Shucks: The lovely ways oysters inspire design

Still Life with Oyster – artist ThEodule Augustin Ribot

The mollusk, nothing sexy about that name, but like a cowboy – all callused hands and brisk nature, there is something decidedly alluring about it, and him. Some love that cowboy, err oyster, while others detest its rugged exterior, and cool, briny, slick interior.    Oysters find themselves at home at a back yard hoe down, and with equal ease sitting atop a silver platter, snow cone domed with chipped ice, en route to a linen table clothed setting, center stage at a five star hotel.  They are a favorite subject for burgeoning artists, their hallmark inky aubergine smudge, on the pale pearly white belly, and its comma, make for interesting subject matter. From East to West, which oyster is the best is subject to battleground fodder.  I am not all for one, and one for all, when it comes to oysters, preferring a local favorite – a Wellfleet, or a Pacific Ocean Kumamoto, its deep dive of a shell reminding me of my Cape Cod roots, the peninsula dotted by Kettle Ponds – those deep divots in the landscape, left by enormous chips of ice from glaciers. They are sweet, and delicate and delicious, a totally different experience from an East Coast oyster, which is briny.

Powder Room Power . a wall of oyster shells is amazing.

Those same Cape Cod roots have provided me with an affection for the oyster. I’ve stomped across so many shelled driveways in my lifetime, I couldn’t possibly report the number. Like most things from my childhood they are larger than life wonderful. They remind me of a more rustic Cod than is commonly seen today. There history harkening back to the settlers, who tossed the shells, which were in abundance in the streets, and on the muddy dirt paths. The perfect padding for a drive. Oyster shells actually breakdown, their calcium make-up are able to withstand hoof beat, trodding feet, or the wheel of the tire – at least if it’s on a flat surface. The shells weren’t meant to withstand gravity, and so aren’t great on a hill. A wonderfully sustainable practice, if a little bit stinky initially, the shells, harvested from restaurants, scream vacation, and simpler times. They are also excellent fertilizer for your flowers.

Where would a conversation on design be without Benjamin Moore?

Designers seem to share, with me, a fascination with the Oyster. There creativity astounds me. The fact that someone boldly wallpapered their powder room in oyster shells, makes me smile from ear to ear, and don’t think I can’t do it. I have an incredibly large mouth. Were the shells placed with grout, or mastic, or glue? Will they snag your chiffon dress, or scrape your knuckle, if you grab for the hand towel too quickl? Who cares. I applaud the ingenuity, the bravado, the saltiness of the move.

There are ornaments, and catch-alls. There are mirrors, and urns. There are orbs, paint colors, and ash trays. Oysters, like their ability to got high or low, seem to span the centuries, finding fresh ways to surprise, and traditional ways to comfort. I love the oyster, but the oyster that I love is never going to produce a pearl. That’s an entirely different type of oyster, but perhaps that’s too much detail. For the purpose of this good story, let’s throw them all in the same bucket. We’ll end with this pearl of wisdom – they are loaded with Zinc which is incredibly good for you, and may have led to the rumors that they can enhance amorous feelings.

Paintings: The only palette you’ll ever need

They are so brilliantly expressive, marrying hues that seemingly don’t go together, in a way that is at once natural, and entirely logical. If painting were only based in the world of reality, for which I am ever so grateful, it is not. Frankly I don’t know where I would be without a pink hippopotamus, a blue tree, and a violet sky – well sometimes the sky is violet, but it’s very rare, you have to admit. The beauty of uncommon pairings is itself an artform, and I find it incredibly comforting to know that even if I appear to have made a terrible misjudgment with the colors I selected for one of my flips, I can flip that script with a painting, that makes it alright again.

Just see how many colors you can squeeze out of a single painting. Your furniture will pick it right up.

While I understand not everyone buys, renovates, sells, buys, renovates, sells, buys, renovates, sells – well you get the point, it can be exhausting and exhilarating, and leave you, loyal reader, with the incorrect impression that after a while, I surely get it right. Oh, how I wish that were true, but I often get it wrong. This may lead you to ask yourself, why ever would you listen to a word I have to say, if I am not perfect, not always right, so often get things wrong? I understand your hesitancy, but lean in here while I tell you this secret. Have you leaned in? None of us, not even the people you revere the very most, are perfect. They make mistakes too. It’s called being human. Life is so much softer when you understand and accept that.

A favorite Texas Artist of Mine . a happy mess of colors.

Let’s just assume for the sake of this post that you are pretty perfect, but someone, say your grandmother or aunt, or brother, or old college roommate gave you a sofa or a rug, for instance, and you are not at all like me. YOU ARE sentimental. The not at all like me part comes in here because I am not sentimental at all. I would give that sofa away, leave that rug in my childhood friend’s home, never to return to collect it. I wouldn’t bat and eye or shed a tear, but as I said – in this story, you are not me. You are terribly sentimental, so play that part please. How could you just sell that gifted carpet, that beloved sofa, where so many lovely memories were made? You couldn’t, you wouldn’t even if you were beginning to resent the gift and all of its design havoc wrecking qualities. You had a nearly perfect (really – was it? Be honest) home, until that gift horse arrived in your house.

Even an old master can be made new again with color.

If it’s old and weathered and all your other pieces are new, if it’s a violent blood read, and your were going for serenity in the form of pale grays, embrace the change. Art will make it feel intentional.

Add a black accent and watch it pop.

Midnight Dream: Redoing the bedroom

Phillip Jeffries . Seaside Linen . Indigo Nights. Only a 12 yard minimum order I type, my words heavy with sarcasm.

It’s no secret that I love Benjamin Moore. I talk about him ad nauseum, sure there are other paints on the market with clever names, but are they as dependable as Ben? I think not. I know I am not going to be in this condo forever, maybe just a few months more, who knows. However long it is, it feels like if I have to have that bedroom the way it is now, one foot in and one foot out the door, I might just scream.

I’d like to vigorously enforce my right to change it up. I want to paint the moldings midnight blue or soot or blue note. I want to cover the walls in Phillip Jeffries Indigo Nights, and snuggle a couple of Bungalow 5, Benjamin bedside tables, in navy blue, right up next to the bed, or maybe the Serena and Lily Blake Nightstand in blue. They are both grass cloth covered, but the Bungalow has soft edges and chrome hardware and the Serena and Lily is a Parsons knock-off, hard-edged with a gold pull. They are both so pretty, and having a bedside table would mean that I wouldn’t have to get out of bed when I was done reading my book to turn off the light.

Matouk . Joplin Sheet Set

I could get a new year set of sheets. I have my eye on Matouk’s Joplin, it’s blue floral pattern is sophisticated and happy all at the same time.

Oomph . Wilson 4 Poster Bed in Hinting Blue.

Dare to, wouldn’t it be, life is but a dream. Heck, if that’s all it is, throw in the Oomph four poster bed while your at it.

I Did it My Way…but what if you couldn’t?

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.

Sticking to what I was asked – paint colors that pair.

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.

Might I make a suggestion.

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?

Going for the Gold – if I did it my way 🙂

Change Your Point of View: White Kitchen’s with Personality

Blue and White.

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.

Green and White.

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.

Pink and White.

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?

Demolition Derby: tales from the Willow Bend Flip

Scheme I

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.

Scheme II

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.

Scheme III

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.

Scheme I – II

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.

Scheme IV

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?

The Why’s Have It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis XVI Side Chairs.

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

Provence . Tile . Available on Chairish.

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

19 Century French Wood Painted Mirror.

Put Your Right Foot In

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

OPTION . 1

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

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

OPTION 3

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

OPTION 4

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

In Through the Out Door

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.

Welcome.

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.

Painting the casings in black really gave the door and windows distinction.

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.

The dull green was freshened up with BM’s Trout Gray

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.

Hush Little Baby: Nurseries that calm

Hidden Falls would provide a wonderful accent on all three of the base wall colors. I would hold it down an inch from the molding, painting a 1 – 1.5″ perimeter strip around the entire room. Great for low ceilinged rooms as it lifts the eye.

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.

Overland . Long Wool Sheepskin Baby Rug. $79.00

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.

Left: Etsy . Little Playhouse $12.41. Middle: Society6 . Here Comes the Sun $21.59 . Right: The Small Art Project . Woodland Animals . $179.99

PB . Dahlia Flushmount $224.

Other touches that make the space feel particularly special include lighting. Ceiling fixtures, and tabletop lamps help to warm up the space – dimmers required.

Yume . Branch Mobile. $68.00

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.