Posts Tagged ‘renovation’

Making a pretty home: customize, re-purpose, DIY and upcycle

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style on March 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

The next instalment…stay tuned for the final one on framing your art and photos!

The real fun of making your home pretty is, for some people,  also the satisfaction of making it yours in small and telling details — from nice dishtowels that pick up the room’s colors to choosing and replacing nasty/worn/outdated hardware, whether on a chest of drawers, closet doors, kitchen cabinets and/or your front door knocker.

Even if you’re renting, there are many ways to make a space personal and absolutely individual.

Here are a few ideas:


When I decided we needed a fresh new look for our tired-looking fabric headboard and old curtains, I dreaded the yardage cost of nice fabric, let alone all the labor required to cut and sew it. Solution? Three $25 shower curtains from West Elm, whose large scale and clear, fresh colors were exactly what I needed; two curtains became our curtains and the third, torn to fit and tucked into the old headboard’s crevices, became basic fabric to use as needed. (Fabric sold by the yard is typically 54 inches wide, while most shower curtains are 72 inches in width.)

I found two great-looking bamboo/rattan storage boxes at my local garden supply store and, stacked one atop the other, they hold CDs in the lower one and all our nasty-looking extension and electronics charge cords in the smaller one on top; stuff is easy to find, and all that clutter is hidden. Sitting on top of that is a lovely early cutlery or candle box, bought at an auction or antique store, that perfectly fits/hides/keeps handy all our television remotes.

Olive, cream and taupe -- oh, my!

Olive, cream and taupe — oh, my!I fell in love with these gorgeous heavy cotton print napkins  — imagine what a gorgeous pillow cover they would make when (hand)-sewn together!























































This fabulous purple, cream, gray and black print fabric is a shower curtain at Anthropologie, for $88 and could make a fantastic headboard cover large enough even for a queen or king headboard. There’s a whole color scheme right there.


I found a great red and black wool flat-weave rug in a Toronto antique store for $125. It just needed some trim or edging; I bought two wide pieces of black Ultrasuede and added them to each end, (sewn on by our local dry cleaner). Much better!

Even the most tedious of dressers — found on the curb? At a consignment shop or thrift shop? — can be sanded and then painted any color you like and jazzed up with new and unusual knobs, like these ones below I selected from the dozens on offer at (yes, again) Anthropologie. Even your local hardware store or Home Depot has some great options for very little money, like these or these. Changing the knobs or handles on your furniture or kitchen cabinets can add a totally new look for little cash.

Ceramic, enamel, glass...lots of choices!

Ceramic, enamel, glass…lots of choices!












The world is full of great finds — but some need your creativity, vision, and sweat equity to get them there. When you need a piece of furniture or a lamp, especially, haunt your local thrift and consignment shops, flea markets and antique stores first for interesting options. If a piece is cheap enough, (i.e. has no intrinsic historic or esthetic value as is, to you or others,) change it! Paint it, stain it, or chop a dining table’s legs down to make it into a coffee table, for example.

Focus on the shape, size and condition of the object, not just its current color.

If it’s a lamp base, for example, it might be perfect in another color, or with a fresh new lampshade, maybe in a different size, color or shape. (Lampshades come in a dizzying array of options — round, rectangular, square, curved — and in thick paper and fabrics from burlap, linen, cotton and silk. Check out Ballard Designs for inspiration.)

$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!

$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!

Here’s a bedside lamp I found I found in an antiques shop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, for $55. It was then a sickly pale mint green with pink striping, but (measure!) I knew it was exactly the height I needed and could (being plain wood) easily be spray painted the creamy white I wanted to match another lamp already in the room. I bought a new cream silk lampshade and a ceramic finial. Voila!

Finishing touches

I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room's color scheme

I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room’s color scheme

Our pale green velvet sofa, (bought from Crate & Barrel a decade or so ago), had come with narrow piping that, on its cushions, had worn down to the interior threads from daily use. New covers were hopelessly expensive. I racked my brain, then sent the pillow covers to my favorite fabric workroom in (where else?) Middletown, Rhode Island. The owner, Cheryl, is amazing — she chose the weathered rust-colored linen she made into finger-width piping and gave our sofa a fantastic new look. Yay!

It’s not terribly expensive to custom-make (or sew by hand) gorgeous pillow covers for your sofa(s), bed(s) and chairs. A custom look (add welting, piping, ribbon) is easy to accomplish and looks like a million bucks, for much less.

Need help figuring out your next decorating steps?

Send me some photos and let’s do a consult — $150/hour.

Visiting Use-ta-ville

In aging, business, cities, culture, design, life, Style, travel, urban life on December 13, 2014 at 1:56 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Use-ta-ville…The place you go back to that’s now gone.

“It used to be…”

We’ve all got them, the places where we once lived or attended school or loved visiting or eating in or shopping at. As life changes, sometimes at a dizzying pace, it can be comforting to re-visit these spots. Many are filled with memories — great dates, a proposal, a graduation, a terrific meal — and the physical place becomes a touchstone.

One of the most-loved indie bookstores in Manhattan, Posman Books, is closing its Grand Central location on New Year’s Eve — to make room for (what else?) some costly new building. So annoying!

It’s been such a lovely respite, while awaiting a train or a friend, to browse its well-edited selection of books and cards. I’ve made some great discoveries on its front tables over the years, and was thrilled when my own book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” briefly ended up in their front windows.

I grew up in Toronto, a sprawling city of 3 million people, and moved to New York a long time ago, but I still go back once or twice a year to see old friends and to enjoy places I’ve been visiting for decades.

Gone! One of my favorite antiques/vintage clothing shops in NYC

Gone! One of my favorite antiques/vintage clothing shops in NYC

Like Courage My Love, one of the city’s best vintage clothing shops and The Papery, a great little stationery store I once sold my home-made envelopes to when I was in high school, and — for many years — a beloved cafe called The Coffee Mill, which served strudel and espresso and schnitzel on its lovely outdoor terrace and cosy interior.

It closed in September 2014, after 50 years in business, back in the day when those kinds of foods were exotic to white-bread WASPy Toronto.

We also lost a favorite restaurant on Queen Street, Prague Deli, who had renovated it into an even more welcoming spot, a perfect refuge on a bitterly cold winter’s afternoon. Gone.

Toronto also recently lost the 65-year nightclub, the El Mocambo, where the Rolling Stones once played.

I often go back to my high school, Leaside High School, to talk to the students about what it’s like to make a living as a writer. It’s very odd, but also oddly comforting, to walk those terrazo-ed hallways once more. It looks exactly the same!

Every city, especially when there are millions or billions to be made flipping and developing commercial real estate, loses bits of its past, and we stand by helplessly mourning all those lost memories.

One of my favorite Manhattan cafes, Cafe Angelique on Grove Street in the West Village, disappeared overnight in the fall of 2014 when the landlord demanded $45,000/month in rent — for 1,000 square feet. My lasting memory of it now was a lunch I had there with a fellow journalist I’d long admired and listened to on American Public Media’s business show, Marketplace.

Now its gutted space is one more about-to-be-gentrified spot filled with a mega-brand.



One of the most poignant of these moments happened for me early in my courtship by Jose, my husband, who grew up in Sante Fe, New Mexico. His father was the pastor of a small Baptist church and they lived in church housing — all of which was torn down and replaced by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

So we stood admiring one of her legendary paintings as Jose said, wistfully, “This used to be my bedroom.”

All that’s left of his childhood home is a small courtyard with an apricot tree, whose fruit his mother used to make into jam.

Is there a place like this from your past you (still) miss?

Still there, since 1927, the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona

Still there, since 1927, the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona

The kitchen renovation: Done! The Big Reveal

In beauty, design, domestic life, food, life, Style on October 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

After 25 years of ugly, we finally have our brand-new kitchen, which my husband Jose  — (thank you, Jose!) — took out a loan for, and which he allowed me to design.

(All photos here were taken by him as well; he is a professional photographer.)

Our contractor, Bruce, brought his terrific team: Tim, Mike, John, Ray and Kevin, whose patience, good humor, talent, experience, ideas and general fabulousness made this process as much fun as dust, noise and chaos for a month can be. I will miss their company, consultations and the chance to watch such skilled workmen doing amazing things.

If you live anywhere near us — north of New York City — hire them!

From initial demolition to “done!” took four weeks, as promised. That was even with a few delays — wrong tile, wrong door — that had to be dealt with and replaced.

Here are some photos — OK, lots of photos! — to give you an idea of the dozens of decisions we made along the way, and why, and how they all played together in the end.



Colors, Materials and Finishes

I chose the color scheme after reading dozens of design magazines, some of them French and English, like Country Living. I wanted something neutral, but not boring (not white!), something that would work well with the soft gray walls of the adjoining dining room and the pale-yellow-green of the hallway, visible beyond.

Having studied color at design school, I knew that red and green, (complementary opposites on the color wheel), would work — so I went with a sage green and rusty-red, accented with a rich cream, the color of very good vanilla ice cream.

I chose pale green granite counters, with a honed finish: I don’t like the high gloss of polished stone and this powdery finish is totally different in feeling. It had the artisanal quality I wanted.

I chose tile that is machine-made but appears hand-made, with minor curves, bumps and color variations. The accent tiles differ in size, shape, number and texture, but they contain all the colors in the room.

The new wooden floor is herringbone, a pattern more common in European homes.


The walls are painted a Farrow & Ball color, Clunch, a cool beige. The cabinets are painted French Gray, another of their colors. I’m a huge fan of this British company and its rich, calm colors.


We chose a Bosch dishwasher primarily because they are extremely quiet — I work at home and the sloshing of our old dishwasher drove me nuts. If we ever sell this place, I also wanted to instal high-end appliances for re-sale value.

Our gas stove, four-burner, is 30 inches wide, and counter depth, made by Bertazzoni.


I chose three wall sconces from Restoration Hardware, and ordered them on-line. I wanted a rustic, patina-ed finish to complement the hand-made feeling of the tile. Their color echoes the accent tile, copper sink and oiled bronze faucet.

Two high hats (ceiling pots) add more illumination. I didn’t want under-shelf lighting, as it would have been visible. The sconces and high hats are both on separate dimmers.


Faucet and Sink

Hammered copper sink, from Lowe’s, ordered on-line.

Oiled bronze faucet, bought off the floor at our local Home Depot; the small spout to the right contains dish soap.

I chose those colors and finishes as all hardware in the apartment, (replaced from ugly, cheap brass originals), is oiled bronze, creating a unified look. I also wanted the deep rich brown of the copper to echo the rusty-red of the sconces, the color in the accent tile and the objects on our open shelves, some of which is brown-and-white Victorian transferware, which I collect.



Custom-made, lower ones only. The kitchen is small (eight feet long). I’m short and hate reaching for stuff. All the messy things are now stowed in a cabinet around the corner.


I blew $700 on outlets that are completely flush with the walls. They’re gorgeous.


I specified no hardware on the cabinets. Styles date. They also get grubby. They also hurt when you bump into them, which in a small, narrow kitchen, you always do.

We chose to have cabinets custom-made. It was a no-brainer. I wanted what I wanted — no compromises. Yes, they were more costly than Ikea.

My reasoning? It’s an hour’s drive to Ikea; I didn’t want to waste even more time fussing with fitting the stuff into a room whose walls (it turned out) were in appalling condition. Time is money. I’m fine with this choice.

For those of you trying to decide which route to take, here’s a recent post from Apartment Therapy on the pro’s and con’s of Ikea kitchens; and 124 comments from another AT post on the same topic.

The wooden box with French writing was all of $12; I found it at a local garden nursery and, lined with plastic, it keeps salt, pepper, oils, sugar, peanut butter and honey (the bare essentials), nearby but hidden.

The cotton throw rug, $20 from Pier One, is washable and, we hope, will keep our floors looking lovely.

The shelves, and brackets, also from Restoration Hardware, were stupidly expensive, but I didn’t have time or inclination to shop around endlessly for something less, and possibly less well-made. They turned out to have a subtle pale green finish, which was perfect; had my color scheme been different — not so much!


I’m short, and so always need a step-ladder to reach upper shelves. Here’s the pull-out drawer I also specified that keeps the step-ladder handy, but hidden.


We also re-made an adjacent closet into a stone-topped breakfast bar (that holds toaster, coffeemaker and juicer, with a built-in outlet in one wall.) The three drawers below it hold all work-related papers and documents.


We are loving it — everything glides smoothly and quietly. It’s both efficient and sensual.

Now I’m looking for clients, locally and by email/photo/Skype consultation. Happy to help you choose colors, furniture, lighting, fabrics, even just one room. 

You’ll find me at or 914-332-6065.

The value of re-making your home

In beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, life, Money, Style, urban life on September 29, 2013 at 12:03 am

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?

The kitchen renovation: Part Three

In beauty, design, domestic life, life, Style on September 28, 2013 at 12:40 am

By Caitlin Kelly


It’s starting to feel like a kitchen, kids!

We gratefully — while away on vacation in Canada — missed two weeks of noise, dirt and dust while the crew demolished our 30+ year-old kitchen, with its ugly molding, not-nice wooden cabinets and peeling tile floor.

Gone is the dishwasher whose replacement basket, (can you say rip-off?!) would have cost us $300. Gone is the chipped porcelain sink. Gone is the complete lack of a place to safely and cleanly stow garbage; we now have a slide-out bin with two containers.

We still await the installation of: counters, sink and faucet, outlets and the staining and finishing of the floor. And we got herringbone flooring, as my heart had fervently desired, a gift from the contractor who scored it for a fraction of the original price.

The crew of two, both Turkish, speak Turkish to one another and step onto the balcony to have a cigarette or make a phone call. They work crazy hard with no breaks. One, Mike, did our bathroom four years ago and it’s good to have someone I know, like and trust with me in my home all day.

I’m honored that Mike, whose career expertise is working with tile, (and these guys normally work on much larger and wealthier projects than ours), loved my tile choice. Yay!

The workmanship is terrific — the wooden drawers slide smoothly and stop slowly and firmly. When I noticed a 1/8th of an inch (probably less) difference in one, it was fixed within seconds. We could have saved some money by buying Ikea cabinets, but I wanted exactly what I wanted, and the smooth, solid, heavy wood, with dovetailed drawers, made to our exact specifications, feels good.

It’s helpful to actually be here now, as a few surprises showed up — like the installation of the wrong accent tile. The right tile arrived and is even prettier than I’d hoped.

It is both gratifying and terrifying to watch my design — even road-tested with 3D scale models — come into full color and shape. A lovely surprise? The insets which replace drawer handles reflect daylight from the nearby windows. So does the glossy, creamy tile, making the small, narrow room much brighter than before.

Here are some photos of it…the final blog post will be the Big Reveal.


You can see the herringbone floor; gray-green cabinets (which will not have exterior hardware); the stove; wall tile (yet ungrouted), and the space where the accent tile will go.


This is the cost of doing business…a corner of our living room filled with tools for the duration.


And there goes our balcony…needed as a place to cut tile. Mike did it there — in February! — last time.


With his permission, Mike…and the sink side of the kitchen.


There will be three of these Restoration Hardware sconces, each 10″ in diameter. An unpleasant surprise? The illustration on the RH website shows a lovely glow — but not the fact that the bulb protrudes and is visible.


Here’s my lovely husband making a silly face as he grills a week’s worth of meat on our balcony — with our table as a windbreak.

The kitchen renovation: Part Two

In behavior, design, domestic life, food, life, Style, urban life on September 6, 2013 at 1:29 am

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”!


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)


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.


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.


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…


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?

Related articles

The kitchen renovation: Part One

In beauty, design, domestic life, food, life, Style, urban life, US on August 10, 2013 at 12:19 am

By Caitlin Kelly

When you’ve waited 25 years for something, it’s easy to get just a little obsessed.

The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...

The roasting spit in this European medieval kitchen was driven automatically by a propeller the black cloverleaf-like structure in the upper left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We start our kitchen renovation soon, and the next four to six weeks will be a crazy time. The fridge will be in the entrance hall, for a while, (called a foyer here, pronounced foy-ur). We’ll make toast and coffee and juice in the dining room and, hopefully, grill or eat cold food on our balcony.

As we get ready, packing up all our cookware and tableware, we’re giving away a lot of stuff we haven’t been using or are sick of, so it’s a fresh start in other ways as well.

The galley kitchen is small — eight feet long with a 39-inch wide floor between counters.

Our sexy new Italian stove, a 30-inch gas Bertazzoni, comes with a free microwave, an item I have never owned or wished to own, so maybe we’ll use that as well.


If you’re thinking of tiling a large space, photograph the tiles, then make enough color copies  — preferably to scale (i.e. their actual size) — to fill that space so you can visualize it.

Deciding to renovate is scary! It means making a big leap of faith — that Jose will keep his job, that we’ll be alive and healthy enough to enjoy it, that we’ll realize some of that investment if/when we sell the apartment.

It also means making a shitload of spend-y and permanent decisions: tile, counters, sink, faucet, flooring, walls, lighting, appliances. No wonder so many people freak out or hire a designer or just choose all-white as the safest default.

We’ve chosen, (yes, I’ll post lots of photos), a light green granite for the counters, a copper sink and oiled bronze faucet, these Restoration Hardware sconces and two sorts of tile, cream and an accent that is pale green, rust and cream.

The granite will be honed, which gives it a matte finish. I hate the glare and reflection when working on polished stone in a kitchen; we love it in our bathroom.

We’re skipping upper cabinets in favor of open shelves, also from Restoration Hardware. They’re about one third the cost and I just don’t like the hemmed-in feeling of cabinets.

Here’s the Farrow & Ball colors — cream for the walls, green for the cabinets.


The floor will be oak, either laid diagonally, (which visually expands the room) or herringbone, which I really prefer.

We’ve bought a Bosch dishwasher, super-quiet — I work a few feet from the kitchen and will be happy not to hear its noise.

In the mid 1990s I studied at the New York School of Interior Design, (and got an A in our color class, from our terrifyingly demanding Swiss teacher.) I did well and learned a great deal, so feel a little more confident than the average bear.

I know, for example, that red and green are complementary colors (think Christmas, but different) so the tones of red/rust and green will work together harmoniously. The cream will be variegated in tone and rough-edged but a neutral. We’ll choose the wall and cabinet colors after everything is installed and I can see how it all relates; we’re doing that work ourselves to save money.

But still…


A few things that have brought us this far:

— Reading shelter books — aka home design and renovation magazines — for years and creating a highly detailed file of photos for reference, everything from styles of electrical outlets to possible color schemes. When it came time to buy, I didn’t necessarily buy the exact items but I had a visual vocabulary and a coherent scheme. The look I wanted is English country kitchen but a bit rough-edged.

— Reading a wide array of design/home/cookware catalogs for inspiration and ideas.

My Farrow & Ball color chart. We already have F & B colors in our living room/hallway (Gervase Yellow) and bathroom (mustard yellow.)

— Carefully examining others’ kitchens and talking to friends who recently renovated about what they chose and why. Learn from others’ mistakes!

— Knowing our $25,000 budget would be blown before we began, by about $6,000. Fuck it. I’m happy chasing more assignments when I see the results in front of me every day.

— Knowing, liking and trusting our contractor and his workmen, who did our bathroom renovation about four years ago. They were friendly, meticulous and did a great job. We’re happy to see them again.

— Once you start choosing your elements, keep a file folder of photos of all of it for reference.

— If you are adding three-dimensional elements, (like our sconces which are each 10″ wide and 10″ deep), make a mockup and attach it to the wall so you can see it in 3D, and how it fits with everything else before you buy. We made a color photocopy and stuck in onto a 10″ deep piece of foamcore (reinforced paper available at office supply stores) or cardboard.

— Reading blogs like Apartment Therapy, which features everyday renovations almost daily, with the backstory and a list of sources.

— Checking out Houzz for all sorts of design inspiration; they have 362,770 images of kitchens!

— Reading British, French and Canadian design magazines — whose editorial choices are often very different (and to my mind much more interesting) from that of American magazines. Europeans, especially, often live in much smaller spaces and so is ours. The monster American kitchen reno’s typically featured have no relevance for our needs. Nor their huge budgets!

Twenty reasons I (still) love my home, 23 years later

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on August 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’ve never lived in one home this long. Ever.

Growing up in Toronto, between the ages of 3 and 30, when I left, I lived in three houses and four apartments, none of which I owned.

Between September 1982 and June 1989, I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto (different apartment)-Montreal-rural New Hampshire-New York.


I moved into this one-bedroom suburban New York apartment in June 1989. It was the absolute most we could afford to buy, assuming we’d be moving into a house within a few years as my first husband’s income improved.

Not quite. Finally solvent after years of medical training, he left the apartment and the marriage within two years of our wedding. Sweet!

I stayed, damn glad I’d insisted on the pre-nuptial agreement that made sure I could.

I’m writing this on our balcony. The wind is blowing. A helicopter just buzzed straight overhead, low. I can hear crickets, and the low hum of traffic on the bridge a mile away.

Here’s why I’m still (surprisedly) happy to be here:

It’s been my emotional anchor. Since we moved in, ripping out all the ugly cat-pee-stinky carpeting, I’ve been married and divorced and remarried. I’ve had four surgeries, won and lost well-paid jobs, sold two books. Put my dog to sleep. This familiar space has comforted me with unchanging stability through it all.

The view. A tree is finally growing into our terrific view of the Hudson River. My next door neighbor and I are plotting how to trim it without having to plead hopelessly with the co-op board.

The breeze. On all but the hottest days, a delicious breeze blows through our windows, atop a high hill.

Top floor! 

The pool. I see its turquoise glimmer beckoning me through the trees. It makes me feel wealthy indeed to have access to a pool — and not have to take care of it.

Can you see it?

Wildlife. The other night a very large coyote stood barely 20 feet from me in our parking lot. Deer routinely graze on our lawn, and we hear raccoons often. We even have enormous wild turkeys on our street. All this so close to New York we can see the Empire State Building from our street.

Good neighbors. When you stay a long, long time in one spot, you get to know, like and trust — you hope! — a few of your neighbors. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2008 about my building for The New York Times.

A sense of history. I’ve seen tiny babies, once held football style in the hallways here, go off to college. I still remember, well, many of our older residents who’ve left, a few for nursing homes and far too many to the cemetery.

It’s my ever-evolving design lab. I studied interior design in the 1990s, and have changed the wall colors here many times. The front hallway began a brilliant lemon yellow, paled to a softer version, was coral for a few years and is now, best of all, a Farrow & Ball color, Gervase Yellow. My bedroom walls have gone from sponge-painted Greek taverna-wall blue to aqua to a soft gray. (If you want to make a serious, fantastic investment in your home, try F & B paint. It’s costly, but worth every penny.)

Our bathroom. Love it. I designed every inch of it — all 5 x 7 feet — from the curved wall-mounted wooden vanity to the mirror I had made by re-purposing an antique Chinese frame. Our new tub is 21 inches deep. Heaven!

Sunsets. They’re simply amazing, every one more beautiful than the rest.

An ever-changing weather movie. We see snow, hail, rain and even occasional tornados as they move south or east towards us across the Hudson River. Some mornings the fog is so thick we can’t even see our own parking lot. It’s a New York version of the classic 1857 woodblock by Hiroshige of a yudachi, a sudden summer downpour.

See what I mean?!

Low-maintenance. In the summer, our balcony plants need watering. But rarely do we need to spend for the plumber, electrician or a professional plaster and paint touch-up. I prefer having the additional time, physical energy and cash this allows.

Light! I thrive on natural light, and with large windows facing northwest, no tall buildings nearby and none ever likely to be erected, this is never an issue. Especially working at home, even the gloomiest days are not oppressive.

Less money needed for furniture/curtains/electronics/art. I’d rather own fewer, better things than inhabit a huge space that’s half-empty or jammed with junk. Living in a smaller space forces us to edit carefully, choosing only what we value, use and that truly delights our eye.

Seasonal decor. Our living room looks very different in summer than winter, as we switch out colors, designs and materials, (like a scarlet kilim rug for a white catalogne; red and yellow paisley pillow covers for white and emerald green.) It saves wear and tear on our things and gives us a fresh look to enjoy. We also move our art — photos, drawings, prints, lithos, paintings and posters — from room to room, sometimes (gallery style) putting some away for a few years so we can appreciate them anew.

A good layout. I should be sick of the same four walls. But with six discrete areas in 1,000 square feet — seven in summer with the 72 square foot balcony — I very rarely feel cramped.

We’re not “underwater.” We’re not making out like bandits, but we have equity in our home and a fixed mortgage rate that’s decent. It’s deeply un-American to stay put, and not keep moving up into larger, costlier housing.  I do sometimes long to inhabit a house again. But knowing we can weather almost every financial storm and not lose our home to some toxic mortgage or sudden jump in property taxes offers comfort in these times of such financial insecurity.

Our stone walls. The property once belonged to a wealthy land-owner who built deep, thick stone walls with jagged edges facing the street. When covered with a layer of snow, they look exactly like a row of teeth!

It’s affordable. While our monthly costs, of mortgage and co-op fees combined, might seem high to some people, they’re crazy low for New York, where $5,000 a month or more is fairly normal for a mortgage, even some rents. I was single and freelance from 1996 to 2001, and could still handle the cost, with the added benefit  of never facing a sudden rent increase or forced sale.

How do you feel about your home?


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