The lessons I’ve learned: Home Ownership is a Masters in Life

The phone was pressed to my ear, its battery life letting itself be known in the hot thudding pulse that radiated through the cartilage and the soft tissue cage designed to capture sound, but today most notably was holding my fear and shame.  How could I have embarked on such a big journey, such an adult undertaking, advanced in my years and yet still entirely unprepared. How had I had not known this thing.  My face started to burn, waves of frustration rippling through my chest, tears pricking the fleshy corners of my eyes.  I pinched my nose hard. 

“Are you listening to me Sarah, asked?”  “This kind of thing happens all the time.” 

“Was I supposed to know that?”  I asked angrily, though the anger was at myself, not this smart, efficient no-nonsense woman.  My attorney. 

“Of course not”, she replied.  “You don’t know until you know.”  “You might have gone two or three transactions before stumbling across a Certificate D, as you bought and sold, and searched and renovated.”  “I didn’t even start to see this until as recently as last year and I do dozens of transactions every month.”

“ohhhh” I replied feeling just a little bit better than I had when the conversation started. 

I didn’t know when I was confronted with the uncomfortable reality that my fire escapes had not passed inspection and would require an expensive overhaul.  I was aware that condominiums were all about communal living.  That we owned the air inside our space, but not much more, and that decisions regarding repairs required the collective approval of the other owners within the building.  Laws are laws.  I understood that, but over the years I would be confronted again and again with some sort of a nuance, a new regulation, a new certificate, a difficult party that held a disproportionately large percentage of the building’s ownership and thus could swing a vote in one direction or another.

These blind spots exist everywhere, but then I turn a corner, have something explained to me by one of my team of experts, or a friend that wants to help, and it becomes crystal clear.  I’ll never round that corner again and be surprised by what awaits.  There will be other corners of course, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get in your car and start driving.  The lessons that we learn in real time are the stickiest. 

In this weekend of Thanksgiving I am so grateful to all the brokers, builders, designers, vendors, agents and lawyers that have taught me some aspect of homeownership.  Schoolhouse Rock used to espouse the belief that “knowledge is power”, and while I don’t disagree with that, I think knowledge is freedom.  Every bit of wisdom I am able to tuck away gives me a little more agency in this world.  My map becomes full of stop signs, and routes, crossroads and bridges to new worlds.  Don’t let a little thing like not knowing something stand it the way of your path forward.  One step at a time.  I am happy to help and so are countless others.  I am grateful for that.

Step Back

I’m not looking for a formula. I’m searching for fantastical. I want magic, I want to surprise myself when all is said and done, but these days I am doing a lot more saying than doing. Sometimes you just have to start. I thought the purchase of the table was a good start, and I suppose it was, but since it hasn’t arrived yet, to bath me in the historical glow of ballroom dances and prearranged romances, country homes and noble tombs, it isn’t inspiring me. I may only be able to capture the smallest of snapshots from the fantasy. My table being of modest size it would have become friendly with, dare I say, hundreds of other fabulous furnishings in a single castle’s room. Still it would have been admired by the curious discerning sort that would certainly have been invited to dinner. In its absence I am forced to focus my attention on that blessed fireplace.

Blyth Collins Interiors

I have decided to keep it. Even if it costs me precious square feet, and it does, and it’ll cost me even more when I am forced to build out on either side of her expanse to make her not appear as expansive as she is. It sounds contradictory, but I can assure you, once I’ve added to the girth by building that cabinetry – say a foot back from the mantle (aka – the entire encased gas box) it will feel a little bit more like it belongs. Perhaps I do it a second time too, another foot – I have it don’t you worry, gradually blending it into the wall, maybe even running shallow storage along its expanse. It’ll cost me, but I consulted the powers that be and they were addiment. “Do not remove that fire place” they said. One even screamed “NO”. People love fire, and they were fired up over the thought of it’s removal, so I stepped back from it. The subject was too heated if you get my drift.

I did receive a single affirmation regarding my decision to lob off the kitchen island’s overhang. When I say lob, I really mean surgically remove it, with the help of a professional stone cutter so that it is a normal sized top. This will help some, providing a three foot runway behind any furnishings designated for the living room area. I’ve spent a good deal of my life shimming by one piece of furniture or another and because I don’t move slowly unless I’ve been recently hospitalized, I bump into things. I bruise terribly, though the furniture seems fine, it would be nice to have some clearance, while still having a place to sit.

I’m going to paint the kitchen cabinets green. I can’t believe I am writing it for the entire world to see. I’ve never painted anything green – never. I feel strangely compelled to do it and so I am, and it will be moody because I plan to paint them in Farrow and Ball. The walls will be in the same color. I might keep the base white, but I might not. Progress. If we aren’t moving forward we’re falling behind, and I hate it when I can’t see the future, don’t you?

Desperately Seeking Inspiration

It’s a perfect sunny fall day, the last vestiges of October hang in the air ready to be snapped away by the goblins and ghosts that will stroll the streets in search of tricks or treats tomorrow.  We New Englanders love to be fooled into believing that this weather will last, if not forever, at least until it’s supposed to snow on the night before Christmas and then never again, unless it’s on the mountain you plan to ski down. 

I watch envious of the walkers by that have embraced the day daring to live in the moment.  I supposed I am living in mine, but fully embracing it I am not.  My head turns again to watch the diners in the street, sipping wine and savoring grilled octopus and fried zucchini discs.  My stomach grumbles and my taste buds tingle at the suggestion of the tangy tzatziki mingling with those crispy zucchini chips.

I turn my head away from the diners and back to my space.  The pale cream walls resemble a baby’s cheek after a mid-day nap.  The slightest flush of heat becomes evident to the eye that gazes at them long enough.  It’s been months.  Shouldn’t I have resolved this by now?  Shouldn’t I know the answer as to the color palette, the furniture layout, what’s going to stay and what’s going to go?  Shouldn’t I? 

I don’t.  For all you readers that believe it just comes naturally, that the ideas pop into my head like the rising bubbles in a glass of champagne, let me disavow you of this notion.  It takes practice.  A lot of practice.  It takes an obsessive dedication to observation.  It takes a willingness to perservere when you want to give up and turn it over to someone that you think might know better.

I practice this a lot, but my natural state of practice is eradication of past wrongdoing.  What’s right or wrong can’t be relegated to referencing the ten commandments or the even state or federal laws.  My righting of what I consider to be wrong might include surgically slicing that gas fireplace from the wall that it was lobbed onto.  You might consider this anathema.  Yes, you.  You’re always going on about how lovely it is to have a fire in the fireplace.  To snuggle up next to it with a warm mug of steaming cider and a good book on a cold day, or to trim the tree and admire your handy work by the dim glow of light that it emits accented as it is by the twinkling lights that drape the fragrant branches. 

I know it all sounds very romantic, and it is.  I love a fireplace with real wood and a man that lugs the logs in from the snowy porch knowing that he halved and quartered them using his muscle and brawn to render them useful when the occasion called, but I need my space.  That honking fireplace, slapped on the wall in the very spot that the existing fireplace once stood, stands out in a most oppressive way.  29.5”  it announces itself in the room like a mount Vesuvius sized pimple on the otherwise fresh face of your prom date.   You can’t do anything but look at it and wonder at the unfortunate timing or choice.  It just feels wrong to me, and it takes up physical space in a room that I can hardly afford to have it stolen from, nor the mental space in my mind which on a good day is overcrowded and on a bad day in danger of being condemned. 

The big question today is should I consult a psychologist and make peace with what I was given to work with, OR should I consult a surgeon and get cutting.  I’d have them carve that malignancy right out, and lob off the overhang of my kitchen island while they were at it.  It would gain me three feet in all.  That’s not nothing, but would it leave me bereft on those cold winter nights?  What would you do?

Feels Like Home

Private Events or a hot toddy on a cold day with a warm blueberry muffin?

My lips parted and my mouth formed an “O” of surprise. If anyone noticed it was only to confirm that the others gathered in the bookstore/cafe were wearing a similar expression of reverence for the space. In an age when bookstores are disappearing at an alarming rate, only to be replaced by corrugated cardboard boxes adorned with a swooping blue arrow, the arrival of a new bookstore on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, where two others have shuttered their doors on this very street, feels optimistic to say the least.

BHB . Ready to Read.

Fortunately for me, I adore optimism. I encourage bravery. I live for a good restoration project, and I applaud business ingenuity. Melissa Ferret, if you happen upon this little blog of mine, I hope that you can imagine me, in your minds eye, bowing down to you. The same goes for you Cathy Kincaid Interiors.

The five story brownstone houses a cafe and wine bar on the terrace – not yet opened to the public. Permitting. That’s all I will say about that, but food aside, the setting made me long to be sitting in the serene blue and white subterranean dining room, accented by Nantucket Red trim, here and there, with an abundance of Sister Parish wallcoverings and fabric. The sister’s design aesthetic manages to be sophisticated yet fresh. It’s grown up whimsy. I’m planning a private event, for whom I have not yet determined, for what occasion? One will present itself to me, and if it takes too long, I’ll make one up.

Spy those squirrels?

You will find on each floor a lit fireplace. The narrow floorplates accented by floor to ceiling bookshelves, little nooks to hideaway and read, ample comfortable seating, natural light, and squirrels. Yes, there are squirrels everywhere. Which came first the Beacon Hill book about a squirrel or a building that happened to have a few in residence? If it sounds nutty, it is, but in a good way, and they run with analogy by placing an acorn on a book each day that the squirrel recommends to young readers. I love sugar so the concept isn’t too sweet for me, nor is the little train that rambles on the custom track that circumvents the perimeter of the room just below the ceiling, disappears from view as it enters a tunnel and makes its way back to you. Surprise and delight. Surprise and delight. Whoever came up with that idea, and the tiny little doors that lead from the children’s room to the hallway should be entered into the hall of fame for fabulous ideas.

Stop by for a visit at 71 Charles Street . Boston . MA. Be prepared to wait your turn to get in.

Charleston Charm

We took a boat cruise around the Charleston Harbor.  Being on the water for me is as ordinary as my morning coffee and as necessary.  It grounds me in a new place.  Allows me to gain perspective, to be an observer, to listen to the distinct inflection that comes with the colloquial delivery of one’s homeland.  In the case of Charleston it’s all about the “yaaaawl, usually followed by “have a good day”.  Those southerners are nothing if not polite. 

I adore exploring a new place through the observant eyes of a child.  The wonder of watching a formation of five pelicans swoop low across the water, followed by a pod of dolphins arching through the water had me squealing with glee at my very first sighting.  I’d be remiss in my reporting if I didn’t admit that I squealed when I saw the array of thousands of BMW’s ready to board container ships and cross one ocean then another on the Atlantic Route to Japan.  Who knew we manufactured BMW’s in Charleston?  Needing a new car and lamenting the chip shortage that is limiting my options, I considered hopping off to broker a deal.  Would they really miss one less car?

No wonder the antiquing is so fabulous, two days from France to the 6th largest port by volume in the U.S. equals fantastic and affordable furnishings from the 19th century, and by the way when you buy there and ship home you don’t pay any tax.  Did your heart just skip a beat like mine?  I not only found one dining table for my new home which largely unlocked the key to the layout I was troubling over these past few months, but two!  One English Loo Table with incredibly marquetry, and a second French Regency with a dolphin base to die for. 

Decisions, decisions. Won’t you please weigh in? Let me know which one you would choose.

A town that survives on tourism is bound to have good food.  My dear southern friend mapped out a culinary experience for us girls that would make a star-studded Michelin Chef smile with supreme satisfaction.  The Caviar Experience at the Zero George was magical. The candle-lit veranda was aglow in fairytale light.  The bar tucked at the end of the porch a jungle of tropical plantings lorded over by a King, known as both a purveyor of spirits, and the resident photographer – look for him in Travel + Leisure Magazine next month.  Young, polite, handsome Huck – yes, that was his name – Huck, don’t you just want to keep saying it?, served us Osetra in silver domed glass dishes, accompanied by split soft boiled eggs their golden yokes puddling on the plate, brioche toast, ramekins of crème fraiche, and chive, and salty potato chips.  You won’t believe me when I tell you that the crab souffle that followed was even better, but it was. 

Zero George and the Caviar Experience is not to be missed.

If you haven’t been to Charleston, get it on your list and include:  Frannie & the Fox at Hotel Emeline, Husk for the Chicken and Waffles, Leon’s Oyster Shop for the Buck Bay Blades, and Bar 167 for the Arroz con negro.  Go hungry, leave happy.

Boxed In: not letting your walls define you

People are always saying you should “think outside the box”. Which aside from the fact that it feels as tired a saying as “let me unpack this for you”, or “the optics are bad”, the overuse of these metaphors are unimaginative, and imagination is the very reason we are implored to leave that corrugated cardboard vessel in the first place.

A Layout, but not the ONLY layout.

I am not living in a box, though the developer left the space decidedly without detail. I did read in some design magazine about a group of architects that got edgy when they conceived of a home erected from storage containers, one stacked atop another. If the box requires a rebar ladder to climb into bed at the end of a long day, it’s not for me. The trouble with thinking broadly, differently, expansively, is that despite all the proclamations cast about in pursuit of a panoply of possibilities, people largely want something on the fringe. They don’t for instance want you to place you bed in the middle of the living room next to the kitchen island because that room has better light, or less light, or its proximity to the coffee machine suits your morning routine. The bed belongs in the bedroom, the sofa and chairs in the space designated for living. In keeping with the box analogy, it might be best to just pop open the flap and let some fresh air and light in to shift your perspective.

A table I would like to own and use for dining.

That is precisely what I am trying to do with my new condo. It’s an inelegant process that can find me disassembling the components of the sectional sofa and dragging them around the living room to try out different layouts. None of them have been satisfactory to date. I’ve tried snuggled up close to the fireplace for intimacy. Pushed back against the wall in the L-Shaped nook that looks like it was made for a sectional, but that I want desperately to place a custom-made banquette and circular Regency dining table. Aside from the fact that the chaise is oriented on the right side instead of the left, if all feels wrong.

I’ve tried it in the bow front window, but am disturbed by the half moon gap left between it and the windows. Considered a modern crescent shaped sofa, and another that was highbacked – a diver sprung from the board beginning to form a jack-knife. None of it feels quite right. I’m going to continue to stew over the layout for a while longer, but I can’t be held responsible for having resorted to tearing out the kitchen island, stripping it of its waterfall marble, and relocating it a foot deeper into the space designated for cooking. I rarely cook in the city. It’ll be fine.

Suggestions welcome. Please feel free to open the flaps of the box wide, and provide me with a proper desk, sitting and dining area.

More to Dior: Reimagining the luxury retail experience

Peter Marino in uniform.

The first time I met Peter Marino I was struck by the juxtaposition of his black leather clad figure amid the refined elegance of Chanel’s Boston Flagship. From this came that? I thought to myself without letting the thought slip through my lips, even if it would likely be goggled up by the cicadasian roar of guests. Curated from the Boston crowd for their allegiance to the brand, ability to influence, their press pass or celebrity status. Not me of course, I was a plus one, and happy to have the invitation without distinction.

Homage to Ombre.

There is something to be said for anonymity. It allows you to wonder, listen in, even approach and ask questions. You have nothing to lose and they won’t remember you one way or another after the last of the crystal coups are cleared. I took my chance and approached stealthily. Mr. Marino I asked with awe and trepidation. I couldn’t tell whether or not he was looking at me through his dark sunglasses and his head didn’t incline in my direction. That might have encouraged me unnecessarily. I forged on nonetheless, my desire to know about the rock crystal chandeliers defying gravity with their weight and solidity. A frail matron able to raise the hand adorned with a 12 carat stone.

Tooth Fairy . Please leave me a stay here.

It was that moment that I understood from whence genius comes and not to judge a book by its cover. He’s done it again with Dior, and I want more. The Flagship that started it all on Rue Montaigne in Paris underwent its third reinvention sprinkled as it was with Peter’s fairy dust. 108,000SF, so much more than a store, it is a museum, offering the only collection entirely dedicated to Fashion in France – having attended an exhibit a few years ago I can assure you there is a history, artistry, miniature monuments to masterful design – over 1500 of them, paper patterns, muslin mock-ups, and gorgeous full sized gown, after gown. It is an education in patience, beauty, pursuit of perfection, one stitch at a time.

Love in White

Rue Montaigne houses so much more. Christian Dior’s office has been reassembled here. A restaurant – Monsieur Dior, Haute Couture and Jewelry Workshops, three gardens, and the keys to the palace in the form of hotel room, butlers and all. Wander the museum, host a dinner for four, the place is yours for 24 hours or as long as your credit card swipes approved.

More Than A Letter: A Design philosophy for life

Me in the Nashville Dry and Wash Scarf Activation. 2017

The tenants on their own are inspirational, steeped in the heritage of their humble beginnings. It is with my marketers heart in hand that I bow down to them with love and deference year after year. They are brilliant. It starts with a theme which is carried out in the collection. The collection is comprised of clothing, furniture, bags, fragrance, shoes, watches, jewelry and their famous scarves. To be tethered is to open up to the boundless. What bursts forth is genius. It’s aspirational. It’s humbling with a capital “H”.

I’ve been wearing my Hermes “H” belt for over two decades now. It’s part of my uniform and I wear it proudly. It stands for all the things I hope to someday be or embody: a spirit of conquest, authenticity, patience born out of a desire to craft beautiful objects, independence, and quality. To aspire to embody the qualities of a brand may sound unusual to you. Ridiculous even? Ponder that, we’ll come back to it.

Their spirit of conquest takes them on some unusual journeys. The outfitting of a luxury yacht. The hand-stitched seats of a Bugatti Veyron Fbg which sold in 2010 for a cool $2.1M. Exclusivity creates longing. Which is why I squirreled away the little money I had to spare for years before I was able to purchase that belt. Patience has never been a strong suit, but the pull of exclusivity, shockingly exerted a will stronger than my need for immediate gratification.

All that ingenuity doesn’t just sit in the store on a shelf waiting for you to notice it when you happen to walk past in a big city or airport. It comes out to meet the people in unexpected places, catching you unaware, converting the young hopefuls into the new, the next, the now Hermes generation.

Style makers. LA . Fit to be Fashionable.

It is their last foray into the wild that has me celebrating its brilliance and lamenting my lateness to the party. I am sad to report that it’s over. It was held in November for 4 short days in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Scarcity, a powerful tenant of marketing. A pop-up fit gym. Who would have ever thunk it? An instagrammable, influencers haven. A hipsters hunt for the next craze realized. A gal with a marketer’s heart – throb. Ridiculous I ask you again? In what way did this inspire you? Please share.

Swoon Worthy

Articulating what is worthy of knocking you off kilter, and awash in emotion, can challenge even those that haven’t come across a word that they didn’t love. And a lover of words is rarely at a loss as it pertains to finding inventive pairings. So what exactly is it about this phenomenon that has us begging to teeter, to become unbalanced, to feel as if we might fall? I like my breath like the best of you, but would happily have it robbed from my chest if it meant spotting a space, a place, or a swarthy man that made me dizzy with desire. Falling can be a very good thing to do.

Tucked in, cozy, intimate and inviting despite its size, the deep hues are intoxicating.

I did just that when I saw The Vanderbilt Hotel. While clandestine affairs are not my thing, grand gestures that include real estate deeded to me, most certainly are. To think that Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt had an in-town, Newport “Love Shack” designed and built for his married lover is wonderfully scandalous. To know that he never had one moment of unwedded bliss in the place is another. It is our happy fate, that it is one of the few that is open for more than a museum tour. 33 Luxury rooms await, and they have all been designed “to a fair-the-well” as my father would say. I have to agree, and steady myself as I gaze longingly at the photos.

First impressions are critical – Swoon at the entrance or forever hold your peace.

Dallas based design visionaries, Samantha Sanos, and Partner Joslyn Taylor of Swoon, don’t just tackle interiors, they take on your brand, art direction, and more in a holistic approach to finding that je ne sais quo, that sums up the swoon vibe so nicely. After all, the allure of the unspeakable is magnetic.

warm and inviting, other worldly, traditional and modern, this hotel seems to “have one foot in tomorrow”.

From coast to coast, these gals are the most.

Home Scents: Creating your own reality with smell

The buzz of the door signaled its release. I yanked it open anxious to step in out off the street and the 90 degree heat, and into the temperate environs of the cavernous double height space. Beautiful it was, a happy hipness that welcomed you to inspect a little closer, peak around the corner, but it wasn’t the design that created the first impression, it was the scent.

7INK . Inclusive Living. National Development does it again.

I’ve long been fascinated with smell. I don’t consider myself to be a “nose”, the special beings that can detect hints of this and subtle aromas of that, but I can wrinkle my nose up with the best of those presented with a fowl smell and expand my lungs beyond what seems possible to capture just one more tiny breath of an intoxicating memory.

That’s the thing about scent. It is more closely tied to memory than any of the others – senses. It’s attached to the olfactory bulb in our brain, which in turn is connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus. If our brains were pinball machines they’d be lighting up with emotional reactions and memories, lights flashing to announced you’d scored the jackpot.

7Ink had me at the scent in the foyer. Fresh, clean, and intoxicatingly green, I felt young again, and youth being wasted on the young as it is, I wanted more of it. So much so that it got me thinking about my own home and what I want to evoke. While I cannot control what others will feel as a result of what I choose, and certainly not what memories will spring forth, there are universally agreed upon scents that people seem to love. Clorox, cut grass, laundry, lemons. If you guessed that people like aromas that invoke cleanliness, you are correct. Baked goods are high on the list of likes, presumably for their yummy nurturing quality. There are the oddballs like gasoline and tobacco. The inexplicable – licorice. Those that calm, lavender and eucalyptus. A few that energize – peppermint, rosemary and cinnamon.

Snow has a smell. It’s called wonder.

I think I want seasonal scents for my home. Spring: lilac and lemonade. Fall: Cinnamon, Anise and wood fire. Summer: Salt air and Rosa Ragusa. Winter: I’m stumped. What would you suggest. I’m open to recommendations, it’ll be here before you know it.