Friday, October 29, 2010

A Bug's Life

Last week I attended the Highpoint Fall Furniture Market to work with a couple of guys on a new venture we are trying to launch.   I’ll do a posting on the market next week.  But, since its Halloween I thought a conversation about BUGS would be appropriate. 

At the market I discovered Pheromone.  Pheromone is described by the artist who creates it as ‘Artwork incorporating exquisite natural artifacts’.  The guy behind this is the very dashing Christopher Marley.  Its couture bug art.  The pieces are one of a kind compositions and incredibly beautiful.  The majority of the collection consists of insects, but there are also pieces made of natural gems and stones.  Not only is the color unbelievable, but I particularly loved the very graphic presentation and the almost clinical approach.  Christopher has also published a book called Pheromone, which can be found on Amazon and his website.

To see more go to

I’ll never step on a bug again without thinking twice about it. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I must have ghosts!

Someone or something is coming into my house and moving things around.  I have an alarm system so I don’t understand how this is happening.  Let me be clear.  I am not talking about small mysterious but ultimately explainable things like an open cabinet door or a moved candlestick.  I mean big items like sofas, chairs and some times full rooms!  It usually occurs on a Friday night.  It has been going on for a long time.  Although it is not as frequent now as it was years ago, it still occasionally happens.  Also, they usually leave an empty wine bottle or two setting around.  It’s most strange. 

I’ll get up the next morning and may find the entire living room reshuffled.  Or maybe the living room and dining room have been switched!  Most of the time the moves are pretty good and usually better than how I had the room arranged.  But, sometimes they just leave an unfinished mess.  It is sort of like their idea did not work or either they got bored and just stopped in the middle of the move.  That is quite irritating considering I am left with the mess to clean up. 

I blame Margaret Russell.  I’m sure you know she was the celebrity editor of Elle Décor and has just moved to Architectural Digest.  I love her.  She was also on that awful TV design show Top Design with Kelly Wearstler.  I like Kelly Wearstler and her designs, but I think she’s crazy.  I don’t think she and Margaret got along on that show either.  Although Kelly’s designs are always featured in Elle Décor. I think Margaret is far too classy to hang out with her.  Also, you could tell Margaret was quite taken aback by some of the crazy shit Kelly wore on the show.    I almost met Margaret Russell at a party once in New York, but by the time I pushed my way across the room to stalk her she had made her way through the crowd and disappeared.  I had planned to get confirmation that Kelly is actually a wack job.  It’s probably for the best.  I’m sure I would have been too star struck to speak intelligently (like the time my partner met Diana Ross, but I’ll save that for another blog entry).  But I digress.

Back to the ghost problem. 

I guess I have to take responsibility for the confusion.  We have this game we play call ‘Margaret Russell will be here in an hour.’  It started one night when I was complaining about not being happy with something in the house and we could not figure out how to solve the issue.  There were a lot of ‘what if that moved over there’ or ‘we will never know unless we just move it’ statements made.  We just were not able to make a decision.  Finally I said, “Pretend the phone just rang and it was Margaret Russell.  She is at the airport and headed down now to photograph the house for next month’s issue.  She will be here in an hour! We need to get it together and fast!”  I think the ghosts are listening to these conversations, get confused and then kick into action when we go to bed. 

Several weekends ago ‘those people who come into our house’ set up this very nice niche using a new desk we recently purchased.  It’s a perfect place for the laptop.  But, they also moved everything from the center hallway into the living room leaving the hallway virtually empty! I like it but it’s a little sparse.  They also moved the empire slay bed in the guest room square into the middle of the room.  It’s very dramatic.  But now everything else in the room needs to be re-thought!  Typical.

The old family cemetery sits across the road from my back driveway entrance.  They are all buried there!  Many houses as old as this house have ghosts.   It’s plausible. 


Monday, October 25, 2010

Making an entrance

Lately I’ve been studying photographs of center halls, foyers, and entrances.  Why, you ask?

Well, because our front center hall is almost empty.  Let me explain by first noting one of my favorite quotes is from fashion designer Bill Blass.  While being interviewed about one of his newly remodeled apartments he was asked what his favorite thing was. 

He replied, “The last thing I bought.” 

That pretty much sums up why our things are where they are in our house.  The last thing we bought can trump any existing item and will usually be placed in a focal spot.  We have a couple of those ‘museum’ spots in the house.  When we find something we can not live without, it usually starts out in one of these highly visible places.  That is unless it has a very specific use.  So, if I ever get that automatic flushing toilet it will go immediately to the bathroom and probably skip the ‘museum’ location!  The same goes for our bed.  When we bought a new Baker bed, it went in the bedroom; naturally it would have looked odd in the front center hall.  So it will remain in the bedroom unless we choose to move the bedroom to another room or a better bed shows up on my doorstep.

Because of the way our home is designed; many of the rooms can serve multiple purposes.  The dining room has been used as a living room and library.  Years ago I was told it was used as a bedroom.  I’ve used the front parlor as the living room, a library, dining room (not to mention that it’s where the bodies were laid out back in the day) and I’m now thinking it would make a great ‘salon’ media room.  So you get the point – it can be a free for all and one new ‘must have’ item can cause an enormous cascading affect!  Adding to this thought process, is the fact that I do not believe in a single decorating style.  I think if you have things that you love and those things express your creative point of view, they will work together in different situations.  That philosophy allows me to rearrange ad hock!

We bought a set of nine framed original etchings at the Park Avenue Amory antique show a few years back.  The idea was to hang them together in the front center hall.  They actually stayed crated for almost two years due to the renovation, so they took on an even more prized status once finally displayed.  But, for some reason which I can not fully explain, they have now made their way to our small media room and hang over the sofa.  The Philippe Stark Ghost chairs that floated near the etchings have made their way to the side foyer on either side of a white cabinet, thus leaving the front center hall almost empty, even though no new prized possessions had arrived to replace them.  There’s still a marble top ornate console sitting along one wall, but I have my eye on that and it maybe moving to the front parlor - again. 

I believe the most visible public rooms of a home should be the most dramatic and set the tone for the rest of the house and currently one of our most visible rooms is empty!  So, I’m looking for inspiration and comments, and the comment that I possibly need decorating therapy would not be appreciated! 

If you have any ideas let me know.

photography credit:

House & Garden 2005
Francois Dischinger

Traditional Home 2009
Peter Vitale

House & Garden 2006
Martyn Thompson

Metropolitan Home 2009
Annie Schlechter

Southern Accents 2002
Thibault Jeanson

Southern Accents 2003
Jeff McNamara

Veranda 2009
Peter Vitale

Friday, October 22, 2010


I had not planned to publish another post about my recent visit to Toronto until I found a post card I had picked up from a gallery called Cubeworks. 

"Cubeworks is the result of a collaboration of Graphic Architects and 'Cubers' creating a form of art that is retro, yet avant-garde, by re-contextualizing the aesthectic possibilities of the 1980's toy craze, the Rubik's Cube."

"In the same way that pixels on a computer screen are coloured and organized to form images, Cube Works uses the Cube as a unique, technically complex medium for creating art."

What I found to be the most interesting is that the pieces are far clearer and less pixelated when viewed in a photograph or through the lens of a camera. 

You can see more of Cubeworks at


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Toronto's St. Lawrence Market

In Monday’s posting I mentioned the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.  I love huge fresh markets.  Unfortunately, there are not as many of these markets in the states as we deserve.  Sure you can find specialty and gourmet food markets in most US cities, but they are not to the scale of these great European versions.  My favorite was the huge market in the center of Florence, Italy.  When we were in Italy a few years ago, we had a private tour of the market with a transplanted American chef.  It was amazing.  Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market is not as aesthetically attractive and does not offer quite as high end product as the Florence market, but the effect is the same.  As I left the St. Lawrence market I noticed the many condos and apartment buildings surrounding the market area.  I decided I hated the people who lived there.  They have options I don’t.  They can walk out their door, cross the street and have access to fresh baked bread, an endless array of seafood, multitudes of cuts of beef, and all sorts of ethnic choices.  I have Ingles! 

Now don’t get me wrong.  Our little Ingles isn’t so bad.  It’s clean.  The butcher is nice.  I can’t get top of the line gourmet products, but it’s pretty good considering it is in the middle of nowhere.  But, it’s not the only show in town.  I can go to the Pig if necessary.  Actually, the Piggly Wiggly is closer to my house than Ingles and if I needed pig’s feet it would be my first choice!  Several months ago I ran out of cat food and not wanting to drive the ten miles to Ingles, I dashed the three miles to the Pig.  After all, I only needed cat food.  They didn’t have a lot of choices so I settled for the Pig brand.  Really how different could it be from Purina?  When I got home and filled the cat’s food bowl I knew he would dive in as usual.  He was an outdoor farm cat and was appreciative of each meal.  He stuck his nose in the bowl, smelled the Pig nuggets, turned his head and give me a ‘you must be kidding’ look.  I actually expected him to speak for the first time, “Really!  Would you eat this shit?”

I don’t think the St. Lawrence Market sells cat food.  Or at least I didn’t notice it.  But, if they did I am sure the choices would be endless. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh, Canada!

Last week I was in Toronto for the International Retail Design Conference and now I can not get the Canadian national anthem out of my mind!  It’s not like that song was being broadcast about by outdoor speakers, in fact I never heard it, but fragments of the song are just stuck in my head.  Not to mention, the only words I know are ‘Oh’ and ‘Canada’!     

Even though I always have my camera with me wherever I go, I did not really expect to find much in Toronto that was blog worthy.  Not that Toronto isn’t a great city, it’s just that it is about as far away from the attitude of this blog as possible. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I liked Toronto.  I used to work with a man who regardless of which town or city we visited on business, he would always make statements like, “I could live here.”  Which was a pretty positive statement considering the places we visited were hot spots like Augusta, Memphis, Columbia and Birmingham.  In fact, on many occasions he described some of these towns and cities in a much distorted reality to entice potential employees. 

“You’ll love Jackson, Tennessee.  It’s the LA of the south!”

I continue playing that little game with myself whenever I visit somewhere new.  I had never been to Toronto prior to last week and understanding that it is the 5th largest city in North America I knew I’d find it a little more cosmopolitan than Jackson, Tennessee.  On my first day the sun was out, there was crispness to the air and it was in the low 60’s.  It was perfect sweater weather and a beautiful fall day.  Toronto is full of fantastic architecture.  There’s great shopping, sports and it clearly embraces the arts.  And it’s not like I thought of Toronto as being a northern suburb of Buffalo!  Although it is very ‘American’, it is clear that the Canadians, and I think especially the people of Toronto, walk a fine line between integrating American culture and still making sure that their own country’s identity is front and center.  An easy way to gage this is to study the television programming.  I caught only an hour or so of TV at night after returning to my room, but from my perspective, I say it was about fifty percent Canadian and fifty percent American.  I liked Toronto, but I must admit that our version of Cash Cab is FAR better than its Canadian knock off! 

Regardless of where I go, I like to find something worth while to include on the blog.  On my first day there I took lots of photos of some great modern architecture and the latest retail, but it was not in keeping with the AJ Barnes theme until I ran across a place called The Distillery District.  This recently revitalized area is on the edge of Downtown and less than a mile from the heart of the city.  The conference had done a good job of providing and arranging tours of the city’s most notable shopping areas, which included Queen Street West’s indie retail shops, the Bloor Street/Yorkville luxury area, and all notable museums and architecture.  One of the overall takeaways of the conference was how retailers need to be more authentic and create a unique intimacy with the consumer; something that I have been preaching for about two years now and something that bows well for AJ Barnes.  But, strangely enough the Distillery District was never mentioned by the conference.  I only found out about it from the not so courteous concierge at the hotel.  Who when asked what retail areas I should visit suggested the same ones as advertised by the conference, until I told him I wanted anything special, unique and different.  

The Distillery District is a  collection of renovated Victorian warehouses which houses a unique collection of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.  It’s also a mixed use area located on the lake. There are several beautiful new modern glass high-rises, loft living, a school, performing arts center and it’s just a few blocks from Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.  Refreshingly there are no Gaps and Banana Republics or even the Canadian versions of chain retailers.  All the stores are unique and have distinctively authentic personalities; whether it was an original classic European bakery, a unique flower and garden shop or a hip denim store.  One store is called HorsefeathersHome.  It’s a cleaver furniture and home décor store that mixes antiques with modern.  As Joan Rivers would say, “Bitch stole my look!”  Finally, I found Toronto blog material with the Distillery District. 

I am very good a ‘getting the shot’ inside a retail store; most stores do not allow photography.  But, this time I thought I would take a different approach and instead of being sneaky about it, I would just ask.  Much to my amazement, every store was more than generous granting my request. 

So back to my little game; “I could live here,” I said to myself as I passed by one of the oversized art installations along the District’s brick paved pedestrian only streets.  The sun was out and there was not a cloud in the sky.  Then I remembered that I am the person that starts getting nervous when the temperature falls below seventy degrees.  In the summer, when I’m laying around in shorts and Chuck turns on a ceiling fan, I have to grab a blanket!  So as much as I thought Toronto has a beautiful aesthetic, great culture and terrific food, I could not live there.  It’s just too damn cold!

Vintage Gardener


One of the art installations

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