31 October 2011

How to deal with a washing machine

In Europe, where to put the washing machine takes on an importance that's not the case in the US or Canada. Since homes tend to be smaller there and space tends to come at a premium how to deal with laundry is not something to be taken lightly. When I was in Italy for Cersiae last month, I saw what has to be the best integration of a washing machine with a bathroom ever.

The manufacturer is Geromina and since nobody in Italy seems to have any use for a dryer I'm going to assume that the machine shown is a washer only. What do you think? Would you integrate a washing machine into a bath?

27 October 2011

Kids' rooms from Resource Furniture

Between my nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, I have been up to my elbows in kids recently. I guess it's yet another symptom of getting older, but I can't get enough of the people in my gene pool.

When I was in Pennsylvania last week, one of my brothers gave me a tour of the addition he put on his house recently. Though it's not quite finished, I did see that there were bedrooms for two of his daughters in the addition.

At a time when his children are starting to go out in the world on their own, he's still adding bedrooms and he tells me that they'll need the room when his kids start coming back with families of their own.

The idea of adding room for kids reminded me of some new offerings from Resource Furniture. Resource takes the idea of a Murphy bed and advances it by an order of magnitude or two.

How cool would it be to add a bedroom that can be tucked away so that the room being added can do double duty as an office or study?

Resource's Poppi Ponte adds more than two meters of closet space and requires a third of the room of a regular twin bed.

In what looks like a home office or study desk, Resource's Lollisoft SD turns into two twin beds.

Slick! Resource Furniture has showroom in New York, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Hong Kong but their furniture is available just about anywhere. Spend some time on Resource Furniture's website before you buy new furniture.

26 October 2011

Bath trends, a Bathroom Blogfest post

Every year at this time, bloggers from all over the world weigh in on the topic of baths. The Bathroom Blogfest has been going on for six years and the topic for 2011 is "Climbing Out." Not in the sense of climbing out of the commode but in the sense of climbing out of recession.

I've been fortunate to spend a fair amount of time abroad this year and in walking around a bath trade show in Europe, one would be hard-pressed to notice that there's a global recession on. While in the US, people seem thrilled to wallow in the economic doldrums, in Europe people can't shed them fast enough.

The key word over there right now is color and I hope with everything I have that the economic optimism I've seen in Europe this year extends across the Atlantic, and soon. While economic conditions in the EU are bad, they are addressing them. Unlike here in the US where everybody seems to want to point fingers and whine about the price of groceries.

As bad as things are in the US, I'm convinced that the first Economics teacher I ever had was right, recessions are psychological. So while the US languishes in shades of gray, the EU loves color. Here are some shots I took of Cersaie, the tile and bath show I went to in Bologna a few weeks ago.

See all that color? Good to moderate times are coming, I believe that with every fiber of my being. So long as the Tea Party implodes that is. Sorry to get political. Kind of. Anyhow, here are some examples of the bright colors I've seen in the EU.

Between the amazing colors and shapes on display in Bologna this year, I'm beginning to think that there is a way out. Endless thanks to Tiles of Italy for getting me to Bologna and for letting this blogger know that there's a thread or two of hope out there.

NameBlog NameBlog URL
Susan AbbottCustomer Experience Crossroadshttp://www.cust omercrossroads.com/customercrossroads/ 
Paul AnaterKitchen and Residential Designhttp://www.kitchenandresi dentialdesign.com
Shannon BilbyFrom the Floors Uphttp://fromthefloorsup.com/
Toby BloombergDiva Marketinghttp://bloom bergmarketing.blogs.com/bloomberg_marketing/
Laurence BorelBlog Till You Drophttp://www.laurenceborel.com/
Bill BuyokAvente Tile Talkhttp://tiletalk.blogspot.com
Jeanne ByingtonThe Importance of Earnest Servicehttp://blog.jmbyington.com/
Becky CarrollCustomers Rock!http://customersrock.net
Katie ClarkPractical Katiehttp://practicalkatie.blogspot.co m/
Nora DePalmaO'Reilly DePalma: The Bloghttp://www.oreilly-depalma.com/b log/
Paul FriederichsenThe BrandBiz Bloghttp://brandbizblog.com/
Tish GrierThe Constant Observerhttp://spap-oop.blogspot.com/
Elizabeth HiseFlooring The Consumerhttp://flooringtheconsumer.b logspot.com
Emily HooperFloor Covering News Bloghttp://www.fcnews.net/category/b log/
Diane KazanUrban Design Renovationhttp://blog.urbandesignrenovat ion.com
Joseph MichelliDr. Joseph Michelli's Blog http://www.josephmichelli.com/blog
Veronika MillerModenus Blog http://www.modenus.com/blog
Arpi NalbandianTile Magazine Editors' Bloghttp://www.tile magonline.com/Articles/Blog_Nalbandian
David PolinchockPolinchock's Ponderingshttp://blog.polinchock.com/
Professor ToiletAmerican Standard's Professor Toilethttp://www.professortoilet.com
David Reich my 2 centshttp://reichcomm.typepad.com
Victoria Redshaw & Shelley PondScarlet Opus Trends Bloghttp://www.trendsblog.co.uk
Sandy RenshawPurple Wrenhttp://www.PurpleWren.com
Bethany RichmondCarpet and Rug Institute Bloghttp://www.carpet-and-r ug-institute-blog.com/
Bruce D. SandersRIMtailinghttp://www.rimtailing.blogspot.co m
Paige SmithNeuse Tile Service bloghttp://neusetile.wordpress.com/
Stephanie WeaverExperienceologyhttp://experienceology.blogspot. com/
Christine B. WhittemoreContent Talks Business Bloghttp://sim plemarketingnow.com/content-talks-business-blog/
Christine B. WhittemoreSmoke Rise & Kinnelon Bloghttp://smokerise-nj.blogspot.com/
Christine B. WhittemoreSimple Marketing Bloghttp://www.simplemarketingblog.co m/
Ted WhittemoreWorking Computershttp://www.kinneloncomputers.com/
Chris WoelfelArtcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co.http://www.artcraftgmt.com
Patty WoodlandBroken Teepeehttp://www.brokenteepee.com/
Denise Lee Yohnbrand as business biteshttp://deniseleeyohn.com/best-bit es

25 October 2011

What is home? A Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What is Home?"


It's Saturday morning and I've been mulling over this topic since we settled on it last week. So much so that I decided to fly back to my homeland to see my family of course, but at the same time to do a bit of reflection on the very idea of home.

In my admittedly wild fantasy life, home looks like the photo above. An ancient, moldering pile of ochred plaster on an obscure viale somewhere in an Italian city. However, as a non-Italian, Italy could never really be home no matter how appealing the fantasy. But man, it sure is pretty.

Reality now looks more like this, an old bungalow in the American tropics. It has its charms and it's certainly exotic by the standards I grew up with but it's more rife with caveats than I ever thought it would be when I arrived here.

Right now it's Saturday morning and I'm sitting in my brother's kitchen in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the land of my birth and a place more than a thousand miles from where I call home now. He never left and I couldn't get away from here fast enough.

Coming back years later, I can't escape the fact that the place is beautiful. The photo above is what I can see from his kitchen window. My brother's home and the land of my birth spans the divide between rural and urban living as he does. My brother is a cultured, worldly man and he proves what I know to be true. That it's possible to be in the country without necessarily being of the country. That's a distinction I could never see when I called that rolling-farmland-within-easy-driving-distance-of-Philadelphia home. In my mind back then, the very sight of cows meant that I was a hayseed and I couldn't handle it. So I left to look for something else.

My ancestors called Pennsylvania home for hundreds of years and I mean that literally. They arrived in Philadelphia before the United States was the United States. The same brother in whose kitchen I'm sitting and I once stood in front of our earliest ancestor's grave marker and it hit me like a ton of bricks that he died right after the Revolutionary War. The ancestor in question, Sampson Smith, arrived here with two of his brothers and I can imagine them arguing about whether they should rebel from English rule. It has to have been similar to the arguments my brothers and I get into over current events. Though the stakes were undoubtedly higher in the 18th Century, haggling brothers are and will always be haggling brothers and thank God for that.

My roots run deep in this part of the world and life in Florida has always felt like borrowed time. The wild rhododendrons and maple trees I grew up surrounded by are in my DNA and I can no sooner purge myself of them than I can get rid of my blue eyes. As I get older, I have a harder time resisting the tug of my homeland and the biases and allegiances I grew up with stay with me.

When I hear a Philly accent, no matter where in the world I am, I feel like I've met someone I've known my whole life. No matter how long I live away from there, that eastern Pennsylvania variant of the mid-Atlantic accent just makes me feel comfortable. One of my nieces asked me for a glass of wooter yesterday and I could have hugged her for saying wooter instead of water.

Man, somebody's feeling nostalgic.

To make up for my sense of borrowed time, for the last 20 years or so I've been guided by a quote from the great American essayist/ poet/ novelist/ playwright/ screenwriter Paul Monette. Monette wrote in one of his earlier non-fiction books that "Home is the place you get to, not the place you come from." Despite any lingering misgivings I may harbor for having left, that quote is so true it hurts. It would be true had I stayed and it's most definitely true from a distance.

I'm not one to collect quotes, but that one hangs in a frame next to my bathroom sink. I look at it every morning when I brush my teeth. I believe it. Even though I live alone and I'm removed from the places the rest of my family calls home, my home is home. When I go see my parents or I come back to Pennsylvania, I call it "going to see my family." It pains me when I hear other adults refer to going back to the places where they were born as "going home."

For years, that idea of home, my home, has sustained me through thick and thin. When I landed in St. Petersburg around 14 years ago I found here a great community of friends. I felt very quickly that I belonged. My and our gatherings for holidays and card games and drop-bys were legendary. I felt then that I belonged in St. Pete, that my presence there mattered.

Even though I was surrounded by people who loved me, I was clear that they were just a manifestation of something I was generating. My sense of home started inside of me and worked out from there. My beloved friends and neighbors were reflecting back what I was sending out.

That started to change when the economy tanked a couple of years ago. Florida took it on the chin worse than a lot of places and opportunities to earn a living evaporated seemingly overnight. One by one, the people I was close to in St. Pete started to leave to pursue their dreams elsewhere, in places where they could actually make a living.

At the same time, I started traveling around the country and indeed the world as I sought to make a living of my own. So as friends left and I left with increasing frequency, something started to change. I found myself growing impatient with life in a third-tier city and started to pine for the bright lights bigger places. When I'd return home, there were fewer and fewer familiar faces to greet me.

My distraction and strange sense of isolation brought with it something else, namely a hesitation on my part to generate a home for myself. The last year has been a strange one and I blame my getting older though that's not entirely true. I don't quite feel like I fit in St. Pete the way that I used to. My sense of belonging there is a lot less intense than it used to be.

At the same time, I find myself seeking stronger connections with people who aren't in St. Pete. I miss my nieces and nephews, my siblings and their wives, my parents and my colleagues who are now spread all over the US and Europe. The critical mass of the people I once clung to used to be in Florida but now that critical mass stretches from the DC burbs to New York. There are pockets of of them in Florida, New Orleans, Seattle, London and San Francisco too, but my attentions have shifted to places other than St. Pete. This mystifies me. I always thought that St. Pete was going to be home forever, but I'm not so sure anymore.

So what to do about it? I don't know the answer and I'm in no great hurry to figure it out. One of the benefits of having survived to middle age is that I've come to suspect sudden changes, be they mine or someone else's.

Whatever happens, I know that it's up to me to generate an answer and a path forward. It's up to me to generate home, where ever that may be.

This topic has been a great one, and I'm glad to be able to vent my angst. Ten years ago I would have written that home was wherever I found myself but these days I'm beginning to think there's a bit more to it. So to try to address the topic at hand, home is where I love and where I am loved. Wherever that ends up being.

19 October 2011

In my mind I'm going to Pennsylvania


I'm headed back to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and Maryland today. Those same rolling hills are the land of my birth and the place most of my family still calls home. I've been all over the map these last few weeks and about the last thing I want is to get on another airplane. However, the Mid-Atlantic beckons and there are few places as beautiful as Pennsylvania in October. Add to all that beauty that some of my favorite people in the world call it home and I'm all set.

I'll be back next week to talk about bath trends I saw in Italy but in the meantime, I'm off to the land time forgot.

17 October 2011

More wonders from London

It feels like it was six months ago already, but three weeks ago I was walking around at 100% Design with my friends Bob Borson and Veronika Miller. 100% Design was one of the featured events of London Design Festival and I was there thanks to the sponsors of Blog Tour 2011. 100% Design takes place at the large but manageable Earl's Court Convention Centre in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London.

I saw all kinds of cool stuff at 100% Design and it was the perfect mix of furniture, fabrics, lighting, surfaces and appliances. However, what stopped me in my tracks was this:

That's a concrete induction cooktop and it's part of a concrete kitchen from Vienna-based Steininger. Here are their photos of their Betonk├╝che, German for concrete kitchen.

Much like the Pryolave integrated induction cooktop I wrote about earlier, this concrete induction cooker throws out all preconceptions when it comes to cooking appliances. Who says appliances need to look the way everyone expects them to and who says they need to be made from the usual materials?

Add to that that this entire kitchen (except for the wooden counter) is covered in 8mm concrete veneers and I was in love. The Betonk├╝che was designed by Martin Steininger whom I met. Thanks to Veronika and her language skills, Martin described his creation with the pride of someone who's made something game changing. My German consists of little more than "Ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch [I speak a little German]" and had Veronika not been there I'd never have been able to tell the man how amazed I was by his creation.

If you want to look at some cutting edge Austrian design, look over Steininger's website.

16 October 2011

A Sunday traveler's tale

On Thursday morning, I boarded an American Airlines 737 in San Francisco and I was bound for Dallas and then later, Tampa. The same plane was going to complete the journey after a one-hour layover in Dallas. I didn't have an assigned seat until I got to the gate and I begged the truly helpful gate agent for an aisle seat for the entire length of my journey home.

She found one, seat 7C in the first row after first class. I knew I was in for a long day (3-1/2 hours to Dallas and then another two hours to Tampa) but all I cared about was that I had an aisle seat and ready access to the bathroom.

When I boarded the plane, the first of my two row mates was immediately behind me. She had a heavy carry on and I put it in the overhead for her. She thanked me and we took our seats. A moment later, our third row mate arrived and she took her seat at the window. There we were, seats 7A, 7B and 7C; complete strangers.

It was a clear day when we left San Francisco, the San Joachin Valley and the Sierra Nevada seemed close enough to touch. No where else in the Unites States is more beautiful from the air than Northern California, though Utah gives it a real run for its money. Anyhow, from three seats away, I couldn't help but to crane my neck to look out the window to watch California's golden hills unfold.

I started gasping about the scenery and my row mates noticed my responses and the three of us started to talk. The two women, one an aromatherapist from Melbourne and the other a microbiologist at Stanford, listened as I prattled on about the majesty of California and how much I love the sight of the Sierras.

Before too long, the three of us introduced ourselves and we started talking about where we were from and where we were headed. It turned out that all three of us were bound for St. Pete, almost three thousand miles away.

Though none of planned to do so, we ended up talking the whole way to Dallas. We talked about books and science and art and more than anything we talked about our shared love of travel. We professed our mutual love for Bologna and London and talked about places one of us had been but the other two hadn't. As a result of that conversation, Peru and Ecuador are now on my list.

By the time we landed in Dallas we'd struck up one of those wonderful but rare situational friendships that crop up when you're tired and far from home. We were looking out for each other and helping one another get bags out of overheads and giving pointers about how to navigate various airports.

When we reboarded in Dallas and assumed our seats again, we started talking about the center seat holder's native land of Australia. She pulled out the airline magazine, turned to a map of Australia and told us about her grandmother who started out in Wellington, New Zealand, and ended up marrying a Swiss man and moving to Perth. She told us about her years as a medical volunteer in East Timor and how much she loves Jakarta and the South of France. The microbiologist talked about her Italian heritage and her love for dance. The three of us lamented the US's refusal to adopt the metric system and we talked about getting used to driving on various sides of the road depending on where we are.

It was beyond cool to bond with three strangers like that. We had so much in common despite our varied backgrounds and career paths.

I've been traveling a lot this year and though I'll never pass up the opportunity to talk to a stranger, I've never felt the momentary bond I felt with those women on Thursday.

We shook hands and exchanged cards when we landed in Tampa and part of me wants to keep in touch. Another part of me however, wants to keep Thursday what it was, the most anomalous of anomalies. The Australian called it a rare synchronicity.

I've been all over in the course of my life and without a doubt the 5-1/2 hour conversation I had on Thursday was an absolute stand out.

Experiences like that are a lot of what I'm looking for when I travel. I'm forever looking to find common ground with people whose lives are wildly different than mine. I want to find that common ground but at the same time, I want to savor the differences.

Now that I'm back and reacclimated to my native time zone, I have lots of stuff to write about from Bologna, London, Toronto and San Francisco. Stay tuned, I've seen some pretty amazing stuff int he last few weeks.

11 October 2011

What is a Blog Off: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What is a Blog Off?"


In 1975, the British group Supertramp released the album "Crisis? what Crisis?" and its cover art sums up my sentiments about our modern times perfectly. That to photo in question dates from 1975 (a year I remember too well) tells me that nothing ever changes.

The world is going to hell and it's wasting no time getting there but Blog Offs let me see an alternate reality. Every two weeks, we get to write about the same thing and interpret it as we want to. It's fascinating to read all of the participants' takes on a given topic and it reaffirms my faith in humanity to see the amount of good will spilled out on Twitter on Blog Off days. Total strangers stop what they're doing, read a participating blog post, leave a comment and Tweet about it. Would that everything worked with such genial generosity.

As a founder of this thing I see new bloggers build communities around themselves with Blog Offs and these things give people like me who've been at it for a while the chance to encourage newcomers. I always learn something and I never stop marveling at the amazing people my fellow bloggers are.

So even though everything seems to be falling apart, there's this. The Blog Off and the community of bloggers and Twitter-ers who keep it alive every two weeks. It makes me think that all is not lost after all.

And as one of the people who keeps this thing alive, we're looking for you to help us refine what we're doing. How can we better serve the Blog Off community? What topics should we tackle and just how commercial are you willing to let us get? We have a designer-ly skew though not all of us who participate have have an involvement in the shelter industry. How can we grow our pool of participants without alienating the folks we have on board already? This topic is the perfect opportunity to let it all out, for good and bad. How can we make this thing better and more useful?

As today wears on, and as I fly to San Francisco, a table of all the participating bloggers will appear here. Please do me a favor and click on the links to see what people from all over think about the Blog Off.

08 October 2011

Lee Broom at the London Design Festival

Two weeks ago while I was in London for the London Design Festival as part of Blog Tour 2011, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lee Broom. All of us on the Blog Tour were treated to a personal tour of his workshop. He'd converted his Shoreditch work space into a salon for the Festival, all to showcase his new collection, the aptly named Salon.

Here's Lee being profiled in a Polish design magazine.

Lee's a brilliant young designer with an eye that won't quit. The glamorous drama of the collection was highlighted perfectly by the lighting and walls draped in black. That the man who designed everything was describing his pieces to us was almost too much to take in. Here's how Salon looked at his studio.

From Lee's website:
As part of the London Design Festival, Broom is drawing on his interior skills and has transformed his Shoreditch-based studio/showroom into an exclusive, contemporary, design salon. Recreating the space in a dramatic, surreal and intimate setting.
It's a spectacular collection but what impressed me almost as much as the pieces themselves is Lee's commitment to producing his furniture in the UK. Talk about keeping it local! Someone so committed to his home country deserves every accolade he gets.

Downstairs from the Salon collection were more of Lee's collections and what stopped me dead in my tracks was a collection from the 20098 Festival called Heritage Boy.

Again, from Lee's website:
The Heritage Boy collection was shown at The Future Gallery (formally The Photographers Gallery), 5 Great Newport Street, London WC2, during London Design Week, 2009. Heritage Boy draws on traditional British manufacturing techniques to create a modern-day furniture collection which is divided into three distinct ranges: Carpetry, Parquetry and Tiles. Broom has applied the same philosophy, classic shapes and daring applications to each distinctly unique range. All the pieces are made in the UK and involving these industries in his design process is something that Broom feels particularly passionate about.

What I'm still reeling over is that he used carpet as a finish on furniture, actual carpet.

The tile lamps and coffee table; and the parquet tables are fantastic too. But that carpet sideboard is one of the most unique and beautiful pieces of furniture I've ever seen.

That he's a genuinely kind and generous man makes his creations all the more appealing. Earlier this week, the editor of Elle Decor asked me to respond to a feature on their website called Design Insiders' Weekly Finds. Without missing a beat I started gushing about Lee's Heritage Boy collection. This link will take you to my response on Elle Decor.

So keep your eye on this guy. Clearly, he's going places and it's great to see a good man succeed. Here's the link to Lee's website. Look over all his collections and projects, it's inspiring, innovative work.

04 October 2011

Game changing innovation from London

I saw more amazing things at the London Design Festival than I ever imagined I would. Being part of the first ever Blog Tour was a gift that keeps on giving, that's for sure. The London Design Festival is a nine-day, city-wide celebration of design and art with more than 280 scheduled events. One of the larger events this year was 100% Design.

Of the many venues we visited, 100% Design was by far my favorite. While I can get excited about furniture and textiles, after a while they all start to bleed into one another. I guess I'm a kitchen and bath guy at heart after all. 100% Design had the perfect mix of sofas and counters, draperies and flooring. I saw a lot of cool stuff and one thing in particular really blew me away.

The following images are from Pyrolave UK and they are photos of a kitchen designed by my friend Johnny Grey.

Notice anything unusual? That counter has an induction cooktop integrated into it. Pyrolave made from glazed, volcanic stone and it's the only material that can allow the electromagnetic energy of an induction coil pass through it without any loss of efficiency. There's no need for a typical glass cooking surface and being able to pop in an induction coil just about anywhere is an incredibly freeing thing from a design perspective. It's also a great opportunity to use induction outside of the kitchen. Imagine an induction-enabled sideboard or dining table. The mind reels.

Pyrolave UK had a booth at 100% Design and I was playing around with one of these induction-enabled cooktops while I was there. It was nothing short of amazing.

It's genius really and it makes perfect sense. Induction technology begs for innovation and I love that Pryolave has stepped up to the plate and delivered such a great idea. Induction-enabled Pyrolave counters aren't crossing the Atlantic any time soon unfortunately, but when they do get here I'll be the one applauding loudest.

100% Design was the 7th trade event I'd attended outside of the US in the last ten months. I'm getting on a plane for another one in Toronto in a few hours and my seeing innovations such as Pyrolave's induction counters have proved what I've long suspected. The US no longer leads the world in innovation. There. I said it. Much of the innovations I've seen this year will never make it to our market here and if they do, they'll be a dumbed down version of the original.

I hate to be one of those Americans who travels abroad and makes endless comparisons to life here as opposed to there. But the innovation thing is as obvious as it is troubling. How and when did that happen? What would it take to turn that around? These are some of the things I think about during long plane rides.

Anyhow, how about this induction idea? If you're a designer, how could you see this figuring into a design? If you're a homeowner, would you ever spring for a put-it-anywhere induction cooker?

03 October 2011

From Bologna, new stuff from Sicis

Sicis defines manufactured mosaics and they turned out in Bologna in a really big way. Sicis (see-chis) revolutionized glass mosaics and seeing them play around with glass and stone combinations is nothing short of inspiring.

What do you think? Could a Sicis mosaic work its way into you home? Check out the rest of their collections here.