Design by the Letter: The ABCs of Our Favorite Things for the Home

| A |

ANEMONE: The Anemone, the "daughter of the wind," created by Venus when she sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover, Adonis...and one of our all-time favorite flowers.

ABOVE: Detail of Terrestrial Mollusk, Poppy Anemone, and Crane Fly by Joris Hoefnagel, and Georg Bocskay, 1561 - 1562; illumination added 1591 - 1596, The J. Paul Getty Museum

| B |

BRASS: Even the smallest brass detail brings warmth and vital reflections of light to a room. But Porter and I err for large brass statement pieces, not just details. Zhoujie Zhang’s Brass Heart Chair is just an origami-inspired dream.

| C |

CHAISE: In our minds, no piece of furniture is as decadent (and aspirational) as a chaise. These single-human support systems take up half a room and probably a whole window just to give one solitary human a place to read or cat nap...occasionally. And a real PK-24 by Poul Kjærholm is the most desirable of all (and about the price of a vintage Mercedes).

| D |

DUTCH WAX BLOCK PRINT CLOTH: The colors and patterns of these prints, beloved and ubiquitous in Western African and around the world, make rooms come alive. Vlisco still makes them by hand with a 27-step process that takes two weeks.

[ E ]

ELEPHANT: Every kid loves an elephant and our mom and dad made sure we did, packing our minds full of pachyderms at all turns. Dad must've read me Babar's Mystery a billion times; so many times, that mom proudly boasted that I could read at age four (I'd just memorized it...very, very loosely). We also went to Elephant Hall (Morrill Hall) at the University of Nebraska about a billion times to look at the massive Nebraskan mammoths and made jokes about getting caught under one during bathroom time (gross, Daddy!). The poaching crisis is heart breaking - and these beautiful beasts are best celebrated living and running free...or in life size brass (1970s Mexico Sergio Bustamante Life-size Brass Elephant Wall Sculpture).

[ F ] 

FLAMINGO: The most femininely fashionable of birds is the one taxidermy piece I still covet (I've generally given up on the mammals, but, still, check out Darwin, Sinke & van Tongeren in The Netherlands for some true artistry). While famous as a yard bird, these guys look even better on the wall - especially layered up in the Flamingos wallpaper print by Albany House that keeps popping up in restaurants and bars all over town. 

[ G ]

GOLD: See everything I typed about brass and insert here, but take it up a notch with gold leafed ceilings or a wall of Timorous Beasties' Golden Oriole wall panels. How incredible would these be lining a hallway? Add in an opposing a mirrored wall and you'd have double the impact and the ultimate selfie zone where all skin tones would be golden and beautiful.    

[ H ]

HUNT: Our style has certainly evolved over the years and for staging it's certainly more minimalist and feminine (with heavy influences from...1970s). But at the core, we love the colors, masculinity, tradition and stories of the modern and 1920s hunt. Waxed cottons, tweeds and fluffy woolen knits all belong in the home (or in art) as much as on the back of the hunter. (After the Hunt by William Michael Harnett, 1885).

[ I ]

INDIAN DOWRY BENCH (and thousands of other crafts from India): I dream of traveling through India and know that I'll need months there and a container ship to leave. The man who found the chick tasteful enough to offer up this ram-headed treasure as her dowry was one lucky guy. It's as if the Lalannes went to Udaipur and a bench came out.

[ J ]

JUNGLE: Real jungles are full of humidity (so much humidity!) and exotic, yet often icky creatures, so that's why it's so fun to bring them indoors. Cole & Son has been helping us do that for decades and their updated palm and jungle prints are just the perfect way to experience the paradise without (all) the sweat (except for the poor soul who has to hang the stuff).

[ K ]

KIMONO: Anyone who's read Heirloom Modern knows that our fam marched to the beat of its own little drummer boy at Christmas: we opened presents on Christmas Eve and ate shepherd's pie while wearing tiny vintage Japanese kimonos. We love them still. If you're ever in Kyoto and have a chance to hit the flea markets, you can snatch them up for about $15 each. Handmade ones. It's just incredible. Even if they're flawed or torn, you can re-purpose the masterful silks into pillows.   

[ L ]

LINEN: It goes without saying that crumply, or hell, crisp, linen does things on the human body that no other material can match. Throw on that fabulous fiber and you instantly look like a great novelist, pumping out book number three from the cottage Médoc. Amazingly, those threads might even look better on a bed, especially in comparison to all those heavy brocades and shiny sheets that infest our bedding options.  

[ M ]

MASAI: Our parents sold Masai necklaces at Porter's Possessions, the store they owned in Lincoln in the late '70s/early '80s. Needless to say, there wasn't overwhelming demand for Masai necklaces in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1980, so the beaded works of art came home and provided incredible pops of color throughout the house.

[ N ]

NEOCLASSIC: Of all the tiers of man cave, none is more elegant than the Neoclassic man cave. Dark blue lacquered walls, burled woods and loads of...brass arrows, fists and details. 

[ O ]

OSTRICH EGGS: We love them. We put them everywhere. They look great alone, in pairs, stacked into lamps. And they're only about $5-$10 a pop. Can't beat that.

[ P ]

PALMS: A real palm tree inside your home brings life and color and a real touch of jungle (see J). But you still have to water them. As with most things, the brass version can be exponentially better.

[ Q ]

QUILLS (Porcupine): Growing up, we had one little itty bitty Anglo-Indian porcupine quill box at home. Mom loved that thing so dearly, that when I found a big one on Portobello Road, for something less than a first child, I felt as if I had acquired the score of the century. Then, two years later, I found one for less, mysteriously on sale at...Bergdorf Goodman. Not sure any human should be lucky enough to have two porcupine quill shopping miracles in a lifetime.

[ R ]

RATTAN: It's everywhere these days. Thank goodness. If aiming for the biggest design bang for your buck with furniture, it will probably be rattan (or it's cousin, wicker). You can get yourself a peacock throne, organic flying saucer chairs (in this case, the bang is more pricey) and wall-size étagères for much less than crummy veneer stuff. If you find the cool shapes, they will never go out of style. 

[ S ]

SHIBORI: In grade school, our school brought in tie dye experts (probably moms in the PTA) and helped us kiddos make shirts with all sorts of techniques: knotting, wax (with awesome foreign-looking, weapon-like melting pens), marbles and rubber bands. We each got to pick our color. Everyone ended up with pink or bright blue, but my mom (the mom who imported batik for her store, see D) told me to go for brown. Genius, it was! My brown tie dye shirt with Hollister across the chest (which pre-dated that other Hollister) became my favorite top of childhood...and even my college years where it fit ...very differently. The Japanese have been doing their brand of resist dying, shibori, for centuries and we love what the Aussie ladies at the appropriately-named brand, Shibori, are doing with it, too: wallpaper and leather.

[ T ]

TILE: Ever since staying at the Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona, I've dreamed of having a house with tile on every inch of the floors (and a lot of the walls). There are so many mind-blowingly beautiful artisans pumping out designs now that it's hard to just choose one, but many of my new favorites are from...Sweden (and Morocco). Gothenberg-based Marrakech Design specializes in encaustic cement tiles made by hand according to a production process developed in southern France towards the end of the 19th century. The new collection by Claesson Koivisto Rune is all made at a factory just outside of Marrakech.

[ U ]

URNS: I'm not sure what New Yorkers are going to do when Pearl River closes in January (the landlord is raising the rent to $500,000 a MONTH...New York is terrifying). It's been the go-to place for affordable blue and white Chinese pottery and grass slippers for decades. Even if it goes online, it's such a loss. Stock up on your urns now...or turn to 1stdibs for more authentic investments.

[ V ]

VITRINE: Sort of the polar opposite of a safe, a vitrine stands proudly in a room, beautiful in its own right (like this modernist one by Fargo & Grof) and filled with the most precious, displayable treasures you own. Acquiring and installing a vitrine forces you to think about those few little pieces you love most and curate something truly special.

[ W ]

WATERCOLOR: From the perspective of my hand making something somewhat realistic even with countless mistakes, watercolor is my favorite medium. It's loose and imperfect, making those mistakes a thing of beauty. I always struggled to mix oils to the perfect hue, but watercolor's translucence allows you to build into the color you desired. It's phenomenally non-committal, as long as you have patience. Here's a detail of a portrait I did the other day.

[ X ]

XENOLITH: A real xenolith is a little piece of stone that, by some geological mystery, ends up inside a totally different stone. Lately, we've been seeing numerous designers make their own versions with resin and wood. We're stretching for an X word here, yes, but we love these combos - and used four in the Dakota.

[ Y ]

YORUBA CHAIRS: If a Masai necklace is a thing of beauty, imagine all that beading covering every inch of a chair. Traditionally made to support the kings and queens of the Yoruba tribe in West Africa, they take three months to make. We dream of owning a pair one day. 

[ Z ]

ZEBRA: When I first visited my grandma's zebra skin rug-strewn apartment in New York at age seven, I thought I'd entered the lair of a fabulous adventress who'd trotted the globe, ran with the most fascinating people and lived out adventures most of us only read about. I wasn't too far off base, but still, that's one powerful rug.