Susanna Salk


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MATCHMAKER
Monday, February 4th, 2008

The other day I was happily scouting apartments, (it’s as much fun as clothes shopping and even better: it’s free!), for 1stdibs.com.

Before I get into the distinct pleasures of seeing of how other people personalize great design, (whether its with tapestries or toothbrush holders), I need to wax a little poetic about 1stdibs.com.

Even if you’re not in the market for antiques or vintage tables, chairs, chandeliers, jewelry, fashion or anything fabulous, from Paris to Pennsylvania, just mining this richly visual site is the equivalent of eating an entire bag of your favorite potato chips while wrapped in eight ply cashmere. In other words, you don’t want to stop the feeling. Even if you can’t yet/ever afford that Seguso Frosted Glass Flower Sputnick chandelier, no harm, no foul in just attaching that glorious image at the top of your Wish List ceiling. I always find that the designers and tastemakers I admire most, get a little breathless when they talk about 1stdibs. It’s like entering the coolest corner of the most beautiful playground and unlike childhood, everyone wants to talk to you. But I diverge…

Back to scouting. Every time someone is gracious enough to open their doors for me, I am piqued with anticipation. It’s sort of like getting fixed up on a blind date. There’s a feeling a house immediately gives you that’s as distinctive as a first handshake. With the right house, there’s no small talk. You enter right into its soul from the moment you cross its hearth. (No coincidence what word you get by simply removing the “h” from “hearth.”)

When 1stdibs founder Michael Bruno and I stepped into a little jewel box of a pad just off Bryant Park I was instantly drawn to the scarcity of the space. There wasn’t a lot of furniture but what furniture was, looked just right. (Think mid century modern meets Ikea).

For two expert photography editors, the walls were strangely void of artwork. Along a single section of hallway was a casual yet careful cluster of dozens of framed family photographs. You instantly were drawn closer, wanting to relish each of the hung moments even though you didn’t know anyone in them. They were postcards of a life and you wished you were there.

At the end of this hallway was the dining room which overlooked the outskirts of Bryant Park and the public library. But it wasn’t the glorious view that struck you, it was the color of the walls. A vivid, beyond-chartreuse green I promise you’d never in a million years think of painting your dining room. And yet here, in this four room apartment, where there was not a smidgeon of extra room for whimsy, two people had chosen it. Painted all four walls in it. And didn’t hang a single thing on it. It felt formal and friendly all at once. You wanted to sit down, you wanted to look outside the window, you wanted to have a martini, you wanted to read a children’s book. When I asked them why this green, they told me: ” We loved how green everything gets outside in the Spring and Summer and wanted to bring a bit of that indoors. With the classic lines of the room we thought we could be a bit bold with color. It’s kinda preppy gone mad.” No wonder it all felt exactly and absolutely right. Because the decision behind it was so personal. The perfect match.

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DESIGN STEAL
Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Sometimes I throw a dinner party not to socialize but to have the excuse to set my table and buy fresh flowers.

(Not to mention the left overs the next day: is there anything better than brie and half a baguette for breakfast?!…)

I used to get anxious about how to dress up my table so it would look welcoming and stylish to whomever tucked into it. But did I really want to spend oodles on flowers for them only to fade the next day like my red wine hangover?

There’s something so Eighties about sitting at a table with a formal floral centerpiece that so clearly smacks of the host phoning in for “something low and beautiful” to her florist that morning. Sometimes good, careful taste can be as disappointing as the flower arrangements in Architectural Digest. (Can anyone explain to me the appeal of placing pink lilies stuck into a tall vase in an Aspen billiard room?!)

I love it when I go to someone’s house and it looks like the hostess actually chose the flowers herself.

People don’t understand: flower arranging is SO easy!

I learned this when I interned post college at Marlo’s Flowers, the florist to all the ladies on Park Avenue, from Jackie O on down. (I remember my first day when I answered the phone and the caller identified herself only as “Jackie” and I was dumb enough to ask, “Jackie who?”

Then she proceeded to place an order which she begged “to not cost more than a car.”)

Anyway, Marlo was one of the first people to show me that the beauty and luxury of in arrangements was not in the stem size but what lay at the end. In other words, cut to the flower. And that’s exactly what she did, to the gasp of people as thousands of dollars worth of flowers were shortened in one single swoop of her shears. I immediately started doing the same thing to the rose bouquets my husband-then-boyfriend brought me. “Look how much better it looks!” I explained, plunking them into the little silver vases Marlo had everywhere.

“But I paid extra for the long stems!” he would say, exasperated. “Well that’s just what is wrong with everything,” was my only answer.

So here, in my opinion, is the right way when you don’t have a lot of time or money and someone wonderful is popping by. (Or better yet, when no one is and you are in need of cheering up)

Buy three bunches of white tulips for fifteen dollars. Chop the stems short and plunk them into silver-plated mint julep cups. (I really can’t sing enough praises about my faux mint julep cups. Once bought from at an online wedding supply outlet, I cast aside all my gangly glass vases that suddenly felt so FTD.)

Plunk the now tuliped-cups along the middle of your dining table and dare I say the effect is as fitting for a visit from an interior designer (pressure!) or my mother-in-law (another kind of pressure best describe on another kind of blog). And can we wax poetic about orange dragon tulips in julep cups? Or purple hyacinths. I could go on and on.

But this blog isn’t about floral arranging, much as the intense, little joy it brings me.

It’s about finding ways to express my style for not a lot of money. Or time.

The best thing about personalizing great design? Its one of the few mediums where you can plagiarize and won’t have to confess on Ophrah the next week. You can take my idea and spin your own way in your own space because lets face it, I’ve just done the same thing from someone else. Whether it’s from David Hicks or West Elm Catalogue, there’s a lot to be inspired from out there And knowing how to bring it to life in your own life is surprisingly easy: it just takes a little confidence and courage. And maybe a few mint julep cups at the ready to drink or to display from.

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