Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flemish Elegance - Chateau de Merles

Since it is summer and most people are vacationing (or dreaming of it, anyway), I thought I'd share in the next couple of weeks some of my favorite places in the world which also reflect a unique style in decor and furnishings.

Château Les Merles is one of the countless little hotels in France, which are decorated with effortless style and still incredibly good value. Located in the Dordogne region in France, Chateau Les Merles is a small luxurious family run hotel comprising of 12 guest rooms, 2 suites, 1 spacious apartment, restaurant, golf course and swimming pool .

Here, while you may intend to play tennis or go round the nine-hole golf course, the temptation to sit at the bistro all day, enjoying the delicious food and wine, before heading back to your room for an afternoon snooze, is hard to resist.

In addition to the impeccable service and beautiful surroundings, to those of us who choose our vacations according to the destination’s cuisine (as most of us New Orleanians tend to do), Chateau Les Merles offers not only amazing fare but you can also book a cooking class during your stay. The classes are taught by the Chateau's Dutch chef Albert Kooy, who modestly believes that, with good food, the ingredients, not the chef, should be the stars. Under his tutelage you visit local producers and markets, prepare a lunch and five-course dinner, and sample the best of Bergerac’s wines.

The history of Château les Merles dates back to 1677, when it was owned by the Babut family. Joseph Babut married Marthe Valleton de Carrieux in 1717; the links between the inhabitants of les Merles and those of Valleton were thus established.

But, it wasn't until the early 19th century when Baron Mesclop, one of Napoleon's Generals, had the Château largely rebuilt to the arrangement we see today. Les Merles' classic style matches the order and authority of this General.

Château les Merles shows a neoclassic architecture of perfection and detail all around: the monumental U-shaped stairs, the Ionic and Tuscan columns, all testifying the ancient quality of the Château.

The interior of the Château has been faithfully restored by the present owners to match the historic 19th century architecture. Jan van Grinsven, after his worldwide voyages on his sailing yacht for seven years, had, together with his children, the idea of settling down and working all together in a pleasant environment. And off he went with his wife to look for his new dream. During one of their trips to the French wine region of Bergerac, they encountered Les Merles whose premises perfectly suited the whole idea …a golf course, a hotel and enough land and premises to develop what today is Château Les Merles.

Les Merles is now a Dutch family-owned business. The chateau has been restored by its current owners and renowned Dutch interior designer Joris Van Grinsven has given the Chateau a fresh and new charming character. I love the mix of modern pieces with antiques and the simplicity of the rooms.

Without a doubt, this is certainly a place I would love to visit one day in the near future. And you don't have to be a millionare to make that dream a reality. Prices start at $159US/night for a double room and $292US/night for an apartment which accomodates 4 people. For an additional $20, you can bring your well-behaved dog. And, an 8 course meal at the restaurant is $56 per person.

(photos and text courtesy of Chateau les Merles)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beautiful Antique Ironstone

It occurred to me as I was packing for shipment the last of my collection of antique English ironstone at my shop (below), how much I adore this simple "poor man's china."

It also occurred to me how little is known about the history of this beautiful, simple, utilitarian and very old china. Whether you use it as decoration or with a purpose in mind, its white, plain, simple design makes it the perfect accent to any decor.

In the center of a farm table, this ironstone bowl adds white texture and a vintage touch to this kitchen nook (by Atlanta Bartlett)

Ironstone brings beauty to any setting -- not just the kitchen. I adore how Atlanta Bartlett used ironstone in the bedroom to hold knick knacks such as scarfs or jewelry.

But before I get too carried away with the beauty and uses of this wonderful antique, let me offer you a brief history of it.

According to the White Ironstone China Association, "[i]ronstone china as we know it was first patented in 1813 by Charles James Mason in Staffordshire, England. It was an improved china harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain.
Mason's patent lasted only fourteen years, and by 1827 a number of other potters had already experimented with his formulas. All of these wares were decorated with transfer patterns or brush-stroke designs. Occasionally an undecorated piece would find its way out of the factory, possibly because it was flawed in some way.

In the 1840's, England began exporting the undecorated wares to the American and Canadian markets. The English potters discovered that the "Colonies" preferred the unfussy plain and durable china. Specifically, it was 1842 when James Edwards marketed the first white ironstone china in America.

Late in the 1850's and into the 1860's huge quantities of china were sold to the agricultural communities and called "thrashers' ware." These dinner, tea and chamber sets were embossed with wheat, prairie flowers and corn in order to appeal to the farmers, who had to feed all the people that helped with the harvest.

Little of this plain embossed white ironstone could be found in England until just recently, when a staff member of the City Museum and Art Gallery of Stoke-on-Trent visited the U.S. He purchased several pieces which now reside in the Museum.

This is obviously an oversimplification of the history of English white ironstone in America. There is also the advent of American ironstone manufacture but that's another story."

Today, original ironstone china are collector's items and can command high prices. Still, I adore white antique ironstone and, as the following photos show, I find it to be a beautiful way to add texture, color and age to any corner or focal point of a room or wall.

Ironstones are perfect to display in cabinets and armoires. Who wants an armoire closed when it can look this lovely open?

These ironstone platters and plates of all shapes and sizes add an artistic element to any wall.

The more, the merrier.

But even one in the corner of a kitchen counter is enough.

Against the back wall.

In kitchen shelves.

Some are still being used for their practicality. Feel free to mix and match as a full set of ironstone plates or platter or bowls are very hard to come by. But I just adore mixing sizes and shapes together. (photo courtesy of Bountiful Home).

OMG!!! Look at those pitchers!!!

A backdrop of white ironstone is so pleasing to the eye in this otherwise simple and minimalistic dining room.

The cake platters can be used for just about anything, including a place for utensils or napkins at a dinner party. (photo courtesy of Bountiful Home).

At Agape on Boulevard Raspail in Paris, ironstone is mixed with industrial and primitive pieces (below).

photos courtesy of Paris Parfait.

Even Architectural Digest Magazine featured on its cover a living room whose focal point was nothing other than antique ironstone pitchers.

So go out and save these beautiful pieces of antiquity and history. Find a place in your home in which to display them proudly. But I must warn you, once you start with one, you'll be hooked.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To All Fathers

To all you fathers out there... Both young.....

And old....

Both two legged....

And four legged....

Fathers of all sizes, colors and creed....

And to my own beloved father who is with me no more on this earth, but forever in my heart....

Mario Raul Gentinetta, 2/24/20-2/26/09

Have a very happy and joyous day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rug Crazy

Ever since I saw this photo of Jenna Lyon's dressing room, I've been obsessing about this chocolate striped rug. I mean, OBSESSING!!! I already have a couple of really gorgeous thread bare persian rugs like the one on top of this rug, but I need to have, cannot live without, the chocolate striped rug.

But, since most of us don't have neither the chocolate striped rug nor Jenna's pocket book, I've taken it upon myself to find a similar rug that still allows most of us to pay our kids' school tuition.

Enter my new best friend, the Dash & Albert Rug Company.

Founded in 2003, Dash & Albert boasts a collection of rugs that are as durable as they are beautiful and, most importantly, affordable. No kidding. A friend of mine has one of their stunning indoor/outdoor striped rug in her kids' playroom (the Gunnison style) and that thing can take any type of spill whatsoever. You just wipe it off and all is back to normal.

But aside from being practical and affordable, they are just plain beautiful. But don't take my word for it. Take a look for yourself. I'm already in love with the new Swedish Stripe for my own kids' playroom and the chocolate mattress ticking to layer with my broken in antique rug in the family room. They come in both hand woven cotton and in the outdoor/indoor. (Oh, and I love the dogs in the photo. One of them is actually Dash).

And they have matching cotton throws and tote bags that are just sweet as anything.

So that was my obsession for today. It was a nice mental break from all the oil spill news.