Thursday, May 31, 2012


I've tried my best to keep this blog as apolitical as a diehard progressive can but by June 5th the political landscape in Wisconsin will have changed no matter whom comes out victorious in the recall elections. By the time of my next blog the results of this monumental recall will be in and the social, economic and leadership direction of our state and potentially the country's will be more clearly defined. This is my request for enlightenment. I need to have some dialogue with anyone who is currently backing Scott Walker so I can see the other side of the coin. I'm at a point where I can't see any positives on the Walker pro and con sheet. Please help me see what you see.
First I don't believe there would have been a recall if the man who campaigned as a brown bag working class guy had gone into office with his agenda but also with an open mind and an attempt to sit at the table and work with both sides. What ended up was another example of a candidate winning by a razor margin and using it as a mandate, then dissolving any veil of transparency with his dictatorial approach to getting his way or no way.
He came to office on a pledge to create 250,000 jobs and balance a budget. He hasn't created jobs. He's manipulated statistics that no one can confirm and sits with a record of job creation even with his suspicious figures far lower than his promise. I can live with this failure. It's been a tough economy and both sides are going to use statistics that will support their claims in a time frame leading up to the election that will not allow for any independent entity to check and confirm them. But perhaps if he hadn't eliminated the high speed rail grant from the federal government he could have been a lot closer to hitting his job creation number and secured a transportation plan that looked to the future of our state and our children by providing cleaner air quality. A national rail system may not be in our lifetime but it will have to be in our children's. We'll run out of fossil fuels or deplete the ozone soon if we don't change our current ways.
Then there's the issue with the unions and collective bargaining. Here was an area where most people were willing to listen to both sides if only he had brought it up during his campaign and then sat down with everyone having a say. To come out with an ideology self-described as "divide and conquer" was more than a bitter pill. He had the full cooperation of the unions he was hell-bent on crushing. I have as many issues with unions as the next guy. When we go to New York to do a show at the Javits we're not allowed to screw in a light bulb or hammer a nail. The unions have driven up the cost of doing a show so high it's becoming almost impossible to work there. But these are not the unions that Scott Walker has attacked. He hasn't gone after the private sector unions; the unions he has gone after are the ones that protect our teachers, our firemen, our police and our public servants, people who help build a stronger safer community at salaries that keep them well within the 99%
It is very hard for me to look my kid in the face and say I stand with Scott Walker on any social issue that has come forward. I'm a gay parent. He's against this. He has introduced legislation taking away my rights to make healthcare decisions about my partner, Rick, should he have a recurrence of his cancer. He's signed a bill to take away a woman's right to equal pay for equal work. How can anybody with a daughter vote for a man with these values?
He has balanced the budget but at what cost to our future. We live in a state that had one of the highest levels of public education in the nation. We're now only ranked as average and we're quickly falling from there. Scott Walker's need to privatize everything makes for a state where only those with money will be able to educate, feed and care for their families. The divide between those who have and those who do not will only become wider. The obvious result is more sadness and then more crime. It's the story of the difference between George Bailey and Henry F. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life". I don't want to see an America filled with Pottervilles
Scott Walker's exorbitant financing by out-of-state billionaire backers only shows him as the puppet not the puppeteer of an ALEC backed agenda.
Even if nothing here (and I'm not going to go into his potential criminal woes) were enough to make you think twice about voting for Scott Walker, the one thing I do know is our current political atmosphere is one based on hate and systems based on hate benefit no one. Scott Walker has shown no ability or desire to change this atmosphere. He has said it himself, "Divide and Conquer". Tom Barrett may not be able to change this either but he has pledged to try. A Walker win means more of the same bitter wrangling. It's time to give Barrett a try unless anyone can convince me otherwise. We'll be closing our store on June 5th so that all of us can use the day to help with getting out the vote.
Please read The Capitol Times endorsement of Tom Barrett's qualifications. Here's the link:

Kathryn Schulze, protestor at the state Capitol, 2011
Jeffrey Phelps, photographer
AP photo


Saturday, May 26, 2012


When we were in San Francisco several years ago visiting our friends, Adam and JoHannah, Adam happened to play a lot of The Bombay Orchestra Dub. I don't exactly know what Dub means but I fell in love with the ethnic moodiness of the music. I forgot it about for a long time, but once the trailers for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel started running the music of the Bombay Orchestra started playing in my mind again. Rick had put the exotic music on his Droid via Pandora. Speaking about Droids and Pandora always makes me feel like I'm talking in some alien tongue. I don't own a Droid and I always thought Pandora was some character from Greek mythology. I'm too technologically insufficient to by considering buying one of those handheld gizmo so I'm not going to be downloading music or god forbid videos anytime soon. So about a week ago I decided it was time to go out and buy the CD before I drove myself crazy with sitars playing havoc with my psyche. The Madison of my college days had been a hot bed of music stores. It was that Woodstock era where everyone owned a phonograph and the songs of Janis Joplin and Patti Smith blared from the smeared smoky windows of college rooming houses. In my head these record stores still lined State Street, but when I returned to the storefronts that housed those historic psychedelic LP record jackets of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones I discovered they had turned into Chipotle Mexican restaurants and GAP stores. They just didn't exist anymore. I got back in the car and headed for the malls where the likes of Best Buy and Barnes & Nobles held what I hoped would be the CDs I'd been desperate to own. In my head these big box stores were all loaded with aisles of CDs with sections like Latin music, Techno and Easy Listening. Not so. The music sections of these big box stores had shriveled to the size of Jack Black's penis in the dead of winter. I decided to wait until I got to New York and I'd buy the Bombay Orchestra's CD there. New York has everything or so I thought. The story was the same as I walked through the Village both East and West. Tower Records and The Virgin Megastore had turned into American Apparel stores and electronic outlets selling the latest version of virtual books. I was still thinking ten years too late.
It made me realize I just can't do itunes and I'll tell you why. It's out of concern for my daughter and all the other daughters and sons of our generation.  I fear for the future of the cultural heritage of the current youth. They are going to be a generation without a physical trail of memories. Fifty years from now when you go to the Flea Market you aren't going to find orange crates stuffed with the LP jackets or CD jewelcases of the early twenty-first century. There won't be anything tangible to buy, only a bunch of old ipods that you can't operate anymore. The shoeboxes now filled with creased black and white photographs of our parents weddings and pictures of children running through sprinklers on suburban front yards will be filled with dust and air, empty boxes full of forgotten memories. The ephemera of this generation won't exist. When Kodak stopped making film I saw the writing on the wall. I was never so thankful that Emmy was born before the demise of real film. Every photo I've taken of her still exists staring back at me on a real piece of paper. The music I listened to can still be found tucked away in the back of closet. I may not play it but the technology is still out there. The music my daughter buys with her itunes gift cards only exists as long as she can find it on her current MP3 player. When that form of technology is replaced by a new form, that music won't exist anymore, at least not in any form she can hold in her hand or look for in the back of her closet. I continue to resist the pleas of friends to get with it and download a piece of music or a new book. I'm sticking to the old ways and hopefully the music we relaxed to, the books that expanded our horizons and the pictures of my little girl growing up will be there for her when she sorts through the artifacts that were our lives.

ICFF has known its up and downs, kinda like the economy. On a national basis there seems to be some inching upward. There've been little indicators that things are improving if only slightly. The ICFF show seems on a similar path or maybe a little better one. In previous years there had been a tendency for the show to be a little scattered. There were too many vendors showing accessories having nothing to do with furniture or innovation. This year seemed tighter and better suited to what I thought was its original intent - highlighting new artists whose media happens to be furniture and design.
What we saw was more focused and brought to a higher standard. This year's show was more in keeping with the shows we saw nearer its inception when there was more originality and less repetition. We saw two trends that stood out in this year's show: color and deep rich woods.
One of our very favorites was the DLV Collection out of Brooklyn. This chest was amazing with its hand-forged brass hardware, walnut case and leather fronted drawers. Every detail was addressed with consummate craftsmanship.
All of their pieces are bench made to your specifications but you really need to look at their amazing sense of proportion. If you start to count the individual pieces in this towel bar you're going to run out of fingers and toes in trying to tabulate them all.
Sandback used a baked red oak as its base and then created an intricate nail pattern to make their casegoods draw a crowd at the show.
The rich red wood was polished to a shiny shimmer making the patterned nails float on the watery wooden bed.
Tod Von Mertens five door credenza made from a single board of oxidized maple was another highlight of the event. The metal "x" base with its slender legs was the perfect base for the low long simple box it raised off the floor.
Many designers chose to go with a matt waxed finish but the boys at Hellman-Chang showed their Avery chair with a rich high-gloss finish they call espresso walnut. This chair has the curves of a 20's fashion model. The elegant women who walked the catwalk with their pelvises thrust forward and their shoulders pulled back beyond what one would assume to be the tipping point of a normal human being. Their design aesthetic has always been a benchmark for other furniture designers.
We may have some surprises in the way of painted furniture coming down the pike and if so I think we're right on trend. There seemed to be a happier face on the show this year with pops of color appearing down every aisle. Jamie Harris had these amazing blown glass wall installations bringing whimsy in these ladybug-like amebic forms that seemed to crawl along the wall of her booth.
Kids furniture is always a place where color can demand to be taken seriously. Iglooplay by Lisa Albin has infused all of her work with bright colors, color that stimulates and puts a smile on a kids face. Adults can benefit from this too and who doesn't need a smile.
These richly upholstered sofas and chairs may have only been done as display pieces by Golran but the beauty of their jewel tones and the plush texture of the material make them a real candidate for an actual line of furniture. The Golran carpet company began in 1898 in Mashad, a small Persian city, by Hajizedeh Gorlan. The company continues to be family run making some of the most exquisite hand knotted rugs available. It was their Curiosities Collection that caught our eye. Each carpet with its deep hues is non-reproducible. Each carpet is a one-of-a-kind with a worn in look giving it instant history.
There seems to be an abundance of pure white designs out there being promoted in the press and on all of those high-end real estate shows being run on the shelter networks. This piece would be the perfect addition to one of those spaces bringing some life and drama to an all white room that I couldn't possibly keep clean. It's nice to see some alternative materials being used that expand what we think a cocktail table should or could be.
I understand that Fern Mallis, the guiding force behind New York's fashion week, has been brought in to develop the same kind of event for the architectural and interior design community. ICFF has already stretched into the borough of Brooklyn and cobblestone streets of Soho with additional events and venues highlighting these design fields. It is the intent of the city to create "Design Week" next year an event to rival what happens in London, Paris and Milan for their design industries. I can't wait to see what happens in the big apple.

Sigmund Freud's Couch, 2009
Annie Leibovitz, photographer
Represented by Hamitons Gallery

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Why use a designer? It's an unspoken question we sense we come up against a lot. Most people are too polite or intimidated to ask it out right but we can see the skepticism bubbling in their heads. It's unfortunate that the question doesn't get asked openly often enough. If it did we could attempt an answer. It's become somewhat like the current political atmosphere where changing someone's mind about interior designers is like trying to change a republican to a democrat. This is not an easy task, but we're going to give it a go.
The directors at Madison's Museum of Contemporary Art gave us the opportunity to try out our persuasive argument at a talk we gave during the Design MMoCA event. Here's how it went:
We started out by outlining our top three reasons. We only had a half hour to persuade, inform and do a little arm-twisting so we tried to keep it brief. Here we go:
One: it's actually cost effective.
Two: you get the guidance, training and experience of a professional along with their professional contacts and resources.
Three: it frequently ends up in a life long relationship with the benefits usually reserved for a patient and their therapist.
The first thing a designer will do is help you to develop a master plan. Even if you're only looking for a few pieces for your living room you need a master plan. How is this cost effective? Ever know someone who went out and bought a new bed that turned out to be too big for the room or found out that the new custom-made sofa with twenty yards of $120 per yard Calvin Klein fabric was too four inches to wide to fit through the front door? How about the people down the block that added a master bedroom addition on their home but only put in enough closets for her clothes. We spoke to a designer working on an Upper Eastside apartment where the client had originally gone at a renovation by only hiring a contractor. The job required a library with four wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves, built-in speakers and a hidden TV cabinet. The bookshelves only allowed for books to be stored laying down and the TV cabinet was would only hide a 32" TV, not the 50" TV the client had purchased. Cost to correct these errors: $50,000. Working with a master plan can help avoid these costly mistakes.
Having a designer on hand also helps to keep your budget in line. When you're working from a master plan you can plan out your expenditures. We like working from an established budget. If we know what you want to spend we can base the design around that number. Even if the initial plan is to only do a few purchases or a single room it is still worth developing an overall plan. Many clients work on a plan that is implemented in phases, but having a master plan to work off of makes sure that unnecessary purchases aren't made and construction calamities don't happen. We've watched design novices make quarter million dollar mistakes because they thought they could do it alone. You really don't want to go there.

That master plan is the designer's biggest contribution to a successful design experience. Being able to construct a master plan usually comes from many hours of course work and internships with established designers. I think most designers have an innate gift, but as with any gift it needs to be nurtured and developed. The history of the interior design legacy, the guidelines of functionality, the mechanics of construction and rules of design theory are all bundled together in a good designer. This is not to say that all designer have these capabilities in equal measure but a good/well-trained designer should be able to guide you to achieving your desired end result.
 I can't tell you how many clients when asked, have started out saying, "I don't know what my style is, I don't know what I want". This is due to a lot of deep seeded issues, the biggest issue being fear. We see a lot of places that are just plain bland. Madison has a local newspaper that does a top five article every week. One week it was the top five selling colors at the local Sherwin Williams paint store. The results came in; they were all shades of beige. I don't think this is due to Madisonites all being bland but I do attribute it to a fear of making a color choice where the choices number in the thousands. It's a daunting task.
We know another set of customers who purchased a beautiful arts & crafts sideboard to go with their Hepplewhite dining set. Others marvel at the realization that they have nothing in their living room that is over thirty inches tall. That's where the designer comes in. Everyone has a style. They may not know it but it's up to the designer to help them discover it. A client's style has to be consistent with their comfort level but in so many cases it is far beyond their fear level.

There is so much personal information that is exchanged in a designer-client relationship that you usually end up in friendship that lasts a lifetime if for no other reason than to keep tabs on someone who might know too many of your skeletons. A designer's task is to find out who you are and how you live, what makes you comfortable, what your dreams look like and how we can make you feel proud of yourself through the home you live in or the place you work in. We've all seen thousands of TV programs where a designer walks into a home and transforms it into a palace.
There's that gush of, "Oh, my God", as the client's hand goes to cover her mouth and her eyes glisten with joy. That's the biggest reward of being a designer.


Frank Lloyd Wright 1947
Arnold Newman, photographer
Represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I guess I have a thing for nailheads. This is the second time I've focused on them. We're in the process of working on some new furniture pieces and adding nailheads as a detail seems to always seep into our design conversation. Nailheads are hot right now. They're a functional and decorative element that has been around for over 450 years. They are best known with the introduction of the Os de Mouton chair during the reign of Louis XIII. Those Louis' had some pretty strong influences on home decoration. The aspect of design most associated with them is for their over-indulgence and all that Louey-Schmooey stuff, but the introduction of the nailhead was less artifice and more functional utilitarianism.
Today the nailhead can go both ways and thanks to President Obama so can many of us. We last highlighted the nailhead in a post we did on a display table we made for our atelier. This showed off the decorative side of the nailhead. You can purchase nailheads in two different formats.
The nailheads here are called nailhead trim. You best use these decoratively. They come on a roll with a packet of actual tacks. About every fifth fake nailhead has a hole in it where you nail in an actual head and that holds the line of nailheads in place. This is a hell of a lot easier than the traditional method of nailheading.
This means you can go nuts with nailheading. Kara Paslay has taken this to the height of insanity. All I can conjure up is Michelangelo laying on his back painting the Sistine Chapel. Kara created a paper pattern for her dining room ceiling. The effect is beautiful but the thought of the medical bills I'd incur for back and neck realignment would make me stop and think before I started this project.
Real nailheads are the ones you use when you need a means of holding fabric or leather in place in furniture upholstery. This was, of course, before the hot glue gun came into popularity.
You can see how these nailheads actually hold the fabric in place along the edge of this Os de Mouton chair.
The same holds true here for this more contemporary chair where the line of nailheads follows the welt that traces the soft curves on the edge of the chair.
This beautiful paisley leather door uses nailheads to finish off the edge of the door. It is helps to protect the leather from direct contact with the thousands of hands that have pushed up against it swinging the door back and forth.
The bottom cut out apron on this chair uses nailheads as both a securing devise and as a decorative boarder that helps to ground the piece. It points out how you can incorporate nailheads into a design helping to define the lines of a piece of furniture.
In this Hollywood Regency wing back dining chair a nailhead cross pattern breaks up the massive back adding an element of intrigue to the chair.
Architects an designers have also used nailheads to enhance their work by using nailheads as architectural details. The designer, Jeffrey Bilhuber, is famous for using nailheads to outline architectural details within many of his interior design projects. Here he has added a line of nailheads to the Gothic arches in this entryway. It may seem like a small detail but they help to reinforce the beautifully peaked forms and lines of the vaulted ceiling.
In this room he has used nailheads the way other designers use moldings to define shape. If forms additional cornices, chair rails and baseboards to this traditional living room.
There are times when nailheads become an intrinsic part of the design. This four-drawer chest has an intricate pattern of squares and circles transforming a flat fa├žade into an amazing piece of art.
The size of the tacks is also important to the overall effect of nailhead design. These entry doors demanded a larger than normal nailhead. Their size implies security fortifying the entry into this magnificent home.
I'm usually not attracted to the overly ornate but this settee is exquisitely proportioned and beautifully detailed. The line of tiny nailheads running along the bottom of the upholstered cushion draws a visual line that adds depth to the front of the settee.
The nailheads on this table do double duty holding the metal rim in place and then adding a rustic get out your lance and tear apart some rotisseried chicken with your bare hands kinda feel. I love the masculine quality of this table and I obviously love nailheads toos.

Art can be made from many kinds of media. The adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure" holds no truer than in the art world. Creativity comes from inspiration and innovation. The artist, Andrew Woolery has taken the common thumbtack and push-pin and turned them into his version of oil paint. He pushes the pins and tacks into a hard-surfaced canvas using the coated color surfaces of the pins to paint portraits of black cultural icons.
It mimics the poinitillistic techniques of Seurat and Signac, and on this historic week I can think of no other figure more worthy of his work than President Obama. Who know I could tack interior design, nailheads, thumbtack art and human generosity all together in one post this week. Who knew?

Two Men Dancing at a Drag Ball in New York City, 1970
Diane Arbus, photographer
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Saturday, May 5, 2012


There was always one kid back in seventh grade who fancied himself the class comic. You'd be walking down the hall between classes when there'd be a big shove from behind and with that dumb and dumber look on his face you'd hear the class doofus say, "Hey Melahn, what's black and white and read all over?" You'd give the answer you'd heard since third grade, "Duh, a newspaper". Then the smartass would come back with a donkey laugh hee-hawing, "No ass-wipe, a dead nun", and off he'd go his shoulders bouncing in amusement at his pre-teen cleverness. So this week it's black, white and red that I'm going to take a look at. Some of these interiors are clever, some might have a dash of humor but none of these are sophomoric. 
There's no dead nun here, only that enigmatic Mona Lisa recreated in an Andy Warholesque image taking prominence over this sleek living room. There's a blending of the gothic and the contemporary. If they had only added a rug this interior would have been perfect.
We just did stripes. Had I seen this image back then it would have used it to show scale. The size of these stripes was a very risky move but one that paid off. There's nothing spectacular about the furniture or flooring choices but the stripes save this vignette. The touch of red with the lampshade was the perfect bit of color to sweeten up this window treatment.
Speaking of stripes this dining setting is so enticing I can smell the pan au chocolat, I can taste the confit de canard and I can feel that cool springtime Parisian breeze blowing a single lost blossom across those black and white tiles. I can hear the conversation, part English and part French. The streetlights have to be gas so as the sun sets there's an amber flicker that dances over the stripes jumping from black to white. Who would want to decline an invitation for a seat in one of those red chairs?
I'd have to hide all the erasers and wet washcloths if this chalkboard were in my dining room. If you got an invitation to dine here, you might need to be prepared to be frisked for any device that could wipe out this piece of chalk art. I want to know who out there can hand-write a novelette and have it come out justified both left and right? For that touch of red add a red square and suspend a couple of pendants from some red cord and you have a perfect setting for breakfast with the family or a Friday night fish fry if you happen to live in Wisconsin don't ya know.
I know the focus of this blog is black, white and red and this room fits the criteria but what I love most about this room is the inset glass "rug". I'm not sure how practical this might be but I'm always impressed when someone has surprised me with a new way of using a material. There's a big connection between glass and water. You have to believe that if there was audio included with this image it would be the sound of waves 
Franz Uyterlinden, stylist for VT Woven, designed this showcase home to have that chic dichotomy of industrial grit paired with contemporary sleekness. The painting of that huge red-cross on the wall commands attention. It draws focus and pulls you down the hall. Even the off-center placement continues the magnetic draw making you want to turn the corner to see what that off-white wall hides.
I have no idea of what the lady in the photograph is holding and I'm not sure I want to know. I do know that it adds to the robotic futuristic appeal of this room. The mechanical arm on the lamp might have belonged to the bionic man and the that thing in her hand could have been what the scarecrow was looking for as he followed the yellow brick road to Oz. 
Barn red comes to the forefront in this country dining room. From the red chairs to the striped pillows to the curtain fabric this room is read all over without being red all over. The vintage industrial lamp infuses more red into the room thanks to Mother Nature and affects of rust. It's the perfect vintage touch to this country setting.
It's not only the interiors that read in black and white. This painted exterior on an Eastern European home demands attention for its incredible playfulness and high graphic quality. Why not but a pot of red flowers in the window?

I've been trying to come up with one other thing to add to this week's post. I like to have more than one segment not counting the gallery segment. It makes me feel a little less like a one trick pony. It's not unusual for this to come down to the eleventh hour, and then just like that, I get an email from our best friends, JoHannah and Adam King. They abandoned us years ago for San Francisco. JoHannah is a producer for Jack Morton Productions Worldwide and Adam is an architect. Both of them are brilliant at what they do. Both of them would modestly decline this accolade but I strive for the truth here. They've lived in the hills of San Francisco for longer than any of us would care to admit, in a charming bungalow. There style has always been an amalgamation of bohemian chic, arts and crafts and English hominess. Their home has always been beautiful to look at but it goes way beyond beauty into a comfort quality that warms you with a plumped up throw, a cup of Earl Grey and a big huge dog curled around your feet. The last time we visited the hydrangeas were in bloom and their entire front yard was a sea of magenta and blue. Unlike my description, and just like the two of them, it wasn't showy its was merely welcoming.
About a year ago they decided it was time to redo their kitchen. Their kitchen, like the shoemakers shoeless children, had been patiently waiting Adams pencil and attention to turn g it into a more functional and updated version what a 21st century kitchen should be. 
In his final design Adam transformed the Boho aspects in the kitchen to a more Beacon Hill appearance but still maintained the charm of the rest of the house. Even though the homes in the San Francisco hills are considered detached, they are so packed in that there is little room from side to side for anything more than the littlest ray of sun to squeeze its way down into the rooms of its citizenry. This meant whatever light you could get you hoarded. This kitchen was designed to take advantage of all the light it could muster. From the French doors and side windows to opening the ceiling to the floor and the light it collected from its skylights, this kitchen was a wash in natural light.
Adam's sense of detail appears everywhere in this kitchen.. You can see it in the detailing around the stove with the hidden overhead lighting and exhaust venting and with the handling of the molding details and island legs. I have no verification on this but I'd bet the pendants lights are Adams own design and manufacturing and if they aren't they should be.
A room should reflect its inhabitants. This kitchen is Johannah and Adam from its open shelves and handmade fixtures to its meticulous craftsmanship. This is a black and white kitchen everyone interested in food should read about, and that's as close to red as I'm going to get.

Photographer, Unknown