04 December 2013

Old techniques, new furniture

My friend Patrick Shilling is a master woodworker in Bethnal Green, London. Over the years he's carved out a niche for himself as a creator of exquisite, one of a kind interiors. Here are some examples of his work.

Never one to sit still, Patricks's been turning his hand to fine furniture and over the years has perfected a technique that uses an adze and a saw on English oak. The texture carved onto these pieces is done entirely by hand and that's something that's utterly unique in the world.

The finishes he's developed for this line mimic the appearance of stone, leather and charred timber but the attention to detail he employs never lets you lose sight of the fact that his pieces are made entirely of oak.

His passion for and love of his craft shine through this entire collection and I invite you to take a look through the gallery on his website. Whether it's a wardrobe, a table, a room divider, a larder or any of the pieces in this collection, all of it's breathtaking.

If you're interested in Patrick's work, you can contact him through his website. He's also looking for dealers in the UK, the EU, The US and anywhere else in the world you might be. So if furniture's your thing, drop him a line.

It's an easy cliche to fall back on the idea that no one makes high quality furniture by hand anymore and people like Patrick Shilling are living proof that the cliche's simply not true.

03 December 2013

This beautiful table is for sale

This is what I call craftsmanship.

That joinery is in the center of a table designed and built by my friend Kevin Fitzpatrick. Kevin's a master furniture maker by any measure and I'm regularly awed by the work that he does. However, this table stands out. It's also for sale.

This table's made from reclaimed barn timbers and floor boards. The wood was milled 200 years ago from old-growth Pennsylvania white pine. All of the old growth forest in this part of Pennsylvania is gone now and the last of it was cut down at around the time the boards used in this table were milled.

As a more or less rural Pennsylvanian now, I see old barns, mills and tobacco sheds so regularly it's easy not to notice them. I make it a point to keep an eye out for them though, and they tend to figure into my my photography when I'm documenting farm life and local agriculture.

Many of these old structures are still in use although some of them get torn down from time to time to make room for more modern agricultural operations. That's a somewhat sad turn of events, however none of the stone or timber used in those old buildings goes to waste. Lumber reclaimers stand in line to buy up whole barns that are slated for demolition.

That ancient wood gets reused as flooring, siding and in the case of my friend Kevin's table, furniture.

When Kevin built this table, he took an old barn's structural timbers and used them as the legs and supports. The table top is made from the floor boards of the same barn.

Though the finished surfaces have kept the rustic appearance of barnwood, the table's engineering is beyond precise. Through a combination of complex joinery and pegs, there are no nails, screws or glue holding the table together. It's all beautiful wood on wood locked in a precision embrace.

The top of the table is made from three floorboards and there's a quarter inch gap between each board. The rough hewn edges made a close fit impossible. Further, the gaps allowed Kevin to showcase the wear patterns and natural distressing already present in the wood. All told, the table top measures 60 inches wide by 35-1/2 inches deep. The table top is an inch and three quarters thick.

The table stands 34 inches tall and the legs are three inches thick. This is a substantial piece of furniture and I can see it used as a display table in a retail setting just as easily as I can imagine it in someone's home.

Kevin's asked me to broker the sale of this piece as a test to gauge what interest there is out there for his kind of wood working. He has other pieces completed and many more in the works. The cost for this table is $2500 plus the cost of shipping, so if you're interested, let me know.

Dealer inquiries are welcome too and I'm offering a designer discount. Tables of this vintage and quality can sell for upwards of $6000 and at $2500, this one won't last very long.

So again, if you're interested let me know. We're open to other offers too so don't let the price tag frighten you off.

23 October 2013

Yes, you can buy cabinetry online

Say you’re working with a design-only designer on a kitchen renovation. Say that said designer puts together a plan to end all plans. A plan that takes efficiency and good taste to levels previously unimagined. Then what?

Since the lion’s share of kitchen design involves cabinetry, what do you do with a set of completed plans? How do you get from paper to a room you can cook in?

Well, one really simple way is by taking the plans you have and generating a list of components if your designer hasn't done that already. With that list you can go to a website like Cliq Studios, and place an order. There are a number of websites out there that’ll allow you to fulfill a cabinet order. A few more such sites are The Cabinet Factory, Kitchen Resource Direct and Kitchen Cabinet Depot. If you’re a homeowner buying cabinetry for the first time, each of those sites have staffed, toll-free numbers to hold your hand through the process.

These sites are set up to allow just about anyone to order semi-custom cabinetry. You choose the components you need in the dimensions you need them from an interactive catalog, just about the same way any industry professional does.

Ordering cabinetry is complicated but it needn't be overwhelming. There are a lot of parts to consider and to take into account but if your needs aren't too complex and you’re diligent in your approach, ordering cabinetry online may be the answer you’re looking for.

Explore the sites before you make a final decision though. Look for testimonials and look for details and descriptions about how the cabinetry’s constructed. Check to see where the cabinetry’s manufactured and for how long it’s warranted. Buying online is like buying anywhere. Ask a lot of questions and kick the tires as best you can before you take a leap.

Many online suppliers sell what are called RTA cabinets. RTA means flat-packed and ready to assemble. Be sure you’re up to the added labor if you buy RTAs and if the site doesn't define that term clearly, don’t buy from there. Similarly, look for details about the types of hardware used for hinges and drawer guides. If that information’s not listed on the site, call the 800 number. Good value kitchen cabinetry isn't just in the finish. It’s the hardware used that makes them last.

See too if they have a sample ordering program and what if any the charge is to get samples. Seeing color accurately on the internet is impossible, absolutely impossible and you have to see the actual product if you’re going to get an accurate preview of how things will look in your home. Again, if the site you’re on doesn’t have samples available or if they charge you for them, leave that site.

As you navigate the sites, look for endorsement logos from other entities. Such entities as HGTV and DIY Network don’t let fly by night organizations use their logos and only legitimate suppliers can be members of the NKBA.

Some sites have budgeting tools that will help you in your planning too. This tool from Cliq Studios is particularly helpful. Use budgeting tools as you plan and to help you keep a handle on costs as you move ahead on your project.

If you’re a design-only designer have you ever recommended an online resource to your clients? And if you’re a homeowner, have you ever used one of these suppliers? In either case, how was your experience? What advice do you have for someone who’s considering an online cabinetry purchase? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear some stories.

02 October 2013

Two hour baguettes? Hmmmm.

Here are two of my usual baguettes. I should put baguettes in quotes because technically, they're not baguettes. I say they're better but that's just me.

Anyhow, I've been on a tomato sauce kick of late and it's been brought on by my frantic attempts to keep up with the truckloads of tomatoes that've been ripening over the last few weeks. Who knew that five tomato plants could crank out this much fruit?

So last night at about five I decided I would make spaghetti for supper. I'd made the sauce earlier but pasta's not pasta without fresh bread but it was already late so what to do?

I decided to consult my kitchen oracle, Mark Bittman from The Times to see if he had any down and dirty (and fast) bread recipes. I found one for Fast French Bread.

Admittedly, I was skeptical when I read that someone could make real bread in two hours. I've been baking bread for years and it's always a process that takes me at least two days to complete. Why two days? To let the yeast do its thing and yield a loaf that tastes like bread, that's why. I had a feeling that rushing this would leave me with something that tasted like Wonderbread and I was right, but at least it was bread.

Here's Bittman's recipe:

Fast French Bread or Rolls
Makes: 3 or 4 baguettes, 1 boule, or 12 to 16 rolls

Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

This bread can be made by hand or with an electric mixer, but the food processor is the tool of choice and will save you tons of time. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

1. Put the flour in a food processor. Add the salt and yeast and turn the machine on; with the machine running, pour about a cup of water through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball, adding a tablespoon more water at a time until it becomes smooth; if the dough begins sticking to the side of the bowl, you’ve added too much water. No harm done: add 1/4 cup or so of flour and keep going. You’re looking for a moist, slightly shaggy but well-defined ball. The whole process should take about 30 seconds, and it will once you get good at it. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If it becomes too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.

2. Dump the lump of dough into a large bowl or simply remove the blade from the processor bowl and leave the dough in there. Either way, cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.

3. Use a small strainer or your fingers to dust a little flour onto a counter or tabletop. Shape the dough as you like, into small loaves, one big one, baguettes, or rolls, sprinkling with flour as necessary but keeping the flour to a minimum. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone and/or a pan filled with rocks if you have them) to 400°F while you let the breads or rolls rise, in a cloth if you like, covered with a towel.

4. When you are ready to bake, slash the top of each loaf once or twice with a razor blade or sharp knife. If the dough has risen on a cloth, slide or turn it onto floured baking sheets or gently move it onto a lightly floured peel, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board, then slide the bread directly onto a pizza stone. Or you can bake on lightly oiled baking sheets. Turn the heat down to 375°F.

5. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 210°F (it can be lower if you plan to reheat the bread later) or the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.


So I started with Bittman's recipe and changed around a couple of things as I flew through it. His instructions call for using a food processor and as I thought this through it made some kind of sense. A food processor used the way he did would incorporate all of the ingredients quickly but I was concerned that it wouldn't work the dough enough to get the gluten to form the correct structure.

When I pulled my dough out of the food processor it didn't feel right so I floured up my breadboard and kneaded it until it did. if you're new to bread baking, the whole idea of properly kneading bread until it "feels right" is maddening, or at least it was for me. Save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you're new at this and ask someone who does bake to have you over the next time he bakes bread so you can learn in person how to knead. Of course I never did this and was left to curse the darkness for about six months until I figured it out.

So after I'd kneaded it, I turned the dough into an oiled bowl and covered it with a wet dishcloth. An hour later I formed my loaves, sprayed them with oil instead of water and salted them because I didn't think the recipe called for enough salt.

They turned out passibly though I don't think they made a convert out of me. It's true the bread was done in less than two hours and unfortunately it tasted like it. There wasn't any real depth or nuance but since I was using it later to sop up tomato sauce it didn't really matter a whole lot.

The texture was OK and again I think I salvaged that with a good knead. I wonder how this would have turned out had I followed the instructions as written. The world may never know.

But at the end of the day I baked bread from scratch on a weeknight and proved that it's possible I suppose. It also gave me another excuse to beat with my shoe the next person I hear rationalize a poor diet of convenience foods with the excuse that he's has no time to cook.

So give this one a try sometime, you have nothing to lose. The best part of being a baker is that even mistakes taste good.

01 October 2013

The Affordable Care Act and you

It's here at long last. Though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land since March 23, 2010 today marks the day when most people will notice the sea change it ushered in. Despite the fact that one of our political parties has been having a tantrum about it since the presidential election of 2008, despite that same party's willingness to shut down the Federal Government and sabotage the economy rather acknowledge the fact that Barack Obama is the President and despite the fact that same party's been hijacked by it's own lunatic fringe, the health insurance marketplaces are open for business.

So what does that mean precisely? Well with the help of Fran Berkman at Mashable and the Kaiser Family Foundation, here's a breakdown.

Whether or not you agree with the country's new health care policy, you should understand how it works. Here are a few things you need to know to get started.

The law is scheduled to take effect fully on Jan. 1, 2014. You can begin shopping and signing up for plans through the online marketplace starting today but the earliest a plan will take effect is Jan. 1. The enrollment period for 2014 lasts until March 31.

For subsequent years, the enrollment period will be open from Oct. 15 until Dec. 7. With few exceptions, these are the only time periods during which you can register for plans through the online marketplace.

Technically, using the health insurance marketplaces is available to everyone lawfully living in the U.S. The online marketplace is targeted at those who do not get insurance through their employers, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. The new law actually expands eligibility for Medicaid, and Medicaid rules vary by state. Your state's health insurance marketplace website will help you figure out whether you qualify. Alternatively, even if you do receive insurance through your employer, you can still use your state's online marketplace — though you're unlikely to find a better deal.

The "personal mandate" to have insurance means you will be charged a fee if you're uninsured for more than three months in a calendar year. The penalty, which increases each year, starts at $95 in 2014 or 1% of your yearly income — whichever is higher. If you choose to pay the fee, you do so when filing your tax returns. You may be exempt from paying this fee if you meet one of several conditions (listed here).

Residents of most states can find their online marketplace at HealthCare.gov. For residents of 16 states and the District of Columbia, however, there are state-specific websites. A "Get State Information" drop-down menu sits toward the bottom of this page and will instruct you where to find information based on where you live. Again, the main HealthCare.gov website will direct you via links to anywhere you need to go to research and buy a health insurance plan.

Prepare most of your personal documents for reference, specifically financial records. Since the law varies depending on your income, you will most likely need your recent tax returns and pay stubs.

The plans are divided into four tiers based on cost and level of coverage: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The government will subsidize your health care with a tax credit if your yearly income is less than four times the poverty level.

The health care-focused Kaiser Family Foundation created the calculator below to help you figure out whether you are eligible for subsidies.

Remember that everyone is protected equally under the new law, meaning you can't be charged more due to gender or medical history. Additionally, you cannot be denied coverage due to any pre-existing conditions and your insurer cannot drop your policy after you file a claim. Although plans vary in level of coverage, all plans must cover 10 "essential health benefits" — including ambulatory services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services and more. While this part of the law took effect in 2010, remember that young people can stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.

For more information, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a number of resources on its website, or go straight to the source by visiting HealthCare.gov.

30 September 2013

My life on Instagram

In the last year and a half I've posted 642 photographs on Instagram and in the process, learned that I'm not a bad photographer. I've learned plenty more than that of course, but that's been my big takeaway.

When I started Instagramming I was a real stickler about only using my telephone's camera and only using the editor that's built into the app. I'm not not so picky anymore. I still use my phone's camera from time to time but there are two other cameras I've been using too. I never identify my equipment just to keep people guessing.

I used to look to this blog as a way to document my life but more and more, it's what I'm starting to depend on Instagram to do.

If you're not an Instagrammer, give it a shot. maybe it'll speak to you the way it has to me.

Here are ten photos from the last couple of months that have made it onto my personal favorites list. If you click on my name, the link will jump you to my Instagram profile page. Follow me and I'll follow you back.

All of the photos in my stream are available for purchase as either a hi-res file or as a 6"x6" or a 12"x12" print. Shoot me an e-mail if you're interested.

27 September 2013

Use Thermador appliances, win valuable prizes

Hey designers, The Thermador Kitchen Design Challenge is back and it's better than ever. Oh and when I say "hey designers" I mean to include all  professional designers, architects, builders, remodelers and kitchen dealers in that blanket term.

The contest this year has been expanded pretty significantly; the cash prizes on the line this year amount to $100,000 and the way to enter is as straightforward as it's ever been. There's no fee to enter and if you've been specifying Thermador you have no excuse not to enter.

Sixteen regional winners will receive a $2,500 cash prize and an expense-paid trip for two to a magnificent gala celebration in the fall of 2014 to compete for national prizes. How it works is this:

Regional Winners

  • 12 regional winners competing within six defined sales territories will receive $2,500 cash for the best overall use of Thermador appliances in any style kitchen design and will compete for national prizes.
  • 4 regional winners will receive $2,500 cash for the best use of Thermador built-in refrigeration in any style kitchen and will compete for a national prize.
  • All regional winners will also receive a trip for two to a magnificent celebration weekend in the fall of 2014.

National Winners: Traditional/Transitional

  • The regional winner with the best use of Thermador in a traditional/transitional kitchen design will receive a grand prize of $15,000 cash. One second place winner will receive $10,000 cash.

National Winners: Contemporary/Modern

  • The regional winner with the best use of Thermador in a contemporary/modern kitchen design will receive a grand prize of $15,000 cash. One second place winner will receive $10,000 cash.

National Winners: Best Use of Built-in Refrigeration

  • The regional winner with the best use of Thermador built-in refrigeration will receive a grand prize of $10,000 cash.

All you have to do is set up a profile, complete the online entry form, write a narrative of no more than 300 words, and upload your photos. March 14, 2014 is the deadline to enter.

The expanded version of the requirements and the general rules are:


  • The 2012-2013 Thermador Kitchen Design Challenge is open to professional designers, architects, builders, remodelers and kitchen dealers.
  • Individual, team and company entries will be accepted.
  • There is no limit to the number of entries that can be submitted by an eligible Entrant as long as each Entry features a unique Kitchen Design. However, each entrant is only eligible for one regional prize and one national prize.

The Kitchen Design:

  • The kitchen design must include at least three Thermador appliances.
  • Kitchen designs may include non-Thermador appliances only if Thermador does not offer a similar product in our lineup. Non-Thermador ventilation will be allowed depending on the application.
  • All design and construction must be fully completed within the contest period of December 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013.

Entries must include all of the following:

  • A headshot of the entrant.
  • A minimum of two high-resolution photographs of the completed kitchen design in .jpg format. Additional photos are welcomed to show various perspectives, details and "before" shots. Blueprints, floor plans, elevations and perspective drawings may be included but will not be accepted as the only means of entry. Files should be no larger than 20 mb.
  • A written narrative of no more than 300 words describing your kitchen design.

You can find Thermador's complete rules by following this link.

In an industry heavy with design competitions and prizes, this one's the most straightforward. If you worked on a Thermador project or two recently, go ahead and enter. If you haven't then start specifying Thermador!

25 September 2013

Want to win a Discovery WineStation® from Dacor and the Decor Girl?

This is a Discovery WineStation® from Dacor.

This is Lisa Smith, the Decor Girl.

Isn't that a great shot? Kudos to my good friend Courtney for that one.

Together, Dacor and my friend Lisa are teaming up to give away one of Dacor's new Discovery WineStations.

What is a Discovery WineStation®? It's a combination wine chiller, wine preserver and wine dispenser --an at-home version of the chiller/ dispensers you see in wine and tasting bars.

Here's a description in Lisa's own words:
Introducing the first four bottle, automated, temperature controlled, wine preservation and dispensing system designed for the home. Small enough to sit on a countertop, this would look smashing on the home bar! There is also a trim kit for those super chic wine collectors wanting a flush built-in look. Enjoy the right wine on your time schedule. Imagine being able to maintain the quality of an opened bottle of wine for up to 60 days. Share a taste, a half glass or a indulge in a full glass of wine – you choose. Perfect for entertaining! Speaking of entertaining, this is going to completely wow your techno gadget friends. Individually program the display for each bottle to show wine type, wine year and varietal. With the dual zone temperature accessory, you can even split the temperature by 10 degrees.
It sounds pretty slick and it's certainly the first one of these to show up in the consumer market. These wine appliances retail for around $5000 and that's where Lisa comes in.

Decor Girl and Dacor have teamed up and are hosting a contest to give away one of these units. The contest is pretty simple and straightforward.

Take a picture of your favorite bottle of wine, maybe where you would put the wine station, a glass of wine, people enjoying wine – anything which would fit into the wine theme and email it to me.  Have fun.  The contest runs September 25 through October 4, 2013 and you’ll need to click here for the contest rules. Creativity will be rewarded and PhotoShop's fine. remember, e-mail your photo to Lisa (not me) by 4 October to be considered.

Once all of the photos are submitted, they'll then go to a panel of some of the smartest people on the planet. I'm on the panel so I can say things like that. Once we come to a consensus, Lisa will announce a winner and somebody gets to be the envy of their in-laws this Thanksgiving.

Give it a shot and while you're at it, follow Lisa on Twitter and Instagram and then like her on Facebook. It can only help.

24 September 2013

Wow Brizo, now that's a shower!

This is my brand new Hydrati™ 2|1 shower from Brizo. It arrived yesterday and I installed it in about five minutes last night.

I tested it after I installed it to make sure I had no leaks and waited to take a full shower with until this morning. Holy cow. Now that's a shower.

As a matter of disclosure, Brizo gave me this shower head. With that out of the way, let me describe some of the Hydrati™ 2|1 shower's features and benefits.

The new Hydrati comes in four primary styles and what I'm showing above, the "Euro Round," is the one I have. The head's certainly large enough and through a combination of button pushing and lever selecting, the Hydrati™ allows a user to select from four settings. They are: full H2Okinetic spray, massage, H2Okinetic spray with massage and pause. I'll explain what H2Okinetic in a bit but in the meantime I have to say that the pause built into this shower system is something my father would approve of.

When I was a kid he maintained that proper showering consisted of getting wet, turning off the shower, soaping up with the shower off and then turning it back on only to rinse off. We thought his suggestion was ridiculous of course but he did have a point. Brizo's pause function allows anybody to follow my father's suggested showering method without having to readjust the water temperature.

The Hydrati™ 2|1 shower gets the two in one portion of its name from the fact that it's a convertible --it's a wall-mount and a hand-held shower and the spray patterns are adjustable on each component.

Here's an example of a Hydrati™ 2|1 Euro Square in the middle of uncoupling.

The independent function of the hand-held and wall-mount components allow a user to turn off the main head and use the hand shower, use the main head only or to use them both. When the hand-held shower's not being held in someone's hand, it locks into the main head with Brizo's MagneDock® magnetic docking system There's no eyes closed fumbling involved. All someone has to do is hold the handheld up to the main shower head and the magnets take care of the rest. Pretty slick.

Now back to H2Okinetic Technology for a second. H2Okinetic Technology is something that Brizo (and its parent company Delta Faucet) developed with the Bowles Fluidics Corporation and what it does is harness the kinetic energy in moving water to alter and enhance the way water droplets are delivered. Each spray outlet on a H2Okinetic fixture uses the pressure of the water passing through it to take on a very specific pattern of movement. This pattern makes a shower feel like it's using more water than it is and the effect is amazing. This video from Delta Faucet describes and illustrates what this means particularly well:

You can read more about it on Brizo's website too. While you're on their site, look over the rest of their offerings too --they make beautiful and highly functional fixtures.

As always Brizo, thanks!

23 September 2013

Lights! Camera! Blanco!

Recently, I had the good fortune to visit my friends and colleagues at Blanco on the set of a photo and video shoot. The folks from Blanco's marketing department is working on the catalog shots and video footage they'll use when they roll out a new campaign in a couple of months.

While I was on set I saw some old favorites and a lot of new stuff I can't talk about. But brace yourselves.

Listen, I get it that many people's eyes glaze over when I start gushing about innovations in sink design. But think about it. What component do you use more than any other in your kitchen? The smart money's on you answering "the sink." So why not spend some time considering this heavily utilized and underappreciated feature in every kitchen?

Blanco does that and more. Every aspect of how people use their products is thought through and and analyzed. Their research informs their finished designs to an alarming, though understated way.

For example, on most flat bottomed stainless sinks the sink walls and the sink floor meet each other at a sharp, 45-degree angle. You know what you can't do with a sharp 45-degree angle at the bottom of a sink? That's right, you can't clean it very easily. On a Blanco flat bottom sink, the joints between the sinks walls, sides and floor meet at a gentle, 10mm radius. You know what the average radius of a human being's index finger is? That's right, 10mm.

Flat bottomed steel sinks such as Blanco Precision™ Sinks are engineered around the dimensions of the human body to make them easier to clean.

Another great example is from my favorite sink in the universe, the Blanco Modex™. The drainboard built into this sink is pitched in two directions (backward and toward the sink) so water can't get anywhere but down the drain. That's more solid thought expended on a sink that makes it easier to use and live with.

While I'm gushing over the Modex, here's a video that 'splains it all:

As cool as the Modex is, just wait'll you see the new stuff Blanco has coming.

My on set visit with Blanco took place at the Shadowlight Group and I was absolutely blown away by their skills and their facility. Have a product you want to have photographed or filmed? Give them a call.

As always, it was great to see my friends from Blanco. I'm fortunate to know first hand that with a company like Blanco, I know that the great products they produce are backed by some of my favorite people in the industry.

23 August 2013

Hordes of marauders

It's been a while but this post has been rattling around in my head for the last few months.

I've devoted a significant amount of energy this summer to learning how to garden in the northeast again. In a lot of ways it's like riding a bike --it is after all the climate I grew up in. Yet at the same time, it's come with its own challenges.

One of the things I grew this summer is Swiss Chard. I grew it as an ornamental more than a food crop because it's beautiful. At the same time, I've eaten from my ornamental chard more than once. Here's a photo of it I Instagrammed when it was in its prime.

Lovely, isn't it? I should say, "wasn't it?" because it's been decimated by the most unlikely of marauders.

Meet the American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis.


My bird guides assure me that goldfinches are strictly seed eaters.

However, I now know that goldfinches like to supplement their meager diet of seeds with fresh, succulent Swiss Chard. Here's a photograph I took from the kitchen window during one of the finches' nightly raids.

©Paul Anater

I've seen as many as four goldfinches perched on the remains of that Swiss Chard at the same time, so I know it's not just a single bird with a taste for salad greens. It's wasn't just a one time thing either. The neighborhood goldfinches, and only the goldfinches, descend on that poor Swiss Chard every evening at dusk.

I like to think of myself as a pretty aware guy when it comes to what happens in the world around me. I know a lot about the birds and bugs with whom I share my part of the world. With that said, I have never heard of goldfinches raiding a garden. Rabbits and chipmunks I expect and know how to handle. But chard loving goldfinches? Who ever heard of such a thing? Gangs of marauding goldfinches --what's next?

15 July 2013

Why you should install a sliding door in your home

A great way to make your space look modern and chic is by installing sliding doors. Modern sliding doors have been around since the 19th century and were mainly used in barns and castles. Some archeologists believe that they were used as early as the first century CE in Roman houses. Obviously things have changed dramatically since then and sliding doors are a lot more advanced. There are two main types of sliding doors; hanging doors which require a wall or ceiling mount of some kind and bottom rolling doors that have hardware that is attached to the floor. Both are great for any sized home and can be used indoors or outdoors.

Some great contemporary designs are made out of stainless steel and can be used in any modern home. If you are into a more “shabby chic” look then there are many designs that are made of wood and have a more antique look.

What’s really great about newer models is that they are very versatile. Any size door can be installed in any sized home. In some cases there is sliding door hardware that can support up to 2500lbs. This is great if you are looking to install doors for a mansion sized house or if you are looking for an opening gate at the entrance of a large estate. There are also models that are ideal for smaller setting such as bathroom doors, bedroom doors and even closet doors.

Another great thing about these doors is that they are real space savers that anyone can use. When you open and close a traditional door you are basically unable to utilize the space that the door takes up. Traditional doors might slam and damage your walls and if you have younger children they are more likely to run head on into an open door and get injured or even damage their limbs, but with sliding doors these issues are less likely to occur. Sliding doors are also great if you have seniors in your home who are unable to operate doors because of arthritis or joint injuries. They move smoothly in one easy motion.

Sliding doors are a great way to make your home look great and serve as a very practical solution for all kinds of households. They can be customized to fit any sized home and are available in many different styles. So if you are looking to change the look of your home without making a drastic change to the architecture, consider installing a sliding door.

20 June 2013

Shabby Chic -- a history of style and decor

The term “Shabby Chic” was initially coined by The World Of Interiors magazine back in the 1980s, but first became really popular in The US in the 1990s, when there was a surge in decorating styles, especially in cultural metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Furniture that takes on the description of shabby chic is usually designed to feel like it has been through the ages, and been painted and repainted to give it a natural layered look. Often an item will be painted, before having parts of it rubbed or sanded away to display the underlying wood or base coats. This process is known as “distressing” a piece of furniture’s finish.

There are multiple opinions on what shabby chic items should really be in the furniture world. Some purists believe that real shabby chic items should be naturally old pieces of furniture that have been handed down from person to person, and can often be found in auctions or car boot sales. In the world of shabby chic, a scratch or imperfection on a chair or table is seen as something of a bonus instead of a problem that needs to be repaired.

A great example of how shabby chic’s popularity grew in the late 90s onwards, is when it became the main focus of a famous episode of Friends called “The One With The Apothecary Table” which originally aired in 2000. The storyline of the episode surrounds Rachel attempting to imitate the shabby style décor look in her flat by visiting Pottery Barn and purchasing a couple of items of furniture. Her housemate Phoebe detests the idea of the store so Rachel lies and tells her she just picked the furniture up from a flea market. Phoebe eventually finds out the items are new and goes on to fall in love with more furniture at Pottery Barn. This episode nicely demonstrates the irony of the shabby chic design philosophy – even though shabby chic furniture looks old and unique, it can still be mass produced.

Shabby chic can be wonderful for those on a budget, as well as for those who have young children or animals, who may not be as kind to your furniture as you would hope. You can beautifully imitate a rustic country home feel and give your interior décor an antique and vintage feel. You can find lots of shabby chic items at flea markets and also online. In fact, there are some gorgeous shabby chic inspired furniture and home accessories from Sylvester Oxford.

13 May 2013

Water for People

It's no great secret that I have some pretty strong relationships with a number of manufacturers. In all of these cases, I get involved with brands that make exceptional products and that are staffed by some truly great people.

One of those great brands is Blanco. I sit on Blanco's Design Council and I count the members of their marketing department and the staff of their advertising agency to be friends as well as colleagues. Blanco makes amazing sinks and faucets and the quality of their products is enough to make me a fan. What cements my affection is Blanco's willingness to take on new initiatives and to support causes that make the world a better place.

One of their newest causes is a foundation called Water for People. Water for People advocates for and provides permanent, sustainable, potable water sources for impoverished people who'd otherwise lack access to clean water and sanitation.

As part of Blanco's ongoing support of Water for People's mission, Blanco is currently running a fundraiser via their new YouTube video, Faucet Innovations.

Each click on that video will earn Water for People a $1 donation to help them fulfill their mission. So click on that video and send the link to your friends.

I consider myself to be pretty water conscious. Yet I can't help but think that I spent the weekend spraying potable water on my newly planted vegetable garden. Gardening for me is a hobby and having so much clean water at my fingertips that I can spray it on my tomatoes with abandon is something I take for granted.

But for most of the world's population, finding clean water is not a given and growing food for a hobby isn't an option. Organizations like Water for People are out to change that. Blanco's ready to help you to make a difference and all you need to do is click on a video. Click it!

I love Instagram!

I know, I know, it's been months since I've written a post on either of my sites. It's a curious thing though; after five years of documenting my every move on a blog I'm kind of burned out. However, that doesn't mean I'm burned out on public self-expression. I've discovered something new.

My hand after a weekend's work in the yard
My hand after a weekend's work in the yard

Well, new for me at any rate. That thing is Instagram and I'm mad for it. Instagram is a photo composition and sharing platform if you're not aware of it. On Instagram, a user is forced to take a pre-framed photo on his or her phone and then run it through any of 20 pre-set filters. Technically, someone can upload any photo from one's phone, even ones taken with a good camera. I think that's cheating a bit, so all of mine are taken with my HTC OneX. My photos post automatically to Twitter and Facebook, so if you follow me there you're already subjected to my daily onslaughts. If you're an Instagrammer, please follow me at my profile there. I love to see other people's work with that platform. Even if you don't follow me, you can see my whole Instagram portfolio by following that link

I'm convinced that the shackles Instagram places on me make me a better photographer. As I'm fond of saying too, captioning my photos is almost as creative an activity as composing my shots. I'll be the first to admit that not all of my Instagram photography is great or even good. To quote my Dad however, "Sometimes a blind pig can find an acorn." Some of my Instagrams are good and some of them make me feel like I'm a good photographer. Here are some of the highlights of my year spent on Instagram. 

Part of dinner last weekend
Part of dinner last weekend
Rural morning
 Rural morning
Icarus and Daedalus
Icarus and Daedalus
I do love Philadelphia
I do love Philadelphia
Train station
Train station
Dinner with my friend (and fellow Instagrammer) Mike
Dinner with my friend (and fellow Instagrammer) Mike
Olympian in Atlanta
Olympian in Atlanta
Make a wish
Make a wish
Morning walk
Morning walk
Au printemps
Baking a cake with one of my nephews
Baking a cake with one of my nephews
Winter window
Road from my brother Dave's last autumn
Road from my brother Dave's last autumn
Corn last summer
Tobacco fields in Pennsylvania
Tobacco fields in Pennsylvania
Bread baking in Florida
Baking bread in Florida