Experience the Ultimate Southern Exposure at The Jefferson Hotel

 for the Washington Post's FW 

There are reasons why some hotels rate five stars from Forbes.  Like pulling up to a grand port cochere in a twenty-year-old pick-up, duct-tape patched and loaded with old house parts, and being greeted like her ladyship back from the hunt. (Which she was, Richmond has fantastic salvage yards).

Such a place is The Jefferson, exorbitantly gracious and luxurious to the tips of the terry slippers set out beside your turned down bed and the Molton Brown soaps and creams in the marble bath. 
Built in 1895 by Colonel Lewis Ginter, a confederate officer and tobacco baron, who also designed the beautiful Ginter gardens on the edge of town, the beaux arts masterpiece  immediately and forevermore became the centerpiece of Richmond's society events. Among the guests were twelve U.S. Presidents, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplain, Elvis, and most of the cast of the recent hit movie, Lincoln.

Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest und alles Gute zum neuen Jahr! (And to All a Good Night)

for the Washington Post's FW magazine

Winterfest at Tyson's Corner is in full swing on the brand new outdoor plaza, with ice skating, live music, brats and beer and mugs of hot mulled Glühwein.

It's Bavaria on the new Silver Line, which scoots you out in about thirty minutes from Metro Center, and deposits you on a footbridge to a fairytale.

Bob Maurer, the marketing director at Tyson's Corner Center, is no stranger to creating fantasy worlds in Washington. He was the impresario behind Union Station's long collaboration with Norway, which brought model trains, a huge tree, and wonderful crafts and music to those gilded halls.

At Tysons he collaborated with Käthe Wohlfahrt, of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a company nearly synonymous with Christmas in Germany, that has created snow globe scenes in major cities around the world, from Tokyo, to Paris, and now to our Emerald City of Shopping.

Time to Light Up!

For the Washington Post's FW magazine

HOLIDAY LIGHTING! There’s magic in the air!” says exceptionally fabulous Washington designer Skip Sroka, who has a lot more exclaiming to do. “There’s nothing more exciting than lighting your whole house with candles — everyone looks fabulous!” he says.

“Ambient lighting softens shadows so people’s faces look young and rested. It’s visual Botox without the pain,” says he. (Hoo boy, say we.)
Now amp that candlelight with reflective surfaces like silvery objects and mirrors. “I use huge mercury-glass urns on the foyer table — you get twice the illumination. One of the best holiday tables I’ve seen had tiny bits of mirror sprinkled about, mingled with candles. The table shimmered!”


Splendor in the Palms

for the Washington Post's FW magazine
One imagines it possible that the flowers are painted to match the citrus-hued furniture. Anything seems possible in a place where a sign announces that today the ocean -- not the beach -- is closed due to stormy waters.

This is The Breakers, after all. The many star and diamond studded Italian Renaissance hotel that presides over the Palm Beach waterfront like the world's most splendid cruise ship, though there's no reason to disembark.

Like a cruise ship, the resort is capable of comfortably mingling guests of all ages and pedigrees, from the brilliantly bejeweled to the elaborately tattooed. Kids as well, with day and evening camps,  playgrounds and game rooms to keep them out of your ...coif.  

Modeled after the Villa de Medici, filled with  tapestries, murals, gilding, and chandeliers dripping Venetian crystals the size of mangoes, The Breakers, built in 1926, is tended by a chicly-clad staff of two thousand.  

At crack of dawn, teams of workers appear to prune the very air along with microcosmic snippets of errant grasses that have dared to breach the perfect gap between paver and lawn.  Throughout the day the stone chalices (dare one call them ash trays?) that dot the property are instantly cleaned and raked.

Set on 140 acres, there are four pools along the half mile stretch of beach ocean front, two golf courses, ten tennis courts, and eleven boutiques, including branches of Ralph Lauren, Guerlain, and Lily Pulitzer, of course.

The spa offers everything from manicures to full-day indulgences, three fitness centers serve those who prefer the treadmill, and complementary classes are offered in belly dancing, pilates, and yoga. Given the level of service it comes as a shock that you're expected to swab your own yoga mat.

Roasting Alvin Ross: Retiring Restaurateur Takes a Little Flack

The Hill Rag. September 20014

It's hot enough to grill a burger on the sidewalk this mid-week, mid-afternoon in August. 

By moonrise the sidewalk cafe at Mr. Henry's will fill with burgers and fries and nachos, beers and margaritas. Right now the patio is abandoned, but inside the restaurant is as it always is, cool and dark, denying the hour. Any hour. Any year. 

A spiffily-suited quartet appears to be negotiating Something Very Important at a center table. A few regulars inhabit the bar, but the curmudgeonly cloud that normally hovers, always ready with a sarcastic remark and a hemorrhoidally-fueled smile, is missing. Alvin Ross, the mug of Mr. Henry's for over four decades, has retired. 

Alvin has been at the pub since 1971, when local property baron, Larry Quillian, won the place in a poker game from Henry Yaffe, the pint-sized, peripatetic entrepreneur who ensconced songstress Roberta Flack in a room of her own on the second floor. 

At the time, Yaffe owned six bars around town, operating under different names, but with the same stylistic formula of red-checked tablecloths and hodge-podge of Victoriana hung over flaking plaster walls. 

End of an Era

Diana McLellan Queen of the Hill

 The Hill Rag, August 2014

There was champagne and plump strawberries dipped in chocolate, baklava coiled like escargot and topped with crumbled pistachio. The bartenders were busy at the tables set under the trees. The sun shone brilliantly on a polished crowd. Diana McLellan's funeral, held a few days after her death on June 25th, was quite the bash.

Neighborhood friends rubbed shoulders with journalistic glitterati, names you'd know if not the faces: Maureen Dowd, Kevin Chaffee,  Michael Satchell, Chuck Conconi, Annie Groer, Stephanie Mansfield, Mike Mossetig,  Susan Watters, Ann Geracimos, Marguerite Kelly.

Washington's grande dame of gossip, a Brit of fabulous cleverness and style, who lived in wabi sabi splendor on Constitution Avenue for fifty years, was laid to unorthodox rest on a bed of lavender, wrapped in a glorious saffron-colored silk shroud that peeked through the intricately woven wicker basket that served as her coffin for the "green" funeral she had carefully planned in her last days.

The Inn and Spa at Montchanin Village - Washington Post's FW Magazine

How quickly can you leave the 21st Century? Two hours north on 95 and a right at Exit 7 and you've entered  a time warp. There's no CVS, no Walmart, no crowds, and the newest buildings dates to, oh, 1935.

Decompression comes swiftly in Delaware's Brandywine Valley, where carriage paths have been paved for cars but not much else has changed in a century. Stone mansions jostle stone cottages, all tucked behind rose tumbled stone walls.

In its midst, the Inn at Montchanin Village is perfectly situated for exploring the duPont's Winterthur museum and gardens (including an exhibit of costumes from the Downton Abbey TV series paired with like garments from the duPont collection) , the Wyeth collection at the Brandywine Museum, and Longwood Gardens - whose conservatory makes Washington's look like a terrarium.

Once the homes of workers employed at the duPont's gun powder mills,  the eleven beautifully restored stucco-and-frame buildings, some dating to 1799, dot a twenty-acre property where cobblestone pathways (beware Manolos) amble through splendid gardens, lantern lit at dusk.

DC's Living in a Youth Quake

Text and Photos for the Wall St. Journal's OWN Magazine

Start fanning yourselves, dowdy old Washington has burst into paradise found for the young and hip, a multiculti kaleidoscope of sound, color, food ...and cool. 

14TH AND U - Logan Circle

Studio Theater bustles, Whole Foods is packed, nouveau Audrey Tautous skirt by on candy colored Vespas, and black clad hipsters loll at the sidewalk cafes. Restaurants like Le Diplomate are nearly impossible to get into.

Meet DC's epicenter of cool.

At the exceedingly popular restaurant/bookstore/performance space Bus Boys and Poets, north of U Street, 20 and 30-somethings parallel play on laptops at communal tables, while others subtly browse the mating possibilities along with the books. The rest head straight for the bar and cushy sofas in the lounge.

The turf south of U is fast displacing Georgetown as design central for both the haute and hot, combining Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams gloss with treasure hunts like Miss Pixie's--for furnishing one's first loft.  The Washington Design Center will seal the deal when it slinks into its new space at the end of this year.

Poodles now prance about what was recently the purlieu of prostitutes; once seedy town homes and derelict mansions around Logan Circle are among the most coveted houses in the city. These mingle with pre-war and new condos sproinging terraces, with prices that range from around $200,000 for a studio in an older building, to the million range for a home that's, as they say, livable.  

Knocking on Heaven's Door in Islamorada

 for the duPont Registry

The curved teak gates swing open.

Follow a crushed coral drive, 800 feet winding through two acres of native plants and exotic animals, a deliberate wild.  Egrets pose, a white dove coos, an iguana scurries out of your path.  

Set amid impeccable gardens, the  great house looms. The front staircase splits to embrace a  massive royal palm stretching thirty feet, fronds feathering the roofline.  To one side is a salt water pond, your private aquarium. To the other is the conch house, an early dweller on this  six acre paradise,  just five feet from the water's edge. Grandfathered in, it's now your marina, leading to a dock that in turn leads to a 1000 foot deeded boat basin.

Tomorrow you can sail out for some tarpon fishing, or snorkeling at Hens and Chickens reef.  But now a hammock beckons from the island that forms and reforms with each tide.  An osprey flies by the lighthouse, its walls shot with red and gold by the setting sun.  

A Garden Variety Masterwork -- A Hostess Gift from Chagall

 Beginning with the coda...Several years ago I was lucky enough to interview Evelyn Nef in her Georgetown home, a place where a series of Picasso's circus etchings hop scotched up the staircase, a Brancusi presided over the piano, and a collection of Chagall sketches lined a wall -- birthday gifts from the artist.

As Adrien Higgins wrote this weekend in the Washington Post, there were "31 drawings, 46 prints and 25 illustrated books by such artists as Auguste Renoir, Wassily Kandinsky and Fernand Léger, along with early prints and other paper works by Chagall and Pablo Picasso."

None of that made it into my article for the Washington Post, which was one of a series of sketches about outdoor murals in private homes. Nef lived alone among these astonishing riches and I was terrified for her safety, though she was casual about it to the point of carelessness -- on my way out I did a double take, seeing a Picasso hanging tipsy on the wall behind the front door. 

What I'd come to see was the Chagall mosaic in her garden, which now resides in the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, right where she wanted it -- a delicate removal process that Higgins describes here.

My interview is here....

 A Garden Variety Masterwork
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

"What's this article about again?" asks Evelyn Nef, standing in the foyer of her Georgetown home. Not because she had forgotten but because she wants to hear it directly, instead of filtered through her assistant.

"Murals in private homes around the city," she's told. "And you're the top!"

"You're the top," she sings, doing a little soft-shoe down the hall. "Noël Coward!"

It's early afternoon, and the sun is shining brilliantly. She doesn't see anyone before noon, her assistant explained. She works out every morning. "Weights and stretches," Nef said. She'll be 95 next month.

"Come into my back yard and see a marvel," she said, leading the way through the house. And there it is, surrounded by magnolias and climbing roses, the only Marc Chagall mosaic in a private home in the world.
At the top she points out "Orpheus and his lute, Pegasus and images from Greek mythology." Below are European refugees coming across the ocean, and in the right corner she and her husband sit in the shade of a tree.

Chagall was a good friend of her third husband, historian John Ulrich Nef, whom she married in 1964.
"Every summer, we went to France and saw the Chagalls," she recalled. The people, not the paintings. "We always went to the Hotel du Cap -- they'd come to get away from the tourists in summer. In the morning, Marc would paint and my husband would write and Valentina and I would gossip. We became like a family.

"When he'd come to New York, where Matisse was his dealer, he'd come to visit us in Washington. He loved the village of Georgetown and shopping at Woolworth's for new pencils and colored crayons."

It was something of a hostess gift, the mural. When he proposed it for the garden, she was imagining a plaque of some sort, "a little 8-by-10-inch thing to hang," she described with her hands. "I never dreamed we'd have to build a wall."

The mosaic was flown over from France in 10 panels and attached to the wall with bronze pins so it can be moved. "When I die, it will go to the National Gallery. The present plan is to put it in the sculpture garden," Nef said.

"When it was done, Marc came and the French ambassador and the society person," she said. "It was a very big deal."