November Inspiration

Let's face it; November can be bleak. All those gray days, the sprinkling of sleet and the icy breezes can leave even the happiest among us feeling a little dull. But there is much to be enjoyed this month, not the least of which is all the preparation for Thanksgiving on the 26th. (Yes, I know, I'm Canadian and celebrated Thanksgiving in October, but who's to say I can't live vicariously through all of you?)

One of my favourite magazines to read in the fall months is Country Living - both the U.S. and the British versions. I have a slight preference for the British version, mainly because it is larger, glossier and a bit more glamorous, but both editions are fine reading material this time of year. There is something about the styling of those gorgeous photographs (the outdoor settings, especially) that enables me to suck it up and simply enjoy these crisp, cool days for all they're worth.

I've compiled some November inspiration from the pages of the British Country Living magazine. I hope they liven the senses and spark the urge to spend some time outdoors this month.

Dark Rooms

Foresaking light in favour of darkness may seem like a questionable idea when dealing with interior design. But there is something to be said for the luxurious tones and rich textures of rooms that embrace dusky motifs over clear luminescence.

Opting for a dark room (or a series of rooms) means being somewhat cautious with the materials and furniture placement you choose. And no room - no matter how dim you may like it - can function without the existence of some light, natural or artificial. One must take light sources into consideration, from lamps and overheads to window light, and carefully select lighting and window coverings that will enhance the atmosphere of the room.

Below are several rooms from the pages of Martha Stewart Living that beautifully illustrate the effectiveness of dark rooms. This time of year, especially, dark rooms tend to beckon us into their warm enclosures, urging us to settle in and curl up with a warm blanket and a good book, a pot of tea steeping on the side table and the promise of a fire in the hearth a little later keeping us even warmer.
Brown tones and a mix of textures make this bedroom an inviting space in which to recline. Naturally distressed wood next to more polished grades give the room shape. Sisal and wool carpeting underfoot contrast the silky fabrics of the bedding. Burgundy and crisp white give the room punctuation and dimension.
A dark corner of a bedroom makes a quiet work space, illuminated by a slender lamp and the light from the setting sun. The pallette is kept neutral in shades of brown, taupe and beige with black-and-white photography echoing the high contrast in the fern-print drapery. The overall effect is rustic and refined.
Warm shades of gray in this dining room are accentuated by taupe trim. Metallic trays and frames give the vignette some shimmer. A bowl of bright fruit looks radiant in this setting, which is grounded by the heavy mahogany dresser acting here as a sideboard.
Dark furniture, like this purple dresser, can bring a room the security and warmth of deep colours without overpowering it. Bright yellow vessels holding an assortment of dried coral bring levity and lightness to the wood-panelled room.
Brown and purple are wonderful bedfellows in this image. They are united by the plush texture of the fabric and kept in context by the dark gray tone of the walls. Glossy black furniture and a metallic floor lamp add some firmness and shine to the room.
A gilt-edged mirror is the clear focal point in this photograph, rivaled only by the blue velvet chair. The room is graciously designed in bold shades of navy and indigo with the white hearth tile, birch logs and hardwood floor acting as accentuating foils.
Here again blue makes the room. A dynamic mixture of fabrics and prints give the room an air of whimsy: gold damask on the bedskirt, orange velvet on the bench cushion. The roll-down blind, with its minimal, linear pattern affirms the room's modern edge.
Dark wood is livened by a white ceiling and unadorned windows that let the light flow in. A heavily-patterned black fabric on the sofa is anything but somber. An ocre rug and an arrangement of yellow tulips lightens the room further. At Turkey Hill, Martha's former home in Connecticut, black furniture graced the rooms of the guest quarters above the barn near the main house. Here, Martha paired an ornate mirror with a simple dresser (both flea-market finds) and united them by giving them a coat of lustrous black paint. Silver and crystal accessories add a dressy bit of sparkle.


Martha's Transformations

I've often wondered where and when Halloween first made an impression on Martha, and why she now considers it to be her favourite holiday. Was it at her family's home in Nutley, New Jersey, where her father would often dictate to his children what costumes they would wear on All Hallow's Eve, or was it later in life, when she discovered the bliss of escapism and disguise in a complex and complicated life?

In one of her magazine letters, she writes: "I cannot remember one single year that I personally did not celebrate Halloween. Usually, nowadays, I get dressed up in a costume, apply a bit of special-effects make-up, blast spooky sound effects around my decorated front door, turn off all the lights in the house and greet trick-or-treaters with an array of candies and sweetmeats. As a child, I was a serious trick-or-treater myself, and I loved it when a neighbour went to the trouble to spook or scare or celebrate, expending even just a little bit of effort on behalf of the neighbourhood kids to let us all know that Halloween was indeed a viable and important holiday, when fun and games and tongue-in-cheek behaviour were accepted and expected."

Perhaps it's as simple as the idea of throwing a really grand party that appeals to Martha, and the ability to entertain in the most whimsical and magical ways with abandon. Whatever the case, Martha adores this day. Below are some photos of Martha in various costumes to get us adults inspired for the most nightmarish of nights! Happy Halloween everyone!

Martha as the Black Widow, inspired by the Queen of the Spiders from the book by Italian make-up artist Stefano Anselmo called Il Trucco e la Maschera. Martha graced the cover of the special 2000 Halloween issue in this costume.

Martha takes a turn as the Ghoulish Glampire on one cover of the special 2007 Halloween issue, which had a uniuque double cover touting both Good Things and Bad Things for the holiday.On the Good Things end of the same Halloween issue, Martha casts a heavenly glow of light as a Roman goddess.Back in wicked form this year, for the cover of the 2009 special Halloween issue, Martha chose a ghostly equestrienne as her muse.
And, oh, how she suffers for her art! We, as the benefactors, are glad for it!

Sinful Sips

Halloween is no longer just for the kids! I've compiled a series of sinful sips for grown-ups from the pages of Martha Stewart Living. Each one is a creative take on a traditional drink, transformed for Halloween with a few simple props and accessories. Choose your favourites below and visit this link for all the recipes. And, please remember, drink responsibly!



Pumpkin Cache-Pots

One of the most effective ways to display flowers in the autumn is to incorporate pumpkins into the mix. Using the orange gourds as cache-pots creates a stunning fall arrangement. Using seasonal offerings, such as mums, berries, asters, dahlias, cockscombs, rosehips and deciduous foliage, such as maple or oak leaves, brilliantly bring it all together. What makes pumpkin cache-pots so alluring, I think, is the simplicity they bring to an arrangement, making reference to the season in such an easy yet creative way. Fill a vessel that will fit inside the pumpkin (a jar or a vase) with water and FloraLife and then hollow out the pumpkin. Place the jar inside and then arrange the flowers, making sure each stem is submerged into the water. Below are some examples from Martha Stewart Living magazine.

This simple trio of pumpkins looks lovely with two of the syblings topped by an array of large chrysanthemums. Adding the third pumpkin, sans flowers, helps balance the grouping.

This extremely creative design has transformed a pumpkin into a seasonal flower basket of sorts. Fill with dark flowers and foliage, such as roses and purple kale, and place on a mantel or table. The effect is dazzling! Get the complete instructions at marthastewart.com.
Here, a bundle of sugar-maple leaves, in glorious shades of autumn, are carefully arranged into small bundles and wound together with floral wire. The bundles are again grouped together to make larger bundles. Inside the hollow pumpkin, place damp floral foam. Begin arranging the bundles from the center of the oasis, working in a circular form from the outside in to the center. The outer circle of leaves should hang over the edge of the pumpkin's opening by about six inches and lay against the pumpkin. Each consecutive circle should be slightly taller so that you wind up with a loose, round shape.
The pumpkin cache-pot idea works outdoors, as well. Here, a lovely arrangement is punctuated by hits of glittering gold. Spray-painted dried flowers from a craft store give the arrangement a hit of glamour. The gold theme is carried subtly across a vignette of smaller pumpkins and gourds in shades of green and gray, which are arranged around the centerpiece, creating a lovley moment on a rustic, wooden bench.


Beekman Blaak

My friends Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell (owners, curators and farmers of the historic Beekman Farm in Sharon Springs, New York) have expanded their goat farming operations to now include cheese making. Already renowned for their gorgeous, all-natural goats-milk soap, Brent and Josh have developed a new cheese that is now available online. The cheese is stunning to look at it and, I'm told, even more stunning to taste and it might be worth sampling at your Thanksgiving table.

Beekman 1802 Blaak is the first artisanal cheese produced from the goats at Beekman Farm. Blaak is an Italian-style semi-hard cheese made from a 60:40 mix of goat and cow milk giving the cheese a mild but distinctive flavor.

In keeping with traditional cheesemaking practices, this rare cheese is aged for 4 months in our caves and is coated with ash at each turning to promote the ripening of the wheel. The resulting edible black rind gives the cheese its name and makes it a true conversation piece on your table.

Brent and Josh describe the cheese below:


It took us a while to perfect the “recipe” for Blaak. We wanted to create a cheese that was distinctive in taste but that could also appeal to people who don’t (or think they don’t) like the taste of goat milk cheeses. The cow milk mellows out the tanginess traditionally associated with goats' milk, but allows Blaak to maintain the lingering and sophisticated taste of the finest goat milk cheeses.


Bacteria and mold are what give any cheese its flavor and texture. Most cheeses use pasteurized milk, which kills all ambient bacteria resulting in a predictable - and often bland - flavor. Beekman 1802 is a special place, and we think the Beekman goats are special, too. It stands to reason (at least by our logic) that our bacteria is fabulous as well. Pasteurizing our milk prior to making the cheese would prevent the resulting cheese from living up to its best natural potential.


The ash is helpful in mellowing the acidity to promote the affinage (a fancy word for ripening) and produce a more delectable cheese. It also helps make the cheese surface more hospitable to the growth of beneficial molds that add to the complexity of the overall flavor.


Martha to Expand Food Line

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia today announced that it has partnered with The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. and its affiliate Hain Pure Protein Corporation to introduce a new Martha Stewart-branded food line at retail, including poultry from Plainville Farms, baking mixes from Arrowhead Mills and dried pastas from DeBoles using all natural, healthy ingredients. The product lines are expected to be distributed in supermarkets, mass-market retailers and warehouse clubs across the country.

The new Martha Stewart-branded products will launch with limited distribution of fresh and frozen vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free turkeys from Hain Pure Protein's Plainville Farms in time for Thanksgiving 2009, including online availability via http://www.marthastewart.com/turkey.

The launch of the turkey products will be followed by natural baking mixes from Arrowhead Mills and dried pastas from DeBoles in Spring 2010, expanding the gourmet quality of the natural baking mixes and dried pastas using recipes from Martha Stewart.

The new offerings extend MSLO's relationship with Hain Celestial, which is producing Martha Stewart Clean, a branded line of all-natural cleaning solutions that is expected to launch next month.

Martha Stewart Turkey from Hain Pure Protein's Plainville Farms is humanely raised on family farms, vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free with no added growth hormones. It will be packaged with a booklet providing consumers with instructions from Martha Stewart Living's "Turkey 101" and ideas from http://www.marthastewart.com/turkey about how to prepare and cook the turkey as well as recipes for stuffing and gravy. The baking mixes from Arrowhead Mills and dried pastas from DeBoles contain no artificial flavors or preservatives; the relationship may expand into additional categories.

"Our previous experience in the retail food arena has taught us a great deal about how to develop high-quality, healthy and delicious food for the retail shopper. Our expanded relationship with Hain Celestial is part of our merchandising strategy to partner with the best manufacturers who have vast and robust retail distribution networks," said Robin Marino, MSLO's President and Chief Executive Officer of Merchandising.


A Celebration of Plaid

Few prints cry autumn quite like the lustrous, linear glamour of plaid. A mix of rusticity and formality, tradition and whimsy, plaid knows no bounds when it comes to making a statement. It is a favourite of fashion designers around the world, from Vivienne Westwood to Ralph Lauren, Jean-Paul Gaultier to Alexander McQueen. With roots dating back to the ancient Celts, tartan has since come to symbolize kinship, family histories, and all things Scottish. And it's no longer simply a fabric one wears under wooly sweaters on cool, damp days. There has been a decided increase in plaid's popularity indoors as well, both to accessorize or define interior spaces in a design-conscious way.

I've gathered some imagery below to illustrate how effective plaid can be as either a base theme or as an accessory in a room. The look of plaid indoors is timeless but can be slanted to be either modern or traditional, given the setting and its placement in the room. Most of the images were taken from the fantastic book by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle called Tartan, Romancing the Plaid. I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in the use of tartan in fashion and interior design to pick up a copy of this fine book.

In this living room, the same tartan is repeated throughout its corners: to accent the architecture of the archways, to upholster the sofas, to define the lampshade and to create the drapery. To enliven the space, and break up the potential blandness of the plaid's monochrome pallette, the room is puctuated with bright red chairs and a whimsical display of wooden top-hats hung on a wall painted a solid tone of gray, similar to the gray of the plaid.
This restroom looks ultra-luxe lined in heavy Ralph Lauren wallpaper. Notice the framed tartan prints surrounding the etching on the wall.
In this formal dining room, plaid is used sparingly and quietly to upholster the backs of the dining room chairs. Its subtle shades of beige, burgundy, cream and sage green lend themselves beautifully to the room. Only one chair, at the head of the table, is used as a pop, upholstered in a bold red and green tartan, which catches the arrangement of roses on the table.
Here, too, plaid takes on a quiet accent. Multiple tartans and patterns (on the cushions, throws and lampshade) seem to work effortlessly together because they are kept in line with the room's base shades and colours.
These antique plaid accent pieces would bring charm to just about any room. Metallic tins could hold any number of household items, including sewing supplies, pens and markers, stationery or coasters. Also shown is an old book on Scottish tartans and a pair of ivory bangles decorated in plaid motifs.
These next two photographs show how plaid can be used on a large scale and with unabashed abundance. The room above feels deep, rich and textured with its assortment of dark tartan patterns, layered one on top of the other. The unifying tones are deep green and vibrant red, which is echoed in the painting. Clean white mattes on the frames and the white lampshade bring focus to the room, like pearlescent buttons on a crisp plaid shirt.
This upstairs hallway, filled with light, is given added brightness with its swath of yellow and red plaid. The pattern nicely catches the shimmering brown of the hardwood flooring and works to accentuate the hallway's linear flow.
This image from Martha Stewart Living magazine again demonstrates the use of subtle plaid patterns in a room with muted tones. I love the blue wall, which perfectly gives the room its burst of breath.
In this other image from Martha Stewart Living, classic chair covers are given personality with a fringe of Burberry-like plaid, elevating the practical to the fashionable. The covers look lovely and rich in this brown room.
Here's one way to take a trek through the Scottish Highlands! This vintage Airstream trailor is bedecked with plaid fabric lining and flooring, creating a 'bubble of tartan' in which to camp. I love the Scotch pies on the plate by the toaster-oven, the multitude of canned Heinz beans and I can just imagine opening the door to the view of some foggy loch at the base of a heather-filled mountain.


Burlap Indoors

The idea may seem a little outlandish, but using burlap in interior spaces has become one of the biggest fall trends for 2009. The heavy, organic material traditionally used to bundle root matter and protect delicate foliage from biting winds and frost lends a naturalistic and graphic element to interiors that cannot be easily matched.

Burlap comes in several weaves, from the very rough and heavy 7 oz. garden burlap (top) historically used outdoors, to the finely-woven bleached burlap (bottom.) Second from top is the coffee-been sack variety of burlap and second from bottom is Jute burlap. (Jute is one of the most inexpensive natural fibres on the market, and is exceedingly durable.)
Add a touch of the unexpected at your next gathering. If you're in the market for a small tree, why not show it off to guests in an unimagined space, like the entrance hall. Plant the tree shortly thereafter.
I love the look of this luxurious and highly-textured space. The homemade burlap headboard (old burlap sacks found at a yard sale and stitched across a frame) adds a graphic, masculine element to this rustic room.
Finely-woven Jute burlap upholsters these shapely chairs. When paired with the smoothness and softness of dark velvet cushions, the contrast brings a quiet but noticeable edge to the room that is still beautifully elegant. The bold elements of this room are echoed in the striped carpet and black decorative accents.
You'd never guess that these refined dining chairs were upholstered in burlap, but their earthy tone and subtle texture bring a tangible weight to the room, which is otherwise airy and open.