Friday, December 31, 2010

The French House Wife Dinner

One of my favorite fantasies is to be a French house wife. You know, live in France, shop the food markets, and cook like a French woman.

I have been this way for years and years after spending time in France, and then working in a French restaurant in New York for six years. So I schooled myself to cook French dishes, to think like a French house wife at the market, and to latch onto what I perceived as a more genteel lifestyle.

Visual Vamp table setting inspired by France

So for Christmas Eve dinner, I knew I wanted to do a classic French house wife supper, simple and fresh food, well prepared. I chose to do roast chicken with herbs, a medley of vegetables (baby beets, baby carrots, squash, shallots), and herb roasted potatoes. I asked Jack to make a chutney, and he obliged with one made from black berries, apples, and cherries. The wine choice was a festive sparkling rose.

Dessert (and a baguette for the dinner) was purchased from the local patisserie: A hazelnut Buche de Noel. Added to the dessert table: Miss Elaine's cashew toffee, a cranberry lemon cake in the shape of Christmas trees, Alberto's arroz con leche, a bowl of dark chocolates, and the star of the show, flaming Cafe Brulot.

Cafe Brulot cups and dessert plates on the sideboard

Classic New Orleans Cafe Brulot cups have a devilish jester on them

A special copper pot to flame the Cafe Brulot

Setting the table is as much fun as cooking for me. I knew I wanted to do red this year, so I raided the cupboards for all the red ornaments I could find.

Vintage ornaments, sugared fruit, sequin flowers, all in shades of red

I had two yards of a red damask print fabric, that I used for a tablecloth. The print is called Mairselles!

Red Le Cadeaux plates from perch.

I used a white under plate, and a red dinner plate from a company called Le Cadeaux. It's Melamine, and we sell this line at perch. The plates come in many classic French colors and patterns, and you have to touch them to realize they are not china, and even then you aren't completely sure.

Mix and match glassware

I mixed and matched glassware, one glass for champagne, and one glass for water. I used red linen napkins with tiny a twig wreath as a napkin ring. A place card was tucked into the napkin ring. White ironstone butter pats were used to hold individual servings of sea salt and cracked pepper.

White under plate, red dinner plate, red linen napkin
White ironstone butter pat for salt and pepper

Antique flatware - we use it everyday

Chairs were mixed and matched too. The dining room is tiny, and the table unopened holds a snug eight.

Visual Vamp dining room - dinner for eight on Christmas Eve

You can see a couple of videos Alberto made of the night HERE and HERE.

The table was set with L*O*V*E

We are totally enjoying the holidays, and I love when Alberto films our good times so we can share them with you.

Paper white narcissus plant on the white lacquer bar tray

Other little touches included a paper white narcissus plant on the bar tray, and some baubles added to the chandelier.

More baubles on the chandelier

The candles were lighted, the music was playing, the dinner was ready, and ding-dong there's the door bell!

Visual Vamp Christmas Eve table setting by candlelight

Hope you enjoyed this last Visual Vamp Tablescape Thursday. Stop by Susan's Between Naps On The Porch HERE to see what everyone else did to close out 2010.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Does Your Furniture Talk?

How many times have you rearranged the furniture in a room? What makes you jump up from the couch and start to push it around? Does it whisper in your ear and say "move me"?

The after Christmas lull gets me moving on small projects, like rearranging furniture. I take my Christmas decorations down on January 7, the day after Three Kings Day. Moving the furniture is a prelude to the post-Christmas refresh.

I have a small living room, no family room, so the living room is well-used. There is not one clear wall in the space, that is, not one wall without doors or windows. It's a tricky little room to get just right.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Pattern chair, lime green silk drapes, drawing of Cholo by PVE
Walls are a softer version of Billy Baldwin brown

It's no secret that I was influenced by the interior decorator Mr. Billy Baldwin at a tender age. To me the rooms he created were the filled with things I loved: color, books, flowers, pictures, pattern, sophistication, a mix of high and low furnishings, furniture arranged for conversation, rooms filled with warmth and interest.

I never intended to slavishly copy a Baldwin room, yet somehow so many things I saw in those rooms have trickled down in a modest way into my decor choices, personally and professionally.

I rearranged the furniture in the living room so that furniture is "talking to one another".
The French settee is now placed facing the sofa, in front of the double doors that are at the entrance. At first I was concerned it would block the way. But with a little nudging and tweaking I managed to allow enough room to pass in and out of the room.

I love seeing the back of the settee. I also love bringing back the lime slip covered wing chair and ottoman. The chaise lounge is in the guest room now. Moving furniture from room to room really makes a room feel new again.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Portraits of Kenny, Michael Pelkey, and Audrey Hepburn

When you sit on the camel back sofa and look out, the new arrangement of furniture provides a cozy cocoon.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Mario Ortiz

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Lieu Of A Proper Thank You Note

I want to send each and every one of you a personal handwritten thank you note.

When that seemed impossible, I wanted to make a list of every name of every person who sent prayers (that were answered). I wanted to add to the list the names from emails that were filled with love and concern. And then thank each of you for the comments you left on the various posts I did about Canada.

You blew up Facebook with your heartfelt comments and messages.

Fund raisers were held by tango communities all over the USA for us, including a whopper in New Orleans.

I wanted to list all the bloggers who did a post for Alberto and me ( I have tried to re-post them on Facebook when I find them), and of the many bloggers who held auctions for us, or donated something for those auctions from baking cookies to beautiful works of art, or gave us something we needed from your Etsy shop, or bought our book Gotta Tango.

I so wanted to list the names of all of you who sent fruit baskets and brought over food once we made it home, and of course I wanted to post the names that showed up on the roster for a Paypal donation to

It amounts to hundreds of names.

As Alberto recovers, we have spent hours and hours reading each and every name. We cry alot reading these amazing names, so many of which are of people we "don't know". And then we cry harder reading the names of all the people we know, and who love us. We can safely say you are loved, and we are loved.

We have tried to search and acknowledge every blog post many of you did about our time in Canada.

Then we tried to cross reference it all and make a master list. This has been going on since Thanksgiving when I originally wanted to name names ha ha.

Well, we are just not up to it! It is too much for us to do. We need a a blog intern ha ha. But we couldn't let another month go by without saying something, without offering some kind of thank you note, proper or not.

First responders in Canada, doctors and nurses in two countries, family, fellow dancers, bloggers, readers, kind strangers, tangueros, and loyal friends from all over the world:

We can't begin to express our gratitude for your solidarity and compassion, for your words of comfort, love and support along with your prayers, good wishes and most important, generous contributions that helped us raise the necessary funds to return home.

Thank you and let's dance more tango in 2011, and blog, and decorate, and be good to each other.

Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz dancing Tango on Fulton Street in New Orleans

Alberto and I send our best wishes for the best holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous new year.

All of the fabulous hand lettered examples come from Stephen Rapp.

From his web site:

"Word and image are the key components in any graphic campaign. Each must effectively convey the message on both a practical and emotional level. This is where custom type and lettering excel. Hand lettered words express emotion much like the human voice. They can, in some cases, even serve as illustration. In our ever expanding digital environment the sense of human touch conveyed with hand lettering stands out as a welcoming voice.

Lettering and typography are my passion. I’ve studied and practiced lettering and type design for over 2 decades. Along the way I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of styles and media. If you have a project that might benefit from custom lettering or type; please don’t hesitate to call or write."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

They Urned It Too!

Jaithan Kochar & Eddie Ross have urned it HERE and HERE

Stylists and designers and decorators have been putting Christmas trees in urns for as long as I have been in the business, which is like forever in dinosaur dog stylist years, and I reckon long before the word stylist was even bandied about.

I've gathered a bunch of images for you pinched from Google, a round up for your enjoyment and inspiration. Feel free to credit them for me.

It makes sense since chopping down a tree and bringing it into the house, is perhaps the most basic expression of using something from nature or the garden as the unexpected element being used in the house, the house being the expected element. Back in the 1990's the whole inside/out trend was in it's heyday. Decorators loved using the word juxtaposition.

Decorators were schlepping moss, twigs, birch trees and branches, dirt, sand, river rocks, autumn leaves, Galax and lemon leaves, dried flowers, rose petals, grapevine, and curly willow into house. Floral designers would throw it on dining tables as centerpieces, the idea of dining in close proximity of dirt seemed edgy and radical and beautiful. And it was. Just like an indoor picnic without living bugs.

Using containers meant for planting and potting flowers outdoors also became en vogue. The more moss covered they were the better, and Martha Stewart advised us to use a concoction of dirt and buttermilk to turn our pots into petri dishes to cultivate the green stuff. Tricksters like me simply hot glued moss to everything. I covered a Chanel bag with moss with a white gardenia adhered to the clasp for a bridal photo shoot, and covered another one entirely in hot pink decapitated rose heads.

The fiberglass urn was a godsend. A collection of them (and the coordinating pedestals and plinths) became the tools of the event designers trade. Concrete and plaster were still used, and terra cotta too, but nothing beat the ease of hauling fiberglass up and down freight elevators. The art of faux finishing flourished, and those urns and such would shock and awe as this petite stylist would hoist one on her shoulder, filled to the brim with flowering branches or baroque hedonistic bouquets heady with opulence. Some teamster type working in the hotel would stop dead in his tracks to marvel at the strong girl carrying a huge urn.

I kept alot of my props and equipment when I left New York and my design business there. And as things always do, stuff that was once special and hard to get, comes mainstream, and volia there's Martha at K-Mart offering urns and containers to the garden variety home decorator. We pros bought them too, because the price point was far better than the prices we paid at the wholesale prop vendors, florist supply shops, and garden centers. We scoured flea markets and antiques shows like Brimfield too searching for that just-perfect awesome urn with just the right amount of patina and crustiness.

I love the way a Christmas tree looks in an urn. Using a faux-fake-artificial tree is alot easier than using a heavy real tree. Table top size works best if you are intent on having a real tree.
Eddie Ross and Martha have great tips on their web sites in the how-to department.
Moi? This year I just shoved my tree in the urn and let the lower branches hold it in place. Of course I don't have children or a tree climbing pet to bother it. King Charles Spaniels rarely mess with decor, except to enhance a chair, a sofa, a bed, a bench, a throw, or a cushion with some artful lounging and poses.

When a tree is elevated in an urn you get the extra bonus of hanging space for the ornaments on the lower branches. Even when I don't use an urn, I tend to elevate a Christmas tree to get this extra display real estate.

Visual Vamp tree sans urn but still elevated on Tiffany boxes

Table top trees in urns are a good way to start. and yes every big box store and catalog sell a tree already lighted and already in an urn. Just fluff, and add ornaments. Antique style feather trees look swell in urns, and retro style tinsel or aluminum trees look wonderful in urns or placed in big retro style pots. Huge flower pots work well to, gilded or painted your favorite color, or if a terra cotta is your thing, use as is. Even a huge box would work, and you could always gift wrap it, or use the iconic darlings like the Tiffany box or the coveted orange Hermes box.

Visual Vamp Christmas tree in an urn HERE

I am sure none of this is news to you, so if anyone has potted their Christmas tree in an urn, tell us about it, and/or send me a photo because you know I love to show off readers homes and projects.

Balls! And I Urned It

With all that happened in Canada, I lost a couple of holidays. Did Halloween happen this year? I guess I had my own scary Halloween in Calgary.

We had our kids come and visit us in New Orleans around the first of December for a four day weekend. It was the first time they saw us outside the hospital, and I was so proud of them making plans to come and see us sooner than later.

I had to whip the house in shape for them, something I do with all my love. I wanted to get the Christmas decor up, because this time together would be our Christmas together.

But this old vamp is slowing down, so I kind of slacked on the Christmas decorations I usually do, the whole Breakfast At Tiffanys Holly Golightly tree and trimmings HERE and HERE

I dug around in the shed and found a pre-lit tree from years ago that I used in our dance studio The House of Tango. We've been living in our current home for nearly six years, so you can imagine how much I had to dig around in a junk filled shed to find it.

Click on images for larger views~

Visual Vamp Christmas 2010

I dragged a garden urn in from outside, and shoved the tree in it. One reason I like to think this is an "easier" tree to decorate, is that I use huge over size gold balls to trim this tree. So that was that: Big balls and a pre-lit tree in a big ass urn this year! I guess I earned the rights to a slacker's decor this year ha ha.

Cholo says it's all good Mom

I added some gilded garland around a mirror and a gold tinsel wreath to the entrance table near the door, and a pair of square gilded leaf wreaths on the striped doors. I put the tree in front of a tall window in the dance parlor this year. We needed all the room we could get in t he living room, with the family visiting.

It all looks rather old fashion and charming.

Gilded leaf garland on the entry table mirror

I didn't do much in the living room, except for throwing the gilded leaf garland around the big clock, and plopping an emerging Amaryllis plant on the coffee table. I hope it blooms on Christmas day.

Visual Vamp living room
Christmas garland around the big clock

But then I added Cholo! He is always the perfect model and decorative accessory, and he gives me lots of kisses.

Cholo in the living room

I didn't drag out all the big guns this year, but kind of went for stuff that was easy to reach in the cupboards where I store the Christmas decorations. I grabbed the infamous "Eddie Ross" wreath I made last year, which is still a misshapen hot mess, that I force into looking pretty. I hung it on the mirror in the dining room.

Visual Vamp undecorates the dining room for Christmas

Eddie Ross glass ball wreath hangs on the mirror

I added a white lacquer tray that I got at Pier 1 for the holiday bar, and plopped a glitter ornament in a glass. Not much, but just enough. I am learning that restraint can look festive.

Visual Vamp holiday bar tray

A handmade Italian bowl got a collection of vintage ornaments I just scored at a tag sale across the street from our house. Check out the Christmas card Alberto got from The White House!

Christmas card from the Obamas!

Not many people send Christmas cards anymore, so the ones we get are treasured. Photo cards seem to be more popular than ever. I especially love the one with the greeting: Amazeballs! Can you tell me who sent it?

Amazeballs! Some people still send Christmas cards!

The large white Italian ceramic bowl filled with vintage ornaments is on the built-in buffet area in the dining room.

Visual Vamp dining room - built in buffet

I decorated the outside of the house for the kids too. I use the same decorations I have been using since we moved here, including a wreath I made from vintage satin balls.

Vintage satin balls make a pretty wreath

The tree really does look pretty seen through the window from outside of the house.

Peeking through the window at Casa Visual Vamp
A large garden urn holds the Christmas tree

All the neighbors know me for using the ginormous light bulb decoration, and around October they start asking me am I going to put them up again. But of course! I'm on a roll here with big balls, big light bulbs, and a big urn!

Visual Vamp outside Christmas decorations in New Orleans

Maybe Holly Golightly will return next year. Even though the look this year is not as "designed", I kind of like doing something more simple and different.

Do you guys change up your decor from year to year?

Anyhoo, I hope you enjoyed the pared down Visual Vamp holiday look I did.

Wish you were here to have a cup of holiday cheer with Alberto, Cholo, and me!