Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

Crazy eyesThis is me, circa last day of work (note the last-day crazy-eyes).  But more on that in a bit.

You could say I bought my ticket 8 years ago when I started taking interior design classes.  Sneaking out of my magazine job to head uptown to class, I’d perspire heavily on the 6 train, hoping equally that 1) no one saw me leave work at 5:30, and 2) I’d make it there on time.

It’s funny I used the word “sneak.” I don’t think anyone really cared what I was doing, but I did feel the need to hide my creative side back then out of fear that people would think I couldn’t devote myself fully to work and pursue something on the side.

But over time, things shifted. Perhaps I’ve become more open with sharing that other side.  I owe part of it to working for Google, a company that encourages its people to nurture their side gigs and fly their freak flags.  But I owe some of it to my own awareness, tuning in to the passage of time, aging and my own authenticity.

This has all shone a light on how I spend my time. And I’m not talking about spare time per se; I’ve already tackled the matter of making sure I have it and spend it wisely.   I’m talking about those workday hours that tick by between 9-5, those hours of life we’re told – at least my generation – to make a living.

G View

View from the Goog

Aren’t those equally precious?  Mine have served me well, especially after 6 years at a company that’s made me feel appreciated and rewarded, alongside some of the best people ever.  But I’ve had a nagging feeling that my creative side work was ready for its time.

SO!
I left my job.

I’m now an intern at an interior design firm here in the city.  With a month under my belt, it’s been exciting, humbling, rewarding and overwhelming at once. I walk out at night tired and spent, but happy.

I’ve found there’s a sense of feeling lighter that comes from new and different work.  This new work feels organic to who I am, and allows me to combine things that come most naturally but that I also enjoy: thinking creatively, drawing stuff, solving problems (dare I say #puzzles), and working with people. And I’m hoping this intersection may actually provide a sustainable career.

Don’t get me wrong: I encountered plenty of noise during all of this. But it was my own noise, telling me to stay safe, stay put, because you may not be good enough.

But it’s the other voices that won out in the end. For someone who’s prided herself on self-reliance and staunch independence, I’ve found that confiding in others and being vulnerable about my insecurities has brought more encouragement from friends, family, and oftentimes perfect strangers, than I expected.

It’s funny, this change came slow but fast at the same time: I thought about it for years, and then all at once, it’s here.

I’m drawn to narratives about aging, memory, and the passage of time (see: 85-year old Kate), so naturally I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few months ago, for the first time. If you’ve seen it, you know that Pitt’s character Benjamin ages backwards. So while he’s a kid trapped in an old man’s body at the start, by the end, he’s looks like a 20-something, just with a lifetime of experience and knowledge underneath his youthful (smoking-hot) exterior.

At the end, his voiceover reads from a letter he’s written to his daughter. It’s about living life without being afraid to try new things. The visuals show Benjamin working in a toll booth, traveling through India, and living the less-conventional life of an “old” man. His words were powerful enough that I wrote them down. To me, they serve as a reminder to take my own path, and to look at life less in terms of goals and destinations, and more in terms of the journey, a message that came just when I needed it most:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

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“Uncover Your Soul”

Sneaks New“Uncover your soul.”  This is one of the opening lines in a TED talk I heard recently.  It stopped me in my tracks as I was running [trotting slowly] through my neighborhood, and made me pause along the waterfront to take in the view and hear her out.

“Her” is Elizabeth Lesser, a co-founder of the Omega Institute, who was speaking about one of her first careers as a home birth midwife in “Say your truths and seek them in others.”

This first job of hers taught many valuable lessons, one of them being (and there were many in this short, extraordinary talk): each of us comes into this world with a unique spark.

Through years of delivering babies, she got an up close and personal look at these little souls, noticing that every single one of them had a wild soulfulness that made them light up from within.   But as we age, she notes, babies become fully-formed adults, and we learn to cover up our souls, layer by layer, conforming, doing what our culture tells us we should do, hiding parts of ourselves along the way.

It made me think about who I’ve become over the years: the layers I’ve added to conform and achieve, the armor I’ve worn at work, the masks I’ve worn to hide my vulnerability in relationships, and the things that fill my time that move me away from what lit me up as a kid.

But this blog has helped me peel back many layers.  It’s where I’ve learned to stop hiding my creativity, where I’ve confronted the fear that I’m not artistic or good enough to share it with others.  That’s why this talk hit me:  it gives me more permission to keep digging for that spark from my littler soul, giving it what it wants:  more time to indulge in painting, putting pen to paper when I feel the urge, not putting it off for when “I’ll have more time to focus,” allowing me to be more authentic, instead of shying away from sharing what makes me come alive.

And funny enough, I’ve started doing the same thing to my home, peeling back its layers, returning it to its former self.  I’ve been cautiously restoring it, focusing on small things first like replacing fixtures that didn’t fit the style of the 150-year old building in favor of those that feel authentic.

L:  Nope.  R: Yes please!

And now it’s on to bigger projects like my kitchen, as I peel away the plastic, the linoleum, and the unnecessarily-large refrigerator, replacing them with wood and butchers’ block, porcelain and clay, making decisions that are in line with the original soul of the building:  restoring, peeling, uncovering.

Kitchen Reno early

With each change, my home gets closer to how it was meant to be.  And while it’s not pretty (proof to the left), bearing through it and being uncomfortable along the way seems to be the only way to go.  Slowly, carefully, I watch as it’s stripped of its layers, revealing a more authentic core.

And just like that, so am I.

 

A Bedroom Refresh

My apartment was recently featured on ApartmentTherapy.com, and I was beyond excited as it’s a favorite site I’ve been visiting ever since I moved into a small space in the big city, and strived to maximize square footage.HH rugThe site has since expanded to cover both small and larger apartments, with a focus on profiling real apartment dwellers and their creative solutions for living.

My full piece is here, but I’m pulling the main shots below as they’re a good sampling of new updates I’ve made at home.

I made some edits to the bedroom, but it wasn’t about dramatic changes, rather the small changes that make a huge difference, showing what happens when you swap in new colors and textures.  And while bedrooms are often places of serenity and neutral colors (ie white and white!) that’s just not me. Best Bed

Enter:  new graphic rug!  It’s amazing what a small piece can do to bring in new energy.   I fell in love with this little 3×5′ number from Urban Outfitters that was initially for my kitchen, with it’s cheery pattern and mix off-base colors.  But once I placed it between my nightstand and red dresser, bingo – it found it’s rightful home.

I pulled pinks and teals from the rug to accent the bed and nightstand, then the natural domino-effect occurred and the whole exercise found me repainting the walls – from taupe to a barely there gray – and restyling my bookshelf.

For the bookshelf task, I had to start is from scratch.  They say (ok, my mom says…) that sometimes you stop seeing what’s right in front of you once it’s been there for awhile.  This meant clearing everything off and gathering my accessories – from my bedroom and beyond – into one pile.  (Guesses on my favorite colors??)

I built vignettes on a few shelves, then left some white space for the eye to rest, working in warm brass and earthiness with the plants and wooden frame.  I then added sculptural items like the oversized jack and the succulent, to break the divide between the more horizontal lines of the shelf and the vertical pieces.

HH Shelf

The result feels clean, bright, edited.  And it truly impacts how I feel when get up each morning:  I’m a bit more focused, a bit more energized and ready for my day.

Sources:

Mirror: Rejuvenation.com
Dresser:  cb2
Bookshelf:  cb2
Bed:  ABC Home
Linens:  Parachute, Crate & Barrel, Linge Particulier, Anthropologie
Artwork:  Etsy
Lighting:  West Elm, Urban outfitters
Rug:  Dash and Albert (large), Urban outfitters (small)
Accent pillow:  John Robshaw
Throw:  Fern
Accessories:  Anthropologie, flea markets, etc.

More pics from ApartmentTherapy post:

AT 1AT - 2AT - 3AT - 4AT - 5

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

Radishes 1.jpg

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

20151031_091424 (1)

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.

20151031_091447 (1)

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

Shell - Edited

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.

Bracelet cropped

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.

Res II - N. Wall

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…