Friday, September 30, 2016


The New York Design Center celebrated its 90th anniversary on Wednesday evening with a gala event at Marta the new Danny Meyer restaurant located in the Martha Washington hotel. It was an invitation only event for the interior design industry.  Every major designer from across the United States was present to honor the building and more accurately James Druckman, its President and CEO. The building started out as the New York Furniture Exchange in 1926, a 16-story, 500,000 square foot building designed by Ely Jacques Kahn. It catered to  mass-market suppliers: mostly furniture and department stores. The shift to becoming a high-end outlet for designers and architects didn't happen until the 1970's. At that point the building was under the ownership of a pair of partners including Jim Druckman's father. Jim had no intention of following in his father's footsteps. He had graduated law school and began his career as a lawyer but it was relatively soon into his career as a legal practitioner that his father made him an offer he couldn't refuse and Jim began his career in the furniture and design business. By the mid-nineties Jim was raised to the position of president where he has remained.
It's been through Jim's vision and generosity that the NYDC has grown into the preeminent source for high-end furniture and design, but beyond the growth of his own business there's been the growth of so many careers nurtured by a man who deserves all the credit that comes his way. So that evening when the speeches of welcome to the dinner had ended there were hundreds of glasses raised not so much for the building's birthday but for the man who has made the design industry what it is and helped to create the fortunes of so many of us designers.
The following day was the eighth annual What's New What's Next event held at 200 Lex. The event began at two in the afternoon and ran well into the night. Many of the showrooms hosted events with speakers from the design industry coupled with most of the current prominent shelter magazines. Hickory Chair-Pearson-Henredon paired up with House Beautiful Editor-in-Chief, Sophie Donelson, and LA designer Mark Sikes. CF Modern opened up its showroom for a discussion of Living with the Things You Love with designers Daun Curry and Ryan Korban moderated by Elle D├ęcor's design editor, Mieke Ten Have. C&G Media Group moderated a panel discussion on East Coast vs. West Coast design with designers Jay Jeffers, Amy Lau, Thom Filicia and Jeffery Alan Marks. That's just to name a few of the events. In all 7,500 people roamed the sixteen floors of NYDC on that day and night.
One of the last events was held at the New Traditionalists showroom. After a day of highly serious talks the event at the New Traditionalists was a little, well a lot, less serious. There were three sets of design duos with the task of exposing their design differences moderated by Jessica Romm from Domino magazine: Lydia Marks and Lisa Frantz of Marks&Frantz, Lindsay Weiss and Noah Turkus of Weiss Turkus and then us, Rick Shaver and Lee Melahn of Pleasant Living. Our event was billed as a Design Duo Face Off that was more like a game show than a lecture. They had lined us up on six padded barstools and plied us with alcohol that had started flowing very early in the evening. Then they gave us bullhorns and told us to have at it with insults and fighting words appreciated and encouraged.
The one thing they didn't prepare us for was they'd invited Hillary and the Donald to add their two cents on design and politics. I've got to say I believe we had more fun than anyone. Thanks to the New Traditionalists, thanks to Domino magazine, thanks to the other designers and thanks to Hillary and the Donald for covering up our comedic shortcomings.
View of the Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building, 2009
Luca Campigotto, photographer
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery

Saturday, September 24, 2016


I'm not sure if this falls under the heading of simple lack of knowledge or yet another senior moment but my first memory of the Rookery had nothing to do with my architectural history lessons but instead the photography of Rodney Smith. I've always been a covetous admirer of his work; the quirkiness, the imagination and shear genius of his imagery drew me in from the first commercial photographs I spotted of his work in fashion magazines.
There was one image in particular that drew me in not so much for the fashion that he was so renowned for capturing but for the location. Location always plays a significant role in his images sometimes even overshadowing the fashions themselves. In this particular photo it was the staircase that I became obsessed with. I thought since he was a New York based photographer that somewhere hidden in one of the city's castiron buildings I'd some day stumble on this staircase. It was always at the back of my mind every time I walked into a building in Soho or midtown that I hadn't been into before that that staircase would appear.
Apparently the decades that transpired between Arch History 101 and now had erased any recollection of the Rookery from my brain trust. It was only recently after a trip to Chicago that I was doing some research for a posting on our trip that I googled Chicago architecture and there sandwiched between images of the Public Library and the Sears Tower was a picture of Rodney's staircase. I clicked on it like a sleuth who stumbles on his final clue to trace the photo to its bigger location and there it was - The Rookery, right there in Chicago. All this time I had been snooping in the wrong city. This to me was justification for another trip to Chitown if only to see this staircase up close and personal.
Then came the second revelation. I remembered a conversation I had with my University of Illinois pledge son who has become a major developer in Chicago about how he had worked on the most recent renovation of the Rookery when he was a fledgling architect with McClier Architects. Carl had played an important part on sourcing much of materials important in the restoration. It was only natural to call Carl and ask to meet him in the lobby for a private tour and history lesson.  I knew he'd be more than happy to impart.
So as not to totally embarrass myself I did a little historic research before our tour. I discovered or rediscovered that after the great fire of 1871 a major building boom took over Chicago giving the city an opportunity to come to the forefront in a new era of architecture filled with technological advancements and a new means of construction. The Rookery, designed by the firm of Burham & Root, was one of these buildings. Today, along with its National Registry status, the Rookery is considered Chicago's oldest standing high-rise.
The exterior of the building has been described as a blending of a multitude of styles from Moorish to Islamic that to some seems chaotic but to Chicagoans tells the tale of a city enveloping many cultures and welcoming all.
The interior has an exotic tale all its own where the building has gone from prized jewel to derelict eyesore and then back again. Its most significant renovation happened in 1905 when Frank Lloyd Wright was brought in to refurbish the building.
It was his chore to bring the building into the twentieth century with a more modern appearance. He immediately covered over Root's elaborate ironwork with a more refined marble envelope and adding simpler grillwork along with his signature oversized planters and hanging light fixtures making the Rookery into one of Chicago's most sought after office spaces.
In between then and the most recent renovation that Carl worked on beginning in 1992 the building suffered more episodes of neglect. It was Carl's responsibility beginning in 1992 to reconstruct much of the destroyed interior. He was in charge of replacing all of the missing marble, duplicate the tile floors in the lobby as closely as possible, and reopen and restore the glass ceiling.
They now give tours of the building which is the only way you can get up to see the oriel staircase. There's also a Frank Lloyd Wright gift shop and an unsupervised opportunity to spin around one of the world's most amazing lobbies. If you get to Chicago don't miss this stunning piece of historic architecture and don't try to find the oriel staircase in New York. It's not there.

The Oriel Staircase at the Rookery
Rodney Smith, photographer
Purchase images through

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Last Thursday was the official beginning of the season with so many openings in the Chelsea art district on the far West Side of Manhattan there was more street traffic clogging the cobblestones in the district than Fifth Avenue at Christmas.
It seemed as if every gallery was having an opening with some of them having lines of attendee hopefuls queuing up behind stations waiting for their turn to see the next new star of the art world.
Now I'm a photography guy so I had rsvp'd for two openings: one for the artist and the other for the gallery. Yancey Richardson has been my go to gallery ever since she opened her doors on Broadway in 1995.
She's since moved her gallery to the Chelsea art district with a prominent street level space making her one of the preeminent photography galleries in the world. We've taken many a client to Yancey's to peruse and purchase from the artists she has found and nurtured over the years.
Her season opening exhibit featured Mitch Epstein's new work titled "Rocks and Clouds".  The event had an early start time where Mitch and Yancey conducted a walk-through of the exhibit. Mitch took us through the gallery and through what went through his head in creating this body of work.
What I was immediately drawn to was the size. These are not digital prints but silver gelatin prints shot with an 8 x 10 field camera making the printing of large scale work a much more difficult task.
Conceptually Mitch talked about how he moved from his investigation of trees to how nature exists in an urban setting, how nature and society interact.  I was struck by the absence of dramatic contrast one would expect with focusing in on the hardness of rock and the ephemeral quality of clouds.
Instead there seemed to be a conscious effort to find middle ground in the images with a narrow tonal range blending the two so that you really had to concentrate on where to find the rocks and where to find the clouds
Like much of art it's the artist's intent that makes their art resonate. Being able to start out the opening of the season with such insight was a gift I was glad I was at the right place at the right time to accept.

A few doors down on the same street as Yancey Richardson is Julie Saul's gallery. One of Julie Saul's favorite artists is Sally Gall. Julie opened her season with a solo show of Sally's work. This was the twelfth time Julie has given Sally a one-woman show.
We originally became aware of Sally years ago when her work was primarily black and white and the imagery existed in caves and on ponds. We loved her work so much we convinced two clients to purchase her image "Canoe" and then bought one for ourselves. The edition is now sold out. There was a softness and romanticism to her work that attracted us, a harkening to hidden spaces.
Her work has evolved from the black and white images we started out with to the addition of color with a flower series to this newest exhibit of laundry in the abstract. At first, when I walked into the gallery I thought perhaps Julie had moved and I was in the wrong space.
This exhibit of Sally's work was so far from what I was expecting I had to stop for a minute and move from disappointment into amazement.
At first glance the images are complete abstractions, color pushed through a kaleidoscope all resting on some intrusive horizontal lines.
Some how Sally has been able to transform laundry billowing in the wind into the idea of flowers and sea creatures and images of flight.
Once I was able to give up my hold of our past relationship I was completely able to embrace this new body of work.

We will be one of three design partnerships taking part in a panel discussion where we'll be grilled on which side of the design fence we're on and how we handle it one of us is on one side and the other has jumped to the other side. Could be very interesting.

Friday, September 9, 2016


I've been saving up a collection of photos of New York City that I haven't been able to use in any of the posts I've published so far. The adage is a picture is worth a thousand words so this time I'm going to let the photos do the talking and I'm just going to sit back and consider this a very long love letter to the city I love. Hope you will too. Comments and antidotes are very welcome.