Back in March, I was invited to participate in Rooms with a View, an annual fundraising event started many years ago by the interior design icon Albert Hadley. According to the design brief, I was to create a “room” that was an interpretation of this year’s theme: A few of my favorite things. As most of you know, my favorite things are almost always vintage things I’ve scavenged from flea markets or rescued from giveaway bins. So, taking a cue from the legendary Mr. Hadley himself, I was inspired to create a room of cast-offs that had been recast into something else entirely. And to realize my vision, I enlisted the help of a dear friend and brilliant illustrator—Patricia van Essche of pve design. (Remember the watercolor she gave Jaithan and me as a housewarming gift?) The idea for this piece was that I would scour flea markets for the “cast-offs” and describe to Patricia how I wanted them to be “recast.” Then she would bring the room to life in one of her amazing illustrations.
We started at Braswell Galleries, an antique warehouse in Norwalk, CT, where you can find just about anything. I was drawn to pieces with interesting details—the bamboo texture on the lamp, the handles on the coffee table, the unique arms on the occasional chairs. I also wanted to mix different styles, materials, time periods, shapes, and heights—so long as there was a method to the madness. At first glance, you probably see a little more madness than method…
But then, right there in the store, we arranged the room that would be the basis for Patricia’s drawing. I love how each of these pieces stands on its own, yet play well with others. The armchairs are similar but not a pair, so the look feels harmonious without being matchy. The clean lines of the coffee table mimic those of the Danish modern sofa, and the sizes and proportions feel balanced. But while the arrangement is certainly less chaotic than it was at first glance, it is not yet totally cohesive.
In Patricia’s first rendering, you can see all the major pieces, but we haven’t yet gotten to the fun part— coloring in the lines! In my experience, color has such incredible power to unify disparate pieces to create an overall cohesive look.
Here's what inspired the color scheme for my room. It's a vintage curtain panel, also from Braswell's. I wanted to pull out the vibrant blues and reds of the Chinoiserie-style bird while grounding the overall look in the neutral background colors.
To furnish the room, we began with the sofa. This Danish modern piece I loved for its clean lines, but the upholstery felt outdated. I would first have new cushions made—a single back cushion and a single seat cushion—then reupholster it in durable, natural-colored linen. Since a sofa is such a significant piece of furniture, you can never go wrong with neutral upholstery—it mixes well with more colorful pieces and never goes out of style.
For the chairs, I was drawn to the traditional shape of the Queen Anne on the left, but it’s still a little staid for my taste. To recast it in a fresh, more modern look, I asked Patricia to render it a pretty painted blue and cover it with the vintage bird print fabric that inspired the color scheme. Then, to set off the unusual arms of the chair on the right, I asked that she recover it in a textured turquoise fabric, finished with silver nail heads.
The faux bamboo lamp added great texture, but it needed a makeover. With a fresh coat of blue paint and a new drum shade trimmed in navy ribbon, the lamp would tie in perfectly with the other pieces. And this versatile ottoman—which is actually two stackable pieces—gets recast in a navy velvet that pulls out the darkest shades in the vintage bird fabric.
Once Patricia and I had recast the cast-offs, it was time to pull it all together in the room. Though the red paint and wall moldings are traditional touches, the baby-blue ceiling and updated furniture feel modern and fresh. And since at the moment, Jaithan and I are actually in Kansas, if only I could click my heels and the room would appear! Afternoon cocktails, anyone?
I loved Patricia’s illustration so much that I asked her for a watercolor that I could frame. I've always thought a framed illustration of a room that you love—maybe it's a photograph of your childhood home or a place you visited in the past—is such great piece of memorabilia.
So for the framing, I went to—who else?—our friends over at Larson-Juhl. They hand-make incredible custom frames that are inspired by the kind of old, antiques you just can’t find anymore.
I’ve always found that when it comes to framing, it’s best not to skimp. Trust those pieces that you’ll pass down for generations to a framer that knows how to get the style, proportions, and matting just right. As you can see, those small details make a big difference…
A little collaboration goes a long way when it comes to turning a room full of cast-offs into a Room with a View. Thank you, Patricia, for helping me realize this project and bringing the vision to life!