Cabin fevered? A mid-pandemic zhuzh

By Caitlin Kelly

As our governor Andrew Cuomo said at his daily press conference yesterday — we’re only on day 57 of self-isolation to slow the spread of COVID-19, still claiming more than 400 people daily in New York City.

Staying home and doing our very best to not further spread this terrible virus has already saved 100,000 lives, he said.

But it’s not the most fun staying indoors all the time.

How sick are you of staring at the same four walls?!

 

Time for a zhuzh?

 

Even though some of our freelance work has dried up, we’ve spent a bit (about $200) on some micro-fixes to our one-bedroom apartment, desperate for a bit of visual relief and freshness.

Here’s the new bedside rug I scored on sale from Bed, Bath and Beyond:

 

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The duvet cover is Pottery Barn, from a few years ago

 

We also bought a fresh set of bedsheets, a new sink mat for the kitchen and a new shower mat for our bathtub — to my horror and annoyance, the spray-on white surface we had done last year on our 12 year old tub is now bubbled and peeling off in sheets. It’s disgusting and will now be a long time before we can have anyone in to re-do it.

I’m buying fresh flowers every week as usual, doing lots of cleaning and polishing and we re-arranged our living room gallery wall:

 

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l to r, top row: my own image, Paris; a colored pencil drawing by a Canadian artist; a print by Henri Lartigue of early Paris

l to r middle row: a photo by our friend, Michael Falco, his pinhole camera image of Civil War re-enactors; one of the world’s widest trees, in Mexico; former First Lady Betty Ford atop the Cabinet Room table, by former WH official photographer David Hume Kennerly, another friend

bottom row, l to r: Me and a pal in a food photo shoot in the 60s; Bernie Boston’s classic anti-war image

 

We’re even considering a complete re-do of our hallway/living room wall color…unchanged for 13 years. That’s a huge commitment — not so much of time (we have lots right now!) — but finding a color what will work with our current furnishings and accessories. A creamy beige would be bright and fresh…but also boring as hell.

The current color, now discontinued but we can order more, is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.

Here’s the view from our bed.

The color’s a bit off — the poster is black and white, not  yellow. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, bought on my first honeymoon decades ago. My husband and I spent a day at the Pont du Gard and came back to find the trunk of our rental car broken into and both suitcases, with every stitch of clothing and toiletries, stolen. Thank heaven, they didn’t bother with the interior, where they would have found this.

The curly metal mirror I bought in Halifax in the 80s, the antique Chinese jar-lamp in rural Ontario at an antique shop and the chest of drawers decades ago at an antiques show. The black and white photo is Jose’s family, pre-Jose.

The wall color is Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone, a warm gray.

 

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We’re very glad we invested in renovating our kitchen and only bathroom (bathroom, 2008, kitchen 2013) as to be stuck 24/7 living in a place that’s dirty or in crappy condition, is really depressing.

I’m also grateful we only share the place with one another, and not — as many New Yorkers do — with multiple kids, now home all the time, and pets. It’s tough enough fighting cabin fever since our daytime temperatures are still in the 40s F (!) and it’s raining  probably five days out of seven, which is so damn confining!

If you’re seeking affordable inspiration, Apartment Therapy has many global images and projects, many on tight budgets.

Have you made any changes or done any projects to keep you busy and cheer your home up a bit?

 

Time for virtual museum visits!

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Charlotte Bronte’s dress and shoes, from an exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York City

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a quick overview of some great museums now showing their works online.

Let’s face it — one of the great joys of living in or near New York or London or Paris or Berlin or Copenhagen or so many cities worldwide — is ready access to its great museums and galleries.

It’s such a luxury to drop into the Met or MOMA or the Tate or the Carnavalet and cruise through, knowing you’ve got all the time in the world, as a resident and not a rushed tourist, to return when you please.

I was so lucky, the last day of my time in D.C., March 8, to see a show of Edgar Degas at the National Gallery. In retrospect, I should not have been in any crowded space! But we didn’t really know that yet.

 

 

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A detail, taken from the poster outside

 

It was a fascinating show and I learned a lot about him and how he captured his images of ballerinas, often in the studio. Where he never went! Photography was in use by then and he often, apparently, relied on those images.

And, if you know anything about ballet, there were a few of his paintings that were bizarrely fanciful — like one of a ballerina sitting on (!?) a bass and another sitting on top of the accompanist’s piano.

Nope! No dancer would ever dare.

And now, with tremendous loss of revenue, one of my favorites is truly under siege, unlike the Met which has billionaires on its board. This is the Tenement Museum on the lower East Side.

From The New York Times:

 

Experts said its loss would be significant because, while many museums chronicle the history of the rich — their mansions, art collections and aesthetic tastes — few depict the history of the poor, and the cultural life of everyday Americans.

“The Tenement Museum has so magnificently reconstructed that,” said Tyler Anbinder, a history professor at George Washington University who specializes in immigration, “right down to the soap boxes and the scouring pads that immigrants used. If an institution like that were to go under, it would be a real tragedy.”

Other museums around the country are losing at least $33 million a day because of coronavirus closures, according to the American Alliance of Museums.

Founded in 1988 in two once-dilapidated buildings, the museum offers tours of the restored tenement rooms as well as a permanent collection of artifacts, including document fragments, photographs and furniture.

 

I’ve been twice to the Tenement Museum and it was unforgettable.

 

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I went there in my early 20s, on my only visit to Hawaii. I have very few objects from that period…but here it is!

 

Some of my other favorites include:

The Gulbenkian, Lisbon…small, eclectic, surrounded by beautiful gardens

The Morgan Library, New York

Japan Society, NYC…small, intimate, often overlooked

The Neue Galerie, New York City…Secessionist art

Bishop Museum, Honolulu

The Guimet, Paris…Asian art

The Carnavalet, Paris…the history of Paris

The Cluny, Paris…medieval art

The Imperial War Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert, London

The Prado, Madrid

The Bardo, Tunis….which has an astonishing collection of mosaics

The Sackler, D.C….Asian art

The Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, Ontario….canoes and kayaks!

The Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson

Palazzo Fortuny, Venice…the studio of the legendary textile and lighting designer

Venice Naval Historical Museum…amazing array of boats

The Vasa Museum, Stockholm…devoted to one ship that sunk in Stockholm harbor the morning it first sailed in 1628

National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

 

What are some of your favorite museums — and why?

 

What do you miss most right now?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I woke up one morning this week and said…I miss antiquing.

How weird is that?

In our one-bedroom apartment, we certainly have no need for another item! We try to purge on a regular basis, donating to our local thrift shop or to Goodwill.

What I miss, really, is the distinct pleasure of a long, lazy afternoon wandering a flea market or indoor antiques mall — which two French verbs describe beautifully: fouiner (to nose about) and chiner (same, for old stuff).

Also — French again! — flaner, to wander without specific purpose. (Couldn’t find the circonflex symbol!)

I lived in Paris when I was 25, and every weekend I happily rummaged through piles of old lace and grimy bits and bobs at various flea markets. I have the happiest memories of looking for 1960s girl group records with my friend Claes, a gay Swedish journalist who was another of 28 foreign journalists spending an amazing eight months together in that city on an EU-sponsored journalism fellowship, Journalistes en Europe.

Claes died later of AIDS.

I still treasure the mix-tape he made for me.

 

 

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A friend’s decanter…I love cut crystal!

 

Today I follow a number of vintage clothing and item-sellers on Instagram, like Ruth Ribeaucourt, an Irishwoman who married into a French ribbon-manufacturing family, and who is passionate about lovely old things, some of which she sells through her online Instagram shop, @the_bouquiniste.

As I’ve blogged here before, I really appreciate old things in good condition, items well-used and cared-for and which offer me — sometimes centuries later — more utility and esthetic pleasure.

I write this atop an oak gate-leg table my father gave us, likely made in the late 18th century; ours is a dead-ringer for this one (circa 1780.)

So many questions arrive with antiques, an attachment from history.

 

Who sat here before us?

What did they eat?

What did they wear?

 

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Didn’t buy them…but, as always, just enjoyed their beauty en passant

 

Love this recent blog post from London-based friend Small Dog Syndrome blog, who misses, of all things, her daily commute:

We are lucky to live in central London and on a normal day I can get from my front door to the office in about thirty minutes if I catch the right train, perhaps slightly more if I don’t. I tend to give myself 45 so that I can walk at a leisurely pace to the train station and pick up a nice coffee if I feel so inclined. I pass a historic churchyard that’s typically filled with dogs on their first walk of the day, and a famed antiques market every Friday.

My transit time tallies to between an hour and an hour and a half a day. It’s exercise, fresh air, and usually I get an episode or two of a podcast in or a chunk of time on my current audiobook (which I listen to at at least 1.5x normal speed so this can really add up in a work week).

I miss it. Genuinely. This was prime “me time” and I miss the start of my morning that got my bloody moving and switched my brain on.

What are you missing most right now?

 

Two chairs

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That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.

In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.

On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.

Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.

We got both of these for $450.

The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.

Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.

We think of that couple. We miss them.

But we cherish their chairs.

 

Two Manhattan walks

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By Caitlin Kelly

Millions of people visit New York City every year. Many of them go to the official places and sights, which are often really crowded and noisy, like Times Square.

I treasure the quieter bits, and this week treated myself to two days’ exploration. What I still enjoy so much is that even a walk of barely 6 or 8 blocks can offer gorgeous architecture, a delicious meal or cocktail, great shopping and people watching.

 

Madison Avenue

Below 57th Street  lie all sorts of temptations, like Brooks Brothers for classic men’s and women’s clothing and the Roosevelt Hotel.

But the minute you start heading north at 57th. Street, the air thins as you enter one-percent-world. A young woman bashes me with her Chanel purse — and for next few hours it’s just a sea of Gucci, Chanel, Vuitton and Goyard bags, pricy tribal markers.

Alliance Francaise is on East 60th. where I went to buy a concert ticket, and discovered a gorgeous little cafe, Le Bilbouquet, next door. That area is very short of meal options so this is a good one.

New York is about to lose a retail icon, the department store Barney’s, (Madison at 60th.) once a place admired and revered for its style. Now it’s going out of business. I only shopped there a few times, but treasure the Isabel Marant jacket and private-label denim carryall I found there.

The Coach store staff were kind and welcoming, as were those at Fratelli Rossetti, (still wearing a pair of shoes I bought there in 1996!), and for the most amazing gloves, for men and women, Sermoneta.

The Hermes flagship store is gorgeous at 62d. St., opened in 2000. I love their fragrances, and wear Terre, a man’s scent that’s warm and woodsy and delicious.

The stores might be fancy, (and they’ll offer you a welcome bottle of water) but so, so many empty storefronts! I turned around at 68th or so and headed for home.

 

Bleecker/Bowery/Bond Street

 

Take the subway to Bleecker and start with a coffee and croissant at one of my favorite spots, Cafe Angelique. Bleecker crosses Greenwich Village east to west but also (!) north to south. How confusing is that?

 

 

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Bowery reflections

 

This is the easterly most bit. Head east to the Bowery, a north-south street once known as the last refuge of the down-and-and-out and now, of course, gentrified.

I turned south and hit one of the remaining restaurant supply stores, with a dizzying array of everything. I stood in the door, overwhelmed, and stammered: “Do you also sell retail?”

“You have money? All good,” was the reply; I bought a Christmas gift for my husband.

 

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A few doors north is a treasure trove of old New York antiques: chandeliers and tables — but also small, packable items like doorknobs, coat hooks and samovars, Olde Good Things, there since 2013. Want to own glassware or door numbers or cutlery from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel? Greg has them.

I admired a stunning Sputnik-esque enormous chandelier, that he found in a church in the Bronx, and asked his permission (always!) to photograph a few objects.

Same block, all on the west side, offers Caswell-Massey, which sells a tremendous selection of soaps and fragrances, including one George Washington wore. A massive oval bar of soap is $11, and comes in so many fragrances; I bought sandalwood.

Burkelman, at Bond Street, is well-edited and swoon-worthy: rugs, table linens, jewelry, clothing, baskets.

 

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Bar lighting at The Wren

 

I ate brunch at the bar of The Wren, and savored its atmosphere; cosy, old school.

Cross the Bowery for the elegant riot of John Derian, on East Second St. (north side), with his signature decoupage dishes and plates, Astier de Villatte tableware (at scary prices), notebooks, mirrors, stationery and more.

Next door is Il Buco Vita, filled with hand-made tableware and glasses, an offshoot of the longtime favorite — on Bond Street — Il Buco. Low-key, Italian, it’s been there since 1994, practically unheard of longevity in a city where restaurants open and close within months.

Staggering back west to Broadway along Bond, stop in at the enormous array of temptations at Blick, an art supply store I first discovered years ago in Chicago. I defy anyone to leave empty-handed.

I had a perfect four hours: shopped, ate, people-watched, snapped photos, got Christmas presents, wrapping paper (Blick) and ornaments (John Derian.) Score!

 

Sewing by hand

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By Caitlin Kelly

When was the last time you sewed anything by hand?

It’s now considered such a retro idea. Get new clothes! Take them to the dry cleaner for repairs!

Do you even own a sewing box, filled with needles and pins and a rainbow of spools of thread?

 

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When I was at boarding school, we each had a two-tier sewing basket. I loved it and the sense of always being ready, that it gave me. We learned only a few stitches but I’ve never needed more, and have made tablecloths and pillows without a machine using these simple stitches.

I admit, embarrassedly, I don’t know how to knit or crochet or embroider, all arts I truly admire. So this, for now, is the extent of my skill.

 

 

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Instead of being attached to yet another screen, touching more plastic and metal, there’s the softness of linen or cotton or silk.  The endless challenge of threading that damn needle!

As someone always curious about pre-industrial life, I love how this simple action repeats one made over millennia and across every geographic boundary.

I find it meditative and soothing and love making little repairs or making small sachets filled with dried lavender out of vintage textile scraps, tucking them between ironed pillowcases in the linen closet or thrown into our suitcases when we travel.

I also have some lovely antique buttons, with no official use (yet!)

Here’s a pillow cover I recently made from some flea market white linen and a great 30s bit of cutwork I found in a Paris flea market that someone dyed indigo.

 

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Another big zuszh!

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We moved this Vlaminck litho, bought at auction two years ago, from bedroom to livingroom

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Grateful for eight days completely out of the apartment — where we both also work as freelancers, my husband as a photo editor and I as a writer and writing coach.

We save a lot of money not renting office space or a co-working desk, (and can write off a small part of our monthly living costs as a result as a tax deduction), but that also means we’re using every part of our one bedroom all the time: one bathroom, one kitchen, every hallway, etc.

But it means additional wear and tear, even for two tidy adults with no pets or children.

 

So while we were away on holiday we had the following jobs professionally done:

 

had the entrance hallway, wooden floor, re-sanded and refinished

— had the flaking, peeling bedroom window frame smoothed and repainted

— had all kitchen cabinets given  a fresh coat of paint (installed 2013.)

 

That was, certainly, a big investment of $3,000.

 

When we got home and took another week off to settle in, we got to work:

 

— moving art from one room to another; we have a good collection of photos, by us, by friends and colleagues and prints, drawings and posters. Sometimes we put them away for a few years to appreciate them anew. We also rotate out intense/dark colors during the hot summer months.

— painted one wall a deep olive green

— moved three mirrors into the dark foyer. All are vintage/antique, none costing more than $300.

— ordered a new chandelier for our dining room and found an electrician ready to install it.

 

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I found that funky old beveled mirror for $125 in an antique shop in Port Hope, Ontario

 

— added a patterned fabric, (home-sewn by hand, double width), cover for Jose’s homemade computer desk and moved a different lamp into its corner.

— arranged for pick-up by our local thrift shop for a number of items, including a standing lamp and balcony chair.

I’m more obsessed with beauty and good design than many people.

But I’m fine with it.

I studied interior design and learned a lot. And having lived (!?) 30 years in the same space means I’ve made multiple changes over time — wall colors, curtains, art, rugs — to not go mad with boredom and claustrophobia.

We’re not buying all-stuff-all-the-time! I often carry a tape measure with me to make sure anything we acquire will fit into our space, both spatially and visually.

Once you’ve established a color scheme, stick to it!

We use a great tribal wool rug I bought in Toronto decades ago for $100, and a nice repro wooden Pembroke table I found in a local consignment shop and a Crate and Barrel sofa we might soon replace, even though we love it, as the arms are sagging and an upholsterer told us it would cost more to re-do them than buy anew…

I also know what I like and will wait a long time for it….like our black Tizio lamp I bought in my 20s for (!) maybe $500, a huge sum then as now. It’s elegant, efficient, classic and versatile.

To save money, we do most of our own interior painting. We’ve been given some tremendous/iconic images as well — like the famous black and white photo of JFK standing at the Oval Office windows; this one signed by its creator and given to Jose, his colleague at The New York Times.

 

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Same hallway — top image is a rotogravure by Steichen. The lower image is mine, a stairwell shot in Paris. Wall color: Gervase Yellow (archived), Farrow & Ball. 

 

Tips for a quick refresh:

 

— Whenever you paint a room, note the paint color, brand and date you purchased it. Colors get discontinued! Farrow & Ball archives some colors but will remix any of them for you on demand and quickly.

Keep some paint handy for touch-ups. Don’t allow it to get too hot or cold as this degrades the product; we keep ours at the back of a hallway closet.

Replace items as they wear, chip, fray or discolor. If impossible, wash/dry clean/dye or toss and go without. It’s depressing to live in dirt or chaos.

Throw stuff out! Those of us lucky enough to even have too much stuff have too much stuff!

Sell whatever you can. I found out a vintage tribal rug I paid $200 for might fetch me $1,200 after I showed it to a local dealer. Next step, hope to sell it on Ebay or Chairish.

Clean every corner, deeply. I had to scrub one wooden floor with a Brillo pad to remove grime that mopping didn’t address. Baseboards, the back of things (fridge, stove, printer, etc.) All windows!

 

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Old Crate & Barrel cabinet, glass lined with fabric by the yard. Above, a photo of Jose and his parents, long gone, and a Moroccan lantern found at a flea market, sand-blasted at the auto body shop and painted in Blazer (Farrow & Ball, archived.) I hand-carried that huge wicker suitcase home from a Canadian antique show — thanks, Air Canada!

 

It always feels good to re-fresh our home — it nurtures, protects and revives us.

 

Gimme shelter…magazines!

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Why buy art?

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Tools of the trade! An auction catalogue and bidding paddle

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Isn’t that something only rich people do? Billionaires in salerooms like Christie’s and Sotheby’s (pronounced Suth-uh-bees with a soft, slurred th) flicking an eyelid to denote their multi-zero bid?

Actually no.

But buying original art — even a numbered print, (lithograph, engraving, etching, silkscreen, monoprint, linocut) — can feel intimidating until you learn the lingo.

My father is a documentary film-maker but also a talented artist working in a range of media, including oils, lithograph, engraving and even silver. He’s collected art  — from a Picasso litho to a Renoir engraving, (both of which I’ve spotted in Swann catalogues), to Inuit soapstone sculpture to 19th century Japanese prints.

I was very lucky to grow up with such eclectic beauty on our walls, and it absolutely informed how I see and what I enjoy. It also showed me that owning art is a lovely decision. You can go through a few sofas in your lifetime, but art you love is something to keep for years.

In my 20s, thanks to an inheritance, I bought a large silkscreen print, photos by Jerry Uelsmann, Andre Kertesz and Steichen and three colored pencil sketches. I did, I admit, make a calculated decision about the photos, and sold the Kertesz later at Swann.

 

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The saleroom at Swann Galleries in Manhattan. The works are all on display for preview and you can ask to examine them closely without covers before you bid to know what their condition is and how much it might cost to restore.

 

If you’re on Etsy or Instagram, you’ll find many artists selling their work, some of it very affordable. Generally, it’s wise to frame paper artwork carefully with acid-free matt and UV-protective glass  and photos, especially, need to displayed out of direct sunlight.

 

But why buy art?

 

Good heavens, why not?

If you can afford $500 or $1,200 for a new cellphone or computer you can acquire art at that price.

Hanging on our bedroom wall is a gorgeous litho I got at Swann for $600 by Maurice Vlaminck, from the 1920s. Over our bed now hangs an etching by Raoul Dufy, from the same auction, for which I paid a bit more.

I read the catalogue carefully, decided which ones I wanted and decided what my budget was — the auction house always adds a “buyer’s premium” of 25 percent, sometimes less. I registered, got my paddle (which you raise to show you’re bidding on that item), and waited for hours til “my” pieces came up. There are hundreds of items in an auction, and its rhythm is carefully planned. There’s always an estimate given weeks in advance, which can go low or blast far above projections.

But you can also buy art at antique stores, galleries, graduating student shows at local art colleges, street fairs.

I love the explosive style, brilliant colors and Canadian landscapes of this artist, Julia Veenstra, who I found and follow on Instagram.

A splurge — $1,500 — was for an image I stumbled across at the Winter Antiques Show, a very fancy New York City affair I usually just attend to savor museum-quality material I could never afford. But…oh my…there was a photo exhibitor from California selling images by a man I had never heard of that stopped me in my tracks.

I now want all his work!

Here’s a link to the image I bought; the photographer is a man in his 60s, a Finn named Pentti Sammhallahti. Here’s the page of his work.  

I find it mysterious, quiet and deeply compelling.

I’ve been collecting photography since my 20s and Jose, of course, added some extraordinary images from his own collection — including a signed and numbered original print of The Loneliest Job in the World, the iconic black and white image of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy standing in his office, silhouetted against the window; Jose began his career at The New York Times working with the photographer George Tames, who signed and gave it to him.

Copies now sell for $50 from the Times’ archive — our print is very different, much darker and has a totally different feeling to it as a result.

So, where to start?

 

Go to a museum or contemporary art gallery — and take your time!

 

Notice which pieces move you.

 

Which make you stand still and stare, mesmerized?

 

What is it about them: color, period, artist, detail, scale, brushwork, subject matter?

 

It doesn’t have to be pretty or decorative.

 

Ignore everyone who snaps a cellphone image and doesn’t even look at the work.

Learning about materials and processes will make asking questions of gallerists and auctioneers easier.

I wish everyone could afford and would own some original art. Few things I’ve ever spent money on have offered me such consistent daily pleasure.

 

Do you own any?

Would you ever buy a piece if you could afford to?

Which categories appeal to you?

Kintsugi life

 

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. — Wikipedia

 

The term is most often used to describe a specific way to repair broken pottery, often Japanese. I think it fits life as well.

By a certain point — for some, their teens, others their 50s or 70s — you’ve quite likely been dropped hard a few times against something unyielding. By this, I mean metaphorically and (I hope!) not the result of assault or physical abuse.

We’re not delicate porcelain or exquisite Ming pottery, but we are all fragile and all end up, inevitably, crazed; a word with two definitions, the second meaning spider-webby fine cracks.

 

In a culture increasingly devoted — paradoxically — to the rustic, artisanal and authentic and the social media offerings of glossy perfection, the notion of being broken and repaired, let alone stronger, more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken, perhaps repeatedly, seems radical and bizarre.

 

I’m into it.

Volumes have been written of late praising grit and resilience, as if — at the end of months or years or decades of being gritty and resilient — we aren’t exhausted and scarred. Maybe wiser. Maybe sadder.

I love early porcelain and china, and use several 18th. century pieces as butter dishes…stupidly undervalued. I want to enjoy them while I can. Unlike Japanese work, with its elegant crack-filling lines of gold, they’re stapled together (!), like recent brain surgery patients.

I don’t love these objects any the less for their war wounds, but am so grateful these little emissaries from the past are still with us….that having graced someone’s table in 1789 or 1832, they’re still here for us to use and share.

I feel this way about people.

The ones I most admire aren’t the shiny folk, all smooth and slippery, glittery, preening  and unscathed, but the ragged and weary survivors of physical, mental, professional, emotional and financial struggle — depending on their age and background, possibly all of these — who somehow remain graceful and fun, able to laugh and savor what’s left of their lives.