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Friday, October 21, 2011

Off-White by Design

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I must tell you that I really don't like being in my apartment much. I say ungrateful because although I have worked hard like many, I have also been lucky. And to live in an 1837 landmark townhouse on Washington Square is one of the rare privileges afforded very few in New York City.

Notice that I said apartment rather than home. The reason is simple: my place does not feel much like a home, for which I take full responsibility. It has not been decorated at all. Even the Shaker style, for all its spartan utilitarianism, at least has a style, grace, and aesthetic. I'm embarrassed to say and hate to admit, perhaps my place has devolved into a bachelor pad with a hint of hope.

Recently I was strolling home from my office via Mercer Street. An exquisitely appointed retail interior caught the eye of a friend, who immediately recognized the furnishings as the Shabby Chic style of Rachel Ashwell, a woman whom she much admired and many of whose books she had acquired. She wandered inside. I waited outside at first but soon decided to explore the store myself. The shop had an extraordinary feel. Truly inviting and homey, a place you want to just linger in. And we did. See my photo gallery here.

I was pleased to learn that Rachel Ashwell herself would be present for a book signing in just a few days, so I discussed with the staff my desire to return for the signing, meet Rachel, take photos, and do a story. The staff was extremely amenable, befitting my entire experience there. I was given a green light, and so, with cameras in tow, I returned last night for the small happening. It amazes me how so many such fetes with notables are going on concurrently in New York City.

I know nothing of the Shabby Chic style, but it is immediately apparent that although there is a casual nature to the decor, nothing is really left to whim. The messy, mushy, wrinkled, and time-worn comfort is deliberate - every element is given thoughtful consideration, even down to the white pencils, offered free. The lighting in the SoHo shop is soft with a yellow cast. Intrigued about the details of the decor, particularly the colors, I asked about the paint, and, as I expected, the precise shade was known and written down for me as per my request - Winbourne White by Farrow and Ball.

The turnout was not too large or too small. Free appetizers and wine were made available. Everything seemed just right. I waited in line and met Rachel briefly, telling her of this website. She was charming and cordial. I told her of my intentions and left my card.

We often like our things crisp and clean with hard edges, particularly in a world ruled by the precision of modern technology. We like bright and bold colors and harsh contrasts. In my lifetime, painting a place white meant a pure white. On November 17, 2009, I wrote White by Design. But that's white, not off-white. My apartment is now painted Atrium white - a stark, bluish white. I never understood the desire for off-white. Why be so muted? I understand now. The world can be a harsh place at times. Who wants to come home more of that? I have seen the light, and it's a little yellower. I want to come home to a place that evokes the comfort of a time gone by. A place that is soft and Off-White by Design :)

About Rachel Ashwell: Rachel Ashwell, was born Rachel Greenfield on October 30, 1959, in Cambridge, England and raised in London. Rachel is an author and interior designer who created the Shabby Chic style, opening her first store in 1989 in Santa Monica, California. Her mother restored antique dolls and teddy bears, and her father was a secondhand rare books dealer. While in her teens, Rachel began selling antiques at London outdoor markets, later pursuing a career as in England as a wardrobe and prop stylist for TV commercials and photo shoots. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

Related Posts: White by Design 3, Yellow by Design, White by Desire, Rhapsody in Blue, White by Design 2, Coup de Grace, Soho Treasures


Leslie said...

Omg, how romantic! But you knew I'd love this post... ;-)
The trimmings are a bit much for my taste, but the entire ambiance is more than lovely.
I hope someday you can break down and treat yourself to some nurturing furniture. :-)

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Ten years ago I was sure that Shabby Chic had run its course. Couldn't have been more wrong.

Alberghi New York said...

very cool

Anonymous said...

You live in an 1837 landmark townhouse on Washington Square??? Can I say that I hate you in a very kind - nice - not dangerous way :P?

It's from 1837, wow. Let me say that the house doesn't belong to you, instead you belong to that house's story: take care of it!