Monday, November 22, 2010

Jock Itch

I was pretty jocky at one time. Basketball, shot put, swimming. I was into any sport or event where you didn't have to bend over (forget field hockey) or run longer than the length of the basketball court. (or soccer) And I also have an ongoing love affair with nearly anything old - let's say at least 50 years old and so vintage sports stuff really does it for me. Recently I've been inspired by using sports stuff in decor. There is something quirky and fun about using objects form the world of sports in your house. Who used them? To win? To lose? Did they live out their usefulness in the garage? Did they see glory days? To use them on a shelf in your home is to give them a home after their glory days are done for sure. This is not to say that I am endeavoring to recreate the inside of a TGIFridays or a Ground Round. Vintage sports stuff is not a theme - it's a device in a space that needs quirk and interest. Artifacts from someone else's sports career are just that - they can be interspersed with books on shelves, left alone in corners, hung up on walls, or on ceilings, strewn on window sills. I'm thinking about vintage bowling pins, skis, old basketballs or catcher's mitts, (super-worn, old leather from the 1950's is a bit of a turn on for me - photo above) - even more obscure equipment like an old fencing mask or javelin or croquet mallet would be cool too. If it has a connection to your life, then it really works. This weekend, my cousin, Spenser, was visiting. He's is new on the professional triathalete circuit and tales from his most recent race got me thinking about using bicycles inside. Why not? They are beautiful. Leave it to etsy to show me a bike wheel clock today! I get so many complaints from female clients that they can't stand their male partners' sports obsessions. I'm telling you ladies - it ain't chintz, but it can be chic. Think old, check ebay, etsy and yard sales, watch Hoosiers and make it work, jock-style.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The resale boogeyman

For whatever the reason, I hate it when my clients say the word "resale" to me.

Call me a dreamer or a romatic, but I hate to be tied down or constrained in any way by the untamable, fickle and downright illogical beast that is, the real estate market when I am working on a house. And frankly, "resale" refers not to the current real estate market, but for most people, the market of the future. I would like to shout from a mountain top that none of us could possibly know what will sell houses five, ten, fifteen years from now. And yet we, as homeowners constantly try to crack this nut. If we are able to make changes to a home that will entice the mythical future buyer, then our homes will appreciate and fortunes will be made.

It doesn't work this way. (anymore)

Sure there was a time when appreciation was more or less formulaic. And if you are trying to sell your house, right now, you had better find what out today's formula is for selling. But if you're not selling your house at this moment, let it go. The needs of strangers who may or may not buy your home in the unnamed or calculated future are very simply, moot. We don't feel this way - we feel beholden to them - but they are indeed moot. You are betting the walls that surround you and nurture you and shelter you and you are very likely to bet wrong.

I know there are folks who call me irresponsible or immature in this matter - surely you must consider the value of your biggest asset when you make changes to your home. But let's be clear - thinking about the value of your home - and thinking about what future buyers want are two different considerations. One is rational and logical and unemotional. The other is completely subjective and nearly impossible.

Again it's an issue of timing. And I contend, if you not planning on selling any time soon go for what you can afford and what you need in your home. Go for what so many of my clients have passed on, in fear that the resale boogeyman will come and take their fortunes in the middle of the night:

-paint a room rasberry

-skip the bathtub

-go for the artist's studio

-yes to blue cabinets

-kill the formal dining room, it won't mind

-get a purple door

Monday, October 18, 2010

The great design diplomacy challenge for the ages: Decorating with your teen

Although I don't have a teenaged child yet, I do refer (fondly, if awkwardly) on my teen years for inspiration and understanding. My newest, latest and greatest for Hometown Quarterly, as my alter-ego, the divine design diplomat, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It took me back to the early '90s, back to big hair and Bon Jovi and raging hormones....enjoy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Long Version: Luke's Nursery

About a trillion years ago, I posted that I was pregnant - and that I had some work to do. First I had to move out of our mind-numbingly-boring apartment in Jersey City and find a house in the burbs. Second I had to create a nursery I could love - to ease me into second-time-motherhood. I guess that's a long winded way of saying - that's why I haven't written very much over the past year...

I now have a jolly, jumpy six-month-old, a house in the burbs (Summit, NJ to be exact) and a nursery I trully love. I'm pretty wordy, as it is - and this is actually not even the whole drawn out story - but I thought I'd save you from some of the teensy details. It's long enough. Hope you enjoy - Ohdeedoh, my favorite kids' design blog of all time, certainly did.

Nursery Number Two

My task was simple, or so it seemed: create a chic, boyish nursery for my second baby. It should’ve been easy – I’ve been designing and decorating kids’ rooms and nurseries for years – well before I had my first child and fully understood what and who they were for. (The parents) I’ve researched and reviewed baby and kids’ furniture – I know what’s out there but more importantly, I know what I like.

Then it got complicated: make it affordable – mine was a recession pregnancy – probably conceived around the time we went down to basic cable. Make it easy-on-the-house – we are renters, lying in wait until the housing miasma cools off in one way or another. Make it better than the first time – my older son’s nursery was darling, but now that I’ve earned a few parenting stripes, there is room for improvement with respect to functionality, aka, making mama’s life easier. Finally, notching up a full degree of difficulty -- make it asthma-proof – my older son’s nebulizer already gets plenty of use – nothing that contributes even a trace of gross air would be allowed.

I also wanted to create a space for me. That’s right. I would be clocking many long hours, even a few dark nights of the breastfeeding soul in that room, and I want to be happy there. No, that’s not true –I want to be peaceful there. The days and nights of mothering aren’t always happy-go-lucky – they are intense, and sometimes immensely challenging. I wanted a space that would nurture me as I nurtured my son, and make me feel calm.

Not such a tall order is it?

Design should be able to do at least this much in my book. When you add a healthy nesting instinct courtesy of pregnancy, anything is possible. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4am and 22 weeks, I pulled up the vinyl tile in one of our bathrooms with my fingernails (sounds harder than it is) speculating that the original ‘40s mint-green tile lie in repose underneath. I was right – little green chiclets in Tetris-like configuration were revealed in time for breakfast. So for Luke’s nursery, I had both energy and gusto, I just needed to start. Manic indecision accompanies the nesting instinct for me. Luckily, a field trip to see fish and tire out my toddler gave me just what I needed – my kernel.

The Kernel

I always need a one. It need not be so obvious as a swatch or a clip from a magazine. It can be a mood, an experience, a word – something to light the path for all the decisions to come. For Luke’s nursery that kernel arrived on a visit to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey when I was 7 months pregnant. On that particular day, I was too fat, slow and cranky to keep up with my always-climbing-or-running-somewhere then-18-month-old. The aquarium was not the perfect place for an 18-month old as he was still too short to see most of the exhibits. I spent most of the time “carrying” him as he worked his best alligator-roll to wriggle free. Then we came to the school of fish tank.


The fish circulated the tank in their synchronized dance like perfectly svelte ballerinas scurrying off-stage and then back again, and then off, and then back again. It was a moment of Zen and quiet and breathtaking beauty. We both stood still for a good two minutes, a record. I had my kernel.


For those of you who don’t know me, I’m big. Over six-feet-tall with size 12 or 13 feet, depending on my daily pain threshold. I don’t do small. I even have big babies, 9.8 and 10.2lbs respectively. For my work, I like things OVERSIZED. I just say no, as a rule, to miniature baby balloon mobiles and imperceptible prints of you-guess-it-baby animals. Save sweet for dessert. Every space – especially bento-box-sized bedrooms, should have one large element that wraps the room and anchors the style. In my bedroom, it’s an oversized upholstered headboard in valiant navy and white, standing taller than necessary above the bed, with four vintage Paris prints standing at attention above it. It’s a little Nantucket-meets-St.-Germain-tag sale and it suits me. I needed my one big thing for Luke’s room, but there were already so many parameters – cheap, air-quality neutral, not-permanent, boyishly chic and what else? Oh, yes modern.

If the nursery fits…

I like matching -- styles, vibes, moods – not so much color - but matching sensibility in a house is important. Walking from room to room in your house should be like reading from the same book. Walking into a Dora-fied girl’s room or a Disney-plagued nursery when the rest of the house is chic, minimalist or just less obvious is a decorating non sequitur. This nursery had to match my rental house, which is affectionately mid-century modern, or truthfully, late-1940’s drab. It’s simple and straightforward and small. I’ve made it colorful and comfortable and laced with childishness –not dominated by it. Luke’s room would be the next chapter.

A word on themes

I even hate the word, “theme.” I throw up in my mouth a bit when someone tells me the “theme they’re going for.” Themes set up limitations and rules setting you up to create a diorama, not a room. If you held me at knife-point asked me what my “theme” was for this nursery, I would have said, “underwater zen.” But this meant different things to me at different (hormone-driven) times and I like the freedom to change my mind – let a project take a different direction. It need not be so obvious, either. Some of the connection is for my experience only – the vintage toy box beside the nursing chair is actually an original Pirate’s Booty Toy Box from the 1950’s, given to me by an elderly neighbor. On the outside it just looks like an old painted toy chest. That’s enough for me.

Seamen had a hand in it, naturally

I got to thinking about maritime life, in addition to fish. On a sail boat cruise, many moons ago, I was mesmerized by the glossed, curvy, built-in wood furniture in the bedroom quarters, which inspired my choices for the dresser and crib. For the changing table, I chose a dresser – something my son could use through adulthood. The only thing in my house that can have such an obvious expiration-of-use-date is the crib – no changing tables here. I also devoted an entire wall into the changing-station – utilizing IKEA kitchen shelves on the wall and multiple hooks. This way I kept all the supplies I would need at eye-level, out of grabbing or kicking reach. Task lighting directly above, on a dimmer, helps me see all the dirty business, even in the middle of the night when neither my son or could much handle a bright light. A baby’s room should be both soothing and stimulating – much of this can be achieved through dimmers. The overhead light, shaped like a porthole, also from IKEA, is also on a dimmer so I am in total control of the mood of the room at all times. (Unlike my actual moods.)

When it came to the crib, I struggled. My older son was still in his crib. Should I move him? I’m frugal to a fault. Then I found the Argington BAM collection crib in bamboo and I forgot about anything else. ( It’s as sexy as it cribs get. It’s curved, slender and solid at the same time. Bamboo has an intricate texture which Argington has used in a deliberate way in shape - I spent a lot of time staring at it in low light, rather peacefully, nursing my son in the early days and weeks. I also know a bit about Argington, run by a fabulous couple in Brooklyn, and knowing the story behind your goods always feels right. So there it was, the BAM crib in bamboo, which paired beautifully with my exquisitely inexpensive Craigslist dresser – that’s better than Christmas for me. For the rocker, I went masculine. What would Don Draper sit in if he were to get up and nurse my son four times a night? Definitely the Empire Rocker by Nurseryworks, which I bought onsale from my friend Summer, of fame. It’s deliciously comfortable and built for breastfeeding, although you’d never know it. I call it my smoking rocking chair.

It just felt right

I had decided to do a mural – no an installation – remember my statement on BIG? Certainly vinyl appliqués are oh so popular. I love them –don’t get me wrong – but I wanted to have my hands on more of this room –more than just ordering a wall appliqué from someone else. What’s more, vinyl has been accused of environmental misdeeds and if nothing else is certainly not air quality neutral, rendering it ineligible for my asthma-friendly space. This mural would be hand-made, odorless and natural. Felt is somehow Elizabethan, grade-school and grandmotherly. Fuzzy but not cutesy. A school of felt fish it was to be. I consulted my husband, a suburban naturalist, as well as my sister, a marine biologist, on proper anatomical choices for my school. Then I did what I really wanted – I created a very simple, very straightforward elongated fish out of cardboard, and then started cutting….and cutting…and cutting. About 150 fish in crazy, unnatural, all-over-the-map shades of green and blue.

I’ve got more than just the blues

Luckily, through Etsy, I found a lovely felt purveyor who calls herself Giantdwarf. They are, as she promised on the phone, “the juiciest, most delicious colors.” My fish wall became an invitation to dip in and out of muted, vibrant and everything in between in green and blue for the flooring, the drapes, the accessories. A blended mix of colors became the clear choice for my FLOR tiles. For paint, I chose green because blue rooms don’t work for me. Green rooms are hard to do right, but I just prefer them, so I made baby sage walls in Appalachian Green 852 from Benjamin Moore. Benjamin Moore’s Natura line rocks because it’s no-VOC, rendering it air-quality neutral, but beyond that, it impressed my skeptical-of-anything-natural husband, who loved how it covered. For accessories I dipped into vintage – a rusty metal seahorse from the outside of an old Cape Cod house, found on The Sage Scottie on Etsy. ( and a pair of porcelain baby booties in baby blue from a yard sale. Two prints –the only overtly marine elements beyond the fish – lovely, almost abstract and simple by Jenna Bowles. To hold creams, q-tips, clippers, thermometers, etc., I used a set of martini shakers. (Reuse, recycle! My martini days are done, for everyone’s sake.) For storage in the room, I invested in Way Basics’ Tool Free Modular Storage Cubes from 2Modern which can be hung on the wall, reconfigured to make a low bench or be separated as we evolve from breastfeeding nights to story time, to Tonka truck storage.

With my son approaching his six-month-birthday, I can tell you he’s been a very calm and happy baby. Is it the room? Who knows. I do believe because of their bright colors and mellow form, he enjoyed them even in the days of groggy newborn blindness. What’s more –I really enjoy this room. I feel like it does justice to the rest of our house – it is a combination of old and new, clever, simple and crafty. And the best part? I went beyond affordable into inexpensive -- my ultimate cat-that-got-the-canary in decorating. This nursery reminds me that good design is a lot like pregnancy – a process that can’t be rushed, is sometimes uncomfortable, involves quite a bit of work that’s almost always underestimated or ignored at conception, and in the end the result is always better than you expected. Almost makes me ready to underestimate the challenge of baby #3. Almost.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Catalog Comment: RH - Tragically hip but big at least...

I was pleasantly surprised and a bit startled by the new Restoration Hardware catalog and their newest "Spring" collection. Mostly because the Versailled chairs featured on the front (above) are lusciously over-the-top - jaunty from one angle, hunky from another - I fell in love when I saw them and blogged about it at Vegas Market last February. I hope RH had the guts to buy (v.s. copy for cheap in Asia) them from Noir Furniture & their lovely designer whom that I met at that show - a sexy French guy with a great eye for bold, ostentatious-yet-masculine pieces, whose name now escapes me - chalk it up to mommy brain.
As a rule, I hate catalogs - they make it seem way too easy & a bit contrived but I like the direction RH is going - they have been the predictably bland straddler between Ethan Allen and Pottery Barn - lots of oversized furniture, not much personality. Everything in the catalog seemed to say, "Upper East Side Impersonal." This new catalog is much more quasi-personal, much more curatorial. The lighting and other accessories are gigantic and bold - the pieces are statement making. The large 108"salvaged-wood trestle table is gorgeous, even if you need a barn for a dining room to fit it in your house. Maybe because I'm in the oversized-person catagory at 6'1", I just like big things - big babies, big furniture, big is better with almost everything. Pricing for RH is high but not higher given this twist in direction.

Spaces created solely from this catalog would be a bit precious and honestly, it would be much more fun to create a room and thus search for REAL architecturally-salvaged items, but I give an A for effort in terms of showing decorated rooms that are louder and bolder than any others in the stack of catalogs that visit my doorstep weekly.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Billie Jean Is Not My Lover (but she's on my FLOR)

I was a pretty die-hard Michael Jackson back in the day. I started a Michael Jackson fan club and had various Thriller iron-ons. Lots of my childhood makes its way into my interior design work -especially in my own house. And I have fond, strong, clear-cut memories of my Michael Jackson period, specifically an affinity for Billie Jean (as in, is, not my lover...she's just a girl who says that I am the one...but the kid is not my son.) This taught me oodles about love and paternity at way too young an age, but I was infatuated with the video - panels of flooring that lit up as MJ danced. It was the flooring of dreams. I had sort of stashed this flooring fantasy until this summer with MJ died. Only then did I realize how well it meshed with my current obsession with primary colors given the abundance of Tonka trucks and Fisher-Price which have infiltrated much of my living space due to my two-year-old son. So, I matched the dreams of my teen-years with my current day domestic realities and voila - Billie Jean carpeting.

FLOR has been a favorite of mine for a long, long time. Conceptually, I love anything that is sold as a kit, of sorts. I buy the tiles, neat little numbers at just under 20" by 20" and then I assemble them in whatever pattern I like. I've used them dozens of times for clients, for TV projects and of course in my own home. They can be mod, playful, uber-linear or subdued. And they are affordable, unless you're doing a ball-room's worth of them. They are better for smaller spaces.

My flooring dilemna was that I needed a solution for high-traffic areas where the passersby were almost always little people with greasy hands and likely dirty feet. I needed something that would wear well, and clean up even better. I needed something with punch and personality to liven up my boxy, 40's-era ranch house in the suburbs. In two configurations, I applied a Billie-Jean-esque pattern as an entry mat on steroids and then a hall runner with FLOR tiles cut into 1/3s. (Once you start cutting FLOR tiles - use duct tape as the "dots" they provide aren't typically adhesive quite enough.)

I'll be thrilled the day I can teach my soon to moonwalk on these babies.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Boy-proof & chic: What works for food fights and diners under 3ft tall?

It's the designista parents' greatest dilmenna - how to compose a stylish, intersting, functional home that can stand the test of toddler time? when it seems that anything cool is either a hazard to little ones or vulnerable to their PB&J-slinging whims - try some old-school favorites. Can formica and chic co-exist? Yes.

This weekend, I purchased this set for $99 on Craigslist. I can thank the modern convenience of websurfing on my phone and the ancient practice of middle-of-the-night breastfeeding as a combo which lead me to this seriously under-appreciated find at 3am on Friday night.

Bentwood Italian-made caned chairs in the iconic "S" shape with a white formica table that can stand up to mashed rasberries and my son jumping on it, hanging from it, and running any number of wheely toys across it. Formica - passe, you say? Not so. Go vintage or go home. Thanks to "Condo Gerry" for the friendly delivery service!
And the head of the table goes to my son who now proudly sits on the Argington Toddler Seat, which is fabulously sturdy, simply and interesting to my always-climbing two-year-old. Thanks Jenny @ Argington for another great idea (that works) for parents who hate ugly kid stuff.