Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

By Caitlin Kelly

Just try saying it!

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

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

Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls

 

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

A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots

 

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

 

Steam-clean major upholstered pieces

 

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

 

Invest in a few good rugs

 

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

 

Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping

 

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

 

Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?

 

Everything gets dusty!

 

IMG_20140919_170342451_HDR

 

Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery

 

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

 

Get out the polish!

 

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

 

 

IMG_2343

Lots of candles

 

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

 

fullsizerender4

 

Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful

 

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

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

Light a candle

By Caitlin Kelly

20131119182528

As I write this post, it’s snowing here in New York.

The world is blessedly silent and softened, flakes swirling in the wind and piling up against our windows and ledges.

Our view of the Hudson River is totally obscured in a blanket of white.

Perfect time for candles!

My vision of candles forever changed about 20 years ago, when I visited Stockholm in late November, when the sun rose at 8:30 a.m. and set around 2:30 p.m.

Darkness arrived so early in the day that it was both unsettling and disorienting.

I’d never before seen businessmen at lunch — dining by candlelight. But it was both a smart way to boost illumination and add to the room’s ambience.

I now start and end my winter days with a bedside scented candle, a gift from a friend.

It’s a soothing start to a dark, cold, windy morning — the scratch of match-head on matchbox, the whoosh and flare of flame, the flicker as it catches the wick and begins to glow.

At night, I breath out, extinguishing it. The day is done.

So much nicer than brilliant, suddenly shocking electric light or, worse, the artificial glow of a tablet, phone, television or computer screen.

(If you ever watched Downtown Abbey on TV, you might recall the Dowager Duchess holding a fan to her face as she confronts the new glare of electric bulbs.)

20120927225150

Candlelight is silent.

Candlelight is gentle.

Candlelight is timeless.

It reconnects us to the past — from the tallow candles of our ancestors to the elegant tapers of Georgian homes (magnified by enormous mirrors everywhere.)

Try it and see how it alters and softens your mood

As the saying goes — it’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.

Making a lovely home: adding grace notes

Every home — even if it’s only one room — needs grace notes,  a few items that simply lift your spirits and make you happy because they’re part of your daily life.

They’re not necessities, and you can always save money by not having them.

But here are some things I love having in our home:

Candles
Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)

Candles

Every night, as we sit down to dinner, we light candles around our small, (11 by 10.5 foot), dining room, a mixture of votives and tapers. We dim the chandelier and enjoy our shared meal in soft light. No TV. (We don’t have kids, so this is our choice entirely and probably unthinkable if you do have kids, especially small ones.) But even if you’re eating alone and it’s just mac and cheese, light some candles! A meal is an occasion. It’s an important time to nourish your body and your spirit.

Candlesticks

I have a variety: wood, silver plate, pewter, brass and glass. Check consignment, thrift and antique shops. Buy singles in one material and mix up the shapes and sizes.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Fresh flowers

Every week. Yes, they die. (So do we.) But oh, the beauty! Even one small bud — a freesia or a rose or a peony — in a vase beside the bed gives you something charming to wake up to. Nothing makes me feel richer than when our small apartment has fresh flowers in every room, do-able on a budget of $20-25. This time of year, some pussy willow or flowering branches are nice, and the sharp scent of some eucalyptus stems is always a great-looking option. Stock up on Oasis, (the green foam blocks that florists use, and sell) and a few frogs (the metal or glass stem holders you drop into a pot or vase) and you’ll be able to make interesting arrangements, in a wide range of containers, (a vintage teacup?), with ease.

Plants

Something fresh, green and growing reminds us, especially during an interminable winter, that life is all around us. I put my plants in funky containers I find in flea markets or antique stores, like a round turquoise metal tin that once held honey. A plant can cost as little as $5 and last for months, well cared for.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Objects

Whatever your heart desires! Some of the objects currently on display in our place are these carved wooden horses. I found them both in Ontario — the larger one in an antique shop, the small one at auction. The larger one, whom we’ve named St. Andrew for the church we were married in, is a piece of folk art; the smaller one has no markings of any sort. He might be brand new, or not. But I love how they ended up, by accident, going so nicely together.

This early heavy glass bowl is now (sigh) badly cracked, (I placed a candle too close to it), but still works, holding a collection of Christmas ornaments I bought at Pottery Barn a few years ago. In candlelight they glow.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean; a small collection of small vintage clocks, from a house tour on Apartment Therapy.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Picture frames

So many choices! The simplest sketch, or magazine photo, or your wedding invitation or a ticket to a show you loved gains prominence in a handsome frame. A small collection of similar color/shaped frames makes a great little tablescape.

Textiles

I collect textiles of all sorts, from antique paisley woolen and cashmere shawls to bits of new stuff I make into pillow covers or tablecloths. Vintage linens have fantastic details, like faggoting, crochet, cross-stitch — all the sorts of handiwork almost no one does anymore.

Photos

Don’t just store them on your phone or computer. Spend an afternoon going through your favorites, from a holiday or a family gathering, print them out and assemble them on a memory wall or family wall.

Trays

Nothing is nicer than breakfast in bed! And the only way to have breakfast in bed, comfortably, is with a small tray with deep sides, (so things don’t slide off and crash to the floor.) Also useful for holding teapot, milk, cup and saucer, spoon and a little dish of something, say about 4:30 p.m on a cold, gray Sunday afternoon.

Aprons

Easily forgotten, a large apron, preferably with pockets, makes food prep and cooking a lot more fun when you’re not worried about getting grease or sauce on your clothes. Look for a butcher-style, so long and wide it wraps around you.

Cloth napkins

Linen or cotton, they add color and style to every table. I’ve never used paper. Flea markets are a great place to pick up old soft linen napkins in bundles of six or eight, sometimes with fantastic embroidery or colors.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Interesting containers

My desk holds a Victorian silver-plate child’s cup (pencils) and a green glazed ginger jar (pens.) Our television remotes sit in an antique wooden cutlery box, both organized and unseen in a handsome container that’s nice to look at. I recently bought a small ceramic dish for one of my favorite editors, (a man of impeccable style), useful for pens and pencils on a desk or as a vide-poche — a place to dump out change from your pockets at day’s end; literally, a pocket-emptier. We use covered baskets, including this one, to stash magazines, extension cords and our insane collection of ugly electronics chargers.

Dimmers

We have a dimmer on both bathroom lights and in the dining room. Few things are as depressing and unflattering as light glaring into your eyes 24/7, which is the lot of anyone working in an office under fluorescent lighting. The only thing nicer than a long bubble bath is one enjoyed under soft lighting.

What grace notes make your home happier?