Making a lovely home: 7 elements

I was so lucky to inherit this 16th c Italian textile from my mother

By Caitlin Kelly

Midwinter, mid-pandemic — cabin fever!

Help is on the way!

As some of you know, I spent some time in the 90s studying interior design at the New York School of Interior Design.

I learned a lot, and loved almost every minute of it. The school has taught and trained some legendary designers, so I really enjoyed and appreciated how rigorous it was. I even got an A in color class, which remains one of my life’s triumphs — we learned how to mix colors from scratch.

I decided not to go into the industry for my living, preferring to just love it, but my professional-level training has also informed how nice our one bedroom apartment looks since I better understand design principles.

Here’s a helpful post from the UK magazine Homes & Gardens:

The seven:

Space

This is one of the most challenging — too many rooms are just overstuffed while the enormous houses some people prefer (and can afford!) can mean trying to figure out how to create areas of use that make sense and relate to one another. Our living room is 24 long and 12 feet wide, a great space, even with only an eight-foot ceiling (built mid 1960s.) I would kill for the much much taller ceilings and elegant windows I see in most French and British design magazines.

So we divided the room into two-thirds, divided by a low bookshelf that holds two matching table lamps that illuminate the sofa and the dining area at one end. I’ve lived in this space for decades, so re-arranging it is both a mental break and a necessity as our tastes change.

We have a small dining room that, now, is once more being used as a sitting room — we kept our old sofa and now love our view from it straight north up the Hudson River. We settle in with our newspapers and, as snooze time overtakes, nap!

Line

The vertical lines of the room come from features like windows and doors or maybe a tall fireplace. They’re prized for giving a feeling of freedom and can make a room seem taller. Choosing a tall piece of furniture, for example, can lead the eye upwards and visually heighten the room. In any scheme a balance between horizontal and vertical lines is essential.

Form

This is the shape of your room and the objects in it. Too many rooms are full of endless squares and rectangles!

Consider some circles or ovals as well.

Our antique dining table is oval. We have two square olive velvet stools. Our dining chairs have oval shaped backs. Look around your room with an eye to what shapes it contains — too much repetition?

Here’s our living room’s gallery wall — as you’ll see, it has a variety of shapes, sizes and colors although the dominant colors are red, black and white.

top row, left to right: My photo of a staircase, Paris; a 1950s British photographer; Jose’s image from Mexico

middle row, left to right: a poster from a show I saw in Paris; David Hume Kennerley’s portrait of former First Lady Betty Ford; a winter portrait of the Grand Canyon by a friend

bottom row, left to right: me and a pal after a magazine photo shoot about kids cooking; Bernie Boston’s famous image; a Hokusai poster.

A mix of the famous and the personal.

Light

Crucial!

If your room has lots of natural light, you’re lucky! We use mirrors to help amplify it and bounce it around a few rooms.

Lighting is not easy to do well. Every room should have multiple light sources, ideally all on dimmers, not just harsh overhead lighting which can be both unflattering and inefficient.

Over the years, I’ve changed our bedside tables a few times…the latest ones (a few years old now) are chased silver, hollow, and I have no idea where they come from (other than the Connecticut antiques store where I found them.) There are so many styles it’s overwhelming! The shades are simple pleated ivory. And, yes, I like finials!

I found our living room pair on sale in a chi-chi Greenwich, CT. store.

Sometimes the best things can be found in thrift and consignment shops or (my favorite!) at auction.

Color

So much to say!

Regulars here know my love for the British paint company Farrow & Ball knows no bounds — I even got to visit their Dorset factory in 2017. Amazing!

I like colors that are fairly quiet but not boring so I can add the patterns with things I can easily change.

The trend now is for very deep saturated colors, which are really beautiful but not for me in a one bedroom apartment. One lesson I learned the hard way is that when you live in an open-plan home (we have 3 doors: the front door, the bathroom door and the bedroom door) you can’t have different colors everywhere!

Well, you can, but it’s gross.

The eye is going to travel from one space to the next and needs to not be constantly confused.

So, after several iterations (faux finish brown; Chinese red; pale yellow-green) our living room is now a pale soft gray (F & B’s Skimming Stone.) So is the bedroom (initially faux finish cobalt blue, then aqua, then Granny apple green.) The bathroom remains a deep mustard, a nice contrast to the gray glass tile of the shower. The kitchen cabinetry is a soft green, also F & B. (One reason I’m a fan is that you can re-order a discontinued color.)

Of course, color shows up in many ways: fabrics, rugs, artwork, wall, ceiling and floor, lamps and shades…

Here’s the antique armoire (possibly 18th century, bought at auction online, delivered from NH) whose teal color is now repeated in our living room. The two baskets up top were plain and I painted them in two colors. The small painting is my late mother, painted by my father.

Texture

This is also tricky.

Our new sofa is a pale silver velvet, but has a sheen that reflects light. The throw pillows on it are print linen and a different kind of velvet, in burnt orange, a color in the linen print.

Adding texture can come from rugs, throw pillows, a throw, different sorts of fabrics.

Also from decorative items: glass, brass, ceramics, wood.

Our new dining area rug is a deeply textured sisal.

I’m still deciding — months after pulling down our living room curtains — what to do with the window! Probably a Roman blind, but it’s a huge commitment of funds so I’m not rushing into it.

Pattern

Design school taught me that you can, and should, have at least three different patterns within a room, (fabrics, rugs.)

But…which ones?!

This is where scale matters. Do you want a large-scale design (not as easy to find with many American sources as British) or small? A print or woven? A damask or something more modern?

Again, British designers seem much bolder in their use of pattern on chairs and sofas and curtains. The expense of acquiring anything new is always a bit sobering…but a room with no pattern is sad indeed!

The new/modern sisal rug at one end of our living room deliberately echoes this antique kilim I bought this fall in an online auction — the diamond patterns are similar even though the period, colors and materials are different.

I wanted this rug because — a rare find! — it was in perfect condition, the perfect size, well-priced and offered the colors I wanted, but in fairly quiet tones. The teal is the exact color of the antique armoire it lies in front of. The white relates to the silver sofa it also lies in front of. Everything needs to relate!

Living in the past. Long past!

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this Guardian story about people who choose to live in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s — estehtically, anyway.

And I recently did a lot of global reporting — speaking to people in Seattle, DC, Ontario, Genoa, L.A., Stockholm, London, Finland and Philadelphia — about a hobby they all share, historical costuming. (The man in Philly does it for a living!)

It means making and wearing clothing of much earlier eras and centuries, finding patterns and appropriate fabric, and wearing the correct undergarments to create the correct silhouette. (No sports bras allowed!)

It’s an amazing obsession, and demands a lot of patience and skill and meticulous attention to detail. It’s mostly enjoyed women, and mostly white women — something they’re well aware of! I did include an Iranian-American.

One of the women I spoke to is a mechanic in Finland. One is an Army wife in Ontario. One is a jewelry appraiser in Stockholm.

All were a joy to speak with! I could have spent hours geeking out with Jenny Tiramani, a legendary costume designer who worked for years at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — and who founded and runs London’s School of Historical Dress.

Here’s the piece, my first sale to the Styles section of The New York Times, for whom I write fairly often:

Here’s the start:

It’s a world of corsets, stays and chemises. Of weskits, bum rolls, breeches and hoop panniers. For actors, wearing period costume has long meant literally stepping into the past: lacing soft modern flesh into antique shapes and learning how to use the toilet without peeling off multiple layers.

“Bridgerton,” Shonda Rhimes’s racially diverse Netflix series set in 1813 England, has suddenly ignited new interest in Regency fashions. But a global community of hobbyists has been designing, making and wearing clothing from the 19th century and earlier for many years. Long a private obsession fueled by films like “The Leopard” and “Pride and Prejudice,” social media has widened the conversation, with fans of all ages and backgrounds worldwide now trading notes on how best to trim a sleeve or adjust a straw bonnet.

Pre-pandemic, they gathered in Los Angeles at Costume College, an annual conference, at Venice’s Carnival and the Fêtes Galantes at Versailles. Some lucky Europeans, like Filippa Trozelli, find themselves invited to wear their historical clothing to private parties at ancient local estates.

As someone who loves vintage/historical textiles — and who wore an Edwardian day dress for her first wedding — I totally get the appeal of this obsession. I love the notion of time travel, of swishing through a garden in yards of silk or meeting up in Venice with equally obsessed pals from around the world.

I had long wanted to write about this subculture, as I follow several of the women on Instagram, but never had a “peg” or “hook” — i.e. what relevance would it have now? Thanks to Bridgerton, it does!

Living with very old things

By Caitlin Kelly

No, not me or Jose!

A decade ago my mother had to suddenly sell all her belongings and go into a nursing home, and into a small room. She was able to take a few pieces of art but lost a lot of it to auction.

I shipped home, across a border and country, a pair of her early textiles, framed. I have no idea where she bought them or when or if my grandmother had owned them. I wish I’d asked when we were still cordial, but of course I didn’t.

I’m a massive fan of textiles, old and new, and always wondered what these two pieces were — and I follow a serious antique textiles dealer in Britain on Instagram. I recently asked her if these were what I suspected — 17th century Italian.

They are!

Wow.

I’m now wildly fantasizing who used them, and when and where and for what purpose. They are velvet and gold thread and the centerpiece, I believe, is linen.

Italy in the 1600s was quite the place…1.7 million Italians died of plague in the first years of that century. In 1656 around 300,000 people in Naples, this was half the population of Naples at that time….Good God, why is this so awfully familiar?!

We own a few other quite old objects, which have been gifts or bought at auction or antique stores or shows. I know some people have zero interest in old stuff or owning old stuff, but I really love living with, enjoying and using lovely and material bits of history.

I find it extraordinary to tap away on a laptop on top of a gate-leg oak table, probably British, someone made in the 18th century. Ours looks almost exactly like this one, without a drawer.

The craftsmanship is amazing — finely curved edges, smoothly fitted leaves and legs. My father gave it to us a few years ago and I love it. It easily seats four, six at a pinch.

Then there’s a tiny teacup, hand-painted. I love its designs — also very unusual, and someone said, maybe made for the Islamic market. I’ve studied ceramics and silver and furniture and textiles because they fascinate me, so when I spot something potentially that’s very early (for me, anything 18th or 17th century) — and undervalued — I know what it is!

Like this 18th century teapot, missing a lid — $3.50 in an upstate NY junk shop; if it had a lid, it would sell for about $1,000.

The teapot on the table…

If I could own something really ancient, it might be a piece of Greek, Roman or Middle Eastern sculpture or art.

Do really old pieces interest you?

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.