Design

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For those of you who adore lotions and potions as I do, The Perfumery, a small boutique in the heart of the Gotic district in Barcelona, might just be the best story ever.  We stumbled upon The Perfumery one night after deciding to make a right turn, not a left, onto a little street we’d only ever gone left on before.  And when I say ‘turn,’ I mean feet, not wheels, since nothing wider than a bicycle could make the venture successfully.  After all, the streets of Gotic were cobbled together–some of them–by Romans.  In fact, the space in which The Perfumery sits was once an entrance into the old city of Barcino, the walls flanking the store are that old.

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But it wasn’t the sign outside the shop that caught my attention, though my eyes often go to signs that promise fragrances.  It was the decor/mood:  rustic opulence might describe it.

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For example, If I told you that some of the bottles resting on the shelves inside The Perfumery were exact facsimiles of bottles created for fragrances used by Napolean, and that inside said bottles were the same fragrances used by Napolean and his women and children, you’d be within your rights to doubt me.

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But it’s true.  And that’s what caught my eye:  the most beautiful bottles I’d ever seen, all arranged just so, the effect giving this little place an air of French decadence that prompted me to say, to the Eleven O’Clock Dad, “Stop.  We are going in here.”

Which we did.

It was Virgilio who helped us that night, reciting stories about various fragrances and the houses that had designed them, and for whom.  A fragrance connoisseur for more than a decade, he and his business partner, Tom, had selected only the lines whose stories and notes were the most unique and compelling.

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In fact, they actively look for fragrances with stories.  For example, they feature one brand created by a woman who desired to capture the essence of Barcelona, the city’s complex interplay between ancient and modern.  Another brand they carry can be found in only one other boutique on the continent, its makers are that fastidious about where it’s sold.  I adored the feel of the place:  part salon, part apothecary, a menagerie of glimmering crystal arrayed along shelves and tables pushed up against walls mortared centuries ago.

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In my jeans and the Volcom pullover I inherited from my son, El Surfeador, and with my backpack slung over my shoulder, I might have felt totally out of place, except that Virgilio was ever the gentleman, eager to respond to my questions and to the petals’ little gasps of delight as he sampled this fragrance or that one for them.

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If you can believe it, I hauled my husband back the next day with his camera, to meet Tom, the boutique’s other proprietor.  If Virgilio regaled us in Castillian, then Tom got right down to business in English, giving me the Fragrance 101 rundown on the pyramidal structure of perfumes, which, as he explained, have notes designed to work together to create the scent we experience as a ‘fragrance.’ The head note announces itself first. Then the heart note. And then the base–what stays on the skin. All kinds of things can affect the way a fragrance behaves on a particular individual, including their diet, race, body type, and even the climate. Unsurprisingly, Tom often can predict the kinds of fragrances a woman will gravitate toward, depending on the way she carries herself and the way she interacts with her surroundings.

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If you’re in Barcelona, you must stop in. Just around the corner from Plaza Neri, The Perfumery will remind you why it’s good to be good to yourself once in a while. And if you’re unsure what ‘good’ might mean, Virgilio or Tom will help you locate your Perfect Fragrance, y con gusto!

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Click on the arrows for a 3-D look at The Perfumery. Be sure you click your way into the shop!

The Perfumery. C/ Sant Sever 1, Bajada de Santa Eulalia, Barcelona. (Just around the corner from Plaza Neri.)

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European refrigerators are narrow and smallish in comparison to American ones.  But what they lack in bigness they more than make up for in design.  Check out these three, by Smeg.  I mean–right?!  It was ‘mediodia’ when we snapped this picture.  (Siesta, in other words.)  Otherwise, this store would have been open and the gate up and these race-car-colored fridges available for further touching/coveting.

The yellow fridge?  What do you think?

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A Smeg giveaway: now THAT would be something.

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Andorra to Carcassonne_1166

When we head back to the U.S. this summer, I will miss the castles. There may be nothing quite so European as the castles that dot the continent. And when you tour one that’s been maintained or restored, or just hike around in one that long ago surrendered to the elements, there’s something extra cool about knowing the dates it was begun. 11th Century. 12th Century. I mean–right?!  Exploring places with the patina of so much age messes with my brain in the most extraordinary way: I stand inside walls mortared centuries ago, and I realize how short my life is. And how small I am in the scheme of things.

But enough philosophizing.

Sure, I have my favorites. I adored Lleida, in Catalunya, an hour and a half west of Barcelona. And I recently acquired a new favorite: the château fort in Lourdes, France, in the lush midlands of the Pyrenees.  But favorites aside for the moment, here’s another reason I love castles. When I was young, I used to want to live in one–you know, to be the Maiden of the Castle, so I could parade around in jewels and brocaded gowns and all that ish. But now? I’d decorate castles!–be the Official Designer, as it were.  (Since we’re fantasizing.)  Ohh the textiles! the grand furniture! the unlimited supply of sweet breads and beignets and other very naughty French pastries that would necessarily be written into my contract!

(Admit it: in your fairytale world, you’d sign on too, if you could!)

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So I could say I stumbled across Beriestain Interiores, in downtown Barcelona, but that wouldn’t exactly be true. I went looking for it. I’d seen some great photos in Habitania magazine, and I wanted to check out the source. The store is a fabulous combination of Mid-century and Now, of artisanal and retro. Moreover, most of the mid-century pieces have been reimagined, their bones remaining wonderfully intact while their surfaces get a little cosmetic surgery or their fabrics get replaced by something that represents a New Take on an old style.

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Below, I love the combination of rustic linens with cut crystal glasses.  And I love that the glasses are distinct from each other. In fact, one of the things I’m enjoying most about a certain European vernacular is the very rustic in collision with the very elegant. Such a cool concept. Same reason a delicate chandelier works in a room whose stucco walls are crumbling, revealing the brick underneath.

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And these chairs? Are they not the happiest things ever?

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Beriestain excels at reinvigorating pieces like the turquoise chair in the photo above. The old metal is treated, primed, and bathed in a new metal; then the seat is reupholstered. The result: mid-century modern . . . for the 21st Century. I’m smitten.

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Blue Shutters, Please

by Becky on April 25, 2013 · 2 comments

in Design, Travel

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I’m rather taken with shutters. Which were everywhere in France. What’s more, they tempt you to imagine what’s on the inside of the windows they adorn. How easily I could picture myself in that–house!?–barn!? Whatever it was, I already had us unpacked, moved in, and hanging pictures on the (very) old walls. All thanks to those perennially charming shutters.

Once upon a time, I built my own ‘doll’ house out of boxes I salvaged from somewhere or other. Summer of my seventh grade year, I believe it was. And pretty quickly, I realized that the effort of ‘designing’ the rooms mattered far more to me than whether the glossy-eyed things meant to inhabit those rooms ever got to call the place Home. Dolls, schmolls.

If you’re the kind of gal who hangs onto her Architectural Digest mags for years; if you can fritter away hours thinking about how you’re going to reupholster some Piece With Potential you picked up at an estate sale; if you put yourself to sleep at night devising ways to afford blue stone to lay on the walkways of the patio/garden/’retreat’ you fantasize about building, then you are a Blue Shutter Sister.

Welcome to the club. And do come inside, where it’s cozy.

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Montpellier

So last summer, the boys in our family headed off to the torture museum in Rothenburg, ob der Tauber, Germany.  No, really:  the museum featured instruments of torture throughout the centuries, and you would have thought that Christmas had come early or something, the idea of being an eyewitness to such gruesomeness was such an exciting prospect for the males in our family.  Me and the Eleven O’Clock Girls, we walked the streets and exclaimed over the architecture.

The girls in this clan love (did I say love?) to talk about design, a category that for us includes everything from architecture to textiles to furniture. Set us down in the middle of a European city, and we will exclaim over design–exteriors, interiors, stuff to sit on, lie on, stick on your walls, make your cooking tasks easier, reflect your tastes, speak to your soul. Typical dialogue when an Object To Be Admired comes into view. Me: “No. Way. Look. At. That.” Either of the girls: “Oh my gosh. Oh. My. Gosh.” Clearly, we need a course in How To Talk Appropriately About Great Design And Everything It Encompasses. In the meantime, we stay busy, looking, pointing, swooning, chattering, all the while sounding exactly like we’re from the San Fernando Valley (you gotta be a Californian to disrespect your fellow Californians).

Recently, I saw a painted wood floor in the back room of a boutique. Perhaps I should mention that painted wood floors totally do it for me. They excite me as much as the prospect of an afternoon imagining centuries of torture excited three cavemen I know well. Picture it: a black and white ‘area rug’ stenciled onto an unfinished wood floor. Design lovers, are you feeling it? One of the petals was with me at the time. She smiled indulgently when I pointed it out to her, dutifully respecting the raptures to which I was temporarily surrendering.

My point: me and the girls, we’re especially us when we’re deep in a Design Moment, if you know what I mean. Some people base jump from towers in Dubai for excitement. The Eleven O’Clock Gals, all they need are grand facades, vintage European linens, and reimagined wood floors. We’ve got those, we’re chatting it up! (While the boys are happily considering the virtues of nifty things that pull people limb from limb.)

(Photo of a favorite street in Montpellier, France, taken by Miss Lavender!)

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Going Belgian In Barcelona

by Becky on April 4, 2013 · 2 comments

in Design, Travel

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Miss Lavender, holding the latest issue of my favorite Spanish design magazine, Habitania, which features homes both small and grand from all over Europe. I’m rather infatuated with Belgian design at the moment. Remember when Restoration Hardware switched it up a while back?–going from their signature (somewhere close to) aqua walls to the new dark taupe-y color? And the newer pieces?–“deconstructed” sofas and chairs covered in neautral linens? Very Belgian.

More than once, Habitania has featured the work of Greet LeFèvre, a Belgian designer whose blog is a ton of fun. Check out her post on this Belgian loft, and noodle around on her site if you feel like it.  The post on Belgian kitchens makes me sigh.  And the post about the Habitania shoot features some gorgeous photos as well.  Have fun!  (And tell me whether you think Belgian style couldn’t be kid friendly.)

And just for giggles, hop over to the Restoration Hardware website for a look at their “Barcelona Flat.”

Tomorrow:  Design Talk + Moms & Daughters = Lively Chatter

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Few things about living abroad enchant me more than colorfully shuttered balconies with window boxes or, in this case, window pots. The combination of the turquoise shutters with the yellow pots and pink petals made me smile. I have this fantasy that someday I’m going to save a great set of shutters from their grave and find a wall somewhere in my house for them. I love the idea of shutters on a wall, maybe above a master bed?

The Europeans are huge into ‘repurposing’–taking materials that might otherwise be destined for the trash and finding new homes and new iterations for them. I love the idea. It’s a way of folding the old into the new. Some months ago, we stopped for a while at an architectural salvage yard, where you could find anything from old shutters, to antique soaking tubs, to hundreds of different kinds of old tiles from houses from who knows what century. Antique light fixtures (a personal favorite), doors of all shapes and sizes and the hardware that no doubt held them in place once. For me, those places are like secret gardens. I could stay for days.

What bit of oldness would you save from a premature death? Would you snag an old chandelier and polish or paint it?–maybe ferret out some colored chandelier crystals from a box in a salvage yard?–to replace missing crystals from the piece you’d acquired? Lay a floor with old railroad ties? Rescue a door from an old city building and hang it in the front doorway of your house? Turn an old church pew into a bench for a big kitchen table?

I’d love to know!

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So if you’ve been on my little blog over the last couple of days, you’ve noticed I’m doing some spring cleaning (which may continue for a while).  I like the idea of blog-as-house, a place where we all pull up a chair and visit. Seemed like I needed to put some things away, however (like my banner).  And create some room.

On the theme of making room for something new (or old), I thought I’d give you a peek at a fabulous place we found over the weekend.  Lucked onto it Saturday afternoon and went back this morning to meet the owners, who scour the country (literally) looking for unusual antiques and vintage pieces.  And there were so many! Like these vintage letters. Such fun.

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Or these antique spools and other ephemera? Just the colors make me happy!

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Miss Lavender is currently into vintage suitcases. She hasn’t seen this one yet.

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Old windows abounded. One of the owners makes a practice of sanding them down–just to remove splinters–then replacing the glass with mirrors.

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Be fun to find a naked wall and hang this one, yeah?

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Or clean out a cupboard and find a home for some vintage ceramic dinnerware?

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This was a personal favorite. I’ve never seen mid-century doll furniture before! So groovy!

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This beautiful old trunk really killed me: the detailing . . . the overall fabulousness.

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But this one did it. Miss Lavender has a box collection. (Can you tell what’s going through my head?)

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So many corners to poke around in!

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Run by five friends and longtime antiques dealers, this little cooperative has no name! But if you’re in Barcelona, find the warehouse at 588 Carrer del Consell de Cent (two doors north of Carrer del Dos de Maig).  Or ring us up, and we’ll walk you down (by way of a favorite patisserie, of course).

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Clave finishes dribble castle_8598

Last Sunday evening’s foray into what I’ll call Gaudi’s Dream made me realize: the famous Catalan Modernist architect and my son, El Surfeador, have a few things in common. One, they both made things that prompted me to go Wow. Two, obviously, neither of them was feeling the Legos anymore. Three, they both understood this Crucial Truth: if you build it, they will come.

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Four, they both knew that while the act of building something is cool, the art of dribbling it is divine.

(Photos: El Surfeador, on a stretch of beach near Amsterdam, Netherlands.)

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