Thursday, June 30, 2011

East or West, Home is Best

Fair readers, Nero has reached the end (for now) of this installment of the Cairene chronicles. As the labor continues back at the Sand Pit, we the Nero Trio, ensconced anew in our summer routine here in Texas, excitedly await fuzzy images -- messages delivered via carrier pigeon -- detailing the latest paint finishes, worker skirmishes and zany construction antics. 

So far, the adventure has proved a whirlwind -- a swirl of sand, a magnificent maelstrom of happy mistakes and happenstance. And swiftly, not so much grain by grain anymore, progress is being made and the light is shining through. So stick around. 

Regular programming will resume shortly here at Nero, but pictures from the 'Pit will continue to trickle in. By my calculations, the next journey over Cairo way will produce the sort of epic decorative eye candy that design blogging is made for -- or at the very least, a few prettier posts to peruse. At any rate, the plan is for the 'Pit to be habitable by our next touchdown, even if that means camping out on the stone floor for a few weeks. These days we hold our breath and wait on edge of seat, excited to watch our dreams take root. And so a sinkhole swells into a home, in a place of old and new, of shadow and twinkling light, of stealthy moves and ancient queens, of together and us -- for East or West, fair Nerophytes, home is best. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let's Get Souked, Shall We?

On Switch Plates and Checklists

Ever get a to-buy list from your electrician that looks like this?
Didn't think so.

Or see so many dizzying shades of switch plate witchery?
We'll take a whole lotta plain white please.

So just remember, the grass is never greener than where you are, fair Nerophytes.
Even if you have none yet and are coveting the neighbor's patch.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Of Paint Decks and Panic Mode

So fair readers, when was the last time you were pressed to choose paint colors without the benefit of sample swatches and in twenty minutes flat?
Didn't think so.

But Nero, this is madness, you say? 
Oh no folks, this is Cairo.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Survival and Strategy

Life in Egypt is a bit like a lion hunt. 
There is the color, the bravado but also the danger and the bravura. 

And so it is best approached with strategy, like a game of chess.

Moves must be at once spontaneous and premeditated.

Gradual and swift

A quick cut to a King-kill.

And sometimes an ice cold fizzy drink and the world's finest peanuts provide the perfect sustenance

When chance and odds 

Are firmly stacked against you.

On the Hard Work of Hardware

Let's talk about bits, let's talk about bobs -- let's talk knobs.
Here the mixed metals almost appear precious

As our brilliant carpenter Hussein whipped out doors and windows at lightening speed, Nero knew certain cold, hard realities would soon have to be faced, like, what of the hardware? Though I covet these decorative and utilitarian ornaments on the same plane as precious gems, there's no denying the hair-pulling and angst that accompany such definitive design decisions. Once again enter Hala, the stellar sis-in-law, to save the day. She promptly soldiered us off to a particular part of downtown -- an entire street in fact -- lined to the brim with hardware, hardware, hardware as far as the eye could see. 

There were knobs and locks for days

Pulls to last a lifetime

After browsing and brainstorming, Nero finally took a leap of faith and put her mind to the metal. I've mentioned a persistent penchant for gold plate of late, but what I failed to recount is that stately, heavy brass hinges were installed throughout the apartment before our arrival on every door and window frame. This was a decision made earlier in the building process by Hala and Nero's mother-in-law, who loftily aimed to uphold classic quality and longevity on the homestead's finishes. Nero couldn't agree more, but I was soon faced with the realization (read challenge) that the Midas touch would have to be carried out throughout the space, at least as far as doors and window fittings were concerned. And so the gilt trip continues. 

For the three bedrooms and the large master bath, these geometric brass doorknobs (or a very similar approximation) were insisted upon by Nero, whose sis-in-law and Pharaoh shot doubtful, sideways glances my way, wondering aloud why on earth a simple golden round at a cheaper price point wouldn't suffice just as nicely. Because Nero said so, folks. Quite simply, the delight is in the details and frankly, at a relatively reasonable $70 American buckeroos for a hefty, two-sided, gold-plated, solid brass pair of knobs and two matching keyholes hand-forged in Italy, there was nothing left to discuss. 

 The idiosyncrasies of Egyptian locking mechanisms posed another puzzler for Nero, who finally ended up going for Orientalist-Baroque (or, er, something like that) with the long Arabesque-style pull for the outside of our front door and the sinewy golden handle and lock for the inside. A note to my fair readers here, each of the windows in the home also requires a twisting handle mechanism, as they are constructed of heavy wood and several include protective shutters on the outside. Narrowing down the lesser of evils and much nail-biting led Nero to choose a window latch that basically replicates the twisty gold bar above, minus the elongated lock and key bit.

There will be a variation in tone when it comes to the open kitchen and master bath, which will both wear nickel-toned hardware. 

So far, Nero's feeling rather smitten with IKEA's wide-set Svep handle for the lower kitchen cabinets and drawers (there will be no upper cabinetry). It's a handsome pull in person, appears sturdy and functional, and at $4.99 for the two-pack feels practically sensible. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Of Midas-itis and the Goldfinger Touch

Sometimes, walls tell us what they want to wear. Louder than a whisper they insist and press, define -- tastemakers -- their mode of dress. 

Nero experienced this firsthand in choosing lighting for the Sandpit. In an ancient city like Cairo, it would be facile, especially as a foreigner, to fall into the open arms of fantasy and Orientalist pastiche. With Moorish lanterns and filigree for hawk on every corner, why, a regular latter-day harem could be outfitted in no time flat. And don't get me wrong, fair Nerophytes, cuz Nero had every intention of playing up that angle to the hilt. 

And yet, somehow, the 'Pit had other plans. You see, Cairo is indeed in many ways antiqued and blowsily splendored, but it is also a dynamic, bustling urban landscape which vibrates with activity -- a city where people sleep in turns, guaranteeing action, fist-pumping music and full-blown life at all hours. She's a modern broad with moxie and she wants to make sure you all know it. 

Clearly, the unearthing of King Tut's tomb left a vacuum that Nero simply must fill. And so a gold jones began, a gilt trip of epic, historical proportions, followed by a magpie's craving for the brash flash of faceted crystal. Perhaps it was some sort of mysterious epidemic, an outbreak, a fever -- the mummy's curse. 

Throughout this endeavor, Nero's been hell-bent on buying as much locally produced merch as possible, and as luck would have it, Asfour Crystal is this country's version of Swarovski. So if the girl wants diamonds, there, at the Asfour outlet, in a filthy industrial slum peppered with smoke stacks and motorbike rickshaws, is where she goes. 

When Nero says crystal

She's not kidding.

Of course, not all of the fixtures ended up gold-toned, and not all were purchased at Asfour, but all but the table lamp featured below (the twisty lovechild of a tryst Nero started last trip with Zara Home) are Egyptian-made and in the end, Nero even snuck in a couple of streamlined, Moorish numbers purloined from the depths of the souk too, so all was not lost. 

This brass reading buddy will pair perfectly with an inlaid side table or on a writing desk.

A slinky crystal bar in a smoky finish should set the mood for meals over the dining table.

Here a second, equally awkward angle shot.

Nero's had her eye on this louche, drippy strand for the master boudoir for several years now. 

It's like a Mobius Striptease. At long last the order was placed. 

This mod rod will kick up the action factor in the kiddo's bedroom -- it may even encourage more reading too.

A pair of these popsicle sconces

Will eventually flank some sort of artwork in the dining room. 

Two matching flush mounts will hang stalac-tight in the adjoining living room. Could it be the lucite bars reminded Nero of ice? Desperately we tried to up the cool factor, to soothe our scorching Sandpit's fevered brow.

That's right, more gold and a pair of these for an eventual bedside table setup.
Anyone else sorta see a scoop of ice cream theme?

In the guest room, more glacial globes...and gold.

The marble-lined master bath with its freestanding tub and pedestal sink called for a statelier sort of coronation. Enter this trad tiara to harmonize with the nickel-plated hardware.

Two matching sconces will cozy up

To this inlaid mirror over the sink.

Nero's always had a fascination with these ornately designed brass and copper lanterns. And so in searching for something special to illuminate our little one's lair, we strolled the souk and strained and stopped and squinted and stared. And yet, somehow, all of the curlicued calligraphy and climbing vines began to feel busy, overdone. Nero was seeking an ersatz moon, an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-worthy starscape, something organic -- a touch more cosmic.

Then, as if in answer to a silent mantra, this singular, dark orb emerged from the fray. Interplanetary it began to twirl reflective, shooting pin-point lasers ricocheting 'round the shop. "We've got ourselves a winner," Nero nudged. "Climb aboard the Mother Ship."

And so this dizzying, old world disco ball came home with us. Here the lantern looks like some sort of oversized gourd or massive cheese grater. But trust Nero, fair readers, when I tell you that suspended half-a-chain's length shorter, with an inky patina that to the naked eye appears more like an oil slick on blackened bronze than the pinkish copper tea strainer suggested above, the fixture's worthy of a little freestyle dance. 


Urban flâneuse, armchair observer, absent-minded scribbler, occasional epicure and carpool line cultural attaché, my nom de plume is Nero. Join me as I catalog a compilation of earthly delights and stuff that I dig. Alcira Molina-Ali



Follow Nero

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



Nero Bites