Posts belonging to Category Historical Tidbits


I’m a big fan of multi-functional furniture, and ottomans certainly fit that description.

I think every home should have at least one.

In the world of furniture, the word ‘ottoman’ originally referred to a particular sofa style.

I kid you not.

Of course, this was back in the 18th century, and things have changed somewhat since then.

Furniture historians aren’t exactly sure why this one-time sofa morphed into a padded stool, but there you have it.

Now, you might be wondering what’s so great about an ottoman, so let me explain.

In my living room, we have a large ottoman that is roughly 4 ft x 5 ft in size.

This one piece of furniture can hold multiple stacks of books and magazines, thereby serving as a coffee table.

Yet it can just as easily fill the need for extra seating.

In addition, if the top surface is flat and sturdy, it can even hold a tray of food.



I’m guessing that you have a sofa somewhere in your home.

Most likely it is one of several focal points in the living room (the others being a fireplace or TV), and the one piece of furniture that everyone gravitates towards.

Perhaps it is incredibly comfortable, inviting you to cuddle up in a corner with a good book?

Then again, maybe it is the style of your sofa that is so appealing?

Or perhaps it’s the well-worn fabric and cushions, that have seated generations of your family before you?

Do sofas really have a secret life?

Well, maybe not in the sense that some people lead secret lives, but if your sofa has any kind of history, who knows?

Let me share with you a little bit about the origins of the sofa, and you will see what I mean.

Sofas have been a standard fixture in our homes for only a little over three hundred years.

The sofa made its first appearance during the reign of King Louis XIV, of France, during the late 17th century.

The sofa was a French invention, ushering in a new age of greater comfort in home furnishings.

It wasn’t long before it became all the rage among the upper levels of society. Of course, the royal household benefited first with the Queen, herself, an avid promoter.

With the arrival of the sofa, this was the first time in history that an upholstered, padded piece of furniture was available that could actually seat two people!

At the time, this was considered incredibly daring.

The sofa developed a reputation of being rather racy.



In my FREE Offer “7 Ways to Create Harmony in Your Home”, I discuss the need to honor the architectural style of your home.

I also emphasize the need to keep in mind the century in which you live! 

What do I mean by this?

This past weekend, I realized I had the perfect example to share with you, sitting right in my own back yard, so to speak.

You see, my family owns a log cabin nestled in the woods.

This log cabin gives the impression of being straight out of “Little House in the Big Woods” – the acclaimed series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder – although, unlike the cabin in the book, we do have electricity and running water.

Even so, it’s quaint and rustic, and cozy all in one package.

So, how does one decorate a log cabin?

How does one honor the unique style of architecture in such a home?

To my mind, the name alone evokes images of a quaint and rustic lifestyle, and that is a good place to start.

The location of the cabin also figures in and is always an important consideration. In this case, it’s in the woods – as I mentioned – with a river outside the front door.

In the off-season, the heat and water are turned off, and even though the climate is generally mild it can still get very cold and damp inside.

(These are always things to think about, regardless of where you live).

All of this would suggest nothing too fancy.

With that in mind, one could easily focus on the rustic style and invoke a traditional lodge look with lots of wood furnishings and chintz, and maybe a set of deer antlers above the stone fireplace.

I think you get the picture.

The interior is dark, by the way, due to all the logs that make up the frame of the cabin.

At times, adequate lighting is a challenge, especially at night.

One trick I’ve used to lighten things up, is to offset the darkness with creamy white, and other light colors – in the sofa cushions, towels and linens, and colorful throw pillows.

Another approach is to furnish the place with cast-offs from a previous residence.

You know, those things that many of us tend to have around the house that still have some life in them, but no longer serve a purpose?



As many of you know, April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s legendary sinking.

It’s almost hard to believe.

Visions of this world famous disaster seem fresh in our minds – made all the more tragic by an award-winning film that brought it so vividly to life.

In commemoration of the Titanic’s epic tale, this month’s National Geographic magazine features a fascinating article, complete with poignant images that describe in detail its tragic demise.

I was particularly struck by the seemingly mundane, such as a gilded clock in seemingly perfect condition, sitting – luminously – in its final resting place atop a rusted old fireplace, deep in a watery grave.

Of course, that fireplace wasn’t always rusted, or old.

In its prime, this was a fireplace of stunning elegance, specifically designed to adorn a first class suite aboard the world’s most famous ship.

Imagine, if you will, hand carved mahogany paneling on the walls and columns, cut crystal chandeliers and tall, leaded glass windows – and everywhere, eerie signs of human life and a bygone era.

A microcosm of society was aboard that ship, represented by different classes and cultures. We’ve heard the stories, of course, of both heroes and the not so brave, and they continue to haunt us a century later.

What other treasures lie so deep in the ocean, lost to all eternity?



Are you familiar with the history of the chair?  

Did you know that the chair, as we know it today, has only been around for a few hundred years? Back in the 16th century, you had to be somebody Very Important to sit in a chair, let alone own one.

In fact, that is where the word “Chairman” comes from.

As in, Chairman of the Board. The ‘Chair’ of a committee. The head of the table.

The person with the Chair!

In earlier times, everyone else sat on hard wooden stools or benches. No-one concerned themselves with thoughts of comfort. Indeed, the very idea of comfort didn’t even exist.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

In celebration of the modern chair, I thought I’d share with you two of my favorite designs.


‘Ghost Chair’ by Philippe Starck

This chair, pictured above, is by the notable designer Philippe Starck. It is one of my all-time favorites, and here’s why:

I love that it’s inspired by a centuries-old design of a Louis XV Chair – straight out of 18th century France. A chair that, 250 years ago  was the height of modernity & comfort.

Today’s Ghost Chair is also completely modern – with a ‘barely there’ presence – since it is made out of clear polyurethane, rather than wood.

This classic chair has been given a completely updated look, simply by changing the material. I consider this the best of both worlds.



A Designer Show House is often part fantasy and part reality.  Designers typically pull out all the stops for the homeowner – a person who exists  only in our imaginations. 

That’s precisely why taking part in a Designer Show House is a wonderfully creative endeavor for an interior designer.

It is also a marvelous way for the public to gather fresh ideas for their own homes.

Some years ago, I participated in a local American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Show House, featuring the historic Moore Mansion on Seattle’s Capital Hill.

This project was a classic example of how an interior design concept might evolve, and how designers come up with their inspiration.

For this reason, I thought it might be a good time to re-visit the Moore Mansion.

The home, built in 1901by James Moore, was located, in a tree-lined street close to Volunteer Park, home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM).

As it happened, I was assigned the Master Bedroom of this stately old house. It was a large, attractive room with generous proportions. However, it was dominated by a bold geometrically patterned carpet in shades of chocolate brown and white.

It was the kind of pattern that makes your vision go blurry after a minute or two of looking at it.

However, the owner of the house had made it clear that replacing the carpet with something a bit more subtle was not an option.

What do designers do in such a situation?



What I love about travel is the unexpected adventures that can happen along the way.

Rock 'n Soul Museum, Memphis, TN

Like pulling into a roadside park and being told by the gate attendant that the park is ‘clothing optional’.

In that particular scenario, I’m sure the driver and I both wore a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression as we contemplated this fact and in unison responded:


Then, a hurried “Is there a place we could turn around?”

As soon as we pulled through the gate we burst out laughing, one of those laughs that completely fills you up with joy and giddiness.

But that was another trip, and another adventure.

I’ve just accompanied my son on a cross-country drive from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Austin, Texas.

We completed this trip in four days. Time was of the essence.

So there were no side trips, and little sightseeing. But we drove through miles and miles of countryside and breathtaking scenery as we passed through each state into the next in our comfortable, air conditioned car.

Virginia Tech University

One thing’s for certain, we live in a vast and beautiful country!

From the lush, rolling hills of Virginia to the flat, dry countryside that envelops Arkansas and Texas, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the experience.

Although the nine hour drive from Virginia to Memphis was maybe a bit much. (more…)


“TO:  The Supreme Pontiff Julius II            

FROM:  M. Buonarroti, artist
RE:  Interior Decorating
Most Holy Father,
It grieves me that your Holiness is unhappy with the progress on the Sistine Chapel. Admittedly, it’s taken a little time and we’re into a slight cost overrun, but Your Holiness must admit this isn’t something that can be done with a numbered kit. It’s hard on the neck, too. And, while you don’t do the shopping, You must know the price of fresco colors is out of sight!
A couple more years should do it.
Your obedient servant,
P.S. I beg to point out to Your Holiness that there is nothing in the contract about scraping the sash in the Vatican Refectory. As I’ve said before, I don’t do windows.”
From an ancient account in Rome’s Vatican Library. Date has been effaced, but is believed to be circa AD 1510

Yes, you read correctly. This excerpt was written by that Michelangelo, the one of Sistine ceiling fame.

Yet, it could just as easily have been written yesterday.

When I first heard this quote, it was being read aloud before a room full of interior designers.

You can be sure it got a good laugh.

However, I think just about anyone can relate to Michelangelo’s words. For example, if you’ve ever taken on a project that ran into cost overruns, or was not completed on time, this letter will sound painfully familiar. (more…)


“Ah, there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Jane Austen

As any well-seasoned traveler can attest, navigating airports these days is often a challenge.                                       

While many of us have experienced delays and long wait times, it’s not everyday that erupting volcanoes are added to the mix.

Which goes to show that just about anything can happen.

During your travels, have you ever noticed what your comfort level might be at any given point during your trip?

Or perhaps you were more aware of a lack of comfort, than anything else.

Of course, on an airplane, being seated in First Class is the way to go if you’re looking for comfort and some in-flight pampering. Yet, for those of us sitting in Coach, it is often a very different experience.

On a recent flight, I found myself seated next to a mother and her eighteen month old baby. The woman had not booked a seat for her child – she was hoping I might not show up.

The baby was perfectly happy until she had to give up her seat and be held firmly on her mothers’ lap. At that point, she let out a blood-curdling scream of protest.

Comfortable I was not.

The baby clearly needed a seat of her own, and I needed some peace and quiet. Much to my relief, the stewardess ushered me to a new seat in one of the exit rows.

I now had plenty of leg-room, the baby had a seat several rows behind me and well out of earshot, and all was well with the world.

I was very comfortable.

On any given day, our comforts levels are frequently tested, and for each of us, that definition is unique.

And when it comes to our homes – well, there is almost no end to the number of ways consumers can pamper themselves with what seems comfortable to them.

Whether selecting furniture, linens, paint colors, fabrics or household appliances – and that’s just naming a few – you will be faced with many decisions.

However, before you choose, why not step back and ask yourself the following very important question.

What does Comfort mean to you?

While you mull that over, here’s another tidbit of information:  there was a time in history when Comfort, as a concept, didn’t even exist.

No-one thought about it, no-one even knew about it.

And if people didn’t know there was such as thing as Comfort, well, they certainly didn’t miss it.

This was certainly true of the Middle Ages, right up until the 18th century. That’s when the French finally caught on, and starting to create infinitely more comfortable furniture , and noticeably more elegant room settings, that were far superior  to what had been available in the past.

Along with the absence of Comfort, the notion of Privacy – something else that most of us take for granted – was also a foreign concept.

As in non-existent.

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Want to learn more about Comfort and the Home? Sign up for my monthly e-zine and get this months’ feature article  THE POWER OF COMFORT.


Thorne Room Collection - miniature 18th century English Entrance Hall of the Georgian Period c.1775

Miniature 18th Century English Entrance Hall

Well, I am not so much going to Chicago as returning.

Last week I traveled to Chicago with a group of  fellow docents from the Seattle Art Museum.

As you might imagine, our trip was heavily focused on art and architecture, due to a shared love of art and design.

With a few goals in mind, we set off to explore the city, beginning with a scenic tour on the top level of a  double decker bus.

As the tour guide talked, the wind kicked up a storm. (I would suggest bringing a hat, except that it would likely not remain on your head for very long).

Still, this trolley will take you anywhere you want to go. You can get on and off at will, and continue the journey at whatever pace you choose.

Did you know that Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City” has nothing to do with the weather?

Seems the term “windy” was in reference to some rather windy politicians. It was ironic to hear this tidbit of information while the wind was blowing off the lake and whipping our hair.

It was an educational moment.

Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum that has been high on my list for many years. Up until now, I’d never had the opportunity to see it.

So many famous paintings and other treasures were on view, that it literally took my breath away. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon browsing through gallery after gallery, taking in one surprise after another.

The Van Gogh painting of “The Bedroom” below, has been an all-time favorite of mine.  What a delightful surprise it was to find that it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Being the Van Gogh fan that I am, I don’t know how this small detail eluded me.

VanGogh 'Bedroom' at the Chicago Art Institute
VanGogh ‘Bedroom’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

This famous painting is an intimate portrait of Van Gogh’s bedroom, when he lived in the Yellow House, in Arles. This is the same house that he shared, briefly, with Gauguin before their famous fight that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his left ear.

Yet it is a simply furnished, tranquil room that offers no hint of what was to come.

I am such a fan of this painting, that I even have a miniature version of it in my home.

Speaking of miniatures, I have to admit that the absolute highlight for me was viewing the Thorne Rooms, located on the lower level of the museum.

I first learned of these miniature rooms many years ago, and vowed that I would eventually have the opportunity to see them in person. Well, I finally had that chance, and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Suffice it to say, that the level of craftsmanship that went into creating this collection of 68 period rooms, all in miniature scale, is absolutely incredible.

But then, Mrs. Thorne, the woman behind the visions, had the financial means to do so. She employed the best artisans to carry out her designs, and never settled for second-best.

The amazing result transports one to a different world, where you can travel back in time to 16th century France, England, or even early American homes, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, if not before.

In every room, there are clear signs of an unknown occupant. For whatever reason, that person has just vacated the room, leaving behind a teeny tiny book resting on the sofa, with a pair of miniscule spectacles nearby.

A table is set for tea, complete with teapot and porcelain teacups. On the sideboard, there might be a silver coffee service, with an interrupted embroidery project resting near a window. A multitude of miniature books lines the bookshelves.

Every room contains one or more windows, and the attention to detail extends to the views outside. Trees provide much needed shade in the heat of summer, and flowers bloom in the garden. We can see a hint of the house next door, or a city street in the dead of winter.

It is a place where imaginations can thrive.

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Home

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Hom

On our final day in Chicago, we took a two hour Architectural Walking Tour, that wove thru city streets and told the story of Chicago’s architectural history.

The architectural styles changed from classical to Art Deco, and hints of something in between. The tour included the Auditorium building by architectural firm Adler & Sullivan -currently hosting the Joffrey Ballet.

Next we took the subway out to Oak Park, IL  for the second architectural tour of the day, this one featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in an up-scale neighborhood of leafy trees and manicured lawns. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start as an up-and-coming architect.

This house was one of his earliest works, designed in his “Prairie” style: horizontal emphasis, obscure entryways (i.e not obvious from the street where the front door might typically be), and small, compact interiors with more open floor plans than what had been the norm up until that time.

Another surprise awaited us, as a small group of us walked a different route back to the train station. Rounding a corner, we came across Wright’s famed Unity Temple.

We climbed the steps to the front door, which to our delight, was unlocked. Within seconds, a guard appeared, telling us the building was closed for the day.

“We’re here from Seattle” we lamented, “We’re headed home tomorrow – please could we take a quick look?”

The guard studied us a moment, then relented. “I’ll give you one minute”, he said.

But it was enough.

We entered the sanctuary of the church, drew in our breath at the stillness and beauty of the space, then left.

It was a wonderful trip and I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets.  To see more photos, visit my Chicago photo album at my Facebook page!