Making a lovely home: 7 elements

I was so lucky to inherit this 16th c Italian textile from my mother

By Caitlin Kelly

Midwinter, mid-pandemic — cabin fever!

Help is on the way!

As some of you know, I spent some time in the 90s studying interior design at the New York School of Interior Design.

I learned a lot, and loved almost every minute of it. The school has taught and trained some legendary designers, so I really enjoyed and appreciated how rigorous it was. I even got an A in color class, which remains one of my life’s triumphs — we learned how to mix colors from scratch.

I decided not to go into the industry for my living, preferring to just love it, but my professional-level training has also informed how nice our one bedroom apartment looks since I better understand design principles.

Here’s a helpful post from the UK magazine Homes & Gardens:

The seven:

Space

This is one of the most challenging — too many rooms are just overstuffed while the enormous houses some people prefer (and can afford!) can mean trying to figure out how to create areas of use that make sense and relate to one another. Our living room is 24 long and 12 feet wide, a great space, even with only an eight-foot ceiling (built mid 1960s.) I would kill for the much much taller ceilings and elegant windows I see in most French and British design magazines.

So we divided the room into two-thirds, divided by a low bookshelf that holds two matching table lamps that illuminate the sofa and the dining area at one end. I’ve lived in this space for decades, so re-arranging it is both a mental break and a necessity as our tastes change.

We have a small dining room that, now, is once more being used as a sitting room — we kept our old sofa and now love our view from it straight north up the Hudson River. We settle in with our newspapers and, as snooze time overtakes, nap!

Line

The vertical lines of the room come from features like windows and doors or maybe a tall fireplace. They’re prized for giving a feeling of freedom and can make a room seem taller. Choosing a tall piece of furniture, for example, can lead the eye upwards and visually heighten the room. In any scheme a balance between horizontal and vertical lines is essential.

Form

This is the shape of your room and the objects in it. Too many rooms are full of endless squares and rectangles!

Consider some circles or ovals as well.

Our antique dining table is oval. We have two square olive velvet stools. Our dining chairs have oval shaped backs. Look around your room with an eye to what shapes it contains — too much repetition?

Here’s our living room’s gallery wall — as you’ll see, it has a variety of shapes, sizes and colors although the dominant colors are red, black and white.

top row, left to right: My photo of a staircase, Paris; a 1950s British photographer; Jose’s image from Mexico

middle row, left to right: a poster from a show I saw in Paris; David Hume Kennerley’s portrait of former First Lady Betty Ford; a winter portrait of the Grand Canyon by a friend

bottom row, left to right: me and a pal after a magazine photo shoot about kids cooking; Bernie Boston’s famous image; a Hokusai poster.

A mix of the famous and the personal.

Light

Crucial!

If your room has lots of natural light, you’re lucky! We use mirrors to help amplify it and bounce it around a few rooms.

Lighting is not easy to do well. Every room should have multiple light sources, ideally all on dimmers, not just harsh overhead lighting which can be both unflattering and inefficient.

Over the years, I’ve changed our bedside tables a few times…the latest ones (a few years old now) are chased silver, hollow, and I have no idea where they come from (other than the Connecticut antiques store where I found them.) There are so many styles it’s overwhelming! The shades are simple pleated ivory. And, yes, I like finials!

I found our living room pair on sale in a chi-chi Greenwich, CT. store.

Sometimes the best things can be found in thrift and consignment shops or (my favorite!) at auction.

Color

So much to say!

Regulars here know my love for the British paint company Farrow & Ball knows no bounds — I even got to visit their Dorset factory in 2017. Amazing!

I like colors that are fairly quiet but not boring so I can add the patterns with things I can easily change.

The trend now is for very deep saturated colors, which are really beautiful but not for me in a one bedroom apartment. One lesson I learned the hard way is that when you live in an open-plan home (we have 3 doors: the front door, the bathroom door and the bedroom door) you can’t have different colors everywhere!

Well, you can, but it’s gross.

The eye is going to travel from one space to the next and needs to not be constantly confused.

So, after several iterations (faux finish brown; Chinese red; pale yellow-green) our living room is now a pale soft gray (F & B’s Skimming Stone.) So is the bedroom (initially faux finish cobalt blue, then aqua, then Granny apple green.) The bathroom remains a deep mustard, a nice contrast to the gray glass tile of the shower. The kitchen cabinetry is a soft green, also F & B. (One reason I’m a fan is that you can re-order a discontinued color.)

Of course, color shows up in many ways: fabrics, rugs, artwork, wall, ceiling and floor, lamps and shades…

Here’s the antique armoire (possibly 18th century, bought at auction online, delivered from NH) whose teal color is now repeated in our living room. The two baskets up top were plain and I painted them in two colors. The small painting is my late mother, painted by my father.

Texture

This is also tricky.

Our new sofa is a pale silver velvet, but has a sheen that reflects light. The throw pillows on it are print linen and a different kind of velvet, in burnt orange, a color in the linen print.

Adding texture can come from rugs, throw pillows, a throw, different sorts of fabrics.

Also from decorative items: glass, brass, ceramics, wood.

Our new dining area rug is a deeply textured sisal.

I’m still deciding — months after pulling down our living room curtains — what to do with the window! Probably a Roman blind, but it’s a huge commitment of funds so I’m not rushing into it.

Pattern

Design school taught me that you can, and should, have at least three different patterns within a room, (fabrics, rugs.)

But…which ones?!

This is where scale matters. Do you want a large-scale design (not as easy to find with many American sources as British) or small? A print or woven? A damask or something more modern?

Again, British designers seem much bolder in their use of pattern on chairs and sofas and curtains. The expense of acquiring anything new is always a bit sobering…but a room with no pattern is sad indeed!

The new/modern sisal rug at one end of our living room deliberately echoes this antique kilim I bought this fall in an online auction — the diamond patterns are similar even though the period, colors and materials are different.

I wanted this rug because — a rare find! — it was in perfect condition, the perfect size, well-priced and offered the colors I wanted, but in fairly quiet tones. The teal is the exact color of the antique armoire it lies in front of. The white relates to the silver sofa it also lies in front of. Everything needs to relate!

Living in the past. Long past!

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this Guardian story about people who choose to live in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s — estehtically, anyway.

And I recently did a lot of global reporting — speaking to people in Seattle, DC, Ontario, Genoa, L.A., Stockholm, London, Finland and Philadelphia — about a hobby they all share, historical costuming. (The man in Philly does it for a living!)

It means making and wearing clothing of much earlier eras and centuries, finding patterns and appropriate fabric, and wearing the correct undergarments to create the correct silhouette. (No sports bras allowed!)

It’s an amazing obsession, and demands a lot of patience and skill and meticulous attention to detail. It’s mostly enjoyed women, and mostly white women — something they’re well aware of! I did include an Iranian-American.

One of the women I spoke to is a mechanic in Finland. One is an Army wife in Ontario. One is a jewelry appraiser in Stockholm.

All were a joy to speak with! I could have spent hours geeking out with Jenny Tiramani, a legendary costume designer who worked for years at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — and who founded and runs London’s School of Historical Dress.

Here’s the piece, my first sale to the Styles section of The New York Times, for whom I write fairly often:

Here’s the start:

It’s a world of corsets, stays and chemises. Of weskits, bum rolls, breeches and hoop panniers. For actors, wearing period costume has long meant literally stepping into the past: lacing soft modern flesh into antique shapes and learning how to use the toilet without peeling off multiple layers.

“Bridgerton,” Shonda Rhimes’s racially diverse Netflix series set in 1813 England, has suddenly ignited new interest in Regency fashions. But a global community of hobbyists has been designing, making and wearing clothing from the 19th century and earlier for many years. Long a private obsession fueled by films like “The Leopard” and “Pride and Prejudice,” social media has widened the conversation, with fans of all ages and backgrounds worldwide now trading notes on how best to trim a sleeve or adjust a straw bonnet.

Pre-pandemic, they gathered in Los Angeles at Costume College, an annual conference, at Venice’s Carnival and the Fêtes Galantes at Versailles. Some lucky Europeans, like Filippa Trozelli, find themselves invited to wear their historical clothing to private parties at ancient local estates.

As someone who loves vintage/historical textiles — and who wore an Edwardian day dress for her first wedding — I totally get the appeal of this obsession. I love the notion of time travel, of swishing through a garden in yards of silk or meeting up in Venice with equally obsessed pals from around the world.

I had long wanted to write about this subculture, as I follow several of the women on Instagram, but never had a “peg” or “hook” — i.e. what relevance would it have now? Thanks to Bridgerton, it does!

A fun NYC day (albeit COLD!)


By Caitlin Kelly

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.

Robert de Niro grew up there.

Herman Melville lived there.

Even singer Dua Lipa lived there for a year.

The legendary John’s Pizza.

Here’s its Wikipedia entry.

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.

Ludlow Street

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.

The winter zhuzh

Looking down from our bedroom window

By Caitlin Kelly

We’re in it now, kids!

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 color and 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

Cushions/throw pillows

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.

Plants

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.

Add comfort

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.

Light matters!

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 closed you’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.

Add scent

I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.

Room spray can be nice.

So can paperwhites or lilies.

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.

Savor it all!

Our scantest resource? Attention

Imagine just lying very still and looking up in silence

By Caitlin Kelly

Every time I post here I wonder how many of the 22,000+ (?!) followers WordPress tells me read Broadside actually finds the time to pay attention to anything I’ve offered.

The highest counts these days are maybe 200 or so views.

I admit to envying fellow Canadian David Kanigan — whose blog and life are very different from mine — and who consistently gets a lot more likes and comments on his blog.

This can now feel like shouting into the wind — a fruitless waste of my time and limited energy trying to capture anyone’s fleeting and overwhelmed and pandemic-weary attention.

But I still enjoy it and I really appreciate those of you who do make time to read, comment and share, so onward!

I thought of this as I recently listened to a Doors song 11 minutes and 48 seconds in length.

And the Arlo Guthrie classic, from 1967, Alice’s Restaurant — 18:34!

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 pacing.

Different plot development.

Quieter scenes.

Fewer edits.

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.

His list of credits is very long, and very current.

He’s shaping how we see and how we pay attention.

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.

Who has this much time now?

Who reads past the headline?

My holiday gift list 2020: Enjoy!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is my favorite post every year!

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.

This pair of abalone shard earrings, simple and unusual. $467

Every year I find something fun from this American homegoods website, Mothology.

This year it’s a whale — who also serves as a handy bottle-opener. $16.95

https://www.mothology.com/tabletop/

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

https://www.li-lacchocolates.com/Chocolate-Gift-Basket-NYC

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

Lilac chalcedony, oxidized silver stud earrings $125

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 pillows we bought from them.

Linen print placemat, magnolia print $41.00

https://www.svenskttenn.se/en/range/textile/kitchen-dining-textiles/placemats/placemat-textile-japanese-magnolia/110001/

I defy you not to be charmed by this elephant print tea cosy. (Also, possibly, a hat?) $70

www.svenskttenn.se/en/range/textile/kitchen-dining-textiles/tea-cosys/tea-cosy-elefant/110569/

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.

Brass wall-mounted candleholder $121.96

https://www.tinsmiths.co.uk/brass-candle-holder-double.html

OKA is a homewares company owned by three women with classic English style. I love their colors and scale. As a big tea drinker and collector of early ceramics, this cup and saucer caught my eye.

Blue and white cup and gorgeous saucer, 18th c style $60

https://www.oka.com/en-us/product/kraak-breakfast-cup-saucer-blue-white/

Who among us is sick to death of Staples? To really spruce up your WFH desk, how about these?

Three pale turquoise faux-shagreen binders, also from OKA $65

https://www.oka.com/en-us/product/faux-shagreen-box-files-turquoise/#dimensiondetails

LOVE this one! Warm, hand-knit, colorful, unique.

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

https://www.gravitypope.com/collections/men/products/vans-vn0a2z5i18h-moma-monet-authentic

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.

Pale green and gray Indian print tablecloth $103

How can you resist? All the way from Piggott’s Store in Sydney, Australia!

Bright pink Indian cotton boxer shorts in a small palm tree print $43

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!

Black and white woolen blanket — with maps of Paris, London or New York. $200

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.

Print dress $228.

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.

Walk like an Egyptian! with this hand-rolled wool and silk pocket square, complete with hieroglyphics and Anubis. $80

You’ll either love or hate these chocolate leather lace-up boots, from Ann Mashburn. They’re pricey but I have no doubt you’d get a decade’s stylish wear out of them. $650

Living with very old things

By Caitlin Kelly

No, not me or Jose!

A decade ago my mother had to suddenly sell all her belongings and go into a nursing home, and into a small room. She was able to take a few pieces of art but lost a lot of it to auction.

I shipped home, across a border and country, a pair of her early textiles, framed. I have no idea where she bought them or when or if my grandmother had owned them. I wish I’d asked when we were still cordial, but of course I didn’t.

I’m a massive fan of textiles, old and new, and always wondered what these two pieces were — and I follow a serious antique textiles dealer in Britain on Instagram. I recently asked her if these were what I suspected — 17th century Italian.

They are!

Wow.

I’m now wildly fantasizing who used them, and when and where and for what purpose. They are velvet and gold thread and the centerpiece, I believe, is linen.

Italy in the 1600s was quite the place…1.7 million Italians died of plague in the first years of that century. In 1656 around 300,000 people in Naples, this was half the population of Naples at that time….Good God, why is this so awfully familiar?!

We own a few other quite old objects, which have been gifts or bought at auction or antique stores or shows. I know some people have zero interest in old stuff or owning old stuff, but I really love living with, enjoying and using lovely and material bits of history.

I find it extraordinary to tap away on a laptop on top of a gate-leg oak table, probably British, someone made in the 18th century. Ours looks almost exactly like this one, without a drawer.

The craftsmanship is amazing — finely curved edges, smoothly fitted leaves and legs. My father gave it to us a few years ago and I love it. It easily seats four, six at a pinch.

Then there’s a tiny teacup, hand-painted. I love its designs — also very unusual, and someone said, maybe made for the Islamic market. I’ve studied ceramics and silver and furniture and textiles because they fascinate me, so when I spot something potentially that’s very early (for me, anything 18th or 17th century) — and undervalued — I know what it is!

Like this 18th century teapot, missing a lid — $3.50 in an upstate NY junk shop; if it had a lid, it would sell for about $1,000.

The teapot on the table…

If I could own something really ancient, it might be a piece of Greek, Roman or Middle Eastern sculpture or art.

Do really old pieces interest you?

Bordertown: a wild Finnish crime series

By Caitlin Kelly

Whew!

I just finished my latest Netflix binge, three seasons — 31 episodes in all — of Bordertown, a Finnish crime series set in the real life town of Lappeenranta, a 90-minute drive across the Russian border to St. Petersburg.

Horror writer Stephen King has proclaimed his love for it, and for the lead actor, Ville Virtanen.

I’ve really enjoyed it, for reasons I’ll explain here, but one of them, highly unlikely, is that this summer I interviewed a senior corporate executive via Zoom from her family cottage on an island in Lake Saimaa, the exact setting of this show! The opening credits for each episode are drone images of the lake, whether yachts in a harbor, a huge freighter passing beneath a bridge or logs.

It’s the largest lake in the country — 1,700 square miles.

I’ve been intrigued by the two Finnish women I’ve gotten to know a bit through this new work, my editor and the executive. I’m very interested to visit Finland now, and have been for years since discovering the beautiful black and white photography of the country’s top photographer, Pentti Sammallahti, and buying one of his images at an art show in Manhattan.

It’s a small country, bordered on the east by Russia and the north by Norway and to the west by Sweden, with only 5.3 million people, one of the least densely populated in Europe.

The show follows Kari Sorjonen, a weather-beaten detective who moves to Lappeenranta from the big city of Helsinki with his wife Paulina, who grew up there, and their only child, a teen daughter, Janina.

Unlike most crime shows, their family dynamics are as essential to the story-lines as his work: Paulina has survived brain cancer but she and Janina have a tough time with a man who shows very little emotion and leaves almost every family meal to rush to another crime scene. You really see the effects of his workaholism.

Sorjonen is eccentric as hell — and makes use of a “memory palace” to recall crucial details and make patterns of them to solve crimes. He does this in his bare feet in the basement of their home.

The crimes are varied, and some shockingly brutal, which can get wearying when you watch several shows in a row. But the music is haunting, and the landscapes and homes really beautiful and the characters complex and interesting.

It tends to run in pairs, with two episodes to complete each story arc, but its threads and clues begin at the first episode and go to the final one.

The first two seasons are shot only in summer or fall — with the final third season shot in winter, the crunching of footsteps in deep snow a part of every episode. As someone who loves and misses a snow-covered landscape, I enjoyed that.

And, if you love simple, elegant Scandinavian design as much as I do, you’ll also enjoy the stunning interiors! Lots of interesting hanging lamps, neutral furnishing colors, interesting wall colors and some very nice exteriors, whether a hotel or an office or even a hospital’s interior doors.

One really striking design element — even in all 31 episodes — no bright primary colors like red, blue, green or yellow, or bold patterns, whether in interiors or clothing. The cops all wear black, brown, navy or gray, always in plainclothes and mostly in jeans. The characters all wear shades of gray, brown, cream, pale pink — all of which are flattering to pale Finnish complexions and either dark hair or pale blond. You might see a flash of burgundy in someone’s tie, but that’s it.

And it’s so strikingly unemotional, in American terms — in 31 episodes, I think each parent says “I love you” maybe once to each other and to their daughter, even after she’s been traumatized by a crime. I wonder how much the Finnish tradition of sisu informs this: grit, determination, the pride in just toughing it out.

I noticed a striking absence by the end — not one person of color, ever. No Blacks, Hispanics, Asians; 87% of this very sparsely populated nation are Finns.

Have you seen it?

What did you think?

Travel memories…

By Caitlin Kelly

As readers here know, travel is usually my greatest joy in life.

I took my first international road trip — in my playpen in the back of my parents’ car — from Vancouver to Mexico. I took my first flight, at seven or eight, to Antigua from Toronto. I always know exactly where my passport is and my Canadian currency and my leftover euros.

Being confined to the disease-riddled political madhouse of the United States right now is, for some of us, really frustrating.

So here are some of my favorite travel memories:

 

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My last taste of elegant hospitality, Middleburg, Virginia, March 2020 — just as the pandemic shut everything down.

I was on my way to D.C. to attend and speak at an annual conference, and added two extra days in this town to play and relax and enjoy some solo time. I loved it. I also had breakfast there with a local friend, an extra pleasure.

 

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I do love a great hotel bar. This is the freshly and beautifully renovated Royal York, in my hometown of Toronto; September 2019.

 

When you’re traveling and need to meet people for business or pleasure, an elegant hotel bar (if not too noisy!) can be a good option. I interviewed a psychiatrist for my healthcare story here, while sitting on those stools, and later enjoyed a cocktail with a young pal from Twitter.

 

 

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I had never seen elk — or a sign like this! New Mexico, June 2019.

 

This was a great day — Valles Caldera is a national preserve where we spent a day enjoying nature and silence during our week’s vacation. My husband Jose is from Santa Fe, so we love returning to his home city and state, where we have friends and he once more revels in being home.

 

 

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Lacing up my skates for some ice-work at Beaver Pond, Mount Royal, Montreal. Winter 2019.

 

It’s a really Canadian joy to skate without a fee and in public. I really miss all the free public rinks I took for granted in Toronto —- and in New York, I generally only skate on an indoor rink and have to pay for it, a wholly different experience. This was a lot of fun and the rink, very sensibly, even has benches in the middle, so you can plop down whenever pooped.

 

 

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I love funky vintage diners. I meandered happily along Route 25 on Long Island’s North Shore and loved every minute; June 2018.

 

I love to meander! It’s such a pleasure to find a winding country road and savor all the sights — farm-stands, diners, little shops, old houses. This road terminates at the eastern end in Orient, where there’s a wide pebbled beach. It was a great day spent solo while Jose was working locally for the week and we were given a hotel room.

 

 

Georgetown

 

Georgetown, DC is such a beautiful neighborhood. Fall 2017.

 

I’ve been back to D.C. over the years many times — attending awards dinners, on a fellowship, visiting friends, on my way heading further south. It feels so very different from New York in every way, and Georgetown’s narrow cobbled streets and early 19th century homes are a lovely escape.

 

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Love the Atwater Market, Montreal.

 

I loved coming here to shop for food when I lived in Montreal for 18 months as a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. I didn’t stay long as a resident; the winter was brutal and the newspaper not a great fit for me. But, a six hour drive from our New York home, Montreal makes for a terrific break for us now. I get to speak and hear French, catch up with old friends and colleagues, shop for the kinds of clothes I really like (much more European!) and always visit our favorite restaurants.

 

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Pies! Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple syrup; Atwater Market

 

Maple syrup pie! Sugar pie!

 

 

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I love these ghost meringues! Atwater Market, Montreal

 

These were on display just before Hallowe’en. Love them!

 

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Dublin. So much beautiful weaving!

 

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Jose went to the local barber, ex-boxer Patrick Quinn. His haircut was 5 euros. Ireland, June 2015.

 

I’ve been to Ireland five times so far and could easily return many times more. It’s so small you can easily see a lot, even in a week or two. People are so warm and welcoming. The landscapes are astounding. Filled with history. I actually cry when I leave.

 

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Not the loveliest image, but definitely Venice, July 2017

 

I’ve been to Venice three times so far: I spent my 21st birthday there, alone, and enjoyed it, went back on my European fellowship year at 25 and hadn’t been back for decades — and made the crucial error of doing so in July when it was brutally hot and massively crowded. I am glad I went again, though, for all of three days, and remain determined to visit in cooler, quieter late fall or even winter next time!

I loved Giudecca, a mostly residential neighborhood and even found a small playground surrounded by low-level apartments. I sat on a bench in the shade there for a while and just savored the silence.

 

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One of the great pleasures of travel is…sitting still! Taking it all in. July 2017

 

I really loved my first-ever visit to Berlin, a city I’d only seen in films. I took the train from Paris and stayed at a terrific old hotel, the Savoy, on Fasanenstrasse, in Charlottenburg. I loved everything about our hotel — the white tablecloths in the gracious, spacious dining room, a quiet, small back garden, an adjacent cigar bar!, even a hair salon next door. I visited the Pergamon museum and enjoyed the Biergarten and biked around and spent a fantastic day swimming at Schachtensee, one of the many lakes surrounding the city and easily reached by public transit.

I stayed in Berlin 10 days and just got to know it a little. I’m eager to return.

 

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Since 2001, we have been visiting a gorgeous resort, Manoir Hovey, on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This is their dock, in fall. Oh, we miss it!

 

After 9/11 Jose and I were pretty shell-shocked as we both covered the truly grim details of its aftermath, I as a journalist and he as a New York Times photo editor. We fled north right afterward to this terrific small resort and have been back since then every two to three years, in every season — named Canada’s number two best resort hotel for 2020 by Travel & Leisure magazine.

 

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Must have tea in London! This was the Ritz

 

OK, so it’s touristy. But fun!

 

 

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I love the details that are so spectacular — not just the official “sights” but the memorable specifics like this Paris cafe

 

I’m wild about all aspects of design. I loved this detail.

 

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This is so French! That gorgeous, polished, oversize doorknob and the deep viridian and the gloss. Ooooohh, Paris!

 

Tell me about some of the places you miss!

Who’s buying clothes now anyway?

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I miss retail style! I miss shopping in person! These two stunning oversized pillows are on a bench in the Brown’s shoe store in Montreal.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

A recent story in The New York Times magazine asks if we’ll ever go back to buying fashion. With a global pandemic forcing us all (OK, those unselfish enough to stay out of crowded places full of other people) to stay home and work at home and look decent from the waist up for Zoom meetings, why on earth would anyone put on proper clothes not made of loose cotton or spandex?

Who’s even wearing a bra these days?

No high heels.

No pocket squares.

No suits.

No style?

Here’s a brand making clothes for people with no need to dress to impress:

On an average day, the brand — still in its nascent stage — sells 46 sweats. That day they sold more than 1,000. When they ran out of sweatsuits, shoppers moved through the T-shirts, socks and underwear. By month’s end, the brand’s sales were up 662 percent over March the previous year.

The day we met, April 24, was the highest-grossing day in the company’s history. A new shipment came in that morning and promptly sold out again. Entireworld had now grossed more in two months than in its entire first year in business.

 

Since early March, I’ve bought:

 

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— a pair of pale pink Birkenstocks and two other pairs of shoes

— five simple cotton T-shirts

— four bras and seven pairs of panties (most on sale)

— one vaguely dressy shirt

— a long navy blue shift dress (on sale!)

— a bathing suit (on sale)

— two scarves (my weakness!)

 

I actually bought everything but the underwear and bathing suit in a store, while masked, moving quickly, and with very few other shoppers in the store.

Like many others, I soon weary of online shopping.

From the Times story, and designer Marc Jacobs:

 

When asked about online shopping, Jacobs told Business of Fashion: “I love to go to a shop. I like to see everything. I like to touch it. I like to try it on. I like to have a coffee. I like to have a bottle of water. I like to get dressed up.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “But ordering online, in a pair of grubby sweats, is not my idea of living life.”

 

Team Jacobs!

I’ve never been a big shopper but I miss the hunt, especially browsing through small/indie shops, the kind that line some streets in lower Manhattan.

I love to chat with the store staff, often the owner, enjoying their taste and editing.

Or did.

So many small businesses are going to die, or already have, so who knows who will make the cut?

Big/chain stores just exhaust me — too much merch, often badly made, standing in line (!) to pay. Not fun.

I also enjoy consignment and thrift shops, but in those places I really want to see and touch the quality.

I follow a few very well-dressed men on Instagram and really savor their sartorial choices.

I’ve always loved elegance and style: a well-cut piece of clothing, a gorgeous print, an interesting color. I lived for many years in Toronto, Montreal, Paris, cities with plenty of style, and pre-pandemic, was in Manhattan usually once a week —  and haven’t been there in seven months.

I really miss seeing other people well-dressed as well, gaining pleasure and inspiration from their choices — the suburbs offer very few of these, like the 50-ish woman I saw  recently wearing a white linen dress and carrying a brightly colored woven ethnic bag. That was a treat!

 

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I love the colors in this

 

So when I recently met a pal for coffee I made sure to wear some pretty clothes and the drop earrings Jose bought me in Santa Fe, coral and silver, and my yellow sandals and the brightly colored embroidered bag a friend brought me from Mexico.

It’s just too sad and too grim to never celebrate beauty!

With nowhere to go now, have you given up on fashion and new clothes?