I made an appearance on Steven and Chris this afternoon on CBC, and if you were wondering about any products I mentioned, here's a list!
Sources for the Raj Christmas Vignette:
- Paint colour, Benjamin Moore's Colour Stories Cascabel Chile (CSP-445)
- Console, Elte
- Gold Beaded Wax Flicker Candles, Pottery Barn
- Gold Pillar Candles, Crate & Barrel
- Pine cone wreaths and pine cones, Emblem
Here are the templates I mentioned on the show:
1. Oak Garland
My Favourite Things:
2. Samsung Galaxy Tablet S: Thin and light, breathtaking display, colours are richer, more vivid and more accurate, the photos look like professional prints and movies have a cinema-like quality!
5. Bamboo throws: Available at Elte in a variety of colours.
6. Hermès Mosaique au 24 and Mosaique au 24 Platinum: Mosaique Small Silver Plate, Mosaique Medium Plate, Mosaique Gold Mug, a tribute to the birthplace of Hermès (24 Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris), takes you to the heart of the boutique's architecture where each decoration reflects the lively patterns of colours and light of the famous boutique's floor.
This month I'm on the hunt for great outdoor pots. Walking by the Club Monaco store on Bloor Street in Toronto, I was inspired by the huge assortment of pots they had assembled all planted with green and white, exactly as I hope to do in the country.
All the pots were some shade of grey or black with a few terracotta ones tucked into the mix. So now I'm on the hunt for great pots. After years of trying to lug heavy stone pots even just a few feet I've given up on anything that I can't easily move — at least when they're empty.
The new man-made faux stone pots are great looking, real terracotta is always a classic choice, and real or faux zinc and tin are a good addition to the mix.
I checked out these pots carefully. The jet black pots are painted terracotta. It was a reminder that I have a collection of painted pots in my courtyard that are in need of help. They suffered over the winter, plus it's time to add some new, freshly painted ones before I plant them with herbs.
The trick to painting your terracotta pots in matte black is to seal them first with a silicon sealer so the moisture doesn't cause the paint to peel. Then finish by painting them with enamel paint.
Here are a few pot options with a similar look.
1) The lightweight galvanized Ikea Husön planter, (13" h. x 15", $25), won’t rust.
2) The Home Depot’s classic New England terracotta pot, (20" h. x 20" w., $50), can be left au naturel to develop a patina over time, or painted matte black.
3) The environmentally friendly Kobo planter by Hauser, (22" h. x 19.5" d., $98), won’t fade.
4)The square Harmony planter (24" h.) in black resin from Canadian Tire is a bargain at $30.
Here is Renée Mitchell of Reneevations who started assembling the pots — a mix of vintage and new — in our country home in the Hudson Valley. It's a beginning!
Over Easter at our country place we tried out the new Crate & Barrel Pronto pizza oven. It's amazing! It works off a propane tank, and it heats up quickly to over 800°F!
It comes with its own pizza stone, all you need to buy is a wooden pizza paddle, corn meal, and the ingredients to make your own dough and toppings.
You'll find the recipe for GREAT pizza dough here on our website. You'll see it calls for 00 flour. I've had quite a few people ask where to buy it and what it looks like.
Here are three brands carried by Fiesta Farms in Toronto: Caputo, Riscossa and Molisana. Look for them wherever Italian imported foods are sold. It really makes all the difference — you can produce thin, crispy, pizza if you use this flour.
New Les Indiennes Outlet
Now for a really great new shopping source!! The first and only Les Indiennes outlet store has opened in Hudson, New York. It's amazing: it's big and full of their best selling linens, fabrics and accessories. You'll recognize many classic patterns. The prices are so good, you'll be thrilled. Worth the visit!!
Browse a gallery of more pots, urns, boxes and planters for spring here.
I'm writing to you from the Hudson Valley in New York State, where I spend as many weekends as I can in an early Dutch stone house built in 1750 that I love. This is the place to write, and cook, do DIY projects and just chill...
This weekend my to-do list included learning to bake the amazing sourdough country bread that I tasted last month at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I am right in the middle of making the "sponge" or culture. Next blog I will share my results and the recipe that I'm using. I'll also include the recipe for homemade flatbread or naan that is so easy you'll make it often.
But for now I want to share four favourite places to eat and shop in the town of Rhinebeck, New York. Every weekend I spend here, my first stop in Rhinebeck is to eat at Market St. I love their kale salad and in fact H&H got the recipe from their chef and published it in our February 2014 issue. It's amazing. I make it every few days and everyone I serve it to asks for the recipe.
1 bunch Lacinato kale (about 14 oz)
2 oz aged Tuscan Pecorino, shaved (or more!)
3 tbsp mild extra-virgin olive oil
1 1⁄2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1⁄3 cup pine nuts
1⁄4 cup dried currants, raisins or dried cherries
Step 1: Wash and spin-dry kale. Remove and discard ribs. Roll each leaf and chiffonade as thinly as possible. Place in a large mixing bowl with half of the cheese. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Toss and let stand for a few minutes.
Step 3: Add the remaining cheese, pinenuts and currents and toss.
My second stop is Hammertown Home. They do a good job of bringing in lines of furniture and bedding and accessories that are easy to mix and have a laid-back, classic charm.
This trip I saw a few new things that caught my eye.
Blue and white accent dishes were stacked high.
I spotted this leather-framed mirror and skinny steel bookcase (I measured them and went home to confirm the fit). I ended up buying both. They worked perfectly!
I loved this kit of slate placecards with chalk and dowels. The price was great at under $30.00 so I bought it.
I also bought these bottlestoppers with decorative wood finials — perfect for olive oils.
My third stop was Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy, a cooking store that always has the latest cookbooks and a great selection of linens, cookware and tableware.
They carry a line of beautiful handmade candles from Ester & Erik that are displayed in the metal racks they are made in. When you buy them, the wicks are clipped to release the candles. Very cool!
Last stop this trip was Paper Trail, the card and gift shop with wonderful accessories including coverlets from John Robshaw, scarves and candles in the newest colours, decorative throw pillows, loads of stationary and clever gifty things.
That's all for this trip. Keep the Hudson Valley in mind the next time you're planning a weekend getaway!
All photos (except 2): Lynda Reeves
2. Keith Ferris
This past weekend, I visited Canada’s annual Interior Design Show 2014 in Toronto and photographed my favourite things. Here are some of the best things I saw.
Decorative tile is a big category this year, since pattern underfoot and on the walls is a huge design trend. Mettro Source has some great ones. Their Arabesque porcelain series in the classic Moorish shape was very cool, and comes in white, pale grey, grey or black.
This concrete tile from Creekside Tile Company Ltd. caught my eye for its earthy palette and rustic patterns. The dyed concrete tiles can be used indoors or out, and each tile is hand-pressed, creating a relaxed, imperfect look that I love.
The watery, iridescent tones of these glass tiles by Edgewater Studio are so fresh. This Vancouver-based company has a made-to-order program, so you can choose the pattern, material and colour that’s perfect for your project.
Quebec-based Jardin de Ville, which has stores in Toronto and Quebec, featured beautiful tablescapes and outdoor appliances in their booth.
This griddle takes its name from the Spanish word plancha, meaning iron or grill. The cast-iron surface sits atop two gas burners and uses minimal oil to cook everything from fish to eggs, and won’t create any smoke. Condo owners can look forward to an electric balcony-friendly version available at Jardin de Ville this summer.
I loved the combination of the black cast-aluminum table and teak chairs (that spring when you sit!).
This sleek outdoor shower from Jardin de Ville is a Swedish design and hooks up easily to a hose.
Bigfoot Door showed off their amazing high-performance doors and windows, but what caught my eye was the black iron log rack mounted on the wall. Wonder where that came from? Such a simple design.
W Studio recently launched Picture-Perfect Carpets, an exciting program that can turn a high-resolution image into a custom area rug. Imagine the possibilities!
Over at Studio North, Canadian furniture designer Laura Langford showed her Lounge Chair No.137 (Burnt) in dark chocolate leather with a charred ash frame. Pretty gorgeous!
These unique bedside tables by Drake Wood Design are handcrafted using maple, walnut and cedar of Lebanon, and finished with a limestone handle. They would be beautiful in a cottage or country home.
I loved the simple form of Jonathan Sabine’s ash shelf. Jonathan was inspired to create this piece after noticing scaffolding in an old Japanese film. I’m continually drawn to Japanese minimalism for pieces in my own home.
After this inspiring roundup, I look forward to seeing what IDS15 has to bring.
1-2. Jenna Cadieux
3., 5., 7. Margot Austin
4., 8-13. Lynda Reeves
6. Lauren Petroff
I've had some form of a kitchen work table in every kitchen I've had, and I've had a lot of kitchens!
Even the tiniest kitchen had a small square counter-height unit with a butcherblock top and a shelf below. My favourite reason for having a kitchen work table is so I can use the lower shelf to hold baskets of produce — like onions, garlic, potatoes — anything that doesn't require refrigeration. Then on the counter surface, I can have a basket of fruit, a cutting board and a loaf of bread propped like a stylist would.
I like the lightness of a table as opposed to the weight of a solid island. One great tip is to look for an antique pine harvest table with pencil drawers to hold flatware or napkins. Many of these tables also have a lower shelf.
If you want a new piece, check out my View column in the October 2013 issue of House & Home Magazine. You can also watch a video in our October tablet edition of H&H on your iPad or Android tablet where I show you the gorgeous islands in the Bulthaup showroom and talk about ideal dimensions.
Here are 10 more great work tables we found at retail or available online:
1. We used this Restoration Hardware table in the kitchen of the showhome we did for the Princess Margaret Hospital two years ago. You might remember, it was a mustard yellow kitchen.
I remember that we were about to build a custom table using reclaimed wood when we found this one, and it was perfect. I love the lower shelf. It comes in two sizes, and the reclaimed pine timbers are beautiful.
Salvaged Wood Kitchen Island, Large (pictured). 96"L x 40"W x 36"H. $2495. Small, 48"L x 30"W x 36"H; 66"L x 35"W x 36"H. $1695 - $1995. At Restoration Hardware.
2. With the same feeling, but finer and with drawers is the Antique Italian Bakers' Work Table or Island from Old Plank Road.
This is outrageous in price at $10,980 U.S., but it's inspirational. The antique Italian industrial steel frame is a wonderful colour and this table includes two drawers and a nice wide lower shelf.
Antique Italian Bakers' Work Table or Island. 48"L x 30"W x 36"H; 66"L x 35"W x 36"H. $10,980. At Old Plank Road.
3. Also from Old Plank Road is the custom-made Steel and Bronze Table with Oak Top. If you thought the last table was expensive, this one is $17,500, but again, it's great inspiration and it's a great size. This is table height, not counter height, and would look great in the same room as the last work table.
Steel and Bronze Table with Oak Top. 156"L x 42"W x 30"H. $17,500. At Old Plank Road.
4. Back to reality — this one is called the Newland Kitchen Island with Wood Top from Hickory Chair. It feels like a Stickley design: handsome with four drawers and a lower shelf.
Newland Kitchen Island with Wood Top. 64.5"L x 33"W x 36"H. $4860. At Cocoon and Elizabeth Interiors.
5. From Williams-Sonoma comes this really practical work island. It's called the Bastille Kitchen Island and it includes a removable birch butcherblock tray with handles, perfect as a cheese tray, a black granite inlay tray, two drawers, a towel bar, storage for 12 bottles of wine and a neat closed cabinet with an inner shelf for things like glasses, or cans of mix, or an ice bucket. It's also on casters. This would be a great unit for entertaining.
Bastille Kitchen Island. 51"L (extends to 72"L) x 27 1/2"W x 36 1/2"H. $5710. At Williams-Sonoma.
Shown with slide-out work table (23"L x 20 1/2"W x 30"H).
6. Here's another similar island from the same company with more wine storage and larger drawers but it's rather busy. We used the exact same one in a smaller square size in a client's coach house recently and it looked great. The detailing of the grey painted frame with the warm tones of the Rubberwood butcherblock top and the brass trim looks really good. Much better than I expected it to when we ordered it.
French Chef's Kitchen island with Drawers, Double. 44 1/2"L x 18 1/2"W x 36 1/2"H. $1640. Single Island, 24 1/2"L x 18 1/2"D x 36 1/2"H. $795. At Williams-Sonoma.
7. Williams-Sonoma also does a similar style but in reclaimed pine with a white marble top. The marble is great for hot pots, and if you like to make pastry, marble is the best surface for rolling out your dough. It has deep drawers and a lower shelf.
Reclaimed Pine & Marble Island, Double. 45 1/2"L x 24"W x 36"H. $1900. Single Island. 24"L x 24”W x 36" H. $1267. At Williams-Sonoma.
8. Pottery Barn offers a rustic work table, also in reclaimed pine called the Hamilton Reclaimed Wood Marble-Top Kitchen Island. I like the double shelf — perfect for storing platters — the two deep drawers with dark iron hardware, the white marble top, and the casters. Slated shelves are a nice touch.
Hamilton Reclaimed Wood Marble-Top Kitchen Island. 52"L x 30"D x 36"H. $2514. At Pottery Barn.
9. From Crate & Barrel we found the Belmont Black Kitchen Island. The colour is a nice change, the butcherblock top looks great with the black painted base and the unit has lots of closed storage and two drawers, plus two towel racks. It has a leaf that drops down, but in the photo it's shown up, so it must run the length of the unit and just folds up and locks into place so it forms an overhang for you to sit at. Clever.
Belmont Black Kitchen Island. 44.25"L x 20.5"D x 36.5"H. $660. At Crate & Barrel.
10. Finally, also from Crate & Barrel, comes this classic French patisserie table in black iron with a white marble top called the French Kitchen Island. The top is polished Carrara marble and the lightness of the base and lower shelf make it perfect for a small kitchen.
French Kitchen Island. 54.5"L x 28"D x 36.5"H. $1322. At Crate & Barrel.
Now that this is such a big trend I'm sure there will be many more versions of kitchen work tables available this coming year so keep your eyes open for new ones on the market.
If you decide to have a custom work table built, one tip is to be sure to find a place to install an electrical outlet. I often use my food processor and mixer and blender on my work table and having the plug nearby is essential. It also gives you the option of placing a small lamp on the work table which creates nice mood lighting, especially when you're entertaining.
Jennifer Zakariassen, a devout H&H reader, was catching up on her summer reading with our June 2013 issue and came across my column about bargain finds. I asked readers to share photos of great finds they've come across, and Jennifer sent me her photos of these amazing wishbone chairs by Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner.
"A year and a half ago, my husband and I were on our way to my sister-in-law's house when we came across a heap of old furniture and garbage on the side of the road (we live outside of Ottawa). As we drove by, I happened to see the shape of a "Y" and immediately asked my husband to stop the car. Having read House & Home for years, I'm familiar with the ever-popular Hans Wegner wishbone chairs. I couldn't believe my eyes when I turned one over and it was stamped with a 'Made in Denmark'. There were four chairs, and only one was broken (but the piece was with the chair). The seats were a little worse for wear. My husband, the great sport that he is, loaded them in the car, cobwebs and all. I explained our good fortune as we drove off.
I really want to put them to use, so I'm looking at getting the seats and broken chair fixed. However, I have to be careful not to devalue them. I'm not even sure what they're worth, although to me they are priceless! Talk about a bargain find!"
Share your own bargain finds by commenting below!
For those not-so-lucky in bargain finds, new Hans Wegner wishbone chairs are available through Design Within Reach (starting at about $900 each).
1-2. Jennifer Zakariassen
In my May 2011 column, I rounded up the colourful spring items that have caught my eye. There were so many, I ran out of space! So here are a few others that I think are worth a mention.
This is the Fiona Mustard Green ceramic lamp from Arteriors. I love the shape and colour of the base, but I would swap the shade for something more classic to suit my house.
The Babi mirror from The Conran Shop would add a vibrant punch of colour. This ornate orange lacquer showstopper is typical of the Rococo period. It's outrageous and expensive, but wouldn't it look great paired with a more serious chest in black or bleached oak?
And finally, these graphic dish towels from John Robshaw Textiles are an easy way to add spring colour on the cheap.
1. Fiona Mustard Green ceramic lamp, Arteriors
2. Babi mirror, The Conran Shop
3a. Lenox dish towel, John Robshaw Textiles
3b. Clove dish towel, John Robshaw Textiles
3c. Poseidon dish towel, John Robshaw Textiles
Huge apologies for taking so long to post this second part to my first blog. As usual, life has been too busy.
As I post this, Japan has just suffered the effects of a devastating earthquake and tsunami. One thing I can tell you, now having been there, if there is one country in the world that can rebuild in record time, it is Japan. The Japanese people are so disciplined, devoted to their country, and technologically advanced that they will overcome this heartbreaking disaster.
After leaving the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, we landed in what felt like another time. Kyoto is a graceful, beautiful place full of temples, gardens and tales of the shoguns and warlords.
We stayed at Hiiragiya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese tatami-style hotel. Michel had been there years before and insisted we do this. Barry and I were skeptical, to say the least. Debra was cautiously optimistic. We checked in, through an ancient doorway where you remove your shoes and are asked to choose slippers from many well-worn pairs before entering a dark, creaky lobby. “Yuck,” I thought. Not a good beginning.
We went for a walk in search of lunch while our rooms were being prepared and our baggage unpacked. We walked into the Kyoto Osaka Hotel, looked around at the western-style grand lobby, and Barry said, “These people have real beds with legs!” He had read my mind. I wanted to check in, right then and there.
But Michel would have none of it, and he was so right. We ended up loving our ryokan and agreed that Kyoto would not have been the gracious experience it was without the fun of kimono-clad hostesses dressing us for our traditional Japanese meals, held in exquisite rooms while our beds were being unrolled and made up and our baths drawn. The second day, we discovered the new wing, hidden from view, cleverly designed to expand the space seamlessly in a dramatic contemporary style.
Barry does not like fish. So, being served raw or barely cooked fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner was not his fantasy vacation. But he was a good sport. The meals in the hotel were an interesting experience that I'm glad I had, but don’t need to repeat.
Two more things: a tatami mat is more than just a decorative floor covering. It’s also a unit of measurement in Japan. The size of a room is typically measured by the number of tatami mats. In the Kyoto area, tatami generally means 3 x 6 feet. Another thing I learned is to request that your bed be set up in the early afternoon. You'll be glad for a nap after a day of temple tours.
I won’t go into detail about our tours, other than that my favourite was Nijo Castle. There are too many to talk about and each one had something wonderful about it. Just get a great guide and the most comfortable shoes, no matter how ugly.
Ho Chi Minh City
Next stop was Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam or, as the locals still call it, Saigon. This is the country that I know I will return to. I think everyone felt the same way, as Vietnam is such a compelling and fascinating place. We are all history buffs, and Vietnam is like a living documentary on the war that shaped our generation.
Not to be missed are the war museums in both Saigon and Hanoi, the famous Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong lived underground for years in an elaborate maze of hidden corridors. In places, the tunnels open up into rooms where parts of fallen aircraft were made into weapons and trap apparatuses. You have to see it to believe it!
We discovered true Vietnamese food in Saigon and we all fell in love. My favourite meal was the famous pho at Pho Hoa on Pasteur Street, a restaurant widely regarded by locals as serving the best pho in town. We were the only tourists that day and we liked that.
One day, we asked our guide to take us to Café Nang, a 1956 landmark whose 75-year-old owner, Mrs. Thai, brews nearly every cup herself, served with condensed milk. Our guide could not believe we wanted to go to this tiny hole in the wall, but we insisted. They served an intense rich brew that gives new meaning to the words "caffeine high". No matter the neighbourhood, we were after the real experience.
Sometimes that got us into a little trouble. Like the evening we took a taxi to our dinner reservation at Cuc Gach Quan for a gourmet meal. The taxi pulled up in front of an old house. Not deterred by the lack of lights, signage or greeters at the door — and no indication that this was, in fact, a restaurant — we carried on anyway. “This must be what really authentic Vietnamese restaurants are like,” I thought.
Through the front door and up two flights of stairs to a living room where there were two girls eating soup and whispering, we sat down on the sofas and waited. A man came in who didn’t speak English. “Dinner?” we asked. He shook his head. “Eat,” we said. He shook his head again. “Food,” we said; he frowned. I pulled the address and phone number of the restaurant out of my purse. It was written up as an out-of-the-way place where chef Thai Tu-Tho and her architect husband, Tran Binh, had just renovated an old house to create a chic new restaurant where the food and presentation were great — a rare combo, it said.
I showed him the address in the article. He picked up his cellphone, dialed, spoke to someone in Vietnamese (probably said, “I have four nutcakes here who think this is your restaurant”) and handed us the phone.
“Don’t worry,” a reassuring voice told us, in beautiful English with a soft Parisian accent, “he will put you in a cab and you will be here soon.”
Here is the restaurant we finally arrived at — worth all the confusion!
To this day, we don’t know where we were. A home? Maybe, but something else was going on there — some kind of private club, maybe?? I suppose we should have been worried, but we weren't.
Sad to leave Saigon so quickly, we flew to Da Nang for a quick trip to the beach at Dien Duong Village. For us, this detour was an expensive waste of time. It was the rainy season and, as beautiful as the Nam Hai Hotel was, spending time at a western-style beach resort — that, frankly, we could have found in many places closer to home — was not worth the trouble.
Our rooms belonged in a movie — so exotic and designed to the nines, but not comfortable. You risked breaking your neck just getting out of bed in the middle of the night, navigating your descent from the slippery ebony platform, getting tangled in the miles of gauze draped around your bed. The desk was hysterical — no way was Michel going to sit in the tiny “pod” and get stuck for life! The lights over the bed were for those who can read in the dark — all form, no function. Designers take note!
Oh well, on to Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Our stay was a memorable two days. Not enough. We stayed at the famous La Résidence, built in the 1930s. From the moment you walk into the red lacquered lobby bar, you can see that it has retained its Art Deco grandeur. Very Indochine!
Hue was two days of temples and the old imperial city. Again, too much to try to describe. Each one was so different, and all were beyond beautiful. I remember being in the temple of Bai Dau, the last emperor, and so grateful that the war did not destroy this magnificent building.
On the last day, we took a boat trip down the Perfume River, wearing our pink (disposable) plastic ponchos that Debra had so kindly provided, together with our umbrellas, rain hats and hoods, all of which did not keep us dry. We looked like drowned rats and Barry keeps reminding that he has a photo that I would pay good money to destroy. I can only imagine. When it came time to tip the lovely woman and her husband who worked so hard running their tourist boat, I pressed some bills into her hand. Later, I discovered I had given away all my Japenese yen — hundreds of dollars worth. It was a good way to spend it.
Our last stop in Vietnam was Hanoi. The 1,000th anniversary of the city was the following week, so things were ramping up and the crowds and parades were exciting to see.
We stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole — so grand and elegant. Ask for the Opera Wing. Vietnam is the place to go upmarket and book the best rooms in the best hotels. For about US $325, you will enjoy a stay that would cost three or four times as much here and even more in Europe.
I found our trip to the “Hanoi Hilton” fascinating. It’s the famous prison built by the French, and later used by the Vietnamese to imprison the American POWs. One side is devoted to the period of French rule where Vietnam’s prisoners were locked in chains in horrific dungeons. The other side shows the more humane conditions of American POWs, including Sen. John McCain — clearly their most famous prisoner — complete with posters, his uniforms in glass cases and a homemade movie of him and his fellow POWs playing ball in a grassy yard. This, like the other war museums, seemed like an attempt to be as objective as possible, for people who had suffered through war on their land for over 20 years. I wonder how objective we could be under those circumstances?
As we left Vietnam, I wished several things:
- That the whole world could see how commerce, including retail of luxury labels, seemed to be thriving in this Communist country. And that Communism does not necessarily mean suppression of beliefs. Many Vietnamese we met were either Catholic or Buddhist and had not given up their religion when Ho Chi Minh established a Communist regime.
- That we had hired guides who were history or political theory professors. Our guides were fine, but we had deeper questions and we knew we were getting the guidebook explanation of most things.
- And, most of all, that I would return.
On to Siem Reap in Cambodia for three nights in Angkor to see the famous temple of Angkor Wat and the jungle temple, Ta Prohm.
We stayed at the Amansara and I loved it. Michel, however, did not. He thought it was too programmed and far from authentic. Debra said what I knew to be true: this was the absolute best way to see Angkor. I loved our rooms, the shiny black rickshaws, the fabulous meals and the early 1960s vintage Mercedes that took us to the airport.
Angkor Wat is one of the most incredible structures made by man.
You just have to see Angkor Wat and also Ta Prohm (the jungle temple) (pictured above), where trees with massive roots have grown around and through the buildings. Rent Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and see for yourself.
I was the slug on our trip. Of the four of us, I was the one that, more than once, simply did not want to climb yet another ladder of steep steps, trudge through another temple when my feet were gone or walk under nets filled with bats and bat droppings just to see one more block of stone. By the time we left Siem Reap, I was ready to go home.
Unlike Vietnam, Cambodia was not a country where we felt we could talk about the history, like the unspeakable genocide of Pol Pot that led to the killing fields. It seems that everyone you meet is young.
Our trip was almost over. Michel and I flew to Bangkok, then home via one night at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. Barry and Debra went on for a quick trip to Beijing.
Michel surprised me with a real treat: Emirates air first class to Hong Kong. It’s everything you’ve heard it is. “Rooms” with private minibars, vanities with makeup mirrors, a desk, a bed, of course, and all the movies you could want on your own big-screen TV. The bathrooms are full size with real showers. Oh well, once in a lifetime!!
I returned home refreshed, inspired and filled with design ideas and, most of all, with a new perspective about parts of the world that I had read and heard about every day for most of my life. The Campbells were great travelling buddies in every way. Barry says that on a trip like that, everyone is allowed to be a total grump for one day. I didn’t see it, ever … but, then again, I don’t recall looking as bad as they claim I did. So the memory is selective.
All in all, a wonderful almost three weeks. Now we’re busy planning our 2012 adventure.
This is the first in of two blogs about our amazing trip to Southeast Asia this past fall. (For the more recent post, click here.) Michel and I and our great friends Barry and Debra Campbell went on what I think was the perfect three-week trip to Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia and then home via Bangkok and Hong Kong.
If you love design, architecture and food and have not done this trip, I hope this blog will be a keeper for you … and that you will get there.
I take zero credit for the planning of this trip. After agreeing to leave H&H for three whole weeks (first time ever), I just closed my eyes and left the details to the others and our travel agent, Marla. It was a hard decision for a control freak! But it was the only way I could agree to go for such a long time.
I did do three things before I left (all essential, I think):
I bought Michel and myself Rimowa luggage, based on Debra’s research.
Totally worth the price, these suitcases will make your life so much easier. The key is the interior mesh dividers that compress your clothes — and the wheels that are so fabulous they make wheeling a suitcase feel like walking your dog. Buy one carry-on that will hold all you need for an overnight stay, plus your computer. I also bought one large suitcase that held everything I needed for three weeks.
And I asked Jason Rees, our H&H tech guru, to get me an iPad and load it up with books and mags.
Plus, I bought comfy shoes and packed light layers, including a great raincoat with a big hood. You have to have one to do this trip.
I never expected it to be this fabulous. Our first stop was Tokyo. Michel chose his favourite hotels in Japan and restaurants that he knew from the many years he did business there.
We stayed at the Okura Hotel, which is a perfectly preserved modernist building from the early '60s. Elegant, quiet and serene, which you appreciate after a day of noise and neon in the city centre.
Let’s start with the food, because every bite of this trip was memorable. First night munchies hit at 3 a.m., when you’re starving (14 hours ahead of Toronto). Michel ordered udon noodle soup infused with curry. I passed and then grabbed bites every time he ran to answer his Skype. This soup was so good that I ordered it every chance I got — until we left. The broth was creamy with curry and bits of roasted chicken. I am going to try to get the recipe for our website. It’s that good.
Our first dinner out was at Zakuro, a shabu-shabu restaurant that Michel had been telling me about for years. You would think that his memories of Tokyo food would be about sushi or Kobe beef — but no. He talked about their tomato salad so often that we had to go there and find out what the big deal was.
We all had it, and we all agreed. Best ever!! Three secrets to this salad. Good-quality tomatoes — cut in chunks. Serve it in a clear glass bowl that sits on a bed of crushed ice. And the DRESSING. Sesame oil, rice vinegar, miso, ponzu sauce and celery seed is my best guess. Maybe a hint of ginger...
You just want to drink it. It’s that good. Debra and I each asked to buy bottles of it from the kitchen to cart home. The recipe above produces a taste that’s pretty close. If you read Japanese, I can scan the label and send it to you — if you promise to share the ingredient list with me, okay? I will post it in the next blog.
We also had the shabu-shabu (like fondue, only with broth and very thin slices of raw beef, tofu and veggies). But it’s that salad that I dream of.
The next day we were guests for brunch at the residence of our ambassador to Japan, Ambassador Jonathan Fried and his wife, Paula. Barry and Debra are friends of theirs and we were lucky enough to be included.
The residence, called Marler House, is an amazing property right in the middle of Tokyo, with beautiful gardens, next door to our embassy, a modern building designed by Raymond Muryama. If you live in Toronto, you would know the Bata Shoe Museum, one of many important buildings he has designed here at home. Touring the library of our embassy and seeing H&H on display felt great!
One rainy day we went to Harajuku, home of the famous Harajuku girls. Our guide told us that high school girls arrive by subway to this downtown hub, stash their school uniforms in lockers and dress up in their bizarre (but cute) outfits with parasols and green hair.
The street was such a riot with crêpe stands on every corner. Barry bought one and we all had a bite.
Of course, we also saw Japan's famous anime shops and arcades. I'm afraid I didn't quite get it...
Our two best sushi meals were lunch at the restaurant Hototogisa and dinner at a private club.
We were the guests of Michel’s old friend Mr. Yagu. His assistant, Schiko Tsujimoto, took us to visit the small boutiques of young Japanese designers, then on to his club, where the most stunning collection of Le Corbusier paintings lines every wall. Our sushi was wonderful, but the art collection was one of the highlights of our trip.
At least one whole afternoon was spent in the boutiques of Ginza, a ritzy area of central Tokyo. All the top labels have their own buildings designed by the world's most famous architects, each one incredible, all in a row. Debra and I knew before we left that clothes and shoes would not be on our list anywhere in Asia. You have to wear a size 10 shoe to understand the looks you get when you ask for your size in the land of
size 4 feet. Sometimes the sales clerks would just point to our feet and start laughing. But purses? That was a different story.
Only, Tokyo is very expensive. The cab ride from the airport to our hotel was about $400 Canadian. You get the picture.
Besides shopping, there was the Mori Art Museum, with its fabulous installations by Japanese contemporary artists that made us rethink our whole concept of nature, and the glorious temples we toured with our guide were so inspirational.
At one temple we found ourselves in the middle of a traditional Japanese wedding. So beautiful. I looked at the bride and could not help but wonder what her life will be like...
The temples of Japan are glorious. The gardens are serene, magnificent works of art. Sometimes they include a wishing wall, with wishes written on cards by visiting tourists.
Our last night we dined at Ukai-tei, a traditional teppanyaki steak house in Ginza. If you love beef and you ever go to Tokyo, you must dine there. The whole “melt in your mouth” thing that is never true … is true there. The beef dissolves on your tongue because it’s so marbled, it’s mostly all fat. Once in my life is enough.
Our last day in Tokyo we got up very early to go to the famed fish market. Hoping to see a tuna auction, we learned that the lineup for tickets made it impossible, but never mind because the market itself, many football fields large, is so incredible, you could get lost for days — unless, of course, you got run over first by one of the speed carts zooming along the aisles. Tourists have been run over more than once when they got in the way of the day’s important business.
I got carried away by my love of uni (sea urchin). I bought a whole wooden box of it so Michel and I could eat it with a spoon on the train ride to Kyoto later that day. And we did!! It was like ordering 100 orders of uni at a sushi bar — for the price of two orders. How could I resist? It made me realize just how many middlemen come between us and the fishermen...
We were sad to leave Tokyo so soon. Three days and nights was not long enough. By the way, Michel also told us that the french toast at the Okura is legendary. And it was. I think to make it you would need to coat your bread in cheese soufflé — and then grill it lightly. So good...
On the train to Kyoto, you have to see the ladies in their pink maid uniforms and face masks in the train station who line up and jump on the train when it stops to clean it before you get on. All through Japan we noticed people picking up garbage — caring about their cities and taking pride in their condition.
Next time, Kyoto and kimonos, then on to Vietnam and my new love affair with pho...
As promised in the November 2010 issue of H&H, here are a few notes and sources for the new country look that I just can’t get enough of. Take a look and be sure to comment with any sources of your own to share.
Beige is a fantastic resource for furniture, lighting and accessories. Natural finishes and linen upholstery are key elements in this shop — their selection is the perfect combination of dressy and casual. As I said in my November 2010 column, it’s this kind of contrast that gives a room attitude. Don’t forget, Beige also has a location in Ottawa.
Boo Boo & Lefty, Toronto
This store sells a variety of products, from furniture to lighting to must-have accessories for your dog (after all, their store was named after their own dogs). Their collection is quite tailored but maintains an element of comfort which effortlessly translates into the new country style. Make sure to stop in next time you’re strolling down what we like to call “the Yonge Street strip” of design stores — it’s a must-see.
Crate & Barrel, Toronto, Mississauga, Calgary
Although mainstream, Crate & Barrel is a very accessible and affordable source for a few new country-inspired pieces. The Pacifica Hutch would be a great alternative to upper cabinets and the Jack and Zak table lamps would add a touch of elegance to any space.
Liv by Au Lit, Toronto
This sister store to Au Lit Fine Linens is a good source for slipcovered furniture that completes the new country look so well. Take a look at their refurbished vintage pieces, like this settee, too. Incorporating antiques into your decor adds that stylish worn look to your home.
Sawkille, Rhinebeck, NY
Sawkille is a group of highly skilled artisans that run a studio in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Their work is refined and the craftsmanship is impeccable — definitely a source to check out for great investment pieces like these stump stools and side tables.
2. House & Home July 2010 issue, photography by Ted Yarwood
3a. Pacifica Buffet With Hutch Top, Crate & Barrel
3b. Jack and Zak table lamps, Crate & Barrel
4. Settee, Liv by Au Lit
5. Stump Stools and Side Tables, Sawkille