Thursday, February 24, 2011



When I was little I used to picture myself living my adult life in all sorts of exotic locals. From the perspective of a seven year old this meant I was somewhere in my twenties. I’d sit at my desk on those long winter nights when I was supposed be doing my homework, spin my Replogle globe with my eyes closed and then see where my finger would land. My imagination would take over from there and I was off making a movie in Morocco, sipping hot chocolate in Lyons or covering myself in baby oil on the beach at Rio. I’m sure it had very little to do with growing up in Madison and everything to do with wanting to be someone else with a more interesting life. My globe was my escape. My fascination with globes never ended, it only grew. There’s an amazing beauty in that simple form, a sphere covered in the colors of countries some of which no longer exist. Now the globes have grown from a means of escape to a part of our design vision. They’ve almost become signature pieces to our interior design projects. Rick and I have incorporated them into almost every space we’ve had of our own and many of the places we’ve designed for others.
Globes can be a very inexpensive design accessory. Most any multi-dealer antique store will have at least a half dozen globes on hand at any time. Whether we’re walking through a multi-dealer store in Ventura or popping in  and out of the stalls at the Porte de Clignancourt flea market in  Paris we tend to look for globes with history written all over them. We focus on the globes but sometimes the more interesting part may be the base. An old cast iron base or a wooden one are usually more interesting than the more prevalent metal ones, but like any rule there are always exceptions.

When we’re using globes in a design project we tend to go in one of two directions. Direction one is the single globe. Sometimes the globe itself is so spectacular that it needs to stand alone. The other option is sometimes they work better in groups. If we are going to group a bunch of globes together we look for globes with different sized diameters and bases that allow the globes to sit at varying heights. We found that some globes (the ones with the metal bases I just told you weren’t that great) have holes in their bases and this makes it possible to hang them horizontally. Now every time I find a globe with a hole in its base it all of a sudden makes that globe all the more attractive.

Another globe I’ve always been fascinated with is the chalkboard school globe. Every once in a while one turns up in a dusty booth at an obscure antique store, or at auction. They’re usually priced at the high end but I hold out hope there’s still one out there with my name on it. This one is a great reproduction available at Pottery Barn.

Another thing to look for are globes of things other than our earth. Here we did score, years ago, at ABC Home before it was ABC Home. This was when the fourth floor was filled with aisles of antique armoires from Europe. Perched on a Swedish pine hutch was a green lunar globe. At first I thought the globe had a defect, a part of the globe was blank. But I was quickly informed that because the moon does not spin on an axis there’s a part of the moon we never see. Now that we have the ability to travel through space the back of the moon is no longer a mystery but when this globe was made the moon still clung on to its secret part.
We’ve now spent time sitting on the piazza in Siena, riding a camel around the pyramids at Giza and sitting on Shell beach in St. Barts. The wunderlust that those first globes generated will never be quenched and our home will never be without a globe. We’ll still want to spin those paper mache orbs, close our eyes and see where our finger will land.


Wendy Gold started cutting and pasting images onto toilet seats back in 2001. Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it takes a remarkable talent to convert a toilet seat into a piece of art. Now Wendy has turned her creative energy from the bathroom to the world at large. Globes are now her medium, globes with decoupage whimsy wrapped and shellaced around their spherical outer shells. Her new venture is called ImagineNations and you can find her at She’s willing to consult with you and produce custom work that’ll make your head spin along with your globe.


Named after Charles Boyle, the Fourth Earl of Orrery, in the early seventeen hundreds, an orrery is a mechanical device showing the relative relationship and motions of the planets and moons in our solar system. I'm sure they were the inspiration for Rube Goldberg. Some move with the precision of a Swiss watch while others have a folk art primitive quality. These pieces are usually reserved for the professional collectors.


According to site the oldest known globe was made by Martin Behaim in Neuremburg, Germany sometime around the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The globe shows Africa and Asia but leaves out the Americas. I guess Columbus didn’t make it back in time to get his discovery included here.


John Chervinsky
All Watched Over…  2006
Represented by Michael Mazzeo Gallery, New York

Friday, February 18, 2011


This is strictly a Lee Melahn posting, Rick was smart enough to have nothing to do with it. Back in Mid-January an email showed up in my inbox from our Houston showroom letting us know that they were consolidating their showrooms and wanted to know what to do with all our furniture samples. An excel sheet was attached and a deadline of the end of the month was slapped onto the tail-end of the communiqué. Knowing the cost of shipping and in desperate need of a getaway I decided it was time for a road trip to the south…to Houston. A chance to escape the eight foot snow banks of Madison, a chance to put myself behind the wheel of a another Penske truck and drive the twelve hundred miles from Houston to Madison.
Here’s a record of the trip:
February 14th, Valentine’s Day
The cheapest flight out was via Milwaukee at 6:30 in the morning. That meant taking a 3:45 bus from Kelly’s Market and gas station to General Mitchell Airport on the banks of Lake Michigan. My sister graciously offered to take me to meet the bus. The gracious part due to my first asking her to take me all the way to Milwaukee so when I countered with the shorter drive she relented, the inconvenience didn’t seem half as bad.
Arrival at General Mitchell was right on time, 5:30, giving me an hour to get to my gate for the first leg of the air travel part of my adventure. It seems that in order to get to Houston from Milwaukee you need to sidestep through Atlanta. To first go east in order to ultimately go west never added up to me but since I wasn’t flying the plane I’d have to go wherever they wanted me to go.
 I try to be as prepared as possible when traveling. I had gotten my boarding pass online the night before. I had selected my seat. I had packed my carry-ons making me ready to go. All I needed to do was go through security and get on board. I sauntered up to security, a swagger to my gait on the way to my gate. The line for security was longer than I had expected but I was still ahead of schedule. Boarding pass and driver’s license in hand, I patiently waited my turn. I even let one guy cut in front so he wouldn’t miss his flight. Now Milwaukee has one of those new body scanners but apparently not everyone has to go through it. There’s some arbitrary selection method in place. Signs with images of what the scanners see are posted along the journey from the back of the queue to the point of entry. Each posting shows a front and back image of a man and a woman in that x-ray skeletal way with their private parts somehow blurred out. It made both genders look like they were having sonograms rather than scans for hidden weapons. I’ve never been particularly prudish about my body so I wasn’t about to protest if I had to go through the scanner. Embarrassment averted, they waved me through and had me do the metal detector instead. I was ready to grab my bag and head out to gate C25. Hold on! Not so fast! 

Shoeless and devoid of all my possessions I was waved over to the conveyer and asked if these were my bags, panic slide down my throat and into my churning stomach. What kind of contraband could I have tried to slip through? Could it have been the two rolls of plastic wrap, or the 30 feet of rope, or maybe the metal bullet proof lock? Fortunately I decided to leave the set of metric allen wrenches at home. I realized I had everything necessary for tying up the crew packed neatly away in the bottom of my Takashimaya leather backpack. I was never so thankful for having bought new underwear the day before as the security guard unpacked every last article in the bag to get down to the bottom and the devices for hijacking I had hidden there. I would have gladly opted for the scan rather than this public humiliation and airing of my “clean” laundry. It was the cardboard handle on the plastic wrap that set off the alarm. The x-ray machine thought I might have brought a bottle of liquid on the plane. They weren’t concerned about me tying anyone up, they were worried I might get thirsty. The guard offered to repack my bag but I decided that would only add on more humiliation for both of us. I took my belongings and shoes over to the recombobulation area and did the repacking myself.

Atlanta was much less eventful. Off one plane and directly onto another as a sea of effervescent teenage girls walked in front of me from concourse C to concourse D all with Minnie Mouse ears and big red bows with white polka-dots attached to their heads. I think someone got to go to Disneyland.

Houston socked me in the face the moment I got off the plane. I was totally over-dressed; a henley tee, plaid wool shirt, canvas vest and a thick black winter sportcoat. I had already left my nine-foot scarf rolled up in my backpack. I had just come from eight-foot snow drifts and a week of watch Super Bowl XLV where the commentators wore earmuffs and their breath make those clouds of freezing smoke when they spoke. The seventy degree temperature was not what I had expected. To top it off when I arrived at the showroom the  air-conditioning had already been disconnected. I hope you can feel the rivulets of sweat rolling down my back. Thankfully the showroom manager had helped to arrange for two big muscled guys to help move all of the furniture from the showroom into the truck. Three hours later I was on the road behind the wheel of my twenty-two-footer.
I thought I could make it out of Texas before I’d have to stop, but by eleven o’clock the appeal of a Super 8 hotel bed won out and I pulled in for the night.

February 15, 2011
I had the evening hostess put in for a 5:30 wake-up call. I was back on the road by six with no other itinerary than getting as close to Madison as I could. It was somewhere around Texarkana that I realized I’d be going smack dab through Little Rock, Arkansas – home of the Bill Clinton library. All of a sudden the road trip came full circle in my mind. This was to be a trip about our furniture. Back in 2002 we got a call from Kaki Hockersmith’s office about a couple of pieces of furniture she might be interested in for a project they were working on. Everything about the request was very low-key. Kaki was interested in an Emmy desk and an Emmy bed. Weeks later the quote turned into a request. This is when we learned the desk would go into a guestroom in the private residence at the new Clinton Library and the bed was going to be where big Bill would be sleeping everytime he decided to hang his hat in Little Rock.  Kaki later told us when she presented the boards to the Clinton’s, Bill’s only comment in that Arkansonian drawl was, “Eye really Liake that beyad”. I decided I needed to stop and pay homage to the place that housed one of our most famous pieces.
Luckily the Library was in spitting distance from the highway. The lovely lady on my sister’s GPS guided me off and into the parking lot at somewhere around ten. I knew an artisan’s board existed with the names of all those who had worked on the Library. I didn’t know it was right as you entered mounted on a marble wall. There in column five, seven names from the bottom was “Rick Shaver”. I snapped a picture of Rick’s name. A security guard walked over and asked about the picture. I explained how we had designed a bed and writing table (although they refer to it as a desk) for the private residence and I wanted to take a picture of Rick's name as a gift.
“You might want to ask the people at the main desk if you could see your furniture.”
His philosophy was it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t ask. He was right, of course. After fifteen minutes of phone calls and security checks they decided to let me in to the private residence. A tinge of disappoint slipped in when they informed me that all the pieces had been put in the guestroom. It took away the titillation in saying Bill was sleeping in our bed. (I;m leaving Hillary out of this for obvious reasons). We were just about to rise up the private elevator to the residence when the fire alarm went off. I’m egotistical enough to think I had tripped some warning alarm. I was sure FBI agents would start swarming around the elevator and I was about to be put under arrest. The elevator did go into lockdown but instead of an arrest all of us were told to evacuate the building. For forty-five minutes we all stood outside the building waiting for the all clear to re-enter the building. By this time another one to two hundred people had come up to the building wanting for their turn to get in to see a piece of Presidential hsitory. This was going to add another hour to my wait now that there were two hundred more pockets of change and cellphones to be run through the metal detectors. I was concerned I’d never get back on the road. When they finally gave us the all clear we all queued up to get back in. Ann, my guide and host suggested I go look at some of the exhibits when I got back in while she once again prepared to have the residence unlocked. I was willing but I was a little afraid my bladder might not be as ready as I was. By the time I made it through security, a bathroom sounded more enticing than eight years of Bill Clinton. I raced to the nearest bathroom and just as I got to the urinal that damn alarm went off again. Now I was convinced it was me. They had found me out and it was only a matter of time before I’d be handcuffed and face down on the mensroom floor. I backed off that urinal and left the bathroom without getting any relief. Of course, the minute I left the restroom the alarm went off. I never did get to pee.
No FBI agents showed up but Ann did and said the residence was once again ready. She took me back up, unlocked the door and ushered me in. As opposed to the traditionally styled exhibits of the Oval Office and Cabinet room in the public exhibition spaces, the residence was sleek and contemporary. Ann walked me through the entry and living spaces and then into the guestroom. The custom Emmy writing table looked beautiful  in the corner of the room bathed in sunlight, but the bed in the guestroom wasn’t ours. Maybe Bill was sleeping in our bed. Ann looked a little hesitant as she said the door to Bill’s room was usually locked but she walked me to the bedroom to check and see. She turned the handle and to our surprise the door opened, There, against the wall, was the king-size Emmy bed. I put aside the sordid history I had been imagining about what that bed might have seen and instead focused on how beautiful the bed looked and how proud of Rick I was. I had known before we went up that picture taking wouldn’t be an option but I burned the image of the bed on the backs of my eyes. I’m taking that image back to Wisconsin along with a truckload of furniture and the ability to still boast Bill’s sleeping in our bed. 

escritoire (eskri'twar)
A fancy word the French made up in the late 16th century to describe a small writing table with drawers and compartments. 

Jaquess Henri Lartique
Zissou, 1911
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery

Thursday, February 10, 2011



Design by John & Vivian Bencich of Square Feet Studio
Photo by Jeff Herr Photography

Designing a room for anyone under the age of eighteen is often a difficult task. The current standard seems to be set by television programs like Extreme Makeover where if you haven’t reached the age of consent you’re relegated to sleeping with the Pirates of the Carribean or worse yet…Miley Cirus in her pre-salvia smoking days. Nurseries are a different beast with physical requirements necessary for bringing an infant safely into the world but beyond that I don’t see the need for synthetic sheets and plastic bins with Barbie doll decals plastered from top to bottom. Now don’t get me wrong. Kids are kids. We’ve got a fourteen year-old and the last thing we’d want her to do is to grow up too fast. They do that on their own, but we think good design can coexist with childhood.

A brilliant example of how to balance design with adolescence is this room designed by architects John & Vivian Bencich of Square Feet Studio for their daughter. Here’s a room a young girl can grow in and transition from Justin Bieber to Bono. Here’s how "Our Team Sees It".
As with any hue on the color wheel there are an abundance of shades to pick from or create. To the untrained eye this room is going to get labeled with the undeserved title: pink. Now take a longer look and see the dustiness of the pink in the curtains then smell the fruitiness of the raspberry in the carpet and see how far from Barbie Pink this room has come.
Too Much of Good Thing 
What John and Vivian were able to do here is to show restraint. They picked an excellent balance between their dusty, fruity rose tones and white, an icy clean white that allows the room to breath and not make you feel like you’ve just gulped down a huge spoonful of Pepto-Bismol.
Breaking the Pattern 
Notice the window seat cushion and the bedside lamp. When you’re using such a powerful color scheme you need a visual break. The aqua and gold tones make you appreciate the lushness of the predominate color. Add to that the pattern on the bedskirt, bed pillow and window cushion and your eye gets to dance around the room without getting bored or fatigued.
Softens Like a Fine Wine
The ripples of champagne and framboise fabric soften the window wall where a traditional smaller curtain covering the real window wouldn't have done the trick. It also deadens the sound from ipod impromptu concerts at ten at night. Using grommeted panels on dark wood rods brings a sophistication to the window treatment that will allow the room to age and grow from a teenager's playground to a young woman's boudoir. 
Invisible Storage 
Not only do the curtains soften the room but they have a function as well, they hide storage areas making it easier to do a quick sweep before guests arrive giving the room that sought after clean and uncluttered look. Including drawer storage under the window seat and a bedskirt that brushes the floor line, there's plenty of additional space to hide the thousands of trinkets a girl can’t live without. The exposed bookcases allow for the personality of the child to show through but with so much “behind closed doors” storage available the bookshelves are easily maintained without too much room for conflict between parent and child.
A Sense of Belonging
An antique bed, a crystal chandelier, and a vintage poof give the room a sense of history. These pieces anchor the room. I don’t know if they are family heirlooms or not but in my mind the bed has had several generations of family use. There’s an eclecticism here that takes it away from the seven piece juvenile bedroom set advertised on local TV at Crazy Lenny’s Warehouse of Discount Furniture all for $399.
Final grade: A-, we’re tough

The Node Chair by Steelcase

Available with or without the worksurface the Node chair by Steelcase was originally developed for the classroom. We think the classroom can wheel its way into your child’s bedroom or wherever they plop down their books and plug in their computers. When I was a kid it was the tip-n-rock. Seating for kids has come a long ergonomic way from back then. Priced on the high end the Node is available in 12 seat colors, 3 base options and 5 worksurface colors. It can come with hard casters, soft casters or glides. Mix and match in almost an infinite slate of possibilities and you’ve got a great study station your kid can roll to any quiet corner of the house.

Bu and the Duck
106 Franklin Street (Tribeca)
New York, NY

Opened in 1997 by Susan Lane, this store was just in time for clothing our daughter, Emmy, born July 3, 1996. The European philosophy of buying quality not quantity is evident at Bu and the Duck. Each piece purchased here is worth the cost you need to pay for exceptional quality and unique design. With an aesthetic inspired by the 1930’s every piece of clothing will become an instant family heirloom. As Emmy grew out of each piece of clothing purchased at Bu it would get wrapped in tissue and placed in a cedar lined box waiting to be handed down to a new generation.

Bu and the Duck has unintentionally styled so many of our early family photos. Our hearts now ache but our pocketbooks are thankful their clothing only goes up to size 14 in kids.


Diane Arbus
Boy with Toy Hand Grenade, 1962
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Thursday, February 3, 2011



The first time I did these was for a Valentine’s benefit for Alpha Workshops. The request was for designers to produce a piece of art shot from Cupid’s bow for a silent auction benefiting the organization. A few months before I had cut out some paper snowflakes with my daughter so I thought I would give a try translating the technique to hearts. The trick here is to think past the obvious. In our culture the heart has a specific iconic shape. It now replaces the word “love” in ad campaigns and on tattoos accompanying the word “mother”. I’ve tried to shoot my arrow beyond the usual here and hit a target of unique.

What you’ll need to accomplish the same is some paper. If you want the piece to last use acid free archival paper but for the short run a piece of kindergarten construction paper will do just fine. Try to stay away from paper that’s too stiff like tag board or card stock. A thinner paper cuts easier and is less likely to show the folds. Beyond a scissors you can use a matte knife or a hole punch. Martha Stewart makes a whole set of decorative punches and scissors you can use. It’s whatever floats your boat. 

Decide on the relative size you want to work with then cut your paper to slightly larger than the outside dimensions of your heart. Fold the paper in half and then start cutting. I don’t plan ahead, like a snowflake no two hearts are going to be the same and the way they form is totally up to Mother Nature or in this case, you. There’s no right or wrong here. 

When you’ve cut away all you want unfold your heart and see what you’ve got. Don’t discard the cutaway pieces; you can use them in your final layout. For your background surface you can use anything from kraft paper to vintage wallpaper. I lightly attached my cutout pieces using a glue stick. 

Then sign it or write a note, put the whole thing under glass and give to it someone you love. If you’re Sue on Glee and completely narcissistic, you have my permission to give it to yourself.


Here’s our list of helpful hints for gift giving during that tough Valentine season. We’re stretching out a helping hand to the gift giving challenged. You know who you are guys and you gals know if you need to make a copy of this and tape it to the bathroom mirror or the underside of the toilet seat, the one he never remembers to put down, you should go ahead and get out the Scotch tape. In no particular order here’s our advice:

  1. NEVER venture into the appliance section of your local department store. Nothing says, “I have a headache” more than a new Dyson vacuum cleaner or a George Foreman grill.
  2. Jewelry is always appreciated, but make it personal. Take a look at her jewelry box. If you see an abundance of a particular style or color follow the lead. If you can’t see any trend then go simple, diamond studs, a tennis bracelet, a string of pearls, or vintage bakelite. Please, please stay away from Kay’s Jewelry and Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Collection which look more like the mark of Zorro than an icon for love.
  3. Remember that clothes are really difficult. Unless you’ve been given specific information: exact size, color, and a folded catalogue page circled in red with all the essentials marked. Nothing is more daunting than an ill picked sexy dress that will beg the question, “You don’t think this makes my butt look big?”
  4. On that same note a new treadmill or a copy of “How to Lose 15lbs in Two Weeks” isn’t a good idea, flatter the good – stay away from pointing out the flaws.
  5. A spa day is always a good choice. Something that will make her feel pampered allowing her to forget about the three meals a day she has to prepare and four loads of laundry sprawled out on the bedroom floor waiting for her when she comes home from her twelve hour shift as head of neurosurgery at John Hopkins.
  6. Flowers are a tricky purchase. Rick and I don’t agree on this one. He loves them. It brightens his day. I guess I’m more of a, “The glass is half empty” type. For me they’re a waste of money, a gift that will be dead in three days and all you’ve have left is a mess of fallen petals and a vase full of smelly green slime. Before you go out and plunk down an unreasonable amount of money on a dozen roses, figure out which side of the fence your loved one stands on.
  7. Candy is another quick way to go. Almost every city now has a specialty candy shop where you can select the perfect box of truffles. Here are some online suggestions:
    1. The New York version of sophistication
    2. A west coast tradition of superb chocolate
    3. Made in a tiny town outside Madison but able to compete on a worldwide stage
  8. Do something totally romantic. Plan it out. Make a reservation for a night at a local hotel, or an exotic local, or plan to have the kids stay at grandma’s house for a night. When Valentine’s falls on a Monday as it does this year, make your plan for an upcoming weekend, put the gift in a card and savor the benefits twice.
  9. For the culinary challenged, buy a brand name cake mix, the kind you only need to add a couple of eggs and a half cup of vegetable oil to. Slather it in pre-made icing and voila! Toss on some candy hearts and a handful of sprinkles and she'll see you in an entirely different light.
  10. DON’T POST A NAKED PICTURE OF YOURSELF ON THE INTERNET OR ANY PLACE ELSE. Stay away from wrapping up a photocopy of your penis made on the company copy machine. Even if you have the chest of Matthew McConaughey or the chiseled looks of Brad Pitt ultimately embarrassing pictures are just not a good idea.
  11. Make something. Make dinner. Draw a picture. Frame a photo of the place you first kissed. Write a poem. Give something you actually took the time to create. It kind of goes back to childhood. If I go through my mom’s cedar chest, the things she most cherished were the paper mache handprints we made with our kindergarten hands and the cards made from pink construction paper hearts that simple said, “I love you”.

Bailey House has been serving homeless people with HIV/AIDS since 1983. Their annual auction and party has been a Valentine’s staple for the past 23 years. Here’s the link to this years event

Alpha Workshop has been providing training and employment in the arena of decorative arts for people with HIV/AIDS. They will be celebrating their 5th Annual Valentine’s Party. Here’s the link to their site.


Elliot Erwitt
Paris, France, 1989
Edwynn Houk Gallery NYC