Thursday, May 28, 2015


We are now closing in on finishing our list of all the Little Wisco restaurants and this time it wasn't only the food and ambiance but one invited guest and a surprise encounter that made lunch totally memorable. I'll get to the food and ambiance later but first to the surprises. We have been having a real streak of both planned and unexpected encounters with our past during this last week in New York City. It was design week and the design intercessors were out in full force making novenas and sending out karmic messages to a host of lost friends. We slid into old friendships the way you'd pull on a favorite well-worn sweater, with total comfort and ease.
Elana Frankel was one of the first in the publishing industry to champion our furniture and design work. With all the social media out there we cast out our line and hauled her in. We're realizing Facebook does have certain potential. We first met Elana when she was in her twenties and today she still looks like she's in her twenties. This was no surprise. She hadn't gained a single wrinkle or lost a bubble of her effervescent personality during our hiatus. She is currently the senior director of photography and style at One Kings Lane and rules over a company that has grown to over five hundred employees. Adding to this managerial feat is an additional list of accomplishments and credentials that include raising two boys under the age of ten, dealing with a husband too gorgeous to live, making a home fashioned out of an old Methodist church and collecting eggs from a henhouse full of chickens. I may be too tired to go on.
We coaxed her out of her work routine and into meeting us for lunch at Bar Sardine, the fourth jewel in our Little Wisco necklace. The Bar along with several of its sister restaurants sits in the Village on the picturesque corner of West Tenth and West Fourth Streets. It was a warm Friday after a not so warm Thursday. A counter runs along the outside walls of the restaurant with huge windows looking on to the street. The bar management had unlatched the windows allowing the big glass panes to swing completely open and a light spring breeze to blow in the perfect day. The three of us fell into one of those patterns reserved for friendships that are not run by the clock. We took the first ten minutes to catch up on old times and friends we were convinced had aged way more than we had and then spent the ensuing two hours gabbing and gasping about everything new between grabbed bites of what was a pretty spectacular meal.
The waitress, a beautiful brunette with the right amount of Euro sophistication sans any pretensions, had to come several times to take our drink order before we were able to focus on anything more than each other's company. We finally put the decision in her hands and had her concoct something fizzy and refreshing that would taste like spring. She succeeded to the point we all had more than one, a blend of pineapple juice, ginger beer and finished with a squeeze of lime.
After we settled down to the point where we could look at the menu we decided the best course of action was to share several different dishes, our own little Wisco tasting. We were all hoping for sardines but they hadn't made it to the menu. There's a restaurant in Madison that goes by a similar name although they dropped the "Bar" from their name and simple settled on Sardine. Emmy, Rick and I had gone there the week before for Rick's birthday and the same fate befell us. They had been known for their fried sardines but we couldn't find it on the menu. Apparently there's a shortage of sardines due to a collapse of the sardine population off the U.S. west coast. All sardine fishing for the 2015 season has been suspended. So no sardines at either place.
Instead we went for a variety of snacks and small plates. We were not disappointed. The first thing our Irish waitress brought to the table was a plate of octopus hushpuppies served with a mustard cream dipping sauce and a wedge of lemon. The only problem with this was there were three of us and they brought four balls of deep fried ecstasy. They're impossible to cut apart. Rick and I showed our chivalry and let the lady have the extra puppy.
Next on our tasting journey was a salad of mushrooms, spicy greens, and pecorino topped with a slow-cooked egg. The waitress brought it to our counter at the perfect time while the egg was still warm. When you broke the yoke it very slowly oozed out perfectly coating the mushrooms and greens adding just the right amount of warmth to the spring inspired salad.
At about this time a bearded man wearing a rackish hat stopped by making sure we were enjoying our meal. He introduced himself as Gabriel. He was the surprise.  Gabriel Stulman is the owner and creator of all the Little Wisco restaurants. This led to the discussion of our quest to hit them all and how we have loved every one so far. When we hit our first three Wisco restaurants we were met with the same refrain, "You just missed Gabriel, he was here five minutes ago". This time we caught him.
Our last plate was a local burrata served with a walnut pesto and sorrel on grilled bread points. Burrata is a tough cheese to get just right. If it's not brought out young enough it can have a skin that is too thick. This burrata was perfect.
Elana and I had no pride or qualms about ordering a dessert. We both went right for it while the svelte Mr. Rick held back. I can't pass up a sweet and apparently neither can Elana. We wouldn't even share. We each got our chocolate pot-de-crème topped with whipped cream and an aerated caramel sponge candy that tasted like toasted marshmallow. A little secret; it's not on the menu you have to ask.
We all had meetings to go to or I think we might have stayed right through dinner. The corner seats at the counter looking out onto West Tenth Street, the perfect food and drink, and most importantly reconnecting with Elana were difficult to part with, but this parting was clearly only temporary on all accounts.

It's as if we have a divining rod when it comes to real estate. We can't attribute our luck in home location to any kind of planned research. We just seem to have a nose for were to plant our roots and water our family's time on this planet. AARP has a newsletter. We received our first copy this month. Why after years of eligibility they should finally find us out I'm not sure. The lead story was, "Where to Live @50+". It peaked my curiosity. I'm always interested in these best of best articles.
I turned to the page with the heading, "Best Livable Places at 50+". They'd broken it down into sections: large cities, medium cities, small cities and neighborhoods. I started at the top and worked my way down. It was great to see Milwaukee with a number four ranking in large cities. They were all done in top tens.
It was even better when I saw Madison as number one in medium cities, 100,000 to 500,000 populations. I started to think it was a regional pot they were pulling from but then I saw places in New Mexico and California. Wisconsin started looking pretty good. I decided either they hadn't know about Scott Walker or politics weren't a part of the equation.
Small towns started off with La Crosse but then Fitchburg was second and Sun Prairie was fourth, these two Madison suburbs made the list and caused me a WTF reaction.
But it was the last category; Best Neighborhood that made me wet my pants. The number one neighborhood: Mifflin West in Madison, Wisconsin and number two: The Upper West Side in Manhattan. Where do we live: close enough to Mifflin (it is where we had our store) to claim it as our own and where is our little one-bedroom: on the Upper West Side of Manhattan of course. We didn't write this article. We don't have a working relationship with the AARP editorial staff. We're just that lucky.

Copper Shark in the Red Eye Bait Ball
Alexander Safonov, photographer

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ICFF 2015

While trying to re-launch our Shaver/Melahn Classics line and then introduce two new benchmade lines along with an e-commerce cottage based line the relevance of ICFF and the importance of taking a look at the market are an annual essential pilgrimage. We put on our track shoes and set off to scope out the miles of aisles of new releases from the major players, the international crowd and the smattering of young and talented hopefuls.
This is no surprise to anyone who has followed us for the last several years of our ICFF tours: Dan Levy and his tabletop and accessories. Dan is a friend but we won't let that color our gushing review of his work. This is the high, and I mean high, end of the tabletop market. If you don't own your own Lear Jet or if your yacht is less than one hundred feet Dan's work is probably not going to fit into your dining room budget. It's definitely not for the Melmac crowd. It's an unfortunate fact but that doesn't stop gawkers and coveters from standing in awe of his booth and his work. It's quality porcelain trimmed in platinum and gold.
His newest entry is in the tile market. Dan is developing a line of tile that just blew us away. I'd be willing to trade  a complete Sub-Zero/Wolf set of kitchen appliances for one line of trim in my powder room.
A real highlight this year centered around wall coverings. There were wallpapers, wall tiles, and new uses for concrete and wood that I couldn't help but drool over. One of our favorite wallpaper vendors was MissPrint. Their bold patterns and rich color treatments were a real breath of fresh air. They offered a wide range of styles but their mid-century inspired designs were whimsical and sophisticated at the same time.
I've referenced Sophie Mallebranche's work before and yet each year there is something so fascinating about the metal work she brings to the show I can't help but reference it again.
Her shimmering mesh is soft enough to be used as drapery that both reflects and defuses light and explodes like sparks from a star filled sky when hit by artificial light. It can also be used as an applied surface or as stationary screens that can turn walls into lightboxes when lit from behind.
B+N has paired up with the artist, Rex Ray, to create these extraordinary infused veneer wall panels. The patterns and color palettes are amazing. They might be a hard sell for residential applications but boy would I love to find a client who was willing to take a chance on a space with these walls. I think you can work with them for custom work. I've no idea of the cost. Oouch!
Concrete both real and faux was another wall treatment that stood out in our marathon tour of ICFF. Several vendors were offering lightweight panels molded out of concrete. The versatility of the material makes three dimensionally formed patterns a possibility that hadn't been explored so thoroughly before. There were so many attendees that were in disbelief about the material, the vendor felt compelled to add a sign of authenticity.
The same could be said of wood paneling that was shown rippled, waved and woven into astounding geometrics
Then on the faux side composites were made to duplicate concrete useable either in interiors or on exteriors. Interlam has just begun manufacturing these panels that can be shipped in ten-foot lengths and at approximately six dollars a square foot...that ain't bad.
I also fell in love with these ceramic panels made to look like rusted steel. The company is called Apavisa and is sold at High Style Stone and Tile in New York City. It can go up on either your wall or down on your floor. If you want an industrial look this tile is a great place to start.
I'm not a big fan of garden walls. As maintenance free as most vendors claim it seems every installation I've seen has gone the way of deadly brown after the first six months. That said, these green walls were pretty impressive.
Another strength of the show was lighting. This wire mesh lighting fixture by Nuvo Lighting was one of my favorites. The new entries Nuvo brought to this year's show were elegant and period inspired but not derivative or copies of other people's designs.
I also found these wall sconces and pendants produced by Archilume to be an interesting take on dimmable LED lighting.
The light effect could be purchased with either a diffused or concentric throw. The simple profile was very minimal and sophisticated.
My name would be mud if I didn't mention lighting designers Paul Priven and Marcia Zia of Zia-Priven and their entry back into ICFF. We have always been impressed with their innovative approach to what lighting can be. You shouldn't make purchases based on personality but two kinder people don't exist.
The missing element at this year's show was the lack of independent bespoke furniture manufactures. The big guys and the foreign manufacturers were all there but what had been the major draw of the show, the little guys with wild ideas, wasn't there. There were a few that I saw that made the show special for me and reminded me of what the show used to be. One was mainstay, Tod Von Mertens. His work always goes a step beyond beautiful.
There were a lot of vendors showing raw edge pieces, a technique that has by now made it to the big box retailers. Tod has put a twist on this feature by using new wood species like this bleached ambrosia maple dining table.
One more small designer with an intriguing idea was FringeStudio out of California with manufacturing in Wisconsin (where else?). They've introduced a line called MIXI, a modular system that includes storage, shelving and audio components that can be configured in more ways than Lindsey Lohan has mug shots. I loved the speaker components. It was an easy way to get music into a room without having to tap into walls for hidden wires and messy components.
These people may have been around for longer than I was aware of but I thought they had come up with a great idea: custom doors for IKEA cabinets. Buy your boxes from IKEA then have Semihandmade upgrade your doors and your look. If you're looking to do things on the down low - here you go.

Suite 506, NYC, 2005
Julie Mack, photographer
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery

Thursday, May 14, 2015


There was a springtime snowstorm, featherweight white petals swirling outside. Mixed by the wind in the trough that constitutes West 89th Street was a salad of serviceberry, cockspur hawthorne, and a dash of tulip tree petals all bathed in a dressing of sunshine. It was a jumble of seasons: a faux winter, the intro of spring and the exit of the year's first season's pastel petals off New York City's blooming trees.
So much of life is about taking a path to the unexpected. You make a choice and travel a road when the possibilities of trails to take are endless. I was postponing going into Central Park to photograph its spring beauty thinking I could holdout for the wisteria in the Conservatory to bloom. It was Saturday. The park would be packed. The weather had turned from warm to hot. The purple pull of the wisteria would have to wait; the itch to join the pack was too strong. I grabbed my iphone and headed out for a sneak peek at the greens and magentas and vibrant pinks of spring.
To get to the Conservatory I have to traverse the park dipping below the reservoir and then up to 106th Street and the Conservatory's wrought iron gate. There's no way on a hot spring weekend that you can do much more than an amble in the park.
The heat, the crowds and the distractions transform your pace to a slow meander absorbed in the discovery behind every hill, underpass or curve in your path. The lucrative nature of the park on a bright Saturday afternoon brings out the caricaturists, the Spanish churros vendors and the buskers hoping to entertain and find their passed hats filled with ones and fives and tens.
The Conservatory opens up with a vista of an immense quadrangle lined with boxwood and cherry trees.
At the far end is a fountain and beyond that the wisteria colonnade that had turned green but hadn't produced its dripping bunches of grape colored blooms.
To the left and right spread more gardens each filled with the fragrance of flowering trees.
A heady weight of spring's fragrant bounty so heavy it seems capable of breaking its limbs with the abundance of its beauty
On either side of the quad are alleys ripe with pink and white blossoms bursting from the knurled limbs providing
a perfect canopy for a family absorbed in taking a portrait of their newborn..
The illusive nature of life could not have been more poignant than the wheelchair bound woman sitting in the dappled shade next to the reflecting pond. She sat facing the Burnett statue listening to the bronze boy playing songs on his lute only she could hear.
There's such a small window between when the blooms on the trees are rich with color and that moment when you can see that the vibrant pink has paled and the trees begin to look more green than pastel.
I hadn't planned on going to the park that Saturday. Sometimes intuition draws you through a door you hadn't planned on opening. By Tuesday the petal storm outside my window was like a love note cut into a million little white pieces announcing the end of that small speck in time when the blooms are perfect.

Rick needed a wooden plank brought back to Wisconsin to be repaired. That very small penny-pinching part of me thought I could some how get it onto the plane as a piece of carry-on luggage. There are certain things I'm willing to try but it didn't take me long to see the folly of attempting to board a plane with a fifty-two inch board in hand that when wrapped had the appearance of a military weapon. The board was going to have to make its way back to Wisconsin without me as its seatmate. I searched the Internet for the nearest UPS Store (a note to UPS: your site not only sucks but it's filled with misinformation). You search the UPS site by address and zip code and they then tell you the nearest stores to your entered zip. My closest site was on Broadway, or so I thought. I believe implicitly in the reliability of the Internet, never ever doubting its accuracy. I walked down 89th Street, the most direct path to my destination. Halfway down the block between Columbus and Amsterdam sits a community park I had probably passed a dozen times in all of the other three seasons but not to my recollection in spring.
The park runs through the block north to 90th Street. It's funded and maintained mostly by neighborhood volunteers. Hedges of bushes and vines will eventually obstruct the view into the park but in spring the park's drapery has been drawn back. The tree canopies and the climbing vines that will soon cover the park making it more a secret garden haven't yet unfurled their fabric.
The park for a few short weeks in spring is more exposed and like an exhibitionist sheds its robe and dances the dance of the rite of spring, a tulip spring. More than twelve thousand tulips of both traditional and exotic varieties burst with color along the narrow paths and circular courtyard of the park.
The weight of the plank I was carrying was not going to keep me from taking in the little piece of Holland on West 89th Street.  I walked through the gardens gates and drew in the Technicolor blanket laid out over the garden's beds. I walked through staggering combinations of multi-colored patches of huge headed blooms balanced on slender green stems.
There were double blooms that looked more like peonies than tulips.
Lily flowering varieties that delicately spread their petals, the tips of which looked as if they had been dipped in contrasting ink.
There were parrot varieties exhibiting their stripes,
and fringed tulips that shared their tendril appearance with sea anemones, and the multi-colored Rembrandts named after the man whose painting inspired them. The tulip isn't about its fragrance it's about its magnificent spectrum of color from pastel to vibrant.
I lost the thread of time. It seemed as if I had witnessed the complete growth of these tulips from seed to blooms while I walked around this garden. If it wasn't for the plank I was carrying around I might have forgot about my errand. I had written down the number of the UPS Store on Broadway. It was between 83rd and 84th Streets on the west side of the street. The address was for a building with multiple storefronts but none of them had a UPS sign in the window. The main entrance to the building was for low-income senior housing with dirty tile floors and a reception desk with a big clock and an attendant who spoke only broken English. I eventually found the UPS Store a block from our apartment on Columbus, but if it hadn't been for the faulty info on the Internet I would never have made it to the tulip festival. I went back later that day. It had been a little windy. When I came back most of the petals were lying on the ground. The tulip stems were now only sticks with little yellow pollen tips.
So much of life is about taking a path to the unexpected. You make a choice and travel a road when the possibilities of trails to take are endless. This one led me to a color sensation that even if I had waited a quarter of day longer would have been gone until next year. We all make choices some to unexpected delights some to tragedies. Thursday was a lucky day.

A clint had asked if I wanted to do dinner. We had finished a two-hour session at a Benjamin Moore paint store looking at paint chips for her brownstone with names like Lemon Chiffon and Hathorne Green. I wanted to join her and at the same time I didn't feel up to it. There was laundry and cleaning to do before flying back to Madison on the following day. I tossed a coin in my mind. Duty won out. I said good-bye and headed back uptown. I got off the number one train at Seventy-second hoping for some restaurant with take-out potential. I was hungry but I couldn't put my finger on what I wanted. I cut over to Amsterdam to a stretch of enticing restaurants squeezed between Seventy-eighth and Eighty-fifth streets. I kept thinking something would grab my stomach and send a message to my brain but nothing did. Not the burgers and shakes, nor the lobster rolls or chicken potpie shops had any appeal. I passed up Indian, Sushi and a half-dozen Irish pubs. By the time I reached Eighty-seventh street I knew it was going to be Dominos, no embarrassing waiting at a table for one. As I turned the corner from Eighty-eighth on to Columbus there was a man holding a puppy with another dog on a leash talking to a woman. The little dog was a real showstopper. I could only see the man from the back. As I got closer the man began to look more and more familiar. When we were younger and more concerned with what we might look like on the beach in Mykonos we went to the gym regularly and had a trainer with us at all times. Ted, our trainer, eventually became more friend than fat reducer. We lost touch but periodically one of us would come up with phantom Ted sightings. It never panned out. This one turned out to be the real thing. Low and behold Ted lives around the corner from us and has for the entire time we've lived on Eighty-ninth street.
If I had stopped at one of those restaurants on Amsterdam even to only look at a menu my timing would have been off. I would have hit the corner of 89th and Columbus at a different point in time. The man with the beautiful puppy wouldn't have been standing there talking to a woman about his little dog. It would have been an empty corner, a storefront from Domino's.
So much of life is about taking a path to the unexpected. You make a choice and travel a road when the possibilities of trails to take are endless. This one led me to a chance encounter with a lost friend. We all make choices some to unexpected delights and some to tragedies. Thursday was a very lucky day.

Roses, 1970
Irving Penn, photographer
Represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York