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"A Person with Real Flair Is a Gambler at Heart."-Interior designer Billy Baldwin

You know how there are those families that don’t use their living room? Like how they only use it for company? I am not from that type of family. We use our living room, always have. My grandparents ruled the roost from their living room in their big fat formal house in Missouri. My grandfather sat on one side of the living room in his Pierre Deux slip covered armchair, smoking, handing out chocolates to his grandchildren from a sterling silver box, always wearing a gray suit, legs crossed, talking politics. My grandmother sat on the other side of the room playing cards, drinking sweet tea laced with vodka, wearing her pearls, talking to her friends on the telephone about their antique shop and watching Wheel of Fortune.

My parents were constantly entertaining so our living room was always well used and well loved. It was always the center of the house and the room my mother always put all of her attention towards. The good news is that my parents never cared if we came into the house and plopped our messy teenage selves on the sofas. I never heard from my mother, “Get your feet off the sofa.” (I’m sure it was implied though.) She would never even care if we ate a slice of pizza on her baby grand piano during our piano lessons. Even though our living room was formal (my mother decorated our living room in Malibu like Coco Chanel’s apartment) it was always welcoming.

My own living rooms have always been smaller than my parents or grandparents but I feel like my living rooms are cozy, inviting and where all of my best stuff is. I will become clinically depressed if any living room that I have does not have a fireplace. I need a focal point! I like to always have in my living room tons of books, tons of candles, lots of pillows, beautiful curtains, my best accessories, a beautiful mirror, vases of flowers, a little bar, clever paintings and always always always some sort of pet… Large or small. I am in a bit of a “predicament” with my apartment here in Paris. It is the perfect living room with the quintessential marble fireplace, gilt 19th-century mirror, point to point hardwood floors, beautiful molding with skyscraper windows but the only problem is that I don’t have all of my “stuff.” 90% of everything I own is in storage… In California. My books, my blue-and-white vases, my sofas, my coffee tables, my side tables, my candlesticks, my rugs, my paintings etc. so I am having a very hard time! I have had to “resupply” bit by bit here in Paris. Don’t worry, I’ll make do. :-)

Let me state for the record that I hate the word, the concept, the reference, and the thought of the two words “great room.”

Okay, let’s take a look at some inspiring living rooms…


I have put together yet another board on Pinterest (I have a lot of time on my hands) solely dedicated to living rooms. You can follow it HERE.

The next room we are going to explore is my favorite room… the kitchen. Stay tuned.

A toute!

*Something you don’t know about me? I never forget a house, a book, a piece of furniture (or the price), a hotel, a painting, a museum… Anything that has to do with interior design. Once I see it, it goes into my vault in my memory and I never forget it. The first time that I saw my friend Diandra Douglas’ house in Montecito, I soaked up every inch of the house. I remembered everything. There was that pink salmon colored house in St. Tropez that I saw when I was 21. There was my friend Andrew Bossum’s English dandy townhouse on the Upper East Side of New York that I stayed at when I was 22. There was my friend Eric Wachmeister’s copper kitchen in his apartment on the top floor facing the Metropolitan Museum in New York. There was that German real estate gentlemen’s house in Mallorca, Spain with the Moroccan tented room. There was Susan’s California Monterey beach house in Laguna. There was my friend Eleanor’s English cottage in Montecito. There was that Bugatti chair I saw at the flea market. There was that hotel in Rome with the old floral wallpaper. There was Philippe Bigar’s old family beach house in the Hamptons. There was that Francis Bacon triptych at the Pompidou Museum. There was my parent’s Balinese house in Summerland. There was that bed-and-breakfast in Florence, Italy with all of the fields of olive trees.

There were also houses that I remember that literally burned my eyes. That Russian woman’s apartment in Paris with the modern tubelike crystal chandelier that touched the ground. There was that house in Santa Barbara with the round Chicago Bears rug. There was that other house in Santa Barbara with the burgundy Scarlett O’Hara drapes. There was that faux Tuscan house in the middle of Missouri. There was that faux Château in Beverly Hills with the infinity pool. There was that Colombian’s house in Mallorca where every single thing was monogrammed. There was that expensive house in Newport Beach in the subdivision with all the furnishings from Ballard Designs and Tuesday Morning.

I don’t forget a thing!

I can hear some of you right now thinking, “She is such a snob.” Newsflash… I am not. I just happen to remember beautiful things and on the flipside I also happen to remember horrible things. I decided years ago to put these superpowers to good use and draw on them when necessary. For example, we looked at a new apartment in Paris today that happens to be half the size of our current apartment. No problem because I remembered a certain magazine article in Elle Decor featuring a pint size apartment that knocked my socks off. Like I’ve said before, it’s not about how much you spend but how you spend it. Thank God for Pinterest so now I can file some of these memories away that is somewhere tangible. Now I have some free memory space to load up new pictures in my head. Do you guys ever do this… Keep memories of houses… Or am I the only freak?


  1. Are you moving? Hope you take us along. :)

  2. Love the description of the NEWPORT BEACH house!I too soak up detail.............LOVE the DETAIL.I'm with YOU on your opinion of the GREAT ROOM...........WE too used our living room...........I was always dancing in it or trying to FLY like MARY POPPINS!
    SO, tell me about the silver box your GRANDPOP Used..........they bought chocolates and then put them into this box or did the box fit snugly into the silver box!DID YOU END OF WITH THAT??????I am NOW on a HUNT for PINK PLATES for STEPHEN and a silver box to hold my chocolates!!!XO

    1. Ohhhh thank you! If you can't find any, I'm happy to take yours :)

  3. I also remember every fabulous image and place I ve seen but my ability to remember names is zilch

  4. I do! I have a folder with torn magazine pages of all beautiful things that I love. I keep a diary and I tape things that I find beautiful or that have an impact on me on its pages. I love to go back and look at them, it gives such joy to look at something beautiful. I should try Pinterest I use it but not quite as much as I should.
    I believe that admiring aesthetically pleasing things brings joys to our souls and it is far from being a snob.
    I have had a very bad day and just looking at the fantastic photos in today's blog has lifted my spirits. Once again thank you for bringing beauty into my life and reminding me that there's so much of it to admire

    1. Lourdes, I am so sorry to read that you had a really bad day. I think that I left one of my very cheesiest comments here (and THAT is saying something) on the first chicken soup post (you know, the bitchy one!) about Ellie's blog being the ultimate comfort food but now I see that I am not alone. A little beauty and straight talk goes a long way, doesn't it?

      I hope your past few days have been better. :)

  5. Long before pinterest, I have kept a black bound art journal and kept a scrapbook of sorts of interiors glued down along with characters full of moxie and wit.
    Always love how you share so much and inspire me to crack my journal open and keep my dreamy book alive. It is from 30 years ago,

  6. Kelly Harmon's Malibu horse farm and gorgeous, rustic house is forever burned into my memory and Im determined to recreate it in my world. White horses in white, wooden, rose-covered stables. Too much!! Love you and we design snobs have to stick together to fight the overwhelming bad taste trying to take over. It's our duty!! Nancy in Dallas.

  7. "with all the furnishings from Ballard Design and Tuesday Morning" - I literally laughed until I cried!
    I'm going to Southern California in two weeks to visit my college roommate (whom I've known since first grade). She's a real estate agent and I'm hoping we'll get to see some fabulous homes and their interiors. She'll be a wonderful tour guide, as she's been out there at least twenty-five years - practically a native!
    It's my first trip to the LA area, and my first return to CA in over thirty years. Back then I explored the San Francisco area and fell in love.
    I wish I had your photographic memory - I need to use a camera these days!

  8. Love Billy Baldwin. (He was from Baltimore, like me! My living room cocktail table is one of his original designs.)
    Growing up we lived in our living room, too - no great room, family room, or basement "rec room" like so many of my friends. It was the same at my grandparent's house, and I can remember friends' amazement that we were so comfortably and casually allowed in rooms with nice furniture and antiques. My grandparents candy stash was in a lovely round wooden box with a lid that sat in their living room on an antique chest in the corner (both are currently at my mother's house). As soon as it was politely possible, we made a beeline for it to check the contents, usually hard candies or mints.
    I'm like you when it comes to visual memory, especially with anything design related. It can sometimes be a curse, accumulating an overload of indelible images, both good and bad (it sometimes would drive my husband crazy) but I wouldn't change it for the world. It's the source of lots of creative inspiration and joy.
    And so is your blog! Both the images you post and your writing stay in my mind for days, always an inspiration for living life well, and with renewed appreciation for each day.

  9. I remember houses too. I also have this spooky memory for fabrics and wallpapers and can recall things for projects very easily.
    My favourite house memory was the home of Michael Inchbald in London. We were taken there on the first week of the Interior Design and Decoration course I did back in the 90's. He lived in a double fronted house in Chelsea that had been in his family since it was built. It was incredible inside - he was a very talented designer. He had used his Grandmother's fur carriage rug on the floor of his Library as a rug. The Library had masses of vellum bound books. The Chinoiserie Dining room had Jib doors for concealing all sorts of things, and the Drawing room was absolutely spectacular. The lighting was particularly inspired, and listening to him talk about the house was fascinating. He was quite elderly at the time, and the house was stuffed full of bronzes, amazing art, museum worthy furniture…. I'll never forget it.
    I think if you're interested in Design you do notice and remember.
    I also like a formal living room that feels lived in. Nothing worse than being ushered into some stiff uptight room that is only dusted off once a year.

  10. Memory like an elephant here too.

    Speaking of Billy Baldwin, how lovely is Mrs Vreeland's Garden in Hell? I remember there was even a crocheted rug slung across the sofa. So. Chic.

    I have just redecorated and gone in hard with French antiques from the mid 18th century and if you lived on this continent I'd invite you round to see the lot.

    Life can be ugly- embracing beautiful things doesn't make everything better but it can help.

    Also, if you want to amused to death read Stephen Andrew's comment on my last post about acting a base tease. It is 11/10 xxxx

  11. My favorite necessity in every room is living plants. You don't agree? You mention vases of flowers, so that might fit the bill. I'm so with you on pets. The energy in a home just isn't the same without them. Love you xo

  12. I can draw the floor plan of every house I've ever been in. I can forget a guy's name I dated for seven months (it was a busy time) but I remember every detail of a house. I also never forget birthdays or anniversaries. Names can be tough. I, no doubt, got this from my mother. My mother also shares the philosophy of using a whole house. She's legendary for rearranging all the furniture before a party to make the house work best. There were like four rules we had as children 1) no hard candy 2) no roller coasters 3) no swimming in the ocean 4) don't ever be the dumbass who thinks you can only invite as many people as your dining room table seats. Everything in her house is slipcovered in white and she invites muddy dogs and red wine to sit atop them. I'm so glad to have grown up that way because, at least I think, it makes you a more gracious person. or a more gracious snob. For Halloween I am going to make you a Tuscan house tour of central Ohio. Faux plaster and brick walls, signs that say CUCINA and FAMILIA (I once got an icy look for asking a friend if she was preparing for an Italian exchange student), and lots of wrought iron looking accessories made in China. It's an epidemic here and it'll terrify you.
    Can't wait to hear more about the possible move. If I may suggest moving a little outside of the city center back to the continental US? :)

    1. you are so funny!!

      Lots of Faux Tuscan (Fuscan) round these here parts too.


    2. Cant…. Stop….. Laughing! You are so funny Stephen!!
      The first time I came across US blogs back in the mid 2000's I was absolutely fascinated by the people that would DECORATE their kitchen. This seemed to involve fake plants that you'd put onto the upper cabinetry (fake ivy trailing down), those signs you describe, empty wine bottles and other things to clutter up and collect dust. They'd choose a French theme or an Italian theme (generally). Looked nothing like the French or Italian kitchens I've been in.
      But then, I also spent hours watching that Sandra Lee woman on tv when I was staying in New York for a month back in 2005. I'd never seen someone inspired by a recent trip to Paris produce a menu that utilised all canned/ pre made goods, including cream of Mushroom soup. Eye opening. Then the tablescaping! So many feather boas, sparkly Eiffel Towers…. It was just train-wreck tv for me! I couldn't stop laughing.

  13. We recently moved to a delightful midcentury modern in Atlanta with an embarrassingly huge living room we really live in. It's a glorious space with hardwoods and ceilings that slope from 12 to 20 feet! So we lovingly call it the grand salon. With a 2-year-old, we have a discreet credenza where the toys and books are stowed.

    In Under a Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes writes about remembering and redecorating in her head every house she lived in when she was suffering from insomnia.

  14. Love the rooms, your choices are so beautiful and interesting, nothing was boring or too ordinary. Love them, wouldnt it be fun if we could send you pictures of our living rooms and get some advice how to make them special.

  15. I remember just about everything...maybe not some of the details, but most of the charm and essence of a room!! Love it--I can retreat whenever I want to a wonderland of beauty. xoxo Mary

  16. Love your photo's of living rooms - we grew up in our living room and since it was the only room for living, it was well lived in. Mandatory couch and naugahyde recliner for Dad which was the only furniture that would fit the small space. Oh and the art on the walls included a framed photo of John F. Kennedy and Pope John. Everyone was welcome in our home. From an early age I would look through the sears catalog and dream of what I would own one day and even mentally decorated my home with red couches and wrought iron accessories. I loved going in anyones home and re-decorating it in my mind; moving the furniture around mentally where I thought it would be a better fit.

    Flash forward 40+ years and my how I have changed. Wish I had good taste, but still a work in process. Even my gay friends don't have the decorator gene so I continue to struggle.

    But everyone is welcome and I continue to learn about good taste - you are a wonderful teacher. I want that living room with book shelves from floor to ceiling and the dividing book shelf for the dining area. Love that!

    Sounds like you will be moving, that will give you a whole new space to deal with in your artistic creative good taste way! Can't wait to see it. Kathy

  17. Freak , no ! Ambassador of elegance , yes ! Your parents house in Summerland was one of my all time favorite houses , divine . I wanted squatters rights for the guest house .

  18. As per usual, I have been so inspired by poring over the images, your words and the comments that I am at a loss as to where to start, let alone move onto hummus already! I will say that moving in Paris is a daunting task so if that is what is in the cards, I wish you and David smooth sailing. I can't begin to imagine you living outside the First though! Maybe the Marais or St Sulpice (my Honey's amazing, rent controlled apartment was there but...*mumbled bitterness*). What an adventure!

    Like Stephen, I have a highly selective memory. Actually, that isn't true, my memory is utter crap. Unless...unless meals or my great shopping victories are involved in which case I can give you dates, figures and details a plenty.

    Of course we were allowed to play on the antiques and there wasn't much of a difference in my childhood mind between "formal" or not. To this day, one of my massive pet peeves are those sad, dead rooms in so many American houses that are used only on birthdays and holidays. That and the white subway tiled kitchens with giant islands even though no one really cooks in them but I digress...

    Ellie, did you see the op-ed by Oliver Sacks in the NY Times yesterday about his learning that he has terminal cancer? While of course your circumstances are quite different (and I hope that in no way do I offend you by comparing them), I found your outlooks often overlapping and yes, of course, inspiring. If you are interested, you can read it here:

    Love to you.

  19. Ellie and others who share "having a camera in your head"!! I have the exact same thing! It is called a "photographic memory" and I have been told (firstly by my mother when I was about 6) that only about 2% of people have that; and it is something you are born with.

    It is a huge blessing (especially for decorators); and also a curse!

    Elsie de Wolfe said to some neighbor in Los Angeles who was showing her his hideous house he was so proud of : "Do you have any idea how long it is going to take me to erase this monstrosity from my memory??!! How dare you!!!"

    I wish we could figure out how to "delete" and how to "develop the film"! Most people who have this also have the ability to "visualize"; (i.e. seeing a room completed in your head or; what something will look like in a space!! ) True "gifts"!!!

    1. That dining room/living room with the floor to ceiling bookcases rocks my world. Back in the day, I had the glorious opportunity to visit a small cape cod dwelling on a "nothing to write home about" dead end street in Millburn, NJ. All partitions on the main floor had been removed, weight bearing beams were replaced by columns and white-washed flooring covered the entire first floor. Think of New York loft meets suburban cape cod and you've got the picture. I fell in love with that tiny house and remember it still!