— 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.
Like some of you, perhaps, I’m obsessed with fragrance, and not a day goes by (unless an appointment in small shared spaces) without wearing perfume — currently in rotation are Terre by Hermes (winter only), L’Eau de l’Artisan by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Chanel No. 5, Prada Iris and Herbae, a spontaneous purchase this year, by L’Occitane.
“Smell goes directly to your emotions, you are crying, you don’t know why,” Mr. Collado expounded as the others leaned in. “Smelling has a power that none of the other senses have, and I must tell you now, it is molecular, it goes to the essence of the essence.”
Our lives are filled with scents, some pleasant, some less so and they can so powerfully evoke memories.
When we married, in September 2011 in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto harbor, I was so deeply comforted by the smell of sun-warmed wood — a cherished memory of my summers at camp, where we slept in wooden cabins and all our buildings were made of wood.
Some of my favorite smells include:
jet fuel (!), motorboat gas (I think it’s the connotation of motion/travel!), cut grass, sun dried pine needles, the ocean, coffee grounds, Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, gardenia, lilac, the peppery scent of marigolds, the briny smell of fresh oysters, good leather — shoes or a saddle or a lovely old jacket, new books!
Top notes are Geranium, Citruses, Tobacco and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Carnation, Cloves, Nutmeg, Rose, Lavender, Leather and Jasmine; base notes are Patchouli, Cypress, Tonka Bean, Amber, Benzoin and Oakmoss.
I adored a Roger & Gallet soap with the spicy scent of carnation as well but (sob!) it seems to have been discontinued.
The night I met Jose in March 2000 he wore a delicious scent — 1881 — whose top notes also include carnation, juniper, lavender and cypress, created in 1990. He was wearing a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (!) as a muffler and, at the end of the evening, took it off and wrapped me in it.
Perhaps my favorite memory of scent is the week I spent alone traveling across the Balagne, the northern tip of Corsica, by mo-ped. It was July and I drove across endless fields of the low, scrubby brush known as maquis, a mix of fragrant plants — sun-warmed, their fragrance filled my nostrils. So sensual!
I’m so much happier finally shedding all the heavy wools and blankets and duvets of winter.
Every spring, usually as the temperature suddenly climbs into the 70s or beyond, I change up our apartment decor, taking away winter’s dark colors and heavy textures — until late fall when the days shorten and the temperature drops and I’ll welcome them all again.
It’s a good time to have your rugs professionally cleaned, maybe your curtains, and get the duvet dry cleaned where (yay!) they store it for us for months as well.
While bare floors are easier to clean, if you live in an apartment you may have to keep some quiet. Rugs help.
This rug is dead simple and so elegant — and it’s made of a synthetic so can be used indoors or out — a copy of a classic Moroccan style, from Anthropologie.
Two years ago, I found a completely plain pale gray cotton rug, with no texture, perfect for summer, which is a nice foil for our new silver velvet sofa; our winter rug is this one (bought at an online auction.)
There are so many fantastic options, but a nice cotton flat-weave, aka a dhurrie, is always a good option as it’s easy to clean and can sometimes just be tossed in the washing machine.
Sun really bleaches the hell out of colored fabrics! Beware.
Three former outdoor pillows (NON outdoor cottons.) The vintage floral fabric was once a very deep blue and very
My favorite hack? If you can sew by hand, grab two great cotton or linen napkins and use them to make a pillow cover, like these ones — a fab oversize black-and-white check pattern from Pottery Barn; four 20″ square napkins for $32 means $16 per pillow fabric costs.
I’m a big fan of lanterns — whether pierced or slatted ones that throw lovely shadows or classic glass or crystal hurricane lamps.
These hurricanes are an investment at $195 each — but you’ll have them for years.
I bought a Moroccan one cheaply at a flea market and got it cleaned to the metal and painted it (of course! ) a great Farrow & Ball color, a soft red called Blazer.
I’ve bought lanterns in all sorts of places, from a cafe in Minneapolis to this great New York City store, Jamali Garden. These are perfect if you want a Moroccan vibe — without the travel. Their prices are excellent and they have a lot of amazing choices for all sorts of gardening needs as well.
I so love a pretty tablecloth, whether a pale lavender or gray or something bolder and fun.
I’ve gotten some wonderful ones — turquoise linen, blue embroidered white linen, blue and white checks, green and white checks — at flea markets.
This new one, an Indian print linen in white, pink and gray, is perfect; $85 on Etsy.
Our balcony, on the top floor surrounded by trees, is only 12 feet wide and six feet deep. Not a lot of room! We use a small round metal table, have four vintage metal chairs and a bench six feet wide we cover with throw cushions; lots of hidden storage.
I chose a color scheme of bright green and deep navy blue and choose our flowers accordingly — no reds or pinks, but maybe purples and whites.
Choose a color scheme to make the space cohesive — as one would indoors! Crisp black and white can be a nice choice.
There are so many ways to make an attractive and comfortable outdoor nook, even on a small balcony.
Choose your planters and pots to match one another, whether metal, ceramic or plastic.
Our space is too small, really, for an umbrella but they can add needed shade and color.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Design school taught me that you can, and should, have at least three different patterns within a room, (fabrics, rugs.)
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!
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!
There’s only so many pandemic months I can stand to live a cycle of apartment/gym/grocery store. Living in a small suburban town with virtually everything amusing closed for months is lonely and isolating!
So, occasionally, I drive the hour into Manhattan, find street parking (sometimes unpaid, when lucky) and wander a bit, savoring fresh air and sunshine and funky old buildings and stonework and little old ladies moving slowly down the block, hipsters in plaid coats and so many dog-walkers!
Carved red sandstone, exterior of an apartment building on Leroy Street
I parked this time on Leroy, a short north-south street in the heart of Greenwich Village, all residential, a mix of five and six-story walk-ups and several brick houses built in 1813.
Imagine! Who walked these streets then? What did they wear? Where were they going?
I was headed a block north to my favorite city street, Bleecker, an odd street that manages to run both north-south on its western edge (right?) then straight across to terminate at the Bowery.
The pandemic has closed many places, but a few great ones remain — so I hit Rocco’s Pastry and Murray’s Cheese, stocking up on delicacies like sfogliatelle and Brie. I ate brunch outdoors — the only way right now to eat there since indoor dining is banned again and it was cold! Like, 30 degrees cold.
Safely distanced, this is the only way to dine in New York right now, regardless of weather
So I read my Sunday New York Times and covered my coffee with its saucer to keep it hot and wore my lined leather gloves as I ate my baked eggs.
I drove southeast to the East Village and parked, again at no cost, on Ludlow Street, just to explore a different neighborhood a bit. I didn’t walk very far but was happy to see two great shops on Rivington are still there, Economy Candy and Edith Machinist, a terrific vintage clothing store. I also found out there’s two-hour metered parking for $10.75 on that street — a garage can easily cost three or four times that much.
I sat for a while on a park bench, soaking up some sunshine, watching locals wander by. It’s not a cool, trendy, hip part of the city, but a weathered neighborhood where people live who don’t work on Wall Street and flee to the Hamptons.
I enjoyed lunch, also outdoors, eavesdropping — a much missed habit! — on five guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s, clearly all really good friends, joking and laughing at the next table.
I so miss city energy.
So even if “all” I can enjoy — no ballet/opera/concerts/theater — is a sunny day walking, I’m happy with that.
Only after December 21, in the Northern Hemisphere, will we slowly inch/centimeter back toward longer days and more light.
The long, cold, dark, rainy, slushy, sleety, snowy days of winter can be rough!
Add the isolation of avoiding COVID, and it may be the most difficult some of us have ever faced. Some of you are grieving the loss of loved ones.
My go-to solution, however shallow and silly it may seem, is to zhuzh our home — i.e. to make it as lovely as possible. Few things are more depressing than a dark, dirty cluttered home and few more deeply nurturing than one that is clean, well-lit, comfortable and welcoming.
If you don’t sigh with relief and happiness when you open your front door, as we do…maybe this is the time to make your home, no matter its size or location, the respite you so badly need.
Add colorand pattern
This can show up in so many ways.
If you can handle the physical work alone, a gallon or two of paint can totally transform a chair or chest of drawers or a room, certainly a small one; include the baseboards/skirting boards for a unified look. As regular readers here know, I’m a huge fan of this UK-based, now U.S.-owned paint company, Farrow & Ball, whose colors fill every corner of our one-bedroom apartment. The sitting room is Peignoir (likely soon to change!), the rest Skimming Stone, and the bathroom a strong mustard yellow and the kitchen a green-ish gray; one benefit of their brand is that you can always request more of a discontinued color. Highlight of my 2017 England visit — a trip to their Dorset factory! SWOON.
A pretty throw rug or tablecloth or placemats and/or linen/cotton napkins, a throw or comforter.
We have and enjoy all of these.
Our duvet cover and bedside rug
There’s such a dizzying universe of options, and each can really change the style and flavor of your sofa, chairs or bed. I like this new-ish site, St. Frank, with its ethnic styles. My super cheap-o pillow-cover hack? Buy two gorgeous napkins and hand-sew the edges around an existing pillow you already own. Like these cheerful green and white cotton, 20 inch square — four for $32. That’s two pillow covers at $16 each.
Nothing like glowing green on a wintry day.
Fresh flowers in every room, even the bathroom and kitchen. Invest in a few flower frogs or floral foam and you can use a wide variety of containers, not just a standard vase.
Team duvet! If you’ve never succumbed to the floaty, puffy, super-cosy allure of a duvet…go for it! Blankets are fine, but once you’ve snuggled beneath a duvet and a pretty, removable, washable cover, it’s hard to go back. Covers can be found on plenty of sites, from Anthropologie to Garnet Hill to Zara Home. I LOVE these solid color linen ones –– 19 colors.
Same for shams and pillow cases. Freshly ironed cases and shams, changed frequently, are a simple luxury.
A sheepskin rug, bedside, is a lovely way to start the day.
My pillow is so so so sad. If yours are as well, fresh new ones (with pillow protectors from the start) are a good investment.
Found, of all places, in Minneapolis!
Candlelight is especially lovely these days. Go 18th century with a candlestick bedside. Dine by candlelight, a mix of votives and tapers.
If you can get a handyman, MASKED, to come to your home, install dimmers in every room you have overhead lighting; few things are as harsh and unflattering than standard overhead lights. Every room should, ideally, have multiple sources of light: table lamps, task lamps, standing lamps. Keep bulbs and shades dusted and replace shades when they become torn, stained or burned. A bougie addition I love are pretty finials, like these — make sure they thoughtfully match the style, color and scale of your lamp and shade. When the light glows up, it can add a pretty grace note.
Changing up your lampshades can make an enormous, stylish difference to your room and style. Ballard Designs has many sizes, shapes, colors and styles, as does Fermoie. I also love these pleated fabric ones from Oka.
Our former living room curtains — for sale!
And how about your windows? Too many ready-made curtains are saggy, thin and just…sad! They droop and drag and don’t insulate drafts or block light when you do want to sleep. A huge splurge, if possible, is having curtains made — they will be properly weighted and lined. But there are some good options; love these from Madura, whose curtains we had a few years ago and the quality was excellent. If you choose a color, remember that when closedyou’ll have a large unbroken block of color and how will that play in the space? If you choose a pattern, is the scale of the design too small to register from a distance or so bold you’ll soon tire of it? And how does its color, scale and pattern relate to everything else in the room?
Lanterns and lovely votives along shelves and windowsills (safely, probably not great with little kids or cats!) add a flickering glow. I love this lantern, which looks like it comes from a bazaar in Srinagar or Tetouan — not Bed, Bath and Beyond! I found my favorite lanterns at the back of a Minneapolis cafe, of all places.
I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.
I love something as simple as dropping affordable eucalyptus oil into my bath — scenting the entire (small!) room; I buy mine at Whole Foods. Other great winter bath scents are cinnamon, lavender, vetiver or patchouli.
Dust and polish
Boorrrrrring….but more necessary than ever, certainly if you live with kids and hairy pets…let alone everyone’s now dragging in road dirt, gravel, sand, salt and slush.
I keep a good supply of silver and brass polish and fresh pads for our mop, and cleaning cloths and Windex because, in the gloomy funk of winter, it’s easy to overlook how damn dusty things get.
Use the good stuff!
Some people inherit lovely linens or china or silver or glassware and never really use it, saving it only for special occasions.
Life is a special occasion!
If this terrible terrible year has taught us anything, it’s the shocking, desperate brevity and fragility of our lives, work and connections.
There is tremendous esthetic pleasure to be had sipping your tea or coffee from a delicate bone china teacup or making the bed with vintage linens or drinking your juice or wine from a bit of etched glass or crystal.
I’m a huge fan of music and film and books and it’s fascinating to consume older media that assumed, rightly, a much longer — and much less distracted — attention span.
Different plot development.
For amusement, I once counted every single image in the introductory credits to the HBO series about journalism — The Newsroom.
The difference between its initial 2012 opening credits — with 53 separate images in 1:29 and the 45 images of the 2015 season, in 1:07 — are striking. The second set are super quick jump shots, much more emotional, much more compelling — with Ron Rosen the editor.
One of my favorite film directors is American Kelly Reichardt, whose films move slowly and beautifully, often through a rural, timeless Oregon landscape.
I keep re-watching the 1968 film “2001”, also intrigued by how slowly some scenes unfold and how very little dialogue it contains.
It demands our sustained, often mystified attention — and amply rewards it.
No doubt our brains were wired very differently before the ’90s when we all started moving online, let alone the daily deluge now on social media.
I find it more challenging than ever now sit still for hours and just read.
I often wonder what it was like to live in the 18th century where domestic amusements were embroidery — slow! — or reading or playing a musical instrument. When a letter sent, sealed with wax, took days or weeks or even months to reach its reader. Then the reply.
What different brain chemistry they must have had!
Living through a pandemic and the useless political “leadership” that’s killed so many is bad enough — add to this grief and anxiety that absolutely rob us of the ability to stay focused and pay attention and retain a damn thing.
I seek out a wide range of lovely gifts, from this year’s lowest price — $15.00 for a quirky deck of playing cards– to the highest, $1,150 for a stunning hand-made ring.
I don’t choose tech, music, books or things for teens/children/seniors.
I’ve carefully chosen almost all of this year’s recommendations from independent makers and retailers, with a very few from larger companies. The list includes two Black makers, one of them British.
I also offer the backstory for each item when I’ve found one. I love knowing more about whose skills and hard work I’m supporting and sharing.
There’s no income for me in this — just the pleasure of curating.
In a year where so many of us can’t safely or legally travel, I’ve also deliberately made this list pretty global and with some specific nods to travel and maps.
Gifts could arrive from places as far-flung as Los Angeles, Stockholm, Philadelphia, Cheltenham, England, Toronto, Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Manhattan. When I ordered my two gorgeous throw pillows from Svensk Tenn, a divine Stockholm department store, they arrived within days, beautifully wrapped in tissue paper with a note. Presentation matters!
I’ve converted all foreign currencies into U.S. dollars.
From Pippa Small, a Canadian jewelry designer in London, whose rings go up to an eye-watering $26,000.
I discovered this retailer, Alex Mill, when it popped up in my Instagram feed. I really like the witty simplicity of their goods. The company is eight years old, based in Manhattan, run by a son of the American retail legend Mickey Drexler (who used to run J. Crew), Alex Drexler.
A unisex bandana-print wool scarf in navy/white or red/black/white.$95
Nothing beats light, warm soft cashmere on a bitterly cold day — take it from me, a Canadian!
These neck gaiters are also beautifully unisex in navy, black, red and gray. $65
I love this boiled wool hoodie, which comes in yellow, dark green and black.$160
Farrow & Ball’s brilliant yellow is called Babouche, of course! They’re actually backless unisex leather slippers worn in Morocco and these come in two delicious colors — pale coral and pale blue. $45
Poor New York City! It has been so hard hit by the pandemic, losing millions of tourists who helped sustain Broadway, hotels, restaurants and other attractions. Since you’re unlikely to get here for a long time, enjoy some edible icons in delicious chocolate, from a New York company in business since 1923, Li-Lac Chocolates.
This package includes a train car, a Statue of Liberty and an edible Empire State Building. $160
This six-year-old business, Meeka Fine Jewelry, owned and run by Philadelphia businesswoman Monika Krol, offers the kind of jewelry I really love: minimal, unusual and using lots of semi-precious stones. This isn’t a site for rubies, diamonds, emeralds or bling-y settings, but understated elegance. Here are just a few of her many, many offerings. Roam around!
Oxidized silver and prehnite stud earrings (the pale green of seawater) $150
A ring of Montana agate (clear with black speckles) set in 18k gold. I’ve asked Jose for this!$1150
John Derian is a much admired retail shop owner whose quirky style is terrific — he’s best known for glass decoupage dishes and platters. His East Village NYC store is crammed with lovely discoveries. In a time when the world feels so so distant, when even going to the grocery store feels scary, here’s a soft, sensuous way to experience the globe
A silk scarf with the globe printed on it.$175
I love everything offered by Stockholm design store Svenskt Tenn. There’s fantastic-but-spendy printed linen, sold by the meter, home goods, furniture. I’ve chosen to highlight only two item, but look around. So much beauty! The placemats are of the same linen print of the two sofa throw pillowswe bought from them.
This Paris site is also swoon-worthy, if you love textiles and an 18th c aesthetic as much as I do, from Antoinette Poisson.
Throw cushion in black and cream $112
I hate most of the phone cases I see. But these, by Stringberry, come in a really wide array of designs. I bought one and love its design and its rugged, smooth-but-matte finish.
Phone case, $33.
Phone case, moon and stars design$33
I’m a huge fan of adding candlelight whenever possible, especially for those long, cold dark winter nights. I love the gleaming reflective brass of this two-taper design. I’d put it bedside or even in a small bathroom: 11 inches wide, 22 inches high. From a small-town British indie retailer.
Rainbow-hued massive wool cowl/hood, made by a Black woman creator, Chasten Harmon, in L.A. $265
Kingsley Thompson is another Black designer, working in small leather goods, Cheltenham, England.
Leather bookmark $27.59
Is there anything as tedious as ALL THAT hand-washing? Make it a sensual pleasure with Caswell-Massey soap. Fantastic quality, American made. The sandalwood is so nice!
A full year of soap, in three woody scents $98
OK, wait….Monet and VANS sneakers? Only from my favorite Canadian retailer with the weirdest damn name ever, Gravity Pope. I make sure to drop in every time I’m back in Toronto and always leave with a great pair of shoes or boots.
Yes, for guys, Monet paintings for your kicks. $90
And I really want these simple pale gray suede boots. $475
We met the creator of Effin Birds, Aaron Reynolds, in Ontario at an annual conference up north and even shared an unheated cabin with him.His merch is very swear-y — but so much fun! There are pins and stickers and hockey jerseys and T-shirts, too.
Effin’ Birds pack of Playing cards $15
There’s nothing nicer for the most basic table than a pretty print tablecloth (add a padded liner beneath.) Like this one, from Paris shop Simrane.
Along the same lines, there’s nothing nicer than a fragrant neck to kiss. Here’s a crisp option.
Lime cologne. $50
OK, I caved — here’s an amazing blanket from one of my favorite major retailers, Anthropologie.It fits my 2020 theme of, if we can’t visit a place in person, we can still dream and enjoy some version of it!
I am oddly mesmerized by this dress, which also comes as a T-shirt and mock turtleneck. I love a stretchy dress I can throw a sweater on top of. I like a bold print. I really enjoy being stylish and comfortable. And this NYC site, Wray.com, has a wild range of sizes and prints, all the way to 3XL. It’s never easy to find stylish, fashion-forward clothing for larger women — and this site offers plenty of it; check out their Neighborhood dress and Quinn dress.
Regular readers of my blog, and this list, know I loooove a well-dressed man. And I love elegant touches like a great pocket square. I really like this indie American website, Sid Mashburn (and the partner site for women, a 10-year-old Atlanta store with some great stuff, Ann Mashburn) — classic but not boring menswear and womenswear.