love notes

March 13, 2015

paper flowers

paper flowers made from vintage books, a gift from Solvi

A small catalogue of memories around my house, in words and numbers…

measuring tape

a vintage tape measure by my desk, because I always find I need one

paper leaves

paper leaves from a “Christmas” wreath that really looks good all year

Solvis notes

post-it love notes and pictures which Solvi tacks up on our poster bed. When their adhesive powers give way, they fall like prayer leaves on our bed. I save them all.

Olies book

Oliver’s first book, made in the first grade. He hated narrative writing back then, so he embellished the tale of a family walk with a little danger.


Angela’s calendar – though several years out of date, it’s too beautiful to throw away


the tag from a gift with a long backstory.

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mas puerto rico

March 10, 2015

We heart Vieques

But a few of the many picts I took of our Puerto Rican holiday.

Vieques beaches were sublime. From calm lagoon to crashing surf, each had its own character. Yet all were surrounded by nature, not a building in sight.

Rich in historic buildings and sites, Old San Juan was both charming and fascinating. Great food. And the people? Both the locals and the many other Northerners so grateful for having escaped the relentless winter, were ever so friendly and relaxed. We can’t wait to go back.

Las Chivas, Vieques

La Chiva, Vieques

petting the Candado Beach Parrot

pet parrot in Candado, San Juan

happy Boston boy in Vieques

Boston boy happy to be in the sun

Vieques wild horses

Wild horse, Vieques

star fish

snorkeling, Vieques

back in the water! Plata Prieta, Vieques

Jumping in, Plata Prieta, Vieques

Vieques swing

Hangin’ on the Altantic side of Vieques

feathery tree vieques

feathery tree by the road, Vieques

kids fishing, vieques

locals fishing off the pier, Vieques

locals fishing off the pier, vieques

shell collecting vieques

shell collecting, Vieques

Vieques church

church, Vieques

Chad Vieques_edited-1

Chad, Vieques

375 yr old ceiba tree_edited-2

300 year old ceiba tree, Vieques

Solvi snorkleing Vieques

Solvi snorkeling


coconut and coral_edited-1

Coconut and coral

fountain play 4_edited-1

fountain fun, Old San Juan

colorful bldgs old San Juan

colonial pastels in Old San Juan

conquering kids, castillo san cristobal, old san juan

conquering kids, San Cristobal, Old San Juan

san juan cemetary

cemetery, Old San Juan

feeding pigeons Old San Juan

feeding the pigeons, Old San Juan

fountain play 3

fountain play, Old San Juan

San Cristobal, San Juan_edited-1

San Cristobal, Old San Juan

light house el morro, san juan

light house at El Morro, Old San Juan

Solvi Gallery Inn

Solvi at the Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

Calle San Justo, San Juan

Calle San Justo, Old San Juan

reading Olie Gallery Inn

Olie reading, Gallery Inn, Old San Juan

sleeping beauty gallery Inn

Sleeping Beauty, Gallery Inn

Even more! [click to continue…]


Gallery Inn Old San Juan, former stable door by Justine HandA modern-day caballero, Jan’s husband and fellow artist Manuco Gandia, was also a famous horseman. Here a doorway off the main courtyard pays homage the to family’s close equestrian ties.

“It’s Hogwarts!” Oliver exclaimed as we entered the arched vestibule of The Gallery Inn in Old San Juan. Indeed the sculptural stone interior, chock-a-block full of eclectic art and ephemera, did resemble the wizarding world’s most famous castle. The only thing missing were the owls. Instead there were parrots.

The singular atmosphere of The Gallery Inn is the vision of one woman, Jan D’Esopo, a native of Connecticut and New York who came to Puerto Rico after completing her degree in painting and sculpture. In 1961, the young artist crawled through a crack in the wall of abandoned structure into what she describes as an “ancient secret garden.” Where others saw a hopeless case, Jan recognized in the sculptural remains a kindred spirit. Amongst the whispering stones she heard not only the echoes of the past, but also the call of the future.

In his book, The Big House – an homage to the family home, which fittingly I began to read while a guest at The Gallery Inn – author George Howe Colt describes a home as “the one place that will be in your bones forever.” That is what The Gallery Inn is to Jan. And yet she is the one who added flesh to those bones. By living her life here, raising a family, creating her art, and then finally sharing her space with the world, Jan, together her husband Manuco, nurtured the Inn’s character, gave it life.

Today Jan’s home and hostelry encompasses 6 historic town houses dating from the Spanish Colonial era. Like some hybrid of Pan’s Labrinth and Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, the grand interior moves in a warren-like fashion from grottoed recesses to sunlit courtyards and gardens. Right at the blue macaw, under the ancient arch, left at the Spanish steps, along the palmed atrium, through the grand salon, into the rooftop garden, down the orchid-lined stair, along Roman bath, past the formal dining room, into the artist studio, and so on. There are even some stairs that seem to lead to nowhere. And everywhere momentos of Jan’s rich life follow your progress. Gilded portraits, many by her sister, Teresa D’Esopo Spinner, and family photos gaze down in curious fashion. Bronze and clay statuary by Manuco and Jan – the visages of former guests and local dignitaries (there’s even the Obamas) – peak shying out of nooks and cranies. Even the vines hanging from the balconies seem to reach out in welcome embrace. And don’t be startled if you enter an empty room and are greeted by a spectral “hello!” It’s most likely Campeche, the cockatoo, or one of his parrot friends.

The result off all this romantic eclecticism is a building of such story and character that it seems alive. Indeed it feels not like a hotel at all, but an experience. For some, who may not appreciate the rustic nature of this 300-year-old structure, it may not be the right experience. But for those who are respective to its tale, being a guest at The Gallery Inn is to become part of its story. The effect is nothing short of enchanting.

Gallery Inn San Juan, dining roomRather than modernizing the space, Jan elected to pay homage to the 300-year-old interior’s historic past by maintaining much of the original detail. Here, like starlight, elegant chandeliers pierce the dark of the Spanish colonial dining room.

Gallery Inn pool 2Reminiscent of a ruined Roman bath, the pool is literally a work of art. It is also the best place for water tag. I admit, at first, I was worried that I would not be able to curb my children from this raucous activity. Until I spied two huge plastic water guns furnished by Jan for just this purpose. Guests of all ages are not only welcomed, but celebrated, at The Gallery Inn.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, poolside sitting area by Justine HandWhile the children played water sports with Dad, I relaxed with a glass of wine under the equally Romanesque canopy adjacent to the pool.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, Oliver reading by Justine HandThe chiaroscuro effect of the Gallery’s interiors was a photographer’s dream. Here Oliver winds up a day of traipsing around San Juan’s impressive and massive fortifications by relaxing with a good book.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, sitting area, by Justine HandDespite the elegant nature of the furnishings, all the spaces in The Gallery Inn possess an intimate quality, that is more welcoming than intimidating. Here a more informal lounge space under the main stairs takes in a view of the palm and orchid studded atrium. 

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, Olie and Solvi by Justine HandMore reading with Oliver, while Solvi takes in the Atlantic view.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, Solvi drawing by Justine HandInspired by the gallery around her, Solvi begins a portrait of her own.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, orchid wall by Justine HandOrchids climb the entire wall of the outdoor garden deck, where guests enjoy breakfast and cocktails.

Jan at Gallery with cockatoo_edited-1Jan herself, is an active feature of The Gallery Inn. Here she is with the hotel’s director of hospitality, Campeche, perched on her shoulder. 

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, atrium 2 by Justine HandVines cascade from the balcony above this open air atrium, which is still moist from the previous evening’s rain. 

Jan and Cockatoo 2Most evenings at cocktail hour Jan and Campeche emerge to socialize and inquire after the comfort of their guests. In addition, Campeche often performs some of his many tricks, including playing the piano. Here he takes a bow.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, sitting area and stairs by Justine HandTile enthusiasts will find no shortage at The Gallery Inn.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, Pepe sandals by Justine HandAfter a long New England winter, my Pepe sandals were glad to get out and about in the sun.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, music room by Justine Hand_edited-1Off a tiny Colonial kitchen, which now serves as a library, the Venetian style music room plays host to many a concert musician. Here a lucky guest gets a rare chance to play Jan’s Steinway Grand.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, parrot by Justine HandCampeche shares his home with several other talented parrots, who welcome visitors with a “hello” or “hola.”

Gallery Inn San Juan, Solvi and blue Macaw, by Justine HandSolvi’s rendering of the Inn’s blue macaw.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan kids on balcony by Justine HandSet right over the walls of Old San Juan, The Gallery Inn enjoys a breathtaking view of the ocean (or, from the rooftop wine deck, the whole city). Our room, the Balcon, sported twin balconies that took in not only the “secret garden” courtyard, but also the Atlantic.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, Chad by Justine HandContinually inspired by her home, Jan created many portraits of The Gallery Inn. Here, my husband, Chad, sits surrounded by these works.

Gallery Inn Old San Juan, formal sitting area by Justine HandOne of the many sitting areas available for guests to enjoy, this one opens onto the pastel streets of Old San Juan.


love and the creative spirit

February 11, 2015

hearts heartsThis year for Valentine’s Day, I decide to revive a tradition from my childhood: Scandi-inspired heart ornaments fashioned from homemade baking soda “clay.” My friend Alexandra and I used to make them with her mother, Marnie. I remembered those tomato red hearts with such affection, and was excited to pass the experience on to my own children.

But Oliver wasn’t interested. For the first time ever my boy firmly stated that he did not want to make Valentines for his class. Since we always make our own cards, I questioned why. Turns out some boys in his class have been teasing him all year, and he just couldn’t see his way to giving them a card. I started to give him the standard PC parent lecture about love conquering all. But then I paused. For I realized that this was likely not the reality he experienced navigating the trenches of third grade. And part of me understood; it would be hard to give a piece of yourself to people who make you feel so small. So I didn’t press him.

Later though, as Solvi and I began our production, Oliver did join in. He even came up with the idea of painting an arrow piercing the heart. (Fitting, no?) So maybe love doesn’t conquer all. And maybe even as I want to provide my kids with all the rich and wonderful experiences of childhood, I can’t protect them from the fact that life hurts. But in the end, I was happy to see that it takes more than a few mean words to stifle Oliver’s creative spirit.

playdough hearts prebakingIn case you are wondering, here’s a recipe for making your own hearts using baking soda and cornstarch.

playdough hearts baked

Solvi painting hearts

Olie painting hearts

Olie painting hearts detail

kids painting hearts

playdough hearts red

playdough hearts red finished

detail white heartleaving some unpainted created a more Scandi-modern version, complete with Angela Liguori’s wrapped cotton twine

playdough hearts white finished

pink and white heart


snowmageddon from the inside

January 29, 2015

braided rug 2

When life gives you driving snow and hurricane force winds, what do you do? Make biscuits.

Yesterday, Juno meant a day of forced leisure – time to enjoy the small things: my long neglected knitting, as well as a good book read in bed, with a kid on either side quietly doing the same. (Oh thank you God of Reading for making just one of my pre-parental fantasies come true.) It also meant having time to indulge the children’s whims, such Solvi’s request to make a rug for her baby bunny. Or that of Oliver, who announced he wanted to make biscuits.
Me: “What? Where did that come from?”
Him: “From a book I’m reading. Biscuits and honey sound delicious.”
Yes, they did; and they were.
Other moments were spent by the fire savoring Jasper Hill Cheese, a free gift from a frazzled clerk at Whole Foods who couldn’t be bothered to look up the price of the unlabeled product. Or just enjoying the reflected light.

braided rug 1


making biscuits

making biscuits 2

hot biscuits with honey

tea and biscuits




new bedroom lightsSneak peak at the progress on our bedroom as we finally strip the ugly, old wall paper. Though still unwashed and a little dingy, I do love the modeled look of the plaster. I feel like I’m sleeping in an Italian villa. Long coveted by me, the Hector sconces by BTW were a Christmas and early birthday present from Chad. The bone-white porcelain shades are the perfect touch. To complete the look, I’m considering applying a lime wash to the walls. Hopefully this will freshen them up without totally obscuring the plaster. For the trim – a soft, warm gray, of course.

my little ponnyMy little pony is by Rusakko.

bedroom work
winter dining roomAlways love the light in the dining room at this time of year.

DIY large paper cranes, finished 1, by Justine Hand for Remodelista.jpgGiant DIY cranes glide in the dining room.


Love these soulful images of my house shot by Angela Liguori during last month’s holiday market here. Oliver made himself scarce while our home was filled with shoppers. But Solvi, as you can see, was the hit of the show. At some point she was inspired to pull out her own jewelry making kit and set up shop. Five sales later, she made $15.

See more picts at Angela’s blog.


Solvi gives a tour to a new friend.


handmade and vintage goods by Jill Bent


Solvi augments her craft supplies with Angela’s ribbon scraps.


Solvi and a kindred spirit


Niho candles


a selection of Angela’s ribbons


Susy‘s manekin


Laura from Templeton General and Kristi Allore with her candles

2justine and solvi



Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 1

Instead of using potatoes and any old ink for our annual wrapping paper project, this year we got serious. Mom made real stamps (!!!!) and actually bought professional block printing ink. The kids didn’t really notice the difference. (They’re approach is more, err, extemporaneous.) But I fell in love. Block printing is my new passion.

Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 2
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Solvi 1
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Solvi roller
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 bird stamps
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Olie's birdsOlie’s “flock”

Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Solvi 2
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Olie roller
Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 silver dogs

Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 mom's gnomesMom’s attempt birds and gnomes

Annual DIY wrapping paper 2014 Mom's white dogswhite dogs

DIY Scandi inpsired Gods eyes, gift tag, by Justine Hand for Remodelista


mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, mistletoe, by Justine Hand for Remodelistamistletoe from California. (Note: that mistletoe can cause stomach irritation if you consume it, so this garland is not recommended for homes with young children or mischievous pets.)

The second in my series on reinventing old Christmas standbys in new ways: a garland with mistletoe and meyer lemons.

This arrangement was inspired by author Mary Taylor Simeti, a NY-native, who, in her book On Persephone’s Island, describes using lemon boughs to conjure a Northern style Christmas in her Southern Sicilian home. See Remodelista for the complete how-to.

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, meyer lemons, by Justine Hand for Remodelistameyer lemons

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, trimming andromeda, by Justine Hand for Remodelistaandromeda foraged from my yard

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, adding in mistletoe, by Justine Hand for Remodelista

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, tying off 2, by Justine Hand for Remodedlista

mistletoe meyer lemon garland, finished with candles 3, by Justine Hand for Remodelista

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, finished detail, by Justine Hand for Remodelista

mistletoe and meyer lemon garland, finished detail 2, by Justine Hand for Remodelista

mistletoe meyer lemon garland, finished with candles, by Justine Hand for Remodelista

table profile with mistletoe garland


a poinsettia i could love

December 19, 2014

Poinsettia bouquet with rose hips, finished arrangement 2, by Justine Hand for Gardenist

Never been a fan of Poinsettias. Perhaps it’s the foil wrapping or the bad supermarket lighting. But when Gardenista asked me to reimagine them as a cut flower, I discovered the drama of this common Christmas plant. See here for the tutorial.

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, white poinsettia, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Repotted, my poinsettia is already better.

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, rose hips, by Justine Hand for Gardenistarose hips

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, leucothoe, by Justine Hand for Gardenistaleucothoe

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, base, by Justine Hand for Gardenistathe base – floral foam in a pedestal bowl

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, poinsettia sap, by Justine Hand for GardenistaCut poinsettia stems need to be seared or the sap with drip out, and the flower will not last.

Poinsettia bouquet with rop hips, searing a poinsettia, by Justine Hand for Gardenistasinge the stem

Poinsettia bouquet, adding flowers Poinsettia bouquet with rose hips, finished arrangement detail, by Justine Hand for Gardenist Poinsettia bouquet with rose hips, finished arrangement, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

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