Friday, May 27, 2016


On a map Cedarburg sits not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, a lush region stitched in around Cedar Creek. It's about twenty minutes north of Milwaukee. It was first settled back in 1842. Twenty years after its first settler, Ludwig Groth had put down roots several more German and Irish immigrants joined forces to harness the powerful creek and build mills taking advantage of the creek's rushing waters to power their mills . Wittenberg Mill was one of the largest and the only woolen mill west of Philadelphia producing worsted wool used by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Their mills were built entirely by hand from stones pulled from the creek and timber felled from the surrounding bogs. As manufacturing became more automated and powered by electricity the mill life of Cedarburg evaporated leaving behind an industrial architectural history of gorgeous sandstone buildings. The Wittenberg Mill remained boarded up until the early nineteen-seventies. Saved from the wrecking ball, the mill and its surrounding buildings have been resurrected with only a name change. It is now known as The Cedar Creek Settlement and has become the anchor for one of America's most attractive small towns.
We started our day trip to Cedarburg with a weekend brunch at the Anvil Pub & Grille, a very popular spot with a bar food menu. We got lucky being a small party of two. Several larger groups were ahead of us on the queue for tables but were told their wait was going to be at least thirty minutes.  As they all decided they'd try other restaurants with a shorter wait we moved up until we were first in line.
There was one table for two by the bar that was ready and waiting for us so we grabbed it and turned a thirty-minute wait into a "right this way".
The view of the creek and the dam that powered the old mills was right outside the window next to our table as we leisurely drank their local root beer and ate our burgers and fries.
Adjacent to the Pub and located in the mill is its major vendor the award winning Cedar Creek Winery.  Since neither of us drink we can only report on the quality of the wine from what we've been able to read.  This has become a bit of a negative every time I try to write about a destination since most people want to know about an area's alcohol.  Sorry, you're going to have to try for yourselves on that score.
Inside the mill there's a collection of over twenty-five specialty shops.
I'll skip the touristy ones but the antiques and vintage shops were well worth taking some time to amble through.
One shop, in particular, had an amazing offering of vintage fabrics and clothing.
It was one time we were happy not to have our daughter with us. It was a store right up her alley.
Another part of the settlement housed a smaller collection of vendors but worth nosing into. One we liked was the Olive Sprig specializing in what else: olive oils.
From the Settlement you need to walk south on Washington Avenue, a walk that takes you past more storefronts selling things you really don't need and can't figure out what to do with once you get them home,
but the architecture is worth the journey.
One store that did stand out as well worth a trip inside was Frill, a home store set back into what was a former service station. It's small but well stocked with merchandise you can find a use for once you get it home.
Another treat with a home theme was Birchwood Wells. We were sold even before we walked in the door. If the water tank out front had been for sale we'd have tied it to the roof of the car and taken it home with us.
Inside was a collection of vintage finds, industrial inspired accessories and lighting along with transitional furniture.
They don't offer design services, the owner prefers to sit behind the counter chatting with customers and discovering new local talent. She said she just doesn't have the time or the energy to go off site. We were more than happy to drop a few of our business cards.
There were two additional architectural gems that were must-sees in the historic downtown. The popularity of the Chinoiserie movement flared up in the twenties with some success.
One aspect was a series of pagoda inspired gas stations. Cedarburg was lucky enough to have one that has survived and now for the past twenty years has housed Pagoda Fine Jewelry.
The other significant structure is the Rivoli Theater. The amazing thing is that the black Carrara glass or Vitrolite fa├žade and the amazing marquee are not original nor recreations of the original but a new rendition taking elements from its past and then doing it one better. The building is now owned by Cedarburg's Landmark Preservation Society but still shows first run fare where you buy your ticket from a sidewalk ticket booth complete with an elderly lady with tons of attitude.
If you've never been to Cedarburg get in the car and drive out to this old mill town, buy some popcorn from the old-fashioned street vendor,
walk across one of the unique bridges crossing Cedar Creek,
or stroll the historic downtown soaking up the charm of a true American gem.

Mill Children, Macon, Georgia, 1909
Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Sunday, May 22, 2016


The doors at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on the far west side of Manhattan closed earlier this week on the 2016 version of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. The fair shared two partial floors at the convention center with two other shows: Surtex and the Stationary Show. May is design month in New York City and beyond ICFF there are now events stretching from the Javits through Soho and all the way into Brooklyn, all this under the new umbrella of NYxDESIGN. I tried to squeeze in as many events as I could. I covered every aisle of ICFF, both floors and I did it more than once.
I hit a couple of evening events in Soho on the showroom crawl happening the last Saturday of the two week long event.
I also hit Wanted Design, an extension of ICFF down 11th Avenue in the Terminal Building, site of the old Tunnel club. There were many of the old standards, companies and artists that have exhibited year after year.
At ICFF our friend, Daniel Levy, was in his usual space once again showing some of the most beautiful tabletop available. It's pricey but exquisite and absolutely necessary for me to recognize his artistry.
What I want to look at this year are some of the new things I saw mostly by first time exhibitors, our exhibitors whose work I just hadn't noticed in years before.
Bernhardt is a perennial exhibitor taking on a huge space at the Javits and then sparsely furnishing it. This year they did the same thing at the Javits but they added an additional presence at Wanted Design. It was all to their advantage as they were cited with the best seating award for their Mellow sofa by Oceane Delain for Bernhardt.
Lighting as always was an important component of the show. AXO Light was another perennial that I hadn't taken the time in past shows to really look at but this year I felt they were a real standout with their ring lighting.
On the immense and gutsy side of the spectrum there was Stickbulb. They hung only one fixture in their booth but it was nine feet tall and offered only in a limited addition to of twenty-five.
Another award winner was Tala, a light bulb company, winning the award for the design providing the most social good. Developed by a quartet of former students from the University of Edinburgh, Tala's name is derived from an African concept meaning "conservation through beauty".  Their LED lighting provides an alternative to the corkscrew harsh lighting that started the movement filling the shelves of box stores throughout the U.S. The beautiful warm amber glow of their light bulbs is in stark contrast to the cold blue light of its predecessors.
If you're looking for a retro look in shades to cover that lighting, Moon Shine Lamp and Shade is a company you should look at. Made from fiberglass resin parchment in Texas the shades come in dozens of styles, colors and patterns and they'll do just about any customized request you can make. The shades can be used as pendants, on table and floor lamps or as sconces. There's a huge selection of edge stitching to choose from and patterns as well. I can do without most of the literal images you can apply to their shades but the vintage graphics are worth thinking about if you really want to go full retro.
Textiles are always an important part of the show and there were many that didn't disappoint. I can't verify if Samad rugs has been to the show in previous years but their silk and wool rugs were lush and exquisitely crafted. Each rug is handcrafted so no two pieces are going to be exactly alike. Purchase one of these carpets and you have an heirloom to hand down for generations.
Another favorite I found at Wanted Design was Kirkit Istanbul. The hand-dyed fibers are gorgeous and the way colors are woven in a single piece tells a story of an ancient cultural skill this venture is trying to protect and pass on to a new generations.
The show always has exhibitors that try for your attention by just being outrageous. To this effect there were companies that hit you with raw color like Polart whose highly polished polymer furniture smacked of primary reds, blues and yellows.
Or people like Tom Dixon whose copper ball chandeliers looked as if they were about to burst raining down a storm of Lincoln pennies.
Others went for the absurdly titillating giving Bambi a rack on top as well as below.
Then there was a tile company that decided to introduce its new painterly porcelain by displaying it in the form of urinals with accompanying ducky toilet brush holders.
The totally outrageous went to this grand piano with Tim Burtonesque legs and a polished orange interior.
Not to be outdone Christopher Guy channeled his cartoonville aesthetic with wooden chairs looking like people ready to give you a lap dance and upholstered seating ready for the likes of Jessica Rabbit in "Who framed Roger Rabbit"
One of my absolute favorite finds at the show was Jallu Ebenitstes from France. I really felt their work was genius.
To start with was the uniqueness of their materials. In furniture they showed a media cabinet out of exotic wood, brass and gypsum. The three-dimensional cabinet doors took an unlikely material and gave it the patina of precious stone.
Then there were their wall coverings. I looked and then did a double take on this radiating pattern they had on display. It shimmered like expensive gold but its mystery was far from the expensive end of the spectrum. Its source was very pedestrian embedded in the American anthem of "amber waves of grain". On close inspection and with a tutorial from Jallu it was explained that the wall was made from straw. Individual shafts of straw are adhered reed-by-reed taking months to create these amazing pieces of art.
I was so impressed I had to go to their website to see more of what they had done. This geometric headboard made of brass and straw was to die for.
I had heard Italy was having financial difficulties but by the looks of the Antolini booth specializing in stone money was no object. This exhibit exuded luxury for the very elite. It was a marble and brass wet dream that was hard to ignore.
For a more cabin in the mountains look Slik was offering a new line of freestanding cast iron bathtubs clad in stainless steel with a mirror, copper, brass or matte black finish.
Flooring was another important element of the fair and again from across the pond in the Netherlands came a designer supplier with an eco-friendly philosophy
and a laminated product combining various woods to produce amazing patterns.
But my award for best of show goes to Spain and an unassuming woman, Ana Arana, who came up with this kitchen in an island. Every aspect of cooking, storing and preparing food was squeezed into a single unit that was not only functional but beautiful as well.
For anyone pursuing the tiny home culture, the Gali kitchen unit is something to consider.
As in years before the show has traveled a rollercoaster of growth and decline, focusing strictly on furniture and then broadening its circle of inclusion, show quality and mediocrity. This year's variety of exhibitions reflected all of the above which means it was worth the efforts.

Elsie de Wolfe in her Paris Apartment wearing a Schiaparelli
Cecil Beaton, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallerys