Should I Stay or Should I Go Now: Selling a home during a pandemic

Is the residential market on the decline?

Clearly I am seeking.  I have made no secret of it.  This Quest of mine has been neatly packaged and bound, flip after flip anchoring the pages of my story to the tacky binding of my unfinished book.  Whether you are rooting for me or against me, indifferent, apathetic, or uninclined, you’re seeking too.  We’re seekers.  That urgency, the burning need to leave a mark, the charcoaled edged of the embered wood lending credence to our existence.  Of our 7 core instincts; anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and here it is: seeking, it is thought that the last of these instincts should in fact be the first.  It is considered the most powerful of them all.  Isn’t that delightful, delectable, darned amazing?  We want answers, we want higher ground, clarity, clairvoyance or something close to it.  Something that makes our us-ness special.  Chevy Chase used to open his Saturday Night Live performances with:  I’m Chevy Chase, and YOU are not….  I think that sums it up nicely.  We are looking for validation, in the way only we can.  The way that matters to us most, though admittedly, that too can be foggy at times.  Doubt creeps in and rears her gorgon, snake filled main of hair, her monstrous wings propelling her through the air, swinging dangerously close to you, and all your uncertainty.  Don’t let her mystical beauty lull you into a false sense of security.  Medusa is not your friend, stand your ground, fling barbed questions to pierce and silence the snakes.  I think it helps in finding the answers for you, and your personal pilgrimage.

Here I am on the threshold of yet another milestone, technically it is time for me to sell my little one bed, tucked away off the busy city street, behind a gated entry, that opens to a tree filled courtyard, and a front door – your own front door.  Who gets to live in the South End for under a million dollars, with their own front door?  Well, me, and perhaps you too if you are desirous of that sort of thing.  A home that lives like a town house, instead of a condo.  Your own private entry, your own mail box, your own wood burning fireplace for cozy fall evenings, and central air for hot late summer days.  It’s a magical jewel box of a property, but as the Budda says – everything is impermanent.  It is time for me to pass the pleasure onto another.  The question is, two years or not, should I be selling during a pandemic?

It’s never been my wish to have a hoard of people on the steps of my home, fists in the air like the floor of the stock exchange at the final bell, begging to buy my property.  No, I am more interested in that one person, one couple, that falls madly in love with what I have created, and knows instantly that they have found their mate in this home.  I guess the answer that I am looking for from you is yes, it’s possible to find someone like that, even in a pandemic.  Am I right or am I wrong.  Feel free to weigh in, everyone has an opinion.

What’s Your Design Voice?

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I had a voice like Uma Thurman’s, I could have you know. She developed that voice out of thin air, well maybe it wasn’t thin, it could have blown in from the Swedish Alps. Her grandmother was Swedish, her grandfather German, and her mother was born in Mexico City. Throw that in a blender and see what you come up with for an accent. Don’t forget that Uma herself was born in Boston, mostly raised in Amherst where her very famous, Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies father taught. Now if an I-T Buddhist doesn’t have a voice, than I’ll Winnie-the-pooh myself back to the 100 Acre Wood and re-read the Tao of Pooh until I get it right.

Like the color orange? See where it takes you.

One thing is for sure, Uma may have been an uncarved block when she started, but she and her vague European accent catapulted her to stardom, and I for one, believe that voice of hers had something to do with it. Which got me to thinking about my own voice. I’ve never liked it that much, the sound of it that is. My passion is mistaken for anger, and my voice is loud, so very loud, that I’ve been told repeatedly, and much to my chagrin and personal humiliation, that as a result of it, I cannot be heard at all. That’s just disrespectful.

Gray – don’t you just love that sound of that color?

A voice is so much more than the sound that rumbles up from your chest, and whistles past your lips to find a brief moment of freedom before it winds its way into the ears of its intended, and sometimes those that co-opt it, as if they were part of the conversation. I sometimes do that in a beauty salon. The things people say, right out there in public, astounding. There are other types of voices too. My writing has a voice without ever making a sound, and so too does your fashion, and of course your design style.

A lot to love with texture.

The care you take in putting your house together says so very much about who you are, that if you were on the receiving end of an actual voice, you’d be begging for some peace and quiet.

Look at those birds, singing a pretty song.

Like my quest for Uma’s breathy, insert made-up country across the pond here, I want you to discover what your design voice is – in the way it will reflect the very best of who you are, and hope to become. Uma, cue the story boards to sell this production, well, to a producer. The storyboard is your ticket to finding that voice. Start clipping, circling, tearing, pinning, and gathering all the things that you like, and that inspire you. That voice will start to emerge like an opera singer hitting a high note. Go get ’em Tiger.

One King’s Lane

Closed due to Covid and 19 other reasons these windows are papered.

Another victim falls. I just want to cry and scream and throw a proper toddler-style tantrum that adequately convenes my frustration and powerlessness in the face of this pandemic. Those three year olds have it figured out – rage at the indignity and injustice, exhaust yourself in the process, take a nap, eat a snack, feel better. There is beauty and simplicity in their approach, and freedom, oh blessed freedom.

Taste Maker . Corey Damen Jenkins

Clearly I do not have that luxury. I had my three year old chance, and now that time has passed, being well beyond three years – even three decades, but still surprisingly feeling quite young and vulnerable at times. I am going to have to accept, in an irony, bookended by disastrous recessions, that One King’s Lane’s Boston retail shop couldn’t survive.

Curated collection of interesting objects is signature OKL.

I doubt that they are on a respirator, are we still in dangerously short supply of those? When they launched their on-line store in 2009, they did it in the midst of one of our worst modern day recessions. Such ingenuity and can emerge in times of great distress – I for one have my eyes peeled for a little magic right now. Their model was built on two primary premises, that they would cull overstock items from brand name designers – many of whom would formerly only sell to the trade, and offer them up to you and me (regular people without a tax id and a list of vendor references that rival the guest list of the MET Ball). The second crucial element of their business plan included the use of flash sales. This lent an element of distress to the moment, playing on our greatest fear of missing out. Those FOMO geniuses built an empire, founded on that fear, and I am fantastically jealous of the fame and fortune that followed them.

Celerie Kemble . Interior Design Celebrity and Taste Maker.

Them – clever dames, Susan Feldman a fashion industry veteran that moved from NYC to LA, and became obsessed with the home goods marketplace, for which I am grateful, and Ali Pincus who brought some much needed Silicon Valley know-how and I suspect money to the table.

No need to be blue when this ocean of happiness awaits.

They used their industry connections to maximum benefit, conducting Taste Maker Tag Sale, with items plucked from the homes of celebrities including; Steve Martin, Dianne Keaton, and Courtney Cox, and went on buying trips across continents with the likes of Bunny Williams, Nathan Turner, and Michelle Nussbaumer. In 2015 they opened their first brick and mortar location in Soho, added interior design services, and caught the attention of some serious big wigs. In 2016 they sold to Bed, Bath and Beyond for $12M. Like so many companies that lose their founders, the company floundered. Taste, passion, vision, design eye, the pulse of the marketplace is often diluted in the sea of corporate execs. A few more tears certainly won’t help this situation.

Leopard is a neutral after all.

I think I’ll spend my afternoon surfing through the vintage section, swinging by the swell slipper chairs, and humming a happy tune of gratitude for democratizing design on my behalf – and yours.

Don’t Fence Me In

A home of her own.

I adore being a contradiction in terms. The high fashion, well not skyscraper high, but at least mid-rise high – we’re Boston, not New York City, stiletto wearing gal that works in the construction industry. The diagnosed dyslexic that veraciously devours volume after volume, of whatever I can get my hands on. The singleton that dreams of a house with a white picket fence, but that fence is strictly there for aesthetic purposes, and I own it.

I like to keep as much of the structure as possible to save money – I’ve got big ideas for the inside. Toward that end I’d carefully remove the lattice from above, plug the holes, add the new details, and repaint. On the lower level, I’d either match the house paint’s pale green and see if we can make it disappear or clad it in stone. I do the same with the risers.

Kate Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page and many before, sang about, or as I like to tell it – demanded: “land, lots of land, under starry sky’s above”…”let me be by myself in the evening breeze” …. “let me straddle my old saddle underneath the western sky”. They begged not to be fenced in, just as I beg any gal that will listen to me, to buy real estate. It’s the realest thing you can do, to build financial security, which is why I am so happy for my friend Jenn. She took those reigns, mounted that horse, put in her offer, and she’s off and running.

Give the steps some distinction.

To this city dwelling gal, the home feels really big, so we’ll need to take the renovation in stages. It has great bones, and looks to be in really excellent shape, but that doesn’t mean that she won’t want to put her own stamp on it, and to begin with, she plans on stamping out the lattice at the front entry. I agree, it feels like it’s having an identity crisis, so I have made a few recommendations for alternative fence options for the porch that feel a little more in keeping with the neighborhood, and its Colorado location.

In this second option I am recommending the removal of the lattice from the fence and top, replacing it with vertical running wood details, and adding trees to block the lattice and create a more welcoming approach.

Once the lattice is gone and is no longer a distraction it would be really nice to have a zippy front door color. I’m back to being in love with a racy red or a violet. I’d avoid orange, though I love that color, I’m afraid with the home’s pale green exterior it will look too much like a pumpkin, and since Jenn has just made it clear, with this offer, that she needs no prince charming to save her, we’ll leave the field mice to convert someone else’s pumpkin into a carriage. She’s taking that horse and plans on jumping the fence.

Something I Made

I’ve made a mountain out of a mole hill, I’ve made a last ditch effort, I’ve made eyes at a handsome man, I’ve made up my mind and then changed it, I’ve made my head spin worrying about whether it was all going to work out, I’ve made do with what I’ve got, because what else can a gal do but make do, and along the way, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I mean a lot. I make making mistakes look like its my full time job, and yet, somehow I can still make something out of next to nothing, a good situation out of bad, make a comeback when I had counted myself out of the game, and despite all these mistakes I make, I’m making my own way.

Follow the 10% more guideline so you don’t fall short of what’s needed.

I’ve found it incredibly helpful when others share the mistakes that they have made along the way instead of pretending that all their efforts were the result of flawless execution. It’s impossible, and yet, impossibly we seem to believe what we see, instead of what is likely hidden just off camera, the unfinished tile floor of the bathroom – opps, didn’t order quite enough and now it’ll take three weeks to get the additional amount needed to finish the job, the custom curtains that I had to have before I had measured the actual windows, and ended up being super wide (not necessary) and so short they looked like that poor kid in junior high that seemed to grow inches overnight and had high tides, his pants looking as if he were ready to go wading in the sound instead of sounding off in the sing along for the school’s production of Our Town. Thank God for a brilliant seamstress that matched the intricate pattern stroke for stroke, and nary a stitch could be seen. You’d think that I’d have gotten the measure twice, cut once rule down by now, but sometimes I am a little slow, and take things far too fast.

My Galbraith & Paul Curtains – saved by the seamstress!

I’ve had quite a run with panel ready dishwashers. I had purchased a single drawer Fisher & Paykel for my very first place. I was so excited, not having had a dishwasher at my last rental. It was super expensive, but I splurged and when I walked into the apartment after a long day at work to find its guts spilled out across the floor, you would have thought my eyes had sprung a leak. I thought my tears would flood my little living room, and I would drown in my sorrow. Turns out my builder had no idea how to install it, so decided to take it apart – I had to buy a brand new one, and have Yale Appliance come and install it. My most recent dishwasher got installed but three separate builders couldn’t figure out how to put the panel on. They kept telling me that I had the wrong panel size. Two special orders later, I said to myself, something’s going on here, and it has nothing to do with the size of this panel and everything to do with the installation guide to the galaxy not being right. Getting people that really know their stuff – the first time, can really keep your costs down, even if it cost you a little more up front.

And as for the tile – purchase 10% more than you think you need for the square footage you are covering. It’ll cover the chipped, and broken tile that are all part of process, and allow you to pick and choose the tiles that “show” the best.

Go ahead, make something beautiful.

The Why’s Have It

People – you know, friends, relatives, acquaintances, you, if you know me, ask, tell, or inquire, in a somewhat perplexed, searching for understanding kind of way, why I do what I do. I’m glad for the curiosity. I want you to know why I buy, and sell, pack, move, repeat, live in sawdust, out of suitcases, and a seemingly endless state of chaos. Aside from the somewhat contradictory truth, that I am a control freak, and all that disruption can appear to the casual bystander, as a cataclysmic mayhem, it is designed to bring just the opposite. That’s right, it’s designed to bring me control, in a world that is largely out of my control.

A little piece of the South of France, this modest painting, picked up in Nice at the Flea Market is one of my favorite pieces. Paired with an antique dresser, Kate Spade Lamp, and set against Ben Moore’s Bridal Rose it really pops. Photography @curtona

Sure things happen along the way that I hadn’t counted on (also known as things out of my control), but each time I learn something new, file away a truth about real estate, which to my mind, it the realest, most sure investment you can make, and in so doing, I take back a little more of the control, I thought I had lost, but probably never possessed in the first place. Have I confused you yet? Action is agency, and agency is all about exerting power. When I am drowning in self-doubt over how I got myself into one mess or another, I remind myself, that it can be figured out, that I am not the first person to encounter water spraying in through a conduit, into my tiny bedroom, like a fire house let loose on a three alarm inferno. No, if fact, someone else out there has done it, solved it, and lived to tell about it, and when I find that person, or the dozens of others that have had similar experiences, and bow to their infinite wisdom, with desperation and reverence, I am almost always granted the benefit of their experience.

Worried that you won’t be able to incorporate it into your City apartment – don’t be. See it done with effectiveness and flare above.

To most people my confession that desperation is what compels me, feels like a comedic line I’ve honed to illicit a laugh. While I am never afraid to employ a little self-deprecation into a tale I am weaving, I can assure you, this is a bold-faced truth. My survival instinct is incredibly strong, it is in fact this desperate need for security that keeps me moving through some of the less comfortable moments of my existence, but there are secondary and even tertiary reasons I do what I do. I’m complex, and am still working on figuring myself out, so you’ll have to forgive me.

This pastel brushed beauty above the bed was found at a second Nice Flea Market and depicts of all things, pigeons. I adore it.

Design and travel – I’m not sure in which order I place them, are compelling reasons for my constant motion. All this moving and flipping has afforded me the opportunity to do both, and for that, I would argue, the sawdust in my shoe, and other unmentionable places, is worth it.

Louis XVI Side Chairs.

On this Sunday, I don’t know when I will be able to travel again, but it has me thinking about one of my favorite European destinations, the South of France, where for me, inspiration abounds. The pace is slower, languid, indulgent, and bright with promise.

Provence . Tile . Available on Chairish.

The dusty heat rises up off the fields that are littered with purveyors of antiques – cast away by a generation more interested in modern wares, than Louis XIV commodes, and Bergere chairs. Paintings, silver, tile – broken and chipped but in the most beautiful blue hue you can imagine, transport me to a white washed, sun soaked veranda over looking a pool. Can you see it?, the interior rim, edged in this sublime ancient key fret design….drop on in, the water is warm.

19 Century French Wood Painted Mirror.

Put Your Right Foot In

How often do we over look a foot? We take one step forward and two back. We predict that when all is going right, that a foot will fall. We feel flat footed, put our foot in our mouth, play footsie under the table. It’s time we do something productive with those feet. Let’s be sure footed instead of soft footing around the issue. It really doesn’t matter how many feet you have – you can have gobs of feet, and still make a mess of things, or you can use those feet to draw the admiration of all those lucky enough to, well you know what I’m going to say — set foot in your little jewel box of a bathroom.

OPTION . 1

I’m not going to tip toe around the issue. I’ve estimated that we’ve got about 21SF to work with, bigger than many of the washrooms in the South End Restaurants I frequent. Bigger than the last two powder rooms I had, but still small enough so that you can touch both walls without fully extending your arms. I love small spaces, there is a quiet comfort in them.

Let’s jump in with both feet to this small footed challenge. Like a petite bebe of a beach cottage, I feel that a modest bathroom abode should have a name. The right name stands to give it distinction, the wrong name subjects it to humiliation, a funny one – a laugh, but is that the best idea when someone is hunting around for relief? Relief was in fact the name proffered the grand restroom at Thompson’s Clam Bar, the seasonal restaurant that I visited every summer of my youth until I was finally old enough to wait tables there. When they closed I would have paid all my six years of earnings for that single sign. It’s funny how much meaning can be packed into a single word. Maybe the design will help me decide.

OPTION 3

A small space must work extra hard to garner the attention of the tall’s and the beautiful’s, the distracted and the charmed, it must raise its voice, put on camera ready make-up, and prepare to compete, without looking like its competing at all. I hope you are getting my drift. In a sea of McMansion Style bathrooms, with their soaking tubs, and separate showers, their private sound proofed toilet rooms, double sinks, and Butler’s call box, a more modest sized space needs to through its hands in the air – not like it doesn’t care, the opposite. It needs to throw them around in a pick me sort of way, which is to say, partially crazed, and then once selected become totally refined, adorable, graceful even in the way, once selected, she reveals all her subtle offerings.

OPTION 4

Which one says that? Put your left foot in and shake it all about.

A Place I’d Like to Live

I have a rich fantasy life. The kind of rich that’s stupid. I flip through the pages of magazines, and Instagram feeds shopping with my eyes and my heart until my virtual cart tippeth over. If that is where it stayed, I be a wealthy girl…I can’t help but think of Gwen Stefani’s song – Rich Girl.

Miles Redd California Pool House.

“If I was a rich girl (na, na)
See, I’d have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl
No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never ever end
Cause I’d have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl”

Left: Blue Print Store . Dallas . TX displaying Quadrille . China Seas . Sigourney. Right Top: Same in Ziggy Blue on White. Right Bottom: Custom Sisal.

At your Doorstep.

Alas, I am not so I am imagining very, very hard, what it would feel like to have a whole house of my own. What it would look like on the outside (white with black shutters and a fire engine red front door, or would it Robin’s Egg Blue or a deep Violet)? Whatever color I chose for that front door, it would be painted in oil, coat after thick silky coat until it shined like a freshly washed Ferrari straight from the dealership. The planters on the front porch would have Boxwoods that had been clipped and manicured to circular perfection, and just beyond the shell drive you’d spy the pool house. It would be an extensive of the main house, but with an escapist feel that immediately comes to mind when you think of a house that was designed specifically for a pool. Can you say rich?

Stephanie Shank Artist

It’s not secret that I am more comfortable in small places. They suit me. When I look at a mansion all I can think of is, how in the heck would I clean that thing? The dust bunnies that pile up in my mind start to freak me out. Far better to live in a place that you can manage on your own. That is of course if you are a control freak like me and also not …. I think you know what I am going to say – flush with excess cash.

Cabana Stripes – happiness

I want to spend those ducats on custom flooring, on stunning tile, on wall covering for my dressing area, on curtains, the cost of which you could trade for a ball gown – and not for any old charity event, for a king or a queen’s coronation ball. Got the picture now? Good – dream a little dream with me.

Cheeky Monkey . Be one with nature.

sTILE ME Pretty

I’ve been thinking about arrival and all its varied connotations lately. Not the kind of arrival that leaves you breathless in front of the departures gate just before your flight is set to take off, though making it feels pretty good. Even if you have to admit to yourself that you could stand to up your cardio routine a tick or two. Once you get on that plane, there is still yet another destination to be conquered. It was another type of arrival altogether that I was noodling until my noodle hurt a little, it’s the “having made it” kind of arrival.

One of my very favorite tile looks. Show stopper!

Now this might surprise you, but being able to tile a full bath — I mean really bathe it in Ann Sachs or Fire Clay or some other decadent luxury of a tile, to me would be the splashiest of arrivals, even if I was the only one to see it on my glamorous floor.

The trouble with arriving is that it often doesn’t feel as fun as you thought it might. Like that bubble bath you’ve been dreaming about, a few minutes in you find yourself itchy and ready for a cool shower. So this is my cool shower of reality for you all. You don’t need to dive right in to experience the wonder of these beauties, and they are beautiful, but like a 1950’s Starlet with her sunken tub and Swan spitting faucets, they come with a price tag.

Consider using just a sprinkle instead of a deluge. Make it a focal point instead of a flood. A pretty border around the mirror, a diamond, square, or a hexagon shaped mat at the vanity or in front of the tub, or maybe at eyes level inside the shower wall. There is something to be said for restraint, and I know you are begging me not to say it, but I must….the journey.

Left: Annie Selke . Watercolor Lines – French Linen. Right Top: Annie Selke . Moon – Soft Pink. Right Bottom: Annie Selke . Veruto – Orchid.

We Must Use the Tools We Have: doing more with less

Things can be both utilitarian and beautiful. The window seat hides the duct work.

I know lots of folks have been talking about what they have missed and what, perhaps surprisingly, they have not, during this pandemic. As Americans, consumerism seems to have been gifted to us as a birthright, encoded in our DNA as surely as our hair color, skin tone, and propensity for language, music or math are. Perhaps gifted isn’t quite the right word. Maybe the word in fact, is cursed. It robs us of our creativity, and creativity, surprises and delights. Why ever would we want to go without it, for the opportunity to use an avocado cutter, that you’ll probably forget you have, or have difficulty finding in your cluttered kitchen drawers when the time comes to use it? I can tell you how to do it with a knife and you’ll be just fine.

Custom outdoor cushions are super expensive. I did want to make this seat look more nautical and with the help of my good, and incredibly talented Interior Designer friend, Helen Baker of Helen Baker Designs, we used a little painting tape to give us the nautical stripped look we were attempting to capture.

A couple of dishtowels make fine place mats.

That’s what this pandemic has done for me. I’ve discovered that I have been limiting myself to the purchase of food, something that I would not be just fine, if I didn’t have. It’s made me Marie Kondo my decisions in a way I hadn’t before. Oh I always organized the way Marie says one should, before I knew it was a thing to fold, roll, tuck, and line ones drawers with our belongings, in the way Marie says in her soft gentle voice, but as for the part of loving and cherishing them, I don’t think I was really down with that philosophy, and yet I find myself asking, will that sandal really add a new rich texture to my life? Henry David Thoreau said: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” That’s pretty profound. I know I still pick pennies up off the street, understanding that someone exchanged their time for that little piece of copper, but I am not sure that the purchases that I’ve made have been framed out so prosaically as to beg the question – Is that $300. swim suit worth the amount of your one single and precious life you exchanged for it? Now maybe it is, but this pandemic has provided a new perspective for me. I am still going to appreciate beauty. As a write this and look over at the craftsmanship of the window seat that Eastward Companies built, with it’s deliciously thick, Sister Parish fabric covered cushion, and two Farmhouse Pottery grid patterned pillows, I can say that that exchange was worth it to me.

I can live without my avocado cutter. It’s still never been used. Maybe I could sell it on Craig’s List.

Happy Sunday.