Back to School: Time to sharpen my pencil

Even though it’s technically still summer the moment Labor Day hits I’m ready for it to be fall.  Fall clothes are my favorite, fall traffic is not.  Hot apple cider, pumpkins and mums, and days that end with a good meal in front of the tv – guilt free- are a welcome balance to the long summer nights dining al fresco under the stars.  It’s also a time to get organized, and if you’re me that doesn’t just mean turning over the closets (which is a favorite pastime because I love throwing away, donating, and gifting things that no longer work for me) but it means it’s time for the second most important real estate market.  The Fall Market.

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56 Gray Street . Apt. #4

On off years, (those years that I am not in the market for a new home), I romp through the  neighborhood kicking leaves, listings in one hand – hot cider in the other, intent on exploring.  There’s something so stimulating about being in the hunt – even if you’re not in a position to buy – spending time exploring homes that are for sale is both educational and entertaining.  From the moment I step across the threshold I begin to assess.  In the city, curb appeal can be deceiving.  Many streets have no garden in front at all and rely on a few potted plants, perched on a step to set the stage.  Streets can be dirty, littered with trash and even…ugh, dog poop.  In these instances you need to rely on the neighborhoods historical ranking.  In the South End, where I live, we have neighborhoods within neighborhoods.  I live in the Eight Streets, which is considered a premier location because Union Park falls within this district.  That street is Paris in Boston with its private park and fountains, it’s lovely.  If you are looking within the Eight Streets you can clean up the streets, pot your own plants, and renovate the interior.  Location, location, location.  You know the drill.

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I’m a little bit quirky, and I apologize in advance for saying this but it’s true – critical.  I open the door (how heavy is it?), peak into the vestibule (is it well lit – bright?), I sniff (don’t laugh, there are few things worse then the smell of cooking cabbage, cat urine or mildew)  I want to smell something fresh and pleasant when I enter the building.  That all happens in the time it takes you to ascend the nine steps.  We are all adept at judging. So this first impression is critical.

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My heart skipped a beat when I saw the listing for 56 Gray Street.  A sweetie of a street in the South End, bordering the Back Bay.  These Federal Style homes were really for the rich and famous’ servants.  At just 350SF, I was all aflutter.  I’ve never lived in a studio, and I certainly haven’t lived in a place that small before, and with my tiny house obsession it appeals.

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Lynn– both the Owner and the Broker, had me at Gray Street.  I didn’t even try to play hard to get.  It was a jewel box (location, location, location).  As a rental it was more Kay Jewelers than Cartier, but the potential was there.  I started frantically designing in my head.  Pour Lynne was worried about the shower curtain rod not staying up in the bath – me…I had that sucker ripped out with the 80’s style 2 x 2 speckled tile, lock stock and barrel.  The next change was hiding the brick wall (sorry all you brick wall lovers, the palette needs smoothing out).  La Belle Julliette was calling and I could see the millwork go up, the closets surround the bed, the tucked away shelving on the side, and my sconce lighting build right in for reading in bed.  Add to that a tiny ( and I mean TINY) kitchen reno with a Smeg fridge and you have a palace for a pauper.

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I handed over my deposit check, scrambled to rub two nickels together to make a dime, and sadly learned that it wasn’t enough.  I do hope that the new owners will have a special place in their heart for that little gem.

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Happy Sunday.

Perfect Picks for Pretending:if only purchases

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Amazon Tiny Home Kit . Allwood Bella Cabin Kit . $17,800.

I spend a good deal of my time fantasizing about beautiful objects, exotic places, and different ways of life.  I love my life, and find great joy in the make believe.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy travel so very much.  To step into another culture, to talk to other people about their lives and paths – fascinating.  It’s healthy to imagine, don’t you think?

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A little runner to put in that tiny house.  Lulu and Georgia.  2 x 3. $58.

This weekend of Sales, Sails (I am on an island after all) and Sales, had me troving the internet for steals, and deals.  I ask that you keep in mind the relativity of a deal, based on the items I’ve carefully curated, some of which buyers would conduct months, or even years of research before taking the plunge – I might buy on a whim.

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CB2 x GOOP . Boucle Chair. $899. (ready for ship October 2018)

Judge away if you will, life can take you in funny directions, if only you are willing to let it.

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Fiat Jolly . 1959.

Amazon – by the way – is taking over the world, and while it makes me nervous, I find it AMAZing that they can ship me a home for free.  So I’ve decided to stuff my worry down into my toes, and save it to my favorites list.  Later today I may just put it into my shopping cart and click send.

Happy Labor Day!

ACKt 2: Nantucket Charm

One Kings Lane – a favorite on-line decor store of mine, as much for the photos that top their “shop the look” stories and designer profiles, as for their furnishings and the carefully curated bric a brac.  This morning, as I sit surrounded by bountiful Hydrangea bushes, their branches staggering under the weight of late summer blooms, a soft breeze and a quiet hum in the air, I feel the need to contest their assertion that you can “capture the spirit of Nantucket” by clicking add to cart.

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OKL – Could be Nantucket

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, but some things simply can’t be bottled up and sold.  The cloud formations that float by in skies that feel vast, and unending.  Honey Suckle and cobblestones, fog horns and ship’s bells, vine ripe tomatoes and Pocomo oysters – salty and sweet all in one.  It’s old money and new, it’s battered, bright and briny, it’s quiet contemplation and sing-along yoo-hooing.  It’s the feelings you feel when you slow to a stroll instead of panicked run.  Those feelings you feel that speak truths about you, that can’t be captured in a painting or postcard.

Wharf Cottages . In town.

The writer suggests that you can recreate this feeling in your home, wherever it may be.  Perhaps that’s true, if the truth is that you’ve never been to Nantucket before, and your basis for recreation is the photograph they provide.  Still I discourage you not.  This place is special enough to give it a shot.

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Sconset Cottages

Me, I like my walks on the wharf, my voyeuristic tendencies kick into high gear as I peer, not so subtly into the home lives of the well-to-do, and connected.  I recently saw one of the cottages go up for sale.  A two bed for over $8M!  These are exposed stud, uninsulated, summer hide-aways.  Split swing front doors to let the breeze pass through, a hook here and there for a straw hat.  A bed, a book, a cooking nook.  Everything you need and nothing that you don’t.

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Peek-a-boo

Island living.  Oh I’ll take a piece of it here and there to sustain me through the long winter, but the charm of Nantucket for me, will always exists right here, 30 miles south of Cape Cod.

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ACKt 1: Arriving on island

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ACKting peaceful.

I made the boat with 4 minutes to spare.  Not exactly a relaxed entry into vacation mode, my sister’s Mercedes tailgating every unlucky tourist on 28 she happened to be behind.  She asked “Are you worried you wouldn’t make it?” She’s a speed demon, a hot dog, a lead footed roadster.  I wasn’t really afraid.  If you are going to be late, be late with Jo-Jo.  She’ll get you there.

I love and look forward to my annual visit to the island – this being suitable in its timeframe, not a fly-by.  Arriving by water allows for that relaxed dismissal of the world you are leaving behind.  The mainland retreats in the distance, a wake forms in your path, and it’s not too long at all before you spy Brandt Point Light in the distance.  I take deep gulps of air, a luscious mix of salt and oxygen filling my lungs, awakening my senses, anticipating what’s to come.

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Slow it down. Take a peek. 

I’ve stayed in lots of different places on this island, but the last few years, we’ve gravitated to places that surround town, or are cozied in and among the cottages of the boat basin.  There’s a freedom to being close to town that appeals.  Coming and going doesn’t require a taxi ride, a coordination effort, a render-vous point – though don’t get me wrong, I love to render-vous.  It’s free and easy.

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Willow in a haystack.

Dolphin Court might be little, but this house that I am staying in —- is not!  Four bedrooms, all en-suite baths, living, dining, den, kitchen, patio, deck, widows walk.  Serene and simple in its detailing, extravagant in its art.  No brand loyalty, but not a no-name brand in sight, it even has a mud room, and I’ve always wanted a place I could get dirty in, or arrive that way.

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Live like a child.

I spend a lot of time looking at places and asking myself why one pleases me or it doesn’t.  I’ve decided I can be won over – that’s right – I have a secret weak spot for perfect details, for beautiful craftsmanship.  It doesn’t even have to be my style or color palette.  If I feel that it’s been executed flawlessly – I’m in.

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Gone Fishin’ . See you in the fall.

Beyond that – what’s not to love about the magic number, on whatever old street she’s on in Nantucket.  She’s lucky and I am lucky to call this my vacation spot for a week.

Pocket Neighborhoods: as cute as the name implies

My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest.  A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world.  It should offer comfort, and security.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession.  We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern.  Cozy.

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Walking Paths and front facing homes are trademarks of Pocket Neighborhood communities.

A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection.  Or so I thought when I began this quest.  While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did.  I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive.  Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment.  Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.

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From shared space to a plan of graduated privacy, it begins with the porch.

So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small.  While the homes  in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions.  In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.

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Some are dedicated to over 50 communities, but most embrace the benefits of all ages.

It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”.  These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made.  I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building.  I flat out didn’t believe him.  He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely.  It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up.  This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.

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Beautifully designed, thoughtfully planned, walkable, welcoming places to be.

Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods.  The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of   homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring.  This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security.  Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.

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The signature porch is intentionally large – an extension of the home, an outdoor gathering place.

One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability.  Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another.  Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy.  Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity.  Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space.  Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by.  The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green.  High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.

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Nature and sustainability are other important aspects of a Pocket Neighborhood Community.

To me – this is attractive.  I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite.  Which do I miss the most?  For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected.  My answer is none of them.  When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had.  To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me.  Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.

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It’s in the details.

The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time.  They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle.  How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.

Live Like You’re in a Hotel

This fantasy can’t be mine alone.  I know exactly where it started – I owe it all to Eloise.  A storybook, written in the ’50’s by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, followed the life of 6 year old Eloise, her pet dog Weenie, and her Turtle, Skipper Dee – all in residence at the Plaza Hotel in NYC.  Nanny was her mostly companion, as her mother jet-setted around the globe.  Eloise had it pretty great.

 

My next unfulfilled wish came when I was in residence at Boston University – West Campus, Rich Hall, Room 1313.  I don’t know how much unluckier you can get.  I longed to live at Myles Standish – an old hotel, said to have housed Babe Ruth back in the day, then and now, serving as dormitories.  Only the very luckiest freshman were allowed to live their, and as I previously stated – I was not.  No single bed and private toilet for me, I lived with three other girls and shared a gang bath.  The glamour of it all it -UNDERwhelming.

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Eloise by Kay Thompson – Illustrated by Hilary Knight

Over the years I have lived in many small places, and thought to myself, if only this were a hotel, it wouldn’t be so bad.  For one, you can have room service, and second, the maid cleans your space, and third, you can send out your laundry.  I could live with a mini-fridge, and a perfectly designed room and bath.  I don’t even mind the bed being the showcase of the room, which is one of the things I like about a beautifully designed hotel room – they tend to cleverly encase the bed in a closet surround.  Cozy, functional, sixties, elegant.  Think single career gal, working in NYC, making it on her own.

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Koncept’s use of graphic patterns, symmetrical and asymmetrical views through the screening, and pink and green preppy happiness make this space a win.

So it was a bit serendipitous that a place came on the market in the South End that is just 273 SF.  That’s right, it’s SUPER small, and they want an outrageous amount of money for it – shocker.  It got me thinking nonetheless, about the possibilities for a space like that.  It’s too small for most people.  They simply wouldn’t do it.  Even those that are only sleeping there during the week might balk at its tininess, and opt for a hotel room instead.  Me, I see it as a challenge.

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A room at Haymarket Hotel. Clean, simple, pink, and graphic black.

The second thing that happened that made this tiny thimble of a place seem attractive was a hotel I came across.  Designed by Swedish Firm, Koncept – Haymarket Hotel was once a department store in Stockholm.  Today, a 405 room hotel and restaurant aptly named Greta – after Greta Garbo who worked in the hat department.  Let me just say this by way of explanation – It is beyond.  I will be going there, and I do want to design that tiny bit of an abode as an ode to it.

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In a country where half the year the sun shines all the time and the other half, barely at all, the use of light colors can help brighten the mood.

The graphic art deco details, the luscious pinks, greens and blues, the paneling, the lighting the tile, the screen and be screened sections within the spaces – diamonds and squares, scales and fans, gold and luminous wonderfulness.  There I went thinking….if only I could have all that, I’d live in 273 SF, a space so small the flash from the camera would have to remain just outside the door.  Still – what a score it would be.

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Art Deco accents are an ode to an earlier time when the building was PUB Department Store.

 

 

Savers Regret: Not getting something you really want

It’s the opposite of “buyers remorse”.  Granted I don’t experience that emotion often, but in this particular case, the act of restraint I exhibited has haunted me for years.  Ok, it’s not like I think of it every day or anything, but periodically something will fire a synapse and the next thing I know, I’m at Cynthia Driscoll on Charles Street, turning my back, to what can only be described as pure genius.

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Kathy Dalwood Sculptures are genius!

It’s true that I was probably without the means to purchase this beautiful sculpture, but when has that ever stopped me in the past?  It was the holiday season, and while I rarely get to Beacon Hill, it’s just outside of my circuit.  I make a point every year of visiting during the month of December because it is so quaint, the decorations are beautiful, and it gets me in the spirit.  That and the fact that there is one very intriguing (to me) home decor shop on the main drag.  Oh there are many if you are looking for them, but this one – Cynthia Driscoll – also an interior designer – always seems to have the most interesting objects des arts.

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Designed for the Olympics in 2012

One of her featured artists all those years ago – perhaps 7 now, was an artist out of London named Kathy Dalwood.  A sculptor that uses real objects as the base for her pieces caught my attention, because she is so clever.  The piece that I liked the most was entitled Gold Digger and featured a proper looking English Gal with a dramatic hat upon her head.  A closer inspection revealed that the hat was actually a back end loader.  A truck to you – a rather large one.  It put a smile on my face immediately.  I am in construction after all, and I am digging for gold through the sawdust, as we all are in our own ways.  How utterly perfect is that I ask you?

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Gold Digger – Perfection.

As perfect as it may have been, I did not seize the opportunity, and when I went back to buy it, it was gone.  Not only that, but Cynthia told me there would be no more as these fragile and special objects kept arriving broken.  Quelle domage!

Why I thought of it again the other day, I have no idea – my brain is a strange and mysterious place.  One could get lost in there if they aren’t careful.  So I did exactly what an obsessed girl might do, I started googling with the tiny bits of information I remembered and voila.  There she was – on the web all along, and guess what….I can custom order a piece.  Happy Saturday.