Can a rookie house flipper pocket $1 million?

That’s the questions that Jaci Conry of the Boston Globe asked when she interviewed me for her cover story in The Boston Globe Magazine.  On-line today at, out in print tomorrow.  Nice way to close out the year, and open 2017.  Time will tell.


No. 4 . Underway . David L. Ryan Globe Staff Photographer

It’s funny, and interesting to me, the strong emotions that bubble to the surface when the topic of conversation is house flipping.  One reader reprimanded me for driving up the prices in the South End, making properties unaffordable for the average guy or gal.  To this I can only say “I don’t think I am average at all…I’m special, but why wouldn’t I think that?, I’m me”.  Still, I did start with just $15,000., and the price of real estate in the South End was unaffordable for me when I started, it still is, but someday, I hope it will not be.  When I generate enough sweat and tears, when I have pushed through when I would rather have put on a party dress and heels, when all the dust settles, I hope, that I will be one of those lucky few that really owns a home.


Falla with Micah Viana of Naysa Builders examining Visual Comfort’s Calais Chandelier meant for the bedroom.  David L. Ryan Globe Staff Photographer.

Until then, I plan to continue to make mistakes, share the error of my ways, take pride in doing something right, and well, and in service to these old buildings.  These grand and historic brownstones.  These beautiful, and sometimes broken representations of our city’s history.  To be a part of that, is to be part of something that is bigger than me.  It’s important.


No. 1 . Charlestown . a working kitchen in the end.  Photo:  Falla

Yes, I could spend less money on the construction, but I choose not to for several reasons – I love design, and like my inexplicable adoration for architects and interior designers, I have a deep appreciation for beautifully crafted things.  Lighting fixtures, sculptural tables, the weight and feel of a door knob in your hand, these things speak to me.  I am drawn to them.  This Quest allows me to be near people and things that inspire me.  This Quest allowed me to fly to Paris and hunt down that mid-century modern sputnik chandelier in the flee market.


Mid-Century Madness.  Italian Sputnik via Le Marche aux Puces . Paris.  So beautiful I want to cry.  Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

It gave to me an amazing trip with my dear friend Tiffany who shares my obsession with travel, and fashion, and home improvement, and design.  Experiences like that keep me warm at night.  The second reason I invest in these buildings has to do with a sense of stewardship for them.  I believe one should always endeavor to leave something or someone, a little better than before they knew you.


Property No. 2 . Milford Street.  Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

To the gent that asked:  “Who needs all this renovation aggravation, why not just marry someone that owns a lot of property?”  I can only say….”now why didn’t I think of that?”


Property No. 3 . Waltham Street . Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

On this last day of the year, I encourage you all to do it your way, and own it.  Good-bye 2016.  You’ve been a good one.

Paris Apartments: quintessential design

Good bones.  Paris apartments have them in spades.  The classic herringbone wood floors, the floor to ceiling windows, architectural moldings galore.  These elements allow designers to add mid-century modern lighting and furnishings in perfect harmony.  You’ll find a Louis XVI Commode in all its marble topped glory sharing space with an Alto Chair.  A flee market find snuggled next to reams of silk strung from the ceiling and puddling elegantly on the floor.  Pourquoi pas?

It is not uncommon for a Paris apartment to be painted all white or nearly all white.  A spectrum of grays accented with gold and cream vie for center stage in grand salons.  Neutral palettes work well when there is an abundance of architectural detail to grab your attention.  Parisians appear to have a particular talent for blending new and old – renovations leave something of the original – a worn floor, juxtaposed against perfectly plastered, paneled, and painted walls.  An old steam heater atop a gleaming wood floor.  These contrasts add interest, and tell a story of the history of the place.


Mixing centuries with ease is a Parisian Hallmark.

One day I will have my very own version of a Paris Apartment in Boston.  I long for those herringbone floors, for Hopes doors that lead out to my Juliet Balcony, for moldings and scrolls, and gilded details that are elegant without seaming pretentious.  Until then, I tuck in a detail here and there, an ode to the City of Lights.  Chipped and worn, their imperfections please me.  I am happy to adopt them and give them new life.


Jean Louis Denoit . Custom Wall Paper, Hammered Silver cabinets and Stillovo Lighting….Sublime.


Millwork, paneling, herringbone floors against a neutral palette.

Ah Paris, my perfect city.


Merry Christmas.


Gratitude: Renovation for the soul

It’s such a powerfully visceral emotion.  It gets you in your gut.  It’s true that often the absence of something from one’s life brings an acute awareness of that which we are retrospectively grateful.  I remember my sophomore year in college when my Father was hospitalized and there was no money to  I went hungry more often than I ate, and was grateful for my waitressing job and manager Jeannie who would feed me the Plat Du Jour, because she knew it would be the last meal I had until my next shift.  The winter I went without heat when it dropped below 20 degrees for weeks on end, renovation projects that deprived me of running water, a stove to cook on, walls that kept out the wind, and the rain, and the elements.  These experiences shape my gratitude.  Is it strange when the heat starts up and a whirr of warm wind blows by my toes that I am reminded that central heat is a modern wonder?  That I am filled with a sense of calm and happiness when I smell salt air, that I am thankful for the stranger that shows me a kindness in a foreign country when I am lost?

For all the trials and tribulations that my moves, and renovations cause.  The flips and my flipping out, allow me to live in the moment in a way I can’t imagine achieving otherwise.


As we near the end of the year, as I back out the construction schedule and evaluate the final four – if the only stakes that were at hand were the teams that ran up and down the court I would rest easy, but my final four, are weeks, and the barriers that that exist in the achievement of my critical path.


This is familiar.  I am grateful for that.  I appreciate all the kindness that the folks at The Ink Block have shown me.  They have softened my heart, which had been hardened from too many patchy repairs, they have given me the gift of an easy existence, a door held, a package delivered, a truck filled, a smile, a hand, recognition.  I almost forgot that I was in a city.  I learned to accept help again.  They have prepared me for what will certainly be a dusty entry into my new home.  They have lifted the weight, and as a result, I will be able to take on more.


For those of you who follow me, you know I love Winnie the Pooh, and Piglet too.  A. A. Milne wrote:  “Piglet noticed, that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.”  I am grateful to have this opportunity to forge ahead with number 4!

Happy Christmas Eve….Happy Hanukkah.

Resourceful: Quick and Clever am I

In the end, finding the thing, the person, the material, the trade, that no one wants to trade with you, is both victory and necessity.  A great Electrician, a reliable Plumber, affordable hardware, a Painter that paints between the lines, those to-die-for brass knobs that don’t cost the price of a four year degree, that special stain that will transform your thin plank oak floors from parochial to polished, can make one feel as if they are left with a rolodex of rejects.

Sometimes Walter plays a trick on you….these beauties aren’t for sale.  They will be reinstalled at 15 Commonwealth Avenue.  Those low number addresses have all the fun!

My suggestion – make friends fast.  A recommendation from a friend is worth…well at the very least the quick and relatively affordable relocation of your electrical panel…isn’t it?  Scouring the internet for resources can be time consuming.  As we quickly approach the new year, I am committed to finding a way to make Quest a better guide for you readers.  It’s great to write about the places one can go to find all that is necessary for a home reno and decoration, but if you don’t need it at the precise moment you read, finding it later is critical.  Stay posted on that.


Restoration Resources . Whole Bar …for sale to you.

My brain is a vast treasure trove of resources.  There are thousands of people, and places I have used, used again, fallen in love with, and out, and those that I know, will never leave me, or fail me.  Regrettably, this filing system, my brain, is deeply flawed.  It tucks information away down corridors I didn’t even know existed.  It splices data together like two ropes too short on the deck of boat – creating something that is entirely new, and in the case of the information – not at all true.  Hum,  that’s decidedly unhelpful, and rather amusing.  Not to me of course, but to those that are exposed to me, and on to my game.  Alas, desperation is my friend.  When I am desperate for a resource, that undoubtably disorganized disaster, becomes a model of efficient retrieval.  And just like that, exactly what I needed, when I needed it, appears.  I will do better by you.


A model of efficient retrieval.  Walter found me what I needed immediately.

Yesterday was just one of those days when a tickle of panic started to flutter in my chest over the closet debacle – I’ll explain later, and the temporary hinges that are holding my new, old door in place.  That won’t do at all.  The door demands something grand and stately.  It is after all 8’4″ of solid wood.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  No Mickey Mouse hinge will do.


One of my very favorite spots to find something old and beautiful, that will bring new life to one of my projects is:

Restoration Resources . 1946 Washington Street . Boston – South End. 

It’s an amusement park for adults like me.  Surprises around every corner.  It’s dusty, and dark, and full of possibility.  I adore it, and I adore Walter.  He knows his stuff and helped me find brass hinges.  5.5″ not so common.  Thank you Walter, and Merry Christmas.


Restoration Resources . 1946 Washington Street . Boston . South End.

Back to Inspiration: finding answers

It’s not uncommon for me to feel befuddled by the byproduct of my own design. To feel my own inadequacy when seeking out an elegant solution to what I consider the central component of inspiring spaces.

hollywood-gown-3Balance.  Color. Detail. Craftsmanship. Clever resolution to that which is quite common – spaces and situations that simply won’t fit nicely into a formulaic solution.

What is inspiration anyway.  Derived from the Latin – as so much of our language is – the root “spirare” means to breath.  To breath is exactly what I stop doing when I am frustrated, anxious… in need of answers.  I hold my breath.  Stop that!  Inspiration, to me, is airy and ephemeral, shades of aquatic blue dotted with points of light.  It’s geometry and mathematical solutions that artfully address chaos – bringing order.


Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy . pale, icy blue, white and gold, and look at those ribbons in pink and blue gray…swoon.

hollywood-gown-2Great design packs so much into such a little word.  It is engineering, it is art, it is math.  It’s renaissance era genius shimmying in those unassuming letters.  Don’t be fooled.  Great design is the confluence of many talents.  Even those that are considered top of class like Lin Manuel Miranda, Nader Tehrani, Mies, Aldo, Chanel, Bernini, DaVinci, surely they drew inspiration from others, as everyone must, from nature, the true genius at the heart of it all.

Left:  Iris Van Herpen.  Look at those folds, she’s like a butterfly or a ballerina….beautiful.

So, today as I shuffle through the snow, wade through the sawdust, avert the spiked nails that dot the floor, awaiting new finish boards.  I will tape, swing, shift, and bend that master bedroom to my will.  In the end, I WILL get the closets I need because fashion has always inspired me, and I refuse to allow it to be stowed away in some undignified manner.

Carolina Herrera – left:  vintage inspired, right:  recent couture collection. I could rule the world in either of those confections.

Alexander Vidal…speechless.

As Robert Frost so eloquently wrote in his poem – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

…”The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

and miles to go before I sleep,

and miles to go before I sleep.”

Work in Progress: me and everything I do

There’s something so reassuring about knowing I am not finished.  I understand many people like closure.  I know they want some defined moment that says, “I’ve arrived” or “I’m done…finally”.  Life rarely presents perfect moments, so for me, knowing that I can get better, do better, learn something that I’ll apply the next time, is both gratifying, and comforting.  I don’t have to beat myself up for falling short, for not having the right words just when I needed them, for not knowing the sequence, the consequences, the heartbreak.  Oh we type A’s can be tough on ourselves.

A good decision.  Installation of an original South End door…Perfect.

I attempt to preemptively prepare for this – I do it with varying degrees of success.  Today, I know that I got some things wrong.  We boarded before we had the electrician wire – mistake.  We painted the kitchen cabinets before we ripped out the countertops –  mistake.  We are still in the process of negotiating AC, and will have to enclose before we have approval – delay – additional cost.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars sampling colors for the new place.  If anything is certain, despite my best efforts, one or more of the colors I select, will not turn out the way I intended.


Finding my way….Galbraith & Paul Fabric and Farrow and Ball Lotus Wallpaper with Benjamin Moore Paint Samples

C’est la vie.  Note to self, don’t do that again.  There will be another opportunity.  While I will surely make new errors in judgement, and come across situations I hadn’t been faced with before, they will be new, and I will learn from them too.  Sometimes these lessons feel like a black eye, and sometimes they feel like a gift.

Left:  Dove White  – Right:  Cloud White, Benjamin Moore

This tiny little Hanson Street property feel like a gift, even if I do have dark circle under my eyes.  It is going to be a petite bijou – a little jewel, and what gal doesn’t love jewelry?  No gal, I know.  My charming little bedrooms are going to be havens – the corridor leading you to the a perfectly aligned point, each door installed at an angle.  My not so subtle reference to the bow of a boat.  My need to express my coastal upbringing ever-present in my design.

“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”  John Ruskin

Left:  Lavender Blue.  Right Top:  Violet Mist.  Right Bottom:  Whirlpool – all Benjamin Moore…it’s the best!

Cheers to vitality.  Apparently I have a lot of it!

The Domino Effect

Ever love something so much that you dream about it?  Imagine a whole world centers around that thing, or person?  If you haven’t, you are truly missing out.  To imagine, and fantasize, is to place yourself in the realm of possibility.  Domino Magazine was that for me.  A beautiful happening amidst a landscape of  interiors luxury impossibility.  Domino was for the regular person.  domino-6Those of us with just a few feet in our corner, not those of  McMansion proportions.  The Magazine that so tastefully showcased homes of diminutive scale, and pointed out exactly where to buy those wares, or at the very least, something that was a close semblance of the same.  Gone where the discouraging words….”to the trade only”.  How undemocratic.  How exclusionary.  How un-Domino.

This magazine changed my life, and when they published their first book – it became my bible.  Where to place the sofa on the rug, how much puddling of the curtain is too much, symmetry or asymmetry, expected or unexpected.  Domino was my guide, and a much loved security blanket.  Providing answers to questions t


Jessica Romm Perez and Me..Jackie Falla at Mitchell Gold, Boston

hat are sometimes tough to ask, and even harder from which to illicit an on point response.


Jessica Romm Perez Co-Editor with Shani Silver of Domino:  Your Guide to a Stylish Home

When I learned in the early spring that the editors of Domino, Jessica Romm Perez and Shani Silver planned on publishing a second Domino book, I swooned.  My days are long, but my years go fast, and somehow this announcement accomplished the seemingly impossible…it slowed down time.  How was I ever to wait all those months for this pale pink concoction of wonderfulness?  Fear not.  I am still in contention for completing my quest for 10 nests, but it is no trite statement to say – I nearly died from wanting it to arrive.


The book, which I had the distinct pleasure of purchasing directly from the author, Jessica herself, delivers all the first did and more.  It is a graphic delight, it is peppered with pertinent insights into, first recognizing who you are, and then making a home for yourself that reflects just that.  The nod to varied styles, the spot-light on individuals of distinction, the practical tips that any aspiring designer, or individual intent on creating a space that is a reflection of who they are – make this second book a collectors item.

Domino 4.JPG

Meghan Mcneer, Photo Editor – Domino and Gift wrapper extraordinair!

I found my few brief words with Jessica to be memorable and inspiring.  She is graceful, warm, and open.  When she talks design, and Domino, she has a sparkle in her eye.  She gives credit to all those that she has interviewed, worked for, and been connected to over the years.  From Martha Stewart, to Elle Decor, and countless others, she has acquired knowledge and insight that she shares with abandon in this book.  If it is not already on your Christmas List, retract, edit, resend, or rush directly to the store for one of the very best things in life – a “to me from me with love….just what I always wanted gift.”  Happy Decorating.

Festive Fetes:


Throwing a holiday party is a lot like a construction project.  There are regrettably untold numbers of people who will lecture you on the impossibility of making your vision a reality.  They’ll talk logistics, timing, cost, practicality.  They’ll make a valiant effort to convince you to move in a direction with which they are familiar, for that which has been tested, for the “safe” path.


Just like in construction, if you choose to listen to these naysayers you might get a “nice” project or party, but it won’t be extraordinary.  Even the monumental mistakes and disasters that come from trying something new can be great.  Imagination and vision should be encouraged and exercised, not beaten into submission.

Each year, my company throws an over-the-top, and magnificent holiday extravaganza.  And when I say my company, I mean my boss, and the President, Lisa Wexler.  Her imagination knows no bounds.  The theme is kept under a shroud of secrecy until the big reveal the first Saturday in December.


This year’s theme was Mardi Gras and it was magical.  Cheers Lisa to fighting convention.  It’s amazing what one can do when they say “yes” instead of “no”.

Planning for Change

If I had to define myself – which I wouldn’t, because it’s so limiting – and who really likes limits.  Not me.  But if I had to, I would definitely be more inclined to think of myself as a design/builder than an architect.  I change my mind.  I see a better way, sometimes it’s aesthetic, sometimes functional, sometimes financial.  Whatever the reason, being able to adapt quickly to a new reality is important to get what’s right for you in the moment.   Well, as right as any situation can be under the circumstances.


Reconfiguration of space.

The circumstances in South End properties – and many city dwellings, wherever your city may fall on the map,  is tight quarters.   Spaces that aren’t really suited for the function they must suit, and lacking the feet to fit those feet that will surely step into those spaces. When I say feet, I really am being generous.  In fact, every inch matters, and when the plan can be nuanced to fork over an inch here or there, there really is no other choice than to take it.


Getting after it.  Nothing says progress like demolition.

Today, with the help of my Dad, I took back half a foot.  When I tell you that’s life changing for this space, you may not fully appreciate the veracity of the statement, but I can assure you, it’s enormous.  It makes the difference between being able to fit a queen size bed in place of a full.  It makes the difference between being able to walk around the bed and make it perfect hospital corners.  It makes the difference between blocking the window or orienting the bed properly so you approach the foot upon entry into the room.  These might seem like picky details, and they are, but life is in the details.  Your perceptions and enjoyment of the space will be in getting these things right.  By placing the new metal studs on the flat, staggering them, and then weaving acoustic insulation between the studs our wall will be three inches thick instead of four plus, and by butting the wall up against the window casing we gain the additional five inches needed to create the flow around the bed and allow the door, clear swing.


It’s in the details.

There are days when getting it right simply won’t be possible.  When that unfortunate situation arises, as surely it will, we will trick the observer into thinking it’s otherwise.  Being clever is far more important than being pretty.  One that can appreciate cleverness is to be kept around.


When 2 x 4’s were real.