Please Touch, And Please Ask Questions

by Categorized: Antiques, Furniture, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

Strong-HowardAttention, history buffs. The three-year renovation of the Windsor Historical Society‘s Strong-Howard House is complete, and the house re-opens Sunday, Oct. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m., with all tours free that day.

The society took a fresh, more hands-on approach to giving people a sense of how our forebears lived. Rather than fill the house with delicate antiques, the house is furnished with period-appropriate reproductions, many of them created by the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

Here’s my earlier post about that:

And Steve Goode has the story about the re-opening:

Congratulations to Executive Director Christine Ermenc, Curator Christina Vida, Bob Van Dyke and the artisans at the woodworking school, and everyone else involved.

An Aggressive Aquatic Plant Invades The State

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Invasive Species, Plants Date:

HydrillaThis is an alarming development: Hydrilla, a highly invasive species, has been found in Coventry Lake. Invasives displace native plants and can dramatically alter the environment and food chain.

Boaters, in particular, should be on the lookout for Hydrilla and take steps to prevent it from spreading further.

David Moran has the story:

Fall To-Do List: Don’t Forget The CHS Plant Sale

by Categorized: Gardening, Gardens Date:

plant salePerennials to divide, late fall vegetables to get planted, spring bulbs to get in, bird feeders to clean and get ready, garlic to plant, tender plants to move back indoors, apples to harvest (and what an apple year this has been!), dead heads to deadhead, and, of course, leaves to peep… and then to rake.

Etc. etc. etc.

You might have thought you could fall back, but hah! Fall gardening tasks sometimes seem never-ending — and, in fact, they are.

But take a breath. And instead, think of spring ahead.

plant saleYes, the Connecticut Horticultural Society’s Fall Plant Auction & Sale is this Friday, Sept. 25. It’s an excellent chance to stock up on perennials, shrubs, trees, houseplants, gardening books, bulbs and more. And a chance to support the CHS Scholarship Fund.

Admission is free at the sale, held at the Tolland County Agricultural Center, 24 Hyde Ave. in Vernon. Doors open at 4:30 for donations and setup, but the sale itself begins at 7 p.m., and the auction at 7:15.

plant saleThen, back to the garden! There’s still plenty of work to be done…




Glorious, Gorgeous Gardens Galore

by Categorized: Garden Design, Gardening, Gardens, Landscape, Landscape Architecture Date:

IMG_1185For many people, including yours truly, this is the time of year when one’s garden often starts to look, well, rather raggedy around the edges.

So it is hard not to marvel at the great number of private gardens that are still in such spectacular, well-tended shape that they are open to the public this weekend.

The national Garden Conservancy, sponsor of the wonderful Open Days program, is moving toward more in-depth, regional programs, and a slew of gardens are open around the state this weekend.

Visitors are welcome to stop in at as many or few as the schedule permits. Admission to each private garden is $7; free for children 12 and under.

On Saturday, gardens are open in Redding, Weston, Wilton, Meriden, Canton and Glastonbury. The action moves for the most part to Litchfield County on Sunday, with gardens in Roxbury, Bridgewater and several in Washington open for ogling.

The weather should be delightful, and the gardens inspirational. For complete details, including garden descriptions and directions, go to

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek:

Acclaimed potter and photographer Frances Palmer is opening her garden in Weston, pictured above and below, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is especially noted for dahlias and her “Alice in Wonderland” flowers.

CTFF_Palmer_clyde_s_choice_barn_webThen swing over to Pixie Perennials in Wilton, where there will be a plant and local artisans’ sale as well as a beautiful garden to stroll through, pictured below:

CTFF_Pixie Perennials_4_fb


Fashion designer Linda Allard of Ellen Tracy fame is opening her garden, Highmeadows in Washington — pictured below, and featured recently in an article by Tovah Martin in Architectural Digest — on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fashionably designed garden with exquisite sense of color features a pleasing mix that is part formal garden defined by boxwood hedges and part more informal potagere, with fruits, vegetables and flowers. The new woodland garden is said to have been inspired by William Robinson’s 1870 classic, “The Wild Garden.”


And among the other gardens open on Sunday is Maywood Gardens, pictured below, the largest private estate in Litchfield County, with 1,000 acres. It includes a sunken perennial garden protected by 10-foot stone walls, a gazebo garden planted with butterfly- and hummingbird-attracting flowers and shrubs, a rose garden arranged in a French design surrounded by a circle of hemlocks, a woodland path, a heather bed, a white garden, an herb garden, an ornamental kitchen garden, a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse and more. Phew!


Outstanding American Gardens Cover ImageThis special weekend coincides with the release of the Garden Conservancy’s new book, “Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration – 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy” (Abrams).


A Lamp, Dressed To The Nines

by Categorized: Accessories, Antiques, Decorating, Design, Lighting Date:

lamp with red baseSome lamps have all the fun. What might otherwise be a Plain Jane of a light source instead can become the equivalent of eye candy in a couture ensemble, with a beautiful hand-made shade and a distinctive finial.

Designer Susan Schneider of Shandell’s is planning a trunk show called “Paper & Light” next  weekend at Artisan Framing & Gallery in Niantic. And she is inviting people to bring their lamps to the show to have her design a custom-designed shade for it.

I first learned of Susan’s artistry when I wrote a story about the kitchen of novelist Frank Delaney and his wife, writer and marketing maven Diane Meier.

blue and white marble shadesFrank and Diane showed me some wonderful custom lamps that Susan Schneider had made for them — converting such diverse objects as vintage dairy cans into lamps.

I later visited Susan at her studio, when it was in Ivoryton, and saw her creativity in abundance, including lamps made from such eclectic items as car jacks, wallpaper rollers, heating grates and hat racks. Now based in Deep River, she has a profusion of hand-painted and hand-marbled papers, gorgeous remnants of 19th century saris and other fabrics and elaborate trims — all of which she transforms into beautiful shades and other home items, topping finished lamps with one of her dizzying collection of finials — everything from chunks of red jade and malachite to Foo dogs and Feng Shui energy balls.

night lightsEveryone needs a fashion boost from time to time. Treat your lamps to an update.

There’s a reception Friday, Sept. 18, from 5 to 8 p.m., and the show continues Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 20, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Artisan Framing & Gallery is at 293 Main St., Niantic.

For more information, go to


A Decade Of Gorgeous Design Leadership In Hartford

by Categorized: Accessories, Beds And Bedrooms, Decorating, Design, Fabric, Flooring, Furniture, Home Design, Home Products, Remodeling And Renovation, Rugs And Carpets, Upholstery, Wallpaper Date:

DesignSource4Driving along I-84 through Hartford you can’t help but notice the big white wedding cake of a building near the highway in Parkville, at the corner of Park Street and Bartholomew. What you might not know is that for the past decade this former industrial site has housed an interior design paradise that has truly elevated the quality of interior design in Connecticut.

DesignSourceExteriorThis week, DesignSourceCT celebrated its tenth anniversary — 10 years of making exceptional home design products available to interior designers and homeowners in our region.

Founded by Nancy Zwiener and interior designer Richard Ott, DesignSourceCT has upped the knowledge base of area designers and their clients. It has hosted numerous special events and presentations over the years — everything from fabric shows to new collections from luminaries such as Philip Gorrivan and Alexander Julian, workshops on flower arranging by White House floral designer Ruth Loiseau, a seminar by Steve Nobel on how to effectively market and grow one’s interior design business, and educational programs on flooring, rug construction, choosing upholstery, how to work with a designer and more. DesignSourceCT also has sponsored programs for young, aspiring designers, and some of the classes offer designers Continuing Education Units.  designsource-Scott-Kravet-Mcandrews-

DesignSource-Porcelains-WoikeThe core business — housed in 20,000 square feet of elegant, space with high ceilings, massive pillars and floating fabric panels — is a one-stop, to-the-trade destination. It brims with numerous rows of fabric and wallpaper samples, furniture, lamps, drapery hardware, accessories, and many room vignettes to help inspire ideas.

The quality level is top-notch — fabrics and trims by the likes of Scalamandre, Brunschwig & Fils, Thibaut, Schumacher, Old World Weavers, Lee Jofa and Kravet, the kind of high-end products that once were available only to Connecticut residents and their designers willing to make the trek to New York or Boston. DesignSourceCT became a hub of design in the region, with other design-related businesses — lighting, rugs, custom workrooms — clustering in the same building.

DesignSourceCT-HandoutThe past 10 years haven’t been a cakewalk, though. DesignSourceCT expanded with some ancillary businesses within the building at 1429 Park St., including a designer consignment shop called Design Finds and a lamp shop. During the challenging economic days of 2009, the business had to retrench and consolidated back to its core.



These days, DesignSourceCT is increasingly open to retail clients who might not have ever worked with a designer before.

“We haven’t thrown the doors open,”Nancy Zwiener told me this week. People still don’t just wander in and shop around on their own.

Rather, DesignSource has added emphasis on its “designer on call” program, headed up by interior designer Nancy Perkins.

She focuses on smaller projects, sometimes simply helping with a floor plan, guiding a customer through the thousands of options available, perhaps designing just one room.

That of course, often leads to another … and another, once clients gain an understanding of how it all works, and that working with a pro often will save them money in the long run and avoid costly mistakes or problems.

DesignSourceFabrics-Woike“It’s a learning curve,” Nancy Zwiener said. Many people have to overcome a “fear barrier” about working with a professional designer — a trepidation that their own ideas and budget will get lost in the process.

The folks at DesignSourceCT — including the original team of six — celebrated their 10th anniversary this week with ice cream and cookies in that wonderful white layer cake of a building. I’d like to add candles on that cake in their honor! Here’s to many more decades of beautiful, elegant, well-designed success at DesignSourceCT.

DesignSourceCT is at 1429 Park St. in Hartford, 860-951-3145,

Photos, from top:

The original team at DesignSourceCT, still together after 10 years, celebrate this week: From left, Alice Brash; Kathy Leduc-Silver; co-owners Nancy Zwiener and Richard Ott; Nancy Perkins and Linda Graydon (Photo by NANCY SCHOEFFLER)

Scott Kravet presents a fabric show at DesignSourceCT (Photo by MICHAEL McANDREWS).

Chinese porcelains are among the many accessories on display (Photo by JOHN WOIKE).

Room vignettes (Handout).

Fabric and trim designed by Alexander Julian, shown during his presentation at DesignSourceCT for interior designers (Photo by CLOE POISSON).

A few of the numerous racks of fabric samples at DesignSourceCT (Photo by JOHN WOIKE).

Below, Richard Ott and Nancy Zwiener ham it up in 2005, shortly after they opened DesignSourceCT (Photo by SHANA SURECK).

Ott and Zwiener-2005-Sureck





Set The Stage To Sell Your Home Quickly

by Categorized: Decorating, Home Buying, Organization, Real Estate Date:

Cheshire 2 tkitchenB&A1

Wallpaper — turns out that it’s almost always a negative if you’re trying to sell your home.

Ditto too much personality. And, of course, clutter.

Patti Stern of PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating in Cheshire has some very helpful insights about home staging — which often will help you sell your house faster and without having to lower your asking price. Click here for my recent story, with more before and after photos.

(Photos courtesy of PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating)

WethersfieldB&A - DRWethersfieldB&A - LR


From Marlboro Man To Methuselah

by Categorized: Antiques, Art, Collecting, Just Because, Psychology Of Home Date:

In case you missed this…one of the most enjoyable home stories I’ve written.


Peter Walker’s exuberant artistic spirit is evident the instant one steps into the Chester home the veteran actor shares with his partner, Jess Maghan. The walls are chockablock with his own photographs, with posters and playbills from films and plays in which he acted, with animal heads and relics and curiosities. Every surface brims with fascinating objects — antiques, sculptures, boxes, baskets, books, tapestries, farm implements.

If this is chaos, it is highly organized chaos — but it’s not chaos. This is an intensely layered, intensely personal iconography, rich with stories, memories, musings, ideas — not surprising for a man who is an actor, a lyricist, a photographer, a writer, a gardener, a sculptor and, for two years in the late 1950s, the Marlboro Man. The objects in just about any single square foot of space in this house could captivate a visitor for hours. READ MORE AND MORE PHOTOS

Photos by Caryn B. Davis


Vegetal Venom, Poisonous Plants

by Categorized: Books, Botany, Gardens, Just Because, Plants Date:

Ali MarshallAgatha ChristieGardens often are replete with mystery, but murder? Well, yes.

In a very entertaining story, The Financial Times reports on a garden at Torre Abbey in Torquay, England, where the various plant species that Agatha Christie used in her murder mysteries to dispatch hapless victims have been assembled. Torquay is a seaside town on the south coast of England where Christie was born and had a vacation home later in life.

From ricin hidden in fig paste sandwiches to digotoxin, derived from the foxglove plant (which Agatha used to bump off Mrs. Boynton in “Appointment With Death”), the Potent Plants Garden, managed by head gardener Ali Marshall, seems like quite a deadly delight.

FoxgloveClick here for the full story.

Photos via the Financial Times, from top: Ali Marshall, Agatha Christie, foxglove.

‘Contemporary Handwoven Treasures’

by Categorized: Art, Color, Crafts, Design, Fabric, Rugs And Carpets Date:

StormThe Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut opens its juried show today, April 4, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, running through April 26.

Some of the pieces are incredibly innovative, such as Kate Barber’s “Storm,” pictured above, woven in a pleated technique known as “shibori.”

The 68 pieces on display in the biennial show could get creative ideas shuttling back and forth in your own imagination. Sunday, April 18, is a demonstration day, with free admission, and you can try your hand on some of the looms and spinning wheel there.

Here’s my story: Click here.

Photo by Kate Wick / Kate Wick Weavings