Distinctive Excellence: The making of an icon

My first love. Mies van der Rohe . Barcelona Chair . 1948.

Iconic pieces hold value. Trends do not. I was attempting to explain this to my Brother-in-Law who is embarking on a fairly significant renovation, along with my sister, of their LES apartment. A lifelong resident of Manhattan, Andy has an appreciation for art – fine, film, not food per se, but most definitely the musical arts, and culture. His interest in pop, international, historic/ancient, make him a fairly typical New Yorker, which is to say, very well versed in a whole lot of things, that most people know nothing about. If I am being nice about it I’d say it is likely due to the fact that it doesn’t sit on their doorstep waiting to be consumed as it does in NYC.

Marcel Breuer . Cesca Chair . 1928 tubular steel frame provides flex and comfort.

With all this intellectual sophistication it’s not that he doesn’t know logically that if you purchase a Renoir it is not going to depreciate the moment you walk it out of the Christie’s Auction House – at least I hope that’s the way in which you’d find yourself acquiring it. Of course there are other ways. I prefer to inherit my art, but if I do, I want it to be any one of the most famous impressionists. They knew how to turn a swirl of paint into a pot of gold. I would happily inherit a Mies Van der Rohe, a Saarinen, an Eames, or a Platner right along with that piece of art, but here is where we two differ. I can tell that Andy is skeptical of my assertion that these iconic designer’s furnishings are of real value. “Why not simply get a knock off”? he asks.

Charles Eames . Lounge Chair . 1956. This is the definition of fitting like a glove.

All this got me thinking about what makes something move from a trend, to a classic, to iconic. What made this fashion of a time, fifties design move beyond the three year mark, into classic territory? Design excellence, detailing, simplicity and ingenuity combined. How did they turn a formed piece of fiberglass known for its toughness into a sensuous slide that you could sleep on for hours? The angular tilt of the Barcelona Chair is a piece of sculpture in its own right, its design – like that of a master artist, a showcase of understanding of the human form. The materials, the detailing, assembly and execution are why these pieces are revered, and why they hold their value.

Give me a bouquet of Tulips any day. Eero Saarinen . Tulip Chairs and Iconic Saarinen table. 1957.

I’m all about the high and low, but if you can afford one iconic piece instead of ten from Room & Board, I’d remind myself that I can only sit in one chair at a time, and if I had to choose one, I want it to be the very best.

Making too much into just enough

43 Hiawatha Road . Harwich Port . MA

Running my weekend errands typically includes a round of open houses, whether I’m in the money or feeling closer to the skids, looking costs nothing, and the education one receives is priceless. It’s like the equivalent of getting a masters degree from your public library. And I so love to learn.

FYI . Mice love that Homasote Ceiling. It’s like paper-mache.

While I wish I could attribute my bout of dizziness to the head-swirling prices for which homes are on offer, I cannot, but metaphorically speaking, I’m reeling. I visited a vessel on a “close” to tony little street, who takes its name Hiawatha, from its adjacency Nantucket Sound, and the Iroquois Indian Tribe. “He makes Rivers” gives some mean to the list price of this 3200sf vessel of a home, but doesn’t fully account for its cost. At $1.5M, boasting 7 bedrooms and 3.5 baths, one might get an all together different impression of what is being hocked here, but as my father likes to say: “People loved to be fooled.” It is after all how most of us get into the beautiful messes we get into. The “had I known what I was getting myself into, I never would have done it” laments, are the ones most likely to categorically change you as a person, and who among us couldn’t use an overhaul?

Whoa . This “refresh” is baffling to me.

This property would need just that. I recklessly threw a $600K price tag on the renovation, and that was for something that wouldn’t be at all high-end. What do I know about costs? I’m not an estimator, I having little to nothing to do with supply chain issues unless you count my chase for toilet paper in every megastore and outpost from Boston to Orleans expertise, but I have ears. It’s incredibly difficult to get anything from kitchen appliances to labor for construction and even my tenth grade math class, or was it history? taught me the laws of supply and demand. I’d like to demand a reinstatement of sanity, but I am afraid no one will listen, still the renos to this modest Cape home will cost you.

Love the wall paneling, but don’t think it can be saved.

Constructed in 1948, aside from a somewhat laughable kitchen refresh in the form of a veneer of glass and subway tiles, it appears to be a perfect specimen of a time capsule. Those seven bedrooms wouldn’t fulfill the modern day needs of a walk-in closet. The one en-suite bath in what appeared to be the master bed was so small that one would be advised to disrobe before entering to preserve elbows.

Promise of the Fifties.

The warren of tiny rooms would all need to go, though there will be little the next owner can do about the floor to ceiling heights which will give new meaning to “cozy seaside retreat”. Once you’ve stripped away the interior, installing a state of the art HVAC system will become much easer, but it won’t be cheap, and you’ll lose at least three of your seven bedrooms. You won’t be receiving a refund. The good news is, they have an adorable mudroom, just inside the back door, which is likely the place everyone enters as it’s just off the car port,. If they once had a garage it was converted to an in-law apartment, making it possible to recover some of your renovation expense, if you so choose. That mudroom, don’t touch it, when all is said and done. When the floors gleam and the ocean breeze blows through your new Anderson windows into your spacious and airy living room, remembering where you started your journey might just make the investment worthwhile.

Flagstones are a telltale hint of the times – not this time of course.

Mercury Retrograde: Moving backward

Retrograde be damned. I was on a mission.

Whether you believe in Roman Gods, astronomy or other celestial forces at play, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that you’ve probably experienced a strange and frustrating January. Moving forward has seemed impossible, projects all left incomplete, travel anywhere has been trying with the move “back” to mask mandates. I tried to blame this feeling of distraction, an inability to articulate thoughts, or directives, a total lack of focus, on Covid Brain, but I never did have Covid, or I didn’t as far as I know. This makes pointing the finger at Mercury Retrograde incredibly satisfying, comforting even.

I wanted an explanation and I got it in Mercury. While it’s doing laps around earth, it actually appears to move in reverse, though it actually just a trick of the eye. I suspect it’s the same phenomenon that makes the tires on cars in movies spin in reverse is to blame. Mercury was attributed to trickery and travel so it makes perfect sense, and sense is what I am after.

What I did Saturday morning, at the on-set of a blizzard, did not. I found myself in New Hampshire for a book launch party, just a few short miles from a town I had spent a lot of time in over the years. I wanted to go back and visit it, and I very much wanted to pop into one of my favorite antique stores in Bellows Falls, VT, and I did what you should never do during retrograde, I went.

While I did get caught in the blizzard, stuck on a hill in my tiny mini, I made it to the shop, and back to my destination, with a relatively small amount of drama, so I couldn’t stay in the house that we’d rented to stay in. So my hotel was sold out and I thought I might have to sleep in the business center, which had no door. As long as I had a pillow I thought I would be fine, turns out I got a room at a neighboring hotel.

This beautiful French Antique table would be great in an entry with an enormous flower arrangement. $1006.

I didn’t sign any big contracts – thank goodness someone else put in the winning bid on Chandler Street, it could have been a total disaster – I did see some darn fine furniture, some amazing lamps, the most fanciful fun merry-go-round of a horse in a bowler hat, and my heart filled with nostalgia for a place. That should keep me going until we get out of this mess on the third.

Real Estate: At the rate we’re going

Rising interest rates are looming, inflation is inflating the cost of everything, and limited inventory is putting the Boston buyer in a pricing predicament. A pickle if you will, and not the sweat and sour kind that I adore with a turkey stuffed sandwich. This pickle is the prickly kind that warns you not to make an emotional decision. It would be so easy, and understandable, to attend an open house and run into swarms of other would be buyers, and think to yourself, this will be the only property. Look at all these people, they are validating my belief that its a good one, one that I shouldn’t let slip through my fingers. That’s emotion talking. It’s the evil voice in your head that has you placing offers that are overblown, on properties that you may, or may not, even like that much. It’s the voice that responds to the “Best and Last” offer request with an increase in your price.

That voice must be silenced. Try asking it: “What if I am only bidding against myself?” How stupid would I look then. It’s the voice that must be silenced with reason, with data, with an understanding that there is no more powerful a place to be, than to be in the place you are willing to walk away from. I am not suggesting that you don’t have any emotion at all. That wouldn’t even be possible, would it? A little passion, a little desire, is necessary to ensure you bring your best to the home, the investment, the property. You owe her that. She’ll likely have had lots of owners before you came along. Many will have neglected her, cheeped out on renovations, deferred her maintenance, when attended to it was what she really needed. There would have been bad design decisions for which she had no input. Some owners might have treated her better, but left her to start a family, and what she needs is someone that will both invest in her, and be invested in her. Emotion, you can’t get away from it, but you can’t let it rule you either.

Run the numbers, consider the supply chain issues, the cost of labor, if you can in fact get that crew to show up for you, and remember that inflation will make even the most mundane materials astronomically more expensive. You’ll long for the early days of the pandemic when you were only dealing with increases associated with the bottleneck when those inflationary costs start to land on your renovation spreadsheet. This is real, and I hope that you are a fan of Mies van der Rohe, because you will be getting a whole lot less for a whole lot more.

I’m not saying don’t bid. To the contrary, bid away. You’ll get so much more insight into the market by playing in it. I love putting bids in on properties. I put one in just this week. I looked at it once, went back again to take a harder look, to evaluate the cost per sf, the location, the amenities, the necessary renovations in the next few years, and put in a price that I was certain wouldn’t result in a win, but was more than fair for the property. I lost, but learned that there were eight bidders, and that an over ask, no finance contingency, and no inspection contingency wasn’t enough to seal the deal. That’s good data. It will make my next offer that much better.

I passed on two others that I took hard looks at. One needed the type of work that comes with a thirty year tenant, and nary an upgrade during that time, and the numbers didn’t pencil out. Too high a price for the assumed risk, for a property that I never intended to live in. You’ve got to be willing to live in it, or rent it, until you can sell it for a profit, or fish and cut bait so that you can free up your cash to make a smarter decision the next time.

The last property was dreamy. Needed the kind of love I could have given her, but was out of my price range. I knew it when I looked at it, but feel better knowing that she had three offers at over ask. How do I know, I asked. It was on the sunny side of the street, but if you are stone cold broke, no amount of sun will warm you up if you’ve made a decision that leaves you house poor.

The year is off to an exciting start. Stay warm this weekend.

UNMET Needs, Endless Aspiration and Small Spaces

There is something romantic, intriguing, and comforting about small spaces. They are the warm womb of security that is often missing from the cold expanse of our global existence. They are economy and ingenuity, they are the hostess that makes you feel seen, special, attended to, despite the room full of other guests. They are the double take, and smoke and mirrors of a master illusionist. They are the embodiment of Mies Van Der Rohe’s old addage: “Less is more.” – = +

Amir Khamneipur may be the most inventive small space designer of all time. Check out the mirrored back wall that makes the space seem huge, now, the kitchen island – same thing, it’s not a piece of furniture, it’s an island, and what about the bench seating for dining that doubles as two single beds for his nephews when they come to stay?

Done right, a small space invites you to climb aboard and stay a while. Done poorly, it can leave you in a cold sweat, shallow breaths that never get past your collar bone, oxygen deprivation causing a charcoal smear on the perimeter of your lens of vision. Throw down the sash of that new/old Art Deco Orient Express cabin window and inhale the cool night air. Even a 30sf cabin aboard a train can be made to feel palatial with thoughtful detailing.

Seeing is believing.

I think it started with I Dream of Jeannie’s bedroom in a bottle. What little girl wouldn’t want to climb up that ladder and alight on that plush velvet boudoir of a bed. As my sister would say: “purple promise”. We’ll leave it at that. I was hooked. Then came the Merimeco curtains my mother made for the Curlew, our 54′ Slip Jack Catch, my very own first apartment with its hidden doors, secret compartments, and furniture on invisible wheels, it was part of the fixed cabinetry one moment, and serving up cocktails to the guests in the middle of the living room the next. Surprise and delight, surprise and delight, surprise and delight.

Whether you are building a set on a stage, an apartment on steel wheels, or jetting passengers half way across the globe, it truly doesn’t matter the size of the space in which you do it. It matters how you make “them” feel, and by “them”, I mean YOU.

As I search for a fresh take in this new year. I return to some of my old favorites, find new jaw-dropping inspirations, and offer thanks to my mother, and the universe for never allowing me to get a Barbie Dreamhouse. It is the unmet need that fuels my real estate ambition.

’22 and the Moody Hues

Browns, creams and saturated tints will rule the year.

They are stories in silk, woven with the wondrous, and fantastical, the realistic, and the magical. Of the moment, of the mythical, of the mountain majesties, the desert plains, the soundless ocean floors, and royal castle doors. They are imagination gone wild, splicing worlds together, blending and blurring and ever obscuring boundaries. The thinnest of barriers sit between night and day, childhood and adulthood, between East and West. It’s a cacophony of carefully curated chaos, so artistically and intricately executed that to be lost in it, is to find yourself enchanted.

For those that track color trends, they offer the fullest expression of the hues of twenty-two, with their moody blues, and saturated shades. There are earthy tones, warm creamy neutrals, and muddy greens, browns, and roses. They hint at depth and texture, and detail, all of which will play starring roles in the new year. While they are unadorned, the images they depict are anything but. There are flowers and feathers and fringe and finery. The “more” of the maximalist methodology that will dominate the year. There will be layers of texture and pattern that don’t even try to hide their playful abandon.

Marry the muddy and moody with a the fantastical. Nature will find its way into homes in a big way.

Embrace the contradictions in action. Like the eponymous brand, Hermes was a thief and an athlete, a soul guide and a shepherd. The God of boundaries, music and speed, wit and sleep. He was a protector of travelers, and a source of good luck. His winged feet are emblematic of his role as messenger, which seems fitting for a year that is likely to be filled with Yes-No directives.

Whimsy won’t be outdone, so don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Hermes Tea Time Scarf.

Get lost in the details. Confusion, such as it is, is just another way of letting you know that you can never be wrong for long. Let the experimentation begin.

Reflections of: A Real Year of Estates

27 Willow Bend . Chatham . SOLD!

I wonder what crypto currency smells like? I’ve started to dabble in it. An attempt to stay hip, to do what I am imploring my readers to do, to take a little risk. Of course the risk that I am asking them to take is tangible. You can touch it. Observe its lines and massing. Appreciate the ways in which it draws attention or detracts. It has an identity, a distinct style, a personal scent. Crypto is ethereal, celestial, ghostly, many would say that it’s not real at all. I guess that’s where faith come in. I’ve converted some of the “real” dollars I made on this years real estate transactions, into an idea, a concept, a different currency. Who knows if it will pay off, but I’ll always remain true to my first love.

2021 has some bad parts to be sure, but I’m not going to think about them today. The year resulted in some very big firsts on the wealth building front that are worth reflecting on here. First, 27 Willow Bend was transformed from a frumpy old lady into the hip new girl on the block, and I mean fly. Not as in flashy, but as in super sophisticated classy. She shines in all the right places. This first was a JV with my dear friends. While I was only a nominal investor, it presented an opportunity to do something I had never done before, like an actual budget that we followed, a whole house, and yard, and a schedule that we drove instead of being taken for a ride. When I say “we” , I really mean that I observed my talented friends as they made all of this happen. Gratitude and awe at your facility, determination, and heart, Tiffany, Jeanne and Al.

They doubled my little pile of money, which led to my second first. I got a kids seat at the development table for a commercial investment. This is a very big deal. Women are not on the call list for developers in search of investors. In fact, there is so much money out there, held by a few, that developers with a good reputation hardly need to break a sweat to raise the funds for their next venture. Getting in on the action was a result of an enterprising young gals desire to change the investor profile to look a whole lot more like her, or in my case, an older version of her. We share a similar ambition, and desire to help women build wealth. To my dear friends Lauren and Kristin, thank you for connecting me to Jen, for supporting me, and for making the slog silly fun.

My third first was the sale of 34 Lawrence Street. My fifth property – all these numbers, added up to a loss. That’s right. I sold the property for just under what I invested in it. That was definitely the first time that had happened to me, leading many, myself included, to ask, “does she really know what she’s doing”? Who ever can be entirely sure? I’m taking the long view. I might have lost this hand, but I’m still in the game, searching for the next deal, the next lesson, the next home.

Wishing you a new year filled with prosperity and plenty of firsts.

Color is a Fickle Friend: Choosing Paint

Beige peeked out between the stacked corrugated cardboard moving boxes, penned in red Sharpie. The dim light of a dreary rainy day contributing to the institutional look of the rental unit. The exposed concrete deck, with its polished finish finding favor with the glossy grey cabinetry in the kitchen, completed the totality of color. Neutral, bland, basic.

Troy . The Neutral Zone

While I am sure there are plenty of people that would move right into their rental unit and leave it just that way, adding a splashy pillow or throw to bring a pinched cheek of color to the pallor, I am not them. My feelings surrounding my departure from No. 5 matched the unexceptional setting that I was entering, which wouldn’t do at all. New beginnings should be approached with excitement, anticipation, or at the very least a prickle of uncertainty about what the future will hold. Yes, I wanted that, and though the market has been decidedly bereft of interesting offerings, I was going to plan, as if a property was right around the corner, the tale of which was just waiting to be whispered to me, or posted at an unusual hour – standing by, for me to pounce, and pounce I would with a color palette preplanned, and prepared for painting!

Poor, many pennies less in my purse, me – I had my sample blotched living room wall painted on the Monday after my Wednesday arrival, only to arrive home that evening and decide with a decisiveness that removes any question that there was ever doubt, that “Soft Jazz” would was not going to be a headliner in my club. I hated it. To say that the pictures didn’t tell the tale of the tastelessness of the tint, is an understatement. Picture an 18 year old boys dorm room blue. Image the aroma of sweat, unwashed sheets, and days old pizza fossilizing in cheap cardboard flats on the floor. That’s the color blue that I had splashed on my walls, and it had to go.

More samples, more hand wringing, another late night return to the home two days later, one eye closed in anticipation of a second costly failure. No, I nailed it. I think Heather Blue is going to be the color of 2022. Thank you Ben Moore for delivering a Christmas miracle.

Not Nothin’: Another chapter closed

I’ve been as apathetic about the sale of No. 5 as one might be. I’ve been nervous, even angry about how the negotiations went on passed homes. I’ve conceded, and dug my heals in. I’ve been nasty, and gracious, and expectant. I’ve promised to be better, and do better, and failed, and tried again. Strong emotions all, but not this time. This time I said, buy it, or don’t. Agree to my terms, or not. I want to wash the taint of the pandemic off, but not at any cost. This property, I conceded, I would take a loss on.

Not exactly an exclamation point over the fireplace, but an end.

The loss would be nominal, $2500., but it stung more than I thought it would, or should. I wanted to place that blame on anyone, but on myself, and I certainly owned a part of it, didn’t I? I bought it after all, in all its ugly ducklingness, but that was just the outside. Doesn’t everyone always say the most important thing is what’s on the inside? She was ugly there too, but I didn’t know that when I bought her. She was abused and neglected, and I cared for her, when others had not. I can’t regret doing the right thing by her. I just wish the payoff had been greater.

As I prepared to embark on my next mini-chapter, I toured, and analyzed, new tower complex, after new complex, and went back to a few that I had visited before. What I discovered is that these places in the South End are outrageously expensive. I’d give back the dog shampoo station, the swimming pool, and the on-line match making service for residents, in exchange for $1500. off my rent a month, which got me thinking. I paid $4000. a month in mortgage payments over the course of 35 months. That’s $140,000. That’s not nothin’, and it made me smile, and think a little more kindly of No. 5. It might not have turned out the way I had hoped, but it wasn’t all bad.

I’ll Have a Blue Christmas

Just 4 days shy of my three year mark, I’ll be saying good-bye to No. 5. We were an on again, off again, property listing. Putting ourselves out there, and then retreating to question what went wrong. Why we were the only one left at the dance, still leaning against the wall. We wanted answers, but the answers we wanted had nothing to do with the truth, just a truth that we could swallow. A truth that wouldn’t place blame on us, but rather on something else, something out there, out of our control, that’s the kind of answer she and I were looking for, because it couldn’t be that we weren’t pretty. We’d worked hard to make ourselves presentable, to work with what we were given, to shine and polish, and impress.

Hang your stocking with care.

The fear of not being enough is a horrible one, so we wouldn’t allow ourselves to think about it. We were going to take ourselves home from that dance, and decorate for the holidays. We’d be so blingy, you’d be blinded by our beauty when you walked through the door. We’d be bejeweled and bedazzled, festooned, and fiercely festive. We were going to go all out, but just as we were reaching for our coats and preparing to exit, the unexpected happened.

Isn’t it always the way. The offer came in, and we accepted. What could one twirl around the floor hurt. We didn’t have to stay until the end, but in the end we decided we would. It was good. No. 5 and I would consciously uncouple, and I would forge out on my own, alone again, free, a world of possibility at my fingertips, the only sadness, no holiday decorations in the city for me.

I do so love to decorate every square inch for the holidays. Maybe I’ll have enough energy after the move to get a tiny little tree, a couple of garlands, a few bows. That wouldn’t be too much work now would it?