Take A Seat

In addition to practicing design, I teach it.  Teaching rewards me as well as (hopefully) my students: it enables me to impart an appreciation for design to my students while reinforcing the depth of my knowledge and experience.  That's why it was such a treat to see the winner and runners-up of Wilsonart's Challenges Student Chair Design Competition with the #Designhounds at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) a week ago in New York City.

This is the 12th year that Wilsonart, a leader in engineered surfaces, notably laminate, has sponsored this competition.  The competition challenges students and budding furniture designers to create a unique chair using Wilsonart laminate.  Each year the students' creations are inspired by a different theme, this year's theme being "design for delight."  Wilsonart hosts the competition at a different American design school every year.  The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan -- a private, fully accredited college with a student body of 1,400 students, granting bachelor and masters degrees in the Arts -- was chosen this year.

While "design for delight" might have been the theme of the chairs -- resulting in designs that ranged from whimsical to avant garde -- the engineering feat undertaken by the students to create a functional seat with a somewhat immalleable material was inspiring.  I couldn't help but thinking that it was only 70 years ago that Charles and Ray Eames figured out a way to bend plywood with their LCW chair, an invention that paved the way for the students' creations.

Whimsy was clearly at the heart of runner-up Alejandra Bucco's Pie Chair.  The checkerboard pattern with apple silhouettes was created with laminate!


Runner-up Adam Whittaker's En Throne chair was also an amusing take on the iconic royal seat.


Veering toward the avant garde was the chair created by contest winner, Stephen Marchio.  His Prelude chair enchanted the judges through its use of pastel colors and slanting angles.  Explained Design Historian and Wilsonart Challenges Program Director Grace Jeffers, “The slanting angles of this chair are an optical illusion, which distract us from the fact that the lines of this form are perfect right angles."


I also loved the experimentation with form in the Geode Chair by the second runner-up, Zachary Boomer.  The chair beckoned me to "take a seat."  What the chair lacked in comfort, it made up in imagination.


Contest winner Stephen Marchio set this intention for his winning chair: to reflect “the idea that a maker often looks back on his or her work from years ago and can get the sense of progression.  It projects into the future of a skilled designer’s life while simultaneously honoring all the little steps they took to get there.” . . .  kinda the same experience I get from teaching.  I hope that the students can look back at the experience afforded them by Wilsonart as the springboard for long and successful design careers.  Congratulations finalists.


Disclaimer:  Wilsonart was a co-sponsor of my trip with the Designhounds to the ICFF.  Chair pictures courtesy of Wilsonart.


Potty Talk

Saturday morning, May 14th.  I was on the road by 8:00 am.  I whizzed down the Mass Pike; I-84 and I-91 in Connecticut; the Merritt, Hutchinson River and Henry Hudson Parkways and arrived at Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street, near my daughter's apartment in New York City by 11:30 am.  Two hundred miles in three and a half hours.  I was on a roll.  I figured I'd drive around the block once to see if I could find parking on the street.  I prayed to the NYC parking gods and they answered my prayer.  Just as I turned onto West 16th Street, a car pulled out of a great spot (and I mean GREAT) -- good until Monday morning.  A great way to start the weekend!

So began my trek to New York City for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) with the #Designhounds, a community of design-loving bloggers and interior designers sharing the best of design, fashion, food and travel.  In its 29th year, the ICFF is a multinational tableau of vendors, artisans and craftspeople offering innovative furnishings for the residential and commercial design marketplace.  We roamed all two and a half floors of the ICFF at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center perusing more than 750 exhibitor booths, but also shared some private talks with Luxe Interiors+Design, TOTO USA, Wilsonart and Ittala.  In this post, I want to share some interesting and, dare I say, intimate facts about toilets, courtesy of TOTO USA.  [Disclaimer: TOTO was a sponsor of my Designhounds venture].

As a LEED-certified designer (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), I emphasize conservation and sustainability in my designs.  Did you know that 27% of the water used in one year by an average American family of four is from toilet flushing?  And that's more than any other household use of water.  TOTO is a pioneer in developing water efficient products starting with their toilets.  The company was the first to bring 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF) toilets to the American market, was approached by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a 1.28 GPF toilet, and now has 1.0 GPF toilets in its product line which save 35% more water than standard 1.6 GPF toilets.

TOTO set the benchmark for high-efficiency toilets.  If you want the gold standard, consider the Neorest 750H.  This toilet senses when it will be used and pre-mists the bowl which better prevents waste from adhering to the bowl's surface.  To enhance the non-stick surface properties, TOTO engineers developed a titanium dioxide and zirconium coating fired into the bowl's interior glaze which furthers the elimination of organic substances including lime scale and mold.  Topping it off, an ultraviolet light is activated when the lid closes causing a photocatalytic reaction that destroys any remaining organic material inside the bowl. 


The interior glaze of the Neorest 750H has a pearlescent quality.

The technological advancements in Neorest are featured in other TOTO toilets.  As with Neorest, these toilets feature a hole-free rim and TOTO's patented Tornado flush technology which uses two nozzles to release water powerfully into the bowl, circulating the surface area, maintaining a waste-free and germ-free environment.

If TOTO had its way, it would be converting Americans to its Washlet.  The Washlet is a toilet seat with bidet functionality.  To date, TOTO has sold 40 million Washlets world-wide.  But Americans are slow to embrace its virtues.  I had a client about 10 years ago who traveled to Japan on business and while there, experienced the Washlet.  As soon as he returned home, he purchased a Washlet for his master bathroom.  It's just that good.  With a slow-close lid, the Washlet features a pre-mist and post-mist of electrolyzed water to keep the bowl clean and cling-free, a sensor-controlled heated seat, a nozzle that dispenses a cleansing warm-water spray and a warm-air dryer.  And all can be remote-controlled in the palm of your hand.


Thanks to TOTO, I'll be trying the Washlet out.  But I dare say I'll write a follow up with a play-by-play of the experience.


My Latest Online Obsession

I may be late to the party, but I've just discovered a fantastic web site for those of us, like me, obsessed with getting a bargain.  This revelation is dangerous because I've been known in the past to do a bit of damage on some flash sale sites (that shall remain nameless and that I've since unsubscribed from).  My new obsession is called Everything But The House and is an online source for estate sales.  While I just became aware of it about a month ago, I discovered that it's has been around since 2008.

Everything But The House sells everything from cars, antiques, jewelry, art, china, furniture, collectibles and more.  It has outposts in 20 cities around the country and hosts about 180 estate sales a month.  All sales are auction format starting at bids of $1 and last for seven days.  I recently scored two items, a vintage Persian Lamb fur jacket that cost me $15 (actually $35 but I had a $20 opening credit) and a Gemma Redux necklace for $18.  The necklace, new, was probably around $350-400 retail!


When bidding on an item, you can type in your zip code and get a quote for shipping.  If you track the sales in your vicinity, you can pick up items and save on shipping costs.  For large items like furniture, the pick-up option would offer considerable savings.  For example, I spotted a sale in Wellesley, Massachusetts, just a couple of miles down the road from me, offering a whole dining room set, an office suite from Chaddock complete with desk and credenza, and a suite of Brown Jordan outdoor furniture, all for a song!  The following items are also part of that sale:


As I write this post, the current bid on the Lee Jofa club chair on the left, above, is $2, and the bid on the Wellington Hall Hepplewhite Style sideboard, above right, is $22.  These items originally cost thousands of dollars. 

Like house hunting, don't judge these furnishings on first glance.  Anything can be refinished, repainted and re-upholstered.  So even if Hepplewhite is not your style, it's worth a look. 


Trend Watch Tuesday: In the Pink

In case you haven't noticed, pink is hot . . . and not just in the color sense.  Pay any notice to fashion, and you'll see that blush tones are THE color for spring 2016.  For interiors, pink had been relegated, if at all, to nurseries.  But that's changing.  Maybe give credit to designer Brian Patrick Flynn who created a saturated pink sitting room for the 2015 Hampton Designer Showhouse.


Photo, left, courtesy of; photo, right, courtesy of

Or maybe Pantone got it right, selecting Rose Quartz as their 2016 Color of the Year, along with Serenity.


Whatever the catalyst, pink is trending and can spice up the monochromatic grey and beige interiors timid homeowners cling to for safety. 

For years (and I don't want to say how many), I neglected to paint the walls of our master bedroom.  When we bought our house almost 20 years ago, it was brand new and every wall in the house was white.  I finally decided a couple of years ago on a pale coral paint color for the walls.  With painters in the house last fall to repair the ice dam damage of the winter of 2015, we finally had the bedroom painted.  The color, Benjamin Moore's Sunlit Coral, is peachy, but with natural and artificial light, glows a pale pink.  I absolutely love it.  It's soft and comforting without being too feminine.


Here are a few ideas to get you "in the pink:"


Left to right: Kate Spade New York Elsie Table Lamp in Blush: TS Table by GamFratesi.


Left to right: Jaipur Area Carpet Gramercy by Kate Spade New York; Dornbracht Mem faucet in Cyprum pink gold finish.


Left to right: Edmund Sofa by BDDW; Linens by Tribute Goods in Inca Rose.



Would Staging Help to Sell Your Home? 

Like many baby boom empty-nesters, I'm starting to think about downsizing.  My two oldest children are now living far from the nest and my youngest is a college freshman who, no doubt, will spend less time at home as she progresses through her college career.  I love my house, but the Boston Snowmageddon of 2015 sparked the notion of heading south for the winter.  Or at least moving to a condominium where snow removal and ice-dam damaged roofs would be managed by a maintenance staff that doesn't include me.  What should someone like me do to prepare their home for the real estate market?

I recently talked to Aleksandra Scepanovic, Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group in Brooklyn, New York.  Aleksandra's firm sells premier brownstone properties in sought-after Brooklyn neighborhoods.  (As an aside, when I lived in New York City in the 1980s and early 90s, there was only one Brooklyn neighborhood where brownstones were sought-after!)  Aleksandra explained how real estate staging is empirically proven to sell a property at a higher price and in less time than an unstaged property.  She also detailed the ins and outs of successfully staging a home for sale.


The property below -- a landmark 1901 Brooklyn brownstone --  was on the market for 277 days before Aleksandra's company staged it.  After staging, the home sold at the first showing at the seller's asking price; the contract was signed eight days later.


The most interesting takeaway from my conversation with Aleksandra was this: buyers will form an opinion on a property within four seconds of entering.  So first impressions are important.  As is hiring the right stager.

The right stager will research the micro-area within a tenth to a quarter-of-a-mile radius of your property to determine who the potential buyers may be and their style preferences.  Knowing the audience is critical to staging a property successfully.  The objective for the stager is to make the property appealing to the demographic group who would be attracted to that specific location and type of home.

Does that mean you have to repaint every room in your house in a neutral color?  Actually, no.  Stagers may recommend a calm palette to neutralize spaces and help buyers respond to the functionality of a home.  But today, many buyers, especially millennials, expect more decorated homes.  Their tastes have been cultivated by exposure to high fashion and pop culture.  Aleksandra pointed out that there are areas in New York where "plain vanilla" just won't do -- like the very high end of the market. 

For Aleksandra, a property must not be inhabited to be successfully staged.  Leaving the home may be hard and not possible for some sellers.  Emotionally, it's the final realization that an abode with strong sentimental attachments will be turned over to someone else.  But it also means the property will not be disturbed.  And it gives the stager latitude to do his or her job.

When staging a property, the first step is a thorough cleaning and deodorizing.  (Note to self: kitties and kitty litters be gone!)  The stager will then focus on the underutilized and awkward spaces in a home to make them appealing.  Every inch of the property may be rearranged.  The stager will envision the property from the perspective of the buyer and his or her path of travel when viewing the home.  At each step, the property should tell a story.  A good stager (like a good interior designer) will create vistas with focal points.  Furniture is positioned to tell a story and to detract from aspects of the property that do not further the story.  Even in a 400 square foot condominium that Aleksandra had staged, she created four significant focal points.

Who pays for the staging?  That depends on the agreement between the listing agency and the seller.  In many instances, the listing agency can absorb some or all of the cost as part of its marketing expense.  Staging isn't cheap.  Most stagers rely on furniture rental companies to supply, at a minimum, the larger pieces, and these companies often impose minimum order quantities and rental periods.  It's not unusual for staging to run anywhere from $7,500 to $25,000 depending on the size and market for the property.

So maybe you're wondering why I digress from design to write on a topic pertaining to real estate.  Because some of the principles applied to staging equally apply to interior design. Notably:

  • First impressions count.  That's why I encourage clients to amp up their foyers and entryways.
  • Have the space tell a story.  It's important to infuse my clients' personalities into their spaces.  Spaces curated with collections provide a glimpse into my clients' travels, backgrounds and interests.
  • Create vistas.  In commercial spaces, they're important for wayfinding.  But in residential spaces, they add focus and interest.  And detract from the spaces you may want to de-emphasize or hide.