Keeping Time: Customization in the 21st Century

If you knew me, and some of you do, you would know that I am not patient. It’s not a charming or cute quality. Oh I’m sure if I was played by some Hollywood starlet in a movie of my life, they could make you adore me and my foot tapping impatience, but taking a breath and thinking it out has its advantages. I suppose this is a cautionary tale of sorts in that regard.

I can’t be alone in wanting things to happen quickly, and to be customized to my liking. I cannot wait for the day that I can point my digitized magic wand toward an upholstered piece from one of my flips and change the color. You were blue, and now I wish for you to be white, or cream, or pale grey. The possibilities are endless and so is the trouble you could get into. We’re not quite there, but we are getting close.

OKL. Palette . Daphne Slipper Chair . $474.50

It’s pretty exciting to see generations old companies evolve, combining artisanal craftsmanship with technology. If speed to market is part of the new name game, another part is customization. So what else makes up this new world of commerce? Collaborations, you build the furniture, I’ll design the fabric and throw my back into it – or as the case may be, a name. Preferably one that is well known in the design world. Collabs are popping up all over the place. The EveryGirl, Clare Vivier, Peter Som, Joanna Gaines. X marks the collaboration and they are hot.

OKL . Palette . Pillow $64.50

I was pretty excited to see One King’s Lane jump into the X-Game with a new service called Palette. You choose from a selection of furnishings or pillows, pick your fabric, now for the colors – 15 are available, select the scale of the design – small, medium or large, and choose a finish – and a frill or two if the piece warrants it. Ta-da. You have a customized piece that will ship to you from Cloth & Company the name behind the X, from Chicago, in 3 weeks. That’s right. Customized for you and delivered in just 3 weeks.

The Inside X Clare V. Sardines Sette. Photograph copyright dan cutrona

OKL is savvy. You don’t necessarily have to invent everything. Sometimes you just need to pay close attention and connect the dots. Last year I came across a 4th Generation family owned company. It struggled and then reinvented itself. Tillett Textiles and the T4 Color Pad technology that allows you to choose from 180 patterns, 55 colors and 12 grounds – think of the possibilities of fabrics that you can have your custom pattern printed on – I need a mathematician to help me figure out just how many options , but suffice it to say – it’s a lot. Then I came across a company called The Inside. Between their collaborations, and inexpensive upholstered pieces that arrive at your doorstep – you guessed it – in 3 weeks, we are witnessing a response to a demand.

Tillett Textiles. My custom print on the bed! Photography copyright dan cutrona

OKL married the two concepts, and like I said in the beginning…it’s magic.

Finding Your Way to Calm

During these in between times I usually feel like an old teddy bear whose seams have given way and whose fluff can be found in small tufts, scattered about all the places I have visited. A pair of sparkly shoes left behind at a friends house, two socks – not of the matching variety, a pair of my nickers, folders full of important documents, and most definitively – pieces of my sanity. If I thought being knocked senseless would make room for some fresh insight, I just might let someone take a whack.

It was this bad attitude that I took with me to the hardware store to get another round of sample paints for the new place. The clock is ticking and my lack of inspiration isn’t helping. So when Susan announced herself as a color specialist that was willing to assist – I did something unprecedented for me…I said “I’d love your help”. And I meant it. And even better – she did help.

Sometimes I get to thinking that I know enough about something to just go it alone, and that under the circumstances, the circumstances being, in case you’ve forgotten, are that all that fluff is falling out of my head – how could I possibly expect to wedge anything new in there and make it stick. Them, those, that.

Bill Nye said: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” It’s both scary and reassuring all at the same time, and Susan knew something I did not. She knew what all the designers were trending toward for the new year. She had a whole file full of greys. Can you imagine. It made me swoon with happiness. She had a tiny little piece of paper that had a diamond cut out of its middle. It was pure white and she ran it across colors to show me how they were reading. She talked about cool and warm, and how the very best designers balance the two in any space. She told me I picked colors that looked expensive and that it was a sure sign that i had gotten it right.

The beauty of a renovation: we can fix that.

Maybe all that fluff has been falling out to make room for Susan’s wisdom. My palette may have looked expensive, but it cost just the same amount it always does, and as I sit looking at the enormous sample sheets that magically appeared from her folder, I feel calm. Just like one of the paint colors we selected together.

Happy Saturday.

72 Hour Challenge: Part II

Top: The Inside Headboard only comes in Queen so we’ll need to have it custom made, but it will look beautiful mounted to the wall in front of this Article Basi Walnut Bed frame.

Undoubtedly the living room is a big deal in any home. That’s where you curl up on the sofa with a good book and a glass of wine, argue about what you are going to watch on TV – Tree House Masters or Hallmark Channel, sometimes I do that – judge away if you must, entertain friends, have long talks, and generally…well…live. As much as I appreciate that the living room can be the heart of the home, I long for my own bedroom when I am between flips. I dream about my bed, I imagine how lonely it is in that freezing cold storage box, and feel a little less than whole.

For me that poor cold bed is my everything in that room. Sure I love my closets, but they have doors, so they are practically different rooms entirely. It’s my perfect Prana Mattress, my feather stuffed pillows, my layers and layers of blankets that create a coziness I sink into. It’s a bit ironic since I suffer from such serious sleep issues. A post for another time.

I want to make sure that the master bed gets the special attention it deserves. The whole room that is, not just the bed. It’s a big room too so making it inviting without stuffing it with furniture, keeping a minimal aesthetic in keeping with the modernist look, is the challenge.

A king size bed will help with the scale of the room, a large low dresser, a bench at the end of the bed for taking your shoes off at the end of a long day – all important elements. Add black out curtains (a non-negotiable), some great bedside tables, and maybe a comfy chair. For me, no TV in the bedroom, but that decision I will leave up to the owner.

72 Hour Challenge

Above: Left Top: Anthropologie . Linen Haverhill Chair $595.50. Top Middle: Ballard Designs . Antelope Hand Tufted Rug in Grey 9 x 12 $899. Top Right: Shop Candelabra . Boyd Delux Credenza $4797 Bottom Left: CB2 . Forte Channeled Leather Extra Large Sofa $2379.15 and Bottom Right: Etsy Mid-century Side Tables – Pair $250.

I love a good challenge. It’s decidely easier to spend someone else’s money than my own. Though, admittedly I am pretty good at spending that too. This gives me the perfect distraction from my own renovation project and its associated budgetary challenges – you don’t even want to know how far over budget and how extensive the scope creep has been – you just don’t.

Left: Mineral Ice by Benjamin Moore will be the main color palette for the common areas and the living room. Right: Rejuvenation . Poplin Floor Lamp $423.

Look #1: Drum roll – $12,317.30. This includes significant discounts from West Elm, Ballard Designs, CB2. January is a big sale month.

West Elm . Andes Sectional $3582.90

Look #2: West Elm Sectional as posted above. Top Left: Target Warwick Wood Ratan Side Table $85.49 Top Right: World Market . Natural Basket Weave Jute Rug 9 x 12 $314.50 Bottom Left: Article Mara Walnut Coffee Table $299. Bottom Right: Etsy . Sideboard in Walnut $1897.45

Total for Look #2: $6264.83 Note that it does not include 2 side chairs or any lamps in this look – and they will be needed.

Now I don’t want you to think that I am being irresponsible with the recommendations I am putting forth for this young professional – on the contrary, I conducted an extensive search of some of my very favorite places – West Elm, The Inside, Etsy, Verellen, Shop Candelabra, World Marketplace, Rejuvination, and more. I went back to some tride and true Ben Moore colors, and picked a few new, and I will visit Home Goods for lamps and accessories, because well, they are simply the best for inexpensive, transitional lamps (remember, that’s a modern twist on traditional), and they knock off high end accessories faster than I can make my way down to NYC to get lured into buying the original. Thank the Lordy- Lord for Home Goods. Sometimes I think it’s too good to true, and then I pinch myself, and there it is…devine design, but not by Candice Olson – I love you unsung HG Knock-off Division heros.

Top Left: West Elm . Leigh Coffee Table $488.60 Right Top: West Elm . Flourish Rug 9 x 12 $1279.30. Middle: Shop Candelabra Boyd Delux Credenza $4797. Bottom Left: Target Single Drawer Hafley Side Table $62.99 Right Bottom: Ikea . Veda Arm Chair $199.

Look #3: Total $10,088.88 no lamps included in this look

So, back to the challenge: A condo that closes next week. A major move from DC to Boston, a series of subs lined up to execute the work – a tiny bit of demo, open a wall here, let the light in there, refinish the floors in a walnut stain – I approve even though the decision was made before I arrived on the scene, and paint. Then – a totally clean slate. Music to my ears. No Grandmother’s sofa to work into the mix (excuse me all you Grandma’s out there – I love you – truly I do, it just makes it so much easier when you can start fresh). To be clear, I would have taken that sofa and had it reupholstered for more money than you would have approved – so don’t you see…it’s just better this way.

Additional pieces I love and which could all work with any of the looks. Top Left: West Elm . Retro Tripod Coffee Table $209. Top Right: Etsy Walnut Credenza and West Elm . Kidney Bean Coffee Table $365.

Every room needs furniture. Two beds, a living room, and presumedly a dining area – though that is not part of my scope (hey you – you know who you are – the guy this challenge was posed for in the first place – I’ve got three dining tables if you need one.

I am well trained by my sister Jo-Jo to provide 3 options. She likes options, and a full design presentation. She provides the budget and I provide three schemes that fall within the same, and she picks. I will say, she typically picks items from all three options, but that’s her right – she’s paying.

I’m pretty excited about what I have selected and do hope that Jake will be too. It’s a lovely way to begin one’s life in a new town – don’t you think?

Reflections Of….

Is it too late to take a look back at 2018?  I have been so sick, I clear missed the end, and the new beginning.  I hate not saying a proper good-bye.  Despite so many friends and relatives saying sayonara with nothing less than gusto, I had lots for which to be grateful.

Left is Hanson Street Living Room After the Renovation. Right is before.

I like listing the accomplishments and the milestones.  I’m one of those people that adds things onto the list, just so I can cross them off.  You know the kind, don’t you?  Well sometimes I get to adding things to my list at such a dizzying rate I think my head is going to spin clear off, but them I go and get it all done, and there my head is still, so there’s not much of a case for slowing down.

This year I sold a house, bought a house, started a renovation, finished the biggest interiors project I had ever undertaken, built a deck, landscaped a yard, tore down a chimney, and spent an inordinate amount of time at Stonewood Products in Dennis, MA.  If you think sawdust is great you are going to love this place.  I had a “round” milestone birthday, celebrated in Mexico, and then London, visited Seaside Florida a new urbanist development that to me, is perfection, and took a ferry ride to Nantucket with my friends for a week.

Refurbished furniture for The Manse.  A little can of paint will do you.  Right side photo: Dan Cutrona @cutrona

I remembered how much I respect and admire the work of Dorothy Parker – I mean who else could possibly come up with poems as acerbic and sharp-witted as quips like:  “It serves me right for having put all my eggs into one bastard”?  Brilliant.  

I couldn’t resist.  Lawrence Street at time of purchase on the left and now….

I reaffirmed my affection for the color gray and more specifically, Ben Moore’s Mineral Ice.  It’s such a serene and calming gray.  I’m going to paint No. 5 gray too.  And there was so much more; introductions to new and amazing people like Jill Rosenwald a hip pottery maker, and Tillett Textiles – allowing you to select your pattern, and color palette, and finally find the perfect combo to go with your grandmother’s Bergere chair.  Magic.

Yes, 2018 was a pretty good year.  Hope it was for you too.

The Evolution of Style

Like fashion, interior design is subject to trends.  In with the leopard, out with the leopard.  In with ostrich feathers, out with ostrich feathers.  Tartan, neon, fringe, magenta and Chartreuse – all trends that come and go.  I accept and even embrace these trends – admittedly in somewhat conservative ways.  Here a pillow, there a pillow, everywhere a pillow, pillow.  They are so easy to introduce, and to say good-bye to, that they are, to my mind, the perfect way to be in vogue.

34 Law story board

The story of where No. 5 is going.

When asked how I define my style I get a little stuck.  Some would define it as “transitional” that’s a newfangled way of saying modern/traditional – a contradiction in terms, but when you see it, you know it.  That’s the style in which I designed The Manse, my sister’s 1789 house on Cape Cod.  A fresh take on traditional, which includes lighter colors, less fussy forms, patterns that have room to breathe.  Yes there are antiques thrown in, and hand carved decoys, and original art, that all has one foot in yesterday.  That’s not my all the time style though, but it felt right for The Manse.

Inkedpink door diamond floor_LI

These are three things I love; the graphic black and white floor in a diamond pattern, the gray wall, and the pink door.

Each house is a little different, not because my style changes that much from home to home, but because each home has a slightly different architectural style that seems to dictate its interior.  A classic brownstone loaded with architectural detail and ceilings that are brag worthily tall just begs for excess.  A chandelier dripping in crystals, a gilded mirror, billowy curtains – you get the picture.  A federal style workers cottage or muse as the English would refer to them, is stripped of the architectural adornments that you’ll find in parlor level brownstones, and the interior should follow suit.  While it’s true you can add in the detail, it should be done in proportion to the setting.  Too much molding or base in a space with low ceilings will feel contrived – not natural.  While there are no rules per se regarding the use of moldings, casing and/or base, they are applied for practical aesthetic reasons.  That is to say, they hide the gaps between the rough finished floor and wall, and hide the raw edge of the window.  Now it’s true that you can do away with these architectural elements all together.  Before you start counting all the money you saved by not buying base, I can assure you that it will cost you much more to achieve a clean reveal (that’s a gap in the surface of the wall that provides a visual break from wall to floor.  Modern architects call for this type of detail all the time.  It’s incredibly difficult to achieve and to make look nice, but when it’s done properly it really does look pretty.  Trust me, getting it to look pretty is expensive, thus the practically of base and casing comes in.  Making these decisions will in fact define a style – whether or not it’s your style is yet to be determined, but we learn.

black and white diamond floor

The classic black and white pattern is timeless.  Note that it is paint, not tile – though I like tile too.

So shouldn’t I know by now?  Well, maybe but style evolves and part of this journey of flipping ten is to discover.  Sure I want to discover if it’s possible to flip 10 and make a million, but I also want to discover what exactly is my style, and to name it.  In order to do that, I cull through thousands of pages of magazines.  I take pictures of houses that I visit, places that I love, materials, and shapes, and colors, and then I try to figure out exactly what it it’s about those things that make me like them.  It’s important to know why, because you can’t mix too many styles together and have it be a success.  I use story boards or inspiration boards to help me hone in on the look that I’m after.  See if you can detect the patterns and themes that I keep revisiting.  A fashion designer once told me when I asked how I would know what my style was:  “when you’ve bought nearly the same thing three or four times in a row – that’s your style”.  Makes sense right.

Finding Inspiration

When things look dirty and old, when it’s hard to see what the generations of owners before you were thinking, you just need to close your eyes and start.  Starting is the important thing.  We are not always inspired right out of the gate.  There are seemingly endless roadblocks to getting started.  Fear – of making the wrong decision, of the associated cost of those wrong decisions, of having to start over, and what of the next wrong decision, and on and on until your frozen, immobile.  Unacceptable.

paint colors

Making a decision is part of the renovation game.  Making a lot of them is just part and parcel of the same.  There are certainly going to be a number of wrong ones thrown into the mix.  This is how you get smarter, how you build your design and construction chops.  So you see, hesitating will do you no good.  It’s time to make a decision.

While I wait for the HVAC Contractor to give me my quote and the painter and carpenter to do the same, I should be reaching out to an electrician and a plumber.  I’ll need both, and I want to make sure that I have the electrical capacity to support the new HVAC system that will be installed.  But it’s Christmas and no one is doing anything remotely resembling work, that includes scheduling it for a later date.  Hum.  That leaves me in a bit of a pickle, but mustard on I must.

wood floor

Instead of pickling a pickled pepper for a party later on, I’ll start to pick the paint.  One thing about small places is their lack of definition from one space to the next.  The living room flows into the kitchen, the stair flows from living room down to bedroom, making it difficult to stop one paint color and begin another.  The same will be true of the floors, and I desperately want those floors to be treated differently – like they were special.  Instead I think I will have to pick a single stain for all the hard wood.  That makes it easy, even if it doesn’t comply with my design desires.  The fact that it’s oak and the boards are thin make the decision, for me, even easier.  It’s Dark Walnut or Espresso.  Why these tones?  The darker the stain, the more contiguous the wood looks.  I prefer wide planks of hickory, but I am not going to be ripping up these floors.  Oak has it’s advantages.  It’s sits above the median on the Janka Hardness Scale which measures the hardness of the wood varietals.  At 1360, it’s pretty tough, which means it can take the wear and tear of the city finding its way in from the outdoors.  That’s a big plus.  Additionally, I hate to rip out anything that was well constructed, just because I don’t like it.  So the floor stays, but that closet, the mechanical equipment, the built-in cabinetry – that’s a no holds bar – going, going, gone.  It’s so bad, I’d even do it myself.


Ben Moore . Dragonfly

I’m going with another shade of gray to sooth my sensibilities over the other things I cannot change.  While I love Ben Moore’s Mineral Ice, I am leaning toward Stone White, Tundra or Sidewalk Gray.  All these hues can be a little more blue than gray, but that is my preference.  It’s happy and sophisticated all at the same time, and the place deserves a little happy.  Gray looks beautiful next to a dark stained floor.


Ben Moore . Batik.

For the kitchen I’m leaning toward a darker green than I had in No. 4.  Waterbury Green or Dragonfly.  They are rich colors and though the kitchen is an alley kitchen, I feel as if it will be cozy.  The powder room would look pretty in a dusty pink like this Batik.  That leaves the bedroom and the master bath.  All for another day.