Thursday, September 27, 2012


My brother-in-law had put together a booth to promote his home theater business for the NARI show at the Westside Marriott the year we moved back to Wisconsin. Rick and I were directionless, and clueless about what we were going to do now that we were in this, as we referred to it when we were feeling sorry for ourselves, Podunk backwater town called Madison. We started out knowing no one but my relatives and had no business contacts to speak of to revive our business. It became a daunting task to find any way to connect with the Madison design community or to get potential local clients to notice us. So the day the NARI show opened I drove over to the Westside Hilton, plopped down my entry fee and began my walk through the aisles of vendors at the show. There were plenty of manufacturers of building supplies, a couple of interior designers, a bunch of builders and a handful of architects. I handed out a half-dozen business cards and collected three or four. One of those was an architect, Ed Linville, whose work shown through. We had a long conversation about the design climate in Madison. I told him about our history.
When it got to our furniture business he recommended we contact a furniture builder he had worked with, Terry Sweeney at Black Wolf Design. I emailed Terry several times and we spent several months trying to set up a meeting. We ended up having lunch and talking about our separate businesses and the dismal prospects of the industry. We left with each other's contact info and I thought that was pretty much it. It was about six months later when I got another email from Terry requesting another meeting at our studio. An idea had been percolating in Terry's head. When the three of us sat down this time there was something in the air that made the meeting almost electric. This time there was a connection that seemed to link our two futures in ways we hadn't previously imagined. We were designers with a slumbering furniture line. Terry was a manufacturer with a product line in need of design direction. Terry had lost his wife to cancer. It wasn't until this meeting when we showed him our furniture catalogue that he saw the line of Emmy furniture named after our daughter. Emmy was Terry's wife's name. It was like something was meant to happen.
That's how we became Black Wolf Design's consulting design team. It's been a collaboration that has now produced a new line of furniture, The Mendota Collection. The collection will make its debut introduction at the MillerRossom showroom in Minneapolis at a cocktail party on October 25th,

The collection consists of several casegood pieces, including a console and side table, cocktail tables and seating. The pieces will be offered in natural walnut, rift cut oak and ash with top plate options in natural wood, lacquered wood or concrete. Seating comes with a cane back and upholstered seat cushion and lumbar pillow.

The collection will be available through the BWD website, or through MillerRossom,

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday. It happened twice but I think it indicates a human attribute that separates us into two distinct camps. I'm not sure if it's gender related but I'm thinking this might be true and the test for this might be a visual one.
Before you go any further take a look at these two pictures and make some mental notes about what you see.
If you looked at these pictures and saw a piece of furniture and a beautiful girl you're in camp "A". If you looked at these two images and saw a dark line running down the left support of the console frame adjacent to the green concrete top that made it look like a construction flaw or if you saw the printing dot on Emmy's nose than you're probably in camp "B".
I think a lot of people look at life in very broad strokes. This is my camp, camp "A". I tend to see things as a big picture, which means I miss a lot of the details and tend to minimize their importance. I could probably have looked at that picture of the console for hours and never picked up on the black grain of the wood or thought it important. My bad, but I think a lot of people (and men in particular) tend to look over these kinds of things and that's where we get into trouble. There's a perception that comes over me that they're no big deal until someone points them out and doesn't understand how I could have missed something so horrendously wrong. Sound familiar? Try this. You were responsible for getting your three-year-old dressed for daycare and you put her t-shirt on backwards. You see that the kid is dressed and clean. Someone else says, "How could you let her go to daycare with her shirt on backwards?" Now her t-shirt that says, "Kiss Me Kause I'm Kute" reads right over her little hinny and although you might not be embarrassed your partner is mortified. The same held true for so many more issues where we in the "A" camp are thinking no big deal but to the person in the "B" camp it is Armageddon. The same was true for the picture of Emmy. I raced to get them printed because I was so proud of the picture. I grabbed the prints and even cut up the wallet sized ones without seeing the big printer's spot right on her nose. When I gave her the pictures later that night she flipped out over this big bugger hanging off of her nose and demanded I rip them up and make the photo lab reprint them. I saw the beautiful picture. She saw the detail and the flaw.
I don't know if we "A" people can learn to take the time to see the little things and inspect all the details. I don't know if it's because of our gender (mine, of course, is always in question) or if it's because we're less patient and tend to rush through life or if we see things on a bigger canvas and are more able to move on not sweating the details.
I'd love to hear everyone's or anyone's response. Until then I'm going to try to look more closely at those little things that I know truly do matter.

Okay. Rick here and I know that at the end of each week's post it reads "Posted by Rick Shaver and Lee Melahn" however as many of you know Lee does most of the writing, because he's better at it than I am and he usually posts it only after asking me to proof it. Well I've been in NY for the past week and Lee has had his hands full and spilling over, but I have more than one nit to pick with this particular post. First of all I have at times maligned Madison (a town I LOVE by the way) but the phrase is "this PROVINCIAL backwater". Now as to my gender, it is the same as my gender preference and I for one take great pride in my attention to detail and think it has nothing to do with how many X chromosomes I have. I was the one to point out the dark streak on the console, it was the first thing I saw and though it is not visible in person, in the photo it sticks out as a big flawed sore thumb. Thankfully the Emmy booger (not bugger, which is something else altogether) was rectified before I got home. Lastly, while Mister Linville's work was SHOWN at the NARI show it was there indeed where it SHONE through. So Lee I think I just gave you some fodder for next week's blog ... and I'll make sure I take time to proof it. Respectfully submitted, Rick

The Public Enemy, 1931
Photographer, unknown
Movie Still, Warner Bros.

Thursday, September 20, 2012



The rooms at my Mom's house now have an echo, that reverberating sound your voice makes when there's nothing there to absorb the waves of your words as they bounce back off the walls in rapid repetition.  It's now a couple of days after the end of my Mother's estate sale and I'm able to take stock of how productive the whole experience was. As overwhelming as the task looked from the beginning, in retrospect we made it through with few regrets.
Here's how we did it and what we learned:
1. There's so much one collects that ends up with only sentimental value and has no place in an estate sale. We found volumes of scrapbooks my Mom had put together: some with greeting cards from Birthdays and Holidays, some with letters written and received and others with receipts for purchases that ranged from televisions to gallons of milk. Then there were her diaries, notes written about the day's weather, a trip to the Dells or the day I told her I was gay. There wasn't any monetary value here, only the kind of things that tugged at your heart. Things you couldn't sell or throw away. We decided to make one of us the family historian. My sister, Ebby, the teacher would be the one to store my Mom's memories for a woman who could no longer remember them.
2. Turn everything upside down and look behind every drawer. At some point my Mom had gone through and written on the bottoms of drawers or attached a note to the back of a piece of furniture, "This belongs to Bonnie". It made it very easy when it came to picking out pieces each of us wanted to keep as an heirloom that we could hand down to another generation, things like our great-grandmother's wedding dress we found at the bottom of an old cedar chest or a cloisonné bracelet in her jewelry box that I had made for her when I was in grade school.
3. The internet is your friend. It took hours but it paid off both in helping us price things we knew very little about and educating us on the history of household objects. We had no idea that her cut glass stemware was Waterford and rather than the five dollars per glass we were about to price them at, their market value was eighty dollars per glass. Our price went from five to fifty, still a deal.
4. The internet is not your friend. Looking at book values is great but there are some things that are never going to sell at their listed value unless you can find that one-in-a-million buyer who can appreciate the worth of a trove of Fiestaware. A rare turquoise mint condition creamer and sugar bowl on its accompanying tray valued at $600 is still not going to sell for $350 unless you get really lucky. You have four choices: hope that one-in-a-million buyer comes in hungry for the set, put it up on an online selling site and hope for that buyer to find it, reduce the price and take the lose, or keep it for yourself.
5. Before you start your sale talk to local antique vendors to find out what sources they use to source sales. There are online sites that run about $50 to advertise on. They are relatively new but the cost is reasonable and worth the price. You can list the site's URL on all your other ads. The advantage here is you are allowed to post a bunch of pictures and they usually provide a link to a map site so people can download directions to your sale. Local newspapers are necessary but they charge enormous fees for estate sale ads as opposed to garage sale ads. Shorten your ad to as few words as possible and make sure you give the link to your online ad. Talk to the classified sales person for information about their highest circulation days. They are usually very helpful in telling you what will work best in your area. Make flyers and put them in local antique malls. Because some malls look at this as competition for their vendors ask if they have a vendor lounge. For an estate sale it's the vendors you most want to entice to come anyway. We found out, almost too late, that most dealers in our area use Craigslist as their main source for scouting out sales. Don't forget to place an ad with Craig, it's free.
6. Make some rules about the sale and then stick to them. We did a three-day sale. We had a sign-up sheet for numbers on the first day of the sale. By having people sign up for entry into the sale there wasn't any confusion about who was there ahead of whom. Have only one entrance/exit into the sale. This way no one can sneak into the sale ahead of someone else who has been patiently waiting their turn. It's also easier to handle checkout that way. The first two days we didn't accept any offers or reductions. At the end of the second day we took bids prior to the final day where everything was reduced to 50% off. If there were things we didn't want to let go at 50% off we removed them from the sale prior to the final day of the sale. No one seemed disappointed.
7. We may have been naïve but we weren't too worried about theft. What we were worried about was injury. Even though we had posted we were not responsible for accidents we were cautious about danger points in my Mon's house. The worst was her sunken living room that you could enter from two places. People were so focused on the merchandise that they failed to see our "Watch Your Step" signs and kept tumbling into the room. We posted people at both ends of the room and anytime someone approached the room the call went out, "WATCH YOUR STEP". No one was hurt but there were some pretty close calls.
8. You're going to meet some of the nicest people. Our local alderperson showed up in bib overalls and a big smile letting us know about neighborhood activities and names of local kids our daughter's age. The owner of the best antique mall in Madison gave us great advise and bought a ton of stuff. We gabbed with misplaced Southerners and New Yorkers about the advantages and disadvantages of living in Madison. Every neighbor made a visit and welcomed us once they found out we would be moving in to my Mom's house. We may even have met some future clients for our interior design business and my brother's stained glass business.
9. You're going to meet some of the weirdest people; the ones who want 50% off on a quarter item and the ones who'll stand in the middle of a room and tell everyone how overpriced everything is, or the ones who know everything about glass but can't tell the difference between a piece of contemporary art glass and a piece of glass from the late 19th century. These people were few and far between but most of them made us laugh or scratch our heads. Only one man yelled at us because on his third return visit for a $15 item on the 50% off day of sale another buyer beat him to it, legitimately getting in before him while he gabbed with another person missing his chance to get into the sale on time. We tried to tell him he should have paid the $15 on his other two visits but this didn't seem to appease him.
10. We did the sale as a family with everyone's voice being heard. With five siblings there is always the potential for hard feelings. I think we avoided this for the most part. We all worked hard. We all got something to keep. We saved those things with a value that went way beyond the monetary. We made some money for my Mom and her care. We survived.

The Artist's mother
John Dugdale, photographer
Represented by Holden Luntz Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Eating in New York runs the gambit from very expensive to just slightly expensive but whether it's high or low it's always done with style and panache.
There's nothing more exciting than surprising a group of unsuspecting New York first-timers with a trip to Beauty & Essex. We surprised our daughter with a birthday dinner for her and four of her New York neophyte friends on a New York trip in early July. The culture in New York allows for commerce to survive and thrive when the location and the information is intentionally obscure. New Yorkers love discovery and the feeling of knowing something not everyone else knows.
That's how restaurants like Freeman's, the one at the end of a dead-end alley off of what used to be skid row, can be such a success without even putting up a sign.
We had the girls get all dressed up for our daughter's birthday dinner on the premise we were taking them to a place we knew very little about. On the cab ride over we kept downplaying their expectations. The restaurant came recommended by a friend but we hadn't seen it, we weren't too sure about what it might be like, we knew the address was in a not-so-nice area. As the cabs pulled up Essex Street you could see the girls begin to put on their disappointed faces. Emmy even uttered a "why did we bother getting dressed up" as her eyes scanned the exterior of the approaching buildings undulating between dirty bricks and corrugated metal facades from deceased businesses. The cab stopped directly in front of a light bulb lit sign saying "Beauty & Essex" covering up the faded remnants of the previous sign for a long gone furniture company. The girls and our daughter in particular were not too impressed. The entrance to the restaurant is through a tiny pawn shop selling old music memorabilia. A security guard with a stoic demeanor similar to the Queens Guards at Buckingham Palace stands at the back next to an unframed secret entrance. The girls shuffled to the back with what had now turned to dismal disappointment until the guard slowly pushed open the door.
Then the giggles began and the breathtaking opulence of Beauty & Essex hit this bunch of sixteen year-olds in a way that made them ooh and aah as if it was Justin Bieber on the other side of that door. The interior is New York glamour at its apex. The contrast between the overly lit pawn shop and what one sees on the other side of that green door would make even the most jaded New Yorker secretly tingle inside.
A glass wall lined with rows and columns of sconces are on one side where the hostess stands and a curved staircase with an amazing crystal chandelier that is both contemporary and vintage at the same time frames the other side of the entrance
We were ushered up the stairs past the lounge and the upstairs bar into the back seating area. I'm sure this is where they seat all of the out-of-towners but it didn't matter a bit to the girls.
They were given their own booth and we older folks were seated at another booth near enough that we could still be with them but far enough removed that they could feel confident in their budding independence and sophistication. From the back of the room they had a vantage point of the entire room and they loved it. Food is served tapas style and shared by everyone at your table. I was very impressed with this quintet of Midwestern and Southern girls willing to try a menu with things they'd never heard of before and could barely pronounce; things like roasted bone marrow, garganelli and lime semifreddo.
But the kicker for them was the ladies room; a lounge in itself, with champagne served gratis to those old enough to take up a glass. This, of course, they couldn't imbibe but they could appreciate and dream of a future where they too could be handed a glass as if it was the most ordinary and expected thing to do.

On the other side of the New York eating experience is the 5 Napkin Burger chain. Leave it to New York to create a burger chain that is as beautifully designed as its higher-end counterparts but does it in a way that makes you feel completely comfortable walking in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. My favorite location is the one in Astoria next to the new Tony Bennett/Frank Sinatra School for the Performing Arts and the Kaufman Astoria Studios.
The concept makes you think you've walked into a 1930's butcher shop coolly transformed into a great place to meet after work for a burger and cocktails at the bar.
Meat hooks hang from the ceiling on a conveyer belt. The walls are tiled in white subway tiles with a deep dark grout creating the kind of surface easily cleaned and sanitized in a slaughter house where everything gets washed down at the end of the day.
Top this off with one of New York's best burgers and your set for a pretty good night out.

At the far east end of Willy Street there's a bar called, Mickey's. The building's been there for decades standing sentinel over the Yahara river, a sturdy brick building with a single turret capped with a yellow crown. The building's exterior is interesting enough but it's the interior that will give you a reason to gasp the first time you transition from outside to in.
The bar is original to the building, it's one of Madison's oldest bars, and couldn't be any more Wisconsin in look, smell and feel. It kinda explains why Wisconsin is noted as having more bars per capita than any other state in the union. Micro-brews are always available and the regular Wisconsin brands are all on tap.
It also explains how a gun toting lumberjack can belly-up to the bar next to a couple wearing t-shirts with the slogan 'Gay by birth, Fabulous by choice". Beyond the bar you get the kitschiness that makes this place such a hoot.
The color palette of the rooms is vibrantly silly and the flea market furnishings are so appropriately outrageous can't not smile as you make your way to your table and a plate of Mickey's famous sexy fries, a concoction of potatoes, truffle oil and parmesan.
Order a Scoonie beer, sit back, watch the crowd and your set. Who needs New York?

I only get back to the city for a few days each month. Peter and I had an informal relationship where I'd show up, always unannounced, and we'd sit and talk about business and our kids usually over an early cocktail Peter would concoct from the back bar at the office. Peter would always start out very low-key. He always seemed to be sizing up the situation but then he'd take off. Whether it was a vac-u-form contraption for making three dimensional mini-models of his most recent furniture ideas or discussing how to scare the pants off one of his sons whom he had discovered with a bag of pot, Peter became as animated and enticingly engaging as a comedian on the borsht belt. His wild hair and Albert Einstein appearance belied his amazing sense of style and creative prowess in the fields of architecture and design.
The last time I saw him he seemed to look a little thinner and perhaps a little older than I remembered but his wit and charm hadn't skipped a beat. When I was back in New York in August I found those few available minutes where I could buzz the twelfth floor of his office building to say hello and see if he had a few minutes he could spare for a late afternoon cocktail and some idle chatter and juicy gossip. The receptionist told me he wasn't in and hadn't been in for a while. I knew something wasn't right. I wrote Laura an email asking if Peter was accepting visitors, I'd wanted to stop by for a few minutes if he was up to it. I had no idea of how sick he was; the receptionist had said he was fine. It was six days before he died. Living in Madison you don't immediately get all the information about the goings-on in the New York design scene. It wasn't until yesterday that I stumbled on an article about his death. Something made me google Peter. Something told me he was gone. I'm not sure what I'll do next time I'm in the city when I find those spare moments and that itch to buzz up Peter.  My guess is he'd want me to have that cocktail, not take things too seriously and enjoy the rest of the day.

Bob, Cub 53, Amery
Carl Corey, photographer
Represented by Sherry Leedy Contemporary, Kansas City

Thursday, September 6, 2012


On my last visit to New York I met with Richard Frazier and John Harrison of Frazier, a new showroom, at 200 Lex. Richard is the owner and designer of the collection and John is the showroom manager. Richard started out in antiques and then moved on to working at Holly Hunt. John worked with Richard at Holly Hunt. I was looking for the next showroom to interview for the blog and Steven Rappos at Ted Boerner suggested taking a look at Frazier. I thought I was just going to highlight their showroom but I really got involved with Richard and was able to pick his brain about how he came to start the showroom and the collection.
Richard had always been interested in furniture and design. A year ago February he decided to develop his own line. Jim Druckman worked as his mentor and introduced him to a manufacturer in Viet Nam. From that moment on he took 90 days to design 90 pieces for his line, a line that had been percolating in his head for a long time. He contracted the Vietnamese manufacturer to produce the line of casegoods, upholstery and lighting including all the hardware and one year later opened the door to his showroom. The collection is very eclectic but all of it has some sort of historical reference. You can go to their website to look at the collection:
His wife, the talented designer Laura Kirar, designed the interior of the showroom with mobile iron panels that serve as dividers for the space.
Because of their work at Holly Hunt Richard and John had a great Rolodex of designers they could call on to introduce the line. They used social media but found most designers still wanted to have something tangible to put in their files. They did a lot of knocking on doors and personally meeting with designers to promote their new line. The result: a beautiful line well represented at NYDC. Now here's how Richard answered our ten questions.

1. What's the mood like at your showroom?
Well, I try to have the mood here be a combination of a kind of relaxed sophistication with a very welcoming attitude.  The colors tend to be a bit muted and quiet in the backgrounds.

2. What's the strangest request you've had?
I always like the ones where they ask you to turn a lamp into a desk. "You know, that detail on the edge of the chandelier there...just do that in a desk, y'know?"

3. What's your most popular item or category?
There is a piece called the M.A. Semanier (nicknamed after Marie Antoinette, tongue in cheek) that seems to capture everyone's attention. It's kind of sinuous and's been really popular.  That and the Villa Dining table, which is a very different kind of piece.  I like that people are attracted to both ends of the spectrum.

4. Are your clients predominantly professional designers and architects or direct purchasers?
As we're in the design center, we cater pretty strictly to the design trade, of course.

5. What was your biggest sale or most interesting client?
If I told you that I'd have to kill you, of course....but let's just say there have been a few fashionistas of some note in here already, which is great for a business as new as ours.  Love having the fashion group express interest.

6. How often do you change around your showroom?
I try to change it every 60 days or so...keeps it interesting to me AND the clients...

7. Other than your own showroom where do you shop for furniture?
I'm a total flea market soon as I get off the plane I find the nearest one and go.  And here, of course...just took a Semanier to my loft and a dining table is coming shortly. Wouldn't sell it if I didn't want it in my home.

8. What do you offer that retail can't offer?
It's an interesting question. We can afford to be more nuanced in your selection of finish and size, of course and offer a much more civilized and pleasant experience.  At this level of quality our clients can expect to get something really special and worthy of owning for a long time....that and there's always an espresso or a tequila waiting for you.

9. What color, wood species or fabric are clients asking for?
We pay very close attention to the woods we use being very "visible, meaning we don't overfinish them so they can really express what's naturally beautiful to them.  Oak seems big again at the moment and a beautiful wood called Lauro Preto (black laurel) is getting good play.

10. What's your prediction for next year's hot trend?
The furniture business doesn't react quite as quickly as fashion, but it's catching up. Honestly, I'm not a trend-follower.   I prefer to design things that have really lasting quality pleasing proportions so you want to be around it for a very long time.  Actually, THAT'S the trend I'd like to see...a move away from disposable fashion and furniture and a move toward making informed decisions about what you're buying and having them for as long as possible.  There's already plenty of "stuff" in the world destined for the landfill.  I hope FRAZIER pieces will end up in the hands of kids and grandkids.

Brava magazine did a feature on our store in their September issue. They were looking for our take on current trends. We had recently been to look at a new project and decied to take our inspiration from our meeting with our prospective client. It was on a late summer afternoon at their home overlooking the rolling hills of Southern Wisconsin. The unusual heat of this summer was colliding with a cold front and one of those terrific Midwest storms was about to roll in. There is that incredible calm before a storm like this; when the storm is still off in the distance, the sun has hidden behind a bank of billowing clouds and the landscape layers on the most beautiful array of soft blues, mossy greens and grays. The sharpness of a summer palette had been blanketed with a cloak of pure serenity. It was the perfect metaphor for their transformation. The color palette spoke to all of us. Here was what we were all looking for and as it turned out, here was the inspiration for our trend piece for Brava.

Stormy Weather 15
Antonietta, photographer
Found on: