Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here's to Next Year . . .

Among the pleasures of this nearly finished year, a number of our dear friends, Boy, and I were also offered a sobering set of private challenges.  We sit here in our kitchen at Darlington House, with the light turning gray outside the windows, and the views to the Catskills blurring, and think fondly of all the people upon whom we depend, who depend on us, and who are connected in meaningful ways with our household and our businesses.

The dawning of a new year is also the dawning of a new day.  Noticing that the one and only potted Amaryllis we have this winter was trumpeting its first blossom, Boy whisked it out to the column upon which sits our sundial and snapped this photograph: a colorful bloom against a fading sky.

Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Leaf for a New Year

We are hurtling toward a new year, so it is time to turn a new leaf.

For many years, Boy has collected early English green feather-edge creamware, circa 1780-1825.  He always has his eye out for pieces of it when we are out and about at shows, auctions, and shoppes.  Several years ago he bought two leaf-form dishes, likely made to hold sweetmeats, to add to his collection.  He found the first—a small and very dearly priced one—at the New York Ceramics Fair.  The next day, at a show at the New York City piers, he carried away an almost identical example for a somewhat lower price.  A collection within a collection, instantly!  The other day, while foraging for vintage ornaments at a decidedly down-market group shoppe, Boy spotted this one, another example of the leaf-form dish:

Our "new" feather-edge sweetmeat dish, ca. 1820

We suspect its plain mold and detailing suggest that it is slightly later than our other two dishes.  The blue in the glaze of the two earlier pearlware examples in our collection is absent, as is the detailed veining, snipped edging, articulated stem, and raised base.  Our newly acquired dish is simply not as finely made or crisply detailed as the other dishes.  Also, it is subtly crazed and slightly discolored.  Because of these deficiencies Boy almost left it behind at the sales desk.  But since he rarely comes across such dishes in his travels, and this one was exceptionally well priced, home it came with us to Darlington House!

The "new" dish, in the foreground,
is not as white as our two finer examples

I hope that our "new" dish will brighten and whiten up nicely once we give it a hydrogen peroxide bath.  However, it wil never be as fine as our other sweetmeat dishes, regardless of its condition.  But so be it.  The dish was a bargain at the price we paid, and it is a happy addition to those already in our possession.

It also lacks the raised base and the sharp edging
of the two finer examples

Tell me, Dear Reader, how do you decide when faced with buying "up" or "down" for your collections?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cheaper By the Dozen

Ornaments, that is . . .

Today, Boxing Day, had us stir crazy for our annual vintage-ornament-hunting pilgrimage to a large bottom-fishing group-shoppe antiques center on the other side of the Hudson River.  While Boy captured an early nineteenth-century green feather-edge creamware tidbit (the subject of another post), we scored some individual glass balls and this much-needed box of twelve chartreuse ornaments.

Originally priced at fifty-nine cents in the last century, it was marked at fifteen dollars today—minus ten percent during the day-after-Christmas sale.  The Coby Glass Products Co., which made the ornaments, was based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, according to the short end of the box.

I ask you, Dear Reader, did you find a Boxing Day bargain today?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What We Didn't Do Last Night . . .

. . . was go to midnight service, despite our best intentions.

And, well, here is what we are doing this morning:

Drinking fortified eggnog . . . and preparing our Christmas midday dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and haricots verts—from recipes of our dear friend Lindaraxa.  

Each Christmas we are the delighted recipients of a potent treat of a secret and time-tested Southern family recipe of eggnog from our dear friends Ted and Betsy Greenwood.  They deliver it to their lucky friends in large Ball Mason jars called "Tednog."  Today we are consuming the "Tednog" in our secret and unexpectedly "retail red" goblets while preparing Christmas dinner.  How is it that we are so lucky to have such darling friends as Ted and Betsy?   How fortuate we are!

Happy Christmas to you, Dear Reader, and to yours from Darlington House!

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Friday, December 23, 2011

Reggie on New York Social Diary Today, Again

Dear Reader, I am pleased as punch to have Reggie's Ten (Little) Rules for Keeping It Together appear today on New York Social Dairy, again.

David Patrick Columbia, the mastermind behind NYSD (along with Jeff Hirsch), published these Rules earlier this year on his marvelous blog (of which I am an avid follower and sometime contributor), and he has re-run them today as one of his year-end collections from the archives of this year's NYSD.

For those of my readers who are not regular readers of NYSD, I urge you to visit it often.  While the party pictures and social histories featured are always lots of fun, DPC also shares with his followers thought-provoking and, at times, moving essays and reflections upon life, growing up, and lessons learned.  As a case in point, I provide you with a link to a recent essay he wrote, titled Christmas as a Kid, about his experience growing up in a household where all was not always jolly during the holidays, but where the Christmas spirit still shone through.  I found it moving, and I believe you will to.

Thank you, DPC!

Image courtesy of NYSD

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree . . .

A number of readers have asked me to post photographs of our decorated Christmas tree at Darlington House.  I am more than happy to oblige, thank you.  I'd been planning on posting pictures of it all along, but I hadn't done so as we only put it up several days ago.  We are not one of those households that immediately gets into the Christmas spirit the day after Thanksgiving.  It takes time for the spirit to build with us.  We usually wait until mid-December, at the earliest, to put up our tree.

This year, we (or should I say Boy, since he is the one solely responsible for decorating the Christmas tree in our house) put up and decorated a pale green, old-fashioned feather tree on one of the serving tables in our dining room.  We bought the tree last week at Treillage, in Manhattan.  I think it is one of the loveliest Christmas trees that Boy has ever done.  And that's saying a lot.

This is the first Christmas that we've not had a "real" tree.  Even though I have an inborn prejudice against artificial trees, I love feather trees, because they are—in part—meant to look artificial; they're not trying to fool anyone that they are a living tree.

Boy has hung the tree with a combination of vintage and new-ish gold, green, silver, and orange ornaments that we've collected over the years.  And, as I described in my recent post I'm Just Wild About Slim, he's also decorated it with dried slices of oranges, a gift to us from fellow blogger Slim Paley.

Boy anchored the tree in a vintage silver-plated ice bucket from one of the great (and long gone) grand hotels.  He has surrounded it with a forest of miniature bottle-brush trees that we bought years ago from the late lamented Martha By Mail, placed on little silver beakers and footed bowls atop a snowy-white linen runner.

It's really rather pretty, don't you think?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Reggie New York Day

While I adore Darlington, I also like taking a break from it every now and then to stay in New York for the weekend.  I particularly enjoy doing so during the winter months, when I happily play tourist in my own city.

This past weekend we decided to do just that.  Rather than rushing up to Darlington House on Friday as we normally do, we stayed in town to take in some shows, eat out, and do some holiday shopping.  On Friday night we (somewhat improbably) attended a rock-n-roll concert performed at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village by a friend and former business colleague of mine.  Although I felt a decided fish out of water at such a venue and event, I had a remarkably good time of it, all things considered.  I congratulated myself that I could even enjoy singing along to "Glory Days" as performed at the conclusion of the evening, despite it being a complete charade on my part in pretending to do so.  All I can say is thank goodness my friend Paul A. was also in the audience and handed me some earplugs at the outset of the show, or my ears would still be ringing as I write this, given the punishing amplification of the evening's entertainment.

The Bitter End: New York's oldest running rock club
Image courtesy of same

Having fulfilled that particular obligation, we crawled back to our apartment with the plan to sleep in the next morning.  We lounged around the apartment for a couple of hours on Saturday morning reading the paper and chatting, and then made our way over to our most adored Swifty's for a leisurely, boozy brunch of the famed restaurant's spot-hitting, delicious, comforting food.

Swifty's was all decked out for the Holidays

Well fortified by doing so, we strolled about the neighborhood afterwards, stopping in at some of our favorite shops nearby, including the exquisite Lexington Gardens, where we always find something pretty and decorative to buy.

Conveniently located next door to Swifty's,
Lexington Gardens is a visual treat and sensory overload

Their windows were particularly festive and fun this year.

I particularly loved this window's
display of nut arrangements

Our next stop was Treillage, one of a number of the inestimable Bunny Williams' retail outposts in the city.

Treillage is just up the street
and full of temptations

Our "real" mission for the day was to attend an exhibition at Hirschl & Adler featuring the works of Duncan Phyfe and his contemporaries, which the gallery had just put up in connection with the Duncan Phyfe show that opened at the Metropolitan Museum yesterday.

The Crown Building at 57th and Fifth,
home of the Hirschl & Adler Galleries

While we were at Hirschl & Adler we spoke with the ever-charming and lovely Elizabeth Feld, who curated the show.  She did a marvelous job of it.  I plan on doing a more detailed review of the exhibition in a future post.

One of the gallery displays at Hirschl & Adler

H&L's galleries have been stunningly arranged for the show by Liz's father, Stuart Feld, who has displayed the furniture, art, and decorative arts on exhibition to its best advantage.  The show is splendid!

Spanierman Gallery sits on a side street across the street
from the Four Seasons Hotel

Afterwards we dropped in at Spanierman Gallery, hoping to meet up with our dear friend Gina (and Boy's representative) there, but learned that she was out that day.

James Robinson sits on the corner of 58th and Park

So we consoled ourselves with a visit to James Robinson, a very dicey proposition indeed.

James Robinson is a rather dangerous store to go into
if one likes pretty and expensive things, as I do

Although we were tempted to buy a set of silver nutcrackers there that Boy admired, we decided against it, since we already have a number of handsome crackers of our own.  And it was a good thing I didn't lose my head and buy the vintage 1950s-era gold, diamond, and sapphire set of studs and links for sale there made by Van Cleef & Arpel that I looked at and admired.  I'm not much for men wearing flashy jewelry, but yours truly would have been quite happy to sport these baubles out one night.  Since they were twenty-eight thousand dollars for the set, though, I was more than happy—sighs permitting—to give them a "pass."

A small selection of temptingly and reasonably priced
cufflinks on display at James Robinson

Not everything at James Robinson is so stratospherically priced, though.  They also have a nice selection of enameled men's cufflinks available at only $295 a pair.

Boy needed to pop in to Karl Kemp on Madison Avenue
to pick up some tearsheets for a client

Our next stop was Karl Kemp Antiques, where Boy showed me a number of pieces he is considering for one of his decorating clients.  It is always such a treat for me to be out with Boy when he visits the Carriage Trade shops, such as Karl Kemp, in his capacity as a decorator to those who have the means and taste to buy from them.

The entry to Ed's Chower House, conveniently located
across from Lincoln Center
Image courtesy of same

After a quick nap back in our apartment to recover from the day's strenuous efforts, we scurried over to the West Side and met up with assorted friends at Ed's Chowder House near Lincoln Center for dinner.  The place was mobbed, but the service was excellent, and the food was too.

The program for the concert we attended

Our reason for meeting up with our friends was to attend a Holiday Jamboree concert at Alice Tully Hall of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the Harvard Krokodiloes, and the Princeton Nassoons, along with a guest appearance by Darren Chris of Glee, where he plays Blaine Anderson, formerly of the Warblers a cappella group.

The Whiffenpoofs assembling on stage

The concert was well-attended, with most of the seats in Alice Tully filled with the type of people you'd expect at such an Ivy League gathering, and those that weren't were occupied with ardent young female admirers of Mr. Criss, who were more than happy to fill the air with their trilling appreciation whenever he spoke or sang.

The Whiffs were joined by Darren Criss, singing
his hit cover of Katy Perry's Teenage Dream

It was a delightful concert and a lovely way to cap off a most pleasant day and evening of what New York offers best—fun, food, shopping, and entertainment.  The contrasts between the concerts we attended at The Bitter End on Friday and at Alice Tully Hall on Saturday were not lost on either me or Boy.  Nor did they detract from the pleasure we took in them individually, I might add.  Variety is, indeed, the spice of life, Dear Reader.

I had an absolutely lovely time.

Only in New York, kids, only in New York!

Unless noted, all photographs taken by Boy Fenwick on his iPhone

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Just Wild About Slim

One of my favorite bloggers in the lifestyle sphere where I bobble about is Slim Paley, whose blog of her fabulous and über-stylish life in and about Santa Barbara, Sun Valley, and other swell environs is a "must read" of mine.  She's marvelously funny, wickedly smart, intensely visual, and takes the most gorgeous photographs of flowers, fashion, and interiors, many of her own, that she shares with us, her most fortunate followers.  She's a dynamo!

A week ago Ms. Paley posted a series of photos of her Christmas tree, in which she showed that she had decorated it with, among other things, the most beautiful dried slices of oranges imaginable.  The moment I saw Slim's Christmas orange slices I was filled with longing to have some for myself.  Well, not actually longing, Dear Reader, but rather lust.  I left a comment that indicated a certain degree of my covetousness.  Yes, Reggie admits that he is not immune to one or two of the Seven Deadly Sins from time to time.  He is mortal, after all.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I received a brown-paper package shortly thereafter from Lady Paley containing her gift of several dozen of said orange slices.  Not only was the package prettily and cleverly wrapped, but what it contained was as precious as jewels!

Within but a blink of an eye of my opening the package, Boy began hanging the orange slices on our Christmas tree at Darlington House.  He was already well underway placing the vintage (and some new-ish) glass gold, silver, and green ornaments that he had chosen as his color scheme this year.  What timing!  Boy darted to the basement and retrieved his small rare stash or orange glass ornaments to complete the new palette.

What had originally been conceived of as a Winter Woodland Christmas tree at Darlington House was now transformed into a citrusy shimmer of gold, green, silver, and orange.

I am beside myself with joy.

Thank you, dear Slim Paley.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boy Makes a Wreath, Again

This past weekend saw a proliferation of Christmas decorations in the town where we live in the Hudson River Valley.  By Saturday evening almost every house in the village had put up Christmas lights, and garlands, and wreaths.  Except ours, that is.

One of the boxwood shrubs
on our property at Darlington

We've been rather preoccupied with other things this season at Darlington House.  Unlike our neighbors, we haven't (yet) put up lights outside or raised (yet alone even cut and bought) a Christmas tree.  We have put out a footed bowl of vintage ornaments, but so far that's it.

Boy Fenwick, preparing to harvest boxwood
for our Christmas wreath

On Sunday, Boy decided that something must be done, and took matters into his own hands to raise the Christmas Spirit at our house.  Just as he did so two years ago, Boy decided to make a wreath from the evergreens on our property for our front door.

Little bundles of boxwood
ready for attaching to the wreath form

He cut sprigs of boxwood from one of the hedges, bound them in little bundles with floral wire, and fastened them to a wreath form that was left over from a previous Christmas.

The finished wreath in our gardening barn,
ready to hang on our front door

That little bulldog head you see on the wall above the completed wreath?  That's a cast-iron bottle opener in the form of a bulldog's face, puchased in honor of my alma mater, Yale.  Boola-boola!

The freshly made boxwood wreath,
hanging on our front door

What a pretty wreath Boy has made for our front door at Darlington House this year!  We're going to leave it just as it is, with narry a ribbon or ornament upon it.

We like its unadorned simplicity, naturalness, and purity.

Merry Christmas, Dear Reader.

Photographs by Reggie Darling and Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reggie Recommends: Agraria's Bitter Orange Potpourri

I'm not, in general, a fan of potpourri.  Most of what is available today is vile, made of things like artificial peach scented cedar shavings.  No wonder it has such a bad reputation.

One of our Chinese export punch bowls, ca. 1800,
filled with Bitter Orange potpourri

However, there is one potpourri out there that I love, and which I make a point of buying every year when the weather turns cold and the heating season begins.  It is called Bitter Orange, and it is made by a company called Agraria.  I recommend it to you, Dear Reader.

It is the most marvelous potpourri there is.

Agraria makes its Bitter Orange potpourri in small batches of fragrant dried flowers and orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, lavender, natural oils, and other exotic organic ingredients.  Bitter Orange is lovely—citrusy, floral, spicy, and woodsy.  I fill an antique Chinese export bowl with it every year at this time and place it in our drawing room at Darlington House, where its scent deliciously pervades the room.

I first learned of Bitter Orange back in the early 1980s, shortly after it became available in New York.  I vividly recall my introduction to it, in the living room of a large apartment on the Upper East Side that belonged to the parents of a classmate of mine from Yale.  I remember sitting in a chair in the room and wondering "What is that marvelous scent, and where is it coming from?" and my then delight in learning that it was a potpourri called Bitter Orange from a small company named Agraria, based in San Francisco.  The mother of my friend had just bought it at Henri Bendel, the only store in the city that stocked it at the time, and she was quite pleased with herself for having done so.

A freshly opened box of Bitter Orange,
revealing the treasures inside

At the time I had never seen or smelled potpourri before.  It seemed rarified and exquisite to me, and I was entranced by it.  This was long before potpourri had become a degraded mass-market commodity found in every gift-shoppe, drug store, and big box retailer in America.  It was very special, then.  Bitter Orange created a sensation in New York when it was introduced to the city in the mid-1970s, where it became known as "the Park Avenue potpourri," as it was immediately popular among the city's uptown smart set.

I had to have it.  I went to Bendels at the next opportunity I had and bought myself a box of it.  I was shocked at how expensive it was, but that didn't deter me.  I simply had to have it.

And I've been buying it ever since.

Agraria's handsome box
for its Bittersweet potpourri

Agraria's Bitter Orange has spawned many imitators over the years, but none have succeeded in replicating its signature scent or quality.  It is unique.  Bitter Orange was the foundation of Agraria's subsequent success, and today the company's products are widely distributed, a testament to its vision and the integrity of its offerings.  I'm pleased that they have been so successful.

If you are not already a fan of Agraria's Bitter Orange potpourri, Dear Reader, I recommend that you get some, because I trust that you will love it, as I do.  But be forewarned: it is addicting.

Agraria's website can be found here.

Please note: Reggie has received nothing from Agraria for making this recommendation, nor does he expect to do so.  He is recommending Bitter Orange potpourri to his readers for the sole purpose of providing them with pleasure, his goal in writing this blog.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Prismatic Morning at Darlington House

This morning I walked through the dining room at Darlington House and nearly tripped over two rays of refracted color on the floor.

No, Dear Reader, a little elf hadn't painted them on the carpet during the night.

The source of the rays was sunlight refracted by crystal prisms hanging on a pair of antique gilt-bronze girandoles standing on either end of the mantel in the room.  We bought our girandoles many years ago from Charles & Rebekah Clark, dealers of American classical furniture, lighting, and decorative arts.  The Clarks feature numerous examples of similar girandoles on their website.

Before owning girandoles, I had always assumed that the purpose of their crystals—other  than being decorative—was to reflect candlelight at night.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they also throw refracted rays of color when hit by sunlight during the day.

There were splashes of color scattered all about our dining room this morning.  They are one of the pleasures at Darlington House when the sun travels far enough south during the late autumn and into the winter months such that its light streams through the front windows and creates a play of rays through the girandoles' crystals.

But, like all rays, they are ephemeral and momentary, and just as quickly as they form, they vanish!
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