February 14, 2018

Year of the Dog

Because Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, it isn’t a fixed date. This year’s Chinese New Year begins on Friday, February 16th and lasts for about two weeks. Most cities have some sort of Chinese New Year celebration and it’s a lot of fun to participate. There are twelve zodiac cycles, each represented by an animal, and this year’s is the dog. There are also five element cycles and this year’s is Earth. The Earth Dog is persistent, meticulously attentive, with good fortune in wealth.

Since it’s the Year of the Dog, I thought I’d entertain you with some recent pictures of my sweet little Figue, who continues to delight and entertain me! She has her own Instagram account, where you can follow along with her cuteness.

It is only recently that Figue has decided she loves being under the covers. image

She usually goes in head-first and then I re-arrange her.image

Figue and her Christmas hedgehog.image

My wonderful faux fur blanket from Halcyon House was not chosen to match the dog.image

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much she loves her little critters from ZippyPaws. She has hedgehogs, cardinals, bunnies, squirrels and these pigs.image

Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin)

Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese)

Congratulations & Prosperity (English)

February 2, 2018

Antiques: The Ultimate in Recycling

I am working on an article about antiques, so I have had to really think about the role they play in our world and in my life. When I moved back to the States, I thought I would only be here for a year or so, but twelve years later, clearly that didn’t happen. I needed to furnish a house from scratch, as I couldn’t imaging living in an empty house. I started haunting antique shops, junk shops, yard sales, auctions and thrift shops in the hope that I could cobble together a decent living situation. image

What I didn’t want to do is go to Ikea, Pottery Barn or somewhere similar and buy a house’s worth of furniture. I knew it would not be the best use of resources in any sense of the word. If I did move within a year, I’d have things that I could sell at a reasonable percentage of what I paid for them, and if I stayed, I’d have pretty decent things that I hadn’t paid an arm and a leg for.

Slowly, over the course of a year, I found pieces I liked, starting with an almost brand new Ethan Allan sofa that someone who lived in a smaller row-house than mine, couldn’t fit through their front door. imageThis is the sofa that I ended up making a slip-cover for… a year after I learned how to sew! That’s Connor in front.image

Then I found an old steel barrister’s book case, and decided it was the perfect place to put my sweaters. image

An old dresser from my mother’s house, and an inexpensive mirror from a yard sale were what I needed to fill a corner.image

When I think about the things in my house now, very few of the furnishings are brand new. image

I like being surrounded by the stories of the items that I collect – after all, you’re really not going to have a story to tell about going to CB2… I can’t imagine living in a brand new house, surrounded by all new furniture. Or even having a new dog! But that’s probably because of the way I was brought up, and that’s my sensibility. What’s yours?

January 22, 2018

Shanghai Tang

When I had the Financial Times delivered on Saturday mornings, one of the things I loved reading was Sir David Tang’s Agony Uncle column. It was snarky, funny, intelligent and insightful. I also knew Sir David from his late, lamented shop, an outpost of which was in New York, called Shanghai Tang. It, along with Takashmaya, were two places I always visited in NYC.image

Sadly, Sir David died at age 63 last summer, and next week, Christie’s in London is auctioning off his possessions. Although there are fewer than 300 lots, their diversity represents Sir David’s broad world view and creativity, shown in his shops and restaurants. He was a well-known collector, and this auction features everything from artworks by Tracey Emin and Noel Coward, to fine china, furniture, and gorgeous pieces from Sir David’s quirky wardrobe.

Here are a few of my favourites.

Who doesn’t want an 87 inch leather Chesterfield sofa? image

Or this George, III Mahogany Exercise Chair. Apparently the cushions are spring, so maybe you bounce?image

Cartier silver-gilt pill box with Prince of Wales Feathersimage

Nothing says Victorian excess like a silver egg timer by Garrard.image

Lots and lots of luggage in one lot. Starting bid is just $1300!image

Wonderful picture frames.image

Diagonal Cartier watch. image

Tracey Emin piece on a linen napkin. Not a big fan of hers, but I actually like this one.image

Set of 20 silvered Louis XV chairs with green velvet. LOVE these!image

Sketch of David Bowie by Adrian George for the Sunday Timesimage

Partial set of china decorated with a gilt 'LZ' monogram for Luftschiff Zeppelinimage

You can view the entire catalogue here, and there are loads of fun things on offer!

January 18, 2018

Once Upon A Midnight…

In Baltimore, we love our adopted son, Edgar Allan Poe, who lived here on and off, and died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances. Originally, it was thought he died of alcoholism, but the annual Historic Clinico-patholigical Conference (which I attend!), strongly suggested that it was actually rabies, probably from the bite of a diseased rat, that killed Poe. Read about it here.image

Although The Raven is Poe’s most well-known work, there are so many more that. The beautiful poem, Annabelle Lee. The truly scary Tell-Tale Heart. In 1877, one of my ancestors, Eugene Lemoine Didier (otherwise known as Euledie) wrote the first biography of Poe, and for several decades, the family owned a copy of Tamerlane, Poe’s first book of poetry, 50 copies of which were printed when he was 17 years old. (click image for link to the entire book)image

The tiny house on Amity Street in Baltimore where Poe lived, still stands. In fact, I just took a picture of it the other day, and sadly realized that they’re building a massive apartment block directly across the street which will completely overshadow the house. image

Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, and his birth is celebrated in Baltimore. For seven decades, a mysterious figure left a bottle of cognac and three roses as an homage to the writer’s birth. In 2010, the Toaster did not show up and a long tradition ended. As you visit Poe’s grave now, you frequently see roses and pennies laid on the stone as a remembrance.

I have several paintings of Poe’s house by my late cousin, Marie Tiffany, and love that she always painted a female figure or a small black cat into her pictures. I love knowing how little the house has changed over the centuries, and how visitors still come to pay their respects to Poe.image

Oh, the Ravens are our football team and the mascots are Edgar and Allan. image

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe.

January 10, 2018

A Dozen Years

When I returned from the UK a dozen years ago (!), I was working for a friend’s father on a short-term contract, renting a small row-house and trying to figure out what was next.image I needed a little structure in my life, and thought that by writing something each day, researching a topic, and taking photographs, I would be using my time productively. image

Then, as now, I wrote about completely random things – art, architecture, interiors, my life, my dog, food, books, and much more.image Certain themes arose again and again, some continued and some dropped away. (You can check the labels links on the side-bar to see these.) image

I have always tried to present the best parts of life in Baltimore, which doesn’t always get the best press. imageIt’s a beautiful city, in parts, and even in the parts that aren’t filled with big old houses with gorgeous gardens, I can almost always find an interesting building or something at piques my curiousity. image

I hope that you enjoy following along as much as I enjoy sharing my life and my interests with you.image

As always, thank you for reading Pigtown*Design!

January 3, 2018

Hello, 2018!

Please excuse the lack of Christmas and New Years greetings from me, and for my usual round up of the year’s favorites. The flu/cough combination has come down hard on me and many of my friends, and I spent the week between Christmas and New Years flat on my back, with Figue acting as my nursemaid. I must say that she makes an excellent warming pad. image

As you might imagine, my holidays were pretty dreary, but they were bracketed by fun meals with good friends, so that was good.

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When I was looking through my Instagram feed, three images in the past few weeks indicated to me that yes, I do indeed have a “type” that I like – in fireplaces! image



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A little project I am playing with is hunting up some of the early 1900’s public schools in Baltimore. There was a concerted effort to use quality architects for these buildings, and when I found a gorgeous building designed by the architects of my offices, I had to see if there were others. It’s been fun visiting sections of the city where I’ve never been before.

Aside from the completely inappropriate doors, this looks like an English country schoool. Love the copper cupola, too.image

Another set of bad doors, and a good cupola with copper lattice. image

I am really glad they are renovating this instead of tearing it down. image

Here’s another section of it, with Romanesque arches and griffons adorning the walls. image

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I like to have a yearly project, and I think I am going to continue the 2017 project of exploring my hometown. I got hold of the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties and have been working my way through all 5,000 listed properties in Baltimore City alone! I whittled down the list to about 2100 buildings, and will be looking for them over the next year. I hope you will come along with me!image

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Finally, and better late than never, one of my favourite Christmas carols is “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and as I was leaving a party on Christmas eve, these dark and quiet city streets brought the song’s words to mind. image

Happy New Year, too!

December 18, 2017

Last Minute Holiday Shopping Ideas

We are less than a week out from Christmas and if you haven’t already started your shopping yet, you better get a move on it! As a public service, I have a few last minute ideas for your consideration.image

One of my long-time favourite places to get last minute gifts is museum shops! Each and every museum on earth (practically!) has a museum shop generally featuring an array of goods which reflect their mission. Our local historical society has re-purposed an old store-front to use for their shop, which features a selection of consigned goods including old silver and china, and some antique furniture.image

Does your town have a fun and funky shopping street? Baltimore’s Hampden neighbourhood, close to where I live, is four blocks of small independently-owned shops. I love shopping at these little stores because their merchandise is always unique, and I know that my money is staying in the community, and not going off to some mega-corp somewhere else. image

Another great idea, but maybe one that’s too late for this year, is the local craft/maker shows that are so popular. One here in Baltimore, the Holiday Heap o’Craft is held in an old church and is absolutely packed with makers and buyers!image

A very simple gift is a few paper-white narcissus bulbs, along with some stones and a glass container. Garden centers and big box home improvement stores usually have the bulbs and you can pick up glass stones and glass containers from the dollar store. In the depths of January and February, it will be nice to have some blooming flowers!image

Food is always welcome, especially if you make it yourself. Fellow blogger, Pinecones and Acorns, had a great seasonal recipe which I can’t wait to try out. It’s an easy Cranberry-Apple Chutney, which would be beautiful paired with a soft goat cheese and a box of water crackers, bundled on a fun cutting board. Click the link for her recipe. She also has a few other quick and easy last minute food gifts. image

In the past, I’ve made caramels, imagemy father’s lemon curd, image

candied grapefruit peel, image

and puff pastry palmiers or elephant ears from Ina Garten’s recipe. image

Finally, a trip to your local antiques mall or auction house can yield a unique gift or two. I like to pair an great tea-cup and saucer with some elegant teas. image

Or a single plate loaded with some good cookies. image

Or an elegant knife, paired with some exotic cheeses.image

Regardless of what you choose, the main thought is to keep the recipient in mind.