“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.

 

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.

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….

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??