28 February 2009

In the bleak midwinter

The great and powerful Fifi from Fifi Flowers Design Decor takes her readers on a virtual vacation every Saturday. She asks that people send her photos and a description of a location and she takes that supplied material and spins a tale of a weekend getaway. She paints a few of the images and adds what she needs to complete her journey of the mind. Great stuff. Well, this weekend, she took a bunch of my photos from my various trips to the Out Islands of the Bahamas and uses them to tell a story of quiet seclusion and beauty. Beautiful work Fifi, thank you.

So if you're looking for a break from February, take a stroll over to Fifi Flowers Design Decor and let her fly you away in a pink airplane for an adventurous weekend jaunt.

I've been aching to go away lately and Fifi's post today cements it. I need a break!

Cool pendants from J. Schatz

These pendants from J. Schatz were featured on Dwell magazine's website this week and I think they're cool as all get out. Besides, after knitting my brow for the better part of yesterday over all things Tuscan and contrived, I need to look at something clean, modern and whimsical. Thank you J. Schatz.

J. Schatz is the brainchild and life's work of an artist and designer named Jim Schatz. Jim has an admirable philosophy that guides his business and a sense of playfulness and wonder that won't quit.

These pendants are from a series he calls Cilindro. Each of them measures 11-1/2" tall and they're 5" in diameter. The pierced Cilindros retail for $275 and the solid Cilindros cost $255. These pendants are hand made and they're available through J. Schatz's website.

And here's a pink one for Fifi.

27 February 2009

Quick! Run outside!

Check out Venus and the Moon. I just took this shot a moment ago. If you're on the east coast you have about 15 more minutes of Venus lining up like this. Cool!

Reader Question: How do I decorate my Tuscany dining room?

Help! I am in the process of gutting my first floor and I'm going to get a Tuscany dining room. I want to decorate the room with bunches of dried roses but I'm worried that they're not right for a Tuscany theme.

Oh man, there is so much wrong here I don't know where to start. Before you spend a dime, stop what you're doing. Stop and then take $1500 out of your budget and fly to Florence for a couple of days. Well, maybe $2000. Whatever it costs, it will have a value that transcends its price. You see, while you're there you'll gaze at what the real Tuscany looks like and hopefully you'll forget all about this dining room you have in mind. Oh, and as a point of order, Tuscany is a noun and Tuscan is an adjective. What you have in mind is a Tuscan dining room, not a Tuscany dining room. If I have anything to say about it you won't have either, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This Tuscan thing that you see in your mind is an entirely American invention. It's not even an homage, it's a cartoon. Here's what a dining room in the real Tuscany looks like. 

Note the lack of bunches of dried roses. There are no fake sunflowers or clots of plastic grapes either. There aren't any framed posters with nonsensical Italian phrases hanging on the wall, nor is there any faux painted brick. It's a basic, small table jammed into the space not already taken up by a tiny kitchen. It's neat as a pin, it's simple and it's orderly. But real Tuscan style isn't about decor or themed dining rooms. It's about views like this.

Or views like this.

Views like that beget a worldview that's entirely Tuscan and how things look over there are a product of that worldview. The real Tuscany is about making the best use of a small space. The real Tuscany is about embracing life, it's about authenticity, it's about quality over quantity in everything. There's no theme here, there's no attempt to recreate a magazine spread or a dream house from some Developer's unimaginative mind. The truth of the matter is that unless you can see the Arno river pass under your dining room window, no amount of clutter will give you a "Tuscany dining room."

Man! That room up there burns my eyes. Please don't do something like that in your home. Sorry to be so brutal but what you're asking is for some kind of permission to turn your home into a miniature Las Vegas and that's something I refuse to go along with.

Listen, your dining room and indeed your whole home should tell your story, not somebody else's. The things you decorate with should be your things and if you're going to buy a dining table, buy one that's classic enough and made well enough that you can pass it on to your kids. Then in 50 years when it's in your daughter's home that same table will tell your story as it passes into her story. I suspect that's the feeling you're after. A feeling of permanence and a feeling of knowing you belong somewhere. That sort of thing isn't a theme, it's a way of life.

So if you want to bring some Tuscan sensibilities to your dining room, by all means do so. But study the real place, not The Venetian or the Bellagio. While you're enjoying the quick jaunt over to Florence I so strongly recommend, have your photo taken with the Duomo in the background then get it blown up and framed. Hang it in your dining room. I don't think it's possible to get more Tuscan than Florence, and it'll be yours. Authentically.

If you like bunches of dried roses, go for it. Just be sure that you like them and that you're not just adding them to advance some kind of ill-advised theme. So instead of asking me if they're appropriate, the person to ask is you. What do bunches of dried roses say about you? If you're happy with the answer than hang them by the bushel. If you're not happy with the answer then don't. If you're not sure then don't do anything. It's pretty simple really.

26 February 2009

Fix that leaking faucet already

March 16-20 has been designated National Fix a Leak Week by the United States' Environmental Protection Agency. They're onto something. Check it:

  • Leaks account for, on average, 11,000 gallons of water wasted in the home every year, which is enough to fill a backyard swimming pool.

  • The amount of water leaked from U.S. homes could exceed more than 1 trillion gallons per year. That’s equivalent to the annual water use of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami combined.

  • Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day.

  • Common types of leaks found in the home include leaking toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves. All are easily correctable.

  • Fixing easily corrected household water leaks can save homeowners more than 10 percent on their water bills.

  • Keep your home leak-free by repairing dripping faucets, toilet valves, and showerheads. In most cases, fixture replacement parts don’t require a major investment and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers.

  • The vast majority of leaks can be eliminated after retrofitting a household with new WaterSense labeled fixtures and other high-efficiency appliances.

  • Now if they were serious they call for a National Tear Out Your Lawn Week. But more on that topic later.

    25 February 2009

    Cooking through the Depression

    Clara Cannucciari is a 94-year-old force of nature. She's also a presence on the Internet thanks to her website, her blog and her series of cooking videos on YouTube.

    Her website, Depression Cooking with Clara, is the project of her grandson but the screen presence and the wisdom she imparts is all Clara. I am grateful to be old enough to have been raised by two people who came of age during the Great Depression and more grateful still to have had grandmothers who were young adults when the bottom fell out in 1929. I was raised with a sense that everything we had could well be temporary, but beyond that I learned first hand how resourceful my parents and grandparents were. My Grandmother Stewart in particular was always after us to be grateful for how good we had it, always quick to illustrate her point with a story about re-using wax paper or having a single pair of shoes.

    Due to her indominable spirit and great sense of humor, I could listen to her stories for hours on end. I was fascinated by a time where people seemed to have nothing, yet instead of being broken by it, people seemed to grow stronger. My grandmother could whip out a meal from a handful of potatoes, a can of green beans, a bit of cabbage and a sliver of ham that was both basic and filling, and all the while she'd tell stories about how it used to be.

    I still make that potato and cabbage thing for myself and I think of her every time. I don't need to feed myself for a week on a dollar thankfully and I hope I never have to. Recreating one of my grandmother's recipes makes me think that I could if I had to though. And it's funny, when I sit down to a bowl of that cabbage and green bean soup(Depression Stew she called it), I remember her fondly but the food doesn't taste the same as it did when it was prepared by good old Gram. Something goes missing because she's not around to tell me stories of resilience and self-reliance, all delivered with her crackling wit and genuine love of life.

    So enter Clara Cannucciari. Clara not only cooks with simple and inexpensive ingredients, she does it with humor and some really great stories. It's almost as good as having a grandmother around to talk to me as she cooks.

    So as this generation stares into what could well be the abyss, it's valuable to know that people have lived through worse and come out of it stronger and happier than they would have been otherwise. So thanks Clara, you make me feel like I have a grandmother again.

    24 February 2009

    New inset door styles from Medallion

    My dear friends at Medallion Cabinetry have added to their collection of door styles in their Platinum line of inset cabinetry. Inset doors are a traditional form of cabinet making that staging a bit of a comeback. Notice how the doors in these photos sit inside the face frame, rather than attaching to the outside of the frame. Pretty slick.

    Medallion rolled out its Platinum line about two years ago after spending years developing it. This is a high quality cabinet, clearly the best value in its class. These Platium door styles are available in Medallion's full range of wood species and can be stained or painted in any of Medallion's many, many colors. If that weren't enough, each of these doors is available as a beaded inset or a plain inset, and with visible or invisible hinges. Confused? Don't be.

    You can find a Medallion showroom that's local to you through Medallion's website or you can just ask me any questions you have about these new offerings.

    Bayside Cherry inset with exposed finial hinge, Gingersnap stain

    Devonshire Cherry inset with hidden hinge, Vinyard glazed finish

    Hudson Falls Cherry inset with exposed finial hinge, Pecan Burnish glaze

    Newcastle Cherry inset with hidden hinge, Chestnut stain

    Picadilly Cherry beaded inset with exposed finial hinge, Brandywine stain

    Stockton Maple inset with hidden hinge, Seagrass opaque stain and dry brush finish

    Venice Maple beaded inset with hidden hinge, Vinyard glazed finish

    23 February 2009

    Take a look at comet Lulin

    I spend a fair amount of time looking up at the night skies, nothing gives me that kind of an instant break. I went to a seminar once and the seminar leader encouraged all of us who were participating to tell our problems to the stars and watch them not do anything in response. It sounds callous, but I can't think of a better way to put my own trials and tribulations into perspective. What's a big deal to me is in the big scheme of things, not a big deal.

    Anyhow, if you look up and find Saturn tonight there will be a fuzzy ball right below it. That fuzzy ball is the comet Lulin and Lulin is currently making its one and only pass through our solar system. After Friday you probably won't be able to see it again. It will leave our solar system and continue on its trajectory into the far reaches of space, never to be seen by anyone again. At least not anyone on earth.

    Got a secret? Tell Lulin. It won't react to it either and maybe that's not such a bad thing.

    Check out this great blog

    I met a woman named Jamie Goldberg through Facebook over the weekend and Jamie's a Tampa-based kitchen and bath designer with a thriving practice and a blog to boot. I'm telling you, that Facebook thing continues to amaze me. Anyhow, I've been reading over Jamie's blog and she has some really great ideas and advice. Give her a read, her most recent post in particular --Kitchen and Bath Remodeling FAQs. She blends practical advice with a sense of humor and anybody offering that is a welcome addition to my blog roll. Here's an excerpt: 
    Q. How long will the remodel take?

    This is a three-part answer that has nothing to do with 30-minute HGTV shows.

    Part one is the planning/designing/shopping process. This will depend on your availability, as well as your designer's or architect's. It will also depend on the complexity of the project. In some instances, you're keeping your existing appliances, so you don't need to spend time choosing and shopping for new ones. That can certainly shave days or weeks off the process. In other instances, you're opting for a complex wall and floor tile design. This can add days, in terms of choosing each element of the design and approving layouts. Typically, a full-scale kitchen or bath remodel will take two to three months to plan, including showroom visits, design plan and revisions, contractor bid preparation and consultations.

    Part two is ordering your selected materials. Cabinetry can take from two weeks to 12 weeks to arrive, depending on whether they're stock or custom. Special order tile from overseas can take weeks, as well. If you're not planning major structural changes, you can wait until the new cabinets arrive and are inspected before tearing out your old ones.

    Part three is the actual on-site work. This will vary from days to weeks, depending on the extent of work to be performed. Your contractor can (and should!) advise you on the time line in advance. Chances are, by the time the project is completed, you'll be about four to eight months later than when you wrote your first check, longer for major additions.

    Bravo Jamie and welcome to both my blogroll and my Friends List.

    22 February 2009

    Having fun with the Carmina Burana

    Recently, I started reading the great blog called Bad Astronomy. Bad Astronomy deals with astronomy of course and its primary writer, Phil Plait,  touches on other branches of science regularly. The whole endeavor is peppered with a kind of sophomoric intellectualism and I can't get enough of it. Anyhow on Friday, Phil Plait wrote an amusing piece about pareidolia. Pareidolia is listening to something and hearing words and patterns that aren't really there.

    To illustrate his point, he posted this video that's had me laughing since Friday.


    That's O Fortuna from Karl Orff's Carmina Burana and it has to be one of the most stirring arrangements ever composed for a chorus. If you ever get the chance to see it performed live please drop what you're doing and go. It's at once so primal and so passionate you'd have to be a cadaver not to be affected by it. If you're interested in the lyrics, here they are in Latin as performed:
    O Fortuna
    velut luna                        
    statu variabilis,                 
    semper crescis                    
    aut decrescis;                   
    vita detestabilis                
    nunc obdurat                     
    et tunc curat                     
    ludo mentis aciem,                 
    dissolvit ut glaciem.               

    Sors immanis                       
    et inanis,                          
    rota tu volubilis,                 
    status malus,                       
    vana salus                         
    semper dissolubilis,                
    et velata                           
    michi quoque niteris;              
    nunc per ludum                      
    dorsum nudum                       
    fero tui sceleris.                  

    Sors salutis                       
    et virtutis                         
    michi nunc contraria,              
    est affectus                        
    et defectus                         
    semper in angaria.                  
    Hac in hora                        
    sine mora                           
    corde pulsum tangite;               
    quod per sortem                    
    sternit fortem,                    
    mecum omnes plangite!    

    If your Latin's not up to snuff and you'd like a translation, you can find one here. Be warned though, these lyrics aren't what I'd call uplifting. That's OK though, uplifting lyrics are overrated.

    21 February 2009

    Alessi sale! through March 3

    It's true, it's true; the design gods at Alessi are having a sale through March third on their online shop as well as at their locations in New York (Soho and Madison Ave.), Chicago and San Francisco.

    I've always loved Alessi's sharp design sensibilities and I appreciate their regular embrace of all things whimsical. If you've ever been exposed to Alessi wide range of products, you know what I mean. Seeing a display of their wares always makes me laugh and to walk through an Alessi store is my idea of a toy store for adults with discriminating taste. For my birthday last year, two great friends of mine gave me what's now one of my favorite possessions, the Pisenillo Q-tip holder.

    Here's the Pisellino in all its comic loveliness. The word pisellino is Italian slang for the appendage the Pisellino uses to keep the swabs it contains standing up. I get a laugh from it every morning. Grazie mile Alessi!

    Credit crisis 'splained

    I haven't harped about matters financial lately, so I think it's high time that I do so now. Here's a really good video that explains what's going on with this credit freeze annoyance. It's ten minutes long, but worth the watch.

    The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

    20 February 2009

    It's a sign of the times my friends

    Well you know times is hard when you get an Ann Sacks e-mail newsletter that mentions anything about prices. This month's arrived with something so far beyond the mention of price I had to make sure that it was indeed from Ann Sacks. Well it was and it's true. All is woe after all. Ann Sacks has three styles of wall tile that start at less than $10 a square foot.

    Avalon II --2" x 19 1/2" field in beige and 4 1/8" x 19 1/2" field in cocoa

    Avalon II --2" x 19 1/2" field in black and white

    Hacienda --3" x 4- 3/4" diamond in Normandy cream

    Hacienda --3" x 4" San Felipe in café olay

    Savoy --3/4" penny round in brick

    Savoy --stacked brick mosaic in silkscreen

    Savoy --3-7/8" x 3-7/8" field, offset brick and surface bullnose in paperwhite and box liner in black gloss

    Savoy --offset brick mosaic in mint

    Savoy --stacked mosaic and 3 7/8" x 7 3/4" field in bronze

    19 February 2009

    Reader question: what about mixing metals?

    Q: Help! I changed out the ceiling light in my dining room with a brushed nickel finish. The lights in my kitchen & foyer are shiny brass. I'd like to replace the finish in the guest bath with nickel as well. But all my doorknobs and hinges throughout the house are shiny brass. Gosh, will I have to replace all these as well? Or can I mix them up?

    What misguided soul is advising you and where does the idea come from that metals need to match everywhere? Oy. 

    Well the answer is an emphatic no --there is no rule that says all metals in an entire house have to have matching finishes. While I'm at it, there really aren't any rules period. Design doesn't have rules; it has guidelines and accepted practices but these are hardly universal laws. Further, all of these guidelines and accepted practices share a common thread of intention. Spaces look designed because someone thought about them and imposed some kind of order on a disorderly universe. That's the big picture as I see it anyway.

    Human beings are pattern-recognition machines. It's the root of our success as a species, and good design harnesses human brains' automatic pattern recognition skills. Better design manipulates and guides those same skills. I wrote about the Rule of Three a couple of months ago and that Rule of Three is nothing more than a pretty basic pattern (some would say the most basic pattern). Introducing a pattern and then sticking with it is fundamental and it's the easiest way to tackle things like metal finishes.

    When I'm working with a client and the topic of metal finishes comes up, it's usually in the context of a kitchen and whether or not the knobs and pulls need to match the faucet and sink. The answer again is a resounding no, but what those metal finishes have to do is make some kind of sense. So the easiest way to do this is to introduce a logic to the room you're working with. By a logic I mean a set of rules you're going to use as a guide.

    Here's a good example. This kitchen featured a Wolf range and an equally spendy range hood. My client wanted them to be the focal point of this side of her kitchen, so they are the only elements that are shiny. Your brain and my brain and everybody's brain is drawn to shiny objects. Shiny stuff stands out and things with a matte finish retreat into the background. So when I picked the knobs and pulls, I went with a pewter finish so that it wouldn't draw any attention away from the range and the hood. Once that was established, I decided that any cabinet that had hinges would get a knob. That pretty much means all of the doors got knobs. The next rule was that anything that pulled out got a handle. So the drawers got handles. My client wanted to use some cup pulls, so I made an amendment to the second rule. So shallow drawers got a handle and deep drawers got a cup pull. We kept the same pewter finish on all of the knobs, handles and cup pulls to connect them. On the wall opposite the range, the sink and faucet were the focal points, so I picked a stainless steel apron front sink and a tall goose neck faucet, also in stainless. These two metal finishes are doing different jobs (one grabbing attention, the other avoiding the spotlight) and so they have different finishes. See? Easy.

    So the answer to your question is still an emphatic no, your metal finishes don't have to match. They don't have to match but they do have to make sense. So make a room-specific set of rules for your project. It can be as simple as "Light fixtures have nickel finishes, door hardware has brass," and you can leave it at that. 

    18 February 2009

    J'aime beaucoup le mobilier métallique Tolix

    Last week, I wrote a piece about the Tolix tabouret avec dossier. Tolix makes a counter stool that I can't get out of my head. My post started off complaining about seeing prices listed in Euros on American websites and how that gets on my nerves because it strikes me as a pose, an affectation. Unlike American bloggers who write headlines in French of course. For the record, I write headlines in French because I'm worldly, not because I'm striking a pose. Hah!

    Anyhow, in that post, I mentioned Melissa Adelman's great Antiquaire, a Chicago-area purveyor of fine European antiques and imports. Antiquaire's a distributor of all things Tolix and Melissa and I traded a couple of e-mails after that original post appeared on the 13th. She's an interesting woman and based on the photos of her shop on Antiquaire's website, I feel a sudden urge to fly to Chicago. Seriously, look over her website. I can't imagine a more thorough inventory than hers.

    In the course of my correspondence with Melissa and in getting familiar with her site, I
     have really fallen for the entire collection of Tolix metal furniture (that's mobilier métallique to my fellow world travelers). In addition to the counter stools I mentioned last week, Tolix manufactures a full line of chairs, tables and lockers. Everything they make shares the same blend of utility and whimsy and I can't get enough of it.

    Tolix was started in 1907 by Xavier Pauchard, who brought the art of galvanizing steel to France. By 1927, Pauchard started making his now iconic metal cafe chairs and tables. Tolix chairs graced the decks of the Normandie and still crowd the sidewalks of Paris. All Tolix metal furniture is still made in the same Burgundian town where it all began, Autun.

    At a loss for some counter stools or some patio chairs? Look through Melissa's collection of new and vintage Tolix furniture. It's beautiful, timeless and indestructible stuff.

    17 February 2009

    Give me some of that house love

    A friend of mine sent me this video the other day and it has to be the most heartwarming thing I've seen in ages. This short film is a loving tribute to a restoration of a Queen Anne home in Cincinnati. From the mere act of watching, my mind conjures quite a story of who these restorers are. Clearly, they love one another deeply, almost as deeply as they love this house.

    I was looking at another friend's photographs the other day and she had a number of shots of her dog reclining on a Duncan Phyfe-style sofa in her living room. It made me laugh and it got me thinking about how easy it is for me to forget that real people have to live out their real lives in the spaces I design for a living. Queen Anne reproductions just aren't my style, but I like to think that the sentiment so present in the video above is. It's an honor really, to be asked to inject a little of that house love into somebody else's life. I can plot and plan all I want but I'm not doing my job very well if the kids can't do their homework at the dining table or if the dog can't climb up on the couch.

    16 February 2009

    Dirty, turdy, birdy feet

    In honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count that's still underway, I had these lovelies pointed out to me from the great website Rare Device.

    I have an allergic reaction to cuteness I swear, so these things are safe for me to be around. I get it that I have some ideas about what constitutes an objet d'art that are specific to me. I get it. With that said I can't think of a cooler objet to set on the corner of my living room bookcase. I love birds so that's covered, I love cast metal and that's covered too. They're perfect!

    Rare Device has scores of other one-of-a-kind artistically minded pieces. Think of it as Etsy without all of the cheesy, crafty stuff. You should check them out.

    15 February 2009

    Cheap fixes: fast, fat shelves

    Check this out:

    I love the look of what's usually called a chunky shelf, but the prices charged for most of them border on the criminal. Here's a cheap do-it-yourself project I found on Reader's Digest's website of all places. All you need is some basic tools, a couple of hours and an appreciation for cheap fixes that don't look cheap.

    1. Pick up an 18" or 24" wide hollow core door or two.

    2. Mark the studs on the wall where you want your shelf to go.

    3. Using either a table saw or a circular saw (use a fence or some kind of straight edge if you're going the circular saw route), and cut the door in half.

    4. Hollow core doors are actually not hollow. They have a corrugated cardboard core. Take a wood chisel (or a steak knife) and remove the corrugated cardboard center.

    5. Measure the inside dimension of the thickness of the door. Round the number down to the nearest eighth inch.

    6. Cut a 2x4 to the thickness of the inside dimension of the door's hollow core. This 2x4 is the cleat that will hold up your shelf and make it appear to float.

    7. Draw a straight line across the studs you've already marked on the wall. This straight line will be the line where you set the bottom of the cleat.

    8. Screw or bolt the cleat to the studs through the wall.

    9. Apply carpenter's glue to the top of the cleat and the lower inside of the back of the shelf. Slide the shelf onto the cleat.

    10. Fasten the shelf to the cleat with 1" brad nails space 8" apart.

    11. Allow the glue to cure and paint your heart out. Paint them any color but the blue in these photos, please.