Category Archives: interior design

The Place Next Door


Untitled by Ridi Winarno (the David Allen Collection)


This is one of those times when we live twice: in the real world and in the imagination. The task at hand was to design a condo by the sea in Solana Beach, California. My inspiration was “Malibu Style,” neutrals and naturals, light and white. Adhering to this with a cult-like devotion, I have to wonder, did I take it too far? 

Our family gathered in the condo over the holidays. The NFL playoffs were underway on a flatscreen television playing soundlessly in the living room. I was holding our six month old grandson, trying to keep his eyes off the giant screen. Walking up and down the stone floored white hall, round and round the bleached dining table, his eyes searching–and before long I realized he’s looking everywhere for color. The baby was color starved. I am color starved. How did I not know this?

Everything I’d appointed was whites, naturals, some browns and black. I wanted to bring serenity, like a spa or sanctuary. Like a nest. But I caved when it came to the guest room, throwing in a stroke of light terracotta or clay because I thought I would crack without color. 

It must have been at this time I started designing another condo in my head, taking the same footprint and color saturating it. And there it exists, mentally, alongside this condo. Come on in, if you will.

Man Jong by Roche Bobois

Deep green trees greet you on the patio, and because in my mind I live here year-round and can tend plants, they are carried through inside, blurring the distinction between interior and exterior. Each room steps outside. The living room is landscaped in Missoni fabrics on Mah Jong, the modular sofa by Roche Bobois. Sprawled, stacked, and juxtaposed to make any composition, it’s like a visual collage on the floor. Blues, saffron, rust, reds, pinks, and greens, you might think you stepped into a Moroccan riad. You will want to take off your shoes.

Baths are papered in large lush tropical prints, and everywhere there will be potted trees and plants. I’ll grow fruits of color: oranges, lemons, and lime. A wall of books arranged by color, and everywhere art. I’m presently looking at large, brilliantly colored canvases by Ridi Winardo, Indonesian Asian modern and contemporary painter (David Alan Collection, Solana Beach CA). I would love to live with his work. 

Again and again from our condo of all-the-earthy-tones-I-could-get-my-hands-on, I frequently retreat into this color saturated condo in my mind. And then I slip back again, from the plethora of color to a monochromatic meditative state, and I am at rest. But that’s just me.


Filed under color vs. naturals, interior design

Big Daddy and Me



A tall attractive woman carried an ethnic tote over her shoulder, hoisting it into the overhang compartment on our flight to San Francisco. Unlike my carry-on luggage, it slid right in. Ivory cotton with leather strapping, her bag had caught my eye while we were waiting to board. She looked like she had been around the globe once or twice. I came close to asking her where she had found the tote. But certain she’d sweep her long blond trusses back and mention a market in Morocco, I didn’t ask.

We had come to San Francisco to furnish an apartment in a Victorian building (c. 1896) on Buena Vista Park. Across the park is Haight Ashbury. So it seemed appropriate that, like many before us, we started off on an air mattrass in an otherwise empty flat.

Take a stroll with me down The Haight today, if you will. I make it sound like the Champs-Elysee, but really it’s more like a street scene out of Blade Runner. A psyche ward turned out. People without meds inhabiting the same corner day after day. Dark coats, seedy scarves, hats, and fingerless gloves. Unwashed, uncut, ratted hair—it’s not like the musical “Hair” anymore. There’s no music now.

Double decker tour buses roll through The Haight daily. Visitors gape, and I wonder what they see. Do they are seeing it as it is now, or as it was then?

For my part I like to walk it and imagine it in its glory, back in the day when we all knew someone who ran off to San Francisco. Young girls tumbling in and out of thrift shops, flinging feather boas around their necks like Janis Joplin. The thrill in the shrill of their voices. Guitars tuning through open windows. Skinny-legged tambourine men playing on the street. I see all this. What were once young idealistic kids in bell bottoms, and  what were once colorfully painted store fronts and buildings. Gone dark with dirt and grime, and everyone aged.

I’ve been thinking about nothing but juxtaposition lately.

Into the Victorian beauty with eleven foot ceilings and 12” molding, we had every intention to go modern and minimalist. I knew where I would begin: HD Buttercup. I Uber’d over so I could Uber X back in a SUV with my bounty. Three small tables, as it turned out. A side table in brass and glass, and a pair of night stands in brass with a marble top. Other contemporary pieces came in: a pair of Barcelona chairs, an over-scaled orb chandelier—the fixture Joanna Gaines draws into nearly every interior on Fixer Upper. Drunk as I was on modern design, I thought I’d be back. But that was before I ran into Big Daddy Antiques.

Every apartment should turn over now and then.

From Big Daddy we came home adding texture with a long Mongolian mohair pillow in white for a gray sofa, a Mongolian mohair ottoman in black for the Barcelona chairs, a cement table, and a low table topped with camel bone. But really, you could have just left me there, in that warehouse on 17th Street in SF. Apparently I can’t do one without the other; modern alone can be cold.

As for that oversized tote that had caught my eye en route to San Francisco, I found that too for sale at HD Buttercup. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of anything?

Now I’m throwing that tote over my shoulder, looking like I know what I’m doing. But we never really know. Like my decidedly modern design direction that took an artisanal and indigenous turn.


Filed under interior design, interior design, minimalist, modern

A Circle of Six

6 Chairs

My husband and I are between homes and living on a boat in The San Juan Islands. Our home of the last seven years in Seattle is on the market. We left it looking picture perfect for a remodel project that we go to every day, on island. First we fell in love with the island, and then with the property: a sloping side of old growth forest on a quiet bay.

The house itself was hideous, but we knew we could do something with that. “There never has been a house so bad,” noted Elsie de Wolfe, “that it couldn’t be made over into something worthwhile.” Elsie was the woman who practically invented Interior Design.

But back to the land. Afterall, it’s all about the land and the sea. That’s what calls us here and holds us here. We reimagine our lives with each move.

My philosophy in moving–I’ve moved often enough in my life to have developed a philosophy–is to create a zone that I can go to initially, where everything is ideal. I can’t tell you how often these “rooms” have been outdoors.

In San Diego I found a shady spot out back under a trellis draped in grape vines where I contemplated growing everything in mossy, old world pots. It was my sanctuary.

And when all the house was covered with drop cloths in the tumult of renovation on Mercer Island, the deck was what pulled me through. Out there I saw how well the orchid plants were doing, resting on the rail overlooking the lake after their cross-country move in a truck. We had flown in, how could I complain?

Here, I created my zone by carrying up rocks from the beach and building a fire pit in a clearing. Around that I envisioned a circle of cedar Adirondack chairs. It was as simple as that and we built it.

So our pow wow is up and ready, long before the house. This is where I sit under the cathedral of trees and remember why I am here. I will learn the bird calls by day and find my way among the stars at night. And it will all be so clear.

Everyone has their own immigrant story, but at one time we were all indigenous people somewhere. Come, count yourself among us.




Filed under interior design

The Gods Amongst Us

When I was in my late twenties and living in San Diego I was fortunate to land a position in an interior design firm that had a highly acclaimed name in Southern California. The name was the owner’s, Gerald Jerome. He was considered a master, and no one knew it more or believed it more than himself and his staff. Looking back, we were almost like a cult.

Working for meager salaries we thought nothing of staying until midnight if that’s what it took to meet deadlines. And that frequently happened because Gerry, quite the salesman, made promises he wouldn’t have kept otherwise. None of us could have possibly had a child or a marriage and survived that employment. Still, we were for the most part young and told ourselves that we were the fortunate ones, that there were hundreds of designers out there with portfolios under their arms who would love to have our jobs.

So we worked for the association with Jerome, the hope that some of his genius would spill over, and that one day too we might be on our own. Such is the nature of the field, it is almost medieval like the apprentice system. Gerry Jerome relished that. He had a larger-than-life persona, and oftentimes while we were under the gun he made himself at home in our office, sitting back with a vodka & tonic, telling tales. Meanwhile we were at our drafting tables working, flying down the hall to make blueprints, organizing all the materials he would need for his meeting with the client in the morning, and driving home half dead.

His genius, the look we became so good at, was over-scaled and custom-designed for the most part. His interiors favored textures such as wood, stone, wool, leather, hide, over pattern, unless it was tribal, an ikat or a primitive rug. He combined contemporary with primitive, with little to nothing in between. His color palette favored the naturals, and we tended to steer clear of color with the exception of “Jerome red,” a brick/rust red. Everything Had to Make a Statement. It was design with a man’s hand. And his signature at the end of a job was often a custom designed door that stood twice as tall, twice as wide, made of copper or carved. One had to marvel at how easily it swung.

I knew I was over the edge when one day my brother-in-law, a Boston based writer and filmmaker on assignment in LA, came to visit, and I tried to explain to him that Jerome was “like a god.” All my brother-in-law had to do was give me that look and I knew. Not that I was going to do anything about it. You have to remember, I was in heaven.

Looking back, much was not right. All those hours without overtime pay, the chauvinism we endured, the salaries that might have been better but for the fact that Jerome was fond of making deals with his clients, and often took payment in the form of a rare Pre-Columbian sculpture, a Tamayo or Francisco Zuniga painting, or a large piece of quartz, all of which were showcased in his home in Mission Hills.

And then one day, after he had turned all other clients away so that our small firm could oversee an enormous convention hotel project in Mexico with Westin, we woke to find that the Mexican economy had collapsed overnight and the government had imposed a freeze on the American dollar. I didn’t understand the economics then and I don’t understand it now, but Westin pulled out and Gerry Jerome laid us all off. Just like that.

For years afterwards in whatever I did in the arts, I felt Jerome over my shoulder, bellowing if he didn’t like what I was doing, or laughing that I “designed like a woman” (the ultimate insult).We put up with such behavior in a person that extraordinarily talented or bright, and here he wasn’t even around. I was married and at home with my first newborn when I received a call from an old associate in our firm, informing me that Gerry Jerome had died. He had come home, slipped out of his Italian shoes, and suffered a heart attack while sitting up in bed reading “Architectural Digest.” There always had been a matter with his heart; I seem to recall it ran a little fast. His memorial service had come and gone—while I was in labor and in the hospital giving birth–and I never had a chance to say goodbye to this man who had meant the sun, moon and stars to me. How many people can be that significant in a lifetime?

Later when my life took a decidedly literary turn, I assured myself that I would always have a hand in interior design so long as I had a shelter to live in. I think it was only in writing that I didn’t feel Gerry Jerome lording over me. It is in writing that I would find my own voice, and what looks like my own design style while I’m at it.


Filed under interior design