Friday, March 30, 2012


The design industries are almost as narcasistic as the people in the motion picture field. We are always patting each other on the back and giving out more awards than do for "Toddlers and Tiaras". I find it hard to figure out how one console beats out a demilune in the eyes of the professional judges. I frequently disagree with what wins at these design competitions, not to mention the little brats who run away with the tiaras and the trophies twice their size, or even the ability to discern how one goes about judging a show when there are so many different apples, oranges and exotic fruits to pick from. The categories for judging may try to narrow down the fields but grouping all furniture or all accessory items as a group doesn't always make for an equitable playing field. Trying to award the top furniture designer when the field of possibilities includes bistro chair makers, concrete slab coffee tables and deconstructed sofas doesn't always allow me to see a clear winner but this year, I have to admit, they could have put me on the jury and the selections would have been the same.
Robert A. M. Stern's venture into residential furniture produced a handful of pieces exquisitely crafted and beautifully designed. Every detail on every piece held the prefect proportion and correct detail. They smartly limited their offerings to a few pieces, not willing to extend their line until each piece meet with an extremely high production standard not always found in new introductions. There was no embarrassment in exposing their booth's minimalism.
Their bar was set so high that only a few pieces met their expectations and that's what was shown. They are working on additional pieces to the line but are only willing to introduce them after the piece has passed their very critical eye. This did not go unnoticed by the judges.
Now not because Dan is a good friend but the judges got this one right as well. Daniel Levy's porcelain lamps and tabletop dinnerware were exquisite even in comparison to all the beautiful glass and ironwork that he was competing against. Dan has focused his marketing toward high-end designers and architects who supply a full service approach for their clients.
He has developed a standard line of products but most of his commissions are custom-made with intricate glazes matched to the customer's own palette and desire. There is a minimalism of design with a Zen-like beauty to his work. It all matches his personality; the subtleness and restraint of his work are a duplication of his voice and manner. He so deserved the accolades the judges gave him.

I was totally fascinated with texture and surface as I strolled the aisles of Pier 94 at the Architectural Digest Show. I wanted to touch everything starting with the offerings from Wud Furniture Design out of Brooklyn. The "U" in wud has an umlaut over it but my search for the elusive umlaut on my keyboard ended with only a sigh and a few graphic curse words. I think the pronunciation of their company name is equivalent to my less sophisticated "wood" with a slightly extended puckering of the lips to give it that Germanic thrust.
The "wudites" have developed a way of creating a patina on metal and then freezing the results in a layer of resin. It's the furniture makers equivalent of a gemologist discovering bugs encased in amber. Amber may take centuries to form but the Wud technique is readily available within weeks. Their process takes the form of steel, brass, bronze, almost any metal and entombs it in resin which they then use to form exquisite furniture and countertops. The resin has a very smooth feel. It's impervious to stain and can take a real beating.
The cool touch of concrete was material that almost reached the point of over-exposure but here concrete was taken to place I hadn't seen before. This vendor poured his concrete into slabs, stained the concrete and then scratched into the stained areas to create a contrasting rough texture to the smoothness of the polished outer rim. The result is a surface so smooth you could skate on it where it's been left unstained and etched, and the etched areas are the places where the Zamboni has yet to go leaving a field of skater's blade marks.
In an attempt at making concrete defy its weight Erwin Hauer has mixed it with a portion of plaster and turned it into lace. White lace walls with the muscle to work as a supporting partition wall when necessary with a three-dimensionality that is magical. The pieces are made in modular units that are fussed together to make these beautiful honey-combed walls.
The amazing array of patterns is enhanced by the beauty of the patterns made when you addmlight and shadow to the mixture.

I have always contended that good design doesn't depend on money, at least not money alone.   I've spent a career matching "the proverbial Gap T-shirts with Armani suits "or the decorating equivalent to that fashion trick employed by many even the ever stylish Sharon Stone in order to create beautiful spaces while trying to stay on budget.  The trick here is to watch the quality quotient.  Finish is usually the first give-away of a poor quality item.  Wood should look like wood, stone should look like stone, and you get the idea. These days construction doesn't have to be flimsy to make something for a lesser price and veneers are used throughout the industry whether high or low.  Just pay attention to how they are cut, glued up and used.  MDF is not a four-letter word but particleboard is.  Structure is important.  Chairs, sofas and benches should support people of substantial size and tables should never wobble. This week's homage to the tabletop version of European football requires a great deal of cardio to help avoid the repercussions of sticker shock from high-end adult toys

The Crystal Foosball Table
By the Teckell Company
Available at the Cyrus Company, NYC

The All-Weather Foosball Table
By Design Within Reach

We're having a heat wave and its hit Manhattan. The crowds have packed the newly patterned streets of the Saturday Farmers Market in Union Square. A spring heat has brought out the shorts and short sleeves.
Apple blossoms have bloomed, the hens are laying colored eggs and daffodils can be found sprouting out all over.
Lets hope the weather holds and the bounty continues to fill the market. Enjoy the mild weather. The heat of summer may be just around the corner

Parc de Sceaux, France, 2007
Lynn Geesaman, Photographer
Represented by Jackson Fine Art Gallery, Atlanta

Friday, March 23, 2012


There's always an abundance of price points when it comes to consumer goods. You can pay less than ten dollars on a table lamp at Ikea or pay several thousand dollars for a custom-made lamp from a Beverly Hills designer. The term starchitect is wildly popular in urban areas where the name of Giorgio Armani or Frank Gehry can increase the price of a condo by a huge percentage.
Money is a big factor in any business but few industries are able to actually use money as the literal material for their creations. There are some furniture and product designers who are trying to turn some hard cold cash into their actual art. The most famous designer of money-based furniture would have to be Johnny Swing.
Google his name and hit the images button. His work transcends seating and takes on the mantle of sculpture. A couch made of 15,000 nickels and 35,000 welds undulates in soft curves like a Henry Moore sculpture. If Johnny ever made a sectional he'd have to hire a Brinks truck to keep thieves from running off with all that loot he substitutes for Dacron and birch. His ingenuity with his choice of materials is amazing but his worth as an artist far surpasses the value of all those coins.
Johnny has also designed a more attainable line of money based little moneymakers. Paper money inspired pillows and children's toys including this "must have" piggy-bank are some of his creations more likely to pay the bills.
One of last year's big movie moneymakers was "War Horse". Rachael Denny has taken the moneymaker part and created her own version of "War Horse" with an equestrian head made from flattened pennies.
Now that most money takes the form of plastic, "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" costume designer, Lizzy Gardiner, designed a gown made of expired American Express gold cards for her trip down the red carpet at the 1995 Oscars. It is exquisite when standing but I keep wondering if she was ever able to sit tied in by all those cards.
All these designers were able to put money where the mouth was and create fashion, furniture and fun out of what some of us like to horde and others like to spend. Money makes the world go round.

Black and white stripes is a look you can get without having to commit a crime. Stripes have been a design motif popular with almost every design period ever created. I'm sure if you went back to look at a Neanderthal family cave you'd see stripes somewhere in their design aesthetic. It's a bold statement. There's not much more you can do in the realm of contrast besides pairing up black and white.
These stripes work a room the exact same way they work on your body. Make them run up and down and the space is going to look taller. It'll draw your eye up and make a low squat room look elongated. In fashion, wear your stripes vertically and it can shed ten pounds without having spent twenty minutes sweating out over a P90X DVD program.
Wear your stripes horizontally and you've created vastness where vastness may have never been before. Bathrooms are rarely the largest room in a home but adding a series of meticulously painted horizontal stripes to the walls makes this tiny space seem larger than it is.
The size of stripes can vary from the heavy kind that add structure to this wall increasing its visual load bearing capacity to the finer stripes shown here on a rug.
Try to image this room without the addition of those stripes. The winter scene from outside would have blown in and taken with it the beauty of this perfect scene.
At first glance the stripes in this entry can seem like a dizzying piece of Op Art but there's a Vasarely like quality here where the repetition of stripes circling the room from floor to wall to ceiling and back to wall creates a new dimension that propels you into the space with the kind of excitement you feel on the downward path of a rollercoaster ride.
We've even gotten into the act of using stripes and in an entryway as well. I'm stretching the black and white theme here to include our silver metallic horizontal stripes. I'm also breaking the stripe symmetry look and adding a bit of asymmetry to the way we applied our stripes. What you can't do with a level, a measuring stick and a roll of blue painters tape.
There's no subtlety in the use of stripes on this penthouse balcony. It boarders on ungapatchka but its traditional style and avoidance of fuchsia or canary yellow leave it with a certain elegance and accessibility.
But there are times when stripes lead a more accessorizing role in the décor of a room. Sometimes it's just enough to add that one bold element to take a room from bland to dynamic without keeping you up all night. The striped bench at the foot of this bed only enhances the restful nature of this bedroom. Its occupants have nothing to worry about or distractions fighting to keep them awake at night by the addition of these bold but controlled stripes.


My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn, 1963
Cecil Beaton, Photographer
Cecil Beaton Archive at Sothebys

Friday, March 16, 2012


Pink is a hard sell to most clients. Where a man is involved the sell can be even more difficult.. We try to hide incorporating pink into our presentations by calling it dusty rose, blush or coral, but eventually you have to come to terms with the fact pink is pink. There are a few designers who lay out a room with pink and demand the client love it.
If Jamie Drake says pink is the only color that will make a room sing, you need to believe him. His color sense to the interior design industry is as masterful as Josef Albers use of color is to the art world.
Anthony Baratta is another master of the interior design world whose sense of color is bright and joyous. He is almost solely responsible for making pink the signature of all those suburban Connecticutites out on the golf course swinging a four iron in pair of Ralph Lauren pink trousers. Here are some stories in pink.

When testosterone is out of the picture pink can hit the walls and the ceiling and the floors and everywhere else with wild abandon. Whether it's intrinsic or learned, little girls seem to have an affinity for pink. It's a color described by both timid and aggressive adjectives. It can by portrayed as sweet and innocent
but it can also be described as hot and sensual, not terms appropriately paired with pubescence and little girls. So why do we push this color on them.
But if you are forced to use it in your ten-year-old's suite, as long as you stay away from all those Barbie clichés, a girl's room in pink can be a thing of beauty. Try to use it sparingly with a pop here and a pop there. That way little Sarah can stretch the appeal of her room well beyond her Justin Bieber phase.
If you feel the need to fill the room with pink stay away from the themed motifs and stick to a design focusing on boldness, geometric shape, and rhythm like the striped room here where everything works and how a touch of aqua can cool off all that pink.

One can get away with pink in certain regions of the world a little easier than in some others. The warmer the climate the better those pinks seem to be tolerated. How do you think all those flamingos have been able to survive there for so long?
The tropics seem completely at ease with pink. It's a tougher sell in the north but not one that hasn't been done without success.
A rich traditional arrangement can help pull off a little pink. The traditional setting makes the pink seem elegantly regal.
By washing down the value of the pink, covering an entire sofa doesn't make the color seem over-powering. The colored water in the vases along with the flowers themselves and the throw pillows all help support the pink color thread that runs through this living room. Pairing it with a strong black also helps establish a balance in the room and neutralizing the effect.

Pink is a color when used in moderation even the most masculine of humans can live with it the way we did in our 30th Street condo. It may not be easy to turn the man cave into a symphony in pink but there are other tricks to getting a little pink into your living space.
One way is to pair it with a rustic envelope. This musician's atelier hints at pink by way of a very soft sell. The emphasis on comfort is evident here. Who wouldn't want to sink into that couch with their March Madness bracket in hand or sit on that slipper chair to pluck out a little Bob Dylan.
Another tack to take is to use a really rich shade of pink and put it in the library. Add some gold trim and bunch of books then get out the embroidered slippers and bottle of scotch. Liquor him up and the color won't matter.
When the lights are low and the mood is right many a manly man has allowed the boudoir to be dressed in pink. Beyond that a touch of pink here and there is a safe way to introduce a color very few people are ambivalent towards. You either love it or you hate. It's your turn to judge.

I try to mention the designer or source of anything I can identify that I put in the blog but here is one posting where anonymity is a better course of action. When pink goes amuck it can be a horrible thing indeed.
There are many allusions to pink that make you feel good: a child's cheek, cotton candy, or a perfect rose but there are a whole lot of additional images that give off a stomach churning reaction. Think of a Mary Kay pink Cadillac, a bowl of borsht, or Pepto-bismol.
To protect their reputations I'll leave off their names but these spaces would make even Dame Edna reach for the Pepto with vodka chaser.


Ueito, Tokyo, 2010
Christian Houge, Photographer
Represented by Ellen K. ( Oslo, Norway