Wednesday, April 23, 2014


It was one of those perfect days for strolling New York offers up on a very limited basis. I really hadn't formulated a plan but the weather beckoned me outside and when it dawned on me that it was Easter Sunday I remembered the novelty of the Easter Parade. From ten till four the city blocks of Fifth Avenue from 57th to 48th streets and some of New York's finest and silliest parade themselves up and down the avenue posing for pictures and attention. In years past I would have loaded myself down with a bulky bag filled with tons of photography equipment and sweated my way through crowds. This year due to all the new technology I managed to reduce my carrying load to my iphone, a pencil and Thursday's crossword puzzle and Sudoku. There's no "B" train service on the weekends so I had to take a "C" and transfer at 59th to the "D" that would let me off right under Rockefeller Center. The crowds didn't seem to thicken until a walked up at 48th Street.
By the time I reached the skating rink the crowds had grown to elbow-to-elbow thickness. The rink was surrounded by 268 eggs created by 268 diverse artists from the worlds of fashion, art and the food industry. The eggs are to be auctioned off for charities supporting the arts for under-privileged children and a save the elephants fund. Why elephants for Easter I'm not sure, I guess rabbits aren't on any endangered species list. I squeezed my way around a couple pretending to lick a watermelon egg
and a group of forty women all hatted with Easter finery leaving a trail of cellophane grass and plastic eggs on their way to a photo-op in front of the Prometheus statue at the skating rink.
I hunched my shoulders and pressed on through the narrow passage leading from the rink to Fifth Avenue where the compressed crowd burst out into the wider alley of the avenue. I commenced my walk from forty-eighth to fifty-seventh with my iphone now held in front of my like a metal detector searching for the outrageous and bizarre as they appeared on the little screen on my phone.
The costumed celebrants began to fit into categories as I snapped and clicked their visages on my walk along the Avenue. The first group I identified was the drag queens most of which stationed themselves in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. They always seem to stand out in crowd with their natural height and heft enhanced by humongous heels and sky-high hairdos,
some were wickedly stylish,
some were elegantly matriarchal,
some came escorted by their handlers
and all of them were crowd pleasingly campy.
Kids made up another category of cutie-pie heartbreakers. It started with this tiny little darling barely a week old. All dressed in pink including her adorable pink cheeks.
This little bunny perched on his father's shoulders couldn't take his eyes off the enormous hat on the man with the walking advertisement for his DJ business plastered on his back. There's always a huckster in the crowd. It is New York after all.
Some of the wee girls were just too adorable to pass up. I was more than willing to drop to my knees to get on their level for a pic of some real cherubs, this one just barely able to walk.
It being Easter and all, this little dear looked as if she might have been forced to her breaking point having to smile for hour after hour for people she didn't know but because of the holiday it appeared as if she decided to raise an extra finger as opposed to telling me or whoever put her up to this to f--- off.
The kids came as singles under the watchful eye of their parents or in this case as doubles, a pair of sugarcoated wisps of cotton candy balloon scepters in hand.
Speaking of cotton candy you had to include a category for the service people who added to the color palette of the Easter Parade.
Along with the cotton candy vendors who dotted the intersection of almost every cross street there were bunny ear hawkers.
Balloon salesman
and a woman who set up her own haberdashery where she festooned mini fascinators on previously hatless crowd crawlers.
Of course the gay boys were everywhere. As a group they are the most wanton to prepare a costume at the drop of a hat or in this case the donning of a hat. Sometimes they were a little more freaky than Eastery. I had to give it to this guy. I could never get up the nerve to jump on the subway and ride all the way up to midtown looking like a Chernobyl flowerpot.
Most of the others took umbrage in showing up in numbers as either couples or trios.  Tasteful bowlers and fedoras sprinkled with berries and blooms were a big hit.
So were sprouting gardens and architectural masterpieces and the decorating didn't stop below the neck.
Matching plaid jackets and beards on these two bears made this couple stand out.
Another pair of big boys had me confused, I wasn't sure if they were gay or the car talk guys but they sure made this pack of kids giggle with delight. The gay or not choice is yours.
I was pretty sure this was Chris March from Project Runway fame dolled up as a fried egg. The polka-dot ensemble along with the yellow kitchen mitt had him surrounded by a clutch of amateur photographers. He was the queen hen laying a trail of golden photographic eggs.
You can't forget the animals when in New York and the Easter Parade is no exception. What's Easter without a real bunny. "Our Lady of the Wiener Balloons" was a huge hit with the under ten crowd. There wasn't a kid who could bypass the bunny without an extended hand sneaking in for a pet.
On the other side of that coin was the alligator lady. She may have been smiling but her animated hand puppet had a few toddlers in tears.
Going anthropomorphic, I'm not sure what this guy's vision was but the fish head was the kind of thing that made you turn your head. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be Mr. Carppie or Mr. Crappy.
Dogs were definitely a source of amusement even for the local news. Our lady from Fox was able to wrangle a poodle in pink and a cha-whooa-whooa in blue. My guess is she was hoping for an Easter morning wedding she could officiate. I have it on reliable resources that all Fox broadcasters are also ordained ministers.
And now for the too cute and adorable, this little terrier dressed in pink satin and sporting a fashionable pink id tag arrived in her own pink chariot. She was clearly a poser.
Not to be out done, this bulldog took couture to new heights. Not fazed by the feathered hat and netted tutu collar she made slobbering bulldog seem so ballerina dainty.
A perennial favorite of any parade and local celebrity in the Chelsea neighborhood, this poodle has had more dye jobs than Joan Rivers has had facelifts. I'm completely unaware of the dogs gender but I believe the pooch has gone through all the necessary operations.
On the other hand his/her master has mixed up gender identification for decades parading around Chelsea in a swirl of chiffons, striped knee-highs and a multi-colored beard that could be hiding god knows what. He's taken over from Rollerena becoming the face that anyone who has seen him wheeling his stroller through the streets and avenues of Chelsea will forever associate with the sweet outrageous side of the city of New York.
This brings us to my next to last category: the older crowd. By nature you'd most likely associate the more outrageous participants to be the youthful ones. Youth is usually out there trying desperately to disassociate itself from the previous generation and establish its own identity, but at this parade it was age that showed the most devil-may-care attitude. Age can free many a spirit from the shackles of conformity.
It can also allow one to don some more literal shackles, chains, spikes and piercings with an in-your-face aggressiveness. This guy provided so many ways of impaling you I snapped this photo as quick as I could and then backed hoping he wouldn't follow.
Then there were these ladies of a certain age who took hat making to new heights. It was a wonder none of them toppled over from the shear weight of what they were carrying around on their heads. I noticed there wasn't much movement here and I think the one in the middle might have been tied to the scaffolding behind her to help her stay upright.
Sedately coiffed in golden rosettes, choked in pearls and coated in a beaded fantasy that would have sent Coco Channel into an epileptic fit, this charmer held court between forty-ninth and fiftieth streets.
But by far my favorite geriatric trickster was Spikeman. His porcupine attire kept the crowds far enough back you could get a decent picture of him without having to elbow out a cigar smoking Italian with no idea our understanding of queuing up or courtesy.
My final and favorite category was the period costumed crowd. Whether it brought back the sounds of velvet upholstered horse-drawn carriages rolling over cobblestone streets or the late night mellow moaning of a saxophone outside the Cotton Club on a hot 1920's summer night, these lipsticked and spatted souls were the most elegant segment of the parade.
The largest group spanned generations of what one would assume was a family walking out from an elegant New York department store on "Ladies Mile" in the 1890's.
As dapper as they were Mr. Jekyll or Hyde was both eerie and elegant. The leopard background he happened to lean against didn't hurt his image.

The walk through history made a stop a few decades later with the sartorial splendor draped over this mustachioed gent. The look on his face pretty much says it all.
From there the costumes moved into gangster wear. You gotta think this guy has a piece strapped on under that wide lapel jacket and his wife has her eye on every chorus girl that crosses their path trying to figure out which one he's romancing when he says he's out playing poker with the guys.
This guy is Harlem when Harlem was way cool. All it would take is a snap of his fingers and the woman to his right is going to slip her arm around his and it's off to a jazz club somewhere on 125th.
From there the guys and their gals just kept on coming, some shielding their peaches and cream complexions with broad-rimmed black hats,
some in vests their dates decorated in cherries
and some decked out in green posing for anyone with a brownie in their hands.
My favorite couple came right out of the forties in the form of a mother and child. They were a duo I couldn't help myself from going "Awwww" all over.
So I'm closing out with the crooner, Delauro and his Rat Pack Band stationed out in front of closed Saks Fifth Avenue ending his set while the dance crowd jitterbugged away under welcomed springtime suns.

Rollerena, At Studio 54, 1978
Available through CondeLibrary

Thursday, April 17, 2014


It seems kitchens are our inroad to the design market in Madison. Madisonians seem to understand the value of kitchen renovation and updating. Kitchen renovation is the number one bang for your buck toward increased value in the resale market for homes. They may not want to redo their living rooms or see the benefit of using an interior designer to help them out, but when it comes to the kitchen the task seems daunting enough to give us a whirl.
We met our kitchen client through an intern we worked with for a short time in Madison. Ji was an interior design graduate from Madison College who was well connected with the Madison Asian community. She introduced us to this kitchen client and worked with us on the initial design.
Here's how it works. Normal procedure for us is to present two to three layouts for a design project. We formulate the layouts based on a couple of input meetings with the client to understand their needs and aesthetic. After we've presented our initial designs we offer up to two revisions that reflect changes the client sees after they have had time to digest the original schemes. Once that approval has happened we move into construction drawings that are then bid out to contractors. Once a contractor has been selected the renovation begins.
It sometimes requires that we fudge a little on the design phase, always in the client's favor. This particular design took so many twists and turns we kinda lost count of the number of permutations we went through before we actually got to the final layout, but in the end the client was happy and so were we.
From the floor up the clients wanted a sleek, clean, contemporary look that incorporated the feel of the geographic area, the Northern plains, tied into their own cultural background.
The original kitchen centered around a cumbersome octagonal island that stood in the way of the refrigerator, cooking area and sink. To accomplish any meal preparation you had to walk around the island in circles like "Hands on a Hard Body" retrieving perishables from the frig, then do your disposal and prep by the sink and then move over to cooking at the stove. It was not very efficient. Fortunately, they had cut all the corners off the island so that as you swung around you at least weren't going to gouge yourself on a ninety-degree spike.
The look of the kitchen dated back to seventies suburbia with the arched cabinetry panels, the under-scaled moldings and casings, the mismatched appliances, and the linoleum floor all pointing toward a very needed facelift.
We transformed the island from the bulky octagon into a more functional L-shape and then we moved the refrigerator to the sink wall so all the cooking, prep and cleanup could take place on one side of the island.
To increase prep space for when there was more than one cook in the kitchen we added a pullout workspace on the opposite side of the island.
We added a pull out storage shelf for their very heavy Kitchenaid mixer. This way they didn't have to tote that heavy piece of cooking equipment out from underneath a cabinet and struggle to try and get it up on a counter.
One design element the client requested from our very first input session was a more simplified and contemporary door and drawer profile. We decided on a rail and stile profile that fit their prairie connection and gave the kitchen the contemporary upgrade they wanted. We also chose a light finish on both the cabinets and wood floor to brighten up the space Then added a tumbled travertine backsplash with a glass tile border.
One of elements I had to fight for was the window treatment. The original kitchen had metal vertical blinds over the sliding glass door leading to the deck. I wanted to add drapery to soften the area. They were concerned with that much fabric in the kitchen area thinking it would get grease stained and dirty even though the sliding door was located by the breakfast/dining area and nowhere near the cooking area. We went back and forth over this. I finally won out and once installed they came around.
The breakfast area had been their informal dining area with a colonial table and chairs. It was separated from the open plan family area by a railing and a faux soffit that ran across the ceiling.
We convinced them to move the dividing line between the family room and breakfast area a bit further into the family room giving the breakfast area a little more space. We then changed out the puny railing with a cabinet unit that helped better define the area and also added more storage for both the adjoining areas. We added a built-in bench and a custom table that could seat six when needed but still work well when it was only the two of them sitting down for dinner.
Another big concern of the clients was the entry from the garage into the kitchen. In Wisconsin you have to deal with a mix of snowy, muddy or wet weather a good deal of the time. They wanted a mudroom. They also wanted to open up the entry that had seemed tight and uninviting.
We were able to knock out the existing closet and convert it into a nook with a bench, drawers for shoe storage and hooks for winter coats and hats. We did all of this without having to carve into the laundry room on the opposite side. This gave the allusion of a much broader space.
The sink area gave us one of our biggest problems. We wanted a larger window so we could get more light into the kitchen but there were some mechanical issues on the outside we had to work around.
We finally figured out a way to accomplish this, the window went in and we add a pair of sconces.
Lighting is always an issue in any interior design. We used a zone system of recessed task lighting all on dimmers along with decorative fixtures, stained glass lightboxes and undercounter lighting. All this added to the bright airy feeling of the kitchen.
We went over budget but not by an excessive amount and as is frequently the case we took longer than expected. I always tell a client that doing a renovation is much like birthing a child. When you are going through the process the agony can seem unbearable but once the job is done the pain is forgotten and the result is, in this case, a beautiful kitchen.

Lunchroom-Buddies, NYC, 1931
Walker Evans, photographer
Represented by The Halsted Gallery, Bloomfield Hills, MI