So many of you loved last week’s Nantucket cabin makeover that I thought you’d like to see how you can achieve a quick and relatively inexpensive makeover in the same spirit. Sophie Dow, editor in chief of House Beautiful, wrote in the Before & After issue that sometimes our homes are a few cans of paint and a quick trip to a local flee market away from their true potential. Don’t you just love that? This modest, century old cottage proves her point beautifully. New York designer Kevin Isbell helped his clients get their holiday home ready in as little as three weeks. Here’s how he did it and how you can do it too!


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Everyone loves a good makeover and the February issue of House Beautiful, dedicated to Before & Afters, is filled with pretty projects. One that stands out for so many of us is a quaint little fisherman’s shack on the island of Nantucket. Apart from the obvious appeal of a tiny cottage in such a wonderful location, the impressive thing about this story is that it took New York designer Kevin Isbell only three weeks to complete the transformation.

The cottage is over 100 years old and has had very few upgrades over the decades – most of the rooms were brown and buttery yellow, the floor plan was wonky and the rooms had no ceiling electrical wiring. While Isbell did perform some decorating magic, he left the integrity of the home untouched. No reconfiguring the floor plan, no knocking down walls – instead he made the best of what was  – don’t you just love that?

cottage exterior

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While doing some research for Wednesday’s post, I came across some progress pictures that got me thinking. They are shared by Clayton Woodworks Carpentry of San Francisco and give us a glimpse into the great amount of work that goes into a project like this before we can admire the glossy shots published in our favorite magazines.

It’s easy to imagine that the business of interior design is a glamorous one, one that consists of endless shopping trips with clients, selecting colors and playing around with pretty fabrics. But the reality is very different. While it’s true that the design process itself is fun and exciting, it is also true that it only represents a small fraction of the job. The rest is a delicate balancing act between many different trades and vendors, project managing and coordinating craftsmen and artisans, dealing with unexpected setbacks and deadlines, constant trouble shooting. And then there’s that budget.

And while architects and designers can create beautiful drawings and mood boards and interior plans for their clients, it takes a lot of hard work and skill to implement those creative ideas. So this post is dedicated to all of those talented people behind the scenes, from vendors, contractors, paperhangers, seamstresses, and other artisans, and of course project managers, whose names often get forgotten (if ever mentioned) because they are the people that make any beautifully imagined home come to life!

progress 4

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Beautiful homes are published every month yet some of them remain in our minds forever. Not just because of their beauty but because they make us feel a certain way. This home is like that. Everywhere you look, there’s an inviting nook and happy colors that make you feel comfortably at home, there are pretty views and a strong connection to the outdoors. Nothing feels too precious, despite the home’s impressive value.

My fascination with the Mill Valley home of Blythe Harris is nothing new. Between the 2016 Elle Decor spread that started it all and Gil Schafer’s latest book A Place to Call Home, which gives us a detailed tour, I’ve analyzed this home and dissected its charming rooms on many occasions, a handful of them here on the blog.

And as we’re kicking off a new year of design stories, I thought the best way to begin is to write about something I absolutely love (and judging by your reactions on social media, I know that many of you love it too!). I gathered everything I could possibly find about the house and its surrounding gardens, and compiled the pictures into one gigantic post.

Front Door

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* Oprah’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards 

In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.”

Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remembered his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”: “Amen, amen. Amen, amen.”

Oprah 2

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