Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Morning Routine

In my family, I am the one responsible for getting everyone up in the morning. I am the family's human alarm clock, the morning buzzer, the motivator.  It's a job that I don't mind.  In fact, I prefer it. I like getting up first, when the house is quiet and dark, when the only immediate demand is to get a fresh pot of coffee brewed, and to see what crazy news I may have missed in the overnight hours. Rising early gives me the opportunity to jump start my own self before I need to energize everyone else.

Every school day morning, the routine is exactly the same. After I am fully caffeinated, which is usually just before 7:00am, I wake my daughter by endearingly singing:  "good morning sleepy doo!"  Or, sometimes I  really mix it up with a pitch perfect "good morning plumb cake!" It's sweet, and my daughter still gets a kick out of it.  I like to think that my morning jingle helps provide a pleasant, positive and jovial start to her day!

But, in this last week or so, I have noticed myself adding one more step to this simple morning routine. Before breaking into my normal "Good Morning..." sing-song custom, I find myself pausing for a moment to say a little prayer, of sorts, before she wakes. It goes a little like this: "please, God, as an adult, don't let her ever get involved in a relationship with an abusive partner."

It may seem a little strange to be thinking and praying about such a heavy topic. My daughter, after all, is still quite young and relationships are still far off into the future.  But, it's a worry that I have, nonetheless.  One that has been more electrified by current events. It's probably a worry that many of us are having of late, as we should.

"...don't let that happen, please..."

I know it's cliche, but one of the advantages that gay men enjoy is the extraordinarily close relationships they are able to build with straight women.  I cherish the relationships I have with women and consider myself lucky to have so many fascinating people in my life.  The women that I have had the pleasure of knowing and confiding in are all smart, educated and successful, and have truly enriched my life. I am very fortunate.  And aside from being intelligent and thoughtful and accomplished, there is one characteristic that many of these woman also seem to share.  They have, at some point in their lives, and to different extents, been assaulted by men.  I am not sure that most men realize that almost every woman shares some version of this experience, of being sexually assaulted. Men should be encouraged to think about that -- and about their mothers, their sisters, their spouses, girlfriends, and their daughters.

Most woman have experienced some form of violence from a man.
It's daunting!

And this is why I worry for our children!

Years ago, I received a late night call from a very, very close friend, who, through tears, recounted  the most unpleasant experience she will ever have with a man with whom she was dating.  It was disquieting and scary and I was speechless.  And, looking back,  I can only hope that I was able to give her the appropriate, compassionate and needed support. This was a long time ago and my friend is now a highly educated,  extremely successful businesswoman, successful mother and successful wife. And while I have not thought much about that haunting, late night conversation in many years, due to current events, I have thought a lot about it lately.  The stories we are seeing on the news are not one-offs, they are, to some extent, almost every woman's story.

My friend and I never spoke about that conversation again and I suspect that she hasn't shared it with many other people, possibly no one else.  She moved on, and, as I mentioned, is happy and successful.  I wonder, however, if that deplorable man, who permanently destroyed a part of my dear friend, and probably went on to assault other women, ever tried to run for public office, would she publicly denounce his supposed virtues?  I think she would, and I think she should.  Would she be called a liar? Judging from recent events, yes, she would be called a liar. But, she's not a liar.

Public life aside, I have been recently conducting a little unscientific survey of my friends, asking them what they would do if they ever discovered that a friend of theirs assaulted his spouse? The response is overwhelmingly clear --  exterminate  that odious person from their lives.  Period.  Its universal -- assault against woman (or anyone) is never acceptable.  People who engage in this activity deserve little, and anyone in the know that does not call it out is complicit. Universally, everyone in my little survey vehemently understands that violence is always inappropriate. It was the indisputable response.

So, here we are, trying to raise a well-adjusted daughter who, in today's increasingly offensive mysogynistic environment, will likely and sadly face some uncomfortable relationship encounters in her lifetime, if things stay as they are now.  Hopefully, as a precursory, I will be able to instill in her a sense of strength and strong self-worth.  It's something I work at every day.  Since our daughter was very young, I have tried to encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection on healthy relationships. I know that my own relationships have to be an example of that.  And I always try to accentuate the positive.  I try to make it very clear where I stand on disrespect, on abusive or inappropriate language (and that when it comes from high members of our government, they are not leaders, but bullies!) and of any form of violence. And I always encourage her to stand up for friends and to look out for others that may seem uncomfortable. Every few weeks, I remind my daughter to be an 'upstander,' to do things like looking around the lunch room and making sure no one in her grade is sitting alone, and if they are, inviting him/her to join her at her table.  I am counting on these little things, these simple daily lessons, to add up.  But, I also know that violence can happen to anyone, regardless of how strong their makeup. So I will continue to worry!

And this is why I take that moment in the morning to say a little prayer...

...before I get my family up and into the world each day.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Brooklyn townhouse renovation before/after

The renovation is complete, for now!

For some time, I have intended to post the dramatic before and after photos of our recent townhouse renovation in Brooklyn Heights. But, I had a problem. I neglected to take proper photos of the project before I began.  So I don't have the absolutely essential and melodramatic before pictures. What the heck was I thinking? Anyhow, now that our renovation is complete, and we are fully settled into the space, I will attempt to show the transformation. Hopefully the impact is not totally lost on the lack of before photos.

The kitchen, as it appeared when we purchased our house in Brooklyn last year.
 I think that is one of the contractors I interviewed standing at the window. 
Most of the work that I did in our new/old house was performed on the parlor level. When we bought the 1800s brownstone in this historic part of Brooklyn, the entire interior of the house was painted a rather dated, and utterly drab olive green. Most of the original detail was stripped from the house and in its place were contractor quality fixtures. While the house did have some warmth, and good bones, it seemed dark, depressing, and didn't fit with the historic surroundings.  Simply applying a brighter, fresher coat of paint throughout the house (recommend Farrow & Ball's Slipper Satin), and popping in a few period fixtures and details would have done wonders to the look and feel of the building.  But, that wasn't enough for me. Clearly, I was in the mood for something more -- I was ready for a big renovation!

Since we cook nearly every night and entertain friends almost as much, the kitchen was the priority.  It needed to be comfortable, yet elegant; stylish, yet functional.  And it needed to accommodate many cooks in the kitchen at the same time.  Thus, it needed two sinks, two ovens and multiple burners.  Thank you Thermador!

We hired an amazing "old world" plasterer, who worked for months with casts to recreate plaster moldings, similar to the ones that would have adorned all of the townhouses in our area. 

When we bought the house, the cabinets were only three quarter height to the ceiling.  So the entire kitchen area felt truncated, short, and small.  The original height and grandeur of the building was stolen away; the enviable ceiling height was lost!  I needed to fix this!  And I did! I designed the cabinets to be dramatically higher, to the ceiling actually (I now use a ladder for the hardly used, stowed away pieces in the top cabinets). I also mixed painted cabinets on one side of the kitchen with dark stained oak on the other, to give the room depth and variance.

I always advise building cabinets to the ceiling, no matter how high.  This brings the room up, elevates the eye, gives the room air, and makes everything feel expansive and majestic. For this project, the high cabinets did all of this and more, bringing distinction back to the room, and life back to the house.

Former rear kitchen door, which is now replaced with one nearly twice as high.
For this project, I also reconfigured the rear windows, bringing them up almost to the ceiling,  making them even at the top. This was actually the original builder's intention. A previous owner took their size down, presumably to cut costs.  Again, like the cabinets, tall windows and doors help to bring the room up, to let the entire space breathe. The before (above) and after (below) pictures show the pleasing difference.  And yes, that is a large brown mohair sofa, sandwiched between the refrigeration units in the kitchen area.  I am done with uncomfortable and unwieldy counter stools.  Kitchens, and the guests that enjoy them, deserve all the joy and comfort that comes with a sofa!

It may be hard to see in the photos, but I also salvaged original period moldings from a building that was tearing them out. I had them stripped and used them to frame the door and window.  It all came out rather nicely:

What was once a dark, unappetizing kitchen, is now bright, expansive and utile.  It's a pleasure to cook and host parties in this resurrected space.  We all love it!

A tufted mohair sofa is the backdrop in our kitchen. I picked Italian "Ponte Vecchio" marble for the center island.

In the parlor-level half bath, the fixtures, tiles and wall color were inappropriate for a traditional brownstone... off it went to the salvage yard!  In its place, I installed a period-appropriate sink (from Simon's Hardware) and a gilded mirror, and I pasted up some traditional wall paper.  But, don't be fooled!  On closer look, the paper is not actually that traditional at all!  It's from the amazingly innovative and popular Brooklyn-based wall covering genius' at Flavor Paper.  Flavor Paper produces hand screened or digitally printed paper and is made to order.  So the colors can be interchanged and the images are completely customizable. For our wallcovering, we choose traditional colors and format, but the images are silly and somewhat controversial.  There is an image of the poodle, for example, that is actually in the form of campy balloon art.  And the Pegasus', standing guard over a guillotine of all things, have breasts! We give our guests something delightful to look at and ponder while they are taking a moment in the restroom!

Below is one of the few period details in the house that has managed to survive its many renovations -- the living room marble fireplace.  It's fairly simple and not unlike many others in the neighborhood, but it is very sweet and grounds the living room.  It's charming. But, it definitely needed some dressing up. 

So, I added studded leather wall sconces, hung an antique, traditional, gilded mirror, imported from an antiques dealer in St Louis, and accessorized.  It worked:

Finally, while there are many more elements that were updated, switched out, and modernized in our new/old Brooklyn townhouse, the renovated newel post and stairway is my self proclaimed crowning achievement. 

The newel post, seen immediately upon entering the house, was inherited from a previous makeover. It was contractor grade, did not represent the history of the house, was feeble looking and exceptionally dated.  It needed to find a new home, immediately!

I hired a local wood sculptor, seasoned in the art of making newel posts that were fashioned after the decadent posts of yesteryear. 

We labored over many designs. Weeks later, after painting the spindles Farrow & Ball's "pitch black", and the risers a sophisticated mayonaisse hue, we had a entirely reshaped, elegant entrance stairway.  It's gorgeous, wouldn't you say?  Where have all those specialized craftsmen (and women) gone?

That's all, for now!  There are many more updated features to this project which I hope to bring to you in future posts.  But now, I need to get to work on dinner, in my wonderful new kitchen! Have a great day! 

Taking a moment on the kitchen sofa before I
 get up and make dinner.