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.

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.

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.

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.

SCREEN Play: A short history of latticework

Burji Alshaya Developement . Kuwait City . Gensler . An example of Mashrabiya in 3D – latticework within a latticework screen wrapped around the building envelope – pure genius.

As I contemplated my broken wooden lattice fence last week, and its need for repair, I got to thinking about who wrote it into existence. My somewhat flimsy version is both decorative and practical. It provides an interesting detail between railing and deck, and screens my outdoor activities from the view of passers by on the street. It accomplishes all this while still allowing precious sunlight to stream on in. A feature that comes at a premium in the city.

“Form follows function” said Louis Sullivan, and function is what the Egyptians had in mind in their hot weather climate when they first designed the latticework screen known as the mashrabiya. Derived from the Arabic root meaning, place for drinking, the screens allowed for airflow, and the cooling of water jugs. This same concept was later translated to balconies and the cooling of people, often with the extra added benefit of hiding the lounging individual, stretched out on the divan, from the view of pedestrians on the street below.

Layered and luxe this design by Shelly Johnstone- Paschke . Interior Design is luscious.

Wood, metal, stone, structural applications like bridges and girders, or steel sculptures like the Tour Eiffel, lattice is literally everywhere, if you choose to pay attention to it. Italians and their Neoclassical Architecture, a style for which I am very fond, had their own term, Roman Lattice, also referred to as ‘transenna’ or open work screen, whose Latin root is derived from the word ‘net’. As in the mechanism used for catching birds, which resembles the lattice. It is likely this influence that was so prevalent in the early 20th century in America, particularly as an element of design in civic architecture, think museums, government buildings, banks, and universities, that led to our current day uses. Gardens and gates, ceiling and wall details, room dividers, cabinet door inlays, and utility cover casings – lattice lives large in our surroundings.

Sunny and Southern . Southern Living

It feels very southern, or coastal, which makes sense as these are warm weather, often seasonal places, but I’d love to try it out in the city and see if I could get away with it. Would you risk it?

Naming Names: Making our Mark with Monograms

Marni Jameson does it with class.

What’s in a name? Romeo, or Shakespeare as the case may be, said: “A rose would still smell sweet”, but would it? Psychologists, behavioral scientists, technologists, me, and perhaps you too, are fascinated, either for intellectual or financial reasons, by names, and what those names compel us to do, think, and feel.

Bella Lino . It’s the little touches that make a big difference.

As a Business Development professional, I am well aware of the importance of remembering acquaintances names, of using my Clients names in conversation, as a tool to draw the listeners attention back to the subject at hand. I’ve stood in a room filled with hundreds of people, the din so loud that I could barely hear myself think, and yet miraculously, when my name is shouted from a football field away, I am instantly on alert, feverishly in tune to the call. Dale Carnegie’s famous statement ringing in my ear, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Is it possible that, our own name also sounds louder, that its significance to us is a survival mechanism of sorts?

I like to believe I am my own person. If we can’t be our own person, than the implications seem dire indeed, but I am not naive, I remain a mystery to myself most of the time. I do think that I am subject to The Implicit-Egotism Effect, which basically means we are drawn to people and things that resemble ourselves, which includes our name and our initials. It’s comforting, and got me thinking about Monograms and their popularity.

Monograms can be traced back to 350BC, and first appeared on coins. The Greeks, or the Romans or both were involved, as they so often were, talk about an ego – those guys take credit for everything. Then the royals got into the game, and everyone that wanted to be royal, had money, but no lineage, followed suit by putting their initials on everything they could embroider, emblazon, or embellish. The Guild, which was a Union of sorts, used Monograms as identifiers for their artists, sculptors, and craftspeople to ensure they were a legit member of the club. Now we are getting somewhere – everyone wants to belong, and to stake claim. It’s hard to claim something is yours if its initials don’t align with your own, which brings me to a bone I have to pick with my sister. Is it wrong of me to get annoyed when I see her pocket book, the three uniform letters, stamped in gold on her tan leather bag? Those initials belong to me, she doesn’t even have a middle name. Sisters. I wouldn’t really let the letter “A” get between us. How would I ever get to the rest of the lovely alphabet if l did something as silly as that?

Kevin Malone . Powder Room Pronouncement

Our need to belong, to stake claim, to feel important may be the very reason we warm to these interlinked letters. In the design world they appear everywhere. You might find them on a crest, your very own personal logo of sorts, stitched in brilliantly bold letters across a bolster pillow on your bed, or tucked into the corner of a linen napkin, in the tiniest font, a signal to the guests that their host has pride of place, and that something special their way comes.

Do I think that you can take it too far? That I do. Monograms can be made brass and garish. They can be used to intimidate – think the crest on a blazer, fitted for a member of a club for which Woody Alan wouldn’t want membership, or a home with nary a surface free of the three. I prefer them on the back of a Cartier Tank Watch, presented as a gift to me. How would you like yours served up?

Homework? The office is where it’s at

When I finally crossed the threshold from Elementary School to fifth grade, I thought I had arrived. I left a new elementary school to a broken down, historic building that had a list of past lives that was rather long. It served as a town hall, a high school, a community center, and a middle school. When the town grew up, the family had to split to accommodate its growing population. Fifth and sixth graders remained in the battered old building, and Seventh and Eight Graders high tailed it to the high school, only to find out that they’d be housed in trailers and carefully segregated from the bad influence of the older kids. That old dame of a building is still standing, testing out her new life as an Arts and Cultural Center. I liked her. I felt that we were kindred souls, it was the administration that I had a bone to pick with, having discovered that I was expected to do homework, like, for the rest of my life.

Image 4 . Graphics with impact

I hated homework then, and I hate it now. Who wants to work at home I ask you? Home is a sanctuary, home is a place to sink into the sofa, flip on the tv, or your Sonos speaker system, and rock out to whatever makes you happy. The works that are meant for home are house, yard, and repairs or improvements, not paperwork, data analysis, or budget logs. While we weren’t paying attention, they slipped in a series of systems – smart phones, laptops, compact printers, and we all smiled while our sovereignty was sliding from our grasp.

Every Space should have a statement piece like this light fixture.

This weekend I worked on the semi-final push to open our new headquarters – semi-final because I don’t know of a place at home, or at work that is ever really done. As any major project does, this one had a host of helpers make it a reality. There were designers and engineers, project managers, and graphic artists. We investigated live walls and preserved gardens, indoor gathering space and outdoor. We talked amenities, adding workouts to your workday, and showers so you could freshen up after miles of meetings held while speed walking on your tred desk. We brought back food, unveiled a new coffee machine whose bells and whistles rivaled my first car – though I think I will continue to love both them with equal ardor.

For me, there is no argument about going back to the office. I told some of you already, but I love working in the office. I love my monitors, my walls adorned with post-it notes, and strategy boards. I love my quotes and photos, paint swatches and pinned poems, and snippets from my very favorite projects. I love that my fifth wall is the floor and no one tells me not to use it. My most pressing priorities sit in my path and demand my attention until I complete, and put them to rest for the night. I love the people, and the noise that comes with production. I love creating stuff and printing stuff. I love work, and I am so happy to work in a place that values aesthetics as much as function, people more than profits, construction and community. Now how would I ever find all of that in my living room? Well, often the construction part, but the rest I’ll find at Elaine Construction. Hope you’ll come visit me there.

In Search of a Pretty Property

Have you ever seen a vine as happy as this one?

I’ve been casually looking around for another property. Casually because my Boston condo has yet to sell – it will though – just a matter of time, and Chatham doesn’t close for a few more weeks. The rate at which properties pass papers these days makes it silly to do anything other than gaze, and gander from a good distance away. The looking is a sort of disease. I’m signed up to so many alert services that some days slogging through the in-box is like moving through quicksand, but when I come across something that shows potential, it stirs the butterflies in my belly.

Set me up in this one.

I got a text this weekend that had my heart stop for dramatic effect before it started to Salsa. It was a tiny little two bed in Chatham, NOT yet on the market, but the owners were ready to say good-bye to it. They called it a tear down – impossible I thought, they know not what they speak of. It’s a non-conforming lot, and the risk you take if you remove a building is that you won’t be able to replace it, let alone put another larger home on the property. Of course their are Zoning Boards of Appeal, where you can plead your case, but it’s a gamble, and I am not willing to put $1.1M on the line for the chance they might be in a good mood the day I ask.

A pillow, a good book, and both my feet up, you’d find me here in the morning.

My heart returned to its steady beat when I learned about the size of the lot. It slowed even further when I visited the property to look it in the eye from the outside, assess the neighborhood and such. She knew it, and I knew it, the company that she kept was not stellar, star-studded, or seaside. A problem if you want to cash in that lottery ticket.

I’ve never wanted to force myself into being a numbers person, but when it matters, I seem to be pretty good at doing the math. This little house had numbers that didn’t work. I have never expected to get something for nothing, but renovating a home is hard. The only easy part of the process is spending too much, taking too long, and underestimating what others will give you for it. No, she wasn’t for me, but I’d take one of these little beauties, whether it was falling down or not. I’d move right in, set up my laptop, and tap away, breaking now and again to gaze out at the sea, and think to myself, how very fortunate I am to just be.

You mustn’t forget the view – even if it is only in your mind’s eye.