Monthly Archives: December 2011

Now that the leaves of the crabapple have fallen to the ground, I have a direct view out my window to my neighbour’s old growth Norway Spruce.  She rises more than 80 feet and  towers over the houses.  Branches lifted upwards. Adorned with masses of pine-cone bling.  All embracing.  She’s one of the tree spirits living in my Beaches neighbourhood. So, no, I rarely feel the need to travel north to connect to nature.

Although it sure feels great when you finally do arrive there.

Christmas shines a moonbeam on the intrepid evergreen.  To pay homage, we come out to the world’s great public squares to worship at the foot of the Christmas tree. in NYC, people have been flocking to the lighting up of the Rockefeller tree since the 1930s.  This year’s 75-foot-high Norway Spruce at Rockefeller is almost as tall as the one I’m looking at right now through my Beaches window…but, sorry America, mine’s taller.

 This year, on a brilliant sunny day, we rejected the evergreens tightly swaddled in the grocery store parking lot and went in search of an authentic Canadian icon. Piled the kids in the van and drove north of the city in search of a tree farm, and hot chocolate and –critical ingredient —  the ironman bonfire.

We ended up at Tufford’s Trees.  A solid family place.  No pre-fab shacks selling maple fudge.  No horses pulling wagons while frothing horrible white stuff from their mouths.

We were looking for something about 10 feet tall to set down in our Canadiana room.

Something to peer into, with an intriguing interior life.  A forest within a tree.  This one is light and airy and the crooked trunk will make a splendid scratching post for Hercules.

The thought was that with the help of some silver and gold balls, hand-stitched Canadian igloos and polar bears, miniature white lights…Enough daydreaming…We sawed it down. And later discovered the painful perils of the Scotch Pine and the delights of hanging ornaments with leather gloves on.

Our friends, Helen and Nigel, needed a really, really tall tree to fill their double-height living room. And, designers that they be, they were armed with a measuring tape.  Mr. Tufford looked dubious when he was given the required dimensions.  Then he remembered the big red pine that he’s been trying to sell for years.   (By the way, Tufford plants about 400 saplings every year to keep his farm healthy.)

Here it is: Red Pine’s proof of age.  An honest look back through a lifetime of fast and slow growth. Imagine if this was how humans revealed their age.  Brutal honesty. Joan Rivers might not like it.

In this act: a family van disappears under aforementioned red pine.  Not sure this is the next generation AirStream.    But makes an excellent air freshener for any home.

Back to the Beaches, and an evening walk along the Boardwalk where 15 trees are lit up like multi-coloured extravaganzas.

The sun was sinking low into the winter sky.

That’s my version of an Illuminated Xmas Tree Manuscript.  I have to go now and plug in my lights.  Merry Christmas !!


When I see Christmas in my head, I don’t see green and red.  I prefer combinations of deep purple and electric blue.  Which is why the Moorish Palace at Tivoli (1853) in the entertainment gardens of Copenhagen gives me an extra thrill at Christmas time.

Or this season’s Christmas packaging at  LeNôtre fine foods in Paris, where the glossy paper bags are mini works of art and the tea comes in hot pink tins.

Inspired by the season of rich tones, I recovered our Danish teak couch (originally upholstered in a boring oatmeal colour) in a deep purple.   Velvet seemed the only option.  What do you think???

  Actually, because the velvet shifts from purple to burgundy to pink depending on the sun and the way the plush moves, I’ve decided to rename it our Mark Rothko couch.


Nobody does deep purple and electric blue like the great American painter Mark Rothko.  Possibly Henri Matisse, but not with the kind of endless meanings floating out from abstraction.  I just saw a fantastic play in Toronto about Rothko called Red.  There was paint flying, and clouds of pigment when the passion of making art went sky high.  Whenever I’m in Washington my first pilgrimage is to the East Building at the National Gallery to see the colour-drenched Rothko’s hovering there.  Luckily, I have a Rothko right here at home.  It’s a fridge magnet. I think I got it for Christmas.

Bloom is a luscious magazine published out of Holland.  More than that, it’s a changemaker that predicts design trends beginning with its “horti-cultural view”.  That may sound quirky but Bloom is considered a bible among fashion insiders, starting with thread designers.     Thread designers read it to help project new colours and textures for the future.  Their output of thread influences fabric designers who, in turn, catalyze new fashion trends.  One season after the release of Bloom, the vision of the magazine turns up on the walkways of the world’s most illustrious fashion shows.

Bloom’s feature on the British wallpaper designer, Marthe Armitage, describes how her intense, lushly coloured designs were an attempt to bring the plant life of the outdoors inside, to clamber up the walls of her friends.  She’s been making her lino-print papers for more than fifty years and only works with two or three colours at a time: like this one, “bushes” (1992) in which she layers turquoise with aqua blues and steely greys.

I admired the subtlety of her designs, but was reluctant to put wallpaper up on our walls.  Instead, I asked a painter to create three stencils of florals and layer various colours of blue over the wall in our Canadiana room. At a quick glance, the wall looks intensely blue – eventually, though, you can begin to make out the leaves and petals painted there.

My friend, Olivier Beriot, is an amazing costume designer based in Paris and he’s the one who gave me several issues of Bloom.  He designed the costumes for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, that masterful film by Julian Schnabel that shifts between the unthinkable and sublime fantasy.  Whenever I gaze at the mesmerizing plants and foliage in Bloom, I think of the blooming of Olivier’s creations, and the promise of thread design.

Hike into a forest and your heart slows down.  At least, that’s what happens to me.  Here’s what I discovered after three flights, a long train ride and a taxi with a really lost driver:  Nordic pine forest, west coast of Finland, surrounding the world-famous home, Villa Mairea, designed by Alvar Aalto.  Harry and Maire Gullichsen were among the wealthiest people in Finland when they commissioned their good friends, Alvar and Aino Aalto to design their Villa Mairea during the Depression.   The architects called the villa an “opus con amore,” a house imagined with affection.   The Aalto design emphasizes local, rustic materials: rattan mats on the floors rather than Persian carpets. There are paths made of local flagstone and columns of spruce at the front entrance – not exactly what you’d find in Beverly Hills.

I was amazed by the curved cedar balustrades and arbours made of spruce saplings at the Villa Mairea.  In a home filled with paintings by Picasso, Fernand Leger and Alexander Calder mobiles, built-in bookcases in the study were designed using birch plywood to be engaging and human-warm.

Hercules on our (yes, Aalto-inspired) curved back deck, doing what he likes best: posing.

Our side deck, made of clear cedar, doubles as a green space and lounge seat to catch the late afternoon rays.

Designed with a whole range of green tones, this little garden catches my eye every time I walk through the kitchen.  And, because it’s sheltered on the north side of our house, the plants flourish even after the first snowfall.