Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My beach house

Here’s my new beach house.

In my last posting I noted we took a few days and visited Beaufort, SC.  I was a little nervous when C first booked our accommodations at what appeared to be a motel.  It is called City Loft Hotel and actually, I guess it’s still a ‘motel’ by definition, but it’s been completely remodeled and was quite nice and comfortable.  Someone has done a great job of turning a basic motel into a hip little hotel.  If you plan a trip to the Carolina coast, check out CLH.  Its one block from Beaufort’s downtown shopping and borders the city’s history district.

Everyone knows my fascination with historic houses so one morning we took a walk around Beaufort’s ‘Point’.  I was surprised the number of houses for sale.  How many buyers are out there for huge two hundred year old houses in a sleepy little southern coastal town? 

So, quickly our walk became a self guided tour of house shopping.

“Which one should we buy?”
“How about that one?”

Finally, we decided on one called The Castle.  It sits on a full city block and its north side borders the river.  It has a pier also about a city block long extending through the marsh, which will be great for docking the boat(s) I’m planning to purchase.  I over heard a horse drawn carriage tour guide say it was the most photographed house in America.  I’ll have to get some security.  I cannot tolerate the paparazzi.

C found a virtual tour of the house and its listing on line.  For some reason many of the rooms are painted bright yellow – not one of my colors!  But, once I get my Farrow & Ball color palette happening, the house’s interior it will be just fine.  The asking price is $3.75 million, which I think is well worth it.  I’m going to write a check as soon as I can find my check book. 

Here are some photos of my new beach house and a few of the other ones that I liked. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Low Country

When it comes to water I'm like a vampire after blood.  I may be able to get along for awhile without it, but sooner or later I need to feed. 

I was raised as a water rat.  When I was young, we lived at the beach near Charleston, SC.  My Mother was a stay-at-home Mom, so I have many memories of her and her friends loading us in the backseat of her Dodge and heading to the beach.  It was a daily occurrence. 

During my grade school and high school years we moved inland to Columbia, but my parents were outdoor types and they always kept property and vehicles on the local lake.  I spent my summers in the water being pulled from a rope behind a sky boat. 

The only thing I truly wish we had here on the farm is water, and our pool doesn't count.  Also, not being able to get great low country seafood is a negative.  Around here the restaurants specialize in bad country buffets or fried chicken.  Also C’s idea of seafood is Miss Paul’s fish sticks and I don’t allow those in the house.

Feeling the pull of 'big water' and the need to fill up on oysters, we decided to get away for a few days last week and drive to the coast.  Through the years we both spent a great deal of time in Charleston, Savannah, and some of the neighboring islands but neither of us had visited Beaufort.  One of the locals instructed me not to tell, but it's actually quite charming - a little mini Charleston if you will.  And there's water everywhere. 

We had planned to go out to the beach.  Most of the town is surrounded by marsh and river, so we drove out to Hunting Island one afternoon.  Hunting Island is a state park, so its beach hasn’t been striped of foliage and lined with McMansions like the rest of the South Carolina coastline.  Of course, we were told by everyone that the island, like Beaufort itself, was the backdrop for some of the scenes from the movie Forest Gump.  I saw that movie, but it was so long ago I don't remember it.  I remember something about Tom Hanks eating chocolate on a bench, but that's about it.  I guess Tom Hanks must have lived in Beaufort for decades while making this movie.  His picture is everywhere - in every shop, restaurant, and any other tourist location.  Also, most of the photos are signed so I guess he pretty much knows everyone who lives there.  Being the architectural geeks we are, one morning we toured one of the historic museum houses.  Our tour guide, who was well into her 80’s made sure that we understand she too had met Tom.  In fact, she told us of several discussions she and Tom had over where to get the best chocolates in town and other friendly little conversations.  It appears to me that she and Tom were quite tight and I’m sure they stay in constant contact and probably spend the holidays together. I saw a couple of pictures of Tom with his wife Rita Wilson.  No one mentioned her. I never noted that I do not care much for Tom Hanks and was not really a fan of the movie.  It just seemed like a thing to keep to myself!  Name dropping is OK.  I've mentioned before our house was visited by FDR and Oscar Wilde (read about The Barnes House).  Now of course that was before my time and I don't have their pictures on the wall.  But maybe I should!  “Randy, Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there!  Oscar!”

My only disappointment was the food.  Most of the restaurants were specializing in high end ‘new’ low country. I never did get an oyster.  At least I did make it to the ocean.   Our intent on visiting the beach was not to sun or swim but to just take a look.  But, just like a Labrador puppy I headed straight to the water.  And while C sat on the beach and watched, I splashed around in the surf and made sure I soaked in as much salt water as possible.  I should be good to go for at least another year.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learn to dress appropriately!

I need a wardrobe makeover.

OK, so that statements seems strange coming from me.  Especially coming from the person who has given out much styling advice (whether solicited or not) over the years.  But, here is my dilemma.  In my past NYC corporate life, I generally stayed true to ‘a’ look – navy or gray suits with open collar French cuffed shirts in the summer and gray wool suits or black wool trousers and cashmere sweaters for the winter.  It was not the splashy point of view, but for the conservative retail organization in which I was a part of it was practical. 

After sporting that for years, I now find myself with a closet full of dark suits, dress shirts and sweaters which do me little good down here on the farm.  Outside of my blog time, I’m in my office alone, working on my other business which is consulting.  So, between all the hedges and gates and the fact that unless I’m traveling or have a scheduled appointment no one sees me. (except my partner and for some strange reason he seems un-phased or either slightly amused by most of my wardrobe choices). 

My office (which is in a constant state of design morphing) is in a snazzy little second floor apartment at the back of our farm.  It’s so removed from the road and the main house and has its own driveway, even the UPS guy can’t seem to find it.  If I wanted to I could get up every morning, throw on a pair of boxers and a wife beater and head out the door and no one would even know (and you know I have done just that on more than one occasion).  However, I’m trying to do better.  This is a lifestyle blog I’m writing, and I don’t expect you to picture me typing away in front of a roaring fire in a smoking jacket, but you do deserve a better image than the one I’m currently working. 

Part of the problem was last year when I left the corporate world I realized that other than a few pair of jeans and some weekend ‘garden’ tee shirts, I did not have the appropriate clothes to wear for ‘work at home’.  And since I did not know what path my future career life would take (and still don’t for that matter) I saw no need in running out and spending cash on new country attire.  So, I decided to do as Tim Gunn would say “make it work” with what I have. 

The day I realized I was in trouble was when I found myself standing under the front veranda with a garden hose spraying the nesting mud swallows away from the front columns.  I was wearing a wrinkled Calvin Klein gray and black dress shirt, cut off sweat pants and a pair of brown Gucci suede loafers.  The worst part was that I even had a fleeting ‘little Edie’ moment that this was truly a revolutionary outfit. 

This summer I went through my white or blue dress shirt worn un-tucked over a sarong and flip-flops stage.  It was sort of East meets West.  And I actually have to admit I really like this look.  It is comfortable, but it does require a wardrobe change if I have to go out – say to the local market or the old guy’s hardware store.  I do not think the town folk here in ‘no where’ Georgia would appreciate the thought I had put into the concept!

It’s hot here.  So jeans and such are just not the thing during most of the year.  The only shorts available are for old men or the camouflage Old Navy & Gap uniform that every gay man was wearing and is now the uniform of every man. 

I need to find something else.  I thinking it’s time to bring back seersucker, maybe with white V-neck tees, converse tennis shoes, and striped canvas belts. 

WOW.  There you go I just solved my own problem – at least through October.

While writing this posting, I remembered that a very talented young friend of mine named Lizzy is designing the women’s line for Steven Alan.  I have never paid much attention to the line or their stores before, since casual was really not in my wardrobe vocabulary.  But, recently I looked at the website and their 2010 summer men’s line is pretty much what I described above, plus a lot of great plaid and checks.  It’s hipped up traditional.   I like the look.

I need to see what they are doing for the Fall and Winter months.  I do own a smoking jacket.  A friend of mine purchased a smoking jacket from Neiman Marcus as a Christmas present for her husband.  Unfortunately they divorced before the holiday and I inherited the jacket.  I was 25 and it was not really age appropriate at the time.  However, I’ve held on to it and if for some reason this Steven Alan thing doesn’t work for me, I have the smoking jacket as a fall back plan! 

Images are from the Steven Alan collection and lookbooks.  Visit their site at

Monday, September 20, 2010

There is little difference between old people and rappers

Friday we took a day trip to Westville, Georgia.

What?  You have never heard of Westville! I cannot imagine why!

Westville is a fictitious town made up of a collection of federal style buildings and houses all dating from around 1850 or earlier. 

OK.  So it was somewhat of a geek thing to do, but we had been talking about it for a long time and wanted to see what is was all about.  Being interested in that period and style of architecture, we though we would give it a shot. 

Our farm is remote, but within 30 minutes I can get to a market that sells arugula or even a Target store when necessary.  However, Westville is far more remote being about an hour and a half south of us.

This collection of buildings was started near Atlanta in the 1950’s to showcase a lost way of life.  At some point the buildings were moved to their current 58 acre tract in rural Georgia.  The collection has been added to over the years and has saved many historic structures from demolition. 

It appears that on certain days the village is fully staffed with people wearing authentic clothing and working in the village as blacksmiths, cooks, shoe makers among other trades.  On the day we were there we spoke to a young girl in 1850 garb.  She told us she was bored.  I will refer to her as the village wench.

The place was completely empty.  For a while we had the village to ourselves and were able to explore each original plantation house, county courthouse and merchant building at our leisure - until the old people showed up!

The village wench had told us they were expecting a tour bus of about 65 ‘seniors’.  She did not seem particularly excited. 

A small farm house in the village has been turned into a restaurant.  It was the only place to get something to eat or drink.  I saw the ‘seniors’ when they entered the village and they made a beeline straight for the restaurant.  It was lunch time and I too was seriously considering food and drink.  However, as we walked toward the farmhouse and heard the ruckus coming from inside we decided that a late lunch would be more judicious! 

I would have starved first. 

After they all cleared out of the farmhouse restaurant we ventured in for lunch.  The place was a wreck and the two women who were working there looked frazzled.  They acknowledged that we were smart to have stayed clear until the ‘Seniors’ were done swarming the place.  The aftermath in the restaurant reminded me of the bar at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta after a Rap party.  OK, so I exaggerate a little, but you get the point – they were loud and unruly and left the place in a mess. 

Later, I noticed the ‘Seniors’ were split into 3 groups and officially toured through the village.  The ones with walking canes or hip replacements were loaded into several horse drawn wagons while the others rambled uncontrollably behind.  Once I heard them spontaneously break into song.  It was one of those old people tunes informing Jesus they would be seeing him soon. 

I am concerned.  Will I become like that?  Do we all fall into that type behavior?  Is it just something that happens with age and we get to the point were we no longer care what others think?  Or is it just that we become completely unaware of our surroundings?  Either way I am going to lose sleep over it! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Like Magazines!

I am embarrassed to admit to this, but you will find out eventually. In an earlier posting I made a brief comment that we hoarded cooking magazines. Well, the fact is that unfortunately it goes a bit further than that. Our (mostly mine) obsession is not limited to just cooking magazines, but also shelter publications. And I do not just mean a few. I mean most of them. For some reason I just have never been able to throw one out. For years I held on to every copy from the basics such as Elle D├ęcor to the not as basic as Australian Vogue Living – which happens to be one of my favorites. Occasionally I’ll let a subscription lapse,
 so I may miss an issue or two but generally I keep up until a particular title
goes out of print.

I think this obsession started years ago in our first house. In my mid twenties and with very little money to decorate, especially to buy real art I framed the magazines. I bought dozens and dozens of black picture frames and used the front covers. I used whatever we had laying around the house, from Time to Newsweek to Architectural Digest. I tried to keep some consistency by framing only those with a celebrity cover. I had everything from the cover with Cher in her see-through Oscar dress (I had been holding on to that copy from the mid 1970’s!), to the Playboy cover that featured Joan Collins. Stacked vertically and horizontally, one on top of the other, I filled all four walls of our small media room. People still talk about that room!

YEARS ago I stopped using the framed magazine idea, but even then I could not force myself to part with them. They are still packed away in the attic of the garage. Who knows, maybe it’s time to bring them back! Probably not!

More recently I had been trying to control the magazines as to not allow them to pile up around the house, but it was getting out of control. Preparing for the renovation, we knew we were going to have to move out of the main house so we built a guest house. Today, I use it as my studio and office, which includes a dedicated space to my collection.

Even though they are reasonably housed, I still try to justify holding on to them and honestly there just is no reason.

Until now!

My habit was to turn down pages of any article or feature that I liked. So I now have a fifteen foot long by nine feet high wall of blog material!

Get ready. Because I will be posting the best of the best.

Here are a few random rooms from some fairly recent Elle Decor and Met Home issues that fit the A.J.Barnes mood.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Tart Queen

One of our very best friends happens to be another ‘foodie’ like us. Every year we usually spend several holidays together, and a great deal of our time revolves around drinking wine and discussing what we are going to prepare for our next meal. Much conversation goes
into the concept that all meals not only must be exceptionally good, but it is mandatory they also look the part. My friend has a habit of sending me recipes on a regular basis that she has found in magazines, cookbooks, book club, and any number of other places. I do not think these mailings are necessarily supposed to be for my benefit as much as they are suggestions for menu items during her next visit!

I get about 2 ‘suggestions’ in the mail every month. She is very old school. No emails here, just the page torn from a magazine enclosed with a hand written note on her embossed stationary that goes something like this, “this could be cute for your next Xmas Eve dinner!”

Before her last visit I pulled out all of her ‘suggestions’ and realized that an overwhelming amount of them were Tarts. There was such a variety that I threatened to make a different tart for each meal – morning, noon, and night. Although, I did not go to that extreme, we did experiment with some of the more intriguing recipes over her visit.

Last weekend we were cleaning up and cutting back what was left of the summer vegetables in the garden. We had been ignoring it over the last couple of weeks.  Between the dog days of summer and a month of consecutive 95+ degrees without much rain, most of this year's garden had seen better days. But, on Saturday I noticed the basil. Where did that come from? In late spring I had bought a flat of left over small plants at a framers market and filled in one of the vegetable beds. They got lost in the mists of all the summer vegetables, but now with the garden fading the basil rules. Well it ruled until I chopped most of it down and made pesto and tarts!

As soon as I can get the Parnter to write some things down, I will post the recipes for both of these and some of our other savory morsels.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I should not be allowed to spend too much time with certain friends.

One of my best friends is thinking about taking a new job and relocating to Dallas. We have been having many conversations laying the ground work for her new house's design plan. She has not been offered a job, in fact her first interview is today! So, as usual our planning could be a tad premature. We have a tendency to spin each other into a 'what if' design whirlwind!

But, she has stumbled on an opportunity to buy a 1920's original Tudor in one of the oldest and most prestigious Dallas neighborhoods. The house has great bones, but its dark and needs to be updated. She and her husband are not the heavy dark wood types - they are really the more painted white wood, bowl of green apples, fabulous artwork types. Not to mention that the last time the house was updated was in the 1980's so not only is it dark, but the wall to wall carpet match the fringed drapes that match the sofa that match the wall paper. So, the challenge is how to bring this fantastic house into the present while respecting its authenticity?

While rummaging through ideas for her, I remembered a book I picked up five or six years ago. The Private House by Rose Tarlow. It's the perfect look for this house. Although the book never admits it, but much of the content is based on one estate in Beverly Hills. The original house was built by film magnet Jack Warner. Movie Mogul David Geffen bought the house and commissioned Tarlow to do the complete renovation. It took eight years before Geffen moved into the house.

In June's issue of Elle Decor it listed her as one of their 'Masters of Designs' and said of her style..."smart modern furniture, handsome antiques with a well oiled patina, and strong sense of emotion and mood" and called Private House required reading.

I love how she mixes pieces into a seemingly effortless design. Here are some images from the book.

I hope my friend gets the job. I would love to work on her house.

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