Style Court

Nine Years of Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes


Romantic Readiness

Sometimes a silver ice bucket, pretty tray, and just a few glasses set out in a casual book-filled room have far more appeal than a ballroom done-up by the hippest party planner.

Obviously New Year's Eve is an ideal time to put together a setting like this, but a silver cooler, pitcher or any sort of serving piece is fun to use all year long. Instant, effortless elegance.

Right now Atlanta is participating in The Literary Center's Big Read. Everyone age 12 to 112 is encouraged to form a book club and read The Great Gatsby before June 2009. So I've been thinking about the scene in the film when Gatsby has all the silver sent to the modest summer cottage for that afternoon date with Daisy.

The silver used in the movie is fairly lavish. These days though only one or two pieces are really needed for big impact. Personally I'm drawn to wine coolers because they make such nice containers for flowers when not chilling a bottle.

This antique wine cooler from Beverly Bremer is sterling silver and engraved with greyhounds and bulldogs. Lovely silver plate examples can often be found at estate sales and gift shops too. In 2009, instead of buying lots of throwaway items each holiday, consider investing in some sort of versatile pewter or silver item that catches your eye.

Williams-Sonoma has a nickel plate and mother-of-pearl option priced at $58.

Here's another small (and free) gesture that requires minimal effort yet speaks volumes: If you use writing paper printed, engraved, or embossed with your name, scratch a line through the name when sending a note to certain friends. This feels less distant, according to Vogue's Book of Etiquette. Over the holidays I received a brief note from a seriously chic person who did this. It was a wonderful personal touch.

Images one and two are from Accents on Accessories. Dan Carithers designed the first setting, Gerrie Bremermann the second. The note card image came from Vogue's Book of Etiquette, 1969. The film stills are from Paramount Pictures 1974 movie, The Great Gatsby.


A Bowl for Camellias

A few years ago, Southern Accents asked regional tastemakers to share their thoughts on Southern style. Charleston-based designer Amelia Handegan said, "No Southern house should be without a bowl for camellias."

I loved her reply because the idea is so timeless and accessible. Sure, the bowl might be sterling or 18th-century porcelain, but it could also be contemporary glass from Crate and Barrel.

If you are fortunate to have camellias growing in your yard, or in a pot on your patio, think about bringing some blooms inside -- even if you float just one on your bedside table.

The flower is in season right now, and it continues to feel fresh as we transition from the holidays to winter. Planting camellias for next year is another great option if you live in a warmer climate. (I think I mentioned the other day that the January issue of Southern Accents includes a camellia story with helpful sources.)

The paintings above are by American artist John La Farge: Second from the top, White Camellia in a Red and Black Lacquer Bowl, is circa 1880 and belongs to the MFA. Camellia in Old Chinese Vase on Black Lacquer Table, 1879, is shown first (image via

Erica George Dines photographed the pink camellias in the Yeoward crystal bowl for Southern Accents.


If the pine needles are dropping and the branches are nearly bare, but traditionally you like to have festive decorations around the house for New Year's eve or Twelfth Night, try John van Doorn's approach: before the ornaments are packed away, place a mass of them in a striking glass bowl.

Magnaverde has added to this post a lovely comment about a Twelfth Night party his mother hosted decades ago. The event involved numerous footed compotes filled with collected ornaments. Be sure to read it. You'll want to steal the idea.

Images are from Diane Dorrans Saeks' San Francisco Style (Chronicle Books, 2004). Photography by David Duncan Livingston.


The Ultimate Gift Box

What a rush it would be to find this box under the tree Thursday morning. To see some truly exquisite containers, visit Roger Keverne. An interesting article about Asian boxes was recently published in Art & Antiques magazine. (Click here to read it.)

The example above is a fine, large carved red lacquer box and cover from the Qianlong period. The form is circular and the top is deeply carved with a circular medallion of three five-clawed, two-horned, scaly dragons in pursuit of a flaming pearl amid cloud scrolls that partly conceal their bodies, all enclosed by a raised geometric border and a band of lotus lappet.

Image and description courtesy Roger Keverne.


Really Wrapping Things Up

There was supposed to be a picture inserted here showing my grandfather in his red Christmas vest (purchased of course at a bazaar run by the Episcopal Church Women). I was going to share a super-short anecdote about how every year, after logging many hours volunteering at a tree lot that raised funds for the blind, he would carefully set up the family tree, often cutting branches and nailing them back into a new spot to get the desired shape. (Not a relaxed household my mom grew up in, but a giving one.)

At the moment that old polaroid is out of reach, so instead I'm posting a brief community announcement:

The Cathedral needs help wrapping gifts for the homeless on Tuesday, December 23, from 5-7 p.m. in Child Hall, 2744 Peachtree Road in Atlanta. (404) 365-1000. The gifts will be brought to the Peachtree-Pine Shelter.


Stacy's Request: More Regency

Stacy McCallum noticed that I recently added to my sidebar an English Regency-inspired house designed by South Carolina-based architect Mark Maresca. She hoped to see a few more views, so I'm hastily posting these. You can see a full story about the house on Maresca's site (Southern Accents, October 2007) or read about it here.

Another story from SA about a Maresca-designed chic black Regency-inspired kitchen is also viewable on the architect's site.

English Regency architecture has always been at home in the low country. Click here to learn more.


Haskell Harris and Love at First House

I'm envious of Haskell Harris for two reasons: her very cool name and her current house, which is a circa 1796 dwelling located in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Haskell was Special Projects Editor and Assistant Homes Editor at Cottage Living magazine, and she's now covering style for G & G. Recently on her blog, Belle Decor, she wrote about the home she grew up in. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and think you will too.

Christmas at Swan House

In 2005, Dan Carithers decked the halls at Swan House. The fresh, understated trimmings were photographed for the following year's holiday issue of Southern Accents, and I think Pieter Estersohn beautifully highlighted the work of architect Philip Trammell Shutze and his craftsmen.

Above is the morning room where Carithers selected a swag of greenery to outline the pagoda-shaped pediment over the fireplace mantel.

Early 20th-century decorator Ruby Ross Wood collaborated with Shutze on the house. Her hand is especially evident in the dining room, noted in part for its chinoiserie wallpaper.

Intricate wood carvings, including an overmantel crafted in the 17th century, distinguish the library.

And I love the subtle decorations Dan used in the butler's pantry.

Swan House is open for tours Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., and Sunday: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. It is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. House tours are included with general admission.

If you are in the mood to think about family holiday rituals at home, rather than architecture, click here.

Last image courtesy Mary Laura


A Different Kind of Tree

During the holidays, there's a simple alternative to evergreens and artificial trees: citrus. As Southern Accents explains, citrus has long been popular in French-influenced Louisiana.

Patrick Dunne, owner of the antiques shops Lucullus in New Orleans and Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, told the magazine, "It's our custom to use a citrus tree as a Christmas tree because until the 20th century, we didn't have scented pine trees here." SA says he decorates his sparingly: lightweight tin candleholders, elegant silver ornaments, and, of course, the fruit itself, which functions as natural ornaments. And when the holiday season is over and temperatures rise, he plants the tree.

I think citrus would also be wonderful in the home of anyone who does not celebrate Christmas. Somewhere in my files or books, there is a picture of a citrus Christmas tree in Kerry Moody's house, but at the moment I can't find it.

Photo at the top by Victoria Pearson; both pictures courtesy Southern Accents.


Weekly Finds

Remember the other day when I mentioned how some of my friends and I exchange imaginary presents? We buy a gift for someone truly in need, and then wrap up a picture of a fantasy present for each other. Sort of, "this is what I'd give you if I could." Well, here is a nice candidate for a passionate collector, or aspiring collector: 1930's hand-embroidered silk panels backed in blue.

The dealer I spoke with said these once hung in the drawing room of a celebrated Atlanta interior designer and socialite. I'd love to see what Windsor Smith would do with them. Available at Interiors Market, $1600 for the pair. Call 404-352-0055 for details.

I also like Leontine Linens' throw quilt with Peacock pattern in gold satin charmeuse.

And as always, Dawn Jacobson's Chinoiserie is great related reading. Softcover secondhand editions are available at Barnes & Noble starting at $19.95.

This English late Victorian plated silver drinks tray on claw feet with stick pierced gallery and gadroon border by JD and Co., circa 1890, is from Lucullus.

Another late Victorian English piece, below, a plated silver mirrored cake stand with beaded border and scroll and palmette feet, circa 1870. Also from Lucullus.


See How They Wrap: Rebecca Vizard

Whenever I see a present wrapped by textile collector Rebecca Vizard, I want to start over and cover the gifts I'm giving with burnished gold. Like her pillows, Vizard's packages tend to be extremely refined. Antique gold tissue paired with muted ribbon seems to be her trademark.

The present above is embellished with one of her embroidered mini stockings made from a vintage suzani fragment. (Don't miss other examples of her elegant stockings in the December House Beautiful. Jennifer Dwyer, a.k.a. The Peak of Chic produced it!)

A very grown-up golden moc croc box is found beneath the tissue. In addition to her popular stockings, Vizard is making small hearts from her prettiest textile remnants.

These ethno-chic examples could be used as ornaments on a tree or during Valentine's. I know I'll be thinking of an unexpected way to use them in February. Stay tuned for details to come at To see some behind the scenes views of Rebecca's studio, click here.


Crescent City Snow

Today I received an email from a friend in New York: "What's the name of that amazing culinary antiques shop in New Orleans again?" Lucullus. And this evening artist Amanda Talley sent me a quick but enchanting look at her NOLA courtyard dusted with snow. (The lines of some of these native plants are echoed in her work.) So tonight I'm listening to Louis Armstrong's Christmas in New Orleans and Cool Yule. Just wish I had a warm slice of chocolate-pecan pie.

Be sure to click here and see a new glimpse of Amanda's studio.

For more views of New Orleans' snow day, click here. The shots were taken by an architectural historian living and working in the French Quarter.

And so to Bed

Janet shared this with me and I want to help spread the word. If you plan to be in Boston during the holidays, try and make time to enjoy an excursion to the MFA. Currently on view is an exhibition that highlights the influence of India and Southeast Asia upon British interior design during the late 17th-/early 18th-century.

Indian textiles were particularly coveted by Europeans, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) owns two rare examples of bed hangings from Ashburnham Place in Sussex, England. One is Indian embroidered cotton, and the other is hand-painted Indian chintz. These pieces serve as the focal point for And So to Bed: Indian Bed Curtains from a Stately English Home, on view through June 21, 2009. The show draws its name from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who often ended his entries with the phrase “and so to bed.”

Related past post: The Garrick Bed.

Fanciful Wish List

One area that apparently has not experienced an economic hit is the Asian art market. This week Antiques and the Arts reports that record prices were achieved at the 36th Special Auction of Asian Art at Nagel Auktionen, November 10-11, in Stuttgart, Germany. Regardless of the money matters, I wanted to share this striking 18th-century blanc de chine vase. It is a very rare Chinese imperial guantype faceted porcelain piece from the Yongzheng period, and I think the design is absolutely timeless. How I would love to have this vase to use as part of my holiday decorations.

To learn more about China's emperors and the Yongzheng period, click here.

Speaking of stunning imperial art, this Peacock-tail-shaped traveling sundial and compass, from the Qianlong period (1736—95), was included in the three emperors exhibition two years ago. The piece belongs to The Palace Museum, Beijing.

This writing set from the Qianlong period is carved red lacquer, cloisonné enamel, ivory and other materials, also from The Palace Museum, Beijing.

On a loosely related note, Grant K. Gibson recently visited the lovely home of Suzanne Rheinstein and photographed her many exquisite chinoiserie and Asian pieces. It's a must see. Below are the cricket boxes I mentioned a few months ago.

Image via Grant K. Gibson