries.   
A couple more photos of my collection at Tone on Tone. Since we sold our DC home with its conservatory, I've moved most of them to the shop where they are bathed in natural light all day thanks to our floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Plus the heat is kept very low at night so my "topes" do not get dried out.
Now let's talk about how to care for these green beauties:

In DC, dwarf myrtle cannot live outside during winter. It must come in before any threat of a freeze, which is around early October. Once inside, avoid placing near a radiator or heat register. After all danger of a frost is over, it can go back outside for sunshine and fresh air. Keep protected from thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds as this top-heavy plant can easily fall over.

Give it as much light as possible, especially indoors. Otherwise it will turn spindly and not have that coveted density. Make sure to rotate occasionally for even growth on all sides.

Never let the myrtle dry out completely, but water accordingly. If sitting outside in full sun, especially in a porous clay pot, daily watering might be necessary. Be mindful not to have water sitting in the saucer for too long as this can cause root rot. During winter I generally water (use lukewarm, please) every other day; do so until water seeps out in the saucer, which should be reabsorbed within 3 - 5 hours. Dump out any excess water afterwards. Misting is also beneficial.

Usually the topiary is already in a pot that is too small, making it somewhat root bound - that's ok for a while. Think of it as a bonsai where you want to focus its energy / growth on top rather than at the roots. However, when it absorbs water too fast and needs constant watering, time to repot. Choose a pot one size larger to keep the proportions balanced. Also, if a pot is overly spacious the plant will waste energy sending out excessive roots. 

To maintain a neat, tight form, clipping or shearing should be done every two weeks from late winter to the end of summer. Monthly is recommended for the rest of the year. This also encourages denser growth because whenever a shoot / sprig is clipped, two new ones emerge to create more foliage. When not in a rush, I clip at the branch between the leaves, being careful not to cut the actual foliage which can create unsightly brown spots. But since I have so many, I tend to just shear the entire "ball." 

From late winter to early fall, I will fertilize with Miracle-Gro once a month. Fertilizing is essential to the success of container gardening where the nutrients are depleted by the plant as well as leached out with watering.   

Bugs are unavoidable. I spray liberally with a mild insecticidal soap on the foliage and soil. If persistent, take to your nursery for diagnosis and proper treatment.

Shedding of the old leaves as new ones form is to be expected. But excessive dropping may be due to diseases, insects, changes in light and moisture levels, etc. Please consult your nursery's specialist.

And that's all! Just minutes each day dedicated to the care of a few living sculptures that add such warmth, charm and personality. I really love these civilized yet whimsical beauties, and couldn't imagine not having them

In our former home, myrtles lived amongst us in nearly every room. Enjoy these photos - many taken by photographer Helen Norman for Martha Stewart Living and Southern Living magazines.             
Here I am demonstrating how to properly clip using my favorite Japanese pruners. If any seem tipsy, steady their trunks while clipping.
Some also come up with Tom and me to Maine (below photo). Yes, they travel with us!
Additionally, I have other types of topiaries like this pair of rosemary. Unfortunately both were zapped by the frost when left outside during an unusually frigid winter.
Next to the rosemary is a "Duckfoot" miniature ivy which I had for quite a while. I gifted it to a friend last year when Tom and I were in between homes.

Speaking of homes, I have exciting news to share: Tom and I are moving, again! Not far, though...just a few blocks from our Tudor, which we'll be selling soon. Anyone interested in a move-in ready storybook Tudor with fabulous architectural details including slate roof, dramatic chimney, arched front door, interior French doors, ceiling beams, bay windows, period woodwork and hardware, etc? All the double glazed windows were recently added. We replaced the HVAC system, and installed custom shutters, built-in bookcases, lighting, staircase runner, marble floors, and more. It is located in the tree-lined neighborhood of North Woodside, Silver Spring (inside the beltway) where there are many gracious colonials, charming bungalows, and unique Tudors all from the 1920 - 30s. Please spread the word - thank YOU kindly.

Why are we moving? We found another small home (a Cotswold style Tudor) on a large lot with plenty of gardening potential 🌼. More to come!