28 February 2010

I hate it when other people do this

But this is different. This is my great-niece Pauline this morning. What a doll! This whole thing mystifies me. It feels like it was just a couple of years ago that her mother was that size.

Laff-and-a-half Sunday

Thank you to St. Pete's own Andrew Norcross who introduced me to the wonderful world of My First Dictionary. Need web design, etc.? Call Norcross.

My First Dictionary is the love's labor of Ross Horsely, a librarian from Leeds in the UK. Cheers Ross!

Sunday brownie Sunday

I found the basis of this recipe on the fantastic website Smitten Kitchen and have been tweaking and perfecting it for the last few weeks. Deb Perelman (who is the voice of Smitten Kitchen) pronounced these the Best Cocoa Brownies. I'll take it a step further and pronounce them the best damn brownies I've ever made or tasted anywhere. They have the perfect texture, Deb Perelman describes it as "chewy and candy-like." She's right. One of these babies with a cup of coffee in the morning and that's what I call the breakfast of kings.

Brownies made with cocoa have a richer flavor, and by the time you add in the semi sweet chips what you're in for is a bittersweet chocolate fantasy. Really. These things are a snap to make, all it takes it a little patience and about 45 minutes. Life's too short to eat crap out of a box. Remember that.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

27 February 2010

It goes without saying

It goes without saying that this is probably not the best idea.

Read all about it here.

Springtime lighting

Thursday's New York Times ran a photo and a description of this ceiling light.

It's the Infiore Pendant by Estiluz, and I think it's pretty neat. It might be a symptom of frostbite though. Is any body else about done with winter? Geez!

Estiluz makes some really interesting, modern lighting. Estiluz is one of two lighting brands produced by Grupo Estiluz in Catalunya. That's a Province in Spain, for anyone who missed that day. Their manufacturing facilities are in the small town of Sant Joan de Abedesses, which is about 50 miles (80 km) north of Barcelona.

Estiluz is their modern brand and Blauet is their contemporary line.

Here's some more of their modern designs.

I've specifically not shown any of their contemporary stuff from Blauet, not that there's a thing wrong with it. I have an idea though.

Here's Blauet's website.

Here's Estiluz's website.

Now, what's the difference between modern lighting and contemporary lighting? Leave an answer of fewer than 500 words and the best answer wins a new range hood. Hah! No, there's no prize. I don't care if I never see another one frankly. Instead the winner will get something infinitely better than a thing. The winner will get the satisfaction of being smart.

26 February 2010

How much did you say that was going to cost?

This post was written by my friend Bob Borson, a Dallas Architect. He's also a blogger and writes Life of an Architect. He's entertaining, informative and nearly as prolific as I am. Check out Life of an Architect and give him a warm welcome please. Thanks! --Paul

Modern design, including modern architecture, is experiencing a dramatic surge in popularity. More and more of our clients are coming in and asking for modern designs without knowing what it means to have a residence in the "modern" style. You can find modern design everywhere now --the background to every car commercial being made, to the checkout stands at your local grocery store.

"I wasn't looking at that issue of Women's Fitness, I was looking at this issue of... Dwell. Besides, she's too fit for my taste anyways"

There is also a massive disconnect between what it costs to build a modern residence versus what people think it costs. Modern homes, with their clarity often mistaken for simplicity, are extremely expensive to build.

In the decade after World War I, modern architects were interested in the "rational" use of modern materials (steel and glass most notably), the principles of functionalist planning, and the rejection of historical precedent and ornament. There was a widespread belief that building forms must be determined by their functions and materials if they were to achieve intrinsic significance or beauty in contemporary terms.

Okay - so put down that awesome issue of DWELL magazine - where the pages are adorned with the manicured images of kick ass looking houses populated by uber-cool, yet tragically forlorn, dual income homeowners. I am going to give you the starter kit of classic rules for modern architecture:

• adoption of the machine aesthetic
• materials and functional requirements determine the final product
• emphasis of horizontal lines
• express the structure of the building
• rejection of ornamentation - the simplification of form + elimination of "unnecessary detail"

and the most enduring, and most quoted rule of all:

Form follows function

What does this all mean to the 40-somethings that come in wanting a modern house?

Nothing … yet. I don’t need for them to understand the maxims of modern architecture --I’m just happy they care enough to hire an architect. My job is actually a lot more fun when I get to go through this educational process with them. This is a period when everybody loves each other --we’re meeting for coffee, I’m loaning them books on Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Things are going great and I am their hero --leading them from the dark ages and the soul-consuming blackness that is the gothic builder home and into the light.

When you introduce “cost” into the conversation, things start to turn like a pork sandwich left out in the sun.

Client: “It’s going to cost what? It’s a concrete box with glass walls on two sides”
Me: “But we’ve emphasized the horizontal lines”
Client: “There’s only 7 rooms!”
Me: “Form follows function”
Client: “I’m not getting you”
Me: “uummm, we’ve adopted a machine aesthetic and expressed the structure?”

These are the critical moments with your client that separate the wheat from the chaff. It would be so much easier to take the client to a modern style house that was poorly (or cheaply) built where every single flawed issue of craft is exposed. The skill level needed from the contractor to plan ahead and adjust for dimensional "nuances" so that the joint pattern of the tile aligns with the window layout and that there isn’t any remnant pieces of leftover tile just before you get to the corner. Ever noticed that the openings in brick walls are the exact same size of the windows? That no bricks had to be cut? That meant the placement of every window in that wall was perfectly located months before any bricks even showed up on site. These things take skill to execute and just like everything else, skill costs money.

I’m not trying to say that contractors who build traditional style houses don’t have skill. What I am saying is that the skill level needed to build a house without ornamentation is higher than traditional houses because there aren’t as many ways to hide errors or “nuances.” How many traditional houses have exposed concrete floors? If you are going to be covering them up with a wood parquet floor, why pay extra to get the concrete floor perfectly smooth and level? If you are going to be slathering texture on the walls, why bother floating out the entire surface with gypsum to make it flat. Ever wondered why those old Fox & Jacob homes from the '70s had popcorn texture on the ceilings? Aaahhhh --it's all becoming clearer isn't it?

The best rule of modern design is probably one you’ve heard before but you thought it meant something else:

Less is More

25 February 2010

This is Layla

This is Layla Grace Marsh. She's a beautiful two-year-old in Texas. She's also got stage four neuroblastoma. Her mom's very active on the web and I was asked to write this blog post by Carmen Natschke from Decorating Diva and Christine Skaley from Pillow Throw Decor. Both of those women are terrific friends of this blog and so I want to pass along a story from them.

Layla was an otherwise normal baby until she developed abdominal pain at about 15 months of age. Her parents thought they were dealing with routine digestive problems but found out instead that their baby had stage four cancer. I cannot imagine how devastating such news would be.

Layla's mom is Shanna Marsh, who wrote the website Baby Wears Prada. Since Layla's diagnosis, Baby Wears Prada has morphed into a Facebook Fan Page. Shanna and her husband Ryan have also been keeping up the website Layla Grace. Their site serves as a way for them to document their daughter's life and as someone who writes into the ether on a daily basis, it's got to be a tremendous relief to have it as an outlet for their thoughts.

On a day when congressional leaders and the President of the US met to discuss the pressing need for healthcare reform, it's instructive to note that Layla is dying. Her family will not only have to deal with the death of their child, but also the medical bills not covered by their insurance. At this point, those bills are in excess of $100,000 and climbing.

Christine is coordinating a creative fundraiser through her blog and you can find all the details there. Please follow the link over to Pillow Throw Decor and count your blessings while you're waiting for the page to load.

What about a white kitchen?

Houzz is a terrific, relatively new website for house ideas. It's growing rapidly and visitors are encouraged to got through Houzz's extensive library of images and use them to construct idea books of their own. It's a brilliant idea for a bunch of reasons, foremost among them is that it encourages people to do what they'd do anyway. And that's save images they find on the internet.

Houzz has gone a step further in that a photo can't be separated from the name of the designer who created the room. It really smart actually.

Houzz's library contains over 25,000 home design photos, so if you're looking for inspiration, you'll likely find it on Houzz.

kitchen remoldel

These photos are from an ideabook that was assembled for Houzz by Margaret Everton, a designer who writes a blog called Bon Bon Living.

main-5.jpg (image) modern kitchen

I grabbed these photos today for a couple of reasons. After yesterday I wanted to clear the air and write about something basic and non-confrontational. And secondly, I've been getting a lot of requests for white cabinetry lately.

main-7.jpg (image) modern kitchen

White cabinetry is simple, basic and classic. When I think of a white kitchen I think of solid tradition and dependability. It's like some kind of a rock, a solid thing you can anchor yourself to.

UWS Kitchen contemporary kitchen
contemporary kitchen design by new york interior designer Lea Frank Design

I love this photo, absolutely love it. It's my every life in Manhattan fantasy made real. Anyhow, I think there's something more at work here than just a shift in aesthetics. The white cabinetry thing is showing up across all styles.

SchappacherWhite Ltd. modern kitchen

I think the white thing is in reaction to these uncertain times. I don't think this is coming from some nostalgic look backwards. I think it's coming from some kind of a need for a solid foothold.

What do you think? Am I nuts? Would go go for a white kitchen? And while you're pondering the imponderable, check out Houzz. They have some pretty cool stuff.

24 February 2010

Of Shoes --and ships --and sealing wax --of cabbages --and kings

The Walrus and The Carpenter
Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Texts, lies and a final escape: when contests go bad

A little more than a year ago, I joined up with a company called Metallo Arts to host a give away of a $3200 gift certificate for a Metallo Arts custom range hood. I publicized the contest and Metallo Arts like crazy for the five weeks that the Dream Kitchen contest went on. How it worked was that anybody who wanted to enter had to describe or draw for me their idea of a fantasy kitchen. I wanted people to be impractical and creative, this was an exercise in dreams.

On 3 April 2009, I announced a winner. It was a woman whose fantasy kitchen was based on the designs of a Ukranian Easter Egg. She really threw herself into her idea and what she sent in was a concept even more fully realized than the concept boards I put together for my own clients. Here are a couple of still shots from her entry.

Lisa and her family were gearing up to renovate their kitchen and this range hood was going to make the perfect focal point. They'd have it, use it and love it forever. It was a perfect ending.

My contact at Metallo Arts was Chris Plummer, who was one of the two owners of the company. I connected Lisa to Chris and put everything out of my mind.

Fast forward a couple of months and Metallo Arts dissolved in a flurry of pointed fingers and lawsuits. I don't know any of the particulars and frankly I don't want to know them. I assumed that with the company gone, so was Lisa's hood since they hadn't started making it yet. Chris assured me however, that he was going to form another company and that all of his outstanding orders would be fulfilled by the new company. I believed him.

I corresponded with Lisa from time to time during the months that followed. He would give her the run around and she'd write to me and I 'd hear about it. I'd then write to Chris and he'd tell me that everything was under control.

Aside from a single Tweet to one of his former employees, I had no contact with anybody else from the defunct Metallo Arts. What ever happened with that company had taken a nasty and personal turn and I felt bad about it enough not to ask.

In January I received a bunch of text messages from Chris. He accused me of  "passing along info to people bent on personal vendettas." Interesting.  Once I convinced him that I had done nothing of the sort we texted back and forth a bit. He told me that he had taken on five new partners and had started a new company. I asked him again what he planned to do about Lisa's hood and he responded, "Lisa's hood ships this week."

This was taking place on 17 January 2010, a Sunday evening. On a lark, I shot an e-mail to Lisa and asked her if she'd heard anything about her hood. Lisa responded immediately, "Regarding Chris, I did manage to get in touch with him directly,and he did promise to help me out, but I've been unable to catch him since December."

That was odd since I'd just been given a shipping date a moment before in a text message. I copied Lisa's email into a text message and then sent it to Chris. Silence.

I went back through my archives and I deactivated all the links I had to Metallo Arts. Then upon further reflection I went back and purged around 20 posts that dealt with the contest and Metallo Arts. I deleted them completely. Then I wrote a disclaimer on the top of the last remaining post, the one where I announced the winner. You can read it here.

Yesterday I was forwarded an e-mail from Lisa. The e-mail was from Chris' new assistant. here's the bulk of the message. I left off the opening sentence because it contained the name of Chris' assistant and I don't want to pull in anybody else.
I understand you have contacted our offices about a prize you won through Metallo Arts. As of June, 2009, Christopher Lee Plummer was no longer associated with Metallo Arts.  Shortly after Chris left, the business folded.

Unfortunately, there is no way to collect the prize you won. I am sorry to break this news to you but we do not have any recourse as Metallo Arts no longer exists.  The sole owner of Metallo as of June, 2009 was Sheldon Gruber. You may want to contact him and see if he would be willing to honor his commitment to you.

Please accept our most sincere apologies as we are very sorry that you were impacted negatively by the closing of Metallo Arts.  As a newly formed company, we are not in a position to fulfill Mr. Gruber's obligation.
Isn't that interesting. Lisa's disappointed of course and frankly, it's Chris' prerogative to do whatever he wants. It's the lies and obfuscations that bother me.

I wrote to Chris' assistant and told her that I was writing this column and that it would appear today. I asked her for a statement either from the company or from Chris to run alongside this blog post. I heard from Chris via text message at 7pm. His statement:
Here is my statement hire a good atty...
This whole situation makes me sick to my stomach. I feel awful for Lisa of course but I'm really angry for having been played a fool through all of this. I get it that companies go under but what's the point of lying? This could have been resolved last summer by saying sorry, all bets are off. But that's not what happened. Lisa and her family renovated their kitchen as this has been unfolding and everything's done except for the gaping hole over the range. A hole that was to have been taken up by a custom range hood.

And so ends the year-long saga of the Metallo Arts Fantasy Kitchen Contest. I apologize to Lisa and to anybody else I may have hurt though this. I can't fix it, any of it, and that's what's so bothersome. So be careful when it comes to big ticket items given away on blogs. And bloggers beware anybody offering big tickets items to be used as give aways. Nothing's ever free. Nothing.

23 February 2010

Live free, shower free

Here's a couple of shots of a shower by Tetard, Hadiquez and Grisoni (better known as THG) at last month's Maison et Objet éditeurs in Paris. Maison et Objet is a world renowned annual showcase of fantastical house products. Christian May, of the internet's Maison21, is a Maison et Objet  habitué and maybe he'll share with us some insights on his various trips over there if we ask him nicely. Anyhow, back to the shower. Here it is.

I thinks it's glorious and it reminds me of a concept pioneered by Dornbracht, another fixture manufacturer. Dornbracht developed something they call a Free Shower. It's free in the sense that it's not walled off. Here are a couple of Dornbracht's Free Showers.

I love them and I love the idea of showering without standing in a box. But then again I have an exhibitionist streak and the years have been kind to me.

What do you think of the idea of showering without boundaries? Did Dornbracht start something great or impractical? Given the opportunity to install the THG shower shown at the top of this post, would you?

22 February 2010

What is art? Part two

So last night I posed a rhetorical question: what is art?

I was thinking about that question because one of my readers and Twitter pals Christine sent me a link to something that made her roll her eyes. She and I tend to roll our eyes at the same things, so she wanted to share this particular eye roll. Before I get too far ahead of myself, Christine Tweets as @pillowthrowdeco. She's also the pillow maker to the stars and you can see her wares at her Etsy store. If you're north of the 49th parallel, she has a store on iCraft.

Anyhow, she sent me a link to a post written by Casa Sugar a couple of years ago. Now Casa Sugar's a great website and she deserves a lot of credit for spurring the conversation she did in her comments when she ran a poll asking what people thought of this lamp by Philippe Starck.

That was one of four Gun Lamps Philippe Starck designed for Flos a couple of years ago. The comments on Casa Sugar were pretty uniformly horrified by the lamp. And based on their comments, they were missing the point Starck was making with that series. A lot of people thought the lamp was glorifying gun violence. They were also laboring under the mistaken idea that this was some readily-available thing.

I suppose it helps to know who Philippe Starck is. 

Philippe Starck is the 61-year-old enfant terrible of the design world. If René Magritte and Salvador Dalí ever got together and made housewares, the result would be something akin to what comes out of the mind of Philippe Starck.

Philippe Starck is an artist in every sense of the word. I define art as a motive as much as an execution. And in my mind, art is the act of an artist observing and interpreting the world he sees. As he interprets the world, he invites me to see the world as he sees it and at the same time, he challenges me to see it for myself. Ponderous definition I know, but it's taken me years to come up with that and that's as streamlined as I can get it.

Anyhow, Starck turns his artist's eye on the world around him and the result is a tumult of shocking, offensive and as often as not, pretty objects.

Here's a handful of them.

He's also an interior designer and an architect. This is a hotel lobby in Argentina.

Amazing. Now back to the gun lamps that offended so many people on Casa Sugar.

Here's the lamp again.

It's plated in 18 karat gold and on the base, it reads Happiness is a Hot Gun.

The shade is black and there are gold crosses on the inside of the shade.

I smell symbolism at work.

Sure enough, in Starck's own words:
Black as colour of death
Crosses of our dead ones
Gold colour as ambition
War weapons; domestic weapons, bedside, table, living room weapons.
Aux Armes everywhere, as an ending...
Happiness is a hot gun...
My intent was to create objects to remind us that our state of well-being is the result of somebody else dying.
Philippe Starck
Hmmm, that doesn't sound like the glorification of gun violence to me.

These Gun Lamps are intended to be art pieces, clearly. And they're priced as such. Despite the misinterpretations, I can't help but think Monsieur Starck got the reaction he was after precisely.

I think they're hilarious. Brilliant even. I can't see me buying them for me, but I'm sort of glad they're out there.

So. Do these lamps work as art? As illumination? As decor? Or do they fail on all counts?

21 February 2010

What is art?

Tomorrow, I want to have a discussion about something and in preparation I'm going to pose a question to think about. What is art? Or more accurately, when is art art and when is it something else.

I don't think this painting by Thomas Kincade is art.

But I do think that this spoof of a Kincade painting by Jim Blanchard is.

So what is art? And when does it become art? When does art stop being a craft and what's the difference?

Piss Christ, 
Andres Serrano, 1986

The question is not whether or not you like something. It's easy to dismiss work I don't like as something other than art. My dislike of the work of Thomas Kincade is not what's underneath my dismissal of his stuff.

Red, Orange, Tan and Purple
Mark Rothko, 1949

Pablo Picasso, 1937

Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The Luncheon of the Boating Party
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1881

Morning Looking East Over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains
Frederic E. Church, 1848

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber
Juan Sánchez Cotán, 1602

Ignudo from the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo Buonaroti, 1512

Illustration from Li Livres dou Santé by Aldobrandino of Siena 
Artist unknown, late 13th century 

The Barberini Faun
Ancient Greek artist unknown, 300, BCE

So what's art?