I’ll Have a Blue Christmas

Just 4 days shy of my three year mark, I’ll be saying good-bye to No. 5. We were an on again, off again, property listing. Putting ourselves out there, and then retreating to question what went wrong. Why we were the only one left at the dance, still leaning against the wall. We wanted answers, but the answers we wanted had nothing to do with the truth, just a truth that we could swallow. A truth that wouldn’t place blame on us, but rather on something else, something out there, out of our control, that’s the kind of answer she and I were looking for, because it couldn’t be that we weren’t pretty. We’d worked hard to make ourselves presentable, to work with what we were given, to shine and polish, and impress.

Hang your stocking with care.

The fear of not being enough is a horrible one, so we wouldn’t allow ourselves to think about it. We were going to take ourselves home from that dance, and decorate for the holidays. We’d be so blingy, you’d be blinded by our beauty when you walked through the door. We’d be bejeweled and bedazzled, festooned, and fiercely festive. We were going to go all out, but just as we were reaching for our coats and preparing to exit, the unexpected happened.

Isn’t it always the way. The offer came in, and we accepted. What could one twirl around the floor hurt. We didn’t have to stay until the end, but in the end we decided we would. It was good. No. 5 and I would consciously uncouple, and I would forge out on my own, alone again, free, a world of possibility at my fingertips, the only sadness, no holiday decorations in the city for me.

I do so love to decorate every square inch for the holidays. Maybe I’ll have enough energy after the move to get a tiny little tree, a couple of garlands, a few bows. That wouldn’t be too much work now would it?

Specificity: The Art of Getting it Right

When I first started in this industry – this industry – design and construction, I sat behind a reception desk, answering calls, furiously filling out Pepto Bismal colored slips, that got carefully torn from the spiral bound note book, and deposited into the circular plastic caddy, for all those important enough to get messages in the first place. I received deliveries – lots and lots of deliveries, and sets of drawings and specifications that would make even the most ardent supporter of the gym, laugh at the facilities ability to prepare you for real life. Drawing sets were hundreds of pages, thousands of symbols, and stank of the acrid aroma of blueprints. The spec book, which completed the pairing – one element useless without the other, was the size of Gideon’s Bible – I do so love the underdog Rocky Racoon – this post bound book was daunting. “Who”, I wondered aloud to myself, “would ever want to read, or write this thing”?

I may not have wanted any part of it, but as I sit looking at my reupholstered chair, and coordinating pillows, I have to ask myself, “Could this experience have benefited from a sketch, with narrative instructions to the upholsterer”? I do wonder how it went so wrong. Maybe my instructions got lost in translation during the six months that preceded their arrival and the delivery of said pieces. We’ve all had it up to our eye-balls with news of supply chain challenges and delays, delays, delays, and I don’t even want to admit the ghastly cost of this imperfect endeavor, which if we are looking to place blame, could so easily fall on the germy shoulders of the pandemic.

Tight. Divided bolster pillows for the bed. Custom, not arts and crafts.

Placing blame, will not change the reality that they replaced my perfectly round edged seat cushion, filled with fluffy down, with a modern foam filled substitute that is squared off at the corners, and hangs, ever so indelicately, over the chairs front edge. A pedestrian mistake. I had it happen once before with a mid-century modern sofa, I had reupholstered. I took all the cushions back, and demanded that they cover the old cushions. ” I never instructed them to be replaced”. I huffed. And what of the edge banding, that was supposed to be navy blue velvet piping? And the pillows – they aren’t even the correct fabric. While they all coordinate, they are a far cry from the vision I had for the bedroom design.

Now who’s wishing they were a spec writer. Next project, sketches, diagrams, arrows, sample boards, narratives, and a signed contract will accompany my deposit. Has this ever happened to you?

How do you Identify: Holiday yes, or no?

The season will adapt to whatever you have at home if you give it a hand.

I identify as a Christmas person. The type that starts playing Christmas songs in July when I am working on concepts for my company’s holiday packages. You have to be in a festive frame of mind, even if the heat is being generated by the sun instead of a crackling wood burning fireplace. Co-workers pass by my office, I spot a raised eyebrow as they lean closer, outstretched hand on the long black pull of my sliding glass door, lips forming words of admonishment. “That’s not Christmas music that you’re playing, is it?” They ask tentatively, and with a note of remonstration in their voice. I reply chirpily “absolutely, and please kindly close the door, so that I don’t disturb Theresa who is putting the pennies, ever so carefully. in all the right columns.” Thank you!

I won’t be shamed into pretending I’m too cool for decorations, packaging that sparkles, jingles, and begs to be touched. I won’t let go of the excitement that I felt as a kid, in the months, weeks, days that led up to that special holiday. I mostly have to be serious, or worried this, anxious that, how will I get it all done, and the done is just followed by more need for doing. No, I refuse. Christmas makes me happy, it makes me nicer. It makes me more creative.

Now I understand that some of you readers will be cringing at the mere mention of the season. That’s ok, I’m not trying to convert the universe into gingerbread baking, cookie making, gift giving, graceful, giddy, gals and guys, but nobody that I am aware of, was ever made unhappy by a little holiday crafting. You don’t even have to use the traditional red and green colors of the Noel. No, you go ahead and use any old color you want, but don’t be stingy with the sparkle. A little glitter never hurt anyone. A string of lights can turn brown and green wildwood into a magical forest. A sprig of holy against your blue and white chinoiserie takes on a whole new attitude.

This past weekend I took to the road, my mini pointed south to New Haven, and my dear, talented, artist of a friend Carol Anne’s studio, and I hot glued my way through dozens of vases, bowls, turines, and planters, stuffing them with Amaryllis and Paper Whites, blanketed them in moss, and bedazzling them to give their owner something to appreciate before the bulb explodes into a stock, and the stock erupts with a bloom, and the bloom arrives at a time when even those most resistant to the holiday season, have to cede to the reality that it has arrived. You mine as well enjoy it. Think what you too could create with a glue gun, some spray paint, a twig, a pinecone, and a couple of old ornaments. Hope you have as much fun as I did.

Who could resist that donkey, let’s not forget Mary road in on one of these little fellas.

Don’t Get Bested by the Cash Buyer

The Queen of Cash, is King Game, just may be Flyhomes. If you bought, sold, or forlornly submitted your rent check to your landlord, yet another month during a long, and unfruitful quest for a home of your own, you may have been outbid by a cash buyer. Boston has long been a city where perspective buyers beg their real estate agents to show a property to them first, before it hits the market, talk nice to the selling broker to curry favor, write a glowing letter to include with the bid that talks about raising your unborn children in the home, or starting a women-owned business that is going to change the world, or proclaiming a psychic had a vision of you living in this very house, interviewing Michelle Obama. Stranger things have happened.

I learned about Cash Buyers at the tail end of my search for my third home. I had been outsmarted eight consecutive times. Eight times, ouch. I was not happy. While I was carrying on about cash buyers, and lamenting the fact that I wasn’t born royal, I discovered something very important, not every cash buyer actually has the cash to buy a home. “How could that make them a cash buyer, I asked?” ” Isn’t that the very definition of one? ” I asked my broker Alan. It turns out that it is not. The allure of “cash” to a perspective buyer can be a number of things including; speed to closing, and/or an assurance that you aren’t going to run into trouble securing your financing, which is grounds for the deal to fall through, with no financial ramifications to the potential buyer. In other words, as long as they attempted to get at least one bank to lend them the money, and failed, they will receive their 5% deposit back, and the seller will be left with nothing, but a suspicious “Back on the Market” designation that may taint their ability to get another solid offer.

A sign that leaves a potential buyer asking themselves what went wrong.

I’m pretty competitive. I was born that way. I hated the idea of being outdone. It’s not as if I can’t accept a loss here and there, I’m evolved, but eight times. That’s ridiculous. Alan had an answer, and he just may have waited long enough into my humiliation cycle to spring it on me, to know that I would do anything, almost anything, things that were pretty risky, to get a deal to stick. This second type of cash buyer, I could be. It required me to waive my financing contingency. Refer to the previous paragraph where I told you that if you make an effort to secure financing (through a single lender), and it falls through, you get all your money back. That’s the part – I could waive that contingency. By relinquishing my right to get my 5% deposit back, I could own the title, Cash Buyer, and so could you. I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart, and not every seller will go for it, but there are plenty out there that hope your financing will fall through, and they’ll have their home, and your money (this isn’t exactly true, but mostly it is).

Not to long ago, in the midst of the Covid house buying craze that has turned the suburbs into a casino for high-rollers, I learned that there might be a better way. Six years ago an innovative company opened its virtual doors – Flyhomes will for a fee, be the cash buyer for you. Well isn’t that just the smartest thing you ever did hear? Founded by Tushar Garg and Stephen Lane in Seattle, Washington, in 2015. They launched here in Boston in 2019 – suspiciously great timing. One more great thing about cash offers, more often than not they aren’t the highest offer. They average 3% below market. You just may walk on air after your closing – also known as flying.

The Conclusion of Construction Inclusion Week

Yesterday wrapped the first ever Construction Inclusion Week. An effort to bring more visibility to the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion – or exclusion as the case may be – to the construction industry. It’s not as if people don’t know about the industry. There are cranes everywhere, roads that are being torn up and put back together again, clogging the streets with honking horned cars, and their red faced drivers. We’ve got TV reports of supply chain issues; refrigerators, lumber, chips, clips, and ships, that can’t get their goods delivered to you. People know about the industry, but what “we” – that’s the universal we, that work in the industry – wonder is, do they know that despite all the challenges that it brings, it brings something great too? Do they know that construction, and the art of creation, is something that will never fail you, even if sometimes people, or pandemics do?

Paris . a chandelier in 700 piece harmony

We humans are flawed. We seek the familiar, even if we know that pushing beyond our comfort zone can bring surprising results. Construction Inclusion Week is that gentle bump on the shoulder that says don’t be grumpy, you’ll see, inviting others to the party will make it more fun.

Somethings are worth the effort.

When I first got into the industry all I wanted to do was work for an organization that would provide new challenges to me, and to be surrounded by “those” people that had some of the very best marketing campaigns I had ever seen. “In Springtime our builders thoughts turn from cranes and construction, to wedges and woods” or some clever missive meant to entice clients to join in on the fun of a golf clinic. It never even occurred to me that I might not be welcome, and mostly I am, as the place that I sit within the industry is stereotypically female. Others have not always been though – from the seat in the estimating or procurement division, to the all knowing and seeing role of superintendent in the field, there are places that women and people of color aren’t getting the red carpet treatment, and that needs to change.

As a woman, I am as guilty as the next person, for seeking out people, that are like me, to work with. I’ve had a female lawyer for years. I adore @Sarah Ricciardelli of Ricciardelli & Small, LLC. I’ve worked with a female banker and broker and wallpaper hanger, and even a female electrician. I paid the extra doe to use a union electrician because I wanted to support Samantha, and because hanging that Parisienne/Italian Chandelier that I had shipped back from France in 765 pieces, and needed to have installed in my historic, monumental, plaster rosette ceiling, wasn’t at all up to the challenge of carrying the weight, of its 200 plus pounds, and was going to require someone that had real skills. Sam did, and that enormous sculptural cherry blossom of enlightenment, hung proudly in the middle of that grand dame of a living room for about two months, before I sold the place and moved on.

Construction Inclusion Week was an opportunity for me to think about ways in which I might be more open, “be the change I wanted to see in the world”, do my part to make this industry thrive, and be the example other industries look to as a blueprint. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere, it’s up to us….New York, or Construction Industry, Construction Industry….ba ba, bada da, ba ba bada da.

The Education of a Non-Builder

Design and construction, no matter your role in the process, is an education. Don’t think you are going to be an innocent bystander, sitting on the sofa, penning checks, happily awaiting the completion of the renovation. You are going to be forced to make decisions, and those decisions will require a deeper understanding than you likely currently possess. You are right to be worried about it. You will be in the deep end of the pool more than the shallow end, where the water is warm, and the livin’ is easy. The good news is, no one learns to swim in three inches of water, but you could still drown in it, so learn to swim you will little grasshopper.

Recycle . Reuse . old door . new home.

I still have difficulty understanding why some doors can be removed and replaced, reusing the existing casings, and others can’t, or simply end up looking like a hot mess. Gaps, hinge locations where no Dutchman patch was crafted to disguise the damaged area, a stripe of paint from a previous job revealed, are all aspects of a door replacement project gone wrong. If you are asking why not just replace the casing too, let me remind you that the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone. Once you start ripping that out, you mine as well gut the place.

There are questions of sequencing, should the floors be refinished before you paint the walls, or paint the walls before you refinish the floors. Unless you have the most fastidious subcontractors you are going to get stain on your freshly painted baseboards, or speckles of paint on your varnished floor. A white cloth and some linseed oil will take that up if you move swiftly.

There are rabbet and dado joints, which are really quite nice, and miter joints – I wouldn’t want any other kind, but you do you. You’ll want to know when your house is going to be buttoned up, particularly if you are building during the rainy season, or snow is on the way. You’ll definitely want to pay attention if your builder announces he’s going to “hog” something out. This rough and tumble approach isn’t something you’ll want to be able to see later, or suffer the consequences of a structural failure as a result of their reckless ripping.

When I slide my bar height stool back and forth across the wood floor in my sister’s house I wish the previous owners had been educated on the wood’s Janka Rating. The pine they selected is so soft that even my feather light frame leaves an indentation. They should have selected Hemlock, Douglas Fir, or Chestnut, those are some seriously hard woods, a bullet might leave a mark, but not much else.

Some people like their learning to happen over the course of a semester, building slowly, others prefer a crash course, wherever you fall in the spectrum, you are sure to come away with cocktail conversation fodder.

Pretty as a picture. Ripping and tearing hidden from view.

Opposites Attract: the use of black and white in design

Ken Fulk’s Living Room Design . Anchored in Black and White.

Balance in life is something we are ever in pursuit of. One side of the seesaw is tipped too far, and too long, on the side of drama, chaos, endless checklists that can feel as if they add up to nothing of significance, even when the boxes display that emphatic red slash or definitive x. Then it bumps gently down on the side of calm composure, perhaps brought on by a vacation that you never want to leave.

We need both, we need equilibrium, we need that special mental calmness, composure, and even temper when we are faced with the most vexing situations. You know the kind, the ones a design and construction project are always throwing your way. I can hear the yogi Baron Baptiste whispering in his flat affect…”equanimity”, the even tide of his utterance lulling me into a hypnotic state. No time for that now. We must discuss contrast.

Kelly Wearstler’s San Francisco . The Proper Hotel

Contrast – the good and evil, the dark and the light, the total absorption of one, ironically brings about expansiveness. Paint your walls black or install kitchen cabinets of the same color and they seem to recede into the distance making your 100sf feel like two or three. White wash your walls and get ready to reflect the sunlight that pours in through your windows, tricking you once again into thinking the space is larger than it is.

Suzanne Kasler . Just a touch of black inside the fireplace to ground the white room.

Black and white is timeless and chic. It can draw your attention to the one color or object in a room that you want the visitor to appreciate most. It goes with any color combination or design style, making it the single most versatile combo you can choose to use. You never need to be afraid of the dark if you don’t forget to leave the white on.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Gritty Glamour: the elegance of dirty spaces

I’m fascinated by the beauty of turn of the century functional spaces – of train stations and power plants, pump houses and grain storage silos. These buildings didn’t need to be attractive, after all few will see the inside of a silo, but they were. Maybe form followed function and in so designing, it became an elegant missile preparing for launch into the stratosphere of stars, but that doesn’t account for the finishes inside of the turbines. There to produce power, first utilizing the dirtiest of fuels – coal, and later electricity, I can’t imagine they really needed to be outfitted with grand Palladian windows, their wrought iron mullions forming a decorative cross pattern that I long to replicate in a home that I have yet to call my own.

Fashion Designers, event planners, and visionaries of all sorts become glassy eyed at the prospect of showcasing their goods, setting a scene, being seen in their finest threads, bedazzled with baubles, and beads, twinkly lights, and crystal candle stick holders, their tapered forms reaching increasingly slender degrees toward their twinkling height, casting their flickering glow against the centuries old tiled walls.

There are levers and pulleys, catwalks and balconies, and elements for whose function will likely never be known to me. I envision the s-shaped scrolls that are mounted to the interior walls, 20′ in the air, carrying hurricane lanterns, entwined with ivy and honeysuckle. The tables would be scattered about, draped in fine white sateen table cloths, green handblown glass goblets would compliment the tiled walls. A dark herringbone wood dance floor would be installed in the very center, the pink seven tiered wedding cake, topped with a single white anemone, will be cut to the swirling notes that drift from the brass bands situated on the balconies above.

Beauty and the Beast – there is nothing like pairing two disparate things together to watch them shine.

Design Narrative: The Stories Your Spaces Tell

Design narrative sounds so technical and it can be. Temperature controls, and programs, and mandates and specifications, are part of a serious design narrative, but it should start with the story, and the story should start with a word, a feeling, a texture, a place. It should evoke emotion, unite the team in a vision, pave a plush velvety pathway for the designers to wiggle their toes in as they explore the possibilities that await.

Everyone can appreciate the unifying nature of a powerful story. Video Gamers call it Narrative Design, and use the hero of the game as the central character in which to tell the story. Event Planners, focus on theme, book cover designers peek into the pages to understand the heart of the tale and utilize fonts, colors, photos and icons to hit the viewer hard and quick, but to reward them visually upon closer inspection, inviting them to investigate what lies within.

Designers make use of a number of tools to unearth their clients’ goals and desires for a project. A great story takes you on a journey of discovery, and is deeply satisfying because it teaches you something, reminds you of something, or introduces you to a melange of disparate ideas, bringing them together in magical fashion. To be a real story it must have a beginning, middle and an end. Seemingly simple, sometimes this roadmap is ignored entirely, which can leave a design, and the inhabitant of the space feeling less than inspired.

Start by asking your client, or yourself the following questions:

  • What is your favorite season,
  • Favorite home scent, and why
  • Plants or fresh cut flowers – type
  • When you aren’t working how do you spend your time
  • What do you want guests to feel when they visit?
  • What colors, materials, and textures make you happy?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

Add your own to the list, discover and explore together the items and images that evoke emotion and you’ll be off to the races.