Psycho Thriller: How renovating houses turned me into my own therapist

Break the rules or create your own.

I love the idea of being de-coded by someone. To be truly understood and seen by another should be a basic human right, it’s not, but it is a basic need. I won’t allow myself the luxury of lying on a sofa, or in a comfortable chair, and working through why I think or feel the way I do. I know I have the disease of being busy, too busy, so busy I can barely sit still, which is in part why I like house renovations so much. They are like little babies requiring constant care and attention. They can also try your patience and wear on your last nerve, making you feel as if you are going to go insane.

Making way for water – away from the home.

Here’s where Behavioral Activation Therapy comes in. I can’t believe that I didn’t study psychology because I love it so much. I had been employing this psychotherapy technique on myself without even knowing it. I’m so self-clever sometimes it astounds me, mainly because at turns I can be so clueless, and not in the cute and cool way that Alicia Silverstone was when she starred as Cher in the movie of the same name. I stumbled across the technique when I was renovating my second property, which had me crying a river – the last thing you want to do when your house is already full of water in all the wrong rooms and places.

The kitchen – heart of the home.

I found myself digging around in my closets looking for my suitcases and wondering to myself allowed what would be needed in the quiet padded cell of the insane asylum, when I thought, what if I just pretended that this wasn’t happening to me at all. What if, I was just a paid employee to the person that it was happening to, and my job was to figure it out – get the appropriate line-up of contractors, find the best prices and do it quickly. What if, when all of that was done, I got paid for it? What if indeed.

Keeping it together. The foundation for the retaining wall is in!

What I discovered is that it works. By removing the person that takes it personally – that would be me, and I suspect you too – from time to time, something amazing happens, you just get it done. It’s just a job. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to No Stupid Questions – the Angela Duckworth and Steven Dubner podcast I am currently obsessed with and Angela, the psychologist, was asked by Steven if pretending you weren’t depressed, by “acting” as if you were an non-depressed person could really work? I bet you can guess what she said. Now go out there and get renovating or taking your first steps toward running a marathon or whatever amazing thing you will do, because you can – unless it’s surgery. Please leave that to the surgeon.

Kitchen Scheme: Two Takes for Take II

I do wish I had the Hollywood production crew to support this effort. I want to roll out set design after set design, approve, reject, refine, edit, explore, look for even more. Want that outrageously expensive light fixture, just find some obnoxiously rich finance person who wants to be a part of the fame to fund it. Does that sound too cynical of me. I can be cynical, when instead I should be celebrating, all the possibility that comes from ingenuity, a tireless search that results in an unexpected find. I can do that too.

Scheme I . Looking for a slightly more traditional take on this option.
Scheme 1 Take II

Last week I showed you four potential schemes for the kitchen. I thought for a moment I’d show you no more. We had a roller coaster of a week with a person of interest – to me, and my partners, as she showed serious interest in the property. Three visits. The first on her own, that I chalked up to curiosity. Who doesn’t love a construction site? The second started to get my attention, and resulted in the hatching of a plan, a sale price and serious consideration. The third visit with her builder and trusted friends showed even more promise, but was followed by crickets – and not the Disney character that provide comic relief from the backbreaking work of the demolition, the sad soliloquy of a solo violinist.

Scheme I . Take I
Scheme II . Take II

I did feel a little sad about leaving it unfinished and handing it over for cash money, but make no mistake our purpose in this endeavor is to make money, not to realize our grandest design desires – though we have fun with that too. If I learned anything from binge watching Selling Sunset, it was that you don’t need to take a project to completion to add value, and value we did add. She’s as bare as a babe on a nude beach in summer, though by next spring she’ll be adorned with more Hydrangea and sea grass, maybe a bushel of Montauk Daisies or a Tulip or two, a Butterfly Tree and plenty of mint scattered about. We hired the architect, are refining the design, lined up all the subs, have our application into historic…that’s all worth something.

While it might not have been right for OysterPondGal – it’ll be so very right for the right person. Forge ahead we must and I cannot wait to hear your opinion on this next iteration of kitchen designs. Please don’t hold back. Happy Sunday friends.

Demolition Derby: tales from the Willow Bend Flip

Scheme I

I’m not an Olympic Athlete, in case you were wondering. I wonder if it’s because I don’t love the pain of the challenge as much as the other gal. I can do it, do make myself do it, languish in the rewards of being on the other side of doing it. The sore muscles, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, of doing something that someone else simply won’t do. I can do that, but I am old enough to know that I’ll never love it. Not like Michael Jordan, not like Billie Jean King, not like Danika, but hard work shows up in so many different ways, and I love and hate them all, and feel as neutral as a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold winter’s day, which is to say, I love ice cream anytime of the year, but I hate being cold. I like to celebrate my complexity like a rainbow.

Scheme II

This flip required 4 hard – like a hard rain’s gonna fall kind of hard – demolition. When you embark on a renovation project there really is something for every skill-set, age, and interested person to contribute. When I was really little I used to pick the nails up around the construction site. Later I striped wallpaper, and lead paint from the walls – check that box. Not being allowed to use power tools of any kind, I worked my way around the site (the homes that we lived in and my father renovated), hauling, cleaning, organizing, and staying out from underfoot and being very, very quiet. I’d work for a #6 Mason Jar sandwich – roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce, romaine lettuce, muenster cheese, mayo on a bulky roll with a half sour pickle – no chips or a drink, we were conserving money for the renovation.

Scheme III

As I peeled back the vines, the dilapidated wood picket fence, then the chain link, for which I was forced to cede my show of strength. I couldn’t even unearth a single concrete encrusted steel post from the ground, and there were many. I have nothing on Mother Nature – I bow to your beauty and strength.

Scheme I – II

Days 3 and 4 were all about the upstairs bath. Boy there are lots of parts and pieces to that structure. I’m reminded that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, the hip bones connected to the …. I had to dissect the connections to find the weak points and disassemble what someone or two, at times very thoughtfully, and later, quite lackadaisically with a scrap here, and an almost long enough board there, had carefully put into place those many decades before. It all gave me a run for my money, but as money is the point of this flip, and I am motivated by it, I refused to wave the flag until all the plaster and drywall – yes both, all the 2 x 4 – the real kind – the one’s that actually measured 2 x 4, all the offensive aesthetic elements were dispensed with – the vanity – holy ugly, the glass block window – holy heavy, the Italian blue ceramic tile, and the toilet – holy – holy. I stripped that baby bare. She’s as fresh as a new born entering the world, full of possibility. The sore muscles were worth it.

Scheme IV

Now I need your help. Long lead items are longer than they ever were before – oh Covid. The kitchen must be ordered and we cannot order the kitchen without a plan for the color scheme, and this Cape home will flow from one room to the next so we need to really LOVE the kitchen becaus all tides will rise with it, or fall, with crashing finality over the clashing disaster of colors. Which of these options would say to you – I’m ready to move in?

Joint Venture: Let the Female-led Flip Begin

27 Willow Bend . Look for the listing Spring 2021

I’ve been working since I was eleven years old. I know what hard work is, and still, as I sit here on – not my sofa- I am fully steeped in the meaning of the phrase “a hard days work”. I’m so tired from the effort of wedging, pulling, bending, breaking, berating the board, and the brick, and the bad ass bush that got in the way of my de-shuttering extravaganza, that I can barely command my fingers to lift and type – something they are very facile at doing, under normal circumstances.

Before the brush attack. It’s all gone now.

I’ve been a Chamber Maid, and only slightly elevated my standing in life when I became a pot washer of a different sort, before graduating to sandwich maker. I am proud of the fact that I could make those sandwiches faster than the sandwich wrapper could wrap them. I was accused of gaming the system by setting up six to eight sandwiches for construction at a time. I was always thinking of ways in which I could change the work, make the work more fun – make it a game, win, compete, exceed, proceed. At that young age I didn’t give much consideration to the ways in which the work changed me, but it did, it has, its impression so deeply ingrained that I feel certain that the camaraderie, the laughter, the sweat, and the five gallon plastic pickle barrels that I would haul from the walk-in out to the kitchen and open with the sharp end of a French knife before sinking my hand into the frigid briny liquid to retrieve the spears, will never leave me. Just as surely as I could recite very word of Cat Stevens Greatest Hits album which we played day after day, after long summer day on the old cassette player.

Say good-bye to the dated kitchen.

It’s likely this early start, the experience of being around other people that also worked, that worked hard, that didn’t really understand hardly working, has given me the experience, or maybe it’s an understanding that I gave something to it, and in return it gives something to me. We might not be even. The scales tip in one direction, and then another, they vacillate in tiny dips and shudders, on that fulcrum of perfection, that represents sublime balance – if only for a moment. Those moments are worth the effort.

Don’t you love a little look back in time.

Today’s effort was the result of a full day’s demolition on my very first joint venture. A flip, which is my very favorite kind of real estate holding. Hard to get too precious over something you don’t plan to hold that long, and at the same time, I’ll do my best to take care of her, and so will my two female counter parts. It’s amazing to me that the women of ancient Egypt were allowed to acquire, own, and dispose of real property. How then did things get so off course for us. It wasn’t until 1855 in MA that women here reclaimed that right, but it’s woefully underutilized. I’m hoping I can change your mind about that. Nothing says real like real estate.

Screen Shot: Block bugs and look beautiful

I adore this option with the stained and varnished mahogany.

There’s nothing like an aluminum screen door to get you sliding back to the seventies, fingers clasping and unclasping in quick succession as you ask yourself, which is worse? The start to this decade or the seventies. We’ve barely gotten across the threshold, but it has left so very much to be desired. Having lived through the full compliment of that orange and brown, shag carpet, lava lamp, bell bottomed blue, banana seat bike, built-in belt, goucho wearing decade – I can assure you it was anything but complimentary.

Dory – You adore this as much as I do?

As much as I hated those aluminum screen doors with their diamond patterned, pressed inlay, they undoubtedly did their primary job, which was to keep the bugs out, and very importantly to me, let the light in. I ripped a similarly offensive “storm door” off of my current condo, and its facade is far better for it. It’s the equivalent of having lost 20lbs. Who wouldn’t look lighter and feel more attractive? It had to go, but I’ve missed it – obviously not for it’s aesthetic contributions, but for it’s bug catching abilities.

Fire cracker red celebrates the seasons.

As I took my walk to investigate the open houses, analyze with a critical eye and the dormers on the homes in the Port, I took to noticing how many homes hadn’t forgone the screen door. They put it front and center, they made it an object of desire, the painted in bright colors and in the highest gloss available, also known as lacquer and they adorned it with gold leaf appliques. These wooden screen doors were a triumph. They were a spectacle, they were worth a nod, they were worth further investigation, and dare I say replication.

While some of you might think that it is “strictly coastal”, I think I could have made it work in the city. If only I had more time. If only I had more money. If only, if only, if only….

The Edge of Summer: Where you stand is what you are

I love the idea of being decoded. I’ve certainly made no secret of that fact, and the how’s, and why’s of the things I do. They are often a mystery to me. Surprisingly, they seem a little less mysterious to others, who can see things, that I simply cannot. Michael Singer writes in his book: The Untethered Soul about our indwelling consciousness. The perfection of this idea that we live in our heads instead of the world, and further that we’ve shacked up with a very afraid, extremely talkative roommate who makes no bones about telling you where your edge is, is illuminating to say the least. Should I have just gotten to the point and stated the obvious, which is that we are in fact, on the edge of summer, the back edge, not the front.

Serena and Lily . quintessentially summer.
S + L Terrace Dining Table $3898.
S and L . Sundial Outdoor Side Chair $1398.

Palecek Design . Sadie Beaded Mirror looks like a sea anemone. $1678.

Instead of living in our heads, while it is out there still happening, I plan to spend this weekend dwelling in the real world where happiness and sunshine abound, if only you are willing to look for it. The passing of summer, after all, need not be lamented. We live in this beautiful existence of circular renewal – it’ll be back again, and we’ll be waiting for it. What was it that the very prosaic Winnie the Pooh said:

Palcek Design does it with: Left – Marina Chandelier available at Stephanie Cohen Home $1557.60 and Right: Green Oaks Wall Pendant at Clayton Gray Home $780.

“What I like best, –” and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it, which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. Ah, anticipation – hang on to that, but not before you revel in all these beautiful summer furnishings, which with the lead times being what they are, you should snap up now so that when next summer rolls around you are as ready to live in the real world in divine style – untethered from longing and lamentation. What a wonderful thing. Happy weekend.

Add a little Scalamadrie . Jarin de Chine Wallpaper to a foyer.

Living Room: the grown up version of your den

Option 1

I wonder if the empty room feels exposed, naked, vulnerable, or perhaps she is an exhibitionist, that revels in her sparse beauty.  Begging to have the observer, look at her, admire her, sit with her.  There is something wonderfully rich about the blank slate.  My imaginings made manifest with the sweeping away of all obstacles.  Admittedly some of those obstacles come in the form of walls and doors, diminutive moldings, or grotesque protuberances – the gaudy mantle or casing – lob it off, somewhat less delicately than the plastic surgeon, shaping and sculpting the next, in a long line of Bougie Barbies.  My goal is not perfection – perfection is decidedly boring.  I’d rather be interesting, the cocktail party guest that amuses and entertains, and that above all else, makes you feel special. 

Option 2

Rooms can do that too.  They draw you into a conversation, even when you didn’t much feel like talking.  It can start slowly with that interesting object displayed on the coffee table.  What is it?  A gourd handled, porcelain brush?  It looks Asian, maybe Japanese.  Where did it come from, what is it used for? Now you’re getting into the swing of it.  You see, you can’t stay silent when there are so many interesting things to discover.

Option 3. what will be will be…..

Today though, we need to start with the basics. This room has sat empty for far too long. Sure it might have been home to a dust bunny or a plastic bunny on wheels, left unattended by the two year old ready for a nap or a snack or some other distraction. It’s time to give its due.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now: Selling a home during a pandemic

Is the residential market on the decline?

Clearly I am seeking.  I have made no secret of it.  This Quest of mine has been neatly packaged and bound, flip after flip anchoring the pages of my story to the tacky binding of my unfinished book.  Whether you are rooting for me or against me, indifferent, apathetic, or uninclined, you’re seeking too.  We’re seekers.  That urgency, the burning need to leave a mark, the charcoaled edged of the embered wood lending credence to our existence.  Of our 7 core instincts; anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and here it is: seeking, it is thought that the last of these instincts should in fact be the first.  It is considered the most powerful of them all.  Isn’t that delightful, delectable, darned amazing?  We want answers, we want higher ground, clarity, clairvoyance or something close to it.  Something that makes our us-ness special.  Chevy Chase used to open his Saturday Night Live performances with:  I’m Chevy Chase, and YOU are not….  I think that sums it up nicely.  We are looking for validation, in the way only we can.  The way that matters to us most, though admittedly, that too can be foggy at times.  Doubt creeps in and rears her gorgon, snake filled main of hair, her monstrous wings propelling her through the air, swinging dangerously close to you, and all your uncertainty.  Don’t let her mystical beauty lull you into a false sense of security.  Medusa is not your friend, stand your ground, fling barbed questions to pierce and silence the snakes.  I think it helps in finding the answers for you, and your personal pilgrimage.

Here I am on the threshold of yet another milestone, technically it is time for me to sell my little one bed, tucked away off the busy city street, behind a gated entry, that opens to a tree filled courtyard, and a front door – your own front door.  Who gets to live in the South End for under a million dollars, with their own front door?  Well, me, and perhaps you too if you are desirous of that sort of thing.  A home that lives like a town house, instead of a condo.  Your own private entry, your own mail box, your own wood burning fireplace for cozy fall evenings, and central air for hot late summer days.  It’s a magical jewel box of a property, but as the Budda says – everything is impermanent.  It is time for me to pass the pleasure onto another.  The question is, two years or not, should I be selling during a pandemic?

It’s never been my wish to have a hoard of people on the steps of my home, fists in the air like the floor of the stock exchange at the final bell, begging to buy my property.  No, I am more interested in that one person, one couple, that falls madly in love with what I have created, and knows instantly that they have found their mate in this home.  I guess the answer that I am looking for from you is yes, it’s possible to find someone like that, even in a pandemic.  Am I right or am I wrong.  Feel free to weigh in, everyone has an opinion.

Is Your Home Driving You Crazy? I Can Help

It feels appropriate right now to acknowledge all that we have lost during this pandemic. I’m all for positivity. I love being around positive people, it makes me feel amazing. Throw in a little manifestation, an affirmation or two, some being in the moment and you have the makings of a hot fudge sunday with marshmallow, nuts and a cherry on top of the happiness hill, but NOT acknowledging loss can lead to listlessness or worse, and we can’t have that.

A friend, of a friend, had reached out to me over a year ago to talk about reconfiguring her living room. Then life got in the way, as it is want to do, until so much of this life got in her way that she was finding a classroom, a dog, two kids and a husband underfoot. She hadn’t just lost her work-from-home, make my life easier existence, she’d nearly lost her sanity, and can you blame her?

Elizabeth Bishop and Dorothy Parker, both poets, could wring tears from scorched earth in the Sahara with the prose that spilled forth from their pens, on the subject of loss. At turns brash and edgy, and then slow and sorrowful, they saw what it was to be left wanting – a hunger pain begging to be fed. I suspect many of us are feeling this way and I think I have an answer – we must gravitate toward structure during these times to manage the loss.

Kate, in her wisdom, knew this to be true, and I am happy to help show her some ways in which order can be brought to chaos through reordering her living space, relocating her office, so the kiddos don’t think that “seeing” is believing, that Mommy is available for games, consultation, lunch prep, or an attempt to locate the left sock with the locomotives on it – she’s working.

This pandemic has made me a believer, even the most free and easy among us crave structure. Here are my top three tips:

These beauties will be displayed prominently in the space.

  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Keep the furniture that speaks to you in some way – most of the time it can be made to work,
  • Find ways to store, hide, arrange and organize the little things (bins for legos, blocks and art supplies, files for bills, trays for keys, loose change, and remotes, and baskets for bigger items), also, don’t be afraid to hang it on the wall – that guitar would look great in the kids craft area!
  • Grab your partner or a friend or two, a bottle of wine and start moving that furniture around the room. Break every rule! Put the sofa in front of the window, the media cabinet “floating” between spaces to create barriers between space uses. If you hate it, move it back – no law.

Take a deep breath. This will end, and if it isn’t ending soon enough for you, I find screaming into my pillow helps. Happy Sunday.

What’s Your Design Voice?

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I had a voice like Uma Thurman’s, I could have you know. She developed that voice out of thin air, well maybe it wasn’t thin, it could have blown in from the Swedish Alps. Her grandmother was Swedish, her grandfather German, and her mother was born in Mexico City. Throw that in a blender and see what you come up with for an accent. Don’t forget that Uma herself was born in Boston, mostly raised in Amherst where her very famous, Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies father taught. Now if an I-T Buddhist doesn’t have a voice, than I’ll Winnie-the-pooh myself back to the 100 Acre Wood and re-read the Tao of Pooh until I get it right.

Like the color orange? See where it takes you.

One thing is for sure, Uma may have been an uncarved block when she started, but she and her vague European accent catapulted her to stardom, and I for one, believe that voice of hers had something to do with it. Which got me to thinking about my own voice. I’ve never liked it that much, the sound of it that is. My passion is mistaken for anger, and my voice is loud, so very loud, that I’ve been told repeatedly, and much to my chagrin and personal humiliation, that as a result of it, I cannot be heard at all. That’s just disrespectful.

Gray – don’t you just love that sound of that color?

A voice is so much more than the sound that rumbles up from your chest, and whistles past your lips to find a brief moment of freedom before it winds its way into the ears of its intended, and sometimes those that co-opt it, as if they were part of the conversation. I sometimes do that in a beauty salon. The things people say, right out there in public, astounding. There are other types of voices too. My writing has a voice without ever making a sound, and so too does your fashion, and of course your design style.

A lot to love with texture.

The care you take in putting your house together says so very much about who you are, that if you were on the receiving end of an actual voice, you’d be begging for some peace and quiet.

Look at those birds, singing a pretty song.

Like my quest for Uma’s breathy, insert made-up country across the pond here, I want you to discover what your design voice is – in the way it will reflect the very best of who you are, and hope to become. Uma, cue the story boards to sell this production, well, to a producer. The storyboard is your ticket to finding that voice. Start clipping, circling, tearing, pinning, and gathering all the things that you like, and that inspire you. That voice will start to emerge like an opera singer hitting a high note. Go get ’em Tiger.