Going for Broke: gambling on real estate

It is an addiction, this business of gambling on real estate.  Always searching for the next thrill, desperate for the rush  you get when you bet the right amount, and the roulette ball lands on your number – euphoric.  The anxiety that accompanies the decision to stay in the game, hold, or cash in your chips.  The fear that the chips your cashing in won’t cover the bets you’ve made.  It’s a risk, and the timing, the timing is everything.

going 2.jpg

One of my favorite signs….

I’m not much for sitting around and waiting things out. I came home yesterday to find that my next door neighbor (whose building is part of my condo association) has a For Sale sign out.  I don’t actually see the property listed, a tactic that the broker uses to drive a single source sale – a questionable practice at best…. nonetheless, those are all two beds, as is mine, now that I converted it from one to two, and I felt jealousy when I saw the sigh.  It’s true, I had a visceral reaction to that proud sign, swinging in the breeze, strapped to the wrought iron fence, determined to attract a buyer.  I want to put mine on the market, but I have to wait.  I am tenacious, but not patient.

Waiting patiently for fabrication…..

There are things to do yet, curtains to be hung, hardware to be installed, doors to be built for the millwork cabinet in the living room, the perfect chair to be hunted down, a sparkling gold bar cart to be bought, brass wire covers to locate, my front door hardware to be installed by someone that actually knows how to install door hardware.  You see, I am actually not ready to leave yet, but like a girl that can’t commit, I’m ready to dash from the alter before me and my intended can tie the knot, and become comfortably numb.

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LuxHoldups . Etsy . Awaiting installation.

Not that I believe all long term relationships are a recipe for conformity or boredom, there are many that I admire, it’s just that while I like No. 4, I can’t see myself settling down…forever… not yet.  So the search continues, and in the interim, I will give my all to this commitment.  It deserves the best from me, and I just know that the next lucky person that gets it will wonder why I ever wanted to leave it.  At least I hope they will.

Happy Saturday.

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Perfect … of course it’s already sold!  Flare . Soho. NYC

The Skinny on the Tall: Nashville gets a new profile


Tall and Skinny . Green Hills . Nashville

Driving around the neighborhoods of Nashville, it’s clear that the city is growing.  A friend joked that the state bird was the crane.  Cast your gaze just about anywhere and it will fall on bustling construction sites that speak to the cities growth and prosperity.  Millennials, retirees, and many an enlightened soul, who have grown tired of the congestion, and the cost, and realized that they can trade their outrageously expensive one bed condo in for a four bedroom home, or pay cash for a “tall and skinny”, are packing up the Winnebago and heading south.

Nashville is a “city” with a small “c”.  It’s got traffic, and a few elegant civic buildings, a couple of office towers, and even a stadium or two, granted they are not of the scale of those in NYC, Boston, Oakland or Dallas, but they exist.  It’s neighborhoods have cute names names like: The Gulch, Green Hills, Sobro, Marathon Village, Melrose, and many, many more.  The thing is, it doesn’t really feel like a city.  It feels like a suburb.  There are homes with lawns, and gardens, grass so green it makes your eyes hurt, and trees everywhere, not just in a park.  Hum, who knew.


Where there was previously just one.

Like any growing city there are issues of densification that haven’t quite been addressed. Questions of infrastructure investment, ugh, and the speed in which they can put up luxury hotels to accommodate musicians, enthusiasts, and the growing tourist population.  Book early or stay home, I cannot imagine is the motto Nashville is hoping to adopt. A few home grown natives feel a little disdainful about the rising property taxes that are forcing their families to move out to “the country”.  I smile as I type this, because Nashville, so feels like the country to me.


Skinny’s can go for under $600K and be on lots of .03 acres.

I got into a conversation or two with some of these locals, and while they appreciate the growing pains that a city must endure, they are nostalgic for the single story brick Ranches and Bungalow’s of their childhood, and can’t imagine someone wanting to live in one of these narrow homes, where gasp, you can see you neighbor, and barely have a yard.  When I explained to my hair stylists that when I lie in bed, if my shade is up and my neighbor is grilling, I can request he cook my burger medium rare.  That, to me, is city living.


Getting in on the action.  2 for 1 is profitable.

So here’s the skinny.  Nashville hasn’t quite figured out what their zoning regulations should be all about.  They need the densification to support the growth, and developers are all too happy to buy up the properties that have been part of the existing neighborhoods for decades, tear them down, and build two in their in place.  This happened for years, with a somewhat fuzzy definition of what a Duplex was.  Two homes that share a connector – interesting.  Two homes that share a party wall – common.  More recently new ordinances that demand the properties be separated by 6 feet and be proportionally no taller than 1.5 times the width.  Two homes on a single lot.  The numbers are penciling out for these developers, and they can’t get the land fast enough to meet the demand.


Varied architectural styles receive mixed reviews.

Not everyone is sold, but I loved them.

It’s in the stars

I love stars.  A starry night, those charismatic figures on the big screen, America’s stars and stripes, the iconic symbol adorned on my clothing or woven into its design.  They’re so optimistic.  You can imagine why I was drawn to my horoscope, as I flipped through the pages of a fashion magazine, comfortably ensconced on my sister’s sofa, where I will be for the next few weeks….awaiting a point in time it’s permissible for me to inhabit home number 4.  My capacity for disruption is great, but I have yet to master walking on air, and my floors won’t permit footsteps until they are properly stained and fully cured.  Note to self, levitation 2018.  It really would come in handy.


The Golden Age of Hollywood…Golden Goose VSTAR2

Back to the horoscope.  You absolutely wouldn’t believe what the Astrotwins, Tali and Ophilia Edut predicted for me – a Scorpio, in the month of February.  Here it is in its unabridged delightfulness:


The Astro Twins!  Tali and Ophelia.

(October 23 – November 21)  In February, you’ll finally find your little patch of peace as the Sun nests in your cozy fourth house until the 18th.  Feather Chateau Scorpio into a sacred oasis – and dinner -party central.  Vibrant Venus and motivator Mars hold court in your wellness zone from the 3rd on.  This planetary pairing makes you quite industrious, so promote thyself, because a status-boosting lunar eclipse on the 10th pegs you as a force in your industry.  St. Valentine’s arrives slightly late, with the Pisces Sun on the 18th.  But his magic lingers for four weeks – and a swoonworthy solar eclipse on the 26th refreshes your romantic status in exhilarating ways!


Not quite ready for primetime.

Did you hear that?  “my little patch of peace awaits in my cozy fourth house”.  Hello, I crave peace, and I am moving into my fourth house, and the Sun nests – Quest for the Nest, these gals are good.  I can also find no fault in being industrious, clearly I wouldn’t be moving and renovating, and decorating, and buying and selling, and running as fast as I can just to stay afloat if I did.  If I was not entirely convinced they were writing to me, and me alone, they sealed the deal with “his magic lingers for four weeks – and a swoonworthy solar eclipse refreshes my romantic status”.  What’s not to love about that.  Thanks Tali and Ophilia for giving me the planetary boost I needed, just when the gravity of my construction situation was weighing me down the most.


Closing in on ready.

Off to contend with the floors, and find out just why Micah isn’t happy with them.  Not happy at all.

If I’m Not Mistaken: The power of failure.

Friday I was having a conversation with my boss Lisa Wexler about failure.  She was recounting a story about the founder of Spanx – Sara Blakely and her family dinners.  “What did you fail at today”?  Was the question her Father posed each night at mealtime.  Hum, “what did you fail at”?  It got me thinking about all the scientists we build laboratories for, these amazing folks that are hard at work solving the world’s problems.  Scientists live in failure, they turn their faces up to it like one might tilt one’s head to feel the warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day.  Each failure a learning moment, inching them toward a success.


My year in review.

“A life making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing”.  George Bernard Shaw

I spent my morning at the site thinking about all the mistakes I have made on this project alone.  From paint colors to sequencing, mathematical miscalculations to the naive faith in a plan well laid.  I no longer have a Master Plan, but to steal the wise words of my good friend Pam Delphenich – I have a Framework Plan.  It’s so much more forgiving.  Life throws curve balls, and really it’s the master, not me.


Trying something new and old all at the same time.

“Even the knowledge of my fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes.  Only when I fall do I get up again.”  Vincent Van Gogh

My journey is a long one.  I am not yet halfway through my quest.  There are bound to be mistakes along the way.  Public failures, private trials, disasters side by side with minor mishaps.  I will be afraid.  I will doubt.  I will keep moving, I think, with a smile on my face, both literally, and metaphorically.


Year in review too and 2, celebrating 4.

“If you have the guts to keep making mistakes, your wisdom and intelligence leap forward with huge momentum.”  Holly Near

My promise and advise to anyone that strives to make an imprint, is learn from the mistakes of others, and be ready to receive the insights of those that you make.  The possibilities, and potential are dizzying.


Tape is always a good idea, but regrettably the real insights come after the walls go up, and then must come down.  Embrace it.

“I hope that this year to come you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.  You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”  Neil Gaiman

Stay curious.  I hope 2017 brings you a whole lot of living.  Thank you for all your support.  Whether I am just scraping my knees or getting my heart-broken, in the infamous words of The Beatles….”I get by with a little help from friends.”

Can a rookie house flipper pocket $1 million?

That’s the questions that Jaci Conry of the Boston Globe asked when she interviewed me for her cover story in The Boston Globe Magazine.  On-line today at http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/real-estate/2016/12/30/can-novice-make-million-flipping-homes/WRmD9u24SEpu6Wj5bHV94O/story.html?s_campaign=8315, out in print tomorrow.  Nice way to close out the year, and open 2017.  Time will tell.


No. 4 . Underway . David L. Ryan Globe Staff Photographer

It’s funny, and interesting to me, the strong emotions that bubble to the surface when the topic of conversation is house flipping.  One reader reprimanded me for driving up the prices in the South End, making properties unaffordable for the average guy or gal.  To this I can only say “I don’t think I am average at all…I’m special, but why wouldn’t I think that?, I’m me”.  Still, I did start with just $15,000., and the price of real estate in the South End was unaffordable for me when I started, it still is, but someday, I hope it will not be.  When I generate enough sweat and tears, when I have pushed through when I would rather have put on a party dress and heels, when all the dust settles, I hope, that I will be one of those lucky few that really owns a home.


Falla with Micah Viana of Naysa Builders examining Visual Comfort’s Calais Chandelier meant for the bedroom.  David L. Ryan Globe Staff Photographer.

Until then, I plan to continue to make mistakes, share the error of my ways, take pride in doing something right, and well, and in service to these old buildings.  These grand and historic brownstones.  These beautiful, and sometimes broken representations of our city’s history.  To be a part of that, is to be part of something that is bigger than me.  It’s important.


No. 1 . Charlestown . a working kitchen in the end.  Photo:  Falla

Yes, I could spend less money on the construction, but I choose not to for several reasons – I love design, and like my inexplicable adoration for architects and interior designers, I have a deep appreciation for beautifully crafted things.  Lighting fixtures, sculptural tables, the weight and feel of a door knob in your hand, these things speak to me.  I am drawn to them.  This Quest allows me to be near people and things that inspire me.  This Quest allowed me to fly to Paris and hunt down that mid-century modern sputnik chandelier in the flee market.


Mid-Century Madness.  Italian Sputnik via Le Marche aux Puces . Paris.  So beautiful I want to cry.  Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

It gave to me an amazing trip with my dear friend Tiffany who shares my obsession with travel, and fashion, and home improvement, and design.  Experiences like that keep me warm at night.  The second reason I invest in these buildings has to do with a sense of stewardship for them.  I believe one should always endeavor to leave something or someone, a little better than before they knew you.


Property No. 2 . Milford Street.  Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

To the gent that asked:  “Who needs all this renovation aggravation, why not just marry someone that owns a lot of property?”  I can only say….”now why didn’t I think of that?”


Property No. 3 . Waltham Street . Photo:  Carly Gillis Photography

On this last day of the year, I encourage you all to do it your way, and own it.  Good-bye 2016.  You’ve been a good one.

Back to Inspiration: finding answers

It’s not uncommon for me to feel befuddled by the byproduct of my own design. To feel my own inadequacy when seeking out an elegant solution to what I consider the central component of inspiring spaces.

hollywood-gown-3Balance.  Color. Detail. Craftsmanship. Clever resolution to that which is quite common – spaces and situations that simply won’t fit nicely into a formulaic solution.

What is inspiration anyway.  Derived from the Latin – as so much of our language is – the root “spirare” means to breath.  To breath is exactly what I stop doing when I am frustrated, anxious… in need of answers.  I hold my breath.  Stop that!  Inspiration, to me, is airy and ephemeral, shades of aquatic blue dotted with points of light.  It’s geometry and mathematical solutions that artfully address chaos – bringing order.


Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy . pale, icy blue, white and gold, and look at those ribbons in pink and blue gray…swoon.

hollywood-gown-2Great design packs so much into such a little word.  It is engineering, it is art, it is math.  It’s renaissance era genius shimmying in those unassuming letters.  Don’t be fooled.  Great design is the confluence of many talents.  Even those that are considered top of class like Lin Manuel Miranda, Nader Tehrani, Mies, Aldo, Chanel, Bernini, DaVinci, surely they drew inspiration from others, as everyone must, from nature, the true genius at the heart of it all.

Left:  Iris Van Herpen.  Look at those folds, she’s like a butterfly or a ballerina….beautiful.

So, today as I shuffle through the snow, wade through the sawdust, avert the spiked nails that dot the floor, awaiting new finish boards.  I will tape, swing, shift, and bend that master bedroom to my will.  In the end, I WILL get the closets I need because fashion has always inspired me, and I refuse to allow it to be stowed away in some undignified manner.

Carolina Herrera – left:  vintage inspired, right:  recent couture collection. I could rule the world in either of those confections.

Alexander Vidal…speechless.

As Robert Frost so eloquently wrote in his poem – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

…”The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

and miles to go before I sleep,

and miles to go before I sleep.”

Planning for Change

If I had to define myself – which I wouldn’t, because it’s so limiting – and who really likes limits.  Not me.  But if I had to, I would definitely be more inclined to think of myself as a design/builder than an architect.  I change my mind.  I see a better way, sometimes it’s aesthetic, sometimes functional, sometimes financial.  Whatever the reason, being able to adapt quickly to a new reality is important to get what’s right for you in the moment.   Well, as right as any situation can be under the circumstances.


Reconfiguration of space.

The circumstances in South End properties – and many city dwellings, wherever your city may fall on the map,  is tight quarters.   Spaces that aren’t really suited for the function they must suit, and lacking the feet to fit those feet that will surely step into those spaces. When I say feet, I really am being generous.  In fact, every inch matters, and when the plan can be nuanced to fork over an inch here or there, there really is no other choice than to take it.


Getting after it.  Nothing says progress like demolition.

Today, with the help of my Dad, I took back half a foot.  When I tell you that’s life changing for this space, you may not fully appreciate the veracity of the statement, but I can assure you, it’s enormous.  It makes the difference between being able to fit a queen size bed in place of a full.  It makes the difference between being able to walk around the bed and make it perfect hospital corners.  It makes the difference between blocking the window or orienting the bed properly so you approach the foot upon entry into the room.  These might seem like picky details, and they are, but life is in the details.  Your perceptions and enjoyment of the space will be in getting these things right.  By placing the new metal studs on the flat, staggering them, and then weaving acoustic insulation between the studs our wall will be three inches thick instead of four plus, and by butting the wall up against the window casing we gain the additional five inches needed to create the flow around the bed and allow the door, clear swing.


It’s in the details.

There are days when getting it right simply won’t be possible.  When that unfortunate situation arises, as surely it will, we will trick the observer into thinking it’s otherwise.  Being clever is far more important than being pretty.  One that can appreciate cleverness is to be kept around.


When 2 x 4’s were real.