We Must Use the Tools We Have: doing more with less

Things can be both utilitarian and beautiful. The window seat hides the duct work.

I know lots of folks have been talking about what they have missed and what, perhaps surprisingly, they have not, during this pandemic. As Americans, consumerism seems to have been gifted to us as a birthright, encoded in our DNA as surely as our hair color, skin tone, and propensity for language, music or math are. Perhaps gifted isn’t quite the right word. Maybe the word in fact, is cursed. It robs us of our creativity, and creativity, surprises and delights. Why ever would we want to go without it, for the opportunity to use an avocado cutter, that you’ll probably forget you have, or have difficulty finding in your cluttered kitchen drawers when the time comes to use it? I can tell you how to do it with a knife and you’ll be just fine.

Custom outdoor cushions are super expensive. I did want to make this seat look more nautical and with the help of my good, and incredibly talented Interior Designer friend, Helen Baker of Helen Baker Designs, we used a little painting tape to give us the nautical stripped look we were attempting to capture.

A couple of dishtowels make fine place mats.

That’s what this pandemic has done for me. I’ve discovered that I have been limiting myself to the purchase of food, something that I would not be just fine, if I didn’t have. It’s made me Marie Kondo my decisions in a way I hadn’t before. Oh I always organized the way Marie says one should, before I knew it was a thing to fold, roll, tuck, and line ones drawers with our belongings, in the way Marie says in her soft gentle voice, but as for the part of loving and cherishing them, I don’t think I was really down with that philosophy, and yet I find myself asking, will that sandal really add a new rich texture to my life? Henry David Thoreau said: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” That’s pretty profound. I know I still pick pennies up off the street, understanding that someone exchanged their time for that little piece of copper, but I am not sure that the purchases that I’ve made have been framed out so prosaically as to beg the question – Is that $300. swim suit worth the amount of your one single and precious life you exchanged for it? Now maybe it is, but this pandemic has provided a new perspective for me. I am still going to appreciate beauty. As a write this and look over at the craftsmanship of the window seat that Eastward Companies built, with it’s deliciously thick, Sister Parish fabric covered cushion, and two Farmhouse Pottery grid patterned pillows, I can say that that exchange was worth it to me.

I can live without my avocado cutter. It’s still never been used. Maybe I could sell it on Craig’s List.

Happy Sunday.

In Through the Out Door

I’ve talked briefly before about flip No. 5. I try to accentuate the positive aspects of this process with you all, but the reality is a lot less glamorous. Oh it has it’s moments, and like that one perfect golf swing that results in a Tiger Woods inspired hole, it’s those good moments, the moments of inspiration and sheer pride, that keep you going.

Welcome.

This No. five hasn’t felt at all like the middle of a process, striving, thriving, moving toward something that has the potential to be amazing. Maybe not amazing for the amount of money that will come out of it, but for the sheer strength of will it’s taken to accomplish it. I’ve always been willful, and a little defiant. I suspect that someone told me that it would be impossible for me to flip 10 homes and make a million dollars, and it’s unsurprising to me that I have doggedly pushed on despite the odds. While I am relatively self-actualized, my progress in personal growth is a slow one.

Painting the casings in black really gave the door and windows distinction.

It’s this same stubbornness that had me refusing to accept the fact that the entrance to No. 5 was in fact the back of the building, the embarrassingly cable strung, bird nest filled – back. It’s like I am the butt of a very bad joke. It does have its upsides though, and it’s those sides that I focused my attention on. What else could I do, I can’t change the reality of the entrance without reconfiguring the entire building, and if I could do that, I wouldn’t be on a quest for a million bucks and bragging rights in the first place. So focus I did. The gate off the street is a bit rickety, but it has charm, and when you open that door you enter an enclave just off my quiet street. The first time I stepped through that door I was transported to Paris and the gated entries to ancient residential complexes. As your foot falls, just on the other side of that gate, you are taken to a place that is possibly even more magical than the city at your back. Now that’s called vision, because in reality it was the dead of winter, it looked more like an abandoned building on a city lot in – oh let’s pick Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, but I have firsthand experience with some of your abandoned lots and they are more Sanford and Sons junkyard than Versailles. I thought then, with its heavy cabling, tired beaten sashes, and dust stained deck that I could make a difference.

The dull green was freshened up with BM’s Trout Gray

I started with the – ahem – front door, which was really a side door meant for a kitchen, with its divided light windows that took up half the door, giving poor me, NO privacy. That wouldn’t do, so I replaced it with a clean modern Shaker-style door from Home Depot, removed the screen door and did not replace it, and painted the surrounding casework in Benjamin Moore’s black matte exterior paint. Every place deserves a little wow, and I consider hardware to be the equivalent of the watch on a man. When you look closely, it should be a thing to admire. I chose a beautiful Rejuventation, Tumalo Walnut Knob (on the interior) the exterior is in polished nickel. I treated the window casings with the same coat of black paint, installed a new modern light fixture, and had a sign made at Chatham Sign Shop. Consider for a moment a man’s shoes – that’s your sign. This was all done against the backdrop of the fresh coat of paint (BM’s Trout Gray) I gave the deck to cover the worn and dingy olive green, et voila, welcome to my front door.

Il Pellicano . this place isn’t just for the birds

Il Pelicano . Porto Ercole . Tuscany.


It’s got stars, and not just the single prestigious Michelin that was bestowed on its restaurant. The well heeled of Hollywood royalty, and those famous for being famously beautiful, have flocked to this Tuscan retreat since the mid-sixties when two bright lights found themselves unwittingly forming a constellation in Newport Beach California’s, Pelican Point. American socialite Patsy Dazsel (God I love the sound of that name…) and British Aviator, Michael Graham met here, on that fateful point, and dazzled Michael was, because its here that they fell in love.

When the two decided to ditch their respective countries, they found themselves a secret cove in Porto Ercole, Italy. I suppose all that beauty -theirs, and the rugged rocky shoreline, overlooking the Tyrehenian Sea, was too bewitching to consider keeping it all to themselves. Before long their glamorous friends were coming to stay, and word got around, until it was formerly turned into a hotel for all to enjoy – or at least those with enormous bank accounts. Today of course, we have the democratization of Instagram to share in the experience, though I note that I cannot quite feel the crisp white sheets, ironed to perfection, dance over my toes, or revel in the pleasure of a chilled Campari and soda, served up by a deliciously handsome pool boy. I was however blessed with a wild imagination. Small graces.

Hello handsome, I’ll have a …

In 1979 the hotel was purchased by Roberto Scio. His daughter Marie-Louise Paghera, a graduate of the renowned design school RISD, became the Creative Director, and is responsible for its redesign. She blends eras and styles effortlessly, capturing the lavish luxury of Hollywood’s gilded age with her use of billowing tented fabrics, the restaurant is a beguiling blend of the Beverly Hills Hotel and Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier – either, both – always.

If you’ve stared longingly at a Slim Aarons photograph before, you’ve probably seen Il Pelicano, or a place that bares resemblance to it, in the pages of some design magazine, or for instance, in my home. It’s just the type of place he loved to photograph, and boy did he enjoy capturing that rare breed of human in their natural element. It’s what day dreams, and the very best of midnight slumbers are made of.

Marie-Louise and her Dad, Roberto.

Il Pelicano, it might be just what I need to break me out of this Covid funk. I wonder if they’d consider tendering me a pandemic discount? I’d begin my diet today.

The Evolution of a Condo

It’s interesting to watch the ways in which different owners take the baton and run with it. 19 Milford Street, apt. 4, aka Flip #2 is once again on the market. When I bought the property in the late fall of 2013 it looked decidedly like a 1970’s ranch, inside a Phili-Duplex, in the city of Boston, and if I were to get even more granular, the Eight Streets District in the South End. It didn’t feel at all like a city apartment to me, and it felt even less like the glamorous apartment I had left in Charlestown.

I feel deeply connected to this idea of stewardship. I had a $40,000. budget from which to transform the property. That’s not a ton of money. It becomes even less when you consider the fact that it was revealed that the roof leaked, and the Southern Facade of the building was taking on water, and saturating the interior wall. My understanding of water infiltration increases with each unit that I own. While some lessons have been quick and relatively painless, others have been long-lived and ruthless in their pursuit of my financial and mental ruin.

Finding the source of that water at 19 Milford, and getting the building buttoned up was a challenge to say the least, but once – almost done, I was proud of what I had done to make that unit, and that building ready to take on another 50 years. I had redone all the electrical wiring that the previous owners had done – without a permit or a qualified electrician – and done it properly. This is important to the long term viability of a property. These brownstones are old and need love if they are going to be around for another 200 years or so —- and so I invest a significant amount in the infrastructure of the building, even though no one will ever see it.

I was proud of the design, but would have done more if my budget had allowed. In the end the new owner that purchased it was a bachelor and he hired an interior designer to bring a little grit to the girliness that I had so carefully imbued upstairs, downstairs, and throughout. He added back the breakfast bar that I had taken out – I can’t stand a breakfast bar, it makes me crazy. Who sits at it? He swapped out my beloved gray walls for a neutral cream, reworked the fireplace to include a wood surround atop my marble, tossed out my sea urchin chandelier (which was hugely expensive so I pray he didn’t throw it away) and painted my bridal rose bedroom a dark Hale Navyesque color.

I see some other touches that he left alone and while I feel nostalgic for the hard work that I put into the place, I got my price, and he got his roof deck. I guess we’re even.

The English Autocracy never get old

Look at all that molding. Look at the stunning color of the room – totally unashamed to be pink. Look at the color of the maid’s dress – I’m swooning.

To quote Lena Dunham: “My passion was for moldings. Any of them! All of them!” that’s one of the many reasons I love Jane Austin’s books turned movies. It’s a Robin Leach – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, several centuries before robin was born. He was English, though that’s something. The places in which Jane chose to set her many novels, were fabulous mansions in the English countryside – estates really – with all the costumes and pop and circumstance that go along with being “money’d.”

It’s the whole thing. The hat with it’s trellis design, white feather and yellow flower, the pink, tuliped cut-out, buttoned cap sleeve, the Aegean Blue and crisp white of the back wall. Hello.

Well amen to the fortunes that found them donning frocks with details the likes of which are rarely found outside a Dior couture dress makers salon, and the adornments bestowed upon their palace interiors…breathtaking. I’m in molding heaven.

From her coral drop earrings to that double lace edged color and her gingham dress – well this is an outfit that we could design a room around – don’t you think?

The latest release of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde is a visual playground for the detail oriented. I had to keep stopping the film just to stare longingly at the cap sleeve of a dress, the tufted silk, floral cushion of the handsome cab, the pastel palette of prettily appointed room after room. I was swooning, and I love the dept of the storytelling so much, pausing was difficult to do, but necessary.

If I were a blogger that turned an outfit into a room, I’d do it with this movie. It’s got enough content for even the most visually challenged to work with. Oh how I long for that costume designer to drop a trunk off at my home. I’ll make those centuries old outfits work today, and it won’t kill me.

One King’s Lane Rattan Lamp

I wonder if the exclusive club Annabelle’s in Mayfair stole a trick or two from Emma or if it’s just in their English blood? No matter, for now I will have to content myself with watching the movie again. Neither Annabelle’s or the English Autocracy have any plans of granting me access. So disrespectful.

Beware of the Trend

Bumble’s Melrose Place LA Pop-up is a 2020 DO – Bold Monochromatics make a scene this season.

I’m as attracted to what’s on trend or otherwise known as trendy, as the next person. Home design like fashion is subject to the changing whims of the industry, and it matters not what industry you are in. If you are part of the human race, you’ll be racing to keep up with the trends or falling shamefully behind.

Grandmillennial Style – think traditional with a contemporary edge. Clean lines, natural fiber carpets, and Chinoisier panels meet modern art with a splash of leopard (I thought leopard was a neutral).

The cynical part of me, that’s the part that starts in my toes and when I am not paying super close attention can zip right past my mid-section, and go straight for my throat, choking all the positive light out of me, tells me that it’s just another way to ensure the capitalist machine keeps running. I love capitalism, but I don’t love the idea of being duped. The sunnier side of me believes that humans have an innate desire to create and to express – that’s the truth behind trends. Like a stopped watch, even if you steadfastly resist trends, they come right back around, given enough time, and there you are – back in “fashion” again.

Neither of these philosophies are particularly appealing to me, and I am reminded of something my mother used to say about purchasing timeless pieces that make up the foundation of your wardrobe. Not being a supermodel, I try to adhere to a few rules of thumb for all the basics (that’s skirts, shirts, and slacks), if it flatters your form, buy it. Neutrals are your friend and clean lines win out over bold statements. This will preserve your wealth and not leave you scratching your head about how those white, patent leather, stacked heal boots ended up in your closet.

Faux Marble is IN.

These same principles apply to home furnishings. Buy basic pieces that have clean lines and are likely to stand the test of time in your home, no matter where you choose to make it, over the years. If you know, or think you know, that you are always going to love the Louis (that’s French for the XIII – XVI’s Reign of Kings competing to outdo one another, and in so doing created one of the most beautiful and lasting design aesthetics in existence today – a mon avis) or maybe mid-century modern is your jamb. To these styles you can add accent pieces that can come and go without breaking the bank, while satisfying our innate need to “be in the know”, to keep our spaces fresh, and dare I say it – be a part of the machine. After all, I can’t imagine having passed up my velvet scallop shell shaped pillow backed in that beau Belgium linen, any more than I could imagine having it in my home forever.

Rattan Remains on Trend!

Soothesayers may have spoken on their truths about 2020 trends, but neither the newest shade of peachy blush or a focus on they foyer, will be making its way into my home this year. I’ve stuck with my tried and true neutral hue, a pale gray, and my condo doesn’t even have a foyer – so posh. Maybe I’ll just re-style my portable coat rack and call it a day.

Bold Painted Interior Doors.

Sidelined: A tiny attempt at building

Not exactly tiny, but sublime.

I’ve spent my whole life watching other people build things. I read about, write about it, make my living working around people that actually do it. With their hands and their minds and their patience and problem solving they are cleverly places that matter. Place-making, make no mistake, matters. How we live within those walls has as much to do with what we do in it, as how we are influenced by it. Sure I can slap a coat of paint on it, put up a pretty picture, and cover the floor tired and worn spots, dents and dings and imperfections, but gosh darn it. I want to have my hand in the mix of making something perfectly imperfect.

Built into the landscape . be mindful of your town’s ordinances – they may require a set back from your property line.

I realize with a deep sense of impending dread that what I am likely to create when I stubbornly embark on this tiny house adventure is a host of frustration over my inability to execute what I so clearly see in my mind.

I love the idea of barn doors opening onto the back yard or garden.

I understand that writing about something – is not the same thing as actually knowing how to do something. It’s not posing exactly, but it’s also not creating, and creation of anything is really the closets thing that we mere humans can expect to get to nirvana. I want to feel that elation – that oneness – that sense of belonging that comes from building something.

Slipping into the scenery.

Since 2020 was undoubtedly going to test me, I decided to at least be in control of a singular element of the many that were out of my control. Last week I started my Tiny House Building Class. Let me say right out of the gate, this class is tiny-lite. Lite because carpentry and the laws of construction are complicated. Yes, three are laws – whenever mother nature is involved, you can expect that you better learn to follow them, or she’ll get the best of you. Trust me on this one. These laws are complex. I don’t allow myself to feel too badly about that, primarily because even the very best builders can get stumped by them. It’s true. Second, I’m terrible at math. If you say, oh what’s that 8 x 12.5 tiny house in square feet….I’ll look up at the sky for a while and say, hum, like 84SF? Trying to remember if I read it somewhere else and am even close to right. Now, this might seem daunting to someone that, like me, is horrible at math – that’s both algebra and geometry – not like most people who are good at one OR the other. I’m terrible at both. This might lead you to the conclusion that I shouldn’t even bother to try. Forget it. I’m trying. I can use programs that figure the math out, I can apply manual tricks like measuring things out with small scale mock-ups – or full scale if I have to. The point is, I won’t be deterred, and no amount of telling me to … Carl (that’s my teacher’s name) will get me to listen.

What I can tell you is, it would be super expensive – mistakes always are, if my father who is brilliant, and really good at math, building, zoning regulations, history, boating, fine finish carpentry, how the world works and so much more, wasn’t helping me. But he is. You can get help too. People are surprisingly willing to help when you just ask…nicely.

Room with a view.

My tiny house isn’t going to have wheels. If it needs to be moved, we’ll just have to jack the whole thing up and truck it away – that can be done too – I’ve seen it.

Any tiny house of mine needs a heat source.

Double Take: Cane Wallpaper that’ll make you look twice

Drop – NXLX Wallcovering Cane Webbing Collection

We owe a lot to the Greek’s – in door plumbing, the olympics, philosophy, democracy, modern medicine found its way from the Greek exploration into the same. Where would we be today without any of these amazing inventions and conventions. They were also responsible for painting in the form known most commonly today as Trompe-L’oeil – a word that means to deceive the eye. Who was it that said, “people loved to be fooled”? I cannot remember, but it’s true. I supposed it has to do with the element of surprise – that moment that washes over you when you feel young and curious again.

Sheer genius – you’d think if you got close enough you could see through it.

I felt just this way when I saw NLXL’s new wall covering collection entitled: Cane Webbing Wallcovering which they market alongside a complementary wainscoting covering to be featured below your selection. Having just completed a caning project of my own – I hired a company to build me cane front doors for two amoires that were as plain and off the shelf as they come. This wallcovering is anything but! Tricked I was, and though I have yet to see it in person, it looks so authentic, magically making me believe that it has texture and dimension.

Add dimentionality and texture to your space.

So many of the homes I take on have walls, nooks and jogs that are far from attractive. What an opportunity this cane webbing presents to transform the unimaginatively dull, the old, worn, and lackluster – into something truly special.

Why pay the cost to build it when you can roll it on?

I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat with anticipation for No. 6, and Netherlands based NLXL is going to help me do it. Founded in 2010 this company is clearly making a splash. When your work is featured on 5th Avenue, and embraced by the fashion industry – you’re hot. Like the Greek’s whose inspirations have been around for centuries – caning made its debut in the weaving of baskets in ancient China before finding its way to France and other European destinations. From basket to chair, it revolutionized this simple household object, making lighter, and cheaper to make. Esther Viak and Rick Vintage of NLXL found a way to make it new again, and that friends, is what innovation is all about.

Happy Sunday.

No sleep til BROOKLYN: across the river

I have to admit that in all my travels, which have been extensive, I’d never really spent anytime in Brooklyn. I’d been to lunch there one day, and I couldn’t even tell you which of the bazzillion – that’s a technical term for the many neighborhoods, I visited that day. There are so very many, with names like “Little Poland”, “Fish Hook”, “Pig Town”, “Starette City”, “Cobble Hill” and all manner of creative inventiveness. All with their own distinct character – and quite a few characters to boot.

Dining in the penthouse restaurant inside the Hoxton Hotel in Williamsberg, I overheard a women comment that it felt like central casting had a cattle call for hipsters, and dropped them all off in one square mile. They were indeed, super hip, having refined the best of our 1980’s style, adapting it to be something new and decidedly cooler than anything I wore. I suspect that the selfie was invented here, or at the very least they were making a serious case for ownership.

There’s a quirkiness to the place that makes it very interesting, new mid-rise luxury apartments nestled next to high rises and single family homes clad in outdated asbestos tiles – spooky – and a bonanza of amazing restaurants. They are afraid to be different either. There’s a ski lodge, the Brooklyn Brewery, a sweet little Bakeri (yes, that’s the way you spell it) and so many more yummies. The creativity was palpable, and I adored it.

The Devil is in the Details: A glimpse inside Chicago Athletic Club Hotel

Chicago Athletic Club Hotel . Chicago

A Venetian Gothic gem of a property, modeled after Venice’s – Doge (I’ve been there and I can report, it’s one heck of building), the private club launched itself onto the scene in 1893, in the very midst of the World’s Columbian Exposition – also known as the World’s Fair. The much more modest Chicago Athletic Club was elegant in its own right though. Designed by Chicago Architect Henry Ives Cobb – While he might have made a name for himself in the White City, I would like to point out that Cobbs was born in Brookline, MA, and therefore, I claim some kinship. I wonder too, if of his two preferred styles, Richarsonian Romaneque and Victorian Gothic, Henry Hobson Richardson wasn’t to be richly credited.

I am certain that the private club could fill libraries full of memoirs – outlining the sordid and frightfully interesting tales of the clubs inhabitants, leading up to its closing in 2007.

In AJ Capital and Partners, knight in shining armor fashion, or should we say “light” in shining armor? An ode, to the street lights that dot the tree lined avenues, not only providing the illusion of safety – let us not forget the Devil – but its white clad stucco buildings, making them appear as if they were aglow, once again stepped in to repurpose a landmark, and yowie, did they ever.

The 240 room hotel – open to the public for the very first time, adeptly mixes glamour and grit – pardon my overuse of the word in these past posts. Designed by Hartshorne Plunkard Architects and Roman + Williams, responsible for the breathtaking interiors, this baby has panache. It’s the very type of destination that the bold and beautiful likely clamor to for roof top drinks, to make it official under the White City Ballroom’s, upsidedown cake meringue of a ceiling – stunning, or to fulfill their ballpark bucket list adventure. If you are a fan, Rigley and Fenway are on your list.

I really do believe the devil is in the details. I’m not always focused on every last one of them, but appreciate it when other’s are, and at the Athletic Club Hotel – they sure were. From squash court flooring in the high speed elevators, to pommel horse benches in the guest rooms – you’ll see and feel the history of this storied building, celebrated in its design.