“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.

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

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??

Summer Luminaries

It turns out I’m a lantern lady.  Actually, “luminary enthusiast” sounds better.  I’m not much of a collector in general, but my lantern count has hit double-digits.  I’ve collected some great little vessels over the years, even before I had an outdoor table (or indoor table for that matter).  My favorites are the ones found in old second-hand stores, or on the cheap.  A sampling:

I love them because they remind me of nights spent at the Jersey shore, when family dinners culminated in front porch nightcaps.  My mother would – and still does – light every wick possible until the porch glows from afar (fire hazards be damned!)

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This weekend I added to my collection with what is probably my favorite score yet:  blue glass lanterns with beautiful bronze detailing, a steal at $6.99 each at The Christmas Tree Shoppe.  (It’s not just for holiday decor!)  I stuck with the same turquoise hue as some other pieces, and I’m excited to light them.  (And to my past roommates who coined me #FireMarshallKate, you’ll be happy to know I’m still just as diligent with my extinguishing duties).

Scalloped Accent Wall

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One of my goals this summer is to create an accent wall behind my headboard.  I’ve contemplated a scallop motif ever since I was inspired by this image from Design*Sponge of a teal scalloped bathroom tile:

Bathroom Title (Source:  Genevieve Gorder, as seen in "Design*Sponge"

Bathroom Title (Source: Genevieve Gorder, featured in “Design*Sponge”)

While I love the repetition of the shape, there’s something about the variation in color that appeals to me; it’s anything but flat.  I’ve since seen inspiration everywhere, and just designed something that’s in line with the scale of my wall.  It turns out, the scallop I’ve been attempting is actually just an arc repeated over and over.  After drafting a few versions, I’m opting for the pattern on the left:IMG_2080

As for creating a stencil out of my drawing, I’ll leave that tedious project for another (rainier!) day.  Stay tuned…

Shoe Storage Upgrade

In my scurry to move forward on new projects, I’ve been remiss in posting some of the nice little moments that have come together in my apartment.  One of my favorite nooks is this one by my front door.  It’s a chair + crate combo that’s nice on the eyes, and also holds and conceals my shoes.

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The chair is CB2, and the wood crate is a find from Maine during a drive home from my friend Kim’s wedding.  A few of us stopped by some antique stores in Wells, and I founds this Hood Dairy crate for $28.  It dates back to…well, I’m not sure.  But it’s old.  And I was drawn to its red check pattern, and of course its crustiness.  I think this montage is a good reminder that mixing old and new is easy, as long as you can find the similarities that tie the pieces together.  In this case, the red tones do the job.  I may add wheels or sliders, TBD.

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OH and my friend Silvia scored a mink that day and we got a $20 discount for paying cash and bundling our purchases.  wooo! #effectivenegotiation

 

Small Details, Big Impact

Winner

Winner!

Ever struggled with writers’ block?  I think I have the designing equivalent.

It’s my master bedroom (sidenote: can I rename it?  Being “master” of your household feels odd when you’re the only one in it.)  This room has been feeling pretty basic since I moved in.  It’s got a nice bed, solid white bedding, and good floors.  But each time I try to accessorize it with teal, green and coral colors, they fall flat and clash with the walls that, lately, seem more khaki than the gray I was aiming for (I’m not a fan of khaki but I’m #alreadycommitted).  Enter: slate blue.  Blue isn’t in my apartment’s color palette aside from the turquoise I have sprinkled about.  To me, classic blues have always felt safe, nautical, preppy.  All great, but not the feeling my space evokes.  But slate blue seems to take on a new feeling.

With another successful trip to Housing Works, I found this wonderful pillow cover amid a stack of designer samples.  I love the embroidery and the pink accents.  As with many items I find without price tags, I played that game “what’s it worth to me?”  I came up with $15-$20, the price I’d be willing to pay once I got to the register.  If it was anything more, I walk.

Drumroll…it was $2!  Once home, I stuffed the cover with a castoff pillow I was tired of, and sure enough it did wonders to wake up my room.  The walls sang, the shams popped, and a new color palette revealed itself.  Now all I need is a span of one uninterrupted week to paint an accent wall behind the bed.  (A girl can dream…)