Making a pretty home: grace notes

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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— Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

— Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!
$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

— Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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— Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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— Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!
At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

— Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

The kitchen renovation: Part Two

By Caitlin Kelly

It still hasn’t begun!

The apartment has been in chaos for weeks, as we excitedly (and too early) emptied all our cupboards in preparation for the work to begin. But because we live in a co-op apartment building, we have to submit a ream of paperwork and get it approved before any hammers can swing.

Here are the “before” photos, and a description of how we got to the decision to do this, and what we chose.

It will probably start next week, when we are (blessedly) far away from the noise and dust of demolition for a bit.

But I’ve already learned a few lessons useful to anyone considering a reno.

Each one ends in “ive”!

Proactive

Every single item that is going to be bought, re-used or replaced in your new room needs to be measured carefully and ordered, sometimes weeks or months in advance, so it’s right at hand when the workmen arrive and are now on a timeline.

English: Electric cables in old apartment building
English: Electric cables in old apartment building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Insensitive

To mess! Our living room and hallway are now a staging area, full of boxes of our stuff and boxes of the new items yet to be installed. The place is going to be nuts for a while. Focus on how gorgeous it will be when it’s all done.

Attentive

Make a punch list of every single element going into the new room or space and what is needed to have it safely and legally installed. This includes: lighting, outlets, faucet, tile, counter-tops, flooring, appliances, paint, primer, grout, hardware, etc. With so many details, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget something along the way.

Keep checking in with your suppliers and contractor to make sure they, too, are on top of everything and have agreed — in writing — to your explicit wishes. If there are points of disagreement, you’ll need a paper trail.

Decisive

This is one of the most tiring pieces of committing to a renovation project, endless, daily, sometimes several times a day, decisions that must be made quickly  — and permanently. (Change orders are really expensive and your contractor may hate you for making them, or — worse — bail since s/he always has a list of other clients awaiting his crew’s attention as well. Make a plan and stick with it.)

After designing our kitchen’s entire color scheme around the cream enamel panel of the Italian stove we’d chosen that color was discontinued by the time we ordered it. Shriek! I had to suddenly decide what to do, (fine, stainless steel, boring), and not freak out or rethink all the other choices and start again from scratch.

I don’t have time to do all of this twice. Most of us don’t.

You have to decide on a budget and then make every decision to fit within it, (or exceed it, and decide how you’ll handle that additional cost.) It’s tiring! And since most of us have never studied design and rarely spend tens of thousands of dollars (even thousands) within a few weeks, it’s a lot to handle.

Assertive

If you really want something to happen a certain way, or want a very specific product or material, say so!

No one can, or wants to, read your mind and it’s up to you, (or the architect/designer you’ve hired), to be very clear and specific with your contractor about what you have in mind. Don’t hand-flap and sigh and walk away in frustration. Some things will fall through. There will be some surprises, and almost all of them add expense — yours!

I went through three contractors to find the one we’re now working with, for the second time. The first two seemed to take personal offense at my custom designs. It’s your home, your taste and your budget. Trust your contractor to offer smart and helpful options, but don’t be afraid to say no if it really isn’t what you want.

A stainless steel countertop
A stainless steel countertop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsive

This is the other half of being decisive. In the middle (!) of writing this post, my husband called to ask me to read yet another email and write yet another email to the contractor. Gah! Has to be done.

I’ve probably answered half a dozen emails, so far, from the contractor and I do so promptly. We’re all busy and all juggling multiple projects. You should also expect this from him/her as well.

Creative/Innovative

Very few of us have an unlimited budget or space or timeline for The Perfect Renovation. How can you work most creatively within your space and budget?

Our kitchen is really small, (eight feet long, galley kitchen, no outlet for a stove hood), and our pantry is literally a narrow, tiny closet. We may not buy a microwave, which some people would insist is a must. Not for us; I’ve never owned one so feel no compulsion to have one just because we’re getting a new kitchen. It’s just as cramped as it was before!

We also moved a china cabinet from one room to another and are changing its purpose — we’ll use it to hide ugly cans and bottles and supplies, while we transfer pretty plates, glasses and platters to our new open shelves.

We were also able to reduce the quote by offering to prime and paint our cabinets and walls and by bartering my husband’s photography skills for the contractor — who always needs professional images for his website. That alone saved us $2,000.

Obsessive

I feel like I’m now surgically attached to our measuring tapes! I know the height of the sconces, the height of the legs for the holders for our platters, the width of our shelves…

Expensive

Oh, yeah. Assume that whatever you’ve budgeted is an amusing-but-naive attempt. Unless (lucky you!) you are a multi-skilled DIYer (electrical and plumbing work? tiles?), you’ll be paying other people considerable coin to bring their skills into your home. Tiles, stone, flooring, lighting, cabinet handles…it all adds up.

Sighed our contractor: “Those TV design shows make me crazy! They never include the true costs of this stuff. I have to keep explaining this to clients every time.”

Agreed our saleswoman at our tile/stone vendor, “You know Houzz? Forget it! Clients come in here wanting exactly what they saw in a picture there, but a lot of it is custom work. They have no idea that how expensive it is.”

Any other tips you can offer?

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