The Madonna Inn: A Vintage Inspired Retreat

For our tenth anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a trip to the west coast. We have a lot of friends in Los Angeles, but also I have been wanting to check out this totally crazy hotel that was recently featured on BuzzFeed called The Madonna Inn. We spent a few really fun days in LA catching up with friends and checking out the best LA spots like LACMA below (featured in an earlier post) and then rented a car (ironically we were given a pick up truck – they must have seen we were from SC!) and drove North up the Coast to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.


The drive from LA is absolutely beautiful, and doing it at the end of the day watching the sun set over the mountains was especially peaceful. You can read about the full history of the Inn here, but the short version is that it was built in 1958 (possibly one of my favorite eras in design) by a highway contractor named Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis as a retreat marking the halfway point in between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With Alex’s construction knowledge and his wife’s quirky and fanciful design sense they created a quirky, fabulous and unforgettable retreat.



And when I say unforgettable, I mean that literally. Every single room is different – each has a different theme and its own unique features (you can see them all here). We stayed in two of the dozens of rooms (one each night) and both of them had glitter wallpaper which seemed to be a common thread in many of the room designs. There was a heavy handed use of pink – their trademark ice buckets are cotton candy pink and a bottle of their house champagne was waiting for us when we arrived.


I am not sure if “romantic” is precisely the word I would use to describe the first room we stayed in – Carin – it was more like a spectacular pink palace or a ride at Disneyworld, in a good way. There was literally a huge gold cherub hanging from the lofted ceiling – this is the room frequently used as the bridal or honeymoon suite.

This is the full view of the glitter wallpaper – I think this was one of the original 1950s features so the Madonnas gave the glitter wallpaper industry some big business.

Every nook and cranny of the bathroom was consistent with the room’s theme – I especially loved the sort of damask pink and white ceramic sinks (where do you begin to source something like that?!):


We ate at the Inn’s trademark restaurant, The Gold Rush Steak House, the exterior of which is lit with rainbow lights at night and the interior filled with winding, pink tufted leather banquettes and thick, floral pink hued carpet. They gave pink balloons to us and anyone celebrating something (which turned out to be a good portion of the restaurant) and (not pictured) was a dance floor and a live band which really made you feel as thought you had stepped back in time and had sort of a Dirty Dancing vibe (remember that mountain resort?).



The food was all really good – classics like a baked potato wrapped in foil and filet mignon. But my absolute favorite thing was their trademark pink champagne cake, which is one of their many fabulous cakes you can buy to-go in their bakery which also caters weddings and events. I mean how amazing would it be to have the Champagne Cake as your wedding cake?


After dinner, we had a drink in The Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge and I ordered this drink called “The Pink Cloud” which is basically how you feel when you are staying at the Madonna Inn. Oh, and it’s made with half and half… Their cocktail menu was pretty great, full of vintage favorites.



The next morning we woke up to this pretty view from our balcony. We ventured over to the stables and took a trail ride which went up the mountain next to the inn


Basically the whole Inn looks like a gigantic, ornate cake. It is sort of “Swiss chalet meets Boogie Nights meets The Parent Trap” in its aesthetic and time period.


It was actually really nice to be back on a horse. I rode for years and I really miss it. The horses were all named after famous singers like Johnny (Cash) and June (Carter).


And their pool and Spa, a more recent edition to the retreat, was the perfect place to cool off and relax after a trail ride:


Our second room “Merry” was similar to the first room but a little bit smaller and less pink.  It was kind of like being inside of a bottle of champagne…


I love their logo/coat of arms featured on everything from their wine to their ice bucket to their golf carts. And there were just touches of pink everywhere you looked – even the lamp posts were pink!



But the thing I most wish I could have taken on the plane was the Champagne Cake. I will be dreaming about it until our next visit because for some reason, I don’t think I can easily recreate this at home:


These are all my own photos, it was hard to even edit them down but I highly recommend just googling “The Madonna Inn” you will not be disappointed. Really, it was a magical step back in time – to a time and place that I didn’t even know existed! Madonna Inn loyalists, like a gentleman who joined us at the bar one night, go back again and again, staying in different rooms each time. They have their favorite cocktails and collect their signature, colored wine glasses and seemed to have been bitten by the insatiable need to experience the magic over and over again. It must be something in that champagne cake, but visiting definitely makes you want to come back for more!


Designer Showhouse in Charleston

It has been a beautiful couple weeks in Charleston…cool, mostly clear and sunny with the exception of only the last day or two. The last of the glory days before summer settles in (PS this Southern Living piece is both hilarious and true!). So, if you are looking for something new to do in Charleston this weekend, consider visiting the 2017 Symphony Designer Showhouse at 36 Society Street. Over a dozen designers have taken over a the beautiful historic property and each has designed or collaborated to design a room or area of the home. Some of my favorites are participating this year, like The English Room, Catherine M. Austin and Taylor Burke Home who makes my favorite chair of all time. You can walk through the whole house and see every colorful nook and cranny and well-informed volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you might have. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite spaces in the house (there are many more rooms not pictured and it is really worth the in person visit!):


This charcoal grey living room designed by Mitchell Hill Interiors, with the gorgeous pair of Hollings Chairs from Taylor Burke Home.


Holly Hollingsworth of The English Room’s Incredible dining room with an Iris Apfel tribute piece…


…which is actually made out of many bottle caps by Charleston artist Molly B. Right!


Chic, monochromatic upstairs porch by GordonDunning. I always love when indoor furniture, especially floor lamps are on outdoor porches, it is so luxurious.


This adorable upstair laundry room by Kandrac & Kole Interior Design complete with a “Haint Blue” ceiling, a color paint traditionally used on Charleston porches.


The upstairs “teenage hangout” room by Meg Caswell – black wicker, gold and bright pinks – very fun…


…complete with a bar cart stocked with candy.


And a mounted unicorn. What more could a teenager want?

Definitely pop in this year’s Charleston Designer Showhouse if you can, there’s even a little courtyard cafe where you can sit an grab lunch with your friends. It is a great way to spend an afternoon downtown and it’s up for two more weeks… Congrats to all involved!



I have been meaning to share this recipe for a long time and with Valentine’s Day around the corner I thought it was a perfect time to spread the love. These are, quite simply the best sugar cookies you will ever eat. I used to have bad associations with sugar cookies… you know the buttery stale kind you get in a red plaid tin at Christmas or the ones that are passed out with apple juice in elementary school? The worst. I will almost always take a chocolate chip cookie over a sugar cookie, but…


…when I friend of mine shared this family recipe with me I was a total convert. My daughter Daphne and I have made these at least half a dozen times and she is only four. Baking is one of our favorite mommy daughter activities, and even though these taste gourmet they are incredibly easy to make. You can also make the dough far in advance and freeze it and just pop it out when you are ready to make your next round of cookies.



For the dough:

SIFT: 3 cups of flour + 1 teaspoon of baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon of salt

CREAM: 1 cup of butter + 3/4 cup of sugar + 3 tablespoons of milk + 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla + 1 egg

Refrigerate for an hour or freeze and thaw before ready to use. Roll out and cut, bake for 6-8 minutes at 400 degrees. Allow cookies to cool to room temperature before frosting.

For the frosting:

1 box of powdered sugar + 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract + 1/4 cup of milk until desired consistency. Food coloring and decoration as needed.






The best part… taste testing. We really have to make these in small batches, otherwise we just inhale them. And PS, my pink Charleston Rice Beads will be available for pre-order online next week!


Jayne Mansfield, In The Pink

In 1957 LIFE Magazine did a feature on Jayne Mansfield, one of the major 1950’s sext symbols, in her home. I thought what better time pour over these then leading up to Valentine’s Day? Pretty much everything in her house was either pink or shaped like a heart (or in some cases both). From floor to ceiling pink shag in the master bath, to a heart shaped fireplace… She lived there with Mickey Hargitay, her husband at the time, a contractor/body builder/actor, naturally. He is seen in a few of the photos with her, they have a very “Tarzan and Jane” vibe together.

All images via Life Magazine archives. 

New Year, New House

A few months back I was restlessly scanning the MLS (multiple listing service for real estate listings) in Charleston and spotted this little gem of a house in a neighborhood we were hoping to move to. We’d lived in a more traditionally “Charleston” house for our first seven years in Charleston that we had made some nice updates to and felt like we wanted a new project to take on, one a little further “uptown” as parts of Downtown (central) Charleston has become increasingly congested, our former street in particular. And I think having a child changes your perspective on things – neighborhoods, schools, conveniences you don’t think to much about when you don’t have young children, like being able to pull easily in and out of your driveway in a normal sized car (for years I drove a Smart Car partially just to fit in our previous driveway!). So I spotted this little brick single story house built in 1948.

My first reaction wasn’t overwhelmingly positive – I liked the location and thought it had a certain charm, but passed over it a few times before we went to visit it. But after multiple visits I found myself enamored with the house’s original features like amazing and endless closets and built in storage, nice sized bedrooms and easy, one story layout conducive to having a puppy and a toddler who like to chase eachother in circles. And it is still a quick, five to ten minute drive to my shop, a mere 15 or so city blocks from where we were before. Sometimes in real estate, love at first sight is not a good thing. Better to not get to emotionally attached off the bat so you can negotiate with a clear head. So in a whirlwind of arrangements we sold, bought and closed on both houses in less than two months and in October we began giving it a little makeover before we moved in. Here are a few of the before photos:

Daphne and I in the dining room the day we closed (she’s not so sure yet):


The front, wood paneled study – lots of potential!

The kitchen – don’t let the new looking appliances fool you – none of them worked! But we loved the original mint tile…

My daughter Daphne’s future bedroom. Loved the built-ins 

Brown retro bathroom – there is also a blue version of this: 

These are just a few of the rooms we are making over, you can go here if you would like a full “before” tour. While we felt the house could use some updating, this is definitely not a complete renovation. We loved many of the original features and being a designer I especially love houses of this era – the 1940’s-1960’s. They are built in a sensible and stylish way so that you actually need less furniture because the rooms are broken up for you, the flow is well thought out and much of the storage is solid and built in. We entered into this project confident we could tackle the right combination of necessary (electrical, heating and air, floors, plumbing) updates and superficial (paint, finishes, hardware) within our somewhat modest budget for this type of project, rather than attempting a complete rennovation. Finally, we had an awesome Charleston-based contractor who we’d worked with before (Shawn Zogorean) and an excellent design consultant – Olivia Brock of A Lacquered Life and Torrence Mitchell Designs who helped guide us as novice renovators to pick the right paint colors, light fixtures and hardware that are both era appropriate and in keeping with the character of the house. So that said, here is a list of what we have updated/will be updating and a few photos of the changed we made. As we complete each room entirely I’ll share the photos – right now, as with many projects like this no room is 100% “there” yet.

– Removed picture frame molding that ran throughout every room in the house (I’d rather take the time to hang in plaster – I didn’t think Chair Rail molding felt very consistent with the cleaner lines of the house)

– Removed popcorn ceilings in the front of the house – living and dining rooms – hiding a very nasty ceiling underneath that had to be repaired

– Got rid of odd set of interior windows in between our living room and side enclosed porch/laundry room that really went nowhere (don’t need to see my washer/dryer from the living room). This could be opened up one day to make the living room bigger but right now we like the storage porch/mud room…

– Painted everything – every. single. surface. And anything we didn’t paint we will wallpaper. Most of the paint had aged/faded and the previous owner was a smoker – very hard to get that smell out without fresh coats of paint at a minimum

– Floors were refinished – sanded and stained darker

– New HVAC (plus ductwork) & hot water heater

– Updated all light fixtures and electrical

– Completely gutted and renovated master bath which was rotting out and sinking (brown bathroom)

– Updated all kitchen appliances and added a serving window to dining room

– Added french doors to study and centered dining room on doors

– Added new windows in our daughter’s room (broken panes, lead paint issues, etc.) and refinished the top of her desk with solid wood before painting

– Took out some of the built-ins in master bedroom when we re-oriented bedrooms and 1/2 a closet to make room for master shower

– Replaced any and all hardware – cabinet pulls, switch plates, you name it – loved these three go-to sources: House of Antique Hardware, Rejuvenation, and Schoolhouse Electric

– Eventually we will build out the shed in the backyard and create a music studio for my husband – but that is deffinitely a phase 2 as is any other work we plan to do on the exterior…

So, at this point, we’ve pretty much finished about 75% of the things on the list above and things have slowed down a bit as we take our time to more carefully finish the remainder of the painting, furnishing and buying of fixtures. Here’s a little glimpse of my inspiration for various areas of the house:

Good-bye popcorn ceilings, chair rail molding and a weird fireplace mantle:

Taking down a random wall mirror and realizing that was the perfect spot for a pass-through window:

Hi Shawn! (Shawn is awesome)

This has now become one of my favorite features of the kitchen/dining room:

Picking a floor stain (we went with the one on the left and I love it):

 Daphne loves it too:

We got rid of the set of windows that went nowhere:

But we kept one of our favorite details, the mint tile in the kitchen and painted the existing kitchen cabinets white. And this was a labor of three-days-of-scrubbing-love:

Plus, how pretty does the new brass hardware Olivia picked look with it?:

And she also nailed the paint color for the kitchen door that was almost an exact match to the tile (Douglas Fern #563 by Benjamin Moore):

Another color I am in love with that she chose is Farrow and Ball’s Pink Ground – a subtle, 1950’s pink we used on the walls and the trim of Daphne’s room (although I couldn’t resist painting the back of her book shelves hot pink – Eros by Sherwin Williams):

And because we had some Pink Ground leftover (F&B paint is pricey enough you don’t want a drop to go go waste!) we used what was leftover on the fireplace instead of stark white, which I am pretty pleased with:

See? So subtle… Unlike Daphne, in her hot pink Christmas pajamas:

We recently finished lacquering the front study Hague Blue, also a great Farrow & Ball color:

And I am loving the nearly complete master bath which as you can see it WORLDS away from the shades of brown bathroom situation we started with. Seriously, it feels like a luxury hotel bathroom now. We also switched the orientation of the front door since we are using a different bedroom as a master bedroom than the previous owner did:

That’s it for now. It is so nice to be actually living here after three months of relative chaos. This is Daphne and I on the front porch right before Halloween. Sometimes, in a struggle to get things perfect, you forget the point is to actually live there and enjoy it, not just finish everything on your to-do list. I am trying to remember that as we continue working. Since the master bath is so close to being completely finished I will share more photos of that soon. We are still waiting on some of the hardware, towel racks, etc. You can follow along on instagram with the hashtag #ashleyavemakeover or on here on the blog as I post rooms as we finish them. Still, feels great to be in our new house going into 2016!

Powder Room Makeover

Not realizing a few months ago that we were going to end up putting our house on the market, I decided to give our downstairs powder room a little makeover. I’d bumped into Maggie Revel of Leland Gal (a super talented Michigan-based artist and designer) in Charleston last summer and absolutely fell in love with her Birch Lattice Wallpaper. It had just the right touch of glam and rustic and for me, for some reason, brought to mind my years of horsebackriding – trail riding in particular – so I decided to build the theme of the powder room around both her wallpaper and horses. It was recently featured as one of the Before & Afters on Apartment Therapy, but there was only one image posted so I thought I’d share a few more as well as some of my sources.  I painted the door, and the ceiling myself and installed the horse head door knocker.  In hindsight I wish I had properly lacquered the door instead of just painting it glossy black as working with high gloss paint can get a little bit messy – maybe next time. Enjoy!

Birch Lattice Wallpaper in Emerald  from Leland Gal, Lowe’s Black Dot Tile, French horse race print, mid-century horse trash can and horse door knocker – all vintage, Charleston Hardware Company black ceramic doorknob, toilet paper holder from Luxe holdups, Shades of Light Bamboo Lantern in Coral, Charleston Guest Towels from our Collaboration with Lettermade,  and ceiling paint in Seabrook by Benjamin Moore.


…and the official “Before And After” Note we switched the way the door opened so that it didn’t open into the wall, a much more sensible configuration:

New Beginnings

I woke up to find a very lovely write up on my shop in Charleston on Lavin Label.  Monica and her talented photographer Kelli Boyd visited Candy Shop Vintage on Cannon Street a couple of weeks ago with Annie Reeves. The Birthday boy (our large, black standard poodle) was on his best behavior that day and got to pose with me.  For a mini tour of the shop, check our Lavin Label today!

At the moment I feel pretty overwhelmed with life.  My three year old daughter Daphne just got her tonsils out and is home from camp recovering. I am working on my Holiday Collection (stay tuned it is amazing!). We have also decided to put out house in Charleston on the market. We have lived in it seven years and pretty much all of our memories of Charleston so far center around this house. When we moved to our neighborhood, affectionately known as “The West Side” it was a quiet, quirky neighborhood with a lot of diversity and very few businesses. There were a lot of empty lots and run down houses and in the past seven years as Charleston has rapidly grown, we’ve seen restaurants, coffee shops and newly built homes crop up on what feels like an almost monthly basis.  My husband and I have put a lot of energy, money and love into updating and decorating our home and we feel, as a creative endeavor, we have done as much as we wanted and would like to move on to a new project and with the market so good, it is a good time to sell.  So, I thought I’d share some photos of our current home. We will likely move in November and, fingers crossed, if everything works out, be living in Wagener Terrace, a quaint and quiet neighborhood on the northern end of the Peninsula above Hampton Park. I have mixed feelings about leaving this home behind but has a creative person I love the idea of starting fresh too. Our Fishburne Street house was a place with a lot of firsts – first dogs, first child and even where I started Candy Shop Vintage (in this room, actually, now our guest room):

And, our big green couch in our living room was my first “grown-up” couch purchase (not just a fold out or something from a thrift store) and it is definitely coming with us:

One of my favorite spots in the house is right in between the living room and dining room where you can see our two fireplaces back to back.  Sally Benedict made a pair of amazing, symmetrical works on paper that hand above each one:

And our dining room kind of doubled as a library where we have kept a lot of our books, and of course like every Southern house, has a bar.

We didn’t really have room for a “play room” exactly but with the help of some fun accessories from Land of Nod and some chalkboard paint I kind of converted our breakfast nook into Daphne’s mini play room:

I think what I will miss most is probably our classic Charleston porch. It’s so nice to sit out there in the afternoons and evenings in the early spring and late summer when it is not so hot out.  The porch swing was one of our first additions to the house:

A lot of our friends and family were surprised we were moving because it does, in some sense, feel like our house is done and our neighborhood is in a good place. But personally, I am really excited about our new project, just a little farther uptown that I will share when things are a little farther along : )

Brilliant Brazilliance

Every now and then you stumble upon an interior so perfect you want to cry. My friend Andrea of The Glam Pad recently alerted me to this fabulous retreat decorated by Leigh Olive Mowry of Olive Interiors. Could you die?

The drama of the back wall is amplified by the classic Brazilliance Wallpaper, a perfect compliment to the immaculate black and white marble floor and pops of hot pink and gold. Also, I love how they didn’t try to hide the ventilation system and instead made it stand out in a glossy black – it almost looks like it is part of the architecture:

Last year I wallpapered a mobile room divider in my office with Brazilliance from Society Social so I could be sure to take it with me when I moved and we had fun using it as a backdrop in our Holiday shoot with the pink tree I bought when my daughter was born. What says holidays in the South better than hot pink and green?

Even the outdoor details of this Olive Interiors retreat are pretty much to die for.  To see more, hop on over to Andrea’s fabulous blog, one of my absolute favs! You’re welcome.