Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Many thanks to Eve, from the German blog Unikum,for sending this Irish New Year Blessing:

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas Story

"I'm ready for my close-up", our little table top Christmas tree seemed to say. With the Canon G11 Santa left for me, I too, felt ready, and set the scene by randomly placing votive candles among freshly cut evergreen branches (a la Axel Vervoordt) and snapped this photo, and the one below.

When I was little, my mother told me about what Christmas had been like for her as a child, the youngest of five born to farmstead parents in the Mississippi delta. Growing up during the Great Depression, Santa Claus would bring her a pair of new shoes... and an orange. I remember her telling me that she always really looked forward to getting that orange at Christmas.

I didn't understand when I was kid, it just seemed so weird to me, a child of the suburbs, used to seeing oranges piled high in the produce section of every grocery. Somehow, now, it seems to me a perfect memory... a Christmas story from another era, yet one that resonates deeply for me today.

I lost both my parents this year, and the holidays brought bittersweet reminders of Christmas past. We listened to Dad's favorite Christmas music (he loved Nat King Cole's versions), watched classic movies like "White Christmas" (she loved Danny Kaye) and "Christmas in Connecticut" (he really liked Barbara Stanwyck),  and we placed some oranges around the base of our little tree... for my Mom.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tangled Up In Blue Christmas

... is what they should have titled the new Bob Dylan collection of holiday melodies. I consider myself a Dylan fan, so I happily snapped the above iPhone pic of his image on the wall of an alley during a recent trip to Brussels. Discovering his newest music offering on this morning while doing some last minute shopping, I thought 'oh, this might be good' and clicked on the the 'preview all songs' button. After few bars of the first couple of numbers, I was transported, as if by a Dickensian ghost, to a vision of sitting on a barstool in a dark and smoky crosstown joint on Christmas Eve, befriended by a few lonely kooks out of a Charles Bukowski novel, a malfunctioning jukebox rotating this CD all night while a gravely voiced bartender entertains us by alternately coughing up his versions of a duet and blowing Lucky Strike smoke rings. If you should give it a listen, please let me know... do you hear what I hear?

Here's a happy alternative... how about Diana Krall singing 'Jingle Bells' and other holiday standards while sharing champagne and foie gras at home with friends and family... and may Messrs. Dickens and Bukowski, merry gentlemen, rest in peace.

Good Weekend!

image: here

Monday, December 14, 2009


"Monuments are anchors in time. Epochs pass, weather erodes, people lose interest. This cannot be helped. But patina itself is worth appreciating. Patina is the value that age puts on an object. It’s what makes an antique antique. It is experience, maturity, the soft sheen of time. Patina wasn’t present at the spanking-new creation. It comes from a life lived."
- John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, in his "open source" column for November 22, 2009, "On Thanksgiving: the memorial that time forgot"
I need to install a gate soon, across the drive entrance, in conjunction with the installation of 2000+ feet of underground electric fence for the dogs. Garvinweasel sits on about four acres, but the dogs can disappear for hours, exploring hundreds of acres of an adjoining pastures and forests, returning with barbed-wire scratches, deer legs (they love these) and other assorted artifacts from their adventures. Every day I worry that they may not all make it back in one piece, so I ordered the underground fence wire, training flags, transformers (one backup) and six collars... all still in the box waiting on me to find a spare weekend or two. These fences have a special, twisted wire that don't send a signal to the collars, made for secured pass-through areas, like the driveway gate. All that to say I have been browsing gates on the web. Tonight I came across this jewel, and wanted to share it with you.

Gate image: here  Quote: here

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Life Imitates Art... An Ephemeral Sundial

Image: James XVI

Andre Gide (1869 - 1951)

"Look" said Ms. XVI... "a sundial". Made of ice. Functional... but flawed. Imperfect. Impermanent. An accidental discovery, captured in a moment, Sunday morning at Garvinweasel. Beauty can be found everywhere you look, it depends only on how you 'see'. 
The back-story... Hand-painted ceramic bowl: $11. Large dog kennel (with black plastic removable floor): $115. iPhone 3G: $199. Stepping outside on a freezing cold morning to find an ice 'sundial' in the dog water bowl sitting next to the  kennel with a camera  in your pocket: priceless. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winner of 'Axel Vervoordt: Timeless Interiors'


Congratulations Albarosa,  from Brillante Home Decor, on leaving the third comment on the contest post!!!

Thanks to everyone who entered, I enjoyed revisiting the castle with you and reading all of your comments.

Have a great week and check back tomorrow for a post about life imitates art.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meeting Axel Vervoordt

Photo: Architectural Digest

I walked up the stairs from the cellar at Kasteel Gravenwezel which led to the entry hall (below), famously depicted on the cover of 'Axel Vervoordt: Timeless Interiors'. 


This room, at the top of the exterior staircase landing seen in last week's post, leads to Axel Vervoordt's office (via doorway above) and study (doorway below). This airy,  light-filled room, with a black-bordered white marble floor, has earth from the property mixed with linseed oil and pigment to create the glowing color on the walls.
Stepping into Axel's office, one of the first things I noticed were sixteen (I counted) orchids in old clay pots in each of the two window sills on either side of the fireplace. In front of each window was a small sofa, as shown in the image below (from the Axel Vervoordt Home Collection web site), though the orchids were replaced in the catalog shot by some books and objects. 

The first time I saw Axel Vervoordt, he was standing in the center of his office and speaking with people he seemed to know, offering them something to drink from the bar hidden behind a closet door in a corner of the room.  I found the wonderful illustration (watercolor?) of the office (below) some time ago and had it stored on my computer, but I don't know who created it. If it is yours, or if you can identify it, please email me so that I can update the credit.
Image: ?

Through a doorway to the conference room (below), a long table was lined with art books and blueprints of projects underway.

The chapel (below), in the tower room at one corner of the conference room, was roped off but allowed visitors a peek inside.

The next room on the tour was the much photographed ground-floor study, its walls lined with bookcases filled with beautiful collections  of pottery, sculpture and books. This Chesterfield-back sofa,  is quite deep and also from the AV Home Collection. Its unusual shade  of purple lends an element of surprise on entering the room.

Image: here
The Lucio Fontana painting, above the fireplace mantel in the study, was purchased by Axel Vervoordt in 1969 and is said to be one of his favorites.

The stove in the ground-floor kitchen gave off much warmth, but I'm not sure if it was wood or gas. Who wouldn't enjoy preparing a meal in this room with its thick wood trestle-table, crystal chandelier, white marble floors and counter tops and blue pigment paint.

The next doorway in the kitchen led to the dining room, it's silvery light blue walls displaying an arrary of 17th century Chinese porcelain raised from a sunken ship by the Hatcher expedetion. Axel Vervoordt bought the expedition's entire trove of this porcelain and displayed it in his first Paris antiquarian exhibition, which brought him world attention.

Photo: here
Taking the portrait-lined staircase up to the next floor, I found several very serene rooms that seemed to be lived in. In the Oriental Salon, the low table in front of the sofa had some magazines and newspapers on it.

Just behind the this Oriental Salon was the Venus room, lined to the ceiling with bookcases filled with Axel Vervoordt's archives,  catalogued files of research materials related art, history and furniture. With this bed from the Axel Vervoordt Home Collection, it could serve double-duty as a guest room. Notice the burgunday-colored faux marble bath through the doorway at left.


The red room, on the next  floor up, was one of my favorites.

As I walked toward the tower room doorway, seen above to left of the bed, I heard an ancient floorboard let out a little squeak. Happy in the knowledge that I knew the exact spot in the floor of the castle that had a squeak, I stepped on it again on my way out, to be sure.

On the second weekend of the exhibition, I returned to see the castle one more time, arriving late, around 6:oo pm. This time, when I entered Axel Vervoordt's office, he was alone in the room, sitting at his desk and focused on some papers in his hand. He looked up and smiled as I walked over, and stood up to shake hands as I introduced myself. I told him a little about my projects at home and that he was my primary source of inspiration. Nodding as I spoke, he said that he knows of some very nice houses in Tennessee. I noted how many people the open house drew, and he told me that some of the visitors were even clients with whom he had projects underway, hence the blueprints on the conference room table. I told how much I had enjoyed touring the castle and thanked him for opening his home. He graciously responded 'with pleasure' before  returning to his desk and his work. 

As I walked across the bridge towards my car, I stopped to look back and take in the image of the Kasteel s-Gravenwezel against the dark sky, and hoped that one day I would see it, and Axel Vervoordt, again.

Axel and May Vervoordt open the Kasteel s-Gravenwezel to the public for twice yearly exhibitions, summer and winter. For dates and details, please visit the official web site.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview with Belgian Pearls' Greet Lefèvre

When I stumbled upon Belgian Pearls, the design-focused blog by Greet Lefèvre, I knew instantly that I had landed somewhere special. Her carefully chosen images, posted frequently, often contain photographs of her professional projects and home, and her writing style is personal and engaging. Checking frequently to see what Greet had posted next was one of the primary drivers behind my developing interest in the blogosphere. The inspiration I always found there kept me coming back for more, and I was delighted when she agreed to be the subject of the first interview to be published here.

James: Your blog, Belgian Pearls, is full of exquisite images that have captured the attention of some the web's most influential style bloggers and mavens. At time of this writing, you have over 150 followers, and I see link backs, mentions, and blog list entries for Belgian Pearls on many other blogs. When did you start blogging and what inspired you to create Belgian Pearls?

Greet: I started blogging in July this year after I had discovered and read a lot of blogs during the past year. I was so surprised about all these beautiful and inspirational blogs I discovered from around  the world! So all these blogs and bloggers inspired me to start my own blog. A second reason to start Belgian Pearls is the fact that I saw that a lot of bloggers and people and general, are so fascinated about Belgian Design and all things Belgian. So first I started to search other Belgian Design bloggers but I did not found one Belgian Design blog!!! So then, being a Belgian Designer, I was convinced to start my own blog! Question was ‘How introducing my blog into the blogger community?’ One of my favorite, inspirational blogs was Velvet and Linen. I was following this blog since a couple of months. So I contacted Brooke and she introduced me into the blogger world! I am so thankful to Brooke, she really has become a good friend!

J: I think it is clear to anyone who follows your blog that you are passionate about design. When did your interest in design start, and how has it developed over time.

G: Since I was a little girl I have always been surrounded by design, interiors and antiques. My father involved us in any project he was working on and took us along to museums, castles and a lot of exhibitions related to his business. As a child I loved to go in our working places to see our cabinetmakers, real craftsmen, working on a piece of furniture or wood paneling and loved touching the wood and loved the smell of the wood! So I grew up between the wood and the sawdust of the wood. My interest in design has been growing unconsciously during all these years. So my brother and I run our family business for the 4th generation now and I really think that the love of interior design is something you are born with! After I graduated, I joined my father in the company, by assisting in the administration department of the company for the first few years. At the same time I finished my studies as an antiques dealer and on weekends I started working in the antiques shop from a well-known antiques dealer in our region. Together with these studies and the experience I gained in the antiques business , my passion for antiques was growing! In 1998 we started a new showroom of interior design and made-to-measure furniture and this was definitely the start of my career as interior designer.

J: Your company, Lefèvre Interiors, was founded in 1890. Would you describe for us some of the principles or processes you use to help clients realize a vision for their home?

G: As our company exists since 1890, the word “confidence” is one of the most important pillars of our company. So first you have to earn the confidence of your client. The client needs to have the right feeling about you. He has to trust you! And mutual of course! If this feeling is present, you can start to talk with the client and discussing about his needs. So ‘listen very well to the client’s needs’ is the second important pillar of creating a good relationship with your client. I always have in mind that it is the interior of my client and not mine, which we are discussing about. My client and his family has to feel good, comfortable and happy in his home. So the wishes of all the members of that family have to be fulfilled. It is so important to know the way of life of your client. A third important pillar is to discuss about timing of the designing process and to keep your promises about the approach you proposed your client. And finally, maybe the most important pillar, is the delivery of quality! So our company is known for quality designing, quality made-to-measure furniture and wood paneling, so all supply companies with who we work with as wood suppliers, seating companies, painters,… have to deliver the same high-quality. Only if these mentioned principles are present, you can help your client with the vision in their home or room they want you to design. I spend a lot of time in discussing with my client to try to know them better and to put myself in his life world. And I try to learn to discover his taste and desire by showing my clients the interiors we already designed. I always ask them to show me images of what they have in mind or what they really like. Or if they have any furniture or decorative items they are devoted to and they want to keep in their home interior.

J: You have written on your blog that Belgium's antiquarian, art dealer and designer Axel Vervoordt has influenced your work. I also read that you attend the Open House exhibitions every year. Would you share with us some details of this influence and also some of your impressions on visiting the Kasteel 's-Gravenwezel and the shop at Kanaal?

G: At the time I was working at the antiques dealer, I became in contact with a lot of antiquarians and designers. So one of them was Axel Vervoordt! Ever since, every year I go to visit his beautiful castle and the exhibition warehouse Het Kanaal near Antwerp. Axel Vervoordt is a famous designer and known around the world! He is a trendsetter in designing! He always brings new ideas about interior design and how to use antique pieces in the interior! His love for all things of beauty is so huge!!! He is a real master and my big example! And yes, as a lot of other designers, mostly Belgian designers, I am influenced by his work! I love walking in his castle where, from the very first moment you enter it, you feel the authenticity, simplicity and sincerity that all of the rooms, antique furniture and decorative items, radiate.

Even in Het Kanaal, where you can discover his beautiful home collection, you can feel that Axel Vervoordt had been thinking very deeply about the design of this furniture collection. He exactly knows and feels what people expect of for instance, a seat, a coffee table etc. Not only of the designing and the materials but also of the comfort of it. He uses very natural materials, he loves wood and natural fabrics such as linen. In his book “At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt” he wrote that it is his duty to find a better place to all things entrusted to him. So that is also what I try to do when I am searching for antique furniture and decorative items for a client’s home. I try to give the object a place in the home where it “feels lucky”.

Mr and Mrs Vervoordt love to bring in nature into their home by using flowers and branches of their own garden. Not the stylish created bouquets buth a very simple flower or a blossom branch in a vase! Bringing in nature in ones interior is a must, to me. When designing a clients home, I try to remember his principle of full and empty! Axel Vervoordt uses in his book “The Story of a Style” the word “volledig”. It is a Dutch word that means full (vol) and empty (ledig). The two words are in harmony with eachother. In his lifeworld the word means to him :” The plenitude of the emptiness”. Keep the best and get rid of everything except the essential. This is the philosophy on which the life and work of Axel Vervoordt is founded. So also for me it is important to create an interior where my client feels good and where the essential thought is to be happy in that home, to enjoy the pureness of objects and to get rid of all things who are “too much”. I really try to explain to my client to use the entire home, all the rooms of it and not to withdraw in only one place of his home! So it is important to enjoy the library as well as the entrance hall, or the kitchen as the sitting area etc. But therefore all of the rooms have to be in harmony. To reach this harmony, Axel Vervoordt loves to create a room who is “empty” in alternation with a room who is “full”. So you can translate this in a room who is peaceful, a meditation room, in alternation with a room with more objects, furniture. So depending on your state of mind of the moment, you can choose for the room you want to be in at that particular moment.

And one of the most important things I learned from Axel Vervoordt, is to choose for the objects, the designing that you personally like the most! Only then you can feel peaceful and happy. That is why it is of great importance that you know your client very well. There a few rooms in the Castle of ‘s Gravenwezel, who inspired me to create the rooms in my own house. For instance the library room of the caste (PICTURE 1) and the kitchen of the castle (PICTURE 2). I took over a few ideas as you can see here in my own library ( PICTURE 3) as well as in my kitchen. Here I have also chosen to paint the inside of the kitchen niches in a blue colour (PICTURE 4).





J: Belgian design seems to be the hottest subject in the design world these days. What do you think of as primary attributes of Belgian design, and why do you think it attracts so many today?

G: Belgian designers are very loyal to their ancestors. They have a lot of respect for their work and try to live and work further in the mind of those. They take over from father to son their skills and 
craftsmanship. That explains why there are a lot of companies in Belgium who are still ran by people of the 3rd, the 4th or even the 5th generation. So there is a treasure of experience among the Belgian craftsmen, designers and architects. Belgian Designers have an enormous respect for their history.

Belgian people in general are known as very hard working people. And they never stand still, they are always looking for innovations and renewal. Their work is their hobby. They deliver high-quality products. Belgian Design is not a” throw-away” design. Our designers love to work with natural, sincere materials. The designing is not “overdone”, it is rather simple and elegant without being ‘cold’. There is a “soul” in the work of our designers and craftsmen. The presence of the soul of our ancestors, I would say. All of this is translated into the Belgian design. Even nature is important in Belgian Design and is translated in the use of wood and natural fabrics. Belgian people love their homes and want to live in their homes and share it with family and friends. A Belgian is a “bon-vivant”, a pleasure lover. The designers have that in mind when creating an interior. Our designers and architects have an open mind, they love to learn, they are eager to learn, they are inquisitive.

J: Where do you find inspiration in your own design work? Do you use your own home as a sort of lab for design ideas?

G: There are a lot of inspiration sources to me. First of all I have a big collection of books , from the ones left from my father to the contemporary ones. I love magazines and reading about design. And I really love to visit castles and museums, studying the antique furniture and interiors, to get inspiration! To me this is one of the most important sources for inspiration. When we go on holidays,, I love to go to see castles, fairs, exhibitions, antiques markets,…in combination with of course the ”lazy” days. And the design fairs and exhibitions are also very important. And in fact , the working places in our company, are the lab for design ideas. There I discuss with my family ( my brother and my husband) together with our craftsmen the vision on a new design or the use of new patines or whatever. Also nature or fashion can be a source of inspiration to me.

J: Do you collect anything, and if so could you tell us something about your personal collections?

G: I am not a real collector of any particular piece of antiques or design. However a few years ago, I started to collect egg cups. I try to bring home an egg cup of every country we visit. I really like the design of it. Books, mostly about interior decoration and antiques, are my passion.

J: You have shared some great insights on Belgium with your readers on Belgian Pearls. If one of your readers was to visit Belgium for the first time, what would tell them to see or do?

G: Here are some of my favorites:

1° Brussels

1. The Atomium : is one of the most important landmarks. It was built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair. Is designed by the architect André Waterkeyn. It is a structure which represents a unit cell of an iron crystal. It was meant to last just for the Expo but its popularity resulted in it being made permanent. In one of the spheres is a restautant which offers you a magnificent view of Brussels.

2. Grote Markt : Central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by guildhalls, the city’s Town Hall and the Breadhouse. It is together with the Atomium the most important landmark in Brussels.

3. Sablon Place : This location is a home to many antiques shops and art galleries.

4. Museum of Art and History : Important collection of art objects from different civilizations from all over the world.

2° Antwerp

1. Grote Markt : Not as big as the Grand Place of Brussels but certainly even beautiful. In the middle of the place stands the Brabo fountain, dated 1887 (refers to the legend of the origin of Antwerp) of the sculptor Jef Lambeaux.

2. Rubenshuis : The former house of our famous painter Pieter Paul Rubens (17th century) is now a museum with a wonderful collection of paintings by Rubens himself and by some of his contemporaries.

3. The Castle of ‘s Gravenwezel : Castle of our famous antiques dealer and designer Axel Vervoordt.

3° Ghent

1. Saint Bavo’s Cathedral : where you can discover the famous painting “The Mystic Lamb” of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck (15th century).

2. S.M.A.K. : Museum of Contemporary Art

4° Bruges

The historic centre of Bruges is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. Bruges is a canal-based city, and is often called “ The Venice of the North”.

J: Greet, it has been a great pleasure getting to know you this way. Thank you for sharing these insights to your world with us!

You can visit Greet on her blog Belgian Pearls and her company website Lefèvre Interiors, where you can see many more examples of their cabinetry and furniture (all images below courtesy of


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