I Dream in Technicolor

When the weather gets worse and the mood strikes low, my mind drifts to images of impossibly beautiful places. This post is dedicated to those visions that have served me so well in letting me relax, think of good things only and revel in the wonders of life. I find that the common threads which attract me to the images are simplicity in colors, single mindedness in theme and calmness in composition. I love imagining myself inside them, savoring the weather, the light quality and the soothing impact. How therapeutic, how lounge-lazy is that? The most obvious theme would be nature. Nature brings us back to our inner instincts of self preservation. Images of immaculate natural settings do wonders to spearhead movements to save the earth. The following are my dreamscapes…

Trees- Save a tree

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Actually, while we are at it, we should save the forest- why stop at a tree.

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After the trees come the waterways. I am always attracted to waterfalls with its epic power, silent swishing and constancy. Their loneliness seems to permeate their surrounding  and accentuate their majestic existence.

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d8c477c5f5354fc22b6137a3b5aed199Beyond waterfalls, there are caves. One chances upon a cave as one opens a surprise gift. Caves are nature’s gift boxes. Handle them with care!

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312b8f5aaf7f7e624315f59868f68c2f 820d62ef8e58d513e9e93913ad628983 Rocks. Rocks are not that hardy. They can erode, people can blow them up in quarries. We have to got to see them before they no longer grace our earth. fdfc62b3b80fcc6b70deff68ca2bd386 0c3125b38b1b4db9edb47341a11004cf 0ba5a6abf7ded45e40c9ca2fe1411695 c4b10e4afae25d6547aaad8655ae2ba4 a790fdacec8094b31b52a64ac9267fb9 e4d5864bfb7836a18cb0a963a3f44d8d d5d539e137c2a0b37a989d5e9f099f28 da6c969b92eb862674fb8ed16c247f77 We must not forget how seasons affect our landscapes and really appreciate the various caprices they offer. GDT Nature Photographer of the Year 2013 7506b997a74a4cb015a0bac0a8a46802 4b8a1985b82f533961e5c69294b5950f

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To travel  in one’s mind: perchance to dream- ay, there’s a rub…

Click on photos for sources.

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Pooling for a Swim

Pools make the best statement for a property.  Pools command views and set the mood for one’s backyard.  Does one go simple in the traditional rectangular shape for pools? Does one take on the natural shapes of ponds? So many options- to make the strong statement or to let nature take over and blend the pool in its garden surround.

For such an important decision, designing pools is a serious business. First and foremost, the shape of the pool has to be decided. Rectangular Pools – My favorite shape because of its simplicity. The promising freshness of the pool water is best contained in the simplest shape.

Organic shaped pools – When the edge of the pool is not well defined, the pool lends itself well to an organic shape. These shapes, sometimes quite random in its configuration, blends into the natural forms of their surrounding borders.

Curved edge pools.  They add interests but are not great for swimming laps…

A pool with a view – a fail safe solution. It enhances the view and it bridges the house with the view beyond by bringing the view closer in the pool’s reflection.

Pool within walls –  When a little privacy is needed or when the view beyond is not that worthwhile, walls with texture would define the pool enclosure and create its own world.

Lap pools – In their elegant elongated forms, they speak of leisurely pace and lazy languor. They stretch…

Edges of Pools – Some pools benefit from a well defined, thick slab edge.  Some want to mimic a beach approach or a rocky pebbly shore.

Some pools like to be surrounded by ruins. Mystery pools can be quite enchanting.

Glass pool edges can be quite scary.

Waterfalls feeding water into a pool.  Combining ponds and pools – Great when higher grounds abut the pool.

Geometric walkways and edges.

Ponds – When we just want an excuse to have a water feature in our yard and swimming is not necessary.

When to have an infinity edge? when there is a view and a drop.

Pool styling per house style- Traditional homes are best served with rectangular pools.

Pools in Greek towns can be just about any shape. We don’t care, just get us there.

Pools for modern homes. As long as the edges are sharp…

And one shall always endeavor to make one’s pool as dreamy as possible…

The moor’s last “sight”…

The borderless pool…

Too cool a pool…

Camping is not quite that rough when you have this:

Wish list for a French Style Home

I came across a few clients in the San Jose area who wish for a French style home. What is it that makes that je ne sais quoi French? This post is my own list of aspects of a French home, exterior and interior, that are so endearing.

The dormers and the steep roof with flat top.  Any French house worth their sel would have dormers against a beautiful slate roof. This is because the top floor is a habitable attic and a very liveable attic needs a steep roof for decent headroom. Think of Nicole Kidman’s pied a terre in Moulin Rouge.


The regularity of windows. It’s time for restraints. I find that the uniformity in window shapes and sizes – at least within the same story- adds to the elegant rhythm found in these French manors.

Stone trims.  The quoins and stone casings around the openings make up the typical adornments.

The Tower. A remnant of castle architectural features. Towers are a good tool to create interest among the uniform spread of windows.

The foyer.  Now that we manage to pay attention to the interiors, the first room that greets us is the foyer with its obligatory signature stairs.  The guardrail is almost always wrought iron or bronze and the flooring stone usually  sports a checker board or diamond pattern while a nice lantern graces the room.

The parquet floor comes next.  Parquet also presents us with a wide variety of patterns. The wood itself could be quite polished or extremely worn out depending on the degree of formality in the use of the room.

The tiled floor.  Pavers and stone, especially limestone, are quite popular in a French home since France is home to quite a selection of limestone quarries. Limestone is durable, looks great even when worn down, and though not quite stain resistant, can be ground down to a new clean surface when needed.  One finds limestone floors in kitchen and dining room besides the foyer.

Boiserie. The French takes the art of wood paneling to the highest level of detailing in the molded panels, the appliques, the drops, how they intersect and weave themselves into the openings of the room.  An antiqued or glazed  finish makes the paneling even more precious.  When painted all in one color, the paneling becomes textures on the wall and not just patterns of molding.

The interior door.  I love French interior doors.  They are most gracious and delicate looking.  They bring so much to the room. They take on very nice geometries and give us more interest in what lays beyond.

 

French kitchen.  This is the altar to French cuisine.  One must not design kitchen for art’s sake but for food’s sake.  Open shelves or pot racks serve toward efficiency in retrieving the pots and pans.  A work table for baking, food preps and assembling the dish is a must.  A kitchen looking too pristine won’t look right for a seasoned cook.   A hood enclosure similar to that of a fireplace is usually the answer above a good range.

The stone fireplace.  There seem to be two general looks for fireplaces.  The curved front or the bracketed mantel.  The curved front mantel is usually found in more formal rooms such as the living room while the other one goes to family rooms, eat-in kitchens etc…


The curves in furniture.  French curves take on new meanings when found inside a French house.  We have already seen them on doors.  We also find them in abundance in pieces of furniture like hutches, armoires and vanities.

The faded colors.  Antiqued and glazed finishes lend themselves to the sense of the old and the familiar.  Grey green, steel blue, washed grey, dusty roses and pale yellows. Go for those and never be found wanting again.

The bath. Despite rumors of bath scarcities in French homes, baths focus on the tub as their main feature. The tub tells all.

The stone patio with plant containers.  The plant containers work as little herb pockets, they work in small and large gardens alike,  and orange and lemon trees are content in them. Parisian rooftops are seldom without them.

The garden gateway.  They tempt us with a little glimpse of the promises beyond.  They tease us by showing us only half of what is to come.  They are simple in design, their motives obvious, and their rustiness convince us of their timelessness.

The topiaries.  Such precision, such whimsical representations.  A gardener with wit is the one to keep.

The rectangular pool flanked by marching rows of pots.  I can’t think of a more alluring shape for a pool.  It speaks of languorousness and it slows time.

The most difficult problem in creating a French house is the site.  One cannot invent an entire setting.  One can only wish for it…

And then, there is that little chateaux fit for a royal mistress…

Photos source: click on images for links to sources.

A Matter of Follies

Any large garden worth its salt should have a folly.  What’s the point of having acres and acres of land and not surprising visitors with a daft focal point to inspire secret rendez vous, amusing assignations or simply yearnings for a peaceful retreat?  An unending vista is not the same without an object in the midst of it to give a sense of scale, destination and most of all, a feeling of how small we are in the scheme of things. Needless to say, follies are, by their nature, romantic.  They are themselves lonely creatures but serve to transport us to another realm beyond our cognitive world.

It’s no wonder that a lot of follies are Gothic in style.  One could quite well imagine Jane Eyre stumbling onto a Gothic ruin to find her Mr Rochester, always so pensive and brooding.

Medieval ruins. How they pop up everywhere…

The folly towers. They are the most popular forms of follies.

As possible places for meditation, follies in the form of temples are quite common. Greek colonnades and rotunda forms appear quite regularly in the British landscape.

The lone structure with an excuse to be whimsical. The Chinese theme.  If one were meant to be carried away, why not all the way to China? or someone’s dreamland?

Architecturally, follies are opportunities for quite a variety of roof shapes and miniature castles.

The gardener’s cottage or garden shed as a folly. The dead give away is that usually, these sheds don’t stand in the middle of a vista but rather are tucked away from view.

If we were to ignore the non functional aspect of a folly and keep to a small structure in a garden, we could extend to many other forms of a folly. After all, the old follies in English manors were also used as hunting lodges. The old follies weren’t all quite that useless. It could be a one room cottage tucked in a profusion of foliage…

A dovecote or pigeonnier can be included in the category of loose definition of a folly.

The visual quenching one gets from a teahouse or pavilion is akin to that from a lonely folly in the middle miles of greeneries or volumes of water.

Reflecting follies.  One couldn’t come up with a more romantic scene than a folly seeing its own lonely reflection on a pond. Sigh sigh sigh…

The modern follies will work if they still carry the allure of romance about them.

And then who needs a folly when we have Mr Darcy walking up toward us from a swim on an overwhelmingly hot summer’s day?  That’s when the entire population of Jane Austen fans would give up their favorite bonnet to be in the shoes of Elizabeth Bennet.  Pemberley never had a finer folly…

Photos: click on images for links to their sources.

An Afternoon in Longwood Gardens

I had a chance to go to Pennsylvania to visit Longwood Gardens at the end of October.  This extensive property was originally purchased by William Penn in 1700.  Subsequent owners have transformed it into one of the most important botanical gardens of the world. The most impressive feature of the garden has to be the conservatory of 20 garden rooms and 5,500 plants which graces the 1,050 acres land stretching as far as the eye can see and as nostalgic as your heart feels on a cloudy day.  On the day that I was there, the conservatory was adorned by chrysanthemums of all species.  Some were trained to bloom in an umbrella frame where each opening sported a flower. This “Thousand Bloom” training technique takes 15 to 18 months to achieve the dome shaped chrysanthemum showing off its 991 blooms in unison – the largest Thousand Bloom chrysanthemum in America!
There are many fountains and shallow ponds within the conservatory – each with its own distinct foliage encircling it.  The Orangerie has its exhibit of Thousand Blooms while the Exhibition Hall sports a large reflecting pool that will make anyone envious of any caretaker allowed to walk into that pool, to be surrounded by a myriad of criss crossing framework above and interlacing blooms and plants all around. The special exhibit was perfume and fragrance. There was a little desk where you can mix your own perfume which is quite fun. My true test came through when I picked jasmine, musk and citrus as my favorite combination only to find out later that my once preferred Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete contains jasmine and musk. There was also a display of beautiful perfume bottles ranging from exquisite Art Deco Lalique’s to classics such as Shalimar and Chanel to more modern ones such as Jean Paul Gaultier’s female bust bottle. The conservatory lets us meander in and out of its courts and I happened to walk out onto the water lily ponds and marveled at the beauty of the large floating water platters with the occasional blooms. The zen of a lotus pond is in the effortlessness of the leaves and the purity of the lotus petals. Nothing  could seem more tranquil. One of the excitements for me in walking through the conservatory was seeing the combination of plants and their artful juxtapositions. One can definitely appreciate the intent of a good landscape designer when he or she “painted with plants”. Of course, no self respecting conservatory would do without an orchid room. The orchids are perfect, the varieties abundant and the visitors entranced. Outside the conservatory is the fountain garden designed in a classical plan. One can see the intent of the garden and enjoy the generosity of space it offers. Sometimes a large lawn does invite lingering. The topiary garden nearby is whimsical with its bird, fish and fun shape motifs. Nature molded by human hands does take on more character when imbued with wit and humor.

On the way out, I glanced back and captured the bridge with the fall foliage framing it. I congratulated its landscape architect and came home content to have witnessed such perfect symbiosis between nature and the human mind. If only we work that way everywhere else…

Photos: Orchid House photo via tripadvisor.com, Topiary photo via longwoodgardens.org, others by author.