Lose Farther and Faster

I lost three properties in a seven day span. Mary Oliver would be proud of me, the Art of Losing isn’t really hard to do at all, not when you practice as I do. It does require a special quality nonetheless that I call “detached investment”. You can’t get cavalier about what you choose to bid on just because you may not be successful in your quest to obtain it. No, you need to tip toe across a tightrope – not quite a forever property but a property that you are going to spit, polish and shine into something for which you can be proud, not regretful. You can’t fall victim to your competitive instincts to win, if that winning isn’t keeping pace with reality. How much work does it need? How easy will it be to build it? Will permits or variances or condo approvals be required? If you are starting to get a headache, good. It will dissipate nearly as soon as you stop reading this, but if you win that bid for a property in which you overpaid and underestimated what it was going to take to convert it, well you better get accustomed to living with it.

This post is not meant to dissuade you from the hunt, just to keep you from the buyers remorse that some people may be feeling right this second. Three flights up a narrow, uneven staircase, the unit without air conditioning when we are moments away from sleepless nights, damp sheets and the always precarious installation of an in-window unit with its awkward distribution of weight, sharp edges, and need for two people to execute what should be a solo effort. Enough about that. You get the point. You don’t want to be that “guy”.

Continue the hunt does, and it does offer something exciting even if that something isn’t a win. I love the process of imaging how I will design these spaces and get pretty far along in the process between the offer and the verdict before ball up the trace paper and make a three point attempt from outside the paint toward the circular file. It’s not an entire loss, while every property has its quirks which lend themselves to particular furnishings layouts, art placement, lighting schemes and the like, color palettes can travel from property to property with relative ease.

Melinda Headrick . Owner and Principal Designer

I was super excited to learn that Chatham Interiors is coming to Boston, and not just anywhere in the city, but on the very same street that I currently live. Melinda Headrick is both the Owner and Principal Designer. I have frequented her two shops on Main Street in Chatham for years. I consider my style to be a happy cross pollination between Melinda (her first shop) which is all about sophisticated elegance and TA . TA, a younger, hipper, poppier aesthetic for those that have money.

Those striped pillows – available at TA.DA

Melinda is a beautiful designer, and offers an array of options for accessing her talent. Full design services aren’t for everyone as it can be prohibitive for those working with tight budgets. There are virtual consultations and room by room options with the extra added benefit of having them order and track all your purchases for you, ensuring they arrive at your home. Ah the possibilities, keep bidding, keep believing, keep on dreaming.

Favor the Flavor of Dolly

The Graduate Hotel . Nashville Main Lobby

“It Costs a Lot of Money to Look This Cheap” or so the neon sign reads in the Dolly Parton 9 – 5 Suite of Nashville’s Graduate Hotel, but it could have been the design ethos for the entire property. I mean this in the most deferential way, because I adore it. It’s an ode to Vanderbilt University – all Graduate Hotels, there are twelve of them nationwide, are located near and inspired by a University, but it’s so much more. Nashville looms large in the design, and if you weren’t educated on country music before you arrived, you will be when you’re ready to leave.

The design is led by the Graduate’s in-house luminary and Chief Creative Officer, Andrew Alford. A man after my own heart, he was told by his first employer that he didn’t have the imagination to be a proper designer. A ‘no’ to Andrew is a challenge that neither he, nor I could refuse, and look where that got him. I’m hoping it will take me to a similarly fabulous place with a pink room, a crystal chandelier, a powder room papered in punchy pattern, where my perfectly polished Swarovski stilettos never hurt and make me appear ten to fifteen pounds thinner than I actually am. Just you watch me, I’ll get there too.

The property is a museum of curiosities that will allow you to keep learning overtime. Hidden gems, layered meaning, moments of surprise and delight are tucked in among the gaudy but gorgeous statement pieces that are there precisely to be noticed. The mega Minnie Pearl art installation that greets you at reception is a loud and enthusiastic southern welcome. The bubble gum pink Dolly Parton sculpture is a showstopper on the rooftop pool just outside the White Limozeen Bar.

Dolly may have one particular suite that is clearly all about her, with a wallcovering that features her face, a shag carpet that is filled with feathers, a king-sized water bed with mirrored ceiling and disco ball to remind you that life should be fun. The Jolene Suite features chintz and pink striped walls offset by a navy sitting room for entertaining.

I’d venture to say that it just might be possible to have the best time you’ve ever had in your life, without ever leaving this hotel, and in Nashville, that’s one tall order to fill. Don’t forget to stop by and belt out a note or two with the mechanical singing pigs.

Something to See Here!

Distinctive Excellence: The making of an icon

My first love. Mies van der Rohe . Barcelona Chair . 1948.

Iconic pieces hold value. Trends do not. I was attempting to explain this to my Brother-in-Law who is embarking on a fairly significant renovation, along with my sister, of their LES apartment. A lifelong resident of Manhattan, Andy has an appreciation for art – fine, film, not food per se, but most definitely the musical arts, and culture. His interest in pop, international, historic/ancient, make him a fairly typical New Yorker, which is to say, very well versed in a whole lot of things, that most people know nothing about. If I am being nice about it I’d say it is likely due to the fact that it doesn’t sit on their doorstep waiting to be consumed as it does in NYC.

Marcel Breuer . Cesca Chair . 1928 tubular steel frame provides flex and comfort.

With all this intellectual sophistication it’s not that he doesn’t know logically that if you purchase a Renoir it is not going to depreciate the moment you walk it out of the Christie’s Auction House – at least I hope that’s the way in which you’d find yourself acquiring it. Of course there are other ways. I prefer to inherit my art, but if I do, I want it to be any one of the most famous impressionists. They knew how to turn a swirl of paint into a pot of gold. I would happily inherit a Mies Van der Rohe, a Saarinen, an Eames, or a Platner right along with that piece of art, but here is where we two differ. I can tell that Andy is skeptical of my assertion that these iconic designer’s furnishings are of real value. “Why not simply get a knock off”? he asks.

Charles Eames . Lounge Chair . 1956. This is the definition of fitting like a glove.

All this got me thinking about what makes something move from a trend, to a classic, to iconic. What made this fashion of a time, fifties design move beyond the three year mark, into classic territory? Design excellence, detailing, simplicity and ingenuity combined. How did they turn a formed piece of fiberglass known for its toughness into a sensuous slide that you could sleep on for hours? The angular tilt of the Barcelona Chair is a piece of sculpture in its own right, its design – like that of a master artist, a showcase of understanding of the human form. The materials, the detailing, assembly and execution are why these pieces are revered, and why they hold their value.

Give me a bouquet of Tulips any day. Eero Saarinen . Tulip Chairs and Iconic Saarinen table. 1957.

I’m all about the high and low, but if you can afford one iconic piece instead of ten from Room & Board, I’d remind myself that I can only sit in one chair at a time, and if I had to choose one, I want it to be the very best.

UNMET Needs, Endless Aspiration and Small Spaces

There is something romantic, intriguing, and comforting about small spaces. They are the warm womb of security that is often missing from the cold expanse of our global existence. They are economy and ingenuity, they are the hostess that makes you feel seen, special, attended to, despite the room full of other guests. They are the double take, and smoke and mirrors of a master illusionist. They are the embodiment of Mies Van Der Rohe’s old addage: “Less is more.” – = +

Amir Khamneipur may be the most inventive small space designer of all time. Check out the mirrored back wall that makes the space seem huge, now, the kitchen island – same thing, it’s not a piece of furniture, it’s an island, and what about the bench seating for dining that doubles as two single beds for his nephews when they come to stay?

Done right, a small space invites you to climb aboard and stay a while. Done poorly, it can leave you in a cold sweat, shallow breaths that never get past your collar bone, oxygen deprivation causing a charcoal smear on the perimeter of your lens of vision. Throw down the sash of that new/old Art Deco Orient Express cabin window and inhale the cool night air. Even a 30sf cabin aboard a train can be made to feel palatial with thoughtful detailing.

Seeing is believing.

I think it started with I Dream of Jeannie’s bedroom in a bottle. What little girl wouldn’t want to climb up that ladder and alight on that plush velvet boudoir of a bed. As my sister would say: “purple promise”. We’ll leave it at that. I was hooked. Then came the Merimeco curtains my mother made for the Curlew, our 54′ Slip Jack Catch, my very own first apartment with its hidden doors, secret compartments, and furniture on invisible wheels, it was part of the fixed cabinetry one moment, and serving up cocktails to the guests in the middle of the living room the next. Surprise and delight, surprise and delight, surprise and delight.

Whether you are building a set on a stage, an apartment on steel wheels, or jetting passengers half way across the globe, it truly doesn’t matter the size of the space in which you do it. It matters how you make “them” feel, and by “them”, I mean YOU.

As I search for a fresh take in this new year. I return to some of my old favorites, find new jaw-dropping inspirations, and offer thanks to my mother, and the universe for never allowing me to get a Barbie Dreamhouse. It is the unmet need that fuels my real estate ambition.

Reflections of: A Real Year of Estates

27 Willow Bend . Chatham . SOLD!

I wonder what crypto currency smells like? I’ve started to dabble in it. An attempt to stay hip, to do what I am imploring my readers to do, to take a little risk. Of course the risk that I am asking them to take is tangible. You can touch it. Observe its lines and massing. Appreciate the ways in which it draws attention or detracts. It has an identity, a distinct style, a personal scent. Crypto is ethereal, celestial, ghostly, many would say that it’s not real at all. I guess that’s where faith come in. I’ve converted some of the “real” dollars I made on this years real estate transactions, into an idea, a concept, a different currency. Who knows if it will pay off, but I’ll always remain true to my first love.

2021 has some bad parts to be sure, but I’m not going to think about them today. The year resulted in some very big firsts on the wealth building front that are worth reflecting on here. First, 27 Willow Bend was transformed from a frumpy old lady into the hip new girl on the block, and I mean fly. Not as in flashy, but as in super sophisticated classy. She shines in all the right places. This first was a JV with my dear friends. While I was only a nominal investor, it presented an opportunity to do something I had never done before, like an actual budget that we followed, a whole house, and yard, and a schedule that we drove instead of being taken for a ride. When I say “we” , I really mean that I observed my talented friends as they made all of this happen. Gratitude and awe at your facility, determination, and heart, Tiffany, Jeanne and Al.

They doubled my little pile of money, which led to my second first. I got a kids seat at the development table for a commercial investment. This is a very big deal. Women are not on the call list for developers in search of investors. In fact, there is so much money out there, held by a few, that developers with a good reputation hardly need to break a sweat to raise the funds for their next venture. Getting in on the action was a result of an enterprising young gals desire to change the investor profile to look a whole lot more like her, or in my case, an older version of her. We share a similar ambition, and desire to help women build wealth. To my dear friends Lauren and Kristin, thank you for connecting me to Jen, for supporting me, and for making the slog silly fun.

My third first was the sale of 34 Lawrence Street. My fifth property – all these numbers, added up to a loss. That’s right. I sold the property for just under what I invested in it. That was definitely the first time that had happened to me, leading many, myself included, to ask, “does she really know what she’s doing”? Who ever can be entirely sure? I’m taking the long view. I might have lost this hand, but I’m still in the game, searching for the next deal, the next lesson, the next home.

Wishing you a new year filled with prosperity and plenty of firsts.

Not Nothin’: Another chapter closed

I’ve been as apathetic about the sale of No. 5 as one might be. I’ve been nervous, even angry about how the negotiations went on passed homes. I’ve conceded, and dug my heals in. I’ve been nasty, and gracious, and expectant. I’ve promised to be better, and do better, and failed, and tried again. Strong emotions all, but not this time. This time I said, buy it, or don’t. Agree to my terms, or not. I want to wash the taint of the pandemic off, but not at any cost. This property, I conceded, I would take a loss on.

Not exactly an exclamation point over the fireplace, but an end.

The loss would be nominal, $2500., but it stung more than I thought it would, or should. I wanted to place that blame on anyone, but on myself, and I certainly owned a part of it, didn’t I? I bought it after all, in all its ugly ducklingness, but that was just the outside. Doesn’t everyone always say the most important thing is what’s on the inside? She was ugly there too, but I didn’t know that when I bought her. She was abused and neglected, and I cared for her, when others had not. I can’t regret doing the right thing by her. I just wish the payoff had been greater.

As I prepared to embark on my next mini-chapter, I toured, and analyzed, new tower complex, after new complex, and went back to a few that I had visited before. What I discovered is that these places in the South End are outrageously expensive. I’d give back the dog shampoo station, the swimming pool, and the on-line match making service for residents, in exchange for $1500. off my rent a month, which got me thinking. I paid $4000. a month in mortgage payments over the course of 35 months. That’s $140,000. That’s not nothin’, and it made me smile, and think a little more kindly of No. 5. It might not have turned out the way I had hoped, but it wasn’t all bad.

The Conclusion of Construction Inclusion Week

Yesterday wrapped the first ever Construction Inclusion Week. An effort to bring more visibility to the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion – or exclusion as the case may be – to the construction industry. It’s not as if people don’t know about the industry. There are cranes everywhere, roads that are being torn up and put back together again, clogging the streets with honking horned cars, and their red faced drivers. We’ve got TV reports of supply chain issues; refrigerators, lumber, chips, clips, and ships, that can’t get their goods delivered to you. People know about the industry, but what “we” – that’s the universal we, that work in the industry – wonder is, do they know that despite all the challenges that it brings, it brings something great too? Do they know that construction, and the art of creation, is something that will never fail you, even if sometimes people, or pandemics do?

Paris . a chandelier in 700 piece harmony

We humans are flawed. We seek the familiar, even if we know that pushing beyond our comfort zone can bring surprising results. Construction Inclusion Week is that gentle bump on the shoulder that says don’t be grumpy, you’ll see, inviting others to the party will make it more fun.

Somethings are worth the effort.

When I first got into the industry all I wanted to do was work for an organization that would provide new challenges to me, and to be surrounded by “those” people that had some of the very best marketing campaigns I had ever seen. “In Springtime our builders thoughts turn from cranes and construction, to wedges and woods” or some clever missive meant to entice clients to join in on the fun of a golf clinic. It never even occurred to me that I might not be welcome, and mostly I am, as the place that I sit within the industry is stereotypically female. Others have not always been though – from the seat in the estimating or procurement division, to the all knowing and seeing role of superintendent in the field, there are places that women and people of color aren’t getting the red carpet treatment, and that needs to change.

As a woman, I am as guilty as the next person, for seeking out people, that are like me, to work with. I’ve had a female lawyer for years. I adore @Sarah Ricciardelli of Ricciardelli & Small, LLC. I’ve worked with a female banker and broker and wallpaper hanger, and even a female electrician. I paid the extra doe to use a union electrician because I wanted to support Samantha, and because hanging that Parisienne/Italian Chandelier that I had shipped back from France in 765 pieces, and needed to have installed in my historic, monumental, plaster rosette ceiling, wasn’t at all up to the challenge of carrying the weight, of its 200 plus pounds, and was going to require someone that had real skills. Sam did, and that enormous sculptural cherry blossom of enlightenment, hung proudly in the middle of that grand dame of a living room for about two months, before I sold the place and moved on.

Construction Inclusion Week was an opportunity for me to think about ways in which I might be more open, “be the change I wanted to see in the world”, do my part to make this industry thrive, and be the example other industries look to as a blueprint. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere, it’s up to us….New York, or Construction Industry, Construction Industry….ba ba, bada da, ba ba bada da.

Opposites Attract: the use of black and white in design

Ken Fulk’s Living Room Design . Anchored in Black and White.

Balance in life is something we are ever in pursuit of. One side of the seesaw is tipped too far, and too long, on the side of drama, chaos, endless checklists that can feel as if they add up to nothing of significance, even when the boxes display that emphatic red slash or definitive x. Then it bumps gently down on the side of calm composure, perhaps brought on by a vacation that you never want to leave.

We need both, we need equilibrium, we need that special mental calmness, composure, and even temper when we are faced with the most vexing situations. You know the kind, the ones a design and construction project are always throwing your way. I can hear the yogi Baron Baptiste whispering in his flat affect…”equanimity”, the even tide of his utterance lulling me into a hypnotic state. No time for that now. We must discuss contrast.

Kelly Wearstler’s San Francisco . The Proper Hotel

Contrast – the good and evil, the dark and the light, the total absorption of one, ironically brings about expansiveness. Paint your walls black or install kitchen cabinets of the same color and they seem to recede into the distance making your 100sf feel like two or three. White wash your walls and get ready to reflect the sunlight that pours in through your windows, tricking you once again into thinking the space is larger than it is.

Suzanne Kasler . Just a touch of black inside the fireplace to ground the white room.

Black and white is timeless and chic. It can draw your attention to the one color or object in a room that you want the visitor to appreciate most. It goes with any color combination or design style, making it the single most versatile combo you can choose to use. You never need to be afraid of the dark if you don’t forget to leave the white on.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Good Bones: Adding the details where details lack

Applied trellis detail, and sophisticated screens bring interest to the Hotel Thomiuex . Paris Designed by India Mahdavi

Though I’ve been surrounded by construction my whole life, I don’t remember picking up the term “good bones” until I started working at the architectural firm after college. My dear friend Brooke made mention of it when we looked at some fine old house. I think I intrinsically understood that it made reference to its skeletal structure, its roof and foundation, wires and plumbing – which are all incredibly important, but once I was assured of their soundness, I only had eyes for the details. Did it have grand proud baseboards with any kind of molding that might draw the eye, or that I could draw eyeliner on in the form of a black painted stripe. Did it have crown molding, adorned with the ancient egg and dart motif, rosettes or wainscoting, paneled walls with carved diamond patterns. Did I ever hope it would, but more often than not, it didn’t.

Look at the baseboard detail by Claude Cartier in this living room – simple square of light blue against the charcoal casing.

What’s a gal to do if it is just a simple, clean, unassuming white box? I have answers, you didn’t think there would be no answers to my own questions did you? While I rarely start with a budget, I suggest you do. When you don’t, and you have a wild imagination like me, it often leads to disappointment and self flagellation when you stare down at the estimate in astonishment and realize there is absolutely no way you can swing it. Avoid that if you can. If you are wondering how you’ll know, without having an estimate developed in the first place, you can use the level of detail you are looking for as a yardstick for measuring cost. If you are willing to DIY parts of the process – it can help keep the cost down.

A simple California Living Room by Cliff Fong utilizes inexpensive molding to create interest. Painted all the same color it adds subtle texture.

I love adding a trim detail to the top of a baseboard, or throwing up a plastic molding. While it’s terribly unsustainable, it’s super easy to work with, and inexpensive, AND from way down on the ground, it’s pretty hard to tell what the material is. If you don’t go too wild with it all, it can be relatively inexpensive to add it. If that is still too much, paint can do the trick. Hombre the walls, paint the casings in a color, add your diamonds or moldings to the wall with the dip of a brush into the silky center of a pool of paint, and draw it on. Spray an old screen, wooden or rattan in a hue just a few shades darker than the wall for added texture, or a metallic for extra drama. In the end, it’s never ONLY about the money. Creativity, riffed on, borrowed, or stolen from the pages of a magazine – the marrying of ingenuity and execution makes it more fun than just showing up when it’s all done.

Ramy Fischler takes the hombre look to the extreme in this “good bones” Parisienne apartment.