It’s the holidays! Why not set a pretty table?

By Caitlin Kelly

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Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop

 

I love to entertain!

And I’m a total sucker for a beautifully laid table, as the French call it, l’art de la table.

If you’ve ever been to France or Italy especially, you’ve probably enjoyed some gorgeous table settings, even in inexpensive restaurants, thanks to lovely colors in seating, table-tops, floor tile and thoughtful lighting.

The last thing you want is bright glaring overhead light.

The idea is to set a mood, to eat and drink slowly, to enjoy a leisurely meal.

Creating a pretty table isn’t as difficult, scary or expensive as you might assume but it takes a little planning, some digging around for lovely, affordable items and having the confidence to put them all together.

Details matter: iron textiles. Polish metals. Make sure your glassware is clean, not pitted or cracked.

(Those of you with very small children, especially boys, may snicker and leave at this point!)

I’ve been amassing tableware and linens for decades now, and have a good collection of antique china and porcelain, including brown transferware, a sort of poor man’s china popular in the 19th century, which also comes in pink, purple, red and black.

I use mismatched but heavy silver-plate cutlery, found at flea markets, and keep it well-polished.

New tablecloths aren’t always easy to find, and tend to be expensive, but flea markets and consignment shops have plenty of them.

I sometimes just buy a few yards of nice fabric and hem it myself by hand.

 

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Summer breakfast on our New York balcony

 

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Fresh flowers — a must!

 

For new things, I like: Mothology, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Wisteria, Horchow, Crate & Barrel, Ballard Designs.

But I mostly haunt flea markets in every city and have found some great/affordable/quality old things at antiques fairs, consignment shops and inside group antiques malls.

 

To create a pretty table, for the holidays  — or ongoing — here are some things you might want to collect (or rent):

 

— linen or cotton napkins

— tall candles aka tapers, maybe mixed with unscented votives

— candlesticks or candle-holders, brass, glass, wood, crystal, silver

— a centerpiece of fruit or flowers or vegetation; (no fragrant flowers or arrangements too tall to see over)

— a couple of handsome serving platters and large serving bowls

— a large fabric tablecloth to soften and add color and texture or a long, wide fabric runner

— clean and well-polished cutlery, (what Americans call flatware)

— matching glassware (one for water, one for wine)

— salt and pepper and butter in their own servers/dishes

— a nice jug for serving cold water

 

No open containers!

 

Here are some of my own photos, for inspiration:

 

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Restaurant Alexandre, Montreal. Marble table-top ringed with polished brass and cheerful striped bistro chairs

 

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So sorry I couldn’t get these home safely from Venice!

 

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I found the tablecloth in Prince Edward County, Ontario. The cup and saucer are early 19th century, English

 

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A collection of candlesticks — three from Mexico (pewter) and one silver-plate found at a flea market

 

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A vintage tablecloth scored in Maine

 

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We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long

 

 

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A table set for one of our dinner parties

30 great holiday gifts — 2017 edition

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s an annual tradition — my carefully chosen list of holiday gift ideas I hope you’ll find fun and inspiring.

I post it early so you’ll have time to ponder, order and still have things arrive in time.

None of these are sponsored, and in a wide range of prices — and, yes, a few are a big splurge.

While there’s nothing for children, and no tech suggestions, many of my picks are unisex and could be enjoyed by teens to seniors.

All are from online sites and all prices, unless otherwise stated, are in U.S. dollars.

 

Have fun!

 

This small ceramic bowl, the palest blue of a summer sky with a gleaming gold glazed interior, is stunning. Perfect as a ring holder or bedside or holding tiny flowers. From Summerill & Bishop, a British website (they ship internationally) with some of the prettiest homewares and linens I’ve ever seen anywhere.

48.50 pounds/$63.43

 

This pale gray, white and brown patterned cottton muffler, the style unisex, is hand-woven by a woman living in Tiverton, Rhode Island, whose work I follow on Twitter. It’s a bit spendy but not when you consider it’s totally handmade.

$210.00

 

I lovelovelove everything on this American website, Mothology, whose aesthetic is industrial/vintage/rustic but never twee. Roam around for glassware, furniture, lighting, textiles and more. Here’s a vintage-y looking hook — a whale’s tail — perfect for a coat, an apron, a towel.

$8.50

 

Also from them, an indigo print cotton napkin, 20 inches square — my trick is to buy two and stitch them together, add a pillow insert and voila! Instant throw cushion.

$10.95

 

A year of school for a girl in Afghanistan? Yes, you can give that. Or a cookstove. Or a goat. This charity offers a range of opportunities to help.

$58 and up

 

Ooooooohh, this duvet cover is it! It looks like someone spent years embroidering it in jewel colors, on a charcoal background. It’s from mega-retailer Pottery Barn, (whose duvet covers I’ve used and loved for years.) If the duvet cover is too spendy, the matching pillow shams start at $60.

$249.00 to $299.00

 

I hate most men’s watches — too big, too blingy, too much. This Timex model, from cool guys’ shop Todd Snyder is fine with me, with its gray ribbed strap and interesting face.

$138.00

 

 

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Don’t forget to give to charity — whether foreign or domestic. So many people need our help! Selfishly, I’m linking here to the Writers’ Emergency Assistance Fund, which can give up to $4,000 within weeks to a qualified, experienced writer of non-fiction or journalism. I sat on their board for years and I know, as a full-time independent writer, how difficult life can become, especially if serious illness or injury strikes, when you have no paid sick days or reliable paycheck.

As much as you can spare! Thanks!!

 

For your favorite cook, a gorgeous wooden spoon, hand made of maple or cherry, made by a craftsman in Ontario, Canada (my home province.)

$45.00 Canadian

 

Love these gray flannel sneakers (women’s) from J. Crew.

$88.00

 

Have you ever worn a Hermes carré?  I have two, and treasure them! These silk twill scarves, 36 inches square, (hence their name), are so lovely and not boring or stuffy. Here’s one from their latest collection, (256 designs to choose from!) that comes in different colors. Named Jardin a Sintra — Garden in Sintra, one of Portugal’s prettiest places.

$395.00

 

Also from Hermes, this yummy soap, in their Terre d’Hermes fragrance, which I’ve been wearing and loving since I got it for Christmas last year. It’s an expensive piece of soap, certainly, but sure to last for at least a month or more, so call it $1 a day. “Reminds me of rainy fall days spent at my family’s cottage in the mountains,” said one online reviewer. Technically a male fragrance, but I love it, subtle but layered.

$32.00

 

For a small/medium sized cat or dog, this pale gay knitted merino bed is both cosy and great looking, from Etsy.

$56.00

 

Every winter morning I step onto a soft, welcoming sheepskin rug I inherited. Here’s one from Etsy, from Iceland.

$58.00

 

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If you don’t know Muji, a Japanese brand established in 1980, you’re missing out: great quality, smart designs and some bits of quirk. If actually getting to New York City is too expensive or complicated, here’s New York in a bag! Six smaller versions of  its iconic buildings and six cars, all made of wood. Oh, go on!

$25.00

 

Also from Muji, sticky memo notes in the the shapes of cats. Essential!

$4.50

 

And, for your favorite vegan/vegetarian, a simple-but-handsome set of chopsticks, chopstick rest and rice bowl, in red or black lacquerware all from Muji.

$6.00, $13.00 and $24.000

 

This is a very big number for a very small item, but it’s from one of my favorite jewelers, London-based Annoushka Ducas. This is a small, vintage-looking diamond pavé heart-shaped charm.

$2,100.00

 

You can’t go wrong with a creamy, dreamy pair of baroque pearl earrings, on a simple gold wire, also from Annoushka and also available in gray. If you or your loved one is as fond of jewelry as I am, this site is worth a long look.

$520.00

 

For that stylish man in your life, a Filson canvas field bag, in three colors, with leather straps. Perfect for stashing a laptop.

$295.00

 

And because I love a great bandana, graphic design and small aircraft here’s one with a graphic design of United States Forest Service smokejumper aircraft, also from Filson.

$48.00

 

Love these crazy slippers — open-toed, flat, of alpaca fur, in red or black from cool kids’ New York City store Opening Ceremony.

$178.00

 

For years I’ve been using personalized stationery and love getting and sending it. How about offering a set of personalized notepads? This site, Paper Source, offers dozens of attractive options, a nice choice for that person who already has everything! Here’s a simple design, but there are cockatoos, flowers, succulents and many more.

$35.00

 

This is a very specific look so it’s not for everyone, but I love this Finnish folklore-based design for West Elm, a rug of silk and viscose, in soft denim blue, white and gold.

$499.00 and up

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Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC

 

Few stores still exist in New York City of this vintage — Porto Rico Coffee and Tea has been in business since 1907 — and their fragrant Bleecker Street store is my definition of heaven: a tin ceiling, weathered wooden floorboards, battered huge tins of tea, overflowing sacks of coffee beans, teapots and string bags and everything you could want. They do mail order and here’s their chocolate cinnamon coffee beans, to get you started…

$9.99/pound

 

It’s winter. Your skin gets all scaly and dry and a eucalyptus scrub might be just the ticket. From another of my old-time New York City favorite stores, C.O. Bigelow, founded in 1838. They offer a staggering array of lovely products, including obscure/fab European ones like Marvis toothpaste, so make time to roam around their site.

$15.00

 

BONUS:

For the more ambitious writers and bloggers in your world — who would really use and appreciate some practical advice, insights and tips to get them closer to their goals, (like more readers, finding an agent, book publication, etc.) — why not offer them one of my webinars ($150 for 90 minutes, one on one at their time of choosing, by phone, Skype or in person) or an hour of my coaching, $225/hour with a one-hour minimum?

An award-winning two-time author and career journalist, teaching these skills for decades, I’ve helped many writers worldwide, winning them readers and bylines in outlets like The Guardian and The New York Times. 

Further details on my website, www.caitlinkelly.com.

 

I’ll close with two of my most beloved books, which could be intriguing to a wide array of readers.

 

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Isn’t this cover gorgeous?

Skyfaring is written by a British Airways 747 pilot, (the iconic aircraft is going out of service), and is full of some of the most beautiful prose about what the world feels and looks like from 35,000 feet long-haul flights. If like me, your giftee loves: travel, airplanes, the sky and wonderful writing, this is a great choice, a New York Times best-seller.

Twyla Tharp is a New York based modern dance choreographer and a ferocious talent. If you work in any kind of creative field, I highly recommend her book The Creative Habit. Like her, it’s smart, practical and no bullshit.

 

 

How to look French (si tu veux!)

By Caitlin Kelly

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Even some shoe soles are stylish! A brand called Freelance

 

The second you arrive in Paris — unless you’re already stylish, small and thin — you can feel like a Stegosaurus among orchids.

It’s a cliche but a true one — French men and women often dress, and design their interiors — with a terrific sense of style, and one I find endlessly interesting and inspiring.

 

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Color

French clothing colors are quite different from those offered in North America, especially in the U.S., where garish primaries and brilliant pinks and turquoises predominate, especially in summer.

A French red is a soft tomato-red, not a cold blue-red, their orange slightly dusty, their yellow a soft mustard. Green is a deep emerald or teal, or a soft, pale mint, maybe even a strong chartreuse. You’ll find many more neutrals — gray, cream, beige — than in the U.S. Also, lots of great browns and rust tones, like the rich russet red of cinnamon and a lovely pale peach, the color of ballet pointe shoes.

On the streets, (where in New York you see a lot of black), you’ll see instead a dozen shades of blue.

I love their combinations, in scarves, shoes, clothing and interior fabrics: mustard/gray; navy blue/soft pink; red/gray; olive/burgundy. Clothing is often displayed by color, making it easier to find what you want, or to match outfits.

Prints

Much less popular, in general. Men and women both wear prints, but usually on a scarf or a very small-scale design shirt or blouse.

Scarves

You might not be a scarf person — but men and women of all ages here wear fantastic scarves year-round, whether of wool, cotton, linen or silk. Most are long and narrow, like a muffler, and add a note of stylish confidence.  Incredible selection everywhere, and at all price points.

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Even grocery carts are chic!

Fit

Since so many American women are large — the average U.S. women’s size being a 14, (maybe a size 6 to 8 in Paris) — almost everything for sale in the States hits below the hip to disguise bulk.

Not in Paris! T’s, jackets and blouses are all cropped shorter. French armholes are also cut higher and closer to the armpit, with narrower sleeves, making for a much cleaner line, but also challenging-impossible for those with larger upper arms. Even a size Large to Extra Large can be a lot smaller than you need.

Tall men with broad shoulders may find French clothing less accommodating as well.

I have seen larger sizes for women, but at high price points — usually $200-400 for a stylish blouse or dress, found in a few indie boutiques.

Fit matters here. You won’t see baggy-assed trousers or pleated khakis on men or women, nor pants that need shortening. Attention to detail is a key element of how Frenchmen and women present themselves in public.

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Shoes

Available in every conceivable color and material — from black raffia to pale pink iridescent patent leather to metallic green kidskin with a parrot on top. A jazz shoe — soft-soled, laced — is a perennial favorite, in all colors and finishes, as are loafers. You won’t see many high heels, impractical on cobbled streets.

No matter how simple her outfit, a stylish French woman chooses an interesting shoe.

There are lots of great choices for men, with a flat-soled leather or or suede boot a popular option. The Marais, long a gay neighborhood, offers fantastic options for men, and BHV Homme is an entire department store just for men.

Bags

So many bags! While some tourists drop thousands on a Big Name Designer bag like Chanel or Hermes, there are many other stylish and less-expensive options, whether  a classic French maker like Lancel, Le Tanneur or Longchamps to something more fun and funky.

Hair

A great cut and lively color are de rigueur.

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Galeries Lafayette

Interiors

I lovelovelove shopping for our home here; on this trip I bought everything from napkins to bathmats to a throw for the bed, even a comforter.

I find the colors and textures so alluring, with bed linens — sometimes made of linen — offered in every color of the rainbow. If you love beautiful objects and home goods, set aside time to browse department stores BHV and (higher-end) Le Bon Marché.

Small, light packable items like salt and pepper grinders, aprons, napkins and small trays make gorgeous gifts and souvenirs.

Both of these stores have excellent cafés and if you spend more than 175 euros in one day, be sure to claim your détaxe — the 12% value-added-tax — at the store’s designated desk. You must take your passport.

For those with the budget and enough time, ($150/meter and up), you can also visit the showrooms of the Rue du Mail (as I did), a street lined with high-end interior fabric for sale, like Pierre Frey, and order some for your home. They need at least three or four days’ notice, (not including a weekend) and it allows you to bypass the annoying American gatekeeper system, where you can only buy such fabrics through a designer.

 

Some of my favorite Paris shops:

 

Irena Gregori

Every time I visit Paris, I stop in, and am still wearing and loving several garments I bought there many years ago — and I’m a size 12 to 14, so you don’t have to be tiny.  Great selection of shoes, scarves, dresses and blouses. In June, sales start and her lovely winter coats were half-off for about $200.

BHV

It’s huge! A terrific cafe sits on the top floor, offering splendid views of the surrounding area. You’ll find clothing, shoes, home goods, luggage, make-up and perfume. Check out their throw pillows and comforters; (you can always mail them home.) Their stationery and crafts section is amazing — with lots of very good art supplies.

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Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché

This high-end department store, founded in 1838 in a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood, offers a very beautiful physical space to shop in — spacious and full of natural light. Lovely tea room and an amazing food hall!

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Affordable and pretty lingerie, sleepwear and bathing suits.

Galeries Lafayette

Huge, bustling department store, in a circular design, beneath a spectacular stained glass roof.

Calligrane

On the Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, one of three very good paper stores all beside one another. Paper for writing letters, framing, lampshades or wrapping; also notebooks and gorgeous cardboard folders.

Diwali

This chain of stores is a must if you like scarves as much as I do, in silk, cotton and wool. Their crinkled one-color scarves are well-priced at about $20, and adding one or several to your outfit, men and women, adds a pop of Parisian panache.

 

 

It’s spring! Time for a room refresh?

By Caitlin Kelly

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One of our many mirrors…

We’ve just endured the least-sunny, most-gloomy winter in my 25+ years living in downstate New York — day after day after day after day of gray clouds, rain, mist and/or fog.

Soooooo depressing!

If I wanted that climate, I’d move to the Pacific Northwest.

So, after a few years of loving the soft dove gray walls in our small sitting room, I’d had enough.

I couldn’t take one more glimpse of gray.

Back to my favorite paint store, Farrow & Ball, an English company whose paint has, to my formally-trained design eye, the loveliest colors on offer, now 132.

You can test their colors out with $8 sample pots, (a must, painted on a large white card, carefully considered in all kinds of light, from daylight to candlelight, with every adjacent fabric on it.)

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Here’s our new sitting room choice — number 286, name Peignoir. Love it!

It’s the palest warm lavender, like clouds at sunset, its tones ever-changing with the light. That exact tone is in our curtain fabric and also had to relate comfortably to two adjacent wall colors, difficult in an open-plan 1960s-era apartment. (It didn’t hurt that all three colors are Farrow & Ball. Their colors can work beautifully with one another.)

We already had a color scheme, thanks to a rug and curtains.

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I’ll later add some of my own floral images, framed.

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A few quick ways to refresh a room; (you can find low-cost options in thrift stores, flea markets, Ebay and Craigslist):

Paint!

Usually by far the cheapest answer, especially, (if as we do), you do the prep/sanding/spackling/painting yourself. A gallon of paint can cover a lot of wall, (especially over a light color), and a fresh creamy white can punch up dinged/dingy baseboards, (skirting boards to Britons.)

Adding color(s) terrifies many people, and getting it wrong can mean visual misery. No matter what you think you like, when choosing a color, consider:

1) the color of your floor;

2) the color of your current furniture and fabrics;

3) which way the room faces, (e.g. north light is cooler);

4) the mood you want to create.

Read a few smart websites on color and color schemes — then buy a big piece of foam-core and paint a 3 foot square sample, maybe of several colors, or different hues/intensities of the same color.

Then choose.

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The floral is our sitting room curtains

Fabrics

The world is full of amazing fabric, from spendy designer stuff to Ikea to Spoonflower, where you can design and print your own. I love vintage textiles and search them out at antique shows, flea markets and auctions, making them into throw pillows and tablecloths.

Even the simplest sofa can benefit happily from a few fresh pillows in complementary colors; Pier One, in the U.S., is a great/affordable resource as are pricier Horchow, Serena & Lily and Anthropologie.

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Fresh flowers — a must!

Flowers and plants

Our home is never without multiple arrangements of fresh flowers, whether a single lily — brilliant orange, pure white, soft pink — or a bunch of purple or white or red tulips.

I keep Oasis on hand, (the green foam used by florists you can cut and shape to any size), allowing you to make anything non-leaky into a floral container. Floral frogs, of metal and glass, with holes and spikes to hold stems in place, (easiest to find at flea markets) are also helpful.

Rugs

They don’t have to be dark nor boldly patterned nor made of wool!

Too many people just throw down a big pile of red or blue or dark green and get stuck with an ugly color scheme as a result.

I prefer lighter colors and cotton and wool flat-weaves, like kilims. A favorite site of mine is Dash & Albert, with a wide range of colors and sizes.

Here’s our rug…

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Mirrors

A must, especially when they reflect sunlight into and around a room.

Don’t hang them too high.

Our bedroom mirror, from Anthropologie, is this one, $128.00.

Total cost of our sitting room refresh:

1 gallon Farrow & Ball paint        $99

1 quart white semi-gloss paint for baseboards     $12

two vintage (bought in 2010, originally) chairs     $450

new tray                     $56

3 pots Farrow & Ball (color: Churlish Green) to repaint bamboo boxes we owned        $24

$641.00

A former student, now instructor, at The New York School of Interior Design, I can help!

Email me for a consultation, $100 U.S./hour: learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

A morning filled with orchids

By Caitlin Kelly

Are you as mad for flowers as I am?

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My friend Pam is crazy for orchids, so we made our first-ever journey this week — about a 20-minute drive south of our town — to the New York Botanical Garden, a legendary destination we had never seen.

The show, which filled room after room of the enormous conservatory, was spectacular, complemented by hanging lanterns and tinkling exotic music.

It ends April 9.

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I’ve been fortunate enough to see huge baskets of orchids when I visited Thailand, but typically have only admired them in nurseries and flower shops.

This was an astonishing array — and this year’s show, their 15th focused on orchids, was all about Thailand, which has 1,200 species of orchids.

The displays included several small altars, enormous topiary elephants and a temple.

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The pleasure of using old things

By Caitlin Kelly

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I know that for some, “old” equals crappy, broken and dirty. Something to ditch and replace as soon as possible.

If you’ve only had other people’s used stuff — and not by choice but through financial necessity — or had to use your own things until they broke or wore out, even after much maintenance and multiple repairs, the allure of antiques may be completely lost on you.

Some things are nicer bought fresh and new, unstained and pristine, (linens, shoes and intimate apparel, for example.)

And if your aesthetic hews modern, then many early styles of silver and wood, glass and ceramic will leave you cold.

Not me!

I love haunting antiques fairs, flea markets, consignment shops and auctions on a treasure hunt. Once you know your stuff, (how a teacup from 1780, 1860 and 1910 differ, for example), you’re set to find some amazing bargains from those who don’t.

Not for me the joys of Ebay or other online sites — I want to see stuff up close, to touch and hold it and know for sure what I’m buying, or not. Practice, lots of looking and study helps. I really enjoy talking to dealers who are as passionate about their stock as I am. I learn something new every time.

New York City, like Paris and London, holds annual antiques fairs, some selling their wares, literally, to museums. Admission is usually $20 or $25, and the quality on offer is astounding. If you love history and the decorative arts, to see and touch Egyptian or Roman objects, or marvel at a medieval manuscript, is a thrill in itself.

The dealers — no matter how wealthy most other shoppers are — are almost always friendly and gracious, even when it’s clear I won’t be pulling out a check with sufficient zeroes on it.

The teacup pictured above is a recent splurge.

I spied the tea-set at a Manhattan fair, in the display case of a British regional dealer whose prices were surprisingly gentle, (unlike the $18,500 ceramic garden stool nearby.)

The set included a teapot, creamer, two serving plates, a bowl and 12 cups and 12 saucers, a rare find all together and all usable except for the teapot, which has a hairline crack inside.

I drink a pot of tea, or several, daily and sit at an 18th century oak table my father gave us. I love 18th century design and this tea-set is likely late 18th or early 19th century. You can tell by its shape and by how light each piece feels in your hand. The bottoms are plain white, unmarked by a maker’s name.

I hadn’t spent that much money on anything fun in many months — only on really boring stuff like physical therapy co-pays and car repairs.

This was just a hit of pure beauty, and one we’ll use every day.

A bit giddy and nervous about making so large a purchase, I sat in the cafe there for a while to ponder, sharing a table with a well-dressed woman a bit older than I, both of us sipping a Diet Coke. One of the pleasures of loving antiques is meeting others who also love them and she was there to add to her collection of armorial porcelain, a specialized niche I know as well.

Turned out — of course! — we were both from Toronto and had both attended the same girls’ school, although she was a decade older than I.

We enjoyed a long and lively conversation and she very generously gave me an extra ticket to the Winter Antiques Fair, which is also on at the same time, which I attended last year, (and where I bought a black and white photo by Finnish legend Pentti Samallahti. The image we now own is in the 6th row down, 2nd from the left. I’m dying to own the third one from the left in that row!)

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Charlotte Bronte’s writing desk

I appreciate the elegance, beauty and craftsmanship of finely made older things and feel honored to own them, wondering who else sat on these chairs and used this table — definitely not while writing on a laptop, but likely a quill pen, writing by candlelight.

Because so many people now disdain “brown furniture” and hate polishing silver, there are some tremendous bargains to be had, all of them costing less than junk made quickly in China.

We’re only passing through.

In their quiet, subtle way, antiques remind us of that.

Light a candle

By Caitlin Kelly

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As I write this post, it’s snowing here in New York.

The world is blessedly silent and softened, flakes swirling in the wind and piling up against our windows and ledges.

Our view of the Hudson River is totally obscured in a blanket of white.

Perfect time for candles!

My vision of candles forever changed about 20 years ago, when I visited Stockholm in late November, when the sun rose at 8:30 a.m. and set around 2:30 p.m.

Darkness arrived so early in the day that it was both unsettling and disorienting.

I’d never before seen businessmen at lunch — dining by candlelight. But it was both a smart way to boost illumination and add to the room’s ambience.

I now start and end my winter days with a bedside scented candle, a gift from a friend.

It’s a soothing start to a dark, cold, windy morning — the scratch of match-head on matchbox, the whoosh and flare of flame, the flicker as it catches the wick and begins to glow.

At night, I breath out, extinguishing it. The day is done.

So much nicer than brilliant, suddenly shocking electric light or, worse, the artificial glow of a tablet, phone, television or computer screen.

(If you ever watched Downtown Abbey on TV, you might recall the Dowager Duchess holding a fan to her face as she confronts the new glare of electric bulbs.)

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Candlelight is silent.

Candlelight is gentle.

Candlelight is timeless.

It reconnects us to the past — from the tallow candles of our ancestors to the elegant tapers of Georgian homes (magnified by enormous mirrors everywhere.)

Try it and see how it alters and softens your mood

As the saying goes — it’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.

30 terrific holiday gifts: 2016 edition

By Caitlin Kelly

Long-time readers of Broadside know this is an annual tradition. I love scouring the Internet for a few lovely things you might want to give others, (or hint for for yourself!)

I don’t include  gifts for children/teens, sports/outdoor gear or tech toys as they’re not my areas of expertise or interest.

 

The thing everyone seems to want now is a great experience — an adventure to remember, not more stuff.

 

What one person loves (Mozart!), another hates, so I’m reluctant to make many specific suggestions here, but I agree.

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How about giving a museum membership?

A subscription series of tickets to ballet, jazz, classical concerts, a choral music series?

Gift certificates to hotels, travel, spa days?

Even offering to head out for a monthly hike or long, lazy lunch with a dear friend, and sticking to it. That’s a gift to both of you.

Prices for this year’s list range widely, as usual, but many are less than $100, and some much less than $50.

I hope you’ll find some inspiration and fun!

1. Most essential this year? Give of yourself: your time, skills, expertise, hugs. Offer a package of home-made coupons to a friend, family member or neighbor for dog-walking, massages, baby-sitting, soup-making. If the disturbing rise in hate crimes in the U.S. has you concerned, donate to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood or any of the many groups fighting hard to protect civil rights.

If you can afford to give money but have no clear idea how or where start, my friend Jen Iacovelli’s book is a great guide for new philanthropists, at any level; Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day.

 

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2. The British website, Plumo, has long been a favorite of mine, offering women’s clothing, shoes and accessories — and some home-focused items. These small gray ceramic houses are perfect to hold a votive candle; imagine a miniature village on a pale linen tablecloth or lining a mantelpiece. $15.83 each (plus shipping) Also in black, $31.66 (plus shipping.) And a taller, more ornate version in olive green $19.79 (plus shipping)

 

3. So many people are now worn out  — and, worse, misled, by fake news. We read widely, and one of our favorite reads is the London-based but utterly global in scope, the Financial Times, which we read on paper. It’s unabashedly pro-capitalist, but nonetheless smart and insightful; we keep the weekend edition for weeks on end as it takes us so long to read through and enjoy it all: book reviews, travel, recipes, wine, interviews and profiles. $4.79 week for the digital version, including the weekend FT.

 

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The New York Times newsroom

As someone who also writes freelance for The New York Times, (here are 22 of my stories, a fraction of what I’ve done for them), and has for many years, I’d also urge you consider buying someone a subscription to this American/global newspaper, especially for a high school or college student, or someone who’s never read it before. Someone who really needs to grasp the crucial difference between fake news and deep, fact-based reporting. Yes, their bias is liberal. But, more than ever, (they’re soon to cut staff again), deep fact-based reporting, comment and analysis relies on — and rewards — financial support. Only $3.13 a week for the first year, doubling a year later.

 

4. How can you resist the two major food groups contained in this jar — cognac and butter? From Fortnum & Mason, that elegant London emporium, cognac butter to slather on a hot scone or a waffle or a pancake or…$14.95

 

5. MUST HAVE a Star Wars cookie cutter set. Wookies! Darth Vader! R2D2! $29.95

 

6. Love this white and denim blue cotton rug, clean and simple, but not boring. Reminds me of sunlight on water. It would be great a in a room with lots of crisp blue and white with color hits of lemon yellow, apple green or chocolate brown. $187.95 (8 by 10 size, comes in many different sizes.)

 

7. This golden wall-mounted tea-light holder feels very Game of Thrones to me. In a good way! Imagine a wall of these flickering on a cold, dark winter’s night. $38

 

8. Now what would someone do with five white-washed square wooden boxes of varying sizes?  I use mine for: holding incoming mail on our hallway table; stashing notecards in my desk drawer and holding papers on my desk. (That still leaves two more!) $29

 

9. My favorite book for anyone aspiring to making art — dance, theater, literature — “The Creative Habit” by choreographer Twyla Tharp. She’s tough! Lots of great, practical ideas and very low woo-woo quotient. Used hardcover copy, from Powell’s in Portland. $10.50

 

10. Cat fan? Kittycat socks, from UK women’s fashion retailer (now selling in the U.S. as well), Hobbs. $13. Or, the same sock, with a fox terrier. $13

11. One of my favorite food suppliers is spice store Penzey’s, whose website offers tremendous choice. How about, in the depths of frigid winter, this selection of Mexican seasonings? Get inspired! $51.29

12. Regular readers here know I’m a huge fan of using candles, all the time, in every room. This gorgeous, unusual candlestick, designed for tapers, comes in two heights. This, the lower version, is $48

13. Christmas ornaments! This cheery woollen fox, complete with striped scarf and firewood tucked under his arm. $14. This set of three maple veneer ornaments includes retro skis, a snowshoe and an old-time sled, $32. This set,  of four blue and white ceramic circles, is elegant and unusual, from Etsy, $40. This little gray bear, with his jaunty red and white check bow-tie, is made in Italy. $4.88

14. You can never go wrong with a bud vase: perfect for a bedside table, or a grouping of them in the middle of the dining table. $8-18.

15. Nothing makes me feel more organized than a fistful of lovely sharpened pencils. Like these. $14

16. We’ve all got a nasty little umbrella we bought for $5 on a street corner when desperate one rainy day. But what a delicious luxury to own a beautiful, and beautifully-made umbrella, with a smooth but lightweight wooden handle and a wide, protective span. I love this one, (I snagged mine at a discount store version of Longchamp, in burnt orange); here in a warm creamy beige and a few other options. $195

17. I love this other French luggage brand, Lipault, and use their chocolate brown satin backpack when I travel. I really hate logos and prefer something classic and simple, yet well-made and not boring. That’s a lot to ask of a backpack, but here’s Lipault’s answer:  in red, deep purple, black, turquoise or ruby, at $54.

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I paid a big $12 for this one, on sale at Aldo

18. Watches are still cool. I really like the simplicity of this one, suitable for a man or woman, (38 mm in diameter), with a tan webbing strap, glow in the dark hands, black face and European/military time as well. (But I confess confusion — why isn’t 2:oo p.m. marked as 1400 hours?) $110

19. My wedding earrings from Jose look just like these — I wear them everywhere, every day. These are from Neiman-Marcus, simple, clean and, yes, diamonds! $750

20.  Hell to the yes! For a man. For a woman. For your teen (s). A gray sweatshirt with one key word on it — Feminist. $20.

21. Why would anyone want to sit in total silence for days at a time? Because it will totally shift their relationship to words, action, social behavior. I did a seven-day silent retreat in the summer of 2011 and it was both challenging and life-changing. Here’s a list of six places around the U.S. to go for this experience. (It was my birthday gift from my husband.)

22. From uber-chic Tribeca store La Garconne, these faceted gold stud earrings are perfect: subtle, low-key but not boring. Yes, please! $530

23. These would be fun under khakis or chinos; Fair Isle socks for men. $8

24. Of course, someone you know is going to love this poster clean, crisp graphics illustrating the different types of water towers in New York City, one of its most iconic and dominant features. $29

25. For the aviation geek in your life, (or avid traveler), this pale gray woolen blanket with the image of an early aircraft. So cool — and yet so warm! $145

26. I love to cook and bake, (as does someone on your gifts list!). This set of wooden-handled measuring cups is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. $56

27. We use a pair of open salt/pepper bowls like these; these are in black and white marble, smooth, rounded, sensual. $55

28. Bonjour, Monsieur! The quintessential Frenchman’s style is a muffler at the neck of a blazer, tied with rakish nonchalance. This one is on a woman’s site, but is perfectly unisex, navy blue with a thin white stripe. So chic and so damn cheap. $36

29. This season’s color is copper. This large, flat leather pouch is perfect as a small clutch handbag or (as I do with mine), for stashing my phone, charge cord and earpieces so I can find them easily, and keep them clean and organized. $88

30. The color of buttermilk, this small squishy leather drawstring bag, would add a hit of style to any woman’s (non-corporate) outfit. $140.

 

The healing power of beauty

By Caitlin Kelly

We need beauty as much as we need food, water and air, whether it’s visual or auditory. Ignoring that fundamental need parches us.

In a time when so many people spend their lives staring at a screen, encountering beauty in real life — a flower, a bird, a sky filled with stars, a painting or piece of music — can be transformative.

We’re lucky to live in a small town — pop. 10,000 — 25 miles north of Manhattan, named one of the nation’s 10 prettiest by Forbes magazine. If you’ve seen the films Mona Lisa Smile, The Preacher’s Wife or  The Good Shepherd, (one of my favorites), you’ve glimpsed our handsome main street in each of these, filled with Victorian-era shops and homes.

Our apartment has great views of the Hudson River, tree-tops, acres of sky and clouds. We savor spectacular sunsets and birdsong, butterflies and fireflies in the cool, green dusk.

In New York city, we have access to museums and art galleries and parks, grateful for every bit of it.

 

Here are some of the things I find beautiful, that nurture and calm me…

 

IMG_20160619_122748558 (1)Beautiful architecture — this is Union Station in D.C.

 

IMG_20160616_133549584_HDRColor, design, elegant neo-classical murals — part of the Library of Congress, in D.C.

 

IMG_20160412_165237000Every patch of earth, if you kneel down and really look closely, is a tapestry of color, texture, growth and decay

 

IMG_20151202_130507813More neo-classical fabulousness — this, a corner of Bryant Park, midtown Manhattan

 

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I’m crazy about textiles — the purple floral is now curtains in our sitting room

 

IMG_20160316_204755470_HDRPattern is everywhere! This is in Soho, Manhattan — glass inserts to allow light into a basement of an early building there

 

L1010182ANothing unusual — lawn furniture in autumn — but I love the symmetry of it from above; this at Hovey Manor, Quebec

 

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This plant was outside our Donegal cottage

 

 

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I love this painted tin wall, one of the shops on our main street in Tarrytown, NY

 

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Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London

 

 

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Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe

 

 

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I love this view — Bucks County, Pennsylvania — out the window of a 1905 farmhouse a friend used to rent

 

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Every year I wait with bated breath for this lilac tree near us to bloom. Swoon!

 

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Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti — but its wooden houses are amazingly colored and cared for

 

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A lamp on the campus of Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn

 

Where in your daily life does beauty manifest itself?

 

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Simple but lovely — cut glass, silver plate, curves — and cool water!

A few more style notes…

By Caitlin Kelly

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We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long

A few more thoughts…

Once a year or so, take inventory — toss/add as your budget allows

It’s easy, when you live with the same objects year after year after year after year, to overlook the point at which:

1) you’re bored to tears with them; 2) your tastes have really changed but your home shows no sign of this; 3) your things are now really stained/torn/worn out/scratched.

Towels and bed linens do wear out; try Zara Home for terrific and stylish new options.

We recently took our glassware, wrapped it carefully and gave it to our town’s thrift store, and finally treated ourselves to new, handsome glassware, both for water/juice and wine.

These are the wine glasses, from West Elm, and the juice/water glasses, also from West Elm.

We love them!

A collection can be three (or more!) of pretty much anything. Group them together for impact

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The large black horse, hand-carved folk art, was found in an antiques shop in Port Hope, Ontario and the little wooden one at auction there. The little metal guy? I can’t remember.

 

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Three of these, the angular ones, we bought in Mexico City, pewter; one is silver plate and one…not sure!

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Years of collecting have given me a decent collection of silver and silver-y objects

 

Think long-term

It’s always tempting to buy cheap stuff because…it’s cheap!

But waiting, saving up and paying a little more for better-quality fabrics, better furniture construction and classic design means you’ll be able to enjoy your things for years, maybe decades.

 

Classic doesn’t have to mean boring!

 

I still love the three antique painted rush-seat chairs I sent home from a country auction in Nova Scotia to my then home in Toronto — using them many years later.

Thrift and consignment shops, especially those located in upscale neighborhoods or towns (i.e. drive if necessary!) can be a treasure trove of amazing quality. Craigslist and Ebay, of  course, also have a wide range of offerings.

If you know what you’re looking at — (is it a real antique or a reproduction? Oak or maple? Wood or laminate? sterling or silverplate? glass or crystal?) — tag and estate sales are another great source.

Invest in the best-quality framing you can

It forces you to be highly selective once you start using a frame shop, as even the smallest piece can cost $150 for a custom-cut frame.

It’s money well spent to preserve your favorite things, whether a letter from a grandparent or treasured photographic prints (make sure the mat is acid-free and the glass UV-resistant.)

I like the wooden frames from Pottery Barn (on sale!) and Anthropologie has some quirky and charming ones as well; Pier One can be a great source for more ethnic/rustic styles.

Study every room — what shapes are in it, and how does each piece relate to others?

Most furniture is inevitably square (tables, chairs) or rectangular (beds, chests, sofas.)

Before you know it, you’ve filled every room with big fat chunks of stuff, now looking crowded and tedious. Sigh!

Think about including a variety of shapes (ovals? circles?) and scale (large, small?)

Does each room also include a variety of height (chairs, chests, armoires, etc) so your eye moves around it easily?

Make sure you have at least 24 inches between every piece or you’ll always feel hemmed in and irritable as you keep bumping into things.

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Mirrors!

Our living room — which faces northwest and gets a lot of light — has two mirrors in it; our sitting room has one, and our bedroom has one as well, all decorative.

The mirror pictured above came out of one of my favorite antique shops, in the town of North Hatley, Quebec; it’s clearly Middle Eastern and was filthy…took an hour of Windex and Q-tips to get most of the dust out of all that fretwork! It cost about $225.

 

A pretty mirror fills a few functions nicely:

 

1) it fills up a dead wall; 2) it reflects light into and around the room; 3) a lovely frame can add color, interest and texture relating to the rest of the room; 4) you can see yourself!

Of the four mirrors we own, only one was bought new (from Anthropologie); this one. It’s very affordable — $128 — for a lovely and intricately hand-carved wooden frame that feels exotic and vaguely Indian or Celtic.

It now sits on an apple-green wall so there’s a nice contrast between the background and the wood.

The rest came from antique stores.

Several favorite sources for stylish new mirrors include the websites Horchow, Wisteria, and Ballard Designs.

Mirrors are also more versatile than highly-colored artworks, and can easily be moved from room to room as your tastes change.