Sunday Stories: "BBC Mum," Ina Garten's Apartment, and Oxford Commas

Ina Garten's Upper East Side pied-a-terre is for sale. Not surprisingly, the kitchen looks amazing.

Any of my Nashville friends scored fabulous designer deals at this store? Maybe I will check it out on my next visit. 

Sure, you can dress like her. But do you really want to tell people she is your fashion inspiration?

I have totally jumped on the cauliflower rice trend - even Scott loved this recipe and described it as tasting like couscous. 

Looks like a dreamy vacation to me.

Time to starting using the Oxford comma again.

I can't even. The writer of this heartbreakingly beautiful essay passed away this week.

Still laughing at the "BBC Dad" interview? This "BBC Mum" spoof is even funnier. 

Have a lovely week!

The Wright Stuff

I'm a bit obsessed with real estate.  Not buying it - just looking at it.

I think that comes from having a mom who was a real estate broker.  Growing up, I always loved touring houses with her - and imagining how I would decorate and live in them.  Even now, I regularly peruse StreetEasy for listings in our neighborhood - even though we love our 750 square feet on the Upper East Side.

So, it won't surprise you that the best part of my visit last week to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art wasn't seeing the iconic paintings in the galleries (you can read about those here) or the sculpture-lined art trails that wind their way through the lush property.

My absolute favorite part was touring a 1956 Frank Lloyd Wright house that has been reconstructed on the property.

The house, known as the Bachman-Wilson House, was originally built in New Jersey.  Crystal Bridges acquired it in 2013, after which the entire structure was dismantled and moved to the museum.  It was reconstructed and opened to the public last year. 

Here are a few highlights of the rooms that I saw.  Since you can't take photos inside the house, these interior photos are from their web site.

The "hanging staircase" that greets you in the narrow entryway.

Photo from Crystal Bridges

The living room.  Of course, I had to check out the spines of the books on the shelves. (Confession: I'll do that at your house, too).

Photo from Crystal Bridges

Of course, I couldn't help but scan the stacks of now "vintage" cookbooks that line the shelf above the dining table.

Photo from Crystal Bridges

And finally - a kitchen with an amazing view into the woods.

Photo from Crystal Bridges

Hop on over to their web site to see the main level guest room and tiny bath, plus the upstairs bedrooms and bath.  You cannot go upstairs since - not surprisingly - that hanging staircase pictured above would probably not fare well with hundreds of people walking up and down it every day.

If you go, while admission to Crystal Bridges is free, you still have to reserve timed-entry tickets for the house.  I recommend calling ahead or booking online, since during summer months, they may all be taken by the time you arrive.  My dad went last week after reading about my visit (thanks for reading my blog, Dad!) - and while they enjoyed the museum and grounds, the house tours were fully booked.

As I toured the house - with its huge living room and walls of window that overlook the beautiful woods below, I was pretty much ready to move in.  Of course, that means Scott and I would have a constant flow of people through our house each day, but I would be okay with that.  I would even set out a tray of homemade cookies on that kitchen counter for you.



Translating NYC Apartment Ads

Looking for an apartment in New York City is different from anywhere else (except for possibly San Francisco).

You almost need a Rosetta Stone to understand the listings. 

"Friends"- not your typical NYC apartment.

Some differences simply reflect the terminology used to describe unique properties.  Others?  Let's just say that some brokers are very "creative," requiring you to read between the lines a bit.

Here is a quick NYC to English real estate glossary:

#1 - "Studio"

One room apartment with a single living/sleeping area (aka "efficiency").

#2 - "Alcove Studio" or "Convertible 1"

One room with an alcove or small area that might accommodate a bed.

#3 - "Junior 4" or "Convertible 2"

One bedroom apartment with a dining area, alcove or other small area that could be walled off into another bedroom.

#4 - "2 Bedrooms"

Two actual bedrooms - or, more likely, one bedroom with a large closet. 

#5 - "Cozy"

Small.  My first NYC apartment was very cozy.

#6 - "Charming"

Small.  With peeling paint.

#7 - "Quaint"

Small.  With sloping floors and at least one sealed-up window.

#8 - "Walking Distance to Subway"

One block or 20 blocks.  Technically, everything in New York is walking distance.

#9 - "This Apartment Has a Lot of History"

The shower may be in the kitchen.  (Not kidding).

Shower in Kitchen

If you see an apartment that ticks most of your boxes - and only seems slightly overpriced - grab it.  It will probably be gone tomorrow.

New Yorkers - what else would you add to this list?

Living Small in NYC

Two of my first apartments in New York City each had only about 200 square feet.

Having moved to Manhattan from a 900-square-foot apartment in Virginia, making it work took some creativity - and serious purging.  It got even more challenging when I started my business from one of those apartments (the one pictured on the left).

Here are a few ways I made those spaces work for me:

#1 - Edit, Edit, Edit

Small spaces force you to evaluate what you really need, and what is expendable.  While some china and a few other family pieces remained at my parents' house during these years, I got rid of almost all of my furniture - along with literally hundreds of books and movies. 

#2 - Bed Risers

I see photos of gorgeous small spaces with sleep lofts, but that was not an option.  Bed lifts - which cost as little as $10 per set - were a perfect alternative.  I needed the single closet in the apartment for my wardrobe, and these created a much-needed storage area underneath the bed. (Photo courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond).

#3 - Murphy Beds

One apartment had a Murphy Bed.  It was in brand-new condition, and the previous resident was happy to give it to me, to avoid spending several hundred dollars to remove it and patch up the floor and walls.  For the cost of a new mattress, I got a comfy bed and the ability to have an actual living room in a one-room studio! 

#4 - Storage Cart

This 8+1 wooden storage cart was the best tiny space purchase I ever made.  The small footprint perfectly fit the sliver of wall space between the closet and kitchen in the floor plan shown on the left.  The shallow drawers on top housed kitchen utensils and spices, while the bottom drawers stored paper and other office supplies.  I bought this 12 years ago, and it has stayed with me as I moved to larger spaces. (Photo courtesy of Home Decorators).

#5 - Creative Holiday Décor

One of the few things I disliked about small space-living was that there was literally no room for even the smallest Christmas tree.  My solution:  hanging a large, lighted wreath on the living room wall.  I loved the look and how it brightened the small room, and ended up removing the Christmas adornments and keeping it up long after the holidays were over. (Photo courtesy of QVC).


What have you done to make small spaces work for you, either in small apartments or larger homes?

Hidden New York Streetscapes

As a tourist in the hustle and bustle of Times Square, Rockefeller Center or Wall Street, you might wonder how New Yorkers can stand to live in the middle of all that craziness.

But when you get away from it and go deep into the residential neighborhoods, you'll find row houses, brownstones and historic homes that most people never see unless you live here.  A few of my faves:

East 72nd Street and the East River

This stretch of East 72nd Street is one of the prettiest in the city.  It’s a residential block that ends at the East River, so unless you live nearby or visit the tiny park that overlooks the river, you probably won't just happen upon it. 

If it looks like a movie set, you've probably seen it on film.  A bit of trivia for writer friends:  for many years, Manhattan’s most famous literary salon was hosted in the apartment of George Plimpton at this address. More literary trivia:  Walk about three blocks west on 72nd Street, and you'll come upon Charing Cross House, an apartment house named after the best-selling book 84, Charing Cross Road, penned by a longtime resident, the late Helene Hanff.

Henderson Place

Walk 14 blocks up York Avenue, go one block east on 86th Street, and you'll arrive at Henderson Place.  This small complex, which is its very own Historic District, consists of an alley and parts of East 86th, East 87th and East End Avenue.  Built in 1883, it is comprised of 24 Queen Anne-style row houses.

Henderson Place is only about two blocks from our apartment, and Scott and I often walk by here on our way to Carl Schurz Park - the best Manhattan park you have never heard of.  Every once in awhile we'll see a "for sale" sign on one of the homes, but let's just say they are bit out of our price range.  Celeb neighbors:  Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City's mayor, is in the park across street, and Ricky Martin owns an apartment in the high-rise condo on the right side of the first pic.

Pomander Walk

On the Upper West Side, just west of Broadway on 95th Street, there's a metal gate with a staircase that leads to something that looks interesting - but it's locked and you can't go in. 

Photos:, and - since nosy people like me can't just walk in.

This is Pomander Walk, a quaint private community straight out of an English village.  Most of the 27 Tudor-style homes face each other across a narrow courtyard, with gated entrances on 94th Street to the south and 95th Street to the north.  When I first moved to New York, and spent weekends hunting down locations from my favorite Woody Allen films, this was one of the first spots I found (it has a cameo in "Hannah and Her Sisters").  While many of the houses have been divided up into flats, the trend in recent years has been to convert some of them back into single-family homes.

What have I missed here?  I'd love to hear about your favorite streets - either in NYC or where you live!