Gritty Glamour: the elegance of dirty spaces

I’m fascinated by the beauty of turn of the century functional spaces – of train stations and power plants, pump houses and grain storage silos. These buildings didn’t need to be attractive, after all few will see the inside of a silo, but they were. Maybe form followed function and in so designing, it became an elegant missile preparing for launch into the stratosphere of stars, but that doesn’t account for the finishes inside of the turbines. There to produce power, first utilizing the dirtiest of fuels – coal, and later electricity, I can’t imagine they really needed to be outfitted with grand Palladian windows, their wrought iron mullions forming a decorative cross pattern that I long to replicate in a home that I have yet to call my own.

Fashion Designers, event planners, and visionaries of all sorts become glassy eyed at the prospect of showcasing their goods, setting a scene, being seen in their finest threads, bedazzled with baubles, and beads, twinkly lights, and crystal candle stick holders, their tapered forms reaching increasingly slender degrees toward their twinkling height, casting their flickering glow against the centuries old tiled walls.

There are levers and pulleys, catwalks and balconies, and elements for whose function will likely never be known to me. I envision the s-shaped scrolls that are mounted to the interior walls, 20′ in the air, carrying hurricane lanterns, entwined with ivy and honeysuckle. The tables would be scattered about, draped in fine white sateen table cloths, green handblown glass goblets would compliment the tiled walls. A dark herringbone wood dance floor would be installed in the very center, the pink seven tiered wedding cake, topped with a single white anemone, will be cut to the swirling notes that drift from the brass bands situated on the balconies above.

Beauty and the Beast – there is nothing like pairing two disparate things together to watch them shine.

Design Narrative: The Stories Your Spaces Tell

Design narrative sounds so technical and it can be. Temperature controls, and programs, and mandates and specifications, are part of a serious design narrative, but it should start with the story, and the story should start with a word, a feeling, a texture, a place. It should evoke emotion, unite the team in a vision, pave a plush velvety pathway for the designers to wiggle their toes in as they explore the possibilities that await.

Everyone can appreciate the unifying nature of a powerful story. Video Gamers call it Narrative Design, and use the hero of the game as the central character in which to tell the story. Event Planners, focus on theme, book cover designers peek into the pages to understand the heart of the tale and utilize fonts, colors, photos and icons to hit the viewer hard and quick, but to reward them visually upon closer inspection, inviting them to investigate what lies within.

Designers make use of a number of tools to unearth their clients’ goals and desires for a project. A great story takes you on a journey of discovery, and is deeply satisfying because it teaches you something, reminds you of something, or introduces you to a melange of disparate ideas, bringing them together in magical fashion. To be a real story it must have a beginning, middle and an end. Seemingly simple, sometimes this roadmap is ignored entirely, which can leave a design, and the inhabitant of the space feeling less than inspired.

Start by asking your client, or yourself the following questions:

  • What is your favorite season,
  • Favorite home scent, and why
  • Plants or fresh cut flowers – type
  • When you aren’t working how do you spend your time
  • What do you want guests to feel when they visit?
  • What colors, materials, and textures make you happy?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

Add your own to the list, discover and explore together the items and images that evoke emotion and you’ll be off to the races.

Good Bones: Adding the details where details lack

Applied trellis detail, and sophisticated screens bring interest to the Hotel Thomiuex . Paris Designed by India Mahdavi

Though I’ve been surrounded by construction my whole life, I don’t remember picking up the term “good bones” until I started working at the architectural firm after college. My dear friend Brooke made mention of it when we looked at some fine old house. I think I intrinsically understood that it made reference to its skeletal structure, its roof and foundation, wires and plumbing – which are all incredibly important, but once I was assured of their soundness, I only had eyes for the details. Did it have grand proud baseboards with any kind of molding that might draw the eye, or that I could draw eyeliner on in the form of a black painted stripe. Did it have crown molding, adorned with the ancient egg and dart motif, rosettes or wainscoting, paneled walls with carved diamond patterns. Did I ever hope it would, but more often than not, it didn’t.

Look at the baseboard detail by Claude Cartier in this living room – simple square of light blue against the charcoal casing.

What’s a gal to do if it is just a simple, clean, unassuming white box? I have answers, you didn’t think there would be no answers to my own questions did you? While I rarely start with a budget, I suggest you do. When you don’t, and you have a wild imagination like me, it often leads to disappointment and self flagellation when you stare down at the estimate in astonishment and realize there is absolutely no way you can swing it. Avoid that if you can. If you are wondering how you’ll know, without having an estimate developed in the first place, you can use the level of detail you are looking for as a yardstick for measuring cost. If you are willing to DIY parts of the process – it can help keep the cost down.

A simple California Living Room by Cliff Fong utilizes inexpensive molding to create interest. Painted all the same color it adds subtle texture.

I love adding a trim detail to the top of a baseboard, or throwing up a plastic molding. While it’s terribly unsustainable, it’s super easy to work with, and inexpensive, AND from way down on the ground, it’s pretty hard to tell what the material is. If you don’t go too wild with it all, it can be relatively inexpensive to add it. If that is still too much, paint can do the trick. Hombre the walls, paint the casings in a color, add your diamonds or moldings to the wall with the dip of a brush into the silky center of a pool of paint, and draw it on. Spray an old screen, wooden or rattan in a hue just a few shades darker than the wall for added texture, or a metallic for extra drama. In the end, it’s never ONLY about the money. Creativity, riffed on, borrowed, or stolen from the pages of a magazine – the marrying of ingenuity and execution makes it more fun than just showing up when it’s all done.

Ramy Fischler takes the hombre look to the extreme in this “good bones” Parisienne apartment.

Cali Come Cape Cod: dreaming of my next home

A home of my dreams.

My stomach twists with the thought.  An uncomfortable wringing of my internal hands as I consider the distressing notion – should I lower the price again?  Should I call even a win?  Nothing gained after all that work feels like a loss.  Feels like a devastating defeat.  “Would it be drastic” ?  I ask myself as I feel my stomach clench again.  My seat of intuition lives squarely in my gut.  I adore all the flowery language about a fluttering heart, a swooning head, the walking on air sort of talk that I want to force myself to feel, but my stomach is the ruler of my kingdom.  It knows all the good, all that is possible, and all the evil that is likely to come if I don’t turn heal, and run as fast as I can in the other direction.  My stomach is so much smarter than my head, or my heart.  Those two jokers leave me in the lurch again, and again. 

Dior Pop-up at Rosewood Miramar Beach Luxury Hotel – Photo via Dior

My colleague Bruce Shick reminded me that “no decision, was a decision” just the other day.  He wasn’t talking about my house when he said it, but he mine as well have been.  I pick up pieces of wisdom, and sometimes bad advice, Hanseling my way through the forest of recommendations, only to find that some bird has made short work of my path home, and I’ve become completely lost, immobile, unable to make a decision.  Bruce’s thoughtful grandfatherly tone rings in my ears:  “no decision, IS a decision”. 

Diorivieria launched large with their eleven pop-ups worldwide. Photo via Dior

I guess I have decided to leave it on the market for now.  Leave it at the price it’s currently listed.  Leave it up to hope, or fate, some higher power – boy I thought St. Joseph would have grown terribly uncomfortable, situated as he was, in the garden, upside down and all, but he seems to like it enough not to find me a buyer. 

Who wouldn’t want a Vespa at their Cape-Cali House? Photo via Dior

This Delta Variant isn’t going to help the fall market, and those stubborn work from homer’s will continue to work from someplace that I suspect isn’t their home at all.  This not selling isn’t a disaster, though it feels a bit like one.  My intuition, that bellybutton of a bullseye has released its iron grip as I come to terms with the fact that it’s really my impatience that is driving this panic to sell.  What do I always tell my readers?  “Don’t make an emotional decision friends”.  A buyer will come along, and in the mean time I will get working on designing my next imaginary dream house.  I’ve never been inside, never seen a photo of its interiors, I just keep a steady pace as I run by, weekend after weekend, imagining my California House on Cape Cod coming to life.  Happy Saturday.

Scent of Design: the conjuring of a room through smell

Deep Dive into your senses.

Ah summer, the holidays are right around the corner. At least if that corner is a distant stretch that includes; ideation, procurement, mock-ups, revisions, construction, assembly, printing, packaging, and delivery. Well, after all that, and a few hard to get items, you can see how around the corner it actually is, which necessitates thinking hard about holiday gifts, while simultaneously sitting in a sundress and solving some of the more complex problems that come across my desk.

I know how many creatives read this blog, so you understand that the act of conception can be pretty messy. I’ve typed my way through Ancient Rome and Celtic customs, I’ve investigated pain patches, and foreign language translating devices, taken a dive into mulled wine and spiced cider, warded off evil spirits with Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves, that I collected along the Spice Road. I’ve kicked around enlightenment – metaphorically speaking, while considering backyard bonfires, lanterns, alabaster lamps, and the eternal flame in the form of a candle.

Coming together . Earthy yet sophisticated.

Not any candle though. We humans are so inventive. This candle won’t kill you with toxic smoke, and won’t burn down in just ten hours, its special combination of soy and coconut somehow lasts as long as my work week. Now if only I could get my package as compact, I’d be a contender, and that package is pretty to boot, but my fascination with this small cylinder has more to do with its name, and description than, the happy glow it is likely to shine.

Blankets and Art Objects are a wonderful way to tie color palettes together.

Otherland’s array of candles have clever names, and brilliantly descriptive stories that take you on a journey that goes far beyond scent. It got me wondering what a room would look like if it was named: Kindling, had the essence of Alaskan Cedar, Smoky Embers, and Incense. If it takes some prodding to wake up your five senses, Otherland’s writers are here to help. This little light will take you on a dirt path to the bonfire, past “fringed suede, stirrup leather, mezcal cocktails, distant fires, desert sand, chopped wood, cowboy hats, weathered boots, horseback rides, wool blankets, glowing embers, and moonlit saloons.

Now if I can’t design a room around that descriptor, I’ll just put away my fabric swatches, and kiss my key frets good-bye.

Coastal to Cosmo: Bringing city sophistication back to an NYC pad

Change, it’s inevitable. Take this pandemic. No one wanted it, and now so many don’t want to let it go, well perhaps not the pandemic itself, but all that change it pushed on us. The washing of the hands, the working from home, the family time, the need for less, the quieting of the frenzied existence. The irony is that we so often want what we can’t have.

It seems fitting that after many years of living with watery blue gray walls, linen shaded glass lamps, white tree stumped side tables, and a pastel blue sectional anchored by an enormous painting – its field of green meeting the sky, revealing not a hint of its place on this earth, that this coastal setting within the confines of its solid cement pre-war walls, will take its leave. Where will it go? I imagine it will find its way back to a place with fewer skyscrapers, less lists, and more leisure time.

After living on the water for nearly a year, my sister is ready to turn her city dwelling into the picture of sophistication, which got me asking what makes a city apartment feel city? It wouldn’t do at all to have the home not feel homey, for it to be stiff and rigid, as if it were shellacked into the glossy pages of Architectural Digest. No, tassels, and Tudor High Boys, tightly tailored seat cushions on uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t do. A man and his dog need a place to rest their head on a comfortable sofa after a long day in a city that doesn’t sleep, and the lady of the house deserves to have that same space look as good as it feels.

Antique Wrought Iron Horse Sculpture and Havenly Boucle Chair . $499.

What epitomizes New York City design style? This is the question that I was asking myself – weigh in if you have ideas of your own. This concept is not yet cemented. It’s not about the money, though money can go along way toward enhancing the look of the space – so often quality and craftsmanship come at a cost, but you can find oodles of talent on that little island. A gal that can turn a dime store purchase into an elegant backdrop for her five floor walk-up, 325sf studio, separating bed from Bohemian living space, turned cocktail lounge, guests huddled around a small coffee table, perched on pillows, candle lit casting a soft happy glow. No, it’s not about the money. It’s about a story – everybody has a story. Sure some tell it too fast. They build no suspension or intrigue. Some get overly verbose, losing you in a cluttered room of their story, before rushing you down the hallway blurting out an unceremonious ending. No, a good story is balanced, and starts when you open that door. Here’s how I think we’ll get it started.

SCREEN Play: A short history of latticework

Burji Alshaya Developement . Kuwait City . Gensler . An example of Mashrabiya in 3D – latticework within a latticework screen wrapped around the building envelope – pure genius.

As I contemplated my broken wooden lattice fence last week, and its need for repair, I got to thinking about who wrote it into existence. My somewhat flimsy version is both decorative and practical. It provides an interesting detail between railing and deck, and screens my outdoor activities from the view of passers by on the street. It accomplishes all this while still allowing precious sunlight to stream on in. A feature that comes at a premium in the city.

“Form follows function” said Louis Sullivan, and function is what the Egyptians had in mind in their hot weather climate when they first designed the latticework screen known as the mashrabiya. Derived from the Arabic root meaning, place for drinking, the screens allowed for airflow, and the cooling of water jugs. This same concept was later translated to balconies and the cooling of people, often with the extra added benefit of hiding the lounging individual, stretched out on the divan, from the view of pedestrians on the street below.

Layered and luxe this design by Shelly Johnstone- Paschke . Interior Design is luscious.

Wood, metal, stone, structural applications like bridges and girders, or steel sculptures like the Tour Eiffel, lattice is literally everywhere, if you choose to pay attention to it. Italians and their Neoclassical Architecture, a style for which I am very fond, had their own term, Roman Lattice, also referred to as ‘transenna’ or open work screen, whose Latin root is derived from the word ‘net’. As in the mechanism used for catching birds, which resembles the lattice. It is likely this influence that was so prevalent in the early 20th century in America, particularly as an element of design in civic architecture, think museums, government buildings, banks, and universities, that led to our current day uses. Gardens and gates, ceiling and wall details, room dividers, cabinet door inlays, and utility cover casings – lattice lives large in our surroundings.

Sunny and Southern . Southern Living

It feels very southern, or coastal, which makes sense as these are warm weather, often seasonal places, but I’d love to try it out in the city and see if I could get away with it. Would you risk it?

Naming Names: Making our Mark with Monograms

Marni Jameson does it with class.

What’s in a name? Romeo, or Shakespeare as the case may be, said: “A rose would still smell sweet”, but would it? Psychologists, behavioral scientists, technologists, me, and perhaps you too, are fascinated, either for intellectual or financial reasons, by names, and what those names compel us to do, think, and feel.

Bella Lino . It’s the little touches that make a big difference.

As a Business Development professional, I am well aware of the importance of remembering acquaintances names, of using my Clients names in conversation, as a tool to draw the listeners attention back to the subject at hand. I’ve stood in a room filled with hundreds of people, the din so loud that I could barely hear myself think, and yet miraculously, when my name is shouted from a football field away, I am instantly on alert, feverishly in tune to the call. Dale Carnegie’s famous statement ringing in my ear, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Is it possible that, our own name also sounds louder, that its significance to us is a survival mechanism of sorts?

I like to believe I am my own person. If we can’t be our own person, than the implications seem dire indeed, but I am not naive, I remain a mystery to myself most of the time. I do think that I am subject to The Implicit-Egotism Effect, which basically means we are drawn to people and things that resemble ourselves, which includes our name and our initials. It’s comforting, and got me thinking about Monograms and their popularity.

Monograms can be traced back to 350BC, and first appeared on coins. The Greeks, or the Romans or both were involved, as they so often were, talk about an ego – those guys take credit for everything. Then the royals got into the game, and everyone that wanted to be royal, had money, but no lineage, followed suit by putting their initials on everything they could embroider, emblazon, or embellish. The Guild, which was a Union of sorts, used Monograms as identifiers for their artists, sculptors, and craftspeople to ensure they were a legit member of the club. Now we are getting somewhere – everyone wants to belong, and to stake claim. It’s hard to claim something is yours if its initials don’t align with your own, which brings me to a bone I have to pick with my sister. Is it wrong of me to get annoyed when I see her pocket book, the three uniform letters, stamped in gold on her tan leather bag? Those initials belong to me, she doesn’t even have a middle name. Sisters. I wouldn’t really let the letter “A” get between us. How would I ever get to the rest of the lovely alphabet if l did something as silly as that?

Kevin Malone . Powder Room Pronouncement

Our need to belong, to stake claim, to feel important may be the very reason we warm to these interlinked letters. In the design world they appear everywhere. You might find them on a crest, your very own personal logo of sorts, stitched in brilliantly bold letters across a bolster pillow on your bed, or tucked into the corner of a linen napkin, in the tiniest font, a signal to the guests that their host has pride of place, and that something special their way comes.

Do I think that you can take it too far? That I do. Monograms can be made brass and garish. They can be used to intimidate – think the crest on a blazer, fitted for a member of a club for which Woody Alan wouldn’t want membership, or a home with nary a surface free of the three. I prefer them on the back of a Cartier Tank Watch, presented as a gift to me. How would you like yours served up?

Shucks: The lovely ways oysters inspire design

Still Life with Oyster – artist ThEodule Augustin Ribot

The mollusk, nothing sexy about that name, but like a cowboy – all callused hands and brisk nature, there is something decidedly alluring about it, and him. Some love that cowboy, err oyster, while others detest its rugged exterior, and cool, briny, slick interior.    Oysters find themselves at home at a back yard hoe down, and with equal ease sitting atop a silver platter, snow cone domed with chipped ice, en route to a linen table clothed setting, center stage at a five star hotel.  They are a favorite subject for burgeoning artists, their hallmark inky aubergine smudge, on the pale pearly white belly, and its comma, make for interesting subject matter. From East to West, which oyster is the best is subject to battleground fodder.  I am not all for one, and one for all, when it comes to oysters, preferring a local favorite – a Wellfleet, or a Pacific Ocean Kumamoto, its deep dive of a shell reminding me of my Cape Cod roots, the peninsula dotted by Kettle Ponds – those deep divots in the landscape, left by enormous chips of ice from glaciers. They are sweet, and delicate and delicious, a totally different experience from an East Coast oyster, which is briny.

Powder Room Power . a wall of oyster shells is amazing.

Those same Cape Cod roots have provided me with an affection for the oyster. I’ve stomped across so many shelled driveways in my lifetime, I couldn’t possibly report the number. Like most things from my childhood they are larger than life wonderful. They remind me of a more rustic Cod than is commonly seen today. There history harkening back to the settlers, who tossed the shells, which were in abundance in the streets, and on the muddy dirt paths. The perfect padding for a drive. Oyster shells actually breakdown, their calcium make-up are able to withstand hoof beat, trodding feet, or the wheel of the tire – at least if it’s on a flat surface. The shells weren’t meant to withstand gravity, and so aren’t great on a hill. A wonderfully sustainable practice, if a little bit stinky initially, the shells, harvested from restaurants, scream vacation, and simpler times. They are also excellent fertilizer for your flowers.

Where would a conversation on design be without Benjamin Moore?

Designers seem to share, with me, a fascination with the Oyster. There creativity astounds me. The fact that someone boldly wallpapered their powder room in oyster shells, makes me smile from ear to ear, and don’t think I can’t do it. I have an incredibly large mouth. Were the shells placed with grout, or mastic, or glue? Will they snag your chiffon dress, or scrape your knuckle, if you grab for the hand towel too quickl? Who cares. I applaud the ingenuity, the bravado, the saltiness of the move.

There are ornaments, and catch-alls. There are mirrors, and urns. There are orbs, paint colors, and ash trays. Oysters, like their ability to got high or low, seem to span the centuries, finding fresh ways to surprise, and traditional ways to comfort. I love the oyster, but the oyster that I love is never going to produce a pearl. That’s an entirely different type of oyster, but perhaps that’s too much detail. For the purpose of this good story, let’s throw them all in the same bucket. We’ll end with this pearl of wisdom – they are loaded with Zinc which is incredibly good for you, and may have led to the rumors that they can enhance amorous feelings.

How Bazaar: An Antique Mecca in Stamford

The term Flea Market is actually a French word, and you all know how I adore the French.  Marche aux Puces, technically translates to Outdoor Bazaar, and of course a bazaar is a market in a Middle Eastern country.  In all instances, goods for sale abound.  If the pandemic broke anything, it was my connection to the Parisien Marche aux Puces, which I try to visit at least every three years.  I was there last in 2018 when I bought my Italian Sputnik style chandelier around the last bend, after a long day in the dusty market with my good friend Tiffany.  Three years – that’s right.  It’s time for me to be there again, but Paris isn’t having it.  At least not yet, and the longing is strong.

This weekend my nephew graduated from high school and he’ll be leaving for school in the fall, and my sister is taking the opportunity to give her Lower East Side two bed an overhaul.  I love an overhaul almost as much as I love Paris.  It feeds the soul.  Creation is so satisfying, don’t you think?  Well I do, and Mary Beth does too, so we two skipped on out of the city to Stamford, CT, which is not really a place that I want to be, except for the fact that they have transported a Marche aux Puces style in door palace of an antique center to this center of nowhere, and when I tell you that it’s where it’s at, I am not exaggerating. 

I was in a total state of flow, immersed in a world of furnishings and accents, cement urns and obelisks, a wall of mirrors, a blue and white chinoiserie paradise, a mid-century modern moment, and a Palm Springs paradise.  I so wanted to carry home with me a coral lacquered game table, and a pair of bamboo palm covered occasional chairs that screamed Golden Girls.   There were Zebra covered suitcases – not faux – fabulously real.  There were red leather Chesterfield sofas, and velvet cognac x benches.  There was a sublime mahogany wine cooler lined in lead, that I would have turned into a stunning black and white leather finished marble topped coffee table.  If a statement piece is what you are after – you are likely to find it at The Antique and Artisan Gallery.  If you are looking for a tiny gift, or a set of lamps that will light up your world – shocking, Stanford, CT is going to be the place for you. 

Book a hotel across the street.  Increase your credit card limit.  Rent a U-Haul, and get prepared to be delighted.  You don’t need to leave with everything, but you’ll want to leave with something, and that something is likely to be pretty special.