The lessons I’ve learned: Home Ownership is a Masters in Life

The phone was pressed to my ear, its battery life letting itself be known in the hot thudding pulse that radiated through the cartilage and the soft tissue cage designed to capture sound, but today most notably was holding my fear and shame.  How could I have embarked on such a big journey, such an adult undertaking, advanced in my years and yet still entirely unprepared. How had I had not known this thing.  My face started to burn, waves of frustration rippling through my chest, tears pricking the fleshy corners of my eyes.  I pinched my nose hard. 

“Are you listening to me Sarah, asked?”  “This kind of thing happens all the time.” 

“Was I supposed to know that?”  I asked angrily, though the anger was at myself, not this smart, efficient no-nonsense woman.  My attorney. 

“Of course not”, she replied.  “You don’t know until you know.”  “You might have gone two or three transactions before stumbling across a Certificate D, as you bought and sold, and searched and renovated.”  “I didn’t even start to see this until as recently as last year and I do dozens of transactions every month.”

“ohhhh” I replied feeling just a little bit better than I had when the conversation started. 

I didn’t know when I was confronted with the uncomfortable reality that my fire escapes had not passed inspection and would require an expensive overhaul.  I was aware that condominiums were all about communal living.  That we owned the air inside our space, but not much more, and that decisions regarding repairs required the collective approval of the other owners within the building.  Laws are laws.  I understood that, but over the years I would be confronted again and again with some sort of a nuance, a new regulation, a new certificate, a difficult party that held a disproportionately large percentage of the building’s ownership and thus could swing a vote in one direction or another.

These blind spots exist everywhere, but then I turn a corner, have something explained to me by one of my team of experts, or a friend that wants to help, and it becomes crystal clear.  I’ll never round that corner again and be surprised by what awaits.  There will be other corners of course, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get in your car and start driving.  The lessons that we learn in real time are the stickiest. 

In this weekend of Thanksgiving I am so grateful to all the brokers, builders, designers, vendors, agents and lawyers that have taught me some aspect of homeownership.  Schoolhouse Rock used to espouse the belief that “knowledge is power”, and while I don’t disagree with that, I think knowledge is freedom.  Every bit of wisdom I am able to tuck away gives me a little more agency in this world.  My map becomes full of stop signs, and routes, crossroads and bridges to new worlds.  Don’t let a little thing like not knowing something stand it the way of your path forward.  One step at a time.  I am happy to help and so are countless others.  I am grateful for that.

Step Back

I’m not looking for a formula. I’m searching for fantastical. I want magic, I want to surprise myself when all is said and done, but these days I am doing a lot more saying than doing. Sometimes you just have to start. I thought the purchase of the table was a good start, and I suppose it was, but since it hasn’t arrived yet, to bath me in the historical glow of ballroom dances and prearranged romances, country homes and noble tombs, it isn’t inspiring me. I may only be able to capture the smallest of snapshots from the fantasy. My table being of modest size it would have become friendly with, dare I say, hundreds of other fabulous furnishings in a single castle’s room. Still it would have been admired by the curious discerning sort that would certainly have been invited to dinner. In its absence I am forced to focus my attention on that blessed fireplace.

Blyth Collins Interiors

I have decided to keep it. Even if it costs me precious square feet, and it does, and it’ll cost me even more when I am forced to build out on either side of her expanse to make her not appear as expansive as she is. It sounds contradictory, but I can assure you, once I’ve added to the girth by building that cabinetry – say a foot back from the mantle (aka – the entire encased gas box) it will feel a little bit more like it belongs. Perhaps I do it a second time too, another foot – I have it don’t you worry, gradually blending it into the wall, maybe even running shallow storage along its expanse. It’ll cost me, but I consulted the powers that be and they were addiment. “Do not remove that fire place” they said. One even screamed “NO”. People love fire, and they were fired up over the thought of it’s removal, so I stepped back from it. The subject was too heated if you get my drift.

I did receive a single affirmation regarding my decision to lob off the kitchen island’s overhang. When I say lob, I really mean surgically remove it, with the help of a professional stone cutter so that it is a normal sized top. This will help some, providing a three foot runway behind any furnishings designated for the living room area. I’ve spent a good deal of my life shimming by one piece of furniture or another and because I don’t move slowly unless I’ve been recently hospitalized, I bump into things. I bruise terribly, though the furniture seems fine, it would be nice to have some clearance, while still having a place to sit.

I’m going to paint the kitchen cabinets green. I can’t believe I am writing it for the entire world to see. I’ve never painted anything green – never. I feel strangely compelled to do it and so I am, and it will be moody because I plan to paint them in Farrow and Ball. The walls will be in the same color. I might keep the base white, but I might not. Progress. If we aren’t moving forward we’re falling behind, and I hate it when I can’t see the future, don’t you?

Feels Like Home

Private Events or a hot toddy on a cold day with a warm blueberry muffin?

My lips parted and my mouth formed an “O” of surprise. If anyone noticed it was only to confirm that the others gathered in the bookstore/cafe were wearing a similar expression of reverence for the space. In an age when bookstores are disappearing at an alarming rate, only to be replaced by corrugated cardboard boxes adorned with a swooping blue arrow, the arrival of a new bookstore on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, where two others have shuttered their doors on this very street, feels optimistic to say the least.

BHB . Ready to Read.

Fortunately for me, I adore optimism. I encourage bravery. I live for a good restoration project, and I applaud business ingenuity. Melissa Ferret, if you happen upon this little blog of mine, I hope that you can imagine me, in your minds eye, bowing down to you. The same goes for you Cathy Kincaid Interiors.

The five story brownstone houses a cafe and wine bar on the terrace – not yet opened to the public. Permitting. That’s all I will say about that, but food aside, the setting made me long to be sitting in the serene blue and white subterranean dining room, accented by Nantucket Red trim, here and there, with an abundance of Sister Parish wallcoverings and fabric. The sister’s design aesthetic manages to be sophisticated yet fresh. It’s grown up whimsy. I’m planning a private event, for whom I have not yet determined, for what occasion? One will present itself to me, and if it takes too long, I’ll make one up.

Spy those squirrels?

You will find on each floor a lit fireplace. The narrow floorplates accented by floor to ceiling bookshelves, little nooks to hideaway and read, ample comfortable seating, natural light, and squirrels. Yes, there are squirrels everywhere. Which came first the Beacon Hill book about a squirrel or a building that happened to have a few in residence? If it sounds nutty, it is, but in a good way, and they run with analogy by placing an acorn on a book each day that the squirrel recommends to young readers. I love sugar so the concept isn’t too sweet for me, nor is the little train that rambles on the custom track that circumvents the perimeter of the room just below the ceiling, disappears from view as it enters a tunnel and makes its way back to you. Surprise and delight. Surprise and delight. Whoever came up with that idea, and the tiny little doors that lead from the children’s room to the hallway should be entered into the hall of fame for fabulous ideas.

Stop by for a visit at 71 Charles Street . Boston . MA. Be prepared to wait your turn to get in.

Charleston Charm

We took a boat cruise around the Charleston Harbor.  Being on the water for me is as ordinary as my morning coffee and as necessary.  It grounds me in a new place.  Allows me to gain perspective, to be an observer, to listen to the distinct inflection that comes with the colloquial delivery of one’s homeland.  In the case of Charleston it’s all about the “yaaaawl, usually followed by “have a good day”.  Those southerners are nothing if not polite. 

I adore exploring a new place through the observant eyes of a child.  The wonder of watching a formation of five pelicans swoop low across the water, followed by a pod of dolphins arching through the water had me squealing with glee at my very first sighting.  I’d be remiss in my reporting if I didn’t admit that I squealed when I saw the array of thousands of BMW’s ready to board container ships and cross one ocean then another on the Atlantic Route to Japan.  Who knew we manufactured BMW’s in Charleston?  Needing a new car and lamenting the chip shortage that is limiting my options, I considered hopping off to broker a deal.  Would they really miss one less car?

No wonder the antiquing is so fabulous, two days from France to the 6th largest port by volume in the U.S. equals fantastic and affordable furnishings from the 19th century, and by the way when you buy there and ship home you don’t pay any tax.  Did your heart just skip a beat like mine?  I not only found one dining table for my new home which largely unlocked the key to the layout I was troubling over these past few months, but two!  One English Loo Table with incredibly marquetry, and a second French Regency with a dolphin base to die for. 

Decisions, decisions. Won’t you please weigh in? Let me know which one you would choose.

A town that survives on tourism is bound to have good food.  My dear southern friend mapped out a culinary experience for us girls that would make a star-studded Michelin Chef smile with supreme satisfaction.  The Caviar Experience at the Zero George was magical. The candle-lit veranda was aglow in fairytale light.  The bar tucked at the end of the porch a jungle of tropical plantings lorded over by a King, known as both a purveyor of spirits, and the resident photographer – look for him in Travel + Leisure Magazine next month.  Young, polite, handsome Huck – yes, that was his name – Huck, don’t you just want to keep saying it?, served us Osetra in silver domed glass dishes, accompanied by split soft boiled eggs their golden yokes puddling on the plate, brioche toast, ramekins of crème fraiche, and chive, and salty potato chips.  You won’t believe me when I tell you that the crab souffle that followed was even better, but it was. 

Zero George and the Caviar Experience is not to be missed.

If you haven’t been to Charleston, get it on your list and include:  Frannie & the Fox at Hotel Emeline, Husk for the Chicken and Waffles, Leon’s Oyster Shop for the Buck Bay Blades, and Bar 167 for the Arroz con negro.  Go hungry, leave happy.

Boxed In: not letting your walls define you

People are always saying you should “think outside the box”. Which aside from the fact that it feels as tired a saying as “let me unpack this for you”, or “the optics are bad”, the overuse of these metaphors are unimaginative, and imagination is the very reason we are implored to leave that corrugated cardboard vessel in the first place.

A Layout, but not the ONLY layout.

I am not living in a box, though the developer left the space decidedly without detail. I did read in some design magazine about a group of architects that got edgy when they conceived of a home erected from storage containers, one stacked atop another. If the box requires a rebar ladder to climb into bed at the end of a long day, it’s not for me. The trouble with thinking broadly, differently, expansively, is that despite all the proclamations cast about in pursuit of a panoply of possibilities, people largely want something on the fringe. They don’t for instance want you to place you bed in the middle of the living room next to the kitchen island because that room has better light, or less light, or its proximity to the coffee machine suits your morning routine. The bed belongs in the bedroom, the sofa and chairs in the space designated for living. In keeping with the box analogy, it might be best to just pop open the flap and let some fresh air and light in to shift your perspective.

A table I would like to own and use for dining.

That is precisely what I am trying to do with my new condo. It’s an inelegant process that can find me disassembling the components of the sectional sofa and dragging them around the living room to try out different layouts. None of them have been satisfactory to date. I’ve tried snuggled up close to the fireplace for intimacy. Pushed back against the wall in the L-Shaped nook that looks like it was made for a sectional, but that I want desperately to place a custom-made banquette and circular Regency dining table. Aside from the fact that the chaise is oriented on the right side instead of the left, if all feels wrong.

I’ve tried it in the bow front window, but am disturbed by the half moon gap left between it and the windows. Considered a modern crescent shaped sofa, and another that was highbacked – a diver sprung from the board beginning to form a jack-knife. None of it feels quite right. I’m going to continue to stew over the layout for a while longer, but I can’t be held responsible for having resorted to tearing out the kitchen island, stripping it of its waterfall marble, and relocating it a foot deeper into the space designated for cooking. I rarely cook in the city. It’ll be fine.

Suggestions welcome. Please feel free to open the flaps of the box wide, and provide me with a proper desk, sitting and dining area.

More Than A Letter: A Design philosophy for life

Me in the Nashville Dry and Wash Scarf Activation. 2017

The tenants on their own are inspirational, steeped in the heritage of their humble beginnings. It is with my marketers heart in hand that I bow down to them with love and deference year after year. They are brilliant. It starts with a theme which is carried out in the collection. The collection is comprised of clothing, furniture, bags, fragrance, shoes, watches, jewelry and their famous scarves. To be tethered is to open up to the boundless. What bursts forth is genius. It’s aspirational. It’s humbling with a capital “H”.

I’ve been wearing my Hermes “H” belt for over two decades now. It’s part of my uniform and I wear it proudly. It stands for all the things I hope to someday be or embody: a spirit of conquest, authenticity, patience born out of a desire to craft beautiful objects, independence, and quality. To aspire to embody the qualities of a brand may sound unusual to you. Ridiculous even? Ponder that, we’ll come back to it.

Their spirit of conquest takes them on some unusual journeys. The outfitting of a luxury yacht. The hand-stitched seats of a Bugatti Veyron Fbg which sold in 2010 for a cool $2.1M. Exclusivity creates longing. Which is why I squirreled away the little money I had to spare for years before I was able to purchase that belt. Patience has never been a strong suit, but the pull of exclusivity, shockingly exerted a will stronger than my need for immediate gratification.

All that ingenuity doesn’t just sit in the store on a shelf waiting for you to notice it when you happen to walk past in a big city or airport. It comes out to meet the people in unexpected places, catching you unaware, converting the young hopefuls into the new, the next, the now Hermes generation.

Style makers. LA . Fit to be Fashionable.

It is their last foray into the wild that has me celebrating its brilliance and lamenting my lateness to the party. I am sad to report that it’s over. It was held in November for 4 short days in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Scarcity, a powerful tenant of marketing. A pop-up fit gym. Who would have ever thunk it? An instagrammable, influencers haven. A hipsters hunt for the next craze realized. A gal with a marketer’s heart – throb. Ridiculous I ask you again? In what way did this inspire you? Please share.

Home Scents: Creating your own reality with smell

The buzz of the door signaled its release. I yanked it open anxious to step in out off the street and the 90 degree heat, and into the temperate environs of the cavernous double height space. Beautiful it was, a happy hipness that welcomed you to inspect a little closer, peak around the corner, but it wasn’t the design that created the first impression, it was the scent.

7INK . Inclusive Living. National Development does it again.

I’ve long been fascinated with smell. I don’t consider myself to be a “nose”, the special beings that can detect hints of this and subtle aromas of that, but I can wrinkle my nose up with the best of those presented with a fowl smell and expand my lungs beyond what seems possible to capture just one more tiny breath of an intoxicating memory.

That’s the thing about scent. It is more closely tied to memory than any of the others – senses. It’s attached to the olfactory bulb in our brain, which in turn is connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus. If our brains were pinball machines they’d be lighting up with emotional reactions and memories, lights flashing to announced you’d scored the jackpot.

7Ink had me at the scent in the foyer. Fresh, clean, and intoxicatingly green, I felt young again, and youth being wasted on the young as it is, I wanted more of it. So much so that it got me thinking about my own home and what I want to evoke. While I cannot control what others will feel as a result of what I choose, and certainly not what memories will spring forth, there are universally agreed upon scents that people seem to love. Clorox, cut grass, laundry, lemons. If you guessed that people like aromas that invoke cleanliness, you are correct. Baked goods are high on the list of likes, presumably for their yummy nurturing quality. There are the oddballs like gasoline and tobacco. The inexplicable – licorice. Those that calm, lavender and eucalyptus. A few that energize – peppermint, rosemary and cinnamon.

Snow has a smell. It’s called wonder.

I think I want seasonal scents for my home. Spring: lilac and lemonade. Fall: Cinnamon, Anise and wood fire. Summer: Salt air and Rosa Ragusa. Winter: I’m stumped. What would you suggest. I’m open to recommendations, it’ll be here before you know it.

Take a Hike: Interest Rates and Home Ownership

The Fed. Now that’s a big bank.

The Fed is fed up with our spending habits. We consumers are consuming at a rate that apparently can’t keep pace with production. If you have a finger to point, you may be stymied about which direction it should target. Should it poke the Russian Bear that marched on into Ukraine and announced their intention to stay? What about the pandemic, a reduction in production, a supply chain broken, Amazon promises, and a desperate need to fill ones time? Oh there are so many places we could go to place blame, if placing blame is what we are intent on doing?

The whole thing had me stewing, primarily because I too like to buy, but rather than surf the web in summer, I like to cruise the open houses and I happened to be in the market for one. All the while the Fed was reaching into their tool box and pulling out the only tool they had to tamp down inflation and up went the interest rates. My two bed condo dreams were dashed, alas it seems I would be destined to live a one bedroom existence. I find some solace in the fact that I live alone, and don’t have visitors often, so practically speaking don’t need two bedrooms. Need aside, the upside potential of a two bedroom condo far exceed that of a single. Humph.

I’d be feeling a little sorry for myself if I wasn’t getting such a fabulous one bedroom, and significantly a very good interest rate, one tool titans, I have a trick or two up my own sleeve. I am no finance expert and understand that there is much in fact that I don’t understand at all. I have long been fascinated by the fact that the mere mention of a rate increase gets banks scrambling to hike their rates in advance of the actual announcement, which got me thinking that it wasn’t a law that required them to raise the rate, so what compels them to do it?

Big commercial banks are tied to a rate range for their overnight loans – the loans they make to one another, and to requirements for liquidity set by regulators. This forces compliance which trickles down to we average buyers, looking to get loans for cars and boats and houses and such. In my years of shopping loans, I discovered that working with small banks was easier, faster, less cumbersome. In my most recent transaction I learned that there is another benefit. Small banks don’t sell your loan, at least not as a matter of course. They are in the business of holding it and using the money they receive from your down payment, and others – to lend. They want and need to attract borrowers to keep their business moving and few things are more attractive to a borrower than an incredibly competitive interest rate. When others were offering 5%, I shopped and discovered 4.75, then 4.25 with a small bank out of Maine, and finally 3.99%, which as I like to say, is not nothing!

In conclusion I would like to say I still have no idea how the Federal Reserve operates, and why they have so few tools to address inflation, but I implore you to support small banks if you are in the market for a home.

Stress Less: Part II

Hello again. I wouldn’t dream of thinking of leaving you with all those philosophical thoughts on things, and not tell you some tips on what to do with them. It is important when you are considering a move to take the time to reflect on the things that you have tucked. It really can tell you so much about what’s going on with you as a person if you observe and listen, which is really hard to do when you are sooooo busy.

Those Home Edit Gals really appreciate beauty.

I am going to assume that you have done that and now we will move to the organization phase. We organize before it even goes into the big moving boxes because that will reduce your stress when you arrive at your final destination. See title. If haven’t come across the show The Home Edit you may now excuse yourself to go get a snack and a cool beverage of your choice and sit and watch a few episodes. Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are obsessive compulsive organizers who appreciate beauty, color blocking, and containers. If the show doesn’t send you peeling out of your parking lot or space or hopping a train to the Container Store – purveyors of all things organization, then shoot me a note and I’ll mail you five dollars. It will be like the birthday card that you received from your grandmother or a favorite Aunt. Really, I’m not joking. I’ll do it.

The Container Store is pricey, and I for one don’t want to make what is already an expensive undertaking into an even more costly one for you, so consider Home Goods as an alternative. They have much of what’s available at The Container Store for less, but there are certain items like wrapping paper containers that I haven’t seen on sale anywhere else and these are wonderful! I use them not only for holiday and birthday wrapping which seems to take a beating, particularly when I move, but to store roman blinds that I paid an arm and a leg for and plan to reuse later. They would work well for field hockey sticks, bad mitten or tennis rackets, all those random balls that have collected on the bottom of the closet. Trust me, after watching the show, you’ll have more ideas about how to contain your life than time to contain it.

Now for the junk drawer. My intent isn’t to overwhelm you or change you into someone that you are not. Take that drawer and dump it into a box, tape it up, and label it junk drawer. Done. Not every aspect of this process demands you address it in this moment, but I will ask you to consider dumping the junk drawer into the trash. It’s called junk for a reason. Starting fresh has its own rewards.

Ok, so you’ve sorted, donated, dumped, and contained. You’ve put your containers neatly inside boxes, that on average weighed no more than 30 lbs. Wait – did you not do that. I told you there were loads of experts with hacks that would make your moving life so much easier. If you couldn’t squeeze in the time to watch them, let me also tell you that you should get the enormous plastic vacuum seal bags from Bed Bath and Beyond or the Home Depot and fill them with all your winter sweaters, ski clothing, blankets, the bulky stuff. You’ll be amazed at how small they get once you have sucked the air out of them. It’s like a five course meal, Apollo 9 style. You should take all your framed photographs and wrap them in paper and stack them vertically, side-by-side in the box to avoid breakage. If you can shake it and things move around inside, it’s not ready to be taped up. Add a tea towel or a blanket to the top before closing it up. One last tip for the kitchen – use paper plates between your dishes, stuff glasses with socks or dish rags, and treat larger items- think pots and pans – like Russian Dolls, hide away more delicate items inside their protective shells.

We are working to limit the number of trips, the size of the truck, and the number of people required to do the move. This is real money, and you’ll want to reserve some of that to organize your new space. I go so far as to use gym clothes for packing materials. It’s free, sustainable, and on hand. I encourage you to do the same.

I promised I would provide resources for donation so here are a few. If you are not in the Boston area, you can conduct a google search or make a call to a few non-profit organizations. You’d be surprised at the randomness of the items they are willing to take. Shoot me a note if you have suggestions for our readers that I didn’t capture, and we’ll share it.

The Salvation Army: locations nationwide. Donation Type – appliances, cars, furniture, clothing and household goods.

Rosie’s Place: food, toiletries, socks, sneakers, boots (seasonally only due to storage), and books.

The Ronald McDonald House: toys and books for kids undergoing cancer treatment.

Stress Less: Preparing for a Move

Bird by Bird . Box by Box . Item by Item. You’ll get through it.

I move a lot. The look on people’s faces when they learn how much varies from sincere sympathy to abject horror. Some people go so far as to step away from me as if they suspect that what I have is contagious and they don’t want to catch it. Moving is an anxiety inducing life event for most. A shock to no one that has done it badly, recently, or without a superior moving company. That it ranks third in the most stressful life events that you can undertake, stationed behind death of a loved one and divorce, seems absurd. Really?, We can do better.

I love public speaking too, so before you go judging me as someone that you can’t relate to at all, and will never come to believe that either experience can be liberating, let me set the stage for you, pull back the curtain on the kerfuffle over organizing your life, categorizing it, leaving bits of it behind, and starting anew. There is so much that can be eliminated from your life that holds you down when you could simply decide to begin.

That moment could look like a Model T Assembly Line instead of a fifth birthday party for a rambunctious little boy and twenty of his closest friends, hosted in your Cape cottage instead of the backyard because of the downpour outside. Clear the slate. We’ll take this Bird by Bird as Anne Lamott tells her impatient students, her would be published writers.

Before we start in earnest I think it is only fair that I share with you that this is more life philosophy than moving hack or How-To. There are loads of people and resources that will support you if you want to learn how to stuff ten pounds of sausage into a two pound bag and move it from point A to point B. They have valuable advice, but like an investigative reporter, I am more interested in what’s in the sausage. Should you be moving it? Ingesting it? Living with it. Is it healthy? Did it once serve a purpose in your life, feed your soul, but now it’s holding you down, or back, or up, when you need to be free? That’s what this is all about, so let’s get started.

Being in any room. Pick one. Which room do you love sitting in, working in, sleeping in, being in? Begin there. Gaze up at a shelf or open the Armoire, or closet door or peek under the bed. I know you keep things under the bed. Please don’t tell me that the last time you looked there was when you moved in. Ok, we’ll discuss that later. Now for the good stuff.

Pull things out, hold them and turn them over in your hands. Do they illicit a memory? Tell a story, make you smile, or serve a need. Keep it. Set it aside in a pile , ask yourself when you used it last. Become a Parochial School Nun instructing the class. Clothes: if you haven’t worn it in the season that its intended for here are your options: Donate it to a Charity, Consign it on-line or at a neighborhood shop, Gift it to a friend or colleague, or Toss it.

While this approach may not work for everything in your home, you’d be surprised at how many organizations are begging for strange food products, will accept small furnishings or kitchen items, and of course books – beyond libraries there are homeless shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes. Those books that are collecting dust could open the hearts and minds of the lonely and suffering, doing so much good. Would you deny them that, when you could load up your wheeled suitcase and whistle a tune as you prepare to change someone’s day or life or just dust the corners of their existence free of loneliness? A book can be a wonderful friend.

Part II to follow with links to resources for donating. Happy Wednesday.