My Latest Online Obsession

I may be late to the party, but I've just discovered a fantastic web site for those of us, like me, obsessed with getting a bargain.  This revelation is dangerous because I've been known in the past to do a bit of damage on some flash sale sites (that shall remain nameless and that I've since unsubscribed from).  My new obsession is called Everything But The House and is an online source for estate sales.  While I just became aware of it about a month ago, I discovered that it's has been around since 2008.

Everything But The House sells everything from cars, antiques, jewelry, art, china, furniture, collectibles and more.  It has outposts in 20 cities around the country and hosts about 180 estate sales a month.  All sales are auction format starting at bids of $1 and last for seven days.  I recently scored two items, a vintage Persian Lamb fur jacket that cost me $15 (actually $35 but I had a $20 opening credit) and a Gemma Redux necklace for $18.  The necklace, new, was probably around $350-400 retail!


When bidding on an item, you can type in your zip code and get a quote for shipping.  If you track the sales in your vicinity, you can pick up items and save on shipping costs.  For large items like furniture, the pick-up option would offer considerable savings.  For example, I spotted a sale in Wellesley, Massachusetts, just a couple of miles down the road from me, offering a whole dining room set, an office suite from Chaddock complete with desk and credenza, and a suite of Brown Jordan outdoor furniture, all for a song!  The following items are also part of that sale:


As I write this post, the current bid on the Lee Jofa club chair on the left, above, is $2, and the bid on the Wellington Hall Hepplewhite Style sideboard, above right, is $22.  These items originally cost thousands of dollars. 

Like house hunting, don't judge these furnishings on first glance.  Anything can be refinished, repainted and re-upholstered.  So even if Hepplewhite is not your style, it's worth a look. 


Trend Watch Tuesday: In the Pink

In case you haven't noticed, pink is hot . . . and not just in the color sense.  Pay any notice to fashion, and you'll see that blush tones are THE color for spring 2016.  For interiors, pink had been relegated, if at all, to nurseries.  But that's changing.  Maybe give credit to designer Brian Patrick Flynn who created a saturated pink sitting room for the 2015 Hampton Designer Showhouse.


Photo, left, courtesy of; photo, right, courtesy of

Or maybe Pantone got it right, selecting Rose Quartz as their 2016 Color of the Year, along with Serenity.


Whatever the catalyst, pink is trending and can spice up the monochromatic grey and beige interiors timid homeowners cling to for safety. 

For years (and I don't want to say how many), I neglected to paint the walls of our master bedroom.  When we bought our house almost 20 years ago, it was brand new and every wall in the house was white.  I finally decided a couple of years ago on a pale coral paint color for the walls.  With painters in the house last fall to repair the ice dam damage of the winter of 2015, we finally had the bedroom painted.  The color, Benjamin Moore's Sunlit Coral, is peachy, but with natural and artificial light, glows a pale pink.  I absolutely love it.  It's soft and comforting without being too feminine.


Here are a few ideas to get you "in the pink:"


Left to right: Kate Spade New York Elsie Table Lamp in Blush: TS Table by GamFratesi.


Left to right: Jaipur Area Carpet Gramercy by Kate Spade New York; Dornbracht Mem faucet in Cyprum pink gold finish.


Left to right: Edmund Sofa by BDDW; Linens by Tribute Goods in Inca Rose.



Would Staging Help to Sell Your Home? 

Like many baby boom empty-nesters, I'm starting to think about downsizing.  My two oldest children are now living far from the nest and my youngest is a college freshman who, no doubt, will spend less time at home as she progresses through her college career.  I love my house, but the Boston Snowmageddon of 2015 sparked the notion of heading south for the winter.  Or at least moving to a condominium where snow removal and ice-dam damaged roofs would be managed by a maintenance staff that doesn't include me.  What should someone like me do to prepare their home for the real estate market?

I recently talked to Aleksandra Scepanovic, Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group in Brooklyn, New York.  Aleksandra's firm sells premier brownstone properties in sought-after Brooklyn neighborhoods.  (As an aside, when I lived in New York City in the 1980s and early 90s, there was only one Brooklyn neighborhood where brownstones were sought-after!)  Aleksandra explained how real estate staging is empirically proven to sell a property at a higher price and in less time than an unstaged property.  She also detailed the ins and outs of successfully staging a home for sale.


The property below -- a landmark 1901 Brooklyn brownstone --  was on the market for 277 days before Aleksandra's company staged it.  After staging, the home sold at the first showing at the seller's asking price; the contract was signed eight days later.


The most interesting takeaway from my conversation with Aleksandra was this: buyers will form an opinion on a property within four seconds of entering.  So first impressions are important.  As is hiring the right stager.

The right stager will research the micro-area within a tenth to a quarter-of-a-mile radius of your property to determine who the potential buyers may be and their style preferences.  Knowing the audience is critical to staging a property successfully.  The objective for the stager is to make the property appealing to the demographic group who would be attracted to that specific location and type of home.

Does that mean you have to repaint every room in your house in a neutral color?  Actually, no.  Stagers may recommend a calm palette to neutralize spaces and help buyers respond to the functionality of a home.  But today, many buyers, especially millennials, expect more decorated homes.  Their tastes have been cultivated by exposure to high fashion and pop culture.  Aleksandra pointed out that there are areas in New York where "plain vanilla" just won't do -- like the very high end of the market. 

For Aleksandra, a property must not be inhabited to be successfully staged.  Leaving the home may be hard and not possible for some sellers.  Emotionally, it's the final realization that an abode with strong sentimental attachments will be turned over to someone else.  But it also means the property will not be disturbed.  And it gives the stager latitude to do his or her job.

When staging a property, the first step is a thorough cleaning and deodorizing.  (Note to self: kitties and kitty litters be gone!)  The stager will then focus on the underutilized and awkward spaces in a home to make them appealing.  Every inch of the property may be rearranged.  The stager will envision the property from the perspective of the buyer and his or her path of travel when viewing the home.  At each step, the property should tell a story.  A good stager (like a good interior designer) will create vistas with focal points.  Furniture is positioned to tell a story and to detract from aspects of the property that do not further the story.  Even in a 400 square foot condominium that Aleksandra had staged, she created four significant focal points.

Who pays for the staging?  That depends on the agreement between the listing agency and the seller.  In many instances, the listing agency can absorb some or all of the cost as part of its marketing expense.  Staging isn't cheap.  Most stagers rely on furniture rental companies to supply, at a minimum, the larger pieces, and these companies often impose minimum order quantities and rental periods.  It's not unusual for staging to run anywhere from $7,500 to $25,000 depending on the size and market for the property.

So maybe you're wondering why I digress from design to write on a topic pertaining to real estate.  Because some of the principles applied to staging equally apply to interior design. Notably:

  • First impressions count.  That's why I encourage clients to amp up their foyers and entryways.
  • Have the space tell a story.  It's important to infuse my clients' personalities into their spaces.  Spaces curated with collections provide a glimpse into my clients' travels, backgrounds and interests.
  • Create vistas.  In commercial spaces, they're important for wayfinding.  But in residential spaces, they add focus and interest.  And detract from the spaces you may want to de-emphasize or hide.


Bunny, Bunny, How Does Your Garden Grow?

As the temperature creeped up over recent weeks here in the Northeast part of the United States, we thought we were free and clear of winter.  It was an early spring, and I rejoiced, especially considering how much snow we had at this time last year.  But Mother Nature decided to surprise us with a Nor'easter at the start of the week, dropping about six inches of snow, delaying school openings and reminding us that we're not out of the woods yet.

Nevertheless, with daffodils abloom, my thoughts turn to the garden.  I don't have much of a green thumb.  I know that garden design is a lot like interior design -- using plantings to add color, form, texture, focus, and rhythm.  I've gotten as far as planting some low shrubs to fill in some spots between high shrubs in front of my house and added a few rose bushes and a lilac to the side for color and scent.  Inasmuch as I would like to design outdoor spaces as well as indoor, I'm afraid I lack the talent and experience.  But I was able to hear from someone who does.

Last year, Bunny Williams, one of America's top interior designers, released the second edition of her book, On Garden Style.  I had the privelege of hearing Bunny talk about her approach to garden design last year at the Boston Design Center.  It was my third time hearing Bunny talk, which is indeed a privilege.  Her approach to gardening, like her approach to interior design, can be distilled to what I like to call "Bunnyisms" -- pithy snippets of design wisdom delivered in her inimitable style.  She says it all better than I do, so below are Bunnyisms on garden design.  I hope they'll inspire those of you who, like me, lack green thumbs.

Elements of a Good Garden:

Observe your garden as you would if it were a picture.  Windows and doors act to frame your view.  Inanimate objects create focus.  Here, Bunny illustrates how an urn is used to accentuate a doorway and beckon the viewer into the garden.

Garden of Jacques Wirtz, photo by Alexandre Bailhache







In what parts of the garden would you want to sit and contemplate?  Put seating there.  Here, simple Adirondack chairs are placed on a hill under a grove of shade trees overlooking the main house.

Garden of, and photo by Gil Schafer

Water in the garden creates a "moment."  Water features bring sound and ornamental shape to the garden.


In the photo above, a canal is bordered by box hedges.

Photo by Richard Felber

Begin with strong massive anchors.  Add plants of different scale, choosing plants for color and texture.  Use massing, matched to the scale of the architecture and garden, to create statements.  Unify the garden with color and repetition.


Photo by Tim Street-Porter

In the photo above, a tree arbor anchors massing with carlesi and vibernums.

Adding Furniture and Accessories to the Garden:

Ornamental elements should work with the style and scale of the house.  In a small garden, accent with only one object. 

Containers create architecture and give interest to a space.  A row of pots adds structure and symmetry and creates a nice view from inside.  Use pots that are all the same color and in proportion to the plantings.  Make sure the material of the pots can withstand the elements.


Meyer lemon trees in terracotta pots match the rhythm of the arcade and columns of this home in Charleston, South Carolina.

photo by Christopher Baker

Outdoor furniture is not for decoration.  It should never upstage nature.  It should always be similar in color and in contrast with the interior.  Use white outdoor furniture in shady areas.  Weathered teak harmonizes with stone, mortar and weathered cedar shingles.  Use aluminum and teak by the ocean because they stand up to salt.  Position furniture to face the outdoors.

Use mirrors on a covered porch or loggia to reflect the outdoors and augment natural light for the adjacent interiors.


White lacquer outdoor furniture on the terrace of Oscar de la Renta's Connecticut home.

Photo by Richard Felber


Where Do You Banquette?

Not too long ago, the only place you'd see a banquette was in a restaurant.  Not anymore.  Banquettes have become de rigueur not only in eat-in-kitchens but in living rooms as well.  At the 2014 Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse, not less than three designers featured banquettes in their rooms.  Talk about a trend! 


Markham Roberts' banquette in his "A Gentlemen's Study" at the 2014 Kips Bay Showhouse.                                


Vicente Wolf's banquette in his "Orange is the New Black" at the 2014 Kips Bay Showhouse.


Alexa Hamtpon's stunning banquette, complete with buillion fringe, in her "Sitting Room Folly" at the 2014 Kips Bay Showhouse.

A banquette upgrades the look of the kitchen table by adding plush and comfortable seating.  And those bare corners of the living room that we used to disguise with folding screens and corner bookcases now allow for more conversation areas with the addition of a banquette.


               Kitchen banquette in a design by Alessandra Branca.  Photo by Thibault Jeanson courtesy of Elle Decor.

Here is a banquette I designed for a basement renovation project in the home of empty nesters.  The basement, once the children's playroom, is now an adult playspace.


                                                                                     Photo by Michael J. Lee.

Here is a banquette tucked into the corner of a living room.


                                      Design by Garrow Kedigian Interior Design.  Photo courtesy of Sophie Donelson.

Look around your home for clever spaces to tuck a banquette.  How about in a foyer to expand your entertainment space?


                                                              Photo courtesy of MMR Interiors.