Rustic and Elegant: A Marriage of Opposites

 (Image source, unknown)

Forgive the extended absence.  End of summer travel, kids’ illnesses, client projects, and school starting tomorrow, are all to blame!

For the last couple of weeks though, I have been thinking about what seems to make a room beautiful to me.  Some rooms, like some people, just instantly create a connection and for me this is usually caused by beautiful tensions.  In people, I’m drawn to kindness and good manners coupled with a dark sense of humor.  In design, I like elegance and beautiful lines, coupled with rustic finishes, patina, and that quirky off-kilter piece that keeps a room interesting.

(Elle Decor)

I think this is why Axel Vervoordt and Darryl Carter were such important designers to me when I was getting started several years ago.  I was drawn to the classic architecture juxtaposed with the primitive pieces of furniture that served double duty as both functional and artistic. 

 (Elle Decor)

This primitive demilune table being used as a vanity in Darryl Carter’s Virginia farmhouse was tremendous inspiration for me. 

Initially I combed salvage yards looking for rusted antique tools that I could display on top of beautiful lacquered turned leg tables or even a buffalo skull that could be hung on classic architectural elements such as picture molding under a coved ceiling. 

It was this image, below, on the cover of Elle Decor a few years ago though that was my aha moment in design:

I still don’t know if I have seen a room as beautiful before or since!  The gorgeous gate leg table, the rustic barn sign (found on the side of the road) and the whole room done on a white background, floor to ceiling that makes the room feel like art itself was breathtaking.  Everything is a play of opposites from the rustic elements mixed with the elegant to the neutral color palette of black and white. 

What moves you in design?  Can you find this play of opposites in your home?

In Love With Unlacquered Brass

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about kitchen renos lately, I have been searching and searching for faucet options that are or mimic antique brass.  Not the brass we grew up with in the 80’s with it’s shiny, bright, (blaring?) golden tones, but the aged, burnished brass with that patina that speaks of French cottages or even old Moroccan Riads.  I think of antique French horns…

Or antique ship gauges…

So why is this brass so much more appealing?  Unlacquered brass lacks the outer finishing coat that preserves that shiny appearance.  It actually allows the fixture to age and show patina–a living finish.  Although the brass may be shiny at first, over time it will age–and the more use, the better.  2-3 years will give most fixtures some patina but you can speed up the process by adding ammonia.

So the big problem seems to be that no one is carrying unlacquered brass fixtures yet.  Only a few high end places (Waterworks, Lefroy Brooks) but those are out of most people’s budgets.

The only place I was able to get much information about acquiring unlacquered brass fixtures was from a design firm called Tracery Interiors.  Their blogpost about this kind of brass was really informative and they even recently completed a project using it. 

(Tracery Interiors)

This is the pantry of the space they designed and it’s hard to really see it in this picture but the patina of the brass still reads from far away–Love it!

So what are your options if you can’t afford the high end fixtures right now?  Apparently there is a treatment you can have done called “dipping” that removes the protective coating from a lacquered brass fixture.  To have it professionally done, check locally for someone who restores metallic finishes or fixtures or restores brass instruments.  To try it yourself, check out this link from  If anyone has done it or has more to offer, please let me know!

I may try it myself and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Family Room

Well, I’m just going to say it–here is where we watch TV.  There’s no getting around that big ole screen so instead I just distracted with my own version of a salon wall.  (I must have moved my cat out of the way 10 times before I just gave up!  Why do cats always want to be in pictures?)

I just had to focus for a minute on the little reading chair (disregard the cat damage–that chair is a place holder for a wingback) with the Elvis print above it.  That print was a gift from a dear friend who was a librarian near Memphis, TN when I was in college there.  The little white plant stand/side table is an antique milk jug from a local farm. 

The entertainment center is a vintage (maybe antique) shop display counter.  It’s a rustic piece made of redwood and I refinished it with tung oil and tacked some canvas in the windows to hide the electronics.  Below is a before picture (again with the cat!).

 I pulled off all of the white particle board and it was solid wood underneath.  It took a lot of sanding to clean it up but it turned out well.  I love a nice rustic, primitive piece juxtaposed with something elegant. 

The coffee table is a vintage mahogany table that was in terrible shape at the bottom of a pile at a salvage yard here in Berkeley.  I sanded out all damage and then refinished it with tung oil too.  I still need a rug for this sapce and I am pretty sure I am going to order this one.  I’ll post another picture when I get the rug–that could be a while…

Thanks for stopping in!

Dining Room

For these pictures I had planned to set the table with my good china and create some amazing centerpiece with fresh cut flowers.  But the boys started fighting and the baby woke up and I grabbed a basket of apples from the kitchen and this is how it ended up.  Anyway, here is our dining room-

This table is directly across from the fireplace in my previous post and in between is a pass-through to get to the kitchen.  The table was a farmhouse table we bought years ago when we moved into our first house in SF.  We bought it and some other things with some money my husband won on a game show (No kidding!  Does anyone remember Rock and Roll Jeopardy?).  The chairs we purchased at the same time and you can see their transformation in this previous post.

The bench is an old church pew that I got at Ohmega Salvage, a great salvage yard here in Berkeley, and refinished.  The chandelier is from Pottery Barn–a house-warming gift from my mom when we moved here.  The curtains were my first sad attempt at sewing and one of these days I’m going to go back and redo them.  The silver candlesticks are from family and the linen on the table is vintage Hungarian from ebay.

Has anyone noticed how expensive the french grain-sack pillows have gotten?  I was going to buy some at the flea market over the weekend but instead bought the french grain-sack material (also not cheap–I think I got about 6 feet for $70 but it was only 17″ wide!).  I made these pillows from it last night.

The Windsor chair is also from the Alameda Antiques Faire last year.   It was in my living room but I moved it here to take the pictures and I like it so much I might not move it back–I have to find a mate! I still have some items to get to make this room complete (rug!) but it’s coming along.  Thanks for stopping in!

Upstairs Landing

This image is of our upstairs landing.  It’s hard to picture it now but this wall used to be the entrance to two very tiny dilapidated bathrooms.  The floors were carpeted when we bought the house and we uncovered them to find this gorgeous old growth Douglas Fir.  The mirror is vintage, from family, and the bench is antique Chinese from the Alameda Flea Market and Antiques Faire.  See my previous post to learn more about this market.  The sconces are from Ohmega Too, a fantastic lighting store here in Berkeley specializing in period reproductions.

Antiques Faire

My friend Julie and I went to the Alameda Antiques Faire today and saw so much great stuff.  This fair/flea market has gotten so big in the 2 or so years we’ve been going to it–we had to get there before 7:30 just to be able to park at a reasonable distance and when we left a few hours later, the line was a football field long.  When we first started going we would stroll in around 10am and walk right through.  It is a great fair though and well worth the effort.  I didn’t take as many photos as I meant to–it was freezing and we were so busy running from stall to stall–but here are a few:

An amazing theater sign from Gone With The Wind

Antiques from Germany

A beautiful antique German farmhouse table

And a collection of vintage model boats

Although there was much I saw that I wanted, I only came away with some fabric and a few more antique bottles.  There’s always next month though as this fair happens the first Sunday of every month in Alameda. 

Refinished Desk

The above picture is of my husband’s home office.  He works from home one day a week so a well-functioning desk was a priority.  A few years ago I found this 1940’s desk at a salvage yard and took it home, sanded it, stained it and finished it with my favorite for wood–Tung oil–and gave it to him for his birthday.

I also replaced the drawer pulls with really beautiful solid ones from Restoration Hardware.  The pulls cost more than the desk, by far!  The numbered mail sorter came from Pottery Barn but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore. 

I love the way tung oil breathes with the wood and adds such warmth to it–very different than a polyurethane.  It ages much better too.

I couldn’t resist a close up of this little sign our son made for my husband when he was first learning to write in kindergarten last year.  My husband keeps it on his desk–it’s good to be reminded of this every once in a while!

Kitchen Dilemma

(Image via – Beautiful soapstone counters

Although our kitchen redo is a while off, I am contemplating all the details all the time.  I go to bed at night with my head swimming about counter tops, shelving, flooring, etc.  Currently my biggest dilemma is what to do for the counters.

(Image via

In an ideal world where budget wasn’t a consideration, I would have some lovely configuration of soapstone, marble, and maybe some antique butcher block or zinc-wrapped counters.  Because I don’t even really know what our budget is at this point, this may all be moot anyway, but I would love some reader feedback.  I love the look of the honed marble above.

And this lovely worn zinc-wrapped counters with reclaimed wood beamed shelving–Gorgeous!
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Does anyone out there have marble?  How do you like it?  What about soapstone?  What about Ikea butcher block?  I would love to hear some opinions on this–Thanks!