In Through the Out Door

I’ve talked briefly before about flip No. 5. I try to accentuate the positive aspects of this process with you all, but the reality is a lot less glamorous. Oh it has it’s moments, and like that one perfect golf swing that results in a Tiger Woods inspired hole, it’s those good moments, the moments of inspiration and sheer pride, that keep you going.

Welcome.

This No. five hasn’t felt at all like the middle of a process, striving, thriving, moving toward something that has the potential to be amazing. Maybe not amazing for the amount of money that will come out of it, but for the sheer strength of will it’s taken to accomplish it. I’ve always been willful, and a little defiant. I suspect that someone told me that it would be impossible for me to flip 10 homes and make a million dollars, and it’s unsurprising to me that I have doggedly pushed on despite the odds. While I am relatively self-actualized, my progress in personal growth is a slow one.

Painting the casings in black really gave the door and windows distinction.

It’s this same stubbornness that had me refusing to accept the fact that the entrance to No. 5 was in fact the back of the building, the embarrassingly cable strung, bird nest filled – back. It’s like I am the butt of a very bad joke. It does have its upsides though, and it’s those sides that I focused my attention on. What else could I do, I can’t change the reality of the entrance without reconfiguring the entire building, and if I could do that, I wouldn’t be on a quest for a million bucks and bragging rights in the first place. So focus I did. The gate off the street is a bit rickety, but it has charm, and when you open that door you enter an enclave just off my quiet street. The first time I stepped through that door I was transported to Paris and the gated entries to ancient residential complexes. As your foot falls, just on the other side of that gate, you are taken to a place that is possibly even more magical than the city at your back. Now that’s called vision, because in reality it was the dead of winter, it looked more like an abandoned building on a city lot in – oh let’s pick Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, but I have firsthand experience with some of your abandoned lots and they are more Sanford and Sons junkyard than Versailles. I thought then, with its heavy cabling, tired beaten sashes, and dust stained deck that I could make a difference.

The dull green was freshened up with BM’s Trout Gray

I started with the – ahem – front door, which was really a side door meant for a kitchen, with its divided light windows that took up half the door, giving poor me, NO privacy. That wouldn’t do, so I replaced it with a clean modern Shaker-style door from Home Depot, removed the screen door and did not replace it, and painted the surrounding casework in Benjamin Moore’s black matte exterior paint. Every place deserves a little wow, and I consider hardware to be the equivalent of the watch on a man. When you look closely, it should be a thing to admire. I chose a beautiful Rejuventation, Tumalo Walnut Knob (on the interior) the exterior is in polished nickel. I treated the window casings with the same coat of black paint, installed a new modern light fixture, and had a sign made at Chatham Sign Shop. Consider for a moment a man’s shoes – that’s your sign. This was all done against the backdrop of the fresh coat of paint (BM’s Trout Gray) I gave the deck to cover the worn and dingy olive green, et voila, welcome to my front door.

An Appreciation for What is NOT Yours

Celerie Kemble . showcasing her talents for Chairish.

It’s fascinating to me that you can like something so much and still not be able to see yourself in that life. Celerie Kemble’s design aesthetic is that for me. When I look at the pieces in this feature photo for Chairish, I really do adore so many of its elements. The rich blue of the French Bergere chair reminds me of the Adriatic Sea. I could dive right into it, and I can feel its velvety softness under my fingertips. I’m a tactile person. I like to experience my environment through touch, and this chair begs to be touched.

My pink little Bungalow 5 Taboret Stools “Vintage” ­čÖé

The chinoiserie planter, the pale blue vases atop gilded French wall shelves, are both precious and foreign to me. They are like the fancy sneakers that the ladies that lunch wear – there is part of me that wants them, and wants that life, but when I dole out the exorbitant amount of money required to assemble that uniform, I find them collecting dust in the closet. Why? Because it’s not really me. While I appreciate it, any act of replication wouldn’t be speaking to my true design self.

A tissue box was as far as I’ve been willing to go with the Chinoiserie, maybe I could do an old ash tray?

I try not to beat myself up about it. I know for certain you’ll never see me trying to purchase a round settee for my living room. I’m not a Southern Belle living in a plantation mansion. My one bedroom apartments typically can accommodate a sofa and a single chair, which is probably why I have grown so fond of stools and benches. They can be tucked in, around, and under other pieces of furniture, provide extra seating when guests come over for cocktails, and allow me to express some of my crazier design whims without feeling too guilty.

A place I’d like to visit, but no place I’d ever call home.

I’ve gone really high end – my Oly Studio, cow hide, zebra striped, ebony saber legged benches. I bought them in my very first apartment, and had to save for at least two months of Sunday’s to cobble the dollars together to make the purchase. I have never regretted it. The vintage – I laugh at this, but I did buy them when I was in that same Charlestown apartment many years ago now, Taboret side tables by Bungalow 5, sadly are no longer in production. These tables, that double as stools, are work horses. I have repainted them several times to match the new decor of one of the flips and they never disappoint. They too required a me to skip a few meals to scrimp and save for them, but have proven to be well worth the initial sacrifice. There are others – the Restoration Hardware metal cross benches that weigh so much I can barely move them around by myself, that I wish I hadn’t purchased, but for the most part, my stools have all served me well.

Oly Studio . Saber Legged Bench. When it comes with a payment plan – you better really love it.

I can say to Celerie – way to go with that wall covering. Some day, I’ll have a place that’s really my own, and I may just find myself adventurous enough to pull the trigger. If I don’t like it, I can always paper over it with something more subtle. Perhaps in the end, it’s the color palette that I find so appealing. Pinks and grays always make me feel happy, and your home should be a happy place. Don’t you think?

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.

The Evolution of a Condo

It’s interesting to watch the ways in which different owners take the baton and run with it. 19 Milford Street, apt. 4, aka Flip #2 is once again on the market. When I bought the property in the late fall of 2013 it looked decidedly like a 1970’s ranch, inside a Phili-Duplex, in the city of Boston, and if I were to get even more granular, the Eight Streets District in the South End. It didn’t feel at all like a city apartment to me, and it felt even less like the glamorous apartment I had left in Charlestown.

I feel deeply connected to this idea of stewardship. I had a $40,000. budget from which to transform the property. That’s not a ton of money. It becomes even less when you consider the fact that it was revealed that the roof leaked, and the Southern Facade of the building was taking on water, and saturating the interior wall. My understanding of water infiltration increases with each unit that I own. While some lessons have been quick and relatively painless, others have been long-lived and ruthless in their pursuit of my financial and mental ruin.

Finding the source of that water at 19 Milford, and getting the building buttoned up was a challenge to say the least, but once – almost done, I was proud of what I had done to make that unit, and that building ready to take on another 50 years. I had redone all the electrical wiring that the previous owners had done – without a permit or a qualified electrician – and done it properly. This is important to the long term viability of a property. These brownstones are old and need love if they are going to be around for another 200 years or so —- and so I invest a significant amount in the infrastructure of the building, even though no one will ever see it.

I was proud of the design, but would have done more if my budget had allowed. In the end the new owner that purchased it was a bachelor and he hired an interior designer to bring a little grit to the girliness that I had so carefully imbued upstairs, downstairs, and throughout. He added back the breakfast bar that I had taken out – I can’t stand a breakfast bar, it makes me crazy. Who sits at it? He swapped out my beloved gray walls for a neutral cream, reworked the fireplace to include a wood surround atop my marble, tossed out my sea urchin chandelier (which was hugely expensive so I pray he didn’t throw it away) and painted my bridal rose bedroom a dark Hale Navyesque color.

I see some other touches that he left alone and while I feel nostalgic for the hard work that I put into the place, I got my price, and he got his roof deck. I guess we’re even.

The English Autocracy never get old

Look at all that molding. Look at the stunning color of the room – totally unashamed to be pink. Look at the color of the maid’s dress – I’m swooning.

To quote Lena Dunham: “My passion was for moldings. Any of them! All of them!” that’s one of the many reasons I love Jane Austin’s books turned movies. It’s a Robin Leach – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, several centuries before robin was born. He was English, though that’s something. The places in which Jane chose to set her many novels, were fabulous mansions in the English countryside – estates really – with all the costumes and pop and circumstance that go along with being “money’d.”

It’s the whole thing. The hat with it’s trellis design, white feather and yellow flower, the pink, tuliped cut-out, buttoned cap sleeve, the Aegean Blue and crisp white of the back wall. Hello.

Well amen to the fortunes that found them donning frocks with details the likes of which are rarely found outside a Dior couture dress makers salon, and the adornments bestowed upon their palace interiors…breathtaking. I’m in molding heaven.

From her coral drop earrings to that double lace edged color and her gingham dress – well this is an outfit that we could design a room around – don’t you think?

The latest release of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde is a visual playground for the detail oriented. I had to keep stopping the film just to stare longingly at the cap sleeve of a dress, the tufted silk, floral cushion of the handsome cab, the pastel palette of prettily appointed room after room. I was swooning, and I love the dept of the storytelling so much, pausing was difficult to do, but necessary.

If I were a blogger that turned an outfit into a room, I’d do it with this movie. It’s got enough content for even the most visually challenged to work with. Oh how I long for that costume designer to drop a trunk off at my home. I’ll make those centuries old outfits work today, and it won’t kill me.

One King’s Lane Rattan Lamp

I wonder if the exclusive club Annabelle’s in Mayfair stole a trick or two from Emma or if it’s just in their English blood? No matter, for now I will have to content myself with watching the movie again. Neither Annabelle’s or the English Autocracy have any plans of granting me access. So disrespectful.

Beauty soothes the soul

I love the word “dust bunny” it’s sounds so much cuter than it is when you are trying to capture that illusive pillowy cloud of particulate matter. Who invited it here anyway? The beauty is in the word rather than the act of removing it for me (a task I am currently putting off at the moment, but not allowed to go to sleep tonight before it is thoroughly behind me).

After a really busy week – which is no badge of honor BTW, I slept in and appreciated the beauty of that. I finished a book – silly but satisfying, and have three others going …. Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets, Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, and Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt – stop reading whatever you’ve read about it and get to reading it. It’s amazing, and heartbreaking and hold your breath for what’s next to come…suspenseful, and it’s beautiful in between all the pain and anguish that love and loss, life and living throw your way.

Veranda Mag profiles a most outrageous and delightful magenta wet bar. Oh the high gloss money of it all.

So while I haven’t quite made it through my cleaning To Do list, I thought I would share some things that inspire me, make me smile, and applaud the artistry of others.

Suzanne Kasler’s Kips Bay Palm Beach House

Elsie De Wolfe said: I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.” What a good life’s goal you had, and how much happiness your brought others in your bold fulfillment of it. I admire you Elsie.

Beware of the Trend

Bumble’s Melrose Place LA Pop-up is a 2020 DO – Bold Monochromatics make a scene this season.

I’m as attracted to what’s on trend or otherwise known as trendy, as the next person. Home design like fashion is subject to the changing whims of the industry, and it matters not what industry you are in. If you are part of the human race, you’ll be racing to keep up with the trends or falling shamefully behind.

Grandmillennial Style – think traditional with a contemporary edge. Clean lines, natural fiber carpets, and Chinoisier panels meet modern art with a splash of leopard (I thought leopard was a neutral).

The cynical part of me, that’s the part that starts in my toes and when I am not paying super close attention can zip right past my mid-section, and go straight for my throat, choking all the positive light out of me, tells me that it’s just another way to ensure the capitalist machine keeps running. I love capitalism, but I don’t love the idea of being duped. The sunnier side of me believes that humans have an innate desire to create and to express – that’s the truth behind trends. Like a stopped watch, even if you steadfastly resist trends, they come right back around, given enough time, and there you are – back in “fashion” again.

Neither of these philosophies are particularly appealing to me, and I am reminded of something my mother used to say about purchasing timeless pieces that make up the foundation of your wardrobe. Not being a supermodel, I try to adhere to a few rules of thumb for all the basics (that’s skirts, shirts, and slacks), if it flatters your form, buy it. Neutrals are your friend and clean lines win out over bold statements. This will preserve your wealth and not leave you scratching your head about how those white, patent leather, stacked heal boots ended up in your closet.

Faux Marble is IN.

These same principles apply to home furnishings. Buy basic pieces that have clean lines and are likely to stand the test of time in your home, no matter where you choose to make it, over the years. If you know, or think you know, that you are always going to love the Louis (that’s French for the XIII – XVI’s Reign of Kings competing to outdo one another, and in so doing created one of the most beautiful and lasting design aesthetics in existence today – a mon avis) or maybe mid-century modern is your jamb. To these styles you can add accent pieces that can come and go without breaking the bank, while satisfying our innate need to “be in the know”, to keep our spaces fresh, and dare I say it – be a part of the machine. After all, I can’t imagine having passed up my velvet scallop shell shaped pillow backed in that beau Belgium linen, any more than I could imagine having it in my home forever.

Rattan Remains on Trend!

Soothesayers may have spoken on their truths about 2020 trends, but neither the newest shade of peachy blush or a focus on they foyer, will be making its way into my home this year. I’ve stuck with my tried and true neutral hue, a pale gray, and my condo doesn’t even have a foyer – so posh. Maybe I’ll just re-style my portable coat rack and call it a day.

Bold Painted Interior Doors.

Double Take: Cane Wallpaper that’ll make you look twice

Drop – NXLX Wallcovering Cane Webbing Collection

We owe a lot to the Greek’s – in door plumbing, the olympics, philosophy, democracy, modern medicine found its way from the Greek exploration into the same. Where would we be today without any of these amazing inventions and conventions. They were also responsible for painting in the form known most commonly today as Trompe-L’oeil – a word that means to deceive the eye. Who was it that said, “people loved to be fooled”? I cannot remember, but it’s true. I supposed it has to do with the element of surprise – that moment that washes over you when you feel young and curious again.

Sheer genius – you’d think if you got close enough you could see through it.

I felt just this way when I saw NLXL’s new wall covering collection entitled: Cane Webbing Wallcovering which they market alongside a complementary wainscoting covering to be featured below your selection. Having just completed a caning project of my own – I hired a company to build me cane front doors for two amoires that were as plain and off the shelf as they come. This wallcovering is anything but! Tricked I was, and though I have yet to see it in person, it looks so authentic, magically making me believe that it has texture and dimension.

Add dimentionality and texture to your space.

So many of the homes I take on have walls, nooks and jogs that are far from attractive. What an opportunity this cane webbing presents to transform the unimaginatively dull, the old, worn, and lackluster – into something truly special.

Why pay the cost to build it when you can roll it on?

I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat with anticipation for No. 6, and Netherlands based NLXL is going to help me do it. Founded in 2010 this company is clearly making a splash. When your work is featured on 5th Avenue, and embraced by the fashion industry – you’re hot. Like the Greek’s whose inspirations have been around for centuries – caning made its debut in the weaving of baskets in ancient China before finding its way to France and other European destinations. From basket to chair, it revolutionized this simple household object, making lighter, and cheaper to make. Esther Viak and Rick Vintage of NLXL found a way to make it new again, and that friends, is what innovation is all about.

Happy Sunday.

Back Splashes that take the spotlight

Orlando Photography showcases the reflective beauty of mirrored glass back splash.

Nary a home renovation magazine exists that doesn’t place the kitchen at the center of any publication. After all, it is the gathering space for most families, the location that guests and friends convene to catch up on the latest gossip over a glass of wine or a hot cup of tea. There is a warmth to the kitchen – a vibrancy, an electric energy that draws people in. It’s one of my favorite places to design and to be in, despite the reality that I am rarely there to cook for myself. It is made all the more special to me, because when I am there, I am preparing meals for friends.

The wood back splash envelopes this kitchen in cozy – and btw it’s one of the best materials to have underfoot when cooking.

I love tile. Manufacturers are always developing new twists on something that could seem, same old, same old. The colors, textures, gloss and matte, metallic, honed and glazed bring a never ending array of twists and trends from which to select, but it’s an ode to the industrial that’s captured my attention of late.

Hello…if that rolled brass back splash doesn’t grab your attention, what will?

When I worked in a kitchen it was not at all unusual for the back splash to be a simple stainless steel sheet, cut to the appropriate proportions, scarred by the fast working, abrasive steel wool cleaning pads, but at turns both tough and beautiful. A few years ago I spied in a magazine an amazing little kitchen with a rolled brass back splash and I knew instantly that one of my projects would include the same. Having seen Jean-Louis Deniot, a brilliant French Interior Designer – I’m not just saying that because he loves the color grey and I feel we’re kindred spirits because of it, but because he so cleverly uses materials – particularly metals – to make his point – having seen his little Parisian kitchen designed with hammered metal cabinets. It was those cabinets that elevated him to the realm of brilliance in my mind, and reminded me that it’s the unexpected that draws in the eye.

Jean-Louis Deniot – starry night.

Using a mirrored back splash does quite the same thing, but so much more. Its reflective properties expand the proportions of space, a decidedly enormous benefit when you are dealing with tiny galley kitchens, little corner nooks, spaces that demand their size not relegate them to an afterthought.

As we launch off into the vast unknown of this new decade, I plan to make a commitment to the unexpected. Why ever would anyone want to be predictable?

Grand Finale: another decade down

I can feel a little Charlie Brown about the end of the year. Oh bother, another one down. In full disclosure – I wrote the text for this cartoon strip, but it’s all Charles Schultz – with all his brilliant insight into the frailty of the human condition. Must we….really…do an accounting? Yes indeed we must.

live the dream?

This decade I sold my very first house. I bought it in the previous decade, but didn’t sell it until 2013, after three extensive renovations, and out of the wreckage of the worst financial crisis in any living person’s memory. It was hard and gritty, nail biting (if I bit my nails, which I don’t), and many a night’s sleep was lost – well over considering the possible loss of my job, my very first house, and a place to store my beloved shoes. Well, you can’t imagine the stress I was under – or at least I hope you can’t.

Gut renovation – circa 17

The decade followed along with the purchase of four more properties and the sale of three others. I experienced roof leaks, ground water surges, heat that didn’t come close to heating, a door that knocked me on the ass every time I entered or departed, leaving me to believe it wasn’t all that happy that I had taken up residence. Sometimes a building issues its objections louder than its residents, though mostly it’s a close contest. No one loves it when you begin construction. They only want it to end – resulting in the increased value of their own – no personal equity having been contributed to the cause.

I made bet after bet after bet, and traveled with my winnings, berating myself when I lost, and hung my head when others said I should have known. If I am leaving this decade with anything – it’s this thing…the amount we don’t know is enormous, the amount we CANNOT know – incredible. I’m in it for the long game, each property a piece in the overall portfolio. Some will be winners, some will be losers. Some of the winners will be due to my skill and experience while others will be pure luck. Some of the losers, I’ll have done absolutely everything right, with the information available to me, and they still won’t net a win. That too will be luck.

I’m sticking to the plan. I’m going to take the wins and the losses, analyze them with a detached clinical scrutiny, and strive to do better in the next decade.

All and new, custom and blue.

Happy New Year’s Eve.