About a Room

It’s not unusual for me to fall in love with a room decked out in molding. I swoon over a tall ceiling, and my eyes turn into tea sized saucers at the sight of a pink painted parlor. Oh the pizzazz, the pluck, the perennial pastel sweetness of it. Adore. And who doesn’t like a tassel? You must appreciate it, because it’s some kind of hassle to tack them along the top of a curtain, and stitch them to a pillow. Note to the less sociable or socially anxious in the crowd, there is nothing like the touch of a silken fringe against your fingertips to calm the nervous system.

This room is a kiwi and watermelon fruit salad with a scoop of strawberry sherbet and a sprig of mint pinched clean from its stalk in the garden. Sorry bunny. It’s traditional, contemporary and eclectic. It’s cheerful, and hopeful and we could all use a little more hope these days.

With all this special room has to offer her ceiling still steals the show. Its botanical paper a romp through an estate garden, the chandelier a crystal flute of champagne that elicits an inarticulate utterance of joy. Tell me you love it too. Which part of @coreydamanjenkis Kips Bay 2019 Showcase room has you singing a tune? Do share.

Wish Book: every story starts with putting the words on the page, and every home with a picture

When I was little and the Sears Christmas Wish Book would arrive, I’d lie down on the floor, legs splayed out, elbows propped up, and turn page after wonderful page for what seemed like hours. It was undoubtedly less. I am almost certain a fight would ensue between me and my sisters. The screams reverberated through the thin walls of the living room to the kitchen where our mother was preparing dinner. “It’s my turn” an indignant Jo-Jo would holler while her little fist took a swing at my head.

Pages would be pulled from the catalog as the battle ensued. I wanted one of the playhouses. Not the log cabin, though I thought that was cool. I wanted the white shingled house with the pink shutters and front door to match. It should come as no surprise to you – my regular reader that I still want that house – only slightly larger, and while I do admire a person with the pluck to paint their front door pink, I would choose some lovely version of blue. It’s my favorite color.

All this catalog reminiscing got me thinking about what my dream catalog would hold today. I’d replace my No. 2 pencil and the yellow lined paper pad that I had taken from next to the telephone table, with a ultra fine tipped black pilot pen and one of my personalized notecards rimmed in pale violet – what? this is an important list. It deserves a little gravitas.

I would put on that list all the beautiful furnishings, wall coverings, accessories and art that I believe would finally, and with absolute assurance, bring me the clarity that I have been sorely lacking, to make a move with this living room of mine. Wishes are just dreams that start with a list, and one’s chances of making it a reality improve exponentially when you write that list down and look at it often.

What’s on your list dear reader?

Longing for a Hollywood Set in my Livingroom

Are you laughing? Don’t laugh, I’m serious. I’m as stuck as a person can be that’s been living in an unfinished apartment for over a year. Going on 14 months to be exact. If it was a baby it would be walking and talking by now. Sure it wouldn’t be complex sentences, but it would know how to say “NO Mamma”. Not that.

The problem is that I am not a toddler and while I have perfected the “No, not that” development stage, I have yet to advance beyond the “receptive language” milestone phase and launched myself into phase that allows for articulation of my complex wants, needs and desires. I’m pinned to my lack-luster living room like a beautiful butterfly to a display board. Like a statuesque socialite being fitted for a couture gown. Like a run-a-ground boat in the marsh. Are you laughing? Don’t laugh, I’m serious.

It’s the permanence of the decision that has me stalled, afraid to take the next step. Permanent in the way that nothing really is. It’s practically a rule that everything changes, and if I were a Buddhist I would embrace this philosophy, but I am not. I am me, and if I don’t get it right I will have wasted untold amounts of money. Thousands and thousands of dollars that should be going to my retirement, not to things like shoes and built-ins, but I can’t be expected to go barefoot and should my walls have to suffer a similar indignity? Don’t answer that. I’m not looking for confirmation that my bachelor pad could stay exactly as it is and I’d still make money when I sold it. I know it could, and I would, but my soul, my very essence is suffering. Are you laughing? Don’t laugh, I’m serious.

Here’s what I am thinking. What about a Hollywood set. It could be delightfully impermanent while still setting a scene for mostly my own visual entertainment. No one would have to tear it out to create something that more favorably suits their style, and I won’t have spent the little retirement money that I have painstakingly squirreled away. Now where am I going to find a set designer to provide the backdrop for me to star in the role of successful city gal? This is a question I would like you to answer. Please provide thoughts and contact information in the comment section.

Rats: Learning what you’re capable of when things don’t work out as planned

There’s no place like YOUR home.

I stood on the arm of my sofa, fingers spread wide, pressed against the cool glass of the window as I spied the deck outside and the garden below it. They were lazy. The audacity of those rats, a nibble here, followed by a turn of their narrow conical head to nibble there at some other unknow delicacy, the most hurried part of their bodies was their franticly nibbling mouths. My nose twitched and I felt itchy.

I clutched the phone so hard that I could feel the fissures from the fractured glass of my iPhone threaten to slice the delicate skin of the palm of my hand. My heart pounded, my face was flushed, my words jettisoning from a primal source deep within me, like a fighter pilot ejecting from a burning plane. Maybe fire would rid me of those rat?

“When can you get here? Not until Tuesday? But today is Friday, where will I live? How will I get out of here? I won’t even live with a mouse in my house – you can’t possibly be asking me to live in such close proximity to rats – there must be half a dozen out there. I think they are reproducing as we speak. I have to go. I’ve got to find someone else that can help me solve this problem before they breach the fortress and scale my sofa mountain”.

If you think I am being dramatic, I am not. Rats are quite capable of climbing, and they are not “outdoor” creatures that are just as afraid of you, as you are of them. They seek warmth and water when they are reproducing. Six litters a year, 10 – 12 baby rats per birthing session. Sexual maturation by 9 weeks. Stop it. I am not a math mathematician but even I know that their exponential growth would make a CEO envious. They don’t really even have to try. Disgusting.

All you gals out there – get ready to be gritty. If you are going to be a home owner, this is just one of the many things you are going to be forced to contend with – well maybe not rats, but many things that you are forced to deal with will leaving you saying “rats, I wish I had known that before I signed on the dotted line”. Some things are better left unknown. It might prevent you from doing what’s in your best interest, and buying real estate, even if you are forced to contend with a rat – so gross – is a really good idea.

Marvin came and educated me about those rodents, their reproductive lives, and how to keep them from showing up as uninvited guests in your home. They had not burrowed, or nested, which is a very good thing, but they had sent out a signal, through their urine, to all the other rats in the ‘hood that they had found a very favorable place, due to the garbage the neighbor had left on the porch. Don’t leave garbage on your porch. It invites trouble. While you may not have rats roaming around your property, you probably don’t want to have a run in with a bear or a racoon. They seem so cuddly in cartoons, but they are vicious.

Rats aside, home ownership is a decision you are not likely to regret. There is nothing more freeing than being presented with a problem and realizing that you can figure it out. Everything is figure-out-able, and we can do the most remarkable things when we are perched atop a sofa arm on the brink of panic.

Yes, you, even you can, and you will. I promise, but it doesn’t hurt to have a Marvin of your own on speed dial.

Try Not to Take it Personally

10 Years Ago.

I was scrolling through Redfin as I am want to do, when I came across the listing for the very first property I owned. I sold it just over 10 years ago. Since then I have bought and sold five other properties and was a nominal investor on a sixth. That nominal investment netted more than my first property, and while it holds a special place in my heart as the first stand-alone house that I participated in renovating, I’ll never forget my first love – that launched me on this journey.

The knife twist in my gut I experienced when I locked eyes on my little condo, stripped of the personality that I had so carefully cloaked it in, was visceral. Gone went the intricately painted moldings, shrouded in stark white. Gone went my mineral ice pale grey walls. Covered in khaki. Just like the pants, they show absolutely no imagination.

It’s not the first time a home that I renovated and sold had been entirely redone to reflect the new owners aesthetic. In each of those instances my homes were sold to men, and my taste leans, ok perhaps “lean” isn’t the right word for it, swims is more appropriate, in the feminine pool. I won’t apologize for that. When I set off on this buying and selling journey I was in it to make money, but that wasn’t the only reason. I wanted to express my personal taste. I wanted to explore it, and test its limits, and make mistakes and become. It’s hard to become anything if you are too careful.

Along the way I spent money, made money, traveled a lot and learned so very much. I hope to impart some of those lessons to other women through the book I am writing. Building agency requires resilience and a little bit of grit, but I am made of tough stuff and so are most of the women that I know, so I will try not to take it personally. Paint away I say, a piece of me still lives on at 2 Harvard Place, Apt. 3, Charlestown, MA, and after all, you paid ME to paint it. I’m ok with that.

Come-on Barbie: Let’s go Party

Barbara Millicent Roberts born March 9, 1959, better known as Barbie the world around, like any public figure is fodder for criticism and controversy. Blond bombshells have long suffered a bad rap for being superficial airheads. You’d be wrong to judge this book by her cover. Barbie may be a beauty, but this So-Cal Gal has brains and isn’t afraid to explore all the different ways in which she can use them from her stint as an Astronaut to her role as a Doctor and a Presidential Candidate – we could do worse, we have done worse.

“You can be anything” a fitting tagline for a 21st century girl, but interestingly it wasn’t bestowed upon her in our time, but rather as a birthright. Can you imagine a woman of the fifties opting to be an airline pilot instead of a stewardess? Would “they” have even allowed it? Barbie could – and she wanted you little girl to believe it to.

From Olympic Athlete to Paleontologist Barbie’s cool cars, dream house, and million plus shoe collection wasn’t paid for by mom and dad, she has no parents, never married, though Ken remained a pretty constant figure throughout her life with one minor break-up and fling with an Austrian Surfer, can you blame her? – She is a self-made woman, with a clothing collection that would make the Kardashians jealous and can be credited with the latest Barbiecore fashion craze. You’d have to be blind not to know it’s all the rage. Thinking pink isn’t hard to do, from nail polish to purses and paint, Barbie’s signature bubblegum hue can be found splashed just about everywhere.

I got in on the action as I love a good theme and put on a party, painted my wall pink, and puckered my pout with a glittery gloss, donned a pony and put on my pink pants. My guests didn’t disappoint either. They brought their party spirit to the show.

I’m always expounding on the benefits of paint as a decorating tool – and one of the very cheapest. Try it on, make mistakes, repaint, experiment, and have fun, you can always change it later – see how I did it.

Who Did it Best?

Remember paint by numbers? It made the process of creating something beautiful, easy. At least those kits made my five year old self feel pretty artistic. Painting a wall should be less challenging, and yet it’s not. We have sheens to contend with, shadows, and a whole lot of doubt that it will turn out the way it looks on the swatch deck or in the photo of a favorite issue of House Beautiful. Add to that the cost of paint and one’s desire to save a few dollars on the gallons that will grace those walls and you’ve added a whole other layer of complication.

I’ve tried and failed to match a Farrow & Ball to a Ben Moore in the past. It led this weekend to a debate about whether or not it was possible to get an accurate match from the store. It was too nice out to argue, but it did leave me thinking, is it really achievable? My research led to me a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. Yes, and No.

Formulas are the result of years of research, and deliver colors that are trademarked with aspects that are kept hidden from even those on the dark web. Most tools used, like databases, compiled over years, and spectrometers are only about 90% accurate. This can be attributed to a lack of patience – understandable – who wants to wait 24 hours or more to ensure the paint is fully cured and the color is true, only to discover it’s not and to begin the process anew – a lack of consistency in finishes from maker to maker which impacts the reflectiveness of the paint, and for lack of a clearer answer to why it can’t be matched – each maker utilizes that “je ne sais quoi”? That unknown quality. Maybe it’s spit?

As I prepare to head down to the hardware store to mix another round or two, I go with the knowledge that I am likely not going to be walking away with my Parma Gray by F & B look alike, so I better get liking something that is close enough. The builder is waiting for my paint name, and if I don’t provide it today, I will lose my place in the cue, and we all know, that won’t due.

Bespoke on a Budget

I haven’t met a house, apartment, condo or garden shed that I haven’t wanted to change. The desire for personalization isn’t relegated to dwellings either. A dress, pair of slacks, or halter – would be so much more flattering in a blue-violet, two inches longer or shorter, nipped at the waist. That chair, you know the one, that you avoid sitting in because your feet don’t quite reach the floor. Could all be made better, if they were made for you to begin with.

A touch of the unusual is an expression of style and an elevated design aesthetic.

I often ask myself if being blissfully unaware that perfect fits exists, would make me happier? I have to admit that I think it might, but I am not wired that way. Before I was woke to bespoke I wanted it my way, and then I came to learn that regardless of the size of your home or you for that matter, it could be made to look elegant, timeless, intentional through customization.

Restoration Hardware Curtains with Samuel & Sons Trim

That’s what I want, my thoughts, beliefs, hopes and desires to be imposed on everything from a bar of soap to the custom cabinetry emblazoned with motifs that hint at my city life and my seaside life. I want it to be uniquely me, and perfectly suited for the place in which it lands. Getting exactly what you want is incredibly expensive.

My tips for making it look custom when it’s not:

  • Paint your interior doors a contrasting color – custom speaks to both imagination and preference,
  • Hardware: sub out the cheap stuff for pieces with heft, and style – even a hollow cored door (gulp – they’re the worst) can be dressed to impress with some stately hardware,
  • Windows should never be bare, but custom curtains can break the budget so buy off the shelf and embellish – add trim to a roman or ribbon to the curtain: I take mine to the dry cleaner and have their in-house tailor apply it for super cheap,
  • Kitchen cabinetry: gaps above cabinets, or next to appliances are a dead give-away. Fill them in. Run sheetrock down from the ceiling to the cabinet and add a strip of molding to mask it, build a small cabinet between wall and fridge, and be sure to pull the cabinet above the refrigerator flush with the doors, setting it back against the wall is a game over move,
  • Furniture: measure, measure, measure, and you guessed it measure again. Look for makers like Oomph that offer dozens of finish, size, and color options.
Color and custom hardware combined.

Be close to bespoke without going broke. We all want it our way without having to pay and semi-custom options are points of pride in their own right.

Hearth and Home

Eight months and not a lick of paint has graced the walls of my new home. Unless you count the swatches, samples and unframed art work, patiently awaiting a day when they will be “complete”. I have taped them up in various locations, but am beginning to suspect that the young gal in the photograph’s expression has turned from whimsical to WTF, get on with it already. I have been stymied, stumped, so far from the sublime inspiration that settles into your cells and demands execution.

I blame the fireplace for this creative block. It’s just that – an enormous block that’s been tacked onto the front of a long ago decommissioned fireplace that they made use of as a chase for the buildings infrastructure. I am a fan of infrastructure and fireplaces but not in this particular fashion. It’s the Jolly Green Giant and the rest of the apartment is his sidekick Sprout, which is to say when you are in the room with him, he demands all of the attention, and his fashion sense doesn’t lend itself to my sensibilities.

These are the challenges that you face when you approach situations with fear of getting it wrong, of making an expensive mistake, of hating it after all the time you dedicated and investment you made. I wouldn’t think of deceiving you dear reader by telling you that one, or all of those things might happen. I know it’s happened to me, but I usually consider the choices and the lesson, tuck it away in one of my suitcases or card board boxes, and move on to the next project. The stakes are higher here. I plan to stay awhile.

Wall paneling with a wide fluting which isn’t boxed in by a framed border lends a modern feel at Hotel Eden Roc. It’s paired with areas that are reeded, and surrounded by a clean unadorned casement.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the sharp clean lines of the soffit. With all due respect to clean lines I like adornment as an architectural feature, and modern furnishings to balance it. My new home came with no adornment and by golly when I leave her, she’ll be properly dressed.

Wearstler at her finest. BG Restaurant . NYC

Everything fell in place from there. The cabinet that would house the TV and serve to hide the depth of the mass, the removal of the stone and its replacement with a custom wood fireplace surround, and bookshelves on either side, stepped back as if to suggest that its spreading its arms out wide in welcome to you.

I’m still working on what the style of the molding will be. That will be carried through on the paneling of the doors and detailed within the fireplace surround giving you a much better reason to stare. I feel better. Do you? Thoughts always welcome.

Finding the Light: Mid-Century Architecture on the Upper Cape

The Hatch House . Wellfleet

One thing has been true of artists throughout the centuries, they are drawn to nature, to light that possesses an exceptional clarity, to settings cloaked in serenity. Free from the distractions of a modern world, tucked away in hard to access locals they are left to commune, create, and improve the human condition. Lofty goals perhaps, but one need look no further than nature for inspiration on just about everything. From a seemingly simple blade of grass springs a ecosystem of ingenuity, and so it is no surprise that a group of exiled refugees from Eastern Europe found their way to the Outer Cape.

Three Bedrooms located at the back of the house. Note the panels above the doors open to let in fresh air while maintaining privacy for the occupants.

Marcel Brueuer, Serge Chermayeff and Olav Hammarstrom and engineer Paul Weidlinger all built homes here. Walter Gropius, Xanti Schwinski, Konrad Wachsmann, Constantino Nivola, the Saarinen Family and Florence and Hans Knoll rented summer cottages or were frequent guests.

Note the pulley system which lifts the panels to open the living room to the outdoors and maximize the waterview.

While it may not be a surprise that they found it among the hilly pine woods, of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, the houses that they built with the same simplicity found in nature were indeed a surprise to me.

Panels UP!

Dotted with Kettle Ponds and Glacier Lakes, the ruddy Pine woods make way to dunes and sandy beach that overlook the Bay where on a clear day you can see from Provincetown Light to the Plymouth Monument. I had just such a day as I stood on the deck of The Hatch House, lovingly restored to its original glory by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, through National Historic Grants, and the community of craftspeople that call upper Cape home. The Hatch Family kindly donated all the original furniture and art work so that it is truly and lovingly restored.

No A/C but the breeze from the Bay is allowed to circulate through transom windows seen over the sofa.

What I wouldn’t give to have sat among those titans of architecture as they sipped cocktails on the deck and discussed form and function, sustainability and the course work they were preparing for the students at Wentworth and Harvard GSD. They shaped a movement that will forever leave its mark on history.

By the way – The Hatch House can be rented. No heat, no internet, no laundry, no dishwasher, and no distraction from its intended purpose.