Yall . This is Southern Design

Reynaldo . The original Estate of R J Reynolds, designed by Charles Barton Keen, 1918.

When my Clients told me they were leaving Cambridge for warmer climes I admit my long drawn out nooooooo was a little dramatic, but life is fluid and ever evolving. The exciting news is that I am going to have the chance to evolve too. My very first opportunity to influence the design of a southern home, followed the initial piece of traumatic news, softening the blow, as only Jonathan could.

Note the scale, the diamond patterned tile floor, and the acid green.

A new emotion took over – known to many as panic, I asked myself, what exactly did I know about southern design? Naturally quick to met out a harsh judgement, I told myself, “absolutely nothing”. I love talking to myself, and frankly don’t care who hears. Some of my very best conversations, are held between, me, myself, and I, and in the end, helpful recommendations to some of my biggest quandaries result.

Kelly Wearstler’s Avalon Hotel

I actually do know something about Southern design, I had just forgotten that these influencers, for whom I have great respect, all hale from, or are known for their southern design aesthetic. Kelly Wearstler, born in Myrtle Beach, SC, has a self proclaimed style, known as Modern Glamour. Derived from the Hollywood Regency era of design, it is bold and graphic, bright and accented by enormous ceramic figurines – usually of animals. Dorothy Draper – born in Tuxedo Park, NY, known most famously for the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and for being the first socialite interior designer, has been on my radar for a very long time . Suzanne Kassler, born in Waco, Texas to an Air Force Dad, lived in many places, gathering inspiration near and far, until finally landing in Atlanta, GA.

Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier – iconic design.

So what makes southern design, well….southern? The properties are certainly much, much bigger than the urban locations that I typically design. They are grand, they are estates, they come from an era when income tax didn’t exist and amassing of wealth was easier. Aside from their size, southern design appears to incorporate the following elements:

  • Florals: from the gardens to the interiors, they are heavily represented,
  • Painted floors: intricate or simple patterns – the diamond being a favorite,
  • Heavy use of fabric: from slip-covered furnishings to curtain-laden windows, reams of fabric abound,
  • Collectables: southerns love to tell a story through “things”,
  • Family photos,
  • Mix of antiques and modern furnishings,
  • Monogramed everything,and
  • Bold colors.

Kasler brings a fresh approach to Southern Design – she doesn’t paper the walls, but brings the outdoors in and loves her curtains!

I got this. My journey begins in just a few weeks. I’ve got a lot of research to do to pull this off, but I won’t let my lovely Clients down!

Second Time Around: new life to tired cabinets

I’m not fanatical about the environment. I don’t come unhinged at the site of a plastic straw or a single use bag, but at the same time, I try to do my part to limit unnecessary waste. That might sound rich coming from someone who is a serial renovator, but it’s true nonetheless.

Factory Finish – nearly indestructable. No. 1

So I am guessing you are wondering what qualifies when it comes to assessing whether it stays or goes? Having good bones is essential to passing that test. I am always going to struggle with getting rid of something that is perfectly good, just because I don’t happen to like aesthetically speaking. When the bones are bad to begin with, you don’t have much of a fighting chance with me. I am unsympathetic as I load you into the landfill.

No. 2 began their life in mahogany. Re-imagined in Benjamin Moore’s Dior Gray.

I got to thinking about kitchens this past weekend. Long weekends that hint of summer beg for a BBQ in the back yard. One can’t help but be in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets in the quest for a pretty platter or the perfect stemware in which to pour ones pale pink rose. All that opening and closing of cabinet doors brought me back to the hundreds of cabinets I have owned and sold in the kitchens that I been on my journey’s path. The first was so old it could have been in a museum. The cabinets were metal, had been painted many times over, and clipped in place to close. Ba Bye. They were replaced by a traditional white painted cabinet. Factory finished – which means they weren’t likely to chip or peel or look unsightly unless you ran a child’s bike into them. That kitchen was too small to have a child or a bike, in addition to me, so that wasn’t going to happen.

No. 2 Painted off-site in a spray room. Note – no brush strokes.

My next kitchen presented a test. It had been newly renovated. The cabinets were solid wood construction, stained to look like mahogany. They were a simple Shaker style that I quite liked, but the color – no – simply no. This was the first time I embarked on changing my existing cabinet color by painting them. They really were in excellent condition and cabinets are super expensive, so replacing them was out of the question. Now I had my builder take all the door fronts off, remove all the hardware, carefully cover and tape all the surfaces and surrounding area, and then spray the base and hanging cabinets in place. This was done after giving all the base wood a light sanding. The door fronts were taken to an auto shop and sprayed in the paint room (dust free and nail hard). It’s really difficult to sand and clean surfaces, in situ, but if you are going to attempt this on your own, you must ensure all the surface are wiped with a damp cloth to remove any particulate matter. Trust me on this one, it does in fact matter.

Painted in Benjamin Moore’s Thundercloud Gray.

No. 3’s kitchen was perfection, but No. 4 – that kitchen got the same treatment as No.2, perhaps I was influenced by the fact that they were the same unoriginal faux mahogany stain – yuck. I painted these, though this time the door fronts did not leave the site, and the quality wasn’t as good as the first time around. Not my previous warning. The color however was on trend and fabulous.

No. 4. Benjamin Moore. Palladian Blue.

This latest renovation I think even an environmentalist would have forgiven me for throwing out. They were plastic coated MDF. That violates every possible rule of good taste and sustainability, made worse for the fact that their proximity to the stove resulted in the edges melting and curling up at the edges. Just thinking about it again makes gives me the shivers.

No rose while you’re painting!

If you are going to attempt to paint the cabinets on your own – I admire your DIYourselfery, but please remember the following steps:

  • strip and stand doors and base if they have been previously stained, varnished and/or painted before,
  • apply a wood knot and resin blocking primer
  • between coats allow surface to fully dry
  • apply a primer coat and/or two coats of your chosen color allowing a minimum of four hours drying time between coats. Note that different climates and weather conditions will impact drying time.

I am all about giving second life to beautifully made things, and while I promise I am not casting any aspersions on your ability to make your cabinets beautiful in the most important way – which is of course – to your own eye, it is not an easy task. Take your time, do lots of research beforehand, and maybe even conduct a test run on something a tad less precious first. Good luck!

The Heart Wants: Nantucket

I have some pretty inconvenient design crushes which result in a series of acrobatics and negotiations to get the items that I’ve purchased back to my home base. Why, I am sure you are asking yourself, don’t I just buy what I want in my own neighborhood? Naturally I would if the Marche aux Puces (the Paris Flee Market) was in my back yard, or Blue Print – my heart throb of all heart throb design stores in Dallas Texas, or Magazine Street in New Orleans, or ABC Home in NYC – you get the point. I could shop my way around this little world of ours. If a carrier pigeon could transport my wares to my tiny South End abode, I might be in the pour house. With no barrier to my heart’s desire, I am not sure I could resist.

Faux is the way to go.

As it is, I have hauled framed paintings nearly as tall as myself on a ferry – much to the consternation of the steward, who inquired, a little less than politely, as to my intentions. When I primly responded that I intended to board the boat, as if my painting were the size of a handbag not high school basketball player, he looked aghast. It did in fact travel with me on my voyage, as did the artwork that I bought in the Nice, whose proportions prohibited it from passing through the traditional security scanners at the airport. Four flights and an overnight stay later, all three pieces arrived in Boston with me – safely.

I have stuffed pillows into carry-on’s, wrapped objects d’art carefully in clothing and tucked it inside my purse. I’ve arranged to have furniture and artwork trucked across the country when even my admittedly impressive powers of persuasion weren’t going to cut it. I find that I can be very creative and resourceful when I want something.

A cool $1.7M fixer upper. Suggested plans included. In-town location.

It’s funny then that I want to take things off the island, that clearly others went to great pains to bring here in the first place. If you know anything about Nantucket, it’s really hard to get things done – at least as it pertains to design and construction. That’s why this weekend’s adventure includes

Wabi Sabi: embracing the imperfections

All my renovations are imperfect. It’s not the money, or the obvious head scratching decisions of previous owners, though those contribute to much of the chagrin one experiences. It’s more than that. Even if the home were new, and all the decisions that contributed to its construction were mine – I am not perfect, so it would not be.

Old and worn, torn and tattered…historic and lovely.

My friend Julie sent me an email saying she’d heard about this concept – Wabi Sabi – isn’t that a beautiful sounding word? Upon learning of it, she thought it would help me with the pile of imperfections I had faced, and those I still had to contend with, well, with grace.

Under Renovation at ABC Carpet & Home . NYC

I love a research project so I started right away. It’s origin can be traced to Japan. The two words, divorced from one another, are rather sad. Together though, they have taken on a the poetry any great philosophy, which to my mind, is sublime. It has ties to Buddhism, whose wisdom is derived from making peace with the transitory and the imperfect. The unheroic nature of being human.

Broken and chipped, but set in plaster – the seashells become art.

Beauty then is balanced, enhanced even by the mistakes and damages, the ruined parts of the design, be it material or human, are incorporated into the object, the person, making them unique, contrasting the light to the darkness. Enhancing the appreciation, which in the absence of the imperfections, go unnoticed. Isn’t that just the puckeriest lemondade turned sweet?

Nothing a little white paint can’t fix.

Happy Saturday.

Setting Plaster

Robert A. M. Stern’s Offices . One Park Avenue . NYC

If you think I am going to provide you with a lesson on how to set plaster – you have another thing coming. While I love a beautifully plastered wall, and believe in the fundamentals of a clean space within which to work, I happily leave the execution of that up to the experts. It’s actually the name of a paint color – a showstopper – a mon avis, but the name leaves a lot to be desired. Farrow and Ball could stand to learn from Essie’s in the naming prowess. There Rallings, Down Pipe, and Stiff Key Blue could go from marbles in the mouth to the amuse bouche (a little happy for your mouth 🙂 ) of a Touch of Sugar, Reign Check, or Tiers of Joy, but that’s neither here nor there. A rose by any other name and all that. I will not be dissuaded from my new found adoration of this hue.

One Park Avenue. NYC is the I’ve arrived of all addresses. Originally designed by York and Sawyer, it is home to Robert A. M. Stern Architects. I announced to the Receptionist, in the most uncouth way, that I needed to be shown to my room, I was moving in. Naturally she looked a bit confused, and was decidedly too polite to point out that the Ritz Carlton was down the street. After clearing up my actual reason for being there, I had a tour of this amazing space. From their lighting collection to their carpeting, hardware, tile, urns, and the recent addition of benches and bike racks for their institutional clients, RAMSA leaves nothing to chance. They are my kind of people, even if they don’t know it.

THE Office.

I joked to my colleague, that you could safely say that you were in the big leagues when you were dealing with folks that laugh at the idea of an 8″ base. This seemed to be to be excessive when I was considering it for my modest condo project two months ago. I would have happily settled for 6″ – ha. RAMSA outfitted their lobby with a base that was conservatively 21″ tall, and let me assure you, not only does it work, but I briefly considered ripping out mine and replacing it, and my paint is barely dry.

Model citizens – getting the scale right.

Ah to be in the vicinity of greatness. As I make my way quickly and efficiently through the city today, making decision after decision to accent my new space, and dare to dream, transform it into something that I like…I am ever hopeful, that some of their magic rubbed off onto me.

Towering Heights.

Punch List: All that still needs doing

I think a punch list is aptly named. I would venture to guess that those who use it in popular construction parlance, don’t actually know its origin. Derived from the process of recording all those miscellaneous items that are yet to be complete, but ironically are not considered part of substantial completion, because I assume you, and all the governing agencies in your city or town – deem the property safe to live, and/or work in.

Fairly modern day punch. A little confusing, a lot messy.

The recording of the list doesn’t explain the punch. Now don’t go guessing, it’s not because you feel like punching your contractor out after a job should have been completed weeks, or ouch, months earlier than it was, no it’s that decidedly satisfying process (if you are actually the contractor) of punching a small hole in the page next to the item, once said egregious oversight was corrected. Thus the punch list was born.

A more organized accounting of what went undone. Think – where did all the electrical switch plates disappear to? Why doesn’t the disposal work? and didn’t I just have the place painted??

This is the process that I am in, which will run in conjunction with another construction term known as – DAY 2. Day 2 work makes less sense to me, though perhaps is more satisfying, save the additional expense associated with it. This is all the work that you decided you needed, but didn’t include in the original scope of work, or that once in place you decided you hated, and were forced to question what you were thinking, and now simply can’t live with yourself if you don’t make it right. That work.

The only photo I am willing to show. This is Day 2…actually, the second day that I had my personal belongings there. One always feels better once a piece of art has been hung, don’t you think?

Now I realize that all my readers are perfect, which might really bug a lesser person, but makes me very proud. You can ignore Day 2, but even a perfect person is going to be subjected to punch list, because that’s simply out of your control. As a straight haired brunette who is often wrong, but seldom in doubt at the time of the decision-making, Day 2 is a regular part of my existence.

The good news is, despite my trigger happy decision making mechanism, I do learn from my mistakes. This my friends is called progress. So this past weekend, I progressed from the couch to my own bed, in the home that I have owned for 134 days. Now that might not seem like a long construction period to you, but I beg you to imagine for even a moment, what your life might look like without your own bed, or your seasonal wardrobe – now remember, it gets super cold here in the winter, and then it turns around and gets super hot. What will you choose to carry with you? Oh bother, it’s all a lot to deal with, and if you misplace your mascara during the whole darn process you just might break down and cry. If there is a silver lining in it all, your face won’t be streaked in black.

Cheers to No. 5. I’m halfway through with you.

H. Able to do it all

I don’t know what got me to thinking about Hable Construction exactly. I was thinking about Earth Day which is today of course, and that got me to thinking about sustainable fabrics, and patterns whose inspiration was derived from nature, and there I was, back in Nolita – NYC at the turn of the century. This one of course, I’m not that old!

California Beach Bungalow – design: Krista Ewart – Featured in House Beautiful. Note the fabric on the sofa – Hable . Note the pillows: Bead . Hable.

There was a little shop that I would visit on Elizabeth Street, whenever I was in the city. The bright patterns, a crafty re-imagining of the mundane or tattered, a wicker lamp turned into a front stage stunner, a wall, neatly lined with colorful canvas storage totes – hip before they were mainstream, or an old broken down chaise converted into an enviable place to lounge and recover from the stress of daily life — even if it is self-inflicted, as it so often is in my case, I support my own need to recover in a happy place.

Hable Construction Storage Baskets . $95.00 – Canvas Bead.

Lordly, lord I can’t wait until this renovation is complete. Which of course got me to thinking about the custom banquet I want to set prominently against the pale gray painted brick wall. That’s in Benjamin Moore’s Ice Cubed Silver in case you were wondering, and it’s dreamily calming. I’ve selected a rug that makes me smile, as much for its name: Carnival, as for it’s wonderfully unrestrained use of color. They’re all in there, giving me the freedom I so rarely have, and desire – to use whatever color I want – dare I say – throw many into the mix.

Custom Art Work . Blue Swatch . $620.

A banquet, I think, requires a fabric that is on the tougher side – all that sliding in and out of tight spaces (and trust me when I tell you, it’s a squeeze), can be hard on a fabric. It’s got to have a little metal, and canvas does. Naturally, (wink, wink) that led me to Hable Construction. A tough sounding company, whose name was derived from the founders Great-Grandfather’s Texas Road Construction Company. I can’t tell you how much I love that! Back to their roots, paving their own business road in textiles, flooring, and custom art work, these two sisters, Katherine Hable Sweeney, and Susan Hable Smith, are cool, talented, and apparently uninhibited in their reach.

Combining their talents – art, and marketing, they’ve made, and shared, their talents, and I cannot wait to make them part of my home.