Happy Birthday to a Design Mentor!

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My living room with inherited French antique chairs

Ask any interior designer who their mentor was, whose style first influenced them, who introduced them to a certain look - and most likely they will have a long story about that person and how important they were in shaping their aesthetic.  Ask me and I'll answer with two words:  Betty Rae!

Betty Rae - just the name itself goes so far in describing her:  A southern lady, gracious and beautiful, with an accent that matches her name.  I always say that Betty Rae's style influenced mine more than anyone  - bar none.  Who is this Betty Rae you are probably wondering?

Legally, she's my step-mother, but we don't use the word "step" - she's my mother in every sense of the word and today is her birthday.   I've been wanting to write about her and how she influenced my design style, so today - her 78th birthday, seemed the perfect time to do it. 

Betty Rae came into my life when I was 14,  after my mother, Sonia, died unexpectedly at the age of 42.  My father had one date and was hooked.  Who wouldn't be?  She was beautiful with dark brown hair and eyes, sweet and loving, and very stylish.  She introduced me to antiques and french design and for that I'll always be grateful.

 

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That us, me and Betty Rae at my high school graduation.

Thinking about it, I guess you could say I came out of the womb interested in design.   When I look back,  it must have been well known in my family that I was into decorating.  One of my more vivid childhood memories is when a elderly cousin brought me all her old home magazines.  I was so excited to get them - in those days back in the 50s, there weren't a lot of design magazines like today.  I remember after my cousin went home, I sat down to look at the magazines and was utterly disappointed.  She had brought me her old magazines and I was expecting new ones!  They were probably from the 40s (ones I would kill for today!) and were such a let down.  I must have been only six or seven years old at the time - I know this because we still lived in our old house.  A few years later, my parents built a home across town and that experience was a further strengthening of my interest in interior decoration.  They let me help design my room all in lilac and white, I even had a lilac sink!   We all pored over the architectural drawings for months and this fueled my fascination with floor plans.  For years, I drew plans - doodling them in school instead of listening.  At that time, it was thought I might become an architect - but those hopes were dashed when the reality of my lack of math skills became apparent.  And so, when our lives changed for ever, and I ended up with a new mother - her sense of style was an extra bonus in the package.    Betty Rae was into French antiques, two words I knew nothing about, but which would form the basis of my design aesthetic forever. 

In contrast, my own mother who had immigrated as a teenager to the United States on the heels of Hitler invading Poland, knew nothing about interior design.   A redhead and a natural comedienne,  she only knew to hire someone to fix up our house in the popular "modern" style of the 50s and 60's.    Because of this,  modern design was all I knew - everyone in my life decorated their houses this way.  It's not that I wasn't interested in other styles, I just had never been exposed to them.  French antiques weren't a part of our lives or of our neighbors.

When I first met Betty Rae and her two daughters who would become my sisters - they were living in a fashionable high rise apartment, something that was an anomaly to Houston at that time  and something that was extremely exotic to a teenager from the suburbs.    I can remember that apartment vividly:  the living room was designed around a blue and green flowery fabric on a cream background which covered a down filled sofa.  There was a light blue velvet skirted table in the room and French antique chairs were scattered about.  The family room had an antique bakers rack (what's that?!!) that doubled as a tv stand and a bar.  The master bedroom was done  in blue and white, with a french headboard and a huge, fruitwood antique armoire that housed the tv.  Picture this:  Jacqueline Kennedy's personal space in the White House and you can get an idea of what the apartment looked like.  It was as if Stephane Boudin had decorated it himself, instead - the french antiques and reproductions were bought from a Mrs. Handy. 

I can not begin to explain the effect that this apartment had on me.  It was so beautiful, so feminine, so foreign to me.   I just loved everything about it then and still do today.  My love of french antiques was born on that day I first visited them in their apartment.   They say good taste runs in families, and Betty Rae's was no exception.  The youngest of three daughters, they all shared great style.  Her  two sisters both lived in New York, so their more cosmopolitan exposure trickled down to Texas.  At one point, Betty Rae and her best friend opened a small antiques store that specialized in accessories.   The two went to England to stock their inventory and were nice enough to let me work there sometimes on the weekends.   Over the years, as I became more and more exposed to french antiques, Betty Rae was always there to help guide me and teach me about them.  We would often go to antique stores and shows together, along with her daughter - my sister - Cathy.  We had so much fun antique shopping together, most times not even buying, just looking.  We even flew to Dallas to antique there.  We would go the Round Top antique fair twice a year and slosh through the mud to find some great piece of Masonware for Cathy or transferware for me.  We still will rehash the new Veranda or Southern Accents over the telephone or talk about some great new design book.   For fun, we'll go together to someone's new home to admire their antiques and ooh and ah.  In short, Betty Rae and I developed a great closeness centered around our love of French antiques.

Betty Rae's taste has remained impeccable and she can "kill" something with a just a glance.  She will quietly say, "Oh, I don't...know...." and she might as well of have shouted "I hate that with all my might, don't buy it!!!!"   She's my best sounding board and I never make major decisions about decorating my house without talking it over with her first.  When I bought my own armoire, I needed her and Cathy to approve it and say, "buy it" and the decision over which buffet a deux to choose - I left to Betty Rae to tell me which one I should pick.  Her vote of approval, whether it's for a dress or a husband, means the world to me and I would have trouble making a choice she didn't approve of, even though I'm 53 years old now and not a shy teenager any longer. 

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My mom and dad:  This was taken on Betty Rae's birthday a few years ago.

While I still love French antiques and live with them, Betty Rae's tastes have evolved over the years.  She and my father now live with Biedermeier antiques.  Their look is more sophisticated and eclectic these days.  But, whenever she gets lonesome for her old furniture, she doesn't have to travel far.  In fact, much of the furniture from that first apartment that I so admired is now in my own house, slowly accumulated over the years as Betty Rae's furnishings and houses changed.   The french chairs in my living room are from that apartment and so is the french secretary in my entry hall.   Her bakers rack is in my breakfast room along with her antique tole light fixture.  I have her french desk and antique nightstands from her master bedroom.  The armoire?  She sold that to someone else!

I hope that one day my daughter will share my love of antiques and that we might be just like Betty Rae and I are.   I even secretly hope that one day Elisabeth will join me in my interior design business, but she doesn't seem to have a great love of it, like I did at her age.  I was really lucky in my life, to have met Betty Rae who always encouraged me to put my heart into my home and fix it up and I try to instill that in my daughter.   I wonder, sometimes, if I had not met Betty Rae and she wasn't my mother, would I even be into antiques and French design today?  I honestly don't know that answer.   Maybe, but I'm not positive about that.  We talk about how few families out there get along with their stepmothers and stepchildren and we count ourselves so lucky that we aren't like that.  Not only do we get along, we are all the best of friends.

And so, today, Betty Rae, even though you are sick with a "full fledged" cold, happy birthday and thank you!  I love you!

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Betty Rae, Happy Birthday!

Oy Vey: New Design Books at Amazon.

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A sampling of my design book library, spread out all over my house.

 

Last holiday season, there were so many new design books published that I almost went broke buying the titles I wanted.  So, I expected a long, long respite from Amazon and design books, I mean - how many new ones could possibly come out so soon after Christmas?   Lurking around on Amazon last week I got my answer.   Amazon is just too clever -  they somehow always know when I'm on their site - "Hello, Ms. Cote de Texas ! Welcome Back!"  their screen  screams at me  (they love me at Amazon!)  They even have a list of books they recommend for me,  and it's uncanny just how their recommendations are exactly the books I want.    Below, is the list of books I now have on order at Amazon.  Most of these books are not even released yet, but if you pre-order, Amazon tells you eagerly, you save lots of money.  So,  of course, I told Ben that I am saving him lots of  money.   He's not pleased, he's heard that song and dance before.   So, sit down and relax, my list of ordered books is sort of longish.

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The Queen, Charlotte Moss - her new book is due out soon.   A fellow blogger has seen an advanced copy and says there are lots and lots of pictures, something that some of Charlotte's previous books don't have.  I can't wait for this one!

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This is a DVD starring Charlotte Moss narrating the behind the scenes of the 2006 New York Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club show house.  Not sure if this is going to be good, but I'll let you know.

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Charles Faudree's soon to be released book - I'm a little skeptical of this one.  Florals?  And the cover really doesn't excite me.  But Faudree's two other books are great French-American style reference books, so this is a must have for me.

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Veteran author Suzanne Trocme's new one.  The cover looks intriguing.   Soon to be released.

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Chinoiseries - soon to be released from Rizzoli House -- they always have the best books.  This one looks great.

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Another Rizzoli book - If this cover is indicative of the contents, I'm ready!  Apparently, this is about houses and horses and the hunt, something middle-aged Jewish women know nothing about, but I'm willing to learn.

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Another fabulous cover, another not yet released book. 

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Any book that has the word French in its title, I usually buy.  But this cover is irresistible, regardless.

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Prolific writer, Mary Emmerling's last book was a stinker.  But the one prior was fabulous.  This one will probably be fabulous too, I hope!  Not yet released, of course.

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French in the title, but I'm a little leery of the "25 step by step projects" - not sure what that is about and I'm not exactly "crafty."

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Magnolia Pearl's long awaited first book.  The title says it all.  She's not my favorite, but some things she does are interesting, to say the least.  To be released.

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This was really looks great to me.  Cliff May and California Ranch Style homes are synonymous.  Not yet released.

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Probably awful, but the pre released price is pretty cheap.

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Lulu's long, very long, awaited book.  Almost as long awaited as Ruthie's L.A. House.  If either of these are ever published it will be a miracle.

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A book written by bloggers Carrie and Danielle.  Have to support the bloggers!

New books already delivered:

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A French book on opaline glass.  One of the prettiest books I've ever seen.  The opaline pieces in this book make my collection look like junk.  Gorgeous.

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You know the rule:  French in the title.   Actually, this is pretty good for ideas.

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Staub, the architect that developed Houston's toniest neighborhood River Oaks.  This book is gorgeous and a must have for any Houstonian interested in its architectural history. 

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This is a wonderful book about all the other houses of Marie Antoinette's beside Versailles.  Beautiful little book.

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And last but not least, a book on the history of mural style wallcoverings in the Gracie and de Gournay tradition.  Put out by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

There are some talented designers left who've yet to write a book.  Ones I'd love to see do so:  Dan Carithers, Suzanne Kasler, Bobby McAlpine, Gerrie Bremermann, David Easton, Tom Scheerer, Mary McDonald, and Suzanne Rheinstein to name a few.  Who else needs to write a book?  I'd love to know who you think should.

A Tale of Two Houses

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One of Houston's more famous interior designers, Ginger Barber, is known for her spare, neutral interiors.  She eschews patterns and fussiness and prefers her designs to be calm and soothing with a sprinkling of pine, concrete, seagrass, stucco, iron, and linen.  Practicing in Houston for over 30 years, she has cultivated a "look" that  is very casual with  plushy down chairs and sofas covered in basic linens -  no silks for Ginger.  Her interiors have a decidedly English look crossed with a Texan sensibility.  Barber owns a small design store that sells English antiques and accessories, creamware and wicker baskets.  It's called The Sitting Room and it's styled exactly as she would her own living room, with  textures playing a major part of the design.  The laid back style would fit right in with a country home in the Cotswold's.  Two of Barber's publicized projects are actually for the same client.  Both houses are presented here for comparison.  Which do you prefer - the early English version or the new more Mediterranean, eclectic look?

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The original home:  typical Barber design:  large blanket chest doubles as a coffee table, plump slipcovered, down cushioned chairs and sofa, pine fireplace, seagrass rugs, and lots of wicker accessories in the shelves.  Notice the painted blue armoire to the right, it shows up in the new house!

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Original home:  antique pine table and painted chairs, various English styled antiques scattered about.  The wood floors and antiques are honey colored  - a look Barber prefers.

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Original home:  Dining room piece doubles as a buffet.  Wicker baskets, religious statues, painted woods, botanicals - all typical of what Barber loves and uses time and again.

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Original Home:  converted light fixture, slipcovered French chairs, large hutch with a collection of brown and white transferware.  This muted, monotoned look with honey colored woods is typical of a Barber design.

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Original home:  this picture is somewhat distorted, but upholstered headboard, muted bedding fabrics, and checks - Barber loves to use checks and Bennison, but who doesn't?

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The New Home:  white limestone floors, iron banister, iron candelabra and light fixture set the tone in this client's new home.  The dark hardwoods on the stairs are covered in seagrass.  Immediately, the differences in the two houses are apparent just here in the entry.

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The new home:  a three story townhouse designed by the fabulous Southampton Group brothers.  Here the look is more refined and elegant than the previous house, yet it still is very casual.  Blue and white dhurri rug, bold brown and cream check on recovered slipcover chair from previous home.  Lacquered coffee table replaces the blanket chest.  Small french antique chair comes from the older home.   English antique bamboo table, linen colored slipcovers, painted wood pieces, gold candlesticks - all are trademarks of Barber's.

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Close up of living room in the new home.  Notice how she uses baskets and pots in the shelves.  Here Barber uses unmatched chairs as opposed to the former house.  The unmatched chairs look lighter and less bulky in this setting. 

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Dining Room:  same chairs as the former home,  but they have been painted darker and wear new light blue slipcovers.  Blue armoire is now in the dining room as opposed to the family room in the former house.  New iron and limestone table.  This dining room is much more elegant than the former one, but still, retains the casual look.  Out of view is a crystal chandelier, replaced the former wood light fixture.

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The new kitchen boasts gorgeous antique tiles with limestone tiled countertops.  Creamware pieces are typical of those sold at The Sitting Room, Barber's wonderful design shop.

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Barber's usual tablescapes are heavy on concrete and large oversized pieces - nothing dainty or feminine about Barber's look.

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Landing in the new home:  note how much darker the wood floors are stained compared to the older home. 

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View of the hall with the cream linen drapes that are used throughout the home.  They are full and flowing and quietly lend a luxurious feel.  Pine bench with pillows made of Bennison fabric.

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View from the other side of the hall.  Seagrass covers this walkway.  Note the interesting English bookcase on the right.  The large, overscaled hanging cabinet adds to the atmosphere of the hall.  Note how interesting Barber has made a space that could have been "just" a walkway.  Instead, it is a visual treat to take in when moving from one side of the house to the other.

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The new home's master bedroom appears to have the same bed and bedding.  The toile pillows are Old World Weaver's famous oriental toile.  I love the casual sofa between the windows and the red tea canister lamps. The painting above the bed appears to be the same painting above the fireplace in the previous home.  As throughout the house, the walls are a sofa cream which match the linen drapes.  The wood floor is left bare - the dark provides a contrast against the light walls and drapes.

Which look do you like better?  The casual, English influenced first home, or the more elegant, slightly Mediterranean look of the new home?  Myself, I prefer the new home!

 

Here Comes the Megan

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One of the more strange, yet oddly satisfying aspects of blogging is making new friends in cyberspace.  Relationships between bloggers develop over emails and comments left on each other's blogs.  Last summer Megan, aka Beach Bungalow 8, and I started just such a friendship that neither one of us would have predicted would have lasted this long.  Megan is a very talented interior designer and artist from L.A.  She lives with her two darling daughters, and a few dogs, on a beautiful walk street in Manhattan Beach, one block from the Pacific Ocean.  Can we say,  jealous?   At first, we talked about mundane things like drapes - how long do you like them, how do you combine blinds with drapes, things like that which only an interior designer would find even mildly interesting.  Over time and endless emails, I realized that Megan is actually an hysterically funny person - maybe one of the funniest I've ever "known."   We Instant Message each other late at night, when her two daughters are asleep and she has time to talk.  I always wonder what my neighbors think when they hear me outside on my porch laughing hysterically to myself, out loud, at 1:00 in the morning.  Megan can make me laugh that hard.  Though she looks like a Parisian model, she's can be a total ditz.  There's just something about the girl that I love - she's the  Lucy to my Ethel. 

Megan's Mexican wedding to Nick is just days ahead and so, today,  design bloggers all over the world are gathering in cyberspace to throw her a bridal shower.  So, Megan - here's my idea of a bridal shower for you and Nick.   I hope you two have a long and happy life together and a new baby too!   

For the shower, the guest list includes this group:

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Megan's parents are sure to attend the shower, not so sure about Melissa Gilbert in the middle?

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And Megan's sister, the talented AND famous ceramic artist, Deirdre Daw, on the left, will be sure to attend.  Megan, on the right, of course will be there.

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And a wedding shower wouldn't be complete without Megan's favorite TV Stars:  The Duggars with, guess what - ANOTHER new baby.  Don't be surprised if Megan shows up with Mrs. Duggar's hair style,  she's been threatening to copy it.

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And one last invite goes to Megan's childhood friend and neighbor - shoe guru Kate Spade. 

The Address:

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Beach Bungalow 8, of course!  This is Megan's adorable home on a walk street in Manhatten Beach.  How romantic can you get?

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We'll open presents in Megan's living room with its beachy aqua walls and beautiful aqua linen slipcovered chairs. I love this room!

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After we open the presents, those who are tired can take a nap in Megan's famous bedroom.

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And those with energy can go for a walk on the beach in Megan's "front yard."

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We'll take the dogs to the beach - including these two - painted by the very talented Megan!

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After the party is over and all the guests are gone, Megan will go back to work in her home office.  Oh, wait, this office has been moved to the garage in order to make room for Nick's moving into Beach Bungalow 8.  What a body!

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HERE is where Megan works now - her garaffice, as she affectionately calls it.  That's her surfboard in the back.  You did know that Megan surfs - how else do you think she keeps her gorgeous figure?  One late night Megan and I were online together and she screamed as she saw a mouse scooting across her garaffice.

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And here's the  beautiful Megan hard at work in her garaffice!  Unbeknownst to Megan, her daughters put this picture of  Megan on her business emails.  It took Megan a few days to first realize this, then a few more days to figure out how to remove this picture from her emails.  Don't ask how long the two of laughed over this picture.

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The happy couple, soon to be married!  Nick is one special man.  An Arquette, first cousin to the famous Arquette acting siblings, Nick started and runs a wonderful charity:  Walk With Sally.  Nick's mother Sally passed away from breast cancer when he was a child which has deeply affected his life.  His charity, named after his beloved mother, pairs adults with children of terminally ill parents, who then act as mentors and big brothers and sisters. 

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Megan:  my bridal shower gift to you - a donation to Nick's charity "Walk With Sally."  Please consider making a donation to this wonderful and heart warming cause.  A fledging charity, donations are very much appreciated.  The picture above shows Nick with the young boy he is mentoring while his mother is ill.