30 June 2010

Cabinet hardware by DuVerre adds the finishing touch

I've long admired DuVerre hardware and it's both a pleasure and an honor to sell it now. DuVerre takes a different approach to what's all-too-frequently a mundane afterthought and makes it the center of attention. How can something like this not be the attention grabber wherever it's used?

Though most often used on cabinetry doors and drawers, this hardware's beautiful enough that it could be used anywhere. I can see it on furniture, on closet doors, even used as hooks in a bathroom or master suite.

DuVerre works with such design luminaries as Clodagh, Christopher Smith, Scot Laughton, William Harvey and many more. The results of these collaboration are unlike anything else out there. Here are some more terrific examples of what's available.

You can see the rest of their collection on their website and if you're ever interested in having any of these selection in your own home, I can help you with that. That wasn't too obvious was it? Anyhow, don't settle for an afterthought, use DuVerre for a real finishing touch.

29 June 2010

St. Petersburg's Signature is a signature building

A year ago a building down the street from me got its certificate of occupancy after a nearly two year build. I can see over downtown from my living room windows and watching this building rise from ground was two year long thrill. The building is called the Signature and it's a waterfront condominium tower and street-level work/ live space. The building's a stunner and made all the more so when its compared to the usual dreck that gets built on waterfronts in the fair state I call home.

The Signature was designed by architect Ralph Johnson from Chicago's Perkins + Will. I cannot think of a more thoughtful and interesting building on Florida's entire west coast.

The complex is actually a complex of lofts and storefronts that ring the tower and all told the project takes up a whole block of downtown St. Pete.

I see the building from its northern elevation and when viewed from the north or the south it appears to be a monolith ringed with balconies and topped with a true roof.

Seen from the east, the building all but disappears. The leading edge of the tower comes to a perfect, 372-foot tall leading edge that faces the water. The architect designed the building to be an homage to the boat sails in the marinas downtown and his homage works. This is a 36-story building that's 372 feet tall and it appears to be as graceful and airy as any sail could ever hope to be.

In a fit of thoughtfulness, the building's orientation minimizes the blocked water views in the neighboring towers and it leaves a surprisingly small footprint on St. Pete's rightfully bally-hooed, accessible waterfront.

I walked around it the other afternoon and caught some of it's more pleasing angles. Things being what they are in the real estate market here, there are still units available in the Signature and at this stage of the game, the prices start at $185K. That's about a third of the entry-level asking price made available pre-construction. By local standards, that's an unheard of asking price. The building's extremely well-built and the level of finishes the builder built into the units is surprisingly good.

In every way imaginable, the Signature is a signature building for my beloved St. Pete and its place along waterfront marks a real departure from what's expected out of St. Pete. This was after all, once a city referred to as "God's Waiting Room." My how times have changed.

28 June 2010

Modern history can be yours for a cool two million

Philip Johnson's Booth House is in Westchester County, New York and it's been on the market since April. The Booth House was Philip Johnson's first private commission and the house was completed in 1946, three years before his iconic Glass House in New Canaan, CT. Johnson lived in the Glass House until his death at age 98 in 2005. He was survived by his longtime partner David Whitney. Upon Whitney's death a few months later, the Glass House was left to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is now open to the public.

Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson was the face of 20th Century American architecture. I'm sure some of my architect pals would love to argue that point but in my mind he was. His list of friends, foes and collaborators reads like a who's who of the last century. He collaborated with Mies van der Rohe, offended Frank Lloyd Wright (I think everybody did), and introduced such notables as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier to the American public. In 1930, he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art and it was at that museum in 1932 he mounted an exhibition called  "The International Style: Architecture since 1922."

International Style and Modernism were American architecture for the next four decades. Like Modernism, International Style believed in simplified form and a rejection of ornament. Johnson's Seagram Building from 1956 is a brilliant example of the International Style.

It's easy to dismiss International Style today but it was very much a product of its time. The Internationalists rejected everything that symbolized pre-war Europe. Ornament and artifice represented the tribal conflicts that plunged the world into first one and then a second World War. The level of disruption of those two events cannot be overstated. In its way, Johnson's Seagram Building is a repudiation of that conflict and an attempt to usher in a new era of cooperation and peace. What happened to Beaux Arts? It rode off on death's pale horse, that's what happened.

Johnson and his contemporaries began to see the Internationalist Style as a dead end and the Post-Modernism that followed began to embrace stylized ornamentation and symmetry. Johnson's AT&T Building from the early '80s with its Chippendale pediment shows his his take on Post-Modernism well.

Johnson was a cultural force in ways beyond his buildings, through his position at MOMA he promoted such artists as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and many more. Philip Johnson brought world culture to the US and in just as many ways brought US culture to the world.

And just think, for a mere two million dollars you could own a piece of modern history.

27 June 2010

Meritalia strikes again

The name of this chair is Origine du Monde, Maybe!

It's upholstered in memory foam and promises to provide a "near uterine sensuality." The Origine du Monde, Maybe! was designed by Italo Rota for Meritalia. I think it's safe to say that theirs is the first time such a promise was made by a piece of furniture. Maybe I'm not in the target market, but near uterine sensuality doesn't land real well over here. Whattya think?

Photographer Len Prince and The Birth of Venus

My great friend Tim is visiting this weekend and he's come all the way from Kuala Lumpur. That's the capital of Malaysia as everybody knows. Right?

Anyhow, yesterday we went to the Museum of Fine Arts here in St. Pete where we saw an exhibition of the photography of Len Prince. Len Prince is a well known editorial and fine art photographer and since 2001 he's been collaborating with his muse Jessie Mann. Mann is an artist in her won right and together, they have been working on a series of images that are at once homages to iconic images and commentaries on the collaborative nature of art and performance. I was transfixed. The exhibition is making the rounds of the country and if you see it scheduled for a museum near you go.

Go for a couple of reasons. The first being that it's a compelling series of images that's every bit as unsettling as it is gratifying and the second being that museums everywhere are screaming for patronage. If keeping The Arts alive means anything to you, please patronize them.

Everybody knows the iconic image of Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

In it, Venus arises from the foam of the sea a fully-formed (and sexually charged) woman. She's a Renaissance ideal --blond, fair skinned and a little zaftig by today's standards. She's standing in a classic contropposto pose, though as was often the case with Botticelli, her pose and her proportions are anatomically impossible. Botticelli dealt in fantasy and avoided the realism and deep perspective of his 15th Century contemporaries.

In the hands of Prince and Mann, Venus gets the white trash treatment and I think the image is hilarious and sobering at the same time.

Though hardly a fantasy setting for a lot of people, it reflects a reality most people would rather ignore. Venus steps from a concrete, shell-shaped birdbath and instead of being greeted by the western wind and a shower of flower petals, she's left to her own devices in the overgrown courtyard of a low rent hotel. Great work!

You can see more images from the Len Prince and Jessie Mann collaboration on the Edelman Gallery website. Starting with Len Prince's homage to The Birth of Venus, see what other icons you can name. It's great fun. Really!

26 June 2010

Put me in a box on the plains

There is no shape so basic or so elegant as a right angle. There I said it. Compound angles give me vertigo and arcs make me break out in hives.

When I dream about dream houses, the dream houses always come back to basic shapes and of course that most basic of all, the right angle. I love minimalism. Real minimalism. I am up to my elbows in contemporary this and retro that all day every day and that's fine. I channel other peoples' sensibilities for a living. When it comes to mine however, I am most definitely in the school that says less is more. A lot less.

I came across this house on Trendir's Modern House Design site a couple of weeks ago and I keep going back to look at it.

All photography by Kai-Uwe Schulte-Brunert

I did a little sleuthing and the house is a private residence called Sulla Morella in Casina, in the Emilia-Romana Region of northern Italy. It was designed by Andrea Oliva and his studio Cittàarchitettura and I swear he designed it with me in mind.

Minimalism tells me a story of an uncluttered life where I can think clearly and concentrate fully on what ever it is I'm doing. Minimalism sets a tone for intellectual honesty and true relatedness to people and place. There's nowhere to hide in a minimal space and I mean that figuratively and literally. I think that's why some people react to it so negatively. I know that's haughty and inaccurate, I'm just being provocative.

What is it about this kind of real minimalism that just rubs some people raw? Some people can look at this box on a plain and swoon and some people can see the same box on the same plain and be repulsed. Why is that?

25 June 2010

A US builder builds and renovates homes in The Bahamas

The Out Islands of The Bahamas have left an indelible mark on the very core of my being. I've written about there here pretty extensively, too many times to link to individually so here's a link to all of those Bahamian posts. As I gear up for what will be either my ninth or tenth visit to my Out Island, Cat Island, all of my thoughts are now directed to my east.

I'm not the only one who's been deeply affected by those far flung islands, not by a long shot. There's something to their untrammeled beaches and all but forgotten shores that really sings to a special breed of person. Out Island fans tend to find one another and when I started Tweeting about my Bahamian experiences last fall it was no real surprise that I fell in with a whole cabal of Out Island folks. One such Out Island person is a Vermont-based builder and renovator who has a case of the hots for the Out Islands that puts mine to shame.

Todd Vendituoli and his family not only love the island of Eleuthera, Todd's become a builder and renovator there.

Eleuthera is a 100-mile-long ribbon of sand and rock that starts around 50 miles east of Nassau and extends to the south until it ends around 20 miles tot he northwest of my beloved Cat Island. By 1550, the population of native Taino people had been enslaved and deported to Hispaniola by the Spanish. The island lay empty until it was settled by British Puritans in 1648. Eleuthera gets its name from the Greek word for free and its current population stands at around 8,000 people.

Though Eleuthera's a bit more connected to the rest of the world than some of the more outlying islands, it's still pretty far from the beaten path. It was into this splendid isolation that Todd and his wife found themselves around ten years ago. Todd was already an established builder and renovator in New England and they ended up buying a home during that first visit to Eleuthera. Shortly after that first home, they bought and renovated a historic home on Cupid's Cay. The photos that accompany this post are the before and after photos of their historic undertaking.

Todd just returned from Eleuthera this week and he took the time to answer some questions from me about his experiences as a builder who works in the Out Islands.

The house that Todd bought.

How long have you been building?

I’ve been a contractor since 1986 and have done remodeling, post and beam homes, and commercial rehabs. Right now I do energy efficient homes and remodeling in VT and ME. You can see more at www.tvendiconstruction.com .

The back of the house that Todd bought.

How did you get from building and renovating in Vermont to building and remodeling in Eleuthera?

My wife and I went to Eleuthera on a vacation and ended up buying a small cottage and about a month later a historic building came on the market. We went back down and decided it could be renovated, made an offer, which was accepted and so it began.  You can see more of this renovation at www.cupids-cay.com.

This is the same house as the renovation is wrapping up. Quite a transformation!

What are the greatest challenges to working in the developing world?
There are many things that are different to work out in the Islands. Labor works on a different time frame and finding good labor can be a challenge. Materials have to be generally brought in so you have to deal with ordering, shipping by boat, Customs, deliveries and of course timing it all to be done efficiently. Also the system works differently than here and without knowing who to see it can be difficult to get things accomplished. It’s not a what you know place but who you know and understanding the procedures for getting things done has to be learned if you expect to proceed.

This is the back of the house after the renovation.

What are the greatest rewards?

I think the greatest reward is in actually getting the project accomplished and having a satisfied client as sometimes the simplest of things can turn into a project themselves. It is not the States and sometimes what would be deemed a simple task takes on a whole new dimension so when the job is completed there is a strong sense of relief and achievement.

This is the interior as he found it.

How do you get supplies?

Most of my supplies come from Florida. I have to go through the entire project, every nail, screw, windows/doors, siding, framing lumber and on and on. Then I do the order and try to set up a ship date or dates if the order is to be split shipped. This takes quite a bit of time as if you stop and start to look at every tiny piece that goes into making your home you’ll soon see there are thousands of items that need to be accounted for.

This is the same room after.

What happens if you miss something or you have a tool that breaks down?

If I have forgotten an item I try to buy it locally and you usually can find it but the cost is generally much more expensive. This possibility also has to be accounted for in pricing of a project there. You don’t just run to your local Home Depot and pick up what you forgot to order. If a tool breaks then you have to order a new one from Florida and I have about the same line of tools there as here. The difference is here I buy $400.00 for a nail gun and that’s it. There I buy a $400 nail gun in FL, ship it to the island and pay Customs and now I have a $650 nail gun. Custom fees vary on item to item but they range from 7% for raw lumber to 46% on other items to 80% for vehicles. A $10,000 used car in FL and brought to the Island is about a $19,000 by the time you get to drive it.

The first shipment of building supplies arrives from Florida.

In general, how much more expensive is it to build something in The Bahamas as opposed to building in Vermont?

Of course it depends on the materials desired by the client but everything is very expensive. As I mentioned above the duties imposed by Customs are high. Gas is generally around $5/gal. and food/electricity are also expensive. So as a general  rule it seems that with all the items needed to do a projected, transportation, fuels, materials shipping etc that need to be accounted for the projects costs are about 3 times the cost compared to here. As everywhere there are good reputable builders and bad dishonest ones.  The good builders are not cheap but they will get what is needed done and in a professional manner. The dishonest ones may never get your project done and end up costing you more than if you had just used the “expensive” contractor.

Another secluded Eleuthera beach

What's the licensing procedure over there and what kind of building codes or building code enforcement are there in the Out Islands?

In the Bahamas there are presently no licensing of tradespeople. Therefore if you have a tape measure and a saw you could pass yourself off as a contractor. Yes they do and yes foreigners fall for it. They do have very good building codes and there are numerous inspections throughout the project. However the inspections can sometimes be meaningless and there are numerous ways around the procedure. Remember it’s not what you know but who you know and what steps you’re willing to do to get things accomplished. Lunches, “gifts” and favors owed go a long way to speeding a project along.

This is the library in nearby Governor's Harbor.

How difficult is it to put in a full workday when you're surrounded by so much beauty? What is a typical work day like?

Actually when I’m doing a project I handle it the same there as here. I set goals that I want to see accomplished for the day, week etc and set out to obtain them. Sure I get to step back at various points in the day to see the beautiful water or fish but I try to stay focused on what needs to be accomplished. My job is to keep the project going at a satisfactory speed, make sure everything is being done as needed and a constant line of communication with the client so that they remain aware of progress and are happy.  My day usually starts around 5 am with planning what’s to be done etc and then to the job by 7 am or earlier depending on the temperature. During the day I have to make sure all work is being done as needed, checking on supplies and subcontractors and then in the evening I usually send pictures or a communication to the client or clients to keep them in the loop. Recently we did a project for a client in California and he and his wife only came once during the project and then at the completion and they were completely satisfied with their new home.

Governor's Harbor

What's next on Eleuthera? How big a role are you planning for The Bahamas to play in your future?

Right now The Bahamas are in the same position economically as most other places and construction has slowed on Eleuthera as well. There are still opportunities to be gained and we continue to look for various avenues to pursue. I am also a foreigner there and as such have to work within the politically landscape of that country, which can be trying at times but we continue to see ample growth for years to come given the beauty of the island and the wonderful people of Eleuthera.

Eleuthera's famous pink sand

Once again, Todd Vendituoli's primary website is here and his Eleuthera website is here. You can also find him on Twitter as @TALV58. Thanks Todd, I'll toast to you when I sit down in front of a steaming bowl of sheep's tongue souse in a few weeks.

24 June 2010

Medallion Cabinetry introduces custom colors

Have you ever wished you could have a lavender hutch? Even better, would you like that lavender hutch to be  Sherwin-Williams 6548 Grape Mist? How about Benjamin Moore 2072-60 Beach Plum? Or maybe you're a Pantone person and you're looking for PMS 257. What ever the source, Medallion Cabinetry can simulate that color as a painted finish.

It used to be that if you had a need for a special paint color on cabinetry, you'd order the cabinetry unfinished and then have it painted in the field. This method would sometimes get you where you wanted to be but just as often would leave you with something less than what you were expecting.

Medallion Cabinetry's new Expressions custom paint color process takes away the guess work and leaves you with a multi-step, catalytic paint that will look great and stand up to normal wear and tear far better than paint from a can ever could.

How it works is pretty straightforward. A client sends a paint swatch  or 3" x 3" painted wood chip to Medallion. Upon receipt, Medallion will analyze the sample with a spectrophotometer and it will then generate a formula for that particular color. Once they establish a color formula, they then mix up a test batch of the custom paint and prepare a sample. The sample goes through the typical stages of finishing (sanding, priming, painting, oven curing, top coating and oven curing again) only in a paint booth and curing oven dedicated to the Expressions program. At the end of that process is a full-size sample cabinet door.

The sample's compared to the original swatch and if it's a good match the sample door gets cut in half. One half sample goes back to the client for approval and the other half stays with Medallion.

Upon sample approval, the cabinetry goes into production. When the completed cabinetry ships a few weeks later, Medallion will cut its remaining half sample in half again and ship a quarter of the originally-approved sample with the order.

It's a pretty slick program and the costs involved are reasonable. Painted finishes are always a premium, and the custom Expressions program comes in at 10% higher than a stock paint color. Standard painted finishes cost an additional 14% on plywood constructed cabinets and 18% on furniture board construction. For Expressions custom color, the surcharge is 20% on plywood construction and 24% on furniture board construction. The benefit to approaching custom color this way is in the result of course. Having cabinetry painted in the field will cost about the same amount of money but there isn't a field-applied paint out there than can compare with a multi-step, oven-cured catalytic paint when it comes to longevity and resilience.

Medallion Cabinetry's sold all over the US and theirs is a product I've been selling proudly for the last five years of my life.

If you have any questions about this finish option or any of Medallion's offerings, feel free to ask it here or to send me an e-mail privately. So the next time the topic of custom kitchen cabinetry colors comes up, think of Medallion Cabinetry.

23 June 2010

Oh beautiful for spacious skies

For amber waves of grain

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

Now, how does this stuff fit into all that talk of design around here yesterday?