broken and beautiful

better with age pinterest

The holidays make me pensive – do they do the same for you?

If you know me or have read some of my posts, you probably know that my grandmother had a huge influence on me.  Even though she passed away many years ago, I think of her daily and she continues to inspire me.  I loved her philosophy on life – she lived life to its absolute fullest all the way to the very end, despite being a bit broken due to some key losses: the love of her life, the majority of her vision, but never her passion for living.  I remember looking at her in awe of her incredible beauty both inside and out – well into her 90s she had gorgeous skin that seemed to be backlit, but that may also have been due to her beaming smile and great laugh.

b&w hand kiss pinterest

I have a fascination with the elderly and their wise ways.  I have related to people much older than I am since I was a young child – I suppose I am an old soul.  I cherish the little tidbits of wisdom that have been passed on to me over the years – wise ones with a lifetime’s worth of experience who could quickly and effortlessly spew out one-liners that would have taken me years to learn on my own.  Now don’t get me wrong…  I didn’t always take this sage advice, but the time spent was always wonderful, and of course looking back now I often wish I had.  Yet at the same time, I realize that if I hadn’t made the mistakes I’ve made over the years, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ve been thinking too about how, really, we are all a bit broken, aren’t we?  We all have our issues, our quirks, and characteristics that make us unique.  We have all had failures with successes, down times with good, cried both tears of joy and sorrow.  But being broken – it really can be quite beautiful, I think.  Because it’s what you make of those fault lines, it’s how you recover, it’s how you see yourself when the dust settles.

Naturally, I have to relate this back to my career and to art – my passions.  The very wise Japanese have a practice called Kintsugi, which dates back to the late 15th century.  This is the art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer resin that is mixed with gold, silver or platinum.  The repair of the broken object thus becomes a highlight, and actually makes it more beautiful than it was before, as opposed to something that needed to be disguised.  I think this is such a beautiful message and certainly one we don’t hear enough – that perfection, something that seems to be asked of us on a daily basis, is not what’s necessary and actually just the OPPOSITE is what’s lovely.  Seeing someone for their true brokenness, which they proudly highlight in gold, silver, and platinum… what could be more beautiful than that?

I hope that you will take a moment to embrace your own faultlines and those of the people around you who matter most.  Share some of your wisdom with others and listen carefully to the experiences shared by loved ones this Thanksgiving.  You may just see that there are many beautiful lines of gold, silver and platinum.



Life(styles) of the (not so) Rich & Famous

soho beach house vangviet com

I often wonder what it would be like to be uber rich and have multiple homes.  So, say, a house at the beach, a house in the mountains, a city loft, and a country getaway so that I could fulfill each of my design dreams.  It’s not so much fulfilling the rich part.  It’s just that I can’t seem to jam all of my design styles comfortably into one house any more.  Sigh.  Would you like to join in my daydream?

Let’s start with the house at the beach (and I am quickly learning that this is going to be a multi-part series).  I want to start here because today the temperature dropped significantly and it was the first day of the season that I actually pulled out my Marmot coat, the one that essentially doubles as a giant sleeping bag.  Yes, I am officially a Southern fried wimp now when it comes to weather.  And not ashamed to admit it, really…  So I’ll start with the beach house because in my mind this morning as I was walking Waylon & Dottie, I was envisioning myself on a beach, soaking up lots of vitamin D, warm and bronzed and clapping for my pool boy, Pedro, who brings me pina coladas – wait wait wait, sorry TMI… Okay, let’s get down to the task at hand here.

I grew up spending summers on the water in one way or another, whether it was skipping rocks across Lake Erie or playing endlessly in the sand in Hilton Head, SC.  While the two areas are geographically very different, I can envision a beach house with many of the same necessities:

First, it wouldn’t need to be that big, it would just need to be the kind of place where you can sit down in a wet bathing suit, set a drink on the table without worrying, track sand throughout the house and clean it up easily, and throw a meal for the whole crew on the grill out back.  You know the place I envision, right?  Okay, so maybe a feeeewww more bells and whistles than the average beach shack…

Let me also say, and I know that I’ve said this before, that there is nothing – NOTHING – I detest more than an overdone theme, especially a poorly done one at that.  Often a coastal design gone wrong is the image du jour when you’re trolling for beach rentals.  It’s as though the turquoise aisle at Michael’s had a vicious throwdown with the fake buoys from Marshall’s and neither one of them came out a winner.  Everyone loses in that fight, and it’s ugly.  Oof.  Let’s avoid that at all costs, shall we?

Here’s what I see on the exterior (oh the options are endless, but here are some of my favorites):


Once inside, of course I would want my beach house to evoke images of the sea, but in more subtle, cool ways, maybe like this:


There would HAVE to be a fabulous kitchen – to me, the heart of the home and where people inevitably end up hanging out.  How about these:

Let’s mingle over to the living room, shall we?  I need to put my feet up after cooking you that delightful meal (actually, it tasted more difficult to make than it really was, but I won’t tell you my secret)…


And let’s not forget our outdoor space.  You all know the beauty of the ocean/pool/lake/etc. – I don’t need to show you those images.  But what about after a long day in the sun, or if you’ve just taken a dip and need a quick rinse before heading back inside?  I’d say an outdoor shower is a must, wouldn’t you?


The perfect little powder room for guests can add a lot of character.  Here are some I like:


And at the end of the day, it’s time to retire to a fabulous bedroom with coastal style – perhaps one of these will do?

And of course while you are at your dream beach cottage, you need to make sure that you have the perfect staples – a sturdy bag that functions not only as a beach bag but also one you can take into town for a quick shopping trip (and there will be those).  Comfy shoes (but most of the time none), a wrap for when the evenings are cooler and breezy, great-smelling moisturizer, a few good books, and lots of healthy treats to keep that beach body fit.  You can splurge when you’re wearing big fat sweaters and jackets at your cabin retreat, but sister, now ain’t the time.  Have an apple.  That celery stalk looks delightful.

When is that trip to the cabin?  I’m starving.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my dreamy coastal house visions – what do yours look like???  Will you please share?




love this take on the original photo, courtesy of UMass.

love this take on the original photo, courtesy of UMass.

When I was born, my clever parents put out a sweet little birth announcement with a drawing of a house under construction with a line underneath that simply read: “We’ve added another Storey.”  Simple, brilliant, foreshadowing?  Perhaps all of the above, but either way, it was perfect.  And perfectly fitting for me.

does any kid still play with these? photo courtesy of google images

does any kid still play with these? photo courtesy of google images

Throughout my life, I have been building upon seemingly everything – life lessons, what I’ve learned in school, friendships, right down to my collection of recipes and developing a stack of one wooden block, then another, then another when I was just a wee child. It’s all been about building up my foundation of knowledge, my tools, resources, connections, and most importantly, my relationships.

still haunts me. courtesy  of union films

still haunts me. courtesy of union films

I think back to when I was in sixth grade.  For some reason, I always seem to go back to that year, that dreadful year.  I was this height – 5’8″ – the tallest in my class, and 12 years old.  I had a mullet, and it was permed (thanks, Mom).  As I recall, I really liked to rock this red Lacoste shirt that was also often seen on the family Labrador Retriever, Ginger, who was also my best friend and confidante.  It wasn’t my best year.  But for some reason, it was that year, the year that I felt the most left out – the tall, awkward girl with the mullet who was most likely to get hit with the dodge ball – THAT was the year that I started to pull it together for myself.  THAT was the first year that in my head, I knew I realized the importance of building relationships.

Scan 132820000

my sweet parents

I had forever been witness to this concept being around my parents.  They had (and still have, after 50 years of marriage) a wonderful relationship not only with each other, but also with their circle of friends, with whom they would get together constantly.  This has not changed a bit to this day, and I attribute their active social life to their health and vitality.  But when I was a kid, they always pulled me into the fold.  I was never excluded, and it was always fun to come downstairs on one of their infamous bridge games and see what stories were being told.  Laughter always filled the air.  Lots of relationship building was surely going on.  I am so thankful that they included me all those nights…  That they didn’t send me off to a sitter or ask me to stay in my room.  Rather, they wanted me to be a part of adult conversation and learn what it meant to be off my game a little and around people who I didn’t know what in what in the world I could possibly have anything in common with.  But I did, and it was always fun.  To this day, I love to talk to people with whom I have nothing in common, and I love making new, random friends. Do you?

courtesy of shutterstock

courtesy of shutterstock

But I digress. This blog all kind of came about because I have been working really hard with one of my clients to choose a contractor.  That process has been a long one, and it’s been very much about relationship-building and trust.  Certainly, the person you hire to do any sort of work, and in this case, to essentially completely remodel your entire house, had better be someone you trust.  The problem was, my clients were out-of-state, so I was here on-site to build the relationships and find the best fit for the job.

This is where sixth grade comes in.

Because you see, I spent weeks and weeks and weeks getting to know these contractors.  Building relationships with these people.  Learning their trade, their skills, their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick.  But most importantly, I developed emotional relationships with them too.  I mean hey – when there’s laughter involved, and in life, you have to laugh, that means emotion…  So then it came time to choose.  So then it was ME holding the dodge ball.  And I was sitting there saying “but, WAIT! I’m the awkward girl with the permed mullet, and you want ME to throw this thing?”  Yes, Marina.  You’re a big kid now.  It’s time to move into the business world.  Throw the darn ball.

And here’s where we cue Julio Iglesias’ “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” (sorry, it just seems fitting, just not the girl part. okay, maybe I just needed an excuse to throw in this song. ah, Julio.)

I ended up having a really funny conversation with my client during the decision-making process about how I don’t believe in burning bridges.  He laughed when I told him that I was still friends with my ex-husband and that even an old boyfriend (or two) was at our wedding, so that it was inconceivable to me to think that we couldn’t get through this process without everyone landing on their feet with a smile.  I know there are a lot of people in the world who believe in the “you’re dead to me” philosophy – once a relationship is over, you sever the tie and never speak again, but that’s not me.  I think we cross paths for a reason.  Call me crazy… So I took this contractor experience as a definite learning lesson, and without a doubt, my relationship bank is richer and fuller because of it.

So…  I am in a place of building.  Building my business, building my resources, always building my knowledge bank (it will never, ever be full), building some houses (or remodeling), and most definitely, lovingly, and happily, building all kinds of relationships. I wish you much joy and success in your own building process.



stepping stones

Life is like a series of stepping stones.

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Throughout one’s life, a path develops. Sometimes the journey along the path is a beautiful one, and the surroundings are picturesque and the leap from one stone to the next is manageable, almost effortless. You can hum along without even looking down at your feet. At other times, the path is lonely and dark. The stones may grow farther apart, and it may seem as though the leap from one to the next is darn near impossible. But it’s ultimately your journey, and your decision whether or not to keep going.

I have found this metaphor to be true on many levels in my life, and certainly in owning my own business. There have been times when my client base was non-existent and all I had was the support of a few friends and family members who continued to believe in me, even at times when my belief in myself started to wane. But somehow, the stepping stones, as far from one another as they seemed, all managed to connect. I just had to find my footing.

So here I am now – Serene is the little engine that could! I am busy, I am productive, I am happy, and I am proud as a woman entrepreneur. I have great clients who are an absolute pleasure to work with and for. And there is so much more on the horizon.

One area where I have struggled, however, is in presenting my progress. At times in my life, and maybe you can relate to this, I have felt as though I am perpetually in a state of “before” photos. Or “during” shots. Not a whole lot of “before” and corresponding “afters.” MY LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND I AM OKAY WITH THAT. Phew, okay. I feel better now. See? One more stepping stone. In all seriousness though – I have been in the middle of several big projects, all of which I am excited about, but none of which were anywhere near complete. Nothing but a bunch of befores. And what could be interesting about that? But I had to remind myself that life is about the process, the journey – the experience. When you get to the end, it’s over.

So, my point here is this (yes, I do have one). I have lots to show you! I am working on some really cool projects right now and I forget that works-in-progress can still be interesting to some (right?). :-) I want to be better about sharing my journey because that, to me, is way more important than posts about the latest trends in faucets. All. Day. Long. AlllTHOUGH – speaking of faucets… just kidding.

Whatever your journey, no matter how close or far apart your stepping stones, and no matter how many “before” photos you have without the corresponding “after” shots, you’ll always have a friend/audience/comrade in me.


*stepping stone images all courtesy of google

the deception of perception

pərˈsepSHən/, noun; the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses; a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.

At one time or another, we all judge or perceive certain things to be true.  It’s inevitable.  Much as we might try to avoid it, it’s difficult not to.  Sometimes we’re right on the money, sometimes we are painfully wrong – but each time we have formed an opinion.  It’s just the way we humans function.

did someone say sale?

did someone say sale?

I think of the times that I’ve gotten into a discussion or an argument with someone where they’ve said to me “well, that’s just your perception.”  Clearly there is a strong difference of opinion at hand and the “mental impressions” that each person has formed in his or her mind are differing for one reason or another.  I have learned that in this life, people can form very strong opinions about anything and everything – topics minute and seemingly inconsequential to some may be HUGELY significant and important to others.

Take, for example, the fabric selection for a new sofa.  This is something that I deal with on a pretty regular basis with some of my clients.  While to some folks it may be such a minor decision that they almost don’t even care to make it, to others it is a pain-staking process to choose the right fabric, one that takes hours, days, sometimes weeks to perfect.  Some might perceive that person as, well, a little nutso.

choose this sofa and i might kill myself.

choose this sofa and i might kill myself.

And in the past, I would have been all over that.  But I have come to understand that there are all types of reasons why people go through the decision making process the way that they do…  Some don’t care because they have jobs where they are forced to make major decisions all day long and they just want someone else to make the decision for them.  I get that.  As for the pain-staking choice makers, those people often haven’t had the opportunity to get it right in the past.  Maybe this is their first major furniture and/or financial purchase.  Maybe they’ve made a poor choice in the past and they want to be extra-involved this go-around to make sure everything is “just so.”  (I’ve had several folks who made poor fabric choices on previous custom sofa orders and never forgave themselves!  One chose velvet that she thought she was going to love, but found that it was like velcro for lint.  Now she knows never to choose it again, and she and her husband both are very involved and opinionated when it comes to textiles, which I love). Maybe they’re just really picky!  Who knows.  Either way, it’s not my job to judge, it’s simply my job to help facilitate the decision-making process.

man: honey, this is huge!  woman: that tiny little thing?

man: honey, this is huge!
woman: that tiny little thing?

Another instance where you might commonly experience perception is when you’re out shopping – so the perceived value of an item.  When it comes to home goods, often times we can perceive something to be valuable when in reality, it’s far from it.  Say for example, you’re shopping for a new upholstered chair.  Just because something has a LARGE price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best quality and vice versa.  Retailers all have markups that are determined based on several different factors, including the base cost from the manufacturer, other retailers either in the area or online selling similar goods, transportation costs, customer base, sales volume, etc.

So let’s say you see a chair you fall in love with and it’s retail price is $2999.  You also see another chair that you also love but it’s only $499.  Right away, you are inclined to think that the more expensive chair is better because it costs more.

who costs more? me?

who costs more? me?

am I more expensive?

am I more expensive?

However, as someone who has been to many furniture factories and seen first-hand the build process, I can attest to the fact that there are well-made lines at every price point.

who's making your chair? THIS guy.

who’s making your chair? THIS guy.

Do your research when it comes to furniture shopping, ask questions about construction, and don’t rush the purchase.  In my experience, there are things that are worth splurging on (a good, solid, nicely made piece of furniture that will last and can be recovered later if necessary), while others are best found while embracing your inner Maxxinista.  No need to completely break the bank or put yourself into heart failure when the credit card statements start to roll in.

One last note about perception, and the deception of perception.  Sometimes you can perceive a situation to be what’s best for you.  On the exterior, it may look lovely, it may seem like it’s perfect.  But if it doesn’t feel right, trust your intuition, listen to your gut, and run like the wind.  That certainly doesn’t always apply, and I don’t usually subscribe to this philosophy as a general practice (aka “meh, I give up).  Situations need to be looked at from every angle and decisions needn’t be rash.  But typically when you know, you KNOW.  So go with your gut, back it up with some homework, and make the best choice for you.

beat it!

beat it!


Much love, and so happy to be back.  Thank you for beckoning me!



props to E Bea Photography

props to E Bea Photography



the (not always so) sweet sound of silence


We live in an era of perpetual sound and noise.  It is all around us.  Difficult to escape.  Whether you live in the heart of a booming metropolis or out in the far reaches of the wilderness, sound is always making itself known.  However, there are times in one’s life when the absence of noise, the lack of words or sound of what’s common, usual, or expected – that can be monumental, deafening, and statement-making.

WordPress has a weekly writing challenge, and this week they’ve asked bloggers to ponder the concept of silence (read more here).  Seeing as though I am someone who occasionally likes to sit quietly, meditate, and be alone, I have an appreciation of silence.  However, I also have a deep fear of it, so I can see both sides.  I am so ready to take on this challenge as someone who struggles with this one time luxury, one time curse.

I can easily think of three examples where silence has been relevant and present.

keep calm be silent

1. An instance of silence as pure joy.  The other day is a great example.  I celebrated my 40th birthday, and my best friend said she had a day of surprises scheduled for me.  She picked me up that morning and allowed me to be simply a passenger – someone simply along for the ride as she guided me through what she knew to be my most perfect day of events.  She even played my favorite music in the car in the morning.  After a long day of what seemed to be almost too many good things – too many treats for one person, I sat back in the front seat of her car more relaxed and happy than I had felt in a very long time.  I didn’t realize how much I had needed that day.  A day of simple joys, of being a passenger.  And at the end of it all, of just silence.  We did not need to recap or laugh or talk about the rest of the upcoming week or have any other trite conversation (or more profound, as we are prone to do).  We are close enough to be comfortable in our silence, and I cherish that about our friendship.  It made the end of our day together so joyful.


my final choice, robert rauchenberg’s “bed.” courtesy of MoMA

2. An instance of silence as genius.  I went to college in NYC.  I was an art history major, and I had one professor who I really idolized, although she was a slave-driver and pushed her students incredibly hard.  She had us write a thesis and I was really struggling with it.  I had no focus.  I didn’t know which artist to write about, which work to settle on, I was a mess.  I wanted it to be perfect for her because I wanted – oh lawd, who the heck knows what I wanted – I was just being a big perfectionist spaz as usual.  So time was wasting and as I had been known to do, I let it go down to the wire.  But I knew what needed to be done, and I went to the Museum of Modern Art.  I sat there for hours and hours in silence.  No headphones, no conversation with a friend or stranger.  I tuned out the visitors around me, milling around, looking at the works of Cezanne, Avedon, Pollack.  And in my silence, it hit me.  My silence helped me to figure it all out, to select the artist, work and concept, and essentially write my paper in my head.  It was a “genius” moment.  Haven’t we all had moments like these?  Going from stoopified to feeling brilliant, fingers unable to move quickly enough, the thoughts are flowing so freely?  I owe that one to vigilant silence.

hospital beds RunPhoto

courtesy of RunPhoto

3. An instance of silence as pure relief.  Last fall, I ended up in the emergency room unexpectedly.  I was alone, exhausted, and all I wanted to do was get home and crawl into the warm, cozy safety of my own bed.  I was laying on a gurney with a thin white blanket over me, trying to rest, and when I opened my eyes, my boyfriend was there.  He had been away on business all week and I really wasn’t expecting to see his face, but when I did, an incredible feeling of relief washed over my entire body.  Kind of like when you are a kid and you fall and skin your knee and you don’t really start crying hard until you see the look on someone ELSE’s face recognizing that it was a bad tumble, and mom is there to make everything better.  That look: that all-knowing look that two people can share without words, simply in pure silence, but rather with the reassurance of a tender smile and warm hand – that is such powerful silence that cannot be replaced.  No ER nurse could provide that feeling in his absence,  and never before have I been so thankful for the gift of silence that night.

So these days, in this era high technology, of sitting across from people we know, rather than using spoken words we choose to silently move our fingers swiftly across screens and keyboards to communicate. For some, this is powerful.  This is courage where they never once had it.  And for others, it’s an artform lost.  But regardless, silence is powerful.  It is inspiring, it is scary, it can leave one wondering, questioning, and feeling.  But I find it amazing for all of these reasons.



I just took this picture yesterday alone, at sunset, in creative silence.  I hope you enjoy it.