Archive | May 2012

SpongeBob and the Pineapple

My mouth is watering as I write this. All because of a tropical fruit, the pineapple.

Pineapple Garden Sculpture from Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

The pineapple has a uniquely American history and somewhat sordid past as a symbol of hospitality. It’s arrival in the colonies dates as far back as Christopher Columbus. This exotic fruit, which has a strong flavor both tart and sweet, is the reason my mouth is watering. It was first brought to the Americas from the islands of the Caribbean and the West Indies by sea captains. They had discovered it’s rough exterior, which oddly resembled a pinecone, disguised a sweet and juicy flesh.  Upon their return from sea, these captains would stake a pineapple outside of their home to indicate they had returned, triumphant.

Detail of a platter with pineapple.

Hostesses began to pay exorbitant fees just to have a pineapple on display at their table. The pineapple rapidly became the most desired of fruits and gained popularity among the wealthy as well as kings abroad for it’s exotic appeal. In the colonies, pineapples were elevated to a status symbol and indicated what lengths a hostess was willing to go to in order to impress her guests.

Pineapple carved bedpost.

The pineapple eventually found a comfortable place as a uniquely American symbol of hospitality. Pineapples now appear as carvings in furniture, on top of finials, and as garden ornaments, and they take their rightful place among the many early designs in American furniture.

Crystal Chandelier adorned with a pineapple.

Nowadays, you can find pineapples embroidered on linens, as the base of a lamp, on top of a four-poster bed, and as the subject of chandeliers and garden ornaments. The pineapple has truly established itself as a welcoming symbol, one that harkens back to the early days of our country and can be proudly displayed in your home.

Pineapple Bird Feeder.

However, some skeptics say the pineapple symbolizing hospitality is just a myth. I would argue that you need look no farther than the “SpongeBob Squarepants” cartoon as authority.

SpongeBob Squarepants, lego version.

SpongeBob lives in “a pineapple under the sea” where he regularly entertains Patrick and Squidward.  And as if this were not proof enough, almost every historical property or inn on the East Coast sports a pineapple somewhere in their home or garden.

Pineapple Candlestick.

Why not indulge in the myth of the native fruit as an early American symbol of hospitality? It is in fact a good story, whether it is true or not, and I will do my best to promote it as such.
© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.

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Vintage & Vogue

Last Christmas I was shopping at an arts fair in DC and was stopped dead in my tracks by the most gorgeous poster I had ever seen. I quickly ran through my Christmas list to see who HAD to have this as their gift and came up short. Not one person on my Christmas list needed this piece of turquoise eye-candy, with a peacock thrown in for good measure, other than me. Damn! I could not justify spending the money.

Published November 15, 1911 for Vogue magazine.

The image haunted me for several months until I remembered I was living in the age of the internet and could probably track it down. This little research project led me to an all together new-to-me discovery in the world of early advertising. Magazine covers and posters made in the early 1900’s that were drawn by the best illustrators of their time. The poster I lusted after was published on November 15, 1911 for Vogue Magazine and was drawn by artist George Wolfe Plank (1883-1965). He drew many covers for Vogue in those days in the Art Deco style and helped set the tone in the art world and fashion industry through Vogue.

Poster by George Wolfe Plank, illustrator for Vogue.

At last! The Vogue poster hangs on my brick wall in the living room. I love how the black in the poster picks up the black piano and pops against the brick.

Vintage Vogue Poster.

The second Vogue poster shows an elegantly dressed lady with a tiara of peacock feathers cascading down her back. It is as if she has donned the peacock’s plumage herself as she heads out for the evening. Once again, Vogue is setting the standard for style and elegance among American women.

Peacocks in Art

Peacocks are a common subject and theme in art representing sheer beauty and vibrant color. In Christianity, they are a symbol of eternity and are often depicted in early Christian art. The woman in the Vogue poster was riding on a peacock, both elegant and beautiful, while they admire their reflections. Hardly Christian, but still a fantastic and fashionable image for Vogue.

“The Peacock Room” by James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art.

Just a few years before these Vogue posters were created, artist James McNeill Whistler had finished his “Peacock Room” in London, and once again peacocks became all the rage.

“The Peacock Room” ceiling detail.

So, after several months of anticipation, I did order prints of two Vogue posters and later ordered frames for them. This turned out to be less expensive than if I had bought them through the fair where I had first laid eyes on it. If you are looking for vibrant color and inexpensive art, this is a great way to add it, with vintage flair, elegance, and a splash of American pop-culture too.

© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.

reference: The Vogue Poster Book. Published in 1975 with an introduction by Diana Vreeland.

Blogger’s Remorse and a Formula

So one day, I woke up and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I have had an affair with a blog. Or maybe this blog is just another crazy scheme like my Dad gets when he thinks he found a winning formula for the racetrack. Something like this: size of horse + length of mane + how awesome the name is = furlong over dirt. That will be the winner, for sure. I am filled with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and am full of ideas that turn out to be one scheme after another in a long chain of risk-takers that usually lose.

Big breath.

I love design and color, being inspired, and I hate the computer. There is a certain amount of headache involved in this latest scheme. Especially when I am banging my head against the keyboard. I have learned a lot about things like html code, web statistics and other non-design related things. I have viewed these as uncomfortable side-effects. I will hopefully later refer to this time as growing pains and apply all of this newly acquired knowledge to a blog that is fun to read and focused on design.

Inspiration from Angela.

Angela, my sister and muse, is a never-ending source of ideas and creative energy. She is optimistic and young and ambitious. She is an amazing photographer. She encourages me to keep going.

What a beautiful spread.

Only in Las Vegas.

So now this latest scheme has a formula that goes something like this: beautiful rugs + interesting art + inspiration = a space you want to be in. You may have nowhere to sit, but you will be happy in it. My friend Valerie started this formula, and I am hoping to let it grow and blossom into a beautiful blog and a place you want to read in. Hopefully, along the way, you will spruce up your space and be happy that you did.

View of the ceiling in Paris … Casino in Las Vegas.

© copyright 2012 Angela Hunanian and Mariam d’Eustachio.

The Ghosts of Houses Past

I grew up a homebody. I would have been just as happy to never leave my little hometown, quasi-socialist neighborhood, and 1,000 square foot townhouse with all the friends you could want within a stone’s throw. I wanted to stay there forever with my feet glued to the floor. When I was little, my best bud and I poured over Ikea catalogs and picked out the furniture we would have in our house. We could not imagine a world without one another. That was not to be my fate.

After I was married, my husband chose the military as his career path and so there it was: be forced to admit that I never wanted to leave my little world around DC, or step out of my comfort zone. Way out. Our first stop was Portsmouth, Virginia.

View from my balcony, if you stretch your neck. Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, Virginia.

The adventure seduced me and I was able to embrace my new life as a wanderer, a nomad. I brought my flute and started a career in music and practiced, A LOT. I did not have any new friends in this place, but I had a family and a baby and a new house. It felt very lonely. I recognize that these were growing years for me. I could no longer live in the all-encompassing world of music. I craved friendship and life at this time was hard. But I had a house and so my love affair with houses began. This house was built in the 1980’s and was the end of a row of townhouses. It was in the city of Portsmouth, Virginia, and if you leaned out from the balcony, you could see the water and the marina beyond. In a military town, there were fireworks for just about every and any occasion; and I could watch them up close from my little living room. We did not have much money, but I painted the walls and dreamed about replacing the carpet. I have fond memories of that first house.

Portsmouth, Virginia: my first love.

Our next house was in Corpus Christi, Texas and only about 5 blocks from Corpus Christi Bay. You could smell the salt in the wind, and if the direction was just right, the nearby oil refineries. There was a gorgeous olive tree next to the front porch and death by mosquito was an entirely real threat. We could walk to the park and listen to concerts in the nearby amphitheater. My husband and I have always craved city life and all the activity that goes with it.

This one always made me think of Snow White.

This one always made me think of Snow White. Corpus Christi, Texas.

The next stop was New Jersey. New Jersey gets such a bad rap. It really was a fun place to live, and after about 4 years, I was able to tolerate the sun and the beach for more than my hour and a half limit. I grew up with trees and woods, camping and playing in streams and could not see the appeal of sand, sunscreen, brutal heat, and waves that knock you over and put salt in your nose. But the beach has a smell that is earthy and real, hours of endless entertainment, and I learned to appreciate it in New Jersey.

My house was a tiny craftsman bungalow. It was full of wood, high ceilings, and it felt right to be there. There was a never-ending list of projects and I learned to tile and embraced ideas that creatively used our small space in the most efficient way possible. It was more important to me that my house be pretty than big.

Craftsman bungalow in Linwood, New Jersey.

Leaving New Jersey was hard. I had succumbed to my original root-growing tendencies with my feet glued to the floor. Once again I felt ripped from my home. But then I arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Duplex in Lynchburg, Virginia.

This was a good four hours west of  Portsmouth, where we had been in our first house. I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains and taste the crisp mountain air when I was walking the kids to the bus stop. And the houses! Preserved from harm in the civil war and so old and big and beautiful. Cobblestone streets and railroad cars, big abandoned brick warehouses and stone retaining walls attempting to hold up the mountainside. It was gorgeous and I threw myself into the neighborhood. This was it, our final home.

This is where I insert the chuckle of life, constantly throwing curve balls, trying to see if I can handle anything more. God testing me or building me up, I am not sure which. We moved again.

Current house in Beltsville, Maryland.

This little house in Beltsville brings me close to home again, but I am not the same homebody I was when I left. I itch for a change. This itch gets under my skin and I am no longer content with staying put. The wanderer is constantly on the prowl and incapable of sitting still. This is a new feeling for me. One of these days, I will have to wrestle with it. I fear the outcome is uncertain and wonder often what the next chapter will be.

© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival!

 

If you were one of three people on the East Coast who did not attend the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, you missed out. It was a party for the senses! The colors, textures, and craftsmanship on display added up to an amazing experience.

Sheep.

I like to know where things come from. When I buy food at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, I like to be reminded that it once started out in the ground. The Sheep & Wool Festival was a reminder that textiles are complicated. Wool has to be raised and then sheared. It has to be carded, dyed and spun into yarn and then woven into something we can use. There are any number of variations on this process, resulting in a unique outcome, and it is a lot of work!

Beautiful Fiber on display, ready for spinning.

The Sheep & Wool Festival is the finest and largest Fiber Festival on the East Coast. It was an opportunity to learn the process behind techniques used in weaving, spinning, rug-making and producing quality hand-made textiles. I sat down for a beginner learn-to-knit class and have not stopped knitting since. I had learned to knit when I was a child, and as I held the needles in my hands, it all came rushing back to me. I was completely inspired.

Knitting frenzy.

My daughter Prima is on the hunt for a spinning wheel. This is not a passing craze and she has been saving her money for a long time. This was the reason we were going to the fair in the first place. Unfortunately, we did not find one we could afford. I should consider myself lucky that my 12 year-old daughter would rather have a spinning wheel than an ipad.

Prima trying out a spinning wheel.

The working sheepdog demonstrations were so much fun. The Border Collies were patient and the sheep clearly respected their authority. The dogs got the sheep to go over a small bridge, run in figure-eights, and showed off their smarts. It was impressive.

Sheepdog demonstration.

Working Border Collies herding the sheep.

Natural materials were abundant as well. Brooms and baskets were on display and have an old-world feel to them. There is an earthiness about these things that is sometimes lost in our fast-paced world.

These brooms would be the pride and joy of any self-respecting witch.

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is free to get in the door and includes stories and crafts, food, and just a fun time for the whole family. There is a sense of history and heritage and of traditions that have been passed down through the generations. I highly recommend you save the first weekend in May to learn to spin, knit, crochet, or just watch and seek some inspiration.

© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.

Meet Stuart

Meet my husband’s alter ego, Stuart Martha. He comes and goes like a sporadic houseguest and at odd hours of the day and night. He brings me garnished drinks, and occasionally utters a brilliant design-related suggestion. It usually takes a few days for me to process it, but generally Stuart provides sound advice.

Stuart Martha.

When I start a project and get in over my head, Stuart comes to the rescue. He is chivalrous, kind, charming, and is capable of embracing the feminine side of my husband’s personality. I love everything about Stuart Martha.

Once in a blue moon, Stuart and I will have an argument. He does not like flimsy furniture whose beauty lacks function and he does not like to feel crowded in his space. I have to negotiate with Stuart, or nag him until he gives in. This was the case with our dining room table.

Dining room table pictured in our house in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Our dining room table was the first significant piece of furniture we ever bought. It was not a cast-off or picked up off the side of the road. When I found it, I was sure I had to have it. We were scraping by and it was tax season. Whatever should we do with that beefy refund? My husband suggested the reasonable and logical path of paying off debts. But where is the fun in that? I wanted this table even though it had no chairs to go with it.

Portrait of a Nutcracker. By Secondo.

It took less negotiating to end the Korean War than it did to purchase this table. In the end, we both agree that it is a fantastic table. The kids can paint on it, play on it, I can set hot things directly on it, and it never gets water rings. The only drawback is that it weighs about 400 pounds because it is made of concrete and moving it is no fun.

Dining room table pictured in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The result of this argument over our dining room table is that usually at tax time, I get to splurge on one thing. It is our compromise. We end up splitting the baby, half for frivolous desires (usually mine) and the other toward our responsibilities. And now the story of this table has evolved. It has travelled with us through thick and thin. And even though it has caused much pain and suffering to every military moving company that has laid eyes on it, it has history. Our history.

Now, this table is at the center of my home witnessing meals and friendship, family and crafts, and games with friends. I am thankful that Stuart has shared it all with me.

© copyright 2012 Mariam d’Eustachio.