Rental Round-up: Assessing the city’s offerings

I’ve been working on a project – well for work.  Each year we embark on an exhaustive adventure, the purpose of which is to conceive of the most wonderful holiday gifts our clients and partners have ever received.  They have to be magical…no pressure.  We often use a single word to drive the process.  This year the word is “cozy”.  Try putting that in a box and shipping it UPS.  Not your problem.  I’ll figure it out, and when I do, it will evoke feelings of home, and family, serenity and celebration, security and childlike wonder – cozy.

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South End Brownstones

That’s what I like about Brownstones.  They are cozy.  They are old, sometimes their four stories tilt a little with age, but they stand proud.  There is community within, but not so large a community that one can get lost in the crowd. That can be hard for some city dwellers – they want the anonymity.  As a single gal, I like knowing that I am sandwiched between neighbors that I can rely on for help, and that offer a level of comfort in my solo existence.  These Brownstones don’t exist in every city, or even every neighborhood in my city, which makes them pretty special.

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The Troy . Rental Units . South End . Boston 

Boston has a huge housing shortage problem.  The reasons for which are vast – college town with students from all over the world coming and buying up properties, or renting at exorbitant sums of money, our strong economy with varied market sectors – Life Sciences, Academia, Finance, and TAMI.  That stands for Technology, Advertising, Marketing and Innovation – it’s a thing.  At any rate the Mayor said he was going to solve the problem and developers have shown up left, right and center with their bids for property, and their pleas for zoning lenience – it’s hard to make a buck on these buildings without turning them into luxury condos, or rental properties.  Not exactly what the average joe had in mind when the Mayor said he was going to solve the housing shortage issue.

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The Girard . Harrison Avenue . South End . Boston 

Any hoo, as a lover of design, and a gal on a mission, I decided it was time to get to visiting some of these places.  A few readers might remember that between my last home and where I am living now, I rested my head at the Ink Block.  I’ll probably be struck down for this, but of all the places I have thrown down a doormat, the Ink Block is the only one I miss regularly, and pine for like a teenage girl after an unrequited crush – how embarrassing.  It was just so darn easy to live there, and I’m not exactly accustomed to easy, and I am certainly not accustomed to having help, and while I didn’t want to get used to accepting it, I didn’t want to offend either, and there you have it…they got me and before I knew it….I had fallen in love.

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345 Harrison Ave . Rental Complex . South End . Boston 

Two new buildings have popped up in the last 22 months.  These are big buildings too, so those of you not so familiar with construction should know – that’s a fast track schedule.  I visited a third that had just opened around the time I went into the Ink, but that couldn’t accommodate my short term rental needs so I never visited.  The Troy is the oldest of these buildings (just sold to Related Beal), The Girard, and 345 Harrison Avenue.  I’d feel sorry for 345 Harrison, not having a name and all, and for the fact that they have the dumbest tagline:  Designed for Living…I shudder to think how much they spent on that, but the fact of the matter is, the CBT designed building is spectacular.  You heard me say it, it’s awesome, and set back from the highway, it’s a bit quieter.

Stats, facts, photos, and feelings will be shared on the properties in my next post.

 

 

 

Back to School: Time to sharpen my pencil

Even though it’s technically still summer the moment Labor Day hits I’m ready for it to be fall.  Fall clothes are my favorite, fall traffic is not.  Hot apple cider, pumpkins and mums, and days that end with a good meal in front of the tv – guilt free- are a welcome balance to the long summer nights dining al fresco under the stars.  It’s also a time to get organized, and if you’re me that doesn’t just mean turning over the closets (which is a favorite pastime because I love throwing away, donating, and gifting things that no longer work for me) but it means it’s time for the second most important real estate market.  The Fall Market.

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56 Gray Street . Apt. #4

On off years, (those years that I am not in the market for a new home), I romp through the  neighborhood kicking leaves, listings in one hand – hot cider in the other, intent on exploring.  There’s something so stimulating about being in the hunt – even if you’re not in a position to buy – spending time exploring homes that are for sale is both educational and entertaining.  From the moment I step across the threshold I begin to assess.  In the city, curb appeal can be deceiving.  Many streets have no garden in front at all and rely on a few potted plants, perched on a step to set the stage.  Streets can be dirty, littered with trash and even…ugh, dog poop.  In these instances you need to rely on the neighborhoods historical ranking.  In the South End, where I live, we have neighborhoods within neighborhoods.  I live in the Eight Streets, which is considered a premier location because Union Park falls within this district.  That street is Paris in Boston with its private park and fountains, it’s lovely.  If you are looking within the Eight Streets you can clean up the streets, pot your own plants, and renovate the interior.  Location, location, location.  You know the drill.

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I’m a little bit quirky, and I apologize in advance for saying this but it’s true – critical.  I open the door (how heavy is it?), peak into the vestibule (is it well lit – bright?), I sniff (don’t laugh, there are few things worse then the smell of cooking cabbage, cat urine or mildew)  I want to smell something fresh and pleasant when I enter the building.  That all happens in the time it takes you to ascend the nine steps.  We are all adept at judging. So this first impression is critical.

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My heart skipped a beat when I saw the listing for 56 Gray Street.  A sweetie of a street in the South End, bordering the Back Bay.  These Federal Style homes were really for the rich and famous’ servants.  At just 350SF, I was all aflutter.  I’ve never lived in a studio, and I certainly haven’t lived in a place that small before, and with my tiny house obsession it appeals.

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Lynn– both the Owner and the Broker, had me at Gray Street.  I didn’t even try to play hard to get.  It was a jewel box (location, location, location).  As a rental it was more Kay Jewelers than Cartier, but the potential was there.  I started frantically designing in my head.  Pour Lynne was worried about the shower curtain rod not staying up in the bath – me…I had that sucker ripped out with the 80’s style 2 x 2 speckled tile, lock stock and barrel.  The next change was hiding the brick wall (sorry all you brick wall lovers, the palette needs smoothing out).  La Belle Julliette was calling and I could see the millwork go up, the closets surround the bed, the tucked away shelving on the side, and my sconce lighting build right in for reading in bed.  Add to that a tiny ( and I mean TINY) kitchen reno with a Smeg fridge and you have a palace for a pauper.

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I handed over my deposit check, scrambled to rub two nickels together to make a dime, and sadly learned that it wasn’t enough.  I do hope that the new owners will have a special place in their heart for that little gem.

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Happy Sunday.

Pocket Neighborhoods: as cute as the name implies

My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest.  A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world.  It should offer comfort, and security.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession.  We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern.  Cozy.

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Walking Paths and front facing homes are trademarks of Pocket Neighborhood communities.

A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection.  Or so I thought when I began this quest.  While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did.  I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive.  Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment.  Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.

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From shared space to a plan of graduated privacy, it begins with the porch.

So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small.  While the homes  in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions.  In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.

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Some are dedicated to over 50 communities, but most embrace the benefits of all ages.

It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”.  These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made.  I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building.  I flat out didn’t believe him.  He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely.  It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up.  This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.

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Beautifully designed, thoughtfully planned, walkable, welcoming places to be.

Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods.  The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of   homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring.  This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security.  Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.

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The signature porch is intentionally large – an extension of the home, an outdoor gathering place.

One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability.  Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another.  Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy.  Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity.  Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space.  Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by.  The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green.  High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.

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Nature and sustainability are other important aspects of a Pocket Neighborhood Community.

To me – this is attractive.  I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite.  Which do I miss the most?  For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected.  My answer is none of them.  When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had.  To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me.  Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.

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It’s in the details.

The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time.  They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle.  How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.

Two Types of Wood…the kitchen countertop

As L. Francis Herresmhoff used to say:  “to most people, particularly the ladies, there are two types of wood.  One is stained red and called mahogany, and the other is not stained red, and is not called mahogany.”  This quote makes me laugh for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that L. Francis, was often spot on the money.

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Big impact.

The reason I got to thinking about old L. has its roots in my perpetual state of unrest.  I feel like I’ve been in No. 4 for longer than all my other properties – of course that isn’t true, but it feels like a life sentence in inertia.  If you can bear with the drama for one more moment, I hope you will understand that I don’t like to be caged and the capital gains regulations have me hemmed in!  Alas, a few more months and I will be able to put it on the market, and I’ll be back to ranting about some other thing like a plumber not showing up, or the property of a lifetime not presenting itself to me.  The first will most certainly happen, the second is likely never too.

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“Woodn’t this counter work for you?”

The thing of it is, with the Manse complete, I’m feeling a little lost for a design project.  I am working on the yard, and don’t get me wrong, there are many rewards associated with working outdoors, and designing a landscape plan, but it’s not the same as an interior.  So, enter stage left – Francis.  That guy put the bright work in mahogany.  He could make it shine like nobodies business, and it made me think – who needs stone, or granite or quartz, marble for a kitchen counter top?  I know he wouldn’t have approved of plastic laminate, after all he did refer to fiberglass hulls as “frozen snot”, so there you go – why not mahogany?

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Mirrors are magic.  Making small spaces feel expansive.

I saw a picture of a wet bar – that’s a rich person’s equivalent of a 500SF room for shoes.  This one was just a little bit of thing though, and that appealed to me.  It was about the size of small closet, it’s back mirrored to make it look larger and a little mysterious.  It’s cabinets done in a high gloss royal blue, and its counter….a beautiful red stained wood…wood that looked suspiciously like, well you know.  It was varnished until the light reflected off of it like a diamond on the hand of an heiress.  Brilliant.

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Creativity has no bounds.  Check out those doors.

Since most of my kitchens are about the size of a closet, I thought to myself, why not?  Shouldn’t I have all the glamour of a wet bar in my next little apartment.  Don’t answer – I’m doing it.

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The mirrors have it.  Reflections of….

Vaguely Vignette: creating moments that won’t last

As I prepare to have my sister’s home shot on Saturday, I have come to a number of realizations.  First, that which I have come to consider “normal” is anything but.  I have had to explain to my Father at least a half dozen times, why we were hanging paintings, photographs, signs, and the like off center, up high, down low or not at all, letting them lean casually on a piece of furniture as if I was deciding whether or not the wall above would become its permanent home.  The reason of course is…staging.  What gets framed out within the confines of the view finder looks entirely different – dare I say horribly wrong – in real life.

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Proud moment when everything came together.   I painted that console table!

In small spaces, where cameras, and tripods, jigs and jogs in the walls, eaves, and any number of less than perfectly wide-open, square spaces (like say a 1789 home that was renovated – maintaining “most” of its original integrity might have), faking the scene is critical to telling the story.

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Coasting into the shoot as if it was no big thing….

If this feels like an Is this Real or is it Memorex commercial – it sort of is.  For you younger readers, that’s a reference to a cassette tape commercial.  If you are still not with  me – look it up.  I’m thrilled that I have such young readers.  The point is, cameras cannot capture everything, despite what TMZ might lead us to believe.  There is a lot of pulling pieces into a frame, with great effort, making the dress appear as if it has been tossed on the settee, awaiting the cocktail party in just a few hours, the book lying open on the bed, having just been abandoned for a dip in the ocean.  These things are carefully manufactured.

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Flowers in a Jill Rosenwald Vase … cut scene.

I have been filling this home with furnishings and objects for coming on 6 months now.  It wasn’t until the last two weekends that I even attempted to start and set the scene.  ( I only work on this project on the weekends).  Scene setting is an exhausting endeavor.  It requires gathering hundreds of objects, some rare, some cheap but interesting, some vintage, some natural- think shells and drift wood, some art, and some others would never consider art, and pulling it all together.  Is there a secret to it?  A science?  I’m still not sure.  I try and test, remove, and replace, add and subtract, curse and commend, and eventually after a little more nudging, a tiny bit of consideration and consultation, arrive at the vignette.  Alas, the point of the story.  While I cannot show you all I have been up to, I am happy to share this one perfect moment.  Perfect, anyway, from my point of view.

 

Ode to More than a Piece of Luggage

This weekend I visited NYC to take in Hamilton, listen to some Jazz at the Blue Note, eat some good food, and generally enjoy Manhattan in the not so springy springtime.  My suitcase did not join me for the trip.  Somewhere between the vestibule and the trunk it went its own way – ending our association.

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Kate Spade for Streamline Luggage

I said it was fine, that its just a material thing, not my good health, or the loss of someone you love, or something truly tragic like living in the middle of the country and not being able to smell the salt in the air, and take a dip in the ocean, where truly all your ailments seem to vanish away.  Nothing that catastrophic, and still it’s left me a little melancholy.

Dallas . TX Top at Blue Print Store.  Bottom Left:  Cape Cod, Middle:  Farmhouse Pottery, Woodstock. VT, Right:  Hermes Pop-up . Nashville . TN

My Kate Spade for Steamline Carry-on had been a lot of places with me.  I bought it just after I sold my first home – that was three homes ago, and at least a half dozen rentals.  It had been to Paris three times, to the South of France, to Venice, Croatia, Bosnia, Switzerland, and Costa Rica.  It had been to Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, New York, DC, Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and probably a few states in between.

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The Club Car. Nantucket . MA

It was my constant Cape Cod companion, and adored Nantucket though it pretended to have no favorite.

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J’adore . Dior . Paris . France – Les Arts Decoratifs

Perhaps it grew tired of never be fully unpacked – not being allowed to breath.  Maybe it had some bad jeu-jeu like this rash that won’t seem to leave me alone.  Maybe I should consider it a ritualistic cleansing?  Do you suppose the same could be true of my adorable little Chanel booties – the ones that could carry me at a fast pace trot through the city with nary a complaint from me or the boot.  And what of my leather pants, and my beloved faux fir Gucci knock off slippers from Target?  What about them?

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Croatia.

That’s enough now – it’s enough.

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Water Taxi to Splendid Hotel . Venice . Italy – my Steamline was right beside me.

I had a beautiful weekend – even if I did have to wear the same clothes the whole time.  Sometimes you’ve just got to call a Spade a Spade – I’ll carry on….wink, wink.  See, I still have my sense of humor.  I never pack it, it should always be readily available.

Happy Sunday.

Astounding Beauty

Mary Oliver – famous American Poet gave instructions for living a life.

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Mary Oliver

PAY ATTENTION . BE ASTONISHED . TELL ABOUT IT.  It’s good advice.  There is beauty even in the mundane.  The things we take for granted, the snow that we lament as it piles up – looking past the flakes, all startlingly intricate in their icy formations, all worthy of our attention.  A blade of grass, an artisans technique, commitment and belief.  A meal savored rather than devoured, a kind gesture given or received. A smile, a tear, laughter. Inspiration is all around – even in the sawdust, I am beginning to see gold.

This year I didn’t buy anything or sell anything.  What the heck?  I am a buyer and a seller.  I feel empowered by the frantic energy that is expelled in the activity, and this holding pattern that I am sitting in – doesn’t sit well.  Still is is giving me an opportunity to see things not only as a whole, but for the rather amazing sum of their parts.

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Ladurée . The Grove . LA

I discovered that my commitment wouldn’t wane regardless of this year spent without spending.  I learned a few new tricks.  I remembered a few that I had forgotten.  I became acquainted with several designers for whom I have great admiration including; India Mahdavi who designed Ladurée in LA and Sketch in London – regarder – Ils sont fantastic.  Sandrine Place a stylist and interior designer who collaborated with Baptiste Legue on the design of a Pied a Terre above the Owner’s retail store – Chez Marie Sixtine. Oh lordy, do I ever want to hide away in the perfect pink and gray little home, and write myself silly.

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Chez Marie Sixtine

I began work on my biggest project yet – the Manse.  I traveled to Dallas, I would be remiss in my round-up if I didn’t make mention of my fondest state-side house of interior inspiration – Blue Print.  I visited Nashville, Nantucket, New Hampshire, New York City, and Nauset.  DC and Paris where i saw the single best exhibit of my existence, but even that did not top the very best thing I did in 2017…fall in love.

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Blue Print . The inspiration makes my cup overflow….thank you.

I feel blessed.  I am amazed, and I am telling you all about it.

Happy New Year.