Psycho Thriller: How renovating houses turned me into my own therapist

Break the rules or create your own.

I love the idea of being de-coded by someone. To be truly understood and seen by another should be a basic human right, it’s not, but it is a basic need. I won’t allow myself the luxury of lying on a sofa, or in a comfortable chair, and working through why I think or feel the way I do. I know I have the disease of being busy, too busy, so busy I can barely sit still, which is in part why I like house renovations so much. They are like little babies requiring constant care and attention. They can also try your patience and wear on your last nerve, making you feel as if you are going to go insane.

Making way for water – away from the home.

Here’s where Behavioral Activation Therapy comes in. I can’t believe that I didn’t study psychology because I love it so much. I had been employing this psychotherapy technique on myself without even knowing it. I’m so self-clever sometimes it astounds me, mainly because at turns I can be so clueless, and not in the cute and cool way that Alicia Silverstone was when she starred as Cher in the movie of the same name. I stumbled across the technique when I was renovating my second property, which had me crying a river – the last thing you want to do when your house is already full of water in all the wrong rooms and places.

The kitchen – heart of the home.

I found myself digging around in my closets looking for my suitcases and wondering to myself allowed what would be needed in the quiet padded cell of the insane asylum, when I thought, what if I just pretended that this wasn’t happening to me at all. What if, I was just a paid employee to the person that it was happening to, and my job was to figure it out – get the appropriate line-up of contractors, find the best prices and do it quickly. What if, when all of that was done, I got paid for it? What if indeed.

Keeping it together. The foundation for the retaining wall is in!

What I discovered is that it works. By removing the person that takes it personally – that would be me, and I suspect you too – from time to time, something amazing happens, you just get it done. It’s just a job. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to No Stupid Questions – the Angela Duckworth and Steven Dubner podcast I am currently obsessed with and Angela, the psychologist, was asked by Steven if pretending you weren’t depressed, by “acting” as if you were an non-depressed person could really work? I bet you can guess what she said. Now go out there and get renovating or taking your first steps toward running a marathon or whatever amazing thing you will do, because you can – unless it’s surgery. Please leave that to the surgeon.

Screen Shot: Block bugs and look beautiful

I adore this option with the stained and varnished mahogany.

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.

Dory – You adore this as much as I do?

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.

Fire cracker red celebrates the seasons.

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….

One King’s Lane

Closed due to Covid and 19 other reasons these windows are papered.

Another victim falls. I just want to cry and scream and throw a proper toddler-style tantrum that adequately convenes my frustration and powerlessness in the face of this pandemic. Those three year olds have it figured out – rage at the indignity and injustice, exhaust yourself in the process, take a nap, eat a snack, feel better. There is beauty and simplicity in their approach, and freedom, oh blessed freedom.

Taste Maker . Corey Damen Jenkins

Clearly I do not have that luxury. I had my three year old chance, and now that time has passed, being well beyond three years – even three decades, but still surprisingly feeling quite young and vulnerable at times. I am going to have to accept, in an irony, bookended by disastrous recessions, that One King’s Lane’s Boston retail shop couldn’t survive.

Curated collection of interesting objects is signature OKL.

I doubt that they are on a respirator, are we still in dangerously short supply of those? When they launched their on-line store in 2009, they did it in the midst of one of our worst modern day recessions. Such ingenuity and can emerge in times of great distress – I for one have my eyes peeled for a little magic right now. Their model was built on two primary premises, that they would cull overstock items from brand name designers – many of whom would formerly only sell to the trade, and offer them up to you and me (regular people without a tax id and a list of vendor references that rival the guest list of the MET Ball). The second crucial element of their business plan included the use of flash sales. This lent an element of distress to the moment, playing on our greatest fear of missing out. Those FOMO geniuses built an empire, founded on that fear, and I am fantastically jealous of the fame and fortune that followed them.

Celerie Kemble . Interior Design Celebrity and Taste Maker.

Them – clever dames, Susan Feldman a fashion industry veteran that moved from NYC to LA, and became obsessed with the home goods marketplace, for which I am grateful, and Ali Pincus who brought some much needed Silicon Valley know-how and I suspect money to the table.

No need to be blue when this ocean of happiness awaits.

They used their industry connections to maximum benefit, conducting Taste Maker Tag Sale, with items plucked from the homes of celebrities including; Steve Martin, Dianne Keaton, and Courtney Cox, and went on buying trips across continents with the likes of Bunny Williams, Nathan Turner, and Michelle Nussbaumer. In 2015 they opened their first brick and mortar location in Soho, added interior design services, and caught the attention of some serious big wigs. In 2016 they sold to Bed, Bath and Beyond for $12M. Like so many companies that lose their founders, the company floundered. Taste, passion, vision, design eye, the pulse of the marketplace is often diluted in the sea of corporate execs. A few more tears certainly won’t help this situation.

Leopard is a neutral after all.

I think I’ll spend my afternoon surfing through the vintage section, swinging by the swell slipper chairs, and humming a happy tune of gratitude for democratizing design on my behalf – and yours.

Playing it Safe

Left: Hable . Beads . Sea Foam Right Top: Hable . Tiny Stripe . Barbados Ombre . Right Bottom: Hable . Mum Eden

Is so utterly boring that I cringe a little when I type the title here. Who wants to read about someone’s bold and wild adventure into the use of three different shades of white, and a punchy taupe grey – yawn, but when it comes to choosing a color for our house, our front door, or our living room we balk. I know I did. I carefully selected three daring hues for my front door – a bright blue, a Louboutin, sole of your shoe red, that would have suggested that what was behind that front door was worth seeing, and a violet that just made me happy. It was all ridiculously expensive because I had to buy the quart size, and I had to have Aurora, and of course I wanted to see it in high gloss. Guess which color I picked – white. That’s right.

Top Left: Sister Parish . Appleton . Sea Foam . Top Right: Sister Parish . Tukerman . Kravet . Switchback Nautical Trim

When it comes to taking risks, you and me, we’re not that practiced at it, and practice is just what we need to get better. I call my technique for this, Lilly Padding. Sure when you take that first hop and the lily pad bobs and wobbles threatening to throw you off, you immediately begin to question the veracity of your decision to jump in the first place. Settle down, the platform is pretty wide, and the place you came from is right there, in spitting distance. Your little leap didn’t take that much bravery, but when the ripples subside and you become comfortable on your slick green platform, and you spot a gorgeous pink blossomed water lily a stone’s throw away, you decide to take another little hop in its direction, and well, before you know it you’re leaping left and right, making faster and faster gains, until you can barely see off in the distance that place that you started from.

It’s pretty amazing how far you can go when you muster up that courage to dip your toe in the water. I recommend starting with a story board, a slew of samples, a favorite color, and maybe even a lovely tray from Home Goods to toss it all into.

Charlestown Lacquer Side Table . Green (because what would this post be without a lily pad green?)

Here’s my attempt at mixing and matching, playing it safe was making my lily pad feel awfully small. Happy Sunday.

The Why’s Have It

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.

A little piece of the South of France, this modest painting, picked up in Nice at the Flea Market is one of my favorite pieces. Paired with an antique dresser, Kate Spade Lamp, and set against Ben Moore’s Bridal Rose it really pops. Photography @curtona

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.

Worried that you won’t be able to incorporate it into your City apartment – don’t be. See it done with effectiveness and flare above.

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.

This pastel brushed beauty above the bed was found at a second Nice Flea Market and depicts of all things, pigeons. I adore it.

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.

Louis XVI Side Chairs.

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.

Provence . Tile . Available on Chairish.

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.

19 Century French Wood Painted Mirror.

A Place I’d Like to Live

I have a rich fantasy life. The kind of rich that’s stupid. I flip through the pages of magazines, and Instagram feeds shopping with my eyes and my heart until my virtual cart tippeth over. If that is where it stayed, I be a wealthy girl…I can’t help but think of Gwen Stefani’s song – Rich Girl.

Miles Redd California Pool House.

“If I was a rich girl (na, na)
See, I’d have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl
No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never ever end
Cause I’d have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl”

Left: Blue Print Store . Dallas . TX displaying Quadrille . China Seas . Sigourney. Right Top: Same in Ziggy Blue on White. Right Bottom: Custom Sisal.

At your Doorstep.

Alas, I am not so I am imagining very, very hard, what it would feel like to have a whole house of my own. What it would look like on the outside (white with black shutters and a fire engine red front door, or would it Robin’s Egg Blue or a deep Violet)? Whatever color I chose for that front door, it would be painted in oil, coat after thick silky coat until it shined like a freshly washed Ferrari straight from the dealership. The planters on the front porch would have Boxwoods that had been clipped and manicured to circular perfection, and just beyond the shell drive you’d spy the pool house. It would be an extensive of the main house, but with an escapist feel that immediately comes to mind when you think of a house that was designed specifically for a pool. Can you say rich?

Stephanie Shank Artist

It’s not secret that I am more comfortable in small places. They suit me. When I look at a mansion all I can think of is, how in the heck would I clean that thing? The dust bunnies that pile up in my mind start to freak me out. Far better to live in a place that you can manage on your own. That is of course if you are a control freak like me and also not …. I think you know what I am going to say – flush with excess cash.

Cabana Stripes – happiness

I want to spend those ducats on custom flooring, on stunning tile, on wall covering for my dressing area, on curtains, the cost of which you could trade for a ball gown – and not for any old charity event, for a king or a queen’s coronation ball. Got the picture now? Good – dream a little dream with me.

Cheeky Monkey . Be one with nature.

Porch Time

Restoration Hardware . Provence Collection

Is it just a lovely pastime or is it the pandemic that’s pushing us outside to our porches, balconies, decks and/or back yards. I do have a little deck in the city, but the spring, as is so often the case here in New England, was slow to come. It snowed in late April, which is a major offense as far as I am concerned. I wonder how many people realized the absurdity of those cold wet flakes falling from the sky, lost as we were in a time warp that blurs days and nights, weeks and months, up from down. I’ve lost track of the day of the week myself several times, and am guilty of calling May – March. This bloody pandemic is undoing the careful rewiring of my dyslexic brain.

I participated in my first ever curbside shopping expedition yesterday. So happy was I do see clothes lining the racks of a real live beachy boutique in Chatham, that I started hollering out to Ashley, the owner, to rush down to grab the violet colored floral frock, and then the filmy little red number. There were body suits and bathing suits, beach towels and blue tooth boom boxes, my deprived consumer brain was going ballistic. I walked away with one tiny body suit and my sisters – with summer wardrobes.

Above: Ocean State Job Lot: Teak Folding Chair with Arms . $37. Teak Extending Oval Dining Table $349.99

While clothes shopping is a major past time for me – it’s not what I will be doing any time soon, and I suspect that most folks will be watching their finances with a focused eye. If money is going to be spent, I would argue that your outdoor space, where you are likely to be spending endless hours this summer, would be a good place to ditch your duckets.

Illicitly eating your $25. lobster roll from a takeout container, hovering over a table without chairs, or squatting in a patch of sunshine, just isn’t the same leisurely experience it once was, and as bars have been barred, we’ll not be mixing and mingling with anyone that doesn’t share your last name. Finally, well perhaps not finally, but close to finally before I get the the actual point, if your high school senior or college age student decides to take a bi-year before heading off to school, you’ll be able to take that college tuition money and upgrade your outdoor furnishings, because that’s just about what they cost.

PopOColor . Etsy . Outdoor pillows . Studio Bon $62.00

I love that Serena and Lilly Sundial Chair, but does a chair really need to last for 10 days at the bottom of an ocean? Is all that innovation that resulted in a $2k chair – retail to you and me – worth the bragging rights? I posit to you that it does not. Perhaps heading down to Ocean State Job lot and finding a nice set of teak folding chairs and table for $200. will bring as much joy – even if it doesn’t swivel.

PopOColor . Etsy . Schumacher . Citrus $58.

You know and I know that I am a fan of Restoration Hardware and think their outdoor line offerings are amazing, but I openly resent the fact that my outdoor sofa, with my design discount, cost more than my indoor sofa. The injustice of it all sticks in my throat like a lump of dry bread. I still haven’t forgiven them for backing me into the plain cream cushions – their off the shelf option – that still took 6 months to arrive. This is not an exaggeration, and now I look longingly at the cabana strip, and crisp navy piping, and the rainbow colors that abound in their on-line catalog of offerings and wonder….is it Memorex or is it Real?

PopOColor . Etsy . Trina Turk . Persimmon Arches . $61.

If there are no excess reserves of cash lying around for refurbishing the outdoor space, dust off what you’ve got, take the hose to it and consider a few new happy pillows to rest your head on when your relaxing and reading a good book. Safe . Solitary . Serene.

Happy Sunday.

Il Pellicano . this place isn’t just for the birds

Il Pelicano . Porto Ercole . Tuscany.


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.

Hello handsome, I’ll have a …

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.

Marie-Louise and her Dad, Roberto.

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.

Serena and Lily Launches . Boston

Mary Maguire is a RISD trained artist. Based in Lyme, CT she sells her originals to a number of shops. http://www.marymaguireart.com/

or Chestnut Hill as the case may be. True to its name, and despite the bustling sales associates, and dozens of eager shoppers, the color palette of blues and grays, caramels and creams, and even a forest green, made the store serene. You know the kind of place that makes you realize you’d been holding your breath? When your foot falls on the bleached hardwood floor and you knock eyes with a wall adorned in Mary Maguire nautical watercolors, you know you’ve arrived at someplace special.

Original art abounds throughout the store.

Between Newport and Nantucket, Serena and Lily is likely to fulfill its annual projections for sales, the rich and famous flocking to this formerly catalog only company, to adorn their second, third or fourth homes.

Despite the outrageous decadence of a $60. pillow case, the simple beauty of their offerings draws one in. Some things simply have no look alike, or the look alike can’t really hold a candle to the original. In these instances I think it’s important to save ones pennies, and purchase pieces that are going to bring the most bang for the buck. Believe it or not – a pillow case does bring bang. All of the other sheets can be hidden away, but that pillow case is perched right there on top, in full view, and with all the world to admire. Pair it with a Home Goods sheet set and you’re in the money as the saying goes.

My other picks from the store have to do with my recent obsession with chairs – dining, club, slipper, lounge, diminutive or delightfully large, they have my attention. While it’s true that if you are in the hunt for high-low comparisons in the chair world, you can make a pretty good go of locating a low-priced lookalike that will work brilliantly. I would argue that even someone as obsessed with the details, as I am, could be made reasonably happy with one of these close approximations, BUT when you’ve found a particular hue that makes you beyond happy, that, you may not be able to replicate. The Tucker chair in Fog is my pick, and at just $198. it’s one of the more reasonably priced picks.

Raffia Console Table – on sale now! $848.

If I am selecting for my imaginary coastal home, the Belgian Club in Performance Pinstripe in French Blue is my pick for a living room chair, and the Blake Raffia Console – which btw is on sale for $848. from $1300. The indigo is so nautical and lovely, I can really see my room shaping up, but alas, its Sunday and errands await, bringing me back to reality. If you’re in the mood for a wonderful daydream, drop by – 200 Boylston Street . Chestnut Hill.

Al Fresco in the Fall?

I feel it in the air today, though I know in my heart of New England hearts, there will be many more warm days before the snow arrives, the crisp weather of this next season is sure to come. Why then am I recommending you assess your outdoor furniture and consider buying now, right before you’ll be up to your eyeballs in holiday decorations, and gift lists as long as your arm? If you have ever attempted to buy outdoor furniture in March, April, May or gasp – June…you know you’ve already missed the boat. Sure, you’ll be allowed to purchase it. Buy now, and prepare to hold your breath until November. That’s right – November. If Thanksgiving is warm enough, which sometimes it is here in Boston, you could entertain family and friends under your pergola with your new dining table and chairs, and then haul them downstairs for a long winter’s sleep.

If you purchase now, you’ll have the benefit of some pretty amazing sale prices. When an outdoor sofa, which in this region you use for maybe three months if you are lucky, costs about a third more than your indoor sofa, which you use all year long, getting some kind of a break on pricing is a non-negotiable for me.

Options may be a little more limited, but 60% off is 60% off, and after a winter that seemed like it would never end, you really want to be able to pull those furnishings out of storage the very first springlike day that comes along, and get to taking advantage of it.

Above Left: Ballard Design . Color Block Above Right: Ballard Designs . Fringed

These are my picks – buy now or forever hold your peace next spring.