Friday, January 31, 2014

New at Delightfully Modern

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, my Etsy shop took a beating in December. I had 103 items going into the holiday season and just 56 at the end of it. Good problem! But it means I've had to put some time and effort into building up my inventory. So I've been hitting the thrifts and the estate sales hard. I haven't found a ton, so maybe I've just gotten picky? Anyway, here's a couple of my recent finds, all for sale at Delightfully Modern.

A bud vase by Ken Edwards. I've seen these with deer and birds, but this one appears to feature a rabbit. Some of the Tonala pottery doesn't tickle my modernist sensibilities since it's basically folk art, but this one definitely does.

I found this little Gustavsburg elephant a while ago and debated keeping it, but decided to let it go in the interest of streamlining my collecting. I already have a little Lisa Larsen dog collection so I don't think I need to start a Britt-Louise Sundell collection too. This abstracted elephant is from the 1950s.

At the Hollywood Regency end of the modern spectrum, here's a brass faux bamboo tray. Great for organizing bottles and glassware on a bar cart.

If you're still on the lookout for a Valentine's Day gift or already looking ahead to summer weddings, this cocktail set in its original box might be a fun choice.

I don't know a lot about vintage Kokeshi dolls, but this one's sweet expression and tilted head caught me just right. Another piece I'm only giving up under the extreme duress of having too many collections to start one more.

Have a happy weekend!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Staunton, Virginia: An Epic Love Letter

Have you ever felt homesick for a place you've never lived?

I know there are people who feel this way about London, New York, Paris. Doug and I feel this way about Staunton, Virginia. (HINT: It's pronounced STAN-ton not STAWN-ton.)

It all started on our honeymoon. Our work schedules were both very demanding at the time and we could only get away for the week so rather than spend half the time traveling, we went to Charlottesville, Virginia. Unfortunately, after four or five days, we ran out things to do and started looking at the guidebooks we brought to find some hidden gems in the surrounding countryside. Which is how we ended up at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum on our fifth day as a married couple. I never said we weren't nerds.

After viewing the 5,000 square foot Presbyterian Manse where Wilson's father was serving when he was born and the 1919 Pierce Arrow he rode around in while he was President and after, we decided to walk down the hill into downtown and grab some lunch.

This is when we started to wonder about Staunton's history. You see, the neighborhood above downtown is filled with gorgeous old Victorian homes built around the turn of the last century. Since the Shenandoah Valley now isn't much of an economic powerhouse, we wondered what had happened those many years before that made it so prosperous. After covering every angle between slave trading and vampire lords (don't ask: nerds), we decided to seek out a knowledgeable source. Luckily, we found one.

Ron Ramsey is a lifelong resident of Staunton and owns a small independent bookstore downtown called Bookworks. Not only does he carry several volumes of local history, he knows quite a bit himself, both about the area's history and about local attractions and events. I highly recommend stopping there first. Buy a copy of the local paper, the News Leader, pick up the latest issue of Garden & Gun and spend some time chatting about what's going on in town. There is also an official visitor's center downtown, but shh: we haven't found them as helpful as Ron.

It was at Bookworks where we learned about Sunspots Studios glassblowing demonstrations. We also learned that despite our guidebooks providing ample detail about the Statler Brothers Museum (no longer in operation) and Frontier Culture Museum, also in town, they did not provide even a whisper on the fact that Trinity Episcopal Church has twelve of those same Tiffany windows. That's Louis Comfort Tiffany. In a town of 25,000.

By the way, this seems like a good place to add that Staunton made all its money by an accident of geography. There are two natural passes through the Shenandoah Mountains: Staunton and Winchester. And if you want to get valley-grown food to Richmond, you don't want to go north to Winchester. First it was wagons and later the railway, but Staunton got where it was by virtue of building warehouses and acting as brokers to the majority of the farmers in the Shenandoah Valley. Not vampire lords, but still pretty interesting.

As for Trinity Episcopal Church, it's open to the public from 1 to 4 pm on weekdays and sometimes there's a volunteer tourguide hanging about. If not, there's a little booklet in front that tells about the windows. It's a lovely old church with a Taylor & Boody Mechanical Organ. If you want to hear the organ, they play it every Sunday and it's an Episcopalian congregation so they welcome everyone.

Right across the street from Trinity Church is another one of our favorite Staunton spots, George Bowers Grocery. Brian and Katie are transplants from New York, though if I recall correctly, Katie grew up in Staunton. This is a wonderful place to stop for lunch as Brian makes delicious sandwiches and burgers. Keep an eye out for locally made Route 11 Potato Chips and Bold Rock Cider. Bring a cooler and check out their selection of cheeses too. And get some beer and gourmet chocolate for later.

Speaking of later, Staunton is rather a small town in some respects. There aren't tons of after dark activities, but there are several good restaurants, a few good bars, two historic movie theaters and, finally, the American Shakespeare Center, a very fine venue for both Shakespeare and other theater. It's comparable to the Folger Theater here in DC in quality, but a bit larger in size. We've seen several performances and they've all been terrific.

We have a few more favorite places to eat, Cranberry's Grocery for lunch (great for natural and vegetarian food lovers), Shenandoah Pizza for dinner and the new Barking Dog for a glass (okay, bottle) of wine and a snack before dinner or other evening activities. I especially love that you can grab a bottle from the retail section of the store and pay retail price instead of inflated restaurant or wine bar prices. There isn't even a corkage fee!

Veggie sandwich at Cranberry's

In even better news, I recently discovered that chef Ian Boden has a new place open called The Shack. Boden formerly headed up the fabulous Staunton Grocery, which closed at some point last year. We were desperately sad to see it go, but now we can't wait to check out the new place next time we visit.

As for where to spend the night, we've stayed a number of places in town, from the historic and slightly swanky Stonewall Jackson Hotel, to the tiny B&B-ish Storefront (great if you want to cook for yourself or have kids since it's a small townhouse with a kitchen and sleeps 4) to the more traditionally B&B collection of Frederick House properties. They've all been wonderful, but we like the location and service at the Stonewall Jackson. Plus, they allow dogs so we can bring Chester--always a plus.

It's impossible not to notice while wandering around the downtown area that Staunton is brimming with charming antique shops and independent retailers. Some of Doug's favorites are the gaming store The Dragon's Hoard, the Beverly Cigar Store and used book store Black Swan Books, which is a recent export from Richmond. They also sell records if you're into that sort of thing.

Beverly Cigar Store

Black Swan Books

Some of my favorites are Rule Forty-Two, where beautifully painted and refinished antique furniture lives side-by-side with other hip home decor. New retailer Made; By the People For the People carries American-made goods and a number of locally made clothing lines, soaps and housewares. Stuff: Antique and Vintage Interiors is a new place a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip for unique and affordable housewares, especially if you're already headed out to Newtown Bakery, another favorite snack stop of ours.

There are also scads of thrift stores and antique stores, none more unique than Worthington Hardware. It actually was a hardware store until that business dried up and the owner started bringing in antiques to flesh out the inventory. Here's the thing though: the hardware never left. They still sell pounds of nails and make keys. Don't miss the antique radio graveyard in the basement, but take a buddy or you might get lost down there.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Augusta County Historical Society, which has been very helpful when random nerdy questions have occurred to us. They don't seem to mind at all if you wander in and ask questions about Staunton's architecture and history. Plus every summer there is the Staunton/Augusta Farmer's Markets, which happen right downtown on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Speaking of summer, there is a free concert series in Gypsy Hill Park in their old-fashioned bandstand that is very well-attended. We've seen everything from jazz to bluegrass there. And though it might seem a little morbid, Thornrose Cemetery is full of ornate and glorious old monuments and mausoleums.

But really the best thing about Staunton is the people. Despite its obvious sophistication, people are friendly, warm and from what we can tell, rarely in a hurry. It's almost impossible not get drawn into conversation at every turn. People seem especially proud of its history and optimistic about its future, which is a wonderful thing to see in a small town with thriving independent businesses downtown.

So, go see it for yourself! I promise you won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The inexorable rise of ornamentation

A few weeks ago, I made the observation on Twitter that fashion nostalgia seems to have taken a turn from the color-blocked, Mad Men inspired designs of the 1960s to more highly ornamented styles. Lace has crept back onto blouses and dresses and some of the ubiquitous statement necklaces have taken a decided turn for the garish. Look at this necklace offered by J. Crew over the holidays.

I'm sure there are those, particularly those who share my appreciation of the clean-lined styles of mid century design, who look and that and think, "Ew. Ugly." And maybe it is. However, I find myself a member of a generation of design enthusiasts who have eschewed over-exuberant ornamentation, probably starting with the hyper-minimalist style of the early 1990s we were all exposed to as teens. 

But over the course of the last six months, I've begun to sense a shift in my own taste, though it likely started much earlier. My appreciation of the architecture of Staunton, Virginia is quite obviously one cause. I'll talk more about that wonderful little town next week. I blame some of this on Nicole Balch, who just bought a gorgeous old Victorian home in the suburbs of Chicago and is going about decorating it with her customary warmth and just a little more traditional flair. She talks about this phenomenon here.

Only time will tell whether this shift is a flash in the pan or a genuine trend. I just know that I started to be attracted to mid century furniture around 10 years ago in much the same way I'm now being attracted to marquetry, carving, darker woods and heavier profiles. Copper, gold and bronze rather than silver.

In fact, my most recent acquisition bears this out.

This is a smoking stand of the sort I imagine would have been present in a gentleman's club at the turn of the last century. It seems to have been made with pipes in mind actually. The thing is bloody heavy, at least 25 pounds. Painted cast iron maybe? Aside from the rather obvious repair to one of the trays, it's in delightfully good condition. The paint is nearly complete and undamaged. And it was $25 at the Friends of Homeless Animals thrift store in Chantilly. When was the last time you saw a mid century smoking stand for a price like that? I'll tell you that I haven't ever. At least, not in 10 years. And yet, I got several appreciative, even covetous glances as I made my way out of the store with it. Have I been seduced by the beauty of a single object? An isolated incident? Perhaps.

Or perhaps not. Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Candied Pecans

Winter is just terrible, isn't it?

And by terrible what I mean is there are no fresh tomatoes. As a result, my salads tend to get pretty boring: a sliced up carrot here, some slivers of red onion there. Yes, I know it's possible to get tomatoes year-round, but they just don't taste the same as the ones from the farmer's market at the height of summer.

The only thing that keeps me from spiraling down into the salad doldrums this time of year is these pecans.

See, I can get pecans year-round from this wonderful farmer who picks them in the summer and fall and then sits around and shells them in front of the television all winter. He's at the Dale City Farmer's Market this time of year, by the way, if you're local. Get there early if you wants pecans--he always sells out.

And often I just throw pecans in a pan on the stovetop and toast them (carefully since they go from toasted to charred in the space of a few heartbeats), but when we're having company, it's often worth it to go the extra mile and candy them.

Sometimes if I'm feeling extra daring, I'll toss in a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and make sweet and spicy pecans. Though really all that accomplishes is that I eat them all before I can top salads with them.

Then I just throw them on top of salad greens with some dried cranberries and sliced apple or pear, whip up a little vinaigrette in the food processor and suddenly winter salad no longer seems quite so dismal.

Recipe from Taste of Home
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