31 May 2009

Support the 3/50 Project

The 3/50 Project is a nationwide, grass-roots effort to save independent businesses that were already reeling from the incursions of the Wall Marts and the Home Depots of the world before the bottom fell out of the economy. The 3/50 project is really simple.

Here's how it works.

Pick three independently-owned businesses you'd miss if they disappeared. Stop in. Say Hello and buy something. Anything. Your purchases are what keep those businesses afloat.

That's the three part. Now spend $50 a month, every month at one or each of those three businesses.

If half the employed population spent $50 a month at independent businesses, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine the impact if 3/4 of the employed population participated.

Something as simple as changing where you spend the money you'd spend anyhow could change the face of the landscape. Instead of complaining about the demise of mom and pop businesses, why not do something to help them stay in business?

And if you need a little more convincing, according the the US department of Labor, for every $100 spent in an independent business, $68 stays in the local economy through local taxes, payroll and other expenditures. When you spend that same $100 at Wal Mart, only $43 of it stays in your local economy.

Think about it. If you'd like to participate, just do it. If you'd like more information or if you'd like to be listed as a supporter, the 3/50 Project has a great website. Check it out and keep driving the next time you see a big box.

30 May 2009

I'm cleaning my light fixtures today

Oh joy. I like cleaning lampshades almost as much as I like cleaning ceiling fans. To commemorate this happy occasion, I found an image of a lampshade that right out of my nightmares.

Don't look at it for too long, it's hideous I know.

Cleaning lampshades and light fixtures properly can be a daunting task, but if you take your time and think it through, it can be painless and relatively quick. My pals at the Lighting Style Blog put together a couple of pointers on how to clean various fixtures. Their post this week is what prompted me to tackle mine today.

Glass Shades

  • Regularly dust with a soft lint-free cloth or dusting wand.
  • Occasionally, remove the shades from their fittings and wipe both the inside and outside with a damp cloth. If you are at all concerned with using a damp cloth, rule of thumb would dictate use of a dry cloth.
  • Care should be taken if there is any sort of pattern as excess water or rubbing may damage transfers, hand-painted surfaces, coloring or lead solder.
  • Wipe with a soft, dry cloth until dry.
  • Before re-assembly, dust the light bulb and fittings.

Fabric Shades

  • The best tool to dust a paper shade is an unused, clean, soft-bristled painter’s brush or a hairdryer with a cool/cold setting. Contrary to popular belief, fabric shades should never be vacuumed.  Most vacuums on the market today are too powerful and may stretch or damage the fabric.
  • Starting at the top of the lamp shade, use a downward long stroke to dust, rotate the shade and repeat. Do not brush too firmly as this may snag, tear or stretch the shade.
  • The inner surface of shades with inner plastic/hard liners can be wiped down with a clean, soft cloth. Shades with such surfaces should never be washed or dampened as the two materials tend to separate and fall apart.
  • Some fabric shades that have been stitched to their frame may be washed in a bath of warm, soapy water utilizing a delicate laundry soap. The fabric may stretch or sag when wet. Most fabrics will regain their shape as they dry. Rinse the lamp shade in a bath of clean water until no suds remain. Attach a string to the center frame, hang and let air dry. Do not immerse in water if the shade has delicate trim, beading or has been glued/ taped to its frame. If you are concerned with the fabric type getting wet, contact your local dry cleaner.
  • Before re-assembly, dust the light bulb and fittings.
Paper Shades

  • Paper shades are especially delicate to handle and clean.  The best tool to dust a paper shade is an unused, clean, soft-bristled painter’s brush.
  • Never vacuum a paper shade as it may snag, tear or stretch the paper.
  • Starting at the top of the lamp shade, use a downward long stroke to dust, rotate the shade and repeat. Do not brush too firmly as this may snag, tear or stretch the shade.
  • Never use water or damp cloth on the outside of the paper shade.
  • The inner surfaces of shades with inner plastic liners can be wiped down with a clean, soft cloth.
  • Before re-assembly, dust the light bulb and fittings.

See? Simple. Anybody else have any good pointers to share?

As if the Snuggie weren't bad enough

The Snuggie's summer cousin, The Wearable Towel is here. These things are intended to be worn outside. Can you imagine? Who knows if it's a tunic or a toga and frankly who cares? And who in their right mind thinks something like this is OK to wear outside

If you need more evidence that we live in a world gone mad, here it is.

29 May 2009

Alessi stainless steel at 20% off!

The household design gods at Alessi are having a sale on select stainless steel kitchenware. Starting today and running through 30 June, Alessi is launching a one-time stainless steel promotion. They are offering a 20% discount on many of their stainless steel classics and if you buy a second, discounted item, you'll receive a bookmark from their Girotondo collection.

Go ahead, add some Italian panache to your kitchen!

Alessi S.P.A. US

Cameron Frye's house is on the market

Who's Cameron Frye? Here's a clue, he's on the left in this photo.

Remember? Cameron Frye was Ferris Bueller's best friend in 1986's still-funny Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I was 21 when I saw that movie for the first time and I can't help but watch it again every time I stumble on it when I'm channel surfing.

Anyhow, Ferris' best friend Cameron is a sad sack, a hypochondriac and constant worrier. As the movie progresses, we learn that he's a mess because he's ignored at home. To illustrate that point, toward the end of the movie, the action progresses to Cameron's house. Cameron lives with his father in a mid-century marvel. It's an ode to minimalism this house and the director wants to play on his audience's prejudices against minimalism. Conventional wisdom holds that minimalism is cold and unfeeling and so the filmmaker, John Hughes, puts Cameron in a minimalist setting to describe and explain Cameron's inner life.

I called foul then and I call a foul now every time I see this movie. I remember being positively smitten with Cameron's house when I saw the movie wa-a-a-a-y back when. I lacked the vocabulary to describe what I liked about it then, but I sure don't lack it any more. Minimalism is not cold. I repeat, minimalism is not cold. Minimalism leaves nowhere to hide and provides no distractions and I say that's the real reason it makes some people uncomfortable. Minimalist settings require that the people who live in them lead intentioned, orderly lives. "Where's the warmth?" I hear people say all the time. To which I reply, "The warmth comes from the people who live in the space."

Anyhow, the house where Cameron Frye lived is on the market for a cool 2.3 million bucks. Christies has the listing and they've put together a really great website for the house. The house is being sold as-is and it needs new bathrooms and a new kitchen. Other than that though, it's move-in ready. Here are some of the photos of the house from the listing agent.

Copyright © 2009 Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

Copyright © 2009 Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

 © 2009 Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

 © 2009 Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

© 2009 Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

The house was designed by A. James Speyer, who was a well-known mid-century architect. His achievements on the house's design were hailed far and near. He built the home for Ben and Frances Rose. Ben Rose was a well-known textile artist whose work still hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Ben Rose's art is difficult to find these days, but here are two of his textiles from the AIC.

Girafters, 1949

Anterlopers, 1965

He had a sense of humor, that for sure.

So if you're interested in mid-century design or minimalism, this home is a textbook study in both. If you hate mid-century design or minimalism, this home is a perfect example of those two movements at their most pure. Looking over the images on Christie's website just might be your water at the well moment. Hah!

28 May 2009

New Ravenna Mosaics defines the word mosaic

A week ago, I was reading an article written by Adrienne Palmer on Susan Palmer's Design Blog and I came across this image. It's a mosaic back splash from New Ravenna Mosaics and Stone.

Beautiful kitchen yes, but what caught my eye was the mosaic on the wall behind the sink. Here's the detail shot Adrienne ran as part of her story.

My God, that mosaic's made with natural stone. I was hooked immediately. I left a comment to that effect after Adrienne's article and within an hour I had an e-mail in my in-bin from Sara Baldwin. Sara Baldwin is the artistic and entrepreneurial driving force behind New Ravenna Mosaic and Stone. She's also one very cool woman.

New Ravenna bills itself as the country's premier designer and manufacturer of stone and glass mosaic tile and I don't doubt that claim for a second. These mosaics are easily the most beautiful I've ever seen. There's a quality and thoughtfulness here that's something I'd expect to see in commissioned art. At first, that's what I thought New Ravanna was --the work of a single artist. 

I spoke with Sara Baldwin in a wide-ranging conversation last week and it turns out that New Ravenna is a 100-person strong organization in rural Virginia. So instead of a single artist working on a custom piece, New Ravenna employs a hundred of them.

Most of New Ravenna's work is done as fully custom design projects. However, they have an extensive collection of production patterns that can be ordered from any of their 200 distributors nationwide.

In looking over these patterns, it's pretty clear that these designs are the product of someone who knows how to work with the materials at hand. But they go a couple steps beyond that. If you look through New Ravenna's collections, you can see that for every design that's brand new and modern, there's also a design that's a modern take on on a classic pattern.

The classically-inspired designs are what appeal to me most about New Ravenna's offerings. I love classical designs and motifs but it doesn't take any real artistic ability to copy a Roman or Moorish pattern. On the other hand, to take inspiration from a classical form and to re-interpret it with modern eye takes something akin to genius. New Ravenna's revisitations of these classics are what make a believer out of me.

Spend some time combing though the New Ravenna Mosaic and Stone website and you'll see what I mean. I have a long-lived admiration for the art of mosaic and I've seen a lot of them. I can honestly say though, that it gets no better than this. I have never seen natural stone, and now glass look as good as this. Bravo!

27 May 2009

Induction cooking just got easier

Fagor, the Spanish appliance manufacturer, has just rolled out a new, portable induction cook top and it is slick. Fagor has been around since the early '50s and they are the largest manufacturer of induction cook tops in Europe. They have been a growing presence in the US market since the early '90s, and this is a company that's earned its chops.

The Fagor portable is lightweight and powerful. It weighs seven pounds and has a temperature range of 160 to 430 degrees. As with all induction cook tops, the appliance itself doesn't get that hot, it's the pot that does. I wrote an explanation of induction cookery here.

This portable has a lot of the features I'd expect to find in a much more expensive built in model. Features such as a built in countdown timer, a digital touch control panel, six power levels, and auto pan detector, a child lock, auto shut down and and a self-diagnosis and error reporting system.

This single, portable burner has all of those features; the legendary speed and hyper efficiency of all induction cookers at the easy to take price of $200. These cook tops make a fantastic supplement to an existing cooking arrangement and they are also a great way to give induction cooking a trial run. Bravo Fagor!

26 May 2009

Beware sketchy, industry-sponsored "research"

I read a blog every day called Barf Blog. Barf Blog is a project of University of Kansas associate professor of Food Safety Doug Powell. Powell has an extensive background in microbiology as well as a biting, entertaining wit. Barf Blog may be an academic exercise, but it sure doesn't read like one. Several times a day, Powell and a bunch of his food safety pals publish posts about how food safety and microbiology effect every day life. They do this with a tremendous sense of humor and a complete disavowal of scare tactics. Barf Blog is living proof that reason and rational thought will save the day every time.

OK with that said, last week, Ben Chapman wrote a great post debunking the results of a bogus study commissioned by the Canadian Plastic Industry Association that purported to prove that reusable grocery bags are a health hazard. They proved no such thing, but the story made it into the pages of my local paper anyhow.
Swab-testing of a scientifically-meaningful sample of both single-use and reusable grocery bags found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags. The swab testing was conducted March 7-April 10th by two independent laboratories. The study found that 64% of the reusable bags were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than the 500 CFU/mL considered safe for drinking water.
Coliform bacteria, yeast and mold are everywhere and trying to eliminate them is the ultimate fool's errand. Their presence on the surface of a grocery bag, an apple or your hands means nothing. Coliform bacteria in your drinking water is an all together different situation, but a grocery bag isn't a glass of tap water. There is coliform bacteria anywhere where there are life forms that poop nearby. Finding generic coliform bacteria in water is a test to see if a water source has been exposed to poop or not. Poop, human and otherwise, can carry all manner of dangerous pathogens and coliform counts in water samples are an an important and easily detectable warning sign. On its own, most coliform bateria is harmless. However, a very specific form of it is bad news and that form has a name, E. coli 0157:H7. The study found zero traces of 0157:H7 and states that finding clearly:
No E. coli or Salmonella was detected in any of the bags.
However, it follows up immediately with the conjecture that they might find some if they look harder. Spare me. That finding is buried in the Specific Results section of this paper:
The unacceptable presence of coliforms, that is, intestinal bacteria, in some of the bags tested, suggests that forms of E. coli associated with severe disease could be present in small but a significant portion of the bags if sufficient numbers were tested.
The finding of 500 CFU/mL makes me wonder too, because that's a measure for liquids. It means Colony Forming Unit per milliliter. The authors of this "study" found 500 colony forming units of coliform bacteria in a milliliter of grocery bag. Huh?

Clearly, this study was the handiwork of an industry feeling the pinch of people switching to reusable grocery bags and that's it. Releasing unscientific findings in the form of press release preys on most peoples' scientific illiteracy and fears. It's ridiculous, but what's really ridiculous is the outright fear mongering and the illogical leap to the idea that reusable grocery bags are responsible for food-born illness. 

But I suppose it's no more illogical and ridiculous than the claim that I need to use reusable grocery bags so that I can save the earth, what ever that means.

So why not this? The simple and rational reason to switch to reusable grocery bags is that they are a more efficient use of resources and they cost less money over time. You're not going to get impetigo from them any more than you're going to save the rain forest. What you will do though is reduce the amount of solid waste you generate, help to reduce the US's dependence on imported oil and you'll help to cut down on the amount of garbage that ends up being washed into waterways.

Their use is a smart way to lead a more efficient life, so go be more efficient and ignore industry-sponsored findings.

25 May 2009

More scenes from a love affair

So while I'm gushing about the wonders and joys of iPhone ownership, I came across this little gem this morning.

I have been a loyal reader of The New Yorker for more than 25 years. Probably more than any other single influence, The New Yorker has helped to shape my sensibilities, my sense of humor and standards. Since 1925, the New Yorker has been at the forefront of contemporary thought, criticism, art and literature. Besides, I think the magazine's hilarious. Sort of a Mad Magazine for the English majors of the world.

Well, every week, The New Yorker features new, original art on its cover. This week's cover is a finger painting by Jorge Colombo. Yes, a finger painting. However, it's a finger painting done on an iPhone using a $4.99 application called Brushes. Brushes has a free, companion application called Brushes Viewer and Brushes Viewer will allow anyone to capture a video of the process of drawing in Brushes. Here's the video of Jorge Colombo's creation of this week's New Yorker cover.

Colombo has made the iPhone his new medium and prints of his work are available for sale on his website. Again I ask you, what's a Blackberry?

An amazing new design tool for the iPhone

I love my iPhone. I am more satisfied with it than any other electronic device I've ever owned. I have been an iPhone fan for more than a year, so this is no honeymoon. Every electronic breakthrough since the wireless radio has promised to make life easier. So far as I'm concerned, the iPhone is the first such device to deliver on that promise.

I use it for everything and I've equipped mine with everything from a plumb bob to a line level to a carpenter's calculator to a metric converter to an Italian phrasebook. The iPhone has changed how I navigate and changed my whole relationship with the information age. If it's not already obvious, I am a big fan.

Well, I'm about to become an even bigger fan. On June first, the iTunes App store is rolling out a new, free application called ColorCapture Ben. This app was developed by Benjamin Moore Paints and ColorCapture Ben will allow me to take a photograph with my phone, then zoom in on any part of that photo and color match the photographed object to any one of Benjamin Moore's 3,300 paint colors. Unbelievable.

As if that weren't enough, the app will then use the iPhone's on board GPS to locate the user and then find the closest Benjamin Moore retailer.

All I have to say is "What's a Blackberry?"

24 May 2009

How NOT to have a give away

Amerock, the hardware people, are having a contest to generate some interest in their collection of rather pedestrian kitchen hardware. The grand prize, according to their website is this kitchen.

They're not kidding. They are giving away the kitchen in the photo. Not a version of it to fit the prize winner's home, but this kitchen. This pre-existing kitchen that's now sitting in some one's showroom no doubt. Here's the fine print from their entry rules:
One Winner will receive an existing, custom, pre-built kitchen, including custom medium brown maple cabinetry, Amerock Revitalize decorative hardware, Elkay Lustertone gourmet undermount stainless steel sink, Elkay pewter Oldare faucet, Zodiaq “Giallo Michelangelo” island countertop, and Zodiaq “Black Forest” countertop. Kitchen does not include internal plumbing fixtures and hardware or appliances. Sponsor will be responsible for the cost of delivery of the kitchen to the Winner. Winner shall be solely responsible for all costs of installation. Sponsor reserves the right to substitute the prize with a prize of equal or greater value due to availability of featured prize. No other substitution or transfer of prize is permitted.
What a curious thing. The fine print goes on to claim that this used kitchen is somehow worth $50K US and $61K Canadian.

Hmmm. It's not hard to rack up a $50,000 list price for a custom kitchen, but custom kitchens only have any value when they go into the room where they're intended. What makes a custom kitchen a custom kitchen is the fact that it's custom-made. Duh.

Outside of their intended rooms, custom cabinetry and counters has painfully little value. Try to sell Used cabinetry some time on eBay and see how far you get with it.

It's not that there's something wrong with giving away an old display, but what a strange contest.

23 May 2009

Sweet, sweet subversion

I love these plates.

I mean, how can you not?

Clever and deliciously subversive, aren't they?

These plates are the handiwork of an artist who calls herself Trixie Delicious. Aukland, New Zealand-based Trixie sells her wares (and ships worldwide) through a website called Felt. Felt is the Kiwi version of Etsy, a marketplace for a group of independent artists and artisans to sell their work.

Ms. Delicious takes vintage plates, platters, saucers and bowls and hand paints her messages of good cheer on them directly. She uses non-toxic, heat-fused, ceramic paint. This means that these delightful, heartwarming iconoclasms will last forever. Imagine the joyous faces around your table when you serve a Thanksgiving turkey from a Crackwhore Tray. That noise you hear is the sound of my heart growing three sizes from the thought alone!

Many thanks to Leona Gaita and her great blog Gaita Interiors for the tip off to these beauties. Spend some time this weekend getting to know Leona, I like her perspective.

22 May 2009

How to care for and feed your dishwasher

Thursday's New York Times contains their weekly Home and Garden section. It's always worth the peruse. Always. In that weekly section, there's a recurring column called The Fix, where a Times staffer fields a reader's question.

This week's installment of The Fix was written by Arianne Cohen, and she tackled the question, "Why isn't my dishwasher cleaning my dishes?" Ms. Cohen did a great job with the answer and parts of her column were news to me. Adding to my store of appliance knowledge is something I'm always happy to do and I'm going to excerpt some of her more interesting points here.
“Pre-rinsing dishes is a big mistake,” said John Dries, a mechanical engineer and the owner of Dries Engineering, an appliance design consulting company in Louisville, Ky. “People assume that the dishwasher will perform better if you put in cleaner dishes, and that’s not true. Just scrape. Pre-rinsing with hot water is double bad, because you’re pumping water and electricity down the drain.”

It’s actually triple bad, according to Mike Edwards, a senior dishwasher design engineer at BSH Home Appliances in New Bern, N.C. “Dishwasher detergent aggressively goes after food,” Mr. Edwards said, “and if you don’t have food soil in the unit, it attacks the glasses, and they get cloudy,” a process known as etching that can cause permanent damage.

It’s also important not to use too much detergent, he said.

How much do you need? That depends on how much food soil there is, he said, not how many dishes. “If you have a light load,” he said, “don’t fill the detergent cup all the way.”

Powder detergent is preferable to that in liquid or tablet form, he said, because it leaves dishes cleaner. But store it somewhere dry, not under the sink, where it can absorb moisture and form clumps.
That's an interesting note about pre-rinsing dishes. Who knew that when a detergent doesn't have enough to do, it goes all renegade.
Mr. Dries offered a final tip: stick with the normal cycle. It’s the one consumer organizations conduct all their performance and energy tests on. “Manufacturers know this, so it’s the cycle that the most work went into,” he said.

The pots-and-pans cycle is rarely necessary, except when you have baked-on foods, he said, nor is the heat-dry function.

“A trick you can use is called flash dry,” he added. As soon as the dishwasher shuts off, open the door. “Dishes are at their hottest point and give up water moisture the fastest. Within 5 to 10 minutes, your dishes are going to be completely dry.”
I love this kind of insider information. The bit about all of the engineering of a dishwasher getting poured into the normal cycle is really go to know too. And flash drying, who knew?

21 May 2009

Revisiting the sink revolution

Last week, I wrote a quick piece about about the Affluence seamless sink. Within hours of that post's going live, I received a very thoughtful e-mail from Dan Sullivan. Dan Sullivan is the inventor of the seamless sink and he's also the CEO of Affluence, the company who brought the seamless sink to market.

Dan gave me his phone number and asked me to call him, so I did. What followed was an hour-long conversation with a man whose passion for his invention is contagious, let me tell you. What an inspiring story and what a great human being. Dan walked me through Affluence's website and we reviewed everything, sink by sink.

When I wrote about the Affluence originally, all I saw was the streamlined look of a seamless sink. Granted, it's an impressive feature, but it's only a third of the story.

All disposers have a clunky black stopper. In a double bowl sink, which is what most people have, there's a strainer basket on the sink side and stopper on the disposer side. Because that's the way thing just are, no one thinks that they don't coordinate. At least I never did. But in an Affluence sink, the strainer and the stopper are identical. They're identical because the drain opening and the disposer opening are the same size. Brilliant! It makes the already improved appearance look even better.

See what I mean? Now go look at your sink. If you have a double bowl set-up, take a look at how bad your stopper looks. Awful, isn't it? As I'm showing here, there's help available.

The final third of the story is how the Affluence seamless sink re-thought the act of disposer installation. Plumbers hate installing disposers. It's a labor-intensive exercise that invariably ends in bleeding knuckles. But watch this video as Dan himself installs a disposer on an Affluence sink.

All of the parts for this installation come with the sink too, so there's nothing extra to buy. Again, brilliant!

I understand completely why the Affluence Seamless Sink won the Best of Competition Award at KBIS this year. And Dan, you made a believer out of me.

20 May 2009

A clarification for Brenda et al

I've been talking about mosaics a lot this week and last night, the great and powerful Jamie Goldberg (of Gold Notes fame) asked me a question about ending a sheeted mosaic neatly. I tried to describe my preferred way to deal with that, the Schluter Edge. I think my explanation lost a couple of people. I mentioned to Jamie too that I like seeing offset, brick patterns set vertically rather than horizontally. This seems to have thrown people for a bit of a loop as well. Here are some photos from my archives that will illustrate what I'm talking about.

Here's what I mean by a Schluter Edge.

Schluter is a brand name and Schluter makes some really great metal trims for bridging the gap left when abutting materials are of differing depths.

Here it is from a little closer.

Now, A Schluter Edge isn't the only way to end a tile backsplash. In the trade, mosaic tile manufacturers makes something that's usually called pencil, or pencil edging. Here's some pencil edging at work.

The back splash material here is a blend of travertine and marble and the pencil edge is travertine.

Make sense? Cool.

Now, most sheeted, offset mosaics come looking like this:

The ragged edges interlock and hide the seams between sheets. This works great until you want to either finish an edge cleanly or change the orientation of the pattern to a vertical one. Setting a sheet like this vertically entails cutting off its ragged edges and automatically wasting a lot of the material. I say that's a small price to pay for an effect like this:

Or this:

Here's a closer shot of that same backsplash tile.

It's a personal preference that makes tile setters hate me, but little things like this are what make a kitchen looked designed and not just installed.

The Natalie Blake collection from Ann Sacks

A little more than a week ago I reported on the tile mosaics of a ceramics artist named Natalie Blake. The offerings of Natalie Blake Studios are beautiful and original and I'm not the only one who noticed, believe me.

No less than Ann Sacks has picked up three of Natalie's designs and they are now available from Ann Sacks showrooms and authorized dealers nationwide. The series Dahlia and Nautilus can be used individually or as a vertical or horizontal mural. The third series, Botanical, is available in 20 colors and can be used individually or as a group.

Natalie's utilizes an old art form called S'graffato, that's Italian for scratched. She doesn't use molds or dies, rather each tile is sculpted and then the design is hand-impressed in the surface. Her offerings are beautiful and unique, almost like a three-dimensional wood cut.

Here's the Dahlia as a vertical mural.

Here are some details from the Dahlia.

And here's the Nautilus, also set as a vertical mural.

Here are some Naurilus detail photos.

Here are some of the individual tiles from the Botanical series.