Saturday, August 29, 2009


Another momentous occasion to catch up on: Friend and fashionista, the beautiful Maggie MacK, has blessed us with a new follower below who brings a host of design issues to bear on this blog. What color should his sheets be and how cuddly? What style of crib? His first chair? And as he's resting those beautiful cheeks against any of these, will toxins to permeate his perfectly soft skin or damage his small yet mighty lungs?True, it's difficult to think about this little fellow leaving a zero carbon footprint while measuring his daily number of disposable diapers. (Judging from his photo, even he's worried). But we've all got to start somewhere. Protecting his health today is protecting our future. But the best hemp hammock is just not a precious enough gift to send Baby. So we went hunting. And here are the contenders.

Since he lives in L.A., we began with AFK who recently opened their first flagship boutique on Wilshire Boulevard (see twin cribs above). Their classically styled, bench-made furniture features solid wood construction and artfully applied handwork, from intricately carved appliqués to exquisite, multilayered water-based non-toxic paints and finishes. Dreamy, but Baby's parents lean much more modern. And our budget leans more, well, lean.

Q Collection is a favorite of ours, their Abigail bench on our home's wish list for several years running. We checked their Junior Collection and found some super cute stools in our price range as well as a beautiful winged-back glider. And we learned even more about baby-safe construction. There's no formaldehyde in the glue that holds their wooden furniture together, no polyurethane in their foam bedding and plush toys as well as their wood stains and paints. This company goes so far as to consider whether pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers were used in growing the cotton of their generous-thread-count sheets. (Note: In California it is illegal to feed the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton to livestock because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residues. Meanwhile, this same residue is commonly used to make furniture, mattresses, cotton swabs and cotton balls).

Mouse, however, took one look at Mom and Dad and came to another conclusion. "This boy will be a chick magnet. He needs a chick chair from the ever eco-conscious Roebuck Studio. Maybe a few in different colors to share with his many future fans and friends." Look out, Hollywood. She could be right, but I'm still searching. (Forgive me Maggie). We'll let you know the fabulous result soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


How do bloggers go on vacation? We throw each other a helping hand. Recently, while the talented kitchen designer Paul Anater was soaking in some Caribbean sun, we had the opportunity to post on his informative site,KitchenandResidentialDesign. Although tempted to take our "we only had a staycation" envy out on someone, we resisted and stayed on topic with kitchen wisdom. ...But.... this is the voice of a girl and a dog who wear matching jewelry, so a little fashion had to play into the topic as well. I reprint it here while Mouse and I take a long awaited break this weekend. Thanks for the soapbox, Paul, much obliged!


You know the expression "It's not the clothes you wear but how you wear them?" Well it's the same with kitchen design. Materials only make the difference if you know how to parade them, play with them, and, ultimately, push them to your best advantage.

So let's stop thinking what comes next after stainless steel. Because the answer is more: More stainless steel, more wood-stain cabinets, and more stone. Knowing this..Can we be as innovative as the Romans? or Corbusier? Some of the greatest contributions to architecture, after all, owe to rethinking the most traditional materials. The art lies in the application. So let's take a closer look at the most commonplace kitchen materials, one at a time.

Wood is easily cut, carved, pierced and joined. So why not manipulate the same wood in different ways, as seen in this highly textural kitchen by Jim Livingston of Livingston Kitchens in Deer Park, Illinois? Lattice work, decorative aprons and baroque corbels are lively layers when harmonized with the same wood stain.

Grain is another consideration. The fewer seams, the stronger its graphic impact. Try matching long expanses
of grain from surface to surface, as seen on this zebrawood island by Zack Simmons of CKS Design Studio in Durham. Or consider how distinct grains can be artfully combined with shape and volume, as on this complex edge profile by Craft-Art wood countertops.

Anyone with deep pockets can impress their neighbors with a huge slab of beautifully veined
marble. But who would think to bookmatch smaller slabs into a butterfly pattern? The cost of the material is often less and any extra installation time minimal. But as Bethesda MD designerBradford Creer proves in this marble-clad kitchen, the return makes a one-of-a-kind pattern out of a naturally varying material.

Now up the ante a bit more. Marble isn't quarried by the slab. It comes in blocks that can be cut into several slabs of the same grain.
Karen Williams ofSt. Charles of New York shops this way, always on the hunt for blocks of stone that can be cut into slabs of different shapes and thicknesses and installed one luxurious layer over another.

Combine the potential of nature and technology, and you haveStile Artistic Designwho create intricate inlays of aluminum in marble using laser-jet technology.


As restaurants have known for years, this cool industrial surface is virtually impenetrable, easily cleanable, and therefore both safe and hygienic for use on hardworking countertops and appliances. But why lay it flat only? It can be quilted (as seen in 1950s diners), woven in strips, or manipulated in more painterly ways as seen on the Coquille hood byCheng Designs. Here a 16-gauge stainless steel is hand burnished with a ribbon finish that brings hard steel the look of streaming water.

Another cool option is to juxtapose machined steel with its thermal opposite—natural, warm-stained woods. The pairing is even more striking in the kitchenbelow, another bySt. Charles of New York, where the choice to wrap wood cabinets with a steel toe kick makes every use of the material appear purely decorative.

And speaking of decorative, the ever-practical stainless steel sink is also available with couture touches. Among the many new customizations offered by Elkay is a new etching technology. Choose a greek key border design or your own monogram—however the surface is etched, its smoothness (as well as durability and longevity) remains the same.

Some may say what's old is new again. Cliché or truly unique, even when using the most common materials, the choice is up to you.


It's advertised as "15 karats of unconditional love..." from I Love Dogs. Granted, Mouse would look radiant in such a collar. But really now, a girl does have her limits...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It's time for another kitchen post. Click HERE to link up with Karin's latest contribution to DECORATI and meet Beverly Ellsley, a Connecticut designer who ups the dream factor for residential kitchens. And while you're there, check out other kitchen designer profiles new to the site including the ever-talented Mick De Giulio, Karen Williams, Matthew Quinn, Scott Grandis, and Fu Tung Cheng.


I've loved this company's masterworks in iron since the day I first spied their marble-topped French Bistro work table used as the island in a St. Charles of New York kitchen showroom display. A new discovery, however, is their brilliant website. Every piece, every chair, rotates on screen as if on a lazy susan. With designs this intricate, it helps to know each piece's impact at every angle of aproach. Kudos, O'Brien Ironworks!

Monday, August 10, 2009


It's back-to-school time for some and for the rest of us, a time to get organized nonetheless. Tradition? Perhaps. Force of habit? Not sure. But reorganizing our lives at the end of summer feels as natural as spring cleaning.

I'm focused on my desktop. With new projects at hand, those unsightly piles have to make way for sketch pads and model building as well as some video equipment. Yet, as appealing as a clean slate may be, any decorating in the office has to embrace the creative process.

My piles can actually be efficient. Professional organizers suggest leaving papers visible until they're no longer needed. The difficulty lies in limiting the depth of these piles. What I need is a system that keeps their height down to a few essential papers. Or better yet, I'd like to find a way for those papers to stand up straight and stare me down. I imagine them next to a certain photo of my great grandmother—her expression stern, her arms bent on her hips— ensuring that I pay every scribble and tear sheet its due respect.

I need a message board. Badly.Or something that will function as one. But I can't work in a space that feels like a cubicle. Mouse just wouldn't find that homey. I thought of hiding a bulletin board behind closet doors but I know I'd never open it. Distance only makes tasks grow more yonder. What I'm really after is the design equivalent of my great-grandmother's gaze in that photo— a subtlety so persuasive there's no need to shout.

Visiting the Russell + Hazel flagship store in Minneapolis I saw that anything with a frame is a potential message board. A picture frame leaned against the wall, or even an upholstered giltwood headboard above.Take away any evidence of cork or upholstery and my little post-it center grows even further discreet.

I'm thinking of a lady's dressing room, where photos and other souvenirs are quickly tucked into a mirror's frame. I found a few wall mirrors atLayla Grace that also happen to be magnetic boards, including the faux-aged mirror above, top whose golden botanical decoration includes coordinating brass magnets. Taking a truly luxurious route, I also located a message board by Christofle below in the sharp, modern style of their Fidelio frames sold with sassy silver magnets. (Notice how Mouse has already begun decorating this). Or maybe that frame could be architectural, like a wall panel? Or the panel on a piece of furniture?

Delving into the depths of my piles, can any of these beautiful boards be my solution? Or am I only adding another surface to clutter? Maybe organization is, like decorating, best conceived in layers. The "to-do" notes sited nearest, "tomorrows" just behind, and "somedays" on the horizon. A desk with tiers? or shelves above? All encased as furniture? And a bulletin board to one side, as if those post-its were eyes staring over my shoulder? Food for thought...stay tuned to see what our renovations yield.

(photo of black and white office with Graham Secretary Desk above via Pottery Barn; Christofle magnet board also available at Vivre).


We're gearing up for an addition and, confused with siding options, we realized our obstacle. The same old garage door. Like far too many suburban homes, it faces the street in a 1:3 ratio of garage to exterior. How can we think about siding without considering that hunk of vinyl? So our search for panels siding led us to garage makeovers at GarageWowNow. The concept of many of their remodels is simple: Match this necessary surface to the materials and style of the home's windows. The closer the match, the more likely this surface is to disappear as (un)seen in the before/after home left, where Avant doors by Clopay disguise the garage as another cozy interior. You can't actually see in, but now you may want to. And siding choices as a result? Wide open.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


There are those who prefer to make a grand entrance. A wide foyer with a center table holding books never read, benches never intended as seating, and, if at all possible, a tall, winding staircase to let guests know at first glance that there are rooms outside the scope of their welcome. Surely many historic homes call for such generous anterooms and, for those who hold parties that begin with name-tag tables, that kind of design can be useful. When it comes to new construction, however, I have to side with more humbler openings.
Maybe my preference comes after years of apartment living, and having to make do in smaller spaces. Or maybe I'm reacting to seeing too many builders homes on the newly developed edges of suburbia with doors to rival the bulk of the garage.
But a narrow console table to hold mail and keys and a mirror to check oneself on the way out the door is all I can think of as essential to this piece of floorspace. Russell Groves thought as much in their pared-down entry above, where the small scale of a mirror by BDDW offers a luxurious escape from big, bold statements.
"Let things start out small," says Mouse citing how the gestures of Jack, our affectionate and sometimes overeager labrador can give guests the wrong impression.  "The best architecture is revealed over time." 



  • Today, we visit with Stephen Hay at the source of his inspiration,  where he revisits the modern potential of Renaissance art techniques as well as luminous, new paint finishes.  

Thursday, August 6, 2009


It shimmers. It's lovely. Luxe. And it clears your kitchen of smelly fumes. It's a kitchen vent hood-cum-chandelier by Scavolini and it will be released later this Fall. Thanks to Mitchell Obstfeld of i4design, who saw it at the Scavolini showroom in Chicago (where a prototype is on display) and asked all the right questions. To clean it, "simply snap the crystal ball into four pieces and put it in your dishwasher". If only all chandeliers could be that way. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Some patterns have no repeat. It's one of the many intrigues of antique Chinese blue-and-white ceramics, where the lie of dragons, peonies and scrolling foliage falls to intuition as often as it claims order and symmetry. And one of my favorite places to hunt the depths of these ceramics is C.W. Smith Imported Antiques in Minneapolis—a rare outpost of treasures from China, Tibet and Burma as well as British, Dutch and French Colonial furniture.    
I came seeking a desk, the kind that looks European Baroque but on closer inspection yields humbler, more irregular and slightly rustic carvings. I found a small stout painted gray Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) jar, an early 1800s Indian rosewood cabinet carved with sunbursts in the British fashion, brass jewelry masterfully mounted as abstract sculpture, and a range of ceramics in unusually bright and lustrous green and turquoise glazes. 
 And I trust that none of the above was ordered by the crate. Each piece was hunted,
 inspected and  genuinely loved by gallery founder Carol Smith or daughter, Vanessa, who I knew insisted on handpicking all items "in country." No shopping by photo, and no restoration beneath Smithsonian standards. 
Thomas Gunkelman shops here as do many galleries that designers haunt in other cities. (Carol used to smile with pride leafing through an Elle Decor or Met Home to see where some of her old finds eventually landed). 

I was lucky enough to meet Carol on my first trip to her shop in late 2005, while scouting locations for a Beautiful Homes photo shoot. I was struck by the unique combination of her obvious passion with a warm, serene and welcoming presence—an aura that the design of her eponymous shops exudes. I was saddened to learn that she was in fact ill at the time and, in May of this year, lost a long and painful six year battle with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease).  
Her namesake shop is now in a new location, even more homey than the last, and its objects and exhibitions are in the very knowledgeable, very capable hands of daughter, Vanessa Smith. Both owners sharing traits with their ceramics sold: each intuitive, original in their own right, and having established a pattern that bears repeating.