Meet Johann Sebastian Bach, who in 1721 presented six concertos — now named the Brandenburg Concertos, named for the Margrave for whom they were written — to a local official he hoped would offer him a job.
The Margrave did not hire him and it’s possible he never even heard them.
The 1946 Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is equally hailed as a great of the film classics.
It failed at the box office and the original story met with such rejection that its author decided to self-publish and send it to 200 friends instead.
At museum shows of the legends Michelangelo, Charlotte Bronte and the Japanese print-maker Hokusai — whose Great Wave is one of the most familiar of all images — I learned the more nuanced truth of these lives, of penury and struggle, their lost and cancelled commissions.
It’s tempting to think that all the great art and music and literature we still enjoy today was produced from warm homes filled with good food, with healthy children and wives and husbands. In fact, there was much sorrow to endure.
Bronte’s dress and boots
Bronte suffered the early death of all her siblings, married late (37) and died the following year.
Bronte’s writing desk
I so admire anyone who chooses the creative life.
My father made films and documentary television shows. His second wife wrote and edited television scripts. My mother worked as a print and radio journalist.
I get it!
We lived its ups and downs, emotionally, intellectually and financially. Rejection can feel annihilating, most often wielded by people with salaries and pensions, unwilling to take creative risks themselves while harshly judging those of us who do.
Without a wealthy family or partner (and some have this) it can mean many years of financial struggle, and the endless hope of recognition.
No one needs a new novel or oratorio or painting!
So I gave my husband — a freelance photo editor and photographer this book for Christmas.
One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Tharp’s first book, The Creative Habit; she’s a choreographer, but the challenges she faces, and her wisdom and practical advice, are just as fitting to many other creative efforts.
If you’re working to create something new, keep going.
Mr. Lin is betting that Rideback will strengthen and accelerate the creative process. It is a Hollywood twist on WeWork, the shared office space company. Mr. Lin said he was also inspired by Pixar’s “brain trust” sessions, in which directors and writers candidly critique one another’s work, and by “The Medici Effect,” Frans Johansson’s 2004 book about the ignition of the Renaissance.
“If you put a bunch of creative people from different backgrounds into one space, something magical will happen,” Mr. Lin said. “Studio lots used to be just that. You would walk around and everyone would be there. But studio lots aren’t as much fun anymore. They can feel corporate.”
Mr. Lin has 15 employees of his own. They work on the Rideback campus, where they are focused on finding a way forward for the “Lego” series, most likely with a new studio partner. (Universal is one option.) Other front-burner projects include an “Aladdin” sequel and a television spinoff; “Lethal Weapon 5,” with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover signed up to return; movies based on Cirque du Soleil shows; and a remake of the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Writing is often considered a solitary act, but some writers have figured out a way to make the process more collaborative even before editors, agents and other publishing professionals get involved. Zhang’s group, which includes Alice Sola Kim, Karan Mahajan and Tony Tulathimutte, has been meeting about every month since most of them were undergraduate students at Stanford University. Their sessions are highly structured, with deadlines for submitting drafts and detailed manuscript notes, while other groups gather more informally to talk about their careers, commiserate over deadlines or gossip about the publishing industry.
“You will feel like writing is very lonely and very difficult and very frustrating and that you don’t really know what you’re doing,” said the Chicago-based writer Mikki Kendall. But in a writing group, “you can talk to other people in that place and that are feeling their way out.”
I don’t belong to any such group, but I do belong to at least six on-line writers’ groups — and have done so online for many years, still close friends with a few people I only initially knew that way. One, a writer now living in California, and I shared a room at a Boston writing conference never having even met in person, launching a long and treasured friendship.
It really cuts the loneliness to be able to talk your ideas and challenges through with people at the same level of skill and experience and, if you’re lucky, those a few steps beyond you, willing to be generous.
One such group (many are private Facebook groups), is small — only 200 — and only those with a decade’s experience can join. I know, even if I don’t like the answers, I’ll get a quick and candid reply from someone else who’s been around the same block a few times.
Writing books makes me really happy — but also very nervous!
The challenge of all writers’ groups, in any form, is the classic writers’ combo of insecurity and ego. I’ve seen several such online groups explode in outrage and vicious bullying. It can get weird and ugly quickly.
And to share, let alone publish your work — poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essays, journalism — demands the courage to have a voice, to put it out there for comment, criticism and potential disagreement. That opens you up, de facto, to potential hurt.
So I have what I consider a bit of a brain trust; to gather feedback on a recent story of 5,000 words — my longest and most complex in a decade — I enlisted the fresh eyes and expertise of three people whose judgment I trust. One is a man half my age who’s very good; one is a woman my age whose writing I deeply admire and the third is a professional book editor. These “first readers” are so helpful and so important.
After revising your work over and over and over and over — you’re tired! You have blind spots. The material has become so familiar you’re likely to miss places that it’s still confusing to someone who has never read it at all. So these trusted peers are so valuable.
I’ve done this for others, of course, helping to review their stories and book manuscripts. I’m honored to do it.
If you’re lucky and talented and persistent, you will find a peer group and they will help steer you through.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It had been 20 years since my last visit — a 10-day trip with my husband Jose, then a very new boyfriend eager to show off his hometown. His late father was the minister of a small downtown Baptist church and he regaled me with happy memories of riding his bike down Johnson Street, where the Georgia O’Keefe Museum now houses her artwork in the shell of that original adobe building.
Santa Fe is the state capital, founded in 1610, at 7,199 feet altitude, the oldest state capital, and the highest, in the U.S. — the 2012 census puts its population at 69,204.
It draws many tourists and celebrities; Game of Thrones author, and local, George R.R. Martin donated $1 million to create the arts center Meow Wolf.
On this visit, we stayed the first four days with one of Jose’s oldest friends, then at the Hilton, whose public spaces are filled with beautiful, large-scale original art, the city center a two or three block stroll away.
One weird caveat — the city has no taxis! There is a car service but $30 (!) is a fortune to travel a few blocks. I do not use Uber or Lyft and both are available.
Also, NB: the city’s altitude and strong sun mean plenty of water and sunscreen.
I love Mexican embroidery!
I love Santa Fe style — elegant bohemian — a look more difficult to find at home in New York, where the official color is black. There is a lot of tie-dye and embroidery and insane amounts of Native American jewelry on offer, but if you like ethnic textiles from places like India, Mexico, Laos and Guatemala, you will find a lot of choice.
The city attracts some very wealthy visitors and homeowners, so some prices are eye-watering, but there are more moderate offerings:
Passementrie is a treasure trove if you, like me, love textiles — cotton, silk, linen, in pillow covers, throws, scarves and clothing.
A selection of cowboy boots at Nathalie
Nathalie, on Canyon Road, has been in business since 1995, owned and run by its namesake, a former French Vogue editor, bien sur! A stylish mix of clothing, cowboy boots, antique and new home objects.
Spirit, downtown, is amazing, but spendy-y, as is Corsini, the men’s store next to it. But a great selection of floaty dresses, knitted leather handbags, basic T-shirts, wallets, jewelry. The men’s store has gorgeous cotton jeans in all those weathered Southwestern colors, $225 a pair.
Check out all the local food offerings to take home, from blue corn for pancakes to chile powder to posole.
Every day, local natives bring their handmade silver and copper jewelry for sale in front of the Palace of the Governors. Lots of choices! Many local stores also sell native jewelry, both current and vintage; Ortega’s has a huge selection.
If you’re interested in pottery and contemporary art, wander along Canyon Road, lined with galleries.
Collected Works is a fantastic 40-year-old indie bookstore with a cafe attached.
Act 2 is a consignment shop on Paseo de Peralta, with a wide selection of women’s clothes, shoes, accessories — including sizes large and extra-large. Not the Chanel-Gucci kind of store but lots of linen and cotton. I scored two handbags and a linen shirt.
Such great food!
A classic since 1983, ever popular, in the Railyard neighborhood. We ate there twice: lots of margaritas and Southwestern food like frito pie (ground meat and trimmings), chalupas, enchiladas and served in a former adobe home.
With only 50 seats, bright green wooden chairs and Mexican tiled walls, this cafe offers a long menu and delicious food, from breakfast on.
This was one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere, sort of Japanese tapas, with a huge choice of sake and wine. The dining room is beautiful and the deck offers fantastic views of the wooded canyon. We ate soba noodles, shrimp and oyster tempura, asparagus tempura, pork ribs and gyoza, plus a glass of red wine and one of sake; $105. This is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, out of town, so you’ll need a car to get there.
This lovely restaurant on Canyon Road serves food all day and has an amazingly long list of teas, hot or iced. The quiet and intimate rooms are filled with black and white photos or you can sit outside under an umbrella in the shade.
Ten Thousand Waves is a must! This spa, lodging, restaurant combination has been in business since 1981, Japanese in design. Private hot tubs, massages and dinner available. A few caveats: the women’s locker room is cramped, with only 2 showers and one toilet, while the place is very busy. It’s also at the top of a steep hill and I saw no access for those with mobility issues. The massages were excellent as was the private hot tub.
A 90-minute drive north into rugged countryside. Much smaller and quieter than Santa Fe. Worth it! Population 5,668.
There are two reasons to make the drive, the gorgeous early Mission church, the Santuario de Chimayo (built 1813 to 1816) and the 50-year-old restaurant Rancho de Chimayo, with delicious food, shaded patios and very reasonable prices. Their sopaipillas are heavenly — and don’t forget to dip them in the pot of honey on the table; they come with almost every meal.
Where the atomic bomb was developed!
Santa Fe National Forest
A short drive from town, this thick forest of pine and aspen has picnic sites, campsites and hiking trails.
Gorgeous! I’m doing tbe next blog post about this National Park, a 57 mile drive northwest of Santa Fe.
Mine seems to be shelter magazines, the industry word for magazines focused on interior design. Stacks of them fill baskets, bookshelves and bags around our apartment, and I part with them reluctantly, only because there’s no room.
I grew up, ages 8 to 16, in boarding school and summer camp, which I’m sure has something to do with this. Boarding school meant sharing a room with at least 3 or 4 others, sleeping in a twin metal bed with an institutional chenille or cotton bedspread. Summer camp meant sharing with 3 or 4 others and sleeping in a wooden bunk-bed, its only “decoration” the graffiti of earlier residents on the raw wood.
So beauty, comfort, style and elegance matter a great deal to me.
I’m able to keep my wallet snapped shut and stay off of most on-line shopping sites, but…but…oooohh, I do love a gorgeous fabric and have splurged multiple times ordering fabric-by-the-yard and having it made into custom throw pillows or curtains.
I had our old Crate & Barrel sofa refreshed with new bold piping on the seat cushions and had these throw pillows custom-made. Adding piping or welting always makes it look more finished.
Because Jose and I so enjoy entertaining, it’s nice to open the door and feel completely at ease that our guests will enjoy a pretty, comfortable environment.
I also studied interior design seriously in the mid-1990s at the New York School of Interior Design, planning to ditch journalism and change careers. But my husband bailed and I couldn’t afford to work for $10/hour to start at the bottom. I loved my classes and now really appreciate what training and skill it takes to create a spectacular space.
My parents each had terrific taste, collecting art and antiques. My father had a gorgeous Knole sofa I still remember decades later. My mother brought home lovely mirrored textiles from India and pale mantas from Peru.
And my maternal grandmother inherited a pile of money and hired Toronto’s best interior designer to furnish her apartment and, later, carriage house. I still remember a spectacular orange wallpaper from her powder room.
Our living room curtains, lined, custom-made maybe a decade ago. Lots of colors to work from in here; that pale yellow-green (Farrow & Ball’s Gervase Yellow) is one of them.
So I happily spend hours paging through other people’s homes, whether a villa in Tuscany, a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario or a 17th. century pile in some bit of rural England. I’m not especially drawn to opulence, and much prefer simplicity, like 18th century Swedish designs or the work of Axel Vervoordt.
I love The English Home, as much for its amazing early houses — some 400 or 500 years old — as the distinctly British sense of color and design. All those tall, tall windows, lined chintz curtains and dressing tables.
On my last visit to London, my pal Cadence, author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — who knows my love of textiles — took me to the Cloth Shop, a legendary London store that supplied fabrics and ribbons to the costume-makers of the Harry Potter films. I bought a lovely teal fabric that now covers our bed headboard.
Two Farrow & Ball colors; French Gray and Peignoir (the lavender one). The drawers were custom-built into a former closet and this is the corner of our small dining room.
And, because I am a complete Farrow & Ball fangirl, I traveled 2.5. hours one-way by train and taxi in July 2017 to visit their paint and wallpaper factory in Dorset and meet one of their two heads of color, Charlie Cosby; here’s an interview with her and some explanations of their quirky paint color names, like Dead Salmon, Clunch and Elephant’s Breath.
Here are a few of my favorite go-to design retailers: Wisteria, Ballard Designs, Jayson Home, Anthropologie, Mothology, Dash & Albert, Serena & Lily.
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?
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.
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.
One of the many reasons I enjoy living near New York City is having quick and easy access to its culture, whether music, dance, art, books, theater.
We’re fortunate my husband works for The New York Times, which is unionized, and as a result gives us access to TDF, which offers low-cost tickets to a range of entertainment; as I left the matinee of Choirboy, having paid $45 for a fantastic orchestra seat, I saw that the lowest price at the TKTS booth in Times Squares was $73.
It’s a real privilege to see a show for these prices — full price for an orchestra Broadway seat can be $300 or more.
First, if you don’t know much recent Irish history — specifically “The Troubles”, then acronyms mentioned in it like GPO and RUC won’t mean much. Plus thick Northern Irish accents to cut through.
Go anyway! It’s an amazing play, even if the ending is abrupt and confusing. It has more than 20 cast members — seven children, plus (!) a live rabbit, a live goose and a very calm live baby. It’s almost three hours, with two intermissions.
It opened in New York on Broadway in October 2018.
It’s set in an Irish farmhouse at harvest time, in 1981, and includes everyone from Aunt Maggie Far Away, fading in and out of dementia, to the foul-mouthed patriarch Patrick and his wife, Patricia. There’s a very bad guy named Mr. Muldoon, a betrayed and betraying priest, a bunch of rowdy cousins and plenty of whisky. The plot is too complicated to detail here, but here’s a review of it; the themes of loyalty, belonging, lost opportunity and betrayal playing throughout.
Hard to imagine a more different sort of play, but so terrific. It closes March 10, so if you have a chance, run!
The thing most of us crave, (certainly living in the U.S. where falling into or staying in poverty is terrifying), is financial security. No one wants to not be able to make rent, buy groceries, buy a bus pass or gas the car, clothe their kids or pay off those miserable student loans.
So many of us will lunge toward the first job that offers us a steady income because….steady income.
It’s the fortunate few who have the time, energy and fiscal freedom to slow down and decide to focus on what they really hope to creatively accomplish. When you work for others, you de facto work to their needs, budget and deadline.
People have told me I’m an artist…I think I’m more of a tailor. You want your trousers hemmed two inches (intellectually speaking)? I can do that. You want a navy gabardine suit size 42R? No problem. I know how to work quickly and efficiently and give people what they ask me for.
I’m no Phoebe Philo nor the late Karl Lagerfeld nor my favorite fashion designer, Belgian Dries van Noten. Occasionally, yes, I come up with a wholly creative idea and am able to sell it.
Jose recently had an idea that will literally make history. I am so proud of him! We can’t share what it is for a few months, but he realized that a specific annual event of great cultural importance had (?!) never before been documented visually. He knew its administrator and pitched the idea to her and he suggested a budget for it and she said yes.
He spent 31 years as a photographer and photo editor at The New York Times, a place of prestige and power, and it gave him a source of challenge, steady income with a union-protected job and a pension. All good.
Very little creative freedom.
Those outside journalism may fantasize about its creativity but the wage slaves within it know better; too often the thinking is stale and the formulation of coverage cliche. Those who keep coming up with new and interesting and untried ideas — as Jose did many times — can be ignored, dismissed and just give up.
When he took the buyout they offered in 2015, I was scared. How would a guy with a desk for 31 years thrive as a full-time freelancer?
He has, because his creativity is finally being rewarded, both financially and professionally.
At an age when some people have retired and hung it up, he’s tootling along, impressing the hell out of new clients and, best of all, seeing the fruits of his labors.
I’d known of her talent through a mutual friend in my hometown, Toronto, and met Ali G-J for lunch on one of my visits. I admired her gorgeous watercolors and kept urging her to turn them into products. She did! Her pillows, scarves and totes are fun and charming. If you know a journalist, check out her “Joe the Reporter” image and the California Dreaming laptop skin. Prices start at $16 for a fab floral phone skin.
I rarely splurge on costume jewelry, but this London artist’s bold, outsize earrings and hairpins hand-cut from brass — some painted black, some cobalt blue — are gorgeous. (I chose the Gia earrings, 60 pounds, $77.
Guys, this brand combines several of my passions — swearing, birds, vintage art and Canadian bad-assery. Ottawa-based Aaron Reynolds decided to create a line of mugs, T-shirts/hoodies/baseball shirts, posters, pins and playing cards that combine gorgeous vintage images of birds with wickedly funny/furious sayings. Not surprisingly, his biggest audience is pissed-off American women. Great gifts for anyone whose head is perpetually about to explode. Pins $11, mugs $20, baseball shirts $30.
What is it with angry avians? This British brand creates exquisite wool and silk scarves, mufflers and pocket squares. Their color palette is bold and bright and their designs amazing. Perfect for stylish men and women of any age. Not cheap, but utterly distinctive. Women’s silk scarves start at 255 pounds ($331) to 290 pounds ($376) for large silk/wool combinations; silk pocket squares are 65 pounds ($84); love the ones marked FURY and LUST.
Smelly soap! I always order these, from my favorite Manhattan fragrance shop, Aedes de Venustas. They smell divine, $42 for three. I’ve loved Spain’s Maja soap since I was little; made since 1921, it comes in gorgeous black tissue paper, a box of three for $16.41
For all the feisty feminists in your life — the RBG Action Figure! Named for Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 85 and still kicking judicial ass. $19.99
I’m mad for marbled papers, a glorious riot of color and pattern, and use them to cover books, to line a frame for a photo or print, lampshades, wrapping paper. This British woman’s work is beautiful: 8.80 pounds ($11.42) for a sheet of paper; 22 pounds ($28.56) for a gorgeous blue letter tray; 30 pounds ($38.95) for a vertical magazine holder; 14.50 pounds ($18.82) for five stunning bookmarks.
Regular readers know my love for all things vintage and vintage-looking. I’m a big fan of this website, with wicker, brass, ceramic, lanterns, candlesticks, trays, linens. Everything is well-priced, simple and lovely. Love this antiqued brass foliate key-holder, $29.
Here’s a fun practical present — combining two more of my loves: beer and a tidy kitchen! A tea towel identifying all the different kinds of beer. $20
I love the soft, soothing glow of candles and light them every day in our home. Love these, in the shape of pine cones, from Crate & Barrel. $12.95 to $16.95
I love using my Filofax, a leather-covered planner, with all sorts of cool inserts, from tiny Post-It notes to a well-used tiny ruler that measures in inches and centimeters. Mine is embossed red leather and a total pleasure to handle. They come in a rainbow of colors and two sizes; this one $101.
This handmade wooden box is large enough to store photos, recipes, love letters. Its feels vaguely Art Deco with its swirling colors. $295
Guacamole!! If you have seen it being made in front of you, you know it’s made in a specific heavy dish called a molcajete. Here’s one.$34.95
From much-beloved Opening Ceremony, a NYC retailer whose founders are now designing the line for Kenzo, I want these black lace boots!$325
Every year I include on this list a pretty duvet cover — and it has matching shams if you don’t own a duvet. This one, from Pottery Barn, is so beautiful, floral on a black background, and looks like embroidery. $60 (shams) to $249 (duvet cover.)
If you live somewhere really cold and want to be both stylish and warm, I love these huge wool scarves — they call them blankets as they’re large enough to really swathe your head and neck — from my favorite Canadian clothing retailer Aritzia. Some are named for Canadian places like Banff or Montreal. As a Canadian, I wear a lot of their clothes and appreciate their combination of style, quality, color and price. $78
A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.
One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.
The most attractive rooms have one as well.
Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.
Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?
Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.
Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.
Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table. We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.
Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.
The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.
Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.
Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.
Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.
Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.
I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.