Friday, September 24, 2010

Bobby, Dorothy, and the little 19th c. Italian Writing Desk

Once upon a time there was a lovely little Italian Writing desk. It had the perfect, chippy patina of gold paint and midnight blue. It had curves, it had hand carvings, it had....well, you can see for yourself.

Enter Dorothy Blum Cooper -- the talented and successful Southern photographer from Louisiana who relocated to Louisburg, North Carolina, post-Hurricane Katrina. If you are not familiar with Dorothy's work, I invite you to take a look at her website. Her photos are works of art that capture the human spirit. In her words:

Dorothy is truly one of the most talented artists I've met and her support and inspiration (and pep talks!) have been a guiding light to me ever since I started my design business. She was one of the very first people who saw my work and validated it. For me, her support has been invaluable. Here is some of Dorothy's work which leave me breathless each time I see them:

Dorothy has also a wonderful photo series on New Orleans, before the storm, aptly entitled "Calm Before the Storm." She felt, after Katrina, that rather than to capture the destruction, she should show the beauty of the city as it was before the storm. Her photos are truly exception and bring a tear to all those who knew New Orleans, pre-Katrina.
Dorothy is a follower of this blog and one time, I posted some photos of new inventory I had at the shop. She emailed me right away about the little Italian desk she had spotted in one of the photographs. I admit, it was one of my very favorite pieces ever, but it was not for everyone. It was a desk that called for a special owner -- a woman who saw beauty in things that most others do not, a woman who would sit at this desk and handwrite letters to friends and family while looking out to the garden and daydreaming of a beautiful life. Dorothy loved that desk from first sight but simply could not bring herself to buy it. She and her family had moved to North Carolina after Katrina despite their love for their home State of Louisiana where both she and her husband lived all their lives. They moved to North Carolina for their son's medical needs and decided to make their home in Louisburg, purchasing a Victorian house that needed someone to completely restore it to its former glory.
Dorothy and her husband have been renovating their home down to the studs for a couple of years now, living in odd areas of the house while their bedrooms, kitchen, and rooms are restored. So, with all their finances being consumed by the house (a true love of theirs), Dorothy could not bring herself to spend anything on herself. But she wrote to me about her love for the desk and I was humbled that she felt about a piece of mine the way I feel about them. She saw the beauty in its imperfections as I did and that touched me like nothing else.

I knew (and told her so) that this desk would ultimately belong to her. It was a feeling I had that somehow, someway, this desk was meant for Dorothy. Still, the months went by and Dorothy would confess that she would look at it every day on my 1stdibs storefront to see if it was still there.

Enter Bobby Cooper -- Dorothy's handsome husband who also happens to be a talented painter and Dorothy's love of her life. Bobby called me one day and explained to me that it was killing him seeing Dorothy stare at the desk on her computer every night. He knew her love affair with that desk. He also knew that Dorothy would never splurge on herself while the house was being built. So he and I arranged a surprise for Dorothy. A week after Bobby and I talked, I marked the desk "sold" on 1stdibs. I restrained myself from emailing Dorothy on a weekly basis as we normally do. You can only imagine Dorothy's disappointment when she logged on to 1stdibs only to see her desk "sold." Little did she know that the little desk was on its way to its rightful owner. When it arrived, Bobby presented Dorothy with the desk. Dorothy and the little Italian desk could not be happier and I could not be happier that I could bring them together. This is what makes my work so enjoyable. This is what makes my life so fulfilling.

Meet Dorothy and Bobby.....

And their family....

And their beautiful, soon-to-be completely restored, Barrow House. Their home is 120 years old this month. They were fortunate enough to receive copies of letters written by the man who built their home as he was working on it for his fiancé. The few copies they have are wonderful as he tells his fiancé everything that is being done to the house. One letter in particular states “the house is complete”. It’s dated September, 1890.

Work in progress, but (wow!) look at how gorgeous it already looks!

Those pressed tin ceilings tiles are to die for!
And here is the little 19th c. Italian writing desk in its new home (well, as Dorothy tells me, temporary home as it is the only corner right now that is not surrounded by paint cans or other construction debris).

Friday, September 17, 2010

What Came First -- the lawyer or the artist?

As many of you know, I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1979, amidst a background of social and political unrest in Argentina (during the so called "dirty war" where thousands of young people disappeared (i.e. were tortured and killed)), my father made the brave decision to move from his country to the U.S. in the pursuit of a better life for his family. Leaving one's country to start anew in a foreign land is never easy and my parents struggled, from both a cultural and economic standpoint, from that day forward. My father, a successful merchant marine captain in Argentina and my mother, a former medical practitioner, left everything behind for us. They faced economic hardship from the time they moved to the U.S. (my father was up in age and and my mother's medical license was not recognized in the U.S.). Still, they gave us the opportunity by coming to America to become lawyers and doctors and teachers, something that most likely, we would not have been able to pursue as easily in Argentina.

As struggling immigrants, my parents could not afford to send us to college. Hence, my siblings and I worked hard to put ourselves through. For me, it meant becoming Valedictorian from highschool so that I could get a scholarship to college, which I did. My hard work and good grades enabled me to attend the prestigious Newcomb College of Tulane University (one of the last women's colleges in the country).

Immediately, I was drawn to Newcomb's reputation for its art programs. Coming from a line of creative and passionate women (on my mother's side), I became enthralled with all the art classes, including print making, drawing, sculpting and painting. I adored the arts and spent all of my time in the basement of Newcomb working projects and watching more talented artists at work.

It was sophomore year and it came time to declare my major. Although my parents never came to visit me at my dorm (since they were disappointed that I had chosen not to live at home during college as my other siblings did), they did just this one time. My father and mother, both wearing worried looks, told me that although they realized I liked the arts, as immigrants, we could not afford to follow our dreams, but rather had to dedicate our minds and energy into becoming something that could support ourselves financially. "Do something, become someone, that will enable you to support yourself and your family one day. Becoming an artist is a silly idea, it is not something we can afford to do."

Those harsh words hurt me like nothing else, but I knew them to be true and the reality I needed to face. So that same evening, I went over to the Newcomb Art Building and took all of my finished pieces that I stored downstairs and threw them out in the dumpster behind the blown glass studio. I had made a decision and I needed to put all that silliness behind me. I could not do what I wanted to do in life and throwing my work in the dumpster was my way of committing myself to a new direction in life.

Two years later, I graduated Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Newcomb College with a B.A. in Communication Studies. I received the award for the Most Outstanding Communication Scholar and was invited to attend a special awards reception at the prestigious Newcomb Faculty Lounge which houses the most exquisite collection of Newcomb's art pieces collected through the years. After making my rounds greeting and thanking various professors, I perused the glass displays of beautiful pottery, sculptures and other art pieces. Some of the names on the pieces I recognized as now famous artists and Newcomb graduates such as Mignon Faget. I continued to look at all the displays when two of them (one metal welded sculpture and another a cardboard painted sculpture) caught my eye. They were two of my pieces! I stared at them in disbelief with tears in my eyes and saw that underneath them, each had a card that read "anonymous." Someone must have pulled them out from the dumpster that evening more than two years ago! Even though I had obtained every academic honor there was (which meant that I could now receive a scholarship to attend Tulane Law School -- which I did), I could not be more proud of what I saw behind the glass display. I didn't say a word to anyone, I never went back and don't even know if they are still there on display, but to this day, seeing those two pieces among the elite Newcomb art collection gives me a sense of validation. I may not have followed my dream then. I couldn't. I went on to become a lawyer and became quite good and financially successful at it. But I always went back to the feeling of utter happiness and pride that I felt when I saw those two "anonymous" sculptures in the Newcomb Faculty Lounge.

So now, at 42 years of age, I am finally doing what I have been wanting to do all of those years. I am creating, painting furniture, making my pieces works of art. Yes, I am a lawyer and if need be (and sometimes the financial need is too great), I can go back to practicing law. My parents were right in a way to steer me into a more academic path. I cannot fault them for helping me have a career to fall back on. But it's time for me to let my creative side take over for a while. I've waited a long time for this moment and it's finally here.

For a sample of my work, please visit me at Most of what you see has been "beautified" by me either by upholstering, painting or just simply adding a touch here and there of my little magic powder.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To Australia, With All My Love

When people tell me how much they love my furnishings, I am humbled and honored every time. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that someone out there loves the work that I find to be truly a passion of mine. When I left the practice of law last year, I never dreamed that following my bliss would not only be rewarding to my soul that craved beauty but also bring me to distant places and people who share my same passion.

A few weeks ago, I received an email about one of my beautiful pieces which you may have seen on my 1stdibs store. This gorgeous antique French sofa certainly took my breath away when I first laid eyes on it. Completely refinished in a tufted Belgian linen and a plush down cushion, this antique sofa is one of a kind in both beauty and style.

The inquiry came from none other than the beautiful and talented Australian designer, Frances Russell.

Many of you may be familiar and/or already followers of her fabulous blog, Beautiful Interiors and 18th Century Style.

Frances had been searching for 2 years for a tufted french sofa like the one I envisioned and, although she never dreamed that she would be purchasing one from New Orleans, Louisiana, she was willing to consider the long trip of that sofa from my shop in New Orleans to Queensland, Australia, where she lives with her husband Andrew, her daughter Georgiana, and her two sons, Dominick and Alex (by the way, Alex, 22 and a handsome, talented actor, is one of the lead roles in the new Australian movie, "Wasted on the Young" which is being hailed as one of the featured films in the Toronto International Film Festival this year).

Frances and I became instant friends through the distance and it turns out we have so many things in common -- not the least is both being women from "down under" -- she from Australia and I from Argentina. So this week, after wishing them a safe trip and long, happy lives in their new home, I bid adieu to my antique french tufted sofa and my dainty pair of French Louis XVI parlor chairs which I had refinished in a pale grey and white linen.

My pieces are on their way by ocean liner to their new home in Queensland.

But, don't cry for them, Argentina.........

Their new home is absolutely stunning and their new family could not be kinder, nicer and more loving. Frances and Andrew bought a century old colonial Queenslander, named Cooloola, which Frances completely decorated in her impeccable and signature style. She is truly my soul sister. Hues of white and pale colors are showcased with splashes of vibrant colors throughout the gorgeous house with wrap-around porches. Here is a tour of her lovely home to which my pieces are heading.

The stunning exterior in monochromatic white.

The veranda...

The stunning gardens and front of the house.

The interior and exterior of the house blend seamlessly.

And what house would not be completely finished without the poolhouse. I love the coastal look of it!

I am truly delighted that my pieces have found such a beautiful new home in Australia, but mostly, I am so fortunate to have met and become friends with such a talented designer and beautiful woman as Frances Russell.

And, by the way, these beautiful Italian altar candles of mine ...

... these made it safe last week to another wonderful home -- this one in Sydney, Australia.