Thursday, January 28, 2016

Balancing Contemporary and Traditional Spaces

Interior Interests

Pairing our Anichini upholstered headboard and bed clothes with our new, contemporary, but somewhat featureless, apartment.

We recently sold our traditional, detail-dripping townhouse in Park Slope and now temporarily live in a modern Brooklyn Heights penthouse.  What a difference! While I miss our large, rambling, stately home -- very close to Prospect Park (below) -- I am enjoying our full-service building, complete with porters, doormen, and basement-level parking -- all within walking distance to our daughter's school.

When we first took on this move, I worried about the marriage -- of our mostly graceful, neoclassical furnishings to a contemporary, blunt apartment, more suited to mid-century modern. Surprisingly, however, the relationship was stronger than I had anticipated -- everyone gets along swimmingly!

The parlor level of our Park Slope home in Brooklyn

Right now, my thoughts on interiors seem to be somewhat scattered -- I am nostalgic about our past homes with all their charm and splendor, I am pleasantly comfortable enjoying our current modern space with its full-service perks, and I am becoming engrossed in the planning and  renovation of our future Brooklyn Heights townhouse (we just signed contracts). In all this, I keep finding myself thinking about the origins of my interest in design, of what motivates my schematics, and why some people, more than others, have a punctilious eye.

Without realizing it at the time, from a young age, I have always had a bend toward interior design.  But, being raised in upstate New York (way upstate), there wasn't anyone to mentor me or anything to inspire; well, aside from the idyllic and breathtaking Adirondack Mountains, or perhaps Lake Placid's rustic but upscale establishments. Oh, and of course, there were all those Anglo, Federal style churches -- surely there was some influence there!

But, the influences were nothing compared to the exposure a young person has when living close to a major metropolitan area. So, when I was 14 years old, I took it upon myself to be inspired with what I had on hand -- my childhood home. It was not uncommon for my parents to come home from work to find their living room completely rearranged, or the rugs shifted across the house, or pictures taken down and rehung, or the dining table silver centerpiece polished, buffed and repositioned somewhere else entirely.  Actually, it is still not uncommon for me to rearrange items in my house, or, better yet, if spending time with friends, in their houses too!

I am constantly rearranging our "knick-knacks," in this case, our Simon Pearce blown glass.

Strangely, fashion wasn't the path that I took professionally, After college, I darted to New York City and fell into a fairly successful career in advertising.  As I approached 40, our daughter was born, and I decided to dedicate all my energy to raising a well adjusted child.  Unfortunately, the results of those efforts won't be in for another good 20 years.

I adore color, an element missing from modern design, of late. 

I am about to undertake another house renovation and I have been taking notes, on the benefits and pitfalls of living in a newer space. For me, the biggest issue when moving from a classic, urban townhouse into a contemporary space is dealing with the "open floor plan." I don't like open floor plans! Both our current penthouse and our future townhouse have open floor plans on the parlor level. I will need to deal with this. Unless I am at an airy beach house, I prefer individually stylized, comfortable rooms over jumbled open living. Everyday life is better suited to compartmentalization -- we weren't meant to dine in the same space that our bills are paid, or worse, where we watch TV.

Fresh flowers -- always a suitable design element!

Another challenge of contemporary spaces is the seeming lack of color. As clearly shown in the photos in this post, I adore rich colors -- strong hues of gold are always attractive to my eye. Did you notice that  there is something gold in nearly all of today's pictures!

I purchased bolts of these bold, rich fabrics at a Brunschwig and Fils sale a few years back and look forward to using them in our new Brooklyn Heights townhouse.

The good news is that color and tradition and classic lines work well with modern spaces. In fact, they may even work better, since they aren't competing with overt existing detail. While traditional interiors may favor stronger patters, more texture and richer colors, so do contemporary spaces. Living in a contemporary space has taught me that the clean lines associated with modern, open spaces help traditional pieces to pop, to sing, and sometime to even jump. So, if a renovation is in your future, go ahead, blur the lines, create your own style, mix it up!

 In the coming months, as I transform our new space, making it shine as originally intended over 100 years ago,  I look forward to sharing our progress here on The Natty Dad, and hopefully, I'll be able to pass along some useful tips along the way.

Cozying up to one of my plush, golden, tasseled, velvet pillows. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

NYC Dressed in its Winter Cloak

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Here is the view from our terrace yesterday:

...and today:

A few words during today's historic storm in NYC

Living inside our Brooklyn Heights bubble
No longer tied to grand townhouse and its rubble
No dog to walk, no snow to shovel
Staying inside and out of trouble
The snow may fall outside should we choose to play
But we are staying inside -- it's a baked goods day.

Gives new meaning to: Made for Measure

Wherever you are today, 
in snowy weather or otherwise, 
don't fight mother nature,
take a moment, 
take a breath, 
and most importantly, 
be safe. 

Thankfully, we made it to Maison Kayser before they closed for snow!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The 5 Best Coffee Shops in Brooklyn Now

 Brooklyn's Best Coffee

Coffee shops are a quintessential part of Brooklyn. There are probably more places to enjoy a cup of joe than places to catch the subway in this madding metropolis.  Because most New Yorkers live in small spaces, need free wi-fi and require strong coffee to move at such a hurried pace, there is a tireless and growing need for these java shops.

The Williamsburg Bank Building, just outside
downtown Brooklyn, and across the street
from the Barclay's Center. 

Many of the newest coffee shops feel more like downtown martini bars than morning breakfast shops, making the trip out for a coffee fix a worthwhile event.  And with the quirky but thought-provoking rotating art installations appearing in many of these java houses, mostly by aspiring local artists, coffee shops seem to be the coolest place to hang.

So where in Brooklyn is the best place to get a cup of joe?

WTF Coffee Shop

Aside from winning the top prize for Best Coffee in Brooklyn, this small shop, with the surprising name, also wins the prize for most difficult to find.  It's located on a quiet street just two blocks from Fort Greene Park, in a mostly residential area famous for its historic clapboard and commanding brownstone townhouses. But don't be fooled by it's quiet location, this place is truly for the coffee connisseur. As such, it is worth the trip for both the expertly prepared coffee and the calming tree-lined surroundings.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Also, at the top of the list for best Brooklyn brews (but somewhat reluctantly bestowed since it is really just an Oakland, Californian outpost) is Blue Bottle Coffee. And since it has two locations, one in Boerum Hill (Smith and Dean Streets) and another in Williamsburg (Lorimar St), and another rumored to be opening soon in Park Slope, this shop takes two of the coffee shop prizes.

Blue Bottle custom makes all of their coffee beverages, but one of their most unique and tasty preparations uses a nel, a cheese-cloth like filter that holds the grind. But, this preparation takes time, the water cannot be too hot and the pour cannot be hurried, otherwise the coffee's complexity deteriorates.  If done right, it's absolutely superb!


In this Colombian outpost, where beans are flown in directly from Colombia, the setting is as thrilling as the coffee.  This shop not only wins for it's rich coffee flavors and delectable treats, but also for its sprawling, open setting. Filled with trendy Williamsburg bearded folks, its green wall and huge skylight transport patrons well beyond the city limits, to Bogata perhaps.

Swallow Cafe

Swallow Cafe offers strong, bold coffee and an assortment of delicious baked goods on bustling Atlantic Avenue (Clinton Street) in Cobble Hill. And its charming, rustic location, with bright, oversized windows, provides a perfect spot to sit and linger. It's also ideal for people watching, especially since celebrities sightings are common here, particularly in the morning. 

Cafe Regular du Nord

Lastly, the classic cafe -- if you are in the mood to be delivered from leafy Brooklyn right to old world France, then check out Cafe Regular du Nord.  With two euro-styled cafes in Park Slope (Berkeley Place and 11th St), it is the most popular hangout for a perfectly balanced, smooth, classic espresso drink.  Don't be surprised to see Hemingway pass through...

Jacques Torres (side mention)

Ok, so Jacques Torres may not be known for its coffee, but it is known for something close to it -- chocolate.  If it's chilly outside, and you've had enough coffee for the day, head to DUMBO and get an extra large, extra rich Wicked Spicy Hot Chocolate.  This delectable beverage is flavored with ground ancho and chipolte chile peppers and loved by everyone, including Giada De Laurentis, of The Food Network

Delicious bread centerpiece at Maison Kayser, which just opened in downtown Brooklyn.  Jury is still out on how well the coffee is prepared here.  

Speaking of Lattes and Cappuccinos...

I have a quick bone to pick.  There needs to be a clearer delineation between a latte and a cappuccino.  A cappuccino should be mostly foam with only a touch of milk mixed with the coffee.  If there is too much milk in a cappuccino, well then it is simply a Latte. Often when I order a cappuccino, I get a latte. Enough said!