Tuesday, February 9

Grateful for talented artisans in the interior design industry

is grateful for the talented artisans that bring their passion to the
interior design industry!

  • snippets from the New American Wing at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art to showcase the many talented artisans going back hundreds of years.
  • A tour of the official residence of the Mayor of New York City, and one of the oldest wooden structures in Manhattan, The Gracie Mansion
  • dedication to Chris Pellettieri, a talented stone carver harkening back to the days of the "guilds" from the Middle Ages when artisans apprenticed with a mentor program to hone their skill
  • some of my Twitter "friends" and their craftsmen abilities and sites
  • special food and entertaining section, featuring talented chefs, friends and their stories, recipes and advice

With all the interior design professionals flooding the industry, there seems an endless supply of options when considering how to decorate a home. Interestingly, these talented individuals have helped form how we view our homes going back hundreds of years. This month let's celebrate the talented craftsmen throughout history by illustrating their contributions, with a special feature of a modern day stone carver. As I look over these past ten months since I created this blog, there is a thread that weaves through each topic I explore - the emphasis on the importance of history in interior design. I would like to dedicate an entire post to the future of interior design and where we seem to be headed, and maybe that would make a great topic for my one year anniversary of Nest by Tamara, but for February I point out the ways in which the foundations of good design have been laid down long before this generation. From the research I culled this month, I got an idea for March's topic as well; I plan to investigate the process of refurbishing a historic home. The journey of taking something old, often in a state of disarray, and preserving the goodness and richness while upgrading what is no longer viable to make a modern livable space, can be an enriching, albeit daunting experience. In March I will refer to my personal experiences with this process. Last month I wrote about Edith Wharton's visions during the late 1800s, and how her unique voice brought great taste and symmetry to the field. Edith looked back to the past when she wrote her book the Decoration of Houses, and valued the Federal style from the 1700s for its sensibilities and cohesive aesthetics.

For February, I explore the importance of history, not just from the perspective of the visionaries of design as I did with Edith, but from the view of the craftsmen that continue to contribute beautiful, well made goods. Going back to the days of the "guilds" in Europe during the Middle Ages and later in the United States, there was a strong emphasis on learning a trade. The finest guilds were often considered the noblest and most valued men in society as their creations often moved the country or their particular region forward in status. Through apprenticeship programs, these craftmens learned a skill and under a mentor they honed that talent slowly over time, somethimes over a lifetime. This often tranformed an entire family's identity, even forming their surname. These skills were most often passed down through generations. We still value artisans in our society today, but of course with the many changes that have occured in the last few hundred years, our emphasis has shifted a bit.
If you look around your community, you will find a group of skilled artisans hard at work providing quality art and wares for those who desire the work of an articulate hand. Every good interior designer has a list of talented, hard-to-find artisans in their Rolodex, and it becomes an important part of being successful in this business. Many designers covet these often hard to find sources. With the ever growing computer community sites these sources are now becoming more easily accessible, and again the world is changing. Without these individuals, we would only have mass produced items to choose from. We are fortunate to have the option of both less expensive and easily accessible items (thank you IKEA), but can integrate fine unique handmade pieces or antiques into our home thanks to a long history of artisans in our country.
I start with a trip to the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and show some new editions to the New American Wing set in a Federal-Style building. This transformation will be complete in 2011, and takes visitors through a historic journey through American history of the decorative arts. Next, I take a tour of New York City's Gracie Mansion, and the subject steers us back again to the topic of the importance of history and preservation. This home has gone through many iterations and through the efforts of many philanthropists, the craftmanship has been preserved. I dedicate this month's topic to a stone carver named Chris Pellettieri, and he had been fortunate to have learned his craft over years as a member of an apprenticeship at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Chris' work is detailed and beautiful, and I hope you find the story about his lifelong passion inspiring. In addition, I have added a new section to my blog, TWITTER FRIEND'S INSPIRATIONS. I find the Twitter crowd to be a professional and collaborative bunch, and after fine-tuning my 2,100 list of followers, I share ideas and concepts with many of them from around the country.
I hope February's dedication to the artisans from the past, with a special look at a modern day stone carver, helps to deepen your appreciation and respect for these craftsmen. Enjoy!

friends Lisa and Cheryl standing in front of the entrance plaque at Gracie Mansion on East End Avenue
What do you know about
New York City's gem?

Much effort has gone into preserving and enhancing Gracie Mansion,one of the oldest wooden structures in New York City

beautiful winter view of the East River from the back porch - during the 1800s this long four hour journey by boat from downtown Manhattan made this neighborhood a popular location for a country home
blue room and library detail of Federal fireplace and tole lanterns below

typical hallway during Federal period- painted faux surfaces - the wooden floor painted to mimic more expensive marble material

Gracie Mansion is a grand old home and a special landmark for New York City. Like many New Yorkers, I am familiar with its looming facade in Carl Schultz Park overlooking the East River, and its grandness harkens back to the another era in the City. As the official residence of the New York City Mayor, although our current Mayor Michael Bloomberg opts to reside in a townhome on 79th Street, this historic home is valued, preserved and utilized in many ways. It is a grand, pale yellow Federal-style wooden home with a very interesting past, ironically, mirroring the City's ups and downs over hundreds of years. Through its winding path of changing hands, preservation and refubishment, it is now one of the City's brightest gems. I took a tour of the home yesterday and learned a bit more about its history and importance.

Shipping merchant Archibald Gracie built the home in 1799. Gracie held many elaborate dinner parties in the home, but after he fell upon financial hard times he sold it in 1823. The home changed hands a couple more times, and eventually was seized by the City. In 1910, the 11-acre property and home were added to the newly-formed Carl Schultz Park. For many years, the house acted as a concession stand in the Park until 1924 when it was restored to become the first home of the Museum of the City of New York. The Museum moved to its current residence on Fifth Avenue, and Gracie Mansion became a historic house in 1936. Robert Moses designated it the official residence of the Mayor, and the Mayor Fiorella H. LaGuardia was the first Mayor to reside in Gracie Mansion in 1942. The house was enlarged in 1966 with the addition of the Susan E. Wagner Wing. The building has an usual three-sided porch, and trellis railings that sweep around the house. The home is truly a testament to the Federal style of architecture, with its emphasis on symmetry, symbols of hospitality, Duncan Phyfe furniture, convex mirrors, looking glass mirrors, inlaid fireplace (original to the house), and much attention to detail. Two doyens gave us the tour, and I found them to possess impressive knowledge of the history of New York City.
the Historic House Trust has a clear mission -
The Historic Trust and Preservation Society

The passions of stone carver

a young Chris Pellettieri honing his talent below

Chris Pellettieri -stone carver - a look at a gifted artisan and an almost-lost art form

Chris' contributions to the Cathedral-left
apprentice group 1970s working on the

Chris in the large warehouse studio on site of the original 11-acre land on the property of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine at 112th street and Amsterdam in New York City.
It is not very often you get the opportunity to witness the qualities of dedication, passion and talent all combined in one person, but after an hour long visit to his studio at St. John's the Divine, I came to appreciate the depth of Chris' love for and lifelong pursuit of the ancient art of carving stone. Even as this industry struggles and wanes, Chris stays committed to the practice. He began this journey as a young man. Raised in the neighborhood, Chris attended the Cathedral School and sang in the St. John's Choir, and became involved in a stone carver's apprenticeship at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The program was quite special and similar to historical apprenticeships in Europe for centuries. Chris feels fortunate to have been a part of this opportunity, and he learned this fastidious art form from masters in the industry with on the job training. He worked on many projects at the Cathedral, and through one program he helped refurbish a new wing of the Jewish Museum in the 1990s. The stone carving school was sadly cut by the church years ago, and today Chris is the only on- site stone carver at St. Johns. He is available for projects of the Cathedral as they arise but primarily works on commissioned pieces for outside clients. He has fine-tuned his talent and creates elaborate, beautiful carvings in limestone facades. He was creating a lion sculpture and fireplace mantel during my visit, and patiently showed me the details of the various ways in which he makes his sculptures, sometimes he uses a power tool, sometimes first making a cast version and a point grid system to secure all the mathematical symmetry, but primarily he uses the old fashioned artistry of a hand tool and chisel. He has carved limestone fountains, sculptures, and architectural details and structures. As Chris gave me a a tour of his studio, the Cathedral and gardens, he pointed out a few pieces of his keen works within the church and gardens.
I felt as if I was stepping back in time and I feel grateful that this modern day artisan has stayed true to his passion. Chris has a desire to try his hand as a fine artist and judging from the depth and range of his work and his talent, I am surprised that he has not been discovered as an emerging new artist. He is a modern day sculptor with old world training. Please take a minute to view his site, and if you have time, stop by St. John the Divine, which may in fact be fodder for a future blog post by me since there is much noteworthy historical information about the inception and influences of this great church.
To me, Chris represents
hundreds of years of
stone carvers and their dedication
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
was built in the 19th Century on one of the highest points in Manhattan -the Episcopal Dioces of New York purchased the 11 heavily wooded acres in Morningside Heights

"by patronizing artisans like me, people like you enable beautiful things to be created that will bring joy not only to those of us on the earth now, but also to future generations"
Chris Pellettieri
Chris standing in front of a
special stone carving he created interpreting his own personal journeys

Chris Pellettieri was the recipient of the 2009 Arthur Ross Award in Artisanship
Chris Pellettieri
114 Morningside Drive, Apt 35
New York, New York 10027
Happy Valentines Day!
Cookies Anyone?
Check out these pretty and delicious cookies by

Hey Cookie!
Kathryn's cookies are not only pretty to look at but delicious. My friend Tracey brought a great selection of blue star cookies to my July 4th party this year, and they were the hit of the party! I love it when creative people bring an entrepreneurial spirit to a project - Kathryn has channeled her design background to create these lovely cookies. Hey Cookie can be reached at 646-266-7245 and website will be up soon at KathrynCollins@heycookie.com
"The Conservancy's mission is to
raise funds to restore the
historic structure and acquire furnishings that
illustrate the rich history of
New York; improve the surrounding landscape
and gardens; and provide educational
services, including publications and tours".
I recommend a trip to the New American Wing of the MET- there are elaborate details in each room, complete with state of the art computer touch screens archiving the provenance and history of each piece

What's new for February?


Anonymous said...

I love the look at this stone carver....does he carve mostly limestone? This has piqued my interest and hope to get over to this great cathedral next time I am in New York City. From the photographs of his work, he is obviously quite talented and it has made my day. I am originally from Connecticut and miss all the history of the east coast, and your post has reminded me of that and I'm due for a visit to the great city of Manhattan. Sally from Steamboat Springs

Richie Matthews said...


Thanks for an informative and inciteful craftsmen celebration this month. I agree, talented stone carvers like Chris Pellettieri are a modern day artisans.

It was a nice read to start my morning!


Hampton said...

great story and photos of gracie! right in our backyard and sadly I don't get over to view this magnificent home nearly enough. Of course, the cookies were fantastic--tennis racquet and ball a hoot! Thanks for the chocolate info, after this week I'm not sure when I'll be able to look at another piece---probably next week!
Send me your email when you have a chance!
best, barbara

Lydia, Clueless Crafter said...

Wonderful article on honoring and preserving historic architecture and historical modes of working with the elements that adorn their facades. I live on the Upper West Side and often walk past St. John, wondering how all that stone work is cared for. I had no idea that a craftsmason works in house, though I have seen more modern pieces in the gardens.

I'd love to go with you if you decide to go again!


Holly Lane Antiques said...

Thank you for the wonderful tour of Gracie Mansion and I can't wait to try that cheesecake.

I've given you the Sunshine Blog Award @

You can pick it up anytime!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for bringing to light these old world artisans.

Anonymous said...

Tamara-wow, fabulous blog! I adore it, and find it a great place to find ideas and inspiration, as well as learn new things and broaden my knowledge. And cannot wait for the tea in April!

Do you plan to continue this after this year?

Tamara Matthews-Stephenson said...

thanks so much for your comment - hmm....I don't remember telling anyone about my tea idea for April, so although you posted your comment anonymously I must know you. I do have an April tea party planned with a look at music in the home. I feel like there are endless topics and could certainly continue for another year. This blog, while so much fun to comprise, is quite labor intensive, but it means so much to me that some people stop by, comment and follow it through Twitter and Facebook. I will just keep on blogging for now, and May will mark my one year anniversary so must think of a very special topic for May.....xo all tamara

Karena said...

Tamara, your site and posts are fabulous. So much great information. Thank you for sharing.


cynthia - thedailybasics.com said...

Great post on Gracie Mansion. I don't think people really pay any attention to it- fabulous info- thanks for putting it out there. Also, that Chris Pelletieri is awesome. What a treat to read about him.

cynthia - thedailybasics.com said...

Great post on Gracie Mansion. I don't think people really pay any attention to it- fabulous info- thanks for putting it out there. Also, that Chris Pelletieri is awesome. What a treat to read about him.

Lisa said...

Dear Tamara,
This is such a compliment to be invited to the Nest! I'm completely flattered that you took the time to add my Keno post to yours.
Tamara you put so much into each and every one of your monthly posts. It's like an incredible magazine that one reads all the way through and keeps going back for more.
Your readers, followers, family & friends will always be inspired by your finesse, your warmth, and generous way of life!
Thank you for sharing it with me.
xo Lisa


Congratulations! I will stop by on Thursday and say hello, and thank you for your suggestion and support. x Barbara

Hampton said...

new photo-very chic! just wanted to let you know that I linked u on this mornings post and wrote about your friend Katheryn at Hey Cookie! See u tomorrow B

Anne said...

Proud to be in such good company, thank you so much for including the images of my murals in your blog... I am so pleased.
For your blog next month, I would love to offer some food for thought regarding room colors. Let's talk.
See you Saturday at your booth.

Karena said...

Love your site, great feature.Come and see who came to visit Kansas City Recently!

Follow me for upcoming giveaways!

Art by Karena

Lisa said...

I just added a new list of inspiring places to land at TLPC. The list wouldn't be complete without you!
Have a wonderful weekend.

Anonymous said...

pretty cupcakes and the story you wrote is funny and puts me in the spring mood. I have enjoyed watching your blog unfold over these past few months. fondly, Amy