Going Once, Going Twice: On-Line Auctions

For when you can’t or won’t go there. I have found memories of auctions – specifically a single auction house on 6A in Dennis. My mother and her best friend loved that auction house and would go often. I’d tag along reluctantly for the viewings – I never actually went to any of the live auctions, but I loved the green and white painted barn that housed all the treasures and the fact that I got my very own bed in a winning bid that I still have today. I loved it because it was so high up off the ground and had to have a custom mattress made for it. Not quite a full, not quite a queen, somewhere in between the two and perfectly suited to a six year old. I adore it. There were other big purchases, a kitchen table, a set of French china in pale sage and navy. Was it the thrill of the hunt, the adrenaline that surged through my mother’s chest, propelling her hand with the tightly clutched want in the air, was it the deal? I don’t know, and I cannot ask, but it was a summer ritual for many years.

Skinner Auctioneers . Nautical Dresser . Opening Bid $250.

Recently I was asked to investigate auctions and the practicality of utilizing them as a strategy for furnishing a new home. Always up for a challenge, I began to do my research, and what I found was this: FleaPop – out of business, Furnishly – finito, LushPad – liquidated, KRRB – kaput, leaving me to believe that being an auction house is a tough gig to sustain. I did find that Live Auctioneers is still in biz as is Invaluable, and many other local houses that allow you to bid on-line – essentially during a pandemic, and for those that want to source items from far and wide across the globe.

Invaluable Auctioneers . American Federal Bullseye Mirror . Opening Bid $200.

The far and wide does come with consequences. For those of us that have surfed a property or two on sites like Zillow or Redfin, you know that photos can be deceiving. Buying a piece of property or a home, site unseen is not advisable, nor is grabbing a Chippendale sofa from France via auction. The “deal” you thought you were being dealt, comes with shipping fees, buyers premiums – that’s the cut that the auction house gets for getting the goods in the first place and can range between 25 – 30% of the purchase price, and there are no returns. The term “good condition” is relative. The buyer needs to keep all these things in mind when looking for a special piece for their home, establish a budget, factor the additional costs in their not to exceed column, and don’t allow their emotions to get the best of them.

Live Auctioneers . Danish Modern Arm Chairs . Opening Bid $350. Picture these with a navy ticking fabric in a boat house – dreamy.

As for my good friend I recommend taking it slow. It doesn’t need to be furnished overnight. As long as you have a bed, a living room sofa, a coffee table, your tv, and a good book – you’ll do surprisingly well for a time. Use the auction website to augment your space with special pieces – again, taking your time to understand what it is you are looking for, what spot in your home it will fill, and what you are willing to pay for it. There is a reason site like One King’s Lane and Ruby Lane charge a lot for the wares – they’ve curated them from a time consuming process. Hunting is fun, but can be expensive. If you’ve got the time – an auction might not only provide an engaging afternoon’s activity, it might just bring home a show-stopping sette or Stickley Armchair or some other fabulous find.

Live Auctioneers . French Bed . Twin . Opening Bid $250.

Every Ending is a New Beginning

Parables are among the best stories.

If I simply said that I was ready to put this year behind me, I would be missing an important opportunity to recognize the growth that I have experienced in this last, most interesting of years. I listened to a parable while meditating a few days ago. I’m not a practiced meditator, I’m flawed, my thoughts racing by, raging fire engine red machines snaking their way through the streets of Monaco. My brain is a frenetic place to house a calm guest, but I work at welcoming them anyway. This parable struck me, as they are intended to do, and I thought I would share it with you. – A farmer woke to discover that during the night his horse had run off. His neighbors said to him: “What misfortune to have lost your only horse.” Maybe the farmer replied. A few days later the horse returned, bringing with him three wild stallions. “What good fortune”, remarked the neighbors. “Maybe” replied the farmer. The farmers only son was riding one of the wild stallions and was thrown from the horse, shattering his leg, forever leaving him with a limp. “What bad luck remarked the neighbors..” “Maybe” replied the farmer. Soon after, his country was embroiled in war, and soldiers made their way through his village, identifying all able bodied boys to enlist them in the army. When the soldiers arrived at the farmers home, and saw that his only son walked with a limp, they moved on. “What good fortune” his neighbors proclaimed. “Maybe” replied the farmer.

This little parable got me to thinking about examining the coin more closely. So many of you believe that head’s up is the way to bet. I’ve always gone for the underdog, tails. More than a pretty face, a tail can wag and control a situation, it can distract, entertain, and in the end it has just as good a chance of landing on the “right” side as the other. Which is the point. Heads or tails, we can all even our odds by changing the perspective in which we view the events that happen – remembering that they are not happening “to us” – they are just happening.

The events in my little corner of the universe included my very first joint venture flip. This project like all the others I have done to date was purchased in one year, but will not be sold until the following spring. What good fortune, many have remarked. You found a home in Chatham for under a million dollars, an in town location, a walk to the beach. This little three bedroom Cape has expressed its dissatisfaction with its decades of neglect, again and again. It absorbing cash at the rate of a roll, or two of Hefty paper towels, which I am not begrudging the old gal. She deserves to be cleaned up, put to rights, but I did so want to adorn her in accessories that made her sparkle, and instead, the majority of the budget will be spent behind her walls, under her foundation, a ventilation system that will allow her to breath free and easy, winter or summer, spring or fall, and she’ll have new steps to ensure no one does trip and fall, which we can all agree is very important. I know I do, and felt a little bad that I was asked to do more with less for the portion of the project that is mine to make shine. Then I remembered all I’ve done with paint in the past, and it made me perk up a bit. Cape’s weren’t born into the upper class, attending premiers, and walking the red carpet at The Met Ball. No, she is happiest when she can throw a log on the fire, open her high gloss coral colored front door to the neighbors, serve them a nice bottle of wine that she found at Trader Joe’s – laugh not, the selection is incredible and very affordable. Welcoming, comfortable, cheeky, that’s what she of Apres Sea will be. Maybe it’s just what needed to happen.

And what of my main manse, my little condo on Lawrence Street in Boston’s South End? To say she was in rough shape when I found her in December of 2018 is an understatement. Hidden under her floor boards and behind the walls, was all manner of malfeasance. Like me, she was forced to undergo an operation, no little facelift for this gal. I had to rip her insides out and rebuild her, the best way I knew how, and now she is strong and thriving, but the market for little condos in the South End is not. Bad luck some of you have said, to have had her ready for sale during a pandemic. Too bad you couldn’t have put her on the market in summer, or the previous spring, when we all still believed this would end sooner, rather than later. I agreed, I felt sorry, I worried, I lamented, and then I thought, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could have happened. I thought just maybe, there is something that I have yet to have predicted that will come of this. Maybe. We will see. Whatever will be, will be.

Star Studded Stairs

My internal monolog is a chatter box. Talk, talk, talk, question, ruminate, debate, playing one side and then the other. My head is like a kindergarten class before naptime. Sometimes I can’t even get a word in edgewise, which probably seems pretty silly since they are all supposed to be my words. The truth is, what other people think, always finds a way, stealthily into the conversation. It’s not that I don’t value others opinions, but when they don’t have any skin in the game, well it’s hard to put too much faith in it.

This latest discussion goes something like this – if this were my house, I’d paint a navy stripe just about a half inch above the baseboard, or dustboard if you are an inventor of trends. My navy would be a shade so dark it would be reminiscent of the ocean, at a depth as deep as the resting place of the Titanic. It would start its journey in the entryway, purposefully and ever so orderly, marching its way up the stairs, feeling its way along the walls in the hallway, jumping over the break in the doors to stick the landing like an Olympic gymnast on the exact spot between door, casing, and wall, before continuing its march around the perimeter, a regimen of soldiers marching in formation at their commanders will. I of course, am the commander in this case, begging the painter not to squiggle outside the lines of my perfect formation, making its way around the quad (the small interior hallway of the second floor), before spilling its way down the staircase to its final star studded finish. If it were my house, that’s what I would do, but it is not.

How many buyers would I offend with my sense of style? I want my line to have punch, but designing the perfect punchline takes finesse, sophistication, mad skills, and when you have them, the pay off is huge. What if I don’t have that? What if the potential buyers think it’s a bad joke? What then? It’s only paint, but can I afford to turn someone off? These are the questions that shout their agreement and then their dissent – please, I am begging all of you to be quiet.

The thing of it is, stairs are often boring, utilitarian, necessary for sure, and much preferred to the ladder, having used a ladder for years to make my way into a loft, but the reality is – they get ignored. I think we can do better in our little Willow Bend property. What if I were to place a single wooden star applique on the center of the fifth riser, what if I put one on every riser? What if I dressed the treads in herringbone and I painted my baseboard stripe despite the protestations to keep it beige, to keep it boring? What if? Would you like it as much as me?

A little applique goes a long way. I’m tempted to paint it gold, but it would look stunning in one of Ben Moore’s Navy’s.

Miraval Berkshires: Land of fairytales

Wyndham Manor at Miraval

Miraval is all about restrained fanciness. It’s setting in the Berkshires with trees dotting the rolling hills turned mountains for miles – for as far as the eye can see, and sky the beauty of the sky, this sky is the sky that songs are written about. It exists in contrasts. The craftsmanship of the barn and stables is superior, the animals and birds of pray that are housed within them damaged. The one eyed owl Oracle and his friend Homer being whispered back to health by Jen, understand that the price of admission is to stare deep and soulfully into the eyes of the guests, and to commune. Eyes as inky black as the deepest part of the ocean, set in a snow white feathered face feels otherworldly, quiet in the midst of the squawking hawk’s demand for attention. It will come.

The materials, warm reclaimed boards have the softest of landings on the diamond hard surface of the polished concrete floors, stained ochre, a reminder not to jump to conclusions. Even a cold unforgiving surface can change its personality. The luxe velvet chairs the color of an oak leaf, turned in the fall, coupled with the tactile plaid pillow, a nod to the textile factories of the region. The durable charcoal gray thick cushioned wood slat chair, with it’s cross stitch, in a lovely cream, a child’s dream, as you swivel and spin your way into the serious hug of relaxation. The rusted steel column pendants pierced with circular openings of various sizes cast a magical glow. Hard and soft, warm and cold, tough and tender, Miraval understands that to recognize divergence is to bring harmony to the space.

Arguably, Clodagh of the eponymous New York City design firm, had everything to do with the feel of this place, whose very existence is to remind you to feel again, to tune in, to be aware, to taste, to experience, to be present. Remember those birds of pray, they can be nothing but present. They cannot dwell on the past, or worry about the future. Nature is a master class of a teacher.

The food, this dangerous delectable food, will not, can not, keep you from packing on the pounds, despite its healthful nutrients, pulled from the rich soil of the surrounding farms. Carrots like candy, brussel sprouts that taste like none I’ve ever had before. Fish infused with flavors that were not slathered on from a jar, but were plucked from the branches of herbs. I wanted to inhale it all, to miss nothing, how incredibly unzen of me, how contrary to the mindful eating they preach here at the Val.

Women’s Lounge in the Spa

To walk the grounds in this time of covid is to be transported, there are so few people here that it feels as if I have the place to my own. I wonder if my foot falls in the Jesuit footsteps before mine, or on the same patch of ground that the Cranwell Preparatory School boys galloped upon, or Frederick Law Olmstead strolled as he prepared to impart his landscape architectural stamp on the property? I wonder.

While I did not cover all 380 acres of this property, and only just began to uncover all of its secrets, I’ll share with you this – “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. Imagine it’s 1942, and I said it in Humphrey Bogart’s raspy, telltale voice. Oh Casablanca.

I Did it My Way…but what if you couldn’t?

I am flummoxed by my friend’s flip – a beautiful property in Franklin. He is a terribly talented craftsperson, the kind I dream about having on my jobs, and has already transformed the living room, which is an extension of the open concept kitchen, into a showpiece. With its 18 foot ceilings, and grand gas feature fireplace wall, it’s going to be a show stopper.

Here’s where I’ve helped in the past – color. While he continues to learn more and get educated on all the nuances of hue and light, finishes, and the complicated language of warms and colds, and rules, and the understanding that to break them, you have to be really, really good – I have only just learned how to turn on the table saw, and successfully saw a single board. This single girl is woefully behind her friend.

Sticking to what I was asked – paint colors that pair.

The challenge for me is that I want to go into this kitchen and rip out that granite countertop. I hate it. I’ve told Eddie this already. He didn’t install it in the first place, so I don’t think I have hurt his feelings in revealing my nose wrinkling distaste for brown, black and tan, but Eddie is practical and knows that if that granite goes, so too will the backsplash. Remember, the hip bones connected to the thigh bone? You can’t just decide to do one thing without it impacting something else, and those something else’s can really cost you.

Might I make a suggestion.

I want Eddie to use his money on the installation of the 12′ glass wall that will look out onto the home’s glorious 2 acre property with its far from the city forest of a backyard, not on my Vermont Imperial Danby stone countertop. To make it all work I’ll have to do some color gymnastics. It’s possible, but will require a serious warm up and some stretching. Which of these would you choose?

Going for the Gold – if I did it my way 🙂

Powder Room Perfection

We’ve come a long way from the outhouse, I say with wrinkled nose and a preparatory holding of my breath. I once went on a vacation only to arrive at my quaint island destination to discover that there was no running water in the one bedroom house that I would be staying in – none. I remember it vividly as traumatic events linger in the depths of your being long after they should have said their good-byes, and allowed you to move on with your life. The drama of it all, the longing, not just for a room with a door, with a toilet – wait I’m not done yet, with indoor plumbing, and the whirl, rush, plunge and flush that comes with it.

Tangled Up in Blue.

Having a special place in my heart for the small nooks and sliver thin spaces that exist in tiny homes, it is no surprise that I adore the ingenuity of a powder room. Tucked under the eave or the underside of the stair, slotted between the kitchen and living room. A converted closet, an unused corner, a defunct pantry – any old space will do as long as it backs up to, or can tap into a water source. Otherwise fine friends, it will cost you a fortune, and I like to spend my money where you can see it.

Here Comes the Sun

When you open the door of a Powder Room it should transport you to a magical place – the inside of a velvet cushioned ring box for royalty, a first class cabin’s private quarters aboard the Titanic – before it sunk of course, or perhaps a secret garden. It should feel lush and private and very, very quiet. Just you and the sound of a tweeting bird, a distant orchestra, the lapping of the waves on the hull of a sound vessel bound for the horn of Africa. It’s a chance to do something special – really special.

Watermelon Sugar

The wallcovering that you wouldn’t dare drop the dough for, in the small space seems reasonable. The fifth wall – also known as the ceiling, suddenly seems to be begging for a bold hue, and while you may never have considered painting the base and/or the molding anything but white – why the heck not give it a try in this spec of a space within a much bigger space? Whether you paper or pad the walls, pour concrete floors or color your doors, the powder rooms the place to think like a kid, spend like a princess and experiment as if you were deaf to all critics. Do it up, do it over, but do something dangerously delicious.

Change Your Point of View: White Kitchen’s with Personality

Blue and White.

It’s true, and because I feel like arguing today, I’m going to lay out my case for you. You the believer that white is boring, vanilla, without an opinion. Dare I say staid, subtle, without suggestion, or rather you might say, not I, not me, not this one who believes – it is simply a sublime backdrop for the scene of your personal style. Whatever that style might be – you’ll see.

Green and White.

I’ve selected the same clean shaker cabinetry for all three looks. The same hardware and backsplash, and walnut island top that has appeared in earlier iterations of the Willow Bend Scheme Series. I’ve purposefully picked the white cabinetry for its ability to pencil out on a spreadsheet that’s adding up, and a backsplash that you can get at the one buck store. Not exactly, but practically. I’ve invested some dough in the door hardware, and a little more on my lights – good lighting is everything to a gal. Finally I’ve made a little splash with a fabric or a fridge, but honestly there are even less expensive ways to do it. Think a set of dishes in a daring hue, pretty porcelain in a pouty purple, flowers or ferns or decorative urns – whatever floats your boat, let the rainbow be your guide.

Pink and White.

White is wonderfully versatile. Like a Chopped competition, I’ve provided the box of basics that you must use, but your personal panache will provide the dash and make the space distinctly you, but if you had to choose, which one would you say was you?

Psycho Thriller: How renovating houses turned me into my own therapist

Break the rules or create your own.

I love the idea of being de-coded by someone. To be truly understood and seen by another should be a basic human right, it’s not, but it is a basic need. I won’t allow myself the luxury of lying on a sofa, or in a comfortable chair, and working through why I think or feel the way I do. I know I have the disease of being busy, too busy, so busy I can barely sit still, which is in part why I like house renovations so much. They are like little babies requiring constant care and attention. They can also try your patience and wear on your last nerve, making you feel as if you are going to go insane.

Making way for water – away from the home.

Here’s where Behavioral Activation Therapy comes in. I can’t believe that I didn’t study psychology because I love it so much. I had been employing this psychotherapy technique on myself without even knowing it. I’m so self-clever sometimes it astounds me, mainly because at turns I can be so clueless, and not in the cute and cool way that Alicia Silverstone was when she starred as Cher in the movie of the same name. I stumbled across the technique when I was renovating my second property, which had me crying a river – the last thing you want to do when your house is already full of water in all the wrong rooms and places.

The kitchen – heart of the home.

I found myself digging around in my closets looking for my suitcases and wondering to myself allowed what would be needed in the quiet padded cell of the insane asylum, when I thought, what if I just pretended that this wasn’t happening to me at all. What if, I was just a paid employee to the person that it was happening to, and my job was to figure it out – get the appropriate line-up of contractors, find the best prices and do it quickly. What if, when all of that was done, I got paid for it? What if indeed.

Keeping it together. The foundation for the retaining wall is in!

What I discovered is that it works. By removing the person that takes it personally – that would be me, and I suspect you too – from time to time, something amazing happens, you just get it done. It’s just a job. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to No Stupid Questions – the Angela Duckworth and Steven Dubner podcast I am currently obsessed with and Angela, the psychologist, was asked by Steven if pretending you weren’t depressed, by “acting” as if you were an non-depressed person could really work? I bet you can guess what she said. Now go out there and get renovating or taking your first steps toward running a marathon or whatever amazing thing you will do, because you can – unless it’s surgery. Please leave that to the surgeon.

Kitchen Scheme: Two Takes for Take II

I do wish I had the Hollywood production crew to support this effort. I want to roll out set design after set design, approve, reject, refine, edit, explore, look for even more. Want that outrageously expensive light fixture, just find some obnoxiously rich finance person who wants to be a part of the fame to fund it. Does that sound too cynical of me. I can be cynical, when instead I should be celebrating, all the possibility that comes from ingenuity, a tireless search that results in an unexpected find. I can do that too.

Scheme I . Looking for a slightly more traditional take on this option.
Scheme 1 Take II

Last week I showed you four potential schemes for the kitchen. I thought for a moment I’d show you no more. We had a roller coaster of a week with a person of interest – to me, and my partners, as she showed serious interest in the property. Three visits. The first on her own, that I chalked up to curiosity. Who doesn’t love a construction site? The second started to get my attention, and resulted in the hatching of a plan, a sale price and serious consideration. The third visit with her builder and trusted friends showed even more promise, but was followed by crickets – and not the Disney character that provide comic relief from the backbreaking work of the demolition, the sad soliloquy of a solo violinist.

Scheme I . Take I
Scheme II . Take II

I did feel a little sad about leaving it unfinished and handing it over for cash money, but make no mistake our purpose in this endeavor is to make money, not to realize our grandest design desires – though we have fun with that too. If I learned anything from binge watching Selling Sunset, it was that you don’t need to take a project to completion to add value, and value we did add. She’s as bare as a babe on a nude beach in summer, though by next spring she’ll be adorned with more Hydrangea and sea grass, maybe a bushel of Montauk Daisies or a Tulip or two, a Butterfly Tree and plenty of mint scattered about. We hired the architect, are refining the design, lined up all the subs, have our application into historic…that’s all worth something.

While it might not have been right for OysterPondGal – it’ll be so very right for the right person. Forge ahead we must and I cannot wait to hear your opinion on this next iteration of kitchen designs. Please don’t hold back. Happy Sunday friends.

Demolition Derby: tales from the Willow Bend Flip

Scheme I

I’m not an Olympic Athlete, in case you were wondering. I wonder if it’s because I don’t love the pain of the challenge as much as the other gal. I can do it, do make myself do it, languish in the rewards of being on the other side of doing it. The sore muscles, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, of doing something that someone else simply won’t do. I can do that, but I am old enough to know that I’ll never love it. Not like Michael Jordan, not like Billie Jean King, not like Danika, but hard work shows up in so many different ways, and I love and hate them all, and feel as neutral as a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold winter’s day, which is to say, I love ice cream anytime of the year, but I hate being cold. I like to celebrate my complexity like a rainbow.

Scheme II

This flip required 4 hard – like a hard rain’s gonna fall kind of hard – demolition. When you embark on a renovation project there really is something for every skill-set, age, and interested person to contribute. When I was really little I used to pick the nails up around the construction site. Later I striped wallpaper, and lead paint from the walls – check that box. Not being allowed to use power tools of any kind, I worked my way around the site (the homes that we lived in and my father renovated), hauling, cleaning, organizing, and staying out from underfoot and being very, very quiet. I’d work for a #6 Mason Jar sandwich – roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce, romaine lettuce, muenster cheese, mayo on a bulky roll with a half sour pickle – no chips or a drink, we were conserving money for the renovation.

Scheme III

As I peeled back the vines, the dilapidated wood picket fence, then the chain link, for which I was forced to cede my show of strength. I couldn’t even unearth a single concrete encrusted steel post from the ground, and there were many. I have nothing on Mother Nature – I bow to your beauty and strength.

Scheme I – II

Days 3 and 4 were all about the upstairs bath. Boy there are lots of parts and pieces to that structure. I’m reminded that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, the hip bones connected to the …. I had to dissect the connections to find the weak points and disassemble what someone or two, at times very thoughtfully, and later, quite lackadaisically with a scrap here, and an almost long enough board there, had carefully put into place those many decades before. It all gave me a run for my money, but as money is the point of this flip, and I am motivated by it, I refused to wave the flag until all the plaster and drywall – yes both, all the 2 x 4 – the real kind – the one’s that actually measured 2 x 4, all the offensive aesthetic elements were dispensed with – the vanity – holy ugly, the glass block window – holy heavy, the Italian blue ceramic tile, and the toilet – holy – holy. I stripped that baby bare. She’s as fresh as a new born entering the world, full of possibility. The sore muscles were worth it.

Scheme IV

Now I need your help. Long lead items are longer than they ever were before – oh Covid. The kitchen must be ordered and we cannot order the kitchen without a plan for the color scheme, and this Cape home will flow from one room to the next so we need to really LOVE the kitchen becaus all tides will rise with it, or fall, with crashing finality over the clashing disaster of colors. Which of these options would say to you – I’m ready to move in?