Favor the Flavor of Dolly

The Graduate Hotel . Nashville Main Lobby

“It Costs a Lot of Money to Look This Cheap” or so the neon sign reads in the Dolly Parton 9 – 5 Suite of Nashville’s Graduate Hotel, but it could have been the design ethos for the entire property. I mean this in the most deferential way, because I adore it. It’s an ode to Vanderbilt University – all Graduate Hotels, there are twelve of them nationwide, are located near and inspired by a University, but it’s so much more. Nashville looms large in the design, and if you weren’t educated on country music before you arrived, you will be when you’re ready to leave.

The design is led by the Graduate’s in-house luminary and Chief Creative Officer, Andrew Alford. A man after my own heart, he was told by his first employer that he didn’t have the imagination to be a proper designer. A ‘no’ to Andrew is a challenge that neither he, nor I could refuse, and look where that got him. I’m hoping it will take me to a similarly fabulous place with a pink room, a crystal chandelier, a powder room papered in punchy pattern, where my perfectly polished Swarovski stilettos never hurt and make me appear ten to fifteen pounds thinner than I actually am. Just you watch me, I’ll get there too.

The property is a museum of curiosities that will allow you to keep learning overtime. Hidden gems, layered meaning, moments of surprise and delight are tucked in among the gaudy but gorgeous statement pieces that are there precisely to be noticed. The mega Minnie Pearl art installation that greets you at reception is a loud and enthusiastic southern welcome. The bubble gum pink Dolly Parton sculpture is a showstopper on the rooftop pool just outside the White Limozeen Bar.

Dolly may have one particular suite that is clearly all about her, with a wallcovering that features her face, a shag carpet that is filled with feathers, a king-sized water bed with mirrored ceiling and disco ball to remind you that life should be fun. The Jolene Suite features chintz and pink striped walls offset by a navy sitting room for entertaining.

I’d venture to say that it just might be possible to have the best time you’ve ever had in your life, without ever leaving this hotel, and in Nashville, that’s one tall order to fill. Don’t forget to stop by and belt out a note or two with the mechanical singing pigs.

Something to See Here!

Opps: I almost did it again

Look at that molding. Love!

I have a sickness for which I am neither seeking sympathy or a cure. It possesses me even when I attempt to quiet the insistent voices that inquire, “what would you do”? “Go ahead, you know you want to – buy it and show me – show me – show me – what you would do”? Like any honest to god addict I am spending money that I don’t have, and conjuring ways in which to beg, borrow or steal more to feed the habit.

And that working fireplace.

I am a real estate addict, and I broke the cardinal rule. I attended a broker open house, just to have a look. I know I’m not a broker, but you can’t let little details like that get in the way of your obsession. I knew that the unit didn’t have air conditioning. I’ve been driven from a home before because of this issue. Laugh if you want. I stood dripping in sweat as I served my guests perfectly prepared tuna nicoise, and I wasn’t the only one. They too were mopping their brows and made a quick exit to the cool comfort of their own conditioned homes. I abhor being hot, just as much as being cold. That was the other problem with the unit – it had a heating system that was substantially undersized for the volume of the space. Oh those lovely 11′ tall ceilings with moldings that made me cry they were so beautiful. I rued the day I bought you.

I’m not even put off by a tiny kitchen. I prefer it, and am certain I could spent $70K in this little space alone.

You can understand why I said not again, no, ney, never, but a little look just to satisfy my curiosity couldn’t hurt – it did after all say in the ad that deck rights were penned into the condo docs. I could add a deck, and then introduce an entirely new heating and cooling system. Those baseboard electric heaters would have to go. Expensive and ugly – of course not as expensive as installing a whole new system. Even in these inflationary times the payback on energy consumption might take as long as ten years, and we all know I can’t sit still for that long.

A Room With A View.

The bathroom needed to be gutted, the kitchen needed to be gutted, but she had good bones. She was on the Parlor Level, and was wide. Her purple kitchen was tiny, tucked as it was under the buildings stairs, but had an adorable tray ceiling. Clear the slate, install wood cabinets with a natural rich dark grain and add brass hardware, and a black marble top – yes black. Don’t argue with me it’s going to be gorgeous. Inlay the ceiling with mirrored glass, and a statement fixture, throw in a butterfly sink, and lay the floor in black and white marble tile that will be carried into the hall just off the living room. That flooring would have to go too, when you rip out all that baseboard heat you’ll leave holes all over the place, and its not original. It’s oak. I’ve always wanted a hemlock herringbone floor – this would most certainly be the time to do it. That door that would lead from the bedroom out onto the tiniest deck – new City of Boston requirements for depth wouldn’t even accommodate a hearty American teenage boys full length, but those doors, they would be French, steel, divided light. All the closets in the bedroom would have to go. An unfortunate choice to have made when they were installed the first time. The bath – gut. A glass shower installed in it’s place. Good-bye to the wallcovering from another era altogether.

I am strangely attracted to this bath. It’s happy. It does have a window and baths with windows couldn’t be anything but.

The man who owned the property had lived there for forty years – God rest his sole. It was impeccable, preserved, loved even. His art and mid-century modern furnishings to be admired. I want to believe he was happy there, even if he was hot. Maybe it’s for the best that I not be the one to buy it. I’m a hundred thousand in and I haven’t even signed an offer to purchase. Some days I long to be the buyer that will move right in, leave it exactly as it is, and be blissfully happy. All this desire and desperate want is a pain – even if it is one I cannot imagine living without.

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.

Work from Work: Reading the tea leaves

Are you staring at that Chromcraft Fiberglass Sofa and those Bahama Yellow walls – an ode to a vintage Porsche paint color?

As obsessions go, I’m a luxe minimalist. I adore interior design and shoes. My love for both go deep, and my travels in pursuit of them take me far, far, away, to places both predictable and unexpected. Paris like New York City are obvious travel destinations for both, but are anything but de rigueur. They dovetail an innovation and vibrancy that spills forth from young creatives, who blessedly don’t know what they don’t know, with an old guard of visionary icons whose names are both whispered in reverence and shouted from the rooftops. These places are home base for those likeminded souls who found their differences weren’t so different from those whose existence sat squarely at the epicenter of creativity inside a Parisienne cafe, the garment district, the Triangle D’Or or Nolita.

While we’ve been hibernating, these very creatives have been abuzz with the activity of refining and redefining, and I am unabashedly agape, agog, and in awe of what some of the masters have produced when time stopped. Miles Redd, some of you work from homer’s will argue, has been up to no good. A longtime favorite of mine for his maximalist restraint, his sleek lacquered walls, ceilings, and furnishing, that give way occasionally to silks, seagrasses, and intricate art installations, no surface is safe from his magical make-overs, and now he has taken on a partner!

Practically the most impractical thing I have ever seen, and I adore it.

Together David Kaihoi and Miles Redd set out to set the record straight on where work should take place, and what it will look like hence forth, if I had my way, for ever and ever amen, with the following caveats: most offices don’t adorn their walls with incredibly famous, pretty famous, soon to be famous -works of art that are gallery worthy and should have their own security detail, but that’s not to say you can’t do it your own way. Second, it’s entirely impractical to outfit your Zoom/Podcast Room in head to toe Schumacher crimson silk velvet – be impractical anyway if you can afford it. Surprise and awe, surprise and awe, surprise and awe.

If you’re cool and you know it – clap your hands.

Beauty is inspirational, and makes the world go round. Never be afraid of it. Beauty begets beauty, institutional imprisonment begets government quality service – just sayin’. Now for the do’s. Do have fun with it, get cheeky and clever like Redd and Kaihoi with the 19th century giltwood mirror that they flipped upside down to resemble a pair of sunglasses – so Cali cool I’m gushing. The conference room’s ceiling is a gold diggers paradise, but you need not break the bank when you consider you own fifth wall. I do implore you to consider it nonetheless. Some of my very best ideas come when I am staring up at one, or off into the distance where brilliance lies.

Give them something to talk about.

It’s time to give the tired tale of boundless productivity a rest. Put on a party dress, pant suit or pair of $500 jeans, embrace the commute and all that moving from one place to the next offers. We’ve all been motionless for too long, wouldn’t you agree?

Paris, like Eames is always a good idea!

Heading Home

The Team that lasted til the end. Wonder Women.

My quest for one nest after the next is a privilege. An inconvenient one at times, but a privilege nonetheless. I have agency over my own actions, even those that have me living out of two suitcases between flips and hopping from one friends home to another. I’ve done a stint as a house sitter in a penthouse unit for neighbors deployed to Europe for a few months. Slept on my sisters sofa – as a very uninvited guest in her home, stayed in a five-story walk-up of a Airbnb that I shared with a mouse, and many other houses, while I awaited the arrival of my next nest. Privilege.

Yesterday I took that privilege and put it where it matters most, in the hands of a young grieving widow, and her three baby boys. I did not do it alone though. A team of amazing corporate real estate industry professionals banded together to raise money, source donations, volunteer time and their considerable organizational, project management, design, assembly, staging, and house cleaning talents to a cause…this cause. Look out @CleaShearer and @JoannaTeplin of The Home Edit, we’re gunning for the title of fast and furious, having completed our Up and Out for @HeadingHome – the entire outfitting of a three bedroom apartment including stocked refrigerator, in six hours. I even arranged the cans of seltzer in neat rows, branded labels facing forward of course.

I’ve moved dozens of times, times at least three, but none of them have been as meaningful as this move to make someone’s burden a little lighter. An enormous debt of gratitude to @ColliersBoston, @ElaineConstruction, @Samuels&Associates, @EastdilSecured, @ElkusManfrediArchitects, @Officeworks, @Restream and to @KristinBlount and @LeslieCohen who together led this team, and brought us all together for the Heading Home cause under the angels wings of @SuzannePicher and @CaleighLeach. Thank you.

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.