Sunday, June 7, 2015

DAC-ART Garden Walls and Hardscapes

Springtime is in full bloom and, along with my gardening, I'm inspired to write a blog on garden walls and hardscapes.

There's no better place in the world (in my opinion) to find the best gardens and hardscapes than in Paris, which has more than 400 city parks that are brimming with public sculpture, fountains, urns, terraces, planters, benches, follies and pergolas.   Many, if not most of these outdoor fixtures are hundreds of years old and have stood the test of time against all manner of elements and extreme weather conditions because they are made of limestone.

Most homeowners, and those looking to build, can only dream of incorporating stone structures into their landscaping plans.  Even if carved limestone is in your budget for your own home, importing stone and commissioning a ready team of artisans and stone masons to hand sculpt and install a grand entryway, courtyard, garden walls or other hardscapes may be more than you want to invest in both time and money.

The DAC-ART "concrete stone" building system, created by home designer and artist Ted Dial, is the perfect solution for homeowners and businesses looking for a more cost-effective alternative that will help them achieve the same old-world elegance of Paris for their own entrances, garden walls and other hardscapes.

Ted has spent more than 30 years intensely studying the art and architecture of Paris and other great European cities that are steeped in history and flush with some of the world's best examples of great stone masonry buildings.

In the photo on the right, taken recently at le Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, Ted stands near an urn-topped pedestal that marks a corner of this magnificent garden.  Note the grand scale of the piece.  This is one of many large urns flanking this famous public garden.

Monolithic urns are commonly seen in a variety of public and private outdoor spaces, such as gardens, parks, and estate entrances. Ted has used the urns of Paris as inspiration for his own DAC-ART urns, which he designed integrating the same sense of proper proportion, elegant lines and profiles. The DAC-ART "concrete stone" looks identical to the authentic French limestone that was used to make the wonderful urns at le Jardin du Luxembourg.

The monolithic urns flanking the entrance to this private residence in Birmingham, Ala., (left) were designed by Ted and created using DAC-ART "concrete stone."  The total height of the entrance/garden wall reaches nearly 12 feet when topped with these hefty five-foot urns.

Ted can design these structures for your home or business, formulating the proper height and style to suit your own architectural tastes.

This photo illustrates how the height of the garden wall compares in relation to the size of a person.  Ted's sense of proportion has been developed over his many years of studying classic architecture.
At right, Ted studies the profile and ornate detail of this magnificent ground-mounted urn at Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte outside of Paris.  He's always searching for inspiration for his DAC-ART designs, both for the home and garden.

Owners of this Beaumont, Texas, development chose DAC-ART for its entryway, fountains, garden walls and other hardscaping, lending old-world elegance to this relatively new neighborhood.

This is one of the massive cornerstones/garden walls flanking the entrance to the neighborhood.  DAC-ART, with its natural limestone finish, blends beautifully with the flowers and shrubs neatly bordering this quiet Texas development specializing in high-end, luxury homes.

Here, Ted stands outside the extensive garden wall that surrounds this beautifully landscaped, upscale gated community.

The Estates of Montclaire post office, located inside the development, illustrates the versatility of DAC-ART.  Ted's designs range from garden walls, pavilions, urns and other hardscaping to small structures such as this post office, guesthouses, pool houses and follies, to large commercial buildings and private residences, which scale from more conservative high-end homes to large, multi-million-dollar luxury estates.  This small DAC-ART post office also blends nicely with Montclaire's  landscaping.

Above, left, Ted stands near one of the guard houses flanking the gated rear entrance to Montclaire.

This pavilion is one of four DAC-ART structures accompanying the owner's main house located in Napa's magnificent wine country.  The natural limestone finish of these California DAC-ART structures blends beautifully with this pastoral part of the country in addition to offering the best protection against earthquakes that threaten the region.  This is one of Ted's designs.

This quaint DAC-ART stone cottage/guest house, adjacent to the pavilion above, looks as though it has lived among the lavender and surrounding vineyards for hundreds of years.  Indeed, it will be around for many generations with little to no maintenance.   The main house, also DAC-ART, is currently under construction.  The homeowner chose to build the outlying DAC-ART structures first.  They are all Ted's designs.

A view inside the Napa Valley DAC-ART pavilion during an early stage of the project.

A DAC-ART garden wall in the courtyard of the historic, Italian-inspired Bottega Favorita building in Birmingham, Ala., now home to Bottega's restaurant, is the perfect complement to this city landmark.  The photo is courtesy of my Birmingham friend, Michael Anderson.  Thanks, Michael.

Limestone balustrades skirting garden terraces such as this one are commonplace in Paris.  The same Paris-inspired balustrade and terrace can easily be reproduced in DAC-ART and will stand the test of time just as well.

Ted Dial's DAC-ART balustrade design recalls classic European form.  This DAC-ART homeowner chose to close the space between balusters to protect their small dogs.  This courtyard overhangs a steep bluff on Red Mountain in Birmingham, Ala.

This beautiful shot is also courtesy of photographer Michael Anderson.

I'll close this post on garden walls and hardscapes with some more images of Paris.  Learn more about DAC-ART concrete stone and Ted Dial's design services, visit and take a look at my past blog posts.

                                                     le Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

                    Similar palm tree planters can be replicated in DAC-ART.

                The extraordinary gardens of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte 

A modest limestone building on the outskirts of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte's vast gardens provides Ted with some inspiration for future DAC-ART home designs--ones on a smaller scale.  Every DAC-ART client is unique in terms of project size and design tastes.

Ted stands near a garden herm, one of many unique stone features that add interest to the grounds of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte.  Ted, also an accomplished sculptor, is always looking for new ways to combine art and architecture with his DAC-ART designs for the home and garden.
At the left is another example of a herm...this one doubles as a fountain.  A similar design could also work in DAC-ART.   In Paris, botanical hardscapes are as abundant and varied as the gardens themselves.

These sculpted "book" benches in a children's park outside a school in Paris are fantastic.  Gardens and parks should inspire playfulness and creativity.

I hope my blog has inspired you to spend a little time in your garden or perhaps explore some extraordinary ones.  If you think DAC-ART garden walls and hardscapes may be right for you, contact Ted Dial at

Au revoir!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

DAC-ART Celebrates a New Year with Old Friends

I want to end the first week of this new year by sharing some photos taken at two fabulous events in the home of our good friends and DAC-ART clients, Jean-Jacques and Rachel Gaudel in Birmingham, Ala.  Jean-Jacques shot the picture above at their Christmas dinner, and if this table doesn't inspire festivity, I don't know what does.  The paintings and sculpture in this photograph are the works of Jean-Jacques, an accomplished artist who continues to amaze me with his talent and versatility.  The flowers and table decor are the work of his wife, Rachel, who has patiently tutored me in the art of floral arrangement, among numerous other tips on entertaining and fine living.

This second photo was taken by the Gaudels' long-time friend Michael Anderson at the couple's New Year's Eve dinner.  Ted Dial, the creator of DAC-ART, and I were fortunate to be included among this intimate gathering of friends.  The table was decked-out in shimmering gold and copper with exotic Birds of Paradise floral arrangements that Rachel made special for the fĂȘte.  As you can see, her exquisitely dressed table accentuated the warm earth tones in their dining room and adjacent living room.  The interior walls of this home are made entirely of DAC-ART, which require no additional finishes for a charming European "limestone" look, but the Gaudels opted to apply a mixture of pigment and paint, resulting in a stunning "enduit" effect.

The beauty of DAC-ART is that clients have the option of leaving the blocks "as is" with a "limestone" finish, or they can apply an artistic effect like the Gaudels have chosen, among many other finishes.  Either way, the massive DAC-ART stone imparts strength and elegance.  This is no "stick-built" home.  It will be around for many generations to come.  DAC-ART's natural "limestone" finish can be seen in the photo below, which features a portion of the Gaudel courtyard.

As we plunge into a new year, I want to take account of my good fortune and express my sincere gratitude for discovering this phenomenal couple, which Ted and I have been lucky to call friends ever since their DAC-ART project began more than 15 years ago.  J.J. and Rachel...may our friendship be as solid and long-lasting as your gorgeous DAC-ART home.  You're the best!

Happy New Year everyone....

For more information on DAC-ART, visit

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays from the DAC-ART Family

Hope you are enjoying this time with family and friends.  Our holiday card this year features a DAC-ART home in Gulf Breeze, Fla.  We appreciate our clients for generously allowing us to photograph their home so that we may share it with you this holiday season.

Monday, November 24, 2014

DAC-ART Client Publishes Murder Mystery

Last summer, I had lunch with DAC-ART homeowner Patti Golden of the Biloxi, Miss., area and I was thrilled to learn that she has published her first murder mystery, "Secrets in the Vines," which was inspired by her recent two-year stay in Bucharest, Romania.

The book was released last month under Patti's pseudonym, Jane Golden, and it's available now in hardback, paperback and Kindle download from

I earned my master's in English/creative writing from the University of South Alabama nearly two decades ago, so I love to read and have been particularly excited by the prospect of propping my feet up and enjoying a little escape with Patti's Romanian mystery.  Since I'm also a fan of the "fermented" grape, it's only better that the story takes place in an old vineyard.

Besides her newfound talent for writing murder mysteries, Patti has also had a long, successful career as an attorney.  I'm proud to say she is a graduate of my alma mater and longtime employer, USA, in Mobile.

I've always known that DAC-ART customers were a special breed--intelligent, practical, forward-thinking people with excellent taste in architecture--but Patti's latest accomplishment is truly delightful and unexpected.

I've ordered several copies of Patti's book, but I'm impatient and started reading the Kindle download last night.  I'm including a blurb from Amazon about Patti (Jane Golden) and her murder mystery.  I'll keep you posted on any upcoming book-signing dates.  (See Patti's DAC-ART home at

Secrets in the Vines  

Jeni, the wife of a recently appointed diplomat, enjoys cultural intrigue and lasting friendships when she joins the exotic International Ladies of Bucharest.  But when Jeni volunteers to help one of those friends solve a mystery on an old family vineyard, she learns that trips to Romania's wine country can be deadly.  Two murders, with Jeni caught in the middle, have the police pointing fingers the wrong way.  Jeni must fight against the clock to solve the mystery before she is arrested or, worse, becomes the true murderer's next victim.

About the Author

Jane Golden lived only in the small city where she was born until she had the opportunity to spend two years in Bucharest, Romania, with her husband while he worked for the government.  A lawyer by trade, she spent her newfound free time in eastern Europe traveling, writing, and drinking coffee with her international friends.  Indeed, it was a two-year European vacation.  Then, as all writers do when given wonderful subjects and opportunity, she found a murder mystery in the vineyards of Romania just waiting to be told.

Another Great Holiday Read with a Romanian Connection....

Yes, friends of DAC-ART are truly talented.  Longtime friend Carolyn Haines, another fantastic Mississippi author, has contributed to a holiday book with a twist, Haunted Holidays, 3 Short Tales of Terror.

The book is available for Kindle download and will be released Nov. 28, 2014. You may pre-order the Kindle download now.

Coincidentally, Carolyn's Haunted Holiday short story centers around a cursed Romanian family heirloom!

Carolyn is an amazing writer and has published in nearly every genre--mystery, romance, horror, non-fiction, and literary works.   She also has a great sense of humor, and that comes through in much of her work.  This I can guarantee--you won't be disappointed.   Check out her website,  There's something for every reader.

This Mississippi author is also the recipient of numerous writing awards, among them the prestigious Harper Lee Award and the Richard Wright Award.  Very impressive!  She has taught creative writing at the University of South Alabama for many years, and I was fortunate enough to take a creative writing class from her.

Below is Amazon's description of Haunted Holidays, 3 Short Tales of Terror. You can get more information on Carolyn and her books at

Haunted Holidays, 3 Short Tales of Terror

Looking for a little fright to go with your fa-la-la?  Three thrilling horror writers--Lisa Morton, Carolyn Haines (aka R.B. Chesterton), and Laura Benedict--bring you three short, sharp tales of terror to liven up your holiday fireside reading.

The Christmas Ornament
By Carolyn Haines (aka R.B. Chesterton)
Homesick and stuck at Cornell University over the Christmas holidays, Clair and four of her fellow grad students accept Carlos Ard's invitation to spend Christmas at his great-uncle's isolated Victorian summer home deep in the woods. After a Christmas Eve feast, everyone settles in to hear ghost stories, but after Carlos brings out a box containing a family heirloom from Romania--a Christmas ornament that's so cursed that it cannot even safely be seen--the adventure becomes a nightmare from which Clair may never wake.

The Christmas Spirit
By Lisa Morton
In a last-ditch effort to save their troubled marriage, Elise and Ray decide to get out of London for Christmas and spend time together at the tatty, atmospheric Yorkshire cottage Elise has inherited from her Aunt Priscilla.  When Ray surprises Elise with The Christmas Spirit, an old book he's bought in the village, Elise reads it aloud, anxious to make their stay a success.  But the tale of murder and violence transcends time, reaching out for Elise and Ray, threatening not just their marriage, but their lives.

The Christmas Gnome
By Laura Benedict
Venus Hansen has a perfect face, a perfect house, a perfect husband and two perfect children.  When her mother-in-law in Norway sends them a shabby wooden Christmas gnome, Venus's perfect husband, Steffan, insists on surprising the children each morning before Christmas with some holiday-themed mischief that the gnome has gotten into, just like a certain elf that lives on a shelf.  Venus doesn't want to have anything to do with it, but when Steffan's pranks go awry, and the gnome starts telling Venus vicious secrets, Christmas turns deadly, and her perfect life will never be the same.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A DAC-ART Coastal Home and Crab Cakes

This is me last year interviewing "Mobilian of the Year" Dr. Samuel Eichold
at an annual gala held at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. 
After more than 25 years as a marketing executive at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, I decided to retire and take on the new challenge as marketing director of the DAC-ART Building System, a new storm-proof, maintenance free way to build homes using solid concrete "stone" masonry that combines both strength and aesthetic beauty.  (Check it out at
This year, I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting many past and potential DAC-ART clients who live in virtually every area of the country.  My experience has inspired me to write about it in a new blog.  In it you will see photos of some magnificent, yet extremely diverse DAC-ART homes, read some personal client stories, get tips on how to build the strongest and most maintenance-free home possible, and learn more about how DAC-ART creator Ted Dial can work with you to design a unique living space that suits your lifestyle and tastes.  I will also highlight a little local flavor from client hometowns, give homeowner design tips, share some of their favorite recipes and secrets to creating their ideal homes.

DAC-ART Coastal Cottage

I recently visited with DAC-ART homeowners on the beautiful Florida coast.  This coastal cottage has 3,500 square feet of heated and cooled space, with a roomy backyard veranda and outdoor kitchen bringing the total size of the home to 4,500 square feet.  The couple has become such proponents of DAC-ART, which provides them sound protection against Gulf Coast hurricanes, that they wanted to tell others about it in Southern Coast Home Design magazine.  The article below shows how DAC-ART components provide finished surfaces on both the exterior and interior walls without the need to apply stucco, paint or other finishes to it.  If the homeowner desires a different look, interior walls may be finished with stucco or framed-in with sheetrock.  Most homeowners love the natural "limestone" look of DAC-ART.  The article photos show how warm and inviting DAC-ART concrete "stone" walls can be in a home's interior.  

Scroll to the end of the "Home Design" article to get this DAC-ART homeowner's recipe for super moist crab cakes.  (You'll never guess the secret ingredient.)  Register to win a crab cake kit, which includes a $25 gift card from Florida's famous Joe Patti's Seafood, their recipe book, beignet mix, and a cap . You can use the gift card to order fresh seafood online.  To enter, visit and e-mail DAC-ART designer Ted Dial using the link at the bottom of his webpage.  Write "CRAB" in the subject line.  Only one entry per person.

This DAC-ART home on the Florida coast was featured on the cover of Southern Coast Home Design.   Photos of the home's interior illustrate how DAC-ART lends a touch of old-world elegance found in historic, solid stone masonry buildings.

The fireplace mantel was a custom piece designed by Ted Dial using DAC-ART.  DAC-ART incorporates many other decorative features including custom crown moldings, cornices, pilasters, columns and column capitals, keystones and even architectural art pieces sculpted by Ted.  (Use the "zoom" tool in your browser to enlarge the text in the article.)  Enjoy the remaining photos....

Super Moist Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

One of the greatest things about meeting DAC-ART clients is they all seem to have exquisite taste in food.  Fortunately for me, they often invite Ted and me to try some of their favorite recipes.

I don't know about you, but as someone who has grown up on the Gulf Coast, I'm always in search of the perfect crab cake.  Most of the time I'm disappointed because they are mostly breading and grease.  Our Gulf Breeze, Fla., clients surprised us by serving possibly the best crab cakes we've ever eaten.  The secret ingredient?  Eggplant!  Yes, eggplant replaces the enormous amount of breading that is typically used to hold crab cakes together. The end result is a super moist crab cake that may only be improved with a touch of lemon or dash of Woeber's Horseradish Sauce (another tip we got from our Florida clients).  Please enjoy the recipe below, but you may want to take a tip from me...don't tell your family (or dinner guests) that you're serving them crab cakes with eggplant.  Believe me, they'll never know.  I experimented with my own family.  And, I want to say thanks again to our DAC-ART clients in Gulf Breeze for sharing their treasured recipe.

See instructions above and register to win your own crab cake kit that I pulled together after a visit to Joe Patti's Seafood near Pensacola, Fla.  It includes everything you'll need except for the eggplant and crab.  There's a $25 gift card from Joe Patti's, which may be used to order their fresh seafood online.  The kit even includes a bottle of Woeber's Horseradish Sauce, the perfect companion to this crab cake dish.  There's also a cap and Joe Patti's recipe book.  A winner will be selected and notified on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, via e-mail.  All ingredients for the crab cakes may be purchased from Joe Patti's, or you may also find them at most major grocery stores, including Publix.

Super Moist Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

1 lb. jumbo lump crab
Zatarain's Crab Cake Mix
1 egg
1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup mayo
finely diced red bell pepper (if desired for color)
Woeber's Horseradish Sauce (sold at Joe Patti's and Publix)

Slice eggplant in half and bake at 350 degrees until done (approximately 40-50 minutes, depending on size).  Let eggplant cool, then scoop out the meat and chop finely.  Add approximately 1/3 of the box of crab cake mix to eggplant in bowl, along with egg, mayo, and the finely chopped red bell pepper (if desired).  Carefully fold in the jumbo lump crab.  Don't stir the mixture too much once the crab is added because you want the chunks of crab to hold together for better texture.  Form the crab cakes into patties and brown them in either oil or butter.  You may even mix some butter with the oil for taste.  I prefer to cook with olive oil, but canola oil is also good to use for this dish.  It takes only a few minutes to cook/brown the crab cakes.  Serve them immediately with wedges of lemon and Woeber's Horseradish Sauce.  (Serve the Woeber's sauce in a pretty dish and your family or guests will never know it's not homemade.)

Joe Patti's Seafood in Pensacola, Fla.  Online ordering is available at .  Notice that they serve fresh, hot beignets at a stand in front of the market.
This is one of the beautiful displays at Joe Patti's.
Our Gulf Breeze DAC-ART clients also served fresh October beans with the crab cakes.  As a Southerner, I was surprised to learn that there was a bean I'd not yet consumed, nor heard of before then.  They were served in a dish with chopped red bell pepper and fresh corn.  I was so excited about this newly discovered bean that I had to cook some for my own family.  I found the October beans and cute little pumpkin (in photo) at Bailey's Market in Pensacola, Fla.  Of course, we learned about Bailey's from our clients.

It's pretty difficult to miss Bailey's Market with this jolly green gentleman guarding the entrance.  Bailey's is home of the rare October bean.
Bailey's also has the largest, most exotic selection of pumpkins I've ever seen.  

Wishing for a pumpkin pie....
I wonder if it's possible to get this guy to stack DAC-ART blocks as neatly as he stacks his pumpkins?
I end my blog this week with one of my favorite Southern staples.  Nothing says fall in the South like a bright orange persimmon.  Yum!