Restaurant owner Santiago Orosco has always taken a hands-on approach to running Under the Moon Café, his restaurant in Bordentown, NJ. The food is a unique combination of rich comfort food and South American flair with fresh ingredients, rich sauces, and enormous desserts hand made by his mother Estella.
Santiago believes that the surroundings in a restaurant are just as important as the food in creating an environment where people feel at home, where they want to linger a little, sit back or lean in, and get comfortable.
In his Bordentown restaurant, Santiago created a decidedly warm, homey, vintage vibe. Where the wood pallet boards covering the walls are the backdrop for a collection of vintage radios, dishes, photos, suitcases, and silver platters. Where everything from the tables and chairs, to the plates, wine glasses, and pepper shakers are a mismatched collection of everything your mother or grandmother once owned.
One day not long after he purchased his second location in Lambertville, NJ Santi dropped by our shop, sat down, and chatted with us about his vision. This new location would be heavily influenced by his background growing up in Argentina. He told us that his vision was to create the feeling of old Brazil, or Cuba, or San Juan. This new restaurant is small, so he wanted it to feel warm, intimate and cozy. He wanted it to feel like a place where families, couples, and friends have been gathering for generations to relax, to celebrate, to linger deep in conversation, and to fall in love. He wanted it to be colorful, comfortable, and aged to perfection.
It All Started with that Ceiling
About once a week, Santiago would stop into our shop to buy Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan. Over the course of a couple of months, he created a personal collection of just about every color in the Annie Sloan palette. Santi explained to us that he would be installing a new ceiling in the restaurant but before the installation, he wanted to apply the paint. So, he spent weeks hand painting 151 brand new 20” x 20” embossed plastic ceiling tiles until each one was a unique, colorful, hand painted work of art.
Then Came the Floor
When Santiago’s paint buying slowed down, we knew he was nearing completion on the ceiling. Soon, he was coming into the shop for Annie Sloan’s Soft Wax. The restaurant needed a new floor, so he purchased new, unused pallet boards, sanded each one smooth, then applied Annie Sloan’s Dark and Black waxes to add dimension, depth, and age.
Finally, it was Time to Think About the Walls
One afternoon Santi stopped in and instead of looking for paint or wax, he was looking for ideas. For the walls of his restaurant, he wanted color, but not bright color…he wanted it to look deep and rich. Santi explained that he wanted the color to be layered, and textured, and deepened with aged. He and Paul looked through the piles of samples boards we keep in our shop until one caught Santi’s eye.
Paul explained the process then took out a large piece of plywood and demonstrated for Santi how the finish was created while I wrote down the step-by-step instructions.
Santiago left with his supplies, instructions, and his sample board. A few days later he called Paul in a panic. Santi said that he finished painting the base coat and started applying the random colors and he panicked, afraid that he wasn’t doing it right. He searched for his sample board only to find that one of the contractors working in the restaurant had thrown it out!
Santiago asked if we would be able to stop by reassure him, and provide him with a new sample.
Paul offered something else – how about the two of us join him in the restaurant and between the three of us, it’ll make the job a little less overwhelming.
Santi took Paul up on our offer.
Over the course of three days Paul, Santiago and I painted, scraped, waxed and buffed the walls of Under the Moon Café. The days were filled with work and music, meals and laughter, deep conversation and visits from friends and family.
Santiago had achieved his vision, and the restaurant wasn’t even open yet.
Annie Sloan, Clayre Saxon, and a Pair of Coincidences
On a whim, many months after Under the Moon opened in Lambertville, NJ, I shared a few blurry photos of the restaurant on the private Facebook group of Annie Sloan stockists. Annie saw my post and asked if I could get better quality images as she was interested in featuring it in the next issue of The Colourist bookazine.
I reached out to Santiago to ask if he had any professional photos that he could share. He explained that coincidentally just a few days earlier a professional photographer named Clayre Saxon happened to stop into the restaurant for a late lunch and asked permission to take some photos. He told me the photos are beautiful and they were posted on Clayre's Instagram.
Clayre's photos were indeed beautiful.
Clayre kindly agreed to allow Annie Sloan use of her photos. During our text conversation Clayre (a Brit, like Annie) mentioned yet another coincidence – as it turns out she is connected to Annie as they share a mutual acquaintance.
Every day that goes by in this life we've created, Paul and have the opportunity to meet amazingly talented people, share experiences, and realize that the world isn't that big after all.
Johanna and Paul
Several months ago I was working from home while Paul was in the store. He texted me to say that our friend CJ Mugavero had asked if we’d be interested in hanging some paintings by an Expressionist artist she had just begun representing in her gallery, The Artful Deposit.
CJ mentioned to Paul that I had liked a few of them when she posted them on the Artful Deposit Instagram and she suggested that they’d be a good fit in our shop.
I like a lot of the work that CJ posts on her Instagram feed so I wasn’t certain which paintings she was referring to, but Paul and I like having original art – new and vintage pieces - in our shop, so I said it would be great to have a few pieces from this new artist.
Later that day I checked in on our own Instagram feed and there was a photo Paul posted of himself holding the two pieces that CJ brought over.
I was captivated.
They were portraits of women and the more I looked at them, the more I saw who each woman was…and the more I recognized myself.
The next day, I arrived at the store and immediately went to the paintings. The artist’s style looks so simple, but her paintings are anything but simple. They convey complex emotions, the emotions we all feel inside, even if they don't show on the outside.
I commented to Paul “look at the subtlety of her brushstrokes and shading, the layering of the paint, these paintings tell a huge story.”
I was a fan.
“What’s her name?” I asked as I leaned in to read the card beside one of the paintings.
“Catherine” replied Paul, “Catherine Jolly.”
Over 11,000 miles away in Perth, Australia was a woman who spoke a language that I completely understood. I wanted to know more…I needed to know more about the artist and her work.
Recently I reached out to Catherine via email to ask a few questions in an effort to get to know her a little better.
Catherine didn’t reply to my email right away but a few days later, I received an message back with an apology for the delay. Catherine explained that her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and recently she and her family had to move their mother into a hospital.
I felt an immediate connection with this woman I’d never met. I let her know that I wasn’t in any rush for a reply. I urged her to take her time, then I went on to explain about my own mother’s long struggle with dementia, a struggle which finally ended when she passed away this past February.
When I heard from Catherine a few days later, I found out that she was born in Kenya, East Africa in 1962. Her family moved quite a bit, living in Lesotho, Basutoland and then Cape Town, South Africa before emigrating to Perth, Australia in 1977.
She told me that she’s always loved Art explaining that she had plenty of influences as a child. Her grandmother was friendly with the Artist Tretchikoff and she had a “beautiful big book of his paintings, and I used to pore over the images in the book.” Catherine’s paternal grandmother painted in oils, while Catherine’s own mother did “the most Beautiful China painting.” Catherine herself prefers working in acrylics.
She shared with me a childhood memory… explaining that when she was about ten years old, she entered an Easter Art competition at their nearby Supermarket and she shared how delighted she was when walking past the store one day she saw her painting in the shop window.
Catherine became a single mother at the age of 32. She has a son, “my beautiful son Sasha” she explained to me that she was reading Anna Karenina while pregnant, hence his name. At that time, she was spending a lot of time home alone with her new baby and that’s when she started painting in earnest.
So, what about the women that Catherine paints? Who are they?
“The Women in the paintings are Me and all Women and Humanity,” Catherine explained. She likes to express emotion – and the beauty of emotion - in the faces. Catherine told me that she likes to “express feelings and move other people when they view them.”
About her painting style Catherine told me “I like to paint quite freely and quickly and capture the emotion in the faces and then build up the depth and colour, shading and tones. I am self-taught. So do things in my own way. I love Colour and like things that are arresting.”
I asked Catherine if she has any favorites. “I do have favourites. One of them is a black figure in the Australian Outback.” She went on to explain “Aboriginal people , Indigenous People in Australia, have a very difficult time. As do the Native Americans, and this is what I was trying to express.”
“My other favourite is Melancholy, love the watermelon pink and the melancholic expression. Melancholy is my favourite word.”
“My philosophy for life has been life is to have lots of new experiences so at times that can lead to good things but other times difficulty. But if you survive it all leads to a rich life.”
Since those first paintings arrived in our shop, we’ve hosted other work by Catherine.
This past February we attended CJ’s Artful Deposit Gala at Fernbrook Farm. CJ had an amazing collection of art on display and available for purchase. Shortly after we arrived at the event Paul and I were engaged in a conversation. During the conversation, my eye was drawn to the far end of the building, three rooms away. There was a painting on the wall that I couldn’t take my eyes off. When our conversation ended, Paul and I began working our way through the rooms looking at each piece. When we arrived at the room with the painting that quietly captured my attention, Paul looked at the same painting and said “this painting is beautiful.”
“I think maybe we should buy it.”
I smiled, “I think we should, too.”
We both leaned into the card on the wall beside the painting…it read“Lost in Gold by Catherine Halligan-Jolly.”
We asked CJ not to let Catherine know that we were the buyers of her painting. We didn’t want her to think we had purchased her painting just to re-sell it in our shop.
No, we purchased this painting because it spoke to Paul and to me in an language that we couldn’t ignore.
Paul has been playing around with creating wood looks lately. People find it amazing when they flip over this sample board in our shop and discover that these wood planks are actually a solid piece of lumber.
The Wood Plank Look has become such a popular technique that we started offering workshops in our store where participants have a hands-on opportunity to learn the technique.
So, Paul decided that this top is the perfect candidate for the wood plank look...and I had to agree!
The plan was to tape out the center rectangle to mimic the detail that was already on the raw top and create a border to frame out the 'planks' he would create in the middle.
Creating a wood plank look isn’t complicated, it just takes a little planning and patience.
The only special skill you’ll need to know is how to do a Color Wash.
Before beginning, Paul sketched out his design for the border and 5 ‘planks.’
He wanted a deep, elegant look so he selected Graphite with a Coco wash for the border. For the ‘planks’ he decided to use base colors of Coco, French Linen, and Paris Grey all would have a Graphite wash.
Here's Paul's Plan...
...and here's the order in which he did the painting
From here on out, you’ll be working on groups of boards. The ‘plank’ numbers listed below correspond to the numbers on Paul's schematic above.
Now that the entire top is painted, you’ll notice that the Color Wash paint technique highlighted all the imperfections and roughness of the wood top and there’s a little ridge between each ‘plank,’ all of this adds to the authentic look and feel, it not only looks like individual planks of wood, it feels like it, too.
Paul wanted this piece to be a media cabinet, where a TV could sit on top or hang over it on the wall so he removed the bottom drawer and modified it to create a shelf for components, he painted the interior of the shelf Graphite and drilled a whole in the back for cords.
The exterior was painted in Duck Egg Blue and was finished with White Chalk Paint® Wax (instead of Clear Wax) to create a softer, more coastal feel.
Have fun playing around with different neutrals for this look, and you might just get hooked and find that you want to paint everything with a plank top look!
A couple of weeks ago I was painting alone in our home studio while Paul was at the store. As I worked in silence I was thinking about a conversation I was having with my friend Carrie over text the night before.
So, how about a little background on these designers? I'll let Carrie explain a little about Sister Parish then I'll introduce you to Dorothy Draper.
Jersey Girl Dorothy May Kinnicutt, known in the design world as Sister Parish
You can see this lady has style. I love the pearls, the hat, the ram, and candelabra. Very formal pieces, yet not intimidating. And she was a Jersey Girl! Known in the design world as Sister Parish, Dorothy May Kinnicutt was born on July 15, 1910 and passed on September 8, 1994.
This Sister Parish design exhibits a coziness. One could be enjoying tea or
cocktails with friends, her style has a comfortable inviting elegance.
Another example of a Sister Parish design. I love this room, sans the huge bird cage because of the patterns, each very different and yet complimentary. It is a relaxed room, a feel good room with the light streaming in, I think even on a gloomy day it would still offer the same “feel good” vibe. It’s rather symmetrical, but not in a furniture ad/store way. For me it is a perfectly imperfect room.
These Sister Parish patterns are cheery and make my eyes dance.
Dorothy Draper, a True Artist
When I think about Dorothy Draper, all I can think about is drama. She was born in 1889 in exclusive Tuxedo Park and she passed away in 1969 and in the years in between she defined a new style of decorating: Hollywood Regency. Hollywood Regency is known for its glamour, drama and new twist on old classics.
Dorothy Draper used vibrant, “splashy” colors in never-before-seen combinations, such as aubergine and pink with a “splash” of chartreuse and a touch of turquoise blue, or, one of her favorite combinations – “dull” white and “shiny” black. To me, her designers exude confidence.
Dorothy Draper's confidence gave her the ability to take control of large scale projects such as hotels like the Greenbriar, in all aspects of design – right down to the designs for menus, matchbook covers and the staff uniforms. Her dictum was “if it looks right, it is right”
Our conversation continued a few days later.
I began thinking about my own design style and Carrie’s thoughts on design and how this is a topic we really enjoy talking about together.
Carrie and I aren’t lifelong friends. Our friendship began as grown women with interests in common and it’s fun to have someone to share conversation based on our interests rather than simply a shared history together. We each bring something different to the conversation. We’re very similar in some ways but we both bring a different perspective on any given topic. Something one of us hadn’t considered and something thought provoking.
I came out of my thoughts and back into reality for a moment and thought, what a couple of dorks,....who has conversations like this?
Well apparently, Carrie and I do. And I’m sure others do, too. Or at least other people would like to have conversations like this if they had someone to talk about it with.
Then I had an idea. 💡
What about putting our conversation in the form of a blog and inviting others to join in?
I picked up my phone and texted Carrie...
So I kept pitching...
Undaunted, I texted her one last time. This time with a possible name…
I held my breath, thinking Carrie might actually hate that.
But too late, it was already out there.
My phone finally dinged with Carrie’s reply.
Not only was she on board but she was excited!
Then the ideas started to flow...
Later that week Paul and I were with Carrie and her husband Joel. Joel mentioned our blog idea and then chuckled...”and the name, Design Dorks...it’s perfect!” He knows us too well.
Over the next week or so, Carrie and I continued our conversation about our two favorite designers. And she sent me this image that she found:
Design is in the eye of the beholder, and ‘good design’ is really just a matter of opinion.
Let’s keep the conversation going!
What are your thoughts about design and style of this Sister Parish designed bedroom? Love it? Hate it? Too haute? Comment below!
Our Comments on the Bedroom Above
Share your comments below, because that’s what this is all about...nothing highbrow, just a conversation among friends.
Carrie & Johanna
Paul and I often view our work with furniture as functional works of art. Something special and beautiful to look at, but also something that can be touched and used. This is why we choose special finishes, custom color mixes, an on occasion…bold graphics.
We both have our favorite artists, graphic designers and illustrators that inspire us and in a future post I’ll share some of those with you, but today I wanted to share some of our favorite pieces and talk about the inspiration and how we accomplished these.
The Mondrian Toy Box
I like straight lines and order, it’s just my personality. Paul and I both admire the more of Piet Mondrian so that's what we decided to use as inspiration for this piece. We loved the idea of juxtaposing something utilitarian with something sophisticated.
We selected Pure White Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan for the background color and deeper colors than the artist likely would have chosen for the design: Primer Red, Napoleonic Blue, and English Yellow Chalk Paint®. The design was created by simply using painters tape, a ruler and some chalk!
The Paisley Piece
For us, a simple boxy piece of furniture is truly a blank canvas. Paul loves the idea of asymmetry, where a design doesn’t have any visible order. He appreciates the randomness when elements of a design are placed where they are pleasing to his eye, not because of any predetermined order.
This paisley piece is a perfect example of this, and Paul chose a large-scale stencil, one that had movement and that he could wrap around the piece. His color choices were very deliberate, too, and it started with the background color. He wanted it to be neutral but instead of selecting a white or grey he chose Duck Egg Blue Chalk Paint® which was a brilliant choice behind his palette of Napoleonic Blue, Barcelona Orange, Burgundy, and Arles. You can read more about how we created this piece in our blog post: The Paisley Piece.
The Record Cabinets
If you’ve spent time in our shop you know that Paul is a music guy. Our playlists are always unique and we always have customers comment on the music in the store. So, when we have a record cabinet to work on, Paul’s imagination runs wild.
For the one on the left, he was inspired by the Beatle’s Sargent Pepper album. Take a look at the top right of the album cover and you’ll see his inspiration. The stripe of the sleeve inspired the red and yellow strips and the hand is there, too. He used Emperor's Silk, English Yellow, Paris Grey, Pure White, and Graphite Chalk Paint® as well as a mix of Napoleonic Blue and Greek Blue Chalk Paint® for the hand.
On the right, he was inspired by the 1970’s in general rather than by anything in particular, so he selected a palette of colors that was influenced by that era: Antibes Green, Barcelona Orange, Pure White and English Yellow Chalk Paint®. Click here for additional photos of this cabinet.
The Cityscape Cabinet
This cabinet is all about moody drama and it shows how you can use something that seems like nothing special and use it to create something wow.
The inspiration here was an inexpensive print on canvas that we found in a thrift store. We both loved the grittiness and the abstract design. It was Paul who suggested using it on this small cabinet with its simple boxy shape and details that create a frame around the door, Perfect for applying an image.
Paul used Graphite Chalk Paint® on the cabinet then we removed the canvas from the stretcher, trimmed it, then applied it using Annie Sloan’s Decoupage Medium to the door. Once that it was dry, we gave it a cracked look using Annie Sloan’s Craqueleur Step 1 & 2 which created an all-over cracked look which we accentuated using dark wax. Read more about this cabinet in our blog post: The Cityscape Cabinet.
The Beatrice Armoire
This child-size armoire had been in our possession for a couple of years. One day I was inspired to work on it using Henrietta Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan as the main color. I also wanted to do an illustration that was French but didn’t want a stencil or simply an Eiffel Tower image and I was inspired by my niece Beatrice.
My sister had been living in Paris for almost 25 years and her daughter was born there and grew up in Paris. I was thinking about little Bea and decided on an uncluttered, wrap around design which I painted in Pure White Chalk Paint®.
You can see that bold, graphic patterns can be created in many different ways: stencils, decoupage, tape, crackler, and hand painting, just to name a few. Look around and see what inspires you!
The fun part comes in the challenge of trying to figure out how to execute your design. This isn’t always easy, so don’t get discouraged. Think big, jot down your ideas and think outside the box and you can create a real statement piece!
I studied fashion in school and like most people, very little of what I studied ever comes back to help me in my day-to-day life. The only exception is the semester that I spent in a class called History of Textiles & Costumes. I don't think a week goes by that I don't call upon something that I learned in that class. Although it was a fashion history class, it was taught from the perspective of how fashion is influenced by other design of the day, like art and architecture.
I’ve written about inspiration before, and for good reason. Paul and I know that inspiration can come from anywhere so it’s important to keep your eyes open.
A few weeks ago, during one of our Chalk Paint® 101: The Basics workshops, a participant named Barb added a little too much water to her 2nd paint color on the two-color wet distress. She was looking at it and feeling a little disappointed that it didn’t look like the finish created by another participant who used the same color combination. Paul however, was really taken with the finish.
Iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser said “There are three responses to a piece of design: yes, no, and wow. Wow is the one to aim for.”
For the past year or more, Paul and I have been leaning more towards bolder, more modern designs for our furniture. One reason for this is because our style has changed.
For me, Coastal Cottage has been replaced by clean Mid-Century design. Paul has moved from Art Deco to a fondness for bright color and a mix of old and new.
Every year starting in the spring our custom painting schedule starts to fill up with furniture that have one thing in common - they’re going to a beach house.
Painting beach house furniture is fun because for a lot of people, the beach house is less formal, more fun, and the decorating is a little more colorful.
However, you don’t need a house at the beach to love the coastal look. The casual feel is so comfortable that this style is at home just about anywhere...
Paul has a thing for color.
We both do, really. But Paul rarely thinks in terms of whites and neutrals. When he sees a great piece of furniture, his gut almost always says, “put color on it.”
I’ve often written and spoken to people about how we purchase furniture that we like but we won’t do anything to it until one of us has a clear vision of what it should look like – or at least a clear vision of how it should start. As a result, some furniture gets painted right away and others sit for a while.
Sometimes a couple of years.
This week we finished a new piece and it’s generating a lot of questions…What paint color is that? How did you do the copper? What was it finished with?
So, in today’s post we’ll break it down for you and explain just how we created this look.
Just like the Paisley Piece, this buffet was something Paul and I have had for a very long time. In fact, when we purchased it, we didn’t have any immediate finishing plan (and it was too large to fit easily down the stairs into our studio space), so we decided to use it in our own dining room until we felt inspired.
We’ve owned this vintage vanity for quite some time.
We've had it in the store for a few months and while everything around it came and went, this vanity was still there.
Don’t get me wrong, it received a lot of love. Customers in the shop would look at it and love on it…but there it sat.
We sell on an upscale online shopping site and this vanity had an unprecedented number of followers…but there it sat.
I used to paint furniture as a hobby.
Now that I do it for a living, my new hobby is cocktails!
I don’t mean it in a passed-out-party-girl way. I mean that I genuinely have an interest in mixing cocktails – especially classic cocktails.
I like the research, and I like the history.
I’ve always enjoyed learning how the average person lived during various times in history and I think knowing what people were drinking, what was popular at the time, provides a little glimpse.
It was over three years ago.
I know it was in the early days of our business.
In those days we were buying furniture with wild abandon. Looking back, I realize that was a smart move because as the business has grown, we’ve had less and less time to shop.
Anyway, one of the first pieces we ever purchased was a small vintage server that we both thought had a slightly Asian vibe. We added it to our warehouse inventory, assigned it an item number, and next to the number, we wrote “Small Asian Server.”
I love new beginnings.
I love opportunities.
I love a clean slate, a chance to do something differently.
January 1st is my favorite day of the year...the start of any new season…my birthday…heck, even trash day. Out with the old and in with the new. A chance to start over, to begin something new.
At the start of this year, Paul and I launched a new venture. It came about because of our store customers.
We're Paul and Johanna and we write about our life in the furniture business. The things we love, the places we go, and the treasures we find along the way.