Keys Homes
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Repurposing things in a creative way makes them more interesting

By LESLIE LINSLEY Special to The Citizen

The other day my shopping buddies and I were in the Cottage Garden shop. If you haven't stopped by lately, it should be on your radar. This boutique features items for the home and garden, and the selective buying is quite creative. The look of the shop shifts slightly from week to week, giving us a reason to check it out often.

On one visit, we all bought lovely scented soaps that are perfect for giving your guest bathroom a hint of perfume. They're also good hostess gifts; who doesn't appreciate the luxury of a fine bar of soap?

On this visit, one of us bought linen napkins. These wonderful, oversized linen napkins come in a delicious lime or creamy ivory colors. There are oval place mats to match the napkins. I like it when a store narrows a selection down to one or two choices, even when there might be more to offer. It makes you appreciate the taste of the owner, who by selectively buying tells us this is the best of the lot. If we like the owner's taste, we go back often, much like the way Besame Mucho has become the "go to" place when you want something unique.

One of the tables in the store is set with a really nice line of handmade ceramic tableware. What makes a set of dishes "really nice"? The color is pale cream, the plates, bowls and cups are slightly irregular, as if they have just come off the pottery wheel. They have a nice glaze finish and with the exception of the cup, which we agreed was too big unless you prefer your coffee in a large cup, the proportion of the pieces was quite perfect. It had an honest quality. The design was appealing because it wasn't gussied up.

I think things that look industrial have that same appeal; for example, galvanized flowerpots; oversized anything made of granite or wood that has aged naturally; plain white, quilted coverlets; denim aprons; linen pillow covers; bistro chairs; or things made out of something for which it was not intended, like chicken-wire lanterns, if that makes any sense.

I had coffee with my friend Maxine Makeover before leaving. She is in the process of redefining a house she bought recently and is excited about creating a more modern and sophisticated look for the place. Her previous house was all Key Westy with turquoise and lime and I loved it. But, being a creative person, she won't repeat herself. This time around she's doing industrial grays and slate colors and those sorts of tones with direct and natural materials. I can't wait to see the results.

I am now back in Nantucket, where the birds are singing at high volume. I forgot how sweet those tweets from the robins and cardinals and even the blue jays are when they are announcing the arrival of spring. The weather is gorgeous, the daffodils and tulips are in bloom, the hydrangea bushes are full of buds and the sun is glorious.

Once again I think about redesigning my deck with a Key West influence. I take out my outdoor pillows with the palm frond prints, even though it is too early and I have to bring each and every one of them in when the sun goes down. Even Sunbrella doesn't hold up to our dampness. I found an old wooden electrical spool top with very cool stenciled numbers in green paint on top. It has that Cottage Garden look of a found object put to good use, and is especially great on top of an old stoneware crock used for the base.

I have 3-foot-tall black stone conical-shaped planters that I used last year for the bases of a table made with a piece of slate I found somewhere. The slate cracked over the winter, so now the planters will either be used for their original intent or I will find round tops in some great material at the thrift shop or yard sale and use them as side tables.

Terra cotta is another honest material for flowerpots and they are cheap. The Home Depot has them in every size. But the used or slightly irregular ones with chipped lids are more interesting. One year I spray-painted metal window boxes white and, using green paint, stenciled names of herbs across the fronts, then planted the basil, oregano and parsley in each one. They're kind of cute on a plant stand, but "cute" is the operative word and I'm over them, at least once I find a better replacement.

I like using things for something other than for what they were intended, so an old coffee urn is now a plant container and a rusted arbor is strewn with fairy lights and I'm forcing wisteria to climb all over it. So far in three years all I have are the leaves, but I'm optimistic about one day seeing a plethora of purple flowers. Round granite cylinders make great garden stools or plant stands, and a rusted fence from the French quarter of New Orleans is planted in the garden with, for now, no apparent use other than I like it. It came from Betsy Smith's Painted Pelican shop on Eaton Street years ago, if anyone remembers. One day, in another life, when I have my Key West home, I will be all set to move in, with all my acquisitions accumulated over the years from Key West shops. It's just that by then I'll want a reason to shop the Key West stores all over again -- as if an excuse is needed.

Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.

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