A Pretty Kitchen

It’s no secret that I love my shelter mags – the arrival of House Beautiful is right up there with getting a check in the mail.  Home magazines always give me tons of inspiration and eye candy.  I just can’t help it – I want to see inside everyone’s house.  So when a local real estate mini magazine showed up in my mailbox, I took the bait and flipped through it.  Inside were glossy pages of homes I can’t afford, and as I was about to chuck it in the recycling bin, I noticed that some of these pages weren’t real estate listings but rather articles on design.  And one of them featured a kitchen so cute that I ripped out the pages immediately and filed them away in my “perhaps someday” binder.

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I love everything about this space, from the cozy banquette with its mix of patterns to the stainless steel island to the shelf circling the space.  It’s such a nice mix of styles – a little industrial, a little folk-art, a little restrained and still a little daring.

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That yellow inside of the cabinet is dynamite.  Love the small scale subway tile.

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It’s a small space but it works so well.  What I really like are the use of drawers and the shallow upper cabinetry for plates & glasses.  So smart.  And yellow – never a color I gravitate towards but it’s done so nicely here!  I love it when good design can change your mind on something.

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Part of the reason I really wanted my studio space was that it came with a network of inspiring women with whom I really wanted to be connected.  I felt that if I could physically put myself where all the action is, then my network would expand and my business would grow and, most importantly, I could learn from those all around me.  And that’s exactly what’s happening.  Last night, I attended a Design Salon event at Merida Rugs at the Boston Design Center.  Design Salon is a group co-founded by the woman I rent my space from, Jill Rosenwald, and it is a monthly meet-up for women in the creative field.  There is usually a speaker, someone who can tell you about their own business, how they got to where they are, how they plan to grow and what they’ve learned so far.  Last night’s even was hosted by Catherine Connolly of Merida.

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Catherine didn’t start Merida, but she did buy and it turn it into the successful business it is today.  I’m fascinated with this company and I’m so glad I got the chance to meet her and hear about her experiences.

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Merida began as an importer of sisal rugs from Belgium, back when you couldn’t buy sisal at Pottery Barn or Overstock.com.  The rugs were handmade and non-toxic, not to mention beautiful – and they were the only company making them.  Chances are if you happened to have a sisal rug in your home before 2004, it was made by Merida.  They had 100% of the market share.  But when China began their huge manufacturing industry, they jumped into the sisal rug game and created enormous amounts of sisal rug products – cheaply made, held together with incredibly toxic materials, and priced to sell.  These are the rugs you can now buy at any direct-to-consumer home retailer.  And with the look of sisal exploding on the design market, the Chinese sisal business grew exponentially.  Merida had to rethink their business – and fast.

Catherine entered and decided that Merida would have a story to tell – and sell – and they would do it by working not directly with consumers, but with designers.  They re-organized the way they sell their product, and even changed their product.  They still import their sisal from Belgium and continue to create sisal rugs, but they also purchased looms and began weaving wool rugs – and they do it right here in Massachusetts.

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Fall River, MA, is a town that once had a booming textile industry, which supplied the region with jobs and created a very finely skilled labor force.  Unfortunately, with the increase of manufacturing being sent overseas, Fall River is a town that’s fallen on pretty hard times.  Catherine is doing her part to change that.  Part of her mission for Merida is to bring pride, dignity and honor back to the art of manufacturing – of making things.

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If you’re wondering, yes – Merida’s prices are higher than their competition.  It’s the price they pay for producing a superior product, and for producing it on their terms – crafted with skill and with pride, made from natural materials and entirely non-toxic and safe, and built to last.  But that’s exactly why they work with designers:  the designers tell their story.  And Merida is a story that deserves to be heard.

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I was incredibly inspired by Catherine, by her team and by Merida.  Cheers to them for reviving a dying industry here in Massachusetts and setting about changing how we think about the products in our home.  You can bet that I won’t be buying a cheap sisal rug anytime soon – I’ll hold out for the real thing and support this local business.

All images from Merida

Ireland: Part Two

Our trip to Ireland was booked on such a whim that it didn’t even seem real – that is, until we were driving down an Irish highway in a manual hatchback on the left side of the road. That was very real. I can’t remember what it was that made us all say “Sure, let’s travel together. Internationally. For the first time.” But the trip was promptly booked and we went about our lives until we all met at the airport on a Friday night, bags packed, ready to go. However it happened, I’m glad it did. It led us to Killarney and the Dingle peninsula.

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Killarney sits on the Ring of Kerry in Southwestern Ireland, and butting right up to the town is Killarney National Park. This is where we explored Muckross Abbey and the Torc Waterfall.

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I went absolutely bananas over the moss forest inside the park – and lest you think this is Photoshop trickery, here is a very un-staged and careless picture of us walking through the forest:moss_forest_killarney_ireland_3

It REALLY is that green.  Torc_waterfall_Killarney_ireland_1
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Killarney itself is a gorgeous town, and we were lucky the weather held out for us as we explored the shops and restaurants for a few days.

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While my mother was digging into her ancestry before the trip, she happened to come across the actual name of the Townland where her great-great-great grandmother was born. She came to the US when she was just 8 years old. The Townland, as it turns out, is 10 minutes north of beautiful Killarney, so we stopped by for a visit.

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Then we drove out to Dingle for an afternoon horseback ride.

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Our plans to, ahem, “gallop on the beach” were halted immediately when it became clear that none of us were properly equipped to handle a walking horse, nevermind a galloping one. Well I shouldn’t say that – Susan at Dingle Horse Riding was kind enough to compliment my riding skills and allowed me to ride on a different trail than the group. It was there, on top of the mountain overlooking the entire Dingle peninsula, where I galloped for the very first time. It was, by far, one of the most beautiful and thrilling moments of my entire life. I wish I had pictures, but even if I did they wouldn’t compare to the ones in my memory. Anyway, my mom said I looked really cool.

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Next time I go back, rest assured I’ll be riding horses on Dingle Beach.

Up next: Galway, Cliffs of Moher and Dublin

Ireland: Part One

I’ve long talked about visiting Ireland, since out of all the nationalities that make up the background of my family, the Irish is the strongest one.  While I don’t have any current family that lives there (that I know of), it is still the place where, for much of my family, life originated.  So it made sense that I was traveling with family – my mother, my brother and his girlfriend, and John.  I actually didn’t know much about Ireland, its history or geography, its language or customs.  I’m a bit more informed now, but I’m also incredibly captivated.  It is hands down one of the most beautiful, and haunting, places I have ever been.

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We spent the first night in Kilkenny, south of Dublin.  It was a sweet city, and the weather was perfect.

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We drove to Cork the following day, and spotted this little seal enjoying the sunshine along the way:seal_ireland

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City of Cork

On our way out of Cork, we stopped in Blarney.

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I actually can’t believe this castle isn’t older than it is – this current building was built around 1460, but to me looks like it came straight out of the Dark Ages.  Still…it’s old as shit.  It’s also gorgeous and creepy and with the right window treatments and a proper mattress, I’d move right in.Blarney_castle_staircase_ireland
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View from the top of the Blarney Castle, looking towards the Blarney Manor

Of course, at the top of the castle sits the infamous Blarney Stone.  While the rest of us just kept on walking, my own mother actually let someone hang her upside down so she could pucker up to it – I was mildly shocked, but like she said, YOLO.

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We spent some time walking around the gorgeous grounds

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And contemplated using items from the Poison Garden on each other

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Next, we hit the road to Killarney, which was collectively our favorite part of the trip – more to come!