Monthly Archives

June 2017

In Musings on
June 22, 2017

Friday Fancies

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Hello dears and happy, happy Friday. I’m thrilled to debut a new Stuffy Muffy series that will be serving up my favorite fancies of the week. Whether it be a restaurant recommendation, a great new documentary or an accoutrement I can’t live without, I’ll be posting them here. I enjoy sharing fabulous finds and I welcome any and all that you have as well!

Without further ado….

EAR CANDY

Working from home can be, well, quiet. Podcasts have become my preferred audible entertainment. I can’t get enough of them! For all things Bravo I tune into Bitch Sesh: a Real Housewives Breakdown which makes me feel better about my disappointing choices in television. I just recently breezed through Missing Richard Simmons; it was intriguing, sad, hilarious and mysterious all at once. James Swan at Million Dollar Decorating has the voice of a sophisticated angel, a must-listen for the design inclined. As you can see, I prefer my podcasts light and fluffy! Please leave recommendations if you have any, I’m all ears…

MONOGRAM MAVENS

I just recently had these pretty little Peacock Alley guest towels personalized at South of Hampton here in Atlanta and oh my heavens am I pleased! The ladies at SoH have the chicest monogram selections and the turnaround time is always extra quick.

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Pretty pagodas! Lucite towel rack is from Lux Hold Ups.

LIP SERVICE

This isn’t a new find for me, but it is an essential one. I keep a Mongo Kiss lip balm in every room of the house! It’s organic, practices social responsibility and it is a smidge thicker than the average chapstick which makes a nice difference. I pick up Mongo Kiss goodies at my local Whole Foods.

HEART THIS ART

I spotted one of Karen Smidth’s paintings on Pinterest this week and just had to see more. Her gorgeous pieces are available at Anne Irwin Fine Art here in Atlanta, at Blue Print in Dallas and through Serena & Lily.

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“Wild Green Spring” by Karen Smidth, available at Anne Irwin Fine Art.

PIE TIME

Do you love coffee ice cream? Chocolate? Well I’ve just discovered a culinary wonder at Trader Joe’s called the Mudd Pie. It’s not dairy-free or gluten-free and it most certainly has lots and lots of calories but it’s delicious and it’s summer so indulge in a slice or four! Find it in the frozen section by all the macarons and other tempting treats.

Bon week-end, dahlings!

In Decor, Travel on
June 13, 2017

Marvelous Maison: The Owens-Thomas House

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting (or living in!) Savannah, Georgia you know just how charming a place it is. Historic homes are one of this city’s most divine treasures and the Owens-Thomas House is no exception. With its fine English Regency architecture and pink interior walls, it was a stand out to moi while I was devouring every page of Historic Houses of the South from Southern Accents published in 1984.

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A cast iron balcony on the south side of the house. It was painted to resemble stone, they thought of everything back then! On a visit to Savannah, Marquis de Lafayette addressed eager townspeople from this very veranda. This French patriot was celebrated by Americans as a Revolutionary War hero.

Now, according to the Telfair Museum website which offers Owens-Thomas House tours in 15 minute increments, picture taking is prohibited inside the home so think of this as a behind the gates tour, albeit from 32 years ago. Since this house was completed in 1819, what’s three decades, no?

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In the vestibule, you can say hello to busts of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott and marvel at the Greek Corinthian order columns with gilded capitals. The staircase? Oh, just some iron balusters and a mahogany handrail with inlaid brass.

A vision brought to life by a young (think 21-year-old) English architect, William Jay, for prominent Savannah banker and merchant Richard Richardson, this two-story stunner was very much a la mode in its heyday. Colonial Trustee James Oglethorpe, of which Oglethorpe Square is named for, would have been pinching himself at the sight of this grand structure sitting pretty on a corner Trust lot that he had laid out for the oldest part of the city in 1733. Jay set out to bring Bath, England to Savannah, Georgia using Bath stone for the exterior and elegant architectural details throughout the home.

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In the reception room, a neoclassical style ceiling is complimented by pink walls, a mantlepiece attributed to English sculptor Richard Westmacott, Jr. and a portrait of the architect’s sister, Anne Jay Bolton, by William Etty.

A dwindling Savannah economy and the death of the lady of the house led Richardson to sell the home just three years after moving in. For eight years, it served as a fancy boarding house until the Mayor of Savannah, George Welchman Owens, purchased it in 1930. The Owens family and their descendants enjoyed the home as their own for 121 years.

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Be still my beating heart! Light pink walls and an impressive Chinese porcelain collection are the crowning jewel for me in the dining room. The banquet table and chairs are American from Philadelphia. Stained dark and light alternately, the floors are quite a sight and original to the house.

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Perhaps the most unusual design element in the Owens-Thomas House is the Greek Key filagreed glass seen at the top of the shallow dining room niche that lets in indirect light.

Margaret Gray Thomas, granddaughter to George Owens, was the last person to own the home before bequeathing it to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Science upon her death in 1951. She enjoyed spending time in the garden and collecting antiques to showcase in the home. The formal reception room and dining room were left decorated just as they were in the 1820s while two apartments were added upstairs and one was still inhabited with a tenant when the house was turned over to Telfair. I would have been reluctant to decamp such a gorgeous abode too!

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The master bedroom with its original Regency bed, circa 1800, that Ms. Thomas was born, slept and died in. The rug is Turkish Oushak and atop it sits a lovely New York State Regency table and Sheraton fancy chairs.

As for William Jay, he is credited with creating the finest example of English Regency in the United States. His other exquisite Savannah landmarks include the Alexander Telfair House, the Scarborough house and an attribution to the Gordon-Low House (Girl Scouts will know all about this one!). He was appointed architect of the South Carolina Board of Public Works shortly after his tour de building force in Savannah. You can catch another one of his magnificent structures on Meeting Street in Charleston; known as the Smith House. Jay would return to England, become bankrupt and work on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean until his untimely death in 1837.

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19th century American furniture decks out the second floor sitting room and library. A portrait of William Jay’s brother-in-law graces the mantel.

Savannah merchant Petit de Villiers penned to a friend in 1819, “there are several houses in Savannah that would be an ornament to any city,” the restrained yet majestic Owens-Thomas House serves as a shining beacon of this sentiment.

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A view of the Owens-Thomas Carriage House and Gardens. Image via Telfair Museums.

Have any of you visited this historic home? I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

In Art, Musings, Travel on
June 4, 2017

Ladies of Venice: Art, Decadence and Eccentricities

On the storied waterfront of Venice sits an unfinished palazzo that houses the Peggy Guggenheim collection but, in its former life, it was residence to three of the last century’s most fascinating female personalities. Drawn to the diminutive neutral palace set against ornate neighboring villas, Marchesa Luisa Casati, Lady Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim would make the place their own, respectively. What was the charm of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni that beckoned its famous buyers?

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Stuffy Muffy

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

A lofty architectural feat started by one of Venice’s most noble families in the 1750s boasted plans of five floors and a magnificent facade. Ill-fated from the beginning, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was never completed except for the ground floor. The Venier family ran out of funds and there are rumors that the neighboring Corner family put a stop to its construction in fear that it would be as grand as their own villa. No one puts the Corners in the corner! Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about the history of the palace is the giant lion that roamed the gardens, an ode to the “leoni” in its title.

The Avant-garde Heiress

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Luisa Casati dressed to the nines and two escorts. Photo by Mariano Fortuny, Museo Fortuny.

The palazzo fell into many hands in the years to come, time taking its toll on its exterior and interior, until it caught the eye of the Italian Marchesa Luisa Casati. Romanced by its neglected facade, she purchased the palace in 1910 and swiftly got to work reimagining the inside. Marble! Gold! Glass! She packed it all in and wasted no time outfitting the gardens with parrots, albino blackbirds she would dye whatever color she fancied and monkeys. Luisa’s most prized pet was a cheetah that would accompany her everywhere she went, becoming a fixture at her side at the lavish parties she would host.

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The Marchesa and her pet cheetah in the center of party goers at one of her masquerades, 1913. From the Casati Archives.

This was just the tip of the iceberg of eccentricities that the Marchesa displayed. She wore outrageous costumes, shocked high society with her personal life and threw masquerade balls written about in every paper the world over. Venice was her stage, she the modern actress playing a different part every week. A patroness of the arts, Luisa played muse to notable artists such as Man Ray, Alberto Martini and Romaine Brooks. While keeping up with the tony art set, she squandered all her assets on museum-like homes, sumptuous couture and extravagant gatherings. She eventually had to sell her beloved palazzo and moved to London, evading creditors and the Fascist regime of Italy. She lived there in exile and passed away in 1957.

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One of the many portraits of Luisa Casati from her collection. From Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The English Enchantress

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Model Cara Delevingne’s great-aunt, Doris Viscountess Castleross, pictured in her sun suit posing for Sir John Lavery in Palm Springs.

With the palazzo up for grabs, a leggy English blonde snapped it up in 1936 intending to make a fresh start in Venice. Lady Doris Castlerosse had earned a reputation that was much more “mistress” than “enchantress” in London, seducing the likes of Cecil Beaton and Winston Churchill while marrying her way up the ranks of society. She overhauled the palace into a glossy haven fit for a salonniere, hosting party after party that boasted guests like Prince Philip of Greece. From the palazzo’s stuccoed walls hung exquisite antique frames and sconces while guests were treated to bold black marble bathrooms. With the close proximity to Rome, Lady Doris would travel there and buy couture shoes 200 pairs at a time. She was the new social tour de force in Venice until the war broke out, ending her good time on the Grand Canal and leading to her unfortunate overdose in 1942. 

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Doris Castlerosse outside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1936. From her private collection.

The Grand Patroness

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Peggy Guggenheim soaking up Venice with her pooches.

During the war, soldiers occupied the palazzo and it became a shell of the once luxurious salon Luisa and Doris had cultivated. Peggy Guggenheim found it in its graffitied condition and took a chance on the crumbling structure. It hurts my heart to report that Peggy took down all of the gorgeous decorative touches the two women had installed and pared down the palace to a light and simple interior. What we can be grateful for is her incredible collection of art on the white walls and foresight as a patroness. While reading her memoir it became evident that it was not easy to transport works in a war ravaged continent and many pieces spent time in hiding. Peggy was determined to have it all culled together in the palazzo and she eventually succeeded, giving us the modern day Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

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Peggy in her Palazzo. Image via INVenice.

The grande dame of Venice spent 30 years there. She rode around in a gondola donning her signature wild sunglasses, sunbathed in the nude on her rooftop (which was much lower than all the other rooftops!) and gathered likeminded visionaries at her famous dinner parties. If one attended a Peggy Guggenheim event you’d be dining with the likes of Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau and artist Arshile Gorky. If you visit Palazzo Venier dei Leoni today, soak up the view, study the art and try to image the wild creatures that once roamed the garden; Luisa, Doris and Peggy included!

While Peggy’s life lives on through her artful legacy, Luisa and Doris serve as cautionary tales of spoiled excess. What all three females did have in common was a joie de vivre spirit that saw them making their own a palace that was originally built to celebrate male achievement. If only the Venier men could have seen what became of the palazzo!

Summer reading suggestions:

  • If you’re interested in a broader history of these women and their connection to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, be sure to dive right into The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell, available for pre-order.
  • I read Peggy Guggenheim’s memoir last summer and it was incredibly interesting. I will warn you, she is a bit flippant about the war but delves into her childhood, love affairs and passion for art in a way that will have you turning the pages.