Thursday, September 14, 2017

Oscar Wilde and his paramour Lillie Langtry have made their New York debut. Lillie sashayed in first making an appearance in her Chelsea salon, a grand Victorian "gin palace" transported from Northern Ireland.
Marble columns, a back bar rising higher than Langtry's fame and gorgeous stained glass adorn Lillie's Seventeenth Street locale.
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." Oscar Wilde's comment could as easily be applied to restaurants as well and Lillie's would certainly not have acquired the sobriquet of tedious.
Oscar having been a paramour of Lillie's was therefore not going to be far behind in joining her in America. Newly opened ten blocks north of Lillie's the new Oscar Wilde is as peacock perfect as its namesake.
Once inside the size of the space is in complete synchronicity with Oscar's reputation. It's huge. It stretches out before you and above you with vistas so numerous it's hard to take it all in.
"You can never be too overdressed or overeducated", another of Oscar's witticisms fits like a glove over one's impression of the interior of the bar that bares his name
And there to greet you as you walk in is Oscar himself cast in bronze and looking a bit more like a young Richard Gere,
a little more handsome, a lot less nose than what I've seen in actual photos. Like most things in our world he's been a bit Hollywoodized in his three-dimensional statuary leaning on the bar in a way to make both men and women swoon.
If seeing him isn't enough his presence will penetrate your mind and provide every one of us weak witted with plenty of pithy lines to cast about in conversation as we (well you more likely) try to become conversation heroes and the party's center of attention.
Marble plinths with quotes from the bar's namesake are scattered throughout the hall meaning any of us can appear as ascorbic as Wilde by glancing down at thigh high level and plagiarizing one of his quotes.
If the cats still got your tongue you cast an eye around the room at the little vignettes
and mansion sized tableaux that put you right in the heart of Edwardian London.
There's quite a bit to take in in a bar so stuffed with ornament it's hard to wrap your eyes around. Bars supported by sets of smiling lions.
Gentlemen jockeys supporting curbside lighting at the edges of massive back bars
Bar so ornate with every form of ethnic design prevalent at the later 1800's. From the English to the Moroccans to the Egyptians the feel is totally exotic.
Even if you're fall-down drunk and looking at the ceiling from the floor you're still afforded a glimpse of the Oscar Wilde's fantasy and artistry.
I had to think about how many antiquities had been pillaged to furnish and adorn this palace for the decadent and inebriated. Before I left I had to know. The hostess at the front of the room put her finger up to her chin and said, "France? But let me check." A few minutes later after having consulted with someone a little higher up she came back. "Oh no, it was all carved and carted over from Viet Nam."
As Oscar might have said, "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination". The Oscar Wilde bar certainly does not suffer from a lack of imagination.

Photographer unknown
Found hanging on a column at the Oscar Wilde

Friday, September 8, 2017


I'd guess most cities have their own historic preservation societies and Madison is no exception. Madison's organization the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation began in 1974 as a reaction to two events:
the demolition of the William F. Vilas home on Mansion Hill to make way for a commercial office building and the demolition of Hillside Farm on University Avenue that was replaced by a very important Burger King.
The demolition of Hillside Farm made it to national significance when New York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, included it in an article on the civic need of the importance of respecting and maintaining a city's historic heritage over the city's need for urban renewal.

I joined the Trust's mailing list when I came across their booth at a local street fair and ever since I've received notices about their events and schedules.
What I've found out is that on almost a weekly basis they conduct tours of significant areas of the city of historically important structures in the Madison metropolitan area. They charge $10 a person per tour. My schedule was hard to dovetail with most of their tours. I was either in New York our committed to other Madison obligations but I finally found a tour I could go to.

There's an area on Madison's west side that developed with fits and starts making it a an architectural history lesson stretching from the 1860's through the 1950's.
Westmorland is easily identifiable off of Mineral Point Road with its original stone and metal entrance that hails entrance to the neighborhood via a classic boulevard.
The area borders on one of Madison's beautiful golf courses, Glenway Golf Course providing a vista of rolling fairways of verdant green. The tour is a walking tour that lasts about ninety minutes
Once the tour begins you need to make sure you've got on some decent shoes and you've made a pit stop. There aren't any pee breaks along the tour.
We all met at a corner across from the Village Bar, a local hangout for the community and the 19th hole for the golfers from Glenway Golf Course.
The generational mix of the people who had signed up for the tour was a bit disappointing. I don't remember seeing a single walker under the age of fifty. I'd hoped an interest in the architectural history of the area would go beyond those looking behind and encompass more of those looking ahead.
Westmorland's history is significant for its niche, a niche that isn't about grandeur and opulence but instead about its common man appeal.
Straight through from the 1860's to the late 1920's the area remained predominately farmland but with the growth of Madison in a westward direction Westmorland took off. The Backus house was one of the first major residences to take root in the area. It was built for a local banker and remains one of the grander homes in the area. I have no idea of how many owners have inhabited the house but like so many homes of significance the house remains referred to under the name of its original owner.
A decade later and the character of the neighborhood began to emerge. Westmorland has a collection of Sears homes.
Sears provided a collection of plans you could choose from. Once you chose a plan Sears did the rest loading ever piece of lumber, stone and brick you'd need and sent it off for you to put together
These homes featured a good deal of curb appeal and interior layouts with that thirties appeal of structured rooms with specific uses.
All this was offered at an affordable price for a middle class market.
The thirties produced a boon in construction from the quaint to an influx of homes designed by the famous and popular all trying to produce homes for those with a more modest income.
Starting out as a single level home built in a Bauhaus brutalistic style this home was recently enlarged with a second story in the same style.
Across the street is probably Westmorland's most famous house,
The Jacobs House I built in 1937 by Frank Lloyd Wright. An L-shaped home, it was the first of Wright's Usonian homes designed for middle-income families
When you walk along the side of the lot the house sits on you can see how Wright focused the home to the natural expanse of the backyard enhancing the privacy of the home and providing the owners with a very bucolic view in opposition to its suburban setting
The front of the house has a hidden entry with strong horizontal planking providing a buffer to the street. I was lucky enough to get into the home years ago when a former student and her family owned the home. Their family grew and the home was no longer able to accommodate their family. It's the only reason I can come up with for why they sold it and moved to a less significant home.
With the onset of World War II construction died down until after the war when in the late forties and early fifties another building surge took hold.
A part of this surge was another foray into the area of prefab homes, the Lustron home.
These homes came as a kit of ceramic tiles and could supposedly be put together in a day complete with appliances.
The architectural history of Madison is evident throughout its many significant neighborhoods and I intend to sign up for additional tours with The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation because everyone is welcome in Madison.

State Street
Mark Golbach, photographer
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Sunday, September 3, 2017


Twice a year the Javits hosts NY Now, an event I still refer to as the gift fair. When we opened our shop in a little town in the Upper Catskills the gift fair was the first thing we went to, to stock our shop and fill out our inventory beyond the vintage and antique pieces we pulled from our existing collection.
We developed a cast of favorite vendors, ones with a similar aesthetic to our own and ones that fit into the country lifestyle we were trying to appeal to.
Things changed when we moved to Madison and opened our store on a hidden street of permanently parked cars in a little house with what we thought was great potential.
The aesthetic changed with a slightly more urban industrial look and the vendors at the fair drifted toward our new look.
Once we finally moved away from retail and focused on our interior design work the way we pounded the carpeted aisles of the fair changed to a broader hide and seek with an emphasis on current clients needs for furnishings and accessories but narrowed away from the gifty aisles were we had previously picked out scented candles and holiday fare.
For many years this worked well for us but as other shows seemed to find themselves better suited to shows like ICFF and the Architectural Digest show the vendors with an emphasis on faux fur covered lounge chairs and light fixtures made from hand-blown glass seemed to disappear.
Now the aisles listed as "Home" had a higher percentage of jewelers and felt hats than silver trays and concrete cocktail tables.
Where it took several days to do a complete walk-through of the show in our days of retail purchasing I could now reduce my designated tour time to about a three-hour afternoon. My feet were relieved but my need for a satiated design tour was woefully in need of a pick me up.
What few things I did find were real pearls in a sea of grains of sand.
Bunakara was one of those pearls. There beautiful collection of linens and ticking was rich in hand and subtle in color
I loved their approach to upholstery not even knowing if this was something they offered or were only using for display. If this use of fabric on furniture isn't something they offer I'm stealing the idea and taking off with it
A vendor I hadn't seen before, Roberta Schilling, set up a fantastic booth sprinkled with inventive sofas, lamps and casegoods. They were actually selling off the floor that meant on the day I came near the end of the show almost everything had a sold sign on it
including this great upholstered cocktail table with an attached tray that moved along a track you could slide from side to side
I was surprised to see Mr. Brown and Julian Chichester setting up a booth at the fair. Several of the vendors that have space at 200 Lex had forgone the show and instead held events in their showrooms during NY Now. Since Mr. Brown and Julian Chichester have a showroom there at The New York Design Center I was surprised to see them invest the money in space at NY Now.
I did love this table but I just don't have a client in need right now.
The South came to play and it was well appreciated. I got sidetracked on an aisle in the gift section I hadn't planned on walking down after I had given myself a break for lunch. On my way back out onto the exhibit floor and on to the Home sections I got lucky. One of my favorite New York restaurants is Freemans, a hidden treasure down in the Bowery. This booth had the same appeal. It would have been a definite buy if we were still in the retail business and if I could ever find their business card so I could identify them. If anyone knows the name of this candle vendor I'd love to know who they are. They also have a book out on their store and I'd at the least buy that.
There were still some of my favorites setting up shop. These reproductions of all things vintage are well crafted and for a globe and travel fanatic it required a stop and a drool.
Another favorite and a vendor who probably does very well at the show is V Rugs & Home. I've highlighted them on almost every summary of past shows that I've done and this year is no different. Their line of textiles, hassocks and pillows are impeccable.
New finds are harder and harder to come by but this line of resin tableware was real treat. I've not had many clients who have wanted me to go as far as purchasing their tabletop but if I ever get the opportunity Tina Frey Designs will be at the top of my list.
Then sometimes it's not just the product but it's the display that draws me in. Skeem Design sells matches. I have no idea if they can make a living by selling matches but I really loved the way they set fire to their display.
On the down side there wasn't a vendor there without a mile of shagreen on display. There were small boxes, side tables, credenzas and more. There was so much shagreen I pitied the stingrays that must be nearing extinction due to all the use of their skins on everything that you could glue a hide to
I'm sure I'll be NY Now next February when the next show loads in but I do hope that at least the labeling of sections at the show will be a little more honest and I won't have to waste my time wearing out my sole leather going down aisles marked "Home" but filled with anything but home.
A Stingray and Sailboat in North Sound
David Doubilet, photographer
Represented by Photoby