I am flummoxed by my friend’s flip – a beautiful property in Franklin. He is a terribly talented craftsperson, the kind I dream about having on my jobs, and has already transformed the living room, which is an extension of the open concept kitchen, into a showpiece. With its 18 foot ceilings, and grand gas feature fireplace wall, it’s going to be a show stopper.
Here’s where I’ve helped in the past – color. While he continues to learn more and get educated on all the nuances of hue and light, finishes, and the complicated language of warms and colds, and rules, and the understanding that to break them, you have to be really, really good – I have only just learned how to turn on the table saw, and successfully saw a single board. This single girl is woefully behind her friend.
The challenge for me is that I want to go into this kitchen and rip out that granite countertop. I hate it. I’ve told Eddie this already. He didn’t install it in the first place, so I don’t think I have hurt his feelings in revealing my nose wrinkling distaste for brown, black and tan, but Eddie is practical and knows that if that granite goes, so too will the backsplash. Remember, the hip bones connected to the thigh bone? You can’t just decide to do one thing without it impacting something else, and those something else’s can really cost you.
I want Eddie to use his money on the installation of the 12′ glass wall that will look out onto the home’s glorious 2 acre property with its far from the city forest of a backyard, not on my Vermont Imperial Danby stone countertop. To make it all work I’ll have to do some color gymnastics. It’s possible, but will require a serious warm up and some stretching. Which of these would you choose?
It’s true, and because I feel like arguing today, I’m going to lay out my case for you. You the believer that white is boring, vanilla, without an opinion. Dare I say staid, subtle, without suggestion, or rather you might say, not I, not me, not this one who believes – it is simply a sublime backdrop for the scene of your personal style. Whatever that style might be – you’ll see.
I’ve selected the same clean shaker cabinetry for all three looks. The same hardware and backsplash, and walnut island top that has appeared in earlier iterations of the Willow Bend Scheme Series. I’ve purposefully picked the white cabinetry for its ability to pencil out on a spreadsheet that’s adding up, and a backsplash that you can get at the one buck store. Not exactly, but practically. I’ve invested some dough in the door hardware, and a little more on my lights – good lighting is everything to a gal. Finally I’ve made a little splash with a fabric or a fridge, but honestly there are even less expensive ways to do it. Think a set of dishes in a daring hue, pretty porcelain in a pouty purple, flowers or ferns or decorative urns – whatever floats your boat, let the rainbow be your guide.
White is wonderfully versatile. Like a Chopped competition, I’ve provided the box of basics that you must use, but your personal panache will provide the dash and make the space distinctly you, but if you had to choose, which one would you say was you?
I’m not an Olympic Athlete, in case you were wondering. I wonder if it’s because I don’t love the pain of the challenge as much as the other gal. I can do it, do make myself do it, languish in the rewards of being on the other side of doing it. The sore muscles, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, of doing something that someone else simply won’t do. I can do that, but I am old enough to know that I’ll never love it. Not like Michael Jordan, not like Billie Jean King, not like Danika, but hard work shows up in so many different ways, and I love and hate them all, and feel as neutral as a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold winter’s day, which is to say, I love ice cream anytime of the year, but I hate being cold. I like to celebrate my complexity like a rainbow.
This flip required 4 hard – like a hard rain’s gonna fall kind of hard – demolition. When you embark on a renovation project there really is something for every skill-set, age, and interested person to contribute. When I was really little I used to pick the nails up around the construction site. Later I striped wallpaper, and lead paint from the walls – check that box. Not being allowed to use power tools of any kind, I worked my way around the site (the homes that we lived in and my father renovated), hauling, cleaning, organizing, and staying out from underfoot and being very, very quiet. I’d work for a #6 Mason Jar sandwich – roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce, romaine lettuce, muenster cheese, mayo on a bulky roll with a half sour pickle – no chips or a drink, we were conserving money for the renovation.
As I peeled back the vines, the dilapidated wood picket fence, then the chain link, for which I was forced to cede my show of strength. I couldn’t even unearth a single concrete encrusted steel post from the ground, and there were many. I have nothing on Mother Nature – I bow to your beauty and strength.
Days 3 and 4 were all about the upstairs bath. Boy there are lots of parts and pieces to that structure. I’m reminded that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, the hip bones connected to the …. I had to dissect the connections to find the weak points and disassemble what someone or two, at times very thoughtfully, and later, quite lackadaisically with a scrap here, and an almost long enough board there, had carefully put into place those many decades before. It all gave me a run for my money, but as money is the point of this flip, and I am motivated by it, I refused to wave the flag until all the plaster and drywall – yes both, all the 2 x 4 – the real kind – the one’s that actually measured 2 x 4, all the offensive aesthetic elements were dispensed with – the vanity – holy ugly, the glass block window – holy heavy, the Italian blue ceramic tile, and the toilet – holy – holy. I stripped that baby bare. She’s as fresh as a new born entering the world, full of possibility. The sore muscles were worth it.
Now I need your help. Long lead items are longer than they ever were before – oh Covid. The kitchen must be ordered and we cannot order the kitchen without a plan for the color scheme, and this Cape home will flow from one room to the next so we need to really LOVE the kitchen becaus all tides will rise with it, or fall, with crashing finality over the clashing disaster of colors. Which of these options would say to you – I’m ready to move in?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Which one says that? Put your left foot in and shake it all about.
I’ve talked briefly before about flip No. 5. I try to accentuate the positive aspects of this process with you all, but the reality is a lot less glamorous. Oh it has it’s moments, and like that one perfect golf swing that results in a Tiger Woods inspired hole, it’s those good moments, the moments of inspiration and sheer pride, that keep you going.
This No. five hasn’t felt at all like the middle of a process, striving, thriving, moving toward something that has the potential to be amazing. Maybe not amazing for the amount of money that will come out of it, but for the sheer strength of will it’s taken to accomplish it. I’ve always been willful, and a little defiant. I suspect that someone told me that it would be impossible for me to flip 10 homes and make a million dollars, and it’s unsurprising to me that I have doggedly pushed on despite the odds. While I am relatively self-actualized, my progress in personal growth is a slow one.
It’s this same stubbornness that had me refusing to accept the fact that the entrance to No. 5 was in fact the back of the building, the embarrassingly cable strung, bird nest filled – back. It’s like I am the butt of a very bad joke. It does have its upsides though, and it’s those sides that I focused my attention on. What else could I do, I can’t change the reality of the entrance without reconfiguring the entire building, and if I could do that, I wouldn’t be on a quest for a million bucks and bragging rights in the first place. So focus I did. The gate off the street is a bit rickety, but it has charm, and when you open that door you enter an enclave just off my quiet street. The first time I stepped through that door I was transported to Paris and the gated entries to ancient residential complexes. As your foot falls, just on the other side of that gate, you are taken to a place that is possibly even more magical than the city at your back. Now that’s called vision, because in reality it was the dead of winter, it looked more like an abandoned building on a city lot in – oh let’s pick Cleveland. Sorry Cleveland, but I have firsthand experience with some of your abandoned lots and they are more Sanford and Sons junkyard than Versailles. I thought then, with its heavy cabling, tired beaten sashes, and dust stained deck that I could make a difference.
I started with the – ahem – front door, which was really a side door meant for a kitchen, with its divided light windows that took up half the door, giving poor me, NO privacy. That wouldn’t do, so I replaced it with a clean modern Shaker-style door from Home Depot, removed the screen door and did not replace it, and painted the surrounding casework in Benjamin Moore’s black matte exterior paint. Every place deserves a little wow, and I consider hardware to be the equivalent of the watch on a man. When you look closely, it should be a thing to admire. I chose a beautiful Rejuventation, Tumalo Walnut Knob (on the interior) the exterior is in polished nickel. I treated the window casings with the same coat of black paint, installed a new modern light fixture, and had a sign made at Chatham Sign Shop. Consider for a moment a man’s shoes – that’s your sign. This was all done against the backdrop of the fresh coat of paint (BM’s Trout Gray) I gave the deck to cover the worn and dingy olive green, et voila, welcome to my front door.
We seem to be having a winter baby boom in my industry. The gals are popping up at events with beautiful baby bumps – left and right. A few have already delivered their new year’s baby bundles, and it got me thinking about all those tiny little fingers and toes, and paint colors and furnishings, rugs and lighting, you know, all the normal things someone that is obsessed with design thinks about.
A baby room should be cozy and calming – not for the baby, they are happy in a onesie, snuggled up next to mummy, but mummy – well she needs a space that will making her happy, smooth out the rough edges of motherhood, because what she does is hard.
Given the crib and the bedding from which to launch the plan, I developed a number of different options for the color palette. I have to recommend mineral ice again and again and again. It’s worked in NYC apartments, in Cape Cod Cottages, in ski chalets. It’s so versatile, which is ironic because it reads so wildly differently from location to location, time of day and amount of light the space receives. Still it is beautiful. It is subtle, it is neutral….serene. There isn’t a person or a place that can’t benefit from my very favorite Benjamin Moore color.
Gabrielle selected PB Kids . Ramona Woodland Baby Bedding, which ties all the colors I selected together seamlessly – though it is not my recommendation that they all be used. Rather I would select one of the three: BM’s Bridal Rose, Mineral Ice or Lavender Mist for the base wall color. For a more traditional feel I’d paint the casings, base and molding in BM’s Chantilly Lace, more modern and I would paint the base, case and moldings in the same color but change up the finish – walls in egg shell, wood in high gloss. An option I’d consider creating a faux wainscot by painting up the wall from base to roughly one third of the overall dimension from ground up, in the selected color – again – high gloss finish. These little tricks add visual interest to the room. A note of caution – if the walls are in less than perfect condition, high gloss won’t be your friend. It shows all the imperfections. Want to make it super cozy? Paint the ceiling the same color as the walls or a hue that is slightly darker, and prepare to snuggle in.
Other touches that make the space feel particularly special include lighting. Ceiling fixtures, and tabletop lamps help to warm up the space – dimmers required.
Wall art need not be all about baby, though a little bit of happy, a little bit of silly, soothes the soul. Etsy provides offerings at really affordable prices that allow your taste to evolve as baby grows.
I love soft things. I want a carpet underfoot that I can sink my toes into. If you are not in the market for a rug that is just for baby, consider a tiny sheep skin carpet that you can throw under your tootsies will you rock your screeching child to sleep. You’ll thank me for that tiny bit of comfort you get from the carpet.
Your front entry that is. I know what I am doing is considered rather unique. Not the flipping part. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is a flipper these days. No disrespect to Tom, Dick or Harry and most certainly none intended to the Tomasia’s, Dorathea’s and/or Harriet’s that are forging their own path on the road to financial security – I salute you all. The point is, this is about me, the me that can’t seem to do anything normal, or easy, or in a way that I can just blend into the crowd. Sometimes blending is a welcome cloak against the condemnation that follows from the pitfalls of this business of being human – if you know what I mean.
When I selected No. 5 I didn’t give much thought to the fact that you enter through the back of the building. Not just because that’s the convenient way to get there, but because it’s the only actual way to get there, unless you want to crawl through the window. The window BTW is the intended exit route if there were a fire. It works, but nobody is worried about what they look like when the are escaping a fire…am I right?
This particular set of row houses (those intended for the servants) are pretty, in their simple, unfussy way. They certainly don’t look like the brownstones of the eight street district, or Beacon Hill, and the back of them – well, it’s the back. They are draped in wires, cables and cords. They are gated or fenced in from the street, but still can be viewed from the same. My gate is a thin barrier at best to the outside world, and yet, I am decidedly subconscious about the way it looks.
When you open the sage green gate (anyone that knows me well, knows that THAT color has to change), and are presented with a small wooden walk way leading to a few steps, a small outdoor deck and my back door. My back door is really a kitchen door. Three rows of divided lights sit atop two long vertical panels. It would be fine for a country home – even better if the top half opened to a grand back yard, and it were the fifties, but this is neither the country or that decade, and as for privacy, don’t think I haven’t noticed the next door neighbors, on floor two, peering down in at me. I’ve got my eyes on you too, and a stun gun, so beware. I also have a new front door sitting in my living room. I’ve always wanted my own front door. Condo living doesn’t really afford you a front door in the traditional, single family home sense of the word, and I have visions of a southern porch, inviting me down the boxwood bordered path on perfect pavers, to my glossy doored destination. If there is any solace in the selection of this soggy bottomed abode, it’s the back door – which of course I am going to turn into my very own front.
Due to the fact that a good deal of my entry is “common space”, for those of you that are unfamiliar, it’s like being married and having to negotiate with your partner for approval on purchases. Since the sale of the unit below is under negotiation, I can’t even being to hypnotize him into accepting that there is no other color in the world more perfect than gray. It’s a real drama for me, A. Because I am not married and don’t negotiate getting what I want with anyone, and B. I am totally impatient. So I just began painting. I painted everything that I “owned” and then started to slyly move down the corridor until I was made to stop. Well now it just looks silly, and will have to be painted, and since I never selected that detestable first color, I have no idea what it is. The logical thing to do of course is to continue on with my beautiful Benjamin Moore . Trout Gray.
I have a happy entry mat that says “HELLO” and I purchased some beautiful long, linear and tall black planters in which boxwood’s will be planted to hide the condenser, and the less then happy trellis that sits in front of it. I am going to trim the windows out in black, and hang large beautiful wreaths in them both. The piece de resistence? There is going to be a black and white striped canopy. I haven’t figured out how to do it just yet, but trust me when I tell you, when I am done with it all – my back is going to be the very best front you ever did see.
Today I am filled with gratitude and a healthy dose of awe for the faith that the Walton’s placed in me with their new southern home. It’s one thing to preach about it, and another to put it into practice. I always knew they were special people, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the divergent nature of the design suggestions I was making, from that which they were accustomed, until I had changed everything that is.
Above: Family room before and after. All the surface mounted electrical was removed, the existing built-ins were modified to accommodate the wall mounted tv – which can be hidden away with the addition of the new doors. A additional corner bookshelf cabinet was constructed to the right of the door. All woodwork was painted in Benjamin Moore’s Nickle, walls in Benjamin Moore’s Mineral ice. Quite a transformation.
Dark, rich, brooding color palettes were packed up in boxes and left in New England to be replaced with bright, fresh, clean happy hues with a hint of grapefruit. Just kidding. I love the crazy adjectives that they use to describe wine, and I got a bit carried away.
Above: Office before.
The house was in need of a manicure and a haircut. It was so laden with window dressings and accoutrements (that’s french for a lot of trappings or extras – the fringe had its own accessories), that I was surprised that it could breathe under the weight of it all. It was entirely the wrong feeling for a family that breathes life into its visitors, allows them to see life through a new lens and find their purpose. Speaking from my own personal experience, I can assure you finding your purpose is hard enough without hiding it under all those trimmings and trappings. I love a window treatment as much as the next gal (if I am being honest, probably a little more than the next), but balance and harmony must prevail, and even I believe that being parsimonious nets a more pure result.
I think I would have been really nervous if I had been clued into the doubt that was floating around down there in North Carolina. Ho boy, as Jo-Jo likes to say, I might have been up a night or two over it. You see, I am not really accustomed to working with others to realize their vision. As a flipper, I am in the business of realizing my own. It’s true, sometimes I let myself down when I make mistakes, but I have learned, well, to learn from them, and move on. It’s a weighty responsibility to please others, which brings me back to faith and gratitude.
Jonathan said: “We would never have imagined painting these colors.” “I was skeptical about the color. But SO love it!!! I’m so glad that I did not go brown and browner.” Me too Jonathan, me too. Thank you for the gift you gave to me in your trust.
I thought with time I might warm to No. 5. I thought that, but maybe I was wrong. It just doesn’t feel like me. I come in to the plink, plink, plinking of the AC making its way, fat drop, by fat drop into the receptacle that I have placed, less than discretely, under the offending leak, and think, why me? This is a bad way to think. It’s not personal, it’s business. NOT personal…just business, so I got to the business of investigating why my brand new split system would be doing this – not to me. The good news is, through the wonder of YouTube, and people that have a lot of time, and an altruistic spirit, I think I figured out why. Now I just need to fix the offending situation.
Down the stairs I go, to the cooler environs of my subterranean bedroom, which feels a little like a boat – not quite damp, but not quite dry either. There’s still water down there, and so the ceiling will be opened up next week to find the source of the weeping, and see if I can console it into a happier state.
Which leads me to something that will make me happy – I think. I really admire a good closet. It has the power to keep me on time in the morning, to keep me organized, and remind me of the abundance that surrounds me. It’s a little bit harder to feel that way as you dig through a box to locate a sundress, and you use the dryer to store your work out clothes because there is no dresser to stow them in. One must make due after all.
Left: Urban Green Furniture – Amazon. Middle: Benjamin Moore’s Airway.
I had designed a beautiful pair of amours to augment, what can only be considered, limited storage. Sadly all the glorious things I intended them to do, convert to beautiful bookshelves, a credenza, split apart, or put together, they really would have been fantastic. Some day. Those would have been a piece that could have lasted you a lifetime, even in a lifetime where taste and styles transform, and we’ve been programmed to believe that new is better.
Left: BM . Frozen Canal. Middle: Bee Hive Knobs. Right: Caning by the Yard.
After having looked in my wallet and discovering that there wasn’t enough in there to pay for my vision, I went back to the drawing board. Erik Reuda Design Lab didn’t even make me feel bad about it. When I proposed finding a simple armoire that we could retrofit with the doors that I realllllly wanted, they said yes! My simple wooden amoires arrived at their shop earlier this week and now I need to pick the paint color. They will built me doors, incorporating the caning which is so on trend and I have been lusting after, into the fronts, and spray the piece for me. I need to select hardware too, but the paint is holding up production, and I suspect making No. 5 think I am not committed to it. Once I move in properly, I suspect all will be right with the world again.