Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Mary Randolph Carter on Lives Well Spent

[©A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

[©A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

Contrary to what you might be thinking, Mary Randolph Carter's latest book,  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life: How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc... and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place, isn't a treatise on ditching housework. It's mainly a compilation of Carter's beautifully written essays focused on the concept of home -- as opposed to house -- accompanied by her sensitive photographs.  But creative work spaces figure prominently in the book, too. Comfort, warmth, personal passions, hospitality, individuality and joy are themes that run through each section. 

Carter takes us along on visits to the offices, studios and homes of a photographer, a chef, fashion and textile design industry pros, artists, moms and other creative individuals all the while exploring how they like to live (never overlooking pragmatic issues like when to tackle the laundry or make the bed and when to put those tasks on hold).  For example, Pamela Bell, one of the four original Kate Spade partners, wanted to create a truly magical home for her three kids. She invited the children to make major contributions to the decor of their colorful brownstone and the fanciful results are the antithesis of cookie-cutter family style. In terms of housekeeping, Bell draws the line at going to bed with a dirty cup in the sink but prefers her silver un-polished.

Like most of the tastemakers Carter profiles, Bell appreciates design that still looks good when it's disheveled.  I know many of you have seen the NY Times coverage of Bell's house; if you loved it, I think you will really enjoy Carter's expanded tour. In fact, initially for this post I planned to zero in on Bell's place.  In the end, I decided to share a peek into Ralph Lauren "artist-in-residence," designer, and senior vice president Daniela Kamiliotis' Connecticut home/studio.    

[©A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2010.]

It's worth picking up a copy of Carter's book just to see the many images of Kamiliotis' heavily layered yet purposeful work space and to read about her creative journey. Encouraged by her grandmother, the Romanian-born artist began serious painting instruction at age five and ultimately left her home country in search of more artistic freedom in the U.S. (Click the pictures to enlarge and view the details.)

A Perfectly Kept House doesn't fit into one neat category. There are practical tips for dealing with the aftermath of a party, prioritizing chores and, for those who don't care to live with clutter, organizing large numbers of books, mementos, toys and supplies in a zen-like space. At the same time, there are meaningful personal stories about homes filled with dogs, music and the aroma of baking bread. I'll leave you with one of my favorite lines from the section on living with food: Mary Randolph Carter on her Virginia upbringing:

My childhood memories of southern hospitality conjure up candlelit tables, pewter bowls of Brunswick stew, a side dish of barbeque, and fresh-from-the-oven homemade rolls

All images and quotes above ©A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter, Rizzoli New York, 2010. The pictures chosen for this post are from Carter's section on living with fashion.

Update 10.12.10
Now having seen Carter's photographs of Daniela Kamiliotis' country studio, I lingered longer over the Bohemian Romance spread in Ralph Lauren's new magazine.

 [Photo by Carter Berg from Ralph Lauren magazine.]


quintessence said...

I have this on order and am looking forward to receiving it. I wasn't sure exactly what the book would be but was intrigued by the title, as I fall into a similar category. Some of these images are a bit too discombobulated even for me. And as much as I admire Pamela Bell, her house is not my ideal. So - I will wait and see - I love the spirit and message of the book - I'll be curious to see the images that support it!

Style Court said...

Quintessence --

Yes, I know what you're getting at. It's largely about the not-so-decorated look -- although many of the rooms are more conventional. Traditional in fact. Carter's sister's house is classic, for example. And of course what I posted here is a studio space.

You're also on target about the message. It's just a terrific read even for those who don't gravitate as much to the styles highlighted, at least that's my reaction :) Appreciate your input as always.

Style Court said...

Oh, two things that are really gorgeous -- you have to enlarge the first image to see it well -- strings of gold discs hanging on the empty gilded frames and the cut-flower fabric draped over the light bulbs!

After seeing Ralph's spring collection, I think I was especially enamored :)

Terry said...

Sigh: "looks good when it's disheveled." But the dust?

Let me have one big room where children and adults can to run amok. They don't stay children for long.

Great pictures.

Karena said...

Enlarged the images! I can see this is a must read for me.....thanks Courtney.

Art by Karena

Style Court said...

Karena --

Another detail you might appreciate -- the gauzy dyed blue fabric hanging from the 20-foot windowed wall. Carter describes it as a raggy ballgown for an artist princess. The idea is that the studio is alive, brimming with works in progress.

Style Court said...

Terry --

You would appreciate Carter's section on hospitality!

Mrs. Blandings said...

I love this book for all the reasons you've mentioned. Not just the incredibly unique homes, but the feeling and the text. And Rizzoli's commitment to publish it even if it doesn't fit into a category. A breath of fresh air.

Unknown said...

To be honest I buy all books that fit that relate to this non-category but anything by Mary Randolph Carter makes me pant, yearn, for a fast arrival. I pre-ordered so maybe today. Even if I were not a fellow Virginia who also grew up with the smell of hot rolls in the house, I would appreciate this wildly creative, wabi sabi style. I CANNOT wait til my copy arrives. This looks like one of her best. thanks so much for the preview.

Style Court said...

Dana -- I loved the Smithfield ham references too! I think the book will definitely meet your expectations. Thanks for stopping by.

Patricia -- Can't wait to read your own take, if you do a review.

Laura Casey Interiors said...

I agree with Patricia- a breath of fresh air. Can't wait to read it. Love the ideas of it.

Unknown said...

darn, just checked with amazon and I'm not expected to receive mine til 10/21. Now I have to pant with anticipation for a week! I will just have to ponder inspiring things such as furniture with great bones that drips with nearly destroyed bouillon fringe and pimento cheese sandwiches served on spode, and dogs sleeping in wicker baskets on old down pillows, and all manner of things that some consider in a decline and I consider in their prime.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you, Courtney and all your stylish "court!"
Your incrediblly generous and hospitable blog about my "imperfectly perfect" new book really made my day...and that of my friend Daniela whose breathtaking atelier you featured! I love all the comments!

Special thanks to Dana whose "panting and yearning" really made me laugh out loud! I hope you won't be disappointed.

And thanks, Mrs. Blandings--I hope you do have something more to say about the imperfect book, but it was really nice that you gave Rizzoli a pat. This is not the climate for book publishers to take risk and I really appreciate their support.

Karena, I hope you will read it. I have not bared my soul as much as I have in this book.

Quinntessence: so happy you were intrigued by the title. It's always a gamble. Kind of new the title before I knew what the book would be. Doesn't usually work that way!

Who did I miss? Ah, Terry! Dust? What dust? I like your vision of that one big room. Maybe my next book should be called "Amok!"???

Imperfectly yours,
Mary Randolph Carter (But you can call me Carter!)

PS That beautiful rose you featured from RL's magazine was taken by my talented son, Carter Berg.

Style Court said...


Now everyone has proof of the graciousness I wanted to describe! You are so kind to take time to comment. We all really appreciate it. And how perfect is it that your son took the last picture in the post? I'll be adding a credit line right away. It's gorgeous.

There is so much more to say about your book -- the essays on family, the inspired photographs. I barely scratched the surface. Mrs. Blandings can pick up where I left off.

Dana won't be disappointed in the least. Thank you for the refreshing and thought-provoking book!


Janet said...

Oh, another one to add to my wish list. Things are feeling perfectly un-kept chez moi at the moment. Thanks to MRC for putting my mind at ease about it with such loveliness!

mLindvall said...

I've been a huge fan of Mary Randolph Carter's writings for years...and own all of her books. However, before I even sat down to read this book fully, I couldn't help myself but to paint the title on the door to my studio!

mLindvall said...

Love this book (as I have all of Mary Randolph Carter's work) so much that I couldn't help myself but paint the title on my studio door!!