Why I Became an Interior Designer

When I was 10 years old my parents decided to move to a new apartment.  To celebrate the occasion they wanted to reupholster the living room furniture.  In those days in NYC most people shopped for fabric and furniture on the Lower East Side.  Sunday was the day.

Was there any discussion beforehand of what they wanted? A plan? Colors? Textures?  Guess they decided to wing it.  The only thing my Dad was committed to was using red which he loved, somewhere.  In order to have an example of the precise color he wanted we took the top of my Mother’s Faberge dusting powder box with us which was a bright red velvet.

I remember someone had recommended a store to us which was on the Bowery.  There were bolts of fabric all over and a few disorganized sample books.  Both of my parents took a look around and quickly became overwhelmed.  We needed to put fabrics together for the sofa, 2 wing chairs, an occasional chair and a piano bench. The only person available was me!  I selected an ivory damask for the sofa, Wedgewood blue cut velvet for the chairs, red velvet to match the powder box for the piano bench which I ordered tufted, and a stripe of blue and cream for the mahogany side chair.  How did I know to do this?  That’s an interesting story I’ll share below.  Moreover why did my parents entrust me with this task and accept my choices?  Somehow they must have known I could do it and be good at it.  I can’t imagine allowing either of my sons to make equally significant decisions for me when they were 10.  But they did!

I wrote in a previous Blog about exposure influencing me greatly as a young child.  My Mom had 2 elderly Aunts she adored who lived in a beautiful area of NYC on the Upper East Side.  We visited them frequently.  Both of their apts. were huge and very different from the others’ – both were beautiful.  The colors in Aunt Gus’ LR were cream, Wedgewood blue and cranberry.  Hmmmmm.  Aunt Helen’s apt. was also cream with lots of tapestries and patterns.  I remember as a child I wanted to live like they did.  Another Aunt and Uncle lived on the Upper West Side.  Although their apt. was small everything they owned was wonderful quality and also lovely.

Being introduced to these relatives’ homes and styles showed me taste combined with culture and panache.  Without a hint of grandiosity, they taught me about music and the arts, antiques and a world of fine things I hungered to explore.  During my teen years I frequented the Metropolitan Museum’s furniture galleries!  I couldn’t find friends who were interested in sharing these trips with me (no surprise!) so I went alone.  That’s when I continued to be exposed to fabulous porcelains, furniture, architecture, and some of the greatest treasures.

My esthetic senses are always being affected nearly every day.  I believe they began awakening as a young child from some of these experiences I’ve shared with you.  My advice to parents and grandparents: expose your kids to a wide variety of art, culture, music and things of beauty.  No matter what career paths they choose it will help them to be well rounded.  They don’t have to become interior designer’s to be appreciators!

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Interior Design: Bringing Two Lives Together

A designer’s challenge I had recently was to combine two people’s lives and possessions in to one abode – peacefully and without rancor, happily, fairly and beautifully.

Steve was widowed for a few years and maintained a house from his marriage in Scarsdale, NY.  His deceased wife was a prolific artist whose canvases were large and important. They lived on every room, on every wall. The couple had just recently completed decorating their dining and living rooms before the wife died.  When I went to see the home I was impressed with the quality and good taste their former decorator had used.  The colors were mostly a pastel palette which I found gentle and pleasing.  Considering the recent expense involved in having purchased all new furniture and area rugs, Steve wanted me to make use of the majority of these items which I of course agreed to.

Westchester Interior Design

Fran was also widowed and lived in a large condominium with possessions from her marriage besides her family heirlooms – her own treasures.  My job was to measure Steve’s things, measure Fran’s things, and then see the new condo they had chosen to live in together when they were married. Pull it together and make it work!  As I’ve always said, “my lists had lists”!

List #1: items to keep of Steve’s and where to place them in the new house
List #2: items to keep of Fran’s and where to place them in the new house
List #3: items to sell or donate
List #4: items to have reupholstered and/or refinished

Fran was very smart.  She knew her husband-to-be treasured his first wife’s art work which she had won many prizes for; these paintings were important reminders of his former marriage and he wanted to integrate this history with his new life.  Fran asked me to use as many of the canvases as possible, which we did.  Fortunately the staircase landing in their new condo was 2 stories high. It accommodated several pieces of art on the highest wall as well as the 2 side ones paralleling the stairs.  Steve appreciated our efforts and enjoyed still being able to view her work every day of his life.

To be a good decorator requires an advanced degree in psychology!

Most of their combined contributions of furniture were able to be used with few exceptions.  A new living room area rug was needed, a new dining table and chairs, and new window treatments.  Coincidentally they both owned many lovely pieces of silver which I displayed on a side table in the dining room.  By putting their collections together made it look much more important.  Glad I didn’t have to do the polishing!

They were and are happy with the results, and feel good that their respective former lives were integrated in their current life.  They get to enjoy and remember their histories daily.  Their past, former deceased spouses are honored, and their present marriage includes significant keepsakes.

I think this project was a rewarding experience for the 3 of us.  Thanks for letting me share it with you, Fran and Steve!

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The Importance of Staging and Tips to Sell Your Home

All of us have our homes filled with our personal treasures.  They tell our story, our history, our personality.  But when you venture in to the world of considering properties for your own new home, do you want to be exposed to another person’s ‘stuff’?

Staging Your Home

I recently tackled the daunting task of cleaning out my own attic.  My sons have delicately suggested that they didn’t want to be left with the task when I move on to perfectly mowed pastures.  I rediscovered a potpourri of things I had long since forgotten I kept.  Guess I couldn’t part with them then and I’m not sure I can now.  I’m positive that most of it grows back in the darkness of the attic when I’m not looking, kind of like truffles.  Freshly polished and hermetically preserved adorable baby shoes, for example, were still in the Stride-Rite box they came in  from my oldest son who is now 42 years old and wears a size 13 shoe for his 6’4″ frame.  Is this necessary to have kept all these years?  But on the other hand, how do I throw them out?  Does anyone remember his first steps and how proud I was and thrilled to buy my first child his first pair of shoes?  How can they be destined for the garbage?

The mobile I made with felt animals I carefully created to hang above both my children’s cribs, record albums, their lovey stuffed animals they couldn’t go to sleep without, car seats, framed photos, and on and on and on were all treasures I “found”.  Somebody has to go thru this stuff, make decisions to save or chuck, and be emotionally unattached to accomplish the task.  I’m really not sure it’s me.

When I enter someone’s home as a friend, a guest, or a family member, I’m charmed and interested (but truth be told, sometimes bored) in seeing their memorabilia.  It’s an eye in to their lives.  However, as a Realtor and an Interior Designer, I firmly believe a client should REMOVE THEIR PERSONAL STUFF.  LESS IS MORE.  DE-CLUTTER.  DE-PERSONALIZE.  DELETE. UN-DECORATE!  That’s staging!

The goal is to enable a buyer to visualize themselves living in the property.  Distractions of another person’s collections makes it tough if not impossible to have that vision.  And in this real estate market, nobody wants to shoot themselves in the foot. Don’t take a chance – a well staged house shouldn’t have the edge over an unstaged one.  If you have window treatments for example that block out natural light, eliminate them.  If, however, your window treatments block an awful view from another property that’s an eyesore, keep them.  But if they’re not in perfect condition or are heavy and old fashioned, please get rid of them.

Make sure your outside (if it’s a private home) is as appealing as the inside.  Paint if needed, or at least patch and make all molding and accents (i.e. the front door) look fresh.  Trim is traditionally white.  Put seasonal flowers around both inside and out that are appropriate for the season.  If your property is in a building, I suggest you get a front door mat that’s new and says “Welcome”.

I recommend the entry of the house or apartment be treated with extra care.  Obviously it’s the first inkling of what’s to follow inside.  Good lighting is a must.  Perhaps an area rug, a table with a mirror above if there’s room, with fresh flowers in a vase are all effective and appropriate.  No pictures of your son in the military or your grandchildren!  If it’s a home with a staircase, please make sure if there’s stair carpeting it’s in perfect condition.  If not it’s usually better to remove it as long as the flooring beneath passes muster.  A buyer can ask for serious money off from the asking price to cover repairs.  It’s been my experience it’s usually cheaper for the current homeowner to take care of the problems first.  You want the maximum for your home – we all do.  Make sure you’ve fixed as much as you can prior to problems being negotiated.

Kitchens are of paramount importance.  It’s most buyer’s biggest priority.  If your appliances are reasonably new, you must make sure they’re immaculately clean, neat and organized.  If you have older cabinets and countertops, hopefully you’ll be able to upgrade them with a paint job at the least, or new granite to jazz things up a make it all look more modern and upscale.  Old tired wallpaper is a definite no no.  Please remove it prior to listing the house; fresh paint is always a bonus.  I suggest a bowl of fresh fruit on a countertop, perhaps an opened cookbook, and possibly a beautifully set table to show off how the room can be used and how many people can be accommodated.

Decks must be safe, according to code, neat, and “staged” with patio furniture and colorful flowering plants.  People need to be able to visualize their friends and family gathering for good times on your deck.  If your BBQ is old, it’s best to eliminate it. Better to have none than a yucky one! If your furniture is in good condition, so much the better.  If not, please consider some clean inexpensive replacements, possibly from large chain stores when sales are happening.

Bookcases in a room?  No need to fill them, just a few books or objets d’art to indicate what the buyer can do in the space.

If your existing furniture is inappropriate to the architecture of the property, or you’ve sold it, or it’s even non existent, a qualified staging professional can rent furniture and all accessories.  This provides the potential buyer with a clear picture of furniture placement, style and colors.  It’s a super important advantage to remember.  Also, it doesn’t need to be all or nothing: if your LR furniture is fine but your MBR is lousy, just rent stuff for your bedroom!

Sometimes spending some money to make your property more saleable is very worthwhile.  And hiring a professional Stager will provide a fresh, experienced eye and  knowledge of the current marketplace.  Maximizing the price and the time in which the property sells are all of our respective goals.

Best of luck!

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How to Decorate a Master Bedroom

Dear Reader,
In case you’re assuming this blog will be about How to Decorate a Master Bedroom, I hope not to disappoint you with a rather unusual slant from some of my experiences. Hopefully it will pique your interest as well as your funny bone.
Master Bedroom
A UNIQUE DESIGN REQUEST
One of the most unusual requests at the beginning of a design project for a bedroom was to match the colors in a clients’ skirt!  She brought in the remains of what looked like a piece of a rag, but turned out to be a swatch from a skirt she kept from the 60′s.  She explained she was a hippie then and wore this favorite wide skirt all the time with long beads, brown sandles, a headband and a white off the shoulder blouse. A photo left no question of her look.  “Can you recreate these colors, the feel, and this pattern for my new bedroom?”

It had been decades since I even thought about long free flowing beads as room dividers, but we added incense, grow lights (for the purpose of growing certain kinds of previously illegal substances), batik patterns with loads of non matching fabrics with non matching colors and she was a very happy client.  I had kept a collection of 33 records in my own attic which I gave her, and found a vintage record player for a side table.

We had great fun doing the work together, but I’m glad and relieved I’ve only been asked to do this once in my career – so far!!
A UNIQUE CRITIQUE

I called my client to report on a delivery date for some pillow shams we had ordered.  When she wasn’t home and I talked to her husband, he said he wanted to make sure I knew that their new Master Bedroom Suite was so fabulous that “the sex they had last night was better than ever”!!!!!!!  When I told her a day later what he had said she was mortified.  So I began thinking that perhaps I should form a new division of my business and advertise that the bedroom suites we create are also for great inspirational sex……. Hmmmm.  Is this legal?

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Interior Design: The Art of Listening

I think this is of major importance when we’re about to embark on a design project since it’s a much overlooked skill.  It requires practice, practice, and more practice.  The goal isn’t Carnegie Hall, but is hearing our own inner wants and desires.  For the professional decorator, the goal is to hear our clients’.  I find my clients often espouse what they think they want, but as working with them evolves, what they SAY they want and what they REALLY want can be quite disparate.  The other side of the coin is also true: it’s of equal importance for clients to listen their decorators!

Interior Design

For example: A client and I are great friends and have worked together on every room in their 4500 sq. ft. home for years.  The last project left to be done was their Great Room which is 3 steps down from their kitchen.  We installed the carpeting a few years ago in a design which is a series of squares within squares in browns and tans.  It needed to be a very practical choice since they have a large family with gaggles of kids and grandkids.  Everyone piles in to this room and the parties and company are in seemingly endless streams.

The furniture they chose to keep for (in my opinion way too many years!) was leather.  Sounds good so far – except it was in green which matched nothing and  I disliked its style intensely.  After many years of my complaining about how ugly it was, (!) they decided to replace it.  Hip hip!!  The decision was no more leather, light colors, and plain patterns for pillows.  They didn’t want new window treatments at all.  The existing ones were wood blinds with green trim which matched the old sofas.  Their thought was it was good enough and in perfect condition.

I listened and listened.  And disagreed and disagreed.  Fortunately we’re friends and they trust me, but even though that was the case, it was still a matter of convincing them and having THEM LISTEN TO ME!

The new version of the room has new leather furniture in a rich chocolate brown with contrast welting in a lighter brown.  The window treatments were replaced (thank goodness) with pleated roman shades in a paisley fabric.  Throw pillows are in both the same paisley as the windows with an animal print in chenille.  The coffee table which is an all-important piece of furniture since it’s the location for kids’ puzzles and art projects, as well as hors d’oevres, is a stunning linen- wrap texture I had painted in the exact camel color in the paisley.  It was custom to our size requirements. texture choice, and color.

They love love their new old room which had a furnishings facelift.  The end result is exactly what they THOUGHT they didn’t want. They tell me all the time how much they’re glad they listened!!!!

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3 Decorating Tips from An Interior Design Pro!

Fairfield County DecoratorsDecorating a room, several rooms, or an entire home can be a daunting task.  It should be fun, but there are so many decisions!  What colors shall we use?  What design theme to execute?  How will we use the space?  What’s a realistic budget?  And each question begets another, and each decision begets a zillion more.

Aside from my self serving advice to work with professionals, there are some “givens” to help plod through all the options.  In no particular order of priority, here are a few:

1. Follow your gut – most people know what they DON”T like a lot quicker than what they DO like.  Sometimes when faced with a seemingly overwhelming amount of options, it helps to ELIMINATE first.  Then try to make “gut” decisions of what your heart says “yes” to.

2.  I’ve seen many clients make decisions based on a level of what they think they SHOULD like.  They intellectualize.  Decoration and design are, after all, about aesthetics, and that’s really subjective.  My opinion is to go with what you have a positive visceral reaction to.  What speaks to you? What do you love?  Granted visualizing things is a real challenge for most.  But still, what patterns, colors, and textures make you feel good?  I think you’ll know it when you see it.  If you don’t, maybe you need to keep looking.

3.  Sometimes there is something really special in a room that should be paid attention to.  For example, a fabulous ceiling line, great windows with a dramatic view, a dynamite fireplace, detailed moldings, or an antique piece of furniture or chandelier.  Let these unique features be the “star” of the space and decorate around them so other items are their compliment.  Every Broadway play has the leading featured stars and the supporting cast!

Westchester Interior DesignI hope you find these tips helpful and enjoy the decorating process.  But if you find it an overwhelming task, please find an interior designer who you’ll enjoy working with!  And please think of our many services to help you.  Good luck.

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Interior Design: Let’s Talk Ceilings

Westchester Interior DesignHello all of you blog readers.  Please bear with me because this blogging thing is new to me.  I’ve been an Interior Designer for more than 35 years with tons of experience, but social media, tweeting and blogging are not my comfort level.  I’m trying to come out from under my cushy rock and it ‘ain’t easy.

However, my sons, friends, and business advisors tell me I’ve gotta do it.  So, here goes my first official “Alice’s Blog”.  By the way, I welcome ideas from any of you to re-name it something more clever and interesting.

TOPIC: CEILINGS

Most of the time ceilings are painted “ceiling white”.  To me that’s copping out.  A ceiling has the same amount of area as a floor (see how savvy I am?).  When we decorate a room the flooring material is a very important consideration.  We wouldn’t just leave it out of the equation and say a floor is a floor.  Ceilings have just as much impact in rooms as floorings and to me should be included in the design planning.

Interior DesignFor example, selecting a contrasting or coordinating PAINT color is often fun and the cheapest form of decorating.  A great and easy way to give the ceiling definition is to install crown molding at the top of the wall; this clearly separates wall from ceiling and delineates where one color starts and another stops.

Another ceiling treatment which costs more and requires more thought and labor is to add PANELS and create a coffered ceiling.  I love this look.  It’s great to place a recessed light in the center of each created square, and to drop a chandelier in the center.  The fixture could be placed on the ceiling or on the cross of where the panels meet.  An electrician will need to do his work after the layout is determined to run the wires.  The ceiling can then be painted a different color than the walls.

My preference for the molding used to create the coffer is to either paint it white or stain it – whatever works best and has the strongest impact on the room.

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Treasures of the Past and Present: Blue and White

I’ve been a passionate collector of all things blue and white since my early days of antiquing. When I was 10-years-old, while shopping with my favorite Aunt in Massachusetts, I made my first purchase. The lovely, blue perfume bottle with a gold stopper is still a cherished object in my collection to this day. My Aunt was the mother of three sons, all of whom could not be caught dead in an antiques store. I was only too happy to accompany her on jaunts to local shops throughout New England.  I learned what I loved—all things blue and white. My Aunt and I cherished our adventures together and always returned home with a much loved piece of something.

Interior Design

One of my most favorite finds was a large jardinière which the eldest of my cousins called “a spitoon” and proceeded to christen when his mother and I weren’t watching.I have tons of blue and white vases in Oriental shapes and motifs, “flow blue” bowls and platters, serving pieces, Delft, planters, and pictures of blue and white vases. My china service is Wedgewood – the white plate with the blue leaves around the perimeter, one of their most classic patterns.  Years ago, my friends dubbed me “Ms. Wedgewood,” a nod to how much I couldn’t live without it.The first picture below is of my own living room where you can see a bit of my collection. Each piece has a history of a shopping expedition, a great conversation with a dealer, or a memorable trip to a foreign country.

Years ago airlines weren’t as strict as today which was very fortunate for me.  For example, I found an elaborate silver finish Victorian chandelier with inverted lights for $15. (!!!!) which I wanted for the eating area in my apartment.  Ship it home?  Nope.  I cajoled the stewardess to allow me to fly from Boston to La Guardia with my proud purchase on my lap.  “After all”, I said, “it’s only a 50 minute flight!” When my venture to all the showrooms at the D&D building included showrooms which displayed my beloved blue and white vases and other accessories with coordinating fabric, I was in heaven. I could have taken up residence at the Brunschwig showroom! They put paper white flowers in some of their planters which always looks lovely. I adore the juxtaposition between the deep solid blue pieces against the lighter blue and white patterned ones.I think accessorizing with English and Oriental vases and bowls is a splendid backdrop for most colors: red, yellow, cream, taupe, gray, orange, green all look superb when coordinated.

For me, I never tire of it, always find it refreshing, crisp and charming. Melding contemporary, clean-lined furnishings with blue and white accessories is also a look I adore.Thanks for reading. This blogging thing is new for me-but it’s not so painful after all.

Happy decorating!  And don’t forget to call on us if you need help in pulling it all together!
Best,
Alice (a.k.a. “Ms. Wedgewood”)

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Alice’s Great Day In The D&D Building

New York City’s famous D&D building, known for its “trade only” merchandise, has been in existence for more than 40 years. In the realm of decoration and design for professionals and our clients, it’s 120 showrooms of the most gorgeous, en trend, unique, jaw dropping items to be found in one 18 floor building in the heart of Manhattan’s East Side on 59th and 3rd.

Interior Design

I’ve been shopping there throughout my entire career and yet, even after all of these years of exposure, I’m still affected by the beauty of what I see. Recently I decided to spend most of the day exploring – most designers frequent the same resources over and over. We build relationships with the sales teams, are familiar with the merchandise, and know where to locate whatever we need. I re- familiarized myself with those wonderful showrooms I don’t know as well, and learned a lot in the process.

I started on the top floor and worked my way down, stopping for lunch with a friend at the super restaurant on the 14th floor. The newest and most stylish fabrics, wallcoverings, lighting, tiles and marble, accessories, furniture, window treatments, carpets, and the most beautiful room vignettes are all joys to behold. Sometimes a display features a fresh way of putting things together with furnishings that actually aren’t new, but are creatively coordinated to appear new. Searching for classic, vintage designs? Historic Oriental wallpaper panels? Fabulous crystal chandeliers? Imported fabrics and leathers? A lampshade of feathers? Traditional, period pieces? Or starkly contemporary furnishings……..The D&D is a creative, fun, exciting visual treat for the senses. I’ve always loved working in its atmosphere, and having my clients be part of seeing the beauty of its merchandise.

 

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