Gimme shelter…magazines!



By Caitlin Kelly

I need help!

Everyone has an obsession, right?

Mine seems to be shelter magazines, the industry word for magazines focused on interior design. Stacks of them fill baskets, bookshelves and bags around our apartment, and I part with them reluctantly, only because there’s no room.

I grew up, ages 8 to 16, in boarding school and summer camp, which I’m sure has something to do with this. Boarding school meant sharing a room with at least 3 or 4 others, sleeping in a twin metal  bed with an institutional chenille or cotton bedspread. Summer camp meant sharing with 3 or 4 others and sleeping in a wooden bunk-bed, its only “decoration” the graffiti of earlier residents on the raw wood.

So beauty, comfort, style and elegance matter a great deal to me.

I’m able to keep my wallet snapped shut and stay off of most on-line shopping sites, but…but…oooohh, I do love a gorgeous fabric and have splurged multiple times ordering fabric-by-the-yard and having it made into custom throw pillows or curtains.



I had our old Crate & Barrel sofa refreshed with new bold piping on the seat cushions and had these throw pillows custom-made. Adding piping or welting always makes it  look more finished.


Our most recent purchase, from an antiques show in town, are four 1960s pale gray Chinese Chippendale-esque outdoor chairs, fabric for their cushions and a new outdoor rug for the balcony.

Because Jose and I so enjoy entertaining, it’s nice to open the door and feel completely at ease that our guests will enjoy a pretty, comfortable environment.

I also studied interior design seriously in the mid-1990s at the New York School of Interior Design, planning to ditch journalism and change careers. But my husband bailed and I couldn’t afford to work for $10/hour to start at the bottom. I loved my classes and  now really appreciate what training and skill it takes to create a spectacular space.

My parents each had terrific taste, collecting art and antiques. My father had a gorgeous Knole sofa I still remember decades later. My mother brought home lovely mirrored textiles from India and pale mantas from Peru.

And my maternal grandmother inherited a pile of money and hired Toronto’s best interior designer to furnish her apartment and, later, carriage house. I still remember a spectacular orange wallpaper from her powder room.



Our living room curtains, lined, custom-made maybe a decade ago. Lots of colors to work from in here; that pale yellow-green (Farrow & Ball’s Gervase Yellow) is one of them.


So I happily spend hours paging through other people’s homes, whether a villa in Tuscany, a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario or a 17th. century pile in some bit of rural England. I’m not especially drawn to opulence, and much prefer simplicity, like 18th century Swedish designs or the work of Axel Vervoordt.

I love The English Home, as much for  its amazing early houses — some 400 or 500 years old — as the distinctly British sense of color and design. All those tall, tall windows, lined chintz curtains and dressing tables.

On my last visit to London, my pal Cadence, author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — who knows my love of textiles — took me to the Cloth Shop, a legendary London store that supplied fabrics and ribbons to the costume-makers of the Harry Potter films. I bought a lovely teal fabric that now covers our bed headboard.



Two Farrow & Ball colors; French Gray and Peignoir (the lavender one). The drawers were custom-built into a former closet and this is the corner of our small dining room.


And, because I am a complete Farrow & Ball fangirl, I traveled 2.5. hours one-way by train and taxi in July 2017 to visit their paint and wallpaper factory in Dorset and meet one of their two heads of color, Charlie Cosby; here’s an interview with her and some explanations of their quirky paint color names, like Dead Salmon, Clunch and Elephant’s Breath.

Here are a few of my favorite go-to design retailers: Wisteria, Ballard Designs, Jayson Home, Anthropologie, Mothology, Dash & Albert, Serena & Lily.


12 thoughts on “Gimme shelter…magazines!

  1. I have a magazine obsession of another sort – what to do with every issue of Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s since 1946! Stacks of pristine publications I can’t bear to part with. So many magazines from my grandparents attic, yet not one with testament to my mom or her mother. My mother was first published at age 17 in 17 magazine (she beat runner-up Sylvia Plath in a short story contest) Anyone hanging on to a summer 1956 copy of 17 magazine? My Mom’s mother worked for Ladies Home Journal in San Francisco during the 20’s, illustrating pen & ink ads for shoes, gloves and handbags. Then went on to work for Vogue magazine, contributing full colour fashion illustrations. Sigh.

    1. What an amazing history! And what a cool mom and grandmother!

      The challenge is…who does want them?

      I just threw out a garbage bag filled with 5 year old (ugh) shelter magazines. Absurd. I kept the other magazines with my stories in them, but ugh…what we need to do is scan/PDF them and toss them.

      I think keeping cards and letters is lovely (found a love note from my husband from 2002) but the rest is difficult.

  2. I have always loved leafing through interior design magazines. they take me to ideas and places that I may not have otherwise imagined, let alone really does come to do choosing a few quality things to make all the difference for me. I don’t know all of the brands, but I do know what appeals to me and ti tends to pretty much always lead back to quality things, some old, some new.

    1. So much inspiration! I especially love Europeans’ use of color and scale. So different.

      I once took absurd pleasure seeing the EXACT same 18th c teapot on the cover of House Beautiful that I’d bought for $3 in an upstate junk shop because it was missing a lid — should have been about $1,000 if it had one.

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I share your love of these things. One of my faves is Old House Journal, which is more eye candy and less DIY than This Old House (I subscribe to both). I resist the temptation to get those mags about English manor homes because generally their ideas wouldn’t work in my house, and I don’t want to add to the overwhelm. I finally stopped my subscription to gardening magazines because I realized it was too easy to ohh and ah at the pictures, rather than to get out in my garden and do the actual work. When I do a purge, I look for a library sale where I can donate my old magazines so someone else can enjoy them; it also raises a bit of cash for the library.
    I recently re-did my home office – I painted using Farrow & Ball. Then got new curtains and I ordered a very large rug from Ballard Designs, I love the new room – what an improvement!
    I’m always eager to hear about your thinking, Caitlin, and how you decide to do what you do on your place.

  4. Jan Jasper

    I used Oxford Stone. I tested about 8 colors, I bought the sample pots, and painted 8 large white poster boards and taped them to the wall, looking at different times as the light changed. I also added a dab of Oxford Stone to the white for the ceiling.

    1. Huh. I don’t know that one! I usually keep their fandeck handy but lent it to a friend who has not yet returned it to me.

      Good for you for testing so many so carefully. That’s a must!

      1. Jan Jasper

        I’m very glad I tested all those colors on the large posterboards. It showed me that my initial color choice – a beige with a touch of muted pink – would not have gone, at all, with some of my furniture (one painted piece, another upholstered). But I could not have discerned that from a small color card or fandeck. I think I narrowly avoided a paint choice that would have forced me to either re-paint, or replace some furniture that I love.

      2. It is essential!

        My favorite design word is metamerism — how different a paint color appears in different light: daylight (sunny/cloudy), fluorescent, incandescent, halogen, candlelight. Not to mention how the color relates to every element of the room, including floor color.

        I love seeing how differently color is used (and looks amazing) in other places with such different light — from purple houses in Nicaragua to the soft tones I saw in Stockholm.

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