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Paris – Observations

This week since my days are busy with French language class again, I thought I’d present some observations I’ve been accumulating while here…..

– Florists in Paris are really special. Their flowers are always artfully displayed, overflowing out onto the sidewalks.  The arrangements are lush and creative. French patisseries tend to get all the oohs and ahhs but I think the florists are right up there and may even be tied with the fruit sellers who also outdo themselves in presenting their produce. When in America have you ever stopped in your tracks while on a walk and just gawked at a fruit stand? Here it happens to me almost daily.  And then I pony up and pay 6.50 Euro for a little basket of strawberries. So you see, all that special care in merchandising works!

– Speaking of beautiful displays, I cannot pass over the patisseries with their delightful pastries. Oh. My. God.  They are works of art. You’ve never seen or tasted anything like them. Some patisseries are like mini museums all glass and good lighting, showcasing desserts that look like hours were spent crafting each one. Alternatively, some pastry shops are full of big rustic, homemade looking baked goods that still make your mouth water even though they are not visual works of art.  What looks like a humble plain chocolate cupcake can turn out to be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten in your life. I have this little French food guide book which covers the various popular French pastries in all their glory and we have been working our way through it, one by one.  If I come home 20 pounds heavier, you’ll know why.

– Shops in Paris are big on handing out their “carte”  – their business card – to shoppers. It’s great because sometimes you are eyeing something but can’t decide or you are in a rush and want to return later. And now you have their well designed shop card in your bag and a means to find them again. Especially useful for a tourist!

– The French really do say “Ooh, la la!” I have heard this stereotypical little exclamation used quite a bit, even by people just watching the world cup!

– Women here wear dresses with sandals in the summer. All day long I admire the cute dresses. Men going to work are often in suits. Stylish, slim fitting suits and nice shoes. No baggy pleated pants or wrinkled shirts for these Frenchmen. Parisians look great and we could learn a thing or two or three from them about how to dress.

– Clothing here is expensive. With the much hyped bi-annual sales going on now in July, you would think you could finally get a deal?  Nope. Clothes here are an investment and quality matters. Therefore people seem to have smaller wardrobes of better clothes. Smart. And it’s environmentally friendly. Don’t you always cringe inside when you walk by a Forever 21 or H&M and see the thousands upon thousands of disposable fast fashion that changes inventory constantly? I always wonder what becomes of all the clothing that doesn’t sell by the time the next batch hits the racks.  Here many clothing shops have a very limited, very curated inventory.  It is refreshing.

– On that note, unlike in Italy where shopkeepers assault you with “Dimmi” when you walk in the door (Literally “tell me!” – meaning tell me exactly what you are looking for) the French boutiques allow you to browse in peace. So much better.  Especially if you don’t speak the language well.

– Nobody rushes you in restaurants. You can sit nearly as long as you like. It’s amazing and automatically relaxes you. In fact, if you want to pay the check you have to pointedly ask for it – they won’t just drop it on your table and glower at you until you leave. Why is this? Servers here are not paid by tips alone. They get paid normal wages.  (I read, on average, about $2000 per month.)  This means they can relax and just do their job without trying to turn your table for the next tip. We Americans could learn from this and find a way to eliminate restaurant tipping and the sad minimum hourly wage that servers are paid stateside.

– The French very much like to picnic.  Or, rather “pique-nique”.  Along the Seine. On any patch of grass. These are not elaborate meals and there is always a baguette or two or three. Plus cheese and wine.  This is a super easy French habit to pick up and I recommend it!

– Buildings are beautifully designed. Care is even taken with the design of the door and with the knocker. Every single day I see one beautiful door after another, with its own unique knocker, on an architecturally stunning building. It is so rare to see a plain unadorned building that when you do see one it almost stops you in your tracks.

– Air conditioning is a luxury. The metro is hot, the buses are hot, inside the cafes are hot. Some shops will have AC but generally not.  And yet, the Parisians never look sweaty or uncomfortable.  It is an absolute mystery to me.

– Let’s talk bread.  Specifically baguettes. Parisians buy one every single day. I can’t count how many baguette ends I have seen poking out of peoples purses, brief cases, or sacs. And it is not uncommon to see the person munching on a piece of it while they walk.  When you get a warm one handed to you it is heaven.

– People here are generally friendly and helpful. The grumpy Parisian stereotype is unfair. If you try a few words of French, that is enough to satisfy them.  If you look remotely confused or blank, they switch seamlessly to English.  I give them full credit for this skill.

– No foods are forbidden here. People eat LOTS of cheese and croissants and butter and the aforementioned baguette. (No it’s not just the tourists.) And most people are indeed thin. Think about that and if you come up with a 100% explanation for it, please email me.

– A glass of Rosé in the summer heat is perfection. Light, refreshing and the perfect outdoor drink at a café at lunch or dinner. Sorry Kir. I tried you and you’re too sweet. Aperol meanwhile was a bit bitter for my taste.  Pour moi, Rosé it is.

– It’s easy to walk 4 or 5 miles a day without really trying. I’ve been taking public transportation – metro & bus – if it’s really far.  But stops are not everywhere and usually walking takes nearly the same amount of time and it burns off all that amazing food.

– If you go in a hardware store (a “droguerie” specifically) you will be shocked by the attractive, orderly, stylish care that has been taken with their wares. You can literally be staring at shelves of rat poison and you almost want to take a photo. Why can’t our hardware stores do this and make cleaning products and paint shopping a more enjoyable sensory experience?

In conclusion, I’ve found that no matter what the product, the French can make it look good. No matter what the food, the French can make it beautifully and give you full permission to eat it often. And they look good while doing all of the above avec plaisir!

 

 

 

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Summer in Paris, the arrival….

When I started this website a little over a year ago, I intended to blog.  The bad news is, I didn’t.  The good news is, I got super busy with lots of great design work – and a bunch of incredible travel.  In the last year or so I’ve been fortunate enough to work on several great kitchen & bathroom renovations, helping a bunch of clients move into new homes which meant helping pick all the materials for those spaces plus furniture, lighting, paint etc…  On the personal side, I’ve also traveled to Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Antigua (Guatemala), Colorado, Tulum (Mexico), Singapore and Tioman Island (Malaysia).  I even helped a young family buy their first home.  I kept up with short social media bursts on Facebook and (finally!) on Instagram.  Plus I gut renovated another full bathroom in my own house.  So the last year was too busy to blog….which is a very good problem to have!

I’m here blogging today because work just came to a screeching halt – I have just started on a new adventure – in Paris!  Mark, my partner, who also loves languages and travel, amazingly arranged to work out of his company’s Paris office for the summer.  Being self employed, I am able to join him for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And my daughter Ally is smartly along for the ride.  She will take a class at Science Po next month and then stay for her junior fall semester abroad in Paris.  So she gets to stay until December!

After nearly a year of preparation for this adventure (studying French, renting out our house, finding housing here, etc. etc.) we arrived on Saturday.  My “To Do” list leading up to this trip was so long and detailed that the actual travel, in comparison, was over in the blink of an eye. We made our connection, our luggage not only arrived but was the first off the plane, and the taxi to the apartment was driven by a friendly  (oui!) Frenchman who decided to be our tour guide too – pointing out sites along the way.

We have a 3 BR/2 Bath Airbnb apartment for June & July, perfectly situated in the 7th arrondissement.  The 3rd floor apartment, in St. Germain des Prés on Rue du Bac, is about a 5 minute walk from the Musee D’Orsay and the Seine.  C’est fantastique!

We got the lay of the land from our new landlady Nathalie.  It turns out we are living in her actual apartment and she moved out to stay with relatives.  Thus, the closets and cupboards are all full of her stuff.  Even the small fridge has its two drawers full of her food.  Not so fantastique, but we figured out where to squeeze our belongings and got settled.  The apartment has a sprawling quirky layout, gorgeous chevron laid wood floors, four fireplaces, and intricate ceiling medallions all combined with odd paint color combos and a hodge-podge mix of furniture. Ikea meets antiques and pale pink meets primary red and sunflower yellow.

 

Large floor to ceiling windows & shutters open up wide to let in light and air.  We overlook a charming stone courtyard with a single, gorgeous, perfect tree at the center. 

The old Parisian rooftops surround us, with a trés petite elevator (big enough for one person and one suitcase) retrofit into the building’s curving wood staircase.  Across the street, literally, is a Monoprix supermarché, perfectly positioned so we can easily adapt to the tiny kitchen/tiny fridge requirement of doing almost daily grocery shopping.

Sunday morning after a deep wonderful sleep, I awoke early to birds chirping and the sun shining.  Who would expect all the birds? We were amazed with how quiet and peaceful the morning was in our building despite our being in the heart of Paris! With perfect blue skies and temps in the 70s, Mark and I ventured out for a walk along the Seine and landed at the L’Tour Eiffel.  The paved side of the left bank was full of joggers.  On the way home we picked up fresh cherries at a fruit stand and hit our local boulangerie for a fluffy eggy brioche and some kind of miniature baguette studded with chocolate chips.  Enjoyed in our new dining room with tea & coffee, we were off to a good start!

This morning, Monday, was a bit of a different story. First, insomnia hit from 3-5 am.  Then Mark had to report to his first day of work. The forecast is for rain all week and the skies today are gray.  But the harshest reality came outside our window at precisely 7:30 am. The peace and quiet we marveled at yesterday?  Well, I couldn’t even hear the birds today for all the construction noise……hammering, drilling, sawing, banging, scraping and other assorted loud noises came from just outside our window.  Across the alley from our bedroom, scaffolding I hardly noticed yesterday is being used by two men loudly speaking French as they repair the exterior of the opposite building. Below, with green spray paint marking the path of a gas line, a second crew of men was pounding at the pavers to access the lines.  Obviously with all the stone surfaces, the echo factor is enormous.  Over in her room, a mosquito bit Ally all night long (no screens on those gorgeous windows). Our perfect strawberries, bought 36 hours ago, were mostly rotted when we attempted to top our yogurt.  And thus, just like that, our little bubble of paradise just got hit by a reality check.  As they say, c’est la vie!

Stick with me on this blog to hear more about our time in Paris and hopefully my design discoveries and Parisian pleasures found along the way!

 

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Renovation photos…before & after

I promised to post these photos months ago and then life got very busy! But here they are, the before & after visuals of my home renovation transforming my two family to a single family house. We have been living with the results now for a few months – happily entertaining family and friends – and I must say I LOVE the results.

I adore my bigger shower and double vanity in the master bathroom…so much more functional than what I had before. I love my gorgeous new kitchen with the center island.  I love my back splash splurge over the stove and the decorative light fixtures that reflect the period of the house while still being updated. I love the Kitchen Aid appliances we selected (with the help of a tie-breaking spreadsheet analysis of all the features & costs of the various options at Yale. We considered Dacor, Bertazzoni and Thermador). Kitchen Aid offered a big rebate and therefore worked perfectly with my budget.  Their appliances gave me ALL the features I wanted, particularly in the all important gas range.  (It has a temperature probe, a second oven in the lower drawer, a timer, fifth burner and easy to clean burners).  I love the storage bonus of my walk-in pantry from what used to be the bedroom closet. And I love the unique built-in microwave and cookbook storage piece we carved out of an old stairwell.  My new laundry room/butler’s pantry (the previous apartment’s kitchen) is convenient for everyday laundry duties and wonderful for occasional entertaining. (Last night we had a family birthday party and used the extra 18″ wide dishwasher in here for the overflow cake plates & wine glasses that didn’t fit in the kitchen dishwasher).

I know that these changes, while not inexpensive, added not only beauty and functionality to the house, but also lots of value should I sell the house in the next several years. I am so enthusiastic about the results that I think everyone should do a renovation if they are considering it.  Just do it! Do not fear the process because the results are SO worth it. A home renovation will make your life better in a multitude of ways.

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Renovation story: Make it a single!

If you follow my Facebook, then you know that I’m wrapping up a big renovation at my house. It’s been lots of dust and plastic since early February but now we’re putting the furniture in place and inviting over guests! Since this is a new blog, I will backtrack here a bit to tell you about the project.

As I’ve mentioned before, after my divorce I was lucky to buy a wonderful 1880s colonial right near the Colonial Inn. It has a prime Concord center location, a huge front porch, white picket fence and lots of charm. There’s a postage stamp sized yard – which happily minimizes both raking and mowing! Most importantly, the two family house brought me rental income that was very helpful as I got settled into my life’s own unexpected “fresh start” and my girls began college.

The house was originally a single family (there’s always been only one front door) but was converted into a two family in 1971. For some time the house was actually owned by the Colonial Inn (two doors away) and the apartments rented to hotel guests. The first floor unit was a one bedroom /one bath apartment with a tiny galley kitchen. It had an amazing “V” shaped (original!) fireplace that faced a spacious open living and dining area. Upstairs, a 3 bedroom/2 bath apartment was carved out of the original home’s bedroom configuration. In total, the house is just under 3000 SF.

When I bought it, the two family configuration worked out perfectly for me. I rented out the first floor unit and lived upstairs. The girls and I all had our own bedrooms and separate baths. Even though we were upstairs, we had a cozy living room with a fireplace! Along the way someone had even added central air to the house. The 2nd floor kitchen was quite small – with one short expanse of counter top – I liked to call it a “Parisian” kitchen. I did a renovation before moving in but overall the setup was good. In the first months of ownership, I put in a new HVAC system, converted to gas heat and removed all the old steam radiators (which ate up my precious wall space). I completely update the 3rd floor bedrooms with new shiplap walls, new ceilings and carpet to cover the old attic floorboards. I also took down a non-load bearing wall between two rooms so I would have an open living room/dining room space.

Jump to two and a half years later. As someone who loves to cook, the limited 2nd floor kitchen and small entertaining space for holidays and family gatherings was starting to get to me. I was longing for more space and a home of my own again. With real estate comps showing that the house was likely worth more as a single family than as a two family, I decided to take the leap to bringing it back to a single family residence. I started planning this renovation in earnest last Fall.

In February, I brought back the same team that helped me on my first renovation. We took the bedroom from the first floor apartment and transformed it into a wonderful new kitchen. The bedroom closet is now a new walk-in pantry. An old unused staircase is now a built-in for the microwave, cookbooks, mixing bowls etc. Using a 9′ beam we opened the kitchen space up to the large living and dining room.

The galley kitchen that had served the 1st floor apartment is now a butler’s pantry and laundry room. (Laundry was previously in the unfinished basement). We swapped out the stove and refrigerator for a front loading washer & dryer. We kept the original kitchen sink, second dishwasher and cabinets so I have ample space when entertaining.

Upstairs, the “bedroom” that had served as my “Parisian” kitchen has gone back to its former life as a bedroom. And, because I had the whole crew here anyway, I am also completely updated my master bathroom on the second floor. There was a tiny tub, no storage and zero insulation. Now I have a big shower, double vanity, recessed medicine cabinets and a luxurious towel warmer. Plus insulation. My second floor living room stayed put as a den/tv room and the former dining space up there is my new home office.

I am excited to share the “Before & After” photos with you of the transformation! We are just finishing up the final construction and decorative details now! Please check back for photos!

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Fresh start, fresh blog

Welcome to my newly designed website and my very first blog post!

After a couple years working as Fresh Start Interiors, it was definitely time to banish my simple (yet lovingly handcrafted) website and give my business its own “fresh start” with a professional site. This time around I decided to add a blog page. So here we are!

When I started the “Fresh Start Interiors” rendition of my design business two years ago, it was after a tumultuous period in my personal life. Recently and quite unexpectedly divorced, I myself needed a literal fresh start. I had reluctantly sold our family home, bought an antique two family Colonial with an income apartment, sent one daughter off to college and was tentatively starting over mid-life. I had an office job doing marketing for real estate and, while enjoyable, it wasn’t what I REALLY wanted to do everyday. Obviously my personal happiness and fulfillment was most important so I chose to go back to the creativity and satisfaction of design work. Fresh Start Interiors was born. As you can tell, the name was quite fitting on many levels.

While the last few years have not been a quick or easy transition period, I’ve definitely come out far happier and in a very good place. With a lot of hard work and some imagination, all the pieces have clicked and I have crafted a new, wonderful phase-two of my life. It is full of people I love, things I enjoy doing, lots and lots of international travel and work that makes me happy.
Not coincidentally, along the way, I also created a beautiful new home in this two family colonial – which I am now converting back into the beautiful single family it once was. (Stay tuned for more on that renovation process!)

The fact is that everyone’s lives go through changes and phases, ups and downs. More often than not, life changes wind up affecting your living situation. Think about it. Getting married, having a baby, landing a new job, buying a new home, moving in with roommates, becoming an empty nester, getting divorced, taking in a parent….all these occurrences are normal life milestones that end up somehow impacting the place where you live. As a result, maybe you need to redo a room. Or maybe you will need to start over in a brand new home. Maybe the effect is a bit smaller like a fresh coat of paint for your child who has just become a teen. Or maybe just moving around the furniture will inject some needed energy into your life. Maybe the change is even tinier in scope and just the addition of a functional storage piece will brighten up each of your days by reducing one bit of nagging stress.

Whatever the impetus for your fresh start, home design and decorating should never be a stressful or overwhelming task, but instead a joyful and creative opportunity. Make positive changes to your environment and you can most definitely change your mood, if not your outlook on life. Making a space more functional, beautiful, comfortable and personal is ALWAYS going to bring happiness. And isn’t happiness everyone’s end goal?

I guess that’s my blog’s point today; embracing a fresh start can be the key to a happier life.
Take it from me. I am all about fresh starts and I’m happy to be a part of yours.