Ten treasured possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

I was touched, reading a personal essay in the weekend FT by Madison Marriage (what a byline!), that her brother Charlie died at 32 of an epileptic seizure. Marriage, pregnant with her second child, found a handmade origami mobile he left for her baby…now her most treasured possession.

I’ve lived in a one bedroom apartment for decades, so accumulating piles ‘o stuff hasn’t been an option, although candor forces me to admit to a crowded garage with artwork we change up from time to time, old books and magazines and assorted stuff we keep trying to get rid of.

But I have a few things, some unlikely and of little financial value, I treasure:

Mousie

My late mother, from whom I was estranged for the last decade of her life, traveled the world alone for years and lived in New Mexico, Peru, Bath, Massachusetts, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, then Victoria, B.C., Mousie was always there…a tiny stuffed mouse missing a bit of one ear, his string tail stained with ink. When three large boxes arrived after she died, I was so happy to discover Mousie in one of them, a sweet and happy memory of her and some of our adventures.

A pewter Art Nouveau plate

This belonged to my maternal grandmother and I loved it. My mother had it and left it to me. No idea where they found it.

A very small Stieff bear

I was at boarding school at the age of eight, the youngest. This tiny and portable bear offered such comfort — tucked into the deep pocket of my beige cotton uniform shirt, sitting stop a prayer book in the pews at yet another church service.

My passport

Even though I chose to move to the U.S., I am very grateful for my Canadian citizenship and would never give it up.

My “green card”

Which is more pink, and is my proof of admittance to live and work legally in the U.S., renewed every decade.

A professional photo of me taken during a magazine shoot about kids and cooking

My mother was a national magazine editor in Canada for a while and made sure to sneak me into a few photo stories! I have very few photos of myself as a child and teen, and almost none of me in my 20s and 30s. So I love this one. It’s of me and the daughter of her then best friend — we had been ordered (!) to have a flour fight and we’re absolutely dazed with the joy of sanctioned mayhem.

My National Magazine Award

My first husband, a physician I met when we both lived in Montreal, walked out on the marriage after barely two years. It was humiliating as hell, although not a great surprise as we were unhappy and he was clearly involved with a colleague he shortly married. OUCH. There’s no sweeter revenge than retailing one’s misery for a magazine story…but winning this award, which is very competitive, was an incredible moment for me. I finally framed it and it hangs on our living room wall.

My wedding earrings from Jose

They were a total surprise, and I wear them almost every day, everywhere.

Invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth

What a day! I had spent the prior two weeks racing all over Manitoba. New Brunswick and Ontario as a member of the massive press entourage following a Royal Tour, as a staff reporter for the Globe and Mail, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was by far the toughest assignment of my 20s since, really, there’s no news and little say beyond — today she opened a highway, today she attended a formal dinner. Etc. But we were all invited, at the end, aboard Britannia for drinks and ohhhhh, all the equerries.

An Inuit Polar bear print

In 1961 when this print was made, Inuit art was a very new development in the Canadian art world…and my mother would only have been 27 when she bought it, typical of her fearless and eclectic taste. It’s become one of the most famous of these, and I long admired it on her wall, decade after decade, wherever she lived. Of all her possessions, this was the one item I hoped she might bequeath to me. I adore it — and its teal color exactly (!) echoes our bedroom blind and headboard fabric.

When my profligate and wealthy maternal grandmother died she owed a massive amount of unpaid tax — to Ontario, Canada and the U.S. government, so most of her things were sold to pay those bills; one gorgeous armoire is in a Toronto museum.

So I’d never had the expectation of inheriting “heirlooms” with a deep family connection. I did inherit a massive pastel portrait of her mother, and a small bas-relief of her, which I am glad to have. My father has some lovely things, but also has four adult children and it’s a very deeply divided group — none of us ever lived together and I’ve never even met one and don’t want to.

Our own challenge is deciding who to leave our things to, as we have no children and aren’t close to younger relatives.

What are some of the items you treasure and why?

The power of edited style

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved this, a quote from the late Andre Leon Talley, a somewhat mythic figure in American fashion circles, who recently died at 73:

I grew up in a stylish family — a mother who sported silk saris in the 60s, with a glossy black mink, a father in the most elegant of shirts and shoes and a step-mother whose costly clothing filled multiple garment racks, most often described as “chic.”

So I’m deeply fond of style — but, working in an industry that doesn’t pay a fortune, acquiring it frugally.

The quote above really resonates with me.

This year, I needed a pretty winter hat, blue. Good luck! The choice was beanies, beanies and more beanies (a simple knit cap Canadians call a tuque). I despaired of finding one that was flattering and affordable. I found one this week, on sale in Greenwich, CT, and paid a fortune — because it’s cashmere, two-tone blue and exactly what I wanted. Sometimes frugal is over-rated.

At this point in my life, time really is money. I don’t enjoy wasting hours and hours shopping, whether on-line or in-store; once I find what I want, I’m doing it!

I really appreciate the discipline that editing always imposes — it may not look like it, but by the time you read any of my blog posts here, I’ve revised them many many times!

The writing is easy.

The editing makes it readable.

Scored this terrific tribal rug at Doyle auctions for $850 (including buyer’s premium and tax.)

I’ve lived in the same one-bedroom apartment (!) since 1989 in a rivertown on the Hudson, with easy access to Manhattan, gorgeous views and sunsets, and in a charming historic town. Our street is hilly, quiet, winding and completely residential, our housing costs, for this area, manageable. Moving never seemed appealing.

But sharing 1,000 square feet with my husband — and we both work at home — means very carefully editing anything we choose to bring into our home, what we keep and what we discard. (And yes, we have multiple external storage spaces, including a garage!)

We have a gallery wall of art and rotate other pieces in the bedroom and hallway and sitting room, whether our own photos, our photo collection, posters, prints.

We’re both very thoughtful about what we look at, including furniture, rugs, lighting. Less is more, and better quality always the best option — I’ve found many great things at antique shows, auctions and flea markets, i.e. for not a huge amount of money.

Our gallery wall — different art now and now the wall is pale gray (Skimming Stone, Farrow & Ball)

I do the same with my wardrobe and accessories. I find life simpler and more efficient to own only things I really love and enjoy using and wearing.

I lived in Paris at 25 and have been back many times. Classic French style — buying fewer/better quality pieces — is very much my own as well; I have a pair of monk-strap shoes I bought in 1996 that still look new (hello, cobblers! tailors! dry cleaners!)

I prefer neutrals: black, cream, navy, brown, gray, green. I own almost no prints or patterns beyond those on a scarf or maybe a sweater. This allows me to buy and keep clothing for a long time that still looks great with the addition of that season’s colors or accessories without spending a fortune or shouldering the guilt of consuming “fast fashion”, a huge burden on the environment, both in its production and destruction.

Even though I live in NY — with every store imaginable! — my go-to brands are still often Canadian, Aritizia, and Ca Va de Soi (lightweight sweaters.) Canadians typically earn smaller salaries than Americans with similar jobs, and and pay fairly high taxes — which makes frugality and selectivity, of everything we purchase, a smart choice.

I’ve also bought and worn quite a bit of vintage clothing, now more than a decade enjoying a triple-ply cashmere cardigan found in a consignment shop in…Greenwich, CT. It’s a massively wealthy town about a 20 minute drive east of us, whose designer “cast-offs” are of astounding quality as a result. I have no shame or embarrassment buying and enjoying what other women have worn and enjoyed, as long as it’s in excellent condition — and I often re-sell it later myself.

One reason I’ve always been wary of owning a house is the overwhelming potential cost of furnishing it, at least to my standards! All those windows and walls and beds and linens. Whew!

I’m not a Marie Kondo person or Swedish Death cleaner. I just hate mess and clutter and excess.

Living smaller/better/heavily edited works for me.

How about you?

A family reunion, of sorts

My maternal great grandmother, Blanche Gresham, 1924

By Caitlin Kelly

For years, my late mother and I were estranged. When we were in touch, even as her only child, she almost never discussed her childhood or adolescence before, at 17, she met my Canadian father in the south of France, then left her native New York City to move to his hometown, Vancouver, where I was born six years later.

Both parents grew up wealthy — in large houses with servants, attending prep school (my mother), owning a horse and a sailboat (father). But neither childhood was necessarily calm and happy.

So their histories have remained mostly a mystery to me.

My mother died April 15, 2020 and a very large, heavy packing crate arrived a year later from her final home, a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

For a variety of reasons — partly fear the works inside would be very damaged (they weren’t), ambivalence about owning the final items of hers and knowing we have no one in our family to leave these things to — I didn’t open it for nine months.

It took a lot of hard work to get it open — thank you Jose!!

This week, finally, we did, and my husband Jose attacked it with a hammer and crowbar and a lot of determination!

Amazingly, the four things inside were in excellent shape; only a few bits of one frame had chipped off and the glass was wholly intact on everything (having been taped.)

There were two family portraits and a gorgeous Inuit print of a polar bear from 1961 I had long admired. And a sampler, from 1845.

This is one of the earliest Inuit prints, by Lucy, 1961; ignore my unbrushed hair!

So now my maternal great-grandmother — Blanche Gresham — later the Countess Casagrande of Park Avenue — has come almost full circle, some 3,011 miles.

I only met her once, as a very old, very infirm lady in that apartment. My mother adored her. I adored my grandmother — while we both had very difficult times with our own mothers. Go figure!

These women led quite extraordinary lives, cocooned by enormous wealth, but with marital mayhem — my grandmother married six times, four in a decade. I never met any of them, long gone by the time I met her.

I think (?) the smaller image is her with my grandmother Aline, and her sister Lois

I am very curious about these women and their lives; the money came from my great grandfather, Louis Stumer, a Chicago stockbroker and developer of a gorgeous skyscraper in 1912, The North American Building, on State Street in Chicago, (since torn down):

Developers Stumer, Rosenthal and Eckstein hired one of Chicago’s busiest, and best, tall building architectural firms Holabird & Roche for the project. William Holabird and Martin Roche, along with a team of talented designers and engineers, had developed a commercial building system that was not only pleasing to the eye, but more importantly for an investor could be built quickly, efficiently, and ready for rent-paying tenants on schedule. They were instrumental in helping make what came to be known as the Chicago School world famous.

One reason I chose to move to the U.S. was my fascination with this family and their lives. One relative became an ambassador, one an archeologist, one (!) a bullfighter. My cousins had lives that included piloting their own Cessna and running a rug business from Morocco. They were all intimidatingly confident — and so much larger than life than most of the quiet, polite Canadians I grew up around.

It’s quite comforting to finally have these women in our home now.

Vacation! 5 Days in DC, 3 at the shore

By Caitlin Kelly

Our first long break since March 2021, which was five days upstate.

We drove south from NY, about 4.5 hours, and treated ourselves to a stay at The Willard, which opened in 1818 — the place where Martin Luther King wrote his “I have a dream” speech and where Julia Ward Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Name anyone powerful in politics here and they’ve stayed or visited — the White House is a few blocks further down Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is classic old-school elegance, and our room was large and quiet.

We arrived in time for Sunday afternoon tea. What a treat! Every table was filled with people, mostly women, dressed up in their best — one table full of women wearing THE BEST HATS.

We are terrible tourists! I am never one to rush around filling my days with seeing all the official sights.

The first day I visited a favorite shop, Goodwood, in business since 1994, an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, lighting and furniture. A block away is a fun restaurant, Ted’s Bulletin, (the 14th Street location) where I sat at the counter for lunch — repeating both times a pleasure I discovered on my last solo visit there, in March 2020, just as COVID started destroying such simple amusements as travel and eating out.

I was advised to visit the Phillips Collection and whew! It’s now one of my favorite museums anywhere, a collection of art from Renoir and Degas and van Gogh to Rothko, Diebenkorn, Klee, Kandinsky — all set within a huge old mansion. Its courtyard is also very beautiful. The staff are really welcoming and the gift store excellent. I loved the current exhibition of work by Black artist David Driskell, whose work I had never seen.

We had a long great lunch at Le Diplomate with our dear friend and ex NYT photographer Steven Crowley.

We returned — for Jose’s birthday — to one of his old haunts, the jazz club Blues Alley, for the second show. Jose lived in D.C. for eight years as a New York Times photographer, having realized his dream of becoming a member of the White House Press Corps, covering Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

Another day, Jose got his NYT staff pal Doug Mills — too busy to meet for coffee since he covers The President and all his doings — outside the White House for a quick hello. He gave us these M and Ms candies, fresh from Air Force One.

I spent a day antiquing with a very dear friend, one of our rituals, and found a homespun coverlet in pristine condition. It was such a perfect mix of new sights and discoveries, renewing some of our oldest and deepest friendships, enjoying a luxurious hotel. The weather was perfect every day, a bit cool in the evenings and sunny and (not D.C. humid) in the daytime.

We loved our meal at Jaleo, a tapas restaurant.

I was sorry not to have seen more art, as we had planned, but it was just so good to finally see our friends — Jose also caught up with another former NYT colleague.

We then drove 90 minutes east to coastal Maryland and are in Easton for three days, off to a Maritime Museum tomorrow.

It has been a wonderful and badly needed break.

We’re ready to head home and dive back into work, refreshed,

The fall zhuzh!

The summer bed coverlet

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s that time again, kids!

Our summer was terrible — the 2nd wettest July on record for New York and if it wasn’t raining, it was horribly hot and humid. Really not a good time.

So we are savoring fall, our favorite season — lots of bright sunshine, cooler temperatures, a chance to finally stop using air conditioners and fans.

Because we also live, work, eat, dine and bathe in a one-bedroom apartment, the place gets a LOT of wear and tear! And that’s without kids or pets.

And I have been in the same place since June 1989, so cosmetic upgrades are ongoing.

To get ready for fall and winter, here’s some of what we’re doing, (and maybe some suggestions for your home?)

— getting our throw rugs cleaned and replacing underpadding as needed

— getting the sofa professionally steam-cleaned

— getting the bathroom shower wall grout repaired

Our living room gallery wall, a mix of our photos, photos we have been given or collected

and a few posters.

— framing a few new pieces of art

— changing the summer cotton coverlet for the duvet; (dry cleaned and stored there all summer)

— fresh duvet cover

— a new pillow and pillow protectors

— having a nice fabric cover custom-made for Jose’s (plywood, homemade) desk

— a new desk chair for Jose

— tossing out as many unread books as I can stand to lose

— wrapping our balcony furniture to protect it after it’s too cold to use it

— doing a clean rinse of the dishwasher

— removing as much indoor clutter as possible

— making sure we have plenty of candles (votives, tapers) for the dinner table as it gets dark so early

Also consider some safety issues easily forgotten like:

— dusting light-bulbs and shades, making sure you have enough light to read easily with shorter darker days ahead

— is your fire extinguisher still working?

— smoke detector?

— carbon monoxide detector?

— shower mat?

— bathtub grab bar(s); love this one that doesn’t demand installation in the wall; a friend has one

Also, replacing things that get a lot of use and maybe it’s time for new ones, like:

— burned oven mitts

— worn wooden spoons

— cookware

— bed linens/towels

— wastebaskets

— napkins/tablecloths

— tired/old/flavorless spices

— shower mat

— shower curtain

— kettle or coffeemaker

Things to make life cosier:

— a lovely teapot and selection of teas

— pretty cloth napkins/tablecloth; love these linen ones at $6 each (on sale) in 12 colors

— a throw rug beside your bed

— fresh shams

— a vintage decanter to fill with bourbon or a smoky scotch

— some new bakeware; a muffin pan, bundt pan, tart tins

— a pair of colorful throw pillows for your sofa

I’m really glad we live in such a lovely home, and it’s the subject of much devoted care to cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.

I spent my childhood in boarding school and summer camp (home for school in Grades 6 and 7), and I have no doubt that so many years in shared spaces not of my own design has helped make me a bit obsessive!

I also studied for a few years at the New York School of Interior Design and learned a lot about how to make a place, even a small-ish one, beautiful, functional and welcoming.

I use a lot of different resources:

For fabrics, basics from Ballard Designs, Calico Corners and amazing stuff (often $$$) from Svensk Tenn in Stockholm and Fabrics and Papers in England. One of my favorite fabric sources is in (!) London, England, The Cloth Shop, who happily mailed me yardage I chose online.

I don’t use Etsy or EBay but there are lots of bargains there, and so many online places from Joss & Main to Perigold to FirstDibs to Wayfair, plus all the big stores. Consignment and thrift shops and antique shops and flea markets can offer some amazing bargains — I recently found a huge, pristine white linen tablecloth for $35.

We love Farrow & Ball paint (yes, expensive but we find it worth the price) and I splurge a few times a year on custom-made linens like curtains, tablecloths and throw pillows, all of which add warmth, silence, comfort and color.

A perfect Manhattan afternoon

By Caitlin Kelly

What a luxury it is to live so close to New York City!

I can drive in from our suburban town and (if lucky!) be parked on the street within 30 to 40 minutes.

I seem to have tremendous parking karma — which means, very often, I’ll find a spot on the street where I don’t even have to pay (on Sunday, for example), saving me as much as $50 for garage parking for 3-5 hours in fancier neighborhoods.

So I drove in last Sunday to Lexington and 83d, a neighborhood called the Upper East Side, UES, to meet a young friend for brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop, which is a tiny diner on that corner that opened in 1925.

They’re touchy about guests staying too long and by noon there was a line-up.

Then it’s an easy walk west along 83d to the Metropolitan Museum, which, for now has timed admission you reserve in advance.

If you’ve never yet been to New York or to the Met, the whole experience of the UES is well worth it; even the walk, across Park and Madison leads you past elegant townhouses and uniformed doormen, a guy smoking a stogie leaning on a car, a dog-walker with a huge, shaggy something and two pugs. The people watching is always good, and there are so many lovely architectural details to enjoy — from flower-filled window-boxes to carved gargoyles to the wrought-iron frames of pre-war apartment building entrance doors.

The Met has wide steps that make great seating, and musicians — competing! — settle in to entertain. There are plenty of food trucks — for $14 I got a falafel wrap and a lemonade.

New York state residents can pay as little or as much as we want for the Met’s admission fees — everyone else pays $12 (students), $17 seniors over 65 or the full fare of $25.

It’s tempting to think you have to see everything there if you’re a tourist, but that would be impossible! If you really do pay attention to objects, and read labels and wall signs, you’ll soon feel overloaded.

I find it all so moving — the Roman marble family sculpture from a cemetery; the tiny metal pins in the shape of animals that Roman soldiers wore (!); red and black Greek pottery; exquisite enamels of the 17th c; medieval tapestries —- and that’s just a few main floor galleries!

What amazing things have been produced by so many people. To see them close up is such a joy.

I love to visit a pair of gold earrings I find totally enchanting.

The place is quiet and civilized and there are plenty of benches to rest on. Everyone must be masked.

You can have the oddest moment of looking at something millennia old — and stare out the Fifth Avenue windows at the millionaires’ apartments across the street.

The gift shop is full of gorgeous things, jewelry and scarves, pens and pencils and books and puzzles and posters.

I remember it being full of astounding art and art history books — but not now?

It’s an interesting reminder that, without rich people’s generosity, many museums (certainly in the U.S.), would have a lot less stuff to show us; labels tell you what an item is and how old and maybe what it was used for, but also when it was acquired and using what funds. So the Jayne Wrightsman Galleries, for example, are huge and full of very ornate French material, not my taste at all.

Every room in the Greek and Roman galleries had the name of some wealthy benefactor.

These eyes, which would have been added to Roman or Greek sculptures are creepy — but also amazing.

I have a favorite painting I like to say hello to as well, on the second floor, of Joan of Arc, painted in 1879.

Have you been to the Met?

What are some of your favorite local museums?

A perfect stylish day — at last!

A grande dame of design — Bunny Williams discussing one of her projects

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t know about you, but ohhhhhhhhh, have I so missed style and wit and elegance!

Being in a room with other people, quietly paying attention to something riveting.

So an out-of-the-blue press invitation to attend a day of panels by Big Name interior designers and architects was just the ticket. I wore my go-to black pleated Aritiza maxi-dress, black denim heels, my $3 thrift shop black necklace, a Lucky brand shawl — and off I went to the city.

Jose sent me with a toasted bagel, so one of the many commuter skills I got to use once more was unwrapping it and eating it while maneuvring the FDR, the narrow, busy highway that runs along the east side of Manhattan, beside the East River.

I scored on parking — having resigned myself to a $50 day for an Upper East Side spot — by getting into a garage by 9:00 a.m. (early bird special), for a daily cost of $18, less (yes!) than a cocktail here and even less than the round trip commuter train fare of $19.

The day offered a lively mix of topics, all focused on interior design, from the use of color to what makes a pretty room to choosing and using antiques. Each designer and architect had about 20 minutes to show slides of their work and explain the thinking behind their decisions.

Typical of this world, many had worked for some of the same firms and some had worked together on projects.

The back-stories were delicious!

But also…whew!

It’s easy to forget, or not know, or not care, how staggeringly wealthy so many people are now.

So there’s another 10,000 square foot mansion with 11 bedrooms and a bowling alley and a skating rink and a theater…

Here’s a mega-yacht with a bed inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Here’s the 6th or 7th home of another mogul, this one in Mexico.

And so on.

It would be easy to disdain all of this as appalling excess.

I get it. I do!

Or the fact that every project employs hundreds of workers, many in the unionized building trades.

But I still loved every minute of the day, and savored the stylish people seated all around me — the woman in leopard trousers with a massive leopard hat; the older woman in her navy leather Roger Vivier flats; the man in black Belgian loafers (a very specific NYC old-money brand), the speaker in from Dallas in perfect patent Manolos….

The shoe game was strong!

I studied design at the New York School of Interior Design in the mid-90s and planned to leave journalism for a new career in the industry. After my first husband walked out, starting over at the bottom at $10/hour wasn’t a viable option, so I stayed in journalism.

But I learned a lot at school, and really enjoyed my education.

My maternal grandmother had money and hired Toronto’s top decorator, so my taste was formed early! I still remember one of her 1970s bathroom wallpapers.

I love design dearly, so an entire day listening to the greats and legends of the field — and seeing the depth of their knowledge — was a fantastic, free pleasure.

For all its challenges, New York City remains a vibrant center full of talent and inspiration. What a relief to see it finally, slowly, coming back to life again!

Three boxes, one crate. A life.

My favorite photo of my mother. Cynthia von Rhau, born Nov. 28, NYC; died Feb. 15, 2020, Victoria. B.C.

By Caitlin Kelly

Three heavy cardboard boxes arrived at our apartment this week, without a word of warning.

They contained a wide variety of items, including several photo albums, a small stuffed mouse, a copy of the New Testament, a white wool blanket — and my mother’s ashes.

Might have been nice to have a heads-up for those.

The woman chosen as executor of my mother’s will was a woman who, for reasons I’ll never grasp, really disliked me.

She had met my mother on a beach in Costa Rica and decided to become a close friend of my mother. Except, she really wasn’t. It was a weird relationship, subservient and deferential to my mother in ways few true intimates are.

After my mother had major surgery for a brain tumor, after decades of independent home ownership and much global travel, she decided to live in a smaller home and moved into the same city and same condo complex as this woman.

She was always sweet as pie to me in front of my mother — until the day my mother had to be moved, suddenly, into a nursing home. I’ll spare you the details, but she and her daughter and her sister were absolute bitches to me.

I think readers here know I’m made of pretty tough stuff but this was…horrible.

I never went back.

Even the nurses at the nursing home asked me what on earth these two women had in common.

Their city is a 7 hour flight from NY, where I live, and this cruelty and bizarre behavior was quite enough.

But after my mother died, Feb. 15, 2020, she left a few belongings behind, including a massive pastel portrait of her grandmother, framed. That woman took possession of them, as was her legal responsibility.

The pandemic has made travel into Canada expensive and complicated so I wasn’t going to even try to go north and deal with it all.

Now, finally, suddenly, I’m the guardian of the very few items left from my great-grandmother and grandmother.

They had lots of money but my maternal granny, who died in 1975 in Toronto, was pretty profligate and never bothered to pay any taxes, for decades, to any of the three governments to which she likely owed a fortune — American (she lived in Canada), Canadian federal and provincial. So my poor mother had to sell pretty much everything she had owned to pay them off. The quality was so good one of her armoires is in a Toronto museum.

It’s all somewhat ironic as my great-grandmother is now literally coming full circle by returning to New York — she lived for years in Manhattan, on Park Avenue.

And now I’m the guardian and wonder what will happen to these few objects when we die.

We have no children or nieces or nephews we’re close to.

So it’s prompted an overdue discussion to whom we’ll leave our assets and estate, which isn’t a quick or easy answer — and we have little nostalgia for our two universities.

The many photos of my mother are fabulous and I am so glad to have them, as she was very beautiful and there are true glamour shots from her time modeling and acting.

Seeing a pile of ashes in an ugly brown plastic tub is…sobering.

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!