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The Fairy-tale House with a Tower: Tor House and Hawk Tower, Carmel-by-the-Sea

By , May 9, 2012

Wandering in Carmel-by-the-Sea on Sunday, I came upon one of Carmel’s most charming cottages, and there was a tour going on. The house was Tor House and Hawk Tower, which is on the National Historic Register.    I had to go in to see this amazing  stone house with its stone tower and English gardens right out of a fairy tale.



All of the structures on the property were built by the American poet Robinson Jeffers, out of granite stones and boulders that he found on  Carmel Beach, just below the point where the house was sited.  And what a site it is.  Beautiful views overlooking the ocean, and amazing charm throughout. The original cottage, begun after 1914, was positively elfin inside, with a 7’ high ceiling and tiny rooms.



Imagine sitting here playing the piano, with a fabulous view of the soothing ocean.

As the family grew, the other structures were built by Mr. Jeffers, all by hand and by him alone.  He had a passionate vision of what he wanted to create, with each stone perfectly placed, and eccentricity built into every corner. Notice the workmanship and selection of the stones over the door.



The tower was built as a playhouse for the twin sons, a writing tower for the poet, and an oak-lined study for her.  The steps were small, extremely steep and beautiful.



The day was stunning, the water, seen from above was turquoise, and the gardens were as enchanting as could be.



When the sons were teenagers, Jeffers wife requested another wing, this one with a ballroom for dancing. This building and a garage completed the compound.



It is no wonder that one of America’s finest poets wrote so beautifully while he was here:


“Against the outcrop boulders of a raised beach

We built our house when I and my love were young.

Here, long ago….

……all that we saw or heard was beautiful.”

Robertson Jeffers,  20th C. American Poet



Driftwood Furniture

By , February 24, 2011

These dramatic chairs are made of driftwood and old planks by a furniture manufacturer in France,  by Louis Crusoe for .  The seats are covered in leather.  Which amazing seaside or mountain estate that I am working on will get to have these?

There is also this to complete the set:

How cool would this be for a hideaway terrace at a romantic resort? Put some large pillows on it and book me a reservation now!

Gingerbread houses by designers and artists (but not bakers!)

By , December 17, 2009

For a holiday party this year, my dear friend decided to have a gingerbread house making party.  She provided the gingerbread and we each provided our own decorative elements, as long as they were edible. This sounded like a lot of fun could be had, so we accepted.  Little did we know what awaited us.

The group was five or six couples of varying professions, talent and training.  Several had done this before at parties.  I however, had never made a gingerbread house before, which I haven’t quite forgiven my mother for yet.  Maybe I should just go ahead and forgive her for this breadcrumb sin as my New Years Resolution. 

Couple #1:  was a graphic designer and a painter.  Wait a minute.   Already they are ahead of the the group.  They played together with only a minimum of conflict, a fair amount of tension, and a precise plan and design direction:  Black and white, with pez tiles on the side and red accents.  This is what they came up with:
Copy of Hawaii and Austin 037 copy

Pretty cute,isn’t it?  And see how tidy they were in their execution!  Good job, kids! 

 Couple #2.  Now, this next one was totally unfair!  He was not only a highly accomplished architect who held a high position in the national AIA, but she had taking, yes, Gingerbread House Making Classes at the country club!  Talk about a head start.  They also had a plan sketched out, had bought all the correct materials, a tool box, and hard hats!  Wait a minute!   I had in mind a spontaneous free for all that was destined for silliness.  But no, not with this group.  They were competitive to the end!  Anyway, couple #2 made this delightful home:

Copy of Hawaii and Austin 039 

Notice the red licorice pergola to the left?  How about the tootsie roll log ascending staircase?   The architect got an “A” for structure!

Our team’s efforts were not turning out ANYTHING like some of the things I have since seen on the Internet.  Look at this one from the blog “Houseboat Eats”: 


Ok, he wasn’t making this at a party, in front of others, with a 2-3 hour window.  What do you think?  Days/weeks/months of working on it? Come on!

And check out the details on this from the same post:


Rock Candy?  Or just rocks?  Does this look like it meets the “edible” criteria?

And then there was this one:


I mean, really!  I do love the pretzel ironwork on the mansard roof, but who knew there were professional gingerbread house makers out there?

Back at the party,  Couple #3 also had come equipped with a full design of a California Mission Style Gingerbread House, with LOTS of rust jelly bean roof tiles, and tinted plaster-like frosting, but they wouldn’t let me take a picture.  Perhaps it was because he was an accountant and she was an attorney, and they were concerned about the accuracy and legality of their listing-slightly-to-the-left house being published. 

By now my team member/husband and I are getting very insecure.  We had so much fun buying silly edible shapes at the party shop and other nearly edible things at the candy shop, that the party was already a success for us.  But talk about intimidation.  If I was a proper competitor and had googled “pictures of gingerbread houses” before we went, I would have known better what to expect.

Ok, I have been putting off showing you the one we, couple #4 , did but now it is time.  Please be kind and remember my mother never taught me this. 

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Can you say “Exuberant!” ???

Notice the blue M & M pool with the red fish and the boulder design around the pool.  Also, landscaping!  I get credit for foundation shrubs and ice cream cone trees, don’t I?  

Fortunately, I found this house later or I never would have even gone to this party.  I would have taken sick and needed to rest!  Some people do seen to have a lot of talent/time/patience/for this kind of thing and have obviously been planning and studying all year for the big reveal:



So, if you haven’t made your gingerbread house yet, there is still time. 

Throw caution to the wind, grab your courage and have a wonderful, light-filled and joyous Holiday Season!

The Top Ten Interior Design Books of 2009

By , December 11, 2009

It has been a remarkable year for interior design books. It was hard to pick just ten books, as every month produces beautiful tomes that require hours of lingering. I based my results on the books that inspired and influenced me to grow as a designer, and to dream the dreams of love, beauty and art!

A few of the books are from the archives of designers who are no longer living. Still, their work resonates across the years and seems possibly more relevant than when it was first done. Or perhaps it is just me being too young to catch on!

So here they are, in alphabetical order:

1. An Affair with a House; by Bunny Williams- A Charming story of her 30 year affair with a farmhouse, a barn and 12 acres in a New England village.

2. David Hicks-A life of Design; by Ashley Hicks. This is a book written by Hicks son, Ashley. It is chock full of dishy stories about Hicks glamourous, celebrity filled life, but also contains hundreds of illustrations showing the most chic applications of the 70’s asthetic.

3. Defining Luxury; by Jeffrey Bilhuber. Jeffrey’s style is one of courageous color and highly customized furnishings mixed with flea market finds. He defines luxury as finding joy in the ever present abundance of life. Beautiful, fun and very livable rooms.

 4.  Glamour: Making it Modern; by Michael Lassell.  This is a collection from the archives of Metropolitan Home magazine.  Since the magazine has closed and December 2009 will be their last issue, this book showcases a collection of some of their most sophisticated designs and shows how glamour has nothing to do with the size of a home and everything to do with the style in which it was created.

5. Glamorous Rooms; by Jan Showers and Michael Kors. Showers is a designer from Dallas with a showroom and a product line. Check out her great lamps at She also goes elegant classical interiors with a fresh look for today.

6. Michael Taylor Interior Design; by Stephen M. Salny. This wonderful book showcases the work of San Francisco designer Michael Taylor. His work began in the 1950’s and continued through his death in 1986. Looking at the photos throughout his career, it is a reminder how classic interiors never look dated because they are not trendy. These could be shown in magazines today and receive rave reviews! His work is always inspiring.

7. More is More—Tony Duquette; by Hutton Wilkinson. This is the second book about Duquette, the California interior designer, that was written by Wilkinson. The first book was filled with wonderful photographs of Duquette work and this one is also. He was a designer of jewelry, fashion, stage sets, interiors, lighting, fabrics, and the list goes on and on. As an extraordinary artist with a unique vision, inspiration comes with every page. He is the man who would use egg cartons and plastic nursery pots and make them look fabulous, architectural and DIVINE!

8. The Private world of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge; by Robert Murphy. The photos in this book are enough to make you slip into a dream for a week! These gentlemen shared 8 different homes and filled each of them with the finest of art and antiques. Every piece in the collection is amazing for its rarity and for the quality of the execution of the artist. Although the rooms are overfilled with objects and drama, each piece in each room is exquisite and worth examining. Too bad most of it was sold at auction this year and not kept together in a museum that we all could visit.

9. Style and Substance: the Best of Elle Decor; by Margaret Russell, editor. Gleaned from the archives of the sophisticated magazine, this is a beautiful book that spans the 20 years the magazine has been in business. Since it is probably my favorite magazine, I adore every page.

10. Villa; by John Saladino. Alphabetically last, but not the least of my favorites, this is the story of Saladino’s love affair with a classic Santa Barbara house. He found and purchased the home in 2001 and painstakingly restored and renovated it. A gorgeous home of classic style, Saladino, who is both an acclaimed architect and an interior designer, has created a home of impossible beauty and has filled it with a profound collection of antiques, artifacts and his own line of custom furnishings. He is definitely on the short list of architects who I will consider to build my dream home in my next life!

Contemporary Venetian Style

By , October 19, 2009

I was looking through the August, 2009 issue of Interiors magazine and came across the photo spread of Stefano and Riccarda Contini’s 15th Century Venetian palace.

As if having gorgeous home on the Canale Grande wasn’t enough of a dream come true, the home is filled with stunning modern art and contemporary furnishings that Stefano, a gallerist, has collected with his wife over the years.

While everything featured in the photos was extraordinary, I fell in love with this brass “Sliced Violin” table  by Arman, made to look like pieces of a deconstructed violin. The accompanying chairs are both industrial and elegant and are set off perfectly by the deep blue painting of a man on a bench.


The genius of this arrangement is that it’s really such a simple setting, with all the art surrounded by open space.   And here specifically, the furniture IS the art.  And notice the classic Venetian terrazzo  floor the sculpture rests on.  The art pieces are unique and form a superb collection that reflects the spirit of the family. It demonstrates how a historical home can be imbued with modern flair to create a living environment that is itself a work of art. How lucky that this family gets the pleasure of  living there!

Warm Regards,



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Art Underfoot

By , September 8, 2009

I am interested in products that are created using new technologies but that still have strong ties to the traditional origins of the craft. I love it when the product has a contemporary edge, yet still retains the warmth and refined sensibility of the classics. Looking at the latest Italian Architectural Digest, I noticed an unusual hardwood floor inlaid with marble.  Continue reading 'Art Underfoot'»

Guest Bloggers

By , September 2, 2008

Sometimes, I’d like to let my readers hear voices other than mine. So occasionally, I will be having guest bloggers write an article for us. The guest blogger may be a designer from my firm, a favorite vendor or artist, another journalist, or one of my secret sources. Stay tuned and see what interesting items they will be showing us. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

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