Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Widows Walk Bedroom

It has been ten months since my beloved Alberto died. Many of you have been kind enough to indulge me pouring my heart out and sharing my grief with you. You might have read in older posts that I have been working on dividing my house in two, so I can rent one part of it out until my sister moves in with me in a couple of years. Photography by Sara Essex Bradley.

Valorie Hart Designs a master bedroom for a widow

It's good to have a project, though I have been sluggish making the changes. Every day spent packing away things and organizing a home made for two into a home now made for one is a volcano of emotions. It slows one down.

One of the major changes I have been working on include turning Alberto's office that was up on the second floor in a part of the house called a camel back, into my bedroom, dressing room, and sitting room. I added a bathroom up there, something I should have done long ago for Alberto. There are twenty-one steps up to the camel back, and he walked up and down them many times a day to use the downstairs bathrooms. Here is the link to see the "Before" - "The Office Of A Milonguero".

The upstairs is done. I have been sleeping up there for a couple of months. I forced myself not to return to our old bedroom once I moved upstairs. In fact that room has been reconfigured as part of the rental.

The upstairs consists of two rooms joined together by an archway.  It has an industrial loft like feeling, with an exposed brick chimney running through the center of the two rooms. There are four windows, two on each side, one set is on the east and the other set is on the west. From my bed, I can watch the moon rise on one side, and watch it go down on the other side. I see sky and tree tops. I have a birds eye few of my back patio and of the neighborhood. I call it my widows walk, a solitary aerie imagined as a garret high above the Parisian rooftops.

Surprise, surprise, I painted it white! White has always been in my arsenal and wheelhouse. I pulled out all the old Frenchy things I had stashed around here and there. I re-purposed furniture from Alberto's office and from around the house. I got something new that has been on my decor bucket list, the Etched Arcadia mural from Anthropologie. I got two murals, one for behind the bed, and one for behind the TV.

Etched Arcadia mural from Anthropologie

The bed is Alberto's old futon style couch he napped on - I added a nice memory foam mattress and an upholstered headboard - the smaller  double bed size is a perfect for me (and Cholo and Kitty Kitty Bang Bang)

I chose the mural because of the black and white and tree motif. I see tree tops outside my windows, and I love the playfulness of the idea of  being up in a tree house. It also looks like a modern version of the antique grisaille wallpaper that I loved in Howard Slatkin's New York apartment.

White drapes with black Greek key trim hung on return to the wall rods

I changed the doors from paneled ones to flat ones so I could have mural extend onto them. The mural is a stock size, and a was a little short for my walls. So I did a faux baseboard by adding a piece of trim at the bottom of the mural where the white wall is exposed, and adding trim and molding to the door. Black hinges and a black door knobs were also added. Removing the casing around the doors was too involved. I had to pick my battles.

The TV was Alberto's and it is in the same place when it was his office - The chest and mirror came from our dressing room and bedroom -  The antique Adirondack side table has been stored away for years - The rug is from our former dressing room

I kept Alberto's computer and a table he made, but I skirted in a drop cloth painted with wide black stripes, which I also used as a coverlet on the bed - the candle sconce above the computer was once in my breakfast area

This is a note I left him - we often left each other little love notes - I would be downstairs and hear him laughing at something on TV or that he saw online,  and also hear him singing tangos or playing the clarinet

This nook has a book shelf Alberto built - I organized all our photo albums or our years of teaching tango abroad. along with his important tango books here - The pair of white DIY faux marble lamps were once in our bedroom years ago

My old vanity and lamps have been kicking around for years - The pendant hanging on the lamp holds a lock of Alberto's hair

Another nook with shelves Alberto built for CDs and Videotapes

I tore out the ten year old wall-to-wall carpet and replaced it with gray faux wood (that would be affordable laminate lol). The house tilts as all old houses are wont to do, so a floating floor suits the shifting and tilting. I put in new ceiling fans (a necessity on the second floor). My closet is open with no doors or partitions.

My open closet is much smaller than the whole room Alberto and I had for our dressing room

Shoe storage is in a nook that once housed Alberto's tango video tapes now boxed and stored in the cabinets above - The little bench was once orange velvet and I had it reupholstered in faux white leather

I carved a full bath (albeit made for a petite person) out of a second unused stairway and stairwell - I used basic tile and brass fixtures - It may be a small bathroom but it is perfect for an ex-New Yorker who is used to small bathrooms.

This bathroom was once a stairwell - I used stock tile and brass fixtures - My skeleton anatomy chart makes a perfect window shade

I searched for a tiny sink - I think it is adorable

One day my lovely devoted friend Sara Essex Bradley came over to take pictures of what I had done. I was in a sad tailspin, and being with her brought me back some smiles, and the joy that comes from working with with her. 

This chaise was in our bedroom, and I had it reupholstered

All in all I am happy with the results. The only thing missing is Alberto.

My team: 
Oscar Amaya (and his wife Elvira and his son Alex) -  the contractor who did everything
Kevin (and his team) the electrician
Tommy (and team) from Pipe Wizard Plumbing
Dennis Gaultier (with his wife) - the best wallpaper installers
Designer Upholstery by Marvin
Drapes installed by Jennifer from Shading Places
My neighbor Brian for hauling away Alberto's collection of old electronics
Louis St. Lewis for hanging a mirror and his excellent company, kind heart, and sympathetic ear 
Fellow designer Penny Francis and Donna Russell for their invaluable input about the bathroom

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gifting From New Orleans

'Tis the shopping season, and I find myself gifting my favorite New Orleans things again. You might have someone who would like something from or about New Orleans. Here are my favorites that you can buy online.

1. Kabuki by Tracy Thompson water meter pot holders. Decorative and functional, these handcrafted kitchen potholders are a tribute to the iconic New Orleans Water meter cover. Silk screened fabric is made from a rubbing of the water meter. There are three layers of batting sandwiched between two layers of canvas, and all are embroidery quilted together, following the lines of the crescent moon rays. Available in plain WATERMETER, or choose between 30 Historic New Orleans neighborhoods and streets.

2. A set of large rocks glasses from Mignon Faget. Everyone has a home bar in New Orleans, from a cart to a tray on the kitchen counter. I love these glasses and have often gifted them. They are great for adult cocktails, soft drinks, water, milk and cookies...

3. I have not taken off the silver fleur de lis pendant I got from Sterling Silvia when Alberto and I returned home after Katrina. I love the mini size, and it certainly has held up. I have gifted it often as a remembrance of New Orleans.  Sterling Silvia is a family owned and operated business by the Asturias family. A member of the Asturias family is usually always present at one or both stores. The Asturias family works hard to ensure that all customers have a joyous and wonderful shopping experience.

4. Lucite tray with New Orleans toile designed by Hazelnut. What could be a better hostess gift?

5. My book House Proud has been gifted by a lot of people, including myself. Chock full with gorgeous photos by Sara Essex Bradley, and interesting back stories about each house in the book, and useful takeaway decorating tips garnered from each home...well what can I say? If you email me at, I will send you a personally inscribed and autographed copy to give or to keep.

6. Two books by Debra Shriver are books I often give as remembrances of New Orleans. They are Stealing Magnolias, and In the Spirit of New Orleans. 

7. Rouses, the locally owned supermarket chain has great gift baskets. Louisiana’s Best! Send a taste of home to displaced Louisianians near and far, and even to those who are only Louisianians at heart! A savory selection of authentic Louisiana seasonings, condiments and seafood boil and dinner mixes fill this reusable wicker basket, which includes a sweet ending to any Louisiana meal, pralines.

8. Local artist Ashley Longshore is beloved and wildly successful. Do contact Ashley Longshore because she always does special affordable art for the holidays. She has designed many things for Anthropologie, including a series of stunning lamp shades. 

9. Again from Hazelnut are these very cute New Orleans picture frames. I especially love the St. Charles Avenue trolley car one.

10. Scriptura is a very special stationary store, and yes I like to give and get note cards, note pads, place cards, note books...all of that old school stuff. They have wonderful things specific to New Orleans that you can order online.

So beat the Black Friday madness, and stay home and do some online shopping for some very special inspired by New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Office Of A Milonguero

This is the office of a milonguero. For those if you not versed in the world of Argentine tango, a milonguero/milonguera is a person who is a habitue of the milonga, which is the place where tango is danced socially.  He is also someone respected and revered for his dedication, knowledge, and love of the Argentine tango. Generally the "office" of a milonguero is the dance floor.

The office of milonguero Alberto Pax

Alberto Paz was a milonguero. His "office" was the dance floor, and his office was also the archive and library we created for him in our home upstairs in the camel back part of the house. It was there that he kept his books on tango, his art collection, his video tapes, his music collection, his memories in dozens of photo albums of our travels together teaching tango all over the world. He made many videos, wrote many articles, translated tango lyrics from Spanish to English, compiled thousands of hours of tango music for dancing, worked on our tango website and my design website. He had five or six blogs about tango that he maintained, as well as a couple of tango groups on the Internet. He watched TV up there, a steady diet of political shows and news, futbol games (soccer), along with movies and sit-coms (he loved to laugh). He practiced the clarinet, and sang along with the tango music he played (I loved to hear him sing). He sent love letter emails to me when I was in my office downstairs.  He napped up there. He would come down everyday to cook for me. We would sit in the kitchen at the table for a couple of hours and talk about our day. Then up he would go again, never bored, always busy and happy with affairs of tango.

He practiced the clarinet...

There is a check list for grief and mourning the loss of loved one who dies. Starting with the sad and horrible event itself, and the surreal funeral days after that.  As a widow (and daughter, son, or sibling who lost a parent), the subsequent weeks are dedicated to dealing with practical concerns of wills, sorting out finances, computer passwords, matters to do with cars, and the wrenching chore of dealing with the belongings of the loved one now gone. Oh yes, you are also trying to get dressed, eat, not get sick, take care of the pets, not let the house fall into the ghostly tragic realm of Miss Havisham, and of course assure your friends and family that you are not suicidal (though in truth you often feel this way). You also have to get back to work, whatever your regular job may be. You slap on your Facebook persona. Most of the time you sit and stare. Sleep is scarce. Or sleep takes over your days. 

Downsizing is not unusual. Often a home is sold. In the case of a spouse the one left behind might move to a smaller place, whether to a family member's home, or an apartment or smaller house. Immediately upon Alberto's passing, many asked me if I would remain in New Orleans or go back to New York. Days after the funeral I had offers to get rid of Alberto's clothes. Frankly, for at least a year or so after the death of someone you love, no huge life changing decisions are a good idea.

Alberto and I talked about what I would do if he died before I did. We did not have a huge savings, or insurance policies. We worked. We have our mortgaged home. I told him I would stay in New Orleans, the place of the happiest years together. And I would try and stay in our home. Years ago my 90 year old friend Miss Anne gave me a good piece of advice. She told me to have a home large enough to rent out a room or two in the event that Alberto passed away. So over those bright and breezy lunches and dinners at our kitchen table, when Alberto asked me what I would do if he died, I told him I would probably follow Miss Anne's advice and turn our house back into the "double" that it originally was, and rent out a room or two. I also told him I would invite my sister to come and live in that half of the house, knowing that between the two of us we could somehow make it into our old age together.

It's good to have a plan and a project. I knew I had to get the plan going before depression totally paralyzed me, and I did not have not enough money to keep a roof over my head. Of course I could outright sell the house and make a profit large enough to have a modest means to live in a shoebox of a rental. But that was not the plan. The house is 2200 square feet, so even half of that is a generous shoebox. And it is my shoebox.

So this past July I started to dismantle Alberto's office upstairs, and turn it into my bedroom. The master bedroom will be on the side of the house that will be rented, or be my sister's half.

It's has been a journey filled with big emotions, and very hard work. It is phase one of the transformation of the home of a couple, to the home of widow. My aeire upstairs is like an old fashion widows walk in New England. I stand at the windows and look for my husband, my love, to sail home to me.

So I share these camera phone pictures of Alberto's office just before I started to lovingly dismantle it.
There was not enough light, and I was snapping photos through a veil of tears. They are blurry, a shimmering mirage of time vanishing.

Kitty Kitty Bang Bang was Alberto's cat and constant companion upstairs