Food & Home

garden

Wash, Rearrange, Air Out, Plant:
How to Spark Creativity at Home

To say that Robin Standefer is an enchanting person is an understatement. You don’t even have to meet her: Step into La Mercerie as the late afternoon light slants through the windows onto the pale-blue velvet banquettes, or find yourself in front of a spotlighted silk-enclosed bed and a shelf full of stunning china inside the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or get lost in the ancient-looking mural over the gleaming dark bar at the Greydon Hotel in Nantucket, or remember the first time you ever set foot in the Ace Hotel, and you’ll feel Standefer’s curious, particular mind at work.

Together with her husband and design partner, Stephen Alesch, Standefer founded the now-legendary Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, and the rest is history: Their lists of projects and awards is as impressive as it comes, and their ventures—most notably Guild, their store in New York packed with stunning artisanal objects and furniture—reflect a passion for exploration beyond the definitions of what a designer traditionally does. The two are longtime collaborators with both goop and GP, and we couldn’t love their work, aesthetic, or worldview more.

Now, along with much of America, they’re at home—in their case, a Montauk weekend house. “I feel like I’m being homeschooled,” laughs Standefer. “We’ve been here, working and living, for about seventy days at this point, longer than we’ve ever spent here at one time. I’m grateful for it on so many levels, and then it can also be difficult on so many levels. I mean, Stephen and I love to cook—we’ve been doing it together for twenty-five years—but we’ve never made this many consecutive meals. Which is incredible and romantic and beautiful and creative, but if a hamburger suddenly arrived at my doorstep, I’d be pretty happy!”

The two are busier than ever with work, but Standefer says that taking the time to make your space as beautiful as it can be is worth it no matter how crazed your schedule. “If you can be subtle and sensitive to what comforts and nurtures you, this can be a transformative time,” Read on for her fourteen imaginative, inspiring tips for making the most of staying home.

1

window

Clean to Spark Creativity

“This is a time to reflect on what comfort and cleanliness really mean to us and do for us. Stephen and I have this warm, maximal aesthetic; keeping things in order gives us peace and space. I think it’s about treating cleaning a little bit like a ritual: Right now I’m running two businesses, cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, trying to stay sane…so making a ritual of, say, washing that beautiful throw that I love—something I was always too busy to do before—brings some more beauty into life. I’ve always made a little ritual of hanging certain things to dry on a clothesline outside, and I’m doing it even more now. It blows a fresh energy into your whole space.”

2

flowers on table

Find the Beauty

“We’ve been using the same duvet for a hundred years—our enzyme-wash coverlet—but I’ve just been rediscovering how much I love it. It’s so cozy, washes so well, feels so good when I air it out. Being at home all the time can be this laboratory for discovering what nurtures and comforts you. Nurturing and comfort—that’s a really meaningful combination! Cooking a beautiful fish or setting a beautiful table can be similar. I’m really into GP’s It’s All Easy right now, and the Ottolenghi cookbook, too—just making those beautiful recipes is an experience. No one’s traveling, and you might not be buying a fancy new dress, but maybe you go all out with some candles one night. Or you go fancier on everything this Sunday, bringing out different dishes or picking different flowers. You have to create your rhythm.”

3

sprouts in soil

Incorporate Living Things

“Every environment needs living things in it. I’m a big flower buyer, but I am growing things, too. I bought seeds—herbs, some chrysanthemum seeds I’m especially excited about—and I’ve been starting them indoors. Something growing on a windowsill or a fire escape can just change the way you feel. Last night, I made a fennel salad, so I took all the fennel fronds and put them in a vase on the table. Garden (if you have one), or garden on your windowsill. It’s so beautiful so see something grow. Grow some delicious greens, put them with an egg and a little udon in your donabe, and eat them. Luxury is something nurturing and real. The world can be frightening and exhausting, so we need some joy and some beauty, and living things bring it immediately.”

4

living room

Turn It Inside Out

“When we first got this place, the walls were covered in sad, sad drywall, and the first thing we did was just rip it out right down to the plywood, and it’s been that way ever since. There’s something about turning something inside out. Until now, we’ve never been here this long in one stretch, and it’s funky—it’s like camp, almost—and I’m really enjoying the creativity that it sparks in me every day.”

5

desk

Reset the Space

“The differences between private and public spaces are getting blurry: Your kitchen becomes a good Zoom call spot, and your dining room table becomes an office, like that. Stephen and I work together, so it’s critical that we each carve out our own spaces. You can create different zones, even within a tiny apartment. And the zones can change depending on the time of day: Take the time to put a dining cloth over the table you were working on all day. Clear the work stuff away; set a new atmosphere.”

6

candle

Different Scents for
Different Rooms

“As we’ve been developing Roman and Williams candles, working with this amazing French nose, playing with different aromas and scents, I’ve realized how scent—particularly botanical scent—can help define spaces. I have a candle in one fragrance out at the table where I’m working, and I have a totally different one in the bedroom. The scent could come from a candle, incense, essential oils, even amazing flowers, and it transforms the atmosphere, powerfully but subtly.”

7

vase with flowers

Use something two ways

“If you have a piece of glassware you love, use it as a vase. Your table is a desk and a place where you eat: When we get efficient with our spaces and objects like that, they take on extra layers of meaning.”

8

donabe

One-Pot Meals
Whenever Possible

“My single favorite piece of cookware has to be the donabe. It holds heat perfectly, almost like a tagine. We’ll slow-cook a lamb shoulder in it, have a sort of conservative dinner the first night, then turn it into a curry the second night. Curry in a donabe is just unbelievable. But then we also use it for ramen, yummy stews, rice of course, chicken tagine… We even have some little ones that are good for one person—they keep your food so warm. I’ve even had a baked egg in one to remind me of the eggs at our restaurant, La Mercerie.”

9

Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch

Take Care of Yourself

“Take care of your body the way you’re treating your environment: Make it a ritual. My skin has been so dry, so I’ve been using so many great moisturizers and oils, I love the body oil from goop, the Sturm mask, Goe oil—I’m just covered in that—balms from Khus, beautiful sandalwood oils. It affects how you feel, and how you move through your space and your day. Am I moisturized? Is the table moisturized? It’s all taking care of the physical world around you.”

10

lamp

Look at the Light

“I’ve been thinking a lot about lighting and lightbulbs, and I’ve definitely ordered a few more dimmers on Amazon. At Guild right now, lighting is selling crazy well—it goes so far in creating atmosphere. Beautiful lamps instead of awful overhead light? It’s night and day.”

11

gold vases

Embrace Your Human Creative Spirit

“Everybody right now—not just people who are ‘artists’ but even people who never thought of themselves as at all artistic—is making things, cooking, tapping into their natural creativity. We’ve been drawing and painting and then hanging some of it on the walls. It’s a great change of scenery. When Stephen does it, it’s advanced, and for me, it’s a nice outlet.”

12

table top with art

Make Your Own Still Life

“I’ve rearranged the top of my desk about fourteen times this morning! Some people are having a great time rearranging their furniture, which we haven’t done so much of, but whatever pleases you, rearranging it gives you a fresh perspective. Especially, I think, bringing in something live: Cut a small branch—it can be very modest, just what’s around you. A sprig of parsley in a glass can make you happy. I love to bring lemons into the studio where I’m working. You get that beautiful color, and then if you scrape the peel a little, you get the amazing scent. Make your own still life—try to make one still life every day.”

13

kitchen counter

Pick a Country for Dinner

“Everyone’s cooking, for just about every meal, so you have to make it fun. I love the virtual-travel idea of ‘where are we going tonight?’ We’re having dinners based on India, then France, then Japan. The recipes, the music, the textiles…whatever sets the mood for you, pile it on.”

14

reclaimed wood

Support What You Love

“We work really intensely with artisans whose work we love, and supporting them right now feels so good. Anything someone’s making that you want to see more of, support those people! If you can afford a splurge, do it where it’ll make a difference.”

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