Monday, August 29, 2011

Surprising New Luxury Fabric Discovery: Alta Pampa, Handwoven in Argentina

Wow! Alta Pampa’s new textiles collection woven seduces the senses with its quiet elegance, traditional weaves, handcrafted details, and inventive use of alpaca, Merino wool, silk, and sexy, silken baby alpaca. I adore this quiet luxury, the soft sensuality, the beauty of natural fibers, and the sheer beauty. Glorious. 

Paris designer Jean-Louis Deniot first introduced me to the luxurious new Alta Pampa textiles collection when he selected the company’s baby alpaca fabric for a pale grey hand-finished throw for a chic Paris bedroom. He also used it for simple curtains. Subtle luxury. So beautiful to the touch. So original. Light as air. So unexpected. 

Jean-Louis noted the softness of the Alta Pampa fabrics, and its pleasing, timeless hue of undyed alpaca. Natural, and so chic.

Interior by Jean-Louis Deniot
Come with me to meet the creators of the divine new Alta Pampa collection, and to see the lovely weaves, the soft colors, the subtle edges and stripes. 

You’ll get a first look at understated luxury at its finest. And see below for all images—as well as where to find this line. They will be showing their collections at Maison & Objet in Paris in September. See all contact details below.

I’d been impatient to see the new Alta Pampa collection—and then recently my friends William and Analuz alerted me that Alta Pampa owner Eduardo Ardiles would be visiting San Francisco. We quickly arranged dinner. I asked him to bring all of his samples, and it was love at first sight and touch. Oh, the baby alpaca! It’s like fine cashmere—but silkier.

Alta Pampa is a fabulous new resource for designers. It’s now available in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with other cities. Designers can order the lovely alpaca fabrics, the Merino weaves, and the wild new chunky wool design that looks like woven cotton balls, in lengths for curtains, bedspreads, pillows, throws and other decorative uses. 

Eduardo Ardiles and Diego Garcia Scaro are Argentine designers living and working in Europe and America. They first met in London at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. After their studies, they gained experience in different fields. Eduardo worked as a residential designer for David Collins Studio, and Diego was architecture and design editor at Phaidon Press, both in London.

In 2006, they traveled together to Salta, Diego’s hometown in Argentina. This area in the northwest of the country is renowned for its remarkable artisanal heritage, resulting from the mix of local and European culture. The breadth of crafts ranges from hand-woven textiles to ceramics, woodturning and silverware. The fascination for the experienced craftsmanship and incredible quality of the material was the starting point for the 2006 creation of a line of home accessories that Eduardo and Diego named Alta Pampa.

“We make our products with natural and noble materials, and we take time and care crafting them with traditional and expert skills. We are obsessed with quality—and authenticity.” — Eduardo Ardiles

“We believe home accessories should be beautiful as well as practical, helping to bring out the soul of everyday moments. Our products are timeless, understated. We are passionate about well-made objects that are built to last. — Diego Scaro 

With Alta Pampa, they aim to blend a contemporary design sensibility with fine, classical artisanal techniques. Handicrafts are used for the quality that they bring to products, in an attempt to recreate the old-school tradition of workshops (such as the ones still to be found in haute-couture houses). Their research led them to set up their own textile workshop, where local craftspeople are trained in the use of refined fibers, such as silk and alpaca, to achieve products suitable for modern luxury markets in Europe, America and other fast-developing regions.

The first collection presented was a textile line of finished products (throws and blankets) and fabrics by the yard. Today, this collection is represented by Holland & Sherry in London, Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and soon in Los Angeles (

In September 2010, Alta Pampa presented a tabletop collection made of hand-turned wood. This collection had a great reception and it was quickly adopted by shops like VitraHaus in Germany and Le Bon Marché in France. 

Alta Pampa also has a small bespoke collection of curtain tiebacks and wall-lights made of hammered German silver, inlaid with onyx and other finishes, which has been specified in important residential and commercial projects in London, Los Angeles and Switzerland. 

Eduardo Ardiles and Diego Scaro founded Alta Pampa in 2006 and now produce all of the textiles and wood designs in the company’s workshop in northwest Argentina. “We work closely with artisans across the region, so the Alta Pampa collections are authentic descendants of Argentina’s heritage,” said Ardiles.
“We source the best available materials—fine Merino wool from Patagonia, handspun silk from Argentina, baby alpaca from Peru—and we use traditional techniques to make light throws, blankets, bedspreads, pillows and fabrics by the yard that are luxurious, with a contemporary feel for colors and shapes.”

Alta Pampa weaves include classics such as herringbone twill and more adventurous fabrics such as chunky hand spun merino.  New to the Alta Pampa line are objects made of wood, ceramic, a variety of stones including onyx, and metals, such as bronze and German silver. 

Where to buy: 

Holland & Sherry represents the Alta Pampa fabric collection as well as finished products in the following cities: London, Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and soon in Los Angeles (

Paris: Le Bon Marche (

London: L&B (

New York: Dmitriy & Co. (

Alta Pampa will be presenting the collection at Maison & Objet in Paris, from September 9-13 ( Stand Location: Hall 7, Stand D74

Recommended retail prices start at US$245, for a Rizo throw hand-woven in pure lambswool and go up to US$1,070 for a Nube throw made of hand spun Merino wool. 

Alta Pampa Limited

10 John Street
London WC1N 2EB

Design Studio 
51 Cadogan Square
London SW1X 0HY

T +44 (0)20 7235 1179
F + 44 (0)20 7235 0083
M +44 (0)771 574 9405

Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekend Adventure, Great Wine Country Escape

Style-Seeking in Sonoma: Country French décor, fashion, bites, and private wineries

Recently I headed out for a weekend adventure in Sonoma County in Northern California. 

I was hungry to taste new design boutiques, and to sleuth style shops. I planned to dig up ideas, encounter new people, and savor sunny hours of escapism. 

Sonoma is an easy-breezy one-hour drive north of San Francisco but it feels far away, rustic, low-key. 

I made chic and witty new friends at fashion stores, antiques galleries, wineries, and cafes. I loved meeting talented stylists doing their thing. A cooking school and hotel, award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages at hidden wineries, and a plant paradise were new discoveries. 

My guide was the great travel concierge Katie Ciocca. We first met when Katie was the distinguished manager of Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg. Click here for my ‘Trip to Bountiful’ Healdsburg weekend report.

Now Katie Ciocca has created an ultra-private tour planning service, DeTours.

She’s an insider, always seeking the new. Come along with us, get a taste of what’s happening in Sonoma County, and discover Katie’s favorites.

Follow us to get the scoop on where to go now in Sonoma County.

DeTours Private Tour for THE STYLE SALONISTE

Katie Ciocca and I met bright and early at the sunlit El Dorado Corner Café overlooking the Plaza. It’s central, bustling, a perfect rendezvous. Delicious pastries and coffee.

Katie had prepared a custom tour, printed out elegantly for reference.

(See below for ten of her favorite stops in Sonoma County.)

We headed over to Chateau Sonoma boutique/gallery to check Sarah Anderson’s fabulous French country infusion of style.

Chateau Sonoma is crammed with discoveries: French crystal carafes, crusty garden ornaments, white linen napkins, French prints, herbal soaps, farm tables, and rooms of plates, linens, and funky antiques.

We headed back to the Plaza and stopped to see our divine friend, the floral designer and art collector, Jean Thompson. Jean, just back from San Miguel de Allende, gave us a tour of her Mexican textiles and sculptures, folkloric collections, and modern Mexican paintings. Vibrant! Ask Katie if she might be able to arrange a private visit to Jean’s hacienda. Rare and thrilling.

We drove to Ramekins inn and culinary school (rammed earth walls), and watched a pastry cooking class in progress. Riveting. After a relaxed bite and sip with manager Steve Sarna in the sunny loggia, we sped back to the Plaza.

Kingston Ellis was our next destination. This superbly curated women’s fashion boutique—feels like a house party, fizzing with spirit and good cheer.

This private realm of Kristina Alana and her associate, Diane Magee, it’s the artful creation of congenial colleagues and friends who elevate the shop into a thrumming event.

Suggestion: drop in early on a Saturday afternoon and hang out with founder Kristine Alana and her divine friends, including the great Diane Magee, Kimberlee Edgar (loves MAC’s Ruby Woo lipstick), stylist and city-dweller Tim Bailey, writer and muse Kat Krause, Margaret Casart, the queen of conviviality for Acacia Vineyard, and floral designer Aimee Lomelli. Oh, and do check out the great fashions. Love them.

Kingston Ellis would be exceptional in SoHo, Notting Hill, or Paris.

We crossed the street to Chanticleer Books and pottered around the stacks, checking out the early California history volumes, as well as in-depth Sonoma and wine reference books. Mysteriously magical.

Departing the town, we volleyed over to Quarryhill Botanical Garden, on Highway 12 in Glen Ellen. The region is known locally as Valley of the Moon.

Here, among the largest collection of documented wild-collected Asians plants in the world, we studied Katie’s Black Book. Listed here: olive oil tastings, private wineries, spas, the award-winning Littorai winery in Sebastapol, private residences for those who want to live like a local, a renovated barn that makes a splendid locations for celebrations, as well as the Harvest Moon Café, top bakeries, picnics, the Sunflower Café, the Sebastiani Theatre, the funky Fremont Diner, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, the Girl and the Fig, even The Church Mouse, a Sonoma thrift shop that supports local schools.

We swung by The Red Barn at Oakhill Farms to buy peaches, tomatoes, herbs, arugula, and baby salad greens.

Katie regaled me with the scoop on the Farmers’ Market every Tuesday night on the Plaza, new Scribe Winery (architects are the hot Aidlin Darling firm), as well as the new Ram’s Gate Winery in Carneros with architecture by Howard Backen and interiors by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy.

Katie filled me in on Foodtruck Fridays at the Sebastiani Winery. “It’s kitschy and fun and outdoorsy, and everyone goes there,” she said.

The day was great.

I headed back to the city with linen bags full of lettuces and peaches, heirloom tomatoes, jars of honey, a bottle or two of wine, some olive oil, and some treasures from Chateau Sonoma.

I can’t wait to return. See Katie Ciocca’s Top Ten Favorites below.

Katie Ciocca's 10 Favorites in Sonoma County:

Kingston Ellis: 122 East Napa St., Sonoma 707-933-9140
This is a fantastic fashion, accessories and gifts find! Worth a trip, as Michelin Guide classically notes. A dazzling fashion and style boutique of great charm and fresh merch.

“Kingston Ellis is dedicated to the spirit of my muse Kingston Ellis, the spirit hiding, not in just your soul, but ever-present within your mind and your heart. The shop is dedicated to showing and demonstrating how a single grand expression of a well-lived life, shared, can kindle brilliance in another.” —Kristine Alana

Chateau Sonoma:, 155 West Napa St., Sonoma-707-935-8553
Sarah Anderson has the most stylish and beautifully-merchandized French-style antiques and décor and style shop outside Paris. She travels to France often, and brings back the most interesting and unusual and practical antiques and vintage pieces.

The shop—crammed to the rafters with Astier de Villatte collections, as well as soaps, toiletries, candles, books, sachets, tableware and furniture of great distinction. Not the usual!

Tip: get on the store’s mailing list. Sarah produces a rollicking on-site French Flea Market each year (early summer), where she brings together all the top French-style dealers from all over California, including the great Atelier de Campagne (find them on Facebook), and Wendy Owen. In the spirit of French country brocantes, it rewards the curious.

Chateau Sonoma is the essential stop in Sonoma.

INSIDER INTELLIGENCE: Sarah Anderson and her husband are going to develop the Chateau Sonoma Hotel, adjacent to this boutique. It’s slated to open in 2013, and it will be great.

Gallery Lulo:, 303 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-433-7533
Lulo showcases artists who create jewelry as an innovative and contemporary art form alongside artists working in the field of fine and applied arts. The gallery features beautiful objects and adornments that are unique, avant-garde and outstanding

Bram, The Art of Claypot Cooking:, 493 1st St. West, Sonoma, 707-935-3717
Handsome clay pots and handmade earthenware, cookbooks including signed copies of Paula Wolfert's long-awaited cookbook, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking Traditional Recipes to Savor and Share. Love this specialist shop. Very inspiring.

Chanticleer Books:, 127 East Napa St., Sonoma. 

Rare and general books, with in-depth collections of California history, viticulture, cooking, gardening, history, the region and notable biographies. Potter around for hours—this is an only-in-Sonoma find.

The Red Barn, Oakhill Farms:, 1501 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen,  707-996-6643
Only in Sonoma: Set on 700 acres of protected wild land and 45 aces of productive farmland Oak Hill Farm has been growing flowers and sustainable produce using sustainable agricultural practices for more than 50 years. Enjoy foraging and picking up supplies for your day of travels. A rare treasure: garden bouquets created by Jean Thompson at the Red Barn Store, in a rustic 100-year-old dairy barn. Essential stop.

INSIDER TIP: Oakhill Farms sells the Padrona pepper and keeps it in stock or on hand at all times, for local Sonoma women as it is known to be an aphrodisiac. Evidently the farm is not allowed to run out of them.

HelloCello, Lemoncello di Sonoma:

Organic limoncello hand-crafted in Sonoma Valley. Summer in a bottle.

Lookout Ridge Winery:, 707-953 9200 by appointment only

Not open to the public, Lookout Ridge Winery is a privileged setting in the wine country. The owner, Gordon Holmes, has the finest winemakers creating his wines, and he is also giving back one bottle of wine at a time. Gordon created the Wine for Wheelchairs program. For every bottle of wine Lookout Ridge produces and sells, a wheelchair is donated to a person in need. It is also one of the only wineries where you can sit and view Napa and the entire Sonoma Valley.

Bleating Heart Cheese:, Sebastopol
Established in 2009 by cheesemaker Seana Dougherty, Bleating Heart produces small-quantity, premium quality sheep and cow's milk cheese exclusively with Sonoma County milk. A favorite is the Sonoma Toma.

El Molino Central:, 11 Central Ave (along Hwy 12), Boyes Hot Springs, 707-939-0101
A chic and friendly tortillaria serving authentic regional Mexican classics. Everyday at 11am you can watch the process of fresh tortillas being made and sip your Blue Bottle Coffee. A favorite menu item or dish is the Swiss Chard Enchiladas.

Davero:, 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg 707-431-8000
Owned by Colleen McGlynn and Ridgley Evers, Davero produces certified biodynamic and organic olive oil in Dry Creek Valley (Northern Sonoma County). They also produce some of the finest balsamic vinegars produced in the United States. All Davero products are small production. A favorite at Davero: Sunset Suppers.

Favorite place to stay:
Kenwood Ranch & Rental designed by Sarah Anderson, Chateau Sonoma.
Romantic two-story renovated barn located in Sonoma Valley is uniquely wonderful and set on 75 private acres. Private and personal, it’s a private residence, the ultimate place to stay and experience Sonoma.

Introducing DeTours

“The goal of DeTours is to provide exquisite, private, tailored-made, and uniquely authentic travel experiences. I introduce my clients to a fellowship of artisans, growers, creators, and experts. We meet winemakers, taste rare wines, and discover the seasonal flavors that reflect, reveal, and celebrate the Sonoma County.

We find the winery, the hiking trail, the view, the culture and history, the art collection, artisan, the hotel and plan the experience.”

"DeTours offers unparalleled access—and memories."—Katie Ciocca

To contact Katie and find out more about DeTours:

Photos by Katie Ciocca, Kimberlee Edgar/Kingston Ellis, El Dorado Kitchen. Used with permission. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Conversation: Houston's great interior designer J. Randall Powers

Timeless Values, a Classical Approach 

Texas star designer J. Randall Powers (Randy to his friends, colleagues and devoted clients) has built his extraordinary design career on a cornerstone of restraint. Working with a highly controlled color range, a superbly edited décor, pure lines, and opulent fabrics and materials like silk velvet, rich leather, fine wood, marble, and luxurious open spaces, he shapes rooms that are as inviting and lovely as they are comfortable. 

Sit down with me for a chat with Randy—and let’s take a look inside his head. 

We discuss his pure design beliefs, go-to fabrics, antique sources, favorite paints, great basic fabrics to use every time, and his palette of materials, along with travel inspiration. 

You will be surprised and inspired. And you’ll have a new design hero.

I was fortunate to be introduced to Randy Powers over a decade ago by the great editor-in-chief, Holly Moore. Holly, the founder and editorial power behind PAPERCITY, in Houston and Dallas, is a longtime admirer and friend of Randy, and I instantly became a friend and admirer, too. I’m an editor with PAPERCITY, so Randy, a contributor to the magazine, is a dear colleague as well. Join us for a chat.


DDS: Randy, so wonderful to talk to you, as always. Tell me, from all your years in the design business, what do you absolutely know is essential for good design? 
Editing is the key to everything. Regardless of the style of your interior, it is essential not to over design or over decorate. Keeping a space filled with wonderful interesting objects is always the goal, but too many is just chaotic to the eye and can make a room feel cluttered and un-thought-out. 

Simply removing a single chair or one too many items on a table can "clear the air". Never be afraid to leave a space blank. The void will feel refreshing and allow the other objects to have a life. 

My advice: There is strength in repetition. Don't be afraid of pairs. Symmetry gives rooms and spaces credibility. A pair of beautiful consoles or good simple chairs is pleasing to the eye. Personally I prefer tables and upholstered pieces to be individual. But a doorway or window flanked with a pair of chests, or the like, seems regal and makes a statement.

DDS: What one element is always necessary to a well-designed room?
Collections of objects grouped together can instantly unify a room. I strongly encourage my clients to start a collection or tell me of something that they are attracted to and I will source items for them. It does not always need to be a serious object, like Ancient Chinese porcelain, It can be baskets, boxes or interesting found objects. Nothing can make an interior feel personal and not "done" more than objects that are meaningful. 

DDS: You are generally not a fan of printed fabrics. 
JRP: (laughing) Well I've come full circle. For years I avoided prints and patterns as I found them to be disruptive to the interiors I created. I searched for texture and interesting colors to create the warmth I was looking for and to let the other pieces in the rooms make the statement. I guess as my tastes have evolved and styles have changed, I now embrace the interest that they can add.

But usually if I do chose a "statement" fabric I will use it over and over in the same room until it almost becomes a neutral. A room done in a killer Ikat fabric used for curtains, sofas, pillows, stools, can really be something to behold and timeless in its own right.

DDS: On a very limited budget—say a first apartment—what is the one item on which you would lavish the most money. 
JRP: Hands down a good quality, well-made sofa with classic lines. It should be a hardwood frame, screwed and doweled together, hand-tied, and have great fill in the cushions. Over time, you can reupholster it. You can restyle it, change the pillows. It will become central to your décor. It will last you a lifetime. 

DDS: On the other hand, where can you always be satisfied with a truly budget piece? 
JRP: Lighting. There are AMAZING resources for high quality and terrific design out there for even the most modest budget. Even on my biggest "no budget" design jobs I will almost inevitably look at companies like Visual Comfort / Circa Lighting or Robert Abbey. I’ve designed lamps for Visual Comfort. Adding a simple cord trim to the shade or having it painted a pale matte color can really take an inexpensive lamp up several notches. 

DDS: Your rooms are usually quite tailored, certainly very restrained. Are you against trim and tassel? 
JRP: I actually love trimmings and passementerie. But I like them to be very subtle and hidden, Added luxury that does not scream out. Flat tapes, flanges made of pin stripes, welting in leathers, contrasting string cording. I am known for hidden details that go unnoticed. I love to add details that only the homeowner is aware of, such as, contrasting curtain linings, taffeta lined sofa and chair skirts, lamp shades with string trim on the INSIDE of the shades and other "surprises" like those. Sometimes the hidden details are the most luxurious.

DDS: Great old classic fabric you adore? 
JRP: Mozart linen velvet from Brunschwig & Fils. The colors are incredibly subtle and the hand and texture or amazing. Nothing wears and shows its age more elegantly than a good quality linen velvet. It’s timeless, noble, elegant and beautiful to the touch. 

DDS: Great versatile new fabric you love? 
JRP: Mokum Textiles' "Amalfi" in the color Sea Salt. It’s the perfect neutral texture with a small fleck of tan in it. I have a standing reserve on this fabric at all times.

DDS: You have told me that like many top designers you are 'self-taught' and 'self-educated'. It should be noted that John Dickinson, Michael Taylor, Jean-Michel Frank, Suzanne Tucker and Michael Smith and other designers I admire did not attend design school.

I believe in formal design education. And I believe in hands-on experience. What do you think are the key elements to 'self-educate' and create your own design education and in-depth knowledge? 

JRP: Book, books, and more books. Reading. Studying every design book. There is not a single design book, major auction catalogue or magazine I do not own, subscribe to, or pre-order. 

My home library has well over 3,000 design related books currently and always more on the way. I am a voracious reader and study all periods and styles--whether my taste or not.

Learn design history, starting with the Greeks and covering two millennia. Learn what has gone before. Learn the work of the great architects. Study Palladio. Become an expert on Modernism, Regency, Louis XIV, Shaker, and Classicism. 

I am a firm believer that even if something is not to your liking or your taste you should still study it to see why it was deemed good. Be open-minded. Learn, study, ponder. 

The history of interior design and decoration is always invention and re-invention. The handful of great designers and decorators I admire the most are always "with me" as I have studied their rooms at such length that I know what works and what will not. Having a good knowledge of furniture and its appropriate scale can save you hours of searching for pieces as you can scan a shop in a matter of minutes. I believe a good base knowledge of 50 years of outstanding rooms can l take you farther in your career than hours of Design 101.

DDS: You are such an art connoisseur and you’re passionate about paintings and sculpture. You always loved Cy Twombly (and went with me to the Twombly galleries in Houston). You loved Lucian Freud. Sadly we must bid 'adieu' to these masters. Which of the young-ish figurative artists could...if they paint every day with great devotion for the next forty years...become the next Twombly or Freud? 
JRP: I really like the work of New York artist David Row whose fluid gestural brush strokes with vivid bold colors are really fresh. Works by the Texas-based artist by the name of David Alsworth who paints in the abstract form, are VERY sophisticated.

And an English painter by the name of Simon Casson. Each has such a different style but a really terrific approach and virtuoso style of painting. They’re talented, disciplined, devoted, inspiring. Simon's reinvention of classical painting is just intoxicating to me. 

DDS: With $1,000 to burn what would you buy for a room? 
JRP: A collection of 40-watt light bulbs (I hate an over-lit room), plus a cashmere throw in a bold color like orange or shocking pink or acid green from Williams Sonoma Home, and a ridiculously expensive scented candle. And if I had any left over, a crazy unusual and wonderful orchid in a simple terra cotta pot. 

DDS: Where are you traveling next? 
: I am headed out to the Maine coast on my annual jaunt and then over to Essex, Mass. to forage for antiques and unusual objects. Essex is a MECCA for Antiquing. Not to be missed. Andrew Spindler Antiques, Margaret Doyle Antiques and Eccentricities and Alexander Westerhoff

DDS: Randy, bon voyage and thank you so much. 


All photography courtesy J. Randall Powers, presented here with express permission.

3411 Richmond Avenue, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77046