30 November 2008

Thank you!

At around 11 o'clock this morning, visitor number 10,000 stumbled onto this blog. Thank you!

Here's a great kitchen

Last Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle Living section profiled the renovation of sculptor Angelio Batle's work/ live space in Potrero Hill. If you're not familiar with San Francisco, Potrero Hill is a mixed development neighborhood that rises above the port on the east side of town. Though it's by now loaded with infill, new construction "loft" condominiums, Potrero Hill has its share of actual lofts and repurposed industrial buildings.

One such light industrial building is now the home of Angelio Batle and his family. San Francisco real estate is absurdly expensive and what was so interesting to me about the Chron story is that Batle's renovation was pretty heavily budget-driven. I have no idea how much money this family invested in their property, but they worked with an architect who understood how to stretch a dollar. In looking over the photos of the finished project, only a practiced eye could tell that there were corners cut and expenses shaved all over the place.

As is always the case with these things, I have a tendency to pay extra attention to the kitchen for obvious reasons. And whoever designed this kitchen deserves an award. I have a feeling that it was the work of the architect because the cabinetry is from Ikea. I cannot imagine a kitchen designer using anything from Ikea, least of all their cabinetry. But whatever, a pretty picture is a pretty picture and a good design is a good design.

Here's the panoramic view of this kitchen.

Now where it gets interesting is in the left corner. What looks like a stack of mismatched furniture is exactly that. The pieces were fitted together, painted a uniform color and then surrounded by new cabinetry.

Here's a close-up of how these disparate parts fit together.

The use of the gold-painted sculpture niches in this old furniture is really clever. It makes this kitchen the Batle's, that's for sure. Doing something like this is making this otherwise generic kitchen a home. It reflects the lives of the people who live here and I'm crazy for this.

Resourcefulness trumps budget every time. Everybody cuts corners, I don't care how much money they have. The trick is to do it with candor and wit and the Batle family hit a home run with this one. Bravo.

29 November 2008

Cool new Google upgrade

Man! What a slow weekend for Internet traffic. I forgot how much things slow down during holidays. So, in the spirit of taking a break, check out Google's new Maps enhancement. I'm am in awe of this thing. I just spent two hours playing around with this new, improved Street View and I cannot get over it.

Google Maps introduced Street View a year or so ago and they have been busily mapping out the major metro areas of the US since. Well, now that they have a lot of the US covered, they've been working on the rest of the world. I just took a virtual walk through Rome and it feels like I was really there. Kind of. I guess the next step is going to be to make the images move. But check this out.

Here I was walking down the street and looking back at the Vittorio Emanuelle.

Here's the Piazza Barberini, and I'm standing directly across the piazza from the Via della Purificazione. I left my heart halfway up that street... Anyhow, these images are so clear I feel like I could walk over and wash my feet in Bernini's Triton in the center of the piazza.

This is the entrance to the Villa Borghese at the top of the Via Veneto. The only thing missing is the sound of the car horns and the buzzing scooters.

And here's looking across the Piazza Rotunda at my beloved Pantheon. I still can't get over this thing. Got some time to kill this weekend? Get thee to Google Maps!

From the land of the shoo-fly

I was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; and no, I'm not Amish. I've been away from those gently rolling hills for a long time but Thanksgiving makes me nostalgic. I may not be Amish, but it doesn't take an Amishman to appreciate pretty countryside and an urge to make things by hand.

Arguably, Lancaster County's signature dish is a little something called shoo-fly pie. Shoo-fly pie is one of those things that everybody's heard of but never encountered first hand. Shoo-fly pie is one of my favorite things to bake and it can't be the holidays in my house without it.

The first time I ever made one for a party, everyone thought it was so exotic and cosmopolitan. That is funny on so many levels at one time I can't stand it. Anyhow, here's my recipe for cosmopolitan and exotic shoo-fly pie.

Pie dough for a nine-inch pie
1 cup of all-purpose flour
2/3 cup of firmly packed, dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup light molasses
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water

Roll out pie dough and turn into a nine-inch pie plate. Trim and flute the edges. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar and softened butter. Mash with a fork until it reaches a consistent, crumbly consistency. In a separate bowl, beat together the molasses, egg and baking soda with a large spoon until blended. Stir in the boiling water and mix thoroughly (this will begin to foam). Stir half the crumb mixture into the molasses mixture and pour into the crust. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake a 400 degrees, on the center rack, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the pie filling has puffed around the sides and is firm in the center, about 20 to 30 minutes more. Cool on a rack.

28 November 2008

LG gets caught making bogus claims

In July, I wrote a posting about LG's inflated claims of making "green" solid surface counters. I asked, somewhat rhetorically but not really, if LG means "Life's Good" as their ads claim, or does it mean "Lies Gratuitously?"

Well, they seem to be at it again. Ann Porter, who writes the great blog KitchAnn Style, has the following announcement in her blog today: LG caught Under Reporting Energy Consumption
In September LG’s French Door fridges were tested and showed an energy usage 100% higher than the energy use promised on the fridge’s DOE Yellow Card.

It was reported that LG had programmed its refrigerator controllers to be able to identify DOE test conditions so that certain electrical functions are shut down when those conditions are met. When the 90F ambient test condition was met the auto-defrost shuts down, saving lots of power, and lowering their Energy Star test result.

Beware the Home Center folks. See Ann's article for rebate and recall info.

Bring on the fennel

Mark Bittman writes a column for the New York Times Dining and Wine section called The Minimalist. Additionally, he writes a Times blog called Bitten that's always worth a look.

Mark Bittman is one of my food heroes. He likes good food, but backs away from the unnecessary hoopla that often surrounds it. Great ingredients, simply prepared; who could ask for anything more?

This week, he took on one of my favorite vegetables, fennel. I run it through a mandoline, throw it in a bowl with some cut up oranges and a handful of cashews and tuck into a bowl of heaven. Really. It tastes like Amalfi.

This week, Bittman combined fennel with one of my other favorite vegetables, celery. Fennel and celery have strangely similar textures and it never occurred to me to combine them. This is a perfect counterpoint to a season of holiday overindulgence.
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, some fronds reserved
3 celery ribs, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese.

1. Cut fennel bulbs in quarters lengthwise, discarding outer layer if it is exceedingly tough. Use a mandoline to slice quarters thinly; slice celery equally thin.
2. Put sliced fennel and celery into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Top with lots of freshly shaved Parmesan and chopped fennel fronds if you like.

27 November 2008

Happy Eat Too Much And Take A Nap On The Sofa Day

Be grateful. What a cool thing, a whole day set aside specifically for thinking about how good life is rather than how rotten things can be. For all the loose talk about Christmas spirit that goes around at this time of year, I'll take Thanksgiving Day spirit any time. Now I think I'll go bake some pies.

26 November 2008

Psst. Need a quickie appetizer recipe for tomorrow?

Here's another great and clever recipe from my pals at the New York Times.

Parsley Salad
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) soft, fleshy oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 ounces (about 1 cup) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) red onion, coarsely chopped
1 ounce (about 3 tablespoons) capers, rinsed of salt or brine
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
10 large anchovy fillets, chopped, or additional 1/4 cup black olives
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt, to taste
Thin slivers of Parmesan cheese
Buttery crackers, small biscuits or toasted slices of baguette brushed with olive oil, for serving.

Just before serving, combine olives, parsley, onion, capers, garlic, anchovies, if using, and lemon zest in a bowl, and toss well to combine. Add olive oil and black pepper, and mix well. Add lemon juice and salt to taste (ingredients are very salty, so you may need only a small amount). Spoon onto a serving plate, scatter with Parmesan, and serve with crackers, biscuits or toast.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings; can be doubled.

New, Italian bath design

Excuse me while I pretend that I'm European and make a bunch of sweeping generalizations about national character. 

Nobody does bath design like an Italian company. It would be interesting to figure out where the Italian fascination with running water comes from. Is it some residual, Roman need for clean water or is it the fact that their tap water tastes so good? Whatever's underneath it doesn't matter because what's visible is so stunning.

These are some new bathroom designs from the Idea Group. The Idea Group is in Treviso, in the Veneto Region of northern Italy. Treviso is also the headquarters of DeLonghi appliances. 

Disegnato in Italia --designed in Italy, means a lot to Italians and Northern Italians in particular. Again, to make some more sweeping generalizations, there's a celebration of the every day in Italian culture. Details matter in Italy, and there seems to be some kind of an Italian genetic predisposition to make everything as beautifully functional as possible. It doesn't matter if it's an Alessi salt shaker or a pair of Prada shoes, a lot of thought goes into otherwise mundane objects.

Anyhow this is about Italian bathrooms. I get Idea's e-newsletter and here's some of the highlights from their current collection. I never get to do work like this but if I were given carte blanche to do whatever I wanted with a bathroom, it would end up looking something like these gorgeous photos.

Ahhh, pared down and clean --everything a bathroom should be, in Italy or anywhere else.

25 November 2008

More from Christophe Niemann

Christophe Niemann, whose fantastic tile mosaics I featured earlier, is also an author of children's books. His latest is a children's book, The Pet Dragon is available on Amazon. Check it out below.

The rest of Christophe's work is available on Amazon as well. He's as clever an author as he is a tile designer. Got kids? Christmas is coming you know...

A whole new take on bathroom mosaics

Christoph Niemann is a former New Yorker and now Berlin-based artist who writes a blog for the New York Times. Niemann's Abstract City is always an interesting read. He talks a lot about his family and their transition to living in Germany. In a post he wrote in August, he talked about his bathroom renovation project.

According to Niemann, he'd always had a dream of doing abstract pixel drawings of masterworks using nothing but colored 4x4 ceramic tile. 4x4 is the default size for bath tile and it's something I chase people away from under normal circumstances. After having seen Niemann's handiwork, I doubt I'll be so quick to dismiss the stuff anymore.

Check this out. Here are two David Hockneys. And next to each is how Niemann interpreted them in 4x4s.

In some kind of a play for my sympathies, he took on a Rothko and it has me swooning.

Now, he's using layout software to draw a grid and then he's assigning each square a color from a palette. I'm really floored by what he did here. I mean, who could imagine taking boring old 4x4s and turning them into this? Certainly not I.

So after playing around for a while, he settled on a Warhol.

Using Andy Warhol, who was himself doing an homage, in a bathroom makes prefect sense and here's the shower stall he ended up with.

I have never seen anything like this. I'm used to looking forward at new stuff that's coming down the pike, I never think to stop and re-evaluate what's already here. These tiles are everywhere and he probably paid a dime apiece for them. I go through my normal working life thinking that wall tile that costs $35 a square foot is cheap. 4x4 ceramic is so far below my radar that I can't even see it. Pardon me, my paradigm just shifted.

So with the master bath done, Niemann turned his attention to the bathroom shared by his three sons. He relates that his sons are obsessed with the New York subway system, so he turned his interpreting skills to an MTA map.

His plan was to tile the entire bathroom, so he imported his layouts into a 3-D renderer.

So with his layout rendered, all that was left to do was install the tile. Check this out:

Mr. Niemann, I owe you a thank you. Several thank yous actually. I read the New York Times every day because I like to stay informed and I believe that the Times keeps my horizons expanded. Sometimes, and this is one of those times, they get expanded so far I don't recognize them anymore. Wow.

24 November 2008

Check out U Gallery

Since I've been on an art kick lately, check out this painting.

That's Three Guys in the Trees by Will Halstead from the University of Arizona. It reminds me of a memory of my brothers. It's pretty funny actually. Three men sharing the same space yet all three looking in different directions.

Here's another one:

That's The Red House by Rachel Miller from the University of the Arts. It takes me back to the small town I called home when I was a kid. And how about this?

That's a collage called Caught by the University of Georgia's Cosumina Hardman. It's a snapshot of why I live near the beach.

Great stuff, all of it. And it's available through a unique website called U Gallery. U Gallery sells student art from around the country and it grants a huge audience to artists who would otherwise toil in anonymity. Student work has a raw energy to it that I always loved when I was a student myself, and it's something I appreciate still. Think about it, student artists are in the process of finding their voices and the same time they're cocooned  in an environment that encourages and challenges them to take risks. The galleries on U Gallery's site speak to this eloquently.

This site's a great way to fill your home and your life with art. What a great thing to do too, buying student work. Starting out as a painter or a sculptor or a photographer has to be the toughest lot of all, yet some people still do it. As a culture, we're better for it immeasurably. To get a sense of what I mean, go over to U Gallery and see for yourself.

23 November 2008

And then I got "friended" by an artist whose work I admire

After hanging out with my nieces and nephews a couple of weekends ago, I went out and joined Facebook. At the time, I thought it was a grasping for my lost youth, but once I got my profile up and running I got the bum's rush from all kinds of people from my past. People my age even. Amazing. It's really neat to touch base with people from my newspaper days in Pittsburgh, my wild days as a vagabond or even people I knew in High School. And while all of these people are climbing out of my past, all of my nieces and nephews and current are in there too. I've moved around a bit in my day and it's an amazing thing to see all of these people who have known me at various stages of my life all arrayed in one place. Check it out.

Well on or about day two I ran into Portland, OR-based artist Matte Stephens, whose work I profiled in a blog entry on 11 July, Great rooms deserve great art. Matte's work is gaining more attention in the art and design world and he still sells prints of his work through Etsy. His Etsy shop is called Braniac: the Art of Matte Stephens. I love this guy's stuff as much now as I did when I first became aware of him last spring.

There's a playfulness to his work that really appeals to me, but it's working on an adult level. There's a studied whimsy and a sense of adventurous joy to his paintings, and he takes his simple shapes and spins a narrative that just draws me in. Really, I could look at this stuff for hours.

So pop on over to Matte's shop on Etsy and see the rest of his work there. It's a great way to spend some time and to spend some money. The man's going places, believe me.

22 November 2008

More great concrete from Gore Design

I wrote yesterday about the beautiful concrete sinks Gore Design Company designs and makes, and I have to admit that I'm really taken with them. I'm pretty smitten not only with the sinks, but the rest of the stuff Gore Design Company does too. The same studied awareness that attracted me to their sinks is written large all over their other offerings as well.

Here's a table in their showroom in Tempe. The table's called, appropriately enough, the Fern Table. It looks for all the world like something you'd come across during a hike in the back country. But only just enough to serve as a reminder of that hike. These guys know precisely when to pull back and whisper rather than shout.

Check out these detail shots from the same table.

Here's a counter from their studio. The gang at Gore seems to love cantilevers as much as I do. Note the lack of support of this counter. Cantilevers are a smart person's design element. Their use requires a thorough understanding of the laws of physics and there can never be enough physics appreciation, I say. Anyhow, here's that counter.

And here's a detail shot of it. You can see the same topographic map/ erosion effect that's in the sinks I was gushing about yesterday.

And speaking of cantilevers, check out this table.

As cool as that table is though, I think my favorite thing on their website has to be this lounge chair. And yep, it's made from concrete and wood. Astounding.

I could go on for days about the wonders in their portfolio, but rather than my babbling, head over there yourself. Once again, here's the link to Gore Design Company. One last thing though, I've been in touch with Brandon Gore (he put the Gore in Gore Design company) and he sent me some photos of some things they are working on now. Man. I'll be writing about these guys for a while and wait 'til you see what's in the works.