Sunday, January 7, 2018

...about magazines, magic carpets, title pages, Savannah squares, and southern studies: the Design Best of 2017.

It was both tortoise and hare: sloth-slow at times, fast and furious the next: the Year Formerly Known as 2017 started in super (and super scary) slow motion for me (and totally Twilight-Spicer-Conway-Huckabee-Sanders-Zone surreal-ness, for us all) then seemed to gain speed to cross the finish line in high style, fine fashion, and carrying a lot more promise about the new year ahead than I could muster last year... even if the weirdness and uncertainty most definitely linger like a nervous dude’s pre-date cloud of Axe Body Spray. Then again, it might just be coal dust.

While most of my design and this-year’s career highlights happened in late Q3 and Q4 (to sound all business-y), we’ll call the whole thing a win, since the personal design bests of 2017 were pretty darn great, y’all! (That “y’all” will make much more sense later.) 

Let’s take a spin back to what mostly made up for the not-so-great parts of 2017, in totally unscientific order, since I’m pretty sure we all had to give up Science back in January. 
While Madonna can’t quite add me to her Vogue list of those on the cover of a magazine, I did make it to the pages of one: the cheery, happy, helpful W42St magazine, and in a full spread, at that. I loved having the opportunity to list my Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood loves in their September Design Issue, like the great new-ish cabaret space The Green Room 42, Ben Cameron’s best-bargain-in-town Broadway Sessions, Ardesia, Rise Bar, Therapy, Sushi Damo and more in my HK tell-all, cheekily entitled “In Broadway’s Bedroom” by editor and wordmaven Ruth Walker. 

But the highlight of the highlight might just have been sitting for photographer Ignacio“Nacho” Guevara, in the chic locale of Dominic Lepere’s Lepere showroom at the New York Design Center. It yielded a portrait I now have the tall task of living up to in real life, and will be my go-to headshot at least until people start saying, “Is that your son in that picture?” 
Southern Style Now Show House  
If I had a car, the newest bumper sticker would read: “I Survived My First Out-of-Town Show House.” And what a house! And what an experience! I was extremely honored to join the cast of Southern all-stars in the second-ever Traditional Home Southern Style Now Show House, this year in Savannah, at the invitation of Traditional Home (the house sponsor) and Fabricut (my room’s sponsor, without whom I could not have pulled off this monumental task).
In it, I was tasked, happily, with creating a fully-realized interior around a brand new line of textiles and wallpapers, developed in a unique business partnership between Fabricut (for their Stroheim line) and students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In a semester-long project back in 2016, with Fabricut’s wonderful Creative Director and VP Nina Butkin, the brilliant Doris Athineos, and me as the interior design mentor on the panel, we guided four teams of young women from Pinterest board to warped-and-wefted, named, branded and polished presentation samples, as they developed a line of textiles and wallcoverings. That winning team (“Team Darlene”) had their collection produced by Stroheim, and then a little over a year later, showcased in the Southern Style Now show house as it hit the to-the-trade market.  
The best part was bringing the story of the room’s textile building blocks back full circle, to just blocks away from where it all began, in the oh-so-charming town of Savannah. My Southern Study (for the fictional “Darlene,” around whom the collection was originally designed by SCAD students Morgan De Paoli, Brittany Reidy, Jessica Amsberry, Hannah Golden and Celeste Buck) might not have been the biggest room in the house, snuggled back in a low-slung corner of the handsome Greek revival building’s Garden Level (that’s Southern for “walk-out basement," but shush, you didn’t hear that from me), but it still managed to charm its fair share of visitors to the house (which received a staggering head-to-toe renovation from Matthew Allan Homes), and it was a room I didn’t want to leave, let alone dismantle at the end of the four-ish week run.

During house set up and break down, I had the great fortune to be equally charmed by this gridded, moss-draped and gentile southern city, all enlivened and fueled by the brilliant concept of the “Sip and Stroll,” an invite to the jaw-dropping home of star preservationist, Donghia- and SCAD alum and consummate host Chuck Chewning, and frequent visits to Daniel Reed's The Public Kitchen (I am craving their grilled chicken on anything, and copper-cupped Casanova, as we speak.)

Throughout the Southern Style Now Festival, brain child of Robert Leleux, I got to mix, mingle and meet with some of the South’s most colorful and talented decorators and designers (Summer Loftin, Lily Brown, Mary Jo Bochner, Kara Cox, Susan Jamieson, Leah G. Bailey, Gwyn Duggan and more), curators (Laney Contemporary’s Susan Laney) and artists (Betsy Cain), even spilling some (sweet) tea of my own during our “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Decorating But Were Afraid to Ask” panel. I now feel more like a Southerner than my South Florida upbringing ever afforded, and it’s a badge I’ll wear as proudly as the hand-tied (thanks, YouTube!) bow tie I wore to the house’s opening night gala. Look for full coverage of the house, and hopefully my room, in a little under a year, on the pages of Traditional Home. 

I’d be totally remiss if I did not mention my saving grace and man on the street in Savannah, Robert Ricard, of Frieze Savannah. The shop around the corner, and the man behind it, saved my hide before and during set up, offering up storage space, moral support, box (empty and not) lugging and stowing, Home Depot extension cord and rug pad runs, and pre-arrival site measuring visits and videos while I worried away up in NYC. Our paths first crossed during our past Ft. Lauderdale lives, and the Savannah version of his South Florida shop is still a treasure trove of the unique and exotic. It proved one thing: if you are doing a show house away from your own home base, you need a Robert. So if you’re reading this, Doug and Richard, keep a corner of your brand new Palm Springs garage cleared out, in case I ever get The Call from the Christopher-Kennedy Compound. (Universe, take note.) 
Beneath the Covers, by the Book  
My frequent rallying cry of “Long Live Print!” has usually been celebrating (and encouraging) the world of shelter magazines, but now I’ll also happily add Actual Books, since 2017 saw my name appear in the photo credits of one, and on the title page of another. 
After assembling an incredible collection of fiber arts created by makers on the LGBTQ spectrum, in his group show “Queer Threads" (which I first experienced at New York’s Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art) graphic designer, friend and curator John Chaich teamed up with Todd Oldham and Ammo Books to create the book by the same name: “Queer Threads/Crafting Identity and Community,” an homage to those artists and more whose chosen method of creation involves yarn, thread, clothing and cloth, and their experiences within the rainbow coalition. It’s a thoughtful and joyous beauty of a book, as Roy G. Biv’d as you’d expect, anchored by amazing interviews with each maker, conducted by scholars, friends and other master and mistresses of their craft. I was thrilled to have an image included, an installation shot of Liz Collins’ “Accumulated Pride,” and to be even a small part of this incredible endeavor, John’s creation and labor of love, was an absolute honor. 
Another title gave me my very first book-writing credit in 2017, this time, Iris Dankner’s labor of love, “Holiday House: Ten Years of Decorating for a Cure, published by Pointed Leaf Press (with industry veteran Susie Slesin at the helm). The coffee table book features a decade-long backward glance at the show house conceived by Dankner, in a mission to create a design-industry event dedicated to raising money for women’s health, focusing on breast cancer... a foe which Iris herself faced, and conquered, 20+ years ago.  

The lush volume is centered mostly on the show house’s run at the Academy Mansion, but also includes its summer getaways to the Hamptons, and a foray down to New York’s fashionable, and fashion forward, SoHo. And like the house, the book is an ode to the transformative power of decorating.    
I wrote everything in the book Iris and Christopher Hyland didn’t, and both the process and end result will keep me beaming for another ten years. Added bonus: both my Modern St. Patrick’s Day and “Derby Deconstructed” rooms for the house (in 2013 and 2014) made it onto the lovely, glossy pages... which not only celebrates the designers, but a battery of some of the the most talented interior photographers around. More, please, in 2018, Universe! 
DIFFA x Obeetee  
To borrow from Disney’s Aladdin, it was a whole new world, a magic carpet ride, and a wonderful double-whammy of an opportunity: to join a hand-picked group of designers each creating a custom design for the rugmakers of Obeetee, a longtime source for industry insiders, now taking on the world of high-end custom carpets, and then to have the end result benefit Design Industries Foundation Fights AIDS (DIFFA).

It’s always both totally exhilarating and a tiny bit paralyzing to design without a client to give you starting points and guideposts, but the assignment provided the opportunity to bridge my love of color (warm and cool, jewel-tone and neutral), a never-ending infatuation with the Greek key, and to showcase the handmade, all to make a rug I haven’t come across already in my own sourcing expeditions.
The process was a mini-master class into yarn, loops, and pile, yielding my “Greek to Me” design. The whole thing took me back to my RISD roots, where a professor’s strict project parameters still managed to yield a classroom full of uniquely separate outcomes. That was certainly the case once the showroom was hung, gallery-style, with our completed final designs the night of the launch, auctioned off for DIFFA. The entire collection is available for customization and purchase over on Dering Hall, and a portion of the proceeds from every sale from the collection will continue to benefit DIFFA.
Benjamin Moore COTY – Caliente  
Feelin’ hot, hot, hot! Benjamin Moore took to the white-walled spiral of Manhattan’s Guggenheim to unveil their Color of the Year for 2018, and it proved to be another interesting (and usable) choice from the paint company which brought us Simply White, their entrée into the Color of the Year arena, and the sexy, moody Shadow right on its heels.

And be it faux pas or modern marketing stroke of brilliance, when the big reveal came, and the name was projected onto the gallery ramps, it almost appeared as the cheeky “Caliente AF,” like some extra episode of Issa Rae’s inSecure. But the “AF” part was only a reference to the paint number, and the color's place in the Benjamin Moore Affinity collection. Personally, I think they should own it, since the lipstick red is indeed “caliente AF.” (If you’re not familiar with the “AF” references, probably don’t Google it with kids in the room.)

It’s the most excited I’ve been about any kind of red state in a VERY long time.
I was a latecomer to the world of the carefully curated, filtered perfection that is Instagram, but I finally felland fell hard— for this visual platform that’s taken more of my free time than a Game of Thrones binge watch. Is it life implausibly edited down to only the picture-perfect best parts? Is it idealized, stylized and selfied? Yes, yes and yes, but it’s also a non-stop stream of visual content, and a gateway to some global, historical and forward-looking inspiration. It introduced me to some exceptional new artists around the world, caused me to sharpen my eye, and with my self-induced one-post-a-day rule, made me don my editor’s cap to determine “Is that shot Instagram worthy?” (Stay tuned for a list of IGers you should be following, but probably aren’t, early in the new year, but go over and follow me right now.) Shown above, my Top Nine posts of the year.
What's New, What's Next, at Plexi-Craft 
I had a wonderful time moderating a panel, at the invitation of our friends at ASPIRE Design & Home magazine, in the glittering Plexi-Craft showroom, at the New York Design Center's Fall "What's New, What's Next." High octane panelists Robin Baron, Steve Favreau and Drew McGukin discussed “New Innovations in Acrylic Furnishings” and kept the packed house informed, enlightened and entertained. I do love doing these panels, and hope for more ahead! (Yes, Universe, me again.)
The Inspiration of Travel 
I had the great fortune to take to the road far more in 2017 than I had done since opening my own interior design practice, and each trip underscored one thing: travel provides incredible inspiration and insight. 
The Southern Style Now Show House (and my friends at Fabricut) took me back twice (for hardworking but nicely lengthy stays) to Savannah, which donned its fancy holiday finery over the course of both visits, holly swags and doorsprays lit by gaslight and shaded by live oaks, just a few weeks before Mother Nature mimicked the storefront displays of One Fish Two Fish and The Paris Market and dusted the city with a heaping helping of real snow. 
Earlier, a personal trip took us to Toronto, and our gracious neighbor to the north did not disappoint, as our trip just happened to coincide with Toronto Fashion Week, adding an extra level of energy to this diverse, stylish and civilized city. 
Added bonus: my first visit to the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls, and a quick stop in Rochester, where a drive-by of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses and a tour of the George Eastman house were both high points. We also snuck in an-under-the-wire pre-New Year's trip to Washington D.C., where we took full advantage of the astounding array of no-charge museums.
One Day You're In... Collection '17 
Speaking of Fashion Week, we found ourselves alongside the catwalks of New York’s own Fashion Week for the very first time, to see Collection ’17, a selection of work from a curated group of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Apparel students. The work ranged from highly wearable to beyond avant garde, broke rules and bent genders, presented a Utopian view of the glories of diversity, and reminded me why I loved my years at the school: never settle for the box, always ask why not, and never stop reinventing. As an added plus, we clinked glasses, post-show, with collection designers, RISD alums and models. 
Picking Out China Patterns
I went back to the table with Lenox twice this year, with new shoots by the talented and lovely Michelle Fidman, showcasing two ends of the considerable spectrum of styles underneath this great American brand’s umbrella of dishware and fine China patterns. From my “Modern Easter" (shown in Michelle's shot, above) featuring their mid-century-esque Entertain 365 Confetti pattern, which inspired my very first “sprinkle eggs,” to “Well-Suited for Father’s Day” (below, also shot by Michelle) a sartorially-inspired table done up for Dad, using the super handsome Winston pattern by Canadian designer-to-aspire-to Brian Gluckstein. 
(Bonus: I also got to work with the sparkling barware of Reed & Barton, Lenox’s brother-brand, in the Southern Study, the two shots directly above.) Read more about the Easter table here, and the Father's Day table here and here! When’s our next shoot, Lenox? 
Jayson Home Heads to NYC
While it wasn’t a personal highlight or anything of my own doing, it’s definitely a design and shopping coup for New York City, which last year saw the establishment of its first outpost of Jayson Home, the Chicago-based home design retailer, opened with free-flowing bubbly, brick oven pizza (in a move of Chicago-to-New York pizza rivalry détente), and a warm welcome by Jayson Home staff, local and mid-western.

Since I’ve not yet made it to the Chicago store, the new SoHo location afforded the opportunity to walk through the pages of the catalog which I’ve lusted over for eons. That catalog, and their all-inclusive, super easy to shop website introduced me to their chic, urbane and earthy selections that add instant soul to any interior. I should know: Jayson has been my go-to secret source for client projects, tabletop styling, show house rooms and charity events, and the beauty of their offerings has only been exceeded by their generosity to me since my first panicked email to them back in 2011, and my very first Design on a Dime
One Colorful Loss  
And in requiem, this year saw the loss of Gilbert Baker, designer behind the now-iconic rainbow "Pride" flag. Baker taught himself how to sew after his honorable discharge from the US Army, and created an 8-stripe version of the flag in 1980, now more commonly seen in its 6-color form. He died March 31st, 2017, from heart disease in his New York City home. Photo: Equally Wed.
Okay, new year, the bar (and the table) has been set pretty high. You ready to do this, 2018?
All photos, unless noted: Patrick J. Hamilton 

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.
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.