31 January 2010

Announcing the February release of the 2010 edition of Mosaic Art Now

Mosaic Art Now is an arts annual devoted to the promotion of fine art mosaics. It's also a project very near and dear to my heart. The editors of Mosaic Art Now; Bill Buckingham, Nancie Mills-Pipgras and Michael Welch, recently announced the 15 February shipping date of the much-anticipated 2010 edition of the publication.

The 2010 edition is twice as large as last year's, a feat all but unheard of in the world of print publications. The strength of this year's edition is a testament to both the commitment of MAN's editors, and the depth of worldwide participation and interest in fine art mosaics.

The new issue is filled with feature stories by such luminaries as JoAnn Locktov, Sonia King, Laurel True, Jennifer Blakebrough-Raeburn and some guy named Paul Anater. There's an artists' marketplace, guest commentaries, new discoveries and the truly exceptional Exhibition in Print. The cover art this year is Morning by Ann Gardner and photographed by Lisa Jacoby.

To whet your appetite; Nancie, Bill and Michael have made available Jennifer Blakebrough-Raeburn's Five Sisters: Vitae Summa Brevis as a .pdf for preview. In her article, Jennifer tells the story of Emma Biggs and Michael Collings' installation in York St. Mary's, a deconsecrated medieval church in northern England. Emma Biggs used 13th and 14th century pot shards to create her site-specific mosaics and the effect is as ephemeral as it is inescapably human. Give it a read and know that Jennifer's article is but a taste of wonders that await in 2010's Mosaic Art Now.

You can order a copy of the new publication now and it will ship on the 15th. Shipping is the same for multiple copies, so gang your orders. Last year's issue sits proudly on the end of my coffee table and I'm looking forward to having 2010's issue to sit next to it.

And yes, you read that right a couple paragraphs back. "Some guy named Paul Anater" wrote a feature story for the new issue. It was my great pleasure to meet with and interview Yakov and Yulia Hanansen, two amazing mosaicists who happen to be father and daughter. On a dreary Manhattan Saturday morning, I sat in Yakov Hanansen's studio and we talked for hours about art and life. I ended up learning how to make my own tesserae that day. Yakov sat me at his hardie (a stump with a special chisel fitted into it), handed me a martellina (that's a hammer shaped to make tesserae specifically) and I was on my way.

Talk about a hands-on education. If you've read this blog before, then you know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of fine art mosaics. My involvement with Mosaic Art Now is dream come true in many ways and I am as grateful as I am humbled to be counted as a contributor to this fine publication. Now go buy an issue. Here's the link.

30 January 2010

Winter turns to summer with the Smitten Kitchen

Ahhhh, January. In my part of the world, January means warm, sunny afternoons and cool nights. Winter for us is what spring is for people in cooler climates and it's also when citrus fruits come into season. By now, Florida grapefruit and oranges ought to be trickling into grocery stores all over the place and we're up to our elbows in them. I'm not complaining. We get the pick of the litter and most of the specialty citurs fruits that grow here never make it out of Florida. Minneolas, honeybelle tangerines, kumquats, key limes, meyer lemons, bitter oranges, blood oranges, clementines, mandarins, and the list goes on. I could live on local citrus fruit and die a happy man.

A cooking blog I like to read is Smitten Kitchen, written by Deb and Alex Perelman. Deb's a chef's chef and she prepares her delicacies in a 46 square foot kitchen on New York's Upper West Side. I love her take on food. She doesn't believe in fuss or unnecessary complication, she's about flavor and hospitality instead. Her recipes prove beyond a doubt that great food isn't dependent on fancy equipment or posh ingredients. Great food is an attitude as much as anything.

Anyhow, Deb and Alex featured a recipe that I'll be having for lunch today. I'll let you know how it goes. Here's the recipe.

Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta, Onion and Mint

3 to 4 tablespoons red onion, cut into tiny bits
4 pieces of citrus, preferably a mix of grapefruits and oranges but use what you can get, and what you like to eat (spoiled by the spread at the store, I used 1 pink grapefruit, 1 cara cara and 1 blood orange, and 1 mineola)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) feta cheese, chopped or crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped or cut into tiny slivers

Place your red onion in the bottom of a medium bowl. Nest a strainer over the bowl.

Prepare your citrus fruits by beveling the stem end of one, cutting enough off that you reveal the pith-free flesh of the fruit. Repeat on the other end. Rest your fruit on one of its now-flat surface and begin cutting the peel and pith off in large, vertical pieces. You want the fruit’s exterior to be “white”-free.

Turn the fruit back on its side and cut it into 1/4-inch thick wheels, removing any seeds and thick white stem as you do. Place the wheels and any collected juices from the cutting board in the strainer over the bowl with onion. Repeat with remaining citrus fruits. (As the extra juices drip over the bowl, it will soften the raw onion bite.)

Spread the fruit slices out on a platter. Scoop out the onion bits (a slotted spoon or fork does the trick) and sprinkle them over, leaving the juice in the bowl. Whisk one tablespoon of juice (this is all I had accumulated) with red wine vinegar or lemon juice, Dijon and olive oil. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the citrus, sprinkle with feta and mint, adjust salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately and daydream of warmer places.

Recipe and photos from Smitten Kitchen

29 January 2010

It's a light! It's a speaker! It's both?

Check it out. These rooms have speakers in the ceiling and they're fully visible in these photos.

That living room and that kitchen have Klipsch's new LightSpeaker System installed.

The LightSpeaker System is a wireless speaker and a LED can light in one. That's a pot light for my Canadian readers. Most interestingly, they work as a retrofit. There's no wiring involved.

I'd be curious to see what the temperature of the light produced is. It's a great idea frankly, and I'd love to hear from anybody who has these fixtures installed. They are available directly from Kipsch's website. Kudos to Klipsch!

I still love New York

My Chrysler Building

I love Manhattan with a passion that straddles the zone somewhere between infatuation and lust. It's alternatively enraging and ecstasy-inducing. It's a feast of the high and the low, the sacred and the profane, the beautiful and the ugly. There's no where else on earth like it. New York summons the best from me, as strange as that sounds. When I'm running through those streets I feel compelled to think smarter, to work harder, to be more.

The Lexington Avenue entrance to the Chrysler Building

Well in two weeks I'll be in the throes of thinking smarter, working harder and being more. My great pals at Brizo have invited me back for another Fashion Week event. In precisely two weeks I'll be second guessing what I'm wearing to a top tier runway show. For the second time in six months I might add.

An elevator in the lobby of the Chrysler Building

Team Brizo has invited me and a whole host of my bloggery compatriots to attend a seminar, a similar seminar to the one I attended last fall. What's going to be really interesting about this one is that all of the attendees are designers with internet followings. Now I "know" but have never met most of the people who will be in New York for this Brizo happening. I cannot wait to get back to New York, that's for sure. But when you throw in the fact that I'm going to be able to hang out with most of my blogging and Twittering cohorts, it's almost too much to think about. I hope team Brizo's prepared to entertain one dynamic group of people. The energy! The synergy! The industry gossip! I cannot wait and I can't find words to describe how it feels to be part of such an august assembly. I look over the attendee list and I see the names of just about everybody whose work and whose words I respect and admire.

The lobby desk of the Chrysler Building

It's not unusual for a manufacturer to host a group of specifiers for a product education seminar. I have been to more than my share of them. For the most part, they're pretty sedate affairs. We get the chance to kick the tires of products we can't always see in person and the manufacturers get to interact with and get feedback from the people who specify their products. So far as I know though, no company has ever assembled a group of specifiers who are also social media influencers. More, Brizo picked all of us specifically because we're social media influencers. Clearly, this is a company that values transparency and wants to engage its customers directly. This is big. I like Brizo's products and I liked them even before any of this New York stuff started. But their embrace of new and social media makes me respect them as an organization. Thanks Brizo!

A stairwell in the Chrysler Building

Photography from New York Daily Photo by Brian Dubé

28 January 2010

Ikea: WHY wait? Or, I get served a helping of crow

This is me in an Ikea kitchen in Italy. Disclosure time: this is my only first-hand experience with Ikea cabinetry. I reported in August '08 that the kitchen in the photograph had one redeeming quality, it's location overlooking the Bay of Naples.

A couple of nights ago, I posted an old post up on Twitter. I do that from time to time. It's a way to get some exposure for posts buried deep in my archives that I think warrant some more attention. Considering that no one read my blog back then, I want them to get some attention for the first time. Anyhow, the other night I posted a little gem from August of '08, IKEA can wait. It was a typically ham-fisted and inflammatory slam on all things Ikea, but Ikea kitchens particularly.

Well in the year-and-a-half since that post ran originally, a lot has changed. I know a lot more people from all sides of the kitchen and bath industry and a really cool person I've come to know int he last couple of months (through Twitter of course) is Becky Shankle. Becky is a designer from Raleigh, NC. She's also a blogger, a dedicated businesswoman and she knows how to use Twitter. Becky's business is designing kitchens using cabinetry from Ikea and her work's fantastic.

Needless to say, my ham-fisted rantings about Ikea cabinetry stepped on her toes. She wrote the following on her blog, Eco Modernism, yesterday. I'm reprinting it here with her blessing. So here's Becky:


Ikea: WHY wait?
January 27th, 2010

Just the facts, ma'am.
Paul Anater's got a post about custom vs. Ikea cabinets over on his blog today. I have to admit that when I first started designing kitchens with Ikea components, I was highly skeptical. I did my own research on it, queried Ikea cabinet owning & using people, talking to the people at the store, checking it out myself.

Of the people who owned & used daily Ikea kitchen cabinets, they overwhelmingly said they would purchase them again, they have had them in place & in use with no breakdowns or visible wear & tear for as long as 22 years. The only negative report I got from the same group was that the countertops faded & scratched unevenly.

Here's some points to compare when shopping around for cabinets:

  • Hardware: Ikea uses high quality Blum hardware on all kitchen components. Full extension drawer slides & soft closure mechanisms are *standard* on all doors & drawers. (Are you being upcharged on those custom boxes for such bells and whistles?)
  • Warranty: Ikea warrants all cabinetry for 25 years.
  • Strength: Every Ikea base cabinet is rated to hold 1,100 pounds.
  • Organization: matching drawer dividers & other inserts made for their drawer system make small kitchens run as smoothly as bigger ones.
  • Price: The cabinets for an average sized kitchen from Ikea (about 14 boxes - walls and bases) runs about $5,000.

The old standby
As for the argument about particle board, which Ikea uses in all its cabinets, I did some research on that, too. See my post here.

Don't take my word for it.
Ikea is not for everyone. And not all things that come from Ikea are fantastic & high quality (some of their furniture comes to mind). They have, however, engineered their cabinet products very well, & stand behind them with a warranty.

If you have the money & want to spend it on extremely high end cabinets (whatever "high end" actually means), go for it. But don't knock Ikea if you haven't honestly looked at it. That extra $45k could come in handy as a downpayment for a nice cottage in Naples.


Point made, steaming plate of crow served. Check out Becky's blog, Becky's admirable business model and follow her on Twitter.

27 January 2010

Can we stop with the chalkboard paint?

This is an appropriate use of chalkboard paint.

Here's another.

And another.

Ahh, the pursuit of knowledge is a wonderful, beautiful thing. What would quadratic equations or diagrammed sentences be without a chalkboard?

Chalkboards belong in classrooms or in kids' rooms. They're to collect thoughts, formulate theories, prove proofs, solve equations, doodle and to learn. They're messy and unsightly, the perfect metaphor for the act of learning.

The usual suspects over at You Know Where can't seem to restrain themselves when it comes to chalkboard paint though. Their latest affront is to refer to it as being somehow green.

Ugh. I guess it's further proof of the absolute bankruptcy of the term "green." Man, that is one ugly kitchen. Again though, green?

Chalkboard chalk is calcium sulfate, an industrial byproduct. It's the same chemical drywall's made from. I wonder what the reaction from these folks would be to this inconvenient little factoid. Hey Apartment Therapy! By encouraging your readers to paint their cabinet doors with chalkboard paint, you're opening the door to having them sprinkle their kitchen counters with calcium sulfate, AN INDUSTRIAL CHEMICAL. Calcium sulfate's benign of course but there's seems to be this idea that chalkboard chalk is some kind of a naturally-occurring mineral. It gets its name from one, but just like the lead in a pencil, things aren't always what they seem.

Aside from that, using chalkboard paint all over the place as seems looks terrible. Sometimes it seems like I'm alone in this opinion. Look at what wreckage chalkboard paint hath wrought if you can stomach it.

So is it me? Am I missing something? Is it that creeping middle age thing or just my usual foul humors? Tell me things. Yea or nay?

26 January 2010

The bold look of Kohler, from 60 years ago

Angela Miller is a communications specialist and corporate archivist for Kohler. Angela's the lucky soul who gets to keep track of Kohler's written history and that means she's up to her elbows every day in vintage Kohler ads. Talk about a fantasy job. Angela also write for Kohler's blog, Kohler Talk.

Kohler Talk has a number of contributors from both inside and outside of the company. Friend of Kitchen and Residential Design and blogging pioneer Susan Serra is one of the outside of the company bloggers. Brava Susan!

Anyhow, when ever I get wind of another Angela Miller post on Kohler Talk I click over there to see what wonders she's unearthed. I think she hit the mother lode this time. Here is a series of Kohler ads from the 1950s.

Now, I remove bathrooms just like the ones shown in these ads on a monthly basis at least. The part of Florida where I live reached fully built out stage by the time the '50s were through. Every other bathroom in Pinellas County Florida looks exactly like at least one of these ads.

Most of them are still in surprisingly good shape and that says volumes about the fixtures and construction standards of the time. Most of the fixtures end up in architectural salvage and most of them do find new homes. But in the meantime, while these baths are still intact, they function as a reminder of of quality and longevity. Once I tear out one of these '50s baths, it gets replaced by a contemporary "spa" bath and sure they look great when we're done. But I wonder if they'll still be around in 60 years. Hmmmm. I doubt it.

But before I get too wistful here, check out this kitchen sink:

Man! I'd give my right arm for a sink like that!

What do you guys think? Too nostalgic or not nostalgic enough?

25 January 2010

Particle board vs. plywood: final findings, advice and taking it to extremes

Last Monday I wrote a post about a little, unscientific experiment I conducted last week. I followed up on Thursday with my initial findings and here we are a week later with my final words on the subject. Maybe.

To reprise, I took two six-inch by six-inch samples made from a cabinet shelves. One was 3/4" particle board and the other was 3/4" fir plywood. They are entirely representative of the materials that go into contemporary, quality cabinetry in the US. I soaked these samples in bowls of water for 72 hours and fished them out to survey the damage.

The big surprise was how little damage there was to survey. Both were pretty much ruined but at the same time, neither had lost their essential shelf-ness. Frankly, I expected both of them to fall apart, but neither did. The particle board sample swelled and grew thicker by 1/16th of an inch. Though not exactly pretty, it would still work as a shelf.

The plywood's dimensions weren't affected at all and the veneer only bubbled and delaminated slightly. The finish got kind of funky but the underlying plywood didn't delaminate.

Final ruling? Don't have a flood where the water is allowed to stand for three days. I think either of those products will hold up to usual amounts of moisture encountered by cabinetry in a typical kitchen. Again, if there is standing water in your kitchen and it lasts for three days, you have much bigger problems than the condition of your cabinetry.

What I tested was an extreme. A more typical water exposure in real life is the slow drip from a plumbing leak. Left unaddressed, a plumbing leak will ruin either cabinetry construction. The plywood construction will probably last longer with that kind of exposure though.

With that said, I still think particle board cabinet boxes are a good option if you're looking to save a couple of bucks on a kitchen remodel. You just have to be smart about how to handle the sink base. Since the sink base is the cabinet most likely to experience a plumbing leak, there are two things you can do to lessen the impact of such a leak.

First, caulk the inside edges on the bottom of the sink base cabinet with clear silicone caulk. Water can only damage particle board by getting into the parts of it that aren't laminated, so seal all the open particle board. In most cabinets, that's in the areas where the cabinet floor meets the cabinet sides. Calk those joints and you'll preserve the life of your cabinetry.

The second helpful hint I have is to use a caterer's tray as a liner.

Slide a caterer's tray into your sink base and push it against the back of the cabinet. Be sure that the tray is directly under the P trap and water cut offs. Should they ever spring a leak, the drips will get caught by the caterer's tray and save your cabinet. Once the tray's been pushed into place, put back the all the stuff you normally keep under your sink.

So after all of that, I never get the destruction horror show I was hoping for when I dropped my samples in their water bowls a week ago.

One of my Twitter friends is Mike Hines and Mike's one of the founders of HomePath, makers of a conduit system called eXapath for wiring homes for cable, internet, sound and entertainment. Check out eXapath if you're looking for a great solution to wire your home. What makes it so great is that the eXapath system will allow you to change and upgrade your wiring in the future. It's pretty brilliant.

Mike, the good natured prankster, suggested that add some heat to my experiment. So I did.

Here's my samples in a bath of boiling water.

I boiled them for ten minutes and I got the destruction I was looking for.

The lesson here is don't install cabinetry next to a geyser or in the path of a pyroclastic flow. I was tempted to conduct tests on my samples involving throwing them from an airplane or under the wheels of a speeding train but I doubt "Don't throw cabinetry from high altitudes at high speeds" would have been a very meaningful finding.

So at the end of the day, my recommendation today is the same it was a week ago. Buy the best quality you can afford and particle board construction isn't automatically bad. I'm glad to know I haven't been giving people the wrong advice. Now I'm off to go perform some fire and acid tests on my samples.

24 January 2010

Art history Sunday: let's get Roman (again)

Marcus Vispanius Agrippa, the M. Agrippa inscribed on the facade of the Pantheon.

To be a Roman of any standing was to spend your life making good impressions on your peers and your betters. Wealthy Romans were obsessed with appearances and being perceived as a hospitable and welcoming host. These dual obsessions reached their zenith in the dining rooms (triclinia) of the Empire.

My pals over at Eternally Cool dug up this menu from a Roman banquet from the year 63 BCE. Macius Lentulus Niger was made a Roman priest and the celebratory feast commemorating his elevation was attended by the creme de la creme of Roman society. The menu and hospitality demonstrated by Macius Lentulus set the standard of his day and was recorded by the historian and gastronomer Macrobius:
Before the dinner proper came sea hedgehogs; fresh oysters, as many as the guests wished; large mussels; sphondyli; field fares with asparagus; fattened fowls; oyster and mussel pasties; black and white sea acorns; sphondyli again; glycimarides; sea nettles; becaficoes; roe ribs; boar’s ribs; fowls dressed with flour; becaficoes; purple shellfish of two sorts. The dinner itself consisted of sows’ udder; boar’s head; fish-pasties; boar-pasties; ducks; boiled teals; hares; roasted fowls; starch pastry; Pontic pastry.
That my friends is what you serve when you have Julius Caesar and the Vestal Virgins over for dinner. Wow.

Roman hospitality was serious business and a big part of impressing your guests was keeping them entertained. Musicians played and sang, actors performed skits, jesters joked and the art displayed in the triclinium was intended to get a laugh while it impressed the viewer with its rarity and expense.

Romans reclined on sofas when they ate and threw bones, shells and seeds to the floor. A slave would sweep up periodically, but a good feast left a messy floor. The messy, post banquet floor was the sign of a good host. So much so that The Unswept Floor was a recurring theme in the mosaic floors a lot of wealthy Romans used in their triclinia.

This is a detail of second century triclinium floor from the Emporer Hadrian's villa in Tivoli. This floor is now in the Vatican Museum in Rome. The mouse in the bottom center of this image gets all of the attention, but what amazes me is the perspective and chiaroscuro on the borders. Incredible stuff.

Roman hospitality and banquet throwing skills fell into a body of knowledge the Romans called Ars Convivialis, the Art of Hospitality. There is a restaurant in Rome called Ars Convivialis that recreates the atmosphere and the menu of a Roman banquet. I've never eaten there but I'd love to hear from someone who has. Anyone? Anyone?

Anyhow, what prompted all of this meandering was something my friends at Mosaic Art Now posted on their site this week. My love of Roman art and life is shared by everybody over there and another friend of Mosaic Art now is an artist named Maureen O'Keene. O'Keene is a contemporary mosaicist, a master. Like all great mosaicists, she has a great love for the history of her art form.

In 2003, Maureen O'Keene and co-director Jane Hubbard based this short, stop-motion animated film on The Unswept Floor from Hadrian's villa.

Unswept floor from maureen o'kane on Vimeo.

Talk about putting art in historical context. Bravi!

If you'd like to experiment with some Roman cookery, resources abound. Here's a directory of ingredients and recipes, Antique Roman Dishes. Hint, Liquamen is Garum, the Roman fish sauce condiment that was as common then as ketchup is today. In fact, modern ketchup evolved from garum. You can still buy Garum Colatura from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI. If you like anchovies, you will love garum. If you don't like anchovies, learn to like them. You'll thank me. Di vos incolumes custodiant!

A dispatch from the International Builder's Show

The International Builders' Show is big Kahuna of builder and renovation trade shows. It rivals in scope and size the trade show of the kitchen and bath industry, KBIS. KBIS and the IBS are large on a scale that's hard to describe accurately. These shows are so big that there are only four convention centers in the US large enough to handle them. So they rotate between Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas. This year, KBIS is in Chicago and the IBS took place in Las Vegas last week. I love going to these shows. They are closed to the public and they provide a forum where manufacturers can meet with specifiers face to face. Becasue nothing's for sale, it's a chance too for some great product previews and product training.

I couldn't go to the IBS this year but I'm fortunate in that I had a pair of eyes on the showroom floor. Jamie Goldberg is a friend of mine and she was gracious enough to share with me some of the highlights of what she saw. Jamie writes the terrific blog Gold Notes as well as writing for a whole host of industry publications and websites. She's one of the more savvy designers I know and if she noticed it, that's all I need to know. So without further ado, here's Jamie.


Kohler always has innovative and stylish products. On the innovative end is the Conceal Mirrored Cabinet and Lock Box. What a terrific way to keep prescription medicines secured from curious children, prying guests or open house shoppers.

On the stylish end, Kohler has introduced the Vault 18-gauge stainless sink that works as a drop-in or undermount. While good-looking contemporary sinks are easily found in the undermount class, they’re much harder to find for drop-in applications. This one has a very sleek edge that separates it from its clunky cousins! It's also available in a single bowl style.


Always in style, Delta’s upscale Brizo brand, introduced an elegant new faucet series called Virage. It’s available in numerous finishes and a non-aerated water stream that accentuates its clean, classic lines. I personally loved the polish nickel. Not a game changer, just a lovely looker worth writing home about.


KitchenAid has come up with a new French Door refrigerator that answers the prayers of moms everywhere who want to show off their kids’ photos and art. Rather than magnets and paper, parents scan juniors' artwork onto a memory stick and upload it to the fridge's USB port, where it will "hang" for as long as you want to display it. The LCD panel has other functions, as well, like displaying recipe substitutions and measurement conversions, but to my mind, the ability to personalize it with kid pics and vacation shots tops them all! (FYI, I mentioned to KitchenAid's brand manager that a future version with food preservation guidelines would be another great feature to include. She agreed.)


Also in the Whirlpool family is a fun new fridge called the Amana Quick Tap. The dispenser can be filled with any beverage of your choice, and would be ideal for game rooms. It’s adorable and affordable.


Whirlpool also introduced a super-convenient feature to its newest refrigerator called MicroEtch. What it does is prevent spills from escaping from a shelf and leaking down the sides and bottom of the fridge. I wish I would have had that last month when a Coke glass tipped over on the top shelf just before a house showing! This fridge also has good lines, LED lighting and excellent capacity, too. The anti-spill feature, though, is what makes it a must-have.

You can read more of Jamie's findings on her post Live from the International Builders' Show on her blog Gold Notes

© 2010, Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS.