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