blue danube and a little augury / by Catherine Nguyen

On a sunny 91-degree day, I head out northwest from Raleigh past Durham to a little town called Roxboro. As I head down an offshoot of the main street, I locate the house I know must be Gaye's: It is a little brick charmer, inviting and unique, much like the owners.

P. Gaye Tapp is the writer behind Little Augury, a blog about what moves her: art, literature, history, life, and decorating (not in that order). An augur was a priest and official in the classical worlds of Rome and Etruria, often considered a kind of sooth-sayer. Augurs would interpret the will of the gods by studying flight patterns, known as "taking the auspices." Little Augury is just as wise, if only more humble. The blog started as a way to "continue the conversation" that Gaye used to have with one of her beloved mentors, Sandy (Sandford Peele), who passed in recent years. The blog is a tribute to him, their friendship, and the inspiration he brought into her life.

Gaye's home is full of inspiration. Her office and library are a testament to her unending search for inspiration in life and in the past. The subject of her upcoming book, "How They Decorated" is steeped in the past. It will focus on women and how they lived and decorated. None of the women were designers or decorators. Their inspiration came from how they lived their lives. Gaye's research is old school: stacks of books and magazines with post-it notes for each woman's life. It makes for beautiful scenery. 

"As to the selection process of the book, it was difficult. But as with any list: this one was made to include the women I wanted to profile, though I excluded some women who have been written about again and again. It is hard to make a list like this pleasing to all, so I made one that pleases me!  I am keeping the full list mum for the moment, but some of the women I've included are: Elsa Schiaparelli, Virginia Woolf and her sister artist Vanessa Bell, Lady Diana Cooper, and Gloria Guinness.

As the book developed, I realized similarities in these women's approaches — whether it be-leaning to the eccentric or bohemian, the classic, etc. So I assembled five definitive groups to help classify them. Of course every woman is different, but they were driven to create their worlds according to standards, whether or not they realized it. It might have been a way of asserting their wealth and place in society, or it might have been a desire to create a very personal space that only they would inhabit."

There is love in her office: love for treasured objects and love for the ideas and art that inspire. And there is love in her home. Gaye lives with her 85-year-old mother, Betty Anne. They share a home (with Zetta, their pup), a life and personality that is like a warm summer breeze. Gaye welcomes me in with a hug and ushers me into a library that has me itching to curl up on one of the settees and stay a while, poring through her books and inspecting all of her found objects. The room is lush with layers of color, pattern, and texture. Blues and dark pinks play together in unexpected ways.

the author at work

Gaye has set the kitchen table for lunch with the classic Blue Danube china pattern that my mother also has. I felt right at home. I fully intend to take notes, but the conversation proves so enchanting that I settle in for a long chat instead.

What I discover is that inspiration came early for Gaye. Her maternal grandmother Bessie Mae Pettigrew Cushwa had a "treasure trove" of jewelry and fabric that left the author enthralled for many an afternoon. The treasure chest sits proudly in the kitchen, a fond memory of Bessie Mae, who lived 107 fully creative years. 

The signs of her inspiration are evident throughout her home: kimonos, books, vintage magazines, more books, vintage jewelry (she wears a Russian metal uniform collar as a necklace today), art of all kinds, vintage photography of animals, more books. It is no mystery how this designer came to be a writer.

Like the women before her, Gaye is creative and continues to evolve. Though a designer in Raleigh for 30 years, Gaye always had a love of history and creative writing. She knew her life was headed for change and found blogging to be the door to marry her loves in one place. Through her blog, she met designer and author Charlotte Moss, who also became a mentor. Ms. Moss encouraged Gaye to pen the book, which is slated to publish by Rizzoli in Fall 2016.