Bringing the garden inside
I like flowers. I buy flowers and I plant flowers. The flowers that I buy, usually bunches of tulips from the grocery store ten for $10, end up in large, clear vases on my dining room table. If I’m feeling extravagant, I’ll spring for a few bunches more for the tulipieres on my mantel. I only regret that they fade far too quickly.
I enjoy the flowers that I plant outside too, but their life expectancy is sometimes just a bit longer than the cut flowers that I pick up when buying bread and eggs. It’s not that I’m not a good caregiver; I just tend to spend my energy on living things with a heartbeat. Because of this, I prefer my flowers by the yard rather than in the yard.
As long as I have been decorating my own space, there have been flowers. When I was 22, in the first apartment that I didn’t have to share, I had bed linens in a riotous Ralph Lauren floral on a black ground. My next move brought slipcovers to a gently arched living room sofa that sported blooms of every color of the rainbow.
My florabundance didn’t subside upon marriage. As I screeched to a stop at a garage sale and swooped two charmingly shaped occasional chairs from the side of the road for five dollars, I could already see them preening in blossoms in my new jade-green living room. Vines climbed my dining room wallpaper; delicate sprigs graced my kitchen valance.
The next house saw the beginning of my love affair with Le Lac, a large-scale Brunschwig & Fils chintz that features duck egg-colored vases filled with parrot tulips (and chinoiserie figures and pavilions and berries and pheasants, oh my). Those four long panels have lived in two houses since, along with a collection of Chinese pottery painted with large, pink blooms and a set of Victorian watercolors of five varieties of tulips that I picked up in a bookstore in Florida while my oldest was napping. (He’s a sophomore in college now.)
All this being said, I don’t think my interiors are overly feminine. Certainly, they are not saccharine. There is nothing twee about them. Beyond that, despite the advice that I read again and again when I was in my early twenties, men seem quite comfortable in these rooms dotted with blooms. Perhaps it is because they are balanced with animal hides, graphic art and a good dose of black accents. It’s possible, too, that they simply don’t notice. It’s also not entirely unlikely that men will tolerate mildly intolerable things to enjoy the company of women. (See: tuxedos, crustless sandwiches, children.) Fortunately, the conversation has never floundered to the point that I felt the need to ask.
Do these cotton renditions take the place of the real thing? Would I trade a good print for the scent of hyacinth? Really, there’s no reason not to have it all. (Including a very understanding landscape designer.)
Pattern, particularly florals, may seem daunting to those who are just beginning to venture past solids and maybe a stripe or two. Never fear! The beauty of florals is that they can suit so many moods from granny-chic to modernista.
The Connecticut Country House Look is a term I coined for the sets of many 1940s movies that I love. Bringing Up Baby, Philadelphia Story, Christmas in Connecticut and countless others feature these sprawling yet casual country estates chockfull of large-scale floral prints. There are wicker and rag rugs and rock fireplaces and Dutch doors and endlessly tall ceilings that call for stairs with landings. These informal fabrics, because truly that is what chintz is, cut the grandeur and make these estates feel like a place where you could curl up with a good book and a leopard.
Perhaps you saw the movie Jackie over the holidays and noticed the cheerful prints of the White House during Camelot. The particularly lovely Daisy cotton print was—and is—produced by Tillett Textiles which has been creating custom prints on cotton and linen for four generations. Visit their site at t4fabrics.com and use their “colorPAD” to create a fabric all your own.
Josef Frank was an Austrian architect and designer who created bold, organic prints that complement sleek teak and modern and arts-and-crafts breakfast nooks alike. The patterns are comprised of bright colors and deep contrasts and have something of a trippy feel.
Maharam, too, has wovens suitable for the seats of your Saarinen tulip chairs or Cherner bar stools. The company distributes midcentury designer Alexander Girard’s delightfully modern fabrics.