33 great holiday gifts — 2018 edition

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New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Welcome to my favorite annual post!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

None of my suggestions are sponsored, just stuff I like, in a range of prices and categories — from $4 to a maximum of $1,995.00.

As usual, nothing (sorry!) for babies, kids or teens, no tech or games, but no gag gifts as I think the best gifts really respect the recipient’s tastes.

This year’s list includes several new artists and craftspeople I’ve discovered on Instagram. You’ll find things large and small, from a baby elephant to a race car driving class.

 

Enjoy!

 

Pen-Jar Productions

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.

 

Ruby Jack

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.

 

Effin’ Birds

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.

 

Furious Goose

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.

 

From super-talented Scottish illustrator Anna Wright, love this cotton coin purse (more birds!) for 13.50 pounds or $17.81; her site has a large array of products, from mugs to aprons to art prints.

 

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

 

Zara Home is a great source for all things home-related. Love this pale pink oversized gingham tablecloth, which comes in three colorways: $69.90 and up.

 

Love these tiny round glass magnets that look like Islamic tiles — from the Met Museum store. Six for $22.00

 

Damn! Check out these fab magenta wool/nylon over the knee men’s socks from classic clothier Drake’s. Nothing’s more fun than a flash of unexpected color. $35

 

Here’s a handsome, classic men’s watch — but a woman might also enjoy it. Also from the Met Museum shop. $175

 

Jemma Lewis Marbled Papers

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.

 

Mothology

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

 

And, these fab vintage-looking matches, in handsome boxes, $4.00 from design legend John Derian.

 

Many people now long for experiences — not more stuff! I’m longing to take a floral-arranging class like this one, offered by the New York Botanical Garden, $100, or a class in film-making techniques like those offered at our local art film house. Maybe a museum membership? Or a cooking class? Or a how to drive race cars class for $1,995?

 

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.

 

You know how I love Liberty, a London department store and oooh, Turkish delight in rose and lemon flavors, in a gorgeous box: 10.95 pounds, $14.06

 

And here’s the sweetest stuffed red robin, also from Liberty, 18.95 pounds, $24.33

 

A great price for a 10-inch high crystal candlestick — and that trademark turquoise Tiffany box! Be generous and buy a pair! $65

 

Also from Tiffany, how elegant is this?  A sterling silver ballpoint pen, which can be engraved. $125

 

Mad for tea, I have a pot of it at least once a day — only in a real teapot! This one is spend-y but really lovely, from American clothing designer Tory Burch. $248. This one is sweet and charming, with birds on it, hand-made in the UK by Hannah Turner; $47.28

 

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

 

And, every year, I include (hint!hint!) a few ggggggorgeous jewelry items, like these tiny initial earrings, in gold and diamonds for a very fair $440. From London designer Annoushka.

Or this pair from the website FarFetch, black tourmaline, small, dangling chunks — elegant, raw and unusual. $158.

And here’s a lovely hand-made jewelry dish to hold them that looks like coral but is made of ceramic. Yes, it’s spendy, but also special. $350

 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Come on, who doesn’t want a baby elephant for Christmas? You can foster an orphaned elephant for $50 or more.

 

Wateraid

This is a global charity I’ve done work with, on a journey to Nicaragua in 2014. Millions of people worldwide still don’t have ready access to clean water or toilets. Their work is invaluable.

 

BONUS IDEA…

 

If you or someone you know is a young/new/ambitious writer of journalism or non-fiction, give them an hour of my one-one-one coaching! I’ve worked with writers worldwide, from Canada, Germany, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and many have been well published in places like The Guardian and New York Times; testimonials on my website. $150 (90 minute webinar) to $400/hour for PR team strategy.

Zhuzh, cont.: scale, light, texture, color

By Caitlin Kelly

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.

How?

 

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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.

 

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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.

Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

By Caitlin Kelly

Just try saying it!

As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh  — making something more attractive.

As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.

Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls

 

So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.

A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots

 

The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.

 

Steam-clean major upholstered pieces

 

Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.

 

Invest in a few good rugs

 

Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.

 

Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping

 

Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,

 

Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?

 

Everything gets dusty!

 

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Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery

 

A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.

 

Get out the polish!

 

I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.

 

 

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Lots of candles

 

Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.

 

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Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful

 

Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.

Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.

Eight of my favorite places

By Caitlin Kelly

Having lived in five countries — my native Canada, France, England, Mexico and the U.S. — I have so many favorite places, a few of which (sob!) are now gone.

I travel as often as time and money allows, and am always torn between re-visiting old favorites and making new discoveries.

 

Île St.-Louis

 

We’ve stayed several times in a rented apartment here, on the aptly-named Rue de Deux Ponts (the street of two bridges). The island sits in the Seine River, setting it physically apart from the bustle and noise of the rest of the city. The streets are narrow and short, and it’s overwhelmingly residential. One of our favorite restaurants, Les Fous de L’Île is on that street, about four doors away from a Parisian legend, the ice cream shop Berthillon, which offers amazing flavors.

I love how compact the island is, complete with its own bars, bakeries, hair salon, ancient church. Yet, within minutes, you’re back on Paris’ Left Bank or Right Bank, ready to roll.

 

Keen’s Steakhouse

 

Tucked away on a side street in un-glamorous midtown sits this terrific bit of Manhattan culinary history. The main dining room is long, dimly-lit, filled with tablecloth-covered tables and framed ephemera. The ceiling is the coolest part — lined with clay pipes wired to the ceiling. In business since 1885, the food is delicious and well worth a splurge. There’s a less-formal small dining room on one side and the bar area is also charming. You feel completely transported out of noisy, busy 2018.

 

 

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Liberty

 

Probably my favorite store in the world, this legend is in London, opened in 1885 and the Regent Street location in 1927; here’s a history. 

I visit every time I get to London, even if I buy nothing.

It’s a store focused on luxury, but a very specific louche-aristo look, eccentric and confident. Even if you just go for a cuppa in their tearoom, check out the mock-Tudor building’s exquisite stained  glass windows and light-filled central atrium.

 

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.
The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring

 

The Grand Canyon

Ohhhhhh, you must go! No words can really do it justice. My only advice — you must hike down into the Canyon to experience it, and spend a full day if at all possible, watching the light and shadows shift minute by minute.

 

The Toronto Islands

 

What a joy these are! Jose and I got married on one of them, in a tiny wooden church surrounded by public parkland — and accompanied by (!) the mooing of cows from a nearby petting zoo. One of the islands is covered with tiny inhabited cottages, the most coveted real estate in the city — a challenge when, (as happened to me with a boyfriend) — you have a 3 a.m. nosebleed and the Harbor Police have to race across and get you to a hospital.  They’re a great place to walk, bike, swim, relax and enjoy great views of the city at sunset. The ferry ride over is still one of my favorite things to do anywhere, any time.

 

 

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Our wedding church, St. Andrew by The Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

 

Grand Central Terminal

 

It really is a cathedral, and sees more than 750,000 visitors every day — most of them commuters from suburban Westchester (north in New York) or Connecticut (northeast) traveling by train.

Built in 1913, it’s spectacular — a brilliant turquoise ceiling with gold-painted constellations and pin-point lights sparkling as stars; enormous gleaming metal hanging lamps, elegant brass-trimmed ticket booths, wide marble steps and floors.

It also offers many shops, great restaurants and bars, a terrific food market (check out Li-Lac chocolates for a chocolate Statue of Liberty) and the classic Oyster Bar downstairs.

 

GONE!

 

The Coffee Mill

 

This legendary cafe, a fixture in Toronto for more than 50 years, closed in 2014. It opened in 1963, and, as a little girl, I loved sitting on one of its cafe chairs in the sunshine near a fountain. Later, in a nearby location, inside a small shopping center easily overlooked, it continued serving Hungarian specialties — strudel, goulash and the freshest rye bread anywhere. The booths were small and intimate and its owner always immaculate. On every trip back — and I left in 1986 — I stopped in for a coffee or a meal.

 

BamBoo

 

Oh, the 80s! A former laundromat on Toronto’s Queen Street became — from 1983 to 2002 — a fantastic bar and restaurant, with a lively rooftop scene perfect on a steamy summer’s evening. Here’s its history, and an excerpt:

Inviting in every possible way, the BamBoo was relaxed, warm, and far from slick. Random parts hinted at an industrial past, including the outdoor fountain built atop the remnants of the building’s original boiler. A narrow metal stairwell led up to the Treetop, a Jamaican style bar ‘n’ BBQ that opened on the club’s rooftop in summer of 1984, expanding the BamBoo’s legal capacity to 500.

“During the summer heat, there was nowhere you wanted to be other than the Treetop Lounge,” says [Toronto artist Barbara] Klunder. “Think rum drinks and burgers at brightly painted barstools or coffee tables under the night sky and the CN Tower.”

What are some of your favorite places — and why?

Fireside’s secret? Connecting, quickly

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been home from Fireside now for only four days…but like many of my fellow attendees, here in NY, in Toronto and beyond, I’ve been chatting with many of them via our Slack channel, Twitter, FB, LinkedIn and email.

 

Talk about connection!

 

I’m still processing so much of what I saw, heard, felt and shared, both emotionally and intellectually.

 

Here’s a great piece about it by one of my cabin-mates, Michelle Manafy, for Inc.com:

being away from the safe and familiar surroundings of home helps campers build new strengths that empower them in whatever they do.

At Fireside, attendees not only have to live without the reassuring buzz of their phones, they also have to forgo conference hotels to share cabins with strangers, sleep on bunks made for kids, without heat in weather that dips into the teens at night. Despite excellent food and well-stocked campfires it is, without doubt, both physically and technologically, uncomfortable.

Yet what occurs is nothing short of magic, warmed by campfire light and reflected in the kind of star-filled sky you only see far from the pervasive light of so-called civilization. People make eye contact. They introduce themselves. They watch speakers without the distraction of tweets or email. They walk and talk in twos and groups, reflecting on what they’ve seen and heard.

 

So why did this brief stay in the woods create such quick, powerful connections?

Egos checked

 

Without the usual conference trappings of badges and lanyards proclaiming your cool/hip/prestigious affiliation(s), without the status-signifiers of the right clothes/shoes/handbag, we were all just..people.

You couldn’t pull the usual thing (so rude!) of looking over someone’s shoulder for the more important contact because the person talking to you might, in fact, be it.

As one man said — “Everyone here is an onion.”

 

 

Long face to face conversations

 

So much of our lives are now relentlessly tech-intermediated — whether emojis, texts, Snapchat, Instagram, Slack, FB, FaceTime, Skype. It’s now radical indeed to just sit, maybe for an entire hour — as I did several times there, and others did as well — and speak at length face to face with someone you’d never met before.

 

Truth-telling

 

It’s also a radical act — in an era of relentless, isolating and demoralizingly competitive social media preening — to just speak openly and honestly about your real struggles, whether emotional, financial, physical or professional, maybe all of these!

During the conference, even the most successful among us spoke bravely and boldly about their frequent battles with anxiety and depression, their need to appear 10000 percent strong and in charge of it all, for fear of losing employees, investors, sales and street cred.

Few things are as powerful as truth and trust.

 

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Being outdoors night and day

 

Dusty shoes, mosquito bites, sunburned noses. (You should see the bruise on my left calf from ungracefully exiting the canoe!)

Just being outside, not staring into damn screens all the time, in fresh air, smelling wood-smoke and pine needles and watching a sunset and hearing a loon’s haunting call…so restorative!

 

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Campfires, literal and physical

 

It’s pretty primal stuff to sit around a fire, blazing or glowing, and stare into its embers. We’ve been doing it as a species for millennia, yet how often do we do it with strangers? It’s harder to bullshit and posture when the smoke is in your eyes and someone just handed you a gooey marshmallow on a stick.

One of the ways the conference organized us was into “campfires” where a group of experts would gather in a public spot and just…extemporize.  We were all there to be resources for one another.

That takes expertise and confidence in your skills and social poise (I did one, with several other journalists) but it’s also down-to-earth and freeing — no mic, no video, no lectern, no notes.

Willingness to brave something completely unfamiliar

 

I was really nervous!

This was not my usual crowd (all journalists and writers of non-fiction) but a wild mix of ages — 20s to 60s — and included start-ups, a few billionaires, tech bro’s and people I had to talk to (giving presentations) and with. What if they were cold or dismissive? (not!)

It was a long long drive from my home an hour north of NYC to the camp, about four hours’ drive north of Toronto. What if the food was lousy? (it wasn’t!)

I think many of us first-timers had to be a little brave. You couldn’t just flee and go catch a movie or flick through your Insta account for distracting comfort.

 

Props to the two young Toronto lawyers, Daniel Levine and Steve Pulver, who invented this thing.

 

 

Dreaming of a house…

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1926, Maurice Vlaminck, lithograph; acquired at auction and now in our bedroom

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Blame it on journalism, an insecure business that lays people off every day and pays poorly.

Blame it on my insistence on living close to a major city, which spikes real estate prices; I lived for 18 months, (albeit pre-Internet and pretty broke), in a small rural town in 1988. It was a very poor fit, making me wary of being so far out again.

Blame it on a lifelong love for travel, blowing bucks on a trip to Paris instead of scrimping for a larger down-payment.

And, I admit, my aesthetic preferences for homes 100+ years old and my lack of carpentry/electrical skills also in play…

But I’ve never owned a house.

I re-arranged the artwork in our bedroom recently and noticed a subconscious pattern — a French lithograph from the 1920s; an anonymous oil found at a flea market and a watercolor bought at an antiques fair.

Each shows a house, surrounded by forest or land or near a river.

Not in a suburb.

Not in a city.

But a discrete dwelling with no immediate neighbors or nearby visual impediments.

A few other factors have made home ownership feel difficult-to-impossible — working freelance with a variable income makes mortgage lenders jumpy.

The serious responsibility of costly repairs — like a roof or boiler — is intimidating.

And, with no children, no real justifiable need for extra space, like multiple bedrooms or bathrooms.

There’s also no “Canadian dream” of home ownership and — unlike the U.S. whose policies make mortgage interest a tax deduction, making home ownership more appealing — Canadian banks usually insist upon a 30 percent down payment, not the 1 percent “liar loans” that got so many American home-buyers into terrible trouble in 2008.

And houses aren’t cheap!

The ones that are would require so much time, energy and renovation my heart sinks at the prospect — and we go off on vacation instead.

I lived in a house at 19, at home with my father and his girlfriend, later wife. It was white brick, two story, probably built in the 1920s or 30s, on a busy Toronto corner and facing a park.

I lived in a house in downtown Toronto, the top floor of a narrow Victorian home, then in a sorority house for a summer and then, my last Toronto home, rented the top two floors of a small house even as I lived alone.

But since then, I’ve shared hallways and a laundry room and adjacent walls — through which I can hear our neighbors’ laughter and conversations — in a six-story co-op (owned) apartment building in a suburb of New York City.

I like our life here — there’s a pool and Hudson River views and nice landscaping and I don’t have to shovel snow or clear gutters or mow a lawn.

But I long, deeply, for a private place where I can crank up my music really loud.

Where there isn’t a long tedious list of “house rules” and restrictions on everything from bird-feeders (verboten) to grilling outdoors.

Where we could easily host multiple friends, finally able to reciprocate their house-owning hospitality to us.

Which we could rent out and leave if we want to.

We’re thinking of a road trip to Nova Scotia — and found this, a 3 bedroom with 2 acres and ocean view, built in 1815.

And went a little mad with desire until I read that it’s the rainiest place in Canada except for the very rainy B.C. coast.

My father has owned many houses — including a great Georgian pile near Galway City in Ireland, built in 1789; a massive Victorian in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia and an elegant early Victorian in a small town in Ontario.

He just bought his latest, built in 1810, in another small Ontario town.

 

Do you live in a house?

Do you own it?

What’s it like?

How to create a lovely outdoor space

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By Caitlin Kelly

Our balcony is on the top floor — sixth — and it’s 72 square feet of heaven. The minute it’s warm enough, we’re out there from dawn to dusk, savoring birdsong, Hudson River views, stars and cool breezes.

It’s not that difficult to make a small space affordably cheery and welcoming, but it can feel overwhelming when you start. Ours has zero inherent charm — red brick walls and a grey painted concrete floor.

Think of your outdoor space — whether a patio, balcony, terrace, verandah — as another room of your home with the same needs: comfortable seating, lighting, something soft and pretty underfoot — lots of color and texture.

Some tips:

Choose a color scheme and stick to it

Blue and green are perennial favorites, mimicking the colors of nature. If you’re in the city, surrounded by concrete — maybe bright yellow or brilliant fuchsia is more your speed. Ours are a light olive green, cobalt blue, navy blue and white. I chose our plant colors as well to play nicely with our cushions and tablecloths — planting only blue/purple lavender and salvia, deep purple lobelia and lantana — plus bright pops of orange.

 

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Invest in solid, attractive planters, pots and window-boxes

Jose’s my in-house carpenter and has twice designed and made lovely wooden planters, lined with plastic and gravel. Made of simple plywood, we painted them green and added a glossy navy blue trim for contrast.

Over the years, we’ve added some quality pots of varying sizes, (all in blue and green), a growing investment. If terrible weather looms (hail!), bring them indoors when possible and store them away from ice and snow. I found these fantastic navy blue ceramic planters this year at Home Depot.

 

Create a comfortable seating area

It might be a few chairs (please, not flimsy plastic!) —  woven bistro-style or durable powder-coated metal or a wooden bench or a lounger. Years ago, my first husband built a solid six-foot-wide wooden bench that I’m still using 25 years later, albeit with replaced top and bottom. With three wide cushions on top, it becomes a banquette, while also storing all our hardware, painting tools and leftover potting soil.

We’ve collected throw pillows for years, some custom-made from vintage fabrics, some custom-made of new fabric and some store-bought. We lean them against the (sturdy) glass divider separating us from our neighbor and — voila! — dining/seating area.

 

Shade?

If your space offers no natural shade, consider a patio umbrella or, if you own your home, an awning.

 

Table?

How big a table can your space accommodate? Ours is 36 inches wide and perfect for dinner for four. Yours can be made of pretty much anything, (wood, metal, glass), but will need to withstand weather! Ours is a powder-coated model from Crate & Barrel, and has lasted for many years. It’s light enough to move easily and folds flat.

 

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Lighting matters

This can be the most challenging. This year I scored three gorgeous, huge lanterns from one of my favorite sources — Jamali Garden — a Manhattan-based company whose selection of every possible garden-related item is both fantastic and surprisingly affordable. Mine were (!!) only $17 apiece — much less costly than competing offers from Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. I also bought 12 navy blue votive holders to line our windowsill. You can string Christmas lights, use hurricane lamps, even (if safe enough!) old-time kerosene lanterns.

 

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Rugs!

We have a very large plastic one (blue and white, of course) but this year I added a small blue and white rag rug for under my feet. Much nicer! There are many options now for outdoor rugs and even if it sounds impossibly splurge-y, it’s a great choice: they can be hosed down, stored during the winter and soften and cover nasty stone/concrete/worn-out wood beneath.

 

Plants and flowers

I’m not a great gardener, for sure, but opening our balcony door to a profusion of color and scent is such a treat! The tallest planter this year holds fragrant lavender and rosemary, while the purple salvia is a positive bee-fest. Make sure whatever you choose is suited to the amount of sun, shade and wind of your outdoor space.

There are so many great retail sources for all of these items — but don’t forget your local thrift and consignment shops, estate sales and flea markets, with lots of charm and low prices. Consider re-purposing a bright Indian-print coverlet as a tablecloth…

My favorite (American) retailers for outdoors design and accessories include:

Ballard Designs, Serena & Lily, Fermob, Wisteria, Frontgate, Jamali Garden, Crate & Barrel, Mothology, Anthropologie.

How to choose great home colo(u)rs

By Caitlin Kelly

Few challenges can feel as daunting — and turn out so horribly — as choosing paint colors for your home. Even selecting a white (creamy? icy? blue undertones?) can be tougher then you think.

 

People also forget, or don’t realize, a few basics when choosing colors:

 

What color is the existing floor? If wood, it is pale, orange-y, dark? White tile? Your permanent flooring, unless you plan to change it or renovate, adds a huge chunk of color to your room. Will it go beautifully, or badly, with whatever you put on the walls and baseboards (what Britons call skirting boards)?

What direction(s) does the room face? A north-facing room will have a different kind of light than one facing south.

What views does the room have? If it overlooks leafy green trees, (or a red brick wall), do you really want purple? Don’t forget, each color you choose should relate well to all the colors around and near it, (which is why a huge black sofa doesn’t help much.)

How much division does your space have between rooms? i.e. if it’s mostly open plan with each color immediately adjacent to one another, a stark contrast will look odd and unattractive. The eye should travel easily from one space to the next without jarring interruptions.

— Who’s mostly going to be using that room? A young child? An older person? A teenager? What do they love most?

How do you want to feel in that room? Calm? Energized? Soothed? Color powerfully affects our mood.

Matte finish, semi-gloss, gloss, Venetian plaster finish, faux finish?

What colors are your existing furniture, rugs, curtains and other major accessories?

What color scheme? Our living room is a classic pairing of opposite colors on the color wheel (red and green) — but a soft muted red and a pale yellow-green, not the dark/harsh Christmas combo that mix usually brings to mind.

Here’s a super-helpful explanation of various color schemes and the differences between shade, tone and hue.

House Beautiful magazine also publishes, every month, great colors designers select as some of their favorites.

The colors in our apartment are all from a British company in Dorset, Farrow & Ball, who add to their stunning range every year, currently with 132 colors. They also offer their discontinued colors, (like the Gervase Yellow on our living room and hallway walls.)

I visited their paint and wallpaper factory last July, a 2.5 hour train ride and 30 minute cab ride from London. I met their production director and their head of color consulting, Charlie (Charlotte) Cosby, both of whom were warm and welcoming and took me through their facility.

What I like about F & B colors — apart from their great names, like Elephant’s Breath, Clunch and Dead Salmon — is their subtlety and depth. My husband, who’s done all the painting, loves the paint’s texture, which he compares to melted ice cream.

Gervase Yellow is warm but gentle, and goes very well with our mid-brown wooden floor, wooden furniture and mixed art; that room’s colors include sage green (sofa), deep burgundy (rug) and these striped curtains.

 

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Our bathroom walls are Hay (I think!), a deep mustard; I love their acid-bright Yellowcake and Babouche, (the color of fresh egg yolk), one of the best yellows anywhere.

Our bedroom is (I think!) Hardwick White (might be Skimming Stone), the warm soft gray of cigarette ash.

Our wooden kitchen cabinetry and the drawers shown below are in French Grey with Clunch (a neutral gray-white) on the walls.

 

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The sitting room is Peignoir, a very pale lavender, which picks up a color in the existing curtains and is subtle but warm. It doesn’t so much read purple as…almost a pale gray; it also works really well near Gervase Yellow because purple and yellow are opposites (again!) on the color wheel and because they’re very similar in value, (i.e. there’s no huge contrast between a light color and a darker one.)

 

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Gervase yellow (in shadow) meets Peignoir (in light)

Here are some more, quite technical explanations of color theory.

If you read interior design magazines, you’ll see, lately, a lot of rooms in two of F & B’s saturated and dramatic deep blues, Hague Blue and Stiffkey — and their pale, gorgeous, ethereal blue of Borrowed Light.

The trick, of course, is to paint a big enough sample before painting a whole room; get a piece of foamcore or stiff cardboard as large as you can — and sit with the color for a day or two to see it in daylight, candle-light, whatever illumination that room will be using. (Every light source adds its own color as well, with incandescent light being warmer than halogen or fluorescent.)

 

 

The comfort of home

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Our view of the Hudson River with its newly-opened bridge

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s hard for me to believe, but this June will mark the 29th. year I’ve lived in the same apartment, by far the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.

Born in Vancouver, Canada, I lived in London ages two to five, in Toronto ages five to 30 (in 10 different homes, one for a few months, eight of them rented apartments.) Since then I’ve lived in:

Paris (8 months in student housing)

Montreal (stunning top-floor 2-bedoom rental apartment, 18 months — miss it still!)

New Hampshire (18 months in a farmhouse apartment) and…here.

Home is a suburban New York one-bedroom apartment, a co-op, top-floor (6th) with stunning and unchanged views northwest, atop a high hill, of the Hudson River and lots of trees. It’s about 1,000 square feet, plus a 72 square foot balcony which we can’t wait to use every summer and reluctantly leave in October or so.

 

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The ikat fabric covers our bedroom side tables

 

I bought it with my first husband, and it was then a stinking mess, literally — the floors were covered with dirty beige-wall-to-wall carpeting and cat urine had saturated it so badly even the nasty real estate agent stood outside on the balcony while we looked at it.

Nothing a little paint and renovation couldn’t fix!

I blogged here about transforming our kitchen to my design, as I also did with our one tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom.

 

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Those little mosaic tiles we bought in Paris and shipped home

 

Staying put in a small-ish space has allowed me, and now Jose, to meet other goals, like saving for retirement and traveling frequently for pleasure. (We have no children.)

The building itself is nothing special, a generic mid-60s red brick thing, but it’s part of a much older former estate, so it’s surrounded by lovely low stone walls, which, when snow-covered look like teeth. The land has many trees, from towering pines to my beloved red Japanese maple.  (And a pool!)

Our narrow, sidewalk-free street is both very hilly and very curvy, so we don’t have racing cars or noisy trucks.

 

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Our summer balcony banquette, (the fabric, a bedspread), covers an ugly glass divider; the bench beneath holds our tools and gardening equipment

But we’ve made it a lovely place, and one that welcomes guests — for a night or several, (on our comfy sofa) for meals, for tea — as often as we can afford. Few things make me happier than sharing our space and preparing good food for people we enjoy.

For me, staying so long in this home means many things:

assured physical comfort and safety; a lovely environment beyond our front doors (nature, silence); kind and quiet neighbors (many of them in their 70s and beyond.)

 

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We found this great Mideastern mirror in the antique shop in one of our favorite vacation spots, North Hatley, Quebec. The carved black horse is from an antique store in Port Hope, Ontario and the silver-plate teapot I bought there at auction. The black and white photo in the reflection of a table is an image of former First Lady Betty Ford standing on the Cabinet Room table. Our gallery wall is all photos by us or other photographers.

 

It’s also been a place of comfort and refuge during times of turmoil: a sudden divorce, the loss of several good jobs, friendships that have disappeared, family dramas.

It’s good to have a place you can just rely on.

Since I spent my years ages eight-13 in boarding school and ages eight-16 at summer camp, creating a place to our exact desires is huge for me — years of drab bedspreads and metal beds will do that! Our greatest splurges are often for our home: original art and photos, linens, custom-made pillows and curtains, antiques and pretty tableware.

 

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Our home also reflects our travels: our bed’s teal headboard fabric is from The Cloth Shop, an amazing find on London’s Portobello Road, (which sold many items to the Harry Potter films’ costume designers). Even some of the bathroom tile I found in Paris and had shipped to New York.

 

Where do you live?

Apartment, cabin,  cottage, house?

Rented or owned?

Why there?

What do you like most about it?

Are you a culture vulture too?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

As someone who grew up with limited access to television, (spending much of my childhood in boarding school and summer camp), my cultural consumption was books, art and music. (Although every dinner at home in my teens began with the theme music to As It Happens, the nightly CBC radio current events show.)

I do enjoy some television, mostly BBC, PBS, Netflix — original series, not the standard stuff of weekly network shows. Favorites include Wallander (Swedish version), Babylon Berlin, Call The Midwife, Victoria.

I confess — I’m also a fan of Lifetime’s Project Runway, now heading into its 17th season.

My favorite media are radio and film.

I listen to radio daily, (NPR, WFUV. WKCR, TSF Jazz from Paris) and typically watch two to three movies a week, either on TV or in the theater. (Not a fan of horror films, which I avoid; writing a book that included gun violence was quite enough!)

Only in later life did I appreciate what beauty I enjoyed in my parents’ homes, filled with Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Inuit sculpture, mirrored Indian textiles and more. That visual feast much shaped my own tastes — whether a Mexican wooden mask or a vintage photograph.

Today, thanks to the Internet, we all have ready and free access to millions of exquisite images, through the British Museum  (37,000 images) and many more. Even if you live very far from a gallery or museum, even just scrolling through Instagram, you can stumble across an incredible array of beauty and history.

I’m not as familiar with, or fond of, contemporary art and design (I try!); I do love the work of Julie Mehretu.

Growing up in Toronto, a large and multi-cultural city with good museums and galleries, also helped me develop my taste. Travel to Paris, Venice, Florence, London, Berlin, Boston, D.C. and San Francisco, (to name a few places),  has showed me more amazing art.

Two of our favorite museums focus on Asian design — the Sackler in Washington, D.C. and the Guimet in Paris.

 

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A very rare event for me — I went to this auction and bought two 1920s French prints (Dufy, Vlaminck)

 

Musically, I feel woefully behind! I haven’t (she says embarassedly) yet tried Spotify, so I need to expand my horizons, although I’m not a fan of rap, hip-hop or country.

Only in the past month have I seen two operas, the first for me in decades, and enjoyed both. I don’t attend as many classical music performances as I could — in New York and environs, there are so many to choose from! — but enjoy it when I do.

As for popular music concerts…sigh. Some of the people I want to see sell out within minutes, generally.

I recently loved Old Stock, a terrific Canadian musical that’s just ended a two-month Manhattan run, and is headed for Bristol, England and Edmonton, Alberta.

I also saw a dark/powerful art show, “Berlin, Before and After”, at New York’s Neue Galerie, one of my favorite (small!) museums.

Living anywhere near New York City costs a fortune: highway and bridge tolls, taxes, commuting costs, crazy-high rent so you have to take advantage of all its various cultural offerings.

A daily list of low to no-cost NYC fun is The Skint; (“skint” is a British word for broke.)

 

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This amazing image was in the hallway across my room in a boutique hotel in Rovinj, Croatia

 

I do read a lot, but mostly non-fiction, magazines and newspapers. I just finished astronaut Scott Kelly’s memoir, “Endurance” and am now reading “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” from 1929.

I write for a living (as some of you know!) so am always hungry for inspiration.

 

How about you?

 

What has shaped your cultural tastes — friends? family? the internet? TV? YouTube? formal education?

 

Any terrific recommendations to share?