Saturday, June 10, 2017

...about suiting the table for Father's Day.

When my friends at Lenox showed me the newest china pattern from Canadian star designer Brian Gluckstein, I jumped at the chance to put this setting in its place. Those dishes were serving up all kinds of instant inspiration: Art Deco glitz, modern geometry, and pure masculine swank, in a buttoned-up and dressy, cosmopolitan (and martini!) kind of way. And I realized: in a sea of pastels, peonies and pretty, why aren’t more tables styled for men? Can you style a tabletop so it’s actually handsome? (and do it so you steer clear of all the Mancave pitfalls?). I think so, and I think Father’s Day is the perfect time to give the idea a business-dress rehearsal.
To the Closet!
The first place the Winston pattern seemed to point me was the closet. Those stripes, the herringbone: it all seemed suiting-inspired. And what makes a handsome man even more handsome? An impeccably tailored suit.
So to provide the perfectly-suited backdrop for the Lenox china, I turned to my friends at Fabricut. With their multiple lines, I knew I’d find menswear-inspired fabrics to dress the table, and I did: from their Stroheim brand came Buxley, the black and grey tartan and Salenside, the chalk-stripe used for napkins. From the Fabricut line came Zirconium Steel, the shiny reptilian material perfect for placemats. The limited palette and shared tones make all three of these dandies work so well together.

Since the china and the fabrics seemed picture-perfect for a sartorial pairing, I started to build the table the way I’d put together a suit: a charcoal base, some color, some brightness, some bling.

Suited... For Summer? 
We first started talking about this pattern back in much cooler months, when playing up the blacks and giving it all dark and handsome backdrop seemed fitting, and season appropriate. But then, suddenly, it’s summer. Could I hang on to the darker, more tailored base (my great friend Mario, at New York Upholstery Services had already whipped up my table linens, so those were definitely staying!) and not have the whole thing look out of place or stuffy in June? How do you help a dark and mostly monochromatic palette feel summer-appropriate?
One thing working strongly in my favor: the plaid table cloth felt much brighter off the bolt and on the table, and conjured up a classic picnic blanket as much as it felt like suiting. Success! The white of the china felt as crisp as a classic white shirt, and my oft-repeated “intentional white” held true: the white looked like a decision, not a default, and kept all eyes on the dishes.
To keep the summer vibes going, I turned where I usually do: to color. In this case, an unexpected dash of chartreuse brought the summer sun right to the table. Those chartreuse roses (they’re the “Lemonade” variety, though they felt more like limeade to me!) brought some sunny, buoyant color to the table. Greens steer away from any color/gender associations, too, and while I had white roses on my mind when I hit the flower market for that same gender-neutral reason, these made for a sunnier, and far more unexpected pick. To return to our suiting analogy, think how snappy a chartreuse boutonniere would look on a charcoal suit. But to prove the power of color, imagine swapping out the green roses for red: that look would be perfect for next New Year’s, watches and all... I’d add black and white hourglasses to join those watches and play up the time theme.

And even though the floral trend right now is bending more towards a carefree, windswept wildflower look, I still swear by a single mass of one color anything, a lot of look for the money, and easy to master even by the florally inept (a club to which I count myself a member). When you pick a flower with a woody stem (oh my!), and start with some floral oasis, the arrangin’ is easy.
Materials, Boy 
For table or room, all- or mostly-monochromatic success relies on texture, and this table sports lots of them: Glass, silver, crystal, nubby wool and shiny alligator(-patterned textile), and again, the sartorial parallels continue. Think of a wool suit, leather belt, silver cufflinks. It’s not just the pieces that make a suit look good, it’s the material contrasts, and proportions of those things.
Skyscraping
The silver herringbone of the Winston coffee cup and salad plate brought Art Deco and the Jazz Age immediately to mind. And Art Deco is built on strong geometries, snazzy angles and machine-age reference. When my thoughts wander to places Art Deco, visions of the Chrysler Building aren’t ever far behind. (I was definitely thinking of the Chrysler Building when working with Lenox’s Geodesia line back in December.)


And since I love incorporating “take-aways” in table designs... something guests can take home after the cognac is long gone... I included the super-detailed pewter miniatures from Replica Buildings at each placesetting. Against that Buxley plaid, those miniatures gave the whole tablesetting the feel of an aerial-view street grid. And speaking of grid...
Grid is Good 
The geometry jumps off the plates, and the plaid and chalk stripe keep all that going. So did those Artists Blocks from Jayson home, the perfect prop to help break a tabletop’s basic formality (I love to scatter things across, around and through a table’s predetermined grid... it makes even traditional placesettings more fresh and modern.) And I’d imagine all the men at the table channeling their inner architects with these fun shapes.
Skip the Wrap... and the Biggest Takeaway! 
I don’t know about your dad, but mine was generally unimpressed by fancy wrapping. That’s why I skipped the trappings and cut right to the chase: those Steel Blaze Swiss Quartz watches are there for the gifting, used as napkin rings. (Apologies to my friends at Hallmark for the no-gift wrap decision!).
 
I love that the biggest gift— those handsome watches— are part of the wrapping, and finish off this table the way I would a suit: with a great watch. This classic look manages to both settle in and stand out, and end that eternal question: what to do with the napkin ring once the napkin is put to use. Read more, and see more photos, over on the Lenox Tumblr page.

To all the handsome dads out there, I hope your Father's Day is well suited, and tailored to you!

Full disclosure: I was compensated for the styling of the shots for Lenox, but this blog post was my own unpaid doing! Photos: Michelle Fidman and Patrick J. Hamilton



Sunday, January 15, 2017

...about remembrances, revelations, and the rainbow connection: the design best of 2016, part 3.

Clichéd or not, like it or not, it’s an inarguable fact: the design world has long been populated by a considerable presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and men, LGBT people who own and run and patronize its galleries and showrooms, edit and publish and appear in its magazines, receive its honors and awards, exuberantly contribute to popular trend and global culture.... and spend— and facilitate the spending of billions of dollars. 

Let's head down to New York's Greenwich Village, historic turf in the LGBT story, to see why Part 3 of my Design Best of 2016 honors design developments from, within, and impacting the LGBT community: a community I’m proud to be a part of, even if the year for us was marred by great tragedy... and has been before. Because so much of that pride stems from how we remember, and how we react, and how we rise, in those terrible times.
New York’s AIDS Memorial 
A redesigned wedge of the West Village was dedicated this past World AIDS Day in Manhattan, to honor the New York community catastrophically decimated by the AIDS epidemic. It sits in the shadow of the now-shuttered St. Vincent’s, the hospital which saw so many enter its halls with a then-mystery ailment... and never walk back out, bodies instead taken out subterranean hallways, to funeral homes who often refused them even in death, out of fear, religious zealotry, or sheer ignorance. 

That was part of the bleak reality of the New York City chapter of the AIDS crisis, but the city park and monument are anything but. Somber, in some ways, but dwelling in a place of strength, honor, and inspiration, not solely mourning.
The shape of its plot, and the triangles of and within its canopy give meaningful structure to a triangle of another color: the Pink Triangle of Nazi Germany, stitched to shirt and jacket arms of confirmed or suspected Gays during the Holocaust, and the reverberation of symbolism begins there. The triangle, also an integral part of the geometry of quilt making, also hearkens to “the Quilt,” the Names Project that honored and deeply touched so many, for its ability to communicate both intimate humanity and staggering scale.

The canopy, like the Calatrava Transportation Hub, is most intentionally white, seemingly borrowing from a nearby building to help give the small parcel some greater significance, but also carrying its own baggage of color symbolism: both hospital and heaven come to mind, in its sterility and, in bright Manhhattan light, its dazzle.
The memorial also incorporates a permanent installation by text-driven visual artist Jenny Holtzer, who selected passages from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” radiating from the monument’s center. That ring ripples outward from the quiet, shaded interior, towards the din and activity of the surrounding streets. It’s an apt visual metaphor for the loss that began for each victim in one place, privately, then quickly amplified, and stripped so many of so much, from our homes, neighborhoods, lives, and American culture, in ways we'll probably never fully understand.  

Although diminutive in size by most standards, the memorial designed by the Brooklyn firm Studio ai carries great weight. It’s a tricky task, to ask a piece of land, some epoxied steel and transplanted trees to honor, remember, mourn, lift, and inspire, but the net effect is generally all that, and more. Like all good public art and memorials, the final chapter of the experience is written by the visitor, drawing his or her own conclusion, bringing his or her own memory, grief, or bond, choosing to pause either in the light or the shadow cast by its angular, sheltering, embracing pergola. 

Alexandra Schwartz of the New Yorker does the site more service than I, and her piece is definitely worth the read. And hear directly from co-founder Christopher Tepper on what’s next for the memorial, and why its details and choices hold so much significance, and a possible interactive component, in his interview with POZ.
Grace Under Pressure, and Gays Against Guns: An Artful Response to Tragedy  
The LGBT community is also a population who, in moments of great turmoil, finds elegant and unique expression as outlet and catalyst to change. This year tested that very theory. In the horrible wake of the massacre at the Gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, they did just that. As author J. Bryan Lowder so movingly documents in “Pulse and the Power of Queer Tears,” his must-read piece for Slate, the healing began with local drag queens exorcising their grief on Orlando dance floors, with beautiful defiance and ferocity. In the process, they raised spirits and funds for families of the men and women who showed up one Saturday night to dance and never made it back home.
But it didn't stop there. A new national offshoot of this artistic response to grief is Gays Against Guns (GAG), an organization born in the moments of anger and mourning after the Orlando shooting. GAG is an activism group not unlike other communities coming together to plead for a stronger solution to our gun epidemic (The Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action). But this LGBT group has infused its grassroots presence with striking visual performance-art-like presentations: their white-shrouded “Human Beings,” each bearing the image of one of the Orlando lost, which hushed New York City’s Pride march end to end at the first of their ghostly appearances, and their anti-NRA “blood puppets” and die-ins since then. You can even get a DIY GAG t-shirt stencil off of Etsy.
GAG of course owes much of that stylized, theatrical and considered visual presentation to  the earlier ACT UP! (GAG has ACT UP! members within its membership), itself a reaction to the AIDS crisis, and the creators of verbiage, imagery and language indelibly linked to the AIDS activism movement... whether cries of "Act up! Fight back! End AIDS!", the Silence = Death symbol, the St. Patrick’s die-in, or a giant condom covering the home of anti-LGBT North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

The Pulse massacre was not the first time grief has cast its shadow across a community most often defined by exuberance, flamboyance, and pride. Nor is it the first time the response has been art-fueled, choreographed, or designed. It seems the gay community has long understood the advice Meryl Streep gave during her Golden Globe Lifetime achievement award acceptance speech, quoting Carrie Fisher: “Turn heartbeak into art.”  

From the AIDS crisis to the ongoing fight for civil rights to GAG's response to unfettered gun violence, the community has done just that, creating great works of art, striking graphic symbolism, prize-winning literature, and pivotal works of cinema and theater. 


The beautiful phoenix from grief’s gray ashes: it’s yielded dance-a-thons, art from Keith Haring, plays like Angels in America and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, The Laramie Project, the NoH8 photo series, Io Tillet Wright’s Self Evident Truths portrait project, and more recently, David France’s Academy-Award nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, and the 2016 companion non-fiction volume of the same name. And our history lessons continue to take artful shape: Alan Bounville's work-in-progress, Adonis Memories, springs to mind, and the personal, compelling videos and stories of I'm From Driftwood, another.

These moments of individual expression have also crystallized larger groups merging activism, fundraising, and the arts: Design Industry Foundation Fights AIDS, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA) and events like Visual AIDS: Postcards from the Edge, BCEFA’s cheeky “Broadway Bares” fundraisers, and Housing Works alignment with the design and fashion communities through Design on a Dime and Fashion for Action. 


Of course, it is not only the LGBT community which responds to grief with a desire to create, but it seems to be a stage on which our community of performers, drag queens, designers, singers, songwriters, and authors seems the most at home: to ease mourning, to release grief, to provide catharsis. (My own attempt, an essay for The Bilerico Project on LGBTQ Nation, post-Orlando.)

Action, by design. Because design isn’t a room, a thing on a wall, something that you draw on CAD or SketchUp. Design is a response to a situation, a solution to a problem, an often intangible act which creates something either equally intangible, or totally concrete.
New York Spaces Comes Out of the Closet... with Exuberance. 
While it hits the stands in 2017, Editor in Chief Jason Kontos of New York Spaces made the announcement in 2016 at the high-profile New York Spaces Top 50 Designers party at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, SoHo: Davler Media Publishing, publisher of New York Spaces, will be launching Exuberance, a home and lifestyle-based magazine tailored to the LGBT community. Kontos, longtime Hearst-er before joining Davler, is also heading up the mast at the new title, taglined “Design in living for LGBT,” as its Editor in Chief. Lisa Ben-Ivsy will also serve as publisher for the new issue.
As Next magazine closed its pages this year in New York City, perhaps Exuberance signals a new day of LGBT publications: less underground, a lot more glossy, and a lot more mainstream in its courting of the considerable Gay Dollar. 

Exuberance will have an initial New York City distribution, with future release in L.A. and Miami based on the title’s NYC performance. The first issue is slated for a February 2017 launch.
The Low Point of High Point 
If you’ve been with me through the year, here or on Facebook, you know I have been raising a ruckus about High Point, the twice-a-year market event where the interior design industry pumps upwards of $5.4 billion into the state of North Carolina. 

Why the fuss? Well, North Carolina is also the state whose Republican leadership passed the discriminatory House Bill 2 (HB2), aimed at the rights of Transgender men and women. It’s far more than what the state’s conservatives wanted everyone to call it: “The bathroom Bill.” It’s sweeping civil rights legislation reaching far more widely into the LGBT spectrum and beyond, to minorities, women, and those seeking legal retribution for discrimination at the local level.

Connect those two dots, and you get what I originally thought was a total no-brainer; the industry, my industry, my community, wouldn’t stand to do business in a state where the civil rights of so many, in a state we profess to love, were being trampled upon. Certainly, there’d be a unanimous, or nearly unanimous cry to boycott... or at least threaten to. But yeah, no.

Meanwhile, businesses pulled out of the state left and right, performers cancelled tour dates, and organizations and industries nixed conferences and trade shows. Well, some industries. Not ours. While some letters and petitions were circulated when the bill first passed, only a tiny, tiny minority of people in the industry spoke up or sat it out. 

In the fall, with HB2 still on the books, in what I thought was our big chance to make this right, the topic was all but absent from the conversation. That lack of conversation from our industry even garnered the attention of the media. Especially maddening to me was the silence from people who had large followings, and large platforms, and chose to ignore them, two especially infuriating: both Thom Filicia and Carson Kressley had major launch events at High Point this fall, and neither said a word about HB2 (that I know of... please correct me if I’m wrong). These are men whose careers were built upon their very Queerness. They might not have the national attention-grabbing clout of Charles Barkley, who said, "It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves." But Filicia and Kressley are the closest thing we have, with a much more personal dog in the fight. It’s staggering to me, the silence, from them, from so many.

Somehow, the interior design and home furnishings worlds never seemed to get the memo. Or they did, but were quick to explain it all away. “We’re too big.” “We’re too fragmented.” “We’re too fragile.” Maybe, perhaps, “we’re just too selfish.”

Or maybe, just maybe, as an industry, we’re far more conservative and right-leaning than we’d let on before. I heard more than one designer tell me, "I have to be careful, as the company I'm partnering with is pretty 'old school.'" (his code, in the context of the conversation, for homophobic, or in the very least, "homo-leery," if not outright phobic.) I got considerable push back in my suggestions to boycott from a fair share of “good Christian women,” self-professed without even being pressed, in private conversations when I thought I was asking friends for support.

I didn’t get as much support publicly as I’d hoped, and even some promising promises eventually petered out. I got lots of “I support you, but I can’t say that publicly.” And, I got a lot of grief, from friends and strangers... even when my “ask” was not even to boycott personally, but to encourage 11 big-name attendees who had been outspoken against HB2 in the spring to take a bigger step in the fall and sit it out. And the attacks got pretty personal, publicly.

Amid the slurs and chilly response, I did get wonderful public support, most notably from Jody Seivert, of Selling Interior Design, Interior Design Community's Laurie Laizure, my Facebook friend and N.C. resident Jim Apple, and industry insider Will Kolb, who summed it all up pretty perfectly in a Facebook post: “When they went low, we went to High Point.”

HB2 and the subsequent protests helped contribute to the booting out of Republican Governor Pat McCrory (JUST barely), and with his booting, you’d think HB2 would also get kicked to the curb. But you’d be wrong. North Carolina is still playing dirty, yanking rights from its incoming Democratic senator Roy Cooper, and playing with the basic civil rights of its citizens, reneging on a promise to repeal HB2 if Charlotte first dismantled its own protections. Charlotte (NAIVELY) kept up its end of the bargain. The state did not. We’ve all seen the cartoon where Lucy yanks the football from Charlie Brown, right? Except instead of that football, it was CIVIL RIGHTS. 

I’ll quote myself, from my earlier High Point post: “It seems we have been last in line to say, with our money, with our pockets and pocketbooks, that we refuse to do business in a state where the governor, in twelve hours, can rip away the civil liberties and protections of the LGBT community, minorities and women. And to be last in line, when we had ACTUAL clout, is a humiliating place to be.”

I still believe that (although, we're not even in line.) But now, with HB2 still the law of the land in North Carolina, I’m not only humiliated to be part of an industry– with its many Gay men and women, and men and women of color— that has put profits (or prejudice or religious leanings) before human rights. Now I’m mad.

And I’m tired of the excuses. I’m tired of the “but I donate to Human Rights Campaign.” I’m tired of the claims of our industry’s supposedly fragile state. I’m tired of a lazy reaction and absence of solutions from an industry that professes to be full of creative thinkers. I’m tired of the lack of consensus. I’m tired of being accused of “Gay shaming” because I’m asking Gay men I considered friends to consider the T in that LGBT line-up ahead of the $ in their pockets. I'm tired of being called a misogynist when I point out that the bulk of opposition I first received was from straight white women. I'm tired of the "but it's more important that we show up and have the conversation"... from people who don't have any such conversation when they get there.

I’m also tired of the New York chapters of IFDA and ASID passing the buck on their own lack of response to their national chapters, even when, in the case of the ASID, the national chapter issued a backing of a boycott (although they stopped short of pulling their own programming, and failed to make a similar statement in the fall) and even though, in the case of the IFDA, at least four of their Gay past "Rising Stars" personally expressed their concerns about HB2 to the organization's leadership. I'm tired of hearing from magazine editors "but our readers are too conservative" or "we steer clear of controversy." And I’m tired of our interior design P.R. community not banding together to come up with a universal plan, and a unified front. 

Would a letter, from all of them together, from our editors and publishers and design media and PR firms and professional organizations, sent to Tom Conley, the head of the High Point Market Authority, and to the Charlotte Observer, Furniture Today and Editor at Large, be such an incomprehensible feat? What would we lose? It might not solve things, yet. But it would be a start. It would be something. Perhaps now, with such a dramatic change on the national stage, we'll see some new thinking about a boycott of High Point Market.

And if you think a boycott won't work, don't call me out. Don't call me names. Call a legislator in North Carolina. That is, if you really actually care about the state of affairs— and civil rights— in North Carolina beyond the five days in spring and five days in fall that state effects you.

Maybe we wouldn’t be so fragile if we flexed our muscles, all $5.4 billion worth of them. There’s a big part of the state of North Carolina who could still use our strength. Now, perhaps, more than ever. 

Stay tuned for the final installment of my Design Best of 2016! And if you missed them, catch up on Part 1 and Part 2

I dedicate this installment to those lost in this year's Orlando Pulse Massacre.

Images: AIDS Memorial: Max Flatow for The New Yorker, and the New York City AIDS Memorial, via POZ. Illustration for "Grace Under Pressure:" Doron Langberg for Slate, as appearing in "Pulse and the Power of Queer Tears"; Gays Against Guns images, Gays Against Guns NYC on Facebook and Paul Pearson.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

...about setting sail, stirring the paint, and art and architecture, hand in hand: the design best of 2016, part 2.

Come aboard! We're expecting you! Let's continue our wandering walk through the weird year that was, as I recap some of the design highlights of 2016. 
Design on a Dime... Hey, Sailor! 
It’s always a highlight, and this year was absolutely no exception: Design on a Dime, the annual designer vignette event to benefit Housing Works, where over 50 designers create vignettes from generously donated furnishings, artwork, lighting, antiques, rugs and accessories, all then sold off for up to 70% off retail value during one of New York’s most frenzied and high-brow shopping events. It was my sixth consecutive year participating, in one of the most fun years yet. 

The year prior, I had tried to launch a nautical-themed vignette (the theme helps me run everything through a filter, when no client parameters exist to help edit and steer the ship) based on a Dan Romer sailor drawing (“Rocky Seas,” above). I’d fallen in love with Rocky at Dan’s two-man show with Chuck Nitzberg at the Leslie Lohman Annex in SoHo a few years back, and wanted to use it as the jumping off point for my 10 x 12 booth... but none of my go-to vendors had anything nice and nautical in their offerings (and so that year, The Adventurer’s Lair debuted in its stead.)
But the NEXT year, all ship broke loose, and suddenly, it seemed, every vendor had something blue and white, roped up, shell encrusted or brass plated they were willing to part with (every inch of every booth is donated)... and “Hey, Sailor!” was born.

As fun as it was (after several months of a staggering amount of work behind the scenes, as there always is) it was a real nail-biter in the final hours. Two BIG vendors (who shall remain nameless) failed to get promised merchandise to the less-than-two-day set-up in time. One of those vendors did come through with a near-miraculous same-day replacement, and the other ended up donating nearly (NEARLY) the promised amount to Housing Works after the event, so Housing Works was still the beneficiary even if my booth was a little less layered.
Good thing I always try to pack the booth (since everything’s for sale, this is no time for minimalism, sweety darling!), so the gaps weren’t super noticeable. But it was the most divine intervention of the wondrous and wonderful Yetta Banks (of MTV Networks) whose staggering generosity and surplus of Crate & Barrel brass etageres filled the two spots mine would have been in (keeping a treasure trove of accents off the floor!). 

And that’s the real reason I love doing Design on a Dime so much: an overwhelming sense of community, hands-on effort, almost-instant gratification, a necessary “make it work” mentality, incredible generosity of vendors (and Yetta!!) and the Housing Works team I’ve come to love like family (most notably, Mel Alvarez, the event’s even-keeled and deceptively calm ringleader.)

As always, and in addition to Yetta and Mel, I have an incredible number of people to thank for my own success with the event, but I’d place writer, director, and activist Alan Bounville and Matthew Kusniar at the absolute top of the list for their set-up help, along with contractor Vlad Tomasevic of TGC Contracting who provided me crew (this year, a paper-hanger), and a new addition this year: my very own Dutchman, who rolled up his sleeves and pitched in without ever losing his cool, his adorable smile or seemingly unending sense of joy. And once again, I was thrilled to have the wonderful volunteer Chris Ann Paternostro staffing my vignette on the night of the sale, keeping things in order, and keeping me calm as shoppers stormed the gates, cocktails and credit cards in hand.
 
I could NOT have been more proud, too, to feature as my anchoring image a moving and enigmantic portrait by artist/documentarian/photographer/statesman and pale-sapphire-eyed Stanley Stellar. Plus, I added new vendors like 2Modern, Caskata, Areaware, Taschen, CuratedKravet, and Dan Schneiger to a long list of returning folks like Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Bernhardt, Thibaut, Jayson Home, Room & Board, Circa Lighting, Currey & Company, Oly, Xylem/Pedestal Source, Steven Amedee Custom Framing, The Shade Store and more. 

2016 was also a banner year for the Housing Works DOAD family, who for the first time ever took the event outside its Manhattan confines, with successful events this past year in Brooklyn and Miami.

Lights, Camera... Benjamin Moore! 
Blame it on a sailor hat. During set-up for DOAD, (and probably at the urging of Alan or Matthew) we playfully donned sailor hats intended as giveaways the night of the grand opening, to (pardon the pun) buoy our spirits and start to generate a little thematic buzz. Our shipshape white hats caught the eye of the Benjamin Moore people, roaming the not-nearly-ready halls creating videos to continue to tout “Simply White,” their inaugural Color of the (prior) Year, polling the likes of Alessandra Branca in their video series.
With sweat on my brow and incredible chaos around me, cameras rolled and I got to sing the praises for my love of not only their Simply White, but for my own oft-touted “intentional white:” when white is carefully chosen to brighten or buffer, and not just because a bored builder or lazy landlord said so. Those hats were a not-so-bad investment.
 
Art and Architecture, Hand in Hand 
New York stepped up its architectural game, above and below ground, and at the connections in between, in long-awaited and much ballyhooed boldface-named projects which blurred the lines between architecture and art, revived a Beaux Arts masterpiece and took contemporary art underground. From Santiago Calatrava's temple to transport, to the rejuvenation of the New York Public Library's Rose Main Reading Room, New York got a high profile, art-infused public works facelift, while private developers pushed the envelope in some successful and not-so ways. And although our much-anticipated 2nd Avenue Subway Station officially opened in 2017, its artworks were revealed in a stunning photo essay by the New York Times just as 2016 drew to a close... so I'm including those, too. 
I’m not sure how they’ll keep it clean, but the Santiago Calatrava Transportation Hub in downtown Manhattan has given the stone-and-steely area surrounding One World Trade a spiny, biomorphic, sculptural destination in an otherwise rectilinear landscape. It just begs to be photographed in any light, from any angle, and is a blinding example of the lofty power of “intentional white” when everything else is glass, gray and concrete. 
I’m not fully sure the form’s or architect’s intention, from some angles it’s stubby and almost comical in a Flintstones-meets-Jetsons kind of way, and not everyone is a fan... and I couldn’t care less. It’s startling, breathtaking, elevates the commuter experience, and looks like the future has landed in FiDi. Above all, it looks like a risk, in a city where architecture has played it safe in recent years.
It’s not the only place where Manhattan architecture has taken a more aggressive stylistic role. One of the most ambitious, interesting and successful: the new Via 57 West apartment building, an eye-catching riverside form that looks like it was 3-D printed right from the CAD drawings and just skipped the construction step altogether.
Not to be outdone by the colossal sculptures above ground, the just-opened 2nd Avenue subway station, itself an artful feat, has assembled a near-museum's worth of art, built right in, in the city's latest wave (and dare I say most successfully striking?) subway tile murals and mosaics. From Chuck Close (with several pieces, including his portrait of Kara Walker, above, and his own self-portrait, and composer Phillip Glass, below) to Vik Muniz, who's added an army of life-size but static commuters in his "Perfect Strangers" series (those two guys a little further above), the art is a destination in its own right, and has the potential to stop traffic faster than a sick passenger at Monday rush hour. Both the scale of the pieces and the overall undertaking are herculean, in a WPA kind of way, and it marks the first time in decades art was integrated from the beginning, not slapped up at the end. (See more of these amazing work-in-progress shots by George Etheridge for the New York Times, illustrating an article by Randy Kennedy.)
Two years ago and slightly across town, in the New York Public Library's Rose Reading Room, a giant plaster wreath decorating the ceiling came crashing down, and became the martyr to a stunning makeover (which spilled over into the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room) in the Beaux Arts gem at the east edge of Bryant Park. Over the next 24 months, painters, gilders, woodworkers and engineers (overseen by the library's in-house architects and WJE Architects and Engineers) restored the room to its rightful place of the world's best library spaces (and I'm even including Trinity College AND Hogwarts in that list.)

But perhaps the most noticeable architectural additions to Manhattan above or below are the ones waaaay above: the brand new crop of pencil-thin residences for the Russian oligarchs, Chinese elite and domestic über wealthy, some popping up at the south edge of Central Park like exaggerated milk carton periscopes. Love them or hate them (the buildings, that is, not the oligarchs), these gravity defiers have already made an indelible mark on the city’s skyline, a living bar chart of the city's pockets of extreme wealth

Through art and architecture, finally suddenly it seems at least in Manhattan, the future looks like the future.

Hang in there! We’re half way through! Part 3, up next! (And if you missed it, Part 1.)

Photos: Design on a Dime: Peter Kubilis; Calatrava Hub: NY Times and Dezeen; Via 57 West: CityRealty.com; 2nd Avenue Subway: George Etheridge for the NY Times; NYPL Rose Reading Room: Ty Cole, for Architectural Digest.