Can door hardware be sexy? When it’s designed to evoke jewelry and look like this, yes it can!

When is a doorknob not just a doorknob, but a piece of sculpture?  When it’s been conceived by designers David Scott and Tim Campbell, and impeccably produced by SA Baxter, esteemed maker of architectural hardware. During a recent visit to the SA Baxter showroom at the NYDC New York Design Center, the experience felt more akin to being in a high end jewelry store, or a room of ancient treasures at the Met. Thankfully no fluorescent lighting here; the space has been beautifully lit to feature the artistry on display.

I’ve always thought of door hardware as jewelry for the home; meant to adorn, create subliminal emotional responses and overt tactile pleasures, all while existing as a functional object. So I was especially drawn to the new 2014 Fall Artisan collection by SA Baxter featuring the vision of the aforementioned designers. All pieces in the collection are produced in the company’s eco-friendly Hudson Valley foundry/atelier where they turn out works of cast bronze and cast brass (and other metals) utilizing the ancient process known as lost wax casting.  An art believed to be first practiced in Egypt and Africa where a clay mold, or metal sculpture, is made during the intricate casting process.

KALAHARI, A collaboration with interior designer David Scott:

“I didn’t want to create conventional hardware,” explained David Scott, about being  invited by SA Baxter to create his own line.  He loves the idea of organic forms emerging from the door’s surface, and in his vision the hardware becomes, what he described as, “a decorative extension of the architecture while still remaining functional.”

Scott’s elegant yet dynamic Kalahari Suite is based on what he saw within the majestic landscape and beauty of the African savannah: The sleek line of a tree against the setting sun, a curve in the river, or the simplicity of round forms created by nature, all served as inspiration.  These primal forms and elements became what is now functional hardware, yet like jewelry, each  component has a sleek sensuality that makes one want to reach out and touch it. I actually wanted to wear it! (earrings next, please David?)

 Kalahari Suite. Seen here images 1-5


TROUSDALE, a collaboration with designer Tim Campbell:

“I like ordinary things to be special,” explains Tim Campbell when asked about his Trousdale collection; so named for the eponymous LA neighborhood where Studio Tim Campbell has redone many 1960’s houses. He is especially inspired by those of Rex Lotery, who was a British architect. Though not as well known as Richard Neutra’s houses,  Campbell finds the Lotery houses, sexier, swankier and possessing a bit of swagger that he wanted to translate into the modern, yet transitional style of this hardware.

“A doorknob is a machine. It has a function, it has moving parts,” said Campbell, who personally wants what he touches every day to have real meaning. He reveres the ordinary when it is made extraordinary; and I believe it has been with the Trousdale collection. “Having a solid handmade piece of door hardware feels substantial, it makes a difference in one’s home,” Campbell said.

Together with SA Baxter’s design and engineering team, the Trousdale Suite came alive. Campbell played with different shapes that resulted in a multi-faceted diamond-like shape for door knob which perfectly matches the points on the coordinating rosette, creating a kind of optical illusion as the knob is turned. Light bounces off the surface as it would a fine gemstone. This is a juxtaposition of sophistication and glamour, along with seamless function.

Campbell is deeply committed to doing philanthropic work in Africa, where he visits several times each year. He explained that witnessing craft in a place where making something by hand is part of life, was integral to his thinking when designing Trousdale.  “I’ve seen Massai warriors make beaded jewelry, and I’ve watched hand-made textiles be woven in Botswana; I know the love that goes into it.”

The Trousdale Suite, seen here, images 6-10

 SA Baxter New York City Showroom

New York

New York Design Center
200 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10016
T: (212) 203-4382
F: (888) 713-6042


Design Centre Chelsea Harbour
Unit 314 Centre Dome
3rd Floor
London, SW10 0XE
T: +44 (0) 20-8196-2410

What does Halloween have to do with art, design & lithography? Everything! Don’t miss this exhibition at Woodmere in Philly

cat_faceI unexpectedly discovered the exhibition Things That Creak in the Night: Selections from the Halloween Collection of Peter Paonat Philadelphia’s Woodmere Art Museum, last week and haven’t been able to stop thinking about how whimsical yet thought provoking it is.  Not only because Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, but because what’s on view there is an ingenious exhibition, representing only a fraction of the collection of Halloween toys and objects owned by Philadelphia print maker, Peter Paone. His has been a nearly 40-year quest to find vintage Halloween toys and objects; many are treasures that were made in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and this week (HURRY!) can be seen at Woodmere.

Paone began gathering these objects in the mid-1960s and said now there are some 350-400 items in his collection. All are printed on tin and paper. He explained: “I started collecting these items not only because they were commanding images, but because they were original lithographs printed on tin. fortunes_game (3)As an artist and printmaker this was very appealing to me. Also limiting the colors to just orange and black (an unlikely combination in color theory) was something that interested my approach to color; it’s very powerful.

It takes a creative and open minded museum director, and William Valerio, the director and CEO of Woodmere, is clearly that, to embrace such quirky subject matter, yet Valerio found Paone’s collection to be compelling and worthy of an exhibition. I asked Valerio why he decided to exhibit, what are essentially simple dime store tin toys, in a museum that is known for having important Philadelphia artists from Charles Wilson Peale, in the age of the American Revolution, to painter Sarah McEneaney, who today is a leading figure in the city’s increasingly vibrant art scene.

“We are showing the printed tin and paper objects because we consider them to be art,” explained Valerio. In fact, the companies that produced many of these items,  like Dennison and Avery,  hired artists in the 1920s and 1930s to design these toys and ornaments for mass distribution, and somehow, he points out, that even today,  the specific witches, cats, and pumpkin designs are immediately recognizable.  “When imagery has this kind of lasting power–a ubiquity that is taken for granted–it is important to recognize, consider, and think,” said Valerio.

bobbing_tambAnd, there is artistic technique involved in making toys and decorations out of lithographed tin. In fact, the manufacturers actually used a process known as offset lithography, which solved the problem of printing on tin.  By the 1930s the process was further perfected and machines were used to print designs on fifty tin-plated sheets per minute. Paone has built his collection from flea markets, friends who bought houses and found these objects in the attic, and thousands of visits to yard sales. He noted, “in the 60s they were everywhere now they’re gold.”

Woodmere Art Museum photos/Darryl Moran.

Exhibition curator: Rick Ortwein, Woodmere Deputy Director for Exhibitions Woodmere Art Museum through NOVEMBER 2, 2014.


Woodmere Art Museum

9201 Germantown Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19118 Located at Bells Mill Road in Chestnut Hill
Hours: Tues. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday 10 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday, 10 a. m.- 5 p.m.

Head Butler encourages us to think in a new direction

Jesse Kornbluth is DP’s guest blogger today. His ever-brilliant Head Butler post focuses on Ross Chapin’s book about Pocket Neighborhoods, and the ideas Jesse shares on the subject are resonant and vital.  Especially now. Anyone who drives the roads of the Hampton’s sees the Joe Farrell signs growing more prevalent.  I see on a daily basis, more large scale development with super sized houses going up.  Chapin presents us with a concept that’s the antithesis to what prevails in most of the USA.  Thank you, Jesse, for doing what you do so well, and so often: Leading us with your words, to think just a little more carefully about who we are, and what we do.

Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World, by Ross Chapin

Head Butler post By JESSE KORNBLUTH  Published: Jun 23, 2014

$1.7 trillion in the coffers of American corporations, not being invested, not creating jobs, not strengthening infrastructure, just making money for owners who have basically abandoned any obligations as citizens. Banks paying billions in fines for the privilege of keeping billions more. The environment. Gridlock. It’s too grim to think about. So. mostly, we don’t. Privately, not yet sharing our fears with others, we think: The empire may be failing, but I still have to live. Is there any way I can live appropriately, in harmony with the planet? And is there some way I can feel less… lonely? Ross Chapin, an architect who lives in a town of 1,000 on Whidbey Island, Washington, started thinking about a more humane way to live in the 1980s. And he came up with a solution. It was not, as he writes, a new solution: Humans are gregarious — we like to live around others. We also have a desire — and perhaps a need — for personal space. Sometime in the last generation, however, we became so charmed with the dream of a ‘house of one’s own’ that we overshot our desire for privacy, leaving us marooned on our own personal island in a sea of houses… A picture began formulating in my mind that was like the Russian nesting dolls…. pocket neighborhoods. What is a pocket neighborhood? A clustered group of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space — a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, a series of joined backyards, or a reclaimed alley — all of which have a clear sense of territory and shared stewardship. This is a delicious concept. Like the Mini Cooper, Chapin suggests: “small, sensual, well-engineered and reliable.” Exciting to read about. Great to look at. Important as an idea. And, if you’re up for it, a life-changer. [To buy “Pocket Neighborhoods” from Amazon, click here.] In 1996, Chapin built his first pocket neighborhood: the Third Street Cottages in the town where he lives. Just a sprinkling of homes. But not 2-story houses. One-and-a-half story cottages. Most about 650 square feet, with lofts up to 200 square feet. 
To ensure privacy between neighbors, the cottages ‘nest’ together: the ‘open’ side of one house faces the ‘closed’ side of the next. You could say the houses are spooning! The open side has large windows facing its side yard (which extends to the face of neighboring house), while the closed side has high windows and skylights. The result is that neighbors do not peer into one another’s world. At the same time, there’s no way to hide — you have a front porch. A carefully designed porch. The railings are low, so you can sit and see the sidewalk. And so passersby can see you. Stop and chat? Has to happen. Watch unsupervised kids at play? You are the neighborhood cop. “Pocket Neighborhoods” has a rich history, and Chapin gives the guided tour. Almshouses in the Netherlands. A Methodists Camp Community on Martha’s Vineyard. Southern California Cottage Courtyards. New Urban communities. Co-housing. Interesting stuff. If you are single and not a collector, this is a book for you. If you’re young marrieds and don’t want a McMansion, this is for you. A small family, maybe. Boomers with grown children, for sure. Seniors, definitely. Bill Gates, whose current home fills 60,000 square feet? I think not.

citizenM: A Hotel For The Global Citizen Where the Traditional Hospitality Model Is tweaked, just enough

citizenM, the recently opened ( to rave reviews)  hotel, has changed  Times Square forever. Its vibe is part Northern European and part Northern California. Yes, it’s that hip and high tech; comfortable and high touch. Literally. From the moment you check in; operative word, YOU– meaning, you check yourself in. It’s easy: simply insert your credit card into their system, out pops your room key card. This all takes place around a kiosk with pretty spectacular lighting overhead, lots of color, and an energy that is, just, different. No worries, there are plenty of citizenM employees eager to assist if you’re feeling too weary from traveling to focus on technology.

The staff call themselves “citizens” too, (citizen Alex, for example, helped me) and they are the nicest, most helpful, and friendliest group of hotel folks I’ve encountered in New York City in a long time. The  European based company has brought something special to NYC, and I for one, applaud them. Soon, they’ll open their second outpost in the Bowery, and I can’t wait to stay there.

The brand was born in Amsterdam, and now has  hotels in  London, Glasgow, Paris and Rotterdam. This is the first in the USA.

How can you not love a hotel that declares: “Our rooms bring you free wifi, and free movies, so you’ll, feel, well, freer.”  Yes that’s the idea.

I  found other things to love, too: The (fast) elevator, with its fun to look at mural -a black and white photo of faces at the beach.

I loved my room, which I thought of  as my “capsule.” And that’s a good thing. To me it meant, yes, small, but playful, fun. It was a long narrow space with the width of the room measuring  the length of a king size bed, which is placed against a large window at the end of the room. LOVE THAT VIEW of skyscrapers as I gaze from my wide window. No burdensome codes to enter into your laptop, just operate everything in your room- and I mean everything- from raising the blinds, to raising the temperature, turning on the lights and TV, all with one simple tablet that sits by your bedside.

The cool, modern design of the lobby offers an abundance of visual candy for the visitor to take in. While the rooms are simple, pared down and all you need is there.

Ah, the bed, everyone loves the bed! It’s fantastically comfy with crisp white sheets.

I loved the rain shower in the sleek, smoked glass shower, which is like a cylindrical chamber. It’s addictive.

I loved the warm buttery croissants in the “canteen” (the citizenM restaurant)  found every morning, with giant bowls of yogurt and fresh fruit.

I loved the cool baristas who graciously made me beautiful foamy cappuccinos.

I loved that I could go downstairs for dinner, help myself to the buffet style spread that was available in the canteen. The informality of it, the long communal tables, where all of us tired souls sat, each doing whatever we wanted. It did, indeed, feel freer.

For those who live in NYC, I  recommend a ‘staycation’ at citizenM. On the next hot sticky, too humid, weekend,  when your own apartment is just too uncomfortable; book a room, head over to the hotel, plant yourself on that fabulous bed, after you’ve chilled down in that rain shower. Then, in one touch on your tablet, watch movies and crank up the AC.


ASIA WEEK NEW YORK- A cultural voyage both ancient and modern, through art in many mediums

Asia Week New York is an otherworldly journey into the past. It’s also a reminder of what can happen when artists take elements of design that are both ancient and modern and merge them.  I’m thinking of the beautiful ceramic work I saw at the Joan B. Mirviss Ltd. where the shapes of the vessels on view felt primitive and modern in equal measure.

This week an unprecedented 47 dealers are presenting museum-quality exhibitions through March 22.This is the sixth year of an event that is a collaboration of top-tier Asian art specialists, major auction houses, and world-renowned museums and Asian cultural institutions in the metropolitan New York area.  Asian art collectors from around the world attend, as well as important gallery owners  who come from afar to show during this most special week.

Most of the action takes place on the Upper East Side, and I must confess to have had my eyes opened. I’ve probably walked by the Kapoor Galleries at Madison Ave.  at 78th street,  hundreds of times. Never paying attention as I race about getting to business appointments. This time visiting the space, viewing the work, and meeting the Kapoor family there, I felt, (seriously!)  a sense of enlightenment. In many senses of the word: Both from viewing the display of extraordinary Indian miniature paintings, and what I learned from a brief, but fascinating conversation with the patriarch of the family, from Ramesh Kapoor,  one of the foremost authorities on the subject.

Here are a few favorites, and galleries I strongly urge you not to miss.

1. Gagosian ( 980 Madison Avenue @77th st.  212 744 2313) see the exhibition curated by Gisèle Croës -Matter and Memory -a spectacular collection of ancient Chinese art works. I got to meet this special woman as she was finishing the lighting on the exhibition. Every detail matters to her. She came here from Brussels where her eponymous gallery, set in a 19th century townhouse, is world renown for selling one of a kind antiquities.  The gallery has been in business for more than 30 years.  Croës eye is as astute as she is articulate. When asked how she finds such rare pieces; her response: “Oh, that takes love.” It shows.

Another piece on view is a large bronze horse from the Eastern Han period. I’m told that very few bronze horses of such a scale and quality are on display these days in museums or private collections. Also of note are the archaic bronzes. The vessels played an essential role in ceremonies connecting the living and the dead and were a symbol of dynastic power. The exhibition also includes some fine examples of earthenware sculpture dating  from the Han and the Tang dynasties.

2. Kapoor Galleries Inc. (1015  Madison ave. @78th street 212-794-2300). Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor founded this jewel of a gallery in 1975, where they have been specializing in museum quality works of art from India, Nepal & Tibet. For Asia Week the gallery is showing a group of Indian miniature paintings, from various schools of work. Many date back to the 17th century. The pigments were then stone ground, and the paintings have retained  their vivid palette:  brilliant hues of ochre, yellow, brown, and green.

Also on display is a rare bronze sculpture that Mr. Kapoor told me had most likely originally been commissioned as a death memorial, this one probably belonged to a very influential figure. This extremely fine piece is seated in a meditative posture on a double-lotus base featuring two birds.

3. Joan B. Mirviss Ltd. 39 East 78th street, 4th floor. The exhibition is entitled Japan in Black and white: Ink and Clay. Most of the  work is ceramics that have been made by contemporary artists of the 20th century. Kuriki Tatsusuke’s  Female-inspired standing white vessel with black diamond design could have been created yesterday, yet it dates from the early 1950s. Yet, hanging nearby is the oldest work in the gallery: A ink on paper scroll, dating from 1750. The two art works  have a subtle connection, but one must look with care.


Large bronze horse  Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Gisele Croes. photo Studio Roger Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen
Gilt bronze and enamel cloisonné vase, Gu, 18th century. Gisele Croes. photo Studio Roger Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen
White-glazed pottery jar and cover, Tang dynasty (618-907) – circa 9th century. Gisele Croes. photo Studio Roger Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen

Monumental archaic bronze vessel with cover, Ding, 770-481 BC.  Gisele Croes. photo Studio Roger Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen

Ladies in Bath Basohli School, Circa 1740. Kapoor Galleries Inc.

Portrait of a Noble man, Deccan, circa 17th Century. Kapoor Galleries Inc.

Kunzang Akor, Tibet, 14th Century. Gilt Bronze. Kapoor Galleries Inc.

Yagi Kazuo, Female-inspired standing white vessel with black diamond design  Goddess Tower, ca. 1945-55 Glazed stoneware Joan B Mirviss.
Kuriki Tatsuske, Ovoid vessel with black and silver glazes, with geometric ‘woven’ pattern, 1988.  Glazed stoneware. Joan b.Mirviss
Hakuin Ekaku, Tosô Tenjin, Late 1750s  Hanging scroll, Ink on paper. Joan B, Mirviss





To Stay Warm: Dream of sunny Greece, where myths were born- The Peleponnese

Snow. More snow. The frigid temps of last week remain a brutal memory. It’s February. Everyone I know is planning trips to warm places. I’m just back from Palm Springs and L.A, so I’m stuck here.

My survival method: I’m dreaming of the Peleponnese.

In this complex and gorgeous region, now classic myths tell us of past dynamics of daily life, where ancient gods and goddesses once ruled. It’s a region I call the “Tuscany of Greece” (and roughly the same size) — without the traffic or the tourism.

The Peleponnese is far more geographically diverse than Tuscany’s rolling hills. This ever-changing landscape of verdant mountains, olive trees and stone walls, where, literally, thousands of acres of olive groves, meadows waterfalls, vineyards, ancient ruins, caves, and spectacular beaches can all be experienced.

There are charming accommodations in centuries-old structures, redone with chic, modern interiors, that show the harmonious marriage of ancient and modern styles  in  interior design, and how interesting  it can be.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

A visit to the Peleponnese is a truly Greek experience, where history and archaeological ruins, swimming in stunning blue water, eating delicious food (that’s incredibly affordable) wineries, and unpretentious locals, all co-exist. And yes, for most of the year – the weather is perfect. I’ve meandered narrow roads traversing switch-backs as I swooned over jaw dropping scenery in every direction. I’ve driven the coastal roads and seen the crystal clear waters of both the Aegean and Ionian seas. I’ve seen cows and goats walk beside my car, and witnessed sunsets over olive trees stretched over the landscape as far as I could see.

Stay-Eat-See: 10 of my favorites

1. Costa Navarino, on the Ionian Sea, is a sustainable resort, set amidst ancient olive trees that have been saved in what is the largest reforestation project in Europe. Before arrival arrange a spa treatment at the resort’s Anazoe Spa. Treatment methods date back to Homeric times using olive oil and aromatherapy. The Messinian Salt & Honey Scrub or the deluxe Healing Massage Remedy by Hippocrates.

2. Gialova- The nearby small fishing village of Gialova offers a number of charming fish restaurants along the bay; one of the best is Koxili. As is always the case in Greece, the sunset and views are fantastic.

3.  Ancient Messini– the ruins here are a mere twenty-minutes from the village of Kalamata; considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. What remains of the 4th century B.C. city is extraordinary. A classically shaped stadium, theater, temples and a cemetery. At the Arkadia Gate, see a round stone courtyard with an inner gate and gigantic monolithic lintel, now half fallen. A small museum at the top of the village displays artifacts collected here during excavations.

4. Limeni is a tiny gem of a town, where sparkling blue water is never more than a few steps away. Pirgos Mavromichali is the place to stay. Trust me. The landscape and the sea here feel untouched by time. The 27-room hotel is built in an old stone tower, literally at the waters edge. Passing through the original wooden doors, expansive courtyards lead to multiple terraces and the sea. The tower has been redone into a boutique hotel that is both architecturally interesting and comfortable.

5. Walk next door to Taverna Takis. In this dreamy setting on the patio over the sea order grilled fish that has been caught that day, right below where you’re sitting.

6. Diros Caves. The world-renowned Glyphada Cave is eye opening, especially if you’ve never seen stalactites and stalagmites up close. The 40-minute boat ride on the underground lake enables visitors to view these natural mineral growths of vast size and shape.

7. Kyrimai Hotel, in Geromilinas, another sleepy village with a romantic 22-room hotel made from an old warehouse and tower. The Kyrimai features traditional Maniot architecture, and has been thoughtfully restored. Each guest room is distinctive, all feature natural Coco-mat beds. And the hotel has a gourmet restaurant with an award-winning chef. Greek and Mediterranean flavors emerge from the kitchen. Lanterns line the dining terrace; dine to the sound of waves rolling against the sea wall.

8. Githio a small city with a fantastically massive harbor — it seems wider than the city itself. Githio is built upon a hill, amphitheatre style. I opted to stay just outside the town, so I’d have the beach right at my doorstep at Antico Castello, a new hotel built to look like a series of old stone towers on Mavrouni Beach. I love it for it’s proximity to Githio, a mere 5 minute drive. Olive trees line the path to the sea. There is a swimming pool, outdoor bar and beach umbrellas. And amazing breakfasts, served poolside, with local honey and homemade yogurt. I walked along Githio Harbor and opted for Saga restaurant, where the catch of the day was brought to my table. I ordered it grilled with an oversized Greek salad of brilliant red tomatoes and local feta cheese.

9. Stay at the Kinsterna Hotel & Spa truly a gem of the region. Set on a lush hillside with fabulous views of the Medieval Castle’s Rock of Monemvasia and the endless blue of the Aegean, the  superbly restored Byzantine-era rural estate is surrounded by vineyards olive and citrus groves of Monemvasia, all irrigated by the ancient cistern located in the center of the building. This is a 5-star hotel, which maintains its authentic architectural details of  Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian and modern-Greek styles.

10. The Temple of Nemean Zeus On the drive back to Athens, pass through Sparta and Tripoli, but Nemea is your destination. Do not miss the spectacular excavated site of the Temple of Nemean Zeus, with its grand columns that stand adjacent to lush vineyards. According to legend, winemaking has taken place here since Homer’s time.



1 Olive trees as far as the eye can see

2 Costa Navarino and olive trees

3 Remains of the old stadium at Ancient Messini

4The original stone walls at Pirgos Mavromichali

5 Emerging from Diros Caves, this is what one sees

6 Githio Harbor

7&8 Antico Castello and Mavrouni Beach

8 Vineyards in Nemea

10 Temple of Nemean Zeus next to the vineyards

11 the pool at Kinsterna Hotel, amazing views

12 Old stone wall at the sea in ancient Monemvasia


Incomparable Italian architect Carlo Scarpa – work in glass – on view at the Metropolitan Museum

I’ve never asked a guest blogger to sit in here. This is no mere guest: This post was written by the esteemed writer Jesse Kornbuth, for his own website, Head Butler. I’ve followed his writing for years. I’ve learned about music, books, art, people, and hundreds of things I never knew I cared about; all from his cultural concierge site posts that are sent out four times each week. Kornbluth admitted he was new to discovering Carlo Scarpa, and  his post here is  filled with passion and insight.

By Jesse Kornbluth, re posted from

One of the perks of editing this site is what I think of as milk-and-cookies — brief e-mail exchanges with readers. Last week I found myself trading lists of favorite pictures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with  Donna Paul, who runs Designer Previews. It was a pleasant conversation — neither of us serving aces or rushing the net, just an easy, steady volley — until she mentioned the Carlo Scarpa exhibit.

I had no idea who she meant.

This is not uncommon. Brighter people than me don’t know about the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978). With good reason. Name a celebrated contemporary architect and you immediately think of his/her signature style. Scarpa’s work is harder to classify — he had no tricks he trotted out for every project. And you can’t name another architect who was also a gifted designer of blown glass.

Because the Met exhibit is a wonder — and because it closes on March 2 — let’s start there. Early in his career, Scarpa was affiliated with a glassblower in Murano. Not for him an expected Venetian prettiness; he explored all manner of textures and colors. (The New York Times slideshow will give you a sense of his range.)

The Times review of the glass exhibit was a rave — “If you are open to it, this exhibition can radically reshape your ideas about form, beauty, originality and art for art’s sake” — so I set out to educate myself about Scarpa. Happily, there is a new book, rich in images, that presents a kind of biography by profiling 15 of his most important projects. For esthetes, it’s the answer to an extra-point question; for architects, I suspect it’s required reading. [To buy “Carlo Scarpa” from Amazon, click here.]

If there’s one idea that threads through Scarpa’s career, it’s the importance of looking hard. That began early for him; when he was two years old, his family moved to Vincenza, home of 21 buildings designed by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. He played in those buildings and felt their power and authority; later, he respected those traditional, classical exteriors and reserved modernism for interiors.

Scarpa was a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, and he shared Wright’s interest in beams and joints, in different materials presented in juxtaposition. In 1951, Wright visited Venice. Many wanted to be his tour guide. Wright had no use for them. “Which one of you is Scarpa?” he demanded.

“I’d rather build museums than skyscrapers,” Scarpa said, and, in a sense, that’s all he did. In 1956, he was commissioned to design the Olivetti showroom in the most visible location in Venice, the Piazza San Marco.  Best just to look at it:

[vid site=”youtube” id=”F_7F_QheZhQ” w=”560″ h=”315″]

The next year he began a 20-year project, the renovation of the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona. Scarpa knew the city well, and he drew on all the materials and surfaces that enriched its buildings.  He created joints and slots that suggest medieval moats; the art is displayed so lovingly it holds the eye. Not a great video, but you’ll get the idea:

[vid site=”youtube” id=”TEEOHixtLVs” w=”420″ h=”315″]

Scarpa’s masterpiece was the Brion Cemetary in a small town near Treviso. Here he draws on all the elements of his work: water, stone, reverence for history, a carefully expressed modernism.  His philosophy of burial grounds is touching: “The place for the dead is a garden. I wanted to show some ways in which you could approach death in a social and civic way; and further what meaning there was in death, in the ephemerality of life other than these shoe-boxes.”

[vid site=”youtube” id=”J2rYE1LD4OE” w=”560″ h=”315″]

Scarpa does something here I’ve never seen elsewhere. In the open-air family tomb, he tilts the tombs of the husband and wife so they lean toward one another — in death they are as they were in life.

On a trip to Japan, Scarpa fell from a roof — it’s said he was leaning over the edge to get a better view — and died. He’s buried in an obscure corner of the Brion Cemetery. And he’s buried standing up, wrapped in linen. Original to the end, and forever after.

[re-posted from]


Images, top to bottom:

Cover of book on Scarpa, Available at link above

a vase by Scarpa

The Olivetti showroom in Venice, still open to the public.

A pair of Scarpa lanterns sold at auction.

A blown vase by Scarpa shown at auction.

Beauty is on my mind: Roberto Capucci gives us a lot to look at. Happy Holidays.

Roberto Capucci is one of the most important fashion designers of our time. His work has always been groundbreaking: It is architectural, a study in shape and form, color and texture, sculptural and sensual, and always about astonishing beauty.

Capucci’s artistic nature is deep.That is palpable when in his presence and in seeing his creations. His shows now are not ‘fashion’ shows in the traditional sense, but exhibitions in ancient palaces and centuries-old cathedrals. Fitting places for such a regal master.

I met Capucci several years ago, on a warm February day in Rome. I was there writing a story on him for As they always do, 1stdibs recognized what a design innovator he was in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, & 80s, and, that he was a bold hero who had been unafraid to pushed boundaries. I’m still proud of this story:

I remember how humble, and soft-spoken he was during our meeting. He appeared in the room where we were meeting, dressed elegantly in Indian/Asian inspired attire. He revealed that he had been drawing while waiting for me. In fact, he said that he drew every day for several hours. I asked him if he would show me what he had been working on. Here,is a photo of him displaying his work. The drawings were interesting, but I had already been to the Fondazione Roberto Capucci, in Florence, and had seen some of his early fashion drawings there that were breathtaking.

The photos I took at his atelier are seen here. It felt special; a private inner sanctum. There were framed black and white photos of famous women he had designed clothing for. Magnificent dresses were draped on mannequins that had stood effortlessly over time. I remember Capucci walking me into the back work room, where he showed me dresses sewn and designed decades earlier. A year and a half later they were all on display at The Philadelphia Museum. For that exhibition Capucci finally received accolades in the USA, so many years after his work had first been shown here, in fashion shows, and at Neiman Marcus!

For the really amazing photos you’ll need to click on the 18-page story. The layouts and clothing seen there are fresh and modern and staggeringly beautiful.

So today, before Christmas, as we move into the new year, I want to think about the beauty that Capucci created. How grateful I am for others, like Capucci, who inspire me so profoundly.

My hat is tipped toward Rome, where Capucci still lives.

I bet he’s still drawing every day.

A communal table (not at a restaurant) at a hair salon: Head to meat packing to O&M, look for the wooden door.

Here at Designer Previews we’re always on the hunt for the unexpected. Our latest discovery is the six-month-old O&M Salon on the far West side of Manhattan, three flights up, in an old brick industrial building, known to those in the know, as ‘the Brass Monkey” building. That’s because the bar of the same name, on the ground floor has been there for years. It’s fitting that this still ‘edgy’ section of the meat-packing district, in the shadow of the Standard Hotel, where sexy rooms can be had for $500 a night, is where this Australian based firm has chosen to set up shop: O&M is different; in the best possible way.

Let’s start with its look. Finally a reprieve from the overly lit, noisy places that feel like a disco. Sure, they have a few standard issue hair styling chairs in front of the mirror; but the real action takes place at a long wooden communal table, set near a wall of old windows, where natural light spills across the aged plank floors. (How could I have ever gone to salons with FAKE LIGHTING? ) Around this table is where the team of O&M stylists work. While they’re doing their thing on my head, I scroll on my Ipad, thanks to their free WiFi. Or I read from the great stack of hip mags piled on the table’s center. There are cool games and black and white movies projected onto the wall.  They’ve even offered to fetch lunch for me.

The O&M (Original Mineral) brand launched in Australia about 10-years ago, and has a kind of cult following there. Even with the 450-salons there that use the product, it’s still somehow keeps its edgy following. Devotees are musicians, artists, models, all kinds of clients who want the next best thing in hair color technology and a relaxed setting too.

O&M is celebrated for their transparent approach in both their product ingredients and the physical environment. At this salon there is no “back room” where stylists slink off to, returning with a toxic bowl of ‘color’ in hand. They believe all color should be mixed in front of customers. And, take note: there are no bad smells. These are ammonia free hair products, and the goal in all  product development has been to eliminate dangerous dyes and lethal chemicals. “We’ve  gotten rid of PPD hair dye and other “old school” ingredients that are carcinogenic dying agents,”  explains Janelle Chaplin, global creative director  for the company, and a partner in the NYC  salon, adding, “Just because we work in the fashion industry doesn’t mean we have to use products that kill us. We believe in CCT– clean color technology. We’re always looking for a smarter choice.” 

The intention is to bridge the gap between natural and luxury, without having to look  or act  ‘green.’ Thus the relaxed environment which doesn’t evoke a health food store, as much as it does a living room loft, or a cool club. Even Julian Casablancas, lead singer of the band, The Strokes, (a client) like the chill vibe.

I agree: this gang is fun and easy. Let’s start with Jesse the front of the house guy who sweetly puts up with too many phone calls from me regarding my (often) late arrival. If you’re lucky you’ll be bestowed with a complimentary hand massage by the beauteous Stephanie Clark. William is my hair dude though. He does my color and he’s awesome. And his outfits are fun. Last time I was there he wore a sheer black shirt with cut off jeans and combat boots and looked like he’d just arrived from Seattle where, of course, he hails from!  I’ve also had color done by Joseph Mullen, O&M’s  technical director and color guru of the salon. He’s another kind of wizard with color. Don’t ask too many questions: He’s the quiet type.

Just go and trust.

Original Mineral
55 Little W 12 St
NY, NY 10014

(212) 255-2445

Barbra Streisand, the play ‘Buyer and Cellar,’ linked by an insightful blog post

When Barbra Streisand’s 2010 design book, My Passion for Design was published, I was among those who rolled their eyes and thought, “Oh now she’s an expert in this field too.”  Thankfully, playwright, Jonathan Tolins had another — more thoughtful – and humorous interpretation. His play, Buyer and Cellar, showing at the Barrow Street Theater, is a brilliantly written, beautifully acted, one-man-show, that shouldn’t be missed.

Michael Urie, its star is indescribably mesmerizing; effectively using humor and introspection to examine the power objects have over us, and the relationship loneliness  plays in our need to possess.

I read a great story about this very subject some time before the play had opened. Well-known architecture and design writer, Fred Bernstein, wrote this over a year ago on his eponymous. It’s a great read in preparing for seeing the play. Bernstein is a consummate creature of curiosity and after reading the Streisand book, he visited her Malibu home.

Read below, then buy a ticket to the play. I promise that both are ideal ways to escape the holiday madness that surrounds us.

A Doll House in a Doll House           Published in

November 13, 2012

Barbra Streisand’s “barn” in Malibu


No one argues about the size of Barbra Streisand’s talent. It’s what she does with the talent — the schmaltzy arrangements, the self-regarding films — that make her controversial.

When it comes to home design – Streisand’s latest obsession – the pattern is the same: The talent is enormous; it’s how she chose to use that talent that will raise eyebrows and lower a few jaws.

In Malibu, Streisand has just completed an 11,000-square-foot “barn.” The building overlooks a mill house, complete with an artificial river to keep its fake water wheel turning.

Inside the barn are dozens of period rooms. One enormous suite is Georgian, meaning Wedgewood-blue walls and a portrait of George Washington over the fireplace. The library, at the other end of the building, is all Arts & Crafts — much of it adapted from the Pasadena masters Greene & Greene. Other rooms are Victorian or art nouveau, down to the smallest detail (including a tulip-shaped toilet). Vestibules separate the suites, making the transitions from one period to another less abrupt.

The barn is ready to be used, despite the fact that “main house” that Streisand shares with her husband, James Brolin, is just 100 feet away. There are frilly pink robes in Ms. Streisand’s closet and a flight simulator in Mr. Brolin’s home office. There’s a Stickley style fax room and a Sub-Zero refrigerator carefully disguised as an icebox.

But much of the building is really a private museum. The actual closets pale next to the “display closet” — an art nouveau-style showcase for some of Ms. Streisand most famous outfits, including dresses from Funny Girl and the gown in which she married Mr. Brolin in 1998.

The closet is disguised as a clothing shop; it is one of half a dozen fake stores lining a cobblestone street in the building’s basement. Antiques Ms. Streisand couldn’t bear to part with — but which she didn’t have another place for — are in a private antiques store. Her doll collection – all white lace and pink ribbons and bows – is displayed in a doll shop (where one can marvel at the concept of a doll house in a doll house). A catering kitchen is presented – though not convincingly — as a root cellar. (One large piece of crockery is labeled “buttah.”)

The project arose out of pent-up creative energy. Choosing not to make the movie the Normal Heart — based on Larry Kramer’s play about the early days of the AIDS crisis, to which she owned the rights — Streisand turned to a project, that she said, was ultimately more difficult than movie-making.

For years, she says in a new book about the house, “I was hoarse from screaming over power tools.” (That’s what the voice has been up to?)

She and Brolin already occupied the main house, on an oceanfront lot, as well as the smaller house next door, a ranch that she had turned into a kind of guest house/office. She gave that building a frilly decor that led Mr. Brolin to dub it “grandma’s house.”

But it was on a third lot, beyond grandma’s house and her elaborate rose garden, that Streisand decided to build the ultimate retort to her deprived childhood (when, she has said, her only “doll” was a hot water bottle). She avoided art deco — a style she had employed in several previous homes (in 1999, she sold much of her deco stockpile at auction) and threw herself into studying the work of Greene & Greene (particularly their Thorsen house in Berkeley) and Hector Guimard, designer of Paris’s art nouveau subway entrances.

Architects were little help, she said; she fired several when they didn’t understand her vision. And contractors rarely lived up to her expectations. (One of them, she said, told her, “Can’t you just give us the plans and leave?”) Others, she complained, padded their bills because she’s rich.

One assistant who stayed with her was Bernadette Stewart, who had just graduated from interior design school, and was working as a waitress, when she spotted an ad on Craigslist: “Assistant needed for 11,000-square-foot house in Malibu.” She almost didn’t apply – Malibu is a long drive from Long Beach, where she lives – but when she did, Stewart found herself in a creative maelstrom. One coup was finding an upholsterer who could do a sofa overnight. That allowed Streisand to see immediate results, like a movie director watching dailies.

“She was the designer; I was hired just to manifest her vision,” said Stewart of her boss. Together, they bought and commissioned thousands of items, from the tulip-shaped toilet in the art nouveau bathroom to the carved stone that “dates” the brand-new barn to 1799.

But even paradise has problems. Having spent millions of dollars on the house, Streisand said, “I worry a lot about wildfires in Malibu.” That’s one reason, she said, she decided to document the project in her book, My Passion for Design.

Not surprisingly, she wrote most of the text, took most of the photos herself and narrated a tour of the house, which appears on a “bonus” DVD. Recently, she said, she persuaded the publisher, Viking, to mount the DVD in the book over a photo of the mill house – with the disk doubling as the water wheel. “The disk has to match the book, and it’s a different printing process,” she said, explaining her latest reoccupation. Then she added, of her publisher, “They’re great. They’re not fighting me on the details.”

She phoned me from the South of France, where she was vacationing with Mr. Brolin. “How do you like the house?” was her first question. It was hard to know exactly how to answer.

Streisand’s building mimics Winterthur, the du Pont mansion in Delaware, known for its lavish period rooms. The difference is that Winterthur is open to the public, as is J. Paul Getty’s Malibu mansion, a re-creation of a first-century Roman villa, just down the coast from Streisand’s compound. But her house, on a quiet residential street, is private, and probably always will be.

Then again, it’s in Malibu, where houses far bigger than 11,000 square feet — built by people far less accomplished than Ms. Streisand — are commonplace. And she said she doesn’t care what the public – much less architecture critics – think of the design. “All that matters is the process,” she said. “After that, whatever happens, happens.”

Yet by publishing the book, and promoting it widely, she has shown that she does care.

As for the house’s stylistic anachronisms: Is there any reason art nouveau is any less “valid” than modernism? Why is one considered kitsch, the other cool?

Filled with the kind of decoration modernists hate — mosaics, carved wood, stained glass — the house echoes the debate at the heart of a new book: Architecture and Beauty: Conversations with Architects about a Troubled Relationship, by Yael Reisner. Most “serious” architects, raised on the idea that form should follow function, avoid obvious ornamentation. During a recent panel discussion prompted by Reisner’s book, a number of prominent architects, including Frank Gehry, seemed to view the idea of beauty for its own sake with dismay.

Streisand should have been on the panel, making full-throated defense of beauty — the same case she makes with her house.