Thursday, September 29, 2011


As I was trying to blot out some disgusting stains on our carpeted floors my mind kept churning up alternatives to the cheap wall-to-wall so prevalent in the cheaply made homes dotting America today. I'm always swayed by the out-of-the-ordinary. Here are some of my favorite finds.

The gleam off of an epoxy floor can be almost blinding. It can look as cool as an outdoor ice rink on a crisp sunny day. There's an element of comfort that comes from its almost sterile appearance. Easy maintenance and durability have made it a darling of places like new car dealerships and industrial warehouses but recently more designers have incorporated these floors in high fashion venues. Besides its easy maintenance and durability, epoxy can be infused with almost any color Benjamin Moore can dream up. That's why designers like Karim Rashid have brought it into twentieth century residences
and Michael Tavano and Lloyd Marks have colored it chameleon green for their Jamie Drake inspired showroom in the New York Design Center.

In retrospect, it's hard to believe we ever managed to get out daughter into Beginnings pre-school in New York City. We were so naïve. We didn't realize people actually got their applications in while their children were still in the womb. We found out gay parenting had its advantages back in the late-nineties. Now you have to go that extra mile to get pushed to the front of the list. It's best if you're not only gay but bi-racial and wheelchair bound as well. This was a school filled with the progeny of movie stars and the uber-rich. Parent potlucks ended up in some of New York's toniest addresses. It was on one of these potlucks that I saw my first amazing use of leather as a flooring material. The parents of Emmy's classmate had a four thousand square foot apartment cut out from three floors in an East 21st building next to Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace. When you got off the elevator there was amazing art everywhere. Mapplethorpe photographs hung in the suspended office overlooking the living and dining area where de Koonings and Pollacks hung on the walls. The living, dining and kitchen area were a huge open space with two-story walls. The dining area seated twelve and was defined by its floor, a grid of chestnut leather squares with a smattering of maple leaves randomly embossed throughout. A thin metal line lassoed the leather separating it from the hardwood floor of the rest of the room. I wish I had a picture.
But I did find this leather floor made from vintage belts by Ting of London. The flooring is offered in the form of tiles. Each tile is handmade. The belts are selected for leather quality and then divided by color. Each belt is chemically washed and shaved to make then all the same height and then glued with a water-based glue onto a leather backing. The look is strikingly unique and great way of going green with your floor.

There was nothing but fear in our shoes when we walked into the room we had been given for the Kips Bay Show House in New York City. The room was huge and bare, nothing but sheetrock walls with exposed electrical, a wall of windows and a concrete floor. There was no detail, no character, no budget but what we could beg, borrow or steal from anyone we could hit up for a favor. One thing the Kips Bay organization did offer was an intro to Exquisite Surfaces. Exquisite Surfaces offered to provide flooring for free, all we'd have to pay for was the installation. Exquisite Surfaces specialized in reclaimed floor salvaged from French chateaux. The flooring offered was impossible to resist.
They offered handcrafted, aged wood floors in a variety of patterns and finishes. We chose a running border encircling a chevron-patterned interior. Rick had concocted a special stain that he wanted left without a shiny poly finish. They really resisted doing the finish but when they saw the results the compliments never stopped.
Now reclaimed French chateaux floors may not fit into your budget. If not, there are many alternatives if you're resourceful and handy. You can look for your own teardowns through local contractors and make a deal to salvage wood floors that might otherwise be thrown out or you can find some other unique sources.
Making a floor out of wine or fruit cases was a common way of installing floors in wine cellars in Europe. If you can't find your own, Parador, a German flooring company, will do it for you. The look is funky and goes from tres cher to kitsch depending on the vintage of wine or the name of the fruit vendor branded into the wood.

You can see the fear in a client's eyes when you suggest painting over a worn-down oak floor that has gone beyond reclamation. The thing is painted floors date back centuries.  Rugs and carpeting were for years, options, only for the rich. Painting a floor was a common means of decoration. Today is no different, although the cost factor is no longer the driving force. There's the use of stain to give a floor a faux inlay effect.
Stenciling was also common. The Chenery House in San Francisco uses an early American pattern found in the Buck House in Hanover, Massachusetts and contemporized by Gracewood Design in black, white and grey. The floor has the look of elegant tile work but without the grout and unevenness of tile.
On the other end of the painted spectrum is this inexpensive way of creating a rustic country look with a high style appeal. Lori Guyer of White Flower Farmhouse started with 4' x 8' sheets of quarter inch plywood, the rougher the better, and had them sawn into planks. She then gave them a coat of oil-based primer. When the priming had hardened she painted the planks with a latex low-luster exterior deck paint and laid the planks using random lengths on a clean sub-floor with liquid nails. Using spacers she gave the planks an eighth of an inch expansion trench between courses.
The result is a beautiful painted rustic farmhouse floor.

When you consider what flooring to use remember how the room that floor is in will be used. A mudroom is named that for a reason. Hallways are meant to be quiet aren't they? Do you want to slip and slide on the bathroom floor? And my worst nightmare learned first hand, never cook Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen with a stone floor. "Oh my aching back, legs and feet".

Heaven to Hell, 2006
David Lachapelle, photographer
Represented by Creative Exchange Agnecy - New York

Friday, September 23, 2011


We've always had a love/hate relationship with big box stores. On the one hand you have all of the not so great political motivations: cheap foreign manufacturing, low wages and no worker benefits, mass produced products for a milquetoast audience and the ubiquity of having produced city after city with the same commercial landscapes. On the other hand, they usually have what you need for cheap, so when we take on yet another DIY project it's off to one of Madison's two big box hardware alternatives. As much as we'd like to recommend them both, or better yet be able to offer a hidden mom and pop store that could compete with these big boys, we find ourselves ready to do a commercial for our favorite box, the one that really stands head and shoulders above the alternative:  Here's to Home Depot.
First, they're really knowledgeable. No, I mean it. They must have some militaryesque training camp they require their sales people to complete. We can play "Stump the Handyman" with our favorite salesperson but the odds of us winning are slim to none. How many competitor salespeople are going to know where to find a Dremel 3 1/2"  240 grit multi max wood sand paper 6 pack or the difference between a rubber-headed sure strike 5oz. tack hammer and a WamBam fence spongy suzy spring-loaded post pounder.
Second, They're friendly, helpful, and courteous. Here's where our real praises begin and here's a little story to show why. It was a couple of weeks ago. Rick had been going on about putting together a new table top for the polished nickel sawhorses we had purchased from William-Sonoma Home. He wanted to use it as a display piece at the store. Rick's plans seemed very involved to me but I was willing to pitch in and help out. I fall for his Tom Sawyer routine every time. His original drawing had everything cut out of one piece of 3/4" particleboard. Through our back and forth bickering we managed to get it down to one sheet of board cut to size and a base made from 1" x 3"s. When we set off to the big box stores Home Depot's major competitor is closer to our apartment by about a tenth of a mile. We stopped there first on the chance they might surprise us. They didn't. They didn't have what we needed and what they did have they told us we would be on our own as far as cutting the pieces. You try and stuff a 4' x 8' sheet of particleboard into the trunk of Chevy Aveo. It ain't gonna fit.
We drive on to Home Depot and headed right to the lumber section. I never feel comfortable here but we did our best to select the best quality 4' x 8' piece of particleboard and the straightest 1' x 3' boards with the least amount of knots. One of the best features of our Home Depot is with these small projects they'll actually help measure twice and cut once the pieces you'll need. I had heard they have a maximum amount of cuts they'll do but we've never been denied an extra cut or two. Brady saw us loading the lumber onto our cart and he was right there to ask if he could help. I showed him our drawing and what we needed cut. He said, "No problem" and wheeled us right back to their huge wall saw. In minutes we had the pieces we needed, cut perfectly. Then Brady walked us through the store to get the right nails, some wood glue and a countersink to fit the nails we bought. As I said, "Friendly, helpful and courteous". We don't even bother with their local competitor anymore. We're big Home Depot fans. 

Home Depot got us over the first hurdle of getting our frame cut out. From Home Depot it was off to JoAnn Fabrics for a couple of yards of burlap. Since we were painting the burlap the natural color of the burlap wasn't important. We found some brown burlap for about a buck a yard. It would do. We had decided to paint the top the same off white color as the mouldings in our studio. We had over a half-gallon left from painting the trim. Now we had everything we needed. I assembled the frame in less than a half hour.
Then it was Rick's turn to start applying the burlap. Burlap has a lot of stretch to it so you can't really worry if it's not completely taut. Rick started stapling one side and then securing it on the opposite side. His main concern was to keep the lines of the fabric running as straight as he could make them. The paint would take up any slack. The burlap would tighten up with each additional coat of paint.
He chose to do a vertical hospital corner, not to be confused with a military corner or an envelop corner each of which have a forty-five degree slant to their fold. The vertical fold gives a cleaner look. We cut out the excess fabric to keep the corner as flat as we could.
Once the fabric was secure we began painting, coat after coat after coat, until all the nooks and crannies were filled in. We used a high gloss grade of paint to give us the most durable surface.
Rick then detailed the edge with nailhead trim. Who knew? Every fifth head had a little hole in it where you'd nail in a real nail head to hold the whole thing in place.
We put the tabletop on our sawhorses and merchandised it with some of our new product. Now we have just another reason to show off our terrific atelier.


I am the least safety conscious DIYer.  My lack of patience always gets the better of me so I always jump in unprotected, hands first as it were.  DON'T DO THAT!  Here's what you need for a project like we just completed. Get the right kind of stapler.  If you don't have access to an electric, hydraulic driven upholsterer's stapler (and who does?) invest in an "easy grip model".  You'll save yourself a lot of pain later.  Don't forget to wear gloves. Latex ones for stretching and applying the burlap, it's very abrasive and sometimes the fibers can actually invade your skin like little splinters. Use these also to apply the paint, why spend extra money for a new manicure. Most importantly protect your hands and fingers with a heavier work glove when applying the nail heads. After I had finished my fingertips looked as if I had played a cheese grater like a zither.

Play Golf FREE
Photographer unknown
Available through Zazzle as a poster on archival paper for $71.15

Friday, September 16, 2011



When other blogs or news services run stories on the best American farmers markets Madison's market always makes the list. Living in Madison for the past two years, we now know why.
The outdoor market runs from mid-April to early November. There's a midweek version held off the Square but the main market assembles on the Capitol grounds on Saturday mornings. It officially gets started at six in the morning but you can arrive even earlier during the summer as the local producers start setting up their tents and tables and begin the process of laying out their goods. The plat for the market circles around the Capitol Square. Madison's capitol anchors the center of the market like a huge wedding cake surrounded by a salad of vegetation in lush green grounds and overflowing planters anchoring the four corners of the Square.
We like to get there early before the real crowds start packing the sidewalks. There's an unwritten rule that you circle the market in one direction making only right hand turns as you go around. Once the crowds start to form you can lose a loved one in a mere five feet and God forbid you try and turn around to go back to a vendor you missed. Either you need to move out of the walking ring to the street, which is no easy task, or you just have to go around again. I've never clocked it at high traffic time but my guess is you need to think about a good hour to make the complete circuit, baring stopping to pick up any purchases, and stopping to purchase is what the market is about.
You can find people from around the world and all cultures both buying and selling the bounty the market has to offer.
Color and fragrance abound from almost every booth. Flowers are the obvious instigators from the highly potent lilies
to the delicate pastel of the ranunculus, but flowers aren't the only item producing some pretty potent color splashes.
Eggplants are supposed to be purple
but who knew you could get peppers in the same pretentious purple.
Grocery store carrots carry that dull wimpy orange but these organic carrots burst with an orange verging on crimson.
Our olfactory senses are assaulted on an equal par with our sense of sight. We all have our favorites smells at the market. Rick was fascinated by the earthy scent of the heirloom and cherry tomatoes,
while I marveled at the sweet smells of the honeyman. Emmy is a devotee of Stella's spicy mozzarella infused bread served piping hot. You can't pass by their booth without being hooked in by the smell of fresh baking bread. I don't think we've ever made it home with a whole loaf. We tend to tear it apart as we walk the square. By the time we're back to the car the only thing left is the plastic wrapper.
If you're in Wisconsin you are obligated to pay homage to the cheese and this farmers market has some of the best cheeses to be found this side of France. From the exotic to the local cheese curds that squeak when you chew them, cheese is present from the opening day of the market to its last cold gasp in November.
And if that's not enough there's entertainment from street musicians and political activists happening like street theater as you pause for a breather on the open corners of the square. The market has become a ritual for us. With our recyclable bags, a taste for the organic and home grown, and a realization that this is truly an example of the beauty of life we feel blessed to be able to walk this market every Saturday morning in our reclaimed lives.


We always go to the market very early not just to get the pick of the crop but to avoid what Madisonians affectionately call "The Farmer's Market Shuffle".  You can avoid it by going late and the pay off there is a possible bargain.  No farmer wants to pack up and take home the goods he brought.
Just like going to the supermarket, bring your own bags - c'mon half the point is being green!
Talk to the farmers about where their farms are and how they grow their produce.  If you want to shop local and eat clean, you want to be sure that is the case.
Stuff your pockets with small bills and change - it's no fun searching for change of a $20 for $1.50 purchase.
If I have few or no plans for that day I'll walk the entire market first - usually with a latte and pain au chocolat in hand - noting my interests and make a second trip around to buy.
When we lived in NYC we were literally around the corner from the flower market. Our home was always filled with fresh flowers.  Now I depend on the Farmer's Market so I take a flower bucket or pail to hold a little water 'til we get the precious cargo back home.
We love our pooch Buddy but in Madison it's "NO DOGS ALLOWED" so check the local rules before putting the leash on Fido for a trip to the market.

Vendeur de Fromages de Chevre, Paris, 1935
Willy Ronis, photographer
Represented by Hackelbury Fine Art, London

Thursday, September 8, 2011


If there's one thing we have in Wisconsin it's corn, sweet sweet corn. Around the middle of August the local corn comes into maturity and you can pick up a dozens ears for five bucks at roadside stands or at farmers markets. At the roadside stands there's still a trust factor present in the local countryside where the farm stands remain unattended and payment is on an honor system. There's no sweeter time then when the corn is in season. When mixed with heirloom tomatoes and a little basil the result can be a meal in itself and we take full advantage of eating as much as we can before the frost comes and the corn is gone. This is Rick's recipe for summertime corn salad:
First, when you buy your corn leave it in the husk. I don't get it when I see some harried mom standing next to the corn bin striping off the husks and throwing them away. You'd think they were paying for the corn by weight instead of by the ear. We keep our corn in the husk and roast it in the oven. We don't soak it, we don't wrap it in tinfoil, we just turn the oven up as high as it will go (500 - 550 degrees) and throw the corn, husk and all, onto the middle rack for twenty minutes. It works every time. The corn comes out hot and moist. The husk holds in the water content of the corn leaving it wet and flavorful, much better than boiling the corn and stripping out all the flavor. The only problem with the roasting method is you need asbestos gloves to shuck the corn after you take it out of the oven. It's HOT!
So after you've blistered your fingers shave off the cornels into a dish.
Then slice and dice your tomatoes. There's no reason for being neat, just cut them up as best you can. The juicier the tomatoes the sweeter they are and the messier they are to cut. Rick likes to add a red pepper to the mix, it adds another flavor pop and an extra crunch to each bite. Dump the tomatoes and pepper into the bowl with the corn then cut up some basil.
If you take the basil leaves and roll them into a doobie you can cut them quickly leaving thin stripes. The basil not only gives the salad flavor but the added color helps make the dish all the more appealing.
For a finishing touch clip some fresh chives into the dish, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and mix the contents together.
This salad is quick and easy, just the way a summer salad should be.

We'd always admired the sunflowers surrounding a house at the corner of Sprecher and Cottage Grove Roads. It's at that point where the suburbs have temporarily stopped and the country still holds with farmlands and fields of Wisconsin agricultures. The house possesses the same indecision of wanting to be farm and suburb but unable to make up its mind. The owners have rented out small plots of land to weekend farmers tucked behind some makeshift fencing. There's a ramshackle appeal and disdain for the place and this is how there sunflowers grow, tall and mismanaged in random plots as if someone took a handful of seeds and then told them, "Good luck, you're on your own."
At the end of spring this year we were passing the house on Sprecher and Cottage Grove and saw the owners out working in their yard. They were both at the crossroads between middle age and golden years. He was a little grizzled with the hands of a workman. She was petite and Asian with a big hat to protect her from the sun. Rick wanted to ask them about their sunflowers so we pulled off the road and got out of the car. As we approached you could see a bit of trepidation on their faces but when we asked about the sunflowers they both perked up and started in on their own histories, histories of carving out a living through their hands and hard work. They'd hoped to sell the property to an interested gas company but the plan wasn't moving forward so they'd been renting the land to make enough money to see them through. Rick asked about the different varieties of sunflowers and what they did to get such huge blooms. The woman giggled and said they'd gone to the local hardware store and bought a huge bag of birdseed. They sifted out all the different sunflower seeds, it was infinitely cheaper than buying packets at a nursery and then stuck them in the ground hoping for the best. She then ran into the garage and showed us a plastic container filled with seeds. She poured a bunch into a separate container and said, "You take these. See what happens."
From tiny seeds grow giant plants. We filled the alley along the driveway at the store with her seeds and now we have a beautiful wall of sunflowers, their golden petals stretching eighty feet down the drive. It's a huge ray of sun that fills the last days of summer with its golden glow.

The Historical Society of Andes, New York used to hold a summer fundraiser where local members would hold a potluck and silent auction right around Founder's Day in the middle of August. We'd drape tables in vintage patio clothes and top them with mason jars laden with local sunflowers, delphiniums, roses and gladiolas. Hurricane shades held candles that lit the night under the canopy of white tents. The local slow food and organic food movements prepared the main courses which were set out on the buffet table next to the cash bar, Another table held the potluck appetizers, salads and desserts we all made in an effort to impress our neighbors. This was the first time I tasted watermelon salad. The character actress, Beverly Archer, owned a folk art based antique store, American Street, across the street from our store. Bev had an eye for unearthing the most astounding pieces of folk art, an ability to select the perfect wine, a creative bent for fashioning a treasure out of tossed out goods and the ability to transform simple ingredients into culinary masterpieces. I'm sure she didn't event the watermelon salad but I continue to credit her for introducing it to me.
Here's all you need to make a watermelon basket that should feed about 20 guests:
One large round watermelon
One medium sized red onion
One pound of feta cheese
Ground black pepper to taste
This is a very easy summer trick you can prepare in a very short time. The first thing you want to establish is the watermelons bottom. Set it on a flat surface and see where it seems to set without moving. Most melons have a natural underside. To help your melon out, slice a thin piece of the bottom so the melon basket will remain upright. Start to cut the handle by making a slit at the top of melon taking it almost to the mid point of the melon.
Your handle should be about 1 1/2" to 2" wide. Then start stabbing the melon in a 45 degree path from the edge of the handle around to the other side. You'll do this for both sides of the melon trying not to cut into the handle. Now pry off the excess parts of the melon. You can cut out the flesh of the melon under the handle with a knife.
Then start scooping out the rest of the flesh with a melon baller. If you don't have one use a measuring spoon. It'll work just as well. When you're balling don't go too far down. Try to stay away from cutting into the rind. When you get close stop balling and scrape down your melon walls until you have a smooth interior surface. Put your melon balls in a separate bowl.
Cut your red onion in thin slices and then quarter the rings.
Add this to the melon balls, crumble your feta into the mix, grind some pepper on top and mix. I usually end up with more than will fit into the basket so I put it in a separate container and take it along. That way I can refill the basket and keep it looking fresh for a little longer. That's it. If it's an adult's only party you can also spike the melon with a little vodka. Cheers!

Life and the way you live it is only as difficult as you make it.  Yes there are times I want to get in the kitchen, rollup my sleeves and cook a sophisticated, complicated blow you away meal.  Listen, I've even boned a duck from the inside leaving it whole and then stuffing it creating a complicated classic French "Canard Farci".  Summer food can be the simplest there is and nothing is simpler than corn, tomatoes and melon.
I've also created some fairly involved, structured floral arrangements, complete with oasis, chicken wire and floral tape but my personal choice when it comes to flowers is a simple vase or pitcher filled with one kind, one color flower.  What could be brighter or cheerier than a big fat bunch of sunflowers?


Near Juvisy, France, 1938
Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery