Stay Here: Luxurious Italian Treehouse

I want to travel to a treehouse and not with my child. Is there something fundamentally wrong with this? Though Casa Bartel is not your expected fort in a tree made from broken down orange crates for children enacting battles with styrofoam swords.

“No Kids Allowed.” A tree house built for romance or a creative escape, 20 minutes outside of Florence.

On the outskirts of Florence, the structure is plotted within a family compound that includes other residences, themed after the interior’s collections like the “Movie House” (decorated with vintage film posters) and “Ceramic House” (designed with handmade 18th century tiles).

The terrace acts as an additional room with views of the sublime grounds and Italian countryside.

Casa Bartel overlooks orchards, olive groves, the Tuscan landscape, pool, tennis court and a sole cypress tree. The terrace is spacious enough for dining, which you will share with the tree’s neighboring tenants of birds and the occasional squirrel. Inside and you will quickly forget that you climbed a narrow staircase up a tree to discover a room with a fireplace, bathroom and full-service kitchenette. The chalkboard wall behind the bed displays an artistic rotation of drawings and notes from past guests. The decor rivals most New York City apartments.

Travel has become a luxury service operation. We have glamping in pods equipped with wood burning tubs. Safaris where you can see wildlife outside a cabin that’s illuminated with antique chandeliers. Desert hotels with pools that can be dove into from a room’s terrace. Luxury tree houses are a natural extension for the traveler who doesn’t want to be close to nature but in it. While the sounds of birds and wildlife are engaging, there is something appealing the swish of a running shower as well.

Creative impulses facilitated with a chalkboard wall.

Learn more about Casa Bartel at www.casabarthel.com. The owner’s design shop in Florence can be visited at www.riccardobarthel.it, www.desinare.it.

Photography by Elena Barthel


Ultimate Guide to French Living

The French have their beautiful little phrases to sum up life lessons. A beloved style that somehow cannot be replicated unless your passport is from France. Their mannered customs that fail to crumble in a fast-paced world. It’s all intertwined, how life can follow a joie de vivre approach.

A colorful view of French life, as seen in France: Inspiration du Jour.

Americans have a tendency to try too hard. We purchase an abundance of things we don’t really need. Test health fads that don’t seem to work. Fall into the influence of marketing manipulation. The French aren’t as quick to change their storefronts. They market by connecting to the supplier who grows the food, sliding soil speckled produce into a reusable bag well before it was trendy.

The French find time to enjoy and reflect, which is important considering what’s involved in all the buttoning and tying when getting dressed in tailored clothing, beautifying their meals with inventive sauces, and setting a table that could stage an Old Master painting.

The artistry of a French meal as featured by Rae Dunn in France Inspiration du Jour.

Mimi Bleu of Belle Inspiration, a delightful magazine (which I happen to contribute to) and imaginative nook in the online world that interprets Paris through an American’s eyes. Mimi married a Parisian but her romantic sensibility doesn’t end there, she treats each day as an adventure and shares her city explorations with those who want to taste a sample. Mimi breaks down French living into three important segments, as follows:


“The food markets are serious business here in France. Living in Paris, or even during your stay, you’ll soon get to know your local fromagerie, butcherie, patisserie and the all-important boulangerie for your fresh baguettes, croissants and sweet treats,” says Mimi.

Marketing the French way is the only way for Mimi Bleu. Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

Passport to France? Bonjour

“The food vendors take pride in their products and will gladly share their freshest picks, or even the perfect recipe for the veal chop you purchased. The key is to always (did I say always?) greet them with ‘Bonjour.’ In fact, this is the golden key to open all of France – cafés, boutiques, offices–you name it, bonjour is the way to start to friendlier service. And don’t forget to leave with a merci, au revoir,” she says.

Flea Markets

“French flea markets, or marché aux puces, are truly a window into Frenchness. Again, bonjour is your key and an opening to better negotiations. The big market at Saint-Ouen (Clignancourt) is an endless display of anything you can imagine in every price range–so everyone leaves happy,” says Mimi.

Finds at a Marche aux Puces in Saint Ouen. Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

“Smaller brocantes (popup flea markets) and vide-greniers (attic sales, the French version of a neighborhood garage sale) pop up all over the Paris arrondissements each month. These are a fun way to get some great deals in a relaxed atmosphere to strike up a conversation with the vendors. Don’t forget that bonjour!”


“French interior décor has many faces and styles. Today’s modern touches make sure there’s not too much gilt or heaviness. True French décor is never overdone. It’s all about subtlety…and fresh flowers,” she says.

Flowers are a main staple in a French household. Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

“Authentic French pieces are almost always unpainted (except in the south of France where you’ll find more of that style), the natural beauty of the wood shines through. It seems to have two distinct looks: Traditional French period pieces from top to bottom or as I like to call it, ‘Eclectic French,'” says Mimi.

Selections at a marche aux puces. Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

“Visiting my traditional French friends draws an image of true French home décor and it does still include marble-topped commodes, Louis XV a fauteuils and ornate gold frames are still surrounding oil paintings. Eclectic French is more modern, it works with touches of gilt and the classic French lines but the period pieces are calmed with modern touches. A glass coffee table in front of a carved settee. Modern lucite chairs slide under a dark wood dining table. An elaborate gilted mirror inherited from grandmother’s living fireplace sits atop a mid-century piece,” she says.

The blend, or melange, honors the past in a present day context. Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

“Pieces passed down from generation to generation keeps the past alive and the French appreciate heritage. There’s a bit of a movement to move away from all that charm and beauty, to replace it with IKEA–quelle dommage! Fortunately, there are still many who insist on keeping those grand armoires, cachepots and gilted sconces.”

Louis XIV chaise is authentic with a modern sensibility from its upholstery.Photo courtesy of Belle Inspiration.

Two recently published illustrated books capture glimpses of French living. France Inspiration du Jour is a travelogue by artist Rae Dunn where the reader has a deviant feeling of sneaking a glimpse into her personal diary. Her watercolors bring to mind a fashion page that illustrates pieces on what to wear to a polo match. There are dreamy renderings of tea towels, roadways, a lot of food and the beauty found in a simple teacup. Or despite eating enough figs to warrant an Oompa Loompa cleanse she till has not tired of the fruit.

This is not a passageway. Dunn learns to navigate French roads by keeping a mindful eye on doorways that could be a safe haven from incoming cars.

With a cover designed in airmail colors and iconic city monuments, Say Bonjour to the Lady features authors Florence Mars and Pauline Leveque sketches on the difference in child rearing between New York and Paris.

Say Bonjour to the Lady takes on two great cities and their parenting philosophies.


Covering such topics as school and holidays, the authors poke fun of both parenting methods in metropolitan life. There is a Manhattan home overrun with kid things aside an elegant Parisian dwelling void of any sign of children. At the beach an American toddler is seated beneath a beach umbrella, dressed in protected clothing, Swimmies and sunscreen, while the French child plays along the coast in the nude.

The French make us question our ways. If a trip the country is not in the plan, you can always take note of their customs with a bit of mind travel.

City backdrops and the children they influence.


Belle Inspiration Magazine

Reprinted from France: Inspiration du Jour by Rae Dunn, published by Chronicle Books 2017.

Reprinted from Say Bonjour to the Lady. Copyright © 2017 by Florence Mars and Pauline Lévêque. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Pauline Lévêque. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.



Ultimate Wallpaper Guide

Wallpaper has evolved from manor house motifs and the loud prints of a Palm Beach cocktail dress (though we love those too.) Updated selections will give any room pizzazz. Choose from a colorful tableaux resembling Andy Warhol’s take on wildflowers to artistic compositions a muralist would create. Installation options also vary. There is the classic pasted paper method or–renters and dorm residents take note–self adhesive varieties.

Forget the artwork, the floral infused color of this design direct a room’s theme that is both modern and personalized.


  1. NYC Water Towers by Tom Slaughter 2. Parisian Dandelions 3. Connect Wash on White 4. Cloud Garden 5. Hoya 6. Hydrangeas 7. Jungle Dream 8. Small Flowers 10. Drawing Cactus Pattern 11. Lovely Gingham 12. Confetti 13. Pina 14. Cactus Spirit

The Art of Adding Wallpaper – Finer Things by Christiane Lemieux Part II

Congratulations, if you read past the headline and are considering wallpaper in your home, the treatment will place you in a stylish coterie. Papered walls have glamorized rooms throughout history, shifting a functional room into a descriptive art piece. It’s not a simple addition, permanently sealing a print to your room’s wall is a decision as weighty as converting a shed or leaving the animal shelter with a new pet. While trends evolve, wallpaper styles adjust to the times but they will always add to a room’s gushing with love factor.

Fabric is used as wallpaper above the fireplace. The pattern, texture and color creates a layered contemporary classic at London’s Ham Yard Hotel. Copyright by Horst P. Horst / Vogue / OTTO / Conde Nast

In Christiane Lemieux’s latest design book, The Finer Things, she devotes a section to wallpaper. Lemieux is a proponent of quality and personalized style, dressing a room in a sophisticated look like a Parisian wearing a hat.

The Gottwald bathroom in Richmond, Virginia, is not your typical bathing experience. The addition of wallpaper with blended pieces amps the luxury factor, creating a design more expected in the lobby of a lux hotel. Courtesy of Bunny Williams.

Lemieux Guidelines: What You Need to Know About Wallpaper:

  1. History: Wallpaper descended from tapestries, which were used to warm up the interiors of those drafty old homes.
  2. Why It Stuck: A more decorative, affordable option than weighty works of art.
  3. Enduring Evolution: Still holds the same composite as papers dating back to the 17th century, just updated with the trends.
  4. Composition: When selecting papers, research on how it was made–hand painted, wood block, silkscreen techniques–or current developments like digital printing.
  5. Installation: Begin by priming the walls beforehand the way you would with paint, which allows the paper to adhere correctly. Though wallpapering a room is an intricate process that is more involved than coating a wall with paint, a project where considering an expert is a sensible expense.
  6. How Much Is Needed: While square footage in relation to the amount in a roll will make you dust off your math skills, err on over buying. Wallpaper will be cut and tossed due to the complexities of a room’s layout from the doors, windows etc.

The size and simple quality of this rouge grass cloth print by Phillip Jeffries is a simple installation that brings in a unique element to the room via the tactile feel and shade. Copyright by Benjamin Benschneider / OTTO

The Finer Things. Copyright © 2016 by Christiane Lemieux. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.


Floret Flowers Take the Chill Out of Winter

Winter doldrums have hit. The sad, spindly trees. Wearing so many layers I will need a reintroduction to my toes come spring. A dog who refuses to go out. While the change of seasons has its allure, I’d rather visit winter over a long weekend in an alpine cabin with heated floors. A way to beat the cold is to bring in elements that remind us of warmer days. Cut Flower Garden accomplishes exactly that with the best of the forgiving seasons without having to spend on an airfare headed south. Erin Benzakein is the master floral designer and maverick in the farm-to-centerpiece movement, sharing insight and inspiration from her farm, Floret Flowers.

Erin Benzakein gathering her tools of the trade.

From designing a flower bed to bundling a bouquet for Mother’s Day, Erin’s easy-to-follow guides enlighten on gardening and styling. The book also provides detailed information on the most popular blooms like dahlias, peonies and roses.

Erin grows around 400 rose bushes in countless varieties.

If you are at a loss on how to mix flowers ideas abound. Other insider morsels include increasing your bloom’s vase life by cutting the stem’s ends and using cool, fresh water. Learn how to make market tied bouquets, floral crowns and, as this is a seasonal guide, holiday wreath.

Lilacs should be picked early in the morning or evening to minimize wilting.

From seed to stem, lush imagery alongside expert guidance elevate the book from coffee table darling to dependable resource guide.

Cut Flower Garden has that alluring combo in being both beautiful and smart.

Photography by Michele M. Waite for Chronicle Books, 2017.























Designer Tara Bernerd’s Contemporary Style

Art Deco meets futurism in the spaces designed by Tara Bernerd, as if Jay Gatsby time traveled to the early 2000s and decorated his modernist den. In her new book, Tara Bernerd: Place (Rizzoli), Bernerd guides enthusiasts through a visual journey with a striking representation of homes, hotels and luxury interiors across the globe.

Contemporary is far from minimal in this space within a yacht.

Bernerd has pedigree. She worked with Phillippe Starck, contoured her training into her own aesthetic, and struck out on her own by establishing a firm in London. Bernerd’s layered approach respects curated pieces, an attention to art, and a genius approach to lighting.

Melding texture and tone while an attention to art and lighting add intrigue.

She understands how to make a place both inviting yet sophisticated with a clever assemblage of accents and treatments to warm up a room.

In this Hong Kong penthouse, a rich mix of textures, materials and treatments coalesce.

Subdued color schemes with the occasional injection of a statement shade, parlayed with a variety of materials, keep the designs from looking hackneyed.

A bathroom deviates from expected marble and white with an exquisite blend of color, pattern and materials, as seen in this space’s balance of brass and black with classic marble.

The lobby of the Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale has the right combination of dramatic and comfortable.

Customized built-ins, “book-matched” walnut, and such opulent texture as leather and velvet direct the focus in this Central Park West apartment.

A mix of comfort and luxury define Tara Bernerd’s places as memorable, livable and secure their placement as architectural gems.

Tara Bernerd: Place is a rich compendium of luxurious spaces you can live in.





















Ultimate Coastal Cottage Bedroom

As design trends follow the spikes and lows of a real estate graph, one style that remains consistent is the coastal cottage. Putting together a space that stirs up seaside emotions restores, makes you want to say namaste, or lie face down with warm rocks on your back. The one room where tranquility is foremost is the bedroom. As someone who can’t make it through a night without abusing my pillow, I welcome any natural based assistance. In my Laguna Beach bedroom I brought in the core elements of the beach cottage look.

Laguna Beach bedroom follows a basic scheme of a few colors and coastal accents.

Beach design is quite simple, just add these 5 basic ideas:

  1. Natural woven pieces: Anything rattan, wicker or seagrass supports the coastal look. Accent with an accessory, sisal rug or bed frame. Since “beach” and “cottage” typically equates to space challenged, rattan baskets offer both storage and style while a bamboo side table can be a catchall for your bedtime needs within the desired design.
  2. Stripes: Blue and white stripes are the unspoken uniform of seaside style. The pattern is simple and easy to pair with other like-minded prints. A basic duvet is layered with throw pillows and blanket for a styled, relaxed feel.
  3. Batik prints: Classic British Colonial batiks that conjure up faraway places are a solid investment piece. The simple indigo color and hand-printed design of the accent pillows seamlessly weave into the room’s scheme.
  4. Color: White always says cottage and creates a soothing atmosphere. Touches of blue and beach colors are the natural choices to make a room coastal.
  5. Light: Since cottage bedrooms are often smaller, keep the room paired down to the essential needs and accessories to create the illusion of more space. White walls make the room feel open and doesn’t compete with blending items. A wood framed mirror that has the effect of a window on a boat is both decorative and reflects additional light.

Storage is always needed in a cottage bedroom. A wicker hamper and pine armoire conceal belongings in a pulled together presentation.






Green Is the Go To Color of 2017

The color of the year has been elected and home enthusiasts are colorfully dressing up rooms for its inauguration. Pantone’s Greenery has the kind of pastoral shade you’d see when flying over Ireland. While green may seem more extreme than recent darlings like gray, neutrals or soft pastels, it’s always been a natural choice. Consider how grass and leafy trees blanket the outdoors, it has no choice but to blend with everything.

Find your aptitude for green in simple stages and begin by styling with accessories.

For those who are hesitant on this spirited shade, test in subtle ways with accessories or accent pieces. I’ve always been a follower of green in fashion as the color pops and adds personality to an ensemble. In my bedroom I added a throw and cosmetics case to my bed for a trial run that creates a snappy, effortless look.

From Simple to Daring, here are three ideas on how to design with this happy shade.

1. Simple:

An all white bathroom is punched up with green accessories. Photo by Donna Dotan Photography

Designer Claire Paquin of Clean Design Partners offers a subtle take on this white bathroom. The addition of towels, modernist painting, and even the selection of toiletries direct the room’s standout style without a major adjustment.

2. Moderate

A green range by Big Chill is the wow factor in contemporary kitchen. Image courtesy of Big Chill.

Make a bolder statement with such investment pieces as furnishings or an appliance. A predominantly white room keeps the statement on the colored piece. Says Orion Creamer, Founder of Big Chill, “Pantone’s Greenery symbolizes all thing fresh and natural. Introducing a Big Chill Range in Basil Green into a kitchen automatically brightens a space, while lending a hint of the unexpected.”

3. Daring

The exterior of my Laguna Beach came painted in Grinch green, which I kept for laughs until the right shade presented itself. It may be in the right shade after all.

Ready to immerse yourself in green? Try painting your house in the bold shade. My Laguna Beach home came in green and I never had the heart to paint it even after neighbors pestered me on its color status. It fits into the landscape. I don’t need a house number as mail arrives just by saying “green house.” It stands out in a good way.

The mustard colored wood burning fireplace pairs well with retro green, colors that swung back into fashion. Photo by Bret Gum

The color continues indoors with tiling to complement the mustard yellow wood burning fireplace. What I considered as mod Palm Springs that may have needed to be redone became quite prescient, hitting on this year’s color, which confirms that sometimes it’s best to wait on any home alterations.

Shop It: Wayfair teamed with Pantone in the color selection, finding that bolder colors are current in the design lexicon. “They may not be bright and airy but a vivid sofa in plush upholstery will have everyone fighting for a seat,” says Jessica Dowling, head of Wayfair Trade Services.

  1. Loveseat 2. Side chair 3. Ottoman 4. 3-piece vase set




Seven Essentials to Update Your Home

Our household is learning the importance of flexibility. While some prefer to build their wardrobe or undergo cosmetic makeovers, I am constantly tweaking the home. Even after I made deals with the family after the last remodel that we would not endure living with contractors for another couple of years I am treading back on my promise, learning that when it comes to the home we can always welcome updates.

Curved furniture, like this bed from Layla Grace, in a fashionable color updates and softens a room.

There is a clever balance between affordability, low maintenance upgrades, and design so the improvements will enhance your life with limited fanfare. Follow these seven additions that will dramatically impact the home and are well worth the investment:

1. Flooring: New floors are the foundation of a home. Either refurbish existing boards, paint over, or consider new hardwood. Light wood is still trending as it opens up the house and adds brightness.

Wood floors add instant appeal. There are also affordable options, such as this oak engineered plank from Overstock.

2. Paint: Whether it’s adding a bold color to a wall or refreshing existing rooms, fresh paint will instantly add sparkle to the environment.

Basic white or a dramatic paint color, like Retro Metro Green by Fine Paints of Europe, is a cosmetic touch with volumes of impact.

3. Lighting: Bring in light sources to create a mood and look. Go for illuminating pocket lights or statement pieces like chandeliers, pendant lights and lamps that anchor a room.

A row of colored pendant lamps by YLighting add whimsy to a dining area.

4. Tile: Innovative tiling will invigorate the kitchen, bath, bar area or even a mud room. Be bold with bright colors or choose a conservative choice in a lighter shade but current look.

Glass and natural stone mosaic tile, available at Wayfair, will direct a room’s design.

5. Furnishings: A curated selection of pieces will secure personal style. Think like a designer by doing the research, reading shelter publications, visiting design sites, and create folders of imagery with favored looks. Then source the companies that supply your themes. Add furniture in stages so you can have time  living with the pieces, are confident with your direction, and is less of a financial burden.

This sofa by Tobi Farley from Layla Grace represents fine detailing from the curved nailhead trim and clean lines.

6. Art: From over sized posters to a passed down portrait, art is the eye candy of the home. When choosing paintings, prints or wall art don’t jump into a purchase but make sure you have a “falling in love” reaction as this can be an everlasting relationship.

7. Appliances: It takes one va va va voom piece to command a room, where a star appliance can be all that’s needed to add drama. This dual result of image and the addition of a quality stove, refrigerator or electronic is all that is needed to energize a room.

A show-stopping appliance, like this cast iron stove by AGA, is the only addition needed to tell a design story. Photo credit: AGA Marvel, aga-ranges.com


Ultimate Transitional Bathroom

It’s a new year and home design forecasters are earning their street cred by identifying trends to expect in 2017. Before colorizing your home in the latest color (greenery) or tiling your backsplash (mirrored), take a moment to consider what works in your lifestyle. Altering the home is not as simple as dying a strand of your hair blue. In creating a transitional bathroom, Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, vice president of design, faucets and fixtures of American Standard, maintains that clean looks will always be welcomed.

The DXV Lowell bathroom suite exhibits enduring elements, like graphite wood finish, single handle faucet, high efficiency toilet and shower trim kit.

“We see a continued emphasis on minimalistic design lines, highlighted by softer geometric forms, dominating faucet and lavatory styling,” says L’Henaff. Look to detailed, quality effects through hardware and finishes. Accents should work with the room without commanding the finished look. Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen & Bath Association also advocates the simple appeal of a modern transitional space. “We’re hearing from NKBA members that simple, clean lines and more transitional and contemporary styles are on trend for kitchens and baths right now,” he says.

For those who have an itch for more high impact style add glamour touches. Says L’Henaff “Luxurious faucet finishes that make a dramatic statement–such as copper, gold and matte black–are on the rise. More compact size sinks–better suited to smaller settings like powder rooms and urban bathrooms–are more in demand, along with freestanding tubs occupying a smaller footprint, again to provide high style in optimum space.”

DXV Lowell console sink in light ash wood finish.

3 simple must-have additions to an updated bath:

  1. Walk in shower with open door.
  2. Hardware finished in quality materials like copper, matte black and metallic.
  3. Natural elements such as wood and slate.