Thursday, July 31, 2014

Riverdale Reminisce

SOLD - 148 Victor Avenue - RIVERDALE  (click on this link for photos)

I am going to backtrack a bit today, since I have come across something really interesting here. This house at 148 Victor Ave in Toronto was one of my early residences in my twenties. I spent my final year at Ryerson living on the third floor of this Victorian beauty. It has been completely renovated since of course, but scrolling through these photos still brought back a flood of memories for me. 

The photo of the bedroom with the exposed brick chimney was my living area and the adjoining master ensuite in the next photo was my kitchen. There was a small bedroom where the rooftop deck now sits and I had an antique drop leaf desk in the front dormer window where my cat used to sit and watch the world go by from above. That garret apartment was my first time living completely alone. However, having said that, the woman who rented it to me was an acquaintance who became a friend for a time, and she and her boyfriend lived on the first two floors. As there was no separate entrance to my space, I had to cut through the house to get to my door. More often than not, if they were home, I would stop for a chat, which inevitably would lead to drinks and sometimes if I was lucky, a dinner invite. They were both chefs - one at Scaramouche and the other at The Four Seasons Inn on the Park so the food was generally pretty outstanding. Either that or they would both be completely exhausted from the demands of their gourmet preparations and we would end up with something very simple like an omelette or even the occasional pot of heavily peppered KD. With wine of course. Or beer. We weren't too fussy.

I hammered out many papers on my manual portable typewriter in that attic, so it was a good thing they worked at night. I too worked part-time waitressing and bartending, so when we all three arrived home late at night, we would all unwind until the wee hours recapping the various dramas of our shifts. As for the space, I had some fun with it, although it had such great features on its own, I barely had to do more than paint the living area. I arranged the furniture so I could lay on the sofa looking up through the skylight on starry nights. It was an operable window as well, so on hot summer days, it could be opened to allow the warm air to escape. Still, I needed a window air conditioner for the bedroom. It was a used clunker from a garage sale that was noisy but did the job. 

The bedroom has become a rooftop deck now. It does not surprise me as I actually used to dream of how awesome that would be. There was a step up from the kitchen to go into the bedroom that always seemed to me to be an afterthought which it likely was. The ceiling was low and there was only one small window and on howling blowing winter nights it felt like the whole room might blow away into the sky and land somewhere else like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz. It was cold in the winter and too hot in summer. It was only a matter of time before it would need to transform. Become the open space it was meant to be.

The kitchen had old vinyl tiles in a sapphire blue and the appliances were what would be considered retro by today's standards. The fridge had one of those handles that you had to pull forward to open the door and I always had to do a double check that it was closed tight. With no choice but to work with the blue floor, I went for a triadic colour scheme in the kitchen, adding a small red and white painted free-standing cabinet, a red metal drop leaf table top and bar stool under the window where I could look out at the neighbouring house and blue sky while I ate breakfast. There were no closed cabinets for dishes, so they sat on open shelves above the small counter and it was there that I was able to have some fun with colour. Pops of red and blue and yellow made it kitschy and fun. 

Interestingly, I was in between relationships while I lived there. It allowed me to fully express my creativity without the need to consider another person's opinion or needs. There are few times I can look back on my adult life when this was the case. I think it is true for many women. The times we are on our own with no partner or children can be wonderful therapeutic pauses in our journey through life. 148 Victor was such a time for me. I met my first husband at a party I hosted for the entire Journalism Class of 85 at the house. All three floors rocked until the sun came up. There is likely a police record for disturbing the peace in the archives somewhere. A few months later, he moved in and it was never meant to be a space for two, so we left to find a larger place. I was sad and happy all at once.

That house has completely transformed into something beautiful and its potential fully realized. The exterior was pale pink back then. The interior needed attention and the gardens were in need of much TLC. It has no doubt been through a few incarnations since 1985. 

Not unlike myself. Funny that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southwest in the Northeast

Yesterday I admitted that I had dabbled for a moment with the Southwest trend back in the late 80's. I did resist until it was just about over, but the end of my first marriage and a resulting empty office/guest room space (he took the desk and computer - I took the car), left me with an opportunity to make a fresh start in that room. 

You will recall, I did not have a solid grip on choosing paint colours at that stage, so what ended up on the walls was a bloody awful salmony version of terracotta that was an epic fail, however, I lived with it as I was too lazy and in too big of a hurry to transform the room to re-paint. There was also the question as to how much longer I would be living in that apartment now that he was gone. Most older apartment buildings in those days (a 3 story walk-up) had the old 2 inch strip oak hardwood floors that were stained a sort of orangey-gold, so the paint colour did not work at all with the floors. I remedied that problem with an area carpet in a toned down shade of the room creating what could only be considered the equivalent of living inside a giant acorn squash. 

A fold out Ikea sofa bed was purchased and since the colour choices were limited, I went with the most unoffending of the lot. It was a taupey stone colour - khaki brown at best and the most likely colour one would find in New Mexico or the desert where this decor trend must have originated. The thing with colour schemes that work well in other parts of the world is that they don't really translate all that well in an apartment in Toronto. I persevered. Next I would need some actual terracotta pots. The room did boast a fairly large north facing window which meant it kept fairly cool in the summer, but was not the ideal location for the row of cactus that now graced the windowsill. Nor did it do much for the grouping of larger cacti in the corner of the room. 

The jump off point for the colour scheme was a Mexican blanket I had carted home with me from Mexico a few years earlier. It had never really found itself at home anywhere at the time, but now it was time for it to shine. It hung on the wall adding some much needed texture and doing double duty as a cover-up for the paint mistake. The art that I hung over the sofa was a watercolour of The Hooker Track in New Zealand that I finally had framed after many years rolled up in a cardboard tube. I chose a rather rustic looking wood frame, and the painting was a moody grey and cloudy version of that landscape, so it worked perfectly.

On another wall, I hung a framed Tapa cloth from Fiji that I had found on that same South Pacific adventure in 1979. I also hung a hand carved wooden bowl and a pair of cannibal forks creating a bit of a sculptural element in the room. A bentwood rocker (remember those?) sat in the corner by the window. The frame was painted black (every room needs a hit of black!) and it became a reading corner where I devoured self-help books by the truckload on my healing journey through heartbreak.  In the end, it did not look too bad considering the minor mistakes and looking back, I can see that creativity was my therapy. The devastation I felt at the collapse of my very short marriage left me wondering who I had become and feeling I had lost myself in the 6 years we spent together. 

The arranging of all these elements of  my past travels and the expression of the solitary new me got me through those first few months of grief and reminded me how far I had come versus dwelling on the failure of the marriage.  I did not live in that apartment for much longer. Eventually the cacti that had been over-watered started to long for a sunnier spot at about the same time I was ready to move forward. Or sideways as it turned out. 

Vancouver. The west coast. It was there, that I really started to pursue interior decorating, as well as an entire new chapter in my life. 

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Forgive me Father, I know I sinned

Vintage Polished Chintz fabric 

Interior decorating is not unlike the quest for perfection. I am quite certain that the best decorators and designers are perfectionists to one degree or another. Since attention to detail is tantamount to creating a magazine-worthy outcome, anything less than this focused quest would find you standing in the unemployment line, as tired and defeated as a wallpaper border. 

And, like most things in life, we get better at it with experience. There are some young ones out there who are creative and are full of original ideas, but you are not truly expert until you have made a few mistakes along the way, most of which usually have manifested in your own spaces. Choosing paint colours is one skill best left to a professional. It took years of ghastly choices and an awesome colour theory professor to help me fine tune this part of the job. Case in point. Before I switched my career path from Journalism to Interior Decorating, I painted several apartments without any real colour education. I just gravitated toward colour. BOLD colour. I gave no thought to the transition from room to room or how light might effect the depth of colour throughout the day and into the evening. I paid no heed to natural light versus artificial light, paint sheens, flat vs eggshell vs gloss (I liked gloss!). Despite my unfamiliarity with the colour wheel at the time, I did seem to have a natural inclination toward complimentary and triadic colour schemes. But I always made the mistake of going way too dark. 

In an effort to block out the harsh streetlights in one townhouse I rented, I decided to forfeit the street facing master bedroom to an office space and turned a very small second bedroom into what can only be described as a small cave once I slapped three coats of the darkest, glossiest forest green on the walls and a black-out window covering. Were it not for the all white duvet cover, you would not have been able to see the bed in the dark. It was the most dreary, depressing place to start the day, but it did make for the perfect room to sleep in after a late night. You never knew what time it was and we once spent an entire super hot humid Saturday in July holed up with the A/C blasting watching movies and eating popcorn, transforming it from bedroom to private theatre by just closing the door. It was 1986. Forest Green, Rosy Pinks and polished chintz were de rigueur.

Joining the fray of "what were you thinking?", was my next apartment painting frenzy. Again the bedroom took centre stage (guess I figured I could go a bit crazy in there away from the public eye and all). This time I was all agog over candy pink and apple green. I believe lacoste was doing a line of tennis and golf fashions in those shades around that time as well. They were way ahead of Lilly Pulitzer for the time. So, off I went in search of duplicating that combo. I found some Laura Ashley wallpaper with co-ordinating polished chintz fabric giving me that much needed jump off point. The paper had a creamy background with a shade of that apple green in a vertical stripe over which were layered ever present pink roses (gagging here now). I took the paper sample to the paint shop and was certain I had matched the pink and green perfectly. So if you can imagine, a feature wall in that paper, the facing wall in the pink and the two side walls in the green. Neither colours were perfectly matched but close enough I reckoned. And, a set of corner windows covered in ruffled balloon shades to top it all off! Then I painted a couple of garage sale bedside tables and stenciled the roses on the drawer fronts. OK, this is beginning to feel like a confession, only I am admitting my sins to more than one person. My penance is going to require a lot of Hail Marys for this one. Let's not forget, at the time, my closet was full of dresses and blouses with giant shoulder pads. I was in the second year of my first marriage and it ended in that apartment shortly after our fourth anniversary around the same time as we were ripping out the shoulder pads and sending Ms. Ashley packing. 

Proving once again that art can imitate life.

In the next edition of Decades of Designing Deb we will explore my adventure into the Southwest craze  and even more polished chintz as it hung on like decades old wallpaper to an unsized plaster wall.

Until then, stay on trend my friends. ;-)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Decades of Designing Deb

Lately I am obsessed with small houses. I seek them out on-line. I subscribe to Small House Bliss and Tiny House Swoon and gravitate toward little cabins and treehouses in the countryside and on islands and in the mountains when searching for travel accommodations. I marvel at the smart and functional designs. I imagine myself living in them. Cooking in them. Sleeping in them. Bathing in them. The mere thought of living in a massive square footage house now, sends chills down my spine. I long for simple and compact interiors. No more than 2 toilets and more than likely only one. Were it not for visitors, there would never be a need for more than one.

However, there is one caveat. I want lots of outdoor space surrounding the small house of my dreams. For the last year I have been busy researching and scrolling and pinning and narrowing down the details of exactly what I want in a house now. I have had a bit of a trial run in the small house we are renting right now. It is only about 1100 sq ft. The three bedrooms are small. There is one bathroom. One water closet. A small but functional kitchen. A living area that barely gets used. A small dining area off the kitchen that does get used every day. It is all on one level. The main areas are tiled and the bedrooms are carpeted. It is easy to clean and is more than enough space for 2 people. 

What makes it really perfect is the large covered patio and front porch that doubles the usable space and where we spend a lot of time when the weather is warm...which here in Queensland is most of the year. The secret to managing in a small house is to avoid clutter. In other words, keep STUFF to a minimum. Easier said than done. Already, in 6 short months, the cupboards and closets are close to full. The double car garage is currently only housing one car, as one of the spaces is slowing filling up with tools and garden stuff and 'future projects". I look at how quickly we accumulate things and it actually scares me a bit. Do you ever drive by a "hoarder house"? When I see places like that it actually causes a physiological response in my body. I shudder and avert my eyes as though avoidance might restore the temporary loss of qi it just caused. I could never live that way. Stuff would bury me. Bury me physically and spiritually. 

This knowing is useful. It has informed me. I know how I need to live to feel peaceful. Even as a child I always felt better when my bedroom was tidy and orderly. It would get messy and cluttered, but never for long. I liked it to look pretty and I would often spend an entire Saturday re-arranging the furniture and my things until the vignettes were pleasing to me. My mother would help me re-decorate my bedroom every few years when my tastes changed as I got older. One of my fondest childhood memories was the day I came home when I was about 7 and I had a new bed and dresser. It was sort of white french provincial looking and the bed head had what could only be described as a faux canopy. The posts went almost to the ceiling and were joined by a valance box that contained a ruffled swath of billowy sheer fabric. I felt like a princess sleeping in that bed. Years later when my tastes matured and I became aware of quality and design, I would look back on that early introduction to furniture and simultaneously grimace and smile at the memory.

The dresser was matching and the lamp that sat on it was a hideous looking thing with a poodle base and one of those wavy plastic shades covered with a stiffened muslin-like fabric. I recall I did not like it even then.  Once, when I was playing make-believe and trying to create a dim atmosphere, I put a tea towel over it and as I went about my morning as mistress of the manor, the plastic started to melt and I only noticed when the smell started to permeate the room. From that day forward, my lamp took on a whole new look of deformity. It was only a short time later that a bottle of nail polish spilled on the dresser top creating a patch of bubbly veneer giving the unsightly shade some company. For weeks I tried to hide the damaged spot from my mother with embroidered doilies (aaack!). 

From this early foray into the world of decor and design, I went through many phases. For a time in my late teens and early twenties I was mad for anything Victorian. Gasp! My last bedroom in my parent's house featured a wall of imported wallpaper from France that was a collage of antique posters of Victorian women in full period costume. It was one of the first really expensive interior design purchases I made. It became the focal point in the room and everything else was chosen around it. Dark navy blue carpet and walls and mahogany furniture created a feeling of old worlds - exactly what I wanted - a world completely different than the one I was living in. Someplace dark and mysterious and exotic.   The previous incarnation of the room had been a bright yellow and white theme. We had even covered the hardwood floors with a crazy vivid floral vinyl lino that featured slightly raised, padded daisies. Big bold happy daisies. So, the departure from light and airy and happy to the dark and dreary and heavy Victorian theme was not unlike the progression from light-hearted pre-teen to brooding, smoking, know-it-all 15 year old. 

My journey in life has always been reflected in my decor. 

Tomorrow I will look back at my 20's. 

Yes. Russian Balloon Shades will make an appearance. Yikes!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alarmed and Saddened

The wise words of wisdom you see in the photo above came from a 10 year old boy. This was posted on Facebook by The Huff Post a couple of days ago. I clicked on the link thinking it might be a cute and amusing tidbit.  As I read through his list of advice to his teacher who was getting married, I was fine until I got to the last piece of advice. It actually disturbed me to the point I felt compelled to comment.

My comment was as follows: I find it alarming that a 10 year old suggests carrying a hand gun. Alarming and sad.  It was a simple statement of how reading it had made me feel. If a 10 year old thinks the solution to living in a dodgy neighbourhood is to arm yourself with a hand gun, how sad is that? How old was he when he came to this conclusion? Who taught him this was a good idea? Do his parents own handguns? Has he seen one? Has he used one? Is he just chomping at the bit until the day he gets to own one, as eager as I was to get my driver's license the day I turned 16? Is this the new norm for American children? Are handguns added to their Santa wish list each Christmas?

So far, (as of about 20 minutes ago), 35 people have checked "like" on my comment. However, as encouraging as that seems, there were several who have commented that they see nothing wrong with carrying a hand gun and why shouldn't they be able to, and if you know how to use one there is nothing wrong with it....etc. etc. I am stunned by these responses. There seems to be no understanding whatsoever among these pro-gun carrying folks as to the point I was trying to make. They immediately get their feathers all ruffled about their "rights" to bear arms and their "freedom" to hunt for food and protect themselves. Do they not hear what they are saying? Clearly they did not hear what I said.

For starters, no one is debating your "rights".  My comment is very straightforward. It is a statement of how I felt. And still do feel. Will always feel. If a child by the age of 10 is already hard-wired to believe that the way to confront violence is with more violence, then how will we ever walk the path to peaceful resolutions as a society? It has to start at home. We need to be teaching our children how to resolve conflict with conversation and reason. 

As far as I know, hand guns are not used for hunting. So, if hand guns were only issued to law-enforcement, there would not be any need to "protect" yourself from other citizens carrying hand guns. I realize this Utopian scenario of the banishment of hand guns is just that - an idealistic dream world that will likely never exist, however, can we at least begin to work toward changing the attitudes of our children and our communities? Walking down the street with a gun in your pocket is not the answer kidlets. 

It may be too late for young Ethan, but people can change.  

Here's hoping.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some hearts don't Bleed

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion - Nelson Mandela

I woke up in the wee hours today and as I am often sleepless at 3 or 4 am and I picked up my iPad and brought the rest of the world into my bed with me. I found it so bittersweet as I saw that Google had created a birthday tribute message to the great Nelson Mandela reminding us all that we are capable of unlearning hate. The next thing I saw was the tragic result of that hate. The unwarranted attack of a Malaysian passenger jet over the Ukraine near the Russian border...295 crew and passengers dead.

As early as I can remember, as a child of the sixties, I have been listening to words such as Mandela's. Haven't we all? Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi. The Dalai Lama. Maya Angelou. Musicians. Poets. Writers.  And all the while,  as these great men and women who have stood before us and spread their messages of peace and love, we watched wars and hatred continue to unfold daily. It is as though their words have fallen upon deaf ears. Educated nations and leaders (and a few uneducated ones too) continue to support these violent methods as their path to winning. I don't get it.

When we teach our children how to get along with others we don't tell them to injure or kill their playmates over a game of Monopoly or on the soccer field or at a dance competition. And yet, these same children grow up, supposedly into mature adults, and one day give the command to release a missile aimed at a jet they are not even sure poses a threat to them. And what have they won? Has anybody won anything? How do they live with themselves? Do they go home at the end of the day and kiss their wives (or husbands) and tuck their children in and sleep soundly knowing they have just ended the lives of 295 souls and left thousands of friends and family grief-stricken for life? Who are these people? Who are these supposed humans? They must be without a conscience.

Perhaps what we need in our schools worldwide is a course called Conscious Living 101. Starting in Kindergarten, or sooner.

Maybe that is the answer. For as long as there are human beings living unconsciously, there will never be peace in this world.

Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela

If we would only take heed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"There is some kiss we want with our whole lives"...Rumi

"Aint it funny how your new life didn't change things. You're still the same old girl you used to be." -The Eagles, Lyin Eyes

It has occurred to me lately how my new life is not all that different from my old life. Initially it was a bit of a culture shock. You cannot avoid that when you move from a city of 2.5 million to a town of less than 50 thousand. I was braced for that. My choices were reduced in just about every category. Shops and  restaurants and  theatres that I once took for granted were limited. I was grateful for the absence of traffic jams and the competitive nature of city living. I felt like the proverbial fish out of water.

Grocery shopping took me twice as long as I had to learn new labels. Driving required intense focus. No more auto-pilot. What do you mean? No right on a red? Ooops! Thought I was in the slow lane. Keep an eye out for kangaroos. No joke. Paying extra for ketchup? You gotta be kidding me! Don't tip the server. What?!!! Hanging the laundry outside to dry. Only turn on the A/C when you absolutely cannot stand the heat another minute. Taking cold showers...on purpose. Don't worry, that snake is not poisonous. You get the picture.

So now that a few months have passed and I have made it through these changes, I have managed to re-create some of my past life. I have found a lovely bunch of gals to play tennis with and have just hooked up with another group for golf. A local book club has invited me to join them the first Tuesday evening of each month. I still need to focus on my driving, but it is less scary now. I have discovered where to buy just about any and all ingredients (even organic) I need for cooking and have found a couple of decent clothing shops that carry some stylish pieces when I need some shopping therapy. Although I have not found a replacement for my beloved Humber River walk, I have a couple of loops nearby that offer me a nature fix daily, replacing spawning salmon sightings with mobs of kangaroos.

We are truly creatures of habit. I still even manage to play Scrabble at least once a week with my darling daughter. Technology has made the distance between us seem less overwhelming. Without it, I could not have made this leap. So, what, you may ask, compelled me to move to the other side of the world to start all over again, only to engage in mostly the same activities I had enjoyed in Canada?

Well, in the words of the great poet Rumi, I "gambled everything for love". There was no guarantee. I had to rely entirely on my gut instinct. Every time I woke in the middle of the night, overwhelmed with fear or the voices that cast doubt on my decision, each and every time, I came back to my gut. What was it telling me? It was not a screaming, bossy, aggressive voice. No. It was a soft, gentle and constant voice. A nudging. Just go, it would whisper. It could offer me no real outcome. No fancy promises of happily ever after. No defined security. It required a leap of faith like no other I have ever faced. I came from a family that defines success as  financial security and the owning of things. Up until then, I had followed that path. What madness had come over me to leave it all behind?

Call me crazy, but I can sum it up in one short sentence.

He dances with me in the kitchen.