Wednesday, December 14, 2016

BTS featured artist: Michael Aram, American artist with India influences

A year ago this month, I got to meet Michael Aram, famed artist whose creative works range from furniture to (my favorite) tableware.

A bit of serendipi-tea:   my son, Matt, and I were shopping at Macy's last December and while turning over sweaters in the Men's Department, we heard a customer alert that Michael Aram was in the building.

We headed for the third level where the Michael Aram event was taking place. Sparkling cider and hors d'oeuvres were being served and Michael Aram was there to personally sign his merchandise.

I purchased the cracker plate from the Palace collection for my sister-in-law. When chatting with Michael, he said that the Palace series is one of his favorite design groups. Per the Michael Aram website, this  particular collection is one that reflects "the arches, finials, carved panels, and ornamentation prevalent in palaces throughout the east".

Michael Aram also has a teapot which is difficult to find these days. No longer on the Michael Aram website or Amazon, it is still available at The Lamp Stand.  It retails at $350.00.  It's really beautiful. Is there any doubt that it will show up on  Barb's Tea Shop Wishlist?!

For more information on Michael Aram and his fascinating designs, see

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Michigan Tea Rooms on SALE!

Michigan Tea Rooms, a great stocking stuffer and now at a lower price!

Just in time for the holidays, Michigan Tea Rooms is now available at a special price. The perfect stocking stuffer, we've lowered the price Michigan Tea Rooms, a tiny tome that details twelve of our favorite tea rooms in the Mitten State.

Now for a limited time, Michigan Tea Rooms is now available for $12.00. That's 20% off the list price. You can purchase directly from Just click the link below:

 Published a year ago this month, we were back in 2016 visiting some of our featured tea rooms. We enjoyed seeing our books on sale or display at some of these amazing tea venues.

 We stop frequently at Socra Tea in downtown Detroit. We celebrated birthdays and Mother's Day there this year. It's right in the heart of the city and a convenient place to stop when visiting the DIA. We absolutely love their Earl Grey!

Socra Tea in Detroit:  Michigan Tea Rooms on display

Great place to drop in after the DIA, celebrating our mutual birthday in April

Casual and comfortable decor - excellent place to gather with the family

The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham has an elegant and luxurious tea lobby. We love presenting as much as being guests at many of their special events. Afternoon tea menu is delicious and top notch customer service. We love it here!

Rachel and Barb present a Downton Abbey afternoon tea

Elegant tablescapes and scrumptious tea fare

Harney tea tasting event with Michael Harney in September at the Townsend

Another favorite tea room, also featured in Michigan Tea Room, is Sweet D's in Linden. Owned and operated by Dee Birch, her personal touch is on everything from charming decor to sweet treats, all made on-site. We were there in May presenting a Downton Abbey-inspired tea.

BTS presenting Downton Abbey tea at Sweet D's.

Dee Birch, far left, with guests at the afternoon tea.

Lovely tea settings with antique serving pieces and china. 
Afternoon tea fare that's hearty and delicious!

We made it over the Mackinac Bridge this fall to go to the upper peninsula's only tea room, Four Seasons.  It's an absolutely wonderful tea room - inviting ambiance, excellent tea fare and a fun gift shop. It also sells Michigan Tea Rooms!

With owner/manager Andrea Shuldt.

Scones, savories and sweets will delight guests!

Guests can find Michigan Tea Rooms for sale in the gift shop.

The good news, is you don't have to drive far - or anywhere - to get your copy of Michigan Tea Rooms. And, now with a new discounted price, you'll have something for all the tea enthusiasts on your holiday list!

If you are interested in purchasing directly from BTS, send us an email at and we'll send directly to you!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

It's beginning to look at lot like. . . a Gilded Christmas

Marble House dining room 

This year's Christmas theme at the Gulley household is, no surprise, GILDED!

Our inspiration came in great part from our recent trip to Newport, Rhode Island,  where we visited five mansions from the Gilded Age. We were there the last part of October and the cottages were just starting to display their Christmas decorations.

In the Marble House, home of Alva Vanderbilt, Christmas trees and other trimmings showed up in the dining room and foyer.

Christmas tree in the Marble House foyer

Channeling our inner Gilded, we sorted through some of our fancier Christmas decorations "in house" and then found some added delights at a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Pier 1.

Gilded decor for the Gulley fireplace mantle

I purchased some lovely garland filled with fruit, pinecones, and greenery all tinged with gold. It makes a spectacular statement on the mantle.

Gilded decor glows with a semi-blazing fire

The glow from the fireplace adds a little extra sparkle. Just like Marble House!

Then, to the Christmas tree. Rachel and I continued our annual tradition of decorating the tree - and the dog -  with a pot of tea brewing and holiday tunes in the background.

Trimming the tree with Gilded sensibilities

Christmas sweaters must be worn when decorating

Garland from Frankenmuth with some fancy gold ribbon make a statement

Turning again to the Marble House, we imagined what their their staircase would look like all decked out at Christmas. With glittery garland we purchased from Bronner's ( Frankenmuth) last year, we added a bit of gold ribbon for extra glitz worthy of a Newport cottage. If our staircase was made of marble, it could easily be mistaken for the Vanderbilt's front entry.

I will add, this took two hours to complete.  (Results - finished product to time spent ratio, a little off).

Marble House dining room 

Moving to the dining room, I once again sought the Marble House for guidance.

Adding some bling to the chandelier

Still working on the dining room chandelier. Added some bling from Pier 1, but still need shiny ribbon and some greenery.

Silver tea set on the dinning room buffet awaits more glitz

Took out the silver coffee/tea for the buffet. Will be adding more glitter and gold this week.

In a slight detour from this year's theme, we put up a few holiday items representing mid-nineteenth century England -  most notably, a tea room from Department 56's Dickens Village. Did we mention Frankenmuth? Yes, this year's purchase was the "Joseph Edward Tea Shoppe".

Sistahs annual trip to Bronner's 

In yet another tradition, my cousins, Dianne and Kathy, and I (aka "the sistahs") make our yearly trek to Frankenmuth, spend the night, and fortify ourselves with a hearty breakfast to shop at Bronners for four  hours (yes, four).

Last year, I purchased the banister garland and the Dicken's Village tea cart lady. With this year's tea shoppe, perhaps next year's theme is in the making!

It would take me several days to decorate this banister

In the meantime, for the remainder of this month, Chestnut Hill Court will be (almost) one-in-the-same as Bellevue Avenue. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, however it is decorated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate (companion book to DIA Bitter/Sweet exhibit)

Coffee, Tea & Chocolate companion book to exhibit (and mug!)

Take today's Tuesday Tea and Tomes Quiz:

What is "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate"?
  1. A current exhibit at the DIA
  2. The subject of the DIA exhibit companion book
  3. My everyday essentials
Of course, it is "all of the above"!

Bitter/Sweet: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts tells the story of three revolutionary morning drinks that launched rituals and industries around the world.

Amazingly, this tantalizing trio all arrived around the same time in England in the mid-1600's.

This special DIA exhibit takes visitors through the discovery of coffee, tea and chocolate and how they became a global presence in so many societies.

As an added bonus to this exhibit, there is the companion book, "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: Consuming the World" by  Yao-Fen You, Associate Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the DIA.

Yao-Fen You introduces Marc Meltonville at the DIA

The exhibit includes a video starring Marc Meltonville, Food Historian of Historic Royal Palaces, filmed at the Chocolate Kitchen of Hampton Court. We were fortunate to hear Marc Meltonville present at the DIA and later meet up with him and Yao-Fen You. (BTS was at the actual Chocolate Kitchen in 2015 - stay tuned for future blog!)

Yao-Fen You, and  Marc Meltonville chat with Chris after the presentation

Although I took several pictures (they are not only allowed, but encouraged - without flash!), the companion book captures all the exhibit beautifully and with a lot of additional information and interesting essays.

Tea service with fitted case, 1728-29

Coffee pot (1789) Chocolate pot (1781). Chocolate pot lids had openings for wooden stirrers.

Tea drinking defined polite society, shown in this family portrait by Charles Philip, 1732

Barb's TEA Service (Rachel, Barb & Pam) enjoy sampling hot chocolate

At the end of the exhibit, there is a chocolate tasting of two drinks: one Aztec and the other an 18th century French recipe.  Both were delicious!

The gift shop features local tea and chocolate 

There's also a special gift shop at the end of the exhibit which includes local tea, chocolate and this wonderful tome, "Coffee, Tea and Chocolate".

Two thumbs up for the Coffee, Tea and Chocolate  exhibit and companion book!  Wonderful experience and wonderful keepsake!

Bitter/Sweet:  Coffee, Tea and Chocolate runs now through March, 2017. For more information see the DIA calendar page Bitter/Sweet:  Coffee, Tea and Chocolate.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Gilded Pleasure: Newport Mansions and Vanderbilding

Indulging in my "gilded pleasure" at the Viking Hotel on Bellevue Ave.

As a Gilded Age enthusiast, a visit to Newport -  where America's very rich and famous of the late 19th century built "cottages" along the Atlantic Ocean - was a must. Last month, I indulged my "gilded pleasure" and traveled to the east coast resort town and toured the five historic mansions that are still open this time of year:  The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, The Elms and Chateau-sur-Mer.

One side of the great foyer inside The Breakers

During our visit, we stayed at the Viking Hotel, on the famed Bellmont Avenue, home to many of the Newport Mansions. In fact, the hotel was built as a joint effort among some of the upper crust families to be a place for the overflow of guests to stay. Many of the cottages, although large by any scale, typically had bedrooms for members of the family only and maybe one guest room. It's hard to keep in mind, these were summer homes and used just for a few months out of the year.

First on my list were the Newport of homes of the Vanderbilts:   The Breakers and Marble House. They were built by the grandsons of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who created the family fortune with shipping and railroads. The competitiveness of the wealthy families to outdo each other with extravagant domiciles gave way to the term "Vanderbuilding" according to Gilded by Deborah Davis (see November 8, Tuesday Tea and Tomes: Gilded). And, no question, there was a lot of  Vanderbilding going on in Newport!

 The Breakers, the biggest cottage in Newport

The Breakers is the largest of all Newport mansions, built in 1893, to replace an earlier wood frame house of the same name that was destroyed by fire. The 70-room cottage was designed by architect William Morris Hunt and inspired by 16th century palaces of Italy.

Chris strolls through The Breakers second floor hallway

Around the corner and down Bellevue Avenue sits Marble House, also designed by William Morris Hunt, but with much direction from owner, Alva Vanderbilt, spouse of William K. Vanderbilt. William K. gave Alva the house as a 39th birthday present.

Happy Birthday, Alva! Marble House, aptly named,  has 500,000 cubic ft of imported marble 

Built to resemble a chateau at Versailles, the cost of the home in modern-day currency amounts to $11 million with over half that amount going to 500,000 cubic feet of marble.

Marble walls, staircases in Marble House

Alva Vanderbilt's ambition was a double-edged sword. Her strong-will rebelled against the social convention of staying with a philandering husband and she  risked ostracism from her friends for insisting upon, and obtaining, a divorce. She was also a great supporter of the 19th amendment and held suffragette meetings at the Tea House she had erected on the grounds of Marble House.

Cosuelo's bedroom at Marble House, designed entirely by Alva

However, that same drive  had a downside. Alva groomed her daughter, Conseulo, to be the bride of an English lord.  Consuelo had fallen in love with an American gentleman and wanted to marry him instead of a British aristocrat. Domineering and manipulative, Alva insisted her daughter marry the Duke of Marlborough, which sent Conseulo to Blenheim Castle in England and trapped her in an unhappy, loveless marriage.

Gothic Room where the Duke proposed to Consuelo 

Mother and daughter reconciled and eventually Conseulo left the Duke and married the second time for love - so there are some happy endings!

We visited  three more Newport mansions over the next few days of our stay: Rosecliff, Chateau-sur-Mer, and The Elms, the latter of which we took part in the  "Servant's Life" tour, which showed the equally fascinating "downstairs" life of cottage living.  More of those in Newport Mansions: Part II.

Marble House lawn overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, spectacular views inside and out

We had been to Newport over ten years ago, but only had time to tour The Breakers. This trip was amazing - time to visit five mansions, partake in afternoon tea and get our fresh seafood fix. But, most importantly, I indulged in my gilded pleasure in Newport, learning more about this fascinating era in such a beautiful setting.

More Gilded Pleasures coming to the blog. Stay tuned.