Articulating what is worthy of knocking you off kilter, and awash in emotion, can challenge even those that haven’t come across a word that they didn’t love. And a lover of words is rarely at a loss as it pertains to finding inventive pairings. So what exactly is it about this phenomenon that has us begging to teeter, to become unbalanced, to feel as if we might fall? I like my breath like the best of you, but would happily have it robbed from my chest if it meant spotting a space, a place, or a swarthy man that made me dizzy with desire. Falling can be a very good thing to do.
I did just that when I saw The Vanderbilt Hotel. While clandestine affairs are not my thing, grand gestures that include real estate deeded to me, most certainly are. To think that Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt had an in-town, Newport “Love Shack” designed and built for his married lover is wonderfully scandalous. To know that he never had one moment of unwedded bliss in the place is another. It is our happy fate, that it is one of the few that is open for more than a museum tour. 33 Luxury rooms await, and they have all been designed “to a fair-the-well” as my father would say. I have to agree, and steady myself as I gaze longingly at the photos.
Dallas based design visionaries, Samantha Sanos, and Partner Joslyn Taylor of Swoon, don’t just tackle interiors, they take on your brand, art direction, and more in a holistic approach to finding that je ne sais quo, that sums up the swoon vibe so nicely. After all, the allure of the unspeakable is magnetic.
I write about Nantucket at least once a year. I have been visiting the island since I was a very small child. I am aware of the power of a place that you associate with simpler times, when your biggest challenge was how you might convince your mother to buy you a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone with chocolate jimmies, or beg one of the adults in the party to slide you a crisp dollar bill so you could run wild down the docks to the penny candy store and score golden foil wrapped chocolate coins, smarties, reams of paper spotted with rainbow colored candy dots, and a small handful of bit-o-honey. Innocence is an aphrodisiac that paints the town in pastel hues. I know this to be true, and yet, upon polling a number of adults whose experience of the island came much later in life, I can report to you with a ferocious certainty, the Gray Lady is magical.
I have stayed on the southern shore of the island facing the Atlantic, the northern side on Brandt Point, over the harbor in the Boat Basin, in town and Cliff Side and have had the pleasure of staying at the Veranda House on several occasions. Built in 1684, it survived the Great Fire of 1846 which destroyed roughly a third of downtown, engulfing more than 250 buildings in flames and reducing them to rubble. Stick built and loaded with whale oil the fire spread quickly. 338 years, several owners and iterations later the Veranda House is no more.
My last visit was in December of 2020, nary a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. My two girlfriends and I were the only occupants of the recently renovated eighteen room boutique hotel. We commandeered the reception come living room by the fire each morning and evening of our stay alternately sipping coffee and then wine by the fire. She was a beauty with her three decks that wrapped around the building, allowing you to sit and appreciate the view from her mountaintop location. I hope that her current owners will rebuilt and that the spirit of the Veranda House will live on.
Cut from the ragged rocky coastline of the Cote D’Azur, a Michelangeloian feet of genius, rose the iconic pool and restaurants, and the grand promenade leading to the now famous hotel. It requires more than time to make an icon, though Eden Roc has that on its side having celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021. A lovely way to exit the pandemic, not its first. It takes more than celebrity, though its had its fair share of those too in Marlene Dietrich, Liz Taylor, Kings and Queens, Politicians, and at least half of the inhabitants of the Cannes Film Festival. Toss into this glorious Mediterranean salad of celebs, Picasso, Porter, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Jean Cocteau, and further credit them for making it a summer haven, and you have an inkling of what makes this place special – it is aglow with inspiration, with beauty that floods down from the heavens, and on those rare days when a cloud or two dots the sky, the beauty can be found in the rays of sunshine that filter through the gathering raindrop soaked cumulous forms that dapple the blue.
Its natural setting, painstaking elegance, and dedication to leisure, joy, celebration and relaxation make it anything but stuffy. It’s a happy orchestra of bassoons and dancing violins and violas, of laughter and quiet solitude, of sun, salt, and solace. My love of Eden Roc came the first time my eyes knocked with Slim Aarons’ 1976 photograph of the pool overlooking the rugged coastline of the French Riviera. I have yet to stay at the illustrious venue, but have not given up the dream. I did however dine here. My obsession with design makes me bold, and somewhat unforgiving. I return to my five year old self, deaf to my mother’s insistent cries not to touch anything. My outstretched fingers are running across the corrugated wooden panels that line the walls and mimic the movement of the waves on the sea. The alabaster luminaries, custom designed by Atelier Alain Ellouz for the space emit a soft moonlit glow. Every serpentine sofa, every soft cushioned seat where custom designed for the space by Brazilian Interior Designer, Patricia Anastassiadis, who can be credited with the new life that honors the history of the place while giving it a crisp seaside contemporary vibe – that I adore.
From the artwork to the setting, the choice of pin-striped fabrics on walnut backed dining chairs, the orange and blue banquettes, piped in crisp white feel fresh, and playful. It is a wonderland of detail. The fluted exterior of the curved bar in La Rotunda is a wave on a different day. The bar cart adorned with a bunch of grapes begs the question “Why wait”? Anastassiadis’ understanding of place, of nature, of light and of history brings the outdoors in, mingles past, present and future in a honeysuckle/rose bouquet that is intoxicating.
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.
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.
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.
Running my weekend errands typically includes a round of open houses, whether I’m in the money or feeling closer to the skids, looking costs nothing, and the education one receives is priceless. It’s like the equivalent of getting a masters degree from your public library. And I so love to learn.
While I wish I could attribute my bout of dizziness to the head-swirling prices for which homes are on offer, I cannot, but metaphorically speaking, I’m reeling. I visited a vessel on a “close” to tony little street, who takes its name Hiawatha, from its adjacency Nantucket Sound, and the Iroquois Indian Tribe. “He makes Rivers” gives some mean to the list price of this 3200sf vessel of a home, but doesn’t fully account for its cost. At $1.5M, boasting 7 bedrooms and 3.5 baths, one might get an all together different impression of what is being hocked here, but as my father likes to say: “People loved to be fooled.” It is after all how most of us get into the beautiful messes we get into. The “had I known what I was getting myself into, I never would have done it” laments, are the ones most likely to categorically change you as a person, and who among us couldn’t use an overhaul?
This property would need just that. I recklessly threw a $600K price tag on the renovation, and that was for something that wouldn’t be at all high-end. What do I know about costs? I’m not an estimator, I having little to nothing to do with supply chain issues unless you count my chase for toilet paper in every megastore and outpost from Boston to Orleans expertise, but I have ears. It’s incredibly difficult to get anything from kitchen appliances to labor for construction and even my tenth grade math class, or was it history? taught me the laws of supply and demand. I’d like to demand a reinstatement of sanity, but I am afraid no one will listen, still the renos to this modest Cape home will cost you.
Constructed in 1948, aside from a somewhat laughable kitchen refresh in the form of a veneer of glass and subway tiles, it appears to be a perfect specimen of a time capsule. Those seven bedrooms wouldn’t fulfill the modern day needs of a walk-in closet. The one en-suite bath in what appeared to be the master bed was so small that one would be advised to disrobe before entering to preserve elbows.
The warren of tiny rooms would all need to go, though there will be little the next owner can do about the floor to ceiling heights which will give new meaning to “cozy seaside retreat”. Once you’ve stripped away the interior, installing a state of the art HVAC system will become much easer, but it won’t be cheap, and you’ll lose at least three of your seven bedrooms. You won’t be receiving a refund. The good news is, they have an adorable mudroom, just inside the back door, which is likely the place everyone enters as it’s just off the car port,. If they once had a garage it was converted to an in-law apartment, making it possible to recover some of your renovation expense, if you so choose. That mudroom, don’t touch it, when all is said and done. When the floors gleam and the ocean breeze blows through your new Anderson windows into your spacious and airy living room, remembering where you started your journey might just make the investment worthwhile.
When I first started in this industry – this industry – design and construction, I sat behind a reception desk, answering calls, furiously filling out Pepto Bismal colored slips, that got carefully torn from the spiral bound note book, and deposited into the circular plastic caddy, for all those important enough to get messages in the first place. I received deliveries – lots and lots of deliveries, and sets of drawings and specifications that would make even the most ardent supporter of the gym, laugh at the facilities ability to prepare you for real life. Drawing sets were hundreds of pages, thousands of symbols, and stank of the acrid aroma of blueprints. The spec book, which completed the pairing – one element useless without the other, was the size of Gideon’s Bible – I do so love the underdog Rocky Racoon – this post bound book was daunting. “Who”, I wondered aloud to myself, “would ever want to read, or write this thing”?
I may not have wanted any part of it, but as I sit looking at my reupholstered chair, and coordinating pillows, I have to ask myself, “Could this experience have benefited from a sketch, with narrative instructions to the upholsterer”? I do wonder how it went so wrong. Maybe my instructions got lost in translation during the six months that preceded their arrival and the delivery of said pieces. We’ve all had it up to our eye-balls with news of supply chain challenges and delays, delays, delays, and I don’t even want to admit the ghastly cost of this imperfect endeavor, which if we are looking to place blame, could so easily fall on the germy shoulders of the pandemic.
Placing blame, will not change the reality that they replaced my perfectly round edged seat cushion, filled with fluffy down, with a modern foam filled substitute that is squared off at the corners, and hangs, ever so indelicately, over the chairs front edge. A pedestrian mistake. I had it happen once before with a mid-century modern sofa, I had reupholstered. I took all the cushions back, and demanded that they cover the old cushions. ” I never instructed them to be replaced”. I huffed. And what of the edge banding, that was supposed to be navy blue velvet piping? And the pillows – they aren’t even the correct fabric. While they all coordinate, they are a far cry from the vision I had for the bedroom design.
Now who’s wishing they were a spec writer. Next project, sketches, diagrams, arrows, sample boards, narratives, and a signed contract will accompany my deposit. Has this ever happened to you?
I identify as a Christmas person. The type that starts playing Christmas songs in July when I am working on concepts for my company’s holiday packages. You have to be in a festive frame of mind, even if the heat is being generated by the sun instead of a crackling wood burning fireplace. Co-workers pass by my office, I spot a raised eyebrow as they lean closer, outstretched hand on the long black pull of my sliding glass door, lips forming words of admonishment. “That’s not Christmas music that you’re playing, is it?” They ask tentatively, and with a note of remonstration in their voice. I reply chirpily “absolutely, and please kindly close the door, so that I don’t disturb Theresa who is putting the pennies, ever so carefully. in all the right columns.” Thank you!
I won’t be shamed into pretending I’m too cool for decorations, packaging that sparkles, jingles, and begs to be touched. I won’t let go of the excitement that I felt as a kid, in the months, weeks, days that led up to that special holiday. I mostly have to be serious, or worried this, anxious that, how will I get it all done, and the done is just followed by more need for doing. No, I refuse. Christmas makes me happy, it makes me nicer. It makes me more creative.
Now I understand that some of you readers will be cringing at the mere mention of the season. That’s ok, I’m not trying to convert the universe into gingerbread baking, cookie making, gift giving, graceful, giddy, gals and guys, but nobody that I am aware of, was ever made unhappy by a little holiday crafting. You don’t even have to use the traditional red and green colors of the Noel. No, you go ahead and use any old color you want, but don’t be stingy with the sparkle. A little glitter never hurt anyone. A string of lights can turn brown and green wildwood into a magical forest. A sprig of holy against your blue and white chinoiserie takes on a whole new attitude.
This past weekend I took to the road, my mini pointed south to New Haven, and my dear, talented, artist of a friend Carol Anne’s studio, and I hot glued my way through dozens of vases, bowls, turines, and planters, stuffing them with Amaryllis and Paper Whites, blanketed them in moss, and bedazzling them to give their owner something to appreciate before the bulb explodes into a stock, and the stock erupts with a bloom, and the bloom arrives at a time when even those most resistant to the holiday season, have to cede to the reality that it has arrived. You mine as well enjoy it. Think what you too could create with a glue gun, some spray paint, a twig, a pinecone, and a couple of old ornaments. Hope you have as much fun as I did.
My stomach twists with the thought. An uncomfortable wringing of my internal hands as I consider the distressing notion – should I lower the price again? Should I call even a win? Nothing gained after all that work feels like a loss. Feels like a devastating defeat. “Would it be drastic” ? I ask myself as I feel my stomach clench again. My seat of intuition lives squarely in my gut. I adore all the flowery language about a fluttering heart, a swooning head, the walking on air sort of talk that I want to force myself to feel, but my stomach is the ruler of my kingdom. It knows all the good, all that is possible, and all the evil that is likely to come if I don’t turn heal, and run as fast as I can in the other direction. My stomach is so much smarter than my head, or my heart. Those two jokers leave me in the lurch again, and again.
My colleague Bruce Shick reminded me that “no decision, was a decision” just the other day. He wasn’t talking about my house when he said it, but he mine as well have been. I pick up pieces of wisdom, and sometimes bad advice, Hanseling my way through the forest of recommendations, only to find that some bird has made short work of my path home, and I’ve become completely lost, immobile, unable to make a decision. Bruce’s thoughtful grandfatherly tone rings in my ears: “no decision, IS a decision”.
I guess I have decided to leave it on the market for now. Leave it at the price it’s currently listed. Leave it up to hope, or fate, some higher power – boy I thought St. Joseph would have grown terribly uncomfortable, situated as he was, in the garden, upside down and all, but he seems to like it enough not to find me a buyer.
This Delta Variant isn’t going to help the fall market, and those stubborn work from homer’s will continue to work from someplace that I suspect isn’t their home at all. This not selling isn’t a disaster, though it feels a bit like one. My intuition, that bellybutton of a bullseye has released its iron grip as I come to terms with the fact that it’s really my impatience that is driving this panic to sell. What do I always tell my readers? “Don’t make an emotional decision friends”. A buyer will come along, and in the mean time I will get working on designing my next imaginary dream house. I’ve never been inside, never seen a photo of its interiors, I just keep a steady pace as I run by, weekend after weekend, imagining my California House on Cape Cod coming to life. Happy Saturday.
As I contemplated my broken wooden lattice fence last week, and its need for repair, I got to thinking about who wrote it into existence. My somewhat flimsy version is both decorative and practical. It provides an interesting detail between railing and deck, and screens my outdoor activities from the view of passers by on the street. It accomplishes all this while still allowing precious sunlight to stream on in. A feature that comes at a premium in the city.
“Form follows function” said Louis Sullivan, and function is what the Egyptians had in mind in their hot weather climate when they first designed the latticework screen known as the mashrabiya. Derived from the Arabic root meaning, place for drinking, the screens allowed for airflow, and the cooling of water jugs. This same concept was later translated to balconies and the cooling of people, often with the extra added benefit of hiding the lounging individual, stretched out on the divan, from the view of pedestrians on the street below.
Wood, metal, stone, structural applications like bridges and girders, or steel sculptures like the Tour Eiffel, lattice is literally everywhere, if you choose to pay attention to it. Italians and their Neoclassical Architecture, a style for which I am very fond, had their own term, Roman Lattice, also referred to as ‘transenna’ or open work screen, whose Latin root is derived from the word ‘net’. As in the mechanism used for catching birds, which resembles the lattice. It is likely this influence that was so prevalent in the early 20th century in America, particularly as an element of design in civic architecture, think museums, government buildings, banks, and universities, that led to our current day uses. Gardens and gates, ceiling and wall details, room dividers, cabinet door inlays, and utility cover casings – lattice lives large in our surroundings.
It feels very southern, or coastal, which makes sense as these are warm weather, often seasonal places, but I’d love to try it out in the city and see if I could get away with it. Would you risk it?
The mollusk, nothing sexy about that name, but like a cowboy – all callused hands and brisk nature, there is something decidedly alluring about it, and him. Some love that cowboy, err oyster, while others detest its rugged exterior, and cool, briny, slick interior. Oysters find themselves at home at a back yard hoe down, and with equal ease sitting atop a silver platter, snow cone domed with chipped ice, en route to a linen table clothed setting, center stage at a five star hotel. They are a favorite subject for burgeoning artists, their hallmark inky aubergine smudge, on the pale pearly white belly, and its comma, make for interesting subject matter. From East to West, which oyster is the best is subject to battleground fodder. I am not all for one, and one for all, when it comes to oysters, preferring a local favorite – a Wellfleet, or a Pacific Ocean Kumamoto, its deep dive of a shell reminding me of my Cape Cod roots, the peninsula dotted by Kettle Ponds – those deep divots in the landscape, left by enormous chips of ice from glaciers. They are sweet, and delicate and delicious, a totally different experience from an East Coast oyster, which is briny.
Those same Cape Cod roots have provided me with an affection for the oyster. I’ve stomped across so many shelled driveways in my lifetime, I couldn’t possibly report the number. Like most things from my childhood they are larger than life wonderful. They remind me of a more rustic Cod than is commonly seen today. There history harkening back to the settlers, who tossed the shells, which were in abundance in the streets, and on the muddy dirt paths. The perfect padding for a drive. Oyster shells actually breakdown, their calcium make-up are able to withstand hoof beat, trodding feet, or the wheel of the tire – at least if it’s on a flat surface. The shells weren’t meant to withstand gravity, and so aren’t great on a hill. A wonderfully sustainable practice, if a little bit stinky initially, the shells, harvested from restaurants, scream vacation, and simpler times. They are also excellent fertilizer for your flowers.
Designers seem to share, with me, a fascination with the Oyster. There creativity astounds me. The fact that someone boldly wallpapered their powder room in oyster shells, makes me smile from ear to ear, and don’t think I can’t do it. I have an incredibly large mouth. Were the shells placed with grout, or mastic, or glue? Will they snag your chiffon dress, or scrape your knuckle, if you grab for the hand towel too quickl? Who cares. I applaud the ingenuity, the bravado, the saltiness of the move.
There are ornaments, and catch-alls. There are mirrors, and urns. There are orbs, paint colors, and ash trays. Oysters, like their ability to got high or low, seem to span the centuries, finding fresh ways to surprise, and traditional ways to comfort. I love the oyster, but the oyster that I love is never going to produce a pearl. That’s an entirely different type of oyster, but perhaps that’s too much detail. For the purpose of this good story, let’s throw them all in the same bucket. We’ll end with this pearl of wisdom – they are loaded with Zinc which is incredibly good for you, and may have led to the rumors that they can enhance amorous feelings.