Opposites Attract: the use of black and white in design

Ken Fulk’s Living Room Design . Anchored in Black and White.

Balance in life is something we are ever in pursuit of. One side of the seesaw is tipped too far, and too long, on the side of drama, chaos, endless checklists that can feel as if they add up to nothing of significance, even when the boxes display that emphatic red slash or definitive x. Then it bumps gently down on the side of calm composure, perhaps brought on by a vacation that you never want to leave.

We need both, we need equilibrium, we need that special mental calmness, composure, and even temper when we are faced with the most vexing situations. You know the kind, the ones a design and construction project are always throwing your way. I can hear the yogi Baron Baptiste whispering in his flat affect…”equanimity”, the even tide of his utterance lulling me into a hypnotic state. No time for that now. We must discuss contrast.

Kelly Wearstler’s San Francisco . The Proper Hotel

Contrast – the good and evil, the dark and the light, the total absorption of one, ironically brings about expansiveness. Paint your walls black or install kitchen cabinets of the same color and they seem to recede into the distance making your 100sf feel like two or three. White wash your walls and get ready to reflect the sunlight that pours in through your windows, tricking you once again into thinking the space is larger than it is.

Suzanne Kasler . Just a touch of black inside the fireplace to ground the white room.

Black and white is timeless and chic. It can draw your attention to the one color or object in a room that you want the visitor to appreciate most. It goes with any color combination or design style, making it the single most versatile combo you can choose to use. You never need to be afraid of the dark if you don’t forget to leave the white on.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Gritty Glamour: the elegance of dirty spaces

I’m fascinated by the beauty of turn of the century functional spaces – of train stations and power plants, pump houses and grain storage silos. These buildings didn’t need to be attractive, after all few will see the inside of a silo, but they were. Maybe form followed function and in so designing, it became an elegant missile preparing for launch into the stratosphere of stars, but that doesn’t account for the finishes inside of the turbines. There to produce power, first utilizing the dirtiest of fuels – coal, and later electricity, I can’t imagine they really needed to be outfitted with grand Palladian windows, their wrought iron mullions forming a decorative cross pattern that I long to replicate in a home that I have yet to call my own.

Fashion Designers, event planners, and visionaries of all sorts become glassy eyed at the prospect of showcasing their goods, setting a scene, being seen in their finest threads, bedazzled with baubles, and beads, twinkly lights, and crystal candle stick holders, their tapered forms reaching increasingly slender degrees toward their twinkling height, casting their flickering glow against the centuries old tiled walls.

There are levers and pulleys, catwalks and balconies, and elements for whose function will likely never be known to me. I envision the s-shaped scrolls that are mounted to the interior walls, 20′ in the air, carrying hurricane lanterns, entwined with ivy and honeysuckle. The tables would be scattered about, draped in fine white sateen table cloths, green handblown glass goblets would compliment the tiled walls. A dark herringbone wood dance floor would be installed in the very center, the pink seven tiered wedding cake, topped with a single white anemone, will be cut to the swirling notes that drift from the brass bands situated on the balconies above.

Beauty and the Beast – there is nothing like pairing two disparate things together to watch them shine.

Design Narrative: The Stories Your Spaces Tell

Design narrative sounds so technical and it can be. Temperature controls, and programs, and mandates and specifications, are part of a serious design narrative, but it should start with the story, and the story should start with a word, a feeling, a texture, a place. It should evoke emotion, unite the team in a vision, pave a plush velvety pathway for the designers to wiggle their toes in as they explore the possibilities that await.

Everyone can appreciate the unifying nature of a powerful story. Video Gamers call it Narrative Design, and use the hero of the game as the central character in which to tell the story. Event Planners, focus on theme, book cover designers peek into the pages to understand the heart of the tale and utilize fonts, colors, photos and icons to hit the viewer hard and quick, but to reward them visually upon closer inspection, inviting them to investigate what lies within.

Designers make use of a number of tools to unearth their clients’ goals and desires for a project. A great story takes you on a journey of discovery, and is deeply satisfying because it teaches you something, reminds you of something, or introduces you to a melange of disparate ideas, bringing them together in magical fashion. To be a real story it must have a beginning, middle and an end. Seemingly simple, sometimes this roadmap is ignored entirely, which can leave a design, and the inhabitant of the space feeling less than inspired.

Start by asking your client, or yourself the following questions:

  • What is your favorite season,
  • Favorite home scent, and why
  • Plants or fresh cut flowers – type
  • When you aren’t working how do you spend your time
  • What do you want guests to feel when they visit?
  • What colors, materials, and textures make you happy?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

Add your own to the list, discover and explore together the items and images that evoke emotion and you’ll be off to the races.

Scent of Design: the conjuring of a room through smell

Deep Dive into your senses.

Ah summer, the holidays are right around the corner. At least if that corner is a distant stretch that includes; ideation, procurement, mock-ups, revisions, construction, assembly, printing, packaging, and delivery. Well, after all that, and a few hard to get items, you can see how around the corner it actually is, which necessitates thinking hard about holiday gifts, while simultaneously sitting in a sundress and solving some of the more complex problems that come across my desk.

I know how many creatives read this blog, so you understand that the act of conception can be pretty messy. I’ve typed my way through Ancient Rome and Celtic customs, I’ve investigated pain patches, and foreign language translating devices, taken a dive into mulled wine and spiced cider, warded off evil spirits with Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves, that I collected along the Spice Road. I’ve kicked around enlightenment – metaphorically speaking, while considering backyard bonfires, lanterns, alabaster lamps, and the eternal flame in the form of a candle.

Coming together . Earthy yet sophisticated.

Not any candle though. We humans are so inventive. This candle won’t kill you with toxic smoke, and won’t burn down in just ten hours, its special combination of soy and coconut somehow lasts as long as my work week. Now if only I could get my package as compact, I’d be a contender, and that package is pretty to boot, but my fascination with this small cylinder has more to do with its name, and description than, the happy glow it is likely to shine.

Blankets and Art Objects are a wonderful way to tie color palettes together.

Otherland’s array of candles have clever names, and brilliantly descriptive stories that take you on a journey that goes far beyond scent. It got me wondering what a room would look like if it was named: Kindling, had the essence of Alaskan Cedar, Smoky Embers, and Incense. If it takes some prodding to wake up your five senses, Otherland’s writers are here to help. This little light will take you on a dirt path to the bonfire, past “fringed suede, stirrup leather, mezcal cocktails, distant fires, desert sand, chopped wood, cowboy hats, weathered boots, horseback rides, wool blankets, glowing embers, and moonlit saloons.

Now if I can’t design a room around that descriptor, I’ll just put away my fabric swatches, and kiss my key frets good-bye.

Coastal to Cosmo: Bringing city sophistication back to an NYC pad

Change, it’s inevitable. Take this pandemic. No one wanted it, and now so many don’t want to let it go, well perhaps not the pandemic itself, but all that change it pushed on us. The washing of the hands, the working from home, the family time, the need for less, the quieting of the frenzied existence. The irony is that we so often want what we can’t have.

It seems fitting that after many years of living with watery blue gray walls, linen shaded glass lamps, white tree stumped side tables, and a pastel blue sectional anchored by an enormous painting – its field of green meeting the sky, revealing not a hint of its place on this earth, that this coastal setting within the confines of its solid cement pre-war walls, will take its leave. Where will it go? I imagine it will find its way back to a place with fewer skyscrapers, less lists, and more leisure time.

After living on the water for nearly a year, my sister is ready to turn her city dwelling into the picture of sophistication, which got me asking what makes a city apartment feel city? It wouldn’t do at all to have the home not feel homey, for it to be stiff and rigid, as if it were shellacked into the glossy pages of Architectural Digest. No, tassels, and Tudor High Boys, tightly tailored seat cushions on uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t do. A man and his dog need a place to rest their head on a comfortable sofa after a long day in a city that doesn’t sleep, and the lady of the house deserves to have that same space look as good as it feels.

Antique Wrought Iron Horse Sculpture and Havenly Boucle Chair . $499.

What epitomizes New York City design style? This is the question that I was asking myself – weigh in if you have ideas of your own. This concept is not yet cemented. It’s not about the money, though money can go along way toward enhancing the look of the space – so often quality and craftsmanship come at a cost, but you can find oodles of talent on that little island. A gal that can turn a dime store purchase into an elegant backdrop for her five floor walk-up, 325sf studio, separating bed from Bohemian living space, turned cocktail lounge, guests huddled around a small coffee table, perched on pillows, candle lit casting a soft happy glow. No, it’s not about the money. It’s about a story – everybody has a story. Sure some tell it too fast. They build no suspension or intrigue. Some get overly verbose, losing you in a cluttered room of their story, before rushing you down the hallway blurting out an unceremonious ending. No, a good story is balanced, and starts when you open that door. Here’s how I think we’ll get it started.

SCREEN Play: A short history of latticework

Burji Alshaya Developement . Kuwait City . Gensler . An example of Mashrabiya in 3D – latticework within a latticework screen wrapped around the building envelope – pure genius.

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.

Layered and luxe this design by Shelly Johnstone- Paschke . Interior Design is luscious.

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.

Sunny and Southern . Southern Living

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?

Shucks: The lovely ways oysters inspire design

Still Life with Oyster – artist ThEodule Augustin Ribot

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.

Powder Room Power . a wall of oyster shells is amazing.

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.

Where would a conversation on design be without Benjamin Moore?

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.

Sikes on Stripes: One designers singular devotion to holding the line

Bold and Blue

I’ve towed the party line, I’ve drawn the line, crossed the line, lined my drawers with poppy paper that only I would see. I’ve outlined a plan, underlined the important parts, and I’ve penned a line of poetry, but of all the lines I loved, and there have been many, it’s a series of parallel lines – you guessed it – lined up neatly, one snuggled tightly next to the other, or spaced a safe distance apart, that I whole heartedly support incorporating into your interior.

My adoration for stripes preceded my awareness of Mark D. and his design brilliance. Maybe I knew him in another life. Do you have to believe in past lives in order to have lived them? A query for another time. Mr. Sikes likes stripes for the same reason I do, they go with everything. If you are afraid of pattern, as so many people are, stripes are your friend. You’ll never find a floral that doesn’t long for the company of a stripe, or an Ikat, or Houndstooth for that matter.

Spot the Stripe on this pillow?

Squiggly, or pinstripe straight they make a happy accompaniment to any style. Their versatility is inspiring. They can be preppy, pretty or prissy. Masculine, mousey or Mediterranean. They can be found in high-end homes and little old beach shacks. I wonder if that would have made Napoleon Bonaparte smile – he who was known to receive important guests into his living room, designed to resemble an Egyptian striped tent, with its walls and ceiling adorned in fabric. Stripes, they don’t discriminate. They provide definition and draw the eye to places that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Feeling anything but neutral about this look.

Don’t hesitate to go straight to the stripe when you are starting your next project. It’ll be pinnable – promise.

Three Buckets: Why RE is a Good Investment

8 Gorham Road . Harwich Port . $799K

I started working when I was 11 years old. I didn’t do it out of necessity, as you might imagine, I did it because my sister asked me to join her in her chambermaiding efforts, at The Moby Dick Motel, and it seemed as good a way to pass the time as anything else I was up to that summer. I was, of course, paid under the table, by the New York couple that owned the joint. It’s location on Rt. 28 in Harwich was highly visible. Someone must have dropped a time on the them for trafficking in underaged help, because I recall my stint roaming from room to room with my sister was short lived. They moved me into the main building, which served as reception and their home, and that is where I stayed, cleaning for the summer. It was a pretty good gig. I recall spending an inordinate amount of my time cleaning the refrigerator, home to the Andes Mints, which I ate with wild abandon, and no apparent fear of retribution. I have no idea what their real names were. I referred to them as the Ropers – from Three’s Company. They were characters and had a dog to match. The poor little puppy had an issue with incontinence and was forced, I am sure, much to his chagrin, to wear pampers. So started my work life journey.

90 Sweetbriar Drive . Orleans $899.5K

I have no idea how much I made that summer, or what I did with that money. It was a pattern that I would repeat, again and again, as I moved from pot washer, to sandwich maker, breakfast waitress, to top notch server, slinging seaside offerings to sunburned tourists to put myself through school. I can recall a Pioneer Stereo and a Political Science degree by way of my spending, but saving – no. There was no saving, and I certainly didn’t donate money as I do now, but none of it is done strategically with a plan, a goal, a chance that the discipline will result in security, a date on the calendar that signals it’s ok to stop.

96 Skaket Beach Road . Orleans $1.15

My financial education can be encapsulated simply – a single high school course on how to balance a check book, which I remember well, but never employed, a mother that insisted we shop discount so that we could buy more, and more often. Shopping for the Falla girls was a national pastime. That regrettably, has never changed, and so I keep toiling. The one thing I learned and learned well was that real estate was a sound investment, with the added benefit that it tied up my dollars, bound to that houseboat with knots that this seaside gal could not untie. Safe from my indiscriminate spending habits.

Monomoy Coffee . Main Street . Chatham – ready to start your own business? $150K

I found myself thinking about Yara Shahidi the other day. She was recounting, in one of her many talks, the lessons her parent’s imparted. She started making money at a very young age, receiving her first paycheck two years before me. I have no idea how much it was for, but her parents told her that each check would be divided into three buckets: the savings bucket, the giving bucket, and the spending bucket. The brilliance of these buckets has me wanting to buy some. I’d like them to be teak, varnished so they gleamed and accented with a rope handle. You can see I am already heading in the wrong direction with the lesson, unless of course I found the money in my spend bucket, and chose to use those precious dollars for a vessel, oh wait, I think I’d rather spend it on real estate. It’s a currency I can get behind.