Sunday, December 4, 2016

It's beginning to look at lot like. . . a Gilded Christmas

Marble House dining room 

This year's Christmas theme at the Gulley household is, no surprise, GILDED!

Our inspiration came in great part from our recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island,  where we visited five mansions from the Gilded Age. We were there the last part of October and the cottages were just starting to display their Christmas decorations.

In the Marble House, home of Alva Vanderbilt, Christmas trees and other trimmings showed up in the dining room and foyer.

Christmas tree in the Marble House foyer

Channeling our inner Gilded, we sorted through some of our fancier Christmas decorations "in house" and then found some added delights at a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Pier 1.

Gilded decor for the Gulley fireplace mantle

I purchased some lovely garland filled with fruit, pinecones, and greenery all tinged with gold. It makes a spectacular statement on the mantle.

Gilded decor glows with a semi-blazing fire

The glow from the fireplace adds a little extra sparkle. Just like Marble House!

Then, to the Christmas tree. Rachel and I continued our annual tradition of decorating the tree - and the dog -  with a pot of tea brewing and holiday tunes in the background.

Trimming the tree with Gilded sensibilities

Christmas sweaters must be worn when decorating

Garland from Frankenmuth with some fancy gold ribbon make a statement

Turning again to the Marble House, we imagined what their their staircase would look like all decked out at Christmas. With glittery garland we purchased from Bronner's ( Frankenmuth) last year, we added a bit of gold ribbon for extra glitz worthy of a Newport cottage. If our staircase was made of marble, it could easily be mistaken for the Vanderbilt's front entry.

I will add, this took two hours to complete.  (Results - finished product to time spent ratio, a little off).

Marble House dining room 

Moving to the dining room, I once again sought the Marble House for guidance.

Adding some bling to the chandelier

Still working on the dining room chandelier. Added some bling from Pier 1, but still need shiny ribbon and some greenery.

Silver tea set on the dinning room buffet awaits more glitz

Took out the silver coffee/tea for the buffet. Will be adding more glitter and gold this week.

In a slight detour from this year's theme, we put up a few holiday items representing mid-nineteenth century England -  most notably, a tea room from Department 56's Dickens Village. Did we mention Frankenmuth? Yes, this year's purchase was the "Joseph Edward Tea Shoppe".

Sistahs annual trip to Bronner's 

In yet another tradition, my cousins, Dianne and Kathy, and I (aka "the sistahs") make our yearly trek to Frankenmuth, spend the night, and fortify ourselves with a hearty breakfast to shop at Bronners for four  hours (yes, four).

Last year, I purchased the banister garland and the Dicken's Village tea cart lady. With this year's tea shoppe, perhaps next year's theme is in the making!

It would take me several days to decorate this banister

In the meantime, for the remainder of this month, Chestnut Hill Court will be (almost) one-in-the-same as Bellevue Avenue. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, however it is decorated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate (companion book to DIA Bitter/Sweet exhibit)

Coffee, Tea & Chocolate companion book to exhibit (and mug!)

Take today's Tuesday Tea and Tomes Quiz:

What is "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate"?
  1. A current exhibit at the DIA
  2. The subject of the DIA exhibit companion book
  3. My everyday essentials
Of course, it is "all of the above"!

Bitter/Sweet: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts tells the story of three revolutionary morning drinks that launched rituals and industries around the world.

Amazingly, this tantalizing trio all arrived around the same time in England in the mid-1600's.

This special DIA exhibit takes visitors through the discovery of coffee, tea and chocolate and how they became a global presence in so many societies.

As an added bonus to this exhibit, there is the companion book, "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: Consuming the World" by  Yao-Fen You, Associate Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the DIA.

Yao-Fen You introduces Marc Meltonville at the DIA

The exhibit includes a video starring Marc Meltonville, Food Historian of Historic Royal Palaces, filmed at the Chocolate Kitchen of Hampton Court. We were fortunate to hear Marc Meltonville present at the DIA and later meet up with him and Yao-Fen You. (BTS was at the actual Chocolate Kitchen in 2015 - stay tuned for future blog!)

Yao-Fen You, and  Marc Meltonville chat with Chris after the presentation

Although I took several pictures (they are not only allowed, but encouraged - without flash!), the companion book captures all the exhibit beautifully and with a lot of additional information and interesting essays.

Tea service with fitted case, 1728-29

Coffee pot (1789) Chocolate pot (1781). Chocolate pot lids had openings for wooden stirrers.

Tea drinking defined polite society, shown in this family portrait by Charles Philip, 1732

Barb's TEA Service (Rachel, Barb & Pam) enjoy sampling hot chocolate

At the end of the exhibit, there is a chocolate tasting of two drinks: one Aztec and the other an 18th century French recipe.  Both were delicious!

The gift shop features local tea and chocolate 

There's also a special gift shop at the end of the exhibit which includes local tea, chocolate and this wonderful tome, "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate".

Two thumbs up for the Coffee, Tea and Chocolate  exhibit and companion book!  Wonderful experience and wonderful keepsake!

Bitter/Sweet:  Coffee, Tea and Chocolate runs now through March, 2017. For more information see the DIA calendar page Bitter/Sweet:  Coffee, Tea and Chocolate.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Gilded Pleasure: Newport Mansions and Vanderbilding

Indulging in my "gilded pleasure" at the Viking Hotel on Bellevue Ave.

As a Gilded Age enthusiast, a visit to Newport -  where America's very rich and famous of the late 19th century built "cottages" along the Atlantic Ocean - was a must. Last month, I indulged my "gilded pleasure" and traveled to the east coast resort town and toured the five historic mansions that are still open this time of year:  The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, The Elms and Chateau-sur-Mer.

One side of the great foyer inside The Breakers

During our visit, we stayed at the Viking Hotel, on the famed Bellmont Avenue, home to many of the Newport Mansions. In fact, the hotel was built as a joint effort among some of the upper crust families to be a place for the overflow of guests to stay. Many of the cottages, although large by any scale, typically had bedrooms for members of the family only and maybe one guest room. It's hard to keep in mind, these were summer homes and used just for a few months out of the year.

First on my list were the Newport of homes of the Vanderbilts:   The Breakers and Marble House. They were built by the grandsons of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who created the family fortune with shipping and railroads. The competitiveness of the wealthy families to outdo each other with extravagant domiciles gave way to the term "Vanderbuilding" according to Gilded by Deborah Davis (see November 8, Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Gilded). And, no question, there was a lot of  Vanderbilding going on in Newport!

 The Breakers, the biggest cottage in Newport

The Breakers is the largest of all Newport mansions, built in 1893, to replace an earlier wood frame house of the same name that was destroyed by fire. The 70-room cottage was designed by architect William Morris Hunt and inspired by 16th century palaces of Italy.

Chris strolls through The Breakers second floor hallway

Around the corner and down Bellevue Avenue sits Marble House, also designed by William Morris Hunt, but with much direction from owner, Alva Vanderbilt, spouse of William K. Vanderbilt. William K. gave Alva the house as a 39th birthday present.

Happy Birthday, Alva! Marble House, aptly named,  has 500,000 cubic ft of imported marble 

Built to resemble a chateau at Versailles, the cost of the home in modern-day currency amounts to $11 million with over half that amount going to 500,000 cubic feet of marble.

Marble walls, staircases in Marble House

Alva Vanderbilt's ambition was a double-edged sword. Her strong-will rebelled against the social convention of staying with a philandering husband and she  risked ostracism from her friends for insisting upon, and obtaining, a divorce. She was also a great supporter of the 19th amendment and held suffragette meetings at the Tea House she had erected on the grounds of Marble House.

Cosuelo's bedroom at Marble House, designed entirely by Alva

However, that same drive  had a downside. Alva groomed her daughter, Conseulo, to be the bride of an English lord.  Consuelo had fallen in love with an American gentleman and wanted to marry him instead of a British aristocrat. Domineering and manipulative, Alva insisted her daughter marry the Duke of Marlborough, which sent Conseulo to Blenheim Castle in England and trapped her in an unhappy, loveless marriage.

Gothic Room where the Duke proposed to Consuelo 

Mother and daughter reconciled and eventually Conseulo left the Duke and married the second time for love - so there are some happy endings!

We visited  three more Newport mansions over the next few days of our stay: Rosecliff, Chateau-sur-Mer, and The Elms, the latter of which we took part in the  "Servant's Life" tour, which showed the equally fascinating "downstairs" life of cottage living.  More of those in Newport Mansions: Part II.

Marble House lawn overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, spectacular views inside and out

We had been to Newport over ten years ago, but only had time to tour The Breakers. This trip was amazing - time to visit five mansions, partake in afternoon tea and get our fresh seafood fix. But, most importantly, I indulged in my gilded pleasure in Newport, learning more about this fascinating era in such a beautiful setting.

More Gilded Pleasures coming to the blog. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Special Edition Election Night Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Gilded with an accent on 'Votes for Women'

Gilded by Debora Davis tells the tales of the vintage one-percenters in Newport

While much of the Gilded Age was filled with ostentatious displays of wealth that included ornate mansions, fancy private clubs and lavish parties, it occasionally hit a note of social progress. In Deborah Davis' "Gilded: How Newport became American's Richest Resort", such over-the-top lifestyles of the 19th century one-percenters in the vacation spot on the Atlantic Ocean are detailed, but  there are also tales of fierce independence and trail blazing. In particular, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont's support of women's suffrage.

Marble House, home of Alva Vanderbilt,  in Newport, Rhode Island

Gilded is fascinating account of the wealthy families (Astors, Vanderbilts) who set up camp in Newport with "cottages" - some over 100,000 square feet - and the hectic season of summer entertaining. However, along with daily multiple wardrobe changes and recruiting the best French chefs and English butlers, some found time to take on more serious endeavors.

In the Marble House foyer which, as you would expect is all marble

Last week, we were in Newport and visited five mansion ("cottages"), including Marble House, the creation of Alva Vanderbilt. Aptly named, the home is filled with imported marble and displays treasures worthy of  a museum. Another in her collection of showpiece residences,  it eventually became a gathering place to supporters of the 19th Amendment.

Portrait of Alva Vanderbilt hangs on marble walls at Marble House

In the summer of 1914, Alva hosted the "Conference of Great Women". Gatherings were held in the tea house on the grounds of Marble House and Alva even commissioned special china with the script, "Votes for Women".  This serving ware is still in the kitchen cabinets at Marble House.  (Of course, I purchased my own reproduction tea cup and saucer in the gift shop).

Tea House on Marble House grounds currently undergoing a face-lift

While much of the Gilded Age will be remembered for lifestyles that were expensive but void of substance, there are a few, true shining moments, like the support of the women's vote, that won't tarnish no matter how many years go by.

Votes for Women china in the kitchen cabinets of Marble House

More of our visit to Newport and the Gilded Age coming in future blogs, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

There are so many reasons to visit Four Seasons: Afternoon tea at the only Upper Peninsula tea room!

With Andi Schuldt, owner of Four Seasons Tea Room

Delicious and varied tea fare, charming  interior, perfectly brewed tea and an onsite harpist are just some of the reasons to come to Four Seasons, the lovely tea room in Houghton, Michigan.

It's also a great place to celebrate, whether it be a birthday, a get-together with old friends or donning fancy hats to get in the spirit of afternoon tea. In fact, at our visit last weekend, we witnessed a birthday celebration, a friend reunion and, oh, the hat donning - that  was us.

The tea room has a ready supply of hats that customers can wear for tea time.

And, it's not just for the ladies. The gents got into the fun as well.

Even the gentlemen can partake in the chapeau fun!

Our first visit to Four Seasons tea room was over six  year ago. We were so impressed with the food and service, we had to include it in our  Michigan Tea Rooms book. 

Three-tiered tray filled with scrumptious goodies!

At our most recent visit, I came once again with my husband, Chris, but this time we brought my brother, Ed, and sister-in-law, Sandy. We all ordered the full afternoon tea and were treated to delicious scones served with lemon curd and clotted cream. All the tea sandwiches were scrumptious, but our favorite was the artichoke with cheese - something unexpected and very tasty. And, the miniature pastries, which included a brownie cupcake and a variety of cookies, were sinfully good!

Delicious tea, brewed just right.

Of course, the essential ingredient - tea - is fabulous. There's an extensive list to choose from and from our sample, all were excellent. 

Extensive list of tea choices. 

The Four Seasons has been in business for twelve years. Andi Schuldt started the Upper Peninsula's only tea room with her mother, LaVerne Witto. Taking their passion for baking, collecting and hospitality - and inspired by teas they hosted for their church - the mother and daughter team pursued the dream of opening up their own business. Living downstate, the pair decided the tea room location would be the Keweenaw Peninsula  - special to Andi who spent summers there with her grandparents. Andi and LaVerne found the perfect venue in a former apothecary store where original cabinets now display teas and other tea-related gift items.

Michigan Tea Rooms is sold here!

The Four Season's gift shop also features the  Michigan Tea Rooms book!

Harpist plays soothing tunes in the front of the tea room.

Although LaVerne is semi-retired at age 87, she still plays an active role at the tea room. Andi manages the tea room and her attention to detail is evident in every aspect of Four Seasons. This mom and daughter duo created a special place in the Keweenaw Peninsula for a wide range of guests, from college students celebrating a birthday to a group of baby boomers wearing hats.

Four Seasons Tea Room is the upper peninsula place for tea. Any time of year, for any occasion, there's always a reason to go to Four Seasons.

So many reasons to come to Four Seasons. It's tea time!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a tale of resilience, triumph and humor

"A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water." ER

In an era where political discourse often passes the sublime and goes right to the ridiculous, it's worthwhile to go back in time to find some inspiration from a first lady who, born into privilege, faced her own fears to champion the cause of those who had little or no voice on the national stage.

A favorite quote of BTS from Eleanor Roosevelt involves tea!

Even though my undergraduate degree is in Political Science, I feel like I only really got to know the Roosevelts for the first time, up-close-and-personal, with Ken Burns' 2014 PBS documentary, 'The Roosevelts: An Intimate History'.  It inspired me to learn even more, and I found a great read in 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', an abridged edition of three earlier books from this incredible first lady.

A portrait of Eleanor at age 4 hangs in the Roosevelt Library

Eleanor shares the memories, both painful and triumphant, of her journey from a shy, insecure little girl, taunted by her own mother for her unusual looks to an overachieving student and public servant, buoyed by the attention of a progressive teacher and an adoring uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, who just happened to be president.

This eventually lead to the big leap as an empowered first lady who visited miners and soldiers in challenging conditions, serving as both eyes and legs for her husband, Franklin Roosevelt.

Rachel outside Hyde Park

This book and a trip to Hyde Park, the home of Eleanor and Franklin and the Roosevelt Library, in 2015, served as the framework for our "Eleanor Roosevelt Afternoon Tea".   The two most recent teas were held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.

Presenting Eleanor Roosevelt Tea at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel

In 'The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt', the former first lady tells of the struggles she faced being raised by her maternal grandmother after both of her parents died at an early age. She also shares the highs and lows of raising five children while facing some hard truths about her husband's infidelity. But, ultimately, it's a story of resilience and finding rewards in helping others..

Chintz Room at Hyde Park, first shared by Eleanor and FDR, now displays Val-Kill furniture

In her autobiography, Eleanor also talks about Val-Kill, the cottage near Hyde Park, that FDR encouraged his wife to build as her own retreat away from his mother's homestead. It was at this cottage that Eleanor, along with two close friends, started Val-Kill Industries, an attempt to provide skilled trades and jobs to the mass of unemployed workers. Some of the furniture produced at Val-Kill is still on display at Hyde Park.

Eleanor's story also includes a great deal of humor. She shares  anecdotes of entertaining dignitaries at Hyde Park, most notably the King and Queen of England. FDR and King George the VI bonded over cocktails, both frowned upon by their respective mothers, but enjoyed privately in the Hyde Park library.

In another amusing tale, Eleanor writes about a last minute trip she took to a prison. Interested in prisoner's rights, she was called to visit a jail without much lead time. In haste, she told her assistant to let her FDR know she was going to jail.  Upon hearing the news, the President responded, "I'm not surprised, but what for?"

Outside the Roosevelt Library with Eleanor and Franklin

No matter what side of the aisle you identify with, Eleanor Roosevelt is a public figure who can inspire all. She opened the gates to the White House to those who were traditionally denied access. She truly proved that one can overcome adversity and continue to achieve great things.

Certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt, like a teabag, proved how strong she was after being put in hot water so much of her incredible life.