Interiors: My All-Time Favorite Abode. For Now.

This place in Madrid, which appeared in one of the most recent issues of Elle Decor, belongs to designer Lorenzo Castillo. This vast apartment is a study in contrasts. Both old world and absolutely modern, packed with objects but streamlined, intimidatingly sophisticated yet comfortable. The more I look at the photographs, the more impressive this feat of cohabiting contrasts seems. This sort of deftness cannot be taught; clearly Castillo has an innate sense of what just works. And the fact that he knows a whole lot about art and antiques doesn’t hurt either. I’m always amazed when designers can apply layers of stuff to an interior without suffocating a room. Read the online article and view the rest of the photos to get a better sense of the space HERE. But really, you should pick up a newsstand copy because reading about Lorenzo Castillo in print is so much better. (shhh! don’t tell my blog I said that!)

Interiors: Our House

For the most recent Stylebook, I thought it would be a good idea to feature my own home and my use of vintage pieces — items found in The Roving Home’s store and some from my own stash. While it feels strange to highlight my own living space before it reaches its more idealized version, it occurred to me that if I wait until this ideal is attained, I will never show a single photo of my house. Besides, I know how much I like to see other people’s interior design choices (I refuse to think of this in terms of voyeurism), so it only seems fair to show my own, especially since I’m always going on about how much vintage pieces add to interiors. And I thought it might be fun to show some of the no-cost approach we’ve taken toward the more generic aspects of our house, all while we wait for that glorious day when we can hurl money around like Reality TV stars and design the space to our specifications.

The following photographs are all by Esther Mathieu, whose use of natural light in interior shots is no small achievement. (Thank you Esther!)

Living room with vintage library table, school map and chinoiserie lamp & painted sideboard.

I love this antique black library table, which has heavy carved feet in the shape of lion’s paws (not shown). The painted sideboard is a mess of a piece which I bought when it was still a bit waterlogged from The White Elephant Outlet in Essex, Mass, where the owner leaves a good amount of his inventory out in the rain and snow for some unknown reason. The piece has great and unusual lines, tall and narrow, and it’s very useful too, with four drawers for linens and dishware as well as several shelves. The painted design was intended to be a stopgap — I’ve always meant to paint it something more dramatic, maybe just a solid red, but in typical fashion I’ve have never gotten around to it. The school map in the background is huge with a great depth of color. I just listed the map in our online shop recently but it doesn’t have quite the same impact in the store’s photographs that it conveys in real life. It is most definitely a conversation piece.

Living room with cabinet of curiosities.

I bought the painting sitting on the small black chair from the artist Gary Lavarack who showed up at a sad little craft fair in Rockport one summer with a bunch of his work. The paintings were shockingly good, especially in light of the prices he was asking for them. He disappeared from Rockport just as quickly as he showed up and after a few unsuccessful summers of attending the Craft Fair again in the hopes of finding him, I finally had the bright idea to google him (oh google! how much more mysterious the world was before you became a part of our lives!). It turns out that he has had an illustrious career in the movie industry, in visual effects no less. Apparently he’s off making movies and far too busy to sit for a day in downtown Rockport at an old-school (and not in a good way) Craft Fair, surrounded by woven potholders and handmade contact paper bookmarks. So if you want to buy a really good painting from a non-starving artist, you’ll have to track him down online. I am very happy that I was lucky enough to encounter him in person, as I love my painting in its ten-dollar flea market frame with its Hopper-esque depiction of a farmhouse in Maine.

The cabinet of curiosities is actually a custom-made store display cabinet from the 19th century. I bought it to sell in my store but have never really wanted to part with it. I’m glad I gave in to the urge to keep it.

living room with black & white images

This Moroccan-inspired side table is another piece that I keep thinking I need to paint red. But somehow I never quite move away from my palette of neutrals, as illustrated by my extensive use of black & white in this wall of vintage images. My favorite photograph on this wall is an old one of Rockport’s famous fishing shack, Motif No. 1, taken in the 1930s.

handpainted chinoiserie panel

Chinoiserie handpainted panel. I never get tired of this classic motif, which is a good thing, as I paint these pieces to sell in my shop. The chair is antique with a handpainted faux bois finish. And it cost $5. Which makes me love it even more (Is that bad? To base my affection for my possessions on how little they cost?)

Driftwood over the fireplace.

This driftwood piece over the fireplace is huge and resembles a fish, a wave, or an angel’s wing — depending on eye of the beholder. The old painting depicting a rooftop view of a European village was found in a junk shop in Belgium, when I visited my sister in Antwerp where she lived for several years. I only mention this because it makes it seem like I shop in Belgium regularly, when my actual antiquing route rarely takes me more than 30 miles from my front door. This is the sad reality.

Dining room with vintage light fixture and my great-great grandmother’s table.

This light fixture is another $5 find. Again, I believe this makes me love it even more, pathetically enough. But what this fixture really adds to my life is a touch of streamlined modernism, especially in light of the fact that there is so much old brown stuff in our dining area. I really need to replace our chairs with something more interesting and not-brown. This is on my to-do list. Where it will stay until further notice.

Kitchen with vintage schoolroom clock.

A few years ago we took on a kitchen makeover, or make-under, in a quick attempt to update the space that we spend more time in than any other, it seems. We changed out our dated oak cabinets by removing the upper ones and replacing them with open shelving. Instead of replacing the existing lower cabinets, we just painted them a glossy black (simple to wipe down), after which we pretty much called it a day on this particular remodeling job. The fun part was  adding a few accessories, mostly in avocado & fern green and using hand-blocked dish towels from Dermond Peterson as cafe curtains.

Kitchen table & chalkboard wall.

The ever-present chalkboard wall, which I unapologetically love. It’s useful and fun, lending itself to grocery lists and artistic endeavors in equal measure. Let’s hear it for chalkboard paint, may it never go away entirely, no matter how many hipsters slather it on their walls!

Vintage metal light fixture in upstairs landing

The light fixture is another Moroccan-inspired piece, jazzing up a very boring upstairs landing. The wall color ties into the upstairs bathroom, which can be seen from the stairs.

childrens’ bedroom with vintage painting

I will eventually paint these beds — again, there is far too much brown wood in my life — but for now the color in the room is provided by the aqua accents in the room, most of which are vintage. The blinds are an extremely simple solution to the ever-present window treatment problem: aqua polka dot fabric applied to cheap vinyl roller blinds with spray adhesive. The lampshades are custom-made from images taken from vintage postcards of Rockport that I have in my collection.

childrens’ bedroom

Upstairs bathroom.

The bathroom is, like the kitchen, a no-cost idea for updating generic builder’s features. We painted the golden oak vanity a deep slate grey, changed out the pulls, put up vintage mirrors to replace the giant sheet of mirrored glass, and add a valance made of found wood pieces. Done! The beautiful little seascape is by the artist Karen Tusinski, in shades of grays and greens that perfectly capture the mood here on the rocky New England coast. The vintage oar with the great patina as well as the green glass floats are all from our own shop. The linen hand towel is from my beloved Brahms Mount textile company in Maine.

upstairs bathroom

That’s the tour for now. Of course there’s more to the house — another bedroom, an office, a powder room — but I decided to leave a little mystery to our interiors. And it gives me something to aspire to…someday I will make all of our spaces interesting enough to photograph. And in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that much of the reality of living in our home is successfully edited out of the photos: the sense of scale (small!), the mess in every room (endless!), and the tiny children, who seem to be always hanging around (but they are very, very cute…)

For more vintage pieces and interiors, be sure to check out all three of our 2012 Stylebooks and don’t miss stopping by photographer Esther Mathieu‘s site as well.

Trend Alert: You Had Me at Steampunk

Recently I posed the question on Facebook (the perfect forum for airing random thoughts, among other less savory activities): so what is steampunk? It seems that the term is suddenly everywhere. I had vague associations with the word, if it actually qualifies as a word, which included Johnny Depp and the stylings of Helena Bonham Carter.

Oh look, here they are together in the perfect steampunk union!

Crazy is as crazy does.

I had lots of help with my steampunk confusion. Facebook friends immediately jumped to the rescue, defining steampunk as “futuristic Victorian”. Someone sent me straight to Wikipedia, a sort of steampunk encyclopedia if there ever was one, full of found parts fused together to make something entirely new. The encyclopedia of yesterday reimagined for tomorrow. From Wikipedia:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-airairships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s Analytical engine.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical “steampunk” style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

It turns out that our household is mildly steampunk without even realizing it. For years Mr. Roving Home has been making utilitarian — or not — objects out of found industrial pieces. Old springs, cogs, pulleys, chains, wheels and the occasional bolt are combined with pieces of wood to make everything from pipe holders to lamps. And it turns out that there is a blog for those of us who are both domestic and steampunk-ish. Check it out here for ways to make your surroundings comfortably metallic and a little bit gothic.

The whole steampunk sensation correlates perfectly with the current general sense of nostalgia for those heady days of early mass manufacturing when the machines themselves were crafted by hand — even if you couldn’t say the same about the items manufactured on those machines. Since then manufacturing has increased on a scale and sophistication unimaginable to our predecessors, even Jules Verne. Plastic and all its synthetic fancy brethren may have made our lives incalculably more convenient but at a cost we are only just now beginning to understand. The first sense of unease about modern life and all the stuff we surround ourselves with is an aesthetic sense of unease. We don’t know what’s wrong with the way our homes and the trappings of modern life make us feel, we just know we feel…disconnected. It’s probably no coincidence that, along with the increased interest in steampunk,  the word “authentic” has become a buzzword from Brooklyn to Berkeley. So bring back wood, brick, molded and hammered metal; we don’t want to leave technology behind. We just want to steampunk it, if only to feel human again.

A computer for the new (old) age: from

Identity Crisis


Trends Gone Wild

No matter the decorating mood in which you might find yourself – French-ish, Global Traveler, American Country, Cape Cod Cottagey, Urban Glam – there will always be something for you at Ballard Designs (via the hardworking folks over in Chin-dia). And in these uncertain times, I suppose that’s good to know. But git yer cheap imports now, people, before the Chinese stop artificially suppressing their currency. And won’t the party be over then. (Oh, please, won’t it be over!)