Saturday, June 19, 2010

The House is a Big Story

I've always had a fascination with houses and architecture. As a young girl, I remember walking with my parents through any number of neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and Old Town Alexandria, staring up at elegant brownstones and wondering, “What does the inside look like? Who lives there? What do they do? How do they live?”

While going to acting school and living in Greenwhich Village in NYC in the late ‘70s, I was also exposed to a wide variety of people and their living spaces—studios, artist’s lofts, old townhouses, duplexes, basement efficiencies, and even once the elegant Fifth Avenue apartment of my roommate’s great aunt (an eye-opener for a 19-year-old suburban girl). My curiosity about homes has not faded with time, and I have found that many people hold this same fascination.

There is a special book that I love reading again and again because it covers, in a unique way, the process people go through when talking about their own homes and living spaces.  The book, written by well-known British author Stafford Cliff, is titled Home: 50 Tastemakers Describe What It Is, Where It Is, What It Means (Artisan Books, 2007). I consider it one of my go-to books when I am searching for inspiration. It is a fascinating collection of essays by 50 people from all walks of life and their relationships to the places they call home. Cliff has written more than 60 books on the subject of interiors, architecture, design, lifestyle and food. For this collection, he contacted people from all walks of life and asked them, “What does home mean to you?”

What sets this compilation apart from your everyday “home interior book” is its focus on the creative and personal insights that designers, architects, writers, chefs, actors, journalists and even an Olympics sports figure apply in the creation of their own home environment. We get a revealing, two-to three-page autobiographical look at people’s emotional connections and experiences, which in turn have influenced the creation of the places they call “home.” There are also 123 lovely, color photographs that add to the exploratory aspect of each person’s personal space.

Several of the names in this book may not be immediately recognizable as they are mostly well-known within their fields of expertise, but many are familiar personalities such as Donatella Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, Lulu Guinness and Michael Graves

Donatella Versace states in her essay that she feels “totally at ease” within her house, and goes on to say that “culture, feeling, color” are the three elements that summarize her and her interiors. She always chooses “vivid colors” and rich, textured objects such as huge Chinese vases that she has scattered about her home and also painted in trompe l’oiel on her dining room walls. These vases seem to float “suspended between dream and reality.” She says her preferences for fashion and home décor need to possess this dreamlike quality.

It also makes sense that fashion designers are also fashion-conscious about the home. Tommy Hilfiger says, “Wherever I go, I’m always looking at houses and the way people live.” He embraces change in fashion just the way he embraces change in his home décor: “The pendulum swings back and forth in fashion and it’s the same for me in home too.”

Lulu Guinness, a fabulous purse and accessories designer, writes in her essay on how her travels as a young girl and her desire to be different were always at the forefront of her decisions about home decor: “When I finally got my own apartment, I had dreams of what it would be like. I knew that when I got something, it had to be different. I always wanted everything to be different from everyone else. On every level, every level. A very, very tiring thing to be.” Her essay focuses on her inner creativity and how it was the driving force in what kind of home she wanted for herself and her family.

Michael Graves, famous both for his architecture and his product designs for Alessi and Target (his famous tea kettle has become iconic), speaks eloquently about how he developed his eye for design when living in Rome, Italy, and studying the history of architecture. He ultimately found that knowing more about the past made it easier to design for the present. He was heavily influenced by Italian buildings and artifacts and now fills his home with beautiful objects from his travels. Graves writes, “If you allow your mind to comprehend that about everything you see (though you obviously discard some things), you end up holding on to certain ideas for life.” In speaking about his house, he summarizes what many people have found to be true. “The house is filled with things that give me inspiration: books, artifacts, paintings, drawings, objects I’ve designed. The whole house is a big story.”

This book is ultimately a revealing and insightful exploration and may cause you to take a closer look at your own home environment and ponder how it came to be and what it really means. I highly recommend it.

References: is a great resource for finding home interior books, including all 60 books by Stafford Cliff.

Recently published books by Stafford Cliff:

The Way We Live With Color (Rizzoli, 2010, $17.98).

Enjoy a good read!

Joanie M Ballard

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Story of My Beautiful Worktable

Let me begin by saying that this won’t be my only post on the subject of “reclaiming,” “re-using,”or “re-inventing.” This subject matter is too complex and enjoyable for just one post, so let me start with something intimate and more near and dear to my heart: my worktable in my home (photo above).

Yes, my “work” table is inspiring to me, granting me moments of acute literary brilliance, alarming insights, artistic ideas and all of that. It’s where my creative life takes place, for the most part, and I get great joy from sitting at it every day, organizing things, daydreaming, drawing and sometimes just sitting. This table has character, weight, uniqueness and just plain joy. It is a big, fat baby of a table, and I adore it.

Let me tell you the story of how my special table came to be. As a Christmas present one year, my husband Robert drove us to a shop, not letting me in on the surprise until he parked our car in front of Architectural Old House Parts, located in Front Royal, about 20 minutes from Little Washington (see link at end of post). His Christmas present to me was waiting inside: the joy of personally picking out the parts for a new worktable that he was going to construct for me from “scratch.” It was a very merry Christmas to me that year.

Here are a few wonderful images of inside this great shop:

Robert knew I’ve always had a love for old architectural elements like distressed porch balustrades, hand-carved festoons, even rusty iron columns salvaged from churchyards. I’ve always wanted a table made from old house parts. This particular shop was bursting at the seams with objects “rescued” from demolition.

As we shuffled down a long hallway and into the doorway of the shop, I could see I would soon be in old-parts heaven.  According to Pat Campbell, the new owner and founder of Architectural Old House Parts, their inventory changes all the time—but you can count on finding very well-organized displays of antique eave supports, porcelain enamel sinks from the 1930s, both ornate and simple fireplace mantels, tons of doors, original brass fittings, turn-of-the-century tubs and clawfoot accessories, ironwork garden gates and lots of moldings and railings. Prices range from $9.00 for a porcelain knob to $250.00 for a substantial brass lock and key. Victorian doors can go for as low $95.00, and a 1950s glass lampshade for $25.00. Very reasonable prices for these unique items.

A great aspect of this shop is that most of what is displayed is actually taken from nearby areas, within a 50-mile or so radius. These house parts were taken from soon-to-be-demolished old homes or from partially demolished homes and storefronts. Pat says that contractors often arrive at his back door, stopping on their way to the landfill to drop off items they think he would be interested in purchasing.

Now, back to my exciting Christmas shopping spree and picking out the parts to my dream work table. 

I found a distressed white, seven-and-a-half-foot, solid hardwood, turn-of-the-century door. I wanted eight-foot, but none was to be found. This would do.

Next, the table legs: I got four corner newel posts that I decided could be turned upside down so the balls of the posts touched the floor. Then the table skirt: Robert decided some old hand-railings would do the trick.

Fast-forward to April of the following year, and Robert was still cutting, measuring, researching ideas and basically waiting for warmer weather so he could work in the garage. He created a wonderful "test table" for practice, one that we now use at our shop. But then warm weather came and he succeeded in putting together my dream worktable. 

Because of the length and weight of the door itself, Robert decided to put together the final pieces in my workroom. Industrial bolts and other hardware were used to connect all the table features. I had called Mike’s Glass, in Orange, to custom-cut the glass top for my table. It arrived two weeks later and was a perfect fit. My guess is that this table, now with a glass top and several solid architectural elements, weighs at least 195 pounds.

According to Pat Campbell, the new owner and founder of Architectural Old House Parts, their inventory changes all the time—but you can count on finding very well-organized displays of antique eave supports, porcelain enamel sinks from the 1930s, both ornate and simple fireplace mantels, tons of doors, original brass fittings, turn-of-the-century tubs and clawfoot accessories, ironwork garden gates and lots of moldings and railings. Prices range from $9.00 for a porcelain knob to $250.00 for a substantial brass lock and key. Victorian doors can go for as low $95.00, and a 1950s glass lampshade for $25.00. Very reasonable prices for these unique items.

A great aspect of this shop is that most of what is displayed is actually taken from nearby areas, within a 50-mile or so radius. These house parts were taken from soon-to-be-demolished old homes or from partially demolished homes and storefronts. Pat says that contractors often arrive at his back door, stopping on their way to the landfill to drop off items they think he would be interested in purchasing.

Something nice to know: You can be eco-friendly and not even know it. Just re-use, re-paint, re-finish something from another era and you instantly have a great piece of furniture/lamp/archway to love and enjoy and pass along to the next generation. See this desk lamp below? Robert made it for me last year from an old railing post from a Wisconsin farmhouse and added a marble base, lamp components and linen shade. He is very creative guy.

I have, in the past, antiqued a few tables, a lamp and even an old chair. This takes lots of patience, which I am sorely lacking. I’ve always admired several of my friends who excel at it. It takes talent and time to see past a brittle piece of furniture and imagine what it could become. Hmmm, there is the beginning of another blog post, I think.

You don’t have to leave the comfort of your cozy couch to get what you need. There are a plethora of websites that cater to lovers of the show This Old House. Here are some websites that are fun, educational and worth a click-through: Located in Front Royal, this is a personal favorite of mine—obviously. For Virginians, this is a must-stop for obtaining old pieces and elements for your next renovation project. Check it out. My friend Adrienne pointed me to this interesting website. I never knew the planet had so many historical knob designs. You’ll want to re-knob all of your cabinets, then re-knob again, just because you can. This site specializes in wonderful reproductions of vintage designs, and they have a storefront in Carle Place, New York. This is a hopping place. These guys are located in Roanoke, and I want to go there now! Since their start in 1999, Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp have filled a 40,000-square-foot warehouse with architectural antiques, commercial salvage and everything in between. They also sell on EBAY and have a Facebook page with loads of pictures to get your heart rate up. Those living in Richmond are probably already familiar with this business, which has been a mainstay since 1939. Caravati’s Inc. is Virginia’s oldest supplier of architectural salvage and specializes in every aspect of old house restoration, remodeling and repair. They also have a unique and classy website. Caravati’s does fine antique restoration and carving, lighting and hardware restoration, among other things. You can also “chat” or give advice to others about anything regarding architectural salvage. They have a Facebook page, but you need to become a “friend,” not a “fan,” to see all they have to offer. This is a well-known and popular website about restoring old homes. A great resource for gaining knowledge about restoration, this site is fun to read. You can also subscribe to their colorful magazine. This store was founded in 1980 and is located in Rochester, N.Y. They are experts in the field of architectural salvage and restoration supplies. Once you browse their enormous website, you’ll wish you could paw through this place firsthand. It is chock-a-block with everything needed to renew your home. A comprehensive yet entertaining website with lots of visuals and a great mix of antique and new restoration objects. You can learn a lot just browsing through their inventory.

Finally, one with no website: Mike’s Glass & Mirror, 13196 James Madison Hwy Route 15 South, Orange, VA 22960; 540-672-2626: Very quick, exact and clean, and they lugged the heavy 71/2-foot glass top up two flights of stairs and placed it gingerly on top of the table. I highly recommend them.

This was a fun post!

Joanie Ballard

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Top 10 Picks for Best Design Websites and Blogs

Trying to limit this list to 10 was VERY difficult.  I found that emphasizing local blogs (VA/MD/DC) was important, but I also wanted to expose some unusual blogs that may not be on everyone's design radar.  

I love ALL design, especially French, and my taste can run from Shabby Chic to Ultra-Modern, Swedish to 50's Retro, and everything in between all in one day.  I enjoy all things creative and inspiring in this world.

Well, it’s now time to get the creative juices flowing again! Want to kick-start those ideas that have been rattling around in the back of your mind? These sites should get the old heart pumping again. Check them out:

French Essence Blog Yes, I am a Francophile, and this is a fascinating and fun blog all about France and all things French: food, fashion, interiors, travel, restaurants, shops, books and more. True to the spirit of the French lifestyle.

DC BY DESIGN  I grew up in and around D.C. most of my life. This is one of my favorite design blogs. Local architecture and interiors in our nation’s capital are covered along with features on area designers that are up-and-coming, design shows, shops, anything new and interesting on the local design scene. Founded by Jennifer Sergent, a news reporter who was previously affiliated with HGTV and Food Network, and her husband, Jim Sergent, who is in charge of graphics. A very well-written blog filled with loads of local design information.

Things That Inspire  Out of Atlanta, a great blog for discovering beautiful interiors, architecture and art inspirations. This blog has been cited by the Washington Post as a design blog of the week 10 separate times. Check it out.

Design*Sponge  This is fun and a very well known daily blog! A young, hip resource created by Grace Bonny with user-generated and Grace's fresh takes on interior design, architecture, textiles, garden and many types of DIY (lots of before & after photos, which are a favorite of mine). Creative storage solutions, painting techniques, crafts and unique ideas for designing in small spaces. Pure delight!

Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic Lovely is the word I would use for Rachel. I credit Rachel Ashwell (but Martha too) for fanning the flames of design in my heart back in the 80’s and Rachel’s blog is always beautiful to look at as well as to read. Lots of pure whites, fluffy chairs, serene decor, crystal chandeliers, party ideas, and lots of how-to’s on a wide array of design subjects. She gets my vote for a most serene, personal and thoughtful blog.

Design Milk If you are unfamiliar with what’s happening in modern design, this is a great online magazine dedicated to modern design and contemporary trend-spotting. They focus on what is currently fresh and new in art, architecture, interior design, furniture and decor, fashion, and technology.

The Storque: Etsy’s Handmade Blog  If you are looking for inspiring crafty projects, how-tos and handmade anything, this is a beautiful site to click through. User-friendly and lots of fun to scroll through for ideas for your home.

Home & Design  Up-to-date information and expert advice on local luxury homes and fine interiors in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. They answer questions like how to find an interior designer that fits your style and needs, what kind of finishes work best and all sorts of other design problems.

Apartment Therapy DC They “save the world, one room at a time,” by covering the design scene in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and D.C. Small-space solutions, gardens, unique home décor finds, you name it.

Design World (a.k.a. dsgnWrld)  I have a penchant for anything European, and these folks cover literally the WORLD of design, in a colorful format. Some in-depth articles and shorter blogs on architecture, product design, interior design, graphic design, furniture, fashion, jewelry and books.

Happy Surfing!  

Joanie Ballard

Monday, June 14, 2010

NY Trend Report 2010: Women's Accessories

I’m constantly looking for inspiration to keep my senses alive and to come up with fresh ideas and merchandise for my shop. Besides hunting for home décor items I also scout new trends in women's accessories. Keeping on top of the color and pattern trends is not just fun for me but a fortunate necessity.

Robert and I attend major trade shows throughout the year and one of my favorites is Accessories the Show (ATS), in NY City.

This trade show is big and joyous—think pulsating music, free food, free coffee, happy people. It’s got a different vibe than, say, the Home Décor shows (and I’ll have a future blog post about that). 

ATS focuses on presenting thousands of lines of women’s apparel, scarves, jewelry and handbags to the retail industry. New York is the best place to view firsthand the latest offerings from European and American suppliers, and, more importantly, to see the latest color and pattern trends in the accessories field.

My Trend Report for 2010:
I saw three current and growing trends at a recent ATS show:

(1) Bright animal prints—not real but faux (zebra, giraffe, python, etc.)., (2) Big, bright florals, and (3) Ethnic-inspired patterns with South American and African influences, such as hand-painted beads and distressed leather.

These trends were prominent in all categories of handbags, scarves and jewelry. 

I am personally obsessed with textiles, so hunting for new scarf lines is always a big part of my trips. As I wandered through the sparkling and organized maze of exhibits at ATS, I continually came upon leopard and other animal prints in scarves. I’m not a crazy animal-print kind of gal, but I did find a stunning cashmere scarf line, produced in India and based in California, called Me & Kashmere, and they had an entire booth of animal-inspired prints and patterns (see the picture with Me & Kashmere owner designer Sualiheen Shaw).

Here are some images of accessories I found just by clicking around to apparel websites. This Cheetah Tote is from Chicos, $89.00

These fun earrings are from Anthropologie, End of Rainbow Earrings: $38.00.

Below are Lily Pulitzer brightly colored Murfee Scarves, $118.00.

Juicy Couture Python Crest Cotton Canvas Tote, $88.00 at

One can see evidence of the popularity of animal prints, floral imagery and ethnic inspiration in the diverse levels of merchants such as Chico's, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie. I can confidently predict that these large retailers, and many small retailers, will be stocked this spring, summer and fall with all of the three of these design styles.

For your web-surfing pleasure, I have provided a few stores with links below. You can also be old-fashioned and actually visit these retailers throughout the state of Virginia. Go out and have a little retail therapy with your friends, and get up close and personal with some of these hot trends.
Whether large retailers or small boutiques, here are some of my favorite stores offering a broad selection of accessories, with locations in Virginia:

The Big Ones
Nordstrom: Dulles, McLean, Arlington, Richmond, Norfolk
Chico's: Alexandria, Arlington, Charlottesville, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Leesburg, Lynchburg, McLean, Newport News, Norfolk, Reston, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Winchester
Anthropologie: Charlottesville, McLean, Reston, Richmond
Saks Fifth Avenue: Leesburg, McLean, Potomac Mills, Richmond

Small but beautiful:
The Pink Palm: Richmond, McLean, Charlottesville
Gossypia: Alexandria
Lou Lou’s Too, 18 East Washington Street, Middleburg 540-687-4204


Ballard Lavender

Want to feel like you are blissfully walking through a field of lavender in the heart of Provence? Visit our shop!

Just arrived today: fragrant lavender grown right here in Rappahannock County, Virginia.  Ballard Lavender bunches sell for only $12.95 each.  
The shop smells divine, and our shop window is stocked with hanging lavender.

Our special lavender was grown using Provence and Grasso seeds. As the soil here in Rappahannock is very similar to the soil 
of Provence, France, lavender can thrive quite nicely here. We love it!

Come in soon or call to reserve your aromatic bundle of lavender. 
We ship everywhere: 540-675-1411