Amo Venizia! (I love Venice!)

For my recent birthday celebration, I was treated by my children to an “Evening in Italy” at a friend’s spectacular home in the North End of Boston. Prociutto-wrapped melon,  pesto tortellini and hand-tossed pizzas were on the menu, all created by our lovely host Holly, who had spent some time with us in during our recent trip to Italy. Inspired by the stunning Murano Glass chandelier that proudly hangs in her space, this week for Wanderlust Wednesday we are off to Venice, Italy! During our recent trip Under the Tuscan Sun, we took advantage of the amazing train systems that criss-cross the country and make travel easy, dependable and affordable. Zurich to Milan to Florence and then, to the final stop on our tour: Venezia!

Stepping out of the railway station, you instantly see all the hustle and bustle of a major city, with people and vehicles moving about at a rapid pace. It takes another moment before you realize that the “vehicles” are actually boats moving up and down the Grand Canal, the main thoroughfare in Venice. Every size boat, from water taxis to cruise ships to the famous gondolas, make their way along the walls and under the bridges, with nary a close call. Our first ride? The water taxi. Shiny. Sleek. Sexy. Did you see The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? Yup, I know, probably not. Well, we did! We rode on those very boats featured in the film!  We were able to enjoy the local architecture from below sea level, which only added to the wonder of a city built on water.

During the day, the city vibrates with the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists flocking to St. Marks Square to feed the famous pigeons,

and to visit the Doges Palace,the spectacular St. Marks Cathedral, 

and take in the rooftop views of the Grand Canal from the highest point in the Campanille (the bell tower).

Of course, a visit to Venice would not be complete without a ride on the famous Gondolas, for centuries the chief means of transportation in and around the city. Each gondola is exquisitely painted and decorated and steered by the gondoliers, typically costumed in their striped shirts and straw hats.

When the sun sets and night falls, Venice takes on a sense of mystery, as boats glide silently on the blackened waters of the Canal, delivering passengers to their local hotels and inns carved into the city’s banks. We spent our nights at the charming Hotel Villa Laguna

on the Lido, which was easily accessible by water taxi or valporetta (the transit system of barges that moves quickly and efficiently along the canal). 

Venice is an extraordinary city on the water and one that we eagerly anticipate visiting again.

We all agreed that Venice was Bellissimo!!! Susanna

Rejected…and Dejected…

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I am an HGTV junkie. I read the website and blog, watch all the shows and drink the HGTV Koolaid. I wouldn’t be studying interior design or writing Country Design Home if it weren’t for the inspiration of HGTV! I have learned so much about design and honed my own personal style while watching some of my favorite shows like The High Low Project 

and Color SplashI have often wondered, along with millions of other TV viewers, “how does someone get chosen to be on a design makeover show?” Knowing that the HGTV website has a continuous “casting call” searching for homes to renovate, I checked the listings often. Only to discover, much to my dismay, that the majority of the shows are filmed on the west coast or in the NY Tri-State area. Imagine my delight, when one day, while perusing Craigslist (searching for a whale coffee table?), I happened upon a local casting call from Powderhouse Productions, based in Somerville, MA! They were searching for large-scale renovation projects in the Metropolitan Boston area where the homeowners would contribute a certain dollar amount, and then HGTV would quadruple that amount, while providing the overhaul of your space. AMAZING. Can you say BARN WORKSHOP?!?!?

So I completed the form, attached some pics of the barn and hoped for the best.  Months went by, with little communication from the film company. Fast foward to a couple of weeks ago, when I got a call from the lovely production assistant, Jenna, who wanted to know if we were still interested in moving forward with the project we had proposed. Seriously!?

From that point on, things got a little crazy, as Coach and I had to film, and then re-film (apparently when you use an Ipad to shoot video, you have to hold it horizontally) a video of us discussing our renovation proposal. I have to be honest and say that although writing seems to come pretty easily to me, being on camera brought me back to 5th grade speech class. Painful. That was submitted last week, and then the executive producer and her assistant, along with the contractor met at our home last Monday to view the barn in person and discuss our options. We left for vacation not knowing the verdict. Today we got our answer: “Unfortunately we cannot feature your space in an episode. You guys are great, and I appreciate you sending everything along; however, just due to time and location restraints we can’t move forward with you.” Ouch. Now I have an inkling what those contestants on Design Star feel like when they shut the lights out behind their photograph and say “sorry, we won’t be producing your show”. Oh, well, it was worth a try. At least we gave it our best shot. Not sure I really wanted to be on television anyway. After all, they say the TV camera does add ten pounds…

So, back to the cleaning and sorting and stacking and re-stacking. Coach and I will keep working on it, and hopefully we will be able to produce a room that will make HGTV proud! Unless there is another home network out there looking for an old barn to renovate. Hmmm. Wonder what Norm Abram is doing these days?  Susan

A Revolutionary Dinner for Two

This past week, Coach and I took a road trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. If you have never been, it is well worth the trip, as you step back in time to explore the history of our Founding Fathers and the American Revolution as it unfolds. It was a long drive (well, a lot shorter and less harrowing than I imagine it was on horseback in the 1700’s!) with only one pit stop, but the anniversary dinner gifted from our children was worth the 600 mile drive alone!

At A Chef’s Kitchen on Prince George Street, Chef John Gonzalez treats his guests to a memorable evening of great food paired with great “find” wines. His “revolutionary” concept: one meal, one seating each night, menus varied with the seasons. Brilliant! That whole “teach a man to fish” concept makes for dinner classes that are fun, entertaining and absolutely delicious. In his adjacent shop, he sells wines, along with many of his favorite ingredients, so you can re-create his fabulous recipes at home.

The five course meal, paired with some of his favorite wines, is prepared in front of a “studio audience”-lucky us!- while Chef Gonzalez and his sous chef provide full instructions, valuable cooking tips and the recipes as well. 

As we entered the kitchen/studio, we were greeted with starters of Goat Cheese rolled in Macadamia Nuts and Figs and Prosciutto

paired with a glass of Charles de Fere Blanc de Blanc from France.  

Below are the five amazing courses, each one yummier than the previous (it may be the wine talking, but I have to say this was one of the best restaurant meals we have had for quite some time). For this blog, I am providing photos and descriptions, but no recipes (I don’t have enough room!) However, if you wish to email me @ countrydesignhome@gmail.com for a specific recipe, I will be happy to send it to you.

First Course: Roasted Sweet Corn and Vidalia Onion Soup with Chive Oil and Rosemary Sour Dough Croutons.

Paired with Josef Bauer Gruner Veltliner 2011.

Second Course: Summer Squash Salad with Grilled Romaine, Lavender Infused Honey and Mustard Dressing  with A Chef’s Kitchen Skillet Baked Corn Bread (Well, apparently I was so excited about WHAT I was eating that I neglected to take a photo!) This is the sous chef explaining how to grill Romaine Lettuce without burning it.

Third Course: Shrimp Wrapped Cheaspeake Jumbo Lump Crab with Toasted Macadamias and Vodka-Spiked Watermelon with Red Onions.

Paired with Chateau de Valcombe Syrah-Grenache Rose 2011

Fourth Course: Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Kurabuta Pork Tenderloin with Pepper-Cured Bacon, Braised Leeks, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce and Oven-Fried Sweet Potatoes.

Paired with Campos de Luz Old Vine Grenache 2010.

Final Course: Raspberry Key Lime Pie with Chocolate Crumble Crust and Lewes Dairy Soft-Whipped Cream.  The Chef created these beautiful plates for us and several other diners who were celebrating anniversaries and birthdays!! Took a few moments, but well worth the wait.

So, if you ever find yourself in Williamsburg, Virginia, and looking for a way to spend an entertaining and delicious evening, make sure to stop by A Chef’s Kitchen for a fantastic dining experience! Now it’s on to the Duke of Gloucester Street! Susan

Finding Finland

On this week’s editon of Wanderlust Wednesday, we are headed for Helsinki, Finland! I have to admit that, prior to our Baltic Sea Princess Cruise, I had no inkling of the beauty of these capital cities. This the the downtown market square where locals sell lovely hand-crafted items along the waterfront.

Helsinki, Finland is a port city founded in 1550, that became the capital in 1812. It is resplendant in ancient architecture,

museums and spectacular churches. We happened upon this photo shoot at the steps of the cathedral. Does the bride’s dress not appear as if it could float away on one of those clouds!? So pretty!

We disembarked from the cruise ship, and headed into town (well, at least that’s where we thought we were headed.) We ended up taking the long way around, finally making our way to the market square, thanks to a lovely local lady…but we did see some nice boats, so there was that! 

Once Coach and I actually found the dock area, we then took the ferry to Suomenlinna Fort  one of the main attractions of Helsinki. Now Coach, being a history teacher, really does appreciate a good fort. But I do have to say, this one was quite extraordinary. The architecture and the views were nothing short of spectacular. Built in the 18th century, the military fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to approx. 900 Finns who live and work there. The fort is (naturally) surrounded by water, and has spectacular 360 degrees of views of the inner harbor area.

This sentinel holds watch over the incoming ships.

Taking the ferry back to the mainland, we strolled through the streets and marveled at the gardens, (I always wonder what the views are for a pigeon perched on the head of a statesman?)

the statues and fountains in the city center.


Apparently it is a yearly tradition to add soap bubbles to this fountain (a protest to the suggestive pose). The sea lions find this quite amusing : )


Saying goodbye to beautiful Helsinki!  

On to our next port… Happy sailing! Susan

Brick by Brick

 Coach and I have been discussing a heat source for the barn, as, unlike Bob Cratchit, I will not be able to sew and craft out there wearing old, tattered gloves and a scarf! Since a fireplace seems out of the question, we thought perhaps a wood or coal stove might work to heat the space? But we do love the look of old brick in a fireplace surround. In searching for our barn workshop brick inspirations, I have come across many photos of interior brick walls, including bedrooms (I am not sure if we can fit sleeping quarters in the loft, but we do have this chandelier!!

…even floors! What a beautiful entry to greet your guests…

Some brick walls are painted to enhance the space

some are antiqued (OK, I am not sure who could sleep in this space- is that an ostrich!!??!), but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?)

some just left in their natural state to show off their beautiful colors Brick can add country style to an otherwise modern industrial space

It is hard, but can add softness,  especially antique brick in hues of pinks and soft terra cotta Now this is the perfect brick wall from design sponge. Soft and natural, the brick acts as the perfect backdrop for the black and white photos.

Being a lover of color, especially red, I have to admit I do love this wall, but I think it might be a bit much for an interior, even for a barn!

I think we have enough books already, but these are very cool.

To see more of my brick inspirations, check out my Pinterest page.

Always remember to follow your own yellow brick road- wherever that path may lead you! Susan

The Barn Workshop-Take One

Dear Readers: Sorry I haven’t been blogging much this week. Coach and I have been cleaning out and organizing the barn. Trying to sort through 25+ years of accumulated stuff (books, furniture, books, antiques, books, tools…did I say books- 5000+!?!?) takes time, patience and perseverance. Me, I am inclined to just toss everything in the dumpster and start from scratch, but Coach is more of a “save this I might need it someday” sorter. Well that “someday” is today- time to let go, move on, clean out. Which often leads to some, well, we’ll just call it “unpleasantness” in our soon-to-be barn workshop. So Coach decided it was best if we are not both in there at the same time, for the sake of our marriage. Which is OK by me today, because it is probably 100 degrees in there right now, and I am in the study with the fan : )

So I have been searching for some barn interiors that strike my fancy. We want to stay true to its roots, preserving the good and enhancing the amazing- like this wall painting of Old Black Nell.

I am looking for simple but dramatic

rustic

inviting

or maybe a more athletic endeavor??

 Perhaps a bit of industrial chic.

There is no plumbing, so I won’t have a kitchen. But if I did…

Shine up the floors. Add pops of color.  

And, of course, some rustic lighting.

Our target event date?

Thanksgiving Dinner at a farmhouse table for 20 stretching the length of the finished interior. Better get back out there and see what’s happening! Wish me luck… Susan

A Couch for Coach- Before and After

So, Coach and I have been trying to find a couch for the porch for a couple of months now. He insisted that the wicker love seat was just not long enough for afternoon napping, even using the Wally the Whale table as a foot rest. After many yard sales and curb alerts, we finally found this on one of our trash to treasure hunts at Todd Farm in Rowley.

Although it had clearly had been neglected, was filty and ragged and hosting a family of icky bugs, we decided to take a chance. For $20, the price of two burgers and fries at Five Guys, we had our couch! It was sturdy and well-made, just required some major TLC. We were even more excited when we checked online and discovered the same Benchcraft sofa selling used for $300!

The re-furbishing: We spruced it up with a bleach wash and bug spray, then primed it with Kilz to remove odors and stains. Finished with Rustoleum outdoor glossy white. So clean and pretty!! The original cushions had to be tossed, as they were smelly and moldy and just plain gross. So I created new ones from foam, poly batting and some fabulous European down-filled pillows I got on clearance at-where else-Home Goods for $20 each! (I am saving the pretty ruched satin covers for another project.)

I wanted the couch to have a more casual feel, so I made the covers from solid navy outdoor fabric, using a knife-edge for the pillows rather than formal welted cushions.   

Do you LOVE our new couch!?  It’s stylish and casual and plenty long enough for afternoon naps on the porch and it complements the other refurbished pieces already in place.

The cost breakdown: Sofa $20 Fabric $40 Foam Cushion $40  Poly Batting $5 Pillows $60 Thread $3  Paint: $7 Total Investment: $175

A little more than I usually spend on a re-furbished trash to treasure. But since it is the largest piece on the porch, and is going to be sitting right in front of the ever-stylin’ whale coffee table, I figure it was worth the investment. A whole new life for a down and out couch, saved from the dumpster with my Three R’s Principle: Re-cycle, Re-Furbish, Re-Love. Have a Terrific Tuesday! Susan

Under the Sea

I often get my blog inspiration while walking the lake, listening to Pandora. Today’s genre? Musicals! Sure to get your feet tapping and your heart thumping. The first song of the morning was Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid. Who doesn’t love a Disney flick with drama, music, a heroine and a her little side-kick? Ooo, lala! So that got me day-dreaming about nautical decor. Soft blues, creamy whites, seashells, ocean vistas.

On Houzz.com I discovered Anthony Baratta from NYC. Oh, my! His ocean-inspired interiors give you that sun and surf vibe without being too literal. Can you imagine dining here? The ocean vista mural combined with the rug that gives the illusion of circles in the sand, plus the white furniture that evokes images of outdoor living is perfect for a beach-side home.  Bring on the soft shell crab! (oops, sorry Sebastian!)

This kitchen. Wow. Watery Blue. Serenity. 

The living room, with the aqua walls and soffits and flowing waves of draperies that give an illusion of lagoon living.

This interior, with its all-white concept, showcases the crystal ship hanging from the bead board rafters.

I recently visited the Harmon House Decorator’s Showhouse in York Maine. Entering through the front door, the living-dining-kitchen space, designed by Boston-based Gerald Pomeroy Design Group is monotone Farrow and Ball blue-walls and trim-with a spectacular sparkling stone fireplace wall. This is my favorite nautical pallette: blues and creamy whites, linen and sisal, natural stone and dark woods for contrast. You have an immediate sense of calm, the soft hues creating an uninterrupted visual frame that leads your eye to the water views outside.

Whenever I am searching for online inspiration and photos, I turn to my Pinterest boards. This one, Seashells by the Seashore, has some of my all time favorite nautical interiors. White interior, dark blue stripes, sisal rug, grasscloth ceiling. Clean and natural. Coastal Living.

The focal point of this pic is the stunning stairway backdrop of water on canvas, creating the illusion of ocean.

How can I talk about nautical decor without showing at least one ship replica? This one, with its blonde wood and billowing white sails, contrasts nicely with the blue walls and white wainscotting. The view from this space alone is enough to garner your attention, but the white furniture with the striated wavy pattern on the rugs, along with the amazing solar system light fixture from American Lighting Association brings the outside in.  This bedroom is a bit more literal, but stunning still. Gives new meaning to “sleeping with the fishes” Here are a few accessorizing ideas…(we all know how much I adore whales : )

and vintage vignettes

to inspire you create your own space “under the sea”.

Which is a good place to be with this on going heat wave! Have a cool weekend everyone! Susan

Wanderlust Wednesday Cancelled…

…due to heavy rains. Since I spent the early part of the day carb-loading (no, I am not training for a marathon, just snacking on almond shortbread cake, chili-lime crackers and mini-butterfingers), I decided to take a quick walk/jog around Lake Quannapowitt before we went out for dinner. What do you call a walk/jog anyway? Wog? Jalk? In this case, it could have been a swim. Started out fine, but got half-way around the lake’s 3 mile circumference when I noticed a dark menacing grey cloud in the distance. Damn. Just as I turned the corner, the skies opened up and the rain poured down on me and the dozen or so other woggers that were getting in their afternoon exercise. In a matter of seconds, I was soaked to the bone, and managed to hide under a tree long enough to snap this photo-attractive, eh?

With the car parked 1.5 miles away, I started back, hoping the Coach would come to my rescue. Alas, that was not the case. All those cars driving by with headlights on? No search and rescue looking for me.

Soooo, I jumped some puddles,

snapped a couple of pics (neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this writer from the swift completion of her blog)

until my camera started to blur from all the moisture!

Safely back in the car, I made my way home, the wipers working overtime to clear the ribbons of water cascading down the windshield.

Back on the porch-oh hey, my raincoat! I had hung it on the porch to clean off the bird poop I somehow managed to sit in while at SOWA on

Sunday

That would have come in handy. A few moments later, the sun peeked through the clouds.

Wanderlust Wednesday returns next week…and remember, when you walk through a storm, hold your head up high- unless you don’t have an umbrella. Susan 

“SOWA’rd Ya Go Sunday?”

Coach and I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon at the SOWA Vintage Market and Open Market in Boston’s South End. What fun!

The indoor market vintage shops are crammed with various and curious items for sale like art

and style

…and just plain sexy. This loveseat and chair were heart-stoppers for me!!

The artist, Holly Czapski, from Re-Furnish of West Concord, transforms pieces of old furniture into works of art. Using vintage photographs that she transfers onto fabric, she creates one-of-a-kind, stunning functional art pieces that could be the focal point of any room. AMAZING. You can reach her at holly@re-furnish.com

The larger part of SOWA is the outdoor farmer’s market and arts and crafts show. With pop-up tents filled with hand-crafted and vintage goods surrounded by food trucks of all shapes and sizes (kickass gourmet grilled cheese at Roxy’s, the line was 20 deep at all times!) this weekly event is not to be missed. If you are traveling to Boston, or just looking for an entertaining Sunday afternoon, SOWA is a must see. There is not room enough on this blog to note every item I deamed awesome and noteworthy. But I will highlight a few of my favs- for the rest, you’ll just have to go and shop for yourself. I am always searching for unique, quirky, fun items. I found a few here:

Love On The Blocks Your favorite photographs printed on to handcrafted birch blocks. The images are soft but true.

Nonsense Institute Whimsical creations by Anisa Asakawa. Handmade. Screen Printed. Recycled. Adorable.

Darn Good Barn Wood unique furniture made from reclaimed antique barn wood. Gorgeous finishes. Perfect for a country kitchen!

Oh How Cute Coasters! Started when a small, piggy-tailed kid was constantly over the coals for not having a coaster under her drink. Morphing the fear of water rings on furniture and a love of photography, Oh how cute! Coaster Co began. Handmade in New Bedford, MA.

Marcart Graphic art by Marc Roulstone. A must-have, since we had Bartlet the French Bulldog tagging along with us (with his mommy, who was stopped approximately every ten feet by Frenchie fans wanting to pat him and play with him. We must have heard “Oh, he’s sooooo cute!” at least 100 times! Being the celebrity that he apparently is, he took it all in stride. He was more interested in eating food droppings off the ground than acknowledging his admirers.

Those of you who know me and my blog, know how much I appreciate recycling in any form or fashion.

So here was a very fashionable recycling booth!

Manswap, sponsered by SOWA,

where you could bring your clean, gently used items and swap them. “Swap is the New Shop”. LOVE.

And finally, another unique shop, this time a converted school bus filled with vintage clothing. Great way to set up shop: drive up, park, sell your stuff, drive home. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Sunday Drive”. Susan

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