There’s nothing like an aluminum screen door to get you sliding back to the seventies, fingers clasping and unclasping in quick succession as you ask yourself, which is worse? The start to this decade or the seventies. We’ve barely gotten across the threshold, but it has left so very much to be desired. Having lived through the full compliment of that orange and brown, shag carpet, lava lamp, bell bottomed blue, banana seat bike, built-in belt, goucho wearing decade – I can assure you it was anything but complimentary.
As much as I hated those aluminum screen doors with their diamond patterned, pressed inlay, they undoubtedly did their primary job, which was to keep the bugs out, and very importantly to me, let the light in. I ripped a similarly offensive “storm door” off of my current condo, and its facade is far better for it. It’s the equivalent of having lost 20lbs. Who wouldn’t look lighter and feel more attractive? It had to go, but I’ve missed it – obviously not for it’s aesthetic contributions, but for it’s bug catching abilities.
As I took my walk to investigate the open houses, analyze with a critical eye and the dormers on the homes in the Port, I took to noticing how many homes hadn’t forgone the screen door. They put it front and center, they made it an object of desire, the painted in bright colors and in the highest gloss available, also known as lacquer and they adorned it with gold leaf appliques. These wooden screen doors were a triumph. They were a spectacle, they were worth a nod, they were worth further investigation, and dare I say replication.
While some of you might think that it is “strictly coastal”, I think I could have made it work in the city. If only I had more time. If only I had more money. If only, if only, if only….
Clearly I am seeking. I have made no secret of it. This Quest of mine has been neatly packaged and bound, flip after flip anchoring the pages of my story to the tacky binding of my unfinished book. Whether you are rooting for me or against me, indifferent, apathetic, or uninclined, you’re seeking too. We’re seekers. That urgency, the burning need to leave a mark, the charcoaled edged of the embered wood lending credence to our existence. Of our 7 core instincts; anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and here it is: seeking, it is thought that the last of these instincts should in fact be the first. It is considered the most powerful of them all. Isn’t that delightful, delectable, darned amazing? We want answers, we want higher ground, clarity, clairvoyance or something close to it. Something that makes our us-ness special. Chevy Chase used to open his Saturday Night Live performances with: I’m Chevy Chase, and YOU are not…. I think that sums it up nicely. We are looking for validation, in the way only we can. The way that matters to us most, though admittedly, that too can be foggy at times. Doubt creeps in and rears her gorgon, snake filled main of hair, her monstrous wings propelling her through the air, swinging dangerously close to you, and all your uncertainty. Don’t let her mystical beauty lull you into a false sense of security. Medusa is not your friend, stand your ground, fling barbed questions to pierce and silence the snakes. I think it helps in finding the answers for you, and your personal pilgrimage.
Here I am on the threshold of yet another milestone, technically it is time for me to sell my little one bed, tucked away off the busy city street, behind a gated entry, that opens to a tree filled courtyard, and a front door – your own front door. Who gets to live in the South End for under a million dollars, with their own front door? Well, me, and perhaps you too if you are desirous of that sort of thing. A home that lives like a town house, instead of a condo. Your own private entry, your own mail box, your own wood burning fireplace for cozy fall evenings, and central air for hot late summer days. It’s a magical jewel box of a property, but as the Budda says – everything is impermanent. It is time for me to pass the pleasure onto another. The question is, two years or not, should I be selling during a pandemic?
It’s never been my wish to have a hoard of people on the steps of my home, fists in the air like the floor of the stock exchange at the final bell, begging to buy my property. No, I am more interested in that one person, one couple, that falls madly in love with what I have created, and knows instantly that they have found their mate in this home. I guess the answer that I am looking for from you is yes, it’s possible to find someone like that, even in a pandemic. Am I right or am I wrong. Feel free to weigh in, everyone has an opinion.
I adore being a contradiction in terms. The high fashion, well not skyscraper high, but at least mid-rise high – we’re Boston, not New York City, stiletto wearing gal that works in the construction industry. The diagnosed dyslexic that veraciously devours volume after volume, of whatever I can get my hands on. The singleton that dreams of a house with a white picket fence, but that fence is strictly there for aesthetic purposes, and I own it.
Kate Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page and many before, sang about, or as I like to tell it – demanded: “land, lots of land, under starry sky’s above”…”let me be by myself in the evening breeze” …. “let me straddle my old saddle underneath the western sky”. They begged not to be fenced in, just as I beg any gal that will listen to me, to buy real estate. It’s the realest thing you can do, to build financial security, which is why I am so happy for my friend Jenn. She took those reigns, mounted that horse, put in her offer, and she’s off and running.
To this city dwelling gal, the home feels really big, so we’ll need to take the renovation in stages. It has great bones, and looks to be in really excellent shape, but that doesn’t mean that she won’t want to put her own stamp on it, and to begin with, she plans on stamping out the lattice at the front entry. I agree, it feels like it’s having an identity crisis, so I have made a few recommendations for alternative fence options for the porch that feel a little more in keeping with the neighborhood, and its Colorado location.
Once the lattice is gone and is no longer a distraction it would be really nice to have a zippy front door color. I’m back to being in love with a racy red or a violet. I’d avoid orange, though I love that color, I’m afraid with the home’s pale green exterior it will look too much like a pumpkin, and since Jenn has just made it clear, with this offer, that she needs no prince charming to save her, we’ll leave the field mice to convert someone else’s pumpkin into a carriage. She’s taking that horse and plans on jumping the fence.
People – you know, friends, relatives, acquaintances, you, if you know me, ask, tell, or inquire, in a somewhat perplexed, searching for understanding kind of way, why I do what I do. I’m glad for the curiosity. I want you to know why I buy, and sell, pack, move, repeat, live in sawdust, out of suitcases, and a seemingly endless state of chaos. Aside from the somewhat contradictory truth, that I am a control freak, and all that disruption can appear to the casual bystander, as a cataclysmic mayhem, it is designed to bring just the opposite. That’s right, it’s designed to bring me control, in a world that is largely out of my control.
Sure things happen along the way that I hadn’t counted on (also known as things out of my control), but each time I learn something new, file away a truth about real estate, which to my mind, it the realest, most sure investment you can make, and in so doing, I take back a little more of the control, I thought I had lost, but probably never possessed in the first place. Have I confused you yet? Action is agency, and agency is all about exerting power. When I am drowning in self-doubt over how I got myself into one mess or another, I remind myself, that it can be figured out, that I am not the first person to encounter water spraying in through a conduit, into my tiny bedroom, like a fire house let loose on a three alarm inferno. No, if fact, someone else out there has done it, solved it, and lived to tell about it, and when I find that person, or the dozens of others that have had similar experiences, and bow to their infinite wisdom, with desperation and reverence, I am almost always granted the benefit of their experience.
To most people my confession that desperation is what compels me, feels like a comedic line I’ve honed to illicit a laugh. While I am never afraid to employ a little self-deprecation into a tale I am weaving, I can assure you, this is a bold-faced truth. My survival instinct is incredibly strong, it is in fact this desperate need for security that keeps me moving through some of the less comfortable moments of my existence, but there are secondary and even tertiary reasons I do what I do. I’m complex, and am still working on figuring myself out, so you’ll have to forgive me.
Design and travel – I’m not sure in which order I place them, are compelling reasons for my constant motion. All this moving and flipping has afforded me the opportunity to do both, and for that, I would argue, the sawdust in my shoe, and other unmentionable places, is worth it.
On this Sunday, I don’t know when I will be able to travel again, but it has me thinking about one of my favorite European destinations, the South of France, where for me, inspiration abounds. The pace is slower, languid, indulgent, and bright with promise.
The dusty heat rises up off the fields that are littered with purveyors of antiques – cast away by a generation more interested in modern wares, than Louis XIV commodes, and Bergere chairs. Paintings, silver, tile – broken and chipped but in the most beautiful blue hue you can imagine, transport me to a white washed, sun soaked veranda over looking a pool. Can you see it?, the interior rim, edged in this sublime ancient key fret design….drop on in, the water is warm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.