As fall arrives…

By Caitlin Kelly

A vintage tablecloth scored this summer in Maine
A vintage tablecloth scored this summer in Maine

As some of you know from my previous posts, I’m obsessed with, addicted to…ahem..enjoy designing our home.

I studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design, which has trained some of the best designers in the U.S., and learned a great deal about color, texture, materials and how to create a welcoming interior space. I had hoped to change careers from journalism but decided, for a variety of reasons, to continue as a writer, albeit one passionate, always, about beauty and assembling a space that’s both elegant and comfortable.

We live in a one-bedroom apartment that overlooks trees and the Hudson River. The building itself is nothing special. I find it pretty ugly, frankly — a 1960s red brick slab, six stories, with no architectural merit, even after 20+ years here.

But the landscaping is lovely, and we sit atop a high hill with great views…from our building’s southern exposure, (we face northwest), you can literally see the towers of lower Manhattan.

Inside our (nasty beige metal) door?

I love patina! This is the doorknob to our friend's home in Maine
I love patina! This is the doorknob to our friend’s home in Maine

It’s English country house:

— layered textiles, a mix of old and new, of flea market finds and some valuable photos and antiques, my father’s oil paintings, my husband’s images and my photos, photos of us and our families, etchings and engravings, posters from Paris and Mexico and Australia…

Fresh flowers and plants, always!

A table set for one of our dinner parties
A table set for one of our dinner parties

I buy and read a range of design magazines, from Elle Decor, House Beautiful and Architectural Digest to Period Living, Country Living, House & Garden (all British) and, occasionally, one of the gorgeous Cote series from France or World of Interiors.

It’s one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. And I learn something every time I read one — about color, tone, mixing things up, design history. Even if the home featured is, (and in the UK ones, it is sometimes!), a castle or enormous mansion, I always find some inspiration and sheer visual pleasure.

I haven’t lived in a house since 1988 when we rented a flat in a New Hampshire house. I often hanker for a house, (a small, old one — 1840s or earlier), but our finances don’t allow for a second home and I like where we live right now.

My esthetic is eclectic, a little bohemian, but polished.

I like bold and interesting prints (in small doses.) I like patina, craquelure, weathered wood (but immaculate walls, windows and sills.) I love candles in all shapes and sizes, from votives to pierced lanterns that show glorious shadows. Textiles, especially vintage or ethnic.

I find things affordably everywhere: flea markets, auctions, department stores, discount stores, consignment shops, thrift shops, garden supply stores. (Yes, I’ve even traveled with bubble wrap).

From London, Paris, Stockholm, Istanbul, Mexico, Toronto, I’ve brought home early ceramics, 18th century prints, a tray and even our bathroom sink — ($32, handmade copper)  — from Mexico.

Over the decades, I’ve invested most heavily in a few fine case goods, (two armoires, three chests of drawers) and Jose and I both enjoy a small but good collection of classic photos.

I’ve furnished our home (with Jose’s approval!) as I do my wardrobe, a mix of vintage and new, classic and funky, some playful bits, some very good bits.

Fresh flowers -- a must!
Fresh flowers — a must!

As fall arrives, here are some of the changes I’m making:

— Adding two lovely new fabrics, one for our headboard and the other for our bedside tables. I totally blew it on the scale of the check! But, you know what? Better bold than bitsy. (total cost $150.)

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

— An antique Chinese ginger jar lamp we recently found at an antiques dealer in Grafton, Ontario. It needed a new shade and cord.

— A dramatic new hallway rug, a kilim. I love these flatweaves, with their bold-but-faded colors and intricate designs; this one is striped: faded teal, faded carmine with a narrow black and white stripe. I found it roaming on-line; it will be shipped to us from Istanbul after they repair it.

Switching out our art from summer, (pale colors and bleached frames), to winter: deeper hues, gold frames.

Our living room, reflected in that mirror
Our living room, reflected in that mirror

— Rehanging the Victorian mirror I scored in Ontario.

Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop
Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop

— Using deeper-toned pillows, table covers and rugs: reds, oranges, bits of black for drama.

As the days shorten and daylight so quickly fades and disappears, I wrap our home in color, texture, style and beauty.

Here in New York, winter lasts from November to March, at least, and we’ll soon miss the brilliant external colors of fall leaves and summer flowers.

Lucky you, readers in more tropical climes and countries — with gorgeous year-round greenery, flowers and and brightly colored birds!

We love these two -- one early folk art, the smaller...who knows?
We love these two — one early folk art, the smaller…who knows?

My husband is a photographer and photo editor (here’s his wedding website and his blog), and we both work at home — so clutter, mess and ugly, especially in a small space, are too much!

Every day, our pretty home soothes and nurtures us both — and the people we welcome.

How about you?

Does nesting appeal to you?

Making a pretty home: 10 tips

By Caitlin Kelly

Most of us want to create a pretty, tidy and harmonious home, whether you’re living with four room-mates and in college, jammed into your first tiny solo apartment or making sense of a larger home.
It seems like it should be easy, as there are so many resources online now, from Apartment Therapy (which includes houses and is excellent) to Houzz.

But it’s still, for many people, a deeply confusing and overwhelming process: choosing the colors for walls, floors, ceilings, front door, baseboards; selecting the size and shape and color of your sofa and chairs; rugs, lighting, curtains (or blinds? Or none?)…

And most of us have limited time, energy and budgets.

I studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan and planned to leave journalism to work in that field. I didn’t, but I learned a great deal and it’s reflected in our home, a one-bedroom apartment in a 1960s six-story apartment building north of New York City. We own it, so we have also invested some money in a full renovation of our one very small (5 by 7 feet) bathroom and galley kitchen.

Here, with lots of photos, are some ideas you might find useful as well:

designmags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Seek inspiration!

It’s really difficult to design a room, let alone a home of any size, without some inspiring ideas about what you like: Modern and sleek? (Read Dwell magazine.) Historic and formal and elegant? (Try Traditional Home.) Cosy and weathered? (the UK version of Country Life.) I don’t use Pinterest, but it’s very useful in this respect. Your local library will also have gorgeous reference books whose images you can photocopy. Here are four magazines I read often, if not monthly, and have for many years. I get tons of great ideas from them, especially about small spaces (European homes are often much smaller), interesting color combinations (like lime green and chocolate brown) and mixed periods, like a super-contemporary lamp over a battered farm table.

IMG_20141127_084804852

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Group your art

The focus here, on the long (25 foot) wall of our living room, is a vintage photo given to us by a neighbor cleaning out his garage. It’s an amazing image, probably no later than 1905 and possibly from the 1880s, and we were delighted to get it. He also gave us (!) the two lovely smaller pieces to the left of it, both original framed prints. The small images above the photo I found in antiques shops, the egg in Vermont and the dog in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The image at the far right is my own photo of a staircase in an 18th century building on the Ile St. Louis in Paris.

IMG_20141127_084754766

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Look around your home

in every room, for items that — when placed together — will have an artistic or interesting relationship to one another: frames, mirrors, photos, small objects like a box or an animal or bird. This grouping, in a corner of our living room, includes: a pierced metal lantern with a candle in it, ($12 on sale at Pier One); two small metal birds (our local garden shop); a vintage silk embroidered shawl (local antique shop); a Victorian ceramic vase (Toronto antique shop); two marble bits of statuary ($25, antiques show) and a huge Victorian mirror ($125, Port Hope, Ontario antique shop.) I’ve owned some of these items for decades, but it’s the combination that’s fun: echoing shape, size, color and texture with a mix of scale. I added a small spotlight ($12, Home Depot) for a bit of drama, adding both shadows and reflections in the mirror behind.

IMG_20141127_084440952_HDR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Customize what you have.  We bought this Crate and Barrel armoire many years ago (it’s still available, in a slightly different version, for $1,299), but I hate looking at stuff. Inside the armoire are plates, glasses, serving pieces, candlesticks — a visually exhausting mess. I lined the doors with this charming map-of-Paris print, on linen, which was inexpensive, referenced other Parisian/French elements in the place, and gave us a nice neutral that wasn’t as boring as plain beige would have been.

5) Add unusual and lovely fresh flowers and/or plants. I found this deep, wide metal cachepot for $25 at my favorite consignment shop and have been adding fresh flowers and interesting greenery to it for weeks. I always have fresh flowers and plants in every room, even in the bathroom, as a touch of color and beauty. Really nice on a cold, gray rainy or snow day, especially!

IMG_20141127_084331477

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) Shop often. I don’t mean spend a lot of money or make hasty impulse buys! But every month or so, I treat myself to a visit to a few favorite shops, whether thrift, consignment, garden or Big Box, to see what’s out there. I scored a gorgeous set of red glass goblets at my local thrift shop — $10 for five — recently. Favorite sources include Anthropologie (on sale!) for terrific housewares and linens and flea markets.

IMG_20141127_084834149

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7) Think about including textiles in the mix. If you have pets and/or small/messy children, maybe not. But textiles’ colors, textures and patterns, especially vintage pieces– whether a lovely duvet cover, a knitted throw for the sofa, a cover for a chair or table — can add tremendous charm without a lot of cost or taking up precious space. I’ve covered my desk with a 19th century paisley shawl, my corner table with a 19th century silk shawl and my armchair with a 19th century carriage blanket. None were especially costly; try amazon.com or regional/country auction houses for great finds in this department.

IMG_20141127_084507226_HDR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8) Upgrade to better quality and design whenever possible.

Unless you’re wealthy and can afford to buy everything you want the very second you want it, you may have to postpone high quality purchases. I recently spent $300, (yes, really), for three new cream-colored silk lampshades. They’re clean, fresh, elegant, and a huge improvement on the cheap crappy ones I was using until I had the spare income to finally upgrade. Even a fresh set of pillowcases or hand towels can make a significantly cheery difference to your space.

9) Visit museums galleries and open houses to see how others have handled space and texture and material. The pro’s know!

10) Use your cellphone camera every day. Whether you see a cool texture on the sidewalk or a colored wall in a store or restaurant that inspires you — or a scene you’d like to frame and display in your home — that little camera will keep your eye fresh.

Here are just a few images I’ve collected in the past year for visual inspiration.

Need help? I can work from photos! Email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com; $150/hour.

Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Isn't this gorgeous? It's a lamp on the Pratt campus, where I teach
Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a lamp on the Pratt campus, where I teach
A restaurant table in Brooklyn
A restaurant table in Brooklyn

 

IMG_20141120_144608542

 

 

 

 

Sprucing Up Your Castle — On The Cheap

Almost a Castle
Time to spruce up the castle...Image by liber via Flickr

As we head into winter, hunkering down into long, dark, cold evenings, now’s a good time  — before the costs and frenzy of the holidays — to consider sprucing up your home, even if you can’t spend much. I once planned to leave journalism and studied full-time at the New York School of Interior Design, some of the most challenging and happiest days of my life. I’m still here, but my passion for design and making my home clean, calm and lovely remains as strong as ever.

Some ideas:

1. Flowers, greenery or a plant add color, texture and life. A bunch of supermarket tulips can cost as little as $8; if you can splurge on several, arrange them in an unusual container — a teapot or low bowl or basket. Florists will sell you a block of Oasis, that green spongy stuff they use in arrangements, and cutting it into the shape and size you need gives you plenty of options.

2. Lighting is the jewelry of a room. How’s yours? If all your lighting is from overhead sources, put as many of them on dimmers as possible. Offbeat, unusual table lamps can be found cheaply in thrift shops, flea markets, consignment shops, yard sales and estate sales. A new, fresh, pretty lampshade can make the difference between chic and shocking; try Pottery Barn or Bed, Bath & Beyond, even Target or KMart for simple choices. Dust all lampshades and bulbs. Over-lit is as depressing as dim.

3. A pair of new, fresh hand towels — $20 to $30 for two — freshens up any bathroom. Thick, plush cotton feels luxurious every time you touch it.

4. How about your bath soap? Quality soap, even at $8 a bar, will last a month and scent the room. Try Roger & Gallet’s scents (the carnation is exquisite) or Maja, an old-school Spanish brand whose olive green bars come wrapped in crisp black tissue paper.

5. A new wooden spoon or sharp kitchen knife can inspire a weary cook, while a few fresh dishtowels can add color and life.

6. Clean! While housework is a miserable chore for some people, a sparkling, fresh-smelling home shouts “Welcome!” A bottle of lavender water, about $12, spritzed onto your pillowcases as you (yes) iron them offers a gentle way to drift off to sleep.

7. A throw rug adds softness, texture, color and pattern. Consider a cozy sheepskin, sisal, a dhurrie or a rag rug. If you live anywhere near a decent regional auction house, check out their offerings in person; the Senneh kilim — an antique flatweave with intricate designs — in our hallway was $50 at one of my favorite spots, William Smith’s in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Most auction houses list their items on-line and you can always call and ask for more details about size or condition.

8. A can of great paint, some rollers and a few hours of your time can totally change a room. Farrow & Ball, a British company whose products are sold internationally offer terrific, interesting colors; Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also have lovely choices. Check out SW’s Modern Gray, a pale, gentle shade the color of cigarette ash and F & B’s Blazer, a soft red, Gervase Yellow, a pale yellow-green and Babouche, a brilliant, rich, egg-yolk yellow. Put ’em together with a crisp white — gray and yellow make a gorgeous combination.

9. Make a folding screen. Wood, hinges, glue and a few yards of fabric can be sourced for about $100. I made ours from cream-colored barkcloth and silk obis I found at a vintage textiles fair — it hides our clunky, old, black TV in the corner. This weekend I’m revamping it with striped faux-silk for a new look.

10. Visit a few fab websites, like apartmenttherapy.com for inspiration. Borrow some gorgeous coffee-table design books from your local library, read them slowly and make notes of whatever inspires you most. Start a design file of colors, textures, materials and periods you love, whether mid-century Noguchi, Art Deco, 18th.-century mirrors — or the newly classic Ghost chair, made of clear plastic.

11. New knobs and/or a fresh coat of paint on kitchen or bathroom cabinets can instantly and stylishly change the feel of a room.

12. New cushions, or cushion covers, can add a spot of style to your sofa or loveseat. Here’s a fun sunflower cushion, $35 — a pair would be great. Symmetry and repetition adds punch.

A few favorite sources:

Rugs: Dash & Albert (small, cotton rugs in plaids, stripes and solids); Ballard Designs

Decorative Accessories, like mirrors, small frames, vases, and lighting: Wisteria, Anthropologie, Gumps, Sundance