Thursday, July 24, 2014


The original owners of the house on Trinity Place left nothing to the imagination regarding their heritage or college affiliations. What wasn't dripping in Italianate was tattooed with Notre Dame. She was Italian and he was a little leprechaun with a big pot of gold. What the new owners, my clients, originally saw in this real estate still leaves me a little stymied, but totally grateful to their willingness to take on this project. They were first time homeowners, both shy of thirty, and as neophytes to the market had no real knowledge of what they were getting themselves into. What they wanted was clean and contemporary. What they bought was anything but. It made our job taxing and frustrating but more fun and rewarding than just about anything we've done before. What will follow this week and in subsequent postings is a journey through the renovation of various rooms now occupied by a very generous and wonderful family.
I'm going to start the tour in the master bathroom. These before shots should set the tone letting you see why this had to be a total gut. The vanity alone was a Guido wet dream right out of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago. French curves, Corinthian columns, Palladian arches and tumbled Italian marble tiles all strapped together in what can only be called schizophrenic design run amuck.
The window wall opens up onto a spectacular view the previous owners kept hidden behind a remarkably chintzy set of curtains suspended on K-mart tension rods. The arched window and fussy window casings didn't fit with our client's vision of a more contemporary clean line concept. It was going to present a real design challenge.
Now for the tub. I don't get how anyone could relax amidst all this ungapatchka, the mirror wall, the pea-sixed wall mounted TV, the ameba shaped tub, the hodge-podge architectural styles, I'm shaking just writing this down.
Every hammer we took to rip this room apart was a blow against design vulgarity.
Our clients began with a certain budget in mind but that budget didn't include a marble bathroom. Part of our design process is to get our clients to do a bit of research. We have them search the net and flip through shelter magazines pulling out images they respond to. Unfortunately, when it came to baths our client seemed stuck on marble and not just marble tiles but book-matched marble slabs. (Book-matched marble is where you lay out your panels so that the veining mirrors itself like a Rorschach test.) Who was I to argue? We adjusted the budget, well it was more like we filed the budget under, "Who were we kidding". After we abandoned the initial budget we started sourcing out stone dealers. We found a dealer in Brooklyn who had enough slabs we could choose from to find the quantity needed to clad the walls and floors in the book-matched marble the client wanted. Our contractor, the client and I went out to the stone warehouse where we combed through slab after slab until we had selected the polished Calacatta Borghini matched pairs needed to complete the bathroom. From there the contractor and I developed the layout and then brought in a fabricator to cut and assemble the pieces. It was a nerve-racking job. We were like fine jewelers cutting an expensive diamond. One false cut or a cracked marble slab and we were doomed.
We preserved the skylight and installed a vanity where the shower had been.
We moved the shower to the other side of the room and doubled its size by carving out some space from the room next door.
The vanity is custom made with raised black glass bowl sinks. We wall mounted the vanity so it would appear as if it were floating. The finish is a streaked grey wash.
We turned the vaulted ceiling into a tray ceiling which gave us the ability to create both down recessed lighting and cove up lighting for a more dramatic look.
The windows remained a problem. They needed window treatments for privacy but we didn't want permanent panels. We also had to deal with the two separate ceiling heights and still making our window treatment look like the panels all worked as one.
Our fabric choice was a semi-sheer polyester/viscose/cotton combination called Raindance in silver sleet. It brought out the veining in the marble and danced like water when the sun shown through.
The luxury of this bath puts the word spa to shame. Pour in the bubble bath, light the candle and relax.

Pipi Pigeon, 1964
Robert Doisneau, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise, NYC

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Our rustic cabin for the week sits nestled in among the pine groves surrounding Catfish Lake. The main house was built strong in the early 1920's.
It sits on a flat patch of ground just before the land falls to the shore and the dock pointing out into the lake like a finger testing the water.
A smaller sleeping cabin for guests and generations past, present and future, a garage and a carport complete the compound.
The ground is layered with the needles shed from the statuesque pines turned that cinnamon color that seasons the North Woods of Wisconsin.
Babbles of moss add an emerald sheen to the velvet carpet of lawn fluttering down the embankment and lapping at the shore.
The shore, in return, echoes the undulation of the land and meets in a kiss of water and mass.
It's our second visit to the cabin on Wooded Lane. Here time loops around as the next door neighbor with his captain's hat slowly motors out into the lake with his wooden Chris Craft
only to have time turned back around by the buzz of the neighbor two doors down landing his seaplane on his way back from work.
Here where eagles fly in groups gliding on currents of time held in check, where the air is always crisply scented with pine, where deer play in your yard seeming fearless and forgetful of the coming hunt, here is where I can touch my solitude and regain my direction.
July still requires stoking the fireplace. Temperatures struggle to reach the seventies during the day and fall well below fifty at night.
The howl of the wind whips through the night yet dawn is eerily quiet. Not even the birds seem to wake remaining huddled in their aeries miles above our resting heads.

As dusk rolled in Rick sat in the amber light Buddy happily nuzzled in his lap.

Every Monday between Memorial Day and Labor Day the Community Park in St. Germain is the site of a flea market. This is not your parking lot variety flea market with stalls marked out by the size of a parking space. The St. Germain market winds through a pine forest of needle packed trails under the branches of a forest canopy. From nine in the morning until three in the afternoon the meandering paths are packed with bargain seekers rummaging through vintage, antique, and craft goods from vendors who travel the uplands market circuit.
One vendor specialized in 1950's pinball art salvaging from the sides of an old pinball machines like the Strike Zone or Derby Dash.
These panels represent a moment in the continuum of graphics between art deco and graffiti. Thank god someone had the forethought and the discerning eye to salvage these pieces that can now be classified as art.
Light filtering through the canopy of the coniferous trees and spilling onto the pieces of history for sale puts them in a context far more enchanting than sitting on a plastic folding table in someone's driveway back home.
Ceramic vases, clutch purses and marble candlesticks spread out on a vintage tablecloth are made all the more appealing given this North Woods setting.
Pieces so iconic of the territory hang from trees.
Taxidermy deer heads mounted and ready to hang were available for those unwilling to make the kill or for those unable to bag their own but looking for bragging rights with made-up stories about the ten-point buck shot at a hundred yards in a blinding snow storm with a single bullet.
A faux trunk probably purchased at a gift store takes on a history far greater than its actual lifespan when placed in a setting so complimentary to its fictitious history.
We had taken E. L. Doctorow's Loon Lake along with us as one of the books we wanted to keep us company while we sat in front of the fire on those cool northern nights. We didn't expect to see such a literal doppelganger of our reading material and Doctorow's imagination pop up on a table in the woods.
Even the crafts displayed had a North Woods aura about them. A very sweet older man explained how he collected objects like doorknobs and yardsticks and turned them into hall hooks. We were impressed with an old crocket set he had re-envisioned turning it into a whimsical side table.
Another vendor sold only birch bark baskets supposedly woven by local Indians.
A group of women made mittens from recycled woolen sweaters that had either lost their style or worn out in places that couldn't be repaired. We almost walked out with this pair. We have a hard time resisting anything that comes in grey and orange.
What we couldn't resist was this metal watering can sitting amongst a bedpan, spittoon and two boxes of 7.62 mm cartridges. It quenched our thirst for a purchase and it will help quench our backyard flowers for a long time to come.
Food was also in plentiful supply and regional rather than generic. The German Sausage Hut provided brotwurst, wine kruat and Cheese-Kransky. Set among the towering branches of Community Park it was like a slice of Bavaria cut off and plopped in the Wisconsin woods.
Entertainment wasn't on the agenda as far as I could tell but this little guy was in full swing as he walked the paths along with his dad. How cool is this.
The market is no match for Brimfield or Madison-Bouckville in size. It doesn't span acres or boost a field of hundreds of vendors but the setting is so magical the spirit of the event far surpasses any trip we've made to the better-known markets of the continental United States. There's a European feel to the event. Similar to the weekly markets that travel from town to town throughout Europe where you can buy fresh produce and meat for that evenings dinner, a new outfit for the weekend or a piece of local history.

Parc de Jeurre, Morigny-Champaigny, France, 1999
Lynn Geesaman, photographer
Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Who hasn’t heard of Oshkosh B’gosh? Founded in 1895 the nametag became synonymous with bib overalls making Oshkosh the punch line of hayseed jokes for decades. For all of you who hold on to this stereotype I suggested plucking the seeds from between your teeth and take a trip to Oshkosh and the Paine Art Center and Gardens.
Lumber has been a mainstay of central and northern Wisconsin industry since the early 19th century. By the late 1800’s Oshkosh and the Fox River Valley had become a major producer of lumber supplying the U.S. with building material for its booming population. Much of Chicago raised by the great fire of 1871 was rebuilt with lumber coming from Oshkosh. Thanks to the O’Leary cow business in Oshkosh was booming.
Rising out this need for new construction was the C.N. Paine Company, a firm specializing in building doors. Handed from father to son the company had grown to the world’s largest door producer by the 1920’s producing over 20,000 doors per day, enough closets for all of us to hide in.
It was the son, Nathan Paine, and his wife, Jessie, who dreamt up the idea of building a grand home representative of their English heritage. They engaged the architect, Bryant Fleming, to create an English Country Manor house for them in the heart of Oshkosh proper. The estate was to be a showcase for important furniture, art and nature eventually to be endowed to the community as a place for educational and cultural events.
Construction was begun in 1927. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1927stepped in and shortly thereafter the ensuing Great Depression put a halt on finishing the manor house. Jessie and Nathan never got the opportunity to live in the house but their goal of making it a venue for the community did proceed. In 1946 the legal transfer of the property into the custody of the museum trust was completed. Shortly after, in 1947 Nathan dropped dead. Jessie, childless, continued to serve on the museum’s board of directors until her death in 1973 at the age of 100, she, on the other hand, wasn’t going to give up so easily.
Today the gardens and home are a real jewel in an unlikely setting. The gardens ripple with roses, hydrangeas, begonias and violets.
Urns are overflowing with vines and tropical plants shooting for the sun.
The sculptural elements that seem to hide in amongst the foliage are mystical, historic
and even psychedelic like this sculpture and urn that incorporate kaleidoscopes with a macro view of the garden’s plant life.
There are lengthy vistas and portals of opportunity for viewing the magnificent grounds.

The museum has its own art collection but hosts traveling exhibits throughout the year. Currently an exhibit of prints by Henri Matisse is on display. The square tufted benches in the center of what once was a ballroom are by our furniture manufacturer, Black Wolf Design. BWD’s manufacturing facility is located in Omro, a ten-minute drive from the Paine.
We got in the act as well helping to design some consoles, tables and a podium based on the house’s architecture.
The architecture and the furnishings, much of which was bought and planned out during the manor’s construction by interior designer, Phelps Jewett, were to represent the finest available during the 1930’s when Tudor revival was so predominant.
Both the exterior and interior are prime examples of the lush and rich aspects of the style. You could disassemble the Paine and reconstruct it in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. It would not only fit in, it would stand out as a prime example of beautifully thought out design.
The breakfast room stands out as an exception to the darker aspects more prevalent in much of the rest of the house. The glass panes were specially manufactured to replicate the ripples and color variations seen in 17th century glass.
As large and grand as the Paine is it only holds two bedrooms. I guess Nathan and Jessie had decided that childlessness was their future.
Kids would have only produced too many opportunities for smeared fingerprints on the Staffordshire porcelains
or spilled fruit juice from the delicate bone china sitting in the dining room.
The Paine was added to the National Registry of Historic sites in 1978. With our relationship with Black Wolf Design it has taken us three years of traveling back and forth to Omro to finally make the ten-minute commute to the Paine. Don’t be like us.
Take the time to visit one of America’s most beautiful homes and gardens. You won’t regret it.


Two Lumberjacks, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Charles Van Schaick, photographer
The Wisconsin Historical Society photo collection