Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank You, Ladies

Reggie and Pompey are beside themselves with pleasure to be the subjects of two posts currently gracing the blogosphere, one by the inestimable Little Augury and the other by Ulla of Model's Own.

Little Augury is a blog that I follow daily, and she is one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking bloggers covering the worlds of design, fashion, art, and beauty that I am aware of.   To be anointed by Little Augury as one of her "Favorite Posts" of 2010 is an honor indeed.

Ulla, of Model's Own, is a delightful presence in the blogosphere, where she shares with her lucky readers a window into her world of high fashion and supreme elegance.  I look forward to opening her posts whenever she graces us with a new one.  Pompey is absolutely thrilled that she adores him, and he looks forward to giving her a kiss when he is lucky enough to meet her one day.

I urge you, Dear Reader, to click on the links to each of their blogs, above.  For, if you haven't come across these ladies yet, Reggie is sure that you will immediately add them to your list of daily "must reads," joining Reggie and their many other fortunate followers.

Thank you, Little Augury and Ulla of Model's Own.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Darlington Boxing Day Blizzard

Reggie is of the old-fashioned school that refers to the day after Christmas as Boxing Day.  With a straight face.  The origins of that term are somewhat shrouded in the mists of time, but the conventional wisdom is that the "box" in Boxing Day refers to the custom in England, in days gone by, of the gentry giving boxes of Christmas leftovers to those less fortunate than they.  At Darlington House, the "box" in Boxing Day more accurately refers to the custom Reggie follows on the day after Christmas of cutting up the myriad cardboard cartons that appear during the holiday and tying them up with twine for recycling.

We had planned a small cocktail party on Boxing Day this year, but Mother Nature made a fool of that idea by delivering a blizzard of heavy snow and perilous driving conditions, and so we wisely canceled the party only an hour before it was scheduled to begin.  By that time we were mostly done with our preparations and had dressed for the party.  So, instead of serving our guests the cheese biscuits and baked ham that I had made that afternoon we consumed a portion of it for our supper.  And rather than drink homemade eggnog, which was on the menu as the House Libation for the party, we downed a couple of martinis each—one needn't be a scintillating conversationalist with one's spouse under such circumstances.  Besides, martinis don't pack the same calorie explosion as eggnog does and so are more helpful in aiding one's post-Christmas slenderization efforts . . .

Our vintage Christmas crèche . . . with a few additions

One of the pleasant side effects of throwing a party is that it spurs one to tidy up the disarray of the house ahead of time, and we had already completed this task by the time our putative guests started phoning in their regrets.  Reggie is rather happy that Darlington House is in better order now than it would have been had the party been canceled earlier, before we had finished our organizing and putting away of things before our guests' arrivals.  Even though it was a disappointment to have to cancel the party, Reggie is pleased to have a tidy, well-ordered Darlington House and a fully stocked kitchen and bar.  Not so bad, really.

A bough-filled Chinese urn in our drawing room

It snowed heavily all night, and I woke this morning to a wintry world outside my bedroom window that reminded me of the scene in Dr. Zhivago where they arrive at their ice-encased country house, "Varyinko," after fleeing Moscow:

Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

We've had almost two feet of snow here in the Hudson River Valley in less than twenty-four hours, and blustery winds are blowing the snow about today in spectacular drifts.  I haven't seen such a storm here in many years, if ever.

The only reason one even considers venturing out of the house in such conditions is to allow dear Pompey a quick constitutional.  As I've written before, Pompey is a cream puff and hates going outside when it is wet or cold.

Thank goodness Pompey's got with the program after all these years, and one no longer need stand in the freezing cold, encouraging a miserable and reluctant pug to do his "business," with the snow swirling about.  Pompey knew exactly what to do this morning, and we came back inside the house pronto!

Pompey happily snugged up in his kitchen bed

Thank Heaven for little miracles . . .

All photos, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Darlington Winter Woodland Christmas Tree

We have a lot of ornaments and decorations to choose from at Darlington House when it comes time to decorate the house in its Christmas finery.  As I have written in earlier posts, Boy and I have been collecting ornaments for as long as we have been together, almost fourteen years.  We probably have several thousand ornaments, both vintage and new.  And we buy more every year.  We pick them up at antiques malls and around and about, at prices ranging anywhere from five cents an ornament (a score) for little balls to twenty dollars or more for a really unusually shaped one.  We always have our eyes out for ornaments in different sizes and shapes.  And we like ornaments that have patina to them, that don't look too shiny or new.

With so many ornaments to choose from in our collection, we decorate the tree every year with a different theme and/or colorway.  Well, when I say "we," I'm actually referring to Boy, since he is the Master of the Christmas Tree at Darlington House.  Reggie is an appreciative cheerleader when it comes to decorating the tree at Christmas, and for decorating the house in general for that matter.  And he's quite happy with that role, as that way he gets to act the part of the client.  And a very satisfied client he is, by the way.  It's really rather nice to have the services of a fancy New York decorator at one's beck and call.

As I've written elsewhere, we take our Christmas color directions from the rooms' decoration.  When we have our tree in our gray-and-white drawing room, as we do some years, we will decorate it with ornaments in silver, blue, pink, and green—taking our inspiration from the pastel colors that are in the English and Chinese ceramics in the room.  When we have the tree in our dining room, as we do this year, we decorate it with gold and green ornaments—taking our cue from the room's gold walls and green wooden venetian blinds.

We buy our trees at a "cut-your-own" tree farm not far from Darlington House.  Boy has more patience than Reggie does in finding the perfect tree to saw down and tie to the top of the Rover.  I'm glad he does, because this year he found us a real beauty, far nicer than the one that Reggie would have settled for if it had been up to him.

This year our Christmas tree's theme is "Winter Woodland," and it is decorated with gold and green ornaments, and glass icicles.  It is also covered with little artificial birds in complementary colors.  Boy really outdid himself this year, I have to say.

Does everyone think their own Christmas tree is the most beautiful one?  Every year I am convinced that our Christmas tree is the most beautiful Christmas tree there is.   I'm always in awe of how lovely our tree is.  Really.

Merry Christmas, Dear Reader.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reggie's Favorite Christmas Music Around the House

Like most people, Reggie enjoys listening to and playing Christmas music this time of year.  He is known to sing along to it—sometimes quite loudly and much to the annoyance of those around him—in the car, while out shopping, and around the house.  Even though he would like to, Reggie is not allowed to start playing Christmas music before the morning of the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, and he is required to stop playing it at midnight on Boxing Day.  He didn't make this rule, but he good naturedly agreed to it and follows along with it in the interest of maintaining matrimonial harmony.

Reggie spent much of his boyhood and adolescence singing in church choirs and secular choruses, and he knows—or at least thinks he can recall—the bass/baritone part to many carols of the season.  He happily sings along at church, at least when he finds himself there, and he is overjoyed to attend parties where carols are sung, where he joins in enthusiastically.  Most of the time this is met with bemused tolerance by those around him, but sometimes not.  Only last week Reggie attended a party where a quartet of caroling singers dressed in period garb out of A Christmas Carol had been engaged to stroll throughout the rooms, entertaining the guests.  They were distinctly not pleased when Reggie tried to join in on their fun by adding his own harmonies at one point.  Ah well, he thought while reaching for another glass of egg nog, at least he wasn't the one walking around in pseudo-Victorian clothing that night.

In any event, today's post is not supposed to be about Reggie, but rather about the music that he plays (some claim endlessly) around the house during the Christmas season.  I've divided it into three categories: contemporary, popular classics, and traditional.  They are all favorites of mine, and are given a lot of airplay at Darlington House this time of year.

The first and newest recording on this list, Let it Snow!, is a short and swell offering from today's King of Swing, Michael Bublé, that is sure to please even the most jaded member of your household.  Man, this guy can sing!

I first learned of the Blenders, an extremely talented a cappella quartet that has been singing together since their college days, from my dear brother Frecky, who sent me Nog, their first Christmas album CD, five or so years ago.  I cannot get enough of the Blenders' gorgeous close harmony singing of carols and standards on this and their other Christmas albums CDs.

I reach for Diana Krall's Christmas Songs when I'm in the mood for something sultry, which she delivers in jazzy spades on this recording.  I usually play it after sundown, as it is best listened to accompanied by a scotch on the rocks.  I mean, look at her!

Moving on from contemporary and into the popular classics, the first on my list is the Carpenters' Christmas Portrait, featuring Karen Carpenter's mellifluous renditions of popular Christmas songs.  I can't help myself—I love this recording!  I play it so often this time of year that if it were an album I'd have worn out the grooves by now.  I'm not surprised the Carpenters were the only "rock band" invited to perform at the Nixon White House, given their wholesome appeal.

If I want to play classic Christmas standards during a party or while decorating the house for the holiday, I put on Croon and Swoon, a compilation of timeless classics by some of the most popular, pre-rock-'n'-roll vocalists of the mid-twentieth century.  You know the ones I mean.  There are two song-packed CDs in this series, and I have both of them.  There's just nothing quite like the velvety sound of Mel Torme singing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" to get me into the Christmas spirit.

Go ahead and laugh at me, but I love this album.  Recorded before he became a parody of himself, Andy Williams is fabulous here.  Did you know that he got his start singing backup in a night club act for Kay Thompson of Eloise at the Plaza fame?  Yes, he did, which attests to his vocal creds, given that Miss Thompson coached some of the best singers of her day, including Judy Garland and Lena Horne.  His rendition of Miss T's "Jingle Bells" arrangement is a knockout.

Now, I know I'm pushing it here with this one, but I play this recording at least a couple of times every Christmas season.  And that's because Miss Doris Day is at her absolute whipped-creamiest on this, her Christmas Album.  But be forewarned: in order to avoid an onset of hyperglycemia do not attempt to listen to this album CD while consuming anything sweet, such as cocoa or cookies.

Moving on from the popular classics and into traditional Christmas music, the first on my list is Pops Christmas Party by the Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Arthur Fiedler.  In addition to orchestrations of holiday standards, it includes beloved music from The Nutcracker and the Pops' iconic rendition of "Sleigh Ride."  What's not to love?

She may have multiple personality disorders, but Miss Kathleen Battle has the voice of an angel from Heaven, and on A Christmas Celebration she sings traditional carols with stunning lyric beauty.  The first time I heard her rendition of "I Wonder as I Wander" it stopped me in my tracks.

Moving on to England and back in time more than a century, A Victorian Christmas is a collection of traditional English carols and music from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Many of the works on this disc are from Sir John Stainer's Carols New and Old, first published in London in 1871.  This is the perfect album CD to play while opening presents on Christmas morning.

Closing out my Christmas-music favorites is a recent recording that I received for supporting the local public radio station I listen to in the country.  A Christmas Festival features the Cambridge Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, accompanied by the organ of the Royal Albert Hall, under the direction of John Rutter.  It is full of traditional English carols, hymns, and music, and is perfect to play on a wintry December afternoon spent wrapping presents.  It's also a good warm-up for the annual Christmas Eve radio broadcast of "The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" service held at King's College, Cambridge, that Reggie makes sure he listens to every year.

So, here you have Reggie's favorite Christmas recordings, and the ones that you would be sure to hear should you find yourself at Darlington House between now and Boxing Day.  I encourage you to add any of these albums CDs recordings downloads to your own collection of Christmas music, as I think you, too, will enjoy listening to them.

Tell me, what are some of your Christmas music favorites?

Photograph of boy choristers courtesy of Getty Images; all album CD covers scanned by Reggie Darling

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Decorating for Christmas: Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Reggie has a bit of a confession to make.  He doesn't always follow his own rules.  At least not to the absolute letter.

Why, in fact, he even allows a bit of red to creep in to his Christmas decorations at Darlington House.

He has a number of German painted wooden Christmas decorations that he puts out some years.

They have bits of painted red decoration on them.

But he draws the line when it comes to ornaments and bows.  He simply will not tolerate any of those in red at Darlington House.  That is a rule that must never be broken.

Hey, wait a second—how did that get in there!

All photographs by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reggie Recommends: Rural Residence

There's a store in the town of Hudson, New York, that Reggie would like to introduce you to, Dear Reader.  It's called Rural Residence, and it is really rather special.

Reggie has been a delighted customer of Rural Residence since it opened in 1999.  It is the type of store that Reggie seeks to frequent when he patronizes retail establishments.  And that is because it is an independent, locally owned business, where the contents reflect the creative mercantile flair of its owner, rather than the focus-group-affirmed offerings found in national retail chains.

Rural Residence is the brainchild and creative offspring of its founder and owner, Tim Dunleavy.  Tim, who worked in the fashion industry before opening Rural Residence, can be found at the store most days of the week manning the counter and greeting his customers.  That is when he isn't sourcing Rural Residence's marvelous offerings from myriad suppliers or pursuing his other great love, historic preservation.

Rural Residence is an old-fashioned emporium, full of wonderful and eclectic offerings for the well-appointed country house.  It is a delight to go there because one never knows what one will find amongst its treasures.

It's really a very romantic place.  And by romantic, I mean in the spirit of the Hudson River painters of the mid-nineteenth century.  Rural Residence is a store that celebrates natural beauty and features products that have integrity and authenticity.  It rings true.

Rural Residence stocks an interesting array of reproduction tablewares made by artisans whose work is inspired by nineteenth century examples, including creamware made by Don Carpentier.  The store stocks more modern decorative objects, too, including John Derian's whimsical decoupage ware.

Rural Residence carries interesting and attractive textiles, both for the bed and the table.  It also stocks useful household products that are beautifully utilitarian, including cleaning products from Caldrea, interesting hooks and soap dishes, scissors, handmade brushes, beeswax candles, and more.  In addition, Tim carries paint by Farrow & Ball and reps historical wallpaper from Adelphi Paper Hangings.

Tim displays his wares on antique tables and in antique display cases, and the store has a wonderful feeling of another time.  It is almost as if one steps back in to the nineteenth century when one crosses Rural Residence's threshold.  In addition to selling newly made products, Tim also sells antiques, which he artfully displays throughout the store.  He recently acquired a crystal chandelier that once belonged to the actress Barbara Bel Geddes' mother, who lived in Hudson.  The chandelier hangs in the store, and it is very prettily fitted with deep pink candles for the holidays.  It can be yours, if you like.

Rural Residence stocks an always changing and expertly chosen selection of books on architecture, gardens, decoration, fashion, and the like.  It is also, to the best of my knowledge, the only place to buy World of Interiors in Hudson.  And Tim regularly features book signings by noteworthy authors.  He recently had one for Duane Hampton, who came to sign copies of her recently published book on her husband, the decorator Mark Hampton.  In addition to book signings, Rural Residence occasionally features other interesting presenters.  Back in 2001 Tim hosted a trunk show of his friend, Thom Browne, which was a great success.

Rural Residence is beautifully decorated for Christmas this year.  Tim has worked with Wenonah Webster, a floral designer, for the last half a dozen years in decorating the store for the holidays.  This year she did a particularly marvelous job, using dried vines and leaves, little artificial owls, and live blush-pink poinsettias.  It really is quite magical.  In fact, it was the Christmas decorations at Rural Residence that prompted Reggie to write this post.  He wanted to share them with you, Dear Reader, as an example of what is possible in the hands of a creative, inspired, independent retailer—in stark contrast to what one sees in the shopping malls.  That is if one, unlike Reggie, were to venture in such places at this time of year.

But Rural Residence is a worthy destination throughout the year, and not just at Christmastime.  We make a point of stopping in whenever we visit Hudson, as the store's inventories are constantly evolving.  We know that we can always find something that strikes our fancy there or that we will find useful to have at Darlington House.  We buy our soaps and towels and grooming supplies there, as Tim has several attractive lines in stock to select from.

Rural Residence always carries a marvelous selection of seasonal cards, gift tags, wrapping papers, and labels.  It is difficult to choose among them, they are so attractive.

In years past Tim has published a small catalogue of Rural Residence's offerings at Christmastime.  The catalogues are really quite delightful, and Reggie has saved each of them.  Tim has worked with a number of talented artists and photographers on his catalogues, including Robert Clyde Anderson one year and the Messers McDermott & McGough another.  The texts are charmingly written in a quaint, old-fashioned manner by James Corbett.

Rural Residence stocks offerings covering a broad range of price points, and there is always something to be had there that one can come away with without doing too much damage to one's pocket book.

Rural Residence is a magical shopping experience, made all the more marvelous by actually visiting and seeing it in person.  The website isn't yet featuring the store's offerings, but it is expected to be fully up and running sometime this spring.  If the store's catalogues are any indication, then Rural Residence's website is sure to be a pleasing and creative means of shopping its wares on-line.

For those of you who haven't been to Hudson, New York, yet, it is well worth the trip.  In addition to Rural Residence—which is worth the trip alone—Hudson has lots of other interesting stores to visit, a number of excellent restaurants, and a thriving arts and music scene.  It is a convenient two-hour train ride from New York City, and the journey along the banks of the mighty Hudson River is one of the most scenic train rides in the country.  Be sure to sit on the western side of the train car, as that is where you'll get the best view of the passing scenery.

I encourage you, Dear Reader, to make a trip to Hudson, New York, and to stop in at Rural Residence.  I am confident that you will be as delighted by shopping there as I am.

And please tell them that Reggie sent you.

Rural Residence
316 Warren Street
Hudson, New York 12534
(518) 822-1061
Timothy Dunleavy, Proprietor

Please note that Reggie has received nothing in return for this review, nor does he expect to.  He has written it solely for the pleasure of introducing Rural Residence to his readers and for the satisfaction he takes in promoting a small, independently owned business of taste and discrimination.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick
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