Monday, April 30, 2012

Interior designer Celerie Kemble shares her thoughts on how to make sure your home reflects your personality

Celerie Kemble, the daughter of famous Palm Beach interior designer Mimi McMakin, graduated from Harvard and worked in film production in New York City before eventually realizing her true passion was also interior design. Her mother's words of advice upon hearing the news? "You need to go work under a designer in New York,  not me," she said. "That way I won't treat you like my daughter, and you won't argue with me like my daughter."

In honor of Celerie's first book, "Black & White (and a bit in between): Timeless Interiors, Dramatic Accents and Stylish Collections," The Mint Museum Auxiliary brought Celerie to Charlotte last week as the guest speaker for its annual Room to Bloom Decorative Arts Symposium at a private country club.

Interviewed on stage by Circa Interiors and Antiques owner Cindy Smith in a Palm Beach-worthy setting (the antique wicker fan chairs they were seated in were later auctioned off as part of the fundraiser), Celerie was as gorgeous in person as she is in photos. She was also refreshingly funny and honest with her forthright observations about interior design and her hectic life as a working mother of three young children under the age of six living in New York City with a husband who has his own demanding career.

She won me over at the start when she said, "We shouldn't strive for perfection in our homes, there is beauty in things that are worn and imperfect."

But two really perfect things did happen at the symposium thanks to Wells Fargo. The bank gave everyone in attendance a copy of her book (thank you!); and the bank surprised Celerie by making a $25,000 donation in her name to one of her favorite charities, the Alpha Workshops.

Her are some of the inspiring thoughts she shared with guests:

  • A home should reflect the person who lives in it. When you go into someone's house, you should leave feeling you know them better just by the way their home was decorated.
  • Your house should be functional for your lifestyle. Think about what you want, what your husband wants, what your kids need and how you like to entertain.
  • Rules of proportion and scale shouldn't be broken, but other than that, every decorating rule can be broken to suit what you like and what works best for your home. One interior design rule she loves to break is having a large rug with a smaller rug on top, although technically rugs on tops of rugs are a design no-no.
  • Everyone has something weird - some piece of furniture or an accessory or painting - that you have to incorporate into the design. Instead of looking at what you can't remove, work with it and go from there. It's in compromise that you get distinctive interiors.
  • Creative renewal is vital. Whether it's a quick nap, a trip to a museum or a vacation, you have to take a break from your normal life to keep your energy and creativity flowing.
  • When you see something beautiful it's like a jolt of caffeine. 
  • A room is more interesting if you have pieces with different textures. She likes to use something glass, something laquered and something natural in every room. 
  • Get out there and look. Browsing through stores and markets is the only way to find out what you like and to get an idea of how much things cost. 
  • Have an area where your children can play freely, but also teach them to respect the rest of the house. Instead of getting rid of all your nice things until your children get older, teach them to appreciate and respect beautiful things. 
  • Working mothers cannot do it all so you have to have priorities. For Celerie now, it's snuggling with her children. She and her husband really pick and choose what they do at night because they don't want to be away from their children. She jokes that she only brushes her hair twice a week and that her good friends know that if they want her to return their phone calls they have to tell her it's an emergency. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Courage, tears and a lot of hope at the annual fundraising luncheon for Thompson Child & Family Focus

Thompson Child & Family Focus, which started out more than 125 years ago as an orphanage, now has several centers around town that focus on the well-being of children and their families. The nonprofit provides education, treatment and care for those in need from birth to age 18.

April 26 was its 10th annual Portraits of Courage fundraising luncheon, which has become a must-attend event on my calendar thanks to supporter Kathy Rowan, who has encouraged me to be there over the past several years.

On one hand, it's a delightful event to go to because it's done so well. In recent years its been at the Westin where guests fill up the ballroom. And they keep it to exactly one hour, which is key because I've seen other nonprofit luncheons fail because they run too long on a weekday and most people don't have the time or patience for that.

But it's also a very difficult thing to sit there and hear some of the absolutely heartbreaking stories of the mental, physical and sexual abuse that some of children have to go through before they find a safe haven at Thompson. The nonprofit also helps children from loving homes who are suffering from mental illnesses or other problems.

Thompson's president, Ginny Amendum, spoke this year about a little girl named Destiny who had been neglected since she was an infant - no hugs or kisses, no attention, no exposure to anything positive. I really can't say any more because the details are so distressing and include being sexual abused numerous times by two men before she was six and ended up at Thompson. It's a reminder that even in shiny, happy Charlotte where so many people have big hearts there are also so many suffering.

It's truly hard not to just burst into tears except you also get to hear success stories. After years of support from Thompson, Destiny is healing and is on the path to a bright future. And then you look around the room at all the people who care, and read the program of all the generous people who give their time and money to help children in our community, and it gives you hope.

Through the luncheons, I've come to admire Ginny Amendum so much. I think it's ironic that Amen is in her name because she, her staff and all the supporters of Thompson are truly an answer to a prayer for so many children and families.

I encourage you to go to and learn more about how you can help.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Women of all ages: Don't give your power away

The female networking group Femfessionals is hosting an event that is open to everyone - male or female - who cares about how pop culture and the media portray females and how it has led to the under representation of women in positions of power and influence.

On April 19, the group will screen the documentary "Miss Representation" by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. It created a sensation when it premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and when it aired later on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

"This movie is important to see as a woman, mother, sister, aunt - you name it," says Femfessionals president Hillary Lacouture. " I honestly think men should see this film as well. Women make up 51 percent of the United States, yet only 17 percent of congress. The statistics are endless and pretty shocking on what little power women hold in one of the most powerful countries on the planet."

She encourages everyone to view the trailer to understand more about. It's at

The screening is also a fundraiser for Girls On the Run. The nonprofit's founder, Molly Barker, is the guest speaker and she'll discuss the small ways we can make big changes in the lives of women.

The event is from 6:30 to 9 p.m April 19 at the Mint Museum Randolph at 2730 Randolph Road. The cost is $20 and includes a reception. To register, go to

Monday, April 9, 2012

What do teen girls want for prom 2012? Sophisticated dresses

The majority of proms in the Charlotte area are in April and May. To give teen girls an idea of popular styles this year, girls from local high schools modeled the newest trends in prom dresses during Belk’s annual Prom Fashion Show at the SouthPark store. Hope Politis, the social occasion and better dresses buyer for Belk, said this year’s offerings are more sophisticated than normal to go with what teens are looking for now.

Carmen! Carmen! Salon did the models’ hair, with long and flowing as the big trend; the natural but romantic makeup was by Clinique and Estée Lauder.

“Girls these days know what’s going on – because of social media they’re up-to-date on all the celebrity and fashion trends,” said Politis, who cited the popularity of singer Taylor Swift’s polished style as a major influence.

Knee-length dresses are an option, but long gowns are still the most popular. “Most girls want to wear something they wouldn’t wear to a wedding or family occasion,” says Politis. “They want to feel more dressed up and red-carpet-ready.”

Other silhouettes making a splash are the new high/low hemline, which Politis personally loves because it looks so modern and fresh; Grecian style dresses that flow; and anything with one shoulder.

When it comes to color, the brighter the better. “Neon colors have been some of our best-sellers,” she says.

Politis remembers the fun of shopping for her prom dresses when she was a student at South Mecklenburg, so seeing teens look for their own perfect dress - often with their family members - is a rewarding part of her job.

Based on her experience, what's the best way to know you've found the right dress?

"When you try it on - you just know it's the one," she says. "I was in the dressing room area when a girl came out in a prom dress that looked beautiful on her," says Politis. "She was there with her mother and grandmother. When her grandmother saw her, she started crying from happiness. The girl looked at her grandmother and said, 'I'm not getting married!' and they all laughed, but for me it was so meaningful because I get to see the end result of my work."

Politis takes it all very seriously because she loves her job so much - and so does Belk. They have a focus group of teen girls who weigh in weeks in advance on what they think of the store's prom dress offerings. It's called a Style Out and if some of the lines they bought don't get a positive reaction, the order is adjusted.

Belk has expanded its social occasion and better dresses department, so no matter what your age or the event you're attending, be sure to add it to you list of places to look for that perfect dress.