Sunday, January 1, 2006

2005 Magna Awards


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:32 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:32 PM

Most Helpful: ~~Tx~~Wildflower

The internet’s great & all, you know, but sometimes it seems less like the “information highway” it was pitched to us as when it was new than it does the highway to h e l l , a tangled spaghetti-bowl of digital interchanges that let you waste hours going in ever-larger circles that take you nowhere close to where you want or need to go. Too bad nobody’s ever bothered to make a map.

That’s where we’re lucky, because that’s where Susan comes in. This woman gets around, she keeps her eyes open, and more importantly, she remembers where she saw stuff. It doesn’t do any good to stumble across cool stuff if you can’t find it again when you need it. Oh, sure, you can do a Google search, but for one thing, Susan’s already done it and for another, she’s also weeded out all the irrelevant junk, so that whether you’re asking for polka dot barkcloth or Tuscan tin lanterns, she can tell you which ones are the best looking and who’s having a sale on them right now. She may not have a true photographic memory, but she has something almost as good--the world’s longest ‘Favorites’ list. In another life, I know she was the head librarian at a big-city reference desk, the one who never had to leave her seat because she knew exactly where to direct you for the information you needed. Of course, that she knew the answer to your question all along, but she wanted you to hunt it up yourself so that the next time around, you’d be ahead of the game because you’d already know where to look. That’s what a good teacher does. And Susan’s the best.

In my line of work, I also answer questions--and I answer a lot more questions that I ever need to ask, so I haven’t yet called on Susan’s huge pool of knowledge--but here’s the big difference between her & and me: When people come to me with questions, most of them have to pay for the answers. That’s how I pay the bills. On the other hand, Susan has been doing this for years--for free--out of the wonderful generosity of her heart. What a woman! Have you thanked Susan today?

Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:35 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:35 PM

Most Interesting Tablescapes--Cattknap

Despite all the talk about originality & uniqueness in the design world, sometimes it seems like it’s nothing but talk. There was a period when every issue of every glossy shelter magazine showed a coffee table the size of Utah, and on top, a plate with three Granny Smith apples. Remember those apples? Every month, every house, the same three apples. I can’t prove it but I think the photographer was getting kickbacks from the American Apple Institute.

And it’s not just apples. These days, I keep going into people’s homes and seeing the identical arrangement on the mantel: at one end of the mantel there’s the big framed mirror leaning against the sage green wall--I’d hate to own a picture hook factory right about now--and down at the other end there‘s always a pair of oversize candlesticks with a carved wood box from Pier 1/ TJ Maxx/ Cost Plus World Market, It’s so predictable, like everybody discovered asymmetry on the same day. Where‘s the imagination?

Well, I‘ll tell you where it is. It’s at Cattknap’s. Yes, her walls are green, and yes, she has a pair of buffet lamps, and yes, her arrangement is asymmetrical, but it’s subtle--she doesn’t hit you over the head with the fact--and she combines things with such a confident touch that you forget that, in themselves, many of the items aren’t all that unusual. Then again, most great cooks rely on a few basic ingredients for a lot of different dishes, and they create interest by varying the proportions & adding unusual spices & textures. So does Cattknap.

Here she’s combined a dish of paperwhite narcissus (think spring) & a bunch of dried leaves & seed pods (think fall) that could have come straight from her back yard--mine do--and balanced those natural materials with the soft gleam of antique silver & mercury glass. It doesn’t show in this shot, but I remember that there were even a few antique rhinestone brooches tucked into that compote full of silvery stuff. Just the sort of unexpected touch--clever, but not in-your face--that makes the whole thing work. Add some color contrast with red transferware, and value contrast with the black frames and Presto! you have a well-rounded arrangement that takes more than a fast glance to appreciate. A perfect demonstration that traditional doesn’t have to mean stuffy.Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:37 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:37 PM

Most Hospitable---CER

We’ve all been to houses that were beautiful to look at--beautiful, that is, as long as you took off your shoes the minute you walked in the door and didn’t sit down or touch anything. I’m sorry, that’s not a home, it’s a museum. CER’s home is nothing like that. Yes, it’s good-looking, but more importantly, it’s warm & welcoming, which, given her & Mr. CER’s calling, should be a given, but sad to say, often isn‘t.

CER’s relaxed, low-key rooms, where everything looks handsome & comfortable--but nothing looks too precious to use--make me think of the welcome Paul & Luke & the gang must have found when they landed in an unfamiliar town and a local businesswoman named Lydia graciously invited them to stay at her house during their visit. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts. As Luke puts it, “She compelled us to stay.“ And here’s what Paul said on the subject later on: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby, some have entertained angels anawares.“ CER has obviously taken that counsel to heart.

But wait, there’s more! Besides, CER’s hospitality & her good taste & her cute kid, she’s got something else going for her big time: a killer sense of humor. All I can say is Rod Stewart really missed the boat this time. Charm, style, humor, honesty--what more could he have asked for? well, it’s his loss. Seriously, though there is one other thing I want to say. This board is so much richer for Cindy’s contributions. This photo of the cozy living room in her former home probably holds wonderful memories for a whole congregation of friends. We’re all fortunate to share in a tiny bit of that, even if it’s only in pixels on a screen. May this house have peace.Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:39 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:39 PM

Most Serene--ZuZu

ZuZu popped in one summer day--out of the middle of nowhere--asked how she might improve her already beautiful living room, and then dropped out of sight right about the time of the Great Exodus, which was too bad, because it‘s not often that rookies show as much talent as is evident in her pretty & effortless-looking room.

That’s the thing about great talent: it makes things seem easy. Watching Fred Astaire, you think that anybody could learn to dance. Watching Scottie Pippen sink a silent free throw, you’re convinced you could do it, too. Reading John McPhee, you believe that writing is nothing more than just sitting down and letting your thoughts--your wonderful, witty thoughts--gush out like water form a spring. So, so easy. Easy, that is, until you try it.

Decorating is more expensive than dancing, just as hard as learning a new sport and it doesn’t let you to just wad up your mistakes and throw them away, not, that is, unless you have a lot more money than I do. And that knowledge ot decorating’s risks--the expense, the frustration, the social humiliation if a project goes south--keeps a lot of people from doing anything at all to improve their homes and they end up second-guessing themselves into complete decorating paralysis.

So, then, to have someone who does it so well vanish before our eyes, when we drive ourselves crazy trying to find the perfect spot on our console table for our new vase--or our new vase & a picture; or the vase & a lamp? or just the lamp? or what about a pier of pictures & no vase? what about a table scarf? which scarf? maybe a plant? real? silk?---well, it just seems so unfair. But brooding over the past & obsessing over our failures--whether in decorating, or in life in general--isn’t the path to serenity. So sit back, imagine yourself in one of ZuZus big comfy armchairs, and listen to the tick of the little clock on the mantel and the distant drone of cicadas in the woods, and breathe in the scent of a sun-warmed grass rug on a quiet summer afternoon, After all, it’s a new year, and that perfect summer day is only six months away...

...We now return you to the Magna Awards.
Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:41 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:41 PM

Most Instructive--Bella

Just the opposite of ZuZu is Bella, the woman who can do anything--everything, in fact--but take it easy, who makes the rest of us on the board look like a bunch of slackers. While we’ve been dithering over a pile of paint chips, she’s totally redone her hallway. When she‘s not wallpapering, she‘s faux-graining the trim in her house. And when she‘s not refinishing her furniture, she’s putting up new walls. And while she’s doing all of the above, she’s documenting every single step of the process so that we can all do it, and figuring out the details of her next project. Worst of all, she does it all neatly. No, actually, that’s not the worst part. This is: She’s done all this stuff in her “free time.” What could Bella accomplish if this were her actual job? The mind reels.

This is a woman who would probably have her own TV show, except for the fact that she‘d probably insist on operating the camera too. The little problem of not knowing how to do it wouldn’t stop her a bit. She’d figure it out, probably while the union crew was at lunch. Her can-do attitude toward everything reminds me of the character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream--also an amateur, and a carpenter to boot--who no sooner wins the role of the male lead in Shakespeare’s play-within-the-play than he insists on also playing the female lead and all the other roles as well, including the part of the Lion and the non-speaking part of the Wall.

Fortunately, for those of us single-taskers who can only do one thing at a time--and that not always well--Bella provided us with step-by-step instructions--and a ton of in-progress photos--in How to Transform Generic French Provincial Chairs into Beautifully Detailed Pieces Modeled after 18th Century Venetian Polychrome Furniture, and How to Install a New Wall in Your Hallway without Making a Mess. And the earlier time-warp conversion of her 199Os living room into a room of about a century earlier proved that dark is not a synonym for gloomy.

What’s next for Bella? Well, still on the docket are her dining room ceiling, the coal room/ office, the bathroom doors, and the back porch, some of which I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she’s already completed while I’ve been typing. In fact, I‘m exhausted from just the typing. Congratulations, Christy. You deserve it. Now go sit down & relax. It’s a holiday.
Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:44 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:44 PM

Most Evocative--1902House & RSGracey

Here’s another decorating hit that went straight for the fence on the first pitch. I knew these guys were gonna be winners as soon as i saw their first photos way back last summer. Their place is proof that a home can be historically correct and warm & appealing at the same time. The care they put into planning & executing a ceiling in multiple patterns, the time involved in the laborious polychrome finish of their Lincrusta dado, all testify to how much they love their house, and boy, does it show.

These days, TV decorators talk a lot about focal points & colors that pop, and the “Wow Factor” as if those were all good things. Oh, they’re all right, I guess--in a display window--but at home, there’s no need for our walls to be popping & punching each other all the time. So much for the idea of home as a ‘refuge.’ Our world is crazy & hectic enough already without having to deal with that stuff when we get home, too. How about a little peace & quiet? There’s a new book about the great decorator Nancy Lancaster, and here’s what she had to say about focal points: “You never want to have only one mouvement thing--like the Savonnerie rug--that would stand out. You must have mouvement everywhere.”

David & Stephen--like all this year’s winners--have clearly applied that principle in their home. Everything here, if you look at it closely, is handsome, but nothing screams for undue attention. No one thing so outclasses everything else that the room becomes lopsided. Balance is a principle that Victorian designers seem to have understood implicitly, but one which their modern counterparts seem to have forgotten--or never learned in the first place. Rather than walls that pop, it is balance, the nice proportion of parts, that creates a sense of history & stability & calm, and here‘s what Edith Wharton said about that: “Proportion is the good breeding of architecture. It gives repose and distinction...In its effect, it is as intangible as that all-pervading essence the ancients called the soul.” That’s what this place has: a ton of soul. Way to go, guys.


I put RSGracey’s & 19O2House’s place last in our winners’ list because I want to expand the awards beyond houses & rooms themselves to images of such rooms, and to their contents, and these two just happened to grab both categories-- photo and art. So here we go...
Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:46 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:46 PM

Most Romantic Photo--19O2 House

It’s one thing to create a handsome room, it’s another to document it. Face it: we live in volatile times, and however much we love our homes, they probably won’t be our homes forever. This year, a lot of people learned that the hard way, and lost their homes to floods or fires or storms. Others were more fortunate, and were able to move to new or better homes. Whatever the cause, we don’t stay in place as long as we used to, and sometimes all that remains of a much-loved home are memories & photographs. The picture of CER’s living room above is a good example. Her family’s new house is allowing her to try out a new & different approach to decorating, but because of her beautiful natural light photographs, the charm of the old place lives on, and, thanks to the internet, it can be shared with people all the way around the world. Like Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and a good photo certainly helps out.

You may have already noticed a thread that runs though all this year’s winners: their homes were photographed with available light. A flash-lit snapshot may be good for conveying specific technical information, but it seldom rises to the level of art. Most of the rooms I see posted on the forum--some of them probably good-looking rooms in real life--have been photographed with a built-in flash, and that harsh, flat glare can strip even the prettiest room of all its charm and give it the deer-in-the-headlights look of a driver’s license shot. That or the look of a crime scene photo. Either way, neither one is likely to make for good memories in years to come. So, folks, do yourselves a favor & learn to take better photos of your homes. Someday, your kids will thank you. And in the meantime, you might get a chance at next year’s list.

Anyway, here’s this year’s photo winner, 19O2House’s simple but evocative shot of their way cool parlor lamp against beautiful a Victorian wall treatment. This could be the cover of a book, David. Congratulations.Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:49 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:49 PM

Most Impressive Artwork--RSGracey

This amazingly competent drawing--yes, all you newcomers, I said drawing--speaks for itself. If you remember the difference between Stephen’s first self-portrait and his final version, you know how far it’s possible to come in a short time. True, he had “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” to help him, and an expert instructor, but the fact is that anybody can do this, if they’re willing to invest the time. Our brains are totally amazing, if we’ll just let them do what they were designed to do. All the time, I hear people say they don’t have any creativity. That’s bogus, and I can prove it. Or, rather, you can prove it to yourself.

Think back to the last vivid dream you had, and think of it in terms of a movie. Every line, every scene in that movie had to be scripted. It was your brain that wrote those lines, all of them, for every character. Your brain cast the roles. It chose the costumes. It designed the sets. If you dreamed you went to the store, it designed all the labels on the products on the shelves. Did you dream about cars? Chances are those were no cars you’ve ever seen in real life. Your brain designed them. You were on a golf course, or driving down a country road? Your brain was the landscape architect. It laid out the fairways, it planted the trees. Your I-have-no-creativity brain did all those things. And it did them in the time it took to watch them. Don’t kid yourself. Incredible amounts of untapped ability is inside all of us. All we have to do is let it out. Stephen did it; so can you. Ok, so maybe we can’t show our projects on this board, but I beyt you know a place where we can, so get busy. Next year, the winner might be you.

Meanwhile, Stephen gets the inaugural award. Congratulations!.Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 04:53 PM Jan 01, 2006 04:53 PM

Most Thoughtful Thread--Bella

Here’s Bella’s introductory post for one of the best threads of the year, one full of well-expressed views, and less about how our homes look than how they feel. For those who want to read the whole exchange one more time--and maybe save it--before it goes into the HGTV’s digital shredder, here‘s what may be your last chance.

October 31, 2OO5,


Tonight while I was busy dismantling the trim in the dining room and hall, I heard the rustle of leaves and sounds of young voices on the lawn. Children, in their innocence have yet to learn to stifle their excitement or whisper their thoughts to each other as society and “proper manners” have not yet robbed them of their unabashed wonder. Through the thin windows and gaping cracks around the edges of my front door, I could hear different voices excitedly exclaiming “I want to stop at this house!” “This house is so cool!” “This is my favorite house!” I chuckled at the conversation and excitement coming from outside the windows as moments later the doorbell blared, announcing the arrival of witches and vampires for which I was completely unprepared. I turned on the porch light and greeted them. There were four spectacular characters of varying horrors greeting me with huge smiles and a “Trick or Treat” prompted by one of their fathers who watched at a safe distance on the lawn. Being quite unprepared I went into the kitchen to see what I could find. I arrived moments later with two bags of Chex Mix and some packs of Winterfresh gum. After some discussion of who got what, they were satisfied and went on to present their threat to the next place that was not forthcoming.

After I had gone back to my work of removing pieces of my home, I pondered the children. They were probably between 7 and 9 years old. They, like most of the children in the neighborhood, probably attend one of the 3 schools within two blocks of my house. When I’m working outside, or the windows are open in the spring and fall and the children are on their way to and from school, I hear them talking about this house. The adults do too, and like the father this evening, most of them looked at this place during its two year stint on the market. Everyone in the neighborhood knows this house and loves it, but what I find most interesting are the comments of the children among their friends. Young children, middle children, high school kids, boys, girls, and even 2 year olds in strollers.

So my ponderence is, what is it about the old place that fascinates and charms the children, who unlike their parents, may or may not remember and yearn and imagine the “good old days” and the “simpler life.” There are no GameBoys, no big screen TVs, only “old lady” stuff and wallpaper and the glow of the afternoon sun as it warms the rooms with its glory.

This has baffled me for the two years that I have been guardian of this place. Is it possible that our children and their children will find the same peace and serenity that we find in our old places despite the fact that they reportedly grow more disrespectful and selfish by the day? Is there hope that even though the world seems to be offering nothing but badness as our future, that our children might actually salvage the values of the past? Do they find comfort in this old place as it stands sheltered by ancient failing maples aflame with fall color? Does it warm their souls and surround them with peace? Do they yearn for the unknown “simple life” that they will only hear tell in stories and books and on the knee of great grandfather? When they grow older, will they seek out that comfort? Or will it be lost with their innocence?


...and here’s a link to the whole thread. It will take you, of course, to my own post within the thread, but the whole thing is there. Enjoy.

Bella's thread--"***"-Magna
Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002


Posted Jan 01, 2006 05:24 PM Jan 01, 2006 05:24 PM

Well, friends, that's it for this year. Thanks for stopping by.

As I look forward to seeing what next year brings, I'm hoping to see more--or any--well-done Modern rooms, maybe a few country-style rooms (and yes, I said country. I can apreciate any style if it's done well) or primitive rooms or even an over-the-top Pop art installation. Just no pre-packaged theme rooms, please.

Anyway, It's been a good year around here--except for that terrible going-down-the drain sucking sound last fall, I mean--and I hope 2OO6 is good for all of us.

P.S. Just in case you want to save this, you probably ought to copy it--not just the link--to your own computer, since this entire thread will be zapped about 8AM on Tuesday. Till then, anyway, enjoy!


Magnaverde Rule No.1: Don't confuse decorating with shopping.
Posts: 1056 | Location: Chicago IL | Registered: Sep 18, 2002

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