How to look French (si tu veux!)

By Caitlin Kelly

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Even some shoe soles are stylish! A brand called Freelance

 

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

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

 

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Color

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

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

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

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

Prints

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

Scarves

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

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Even grocery carts are chic!

Fit

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

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

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

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

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

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Shoes

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

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

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

Bags

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

Hair

A great cut and lively color are de rigueur.

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Galeries Lafayette

Interiors

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

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

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

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

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

 

Some of my favorite Paris shops:

 

Irena Gregori

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

BHV

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

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Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché

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

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Affordable and pretty lingerie, sleepwear and bathing suits.

Galeries Lafayette

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

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

Diwali

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

 

 

A June week in Paris

By Caitlin Kelly

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High above Paris — silence! Taken from a cab of the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde

It’s 2.5 years since I was last here, in the depths of winter.

My husband Jose and I came for my birthday, and three friends joined us that evening, one from her home in London, her partner from visiting his parents in Sweden and a journalism colleague stationed here. Some had never met one another, and I had never met two of them, but it was a terrific evening.

We ate at this gorgeous restaurants in the Marais, Les Chouettes (The Owls.)

Two more friends — the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog and her husband — came the next day to share our rented two-bedroom flat.

I lived in Paris for a year when I was 25, on a journalism fellowship, so the city feels like home to me. I speak French and have been back many times since then, four times in the past decade.

The city is a feast in every way: great food, beautiful colors everywhere — flowers, doors, women’s clothing — millennia of history, gorgeous architecture, reams of culture, tremendous racial and ethnic diversity.

Most visitors spend their time in the 1st through 11th arrondissements — with possible visits to the quieter, chi-chi, residential 16th. (Balzac’s home is there) and the grittier 18th, 19th and 20th. The buses and subways are clean and efficient and many taxi drivers now speak English.

Some photos of our week:

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Jose planned a terrific Sunday jazz brunch at La Bellevilloise, a 100+ year-old building that’s been re-purposed into a cultural center in the funky 20th arrondissement (neighborhood), with great views of the city. The buffet style food was delicious, the music Django-esque, and the crowd a mix of all ages, tourists and Parisians.

I recommend it highly; you must make reservations!

The flat we’ve rented, from a journalism colleague of Jose’s, is in a trendy nabe, the Marais, (literally, as it once was, the swamp), an area filled with indie boutiques, bars and restaurants lining its narrow streets, with fantastic names like “the street of bad boys” and “the street of the white coats.”

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The view from our flat’s living room

Our rented flat is on the first floor at the end of a tree-filled cul-de-sac, so it’s blessedly silent at night.

My Paris isn’t typical.

I don’t feel compelled to fight the crowds and see all the official sights: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Tuilieries, the Eiffel Tower.

I treat it instead like an old, familiar friend, as one more big city I enjoy.

Some tourists stagger along with pontoons of shopping bags from Chanel and Vuitton and Hermes. Instead, I’ve bought everything here from eyeglasses to bathmats; the colors on offer are so distinctive and these things bring us daily pleasure at home for years afterward.

We have a few favorite restaurants, like this one, Les Fous de L’Ile, on the Ile St, Louis, (where we rented a flat for two previous visits) and love to try new ones.

You must have a boule of ice cream at Berthillon!

We had, of all things, a very good Thai meal at Au Petit Thai; reviews are somewhat mixed, but it was one the best and freshest Thai meals we’ve eaten anywhere.

(Restaurants here tend to be small and crowded, so lowering your voice is basic etiquette. Portions are also smaller than enormous American ones.)

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We attended a wine tasting, in English, here.

We tasted two whites and two reds, with matching types of cheese and baguette and water to help us not get too drunk and learned a lot.

Paris has changed, of course, since I’ve been coming here, and five new things I notice this time:

— people jogging in the streets in Spandex and Fitbits, (once unheard of)

— far fewer smokers, more vapers

— so many people speaking excellent English, happily, from cabbies to store clerks and restaurant staff.

— Everyone’s wearing “les baskets” — sneakers — and a good thing, too! This is a city that demands and rewards hours of walking, but ohhhh, your feet will get tired if you don’t wear comfortable and supportive shoes.

— This visit, too, I’m much more aware, all the time, of our surroundings and every possible egress; with terrorism attacks in various European cities, including the massacre here at the club Bataclan, you can’t be stupid and tune out. A policemen was attacked with a hammer outside Notre Dame on Tuesday.

We live in weird and frightening times. I came out of a department store to find a large crowd and a lot of security guards and thought…ohhhhh, shit. But it was only (!?) people waiting for some American actor/celebrity to show up; apparently Tom Cruise has been here filming the latest Mission Impossible.

On a more sober note, one thing you’ll notice here, if you pay attention and look at the doorways of residential buildings, is the number of signs and monuments to the men, women and children who died during  the Resistance and in WWII.

I saw this glass monument in the park next to Le Bon Marché, an elegant, high-end department store — steps away from a brightly-lit carousel filled with happy children

It honors two little girls who perished in Nazi death camps and I found it deeply moving,

It reads:

Arrested by the police of the Vichy (occupation) government, complicit with the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942 and 1944, and assassinated at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish. Several of them lived in Paris, in the 7th arrondissement and among those two “very little ones” who hadn’t even started attending school. 

As you pass by, read their name because your memory is their only resting place.

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A great joy of summer here is the huge amount of  sunlight. Paris is much further north than you might expect — 48.8 degrees north, (the Canadian border with the U.S.) — and the sun isn’t setting right now until 9:45 or later, so there’s a long, lovely dusk.

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We visited the Marché des Enfants Rouges (the market of red children, named for the uniforms worn by those in a nearby orphanage)go! It’s small, crowded and so much fun, bursting with food and flowers and many places to sit and eat. The oldest covered market in Paris, it was founded in 1628.

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Here’s a terrific list of places to eat — from classic bars like the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz (yes, we went!) to bakeries and chocolate shops.

Start your day with a tartine (bread, butter and jam), or a pain au chocolat or a croissant or a pain au raisin and an express — an espresso.  You’ll walk off the calories.

Above all, sloooooooow down.

Sit for a while in a cafe or beside the Seine, and savor the city’s street life, whether day or night.

 

May you enjoy every minute of my beloved city as much as I do!

 

It’s spring! Time for a room refresh?

By Caitlin Kelly

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One of our many mirrors…

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

Soooooo depressing!

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

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

I couldn’t take one more glimpse of gray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paint!

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

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

1) the color of your floor;

2) the color of your current furniture and fabrics;

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

4) the mood you want to create.

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

Then choose.

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The floral is our sitting room curtains

Fabrics

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

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

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Fresh flowers — a must!

Flowers and plants

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

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

Rugs

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

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

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

Here’s our rug…

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Mirrors

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

Don’t hang them too high.

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

Total cost of our sitting room refresh:

1 gallon Farrow & Ball paint        $99

1 quart white semi-gloss paint for baseboards     $12

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

new tray                     $56

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

$641.00

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

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

A midwinter visit to Toronto

By Caitlin Kelly

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The view from my rented flat, 30 stories up!

 

First question — why would anyone do such a thing?

Today’s temperature? 18 F, -8 Celsius.

Bloody cold, kids!

It was a week that fit my work schedule and I needed to renew my passport. I could have mailed away my old one (no thanks!) and paid $260. Instead I spent a lot more to stay in a rented flat for a week off, to see old friends and family.

I was out of the downtown Toronto airport — located on an island in the harbor — by 10:30 a.m., got my photos taken and had my application in, ($210, all in, including $50 for the rush job) by 12:30. Sweet!

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Isn’t this a hoot? The Museum subway stop, which has been renovated and designed to a fantastic level (the Royal Ontario Museum sits just above)

 

Here are some of the things I’m enjoying this week, despite the bitter winds and blowing snow:

 

Seeing dear old friends

Catching up with people I knew at summer camp 40 years ago and from my college years at University of Toronto. My friend K was pregnant with her first child when she danced at my first wedding — her daughter is now a successful actress here. Whew!

Thinking in metric and Celsius

I bought 100 grams of salami, and have to keep looking up the temperature in F.

Canadian cash

No pennies. Loonies and toonies. (Those are $1 and $2 coins.) The Canadian dollar is 74 cents U.S., giving me an automatic discount on everything I spend here.

A modern, downtown rented flat

It came up on a search on Trivago, $109 U.S. per night for a 700 square foot condo on the 30th floor of a residential building downtown. It’s super-bright, quiet, and has a brand-new kitchen, bathroom and comfortable queen bed. I come and go with all the other residents, meeting their kids and dogs in the elevator. I like it.

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OK, no big deal, but I love these biscuits, not easy to find in New York — here, for sale in a subway newsstand

Great food

Went to the legendary, enormous St. Lawrence Market, (took the streetcar for $3.25), to buy food for breakfasts at home and, of course (always!) fresh flowers to make the flat feel more like home. Brought home an olive baguette, a muffin, some cheese and pate and salami, butter, jam, fruit and a fistful of glorious, fragrant purple hyacinth.

Restaurants, bars, cafes

Had a very good lunch at Milagro, a 10-year-old Mexican restaurant, the one on Mercer. Anything that survives that long in a foodie city must be good, and my meal was.

Loved Balzac’s, a cafe chain across Ontario. I stopped in at the one next to the Market for a cappuccino and a scone.

A must-do on most of my visits is the roof bar on the 14th floor of the Hyatt Hotel, at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road. Small, intimate, quiet, elegant, it has terrific views of the city. I’ve been drinking there since college — Victoria College at University of Toronto is only two blocks south — so it’s full of memories. On one visit, the Prime Minister and his entourage sat in a corner.

My friend J introduced me to the Museum Tavern, a terrific five-year-old bistro directly across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. Great atmosphere and food — and lots of memories, with some of the original decor from a long-closed TO restaurant I once enjoyed, Bemelman’s.

Enjoyed breakfast at Le Petit Dejeuner with an old friend and colleague.

Convenience

I left Toronto decades ago and the downtown core has totally transformed, thanks to a forest of condo skyscrapers, which means there is every possible amenity within a few blocks.

I took a spin class at 7:45 at night, then walked a few blocks, slowly, back to the flat, staring up into the night sky at the CN Tower, with its lights beaming in rainbow colors. (I once interviewed the man who designed it — then later got a marriage proposal from him — and recently ran into him in a town near our NY home. Small world!)

Easy-going diversity

Yes, Toronto has racial tensions and even crime, just like other major cities. But it’s overwhelmingly a city of immigrants, with every nation you can imagine represented. I miss that; New York City is, arguably, diverse, but it’s very segregated economically.

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A cardboard Mountie stands guard at St. Lawrence Market. A must-see!

The pleasure of using old things

By Caitlin Kelly

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

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

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

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

Not me!

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

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

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

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

The teacup pictured above is a recent splurge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlotte Bronte’s writing desk

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

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

We’re only passing through.

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

Fleeing toxicity

By Caitlin Kelly

I took on a freelance project in August that, while hardly ideal, sounded like it might be worth doing.

I was willing to try.

It was a lot of hard work for not-enough money.

It was also, though, a lot of hard work with editors whose skills proved deeply disappointing.

Last week I ditched it.

I rarely walk away from regular paid work; like every full-time freelancer (or anyone running a business), I know how difficult it can be replace one client with another or, more realistically, with three or four.

But I finally hit breaking point when I spoke up for myself (not a quick decision) — and in reply was smacked down like a puppy who’d peed the rug.

By someone barely one-third my age and with two years’ experience.

Done.

Anyone who grew up in a family where their feelings were routinely ignored, let alone one with some seriously nasty behavior patterns, knows that it can a lifelong challenge to parse what’s “normal”, (especially indifference to respecting you), and what isn’t.

To determine if it’s “just you” feeling shitty about that relationship all the time, or maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for that, and you need to get away now.

To know when to stand up for yourself — sick to death of cringing and genuflecting to people whose treatment of you is miserable, but whose payments cover stuff like your groceries and health insurance.

And to know when to simply say, enough toxic bullshit.

Throughout my life, I’ve marked these pivotal moments with a piece of jewelry, a talisman to signify, with beauty and grace and a tangible memory of taking the best possible care of myself, the important transition away from a soul-sucking situation and a movement towards freedom, re-definition and independence.

It’s scary.

It’s not easy.

I don’t bolt quickly, easily or without much deliberation and self-doubt.

The first was the decision to end my first marriage, at least in its then-iteration, (deeply lonely, adulterous on his part), while I was 100 percent reliant on his income.

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I was alone in Thailand, on  Ko Phi Phi, a remote island when I decided. I bought a coral and turquoise and silver ring for about $20 and brought it home to remind me of my resolution. My husband, of course, didn’t like its style. Within six months, the marriage was over.

The second was putting my alcoholic mother into a nursing home. Our relationship had been tumultuous for decades. The experience was emotionally brutal for reasons too tedious to detail here.

I found, in a craft shop on Granville Island in Vancouver, a small sterling silver heart that looked like a stone that had washed up on some beach or river shore, pitted and rutted, battered — but intact.

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It symbolized exactly how I felt; I wear it on a long piece of cord.

The third was this one, to shed a client I’d had doubts about from start.

So I found this gorgeous small lock at a Christmas market in New York’s Bryant Park, a Turkish design. It consumed almost exactly the paltry sum I’ll earn from my last piece of work for them.

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Open the lock.

Go.

Freedom feels good.

Talismans remind me to chase it, cherish it and never relinquish it so easily again.

A few more style notes…

By Caitlin Kelly

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

A few more thoughts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

We love them!

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

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

 

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

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

 

Think long-term

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

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

 

Classic doesn’t have to mean boring!

 

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

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

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

Invest in the best-quality framing you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mirrors!

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

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

 

A pretty mirror fills a few functions nicely:

 

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

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

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

The rest came from antique stores.

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

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

Style notes: 12 ways to make your home (more) lovely

By Caitlin Kelly

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I admit it.

I’m obsessed with style, the ability to make our home comfortable and memorable, usually on a budget.

Our home is full of books on design, art, art history — and stacks of interior design magazines. I also studied it in the 90s and now teach at my old school, The New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan.

I was lucky to grow up with parents whose visual sense, always, was strong, eclectic and interesting — from Eskimo sculpture to Japanese uki-o-ye prints to faded wool rugs from the Mideast. Mirrored pieces of bright cotton from India, woven shawls from Peru, early silver.

Having studied art and antiques has also helped me recognize good/old things cheaply and quickly when I find one — like the teapot from 1780 I found upstate for $3, (whose exact twin made the cover of House Beautiful.)

Then I married another highly visual man, a career photographer whose own home when we first met was filled with quirky details and strong colors.

Today, 16 years into our marriage, our apartment is a mix of objects old and new, photos and drawings and posters, things and images we’ve collected on our various travels and adventures, from Ontario to Paris to Mexico.

 

We even bought our hand-made hammered copper bathroom sink in a small town in Mexico — for $30; knowing the exact dimensions we needed allowed us to buy it with confidence, (and bring it home in our suitcase.)

 

Here are some images and some ideas…

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The ikat is for the headboard, the checks for the tables

 

Pick a few colors and start collecting textiles, art and objects that relate to one another

It might be bright yellow or hunter green or pale blue. Once you’ve chosen your palette, your eye will start to see it everywhere and you’ll know it will fit nicely with what you already own.

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Breakfast on the balcony — everything in the photo acquired through a mix of retail stores on sale (pillow covers, blue bowls), auctions (vintage blue platter, creamer), antique stores (tablecloth), flea markets (coin silver spoons, blue transferware dish and silverplate cutlery) and on-line sites.

Our main living room colors are sage green, a Chinese red, black and cream, echoed across the sofa, rug, throw pillows, curtains; the bedroom a range of soft blues and greens. The living room and hallways are painted a soft yellow-green (Gervase yellow, Farrow & Ball) and the bedroom the crisp green of a Granny Smith apple.

We live on the top floor, staring at tree-tops — inspiration!

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A vintage tablecloth, scored in Maine

Mix old and new things

If you love clean, simple minimal design, mix in some older elements to soften the feeling of all that metal, plastic and glass.

You can often find gorgeous bits of silver, glass, crystal and porcelain at local thrift and consignment shops for very little money.

A mix of textures helps as well — linen, wool, velvet, cotton.

Brown furniture is currently deeply unfashionable — hence cheap — and often of terrific quality

Flea markets, auction houses, tag and estate sales and thrift and consignment shops are full of this stuff, often inherited.

One of my best finds, a reproduction Pembroke table, (a style with a drawer and two leaves), came out of a consignment shop in Greenwich, CT. It wasn’t super-cheap ($350) but in excellent condition and is light and versatile.

If you really hate a brown piece of furniture, but it’s well-priced and handsome, you can always paint it.

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Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop

Keep your eyes peeled

 

You never know where you’ll find just what you’re looking for, and sometimes in the least likely spot.

 

We recently dropped into West Elm — a national retail brand known for modern pieces — and found, on sale, four metal brackets to hold wall-mounted plants for our balcony. We also scored three faux branches of mountain laurel, for the price of one week’s fresh flowers.

One day, out for lunch in small-town Ontario, we stopped in at antique shop across the road. Boom! The perfect small lamp we needed for a corner of the bedroom, an early ginger jar, in an unlikely shade of gray. (I had a new white linen shade made to fit.)

Five red goblets — $10 — at our local thrift shop. Score!

Re-purpose

I found two large wooden storage boxes at a local plant nursery. I’m not sure what they were supposed to be used for, but I stacked them and made them into a side table. A former grain measure (I think!) now holds magazines.

When I needed a lot of fabric, cheaply, I found a couple of printed cotton shower curtains on sale and used them for curtains, a headboard cover and a table cover.

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A table set for one of our dinner parties. We love to entertain and do it often.

Keep a tape measure handy and use your camera phone

The only way to be sure that a piece of art of furniture is going to fit into your home, (and play nicely with your current belongings), is if you know exactly what dimensions you need.

If you see something you love in a store but aren’t sure, snap images of it from every angle and measure it carefully.

You can have things shipped

Two of my favorite pieces came from very far away — a great vintage Chinese chair I found in New Orleans and shipped home via UPS and a teal armoire (possibly 18th century) no one wanted (!) when I bid by phone on it through a regional auction house I used to visit when I lived in New Hampshire.

Even with the shipping charges, it cost less than a new piece on sale, made in China.

One of my favorite belongings is a photo I found in Sydney, Australia and sent home to wait for me.

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Fresh flowers — a must!

Don’t forget the charm, color and texture of live flowers and plants

We keep fresh flowers and/or plants in every room year-round.

Invest in a few frogs (metal and glass holders for floral stems) and some blocks of Oasis (the green foam florists use to make arrangements), and you can use almost any container to make a pretty display.

Paint!

Nothing is less expensive or as easy to change if you need a new look — and it can be a chair or stool or box, not an entire room.

If a wooden floor is hideous, paint it!

Don’t be terrified, as so many people are, of: 1) using color; 2) choosing the wrong one. There are tremendous design websites all over the internet to help; I like Apartment Therapy.

A few things to consider: 1) what direction does the room face? (north light is colder); 2) how do you want to feel in that room? Revved-up? Soothed? (choose accordingly); 3) remember that the floor and ceiling are also “colors” in themselves; 4) choose the right finish — glossy is a nice touch here and there, but matte finish usually looks more elegant.

Keep it clean and tidy

There’s no point creating a lovely home if it’s dirty, dusty and cluttered.

One simple and good-looking solution is using baskets to hide magazines, books, assorted mess you haven’t gotten to yet. Like this one, well-made and strong.

The Container Store also offers some great-looking boxes, like these, which we own.

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This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead. I also had to wait years until I could afford it!

Love where you live, right now

It’s easy to say…why bother? It’s a rental or a dorm room or I’m only here for a few years.

It’s your life! It’s your home, whether shared or solo.

 

Let its beauty nurture you, every single day.

 

 

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I spied this little guy in a shop window of a children’s clothing store in the 7th arondissement of Paris. I love having him home with us now!

Seek inspiration

There are people who couldn’t care less about how their home looks — but some of them are simply freaked out by the whole idea of decorating or home improvement: Where to start? What to choose? I’m broke, dammit!

Every image, every bit of light and shade I see, can inspire me visually. It might be the symmetry of an allee of trees or the curve of a Moorish arch. It might be the bubbled glass of a 17th century window.

Put down your phone/computer and really look, long and thoughtfully, at the world around you.

Snap photos. Make notes. Revel in beauty!

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$31. Score!

Q & A with one of my favorite bloggers, {frolic} by Chelsea Fuss

By Caitlin Kelly
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If you haven’t yet discovered the lovely images, stories and spirit of {frolic}, I urge you to do so immediately!
I don’t know how or when I found her, but am so glad I did.
Chelsea Fuss — who has the perfect name for someone with such exacting esthetic standards — now lives in Lisbon after traveling to all sorts of gorgeous places, which she has written about and photographed for her blog.
I admire her spirit of independence and exploration. She has spent her life discovering and sharing the world’s beauty — and for that I am a grateful reader and follower of her eye and her ideas.
She and I now follow one another on Twitter; she kindly agreed to let me do an email interview with her.
Tell me a bit of your history…where were you born? Raised? Did you move around a lot as a child or teen?
 
I lived in North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Olympia, WA. My family did move quite a bit though most of my growing up years were spent in Olympia, where my family goes back a generation or two. 
 
What sort of work do/did your parents do? i.e. where does your creative spirit come from? 
 
My dad was an accountant but we were always moving or talking about moving and he changed jobs a lot, setting up business wherever we went. My mother was a speech therapist but very creative with a very DIY mentality. She sewed all of our clothes and baked everything from scratch. 
My grandmother is an artist and my mom always encouraged creativity. I always looked up to my oldest sisters who brought home opera cassettes, foreign films, and art books.
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Where did you attend college and why? 
I went to Brigham Young University (a Mormon school in Salt Lake City.) It was sort of the most comfortable thing to do at the time.

“I couldn’t wait to be “grown up” have a job and my own apartment. It’s something I dreamed of from a young age”

 


Did you enjoy it – how has it helped (or hindered) you? 
 
I loved my art history classes and the lifestyle of college though I had a difficult time with the particular culture of the university I was at. I grew up Mormon, and the most comfortable thing at the time was to go to Mormon University where my best friend was going. Sometimes I wish I went elsewhere but really I was in a hurry to get through university.
I couldn’t wait to be “grown up” have a job and my own apartment. It’s something I dreamed of from a young age.
When and where did you first get interested in the work you do now?
 
I was interested in flowers since the time I was about 7 years old and I asked my mom could we please plant a big huge flower garden instead of vegetables! Flowers have always been an obsession. As a teenager in Olympia in the 90’s, I spent most of time in my herb garden wearing a straw hat, while all the other kids were at Nirvana concerts. I made potpourri and dried flower wreaths. Ha!  I read every book about gardening and flowers that I could get my hands on. At 18 I arranged the flowers for my sister’s wedding.
I always loved reading magazines and studying the styling. Blogging is something that was unexpected. I discovered it by accident and got hooked.
New horizons!
New horizons!
Who, if anyone, encouraged or mentored you the most? 
 
My parents have always been very supportive. My mom was always buying gardening books when she found out it was an interest of mine and my father has always been a huge supporter of my entrepreneurial spirit. My grandmother, Grace, was always cheering me on as well.

 “When I want a “so truthful it hurts” answer, I call my dad, for his pragmatism”

What lessons did they teach you that have proven most useful?
 
My mother and grandmother have taught me the value of optimism and positive thinking. You really have to have a positive attitude and use intention as a small business owner because of the instability and unpredictability. 
 
My dad has always tried to teach me to be more detached and not make as many emotional decisions. I am still learning that one but I’ve gotten better. 
 
When I want optimism and a pep talk, I call my mom. When I want a “so truthful it hurts” answer, I call my dad, for his pragmatism. 
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“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”



You’ve traveled the world…what gives you the confidence to do so?
 
I think it’s one of those things that the more you do, the more comfortable you get with it. Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone. Just like anything else. Even when it is uncomfortable, if you want something bad enough you’ll do it. Travel has always been an obsession I was willing to do anything to make it happen.
It’s funny you use the word “confident”. I’ve never been super confident and was very shy as a child and teenager. The Dr. thought I was mute when I was a kid because I never talked!
I always felt different from other people but because I had parents and siblings who encouraged me to forge my own path and live my own way, I slowly become a more confident person and found my comfort zone in doing my own thing. And I’ve always felt more confident, living life my way.

 


 

“These things come with tradeoffs. Of course it’s not easy. The instability and unpredictability is hard for me”

Other people look at a creative life, and a somewhat transient one, as scary and unpredictable. How does it feel for you?
 
For me, running my own business and being a freelancer has always been more of a comfort zone than the alternative. I’ve always loved working by myself and I think honestly, that’s been the biggest appeal. That, and freedom. 
 
The transient part had always been such a dream for me that it just felt right and it felt overdue. As I kid I dreamed of seeing the world and that dream has never left me.
I think getting to the realization that these things come with tradeoffs. Of course it’s not easy. The instability and unpredictability is hard for me. And I definitely have moments of thinking “What in the world am I doing?!” Especially moving to Portugal. In my head it seemed pretty simple and easy but I have to say it’s been much more challenging than I imagined. 
 
Where do you find creative inspiration? Do you have any role models or people you especially admire (in or out of your field?) Why them?
 
I am super inspired by artist studios, other people’s gardens and kitchens and living rooms! I love seeing how other people live and work and what they collect and how they put it all together. I always find inspiration on walks through markets, a museum, and of course a new city.
I really love what Marie from My Life in Sourdough http://www.mylifeinsourdough.com/  is doing because it’s different than anything I’ve seen before. Her series combines a romantic comedy story line with a cooking show. I think it’s brilliant and timeless.
 
What advice would you offer to people who wish they had your life? (i.e. creativity, freedom, travel, etc.)
 
First off — not everything looks like it does on the Internet.. so it’s not perfect and I have lots of problems and bad days like everyone else. Also, everything is a trade off, so while I might have freedom to travel and a flexible job, there’s other things I don’t have that maybe I would love to have.
 
Also: Focus on doing what makes you happy and what you love. Don’t be afraid to market yourself as an artist. The Internet is still the Wild West so there are so many possibilities. Do what you love and use the Internet to the best of your advantage. Also, nothing is perfect. If you want your art or creativity to be a job, you might have to compromise as far as business models, products, etc.
 
What work are you most proud of, so far? Why?
This is so hard. I think every creative person is so tough on themselves! And I always see how I could do better or improve everything I do.
I really like the way these images came out for Anna Joyce’s Indigo Collection, photographed by Lisa Warninger and prop styled by me. http://www.frolic-blog.com/2015/07/indigo-beach-dreams-with-anna-joyce/

 

The joy (and misery) of possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

“I don’t believe in storage lockers” — prop stylist/blogger Chelsea Fuss

If you’ve never seen Chelsea’s blog, go!

I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls -- so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret...
I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

I’ve been following it for years, for which she’s won all sorts of awards. Fuss worked in Portland, Oregon for 14 years as a props stylist and lived like a nomad for a bit, (no husband or kids.) Now, at 37 — an age when some of us are deeply mired in conventional-if-bored-to-tears work and domesticity — is happily re-settled in, of all places, Lisbon.

I enjoy everything about her blog, and her spirit of adventure. She really has the perfect name for a woman who creates lovely images for a living!

I also share her values: a devotion to connection, to beauty, flowers, travel, quiet, making a pretty home, wherever you live, that welcomes you without spending a fortune.

Paris, January 2015. I'd rather be free to travel than stay home, encumbered by stuff
Paris, January 2015. I’d rather be free to travel than stay home, encumbered by stuff

I loved her comments here, on another woman’s blog, readingmytealeaves.com:

When you spend your day driving around town in a cargo van buying $1000’s of dollars worth of props from Anthropologie and West Elm [NOTE: chic chain-store shops, for those who don’t know them] for photo shoots, those products start to mean very little. I am very detached (possibly to the extreme) from possessions! There are very few stores I walk into and find myself ooh-ing and aww-ing. As a prop stylist, after a while, you’ve seen it all. What’s really special are the one-off pieces, the heirlooms, the perfectly weathered linens, or the family postcard with old script that tells just the right story.

As I sort through my stuff, organizing/ditching/selling/donating/offering for consignment as much as I possibly can, it’s a powerful time to reflect on what we own, what we keep and why.

This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it's versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.
This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions — bought in 1985. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

Even as I’m pitching, Jose and I are treating our home to a few nice new pieces: framing a lovely image by the talented pinhole photographer Michael Falco (a gift); a striking striped kilim we’re having shipped from Istanbul that I found online, rewiring and adding a fresh new white linen shade to an early pale grey ginger jar lamp we recently found in Ontario and a spectacular mirror, probably mid-Eastern in origin, I found dusty and grimy in an antique shop in North Hatley, Quebec.

So…how can I possibly advocate less stuff?

Because we live in a one-bedroom apartment, with very limited closet space. I’ve lived here for decades, and we both work at home now and don’t plan to move into a larger space any time soon, so a constant attention to add/pitch is crucial to our sanity and tidiness. (Yes, we do have a storage locker and keep some things in our garage as well: out of season clothing, luggage, ski equipment, etc.)

I grew up in homes where my parents’ primary interests were travel and owning fewer/better quality objects than piles ‘o stuff. My family home, and ours today, was filled with original art, (prints, paintings and photos, some of them made by us, Eskimo sculpture, a Japanese mask and scroll) and a few good antiques.

I’m typing this blog post atop a table my father gave us last year, which is 18th.century English oak.

One of the lovely Indian textiles my mother collected
One of the lovely Indian textiles my mother collected, atop an Art Deco-era Japanese vanity, a gift for my 35th birthday

It boggles my mind to enjoy and use every day in 2015 an object that’s given elegant service for multiple centuries. I prefer, for a variety of reasons, using older things (pre-1900, even 1800, when possible) to new/plastic/Formica/mass-produced.

Many people inherit things from their families and cherish them for their beauty and sentimental attachment. Not me.

I own nothing from either grandfather, and only a vintage watch and a few gifts from one grandmother — she was a terrible spendthrift who simply never bothered to pay three levels of tax on her inherited fortune. Her things were sold to pay debt; if I want to see a nice armoire she once owned, it’s now in a Toronto museum.

So…no big emotional draaaaaaama for me over stuff. I’ve bought 99% of what I own, as has my husband.

I’m also of an age now when too many of my friends, even some of them decades younger, face the exhausting, time-sucking, emotionally-draining task of emptying out a parent’s home and disposing of (keeping?) their possessions. One friend is even flying to various American cities from Canada to hand-deliver some willed pieces of jewelry, so complicated is it to ship them across the border.

When my mother had to enter a nursing home on barely a week’s notice four years ago, we had to clear out and dispose of a life’s acquisitions within a week or so. Most went to a local auction house.

It was sad, painful and highly instructive.

$31. Score!
$31. Score!

Today I’m lucky enough to enjoy a few of her things: a pretty wool rug by my bedside and several exquisite pieces of early/Indian textiles; she lived in a one-bedroom apartment so there wasn’t a lot to deal with.

But if we’re lucky enough to acquire some items we really enjoy, parting with them can feel difficult.

Maybe better to keep them to a minimum?

Check out this amazing 650 square foot NYC apartment with handsome multi-functional pieces and built-ins.

How do you feel about owning/cleaning/ditching your possessions — or those of others?