Using Trays to Style

One no-fail stylist secret is gathering things in mass on trays. It works in the living room on your coffee table, for home accessories, and even on the dining room table. It’s a universal stylist trick.  When I’m hunting flea markets and vintage shops, I’m always on the lookout for trays to add to my I prop stash. They’re just so versatile.

Trays make plating food simple and fabulous, and styling with them is a tool of the trade you’ll want to have in your repertoire. Next time you have a party to plan, look around the house for trays to repurpose. Think outside the box, and you will wow your guests.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use trays:

For an unexpected centerpiece: Gathering guests around the table will never be a problem if you place a beautiful tray of bruschetta (or any other nibble!) in the center.

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For salad, beverages, and desserts: Try turning the tray upside down to use it as a riser on the table.

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For a beverages station: Gathering glasses for guests to help themselves always makes for a beautiful display.

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For entrees: Using a gorgeous wooden tray instead of a ceramic platter adds instant style to your table.

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Photography in order:

Deborah Whitlaw Llewelleyn

Jennifer Davick

Marte Marie Forsberg

Deborah Whitlaw Llewelleyn

Michael Graydon

 

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Layered Pumpkin Bundt Cake

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It’s officially fall which means it’s time for all things pumpkin. We’re kicking off the season with this layered pumpkin bundt cake. Creating a fall party is be fun and easy, and this is one of my favorite fall recipes to welcome the season. Add it to your fall party menu. You won’t be disappointed you did!

Layered Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Serves 12

For the cake, you will need: 

– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
– 2 teaspoons ground ginger
– 1 3/4 teaspoons ground allspice
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 1 1/2 cups sugar
– 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
– 1 cup canola oil
– 4 large eggs
– 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
– 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
– 1 tablespoon grated orange peel

Note: 2 fluted bundt pans.

To prepare the cake:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter bundt pans; Butter and dust pans with flour. Sift 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients into medium bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat both sugars and oil until combined (mixture will look grainy). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and orange peel; beat until well blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until incorporatedDivide batter between prepared pans. Smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cakes completely in pans on rack. Run knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto racks, then turn cakes over on to a platter.

For the frosting, you will need:

– 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
– 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1 tablespoon dark rum
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
– 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar

To prepare the frosting: 

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in dark rum and vanilla. Add powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating just until frosting is smooth after each addition (do not overbeat or frosting may become too soft to spread).

For the chocolate icing, you will need:

– 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
– ½ cup cream

To prepare the chocolate icing:

In a small sauce pan heat chips and cream whisk until smooth.

To assemble the cake: 

Place 1 pumpkin cake layer, rounded side down, on platter. Spread the of cream cheese frosting over top of cake to edges. Top with second pumpkin half. Drizzle with Chocolate icing using a fork in a zig zag splatter pattern.

Note – Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

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How to Style Bookshelves


Staring at rows of bookshelves can be daunting which I’m sure is why people are always asking me questions about styling them. Where do you put the books? Where do you put the knickknacks? How much is too much? How little is too little? Do you layer items? Organize by height? By color? A few years ago, I teamed up with Ballard Designs to break it down to 7 golden rules, and that interview still holds true today.


You can head over there for the full story, but if you just want the quick and dirty details, here are the 7 Golden Rules of Bookshelf Styling:

  1. Think about storage: a bookshelf is an awesome place to disguise items that you might need to store. Use cute, function baskets to add texture and function.
  2. Incorporate artwork: layer artwork to add depth and create interest. Small art that you pick-up from markets, travels, and antique stores are perfect.
  3. Stack books: create vignettes by using books with bindings in similar colors and styles. Stack them horizontally for some unexpected height.
  4. Add collections: bookshelves are the perfect place to showcase any collections you might have. Think an arrangement of fun jars or a bowl of seashells.
  5. Use repetition: odd numbers are you friend. Organize like items in a row (3, 5, or 7) to bring a shelf together.
  6. Think creatively: tear off book covers from flea market books and bind them together with twine for texture.
  7. Don’t forget pops of color: throw in a few colorful items that complement the other colors in the room.

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renovation update: our final phase the dependence, 3 bedrooms 3 bathrooms

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Before of the now main floor bathroom

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The last and final piece of our renovation was an out building, the dependence. It was a very fallen down structure when we bought the Fortress. Forgotten and neglected, I knew it would be make a fun and funky addition to our compound. We brought it back to life last summer by literally rebuilding the structure stone by stone. Reinforcing the structure, tying it together with earthquake bars and creating lofts and doorways. In many ways, it was one of my favorite projects, and the design possibilities were both endless and limited. Endless, because we could put anything into the space, limited because the size was finite, and we needed to house specific features: 3 bedrooms and 3 baths. I love when projects are so precise in nature.

We came up with a clever design for the smallest room: the bathroom would be on the main floor and the sleeping nook in the loft above. It turned out great with lots of character as I used an antique wooden and zinc tub as the vessel that would be the shower. I found a ready made vintage library staircase that fit perfectly into the space and leads to the sleeping loft. A Moroccan window shutter became the door, and we retrofitted an iron cage as a hanging lamp.

The other 2 bedrooms are situated in the room next door. We decided that the best thing was to make it an a joined room sharing the loft space. Although it is a shared space, there is a sense of privacy because of the half wall. The only shared space is the ceiling. Each room has its own bath and its own entrance.

The dependence has a wonderful outdoor seating area overlooking the vineyard which is a completely different view from the terrace that has mountain views. I am pretty pleased with the outcome.

The proof will be in the next weeks as fall workshops begin. I’ll keep you posted. x

Before

Before

Many thanks to my design partner Forrest. Although it’s come to an end, we will always be collaborating. x

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The artists that live in a Castle

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When you live in Italy in an ancient place, you never know what is around the corner. There are always surprises. However, quite honestly, sometimes the surprises are not that hot. Like your kitchen is flooded because of a faulty part, or bees have decided to build their nest on your window sill (twice).

But sometimes something magical happens that makes up for all the mishaps and unfortunate situations. Last week I had some darling visitors. Full disclosure we have a rating system at La Fortezza: 1-5 (yes, just like Uber, we figure if you’re rating us, we get to rate you). These guests were a 5. Why you might ask? They are pleasant, funny, flexible, and non-complaining. Plus, the reason for a 5 rating is that they were very helpful putting last touches on the new guest rooms. As a special treat, I drove them to a nearby village that features a local specialty restaurant and a beautiful quaint village with a big ass castle perched on top. After a lovely lunch, we decided a stroll was in order. I vaguely remembered that the castle was inhabited, but I did not fully remember by whom, until we swung around the corner after ascending to the top of the village wall.

There stood a middle aged man in a red sweater with droopy shorts and cascading curls on his forehead. He looked a little like a middle aged Little Lord Fauntleroy. He smiled, and then I remembered him: we had met at a local pizzeria. He was with a friend, and my friend Forrest had introduced us. “I remember you,” I said. “You do?” he replied. “Yes, we have met before do you know my friend Forrest,”I responded. “No”, he said. After a rather confusing exchange, I did remember that he lived in the castle; he was an artist, and he lived with his mother. His name was Jacabo. That’s about all I was told. So it did not seem odd when he asked, “Do you want a tour of the castle?” Without hesitation I said “YES”. My friends and I looked at each other, and all said yes again in unison.

We headed through a gate. Off to the right, there was another gate with a barking puppy, and off to the left his Cordelia von den Steinen (his ,other’s) art studio, a sturdy, a low stone building with windows all around. We walked past her studio and up a small ramp to the giant castle doors. Inside the vaulted room seemed to climb up up up. With our mouths agape, we looked all around to find stone sculptures everywhere. It was massive and impressive. We all looked and asked questions. There were studies of what would become huge important sculptures, commissioned from all over the world. Jacabo’s parents were very important artists, highly regarded, and very successful, as was his grandfather. He and his family grew up in the castle. His father had bought is from a wealthy American who had bought it and painstakingly renovated it. They had moved there in the 60s, so this place was his childhood home. We could not get over the ground floor with all the gorgeous pieces displayed. We followed Jacabo, up the massive stone stairs to the 1st floor living space. When we entered the space, it impressed me how massive it was, decorated with modern low slung sofas, draped with Moroccan textiles with all the family artwork on display. It took my breath away, I felt like I had stepped into the pages of World of Interiors magazine. All I could say was “Wow.”

We strolled through the living area like it was a museum – which it was in a way. Jacabo casually told us about his parents and his siblings that lived in Rome. He was the only one living with his mother. He too was an artist, a painter. His work was surreal and impeccably detailed. I must admit, he is quite a character, a little eccentric and little disheveled, his shorts kept falling down to reveal his plumber’s crack. His English was all over the place even though I said to speak in Italian, he continued in his own form of English. The castle was spectacular, impeccable, a dream.

Jacabo was sweet, and he was so pleased we loved his place. After about an hour, the tour was finished. We found out a few things, but Google did a much better job of explaining the history than Jacabo. We thanked him and he asked for a small donation for upkeep etc. When he pocketed the cash I gave him, he stuffed it into his wallet that was literally filled to capacity which made me laugh to myself. As we were walking back to the car, we were struck by how wild it must be to have living in castle be your reality. A fun surprise tour, something that could only happen in Italy. It’s why I love it here so much. People just living and creating in the family castle as they say in Italy “Normale”. x

Read about Jacabo’s Father here

Read about his Mother here

Read about the castle in Veruccola here

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