Thursday, June 21, 2012


A year ago, every Thursday, behind the automatic doors at the local grocery stores, on wire racks outside neighborhood take-out pizza parlors or inside the Wisconsin State Journal were stacked, piled and folded copies of 77 Square, an insert focusing on the art, cultural and entertainment scene in and around the Madison metropolitan area. Here you could find tucked on an outside column a feature they call "Mad City Stats". What the column reported on were the top five selling items at local businesses. They featured things like the top five selling beers at the Nitty Gritty, or the five most popular hamburgers at Dottie Dumpling's Dowery, the five most popular bras at Victoria's Secret or the top selling fragrances at Sephora which had included Philosophy Amazing Grace at number five, Marc Jacobs Daisy at number four, Thierry Mugler Angel at number three, Dolce Gabbana Light Blue at number two and Kim Kardashian coming in at number one. This should hint at what flies in Madison, a political hotbed of liberalism but a conservative nest of very traditional atomizer spritzers. This transcends not only the realm of fragrance but almost all cultural areas that touch the world of design. Here people will sit on the far left outer edges of political ideology but won't even put their toes in the water of individualized home design. When we first opened our store, about a year ago, I picked up a copy of 77 Square along with my Vegan Chili and gluten free dinner roll. That week's "Mad City Stats" column featured Sherwin-Williams top five paint colors. Here's what the buyers in Madison chose; at number five we had Nomadic Dessert, a color clearly in the beige range. Number four breaks a little to the right with a designer staple, Navajo White. Coming in at number three we're back to beige with Softer Tan. Moving up the color risk taking ladder is Latte, a little deeper beige but still beige. And at number one, hold your breath, it's Kilim Beige. The spectrum of color was complete, all the way from "B" to "B". This is the design mentality we're up against here on the Isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It makes making a living here harder for us to figure out when most of the potential clients are stuck back in high school where no one wants to stand out. Everyone here seems to want to look like everyone else wrapped up in their amazing Technicolor dreamcoats made from a broad spectrum of beiges. So here we are trying to figure out a way to slip a little chartreuse into this otherwise colorless milieu. Some day the rainbow will shine over this earth-toned land and we'll find a couple of believers willing to trust two designers ready to splash a little periwinkle and tangerine over their fears of sinister aubergine or reckless lipstick red.

Now, after this little sympathy party, lets look at the bright side of beige. After I've bashed the blandness of beige it's only fair to show that beige can have some beautiful moments as well.
Here are some finds, in no particular order. Unfortunately, none of these carry a Madison credit. Maybe next year we can change that.

The Official Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 2007
Annie Leibovitz, Photographer
Represented by Sundaram Tagore Gallery

Friday, June 15, 2012


After a very messy incident with our dog I got onto the internet looking for some cleaning solutions. What I found went beyond the ordinary into the unusual and then into the multi-purpose agents that could not only clean your toilet but also cure the grip. Here are some of the things I found.

When our pet, Buddy, gets sick he sometimes forgets the rule of doing his business on the laminated flooring in the kitchen where I can easily grab a roll of paper towels, wipe it up and give the spot a squirt of anti-bacterial cleaning spray. No, that would be too easy. His spot of choice for up-chucking after having over-excited himself on the arrival of dinner guests or developing uncontrollable diarrhea from eating a ten ounce steak he stole from the dining table is right in the middle of the living room's wool rug. It's an embarrassment I've encountered too many times to have not found a remedy. I've come upon this surefire method of organically cleaning up his mess and keeping my loss of dignity to a minimum.
Here's what you need in addition to a strong stomach.
Baking soda
1/4 cup of White Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of liquid dishwasher detergent
2 cups of lukewarm water
A scrub brush or a clean towel and a sponge

First, pick up as much of the mess as you can. This is where the strong stomach comes in handy. After you've gotten up as much as you can, generously sprinkle the baking soda over the offensive mess. Let that sit for 30 minutes. You can sit down and have perfectly civil pre-dinner conversation with your gathered guests as the baking soda does its business. After this, politely excuse yourself and go mix up the remaining ingredients. The detergent version is far more concentrated than regular dishwashing soap and will work much better but if all you have is the soap it'll work in a pinch. This is the disturbing part for your guests because you're going to have to vacuum up the baking soda before you can get into the cleaning phase. If you can find some distraction to get the guests out of the living room I'd do it now. Vacuuming is a definite conversation stopper. If you can get them to step out to admire the new wallpaper in the second floor bathroom or watch the finale of The Apprentice on your new 75" mega-screen then I'd suggest asking them to it now. Once you've finished the vacuuming you can kneel down and blot the spot with your soapy mixture. If you're in heels and cocktail attire remember to squat on your heels, knees raised over the floor and skirt tucked neatly between calves and thighs. Use your scrub brush for this. If you've got a deep pile carpet don't scrub too hard. You don't want little matted divots to dot your rug. Now it's time to rinse. Blot up as much of the residual mess as you can. Then comes the hard part. You want the rug to dry. Unfortunately, the best method is just a factor of time and propping up the rug to let air get underneath. If your guests have been drinking Mai-Tais you can ask for their glasses and use them to support the stained carpet up off the floor. Otherwise you'll have to resort to something less refined. It should dry out in less than 24 hours.

Our daughter likes to take those hour-long steamy scalding showers. The result is a very clean daughter but a bathroom mirror covered with a filmy look and those white water spots. The cure for this one is a light layer of shaving cream rubbed over the glass and then wiped off. It leaves the mirror with crystal clarity. As I age I question this one, not sure I want all of that clarity. I am becoming more and more grateful for a little fogginess in my morning mirror.

Growing up in Wisconsin I spread my peanut butter on one slice of white bread and then a slab of real cream butter on another before slapping them together for a real Wisconsin pb&b sandwich. Now as I've grown older and my taste for peanut butter has diminished I've found some new uses for that big jar of Skippy. Got an ink mark on the kitchen countertop, smear a little peanut butter on it, let it sit and then wipe the mark away. Your CD of Barry Manilow's greatest hits keeps skipping when you get to I Write the Songs. Smear a little peanut butter on the scratch, creamy only, and you'll be singing along with Barry in no time. Those gum labels that come attached to your new Crate & Barrel glasses won't come off, smear on some of that greasy peanut butter and those labels will fall off. Peanut butter isn't just kid's stuff anymore.

Toothpaste might just be the most useful multi-purpose product you'll find in your arsenal of handy dandy magical mystery potions. First, it's a terrific cleaning product. Dap a little on a soft cloth and clean up those chrome fins on your "56" Caddie or clean up Grandma's Sheffield silverplate service for twelve. It's also going to work great on polishing up your Kay Jewelers Open Your Heart silver necklace by Jane Seymour. And as if that wasn't enough it'll get rid of pimples and take the itch out of a mosquito bite. I'd carry a tube with me in my purse for emergencies if I carried a purse.

Windex. Need I say more
Toula Portokalos: I woke up with this huge zit this morning.
Ian Miller: Where?
Toula Portokalos: [points to spot on face] There.
Ian Miller: I had a huge zit this morning!
Toula Portokalos: Really? Where?
Ian Miller: [points to his face] Well, it was there, but it's gone now.
Toula Portokalos: Why?
Ian Miller: I put some Windex on it.

Parlourmaids, 1938
Bill Brandt, Photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Thursday, June 7, 2012


The venue for this year's Kips Bay Decorator Show House was a space that almost wasn't. The original space went into contract and was no longer available before the designer names were even announced and unless a new space could be found quickly this year's event was going to be the first to have an aesterick denoting it never happened. Then the Aldyn, a new high-rise, on the banks of the Hudson came to the rescue. They offered up two side-by-side penthouses on the 21st floor as a substitute for the lost mansionette. It's amazing what 16.9 million dollars buys in the city. I've lost track of New York real estate since we moved to Madison, Wisconsin two and a half years ago. I now do a little apoplectic jig due to sticker shock when I'm faced with what we once accepted as plausible real estate pricing. My days of nonchalance are gone now that I live in a more grounded Birkenstock environment.
The day we arrived at the Aldyn had taken a turn toward chilly with an added bit of drizzle, not enough to bring out the umbrella but enough to make me worry about getting a cab once we wanted to leave. Since it's only the 21st floor that housed the Kips Bay Show House the lobby of the Aldyn had the hurry and scurry of other residents in addition to the Show House attendees. We were there a couple of days after the opening event. The two units donated for the event actually have their own private elevators but for the event they made everyone enter from the buildings elevators .I'm wondering how receptive the residents are going to be once the event has crawled into its third and fourth weeks.
We boarded the designated elevator with a handful of attendees and one lonely resident wanting to get off at a lower floor. I'm guessing again, the ride going up might not have been so bad for the one resident but having to wait for an elevator when you want to leave might get a little frustrating the more times you found yourself looking at your watch and then seeing the elevator doors opening with a packed cab you couldn't squeeze into. But none of this put a damper on the show itself.
When we reached the 21st floor the doors on the elevator opened to Bryant Keller's dazzling red entry. I pulled out my little point-and-shoot and grabbed two quick pictures before the battery light on my camera came on, the lens retracted back into its housing like a frightened turtle and I realized I hadn't brought a back-up set of double "AA's". I'd specifically plunked down my thirty bucks so I could do a posting on the premier show house of the country and now I was a blogger without a working camera which is like a pitcher without a catcher, an oreo without a glass of milk or Donald Trump without his comb-over.
I've been a devoted subscriber to Heather Clawson's blog, Habitually Chic, for at least the last two years. Heather's postings are always entertaining, exquisitely photographed and spot on trend. She had done a series of posts on Kips Bay that I had been following so on a massive leap of desperation I emailed her asking if I could use some of her photography giving her full credit and providing a link to her site. She was more than gracious and totally understanding. Most of the gorgeous images I'm using are hers and here's the link to her site:
If you aren't already a subscriber it's an easy and worthwhile thing to do.
So once we got past the very Dorothy Draper entry we moved on into Todd Alexander Romano's dining room. For an apartment selling for almost seventeen million dollars you might expect a dining room slightly larger than thirteen by seventeen feet but Todd compensated for the miniscule square footage by cladding the walls in a coat of aubergine allowing the deep color to accentuate the twenty-one foot height of the room. What he lacked in square footage in made up for in volume. The unexpected color also helped in drawing your eye to the stunning 1940's 42-arm Venetian chandelier. Then he added my favorite touch, the French Empire chartreuse dining chairs. One of the reasons we designers like doing these rooms is it gives us an opportunity to create true fantasy and we can suspend all the rules of functionality and focus on sheer beauty. Case in point - the large pineapple stuck in the center of the dining table. It may be a beautiful pineapple but it wouldn't help with abetting cross table dinner conversation. Maybe the housewives of New Jersey should consider this approach next time they dine together.
You can't comment on this year's Show House without a reference to the Albert Hadley memorial living room done by Bunny Williams (this year's chairwoman), David Kleinberg and Brian McCarthy. All three of these top-tier designers earned their credentials under his tutelage. They all decided to pay homage to their late mentor by creating a room as they imagined he would. Hadley was a minimalist contrasting antiques and contemporary furniture along with tapestries and modern art. They splashed the room with spots of red and added his always present all gin bar with a bucket of limes at the ready.
Children are not particularly welcome at this event but the addition of two children's rooms this year acknowledged that those little rug-rats do exist. The two rooms in the show house devoted to these little people were significant to me in their contrast of opulence versus ingenuity. Zoya Bogard of rooms by ZoyaB designed a nursery ready for little Siri's sister, pink and plush are the two best descriptive words for this million-dollar room.
Laura Bohn chose to go in a little different direction with a room designed for a pre-teen New York City boy. Textured walls in chartreuse and apple green lend a playfulness to the room and then as if that wasn't enough she added projected animated images to dance around the room. The bed from Resource Furniture flips up and out of the way providing more floor play area, just what an active New York ivy league want-a-be needs. I know the hanging orange clocks are from CB2 and the floor lamp may be from them as well. Nice to see good design doesn't have to come with an arm and leg price tag.
The big guns were there as well. Alexa Hampton poured everything into her beautifully appointed bedroom. The canopied bed dominated the white and charcoal room. The pattern of the Anthony Lawrence Belfair fabric and the white linen gave the bed a brilliance not expected in such a traditional space.
The Dragon's Breath Black lacquered walls added romance to the room. It was a trend that ran throughout the show house, not the romance, but the use of lacquered or high-gloss wall treatments. When you add the silver ceiling and the views from this bedroom the result is a true diamond.
The Show House continues through June 14th. If you're into design and find yourself in New York City the Show House has to be on your list of things to do.

Albert Hadley as told to Brian J. McCarthy, "Kiddo, give them what they never knew they wanted!" The man knew what he was talking about. How else could he live to 91 on gin and Camel cigarettes.

42nd Street View from Weehawken, 1957
Andreas Feininger, Photographer
Available through Gallery M