Updated: Oct 19, 2019

My daughter recently showed me a photo of Kanye West’s ”closet.” It showed five white T-shirts hanging on a rack in front of a brick wall in an otherwise empty space. I said, “Honey, I assure you, that is not Kanye West’s closet.“ But the die was cast: my daughter is a minimalist. Score one for Marie Kondo.

On the other end of the clutter spectrum stood Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” (Einstein, organizer on a universal scale, knew where to put his prepositions.)

When it comes to clutter, I’m closer to Einstein.

Consequently, one of my favorite design books is Dominique Nabokov’s New York Living Rooms (1998, Overlook Press). I love it because it’s full of photos of rooms inhabited by writers, photographers, publishers, musicians, composers, choreographers, dancers, filmmakers, architects, poets, performance artists, and socialites—Jerome Robbins, Philip Glass, Susan Sontag, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Meier, Sonny Mehta, Allen Ginsberg, Elie Weisel, Joan Didion, Sidney Lumet, Lipsinka, and, oh yes, the de la Rentas and Bill Blass—names my daughter would hardly recognize. Vibrant revealers of the personalities and interests of the people who inhabit them, these living rooms are atmospheric, evocative of experience, chock-a-block with comfortable furniture, reading lamps, antiques, carpets, textiles, folk art, African art, paintings, ceramics, books, art—lots of books, lots of art. Most seem never to have been touched by a professional decorator, or, if they were, there’s been a lot of living in them since. Objects drawn from vastly different places and points in time relate to one another in wonderful ways.

World of Interiors is the kindred magazine for spaces like these. Architectural Digest, sometimes. Mostly, magazines do not show rooms as they are really lived in. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, if a home was planned as a feature in a major magazine, stylists and a photo crew would show up for the photoshoot with five truckloads of furnishings and spend a week at the house. This was never about truth in decorating.

In real estate, clutter is a dirty word, because potential buyers must be able to appreciate the space and light in a room, not be impeded as they move through a house, be turned off by a style that isn’t theirs, or be distracted by the owners’ possessions. How we live in our homes differs from how they must look to please the HGTV-trained eyes of today’s buyers. De-cluttering is about paring down, editing, choosing. It encourages the flow of energy and signals buyers that sellers are ready to let go.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,“ William Morris opined. That’s good advice.

In my home, decorative objects remind me of places I’ve been or want to go, friends, family members, and loved ones long gone. They are useful in that way. They are also beautiful as individuals, beautiful together. And, there is enough space between them so each can be appreciated.

At the moment, in my living room, atop a Philippine drum table, are an alabaster lamp, a Japanese conch shell ‘trumpet’, a Burmese lacquer box, a repousse deer, an ankle bracelet ashtray from an Indian friend, my grandfather’s pocket watch, which hangs on a carved bone watch stand (a gift from another friend), an old Chinese compass depicting signs of the zodiac, and a diminutive reproduction bust of Athena, which gazes at the compass and the pocket watch. (Travel more, she says.)

My daughter actually likes it, she loves to travel, and she’s still in her 20s. There’s still hope for her.

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Updated: Oct 16, 2019

In 1750s New England, this was the yellow of choice.

It’s autumn in the Berkshires—a bit chilly on the porch—and the sugar maples on the hillside opposite have unfurled their glorious golden yellow. Especially in autumn, the yellow paint color on this house (which is not my house, but one I’m selling as a realtor) appears to have been stolen from nature. In fact, it was. The story of this paint color and this house is the perfect one for an autumn day.

The house was built in the 1750s, during the Georgian period, and the color is true to the time. It was created using a mineral pigment—yellow ochre, which was derived from the soil, as was red ochre, the iconic red of the New England barn. Yellow ochre paint was popular in the 18th-century, because it was plentiful, cheap, and cheerful.

When California Paints and Historic New England, the non-profit preservation organization, partnered to create a line of authentic period paint colors, they called this one Georgian Yellow. Having been around for so long, the hue has gone by other names—Chrome Yellow, for instance. It’s the bright hue of the double yellow line in the middle of the road, chosen because it is hard to miss.

While the paint color was common, the house itself, with its center hall and end chimneys, is more of a rarity. Vernacular farmhouses like this one most often had center chimneys. Center halls and end chimneys were more often found in the grand homes built by the wealthy, where the center hall often provided a sight line from the front door through to a door at the rear of the house to a garden or landscape. Likewise, from the center hall of this farmhouse, the sight line is to a pretty meadow, an old apple orchard, and, beyond those, cornfields and sky.

Most likely, the person for whom this house was built was a well-to-do farmer who wanted his home to communicate his wealth, status, and taste. Later, circa 1800, in the Federal period, in keeping with new fashions, he updated the door surround and the windows to a six-over-six configuration, which the current owners retained.

The chimney on the left served the home’s cooking fireplace. Though that is no longer in place, its massive13-foot-long footing can still be seen in the basement. The chimney on the right contained two fireplaces, one in the parlor, the other in the bed chamber above.

But back to the paint. In the 18th century, this color would have been mixed on site by the house painter using yellow ochre mineral pigment, linseed oil, and white lead. Yellow ochre pigment was also often mixed with white lead and a bit of black to create an optical green—the sage and olive hues so associated with the Colonial period.

Thing is.... what the naked eye sees as olive today, was often, in its time, a blue. The first synthetic blue pigment was discovered by accident by a chemist in Prussia in 1710; it was called Prussian Blue. To create paint, this blue pigment was mixed with white lead and linseed oil, and Prussian Blue became wildly popular. But, because linseed oil yellows and darkens over time. those blues, so vivid in their day, now appear olive to the eye. The only way to know for sure what a color in this olive family originally was is to do modern paint research, which probes the chemistry of the paint.

As you see, I’m an architecture geek, and a historic paint geek. Before moving to the Berkshires, I restored a Federal house and a Georgian one, which we painted this very yellow. I think one of the extraordinary things about owning a historic home, and restoring it, is that if you slow down enough and are curious enough, the house teaches you things. Your home is then not just a house: it’s an intellectual journey, an amazing trail of discovery.

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Updated: Oct 8, 2019

We think of a view as something outside ourselves, like a landscape. It might be a grand view, a visual OMG --- a grand expanse of ocean, the Eiffel Tower, the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the ruins at Petra --- or a quiet one --- a deserted beach, a village in a valley, a red barn in a field, the reflection of autumn foliage in the pristine surface of a lake.

A view is also a perspective, as in this is how I see things.

This is my first blog. I've been a writer and had several careers besides that, currently as a realtor in the Berkshires. I've lived in a number of places and traveled to more. I've observed a lot, and now that I'm a woman of a certain age, I want to share my perspective. So, this blog will be about how I see things, an interior monologue inspired by something outside myself. That might be a scene, breathtaking or otherwise: a building, a room, an object, a person, an interaction, a photo, or something I’ve read. Or nothing: a random thought that sticks.

So, back to my porch. In warm weather, this is my favorite place to experience the flow of thought. My home office seems to demand a different sort of productivity, and that demand often blocks me. The porch demands nothing. It is the intermediary between exterior and interior space, between what's going on out there, and what's going on inside. It allows the mind to wander gently, of its own accord. It's not meditation, but it is meditative.

Today, on my porch, it is a waning September afternoon. The sunlight at this hour casts a golden glow on the still-green-but-beginning-to-be-bright-tipped leaves on the mountainside to the east. As their fathers look on, two small boys ride their bikes, equipped with training wheels, across the little-traveled street, into the neighbor’s pile of leaves. I'm sure a view of children playing is repeated in many places, but it makes me grateful that it exists and that I exist and have the ability to see it.

The Berkshires are a sublimely scenic place, and, several times a day, usually when driving (as a realtor I do a lot of that), I see or otherwise experience something that inspires gratitude. But, it also happens in when I'm riding the New York City subway, looking at the vast diversity of people, struck by the incredible variety of lives and perspectives and experiences around me.

There's so much we take for granted in life, and that's dangerous, because it cuts us off from life and others. Gratitude is a means of connection.

A few years ago, I was finishing writing a book. It was big book, and its research, writing, and photo sourcing took a long time. The publisher’s advance had run out, and, though I had my real estate license and was doing magazine writing and editing, the book had a deadline, which had already been extended, so it demanded virtually all of my time and attention. I made very little money that year, and times were tough, but I got through it. When the book was finished, I turned my full attention to selling real estate, and my income took a turn for the better. This painful experience taught me to appreciate the basics so many of us take for granted — work that provides a decent living, food on the table, reliable health care, a safe place to live, a roof over our heads. It also taught me to feel compassion for those who don't have those things.

As a realtor, my sales range from homes priced below $200,000 to multi-million-dollar properties. The vast majority of my clients throughout that wide price range have worked most of their lives. For every one of them, buying or selling a home represents a new chapter in life. For every one of them, that home is, or was, an everyday luxury, a place to be private or to socialize, a place to be enjoyed.

Mine may not be the grandest porch, an OMG porch, but I know how much of a luxury it is.

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