The Modern Nomad by Kelly Cornell

I’m not sure what else I could possibly write this week that has been marked by loss and jarring suicides. As I mentioned in my last post, unfortunately the last twelve months alone have had several instances of colleagues, family and friends that have left the world all too soon. When my sister texted me early on Friday morning to tell me Anthony Bourdain had died, my soul and body simultaneously crumpled. I knew the flood of mourning would be great. He is so widely influential. I don’t know what else I could possibly add to the many voices that have expressed what an influence he was to their lives. My heart aches for his loves; I can only imagine what they are going through. That day, I wrote Anthony Bourdain a letter. It was the only thing I could think to do.

Dear Anthony,

You made me want to be a writer as soon as I read Kitchen Confidential in 2001. I was spellbound by your presence on TV, even in those janky early cable show days. Your voice reading your own words was so evocative it was like being immediately transported. I envied your life. I wanted to age like you-- full of the spirit of adventure and still humble in the presence of the wonders of the world. Was I misguided in my envy? What price did you pay for being a modern nomad? While watching you connect on television was it really the connection you needed and deserved? Was it too fleeting? There’s so much unknown.

In 2015, I took my last residential design studio class at UCLA Extension so I could wrap up my education to ultimately change my career to interior design. I had to choose a fake client and immediately I knew it was going to be you; there was no else in the world I would rather have as a client. And I loved you as a pretend client. Pretend clients are great, they have no opinions.

  My presentation board for his living room and dining area. I suggested a graffiti covered warehouse door, a negra maquina marble wall and concrete floors with metal inlays. I've been trying to get clients to do metal inlays in concrete floors for years.  I did get a client to do the Gabriel Scott Welles chandelier on another project.

My presentation board for his living room and dining area. I suggested a graffiti covered warehouse door, a negra maquina marble wall and concrete floors with metal inlays. I've been trying to get clients to do metal inlays in concrete floors for years.  I did get a client to do the Gabriel Scott Welles chandelier on another project.

I remember building out a space that I felt would fit you. Large open kitchen, a smoking lounge, a library and writing studio, dining table with a pit that opened for open-flame cooking, all with masculine finishes. It was actually edgy and cool when I look back on some of it. It was the first time I attempted to do renderings. I was already working for SFA Design at that point and the guys at the local reprographics place in Beverly Hills knew me. I sent my final project in for printing their whole workshop was abuzz when I went in to pick it up. I asked what was up and they were all excited because they thought SFA was designing your next residence. I guess that was the first time I realized how you transcended so many barriers and that most everyone thought you were cool. It was also one of those times when I knew I was hitting it right with my career change and that maybe I would end up being a good designer. I remember wanting to send you this project but of course my natural shyness and embarrassment kept me from doing it. I thought about how maybe one day I would be designing for you for real. I am sad to think that day will never come now and my ultimate client is gone.

  The Ramones even made it onto this board that shows the kitchen, smoking + scotch lounge and TV lounge.  My first renderings.  They are about as awful as the quality of this photograph.  But that Bec Brittain pendant still slays and I think my use of metal in glass for that smoking lounge wall was pretty dope. 

The Ramones even made it onto this board that shows the kitchen, smoking + scotch lounge and TV lounge.  My first renderings.  They are about as awful as the quality of this photograph.  But that Bec Brittain pendant still slays and I think my use of metal in glass for that smoking lounge wall was pretty dope. 

When I was working on this final project, I actually made a playlist on Spotify as my soundtrack to channel you. So yeah, basically I made you a mix tape. It’s a ton of punk and garage rock, lots of Ramones. I’m listening to it now while I am writing you this letter and the rawness of sound and the frenetic energy suited you. The abruptness in how these songs end suits you now as well. There is so much of that design project I wish I could share with you, especially the first early drafts that were so ironic in how they reflect your end. And the irony in how you would probably never have really enjoyed the residence with your grueling travel schedule.

There is so much about you that made you my ultimate client. I knew exactly what to do and things just flowed more easily than they ever had. What can I say about you that countless others haven’t already expressed? You were so much more than a writer, than a chef, than a TV host. In so many ways, you were like a philosopher or strange shaman.

I will miss you and the generosity of your contributions. Thank you for the lessons I will carry forward. I hope I can retain the driving curiosity and inquisitive character that was just who you naturally were. You made it cool to not know everything in a world where we are expected to constantly be experts and constantly be plugged in and aware through a screen. You were a constant reminder to get out and experience things first hand with all of our senses.

Goodbye to my favorite fake client and one of my few idols.

  More safety glass, leather, negra maquina, weathered metal and crazy lighting installations for the Master Suite and Writing Studio where I designed some sweet bright white lacquered millwork to offset all that masculinity.  Sorry about all the bad photography, I didn't know crap about using my camera back then.  

More safety glass, leather, negra maquina, weathered metal and crazy lighting installations for the Master Suite and Writing Studio where I designed some sweet bright white lacquered millwork to offset all that masculinity.  Sorry about all the bad photography, I didn't know crap about using my camera back then.  

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. by Kelly Cornell

This was a strange year for me of people passing at their own hand.  Colleagues, friends, and people I didn’t know but influenced me either way.  Suicide is violent, like a murder, and always leaves us reeling in shock.  It feels too personal to write about the other people I have lost this year.  It sort of feels a little cliché to write about someone I didn’t know but Kate Spade’s suicide yesterday has been on my mind and I told myself that when I felt compelled to write here, I would.  My apologies to folks that have been expecting interior design posts or posts about my home renovation.  I’m sure those will be forthcoming. 

In 2002-ish, I was a young college graduate living back in Baltimore and working in an avant-garde museum space in Mount Vernon, called the Contemporary Museum, at the time.  I lived in a rowhome my family owned in Locust Point before that neighborhood was a place where trendy looking moms walked with their strollers.  All the families that lived there knew my grandfather and uncles from working on the waterfront.  One of my closest friends from high school, Meg, was also living back in Baltimore working as a graphic designer for an engineering firm of all places.  It was that sort of weird time post-college, post-9/11 where we weren’t sure who we were or where we were supposed to be going. 

 This isn't exactly Meg's Noel diaper bag.  Her's was even better. Note the changing pad.  

This isn't exactly Meg's Noel diaper bag.  Her's was even better. Note the changing pad.  

Meg is the very definition of effortless style.  She would define herself as preppy but I find her style is without any of the strange idiosyncrasies the term 'Maryland preppy' conjures.  Her style is classic and timeless but also has that underlying current of the artist that she is.  And in 2002-ish, she bought what I can guess was probably her first Kate Spade bag for work at this ultra-conservative engineering firm.  This bag was anything but.  First of all, it was a diaper bag as to which I think my reaction was basically, “WHUT.”  Neither of us had kids, we still don’t and yet I am sure we would still carry that damn bag today.  It was the Noel, black and white with the boldest graphic pattern.  It stood out loudly among a bunch of Vera Bradley in Maryland.  It was perfectly boxy, roomy, deep skinny pockets on the side presumably for baby bottles but perfect for water bottles and hilariously came with a Kate Spade changing pad.  The fabric was a nylon that wiped clean in two seconds.  It was the epitome of mommy practical, which neither of us 22 year-olds drinking until the wee hours of the morning mid-week were.  I had to have this bag too, immediately. 

At that time in my life, it was one of the most expensive purchases I made besides my car. But it was worth it.  I carried that bag from 2002 until 2010, nearly a full decade before I had to retire it.  Unlike Meg’s gorgeous, graphic bold black and white mine was just black.  I was in fundraising at the time and wore a lot of suits (I no longer own a suit, which is weird to think of).  I received so many compliments on that bag and always loved people’s surprise when I admitted it was actually a diaper bag.  I used to think about how I would upgrade the bag whenever I did have kids, but I never did have them (kids that is, definitely had more bags). 

A bag can be and usually is a highly personal item for a woman, especially the bag you carry every day.  It has to fit your shoulder right, hit your body in a certain way so that when it’s carried it becomes just a natural extension of you.  Your things, the treasured items and things you cannot live the day to day without, have to fit perfectly in the right spots so they are literally at your fingertips at any moment.  That Kate Spade diaper bag was perfect.  It was large enough to carry books through graduate school in Washington, DC when I started at George Washington University in 2003.  It carried my resume in a file when I landed in Laguna Beach, California for the first time and got a job that would take me 3,000 miles away from my home for nearly 12 years.  It carried my notebooks when I back to school again at UCLA to change careers to interior design.  And it carried many, many changes of clothes discretely for a wide variety of impromptu sleepovers, probably even the first one I had with my now ex-husband. 

 This was pretty much exactly my beloved Kate Spade diaper bag.

This was pretty much exactly my beloved Kate Spade diaper bag.

I passed that Kate Spade diaper bag along after I retired it.  It went to a friend, who recently had a baby and was lamenting her diaper bag at the time.  While my bag was starting to show slight signs of wear at the corners of its boxy build, it was still in near-perfect condition.  The Kate Spade changing pad was in mint condition as I never quite could figure out what to do with that.  My new mom friend, Casey and I thought it was hilarious to be changing a shitty diaper on a designer changing pad.  Casey had just left her burgeoning career in the LA fashion industry and I knew she missed it and it was fun to give her a little piece of totally ridiculous luxury.  When she had her first son, I had been laid off from a job in the middle of the recession and was a 30-something that had gone back to school to change careers.  Again, I was at a point where it was a financial stretch to do anything, so passing along something was all I could do. 

I miss that bag and what it represented in my life for almost a decade.  The moment I first saw Meg carrying it so effortlessly cool.  The stretch my 22 year-old self made to purchase my own.  The final passing along for its rightful intended purpose. 

I have always liked Kate Spade’s style, mostly for the graphic quality of form and color.  Lord knows I love orange and she did that color so well.  Today, I carry a small black leather slouchy cross body Kate Spade purse.  It’s so much smaller than that diaper bag was but I need less to get by these days.  It does what a bag is supposed to do and forms to my body in this natural extension of myself.  I bought this bag in 2016 at the Camarillo Outlets driving back from a girls’ trip to Paso Robles that I took the weekend before I filed for divorce.  I’ll not expand on the ugliness that entailed but in short it was financially difficult.  And yet again, I remember thinking it was a financial stretch to buy a new purse at that time, to be taking a trip to wine country with my friends.  My friend Denise, who was with me, bought the same purse that day, too.  I remember her asking me if I minded.  Of course, I didn’t.  The presence of Kate Spade’s designs in my life has always been about a shared sense of style, even representing the generosity of style between friends.