Pocket Neighborhoods: as cute as the name implies

My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest.  A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world.  It should offer comfort, and security.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession.  We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern.  Cozy.

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Walking Paths and front facing homes are trademarks of Pocket Neighborhood communities.

A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection.  Or so I thought when I began this quest.  While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did.  I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive.  Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment.  Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.

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From shared space to a plan of graduated privacy, it begins with the porch.

So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small.  While the homes  in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions.  In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.

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Some are dedicated to over 50 communities, but most embrace the benefits of all ages.

It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”.  These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made.  I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building.  I flat out didn’t believe him.  He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely.  It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up.  This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.

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Beautifully designed, thoughtfully planned, walkable, welcoming places to be.

Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods.  The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of   homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring.  This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security.  Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.

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The signature porch is intentionally large – an extension of the home, an outdoor gathering place.

One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability.  Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another.  Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy.  Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity.  Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space.  Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by.  The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green.  High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.

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Nature and sustainability are other important aspects of a Pocket Neighborhood Community.

To me – this is attractive.  I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite.  Which do I miss the most?  For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected.  My answer is none of them.  When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had.  To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me.  Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.

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It’s in the details.

The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time.  They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle.  How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.

Live Like You’re in a Hotel

This fantasy can’t be mine alone.  I know exactly where it started – I owe it all to Eloise.  A storybook, written in the ’50’s by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, followed the life of 6 year old Eloise, her pet dog Weenie, and her Turtle, Skipper Dee – all in residence at the Plaza Hotel in NYC.  Nanny was her mostly companion, as her mother jet-setted around the globe.  Eloise had it pretty great.

 

My next unfulfilled wish came when I was in residence at Boston University – West Campus, Rich Hall, Room 1313.  I don’t know how much unluckier you can get.  I longed to live at Myles Standish – an old hotel, said to have housed Babe Ruth back in the day, then and now, serving as dormitories.  Only the very luckiest freshman were allowed to live their, and as I previously stated – I was not.  No single bed and private toilet for me, I lived with three other girls and shared a gang bath.  The glamour of it all it -UNDERwhelming.

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Eloise by Kay Thompson – Illustrated by Hilary Knight

Over the years I have lived in many small places, and thought to myself, if only this were a hotel, it wouldn’t be so bad.  For one, you can have room service, and second, the maid cleans your space, and third, you can send out your laundry.  I could live with a mini-fridge, and a perfectly designed room and bath.  I don’t even mind the bed being the showcase of the room, which is one of the things I like about a beautifully designed hotel room – they tend to cleverly encase the bed in a closet surround.  Cozy, functional, sixties, elegant.  Think single career gal, working in NYC, making it on her own.

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Koncept’s use of graphic patterns, symmetrical and asymmetrical views through the screening, and pink and green preppy happiness make this space a win.

So it was a bit serendipitous that a place came on the market in the South End that is just 273 SF.  That’s right, it’s SUPER small, and they want an outrageous amount of money for it – shocker.  It got me thinking nonetheless, about the possibilities for a space like that.  It’s too small for most people.  They simply wouldn’t do it.  Even those that are only sleeping there during the week might balk at its tininess, and opt for a hotel room instead.  Me, I see it as a challenge.

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A room at Haymarket Hotel. Clean, simple, pink, and graphic black.

The second thing that happened that made this tiny thimble of a place seem attractive was a hotel I came across.  Designed by Swedish Firm, Koncept – Haymarket Hotel was once a department store in Stockholm.  Today, a 405 room hotel and restaurant aptly named Greta – after Greta Garbo who worked in the hat department.  Let me just say this by way of explanation – It is beyond.  I will be going there, and I do want to design that tiny bit of an abode as an ode to it.

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In a country where half the year the sun shines all the time and the other half, barely at all, the use of light colors can help brighten the mood.

The graphic art deco details, the luscious pinks, greens and blues, the paneling, the lighting the tile, the screen and be screened sections within the spaces – diamonds and squares, scales and fans, gold and luminous wonderfulness.  There I went thinking….if only I could have all that, I’d live in 273 SF, a space so small the flash from the camera would have to remain just outside the door.  Still – what a score it would be.

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Art Deco accents are an ode to an earlier time when the building was PUB Department Store.

 

 

Savers Regret: Not getting something you really want

It’s the opposite of “buyers remorse”.  Granted I don’t experience that emotion often, but in this particular case, the act of restraint I exhibited has haunted me for years.  Ok, it’s not like I think of it every day or anything, but periodically something will fire a synapse and the next thing I know, I’m at Cynthia Driscoll on Charles Street, turning my back, to what can only be described as pure genius.

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Kathy Dalwood Sculptures are genius!

It’s true that I was probably without the means to purchase this beautiful sculpture, but when has that ever stopped me in the past?  It was the holiday season, and while I rarely get to Beacon Hill, it’s just outside of my circuit.  I make a point every year of visiting during the month of December because it is so quaint, the decorations are beautiful, and it gets me in the spirit.  That and the fact that there is one very intriguing (to me) home decor shop on the main drag.  Oh there are many if you are looking for them, but this one – Cynthia Driscoll – also an interior designer – always seems to have the most interesting objects des arts.

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Designed for the Olympics in 2012

One of her featured artists all those years ago – perhaps 7 now, was an artist out of London named Kathy Dalwood.  A sculptor that uses real objects as the base for her pieces caught my attention, because she is so clever.  The piece that I liked the most was entitled Gold Digger and featured a proper looking English Gal with a dramatic hat upon her head.  A closer inspection revealed that the hat was actually a back end loader.  A truck to you – a rather large one.  It put a smile on my face immediately.  I am in construction after all, and I am digging for gold through the sawdust, as we all are in our own ways.  How utterly perfect is that I ask you?

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Gold Digger – Perfection.

As perfect as it may have been, I did not seize the opportunity, and when I went back to buy it, it was gone.  Not only that, but Cynthia told me there would be no more as these fragile and special objects kept arriving broken.  Quelle domage!

Why I thought of it again the other day, I have no idea – my brain is a strange and mysterious place.  One could get lost in there if they aren’t careful.  So I did exactly what an obsessed girl might do, I started googling with the tiny bits of information I remembered and voila.  There she was – on the web all along, and guess what….I can custom order a piece.  Happy Saturday.

Two Types of Wood: No. 5/3

Those dedicated fans will have heard me mention L. Francis Herresmhoff a time or two before.  When I have quoted him a half a dozen times or more, you will start to quote him too, because he was funny, and rather insightful. Now you are in on my secret plan.  L. Francis said:  “To most people, particularly the ladies, there are two types of wood, one is stained red and called mahogany and the other is not stained red and is not called mahogany.”  This wood will be the basis of concept 3 for project number 5.

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My tiny hesitation with this design concept is that it leans a little toward the nautical.  It all started with the desire to have a brightly varnished mahogany countertop in the kitchen.  I wasn’t even thinking about cabinets – just the beautiful finish of the wood, gleaming under a perfect pendant.  I wanted something other than my standard Carrera marble counter.  It’s not as if I have fallen out of love with it or anything, it’s a beautiful material.  It’s more of a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder… I think.

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I can see the cabinets painted in a deep muddy blue, hand carved mahogany cleats for door and drawer pulls (how in heavens name am I ever going to be able to retire)?  The backsplash done in a rough hewn ship lap, a la the powder room at Nantucket’s Cru.  Beautiful.  If I were to go all the way it would require a pretty big effort as I would want the mahogany baseboards too.  Instead of molding (no problem for most places – they don’t have it anyway) I would replicate the same simple base but apply it to the wall, adding a piece of quarter round to the top.  elegant.

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I love the rough and the polished side by side.  It’s got personality.

I have always wanted a built-in around the headboard of the bed. This concept begs for it – so screaming boat cabin sheik I can’t stand it.  Why the heck not?  This is Boston, a port city after all.  There are boats everywhere.  Go luxury liner or go home.

One more concept to go before you weigh in.

The French Way or the Highway: No. 5/2

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Note:  puddling curtains, herringbone floors, chair rail, slip covered sofa, simply white.

The French love their all white apartments with their perfectly stunning herringbone laid wooden floors, and I love the French.  This has led me to toss around the idea of going stark, and letting the art and the furnishings do the talking.  That would mean no wallcoverings, and no accent colors.  I could play with different tones of white, of which there are a boundless number.  Don’t test me, I’ll blanco bore you to death with the shear volume of offerings.

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Note:  Herringbone Floor, Paneled walls, and architectural details, and …..white.

It is interesting to consider texture on the walls – even in white that can be a pretty intriguing statement, it doesn’t feel super French to me though.  Grand architectural moldings, and paneled walls, chair rails, or simple applied moldings feel more authentically Parisian apartment – which is the look I would go for, if I go for concept 2.

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Note:  encore, encore, encore – this repetition never gets boring for me.

I might have a slipcover made for my Verellen sofa.  I had it upholstered for No. 4 in a beautiful cream silk and linen Turkish fabric.  This look would demand something a little looser.  Breezy.  That’s the French way you know – looking effortless….minimal.  Oh sure, you can find a Louis the XV commode or Etagere, dripping in gold acanthus leaves, but that’s likely because the recipient got it from their grandmother and with the price of apartments in Paris, can’t afford to replace it with something more modern.

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Where in the heck am I going to find that molding in Boston?

My art work would remain the same, but I suspect, somehow look entirely different.  It’s amazing what throwing a piece of art on a wall covered surface will do to the colors – dramatically different. The same of course goes for a different pigment.  When buying a serious piece of art (read expensive) always make sure that the seller will allow you to hang it in your home first before you finalize the purchase.  Who wants something that looked divine in the store and looks more like a consolation prize that’s handed out to the loser on The Price is Right.  NOT ME.  Now if you are buy a Monet or a Rembrandt, then you aren’t going to have the luxury of trying it out first.  I don’t feel bad for you.  Just redesign the whole room around the piece of art, and not the other way around.  You can afford it.

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Note:  Floors, molding, white, amazing, but in full disclosure this apartment is in London – clearly we know where they got their aesthetic!

Be ready to vote shortly.  I have at least two more concepts coming….Happy Saturday.

Cinco de Color Selection: No. 5

Getting ahead of things helps keep me from falling behind.  That’s why I start planning the color palette long before I have my place on the market.  In this case, No. 4 is scheduled to land just after Labor Day.  Interested?  Very little inventory on the market, and mine is a honey of a property….a good things come in small packages kind of surprise.

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Makes sense to me….Homesense furnishings and accessories.

I feel like the halfway point demands a grand gesture, a dramatic statement, a wild moment at the very least.  I believe in milestone celebrations.  My yoga coach is always talking about living in the moment, enjoying the journey – well if I live until I am 100, I am literally living in the middle of the moment of my life, and my quest.  Maybe I should have fireworks.  Enormous balloons?  A Pony, or perhaps a zebra.  I’ve always felt most strongly that graphic prints are the very best statements in a home, so a zebra seems fitting.  I doubt my budget will allow for any of that, though I am confident I could come up with all of the aforementioned items and the party would be FABULOUS.

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My favorite color….gray!

Staying focused can be a drag sometimes, but planning the direction of No. 5 is not, so let’s get on with it.  I was sitting next to one of my industry colleagues the other day at a board meeting (I’m in the corporate real estate industry and my colleague is in charge of real estate for TJX Companies – they own Home Goods, Homesense, Marshalls and more).  I got to chatting with Chris about designing one of my flips using only items I purchased at Home Goods.  Such is my obsession with that place.

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I’ll take the screens, the garden stools, that lamp and the pillows!

Could it really be done?  Could it really be done by me?  I love an outrageous idea like this, that might attract the attention of the media.  I like being on camera, and one day, might just have my own show. Who knows, the American appetite for design is insatiable.  Lord knows I’ve done other equally outrageous things to get published, not the least of which include spending more money on a yard of fabric than some people pay for summer camp for a kid.  That decision isn’t likely to be forgotten, at least until I pay off my credit card.  When will I learn?

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Color coordination makes me happy.

This route could save me thousands upon thousands of dollars.  I can also attest to genuinely loving what they have to offer.  I buy a massive quantity of goods – which make my home decidedly better than good!

My go to list of items include:

  • garden tables
  • lamps
  • bed clothes
  • knock-off accessories
  • rugs
  • pillows

They do one of two things, fade into the background ( I mean that in the best possible way), or they wow on their own.  Now it is true that my go-to approach is to mix HG items with pricier brand name pieces.  It always feels really good when people comment on the assemblage of items, singling out an HG find, but could I do a whole home?  Their furnishings aren’t among their strongest offerings, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bed in any of the stores.

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Ah, but they do have them, and it’s lovely.

Home Sense on the other hand has expanded offerings, and just recently open in Braintree, MA.  I can stop on my way from Boston to the Cape.  More concepts to come.  Please do weigh in.

 

Less is More: getting a design underway

Details, details, they can get in the way of one’s creativity – don’t you think?  I love a project where I’m not given too many perimeters.  The type of space, the materials needed, and their purpose is enough.  A general color way direction doesn’t hurt either.  If it isn’t explicitly stated, I’m going gray.  My perfect neutral with its full compliment of emotions, and ability to accommodate any gender, any age, and stage of your life.

Wexler Office Sample Board

We’ve got your blue grays, and your violet, your sage, and your putty, your clean and your smutty.  We’ve got sophisticated, and silly, whimsical and worldly, we have a splash through a tidal pool gray, and a bruised purple gray of the sky as it turns to night.  You  get the picture, I hope, because I am not supposed to be talking about gray at all, this blog is about a corporate office color palette.  It’s true that most of what I selected for the original round, did in fact include gray, but ironically the Client went with a sandy beach of an option.  Who could blame him, the 4th is right around the corner, and if you don’t get a little sand in your shoes now, you blink and miss it.

Wexler Office Sample Board v2

Like a writer facing a blank page, some Clients are simply better in the editors role.  Ask them what they want, and they may honestly say – “for it to be done”.  Others stare off into the distance hoping a mirage will appear on the horizon, a perfect glistening representation of their space to be.  I feel that way about math so I understand entirely the sentiment.  When it comes to design however, I like the freedom of creating something well – that I would like.  What’s wrong with that?

I would be thrilled to come to work in this pretty little office space, if it were just a tad closer to my home.  I hope that Lee Wex will have no trouble executing the design he saw fit to pick.