Since I was a child, my family and I have spent part of the summer in the south of France. This summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in the Luberon in Menerbes, a beautiful hilltop town dating back to 4 BC. It wasn't my first time there, but because we settled in for as long as we did, I fell into the rhythm of the village and came home with some of the sweetest memories. Here's a glimpse of our time spent there.
The house we stayed in is called a mas – a country house typified by plaster walls that keep the house cool on very hot days, a terra cotta tiled roof, a series of rooms built on to each other over time and painted wood shutters that are used every day to keep the hot air out. It was charming and rustic. The house was perched on the high hills of Menerbes, overlooking the wine valleys below.
There was a long lavender hedge off the kitchen patio. Each morning I would take in its sweet, fragrant smell.
As we would walk into town for fresh croissants, this was our view to Mont Ventoux and the town of Gordes.
We took this pebbled road into town, past clouds that looked like prehistoric birds.
And past the painted doors in inspiring hues.
And above the tiled rooftops that looked like paintings.
And then we'd arrive at the upper entrance to the town.
Along the way we would pass these pretty courtyards and secret gardens between the stone walls and wooden gates.
Some buildings with manicured boxwood, turrets and stone railings were especially impressive.
Sometimes we were greeted with a friendly face from above.
Or a sleepy one from below.
Here is a sampling of the freshly baked breads that would greet us in the morning.
My favourite store in town, La Vie Est Belle, was in the bottom of an ancient building that felt like a cave. I loved the antique kilim by the front door but sadly, it was not for sale.
To cool off, people flocked to the river in nearby L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to dip their toes in the bright green waters or paddle around in a kayak.
I loved antiquing at the famous brocante there. I picked up 12 of these brass knobs for a song hoping to retrofit them for my new walk-in closet.
Which worked out perfectly!
Lunches were always languid and relaxed — fresh, simple produce set out in a colourful display.
Or carefully staged culinary masterpieces. Seriously, why can't we have lunches like this everyday?
And of course there were always fresh flowers and incredible local wines.
We attended a poetry reading one afternoon at the house of Picasso's ex-wife Dora Maar, which is now an art school. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous with a playful mix of modern sculptures and traditional outdoor furniture.
Nearby Gordes was such a beautiful town, for this exact view. The homes were all built into cliffs like this one.
My favourite part of each day was dining outdoors in the warm air at dusk, like the evening we spent in this relais situated in the vineyards below Menerbes.
Or in the gardens of the Maison de la Truffe at the top of the village.
Or at one of the lovely restaurants lining the streets in town where waiters crisscrossed the streets.
We finished each day by walking through the town's twinkling glow.
Guided by the clear moonlight to our home away from home in the hills.
For more inspiration, read Hilary Smyth's blog post about Antiquing In France.
We are underway with our upstairs reno and one thing we've already finished is the small guest bathroom.
This is what it looked like a few months ago. I still love the vintage sink that I got at a yard sale over 15 years ago but it was too low and rusted, so I had to get rid of it. Plus the trad shape really didn't work with the mix I have going on in the rest of the house. I wound up giving it to a friend of mine who's in the middle of a Victorian historic restoration so it will be right at home.
The other thing I had to get rid of was the glass-block window — way too '80s for me.
But the highlight for me is the new wallpaper, Ocelot from Farrow & Ball. That and the new sash window instantly transformed the room. I framed the window in 6"-wide lengths of marble for a polished look that tied in with the floor.
Only one thing left to decide and that is whether or not to paint the tub black. I'm on the fence... what do you think?
Every time I visit Chester I take a short detour to The Finer Diner in Hackett's Cove. It's a quaint roadside building on enroute to Peggy's Cove.
I love their crab cakes with onion rings and paired with a glass of white wine, I am totally in heaven.
The first space we shot was designer Philip Mitchell's guesthouse at his new house (he completed the guest house before tackling the main building this year). Their property looks out to Chester's Front Harbour. I tweeted this picture of photographer, Janet Kimber, taking our first shot of the day before the sun came up.
I loved the rope railings on the neighbouring pier so I made Philip and his partner Mark Narsansky move their Muskoka chairs for their portrait.
That's their new house called 'the White Cottage' in the background and the guesthouse is tucked up to the left (their first house was featured in our October 2011 issue).
Everyone who visits Chester has to book a dinner at Nicki's Inn restaurant at the intersection of King and Pleasant Streets. It's Chester's finest restaurant — the food is fantastic, the decor is lovely and the owner Nicki is charming. She also has a few rooms that she rents out upstairs if you are looking for a place to stay for a few days.
Here I am at Nicki's celebrating the completion of the shoot with Philip (far right) and Mark (they are so handsome) and another east coast designer, Deb Nelson, (who has the most gorgeous hair) whose home we shot the following morning. We all look so happy!
Another place to stay is the historic Mecklenburg Inn which has this totally charming exterior. I have never been inside though!
Deb's shoot also started bright and early the next day. Here are a few of my fave moments at her place that didn't make it into the story in our July issue. Of course there was the white picket fence surrounding her backyard that affords this pretty view over her neighbour's yard to the Front Harbour.
The third floor of her house is like a lookout tower with paned glass windows on all sides. I could have stayed up there all day. While we were shooting up there a regatta was taking place and one sailboat actually sunk — it was high drama.
Deb had the cutest vintage hardboard doorstop of a fox terrier that I adored.
And her whitewashed painted floors were perfect for summertime living.
Going to Chester is like stepping back through time: the white picket fences, old cars, and clapboard or shingled houses and sidewalk less roads make it the one of the most charming towns I've seen in Canada.
Another restaurant that Deb and I usually check out is the Rope Loft for a wharfside dining experience. It's lovely to sit on the back deck and watch the boats come into the harbour. But apparently it's up for sale now.
We also had breakfast one morning at the Chester Golf Club — what a breathtaking view!
If you have time, take the ½ hour ferry ride to Tancook Island, for a very different experience. It is far more rugged and wild. Only a small number of people live there and it is like stepping away from civilization: which we all need now and then!
If you follow the dirt road to the right from the ferry you will eventually come to the Wishing Stones — an eclectic store where you can get a tea and check out the antiques. I fell in love with the landscape painting on the right and totally regret not buying it — a reminder that if you see a find that calls your name when you're in an out-of-the-way spot, buy it!!
They also had a display of ringed rocks where they ask you to take one, walk to the back bay and throw it in to make a wish. The wishing stones are marked by a "magical" white quartz ring that must be continuous with no breaks in order for the magic to work. The instructions read: stand by the water's edge, close your eyes and make a silent wish, and throw the stone as far as you can into the sea.
This summer I will be heading back to Chester once again to photograph architect Nicholas Spencer-Lewin's house, so keep an eye out for it on our pages in 2015!
For more Maritime style, browse a gallery of East Coast homes.
(Except #8, via Mecklenburgh Inn) Suzanne Dimma
I recently returned from my seventh (!) trip back to San Miguel de Allende, and I continue to be inspired by this city in central Mexico. I'm always discovering new things to explore. Here are a few of the inspiring spaces I visited this time. There were lots more that you can find in our October 2014 issue — on stands this Monday, September 1st!
This year we had the pleasure of staying in a house that had originally been owned by the film director Peter Glenville, whose body of work was most prolific in the 1950s and 1960s. He directed films like The Prisoner starring Alec Guinness and Silent Night, Lonely Night with Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes. The rumour was that the house was host to numerous parties back in the day. Interestingly enough the house did possess a distinct old Hollywood vibe. It was more British than Mexican in feel, and incredibly charming, eclectic and a tad eccentric — which I love. You can see what I mean in this picture of the upper living room.
But it was the house's surrounding gardens that really stood out as spectacular. This was the walkway from the front courtyard (featuring my sister's Jack Russell terrier, Moo). We were there in the winter so things were a bit dry, but before we left all sorts of flowers came into bloom along the high walls.
At the top of the pathway was a fountain backed by an enormously high ivy laden wall and a first-tier patio that looked back to Centro. That upper living room looked out on to this area. The small square stepping stones lead to a set of wooden doors that opened into a whole other garden area, kind of like a secret garden.
The highlight was this spectacular pool that Bruce Weber had photographed for Kelly Klein’s book, Pools. This is the view over the pool and alleée of trees. An adjoining patio affords a breathtaking view to San Miguel below.
This is looking back to the Casita, or guesthouse, perched at the top of a series of tiered stone steps. It evokes a bygone era of old Hollywood and we were told that a number of Hollywood greats had stayed there. Peter O'Toole visited after wrapping Lawrence of Arabia and apparently brought a massive sculpture of a camel which was positioned behind a sofa in the casita.
While I was there I visited this gorgeous house that had been featured in Elle Decor and was owned by a San Miguel-based interior designer, Leslie Tung of Mitu Atelier. It's perfect: not too big, not too small, with a wonderful sense of style. This is the courtyard that the house is built around. It featured deep red walls apparently inspired by the colours of China's Forbidden City, a stone fountain and what I think was an arching bougainvillea tree. Her ginger tabby was pretty cute too. The settee is by Casamidy (an exquisite Mexican furniture line based out of San Miguel), and the checkerboard stone-and-marble table was designed by Lis Bisgaard.
I love this shot of the cement fountain designed by landscape architect Alfonso Alarcon, with the water jug perched on the ledge.
The concrete staircase is so simple and Zen, and it leads up to a stunning view of a Madonna recessed in a small stone archway at the top.
Leslie's home office was on the third floor — there are lots of layers and curios to stimulate the eye wherever you looked.
This Empire-style daybed draped in an exotic fabric was the focal point of the seating area in the office.
Last year I stumbled on this super chic boutique hotel called L’Otel right in Centro. It was so lovely and charming I had to go in and ask for a tour! I tweeted this front door photo because I loved the mix of stone and tile on the floor against the black front door. San Miguel is ripe with all sorts of interesting furniture pieces like this front hall table and the fun orchid pot that looks like a water barrel.
The breakfast room featured this fun trompe-l’oeil glass-print wallpaper. They cleverly ran shelves across it for a three-dimensional effect.
All of the rooms looked into this pretty pink courtyard complete with vintage bikes you can use during the day… although riding a bike on cobblestones is pretty tricky.
But the thing I love the most about San Miguel de Allende is how every year I discover a little bit more magic. I always find some kind of inspiration to bring back home with me. I stumbled upon this happy reminder while walking down an alley and it stopped me in my tracks.
All photos except for 7. Suzanne Dimma
7. Katherine Dimma, Wandering Rounds blog
See more Mexican style staples here.
In the April 2014 issue of House & Home, we show the Vancouver home of actress Kristin Lehman that she shares with her husband, filmmaker Adam Reid and their son. I met Kristin 10 years ago, before she was married. She was living in L.A. at the time but frequently came home to Toronto and needed a place to crash. In 2004, she asked me to help with decorating the small pied-à-terre she'd recently purchased. It was in the Massey building on King Steet that had been converted into condos by Cecconi Simone.
I was super excited because I had been a huge fan of Felicity and The L Word — both TV shows that Kristin had starred in. Since then she had taken on a more headlining role in the hit series The Killing, and currently plays detective Angie Flynn in the ABC series Motive.
As you can see from this before shot, Kristin's space was a lower level unit and it was a blank slate. But it was blessed with large windows and gorgeous exposed stone foundation walls, which provided loads of character.
Since it was a studio apartment, the main living area had to act as both the living room and the bedroom. The UpCountry roll arm sofa is one of the best looking sleeper sofas I've seen. The mirrored table was as light as a feather so she could easily get it out of the way to make room for the pull out bed. Back then gold chandeliers were all the rage and I liked the yin and yang feel this one, from Sam the Chandelier Man, offered. I designed the striped low slipper chair based on a vintage chair design. It has no arms so it's perfect for a small space. I later entered a copy in an auction for the fundraiser Fashion Cares (they called it Fashion Chairs!), where it sold super fast for a great bid.
We included this table and chair set up on the other side of the living room to round out the sitting area and also act as a dining area. The high leg chairs and small bistro table covered off both needs and that chartreuse upholstery did wonders to brighten things up. Believe it or not the turquoise lamp was found in a neighbour's trash! It was the perfect finishing touch.
This was my favourite view in the space. We found the vintage modern credenza at Queen West Antiques and it gave all the feminine colours and more decorative accents a nice foil. I love that the apartment came with that high ledge on the long wall. It was perfect for displaying Kristin's art collection. I found the gold 'O' at Absolutely and loved how it added a splash of sparkle against the brick and stone. The tiny table at the end was perfect when Kristin needed an extra cocktail table or place to store her pretty coverlets.
We put up wood slat Hunter Douglas blinds with fabric tape to add warmth and also provide privacy and light control. I'm not really a fan of the plastic toggles that are standard on blind cords and Kristin came up with the brilliant idea of swapping them out with these gorgeous turquoise beads.
The kitchen was long and narrow but had nice looking cabinets and simple white appliances.
We simply painted the cabinet frames for a bit of contrast and included lots of colourful accessories on the open shelves. Kristin already had that gorgeous painting: its muddy tones paired perfectly with the stone wall so that the blue centre stood out beautifully. We painted the adjacent kitchen half wall in Mouse's Back by Farrow & Ball to tie in with the stone, but left the vertical parts white for contrast.
The bathroom was compact and contemporary. Like the kitchen, it had a strong design as a starting point including a floating Corian sink.
We simply added a few extra shelves for storage and went to town on the accessories. We also added a seamless medicine cabinet on the wall above the towel bar (not shown) to help out with some extra storage. While working on this project, Kristin and I became fast friends and after she sold this place, we went on to tackle the house that she moved into with Adam as well. Be sure to check out Kristin and Adam's website, This Fair Land — a moving peek into the lives of artful Canadians.
Read about Suzanne's trip to B.C. in this blog post.
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and I wanted to compile a list of the things (some decor related, some not!) that make me happiest.
I am a water person and am happiest when I am near water and able to swim — whether it's in a pool or a natural body of water. If you haven't seen Kelly Klein's book, Pools, pick it up for some of the most inspiring pools in the world. This winter I was lucky enough to stay in the house with this San Miguel de Allende pool in Mexico, shot by Bruce Weber in 1990.
My family and I did some travelling in Europe two springs ago and we had the good luck to find two unbelievable waterside cafes. The first was perched high on a cliff in Dubrovnik and the other beachside in Taromina, Sicily. My sister, Arriz and I watched the waves for hours over lunch (and several glasses of wine!) from both spots.
To me, a home is not a home without some animal life. If a home can't take the wear and tear from paws and fur than it's probably a bit too perfect.
Here are a few shots of my own pet family getting cosy at home. All the cats (Z, Tomba, Acorn, Po) lined up in the window to check out the view when we first moved into our house. My cat Z loves to nap in the soft jute baskets I picked up at the White Company in the UK. Po has a thing for hanging off of the tables and is particularly fond of the teal Mexican blanket I use on the table by my back door.
Some people respond to wide-open spaces but I'm more of a cosy person. I love things that make you feel safe and protected like small spaces, canopy beds and window seats.
A fabric valance and floor to ceiling curtains can turn a basic bed into a room within a room: it makes this large bedroom, designed by Mark D. Sikes, feel more intimate and a small bedroom more architectural.
I spotted this dining nook washed in pink in a hotel in Mexico last year, what a perfect spot to have a morning coffee (keep an eye out for more on this place in an upcoming blog).
Muriel Brandolini's home has always been an inspiration. This small guest room is inviting because it's filled to the brim with colour, pattern, texture and layers and the daybed takes up most of the space. I could easily live in this room.
Just like a house without pets, a house without a fireplace doesn't work for me. I light a fire almost every single night in the wintertime. Needless to say, my fire has been going full tilt this winter.
This exotic tile motif puts all the attention on the fireplace wall. I love how the mirror is offset for a fresh spin.
This roaring fire in my own cottage isn't just the main source of heat, the flames are mesmerizing to watch.
It's far more exciting when the individual rooms in a house are approached with their own unique decorating personality. Of course you need flow, but not every room requires the exact same materials and palette.
Muriel Brandolini is a master of the mix, and her designs for this home, shown above and below, are always eclectic and expertly layered.
My personal pet peeve is when every bathroom in the house is a carbon copy of one another. In the end, when the entire house looks the same, it inevitably feels like a creative disappointment.
I love trees for privacy, softening the lines of a building and utlimately marrying it with the landscape. Well-considered foliage will also help with your heating and cooling.
Framing a view to the trees like this is always artful.
This curved stair wall also in Taromina, Sicily features built in planters for geraniums and dedicated spots for pots — so clever.
I scouted this gorgeous house designed by Nicholas Spencer Lewin in Chester, Nova Scotia last summer (keep an eye out for it in H&H soon!).
Not only was it beautiful architecturally, it was also surrounded in stunning landscaping including colourful vegetable gardens that felt simply magical.
7) Low Level Lighting
Every night I ask my hubby to turn off the overhead lighting in the house. I am far more a fan of table lamps and wall sconces for ambiance. And I can't say it enough, everyone looks better with the overhead lights on dimmers!
Here is an especially gorgeous antique wall sconce in the bedroom of stylist Sasha Seymour's chic Toronto home. The exposed cord adds to the impact.
8) Eat-in Kitchens
Who doesn't love eating in the kitchen where the food has been prepared? It's convenient, it's communal and it's comfortable.
I would far rather eat casually near the cook and watch or partake in the process than have it served formally in a dedicated dining room. It's much more fun for the cook too!
9) Secret Passages
There is something so magical about secret passages and doorways. This doorway built into a wall of panelled cupboards reminds me of a secret portal to another world, just like the one in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
In the home of architects Christine Ho Ping Kong and Peter Tan of Studio Junction the principal bedroom (and kids' jumping ground) connects to the children's bedroom through a sliding Japanese-style shoji screen. So much fun for kids.
10) Finds from Nature
Stumbling on surprise jewels in nature or urban settings always makes me smile.
Like this transparent dragon fly wing, tucked into the pine needles on the forest floor.
Or a conch shell worked into the plaster of a church wall in Mexico.
A leaf peeks through a tear in a sheet of birch bark.
And a charming homescape made of carefully placed rocks on the beach in Costa Rica seems to say "there's no place like home."
1. Pools by Kelly Klein, via Mark D. Sikes blog, photography by Bruce Weber
2-4. Suzanne Dimma
5. Room design by Mark D. Sikes, House Beautiful Dec/Jan 2011 issue
6. Suzanne Dimma
7. Design by Muriel Brandolini, House Beautiful October 1997 issue
8. Photography by Catherine Gratwicke
9. Interior design by Suzanne Dimma, architecture by Arriz & Co.; House & Home October 2011 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
10-12. Design by Muriel Brandolini; Elle Decor; photography by Eric Boman
13. Design by Anthony Todd
14-15. Suzanne Dimma, design by Nicholas Spencer Lewin Design
16. House & Home September 2011 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
17. Apartment Therapy via Emma's Design Blogg
18. No credit available
19. House & Home September 2011, photography by Michael Graydon
20-23. Suzanne Dimma