Sunday, November 6, 2011

Designer's Color Crush

As a designer, I admit, I become infatuated--obsessed even--with trends, styles, products and colors, and with so many exciting developments in the interior design industry, it’s hard not to have a new decorative fetish almost every day!  In fact, I have a feeling most designers (and slaves of style) know exactly what I’m talking about, and I suspect they too have suffered the occasional color crush. 

So are you ready for the inside scoop on this designer’s latest obsession?  (Drum roll, please.)  My favorite color for this season is…Purple.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I am not talking about Disney Princess Purple.  I’m talking about a hue with a royal past:  a rich, deep, grounded color, like Benjamin Moore’s Incense Stick 2115-20, or a lighter, more ethereal one like Etiquette AF-50 or Paper Mache AF-25.  [And just as an aside, I generally only specify Benjamin Moore paint because I love the company’s low- to no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products and commitment to environmental stewardship.  In fact, Benjamin Moore was named one of the top 35 GREEN companies in the U.S.]  But back to my favorite color (at least for today), the earthy aubergine hue, and I’m not its only admirer.  Benjamin Moore actually named Vintage Wine 2116-20, a dusty plum with a brown undertow, its color of the year for 2011.

For me, purple evokes images of lavender fields in Provence and lily pads in ponds of murky water.  And have you ever noticed how perfectly Mother Nature pairs purple with yellow?  Think orchids and pansies.  And while purple and yellow are complements on the color wheel, you don’t need a course in color theory to come up with splendid color schemes.  Just do what I do when I’m seeking inspiration:  take a walk outside (sans cell phone) and notice the hues nature organically blends together.  You’ll see how seamlessly purples, yellows, greens, browns and white come together in nature. 

In addition to the complementary purple-yellow pairing, another trendy way to approach eggplant is to pair it with warmer colors (like reds and oranges) for a more global, ethnic look.  This tribal trend has been strong in fashion and is now influencing interiors as well.  Purple is a soulful color, so its preeminence in global/ethnic color schemes is natural.  Long associated with royalty, purple still has a magical, whimsical and mysterious quality.  Purple is also highly spiritual, and in yoga is associated with the highest chakra (see also my blog post “Chakras in Interiors”).  Interestingly enough, yellow symbolizes wisdom, and the color is not only an aesthetic match, but a psychological and spiritual one as well.

I guess that’s why purple pacifies me today, in this particular moment.  With so many things changing in my life and with so much instability in the world, I could use a little more soulfulness and--goodness knows--a whole lot of wisdom!  And perhaps, you will find as I have, that it’s nice to come home to a microcosm of playful whimsy and imagination that fosters dreams and possibilities.

But before I go, I’ll leave you with a little literary inspiration, just to show that artists of all types have been inspired by the playful hue.  My favorite, of course, is Warning by Jenny Joseph, which starts with that famous line:  “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”  However, I came across a more recent tribute to my latest crush.  The following quote is from Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and even though she’s talking about a sofa, I believe her sentiments hold true for any to purple product:  “Friday is purple-velvet-sofa-day for some poor woman who’s finally reclaimed her life.  A purple velvet sofa is a gal’s symbol of freedom.”   There you have it.  Purple represents freedom from convention.  Reclaim your freedom today—and put a little purple in your life!   

For Benjamin Moore’s full trend report, check out Envision Color 2011:

Pictured:  Benjamin Moore Grape Green 2027-40, Smoke 2122-40, Kendall Charcoal HC-166, Royal Flush 2076-20

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SOUTHERN ARCHITECTURE: The Swan House in Atlanta (Not an Ugly Duckling)

The back side of the Swan House is visible from the street and perhaps more stunning than the front.

*Please note the following pictures were taken on my cell phone and are technically contraband, considering photography is not allowed inside the Swan House.  In my defense, I didn't use a flash!

Note Corinthian columns and ornate molding

On my recent trip to the Deep South, I had the delight of touring the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center.  Built in 1928 by architect Philip T. Shutze for the Inman family, heirs to a cotton fortune, the home is referred to as a “classical” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  However, it’s really a stunning smattering of many decorative styles, and perhaps "Neoclassic" would be a better descriptor.  The mansion is, to be completely accurate, more Federal in style than anything else.   

The formal dining room with "Japan-ed" console table.
Custom Swan Console Table
The Federal Style was an American style that last lasted from about 1790-1830 and borrowed heavily from the Neoclassic style inspired by Robert Adam, which is actually referred to as “Georgian” in England.  It gets confusing, I know, but you have to remember that ideas and goods did not flow as quickly or freely as they do now, so centuries ago design “movements” tended to be isolated in a particular region or country for a while before they were exported and adopted elsewhere.  That is why it’s common to have similar styles in different areas identified by a different name, usually the monarch of that particular country during that era.  

The Butler's Quarters near Kitchen


Hand-crafted Girandole (even the glass candle holder has custom etched star design to match entryway) 

Classic Hepplewhite Shield-Back Chair
The many Queen Anne and Chippendale furnishings found in the Swan House, both typical of the Early Georgian period, confirm my theory.   The Late-Georgian furniture of Hepplewhite and Sheraton can also be found in the mansion, and interestingly enough both are furniture styles also shared by the subsequent American Federal style, which was of course influenced by the French Empire stylings of the Napoleon era (its contemporary European counterpart).  Are you confused yet?  Perhaps this is why the National Register refers to the Swan House as simply, “classical.”

Mrs. Inman’s Bedroom
Hepplewhite Bench

Mrs. Inman's vanity was painted with stars and curtains.
Suffice to say, the Swan House does exhibit such classical elements as Corinthian columns, Coromandel (a.k.a. lacquer) screens and chests, Chinoiserie (Chinese design), and various motifs such as rosettes, shells (originally Rococo but also seen in Queen Anne furnishings) and egg and dart ornamentation.  

Josephine's Bedroom
Federal-style Convex Mirror
The reason I believe the Federal Style reigns supreme in the Swan House is because of the fowl motif itself.  The swan was actually the symbol of Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine, and was used extensively in her quarters at the Chateau de Malmaison.  In addition to swans, another ornamental motif indicative of the Federal Style is the (American) eagle, found frequently atop many of the furnishings and architectural elements in the Swan House mansion.

The Morning Room (or "The Green Room")

The Boxwood Garden

FEDERAL STYLE (1790-1830)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is "LA vs. WAR"?

Coming Sept. 9-11, 2011 to Downtown Los Angeles
Live Art at LA Beatdown @ the Music Box
Aug.5 promoting LA vs. War
A couple weekends ago, I was at the Music Box in Hollywood, and as my friend and I walked toward the venue, we noticed something exciting happening on the rooftop.  From below we could see colorful lights and interesting backdrops, and the mixed sounds of music and voices piqued our curiosity and beckoned us upward.  As it turns out, it was a live "street art" exhibit promoting the upcoming LA vs. War project happening September 9th-11th in downtown Los Angeles.  However, when we asked what "LA vs. War" was exactly, we received a less than stellar response, so I decided to do some research for myself and here's what I uncovered.

LA vs War: Art for Peace in the Hope Era is a fine art project created by John Carr, and this year, it will memorialize the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The show originated in Los Angeles in April 2008 as the Yo! Peace poster show, which lasted four days and hosted 6,000 attendees. John Carr, a peace-loving Los Angeles-based graphic and printmaking artist, curated the original show which is now a touring anti-war poster exhibition entitled "Yo! What Happened to Peace?"

This was done by an artist
named "Andy" at the
Music Box exhibit...
Interestingly enough, a few weeks
earlier I had photographed
and posted work I found in
downtown by the same artist!
This year's LA vs. War show will be held at the Vortex in downtown and will present prolific pro-peace/anti-war political artists in a multi-media exhibition chronicling creative responses to current military conflicts around the world, including drug wars and the War on Terror.

LA vs. War is defined as "part exhibition, part experience" and will showcase fine art, prints and posters, as well as interactive art demonstrations, workshops and "teach-ins." Exhibit-goers will have the opportunity to engage their own creative energy through activities like graffiti art, screen-printing and stenciling. You can even bring your own articles of clothing to print and customize. (This is a dream come true for someone like me who is always dying to reach out and touch the brushstrokes on canvas or the texture of a sculpture at a museum, but inevitably gets reprimanded by the curator for getting too close to the artwork!)
After the September 2011 show in Los Angeles, the exhibition will travel as "Vs. WAR" to other cities in the U.S. and abroad in the spirit of peace and creative collaboration.  For more information:

Making an artistic fashion statement

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Local Art Deco Treasure Trove

Last week, on my way to Yoga class with a friend, I stumbled upon an absolute architectural gem in the heart of old town Pasadena.   Heading into the basement of a multi-story building on Colorado Boulevard, we first noticed the beautiful, ornately-carved, oversized solid wood doors of the ladies powder room.   As we made our way to class, I noticed a placard with the building’s name, which read:  “The Fish Building, 26 E. Colorado Blvd.”  We were 20 minutes early to class, so I chatted up the staff commenting on the lovely Art Nouveau style of the building.  “Take them up in the elevator,” our yoga teacher instructed the receptionist at the front desk.  My ears perked up immediately and my heart almost skipped a beat.   What’s in the elevator?  I wondered with anticipation.  I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

The receptionist grabbed the key to the elevator and informed us only residents of the building were allowed in.  As the three of us stepped into the elevator, I almost fainted with elation.  I had never been so close to original, hand-crafted, Art Deco/Art Nouveau architectural details before.  The mirrored walls of the elevator were framed by light-colored, swirling organic solid wood shapes, similar to those in the Ladies Room, and there was a parquet inlay in the floor.  No detail was overlooked, as this is one of the foremost characteristics of the period.

Now, I use Art Deco and Art Nouveau interchangeably when describing this building because the details reflect influences of both movements.  The organic shapes are from the earlier period, Art Nouveau, while the geometric shapes, chevrons and color schemes are from the latter Art Deco.  The Fish Building in Pasadena was completed in 1929 and therefore falls squarely into the Art Deco period, however, the Art Nouveau details in the building are unmistakable. 

It’s important to remember the ethos of these aesthetic movements and their relationship to the social and artistic climate at the time.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Art Nouveau movement was a reaction against the preceding and rather stuffy Victorian era.  Art Nouveau cultivated a close relationship with the fine arts, incorporating hand-painting and sculpture into the architecture and interior design.  Nature was the dominant theme, and therefore curvilinear forms reigned supreme. 

Fast forward a few decades to 1925, when the World’s Fair in Paris, L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne, first introduced the style that would forever be referred to as “Art Deco” for short (an abbreviated version of the preceding French name).  While earlier movements, like Arts and Crafts, focused on function and minimal ornamentation, Art Deco, a primarily fashion-oriented style, was all about the fluff.  This style mirrored the social progress and art movements of the day.  The largely geometric, rectilinear shapes drew upon cubism and African tribal art, while the zigzags and chevrons were designed to represent electricity and radio waves.  The goal within this movement was to find a “new style” in every detail, and even the stepped forms in furniture and light fixtures suggested the architectural silhouette of skyscrapers that stretched across a metropolitan skyline. 

All that being said, from the pictures below, it’s easy to distinguish Nouveau from Deco.  The organic woodwork in the elevator and powder room, as well as the intricate stained glass, are strongly influenced by Art Nouveau (Louis Comfort Tiffany was one of the fathers of this movement in the United States).  The geometric shapes, chevrons, and bold colors seen elsewhere in the Fish Building are classic Art Deco design elements.  Both periods exude a bold, eclectic and unique style that is an unabashed departure from preceding periods.  So if you ever have the chance to look up-close at original Art Deco/Nouveau architecture and design, never pass up the opportunity--and the next time you find yourself in Pasadena, take a walk down Colorado Boulevard and look for The Fish Building.  I can guarantee you’ll be in for a visual treat, and you just may be inspired, as I was, to add a little glitter from the Golden Age to your d├ęcor as well. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell: Nature vs. Nurture Revisited

It’s rare to find a read so enthralling you simply can’t put it down, but I absolutely could not get enough of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and I have a stout, but cheery, fellow at the gym to thank for it. Spinning away on the stationary bike next to me, he kindly recommended the book when he spotted me perusing SuperFreakonomics (sequel to the freakishly clever and lay-person friendly behavioral economics piece by Levitt and Dubner). “If you like that, you’ll love this,” was basically my cycling companion’s literary pitch. A captive audience of one (did I mentioned the bikes were stationary?), I listened politely and all but forgot about the book until I came across the title in my local library, and I’m so glad I did. Simply stated, Outliers is a book that changed my outlook, and I would venture to say, if you read it, it will change yours as well.

Outliers answers questions we might never think to ask (or for that matter, seriously investigate) in ways most traditional disciplines would never think to explore. It goes beyond trite, single-minded research and opens up a new interdisciplinary paradigm that explains conventional stereotypes, honors common sense and defies conventional wisdom. And even though Gladwell’s book is essentially a dressed-up version of the quintessential nature vs. nurture question, the author offers a much more intriguing and complex interpretation. His perspective does for the time-old debate, what Coco Channel did for the basic black frock: takes it from boring to bewitching.

Gladwell’s premise is simple: Where you come from matters. How intelligent you are matters. When you were born and where you were born matters. What your parents did for a living matters. BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU THINK IT DOES. Gladwell doesn’t settle for the silver spoon explanation to success. Yes, in some cases, a wealthy, well-connected family meant additional opportunities (a.k.a. “luck”), or what psychologists refer to as life chances, but in other case studies, the exact opposite was true. Sometimes it was the underdog, the immigrant, the outcaste, that was dealt a cosmic advantage.

And what is that advantage, you might ask? Gladwell says it is a combination of factors, but three thematic beacons shine through the author’s work; they are opportunity, a minimum threshold, and meaningful work, and he uses these beacons to explain the following “mysteries.” First, however, let’s take a look at the three major themes. 


One advantage many of Gladwell’s subjects had in common was opportunity.  Not just any opportunity, but an early opportunity to work hard in an area that was highly valued by society (i.e. in high demand but with a low supply of expertise) at that particular moment in time.  (He sites the fact that Bill Gates began programming at age 13 and was one of the few people in the U.S. to have access to a computer in which he could program in real time.)  A byproduct of the opportunity to work hard at an early age (whether you are a computer geek, a rock star or a professional hockey player) is of course lots and lots of practice, which in turn results in more opportunities, which leads to more practice and even greater expertise.  According to Gladwell and others, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.  In most cases, racking up those hours early (just before just the right time in social history) results in compounding gains and monumental success (see also Bill Gates).


This is where brains come in.  Yes, it is important to be intelligent, but you don’t have to be the sharpest tool in the shed.  Gladwell explores what he calls “The Threshold Theory,” in which he proffers a person need not be the smartest to succeed, they just have to be “smart enough.”  According to research Gladwell sites in the book, once someone has reached an IQ of about 120, additional IQ points don’t seem to translate into any measureable real-world advantage.  Gladwell says you are just as likely to win a Nobel Prize with an I.Q. of 130 (ah, yes, there’s still hope) than with an I.Q. of 180.

And it’s not just book-smarts that matter.  Social intelligence, charm, wit and other “nurtured” behaviors matter too.  Take for instance, Christopher Langan, the smartest man in America and also the “control” in Gladwell’s social experiment.  With an I.Q. higher than Einstein’s, he is an outlier by nature, but without a single published work, a Ph.D., or even a college education, Langan is a sad casualty of neglected nurture.


Finally, Gladwell explores a less quantifiable factor:  motivation.  All of Gladwell’s subjects were influenced and/or motivated by meaningful work.  (For example, in many cases it was the meaningful work of Jewish immigrant parents and grandparents in the textile industry in New York that, a couple generations later, led to a boom of Jewish doctors and lawyers in the same region.)  The author describes “meaningful work” as having three components:  autonomy, complexity, and a correlation between effort and reward. 

And there you have it.  In Outliers, Gladwell uses some very basic principles (those stated above) to explore the “mysteries” of success and failure.

The Roseto Mystery (why Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania never die from heart disease)

Why more major league hockey players are born in January than any other calendar month

How playing in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany transformed the Beatles from a high school rock band into an international sensation

Why men from southern Appalachia are more aggressive than northern men

Why a plane is less likely to crash when the least experienced pilot is flying

And why Asians really are better at math…

So am I going to reveal to you the answers and sociological and historical factors explaining these mysteries?  Absolutely not!  If you want to know, you’ll have to read the book (or allow me to regale you at the next dinner party).  Either way, Gladwell’s Outliers is a sensational breath of fresh air in American culture, where our “Wild West” legacy still lingers in the prevailing mindset that we are all bootstrapping, self-made men and women.  The brilliance in this book, however, is that the author, a native Canadian, delves deep at both the macro and micro level of cultural heritage and individual upbringing to develop his argument that indeed, nurture (usually resulting from uncanny opportunity) trumps nature every time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Page One: A Documentary on the Demise of The New York Times

It’s strange that a viewer should ever be emotionally moved by the collapse of a major corporation, but indeed I was.  What’s more, I was even moved beyond emotion, to action.  I left the movie theatre wanting to run home immediately to purchase a subscription to The New York Times online and do my part in saving the Pulitzer-Prize-winning behemoth.   To be honest, it wasn’t the personal stories that moved me as much as the institutional ones.  The New York Times, at least in the U.S., is truly the bedrock of the Fourth Estate.  In fact 99% of stories linked to in blogs come from newspapers and broadcast networks, 80% of those coming from four major media outlets:  The BBC, CNN, The Washington Post,  and of course, The New York Times. 

Though a newspaper that’s been around since 1851 may seem stodgy, rigidly immobile and out of pace with contemporary culture and a digital lifestyle, Page One corrected that misconception, demonstrating a willing adaptability, flexibility, and even a forward-thinking innovative spirit within The Times establishment.  The documentary revealed ways the newspaper is working to capture both readers and advertisers with its online content, and even forming alliances with other online sources, social media networks, bloggers and websites (the most notorious being, of course, WikiLeaks).

In fact, no one captures this “new face” of The New York Times better than David Carr, journalist and former drug addict/dealer.  As a spokesperson for the newspaper (and just like The Times) Carr is everything you wouldn’t expect him to be, especially in the buttoned-up and formal world of old-school journalism, but the documentary reveals this traditional, old guard ideal of the Fourth Estate is changing.  Even behemoths must adapt or risk extinction, and there is no better poster child for the "new" New York Times than David Carr.  (In fact, it’s no doubt his memoir, The Night of the Gun, will see an upsurge in sales as a result of Carr’s quirky cameo in Page One.  Read an awesome excerpt here:  In his baseball cap, hiking boots and best bum-like attire, Carr’s scrappy demeanor really steals the show.  Despite his raspy voice, slouched posture and colorful language, Carr serves as a symbol of triumph and hope, a success story with a happy ending that the viewer inevitably hopes will be true for The New York Times as well.  

If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, I highly recommend it.  If you have and, like me, were moved to make a difference, check out the Take Part website, where you can learn “5 Things You Can Do Now” to support quality journalism: