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.

Green with Envy: Spring in New England

1970’s Jolly Fiat . A little bounce in your bandy around town.

There is something so hopeful about spring and all things vernal. The first day that you wake to the sound of small birds chirping transports you to a state of child-like wonder. Possibility and excitement combine giving you a burst of energy that makes you pop out of bed smiling. Not my normal state in the morning.

Care more about the color than the content? Booth & Williams sells them by the foot.

A thread of memory pokes it head out of hibernation. White knit ponchos, the delicate robin’s egg blue of a tiny fragile shell whose promise ended before it started and yet beauty is found there. A daffodil, a flowering tree, and the reality that Mother Nature will’s will only go so far north. She turns her back on NE and blows a gentle breath of life into the likes of DC, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.

Blue Star might be the brand, but I’m green with envy over this range.

What we have done to deserve this cold shoulder is a mystery to me. She likes to keep us on our toes. We are as likely to experience a sixty degree day followed by a late Spring snow in April as we are to submit our tax returns or post an extension.

I long for a bare shouldered walk in the warm breeze, but instead must contend with a warm winter cap and a brisk trot. While I may be denied a true spring, I am happy to shine a light on all the new releases that designers bring in this season of renewal. The happy grassy greens, linens, canvas cottons, velvet cottons, and cotton tailed innocence and sophistication that they manage with aplomb.

I hope you enjoy my selections. I am off in search of a Cherry Blossom branch or two. The sun is shining and I plan to put my imagination to work.

3 Reasons Vintage Furnishings Should Make Your Wish List

Listen, we all want the pandemic and all of its problems to pack up and move it along. We’re tired of talking about it, reliving the worst moments of it, and suffering from the consequences of it it. Whether real or imagined, there are aspects and impacts whose reverberating effects continue. Supply Chain issues create delays and increase costs. Real or fabricated? Hard to say in some instances, but if your heart is set on something new, you are likely going to pay for it.

Oomph . Manhattan Stretch Console . lead time 20 – 24 weeks. Fully customizable $5700.

Supply Chain is your number one reason to consider vintage – even if the vintage isn’t terribly old. Whether its 20 years or 200, came from your grandmother’s dining room, God rest her soul, or a tag sale – appropriately named with its dolls displayed with missing limbs, and blenders that need just a simple part to get it operational again – but amidst the broken bobbles and bits you just might find an old chair, upholstery stained, wood frame chipped that could be transformed into something great. If it’s got good bones – give it a gander. You can pop it in your car and your more than halfway home to creating something cool in roughly half the time it would take to have your custom “new” piece delivered.

OrlysChic.com . Link Taylor. MCM Dresser. $1295.

There are shops that will spray the piece for you if you aren’t a DIY’er, or make your way to Etsy and you’ll find loads of enterprising, yard sale hunting enthusiasts that will do it for you, and custom paint it in the color of your choice.

Sotheby’s Home: In the style of Milo Baughman $5500.

Reason number 2 – the cost of furniture has gone through the roof. Add to that inflation and an uncertain economic future/impending recession, and now isn’t the best time to buy furniture, or cars, or homes for that matter. Vintage and second hand sites for selling pre-homed pieces have proliferated. Chairish, Kayio, Sotheby’s Home, One Kings Lane, FaceBook Marketplace, and Etsy to name just a few offer something for everybody. From the high-design enthusiast to the utilitarian pragmatist on a budget, they have what you are looking for.

Tulip Table Knock-off that’s quite nice. $895.

Reason number 3 – come on, it’s too easy. Say it with me: Sustainability. Yes, we all need to do our part, buying vintage fits the bill beautifully. All that inherent energy gets me giddy.

Socially responsible savings that’s delivered with speed. Need I say more? What are your favorite sites or tips for shopping vintage. Do share.

Happiness is: An Hermes Flagship Store

I pulled open the heavy door and stepped inside onto the mosaic tile floor of 706 Madison Avenue.  My eyes swept the first floor as I tried to decide where to begin my tour of the Flagship.  It had opened four months before in October and I was finally making my first visit.  I inhaled deeply smelling a fragrance that I could not name, but smelled of money, old Hollywood stardom, and polished leather.  I knew it would not be the last time I’d visit.

So much of my seeing is done with the tips of my fingers.  A Do Not Touch sign an invitation to violate the wishes of the author, or to leave.  To abide the request, for someone with a desire as innate to me as the beating of my heart, can only be accomplished through separation. 

The curators of the collection had placed most of the objects they suspected the general public might attempt to touch behind glass.  There were long display cases on thin tall legs, shadow boxes for traveling exhibits and tall glass enclosures that housed the largest pieces – the signature Kelly Bag in its original stiff leather, no longer in use due to its easy scarring and lack of give – a lady shouldn’t have to wrestle with her purse to extract her wallet or keys, they should be given up to her as if a butler were balancing her belongings on a silver tray by the door as she prepared for exit.  They modified the design accordingly, minus the metaphorical butler of course.

There were trunks for travel and riding boots for bandying about the countryside on one’s thoroughbred, and finely stitched leather gloves of course.  While I appreciate the craftsmanship, the fine quality of the goods, the status that is bestowed on those that have the financial wherewithal, and refined sensibility to purchase the goods, that is not what drew me to 706, the new home of Hermes, it was the architecture. 

I feel the same way about museums of a certain caliber, the art is a bonus, as are the enamel bracelets, the sunflower yellow place settings – artistic jewels in their own right, the silk scarves, and the signature “H” belt buckles which over the years have become a part of my uniform, giving gravitas to whatever mass market find I have donned.  While I love art and believe that when you buy something from Hermes you are indeed purchasing a collector’s piece, I was there for the architecture, for the design, for the sublime pleasure of running the pads of my fingers across the curve of the limestone stairs that spanned four stories.  I traveled all the way to the top to stare at the oval dome with its expansive medallion skylight.  The plasterwork, the ingenuity of a Japanese artist, who created a collage of local trees, perhaps some they had seen as they strolled Central Park.

When I first spotted the technique on the wall inside the men’s third floor salon, which is housed in what was once the Bank of New York.  It was low enough on the wall for me to touch the stucco and fully appreciate its delicate beauty.  A 20,250SF, massive, yet welcoming store that would make the perfect setting for a first date, free champagne and salons in which to lounge are provided throughout.  The wall that supports the four story stair serves as a gallery showcasing over 300 works of art and objects from the family’s collection, giving a couple plenty to discuss as they lounge in teak wood framed chairs, with simple mint green leather cushions, that look beautiful but ordinary until you sit in them.  You’ll never want to sit in another chair again.