Friday, April 30, 2010

Treated Like Royalty

Just this week, a friend and I flew from Baltimore, Maryland to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit a treasured mutual friend. Our hostess' family dubbed our coming "the state visit."
She certainly rolled out the red carpet.

The American flag was flying when we arrived.

Flowers sat in each of our guestrooms.

A tray table sat on my bed holding a gift bag, bottled water, and magazines to peruse.

Our hostess even outdid the Ritz by presenting our towels like a pretty present.

On her dining table, yellow tulips surrounded by lemon slices nodded their sunny hello, an idea she borrowed from Southern Living.

Finally, at each meal we used their best silver handcrafted by Old Newbury Crafters in Amesbury, Massachusetts. "Old Newbury credited with bringing the art of silversmithing to New England. Today, some fourteen generations later, the skills and methods of handforging sterling silver are still employed..."

Having lifted one of these beautifully balanced pieces of silver, I can attest to what the website claims: "the machine cannot match the quality, durability, look and feel of handmade silver"(

How appropriate for our "state visit" that their pattern is "Windsor Shell".

Gourmet meals, plenty of laughter, and shopping crowned our visit.

Over the years, these friendships have been forged during a weekly Moms in Touch prayer time for all our children. For information on this non-denominational, international ministry which is in every state and 120 countries go to:

Finally, I thought you might enjoy seeing some vignettes from my friend's home. She majored in design at Notre Dame and has a real flare!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nooks and Crannies

When you hear the expression "nooks and crannies", Thomas' English muffins may come to mind. However, the cozy spaces I am referring to are found in homes.As a romantic, I am drawn to remote hide-a-ways for reading, daydreaming, or meditating.

Built-in recesses are among the many reasons I like Jack Arnold's home designs ( "Homes of Elegance" often include wonderful chimney corners or inglenooks.(For a wonderful post on inglenooks see:

Balancing the other side of his living rooms are openings for a bookcase.

An Arnold-designed dining room usually has an indentation perfect for a sideboard.

These homes all have steeply pitched roofs which create cozy window seats in upstairs bedrooms.

A small porch, complete with swing, is a perfect out-of-the-way corner for morning coffee or firefly-gazing on a summer evening.

In our home, the most used nook is my writing corner. This computer space is a perfect crypt for myriads of writing scribbles.

I also treasure the window indentation where I often read my Bible in the morning.

Here is another enticing crevice. Can't you envision a child curled in this nook with a good book?

If I let my imagination take flight, I can picture tiny people playing hide-n-seek in this house.

To quote L.M. Montgomery's beloved character, Anne Shirley, small tucked-away crannies certainly leave "scope for imagination."

When I was little I used to hide in a nook when I was sad. Somehow the enfolding hiding place comforted my young heart. Maybe that is why I still love sheltering crevices.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman incarcerated for hiding Jews during the Holocaust. From a flee-infested barracks in Ravensbruck, she could vouch for the shelter of God's unfailing love. In unimaginable circumstances, she echos Psalm 91:1 and 2. "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buildings Befitting Beliefs

When I look at worship structures, I see beliefs translated into bricks and mortar. In Judeo-Christian structures, as in all architecture, form follows function; context is crucial, and meaning lies behind decorative details.

Although Jewish synagogues serve as schools and places of assembly, primarily, they are places where worshipers pray and hear the Torah read; so logically, the main meeting room is designed around the Ark, where the Hebrew Torah scrolls are kept. The above photo is of Lancaster's Temple Shaarai Shomayim in 1931.

Consider the cuneiform or cross-shaped footprint of many Catholic cathedrals. Inside, at the intersection of the cross, sits the communion table pointing to the centrality of the Eucharist in this religious tradition. Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City illustrates this point.

After the Reformation, Protestants churches were simplified; the altar, icons, and stained glass windows were replaced by communion table, pulpit, and light filled rooms.(I credit Milner's website for the first three photos and the last photo of Westminster.)

Westminster Presbyterian Church's newest sanctuary is an archetypal Protestant church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The congregational meeting house style fits especially well in the county, reflecting early Pennsylvania Friend’s meeting houses and nodding toward the simplicity so eloquently lived out in the surrounding Amish and Mennonite communities.

The sanctuary was designed by John Milner architectural firm of Chadds Ford which "specializes in the restoration and adaptation of historic buildings and the design of new buildings...which reflect the rich architectural traditions of the past." Their projects have been featured in Architectural Record, Traditional Building, and The Chicago Tribune.

One concentration of Milner's group is ecclesiastical design. According to the firm's website, "Since the earliest days of settlement, religious institutions have been a critical and integral component of communities in our evolving nation.“ A principal in Milner's firm, Mary Werner DeNadai, designed Westminster's congregational meeting house form replicating churches in Puritan New England. (You might enjoy seeing other examples of their work at:

Ironically, although historic in style, the layout with congregants facing each other and the pulpit are cutting-edge in church design today.

In recent years, seeker-friendly services dictated enormous auditoriums conducive to worship bands and dramatic presentations with church buildings often indistinguishable from offices, schools, or theaters. Now, this trend is starting to shift, in both Catholic and Protestant architecture.

Patrick and Anderson Partners in Architecture located in Easton, Maryland and Alexandria, Virginia critique that "the recent history of Catholic church architecture which often prioritizes...novelty above the continuity of tradition and human fellowship above the glory of God and the sacrament of communion." In contrast, their designs "strive to reestablish the priority of God in his own house, and to deeply engage the whole person..."

A similar theme is heard in Protestant quarters, according to Paul Luntsford, president of PLA Design, a performing arts and worship space design firm. "We are...seeing a flurry of very successful mid-size churches where connection is the highest value," he notes. "Though there will continue to be churches that successfully connect through production, I think we are going to see...more emphasis on connecting 'people to people' and less 'stage to people.' This surge has already begun." (Go to for full article.)

Intentionally, Westminster's parishioners face the pulpit and each other. According to the church bulletin, their worship is "rooted in the Scripture...and committed to one another." From my observation, other construction details were chosen with equal care. The original sanctuary with its high spire points toward what is central in Presbyterian worship: God himself. Furthermore, the new meeting house frames the original sanctuary much as a church on a New England village green focused on worship as central in the community.

Inside Westminster, you notice the pulpit raised above the pews and a sounding board above the pulpit to amplify the pastor's voice, symbolic of the high esteem church doctrine places on the teaching of Scripture, just as the Ark in a Jewish temple honors the Torah.

Finally, as in Catholic churches, communion plays a central role in Protestant worship. On the table at the front of Westminster's sanctuary sits a pitcher, a chalice, and plate symbolizing The Lord's Supper. A bowl references the celebration of the sacrament of baptism.

For me, it is interesting when I enter a place of worship to think about what the architecture is emphasizing. More personally, I am challenged to think about how my choices, my words, and my demeanor reflect who I worship.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

While you are Sleeping

What hangs above your bed--a painting, intaglios, a wedding sampler? Coming up with something unique and appropriate can be a challenge.

In children's rooms the child's gender plays a part in the decision. I have seen sailboats, airplanes, and sports gear hung above beds. When I was little, my mother created shadowboxes in which she sat our dolls.

My "fashionista" daughter's room has some antique fashion plates hanging above the bed. Napoleon hired Leroy, a fashion designer, to dress the royal court. He continued to be a leading designer even into the Romantic period when exaggerated skirts were popular. My daughter's plates are probably reproductions made popular in the 1950's.

Above my other daughter's bed hangs a print which hung in my bedroom as I was growing up. The innocence of the young girl carrying petals in her skirt seemed suited to this daughter. This is a print of the Edgar Degas painting.

My son's room has a bird print by James Fernandez above the bed, chosen partly for the coloration and partly for its significance. In script subtly beneath the painting are the words, "...and the Lord did not forget," a reference to God not relenting on his promise to save Noah from the flood.
In master bedrooms, the possibilities for above beds are endless, but should speak to whomever sleeps beneath. Let's hope that crossed swords are not symbolic!Portraits of naked cherubs always strike me as a bit over the top, even if painted by Botticelli himself.
For above our bed, I happened upon a solution. My husband's grandmother loved antique fans; so, for a special occasion I purchased one for her. When she moved to a nursing facility, I was given the fan. By now, age was showing on the delicate fabric, so I had it framed. The half-moon shape fits perfectly above a bed.
I'd love for you to comment on what you have staring down at you while you are sleeping.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lessons Learned in Building

In the past twenty-some years, we have built two homes. I learned one major lesson from supervising the two building projects--in quality control the customer must balance expectations with respect for the craftsman.

Let me explain. My father was big proponent of doing a job correctly. When I was seven or eight years old, he had a teaching moment. Because it was my turn to do the evening dishes, I loaded the dishwasher, wiped the table, scrubbed the pans, and pulled the drain plug as I finished. Then I went to bed.

Later, my father woke me from a sound sleep. "Maurie, you did not finish your job. Come and Ajax the sink."

Sleepily, I went to the kitchen and looked in the sink. I could see the scum covering the stainless steel. Dutifully, I pulled the cleanser from the lower cupboard, sprinkled and polished the surface, finished my job correctly, and went back to bed. (Obviously, my daddy could have made me clean the sink the next morning, but it would not have left the same impression!)
Counterbalancing that principle, I learned another truism from my mother's customers. For years, my mother ran a drapery/design business. Once when she was in the hospital, I delivered some draperies to a customer, a type-A+++ perfectionist. She inspected every seam, every hem, every pleat. Of course, nothing suited her, although the workmanship was impeccable, as far as I could see. My take-away from this biddy was not to be an obnoxious client, but to be reasonable in expectations and kind in expressing them.
With that backdrop, fast forward some years to when I was the customer of a construction project. Daily, I checked the craftsman to explain my expectations and avoid potential problems as the building progressed--always trying to be kind and reasonable.

However, in life things aren't perfect. Sometimes stuff happens. At such moments, the customer has to look at the situation and balance the two competing principles: expect the job to be done right, but respect the craftsman.

My dining room wallpaper is case in point. Design aficionados will recognize the Gracie wallpaper splurge. The silk, hand-painted paper is exquisite, and ties my whole ground floor color-scheme together.
Before the paperhanger tackled this project, he called Gracie in New York for advice from their expert hanger. After reading the packaging directions, I went to the best wallpaper company in town for paper liner required beneath the silk paper. Very carefully, the paper was hung. That night, just before retiring, my husband and I went out to admire the job. Perfection!

In the morning we went to peak again, but to our dismay the paper was hanging off the walls.

Our paperhanger came back and applied more paste to re-adhere the paper. Alas, the silk had shrunk leaving quarter-inch seams between the panels. Furthermore, air bubbles kept popping up at various places around the room. He rolled out the air bubbles, but silk cannot be stretched. What a disaster!

What should I do? No one wanted to assume responsibility...not Gracie, nor the company who sold us the liner. And how could I expect my wallpaper hanger, a gentle- souled widower raising six children alone, to pay for this colossal mess?

I thought of my dad. I thought of my mother's demanding client-biddy. And I thought of the Haitian women I knew who wallpapered their homes with pages of magazines.

"Maurie," I said to myself, "get a grip. People are more important than things. Make the best of this."

Thereupon, I went to the paint store, matched the paper color, and painted the spaces between the panels.

...and I have lived happily ever after with the result...No, that would be a lie. When it still bugs me, I mentally have to review my options: let it fester or choose to keep a people-centered perspective.

"Let your sweet reasonableness be known to all men" (Philippians 4:5).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sneak a Peek

Daughter number two, our "baby", is an adult wife and mother, a family counselor, and a wonderful friend. Rachel, too, enjoys creating a haven for others. Together, Rachel and Curt, entertain myriads of friends, welcoming one and all, serving them with generosity. Hospitality is their hallmark.

For a couple so young, they are very blessed. Curt, from a very young age was a groundskeeper at malls, collecting trash and mowing lawns. Wisely, his parents taught him to carefully save his pennies. Choosing the college which offered him a "full-ride" and working during graduate school allowed this young man to begin married life without debt. So, after renovating a condo in DC and selling it themselves, the pair moved to the Midwest and were able to purchase a lovely first home.

It is very satisfying for me to see how Rachel has taken the design principles I taught her and improved upon them, giving her home a softness which comes from gentle color selections and the warm patina of hand-me-down furniture. Yet, her youth has also nudged her to a few contemporary choices. The blend is fresh and appealing.

As I analyze her home I see some patterns emerge that may help others when arranging their own homes.

First, in choosing a color palate, accept your personality. I love bright colors; Anna normally gravitates toward dramatic colors, and Rachel chooses soft, gentle tones. To analyze yourself, ask, "What was my favorite color growing up? Has it remained my favorite? And, what colors do I choose to wear? Do my accessories tend to be bold or dramatic or soft?"

Once you have settled on your personal preferences, keep your color scheme simple. Choose one main color, one neutral, and one small accent color. Think about using that color scheme throughout your home in variation.

Rachel's home is a good example. Rachel chose variations on powder blue as the unifying color in many rooms--living room ceiling and furnishings, master bedroom walls and draperies, guestroom accessories and nursery walls.

(The furniture in this room belonged to Curt's grammie's family.)

(The rug was a gift to Curt from his Grammie when he was a small boy--and it matches her color scheme.)

(Using antiques passed down from Curt's mother makes this a unique and wonderful place to change a baby.)

Her neutral secondary color in entry, dining room, kitchen, hallway, and guest room is soft yellow or caramel. (Some colors from previous owner stayed as dictated by budget and existing counter tops and fireplace surrounds.)

For a punch, Rachel has used very tiny touches of pink/purple in orchids as a third color. Choosing a single color for a room with a neutral simplifies choices and gives a contemporary flair.

A second design principle Rachel uses is grouping items-of-a-kind. Notice her bookshelves are simple, uncluttered, and unified.

The study has the couple's collection of books, but also displays Rachel's grandfather's hand-carved birds.

In the hearth-room, her bookshelves display hand-thrown pottery. These were purchased in an unlikely location--a beauty shop! Most pieces cost around $10.

The master bedroom had another set of bookshelves. Without enough books to fill all these spaces, what could she display here? A set of crystal candlesticks from her wedding reception tables led her to bring up all the crystal she was given for wedding presents to fill the shelves. The glass complements the icy blue walls. And, the most special treasure is a watercolor painted by Curt's great grandmother.

On the stairway landing, Rachel framed and grouped wedding photos. Rather than keeping them in a photo album only looked at occasionally, these get noticed many times a day. As their family grows she can add children's pictures above and below the wedding shots.

The final design principle Rachel follows, is the use of balance. Whenever possible, buy pairs--two matching chairs or vases, a pair of side tables or even sofas. If you don't have sets, tables of equal height can be used on each side of a sofa or bed. However, the lamps should always be a pair.

I hope you have enjoyed a peek into another home, as well as this motherly tutorial I am passing on to you.