For those of you who have my Shabby Chic® Sumptuous Settings book you will know many years ago I designed Jennifer Lopez’s restaurant Madres. It’s one of my proudest projects. That was the beginning of our working relationship. Whenever she has presented projects to me, I move mountains to make myself available. For this reason she is a visionary who I admire. Visions that initially seem impossible to execute due largely to timing or budget, but her determination and commitment is inspiring. Along with her appreciation to every tiny detail, details that may be lost on others. She understands it's these things that bring soul to the big picture and that is something that I so relate to. Madres was to be one of several projects I would work on with Jennifer over the next couple of decades. One of which was nearly 20 years ago, when I designed a home in Georgia, where she and her then fiancé Ben Affleck had planned to start a new chapter of their lives together. While the project turned out beautifully, it turned out not to be the right time for their love story to live happily ever after.
One evening last February, I was in my little country cottage, juggling my complicated life and projects from the UK to LA, when she reached out to me to share the news that Ben & she had reunited, and to ask if I would be part of their new chapter to redecorate their home from 20 years ago. My schedule didn’t really have an opening but the romantic side of me threw all caution to the wind, wanting to be part of this inspiring and heartwarming story and the final happily ever after. From that moment on I began working out my own schedule as well as the challenges and logistics of decorating a home while I was still initially in the UK and dealing with the fallout of supply chain and delivery issues.
I knew the property well. Some of the furnishings from 20 years ago needed refreshing. Along with the fact that during their 18 years apart they had gone on their own journeys, including having 5 children between them, so there were now some other considerations to layer into how these homes would be lived in. I don’t consider myself an interior designer and have done very few houses other than for myself and my family. On the rare occasion I take on a project such as this, my inspiration is my shabby life... the palette, the function, the comfort and feeling.
As with everything Jennifer does, she is fully involved in every detail. We would review furniture, textiles, palette and finishes, either in person or via photos. Once most decisions were made all hands were on deck to reach the deadline for the summer to have everything made and even more challenging.. to have it delivered. But with a close watch on the calendar, it was going to be tight but still I believed possible and when all ready, I of course would be on site to finally bring this home to its completion.
UNTIL... a few months in, the announcement was made of a wedding would be taking place on the property! While I am not a wedding planner, it was decided I would sprinkle in my shabby magic where and how it was appropriate. For me that was mainly my layer of forever flowers (faux) and some other tiny details. So once the home furnishings were locked in I changed course to my sprinkling for the wedding. For those of you who have followed my Prairie journey, (my one-upon-a-time farm/ranch turned B&B / events / destination spot), my Prairie barrels will be familiar to you. Big whisky barrels with an abundance of wildflowers and roses.
Similar to Texas (home of The Prairie), Georgia’s summers are hot and humid with dramatic lightening & rainstorms, along with hungry deer. No place for even the sturdiest of fresh roses to survive. I am not a snob when it comes to faux flowers. I have forever loved floppy velvet and silk millinery flowers and over the years have grown to love and appreciate faux flowers. For this project I knew it would take thousands (each Prairie barrel takes around 200 stems), and I was going to create 30 of them, along with other floral displays and urns. So, while for other smaller projects I would pop to TJX who always have a wonderful selection, in this instance, I had to go to a wholesale warehouse. This can be an overwhelming process for which hours are needed to view all that is on offer (check availability) and step by step, I'd have to curate every barrel, vase or urn. I spent 2 days on this process alone. Then back to logistics. How was this truckload going to get to Georgia in time! As with everything, a solution can always be found when I’m in my zone creating magic in my mind and manifesting it step by step.
However, as I arrived at the location and saw the manifestation of all the faux flowers I had ordered for my vision I was greeted by hundreds of boxes, with each stem wrapped in plastic, each with little irritating stickers and wire stems that would need to be cut, each and every one!
Before I began this monumental task, I had to complete my initial task, as the container of the house furnishings had also now arrived. My design assistant had already placed most everything for my arrival. It was quite an undertaking to make decisions on all that was needed, from sofas to napkins.. sourced from far and wide and to have it all come together. I always believe if you choose beautiful things there will always be the right spot to place them and somehow it will all come together.
My mantra is beauty, comfort and function and that is also my filter when I am designing - does every nook and space feel welcoming and easy on the eye I ask myself. I move things around, I step away, I feel. While it is always nice to be validated by the homeowner, I am my toughest critic, and I don’t stop until I know all is as it should be. And eventually the story unfolds and the beauty is revealed, a home to be lived in and loved.
Unlike the wedding planner who had organized what seems like a village of tents and a team, I was alone with my mountain of boxes. So I set about finding support. On one of the days, I had gathered a team of very tough workmen, all sitting amongst the flowers, trimming stems, something they probably never thought they would be doing. Their big hard-working hands, navigating amongst the delicate petals. But we got it done. The barrels were scattered amongst the property, bringing color and romance to much of the dry and barren landscaping. Whether boiling hot sun, torrential rainstorms or a mischievous (disappointed) deer with a taste for roses.. these floral whisky barrels held their beauty for all to see. I also layered in some additional faux flowers into the existing ferns, contained in the urns to give them some extra life.
While staying at the property some ravishing fresh floral displays were placed but I always had my back up faux flower arrangements ready to go to fill in any gaps between fresh flower deliveries. Both to my eyes are of equal beauty. The little sprinkles of my shabby layer are typically vintage or artisan-made, as to me the magic is these little accents that touch the soul.
Both initiatives were massive. But it was a privilege and completely warmed my heart and restored my belief in true love. Second chances aren’t always an opportunity to be had, but the universe always finds a way of bringing completion, when the time is right.
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