Designing the Life: A Blog by Uma Stewart and Friends

new year, new store

A night-time peek into furbish, the day before we opened.

A night-time peek into furbish, the day before we opened.

The new location of furbish has opened very quietly on Millburn Avenue. It is a place of peace, and a very beautiful one too! It is airy and light-filled. The view of Taylor Park is amazing. Those of you who have been in have commented on the “good vibes.” Thank you, by the way, and I agree. I felt them before we even moved in and I worked to enhance them.
The view of Taylor Park.

The view of Taylor Park.

It is peaceful now, but it has been a whirlwind three months! I haven’t had the chance to update you all during the renovation process so now is my chance to get you all caught up. Here is a bit of a blow by blow.

For a little while we had a boarded up storefront as we waited for new glass.

For a little while we had a boarded up storefront as we waited for new glass.

The space seemed cavernous before lighting, furnishings, and partition walls went in. But those tin ceilings!

The space seemed cavernous before lighting, furnishings, and partition walls went in. But those tin ceilings!

We put in distressed black walnut floors, added track lighting, left the 14 foot height open with duct work exposed to give a glimpse of the original embossed tin ceilings above, and painted in my new favorite color, Benjamin Moore Vanilla Milkshake. The result is a gallery style space with some industrial touches left in.

Track lighting is in. Duct work is in. So is all of our merchandise and furnishings piled up 10 feet high. We had such a mountain to dig ourselves out of.

Track lighting is in. Duct work is in. So is all of our merchandise and furnishings piled up 10 feet high. We had such a mountain to dig ourselves out of.

It slowly started to shape up. Here is a glimpse of the new floors.

It slowly started to shape up. Here is a glimpse of the new floors in need of a wash.

My design studio space in the back is not functional yet. The skylight is still on order. And I am going to need to fully furnish it over this coming year! Ah, “a little bit of patience.” Not just a Guns n Roses lyric, but also the key to extraordinary design outcomes.

The storefront, however, is ready for you! Here is a preview:

If you haven’t come to see us yet, please plan to come for our Grand Opening on January 15. Hope you love it as much as we do!

election day

I know. I haven’t posted or emailed about our new store opening. It is coming along slowly but fabulously and I will soon be writing to invite you to the grand opening. But today I digress from the usual topics to record my feelings about our election. I will share something very personal, a letter I wrote to my son who is about to turn 1 year old, because it captures my feelings in the moment (before the politics of it all set in). There was a great editorial in the New York Times called “Tears to Remember” by Judith Warner today about the differences in how generations have responded to Obama’s winning the election. Aadi is, of course, too young to tell us where he stands. And I wrote this letter to him more for myself, all the while thinking, I hope he understands what I say, without ever really understanding the tears.

My dearest Aadi,

I write this letter to you at 2 am on Nov 5, 2008. I just witnessed history. Barack Obama was elected to the US Presidency 3 hours ago. There is so much I want you to know about yourself, so much I see in you. But tonight I want to record history for you. I have been in tears since the announcement of Obama’s win. I have been in tears for hours, but they are happy. I have really been crying these tears of happiness all year long as I look upon you my little one, and today they are tears of joy that the world is good, and that the future for you will be bright. Whatever may come of this, tonight there is evidence that people can change. Countries can change. Hope doesn’t die. And sometimes things just get really bad before they can get unbelievably good. Yes we can, Obama refrained in his speech tonight. Tonight, baba, there is evidence that we make our own destiny by our thoughts followed up by our actions. There are miracles, and there is light, and God is listening.

I just do not want to forget how I feel right now. At a personal level the pain of being different, of growing up painfully aware of that difference, is somehow being released in these tears that won’t end. I feel joy that my country has put hope and open-mindedness and expansiveness ahead of fear. I feel blessed to raise you in an environment different from what I grew up in. For you, with all your natural brilliance and charm, there are no limits, my dear one. The limits are sometimes greater in our minds than we imagine them in the world, and if we act with integrity despite what we perceive, then there is no telling what can happen.

I am so inspired by Obama, and this country’s choice to elect him as president. As I watched the votes come in and witnessed history, and thought of Obama’s personal history and background, and his person, his eloquence, his carriage, I could not help but feel that I should live differently than I do. I should expect more from myself. So much more is possible for me and from me and of this world. I want to give you an extraordinary childhood baba, and tonight I feel so certain that I can. Obama’s race, his name, the fact that his childhood was spent in another country, his early choice of career, none of those would have marked him for the US presidency. Perhaps he started his life an unlikely candidate, but now anyone can see his greatness in a few short moments. We do not have to be born superstars Aadi, though I can assure you that you have been born one. But as we grow we have to continuously transform ourselves into superstars, and that will be your task and mine. To see your brilliance and encourage it. And the world will be all the better for it. This is about fulfilling your promise as a human being because the world NEEDS you to. It is our obligation to strive for greatness and find the greatness in ourselves for the good of all. And tonight the world is wide open for such endeavors.

Here are blessings and love for a bright future. All my love,

Your mother

315C millburn avenue

Today was a BIG day on the furbish front. Movers packed up and emptied out our space on Springfield Avenue. It was bittersweet, but seeing the space empty reminded me of how the space looked just before opening, and how exciting that time was for us.  So as soon as the last box was loaded, we headed off to sign our new lease! We took Aadi along to be our little good luck charm as we signed. Furbish will officially be moving into 315C Millburn Avenue in Millburn, NJ!

A few things really excite me about this space. It is directly across the street from the entrance to the Millburn park, and I will have a great view of lovely trees and greenery from my front window. The ceilings are embossed tin and 14 feet high, which compensates for a very narrow space, width wise. The space is bigger and we will be using the extra square footage for a really nice design studio!

The MOST exciting thing, though, is how this move is allowing me to rethink this business from top to bottom. It’s like a “take two,” and I am really grateful for this opportunity to revisit what my initial vision for furbish was. I will be perfectly honest here, though, as this blog is the real deal. I have spent the last four months searching for and negotiating for a new space for the business, and every few days would wonder, what if I just didn’t do this anymore? After all, when I launched furbish I didn’t have a baby. Managing both has been a tremendous challenge, and Aadi has brought so much joy to my life that I know I could be happy without anything else.

But every night after little Aadi goes to sleep, I have been kept awake with ideas about what I could offer…I couldn’t let go of my idea of furbish! Not just as a store, but as an outlet for the joy I feel everyday at what life has to offer us in terms of beauty, depth of experience, and sheer variety. I just want to share that with as many of you as I can. Read more here to see what is inspiring our plans for the furbish redux.

I will be adding photos of the new space to this post soon, plus updates on how we are progressing towards a reopening date. Stay tuned!

furbish goes underground

Well. It’s official. I booked the movers. We are moving out of our Springfield Avenue space on September 10 to…..a temporary storage facility while I wait for my new lease to finalize, and then several weeks of work to get done on the new space.

I can’t believe it has taken this long to negotiate a new lease! It has been months. I never expected to be on the verge of moving without a new address to advertise. But if all goes as planned we WILL be in Millburn, as rumor has it, and open in October.

Many of you have asked why we are moving. The real answer is just a simple one: to grow, in many senses of the word. And growing is both exciting and scary, and takes you places you didn’t expect…like storage facilities. Ah well. MBAs everywhere are in agony at how our growth plan is executing itself. But we are going with the flow!

A favorite scene from the original furbish.

A favorite scene from the original furbish.

In the meantime, our phone lines will be up and running. I will still be carrying on the interior design business. And I will be planning amazing, fun, and beautiful things for the furbish redux. The blog will be active, and the first source of information about what is happening.

Here is some of what you can expect:

1. Design-wise I’m going back to my roots. I’ll be carrying several Indian-inspired pieces and new Indian-styled textile lines. And there might be just a touch of french rococo accents woven into our look. I really do feel that ornamentation styles from around the globe are coming back in bits and pieces and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

2. We will be offering a regular roster of events for you, as well as seminars and design tours. Yay!

3. We are bringing in a new line of upholstered seating that will provide you with 100s of new sofa and chair frames to select from. Yes, more options. But don’t worry because I will also be paring all of the new choices down with a list of “UMA’s PICKS for the SEASON.” This will be a select offering of fabrics, sofa and chair styles, accent pieces, and gift items that I believe are both classic and of the moment.

So this is just a preview. Stay tuned! I hope to announce a new address in the coming days and will be telling you more about the exciting new directions we are moving in! Be well.

Opening night in the original furbish. Now another one awaits!

Opening night in the original furbish. Now another one awaits!

grandmother’s house

Michael’s grandmother, Grandma Stewart, as we call her, turned 90 last Sunday. All of her four children (plus three daughter’s-in-law), nine out of ten grandchildren (plus two grandchildren-in-law), and three great-grand children, friends and other relatives all descended upon Lancaster, OH to celebrate.

Celebration on Grandma's patio with requisite french table linens in place

Celebration on Grandma's patio with requisite french table linens in place. We used paper plates, but with real silver.

I cannot say enough about Grandma Stewart. She always makes me feel like her real grand-daughter. She is a gracious, elegant woman with old-world class, sensibility, manners, and charm. At the age of 90 she is always impeccably dressed in a blazer with skirt. Meals at home require any one of her excellent collection of batik print tablecloths picked up on yearly trips to France, and, yes, good silver. To this day she insists on the things that bring her pleasure and joy, regardless of how impractical they may be for everyone else involved. 

The grand matriarch

I want to share some photos of Grandma’s home because this is the home of someone who knows what they enjoy and places no limits on that. Just about every room in the house is done in signature blue or green, with vintage floral or damask wallpapers. Little vases and knick-knacks from travels and friends sit along every window ledge and shelf, each with a story. Framed art abounds in every corner, many pieces painted by Grandma herself. Visiting Grandma Stewart’s home is an experience. She will part with nothing, and so the home is packed with mementos, catalogs, photos, you name it, spanning the decades. It is a child’s dream, full of color and objects, rooms, closets, basement, all filled with things to discover and marvel at. 

Looking from the living room into the sitting room and dining room

The photos below are from the living room where the family convenes after dinner, or where friends who drop by are invited to sit for pleasant conversation. The folding card table is generally always in place, with spare chairs nearby for post-supper card games. The game is always rummy and Grandma ALWAYS wins, usually by a margin of a 100 points or so.

A spare sitting room sits between the living room and the dining room for spill over during larger gatherings, plus more space for all of grandma’s treasured things. This sofa is often a quiet place to sit when one needs respite from the boisterous family gatherings.

The dining room is so very important. This is the place where everyone reliably gathers for grace and a good meal. Table settings are a chance for creativity and enjoying newness in a familiar place. Grandma continues to sit at the head of the table.

An upstairs bedroom goes softer and paler with creamy moldings, dreamy paper, and french chair in yellow quilted fabric. Waking up in this room is like waking up in a spring garden. Something about the wallpaper is mesmerizing to me. I never tired of gazing at it.

What I realized is that Grandma posseses the heart of an artist. As we sat outside on a beautiful cloudless day she said, “The sky is so bright that if you put that color on a canvas it would look gaudy. I know because I’ve tried.” Her approach to life is immediate and sensory and sensitive. She continues to put energy into what to wear to lunch or how the table is set, because to her that is as essential to her definition of life as breathing.