Saturday, September 28, 2013


On Thursday, September 19th, the New York Design Center opened it's doors for it's What's New, What's Next event. The event is growing out of its infancy and walking directly into maturity making it one of the best design events being offered to the design community.
At two o'clock in  the afternoon showrooms throughout the building at 200 Lex started welcoming attendees with events ranging from presentations at Lexington Home Brands by
Carey Maloney from M(Group) talking about his new book, STUFF, The M(Group) Guide to Collecting, Decorating with, Learning About, Wonderful and Unusual Things to
Stephanie Odegard of the Stephanie Odegard Collection entertaining an audience in a discussion of traveling to India with Hall of Fame designer, Vincente Wolf. Group discussions and presentations go all the way into the evening.
The Bright Group held a panel discussion on "The Intersection of Quality and Craftsmanship" moderated by Pamela Jaccarino, VP Editor in Chief of Luxe Interiors + Design, with a panel including Amy Lau, Robert Passal, Mia Gargiulo, Ahmet Cinar and Jonathan Browning.
Editors from virtually every major shelter magazine were on hand to host events, toast the openings of new showrooms and moderate panels of design experts. Editors from Newell Turner, Editor in Chief of House Beautiful,
to Cindy Allen, Editor in Chief of Interior Design, lent their expertise and insight into the future of design.

A host of design luminaries were seated on panels being held throughout the day. Michael Boodro, Editor in Chief of Elle Décor hosted a panel at Century Furniture on "Putting Personality into a Room" with design stalwarts Mario Buatta, Brian McCarthy and
Bunny Williams. The opportunity to meet three such distinguished designers doesn't happen very often and when it does anyone who can, should jump at the opportunity to take it in.
For as many interior designers present at the event there were an equal amount of product designers ranging from Jiun Ho and Wendell Castle chatting with admirers at Dennis Miller
to Frank Carfaro, the design developer behind Desiron introducing his collection at his new showroom at 200 Lex.
All this is due to the vision of one man and his talented support team. When Jim Druckman took over the helm of the New York Design Center he came in with a vision that has propelled NYDC into the forefront of design centers. He is constantly reinventing what a "Design Center" can be. As with many design centers throughout the country, NYDC has transformed from a members only concept into a broader resource for the more savvy consumer as well as the designers and architects who comb its halls for the best of what the design world has to offer. He was the first to open his doors to the internet world with his wise decision to give the entire tenth floor to Istdibs. He is also one of the most generous men in the design industry giving of his time and resources to charities and cultural institutions too numerous to mention.
The event ended with a cocktail celebration on the thirteenth floor where if you had tried to marathon the entire program you deserved the opportunity to get smashed on your poison of choice. Keep an eye on NYDC's website: for the next installation of "What's New, What's Next", it's become an experience you'll want to mark on your calendar and run to see.

New York Furniture Store, 1946
Todd Webb, photographer
Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


The Urban Dictionary says the term Swag first showed up as a noun in the 1960's. It was an acronym for "Secretly, We Are Gay". I'm not so sure the homeboys hanging around on ghetto street corners where it is enjoying a new popularity did any research into its origins. The Urban Dictionary goes on to elaborate how it currently is used "by those douche bags thinking they're cool wearing their baseball hats sideways while their pants hang halfway down their thighs exposing boxer shorts with Calvin Klien labeled waistbands". Now everyone from pimply faced teenagers to surfer dudes have adopted the term to indicate anyone they think has style and I mean style in the broadest sense.
It was cool afternoon in early August. We had been invited to Eagle River, a small resort town in Northern Wisconsin known as a vacation destination for the Chicago mafia back in the 1950's. On that cool afternoon I had taken my daughter and her best friend into town to do some shopping. They went down one side of the street while I walked on the opposite side trying to look as if I didn't know them so they could pretend they weren't being followed by an over protective adult. A group of youthful townies lazed on some garden chairs on the side of a corner ice cream parlor on my side of the street. Piercings and neon dyed hair were their fashion statements but as I walked by one boy slouched halfway of his chair legs out-stretched and crossed at the ankles pointed at me with a cocked finger and said, "Hey man, you got swag". This was the first time I heard the term used as a noun. I wasn't sure if I was being ridiculed or envied. The kid did follow up his comment with a thumbs up. I decided to take it as a compliment. I thanked him, turned my head and continued on down the street. I was dressed in what my world might be considered swag in a positive manner: a salmon sport coat complete with a pocket square from Nautica, a pressed white shirt from Banana Republic, my favorite seafoam Sperrys, jeans, and my signature vest - this one out of off-white cotton I had picked up at Macy's for less than twenty bucks with discounts and a $10 off coupon. When I met up with the girls at the end of the street and told them with my best impersonation of cockiness, "I had swag" they both burst out in stomach wrenching laughter. From that point on I've used every opportunity I could to remind my loved ones of who in our family has officially been granted the title of "Swag Man".
The swag didn't stop there. Two weeks later I had to catch a flight back from New York to Milwaukee. La Guardia Airport isn't known for its hospitality or friendly banter with the passengers. New York rudeness is more the norm than the exception. I also have a reoccurring fear of going through security, not that I'm concerned about terrorism, but I hate to have to announce my full name. I'm not comfortable with having to yell out "Leroy" and sustain the double takes of the TSA agents who always seem like they're doing me a favor by passing me through on an assumed alias. This time was different. As I walked up to the agent, a very attractive black women in her mid-thirties, I started to do a little nervous twitching as she paused, looked at me, back to my ticket and driver's license and then to a male agent working the second security line. I thought I was either in for a ribbing about my name or they had finally decided to sideline me for one of the million of bad things I had done in my life that were now rearing their ugly heads in my muddled brain.
"Renaldo, take some notes. Here's how to show some real swag." She drew a sly smile as she bent her chin and bit her inner lip. This time it was a black blazer from Zara, the same white shirt I had worn on my first swag encounter, Glen plaid skinny pants from Banana Republic, a two dollar pale blue vest I had picked up at a vintage clothing store, and a pair of worn white bucks. We had a small discussion about the overweight, sleeveless t-shirt wearing, hairy in all the wrong places passengers she sees more often than she'd like going through security. I know I'm old-fashioned but I think air travel would be so much more palatable if we all wore decent clothing when we travel.
The hat trick of swag occurred about five days later. Rick was still back in New York and I had to pick up something for Emmy and myself for dinner. There's a rib place near enough to Emmy's school I thought I would stop at and order take-out before I had to pick her up from swim practice. I hadn't been to Fat Jack's before so I wasn't all that familiar with the menu. I walked up to the dimly lit front counter were the hostess handed me a menu. In my indecision we began discussing the pros and cons of spareribs versus back ribs when an older woman (I'm being very kind here) was returning from the dessert bar precariously navigating the hall with a slice of lemon merengue pie in her hands.
The hostess interrupted our conversation to say, "Starting with dessert tonight Millie?" Millie, who had been watching her feet as she shuffled down the hall raised her eyes long enough to nod at the hostess. That's when she saw me standing at the cashier's desk. Her face turned from slightly startled to slightly coquettish if that is at all possible for someone in her late eighties. I could tell she was doing a once over on me from head to toe with a short stop somewhere mid-way in her survey. Millie had that matted hair of someone spending their fading years in an assisted living facility. Her pale pink polyester corduroy stripped slacks, tiny spring blossom print blouse, heavy sneakers and a hand-knit poncho she wore even though it was almost ninety degrees outside was the look of someone whose memory and faculties were slowly slipping away. At the end of her once over a big smile swept across her face exposing a mouthful of crooked sepia stained teeth. Rather than passing by and back to her booth with her son who had taken her out to dinner she sidled up to me, kissed my arm and said, "You're mighty cute". I suppose I could have gotten upset, brushed her off, asked for assistance from her son, or embarrassed her but I remembered my own mom and her fight with senility. The kiss was tender. I decided this was here way of telling me in her eyes I had swag. She repeated her appraisal of my appearance and gave me a very sly wink. I told her I thought she had some pretty hot swag. She didn't blush or ask what swag was but winked again and walked back to enjoy her dessert-first meal with her son. Flatter still goes a long way in this world.

Cuzco Children, 1948
Irving Penn, photographer
Represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, NYC

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Decades ago I used to travel with a camera bag filled with Nikon bodies, lens, filters and all sorts of film. My equipment was never out of reach no matter where we went or how cumbersome or intrusive my photography habit was. I was consumed and still believe that the best way to learn about photography was to shoot as much as you could. In the world of film there was a lot more to be learned and manipulated in the taking of a picture. Now in order to have your photography stand out the creativity is more focused on the after process, the manipulation of the photograph. I was never an Ansel Adams and I never progressed beyond the 35mm stage but I still appreciated my f-stops and shutter speeds. As film did its slow fade into non-existence I packed my Nikons in an old leather suitcase and relegated them to the back of my closet. Sentimentality has kept them around, carting them from one successive new home's back closet to another. After a considerable hiatus from shooting and a huge disdain for the digital world I finally had to succumb and bought a point-and-shoot so I could supplement my new found joy: blogging, with imagery to support my words. I thought I was doing pretty good until I started seeing the clarity and definition my daughter was getting with her iPhone snaps as opposed to the soft and grainy images I was turning out with my more cumbersome equipment. The added benefit of having the iPhone not only take pictures but holy cow you could also talk on the damn thing made me recently relinquish my little point-and-shoot and my flip-top phone for an iPhone. I did this just in time for our trip to Italy and much to the chagrin of my family I'm now as obsessive about shooting anything and everything, with my iPhone.
During the trip I progressed to the point where I learned how to embarrass both Rick and Emmy with my constant shutterbug antics. I've made them force smiles when smiling wasn't what they had in mind. I've caught them at embarrassing moments where they've told me that they'd kill me if I let anyone see that picture. I've forced them to wait before they sated their palettes so I could take a picture of their entrée in its pristine untouched photo perfect state.
I've heard more sighs of frustration like the slow squeaky seep of air from a deflating balloon caused by my request for just one more picture. "If you could move just a little to the left, now turn your head slightly away from the camera and if you could maybe take about two steps back, or..." In those moments you can see the daggers in their eyes if you look close enough.
More to my families liking is when they just turn me lose telling me to go into town by myself and stay as long as I like shooting whatever catches my eye. Secretly, it's when I have more fun anyway without having to worry about anyone's complaining about how much time I'm taking going to a particular vantage point for the right shot I know I want to take.
I'm still dealing with the mechanics of my iPhone. I frequently pick up the iPhone to take a picture with the phone facing in the wrong direction. I've, in a rush of excitement, turned the video camera on when I thought I was taking a still, and I can't master the aspect of selfies. There's something about holding it at the right angle so my nose doesn't look like it belongs to Jimmy Durante and my eyes have dwindled to the size of tiny black peas. I've never been a big talker so my iPhone does most of its work as a camera rather than a phone or any other kind of communication devise. For those reasons I've yet to invest in any apps and I'm constantly amazed as I glance over the shoulders of fellow subway commuters to see them wasting their time on video games and solitaire. I really don't get it.
I know photography has changed dramatically since the not too distant days of film. Everyone now fancies himself or herself a photographer and with these new cameras where so much is automatic it's a lot easier for someone with an eye to hang out that shingle of "photographer". What is distinguishing me from my daughter right now is she has been working with what happens after you snap the picture. Her work with photos in post-production sets her work apart from mine in ways I don't know I'll ever be able to master.
So for right now what I'm working on is how to use the iPhone for night photography. I'm such a neophyte I can't offer a lot of advice but I am coming up with some insights. I'm not comfortable with the flash on the iPhone. It never ceases to astound me at how many flashbulbs are going off at a nighttime stadium event. What the heck do people think they are going to be able to illuminate with that tiny flash. God can light up the sky with a flash of lightening but no little iPhone is going to light up the Meadowlands. Turn the flash off.
That said you aren't going to be able to clearly light up an entire table full of guests at an outdoor dinner without the aid of a lot of artificial light.
You need to choose smaller vignettes or individuals who happen to have a pool of light by them.
Look for low contrast. If you have a strong light source like you'll find in Times Square you can't get both the unlit crowds and the lights in the same picture. You need to find a place where everything has relatively similar light level.
Streetlights and spotlights can provide a dramatic look. I tend to try and off-balance the images and the source of the light rather than going straight on and symmetrical. There's a dynamic and power to the composition and a mystery to what you can't see.
From the perspective of looking from the outside in you can indicate night but focus on the interior scene. This is something that doesn't happen during the day. The warmth of artificial night light doesn't have to compete with sunlight and without using a flash you don't destroy the moment or have your subjects raise their hands in protest. Does that sound a little peeping Tomish?
With real outside dining you need a tremendous amount of assistance of electrified light and then you have to fight not letting the light overpower the scene.
Of course, with all of this it doesn't hurt to have such beautiful subjects both human
and inanimate to work with. Suggestions here are greatly appreciated.

This is totally crazy but I entered Jauntaroo's travel writer contest. Apparently, if you can get people to like you, you can increase your chances for being selected. Here's the link. Give me a shot. Thanks

The Lights of the World Trade
Steven Rappos, Photographer
Taken with his iPhone

Friday, September 6, 2013


Sometimes when packing your bags is a spur of the moment decision there can be an accompanying exhilaration that wipes the worry from your forehead and pulls an unexpected grin across your heart. Emmy was off to an overnight swim team sleepover at an upstate camp the Friday night of Labor Day weekend. There had been so much turmoil since our return from our summer vacation with filling client needs and trying to get our own house in order we felt justified in giving ourselves permission to turn our computers off, ignore our emails and leave our cellphones in the off position for two whole days.
We spent about two hours looking at maps and contemplating the pros and cons of various locals and lodgings before we stuck a pushpin in Galena, Illinois. It was far enough away from home to feel as if we were getting away yet close enough we could make the drive there and back without devoting too much of our forty-eight hour allotment to travel. Galena offered what we were looking for in a getaway tailored to our needs.
We spent the rest of the evening before we were going to leave checking out hotels that might still have vacancies. We kept looking until we found Allen's Log Cabin Guest Houses, a collection of five log cabins encircling a Manor House that we realized on arrival might have had a little photoshopped facelift for its online beauty shot. With a vacancy for both nights we were set. The drive from Madison to Galena traverses some of Wisconsin's most beautiful rolling hills and farmlands. The only problem with our Friday departure was the heat, a sweltering ninety-degree plus. How people did this before air-conditioning is a mystery to me and mystery is what met us when we arrived at Allen's.
The cabins turned out to be more authentic than I had anticipated, quaintly decorated, the perfect size for a couple looking to relax, and delightfully haunted. On our first night sometime after the witching hour the sky burst into light. I hadn't seen such a display of heat lightening since I was a kid.  God's paparazzi had surrounded Galena and a million flashes of white-hot light danced around and around. By morning the sky had cleared.
The couple, staying in the cabin next to us, was coming out from their cabin as we sat on our porch in our bent willow chairs sipping orange juice and savoring our host's peach bunt cake. Their first words were, "Did any ghosts visit you last night?' Here's where we hadn't done our homework. We hadn't read the fine print about Galena's history of paranormal activity.
They went on to say they had slept right through the storm but woke up in the morning to find their cast-iron, three-hundred pound bed with them in it had somehow moved three feet away from the wall where it had been when they went to sleep. I say if a ghost wants to do some redecorating they could have come to us for some advice rather than trying to scare the bejeezus out of that young couple.
There's an abundance of history in the town itself beyond the ghostly kind. It's a town that grew up prior to the railroads, surpassing Chicago in population before the railroad bypassed them giving back the title of Illinois' largest metropolis to the Windy City. It is also the birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant. Signs leading in and out of town will not let you forget that fact.
Architecturally the Main Street and municipal buildings possess a small town grandeur unequaled by most other towns of its size. The scrubbed red brick and pristine awnings give it a prosperous quality much different from its early twentieth century depression.
Shopping and eating has always been our passion and forte and we found plenty to covet. Emmy got lucky with a boho star light fixture for her room and a tie-dyed tank top from Beyong the Horizon, this Main Street bohemian boutique. Antique shopping bookended our visit.
We bought a beautiful quilt at the first shop we went into and on our way out we stopped at another antique shop with a photo op outside where I picked up a black globe and Rick identified a couple of salesman's sample furniture pieces the shopkeeper had marked as doll furniture.
We even saw Mark Twain walking the streets and greeting the visitors along Main Street. He actually performs his one man show evenings at a dinner theater at One Eleven Main.
But by far my favorite stop was at Root Beer Revelry. The man behind the soda fountain had a passion and his passion was root beer. He had it on tap, he had it in bottles, he served it in frosted mugs and he mixed it into root beer floats. He was foaming with as much enthusiasm as the heads on his frosty mugs.
When walking the streets of Galena you'll find some of grandest homes this side of the Mississippi. The Belvedere is one of the most distinguished homes in the region giving tours of the home and gardens on regular basis
Even the lowly miner's cabins that survived the neglect of the previous century are now polished and highly desirable especially by people like us. We came this close to seriously looking at this one.
Despite the unprecedented heat, the threat of ghostly encounters, and an amazing number of motorcycles and their accompanying tattooed mamas we'd go back to Galena in a minute especially if we could grab one of those tidy little miner shacks.

On the drive back from Galena you can take one of several routes. We chose to take the road through Monroe, Wisconsin. Monroe is a picture perfect American hometown built around a central square. The crown of Monroe's central square is its courthouse. On the National Registry of Historical Sites this towering brick and marble structure also pumps out classical music all day on Sunday. Who else does that? Since we planned this trip on a whim there were certain things we had to deal with that wouldn't have been on our agenda if we had made some of our plans in advance. One issue was our dog. All our reservations and most of our dining decisions had to be made around the encumbrance of traveling with a blind and crippled dog.
By the time we reached Monroe we were famished. We thought we would have to settle for the golden arches but as we did a slow turn around the square we spotted Baumgartner's and a few outdoor tables we thought we could hide the dog under. Little did we know what a find Baumgartner's would turn out to be.
Steeped in Swiss culture this tavern and cheese store has changed little since it opened in 1931. Put on your lederhosen and start to yodel we couldn't have found a more perfect place for lunch.
Local beers by the bottle and as many varieties of cheese as you could imagine lined the counters behind the amazing murals adorning the walls, but if you looked up you'd see another unique attribute of  Baumgartner's - the ceiling.
At first glance it looked like a colony of albino bats hanging by their feet but if you squinted your eyes you could see that it was paper money pinned at random to the ceiling. Then came the question of how it got there. No one tells you for free. You have to pay your dollar and then the secret is revealed. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone but I will tell you that at the end of the year all the money attached to the ceiling is brought down and given to local charities. Last year it was over $8000. If you get to Monroe, Baumgartner's is a must. Get out your dollar bills