31 December 2009

New Year's achievements and goals

So it's New Year's Eve already and I'm looking forward to closing the door on 2009 in many, many ways. It's funny, my income took a hit at the beginning of the year and had I been told about it in advance I would have thought it unsurvivable. Survive I did and that loss of income made me smarter, faster and more innovative. 2009 had me reaching into places I never thought I'd get to on my own. What a year! My head still reels from a lot of it. I owe a huge amount of what I accomplished in 2009 to this blog and to all of you who read my rantings. So thank you.

Every year, I take stock of the year we're about to leave and I spend some time setting goals for the year to follow. New Year's resolutions are too vague and unmeasurable so I dispense with them all together in favor of writing down a list of achievable, measurable goals. Before I write down my targets for the new year though, I write down my achievements from the year that's ending. It's always interesting to compare my achievement list to the goal list from the previous year. Interesting to me anyhow.

Telling myself through a resolution that I will make more money in 2010 isn't specific enough, there's no yardstick. I find it a lot more helpful to write down, "I will increase my income by 30%." That leaves me with something to measure and it makes me responsible for my own performance.

Ordinarily, I keep my lists private, but this year I'm going to share some highlights from it to keep me accountable. Indulge me:

2009 Achievements

  • I survived the longest dry spell in my career.
  • I flew to Google for a meeting with the SketchUp team.
  • I increased my blog readership by over 1000% (I checked that math repeatedly and I still can't wrap my head around it).
  • I won a cooking contest in the test kitchens of GE Monogram.
  • I sat in the front row of a major runway show at Fashion Week in New York.
  • I interviewed Sarah Susanka.
  • I interviewed Sara Baldwin.
  • I took on my first virtual design clients.
  • I had paid and unpaid writing gigs show up all over the internet.
  • I did the best design work of my career.
  • I held my first great niece.

2010 Goals

  • I will increase my income by 30%.
  • I will double my web traffic by the end of the year.
  • I will go back to Rome in June.
  • I will go to the gym and lift weights for 45 minutes twice a week, every week.
  • I will end the year at the same weight I am right now.
  • I will write three feature stories for print publications.
  • I will formalize a fee schedule and business plan for my social media consultations by February.
  • I will re-tool and re-launch Kitchen and Residential Design by May.
  • I will pay cash for everything.
  • I will pay off the last of my consumer debt by December '10.

And that my friends are the highlights from my list. What about you guys? Anybody else want to list some goals and be accountable here?

30 December 2009

2009's greatest hits, a retrospective in two parts

I posted more than 500 times in 2009. My goal is to post once a day and I'm happy to report that there was not one day in 2009 that went post-less. I think I've earned the title prolific blogger. While it's true that a lot of work goes into this blog, not all of it's worth remembering. There are a couple of stand outs though, some posts of which I'm particularly proud. Coming up with a list like the one I'm about to launch into let's me toot my own horn and it makes for good SEO at the same time. Here goes:

In response to a reader's question about faucet finishes, I embarked on a multi-part series of posts that explained how plumbing manufacturers come up with and apply fixture finishes. The marketing team at Kohler was instrumental in pulling this one together. So thank yous go out to Kohler and to my reader Ming who got this particular ball rolling back in February.

So What The Devil's a Living Finish Anyway?

I'm not at all prone to being star struck, but in March I came pretty close when I landed an interview with Sarah Susanka. She was doing publicity for her new book and of all the high profile architects out there, she sits at the head table in my pantheon. I am not kidding when I say that Sarah Susanka's ideas are what motivated me to choose my profession. Having the chance to visit with her was a real highlight of my year.

A Conversation with Sarah Susanka

I love it when I get reader questions. I get them all the time and I answer each of them personally and usually the same day they come in. However, some of those questions end up as fodder for a post. What ends up being posted is a more fleshed out version of my original answer, but those posts always preserve the flavor of my answer. Got a question? Ask away but you just may find your question shot across the internet. Such was the case with the following. This was a blast to write and it continues to be a traffic magnet nine months after it appeared for the first time.

Reader Question: How Do I Explain a Bidet to a Four-Year-Old?

I am a generalist, a dilettante. I'll be the first to admit that. I know a little bit about a lot of things and I love to write about my varied interests. Sometimes, I get to combine some of my passions and such is the case in this series I wrote about High Renaissance Mannerism and the history of western art.

Speaking of the Renaissance

I followed it up the next day with Unbelievable, Really... a rant about the small minds who can't handle looking at a classical nude statue.

I try to keep my work life separate from what I write about on this blog. I try to. I am a publicity whore but I know that most people aren't, so I take great pains to avoid identifying my clients and potential clients in this space. A lot of times though, my work life and the things I discuss here collapse on top of each other. Sometimes a real-life situation will help me to make a point, sometimes I want to show off and sometimes I want to shock and provoke. Such was the case with this post.

Don't Call Me If Your House Looks Like This

Man, I can still smell that condominium and it sends shivers down my spine. What's funny is that post prompted some well-meaning soul to send me an e-mail where she accused me of being bitter and lonely and then offered me her contact information so that she and I could talk about how Jesus could free me from my anger. OK.

Finally, in early June a reader sent me an image of a Christopher Peacock kitchen and she asked me about the source of the light fixture hanging in the center of it. I love challenges like this, so I turned to Gina Milne and her blog Willow Decor. Gina was one of the many great blogosphere contacts I made in early 2009. Gina's a terrific researcher and she's pretty plugged into the world of shelter blogs. Gina then turned to Brooke Gianetti and her blog Velvet and Linen. Brooke posted the question within an hour and then a short time later Tammy Connor, one of Brooke's readers and a Birmingham-based interior designer, identified the light fixture. Here's the post I wrote about it.

Behold the Power of the Blogosphere

In a matter of hours, a reader from New York asked me, in Florida, a question. I then asked a blogger in Boston who in turn asked another blogger in LA. The LA blogger had a reader in Alabama who answered it. The answer followed the chain back to me and I answered my original reader. That question circled the US in a matter of hours and none of that kind of networked communication was a thought let alone a possibility a few short years ago. Pretty cool stuff.

So they are the highlights of the first half of 2009. On Friday I'll go through the second half and then I'll be ready to attack 2010 with a renewed sense of my mission here and a passion  reborn. Writing this blog has been the most rewarding endeavor I've ever embarked on and I owe each and every one of you a profound thank you.

29 December 2009

Believe it or not, not all gorgeous European tile comes from Italy

I wrote yesterday about Petracer's from Modena in Italy. Well if you head south west and across the Mediterranean for about 1200 kilometers you'll come to Castellón de la Plana in the Castellón province of the València community in Spain. Here's a map for those of you who are geographically impaired.

Castellón de la Plana is the home of Dune ceramics.

Dune ceramics was a real stand out at the last Coverings show and what these people are doing with tile and metallics is setting a new standard. Just look at all this beauty.

Dune's motto is Pasión por Decorar and that translates into English as something like Going Further in Decoration. I'd say they're living up to their motto. What say ye? Is it beautiful or is it too much?

28 December 2009

Petracer's makes beauty

I'm putting my travel schedule together for 2010 and one of the highlights will no doubt be attending Coverings this year. Coverings is the trade show for the tile, stone and flooring industries and it takes place in Orlando from April 27th through April 30th this year. I'm very much a tile guy, and Coverings is a feast in every sense of the word.

Coverings is an international show and the world's best and most interesting producers and manufacturers show off their wares during those three days in April. The Italians are well represented of course and for me, it's the Italian companies that push the envelop farthest.

The last time I attended Coverings, I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the sales and marketing team from Petracer's Pregiate Ceramiche Italiane. In English, that means "Petracer's Precious Italian Ceramic." They are aptly named.

Petracer's is based just outside of Modena in Emilia-Romagna. Modena is renowned for it's basalmic vinegar of course, but it's also a hot bed of Italy's tile industry.

Petracer's tile has a unique aesthetic and I say they produce the most authentically Italian tile in the business. There's a distinctive look to Italian decorative art and Petracer's captures it perfectly. There's a spare and clean feel to the aesthetics I'm describing. Petracer's look whispers instead of shouting. And when it does raise its voice, it's a joyful sound indeed.

Look at some of their offerings here. What do you think?

27 December 2009

Let's paint my living room (or yours)

I have an army man green wall in my living room and I hate it.

I didn't hate it when I painted it of course, but it is time for a change. I painted it a little more than five years ago and I remember the weekend well. It was in the autumn of 2003, and the west coast of Florida was hunkering down for a hurricane warning. This was before 2004's hurricane season from hell. Back then, I never really understood how dangerous and damaging a hurricane could be. Within a year though, Hurricanes Charlie, Jeanne, Francis and Wilma would come along and beat the crap out of us and instill in me a profound respect for  the nightmare scenes the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean can throw at us here in the sunshine state.

So anyhow, in the fall of 2004 we were hunkering down to wait out another storm's passing and I planned to paint an accent wall in my living room to pass the time. Accent walls were all the rage then and the army man green I picked was very much on trend. There was a moment back then when black-greens were the last word. That moment passed about six months after I painted that wall.

I've groaned at the sight of that wall every time I've come home for the last four-and-a-half years and it is time. So how much paint to buy?

Well, I'll tell you. There's a rule of thumb when it comes to paint coverage and like all rules of thumb, it's a guideline more than it is a hard and fast rule.

A gallon of paint will cover 400 square feet of fully prepped and smooth wall. So take the area of the walls to be painted in square feet and divide by 400 and you'll know how many gallons you'll need. So measure the height and width of each wall in inches. Multiply those two numbers the divide the result by 144 and it will give you the area in square feet.

So a perfectly square room where each wall measured 10 feet by ten feet would give you 400 square feet of wall. A gallon of paint would paint a single coat on that whole room. A second coat would mean you'd double the gallons of paint you'd need. Make sense?

So now that I know how many gallons of paint I need, where do I go to get the motivation to actually paint?

26 December 2009

The Process

By Judd Lord, guest blogger

Supposedly, Keith Richards dreamed the guitar riff of “Satisfaction.” He woke up, recorded himself playing the notes into a bedside tape recorder, and fell back asleep. What he had the next morning was a few seconds of guitar and an hour of snoring.

I don’t want to say I’ve had experiences similar to Keith’s but, as Paul has written in this very blog, I did get the idea for Brizo’s Venuto faucet line from the hair utensils worn by Japanese women during a good night of sake at a restaurant. That was a classic napkin sketch moment for me. Woke up the next day, pulled the crumpled thing out of my pocket and thought, “Huh? What was I supposed to do with this?!”

Design has to have a personal story or history to the designer. Delta's Victorian line grew out of a trip to New Orleans; take the top portion of the Victorian handle, turn it vertical and you will see the center of a fleur de lis. Brizo's Floriano was inspired by a dying flower in a vase. The aesthetic of water folding over itself in the Brizo Vesi channel was inspired by a section of stream in Minnesota where I used to vacation.

What’s even more important than the inspiration for design, though, is the collaboration of the design team. Every designer brings their own life experiences and perspectives to the table. Multiple people on the team provide input throughout the refinement process. It’s that collaboration and melding of perspectives that really make for a stronger overall design in the end.

Consumers of a product will choose one product over another based on a wide set of variables, something in the back of your head that makes you choose this one over that one – size, feel, weight, function, experience; tactile, auditory or aesthetic qualities. As designers we strive to pull more of the users' senses into the experience, to hit upon those intangibles. Every product is a solution to a problem, and it’s better to have more designs than fewer, the widest spread of solution sets to work with.

In other words, Keith Richards may have come up with the riff, but it took the rest of the Stones to turn that into “Satisfaction.” Most designers love this process, of collaborating on problems, of taking something from inspiration to completion. No one goes into the field wanting to design packaged goods or laser printers… no offense to laser printers. You go into design school thinking you want to design cars, but soon realize it’s the design process you love, the challenge of putting all the pieces together.

And believe me, working with something as intangible as water is a challenge. But it’s one I love, too.

Judd Lord began his career at Delta Faucet Company® over sixteen years ago. In 2000 he was appointed manager of industrial design with the challenge to establish Delta Faucet as a design and innovation forward company. In 2004 he was instrumental in laying out the groundwork for the Brizo portfolio, personally designing several of the initial marquee product suites in the fashion-forward brand. In 2006 he was made director of industrial design and continues to oversee creative direction for both the Brizo and Delta brands. Lord's passion for design and his ability to make an emotional connection with the consumer through product design has lead to hundreds of design patents and numerous design awards.

25 December 2009

Meet Judd Lord tomorrow

The Venuto, designed by Judd Lord at Brizo

Judd Lord is the industrial design director for Brizo and Delta Faucets. He's a talented, insightful man I met him in New York last September.

Judd Lord, Jason Wu, me and Seth Fritz just hanging at a Fashion Week after show party. Impressed? You should be.

I'm beyond intrigued by industrial design and I'm particularly interested in learning about the process designers like Judd use to come up with new faucets and fixtures. Well, tune in tomorrow and he'll tell you himself. I had Judd write a guest post about his process. He and his process will show up more and more in 2010 and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them for him after his post tomorrow.

Jingle Bells around the world









And finally, we come back to the US in what has to be the most curious of all of the Jingle Bells covers in existence:


24 December 2009

Tonight is La Vigilia

Tonight is La Vigilia. Despite my complete lack of anything resembling an Italian heritage, I have claimed one anyhow. The way I see it, I'm Italian by intention not Italian by birth. That's a mere technicality.

La Vigilia is an Italian-American, traditional meal held on the evening of 24 December. So before I get ready to dive into some Baccalà and salt cured anchovies tonight, I need to set a mood for the day.

In 1744, a Neapolitan priest named Alfonso Maria de Liguori wrote a song that would come to be Italy's great and lasting contribution to the body of world Christmas music. The song is Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle and here it is performed by Luciano Pavarotti. This version makes the hair on my arms stand up, but that's just me.

Tu scendi dalle stelle,
O Re del Cielo,
e vieni in una grotta,
al freddo al gelo.

O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ahi, quanto ti costò
l'averci amato!

A te, che sei del mondo
il Creatore,
mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore!

Caro eletto Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà
più mi innamora!
Giacché ti fece amor
povero ancora!

Buon Natale!

23 December 2009

OK, now this is serious

So yesterday I got nominated for an Apartment Therapy Homie Award and I thought it was more funny and strange than anything. As it got bandied around the blogosphere though, a bit of a competition started up. I still don't really care a whit or a fig for Apartment Therapy but damn it, there's a competition on.

At the risk of sounding like a complete sell-out (I'd use whore but Christian from Maison21 has the trademark on that word --hah!) Follow this link and vote for me. What better way to remain a fly in their ointment than to place well in one of their awards?

Christian's post on this topic is priceless, check it out and while you're voting vote for Maison21 too.

Riding Google's Wave

This is a kitchen layout.

Here's another view of it.

So far as kitchen designs go, it does what it needs to do at a price point someone's willing to pay. In addition to that it has a lot of function built into a relatively small space and it pulls off all that function while still looking orderly and clean. A design like this will last a family for years and barring any radical changes in popular taste, this kitchen renovation is a purchase they will never have to make again.

Obviously, it's one of mine and it's a Sketchup model. How it got to its current state though is a good story.

Around a month or so ago, two of my long time readers contacted me about designing a floor plan for a house they're renovating. That's not unusual, I get calls like that all the time. What was unusual was that they were 300 miles away and their budget wouldn't allow for any on-site time for me.

So they sent me a .pdf of their floor plan and a SketchUp model of the house the way it's configured now.

So I rebuilt their floor plan on top of the one they'd provided and I designed a kitchen in it. I specified a bunch of finishes and thought long and hard about all of the parts that were going to go into this project.

Ordinarily, when I have the basics of a floor plan and a budget put together, I call on the client and we have a sit down to review everything. Ordinarily, I print out everything on 11" x 17" paper and we talk through the whole plan. I take notes during that conversation and then make whatever changes are needed after the appointment. That's pretty much how kitchen design works and it's worked that way since the days of hand drawn renderings.

Well in this case, my clients were too far away to drive for an appointment, so we arranged for a virtual one.

The conversation was going to be about budgets, so I exported my SketchUp model as an AutoCad file and then imported it into 20/20. 20/20 is a CAD derived POS software I use to price kitchens. The clients in question are also users of Google Wave and the plan was to use Wave as a collaboration tool if we needed it.

At the appointed hour, they called me (on my Google Voice number, natch) and I e-mailed them a couple of perspective drawings. Now these files are huge and e-mailing them takes forever.

Eventually the files arrived and we started our conversation. There were some changes that needed to be made so I started making them as we spoke.

As I made changes, I would save them as .jpg files and pop them right into the Wave we'd started. Sort of like this.

Once I would set the .jpg files into Wave, they were visible immediately to my clients. They would click on them and see them in full size. It was amazing, there was no guess work or chance for miscommunication. What I couldn't get over was the speed at which I could make a change, make a .jpg and then get it in front of them to see what they thought.

In the course of an hour-and-a-half phone call we accomplished something that usually takes weeks.

The next day I had a hangover from drinking all that Google Kool-Aid the night before but I couldn't help but to think that I'd somehow touched the future of my profession. Doing design long-distance has always had the problem of not being immediate, but Google Wave just changed that.

Google Wave is where distance communication is headed. But it's not just for static communication, after all that's what e-mail does. But Wave is immediate and it happens in real time. It's not chat because it can have everything from calendars to maps inserted right into the stream without missing a beat. For now, Google Wave is in limited release. As cool as it is, it's not quite ready for prime time. With time, its functionality will increase and improve. For now though, it's an impressive tool and I can't get near it without thinking about how powerful it will be when it's fully up to speed.

So congrats Google Gang, you came up with another winner. If you'd like to learn more about Google Wave, here's a link to Google's Wave information page.

22 December 2009

Isn't it ironic?

That's the nomination page from Apartment Therapy's 2009 Homie Awards. Check out who's the third blog listed under Hot Movers.

All hail reader Nim and her delicious blog Bitchlexia for nominating me. I can't think of anything more fun than ending up on a list on Apartment Therapy. Other than a black list that is.

***edited to add: I just realized that this is a competition. Get on there and vote!

This tree stand is modern and traditional at the same time. Excellent!

How cool is that? I have pretty modern sensibilities. I love a clean line and a minimum of fuss. At the same time, I am an absolute sap when it comes to Christmas. I love it that there's a day built right into the calendar that's an excuse to show the people around you that you love them. Because Christmas has so many emotions attached to it, it seems to give nostalgia buffs a free pass to crowd up their homes and neighborhoods with as much offensively tasteless crap as China can crank out. Ewww. No thanks. So what's a sensible minimalist to do with his tree?

Well thanks to the clever gals at Design Boner, I found a solution.

This is the simply named Pine Tree Stand by Maria Håård for Design House Stockholm. The Pine Tree stand is made from lacquered steel and it's available for online purchase through Design House Stockholm. Never fear, they ship world wide and they conduct business across all currencies. The Pine Tree Stand comes in three colors and retails for the very reasonable $75 US.

Although it may be too late for this year, it's never too early to plan for next year. And as they say in Stockholm, god jul!

21 December 2009

A microscopic look at some counter materials

Dartmouth College

Another great contact I've made through Twitter in the last few months is the Aspex Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA. Aspex has been in business since the early '90s and they have embraced social media with a savvy and confidence that makes them stand out. The Aspex Corporation makes Scanning Electron Microscopes among other things and that a company in a very technical field and a kitchen designer could strike up a casual acquaintance is a great example of the expansion and simultaneous contraction of the world made possible by social media.

A scanning electron microscope (or SEM) is an instrument for visualizing the surfaces of objects and materials not possible through ordinary optical microscopes. Rather than using a lens to magnify reflected light (an optical microscope) SEMs use a focused beam of electrons to scan a surface.

Aspex Corporation

The electrons bounce back to a detector and the detector generates an image. SEMs can only "see" a small section of an object at a time. So the object being examined is placed on a Sample Stage in the SEM and the stage makes small, incremental movements called rasters. The rasters are then compiled into a complete image and displayed on a screen. It's pretty cool stuff. Most people have seen SEM images of ant's heads or snowflakes and that's a quick explanation of how those images were made.

Well Aspex is running an offer to scan and analyze any sample that can fit inside the chamber of one of their SEMs for free so I took them up on their offer.

I enjoy cutting through marketing speak to an almost unhealthy degree and counter materials are a product category rife with it. For as long as they've been around, I've heard the claims made by quartz composite manufacturers that their products were "perfectly smooth and non-porous." Since this claim is always made during a comparison with the surface irregularities of granite my BS meter goes off.

Quartz composites are a perfectly fine material and I specify their use all the time. In my mind, they are an alternative to natural stone counters but not a substitute for them. They have a very unique look and there are specific times when their use is called for. At the same time, sometimes the over all look of a room calls for granite or soapstone or marble. These materials are not interchangeable and each one has its strengths and weaknesses.

So when Aspex Corporation made its offer to scan any sample I could fit into the chamber of one of their SEMs, I decided to put to the test the quartz composite claims of perfect smoothness and non porosity.

I took two samples that had been sitting on the end of my desk for years and shipped them off to Aspex.

The samples I sent were a piece of Santa Cecelia granite and Sienna Ridge by Silestone. This is by no means an accurate sampling of an entire industry's products. Rather, this is a test of two very specific and very well handled samples. The evidence presented here is anecdotal at best but I still there's something valid to be learned.

photo from Aspex Corp.

Here are my samples upon arrival at Aspex.

photo from Aspex Corp.

Here they are relaxing in front of the PSEM eXpress, Aspex Corporation's bench top model.

The degree of magnification in the following examples is expressed with a scale in each image. The scale is in microns and a micron is another word for a micrometer. A micro meter is a millionth of a meter, put another way, a micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter. Microns are abbreviated as µm. To give you a little more perspective, a human air is 100µm wide and a red blood cell is 8µm in diameter. Salmonella bacteria are 2µm in length and 0.5µm wide.

So here's what my sample of Santa Cecilia looks like.

In this image, the scale at the top reads 200µm. So if you took two human hairs and set them side by side, they would be as wide as the scale.

In this image the scale reads 1000µm. So if you took ten human hairs and set they side by side, they would be as wide as the scale.

Here's another Santa Cecilia granite image at 1000µm.

Now it's quartz composite's turn.

Here's my quartz composite sample with a scale that reads 200µm.

Here is is at a higher magnification, 1000µm

And another shot of it at 1000µm.

Pretty cool, huh? Now, I will grant the quartz composite people an acknowledgement that this sample is smoother than this sample of granite, but I would hardly call it "perfectly smooth and non porous."

So what I take away from this is that I won't be swayed by claims that I should specify quartz composites over natural stone because they are smoother and non-porous (and more hygienic by implication) and I will continue to use composites where they would look best and natural stone where it would look best.

What do you think?

In the meantime, poke around on Aspex Corp's website. You can even send in something of your own with this form. They have a pretty cool contest every week where they invite people to guess what a scan is. Here's last week's:

Care to hazard a guess?

Why it's a Post-it note being pulled back from the pad of course.

Thanks Aspex!