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.

Once Upon a Time: An Adventure in hotels

I love a good story. I love reading one, living one, writing one. It should be no surprise to me that I’ve fallen right into AJ Capital Partners story-telling clutches, and I’m not even attempting to wrestle free. They had me at “counter-culture investors”, or maybe it was “relentless grit and obsessive determination”, or the adventurous journey they promised to take me on.

The Graduate Hotel.

When Chip and Joanna announced that they were making a foray into the hotel business with a Waco, TX location and they were partnering with AJ Capital Partners to do it, inviting me to Google them in their comedic video announcement, wasn’t really necessary. I was so going to check them out anyway, and what do you think I found? If the suspense isn’t yet killing you, it will be. They were the money, and the brains behind The Thompson Hotels, specifically the Nashville location in The Gulch, where I was first introduced to the Rose 45, served up in a brown paper bag – now that is the epitome of grit and sophistication if I ever did see it, and I did, and drank it too.

The Thompson Hotel . Nashville.

No visit to Nashville is complete for me without a stop by the Thompson. I enjoy the lobby, and the curbside restaurant and bar, as much as the rooftop, with it’s panoramic views of the city, and graphic pink tiled floors – the design (interiors created by NYC firm – Parts and Labor Design). It’s a stunner.

From their Graduate Hotel collection, situated strategically in University Towns, and offering a cleverly structured Public/Private Partnership Program called Class, to help institutions finance, develop, and operate a Graduate Hotel on their own campus, eradicating the dreary and dated accommodations so typically offered up on campuses, and elevating them to whole new story and design heights.

May Hosiery . Nashville.

Intent on finding properties that have fallen on hard times, are ripe for development but have been passed over by others for fear of cost, lack of creativity, and/or inability to identify their beneficial supply and demand characteristics – they appreciate the power of a historic building to tell a story, to reinvent itself, to be a major player in the conversation. Consider, May Hosiery, founded in 1908 as a sock factory – which grew out of founder Jacob May’s successful bid to run a sock manufacturing project out of a prison in Nashville. 50 inmates, .50 cents a day made May a rich man before he lost the contract and started his own factory there. May Hosiery Hotel is scheduled to open this year, and if you think the prison workers is the best of the story, hold onto your socks, there’s more – in addition to its title as oldest southern sock company, its distribution of 1M socks a week across the nation in its hayday, the building and the company have a heart. During WWII they provided sanctuary to over 300 Jews fleeing Natzi Germany, in the 60’s and 70’s their socks hitched a ride to the moon on the soles of ALL the Apollo Astronauts, and now is starting it’s next development chapter by housing Apple Music – with a focus on Country – what else, and other makers and innovators like architects, old school barbers and more.

Chicago Athletic Club Hotel . Chicago

Each property polishes the patina off the copper, giving it 21st century shine. The Landmark Chicago Athletic Club Hotel is a kitschy marvel, more on this 240 room hotel tomorrow. The Pontchartrain Hotel is all class and style, sweat and contradictions, music and a menagerie of cultural references, as only a hotel in New Orleans whose clientele included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Truman Capote, President Ford, and Tennessee Williams who is said to have penned, Streetcar Named Desire while in Residence. “What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” — beautiful, and no wonder, when you can simply look out your window onto St. Charles Streetcar Line for inspo.

Calistoga Ranch . Napa Valley . CA

These stories and more are the foundation of AJ Capital Partners investments. Oh how I wish I could put my meager pennies in with their own.

Two Faced: What to do when your back is your front

Your front entry that is. I know what I am doing is considered rather unique. Not the flipping part. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is a flipper these days. No disrespect to Tom, Dick or Harry and most certainly none intended to the Tomasia’s, Dorathea’s and/or Harriet’s that are forging their own path on the road to financial security – I salute you all. The point is, this is about me, the me that can’t seem to do anything normal, or easy, or in a way that I can just blend into the crowd. Sometimes blending is a welcome cloak against the condemnation that follows from the pitfalls of this business of being human – if you know what I mean.

Enough greenery can make anything look better.

When I selected No. 5 I didn’t give much thought to the fact that you enter through the back of the building. Not just because that’s the convenient way to get there, but because it’s the only actual way to get there, unless you want to crawl through the window. The window BTW is the intended exit route if there were a fire. It works, but nobody is worried about what they look like when the are escaping a fire…am I right?

This particular set of row houses (those intended for the servants) are pretty, in their simple, unfussy way. They certainly don’t look like the brownstones of the eight street district, or Beacon Hill, and the back of them – well, it’s the back. They are draped in wires, cables and cords. They are gated or fenced in from the street, but still can be viewed from the same. My gate is a thin barrier at best to the outside world, and yet, I am decidedly subconscious about the way it looks.

When you open the sage green gate (anyone that knows me well, knows that THAT color has to change), and are presented with a small wooden walk way leading to a few steps, a small outdoor deck and my back door. My back door is really a kitchen door. Three rows of divided lights sit atop two long vertical panels. It would be fine for a country home – even better if the top half opened to a grand back yard, and it were the fifties, but this is neither the country or that decade, and as for privacy, don’t think I haven’t noticed the next door neighbors, on floor two, peering down in at me. I’ve got my eyes on you too, and a stun gun, so beware. I also have a new front door sitting in my living room. I’ve always wanted my own front door. Condo living doesn’t really afford you a front door in the traditional, single family home sense of the word, and I have visions of a southern porch, inviting me down the boxwood bordered path on perfect pavers, to my glossy doored destination. If there is any solace in the selection of this soggy bottomed abode, it’s the back door – which of course I am going to turn into my very own front.

Wayfare . Metalic Galvanized Steel Coated Planter.

Due to the fact that a good deal of my entry is “common space”, for those of you that are unfamiliar, it’s like being married and having to negotiate with your partner for approval on purchases. Since the sale of the unit below is under negotiation, I can’t even being to hypnotize him into accepting that there is no other color in the world more perfect than gray. It’s a real drama for me, A. Because I am not married and don’t negotiate getting what I want with anyone, and B. I am totally impatient. So I just began painting. I painted everything that I “owned” and then started to slyly move down the corridor until I was made to stop. Well now it just looks silly, and will have to be painted, and since I never selected that detestable first color, I have no idea what it is. The logical thing to do of course is to continue on with my beautiful Benjamin Moore . Trout Gray.

I have a happy entry mat that says “HELLO” and I purchased some beautiful long, linear and tall black planters in which boxwood’s will be planted to hide the condenser, and the less then happy trellis that sits in front of it. I am going to trim the windows out in black, and hang large beautiful wreaths in them both. The piece de resistence? There is going to be a black and white striped canopy. I haven’t figured out how to do it just yet, but trust me when I tell you, when I am done with it all – my back is going to be the very best front you ever did see.

Happy Saturday.

Southern Challenge: Leap of faith

Today I am filled with gratitude and a healthy dose of awe for the faith that the Walton’s placed in me with their new southern home. It’s one thing to preach about it, and another to put it into practice. I always knew they were special people, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the divergent nature of the design suggestions I was making, from that which they were accustomed, until I had changed everything that is.

Above: Family room before and after. All the surface mounted electrical was removed, the existing built-ins were modified to accommodate the wall mounted tv – which can be hidden away with the addition of the new doors. A additional corner bookshelf cabinet was constructed to the right of the door. All woodwork was painted in Benjamin Moore’s Nickle, walls in Benjamin Moore’s Mineral ice. Quite a transformation.

Above Left: Benjamin Moore’s Mineral Ice. Right: Benjamin Moore’s Nickle.

Dark, rich, brooding color palettes were packed up in boxes and left in New England to be replaced with bright, fresh, clean happy hues with a hint of grapefruit. Just kidding. I love the crazy adjectives that they use to describe wine, and I got a bit carried away.

Above: Office before.

The house was in need of a manicure and a haircut. It was so laden with window dressings and accoutrements (that’s french for a lot of trappings or extras – the fringe had its own accessories), that I was surprised that it could breathe under the weight of it all. It was entirely the wrong feeling for a family that breathes life into its visitors, allows them to see life through a new lens and find their purpose. Speaking from my own personal experience, I can assure you finding your purpose is hard enough without hiding it under all those trimmings and trappings. I love a window treatment as much as the next gal (if I am being honest, probably a little more than the next), but balance and harmony must prevail, and even I believe that being parsimonious nets a more pure result.

Above: Office after – dark wood painted in Benjamin Moore’s White Winged Dove in high gloss. Walls in same – egg shell finish.

I think I would have been really nervous if I had been clued into the doubt that was floating around down there in North Carolina. Ho boy, as Jo-Jo likes to say, I might have been up a night or two over it. You see, I am not really accustomed to working with others to realize their vision. As a flipper, I am in the business of realizing my own. It’s true, sometimes I let myself down when I make mistakes, but I have learned, well, to learn from them, and move on. It’s a weighty responsibility to please others, which brings me back to faith and gratitude.

Jonathan said: “We would never have imagined painting these colors.” “I was skeptical about the color. But SO love it!!! I’m so glad that I did not go brown and browner.” Me too Jonathan, me too. Thank you for the gift you gave to me in your trust.