Thursday, April 28, 2011


It’s the weekend we’ve all been waiting for. The invitations are all out there. The Salahis have boarded their plane to London and Kate has lost another couple of pounds putting her one pound away from anorexia. In honor of the royal wedding and as a helpful hint to all those skinny bitches out there, I think it’s time to fatten these broads up with a little cake talk.

The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton may have been heralded as the tastiest wedding of the century but since we have only tiptoed into the century I find it pretty unfathomable to think we can count out the next ninety years and award this event such an awesome accolade. Before we rush to judgment lets cut into some of the confectionary highlights of the past and whip up some ideas for the future. Towering concoctions of iced gaunache and frosting fantasies have been molded from the imaginations of some of the most famous pastry chefs of centuries gone by. My most recent research has centered round those chefs of the last half century with a particular interest in those who had a secret desire to highlight their architectural aspirations creating cakes that were more structural than eatable.

Lets start in the fifties with the 1955 cake cutting for King Hussein and Queen Dina. It seems like risky business to begin cutting a slice out of an eighteen-foot high ode to Moorish architecture from the bottom tier. You’ve got to think the cutting was totally ceremonial or the cake might have tumbled in much the same way their short two year sixty-seven day marriage crumbled into divorce.

The following year a wedding that ended up being a true love story produced a wedding cake that clearly drew the line between beauty to behold and gateau to devour. Created by the renowned pastry chefs at Monte-Carlo’s famed Hotel de Paris, the six-tier cake came complete with a two-tier birdcage containing a pair of real turtledoves and a music box playing Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” while a miniature ceramic prince and princess twirled atop. Pretty – yes, eatable – well I don’t know about you but two pooping turtledoves on the top of someone’s wedding cake would be enough to keep me off the dessert line. By the look on the bridesmaid’s face I think I might not be the only one harboring that thought.

Did you ever notice royalty never seem to be able to find a regular knife to cut their cakes? Although there always seems to be an ancestral saber available to slice into their eatable architectural monuments commemorating their extravagant nuptials. King Abdullah and Queen Rania were no exception. In 1993 they stabbed another tier on another filigreed frosted skyscraper of sugar based culinary magic.

One more thing I noticed was the apparent status of a royal could be directly correlated to the size of their cake. So far, the cakes of distinction have all commanded exceedingly high ceilings in order to make their entry but if the bridal party didn’t include a king or king in waiting with no possible chance of sitting on the throne the height of their cake seemed commensurate to their position in the peeking order of their plight. Take Captain Mark Phillips and Princess Anne’s pathetically diminutive little three-tier version. Had Anne been an only child or found a way to do away with all those brothers she might have commanded a bit bigger piece of the royal spotlight.

If all this cake talk or the ostentatiousness of royalty has thrown you into a sugar stupor and your stomach has started to feel a little queasy, I found one Brit who figured out the perfect solution to our malaise. Pass the bag; I think I need it too.


Wedding-cake Style
A style of architecture popular in the nineteenth century where architects got out their professional decorating tools and applied the architectural equivalent of rosettes and curlycues on every square inch of their metal and concrete slices of the architectural pie. The term can also be applied to any structure that appears to be built in graduating tiers similar to the tiers on a wedding cake.

Thanks to an old zoning law in New York City, many skyscrapers dating from the early twentieth century were required to have a certain amount of setbacks to reduce the amount of shade the building might cast at street level. Given the amount of frosting dripping from the surfaces of these usually ornate structures you’d think a little shade might be what you’d want to keep all those doo-dahs from melting.

Now the Americans didn’t have a monopoly on this over abundance of decadent decoration…no.

The European’s were on board and in fact they were more than likely the ringleaders here. Christopher Wren was to wedding cake architecture what Patty was to just plain cake

and the Italians were never slouches when it came to piling on the ornamentation


Photographer: Annonymous
And I’d like to keep it that way

Thursday, April 21, 2011



Sometimes the line between what we put on a hanger and where we hang the hanger can be a little blurry. Like little foxes we interior designers steal from the fashion world and sometimes the fashion world pays us back with the compliment of finding us interesting enough to steal from us.

Last week I got a press release from our former office manager, Scott Perkins. Scott is now the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1956 the Price Tower is Wright’s only built skyscraper. The concept for the building was to combine office space with retail space and apartment living. As with all of Frank’s designs not a single detail was left up to the client. Every light fixture, every piece of molding, every drape, every nail if not designed by him had to acquire his stamp of approval before it could assume its rightful place in one of his designs. The Price Tower is no exception; every detail is pure Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Now designer, Lauren Dreiling from Hopestone Studio Designs has reproduced a textile designed by Frank in 1954 and come up with this amazing jacket. The pattern and color palette are what Frank had designed for the drapery treatments in the tower. Now like Scarlet O’Hara, you can rip those drapes off their rods and wear them with your head held high.

The designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier, has taken his fashion obsession and made his living environment model and wear his designs. You walk on it, sit on it and it pads the walls. For many this may represent the insanity of a mental hospital, for others it may lull them into a serene sense of total bliss. 

Like the beautiful jersey tee Jean-Paul wears with its horizontal stripes and contrasting white yolk, the stretched fabric covering the settee make you smile with its humor inviting you to contemplate jumping up and down on it like a trampoline and bouncing off the walls.

UK designer, Hussein-Chalayan, twice named British designer of the year has completely blurred the line between fashion and furniture. With this collection, shown at Design Museum in London, Hussein has made fashion that also doubles as furniture. Here the model is wearing a table that doubles as a skirt. It’s not very good for dancing close but if the dance hall is crowded you need not worry about finding your owns table.

We also got into the act with the introduction of the Shaver/Melahn furniture line. Rick’s ingenuity brought with it the line of Emmy furniture available with or without little pleated skirts made from the customer’s choice of fabrics. The most popular skirted item was the Emmy cigarette table, perhaps because of its slender legs and curvaceous drum modesty forced the addition of the hiked up schoolgirl skirt. It was flirtatious and whimsical and juts a little naughty. 


We had seats, first row center in the balcony, for Disney’s initial entry into the field of the Broadway musical. It was our daughter’s first time at a live production and her eyes grew to the size of saucers as the curtain rose. She must have been all of five, she had been to movie theaters before but she’d never seen the three-dimensionality of live theater. I have to admit that the opening scene of Belle’s little hamlet in “Beauty and the Beast” with its brilliantly oversaturated sunrise is a breathtaking moment for anyone’s first glimpse at the magic of Broadway and the perfection of Disney. As if that wasn’t enough, our daughter’s mouth formed a perfect “O” when the prince was magically transformed into the Beast and that was only the beginning of the anthropomorphic transformations in this musical. So to carry out the theme of this week’s posting I’d like to move past Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs.Potts and pay homage to my favorite transformation, from opera singer to wardrobe, it’s Madame de la Grande Bouche. Actually Madame is more a combination of a chiffonier and a chifforobe than a wardrobe. La Grande Bouche’s face is where you’d find a mirror on a chiffonier but since a real chiffonier is a very thin chest frequently used for lingerie Madame’s body wouldn’t quit fit in it, thus the chifforobe body double with a place to hang wardrobe on one side and an abundance of drawers on the other. We all cheered at both the movie and Broadway versions of Madame de la Grande Bouche, falling in love with tartly painted veneers and coquettish hardware knobs.


On a blustery evening on January 23 in 1931 a long line of luxury automobiles had pulled up to the canopied entrance of the Hotel Astor on 44th Street in New York City. It was the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects annual costume ball. Most of the well-to-do of the city’s social registry were dressed in their interpretation of the, “Fete Moderne” theme. Advertised in the New York Times as “modernistic, futuristic, cubistic, altruistic, mystic, architistic and feministic” the ball had become a diversion from the economic depression facing the world and a competition of avant-garde outrageousness. The festivities didn’t begin until late into the evening where revelers danced to the unconventional sounds of an orchestra made up of pneumatic riveting machines, live steam pipes, ocean liner whistles and sledgehammers. A group of prominent architects had collectively decided to come attired as their most recognizable buildings. Ely Kahn came as the Squibb Building, A. Stewart Walker was completely hidden underneath his Full Building, the spire of the Empire State Building rose from the head of William Lamb but the most flamboyant was William Van Alen who not only wore the helmet replica of his Chrysler building but wore a cloak and space-age boots made of patent leather with the same exotic wood inlays used in the elevators at the Chrysler Building. Gargoyles fashioned after those that protrude from the building’s 61st floor grew from his shoulders daring the rest of his competition to challenge his costume supremacy.
Although all of the costumes have since deteriorated and become lost to our architectural history, the image of these self-confident architects remains in an amazing photograph, an image that has inspired later cultures to revive the tradition at their own Beaux-Arts Balls.

Photographer unknowm

Thursday, April 14, 2011



Eggs have inspired designers with its perfect shape to embellish and replicate this extraordinary simplicity in all sorts of final products, although the perfection of nature is hard for any of us to improve upon. Here are a few designers who have tried.

Back in 1885 Czar Alexander III needed to up the ante for his twentieth wedding anniversary that coincided with Orthodox Easter.  Now here’s a good husband, he had heard his wife had discovered a little known young jeweler named Peter Carl Faberge. Czar Alex, under the cloak of secrecy, went out in search of the neophyte designer and commissioned him to whip up something unexpected that would turn his sweet Czarina into a pool of jelly. With little time to prepare Pete put his talents to work creating the first Faberge egg, a simple enameled egg with a surprise inside. Once opened it revealed a golden yolk and inside the yolk was a golden hen that concealed a miniature diamond replica of the royal crown and a ruby egg. The Czarina was pleased, very pleased. Faberge had a standing contract that went on for two generations until the royal family was snuffed out in 1917. The eggs are now in museums and private collections all over the world. One of the largest collections remained in the Forbes museum for years until recently when it was purchased by a Russian oil magnate with the intention of returning it to Russia. Eight eggs still remain unaccounted for so keep your eyes open at your local flea market or multi-dealer antique shops. Who knows?

From the beautifully overly ornate to the simplified contemporary, here is an example of how current technology can scramble the egg into design success.  In 1964 modPod took the egg, creatively cracked it open, and popped out a chair. They added speakers and an ottoman and now we have a design icon that is as functional as it is beautiful. Available through Inmood the chair and ottoman are available in an array of color combinations but our favorite is the one that really looks like an egg.

From the past to the present to the future, James Law Cybertecture has been working on creating a whole new way of protecting life in Mumbai, a city on the verge of being destroyed by it.  The egg building promotes every new piece of architectural ingenuity. From its green construction to its use of alternate energy sources the egg includes wind turbines, cooling rooftop gardens, greywater recycling, and takes up 20% less space than a conventionally shaped building would. Inhabitants of the building would have their blood pressure and weight monitored and recorded when they use the washroom (which is actually a little creepy) and if this isn’t enough if they don’t like their view they can customize it with a real time virtual reality of their favorite space. Now how’s that for a future to look forward to?


Egg and Dart
Both the Greeks and Romans used this decorative molding pattern in cornices and on Ionic order capitals. The term comes from the alternating rhythm of egg shaped ovals pierced by darts. This decorative motif was picked up by the craftsmen of the Renaissance, then by the Victorians, and we still use the motif as an historical reference in the moldings of new constructions built in the traditional genre.  


The “Marvin Stewart” of our household was at it again on Saturday night doling out tasks for our annual Easter egg dying event. Rick had Emmy donate a couple of pairs of old panty hose from her underwear drawer while I had to scavenger around for a pair of scissors. 

Earlier in the day we made our way to the grocery store and stocked up on organic eggs, some herbs chosen for the graphic possibilities of their leaves, and then our dying agents: beets, onions and black berries. We already had a gallon jug of white vinegar and a collection of rubber bands. Other than some big pots, all our needs were accounted in order to make some of the most beautiful eggs you’ll ever see.

Prep was pretty simple consisting of cutting panty hose into four inch squares, slicing up some beets, pinching some leaves off of our herbs and stripping the skins off of some yellow onions. In separate pots we dumped our onion skins, cut up beets and black berries with a mixture of water and vinegar in a ratio of three parts water to one part vinegar. Then it was on to the stove with our sloshing pots where we cranked up the heat to high until the mixtures came to a boil. While we were waiting for the water to boil we started placing some leaves on the squares of panty hose. We each had our own artistic touch but it was Emmy’s use of oregano spears that seemed to produce the best results. 

After the leaves were in place we gently laid the eggs down on the leaf and panty hose blankets, pulled the hose up tight around the eggs, and twisted and sealed the little Easter packages with a rubber band. 

Our next step in our egg bondage routine was to cut off the excess nylon leaving the eggs look a band of comic bank robbers. The last act was to drop the eggs into the pots and let them sit for a couple of minutes in the bubbling mixture. Once Rick was assured that the process had been complete he turned the heat off and covered the pots of the newly tattooed eggs. 

We left the eggs sit over night and when we woke in the morning we fished out the eggs, cut off the hose and blotted the eggs dry. 

The result was some of the most beautiful Easter eggs Madison had ever seen.

V. Tony Hauser
The Last Supper of Hiawatha, 1994

Thursday, April 7, 2011



Here are some designs done by designers unafraid of those five little letters: c-o-l-o-r or six letters if you’re British. In no particular order here are some designers who have splashed the world in a brighter hue.
Jamie Drake has become known as the “King of Color” which is a title I’d much rather claim than the “Prince of Chintz”. Jamie dares to go where others of a lesser reputation can only dream of directing their clients. 

It takes a powerful designer to convince most clients that living in pink can be a sign of power or that lavender can be so soothing no one will notice it’s not beige.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams have added a clever offering to the color selection process with their mix and match lighting options. They are offering five very different ceramic bases with fourteen wildly exciting glaze choices. I did say fourteen. If you need a hit of color to contrast or compliment a room, the seventy options MGBW have put out there are a great place to start and end your search.

The old Architectural Digest was never the bible of design I aspired to emulate in my own work. In the eighties it mostly represented an echelon of design where the designs and designers showcased were a combination of the Prince of Dubai meets Marie Antoinette. The air was too thin in the lofty offerings of AD in the late 1980’s, but there were some bright spots that forced me to keep my subscription. 
I have to give them credit for introducing me to Diamond-Baratta. It was in amongst a bevy of Louis this and Louis that mansions and castles that AD had sandwiched my first taste of the Diamond-Baratta color explosion. Diamond-Baratta took the staid traditional ho-hum and drizzled it with exuberant color and innovation. I’ve followed them ever since and never been disappointed in their ability to turn my design and color assumptions upside down.

CB2 just introduced the abuelo three-speed urban cruiser. Here is color done right on two wheels for either him or her. It just goes to show you color isn’t restricted to just fashion and interior design. I loved my Schwinn as a kid but the most powerful color statement you could make with a mid-century Schwinn was maybe a metallic royal blue. Now that the world has become comfortable with metro-sexuals and European man bags, I think I could get away with riding this to the farmer’s market without risking a black eye or an egg to the back of the head.


I’ve always valued a sense of humor as long as the dialogue makes me laugh and I’m not the butt of the joke. That’s why our first phone conversation had me looking over my shoulder for the sneaky unidentified prankster.
“Shaver/Melahn Studios” We didn’t have any cute opening line or forced protocol like Jeff Lewis on Bravo’s Flipping Out where he mandated his staff to answer all incoming calls with, “Good ________. It’s a great day at Jeff Lewis’ office. This is _______. How may I help you? “
What I heard was, “Hallooow, can I tallck with Lee Melahn” in this gravely low baritone voice with a Long Island Jewish accent.
“Yes sir, this is Lee. How can I help you?”
“I may sound like a man but Honey, I’m no man. This is Linda Richman.” It was a voice identical to the one made famous by Mike Myers on SNL.
I almost said, “Yah got a voice that sounds just like buddar, now tell me who the hell you really are”, but I was too taken-a-back to come up with anything clever. I was sure someone with a grudge against me had sent my name into some local radio station and I was being punked.
The gravely voice went on to tell me how she had been in our store in Upstate New York and how she needed a designer to do some work on their country house. I did the phone equivalent of nodding my head, took down all her information and then called her contact number immediately after hanging up. Ready to hear, “You’ve reached the Howard Stern Show”, I was surprised to hear the receptionist say, “Linda Richman’s office, how can I help you”.
This is how my relationship with the Rich/Richmans’s began. Linda’s husband was as much a personality as Linda was. The two of them kept me rolling in laughter and affection through the work on their house in the country and their new apartment in New Jersey where they were trying to consolidate a life of collecting into spaces way too small to accommodate them. Linda and Manny had collected everything. Collecting wasn’t just an obsession it was way of life for them, that and bickering at a level unparalleled since the Archie and Edith did it back in the seventies. Antique telephones, 3000 illustrated children’s books, Mexican cookie jars, 500 vintage neckties, a hundred accordion rulers and the list goes on. The artifacts of their life were as colorful as they were.
So to celebrate the theme of this week’s post here’s a tribute to collecting and color thanks to what I initially thought was a hoax of flipping out proportions.

Like the midway at the county fair some rooms cry out for a burst of carnival color, a cacophonous calliope of color that makes your whole body squeal with delight and your mouth hunger for cotton candy. Inspired by the 50’s harlequin plates and the Mexican cookie jars, old wooden chairs were no longer sideshow freaks and the spring meadow green walls of the kitchen now have the feeling of those cool summer days just before the carnival comes to town.


Julian Faulhaber
Stairs, 2005
Hasted-Kraeutler, NYC