Tuesday, March 29, 2011

about Design on a Dime... Interesting Pieces: Wisteria.

Shhhhh! Wisteria is my secret weapon, my go-to source for pieces to finish off a room. Their collection is eclectic, full of pieces that look like you found them in an antique shop or posh boutique, but are in stock, internet ready, catalog easy. Over the years, they've added larger pieces, and broadened their time span to include pieces of a more modern ilk. They were doing global chic with a high-end look before, well, everybody else. All good.

They've also long been known for having a sense of humor in those catalogs, and having a big heart, with support of local and global charities, artisan spotlights, and heartfelt profiles of their employees. When Wisteria writes about their "family," you get the very real impression it's not just marketing copy. Humor and heart are traits I greatly admire, so even more reasons to like Wisteria.

I rarely finish any interior or virtual makeover without a little something-something of theirs working its way in, so it seemed odd this room would be without them. They were a natural candidate on my Wish List (and very high on it) of suppliers for my Design on a Dime room. But I figured it would be a long shot, since I've only ever been an anonymous online customer and happy catalog recipient (and Wisteria Facebook fan). I was so intent on having Wisteria represented before I made official contact, I jumped the gun and coerced the boyfriend to make his own generous donation to the cause, scooping up two of their statement-making Chinese Acupuncture figures.

Well, I asked, and Wisteria answered. And answered BIG. You'll see their Chinese Garden Stool and Architectural Stainless Steel Stool as shiny punctuation, and the room-commanding Stacked Stainless Steel Coffee Table, center stage, if you visit the Metropolitan Pavilion here in New York for Design on a Dime May 5th for the opening cocktail party, or on May 6th and 7th. These and every other item in the over 50 designer room vignettes, from the talented likes of Robert Passal, Amanda Nisbet and Ralph Lauren Home, will be sold off at bargain basement prices.

These pieces are also, happily, part of how I would tackle a small space and design plan. The coffee table is large enough for TV dinners, but glassy and open (so the Niba rug will share the spotlight). The side tables double as stools and give me a lovely play on symmetry, letting me play my very favorite game of "Compare and Contrast." And the three pieces, as different as they are, share a common finish to keep things from getting too busy.

So, knowing these pieces are in the mix, any thoughts on which art or rug you would choose?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

about Design on a Dime... Laying the Groundwork: NIBA Rug Collection.


Although the design process preparing for Design on a Dime is a bit unconventional, there are some happy parallels to how I typically put together an interior project. I often suggest that clients build a room from the floor up, and start with a beautiful rug. It's an area where I am quick to encourage an investment, if not a real splurge.

So I was delighted at the generosity of NIBA Rug Collections, providing me with a selection of plush and stylish wool and viscose rugs on which to build my room vignette. This is the second time CEO Beth Arrowood has extended her generosity (the first was when she hosted a design industry screening of our "It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men" video).

Marrakech Express

I am, as many know, a sucker for chocolate (in color and Kit-Kat form), so the Marrakech Express was a quick frontrunner, and once I received wool samples, I realized the color would be a perfect match to a wallcovering I was considering (stay tuned!).

But then again, with its room-filling size, relaxed geometry, and cachet of the Doug and Gene Meyer design, the Cubist rug (pictured at top) seemed too good to pass on.

Gumbo Limbo

Then there's the Gumbo Limbo, deep, rich and exotic, with a name that reminds me of my native South Florida and trips to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens (I am also a sucker for an evocatively named product). Hmmm. I'll admit, this is a nice problem to have. Maybe the answer lies in my upholstery options...

Which rug would you choose? And which artwork by Babette Herschberger would you pair with it?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

about Design on a Dime.

I've posted before about the rare-but-unique challenges of designing without a client, and striking the balance between practicality and theatricality in designer showhouses, when designers are vying for press, attention and clients. I faced a bit of that challenge when I had the opportunity to participate in Apartment Therapy's first annual Big Window Challenge, a thrilling chance to be seen in the windows of Bloomingdale's legendary Manhattan flagship.

I have a chance, once again, to ask some of those same questions when I create a room vignette for the upcoming "Design on a Dime" to benefit Housing Works, a remarkable charity here in New York City that I'm honored to be part of, alongside some serious design heavy hitters.

Each designer has to secure all the items for the rooms (like they do in showhouse rooms), but this challenge is a bit different. Unlike Harry WInston necklaces after the Oscars, this merchandise doesn't go back. Nope. The chairs and setees, lamps and artwork all get sold, for Housing Works' benefit. So convincing some of my favorite people, vendors and companies to permanently part with merchandise, especially in this tight economy, is just a little bit of a challenge.

Luckily, I know some lovely, generous people, and over the next few weeks, I'll be showing your their contributions, and give you a sneak peek into what the room will look like as it comes together, donation by donation.

I'll be working with what I can get, while trying to keep it true to my style: high and low budget pieces, a dark masculine style, a mix of modern and traditional. It's an opportunity to be brave with color, and I'm planning on it!

And, to celebrate this wonderful honor and opportunity, and to spread the generosity I'm hoping for from so many, there is a PRIZE for you, readers! My 100th follower will get two tickets to the opening night gala! Must be able to get to New York City the night of May 6th. Prize is the tickets only.

Wish me luck! Stay tuned!

about Design on a Dime... Getting Started with Art! The Work of Babette Herschberger.

For anyone who has ever dismissed abstract or color block paintings with an offhanded "I could paint that," I present Exhibit B: the work of Babette Herschberger. Babette was the very first to say yes to donating an item to my upcoming room vignette for Design on a Dime, and these are the works that I am delighted to consider as my jumping off point.

Her canvases are deceptively simple... they command a room from far away, gorgeous blocks of color, strong and vibrant. Up close, they are layered, interesting, and with bits of colorful surprises. Subtle geometry reveals itself as you come closer, and the surface is remarkably worked, just as captivating from inches away. The pieces seem built to their current (considerable) depth from layers of color, and are remarkably narrative, despite their simplicity. They are (mostly) happy, but never frivolous.

Her palette has always pulled from her lovely tropical surroundings and a life lived among Miami Beach's deco treasures. When I see Babette's work, I see tropical skies (sunny, and afternoon shower), Ocean Drive neon reflected in dark waves, turquoise swimming pools, and the heart of a friend who has long supported and inspired me, and has become a great ambassador for the South Florida art community.

She's also created a series she call "Tidbits," found, worked and painted paper assemblages. And in her infinite generosity, has offered me, and the Design on a Dime shoppers, a Tidbit as well.

Our paths crossed in past lives when we shared Graphic Design as a profession, and Babette's work then, like her canvases now, was nuanced, chock full of thought, carefully considered, and always offered reward for the reader or viewer's extended attention.

She is a vibrant, hilarious, bubbly woman (we'd often get laughing too hard to work) and I am beyond thrilled we have stayed in touch, and that her work will grace my room vignette. I can think of no better work, energy or person with which to start this design journey.

Ah, but which one?? Stay tuned!

Which one would you choose, to build a room around? And which canvas would you pair with which Tidbit?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

about It Gets Better: NYC Designing Men.

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. I learned that valuable lesson when I asked my esteemed colleagues if they would join me in a design industry contribution to the simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple "It Gets Better Project," created by Dan Savage, to reach out to the vulnerable youth in the GLBT community. John Eason, Carl Lana, Michael Tavano, Ken Wampler of The Alpha Workshops, Darrin Varden of Drake Design, and Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, all, without hesitation, said yes. So did Jeff Cadge, of Cadge Productions, who donated his time, team, equipment and post-production... an invaluable donation, and the real reason this project happened.

I was humbled by these stories... so genuine, so heartfelt. And eternally grateful for all who made this happen.

While the project is aimed at youth who feel alone, disenfranchized and defeated, I think it is important that our contemporaries understand what many of us faced in our formative years. And how far we were able to come.

Since the original airing at the lovely home of Michael Tavano and his partner Lloyd Marks, the video has had over 3500 views, and was also screened at NIBA Rug Collections, in another show of generosity and support, made possible by CEO Beth Arrowood and her lovely team, and with the facilitation of the exuberant Andrew Joseph.

I've never been more proud to be part of the design community.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

about Michael Tavano.

Patrick J Hamilton, of AskPatrick.blogspot.com, interviews Interior Designer Michael Tavano, about his career, his own home, and his tabletop designs for ELLE Décor and DIFFA's Dining By Design. Listen in on the conversation now, and visit Michael's House Tour for Apartment Therapy!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

about 1stdibs at the New York Design Center.

It was one hot ticket: the opening night party to launch 1stdibs at the New York Design Center (1stdibs@NYDC). It was DJ’ed, cater-waitered and star-studded… Amy Lau, Vicente Wolf, Mario Buatta, Alexa Hampton, Charlotte Moss, Joan and Jayne Michaels, Matthew White, Scott Salvator, Christopher Coleman, Robert Passal, Carl Lana, Noel Jeffrey… to name-drop but a few of the many. The halls were packed, the energy palpable, the music pumping, the invite list cut off at least a full week before the event, at a whopping (and building-unprecedented) 2500 lucky guests.

Why such a buzz? Partly, it was the sponsorship by ELLE Décor and a chance to glad-hand new(ish) editor Michael Boodro, whose upcoming April issue will bear his full stamp. But mostly, it was the Midas touch of that other Michael, 1stdibs Founder Michael Bruno, whose name alone gets people to show up, pony up, and attempt to weather a recession underneath his apparently water-tight umbrella. With his Clark Kent good looks, he’s become the interior design community’s new superman.

Very few besides Bruno could get such press, reception and response to the announcement that an online venture was setting up shop, brick-and-mortar. This reversal of trend is seemingly a non-event in the .com and app-driven world, especially as the industry leans more heavily on internet trade. But no, this somehow was big news, and Bruno was the man of the hour, the 54 lucky proprietors (competition was so fierce the NYDC enlisted a lottery system to dole out spaces) basking in Bruno’s golden glow on opening night.

At the party, there was giddy chatter about how “revolutionary the concept.” Perhaps bringing multiple antiques dealers under one roof (and brand) in an existing trade-only design center is newfangled, but consolidated antiques sales by multiple dealers is not a brand new concept. Just ask the dealers at, and folks behind, the not-too-distant Center 44, a venerable and well-marketed antiques center in Manhattan, one example of many that probably wonder what the hoopla is all about. One respected independent dealer not part of 1stdibs@NYDC agrees: “1stdibs’ space at NYDC is just another antique mall,” he says. He also thinks the highly curated and extremely tasteful displays (something that does set the 10th floor apart from some other dusty, crowded antiques malls) are gorgeous now, but wonders what will happen when the reality of square-footage to sales ratios start to register. “I bet that within 6 months they start getting a little desperate and start cramming stuff in.”

Providence, RI's HEIR Antiques

The whopping 33,000 square foot space is airy, stunning, shiny and new, now, no argument, but it seems more gallery or installation than a high-powered retail concept, leading to some visitor confusion. In fact, Tyler Doran of Providence, Rhode Island's HEIR Antiques said, “People were asking how long ‘the show’ was going to be up, so I'm not sure people realize it is a permanent fixture within the NYDC.”

Permanent, yes, but apparently the building hopes the merchandise turnover will maintain the opening night energy (where lots of “Sold” and “Hold” tags were scattered about on furniture and accessories before the last wine was poured), and they’ve apparently built in turnover, with short term leases to keep the curious coming back, as merchandise, and vendors, change.

Mariette Himes Gomez' "The Shop"

Dealers with big names and storefronts elsewhere in Manhattan have also chosen to board the 1stdibs train… Wyeth, Mariette Himes Gomez’ “The Shop,” Hostler Burrows, and Patrick Parrish's and Greg Wooten's Mondo Cane among them. They’re perhaps banking that visitors will be tempted enough by these small tastes of their wares to venture elsewhere in town to sample the full buffet. All these vendors could have joined the NYDC roster before… but chose to do so only when 1stdibs announced its upcoming presence. But that’s the power of Bruno.

Larry Weinberg was one vintage pioneer who predated the 1stdibs deal, taking space on the building’s 4th floor for his Weinberg Modern, now represented also on the 1stdibs floor in a small display, a nice way for the rest of the showrooms to leverage 1stdibs traffic, and remind visitors there are 15 more floors to the Design Center worth exploring. “I’m already seeing an uptick in traffic, and a spillover of shoppers since 1stdibs came in to the building,” notes Weinberg, so it seems the touted “express elevator to the 10th floor” is not the only way people find their way in and out of the building.

Small bays promote showrooms from the building's other floors, like this display for the 4th floor'sWeinberg Modern

In an article published in 1stdibs own “Introspective” e-zine, Adam Charles Greenberger of Charles Bank Gallery says he would consider standing in line for a booth of his own. “I think fine art in a decorative setting would be great,” he says. Some current vendors on other floors might beg to differ: as much as fine art has seemed a natural fit to high end décor, it’s traditionally been a tough sell in these halls.

New Orleans’ Karina Gentinetta disegno

The draw of this deal has also brought dealers from across the country, putting big stock into the dual appeal of a tony Manhattan address and the Bruno touch, including the boy’s club quirk of Doran’s HEIR Antiques, and the sophisticated patina of New Orleans’ Karina Gentinetta disegno. Like the frequent art and antique shows that bring national dealers to New York’s Piers and Armories, the broader perspective brought by these out of towners is a welcome invasion.

Vintage pottery by Hostler Burrows

Bruno’s original mission was to bring the Paris Flea Market to potential buyers the world over, but the 10th floor is currently more mid-century, industrial quirk and folk art than Clignancourt. No doubt that will change as merchandise turns and eager new vendors come through the doors. The concept of antiques and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces in a largely custom furnishings building also has the potential to jumpstart sales… there is a sense of “now or never” urgency, and gives designers and shoppers some instant gratification in an industry where 12 week lead times are not out of the ordinary.

ELLE Decor's Michael Boodro and the New York Design Center's Jim Druckman; Photo: NYDC

Without stealing Bruno’s thunder, full credit for revolution really goes to Jim Druckman (he owns and runs the NYDC) for sealing the dibs deal and reinventing his building. In doing so, he’s helped reawaken sleepy to-the-trade showroom buildings in the process. That’s where credit for smart, creative thinking fully lies. That’s the reinvention.

But it’s not without risk. Druckman’s gamble here is that this floor, open to the public with or without their designers in tow, will draw an audience that’s never before set foot in “200 Lex,” the nickname given to the NYDC by generations of designers and decorators. Merchandise can be purchased without a designer (but also without their designer discount) from any of the 1stdibs vendors. As far as retail traffic in a trade-only building, Weinberg is a believer. “I can’t think of a business model in this industry that would work right now without a retail component.”

The other hope, no doubt, is that the activity on 10 will trickle down… and up, giving much needed foot traffic, and the energy that comes with it, to the entire building. The building has even added official Saturday hours to this previously Monday through Friday schedule to draw weekend shoppers. But risk or not, Druckman is a happier landlord when these 33,000 square feet are rented out.

Mondo Cane

1stdibs@NYDC is still working out how to tell the story to visitors, since 1stdibs has worked so hard to brand itself as an online purveyor. The pieces here are also represented online, in a special section of 1stdibs.com, adding to some of the confusion. In fact, the saleswoman at the desk seemed more eager to show the wares on the website than just steps behind her. Interesting, too, that on 1stdibs@NYDC on 1stdibs.com, the name of the dealer is nowhere to be found... items are listed only as "Available at 1stdibs@NYDC." Call me demanding, but if I were paying Manhattan rent, I'd want my name even on the virtual shingle.

Like the online version of 1stdibs, there is wild range to pricing, and vintage pieces that far exceed licensed re-issues which are still available. Case in point: a Serge Mouille fixture shown here for $8150 is available new for $7810 at re- and e-tailers like SwitchModern. And also like the online 1stdibs, the reputation of the dealers, added to the panache of the 1stdibs name, drive prices up for merchandise you can indeed already buy on eBay for far less, if you look carefully enough. Perhaps that’s the price of shopping one considerable link up the antiques food chain.

Once the waiters packed up the glasses, the experience on the 10th floor is quite different. Computers replace the champagne flutes at the concierge-style front desk, where a pair of salespeople is on hand to answer questions and (hopefully) close the sale on behalf of the absentee sellers. The dance music is still pumped in, but in this whole-floor space, the crowds are gone, the booths and bays are unattended, and the word “museum” comes more quickly to mind than “store.”

Will shoppers get the difference? Will retail pennypinchers pay more for provenance and the 1stdibs style blessing, or shop the deal online, as they have been doing pretty aggressively since websites like SwitchModern, DesignPublic and HiveModern started up? Will retail be a conflict to the design trade that this building was, well, built for? Will Bruno save the day, leaping into this tall design building in a single, stylish bound? Time will tell. If this is what it takes to get more people into this gem of a trade secret building, great. There’s always been beauty, art and sophisticated tenants here. Now, with 1sdibs as the latest name in a building that already boasts many (Kravet, Baker Knapps & Tubbs, John Saladino, Tucker Robbins, Odegard, Dennis Miler & Associates, and Druckman’s own Profiles, a few examples), maybe their secret is no longer safe. That’s not a bad deal for anyone involved. Thanks, Superman!