The Conclusion of Construction Inclusion Week

Yesterday wrapped the first ever Construction Inclusion Week. An effort to bring more visibility to the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion – or exclusion as the case may be – to the construction industry. It’s not as if people don’t know about the industry. There are cranes everywhere, roads that are being torn up and put back together again, clogging the streets with honking horned cars, and their red faced drivers. We’ve got TV reports of supply chain issues; refrigerators, lumber, chips, clips, and ships, that can’t get their goods delivered to you. People know about the industry, but what “we” – that’s the universal we, that work in the industry – wonder is, do they know that despite all the challenges that it brings, it brings something great too? Do they know that construction, and the art of creation, is something that will never fail you, even if sometimes people, or pandemics do?

Paris . a chandelier in 700 piece harmony

We humans are flawed. We seek the familiar, even if we know that pushing beyond our comfort zone can bring surprising results. Construction Inclusion Week is that gentle bump on the shoulder that says don’t be grumpy, you’ll see, inviting others to the party will make it more fun.

Somethings are worth the effort.

When I first got into the industry all I wanted to do was work for an organization that would provide new challenges to me, and to be surrounded by “those” people that had some of the very best marketing campaigns I had ever seen. “In Springtime our builders thoughts turn from cranes and construction, to wedges and woods” or some clever missive meant to entice clients to join in on the fun of a golf clinic. It never even occurred to me that I might not be welcome, and mostly I am, as the place that I sit within the industry is stereotypically female. Others have not always been though – from the seat in the estimating or procurement division, to the all knowing and seeing role of superintendent in the field, there are places that women and people of color aren’t getting the red carpet treatment, and that needs to change.

As a woman, I am as guilty as the next person, for seeking out people, that are like me, to work with. I’ve had a female lawyer for years. I adore @Sarah Ricciardelli of Ricciardelli & Small, LLC. I’ve worked with a female banker and broker and wallpaper hanger, and even a female electrician. I paid the extra doe to use a union electrician because I wanted to support Samantha, and because hanging that Parisienne/Italian Chandelier that I had shipped back from France in 765 pieces, and needed to have installed in my historic, monumental, plaster rosette ceiling, wasn’t at all up to the challenge of carrying the weight, of its 200 plus pounds, and was going to require someone that had real skills. Sam did, and that enormous sculptural cherry blossom of enlightenment, hung proudly in the middle of that grand dame of a living room for about two months, before I sold the place and moved on.

Construction Inclusion Week was an opportunity for me to think about ways in which I might be more open, “be the change I wanted to see in the world”, do my part to make this industry thrive, and be the example other industries look to as a blueprint. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere, it’s up to us….New York, or Construction Industry, Construction Industry….ba ba, bada da, ba ba bada da.

The Education of a Non-Builder

Design and construction, no matter your role in the process, is an education. Don’t think you are going to be an innocent bystander, sitting on the sofa, penning checks, happily awaiting the completion of the renovation. You are going to be forced to make decisions, and those decisions will require a deeper understanding than you likely currently possess. You are right to be worried about it. You will be in the deep end of the pool more than the shallow end, where the water is warm, and the livin’ is easy. The good news is, no one learns to swim in three inches of water, but you could still drown in it, so learn to swim you will little grasshopper.

Recycle . Reuse . old door . new home.

I still have difficulty understanding why some doors can be removed and replaced, reusing the existing casings, and others can’t, or simply end up looking like a hot mess. Gaps, hinge locations where no Dutchman patch was crafted to disguise the damaged area, a stripe of paint from a previous job revealed, are all aspects of a door replacement project gone wrong. If you are asking why not just replace the casing too, let me remind you that the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone. Once you start ripping that out, you mine as well gut the place.

There are questions of sequencing, should the floors be refinished before you paint the walls, or paint the walls before you refinish the floors. Unless you have the most fastidious subcontractors you are going to get stain on your freshly painted baseboards, or speckles of paint on your varnished floor. A white cloth and some linseed oil will take that up if you move swiftly.

There are rabbet and dado joints, which are really quite nice, and miter joints – I wouldn’t want any other kind, but you do you. You’ll want to know when your house is going to be buttoned up, particularly if you are building during the rainy season, or snow is on the way. You’ll definitely want to pay attention if your builder announces he’s going to “hog” something out. This rough and tumble approach isn’t something you’ll want to be able to see later, or suffer the consequences of a structural failure as a result of their reckless ripping.

When I slide my bar height stool back and forth across the wood floor in my sister’s house I wish the previous owners had been educated on the wood’s Janka Rating. The pine they selected is so soft that even my feather light frame leaves an indentation. They should have selected Hemlock, Douglas Fir, or Chestnut, those are some seriously hard woods, a bullet might leave a mark, but not much else.

Some people like their learning to happen over the course of a semester, building slowly, others prefer a crash course, wherever you fall in the spectrum, you are sure to come away with cocktail conversation fodder.

Pretty as a picture. Ripping and tearing hidden from view.

Opposites Attract: the use of black and white in design

Ken Fulk’s Living Room Design . Anchored in Black and White.

Balance in life is something we are ever in pursuit of. One side of the seesaw is tipped too far, and too long, on the side of drama, chaos, endless checklists that can feel as if they add up to nothing of significance, even when the boxes display that emphatic red slash or definitive x. Then it bumps gently down on the side of calm composure, perhaps brought on by a vacation that you never want to leave.

We need both, we need equilibrium, we need that special mental calmness, composure, and even temper when we are faced with the most vexing situations. You know the kind, the ones a design and construction project are always throwing your way. I can hear the yogi Baron Baptiste whispering in his flat affect…”equanimity”, the even tide of his utterance lulling me into a hypnotic state. No time for that now. We must discuss contrast.

Kelly Wearstler’s San Francisco . The Proper Hotel

Contrast – the good and evil, the dark and the light, the total absorption of one, ironically brings about expansiveness. Paint your walls black or install kitchen cabinets of the same color and they seem to recede into the distance making your 100sf feel like two or three. White wash your walls and get ready to reflect the sunlight that pours in through your windows, tricking you once again into thinking the space is larger than it is.

Suzanne Kasler . Just a touch of black inside the fireplace to ground the white room.

Black and white is timeless and chic. It can draw your attention to the one color or object in a room that you want the visitor to appreciate most. It goes with any color combination or design style, making it the single most versatile combo you can choose to use. You never need to be afraid of the dark if you don’t forget to leave the white on.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Gritty Glamour: the elegance of dirty spaces

I’m fascinated by the beauty of turn of the century functional spaces – of train stations and power plants, pump houses and grain storage silos. These buildings didn’t need to be attractive, after all few will see the inside of a silo, but they were. Maybe form followed function and in so designing, it became an elegant missile preparing for launch into the stratosphere of stars, but that doesn’t account for the finishes inside of the turbines. There to produce power, first utilizing the dirtiest of fuels – coal, and later electricity, I can’t imagine they really needed to be outfitted with grand Palladian windows, their wrought iron mullions forming a decorative cross pattern that I long to replicate in a home that I have yet to call my own.

Fashion Designers, event planners, and visionaries of all sorts become glassy eyed at the prospect of showcasing their goods, setting a scene, being seen in their finest threads, bedazzled with baubles, and beads, twinkly lights, and crystal candle stick holders, their tapered forms reaching increasingly slender degrees toward their twinkling height, casting their flickering glow against the centuries old tiled walls.

There are levers and pulleys, catwalks and balconies, and elements for whose function will likely never be known to me. I envision the s-shaped scrolls that are mounted to the interior walls, 20′ in the air, carrying hurricane lanterns, entwined with ivy and honeysuckle. The tables would be scattered about, draped in fine white sateen table cloths, green handblown glass goblets would compliment the tiled walls. A dark herringbone wood dance floor would be installed in the very center, the pink seven tiered wedding cake, topped with a single white anemone, will be cut to the swirling notes that drift from the brass bands situated on the balconies above.

Beauty and the Beast – there is nothing like pairing two disparate things together to watch them shine.

Design Narrative: The Stories Your Spaces Tell

Design narrative sounds so technical and it can be. Temperature controls, and programs, and mandates and specifications, are part of a serious design narrative, but it should start with the story, and the story should start with a word, a feeling, a texture, a place. It should evoke emotion, unite the team in a vision, pave a plush velvety pathway for the designers to wiggle their toes in as they explore the possibilities that await.

Everyone can appreciate the unifying nature of a powerful story. Video Gamers call it Narrative Design, and use the hero of the game as the central character in which to tell the story. Event Planners, focus on theme, book cover designers peek into the pages to understand the heart of the tale and utilize fonts, colors, photos and icons to hit the viewer hard and quick, but to reward them visually upon closer inspection, inviting them to investigate what lies within.

Designers make use of a number of tools to unearth their clients’ goals and desires for a project. A great story takes you on a journey of discovery, and is deeply satisfying because it teaches you something, reminds you of something, or introduces you to a melange of disparate ideas, bringing them together in magical fashion. To be a real story it must have a beginning, middle and an end. Seemingly simple, sometimes this roadmap is ignored entirely, which can leave a design, and the inhabitant of the space feeling less than inspired.

Start by asking your client, or yourself the following questions:

  • What is your favorite season,
  • Favorite home scent, and why
  • Plants or fresh cut flowers – type
  • When you aren’t working how do you spend your time
  • What do you want guests to feel when they visit?
  • What colors, materials, and textures make you happy?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

Add your own to the list, discover and explore together the items and images that evoke emotion and you’ll be off to the races.

Good Bones: Adding the details where details lack

Applied trellis detail, and sophisticated screens bring interest to the Hotel Thomiuex . Paris Designed by India Mahdavi

Though I’ve been surrounded by construction my whole life, I don’t remember picking up the term “good bones” until I started working at the architectural firm after college. My dear friend Brooke made mention of it when we looked at some fine old house. I think I intrinsically understood that it made reference to its skeletal structure, its roof and foundation, wires and plumbing – which are all incredibly important, but once I was assured of their soundness, I only had eyes for the details. Did it have grand proud baseboards with any kind of molding that might draw the eye, or that I could draw eyeliner on in the form of a black painted stripe. Did it have crown molding, adorned with the ancient egg and dart motif, rosettes or wainscoting, paneled walls with carved diamond patterns. Did I ever hope it would, but more often than not, it didn’t.

Look at the baseboard detail by Claude Cartier in this living room – simple square of light blue against the charcoal casing.

What’s a gal to do if it is just a simple, clean, unassuming white box? I have answers, you didn’t think there would be no answers to my own questions did you? While I rarely start with a budget, I suggest you do. When you don’t, and you have a wild imagination like me, it often leads to disappointment and self flagellation when you stare down at the estimate in astonishment and realize there is absolutely no way you can swing it. Avoid that if you can. If you are wondering how you’ll know, without having an estimate developed in the first place, you can use the level of detail you are looking for as a yardstick for measuring cost. If you are willing to DIY parts of the process – it can help keep the cost down.

A simple California Living Room by Cliff Fong utilizes inexpensive molding to create interest. Painted all the same color it adds subtle texture.

I love adding a trim detail to the top of a baseboard, or throwing up a plastic molding. While it’s terribly unsustainable, it’s super easy to work with, and inexpensive, AND from way down on the ground, it’s pretty hard to tell what the material is. If you don’t go too wild with it all, it can be relatively inexpensive to add it. If that is still too much, paint can do the trick. Hombre the walls, paint the casings in a color, add your diamonds or moldings to the wall with the dip of a brush into the silky center of a pool of paint, and draw it on. Spray an old screen, wooden or rattan in a hue just a few shades darker than the wall for added texture, or a metallic for extra drama. In the end, it’s never ONLY about the money. Creativity, riffed on, borrowed, or stolen from the pages of a magazine – the marrying of ingenuity and execution makes it more fun than just showing up when it’s all done.

Ramy Fischler takes the hombre look to the extreme in this “good bones” Parisienne apartment.

Cali Come Cape Cod: dreaming of my next home

A home of my dreams.

My stomach twists with the thought.  An uncomfortable wringing of my internal hands as I consider the distressing notion – should I lower the price again?  Should I call even a win?  Nothing gained after all that work feels like a loss.  Feels like a devastating defeat.  “Would it be drastic” ?  I ask myself as I feel my stomach clench again.  My seat of intuition lives squarely in my gut.  I adore all the flowery language about a fluttering heart, a swooning head, the walking on air sort of talk that I want to force myself to feel, but my stomach is the ruler of my kingdom.  It knows all the good, all that is possible, and all the evil that is likely to come if I don’t turn heal, and run as fast as I can in the other direction.  My stomach is so much smarter than my head, or my heart.  Those two jokers leave me in the lurch again, and again. 

Dior Pop-up at Rosewood Miramar Beach Luxury Hotel – Photo via Dior

My colleague Bruce Shick reminded me that “no decision, was a decision” just the other day.  He wasn’t talking about my house when he said it, but he mine as well have been.  I pick up pieces of wisdom, and sometimes bad advice, Hanseling my way through the forest of recommendations, only to find that some bird has made short work of my path home, and I’ve become completely lost, immobile, unable to make a decision.  Bruce’s thoughtful grandfatherly tone rings in my ears:  “no decision, IS a decision”. 

Diorivieria launched large with their eleven pop-ups worldwide. Photo via Dior

I guess I have decided to leave it on the market for now.  Leave it at the price it’s currently listed.  Leave it up to hope, or fate, some higher power – boy I thought St. Joseph would have grown terribly uncomfortable, situated as he was, in the garden, upside down and all, but he seems to like it enough not to find me a buyer. 

Who wouldn’t want a Vespa at their Cape-Cali House? Photo via Dior

This Delta Variant isn’t going to help the fall market, and those stubborn work from homer’s will continue to work from someplace that I suspect isn’t their home at all.  This not selling isn’t a disaster, though it feels a bit like one.  My intuition, that bellybutton of a bullseye has released its iron grip as I come to terms with the fact that it’s really my impatience that is driving this panic to sell.  What do I always tell my readers?  “Don’t make an emotional decision friends”.  A buyer will come along, and in the mean time I will get working on designing my next imaginary dream house.  I’ve never been inside, never seen a photo of its interiors, I just keep a steady pace as I run by, weekend after weekend, imagining my California House on Cape Cod coming to life.  Happy Saturday.

Scent of Design: the conjuring of a room through smell

Deep Dive into your senses.

Ah summer, the holidays are right around the corner. At least if that corner is a distant stretch that includes; ideation, procurement, mock-ups, revisions, construction, assembly, printing, packaging, and delivery. Well, after all that, and a few hard to get items, you can see how around the corner it actually is, which necessitates thinking hard about holiday gifts, while simultaneously sitting in a sundress and solving some of the more complex problems that come across my desk.

I know how many creatives read this blog, so you understand that the act of conception can be pretty messy. I’ve typed my way through Ancient Rome and Celtic customs, I’ve investigated pain patches, and foreign language translating devices, taken a dive into mulled wine and spiced cider, warded off evil spirits with Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves, that I collected along the Spice Road. I’ve kicked around enlightenment – metaphorically speaking, while considering backyard bonfires, lanterns, alabaster lamps, and the eternal flame in the form of a candle.

Coming together . Earthy yet sophisticated.

Not any candle though. We humans are so inventive. This candle won’t kill you with toxic smoke, and won’t burn down in just ten hours, its special combination of soy and coconut somehow lasts as long as my work week. Now if only I could get my package as compact, I’d be a contender, and that package is pretty to boot, but my fascination with this small cylinder has more to do with its name, and description than, the happy glow it is likely to shine.

Blankets and Art Objects are a wonderful way to tie color palettes together.

Otherland’s array of candles have clever names, and brilliantly descriptive stories that take you on a journey that goes far beyond scent. It got me wondering what a room would look like if it was named: Kindling, had the essence of Alaskan Cedar, Smoky Embers, and Incense. If it takes some prodding to wake up your five senses, Otherland’s writers are here to help. This little light will take you on a dirt path to the bonfire, past “fringed suede, stirrup leather, mezcal cocktails, distant fires, desert sand, chopped wood, cowboy hats, weathered boots, horseback rides, wool blankets, glowing embers, and moonlit saloons.

Now if I can’t design a room around that descriptor, I’ll just put away my fabric swatches, and kiss my key frets good-bye.

Coastal to Cosmo: Bringing city sophistication back to an NYC pad

Change, it’s inevitable. Take this pandemic. No one wanted it, and now so many don’t want to let it go, well perhaps not the pandemic itself, but all that change it pushed on us. The washing of the hands, the working from home, the family time, the need for less, the quieting of the frenzied existence. The irony is that we so often want what we can’t have.

It seems fitting that after many years of living with watery blue gray walls, linen shaded glass lamps, white tree stumped side tables, and a pastel blue sectional anchored by an enormous painting – its field of green meeting the sky, revealing not a hint of its place on this earth, that this coastal setting within the confines of its solid cement pre-war walls, will take its leave. Where will it go? I imagine it will find its way back to a place with fewer skyscrapers, less lists, and more leisure time.

After living on the water for nearly a year, my sister is ready to turn her city dwelling into the picture of sophistication, which got me asking what makes a city apartment feel city? It wouldn’t do at all to have the home not feel homey, for it to be stiff and rigid, as if it were shellacked into the glossy pages of Architectural Digest. No, tassels, and Tudor High Boys, tightly tailored seat cushions on uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t do. A man and his dog need a place to rest their head on a comfortable sofa after a long day in a city that doesn’t sleep, and the lady of the house deserves to have that same space look as good as it feels.

Antique Wrought Iron Horse Sculpture and Havenly Boucle Chair . $499.

What epitomizes New York City design style? This is the question that I was asking myself – weigh in if you have ideas of your own. This concept is not yet cemented. It’s not about the money, though money can go along way toward enhancing the look of the space – so often quality and craftsmanship come at a cost, but you can find oodles of talent on that little island. A gal that can turn a dime store purchase into an elegant backdrop for her five floor walk-up, 325sf studio, separating bed from Bohemian living space, turned cocktail lounge, guests huddled around a small coffee table, perched on pillows, candle lit casting a soft happy glow. No, it’s not about the money. It’s about a story – everybody has a story. Sure some tell it too fast. They build no suspension or intrigue. Some get overly verbose, losing you in a cluttered room of their story, before rushing you down the hallway blurting out an unceremonious ending. No, a good story is balanced, and starts when you open that door. Here’s how I think we’ll get it started.