So this came in the mail

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 28, 2017 9:08 PM

Once upon a time, it was 1957. I was not yet born and wouldn’t be for several more years. This was back when a crooner named Perry Como was popular and that year he gave the world his second RCA Victor 12” long-play album. It was called We Get Letters and it was a concept record, based on requests from the singer’s television show. It was a soft, breezy record and did not include a song by the same name. Years later, David Letterman had a regular skit on his show where he sang, gleefully, “letters, we get letters” while opening his mail. 

This morning, Riley was on the deck and I was in my office, a ritual we engage in daily. He had just had a bath and was drying in the cool desert breeze; I was working. It was about 9:30. I had just taken a sip of coffee when suddenly, from the general direction of the deck, came the apoplectic barking and carrying on of my dog. I got up as I usually do and went to the door with the intention of asking what I usually ask when the dog is apoplectic. What is the issue? But before I got the door open I saw exactly what the issue was: trotting up the hill toward the house, as nice as you please, were two dogs, one a beagle, the other what looked to be a beagle mix.

I sprang into dog wrangling mode and headed toward the front door, yelling behind me that there were two dogs and for Kevin to grab a couple of leashes. As dog people, we have at least six leashes, only one of which do we use on a regular basis. Outside, I crouched down and in my friendliest voice called to the dogs who both came to me willingly. Kevin got the leashes, I attached them, and down the hill we went. 

I hadn’t met them but knew they were our new neighbor’s dogs because I knew they had beagles. I also know every other dog in the neighborhood. It’s not that big of a ‘hood. My neighbor, Alan, who had several workers at the house, couldn’t believe the dogs were out. 

“How…?” he asked, his question trailing off. 

“Gate’s open,” I said just as the worker – a pool guy – came in apologizing for leaving the gate open. 

Mission accomplished, I decided to head back up to the house. Alan remembered something as I started out the door. 

“Oh, hey,” he said. “I have some mail here. It has your house on it.” 

My house? How could that be? Someone was sending mail that showed my house? Our house? What? 

Alan handed me an oversized postcard and there, sure enough, in the place of honor taking up the top two thirds of the card, was the home we affectionately refer to as Il Sogno. The card had been sent by our architect/builder because our neighbors had pulled permits to build a house and he was advertising his services. Better late than never, since the house is already built and the card was stamped 4/18. 

So our house is being sent all over the city, perhaps further. We’re famous. Just like Perry Como. Without the crooning.

It’s like we knew, one day, some day

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 1, 2015 9:03 PM

A long time ago when knowing your color season was what everyone did, I found out that I was an autumn. Because of my dark hair, my brown/hazel eyes and my skin tone which has more red in it than yellow, it was decided that I looked best in the colors most associated with fall. Browns, golds, greens, oranges. Warm colors. I had always felt most comfortable in those colors anyway so I was glad I didn’t suddenly have to start wearing brilliant reds and blues.

My love of warm colors always translated to my taste in furniture and accessories. I suppose it’s also one of the reasons I’ve long loved pottery. Pottery, regardless of the glaze used, is still made from clay, by nature earthy. I used to love to visit pottery studios and galleries when I was young; I still do. I took pottery in college, and have taken two recent classes here in Tucson.

Years ago, when I was married to my first husband and the Southwestern decorating style was all the rage, I bought two big pottery type lamps. They were tall, about 5 feet each, with broad bases that were rough in texture and creamy in color. I still have those lamps. I recently put new lampshades on them, silk-screened shades with browns and greens, golds and oranges. They’re perfect in the new house.

After husband number 1 and prior to current and favorite husband, I dated a guy named David. One weekend, we went up to Cambria, about 3 hours north of Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful coastal town filled with galleries. I fell in love with an amazing hand-shaped vase in a pottery studio. Rough red clay base with drips of blue, orange, red, purple glaze. He gave it to me for Christmas that year and I still have it. It looks absolutely gorgeous on our new fireplace hearth.

Kevin and I spent months trying to find a dining room set we liked when we moved into our Oak Park house. We finally settled on pieces that are sort of Scandinavian in design. The wood is a dark red. We still have the table and the hutch here and they look perfect with our tile.

Ditto the leather couches we bought several years ago as well. They’re a taupe color, overstuffed, comfortable. Perfect in the great room.

I stand and look at my new house and I realize that I’ve actually been decorating it for years, perhaps even before Kevin and I got together, but definitely since then and long before we actually built it. From the iron sleigh-type bed we bought for our bedroom along with the side tables, the bed that Kevin made for Justin that we repurposed for our guest room, the pub table and stools that were in our kitchen and are now in the breakfast nook, the antique music stand, the other eclectic pieces of furniture and accessories. Everything looks like it was bought specifically for this house and none of it was. The only exceptions: the three bar stools at the eat-at bar, and the deck furniture.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve always had similar taste, and that I tend to like furniture and things that are earthy in color, never ornate, but always interesting and hopefully comfortable. Maybe we’ve been buying everything in anticipation for building this house in the desert. Maybe we knew that one day, some day, it would all come together beautifully in a house that comes out of the desert, surrounded by greens and browns and golds. My colors. It was meant to be.

Frankly, it’s interesting

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 7, 2015 7:58 PM

I have long had a love of architecture. I am fascinated by buildings of all sorts, and especially by homes. I think the different styles that are indicative of certain parts of the country are intriguing. The colonial on the east coast, the Cape Cod in New England, Santa Fe style and desert contemporary, Mediterranean in Southern California. There are modern houses everywhere, of course, in styles that mirror their location. There are no stucco houses in New England that I know of; there are very few clapboard houses in the desert. Roofs on the east tend to be pitched and shingled while in the west they’re mostly tile, or in the case of many desert homes, flat, stuccoed and painted.

This morning, Kevin and I went to Bookman’s, a wonderfully eclectic bookstore that is all used books, musical instruments (a ton of guitars, both acoustic and electric as well as banjos and ukeles), antiques and art. We were hoping to find a New York Times. They didn’t have one but they did have several books we decided we couldn’t live without, one of which is a photography book for Kevin. As he was perusing, I happened upon the architecture section. There were a number of books on one of this country’s most famous architects, one Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright. He has a number of homes all over the country, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Illinois to California and many places in between.

I’ve been to Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, Kevin has been to the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois, where he was born and raised. June 8 would have been Wright’s 148th birthday. It’s a testament to his vision that many of his homes are still landmarks, still known as Wright houses.

It got me thinking, though, not just about Frank Lloyd Wright but about all of the famous architects named Frank. 

Frank Lloyd Wright house, Kankakee, Illinois

Frank Clark house, Medford, Oregon

Frank Gehry, Disney Hall, Los Angeles, California

In Oregon, Diane and Gene have been looking at a house designed by Frank Clark, a famous and famously prolific architect in the Pacific Northwest. There is of course Frank Gehry who designs more commercial buildings including the famous and famously blinding Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Francis Fleetwood was a designer of the big time homes that sit on the North Shore of Long Island, in an area affectionately known as the Hamptons.

Of course there are also Frank architects of some repute who are not American, like Francis Greenway who was an architect in Australia in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. And Francis Golding, a London architect, who was killed just two years ago while bicycling. 

Michael Bratton, Michel House, Tucson, Arizona

Our architect, Mike Bratton is an honorary Frank because he is very frank in his conversations, sometimes to the point of appearing rude. We quickly became used to it and actually embraced it because he designed and built us one hell of a house. He says what he thinks, he has an opinion and he knows what he’s talking about.

I find it all incredible, the ability to design a building from nothing. It’s like creating a piece of art on a piece of canvas or a story on a blank page. Frankly, the ability to create anything from nothing is interesting. And if it lasts through the ages, like Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Clark or Frank Gehry, it’s definitely something to celebrate.

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live out loud

How to name a house, part 1

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:38 AM

My husband thinks our house needs a name and he thinks I’m just the person to come up with one. I’ve never named a house before though I have named commercial buildings for real estate developers and I’ve named my share of products. It’s a process; rarely does the perfect name simply present itself, standing up in a crowd to shout here I am.

I named a hair vitamin once. It took about five minutes to come up with Vitamane.

I named a number of products at Sebastian, things like Potion 9 – another easy one. It had nine essential oils and extracts and the effect was magical.

When we got Maguire, we didn’t have a name picked out beforehand. In fact, we had no idea what to call him. We picked him up at 7:30 on a Monday morning, all stinky 10 pounds of him. As we walked to Kevin’s car, we talked about a name but had no ideas. We climbed in, me holding the pup, who was quite curious about this car thing. He immediately buried his head in the center console and when he pulled it out, he had a dollar bill in his mouth. Show me the money. He was Maguire before we got home.

We had a terrible time finding a name for Cooper. When we met him, our soon to be rescue was called Andy. He had originally been Lucky, but when the rescue got him, they named him Andy. We didn’t like the name Andy because we used to have a financial advisor named Andy and we didn’t like him. We met “Andy” on Thursday and decided on Thursday night that we would take him; we would pick him up on Friday. We also decided that he had to have a different name. On our walk on Friday at lunch, as we tooled up through the neighborhood, we talked names. My husband was throwing out ideas based on what he saw. Street Corner, Street Sign, Lawn Mower. Gardner. Mail Box! I honestly didn’t know what to name him so I was basically saying no without offering any suggestions. I thought about Jackson or Jax. But nothing felt right. Finally Kevin said Cooper. A Mini Cooper had just gone by. I thought it had merit. He kind of looked like a Cooper. Plus, he had/has red fur so he’s kind of copper. Copper Cooper.

As I said, naming is a process. When it’s personal, it’s even more difficult. Having distance helps. I don’t currently have distance unless you count 16 miles, which I don’t.

I have begun thinking about names for the house but I don’t want it to sound arrogant or lofty. I want it to be true and real and yet magical. I don’t want it to be too cute nor do I want it to be ordinary. I also don’t want it to be in English so whatever I might come up with has to translate into Spanish and sound beautiful.

I have played with something about stars, about the view, and desert vistas. I’ve thought about dream house. It’s a dwelling, a casa, a castle on the hill.

The word star translates to estrella. I like that. Dream house is casa de los sueños. Not crazy about it. Also too boring; too expected.

I am currently stuck. I figure I have a few months before I actually have to come up with something magical and poetic and lush and memorable. Until then, we’re simply calling it the dirt. La suciedad. It has a certain sensación, a certain sonido.

Our casa es su casa. Probably too big to fit on a sign. Perhaps just The Michels. Or Cooper’s house. Something will come to me one of these days, or more likely one of these nights when I’m supposed to be sleeping and I let my mind travel east and up to where you can reach out and touch the stars, where the sound of the night is just darkness and where the twinkling lights of the city promise a new day and a view that goes around the world.  

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live out loud


by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 18, 2013 1:04 AM

In the beginning of its run, I was a big fan of the show House. The character was the prototypical antihero, rude, nasty, with addiction problems and absolutely brilliant. I also enjoyed his staff, and his boss. I’ve been a fan of Lisa Edelstein for a long time; loved her when she played the “hooker” on The West Wing. Of course, there was very little – scratch that, nothing that I didn’t love about The West Wing.

Maybe Moira Kelly. I didn’t see the point of her and evidently neither did the show. She didn’t last for long.

I digress.

I was talking about House because I liked the show, I love Hugh Laurie and I’m partial to medical shows for some reason. House never became home though.

I also like house with a small ‘h,’ as in houses. I’ve long been a fan of different types of architecture and of interior design. We subscribe to the ridiculously overpriced Architectural Digest just to look at the pictures of other people’s houses. I don’t know that I’ve really read anything in the magazine other than the properties or estates for sale section. I love the pictures.

Architectural Digest can showcase some pretty stuffy houses, places that never look like anyone lives there. I’m always fascinated if people actually do. If there are ever dirty socks on the floor of the bedroom, or stacks of mail piled up on the counter in the kitchen near the phone or the fridge. I wonder if people sprawl on the couches in front of the television with their bare feet hanging over the edge, a glass of wine in their hand, the half full bottle on the coffee table, a dog and his toys sprawled on the floor in front of it all.

Houses are fascinating. They can be tiny or enormous, made of cement or of wood planks, or brick or mud. They can all tell stories, regardless of their size, because of who built them, who lived and lives there. There are children and spouses and dogs and cats inside. There are parties and lunches and dinners and ideas that take place within. There are walls and windows and doors and paint and pictures and furniture and people and pillows and toys and pets and stuff, all within the confines of ‘house.’

We have a lovely little house here in the OP. It’s only about 1700 square feet, very open floor plan, with high ceilings and we have long loved it. We will eventually build our new house in Tucson, and it will be bigger, with higher ceilings and less walls and more bedrooms. It will sit on a big hill on the northeast side of the city, with views over 250º or more, of the mountains, the city, the world. There will be windows and glass and cactus and a wrap-around patio and an open floor plan and much peace, such beauty.

This is where house become home. It’s where I hope I’ll belong, where I know I should be. It is where I will become me. 

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