A couple of years ago, my husband, Tom Claus and I spent three fantastic days in Asheville, NC, home to the Biltmore House. The place is awesome. It is the largest privately-owned home in the United States. The 250-room mansion features 33 family and guest bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool with electric underwater lights and a bowling alley. We took an architectural tour and got to see behind the scenes.

A cozy room at the Biltmore

George W. Vanderbilt III knew what he was doing. His inheritance was less than his siblings, but he managed well. He called in the prominent New York architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in the Chateauesque style, using several Loire Valley French Renaissance architecture chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois as models. The house has similar features as France’s Chateau Chambord. He closely copied the staircase of the Chateau de Blois. The estate includes its own village, today named Biltmore Village, and a church in town, known today as the “Cathedral of All Souls.”

Christmas entry Hall

The collections at the house are priceless furnishings and artworks. The house is equipped with every convenience from elevators to refrigerators. The surrounding grounds, designed by prominent landscape architect, who also designed New York’s  Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, are impressive, encompassing 125,000 acres of forests, farms and a dairy, a 250-acre wooded park, five pleasure gardens and 30 miles of macadamized roadways.

Biltmore House was his  country home, a respite away from city life, and a place for his mother when she visited the hot springs in the area. It became an American icon. Unfortunately,  after his death and the passing of his wife, Edith Vanderbilt, it became run down, like other historic sites. Developers offered to buy 12,000 acres to build subdivisions. But George’s great-grandson, William A. V. Cecil, Jr. thought not. By the 1950’s Cecil had started a restoration project. The treasure was to remain with the Vanderbilt family.

Jan Aertsen van der Bilt had emigrated to this country from Holland around  1650. They prospered as farmers on Staten Island, New York and lived modestly. It was only during the lifetime of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) that the family name became synonymous with extraordinary wealth. It was especially important to me to visit this architectural wonder, not only architecturally, but to follow the trek of the Vanderbilt family.  My affiliation with the 1867 Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, CT connects me to the Vanderbilt name through the business relationship of Cornelius (aka as the Commander) and LeGrand Lockwood, same as the mansion mentioned above.

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Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell was not a hero, but he is known for his religious fanaticism and his influence that changed England from industrial and artistic growth to stagnation.

Charles I, the King and Cromwell’s adversary, was tried and executed in 1649. The English civil war was a time of great destruction of ecclesiastical and private property that was followed by the Protectorate under Cromwell.

The trial of Charles I on 4 January 1649.

The trial of Charles I on 4 January 1649.

Art had been associated with corruption, immorality, and inefficiency. A ban was placed on everything that had any appeal to the senses during Cromwell’s rule 1649-1660.

In 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Charles II was called to the throne. Charles and Louis XIV of France were cousins. Charles loved the dreamy, romantic styles of the French King—in his reaction to the repressed and subdued spirit that had prevailed during Cromwell’s Puritan Protectorate, he endeavored to imitate the lavishness and extravagances of the French court.


Bakery–A Twenty-First Century replacement

The Great Fire of London began on the night of September 2, 1666, as a small fire on Pudding Lane, in the bakeshop of Thomas Farynor, baker to King Charles II. At one o’clock in the morning, a servant woke to find the house aflame, and the baker and his family escaped, but a fear-struck maid perished in the blaze.

Great Fire of London 1666

Great Fire of London 1666

Detail of the Great Fire of London by an unknown painter, depicting the fire as it would have appeared on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September 1666 from a boat in the vicinity of Tower Wharf. The Tower of London is on the right and London Bridge on the left, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, surrounded by the tallest flames.

Advertisement for a comparatively small and manoeuvrable seventeenth-century fire engine on wheels: "These Engins, (which are the best) to quinch great Fire; are made by John Keeling in Black Fryers (after many years' Experience)."

Advertisement for a comparatively small and manoeuvrable seventeenth-century fire engine on wheels: “These Engines, (which are the best) to quench great Fire; are made by John Keeling in Black Fryers (after many years’ Experience).”

This disastrous fire that destroyed most of London gave impetus to the construction of new homes, public buildings and churches. Sir Christopher Wren, architect, as the leading influence, designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

St Pauls London

St Pauls London

Wren was strongly influenced by Palladio, the Italian architect. Palladio’s work was strongly based on the symmetry, perspective and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Charles II supported the art industries, as well as French and Flemish craftsmen.

Daniel Marot canopied bed

Canopied bed designed by Daniel Marot

Daniel Marot, French architect, came to England upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France, it granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic.

It’s told that 40,000 French weavers came to England at that time.

Do you know any other great occurrences that came from fires?

To be continued . . .

State bed engraving designed by Daniel Marot for Louis XIV of France

State bed engraving designed by Daniel Marot for Louis XIV of France



And the Lord said, Genesis 1:3

“Let there be light.” And then there was light. Genesis 1:3

The Lord said, “Let there be Light.”  And there was light.  (Genesis 1:3).

We depend on light for lots of reasons. You can probably name five right now. Like:  the grass, the flowers, the trees, vitamin D, good mental health. Light, the fulfillment of life.

Section of my studio. the space is 30'x14'

Section of my studio. the space is 30’x14′

I am writing this in my studio, and there is light. North light, with which to paint by. So, what does  that mean? Does it mean if I am doing something other than painting, the room’s light is worthless? No . . . this is a functional, beautiful space. This is where I work all day. I write, design, paint, listen to music. I just took this photo from my messy desk. I usually keep that back wall open for art that I am working on. Right now, I am writing my book.

North light facing room

North light facing room

Light is not a mystery, it is an awareness. We are addressing the light of nature, from outside, that would penetrate the house, the building, the bodega,  not to be mixed up  with artificial light, like lamps and recessed lighting. But what happens when a room suffers from no natural light or north light?

Do you have a room with little light, except for a few lamps? Darn, you say, what do I do with that room, it is so depressing? Right? Okay, so let’s talk about this natural light, where it comes from, and what it does. AND, what to do with your dark, gloomy room.

Colors good for a room facing north light

Colors good for a room facing north light

A north light room is perfect for art painting because there are no reflections to distort the picture. It is the truest light that an artist can have. North light is a constant cool, soft light, never sunshiny. So even on a rainy day, we love it. Sunlight creates reflection and light bounce, so even if the north light doesn’t have the sun in it, the light does have a reflected brightness, except when stormy. Without going into artificial light, the way to bring life to the space is with color and texture. Paint the walls a deep warm color, like Benjamin Moore’s “Designer Selective Colors: #861 or similar, (warm grays work), in an Eggshell finish (not flat), ceilings, bright white (flat finish) and all trim, bright white (satin or glossy finish). Use other reflective objects and finishes, like leather upholstery, or coffee table in leather, or glass, if you don’t have little kids. Something stainless steel or shiny chrome. Tile floor, with area rugs. Smaller reflective objects, like porcelain, small mirrors. Go for it, those implants will bring light into the space.

We have not yet discussed artificial light that do other types of brightening to a space. We can do wonders with ambient, task and accent lighting. Maybe next week?

Have you ever noticed how lighting is used on stage. Last night’s “American Idol” did some clever lighting, as they always do. Especially with Kree’s  performance. Her stage set appeared as though she was in space.

What do you think? How much would you like to learn about lighting up your life?




Ugly green house

This could happen to you. Elsa and Bob chose what they thought would be the perfect color for the exterior of their house. They wanted green.The sample was one of those one-inch sizes, but just to be sure they liked the color, they got a larger sample, four inches. Perfect.

They left the job in the hands of a pro painter, and went on vacation. Have you figured out the end of the story? Returning, the limo dropped them off in front of a house. “This isn’t ours, do you have the right address?” Turns out this green house, lime green, or something similar, couldn’t be, but yes, it was theirs alright. The house was bright, really bright, green, of some kind, screaming. They rushed into the house and immediately called their pro painter.

Benjamin Moore Wythe Blue for porch ceiling & shutters, white house.

Wythe Blue, this time they chose a soft color, almost neutral, for the porch ceiling and shutters, enhanced with a Forest Green front door, together with a brilliant white for the house. Imagine this gorgeous porch behind those unsightly bushes.The bushes have to go, and with new landscaping the house will be handsome. And yes, their painter charged them. You don’t think he would repaint for free, did you? His time is valuable. This happens often. That’s why the paint companies make small jar samples. So you could paint one whole big surface for color practice. That’s one solution, but what you need to know is that those small samples don’t give you the whole truth. You see, color gets stronger and brighter as the area you are painting gets bigger.

This color is a really important subject. You can’t cover it with a couple of paragraphs, but I will give you some ideas that will enlighten you.

Area subdivisions are:
Dominant Areas: Walls, floor and ceiling.
Medium Areas: Draperies and large pieces of upholstered furniture, bed-covers, etc.
Small Areas: Small upholstered furniture, chair-seats, pillows, etc.
Accent: Piping, welting or fringes on draperies and upholstery, lamp-bases or shades, books, plants, flowers, etc.

There are fancy names for color schemes, like monochromatic, analogous and complementary.

You’ll need the color wheel as reference.

Itten color wheel



A color wheel or color circle is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle that shows relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors, etc.

Monochromatic color scheme

Monochromatic Schemes:  One color in various shades and tonal values (light to dark). Using the subdivisions: The dominant areas (walls, floor and ceiling) of a room are different in tone, of the same color. This system has great unity, and great dignity, but has enough variety to maintain interest. Variety can be obtained by introducing changes both in tonal value and brightness (chromatic values). The brightest for throw pillows and accessories.

Complementary color scheme

Complementary Scheme: Opposite colors in the color wheel cover the dominant and medium areas. In this scheme a more agreeable harmony will be attained if each color is slightly tinged with another and the same color.  Such as red with some yellow as in russet, in combination with a green also slightly tinged with yellow as in green citron. If the red is on the blue side, as in red-mulberry, the green should also be on the blue side as in green-slate. The same should be applied to the other complementary schemes and the proper colors may be easily selected by reviewing the color wheel. Of course, remember your distribution as mentioned in subdivisions.

Mark Rothko Analogous painting

Analogous Scheme: Any three adjoining hues in a twelve color wheel, or any three of six adjoining colors in a wheel of twenty-four. To have the greatest unity in this scheme, limit the color of the wall to one color and repeat in small areas elsewhere. Remember your subdivisions and the distribution of tone and brightness.

Does this information give you some insight? What have you gained from this post? Are you inspired to do some coloring, in your house?

Edward Hopper painting – can you figure out which color scheme he used for this famous work?

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