Fine Print: Erin Gates’ Elements of Style Book

Erin Gates sent me an advance copy of her new, very first design book, Elements of Style: Designing A Home & A Life. I’ve been browsing through it for the last couple of weeks, thoroughly enjoying the photos of the rooms she decorated for herself and clients, studying her style charts, and catching up on her life. The tone is easy, breezy, much like her blog, with plenty of personal tidbits interwoven through her design adventures and accomplishments.

Erin’s come a long way since I first met her, on assignment for Boston Globe Magazine in early 2009 after she sent me scouting shots of  the place she and Andrew rented in J.P. It landed her on the cover, and it’s still one of my favorite stories, not just because Erin and her house looked amazing (thanks Eric Roth for the excellent photos), but because Erin was full of enthusiasm and money saving tips.

Her blog and business have exploded and her design skills honed, while her excellent attitude and work ethic prevail. Congratulations Erin Gates!


Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life by Erin Gates
Available October 7, 2014 (Simon & Schuster) $22.14

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Photo by Michael Partenio

Erin’s used this buffet over and again. She bought it for $75 at an estate sale and painted the inside turquoise (you can see that iteration in Erin’s place in Jamaica Plain, which I wrote about for Boston Globe Magazine, March 2009.) She went orange for the South End. Now it’s lined with malachite wallpaper.

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Photo by Michael J. Lee

This is my favorite room. I’ve long been a sucker for a library dining room with Saarinen table and a fireplace. The sheepskin rugs nestle perfectly into those acrylic chairs from IKEA. The client stuffed the fireplace with little logs, which add some rustic texture; plus the circles are an excellent contrast to the stripes on the rug.

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Photo by Michael Partenio

A sunroom with violet ikat cushions on barley twist chairs and Buddha on custom made brass base.

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Photo by Michael J. Lee

Love this cerulean blue wall behind the banquette upholstered in the ever popular Chiang Mai print by Schumacher. Those Cherner chairs work well with the fabric’s twisting design and earthy colors.

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Erin provides some charts with formulas for achieving different styles.

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Erin’s favorite paint colors. You’ll have to buy the book to get the exact names. Ok, I’ll give you one: Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue.

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Photo by Michael Partenio

I love how despite the graphic black & white rug and bedding, Erin’s guest room is totally feminine. Pale pink walls (Benjamin Moore Blanched Coral), a starburst mirror, and mirrored side tables will do that. Swiss dots + a boho throw + Nordic rug + Hollywood Regency glam. And somehow it all works.

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Photo by Michael J. Lee

This bedroom is interesting too, with its tufted headboard, chocolate brown linens, Asian-themed toile wallpaper and fretwork bookshelves, plus a leopard print bench.

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Photo by Sean Litchfield

Nursery with a black accent wall went viral on Pinterest.

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Photo by Michael J. Lee

Oh, this Madeline Weinrib rug again, this time in brown. It seems to work everywhere! (Tip: IKEA makes a black & white version.) I generally don’t like tan stone (only contractors do!) but Erin makes it work in this space where they’re stuck with it.

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 Photo by Sarah Winchester

Erin’s parents Connecticut home. I wrote all about her mom’s garden for Boston Globe Magazine, April 2013.

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Photo by Michael J. Lee

Erin and Andrew Gates with the doggies.


Design Diary: Liz Caan’s Dining Room

Last year I was lucky enough to write about a San Francisco home decorated by Palmer Weiss for the TRADHome “New Traditionalists” digital edition. This year the call was for kitchens and dining rooms for Traditional Home’s “Great Kitchens” digital mag. I submitted  the dining room of Newton, MA-based designer Liz Caan, and she won. The issue went live last month; I apologize for the delay. As you’ll see, it was worth the wait. Here are the images, photographed by the ever amazing Eric Roth, but be sure to click through to the digital mag too, for the full story, “An Appetite for Color;” starting on page 58. The  menu and invitation is by IOMOI. I’ll add credits for the gorgeous furnishings and tabletop pieces later today. My son is graduating from elementary school in an hour! Enjoy the photos. Update: Credits and links for Liz’s fabulous wares are now in place.

Liz Caan dining 2

Benjamin Moore “Temptation” paint  –  “Three Ball” lamp by Joe Cariati in Lavender Berry at Swank LightingMadeline Weinrib Greek key rug – Baker Furniture dining table – Hickory Chair “Chelsea” side chairs by Thomas O’Brien – Oly Studio “Sohpie” zebra chair   –  Dwell Studio yellow pillowRobert Allen yellow silk buffalo check drapery fabric – Arteriors Home “Zanadoo”  chandelier at Zinc Door

Liz Caan dining 4

Vintage cobalt blue goblets  –  Marc Blackwell wine goblets with gold trim  from Barney’s New York  –  Janus et Cie votive holder  –  Studio A “Bloom” candle holders

Liz Caan dining 5

Haviland “Laque de Chine “ amethyst charger  – Kate Spade “June Lane”  salad plate  –  Matouk “Mirasol” placemats  –  Sferra hemstitch napkins  –  Succulent pots from Winston Flowers  –  Gold daffodi planter  from Anthropologie

Liz Caan dining 6

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Liz Caan dining 3

Worlds Away “Wearstler” chest  – Juliska compotes  –  RabLabs “Espera” gold nut bowl  – Lunares tray

Liz Caan dining 8

 Worlds Away lacquer faux bamboo bar cart  –  “Three Ball” lamp by Joe Cariati in Lavender Berry at Swank Lighting – West Elm yellow lacquer box – Martini shaker from Target –  Blue & White Conatonware from Neiman Marcus – L’objet candle holders

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Liz Caan dining 1

Global views silver hurricane lamps  –  Juliska “Harlette” covered urn  –  Carver’s Guild “Tuxedo” mirror


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Deck out your dining room. Shop Zinc Door.

Zinc Door Modern Gray Sofas

Design Diary: Ladder District Loft by Duncan Hughes

I thought I knew most of the designers in Boston, until I encountered Duncan Hughes. Talented, inventive, and sensitive to clients’ lifestyles and tastes, I met Hughes when I was assigned to write a story about a young couple’s downtown Boston loft, “Unpolished Perfection,” for Boston Home’s Spring 2012 issue. Hughes’ work, as you can see here, is fresh and functional, with a sense of humor, a bit of drama, and more than a touch of the practical. (Unrelated tidbit: Hughes recently re-designed a home for Katherine Heigl in L.A.)

Photography by Eric Roth

A wall of faux boxwood greets visitors when they step off the elevator. It’s a surprise of the after being on the busy city street. The ceiling is painted black to suggest a night sky. The sliding barn-style doors are mahogany doors salvaged from a school in Milton, Mass., painted electric blue. The contractor wasn’t thrilled about painting the beautiful old wood, but Hughes convinced him. Hardware:; wallpaper: Cole & Sons; stools: Wisteria; coat stand: Abodeon, Cambridge.

The elevator doors are done in chalkboard paint; great for last minute grocery reminders. Hughes helped the couple organize the huge living room space. The homeowner told me, “I never lived anymore where we could fit more than one couch, and it was obvious where it would go. Here, not only is there 20 places to put a couch, you could have more than one!”

Roman shades: Kelly Wearstler ‘Trellis’ for Schumacher; artwork: Yes.Oui.Si, Boston; credenza: Abodeon; gray sofa: Room & Board; brown sofa: The Bright Group, upholstered in leather with mohair seat cushion.

Hughes custom designed the cocktail table, fabricated in Lucite by Altec Plastics in Boston. (Yes, the rug is different in this photo, which I took when I visited for the walk-through and interview.)

Next to the living room is another seating area, inspired by Hughes’ recent African safari. He says, “I was fresh off a safari in Botswana, where we’d gather around a fire with director chairs and a full bar. I wanted that effect here. I didn’t want any matching chairs; I wanted it to feel like people just grabbed what was there and pulled them up to talk.”

The trick to a mix and match chair ensemble? “Getting seat heights about the same height, so nobody feels out of place, and making sure everyone’s feet are on the carpet, even just one foot, so they feel like they’re in the group. “Coffee table and chair on left: vintage 1950s  from Reside, Boston; Womb chair from Addo Novo, Boston; wood chair by Blu Dot; artwork: Yes.Oui.Si, Boston.

The fireplace is gas from Sparks, with no hearth, for maximum simplicity. Hughes says, ” The theme is rustic meets modern with a little industrial sprinkled on top.” The surround is done in salvaged barn wood from Maine. Hughes started out wanting to line it with old railroad ties, for a log cabin feel, but ran into issues with toxicity. He chose each piece of wood very carefully, some with knots, some with old paint, and planned out exactly which sections of each board he would use. Later, the contractor picked them up and promptly sawed them right in half so they’d fit, nearly causing Hughes a heart attack. “I thought he was kidding, but we made it work.”

The sconces on the surround are vintage chrome pieces.

Hughes designed a faux window above the bar. It’s lit with fluorescent strips enhanced with gels purchased at a local performing arts hardware store, to get just the right quality of light that it resembles a window. The vintage chandelier has a bit of a deco feel. The long trestle table was handmade in California by the guy who originally had designed a similar table for Restoration Hardware.

Hughes built in a bar on the back of the entry wall, borrowing space from an oversize coat closet. The couple likes to entertain, so the bar was high on their priority list.

The kitchen was already intact when Hughes was hired, but he did spruce up the old fire doors, and added shelves behind them, creating a shallow space perfect for spice jar storage.

To separate the public and private spaces, Hugh designed the black room divider, fabricated from etched polycarbonate. The cloudy finish allows light through, but obscures the mess of toys and such behind it. The shiny tin panel on the right is a pocket door. The piano sits on an oversize sheepskin rug (six pelts sewn together) from Bowron Sheepskin in New Zealand.

Hughes designed an ingenious reading nook at the foot of the stairs, modeled on the outdoor lawn chairs of his youth. The adjustable back is woven with seat belt fabric. The cushion lifts up for storage. The bookcase is extra deep, and accessible from both sides.

Homeowners Darren and Colette Powell.

Designer Duncan Hughes.

For more about the space, design process, Hughes, and the homeowners, read the full story, “Unpolished Perfection” in Boston Home.

Design Diary: Eric Roth’s Barn

Last summer I stopped by photographer Eric Roth‘s barn/studio on the North Shore for the profile “A Room Of His Own” in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

roth extPhoto: Eric Roth

It’s a real barn, 200-years-old, with a loft (where Russ and Mary, his assistants, work), and lots of junk (his word, not mine!) amidst the high tech equipment. Eric says, “Having a barn is a license to collect too much junk, and I have an endless stream of junk I can’t get rid of.” But there are also great vintage signs, furniture salvaged from churches, and all sorts of fun collections. Let’s take a peek.

flagThat’s Eric in the corner. “The barn has been my best friend for years. It’s always been my escape, even though it’s also my work.”

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booksPhoto: Eric Roth

An antique dentist’s cabinet.

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Eric’s childhood sled. He grew up nearby, in Newton.

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camerasCameras acquired on ebay. Most don’t work. Eric says, “It looks like a press conference.”


robotsPhoto: Eric Roth

Tin robot collection acquired on ebay.


clocksPhoto: Eric Roth

This cabinet was salvaged from a Catholic church. I love the Gothic arch.

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essoPhoto: Eric Roth

Eric uses this Esso gas pump, found at an antiques fair in Topsfield, as a night light.

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signsPhoto: Eric Roth

The vintage signs came from his grandfather’s diner, the F&T in Kendall Square. Also, notice the blue stain glass window he added. It was salvaged from a church and purchased in Montpelier, Vermont.

Design Diary: Andrew Spindler’s Magic Garden

birdseye-and-ext1Back in the fall I visited Andrew Spindler at his Cape Ann house. It is absolutely spectacular, inside and out. The assignment was for the the “Outdoor Living” issue of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and the piece, “Magic Garden” ran yesterday. Spindler is an antiques dealer with a shop in Essex, Mass (you can also find him on 1st Dibs). The Globe story focused on the terrace and incredible garden, but the inside of the house is amazing too. (Above photos: Eric Roth)



Can you believe that when they bought the place, which was built in 1937, it was wholly unimpressive, and a bit of a wreck? Spindler and his partner added the stone terrace at the back of the house, the second floor balcony, and the widow’s walk. There’s Spindler walking out one of the sets of French doors, which they also added. Originally there were just some dinky windows and an aluminum door that opened to a few concrete steps into a yard. They built up the land about seven feet to create the granite terrace. Spindler describes the building as one done with “old-fashioned brute strength.” I can imagine lounging there all afternoon.


The teak furniture is by Henry Hall. The stone table is a found slab of stone. The sculpture; how I adore the sculpture. It was conceived in 1947 by Walker Hancock, who created Prometheus at Rockefeller Center. Spindler and his partner found the plaster cast Hancock had modeled, and then had it cast in bronze in upstate New York. It’s the only bronze cast of this work. They own the original model for this work as well; it sits on the mantle in the living room.

globe-spindler-view-to-ocean-2-copyPhoto: Eric Roth

The original owners were avid gardeners, but by the time Spindler and his partner took up residence the grounds were pretty much in disarray. Now, the grounds and gardens are unique, with all sorts of rocky paths, water views, places to sit and lots of charming natural features.


Top left: Stone orb from an architectural salvage shop at the top of the stone steps that lead from the terrace to the garden (Photo: Eric Roth). Top right: Pyramid-shaped Euonymous bush is a very classical element in this otherwise wild wonderland. Middle left: A wall of granite with a bench fashioned from found slabs of stone. Middle right: Petra, an outbuilding that Spindler likens to a “little Hobbit house,” that was part of the original property, sold off, then reunited by a recent purchase. There’s an outdoor fire pit, perfect for “Survivor”-esque gatherings. Bottom left: A dramatic gnarled (and dead) Japanese white pint tree that has grown around the boulders, conforming to its shape. Bottom right: A fragrant juniper tunnel makes a lovely secret passageway.

japaneseThe garden tour ends with a Japanese garden that includes a bridge between two man-made ponds. Plantings include Japanese maples, Japanese umbrella pine, dwarf juniper, a pear tree, a crabapple and white azaleas and peonies that bloom in springtime.The owl, mounted outside the kitchen door, has eyes that light up.

globe-spindler-kitchenPhoto: Eric Roth

The kitchen opens onto the Japanese garden. It’s painted a deep aubergine. Spindler says this about the effect: “The dark color puts outside in high relief. It’s almost as though you are in a darkened theater looking out.” The light fixtures are outdoor lanterns from a property in Palm Beach.

kitchen-cabinets The stained glass panels of the kitchen cabinetry were found at an architectural salvage shop.

drThe dining room paneling is recycled chestnut church pew backs ; the floors are salvaged wide plank chestnut. The Prarie glass windows have a strong affinity with Japanese design and Frank Lloyd Wright, as do the Arts & Crafts style furniture. The tapestry is a petit point landscape made in 1972.


Photo: Eric Roth

Isn’t the chaise longue in the living room divine? It’s an Anglo-Indian teak and inlaid ivory piece. Spindler says, “The house is about experiencing the nature the light, water, air.” This is indeed the perfect spot for such.

You can see the garden room in the background. They painted the furniture the same color as they painted the outdoor trim, a sort of sea foam green.

The tiles on the floor were made by the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works in Doylestown, PA. There are similar specimens in the European galleries at the MFA and at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The frieze (c.1910) is by Jonas Lie, an artist with a strong Gloucester connection. It was originally made for a Viking-themed room in a lodge in the Adirondacks, which was apparently all the rage in the 19th century. Below is a photograph of this very frieze, in its original Adirondack installation.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!