On Heart and Home (or, How I Had a Stroke and Tried to Ignore It)

This is about as much red as I can usually handle. Image via Talk of the House

This is about as much red as I can usually handle. Image via Talk of the House

Red is not my favorite color—at least, not for the home. Red lipstick? I can rock it. Red shoes? Been known to wear ‘em. But it’s not a color I often utilize at home, mostly because it makes such a bold statement. Red says: “Look at me.” Red says: “Pay attention to me.” Chair, pillow, or piece of art, you cannot ignore red.

It’s no surprise, then, that the American Heart Association uses red as a tool for raising awareness about heart disease and stroke, especially in February (National Heart Month). Supporters wear red on February 3 to help raise awareness, and some retailers sell red merchandise to benefit heart health research.

Um, why am I writing about heart disease on a decor blog? Truth be told, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Here’s why.

Two years ago this Sunday, I woke around 6 a.m. as I normally do. When I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, a splitting headache set in: sharp, piercing, and entirely focused on the right side of my head. “Ugh,” I thought. “This is what I get for drinking sweet white wine.” (The previous night, friends had come over for fondue and Riesling.) I stood up and headed downstairs to the kitchen, where I began to prepare breakfast for my kids. As I attempted to slice a strawberry, my left hand kept slipping—I couldn’t seem to hold on to the fruit. I tried again and fumbled, tossing the strawberry onto the floor. I turned to my husband, who had come down to join me. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked him, rolling my eyes. “It’s like my left hand is asleep.” “Maybe you slept on it funny,” he suggested, “or maybe you were leaning on a nerve in your elbow.” He offered to finish making breakfast, and I headed up to get my son, who was just starting to stir.

Upstairs, I lifted my son from his crib and set him on the rug for a diaper change. He was just learning to speak, and as he laughed and babbled to me, I babbled back. Or at least I thought I did: While the syllables formed in my head, nothing was coming out of my mouth.

In the back of my mind, I knew something could be wrong. These are stroke symptoms, said a little voice in my head as I carried my son down three flights of stairs. But as a 35-year-old-woman in relatively good shape, I brushed off my hunches and continued toward the kitchen. I handed my son off to my husband and explained I wasn’t feeling well, and I headed up to my bathroom to shower and get ready for work.

As I ascended the stairs again, a recent Facebook post by a neighborhood acquaintance, Jessica, sprang to mind. An uber-healthy 36-year-old who teaches Pilates and barre at a local studio, Jessica had experienced similar symptoms, followed by her leg going numb in the shower. It was a stroke. After her recovery, she began working with the American Heart Association to spread the word about recognizing stroke symptoms in healthy young women, hence her story crossing my social media feed. I thought about Jessica as I glanced past my reflection in the medicine cabinet, and I stepped into the shower. The little voice got louder–Listen to your body!—but it still didn’t stop me from continuing my routine.

If she could have one, I could have one. Image credit: Jessica Diaz Wellness via Page 38

If she could have one, I could have one. Image credit: Jessica Diaz Wellness via Page 38

I stood under the running water, and that’s when I lost feeling in my left hand. I raised my arm to coax some shampoo through my hair, my fingertips touched, and everything was wrong.  It felt as if I was touching a stranger’s hand with my right, and my left hand felt like it was made of thick, dense rubber. “Holy shit,” I thought. “I’m having a stroke.”

I quickly rinsed off, wrapped myself in a towel, and looked at my face in the bathroom mirror. I lifted my brows—and the left one didn’t move. I smiled, and only the right side of my mouth showed a grin.

The crazy part is, I still doubted my instincts. I still thought to myself, “This can’t be happening,” even though it clearly was. I could still walk. I could still mostly talk. “I’m only 35,” I thought. But images of Jessica’s face and fit physique kept flashing through my head, and the voice got louder and louder. If that barre instructor can have a stroke, so can you, it said.

I yelled down to Dave. Thank God I could still yell. I told him what was happening, told him to get our au pair to take our son, and told him to take our older daughter, Sarah to school. “Don’t let them see me,” I thought. “This could get worse.” (This is how convoluted the motherly mind can be—you’re having a stroke, but you still want to get the kids to school.) And of course, since 70 percent of me wanted to deny what the rest of me knew was happening, I called not an ambulance, but a neighbor to take me to the ER. She arrived in a heartbeat, and I climbed into her car.

As we drove the ten minutes from my house over to Massachusetts General Hospital, I felt fine. My hand felt normal again, and I could speak. But as soon as I reported my symptoms—trouble speaking, weakness on one side, a drooping face—through tears at the front desk, a team mobilized. I was rushed through processing and into a wheelchair, then laid on a stretcher in the Acute section of the ER. Within minutes, I was screened by a neurologist and had a CAT scan, followed by an MRI and a few other procedures I can’t remember.

It was a stroke, they confirmed, in the right prefrontal cortex of my brain, which governs complex cognitive behavior, personality expression and decision-making, in addition to controlling parts of the left side of the body. I bawled, and I panicked, and I spent three days in the Neurology unit at MGH while they did test after test to uncover the cause. They didn’t find one—no high blood pressure, no clotting disorder. The only contributing factors they pinpointed were my history of migraines (a correlation, not a cause) and a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small hole in the heart that sounds a lot scarier than it is. Twenty-five percent of healthy adults have a PFO, and it doesn’t cause any issues for most people. But on the rare occasion that a blood clot forms and travels to the heart, the clot can slip through that little hole and make its way to the brain, blocking blood flow, and that’s exactly what happened to me. To keep it from happening again, I just have to take a daily dose of aspirin, which will thin my blood and reduce my annual risk of recurrence to just a few percent.

Over the next few months, things gradually returned to normal. I regained control of my facial muscles, and the fogginess, confusion, and exhaustion that often follows a stroke began to dissipate. Today I feel almost entirely normal, with the exception of days when I’m overtired from work and shooting my book—on those days, I still sometimes find it takes extra concentration to solve complex problems or take in complicated streams of information. I take 82mg of aspirin daily.

It’s possible I could have completely ignored my stroke on February 12, 2015. And given my relatively seamless, unaided recovery, I might not even have noticed that it had happened. But because I went to the hospital that day, I know to take that one tiny pill each day—a pill that could very well save my life. And the reason I went to the hospital was a woman named Jessica, who shared her story with the world and made me realize that a stroke could happen to me.

So today’s post is about awareness, and paying attention, and listening to your heart and your conscience when they speak. And since we all could use a little reminder once in awhile, I’m going to use it as an excuse to add a little red to my home and life. You can’t ignore these picks, now, can you? Pitter-patter.

1. Letha pillow in red, $52, Joss & Main. 2. Alachua coral sculpture, $45, Wayfair. 3. Brianne rattan barstool, $204, Joss & Main. 4. Hailey table lamp, $166 for two, Joss & Main. 5. Striped tribal kilim, $220, Etsy. 6. Butterfly oval tray, $64, Jayson Home.

1. Letha pillow in red, $52, Joss & Main. 2. Alachua coral sculpture, $45, Wayfair. 3. Brianne rattan barstool, $204, Joss & Main. 4. Hailey table lamp, $166 for two, Joss & Main. 5. Striped tribal kilim, $220, Etsy. 6. Butterfly oval tray, $64, Jayson Home.

For more information about the signs of a stroke, click here.

Obsessed With... Bamileke Tables

Lately it seems like everyone I know is looking for a round coffee table. Maybe it’s that more of us finally have enough space in our homes for big furniture and are now trading our three-seater sofas for sectionals, which are often better suited to round tables than long rectangular ones. Maybe it’s that more of us have kids, and we’re all sick of worrying about someone busting a cheekbone on a sharp corner. Whatever the reason, everyone seems to be searching for just the right round table for the living room: not too tall, not too low, not hideous, and God help us, not too expensive.

In my own search, I kept coming across tables like this one, featured on the cover of the lovely Justina Blakeney’s book The New Bohemians:

Love this book. Get it at Amazon.com... After you read it, I guarantee you'll want your house to start looking all hippie-chic.

Love this book. Get it at Amazon.com... After you read it, I guarantee you'll want your house to start looking all hippie-chic.

Cool, isn’t it? I've learned that these pretty specimens are known as Bamileke tables, and they’re traditionally carved from a single piece of wood. They’re used in special ceremonies by the chieftans of the Bamileke tribe in Cameroon, and depending on the size of the tree trunk that was used, they can vary in size from small stools to large, table-sized drums.  

Here are a couple more shots of these amazing pieces, which look great in homes of all styles:

Source: HouseBeautiful via Dering Hall

Source: Restoration Hardware, which sadly doesn't carry them anymore. 

Source: Restoration Hardware, which sadly doesn't carry them anymore. 

I haven’t brought one of these beauties home just yet (heads up, Dave!) but here are a few that have caught my eye of late. Can’t get enough of that bamileke-inspired pendant light! Swoon.

1. Abdalla carved wood coffee tables, $580 for two, Amazon. 2. Outdoor bamileke table, $1498, Serena & Lily. 3. Carved wood coffee table, $349, West Elm. 4. Arteriors Jarrod large wood pendant, $1488, Wayfair. 5. Bornova coffee table in warm gray, $499, Ballard Designs.  

1. Abdalla carved wood coffee tables, $580 for two, Amazon. 2. Outdoor bamileke table, $1498, Serena & Lily. 3. Carved wood coffee table, $349, West Elm. 4. Arteriors Jarrod large wood pendant, $1488, Wayfair. 5. Bornova coffee table in warm gray, $499, Ballard Designs.

 

Do you have a favorite? Love or hate the look? Let me know in the comments below.

DIY: Inkblot Wall Art

I’m not what you'd call a “crafty” gal. Sure, I can sew pillows (passably), add a bit of trim to a table cover (with imperfections), and I do own a glue gun. But painting, scrapbooking, pottery, even papier-mache... not in my repertoire.

One thing I’m never afraid to try, however, is DIY wall art—mostly because store-bought wall art is painfully expensive, and I’m not the type to stare at blank walls while I save up for a legit painting by a legit artist. I have DIYed some trendy brushstroke art to fill out a gallery wall in my family room...

IMG_8631.JPG

I recruited my daughter to DIY some abstracts for my parlor…

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...and I framed some of her abstract watercolors to hang above my bedside desk.

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This past weekend, though, I decided to go big. We have this wall of framed family photos in our hallway, see, and while I love each of the pics individually, to my eye the full gallery was just missing some oomph. But what could I put in its place?

Meh.  

Meh.  

The answer came to me last week. While browsing Etsy for a set of vintage prints that might work, I came across this trio of inkblots:

Source: KYLOprints on Etsy

Source: KYLOprints on Etsy

Bingo. Mark my words when I say inkblots could be the next brushstroke art. There’s just something so funky, handmade, and appealing about them. And they’re so easy to DIY.

I got to work. After the kids went to bed on Thursday, I assembled my supplies: One bottle of Crayola black tempera paint and one stack of thick paint-and-marker paper. I folded the paper in half, gave it a random spattering of paint, folded and pressed the paper together, and voila: a piece of one-of-a-kind art.

Dave was skeptical of the whole endeavor, but even he had to get in on the action once he saw how much fun I was having.

DIY inkblots

The first few came out pretty sloppy due to an excess of paint; it all sort of blobbed together and the first three inkblots looked basically the same. Once I transferred the tempera to a finer-tipped squeeze bottle and learned to spatter just a small drizzle of paint on just one side of the creased paper, we were in business.

Once I had nine inkblots I was happy with, I arranged them all in a balanced grid and left them on the dining table to dry overnight. 

Inkblot art

In the morning I popped them into the frames. Here’s the finished look. We’re calling the one in the middle Gene Simmons, because duh.

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I’m loving the look. Of course, now I need to find a new home for the family photos, as I fear my decor habits might eventually traumatize my kids. (“Doc, when I was five, my mom took down my picture and replaced it with a RORSCHACH TEST. Isn’t that messed up?”) Psychological references aside, however, what do you think?

Desk Chairs That Don't Suck

Guys, I'm about to show you something bad. REALLY BAD.

It’s my husband’s office. Poor guy.

Ugh. 

Ugh. 

For years, this room has been a holding pen—a temporary home for things that construction has displaced, or pieces we’ve acquired but haven’t yet placed in a permanent location. For a long time it was our family room, but then we excavated the basement and put a family room down there.  Next it was Dave’s office, and for a time it was an office by day, newborn-nursery by night. (The first kid gets a fully-designed bedroom; second one gets stashed in an empty corner, right?) Everything we don't want to look at gets stuffed in here: workout equipment, power tools, Christmas gifts, and unassembled furniture.

Ugh. 

Ugh. 

Ugh. 

Ugh. 

It's time to get our act together. It's not fair that my husband, who works from home, has to look at this pile of crap all the time. So I’m now in the process of making some upgrades.

I started with a finding him a desk. It was time to replace the inexpensive metal one we bought 5 years ago (the same kind I DIYed into a bedside table last year). After much searching for a simple yet elegant Parsons desk, we settled on this lovely beast from Jayson Home, which I scored during a killer holiday sale.

Source: Jayson Home

Source: Jayson Home

Now it’s time to find the desk’s partner: a great office chair that swivels. This has proven far more difficult than I anticipated, because apparently 95% of the swiveling desk chairs on this planet suck, or they're so ungodly expensive you’d have to work nights just to afford one. Every chair I browsed seemed off: too formal, too feminine, too utilitarian, too uncomfortable-looking, or the wrong finish. Most options looked like they belonged in bad lawyer’s offices, overfunded startups, or the Holiday Inn business center.

Finally, though, I stumbled on a few gems. Have a look.   

1. Rhodes desk chair, $799, Ballard Designs. 2. Sunny mid-back desk chair, $298, AllModern. 3. Tory desk chair, $176, Joss & Main. 4. Prince mid-back desk chair, $110, AllModern. 5. Althea mid-back desk chair, $176, Wayfair. 6. Soho swivel desk chair, $251, Domino. 

1. Rhodes desk chair, $799, Ballard Designs. 2. Sunny mid-back desk chair, $298, AllModern. 3. Tory desk chair, $176, Joss & Main. 4. Prince mid-back desk chair, $110, AllModern. 5. Althea mid-back desk chair, $176, Wayfair. 6. Soho swivel desk chair, $251, Domino

I’m still deciding what to get, and of course I’ll need to consider the other furnishings we plan to put in the room, like new seating (soon), rugs (soon), a new light fixture (later), and built in bookcases (much later). All that aside, though, which would you choose? Do you have any favorite sources for good-looking office chairs?

All in a (Half) Year's Work

As you can probably imagine, my big project for 2016—writing a book—almost completely took over the second half of the year. Sometimes it seems like that’s all I’ve done since selling the project to my publisher, Rizzoli, late last winter.

But looking back on the year as I tossed and turned in bed last night (thanks, champagne), I realized I haven’t stopped to take in—or share—some of the awesome projects and features I was able to take part in as part of my day job as style director for Joss & Main. It’s pretty crazy... and I’m pretty proud. Here’s a recap.

In late June, my Joss & Main team and I flew out to Salt Lake City to shoot the outdoor spaces of mega-bloggers (and sisters!) Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies and Emily Jackson of The Ivory Lane. These uber-stylish women picked out most of their own stuff with some input from me, and so it was mostly a matter of arranging their spreads so that photographer Nicole Gerulat could snap these gorgeous shots. The story was picked up by Architectural Digest online, and I just about lost my mind.

Rachel Parcell outdoor space
Rachel Parcell outdoor dining
Emily Jackson outdoor space
All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

Then, in July, I was asked to redecorate the showroom of NYC company BaubleBar. They wanted to spruce it up for meetings with external partners as well as the celebrity influencers who come in to preview and select products to wear. My team and I came in with a tornado of furnishings, and they threw a party to celebrate the showroom’s girly, glam new look.

Source: Baublebar

Source: Baublebar

In August I worked hand-in-hand with Lauren Bushnell, winner of The Bachelor, to completely redecorate the home she now shares with Ben Higgins. What. A. Blast. Working via phone, text, and email, we started with a few pieces she was obsessed with, like a beaded chandelier and some hand-painted watercolors a friend had gifted her, and went from there. We also took a few gambles, like putting an oversized Serge Mouille-inspired light fixture in a pretty tiny space. My colleagues and I flew to Denver in September, hired a crew of movers to help us unpack the zillions of products that Lauren and I had selected, and did a full install of new furnishings and decor in a single day before photographing it the next. I love how it all came together. Here’s a peek.

Lauren Bushnell home makeover
Lauren Bushnell and Ben Higgins home
All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

These pics and more were featured in People, Huffington Post, Architectural Digest, Glamour, Real Simple, The Nest, US Magazine, Yahoo!, POPSUGAR, Martha Stewart, and Style Me Pretty. Wowza. Click here to watch an interview Ben & Lauren did just after we revealed the space, and here's a Q&A that we ran on the site

Next up was style blogger Amber Fillerup Clark, a.k.a The Barefoot Blonde. Though her cute NYC apartment was already full of great pieces, I helped fill it out with new bedroom furniture, rugs, pillows, wall art, and decor from Joss & Main. Her husband, David, and her two kids were all part of the shoot, and they were just adorable.  

Barefoot Blonde bedroom
Barefoot Blonde bedroom
Barefoot Blonde nursery
All images credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

All images credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

Other late 2016 highlights? A profile in Huffington Post, quotes in syndicated articles by Marni Jameson and Kim Cook, a mention in the Patch, and a Q&A with Haute Living Boston, who wanted to know where I like to shop and dine. (Wal-Mart and Applebee's, obvi.) It was an insanely busy second half of the year.

Heading into 2017, I’m working on interiors for a few well-known athletes and a bedroom revamp for a Canadian celebrity. Oh, and there’s the matter of getting the book shoots finished up, the edits done, and having the whole thing designed.

Who needs sleep? Here's to another year of adventures...