Specificity: The Art of Getting it Right

When I first started in this industry – this industry – design and construction, I sat behind a reception desk, answering calls, furiously filling out Pepto Bismal colored slips, that got carefully torn from the spiral bound note book, and deposited into the circular plastic caddy, for all those important enough to get messages in the first place. I received deliveries – lots and lots of deliveries, and sets of drawings and specifications that would make even the most ardent supporter of the gym, laugh at the facilities ability to prepare you for real life. Drawing sets were hundreds of pages, thousands of symbols, and stank of the acrid aroma of blueprints. The spec book, which completed the pairing – one element useless without the other, was the size of Gideon’s Bible – I do so love the underdog Rocky Racoon – this post bound book was daunting. “Who”, I wondered aloud to myself, “would ever want to read, or write this thing”?

I may not have wanted any part of it, but as I sit looking at my reupholstered chair, and coordinating pillows, I have to ask myself, “Could this experience have benefited from a sketch, with narrative instructions to the upholsterer”? I do wonder how it went so wrong. Maybe my instructions got lost in translation during the six months that preceded their arrival and the delivery of said pieces. We’ve all had it up to our eye-balls with news of supply chain challenges and delays, delays, delays, and I don’t even want to admit the ghastly cost of this imperfect endeavor, which if we are looking to place blame, could so easily fall on the germy shoulders of the pandemic.

Tight. Divided bolster pillows for the bed. Custom, not arts and crafts.

Placing blame, will not change the reality that they replaced my perfectly round edged seat cushion, filled with fluffy down, with a modern foam filled substitute that is squared off at the corners, and hangs, ever so indelicately, over the chairs front edge. A pedestrian mistake. I had it happen once before with a mid-century modern sofa, I had reupholstered. I took all the cushions back, and demanded that they cover the old cushions. ” I never instructed them to be replaced”. I huffed. And what of the edge banding, that was supposed to be navy blue velvet piping? And the pillows – they aren’t even the correct fabric. While they all coordinate, they are a far cry from the vision I had for the bedroom design.

Now who’s wishing they were a spec writer. Next project, sketches, diagrams, arrows, sample boards, narratives, and a signed contract will accompany my deposit. Has this ever happened to you?

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.

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.

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?

Shucks: The lovely ways oysters inspire design

Still Life with Oyster – artist ThEodule Augustin Ribot

The mollusk, nothing sexy about that name, but like a cowboy – all callused hands and brisk nature, there is something decidedly alluring about it, and him. Some love that cowboy, err oyster, while others detest its rugged exterior, and cool, briny, slick interior.    Oysters find themselves at home at a back yard hoe down, and with equal ease sitting atop a silver platter, snow cone domed with chipped ice, en route to a linen table clothed setting, center stage at a five star hotel.  They are a favorite subject for burgeoning artists, their hallmark inky aubergine smudge, on the pale pearly white belly, and its comma, make for interesting subject matter. From East to West, which oyster is the best is subject to battleground fodder.  I am not all for one, and one for all, when it comes to oysters, preferring a local favorite – a Wellfleet, or a Pacific Ocean Kumamoto, its deep dive of a shell reminding me of my Cape Cod roots, the peninsula dotted by Kettle Ponds – those deep divots in the landscape, left by enormous chips of ice from glaciers. They are sweet, and delicate and delicious, a totally different experience from an East Coast oyster, which is briny.

Powder Room Power . a wall of oyster shells is amazing.

Those same Cape Cod roots have provided me with an affection for the oyster. I’ve stomped across so many shelled driveways in my lifetime, I couldn’t possibly report the number. Like most things from my childhood they are larger than life wonderful. They remind me of a more rustic Cod than is commonly seen today. There history harkening back to the settlers, who tossed the shells, which were in abundance in the streets, and on the muddy dirt paths. The perfect padding for a drive. Oyster shells actually breakdown, their calcium make-up are able to withstand hoof beat, trodding feet, or the wheel of the tire – at least if it’s on a flat surface. The shells weren’t meant to withstand gravity, and so aren’t great on a hill. A wonderfully sustainable practice, if a little bit stinky initially, the shells, harvested from restaurants, scream vacation, and simpler times. They are also excellent fertilizer for your flowers.

Where would a conversation on design be without Benjamin Moore?

Designers seem to share, with me, a fascination with the Oyster. There creativity astounds me. The fact that someone boldly wallpapered their powder room in oyster shells, makes me smile from ear to ear, and don’t think I can’t do it. I have an incredibly large mouth. Were the shells placed with grout, or mastic, or glue? Will they snag your chiffon dress, or scrape your knuckle, if you grab for the hand towel too quickl? Who cares. I applaud the ingenuity, the bravado, the saltiness of the move.

There are ornaments, and catch-alls. There are mirrors, and urns. There are orbs, paint colors, and ash trays. Oysters, like their ability to got high or low, seem to span the centuries, finding fresh ways to surprise, and traditional ways to comfort. I love the oyster, but the oyster that I love is never going to produce a pearl. That’s an entirely different type of oyster, but perhaps that’s too much detail. For the purpose of this good story, let’s throw them all in the same bucket. We’ll end with this pearl of wisdom – they are loaded with Zinc which is incredibly good for you, and may have led to the rumors that they can enhance amorous feelings.

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.

Master Mason . Making her mark with art

There is a sea of fabrics out there. Dozens upon dozens of daily patterns are produced, like waves building in the ocean when a Nor’easter is brewing, it would be impossible to see all there is to see, in this sea of cottaintailed fabrics. Daunting to some, exciting to others, nature has a way of pushing a little piece of divine inspiration ashore, gently lapping at your toes, and then persistently petting them until you pay proper attention to the pretty little gift that you’ve been given. Nature – she giveth and she taketh away – the impermanence of it all is exciting.

In just this way, well not quite this way, perhaps metaphorically in this way, I was made aware of a little – big enterprise called Ferrick Mason. A watery blue, fauna leafed fabric presented itself to me, and I wondered how it was possible I’d never know of this companies existence before. I need to open my eyes, I should have known, I could have known, that not only was Alex Mason a textile designer, but a beautiful fine artist, with a whole lot of education. First, the University of Vermont – loads of nature there, then Pratt Art Institute – Brooklyn, then a jaunt to New Zealand before stopping in LA to got to school at the Otis College of Art and Design to study textile design, and then somehow she landed in Kentucky. Kentucky of all places, but these places have a way of finding their legacy living on in wallcoverings, fabric cushioned seats, curtains blowing in the breeze. A branch, a bird, a berried leaf, a shell, a shimmery feather, a shadow of some unknown shape, blurred by the blobs of paint that patterned the papery surface, a layer or two below another.

Alex Mason has talent. Her art, in part is derived from the landscapes of her travels, in part born from a vivid imagination. The mix of the two had me wondering which was which and who was who, like the one and only time I visited Hawaii and discovered purple flowering trees, potatoes, and rainbows, the likes of which had previously been known to me only on the fantastical pages of a Dr. Sues storybook. Their realness took a back seat to their magic.

That’s just the way I feel about Ms. Mason’s art, and her textiles. There’s a happy sophistication to her pieces which are full of symbolism with their circles, dragons, birds, and luminous orbs. The idea of papering a powder room, pantry or parlor in blue dragon’s portending good fortune is rather appealing to me. Don’t even get me started with the canvases covered in cakes, oh my. What a wonderful decadent phase that turned out to be.

Which would you choose? Hanging paper, curtains or a framed original in your home?