French Kitsch


Barbara looks over vases and birch accessories for her Thanksgiving table at Terrain Garden Cafe in Westport, CT. She bought three small vases for $30, a great deal.

You know you’re out of your league when you ask people if they’ve been to a place and they don’t know what you’re talking about.

“Have you been to Terrain in Westport?” I asked a friend who loves to shop and decorate. “No, I won’t drive all the way there because I don’t want to drive an hour home after a few glasses of wine.”

“It’s not a restaurant, it’s a cool store where you can eat and shop for plants and things for your house,” I said. “Oh, you mean te-ran,” she said. Huh? “Te-ran. French for earth. Yes, I’ve been there. I thought you said tureen.”

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Terrain plants.

Boy, did I feel foolish. My friend Barbara had only texted me the name of the place, so I assumed it was pronounced Ter-rain. Usually, I’m pretty good with French. I once used the expression tete a tete and an uppity relative said, “Oh, you mean a tate a tate.” “No,” I thought. “I mean tet a tet. If you’re going to correct someone, make sure you’re right.”

Turns out the same thing happened with Terrain. When I told Barbara about my faux pas, she burst into hysterical laughter. “It’s terrain,” she said. As in all-terrain vehicle or rough terrain. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, I am.” I felt relieved, even vindicated.


Pretty garlands.

The Terrain Garden Cafe is a cross between a high end garden center and Home Goods, with a funky cafe with foods like avocado toast, sweet potato bisque and quinoa salad with roasted chickpeas. Shoppers pony up to the polished (cement?) bar at lunch for a bite and a glass of wine or beer. I suspect that as much as the food, they need to decompress.

Like your first trip to Ikea, walking around Terrain can be overwhelming – so many things, well, so much time.  Customers spend an average of 2 1/2 hours in the store – browsing, eating, drinking and then browsing again. I learned this tidbit from one of Barbara’s friends, who works there.

This makes sense. If you rarely go to a store, you must reorient yourself every time. But if you go often, you know where the good stuff is. Back when I liked shopping, I could spot new merchandise at Loehmanns,  Marshalls and the nearby JCrew outlet. I used to work a block from Bloomingdales in New York City, and strolled there every day at lunch. There’s something  satisfying about knowing a store like the back of your hand. But I’m afraid those days are over.


Bread in a flower pot: $39. I ate some of this bread for lunch and it was delicious. Fluffy, light yet immensely satisfying.

Terrain is to garden style like Ikea is to industrial and modern. Rows of live plants, bulbs, terrariums and topiaries greet visitors. Trouble is I’ve got The Curmudgeon at home monitoring our Visa account. I loved a topiary, but it was $99. As I told Barbara, I had to weigh the topiary and my marriage. I picked the marriage, but it was a pretty close call.

The Curmudgeon’s penchant for penny pinching makes it hard to shop with conviction. But I decided to use it as an “artist’s date,” a chance to let my imagination run wild. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” urges taking at least one hour a week for an artist’s date – going somewhere, preferably alone, where you explore new things. It’s supposed to stimulate your inner child, the source of creativity. She tells you not to question her, to just do it. I’m not one to make waves, so I do as I’m told.

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Going to Terrain is an experience. Here, visitors stop for lunch and chat at an oversized farmer’s table. The place is full of ideas for DYI enthusiasts, and some items are reasonably priced.

With its Christmas trees and holiday displays, gorgeous flower arrangements and wide selection of home goods and gifts, Terrain is ideal for an artist’s date. It’s also fun to see how the other half lives. This is, after all, Westport, home to the rich and famous and the setting of the hysterical show “American Housewife.” I loved Katy Mixon on “Mike & Molly,” and she’s perfect as a mom who doesn’t fit in with other mothers in her rich community.

I think we all feel a little like Katy’s character when we’re thrown into that scene. I know I do. You suddenly feel a little fat and lacking in all sense of style. Walking around Terrain makes you wonder who can afford this stuff: $99 for a gold wheat wreath;  $39 for a clay flower pot bread kit, and $29 for a cluster of five gold flowers.


Bring in the dogs: an adorable corgi checks out Terrain.

Barbara reminded me that these places are more about inspiration than shopping. That’s easy to forget when your eyes are darting around, looking at all the magnificent things that you’d buy if you they were cheaper. I began to see possibilities for my own hovel, er, home.

I admire people like my sister Patty who loves to decorate her home, and does it year-round. She even developed a small business based on her love of it. I decorate under duress: I’m having 29 people for Thanksgiving and I haven’t done anything since last year. This place really looks tired. Even The Curmudgeon is on board: “Forget about the leaves in the yard, he decreed. “We need to make this hovel presentable.”


Did you say you need a vase?

I decided to snap some beautiful, but expensive, things with my I-Phone and try to replicate them with cheaper materials. Barbara, who has years of garden club experience, agreed to help and supervise in her kitchen. She was utterly gracious, hopping to it as I asked for containers, jar lids, twigs and candles. I felt a little like her heart surgeon husband Rich giving orders in the O.R.

The first is a flower arrangement featuring plants and bulbs that sells for $139 at Terrain. We assembled similar arrangement with plants from a big box store and a $20 milk glass container from Flowers on the Green in Guilford, CT.  Total cost:$50.

Special kudos to Christie Baker, owner of the flower shop. Once I told her what I was doing, she embraced the challenge with gusto, helping me find objects in the consignment section of her shop. Thanks also to Patti Todd, owner of Consign & Design in Branford, CT., where I bought a cement pedestal urn for $25.


Terrain: $139


Ours: $50 (you could spray-paint the milk glass bowl if you want it to look like stone. Save more if you have a similar container at home.)

The second was a potbelly vase with a few sprigs selling for $39 at Terrain. I bought an extra-large plastic Christmas ornament at Flowers on the Green for $9. I took out the loop and holder at the top and put in a sprig of dusty miller, fresh eucalyptus and some greens. We balanced it on a Bell jar ring. Total cost $12.




Ours: $12.

The third is a metal wheat wreath that sells for $99 at Terrain. Christie suggested I make a wheat wreath or a swag. Total cost $25 (wheat, ribbon and gold spray paint.) Thanksgiving hostess tip from Christie: place a spray-painted or natural piece of wheat on napkins for a festive look.


Terrain: $99



Wheat on a napkin.


Terrain lighted ornament: $20.


Our lighted ornament: $12 (ornament and battery operated light string available at Michael’s craft stores.

This Little Heart of Hers


Heart transplant recipient George (seated on roof and wearing straw hat) and the Northford Timber Framers build a barn. If you’re not an organ donor, please consider it. 

I knew I’d write about George Senerchia the first time I heard about him. Since undergoing a heart transplant 12 years ago, George has devoted his life to promoting organ donation by building barns. I met George in his antique Colonial in Northford, CT., and he captivated my daughter and me with his story. We talked with George for two hours despite his ongoing struggle with Lyme disease. Here’s his extraordinary story:

Funny things happened to George Senerchia after he received a heart transplant on Nov. 6, 2004.

He began craving chocolate, listening to ’80s rock bands like Whitesnake, and buying shoes. Tons of them. Pre-transplant, George had three or four pairs. Now, dozens line his home: hiking boots and shoes, sneakers and clogs.

“It’s a real problem . . . another pair just arrived today,” says George, 63, who scours Ebay for deals. “Help me!”

Chalk up the changes to his “Boston girl,” a 51-year-old woman who died of an aneurysm, and donated her organs to save others. George has tried to find his donor’s relatives to thank them, but so far his search has been fruitless. The only thing he knows is her heart came from a Boston hospital, she was a mother, and she had a very strong heart. She and George were the same age and miraculously, her heart was a perfect match.


George’s  adorable pup Jet oversees progress on his neighbor’s barn.

George says having a mom’s heart carries huge responsibility. It’s why he spends his life promoting organ donation through his group the Northford Timber Framers Transplant Fund aka “The Heart of the Barn.” An expert timber framer, George designs barns and raises them in two days with about 50 volunteers. His latest rose over Father’s Day weekend, when dozens of men and women filled his neighbor Heather’s backyard and built a two-story barn in 48 hours.

Heather’s barn is the 56th built by George and the Northford Timber Framers, whose slogan is “Be a Miracle: Be a Donor.” George teaches a three-day workshop every April in nearby Guilford, CT.. After classwork, students apprentice for one year and help build a barn. George doesn’t tell them immediately about his transplant. When he does, everyone’s in tears.

The most striking thing about George’s group is the number of women on the crew. After hearing loved ones describe the joy in building barns to help others, spouses and girlfriends take George’s course too. The barn-raisings kick off with donations to local residents who need help. Heather’s donation went to a teen-ager waiting for a double-lung transplant; a man with pancreatic cancer; a boy with Cystic Fibrosis, and a young woman who adopted her drug-addicted friend’s young children.


The Northford Timber Framers’ logo features a heart with a barn frame.

Since founding the Northford Timber Framers, George has raised about $80,000, donating every cent to charity. About 150 people from all walks of life have taken his course. Why timber framing?

“It’s something real” in our disposable society, he says. It dates back to building techniques from our nation’s original settlers and waves of immigrants who brought unique methods from their homelands. He insists there’s something magical about barns, from their unique scent to ties to the past.

George has a special relationship with his Boston girl. For the first two years after the transplant, he had her dreams. He knows this because he didn’t recognize any of the places or people in them. He also talks to her and prays for her every day, hoping he’s living a life worthy of her sacrifice. “I don’t want her to think I’m a slug,” he confides.

George was an active, healthy 44-year-old when he was diagnosed with acute cardiomyopathy. After struggling with symptoms for six months, he went to his doctor and learned he was in heart failure.

George says it’s hard to describe heart failure, but says imagine feeling like you’re always gasping for air. Though his diagnosis was grim, he says he spent little time on self-pity, noting he’s always been positive and a fighter.

George underwent numerous heart procedures, but was told he would need a heart transplant. While waiting, he volunteered to have a Jarvik 2000 artificial heart. For nine months, he had an electrical cord running from his artificial heart to his abdomen to attach to a power source.


The back of the T-shirt features two feathers crossed over a heart. They symbolize guardian angels. One feather is guardian angels we can see; the other  angels we can’t see but protect us.

The long wait for a new heart gave George plenty of time to think. He says he made peace with his situation and realized his fate was out of his hands. He reached a point of contentment, a feeling that he’d be OK with whatever happened to him.

During the wait, he came up with the idea for the “Heart of the Barn.” He realized that he was a lot like an old barn, in need of repair and restoration to survive. He began his group in 2002 while waiting for a heart.

Today, George looks about a decade younger than his age. He’s lean, athletic and fearless, directing his crew while standing on the roof of Heather’s barn. He didn’t purposely wear a woman’s straw hat . . . he just wanted to shield his skin from the sun. But his choice is fitting given the heart beating in his chest.

Heather tells me she built the barn mainly “to store my lawnmower.” But what she got is nothing like a garden shed. George designed a spectacular two-story barn suited for a guest house, home office or great space to savor nature. Whatever its future, one thing is certain: the Boston girl lives on. Like all of George’s barns, the initials “BG” are carved into one of its beams.



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