Orange for Autumn

Orange for Autumn

An encounter with several handsome Monarchs recently reminded me of how judicious use of orange/pumpkin/tangerine can create an equally handsome – rather than ‘pretty’ – and elegant room (not to mention how long it had been since I’d updated my blog!)  So I put together a few ideas, with sources indicated.

Using blue as a counterpoint seems to calm everything down:

Photo via Dwell Studio

With black the effect is classic – whether modern or traditional:

Photo via Houzz

With grey, a “burnt” orange makes a crisp yet serene contemporary space (how about that handsome Miele fireplace?!):

And then there’s tangerine … cheerful, warm and fun … with dark brown it’s as luscious as orange peel dipped in dark chocolate:

Wishing you a very happy autumn! 

Gratitude and Paint Color

Playroom at Bay State Medical Center

It’s been a long time since I wrote a post, and some of that elapsed time has to do with procrastination … but some is legit!  The latter has to do with a 3-year old grandson in hospital, including two weeks in the ICU; suffice to say it was a terrifying and painful time for him and all his family. But we’ve been blessed: thanks to the expertise, dedication and compassion of the team of doctors, nurses and support staff who worked with him at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, the little one will recover fully.

During many long, quiet hours of waiting and watching, I found myself reflecting on the colors that the designers had used in the pediatric wards. Clearly a lot of thought and research went into them, and I was reminded that the successful use of color is really contextual. Not only are space and light important factors, but the purpose of the space is probably more so. In this particular context, and especially in the individual rooms, colors were effectively mixed and matched in ways that I I’m not sure would work in any other situation. For example, something like these: (all Sherwin Williams) walls in 6633 Inventive Orange and 6673 Banana Cream, with trim in 6344 Peach Fuzz. Or 6494 Lakeshore and 6414 Rice Paddy with 6540 Starry Night. They looked great!



The common areas – marvellous, spacious playroom and cozy computer room – were more traditionally colored, but sported design touches that couldn’t help but make you smile and be glad that someone had put this much thought into them.


I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this extraordinary healing place. Thank you, THANK YOU Baystate Children’s Hospital!

Why an interior designer?

“The essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live.”  – Albert Hadley.

from House Beautiful & Elle Decor


Hadley's own office

The words of a renowned and redoubtable designer.

You can tell, can’t you, from just these two pictures, with what care he crafted these rooms to reflect their very different occupants? Then look how differently he interprets his own!

The most recent issue of Icon (ASID’s magazine) includes an interview with Shashi Caan, the current president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers, and the founding principal of the eponymous Collective. Her ‘take’ on the meaning of design is summarized in this emphatic statement: “The promotion of human well-being is the end goal of design.” She elucidates: “I believe that this is not new but a clarification of the knowledge which distinguishes the expertise of the designer of interiors… It is about educated and artful decision making which shapes the intended human behavior and outcomes”. Ms. Caan has a great deal more insight than I’ve excerpted here, but I love how she explains and validates, all at once, both why one would hire a designer and why one would become one.

It’s no secret that the “built environment” design trades have been battered lately by all sorts of external forces – the Internet and the Great Recession probably being the most forceful – and there’s no doubt that all of us who practice architecture, interior design and interior decorating are reshaping how we work. However, the core premise of why we do this work, constantly challenging both the right and the left side of our brains, and why it might matter, and why our clients hire us (we hope!) is just that: a conviction that in the end, when we’re successful, our efforts promote well-being.

This is not intended as some sort of manifesto on my part, simply a train of thought triggered by those of a couple of the most inspired designers of our time. Sometimes it’s just helpful to reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Maybe it’s all triggered by the recent overhaul of our website (hooray!), with many thanks to our talented and patient neighbors, Pulp + Wire!

Please let us know what you think?  Best to you all.

Loving Red

For those of us for whom Valentine’s Day is a part of the culture, February is the month of love and passion, and since red is the color typically associated with affairs of the heart it’s fun to think about where and how to use it.

via iStockPhoto

The perfect place to use red is your front door, according to Feng Shui experts, who cite its auspicious qualities in attracting wealth and good luck. (I always love the look of a front door in a saturated color, especially if it has a high gloss finish). This one might be as bright as Benjamin Moore’s neon red, but if you’d like something more muted, gypsy love is a more grayed hue that will still invite good chi, or energy.

via iStockPhoto


Red is stimulating, exciting, increases enthusiasm, energy, your heartbeat, and your respiration. Maybe not a great choice for a bedroom if you have trouble sleeping…. think instead about incorporating a few accessories to add a splash of vibrancy (and of course, red roses are always an appropriate embellishment!)

Red accents, blue bedroom




Selecting a red for your dining room can encourage hearty appetite and lively conversation, but watch out for ultra-intense crimsons and scarlets…“I painted one dining room red and I must say, the conversation became very heated in that room.” – Amanda Pays.  A red with a gray or blue undertone can minimize overstimulation, or  you can go the other route and soften it into a more watermelon-y color…  (don’t you love the black against the warmth of the walls?)

via iStockPhoto

Kitchens invite red too (energy, enthusiasm, appetite). Here we used it to good effect in the form of a dark, rich red cork floor. (BTW, cork flooring in a kitchen is especially inviting … warm, easy on the feet, things don’t break as easily – and it’s very easy to take care of. But more about that another time.)

Red cork floor

So, think about red if you’re ready to liven up your home with drama, passion and maybe even intrigue. And as always, if Penelope Daborn Ltd. can be of any help, we’d love to hear from  you.

Warm wishes, and happy Valentine’s Day!

Independent, But Plays Well With Others

Ever since our fabulous rep, Stacy Waniga from The Martin Group showed us the new Cowtan & Tout and Colefax and Fowler lines a few weeks ago, it’s been hard to stop thinking about them. Each time we reach into the library, our hands seem to come out full of them. Maybe blogging about it will let us move on. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what is so captivating about their fabrics this season. It could be the soft, lustrous look of the linen blends, and weightlessness of the wool/cotton/linen challis. Maybe it’s the palette of soft grey-blues, muted greens and neutrals or strong reds and earth tones. Ethereal embroidered sheers pair with simple checks which fold beautifully into strong blanket stripes. Picture yourself sitting by a stream, with a soft breeze and soothing water, both moving over solid ground. It’s like that. And although it’s a line which could do fine all by itself, the fabrics play so wonderfully with others it’s hard to resist throwing in a bit of Scalamandre and Osborne and Little.

Cowtan & Tout's New Line

Weights, Textures, Patterns

Floors with flair

Looking for ideas for floor coverings the other day, I stumbled upon some dhurries in a local store and was reminded of how much I enjoy these versatile decorative pieces.

The humble dhurrie might have started out as a simple floor mat in the Indian subcontinent, but today it’s become something of a style statement for the Western home. The colors, the look and the practicality of the dhurrie make it an ideal complement to the kind of ‘casual elegance’ aesthetic that adapts so well to many American homes.


Via Heirloom Philosophy


Perhaps the most popular style of dhurrie today is the simple stripe. The stripe often evokes the feeling of casual yet classy beach living; here, the designer of this room really plays up that “beach feeling” with informal cane chairs and a shell-adorned chandelier. There are more complex striped patterns too; you can find several of them at

In softer shades of beige, ecru and oatmeal, dhurries readily adopt a role as another neutral in a calming palette of natural tones. See how the dhurrie here is an interesting contrast to the dark wood floor (which creates a space-defining border) while brightening and lightening the room? It is also remarkably hard-wearing and practical;  the flat weave responds well to vacuuming, and because dhurries are typically wool, they tend to wear well and repel staining if you tend to minor disasters quickly.

Via Cote de Texas








Just as neutral dhurries keep a palette light, colorful ones help to accentuate bright shades in a room… how about the cheerful orange and white dhurrie in this little dining room, with the multicolored seats and cushions?                                  Or the turquoise and pale mint stripes echoing the bed dressing?

Via Attic mag

Via Happy Living Style










Of course, not all dhurries are striped. Port City Flooring here in Portland have some alternative patterns; something of this kind is especially useful in adding texture to a room with a more minimalist feel:

via Elle Decor



Perhaps the greatest indicator of their resurgence of popularity here is their representation in some of the best direct retail catalogs … I noticed some great ones in West Elm recently. You might want to check them out!

Black, with milk or cream?

Decorators' Walk "Gordian Weave", Kravet/Calvin Klein's "Gingkos"

Did you happen to catch the article about Ralph Lauren’s new store in the February issue of Architectural Digest? Of course it is, as one might expect, beautiful, and a lovely example of a simple black/cream/white palette.

AD Feb 2011

There seems to be something of a resurgence in the use of these primary neutrals, promoted by some fabulous new materials coming to market. I scrounged around my studio and found several that I think are both striking and versatile.

(Osborne & Little "Lomond Check", China Seas "Hampton", Decorators' Walk "Trellis", Duralee "89120", Clarke & Clarke "Tribal Star", Bassett McNab "Woven Floral", Maxwell "Drum Roll")



Sanderson "Lillia", Kravet "Luxe Loops", Clarke & Clarke "Pandora"

(Boussac "Mareva", Maxwell "Pamplemousse", Maxwell "Drumroll")

What I love about the black/cream combination is how different it is from the crispness of black and white. Substituting (or adding) a warm shade of ivory or cream creates warmth and subtlety; even though the look is just as dramatic, it is a sort of understated drama.  


Black and white together often lend a very contemporary air; I’m sure you’ve seen lots of stylish, minimalist rooms in this palette. But I think a black/cream and/or white combination can lend itself to a less modern setting. See how it works to give a traditional dining room a touch of elegant “edginess” that transforms it from the lovely-but-unnotable to the “wow”?


(Via Eclectic Revisited)




(Dining Room by Vicente Wolfe, from "Learning to See")

Then there’s this more casual dining room–from one of my favorite designers–with its edgy mix of traditional frames, contemporary chairs and eclectic photo display. Soft cream is the perfect foil to black in this space, creating a look that is welcoming and warm, rather than filled with sharp contrasts.

And going back to that Ralph Lauren store, with its French-inspired and totally elegant décor… did you notice how that dramatic animal print ottoman REALLY draws the eye in a room of soothing neutrals?

Color, color and more color

Pantone have published their annual color trend forecast, nicely presented in the apartmenttherapy blog (see below). Some interesting confluence AND juxtaposition in several of these palettes, don’t you think? It’s always fun to see if and how these color ideas play out…

I think the different quality of light in geographical regions inevitably drives the direction of color trends in each area; for example, in the clear white light we have here in Maine (not to mention the quiet restraint of many of the residents!), the Subtleties palette will probably be the one we see most. 

The Power of a Line

Working on some corporate offices recently has reminded me of the power of a horizontal line. You know those dreary, rabbit-warren corridors and foyers in older buildings that are so familiar we hardly pay attention to them (here’s a classic example)  … until there’s an opportunity to change them? To do so in a cost-conscious way isn’t easy, but I think a chair rail can often provide the focal point your eye needs to delineate perspective and add interest. Here’s a rendering of that same hallway with said “power line”:

And “before and after” shots (the real thing, somewhat skewed by the wide lens in a small camera – sorry!) in another area of the same complex:

Of course, some new carpet, paint and wallpaper help too – but do you see what I mean? Am I right?

On another note entirely … won’t it be great when spring rolls around again?!

Floor(al) Art?

A different medium than featured in an earlier post, but here’s another way of bringing a unique piece into your room … a floor cloth.  Heavy-duty canvas with a long-wearing finish coat over creative artwork = practical and beautiful floor coverings. I think they’re especially useful under dining tables … no more vacuuming crumbs up from fibers that want to hold onto them!

In Maine we’re lucky enough to have a floor cloth specialist: Mary Lynn Engel. Each piece is one-of-a-kind, made just for the individual client, using motifs that relate to the space and/or the life of the person or people in it.  Here are some details (including favorite flora) from a floor cloth I commissioned for a client a couple of years ago, and the piece in place:

And here’s Mary Lynn working on another …

What do you think? Do you prefer the softness of fibers underfoot, or do you enjoy the vibrant low-maintenance of this approach? It’s not a new concept – Mary Lynn points out that floor cloths were popular throughout New England during colonial times; she has simply honed an age-old craft. Please call us, or email, if you’d like to know how to get in touch with her.

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