Sunday, August 30, 2009

Late-August Greenery

The park across the road from my apartment building in downtown Toronto (Lawrence Park) is a place of respite and relaxation for all of the apartment dwellers in the area, a kind of green beacon of delight and calm in a sea of concrete and action. It's a wonderful place to explore: six acres of densely planted, heavily treed land with meandering pathways and sections of lawn, even a formal courtyard. It's a lovely place to wander and it's where you'll often find me on a Sunday afternoon, observing what's going on amid the leaves.

I feel I am a gardener by nature, but without any land to sow. This is why I'm such a proponent of parks and a real advocate for preserving green space where possible. Urbanites with a love gardens, flowers, plants and trees need these places of refuge. Lawrence Park is an exceptional example of this. Named after Alexander Muir, a Canadian poet, the park is beautifully maintained using only organic methods. It is planted with the seasons in mind; spring, summer and fall each offer their own rewards here. Even in winter, garden structures, such as sculptures, stone walls, trellises, arbours and large trees, provide interest in the snowy landscape.

I took some photos this afternoon of some of the late-August greenery.

Hostas in bloom in the background. Astilbes in the foreground. I love the layering of height and the texture of the foliage against the silhouette of that locust tree.
A grouping of asters and cosmos created a fluttery, violet tableau in one corner of a garden.

I'm not sure what these little plants are, but they may be a variety of astilbe. I love how they catch the tone of the ornamental grass in the background.

These flowers were gorgeous: low to the ground and very prolific.

The formal rose garden, unfortunately, fell victim to a scrourge of rose beetles. This little monster's belly is full of petal and leaf matter. The roses don't stand much of a chance against a hungry enemy like this.

As you can see, many of the blooms have already been eaten. The buds that are yet to flower are prime prey. The foliage too is falling victim to pests and disease.

This rose is mostly intact, but the beetles have already begun to nibble....

This cedum is just beginning to turn its classic shade of rusty red as autumn approaches. I love this tableau of texture.

This formidable Scotch thistle was about to burst into bloom. When it does bloom, it will be a deep shade of purple. This variety is Scotland's official flower, hence its name. They are large and very robust, strikingly beautiful with all their thorny leaves and prickles and their large, crown-like blossoms - not at all like their weedy cousins.

The Scotch thistle yields a striking silhouette against the gray sky.

A field of foxgloves growing behind a long cedar hedge was a wonderful surprise.

Purple and cream varieties only.

All of this foliage will be exciting when it starts to turn shades of gold, rust and red in the autumn.

This house, which fronts the park, looked exceptionally beautiful.

Martha's Fabulous Costume

Martha's Halloween costume this year (at least on the cover of the new Halloween special issue on newsstands now) is that of a ghoulish equestrienne. Having risen from the dead, she is on the prowl in the woods of Bedford, moving silently through the mist on her black steed! Below are images from the special issue magazine that depict Martha's elegantly sinister costume.

To make this costume you will need basic sewing supplies, about 9 yards of black taffeta, 1 1/2 yards of 1 1/2-inch-wide black ribbon (for the cape), a top hat, 1 yard of millinery netting, 1 yard of black tulle, 1 2/3 yards of 1 1/2-inch-wide gray ribbon (for the hat), 1 black ostrich feather, fabric glue, and 2/3 yards of white cotton shirting. To learn how to make the costume, see page 82 of the new magazine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flea Market Style: Book Review

Stumbling upon a flea market is rather like discovering a long-lost box of treasures in the attic: venture inside and you'll discover a world of things you never knew you wanted! Going to flea markets has become something of a weekend passtime for millions of Americans and Europeans; there's just something about looking through piles of old books whose pages have been turned a million times, or wandering through a rainbow of vintage furniture that leaves so many of us thrilled and inspired.

The problem with flea markets, often times, is that we leave with one or two random pieces, never quite sure what we'll do with them, where we'll put them or how it will be received by our significant others once we bring it through the door. All we know is that we love them and that we had to have them.

Thankfully, Flea Market Style, a glorious little book by Emily Chalmers and Ali Hanan helps us put our love of flea market finds into perspective and gives us an inside look at rooms - indeed, entire houses and apartments! - that have successfully mastered the art of creating a flea market style at home. Whether your space is modern or rustic, there is room for flea market treasures. It's just about choosing carefully.

My new apartment in Toronto is not the least bit modern. It's located in a building that was constructed in the 1920s with Art Deco elements all over the place. It has archways and tall, narrow windows, creaky hardwood floors and a bathroom laden with light green subway tiles. It lends itself perfectly to a clean, boho-chic look I've been dying to try my hand at for ages now. So, that's the approach I'm taking to its decoration - never forgetting my inherrent minimalism and my need for space. (A clutter bug, I am not!)

What I love about the book is its easy approach to bringing flea market finds together and its tips on what to consider when you go to a flea market looking for pieces for your home. The carefree nature of flea market style, while refreshingly casual and brimming with character, should not be taken simply at face value; there are guidelines and quiet rules that any decorator wanting to attain that shabby-chic look must follow to avoid falling into the dreaded "anything goes" trap, which could result in rooms that look hideously neglected rather than artfully considered.

It's about careful selection of pieces at the flea market, a deep understanding of your space (layout, light, display structures, colour) and your needs, both as a designer and as a practical dweller: buying a vintage pod chair for $500 may not be the greatest investment for a mother of three when a gorgeous 60s sectional could be had for the same price.

I urge anyone who loves eclecticism and vintage looks to have a browse through this beautiful book. It will make you want to skip to the nearest flea market as hastily as possible!

This collection of colourful bowls has been carefully cherry-picked over several years from a flea market in Brussels. The owner displays them on open shelving in her kitchen, row upon row.

So much about the flea-market look has to do with furniture arrangement and the display of collections. This old chesterfield was just a skeleton of wood and springs when it was found. Now fully reupholstered, it has a carefree elegance that lends itself perfectly to the rusticity of this old room. A collection of dog prints on the walls gives the room a gentlemanly air.
Flea market style doesn't have to mean clutter and clash. In this spare dining room a table and chair set from the 60s blends nicely with a pair of pendant lamps for a retro-modern look. The "masterpiece" on the wall is actually a piece of old linoleum flooring hung from a pair of sturdy bulldog clips attached to the wall with nails: that hit of the unexpected is key to the look.

I love this room! That QE II print alone is enough to endear the space to my heart! Metal-rimmed furniture from the 70s and a boldly printed pillow give the space its modern edge. Playing with scale and monochromatic elements infuse it with quirky drama.

Cereal anyone? Pick a bowl, any bowl. The delightful display of this enormous collection of vintage dishware, gathered over a decade of flea-market excursions, lends this loft kitchen an air of extreme drama, texture, depth and scale.
A secret workspace in this loft is kept separate from the rest of the living spaces by a curtain of stitched scarves and tea-towels. Galvanized storage shelves and a heavy metal desk provide beautiful contrast, as well as a utilitarian work area for this crafter.

Display is so much a part of the flea-market look. This rustic old cabinet holds a bevy of flea market finds. Isolating your flea market collections to one area, or even one cabinet in the corner of a room, is a fine way to limit the look while still providing the eye with a focus of interest.

Another space I adore! This long farm table and its collection of wooden swivel chairs provide just the counteraction necessary to make that old steel filing cabinet pop from the wall. The blend of the wood with the metal (also in the lamps overhead and the bases of the chairs below) gives the room a tactile, utilitarian look that lends itself perfectly to working.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Martha Loves her All Hallow's Eve!

Most of us are aware that Martha Stewart considers Halloween to be her favourite celebration. Every year she does it up tremendously: full costumes, decorations at home and at work, not to mention Halloween specials on her TV show, special issue magazines and numerous craft products to help us celebrate in style.

This year is no exception. In fact, Martha Stewart Living has vastly expanded its Halloween merchandising this year, with new partnerships and new products. A partnership with Grandin Road will bring an entirely new line of Halloween products to market, exclusive to the retailer: glittered skeletons, costumes for adults and children (including Martha's Glampire outfit!) and a number of labels, invitations, window silhouettes and pumpkin decorations. Both Macy's and Michael's will be rolling out new Halloween products this year, and even Flor will be offering spirited Martha Stewart carpet tiles in black and orange, decorated in spider-web patterns. Nearly every facet of the Martha Stewart brand will be engaging in the Halloween celebrations, from a new special issue magazine (see below) to a new Halloween workshop at

I'm still in patio mode and enjoying the last weeks of summer's heat, and I'm breaking my own rule about the keeping the blog seasonally appropriate, but I wanted to foreshadow some of the Halloween goodies by Martha Stewart you'll be seeing in stores soon. I couldn't help myself!

I love these Mad Scientist wine labels, which come in a set of six, from Martha Stewart Crafts. The tree favour bags are delightfully spooky!

New, personalized invitations by Martha Stewart from Pingg. Choose a photo from the gallery and add your personal details.

This hanging skeleton from Martha Stewart Crafts is a steal for $6.99!

Macy's continues its partnership with Martha this fall and added some fun cookie boxes and a pumpkin carving kit to its roster.

New baking stencils from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's will enliven even the most deadly of cupcakes!
You may remember this silhouette from the cover of the October, 2005, issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. It's now available at Grandin Road.These large, colourful, glittered chandeliers are made of cardboard and easily snap together for a striking effect, available at Grandin Road. This life-size glittered skeleton, previewed last October in Martha's magazine column, is also now available to buy in green, black or white.
New this year from Flor is a line of Halloween-themed carpet tiles, to make the entrance to your home even more spooky to roaming trick-or-treaters.

Martha Stewart for 1-800-Flowers offers several new fall bouquets and wreaths, including the Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin patch bouquet.
More glittered chandeliers from Martha Stewart Crafts. And I love this Happy Halloween witch garland for just $5.99. The font is effectively vintage.

The tried-and-true crow silhouettes return to Martha Stewart Crafts this year. Skull pumpkin transfers provide an artistic alternative to messy carving.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Halloween Special Issue

If you're anything like me, and most of you are, you've experienced symptoms of withdrawal in the absence of those fabulous, amazing, collectible special issues from Martha Stewart Living. There hasn't been a single one this year so far, and my patience was wearing thin...until now! The editors will be releasing a special Halloween issue on August 31 (so early!) to coincide with the launch this summer of their new Halloween products for Grandinroad. (More on those later!)

Martha takes the cover again, this year as a ghoulish equestrienne, posing with one of her Friesians, Rutger. This issue marks a departure from the traditional "Holiday" series of special issues, several of which have been devoted to the subject of Halloween, with its more literal title. I'm sure much of the content will be the same as previous "Holiday" Halloween issues, but of course I must have them all!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Television Renewals

The fifth season of the Martha Stewart Show begins on September 14th, so be sure to tune in. (Can you believe it's been on for four years already?) No big promotional lead up so far, like last summer with the "BIG" ad campaign, which amounted to a season opener filmed live on Martha's farm. Also no word on whether there will be any special guest for the first episode.

Also renewed for a second season was ""Whatever, Martha" with Alexis and Jennifer on the Fine Living Network on September 23rd. Martha will be joining the girls on the show this season for a special episode where she reflects on her favourite episodes of the show with the girls. It should be one to watch! Everyday Food and Everyday Baking will continue on PBS. Check your local listings for all the air times.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Everyday Food Evolution

With the arrival of the September issue of Everyday Food comes the debut of more changes to the handy little digest. design refresh and the introduction of several new columns in the magazine are just the thing to start a new season off on the right foot. Below are some of the changes:

A new photograph of Martha graces the corner of the cover of the September issue.

The "Contents" pages are beautifully designed with large, colourful photography: very graphic and enticing!

A new column called "Bites" aims to inform the reader about some of the latest kitchen trends, new cookware and appliances, great cooking blogs and websites.

Another new column called "Tonight's Dinner Tomorrow's Lunch" celebrates the art of great left-overs with recipes for simple suppers and advice on how to use the left-overs to make a creative and delicious lunch the next day.

"Eat Out at Home" is a new column that brings some favourite restaurant fare to the kitchen table, without racking up a huge tab. In today's struggling economy, this is definitely a Good Thing.

Everyday Food is now being designed more like "Living" with an introductory splash page that separates the bulk of the content into a 'well' at the back of the magazine. Love this!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inside Cantitoe Corners

Let's not pretend that attending a dinner party at Martha Stewart's farm in Bedford would be a dream come true. Even just a tour of the interior spaces would certainly cinch my curiosity about the house's floorplan and its flow from public to private spaces.

Martha completely reworked the home she purchased in 2000, especially the 1925 farmhouse, which she calls The Winter House. The house originally faced Girdle Ridge Road but Martha, in her renovation with famed architect Allan Greenberg, turned the house the other way so that the front faces the sprawling acreage of the property, the stables and the gardens. Martha also built a 4,000 square-foot addition to the home, which included a large kitchen connected to the main house by a servery, and a large multi-purpose Great Room for entertaining. She builT a series of garages and a building that contains a large room for her many projects and a gym.

The property has five residential structures in total, including the Winter House, a Colonial house (the Summer House) which is adjacent to the Winter House, a tenant's cottage, which is where Alexis stays when she is visiting, a modern house much deeper on the property, which has yet to be touched by Martha's designers, and a guest cottage in the woods of the property. There are also staff quarters near the stables.

I've broken down some of the various areas of Martha's Cantitoe home into sections and briefly discuss some of the chapters in the evolution of the interior design.


The workspaces in Martha's Bedford home are defined by cool palettes and streamlined functionality. They are minimally designed to be spare, light and conducive to working.

Martha's basement is a clean and organized space, which serves multiple purposes. It contains the laundry room, shown above, two large areas for storage, a wine cellar, a bathroom and a gift wrapping room. Martha pairs industrial-grade accessories, such as professional laundry baskets on castors (shown above) with softer elements like wicker baskets and wooden tables in the laundry room. The laundry's floor is covered in small mosaic tiles. Elsewhere, the floors are made of buffed concrete. Large baking racks hold Martha's extensive collections of dishware, such as her jadeite and Wedgwood.

Way up on the third-floor of the house is Martha's craft room, accessible by a narrow staircase leading up from the second floor. It is fully outfitted with all of the crafting essentials, including several sewing machines, a computer and professional printer for printing crafts, and custom-made wooden storage units painted Martha's favourite colour to house ribbons, papers and tools.

The kitchen was a new addition to the home. It's enormous, rectilinear size means Martha can concoct any sort of culinary vision she imagines with ease and simplicity. The kitchen is fully equipped with professional-grade appliances and cookware: double ovens, a professional cappuccino maker, a grill and bank of gas elements, not to mention several deep marble sinks. The floor is reclaimed marble from a house she once owned in the Hamptons. Marble-topped surfaces provide durability and great looks that pair nicely with the sycamore-veneer cabinetry, stained a light grey hue. The kitchen (indeed much of the house) is painted a warm shade of grey: Bedford Gray, available at Lowes!


Not long after Martha purchased the home, she embarked on a colourful experiment: to use red in her decorating schemes. Always a lover of this rich colour, she was doubtful it would work in an interior space. She used the Colonial Summer House on her property as the canvas for her experiment and used her collection of Chinese furniture as the inspiration for the design. While the experiment was a given success, the Colonial house no longer looks this way and the red has since been replaced by cooler creams and neutrals.
To create a softer, more restful mood in one of the bedrooms, Martha had the walls painted a pale khaki shade and restricted the use of red to accent pieces, such as the quilt and the japanned secretary. When looking through the doorway, the eye naturally moves from one patch of red to the next - from the red-damask settee and faux-marbled baseboard in the hall to the carpet, toile-covered French chairs and the red walls in the sitting room beyond.
Orange Fitzhugh-patten Chinese-export porcelain, originally from Skylands, inspired the dining room colour scheme. The painted walls match the deepest tone on the China, shown in the shelving niche. A quince-coloured red velvet tablecloth and sunset-hued fabric on the folding screen highlight the richness and depth of gold-tinged reds.

In the living room, a Chinese-style red painted bureau has a faux-marbled top. Black tole candlestick lamps, a set of laquered stacking boxes, and a group of 18th Century English prints depicting Asian-inspired scenes continue the Chinoiserie theme.

Based on my own assessment, I would venture a guess that the interiors of the Winter House at Bedford were based largely on the principals of traditional Swedish design, which is defined by cool, neutral colour palettes (greys, browns and greens) and the sparse placement of furniture. The inherrent minimalism of Swedish design is enriched by the quality of furniture, much of it made of heavy, ornate woods, gilded accents and rich upholstery. Notice, too, that none of the windows in the main house have any window coverings, aside from simple roll-down blinds that are only slightly opaque.
In Martha's bedroom, an orchid hybrid sits in front of an American Empire gilded mirror in an orchid pot designed by Martha's potter, Guy Wolff. Stick-on pads under the saucer protect the finish of the antique tea table, which stands beside a damask-upholstered settee in the style of Duncan Phyfe.

Orchids abound in Martha's bedroom, such as these rare varieties that rest near a crackle-based lamp with a silk shade that Martha designed. Etched-mirrored sconces on either side of the 18th Century mahogany bed catch cooling light. Subtly toned Japanese linen covers the pintucked duvet on the bed and also lines the canopy. The bed's boldly scalloped gabardine pelmet and skirt, designed by Martha in a cool hue of sky blue, contrast the intricate embroidery on the antique linens and the subtle pattern on the Arabian carpet.

The Green Room in Martha's home is a formal space defined by a melding of lustrous gold and verdant tones. Flanking the marble fireplace, above, two Greek Revival columns furnish pedestals for stately jade plants. Twin Irish Georgian sofettes face each other under an Austrian giltwood chandelier, which is reflected in a 19th Century Swedish cornucopia mirror over the mantel. The coffee table holds gold candlesticks on a highly-polished brass tray.

Two large umbrella plants flank the windows of the Green Room. Palmettes, flowers and fruits fill the room with luscious foliage and life. A Swedish neoclassical clock hangs on the wall above a wood-and-marble pedestal table that houses a small collection of houseplants and antique hurricanes of etched glass.

Martha's enormous greenhouse affords her a luxuriant collection of foliage and plantlife all year round. Martha displays much of it in large groupings indoors, such as this collection of cacti and succulents in one of the parlours. An American Empire mahogany table provides the elegant base, complete with paw feet. Matching wing chairs are upholstered in a lustrous damask. The floors throughout Bedford are hardwood, covered with comfortable and practical sisal rugs.
One corner of the multi-purpose Brown Room houses a cozy sitting area. Window trims are painted the same shade of light brown as the rest of the room to give daylight the focus it deserves. A Japanese maple bonsai rests atop a large marble-topped rococo table, Norwegian in origin. The mirror above it has a 19th Century American gilded frame. Sharkey, one of Martha's French bulldogs, stands near a pair of Georgian style wing chairs upholstered in a Fortuny cotton.
At the dining end of the Brown Room, Martha gathers assorted fancy-leafed begonias to give each of her guests a different perspective on the growing centerpiece. Open shelves present some of Martha's collection of antique glassware, mainly American but interspersed with European examples. Some of the compotes, jars, tumblers, vases and other pieces date to the 18th Century. The walls were painted using a faux-bois technique and the table, custom-designed by Martha, features a thick, richly-veined marble top.