BEFORE + AFTER
The evolution of my house-hopping, home-owning journey.
The first apartment was I owned was in NYC and I lived there circa 2001. It was a 2-apartment combo unit that was stuck in the 80s, dreary and a bit dilapidated but it had potential and a great layout. Having just overseen the renovation of my boss Andy King's townhouse in the West Village, I used the lessons I'd learned and borrowed his contractor for my own project. My good friend and decorative painter Topher Rollinson painted the walls the most beautiful color that made the room glow as if the sun was setting, a welcome mirage since this place had little natural light. It became a homey and elegant 2-bedroom apartment that would host life's greatest moments: it welcomed me home to a surprise party after my husband Miguel proposed (I had just landed at JFK from Venezuela for an event I planned for work for my subsequent boss, David Stark); later the apartment would also welcome my first child home from the hospital (here it is at the left decorated for my baby shower). It was a fantastic apartment that lived like a house.
ct house no.1
This was our first house in the CT suburbs. It was literally the first house we saw and we made an offer on it that afternoon. We were both working in New York and our son was only 6 months old but we knew we weren't going to raise kids in the big city so there was no reason to wait. It was a great location in a kid-filled neighborhood and we had friends close by. I've always been very decisive and it usually serves me well.
That bulldozer is tearing down the miniature garage so we could build a master wing for this classic Jack and Jill home that only had two bedrooms upstairs. In the process of renovating we discovered we had a basement that leaked and a yard that didn't drain properly. We created a moat fit for a king, waterproofed the basement, built a stone retaining wall and a fantastic deck made of ipe. Those double height windows in the new master bedroom were inspired by an antique house in the area with a similar window.
LFG at a
daily site visit
This was the original dining room that we would end up turning into a mudroom. I knew we would open the wall and create a new master wing on the first floor, beyond the existing dining room wall. If you look at the before image you'll see a window that became a sliding door and an access point to both front and back yards for dirty feet and muddy boots. It was a game changer regarding the flow of the house.
My very favorite cabinet maker from Milwaukee, Tad Hellmann, built the closets and mudroom paneling, mirrored to reflect the outdoors and make the small space feel larger. That Dutch door was my absolute fave, allowing light to spill into the bedroom hall while keeping our 2- and 4-legged children out. This is another shining example of how I had no idea I would share these photos down the road. Excuse the mess.
my favorite kitchen
This is my favorite kitchen of all time, designed and built by my same friend, Tad Hellmann, He flew in from Milwaukee for the night, sketched the room and returned 8 weeks (or so) later with this kitchen. Yes, he is that good. Plus I think he's a genius and trust him implicitly. I gave him all my requirements and he put them to paper. It was small but lived large, which is my fave.
Among my must-haves: the sink and stove could not be visible from the family room; a wet bar; wine storage; a dedicated desk area with bulletin board; a double oven; a double sink; seating for as many people as possible at the counter; a vented range with hood; tons of storage under and above every counter; ability to service the dining room without losing cabinet space (notice the pass thru!!); mirrored cabinets and back splash for the bar to add dimension.
This is the family room that belonged to the kitchen above. Any house I move into has to have a fireplace in the main living area along with a TV and lots of seating. Winter is my favorite season because I can light a fire every night and the days are short which means lots of ambient lights on dimmers - my favorite environment.
Check out the wood nook Tad built into the bookcase. I add one to every house when possible. It's hard to find room for a wood holder and stacking it on the floor leaves a mess. Just be sure to line it with metal so it wears well.
On a technical note, sometimes you need to be creative to get AC and the one in this room was pitiful so we popped a Slim Jim AC unit into the top of the bookcase. It vented out on the same wall as the chimney and didn't disturb anyone.
1st floor guest room
Click the pics
This little first floor office/bedroom got rearranged and gently decorated, proof that a great guest room doesn't need tons of bells and whistles, just a few creature comforts.
Have window shades that close. I love shutters because they're easy to keep clean, they're tidy and they don't rip. When space is tight, opt for wall-mounted lights at the bedside. Place a clock on the bedside, too. Always keep a bench at the foot of the bed for luggage or an extra seat. Keep a nice selection of magazines on hand and place a tray on the dresser so guests have a spot to place jewelry, wallets, etc... at the end of the day. Keep a few drawers empty and be sure there are plenty of hangers in the closet. Maybe a little vase with fresh flowers if you're really on top of your game. Have a comforter (and pretty duvet - I love the linens at West Elm) and pillows with different firmness levels. Lastly, be sure your guests know which towels are theirs.
This was the infamous basement that leaked and was not suitable for any kids to play in. But after adding a French drain around the perimeter it was ready to be turned into a real room.
To the left of where I took the picture is the door to the side yard. To the right are the stairs up to the main floor. So I built a Marmoleum pathway where I'm standing so kids could come in and out of the house and not get the carpet dirty. That floor continued on into the laundry room (and I also used it in the mudroom).
We added brightly colored striped carpeting that would hide dirt and a bright orange, ultra-suede sleeper sofa (hidden in the back corner) to complement the ocean blue walls, creating a 2nd guest room for extra visitors (always choose a sleeper sofa for this very reason). The colors brought this room to life and made it a fun place to be.
I want you to breathe a sigh of relief every time you walk through your front door.
ct house no.2
Can you believe these before and after images are taken from the same vantage point? This foyer at the center of the house offered access to different rooms in every direction. What would happen if someone was walking from the bathroom to their bedroom in a towel? They'd be visible from the front hall - so that door had to be moved. We relocated the access to the bedroom wing to a less central area creating new space in the foyer to build a proper staircase. Notice the lantern on the floor in the "before" and then look for it again in the "after".
What was once a dark entryway became an open, airy and happy foyer to welcome guests. I had some photos I took in Bermuda printed in large format and framed: easy and personal large scale art. The front door was replaced, making the driveway and front yard now visible from inside the house. The glass panel and sidelights let in so much light.
Our homes are
where we make so many special memories
Same wish list. Same vibe.
When you need an oversized coffee table and can't find what you want, buy two of the same. I love the weathered wood of these Crate & Barrel tables that manage to work well with all kinds of furniture and styles and stand up to any cocktail, hors d'oeuvres or dinner in front of the fire/TV. Life is messy and I like my home life-proof. And I never want a guest to panic if they spill. Some tables look fine next to each other with a gap. I like these tightly joined together so we connected them underneath with cable ties and no one is the wiser.
Heated floors. Enough said.
ct house no.3
This room was a classic example of how impactful paint can be. So much dark woodwork was brought up to date with white paint. The same paint transformed the brick wall of the fireplace and the sliding doors in the neighboring sunroom. I chose a blue for the back of the bookshelves and updated the ceiling lights to white cans. I also replaced the speaker fabric above the bookcases with a white version. We reoriented the room towards the fireplace and away from the back of the room by moving the tv to the side wall near the fireplace which also made it visible from the kitchen. Are you seeing the TV/fireplace theme has returned? This TV location was a little unconventional but we couldn't place it on the brick fireplace wall. Be open to alternatives that solve a problem. The changes are not monumental alone but together they make a huge difference.
The first priority in this house was a new floor. I chose a 12x24 dark gray tile with tight, dark grout lines that would melt away, be easy to clean, and coordinate with any decorative style down the road.
The cream woodwork, stair rail and dark front door all needed to be painted white. Instant update! Next, a neutral and timeless wool runner that would be easy to clean. Finally, a bright, geometric wallpaper for the foyer and upstairs hallway to add some personality to the public spaces. You'll never regret a great wallpaper. I found that console at an antique store and bought the painting in Paris from the late artist Claude Schurr who was friends with my grandparents. He was one of a kind. The duck decoy was made by my daughter. Fill your house with things you love that have meaning.
This was a great kitchen but a round table and updated light fixture brought it to present day. I built the window seat and had the custom cushions made with ikat fabric from Bali (my stepmother is Indonesian so she helped me source the real deal which I have loved since I discovered it as a kid during summer trips to visit them in Singapore). We watched the birds from that window seat every morning and my daughter ran a bird feeding experiment for school from that bench.
There was a large open space in the working area of the kitchen which would benefit from an island surface for extra prep and storage so I found that little beauty at IKEA and it worked perfectly. You can make a huge impact with simple, inexpensive updates.
That's the tip of the iceberg. I hope it gives you a sense of how I think and the kind of changes we can come up with in your home. There is always room for improvement and a new way to look at things.
I can't wait to make your home the envy of all your friends.