Saturday, June 29, 2013


You never want to start out writing something you know is going to hurt someone else, especially when the truth involves flowers. The truth is I hate flowers, not flowers in general. I can appreciate a well-tended garden full of blooming botanical bits. I love that moment in spring when the Longenecker lilac garden at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum explodes in unimaginable shades of purple. I'll use flowers as props to accessorize a short-term project or to enhance a photo shoot. I love the way flowers paint our landscapes with a palette so rich it can only be attributed to a higher power. I can bury my nose in the heady fragrance of a bouquet of peonies but once that first petal drops I'm over it. I wish I could be more like Rick who loves a handful of Bellis Perennis daisies picked from the side of the road and set in a ceramic vase next to the reading light in the library. His appreciation of flowers is an essential part of his being. Flowers can quell an emotional low. They are the first essential he purchases for our room when we're on vacation. They complete the picture that he paints of what his happiness looks like. The scent and knowledge that something of his choosing is now a part of his temporary environment adds an element of security and serenity to a home away from home.
Rick sees flowers as an extension of life. He sees them as in a vase half -full. I, on the other hand, can only see a vase half empty holding a scraggly bunch of dried up stacks wallowing in murky putrid smelling water. My budding floral phobia is very focused. It centers only on the cut kind, the ones you find at florists or murder yourself out of a cutting garden or roadside find.
In a floral shop they sit in metal cans behind glass faced freezer doors like puppies at a pet store, inbreed with hidden disease. Trapped and caged their sources of sustenance cut from them pleading for someone to take them to a flower hospice where they can live out their dying days. And if that weren't enough, stacked in the corner are funeral wreaths and bouquets, a reminder to all, of the link between flowers and death. Who ever brought chocolates or jewelry to a funeral? No, you send flowers so the dead don't die alone.
I don't know if it is a humanitarian concern like animal rights or it's the way I connect flowers in my mind with death, but cut flowers creep me out. Even before the first petal has fallen I hear those pastel screams that will soon descend into moans and then gasps as their lovely petals begin to unfold. The edges turn brown and then one by one fall to the floor leaving only a skeleton, the bones of a once beautiful princess of nature.
The last job I want to perform is mortician to the horticultural crowd. It's that last act of internment where you pull the remaining stacks from the scummy water a trail of gummy slim clinging to its severed limbs, the stench of death over-powering making your stomach churn in disapproval.  The last part of the ritual being the washing of the vase. Gently running the ceramic casket through a soft warm wash of soapy scented water until the stench of death has been washed away. Then wiping away any physical memory of what was with a dry cloth and putting the little container of death back on the shelf in anticipation of its next sweet, sweet bouquet.
There's no way I can deprive Rick or any of the many who only see the beauty in a bouquet. I envy the way their mouths are drawn up at the sides as they breathe in the scent of a flower. I wish I could find the emotional lift they get from the presence of a bouquet in their midst the same way I wish I could find the reassurance a devout believer gets from their church but it's just not in me. So I will continue to appreciate what I can which is the pleasure of others. Happiness always trumps a grumpy disposition, just don't send flowers to my funeral.

Bedframe and Lilies
James Koch, photographer

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Prison is back in. Trends can start anywhere but once they start itching around the fashion world New York is right there scratching. There was no way of avoiding the prevalence of black and white stripes on the streets of New the final throws of spring. The inmates had taken to the streets with black bars running horizontally over artificial breasts and bulging mid-drifts. It usually takes time for the display window mannequins to burst out onto the streets but this trend seemed to coincide with the windows being trimmed in this season's hottest trend.

Walking over the cobblestones of Soho the brick walls of century old buildings were now decorated with billboards from Club Monaco and
Michael Kors glorifying women with pouty faces wearing sunglasses and slinging expensive bags over their shoulders all wrapped in black and white stripes.
Even the traditional Burberry coat showed its stripes with an accompanying hoosegow appropriately decorated bag.
Resorts this season are bound to look like mini-Folsoms with a return of sailor's stripes over shorts with a nod to the single leg band stripe. Even the espadrilles have stripes.
Stripes were being drawn in all different sizes from the very thin to the wide and singular,
this time drawn in reverse with a white stripe on a black field.
Even the graffiti artists had caught the bug where their art went to black and white and the bars of bondage showed up on 3D glasses.
The trend was captured by the homewares industry as well. Mitchel Gold and Bob Williams turned it into a sleek console so your entryway can have that same prison appeal.
When used correctly black and white stripes can make a room look large and spacious just the opposite of what you want if like me you've added a few pounds to the center section between your rib cage and your hind-end.
Of course, the leader of the pack in black and white stripes has always been Sephora. Their signature stripes wrapped around columns and across walls may have been the inspiration for this season's chain gang look.
Of course, stripes and fashion wouldn't be complete without a little sex thrown in. This image should appeal to the jailbird in all of us. Talk about the luck of the draw if this is what they put in the bunk above you. I'd commit a minor crime for a night in jail with this one.

I'm not sure if it was a consequence of it being the first brilliant day of spring or a coincidence of outdoor work just happening to fall on one of the perfect half-dozen days that occur at the exact meridian known as New York, but it seemed as if every corner I turned had a photo shoot or a movie crew occupying bits of real estate in the city. Production trailers and mobile dressing rooms took up blocks of precious parking spaces. Interns with headsets and out-stretched arms approached crowds of on-lookers directing them to the other side of the street so as not to disturb the shoot in progress.
Groups of people stood on tiptoe or found higher ground so that they could gawk at some leggy model in next season's fashions or a bunch of actors running through a scene for a movie or a TV episode or a commercial. In Manhattan it's the rubber necking equivalent of an auto accident. You don't want to appear too touristy but you can't help it. You stand there for a few minutes with the rest of the crowd, you may even pull out your camera, and you realize you too are just as gullibly geeky as everyone else when it comes to the magic of fame.

Shalom Harlow, 1996
Patrick Demarchelier, photographer
Represented by Young Fine Art Photography Gallery, Brussels

Saturday, June 15, 2013


It seems every spring in New York after the slush has melted, the tulips have finally opened their cups of color and the weather has turned from frigid to short-sleeve the city's inhabitants once again begin to take their seats at the outdoor cafes and public benches that populate the borough known as Manhattan. Faces that had been sheathed in fur lined hats and wool scarves or the ubiquitous hoodie were now discreetly eyeing you up and down or boldly staring at your transition from winter's black to spring's sherbet hues as we walk the streets of the island.
As with every new awakening the city also transforms its attire and neighborhoods that once were sections of seedy luggage and discount clothing vendors mystically find a new set of clothes in sophisticated awnings, freshly cleaned stone and trendy black industrial street level windows. Broadway between twenty-third and thirty-fourth streets was filled with wholesale suppliers to the street vendor trade.
Before the onset of winter unkempt storefronts with hand-painted signs offering cheap costume jewelry and imitation handbags lined the street.
This spring a rebirth has started in one of the few areas left in Manhattan yet to be gentrified. Facades of glorious turn-of-the-century architectural masterpieces long left unattended had now been reborn into sophisticated hotels and European boutiques selling expensive clothes and spa accessories.
The whole tenor of the area is fading from what was a crushed cardboard box strewn series of midtown blocks into a potted plant garden of outdoor delights. For a while we lived not too far from this tin and sequin ghetto. The 28th Street R train was our link to getting Emmy to and from grade school. When we walked from the subway it was always with our heads turned toward the sidewalk dodging discarded Chinese food cartons and the occasional rodent.
I never took the time to look up and see what existed above eye-level. That was not the case this spring. What a shame we missed all that lovely architecture for years. What a delight it was to discover it this spring

At the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 24th Street, across from Madison Square Park there sits a spit of concrete watched over by a statue of General Worth to the north and the iconic Flat Iron Building to the south. It had been nothing more than a point of egress from the bustle of the office buildings on the west to the serenity of Madison Square Park on the east,
but for the month of May this triangle of cement and iron fencing was transformed into an eating and drinking outdoor garden of innovative street vendors selling the likes of
Seoul Food,
Red Hook Lobster rolls,
People Pops,
and fully dressed Tacate.
Groups of Friday evening twenty-somethings and lucky unsuspecting tourists sat at tables shaded by Marimekko umbrellas under lines of string lights reminiscent of popular European beer gardens but with that unexplainable New York twist.
Every day the tables were packed with people tasting the wonders of exotic grilled cheese sandwiches
and Italian pastas dressed in amazing sauces.
Asian shrimp breaded with honey and served on shredded cabbage in disposable street-wise paper dishes could be devoured for under five dollars. The whole place was a really cheap date. And then when June came the whole scene evaporated. General Worth was left once again to guide those office workers safely across the intersecting of western chaos to eastern tranquility but the haunting peels of laughter generated by the crowd that once was still echoed on that triangular sliver of concrete between Broadway and Fifth Avenue.

Flatiron Building, 1946
Harold Roth, photographer
Represented by Elizabeth Clement Fine Art

Friday, June 7, 2013


Once again the doors of one of the Upper Eastside's more prestigious townhouses was turned over to another group of New York's most acclaimed designers. Hidden behind a dappled sidewalk at 161 East 64th Street lay the suffocating interior of this year's designer show house. I always remember the event referred to as a designer event not the less complimentary "decorator" moniker but due to my advancing age I could be totally wrong and laziness and the inaccessibility of getting on the internet at La Guardia is preventing me from goggling past events to see if I'm right. I'm sure someone out there will correct me if I'm wrong
I just caught the show on the Sunday before it closed, on one of those dead stagnant days in New York when the heat and humidity combine, coating your skin in a fine mossy film with beadlets of sweat dripping off the back of your neck and down your spine. Being so old school I couldn't don a pair of shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to go to the show house. No, I needed at the very least a pressed dress shirt, appropriate slacks and shoes with socks and laces. Staying on the Westside I thought it would be a short and beautiful walk to cross Central Park over to the show house. I was wrong. About halfway through the park was when the sweat started its short journey from the nap of neck to the crack of my butt but at half way there, there seemed no point in turning back. The prize at the end of the sojourn would be the cool air-conditioning breezing through the five floors of 161 East 64th.
Each step I took toward my goal came slower and slower as I fought my losing battle against the humid air of that Sunday afternoon. When I reached the front door under the dappled shade of decades old trees my resolve remained high. Unfortunately, my whole body wilted when I crossed the threshold into a completely un-air-conditioned reception area. I wanted to turn around but to where? I paid my $35 in sweaty limp bills and decided to reap my revenge by ignoring the no photography signs posted at every turn and on every landing and on I went camera boldly held in hand to photograph the heck out of every room.
I had to hand it to the designers present that day for the event. No one would want to have to spend an afternoon explaining to the ladies who lunch how sorry they were that their Marc Jacob silk blouses might never recover from those embarrassing underarm sweat stains.
Here are some of my favorite rooms if not favorite designers:
Lets start in the kitchen. Christopher Peacock is one the world's premier kitchen designers and this year's installation was no exception.
What he added this time was a known chef who had the unfortunate obligation of having to be the docent for the kitchen on this particularly uncomfortable day. Julie Elkind was the consummate professional walking and talking anyone through all the bells and whistles of the Peacock kitchen.
What I was surprised at was the use of Kitchenaid appliances and Caesarstone countertops. It was nice to see more moderately priced items in what is normally a knock-your-socks-off budgetary approach.
I loved this little powder room by Andrew Suvalsky Designs. It was mid-century provocative without being too Jonathan Adler. It also set the tone for a lot of lacquer walls throughout the townhouse. I was still sneaking around with my camera at this point and the guards were out in full force on the bottom floor. If I had bigger balls I would have taken more details of this tiny jewel.
Niviera Williams Design added this outdoor oasis in the backyard.  The subtle handling of the landscaping along with the minimalist approach to the furniture made a complex design seem simple and tranquil. Who couldn't find a piece of serenity in such a quiet space?
The dining room designed by Kristen McGinnis was a highlight for its inventiveness, its spirit and most of all the graciousness of Kristen who was there sweating away with the rest of us and smiling all the way through it. There is so much to address in this space and unfortunately my little point-and-shoot didn't do it justice.
From the ceiling to the floor each detail went beyond mere object and became poetry in three dimensions. The hanging sculpture by Elliott Hundley made of neon, wood, metal and cork hung from a papered ceiling by Maya Rudolph and then over painted with silver leafing for depth.
But the show-stopper had to be the deconstructed breakfront by Vincent Dubourg. Backed up against these amazing ocean blue lacquered walls. The broken breakfront was more art than buffet. I'm just glad I didn't have to pack this one up after the show came to an end.
Each year there is at least one headliner whose name creates the buzz that brings everyone in. This year, I assume, it was West Coast designer Kathryn Ireland. The irreverent star of Bravo's Million Dollar Designers did anything but an irreverent design in the Master Suite.  This room could only be defined as Traditional with a capital "T". It's the room you want to find on your next holiday to Nantucket. It's old world and charming, totally appropriate for a New York show house but unexpected in the reverse.
Most designers who show at these venues want to appear trendy and on the cutting edge. I think Kathryn has the hutzpah to say to hell with that. I'm going to give you the Master Suite I want to sleep in - like it or leave me alone.
I have to end with someone whose work I have respected every since I first saw her name in one of my favorite shelter magazines. Eve Robinson has had a connection with a mutual friend of ours so we've been able to follow her career a little more closely than some other designers.
We'd never met before so it was a real pleasure to see her battling the heat on that horribly humid Sunday and way up on the fifth floor. After a five-flight journey it was a joy and a surprise to see her and her family lounge that she titled "Modern Family".
Danish Modern in design but mixed with contemporary accents the room had a playful feel appropriate for family fun. Nothing seemed too precious and there was lots of space to move around the way a room meant for a family should be.
I know from experience the work and financial commitment it takes to pull off a room in one of these show houses. I know the word decorator shouldn't make my skin crawl but anyone who has been selected to be a part of the Kips Bay show house should be, with reverence, called a designer.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at Romanoff's Beverly Hills, 1958
Joe Shere, photographer
Represented by Monroe Gallery, Santa Fe