October 27, 2013 § Leave a Comment
City living is the housing trend of my demographic. I’ve consulted on a three smallish city spaces in the last month alone. As a forty-something Mom of a high schooler, I see my contemporaries making the choice to move back into the city once the children have flown the nest. Of course so many of us lived in cities in our twenties. I spent a few years in a one bedroom garden flat on Kensington Square in London. Then there was a need for space: garden sheds and garages; cellars and attics; mud rooms and pantries. Children grow and the excitement of house projects turns to sheer drudgery of maintaining a large house. We become more about thoughtful experiences and amusements outside of our home so the glamour of it all wanes. Many who chose to move into the city from suburbia have a country place; it’s difficult to divorce ourselves from flowers, vegetable gardens, trees and freshly mowed grass. A balcony of potted herbs and colorful flowers can make all the difference to a country mouse in a city apartment who has swapped out privilege of tending to plants for a less complicated life.
A small space is much like the U.S. National Anthem: you need to hit every note perfectly. There isn’t extra storage and there isn’t room for mistakes. To make the most of small spaces you must apply three common sense guidelines of light, scale and color.
Natural daylight streaming into any room is a huge plus, but adding light anywhere you can is a top priority. Recessed lighting on dimmers is often a first suggestion; if you can’t cut holes in the ceiling because it is someone else’s property, then thoughtful, layered light can be achieved. Standing lamps, table lamps, sconces and picture lights all together can help. Window treatments that are light in color and texture that can allow for any natural light are helpful. Stealing light in the form of well-placed mirrors or shiny surfaces which allow light to bounce around the room also helps.
The massive and oversized furniture from your former 22′ x 22′ Family Room probably isn’t the best choice for your new, diminutive digs. Typically if there are lovely, family pieces a client wants to hang onto they are in the form of case pieces (a mahogany chest of drawers or a tall case clock). I’m all about using lovely, charming, much loved furniture. However, it’s the overstuffed and huge upholstered items (sectionals and that awful 1980′s invention of a “chair-and -one-half”) that will not work. If you once had a Great Room, a Study, a Living Room and a Porch and now your main living area is reduced to an all purpose Living Room, remember that is the nucleus of your new home. New, finely proportioned sofas and upholstered chairs that truly fit that space is the single best investment in sorting out the scale issue.
Lastly, pale colors really do recede; darker colors close us in. Obviously white and light walls are natural light reflectors. Southern exposure is a major bonus; north facing rooms are the hardest to pick colors for because you must enhance any bits of natural light with artificial light. In those rooms, a warm toned off-white is your best option. Shades of cream, buff, and sand will give you a wonderful airy feeling. Staying monochromatic throughout the main living space is key; same or similar wall color, consistent floor covering and bright, white ceilings link spaces and give the illusion of more space.
These tips can be applied to any small space in any size home.
Photos top and center, Jasper Conran; bottom photo, Bunny Williams.
September 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A client recently asked me to make an inventory of his collection so we could decide which room would be best suited for each piece. The collection included well-known Pop Art, lovely small landscape paintings, bold color theory works, and some American photography. I spent an entire afternoon in a large storage closet looking at each piece of art with my art conservator. After moving a larger piece aside we both looked down in the rack and fell silent. There, stored behind a brightly colored Warhol was Ansel Adams’s “Moonrise over Hernandez”; tiny, quiet yet richly powerful. We both knew at once what it was and spent a few moments just looking. (That’s the best part of enjoying great art, silently “just looking”).
Something as compelling as this Ansel Adams, “Maroon Bells, Aspen” (below) isn’t out of reach for a budding collector; you can purchase archival reproductions of some of his more famous works on line.
One trick is to grid out lesser known works that are complimentary in same size frames (bottom), as in this arrangement, below. Sticking with plain black, white or pale wood frames is the safest and most pleasing choice for these types of works.
June 16, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I typed this post in March while flying home from Miami. I set out to write about travel with kids yet now realize I was writing an homage to my late father.
As a single parent, I’ve been an adventure vacation slacker compared to my Dad. My sons don’t know I messed up – they’ve recently enjoyed tame but fun trips to Washington D.C., Bermuda and Stowe. I was well-traveled by fourth grade. When others went to Disney World, we went the Canary Islands. This was my Father’s fault. Boston born and bred, he sought adventure. During my childhood in the 1970’s we’d take off for a month in Central America, a school term on Tortola, traveled Ireland end to end (save for the North), hiked ancient ruins and explored foreign cities. The school calendar didn’t matter.
When I was six we went to the English colony, British Honduras (now Belize). One day Dad took me on a field trip while my brothers and Mom remained at the simple beachfront rental. Careening down a narrow dirt road in a Jeep, it was a bumpy, dusty drive. I don’t remember complaining. I do remember screaming watching a six-foot long snake slithering along the road. Arriving at “Hopkintown” I grasped that it wasn’t a town. To my young , discerning eye it was a settlement of small, single room huts made from found materials like discarded wood and sheets of corrugated metal. Population 25, tops. Dad stopped the car and said, “C’mon”. We walked toward the village.
For the record, Dad was handsome, confident and charismatic. He always had a plan (also true in later years when I realized he really didn’t have a plan). I felt safe.
Dad directed me to the cooking hut: a cozy 8×8 footprint with a dirt floor. A native woman was tending a low fire and making some sort of tortilla. He smiled, made an introduction, told me to sit next to her and learn what she was doing. Then he left to look around. Typical. She had no idea who we were. I sat cross-legged in a shack, a dutiful little girl in a ponytail and Lacoste shirt respectfully learning how to make pancakes. Patting the doughy ball evenly between my palms, I had a short stack upon Dad’s return.
While he tended to make everything a life lesson, the upshot of this was cultural awareness not from skimming a National Geographic in a waiting room but by experiencing it. We became young adults without prejudice.
Travel requires organization, resourcefulness and flexibility. Consider a ski vacation with a boy who fears a mountain’s steep terrain at breakfast yet tackles it and is beaming with pride by dinner; or the girl given the task of navigating her family from their hotel to the Louvre with only a Paris Metro map and no other help. These accomplishments are controlled risks with some serious confidence building rewards. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that we grow through new, positive experiences. It’s how we get over bad experiences and become more self-aware.
As I look over our busy summer calendar, I will seek small moments to give my kids the gift of adventure I experienced. Those memories of overcoming obstacles, small surprises and talking to each other on long walks are better than a holiday tethered to a pool’s lounge chair. Thanks, Dad.
June 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
Many of us, in some back corner of our minds, have glossy, rich memories of old houses. Houses we grew up in, visited with college friends or rented by the sea. At once we can remember colors, lively dinners, a porch swing, the smell of honeysuckle on the fence… the singular feeling of running barefoot at dusk across a green lawn to a barn that may have contained an old Ping Pong table or boat parts. An old house somehow feels more like a family friend or an experienced witness to our lives: generations of babies toddling, homework tantrums, giggles behind closed doors, early morning smells of coffee and bacon before a fishing trip, late night conferences in the kitchen, the time when the house filled with smoke because everyone was convinced the fireplace flue was open when it wasn’t. An old house has resonance. It is satisfying, feels important and – when badly needed – is comforting.
My first memories were of a 1740s house filled with American country furniture. I went on to live in old houses: a Regency flat in London; a 1910 home in Arlington, MA; a Queen Anne shingle style on the water; a rambling Cape Cod house with the wings having a unique history of being 1920’s jelly houses. Now I live in an 1890′s wooden home near Boston. Minutemen once camped in what is now my back yard.
When I was in my thirties and in full home buying mode, there was no shortage of reasons why I was suspicious of a new house. A good, solid “old house” with history and hopefully a name (“Grey Gables”, “The Playhouse” and quite decisively, “The Old House”) had been places close to my heart. Only in an old house do I sleep in a bedroom that has always been curiously called The Blue Room… although it has been pale yellow as long as I’ve known it.
While mindful of this older home affinity, as I get older I find myself drawn to the simplicity of less, easy, Spartan. At this apex would be Philip Johnson’s The Glass House. It seems so relaxing. No clapboard to repaint. My to-do list would shrink considerably. More time for me, yoga or sleep. A new house would feel like a vacation. But living in one, day to day, is an unknown. There wouldn’t be the pencil marks on the door jamb recording my son’s height.
Recently I was asked to be a part of the venerable WGBH television show, “This Old House”. The project house is an Italianate Victorian in Arlington, MA and is a homecoming of sorts. I lived a few blocks away in that Boston suburb almost twenty years ago. Over the next few months I will help a young family make design choices for their old house.
Old houses, like people, have quirks, character and a story. I’m as guilty as the next person of effortlessly accepting the illusion of beauty in the young and new; as I quietly turn off the lights in my old house tonight, I know that the mellowed and familiar is equally, and often, far more appealing and attractive.
April 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
In a colonial Boston suburb, less than two miles from the city line, my sons and I are home; our friends are also in lock-down. In April 1775, the start of the American Revolutionary War following Battles of Concord and Lexington, our brave farmers turned soldiers successfully laid siege to our British-held city. Two hundred and thirty-eight years later we are again under siege.
Our fair “city upon a hill” - a phrase taken from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Matthew tells his listeners, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” – was taken up by Puritan John Winthrop in his 1630 sermon “A Model of Christian Charity”. He declared to the Massachusetts Bay Colonists that our city would be watched by the world as an example of the 17th century concept of American Exceptionalism (a belief that our country is different from others and has a specific world mission to spread liberty. Not that the United States is better or that it has a superior culture, but simply rather that it is qualitatively different).
Today, as Boston is being watched by the world, we know we are different…and exceptional. As the eyes of all people are truly upon us we continue an inherent quality of perseverance, community, charity and courage as our policemen and women, SWAT teams and all of the countless first responders endeavor to keep us safe while the top medical teams in the world administer the best care to the victims of Monday’s horrific act of terrorism.
I hope and pray, that our tall, proud city “built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds” will live again in harmony and peace. There will again be spirited days at Fenway, giggles from lovers strolling Charles Street, children patting the bronze sculptures of “Make Way for Ducklings”, and safety for the brightest of minds who come from every corner of the world to attend our colleges which have no equal. May those students only worry about test scores, or what to wear on a Friday night date, not that their campus is a police state.
Be strong, Boston.
April 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I stumbled upon an article I wrote in the 1990s the other day, in its original hard copy. A primer on the care of antique carpets, I penned it for Bob Vila’s website. Vila’s wife’s parents were Tuttle family friends, and the piece was later picked up by another site: http://www.renovateyourworld.com/HowTo_Library/Oriental_Carpet_Maintenance-Carpeting-A1544.html Glancing at the paper, I thought about all of the many helpful tips designers and antique dealers use when caring for objects. I have oodles of books on the subject, some of them quite old. One has the very un-PC name of “The Housewives Guide to Caring for Antiques”!
While Heloise can expound with advice for cleaning your home stem to stern, here are a three little, great items that just seem to make life easier when dealing with little household tasks:
-Goo Gone, that citrusy solvent that removes crayon, stickers and gum without damaging stuff. Perfect for the residue of a sticker that doesn’t seem to come off that platter/tray/glass from a shop.
-Furniture touch up pens that hide minor nicks and scratches in wooden, well-loved tables.
-Stick-um candle wax which works slick to keep tilting candlesticks and tapers in place.
February 28, 2013 § 1 Comment
In the midst of a rainy afternoon meeting today, the discussion turned to the funding of the Arts. I was reminded of a speech given by JFK. I’ve felt it was a bright moment in modern American history because he stressed the need for the US to cherish and defend the Arts almost 50 years ago. Considering what huge events were happening at that time (major advances in technology, a little thing called space travel, scary trouble with Russia) it’s pretty significant to know that he was concerned about the state of historic preservation and the Arts in the US. I especially like the excerpt below, which shows the speech could be given in 2013 and hold water:
“I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.”
(The famous Childe Hassam painting – image above – Avenue in the Rain (1917) is part of the White House’s permanent collection. During the Kennedy administration it hung in the President’s private family dining room.)
February 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I offered to take a friend’s teenage daughter, who is interested in design, along with me to work for a day. I didn’t really prepare; I figured the day would flow naturally directed by whatever we saw or whatever questions she had. Since my art history training was taught by experts from the perspective of connoisseurship, that was my example. I learned by close observation of objects coupled with a visual, hands-on approach. So we would see something and I would start explaining what it was and why it was interesting or important.
The beautiful things I work with everyday — like custom lighting and wildly delicate, expensive wall paper — were brand new to my pupil. She was excited and full of creative ideas throughout the day. She accompanied me to a meeting with the President of an international fabric house, picked out decor, chose fabrics and placed orders.
Yet as the day went on it was so more than a one-sided lecture. We began sharing ideas and exposing ourselves, our tastes, likes, prejudices and general thoughts about the world. I had mentors along the way who were not only passing role models but people whose behavior, attitudes, values, and beliefs I identified with and often wanted to emulate. They took the time to develop a true personal interest in a young person. But that young person was no longer me, it was her.
February 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I was sick of hearing that Emerald Green was Pantone’s 2013 Color of the Year by mid-January. How Pantone’s heads are now a futurists like Faith Popcorn (founder of BrainReserve, and, deservedly, one who has identified a number of trends that proves consumer behavior, like “nesting”) I don’t understand. What I do understand about Pantone is that they have a proprietary color matching system and they track data through that system used widely for printing, paint and plastics.
I’m not declaring that a single color can’t be THE go-to color for the year, however, if the information from last month’s Paris Maison & Objet, the haute couture trends and recent meetings I’ve had with international fabric designers have any weight (and I think they do) I have a few other colors for you to consider.
First, some background: while I admit that a single color can permeate all facets of current design and Pop culture – from painting and interiors to fashion and maquillage – I’m simply predicting it probably won’t be Emerald. A strong example of one color dominating all was the color puce (a lilac-y pink) shown in all aspects of 18th century Rococo painting, clothing and decorative arts.
Influencing both color and style, more recently we can think back to the early 1990s Grunge movement (I can almost hear Nirvana playing now) where the aesthetic – in music – was stripped-down compared to other forms of rock with unkempt appearances for musicians. Colors were bleak: black, grey, nondescript dirty off whites. That fashion style help lead the popularization of extremely casual clothing in every social situation – and clothing our grandparents would never have worn let alone be seen in public wearing (hoodies, torn jeans, baggy t-shirts, sneakers with every outfit). This went, curiously, hand-in-hand with two differing trends: the existing home décor trends of Shabby Chic (read: anything copiously draped in worn-out and faded linen and cheap, garage sale finds) and slick urban loft look (black leather, exposed mechanical systems, chrome).
With forecasting for 2013, a few data points seem to keep popping up. At Maison & Objet, Pantone’s Emerald was nowhere to be seen, instead, pastels dominated and many showed a clear light yellow.
Kelly Hoppen, the UK designer writes about M&O in today’s Huffington Post, that, “There was not just one trend as it could be seen before, not the usual colour combination that you can find on all stands and brands like the splash of red ten years ago.” And while she is typically a white and beige kind of designer, in addition to that palette her go to colors this year will be charcoal, brown, black and shades of grey. Last week I met with the folks from de le Cuona, a sumptuous fabric line started by a South African but based in Windsor, U.K. Known for their subtle yet luxurious neutral linens, they had a few wonderful stand-outs including a luminous man-made velvet that looked like silk and came in screaming yellow and all sorts of rich blues. If New York Fashion week is any indication of trends, the common denominator colors are off-white, pale yellow, fuchsia mixed with dark colors, the whole spectrum of gray from pale to charcoal, camel, rust and vibrant Yves Klein blue. It seems the only time Emerald popped up was in the Lela Rose show and that may have simply been an opportunistic sales nod to the well-heeled consumer who is holding onto the green theme.
For a current 10,000 foot residential project I’m doing a palette of my usual neutral, creamy earth tones of white and warm tan with subtle mixes of blue gray, metallic threads, washed out yellows and ochre. There isn’t a touch of Emerald.
February 10, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The Blizzard Nemo visited Boston over the weekend and left snow accumulations measured in feet not inches- the stuff of children’s dreams. Some parents, however, took a crisp look at how their Mud Room functioned. Now, Day Two after the storm, there are still piles of drying ski pants, boots (caked with rock salt), snowshoes, cross country skis and poles all in a happy jumble at my back door.
I’ve designed many Mud Rooms over the years and beyond the obvious storage for all outerwear (coats, gloves, hats), they are a great, dedicated space for:
- Any sports equipment (tennis racquets, hockey sticks, golf bags, ski boots)
- Hunting or fishing gear
- Gardening items like secateurs that are too precious to go in the shed (like my trusty Swiss Felco pruners)
- Outgoing mail, or package pick-up area
- Dry cleaning area
- Laundry basket
- iPhone charger space
- Dog leashes
- Memo board for messages
- Place to sit when removing shoes
- Umbrella stand
- Bins for separating recyclables
A friend has a successful Mud Room design with hanging and cubby space that also incorporates the Laundry Room. It is the first room you enter from the garage door, so all sports clothes, mud and snow is isolated immediately from the rest of the house.
It is such a utilitarian room but there are ways to make it special. From a few recent projects I propose Four Great Design Elements to keep in mind when a designing a Mud Room:
-Hardware: Since this is a room where you will touch the handles on the door, the knobs on the cabinets and the pulls on the drawers many, many times a day, they should feel good in your hand. Rocky Mountain Hardware produces items that are like a little piece of sculpture. Even their coat hooks are substantial and stunning. I love their White Bronze finish.
-Lighting: good lighting, whether recessed or decorative features, can be played up (below, right).
-Floors: a durable floor is the first concern in this room but there is no reason it should not be beautiful. I’ve used stunning French tumbled limestone recently as well as bricks in a herringbone pattern. Over any floor you can add a softer touch. I have a large, custom cut piece of Chilewich matting in a basketweave pattern in my Mud Room which has held up now for a few years and still looks brand new and very attractive.
-Color: White is not the only color for cabinetry and here is a great place to have some fun with paint or using a species wood for the cabinets (like mahogany, right).