Thursday, April 26, 2012


It's a long tale of how we came to be involved in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Design MMoCA event. This is an event that the museum does every other year and this is the third time they've hosted the bi-annual event. Previously it was a shout out to the interior and architectural design community in the Madison area. Local architects and interior designers were asked to design spaces not exceeding twelve feet by twelve feet inspired by a work of art from the museum's permanent collection.  I only mention the dimensions because it reinforces the notion that the final designs were three dimensional spaces.The interpretations ranged from literal to fanciful to extraordinary feats of engineering. We were stoked to have our chance at creating the same. That was two years ago. We sought out the museum organizers at various events in hopes that they would be charmed by our skills and enchanted by our personalities. They immediately took a liking to us and we to them. They told us the invitations to participate would be going out in the fall before the event. We began planning and mapping out what we had to work with and who we'd have to hit up for some help. Then the invitations came. The invitations that now went out to not only architects and interior designers but to anyone who could attach the word designer to the end of their title. That meant jewelry designers, video designers, and fashion designers were now being included, our enthusiasm started to wane. We were worried the audience coming to see the exhibit might not be the audience we were hoping to reach. We now had to weigh if the expense of putting together a design was worth the exposure we might or might not get. We decided to back out. What was the point? Weeks went by. We got a few emails form the organizers but our fervor to participate had really diminished. Then we went to see Connie at Iconic, another home design and retail store here in Madison. Connie is someone we respected. She had done the show before. She encouraged us to reconsider. So we did.
Once we had signed up we had to pick a piece of art for inspiration. You're not given access to their entire collection. They culled out about fifty pieces to pick from. Each design team was given a place in the queue for their selection time. We ended up some where around last. We were escorted to the museum's basement where the culled pieces were on display on wire walls. Our guide pulled out rack after rack and every time we saw something we thought we could use we'd find that it had a pink post-it attached meaning some other designer had chosen it. Then our guide pulled out the last wire storage tray and there was the photograph, "The Random, Milwaukee" by Carl Corey. We've always been drawn to photography so it was no surprise that our choice would end up being a still image. The blast of red immediately drew us in and its architectural subject matter was another plus. There was a stillness to the image, devoid of any physical human presence but filled with emotion. The image was all about pride and decay. Carl's crusade was to document a culture of disappearing taverns, centers of community in towns and neighborhoods where the local bar was where you went to meet friends and strangers for a beer and a moment of interaction with other human beings. Our concept was to take the decay, make it the external envelope of our space and then replicate the beauty of the tavern culture with lush furnishings and lighting, an homage to the beauty of the people who occupy the barstools and vinyl booths of Wisconsin's tavern league.

Like the substructure of a well-made sofa we first decided on building a tufted wall but instead of covering it up with expensive fabric we decided to leave it in it's raw burlap state.
For a ceiling we chose reclaimed lath laid bare the way you'd see it after the plaster had been pulled off during demolition.
For a floor we had a platform built that we edged in upholsterer's webbing and then laid slabs of wonderboard painted to look like raw concrete. This was our decay, the underbelly.
The part of a room or a piece of furniture that is usually covered over, we left exposed. Then we added our patrons, our colorful characters that sat in our space and attached themselves to our walls.
The beautiful lighting fixtures of Zia-Priven kissed the room with red.
Our center dining table by Black Wolf Design with its cerused base and faux parchment top added grace to our space.
The Emmy chairs from our own collection where trussed up the back like lonely women sitting at the edge of the bar waiting for a smile. Carl"s photo hung in observance of everything in our supper club somewhere on the outskirts of town. Our goal was to expose the beauty inside the grit and make everyone feel welcome and enticed to enter the community of the tavern league.

Most Madisonians are very prompt. If an invitation says opening at six then most of the invitees will be standing outside the door at 5:59. Being perennially late I have a bit of problem with this but I'm learning. The museum, designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, was on fire thanks to Mother Nature painting a flame colored sunset as a backdrop for the reception area. Sparkling wine and mini BLT's were passed around the room.
Musicians played on the mezzanine landing above the crowd, and there was a crowd.
The galleries were packed with a wide assortment of attendees: young and old, party-goers and art critiques, women dripping pearls and boys in un-ironed shirts with magenta plastic glasses.
The breath of approaches to the challenge was evident from the textile hanging country village uprooted by Doug and Kate Pahl
to the lush hydrangea dripping garden room done by Iconic.
Our space stood in the center of the main gallery. We hope that anyone in the Madison area or beyond will find the time to go see the exhibit. It is open from now until May 6th. Entry to the museum is free.
There will be a meet the designers event on Sunday, April 29th from 2pm to pm. We will be doing a talk on, "Why use a Designer?", on Saturday, May 5th at 11:00am.


Tavern League
Photography book by Carl Corey
Aired on PBS Newshour  March 18, 2011

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The big wall clock with the ticking second hand is still ten minutes short of three thirty. Mr. Morrison is droning on about the Mexican-American war, something about Teddy Roosevelt and some rough riders. I'm only hearing foreign location, beach and exotic travel. There's a lilac bush outside the window in full bloom and the weather has been uncharacteristically warm for the beginning of April. In Madison in early April we're still not clear of a hard frost or spring snow. There's still a good month and a half to go till school is out for the year. It's 1962. In my childhood once summer is here the best I can hope for is an overnight in The Dells with a trip to Storybook Gardens and maybe a chance at a beaded belt made in China. I don't know what it is but some of us are born with the need to travel. There's a curiosity to discover what the canals of Venice smell like or if you can make one of the Queen's guards smile.
It's now 2012. I know now how the canals of Venice smell (not so good) and I've tried to get one of the Queens' guard to crack a smile (with no success) but I've still got plenty of places on my bucket list. So until our ship rolls in and we're able to buy those tickets to exotic locales once again I'm going to have to settle for posting the accoutrements of traveling as my link to my wanderlust. Here's a little ode to the suitcase. It's always good to have one handy so when the traveling gnome comes a knockin' you ready to go get rockin'.
In the entry of the Waterfront Hotel in San Francisco the unclaimed baggage of long departed guests now stands as a memorial to a stay so good they forgot their possessions and left with only their memories of one unforgettable evening at the Waterfront. The use of these perfectly balanced suitcases makes for a sensational console, unexpected but totally appropriate.
A more practical use may be to use them closer to what they were made for. In this white on white niche a rustic bench stores a couple of valises providing a clean place for keeping your thousand thread count vintage Italian linens.
Stephen Kenn has taken the essence of luggage and WWII era military gear turning it into furniture that makes you want to stay at home. Steve welds the steel frames, rusts them so they turn that beautiful color of toast and marmalade and then seals the frames to protect the patina. The belting replicates Swiss mule belts reminding me of the straps on campaign luggage trudged through the African jungles on safaris. There's a real hint of the elegance of a hundred years ago here with a very modern twist.
I've always admired those metal suitcases carried onboard planes by photographers. The ones with the foam interiors making negative patterns outlining the camera bodies and lens they are meant to protect. Maybe Design out of Vienna and Istanbul has re-crafted these protective carriers into these sleek chairs and ottomans. Reminiscent of the lines you'd see in a Saarinen airport lounge, they have stewardess and "fly me" written all over them.
Restoration Hardware has created an entire line of desks, chests and cocktail tables based on the luggage of oceanic travel. they've named the line the Richards' Collection. I'm not entirely sure who the Richards are but it they aren't they should have been oceanic travelers. The kind of people who would have sat at the captain's table next to Rose and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. They would have been the ones hoisting a glass of champagne as their ship rolled to the ocean floor because they had class. This furniture collection carved from  luggage has that kind of class. They've updated the function of this vintage luggage with a secretary hidden in a steamer trunk where a twenty-first century traveler can sit at their computer and google places like Orvieto or Kyoto.
Now for the backpackers out there, Quize & Milan with Eastpak have sewed up this great sofa replicating their soft luggage complete with zippers and pouches for storing all those remotes and magazines that can clutter up an organized person's sense of order. So with everything stored away you can hang up your hiking shoes and relax.
I like to hunt the flea markets for my suitcase finds and then stack my treasures at the edge of a sofa or next to the bed. In this new century luggage has become disposable for the most part. There was such sophistication and glamour connected with the travel of the past. I have to applaud all those designers who have either taken the time to reclaim and repurpose some of the traveling containers from the past or used those pieces of elegant travel as an inspiration for their contemporary designs.

There is a graveyard for all those lost bags, never recovered and doomed to the loneliness of the unclaimed. It's called the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. I took it as a joke when I first read about it but this place really exists, For over forty years the Unclaimed Baggage Center has grown from an operation run as a bunch of card tables with the unclaimed unmentionables laid out for a few bargain hunters to peruse to a 40,000 square foot thrift store with a department store atmosphere. Shoppers now come from around the world to hunt for treasures, sometimes from unlocked valises and Gucci bags were the contents could lead to unbelievable fortunes like a Barbie doll stuffed with $500 in cash or a camera designed for the Space Shuttle - who knew NASA flew commercial. Whoever said there wasn't anything to do in Alabama?

Thursday, April 25th, is the opening gala for Design MMoCA. This will be the third bi-annual holding of the event. The two previous Design MMoCA events were a way of highlighting the interior and architectural design potential in the area in a way that included them in the art culture of Madison. The way it worked was invitations were sent out to area interior designers and architects to submit applications for entry into the event. From the submitting designers a representative group of the design community was selected to participate. Each designer or firm was then brought in to select an art piece from the museum's permanent collection. They were then to come up with a three-dimensional space with a footprint no larger than twelve feet by twelve feet inspired by their selected artwork.
This year the field of design disciplines was enlarged to include fashion, jewelry and graphic designers as well. Anyone who could add designer to their name was encouraged to participate. The challenge was the same: choose a piece of art from the museum's collection and construct a design around that artwork to include the piece of art.
This will be our first opportunity to participate in the event. We chose a photograph by Wisconsin photographer, Carl Corey. Carl's work is categorized as fine art documentary photography. Carl's most recent book, Tavern League - Portraits of Wisconsin Bars, digs deep into the rough-edged beauty of working-class taverns and bars. We chose a piece titled "At Random - Milwaukee", an architectural image of a supper club, the B movie kind best seen under the haze of low lighting and a few beers. Our challenge was to transform this juxtaposition of the raw unrefined envelope into an illusion of elegance.
The exhibition will run from April 26 to May 6. There will be an opportunity to meet the designers on Sunday, April 29 from 2 to 4. We will be giving a talk on, "Why use a designer" on Saturday, May 5 at 11am.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Zane Williams, Photographer

Thursday, April 12, 2012


For five years in a row we've had the amazing opportunity of design the press booth for the Vision Council at Vision Expo in New York at the Javits. Besides getting us back to New York for site surveys, purchasing junkets, production supervision and the final event installation it continues to be a golden opportunity to suck up everything the city has to offer. Every year the design wheels start turning the day after we finish striking the show from the year before.
We are on the boards trying to sketch out ways to make the next year even better than the year before. Then comes the sit and wait period while we wait for our assigned space to be figured out and for the budget to work its way to a final number. And then there are always aspects of the process that are out of our control. Will the fire marshal tell us we have to move our space back another ten feet from the escalator entrance? Will they turn the air-conditioning on at the last minute blowing our drapery panels into the booth like big bits of Kleenex? Will we have to take down a wall so we aren't blocking the view into a major vendor's adjacent booth?
This year our concept was clean and modern with a Swedish bent and a touch of spring. We added new bonnets and wood panels to our space this year made of birch ply. We left the ply edges exposed in our construction to give an added detail to our work. The blond wood was just enough contrast to the white bookcases. The whole look of birch and white produced a clean Scandinavian quality to the space. White carpets gave the space its elegance along with a touch of black from the table lampshades.
Our silver mirrors added to the richness of the space extending the perception of the space to be larger than it was. Every way you turned there were more glasses reflected in the walls of mirrors.
This year we had an added complication. The Javits is going through a major renovation. Our space was under a false ceiling. The glass ceiling we had grown accustomed to was now a metal umbrella barely holding out the rain. It was like a dark cloud that now required some pops of artificial light. Our metal pipes that we had used to support our panels, mirrors and framed posters surrounding the room were now having to double as lighting stands that would bring the sun back into our space.
We added an entry of twenty hurricane shades and flameless candles (compliance with fire codes demanded the flameless route) and the magic of Thomas Edison gave a really nice warm glow to our space.
We added touches of spring around the space with purple and chartreuse flowers. Glass bowls wrapped in purple satin ribbon helped create a corridor for our trends exhibit.
A metal table with twenty vases each holding a single purple hyacinth stalk and topped with a glass shelf was there to balance the color in the room.

The University of Wisconsin boasts one the largest and oldest arboreta in the nation. Filled with ecological communities for both plants and animals the arboretum has preserved thousands of acres of open unspoiled areas replicating the indigenous land before it was invaded by the likes of us. Most of the land is devoted to research with trails and gardens all begun during the depression when land was cheap and labor was plentiful.
The Longenecker Horticultural Gardens is by far my favorite. I have a picture of myself as a young boy standing under one of the amazing lilac trees my arms out stretched, my hair in a post-war buzz cut and a huge smile on my face. I've kept the scent of those lilacs in my memory bank for all these many years. These gardens contain the nations largest collection of lilacs and an extensive fifty-acre display of flowering crabapples, magnolias and viburnums.
The time in which all of this is in bloom is short, but when it is at its peak the tune it plays on your olfactory senses and the spectacle of color that you are treated to is incomparable to almost any sight I've seen. Take that Washington and your cherry trees.

Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington D.C.
Photographer unknown

Friday, April 6, 2012


For the past couple of years the New York Dining by Design event for DIFFA has paired up with Architectural Digest, a major sponsor of their charity, to share Pier 94 on the Hudson River where the Architectural Digest Home Show is held. You only buy one ticket and that gets you into both shows. The Dining by Design charity has grown over the years as a major fundraiser for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. They have raised over $40 million for distribution to various AIDS organizations nationwide. The Dining by Design event has now been franchised to eight additional cities.
It is one of DIFFA's most successful fundraisers where designers create fantasy tables for ten to twenty guests. The money comes from an opening cocktail party, three days of open viewing by the public and a final night fete where invited diners are served a mouth-watering gourmet meal at some of the most outrageously gorgeous private tables available in a city whose penchant for artistry is rarely treated so finely .
Here are a few of my favorite tables.
JesGordon of properFun, an event planning firm, designed a table that was beyond properFun. It was decadentFun. Like a bowl of jellybeans color was splashed from the ceiling, spilled down the walls and then melted into liquid stripes on the floor. If your professional task is making wallflowers dance on the table, and if your company can bring this kind of design to your event then I'd say they are the people you want hanging your mirror ball. 
At times the message can get lost at an event like Dining by Design but the guys at Dufner Heighes kept the message right out front. Marriage equality was their theme. The day I toured the event they were in the middle of a photo shoot. Two boys dressed in tuxedos perched on top of the table. The back wall filled with snapshots of happy couples celebrating their ability to have come out from behind the curtain and officially and legally announce their once forbidden love.
Have you ever had that sensation of walking up to a department store window display and misjudging where the plate glass was? One summer night I banged my head into Macy's Herald Square's front window hard enough to draw a huge welt to my forehead and loud enough to draw the stares of a group of tourists from Japan. I was lucky I didn't set off the security alarm.  Looking at the table by Aly Tayar and the Jones Falls Furniture Co. had the same effect. There's a fine line between the three-dimensionality of the table and the two-dimensionality of the optical allusion of the backdrop. If you stood there having downed several glasses of wine and looked at the setting long enough you'd start spinning as if you were in a M. C. Escher etching not knowing where the ground was or if you were standing up or lying down.
Ralph Lauren has always been known for his romantic bent; rich woods, a crackling fire, a chalet near Breckenridge. His table at Dining by Design was sheer Ralph. You could identify it from across the room. His ability to make you feel at home in the midst of such opulence is a real talent. It's become almost a formula for the Ralph Lauren crew but formula or not the end result is predictable perfection.
My favorite table was Benjamin Moore's ode to literature designed by David Stark. My photos don't do the table justice, but who better to tackle color than Benjamin Moore? The walls were lined with books. The table was made from books. Each book's spine read like a novel with the intriguing titles of Approaching Storm, Peruvian Chill and Ilianna, all colors in the Benjamin Moore lexicon.
The centerpiece of the long table had various books open with cut-out stories of mad teapots and jungle giraffes popping out to the diner's delight. On the back of each chair was shawl dyed to a Benjamin Moore color. Forget about dinner. I'd just want to wrap up in a shawl with a color book in my hands reading a story about a gramophone that could change musical notes into multi-colored sunsets. 
Having been a part of the process for several years running we know the joy of being given the opportunity to create total fantasy and the humbling sensation of knowing you've also done a good deed.

Since becoming a member of the Access to Design team at the New York Design Center we've been taking a more comprehensive look at the showrooms at 200 Lex. Periodically we'll be highlighting one of the showrooms and trying to give a feel for the products and designers they carry. This week we're taking a tour of Global Views. Begun fifteen years ago and headquartered in Dallas, Texas this is a showroom whose product has always impressed us. They are a relative newbie to 200 Lex but a welcome one.
Their product line stretches into the furniture and lighting area but their strength is in the arena of accessories. If you're unfamiliar with the line walk into your favorite high-end retail gift store, like say Pleasant Living, and turn over your favorite items. I'll bet you nine to ten you'll find a Global Views label within your first three tries.
One of our favorite designers, Barbara Barry, has designed a line of boxes, desk pieces and these beautiful glass orbs for the Global Views collection. We'll be highlighting the Barbara Barry desk set in an upcoming ad in Madison Magazine.
Cerused oak has been a beautiful new introduction into their current offerings and this side table is an amazing example of their cerusing paried with their impeccable design.
Tangerine was selected as the color of the season and here at Global Views they've shown that they don't ignore the trends. From the interior finish on this secretary to the vases throughout the showroom, tangerine has been splashed on almost everything they offer.
The target market here is more the boutique merchants or upper-level department stores which works fine for us, but if you're a designer or architect looking for those finishing touches you're not out of luck. Donna and Chris will work with you as well showing their hidden favorites tucked in among the laden shelves.
Don't forget to grab a sweet treat on your way out. 

The Egg
Michael Garlington, Photographer
Represented by Gallery 291, NYC