Practical Tips For Finding A High-Quality Website Marketing Company

hqwmIs your online business slow to take off? Does traffic remains the same despite your marketing efforts?  You need experts to handle the promotion of your business and it is time for you to hire a good website marketing company.Here are some practical tips when trying to find a good website marketing company. First, it will be practical to hire a full service company because it usually offers marketing packages that are affordable. You will save a lot compared to paying for each service separately. Second, choose a company that has been in the business for several years. Internet businesses that cannot meet customer’s expectations usually die a natural death after a few months in the business.

Those that have survived are able to do so because their customers keep coming back and they attract lots of new customers as well. Last, select a company with accessible customer support team. Online companies do not have a physical address that you can visit if you have complaints. All you can do is to inform the customer support team and wait for them to act on your problem. A company with all these features can e considered a good website marketing company. Making it your business partner will greatly improve your business performance.

Search Engine Optimization And Internet Marketing

Internet marketing has become a trend as more and more entrepreneurs are lured by the ease by which an online business can be established. However, to promote their business, internet marketers must rely on some strategies and one of them is search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is considered one of the most important strategies for internet marketing.  This strategy covers several aspects. It includes excellent and unique content, relevant keywords, social media exposure, and having good links.

Because these must be found in your pages, they carry a big weight in determining your page rank. A page that is well optimized will help make your web site easily seen by surfers in the internet who use keywords related to your niche when searching for products and services.  For business owners who do not have any background in SEO, there are lots of companies that offer this kind of service. Indeed, search engine optimization plays a vital role in internet marketing and so business owners are willing to spend just to make their business highly visible on the internet. Once easily found, many visitors can be expected and they can be converted into active customers who can bring revenues and profits to online businesses.

The straight up fact is that if you run a business online, you are going to need people to come to that website. What many people forget is that while they may have spent thousands of dollars on design and a website back end, no one will see it without good search engine optimization. A leader in the search marketing field, at least in San Diego, CA, is All Systems Go Marketing. Visit them here.

Depression Can Be A Dark Place

Anyone who’s ever watched the willful grip of depression overpower a spouse or partner knows what a frustrating, even frightening, experience that can be. It presents you with an uneasy trio of challenges: a) establishing whether your loved one is, in fact, depressed; b) trying to get him or her to seek help; and c) maintaining your own well-being.

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“The hard part is, I started blaming myself for what my husband was going through,” says Maya (not her real name), a New York artist whose spouse has had at least two episodes of depression. “I’m his wife, not a stranger. And I thought conveying that alone–that I’m there for him–would be enough. But it’s not. And what complicates it is we all have needs. When somebody’s depressed, he can’t even be there for himself; how can you expect him to be there for you?”

Maya, at least, was able to detect her husband’s depression. But as is true of alcoholism, depression engenders denial among the various parties to it. So the nondepressed half of a duo must first accept the possibility that his significant other could be in danger. That means keeping an eye out not only for the classic symptoms–loss of appetite, problems with sleeping, etc.–but for the sometimes subtle ways depression manifests itself.

“Watch for more of a focus on the downside of things in day-to-day conversation, for example,” says psychologist Norman Epstein of the University of Maryland’s family-studies department. Small changes in a person’s routine could be a clue, such as spending more time in front of the television than usual. Don’t dismiss anything that strikes you as odd, experts say. “It’s important to trust your gut reactions and take those feelings seriously,” cautions Epstein.

Once you believe a problem exists, the next step is to convince the love of your life that professional help might be in order. If your spouse has never been in therapy and is male, this could be an uphill battle. “Men will call a plumber but won’t call for help with a personal problem,” notes Ralph Carl Mumpower, an Asheville, North Carolina, clinical and family psychologist. But gender aside, reaffirming your devotion to your loved one, Mumpower says, could ease him into therapy: “Let him know that his welfare matters to you. Let him first feel safe in informing you about how he feels.”

What not to do? “Don’t call him `sick’ or `crazy,’” warns Constance D. Wood, a Houston psychologist who has counseled families for more than thirty years. “People don’t need to be labeled; they need to be helped.”

And if they continue to resist? “Uhhh,” is California psychologist Teri Wright’s knowing response to an all-too-common dilemma for caring partners. Among the few short-term options, experts agree, is to reiterate your concern; get other family members to reaffirm their own love through expressions of support; and be concrete in pointing out how the pall of depression is keeping him or her from the things he or she normally enjoys–always in nonjudgmental terms (i.e., “I know how much you love playing the piano,” versus “How come you never play the piano anymore?”).

If the symptoms persist for a matter of weeks, it may be time to get the help of your physician, a trusted clergyman or someone else outside the family circle who can validate your concerns. But if at any point in the downward spiral a person brings up suicide–or, as Wright chillingly puts it, “gets out his gun collection just to take a look at it”–action must be taken, even if that means dialing 911 in the most desperate of scenarios. (Under state laws, a person can be held involuntarily for up to ninety hours in a psychiatric facility if he’s deemed a threat to himself or others.)

It’s no wonder that the path of depression can exact a tremendous toll on any man or woman who’s had to travel it within kissing range of someone he or she loves. Fortunately, there are support groups for the families of people battling depression. (Ask your physician or contact your local mental-health department for referrals.) Indeed, help is widely available today to both the person trapped by depression and the person who’d most like to set him free. With therapy, Maya’s husband has been able to finally elude the darkness of his condition. “You gain a deeper understanding of just what commitment means,” reflects Maya. “You love the whole person–he’s the one I love. He’s not his depression, even though it’s sometimes a part of him.”

Those who’ve faced Maya’s challenge know that tears will be inevitable. But chances are they’ll eventually be followed by the sound of your lover’s laughter making a sweet comeback. As Teri Wright observes: “When I see people getting their sense of humor back, I know they’re getting better.”

Anxiety Can Make Life Brutal

acmlbJudy Walters was starting up her Acura Integra when the panic struck. Suddenly terrified that her brakes would fail, she drove to a mechanic, breath short and heart racing. To her surprise, the brakes were fine. “It was me,” she says. Walters, vice-president of public relations at the Investor Relations Group in Manhattan, had developed an anxiety disorder.

She was not alone: anxiety, like depression, is one of the most common, and most underdiagnosed, mental disorders–suffered by as many as 19 million (14 percent of) Americans.

Anxiety takes a bewildering array of forms: panic disorder (recurrent panic attacks marked by overwhelming fears of imminent death or disaster); phobias (intense fear and avoidance of a specific thing or circumstance, such as animals or social situations); obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD (uncontrollable, repetitive behaviors or thoughts); posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (recurrent, distressing dreams and memories in the wake of an accident or violent crime); and generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD (ongoing, unfounded worry about family, finances, health, etc.).These disorders also include physical symptoms–shortness of breath, heart palpitations, muscle aches, gastrointestinal upsets, fatigue and insomnia.

“Anxiety disorders can be divided into two types,” says James Potash, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “One type is a disease, such as panic disorder or OCD. You can be perking along, living happily, and then you start having these novel, strange panic attacks or obsessions. The other type of anxiety is more a reflection of a temperament. Some people are, in common parlance, `worriers’. The anxiety they experience is an interaction between their temperament and the major or minor events in their lives.”

He adds a third category: anxiety as a secondary symptom to depression, which is “extremely common.” The implication, scientists believe, is that both anxiety and depression reflect (among other things) imbalances in norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, the neurochemicals that regulate mood, thought and movement. But much remains unknown.

The patient with coexisting anxiety and depression may be whipsawed mercilessly by the symptoms. When Shannon Robshaw, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, was first diagnosed with depression five years ago, “psychotherapy helped dramatically.” But another therapist then diagnosed a serious anxiety disorder whose symptoms included insonmia and chest pain. As Robshaw struggled with these, her depression returned. “By the time I got in to see a psychiatrist, I was desperate.” For the next two years she continued psychotherapy and also tried various medications, ending with the antidepressant Celexa. “It seems to work for both the anxiety and the depression.”

ANXIETY STAKES OUT NEW TURF A new group of people have emerged as overanxious and underdiagnosed: those over 65. Studies suggest that 20 percent of these men and women suffer some form of excessive anxiety, and that at least 10 percent have full-blown anxiety disorders.

In this age group, phobias–like that which ultimately forced Judy Walters to give up driving–are the most common anxiety disorder, says geriatric psychiatrist Gary W. Small, M.D., director of the Center on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles. After phobias, GAD is seen most often. “Things hit you harder. The rubber band doesn’t snap back when the stressful situation goes away,” says Jenna Stiles, a motivational speaker and trainer with GAD, who also facilitates an anxiety and depression support group at the Mental Health Association of Arizona in Phoenix. She notes that anxious people are often perfectionists; a highly accomplished 70-year-old may agonize over simply forgetting a name. Real-life concerns also play a role: after her husband’s death, folk artist Betty Nathan, 73, of Savannah, Georgia, sought help for anxiety about being on her own for the first time in her life. And Judy Walters believes her fear of driving–and, later, of escalators–reflected her fears about losing control in midlife. “Feeling like I couldn’t put on the brakes was a metaphor for not being able to halt the aging process.”

WHEN TO START WORRYING When does normal, everyday worry cross the line into pathology? “People come to see me when their anxiety is interfering with their ability to work or to conduct normal relationships with family and friends,” says Dr. Potash. “The most dramatic example of serious anxiety,” he adds, “is when people become suicidal. Typically, it’s mixed depression and anxiety that leads a person to such intense despair.”

Getting an accurate diagnosis is imperative; it guides the treatment regimen. “If someone comes in with lots of depressive symptoms and also lots of anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Potash, “one key thing is, Has she always been anxious, or did the anxiety begin at the same time as the depression? If the two clearly coincided, I would expect that by treating the depression, I’d also treat the anxiety. But if she’s always been anxious, and if her anxiety is severe, she may need psychotherapy just for that.”

Among older people, diagnosis can be especially tricky. “When a patient says, `I’m short of breath,’ the physician’s initial reaction is to work up the heart and look for physical problems,” says geriatrician Robert A. Zorowitz, M.D., medical director for senior services at DeKalb Regional Healthcare System in Decatur, Georgia. Or, regrettably, geriatric anxiety may be shrugged off: “What do you expect? He’s 82.”

Treatment Choices

Once diagnosed, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Eliminating substances such as coffee, alcohol and cigarettes is usually the first step; the next may be medication, whether antianxiety (anxiolytic) drugs or antidepressants. (The drug-averse may also wish to investigate alternatives such as St.-John’s-wort, kava, Siberian ginseng and valerian.) Though Dr. Zorowitz estimates that three out of four of his anxious patients have been helped by medication alone, the conventional wisdom holds that drugs are most effective when coupled with psychotherapy. “Psychotherapy is helpful for every patient who has serious anxiety and/or depression,” affirms Dr. Potash, “because these disorders affect the way people think about themselves and interact with people around them.”

Anxiety sufferers may need to experiment. Betty Nathan’s insomnia was relieved by the antidepressant Paxil. Jenna Stiles uses three-times-a-week yoga and two drugs–the antidepressant Elavil and the anxiolytic Ativan–to prevent panic attacks. And Judy Walters conquered her escalator phobia through behavioral therapy (the treatment of choice for phobias), desensitizing herself through repeated exposure.

The pity is that so many people just choose to live with high anxiety. “Cut yourself some slack and get help,” urges Walters. “It’s scary to fear something you used to be able to handle, but it doesn’t make you less worthy as a human being.”

For more information, contact the National Institute of Mental Health, (888) 826-9438, www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety; or the National Mental Health Association, (800) 969-6642.

Why Have They Made Water Extravagant?

egbWHAT WOULD FREUD THINK if he wandered the streets of America and observed a country of grownups not yet weaned from the bottle? What repressed childhood experience would propel us to suckle from plastic containers brimming with clear liquid? Well, at least there are no inhibitions where water is concerned–we imbibe it on street corners and at our desks, on exercise bikes and when sunk into movie-theater seats. Water fills shopping carts and Sub-Zeros; it fights for space with cell phones in our Kate Spade totes and edges out depositions in our briefcases.

Just when did we, with excellent tap water at our disposal, become a nation of name-brand water junkies? The trend crept in during the Sixties, when, returning from forays to Europe, we began ordering Perrier and Evian; it added that soupcon of restaurant one-upmanship –and it was decidedly easier than trying to pronounce Pouilly-Fuisse. At about the same time, and in a more serious vein, we began to worry about what we were doing to the environment, and reports of pesticides, impurities and escalating lead levels in our drinking water began to make us nervous enough to reach for the bottled stuff.

Things really began to pick up a head of steam, so to speak, in the abstemious late Eighties, when, in the tiresome puritanical mode of our forebears, we began frowning on red meat and red wine–and just about anything else with even a hint of alcohol. The three-martini lunch was replaced by “just a Pellegrino, please.” Water even began reaching for decor status as Tynant, in those sapphire blue bottles, arrived from Wales. But we were still sipping it discreetly at home or at table. Then, like a host of Internet companies, our obsession went public in the Nineties.

Water is no longer a mere biological necessity; it has become an accessory. It is the perfect accompaniment to those just-off-the-treadmill clothes we all started wearing on weekends, even if the only time we ever get near a tread-mill is to use it as a clothes hanger. That big bottle of Deer Park gives off the aura of exercise without our actually having to move a muscle–except to unscrew the cap, and even that effort is made obsolete by the nipple-top bottles that have us practically breast-feeding in public. And water has become a full-fledged menu item; these days, there’s no such thing as “a glass of water, please”–ordering one has gotten so complicated!

We’ve also been thoroughly brainwashed by the idea that the more water the better for losing weight, enlivening our complexions, “flushing the toxins out of our bodies” and all sorts of other spa-speak uses. Ah, if only that were true, we’d all be as slender as reeds, our skin cells plump and positively glowing.

What is the science? It is not very dramatic. Yes, water is essential to life; it’s the most prevalent element of our bodies–about 70 percent of our weight is made up of it. And we can live longer without food than we can without water. How much do we really need to take in every day? To quote Diane Quagliani, a registered dietitian and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association: “Everyone loses about ten cups of water daily, so it’s important to drink about eight eight-ounce cups of fluid–the rest is made up by water in foods and the water the body makes in metabolism. The bigger, more active and more overheated you are, the more fluids you should take in. Taking in too much is not very likely, unless it is gallons a day, and the main danger would be flushing out too many electrolytes. Healthy kidneys can keep up with most water consumption.”

It makes sense that drinking enough water is bound to help us avoid dehydration–which can happen as easily in the overheated rooms of midwinter as in the summer sun–and make us look and feel alive and well. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the U.S. water supply is one of the safest in the world (in fact, in some areas it’s superior to bottled water). So whether it’s from the tap or from a bottle (watch the labels–about 25 percent comes right from the local water supply near the plant), and whether it’s seltzer or mineral water, it’s all a matter of taste and susceptibility to advertising hype. The main differences are in the type and amount of minerals–and be sure to study the labels for sodium content. A willing suspension of disbelief helps too; I’m sure that is what has sustained all those taking-the-waters health spas. And if we want to overdose on our favorite labels, so what? It certainly beats a hangover from one too many martinis the night before.

Blue Lake Ranch Is A Beautiful Thing

blriabENCHANTED BY THE COLORADO ruralness of it all–the grazing cows, the graceful cottonwoods along the riverbank, a meandering road, the rare farmhouse–I completely missed the turnoff to Blue Lake Ranch. Actually, there is no marked turnoff. Once you find the road (by noting the exact mileage from the highway), the only indication you’ve arrived is a white mailbox with small lettering spelling “Blue Lake Ranch.” This is good; discretion is part of the attitude at Blue Lake, which sanctifies privacy and tranquillity.

Blue Lake Ranch is an unexpectedly refined, dripping-in-flowers-and-terry-cloth-robes country inn nestled in southwestern Colorado. You can visit Blue Lake, a breakfast-only place (but, boy, is it a lusty affair), in any season and just hole up in one of the fourteen very different accommodations–a log cabin by the lake, a cottage in the woods, a softly flowered garden suite, southwest-style casitas. On my two trips there last summer, I discovered an array of adventures nearby, or within a few hours’ drive, stretching from mountain passes at more than 12,000 feet down to the San Juan Basin–including Mesa Verde (a national park with spectacular Native American dwellings), historic Durango, trading posts, mountain biking, golf, great fishing, a 19th-century train, and customized horseback rides into the high country. At 7,500 feet, Blue Lake offers winter pleasures that range from cross-country skiing on trails originally made by sheep hems to moonlit sleigh rides, complete with hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps, in the mountains.

You’ll find Blue Lake Ranch (twenty minutes by car west of Durango) in Hesperus, a town whose commercial core is a general store stocked with videos, munchies and outdoor basics like beef jerky. From there, it’s six-and-a-half miles to the aforementioned mailbox, where the gravel road winds past trees and abundant shrubbery to the main house, an oversize pale-yellow Victorian-style cottage covered in shoulder-high red, pink and yellow hollyhocks. The screen door makes that wonderfully familiar “cre-ee-ek” as you pull it open and walk into a small sitting room with wood floors, wood beams, upholstered chairs, flowers from the garden and illustrated books on wildflowers. If you check in between 4 and 6 P.M., the anointed, but flexible, arrival time, afternoon tea–with southwest touches like fresh salsa–awaits straight ahead in the open country kitchen. Odds are, Shirley or David Alford, the owners, will be there to welcome you.

Without Shirley and David, Blue Lake Ranch would not have captivated me so. David, an East Coast-educated social worker in his “other life,” came to Durango twenty-five years ago looking for a more rural life; Shirley left the ranch next-door to Blue Lake, where she grew up, to become a family physician (she was an intern and resident at UCLA but practiced in Santa Fe and rural Montana). At Blue Lake, they function together as concierge, travel agent and den mother. They both know and love the area intimately, so they can suggest all manner of insider info. “When people call to book, I never spend less than thirty minutes helping them plan their visit,” says Shirley.

Blue Lake Ranch sprawls generously, so most accommodations have their own space. You wander along paths through David’s various gardens–possibly passing his beloved peonies, cactus garden, heirloom tulips and the tree he and his father planted when his son was born–to your door. David and Shirley, who put herself through medical school refurbishing antiques she later sold at garage sales, handpicked every inch of the interiors, using local sources.

I first stayed in the year-old Cedar Casita. It’s luxe southwest, a glassed-in two-room affair with brick tile floors, a fireplace, a window seat as big as a twin bed and a covered patio with lounge chairs. The bathroom rambles spaciously: a marble stall shower, separate sinks, a roomy Jacuzzi. The bath soap is made down the road at Clear Water Farm, an earthy cottage enterprise that also turns out dried flowers, lotions, herbs, et al. The casita, like some of the other “rooms” has a microwave, a refrigerator, a coffee maker and lovely pottery dishes. David and Shirley hope to open a restaurant in two years, but Until then you’re on your own for lunch and dinner. For now, they’ll provide charcoal and a barbecue, and you won’t have a problem finding a market.

Breakfast at Blue Lake, however, stops traffic. It’s served in the cozy main-house kitchen between 7:30 and 9:30, buffet-style, with cold cereals, berries, yogurt, cheese, breads, homemade jams and jellies, fresh tamales and killer main courses, including green-chili stew, egg/veggie casseroles and sausage gravy over biscuits. You dine in a greenhouse-like room on pottery David loved in his childhood. I learned why when I finished my tea and found written inside the bottom of the cup, “The End.”

There are several other inviting casitas and a barn turned into suites, but for my second visit I chose the Cottage in the Woods, which is surrounded by trees and enthusiastically tall wildflowers. The one-room cottage with a kitchenette and a small bathroom is floor-to-ceiling pine and has wicker furniture. I spent another night in the Garden Room, the most private room in the main house, which has a soft green carpet, pale-pink walls, a cushy chaise, flowered curtains and, hanging over the desk, a portrait of David’s mother at age 18, when she came out. If I ever stay in the cabin by the lake–a three-story, three-bedroom place with mountain views, a lakeside dock and a flail kitchen–I’ll bring the pasta and ask David for tomatoes, garlic and basil from the garden. Everything at Blue Lake is that personal. WHAT TO DO People live in this area for the challenging outdoors–rafting, rock climbing. But since I live in the Colorado high country, my extracurricular activities at Blue Lake focused less on athletics and more on the Native American culture and small local towns nearby.

I began with and fell headlong for DURANGO, a place that thrived on mining and smelting in the last century. Ranching remains part of Durango’s economy, but these days tourism reigns. Bagels, latte and Wal-Mart have all made inroads, but along Main Avenue, Durango is still a historic two-story town with evocative remnants of the past, including the fanciful Strater Hotel (1887), with the Diamond Belle Saloon for drinks and old-time piano playing; the old depot; and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which chugs through the scenic San Juan Mountains and Animas River Valley to an old Victorian mining town. You’ll find storekeepers like Mr. Hogan, whose father started Hogan’s clothing store in 1929 and who still sells great flannel, corduroy and Pendleton shirts, jeans and very hip lace-up cowboy boots. Many galleries reflect the area’s Native American heritage. Toh-Atin Gallery showcases jewelry, paintings and sculptures by Indian artists as well as Navajo textiles. Look at the older “pawn” jewelry. Stop in at O’Farrell of Durango for the real McCoy in custom handcrafted fur-felt cowboy hats.

For eats, Le Rendezvous Swiss Bakery & Restaurant serves a mean stuffed croissant and blue-corn blueberry pancakes. Carver Brewing Co. (and bakery) has superb hamburgers, Reubens, Caesar salads and a neat beer garden. For sophisticated, imaginative food, I like Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, with such dishes as creamy roasted beet soup, Parmesan-crusted chicken breast and superior chicken Caesar salad at lunch. And I loved the inventive and tiny 937 Main (Ken and Sues Place). Recommended: grilled tuna steak on focaccia with Oriental slaw, and lemon-pepper linguine with lemon-caper sauce. Five minutes from town, the Old Town Bake Shop has great breads, cheeses, prosciutto and cookies.

MESA VERDE, a 52,000-acre national park with the highest concentration of, and the best-preserved, cliff dwellings–actually, 600 sandstone structures built into giant canyon alcoves–in North America, is a World Cultural Heritage site. The ancestral Pueblos lived here through 1300 A.D, evolving from hunter-gatherers to farmers to basketmakers to potters. Many of the Pueblo structures have been stabilized, so one-story remains of walls, or outlines of rooms, are in good condition. You could easily spend several days exploring the dwellings and hiking the trails.

Here’s what I’d recommend for a day trip: Start early. The park facilities open at eight and close at sunset. It’s about a thirty-minute trip from Blue Lake to Mesa Verde. From Mesa Verde to the Far View visitors’ center, add another thirty, plus twenty to thirty minutes to get to most sites. Far View has a terrific collection of pottery, baskets and jewelry as well as a bookstore. Tickets for sites requiring a guided tour (an hour long) are available on a first-come basis. Star attractions include Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Long House, the Sun Temple and Spruce Tree House. We visited Balcony House, where we climbed up ladders on rock faces and slid through crevices to see a dwelling where forty to fifty people once lived, and Long House, a single sweep of structures under a massive rock alcove. Park rangers/archaeologists explain customs and architecture, like kivas, the circular underground ceremonial rooms. Be sure to picnic between tours. (The Absolute Bakery in Mancos, on the way from Blue Lake, is a great place to pick up sandwiches and homemade sweets. Poke into the antiques and western shops along the block-long downtown and drive around to take a peek at several over-the-top houses built long ago by the town’s elite.)

TRADING POSTS are another local enterprise that raise the curtain on an older way of life; historically, they have been the Navajos’ banks and safe-deposit boxes: everything from jewelry to saddles to concha belts was kept “in pawn” for a small fee, or borrowed against fully, and might remain in or out of pawn for years. I headed into New Mexico, stopping first at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, a Pueblo complex where you can walk through ancient rooms. I continued to the area around Farmington, forty minutes from Blue Lake, to visit several traders. The open vault at Hogback Trading Co. reveals a still flourishing pawn system. Row upon row of turquoise beads and necklaces hang on the wall, awaiting their fate. Don’t miss the owner’s Indian jewelry collection or his museum upstairs, with baskets, saddles and peyote fans. Bob French Navajo Rugs has wonderful pottery, Navajo rugs and informative books on the area. No pawn is accepted at Hatch Brothers Trading Post; it functions more as a general store, with food, medicine, fabrics and a few pieces of jewelry. “It’s a gathering place for an older generation,” says spry, 79-year-old Mr. Hatch, who opened the store in 1949. “As a business, it’s like the covered wagon; there’s really no use for it anymore.” I bought two straw-and-horsehair water jugs, glistening with half a century of patina, made by a friend of his. I put down a small deposit and he let me take them home, left only with my promise that I would send a check. His grandchildren came in asking for ice cream and he recounted how the young ones don’t speak the native language and are moving away. The old ways are going. Catch a glimpse of them while you can.

Raynaud Stuns With Interiors Around The World

“I’m not a star,” insists French decorator Jean-Louis Raynaud. “I’m unknown.”

rswiNot to the kind of international clients who send their planes for him. Nor to such renowned French arbiters of taste as Liliane de Rothschild, who calls him “a genius,” and to the late, legendary Vicomte Charles de Noailles, who made a special trip to Provence just to view the exquisite 18th-century gem of a house that Raynaud conjured up out of a wheat field between Aix and Avignon some thirty years ago.

Raynaud is a Provencal secret shared among a South of France elite that includes former Ambassador Anne Cox Chambers, film director Ridley Scott and former Global Asset Management CEO Gilbert de Botton and his witty, contemporary-art-collector wife Janet. But the word is getting out. Perspicacious financial consultants Alexander and Gabrielle Sheshunoff discovered Raynaud and his Connecticut-born design partner Kenyon Kramer six years ago on a Friends of French Art tour and have since had the two redo their house in Maine, invent interiors for a belvedere in Austin and decorate a ski chalet in Aspen.

“Jean-Louis is the epitome of the French refinement I’ve always dreamed of, and Kenyon adds youth and a fresh American spirit,” maintains Rose Tarlow, the Los Angeles designer whose own take on decorative excellence has made her one of America’s most influential tastemakers. She met the duo two years ago while house hunting in Provence. “No one else is doing anything like them in Europe or America. It’s something we need.”

Recognition of the “superb and unique” decorators’ work comes even from the avant-garde. Tarlow’s companion, celebrated contemporary architect Richard Meier, became a fan and a friend on his visits to Provence. “What they do is totally different from what I do, but I can appreciate the extraordinary quality,” he says. “Jean-Louis’ home is a marvel, a wondrous place. I never swam in a pool that made me feel so good. The scale and detailing of the whole environment is so luxurious–being there makes you feel like royalty.”

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Raynaud’s Pavilion de Victoire, hidden at the end of a tiny private lane that winds through country woodland. A grand iron gate opens to reveal a sweep of lawn divided by a gravel alle framed with clipped cones of yew. In the distance, the classical stone house bears a facade of such perfection it might have been dropped from the sky; in a way it was, rescued from near ruin in the town of Carpentras and transported stone by stone eighty miles south by Raynaud and his wife Dominique to their newly acquired land next to her family’s chateau. A set of sanguine project drawings, commissioned before work began, is witness to how Raynaud carried through his singular vision and added two symmetrical wings, which now house a kitchen and a second living room.

The interior, a ravishing–and light-handed–reflection of grand French style, matches the perfection of the architecture. French royal portraits and glimmering landscapes, furniture with a Versailles provenance by famed French cabinetmakers, Savonnerie carpets, aristocratic bergeres and breathtaking baldachins are alluringly arranged in the light-filled rooms. The connoisseur collection had been amassed from the 1930s to the 1950s by his wife’s grandmother, the Countess of Niel, a descendant of the American Pratt family and the Victoire of the pavilion’s name. Then it languished in storage. “By a miracle, we opened the crates and placed every article within four days, as in a fairy tale,” Raynaud marvels. “It was magic.”

In the formal garden, Raynaud demonstrates equal mastery of nature. An elegant geometry is plotted using allees of lime trees, “crew-cut” olive groves that are clipped flat, and rectangles of grass that surround a pool. In one area are symmetrical grids of sixteen squares each, splashed with pink Cosmos, blue Agapanthus and lavender; the vivid colors stand out against a white-and-green scheme that includes preening white peacocks, doves and cockatoos. Scattered benches offer shady repose, while scented squares of Santolina, thyme and rosemary surprise in garden rooms bordered by hedges of Viburnum tinus. Throughout the landscape are myriad fountains and ponds nourished by a natural spring.

Taking his inspiration from a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Raynaud added several outbuildings to the property, including an office for planning landscape projects and East and West guest pavilions. His grown-up son Aurelien, a talented painter, lives in one; Kramer lives in the other.

An intrinsic part of all this absolute beauty is the man himself. With blazing blue eyes, blond hair and a slim physique, Raynaud, at 61, could be a stand-in for a moviedom Angel Gabriel. His otherworldly air and conversation–never about decoration–make him seem more philosopher/poet than decorator.

“I’ve never had the impression that I’ve become a decorator. I like neither the title nor the function,” he states unequivocally. Growing up an only child in Limoges, Raynaud studied art but admits that he never trained in landscaping, architecture or decoration, apart from a short apprenticeship with a Toulouse decorator. And yet he excels in all three fields. “I was born dreaming of houses,” is his explanation. “It seems to have been my first fantasy.” Indeed, he says his first childhood memory is of the windows of an antiques shop the day before Christmas. “There was a baldachin bed covered in a fabric that resembled pale blue gauze. I was very, very young. I didn’t know what an antique was, but I was fascinated. It began the dream–all that floated into my head.”

His dreams, he underlines, are always in symmetry. It seems man-meets-pavilion was predestined. “When I was young, I couldn’t draw,” he explains. “So when I drew a house, it was always this one, always symmetrical, two windows by two windows. What I adore in my house, and what I’ve kept in the decoration of every house I’ve done, is balance and harmony. I don’t like disorder; I need equilibrium to live.”

Today he is dreaming in tandem with his clients, and his partnership with Kramer has allowed him to bring those dreams to reality with new confidence. When Kramer, a successful television executive in Los Angeles with an art history background, decided to move to France ten years ago, the decorator, who had seen the American’s Bauhaus-furnished residence in Santa Monica canyon, termed him a natural designer and invited him to work with him. The result has been a striking success. Kramer has become an inimitable “ambassador” to their growing international clientele, a born optimist with insouciant American charm who plays perfect foil to the shy, ultraperfectionist French artist. Raynaud also praises Kramer for his tempering influence and fresh eye: “Without realizing it, he can put his finger on a problem that torments me.”

Kramer also oversees the unusual shop, Antiquites and Decoration, that Raynaud opened in Aix thirty years ago. There, on the charming Place des Trois Ormeaux, a Mario Fortuny chandelier might keep company with Lithuanian linens and 18th-century paintings from Peru. “I don’t know of another shop like it,” says Anne Cox Chambers, who has been a longtime client.

Although Raynaud made his reputation among Chambers and others with his peerless evocations of 18th-century art de vivre, his sensibility is increasingly being translated into spaces whose aesthetic is much more timeless. Les Pradelles, the estate he’s put together with Janet and Gilbert de Botton, has everyone calling it his modern masterpiece. Inspired in part by the graceful restraint of a 17th-century French country manor, he has invented an entire domain that includes a 21,500-square-foot house, lush gardens and a Provencal chapel. His creed of light, volume and space is carried out in a sublime enfilade of sunny rooms that seem to be just what the 21st-century Provencal chateau should be: strikingly simple, but with unmistakable style. The drawing room, for instance, is a memorably marvelous space, with stone floors, furniture painted in pale grays and blues, and flowing curtains in Janet’s inspired choice of amethyst glazed linen. The secret to its success? “Unity of materials, light everywhere, symmetry and perspective,” the decorator responds. And, of course, what Anne Cox Chambers calls “his boundless imagination.”

For the de Bottons’ first Christmas in the house, Raynaud and Kramer orchestrated a surprise dinner for them in the kitchen, with its monumental sinks carved from stone blocks and a bank of cupboards hidden behind salvaged 18th-century doors. Janet de Botton was completely enchanted.

“When most decorators come up with ideas, you say, `Very nice, but it’s not what I want.’ With Jean-Louis’ ideas, I always thought, `Oh, brilliant! That’s just what I want and I didn’t even know it!’ I’m fantastically grateful to him.”

From the terrace there are astonishing panoramas, all shaped by Raynaud: a new allee of plane trees, bassins in the style of Pompeii, and a stunning labyrinth inspired by the Minotaur (we’re in bull-breeding country) that elegantly spirals down the slope. And after Gilbert de Botton mentioned that he liked olive trees, he found, on his next visit, that the small road leading to the house was now bordered by groves of 400-year-old trees, with a “river” of lavender flowing downhill like lava.

To Janet de Botton, one of Raynaud’s most valuable assets is his sensitivity to his clients’ taste. “There are very few people who could do as much as Jean-Louis has done in our house and let it remain our house,” she says. “That’s very important, isn’t it? Jean-Louis really adores giving you the freedom you need, yet he creates from nothing this fantastic paradise.”

Raynaud’s real secret lies not only in the look he creates but in the atmosphere he instills in a house. “Surpass and surprise” are his bywords. So when he and Kramer present a finished project, there’s always an unexpected touch they might work all night to accomplish. Anne Cox Chambers and her most recent Christmas guests are still talking about the pair’s sleight of hand on her property: razing the former orangery and building a stone entertaining pavilion in a roadrunner-rapid two-and-a-half months. Last November, the floors were mud, the roof half on. When Chambers arrived three weeks later, she marvels, “not only was the pavilion completely finished, but in front there was a lovely paved courtyard, a fountain on each side, and a gate at the entrance. We walked in and they had music playing, fires in both fireplaces, lovely seating and candles. Really, it was absolute magic. No one could believe it.” Now, she adds, “I told them, You just have to find a big, beautiful canopy bed, install a tub behind the loo, and I’m going to move in.”

For his clients Alexander and Gabrielle Sheshunoff, Raynaud has proved to be nothing less than “a Renaissance man for style and living,” says Alexander. “It’s a continual learning experience just being with him,” he adds, on the heels of three consecutive American projects. “It’s almost as though Jean-Louis were directing a movie. He listens to us, brings his own vision to it, then writes the script and the music and also directs.”

And finally–music to the ears of any client–”it comes in on budget and ahead of schedule, and it’s a totally pleasant experience.”