Friday, August 31, 2012


Once again the heat was on for the fall gift fair in New York. We've tried Chicago's equivalent of the gift fair but nothing compares with the New York event. Held throughout the huge Javits convention center, Piers 92 and 94, and then in the permanent gift and showroom buildings scattered throughout the city the fair spreads its opening and closing dates over a five day period. If you were to see everything you'd need every minute of those five days and still not be able to take it all in. The thing for us is we don't feel compelled to have to bother with every booth or every aisle or even every section of the fair. Once you've seen one solar powered waving Queen and her corgi you don't need to see a dozen more even if she makes you want to pee a little from laughter every time her hand does that sun powered royal wave.
But as always, there were some highlights. The show opened on a Saturday with Pier 94 and the home section. This is the section we tend to scrutinize the most intensely. This trio of stacked faux vintage clocks was one of the first things that caught my eye. The sloppy couch behind it was an example of the trend toward neutrals that you see in both fabrics and wood finishes. Restoration Hardware does it best and throughout the show we saw a lot of imitators.
Some of it was a little too derivative but then there were pieces that were beautifully crafted like this French inspired chest
and this metal console with rivet details and impeccable proportioning imported from India by Manglam Arts.
Some of the imitation we saw we thought was unfortunate. One of the earlier sections to open was the Handmade Global Design section way up on the fourth level of the Javits. Many of the vendors here focused on sustainable, eco-friendly products made by local artisans from impoverished areas of the world. One of the first things to catch my eye was a booth right as you entered. Escama Studios had paired up with a group of Brazilian artisans introducing these beautifully crafted bags made from discarded pop-tops. Two days later I was walking through one of the fair's largest vendor's booth when I saw the same idea ripped off for a fraction of the price and quality. It's the unfortunate way of the merchandising world.
Another exciting find was in the realm of signage. Spicher & Co had resurrected a vintage look of signage to cover almost any thought you'd need to display on your walls.
I loved the periodical chart in old school chalkboard black.
On the cheerier side Design Legacy has continued to evolve their collection of light-up letters and signs. How great is this coffee sign? It's the right amount of kitsch combined with a good dose of design.
This sign had me thinking. I had to wonder if their sales rose or fell with antics of England's third in line. We weren't in Vegas but if we were this sign should probably have stayed there.
Here's what we found from vendors we already have relationships with. Lafco has come out with a new line of diffusers to complement its line of candles. The blown glass vessels are an extension of their original candleholders. This product is not only a treat to the senses but when the candle has been extinguished what remains is a beautiful piece of art glass. The challenge for us is to come up with a use for these pieces of art glass when you start approaching a stack of a dozen or more. The new fragrance for this season is called The Powder Room. It has that fresh scent of baby powder, clean with the promise of a fresh start, like a newborn.
I've been in love with this lamp from Lazy Susan for several seasons. This year they added the sea with this perfect azure shade. Light is always difficult to capture on film and I'm sure my photo doesn't do this lamp justice but take my word for it the lamp is a stunner.
Another favorite of ours is Shiraleah. They came out with this wire collection that we thought was impressive for both its inventive use of the material as well as its reasonable price point. Wall mounting trays and platters can be a stunning way to fill out a vertical surface in a room that needs an upward lift.
The biggest trend at Pier 94 and the Javits was the abundance of signage proclaiming products made in America. It was everywhere, and it was big.
They added a new division to the show this year on Pier 92 called Artisan Resources. I almost missed it. This Pier hadn't been a part of the show for quite some time. I didn't even realize they had opened it this year so I had to trek back there on the second day of the show. You have to take an elevator up to the exhibition level at Pier 92.  It's one of those cargo type elevators big enough to hold Gloria Vanderbilt and all her luggage on a month long cruise but slow enough to make you think twice about whether it was worth the trip up to the exhibit floor. You get on the elevator at one end on the ground floor and then exit off the back end at the exhibition level. Several people on the elevator were facing the wrong way and had to turn around when the doors finally opened. Like a herd of cattle we were all funneled through the security checkpoint and then we were allowed into the exhibitor space. Disappointing. More than two-thirds of the hall was curtained off and the exhibitors they had were scattered around the room in an attempt to make the room seem fuller than it was.
I thought it was a waste of time until I came to the last booth. They call themselves the Source and they represented a large collection of South African artisans, each with an amazing point of view and a unique product. There were these crazy poufs made from felt by Ronel Jordaan. There was this beautiful coiled blue felt pouf that straddled between looking like it was made from denim or pulled from the sea, a series of felt made river rocks
and an octopus of tendrils winding over a plinth.
These woven plates with metal or leather centers were beautifully crafted and worthy as wall art.
Another artist wove incredible geometric inspired designs out of reed with the artistry of a master craftsmanship.
I'd love to have this mud and wire chandelier. It's a perfect collision of the primitive and the elegant. It is that unexpected exclamation point you could hang over a polished dining table to take the edge off the seriousness of a overly fussy dining room and bring in a sense of humility.
It's a lesson learned at the Gift Fair, never leave a rock unturned and an aisle you may think doesn't have a thing you'd be interested in may turn up to be the prince you were looking for instead of a frog you thought was all that aisle would hold. How's that for mixing metaphors.

Fair Isle, 1996
Mark Power, photographer
Represented by Amador Gallery

Thursday, August 23, 2012


At any given minute of any given day when I'm back in New York there's a magnetism, a force so powerful, that even though I may have spent the day walking the miles of aisles at the Javits during the New York International Gift Fair looking at trinkets I've seen a million times before I still can't resist another stroll down Bleecker or a meandering walk by the tiny shops dotting the lower East Side or the West Village. I carry my little point-and-shoot wherever I go because I can't stop recording the beauty and the bizarre that astonish and amaze me. I'm always young here because I'm so infused with energy and inspired to dream new dreams.
The gaudiness and audacity of Old Navy's sign making no bones about their commercial aspirations contrasts with
this hidden alley off of Rivington around the corner from Bowery.
Even when you look down the street you're liable to miss the Menswear store advertising hand tailored clothing, a barber shop and sutlery. I was forced to look that one up: a civilian provisioner providing goods to soldiers on an army post or by following a battle and going camp to camp.
You might also miss the restaurant at the end of the alley just beyond the Heating Depot Sign and the very tiny type that  whispers the name of this secret passage is Freeman Alley. New York hides its treasures and takes great pride in the fact that a restaurant or a store or a barbershop can survive and flourish without a sign or a big address, only a loyal following and a chain of whispered secrets from one patron to an in-crowd, "have you been to Freeman Alley, you have to go but don't tell anyone else..."
There's art everywhere, underfoot, from the street artists whose pieces wash away like sand castles with the tide
to the architecture that surrounds you skyward with amazing details that top buildings with dripping details some of which have stood for centuries.
New Yorkers may have the reputation of being cold and aloof but if you look closely at their signage you might come away with a different impression.
And then there's the constant street theater, in the subways, in the parks, in the public areas and on almost every street corner there's a would-be talent practicing their art hoping for someone to stop and listen and appreciate.
How can you not come here and be inspired 24/7. There's a reason they call it "the city that never sleeps". There's too much energy that needs to escape and it can't do that when it's in a dormant state.

A cold front was forecast to push through later in the day but at six, right around the time the streets were filling with people getting off work the sun was still hot and the air was still sticky. I had a five o'clock meeting with a client on the far Westside, that part of the island unreachable by subway. I'd made plans to see a movie at the Lincoln Center Film Society later in the evening. The distance between where I was coming from and where I was going was too short to warrent a cab and I had over an hour to kill. I went hunting for a slice of pizza. You always think of the city as being a flat surface but the terrain of the city can be very deceptive. It made the walk up Fifty-ninth Street with the humidity of that August dog day a longer slower journey than it might have been if I had been late rather than early for my movie.
It was somewhere along the side of the Time-Warner building that I heard a voice that made me turn my head. I was walking curbside, the voice; a woman's voice had come from over my right shoulder. I didn't stop walking but I turned my head enough to get a glimpse of a woman about my age or perhaps a few years older.  A million scenarios run through my head like the spinning dials on a slot machine and just as quickly landing on a final conclusion. My assessment: no threat. My action: engage. I figured she needed assistance and I knew where I was and I had a watch but her first words threw a new twist into my prediction of the encounter.
"You look very familiar, are you from New York?" were the words she whispered out in a very gentle voice.
Now I had to reassess. Had I worked with her when I was designing corporate productions, or did she recognize me from the interior design business, had she been at one of the fabric houses I had visited earlier that day? I couldn't place the face. It was a pleasing face framed by an expensive cut of blond hair, I did a full visual assessment for some sort of clue to her identity. She was wearing the kind of casual clothes a working woman might be wearing on a late Friday afternoon after work, a denim wrap-around skirt with a pale blue cotton scoop neck short sleeve t-shirt. She had leather sandals with a small heel and the right amount of appropriate jewelry. You could tell she still took pride in her body. She stood about 5'6" and was extremely trim and fit.
"I've lived in New York for thirty years but I moved back to Wisconsin two years ago."
"I'm originally from Michigan, now I live alone perhaps you would like to come and visit me sometime?"
We have now moved into dangerous uncharted territory for me. First of all she's barking up the wrong tree. Second, I'm a little flattered. Third, it's all pretty innocent and I don't want to hurt her feelings, I'd rather find a way out of this without having to embarrass either one of us.
I blurt out the first thing that pops into my head, "What do you do?" Thinking we'll continue on with the "I know you from somewhere" theme.
"Oh, I'm very talented." And I'm still in the dark.
Then out of the mouth of a stereotypical looking gracious grandmother came a litany of amazingly graphic acts she could do to my private parts.
I finally grabbed a clue, "I've got a partner."
This whole encounter only took half a block. I turned up Broadway. I never looked back to see which direction she went. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face or keep from bursting into a little manly chuckle every few steps as I practically danced up Broadway. New York can be so entertaining.

A Prostitute Playing Russian Billiards, 1932
George Brassai, photographer
Represented by Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I couldn't get all of the dirt out from under my fingernails. I kept running my hands under the faucet and rubbing my nails with the only washcloth I could find. My mom had a drawer where she kept her dishtowels but as her Alzheimer's progressed the dishtowels turned to rags and the rags couldn't wipe out the dirt from underneath my nails. The task of going through a person's lifetime belongs and deciding what still has value and what can be thrown away is a painful task. Cabinets filled with crystal glassware and boxes of silverplate flatware are the easy things to assess; it's the things that you don't expect to uncover. The diary we found that my crazy aunt Ruth had given my mother with entries added to all our birthdays that made us all laugh.
September 20th - Baby born. First girl. Built different than the first two. Doesn't have a handle out front. Seems to pee out the back. All water runs backwards. Never had to give other two a bath seemed to wash themselves. Use more soap and water with this one. Hope she works out. Not too bad looking.
 It reminded us of the incredible sense of humor she possessed and who the woman was who used to be our mother. In a big pull out drawer in the middle bedroom were dozens of albums where she had pasted in every receipt she had every received and every card anyone had ever sent her. What do you do with these pieces of her life? On the one hand they are only a bunch of receipts. On the other they are an insight into who she was and what she thought was important.
In a crawl space under the kitchen wrapped in plastic were a wooden baby's crib, a potty and highchair with puppy decals from the fifties. It was not just her past but ours as well. All of us had spent time in that crib. All of us had been potty trained on that potty and all of us had tasted our first solid food while strapped into that highchair. It folds in half and then rolls on a set of wooden wheels that she could push around the house so we could follow her as she did her daily itinerary of chores. Is this what we should be passing down and then to who? Can you pass down a memory or do you give it to someone else who can make their own memory?
Unschooled in any form of formal design my mom had some how managed to develop a set of design balls in an area of the Midwest where design risks aren't for the faint of heart. When I look back on my childhood home on Busse Street painted a rosy salmon with cool grey trim I gotta think this might be where my obliviousness to design innovation and crativity might have come from. Her home was always filled with art and pottery made by artists rather than pulled from the shelves of reproductions lining the department stores and subsequent walls of all those consumers too timid to hang anything more daring than a bouquet of daisies or a velvet painting of the New York skyline complete with twinkling lights.
Every Thursday when the local newspapers published their listings of garage sales she was there at the kitchen counter with her pen and paper writing down addresses and plotting out a map of sales that seemed to have the most likely finds. She gave me the auction bug. We'd plan an entire Saturday traveling hours to get to the perfect auction where we'd find deals we both still have.
How we ever convinced ourselves to buy a station of the cross frame and turn it into a hall mirror I don't remember. Now we children have to decide whether to send her quirky mirror on to its next caretaker in its journey through time or to find a home for it  within one of our homes, and the decision to do so is confusing and gut wrenching.
We've given ourselves two months to clear everything out. Every night we go over and sort and price and sometimes sit and reminisce as we open a drawer and find a lock of hair wrapped in tissue from that first haircut.

Robert Doisneau. Photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise, NYC

Thursday, August 9, 2012


It's that time of the month; time to visit another showroom at NYDC. This time I'm stepping over the threshold into the 12th floor showroom of Profiles. The showroom represents a large number of furniture designers as well as producing pieces of their own. If you're making your first trip to 200 Lex, Profiles is a good place to begin your journey. Some of the most recognized designers in the field of furniture are represented in the Profiles showroom.
My guide through the showroom was David Gittleman, sales associate for Profiles. David has always been our go-to man for finding the missing piece of furniture we couldn't seem to find anywhere else. David took me around pointing out some of the most important pieces of their collection.
David first took me past the William Yeoward collection to show me the Curved back and tiny silver toes of the Sylvie sofa.
Profiles is the exclusive distributor for French designer, Philippe Hurel's, collection. Pieces from the Hurel Collection are internationally sought after.
They also represent such distinguished brands as Victoria Hagen Home and the revival work of the William Hines collection.
Who can resist the Valentine sofa or a set of his Drum dining chairs?
Here's how David answered our ten questions:

1. What's the mood like at your showroom?
Profiles offers an updated classic look with a twist
2. What's the strangest request you've had?
A woman was shopping for a chair for her husband. She asked me to sit in it like I was watching the Super Bowl. I did my best imitation of sitting like a butch TV sports viewer. Then I crossed my legs and blew the whole image. I am now forever known around the showroom as football guy.
3. What's your most popular item or category?
We sell more buffets, sofas and lighting fixtures then any other items.
4. Are your clients predominantly professional designers and architects or direct clients?
We tend to work with mostly with designers and architects.
5. What was your biggest sale or most interesting client?
We once sold 150 dining chairs to a single client
6. How often do you change around your showroom?
I change the showroom around about four times a year. It's interesting. When I change the showroom around, clients will think some old samples are brand new.
7. Other than your own showroom where do you shop for furniture?
I like West Elm. I love to mix expensive things with inexpensive ones.
8. What do you offer that retail can't offer?
We can offer the opportunity to customize whatever you want. That means if you need a specific size we can do it. If a particular comfort level is needed we can make that happen. If you're allergic to certain materials we can work around that. We can add detail or subtract it. If a chandelier needs to hang at a certain height we can have it made to an exact measurement. Retail isn't necessarily going to help you out with this.
9. What color, wood species or fabric are clients asking for?
Walnut has become a very popular species of wood, especially with a medium to dark finish but not a java color.
10. What's your prediction for next year's hot trend?
We are beginning to sell wire brushed oaks and walnut. The wood has a lot of texture from the wire brushing. It's really interesting.

Knowing my chances of finding another sign like the one that vanished from our front yard were in the realm of needle in a haystack odds I, well really Rick, decided we should paint our own. He researched vintage signage online and printed out a version of what we finally ended up painting. As with many of our projects, the idea and inspiration percolated in Rick's head and the execution was left to my amateurish hands. For now we're staking the sign a little closer to the store. It may have lost some of its curb appeal stuck here in the center of our slightly threatening barbed wire ball but that's the point. I'm trying to keep a closer eye on it this time and any bike burglars are going to have to make an extra trip onto the sidewalk to grab this one. Here's hoping we won't have to paint another.

Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King, New York
James T. Murray, photographer
Represented by Clic Bookstore and Gallery