Though only 20 miles from downtown Richmond, Dover Hall feels worlds away. The Tudor-style mansion even transports you to a different time. The rolling hills and hedges resemble an estate in the English countryside, where at any moment, Richard III could roll up in his carriage.
Dover Hall contains over 8 million dollars in art and antiques. Since it was built as a home, there are too many entrances and exits for insurance companies to even consider covering it as a museum. The taxidermy is unbelievable, the chandeliers range from elk horns to glittering crystal, and the sun room overlooking the yard is the perfect setting for a love scene in a Jane Austen novel.
One would never believe that the house was built in 1996. Designed from scratch, the builders avoided the cheap pitfalls of drywall and wall-to-wall carpeting. Instead, Dover Hall features exposed stone, wood beams and Gothic fabric-covered walls. It’s filled with beautiful things, but isn’t cluttered. It’s decorated with a range of treasures, from an authentic Native American teepee to Victorian antiques, but the house still feels cohesive.
Luckily, Dover Hall is no longer a private home, and serves as a bed and breakfast. A romantic weekend getaway would be unforgettable. One can even rent the place (or certain areas) for events such as weddings, charities and parties. With innovative cuisine and wine curated by the chefs, and lush furnishings acquired from around the world, Dover Hall is a crown jewel in Richmond, and a must-visit for les bon vivants!
When Christmas ends, it’s like emerging from a haze. We’re snapped into the harsh reality of winter; something that had been slowly closing in while we were distracted by eggnog and tinsel.
“Only three months,” I repeat to myself every January. It’s a countdown to April’s big thaw. Winter is not something I missed when living in Los Angeles. But rather than survival mode, I’m attempting to embrace the “I love all four seasons” mantra of obvious psychopaths. Below are 10 things you can do to better enjoy life on such a winter’s day.
1: Little Miss Sunshine The days are shorter, and we’re missing out on hours of nature’s mood enhancer: the sun. It also provides Vitamin D, reduces blood pressure, and aligns your circadian rhythm. If it’s too blustery to be outside, park your car in full sun, dip out of the office during your lunch break and bake in the car. It warms you to the bone. Close your eyes and play classic 60s surf music, like The Ventures. You’re set after just a few minutes.
2. Fortify If you can’t soak up the rays, be sure to take Vitamin D supplements. I do super-concentrated sublingual drops – much easier and stronger than pills.
3. Body Hair Don’t Care Revel in the fact that you needn’t shave on the regular, or deal with a pedicure – not that you’re everobligated to do these things. In fact, current trends are having us reevaluate why women feel the need to shave so much in the first place. Get cozy in chunky sweaters. Ditch the razor and wear tights. Black tights are a basic but invest in more interesting neutrals, such as heather grey and burgundy. You’ll wear them more than you think.
4. KTHXBAI Even if you weren’t being lashed with subzero temperatures, many need to detox from family and holiday stress alone. But don’t jump on a plane first thing January. Give yourself time to unpack suitcases, bond with your pets and get some laundry done. Plus, waiting a bit gives you something to look forward to, and time to find vacation steals. Go somewhere warm, but prepare to lose a few friends. Your Instagram stories and post-vacation tan will be the envy of all, even if that wasn’t your intention. And side note: Never let that be your intention.
5. “Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture” – Outkast There’s always that late-winter panic about spring being around the corner, instilling fear that once we shed our coats, hideous winter secrets will come jiggling out. Why not hide another secret? That beneath our layers lurks a mean, lean machine. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone that hits depression head-on. Make the decision to get moving, and soon your body will crave these endorphins. I switch it up with yoga, Just Dance on the Wii, ballet, and a treadmill. When you step into a sundress at the end of April, you will slay.
6. Face Your Bully They say the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to it. Don’t hide from the snow. Go on a ski trip for the weekend. Build a snowman with your children. Snowball fights and shoveling are great exercise.
7. The Big Purge Imagine how much better spring cleaning will be, if you have less junk around the house. Take Christmas gifts you don’t want, and place them in a re-gift box, especially if you know someone who would love them. Rid your closets of clothes you don’t wear, or that don’t fit, and donate them to charity. Avoid the Salvation Army, as their ideology doesn’t support equal rights. Donate to a thrift store that stands for a good cause, such as animal shelters or children’s hospitals. Removing the dead weight will make your home feel airy and organized. Get inspired to reorganize your life by watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
8. Self Care: It’s not a trend Winter is a time of slowing down. Before wedding season, and before those BBQ invites star rolling in, make good use of your downtime. Do deep-conditioning treatments for your hair, indulge in face masks and a paraffin wax treatment for your dry winter hands. Crack open a cookbook and find more delicious or interesting ways to eat your veggies. I’ll never steam cauliflower again, after I discovered how caramelized roasted cauliflower tastes. Mend your clothes, polish your leather shoes. During commercial breaks, do sets of push-ups and sit-ups to build strength. Stretch to build flexibility. Most importantly, moisturize!
9. Blink and it’s gone Take advantage of the things that you can only do in the winter. Sled down the scariest hill in town. Ice skate in an outdoor rink under the stars, and hold hands with your date. Load up on my favorite winter fruit, the pomegranate! They’re tart, full of antioxidants and will disappear as soon as warm weather returns. For the best way to open a pomegranate, check out this video.
10. Give In Enjoy the slowdown after the holidays. The nights are longer, so light a scented candle, sink under a weighted blanket and sip some hot chai. Marathon a great show, and read anything by David Sedaris or Joan Didion. And I cannot say it enough – moisturize!
When I hosted a casual bonfire (for 55!) in my back yard, I didn’t account for it to be the coldest day of the year. But to live well, one must worry less. Les bon vivants know that all too often happy anticipation rolls into anxiety. Just look at what’s expected of brides-to-be; tears, tantrums, mood stabilizers. When in reality, brides should be planning one of the biggest bashes they’ll ever have. But I digress.
The point is, things happen, like rain, or in our case, freakish subzero temperatures that came out of nowhere. We had to concede that yes, this would be an indoor/outdoor party. I cleaned the house, lit candles and played Chet Baker.
How to keep the crowd circulating indoors and outdoors? That’s easy – put the bar outside! It was perfect, really. When our cooler and fridge were overstuffed with beers, the outside temps were just as cold! In addition to beer, we made a signature cocktail. It stayed hot in the crock pot, to battle the elements. It was apple cider with salted caramel whiskey, topped with whipped cream and Ghiradelli caramel sauce.
We also borrowed a second fire pit to spread the warmth. Guests grilled their hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but I kicked the experience up a notch. I had a S’mores Station, where ingredients were encased in elegant glass, preventing guests from having to fumble with packaging.
We created a hot dog toppings bar, with ingredients that ranged from the expected (grilled onions, Sri Racha, homemade chili), to the adventurous (cranberry chutney, pineapple, homemade habanero sauce).
And I can’t resist adding an activity or station, so I created a “Happy Fall, Y’all! photo wall, complete with furniture, pumpkins, colored leaves and stringed lights.
Though the kids enjoyed the outdoor ball pit, hammock, tree swing and toys, the night marched on and the air got chilly. I called to the kids out back that we would play a Christmas movie in the living room. They tore across the yard and fell stone silent in front of Stick Man, curling up on the furniture.
As the crowds dwindled, so did the fire. The last few friends wandered into the living room, and the conversations went deeper. Bonfires are great because they can be woven in between major holidays, like Halloween or Christmas. Plus. people have to cook their own dinner (hot dogs) and dessert (s’mores). But then you reward them with an elaborate topping bar because the late and great Nora Ephron is still in your head reminding you that people love to play with their food. Almost as much as you love to serve it to them.
Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.
Always Have a Spare Toothbrush
Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.
If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…
3) S’mores. Always.
Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.
4) The Eye Has to Travel
Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.
5) Be Enlightened
Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh. On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.
6) Cutting Garden
Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.
7) Bring the Outside In
Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.
Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!
When it comes to road trips, I get worked up Elle Woods’ sorority sisters in Legally Blonde. Minus the screeching. Well, a bit of the screeching. Sometimes a road trip can be better than a faraway vacation; zero airports and quality time with your dogs.
Tucked away in the mountains of Charlottesville, overlooking apple orchards and a vineyard owned by Dave Matthews lies this historic home, which is Italian for “little mountain.” Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s home sat on the plateau of a small mountaintop, and you could walk from one opposite slope to the other in a couple of minutes. Much can be said about the interior of Monticello, which is smaller than I had anticipated, much like Graceland. I blame tacky McMansions for this distortion.
I would be remiss if I described the grandeur of a place without mentioning it was built with slave labor. Monticello truly is an homage to the hard work the slaves put in; they created a haven. Even Monticello itself is trying to reconcile it’s darker past. They discuss Sally Hemings on a specialized slave tour, and it’s about time.
What intrigued me about Monticello were the gardens. Jefferson enjoyed the beauty of unusual plants and delicious heirloom vegetables – many of which aren’t sold in grocery stores due to their shorter shelf life. He liked variety and appreciated the abnormal. I was thrilled to find that I could buy seeds that came directly from Thomas Jefferson’s garden. Here in Richmond, I’m continuing this line of ancient seeds.
Strolling the grounds, I could see why Jefferson often wrote about how he would rather be home at Monticello. The tour inspired me to make my home even more of a haven, more of a gathering pace. And I thought nothing could work me up more than Pinterest!
We’re currently planting a weeping willow in the yard, for a romantic backdrop. I’m painting a few interior doors Tiffany blue, with white trim. We’ve hung Moroccan lamps from wooden posts surrounding our brick patio. This patio will of course be accented by the heirloom plants we’ve grown from Monticello.
Childhood slumber parties were pure magic. It was the freedom of being together after the adult world had fallen asleep. It was in the thrill of the ghost stories, the unchecked amount of sugar in our candy stashes. Growing up doesn’t mean that slumber parties should be a thing of the past. In fact, we need them more than ever! Between our careers and growing families, there’s an ever-increasing need for quality time with friends and pampering.
Whatever sense of wonder that’s missing from adult sleepovers, we make up for in luxury! Forget sleeping bags on the floor. We loaded down our sofa bed with linens and pillows.
Instead of frozen pizza, we opted for pan-seared sesame salmon, homemade pesto on spaghetti squash and new potatoes, and a summer salad with peaches and feta.
Our movie popcorn was dusted with truffle salt we brought home from an unforgettable trip to Monaco.
We had fun doing a 60s-style slumber party photoshoot – pure camp!
We watched movies, then capped it off doing what girls do best at slumber parties. We talked! Until the wee hours of the morning, we dished about boys, our careers, movie stars, and everything in between. Even if the giggles were fueled by my spiked watermelon & mint slushies, we still laughed all night. Just like old times.
Attorneys Marcus Lange and Zawadi Brown were already engaged, but when a San Francisco law firm offered Marcus a dream job, he and his fiancée decided to start this new venture as man and wife.
We had two weeks to pull off one of the happiest days of their lives, and it was a success!
Sans Fancy Venue!
Everyone knows that a wedding date is at the mercy of the wedding venue. Since official venues were out, we chose our backyard! Since it’s the East Coast, we got a spacious white tent in case of rain.
Instead of locking down official caterers, the couple cherry-picked their favorite foods, and dishes that highlighted their heritage. The groom is German, which meant schnitzel and sauerkraut potato balls. The bride is from Trinidad with a Rastafarian and vegetarian family, which meant a mix of vegetable patties, jerk chicken and plantains. They also offered one of their favorite dishes: mutton biryani from India. Guests are still raving about the All-Around-the-World menu!
Sans Bakery Cake!
Instead of trying to score a last-minute wedding cake from a bakery, they called on food artist Carol Brown, known for her impeccable baking at Dixie Donuts and beyond. She outdid herself, with a homemade red velvet cake, chocolate brownies and a classic pound cake. For good measure, Marcus and Zawadi provided chocolate-covered strawberries as well.
Rather than hiring a decorator, Zawadi and friends, (including myself) created hand-made decorations in various shades of purple, the wedding color. Silver was the accent color. Billowy tissue paper balls were strung about, wisteria hung from the railings and the ceremony took place under a tree that was positively dripping with colored ribbons and strands of crystals. When the wind blew, it was ethereal.
The couple skipped major florist fees by marrying outdoors, as our yard has a peach tree, fig free, Concord grape vines, a weeping cherry, daisies, hydrangea bushes and more. In fact, every flower from the purple hydrangea was snipped and placed on every table. Adding to the rustic theme were mason jars filled with sand and lit candles, lanterns hung from the trees and burlap runners featured ladylike polka dots.
Rather than hiring a bartender, the couple offered a conveniently pre-mixed signature drink, the Trinimeister. Combining both their heritages, it was a mix of Jaegermeister, coconut rum, pineapple juice and Sprite, which fit right in with the summer day. Beer and wine were also available, though as the party went on, more and more bottles of liquor filled the bar.
Who needs a wedding planner when you have friends?
It was a day with zero humidity, sunshine and a cool breeze. It may well have been the prettiest day of summer. Mr. and Mrs. Lange were surrounded by love, with friends and family who all rallied together to make this day unforgettable.
We wish Mr. and Mrs. Lange the best of luck with their new adventure in San Francisco!