Friday, February 24, 2012


We're in Wisconsin. Snow is an inevitable part of winter and as far as I knew the middle of February was considered to be right in the heart of winter. One would think there would be an abundance of snow now, not so. Over twenty truckloads of snow needed to be shipped in to cover the inside lanes of the Capitol Square for Madison's annual Winter Festival. Forty-five degrees in February didn't exactly set the right tone for the Frosty 5K, the tubing slide or the Frozen Assets fundraiser we went to last Saturday night, but we still managed to have a terrific time.
From the bar boys with their bare chests painted silver to the dj perched above the revelers in Graze's huge main dining room, the evening was packed with people with a philanthropic purpose sipping drinks from death's door and munching on mini shrimp cocktails and sliders with a bite.
The purpose of the fundraising was to insure that Madison's greatest asset, its lakes, would be brought back to their recreational level of decades before when they were lined with beaches where residents and guests could splash around without the fear of having jumped into a sea of contamination.
Here's a link to the Clean Lakes Alliance: Check out their site for information on what they are doing to clean up Dane County's lakes. Please consider joining the cause with a donation of money or time.

I for one value my privacy. When we lived in New York we were considering purchasing an amazing apartment in the Cass Gilbert building named after its famous architect. We fell in love with the apartment the minute we walked in. I tend to judge a place by its moldings. If I walk in and see cheap two-inch bull-nosed strips running around the lower perimeter of a room I'm quick to judge. For me, this is an indication of cheap construction hiding more serious long-term concerns. If the baseboards are puny the red flag goes up about what's hidden in the walls: cheap substructure, bad electrical and plumbing that's going to start leaking the minute I sign the sale agreement. This apartment had beautiful millwork. Rick and I were sold on everything about this place...except for one little thing. The whole northern wall was a bank of gorgeous windows. This shouldn't be a bad thing, especially in New York. My only problem was that one of these huge windows happened to be the wall of the master bath, specifically the shower wall.  I'm no prude, but I do have a modesty limit and bathing for an audience was too far over the line for me. A mere street width separated us from a twenty-story office building with big windows and aisles of office workers sitting at their desks with a direct view into our shower. Rick was okay with this. Go figure. His philosophy was that the window steamed up in minutes of having turned the shower on and if those office workers didn't want to look at him in the shower they could pull down their blinds or look the other way. I, on the other hand, felt that the time between steaming up that window and standing there in my birthday suit was two minutes too long and just maybe those office workers didn't want to be subjected to a middle-aged man scrubbing his junk as they sipped their Chock Full o'Nuts morning cup of java.
The debate to purchase went on about the amount of time it took for the window to steam over. We ended up buying the place but only on the condition that we bought a curtain too. I closed it for my showers, you'll have to ask Rick what he did for his.
Here are some other places where the fish swim for everyone else to see.
You can rent this spectacular home in London's Hampstead Village. Architect, Paxton Locher, has integrated remote controlled roof panels, luxurious white surfaces, glass panels and water elements in this contemporary getaway. The focal point of the home is its central forty-foot tall entry with a glass-enclosed swimming pool running the length of the room. The effect of the aqua water running waste high adds an element of intrigue to the room where the legs of swimmers flutter at your shoulders while you sit in amazement at their Olympian antics.
Here's to another Wisconsin designer who doesn't mind letting it all hang out. Trained in Wisconsin but moved to the outskirts of Phoenix, Matthew Trzebiatowski and his wife, whose maiden name I hope wasn't something like Smith or Jones, built their home/office, Xeros, on an open corner in the stylish suburb of Sunnyslope. The uppermost floor of their three story structure offers a glass walled window into their world, a window that appears to be right into their bedroom. It kind of reminds me of an outdoor movie screen where you could drive by and sneak a peek at a slightly naughty show. This may be the new alternative to reality TV where homes are given a glass wall and everyone drives around sneaking looks into the lives of our neighbors.
What happens when you mix an icy idea with H2O? You get the Zendome, a geodesic igloo with  a tranquility quotient and a big open window to the world. The dome is shipped to your site in a big box with 161 powder coated poles, hexagonal joint pieces and an all weather Ferrari-material skin that can keep out the cold or float on top of the water like a big semi-spherical ice cube. It's kinda cool but with an opening price taf of $18,500 I think I'd rather have a nice little electric car rather than a big kid's expensive tent.
There is a billion dollar business in exotic fish and their aquatic homes. Ranging from those tiny bowls you can win at a carnival by tossing ping-pong balls into them to palatial 100-gallon digs installed in the walls at fabulously wealthy doctor's offices. I've landed on one that I think Salvador Dali must have inspired. Designed by Psalt Designs, the bowl is made of hand-blown glass and counter-weighted to keep its water bead shape from slipping off the ledge of a shelf. Here's a fishbowl that's really for fish. I'm not going to get into the animal rights controversy here, trapping a poor little fish in a half gallon of water without much of anything to do and no room for a companion, but the aesthetics here are pretty powerful and since our signature color is orange it would be hard for us to pass up a couple of these little bowls.
Now for people who want to experience life as fish here's a bowl where you can swim and be seen suspended over the ocean where real fish swim. It's a reversal of roles with humans on display for the fish to see and wonder about how beautiful those humans look swimming around in neon colored suits their long legs fluttering through the aqua blue liquid of an aquatic home.

Weeki Waachee Spring, Florida, 1947
Toni Frissell, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery, NYC

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Last Thursday we opened our doors later than normal. That implies that we have a normal schedule and that unfortunately would be a bit of a stretch. We're supposed to be open 11am to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday and we hold to it as best we can. For any of you who have showed up at say 5:23 on a Friday afternoon only to find the lights off and the closed sign in the window...I apologize. Please don't hold it against us.
Anyway, last Thursday; we kept the door open until a little past nine. It was a little to cold to have literally had the door open but the lights were on until the last mason jar was washed and the open sign was turned over to closed. It was our Valentine event, "For the woman in your life". We were going to tailor the event to "men only" then we came to our senses knowing everyone has someone in their life at Valentine's and it isn't always a woman.
We highlighted the work of two local artists at the event. Joan Sample of Black Button Design took over the back room spreading out necklaces, bracelets and earrings all made out of buttons. We've spoken about Joan's work before with great admiration and envy. Joan is a former textile designer and the element of weaving shows clearly in her jewelry designs. It's not merely stringing buttons together.
It's how she deals with putting them together weaving a chain of buttons and thread in same way a weaver would weave a piece of fabric. It was a thrill to have her display her work at the event.
Rebecca Schuler, who is also my niece, took over the front room with her handmade bags, clutches and purses under the brand name of Shulabags. Rebecca has a great sense of fabric and craftsmanship.
Her metal rings on her purses are an ingenious inspiration for the perfect way to free your hands while still having your bag nearby safely dangling from your wrist. How many times have you tried to tuck that purse under your arm while clutching a drink in one hand and trying to eat a caviar canapé with the other? Rebecca has the answer.
To add to the Valentine ambiance we dressed the rooms in red frames with old valentines, a green depression vase filled with a dozen tangerine roses and then spread seasoned nuts, smoked trout with crème fraiche and dill, shrimp with wasabi mayonnaise, cucumbers and parsley and miniature chocolate and apple cinnamon cupcakes on all available surfaces that weren't already covered in product. The food was great but the hit of the evening was our Madison mules in mason jars. Here are some of the recipes:

Chipotle and Maple Syrup Roasted Nuts
Placing cups of roasted nuts around the room makes for easy hand food that doesn't require any real serving pieces other than a napkin and we had a full supply of our myDrap cotton disposable napkins on hand, in our signature orange of course.
3 cups whole roasted cashews
2 cups walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecans (7 ounces)
1 cup whole almonds (6 ounces)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tsp ground chipotle powder
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Get out a shallows pan and grease it down with the vegetable oil. Now combine your nuts with the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, chipotle powder and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. I like to do this in a bowl. Once everything seems evenly coated add 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt and mix again. Then dump the nuts into the pan and spread them out as evenly as you can. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes shuffling them around a couple of times making sure that they are all getting toasted to a golden brown. Take them out of the oven and toss them with another couple tablespoons of Kosher salt. Let them cool. You don't want to serve them too soon. If you serve them too early before they've had a chance to properly cool the nuts are too hot and chewy. You want them to have hardened back up to nut consistency, if you know what I mean. These nuts have a real kick but once you get started eating them it's a bitch to stop slipping your hand into the nut dish.

Shrimp and wasabi mayonnaise cocktail sandwiches
This is purely a Rick concoction.
2-3lbs of medium sized shrimp (we used frozen - they're already cooked, cleaned and de-veined )
2 onions roughly chopped
3 lemons juiced and roughly chopped
1 cucumber
Several cloves of garlic
1 tbsp of black peppercorns
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 loaf of cocktail bread (we like sourdough but you can use pumpernickel or rye)
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
2 tbsp of wasabi mustard
Olive oil
Fill a pot with 4 quarts of water and begin to bring it to a boil. While the pot is coming to a boil juice your lemons and roughly cut them up. Peel your onions and roughly cut them up as well. If you can, now is the time to peel your cucumber and slice it into crunchy little disks. If you've decided to use fresh uncooked shrimp you should have already taken the time to clean,  de-vein them and pulled their tiny tails off.
Dump the lemons and onions into the bubbling bath, and add your peppercorns, garlic and parsley. Tie up half the parsley and leave the other half for garnishing. Tying up the parsley makes it easier to dispose of once the shrimp are cooked. Bring this to a boil. After 10 minutes turn the mixture down to a simmer and then add the shrimp. Keep a watchful eye on the pot, stirring occasionally until the shrimp turn pink. Remove the pot from the flame and strain the whole mixture. Now find someone with time on his or her hands to stand there and separate the shrimp from the rest of the mixture leaving all those stray parsley leaves behind. Set the shrimp aside and make your wasabi mayonnaise. This shouldn't take more than a couple of seconds. Mix a 1/2 cup of real mayonnaise (we're all Paula Dean on this one) with 2 tablespoons of wasabi mustard and a dash of olive oil to help thin out the mixture and then that part is done.
Now lie out your cocktail bread slices, smear on your wasabi mayo, hit it with a cucumber slice and a shrimp, top with a sprig of parsley and eat. These things pack a punch. You can prepare them before hand as long as you can keep them refrigerated. Despite the real mayo they're moderate on the calories and a great combination with a Madison mule.

Madison mules in mason jars
The ingredients here are pretty simple but first you need to go to your local canning supply store and pick up a couple dozen half-pint mason jars. We felt this was the perfect party size, big enough to know you had one yet small enough to know no one was going to have to call a cab to get home.
Here's what you do. Cut the ends off a lime, slice it in half lengthwise and then cut it into half-circle wedges. My niece taught me this one from her bartending days. Grab a wedge and coat the rim of a mason jar with the juice of the lime. Fill the jar with ice. Add a jigger of Tito's handmade vodka and fill the jar the rest of the way up with some spicy ginger beer. Top your jar with your lime wedge and you've got a Madison mule in a mason jar. This was the hit of the party and every party needs its own signature drink.

Last summer we took a little side trip to Chicago to visit my sister for a long weekend. My sister teaches kindergarten. Her love is geography. She had an opportunity to participate in a cartography summer session where they explored mapping in an educational framework. She has a love for maps and globes but that's a whole new post. On one afternoon we ducked into the Art Institute of Chicago to beat the humid Midwest heat. After walking through the impressionists and showing Emmy Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" we stumbled into a windowless gallery lined with Japanese Kimonos. Each Kimono was draped over a simple mannequin arms out stretched. I'm not one with a big interest in the Far East but these kimonos blew me away on the winds of a fashion tsunami.
There's an architectural appeal to a kimono, the structured design with its block-like shapes tying the body to the arms. The loop and hang of the sleeves against the long clean line of the gown depict perfect proportion. The alignment of pattern is essential to the Far East aesthetic.
When the pattern is pictorial it wraps precisely around the garment telling a story as it twists and turns from right to left. Being a westerner I had to remember to the right to left thing otherwise I was seeing the  conclusion before we got to "once upon a time".
My inclination was to think of the kimono as a feminine garment but that is unfair. The kimono is meant to be worn by men and women alike. The ornate quality of a kimono has little to do with gender and more to do with the distinction between everyday wear and formal occasions.
As for the fashion shows in New York this week the kimono has found its way into several collections and has been called the cardigan for fall. Watch out Mr. Rogers.


Vintage Japanese Postcard
Photographer unknown

Friday, February 10, 2012


There's something about sleeping in a white room. Curling up on an eider down mattress and covering up with a pima cotton duvet is a golden ticket to a perfect nights sleep. I don't know if it's the symbolism of white: the billowy clouds or the softness of balls of cotton that relaxes every muscle and wipes out all our stress. I do know that there's a tropical seduction with a color so linked to the cold and snow. There's something about the end of winter, when the cold days seem to go on and on that wears me out and makes me yearn for a cozy pile of Egyptian cotton topped with a dollop of cashmere. Now if I can couple this with putting that white bed on the shores of St. Barth's, it certainly adds to the attraction.
Here are some places I could lie my head and dream dreams where I win the lottery and look like I'm twenty-three with the wisdom of someone smarter than all the GOP candidates combined.
Sometimes the white dream has a raftered ceiling with recessed paneled walls. Even the light from outside has relinquished its reflective blue and remains pure clear white.
The whiteness of some rooms seems to make them appear untouched and untouchable. As beautiful as this room looks I'd never let a pea get under that mattress cause I'd for sure wake up with a huge pain in my...back.
There's a big trend toward quilting and this white bedroom is a good example of why.  Hard surfaces become inviting when they're covered with tufted diamonds in dazzling white. With the beckoning call of the lapping ocean waves outside I could get used to a firm mattress and a ridged pillow.
Even a small room appears larger when you dress it in white. Add a slipper chair for sliding into your Manolo Blahniks and the room is perfect. Who wouldn't want to wake up here after a romantic evening? I'd just want to make sure I'd worn a pair of tighty-whities to go along with the room.
White is the kind of color that's going to work in a room whether the room is small or large. There are just enough curves in this space made of snow to soften a room that might otherwise have appeared too angularly intimidating. Even the arcs of light and shadow on the walls take away from the hard edges and surfaces making the space a must have.
It was summer in the mountains. A whisper of a breeze ruffled the curtains and made the crystals on the chandelier play a tiny melody. The sun was high enough to have topped the crest of the eastern mountains but it was too early for us to want to leave our nest in the clouds of white linen. We laid in bed the scent of pine adding an extra blanket of comfort to our morning sweet slumber.
When the one percent lay down in white it comes with amenities far beyond a synthetic foam pillow and a Wal-Mart polyester sheet. I would guess that this is a place where the people who lay here are not the same ones that fluff the comfort and fry the eggs on that breakfast tray. This is a perfect example of the adage money can buy happiness.
White is one easy way to give elegance to the room where most of us spend the majority of our time at home. It doesn't have to cost Mitt Romney's daily non-wage stock divident windfall. It can be as simple as a cotton sheet, a cozy duvet and a bucket of paint. The soothing quality of a white bedroom is my remedy for a good night's sleep.

This is the result of someone with too much time on his hands.
Constructed from a coil I found in the basement, a broken branch from outside, some heart-shaped Christmas ornaments left over from the holiday and yards and yards of very thin silver wire this tree of love was a labor of love that I hope brings cupid to our store.

Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville, 1950
Robert Doisneau, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery, NYC

Friday, February 3, 2012


We only gave ourselves the weekend to do the New York Gift Fair. For anyone who has been there you'll sympathize with the absurdity of this statement. For those who haven't attempted the Fair lets just say it would be like saying you gave yourself the weekend to eat a dessert at every restaurant in Manhattan. You can't do it and don't try and tell me you could. Even if you aren't stopping at one single booth to buy something the amount of merchandise that you need to scan is unimaginable. Fortunately the venues are broken up into areas that somewhat follow a set of general descriptions. This helps to narrow down the aisles that are mandatory to see and those you can afford to skip if you're going to do the fair as a sprint rather than a marathon.
At Home is mostly furniture and accessories for the home; oh, a stray vendor trying to sell aprons with the catchy phrase, "Mr. Good Lookin is Cookin" might pop up in the mix but pretty much everyone conforms to the title of the area. We've learned that general gift is pretty much a bunch of awful ceramic figurines of big-eyed angels and fart cushions. New York's Newest is a mess of vendors with not much to contribute to the discussion of new unless it means new to the list of the 100 worst items of the show. They wisely have shoved this area off to the most isolated pier. It's kinda sad walking the aisles here. Most of the vendors sit on cold metal folding chairs eating garlic laden Chinese food while talking to their hands. None of these items made it to our wish list. However these items did:
These metal mirrors were spectacular. The picture might not give you a true sense of their size and impact but they were beautiful. Unfortunately, at a retail price of $1000 we had to pass them up...this time.
Go Home had one of our favorite furniture pieces, the Bucher Wardrobe. We could see a whole wall of these lined up in someone's library. Based on the old ice cooler, the bulky hardware with the wire shelves and the glass-fronted doors was impeccably styled with beautiful silver pieces. If you look really closely you can see a very handsome older man reflected in one of the glass doors hoping that reflection will have the powers of Dorian Grey's mirror and at the least return his hairline back to 1985. Check them out at:
These cashmere throws by Yak Mountain Looms were so luxurious I'd even consider jumping under the covers with Snooki if she were wrapped up in one of these. The fringe detail is perfect and they come in over sixty colors. Their rep told me if I didn't see the color I wanted I could give them a pantone chip and they'd match the dye, a decorator's dream. But that kind of quality and customization comes with a price, one I didn't even dare to ask.

Saturday, our first sprint through the market in our track shoes, didn't leave us with having written a single order. We saw things that peeked our interest but not enough to make us plunk down an opening order. We were holding out for that "wow" item that was going to make us stop in our tracks and sign on the bottom line. On Sunday we found just that thing. Who knew it was going to be napkins that would make us cross our legs with excitement. Rick saw them first from across a packed aisle of scurrying buyers. Sold on rolls like paper towels were cocktail napkins, dinner napkins and placemats made of very fine linen from My drap. Perfect for parties, these napkins come either 50 to a roll for the cotton cocktail size or 12 to a roll for the linen dinner and placemat versions. You simply tear them off at the perforated line. They're reusable, up to six washes and they come with a printed stitch line that makes them appear as if you bought them at Bergdorf's in the fine linen section.
The sixty degree weather in New York was so misleading we thought we had missed spring and were going to be way behind in turning our backyard into a courtyard for our garden center. It was panic that pushed us into Gold Leaf's booth. In the center of their booth we found these gorgeous earthenware pots; enormous pots, made from a chocolate clay in these huge contemporary shapes. These pots were so delicious we bit on them and you'll be seeing them at the shop this coming garden season.
We filled another void at the store when we found flatware that works with all our contemporary tabletop items. We'd been looking for something you wouldn't find at your local department store bridal registry department. It ain't easy, but in Prestige Cutlery & Gifts booth the owner, a big Jewish guy with a yamaka and wild sense of humor, told us these eating utensils were the "bomb". We think so too.

Running the aisles of the show is so tiring that by the end of the day you can reach a point where you just become giddy. Everything looks hysterical and these items kept the laughter rolling - in a good way.
Everyone is trying to go green and there were plenty of vendors at the show cashing in on the trend. Crocs are quickly becoming the Tickle-me-Elmo castaways of the past decade. Millions of pairs of rubber shoes were ending up in landfills across the nation until these imaginative dumpster divers found a way of turning rubber into gold. All of these rings are made from melted down Crocs and molded into fashion accessories even Paris Hilton would be proud to wear.
Sara Gallo created another alternative use for something Carrie Bradshaw would die for. When Emmy was little and before Polly Pockets came into vogue she loved her Barbies. We had four-dollar Barbies, Stewardess Barbies, Pilot Barbies and Collectable Barbies. The one thing they all had in common was by the second day after purchase they were shoeless. Where these shoes ended up heaven knows but barefoot and braless they were. I have no idea about the bras but now I know where all those shoes went. This jewelry was a hoot. Bracelets made from thousands of tiny Barbie shoes. What grown woman wouldn't want a shoe collection for their wrist rivaling that of a Beverly Hills housewife, if only in miniature.
From shoes to underwear, the laughter kept right on coming. The boys at the Candi Factory have designed the coolest cotton u-trau for men and women. The designs are either humorous or a little on the bawdy side and the color palettes are both sophisticated and fun. Even at my advanced age I could feel about thirty years younger in a pair of these boxers.
The organizers of the NYIGF selected a panel of bloggers to search the fair and come up with their Bloggers' Choice awards from the Accent on Design section. This winning product, now mind you they only picked six out of millions of possibilities, is called Bang by Bitplay. This could be the new hot item for next Christmas. I'm not sure but the NRA may have been the seed money behind this one. It's the newest entry into the violence market. I think I'm going to stick with the clapper: clap on, clap off...the clapper. Lights out.

On Thursday, February 9th we're holding a sale featuring the bags of Schulabag, the jewelry of Black Button Studio, and special Valentine gifts for your last minute shopping. There's going to be buckets of beer, mules in mason jars, and noshes to keep the hunger away so you can focus on finding the perfect Valentine gift for that special someone. Whether it's for your lover, your mother, your best friend, your daughter or yourself, if you find it we'll wrap it for you.
5 - 9 at the store: 1227 East Wilson between Few and Baldwin

Make Up Mirror, 1953
Thurston Hopkins, photographer
Represented by Photographers Gallery