Bespoke on a Budget

I haven’t met a house, apartment, condo or garden shed that I haven’t wanted to change. The desire for personalization isn’t relegated to dwellings either. A dress, pair of slacks, or halter – would be so much more flattering in a blue-violet, two inches longer or shorter, nipped at the waist. That chair, you know the one, that you avoid sitting in because your feet don’t quite reach the floor. Could all be made better, if they were made for you to begin with.

A touch of the unusual is an expression of style and an elevated design aesthetic.

I often ask myself if being blissfully unaware that perfect fits exists, would make me happier? I have to admit that I think it might, but I am not wired that way. Before I was woke to bespoke I wanted it my way, and then I came to learn that regardless of the size of your home or you for that matter, it could be made to look elegant, timeless, intentional through customization.

Restoration Hardware Curtains with Samuel & Sons Trim

That’s what I want, my thoughts, beliefs, hopes and desires to be imposed on everything from a bar of soap to the custom cabinetry emblazoned with motifs that hint at my city life and my seaside life. I want it to be uniquely me, and perfectly suited for the place in which it lands. Getting exactly what you want is incredibly expensive.

My tips for making it look custom when it’s not:

  • Paint your interior doors a contrasting color – custom speaks to both imagination and preference,
  • Hardware: sub out the cheap stuff for pieces with heft, and style – even a hollow cored door (gulp – they’re the worst) can be dressed to impress with some stately hardware,
  • Windows should never be bare, but custom curtains can break the budget so buy off the shelf and embellish – add trim to a roman or ribbon to the curtain: I take mine to the dry cleaner and have their in-house tailor apply it for super cheap,
  • Kitchen cabinetry: gaps above cabinets, or next to appliances are a dead give-away. Fill them in. Run sheetrock down from the ceiling to the cabinet and add a strip of molding to mask it, build a small cabinet between wall and fridge, and be sure to pull the cabinet above the refrigerator flush with the doors, setting it back against the wall is a game over move,
  • Furniture: measure, measure, measure, and you guessed it measure again. Look for makers like Oomph that offer dozens of finish, size, and color options.
Color and custom hardware combined.

Be close to bespoke without going broke. We all want it our way without having to pay and semi-custom options are points of pride in their own right.

Hearth and Home

Eight months and not a lick of paint has graced the walls of my new home. Unless you count the swatches, samples and unframed art work, patiently awaiting a day when they will be “complete”. I have taped them up in various locations, but am beginning to suspect that the young gal in the photograph’s expression has turned from whimsical to WTF, get on with it already. I have been stymied, stumped, so far from the sublime inspiration that settles into your cells and demands execution.

I blame the fireplace for this creative block. It’s just that – an enormous block that’s been tacked onto the front of a long ago decommissioned fireplace that they made use of as a chase for the buildings infrastructure. I am a fan of infrastructure and fireplaces but not in this particular fashion. It’s the Jolly Green Giant and the rest of the apartment is his sidekick Sprout, which is to say when you are in the room with him, he demands all of the attention, and his fashion sense doesn’t lend itself to my sensibilities.

These are the challenges that you face when you approach situations with fear of getting it wrong, of making an expensive mistake, of hating it after all the time you dedicated and investment you made. I wouldn’t think of deceiving you dear reader by telling you that one, or all of those things might happen. I know it’s happened to me, but I usually consider the choices and the lesson, tuck it away in one of my suitcases or card board boxes, and move on to the next project. The stakes are higher here. I plan to stay awhile.

Wall paneling with a wide fluting which isn’t boxed in by a framed border lends a modern feel at Hotel Eden Roc. It’s paired with areas that are reeded, and surrounded by a clean unadorned casement.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the sharp clean lines of the soffit. With all due respect to clean lines I like adornment as an architectural feature, and modern furnishings to balance it. My new home came with no adornment and by golly when I leave her, she’ll be properly dressed.

Wearstler at her finest. BG Restaurant . NYC

Everything fell in place from there. The cabinet that would house the TV and serve to hide the depth of the mass, the removal of the stone and its replacement with a custom wood fireplace surround, and bookshelves on either side, stepped back as if to suggest that its spreading its arms out wide in welcome to you.

I’m still working on what the style of the molding will be. That will be carried through on the paneling of the doors and detailed within the fireplace surround giving you a much better reason to stare. I feel better. Do you? Thoughts always welcome.

Finding the Light: Mid-Century Architecture on the Upper Cape

The Hatch House . Wellfleet

One thing has been true of artists throughout the centuries, they are drawn to nature, to light that possesses an exceptional clarity, to settings cloaked in serenity. Free from the distractions of a modern world, tucked away in hard to access locals they are left to commune, create, and improve the human condition. Lofty goals perhaps, but one need look no further than nature for inspiration on just about everything. From a seemingly simple blade of grass springs a ecosystem of ingenuity, and so it is no surprise that a group of exiled refugees from Eastern Europe found their way to the Outer Cape.

Three Bedrooms located at the back of the house. Note the panels above the doors open to let in fresh air while maintaining privacy for the occupants.

Marcel Brueuer, Serge Chermayeff and Olav Hammarstrom and engineer Paul Weidlinger all built homes here. Walter Gropius, Xanti Schwinski, Konrad Wachsmann, Constantino Nivola, the Saarinen Family and Florence and Hans Knoll rented summer cottages or were frequent guests.

Note the pulley system which lifts the panels to open the living room to the outdoors and maximize the waterview.

While it may not be a surprise that they found it among the hilly pine woods, of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, the houses that they built with the same simplicity found in nature were indeed a surprise to me.

Panels UP!

Dotted with Kettle Ponds and Glacier Lakes, the ruddy Pine woods make way to dunes and sandy beach that overlook the Bay where on a clear day you can see from Provincetown Light to the Plymouth Monument. I had just such a day as I stood on the deck of The Hatch House, lovingly restored to its original glory by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, through National Historic Grants, and the community of craftspeople that call upper Cape home. The Hatch Family kindly donated all the original furniture and art work so that it is truly and lovingly restored.

No A/C but the breeze from the Bay is allowed to circulate through transom windows seen over the sofa.

What I wouldn’t give to have sat among those titans of architecture as they sipped cocktails on the deck and discussed form and function, sustainability and the course work they were preparing for the students at Wentworth and Harvard GSD. They shaped a movement that will forever leave its mark on history.

By the way – The Hatch House can be rented. No heat, no internet, no laundry, no dishwasher, and no distraction from its intended purpose.

Green with Envy: Spring in New England

1970’s Jolly Fiat . A little bounce in your bandy around town.

There is something so hopeful about spring and all things vernal. The first day that you wake to the sound of small birds chirping transports you to a state of child-like wonder. Possibility and excitement combine giving you a burst of energy that makes you pop out of bed smiling. Not my normal state in the morning.

Care more about the color than the content? Booth & Williams sells them by the foot.

A thread of memory pokes it head out of hibernation. White knit ponchos, the delicate robin’s egg blue of a tiny fragile shell whose promise ended before it started and yet beauty is found there. A daffodil, a flowering tree, and the reality that Mother Nature will’s will only go so far north. She turns her back on NE and blows a gentle breath of life into the likes of DC, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.

Blue Star might be the brand, but I’m green with envy over this range.

What we have done to deserve this cold shoulder is a mystery to me. She likes to keep us on our toes. We are as likely to experience a sixty degree day followed by a late Spring snow in April as we are to submit our tax returns or post an extension.

I long for a bare shouldered walk in the warm breeze, but instead must contend with a warm winter cap and a brisk trot. While I may be denied a true spring, I am happy to shine a light on all the new releases that designers bring in this season of renewal. The happy grassy greens, linens, canvas cottons, velvet cottons, and cotton tailed innocence and sophistication that they manage with aplomb.

I hope you enjoy my selections. I am off in search of a Cherry Blossom branch or two. The sun is shining and I plan to put my imagination to work.

3 Reasons Vintage Furnishings Should Make Your Wish List

Listen, we all want the pandemic and all of its problems to pack up and move it along. We’re tired of talking about it, reliving the worst moments of it, and suffering from the consequences of it it. Whether real or imagined, there are aspects and impacts whose reverberating effects continue. Supply Chain issues create delays and increase costs. Real or fabricated? Hard to say in some instances, but if your heart is set on something new, you are likely going to pay for it.

Oomph . Manhattan Stretch Console . lead time 20 – 24 weeks. Fully customizable $5700.

Supply Chain is your number one reason to consider vintage – even if the vintage isn’t terribly old. Whether its 20 years or 200, came from your grandmother’s dining room, God rest her soul, or a tag sale – appropriately named with its dolls displayed with missing limbs, and blenders that need just a simple part to get it operational again – but amidst the broken bobbles and bits you just might find an old chair, upholstery stained, wood frame chipped that could be transformed into something great. If it’s got good bones – give it a gander. You can pop it in your car and your more than halfway home to creating something cool in roughly half the time it would take to have your custom “new” piece delivered. . Link Taylor. MCM Dresser. $1295.

There are shops that will spray the piece for you if you aren’t a DIY’er, or make your way to Etsy and you’ll find loads of enterprising, yard sale hunting enthusiasts that will do it for you, and custom paint it in the color of your choice.

Sotheby’s Home: In the style of Milo Baughman $5500.

Reason number 2 – the cost of furniture has gone through the roof. Add to that inflation and an uncertain economic future/impending recession, and now isn’t the best time to buy furniture, or cars, or homes for that matter. Vintage and second hand sites for selling pre-homed pieces have proliferated. Chairish, Kayio, Sotheby’s Home, One Kings Lane, FaceBook Marketplace, and Etsy to name just a few offer something for everybody. From the high-design enthusiast to the utilitarian pragmatist on a budget, they have what you are looking for.

Tulip Table Knock-off that’s quite nice. $895.

Reason number 3 – come on, it’s too easy. Say it with me: Sustainability. Yes, we all need to do our part, buying vintage fits the bill beautifully. All that inherent energy gets me giddy.

Socially responsible savings that’s delivered with speed. Need I say more? What are your favorite sites or tips for shopping vintage. Do share.

Happiness is: An Hermes Flagship Store

I pulled open the heavy door and stepped inside onto the mosaic tile floor of 706 Madison Avenue.  My eyes swept the first floor as I tried to decide where to begin my tour of the Flagship.  It had opened four months before in October and I was finally making my first visit.  I inhaled deeply smelling a fragrance that I could not name, but smelled of money, old Hollywood stardom, and polished leather.  I knew it would not be the last time I’d visit.

So much of my seeing is done with the tips of my fingers.  A Do Not Touch sign an invitation to violate the wishes of the author, or to leave.  To abide the request, for someone with a desire as innate to me as the beating of my heart, can only be accomplished through separation. 

The curators of the collection had placed most of the objects they suspected the general public might attempt to touch behind glass.  There were long display cases on thin tall legs, shadow boxes for traveling exhibits and tall glass enclosures that housed the largest pieces – the signature Kelly Bag in its original stiff leather, no longer in use due to its easy scarring and lack of give – a lady shouldn’t have to wrestle with her purse to extract her wallet or keys, they should be given up to her as if a butler were balancing her belongings on a silver tray by the door as she prepared for exit.  They modified the design accordingly, minus the metaphorical butler of course.

There were trunks for travel and riding boots for bandying about the countryside on one’s thoroughbred, and finely stitched leather gloves of course.  While I appreciate the craftsmanship, the fine quality of the goods, the status that is bestowed on those that have the financial wherewithal, and refined sensibility to purchase the goods, that is not what drew me to 706, the new home of Hermes, it was the architecture. 

I feel the same way about museums of a certain caliber, the art is a bonus, as are the enamel bracelets, the sunflower yellow place settings – artistic jewels in their own right, the silk scarves, and the signature “H” belt buckles which over the years have become a part of my uniform, giving gravitas to whatever mass market find I have donned.  While I love art and believe that when you buy something from Hermes you are indeed purchasing a collector’s piece, I was there for the architecture, for the design, for the sublime pleasure of running the pads of my fingers across the curve of the limestone stairs that spanned four stories.  I traveled all the way to the top to stare at the oval dome with its expansive medallion skylight.  The plasterwork, the ingenuity of a Japanese artist, who created a collage of local trees, perhaps some they had seen as they strolled Central Park.

When I first spotted the technique on the wall inside the men’s third floor salon, which is housed in what was once the Bank of New York.  It was low enough on the wall for me to touch the stucco and fully appreciate its delicate beauty.  A 20,250SF, massive, yet welcoming store that would make the perfect setting for a first date, free champagne and salons in which to lounge are provided throughout.  The wall that supports the four story stair serves as a gallery showcasing over 300 works of art and objects from the family’s collection, giving a couple plenty to discuss as they lounge in teak wood framed chairs, with simple mint green leather cushions, that look beautiful but ordinary until you sit in them.  You’ll never want to sit in another chair again.

Pop of Paradise: Chairish Debuts at Bergdorf

A visit to NYC hardly feels complete without a romp through Bergdorf’s. I love it’s location next to the Park Plaza Hotel because it always makes me think of Eloise the storybook written by Kay Thompson and Illustrated by Hillary Knight. Thompson was said to have fashioned Eloise after her childhood imaginary friend and alter ego. She lived large on the top floor of the hotel with her Nanny, her Pug named Weenie, and her turtle – Skipperdee. She wasn’t allowed to leave the hotel, but were she, I feel certain she would have absolutely adored Bergdorf.

Being on a budget as I am at the moment, we had to make haste through the main floors bag section, and head directly to the elevators and go all the way up to the 7th floor to dine at BG. My affection for the restaurant’s design hasn’t waned an iota since I first knocked eyes with it. Kelly Wearstler’s design is fantastic – if you admire a good molding, you’ll not want to miss her modern twist on an old classic. It’s diamonds galore.

While rushing to nab a seat in the pre-fashion week bustle I was stopped in my tracks. A preppy palette of paintings lined the corridor showcasing over 300 works of art from Chairish sponsored artists. Chairish for those not in the know is an on-ling furniture and objects d’art company similar to 1st Dibs without needing to be an heiress to shop it. You’ll still need to strategize and save because what they have on offer are not tag sale finds. I was thrilled to see them pop down from their cloud to pop-up at Berdorf – their very first foray into the physical world and wow did they make their presence known.

On view until April, if you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss is about, come and find out. Be prepared to leave with something you “chairish”.

Giving up the Ghost: The benes of being visible

“On-line dating apps have ruined dating and the opportunity for it to develop over time into something meaningful”. Violet – not her real name, said. She stood at the elevator bank, her rich milk chocolate complexion glowed with the dewiness of youth, her dark almond eyes framed in lush black lashes, her lips, which moved incessantly, were coated in a glistening peach hue. She held court to a sea of affirmative female shaking heads. They wanted more. They wanted validation that it was the app – not them. They wanted the belief that having more was not better. They wanted it to be eradiated. They wanted to be seen. They wanted engagement that required the social norms of proper introductions, greetings, and good-byes. When those good-byes were of the forever sort, they wanted them to come with the dignity of a face to face conversation, a thoughtful explanation, even a trite missive would do. When relationships end, there may be a lot to say about it, but it can be said simply- “I have enjoyed our time together, but as difficult as it is to part ways, I think that out there somewhere, a better fit exists for you and for me”.

“Ghosting” as the terminology goes for stopping all communication, is not ok. It is a digital sword that wounds the recipient. It’s your name forgotten by someone you’ve met several times, it’s the conversation with another who looks over your shoulder to ensure they aren’t missing a better opportunity for conversation with someone more influential, interesting, fashionable, or who all knows what else. It’s poor manners. In the end a fundamental part of our humanness, is the desire to be acknowledged, to be known.

All the talk of “ghosting” of not feeling seen, not being recognized for one’s worth got me thinking about my Louis Ghost chairs. Designed by Philippe Starck and manufactured by Kartell, these lucite chairs landed on the scene in 2002, which is a relatively short time to have reached iconic status, but reached it they have, and their visibility has a whole lot to do with our ability to see through them.

Designed in the image of Louis XVI’s Gout Grec Chair, it is the epitome of restraint. The irony being that XVI’s Neo-Classical style which followed XV’s was in it’s own right austere in comparison to that of Rocco, which was in fashion during his Grandfather’s reign. While historically interesting, it is not what makes this modern version innovative. The polycarbonate plastic is poured into a mold and out pops the chair in a single piece – astounding. It can be stacked six high for easy storage, it can handle a 300 pound person, and for plastic is incredibly comfortable.

It’s a small space wonder as its translucency allows you to see through it. It is both there and not there. It’s a modern day illusionist giving the appearance of space where little exists. I received my first Louis as a Christmas gift when I was still living in the North End of Boston. I coveted that chair, and it was out of my financial reach. $300. has now turned into $540. Ouch – icon status has it’s price tag. When I purchased my very first condo I got a second Louis, and then two Victoria’s – the Ghosts armless version, to accompany my small glass topped dining table. A veritable disappearing act allowing you to see beyond them, through the long flowing latticed curtains and out onto my private, ballast stone paved way, and into the great wide world beyond.

They have stayed with me, when I have gifted, sold, or left on the street so many other pieces of furniture that no longer fit into the style or the space of my next or new place. Louis and I have gotten very comfortable with one another, and while I am not opposed to comfort, a little excitement never hurt a relationship. It got me thinking about a change – the kind that doesn’t require me disposing of too much more of my income, and will allow me to see them in a whole new way. Dare I? I am considering having an oval medallion upholstered piece created to adorn the back of the chair, maybe a seat cushion too. Wherever did this idea come from? Divine inspiration, the muse? I dreamt of it last night – it seems fitting that it should come from some invisible force. Our quiet creativity is a wellspring if only we will listen.

What’s in a Name: Imbuing your space with personality

My sister just returned from a jaunt through the coast of California. An inauspicious time to visit with flash floods, mud slides, and wild fires, but Jo-Jo won’t let a little weather get in the way of a good time. While there, she had a raucous time chasing a band of chickens that got unceremoniously chucked from a slow moving vehicle into the park. No longer being of egg baring value to the owners they were deemed redundant.

That dress by Ivana Ma would look fabulous in Lily V.

Jo-Jo has a soft spot for strays coupled with a commitment problem. For the purpose of this discussion we won’t get into what happened with Pi Pi, and Squiggles – two neighborhood cats that did not belong to her but boarded on occasion. Never at a loss for names, the chickens, which were captured and taken home – only in San Francisco and China Town will city dwellers attempt to keep chickens – they were immediately named and made to feel welcome. Rougie, Bougie, and Rosa, Avian Flu free or not, are likely never being relocated by the local Animal Rescue league. Once named, it’s hard to say good-bye.

All this got me thinking about naming my own, not so new place. A first, all the others have been given a number. I am the Holly Golightly of the real estate world. Pour slobs, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, they didn’t deserve a name. We weren’t meant to be together and so naturally, I couldn’t give them something so permanent, but this one, number six….I feel as if she needs a name. We may not be destined to be together forever, but we are likely to spend more than two years in each others company, and it feel wrong to keep calling her Six. George Costanza might disagree but I’ve made up my mind, at least a far as a proper name is concerned.

I want it to be important and yet have the ability to be casual. I don’t have my own children but I’ve always liked the idea of naming them after flowers. Flowers represent all that is wonderful in design, color, texture, composition. There natural beauty is alluring and they are at once carefree and complex. I feel certain that this name will finally allow the design to blossom into something extraordinary. Lilia Verily, known to her closest friends as Lily V is going to combine sophistication with a frolicking sense of sunny possibility. Not a socialite but a gal with social sensibilities that will make all feel welcome. I can’t wait for her coming out.

First Impressions: Entries that make entering memorable

Pit a nail in it. There is no law. If someone said otherwise politely nod, as if in agreement and then do your own thing. This is a seat worth sitting in and that’s something to be said for a bathroom.

I can hear my mother shouting up the stairs, or as I walk out the door, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. As someone that is charged with helping teams prepare for interviews, first impressions are among the very first things discussed. You have 2 minutes tops, with shrinking attention spans due to our digital universe it’s likely we have even less than that. After all a gold fish can hold their attention, gazing through their liquid oasis their world view warped by the curve of their glass bowl, for nine seconds. We humans clock in at 8. I love a happy goldfish, a prize for landing the ping pong ball atop a narrow rimmed jar, but this stat has me puckering my lips simulating a fish in the hopes that I can gain that second back. I’ll work on my attention span, but I can’t rely on others to be as shocked by this data as I am.

Which is why I feel perplexed about what to do with my own entry. If a person is subject to initial impressions which get imprinted on them for life, one can only imagine what happens when they enter your home. My current condo doesn’t offer much in terms of opportunity to surprise and delight. When you open the door – which is white in keeping with other units in the building, you are greeted by a wall that contains two other doors. It’s no house of mirrors. One is a coat closet, the other houses the washer and dryer. I am happy for both, but you can see the limitations that I am forced to contend with as it relates to this entry

Narrow with no where to go, I may not even get eight seconds. A splash of paint it’ll have to be. Doors, ceiling, casings and base all in the same hue? With small apartments and open concepts you have to delineate terminations. The base continues in a singular expanse from entry/hall to living room before flowing into the kitchen and meeting back up where it all began – in the entry. I love the look of a base in the same hue, but in high gloss, or a slightly darker pigment, still shining like a polished sports car preparing for a parade, but turning a corner and changing ones colors might not feel right in this situation. Safer to leave the base white, which begs the question should the casings remain white too.

Kitchen cabinets are framed out with molding, and arranged with botanical prints bringing symmetry and order to an environment that demands it. Mis en place.

I didn’t get into this game to play it safe, which leads me wanting to treat those doors as if they were side by side walls and adorn them with complimentary pieces of art. We humans crave symmetry so if I wanted to play it a tiny bit safe, in this smallest of spaces, with only a moment to make my mark on your psyche, I would find two pieces that offered balance. A door after all is a grand frame. I plan on capturing your attention with it, by giving life to my inanimate entry.

Note the richness of the space – base, casings, walls, all painted in the same hue give a coziness to the entry. Pin the picture to the baluster and you have offered the viewer something unexpected.