Apr. 22


NOW AND THEN: A Contemporary Connecticut Country House With A Provenance

by Lynn Byrne

By Lynn Byrne. This is a Peeping Tom post.  Really just an exercise in voyeurism.

While cleaning out my massive amount of glossie clips, I came across a photo of  the house built by Dorothy Rodgers, interior decorator and wife of composer Richard Rodgers.  Back in the 1960s, she wrote a book about her experience which I own, titled The House in My Head.

Dorothy was quite famous in her own right (not just as Richard’s wife) as a designer,  entrepreneur  and author.  The House in My Head was her second book. Click here to read about her first book,  My Favorite Things.

Dorothy could be called an early Martha Stewart, because both of her books dealt with  decorating, cooking, lifestyle and homekeeping (albeit a privileged lifestyle–Dorothy and Richard chose a Picasso as their Christmas gift to one another).  The books present  a charming. fairytale-like  look inside an earlier era.

What was interesting to me (and I hope you) was that the photo in my files was of the house as it has recently been redecorated today by Susan Zises Green. Susan is quoted by HB as saying that she barely looked at Dorothy’s book.  Funny, I would have poured over it.

Make no mistake, I would have changed whatever necessary to make the home lovely and comfortable for my clients.  Still, I would have looked hard at the first version.

A quick search on housebeautiful.com  turned up a number of other photos.  Naturally I had to pull out my vintage  book and compare.

Take a “peep”.

The hall today.  The flooring is the same white stone-like tile that Dorothy chose. 

Here is the entrance hall back in Dorothy’s day.  I wonder if the monumental front doors from Spain remain?  

The giant living room.  It still features a grand piano (obviously that was a necessity for Richard Rodgers), but here Susan reports that the new owners made a last minute decison to swap out the tile floors for wood.  Apparently that caused a bit of a headache to the decorator….

This is the living room back in Dorothy’s day.  Here you really can see how large the space is—it clocks in at almost 40 feet long—the Rodgers entertained often.  More bookshelves.  And that is the Picasso above the fireplace. 

Plus you can see the storage wall built here that separated the kitchen/pantry from the living room.  In the wall Dorothy stored extra tables, and it had a serving ledge for buffet meals (seen in the foreground).  The wall also had a  two-way passage that could be opened and closed as needed on the kitchen and living room side, to allow the servants (yes, servants) to swap out the courses.

The storage wall looks like it has been eliminated today.  This is the section of the living room opposite the bookshelves as decorated by Susan.

No clue where Susan placed the dining room. The house intentionally did not have a formal dining room when built.   Dorothy said she wanted to entertain more informally.  She also said she never dreamed of living in the home without “help.”  Wonder what type of staff the new family maintains?

Here is today’s master suite.  

Very different from Dorothy and Richard. They lived  Dick Van Dyke style with 2 separate bedrooms, baths and dressing rooms.  Sometimes I think having that type of space all to myself would be dreamy (one could always visit :-) ).  What do you think?

Dorothy’s bedroom. 

A corner of Richard ‘s bedroom. 

The next photo is  a sitting room in the house today.  Not sure where this is located.  If I had to guess, I would say Richard’s old bedroom because Dorothy wrote that his room had one of the best views in the house.  
This is the hall leading to the bedrooms.  Susan felt that it needed wallpaper to warm it up.  

In contrast, Dorothy felt that wallpaper generally was our of place in a contemporary home.  She had the rug custom made for the house. 

Finally, this is what the outside of the house looked like when Dorothy built it. I am not wild about the architecture, though it does look better at night. Sorry folks, I don’t have an exterior shot from today.

Hope you enjoy a true sneak peek just as much as I do.

Photos from today from housebeautiful.com.  Older photos from Dorothy Rodger’s book The House In My Head.

Apr. 04


NOW AND THEN: Flowers by Emily Thompson and Constance Spry

by Lynn Byrne

By Lynn Byrne. As we usher in April, I can’t think of a better time to do a post on floral design than RIGHT NOW!

And I am not ashamed to admit that I just learned about the wondrous floral designer, Emily Thompson, in last Thursday’s New York Times.

I am just happy that now I know.

The Times compared Emily to  famed floral designer of the last century, Constance Spry.

I am sure there are some of you out there who wonder who both ladies are.

First things first.

Constance Spry was essentially the world’s Martha Stewart from the 1930s though the 1950s. She did the flowers for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Need I say more.

Yes that is her back in the 1960′s and her flower shop in 1947.

Photo from Popperfoto/Getty Images

Photo from Hutton Archives/Getty Images


Constance was the first to urge folks to gather up whatever they could find in their back yards to make a pleasing arrangement, including vegetables, fruit and woodland objects. Hothouse flowers were not required. Neither were vases. She also was known for using inventive containers like terrines and jars.

How about this arrangement of decorative kale leaves.

Photo  from the Design Museum

And this one of grapes.

Photo from David’s Diary blog

Constance (or Connie to her friends) with an interesting container.

Photo from  Lost Past Remembered Blog

She is known to have admired and been influenced by the botantical paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters. You can certainly see that influence here.

Photo from David’s Diary blog

There is much written about her. A simple google will turn up loads of articles, with a particularly comprehensive series of posts by David Diary’s blog.

Plus she is the subject of a recent biography by Sue Shephard entitled “The Surprising Life of Constance Spry” available from these Amazon marketplace sellers.

Just marvel at nature in her hands.

Next 3  photos from David’s Diary blog

Photo from the Design Museum

Back in November 2010, writer Christopher Petankus wrote in the New York Times that “there hasn’t been anything truly new in floristry since Spry died in 1960.”

He seems to have changed his mind given his glowing review of Emily Thompson’s floral work in last Thursday’s New York Times. Emily, like Constance, uses highly inventive materials.

Petankus’ article discusses Emily’s quest for the perfect stump to ground an arrangement for a party at La Grenouille. He says she is “close to being crowned the next Constance Spry.”

Design history writer, Emily  Evans Eerdmans, also compares Emily to Constance in her blog. Click over to read more about Emily.

Following photos of Emily’s flowers from her website.

Here is the stump arrangement. 

Emily has a fine arts background in sculpture. The flower thing blossomed (sorry I couldn’t help myself) when she did a family wedding. Her shop still offers a sauceboat in the shape of a swan from her sculpting days for $5,000.

Photo from EEE blog

In the Times article, Emily  claims she is a flower “outsider.” I want to be on her outside. Take a look.

Radishes in a wedding boutinere. Sigh. 

It was a seaside wedding in Chatham. The cake looks like it is decorated with coral. 

An arrangement at the chic Bowery Hotel. 

Emily’s flowers at the Metropolitain Building in early spring. This looks so Constance. 

A holiday arrangement by Emily with fruit. 

Flowers by Emily for another winter party. 

A wedding in a barn.  

Of course, Emily has loads more lovelies over at her website, including a blog (which I plan to add to my reader).

Emily Evans Eerdmans scored a Valentine’s bouquet from husband created by Emily. Lucky gal. Here is a shot from the EEE blog of Emily Thompson finishing it up.  

Do you think it is too early for me to start hinting for one for myself?

Have a beautiful Monday everyone.

Very first photo shows Emily Thompson on the left and is from the 3/31/11 New York Times, followed by a photo of Constance Spry from David’s Diary blog.



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