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.

Everything That’s Old: will be new again


Or so goes the saying, and trust me when I tell you, I find comfort in that truism.  After all the furniture is removed, the television ripped from the wall revealing a series of fits and starts in finding the appropriate height for the set, and a misguided cobalt blue paint patch – stained carpet, a series of defunct telephone jacks, picture hooks that were painted over instead of removed and patched, a few lonely dust bunnies and a mess of wires and PVC pipe begging the question, why?, no really, why? After the slate is cleared of all distractions, it becomes just that – glaringly clear – I cannot move into this place without doing some serious work.


Hot mess of a wiring situation.

In an effort to make me feel better, or send me straight to the loony bin (the jury is still out on which), my father suggested that the floors were is perfect condition (they are not) we’ll get to the fact that they are the parochial thin oak boards in natural aged yellow later, and that the stair runner need only be steam cleaned, and that there might be a more inventive solution to running the electrical wires through a piece of PVC pipe and shoving it up again the baseboard heater (hate those too), and that while the staircase to nowhere took a lot of space from the small cave like lower bedroom, it was indeed practical, and if we ripped it out we could be subject to a code violation.  Trust me when I tell you – there are violations happening in nearly every inch of that 671 SF condo, the least of which are to my design sensibilities.


Old, older and really old.

So you see, the only sensible thing to do is to get ripping and ask for forgiveness later.  When the envelope isn’t clean, when the walls are not smooth and free of dimples and dings, and the baseboards have been painted over so many times they sag, and they wrinkle like the ancient, evil face of some storybook character, and nothing matches, and nothing makes sense, well then, the practical thing to do is start over, don’t you think?


I’ve been into stores that are staged and look great despite their surroundings, but a home is a unique situation.  When you sit on the sofa to watch a favorite show, despite your most diligent efforts, and your most attentive attention to the engaging characters, your eye will wander and will find its way to that built-in bookshelf that was so thoughtlessly cut off by the insertion of a wall.  What the heck?  It’s like a car accident whose debris was never cleared from the road.  Trust me when I tell you, no matter the actor, or the drama that unfolds on the screen before you, it will not be compelling enough to pry your eyes from that car wreck of a design decision.


What lies below?  That is the question.

This is the reality of a home.  We pay attention in a way that we don’t when we are eating a delightful meal at a restaurant.  A home is a sanctuary, a place to be quiet and calm and the loveliest, most serene part of you – you can be – so it simply cannot be screaming design disaster while you are trying to be lovely.  Am I right?

I will start with the HVAC.  Now some of you may think that HVAC isn’t sexy at all.  I happen to love heat and cooling, and think nothing is less cool than not sweating your ass off in a hundred degree weather.  I’m not even going to ask if you think I am right, because this is an immutable truth.  It’s simply uncontested.  Having lived in a number of condos, specifically No. 2, and No. 3, where the heating was ill suited to contend with the size of the space, let alone sub-zero temps, heat ranks right up there with cool.  You see what I’m saying?  Heating and cooling are practically the definition of sexy, one allows you to keep from looking like you have scarlet fever and the other from looking like you are auditioning for the leading role as Michelin Man in the next TV advert.  Another major benefit of this infrastructure upgrade will be a less than delicate insertion of these systems into the space.  Make a mess I say – I’ll clean it up, and rip out all the baseboard in the process if you must.  I like my clams in my pocket or on the beach, not tacked to the wall in the form of a baseboard.  This is Boston – not Cape Cod.


Not the most beautiful closet….

Then I’ll tear down that little half wall by the front door.  Who are they kidding, it doesn’t provide any “visual separation” from the rest of the room, and if they think it will block the cold air from entering the space when the front door is opened, then we are dealing with some serious delusion here, and the only cure is to get a general contractor to make a house call.

Next I’ll fill in that hole in the kitchen wall, erase the bookshelf, make that electrical closet disappear, spit, polish and shine those floors into one seemingly contiguous expression of a surface.  I’ll blink my eyes shut and a new solid and worthy front door will appear, and at the very same time that ceiling fan will disappear.  The cabinet doors and counter tops will find their way to the recycle bin, the sad little fridge will be donated, the powder room papered, the shelving at the base of the stair will go, and a new bridge to terabithea will appear for use in the event of a forest fire, and just like that – magically – it will become a home.


The Halfway Mark

Otherwise known as feeling utterly stuck, and the clock is ticking.  I feel it getting louder and faster, and utterly unbearable, as the deadline for my closing bears down on me.  Just 10 days away and I’ve made nary a decision.  I’m stuck.

34 Law 1

Note the asymmetry of the fire place on the wall, and the tiny little corner by the window.  Cute and quirky if you aren’t riddled with the symmetry desease like me.

Five should be a big deal, a milestone, and I think I’ve said it before, but it feels lack luster.  Is it because I have made the decision to just move in?  To let the place be what it is and see how that turns out?  Maybe.  I was reviewing the pictures and all those things that seem inconsequential when you look at a place for 5 minutes, with an eye toward a gut, suddenly spring to the forefront.  The dated opening into the kitchen, the granite counter tops, the white appliances, the window casings, the doors, the lack of symmetry.  The stairs that go to nowhere on the lower level, the carpet, really I could keep going but it just takes me down a path that I may not find my way back from.

34 Law 2

Retro 80’s opening to the kitchen.  Wasn’t my best decade.

Then I wonder if I should just blast the whole place in gray.  Despite what the rest of the world may think about this color, it is in fact my happy place.  Is it possible to cover all manner of design insults with a coat of paint?

34 law 4

This one is entitled…going no places.

Before I asked this question I thought it wouldn’t be so bad if I just tore out that little half wall at the entry – such a minor offense.  Then I thought, while I’m just in there tearing out that little bit of an inconsequential thing, why not just address that kitchen wall.  Sure it has a whole set of cabinets on the opposing side, but it blocks the site lines through the living room – what’s that you say, it has that convenient little opening that you can look through – You had to bring that up – didn’t you.  Now that wall will have to go, and the pots and pans will just have to find another home.  While we are doing that we mine as well address the asymmetry of the fireplace wall, and what of the floors?  Should those be stripped and painted too?

This star

34 Law 5

This stair could be really pretty with that brick painted, don’t you think?

You see my dilema.  That tiny little duplex will be a gut before I am done with it, and it’s really not in the budget.  Santa Baby, I’ve almost got the duplex, just send checks.  I’ve been an awfully good girl.