Ten treasured possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

I was touched, reading a personal essay in the weekend FT by Madison Marriage (what a byline!), that her brother Charlie died at 32 of an epileptic seizure. Marriage, pregnant with her second child, found a handmade origami mobile he left for her baby…now her most treasured possession.

I’ve lived in a one bedroom apartment for decades, so accumulating piles ‘o stuff hasn’t been an option, although candor forces me to admit to a crowded garage with artwork we change up from time to time, old books and magazines and assorted stuff we keep trying to get rid of.

But I have a few things, some unlikely and of little financial value, I treasure:

Mousie

My late mother, from whom I was estranged for the last decade of her life, traveled the world alone for years and lived in New Mexico, Peru, Bath, Massachusetts, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, then Victoria, B.C., Mousie was always there…a tiny stuffed mouse missing a bit of one ear, his string tail stained with ink. When three large boxes arrived after she died, I was so happy to discover Mousie in one of them, a sweet and happy memory of her and some of our adventures.

A pewter Art Nouveau plate

This belonged to my maternal grandmother and I loved it. My mother had it and left it to me. No idea where they found it.

A very small Stieff bear

I was at boarding school at the age of eight, the youngest. This tiny and portable bear offered such comfort — tucked into the deep pocket of my beige cotton uniform shirt, sitting stop a prayer book in the pews at yet another church service.

My passport

Even though I chose to move to the U.S., I am very grateful for my Canadian citizenship and would never give it up.

My “green card”

Which is more pink, and is my proof of admittance to live and work legally in the U.S., renewed every decade.

A professional photo of me taken during a magazine shoot about kids and cooking

My mother was a national magazine editor in Canada for a while and made sure to sneak me into a few photo stories! I have very few photos of myself as a child and teen, and almost none of me in my 20s and 30s. So I love this one. It’s of me and the daughter of her then best friend — we had been ordered (!) to have a flour fight and we’re absolutely dazed with the joy of sanctioned mayhem.

My National Magazine Award

My first husband, a physician I met when we both lived in Montreal, walked out on the marriage after barely two years. It was humiliating as hell, although not a great surprise as we were unhappy and he was clearly involved with a colleague he shortly married. OUCH. There’s no sweeter revenge than retailing one’s misery for a magazine story…but winning this award, which is very competitive, was an incredible moment for me. I finally framed it and it hangs on our living room wall.

My wedding earrings from Jose

They were a total surprise, and I wear them almost every day, everywhere.

Invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth

What a day! I had spent the prior two weeks racing all over Manitoba. New Brunswick and Ontario as a member of the massive press entourage following a Royal Tour, as a staff reporter for the Globe and Mail, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was by far the toughest assignment of my 20s since, really, there’s no news and little say beyond — today she opened a highway, today she attended a formal dinner. Etc. But we were all invited, at the end, aboard Britannia for drinks and ohhhhh, all the equerries.

An Inuit Polar bear print

In 1961 when this print was made, Inuit art was a very new development in the Canadian art world…and my mother would only have been 27 when she bought it, typical of her fearless and eclectic taste. It’s become one of the most famous of these, and I long admired it on her wall, decade after decade, wherever she lived. Of all her possessions, this was the one item I hoped she might bequeath to me. I adore it — and its teal color exactly (!) echoes our bedroom blind and headboard fabric.

When my profligate and wealthy maternal grandmother died she owed a massive amount of unpaid tax — to Ontario, Canada and the U.S. government, so most of her things were sold to pay those bills; one gorgeous armoire is in a Toronto museum.

So I’d never had the expectation of inheriting “heirlooms” with a deep family connection. I did inherit a massive pastel portrait of her mother, and a small bas-relief of her, which I am glad to have. My father has some lovely things, but also has four adult children and it’s a very deeply divided group — none of us ever lived together and I’ve never even met one and don’t want to.

Our own challenge is deciding who to leave our things to, as we have no children and aren’t close to younger relatives.

What are some of the items you treasure and why?

Ten cities’ hidden gems

By Caitlin Kelly

While COVID has made much travel nightmarish-to-impossible, some of us are still venturing out (vaxxed and masked!).

I recently enjoyed lunch in Manhattan with a friend in from London who I hadn’t seen in maybe a decade.

This list is highly personal and fails to include typical tourist must-see’s. I like to take my time when I travel, to settle in, to savor a few great spots for an entire day or afternoon instead of rushing all over an unfamiliar city.

If you’re still planning travel — maybe in a year or two! — here are some of my favorite spots.

Los Angeles

You know how you have a perfect day?

Mine was in L.A. in August 2000, flown in on assignment for SouthWest’s in-flight magazine. I had worked hard on the story and had some time alone. I went horseback riding through the hills of Griffith Park at sunset, then headed to Santa Monica, where I danced to live blues at Harvelle’s — in business since 1931. I really love L.A. and haven’t been back since then…is that possible?!

I’ve been reveling in its sights through seven seasons of the cop show Bosch, which is set there. I can’t wait to hit the classic bars and restaurants in it: Frank & Musso, Formosa, Smog Cutter and Frolic.

I hope to take a solo trip back there this spring.

Toronto

My hometown is a huge, sprawling city whose waterfront has been marred with hundreds of glass box condo towers. But it also still has some less-obvious charms.

One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

The Islands — easily reached in all seasons by public ferry (maybe a 20 minute ride) — offer a spectacular vision of the city, especially at sunset. In summer, you can bike for miles, enjoy a beach, go for swim in Lake Ontario. In winter, stroll and admire the hundreds of small houses where the fortunate few live year round.

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

Jose and I were married in September 2011 in the tiny, wooden church on Centre Island. Even if you’re not religious, or Anglican, it’s a lovely spot to visit!

One of my favorite stores anywhere is Gravity Pope (no explanation for that name!) The best selection of men’s and women’s shoes anywhere, including some familiar brands, and others. Styles are hip but practical. I love everything I’ve bought from them.

New York

Overwhelming, right?

Not if you flee midtown.

Old Town Bar is a classic, filled with wooden booths and an upstairs that feels like a world apart. It opened in 1892.

It’s easy to spend a few hours here (and I prefer it to noisy, costly Eataly)Chelsea Market. Lots of great meals and food shopping, even for tourists (tea, chocolate, coffee, pastas) and Sarabeth’s, a classic Manhattan bakery. Posman Books is a terrific indie bookstore. A great way to while away a freezing winter day.

Restrooms downstairs. Its only downside — no seating unless you pay for something. Very NYC.

Montreal

I love a great spa and Bota Bota is truly unique — a former boat, in the harbor — offering every amenity possible. It’s the perfect place to melt your bones on one of YUL’s bitterly cold afternoons.

It opened in 1942 and loyal locals still line up to sit in one of its booths. Beauty’s diner is a great spot and I treasure my Beauty’s T-shirt.

Vancouver

My grandmother lived there for a while when the Hotel Sylvia was apartments. I’ve stayed there a few times. It’s not fancy, but has a great history and right near the beach. Built in 1912, it’s cosy and welcoming.

Granville Island is hardly secret, but like New York’s Chelsea Market, it’s a terrific all-day place to hang out — restaurants, shopping, flowers, food and a gorgeous location.

Paris

Le Bon Marche

So many pleasures!

I do love an elegant department store — and Le Bon Marche really fits the bill. On my last visit, in June 2017, I stocked up on gorgeous linen napkins, swooning over its tabletop offerings. The shoe department is just a stunning physical space; that’s its roof pictured above.

The Musee Guimet is much less known than the Big Boys, the Musee D’orsay and the Louvre. Jose and I love Asian art, the Guimet’s focus. A smaller, more manageable museum, its cafe and gift shop are also well worth a visit.

London

Sue me — it’s Liberty or death! Liberty, the store, filled with the loveliest of basically everything.

I’m also a huge fan of flea markets — Portobello Road or Bermondsey.

Lisbon

Few non-Europeans would know Calouste Gulbenkian (what a name!) — but the museum named for him in Lisbon , holding his private collection remains one of my favorite places ever, and it’s been decades since my only visit. It’s filled with a wide array of treasures and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

D.C.

There are a few restaurants that just make you feel happier settling onto a stool at the counter, surrounded by hustle and bustle. Ted’s Bulletin, (described as an upscale diner) is one such place for me.

A few blocks away is a terrific shop, Goodwood, which opened in 1994, that offers a superbly-edited mix of clothing, shoes, fragrance, stationery, antiques, rugs. I never miss visiting and always find something lovely.

Zagreb

I loved this city, having arrived there in July 2017, alone, with few expectations.

The studio and home belonging to the former sculptor Ivan Mestrovic is here — and I was stunned by the beauty of his work. He later became a U.S. citizen and taught at several American universities.

Berlin

I stayed there, my first visit, for 10 days in July 2017, at the Hotel Savoy, an oldie-but-goodie — currently closed for renovations. I can’t wait to go back! The street it’s on also proved a treasure trove, two blocks away from the Kathe Kollwitz Museum, the bookstore and cafe Literaturhaus. And the name! Fasanenstrasse — pheasant street.

The Dior show at the Brooklyn Museum. Swoon!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is really one of the best museum shows you will ever see anywhere — even if you’re not a fashionista.

Christian Dior, the French fashion designer who died so young at 52, and who was quickly succeeded by 21-year-old (!) Yves St. Laurent, left an indelible mark on fashion and fragrance.

I love the contrast here between the simple rope and layers of crisp tulle!

This show, which ends February 22, is a massive, gorgeous, mesmerizing tribute to Dior and all the in-house designers who followed him — Marc Bohan, Raf Simons, Maria Grazia Chiuri and John Galliano. Each brought a specific vision to their work, from the clean-cut elegance of Bohan to the riotous OMG-ness of Galliano.

1949, silk taffeta

The show begins with Dior’s earliest work, sober-suited dresses and coats from the 1940s, as Europe was emerging from the misery of WWII — and a fantastic tomato-red coat with deep patch pockets and a cravat-type collar is a hit of joy.

One of the many terrific elements of this show is how well it also explains and unveils some invisible design processes — like the creation, for every garment, of an initial muslin prototype, which is refined until it’s time to use and cut expensive fabrics. (If you’ve never watched the film Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a fashion British designer, it’s a great primer.)

A wall of paper sketches, each with a tiny swatch of fabric pinned to each design, helps us see how designers plotted out an entire season, as do the “inspiration books”, (which reminded me of “The Book” taken home every evening by Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada.)

There’s a wall of magazine covers, vintage and contemporary, showing how the house of Dior has stayed fresh and relevant decades later.

I’m obsessed with textiles and fabric (no idea why!) so seeing the spectacular fabrics used here — in addition to the final design — was a great joy for me, like this, by Fortuny.

I loved the gallery of photos, black and white and color, of models and celebrities wearing Dior. If you know and love Richard Avedon’s classic 1955 image, Dovima with Elephants, the dress she wore is here!

The museum’s central atrium is astounding, with dresses somehow stacked all the way to the ceiling and a dazzling light show and music, leaving you happily awestruck by so much elegance. The curators also showcase a few gowns in glass cases you can literally sit beside, soaking up every detail, like a gown with embroidered tarot cards.

A detail of a French Revolution inspired gown by John Galliano
Oh, no big deal — just a skull and snake of gold lace guipure.

There are dozens of mannequins to admire and benches to sit on for a bit to just savor it in comfort.

As you finally leave, a bit drunk on beauty, there’s a room full of the dresses worn by current celebrities at the Oscars or Golden Globes or at Cannes. I’m not really a celebrity follower but I do love fashion, so it was actually a thrill to see the exquisite pale pink gown, a sort of damask with roses, worn by Jennifer Lawrence when she won her Oscar — I remember her working hard to gracefully scoop up the enormous train to climb those steps to the stage.

And — oooooh! — Absinthe, the stunning chartreuse satin cheongsam with fur trim worn by Nicole Kidman.

A family reunion, of sorts

My maternal great grandmother, Blanche Gresham, 1924

By Caitlin Kelly

For years, my late mother and I were estranged. When we were in touch, even as her only child, she almost never discussed her childhood or adolescence before, at 17, she met my Canadian father in the south of France, then left her native New York City to move to his hometown, Vancouver, where I was born six years later.

Both parents grew up wealthy — in large houses with servants, attending prep school (my mother), owning a horse and a sailboat (father). But neither childhood was necessarily calm and happy.

So their histories have remained mostly a mystery to me.

My mother died April 15, 2020 and a very large, heavy packing crate arrived a year later from her final home, a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

For a variety of reasons — partly fear the works inside would be very damaged (they weren’t), ambivalence about owning the final items of hers and knowing we have no one in our family to leave these things to — I didn’t open it for nine months.

It took a lot of hard work to get it open — thank you Jose!!

This week, finally, we did, and my husband Jose attacked it with a hammer and crowbar and a lot of determination!

Amazingly, the four things inside were in excellent shape; only a few bits of one frame had chipped off and the glass was wholly intact on everything (having been taped.)

There were two family portraits and a gorgeous Inuit print of a polar bear from 1961 I had long admired. And a sampler, from 1845.

This is one of the earliest Inuit prints, by Lucy, 1961; ignore my unbrushed hair!

So now my maternal great-grandmother — Blanche Gresham — later the Countess Casagrande of Park Avenue — has come almost full circle, some 3,011 miles.

I only met her once, as a very old, very infirm lady in that apartment. My mother adored her. I adored my grandmother — while we both had very difficult times with our own mothers. Go figure!

These women led quite extraordinary lives, cocooned by enormous wealth, but with marital mayhem — my grandmother married six times, four in a decade. I never met any of them, long gone by the time I met her.

I think (?) the smaller image is her with my grandmother Aline, and her sister Lois

I am very curious about these women and their lives; the money came from my great grandfather, Louis Stumer, a Chicago stockbroker and developer of a gorgeous skyscraper in 1912, The North American Building, on State Street in Chicago, (since torn down):

Developers Stumer, Rosenthal and Eckstein hired one of Chicago’s busiest, and best, tall building architectural firms Holabird & Roche for the project. William Holabird and Martin Roche, along with a team of talented designers and engineers, had developed a commercial building system that was not only pleasing to the eye, but more importantly for an investor could be built quickly, efficiently, and ready for rent-paying tenants on schedule. They were instrumental in helping make what came to be known as the Chicago School world famous.

One reason I chose to move to the U.S. was my fascination with this family and their lives. One relative became an ambassador, one an archeologist, one (!) a bullfighter. My cousins had lives that included piloting their own Cessna and running a rug business from Morocco. They were all intimidatingly confident — and so much larger than life than most of the quiet, polite Canadians I grew up around.

It’s quite comforting to finally have these women in our home now.

32 terrific holiday gifts — 2021 edition!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is my favorite blog post every year — and I hope you enjoy it!

Everything on the list is a gift I think might delight the right person and I’ve worked hard to offer a wide range of prices, styles and vendors — $12 to $637.

(You won’t find — sorry! — gifts for kids, pets or tech.)

I get not one dime for this! So no one has influenced these choices and I get only the pleasure of seeing, every year, which picks you find most appealing.

I’m always most moved by gifts that clearly show the giver has thought carefully about my specific tastes and preferences — generic stuff can feel depressing, even if you think “Well, I got them something!” (I speak from experience here.)

So if you have absolutely no idea what someone would really enjoy, ask their partner or sister or spouse!

Or them.

Anything is better than the banal go-to’s of scented candles and journals, even a gift card to their favorite store or service.

A gift to a charity they admire is also a great option.

Enjoy!

I love this pretty Indian print cotton small wallet, from Simrane, one of my favorite sources for printed Indian goods — also tablecloths, napkins, clothing, bedspreads, wash-bags and more. 30 euros, $34.00

If your gift recipient, like me, spends a lot of time at the gym, they need and really value lots of comfortable bike shorts. I live in these — and very few places offer a more modest 9-inch leg! From my go-to Vancouver-based brand. Aritizia, they also come in 3, 5 and 7-inch — and a delicious array of 13 colors, like this pale lavender. $38

I love having lots of little bowls — for food prep, for butter or jam or mustard, or to hold earrings or rings. These four, ceramic in shades of blue, are $24

How boring is a Henley T-shirt? Not in all these gorgeous colors and with J. Crew quality. I think Henleys are sexy, and I bought several of these last Xmas for my husband. $45

I have a cephalopod obsession I share with a dear pal, so anything with an octopus on it gets our attention. I love these navy blue and white dishtowels, practical, but fun and stylish! $25 for two

Everyone can use a gorgeous platter, for holiday gatherings or our favorite no-cook dinner in the summer — a platter meal of meat, cheese, veggies, hummus, olives. This one, with a lovely blue floral rim, is from a new company, Caskata, with a lot of stylish offerings. $95

I wear jewelry and I travel….I bet you know someone who does as well! Having a nice small jewelry box to tuck into your purse or backpack is a simple and reliable luxury. This one comes in yellow, white or black leather. $115

If I were a very rich lady, I would buy everything from Hermes! Huge fan of their bags and scarves and their delicious fragrances…so I liked this small cord bracelet a lot; in red/orange or dark blue/black or soft pink leather, with an elegant gold-colored knot clasp. Could work for a man or woman. $300

Few daily luxuries are as affordable and pretty and unisex (and a nice gift for people of almost all ages) as a very good soap, like this set from classic American maker Caswell-Massey, $29. Or these, in rose geranium scent, from Floris London, three for $45. I dream of one day visiting the legendary Italian hotel Le Sirenuse, but in the meantime can enjoy their fabulous soaps with their signature scent, three for $55

Let’s just go for comfy and cosy and be done with it! Love these waffle sweatshirts in 11 colors, from one of my go-to brands. Aerie. $32.97

If you have never seen Inuit art (pronounced In-weet, meaning The People in Inuktitut), it’s really special stuff. I was fortunate enough, growing up in Canada, to have Inuit prints and sculptures in our home, and love them. This calendar would make a great introduction to their colorful and very distinctive prints — and a nice and practical gift for any Canadians in your life! $19.95

I love love love this carved stone owl — by a young Inuk, its beauty typical of their carvings’ simplicity and power. $350

OK, so this is kitschy — but also it’s chocolate! A basket of every possible NYC icon (yes, even the Empire State Building) made by Manhattan’s oldest chocolate company, Li-Lac chocolates. $160

We have two of these throw pillows on our sofa and I love them….this gorgeous Swedish store, Svensk Tenn, has a lot of great stuff. It may be the only retailer whose profits also support medical research. $200

How can you resist a small tray with elephants? In green, red, pale pink, black or yellow — also from Svensk Tenn. $44

Travel these days is…not much fun! A soft, stylish, warm cashmere wrap in 10 colors is a great way to cover up on chilly flights or add a hit of color to anything you wear. From Garnet Hill, $189

Do you know someone who’s highly creative — or longs to be(come) more so? This book might be a good fit. $49.95. But also my favorite, a classic by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit; I find it smart and inspirational, written by a tough and talented New York woman still working at 80. $20

I know, this idea is….unusual. But so gorgeous! It’s from one of my favorite vendors anywhere, selling extraordinary wallpaper and fabric, based in England — and this wall mural is amazing. You could build the most extraordinary room around it. $637

From one of my favorite jewelers, Meeka, in Pennsylvania, pierced earrings, small round amethysts in silver, $165. And these, oval white topaz — I really like the prong setting. $560. And this brushed silver ring, with one teeny black diamond, is minimal, cool and low-key, $290

Take a very close look — at binoculars! This page has 30 pair, $109 to $3299 a pair. I got a small, light good pair for my first wedding as a gift and love having them, from using them at the ballet to looking at architectural details while traveling. Not an obvious gift, perhaps, but one anyone can appreciate at any age.

I do love great tableware — and this pensive blue bunny side plate fits the bill. From a fantastic site full of great things, Wolf and Badger, $39

Definitely not for everyone, or budget, but this studded white leather, multi-level jewelry box is spectacular, $605

For the yoga enthusiast, an elegant cream and back travel yoga mat inscribed with symbols. $104

I live in scarves: wool, silk, cashmere, cotton. I love how they accessorize (and add warmth and style.) Love this bold black and cream graphic print one, in cashmere, (the site offers 29 pages of alternatives!) $178

Oh yeah! For the playful power broker in your life who rocks French cuffs, these sterling silver cufflinks — POW! and BAM! $321

And…yes, a shameless plug for my coaching! I’ve been helping other writers of non-fiction and journalism, worldwide, strengthen their skills, whether book or story idea, sharpening pitches, editing essays or long-form pieces. The hour is theirs to use in any way that’s most helpful. Booking now for December 1-20 and into 2022. $250.

This bronze octopus is spectacular as an art object in its own right — but can also hold and display a phone or tablet. $96.75

Who couldn’t enjoy this tiny cast iron bunny on their desk or shelf? Nice stocking stuffer! $12

For the person in your life who sews…a small bird whose cushion holds needles and pins. $34.60

I so love the old-school wit and elegance of British brand, Smythson, makers of gorgeous thick stationery and lovely leather goods and playing cards and this fab bright leather red little notebook, embossed on its cover in gold: “Make It Happen.” (also in pale blue and deep blue) $74.95

I bet you know a LOT of people for whom this would be a lovely gift — a leather notebook, its pages edged in gold, embossed in gold on the cover, in navy, red, black or pale blue, also from Smythson. It says “Super Hero.” $255

And, in an era of all digital, I still love being able to write a more personal physical note — in pen, on good heavy card stock — and slip it into a tissue-lined envelope. Smythson’s navy initial cards are $27 for 10, both simple and stylish. (That page offers all sorts of other styles as well, from a bee to an elephant.) Add a terrific fountain pen, like this one, which I love and use, the German-made Lamy Safari, in orange or green and three widths of nib. $25.99

The fall zhuzh!

The summer bed coverlet

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s that time again, kids!

Our summer was terrible — the 2nd wettest July on record for New York and if it wasn’t raining, it was horribly hot and humid. Really not a good time.

So we are savoring fall, our favorite season — lots of bright sunshine, cooler temperatures, a chance to finally stop using air conditioners and fans.

Because we also live, work, eat, dine and bathe in a one-bedroom apartment, the place gets a LOT of wear and tear! And that’s without kids or pets.

And I have been in the same place since June 1989, so cosmetic upgrades are ongoing.

To get ready for fall and winter, here’s some of what we’re doing, (and maybe some suggestions for your home?)

— getting our throw rugs cleaned and replacing underpadding as needed

— getting the sofa professionally steam-cleaned

— getting the bathroom shower wall grout repaired

Our living room gallery wall, a mix of our photos, photos we have been given or collected

and a few posters.

— framing a few new pieces of art

— changing the summer cotton coverlet for the duvet; (dry cleaned and stored there all summer)

— fresh duvet cover

— a new pillow and pillow protectors

— having a nice fabric cover custom-made for Jose’s (plywood, homemade) desk

— a new desk chair for Jose

— tossing out as many unread books as I can stand to lose

— wrapping our balcony furniture to protect it after it’s too cold to use it

— doing a clean rinse of the dishwasher

— removing as much indoor clutter as possible

— making sure we have plenty of candles (votives, tapers) for the dinner table as it gets dark so early

Also consider some safety issues easily forgotten like:

— dusting light-bulbs and shades, making sure you have enough light to read easily with shorter darker days ahead

— is your fire extinguisher still working?

— smoke detector?

— carbon monoxide detector?

— shower mat?

— bathtub grab bar(s); love this one that doesn’t demand installation in the wall; a friend has one

Also, replacing things that get a lot of use and maybe it’s time for new ones, like:

— burned oven mitts

— worn wooden spoons

— cookware

— bed linens/towels

— wastebaskets

— napkins/tablecloths

— tired/old/flavorless spices

— shower mat

— shower curtain

— kettle or coffeemaker

Things to make life cosier:

— a lovely teapot and selection of teas

— pretty cloth napkins/tablecloth; love these linen ones at $6 each (on sale) in 12 colors

— a throw rug beside your bed

— fresh shams

— a vintage decanter to fill with bourbon or a smoky scotch

— some new bakeware; a muffin pan, bundt pan, tart tins

— a pair of colorful throw pillows for your sofa

I’m really glad we live in such a lovely home, and it’s the subject of much devoted care to cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.

I spent my childhood in boarding school and summer camp (home for school in Grades 6 and 7), and I have no doubt that so many years in shared spaces not of my own design has helped make me a bit obsessive!

I also studied for a few years at the New York School of Interior Design and learned a lot about how to make a place, even a small-ish one, beautiful, functional and welcoming.

I use a lot of different resources:

For fabrics, basics from Ballard Designs, Calico Corners and amazing stuff (often $$$) from Svensk Tenn in Stockholm and Fabrics and Papers in England. One of my favorite fabric sources is in (!) London, England, The Cloth Shop, who happily mailed me yardage I chose online.

I don’t use Etsy or EBay but there are lots of bargains there, and so many online places from Joss & Main to Perigold to FirstDibs to Wayfair, plus all the big stores. Consignment and thrift shops and antique shops and flea markets can offer some amazing bargains — I recently found a huge, pristine white linen tablecloth for $35.

We love Farrow & Ball paint (yes, expensive but we find it worth the price) and I splurge a few times a year on custom-made linens like curtains, tablecloths and throw pillows, all of which add warmth, silence, comfort and color.

Simple pleasures, end-of-summer edition

Ice tea on the balcony

By Caitlin Kelly

Regulars here know this is an ongoing, intermittent series I produce, listing all sorts of small(er) pleasures life offers us, sometimes forgotten or overlooked:

Baking buckles, cobblers and pies with all the fresh berries available.

A very cold, stiff martini — no ice! olives! — consumed, ideally, in one of two places: an elegant hotel bar, like the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in NYC (if you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, a meeting place scene) or dark, hole-in-the-wall (pre-pandemic talking to strangers) dive bar, like the ones I enjoyed years ago in Atlanta and San Francisco.

Swimming in whatever clean, fresh water is available, whether a creek, river, lake, ocean or pool. So delicious on a hot and humid day!

Pool parties! These days, very small ones, outdoors, with fellow vaccinated people.

Corn on the cob.

Huge juicy tomatoes.

Sitting for hours in your wet bathing suit.

Balcony flowers.

Playing cards or dominoes in the shade.

Watching the light (sob!) get lower and longer every day as fall approaches

Fireflies — aka lightning bugs.

Long lazy conversations with friends outdoors, knowing by winter we’ll all be shut inside again, even vaccinated, masked and scared and alone.

Spectacular sunsets.

A jaunty straw sunhat.

Having two vaccinated friends over for a long lunch.

The power of scent

Lilac — the best!

Like some of you, perhaps, I’m obsessed with fragrance, and not a day goes by (unless an appointment in small shared spaces) without wearing perfume — currently in rotation are Terre by Hermes (winter only), L’Eau de l’Artisan by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Chanel No. 5, Prada Iris and Herbae, a spontaneous purchase this year, by L’Occitane.

So this story from Spain was perfect.

He leads “smelling tours”:

“Smell goes directly to your emotions, you are crying, you don’t know why,” Mr. Collado expounded as the others leaned in. “Smelling has a power that none of the other senses have, and I must tell you now, it is molecular, it goes to the essence of the essence.”

Our lives are filled with scents, some pleasant, some less so and they can so powerfully evoke memories.

When we married, in September 2011 in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto harbor, I was so deeply comforted by the smell of sun-warmed wood — a cherished memory of my summers at camp, where we slept in wooden cabins and all our buildings were made of wood.

Some of my favorite smells include:

jet fuel (!), motorboat gas (I think it’s the connotation of motion/travel!), cut grass, sun dried pine needles, the ocean, coffee grounds, Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, gardenia, lilac, the peppery scent of marigolds, the briny smell of fresh oysters, good leather — shoes or a saddle or a lovely old jacket, new books!

Jose and I have an odd scent we both love, from our childhoods — the distinctive but subtle fragrance of an olive green Spanish soap and perfume called Maja. It still comes wrapped in black tissue paper.

Created in 1921, here’s a description of it:

Top notes are Geranium, Citruses, Tobacco and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Carnation, Cloves, Nutmeg, Rose, Lavender, Leather and Jasmine; base notes are Patchouli, Cypress, Tonka Bean, Amber, Benzoin and Oakmoss.

I adored a Roger & Gallet soap with the spicy scent of carnation as well but (sob!) it seems to have been discontinued.

The night I met Jose in March 2000 he wore a delicious scent — 1881 — whose top notes also include carnation, juniper, lavender and cypress, created in 1990. He was wearing a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (!) as a muffler and, at the end of the evening, took it off and wrapped me in it.

DONE.

Perhaps my favorite memory of scent is the week I spent alone traveling across the Balagne, the northern tip of Corsica, by mo-ped. It was July and I drove across endless fields of the low, scrubby brush known as maquis, a mix of fragrant plants — sun-warmed, their fragrance filled my nostrils. So sensual!

What are some of your favorite smells, and why?

Six tips for a stylish summer home

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m so much happier finally shedding all the heavy wools and blankets and duvets of winter.

Every spring, usually as the temperature suddenly climbs into the 70s or beyond, I change up our apartment decor, taking away winter’s dark colors and heavy textures — until late fall when the days shorten and the temperature drops and I’ll welcome them all again.

It’s a good time to have your rugs professionally cleaned, maybe your curtains, and get the duvet dry cleaned where (yay!) they store it for us for months as well.

Rugs

While bare floors are easier to clean, if you live in an apartment you may have to keep some quiet. Rugs help.

This rug is dead simple and so elegant — and it’s made of a synthetic so can be used indoors or out — a copy of a classic Moroccan style, from Anthropologie.

Two years ago, I found a completely plain pale gray cotton rug, with no texture, perfect for summer, which is a nice foil for our new silver velvet sofa; our winter rug is this one (bought at an online auction.)

There are so many fantastic options, but a nice cotton flat-weave, aka a dhurrie, is always a good option as it’s easy to clean and can sometimes just be tossed in the washing machine.

One of my favorite go-to’s is this site, Dash and Albert, named for the creator’s two dogs. Also this one, Lulu and Georgia.

We love this diamond sisal rug (the gray version) from Ballard Designs, and it defines our dining area. Very soft on bare feet!

Throw pillows

Our winter ones, in linen, were a huge splurge, from Stockholm’s gorgeous store Svenskt Tenn. For summer I have custom made ones with some designer fabric that was a gift.

These aren’t cheap at $100 apiece — but are 22″ square, linen and such a gorgeous crisp blue (also red and white and beige and white.)

Love this pale dove grey nubby version from West Elm, 24″ square — $25 on sale.

Sun really bleaches the hell out of colored fabrics! Beware.

Three former outdoor pillows (NON outdoor cottons.) The vintage floral fabric was once a very deep blue and very

bright yellow.

My favorite hack? If you can sew by hand, grab two great cotton or linen napkins and use them to make a pillow cover, like these ones — a fab oversize black-and-white check pattern from Pottery Barn; four 20″ square napkins for $32 means $16 per pillow fabric costs.

Lanterns

I’m a big fan of lanterns — whether pierced or slatted ones that throw lovely shadows or classic glass or crystal hurricane lamps.

These hurricanes are an investment at $195 each — but you’ll have them for years.

I bought a Moroccan one cheaply at a flea market and got it cleaned to the metal and painted it (of course! ) a great Farrow & Ball color, a soft red called Blazer.

I’ve bought lanterns in all sorts of places, from a cafe in Minneapolis to this great New York City store, Jamali Garden. These are perfect if you want a Moroccan vibe — without the travel. Their prices are excellent and they have a lot of amazing choices for all sorts of gardening needs as well.

Table linens

I so love a pretty tablecloth, whether a pale lavender or gray or something bolder and fun.

I’ve gotten some wonderful ones — turquoise linen, blue embroidered white linen, blue and white checks, green and white checks — at flea markets.

This new one, an Indian print linen in white, pink and gray, is perfect; $85 on Etsy.

I ordered these linen napkins in navy, and in turquoise for a hostess gift.

Here’s a bright pink tablecloth for $124 U.S., from Aussie’s Pigott’s store.

Love this one, $90, in a crisp red and white block print.

Bed linens

We went away for a week in early March upstate to Woodstock, NY, which has some great shopping.

The second I saw this Indian print bedspread I jumped!

I do love Indian block prints.

Nothing’s better than cool, crisp white sheets, for sure. And I iron everything.

I love this creamy coverlet from The Company Store, $135.

And if you must wake up on time, this aqua bedside clock is gorgeous.

Our balcony in full flower

Outdoor space

This gorgeous John Robshaw pillow, 22″, is made of outdoor fabric, in a rich blue paisley, $85.

Our balcony, on the top floor surrounded by trees, is only 12 feet wide and six feet deep. Not a lot of room! We use a small round metal table, have four vintage metal chairs and a bench six feet wide we cover with throw cushions; lots of hidden storage.

I chose a color scheme of bright green and deep navy blue and choose our flowers accordingly — no reds or pinks, but maybe purples and whites.

Choose a color scheme to make the space cohesive — as one would indoors! Crisp black and white can be a nice choice.

There are so many ways to make an attractive and comfortable outdoor nook, even on a small balcony.

Choose your planters and pots to match one another, whether metal, ceramic or plastic.

Our space is too small, really, for an umbrella but they can add needed shade and color.

An outdoor rug is a great start to cover up a stained or ugly concrete floor; love this one, in navy and white.

If you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, deck or patio — here are 30 ideas from the UK’s House & Garden magazine.

A perfect stylish day — at last!

A grande dame of design — Bunny Williams discussing one of her projects

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t know about you, but ohhhhhhhhh, have I so missed style and wit and elegance!

Being in a room with other people, quietly paying attention to something riveting.

So an out-of-the-blue press invitation to attend a day of panels by Big Name interior designers and architects was just the ticket. I wore my go-to black pleated Aritiza maxi-dress, black denim heels, my $3 thrift shop black necklace, a Lucky brand shawl — and off I went to the city.

Jose sent me with a toasted bagel, so one of the many commuter skills I got to use once more was unwrapping it and eating it while maneuvring the FDR, the narrow, busy highway that runs along the east side of Manhattan, beside the East River.

I scored on parking — having resigned myself to a $50 day for an Upper East Side spot — by getting into a garage by 9:00 a.m. (early bird special), for a daily cost of $18, less (yes!) than a cocktail here and even less than the round trip commuter train fare of $19.

The day offered a lively mix of topics, all focused on interior design, from the use of color to what makes a pretty room to choosing and using antiques. Each designer and architect had about 20 minutes to show slides of their work and explain the thinking behind their decisions.

Typical of this world, many had worked for some of the same firms and some had worked together on projects.

The back-stories were delicious!

But also…whew!

It’s easy to forget, or not know, or not care, how staggeringly wealthy so many people are now.

So there’s another 10,000 square foot mansion with 11 bedrooms and a bowling alley and a skating rink and a theater…

Here’s a mega-yacht with a bed inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Here’s the 6th or 7th home of another mogul, this one in Mexico.

And so on.

It would be easy to disdain all of this as appalling excess.

I get it. I do!

Or the fact that every project employs hundreds of workers, many in the unionized building trades.

But I still loved every minute of the day, and savored the stylish people seated all around me — the woman in leopard trousers with a massive leopard hat; the older woman in her navy leather Roger Vivier flats; the man in black Belgian loafers (a very specific NYC old-money brand), the speaker in from Dallas in perfect patent Manolos….

The shoe game was strong!

I studied design at the New York School of Interior Design in the mid-90s and planned to leave journalism for a new career in the industry. After my first husband walked out, starting over at the bottom at $10/hour wasn’t a viable option, so I stayed in journalism.

But I learned a lot at school, and really enjoyed my education.

My maternal grandmother had money and hired Toronto’s top decorator, so my taste was formed early! I still remember one of her 1970s bathroom wallpapers.

I love design dearly, so an entire day listening to the greats and legends of the field — and seeing the depth of their knowledge — was a fantastic, free pleasure.

For all its challenges, New York City remains a vibrant center full of talent and inspiration. What a relief to see it finally, slowly, coming back to life again!