Home Improvements

I’ve spent way too much time at home in recent months, often having little else to focus on than this rather small interior environment. In this case, small changes can make a big difference. I mounted the picture ledges shown above just today, part of my ongoing campaign to decorate using my own photographs, chosen sometimes for their artistic qualities, sometimes for their memories (ideally, for both). The figurines on the right ledge were bought at the Crafts Museum in Delhi.

I used a wider picture ledge as a “landing strip” in the entry – a place to empty pockets when arriving home, as well as to display some small decorations.

This was an idea from Ikea Hacker. My walk-in closet has some odd nooks and crannies, probably because it’s built around building support columns or such. I inherited an assortment of shoe storage from Ross which I didn’t need for shoes so much (I don’t share her shoe fetish). I repurposed a pocketed hanging shoe storage thingy for handkerchiefs and bras, but didn’t really like guests having to see that on their way to the bathroom (since I rarely remember to close the closet door). The configuration of jutting corner and built-in closet shelving gave me a chance to re-use a curtain rod from my place in Colorado, combined with S-hooks from Ikea, to make a handy, concealing, easily-moved “curtain” of my scarves.

Home Decor: Small Touches

^ Another find from my latest Bombay trip: someobody had the bright idea to apply traditional Kashmiri papier-maché painting to far more durable (and also traditional) stainless steel housewares. The results include charming, colorful,  bathroom-safe items like these.

^ Per Jonas’ suggestion, I hung part of the Tibetan prayer flags in the bathroom, which was otherwise very stark. Then I bought some very colorful towels from Ikea to match.

^ This is the anteroom leading into my bathroom and walk-in closet, very handy because I can dress in here (there’s another door behind the camera’s POV) without having to close the curtains in the bedroom. Hence the mirror.

The maroon things hanging above the doors are torans which I used as window treatments in Colorado. There wasn’t any other place to put them here. You can see my jewelry “organization” scheme hanging on the door ahead. The scarves to the right are there for decoration, though I suppose I could also wear them. Behind that door is an alcove stacked with suitcases. There’s a Wendy Pini calendar in this picture as well.

As usual, most of these items carry memories. The prayer flags were a birthday gift from Woodstock classmate Teeran, who also had a cake baked for my birthday party in Mussoorie in November, 2007.

Decorating in Italy – Asian Style: Adding Some Eastern Touches to Our Lake Como Home

When we moved to Lecco, we consolidated the contents of our household from Milan with Enrico’s parents’ stuff from their apartment in Rome (they were by then retired to a much smaller place on the seaside in Abruzzo).

In this way we acquired some beautiful furniture, fixtures, knick-knacks, and paintings – all lovely stuff, but… it wasn’t mine, and didn’t reflect anything about my life, nor even our life together.

I did have a few items to contribute, such as these paintings – the one on the left my mother commissioned for Rossella from Iowa artist Killy Beard, the one on the right Mom had done for me by a Thai artist many years before that.

Our ground-floor half bath also displays some of my Asian history (along with our collection of humor books, for those who like to read while enthroned).

There’s a Balinese mirror frame (from my stepmother, Ruth) and two Javanese shadow puppets (Samar, the dwarf protector of the city of Semarang, and Arjuna). Reflected in the mirror is a Kathakali dance mask I bought in India in 1980.

^ During my recent trip to India, at Dilli Haat I bought some leather shadow puppets, if I remember correctly they come from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The figures are (left to right) probably Sita, definitely Ganesh (who else?) and probably Lakshman.

But my favorite is this guy:

Ravana: there were several versions of him, but I couldn’t resist the shit-eatin’ grin on this one.

Finally, as you can see in the photo at the top of the page, I have hung outside a long string of Tibetan prayer flags that my classmate Teeran gave me for my birthday this year. I probably failed to observe the auspicious time and style for hanging them, but at least we are in the mountains!

post script: I later returned to Italy after a trip to the US (or maybe after I’d moved back to the US) to find  that Enrico had taken down the prayer flags. “The neighbors asked about them,” he said, “wondering if we were having a party.” Sigh.

Finishing Touches

When we moved into our apartment in Milan in 1991, we were young and just getting started in life – which is code for "didn’t have much money". Our furniture all came from Ikea, with supplementary storage: the old trunks we had shipped our stuff in from the US.

Rossella in the shelf

Our light fixtures for years were the same bare bulbs on wires that had been present when we bought the place. Once you’re accustomed to the fierce, unobstructed glare of a 150-watt bulb, it’s hard to get used to lower levels of light.

But, over time, we gradually upgraded some of our cheap furniture to get more storage space, Enrico got a new piano, and real light fixtures slowly began to appear. Each choice of a new one was agonizing. When we replaced the final bare bulb with a real ceiling lamp, sometime around 2001, we joked: "Now the house is all finished – we’ll have to move!"

And, not too long after that, we did move. The thirteen years we had spent in that apartment in Milan was the longest I’d ever lived in any dwelling in my life (which might be the case for Enrico as well – his family, unusually for Italians, moved quite a bit when he was young). We were no longer accustomed to change. Perhaps that’s why we were in a hurry to feel settled in our new apartment in Lecco, and had it completely furnished, including ceiling fixtures, in record time. Of course we then had to move again.

We’ve now been in our house for three years, and, once again, it was unpacked and looking very finished, very quickly. But it’s a big place; there’s always room for improvement.

Some time during the second year we finally replaced the last temporary light fixture, in the entryway. There had been no reason to rush: it had a big white-glass globe bulb, and almost looked intentional. Except that Enrico tended to point it out to any visitors complimenting us on our lovely home: "Yes, but we still have to find a light fixture for that…"

So finally one day he came home with this:

light fixture, Leuci, Lecco

It’s even local, made by a company in Lecco called Leuci. High coolness factor: you can position the tentacles any way you want.

The hanging is Indian; I won it at auction at the Woodstock reunion last summer. We still needed a coat rack for that corner – always useful by an entry – and Enrico found this adorable wrought-iron one in a small town in the mountains during one of his hiking excursions. (No, Italians don’t usually wear baseball caps – I use them to keep the sweat out of my eyes when gardening.)

More recently, we hung a beautiful tapestry (handcrafted by a women’s cooperative in Gujarat) that my classmate Sara brought us – stunning piece, see the detail at the top of this page. I moved next to it a watercolor of the Mussoorie hills done years ago by my Woodstock art teacher, Kathleen Forance, which had previously been overlooked and neglected in a hall corner.

…and I can think of lots more things to do to the house (not to mention the garden). My stay with Gianluca and Brian in San Francisco was inspiring: Brian’s trained as an interior designer, and it shows in their beautiful place. I’ll have to steal a few ideas from him. And I plan on some serious shopping during my upcoming India trip.

But we’ll never call this house "finished" – if we did, we would have to move again.