31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

I like both of these old covers.

I'm still on my blogging break and I'll be back in full swing next week. Have a terrific New Year's Eve and thanks for a spectacular 2010 at K&RD!

24 December 2010

The ghosts of Christmas variety shows past

It's Christmas Eve. I don't know if it's your thing or not but it's sure mine. This is my favorite day of the year, my favorite night of the year to be specific. So before I take off for a couple of days to ring in my Christmas Eve, I want to thank all of you guys for another terrific year. This little blog thing has brought so many great people into my life and they've brought so much good stuff with them it gets overwhelming to think about.

So as we get ready to show 2010 the door and usher in 2011 I want to wish all of you the very best for the coming year.

2010's been a feast on one hand and a famine on the other. Whattya say we all work on having there be more feast and less famine in 2011?

And although it's great to look forward to what's next, Christmas is always a good excuse to look back too. I'm not one to entertain a whole lot of nostalgia, it never seems like a productive use of time. However there are some exceptions. Most people get all excited every year when the Grinch comes on TV. Or how about A Charlie Brown Christmas? For other people it's all about A Year Without a Santa Claus. The Christmas stuff I remember so fondly never makes it back onto TVland or ABC Family.

I'm talking about Christmas variety shows of course. They're the ignored art form from the days of network only TV. Well thank heavens for YouTube. Even now, despite all of my classical longings, it's not Christmas in my house until I break out the Andy Williams.

Andy Williams defined Christmas for me as a kid. Everybody was nice, sung well and wore sweaters. What more could you ask for really?

And of course, Andy Williams discovered the Osmond Brothers. The addition of the Osmonds to Andy's Christmas specials ratcheted up the treacle levels to near-cavity-inducing levels but it was a lot of fun anyhow.

The Osmonds took their early fame and turned it into an entertainment moguldom that should make the Brittanys and the GaGas squirm with discomfort. These people were an entertainment machine. One of the neighbor kids and I used to ask each other all the time "Who would you want to be adopted by, the Osmonds or the Jacksons (of Jackson Five fame)?" I would always pick the Jacksons. Even then, at nine or ten, all that forced happiness made me uncomfortable. It was sure fun to watch though.

Once everybody figured out that there was money to be made in TV variety shows, Christmas specials in particular, the floodgates opened and everybody got in on the act. Watch, if you dare, this clip from Sonny and Cher. Count the B-list celebrities.

Variety shows always made for strange bedfellows. Whether it was Charo and Señor Wences chewing scenery with Donnie and Marie or Ruth Buzzi hamming it up on the Flip Wilson show, variety shows brought together the weird and the wonderful and everybody ended up singing. In the next clip, the has-been and desperate meet the new and eager in an orgy of self-promotion at any cost.

Though variety shows as a rung on the career ladder peaked in the mid-70s, the genre lived on as a vehicle for selling records as evidenced by this gem from the early '80s. I'm dedicating this to my great friends Brandon and Kevin who abandoned me and the glories of Christmas in St. Pete for the sordid bacchanal of New Orleans a couple of years ago. The memory of their drunken renditions of Hard Candy Christmas, sung a capella on my sofa every year, sustain me through hard times.

Finally, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when John Denver's agent sobered him up and explained that they were going to save his career by having him sing with puppets on TV.

It worked.

So have a great Christmas one and all. If Christmas isn't your thing, enjoy having the movie theaters all to yourselves this weekend. I'm going to take a couple of days off and I'll be back next week.

23 December 2010

Reader question: Is it island time for me?

Help! I live in a small house and I'm thinking about replacing my kitchen table and chairs with an island. Would this be a good or a bad idea? It's the only eating area we have in our small house.


I can't tell really because I can't see the space or the size of the table in question. So I'm going to answer this from the gut. My gut answer is no; don't do it.

Let me preface all of this by saying that all rooms and all clients are different. Some people get a lot of use out of an island and some rooms can accommodate one with little difficulty. However, you told me two things that are offering a clue. First, your house is small. Islands tend to work better in large rooms. Second, you tell me that your current table is your only eating area. So putting in an island means that you're sentencing yourself to a lifetime of eating at a counter.

I talk about this topic a lot. I suppose I'm some kind of a kitchen table advocate. I write for Houzz.com and I devoted a whole IdeaBook to kitchen tables a couple of weeks ago. Here it is:

Forgoing eating at a table and instead eating at a counter does a couple of things that I think are important. More important than any storage gains you might get out of an island.

The most important thing that happens at a kitchen table is that you eat across from someone, not side by side like you would at an island bar. When you eat across from someone, your dinner mate is the focus of your attention. Human beings don't just communicate verbally. We communicate non-verbally just as much and in order to pick up the visual cues someone else is sending, you need to be able to see his or her face. This visual communication happens a lot more easily at a table then it does at a counter.

In addition to the communication thing, when you're eating at a table you're having dinner in a place set aside specifically for eating. But more than that, it's a space set aside for eating with other people. It's a lot easier to make meals matter when they happen in a space set aside for them specifically. Island counters are by definition multi-purpose surfaces. Eating at one isn't an event, no matter how mundane.

But at a table, it's easier to turn off the electronics and focus on what's important --your loved ones.

When the only eating area you have is a counter, it becomes to easy to have shared meals fall by the wayside. It makes the "we're too busy nowadays" lie easy to internalize and make true in your own life. The fact of the matter isn't at all that "we're too busy." Instead, what "we" have is an inability to prioritize. If you make shared meals a priority you will have them. An important statement that you're making them a priority is to keep your kitchen table.

So, you asked and I answered. While it's true that installing an island doesn't doom you to divorce and delinquent kids, keeping your table will make shared meals a more common occurrence in your home.

22 December 2010

Postcards from New York

As I've been repeating endlessly lately, I spend last weekend in Manhattan. Glad about it, mad about it Manhattan. I am no stranger to The Big Apple but Saturday, December 11th has to be the best day I have ever spent in that city of cities.

I owe all of this to my right hand, JD. This whole weekend was his idea and it was for all intents and purposes a Christmas present. I had a couple of meetings in the city on Friday and Saturday was a day set aside for experiencing the many wonders of Gotham. Wonders I usually miss when I'm there.

JD'd booked us at the New York Palace. Without a doubt, it was the best hotel I'd ever stayed in. We were on the 31st floor and we looked across Madison Avenue and down on St. Patrick's Cathedral. That's Rockefeller Center in the middle left side of this photo.

So at around 7:30 on Saturday, I swung open the draperies and that was what I saw. I love Manhattan and I love Midtown specifically. Having a 31st-floor perch on the corner of Madison and 50th was as ideal a location as I can imagine. So after a round of room-service coffee we got dressed and went downstairs to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Five-star hotels don't just have expensive rooms. I had a $30 bowl of oatmeal.

We walked around the neighborhood for a while after that and then jumped on the subway to head up to The Metropolitan Museum.

The Met is one of the world's largest art museums and it has a collection of nearly 2 million pieces of art broken into 19 sub-collections. The Met renovated its hall of ancient Greek and Roman Art four years ago and I'd never seen it. Their collection is spectacular, one of the best I've ever seen. That bronze in the photo above is more than 2,000 years old and it looks as if it were cast yesterday. Like an idiot, I didn't photograph its accompanying plaque and now I can't remember what it is and what it's representing. Any Met buffs out there who can help me with that statue?

The Met's an enormous museum and I don't think it's possible to get through the whole thing in a day. If you're considering a visit, look over their collections online first and make a plan.

From the Met (on 5th Avenue at 82nd) we headed back toward Midtown via Madison Avnue. It was a sunny, clear day and Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side is one of the best places in New York for window shopping (actual shopping too). It's a residential neighborhood and there's a shopping district that extends the whole way from up there down to Midtown. Along that stretch of Madison Avenue, you'll find everything from Hermès to Betsey Johnson. There are no fewer than four Ralph Lauren shops along that stretch of  Madison.

After a quick lunch I met up with Tess, a college friend who's the media director for the National Urban League these days. Tess and her family live in Harlem and we've both come a very long way from the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania, that's for sure.

Then it was off to dinner. I'd made reservations earlier for Charlie Palmer's Métrazur. I'd been to Métrazur before at the suggestion of the great Jai Massela from Brizo Faucets. My second visit was even better than my first and dinner that night was easily the best meal I've ever eaten in New York. What pushed it over the edge was a generous serving of truffled mashed potatoes. I'm telling you, those things will haunt me for the rest of my days.

Métrazur is in the East Balcony of Grand Central Terminal and every table in the place has one of the most spectacular views to be had in the entire city.

Despite the fact that Métrazur is perched on a balcony inside of the busiest rail terminal in the United States, up on the balcony it's nearly as quiet as a church. Sound doesn't travel up inside of that cavernous terminal and the effect is pure magic.

After a truly spectacular meal, it was time to head over to Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House for the big event. I've been learning about opera for the last five or six years. I wasn't ready for it until I hit 40 but now it's about all I listen to. It has a tradition that goes back centuries and the very act of singing operatically is a feat of superhuman strength and prowess. Seeing an opera at the Met is a goal of everybody with even a glancing interest in grand opera and JD and I had tickets for La bohème.

La bohème is the world's most-performed opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera has been mounting a production of it every season since La bohème made its US debut in 1900. I had pretty high expectations for what I was about to see and as the curtain rose on Act One and Marcello launched into "Questo Mar Rosso" each and every one of those expectations was exceeded and then some.

The Metropolitan Opera's world famous for the sets it uses in its production of La bohème. They were commissioned in 1981 and master director Franco Zeffirelli's elaborate creations nearly bankrupted the company. I knew they were going to be amazing but again, I didn't quite know how amazing.

La bohème is presented in four acts and act one takes place in the garret shared by Rodolfo, a poet, Marcello, a painter; Shaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. The year is 1830 and it's Christmas Eve in Paris.

La bohème is as funny as it is stirring which is quite an accomplishment since it was composed 120 years ago. After the four Bohemians have their moment, they decide to leave the garret and go to a tavern. The curtain goes down. 20 minutes later the curtain comes back up and reveals the most elaborate piece of stagework I've ever seen.

According to everything I've read, act two of La bohème has a cast of 280 people and it includes a full marching band a live horse. After an exciting romp through the tavern the curtain goes down.

20 minutes later, the curtain comes up and the action's shifted to a snowy pre-dawn. It's at the foot of a bridge on the outskirts of Paris.

It's snowing. As in it's snowing for real. It snows the whole way through act three. The lovers reunite and swear to be together forever again and the curtain comes down.

When the curtain comes back up we're back in the garret and it's spring time.

Now usually, this kind of a spectacle is a way to hide so-so musicianship. But I assure you that wasn't the case with the Met's bohème. The main characters of Mimi and Rodolfo were sung by Krassimira Stoyanova and Joseph Calleja. I'd never heard Calleja sing before and he was incredible. That man has a voice so clear it sounded as if he were sitting next to me. Here he is singing E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca, another Puccini opera.

If you listen to him in that piece, pay attention to how he modulates and controls his voice while at the same time singing at something approaching 180 decibels. Many thanks to the Metropolitan Opera Company for the use of those photos.

The opera wrapped up at around quarter to midnight and we jumped back in a train bound for another hidden wonder at Grand Central Terminal, the Campbell Apartment.

The Campbell apartment is tucked into the Vanderbilt Avenue side of Grand Central and most people have no idea it's there. The Campbell Apartment is the one time office and salon of John Campbell, Grand Central Terminal's first general manager. It's been renovated back to its gilded age glory and now operates as one of the coolest lounges in the city.

We'd made arrangements to meet up with six other friends for a night cap and by the time we got there the rest of the gang was already holding court. If you have a group and you want to hang out at the Campbell Apartment, call ahead and make a reservation. That's true of any good lounge in the city by the way.

It was great to see everybody and ward off the usual round of questions about when I'm moving to The City. Yeah right. There are a few places around the world where I feel at home instantly and New York's definitely one of them. By the time we made it back to The Palace it was well past three in the morning. I don't think I'd ever been so tired or so euphorically happy in my life.

My trips to New York don't usually involve five-star hotels and opera tickets but it was a welcome change to my own vie bohème. Flying home on Sunday night was an anticlimax I'm still recovering from. I'll be back in The City again in March only without The Palace, the Met or La bohème. It'll be a working trip next time but working trips have an allure of their own. So it'll back to 14th Street for me.

21 December 2010

If money were no object: a Blog Off Post

The following is a Blog Off post. A Blog off is a biweekly event that's sweeping the internet. It's an event where bloggers of all stripes write about the same topic. You can learn more on the Let's Blog Off site. As the day progresses, a table will appear at the end of this post and it will list all of the participants as well as link to their posts.

The gist of the Blog Off this week is a suggestion to muse and meander about what I'd buy my loved ones if money were no object. Well, my loved ones don't really need anything that can be bought with money so I'm abandoning them for this exercise. Well, they'd be welcome to join me in the thing I'm about to muse and meander about but it doesn't involve the exchange of goods between us.

I've written quite a bit about an island in The Bahamas that's very near and dear to me, Cat Island. It has it has own keyword in my glossary it's so near and dear to me.

I never made it over to my Cat Island in 2010 but I will change that in 2011. I will.

I go to Cat Island for its isolation. I can relax there in its primitive loveliness like I can no where else. The combination of being cut off from the rest of the world and the hospitality of the Bahamian people touch me in a really profound way. The accommodations where I stay are pretty primitive but that just adds to the allure.

They're alluring because I'm a white American on vacation. The living conditions for the Bahamians who live on Cat probably don't hold the same romantic allure they do for me. The Bahamians I've come to know are a cheerful, generous lot. I doubt they realize it, but I've learned more from them than I have words to elaborate. Most of those lessons have to do with forcing me to see that most of what I tell myself is a need is an illusion.

The poverty on Cat Island may not feel like poverty to Cat Islanders but it looks like poverty to me. No one goes hungry, but life on the Out Islands of The Bahamas is hard.

I read an article in the Cape Coral, FL Daily Breeze last year that talked about the conditions at the Old Bight High School on Cat Island. I've driven past that high school more times than I can count but the article talked about how the Cape Coral Charter School System donated 2,000 text books to the high school in Old Bight. Prior to their donation, the kids at Old Bight High had one text book for every five to 15 students, depending on the subject. I read another article last October in The Bahamas Weekly that was written by the Honourable Philip "Brave" Davis, the Member of Parliament for Cat and its neighboring islands. Old Bight High School had to close in the fall of 2010 due to a lack of teachers and the unsafe conditions at the school. As of last year, Old Bight High School had 13 teachers to its 134 students. Those 134 students had to be absorbed by the already over extended Arthur's Town High School, 25 miles to the north.

25 miles is an insurmountable distance when your primary mode of transportation is your feet. I can't help but think that due to a lack of resources, any chance of a better life got snubbed out for those 134 kids with that school closure.

My proudest possession is my intellect and it hurts me deeply to hear about the educational conditions on Cat Island. That a generation of kids just had their intellectual opportunities pulled out from underneath them rubs me raw.

photo from The Bahamas Weekly

These kids deserve to be able to do anything they want with their lives and they can't do that without books and schools.

So if money were no object I would start a foundation, an educational foundation. A mistake a lot of western aid organizations make is that they're western aid organizations. Mine wouldn't be in the business of making sovereign people jump through hoops to get money. Instead, my foundation would be staffed and run by Bahamians, Cat Islanders wherever possible. My foundation would staff schools with Bahamian teachers and provide Bahamas-appropriate text books. My fantasy foundation would help to raise a generation of smart and proud Bahamians. They'd be a group of people who knew who they were and where they stood as integral parts of the sweeping history of the islands they call home.

But alas, my foundation is all in my head and likely to stay there. Unfortunately, money is an object all too real and the kids at New Bight High School got that for their big lesson this year.

It's unfathomable to me that schools close due to a lack of teachers and resources in a country just offshore from the US. A country where millions of North Americans and Europeans go every year to unwind.

So maybe what there is to do here is stop dreaming about money not being an obstacle to having basic needs met. Maybe what there is to do is find a way to actually lend a hand. Schools across the developed world throw away books by the truck load every year. It's true that Cat Island's schools represent a small, small portion of the total need, but they're the portion I know.

What would it take to partner up with a couple of school districts in Florida or elsewhere in the US? Anybody know somebody who can make a connection like that happen? Anybody out there want to lend a hand?

20 December 2010

Further adventures in bread baking

Two of my glorious loaves

For the last couple of years, I've been on a real bread kick. I've written about it here a couple of times and I've taken this bread-baking thing to the point where I don't buy bread anymore. I doubt I save any money this way and it certainly doesn't make very efficient use of my time. However, there is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing I have a loaf of fresh bread sitting on my kitchen table. A loaf of bread I made from scratch.

Bread baking isn't just an activity I'm finding. It's a way of looking at the world. I actually like it that it takes time and effort for me to make the thing that holds together a sandwich or gets slid into the toaster. My bread baking teaches me to be patient and as proud as I am of the finished results, I am at the mercy of a fungus when it comes to the finished result.

The fungus in question is a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. S. cerevisiae is the yest sold as baker's yeast and it's the same organism that ferments beer. S. cerevisiae is just one of a host of related species that will make bread dough rise. For example, Saccharomyces exiguus is the yeast that makes sourdough bread taste like sourdough bread.

I've been reading a lot lately about the role different yeasts play in how finished bread tastes. It makes sense and I'm beginning to wonder if there's more to life than Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Susan Tenny's amazing blog Wild Yeast has been a real inspiration. My starter, to make a bad bread joke.

So yesterday afternoon I embarked on an experiment to culture my own Saccharomyces exiguus. There's a lot of folklore surrounding the whole process of harvesting wild yeast. While it's true that there's wild yeast everywhere, the yeast that will grow in my starter arrived with the flour my starter's built around. Over the course of my starter's life it will attract other local bacteria and fungi and it will lend a special St. Pete flavor to my breads. But my goal here is to culture the yeast that's already in my flour naturally.

I'm partial to King Arthur flour and no that's not a paid plug. I think their bread flour is a perfect consistency and I get good results with it. King Arther also has a great website and it's their website that got me started on this grow your own yeast kick.

From what I understand, this will take a few tries until I get it right but I'm dying to see how this affects my breads.

Photo via K. Fields

OK, from King Arthur's website:
  • 2 cups warm water that's been allowed to sit for a day to let the chlorine dissipate
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
Mix the water, flour and optional sweetener together thoroughly in a clean, scalded glass or ceramic bowl. The scalding will ensure that you’re starting “pure.” Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth. Put it in an area where there’s apt to be the highest concentration of airborne yeast as well as the warmth that is needed to begin fermentation.

If the surface begins to look dry after a while, give the mixture a stir. It should begin to “work” in the first day or two if it’s going to at all. If it does, your trap has been successful. As you would with a dried starter or active dry yeast, let this mixture continue working for 3 or 4 days giving it a stir every day or so. When it’s developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it.

If the mixture begins to mold or develop a peculiar color or odor instead of a “clean, sour aroma,” give a sigh, throw it out and, if you’re patient, start again. Along with the vital yeasts, you may have inadvertently nurtured a strain of bacteria that will not be wonderful in food. This doesn’t happen very often though, so don’t let the possibility dissuade you from this adventure.
Have any of your guys ever tried this? Any words of advice? I know there are some bakers out there.

I'll keep you posted on my further adventures in bread baking.

19 December 2010

Fun stuff from around the internets

It's Christmas week, web traffic's in the toilet and rather than taking the week off, I'm going to phone one in instead. That's dedication.

I find things in my interweb meanderings and most of them get saved to a favorites file, never to bee seen again. Until I have some space to fill that is.

So here are some finds from the last couple of months. They weren't topical or meaty enough to warrant a full post of their own but they are perfect fodder for a random collection of fun stuff.

First up, this ad kills me.

It absolutely kills me. Can this be seven year scotch I wonder?

Even though I'm a recent tea convert, I still have a place very near to my heart of espresso. I think these espresso cups are about perfect.

The satisfy my love of espresso while feeding my appreciation for the Italian Renaissance and its revival of the Roman putti. These Putto espresso cups have silicone wings that stay flexible for an more secure grip on that first espresso in the morning.

I love stop-motion video as much as a dread the idea of moving. This video has plenty of both.

The Move, Paper Animation from Mandy Smith on Vimeo.

If that video's any indication of what moving's like in The Netherlands, maybe I ought to relocate there.

I love a good illusion, and photographer Håkan Dahlström has a good one here.

That's a street in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco and believe it or not, those cars are on the level. Seriously, hold up a ruler to your screen.

Here's the actual street. In order to take that first shot, Dahlström turned his camera to make the street appear to be flat. I like the effect.

One visit to San Francisco is all it takes to understand why no one there has a weight problem. Just getting to your car is a work out.

Speaking of my thing for all things Italy, I found a website called ItalyGuides recently. ItalyGuides features a large collection of hi-def, interactive photos of sites all over Rome.

I just zoomed up to the oculus in the ceiling of the Pantheon.

Here's what it looks like when you look toward the bronze entry doors from inside.

Here's a shot of the Trevi Fountain.

Here's the inside of the Coliseum.

There are a large number of these interactive photos. While they're no where near as cool as being there, there's enough detail that you can use them to plan what to expect when you do make it to these sites.

ItalyGuides has similar interactive photos for the sites in Florence, Venice, Milan, Bologna, Naples and Palermo.

And while I'm waxing nostalgic for Italy, here's the definitive Italian Christmas carol as sung by the definitive Italian singer of the 20th Century, Luciano Pavarotti. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle.

Ahhhh. That's bliss.

Have a terrific week everybody.

18 December 2010

I'll never look at pocket doors the same way

I was never a big Star Trek fan. I know, I know, that's some kind of blasphemy. Anyhow, I may not have thought much of the show, but I loved the doors that the original Starship Enterprise had.

They were so cool and now somebody's gone and converted them for use in the home.

The only thing missing is the oh so satisfying whoosh sound from the original TV show.

Add another stop to my intinerary

Recognize this skyline?

Maybe this national anthem will provide a clue.

The great people at Blanco asked me to travel to Toronto with another group of bloggers. We'll tour another Blanco factory and attend Toronto's legendary Interior Design Show, also called IDS. I leave for Toronto on the Morning of January 27th and come home the afternoon of the 29th.

This is fantastic for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost is another opportunity to get to know the folks at Blanco and to see another one of their production facilities and meet another one of their industrial design departments. It's going to be great to see IDS and to meet a bunch of Canadian bloggers and designers I've befriended over the last couple of years. And finally, it will be good to be back in Toronto again. I've been away for too long.

IDS is another massive design show, this time it's Canada on display for the world to see. I'm thrilled to have this addition to my winter travels, I can't wait to see it. Thanks Blanco!

17 December 2010

So Zuckerberg's Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Big Whoop.

In case you've been living under a rock, Time Magazine just named Mark Zuckerberg as 2010's person of the Year. So now the founder of Facebook joins such luminaries as 1935's Haile Selassie, 1938's Adolf Hitler, 1939's Josef Stalin, 1942's Josef Stalin, 1957's Nikita Khrushchev, 1965's Gen. William Westmoreland, 1971's Richard Nixon, 1979's Ayatollah Komeini, 1995's Newt Gingrich, 2000's George W. Bush, 2004's George W. Bush and 2007's Vladmir Putin. Time's Person of the Year roster goes back to 1927 and it reads as much like a rogue's gallery as it does a hall of superheroes.

Predictably, the chattering class of the blogosphere hailed Zuckerberg and Facebook as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, I don't think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Don't get me wrong, Facebook changed and is changing the way people use the internet. In a lot of ways, Facebook brought the social web to the masses. That's a huge achievement.

But Zuckerberg and Facebook are standing on some very broad shoulders and before too long, somebody else will come along to alter the fabric of the internet once again.

In 1979, my dad invented a modem. We had a computer at home and every once in a while, we'd call a telephone number in New Jersey. Once connected, we'd set the telephone receiver in the cradle of the modem and we'd log onto with something called The Source. The Source had weather updates and bulletin boards and was an early, early form of the civilian internet. We thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

A little while later, modems improved and got faster. By the early '80s, you didn't need to dial a telephone anymore and my first e-mail address came to me through a little something called CompuServe.

Everybody thought CompuServe was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

In 1993, I was trailblazing user of something called America Online. Back then, AOL didn't have a graphic interface, it was all text. In about 1994, AOL came out with a graphic interface and it was like nothing I'd ever seen.

By 1999, AOL owned the internet it seemed. You couldn't be cool in 1999 if you didn't have an e-mail address that ended in aol.com. Everybody thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And now we're in the era of Facebook. Just like AOL though, Facebook is a walled garden, a dead end. It pulls people in and keeps them there, sequestered from the rest of the internet. It's Facebook's Achilles heel. And like AOL before it, something else will come along to take its place.

When that something arrives, everyone will think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Countdown to Germany: 30 days to go

In one month I'll be in Germany. It's hard to believe but something arrived in the mail on Monday that made it seem a bit more real.

This is my German Press Pass. I've been studying basic (very basic) German for the last three months and I think I say that as Dies ist meine deutschen Presseakkreditierung.

I'm heading to Cologne to attend internationale möbelmess, also called IMM. I'll be at IMM as the guest of Blanco. Blanco makes innovative and exceptionally well-designed sinks and faucets. I sit on Blanco USA's Design Council and this trip is part of my involvement on the council.

IMM had over 100,000 attendees last year and that puts it at a level of attendance beyond any trade show I've ever attended, and that's coming from someone who's no stranger to trade shows.

IMM started as a showcase for Germany's furniture industry but it's grown to become a world showcase for textile, furniture and kitchen manufacturers from just about everywhere.

The more I read about IMM the more excited I get to see it. IMM is hosted by a German trade show hosting company called Koelnmesse. Koelnmesse just released this IMM preview video to YouTube last week.

I'll be checking in regularly while I'm over there and I have no doubt that this trip to IMM and Cologne will provide blog fodder for the better part of 2011.

IMM has an expansive website and a social media presence that's truly impressive. Their website is full to overflowing with preview images such as these.

It's funny, my usual excitement for Christmas has been completely overshadowed by my excitement over starting what's looking more an more like a world tour. 2011's going to be a wild ride and the first stop is Cologne.

16 December 2010

Evolution brings natural history to Soho

No other city on the planet offers the kind of street life New York does. Despite its cold and wet weather, life in New York happens outside. All of that foot traffic means that it's possible to make a living as a shop owner. As in a real life, honest-to-goodness merchant. New York city is full to over flowing with them and it's a real pleasure to walk into a non-chain retail establishment, see some cool stuff and learn a thing or two about the people whose livelihoods depend on that store.

Well on Friday afternoon I was walking down Spring Street from Broadway to West Broadway and halfway between Mercer and Greene Streets I stumbled upon what has to be the coolest shop I've ever found in my life.

A shop window similar to this display stopped me dead in my tracks.

I'd stumbled upon Evolution, a 17-year-old natural history store.

I make a living from convincing people to do things like upholster their chairs in toile but what I'd really love to encourage people to do is hang a beautifully mounted Calloplophora solli.

Sadly, not everybody shares my opinion that insects are spectacularly beautiful.

Just look at these patterns and colors. Fabric designers take note.

Evolution has an entomology staff whom they describe as artisans. Artists is more like it. Mounting and preserving insect specimens for scientific study is an exacting and difficult discipline. That Evolution has a staff of them speaks volumes about the store and about the city it calls home.

I love design in all of its forms and for me design starts in the natural world. As designers we mimic and recreate the shapes, forms and colors of the natural world and seeing the natural world displayed like this is a real thrill.

Some people get freaked out by the very idea of an insect and that's too bad. Others get worked up over the idea of mounting what were once living creatures. I don't see the point of that either. Preserving biological diversity doesn't stand a chance if nobody understands it and the key to understanding it is high-quality, scientific specimens. That I can buy them too is a bonus. Evolution has a great statement on their website that sums up their commitment to the world's insects:
All our insects are legally obtained and have been cleared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We do not sell any species listed in the Endangered Species Act. Most of our insects come from insect farms located in some of the most exotic tropical and subtropical regions on earth. Insect farming provides income for indigenous peoples, eliminates the burden on wild caught species, and promotes the maintenance and care of natural environments rather than its exploitation, as is often the case with other agricultural businesses.
Evolution also sells bones, fossils, minerals, taxidermy specimens and shells. They sell everything with the same sense of awe and respect that they sell their mounted insects.

If you ever find yourself on Spring Street and you're wondering what sort of thing you can buy me, this would be a good start.

Here's a close up because I just can't help myself.

If you can't make it to Spring Street, here's the link to Evolution's website.

15 December 2010

A visit with Scavolini Soho

Last Friday I had  a bunch of meetings in New York and I'd arranged them geographically so that I'd start in Soho and work my way north as the day progressed. I set everything up that way because one of my must-see sights was Scavolini's recently opened New York showroom. Scavolini's gallery is at 429 West Broadway, right down the street from the site of my first meeting.

Scavolini calls its Soho flagship a gallery and that's not an exaggeration. The space would be considered large anywhere but in Soho, it qualifies as expansive. It's open from 10am to 7pm Monday through Friday, 11am to 6pm on Saturday and on Sunday it's open from 12 to 5pm.

The Scavolini gallery in Soho is not just a showcase for Scavolini's exquisite kitchens, it's also a valuable trade resource. The Soho staff is there to help you specify Scavolini and there is ample meeting space for outside architects and designers to bring clients in for meetings and consultations.

If you are a professional in Greater New York and you're interested in Scavolini's new space, give them a call and they'll be thrilled to help you in any way they can.

My contact at Scavolini is the the showroom manager, Daniele Busca. Daniele was in Italy when I was in New York so I missed getting the grand tour from the man who supervised its construction. In his place, he left me in the capable hands of Maddalena Nicolosi. Maddalena gave me a tour to end all tours and I came away from the experience even more impressed by Scavolini than I was when I walked in the door. There was no question she couldn't answer or feature she couldn't explain. Thank you Maddalena.

So if you find yourself on West Broadway, drop in the Scavolini gallery. If you're a professional in the area and you're interested in Scavolini's professional support, just give them a call and they'll take great care of you. You can get more information from the Scavolini Soho website.

Scavolini Soho is an asset to the exploding design scene in lower Manhattan and a real credit to the Scavolini brand. Bravi!