Friday, April 1, 2011

Toy Story Cake

Here are the pics of Max's Toy Story cake from his second birthday in October (I know, awful, right?)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens first drew national attention through Gail Sheehy’s 1972 New York magazine cover story that looked into the lives of the two eccentric residents who allowed the property to deteriorate in inconceivable ways. Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, lived in seclusion on the once-magnificent 2-acre property that fell so far beyond reproach that it was eventually raided by the Suffolk County Health Department. A documentary film made in 1976 by Albert and David Maysles about the Edies and their decaying home, called “Grey Gardens,” became a cult classic.

Last year, HBO filmed a Grey Gardens movie which shows the Beales’ lives from the beginning, through the deterioration of the house they couldn’t leave behind. It’s an amazing film, and I’ve seen it about 10 times now (Mike loves this). The story is fascinating, but so is the actual house itself.

Here are some photos of the home from the movie (recreating what the house looked like in its heyday in 1936):

Well, the Beales divorced, and Phelan left Little Edie and Big Edie in the house with such a modest allowance, they could not afford to keep it up. However, Big Edie refused to sell. So the house fell into disrepair. After Big Edie died, Little Edit finally went about the task of putting it on the market. And it looked like this...

The house was put on the market for $220,000 but Little Edie had strange conditions and turned down many buyers, fearing they would tear it down and build something new. She sold it to Ms. Quinn on the condition that it would not be torn down.

“It was worse than the movie,” Ms. Quinn said, describing what she encountered on her first visit to the house at 3 West End Avenue. The windows were broken, vines climbed high up on the house, and the outside wall garden was so overgrown that she and her husband had only the word of Little Edie and their real estate agent that it existed.

Inside, shreds of fabric that once were curtains caught the wind as it traveled under unhinged walls and twisted through jagged glass window fragments. On the floor, Ms. Quinn recalls finding holes, raccoon skulls and waste from 52 cats that had become feral while still living within the property lines.
“The smell of the house was beyond anything you can imagine,” she said, later noting that the film never captured how awful it really was. “If you could put the smell on a DVD, you could get the picture.”

The showing had been arranged by a local real estate broker whom Ms. Quinn called a “killer agent” who would do anything to sell—but, repelled by the state of Grey Gardens, the broker refused to join her inside.

She had no intention of purchasing Grey Gardens, but it was on the market and affordable, and she was curious. “We had a small house in Amagansett, and we were looking around for something larger,” Ms. Quinn said.

Two years after Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie sold the house to Sally Quinn and Benjamin C. Bradlee, who undertook a massive renovation. These photographs were taken by a photographer hired by Ms. Quinn at the time she and her husband purchased the house, in order to capture the extent of the decay.

“All it needs is a coat of paint,” Ms. Quinn recalled Little Edie telling her while twirling whimsically in the living room.
Today, the wall garden that was buried in growth behind the house resembles a lush secret garden and contains a vast array of diverse flowers and plants. Accessible by a small door in the stone wall, the garden has been enjoyed by invited guests at parties and benefits held over the years since the restoration was completed. Nothing is overly manicured, but everything is well maintained.

The house has been regularly described as a “28-room mansion,” but the Bradlees, including their son, Quinn Bradlee, 16, feel that to be an irksome overstatement. The house has more like 14 rooms, they said, but admitted there were a number of other smaller rooms before the restoration.

Downstairs, the primary spaces comprise a kitchen, dining room, sunroom and living room. Ms. Quinn said a grand piano stood in the corner of the living room when she first visited the house, but when she timidly began tapping the keys, it collapsed to the floor.

Mr. Bradlee’s first experience at Grey Gardens was even more distressing. At the behest of his wife, he found himself in the house, considering the purchase, when he was brought to his knees by a violent allergic attack triggered by the dense feline population.

The couple added French doors where there were once windows, and put a swimming pool in the back, outside the wall garden. Mr. Bradlee said the property was a mess, consisting of brown earth, overgrowth and thorny plants called “devil’s walking sticks,” which he said were “the meanest things you ever saw.”

“We leveled the whole goddamned place,” Mr. Bradlee said, later adding, “We literally bulldozed the entire property.”

Starting almost from scratch, the Bradlees began landscaping the gardens themselves until hiring noted gardener and author Victoria Fensterer, who created what exists today. “The garden is so good,” Mr. Bradlee said. “Fensterer is a genius.”
It was originally designed by Anna Gilman Hill, who brought the walls in from Spain.
The Bradlees found Gene Fudderman, an architect who followed their uncommon passion for keeping the structure standing and restoring it, and hired apprentice carpenter Robert Langman to do the building.

“The whole thing was a magical experience,” Ms. Quinn said.
As they moved ahead with the restoration and renovations, Lois Wright, a local public access television host who wrote a book about her experiences with her friends the Beales, came by with a message for Ms. Quinn from Big Edie, who died more than two years before: Ms. Wright said Big Edie was thrilled Ms. Quinn had bought the house and would watch over everything and make sure the massive job went smoothly.

When Little Edie left, Ms. Quinn offered her the option to leave Grey Gardens as is or broom-cleaned—removing the furniture and debris. Little Edie, as she was, left everything.

“The entire attic was filled with fabulous furniture,” Ms. Quinn said, pointing out some of the original pieces in the living room, including wicker chairs, antique tables and a pair of seafoam green chaise lounges on which one could still conjure the image of the Edies, side by side, in all their enigmatic glory. Most of the furniture in Grey Gardens are restored pieces that Edie left behind.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Linen Press

Oh, the linen press! I recently saw a built-in linen press in a magazine photo (see post here) and was just in awe. You mean, some people have this awesome area for perfectly storing their sheets, blankets, tablecloths, washcloths and other linens? Their linens are probably even LINEN!

Traditionally, linen presses were stand-alone cabinets, usually of woods such as oak, walnut, or mahogany, and designed for storing sheets, table napkins, clothing, and other textiles. They were made chiefly in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Early versions were often quite plain, with some exhibiting carving characteristic of Jacobean designs. Examples made during the 18th and 19th centuries often featured expensive veneers and intricate inlays, and were designed to occupy prominent places in early bedrooms as storage closets for clothing. If you have an older home, you might know that older houses didn't have closets in the traditional sense! Our first home in Lafayette Square, built in 1890, didn't have a closet in the master bedroom, so we had to build one in the sitting room attached to the master suite.

Sometimes, a linen press is often a built-in cabinet near bedroom or bathroom, for easy access to fresh bed sheets and towels. So - this would be quite different from my dumpy closet which has flat removable boards for shelving? Uh-huh.

Easy to see why this is a very useful feature in a home, either as a stand-alone piece of furniture or as a built-in. I prefer the built-in variety because it just looks so functional!

Graceful Home in Kirkwood

St. Louis Magazine has put out a new edition, St. Louis At Home. Last month featured a great home in Kirkwood. I love the relaxed elegance of this home!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Finding Nemo Cake

This weekend had a small gathering of three families with kids in tow. I offered to bring the dessert, and so put together a simple cake that would be pretty easy to replicate. I just used a two-layer 6 inch cake, which fed 10 pretty well with a piece left over. Here are the steps:

1. Use a box cake - they make the box for a reason. Don't go thinking I'm sitting there sifting flour and whatnot. I have fondant to get to.

2. After the cake cools, you will ice it with buttercream. This way, if some people don't like fondant, they still have icing instead of just dry cake. Also, the fondant adheres to the buttercream, which it does not do to dry cake. So there. I put a layer of buttercream in between the two layers. Seals in the flavor. If you are interested in making your own buttercream, which I strongly recommend, you can find the recipe here.

3. After you have applied this layer of icing, stick the cake in the fridge for an hour or so to let it cool.

4. Now you get to play with fondant! Here is my fondant recipe I use, made with marshmallows so that it is stretchy and tastes good. You can dye it many colors, using icing dye from any Michael's or Hobby Lobby. I used a blue fondant for the ocean as the base.

5. Fondant figures - I like to make mine in advance so that they can set and then you can usually do the rest all in one night. For Nemo, this is just molded fondant which had been dyed orange, with white fondant accents.

6. For the detail work, I just did it all freehand. The coral pieces were kind of fun, because I just rolled out extra fondant and then curled it up like a yoga mat!

Here are a few pictures of the finished product - I told Audrey to "lean in."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Foyers of 63108

The Central West End area of St. Louis has some amazing homes. I'd love to see what the neighborhood looked like in the 1900s, when many of the homes were built around Forest Park.

Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, and William S. Burroughs all grew up in the CWE. The Central West End was also the location of Sally Benson's home, the setting of the stories which were adapted into the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. (See my post about 5135 Kensington here -

Should come as no surprise that many of these homes have grand, elegant and stately foyers. If you think about it, the foyer of your home is important. It should be what sets the tone when you come home each night - where you picture your kids running in after playing in the yard, where you greet your visitors, and the last light you turn off at night.

After some browsing around, I've decided that the foyers of 63108 (the CWE zip) deserve some attention. All eight of these foyers are the foyers of homes currently for sale, too! So, if you have $1.1m, or $2.5m, even better. If not, just take a look and wonder, as I do, whether the people who live in these homes wear ascots and smoking jackets.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Built-In Kitchen Seating

I have a small kitchen. It's beautiful, and very well done, appointed, etc., but it's just freaking small - approximately 10 by 12. I daydream (and night dream) about expanding my kitchen, and including some more casual space for dining - right now, we eat around the tall kitchen island on bar chairs, or in the formal dining room. Totally fine, but in a few year the kids will want a place to hang out, do homework, etc. If you have a smaller space, as I do, one attractive option is a built-in eating area. It saves a lot of space, and avoids the chintzy pine kitchen set (blech). It just looks cozy. Here are some ideas for inspiration!

Antique Canopy Beds

Not sure I would go for one myself, but these antique canopy beds are very impressive. Hard to imagine sleeping in one of these. Certainly not practical, and most of them are pretty costly.

Many antique beds were built right into (and were part of) room paneling (called "boiserie"), and as a result, not that many genuine antique beds survive to this day. Further, antique beds were not built to our modern standard sizes (e.g., Eastern King, Cal King, Queen, etc.)--and very few people want to do custom matresses and linens.

Some key terms:

Lit (pronounced "lee"): the word for bed in French

Lit à Colonnes (pronounced "ah coh LUN"): a four poster bed with a full canopy. Here's an example of an English Jacobean lit à colonnes.

Here is an antique Javanese bed in solid teak. This can actually be used indoors or outdoors. How cool would this be to have outside?

Now check out one you can actually purchase - this is from Horchow (the motherload). A mere $19,000! Dates to 1900 from China.