When Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford began the tradition of afternoon tea, she did it because she suffered from “that sinking feeling” between her morning meal and dinner at 8. I bet if she were alive today she’d be both shocked and pleasantly pleased to learn that her little tradition has had staying power, and further comforted to learn – well that other’s suffer from that sinking feeling too, and that a cup of tea, whether accompanied by the frills of a cucumber sandwich, a pot of clotted cream, a buttery scone, or any of the other delectable treats that have come to make up “High Tea” – provide a good deal of comfort indeed.
These days, as the blustery wind blows, and the raindrops fall – my isolation has me turning to the kitchen and a pot of hot tea, again and again throughout the course of the long day. It’s amazing how cheerful I can be made by the whistle of my teapot, and the warmth of the mug in my hand.
I’d like to design a whole room in the fashion of a single delicate tea cup and banish all those that felt it too precious for their sensibilities. Tea, after all, is the consummate diplomat. It’s welcomed in the noblest of homes, and on the roughest boats in the rockiest of seas in equal measure. It is sipped, and slurped, celebrated in good times and bad – and is friend to those young and old.
I think I’ll throw a party when this pandemic is over…tea anyone?
It’s interesting to watch the ways in which different owners take the baton and run with it. 19 Milford Street, apt. 4, aka Flip #2 is once again on the market. When I bought the property in the late fall of 2013 it looked decidedly like a 1970’s ranch, inside a Phili-Duplex, in the city of Boston, and if I were to get even more granular, the Eight Streets District in the South End. It didn’t feel at all like a city apartment to me, and it felt even less like the glamorous apartment I had left in Charlestown.
I feel deeply connected to this idea of stewardship. I had a $40,000. budget from which to transform the property. That’s not a ton of money. It becomes even less when you consider the fact that it was revealed that the roof leaked, and the Southern Facade of the building was taking on water, and saturating the interior wall. My understanding of water infiltration increases with each unit that I own. While some lessons have been quick and relatively painless, others have been long-lived and ruthless in their pursuit of my financial and mental ruin.
Finding the source of that water at 19 Milford, and getting the building buttoned up was a challenge to say the least, but once – almost done, I was proud of what I had done to make that unit, and that building ready to take on another 50 years. I had redone all the electrical wiring that the previous owners had done – without a permit or a qualified electrician – and done it properly. This is important to the long term viability of a property. These brownstones are old and need love if they are going to be around for another 200 years or so —- and so I invest a significant amount in the infrastructure of the building, even though no one will ever see it.
I was proud of the design, but would have done more if my budget had allowed. In the end the new owner that purchased it was a bachelor and he hired an interior designer to bring a little grit to the girliness that I had so carefully imbued upstairs, downstairs, and throughout. He added back the breakfast bar that I had taken out – I can’t stand a breakfast bar, it makes me crazy. Who sits at it? He swapped out my beloved gray walls for a neutral cream, reworked the fireplace to include a wood surround atop my marble, tossed out my sea urchin chandelier (which was hugely expensive so I pray he didn’t throw it away) and painted my bridal rose bedroom a dark Hale Navyesque color.
I see some other touches that he left alone and while I feel nostalgic for the hard work that I put into the place, I got my price, and he got his roof deck. I guess we’re even.
This is not like Alexander and the Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but these last few days have left me longing for my bed and the security that hiding under the covers provides. Why is that so comforting? Is it the smell of freshly laundered sheets, the coziness of being tucked in between those hospital corners that make us feel swaddled, held, assured that something has “got” us.
Right now I don’t want any tips on how to iron my sheets to pass the time or make the perfect bed. I just want to get into it and find that when I wake in the morning I’m moaning about the earliness of the hour before showering, dressing, putting on make-up, and driving into the office for a frantic day of activity and night of entertaining client’s. You know – a “normal” day.
In light of our current reality I think my bedroom could use a little more adornment. I want a whole lot more cozy, and big billowy bundles of comfort. I’ve scoured the internet and sorted through loads and loads of images of beds that made me smile, that gave me pause to wonder how the heck they did that thing with the canopy, and ask myself if I would ever want to leave said bed if my room looked like one of these.
All a much healthier conversation to have with myself while typing on the computer at a desk rather than lying in bed eating ice cream. Not judging you or doing any ice cream shaming here – you do whatever it takes to get through this and not land in jail or lord forbid, in a hospital.
To quote Lena Dunham: “My passion was for moldings. Any of them! All of them!” that’s one of the many reasons I love Jane Austin’s books turned movies. It’s a Robin Leach – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, several centuries before robin was born. He was English, though that’s something. The places in which Jane chose to set her many novels, were fabulous mansions in the English countryside – estates really – with all the costumes and pop and circumstance that go along with being “money’d.”
Well amen to the fortunes that found them donning frocks with details the likes of which are rarely found outside a Dior couture dress makers salon, and the adornments bestowed upon their palace interiors…breathtaking. I’m in molding heaven.
The latest release of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde is a visual playground for the detail oriented. I had to keep stopping the film just to stare longingly at the cap sleeve of a dress, the tufted silk, floral cushion of the handsome cab, the pastel palette of prettily appointed room after room. I was swooning, and I love the dept of the storytelling so much, pausing was difficult to do, but necessary.
If I were a blogger that turned an outfit into a room, I’d do it with this movie. It’s got enough content for even the most visually challenged to work with. Oh how I long for that costume designer to drop a trunk off at my home. I’ll make those centuries old outfits work today, and it won’t kill me.
I wonder if the exclusive club Annabelle’s in Mayfair stole a trick or two from Emma or if it’s just in their English blood? No matter, for now I will have to content myself with watching the movie again. Neither Annabelle’s or the English Autocracy have any plans of granting me access. So disrespectful.
I don’t know about you, but all this being inside is making me cranky. I’m more a run around about town kind of gal. You know, the can’t sit still for very long kind, but not the kind that can’t be bothered to listen to you restless kind. I’ve been running up and down my stairs at regular intervals but it hasn’t been entirely effective at shaking the blues, so I thought it was time to bring in the yellow.
Blue is my natural design state, but I have always admired the boldness of yellow. It’s a California blond, and I’m a New England brunette. It’s summertime and lemonade. It’s sand between your bare toes – it’s innocence – it’s the absurdity of a daffodil and the pure happiness of a daisy. It’s a bobbing balloon in a spring breeze. It’s the silly to my far too serious. No wonder I’m attracted to it.
While you won’t catch me wearing a yellow frock – it’s not my best color, and you’re not likely to find my next flip showcasing the sunny hue, I thought just for today, we could celebrate the fact that the color does have a peculiar way of making you smile.
If this dang Corona V is going to have me holed up in the house, I am going to attempt to celebrate the box, both the one I happen to be in Boston, and those that interior designer Windsor Smith minted back in 2010 – a coincidence that her Room in a Box emerged just after the wreckage of our last recession? I think not. Her latest plan to facilitate connectivity, sanctity and community together in a home for the well healed may have to wait, but her 21st Century Fox style video production showcasing her new vision for this architectural template feels anything but boxy.
If you are bougie like me, you’ll need more than one box to stand on just to get a glimpse inside one of Windsor’s mansions. No worries, you’ll be able to spy the likes of her work in the glossy pages of a magazine, or just have Amazon drop a copy of her book – Windsor Smith Homefront: Design for Modern Living, on your porch. After all, you really shouldn’t be out wondering around.
I’m all about the small. Of course, some of this is out of necessity, but honestly the sheer magnitude of these mansions has me thinking about the complexity of the machine that it takes to run a household of that size. From the staff, gardener’s, cleaners, security, stable hands – lordly I can barely keep my refrigerator stocked and it’s just 24″ wide. That’s right, it’s tiny. That’s why the idea of a designer of Ms. Smith’s caliber being accessible to someone like me, is so very exciting. While it isn’t cheap – the service runs somewhere between $4K – $14K per room. I consider almost like a master class. Her process is structured, as it must be, to illicit designs that are tailored to her client’s – without ever having spoken to them. That’s right, she never talks to you directly, it’s all conducted on-line, via questionnaire’s and a custom portal that pushing you along through the process until that little blue box arrives with its diamond of a design inside.
There were many design in a box services that popped up after the crash, when people had no money to hire a designer to “do their house”, the hope was they might spring for a room that was so egregious to them that they’d rather skip lunch for a few months than keep looking at it. When times got good again, many of these services dropped off. I think it’s a shame. If I have to be boxed in, I sure wouldn’t mind some of the airy inspiration of Windsor escaping as I lift the lid.
I love the word “dust bunny” it’s sounds so much cuter than it is when you are trying to capture that illusive pillowy cloud of particulate matter. Who invited it here anyway? The beauty is in the word rather than the act of removing it for me (a task I am currently putting off at the moment, but not allowed to go to sleep tonight before it is thoroughly behind me).
After a really busy week – which is no badge of honor BTW, I slept in and appreciated the beauty of that. I finished a book – silly but satisfying, and have three others going …. Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets, Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, and Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt – stop reading whatever you’ve read about it and get to reading it. It’s amazing, and heartbreaking and hold your breath for what’s next to come…suspenseful, and it’s beautiful in between all the pain and anguish that love and loss, life and living throw your way.
So while I haven’t quite made it through my cleaning To Do list, I thought I would share some things that inspire me, make me smile, and applaud the artistry of others.
Elsie De Wolfe said: I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.” What a good life’s goal you had, and how much happiness your brought others in your bold fulfillment of it. I admire you Elsie.
I’m as attracted to what’s on trend or otherwise known as trendy, as the next person. Home design like fashion is subject to the changing whims of the industry, and it matters not what industry you are in. If you are part of the human race, you’ll be racing to keep up with the trends or falling shamefully behind.
The cynical part of me, that’s the part that starts in my toes and when I am not paying super close attention can zip right past my mid-section, and go straight for my throat, choking all the positive light out of me, tells me that it’s just another way to ensure the capitalist machine keeps running. I love capitalism, but I don’t love the idea of being duped. The sunnier side of me believes that humans have an innate desire to create and to express – that’s the truth behind trends. Like a stopped watch, even if you steadfastly resist trends, they come right back around, given enough time, and there you are – back in “fashion” again.
Neither of these philosophies are particularly appealing to me, and I am reminded of something my mother used to say about purchasing timeless pieces that make up the foundation of your wardrobe. Not being a supermodel, I try to adhere to a few rules of thumb for all the basics (that’s skirts, shirts, and slacks), if it flatters your form, buy it. Neutrals are your friend and clean lines win out over bold statements. This will preserve your wealth and not leave you scratching your head about how those white, patent leather, stacked heal boots ended up in your closet.
These same principles apply to home furnishings. Buy basic pieces that have clean lines and are likely to stand the test of time in your home, no matter where you choose to make it, over the years. If you know, or think you know, that you are always going to love the Louis (that’s French for the XIII – XVI’s Reign of Kings competing to outdo one another, and in so doing created one of the most beautiful and lasting design aesthetics in existence today – a mon avis) or maybe mid-century modern is your jamb. To these styles you can add accent pieces that can come and go without breaking the bank, while satisfying our innate need to “be in the know”, to keep our spaces fresh, and dare I say it – be a part of the machine. After all, I can’t imagine having passed up my velvet scallop shell shaped pillow backed in that beau Belgium linen, any more than I could imagine having it in my home forever.
Soothesayers may have spoken on their truths about 2020 trends, but neither the newest shade of peachy blush or a focus on they foyer, will be making its way into my home this year. I’ve stuck with my tried and true neutral hue, a pale gray, and my condo doesn’t even have a foyer – so posh. Maybe I’ll just re-style my portable coat rack and call it a day.
I love beauty as much as the next person. I fawn over the craftsmanship of a painstakingly thought out detail, the intersection of a structural beam that kisses the wall and disappears into the great unknown somewhere above the hard ceiling, the paint job whose lines are militant in their precision, the window whose somebody’s forethought so carefully frames out the view in the backyard of the barn with its codfish topped cupola.
Instagram and social media, magazines, photo shoots, and Hollywood are all staged, and air brushed, to make you believe they were born of the imagination of such satirical thrillers as The Stepford Wives, which is to say, they are robotic in their image of near perfection. Life however isn’t perfect, unless your view is perfectly messy – then you are on the right side of reality.
I have no idea what the point of this particular rant (also known as a blog post) is about today. Maybe its a recognition that doing something well is really hard. Maybe it’s a thank you note and expression of gratitude for all the long hours, dedication, and obsessive tinkering that lead all these creators that I profile, to produce things of beauty. Maybe I am trying to cut myself some slack, at the start of this new decade, which has not been at all easy.
I’m going to work under the assumption that even if it looks effortless to me from the outside, that it likely wasn’t. Perhaps the little flaw was strategically hidden from the camera’s capturing eye, or the maker, made hundreds of that special thing that they make, before one was even close to camera ready. Putting the effort into getting good at something takes time – even if you have a propensity to do it well, and if you don’t – well then, you need to be so stubbornly determined that no collection of failures will deter you from your heart’s desire.
I love a good story. The best have a moral, a lesson, a way of turning the leaf over in your palm and viewing it through an entirely different lens. Perfection is boring you see, and whether I know the real story or not, my version is always going to be interesting. It’s always going to include a little challenge, a little strife, and an underdog that prevails.
Top: All Modern . Keith 1 Plug-in Wallchiere $92.99. Bottom: Bungalow 5 . Isadora Tea Table . Natural $663.00
Bedside tables are very personal. Are you a reader, and need to stack up books and magazines next to the bed? Prefer a vintage alarm clock and not much more? These considerations have to be – well considered before you lay down hard earned cash. Too tall and you are apt to knock your noggin on it at night. Too short, and you’ll find yourself tossing down the expensive iphone, putting the screen in peril. Think about what makes you – you when your tucked beneath the sheets on a Sunday night. It’ll serve you best all the other nights of the week too.
I love a lamp on the bedside table, but it does take up a lot of room. For this challenge I looked into wall sconces – plug in only. Unless you are renovating the bedroom the prospect of bringing in an electrician for the one tiny job of installing sconces in the bedroom can seem daunting. If you are a little bit like me, you might tell yourself that you will definitely do it, likely after having fallen in love with a ridiculously expensive pair of wall scones, awaiting their arrival, and then looking at them wistfully for weeks – maybe months on end, watching as “call the electrician” gets kicked down the To Do List, and you go to bed without reading your book because it would necessitate you getting out of bed after your all warm and sleepy – to turn the light out. Boo – who wants that.
Worry not, I have selected quite a few DIY sconces for the refresh. Check them out and let me know which combo has you singing your favorite lullaby.