Thursday, January 30, 2014


There was a point after we left New York when the dream of ever returning was as likely as Chris Christy being hired as a toll collector at the George Washington Bridge, but things change.
It's been four years since all three of us piled into a 20' U-Haul with everything we could salvage from our financial district apartment, our Chelsea office, our weekend Catskill home and drove to Madison, Wisconsin. Then we began a one thousand four hundred and sixty day trek connecting what is with what was.
The result - our new home away from home, our pied-a-terre, our Upper Westside digs in the city so filled with possibilities you never want to leave.
It just made sense. At about the one thousandth one hundred and forty-third day it became clear that our constant back and forth between Mad City and the Big Apple and mooching off of friends for a place to stay was becoming a waste of time and a drain on our resources. Without a permanent place to hang our hats we had to rethink our living arrangements. Our conclusion: it was time to fire up the U-Haul for a return trip back to New York City.
We set a monthly limit for rent that we, of course, blew once we started making our rounds and seeing what was available for our original (what we thought) generous budget. Maybe we had been in Madison too long, if we wanted to buy a six-pack of Skinny Cow cookies 'n cream sandwiches at the Fairway on Broadway we were going to have to triple what we had paid for those same Skinny Cows at the local big box grocery store here in Madison, and this translated to the coin it was going to take us to rent an apartment anywhere in Manhattan.
There are a lot of peanut apartments out there and we saw a lot of them, bathtubs in the kitchen, bathrooms so small once you were inside you couldn't close the door, and rooms where you could literally stand in the middle and touch two opposing walls. What we found wasn't much bigger but it does have a separate bedroom with a door that actually works and some pretty nice amenities.
We've spruced the place up with a lot of IKEA and the benefits of having a slue of one-offs from our furniture line to fill out the space. We're eclectic and so is the apartment.
The inspiration of layering Victorian charm with contemporary sleekness was already in the bones of the apartment. They kept the fireplace (even though it doesn't work) that anchors the room and butted up a contemporary kitchen with a tile backsplash that compliments the tile on the fireplace providing a yin to the fireplace's yang.
And then there's the color: white with a hint of seafoam and aqua. The ceramic tiles on the fireplace and the glass tiles in the kitchen lead the way. We added the pottery and pillows.
The bedroom barely beat the stretch test but at just over six feet wide I can't quite win the touch-both-walls test.
We've figured a way with a pullout trundle bed and a queen size sofa sleeper how to sleep up to four comfortably. It's just that when you pull the trundle out you can't get to the closet so you need to choose your sleepwear carefully before you pull the trundle out.
The point is the space is no more or no less than what we need. It's comfortable, it's perfectly located, and in the spring you can hear the park.

West 122nd Street, 1979
Philip Trager, photographer
Represented by Julie Saul Gallery, NYC

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Sometimes it's not the bright lights of Broadway or its towering architecture that sculpts the city's skyline that gets the credit for being the sole master of New York's majesty. Sometimes it's a string of tiny lights, a sled in a snowstorm spinning down a slope in Central Park or a single lamppost sparkling like a jewel that takes my breath away. There is such beauty in the flakes of winter gently dusting dusk as it lights its way into darkness. Sometimes it's the absence of all those neon lights and mega-screens, when the city puts on a coat of polar white and wraps itself in the grasp of ghostly buildings shrouded in mist that it sparkles greater than anything on the Great White Way.

Here are some of the photo footprints I left trying to capture it's beauty.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


We are now two years behind the trend on color trends according to Pantone, the guru of color prophecies. We've skipped past emerald and are holding onto our reservations about the worthiness of orchid. We're clearly still in love with Tangerine. Once I was able to read the writing on the wall and realize our office/atelier on East Wilson was never going to be profitable moving the office into our home was the inevitable result. Renting an apartment in New York made the thought of no longer having a professional hook in Madison to hang my hat on away from the room where I laid my head to sleep a whole lot more palatable.
The concept for the office was to have a space that both of us could use as a work a space but that would also double as a guest room if we ever needed it and as it turns out we did with a house full of guests for Thanksgiving. The couch is from CB2 and folds out into a queen size bed. It's been a conflict of "you say potato and I say patattah" when it comes to the color. Rick insists it's orange while I see it as red. You can be the judge. The wall cabinets are orange and on this color assessment we both can agree The cabinets came from IKEA and the directions to put them together came from somewhere in Siberia written by someone whose native language is no longer spoken by any living human.
I found the Wisconsin pennant many years ago in an antique store I'm sure no longer exists. I had always wanted to have it framed but had never gotten around to it. With my ill-gotten gains from my winnings on several football pools this season I finally decided it was time.
The room, itself, had been a bedroom with a built-in closet where the sofa now sits. When we had it removed it meant the walls would need to be repaired and painted. What we opted for was to have or magician of a contractor (please call for referrals, Mark is great) trowel on a coat of plaster leaving the trowel lines in place and then letting the color of the plaster be the color of the walls, a soft almost buttery white with a tasty hint of almond.
A row of orange file cabinets also from CB2 (we know how to shop cheap) sit patiently waiting for us to get our act together and begin filing them with the three years of unsorted paperwork we keep procrastinating about. The blinds are a custom color with pale almost peach colored tapes. I assume your all getting the color theme here.
The bone of contention has been the desk, a remnant from our store made from two metal sawhorses from William-Sonoma Home and a top we built, covered with burlap that we then painted with what seemed like fifty coats of grey and then studded the sides with upholstery nailheads. To make it usable as a desk we had a sheet of glass cut to top the thing off. Its intention was to be a partner's desk with one of us on one side and the other, well on the other side. We set two orange CB2 glider chairs on either side with the misconception that either of us could  work on fifteen inches of desktop space , not a doable solution. Rick ended up at the desk and I ended up out on the kitchen counter a designer at sea with only a t-square for a paddle.
Ultimately I muscled my way back into the office by claiming the work counter where we were to do our drafting as my desk. Since I do most of the drafting (well all of the drafting) it was a fair trade.
Now I'm nestled in between and under our book and resource wall. This was a jury-rigged effort combining Billy bookcases from IKEA, rejected white lacquer Lee bedside tables from our furniture line elevated on stands again purchased from IKEA and shelves from Home Depot. With any office you can never have enough storage space or work surfaces but for an office in a space the size of a middle child's bedroom we feel we did a pretty good job.

Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, 1937
William Hedrich, photographer

Friday, January 10, 2014


It was my youngest sister's idea to get remarried over Thanksgiving. She figured she could do it with the least amount of pomp and circumstance since everyone else had plans made well in advance. She and her future husband had thrown darts at a map and hit Las Vegas as the perfect location for a quickie little ceremony. No muss no fuss, a long weekend, they'd go down, say their "I do's", do the nasty and be back in time to clock in on Monday morning. This left us, the family of the bride, trying to figure out what we should do to acknowledge the nuptials. We decided on a little early evening dinner after their return, no big deal, just enough to let them know that we saw that the groom had put a ring on it.
Rick worked out a menu of salmon and salad, but the piece de resistance was to be the wedding cake made from scratch and decorated by our niece, the ninth grade baker in training. Peyton has a real flair for the bakery side of the culinary arts. She's been baking pastries for a while now and has a developing knowledge of the art and science of baking, pretty impressive for a girl in her first year of high school. To make things easier Rick had volunteered to bake the cakes, a three tiered set of chocolate squares pulled from a recipe of our beloved Martha Stewart. The plan for the day was for Rick to bake the cakes in the morning and then have Peyton come over early afternoon to do the decorating. Peyton was to have created the sugar flowers and icing before hand so the main event happening in our kitchen would be the application.
The best-laid plans generally (at least in our world) must include a minimum of three small flaws or one major one. Our first was a miscalculation about the amount of time needed to bake three tiers of chocolate cake from scratch. While Peyton patiently waited with her trays of white and gold florets Rick splashed and spattered his way to a two-hour delay. When the cakes finally came out of the oven they were ever so gently striped of their pans and placed on cooling trays. To help make up for lost time, and it was winter in Wisconsin, the cakes on trays were brought out to the garage to cool.  Another half hour expires with Rick thinking I've gone to pick up Peyton who is still patiently waiting and I'm thinking Rick has gone off to pick her up. When we meet in the hallway and discover neither one of has gone to pick up our niece I throw on my coat, grab my keys, run through the kitchen and into the garage, rev the motor and drivel out to pick Peyton up. The drive isn't far, a mile and a half, and I clock it in pretty good time knowing Rick is pissed I didn't pick the kid up and Peyton is thinking she's got two crazy uncles - one of which is to become even crazier.
I pull into the driveway of my sister's home, not Peyton's mother but her aunt's, where Peyton has been waiting with her trays of pre-made decorations and bowls of icing. Snow had fallen; the streets were still a little slick, the temperature hovering in the teens.
When I finally cross the threshold of my sister's bungalow Peyton is sitting at the dining room table wearing a look on her face that is half relief that someone has at last come to retrieve her and the other half a twisted contortion of confusion making one of her eye's squint and the eyebrow move a half inch up her forehead as if to ask "Where the heck have you been?". I'm all apologies as I grab one of the trays and head back out to the car knowing time is now at a premium. I maneuver the front door handle with one elbow and using one of my feet I push the door open. My back is now facing the car and I need to spin around to get down the three steps on my sister's front porch.
Now is the moment I spy the car and my brows furrow and then I do that WTF move with my mouth. Who plopped something on top of my car while I was in the house? I couldn't have been away from the car for more than ninety seconds. It sort of looked like someone had plopped a block of mud on top of the car, and then came the OMG epiphany. It was the three layers of chocolate cake that had been brought out to the garage to cool. Panic. Then relief. By some miracle my guardian angel was on duty for that fateful ride and all three delicious layers had made it all the way through reckless turns and a mile and a half speedway without having moved an inch from their original positions. There was no Hansel and Gretel trail of crumbs lining the path from the home of  their baking birth to my sister's almost graveyard driveway.  Those cakes were so dense they muscled themselves down and enjoyed the ride in the brisk winter wind. I didn't have to impale myself on a two-foot icicle, the would-be mandatory punishment for such an unforgiveable offense if those cakes hadn't made it. Four lives were saved that mid-afternoon: mine and the three tier cakes.
Peyton and I made it back, to our preparation kitchen the cakes now resting inside the car. I decided to let Rick finish the cake before I confessed.
The two of them smothered a coating of icing and raspberry/rhubarb jam between each layer of cool cake.
Peyton with the skills of a professional applied her florets
and dusted the cake with gold and silver.
Then as homage to the occasion and Las Vegas we cut out an Elvis and put him on top of the cake in lieu of the traditional bride and groom.
Sometimes things just work out.

A Little White Chapel
Casey Bisson, photographer

Friday, January 3, 2014


Northern snobbery is a genetic affliction I've dealt with most of my life. I've always felt good taste and style resided well above the Mason-Dixon line. What else could explain Duck Dynasty, Honey BooBoo or the belief that Fox News is a neutral entity with no hidden agenda?
We have recently taken to spending the week between Christmas and New Years in Chattanooga visiting relatives and eating our fair share of grits, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits with gravy and pecan bourbon pie. I had kinda taken to looking down my nose at Chattanooga as just another redneck enclave. To be fair our winter visits don't show the place off to its best advantage. The trees are pretty bare. At this time of year the weather is too cold to keep things green year-round so all you get is that drab stretch of muddy brown yet too warm to have that mud covered up with a clean layer of white snow. Madison always appeared far more beautiful to me. Madison had more white-collar appeal with its government buildings, the University and its accompanying stately residential neighborhoods. I always had the sense Madison was larger (which isn't true) with a greater cultural heritage. After all we had two major art museums, the Overture Center with a revolving door of Broadway productions, its own symphony and ballet, and a convention center based on the original designs of Wisconsin native Frank Llyod Wright.
All this culture and sophistication is impressive but what Madison didn't have was a major manufacturing area. It was much too prissy for that. Chattanooga, on the other hand, had whole districts of red brick manufacturing buildings, buildings that languished remaining derelict for decades.
Eventually someone realized the goldmine of architecture and Chattanooga has gone on an industrial revolution - architecturewise and there is no stronger proponent than Warehouse Row and its main tenant, Revival. New York has Soho and Tribeca; even Milwaukee has its Third Ward but Madison - not so much.
We first learned about Revival in Architecture Digest and immediately put it on our bucket list for our next visit to Chattanooga.
Started eleven years ago by the design duo of Billy Woodall and Rodney Simmons, the store and design firm moved four years ago to Warehouse Row after they were courted by the developers who also invented Chelsea Market in New York.
Still I was skeptical of how such an elegant boutique home store could survive in the middle of Teabag Nation. The reality is that there are more than staunch conservatives populating the south and there is a heritage of incredible design and culture in those hills below New York. Chattanooga just happens to be in driving distance of Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta and Birmingham, cities with plenty of design knowledgeable inhabitants.
The moment we walked through the doors we looked like a pair of Macaulay Culkin wide-eyed open-mouthed kids. Who could not ooh and aah at such a beautifully curated selection of new and antique pieces?
Billy and Rodney have put together a selection of furniture and accessories that rival the most sophisticated shops on either coast.
If I could have I would have walked out the door with every one of these gorgeous leather suitcases.
Taking a trip through the vignettes at Revival is worth a full price flight plus a rental car and hotel room. But if the price of a trip to Chattanooga isn't in your budget the next best thing is letting your fingers doing the walking on your computer keyboard to their website:
They keep it updated with all sorts of new offerings
We're fortunate to have relatives in Chattanooga requiring us to visit at least once a year, usually at Christmas time. Luckily they've decided to stay open the week between Christmas and New Year. Billy, please continue the holiday hours because we'll continue to show up year after year after year.

Just to one up Madison, the boys got Chattanooga to become the most recent city to be added to The Scout Guide. Billy and Rodney did all the grunt work, a local photographer, Jamie Clayton, did most of the gorgeous photography and then the staff at Scout did the layout.
 These guides are a really good way of getting an insiders ticket to your city of choice listing the best of the best and places you might not even know existed even if you're a native.
Here's their web connection: with a list of all their participating cities.
Come on Madison. We can do this too.

Telegraph Office,1955
O. Winston Link, photographer
Represented by Etherton Gallery, Tucson, Arizona