Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On the Streets Where I Live

With the big "thank you party" to the contractors and neighbors behind me I feel like I finally can sit back and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays as celebrated in my new city. With camera in tow I set out to report to the blogosphere about the unique way that Richmond decorates for Christmas. It is sort of a blending of Mardis Gras and Christmas - lots of pink, purple, feathers and huge ornaments. And the all of the lights make it so magical. Add to that a foot of snow and all we need is Currier and Ives to come down and do some paintings.Beautiful Monument Avenue lights.

Last Christmas Harry and I could barely bring ourselves to decorate. We knew we were moving and we were trying to minimize the amount of work that is involved in decorating so as not to offend any potential buyer. Turns out that we took it off the market anyway, for a few weeks, as selling a house and celebrating Christmas don't mix. But we still couldn't bring ourselves to put lights out front. The big challenge this year was finding all of the decorations. We stored some in the garage and some in the closets above the clothes closets that are impossible to get at. Lights were in one place, ornaments in another, a centerpiece that I had searched high and low for turned up under some draperies in a box marked "draperies". I wouldn't have found it except that I gave my sister my old Living Room drapes at Thanksgiving - they are too short for Haven't tall windows and I was going to put the box in deep dark storage!!

I felt a renewed urge to decorate the outside of Haven as I not only have a huge magnolia out front but several mature boxwoods in the back. In addition to that, most of the neighbors were out on Thanksgiving decorating the fronts of their homes. Peer pressure and keeping up with the Joneses in full force.

I was feeling especially crafty so I made a magnolia wreath. The waxy texture of the leaves is so different than any other greenery, and grouping them together, I feel, makes a pretty big design statement. However, after taking in what the rest of Richmond does, my wreath is looking pretty conservative and plain. Next year I'll know better.Haven's front door.

Trumpet vine gone wild.

You might find your lost hubcap here.

Typical of Monument Avenue Decorations

In the tradition of Williamsburg but taken to a new level
Photos don't do this house's decorations justice.

In addition to decorating the house, these Monument avenue residents park an old caddy out front with Santa in the driver's seat. There usually isn't enough snow in Richmond for Santa to use his sleigh so we get our presents delivered via Cadillac.
Those are my presents on top.

Who wouldn't want to ride along with this gang?

I've also made it a goal to get to hear as much free live Christmas music as I can this season. This is easy as there are a plethora of churches within walking distance of Haven and I think they are all secretly competing to see who has the best music. First was a visit to First Baptist at the corner of Monument and Boulevard. They had a 100 person choir in addition to a small orchestra, bell ringers and dancers. The music included pieces I had never heard and were beautifully performed.

Later that week I walked down to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for a lunch time concert featuring local soloists. Divine. I'm not a big church goer but I could sit in this church and listen to the music forever. Except that the Catholics don't pad their pews like the Baptists and the Presbyterians do so I can't sit there too long.

Then on Sunday Harry and I went with some friends to a Carol service at the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Monument Avenue. The highlight for me were the children's choirs. All three of these churches are gorgeous on the inside and delight not only the ears but the eyes. I know there will be more this week - I'm on the prowl. Maybe the Lutherans will be next. Or the Methodists - not sure.

The only thing left on the "to do" list is to bake some cookies that the boys look forward to every Christmas and to make everyone take a walk after dark to see all of the lights. Oh, and I haven't even begun to wrap. I like to save that for Christmas eve.

Yesterday I purchased a big hunk of tenderloin at Belmont Butchery. Can I tell you how wonderful it is to have a butcher in the neighborhood? They are so nice in there and helpful and that little slab o' meat cost a small fortune but, hell, it is only once a year and every bite is worth the money spent. Besides, the red wine cuts the cholesterol down. (Hah! - just kidding - don't send the food police over here). Today, I went to Jean Jacques French Bakery in Carytown and purchased a Buche de Noel. It was pricey but I've made one of those before and it took me quite a while to recover. I hope it tastes as good as it looks.

If I don't blog again before Christmas, I hope you all have a peaceful and healthy celebration. Talk to you again, soon.

Merry Merry

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shades of Gray, or is it Grey?

It has been a while since I've added a post to the Haven blog. Life is crazy at this time of year!

So, to bring you up to date, the first phase of the renovation of Haven is complete. The floors in the Living Room and Dining Room were stripped of their lumber liquidator look and we sanded and sealed the original heart pine floors. They are a little rough due to all of the nail holes from the lumber liquidator mahagony but I prefer that to the slick dark floors that came with the house. Once the floor people were gone, we were able to move all of our family room furniture down stairs and place things back in the living room and dining rooms.

It took me a while to feel the inspiration of how to decorate the dining room. My parents gave me their dining room table and china cabinet when they retired to Florida but I couldn't decide how to treat the walls and ceiling. I bought a chandelier from Currey and Co. long ago but that is as far as I got. The room is dark - there is a set of French doors leading out to a dark space between my house and my neighbors and then a window which looks out at another dark part of the front yard. So, it finally came to me after hours of pondering -- why not just embrace the darkness - it will never be a light filled space so why try? In addition to being a dark space, the fireplace surround is a dark slate.

While browsing through the books at the Benjamin Moore store a few weeks ago, I came across a photo of a room by Samuel Botero (see 5th Avenue house in portfolio section). It has a very "barely there" damask stencil applied to the walls. Aha.

My good friend, Anji Johnston, who did my kitchen checkerboard, was enlisted to come back down to transform the room.
Dining Room "before"

First I got Harry to paint the ceiling Benjamin Moore Pearl Gray and the crown Benjamin Moore White Dove. While he was up on the ladder, I was working on the base for the walls - Benjamin Moore Stone Harbor.
Then Anji arrived with her bespoke stencils and we worked to get the right paint color for the image itself. I wanted it to be very muted so Anji took the base paint and added black artist acrylic to it. She also kept a bit of the ceiling color handy for some light contrast.

The first "test" of the stencil - perfecto!

I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out. The next week I had 18 people for Thanksgiving dinner - we put the kitchen table at the end of this table . A couple of people at the end were in the hallway but it was so nice to not have to stick the children at a kid's table in another part of the house - it was so nice to be all together. Onward towards Christmas.

By the way, the radiator covers were made by Tim McCready of Bankston and Bailey and were painted by Anji and me the same color as the walls so that they would recede. The funky valances were done by previous owners - I believe as a way to hide some pipes as the ceiling is lowered behind them. The sisal followed us down here from northern Virginia and fits fine in its new home.

The last thing we were waiting for before we could call the project complete was the fireplace insert. I didn't have it in time for Thanksgiving but the week after Mike from the Victorian Fireplace shop came out to install the gas insert, mantel and hearth. We ran it all weekend as it was rainy and cold here in Richmond and we were out in it a lot as we went by foot to Fox Elementary to get our Christmas tree. The fireplace unit works by remote control - and although I love the smell and sound of a "real" fire - there is nothing like sitting back on your behind and pushing a button for some instant ambience and warmth. I had a party here on Saturday to thank the contractors and neighbors and worked like a fiend to find the Christmas decorations and get them up. The party was so much fun and so now I can sit back and enjoy my home and the moment I am in. Richmond has a special way of decorating for the holidays and I will try to capture the feeling in my next post. Best wishes to you and yours at this time of year.