A Sad, Sad Tale of Ike

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Last August I took you on a photo tour (here) of this historic neighborhood in Galveston, Texas – a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, a quick 50 miles from Houston.   The trees were as amazing as the houses, maybe even more so.  A house can always be replaced; a tree – it’s not as easy.

 

 

image Galveston’s beautiful East End National Historical District – August, 2008.   Towering, majestic Live Oak trees cast large shadows on the manicured lawns.

 

 

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Live Oaks and oleanders – Galvestonians favorite landscape.

 

imageThese Live Oaks have grown so large, the house is barely visible.  

 

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The large limbs grow twisted from the constant harsh Gulf winds.

 

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We even went inside one of the century old beauties (here.)  This house, owned by friends, is full of linen slipcovers and seagrass.  What’s not to love?

 

Last summer after Hurricane Dolly practically destroyed South Padre Island, my family vacationed on Galveston Island instead, just a quick hour away from Houston.  Of course, Hurricane Edouard chased us back home a week early, just in time to greet the fury of Hurricane Ike.   It wasn’t exactly a great summer for the Webb Family, but we have nothing to complain about.  Ike was horrible to Bolivar and Galveston.  Horrible.    Katrina may have gotten all the publicity but Ike was just as terrible.   I digress.   Before Ike and Edouard, when I was all carefree and thrilled to be in Galveston,  I took you on a photo tour of the historical districts – notable for their century old houses that survived the Great Storm of 1900.   After that devastating storm, survivors rebuilt the city and planted thousands of Live Oak trees.   Grown from just a tiny acorn, those Live Oaks have flourished, creating lush canopies over Galveston's streets and offering cool shade from the stifling summer heat.   These majestic trees cast large shadows over the lawns and concrete and add an undeniable air of romance and southern charm to the older neighborhoods.  Where these areas were once neglected and all-but abandoned, they are now teeming with life and activity, having undergone intensive revitalization.   Awarded for all the hard work with the National Historic District designation, great effort and care has been taken to preserve the character and authenticity of the neighborhoods.    Today, these historical district are now the most sought out places to live on the island.

Last August, I drove up and down these verdant streets, taking photographs of houses - some so obscured by the Live Oaks, they could be barely be seen.   Each house, one after another, was more beautiful than the next.   To find a favorite was an impossible task.   Galveston’s East End and New Orleans’ Garden District look very similar and share many characteristics – architecture, the Live Oaks, but hurricane destruction may be the most obvious one.  What Katrina did to New Orleans, Hurricane Ike did to Galveston – except it didn’t happen on the 24/7 news channels.   Some of the worst damage caused by Ike was subtler than Katrina’s and it wasn’t immediately obvious.   Yes, there was a great mess and many houses were destroyed.   Boats landed on highways, miles from their slips, as if people had driven them there like cars.  Landmark beach shops on piers that hovered over the Gulf were entirely washed away – shocking those of us who had been their customers since we were children.    But, the debris was quickly cleaned up.   Houses were fixed and rebuilt.   Lives changed, but life goes on.  

 

 

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The dense canopy of Live Oaks shades the streets and the yards – creating a Southern, mysterious, and romantic atmosphere.

 

Yes, buildings and houses can be restored after a hurricane.   But how do you replace something that is over 100 years old; something that grows from tiny to huge – a process that takes decades, not just a few months or years?      You can’t just replace some things overnight, it is out of man’s control.     You see, to understand the real damage of Ike, how Ike truly destroyed Galveston, you have to understand this:    all these gorgeous Live Oak trees with their wide reaching canopies that give the East End – and the entire island of Galveston - its most beautiful natural resource, after the beach,  are now all dead.   Dead.    Killed by the salt spray brought on by Ike or by the subsequent fungus that drove in the final nail if the salt didn’t kill them first.

 

 

 

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Broadway, the once beautiful boulevard that welcomes all visitors – dead tree, after dead tree, after dead tree – as far as the eyes can see.

 

It’s hard to even write this, much less think about it – surely to see it and live it must be utterly heart breaking.   If you don’t go visit, if you don’t witness it first hand, did it really happen?     Forty one thousand, yes, you read that correctly, 41,000 Live Oak trees were killed by Hurricane Ike last September, and they are all coming down.  The only Live Oaks getting a reprieve are those that have 30 percent new leaf growth – anything less, is history.   Eighty percent of the tree canopy in Galveston is gone.   I haven’t seen it yet.  I’m pretending it still looks like it did last summer.    It’s really hard to imagine that in one year – all those gorgeous Live Oaks are now dead.   Driving around last August, happily trying to capture their beauty for you – it never occurred to me, not in a million thoughts, that in one month – all those trees would be dead.

 

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To truly understand the oddity of this photograph – you must realize that Live Oaks do not lose their leaves during winter – they remain green and leafy all year.    Thus, a Live Oak is rarely, if ever, seen without its leaves.  The only time a Live Oak looks like this, is if it is dying.  

 

For the past year, Galveston and many different forestry organizations have been conducting surveys of all the island’s trees.  Originally they tried to save as many as they could,  attempting to leech the salt out of the root systems.    Nothing worked.  In fact, statistically, the Live Oaks were considered somewhat hardy against Ike, 40 percent survived.   In comparison - all but 12 percent of the island’s magnolias and pecans died after Ike.   Sycamore, mulberry and river birch were entirely wiped out at 100%.    The island’s flowering symbol – the oleander proved strong, 60 percent survived.   Palm trees won the prize though – only 8 percent didn’t make it.  

Despite the heroic efforts to salvage as many trees as possible, the dying and dead ones are now public hazards – in another storm, with their damaged root systems, they could become hurtling projectiles and most would end up crashing through roofs, causing untold death and destruction.  They need to be cut down before another big hurricane comes, and quickly.   FEMA is paying  for the tree removal – if – if they are cut down before September 12th, so the rush is now on. 

 

 

 

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Galveston will never look the same in my lifetime, but my grandchildren will one day enjoy the cool shade from a Live Oak in the East End.

 

 image  City workers are seen leeching salt from the ground in a futile attempt to save the Live Oaks. 

 

To remove large Live Oak trees like these, the cost starts at over $1,000.  Many of Galveston’s residents are in the lower income bracket and could never afford the cost of the tree removal without the government’s  help – so Galveston is frantically trying to comply with the September 12th deadline.  There is now a mad rush to get all 41,000 Live Oaks cut down on FEMA’s dime.   Desperate to save their own trees, residents are calling in, claiming to see new growth.   The cut-off for a death sentence is if there is 30 percent new growth, but very few oaks have gotten the reprieve.   11,000 of the Live Oaks are on public lands, and the remaining 30,000 will be cut from private property.  Visitors to Galveston are well familiar with the towering trees that line Broadway - the grand parkway onto the island.  These grand Live Oaks and the colorful flowering oleanders evoke deep emotions in both the citizens of Galveston and its tourists, many of whom have visited the island each summer of their life.    In order to relieve the emotion and anxiety – it has been decided that the Live Oaks lining Broadway -  a symbol of Galveston almost as strong as the Gulf of Mexico - will be cut down last, after the tourist season is over.

 

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Last month as the first tree was felled by FEMA – this resident was photographed wiping away tears – after all, her father had planted the tree from a tiny acorn.   One person left this note on a tree scheduled to fall:   “Thanks for keeping us cooler and cleaner and standing without complaint for years and years.  Goodbye.”

 

 

image  Driving onto the island on Broadway will be a shock to tourists used to seeing all the green and leafy Live Oaks and flowering oleanders.   These trees will be cut down last – after tourist season is over – in a effort to relieve anxiety.  

 

 

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What a disaster.  

 

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It’s like there was a fire, yet the houses were not burned.

 

 

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The Live Oaks are dead, but the palm is healthy and thriving.  Galveston is planning to replant Live Oaks – citing the fact that 60% of the Live Oaks withstood Ike’s fury.  Palms on the other hand lost only 3 percent of their ranks.

 

 

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Just to give you an idea of Ike’s  physical destruction, this debris is on the seawall.  The beach is at the right.  The tattoo parlor stands, as does the palm.

 

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One of the stranger sights were the boats lined up on the main causeway leading into Galveston.  It was as if someone had driven them on the road.

 

 

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Just north of Galveston is Bolivar Peninsula – an area filled with beach houses, as you can see here right before Ike hit.  Bolivar received the worst of Ike’s wrath.  It is a true human and animal tragedy that happened there that night.  

 

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A week after – nothing much is left between the two houses.  In Houston, we are lucky – 50 miles away, we just have to deal with wind gusts and rising water and no electricity, nothing like what these poor souls faced.   We are praying that this season will be a Hurricane-Free summer. 

 

 

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And finally, last year, I wrote about our own Water Oak tree (here),  how it had gotten sick and today, despite all our efforts, it’s future is still unknown.  I lamented the loss of one tree, albeit a gorgeous, tall, sheltering tree and the primary reason we chose to buy this lot in the first place.   It’s hard for Ben and I to imagine what it will be like if we have to take it down.   The subject of the tree upsets us both greatly and it is something we avoid discussing.    But, it’s just one tree.   What pain the homeowners in Galveston must be going through as they watch their leafless trees cut down this summer.  The Historical Districts are going to be so different now, so bare, so naked, so bright without the shade and shadows cast by the tall Live Oaks.   I know that I, and probably most people do too, take our trees for granted, expecting them to be here forever.  But trust me, it can change within one short month. 

THE SKIRTED ROUNDTABLE – THIS WEEK IS UP!

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Well, we finally got Megan back!!!  She was on vacation last week but she’s here at the Skirted Roundtable and giving us all her opinions about design and blogging! 

This week we talk about design inspirations – how do we start a new job, what inspires us, what actual steps do we take when we walk into an empty room.  Do we “see” what needs to be done instantly?   Tune in to find out!!!!!

And for our blogging topic  - we discuss the hottest new blog stat counter:  www.blogrankings.com.   We also discuss the pros and cons of the other popular sites like Technorati and Google Analytics.

NOTE:  We have a new format this week.  Both 15 minute discussions are listed on the same page – no more flipping from one page to another.  So, after you listen to the first one – just scroll down to listen to the second one.  Much easier, no??????

OK – go HERE listen!!!  

Cote de Texas - Top Ten Design Elements – #2

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image Continuing on with the Cote de Texas - Top Ten Design Elements, the choice for second place should be quite obvious to readers of this blog. Since linen took first place, slipcovers come in second place: these two elements naturally go hand-in-hand. While the benefits of slipcovers are extremely well-known, slipcovers can still be quite divisive. Some people love them and swear by them, while others loathe them with a capital L. Few are in the middle. My love of slips is solid - almost all of my furniture is slipcovered and I would never live with upholstered furniture again. Once you have lived with slips, the ability to wash them is very satisfying, especially sofas and chairs that are used on a daily basis, such as those in a family room. If you own white slipcovers you understand what I am saying. Our clothes naturally bring in dust and dirt from the outside air. The place where someone sits every day will become grayer and darker from this grime. If the fabric is white – this staining is very noticeable, and after about a month of daily use, it will be time to wash the slipcovers. If you have never lived with white fabric before, you probably have no idea just how much clothes actually soil upholstery. Imagine what might be lurking in and on a sofa’s upholstered fabric after five or ten years! OY!!!!!!!!

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This room in NYC is beautiful and I have long admired it. But I always wondered about the sofa – the family living here has young children - how in the world can they possibly keep this sofa pristine looking? While the tufted back IS gorgeous, I would have used a darker fabric, or I would have eliminated the tufting and covered it in a white linen slipcover. I would love to see what this sofa looks like today – a few years after this photo shoot.

So for many, the appeal of slipcovers, besides their casual look, is the cleanliness aspect, especially for families with pets and children. I love when my slips are freshly washed and put back on the sofa, fitting slightly tighter after a spin in the dryer. To me, not being able to wash or clean my sofa would be like never being able to wash my jeans. Living with two dogs and a husband who is apt to spend the weekend sleeping all day on the sofa, makes slips essential to my life. Of course, this is only my opinion. Most of my clients vehemently disagree with me and refuse to slipcover their furniture. I can’t force a client to use slipcovers – though I do explain their benefits. In truth, slipcovers are not perfect. You must find someone who is an expert at making them, otherwise they can be a disaster. I had to replace my last set of slips when they were made without prewashed linen and shrank (of course they did!) Another issue is ill-fitting slips. If the seamstress is not adept, the fit might suffer – it can sag, bunch up, and gather in all the wrong places. Linings can be disastrous too – if they aren’t completely preshrunk – and many seamstresses do not think of the lining’s potential to shrink. So, while slipcovers are fabulous looking and wonderfully hygienic, very serious care must be taken when having them made. Spending extra to hire a competent person is well worth the money.

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Uh-oh!!!! See what I see? Slipcovers that have shrunk!!!!! This should be avoided at all costs. Always prewash and dry the slipcover fabric TWICE if possible before sewing. Be sure the lining is preshrunk too. AND, just to be sure, make them a little long.

The history of slipcovers is a long one, having been around since the 17th century when they were used almost exclusively to protect furniture’s upholstered fabric. In later times, slips were used in grand houses covering furniture during off seasons when the family wasn’t in residence. In this century, slips were used seasonally to change out the decor. But, in 1989, Rachel Ashwell, from England, opened her Californian store Shabby Chic and forever changed how we used slipcovers. She began manufacturing furniture with slipcovers that were used as the primary upholstery fabric. Ashwell, with pets and young children, developed slipcovers that could be tossed into the washing machine. For Rachel, slips were an answer to the cleanliness problem. For years, her slips were rather loose, and the wrinkled, rumpled and slightly messy look was all the rage. As time has gone on, slips have become more tailored, fitting tightly onto the frame – sometimes so tightly it is almost impossible to tell a slipcover from upholstery. Today, most slips fall somewhere in between the wrinkled, loose fit and the contemporary-looking tight fit. Ashwell started a revolution in the furniture business – suddenly the demand for slipcovers was huge. To satisfy the consumer, major fabric house began selling cottons, linens, damasks, and even chenilles that were prewashed thus eliminating the need to lug twenty yards down to the washateria. Furniture stores started offering sofas and chairs with premade slipcovers. Chains like Pottery Barn and Ikea have had huge success with their slipcovered lines. And the slipped look has even influenced upholstered furniture: sofas and chairs now sport “waterfall skirts” – where the skirt falls directly from the seat in a graceful, long line – in order to simulate a slipcover!

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The look that started the modern slipcover rage.

While a large segment of people who love slips do so because they have pets or children, others just like they way they look. White slips lend a casual attitude to a room. They can be either beachy, or rustic looking. But use a gorgeous glazed linen in a deep, rich color to make a slip – and they will be quite elegant. Slipcovers can add a country look to a decor, but a tight-fitting slip can look absolutely contemporary. I adore slips that have detailing, like scalloped edges or double ruffles. Also – I prefer slips with long ties and buttons as opposed to zippers for closure. Zippers can break and often do – ties won’t. Slipcovers aren’t just for the family or living room either. Each week – I get one or two emails about an inherited dining room set that looks dowdy. My advice is always to generously slipcover the chairs – by doing this, you can turn a dated, old fashioned set into something youthful and attractive looking. I also get this same email once or twice a week: “I love white slipcovers, but I’m worried about them getting dirty and stained because I have pets and children.” Those emails never fail to amuse me. Pets and children are exactly THE reason to get slips! If you spill something on them, just wash them! If you stain your slips – bleach them! For those opinionated people that hate slipcovers but have never owned any, I suggest trying them out in a small way – perhaps on your favorite TV watching chair that always gets horribly stained and frayed. After five years – the slip will still be fresh and clean, while the upholstered chair will be dirty, worn, and faded! I promise you!!

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White slipcovers make great furniture for beach houses – just toss in the washing machine after a summer of sand.

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Or, slipcovers can be used in more sophisticated interiors – as here in architect Bobby McAlpine’s house. Sofa by John Saladino who is also a great proponent of slipcovers.

imageThe Houston look championed by Renae Abbott’s Shabby Slips: seagrass and white slipcovers. I love the tabbed slip on the French bergere which allows the wood frame to show. Design by Michelle Stewart.

image The Houston designer, Joni Webb, uses tabs and scallops on her slipcovers in her breakfast room. In Houston, three places make the best slipcovers: Shabby Slips, Custom Creations, and Hien Lam.

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This gorgeous room by Dan Carithers is over 20 years old! It still looks fresh and modern with its slipcovers in white and taupe striped linen.

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Houston interior designer Pam Pierce’s daughter Shannon Bowers used a Rose Tarlow linen to slip her kitchen chair. Notice how beautifully it drapes, softly sweeping the floor. Perfection!

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Susanne Kasler used slipcovers with ties to dress down a “grown-up” dining room table. Until recently, who would have imagined putting slipcovers in such an elegant dining room?

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Charcoal linen – an unusual, yet chic choice of a slipcover fabric on a gorgeous, long Belgian-inspired sofa.

image White linen slipcovers and seagrass are a winning combination – always! Add a lantern and you have a fabulous look.

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His and hers chaise lounges in white linen are a perfect alternative to a chair and ottoman.

image Double ruffling is a great way to update a slipcover skirt. To copy this look, be sure to ask for the “double” or “triple” ruffle effect. Shannon Bowers again. I could stare at this picture for hours. Just gorgeous!

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A single Saladino-esque chair, slipcovered, is just enough in this room. Notice the cushion is slipped separately from the chair.

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In France, Kathryn Ireland slipped covered the sofas and the ottoman in plain linen. Pattern comes from the pillows and curtains. Ireland, like Ashwell, is from England and both designers helped push slipcovers into the mainstream.

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In Dallas, Lisa Luby Ryan updated her dining room – going from dark to light. The chairs were covered in linen slipcovers with button detailing.

imageVelvets and antique rugs are mixed with a linen slipcovered sofa. Slipcovers, when tightly covering the frame, can look dressier.

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This beautiful chair by Suzanne Kasler has a light blue linen slipcover with side ties. This photograph made the cover of Southern Accents – the chair was hugely popular.

imageInterior designer Lauren Ross was the slipcover queen of Houston until she moved her fiefdom to Austin!

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A Ross designed dining room chair with lots of detailing – her specialty: mini pleats and ties.

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This beautiful Ross designed slip has short pleats which shows off the chair’s charming wheeled feet!

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Belgian design: a sofa with long lean lines and no bottom or back cushions. And always, a slipcover!

imageIn New Orleans, Gerrie Bremermann mixed playful scalloped skirts and French antiques.

image John Saladino’s own apartment with his slipcovered dining room chairs with tie detailing in his favorite color. Saladino even has a line of furniture slipcovered in leather. Note – you can’t toss leather in the washing machine!

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All white slipcovers with ruffles and loose cushions.

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Straight back dining room chairs get tight slipcovers that play off the curvy table.

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Perfectly tailored slipcovers on the club chairs show linen at it’s prettiest.

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Michael Smith used slipcovers in an English inspired living room – the checks and slips make the room livable.

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In the Tanglewood House, I used white linen slipcovers to update all the furniture.

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Scallops and tabs were used on the French chairs in the Tanglewood House.

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Interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein used a blue and white striped cotton to slip everything in her living room for the summer season. Ties are used to allow the antique frames to show through the slips.

image Recently, Gerrie Bremermann mixed a Belgian inspired slipcovered sofa with contemporary and antique chairs in a beautifully eclectic interior.

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Bunny Williams used chintz and cotton ticking to cover this furniture in a typical English inspired look.

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In the Caribbean a beach house was done entirely in beige linen slipcovers. Colefax and Fowler did the design.

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In Dallas, a contemporary living room with a slipcovered Belgian styled sofa.

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In interior designer Dan Carither’s own home, he recently went from an all neutral interior to blues and whites with the help of slipcovers. Carithers once did an entire magazine spread on slipcover detailing: scalloping, tabs, and ties!

image I love these linen slipcover armchairs for this coffee table that doubles as a dining table.

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Windsor Smith designed a two sided slipcovered soft for her own home – complete with a mini pleat hem.

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The Bennison House featured a small sofa slipcovered in linen, with a nice, long, double ruffled skirt – I love the length of this skirt! Design by Jane Wood.

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At thisdining table, some chairs are slipped with a nice back pleat and tie detailing.

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Design maven Ray Booth’s NY apartment features a ravishing B&B Italia slipcovered chair – barely seen here. Of course they would cut off the best part of the room!

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Here is the B&B Italia chair – the slipcovered version is towards the back. This chair proves that slips can be contemporary and beautiful at the same time! I love the proportions of the slipped chair and the ottoman.

image No country loves slips more than the English, and here in the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s (say that one fast!) new abode after having to move out of Chatsworth, Debo used slips in her darling den. Lots of Ds. Here, in her late 80s, you can see how vital her life and mind still is. Most interesting is the fabric on her sofa, which used to be in Chatsworth a long time ago.

image The famous Blue Drawing Room in Chatsworth – several decades ago - with the same fabric that Debo now has in her Dowager cottage. Wonder if she bought new fabric or just used this old slipcover? This is one of my favorite rooms anywhere. The green skirted table under the grand painting is wonderful.

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Again the same room - photographed in 2002, in a Robert Kime slipcover. I like this slipcover much better!!

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Sophisticated dining room with beautifully tailored slips with wide banding.

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And beach living with white slips can be sophisticated too – Ralph Lauren’s place, Babe Paley’s former Jamaican beach cottage.

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Denim and dark green colored slips lend a casual look to dressy French antiques.

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Inherited, dressy dining room furniture is made youthful with slips and pleats.

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Shannon Bowers mixes slips and French antiques in her new Dallas home.

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Dark, deep brown walls make this white slipcovered headboard pop. Ties keep the slip on the caned, French antique located in a West University house.

image Slips don’t have to be white – here pink slipcovers mixed with blue and pink stripes and a pink rag rug look so refreshing.

image And, here light blue slips with scalloped edges prove not all slips are white! The settee wears a muted Bennison fabric.

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Houston designer Ginger Barber always uses slipcovers. Well, not always, but usually! Her own house has brown and white checked slips over Os de Mouton chairs and a linen slipcovered sofa.

image In this beach house, white slips with pops of lime green and a crystal chandelier are so fresh looking!

imageYou don’t have to slip everything to get the look – here in a contemporary interior, the host chairs alone are slipped.

image On Lake Travis in the Texas Hill Country, an authentic centuries old log house was transported to the site. Notice the contemporary red chair placed in the mix. To read more about this fascinating house, go here.

image And finally, the dining room in the Tanglewood House. Ties and double ruffles create the interest in the room.

Look for the next installment of the Cote de Texas - Top Ten Design Elements #3 to be posted soon.

I think you can all guess what it’s going to be!!!