The Stylist Alphabet: C is for…
C is for…
Candlelight adds a warming ambient element to any room, whether the candles are scented or not. I have candles of all shapes & sizes: church tapers, beeswax, birthday cake, elaborate hand-moulded & embellished Mexican ones, figures, wedding cake toppers & the rest. Note: Attach tapers to a table with their own wax for a romantic centrepiece. At dusk, light them & let them pool on the table as the dinner party starts.
Cards: flash, playing & others
I discovered an oversized bundle of cards in a flea market in Illinois displaying nursery rhymes. I have since picked them up throughout The States. They are two-sided and often have typed running writing on the back. Featuring the same word in regular type on the front (or vice versa), these teaching tools translate so easily into your interior styling as wall art. Or add them casually leaning on your stairs, to read as you casually wander up & down, or put them anywhere else you choose. So perfectly die-cut on each corner and often the shade of aged paper. I like to mix up words, numbers, phrases or letters in unusual combinations, or just have one on its own. My very good friend James & I find cards, mostly in random places. Discarded cards are so curious & intriguing. I enjoy receiving texts from James such as “Soggy Jack of hearts found at Mott & Crosby”, or from me “Seven of spades found in windswept bush in Palm Beach”. My random cards often find themselves propped up on mantelpieces or just stuck in trophies on my shelves. Perhaps it is the many cards games that my siblings & I learnt from my grandmother and played constantly while we were growing up. We were very good & competitive at 500, Jim Rummy, Canasta & Black Jack, and could play an energetic game of double Patience!
I can’t go past the incredible selection of words that make up the names of different species of cicadas – I’ve even dotted a couple of them throughout my paint range! Here are a couple of evocative titles: Double drummer, Tom thumb, Green grocer, Yellow Monday, Black prince, Cherry nose, Floury baker.
Amateur collection became quite the trend in the nineteenth century as science began to compete with religion as a way of understanding the world. Bucaneers, botanists and the merely curious brought back from their travels to the new world discoveries as simple as pineapples, skeletons, birds’ eggs, shells and native artefacts – in the case of real-life human beings – the frankly outrageous.
While gentleman explorers and amateur scientists were working on the edges of official practice members of the general public were looking with a discerning eye at flora & fauna, and collecting by the pressing, pinning, preserving, capturing, skinning, maintaining specimens in books, bottles, jars, box, domes, and cases to observe, record and comment.
The personal collections were not particularly organised (not in any scientific way at least) but were more a showcase of random objects totally catering to the owner’s desires and interests. These cabinets of curiosities, which could be anything from souvenir albums to custom-made pieces of furniture were simply a place of display where pieces could be easily examined, moved and cast aside if necessary. A show-and-tell environment that encouraged visitors, debate and modern opinion in the age of entitlement and world exploration.
For the middle-class women, in particular, who had the time for rambling and combing the countryside and seashore, the plant-hunting phenomenon (including the Victorian fern craze) became a hugely popular and socially favoured pastime, allowing them some aesthetic and scientific pursuit otherwise denied. Although it was considered a leisure activity rather than a ‘career’, they did contribute to the advancement of study and understanding of botanical nature through one-of-a-kind handmade mounted illustrated albums most notably of seaweed, algae, fern and wildflowers.
The roots of many museums lie in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when the boundaries between categories of high & low, art & science, education & entertainment were not as clear as they are now. The beginning of the twentieth century saw disciplines becoming specialised and a distinct separation being created between all these things, amateur & professional.
I have a long-time love affair with the romantic side of colonialism: the campaign furniture & travelling outfits. The jodhpurs, linen shirts, moulded safari hats swathed in muslin, & browned knee-high riding boots (like Kristin Scott-Thoas in The English Patient). Gertrude Bell would travel with at least crystal, china, writing desk & a canvas bath on her forays into Middle Eastern deserts. I love all things that fold, have compartments & need staff. For the modern-day variety, Richard Wrightman in Long Island City makes the best. Years ago, my friend Crispin & I went to a night at the Explorers Club in NYC. It is majestic, awe-inspiring & fabulous. We were the youngest by a long way, but we knew they were looking for inspiring new members. However, when we looked at the regulations to becoming certified members, we fell short on credentials. With no field experience or exotic adventures under our belts, we were invited to become Friends of the Explorers Club instead.
I like to look at life in colour. it’s a strong memory trigger and, for those of us with poor memories, a gentle reminders always welcome. To me, everything is about colour. Coming from a styling background, colour has always been the most important tool with which I work. It has led me to create my own paint range based on my 10-colour palette theory, as well as many commercial interior spaces, styled sets for magazines and other product ranges. This is tried & tested – I use it every day!
One of my first memories is of beach combing for shells on the wild shores of Siletto Beach, on the NSW coast. The collection of pink kelp shells, which I gathered from huge drifts washed up on shore, sits proudly on my cabinet of curiosities. I’ve bought many fancier shells over the years and am as fascinated by the real thing as by beautiful studies, drawings and lithographs of them, and also by things made from shells. I am forever searching out shell museums & collections to pore over and use as inspiration for my own displays as well as to see what beautiful shapes, sizes & colours the world’s shells have to offer. They can be divided into so many themes, studies & families, but more often than not, I like to group them haphazardly with no thought whatever of their scientific classification. Shop shells here.
Crowns, tiaras & masks
A paper tiara or crown of rosy thorns for me please! I have a circle of giant seaweed found at Big Sur & given to me by a past love. I’m sure a merman lost it. More pagan than regal, but glorious in its naturalness & humbleness. Not just for the human head or fancy dress, but as beautiful on a door, nail or wall. A sparkly paper tiara can brighten up any shelf or oneself. Picasso collected African masks for inspiration, but mine are a little different & not so uniform. I like them without rhyme, reason or theme; old theatre ones appeal to me, particularly if they are expressionless & unpainted, with the shape enough to inspire. Although, as I said, there are no rules – I am just as attracted to James Bond-esque snorkel goggles, the plastic animal shapes I buy in NYC from the novelty store & the painted and moustached fencing mask I bought in Burton, Ohio. A bearded man on a stick looks thoughtfully towards the light. I bought this (& others like him) from the puppet master in Khiva, Uzbekistan, while travelling with my mum. Accompany it with lines from the play he might star in, or keep an eye out in your travels for a leading lady.