I’ve never lived in New York City. I fantasize about being there from time to time, but the time that I long to be there is decades past. I’d love to have lived in NYC in the late 50’s or early 60’s. To have scurried down Madison Avenue amid the AD Men so stylishly depicted John Hamm, as Don Draper and John Slattery, as Roger Sterling of Mad Men fame. I’ll take the clothes the gloved ladies wore with their pill box hats and a different coat for every dress – they had threads – the very definition of in Vogue.
Then there were the offices with the rotary telephones and their mid-century modern furnishings, and their 10am neat scotches and their three martini lunches. How they ever made it to dinner is an exercise in metal calisthenics that has me woozy with wonder.
I liked those offices so much I would have been happy sleeping there, unless of course I lived in Jan’s apartment from Pillow Talk. Jan, also known as Doris Day was an interior designer and she had a dreamy NYC apartment with a pink accent wall, pink kitchen counter tops and a party line. Oh the trouble a party line can get you into. If I had her apartment I would high tail it home to slip into an evening gown and serve Manhattan’s in champagne coupes that I picked up at Bergdorf’s.
The question is, would you want to work in an office that that gave a serious nod to another time? What about one that you could just pop into for a meeting, a strategy session or a toast to a big project win? Would it appeal?
Miraval is all about restrained fanciness. It’s setting in the Berkshires with trees dotting the rolling hills turned mountains for miles – for as far as the eye can see, and sky the beauty of the sky, this sky is the sky that songs are written about. It exists in contrasts. The craftsmanship of the barn and stables is superior, the animals and birds of pray that are housed within them damaged. The one eyed owl Oracle and his friend Homer being whispered back to health by Jen, understand that the price of admission is to stare deep and soulfully into the eyes of the guests, and to commune. Eyes as inky black as the deepest part of the ocean, set in a snow white feathered face feels otherworldly, quiet in the midst of the squawking hawk’s demand for attention. It will come.
The materials, warm reclaimed boards have the softest of landings on the diamond hard surface of the polished concrete floors, stained ochre, a reminder not to jump to conclusions. Even a cold unforgiving surface can change its personality. The luxe velvet chairs the color of an oak leaf, turned in the fall, coupled with the tactile plaid pillow, a nod to the textile factories of the region. The durable charcoal gray thick cushioned wood slat chair, with it’s cross stitch, in a lovely cream, a child’s dream, as you swivel and spin your way into the serious hug of relaxation. The rusted steel column pendants pierced with circular openings of various sizes cast a magical glow. Hard and soft, warm and cold, tough and tender, Miraval understands that to recognize divergence is to bring harmony to the space.
Arguably, Clodagh of the eponymous New York City design firm, had everything to do with the feel of this place, whose very existence is to remind you to feel again, to tune in, to be aware, to taste, to experience, to be present. Remember those birds of pray, they can be nothing but present. They cannot dwell on the past, or worry about the future. Nature is a master class of a teacher.
The food, this dangerous delectable food, will not, can not, keep you from packing on the pounds, despite its healthful nutrients, pulled from the rich soil of the surrounding farms. Carrots like candy, brussel sprouts that taste like none I’ve ever had before. Fish infused with flavors that were not slathered on from a jar, but were plucked from the branches of herbs. I wanted to inhale it all, to miss nothing, how incredibly unzen of me, how contrary to the mindful eating they preach here at the Val.
To walk the grounds in this time of covid is to be transported, there are so few people here that it feels as if I have the place to my own. I wonder if my foot falls in the Jesuit footsteps before mine, or on the same patch of ground that the Cranwell Preparatory School boys galloped upon, or Frederick Law Olmstead strolled as he prepared to impart his landscape architectural stamp on the property? I wonder.
While I did not cover all 380 acres of this property, and only just began to uncover all of its secrets, I’ll share with you this – “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. Imagine it’s 1942, and I said it in Humphrey Bogart’s raspy, telltale voice. Oh Casablanca.
I am flummoxed by my friend’s flip – a beautiful property in Franklin. He is a terribly talented craftsperson, the kind I dream about having on my jobs, and has already transformed the living room, which is an extension of the open concept kitchen, into a showpiece. With its 18 foot ceilings, and grand gas feature fireplace wall, it’s going to be a show stopper.
Here’s where I’ve helped in the past – color. While he continues to learn more and get educated on all the nuances of hue and light, finishes, and the complicated language of warms and colds, and rules, and the understanding that to break them, you have to be really, really good – I have only just learned how to turn on the table saw, and successfully saw a single board. This single girl is woefully behind her friend.
The challenge for me is that I want to go into this kitchen and rip out that granite countertop. I hate it. I’ve told Eddie this already. He didn’t install it in the first place, so I don’t think I have hurt his feelings in revealing my nose wrinkling distaste for brown, black and tan, but Eddie is practical and knows that if that granite goes, so too will the backsplash. Remember, the hip bones connected to the thigh bone? You can’t just decide to do one thing without it impacting something else, and those something else’s can really cost you.
I want Eddie to use his money on the installation of the 12′ glass wall that will look out onto the home’s glorious 2 acre property with its far from the city forest of a backyard, not on my Vermont Imperial Danby stone countertop. To make it all work I’ll have to do some color gymnastics. It’s possible, but will require a serious warm up and some stretching. Which of these would you choose?
We’ve come a long way from the outhouse, I say with wrinkled nose and a preparatory holding of my breath. I once went on a vacation only to arrive at my quaint island destination to discover that there was no running water in the one bedroom house that I would be staying in – none. I remember it vividly as traumatic events linger in the depths of your being long after they should have said their good-byes, and allowed you to move on with your life. The drama of it all, the longing, not just for a room with a door, with a toilet – wait I’m not done yet, with indoor plumbing, and the whirl, rush, plunge and flush that comes with it.
Having a special place in my heart for the small nooks and sliver thin spaces that exist in tiny homes, it is no surprise that I adore the ingenuity of a powder room. Tucked under the eave or the underside of the stair, slotted between the kitchen and living room. A converted closet, an unused corner, a defunct pantry – any old space will do as long as it backs up to, or can tap into a water source. Otherwise fine friends, it will cost you a fortune, and I like to spend my money where you can see it.
When you open the door of a Powder Room it should transport you to a magical place – the inside of a velvet cushioned ring box for royalty, a first class cabin’s private quarters aboard the Titanic – before it sunk of course, or perhaps a secret garden. It should feel lush and private and very, very quiet. Just you and the sound of a tweeting bird, a distant orchestra, the lapping of the waves on the hull of a sound vessel bound for the horn of Africa. It’s a chance to do something special – really special.
The wallcovering that you wouldn’t dare drop the dough for, in the small space seems reasonable. The fifth wall – also known as the ceiling, suddenly seems to be begging for a bold hue, and while you may never have considered painting the base and/or the molding anything but white – why the heck not give it a try in this spec of a space within a much bigger space? Whether you paper or pad the walls, pour concrete floors or color your doors, the powder rooms the place to think like a kid, spend like a princess and experiment as if you were deaf to all critics. Do it up, do it over, but do something dangerously delicious.
It’s true, and because I feel like arguing today, I’m going to lay out my case for you. You the believer that white is boring, vanilla, without an opinion. Dare I say staid, subtle, without suggestion, or rather you might say, not I, not me, not this one who believes – it is simply a sublime backdrop for the scene of your personal style. Whatever that style might be – you’ll see.
I’ve selected the same clean shaker cabinetry for all three looks. The same hardware and backsplash, and walnut island top that has appeared in earlier iterations of the Willow Bend Scheme Series. I’ve purposefully picked the white cabinetry for its ability to pencil out on a spreadsheet that’s adding up, and a backsplash that you can get at the one buck store. Not exactly, but practically. I’ve invested some dough in the door hardware, and a little more on my lights – good lighting is everything to a gal. Finally I’ve made a little splash with a fabric or a fridge, but honestly there are even less expensive ways to do it. Think a set of dishes in a daring hue, pretty porcelain in a pouty purple, flowers or ferns or decorative urns – whatever floats your boat, let the rainbow be your guide.
White is wonderfully versatile. Like a Chopped competition, I’ve provided the box of basics that you must use, but your personal panache will provide the dash and make the space distinctly you, but if you had to choose, which one would you say was you?
I love the idea of being de-coded by someone. To be truly understood and seen by another should be a basic human right, it’s not, but it is a basic need. I won’t allow myself the luxury of lying on a sofa, or in a comfortable chair, and working through why I think or feel the way I do. I know I have the disease of being busy, too busy, so busy I can barely sit still, which is in part why I like house renovations so much. They are like little babies requiring constant care and attention. They can also try your patience and wear on your last nerve, making you feel as if you are going to go insane.
Here’s where Behavioral Activation Therapy comes in. I can’t believe that I didn’t study psychology because I love it so much. I had been employing this psychotherapy technique on myself without even knowing it. I’m so self-clever sometimes it astounds me, mainly because at turns I can be so clueless, and not in the cute and cool way that Alicia Silverstone was when she starred as Cher in the movie of the same name. I stumbled across the technique when I was renovating my second property, which had me crying a river – the last thing you want to do when your house is already full of water in all the wrong rooms and places.
I found myself digging around in my closets looking for my suitcases and wondering to myself allowed what would be needed in the quiet padded cell of the insane asylum, when I thought, what if I just pretended that this wasn’t happening to me at all. What if, I was just a paid employee to the person that it was happening to, and my job was to figure it out – get the appropriate line-up of contractors, find the best prices and do it quickly. What if, when all of that was done, I got paid for it? What if indeed.
What I discovered is that it works. By removing the person that takes it personally – that would be me, and I suspect you too – from time to time, something amazing happens, you just get it done. It’s just a job. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to No Stupid Questions – the Angela Duckworth and Steven Dubner podcast I am currently obsessed with and Angela, the psychologist, was asked by Steven if pretending you weren’t depressed, by “acting” as if you were an non-depressed person could really work? I bet you can guess what she said. Now go out there and get renovating or taking your first steps toward running a marathon or whatever amazing thing you will do, because you can – unless it’s surgery. Please leave that to the surgeon.
I do wish I had the Hollywood production crew to support this effort. I want to roll out set design after set design, approve, reject, refine, edit, explore, look for even more. Want that outrageously expensive light fixture, just find some obnoxiously rich finance person who wants to be a part of the fame to fund it. Does that sound too cynical of me. I can be cynical, when instead I should be celebrating, all the possibility that comes from ingenuity, a tireless search that results in an unexpected find. I can do that too.
Last week I showed you four potential schemes for the kitchen. I thought for a moment I’d show you no more. We had a roller coaster of a week with a person of interest – to me, and my partners, as she showed serious interest in the property. Three visits. The first on her own, that I chalked up to curiosity. Who doesn’t love a construction site? The second started to get my attention, and resulted in the hatching of a plan, a sale price and serious consideration. The third visit with her builder and trusted friends showed even more promise, but was followed by crickets – and not the Disney character that provide comic relief from the backbreaking work of the demolition, the sad soliloquy of a solo violinist.
I did feel a little sad about leaving it unfinished and handing it over for cash money, but make no mistake our purpose in this endeavor is to make money, not to realize our grandest design desires – though we have fun with that too. If I learned anything from binge watching Selling Sunset, it was that you don’t need to take a project to completion to add value, and value we did add. She’s as bare as a babe on a nude beach in summer, though by next spring she’ll be adorned with more Hydrangea and sea grass, maybe a bushel of Montauk Daisies or a Tulip or two, a Butterfly Tree and plenty of mint scattered about. We hired the architect, are refining the design, lined up all the subs, have our application into historic…that’s all worth something.
While it might not have been right for OysterPondGal – it’ll be so very right for the right person. Forge ahead we must and I cannot wait to hear your opinion on this next iteration of kitchen designs. Please don’t hold back. Happy Sunday friends.
I’m not an Olympic Athlete, in case you were wondering. I wonder if it’s because I don’t love the pain of the challenge as much as the other gal. I can do it, do make myself do it, languish in the rewards of being on the other side of doing it. The sore muscles, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, of doing something that someone else simply won’t do. I can do that, but I am old enough to know that I’ll never love it. Not like Michael Jordan, not like Billie Jean King, not like Danika, but hard work shows up in so many different ways, and I love and hate them all, and feel as neutral as a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold winter’s day, which is to say, I love ice cream anytime of the year, but I hate being cold. I like to celebrate my complexity like a rainbow.
This flip required 4 hard – like a hard rain’s gonna fall kind of hard – demolition. When you embark on a renovation project there really is something for every skill-set, age, and interested person to contribute. When I was really little I used to pick the nails up around the construction site. Later I striped wallpaper, and lead paint from the walls – check that box. Not being allowed to use power tools of any kind, I worked my way around the site (the homes that we lived in and my father renovated), hauling, cleaning, organizing, and staying out from underfoot and being very, very quiet. I’d work for a #6 Mason Jar sandwich – roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce, romaine lettuce, muenster cheese, mayo on a bulky roll with a half sour pickle – no chips or a drink, we were conserving money for the renovation.
As I peeled back the vines, the dilapidated wood picket fence, then the chain link, for which I was forced to cede my show of strength. I couldn’t even unearth a single concrete encrusted steel post from the ground, and there were many. I have nothing on Mother Nature – I bow to your beauty and strength.
Days 3 and 4 were all about the upstairs bath. Boy there are lots of parts and pieces to that structure. I’m reminded that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, the hip bones connected to the …. I had to dissect the connections to find the weak points and disassemble what someone or two, at times very thoughtfully, and later, quite lackadaisically with a scrap here, and an almost long enough board there, had carefully put into place those many decades before. It all gave me a run for my money, but as money is the point of this flip, and I am motivated by it, I refused to wave the flag until all the plaster and drywall – yes both, all the 2 x 4 – the real kind – the one’s that actually measured 2 x 4, all the offensive aesthetic elements were dispensed with – the vanity – holy ugly, the glass block window – holy heavy, the Italian blue ceramic tile, and the toilet – holy – holy. I stripped that baby bare. She’s as fresh as a new born entering the world, full of possibility. The sore muscles were worth it.
Now I need your help. Long lead items are longer than they ever were before – oh Covid. The kitchen must be ordered and we cannot order the kitchen without a plan for the color scheme, and this Cape home will flow from one room to the next so we need to really LOVE the kitchen becaus all tides will rise with it, or fall, with crashing finality over the clashing disaster of colors. Which of these options would say to you – I’m ready to move in?
I’ve been working since I was eleven years old. I know what hard work is, and still, as I sit here on – not my sofa- I am fully steeped in the meaning of the phrase “a hard days work”. I’m so tired from the effort of wedging, pulling, bending, breaking, berating the board, and the brick, and the bad ass bush that got in the way of my de-shuttering extravaganza, that I can barely command my fingers to lift and type – something they are very facile at doing, under normal circumstances.
I’ve been a Chamber Maid, and only slightly elevated my standing in life when I became a pot washer of a different sort, before graduating to sandwich maker. I am proud of the fact that I could make those sandwiches faster than the sandwich wrapper could wrap them. I was accused of gaming the system by setting up six to eight sandwiches for construction at a time. I was always thinking of ways in which I could change the work, make the work more fun – make it a game, win, compete, exceed, proceed. At that young age I didn’t give much consideration to the ways in which the work changed me, but it did, it has, its impression so deeply ingrained that I feel certain that the camaraderie, the laughter, the sweat, and the five gallon plastic pickle barrels that I would haul from the walk-in out to the kitchen and open with the sharp end of a French knife before sinking my hand into the frigid briny liquid to retrieve the spears, will never leave me. Just as surely as I could recite very word of Cat Stevens Greatest Hits album which we played day after day, after long summer day on the old cassette player.
It’s likely this early start, the experience of being around other people that also worked, that worked hard, that didn’t really understand hardly working, has given me the experience, or maybe it’s an understanding that I gave something to it, and in return it gives something to me. We might not be even. The scales tip in one direction, and then another, they vacillate in tiny dips and shudders, on that fulcrum of perfection, that represents sublime balance – if only for a moment. Those moments are worth the effort.
Today’s effort was the result of a full day’s demolition on my very first joint venture. A flip, which is my very favorite kind of real estate holding. Hard to get too precious over something you don’t plan to hold that long, and at the same time, I’ll do my best to take care of her, and so will my two female counter parts. It’s amazing to me that the women of ancient Egypt were allowed to acquire, own, and dispose of real property. How then did things get so off course for us. It wasn’t until 1855 in MA that women here reclaimed that right, but it’s woefully underutilized. I’m hoping I can change your mind about that. Nothing says real like real estate.
There’s nothing like an aluminum screen door to get you sliding back to the seventies, fingers clasping and unclasping in quick succession as you ask yourself, which is worse? The start to this decade or the seventies. We’ve barely gotten across the threshold, but it has left so very much to be desired. Having lived through the full compliment of that orange and brown, shag carpet, lava lamp, bell bottomed blue, banana seat bike, built-in belt, goucho wearing decade – I can assure you it was anything but complimentary.
As much as I hated those aluminum screen doors with their diamond patterned, pressed inlay, they undoubtedly did their primary job, which was to keep the bugs out, and very importantly to me, let the light in. I ripped a similarly offensive “storm door” off of my current condo, and its facade is far better for it. It’s the equivalent of having lost 20lbs. Who wouldn’t look lighter and feel more attractive? It had to go, but I’ve missed it – obviously not for it’s aesthetic contributions, but for it’s bug catching abilities.
As I took my walk to investigate the open houses, analyze with a critical eye and the dormers on the homes in the Port, I took to noticing how many homes hadn’t forgone the screen door. They put it front and center, they made it an object of desire, the painted in bright colors and in the highest gloss available, also known as lacquer and they adorned it with gold leaf appliques. These wooden screen doors were a triumph. They were a spectacle, they were worth a nod, they were worth further investigation, and dare I say replication.
While some of you might think that it is “strictly coastal”, I think I could have made it work in the city. If only I had more time. If only I had more money. If only, if only, if only….