Stairway to For Heaven's Sake!

On occasion, we find something in a house that operates upon the notion of antigravity technology. However, gravity is an actual thing. I've read about it. The bags under my eyes are likely proof of it.

Below is a photo of what a staircase is NOT supposed to look like. If you're in the industry, I'm sure you're eyes are popping out of your head right now and "WTF" is ping-ponging around in your brain as you look for any indication of true structural support. Good luck finding it!

Upon discovery, we took measures to make sure that our client got another century or two out of the second story (see second pic). And while I'm all for empowering homeowners to do it themselves from time to time, knocking out a wall and saying, "It seems to be holding just fine," is almost always a bad idea.

An example of "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!"

An example of "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!"

An example of "Let me fix that for you!"

An example of "Let me fix that for you!"




The Switzerland of Color

Farrow and Ball Fan Deck

Farrow and Ball Fan Deck

Neutrals are popular in design because they harmonize with nearly everything and allow other colors and patterns to be used as accents, typically without issue. Whether by use of an alternate paint color or the surrounding décor, creating depth in your personal palette is achievable. That being said, while choosing a neutral may seem simple, there are several factors to consider in choosing which neutral best suits your environment.

One of the working definitions of a neutral is to describe it as a hue not appearing on the standard color wheel, which consists of primary, tertiary and secondary colors. However, if you go to the paint store and look at a fan deck, you’re going to see primary, tertiary, secondary and neutral tones. Blacks, whites, grays, and browns are commonly considered neutrals and, with that, all of the neutral tints, shades, and hues available in those tones means choosing a neutral is not always easy.  Additionally, each company has different formulas, uses different color bases, and has their own methodology for creating their line. Many people find neutrals more difficult to work with than absolute color, especially given that there are ten-odd versions of a paint color called Swiss Coffee, and they are – of course – all a different shade by the same name.

When looking at neutrals, keep in mind that a neutral – except for 100% black or 100% white – has another color in it. Whether or not you can see the underlying tone is dependent on a variety of things: spectral perception, your immediate surroundings, and lighting are some of the key ingredients in how we see color. Another important factor that affects how we discern color is application. It’s important to note that you should NOT pick out a paint color from a website where you spent the afternoon colorizing a computer-generated bedroom, order 20 gallons and then slap it on your house without first purchasing a sample quart and testing a few areas around your home. If you’re looking at paint colors on a wall or ink on paper, versus color on a computer, you’re looking at two completely different colors in reality. One reason for this is that on tangible surfaces we are using a subtractive color method. Subtractive color means that we begin with white and end with black and, as we add color, the result gets darker and moves toward black. On a computer screen, we are working with light and using an additive color method, which begins with black and ends with white as more color is added. When you see terms like CMYK and RGB, this is what defines whether you are using a subtractive or additive color method, and a monitor read of color is different than an applied read. I like to think of it as light shining on something, as opposed to light shining through something.

Wow! Picking a neutral sounds really hard, Dirty Girl Construction! What’s your advice?

Why, thank you for asking. Happy to help!

You can always call on a professional to help you. Whether you choose a designer, decorator, an architect or the color specialist at your local paint store, there are people out there who can help you understand what works best for your environment.

If you feel able to do this on your own, then grab a fan deck and – literally – fan it out in front of you. Look at the neutrals and the grayscale sections. This is the easiest way to see the subtle differences between shades and pick up on the underlying tones – green, blue, red, purple, yellow, orange – in any neutral. Play around by placing other colors, fabrics and finish elements that speak to you next to the neutrals so you can see how those items change your color perception.

Once you’ve selected a few, buy sample quarts and try them out around your house where the light plays differently throughout the day. As mentioned, within each neutral, there are shades and hints of other colors, and lighting plays a big part in how these colors read in the room. Natural, incandescent, or fluorescent lighting could mean that the off-white shade on the wall winds up with a greenish tint; LEDs can cast any number of tones but most commonly read as blues or yellows. If you evaluate your choices in different lighting environments at different times of the day, this will give you your most accurate study.




The Wall of Fail

Architect, engineer, builder, designer, decorator: no matter your expertise, the idea is to create, and the goal is, often times, to create something new, never-before-seen and breathtaking.

But that doesn’t always mean the idea is going to be great.

Or even good.

And, unlike the ugly holiday sweater craze, you cannot take a poorly finished house off at the end of the night and store it away until next season. You have to actually live in it.

We’ve had some interesting moments in 2016, but the monstrosity below was a wonder to behold… long enough to take a photo anyway. And then we set about demolishing this obvious DIY-er before the hobbits who live inside of it grabbed us by our boots and secreted us away between the boulders until we could be hung by the chimney with care come Christmas.

Taking center-stage on The Wall of Fail this year is (drum roll)… Lava the Huh?

Wonderland Avenue Before Photo

Wonderland Avenue Before Photo

…and, for additional holiday pleasure, some other attempts that surely belong pinned up beside it.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I'm sitting in my office wearing two sweaters, a wool hat and heavy socks, wrapped in a blanket. I've got the heat on. It'll probably snow soon and we will be stuck in our house rationing food until the plows come through...

...that is, if the temperature drops another 22°.

I'm such a baby.

I'm not entirely sure when my blood became so thin, but I would venture to guess somewhere around year-2 of living in Southern California. A few years lazing around endless miles of beach during winter and letting the sun soak into your skin will do that to you. No worries though because I'm a huge fan of coats, and a girl can never have enough winter coats!

We're headed back to the East Coast in about three weeks. We've lucked out for several years in a row now, with temperatures being in the 50s and 60s during Christmas. I have a photo of us standing barefoot, me in a tank top, in my brother's back yard last year because, for some reason, 60° in Boston will always feel much warmer than 60° in Los Angeles. I'm sure science has an explanation. I'll just blame it on endless cups of eggnog being an excellent thickener.

We're hitting a few different cities this year during our holiday travels, so Dan went online looking for places to stay. He found a really cool place to chill out (link below and pun intended). I'm game, as long as I can find the proper coat!




The Human Handprint

This weekend we witnessed the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. There is another monument in the making that few have heard about that, I feel, is just as important: The Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL.

An idea spearheaded by the Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, and designed by architect Michael Murphy, The Memorial to Peace and Justice is an incredibly important step in the quest to heal our nation and its people.

Honoring the over 4,000 lives lost to lynching in the American South, the Memorial will be a place of reflection, as well as a place of rest until every soul can be identified and brought home.

Take 15 minutes today and watch the Ted Talk below. Be part of the solution. Be part of the change.


The Color of Your Collar


I love my sister. I love writing about my sister. She’s an amazing woman, mother and wife. A brilliant legal mind, a marathon runner, a strict vegan and the occasional background vocal to my lead on a James Taylor cover around the campfire – she is a force to be reckoned with. But my, oh my, that woman does NOT know how to use tools of any kind. Not a one. I don’t even like the thought of her using a corkscrew.

The tale of when she invited me for Thanksgiving – and, as a sidebar, asked me if I would be so kind as to bring along some basic hand tools to build my nephew a playhouse – has been told and retold for over a decade. I’ll keep this short by simply recounting the trip I made to Home Depot to buy a nail gun, chop saw, compressor, hoses, a grip of blades and a table saw after she mentioned that the lumber drop was scheduled for Wednesday morning.


I love my sister. I love building operable custom windows for a six-year-old. I do these things for her without question because she is my sister, and that’s what sisters do.

Most recently, she sent me a photograph of her hand, which she had clobbered – twice – with a sledgehammer while attempting to remove a rotted piece of wood out of a concrete fencepost footing. She had tried virtually everything she could think of to get that damn wood out, but nothing worked. And now, alas, she had a fractured hand. I refrained from openly mocking her – even though she deserved it, and even though that’s often what sisters do. Instead, I gently suggested soaking the wood in a wee bit of gasoline and lighting a match. I also suggested that she task my father with this chore, lest she burn down the back forty.

“Lo and behold, not only did your idea work, it was great family fun!” came the report. “I now have so much more respect for the hard labor that you do.”

I believe she meant that manual labor is not only hard, but that it also requires careful and practiced thought. Not that I am in prison.

By virtue of career path, my sister wears tailored suits, nylons and heels to work. She carries both a briefcase and purse made of the finest Italian leather. She drives a Mercedes. Her hair is perfect. In my movie, she wears thoughtfully chosen lipstick, a subtle spray of perfume, and a violin concerto whispers through the air while she rides a sparkling glass elevator to her penthouse office, where she is, of course, greeted with creamy espresso and Danish-du-jour.

Some of that is true.

I, on the other hand, am a hot mess of tangled hair pulled into a hairclip bought on sale at CVS, paint-stained shirts and ripped jeans. My boots are heavy and the arches are rolled toward the outside from climbing and straddling ladders. I drive a 22-foot, long-bed, crew-cab pickup truck. I carry a tape measure and a travel mug of lukewarm Lipton tea. I don’t wear makeup and I smell like the power tools and heavy machinery that pierce and sing through the air around me. I haven’t had breakfast in over 15 years.

All of that is true.

While we have chosen drastically different career paths post-college, the place where my sister and I still intersect is on a virtual Scrabble board – the white-collared attorney vs. the blue-collared contractor. My IQ is higher than hers by 2 points, which troubles her to no end and remains nearly impossible for her to admit without beading up in cold sweat. But in the middle of the night when we’re both struck up by insomnia, sitting about in footy-pajamas eating cold leftovers on opposite coasts, this is a place for us to meet on equal ground, to catch up, slow down, tune in, and have a laugh at the words we lay before one another, as much as at the secrets we share between us.

I beat her 99.99% of the time, but once in a while, I let her win. Because we’re sisters, and that’s what sisters do.