Kitchen Aspiration

Kitchen Final Option

In my quest to post “polished pieces” and final design projects on this blog , I’ve gone months without a peep.  This is nonsense!

So today I present you with something at its beginning:  my kitchen.  When I moved here 3 years ago, I was charmed by its age.  Plenty of apartments I looked at had sleekly renovated kitchens and modern cabinetry, but they left me cold.  This place was different:  its kitchen hadn’t gone through any changes in 30+ years – for better or for worse.

Kitchen Before 1

Its white wood cabinets are decorated with branch-like pulls that are quirky and actually quite charming.  And the layout is nice.  But it’s ripe for an overhaul, so here we are.  Enter my renderings:

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The best way for me to imagine my space is to put pencil to paper.  While digital drawing tools are great, drafting lets me work out a scheme more organically.  So after drafting a few designs and a rough 3D perspective, I used watercolors to work through the different color and material options.

Kitchen Sketch 1

Painting out four different versions allowed me to get a broad stroke visual of how materials like wood, white granite and dark vs. lighter cabinetry would read in the space and work together (or potentially against each other).

I alternated between white or wood counters, charcoal finished lower and upper cabinets, and white subway tile with antique brass pulls and accents.  The renderings are by no means polished; I got scrappier as I went, quickly getting the color on the page to see the effect.

This helped me visualize potential fixtures and materials, which all nicely bridge the gap between modern and classic, with a nod to industrialism.

So I’m close to a winner:  in lieu of going monochromatic, I’m opting for an eclectic look: dark cabinets on the bottom to tie the space in with the rest of the apartment, with white on top. I’ve also heard wood top counters are high maintenance, so I’ll bring in that look with reclaimed wood paneling around the island, or with porcelain wood tile as the backsplash.

Kitchen option 3

So it’s go time.  But not quite yet:  I’m trying to enjoy the feeling of having made decisions!  Sometimes that’s just as much fun as the execution.

But nothing will be as fun as sitting at a new counter for the first time, rendering something new.

Fantastic Plastic

Blue Record

Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin, 1968

If you know me even a little bit, you know I’m an old soul.  My Brooklyn apartment was built in 1849.  1849!  God only knows how many people walked these floors before me, the ghosts of 5 generations hanging out in my kitchen, drinking their ghost tea.  As my neighbor says, we’re merely caretakers of this building, before the next owners come along.

Deep, I know.  But I digress.  I meant to ruminate on the old soul thing.   I’m a nostalgic person.  I’ve always loved digging through my granny’s things, her albums with pics of my mom as a kid, and our family garage, bursting with my dad’s basketball paraphernalia.  Old stuff just lights me up, so it should come as no surprise that I bought a turntable.
I rented a house with friends in Venice this spring, and the owner had a great Audio Technica system.   We spun records all weekend, rediscovering anthems by The Velvet Underground and Bruce, sounding just like they were meant to.  We actually enjoyed flipping a record when it was time, often in the middle of a conversation.  That part wasn’t annoying, rather the opposite was true.  It reminded us that the music didn’t need to be the background of our evening:  it could be the star.
And it brought me back.  Growing up in the 80’s, my dad belonged to a record-of-the-month club.  As his collection grew, I developed a love for Doo-wop, Motown, early-60s Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.  Sticky Fingers was a favorite.  I remember my confusion with how the “fly” worked on the outer sleeve.  What was behind there?  (We could do a whole separate analysis on that one…another time.)
Fast-forward 30 years and I’m building my own collection, feeling the joy of discovering music.  Yes, we’ve come a long way with Spotify and the like, offering fast access to almost any tune.  But I’ve missed the hunt: digging through tapes and CDs at the Tower Records of my youth, discovering songs on iTunes, it’s all morphed into streaming music from a phone beamed to a speaker.  Convenient?  Yes.  But something is lost.  I miss committing to a full album, getting to know its nuances and its “sleepers”:  the songs that don’t hit you at first, but grow on you slowly until they take root. Pink Record
And lest we forget the physical, records are beautiful.  For someone who strives for a visually appealing space, this is not lost on me.  Take Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin.  When I play it, I get to eye the old Atlantic Records font on the pink and red sticker, and I swoon at how it looks against the curvy white turntable; beautiful.
And by chance, vendors are popping up everywhere.  On Sunday at at Brooklyn Flea, at the base of the Manhattan bridge, you can thumb through a huge assortment, each album marked with a sticker, featuring its own hand-written review by the vendor (“Wonderful; no skips!”)  You have to love that.
So yes, I’m on the bandwagon.  But the great spillover effect?  It’s helping me be more mindful, slowing me down so I can be in the moment and appreciate what I’m listening to, not pushing the forward button too quickly, letting what’s playing just, well, play.
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This is me…still figuring out where to put my turntable

So back to my recent finds: I picked up the below Beach Beats record while on the hunt with my friend Dani, who loves a good troll through the crates as much as I do.  I bought it because it had two 50’s songs I love.  But when I played it, I heard a song by The Coasters I hadn’t heard since hanging out in my 80’s living room.  I suddenly saw my dad jamming to the tune, whistling away, playing his fireplace broom like a guitar.
 Pink RecordWhat a memory.  And for clarity’s sake, my dad may has moved into the 21st century of music, beaming his songs via bluetooth to his wireless speakers (call it a role reversal).  But it does nothing to erase the warm memory I have of that music, its scratchiness, the way it would boom through our house, and the way it felt to do nothing…but listen.

The Joys of Unplanned Time

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Radishes, 2016

There’s nothing like a city snowstorm to really slow you down, in a good way.  This piece over the weekend said it best: blizzards have a way of punishing the ambitious and rewarding indolence.

I took the cue and planned my own un-planned weekend (yes, I understand the irony here), starting with an old-fashioned sleepover with two of my closest girlfriends.  Our agenda items: 1) wear sweatpants 2) be cozy in said sweatpant, 3) catch up with each other. (Carbs and Moscow Mules may/may not have been involved).

So you’re wondering about the above radishes?  Well, when the girls left on Saturday to avoid a snow-in situation, I took to my watercolors, facing hours of (yay!) time at home.

I returned to watercoloring this past year as a way of practicing my rendering, but also because I just really enjoy it.  Fast forward, and my little furniture studies have given way to winter veggies.  I started with a red onion, and while I still won’t eat them, I now I see them as beautiful, with just one of them showing several shades of some of the prettiest purples in nature.Red OnionI moved on to sweet little bunches of baby carrots, then radishes, first putting down a light sketch before getting into the painting action.  Note:  time is not your friend when painting fresh produce (I now know).  These puppies will wilt and change in front of your eyes if you don’t paint fast enough – a lesson in decisiveness and speed, both essential when watercoloring, which rewards both.Carrott Vignette

I’ve learned that painting, for me, isn’t about filling up free time with a hobby.  “Totally” free time can be hard to come by when most days are composed of working, playing, learning, schooling, commuting, socializing, chore-ing, errand-running…and so on.  So for me, it’s quite the opposite:  painting is about loving something so much that I carve out the time to do it, often casting aside my to-do list in order to spend an hour or two brush-to-paper.  So I chose to enjoy the swaths of free hours this weekend at home.  While many of us were inconvenienced, I was – in fact – convenienced*.  Lucky me.Carrot Comparrison

 

*not a real word

Watercolor Chairs

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I made a promise to myself this summer to spend more time creating, doing, immersing myself in some of my old, favorite hobbies I loved as a kid.  If you remember, this summer I talked a lot about the passions you have as a child and how they never really go away – and they’re a great indicator of what you should do now.

Enter the watercolor thing.

I started doing these watercolor exercises two years ago in a Rendering class, where we learned how to paint the textures and nuances of furniture.  We traced chairs and other pieces from old design magazines, then rendered them in color however we chose.

It was a blast.  There was something exciting about how different each rendering can appear based on how the paint dries on the page.  And for a non-committal soul like me, there’s something gratifying about placing color on paper, letting it dry into its final form without playing with it too much, watching different shadows and textures take shape.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, how much I enjoyed creating these little studies and thought, why don’t I do this more?  Well, I know why.  It’s obligations, chores on my to-do list, and the ebb and flow of life in general that can pull one away from something that’s so simple but can be deeply gratifying.

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But I just realized I’m not OK with that, and here’s why.  I just finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which serendipitously talks about living a more creative life.  We’re all creators, she hypothesizes, and we come from a bloodline of people who have made things with their hands for thousands of years.  Just because we don’t use those gifts everyday doesn’t mean they’re not there, waiting to be acknowledged and put to use.

The advice struck me, hard.  The fact that you can live a more creative life solely because it feels good, is liberating.  That you can pursue it not for career change, not for fame or recognition.  But for you, the artist’s sake, exploring your curiosity and creativity solely because of the joy it brings you.

My favorite morsel from Gilbert is this:  “You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing.  You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness.  And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid live.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So selfishly, I’m creating these studies for the sheer enjoyment they bring me, posting them here to hold myself accountable.  Chairs are fun!  But so are landscapes, trees, and hell, maybe vegetables.  I hope you enjoy them.  But most importantly, I enjoyed creating them.  And that’s what matters most.

Summertime Throwback

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They say the things we did for fun at 8 years of age are the things that will – then and now – make us happiest.  I’m not sure where I heard this, but when I did, it struck me.  And it did so again during a recent visit to my parents’ home.

I found this shell on display in a powder room, inscribed with its date of creation:  1988.  I was 10 at the time, and pursuing a budding career in shell painting.  These little studies took up much of my summer afternoons, and I spent hours churning out pieces for friends and family.  (There were many duds, of course: one gem that my sister has since “lost” screamed “Erika’s Room!” in a horrid peach-and-mint-green palette.  Not my best work).

But producing a masterpiece each time wasn’t the point.  I got lost in the blissful act of creation, and loved it.   There was no goal, no deadline; I was creating art for the sake of creating art.

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I thought of this recently when my friend Marley visited me at the shore.  She arrived with handfuls of colorful embroidery floss in tow, and we whiled away the day weaving bracelets, recalling the knots of our youth, muscle memory at its best.

With each new project, I spent an embarrassing amount of time choosing colors and designing my pattern.  Like painting shells, each new design presented me with a limitless combination of colors and an empty slate, the possibilities endless.

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I wove together this number after I got the hang of it (again)

And I realized:  this isn’t too different from dreaming up a concept for a room.  In fact, little creations like these can act as a springboard for new designs: like how a room would look with a with a buttery leather sofa, lavender and orange throw pillows, brass accents, and a patterned rug to bring it all together.

And I guess that’s the point of all of this:  by letting myself get totally wrapped up in something so simple yet so consuming, I not only created something beautiful (to me), but came out of it with renewed inspiration.

On that note, I’m diving more freely into my little creative projects, starting now.  Projects I’m pursuing purely for the joy they bring me.  We all get caught up in the speed and hustle of everyday life – at least I do.  Things may move fast around me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t slow down and find time for the things I love.

So I’m watercoloring more, painting more, sketching more.  And in the spirit of sharing, I’ll be publishing a different sample of work each month, starting with some watercolor studies I’ve been working on.

Hey, what’s old is new again.

Residential Design Project

I love a good DIY project.  There’s something gratifying about sanding, painting, and just plain getting my hands dirty.  But if I ever want to work with “real” people one day to make the most of their spaces, some more hands-on learning needs to happen.

That’s where my classes at NYSID fit in.  I just wrapped another semester, where I’ve been chipping away at a degree in interior design.  While it’s exciting to create spaces for my own home, or sketch out floor plans for friends, the classes give me structure and training for tackling real-life client demands.  And I do love me some structure.

Dumbo Kitchen Perspective

Loft with “Floating” Kitchen

But yes, my day job in digital media is still very much in tact, and I love it.  But switching gears at night and tapping another side of my brain is exhilarating.  But hard.  And humbling.  I’ll go from knowing a good deal about media during the day….to rolling up at class at night, feeling like a greenhorn undergrad just getting her sea legs.

But I’m learning.  And like any good student, I have my little sketches to prove it.  We completed two big projects this semester, envisioning spaces for “faux” clients.  The first was a Dumbo loft I designed for a NYC transplant finding her roots in the city after relocating from the south. (Imagination seems to be a definite prerequisite).

Over the course of 5 weeks, I carved out a 30′ x 120′ space into specific rooms, paying homage to my client’s woodsy roots and the surrounding neighborhood.  Reclaimed wood mixes with more industrial materials inspired by the neighborhood, like steel and brick.  They all come together in my favorite feature, a “floating” kitchen (below) that brings the elements together, with openings to allow light to permeate the space.

Our final project was a full house, two floors of empty space that needed to accommodate two people “aging in place.”  I remember moaning to myself imaging a space fit for old folks, complete with shower handlebars and hospital-like touches.  But it was a refreshing exercise, and we learned that accessible design can be both functional and beautiful.

LR Perspective

Living Room with Water View

My space for two 60+ roomies, situated on the water, and positioned to make the most of the natural light.  For inspiration, I pulled from their nautical pasts.  Some rooms (like the one above) were designed to evoke the feeling of being on the airy, upper deck of a boat.  Others were designed to feel like the cozy inner cabins, maximizing space and providing lots of storage.

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Wall of built-ins

The full exercise required we choose inspirational images to dictate our designs, as well as all furnishings, fixtures and fabric palettes to round out each room.  A full look at each design board below.  Ahoy!

Fabric 1

Fabric Palette

Refurbishing a Chair

If you’ve sensed a theme in any of my posts, or if you know me well, you know I love a good deal.  But I love the hunt just as much, especially the type of hunt where you have no idea what you’re looking for.

That happened a few weeks ago when I snagged this humble but practical side chair at my local Housing Works.  It leans toward the Biedermeier style with it’s clean, curved lines and minimal ornamentation.  I also like its small scale which makes me think it’s old.  (I have a very unsophisticated way of dating things:  smallish = old.  Hey, people were tinier 100 years ago).

I’m always looking for extra movable seating for my place, and at the $30 price tag, I picked it up.  I envision its new life sanded down and au natural, letting the beauty of the original wood shine through.  A patterned neutral seat to replace the worn burgundy velvet will ensure its place in any room in my apartment.

Chair fabrics

And while there is no shortage of fabric options out there, I recently read an article in HGTV magazine about using cloth napkins instead of buying fabric by-the-yard for smaller projects.  Smart, right?

I did some hunting and found the above: the left and right patterns are from cloth napkins from Anthropologie, and the middle fabric is actually a linen pillow case by Ligne Particulier from ABC Carpet & Home.  Here’s how they’d look:

I’m leaning toward #3 as the winner.  It’s actually been through the wash a few times which imparts a soft, faded look and feel.

When the weather warms up, I’ll decide for sure, do some sanding, staple-gunning, and report back on progress.  But until then, I think I need to sit on it…

Waking up a Dull Corner

IMG_2461When you’ve been living in a place for a year plus, some of the details that you found unbearable at first seem “not so bad” after awhile.  I definitely experienced this (hello, 100-year-old rusty bathroom heater!)  That’s how I felt about this corner of my living room.

To be fair, the before picture is from the previous tenants.  But I think some of my recent updates have transformed this nook into a happier little enclave.

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after

This area had some nice things going for it:  built-ins on the north wall to the left, a nice cool gray wall color (Natural Grey by Behr), but based on pure apartment functionality, it was overcome by wires and power chords, not to mention my smallish (aka “man poison”) TV.  And for the past year I’d been using this Pottery Barn apothecary coffee table (below) as a console.

Apothecary Table

It’s a gem my sister passed along 9 years ago when she departed the city for the burbs.  It packs a punch and has served me well over the years, storing everything from a collection of clutches, iPod chargers, playing cards, old passports, and nail polish (you sensing a slice of my extra-curriculars?)  And I sadly have to let it go.  I’ve swapped it out for this West Elm console.  Predictable?  Yes.  But there’s a certain originality to this piece:  the shape is industrial but not cold, warmed up by the varying tones of wood.

I also needed to fire up the walls.  I had purchased this Gray Malin photo a few months ago and just had it framed.  I worked with the guys at Make a Frame in Cobble Hill.  They did an awesome job, and helped me choose a light maple frame and bright white matte.  And while I had to remove my death grip on my wallet to pay for it, it was worth it.

The photo itself speaks to my love of symmetry:  the umbrellas strike a nice repetition, and the pinks liven up the living room, so much so that I felt the need to add a pink-striped sarong (really!) from Anthropologie as a stand-in throw blanket on the gray chair.  Lesson here:  even clothing can be an accessory given the right context.

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Some other upgrades:  adding a tree.  I chose a fiddle leaf fig with big, glossy leaves, in an effort to bring the eye up and take advantage of some of the apartment’s vertical space.  I’d really love to keep this one alive.  (Apparently you need to “dust” your plants and give the leaves regular care, just as important as watering.  Who knew).

I also found a solution for those unruly wires.  This framed blow-up poster from a page out of Gourmet magazine makes a great shield that covers the mess, and it’s lightweight enough to be moved around when needed.

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Some light accessorizing rounded out the project.  The console needed color, so I pulled in a potted oregano plant and a green seltzer bottle to pick up the shiny tree leaves, fitting them snugly in a simple white tray.  Some trivia: the bottle was $18 at my local Housing Works thrift shop, presumably on sale since it’s chipped on the bottom.  #nobigwhoop  Score!

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I’m happy with the nook.  It’s a treat for the eyes, and my changes added some nice storage too.

As for the man poison?  I think my TV will remain a humble 26″.  I’m still looking for this guy, if you know where I can find him….

Trimming Your…Walls

20141214_224946 (1)Well, then.  We can just about tie a bow on this year.   Could that be right?   If the sidewalks of New York are any indicator, it feels holiday-ish for sure. There’s a frenetic vibe on the streets, and I can feel peoples’ paces quicken as they hurry to get stuff done.  I’m no different.  I love a good garland hunt, hanging lights, and an afternoon in the kitchen where I can bang out some sugar cookie dough and roll out my gingerbread men (“bite me!”)

It’s also a nice time to reflect and take stock.  Sitting here with my lovely little stump of a tree (couldn’t resist showing you my 3-foot charmer) I’m reminded that things have come together in my home this past year.

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One of my long-term projects has been finding art for my walls.  This area in particular, above my console, was screaming for a gallery-like composition.  But I didn’t want to rush it, nor did I want it to feel too cookie-cutter.

It’s finally taken shape with the help of some good – and practical – sources.  And while I’m all about investing in original pieces that last a lifetime, it’s not always reasonable (hello, mortgage!)  So I’ve corralled them below if you’re embarking on your own personal gallery mission. Enjoy!

Brooklyn Flea

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Transistor Radio by Michelle Han

This place always delivers.  The original Brooklyn Flea was set in Dumbo, and back before Brooklyn exploded, they were more focused on antique-y type dealers.  Now they’re full-fledged productions with even more space for hipsters and horticulturalists to peddle hand-made jewelry and artisanal honey.  Once in awhile you’ll find a pop-up Flea, like I did last fall in Park Slope, so it pays to scope out different neighborhoods.  I was happy to stumble upon this piece by Michelle Han, a local Brooklyn printmaker:  not only do I love the hand-carved quality of this print, but I love music and tend to get nostalgic for the days before we streamed everything.  So this makes me smile each time I see it.  14″ x 17″ Wood Gallery Frame by Pottery Barn.

Etsy:

For those of you not in the NYC area, Etsy has a huge range of art, from hand-screened prints, original paintings and custom work.  I purchased this bike print a few years ago (which is why I sadly don’t recall the name of the Etsy store), but I love it.  And framing it was an exercise in recycling:  I found a great frame at a yard sale and ditched the previous owners’ oil painting.

Then I “float-mounted” my new print on piece of charcoal gray paper so as to stay in step with my color scheme.  (I’ll revisit some more framing tricks in another post).  I think the dark background helps highlight the print.

Union Square

On Saturdays in Union Square, you can find loads of artists selling their wares.  This is my third piece from a photographer I met there, Matt Schwartz.  He creates his pieces from actual Polaroids, peeling away thin layers to give them an aged effect.

Yellowdress

Consider his work a precursor to Instagram.  You can find him online at SheHitPause studios.

Fab.com

While their selection is varied (read: hit or miss), they’ve got some gems.   From their series of map line drawings, I chose this Florence map, and it brings back nice memories.  Florence is the first place I ever traveled alone outside the states, and it reminds me of the many miles I walked.  For some reason, this seems a much better tribute to those two weeks, versus even the best framed photo I could have ever taken.

Florence

Etching, Map of Florence

One Kings Lane

LA-based photographer Gray Malin takes fantastic travel and aerial photography.  I found this aerial shot of a Miami beach on One Kings Lane, but you can go right to the source as well at graymalin.com.   I loved the accidental repetition of the umbrella shadows, and went large-scale with this one to hang solo on a separate wall.  I’m having this puppy framed up nice…ie, custom.  #happybirthdaytome  Check back to see how it turns out.

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Speaking of framing, I have some favorite sources there too:  AI Friedman, Ikea, CB2 and Pottery Barn – all make great quality frames in loads of sizes.  And while its tempting to order standard frames that match, it was even more satisfying to incorporate hand-me-downs and flea market frames that lend a nice a patina and sense of originality.

And just to make sure I had something original, I framed one of my practice watercolors from class.  It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a happy little piece, and it reminds me that some of my favorite pieces have no price at all.

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Settee, 2012

My parents, my clients

My parents are building a house at The Jersey Shore where they plan to spend their post-retirement years.  It’s not so much in Snooki territory, but in a calmer, more peaceful hamlet in South Jersey.

After 9 months:  progress!  They are getting pretty close to their move-in date, and there are finally walls up and floors down so we can get cracking on the interiors.  I’ve been scooting down there on weekends to see how they’re coming along and to lend my two cents (my favorite part!)

The biggest challenge in their case (and in any case where you’re envisioning a space that has yet to be built) was trying to get a sense of how the interior would come together, especially when they had only architectural plans to look at.  So this summer, to give them a sense of how the end product could look, I took on the living room as my pet project.

I drafted up a floor plan and suggested furniture layout, and converted it to a perspective (below).  I wouldn’t say I was given 100% free reign.  My mom had some solid ideas of what she wanted (and excellent taste, I’ll add):  a navy color palette punched up by a few accent colors, grounded by natural fabrics and woods.  But it was fun to start with a semi-blank canvas.  Here’s what I came up with:

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Living Room (perspective sketch)

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Living Room (watercolor)

My dad wanted a large sofa facing the fireplace, but I drafted up an alternative option:  two smaller sofas facing each other, both with good access to the fireplace (OK, OK…TV).  I always love this arrangement because it’s more conducive to socializing and doesn’t block off the rest of the room, which flows into an open dining/kitchen area.

We set out to pick a pale neutral gray paint color and chose Agreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams, then ordered the basics:  the two medium length Carlisle sofas from Pottery Barn, a customized wide ottoman upholstered in a navy flame stitch ikat fabric, and we’re still all over the place with the carpet (don’t ask).  We also chose a Minwax stain equal parts Jacobean and Dark Walnut for the floors.

As of now, here’s how it looks:

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The floors will be stained this week, with furniture arriving shortly after.  And I’m jonesing to make use of my felt furniture sliders (really important for protecting wood floors) and get the sofas perfectly placed.  Once the pieces are in, we’ll think about side chairs, art work, and accessorizing with some “room jewelry” like lamps and sparkly things.  Trip to Homegoods, anyone??