Coastal to Cosmo: Bringing city sophistication back to an NYC pad

Change, it’s inevitable. Take this pandemic. No one wanted it, and now so many don’t want to let it go, well perhaps not the pandemic itself, but all that change it pushed on us. The washing of the hands, the working from home, the family time, the need for less, the quieting of the frenzied existence. The irony is that we so often want what we can’t have.

It seems fitting that after many years of living with watery blue gray walls, linen shaded glass lamps, white tree stumped side tables, and a pastel blue sectional anchored by an enormous painting – its field of green meeting the sky, revealing not a hint of its place on this earth, that this coastal setting within the confines of its solid cement pre-war walls, will take its leave. Where will it go? I imagine it will find its way back to a place with fewer skyscrapers, less lists, and more leisure time.

After living on the water for nearly a year, my sister is ready to turn her city dwelling into the picture of sophistication, which got me asking what makes a city apartment feel city? It wouldn’t do at all to have the home not feel homey, for it to be stiff and rigid, as if it were shellacked into the glossy pages of Architectural Digest. No, tassels, and Tudor High Boys, tightly tailored seat cushions on uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t do. A man and his dog need a place to rest their head on a comfortable sofa after a long day in a city that doesn’t sleep, and the lady of the house deserves to have that same space look as good as it feels.

Antique Wrought Iron Horse Sculpture and Havenly Boucle Chair . $499.

What epitomizes New York City design style? This is the question that I was asking myself – weigh in if you have ideas of your own. This concept is not yet cemented. It’s not about the money, though money can go along way toward enhancing the look of the space – so often quality and craftsmanship come at a cost, but you can find oodles of talent on that little island. A gal that can turn a dime store purchase into an elegant backdrop for her five floor walk-up, 325sf studio, separating bed from Bohemian living space, turned cocktail lounge, guests huddled around a small coffee table, perched on pillows, candle lit casting a soft happy glow. No, it’s not about the money. It’s about a story – everybody has a story. Sure some tell it too fast. They build no suspension or intrigue. Some get overly verbose, losing you in a cluttered room of their story, before rushing you down the hallway blurting out an unceremonious ending. No, a good story is balanced, and starts when you open that door. Here’s how I think we’ll get it started.

Master Mason . Making her mark with art

There is a sea of fabrics out there. Dozens upon dozens of daily patterns are produced, like waves building in the ocean when a Nor’easter is brewing, it would be impossible to see all there is to see, in this sea of cottaintailed fabrics. Daunting to some, exciting to others, nature has a way of pushing a little piece of divine inspiration ashore, gently lapping at your toes, and then persistently petting them until you pay proper attention to the pretty little gift that you’ve been given. Nature – she giveth and she taketh away – the impermanence of it all is exciting.

In just this way, well not quite this way, perhaps metaphorically in this way, I was made aware of a little – big enterprise called Ferrick Mason. A watery blue, fauna leafed fabric presented itself to me, and I wondered how it was possible I’d never know of this companies existence before. I need to open my eyes, I should have known, I could have known, that not only was Alex Mason a textile designer, but a beautiful fine artist, with a whole lot of education. First, the University of Vermont – loads of nature there, then Pratt Art Institute – Brooklyn, then a jaunt to New Zealand before stopping in LA to got to school at the Otis College of Art and Design to study textile design, and then somehow she landed in Kentucky. Kentucky of all places, but these places have a way of finding their legacy living on in wallcoverings, fabric cushioned seats, curtains blowing in the breeze. A branch, a bird, a berried leaf, a shell, a shimmery feather, a shadow of some unknown shape, blurred by the blobs of paint that patterned the papery surface, a layer or two below another.

Alex Mason has talent. Her art, in part is derived from the landscapes of her travels, in part born from a vivid imagination. The mix of the two had me wondering which was which and who was who, like the one and only time I visited Hawaii and discovered purple flowering trees, potatoes, and rainbows, the likes of which had previously been known to me only on the fantastical pages of a Dr. Sues storybook. Their realness took a back seat to their magic.

That’s just the way I feel about Ms. Mason’s art, and her textiles. There’s a happy sophistication to her pieces which are full of symbolism with their circles, dragons, birds, and luminous orbs. The idea of papering a powder room, pantry or parlor in blue dragon’s portending good fortune is rather appealing to me. Don’t even get me started with the canvases covered in cakes, oh my. What a wonderful decadent phase that turned out to be.

Which would you choose? Hanging paper, curtains or a framed original in your home?

Paintings: The only palette you’ll ever need

They are so brilliantly expressive, marrying hues that seemingly don’t go together, in a way that is at once natural, and entirely logical. If painting were only based in the world of reality, for which I am ever so grateful, it is not. Frankly I don’t know where I would be without a pink hippopotamus, a blue tree, and a violet sky – well sometimes the sky is violet, but it’s very rare, you have to admit. The beauty of uncommon pairings is itself an artform, and I find it incredibly comforting to know that even if I appear to have made a terrible misjudgment with the colors I selected for one of my flips, I can flip that script with a painting, that makes it alright again.

Just see how many colors you can squeeze out of a single painting. Your furniture will pick it right up.

While I understand not everyone buys, renovates, sells, buys, renovates, sells, buys, renovates, sells – well you get the point, it can be exhausting and exhilarating, and leave you, loyal reader, with the incorrect impression that after a while, I surely get it right. Oh, how I wish that were true, but I often get it wrong. This may lead you to ask yourself, why ever would you listen to a word I have to say, if I am not perfect, not always right, so often get things wrong? I understand your hesitancy, but lean in here while I tell you this secret. Have you leaned in? None of us, not even the people you revere the very most, are perfect. They make mistakes too. It’s called being human. Life is so much softer when you understand and accept that.

A favorite Texas Artist of Mine . a happy mess of colors.

Let’s just assume for the sake of this post that you are pretty perfect, but someone, say your grandmother or aunt, or brother, or old college roommate gave you a sofa or a rug, for instance, and you are not at all like me. YOU ARE sentimental. The not at all like me part comes in here because I am not sentimental at all. I would give that sofa away, leave that rug in my childhood friend’s home, never to return to collect it. I wouldn’t bat and eye or shed a tear, but as I said – in this story, you are not me. You are terribly sentimental, so play that part please. How could you just sell that gifted carpet, that beloved sofa, where so many lovely memories were made? You couldn’t, you wouldn’t even if you were beginning to resent the gift and all of its design havoc wrecking qualities. You had a nearly perfect (really – was it? Be honest) home, until that gift horse arrived in your house.

Even an old master can be made new again with color.

If it’s old and weathered and all your other pieces are new, if it’s a violent blood read, and your were going for serenity in the form of pale grays, embrace the change. Art will make it feel intentional.

Add a black accent and watch it pop.

The Art of Achieving: the imperfect pilgrimage of one person’s journey

I love beauty as much as the next person. I fawn over the craftsmanship of a painstakingly thought out detail, the intersection of a structural beam that kisses the wall and disappears into the great unknown somewhere above the hard ceiling, the paint job whose lines are militant in their precision, the window whose somebody’s forethought so carefully frames out the view in the backyard of the barn with its codfish topped cupola.

Courtney Barton . Twin Throw Dohar . Ector Eggplant $195.

Instagram and social media, magazines, photo shoots, and Hollywood are all staged, and air brushed, to make you believe they were born of the imagination of such satirical thrillers as The Stepford Wives, which is to say, they are robotic in their image of near perfection. Life however isn’t perfect, unless your view is perfectly messy – then you are on the right side of reality.

Maison Balzac . Pink Carafe and Glass $74.99

I have no idea what the point of this particular rant (also known as a blog post) is about today. Maybe its a recognition that doing something well is really hard. Maybe it’s a thank you note and expression of gratitude for all the long hours, dedication, and obsessive tinkering that lead all these creators that I profile, to produce things of beauty. Maybe I am trying to cut myself some slack, at the start of this new decade, which has not been at all easy.

Look at that happy little planter of stars. Star Finished Brass Fire Place Screen. $2,395.

I’m going to work under the assumption that even if it looks effortless to me from the outside, that it likely wasn’t. Perhaps the little flaw was strategically hidden from the camera’s capturing eye, or the maker, made hundreds of that special thing that they make, before one was even close to camera ready. Putting the effort into getting good at something takes time – even if you have a propensity to do it well, and if you don’t – well then, you need to be so stubbornly determined that no collection of failures will deter you from your heart’s desire.

I love a good story. The best have a moral, a lesson, a way of turning the leaf over in your palm and viewing it through an entirely different lens. Perfection is boring you see, and whether I know the real story or not, my version is always going to be interesting. It’s always going to include a little challenge, a little strife, and an underdog that prevails.

Chairish . Lauren Jane Lounging Lady $621.

Happy Saturday.

Applied Knowledge: Make your own molding

Flat faced doors and cabinets can feel modern, or boring or both. That’s not to say that I don’t like modern, I do – very much in fact, but unless you are doing something to that flat surface – like say crafting it out of an extremely rare wood, or painting it with a gazillion coats of high gloss until it shines like a veneer…it may look like a tag sale find that’s not so special.

I adore a long sentence but I might have broken my record with the above. Any who, I am not bashing a tag sale find, and the Cape Cod Townie in me will always be in turns conflicted about lovely that elegant wood, and resenting it. I’m a complicated gal, but I like to believe that somewhere in the midst of that turmoil – something beautiful emerges.

If I am to apply the things that I have learned in the past, sometimes “faux” is the way to go. It’s not the wood that’s so expensive, it’s the labor. Further, if you paint on a definitive border as an inset to your paneled door in place of a molding, you move from traditional to contemporary – cool even. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say you can’t make “traditional” moldings cool. I know you can. As I so often say to my incredibly talented friend Jennessa…..”I’ve seen what you can do with a cupcake”. Well, I’ve seen what Kelly Wearstler can do with a molding and a can a paint, but every pony needs more than one party trick. Don’t you think?

Stage Right. Just a hint of reality.

Get after this week or it’s liable to get after you.

Hush Little Baby: Nurseries that calm

Hidden Falls would provide a wonderful accent on all three of the base wall colors. I would hold it down an inch from the molding, painting a 1 – 1.5″ perimeter strip around the entire room. Great for low ceilinged rooms as it lifts the eye.

We seem to be having a winter baby boom in my industry. The gals are popping up at events with beautiful baby bumps – left and right. A few have already delivered their new year’s baby bundles, and it got me thinking about all those tiny little fingers and toes, and paint colors and furnishings, rugs and lighting, you know, all the normal things someone that is obsessed with design thinks about.

Overland . Long Wool Sheepskin Baby Rug. $79.00

A baby room should be cozy and calming – not for the baby, they are happy in a onesie, snuggled up next to mummy, but mummy – well she needs a space that will making her happy, smooth out the rough edges of motherhood, because what she does is hard.

Given the crib and the bedding from which to launch the plan, I developed a number of different options for the color palette. I have to recommend mineral ice again and again and again. It’s worked in NYC apartments, in Cape Cod Cottages, in ski chalets. It’s so versatile, which is ironic because it reads so wildly differently from location to location, time of day and amount of light the space receives. Still it is beautiful. It is subtle, it is neutral….serene. There isn’t a person or a place that can’t benefit from my very favorite Benjamin Moore color.

Gabrielle selected PB Kids . Ramona Woodland Baby Bedding, which ties all the colors I selected together seamlessly – though it is not my recommendation that they all be used. Rather I would select one of the three: BM’s Bridal Rose, Mineral Ice or Lavender Mist for the base wall color. For a more traditional feel I’d paint the casings, base and molding in BM’s Chantilly Lace, more modern and I would paint the base, case and moldings in the same color but change up the finish – walls in egg shell, wood in high gloss. An option I’d consider creating a faux wainscot by painting up the wall from base to roughly one third of the overall dimension from ground up, in the selected color – again – high gloss finish. These little tricks add visual interest to the room. A note of caution – if the walls are in less than perfect condition, high gloss won’t be your friend. It shows all the imperfections. Want to make it super cozy? Paint the ceiling the same color as the walls or a hue that is slightly darker, and prepare to snuggle in.

Left: Etsy . Little Playhouse $12.41. Middle: Society6 . Here Comes the Sun $21.59 . Right: The Small Art Project . Woodland Animals . $179.99

PB . Dahlia Flushmount $224.

Other touches that make the space feel particularly special include lighting. Ceiling fixtures, and tabletop lamps help to warm up the space – dimmers required.

Yume . Branch Mobile. $68.00

Wall art need not be all about baby, though a little bit of happy, a little bit of silly, soothes the soul. Etsy provides offerings at really affordable prices that allow your taste to evolve as baby grows.

I love soft things. I want a carpet underfoot that I can sink my toes into. If you are not in the market for a rug that is just for baby, consider a tiny sheep skin carpet that you can throw under your tootsies will you rock your screeching child to sleep. You’ll thank me for that tiny bit of comfort you get from the carpet.

Artistic Integrity: artwork that works with any other art

Bathing Beauty . 30.5″ x 38.5″ $510.

Honestly. If you love art, you might find a point in time, when you’ve bought yet another piece that spoke to you even though you had no place to place it. You know what I’m talking about – that overwhelming desire that washes over you – blocking out all reason, fogging your mind with a fever, which compels you to nearly knock an old lady over as you yank the painting off the wall. Come on, I can’t be the only one that’s done it….can I?

Well, even if you were far more composed than I, when you purchased your collection, you may find putting together disparate styles, colors, and genres, a real challenge. It can be, but I think I found some art that may be the answer. Hable Construction has an original art series by Soicher Marin that is monochromatic – Digital Art, already framed, in collages, watercolors, and pen + ink drawings. The collages appeal, in particular because they work with so many different of art. I simply adore them and think you will too.

Blue Swatch . $620.

Wabi Sabi: embracing the imperfections

All my renovations are imperfect. It’s not the money, or the obvious head scratching decisions of previous owners, though those contribute to much of the chagrin one experiences. It’s more than that. Even if the home were new, and all the decisions that contributed to its construction were mine – I am not perfect, so it would not be.

Old and worn, torn and tattered…historic and lovely.

My friend Julie sent me an email saying she’d heard about this concept – Wabi Sabi – isn’t that a beautiful sounding word? Upon learning of it, she thought it would help me with the pile of imperfections I had faced, and those I still had to contend with, well, with grace.

Under Renovation at ABC Carpet & Home . NYC

I love a research project so I started right away. It’s origin can be traced to Japan. The two words, divorced from one another, are rather sad. Together though, they have taken on a the poetry any great philosophy, which to my mind, is sublime. It has ties to Buddhism, whose wisdom is derived from making peace with the transitory and the imperfect. The unheroic nature of being human.

Broken and chipped, but set in plaster – the seashells become art.

Beauty then is balanced, enhanced even by the mistakes and damages, the ruined parts of the design, be it material or human, are incorporated into the object, the person, making them unique, contrasting the light to the darkness. Enhancing the appreciation, which in the absence of the imperfections, go unnoticed. Isn’t that just the puckeriest lemondade turned sweet?

Nothing a little white paint can’t fix.

Happy Saturday.

Setting Plaster

Robert A. M. Stern’s Offices . One Park Avenue . NYC

If you think I am going to provide you with a lesson on how to set plaster – you have another thing coming. While I love a beautifully plastered wall, and believe in the fundamentals of a clean space within which to work, I happily leave the execution of that up to the experts. It’s actually the name of a paint color – a showstopper – a mon avis, but the name leaves a lot to be desired. Farrow and Ball could stand to learn from Essie’s in the naming prowess. There Rallings, Down Pipe, and Stiff Key Blue could go from marbles in the mouth to the amuse bouche (a little happy for your mouth 🙂 ) of a Touch of Sugar, Reign Check, or Tiers of Joy, but that’s neither here nor there. A rose by any other name and all that. I will not be dissuaded from my new found adoration of this hue.

One Park Avenue. NYC is the I’ve arrived of all addresses. Originally designed by York and Sawyer, it is home to Robert A. M. Stern Architects. I announced to the Receptionist, in the most uncouth way, that I needed to be shown to my room, I was moving in. Naturally she looked a bit confused, and was decidedly too polite to point out that the Ritz Carlton was down the street. After clearing up my actual reason for being there, I had a tour of this amazing space. From their lighting collection to their carpeting, hardware, tile, urns, and the recent addition of benches and bike racks for their institutional clients, RAMSA leaves nothing to chance. They are my kind of people, even if they don’t know it.

THE Office.

I joked to my colleague, that you could safely say that you were in the big leagues when you were dealing with folks that laugh at the idea of an 8″ base. This seemed to be to be excessive when I was considering it for my modest condo project two months ago. I would have happily settled for 6″ – ha. RAMSA outfitted their lobby with a base that was conservatively 21″ tall, and let me assure you, not only does it work, but I briefly considered ripping out mine and replacing it, and my paint is barely dry.

Model citizens – getting the scale right.

Ah to be in the vicinity of greatness. As I make my way quickly and efficiently through the city today, making decision after decision to accent my new space, and dare to dream, transform it into something that I like…I am ever hopeful, that some of their magic rubbed off onto me.

Towering Heights.

REEDing Between the Lines

While rattan always strikes me as a decorative accent best showcased somewhere down south, I find I long for it when the weather even hints (as it does here in New England, in fits and starts) of becoming warmer. It feels right that furnishings should get a little lighter, allow a warm breeze to pass through them – even if they are indoors.

Mario Lopez Torres . Parrot Toucan Monkey Chandelier . Chairish . $6800.

Now if you have begun to conjure images of the Golden Girls in their Florida condo, let me stop you right there. This isn’t bamboo and peach palm fronds that I’m talking about. Rattan can be sophisticated, elegant even, and I am here to prove it.

Rattan is derived from the Maylay – Rotan, which consists of an old world species of climbing palms, which in turn, belong to a sub-family known as Calamoldizae, which is Greek for reed. Now we are getting somewhere, so stick with me here. Those reeds are woven into cords, which are wrapped around a wire frame, allowing the decorative object or piece of furniture to take shape. It’s an art, and oh boy, are there ever some designers that elevate the form.

Draped like a cloth tossed on top of a table. Beautiful lines. Chairish.

Mario Lopez Torrez is perhaps my favorite for his cheeky use of monkey’s. A Mexican Artist known for his mid-century creations – though it is believed he still produces pieces today in his village – Ihuatizo. If a visual examination of the intricacies of his designs don’t convince you of his status, perhaps the price points at which his pieces sell will.

City or seaside, north or south, I have a hankering for rattan.