New York interior designer Young Huh has always added touches of glamour to the rooms she designs. Lately, she says, clients are asking for even more of it.
“I think it’s a backlash from the years of midcentury modern and minimalist leanings,” she says. “People want lush fabrics, over-the-top finishes, and gold and silver touches. Clients are looking for a little fantasy and magic in their homes.”
Los Angeles designer Jessica McClendon hears similar requests. Her work has always been infused with “casual glamour,” she says. But now she sees a movement away from simplicity and toward bolder looks inspired by the rich fabrics and intricate embellishments on fashion runways.
I spoke with Huh, McClendon and interior designer Kristina Crestin about balancing the sometimes over-the-top glamour of materials like velvet with things like clean, sleek lines and calming colors.
Conventional wisdom says to use neutral colors or simple wood stains for anything as permanent as kitchen cabinets. It makes sense, right?
Homeowners craving a burst of color have generally been advised to bring it in through easily changeable items like curtains or seat cushions.
But home-design TV shows and glossy shelter magazines have changed that calculus by showing colorful, painted kitchen cabinets that look like a commitment worth making.
Designer Brian Patrick Flynn, one of my favorite design experts to interview, filled the kitchen of HGTV’s 2017 “Urban Oasis” giveaway house with bright blue cabinets and a blue island in the center of the room. This cheerful color fills the room with energy in a way that traditional stained-wood cabinets couldn’t.
Every homeowner doesn't have Flynn's comfort level with color, of course. “I can go with fire-engine red cabinets all over and never flinch,” he told me.
But since many homeowners want a balance between bold choices and timeless ones, Flynn suggests a compromise: "I’m a fan of doing the lower cabinets or just the island cabinets in a color," he says, "then going white or gray with the others.”
The result? The neutral cabinets "will balance out the intensity" of the bolder ones, offering "some visual breathing room so the eye can rest.”
Another great tip: Colorful lower cabinets look great combined with open shelving on top, says apartmenttherapy.com founder Maxwell Ryan. Or paint the lower cabinets black, and then paint or tile the wall behind the upper, open shelving in a bold color or pattern you love.
Want to know more about colorful kitchen design? You'll find the full story here.
Vern Yip loves good design, but he loves his dogs just as much. So we had lots to discuss when I called him to discuss my column on how to decorate when you've got furry pets in the house.
I also got good advice from Burnham Designer founder Betsy Burnham, who often designs for pet owners.
Many pet owners today “are designing a space around their animals,” Burnham told me. “Most of the time, I hear, ‘Oh, we’ve got dogs and a couple of cats and three kids, so please be mindful that we can’t have anything too precious.’ Then there are these really specific requests, like, ‘I’d like a built-in dog bed in my island in my kitchen.’”
Durable (but soft!) high-tech fabrics like Nanotex make life easier, Burnham says, and if you have cats, it’s also helpful to choose fabrics that are smooth: “We sort of embrace leathers and flatter weaves," she says, "so that the cat can’t get their claws into it."
Want to learn more about decorating a house with furry occupants and get advice from small-space expert Kathryn Bechen?
Arriving at a sprawling flea market on a crisp Saturday morning can be exciting. So many potential treasures might be hidden among the dusty piles of cast-off, second-hand goods.
Yet often it’s overwhelming, even for experts. With acres of furniture, art, accessories and more stretching out in front of you, where do you begin?
With a list, suggests New York interior designer Jenny Dina Kirschner, who rarely goes hunting for vintage items without one.
Know what you want, and focus on items that are unique to the local area.
"I found a Bavarian deer head carved out of wood when I was in Munich that is so interesting and unique to the Black Forest that I simply had to have it,” McClendon told me. “In Ireland, I zeroed in on textiles and antique bibles or prayer books.”
Want more advice on tracking down the perfect flea market finds? Read the full story here.
Lately, I’ve been telling my mother-in-law a lot of stories. Her stories.
Each time, I begin by asking my restless sons to listen. But I know, and they know, that their 93-year-old grandmother is my real audience.
She sits, motionless, in a high-backed upholstered chair in the dining room of her assisted living home north of Pittsburgh, her wispy silver hair drawn back from her tired face in exactly the gently pinned bun you might imagine.
She looks like she’s listening. But, at least at first, she’s really only being polite.
They are strangely new to her, these stories I spin about an intrepid young woman who moved to Thailand in the 1950s to teach English. I describe the sun-baked yard outside the home where the young woman lived in Bangkok, and the water buffalo that loped along the road just beyond a hand-hewn wooden fence. I describe the small college campus where she taught with her husband. I tell of the day she stood solemnly with Thailand’s beloved king and queen for a photograph.
I show her this black-and-white photograph on the screen of my phone, and though she doesn’t recognize anything about this moment from the “winter” of 1955 (if there is such a thing in Bangkok), she seems to want to remember.
She’s listening to me now, ignoring the hamburger she orders for lunch every single day, and almost smiling. So I double down on this new theory of mine, and I keep talking.
I jump forward a decade, seeking the splashiest stories, and I describe this woman’s life in the mid-1960s — how she taught at the University of Michigan while raising her daughters in a modern split-level house she adored, and how she mentored a young, frightened, widowed mother who never forgot her kindness.
She’s with me now — in pieces, at least — though the name of the famous young woman whose name you’d know, whose life she changed, now brings only fleeting memories to her mind.
Yet even with those once-indelible details gone, she’s smiling. She’s leaning forward to sip the last of the red wine from the glass in front of her, and waiting for the next chapter of this remarkable story.
“I’ve lived quite a fascinating life,” she says. It’s the first time she’s spoken since this lunch began.
“I don’t remember it all, but I lived it.”
I go for broke, leaping forward yet another decade into the 1970s. Your grandmother, I tell my boys, decided to trek across India in 1975, at age 50. Alone.
She spent 15 hours in a superheated bus without a bathroom, and feared her bladder would explode. She saw incredible sights — the caves at Ajanta and Ellora — and met remarkable people, then finished it off with the trip she’d been craving all her life: to Jerusalem. All because she had the courage to go.
I’m wishing I had more photos to show her, because she’s all in now, and I don’t want this moment to evaporate too soon. Within an hour she’ll be back upstairs in her reclining chair watching “Wheel of Fortune.” By tomorrow she’ll be refusing to leave the building, swearing to me that she no longer ever leaves and hasn’t for years, not since her husband died, because the outside world has come to feel so daunting in her very old age.
Time robs of us many things. No amount of love or effort can change the fact that she walks with a walker, hears with hearing aids and is sometimes exhausted by a walk across the parking lot. But it has been crushing my soul to see her, during these past few months, be afraid even to leave her assisted living building. This is not her. This is not the woman I met during the first years I loved her son.
That woman — that woman blazed trails. She fought for her right to a career in the 1940s, at a time when her male bosses directly instructed her to take a backseat to her husband. She was still traveling to Asia from her Pittsburgh home when she was nearly 80 years old. Why? Because she wanted to see China one more time and wasn’t going to be denied.
So I’ve begun fighting for these moments when I strengthen her not simply with the food we’re eating for dinner but with the stories of her own life. I tell them — carefully, gently — as each highly calibrated, sodium-controlled course arrives like clockwork, carried in by endlessly patient attendants.
By the time the side of ice cream that came with her pumpkin pie is dissolving in front of her, she’s remembered enough of herself — enough of her own story — that I decide to gamble.
As she’s slowly rising from the table, I throw out a suggestion. “Let’s go outside for a minute,” I say, turning her gingerly so she can grip her walker. “We can sit just for a minute before you go upstairs.”
My boys look at me, knowing their grandmother has been adamant lately about staying in the safe cocoon of this building. This time, they’re wrong.
“OK,” she says. We shuffle through the double doors that lead to a landscaped walkway with rows of padded benches.
She seems surprised at the beautiful bushes and trees, delighted just for a moment to have subverted her ironclad routine. Only moments later, she tells me it’s a bit too chilly out here. She pulls her worn, navy-blue cardigan tighter around her dwindling frame to underscore the point.
My boys will point out later that she stayed outside for barely five minutes. But that’s not the point. She went out, and she went out because her own stories resurrected her. I’m encouraged.
It’s brutal when age steals our memories of those we love. It’s even more devastating when it hijacks our memories of ourselves.
I will keep telling my mother-in-law her stories for as long as she will keep listening. I am determined to give her back to herself.
In the photos, the suntanned girls are laughing. Their heads are askew, hair whipping around as if their happy motion can barely be captured by the camera’s eye. A cool blue swimming pool awaits in the background on this steamy Friday afternoon. Sunshine, palm trees — and a cute boy from middle school has invited them over. All the makings of a wicked awesome weekend.
I wish every tween-ager could spend a Friday afternoon that way.
I wish these kids had actually spent that Friday afternoon that way.
In some shots, my son appears with a sheepish smile. He’s grown handsome faster than he could have expected, and lately seems alternately entertained and baffled by it. In the final few shots that would appear in your Instagramfeed if you followed these kids, my youngest son, an impish second-grader, adorably photobombs the big kids with bug-eyed expressions and tries to drag them into the water.
He does not succeed.
That day at our pool, the four girls in question sat shoulder to shoulder on a bench five feet away from the water. My son had invited them over to swim, and they were here, in swimsuits, staring intently at their phones. Since arriving, they’d only taken a series of selfies — alone, in pairs, in a group, each time smiling and laughing as though someone had said something truly hilarious.
Only no one had said anything. It was so quiet, you could hear the pool filter whir to life and then, five minutes later, shut off again.
In their photos, they were depicting something that wasn’t happening. There was no pool party. There was only a “pool party” that they were staging for the consumption of other kids who see their social media feeds — or, perhaps, for themselves to look back on later and enjoy how attractive they had looked while looking like they were having a great time. Like kids in a commercial for some unnamed product, they were selling the idea of upscale, preteen life.
In between photos, their game faces returned. They assessed each photo for its posting value, then posted and continued shooting. It was like every magazine photo shoot I’ve ever worked on, down to the furrowed brows and brief “Do you really think we got the shot we need?” debates. And yet these were real kids on a real Friday afternoon, supposedly cutting loose.
They were staging memories, creating what they’d seen all their lives in mass media: snapshots of people, supposedly candidly captured, having fun. Only there was no great time. There was only them, packaging and selling the idea that they kicked off the weekend hanging out and swimming with the cute boy from their class. How different would it have been for them if they’d actually kicked off the weekend hanging out and swimming with the cute boy from their class?
All along, they never stopped watching and assessing how their marketing was coming across.
My son jumped in the pool a few times, inviting his friends to join him. He got nowhere, until at one point the girls approached the water’s edge. There was some giggling, some gesturing. Now, I thought, they might really start swimming. But rather than simply jumping in, they were asking my son to photograph three of the girls leaping into the water together. They planned the shot, executed a simultaneous leap with smiles and shrieks of laughter, and then immediately got out of the water.
Silence again. They clustered around one girl’s phone, clutching their towels and briefly discussing the shot. Did they need to do it again? No, they agreed. So someone posted it and tagged everyone else. They never got in the water again. By now they were checking back on the earlier photos, scanning to see how much Instagram love they’d gotten so far. Once they’d documented all they could think of, they briefly stood around in silence and then gathered their things and left.
In those final moments, I’d wanted badly to interfere, to stop them and point out that the fun their photos alluded to hadn’t actually happened yet.
It still could have. Jump in the water for real! Laugh about something that actually happened at school today! Talk about something. Go ahead: Complain about your parents or your teachers. Plot some brilliant way to get around the restrictions we put on you. Anything but simply staging shots that look like slickly produced advertisements for happy tween-ageness.
But I said nothing. I didn’t want to embarrass my son by sounding like a time-traveling envoy from the world before smartphones, pointing out what was missing.
I’m not claiming I wouldn’t have gotten caught up in using these same tools if I’d had them. If you’d put smartphones and Instagram in the hands of Gen-X kids, we might well have done the same thing. But I ache thinking about what we would have lost if we had. We learned to talk to each other on afternoons like this one could have been. We learned to flirt and to speak up, to talk about things that were troubling us and fascinating us and pissing us off, and to make sense of them.
When we were together — whether in school, or in a kid’s backyard, or in someone’s (yes, probably tacky) basement, we talked endlessly about our lives, the future, and anything else that crossed our minds. We were immersed in our worlds of homework and crushes and family drama and excitement over whatever was coming up that weekend.
Along the way our lengthy (and yes, probably melodramatic) conversations about the meaning of life helped us actually figure out what we thought the meaning of life might be.
I’m not saying our way was perfect, and memories of being young are sweetened by time. But there’s a qualitative difference between the adolescence I’m describing and this existence where kids live one step removed, playing to an unseen audience miles away and assessing how their curated depiction of their lives is being received. Does it feel as empty as it looks from the outside?
Grown-ups talk all the time about — and some make millions writing about — how to get back to “living in the moment” and really being present where we are. We’re forever skating on life’s surface, racing to the next responsibility, the next to-do item. So we schedule down time when we can. Maybe we give meditation a try, maybe make an extra effort not to multitask quite so often.
How much harder will it be for these kids to be in the moment as adults if they never learn how to do it in the first place?
I once cooked an entire, elaborate Thanksgiving dinner on a summer morning for a magazine photo shoot. Later that night, after the photographer and art director were gone, I served my kids the food for dinner. This is so bizarre, my son said at the time. There’s all these leftovers, but there was no Thanksgiving feast.
As I watched those young girls leave our apartment complex after not swimming in our pool, I had the same empty feeling.
After the girls were gone, my older son swam with his little brother for a little while. Another second-grade friend of his had arrived by then, and those little boys were actually using the pool as a pool. They thrashed around with a ball playing some manic mashup of tag and volleyball.
Then my older son got out of the pool to check his Instagram. He wanted to see what people thought of the pool party he’d sort of had. See what the girls had been up to since they’d left.
I’m still shocked that I went to Kuala Lumpur for 48 hours. On every level, this trip made no sense: My husband was in the U.S., literally as far from our home in Bangkok as a person could be. We have two adolescent boys: Only once in their lives have I gone out of town when their dad was already gone, and I only allowed myself that trip because…
a) I’d been invited to the White House
b) It was a work trip I’d prepared for all year
and c) I was only going to be a three-hour drive away from my kids.
This trip was none of those things, at least at the outset. (And it definitely didn’t involve Prince Harry, seen photobombing at left.)
Beyond the obvious roadblock of childcare, this Kuala Lumpur trip also made no sense because I’m a freelance writer. Any hours I spend not working are hours I’m not getting paid. And right now I’m working on launching a business, so I often use the nights when my husband is away to tackle that. Not the time to take an impromptu vacation, even for two days.
But one of my oldest and best friends had written me to say she’d be in KL on business for just a few of days, and wasn’t that really close to Bangkok?
More than a decade ago, she wrote me a similar e-mail when I lived in Beijing.
“I’m going to be in Tokyo for a few days,” she said back then, and my eyes lit up reading the message. At the time, I had a new baby. And a job. And my husband had to travel unpredictably for work, sometimes to places like Afghanistan or Iraq. And Tokyo is a really expensive place.
I really couldn’t go, I told her. It just wasn’t a good time.
It’s taken me all the intervening years to realize that if a working mother waits until it’s a good time to take a trip purely for herself, she will never go.
SHE WILL NEVER GO.
Because it’s never a good time. There are never enough spare hours. There are always more reasons to stay home than to go. She’ll always say no.
Isaid no to all kinds of things for more than a decade. It took me that long to start really making sense of motherhood. I’m sure a lot of other women got there faster than I did, but that’s OK: Lately I’ve been celebrating my arrival, belated as it might be. Finally, I’ve become a woman who works around the reasons and finds a way to say “yes.”
Understand: I’m not suggesting you abandon all responsibility, waste a ton of money and leave your responsibilities blowing in the wind.
But this time, I said yes to the impractical trip first, then I addressed each of the roadblocks: career, budget, childcare, time pressure. I came up with a story I could report from Kuala Lumpur and pitched it to an editor, making the trip profitable instead of costly. Then I asked a friend I trust to watch the kids and paid her for that work. To tackle the time pressure of being away from my business launch project, I made sure I discussed the business idea with the new friend I flew down with (herself the owner of a creative small business) and the old friend who’d invited me (a businesswoman with a ton of experience managing projects).
That’s how I ended up eating fragrant satay with wickedly good dipping sauce at the Shangri-la hotel in Malaysia’s capital last Friday afternoon. And it’s how I ended up sipping an perfectly balanced “bourbon martini” (which isn’t a real martini, I know) at a bar on the 57th floor of a building in the Petronas Towers complex, while reveling in the dizzying bird’s-eye view you see here.
Everyone’s life has different details, I know. Another woman will have different challenges, different opportunities and different solutions for the roadblocks to face. I’m really grateful for the opportunities my work can lead to and the friends who invite me to visit remarkable places (and often crash in their hotel rooms).
But for a great many of us, there are ways to make impractical opportunities at least slightly more practical. You just have to commit first to actually going, then labor to figure out how to make it work. Often the answer comes from asking other women for help and discussing concrete ways to return the favor so they can say “yes” to their own opportunities.
This is my new approach, and I’m determined to make it a regular habit. The best way to build a new habit is to reinforce it, so here goes: I have another friend who is planning a work trip to Nepal next month. She mentioned that she’s up for having a few friends meet her in Kathmandu to spend a few days in the shadow of the Himalayas.
It’s another wildly impractical time for our family. I said “yes” anyway. Found the cheapest possible ticket and didn’t let the reasons to say no stop me. The friend I’ll be traveling with is in her 20′s, not married and without kids. So of course, she can do this. But you know what? So can I.
Grabbing opportunities for yourself when you’re a working mother isn’t smooth or easy or practical, and it’s often uncomfortably guilt-inducing. But also it’s now or never.
It’s easy to design a gorgeous master bathroom if you have a huge budget. But with the right choices, says interior designer Gabriel Anderson, you can have an exceptional master bath without overspending.
“Having huge expanses of marble is amazing and wonderful, but you don’t have to have that to have an amazing bathroom,” says Anderson, co-founder of the New York design firm Dean and Dahl. There are “little touches you can incorporate that really bring a master bath to life.”
I learned so much (and wanted to immediately remodel the bathrooms in my own home) after discussing bath design recently with Anderson, co-founder of Dean and Dahl, and two Washington, D.C.-area designers: Nadia Subaran of Aidan Design and Julia Walter of Boffi Georgetown.