Hibernate, beautifully — 10 easy ways to feather your nest

By Caitlin Kelly

Yes, that headline is a mixed metaphor…

Long-time readers of Broadside know that one of my obsessions loves is interior design, which I studied full-time for a while at the New York School of Interior Design, a life-changing experience.

Before stepping into their classrooms, I thought, “How hard can it be?”

I stepped out, (with a stellar GPA, yay!) with a deep, abiding respect for the true challenges of making any space safe, welcoming, beautiful — and usually on a budget. We learned to mix color from scratch, envision rooms from the floor to the ceiling and design an entire room within a week and learn every iteration of interiors from ancient Egypt to the 20th century in Historical Styles, (which every student calls Hysterical Styles.)

Luckily, my husband allows me pretty much free rein in our 1,000 square foot apartment and is mellow enough to not freak out if he comes home to find the furniture re-arranged, again. After 25 years in the same space, you have to make a few tweaks.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s frrrrrrreezing for the next few months, so staying in and loving your home is a great choice.

Here are ten simple suggestions to help you feather your nest:

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Bring in nature!

Even in deepest winter, there is color and texture out there for the cutting — bittersweet, greenery, curly willow. I splurge every week for fresh flowers, even $5 or $7 for a fresh lily.

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Add some patina

This battered old stool sits in our small bathroom, holding a metal bowl my Dad brought home from Israel — that holds soap, creams, toothpaste. Both the bowl and the wood add a nice mix of textures and age. Even the slickest and most modern space can accommodate something weathered and worn, a bit of history.

Include symmetry and repetition

Here’s a small shelf in our dining room. The shelf was originally deep blue and hung in our bathroom but was the perfect shape, size and scale for this space as well. (Hint: re-purpose! Move stuff from room to room and repaint as needed.) The two pierced lanterns cost $13.50 each, bought at Tao Foods in Minneapolis in October 2012. (It’s why I keep my eyes peeled everywhere I travel; you never know where you’ll find the next affordable treasure!) The pierced sterling salt cellars were our wedding gift from my father. I like how the circles echo one another, as does the pierced metal, one dull and mottled, one shiny.

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Go through all your cellphone snaps and Instagram images — and frame some!

I took this shot in May 2013 while visiting the Grand Canyon. I keep meaning to frame it, but haven’t yet.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Here’s one I did frame, taken looking up a staircase on the Ile St. Louis in Paris a few years ago. It sits a few feet away from the pierced lanterns and salt cellars (repeating the theme of pierced, patterned metal.)

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Combine practical and pretty, whenever possible

When we renovated our kitchen and nearby pantry, I designed a breakfast bar, a spot for our juicer and toaster and coffee filters. I had bought the wooden tray years earlier and found the metal holder in a Vermont antique shop. I had no idea what to use it for, but it all came together nicely.

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If you’re living far from your home town or country, keep a few fun reminders of your native culture in view

I found this funny wooden box in Toronto, on Queen Street West, as well as this great old tea tin, with Peterborough and Toronto on the label — where dear friends live and where I grew up. I use both containers in our kitchen. Neither cost more than $20.

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Splurge on a fabric upgrade and/or welting

This, I admit, was a splurge — but one we enjoy every single day during the fall and winter; (we change our throw pillow covers in the spring and summer.) The sage green velvet sofa from Crate and Barrel is easily a decade old, and the original welting was literally worn through. It looked horrible and I struggled for a while to determine a solution. I went back to my trusty fabric supplier (in Rhode Island, discovered on vacation there years ago), who chose this terrific rust-toned linen and made new finger-width welting for the two back and seat cushions. I sent her the striped silk, (bought here on sale a year ago), and had her make 22-inch throw pillows. I wanted a luxurious mix of fabrics (velvet, silk, linen, cotton) while repeating the same colors: deep red, pale green, rich yellow. Total cost for that fabulousness — less than half the price of a new sofa. Score!

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Add color and pattern, preferably playing off one another

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The John Robshaw napkins were found on sale at Gracious Home in Manhattan, the $13 tablecloth at HomeSense. Purple, gray, silver and white was the color scheme I chose, (in candles, napkins, dishes and glasses) for our Christmas meal. We never use paper napkins. I love the color, sensuality and durability of cotton or linen! Good quality cloth napkins can last for many years.

Customize!

I bought these boring white frames from Pottery Barn and painted them a custom color. I added a museum postcard and gift wrap

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Let your softer side show

I may be a tough old New York journo, but these guys keep me smiling on the roughest days. The bunny was a pre-op gift from Jose. I gave him the brown bear. The battered old white bear has been in my life since I was very small. The pig and elephant were found at Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, Vermont in 1989 or so; they made excellent travel companions, sitting on the dashboard, when I made my first solo trip to the Grand Canyon. (No whining!) The small Steiff black and white bear I’ve had for many decades; I found the small enamel panda last year in a Tucson shop. Jose gave me the wooden walrus and the monkey. My friend Sarah, a fellow journalist in Arizona, sent me the octopus.

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Here are the top 20 posts from 2013, from one of my go-to design sites, Apartment Therapy. You’ll find lots of great ideas and inspiration here.

The value of re-making your home

By Caitlin Kelly

Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design
Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone passionate about interior design, and who has studied it seriously at the New York School of Interior Design, I enjoy this blog, the public face of an American design firm, McAlpine Tankersley.

I liked this recent post about why it’s worth re-making your home:

Change is always necessary to promote growth and without varying from the comfortable and the everyday, lessons are seldom learned. Faced with potential, however, fear kicks in and says, “let’s just keep things the way they are”; even if a situation is stagnant, it’s my stagnant situation and I’ll sit in it. But how can change have value? An example I can show (because you do tend to come here for visuals to accompany my soapbox) was evident in Bobby’s personal Montgomery home.

In the ten years he lived in this English cottage, the interior underwent three major transformations. As designers, we always use our personal homes as living, active laboratories. We try things out on our tireless, often unsuspecting, families before we suggest them to our clients. Experimentation and change in our environs are personal tools of lesson and discovery.

This is so true!

I’ve lived for 25 (!) years in the same top-floor, 1,000 square foot one bedroom apartment. I doubt I’ll live anywhere else, which is a little depressing, (it’s small and New York is brutally expensive for most larger spaces in neighborhoods we like), but also focuses us intently on making our home the prettiest, most efficient and most comfortable and welcoming we can make it.

It’s absolutely been my design lab.

When I moved in, it was all a bland, boring beige, with cat-pee-stained/stinky oatmeal-colored wall-to-wall-carpet. Gross!

I’ve changed the wall colors here many times, currently a deep mustard in the bathroom, a cool beige in the kitchen, a soft gray in the bedroom and dining room, and a soft yellow-green in the living room and hallway; since there are few doors, the sight-lines make a major difference if the colors and tones relate poorly.

I’d also rather invest in fewer, better items, (like many Europeans do, living in small spaces) than face the expense of designing, furnishing, cleaning and maintaining a large(r) house. Not to mention the cost of new roof/boiler/furnace and all the attendant work of cleaning and maintaining any outdoor property.

If you’re wealthy, great!

But if you’re not, re-using your home-space to its best advantage is often more about being creative and open-minded: re-purposing, re-covering, repainting, moving things around, editing heavily, building your own items and scoring great finds at flea markets, tag sales and auctions.

I read every shelter magazine out there, every month, so I see the blinged-out mega-mansions some people live in.

But I also read blogs like Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy, which feature regular folk with smaller budgets or less opulent taste.

As we finish up our kitchen renovation — one for which I waited 25 years — I already see the enormous difference it makes, emotionally and practically, in our lives. We didn’t pour $50,000 or $100,000, (yes, people do) into our small galley kitchen.

But we did splurge on some items: honed granite counters, high-end appliances (a Bertazzoni gas range and Bosch dishwasher), and spend-y Farrow & Ball paint for custom-made cabinets and walls.

I love the little surprises that (happily) occurred — the shelves we bought have a subtle green-ish gray stain that perfectly matches the cabinets. The narrow grooves in our drawers and cabinets (in lieu of external hardware) create runnels of sunlight reflected from the windows. The new cream tile, with its glossy surface, bounces much more light, both artificial and natural.

At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze ...
At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze style interior. Definitely more formal than our place! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an amazing experience, and the second reno we’ve done; we re-did our one, tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom four years ago.

I gained a lot of confidence from the results, and now hope to find some part-time work as a designer using these as my portfolio.

The next major step?

Refinishing and darkening our hardwood floors.

Have you re-made your home?

Changed its colors or designs?

Making your home lovely — on the cheap

It’s an ongoing challenge for many of us — how to make your home attractive and affordably? Dorm room, shared flat or your very own first house, the basics remain the same: you need charm, color, texture, function and comfort.

The world is jammed with design blogs, like Design Sponge, so there’s no shortage of advice out there for the taking. I love this post — the Ten Commandments of Buying Used Furniture — from one of my absolute favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

For you Pinterest fans, here’s a post on using it for this purpose.

I’ve been making a pretty home since I left my parents’ house at 19. Few things are as nurturing and healing as a home that makes you smile every time you open the front door, and few as draining and depressing as hating your four walls, (and ceiling and floor.)

In the late 1990s, I also studied at the New York School of Interior Design, which I absolutely loved.

Here are some of my tricks, and some images from our home:

Consignment shops

You can find terrific deals in consignment shops, (places where people leave quality stuff and hope for a percentage of the sale price.) I snagged a glass pitcher for $12 and a reproduction wooden Pembroke table, at one of my favorite spots in Greenwich, CT, about a 30 minute drive from my home. Greenwich is one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, so their cast-offs are awesome! The table wasn’t super-cheap — $350 — but well worth it; light, versatile, classic and well-made.

Thrift shops

People give away stuff all the time without a clue as to its real value, just to get rid of it easily. Visit often and you’ll score furniture, lamps, china, cookware and linens for pennies.

Auctions

Not every auction house is as pricy or scary as Sotheby’s! I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire, and attended a weekly auction nearby for almost 18 months. I learned a lot — like how to distinguish between the real thing and a reproduction or to know that a “marriage” means joining together two pieces that don’t belong together but look impressively old anyway. Read a few books on antiques, and you’ll pick up the basics of what a truly old, (often valuable but underpriced), object looks like. Keep your eye out for lower-priced treasures like quality rugs, serving pieces and candlesticks. This is a fantastic list of every antique term, from a comprehensive British website all about buying antiques.

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I found this flat-weave wool rug for $125 in a Toronto antique store. It had raggedy edges so I bought some black Ultrasuede and had our local dry cleaner add it to each end, for an additional $30.

The wooden box pictured here was about $10 at auction — perfect size for magazines.

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Curbside

Our bedroom door came from the curb, i.e. someone threw it out! It’s probably from the 1930s or so. I like its round brass knob.

Fabric stores

They always have remnants, cheap. Even a yard or two of gorgeous fabric, hand-stitched into a pillow cover, can add pizzazz to your chair, sofa or bed.

We’ve had this Crate and Barrel china cabinet for ages. I got tired of looking at dishes, so added this fun fabric, for about $40, inside the glass. It picks up the room’s theme, which is photos and engravings of Paris.

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Paint

The cheapest way to make everything look fresh and new. A quart of paint  — about $20 or so — can totally change the look of a small bookcase, a stiff cardboard lampshade, stool, chair, table or chest of drawers. Consider adding a hit of pure red, creamy white, glossy black, chartreuse or tangerine.

Save up for the good stuff!

I once waited for years, literally, until I could afford exactly the only lamp I wanted, the Tizio by Richard Sapper, a classic. It cost me a staggering $500 in the mid-1980s, (today, a small version is $300+), but I still use it every day and love it. I’ve never once regretted buying quality. I’m still (!) sitting on the sofa I bought in Toronto in the 1980s, slip-covered. It’s not cheap when you buy it — but if you amortize the cost over 10+ years, it is.

English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972)
English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shop everywhere

Garden stores, gourmet shops, sporting goods stores. You never know what you’ll find. I snagged a pair of fab pierced metal lamps at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis — for $13.50 apiece. I’d actually just gone there for lunch, but decided to poke around. I discovered sheets of soft, pliable, versatile copper at a local yacht supply store, a great material for lamps, votive liners, even covering a kitchen countertop. Jose was in Tucson teaching a workshop when he found some spectacular talavera planters and plates he shipped home. I hand-carried small framed prints home from Stockholm.

Including places you think you can’t afford

Everyone has sales sometime. Anthropologie has lovely homegoods, often on sale, as well as these sites I love, Mothology and Wisteria.

Use your imagination!

I found an old Chinese wooden frame ($75) and ordered up a custom-cut antiqued bit of mirror to put behind it from a glazier. It’s now our bathroom mirror; total cost $125.

Antique shows and flea markets

I scored a fantastic Moroccan metal lantern for $15 by arriving early at a local antiques fair. I had it sand-blasted smooth for $50 by my local auto body shop and painted it a delicious red from Farrow & Ball. (The coppery metal one beside it is a $12 on-sale find from Pier One.)

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Stock a tool box and know how to use it

Hammer, pliers, staple gun, screwdriver, small saw, wood glue, nails and screws. A small hand-held sander is a great help, easily stored. Keep a supply of plastic dropsheets and foam brushes. Be ready to sand, stain, re-size and re-paint your finds as needed. Or make your own stuff to fit difficult spaces; Jose created three fantastic planters for our balcony from sheets of plywood we cut and painted.

What cool things have you done to make your home lovely on a budget?

What Do You Love About Your Home?

The Hudson River
I love the Palisades! And I really love watching barges on the Hudson river...Image via Wikipedia

My favorite shelter blog, Apartment Therapy, recently asked this question and got, of course, some terrific and inspiring answers.

I’ve lived since 1989 — much to my shock — in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in the suburbs of New York. I didn’t plan on any of that; the plan, with my then husband, was to stay for a while, then as our incomes improved, move into something larger, probably a house. But he was gone within a few years and I’m still here.

Yes, there are times I long for a second room, an office, a guest room, a second bathroom, a backyard.

But it offers some things I really like:

lovely landscaping, with mature trees and a gorgeous Japanese maple right outside our front door

a pool and tennis court

a northwest view of the Hudson River impeded only by the tree-tops, from the top floor

our balcony, all 80 square feet of it

lots of light

quiet neighbors

the only sounds are raccoons, hawks, birds and the occasional coyote

our lovely newly-renovated bathroom, with a handmade copper sink we scored in Mexico for $32 and hand-made tile we bought in Paris

watching all sorts of river traffic

on July 4, being able to watch the fireworks from six towns at once on both sides of the Hudson

best of all, (not the home itself), I can be in midtown Manhattan within 45 minutes’ train or drive

What do you like best about your home?