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Making a pretty home: grace notes

In antiques, beauty, design, domestic life, life, Style on March 5, 2015 at 1:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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– Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

– Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

– Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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– Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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– Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

– Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

Making a pretty home — why (great) lighting matters so much!

In aging, beauty, design, domestic life, life, Style, Technology on March 1, 2015 at 12:29 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that The New York Times has, this week, killed (!) its weekly Home section, I’m here to the rescue!

Kidding.

But as someone passionate about interior design and who studied at thew New York School of Interior Design, I love all things design-related and will miss that section a great deal.

Here’s the first in a series of three posts, all of which I will post in the next week, on how to solve some of the most common design problems.

 

One of my favorite vintage NYC bars, Fanelli's, on Prince Street

One of my favorite vintage NYC bars, Fanelli’s, on Prince Street. Love those period chandeliers

Especially for those of us in the (brrrrr) Northern Hemisphere and those anywhere near the 50th parallel, sunlight is a treasured resource — only now are the days beginning to lengthen.

Nights are long, cold and dark — and every scrap of light matters.

A hallway sconce at the Nelligan Hotel in Montreal. Love it!

A hallway sconce at the Nelligan Hotel in Montreal. Love it!

I once visited Stockholm in November and will never forget what incredible attention to light was paid there, everywhere, from the post office to the votive candles glowing on restaurant tables at mid-day; (it was dark by 3pm or so.)

No matter how much time, money or attention you pay to your home (or not!), the quantity and quality of the lighting there can make a huge difference to your mood, ability to concentrate, your family’s happiness and, most importantly, their safety.

Many people are badly injured, even killed, by falling in their own homes and being able to clearly see where you’re stepping — or chopping onions! — is really important.

The left is before; the right is after. I designed the kitchen myself

The left is before; the right is after. I designed our kitchen myself; the wall lamps are are from Restoration Hardware

A few tips on how to best illuminate your home:

The most welcoming rooms have four different light sources. Our living-room, which is 12 feet by 24 feet, has five: a desk lamp (task light); a small accent light; a floor lamp, a lamp on a bookshelf and a reading lamp.  There’s no overhead light, nor do I ever want one there.

There are many ways to use light. Task lighting is used, as it suggests, for doing specific things using that light — cooking, bathing, working, reading. A chandelier over a dining table creates a focal point for the room, casts a warm pool of light, and saves floor space in a small area. Many people use under-counter lighting in their kitchen beneath their kitchen cabinets. We chose open shelves instead, so the lighting in our kitchen is three wall-mounted lamps from Restoration Hardware and three pot lights in the ceiling, all of them on dimmers.

 

Accent spot light and candlelight in a corner of our livingroom

Accent spot light and candlelight in a corner of our living room

What mood do you hope to create? A nasty overhead light far above your head does little to flatter anyone or any interior. Useful for a hallway, sure, or a bathroom, but not very attractive in a bedroom, living room or dining room. Pools of light delineate your space.

Dimmers! We have our bathroom, kitchen and dining room lights on dimmers and it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere we can create as a result.

Choose your lighting with a careful eye, not only the style of each lighting source but the bulb: LED, incandescent, filament, halogen…each has a very different quality of light and energy usage.

This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it's versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

Lamps can make or break the beauty of  a room. Whether you prefer formality and elegance, modern simplicity or a sparkling crystal chandelier, it’s out there!

Consider quality, size, color and condition of your lampshades. They can be square, rectangular, round, conical, in card, silk, cotton, burlap. The most elegant, formal rooms often have tightly pleated colored silk lampshades, glowing like jewels when lit. Plated sharp-edged card shades are hell to clean.

Don’t forget how many amazing options are available on-line. Two of my favorite resources are Circa Lighting and Renovation, with hundreds of choices.

– Make sure your lamps are close/tall/bright enough to actually do the job you need them to; three-way bulbs are a nice choice.

– Remember that every lamp you choose adds color and texture to the room. I love this metal articulated task lamp from Wisteria ($219), this one (in purple, turquoise, cream and silver) from PB Teen for $79, and this table lamp, with a clear glass base from West Elm, which we have and love, $89. It doesn’t look like much, but its value, to me, lies in its ability to cast enough light without adding any design drama because of its simplicity. I discovered the PB teen lamp in — of all places — a gorgeous inn we stayed in in Prince Edward County, Ontario. They were the bedside lamps and so perfect I picked one up to see who the manufacturer was. (Ideas are everywhere!)

Include the timeless beauty of candles as well, whether a row of flickering votives lining a windowsill or tall tapers. I keep a scented candle by my bedside and often start and end my days with a few minutes of its gentle light and spicy, relaxing smell. We also eat dinner in a room filled with lit (unscented) candles, votives and tapers, (in addition to a chandelier on a dimmer, with reflective bulbs [silver bottoms] that keep the glare out of our eyes.)

— The shadows cast by electric or candle-lit lanterns made of pierced metal are mysterious, exotic and add a distinctive note; look for great sources from Morocco or Mexico.

Here’s a helpful and detailed guide to lighting your home.

The little thing someone said that meant the world to you

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, travel on February 25, 2015 at 1:11 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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I was flying home from Paris to New York on a wide-body 777.

The turbulence wasn’t, objectively, that bad at all and, really, could have been much worse. But I really dislike turbulence, especially at the start of a 7.5 hour trans-oceanic flight with Godknowshowmuch more of it ahead.

Even while mortified by my babyishness, I cried. Not a lot and not loudly.

A man sitting in the seat in front of me, an Indian man in his 60s or beyond, was gentle and kind.

“It’s all right. We’re all here with you,” he said.

His very simple words meant a lot to me, as someone who’s been through way too much emotional turbulence in my past life, which I sometimes think is why physical turbulence undoes me somehow. Nor did I grow up in  family who did a lot of comforting or cuddling if/when I was scared. That was my job.

I was so touched by his words and later wanted to thank him, but he was too quickly gone.

Maybe he’s just that kind to everyone.

I’m forever amazed at the things we say to one another, whether strangers on an airplane or teacher to student (or vice versa), that can leave such a positive effect on us, years, even decades later.

Sometimes it’s like a stone whose initial plunk into the water ripples outward in many circles, having a much deeper and profound effect on you than the person speaking could possibly know or understand.

It seems such a little thing…

Maybe not everyone is as open or susceptible to these things as I seem to be, but I try to say nice things whenever and wherever I can; readers of this blog know I can be very tough indeed. I’m no Pollyanna, but it’s been so powerful in my life when someone has offered a nugget of passing wisdom.

What could you say today to change someone's life for the better?

What could you say today to change someone’s life for the better?

Like the woman I met socially just as my now-husband and I had started dating. We were serious about one another from the start, but we argued a lot and were stubborn and hot-headed. Not a pretty combination.

“You can give this man his happiest years or his worst years,” she said. I knew her very briefly and maybe saw her once or twice after that.

That made clear to me what my wisest choice would be and, 15 years later, we are happily married.

I didn’t come from a family filled with cute, cosy homilies, so I learned to find much of my wisdom and comfort from people beyond that circle.

In my mid-20s, on a journalism fellowship in Paris, a perceptive friend about 15 years my senior noticed my obsession with antiques, one that continues today.

Probably 200 years old, found at a country auction in Nova Scotia

Probably 200 years old, found at a country auction in Nova Scotia

“You don’t have to buy other people’s histories,” she said.

That same year, back in the days before (yes, really!) the Internet and the cloud, I was shooting a lot of film and slides, and had hundreds of them, going back years and much global travel, in a big black portfolio I used to show editors to win work.

It was stolen and I was devastated. How could I possibly persuade people to trust me and invest their time and money in my skills?

“Nope,” said a fellow fellow, a woman a bit older than me, also from Toronto, said firmly. “Everything inside that portfolio is already inside you. You don’t need it.”

She was right.

What has someone said to you that changed your life for the better?

What have you said?

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