Thursday, May 29, 2014


Every year the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club organizes a charity show house where invited designers are each assigned a space in a vacant townhouse or mansion. There task is to renovate, redesign and/or remodel with results that are meant to wow the public at large and the jaded publishing industry specifically. Some succeed and some well, fall short.
This year the show house is located in the Villard Houses, a Stanford White historic landmark built in 1884 located on Madison Avenue directly behind St. Patrick's Cathedral.
I have one pet peeve to voice before I start my tour of the show house. Doing a post on the show house has always had one major deterrent. Tacked up on every wall is the ubiquitous graphic of a camera with the red circle and slashing line designating no photography. I hate having to go around like a snooping Inspector Clouseau stashing my iphone in my pocket and then having to fumble around with it as I break the rules and snap illegal images. Having been chosen to design a room in the past it was never made clear why the no photography rule. I know we were flattered to have anyone interested enough in our space to want to take a picture. I've asked subsequent participants and the only things we could come up with were thieves scouting out what they wanted to steal and publishers not wanting to use images that someone else might publish without their knowledge or permission. With the advent of the iphone and the blogging culture it's hard to prevent us sneaky paparazzi from snapping a few glamour shots of rooms we've fallen in love with. My approach is to find the rooms where the designer is present and then ask for permission. I've never been turned down. We designers and show house participants are mostly publicity sluts and will allow any picture taking anyone wants to do. When the designer isn't there I either wait until the room's docent has walked out or I badger the poor docent into begrudgingly giving me permission to sneak a few quick snaps. In the cases where I can't shake the docent or I get caught and am embarrassingly asked to put my camera away my easy alternative is to go to the internet and grab a photo from there. Where there's a will there's a way.
Here are some of my favorite spaces for 2014. Most of the photos are mine. If I had to steal a shot or two I thank the internet for filling in the gaps.
It's always nice when you are able to walk in to one of the rooms and meet the designer. Although the designers are required to be present for special events they are not required to be present during the rest of the running of the show. Volunteers then substitute for the designer and keep a watchful eye over the space mostly to insure nothing is stolen. Most all of the rooms are filled with priceless objects and on few occasions things have managed to walk out the door. Since I visited the show house during a regular Friday afternoon there was no requirement for any of the designers to be present but several were there. Gideon Mendelson was one of the designers standing in his room ready to answer questions about his Lady's Lair.
His imaginary client was a powerful woman. His room was to represent her home office, a combination of feminine touches accompanied by very strong almost corporate design strokes. The shell of the space has walls clad in teal suede framed in blonde wood moldings and burlap trim. The contrasts in that statement are almost infinite but this was Gideon's intent.
The room sways between masculine and feminine, a very German vintage desk and rose colored upholstered chairs define the dichotomy with neither one winning out. The space is both structured and elegant at the same time, the angular regimented lines of the ceiling pattern and floor to ceiling drapery panels softened by the rolling curves of the club chairs and the metal swirls on the mantle mirror.
For wow factor one need only walk into the room designed by Ingrao Inc., a combination of the vision of Tony Ingroa and his design director, Randy Kemper. The color palette may be subtle but it seems the only logical choice given the incredible art that the space supports.
On one end of the fine art spectrum are the antiquarian busts, garden urns and classical carved furnishes.
This is then blended with a contemporary sofa that snakes through the room, beautiful abstract paintings and an enormous fireplace screen that stretches its silver banding from floor to ceiling.
I helped out the docent in this room rescue a little sculpture that a noisy New Jersey couple had unknowingly toppled over after they were asked not to sit on the furniture. I caught it in midair before it hit the ground after the wife had swiped it with her enormous Coach bag. As my reward the docent let me take some discreet pictures as she graciously turned her back to my illicit act.
Vincent Wolf has long been known for his lacquered walls. In his room, Orange is the New Black, the use of highly polished surfaces is once again present. Orange is a color you either love or hate. There doesn't seem to be much in between with what people feel about this color. I happen to love it, although that wasn't always the case. It was Rick who pulled me over to the wild side with his love for the color.
Vincent always has an eye for the exotic. He travels the world and plants his gorgeous finds in the homes he designs. His inspiration for this room was a pair of mid-century arm chairs he found in Paris that now sit beside the freestanding fireplace. Here's a designer with a life most of the rest of us envy. Who wouldn't want to travel the world buying up all its beautiful design treasures.
Stepping into William Georgis' space was as eerie as walking into The Closet of Dr. Caligari. It was a curiosity shop on steroids. Zebras appearing to by morphing through walls,
skeletal sculptures missing limbs and heads,
paintings and table bases that seemed to drip blood all added to the spooky splendor of the space.
Who knew that law school could be the ticket to a successful design career? Darryl Carter took his law degree and decorated his home with it turning his love for the law into a new profession creating extraordinary interiors, writing design books and developing furniture. Several of his own designs, the sofa and daybed, are part of the assembled elements in his Collected Home. His room was one of the most sophisticated and livable of all the rooms in the show house.
What I appreciated was his way of adding a bit of whimsy to his design. The portraits of the couple with white brush strokes smeared over their mouths as if they've been censored or were being halted from breaking out in a severe case of the giggles gave the room the ability to not take itself too seriously. A room that can make me smile is a room I want to spend some time in.
Mark Hampton's daughter's Sitting Room Folley looks to Morocco for inspiration. It layers pattern on pattern both texturally and conceptually. Fine antiques are scattered around the room,
the walls are covered in a custom wallpaper based on a Moroccan tile and then the designers took a trip down Broadway where they purchased  a group of two-dollar paper lanterns for the central lighting fixture.
The lanterns unfortunately overpower the rest of room in the way Chelsea Handler would at a Tea Party Convention and that's not a good way. It took focus away from the real creative drama of the ethnic inspired design,
I ended up spending a lot of time with Edward Lobrano in his Calming Oasis. The room is dominated and inspired by the Moraga Bed by Gregorius Pineo. It was a perfect piece to build a room around. The muted tones of the room are as soothing as an Asian meditation spa. You can hear the rain and feel the fog that makes you want to wrap up in the room's bedding and never leave that bed. We discussed the room and what it took to transform it. The effort both logistically and financially is mindboggling. The time frame for constructing your vision is reduced to a few weeks at best and even with pulling in favor after favor the cost of doing a room is in the tens of thousands or more. You hope for a few clients but this isn't always the case. Edward was celebrating his thirteenth show house. He was still waiting for a show that would produce a client. The rewards for participating are in knowing you've done something charitable and any publicity you get is sheer gravy.

Lee Plaza, Detroit, 2008
Andrew Moore, photographer
Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery, NYC

Thursday, May 22, 2014

ICFF 2014

We'd almost signed up for another shot at ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) this year. We'd developed some new products in the Mendota Collection for Black Wolf Design. We're in development for an additional line for Black Wolf and we are considering officially pulling the Shaver/Melahn line out of mothballs and reintroducing some of the past successes, but financing the show is a big issue and without the money we decided it was best to wait. Additionally, once you've done the show you've only completed the first part of the commitment. The second and maybe even more important part is the necessary follow up. Without a PR person in place to investigate leads, work with potential showroom salespeople, hit the party circuit and schmooze the publishing industry it can be a waste of time and money and a hard lesson to learn. We decided to wait until next year and then evaluate whether to do ICFF or the Architectural Digest Show. This year I became merely a spectator at ICFF.
Here's what I saw that either impressed me or set what I thought was a trend. There was a lot of good,  bad and the ugly in both categories. I'm going to start with trends and just get the ugly out of the way right from the start. I'm not going to name names here but the biggest trend I saw was imitation and not in a good way. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery but at a show like ICFF I think the goal should be to show new ideas and things nobody else has thought of before or bothered to transform from paper to product. A good idea is a good idea but there were too many ideas that were rip-offs of someone else's successful idea with the most minimum of alterations. If you're going to go that route at least call your creation an homage to its original designer or inspired by the person who first designed the piece rather than putting it out there and calling it your own. Okay, the ugly's now out of the way.
The trend of the live edge seems to be running its course. There were some people still showing this trend and none more successfully than Tucker Robbins. His work is always beautiful and very ethnically inspired.
There's no denying the beauty of these exotic species of woods and the beautiful grain patterns. His finishes are all simply transparent allowing the woods to do all his talking.
As opposed to the mastery of Tucker Robbins and his exotic species there were more designers showing native American woods with polished finishes. The people from Skram exhibited some amazing polished and bleached woods where the grain of the material was so intrinsic to its beauty it was as if an artist had painted it.
The sheer material was as worthy as Tucker Robbins' slabs of being hung on a wall.
This is not the first time I've seen Palo Samko's work and not the first time I've written about it but each time I see his vision I'm impressed with what he produces. There is elegant simplicity in everything he shows,
I loved this little table by Newell. Again, the beauty of the wood allowing the grain to make a statement was a delight to see. The turned base with the silver support gives the piece the right amount of contrast. There's great whimsy in this design yet it isn't cartoonish.

A newcomer to the show was Brooklyn designer, Jerry Nance. He only had three pieces but each piece was meticulously crafted combining woods and metal.
All his hardware is hand forged. It's this attention to detail that is the sign of a true craftsman. I hope this is a designer we'll be seeing more of.
What I liked were the textiles. I shouldn't be promotimg this at a fair that bills itself as a furniture fair but there were some exquisite pieces that really caught my eye. I know my first little tirade about the abundance of mimicry might make you think about my first true like at the show but these rugs by Nanimarquina were really well designed and certainly an homage to the graphic work of the 1920's adding a twist by plugging those graphics into the twenty-first century art of circuitry design. They chose to hang them on the wall that, in my opinion, is exactly where they should be hung. Their booth was at the front of the hall so it was one of the first things you saw as you entered the exhibit. Not bad placement, it set a high level of expectation for what I hoped to see in aisles that spider webbed out from this nucleus.
Jan Kath has also shown at the show several times before and each time their rugs amaze and are true art for the floor. Again they take from the past but they move the yardstick further along the design continuum. They reference past design and rug history but then scramble up your perception of it and come out the other end with something totally new. Design like this doesn't come cheap but the for the right client these rugs are true heirlooms.
The industrial look is all over the retail floors due in great part to Restoration Hardware. I'm not sure how much longer it can last. I don't know if it will receive classic stature but there's a part of me that still can't resist its magnetic pull. The concrete wall designs of Tom Haga for Resource Furniture was another wall covering that drew my attention. Each order is a custom printed matching the design to the exact measurements of the wall you want to paper.
One of the most impressive booths at the show was put up by a company called Amuneal. Their focus was on a modular paneling system of metal and glass. It may have been more contract than residential but I could see it having cross-platform uses. The industrial references here were very strong and as far as a booth at the show goes this one was impressive
Another textile I was enamored with was the work of Parisian designer, Sophie Mallebranche. Her woven metals had the lightness of intricate lace work. The shimmer of the material and the way it played with light made me think of light on a summer pond or the reflection of a twilight moon on a patch of winter ice.
Hiroko Takeda creates art out of fiber making wall coverings, textiles and true art. Initially you think her work is trompe l'oeil but on up close inspection you see her pieces are really three-dimensional weaving. Then you assume the three-dimensionality has to be done with a very stiff fiber until you touch her work and feel its sensual silkiness.
The Asian influence is definitely there in her work where simplicity reigns.

I don't want to think that inventiveness and ingenuity is the sole proprietary right of youth. I feel I've still got a few viable tricks in me but one of the biggest crowd pleasers of the show came from the student section in Wilsonart's student chair competition. I'm not sure if this chair's creator took inspiration from the Soviet's Sputnik program, but the similarity is uncanny. I'm pretty sure he wasn't even born when those things splashed back into the ocean.
I kept thinking how great this would be if you had a rambunctious four-year old; load him in, close the door and throw in a video game - instant babysitter.
The last plug goes to Moooi. I got to use these Raimond fixtures in two projects last year. The structure is supposedly based on some mathematical formula I am sure is way over my head but the LED spectacle of little glowing lights can light a room in the same way the stars in an evening sky in Montana can. I love these fixtures.

Every year there's an opening night cocktail party held in the courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art.
It's not required. Rick was back in Wisconsin so I had to go alone. I didn't know anyone.  I had a ginger ale with a slice of lime. I didn't stay long, but the setting was still pretty cool.

Mark Morris, Cumberland Island, GA, 1990
Annie Leibovitz, photographer
Represented by Fahey/Klein Gallery, LA
Photo inspiration: The Dream (1910) by Henri Rousseau
Painting hanging at MOMA

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I've lost count of tour numbers on our Madison suburban cottage redo so I'm going to stop counting and plunge ahead. Entries, stairs and halls can be real design stepchildren unless your home has the kind of square footage where these spaces take on the proportions of Donald Trump's gold gilded penthouse. Most homes don't have that luxury of space and our tiny cottage is no exception. In fact we only have one of each; one stubby little entry, a stairs leading to the basement floor and a bedroom hallway barely wide enough to meet industry standards.
Lets start with the entry. Back in the sixties when the house was built multi-colored slate floors were the rage. This wasn't too bad. The material was real, not synthetic but the color was a flooring equivalent to mid-century kitchens done in harvest gold or avocado. Our first attempt at conversion was to paint the floor a consistent black. It looked okay but the process was multi-leveled and without an infinite number of sealing coats it lost its luster and began to wear through in high traffic areas which meant pretty much everywhere since it isn't all that big.
It wasn't long after this version that the floor gave way to a Shaver whim of having it all replaced with tile that looked surprisingly like slate, talk about coming full circle.
We added some new electrical replacing the Tiffany-esk fixture that had graced the entry for decades and added a more cottage appropriate fixture to the other end of the entry by the hall closet. With that additional light it was no longer necessary to fish out a flashlight in order to discern which coat you were dragging out of the dark cave of a hall closet.
The American Empire halltree was a Christmas gift I had given Rick many years ago. One of the arms has cracked and been repaired but all the pegs are still intact along with their porcelain tips. Rick has a design tenant specifying arrangements like flowers and vases need always be displayed with odd numbered components. Our umbrellas are no exception. We couldn't purchase just one, instead we have five.
One of my pet peeves with new construction is the use of those phony stained glass doors. Why someone would go to the trouble of building a McMansion and then adorning the primary point of entry with these cheap looking imitations is beyond me.
We were blessed with my brother's design talent and construction knowhow when he replaced the original imitation wood doors on my parent's house with these beautifully crafted solid oak doors with real two-layer prairie inspired stained glass double doors. Thank you Steve (608 274-2942)
Once inside, two steps get you to the stairs leading to the lower level now known as Emmy's space. My parents originally had a wrought iron railing installed on either side of the open pit of the stairwell. During construction of the house it was a daily late afternoon ritual that all of us would travel to the house to see how far the contractor had gotten during that day. It was my mother's dictum that we were all required to help clean up when we got there. The workmen had to be impressed every day they returned to find that all the studs had been wiped down, the floors swept and any remaining trash bagged and disposed of. All of this cleanliness had its consequences. One late summer day after the plywood floors had been laid down on the main floor but before the stairs had been installed the workman had placed a couple of sheets of plywood over the stairwell to prevent anyone from falling through. My mom in her Mr. Clean impersonation was wielding her broom in an attempt to swipe up every last wood curl when she discovered a couple of curls wedged between the floor and the board covering the stairwell. She went to lift the board to extract the little curl and ended up going straight through the well and onto the basement floor shattering her leg in several places. Her ankle is now fused in a permanent arthritic right angle but true to form once they had released her from the hospital she was back swiping away her leg in a cast, a crutch under one arm and her broom in the other.
We've, in a bid for drama, we painted the rails and stair treads in a blistering deep blue.
Then we carpeted those stairs using oversized nailheads as a securing signature detail.
The hallway at the other end of the entry is my folly. I'm an admitted photography junkie. If I had my way I'd cover every wall with photos and be quite content. I knew this wasn't going to happen so in the spirit of compromise I let Rick have his way with the entry floors. He gave me the walls of the hall as my photography gallery.
We did a painting technique on the walls using our base gray color from the living room and then layering on a silver metallic and an opalescent glaze.
The photo rails are from West Elm so every so often I can switch out the display.
It inspires me every day as I walk to the back office and it makes me very happy. Isn't that what art should do?

Before we lose spring entirely I had to add a couple of pictures of one of our little pleasures,
 flowers purchased at the farmer's market that grace our table
and hint at spring fever just beyond the wooden blind back door.

Day-0897-149-11, Stairs
Rodney Smith, photographer
Images may be purchased through