28 February 2012

That song that's stuck in my head: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive when bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic. This week's Blog Off is about songs that get stuck in your head. Here's my take.


I fly in and out of the Tampa airport with alarming regularity. According to FourSquare, I've checked into that airport 28 times in the last six months. It's a great airport so far as airports go and obviously, I spend a fair amount of time there.

via The Decorating Diva

Every time I retrieve my car and drive home I pass a stand of oak trees at the entrance to the airport. All of them have a yellow ribbon tied around their trunks. A yellow ribbon tied around an oak tree has become the de facto statement of hope for the men and women who are in the armed services. Those ribbons are a stand in for "supporting the troops." I understand the sentiment behind those ribbons, but wouldn't it be better if the United States kept young men and women out of harm's way to begin with? Had the US not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place, there'd be no need to tie yellow ribbons around trees. If the energy expended in those ribbons were directed toward electing politicians who didn't buy into the idea that the US is the world's police force, we'd be a better country. If you want to "support the troops," work to bring them home.


Anyhow, every time I pass that stand of beribboned oak trees, it's 1973 all over again and this song bores its way into my brain:

The only thing I can do at that point is crank up my Twitter buddy Joseph Calleja's E luceven le stelle from Puccini's Tosca. He's also my favorite contemporary tenor and a good guy. Even if you don't get opera, the man has a voice that won't quit.

I cannot get enough of his singing. So far as I can tell, Calleja's the only cure for a Tony Orlando and Dawn earworm. I've seen him perform twice by the way, each time in New York. On my bucket list is seeing Calleja in Tosca at La Scala in Milan. One of these days...

What songs bore into your head? What prompts that boring and how do you get rid of them?

Check out how other bloggers address this topic by clicking on the links in the following table.

27 February 2012

What's that color?

I get at least three e-mails every week from readers of this blog and other things I've written around the internet. This is immensely gratifying and most of these e-mails are questions about a photo or a request for advice about flooring, appliances, counter materials or cabinet brands.


I'm glad to answer these questions and I love that strangers look to me as a source of solid information. However one question I'll never answer definitively is "What's that color?"

This happens most often in response to the things I've written for Houzz.com. It's a legitimate question and every time someone asks it I launch into what's by now a rote speech.

The short answer is that it doesn't matter because you're not seeing the actual color. What human eyes see as color is reflected light and how a color reads in a photo is completely dependent on how a subject is lit at the time the photo was taken. So the act of photographing something distorts its color, sometimes pretty radically. So that's one degree of distortion.

Add to it that you're seeing that photo on an uncalibrated computer monitor and that's at least two more degrees of distortion.

After all those distortions, the nuance of the original color is lost for good.

Photos on the internet are good for general families of color. You can look at a photo of a room and know that you want a yellow kitchen or a taupe living room. But the actual colors used in the photo won't look in your home the way they do in the photo you're admiring.

Here's a detail of a kitchen I designed. The wall color is Sherwin-Williams 7037 and I picked that color because it played well with the off-white cabinetry paint color and it was as similar hue to the brown veins running through the Calacatta marble on the counters and back splash.

If I were to go to Sherwin-Williams' website and look at the swatch, here's what I'd get.

Even though they're same color, they look nothing like each other. What's more, the color as it appeared on the walls was off from the swatch in my Sherwin-Williams chip library.

The difference between a paint swatch and actual paint is typical, and a good designer knows how to accommodate it. The difference, by the way, is due to the fact that a paint swatch is a printed approximation of a paint color as it will appear with an eggshell sheen. Paint swatches are never the actual paint. Different sheens make even the same paint colors look completely different.

So the answer to "What's that color?" isn't an answer. Rather it's an explanation, and a long-winded one at that. It's impossible to specify precise colors with photos and even more impossible to do so with an image on the internet. The only way to gauge true color is to paint a wall, let it cure for a day and then decide whether it works or not.

I know that's not the advice most people are looking for; but it's the cold, hard truth. Use photography, be it on the internet, in a magazine or in the marketing collateral from a paint brand as a general guideline to help you identify a direction. But until a paint color hits the wall, you'll never know how it will actually look.

So go ahead, ask me anything. Just don't ask me what color something is.

25 February 2012

Look! Up in the sky! It's a planetary alignment!


If you've been paying attention to the western sky just after dusk in recent weeks, you've been treated to a really great show as the moon, Venus and Jupiter have been engaged in a nightly waltz with one another. Over the course of the next few weeks, Jupiter and Venus will continue to align so keep an eye out for it. If you have an unobstructed view of the western horizon next week, you'll get a glimpse of Mercury too.

This video from NASA explains what's going on in the not-uncommon alignment and what to expect in the weeks ahead.

Those objects are a nearly unfathomable distance from the Earth and it's really neat to just look up at them and ponder. A lot of people like to read all sorts of meaning into objects in the nighttime sky and their movements but really, they don't mean anything. Venus isn't the embodiment of love, Mercury isn't spirit and Jupiter doesn't represent leadership any more than my shoes do.

What they are however, are wondrous other worlds that share our solar system with us. Seeing them is a thrill just because they're there. Excuse me while I geek out on some astronomy.

I can't help but wonder what it's really like on those other worlds when I see them. Here's Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

photo from NASA

It's what's known as one of the gas giants in that it has a tiny rocky core surrounded by hydrogen and helium and a handful of other elements. Its size is mostly gas and that's kind of hard to imagine. Jupiter is massive and this spliced together photo shows it in relation to the size of the Earth. Jupiter has at least 64 moons and the largest of them, Ganymede, is larger than Mercury.

photo from NASA

Simply amazing.

Here's Venus.

Image processing by R. Nunes

Venus is the second planet from the sun and is 20 percent smaller than the Earth. Its size has earned it the reputation as the Earth's sister planet. The similarities end there though. Its surface is permanently obscured by dense clouds of sulfuric acid floating in an atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide. Penetrating radar has shown Venus to have a bone-dry, rocky surface punctuated by some very serious volcanoes.

Finally, here's Mercury.

photo from NASA

Mercury is the planet closest to the sun in our solar system. It's also the smallest of the planets orbiting our sun. It has a molten iron core and a surface composed of silicates primarily. Its surface is pockmarked with craters and appears to lead a pretty tough existence. Its proximity to the sun gives it some amazing temperature variations. During the day, the surface temperature can reach 840 degrees F (450 degrees C) and at night the temperature drops to -275 degrees F (-170 degrees C). Talk about freeze thaw cycle.

These three planets have been observed by human beings since the dawn of our species and until the last few hundred years, no one knew what they were. Living in an age when understanding the planets is a Google search away is an amazing thing. Knowing that Jupiter's made of gas primarily and that Venus exists under a veil of sulfuric acid clouds and that Mercury experiences such wild temperature fluctuations every day fires my imagination more than any myth ever could.

So over the next few weeks, look west just after the sun sets and be treated to one of the greatest shows in the solar system.

22 February 2012

The Ceramics of Italy tile competition deadline's been extended

Casa Dolce Casa

If you're a North American Designer or Architect and you have a project you've done in the last five years you're particularly proud of, you're in luck. The deadline for the Ceramics of Italy tile competition's been extended until February 27, 2012.


Sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and Confindustria Ceramica (the Association of Italian Ceramics), the 2012 Tile Competition is open to all North American architects and designers who have used Italian ceramic tiles in their institutional, residential or commercial/hospitality projects completed between January 2007 and January 2012. The competition is completely digital and FREE to enter! Winners in each category will receive a $4,000 cash prize and a five-day trip to Italy to attend Cersaie in the fall.

For competition guidelines, an archive of past winners and the online submission form visit www.tilecompetition.com. Good luck!

Even if you're not going to enter, click on the link to see the past winners. There are some really spectacular projects that have won in recent years.

17 February 2012

Meet my new favorite possession, a walnut cutting board

Just yesterday, I received this beauty from J. Aaron.

Look at this grain!

I have a weakness to end all weaknesses for Walnut. It is, without a doubt, my favorite wood species and J. Aaron does amazing things with it.

Here's a counter sample they sent me too. It's also Walnut and features their London edge. It's a softened ogee and it looks spectacular.

J. Aaron doesn't stop with Walnut though. They work in Maple, Bubinga, Sapele, Cherry, Brazilian Cherry, Iroko, Teak, Zebra Wood and Wenge too.

What's more, they work in concrete for both counters and trough sinks.

They have an artisan's eye for the products they manufacture, they'll sell directly and they do custom work from their Scottsdale, Georgia location. If my new cutting board is any indication of their dedication to what they do, and I believe it is, give J. Aaron a consideration the next time you're looking for counters. Look over J. Aaron's website, you'll be impressed.

16 February 2012

The anatomy of a scam

I just received this e-mail:

Note the return address and then note the instruction for me to "activate my PayPal account" through the helpful, secure link provided. This e-mail even warns me about ne'er do wells who want to steal my information.

Interesting because that's precisely what they want to do, despite how official this e-mail looks. This is an attempt to empty my checking account, the virtual equivalent of someone holding a gun to my back while I'm at an ATM.

Once you have an activated account with PayPal, your bank, a credit card or anything else, you will never get an e-mail like this. Always check the return address and NEVER click on a link that's asking you to log into one of your accounts anywhere.

What these people are attempting is highly, highly illegal but the internet is a pretty vast place and the long arm of the law can only extend so far.

Online life gave me a career I could have never imagined ten years ago and internet access is a true marvel. However, a healthy dose of skepticism has never been a more important asset. Question every unsolicited e-mail you receive and be careful out there.

14 February 2012

What smell takes you back? A Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive when bloggers of all stripes weigh in on the same topic. This week, the topic is "What smells take you back?" Here's my take:


It's said that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. I don't know how true that is but it strikes me as something that's entirely plausible.

There are smells of all kinds that take me back to different places and times. The first that comes to mind is this one, Old Spice.

The scent of original Old Spice after shave will always remind me of my Dad. I can't imagine ever using it myself but that smell reminds me of him as much as the words "Macht schnell" do.

Chanel Number 5 reminds me of my mother and Shalimar reminds me of my grandmother Stewart. The smell of polished wood reminds me of my Grandmother Anater's prized piano. Johnson's baby shampoo will always remind me of my nieces and nephews.

The scent of light machine oil will always remind me of my brother Ray's coronet. The smell of baking bread reminds me of my sister Adele, even when the baking bread's in my own oven. Wintergreen reminds me of the Skoal my brothers Matt, Tom, Dave and Steve dipped incessantly.

The smell of cow manure transports me back to my childhood home in Pennsylvania without fail, the scent of a pine tree right after a cool rain reminds me of my Ontario childhood summers and the smell of the ocean reminds me of afternoons at the Jersey shore.

Old Bay seasoning reminds me of crab boils with neighbors when I was a kid and the smell of celery and onion sauteing means my mother and grandmother are about to make stuffing on Thanksgiving morning.

Deisel exhaust reminds me of taking public transportation everywhere when I was in college and the smell of wet stone reminds me of Italy.

Jasmine and Jacaranda remind me of Florida, my current home, and roses smell like my brother Tom's yard. Wood smoke smells like my brother Dave's apartment in Pittsburgh and stale beer smells like the bar I worked in a lifetime ago. Golden retriever smells like my brother Matt's homes over the years and that's a good thing. Steve's houses have always just smelled clean.

My sense of smell and my scent memories remain with me permanently and there's not a day that goes by without my remembering a place or a time based on a whiff of something.


As the day goes on, more and more bloggers will contribute posts and I encourage you to read aech of them.