Residential Color and Style from a Certified True Color Expert.

Welcome to Color Calling! A blog about residential color, style, and entertaining.

By Ellen Rhett


An easy delicious recipe for spring pea soup

On these warm summer days, what could be more refreshing than serving a beautiful cold soup?
iPhone photo by M. Hanson

This soup could not be easier. It requires only a few minutes of cooking and a blender. The nasturtium flower shown is completely edible, and gives such an elegant presentation. Its delicately-crunchy peppery taste is perfect for this recipe, and what a color combo! Makes a lovely, light first course at a ladies’ luncheon.
serve cold
Requires a blender

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Small Vidalia or other sweet white-fleshed onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 (12 oz. to 16oz.) bag frozen spring peas or frozen baby peas
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (no stems), rinsed.
1 cup crème fraîche, divided (recipe follows, so easy but takes 12 hours to set up)

In a medium fry pan, sauté onions in butter over medium heat until soft and golden but not brown, about 10 minutes.
Set aside.

In a medium large pot, pour in chicken broth and bring to a rolling boil.
With broth fully boiling, add cooked onions, then peas.
Bring back to a boil and cook for 2 or 3 minutes more. Peas should still be bright green. Remove from heat.

Working quickly, so that the pea mixture does not continue to cook and fade color, add about 3/4 cup of pea/broth mixture to blender. Place top on blender. Whirl a few seconds. Add mint leaves, salt and pepper. Place top on blender. Whirl again. Add another 3/4 cup broth mixture and whirl until smooth. With blender running, and with  blender lid on but opened,


SLOWLY stream in remaining broth mixture, making sure that warm broth does not splatter. Blend until very smooth and velvety. Stir in 1/2 cup crème fraîche. Chill.

Before serving, drizzle with more crème fraîche.
Makes about 8 appetizer servings.

Crème  fraîche recipe
(So easy you’ll never buy expensive ready-made again)
One cup heavy cream (supposedly the ultra-pasteurized brands do not work)
2 tablespoons buttermilk

That’s it. Stir together in a glass canning jar, and screw lid on.
Put in a warm place (I put under my kitchen counter-top lamp with the light on) for 12 hours until thickened but not solidified. Stir again until smooth and refrigerate up to 10 days. If mixture has become too thick, it can be thinned with a little more cream. Stir again before drizzling.

Ready for lunch!

My expensive custom draperies don’t look nice anymore, now what?

Custom draperies are not just a luxury. They are an investment, an investment which can easily run to thousands of dollars or more PER WINDOW. With nicer designer fabrics running upwards of $150-$200 per yard, multiplied times, say, 9 yards of fabric for each window, you will have possibly $1300 to $1800 invested in the fabric alone per window. This does not include labor for drapery construction, purchase and installation of drapery rods, or decorative trim.

Nothing warms up a room better than beautiful soft furnishings, and the right window treatments finish a room like nothing else can.  That is why you want to get at least 12-15 years or more of good use from your gorgeous expensive custom draperies.

Here are the stage curtains in Lincoln Center in NYC, with hundreds of yards of fabric, which I snapped before a performance of “The King and I.” I can’t even imagine the work and expense that went into a drapery project of this magnitude. There must be 1500 pleats in those bad boys.


But, I digress…

My own library/family room has four large double-hung windows plus a triple window. And, after almost thirteen years of hanging, my beautiful imported linen damask draperies were really starting to show their age.

When I come into your home for an interior consultation, I do everything possible to help you work with what you have.

So, I want to show you how I re-worked the look and feel of the draperies in my own space, for a very small fraction of what completely replacing them would have run.

Here is the before, shown on the triple window:


Not horrible, but here is what you can’t see in the photo:
Really bad faded places on the edge. That is not a shadow. That is where the old trim was. And, see how many panes are covered by the fabric? The fabric was smothering the courtyard and backyard views.image

The drapery trim was looking dated, and frankly, the tone-on-tone look did not hold its own with the colorful Serapi carpet, see below, that is “the boss” of the room.


The poles have also always bugged me. They weren’t the correct length (hopefully you can learn from my mistake made long ago) and are part of the reason why the fabric faded so badly. Drapery rods should extend a measurement of 12-15 (sometimes more) inches from each side of the outer edge of the outermost window pane. This extra foot on each side adds gravitas to the window when the panels are hung, and allows the drapery fabric to be more protected from sun exposure, since the fabric is pushed further away from the window panes.

For example, my windows measure 35″ wide (inside the frame) and my new poles are 60″ long, not including the decorative finials. This is not an in-stock standard size from the company I ordered from, so I incurred a custom-cut fee, but if you are going to do it, do it right!

Here are the re-worked draperies with the new flat ribbon trim, in a beautiful poppy color that repeats the colorful poppy red accents in the carpet and also used elsewhere in the room.

imageThe fresh-looking quatrefoil motif echoes the ancient patterns of the carpet. For your comparison, notice how the draperies look, first hung on the old too-short rod and then on the new longer rod. First here are the re-worked panels on the old, shorter rod. See how only one full vertical row of glass pane is visible? This is still exposing the fabric to damaging light rays for sure.  Remember, this is the old rod:

Now here is the “new” drapery hung on the new longer wood rod, below. See how all three vertical rows of window pane are now showing? This also gives the windows more elegance and importance, because the draperies are now ‘framing’ the windows instead of ‘covering up’ the windows. My drapery professional will be coming soon to re-hang the panels to fall perfectly, and there will be absolutely no sagging. The finials have not been reattached. But, this will give you the gist of the new work.

Here are the mechanics of the new work:

The old trim–all thirty yards of it– was meticulously hand-clipped off with tiny embroidery scissors (by moi, it was actually kinda fun and reminded me of my smocking days). I spot-cleaned and freshened each panel in the dryer (see below), then it was off to the workroom with all 10 nine-foot panels and 30 yards of colorful new trim.

The new trim was sewn onto the opposite edge of the panel of where the old trim had been. So, on each pair of draperies, the right panel became the left panel. Now, when the panels are professionally hung by the fabulous man I always use, the faded edge is going to be tucked and turned away out of sight toward the wall (called “the return” in my biz), and the fresher edge (now the “leading edge”) sports the brand new trim. Pretty clever, right?

My wonderful to-the-trade workroom professionally re-pressed each panel after the new trim was sewn on, now the panels look (almost) brand new.  It really gives a new look and feel to the windows specifically, and to the room as a whole.  I’ll be sure to share a wider view when everything is finished.


So, there you have it! Before:

And (almost finished) after:

Don’t you agree that the windows look bigger?

And, just for you, a couple of my best drapery tips and caveats….

  • skimpy draperies are not worth doing.  They will still be somewhat costly, and it is much better to install budget-friendly woven wooden shades (similar to below) than to pay for draperies that aren’t right.


  • a good designer can help you “cheat” a solid fabric. Meaning, a knowledgable  decorator can help you find a less-expensive solid and most people would not be able to really tell if it is a nice little Pindler or a break-the-bank Brunschwig.  But remember, construction/labor costs are going to be similar whether the fabric is $5 a yard or $500 a yard, so make sure you are buying a quality fabric from the start.
  • a good professional drapery installer is your best friend. S/he is trained to get everything looking perfect, and will know every trick in the book to get it right.  While bloggers like myself are generally generous with our sources, don’t expect us (as design professionals) to divulge names on this one, however, unless you have hired us. The best installers often won’t work directly with the public.
  • your favorite shelter magazine will usually have a wealth of photos of gorgeous drapery to use for inspiration. Your design professional is invaluable in deciding whether to do woven wood shades, a roman shade, fully operable draw drapery, rings and poles, etc. We have seen it all, and we can help you avoid an expensive mistake. And, yes, you need to line and interline your custom draperies. It is worth every penny.
  • some installations will benefit from using woven wood shades IN ADDITION to existing drapery. Open any “house” magazine and surely there will be a feature to show you what I mean. I love the look, and plan to add woven wood shades to my own family room.
  • avoid treatments that are trying too hard, like this one in a current popular shelter magazine this month, which is just bizarre in my opinion with its ultra-wide flat tape mitering into those ultra-thin ironed-in pleats.


  • soft pleats generally look more elegant than heavily ironed-in pleats.
  • never dry clean your draperies. They will shrink and then they will be too short. Use the upholstery attachment of your vacuum cleaner (on lowest possible suction, by opening the suction control tab) to keep dust and pet hair at bay.
  • you can usually air-fluff most panels (no heat!!!) in your home dryer to freshen them. Remove any drapery pins and corner weights before doing this, and try 20 to 30 minutes. I always spot clean first whenever possible, and on heavier fabrics, you can usually safely spray some lightly scented fabric refresher before fluffing. A dryer sheet is also a possibility. Go slowly, proceeding panel by panel, to avoid damaging the fabric. Did I say, no heat?
  • for pole-and- ring type installations, try a long strip of clear silicone tape called “curtain slide tape” on top of the pole to help the rings slide more smoothly when closing.

If you reside in the Birmingham metro area and need help with an interior project of your own, I’d love to hear from you. I also accept limited online and out-of-town commissions for color consulting. Please email me for rates and availability:


Color Calling

The Power of Contrast

To followers of “Southern Charm” on Bravo, or aficionados of Charleston, you will recognize the second photograph immediately, if not the first.

I assume that decorator Mario Buatta suggested the striking green for the new shutter color. Bravo, indeed.

Death of a Queen

She and my son shared the same birthday.

And, she hardly ever asked for a thing in all her 14 1/2 years.

Our youngish family of four brought her home from the Humane Society section of the pet store when she was just 6 weeks old. She was so tiny and so solid black, that I didn’t at first see that there was a puppy in her crate. She was lying down so sweetly, way at the back of her crate, and the volunteer handler brought her out for me to hold. Her little puppy smell was intoxicating, and her black fur felt like cotton balls.

She allowed me to turn her over gently on her back (always a good sign, meaning that they likely will be submissive to their humans) and rub her tummy. That was probably one of the first of thousands of tummy rubs that she received.

No puppy could have marched out from the back of the Petco shop to the front and out to our car, (on a brand new hot-pink leash) more proudly than this little girl did. She started out a princess, but she soon became a queen.

She always preferred being outside when it was cool, even cold, being —we think— half Siberian Husky.IMG_0521

This photo (below) was taken with me holding the door for her, asking her if she wanted to come in. She did not. And, yes, those are ICICLES on her fur.

IMG_0525The other half—again our guess—Belgian Sheepdog. She had the softest long brownish-black fur and gorgeous proud swooping black tail, which only recently began to be not quite as proud as in her beauty queen days. And soulful brown eyes which always seemed to say, thank you for taking me to be your pet. A splotch of Husky-dog gray fur had lined her back haunches since puppyhood, and in recent years the gray fur had begun to creep around her mouth area as well.

On an invisible fence, she had the run of a large yard, and she had many friends, both human and canine, who would step from the sidewalk over into the yard-proper so that she would not engage the invisible fence-line. She would casually bark a time or two at passersby, especially children or someone walking their own dog, wagging her tail, as if to say, come on over and say hello. Because I can’t get to you due to this darn shock-collar. Lucky for her, we live on the route from a nearby elementary school to the place all the children flock to for their afternoon snacks, a true old-timey soda fountain. Oh, she loved to be out when school let out, so she could get lots of “she’s so pretty” and “can we pet her?” There was never a happier place for a friendly dog to live.

Occasionally we would find treats in our mailbox with a note: These are for Pepper.

I will always treasure the memory of glancing out the kitchen window to see a very lovely acquaintance and her gorgeous Husky stop for a few minutes so that they could say hello. The lady gave Pepper such a fond pat and it just warmed my heart to see it. I ran into her at the grocery store some time later and she told me that she loved Pepper and that they always stopped for a visit if Pepper was out in the yard. I saw her many times from my window and I now want to tell her how much those visits meant.

Pepper ate so daintily that we let her “free feed” all along the day so she would get enough to eat. Once grown, she never varied more than a pound or two from her normal 38 pounds. Oh, but did she ever love lamb chops when we gave her a few bites of leftovers for a treat. And she adored salmon, probably hard-wired into the Arctic-breed portion of her DNA. And, a year or so ago, we discovered that not only is canned pure pumpkin great for a dog’s digestion, she absolutely loved a dollop of it over her daily kibble. And, woe if we ran out, because she would just look at me to say, where is my pumpkin?

We wanted a dog to sleep on the foot of the bed, but she never took to that tradition. She’d rather sleep on the living room sofa, so she could do her job: guard us at exactly the halfway point between the front door and our room. After an ACL tear on first her right back leg and then her left, and three grueling surgeries later, she began to settle for the floor, on the rug by the front window. Don’t think for a minute, though, that she let those surgical setbacks keep her from her daily walks. She seemed to bounce back just fine, even though the bounce in her step seemed a tiny bit crooked after the third surgery. A little side-winding just seemed to fit her breezy, regal style.

She preferred being within earshot, but not necessarily right next to us. She had an elegance, an independence, and a fierce loyalty to her people, especially our children.  Here they are swinging in a vacation hammock at our family retreat, with Pepper at their side.IMG_1637 (1)

She was our Pepper. Pep-Pep or Pepperpot were our family’s two favorite nicknames for her. We loved her dearly, and she loved us. I can’t remember a time that she ever gave us a moment of trouble.

I would give just about anything to see that beautiful black head come out of the boxwood hedge where she liked rest (or hide) and to watch the world go by. We sometimes called her Hedge-Hat because the boxwood branches would rustle and pop up like a little green hat on her head as she came out to greet the car when we returned home.

Sadly, she had an apparent stroke on Saturday night, and could not support her weight to stand up. On Sunday morning, very early, she passed away. My friends now tell me how incredibly lucky we are that she died purely of age, and that she was rarely if ever sick, and that we never had to go through the agonizing decision to put her down.

I found a soft cotton pink and white striped beach towel that seemed the right thing to take with us for her final car ride on Monday morning. I made a necklace for her out of a pliable full-blooming spirea stem, and I tied some pink nonstop roses and the last of the camellia onto it with pink raffia ribbon.image

My husband fitted my little homemade necklace gently around her neck, and tenderly carried her to the dog bed we had placed in the back of our car. She looked so incredibly peaceful and beautiful for her final journey to the veterinarian.

The staff came out to meet us, and I carefully placed the pink and white striped towel on the stretcher, which happened to fit perfectly. The vet tech respectfully lifted her onto the stretcher, and a second tech helped carry her on the stretcher inside the rear entrance. The rest of the staff stood solemnly in honor as they carried my fur baby away and inside into the holding area. Today a compassionate pet cremation service is picking up her little body, and will return her ashes to us along with a paw-print and a lock of her hair.

Rest in Peace, our beautiful Pep-Pep.

The true story of how a Hand-me-down Clock ended up in the Metropolitan Museum

What do you do when a long-time friend tells you that the clock she recently inherited is going to be part of an exhibit opening in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum?

‘The Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age’….the American period from the late 1870s until about 1900.


Daylight view of the Engelhard Court in the American Wing

And, that she is inviting me to attend the gala preview party at the Museum?

Well, you hop on a plane and get to New York, that’s what!

How many opportunities in life will there be to sip a cocktail and nibble caviar hors d’oeuvres with 200 museum patrons in the gorgeous Charles Engelhard Court of the museum? And, then have a private after-hours tour of the exhibit?


Engelhard Court during the Gala Preview.

Here are some highlights of that magical evening.

This is the model of a New York  City townhouse of the Gilded Age period, just off Fifth Avenue. This beautiful manse was demolished in 1938. Sadly, other similarly situated  houses as elaborate and historically  important as this one also have been razed in the name of progress.


Model of Worsham-Rockefeller house


Richly carved, dark or inlaid wood, and heavy, elaborate fabrics ruled the interiors of the day. Here is the piano in the exhibit, which was rescued from a church basement. It still has the original strings!


Two stained glass window panels, representing Morning and Evening, are stunning.


My friend, a native Alabamian living in Houston for years, by nature is curious and detailed (she is also very smart, as her C.P.A. designation attests).

Once she began researching the very unusual wall clock, she felt like it had a measure of importance. Here is the clock, so special and integral to the exhibit, that the director of the American Wing flew to Houston the next day after my friend called to tell him  what she thought might have.


1880s Schastey clock with Tiffany movement


Let me backtrack a moment, now that you have seen the clock. The clock was actually inherited by a friend of my friend, who did not have a place for it. It was given to my friend, knowing that she adored the father who owned the clock, and out of generosity.

Truly, the clock is so ornate, and of such scale, that it needs just the right place to hang. And, I must say, it was sincerely offered back to the original family once its true provenance was learned.

After the clock was in the hands of museum curators, careful examination with mirrors into the clock’s movement yielded proof that the clock was signed Tiffany. This was very exciting news for both the museum and my friend! Furthermore, a surviving Tiffany logbook from the period records the exact serial number (only nine are known to have been made, this was the ninth) and a price of $187.50!

For some reason, George A. Schastey, one of the most important interior designers of the day, is not now a household name. His chief rival, the Herter Brothers Company, is more widely recognized, and also represented in this fascinating, strictly American exhibit.

Mr. Schastey’s great-great granddaughter was an honored guest at the exhibit, attending with her husband of 58 years!

A night to remember!

Thank you, dear friend L.B.D. for including me.

New York City Christmas windows

‘Tis the season!
On a whirlwind trip to New York, I had to play tourist and snap a few window photos.


Colorful and bright windows at Bergdorf’s





Bergdorf’s showstopper window




DeBeers. Gorgeous  diamond necklace!

A few diamonds with your gingerbread?

So many beautiful windows to see!

At Home on a Squirrel’s Tail


This little guy has chosen his home right outside my kitchen window. Always tippy top of the squirrel’s tail, that is his favorite perch. He is there almost every day, many times a day. It is fun to have something to look at outside, a nice focal point. This is my own secret focal point, because you can’t even see this from the street. You would have to walk up the drive and look behind the hemlock tree.  Mister has been enjoying the dozen or so shelled, raw peanuts I set out for him every few days. What should I name him?

Tea, camellias, and eBay

Camellias, the state flower of Alabama.image.jpgHere are my first “White by the Gate” of the season, stems trimmed short and then floated in a vintage Wedgwood jasperware gardenia bowl (very shallow), which I found on eBay forimage.jpg

a song. Doesn’t it go nicely with an old tea-set my husband inherited from his Gammy?image

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope your day is filled with love and blessings.

Gorgeous statuary gives personality to a garden

beautifulstatuebeautifulstatue2Have you ever seen a more gorgeous focal point? This is in my friend’s fabulous garden.

A beautiful young woman inhaling deeply into a bouquet of spring flowers.

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