Style Court

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


Mary Randolph Carter's Holiday Style

Mary Randolph Carter, junk connoisseur, creative director for Ralph Lauren, photographer and bestselling author, recently led a workshop on holiday home décor at Anthropologie's Chelsea Market store. Talented photographer Sara Beth Turner was on hand to capture the event and she has generously shared some of her shots with me. Below, Carter tells Style Court  more about her own holiday style.
[Unless otherwise noted, all photos copyright © Sara Beth Turner.]

Throughout the year, Carter embraces aesthetic imperfections, so naturally when it comes to wrapping holiday gifts she favors originality, creativity, thrift and ease over the cookie-cutter look. She says, "My gifts are pretty easy to spot under ye olde Christmas tree!"

Her materials of choice include: tissue, clear sandwich bags, imperfectly perfect vintage post cards, old grain bags and wooden boxes.

[Grain bag image via Vintage Weave; red tissue via Kate's Paperie; green via Paper Source; string via Bell'occhio.]

Carter explains: "For small gifts I wrap a bit of tissue paper (preferably green or red) around said object and stuff it in one of those handy generic Ziploc sandwich bags. I buy sandwich, quart and gallon sizes to accommodate a range of gifts. Since they’re see-through, a vintage post card with a heartfelt message scribbled on the back adds a little personality!"

Sometimes she finishes it all off with a piece of rough cord, her preferred kind of holiday ribbon.

[Carter made and photographed the collage on her bed using favorite images copied for her Anthro workshop. Maybe a picture will end up in one of those baggie presents.]

For larger gifts, Carter has been known to use garbage bags and old newspapers. She purchases big quantities of shipping tags with the reinforced hole and little string tie (see the previous post for image) and stamps them with her personal junk truck logo along with a message written with a fat black Sharpie. To add flair to a special gift, Carter says, "I love wrapping in vintage fabrics or depositing [the present] in an old grain bag or wooden box."

While Carter describes her own wrapping style as no-fuss, she acknowledges that she is always in awe of her friends and colleagues in fashion, design and the arts who take such pains with their gift wrapping creativity.

She says, "For years one of my work buddies, knowing that I loved decoys and wooden fish, would tie one on to my gift as a tag so I could hang it on our little “fishy” tree in the city." An artist friend's magical packages are detailed here.

[Mary Randolph Carter photographed by her husband, Howard Berg, in their snowy apple orchard in upstate New York. Photo courtesy Carter.]

Favorite holiday tunes? With out a doubt the classics. Not a big fan of contemporary vocal interpretations. "Give me Nat King Cole singing White Christmas every time," she says, adding that she mostly loves instrumental versions of traditional songs like Deck the Halls, Silent Night, and Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem.

 [Cheese biscuits as seen in Carter's book, American Family Style.]

Carter comes from a big Virginia family -- 37 family members, at last count! After enjoying Christmas Eve dinner (a gift from Emily and Dave, Carter's sister number five and brother-in-law), everyone gathers in front of the big dining room fireplace at her parents' circa 1680, "made-for-Christmas" place, Muskettoe Pointe Farm.

[Photo courtesy Mary Randolph Carter, from her book, American Family Style.]

[Image via Amazon.]

The tree stands decorated here, and the grandchildren take turns reading Carter's old edition of The Night Before Christmas, with illustrations by Grandma Moses, in which she faithfully archives the names of each of the readers.

 [Photo courtesy Mary Randolph Carter, from her book, American Family Style.]
"Since we started this almost thirty years ago there are now Great Grandchildren to add to the list," she notes,  "Afterward, everyone (youngest first!) hangs his or her stocking on big old nails over the fireplace. [My sons,] Carter and Sam, have holes in theirs so I have lined them with cotton socks keeping Santa’s candy and little presents secure 'till Christmas morning."

Because their local church gave up on Midnight Mass, the group usually piles into several cars and then into a few pews at 5 o’clock.

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

Breakfast is the family's major eating event: creamed chipped beef, grits, Sally Lunn, fried apples, Carter's chef sister Liza’s cinnamon coffee cake, and oftentimes Bloody Marys for the adults. Later, lots and lots of coffee is consumed.

[Bloody Mary photograph by Marian Cooper Cairns for Southern Living. Click here for the recipe.]

"On Boxing Day, we clean up our mess and have a huge Boxing Day party for all our friends in the area. A favorite holiday nibble is my grandmother, 'Ga Ga’s,' cheese biscuits, now made by my sister Liza."

 [Virginia landscape photographed by Janet Blyberg.]

Maximalist and over-the-top, yet still rustic and simple, sums up Carter's holiday decorating style. I'll paraphrase the scene she set at Muskettoe Pointe Farm:

Real dripping candles are everywhere, including the overhead tin chandeliers, while mantelpieces are decked with holly and magnolia. White candle lights sit in the windows. the tree is decorated with cranberries and old cookie ornaments and toys, and to this classic mix the family adds a cobbled together nativity scene composed of characters and animals from many different sets -- a funny hodpodge of varied scale and levels of craftsmanship.

[Photo copyright © Sara Beth Turner.]
Carter adds, "Presiding each year from the mantelpiece over the [mismatched] stockings is a quartet of old ceramic Santas and a diminutive Santa Band that I added up a few years ago having found it in a New York City flea market."

Her holiday pet peeve? "Taking it all down!"

To learn more about Carter's imperfect approach, click here.

[Photograph by Maura McEvoy  ©Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard by Debra Shriver, Glitterati, Inc. 2010.]

Also of interest: Inspiration is Free and Trimmings and Tunes for Later...

and Eyes Wide Open (Thanksgiving Week).

Miguel Flores-Vianna Sale Preview

 [All photography copyright © Miguel Flores-Vianna. Click to enlarge and enjoy the details!]

Longtime readers know that I'm a big fan of photographer Miguel Flores-Vianna's work -- both the alluring editorial pictures for magazines including Elle Decor and Domino, and the fine art pieces. Earlier today, Miguel gave me a sneak peek at some of the items he will be selling through One Kings Lane starting Tuesday, December 7.

Describing the pieces in the sale as very personal, Miguel says the offerings will include his own photographs as well as art, furniture, fabrics, china and some momentoes from trips to different places -- all things that at some point were part of his home or were bought with a specific project or place in mind.  For everyone who's ever hoped to own one of Miguel's works, I'm sharing this little heads up.

I'll post a reminder Monday. Right now just enjoy the preview.

Below are objects from the photographer's personal collection, encompassing global textiles and ceramics of his own making.

1940's French Coffee Pot and Sugar bowl.

Pillow designed by Marian McEvoy.

Ceramics made by MFV.

Uzbekistani ikat.

Early 20th Century Central Asian quilt.

Central Asian quilt.


Up Next: A Carter Holiday

[Rolled artists canvas via Dick Blick; string via Bell'occhio; calligraphy via Maybelle's lovely site.]

I would've loved to have been there for Mary Randolph Carter's holiday workshop at Anthro's Chelsea Market store. But since I couldn't, the longtime creative director for Ralph Lauren and prolific author kindly took time to answer my questions about her yuletide style. She filled me in on her gift wrapping preferences (not surprisingly, the junk maven makes use of humble materials), the music she gravitates to, and her family traditions.  All the details will be posted here shortly. In the meantime, I want to leave you with a genius wrapping idea from one of Carter's artist friends.

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

This idea is kind of a cousin of photographer Porter Hovey's  black-studio-paper-as-wrap. Carter says her friend has an amazing calligraphy style and writes messages on muslin or thin painter’s canvas: "[She] wraps her gifts with these which makes you never want to touch them since she has turned the wrapped gift into a gift in and of itself!"

[Unbleached muslin via JoAnn Fabric and Craft.]

SC's note: Muslin has been a favorite of other tastemakers interviewed for the holiday series. It's so affordable, ranging from about $1.50 to $5.99 per yard at JoAnn fabric stores. Rolled artists canvas ranges greatly in price. One example: Blick is currently offering studio rolls of 72" x 36" cotton canvas for $9.96. 

See also:  Mary Randolph Carter on Lives Well Spent.

Crescent City Christmas II

 [Photo above courtesy Amanda Talley 2008.]

A reminder and an announcement: New Orleans' Center for Southern Craft and Design (affiliated with The Ogden) is hosting The Art of Giving Friday,  December 3 through Sunday, December 5. The Friday evening event, from 6 to 8 p.m., is for museum members. Available for purchase will be handcrafted wares by accomplished Southern artists -- photographs, prints, fine pottery, jewelry, textiles, glass, metal, wood and basketry. Tunes by Southern musicians will be for sale, too, and author Debra Shriver is scheduled to be in attendance, signing copies of Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard.

[Above left, mixing bowls, past work from Rachael Therese DePauw.]

The public is invited to explore the artisinal items from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For details on appearances by ceramicist Rachael Therese DePauw and other artists, visit the CSCD blog.

 [George Yerger, White Church, Rodney MS.]

In conjunction with the New Orleans Photo Alliance's fifth annual PhotoNOLA event, photographers Leslie Addison and George Yerger will exhibit several of their newest works at Cole Pratt Gallery. Field Notes: Searching for a Southern Mythology continues on view through December 26, 2010. The opening reception takes place Saturday, December 4 from 6 to 8 p.m.


Shimmer and Sound

[Photos courtesy Rebecca Vizard.]

As another precursor to the weeks ahead, I thought it would be nice to end the day with a touch of shimmer and light, plus a song that references sleep.

After she shared her holiday playlist with me, writer Mary Laura mentioned the Mumford & Sons show that took place a few weeks ago in Atlanta at The Buckhead Theatre (familiar to locals as the old Roxy). She and many others have been raving about the event. In particular, the encore cover of The Avett Brothers's Go to Sleep, performed with Cadillac Sky, rocked the house. Enjoy a sampling here. And a note to architecture buffs: pictures of the restored 80-year-old building's stylized Spanish Baroque details can be found here.

At the top of this post are images from the archives. Looking for photos of antique spools,  I recently revisited the baskets of sumptuous trims in Rebecca Vizard's Louisiana studio. And that led me to the seasonal metallics. What draws me in is the contrast of the opulent materials with the rustic bins. Much more of her studio can be seen here.

On the left, above, is an example of the mini stockings B. Viz's team makes using vintage and antique textile remnants (another SC tradition). Shown right, aqua sequins and glass glitter from French General, home to myriad beads and notions.

Feathers and beaded leaves also from French General.


Trimmings and Tunes for Later

 Kate Headley, posted with permission from the photographer, Kate, and the bride, Janet Blyberg.]

Contemporary Jane Austen. That was one of the guiding concepts behind Janet Blyberg's October wedding in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Months ago, I was treated to a sneak peek at her inspiration board and ever since I've been pestering Janet with questions about her sources. Later I'll share a few of photographer Kate Headley's beautiful detail shots. (Aided by the talented Stefan Hurray, aka Architect Design™ and a museum professional friend, Janet did her own flowers and other key wedding elements.) But in the meantime, since holiday season is swinging into full gear, here are her go-to places for ribbon:

Find antique options at, you guessed it, Antique Ribbon. Whether she's searching for a vintage Liberty print or a specific shade of paper, Janet is a resourceful woman. Sifting through Etsy, she found 19th century brown velvet at AR. Other ribbons came from Christopher Pines and G Street Fabrics.

Now, speaking just for myself, whenever I'm doing a hands-on project that feels Jane Austen-ish, I prefer to mix things up and play decidedly non-corresponding music, like something by The Kinks (from The Darjeeling Limited soundtrack), The Stones or The Avett Brothers.

[Music enthusiast Mary Laura with Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, a favorite band.]

It’s a SC tradition to ask tastemakers, writers, and editors about their holiday playlists. Like Grant, I still don't understand the trend toward playing the music before Thanksgiving, but that said, I'm kicking off 2010 with a list of post-Thursday suggestions from Atlanta-based arts supporter and writer, Mary Laura Philpott. (It's actually an iTunes list that she likes.)

Dave Matthews Christmas Song

Louis Armstrong Cool Yule

Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Lady Antebellum Baby It's Cold Outside

Sufjan Stevens The Friendly Beasts (Reminds Mary Laura of the first song her son ever sang in a preschool Christmas pageant.)

Hip Heavy Lip You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch

The Pogues Fairytale of New York

Run-DMC Christmas in Hollis

Mariah Carey All I Want for Christmas is You (Stylistically, seems a little out of character for Mary Laura but she says it puts most anyone in a happy mood. The holidays offer an excuse to listen to all sorts of styles.)

And I'm going to be predictable and again throw in Joni Mitchell's River along with Brandi Carlile's The Heartache Can Wait. A round-up of decades-old classics were offered in last year's post.