The winter zhuzh

Looking down from our bedroom window

By Caitlin Kelly

We’re in it now, kids!

Only after December 21, in the Northern Hemisphere, will we slowly inch/centimeter back toward longer days and more light.

The long, cold, dark, rainy, slushy, sleety, snowy days of winter can be rough!

Add the isolation of avoiding COVID, and it may be the most difficult some of us have ever faced. Some of you are grieving the loss of loved ones.

My go-to solution, however shallow and silly it may seem, is to zhuzh our home — i.e. to make it as lovely as possible. Few things are more depressing than a dark, dirty cluttered home and few more deeply nurturing than one that is clean, well-lit, comfortable and welcoming.

If you don’t sigh with relief and happiness when you open your front door, as we do…maybe this is the time to make your home, no matter its size or location, the respite you so badly need.

Add color and pattern

This can show up in so many ways.

If you can handle the physical work alone, a gallon or two of paint can totally transform a chair or chest of drawers or a room, certainly a small one; include the baseboards/skirting boards for a unified look. As regular readers here know, I’m a huge fan of this UK-based, now U.S.-owned paint company, Farrow & Ball, whose colors fill every corner of our one-bedroom apartment. The sitting room is Peignoir (likely soon to change!), the rest Skimming Stone, and the bathroom a strong mustard yellow and the kitchen a green-ish gray; one benefit of their brand is that you can always request more of a discontinued color. Highlight of my 2017 England visit — a trip to their Dorset factory! SWOON.

A pretty throw rug or tablecloth or placemats and/or linen/cotton napkins, a throw or comforter.

We have and enjoy all of these.

Our duvet cover and bedside rug

Cushions/throw pillows

There’s such a dizzying universe of options, and each can really change the style and flavor of your sofa, chairs or bed. I like this new-ish site, St. Frank, with its ethnic styles. My super cheap-o pillow-cover hack? Buy two gorgeous napkins and hand-sew the edges around an existing pillow you already own. Like these cheerful green and white cotton, 20 inch square — four for $32. That’s two pillow covers at $16 each.


Nothing like glowing green on a wintry day.

Fresh flowers in every room, even the bathroom and kitchen. Invest in a few flower frogs or floral foam and you can use a wide variety of containers, not just a standard vase.

Add comfort

Team duvet! If you’ve never succumbed to the floaty, puffy, super-cosy allure of a duvet…go for it! Blankets are fine, but once you’ve snuggled beneath a duvet and a pretty, removable, washable cover, it’s hard to go back. Covers can be found on plenty of sites, from Anthropologie to Garnet Hill to Zara Home. I LOVE these solid color linen ones –– 19 colors.

Same for shams and pillow cases. Freshly ironed cases and shams, changed frequently, are a simple luxury.

A sheepskin rug, bedside, is a lovely way to start the day.

My pillow is so so so sad. If yours are as well, fresh new ones (with pillow protectors from the start) are a good investment.

Light matters!

Found, of all places, in Minneapolis!

Candlelight is especially lovely these days. Go 18th century with a candlestick bedside. Dine by candlelight, a mix of votives and tapers.

If you can get a handyman, MASKED, to come to your home, install dimmers in every room you have overhead lighting; few things are as harsh and unflattering than standard overhead lights. Every room should, ideally, have multiple sources of light: table lamps, task lamps, standing lamps. Keep bulbs and shades dusted and replace shades when they become torn, stained or burned. A bougie addition I love are pretty finials, like these — make sure they thoughtfully match the style, color and scale of your lamp and shade. When the light glows up, it can add a pretty grace note.

Changing up your lampshades can make an enormous, stylish difference to your room and style. Ballard Designs has many sizes, shapes, colors and styles, as does Fermoie. I also love these pleated fabric ones from Oka.

Our former living room curtains — for sale!

And how about your windows? Too many ready-made curtains are saggy, thin and just…sad! They droop and drag and don’t insulate drafts or block light when you do want to sleep. A huge splurge, if possible, is having curtains made — they will be properly weighted and lined. But there are some good options; love these from Madura, whose curtains we had a few years ago and the quality was excellent. If you choose a color, remember that when closed you’ll have a large unbroken block of color and how will that play in the space? If you choose a pattern, is the scale of the design too small to register from a distance or so bold you’ll soon tire of it? And how does its color, scale and pattern relate to everything else in the room?

Lanterns and lovely votives along shelves and windowsills (safely, probably not great with little kids or cats!) add a flickering glow. I love this lantern, which looks like it comes from a bazaar in Srinagar or Tetouan — not Bed, Bath and Beyond! I found my favorite lanterns at the back of a Minneapolis cafe, of all places.

Add scent

I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.

Room spray can be nice.

So can paperwhites or lilies.

I love something as simple as dropping affordable eucalyptus oil into my bath — scenting the entire (small!) room; I buy mine at Whole Foods. Other great winter bath scents are cinnamon, lavender, vetiver or patchouli.

Dust and polish

Boorrrrrring….but more necessary than ever, certainly if you live with kids and hairy pets…let alone everyone’s now dragging in road dirt, gravel, sand, salt and slush.

I keep a good supply of silver and brass polish and fresh pads for our mop, and cleaning cloths and Windex because, in the gloomy funk of winter, it’s easy to overlook how damn dusty things get.

Use the good stuff!

Some people inherit lovely linens or china or silver or glassware and never really use it, saving it only for special occasions.

Life is a special occasion!

If this terrible terrible year has taught us anything, it’s the shocking, desperate brevity and fragility of our lives, work and connections.

There is tremendous esthetic pleasure to be had sipping your tea or coffee from a delicate bone china teacup or making the bed with vintage linens or drinking your juice or wine from a bit of etched glass or crystal.

Savor it all!

14 thoughts on “The winter zhuzh

  1. Carl Socolow

    So well put and such a necessary reminder. It’s my hope that as we transition through this pandemic that we also learn or relearn how to appreciate and slow down and see and be.

  2. Jan Jasper

    I always love hearing how you’ve made your apartment a wonderful home. You and I agree on Farrow & Ball, I’ve got it in several rooms. Last year I invested in having a F & B consultant come to my house to make recommendations. She was excellent and worth the cost. I believe now you can have a virtual F & B color consult – you provide photos. I’m glad I had her at the house before Covid hit. Her recommendations for specific whites to use on the trim and ceiling made a huge difference; previously I’d thought whites were pretty much the same.
    And yes, lights on dimmer switches! I don’t like overhead light, in general, I prefer several floor/table lamps; also sconces. I recently had a – masked, of course – electrician come in to install some sconces. I’m going to get some candle holders like those you’ve pictured. Ever since moving into a very old, wooden house, I’ve stopped using candles. If they’re in a lovely metal enclosure, I’d feel safer.
    I love distinctive lampshades – they’re harder to find these days. I’ve found some unusual ones online. Just Shades, which has stores in Greenwich CT and I think NYC, has wonderful shades. Not cheap but an investment you can enjoy for years to come. I bought a really cool shade for a 1920s bridge lamp I have. Actually I collect old lighting, I do simple re-wiring myself, and complicated things I take to the lamp store to be redone. I have a couple chandeliers from the 1920s – one was a gift from my mom, the other I got at auction. They’re on dimmer switches, of course. I was lucky to find chandeliers where none of the glass shades were broken – usually at least one shade is gone, and you’re not likely to replace it.

    1. Nice to meet a fellow obsessive!

      There is a very good shop in Stamford, CT, that sells every iteration/size of shades and bulbs and finials. They are super helpful and where I bought our recent replacement shades/finials/bulbs for our 2 living table lamps.

      White is actually like any other color — confusingly! There are, as you learned, so many variations! Cool, warm, gray-ish, creamier….The wrong white is dirty looking or too harsh.

      I love wall sconces but our 1965-era apartment building (unless something more modern) isn’t a stylistic fit for that.

      Our bedside lamp bases are apparently sterling (!) — stamped 925 — and light in weight and very ornate. I have absolutely no idea of their origin…Got them at one of the two excellent antiques multi-dealer shops that are on either side of the lighting store. It’s a VERY popular one-stop shopping destination for some VERY big name NYC interior designers.


        Caitlin, what’s the name of that bulb and shade store in Stamford? That sounds like a wonderful find.

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, thanks for suggesting Fermoie for fabrics and lampshades – and apparently there’s a F & B connection!
    One more thing – it’s not a duvet and will be covered by the bedspread, so you won’t see it. But I highly recommend a weighted blanket. I’ve heard they help you sleep through the night, and ever since I bought mine 3 months ago, I’ve been sleeping better. It could be a placebo effect, but I’m fine with that.

  4. While working in the north we are in a rental (our home in Penticton will be up for sale in spring – we want to buy something more suited to us, but we will be staying/retiring in Penticton) but we do much of what you suggest. Great linens, comfortable bedding, candles, really good food (M is a terrific cook). Thanks for the site links – much appreciated. 🙂

  5. Little comforts really make a difference, especially in these times.

    I like a brand called Neom Organics (I don’t know if you have them in the US), who make wonderfully scented reed diffusers and candles. They’re natural scents from essential oils and don’t overpower the room.

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