Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Still in denial...

I woke up this morning to pouring rain.  And freakish rampant humidity.  There was only one thing to do to cheer myself up:



I imagine myself sipping either tea or a cocktail on the veranda of The Virginia Hotel in Cape May.


Unlike so many of the other B&B's they've toned down the Victorian lace and chintz theme.  Leave the kids at home for this one.


It is impossible not to feel elegant in this setting.


Ladylike, polished...just like Gwynnie (don't you love this shot?).  This is the look that I strive for all summer long.  In order to effectively channel this vibe, I reached for this dress in my closet:


The Vineyard Vines Striped Tunic Dress...beachy and simple--it's another one of those staples that is completely brainless and comfortable, yet put together at the same time.  In the past, I've shied away from horizontal stripes, thinking they would make my petite frame look like a little fireplug.  This one doesn't.  It's also fully lined with a bit of spandex for stretch, so you don't feel like you're in a straight jacket.

Paired with the Jalita sandal to dress it up a bit...


And my favorite (although discontinued) J McLaughlin work bag...

The last problem to solve was the humidity, sooooo....


(If you'll forgive the crummy selfie), my curly hair required being knotted into submission in an impromptu bun.  Until I can visit the real Virginia in a few days, I'll just have to daydream...

~ESM

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Little Grey Dress

As we come to the close of summer, we are constantly reminded by the media that the fun times should be over.  Facebook friends show pictures of their kids on the first day of school (I don't get this--since when does school start in August???), tv ads announcing Labor Day sales abound and I remain...in denial.  Don't get me wrong--I love fall--the same way I love Sundays.  They are both tainted by what is to come next, winter and Monday morning respectively.  Summer equals freedom, sunshine, top down, cocktails, sand and surf...and...little dresses.


Enter one little grey dress.  The Teju by Theory.  If you can get past the smirk on the model's face (she looks like all the mean girls I went to high school with that I try hard to forget) and the fact that the dress looks insanely short, this is one of the best pieces I own.  Recently acquired at my local Theory outlet (the Philadelphia Premium outlets in Limerick are both a blessing and a curse because they are all too convenient), LAM made me try it on and then demanded that I buy it.  I choked a little at the price which seemed insane for what is basically a t-shirt dress, but later when I tried to wash it and noticed the "dry clean only" label, it became apparent that it's actually a wool/cotton blend and expertly cut.  If you are petite, the length hits right above the knee.  Thanks to the wool, it never wrinkles.  It also looks great with the following items:

The Michael Kors Jalita Charm sandal.  If you are like me and never really learned how to walk in high heels, these are a brain wave.  They LOOK like heels, and if you are 5'1" and desperately need the height, they add a good two inches, but the foot bed is remarkably flat.

For those times when you are forced to suffer in over-air conditioned buildings (supermarkets of the world, I'm talking to you), a detailed circle sweater like this one from Cabi (another local outlet) is the perfect layering piece.  A regular cardigan would look fine, but the plainness of the t-style dress is the perfect canvas for something with more detail.  Thanks to global warming, it stays nice enough right through September to go bare legged.  With a little maintenance from St. Tropez self tanner, one can remain in denial straight through to Halloween.


 As we transition to fall, a cashmere option fits the bill nicely.  I have been salivating over this Ralph Lauren model and sad to tell you that I don't own it, but I did find one really similar in Neiman Marcus last year.  Here's a secret: for really great cashmere pieces of VERY high quality, check out the lingerie / lounge wear department--especially right after Christmas when everything is marked down.

Btw, I have tried a variety of scarves with this dress and they all look perfectly ridiculous.  I have no idea why, but suffice it to say that this dress seems to have been meant to go with a great sweater.

For weekend errands, I have found that there is one bag I just don't want to be without:

My good 'ol trusty Neverfull.  After an insane amount of deliberation, I settled on the PM.  I am here to tell you that this sucker is NEVER FULL.  I have stuffed the most insane things in it and it always seems to work.  If I have one complaint, I wish the straps were a little longer so it would go on the shoulder a bit easier, but I don't think I would want it to be any bigger.  An investment piece for sure, but I am a firm believer in not skimping on the following: haircuts/color, winter coat, shoes, watches, and handbags.  These are the things you wear over and over and over again.  Your hair, bag and watch you wear every day.  Make it something you really, really love.

~ESM

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mastering it

Our biggest renovation accomplishment to date is probably the master bedroom and bath.  All things considered, it was probably the worst room(s?) in the house--for several reasons.  While there were no shortage of things in our house that didn't make any sense, this one took the cake.  For one, someone had the bright idea (probably sometime around the late 70's) to add a textured plaster surface to the walls--think stucco.  We knew when we bought the house that getting rid of it was going to be a problem.  For years we dragged our feet to come up with a solution because everything we could think of that would make it go away was really expensive and when you spend big money on your house, you kind of want to be able to tell that you did something, as opposed to just making walls look like normal walls.  We worked on other things until one day, the shower started to leak under the pan.  Time was of the essence to remodel the bathroom or suffer a homeowner's insurance claim--not good.  After deliberating, we decided to just do everything in one shot.  The other cause for concern was that, for reasons known only to them, the prior owners decided to install a Pergo knock-off product OVER the hardwood floor.  The only reason we could think of that would cause anyone to do this would be if there was some horrible damage that they didn't want to fix and just wanted to cover it up.  We were not just a little bit scared to see what was under the plastic.

Here's how it looked before:


It's really a shame that you can't see the stucco finish on the wall, because it was bizarre.  The stenciling was also unfinished on one wall--like they just got tired of the project and gave up on it.  You can also see through the doorway that there is a dressing room.  There was a closet on the left side that was created with spare bits of drywall and other scraps of wood.  It defied description.  The closet was not there when the house was built, so the light and mirror on the wall are not centered.  I think there was originally a countertop and another light that was removed.


The one redeeming quality the room had was its size, which makes the dresser against the closet door a real head-scratcher--it's not like there was no place else to put it.


Another charming shot of the dressing room.


Ah, the shower.  LAM refused to use it.  The interior was even less attractive than the exterior and you can see the lovely faux marble counter.  The floor was also the mini-speckle tile wet bed job as the other room, only in this room they put square vinyl stick-on tiles to cover it up.  As long as I live, I will never understand fuzzy toilet seat covers.

Ok, now for the fun part:


Since the prospect of dealing with stucco walls was too daunting for us to deal with on our own, we hired a contractor--who had a method of dealing with the walls.  He sanded the stucco off as much as possible and then skim-coated them.  They came out beautiful--perfect--straight.  Brilliant.  And the floors?  We removed the plastic stuff to find...nothing.  Just regular old hardwood that had been covered with carpet at some point, so it needed to be sanded and buffed.  No holes, animal damage, paint spills or any of the hundred other things we thought might be under there.


The decor was a compromise.  It's not 100% my style as LAM decided he was going to have some input.  It's WAY too matchy-matchy for my taste, but it is clean and bright and soothing.  The plaid was his idea and the bedding was mine.  Bedding is Restoration Hardware and I love this duvet/sham set.  It has been through the wash countless times and still looks brand new.  The curtains and pillow are Country Curtains--this was LAM's contribution--I'm not crazy about valances, but long panel curtains just weren't going to work since they would interfere with Nick's bed and the laundry baskets.  The carpet is a wool remnant that we had bound.  I love the little black diamond pattern and that it doesn't show footprints.  The chair is IKEA and the white slipcover is $29.  If something terrible happens to it, it can go in the wash, but buying a replacement isn't the end of the world.  I have two and rotate them out when one is in the wash--black dog--white chair--you do the math.



We replaced the luan closet doors with two doors that swing out.  This is LAM's closet--the door pulls are Anthropologie.  They have the best funky knobs and pulls; we've actually used them on several closet doors in the house.  The laundry baskets are Pottery Barn, lamps--a Homegoods find.  Below, Nick surveys the finished product.





This is the dressing area now.  We re-built the closet (it's kind of tight for taking pictures), replaced all the molding (like in all the other rooms) and built a pocket door on the bathroom.  This is absolutely the BEST way to deal with doors on a small bathroom.  We also added more halogen pot lights (I would love to have these follow me around all the time--they make everything look better) and the back area created the perfect little cubby for my antique armoire.  There couldn't be a better place for a full length mirror.



The bathroom is actually a decent size--just not big enough for a large soaker tub or double sinks.  Since we have the nice jetted tub in the hall bath, it's not been an issue and we survive just fine with the single sink.  We thought long and hard about how to re-arrange things to accommodate a double sink, but I didn't want to give up my closet/dressing area.  It works great for us.  We went with marble floor tile, subway shower and wainscoting tile with travertine accents and floor.  This was before the shower door was added--it's just a large panel of clear glass with a polished nickel vintage-style handle.  When we removed the triangular pod shower, we just built a long shower that went from one wall to the other.  There was enough space for a standard sized tub, but we liked the big walk-in shower better.  The toilet is Kohler, vanity and top were an off-the-shelf item from Lowe's with hardware from Restoration Hardware.  All fixtures, medicine cabinet and overhead light are Restoration Hardware.  Since we've added the shower door, window treatment and wall art, the room looks a bit different now, so I'll post some follow up photos later.

After doing most of the other projects ourselves, hiring a contractor was a real luxury and we will be doing it again for kitchen/family room because...um...we're not crazy, but I'll be designing the changes and picking out all of the materials myself.

~ESM

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pretties, Sparklies, Eye Candy or Whatever...


To help me on the final phase of Operation Destroy and Re-build (also known as the kitchen and family room reno), I obtained a couple of Benjamin Moore fan decks, which is something I should have done a LONG time ago.  I got the classic colors and this smaller one of Off-White Colors.  Most of these are also in the big deck, but there is something about seeing them all together in one place--really having all of the key neutrals side by side so you can see how they look directly against each other.  Looking at them all spread out like luscious shades of cashmere, I want to dive straight into the deck and just live there.  I am a very visual person and this got me thinking about how much pleasure I get from just looking at something that I find pretty, pleasing, well designed, etc.  This is, I'm sure, why I love Pinterest so much.  I can look at things I love all in one place like one giant bulletin board that has no end.  There are other bloggers out there who refer to these type of things in a variety of ways--sparklies, pretties, etc.--it doesn't matter what you call them, they are there to make you happy.  For no particular reason and in no particular order, here are some of mine:

Banho hand soap.  Lemon Verbena scent, made in Portugal, it smells great and the package design is fab.  Yeah, it's expensive, but I keep it in the ladies room in my office.  Since I'm the only one who uses it, it lasts a really long time and any guests who use the room get to enjoy it too.


Kiki and Coco in Paris by Nina Gruener is an absolutely delightful romp.  If you have a little girl who appreciates special dolls, Paris and adventure, or even if you don't--you must have this book.  I bought this for a little girl and couldn't bear to part with it.  It lives on my coffee table.


In keeping with the Paris theme, I LOVE this picture of Fauchon.  When I was an exchange student in high school (yeah, I was lucky enough to get a family who lived in Paris), we went to Fauchon one day and I was allowed to choose just one perfect precious bon-bon.  I nearly cried while eating it.  The black, pink and gold of this storefront are, in a word, divine.

I love foxes.  This guy is particularly fabulous.  I have no idea who is responsible for this drawing.  If someone can tell me who the artist is or how I can go about obtaining a print of this image, I will love you forever.  He would look just simply smeshing, on my wall.


Speaking of walls, this is one of Kate Spade's.  I wish it were mine.  The wall color, the trim detail...the art.  Have you seen the art?  Collecting art is one of my greatest pleasures.  It doesn't have to cost a fortune.  There are lovely prints available for purchase--mainstream artists on sites like art.com or little guys (like me) on Etsy.  Search around--you may find something you really like.  Etsy is also a super savvy way to pick up original art for a song.  There is A LOT of talent in the world.  Surround yourself with it--surround your children with it.  It adds so much to life.  If anyone out there has another great source for original art--please tell me about it!

Speaking of art again, what is it about the New Yorker?  There have been so many great covers over the last century or so.  This is one of my absolute favorites.  I love the pinks and the greens--the way it is sophisticated and whimsical at the same time.  This one is definitely on my wish list.


Speaking of pinks, you may recognize these bateaux from the jardin du Luxembourg.  Children rent these and push them with a stick in the little man-made pond and try to race each other.  Watching this is one of the great joys of being in Paris.  I could eat up the colors of these boats.


The designer of the exterior of this Paris flower shop deserves an award.  The pink petals and the green--the simple logo.  In love.


Speaking of simple and elegant, really, is there anyone more elegant than Carolina Herrera?  No, the answer is just plain, no.  This woman can rock a fitted white shirt, black skirt, red pumps and a simple gold bangle better than anyone on the planet.  I look at this image every time I need a breath of fresh air and a reminder to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).


Under the category of timeless elegance, this is simply a gratuitous gear head eye-candy shot.  This photo brings tears to my eyes (yes, I am hopeless) in a greatness begat greatness kind of way.

Back on a semi-practical note, I have lived in these sandals this summer.  They rock.  I don't know how they do it, but they manage to make all feet look slim and elegant.  They also match every single thing in my closet whether it's a bathing suit or a cocktail dress.  I've had people who should know better ask me if they were Herm├Ęs.  Worth.  Every.  Penny.  Tory for me can be hit or miss--sometimes she gets it right and sometimes not.  These were just right.


Speaking of things that are just right...The Blue Pig Tavern, the restaurant in Congress Hall in Cape May, NJ is possibly one of the most elegant alfresco dining locations at the Jersey Shore.  Besides serving great food, having a unique atmosphere, being steps away from the beach and having a logo that is a pig in the most perfect shade of blue/green ever (Benjamin Moore's "Oceanfront"), Oprah and Stedman have been spotted there, so you know it's good.  They've gotten so sick of people trying to nick their linens, silverware, china, etc. that they finally offered it for sale.


This print has been on my wish list for some time as well.  "Bunny Dressing" by Michael Sowa blends art and whimsy and well, it has a rabbit.  This would look great someplace unexpected.


Like everyone with a Pinterest account who is planning a renovation, I've gone crazy pinning pictures of kitchens, wall colors, sinks faucets, tile, etc. that I like and when I came across this one, it somehow jumped off the screen as being kind of perfect.  I think what I like so much--what makes it seem so balanced is that there is a blend of all of the elements, stainless steel, wood floor and basket, topiaries ( I love the pots they're in) and a piece of original art.  Art should go everywhere--not just over your sofa or bed.  It's clean, simple and warm.  We can't see the sink, but I imagine that it looks something like this:


Right now I'm on my second house and probably my seventh kitchen faucet.  Over the years, I've come to learn a great deal about how I want a faucet to look and what I need it to be able to do.  First, I'm in love with polished nickel because it looks a little like sterling silver.  It isn't trendy (brushed nickel falls into that category), buffs up like jewel and since it costs more than other finishes, is usually found on more quality pieces (although not always).  I like having a sprayer, but don't care for the pull-down models since every time you use it, you have to yank on the spout.  I can't imagine that they last very long.  Ditto the new electronic models that turn on by touching a sensor on the side--what happens when that breaks?  No thanks.  No, a simple vintage looking model like this one with a single handle so I don't have to futz around with mixing hot and cold (I have this now and can't be bothered to use the cold handle, so I turn on the hot and either freeze or burn myself--not awesome).  To my way of thinking, the handle of your kitchen faucet sink is the one single thing that you touch the most frequently in your house.  Think about it.  It's like the steering wheel in your car--you ALWAYS have your hands on it.  Shouldn't it feel GREAT?  This one is the Danze Opulence model.  Not priced in the stratosphere and good reviews.


As we come to the end of summer (I am in total denial of this, btw), I want to share with you the Blue Pig Martini.  It smells like summertime and tastes like heaven--not to be enjoyed only when it's warm, but so much better when it is--preferably at the Brown Room in Congress Hall.  To make two, fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add three shots of Hpnotiq, one shot of vodka, quarter shot of Blue Curacao (for color) and one shot of pineapple juice.  Shake vigorously and pour into two martini glasses.  Be careful, they go down reaaaallllllly easy.

~ESM

Monday, August 19, 2013

You Have to Feature it.

Moving right along, the next step was dealing with the three spare bedrooms.  Each presented its own unique set of issues and challenges, but perhaps none quite like what I'm about to show you.  This room was going to have an awkward layout no matter what because of the position of the stone fireplace directly underneath it and the duct work next to it that feeds the furnace in the basement.  All of this stuff had to go somewhere, so there was going to be a bumpout in the room--no way around it.  The architect who designed the house chose to take something that was annoying and make it a WHOLE lot more annoying by adding a double closet to the other side of the room--the end of which basically blocked the door.  It was both an aesthetic disaster and it made moving furniture into that room almost impossible.  Let me show you:


Charming, isn't it?  Since this bedroom is at the end of a long hallway, this was the view--or complete lack thereof.  I don't know much about feng shui, but I'm pretty sure this violates every rule imaginable.  The plastic football door knob was a bonus as well as whatever that weird thing is nailed to the wall above the adjacent bedroom.  Removing it destroyed the wall, so the hallway needed major drywall repair.


The view from the inside of the room.  Since this was the bedroom of a teenage boy, he didn't have much need for two closets, so he turned the other closet into a desk area.


Not exactly something you would pin on Pinterest...


This is the other side of the room--you can see the bumpout on the right side.


This is a better shot.  In addition to simply looking odd, it made furniture placement, well, strange.  There simply was no good way to do it.  Other issues included the chair rail, which was poorly done and really made no sense and the plaster textured ceiling.  This was not a simple popcorn ceiling that could be easily scraped off--it was PLASTER and it was cracked, yellowed and just generally awful.

Staring at the room one day, I had a revelation when I remembered an old Saturday Night Live skit where John Larroquette was playing Bob Vila walking around a house that suffered from demonic possession.  The homeowners pointed out a "hell mouth" and asked Bob what could be done about it.  His response was, "Well, you have to feature it--you know make it into a fireplace and roast marshmallows and tell scary stories."  This was my hell mouth.  So I decided to feature it.  I decided that this strange void in front of the window was...duh...the perfect place for a window seat.  Ditch the stupid door-blocking closet and build another one in front of the bumpout (basically, just bump it out more) and the extra space will accommodate a larger window seat.  Create a hinged lid on the seat and presto! instant extra storage.  Since we were tearing down walls, repairing flooring, etc, this is one of the rooms where we just got rid of most of the drywall.  In the end it was easier--particularly the ceiling.  Here's how it came out:


Current hallway view.  We replaced all of the luan doors with six panel white ones and European door handles, replaced all of the trim around the doorways, baseboards, etc., replaced the overhead light and painted my favorite color at the moment: Benjamin Moore "Night Mist".  Now you can actually see into the room.




We also added crown moldings (we did this to most rooms) and halogen pot lights (I LOOVVVEE the warm glow these lights give off).  Eventually, there will be a custom down cushion, just as soon as I decide what fabric to use.  The roman shades were off the shelf from Lowe's.  I really like how clean and beachy they look--adding something to the window without really blocking out much light.  I can never seem to get enough light.


Here is a better view of the face of the closet.  Still slightly awkward, but at least this makes sense to me.


The bed could be moved over a bit to give a better flow, but I like the view of the chair from the hallway.  If we host another exchange student, I will probably swap it out for the dresser and desk in the other room.  The other spare bedroom looks pretty much the same as this one and didn't have nearly the issues that this room had.  Next step, new bedding...

~ESM