To Pin or Not to Pin
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

At the end of the day it’s just a blue room with a dog poised amongst its decor and an aerial view of a house in Tuscany. Very charming for sure but given the thousands of images I’ve posted over the years (so much more compelling) why are these two pictures still so popular? Why, despite the fact that its been months since I’ve first pinned them to Pinterest and shared them on Twitter, someone repins or retweeets them on a daily- if not hourly basis? In fact I’m sure someone is doing it whilst I write this. How these images are still finding their way into the world- long since their news feed prime- is as pointless as trying to understand why that very pretty- but not particularly charismatic girl - ended up snagging that incredible bachelor whom no one ever thought would marry. Why her? Why now? It’s not that she’s the prettiest, or the smartest, or the funniest or the most charming. It’s that imperceptible twist of being in the right place at the right time between the beholder and beholdee. I’ve posted other rooms with other sorts of dogs (breeds I actually find cuter) and villas shot much more intimately with decor you can actually see (that would knock your socks off) and still…it doesn’t matter. The heart wants what it wants.Trying to unearth its secret code is like pulling apart a flower: eventually all that remains are shreds of color and stem in your hands. The beauty is in the response to the whole, when the trifecta of eye, heart and head merge and do a little happy dance. Some stop and do this. Others just walk (scroll) past, in the thick of their days, heads down, unmoved. Wait! You want to shout. How can you not LOVE this (me) too?!
A dear friend of mine actually reposted the villa in Tuscany picture on her Pinterest travel board (she has six times the amount of followers as I do) to see what would happen and as of today she has four repins and on my board it has over a thousand. I too have pillaged super popular pins from others’ boards and shared with my followers only to find no takers.
When it comes to inspiring others, you can’t manipulate or over think it. Take a picture and share it as if no one else in the world will see it but you. Because being admired shouldn’t be validation of something (or someone’s) place on this planet. I am shared therefore I am. Numbers should not gage. After all, the celebration is in the very being. Take it. Or leave it.



Queen for a Day
Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Last month I was lucky enough to be a guest in two castles: one in France and the other in Manhattan. The former: is an 18th century, 45,000 square foot affair, boasting 14 guests rooms on 80 manicured acres owned by Los Angeles-based interior design Timothy Corrigan. The latter, is in a basement of a residential building bordering Gramercy Park, where five doormen change and take breaks between shifts in the lobby upstairs.
Timothy welcomed me over the course of two days, where I videotaped the cozy splendor of his renovation along with my colleague and partner in style crime, Stacey Bewkes of the blog, Quintessence. When we weren’t shooting or Instagramming, we were joyously eating, exploring, gossiping and basically ending every sentence with an exclamation point. In New York, I was alone, having dropped off some boxes in a friend’s building who had kindly loaned my son their abode for shooting a short film the following week. While my other son waited in my illegally parked car, the doorman kindly took the boxes filled with equipment and I asked to use the bathroom. He pointed to a small elevator. The rickety box descended and I came into a corridor of whitewashed cement walls leading to a common space filled with mismatched chairs, rugs and floor lamps. Immediately a young man beckoned me to come in as I asked if I could use the facilities. “Someone is changing- hold on! Hey Juan!” The man called behind his ear, encouraging the other doorman to vacate the bathroom. It’s OK, I told him, no rush. It actually was a rush but I was too taken with the décor: every square inch was filled - not in a hoarder-ish way, but thoughtfully- with pictures, plants, antiques and curious bric-a-brac.
In France, Timothy greeted us in blue jeans, offering champagne before our coats were even off. There was nothing show-y about the richness he had created here: you could tell he was as equally dazzled by his good fortune but smart enough to understand how to appreciate and preserve its beauty. Occasionally he rents the place to special groups. When I asked if he wasn’t terrified having people traipse across his beloved floors and past his invaluable tapestries he shook his head with a smile. His chateau was clearly no longer a fortress: it’s a cozy place meant to be shared. Otherwise what on earth’s the point?
In New York down in that subterranean world, I felt equally at home and transported: I wanted to sit in the rocking chair and hear about the men’s daily lives, how they came to turn a place of work into a refuge. As soon as they saw my genuine interest in what they had done, they took turns proudly showing me how pieces of antiques - discarded from prior owners upstairs- had been reincarnated down below. Dozens of pictures had been hung with an expert eye turning the white basement wall into a gallery-like backdrop. One man, Pedro- clearly the space’s design instigator- showed me an old print he had found of the infamous train crash of 1895 at the Paris railway station and how someone in the building visiting Paris sent him a postcard of that same picture. He had carefully tucked the post card into the corner of the framed image, further personalizing it. He had never been to France and most likely never would but his slice of it, contained here to look at every day, clearly brought him much contentment. He showed me other trinkets and mementos: the entire space was layered and edited with as much care as Timothy did in his chateau. (There wasn’t a corner chez Corrigan that didn’t lure you with its artful landscape of craftsmanship, color, whimsy or just plain pedigree.)
I was tempted to run and get my son: I wanted to share Pedro’s visual talent the way I always do when I see great decorating but I feared getting a ticket.
So I asked Pedro if he wouldn’t mind if I took a picture. He nodded with pleasure and pulled back a cumbersome wire that hung in front of an antique mirror so I could get a cleaner shot.
While Stacey and I shared both our video and images to friends and followers alike, our well-anticipated documentation came at the heels of Timothy’s own successful book on the chateau’s transformation. We were taking our takes on an already very taken environment.
In that window-less basement, while the men readied their ties for work, I felt an equal urge to share their nest in my own little way. Had anyone but these men and myself seen what they had done? Did it matter? I stepped back to take it all in. I knew I couldn’t do it justice. But Pedro was holding the wire even higher so I could see the reflection of an oil painting he had just discovered on the street in the mirror’s reflection.
For a moment, my mind flashed back to my black and coral guestroom in France: when I impatiently waited for the sun to rise so I could take a picture of the vast topiary gardens outside my window. I couldn’t wait for people to see what my eyes were lucky enough to witness: beauty, history, and appreciation. Most of all generosity. And here in Gramercy Park was the same feeling.
So I took the picture. In both places. And like the wonderful hosts they are, both Timothy and Pedro made sure to ask: “Did you get what you needed?”



Home Free
Saturday, December 28th, 2013

I discovered a rare video from a 1977 visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell in Cape Town— or rather his only home for 27 years— and remarked on the details he inserted to make it feel a little more his own despite its claustrophobic confines: a large black and white photo of his wife, tidy shelves of cherished books; two rows of ripening green tomatoes, pictures of his children, a small desk (almost proud of itself as if to say: “I will fit in here”), a cot neatly made with a wool blanket.
Order was at work here but the self imposed kind. The outside was brought in to remind Mandela of the world outside and yet, placed within the tiny space in a very careful way. Too much would overwhelm and remind that loss was unfolding minute by minute. But just enough detail could represent hope to return to that life: hope as crucial to survive as oxygen.
I also just watched the riveting and heartbreaking documentary “Blackfish,” about the fate of many killer whales, who, when forced to spend lonely years in captivity at SeaWorld, eventually rebel aggressively. No Orcas have ever been known to hurt a human they’ve encountered in the wild. And yet- torn from their beloved family packs by humans, separated from the children they’ve often been forced to breed, obliged to perform humiliating tricks for tourists, eventually, they break down. It is not unlike torture we give prisoners during war.
As I snuggle into my cozy nest tonight surrounded by my family all tucked into their beds nearby, I can’t help but think of Tilikum, the whale at SeaWorld who was ordered into more solitary confinement after he attacked a trainer. The film makes it clear that after years of boredom and attacks from other equally depressed whales in prison-like tanks, Tilikum eventually lost it.
He’s now alone, not moving for hours at a time, coming out a few times a day to perform. Obviously defeated and still unable to express himself, Mandela found a way to keep an inner peace and equilibrium during his oppression. Sadly we cannot bring in mementos from the outside world to soothe Tilikum. A photo of the ocean we snatched him from?
Thinking of him in his cell, makes me long for his freedom. Mandela thankfully finally found his by walking out of prison back into society. For Tilikum, his release would mean swimming through endless miles of free waters. In other words, home.



A Load of Gratefulness
Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Imagine decorating a room for someone you’ve never met in about a week. Sure, you have a few weeks time to prep but access to the space is extremely limited. May I mention it’s in a historic mansion on Fifth Avenue with a grandly curved staircase that would make Edith Wharton weep? May I also mention there is no storage, no dumpster, no parking and no second-guessing? What comes in, better work. What goes out better be empty boxes only. (But you can’t leave them there.) There are sponsors to make proud, vendors to please and ticket holders to delight. (And just a week to install.) From the cozy confines of your desk, where your world feels as familiar as the back of your hand, you have to imagine, reinterpret and realize four walls (or on the map known as the Walk In Closet, Room #204) until they become more than just a room but an environment. I’m not a decorator. I’m more of a stylist and help-guru. When Iris Danker asked me to do a room for the Holiday House, which benefits breast cancer, I was flattered and hopeful but hesitant.
It helps to have a muse. Mine I saw on Instagram one evening. An incredibly stylish woman reading about her just-happened wedding in Vogue while lounging on a stupendous pink velveteen sofa in front of a wall lined with drop dead gorgeous de Gournay wallpaper. Her coffee table was a Louis Vuitton trunk. Her hair was wrapped in a bath towel. Something about this picture…my potential room latched onto the spirit of her. Later I saw some Florence Broadhurst’s peacock feathered wallpaper on Pinterest. How I wish I had a room to wallpaper at my home…and then it occurred to me. I called Studio Four and asked if they’d considering donating it to the show house. In fact a client had ordered four rolls and decided not to use it. They were mine. I called Iris: I was in.
I found an amazing sponsor, Ballard Designs, who was excited for me to pair whichever combination of their pieces with fabrics in whichever way I chose. Magenta velveteen on their Griffin nailhead sofa? Absolutely. In a way they were like a dream client. Another hero was Mark Turner, who agreed to wallpaper and paint the room and actually responded to my emails with estimates and opinions. With his puckish Scottish accent he promised he’d come on Monday and be done by Thursday and I believed him. He suggested bordering the windows and trim with a dark color: I hadn’t thought of that and frantically told him I didn’t know which color would be best: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” When I came in on Thursday he was gone and the room was magically transformed with spreads of peacock feathers bordered by the perfect glossy gray paint. He had even hung the modern painting and took away many errant boxes that had nothing to do with his world. On Friday it was the electrician’s turn to come and hang the chandelier, which had been flown in from Venice, Italy courtesy of 1st dibs New Orleans dealer Karina Gentinetta. The large boxes had to be picked up at her showroom twenty blocks away and brought to the show house by my intern and I on a blustery November morning. We prayed that the taxi gods would send us someone who would agree to open their back trunk. It takes a village to raise a civilization, but it also takes a village to make a show house room happen: a cab driver from Bangladesh, a painter from Scotland and an artisan from Venice, Italy who so painstakingly wrapped all 50 of the individual murano glass leaves to the chandelier. And here I was three days later, unwrapping the same paper as the electrician stood by. “These Italians,” he kept saying with gruff admiration. I closed my eyes briefly, overwhelmed as the moving trucks honked below and envisioned the serene studio in Venice, where water lapped up to its edge and artisans created shapes from glass that resembled feathers. Trust me I will never just simply walk under a light fixture again without appreciating the dozens of steps- not to mention phone calls- that ultimately ensure its sexy dangling. Furniture started to arrive later that day: the house was a chaotic catacomb of deliveries: hundreds of boxes and people directing them and carrying them into the many rooms all being transformed. The dozens of anonymous people who were there merely to serve rather than create. Those people are as instrumental to the room’s final beauty as any of the decorators. As I went for a Starbucks run, one young man was pushing a dolly of stacked boxes into one entrance only to be told to exit and go in again another way. He patiently did what he was told only to come back into the same place and be told he couldn’t come in that way. I thought about his fate the rest of the day and realized much of his every day was having a day like that. One woman was outside patiently opening up dozen of boxes of giant red Christmas tree bulbs. (The night of the gala I scurried past the glamorous entrance: now glowing with camera light and people in heels, furs and festive smiles and glimpsed them now carefully tucked into urns. I thought of that woman and hoped she was tucked into a cozy chair at home with a toddy and a bathrobe.)
Once all the furniture was in and the chandelier hung it was time to unwrap the large painting, “Alice” Karina had painted especially for the room. The wallpaper artisans from the room next door to mine kindly helped me use a razor blade to reveal it as I was too scared to unpeel its many shipping layers and had only brought bulky scissors. With the hands of a surgeon he did the job in minutes. “Is nice, is so nice,” he said as we both considered its fiery splendor together. An enormous floor mirror arrived downstairs and two young designers who looked like models took time away from assembling their own rooms and helped hold the bulky cardboard down with their high heeled boots as we ultimately wedged it out. Then I suddenly realized: the boxes! How was I going to get all these enormous empty boxes back into my car to take back to Connecticut to somehow dispose of them there? The ever-able show house manager Barbara, suddenly pointed to a dapper man coming out of the mouth of an enormous truck: he helped the company who was the show house ’s sponsor and they actually owned my sponsor: a phone call was made to Atlanta: yes! He’d take my boxes for me and a few furniture pieces the room didn’t ultimately need, back to the warehouse. I’ll never forget when one guy by the giant truck turned to me and in his heavy Bronx accent and simply said: “What can I do?” “These boxes-“ I began, weary with gratefulness. He had loaded them in before I could finish.
On the fourth floor a designer was happily spray painting his walls in pink and had planned his room down to the pink-wrapped chandelier shades. Another was going to fill an insert in her high ceiling with balloons that were chic enough to live with every day.
After the spectacular craziness of opening night gala and the appreciation that comes from experiencing a process I had for so long admired from afar- the most moment was witnessed at the end of the load-in day. In the swirling madness of problems and people and deliveries and creativity, I went over to thank Barbara and tell her my room was done and I was finally going home. She was talking to a man and held her finger out to me to give her another moment with him. After a few moments I could see her eyes were wet and she was handing the man two passes to the show house. “This gentleman has been here all day moving the heaviest of boxes,” she turned to tell me. “His wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer.” I didn’t know what to say except I just touched him on his shoulder. A shadow of fear and confusion seemed to moved across his face, momentarily dampening his smile. He nodded and was gone.
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Foreclosure
Thursday, October 24th, 2013

At a recent dinner party I overheard a friend talking about a house in our area that was in foreclosure. I knew the property: years ago the former owners had a child in our son’s class and had been active hosts. The house is grand country manor in its flavor and is perched over glorious hills of abundant land trust that seem to roll endlessly in all directions. It’s the kind of house that asserts its authority over you from the moment you cross its threshold and succumb to its cavernous rooms and priceless views. No matter how many times I visited the house, whether for a Mexican dinner or a surprise birthday party, the house dictated the mood and spoke before anyone even took my coat. “I don’t care that it’s a Wednesday night and you have bills to pay,” it seemed to chide me as I walked up to its massive door. “I will impress you all the same.”
So the other day when I drove past the pillars marking the entrance I suddenly found myself turning in. The owners had moved away years ago. The long driveway which stretched luxuriously through woods was now so overgrown it had almost dissappeared. I could hear the long weeds that had pushed through the gravel brush against the undercarriage of the car. I pulled into the entrance circle and got out. Of course everything was locked. A little notice had been tacked on the front door, announcing the foreclosure. My mind quickly remembered a holiday party when a thick Christmas wreath had hung in its very place. A man then drove up in a battered truck and asked me if I was the listing agent. His thick arms were covered with tattoos and he held a camera. I told him I was not the agent. I didn’t know how to explain why I was there but he didn’t care and rapidly started taking pictures. He explained he had been hired by the bank to clean the property. I wasn’t sure what that had to do with taking pictures but since he left me alone to explore I did to him as well. In a way it felt like we were both detectives at a crime scene. The house felt dead and its lifelessness fascinated and saddened me. It was like getting close to a magnificent animal that’s been smugly shot by a hunter. I walked around. Above me, some third floor windows were covered by boards and I cringed a little on behalf of the house’s pride. The giant rooms were empty, even the lighting fixtures were gone from the soaring ceilings. The pool was clogged and cluttered with debris. The garden trellis more Tim Burton now than Beatrix Potter. Only the great views remained unaltered but they too, seemed aware that they were going unnoticed, the daily gaze upon their glory had now gone elsewhere.
It’s a given that our homes provide us shelter and contain our memories as they unfold and the minutes tick by. What we tend to forget is how much they need us, too. It’s not just about the money. They need our energy and faith. Otherwise they are powerless and must wait. Who will decide if this place is worth resurrecting? When will it have a chance to impress again? As I walked back to my car the truck was gone. I had lingered longer than I expected. I couldn’t help touching the shingled side of the house before leaving. I wanted to reassure it somehow that while it wasn’t me, I had faith that someday soon, somebody would come.



Fun House
Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

I was standing on a jasmine-wrapped stone wall, staring at the endless blue band of the Mediterranean. Behind me, a Moroccan-style villa pulsated with jet setters, music and enough alcohol, food, gossip to fuel us for the entire summer. While they would all have to leave at the end of the night, I had a palatial guest room with an ocean view. I could do anything I wanted: swim, sleep, dance some more or watch how the full moon made the white of my party dress (actually my old graduation dress) glow against my deep tan.
But instead I called my brother back in Massachusetts.
For some reason, he answered on the first ring. (Usually, I jumped up to retrieve while he changed the channel and reached for another double-stuffed Oreo.) We weren’t really close then even though he was only a year older. But hearing his voice now brought tears to my eyes. “Get me the hell out of here!” I cried before he could even say hello. I heard him change the channel. Then with detached practicality he said: “Aren’t you in Majorca?” I was impressed he even knew my whereabouts. We were both still in college and our summers were a hazy, lazy mix of baby sitting (me) and landscape jobs (him) with television watching in between. My jaunt to Spain to reunite with an old high school boyfriend was a racy enough itinerary that our grandparents and the country club had definitely not been informed. This former boyfriend was every parents’ nightmare: in high school his Venezuelan accent alternatively dazzled and destroyed me. He had always spoken of his family’s vacation home in Majoraca as the stuff of dreams. When we were together he’d spun tales of how we’d some day taste all of its offerings. When we were apart, I tortured myself about a paradise I would no longer experience. And somehow— even though we had broken up post graduation— a few phone calls and years later had conjured up a romantic plan where we would suddenly reunite in that paradise come August. I remember at the beginning of the summer cutting up a greasy grilled cheese at the club for some bratty young charge and chanting silently: “Majorca, Majorca…” The count down to salvation had begun.
And now I was there and all I wanted was to be home cutting up greasy grilled cheese sandwhiches and watch my brother decide between Kung Fu and Wheel of Fortune. “What’s wrong with it there?” he asked. Somehow all I could think of was that the sliced kiwi put next to my bed every night— a touch at first so wonderfully exotic— now looked like evil eyes gazing at my despair.
My ex, who was supposed to be my boyfriend while I was visiting (at least I thought that was the plan?) after about two days started courting a woman on the island who looked to be half mermaid. I had even dreamed one night that she rose out of the ocean to climb through my window and eat the kiwi before departing, making me feel as invisible as my host now was. It was then I realized I hadn’t been given my own bedroom out of respect. It was so that he could keep his options open. But all I could think to tell my brother was: “I need to leave earlier.” As Pink so eloquently proclaimed in her hit, Fun House: “This used to be a fun house. And now it’s full of evil clowns.” I wish my young self had someone like Pink in her life back then. Pink was so angry and heartbroken that she was willing to set a match to her once blissful abode and “burn this f*cker down.” That’s exactly how I felt. Even though the villa was not my home its carnival-like cruelty— after years if hoping it would be a haven— made me feel even more betrayed.
No new plane ticket could be re-issued so days went by as though I was wearing an invisible cloak, no matter how more tan I became. No one spoke to me. Female staff padded past me in pale pink uniforms, bearing breaksfast trays for bedrooms behind closed doors. (Once they saw my faded LL Bean luggage amongst the Louis Vuitton suitcases I was American non grata.)
I envied their access not to mention purpose. What was I doing here? Pink would have surely encouraged me to swim back to Boston. But Pink hadn’t been born yet. Instead all I could hear inside my head was the sickly sweet refrain of Crosby Stills Nash’s (a boarding school favorite): “Our house, is a very, very, very fine house. With two cats in the yard…” It was an ode to David Crosby and Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon’s love nest and its simplicity broke my heart over and over as I stared out at that moon night after night until my ultimate departure: “I’ll light the fire, you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today”…
Yesterday a colleague sent me beautiful flowers thanking me for attending a book signing they had arranged to perfection. I placed them in a vase and found just the right corner table beneath a painting of flowers my husband ’s aunt had made and given us for our wedding. I couldn’t wait to show him. He’d be home soon. Sun was streaming in through the windows. I knew now that pictures and fantasies only tell half a story. The other half was always the reality that was in the living it. And that half, was greater.



Hockey Mom Seeks Shelter
Sunday, September 15th, 2013

As you pull to the rink you start the chanting to whatever god or spirit lords above, knowing that your plea is paltry compared to the suffering of others yet nonetheless, you pull for yours to be heard above the universal din: “Please make the rink be nice, please make the rink be nice.”
But of course “nice” is all relative in the realm of hockey; rinks where your child - a goalie - spends at least four days a week from August’s end til mid March. They are dimly lit, barren, scrappy affairs, the roof’s only purpose to keep the cold in.
He is fluffed, primed, fed and poised. He will enter and be welcomed by a goalie coach, teammates and the sweet smell of anticipation and sail off, one hundred pound bag of equipment be damned.
As for you the hockey mom, the thought of your needs in the hour leading up to the game (yes, they must be there an entire hour before) except for wanting to be sure that you have filled the car with gas to get your child to the rink nobody could give a rat’s ass about your comfort once you get there. You are on your own and for those of you who revel in the superficial and emotional pleasures of physical comfort, visual beauty and things like organic food, be prepared to enter a kind of hell. An unspoken if extremely effective torture is leaving a cold area outside to go into a shelter that is colder within. For that’s what greets you.
Inside the rink’s lobby, parents cluster holding extra large styrofoam cups from Dunkin’ Donuts always seem to be enjoy themselves and so your thought of staging a revolution is once again, shot down. Who cares about that crazy lady seeking a chai latte or Philip Glass music instead of Journey? Not us.
Here vending machines spew wretched snacks that would make Michelle Obama weep uncontrollably and bathroom floors already flooded by noon and the smell of old rubber permeates.
And from this waystation you go to an even more frigid pod: the rink itself. Even to this New England gal it’s a fresh affront every time. Nowhere cozy to sit except a plank narrower than a sea saw and offering a temperature that causes your butt cheeks to individually pucker. And yes, the rumors are true: not a lit Diptyque candle in sight.
Often I head back outside: for nature often provides a more welcoming environment that what humans have made for within. But outside the rink clusters of people smoke shamelessly, so if the weather doesn’t permit walking circles in the parking lot while gossiping with a girl friend by phone, I head back to my car. Here I can at least control my elements. I turn on music, heat and check Instragam accounts of people like Valentino, pretending that I too am docked in a port off Capri.
Once the game begins the rink feels a little more like a gathering place: the clock ticking away your required stay, sometimes feeling very fast and other times, extraordinarily slow. As much as I am thrilled to watch my son block puck shots with gloves that look like oven mitts on steroids, the drive home looms in the back of my mind with the luring intensity of a hypnotist’s chant. That and the always pending question of: is there anywhere around here I can get a pedicure?…
So from August’s end to March’s beginning, the trudge endures: a hockey Hillary step: often I feel tethered merely by the tiniest of moments: by the fact that a small Massachusetts town does indeed have a Starbucks or that the nice man in the rink actually had honey for a hot water to sooth my already sore throat. It was the Kirkland brand from Costco of course but at the time, it tasted like the nectar of the gods.
Maybe the journey is meant to do more than just fortify my son’s skills as a player: for it sets into even higher relief the joys of of my own home. An arena where I try to ignore the kitchen’s clock ticking towards the inevitable departure to the next game.



Janus
Saturday, September 7th, 2013

One of my favorite short stories is “Janus” by Ann Beattie. Its central character isn’t a person but an object: a bowl (”both subtle and noticeable”) owned by a real estate agent who feels it ensures her good luck every time she places it in a home she wishes to sell. In fact she becomes so indebted to the bowl’s captivating- not to mention lucrative powers- that she wishes it were a person, so she could thank it. At one point a client who had passed on buying a listing had called her to simply ask where she had found the bowl and the agent had pretended it was a gift.
I often wonder what captures strangers’ attention when they cross the threshold of our rental property: do they care if there are fresh flowers, if soothing music is playing, or the windows open? They may crave the smell of roses as much as Bach and a breeze. Creating a sensual environment may remind them of life’s simple pleasures and how this vacation home would be just the right tonic. “Roses!” You imagine the woman walking in and closing her eyes for a moment to inhale…remembering when her husband first brought her a bouquet. Or the smell of your roses reminds her of that god awful dated Yves Saint Laurent perfume her annoying co-worker used to slather on her body back in the eighties. Then the memory shifts to: “Honey, let’s ask to go back to that house we saw this morning with the view…”
So the question remains: stage to infatuate and risk offending? Or leave as neutral as possible.
One time as I was crossing over the entry hall rug to leave our rental property I noticed a tiny white thread in its corner. I thought to pick it up then admonished myself for being so anal. I pulled out of the driveway but actually stopped to go back inside and remove it, now congratulating my foresight: what if for some inexplicable reason that one little thread caught someone’s eye and set off a mental chain of negativity: the thread reminding them that they forgot to floss that morning which reminded them they had put off root canal for too long, which reminded them of pain and so on…resulting in a lack of interest in the house. Sometimes the people that seem to gush and love every detail about your property are the ones that you simply never hear from again while the ones who shuffle through quickly barely giving your personal touches a glance then wordlessly plunk down a hefty deposit as though buying the morning paper.
I must admit I did purchase a beautiful cream colored bowl which I craved for my own house but, at the last minute, placed it instead on the rental hall’s center table. Of course I thought of “Janus”. There’s always a danger in placing too much importance on a beloved object.
There’s also no denying that it’s our very possessions that distinguish our four walls and ceiling from the countless others. Isn’t our imprint ultimately all we have in this world? And yet, one can only look at a beautiful bowl and— as much as take pleasure from its creation— almost in the same glance, imagine its breaking.



Severed
Friday, July 5th, 2013

We’re fixing up a house above the lake we bought last winter, about five minutes as the crow flies from our home. The idea was to have it done and rented for the summer and ultimately, sell. As construction forged and sputtered throughout the winter it became clear that no one was going to be able to walk over rolls of insulation paper, sawdust and chaos and envision that the property would be ready by June. Quite honestly I didn’t think so either. When my husband- who was acting as kind of contractor- suggested we rent our home and stay there it seemed like a good idea. We were still in our beloved hood and could see a postcard patch of view of the lake from the new house and could still access it by dock below. Before we had a chance to rethink it, our house was rented. We were going away for ten days prior and, per terms of the contract, had to be out of our house and moved up to the new property literally the day before our departure. And then we’d arrive back late in the night and go straight to the rental property.
Having eyed the project with equal parts wariness and denial over the past six months, I now started to see its destiny in my direct future and began visiting the site. My husband couldn’t believe that I started burrowing silverware, towels, and lamps in preparation while he was still tackling issues like septic and where the kitchen sink would go. He looked up at me wild eyed with exhaustion over the architectural plans one night when I asked him what size bed skirts I needed to order. Basically we each needed to do what we needed to do to get the job done. All I knew was when we came to the house as occupiers straight from a seven-hour flight from the airport that it was crucial to me that we and the kids had cozy made beds to fall in to. It would center our individual universes as well as begin to make the slowly emerging house, feel whole.
As we settled in we continued to each do what was necessary to make it feel more like a temporary home: I placed flowers in vases cut from the previous owners’ impressive gardens (I felt guilty somehow even though I owned the property now, it felt like cheating) and my husband did things like replace water filters and built desks for our little loft offices using antique doors we found in the basement.
Old closets stuffed with the dusty detritus of another man’s 80-year-old life suddenly were reincarnated with shiny stainless steel shelves, now neatly filled with pet food, garbage bags and light bulbs. Its those little things- to know where they are and that you have them- are as much a home’s foundation as its literal one. Just as I was starting to get used to where the paper towels and fuse box were, just as I was carving a little domesticity in to the day by cutting some cheese for hors d’euvres, the new knife I had bought back in December for the house (I know) slipped on the new cutting board and into my thumb severing my tendon. I looked down in shock. It didn’t really hurt. What stung more was how much of an imposter I suddenly felt, in a home that while I owned, I clearly didn’t really belong in.
Now an enormous white cast reinforces how much I didn’t appreciate the normality of life before, even though life did not feel at all normal. I was constantly on the verge of being homesick, as pretty as the project turned out. Now I have to navigate the house and the every day demands one handedly.
So we’re into another new normal. And, as the layers of my tendon grow back and the skin heals over, conversely I will get closer and closer to the core of my true home back on August 1st. Until then, I have to try and keep making myself at home.



Unframed
Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever met Karina Gentinetta in person. I’m not sure I could tell you her favorite color or song. And maybe I never will. However, her artwork will soon be hung in a place of honor in our entry way. And while I’m not exactly sure what it will look like yet, I feel like I’ve already had it my whole life. This is the connection women make with one another, when creativity is shared like comfort over a late night phone call to someone in need of listening.
Usually with art you possess, you either love the visual but don’t know the artist or love the art because of a personal connection with the artist. In Karina’s case, it’s really rather neither.
We met via email a year or so ago, when I was asked to write a story for 1st dibs on their New Orleans dealers: she was one of many we featured there and after exchanging many texts, I found myself searching for her portrait first, as soon as my local photographer sent me all his shots for the story. A survivor post Katrina (which took down her home as well as deeply tested her foundation as a parent, a wife and an antiques dealer for many moons post disaster) she was exactly as I had imagined: strong, demure, defiant and elegant all at once. One of those mothers who could lift a locomotive off her trapped child with one arm while still packing a lunch box with the other, while the paint was drying on her latest creation.
Karina kept in touch after the article debuted and we checked in on each others work. I became particularly interested in a Franz Kline-esque painting amongst the antique treasures in her 1stdibs booth: its black and white bold strokes kept flickering in my imagination. Karina modestly admitted that it was her very own creation and guess what?: sales were actually almost trumping those of her antiques.
While she wasn’t going to quit her day job (she’s too in love with history and design for that) a painter was as surely rising out of the ashes of her adversities as surely as her renovated home. More calls were exchanged. Many where we didn’t talk about painting or antiques at all. We shared some moments about life that scared us: like we were both stepping out the frame of our own lives, knowing that we weren’t close enough friends to judge but intimate enough to understand.
Then one day I got an email with a picture of a painting meant for me. It was in progress, she explained, but how did I like it? I’ve never wished for a painter’s gift the way I longed for say, a Broadway-worthy voice. But at that moment I wished very much that I had the ability to be simultaneously creating something worthy to hang in Karina’s home. Knowing that her children would rush by it on their way to school or that bustling guests would toss their coats down beneath it and then, if only for a moment, look up and wonder its origin. Sharing it with her would be the only way that I could answer her question to me.
Yesterday the shipping company called to alert me of the finished painting’s imminent arrival. The agent explained that it had been sent flat, the canvas already stretched and mounted. They would not be able to help me open the box nor hang it. I assured them it wasn’t necessary.
I don’t know what it fully looks like yet. But I do know that when I am feeling like the day’s load feels a little too heavy to bear at a particular moment, then I’ll gaze at it a little longer. And if visitors ask me how well I know the artist I can honestly tell them: never well enough.