April 14, 2020 — As editors of Flower magazine, we are fortunate to know a bevy of esteemed interior designers and tastemakers around the country. We thought you would enjoy their insights into coping and gracious living during these challenging times, along with inspiring images to fuel your imagination. From practical to amusing, we love what these talented people have to advise!
Keep scrolling to read them all, or click a name below.
- Marshall Watson
- Cathy Kincaid
- Matthew Patrick Smyth
- Frances Schultz
- Jonathan Savage
- Leta Austin Foster
- Susan Hofherr
- James Farmer
- Cathy Graham
- Jason Oliver Nixon of Madcap Cottage
- Suzanne Tucker of Tucker & Marks
We are so lucky to be able to shelter in East Hampton, where a chilly gloomy spring matches the current sentiment. That said, the warm winter has provided me with gorgeous blooms on my camellias (I push the zone with these).
On a fierce rainy day, I had had enough of doomsday media forecasting, and decided to cheer myself by cutting these blooms and floating them in attractive dishes all over our home, along with my daffodils on my Swedish sideboard.
I have joyfully rediscovered my garden (I am really only a weekender out here) and to see its day-to-day progression bounding into spring has brought me great joy. I only wish I could share it with others as I usually do. (I have planted over the years over 40,000 bulbs!)
This contemplative period has also seen me planting in the garden. My butterfly garden features Asclepias incarnata (Rose milkweed) Eutrochium maculatum, Joe pyeweed, and Oligoneuron rigidum, Stiff Goldenrod—all indigenous natives. I am fast seeding my lettuces and kales along with my forget-me-nots and alyssums in my other gardens. I am also dividing my day lilies and my lambs ears while preparing my deer garden (yes, I have a herd of 11 deer to contend with), which consists of my gray plants. (My deer don’t eat any gray leaves!)
A week does not go by where my house is not filled with flowers. Regardless of the season, no home is complete without fresh flowers and potted plants interspersed throughout. They add life and zest, comfort and beauty.
Matthew Patrick Smyth
Mastering the perfect omelette:
I never really narrowed down one thing I could master in the kitchen. I’m ok at most dishes but just “ok.” I decided that when I get back into the real world I will have perfected the omelette and will be known for them amongst my friends. Sounds easy, but I don’t just want to make an “ok” omelette, I want to master it. I want to be a world-class omelette chef!
I have pulled out cookbooks, studied the back stories, and copied recipes from Julia Child, Pierre Franey, Ruth Reichl, Jamie Oliver, and Michel Roux. Every other day, I will try another chef’s version. I YouTube them. Each are a bit different, something subtle to learn from each. Ingredients vary … it’s more interesting than it sounds!
I usually do not have time to cook (up till now), but soon I will be able to effortlessly knock out an omelette for myself or guests. If I am a houseguest, what better skill to offer my hosts than making a quick and expert breakfast or lunch for everyone?! I would invite me for the weekend.
I have been having fun with handfuls of grocery store flowers—in pin frogs, in trays and saucers, inspired by my friend Christin Geall’s virtuosa creations in her new book Cultivated: The Elements of Floral Style.
Like this, created in preparation for …
A KTLA-TV segment on spring entertaining that never was, but that turned instead into a virtual dinner party story on my Instagram, followed by the real (virtual) thing with friends from LA to NYC …
And other than that, I have been gardening my little bottom off (well it is not that little and threatens larger with each week of quarantine …) replanting dahlias, which are perennial here in southern California. I’ve also been starting seeds, which I’ve never done. If they all grow I will need a plot the size of Oklahoma to accommodate them. But I have always been better at arranging flowers than at growing them, so Oklahoma can rest easy. And yet, hope springs.
Also we, chef Stephanie Valentine and I, have been cooking and helping with our local Ynez Valley food relief program, and it feels good to contribute and to join with friends and neighbors to fight this wretched viral foe and to help heal ourselves, one another, and the world.
And finally, I have joined with the millions around the world to pray for our global community and for the men and women on the front lines of caring for those who are sick and suffering, and for their loved ones who are worried, and for all of us as we navigate this strange and difficult time with open hearts, open minds, and the cleanest hands we’ve ever had. Amen.
Tips for WFH (working from home) and just LIVING:
The key to working remotely is to make sure you and your staff are equipped with laptop computers and a centralized server so that everyone has access to all files. (Here at SAVAGE we use Dropbox Pro.) My office has set calls each day to discuss progress per project. We also share a running to-do list for each project with the tasks at hand allocated to each employee.
The most important thing is constant communication between staff members and yourself. If you do this, you will find it is not as hard as it may seem.
Personally, while I WFH I try to keep a great scented candle (Astier de Villatte’s Palais de Tokyo) and a bouquet of fresh flowers (tulips) on my desk (dining table). As for outdoor living, we have cocktail hour on the terrace each night and try out our mixology skills (which are limited). The latest fave is Moscow Mules! I often cook dinner and from many favorite cookbooks, but Ina Garten is always top of my list. My friend Randi and I compare and share her recipes often!
Read “Nashville with Jonathan Savage” or “Highlights from the 2020 Kips Bay Palm Beach Show House” to see a chic pool pavilion designed by his firm.
Leta Austin Foster
I try to do these things daily.
- Have a nice long coffee hour in the morning and read the paper while having it.
- Get fully dressed each day. Staying in your bathrobe, although tempting, leads to depression—believe me.
- Clean up each day—make your beds the prettiest ever. It will make you much happier when you go into your room.
- If you can go outside and pick some flowers, put them around your house.
- Try—try!—not to gorge on junky foods.
- Read. Books are more calming than any electrical device. It’s a good time to catch up on books you’ve been meaning to read. I am rereading right now The Prime of Miss Jean Brodi by Muriel Spark, having finished off two spy novels by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius—the best writer with real knowledge of the CIA. I am getting ready to start on a reread of all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series.
- Go for a long walk every day—fast if you can.
During these times, enjoy the simple pleasures and make the most of the quiet time. Nature is incredibly therapeutic, so enjoy family meals outdoors, spend time in the garden or bring the outdoors in via flowers or a thoughtfully staged indoor garden.
In warmer climates, people can enjoy the reprieve of stepping outside. Those in cities can plant a window box. Really use the patio for family dinners, or even bring a pair of outdoor planters inside to lift the space. Flowers and plants lighten the mood and can transform an indoor room with a little color and texture from nature.
- Keep planting—it’s a time to plant! But it’s hopeful to plant and good for the mind… as is to nourish and tend and have a blossom to look forward to.
- Make a list! I have miscellaneous chores I’ve put off. Now time is at hand and a list helps me stay on task and track. Plus, it feels good to scratch tasks off the list and feel accomplished. Those guest bedroom closets never looked so good!
- Get back to your roots—remember where you started, per se. Growing up, I used to plant pots and organize shelves for “clients,” aka my mother and aunt’s friends. Now I’m back at it, but for myself!
- Dining al fresco—it’s been wonderful! Cereal and coffee are better in the garden. A cheese board, a good book, and a glass of wine are perfect on the porch or patio.
- Cook and share. I love a pound cake but will eat a whole one on my own. I’ve been baking cookies and such and making soups too, halving immediately and sharing with my fam. I feel guilty wasting food especially on day three of that Tuscan White Bean Soup, so sharing it right away keeps me busy making more and not having the same leftovers for days!
- Spend a night away… in your guest room. Make sure it has all it needs for when you can have company again. Phone charger, water decanter, the right combo of pillows and linens—now is the time to order and organize little comforts to make this room guest ready. What fun it will be the next time you have overnight guests!
- Keeping some sort of schedule has been so beneficial to my health and mental composure. A touch of a bedtime and wake-up time keep me from binge watching too late and in turn sleeping too late. Gardening and exercising are good to physically wear me out too.
- Dreaming and scheming—I’ve sketched out fun projects for another day and season. I do well with a goal and vision, so dreams of a fun project down the road are good creative outlets and a hopeful mindset.
Flowers can transform a room, adding charm and a sense of whimsy. I often use flowers and little, cherished items to create tablescapes, mantlescapes, and vignettes throughout my house. Use this time to animate a side table or entryway by bringing the outdoors in. It will add color to your home and help to inspire joy as we all spend more time indoors.
Jason Oliver Nixon of Madcap Cottage
John (Loecke) and I are passionate gardeners, so we are tackling some huge yard projects, including cleaning out overgrown areas across the Sacred Stream in the House of Bedlam gardens. We are removing the terribly invasive porcelain-berry vines that seem to have taken over and cutting down smallish trees with our chainsaw. It’s all very cathartic and wonderful. But, wow, what a lot of work.
I have also replanted all of our orchids and am growing heaps of seeds in the basement under my grow light, including hollyhocks, sweet peas, artichokes, and poppies.
We are also watching heaps of uplifting movies such as Enchanted April, A Room with a View, Auntie Mame, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.
And we are cooking, organizing, and taking care of general maintenance around the House. The Bryan Ferry is on the sound system, the candles are lit, and the gin is free flowing.
Suzanne Tucker of Tucker & Marks
Perhaps now more than ever, surrounding ourselves with personal treasures can remind us of fond memories and experiences and keep friends and family close.
Surround yourself with things that speak to you and that you love! As a dear friend once observed, my home is my decorating laboratory where pieces are studied and come and go. But certain pieces speak to my heart as sentimental “friends,” especially those from family, people whom I admire and past designers. Besides family heirlooms, I’ve collected dishes from Pamela Harriman, several pieces from Brooke Astor and Bunny Mellon, furniture and accessories from Tony Duquette, lacquer pieces from Albert Hadley, a desk and objet from Tony Hail, bits from Mario Buatta, and myriad of pieces and art from Michael Taylor. Given their personal provenance, those will always be staying with me.
On working from home:
With so many of us are working from home offices these days, it’s so important to create one’s own space. Whether you have a dedicated room, or are working from the dining table, make this a space you will actually enjoy spending time in. Surround yourself with a few personal touches—photos of loved ones, pets, places, a vase of fresh flowers, a favorite piece of art, light a scented candle. Forego the blah office accessories and use vintage china tumblers, a decorative tray, wicker baskets, a vintage letter opener, interesting paperweights, and use colorful file folders—there are dozens of patterns online. I once designed a custom slipcover for a home office printer … made of Fortuny no less! Ask yourself, why not? And go for it!”
On outdoor living:
“I am always bringing my garden inside – the tiniest bud, a bunch of branches, a heap of lemons, a few lilac clippings and roses for my desk. The simple act of connecting with nature on the smallest level can never be underestimated and now, more than ever, we need the tangible reminder that the world does renew itself and that spring is in fact here.
And take yourself outside. I took a very early morning conference call in my garden the other day while deadheading the geraniums…. in my nightgown! That wouldn’t happen at the office!
Don’t forget the olfactory experience is among the most powerful and healing of all senses: Think planters with scented geraniums and lavender, night-blooming jasmine, Osmanthus—all chosen for their sweet-smelling blooms. Or, order herbs online and plant a mini-garden in pots on your windowsill with rosemary, mints, sages. The simplest act of watching something grow has its own rewards.”
It’s challenging for everyone having their kitchens so nearby all day long. I think turning to herbal teas can be a sensory awakening for many people as well as comforting. And remember to treat yourself well. Set the table, use your good dishes, your silver and linens, add some flowers, light the candles. Again, why not?”
Compiled and edited by Alice Welsh Doyle and Terri Robertson