Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hang Up Hang Over

There is a disturbing trend that I have noticed in the last couple of years.  If I were writing a book about the virus, I might entitle it The Contagious Caper of the Hung Up and Hung Over. Specifically, I refer to the hanging up of art or mirrors over shelves of books. This fad has become increasingly pervasive and practiced by designers more times than I care to see every time I open a book, magazine, or catalogue. 

So what are we saying here? That we don't really look at our books? That we would rather look at an art piece or mirror?  Well, make up your mind!  It all seem stupid to me, and I call it dumb decorating.

Oh, how sophisticated, intellectual and cultivated is this!  A Recamier chaise longue, an architectural maquette, mastaba print, pricey antiques, and a heady assortment of cultural tomes. But was this a designer who bought arty books by the foot or were they a treasured client's collection? Why would a book lover agree to having to hide their books behind an art piece?  Not only would you have to remove it to get a book that you forgot was back there, but wouldn't it make dusting more difficult?  I don't think it's practical, and I regard it as an insult to both the books and the art.  Both are treated as so much decorative fluff.

It gets worse!  Really, what do we want?  Books, art, or floral display? Why not just design a frame composed of book spines? 

I would not be so presumptuous to insist that art supersedes literature.

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed a certain voyeurism in regards to book collections. You could gain all sorts of insights as to a person's interests and personality based on the titles.  But here, I would want to peek behind the painting. Maybe the shelves are empty?  Trashy books the homeowner might not wish to display; i.e.  self-help books, diet books, gothic novels, etc.?

Egads! Maybe the mirror and pictures just haven't been hung yet. Maybe the owls are varying their perches. I think this is supposed to be a statement about the wisdom of books and owls. Note the books put in backwards.  But that's for a whole other blog. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Three Totos and a Tutu

It's Toto time!  The first Toto that comes to mind, from my earliest recollection, is the dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz.  I always liked that movie.  Toto played a starring role that exhibited both dog smarts and affection. 

Toto the dog

When I pulled up this image of Toto, I was surprised to see the similarity in appearance to my dog Alice, who I adopted in 2010. Maybe that's why I chose her!  Alice sometimes gets called Toto, too. I guess I like the way the two syllables sound coming out of my mouth.  


The next Toto of recent apparition came last summer while working on the Garden Apartment project.  An end table and table lamp were needed for the right side of the living room sofa.  Something simple, neutral and inexpensive...How about combining all of what was needed into one neat package?  Plus adding additional seating if necessary?

The Toto was the perfect solution.

Toto Cube Lamp

Offered by Design Within Reach  at $250.75, their advertising description is very interesting:

"An unusual lamp with an unusual story, the Toto Cube Lamp is made by a wine tank manufacturer in France.  Toto is only made during the factory's slow season, when they stop producing enormous wine storage tanks.  A scaled-down version on these tanks, Toto can be used as a lamp, table, or seat.  Place it bedside for a soft glow, or employ it in a retail setting to add a dramatic backdrop to the objects on display. From being made in the mold of a wine tank, to becoming a surface on which to place your wine glass (or coffee mug or carafe of water), Toto has successfully turned three products into one."

This is pure Zen. Sorry  I can't credit the designer; this photo is part of the advertising for Toto.

Toto 550 Neorest 

Now for the third toto of this trilogy: I am about to start a new bathroom project in which the client specifically requested a Toto 550 Neorest. This is not your run-of-the-mill-go-cart clunker nor your basic hole in the ground.  How do you compare a Lamborghini to a horse and carriage? This ride will take you places never imagined!  The only thing not included is a seat belt or even a horse whip. Toto's official specifications read thus:
  • Programmable Nightlight
  • New Easy-to-Read Remote Control Design
  • More Compact Design
  • Automatic Open and Close Lid
  • Washlet Cleansing with Three Modes
  • Hands-Free Automatic Flush
  • Integrated Warm Air Dryer
  • Built-In Air Purifying System
  • Energy Saver Timer
  • Cyclone Flushing System
A few years back, I had my first encounter with a Toto.  In Chicago for the national  ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) conference, I was there as President Elect for our Missouri Chapter, along with seven new board members.  The Toto showroom was having a reception, and thinking it might be a good baptizing and bonding opportunity, I suggested that we all visit the chamber of porcelain (but not all at once; we each took turns). I have been a convert and believer ever since!

Whereas the average rattletrap Model T toilet might put a hole in your wallet for $100-200, the Neorest retails at $5460-6280, depending on all the bells and whistles.  Do I think that it's worth it?  Absolutely!  Could I live without an electric toothbrush?  No, I could never go back to manual!  Just like that, Toto is the toilet you want to come home to.  Wish I had one, too, in addition to my electric toothbrush! 


The finale of these three t's is my tutu from BCBG.  I think I was a disadvantaged kid in that I never had a tutu growing up.  Never got over the longing, so last year I finally got one!  It can be dressed up with heels and pearls, or dressed down, as shown here with khaki and army boots.  Definitely has many uses!  So now when you think Toto or tutu, think multiple applications! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mahler with Marimba

I have been transfixed by the recent event at the Avery Fisher Hall. This was the story that came out last Friday about conductor Alan Gilbert stopping the New York Philharmonic dead in its tracks at the mercy of an intrusive and never-ending marimba ring tone.

The marimba in its modern form came to America at about the same time that Mahler was writing his 9th symphony - in 1910. Although the instrument has been used in later classical pieces by other composers, it is not believed that Mahler had any knowledge or interest in the instrument popular in Central America and on Caribbean cruise ships.

That the ring tone erupted for a few moments was bad enough, but from varying reports, it lasted an agonizingly long 5 - 10 minutes.  It seemed insidiously programmed not to misbehave during a loud section, but at the moment when the music is fading almost into silence.  

As you can see from from this score of the 4th movement, there aren't many notes.  The sound disintegrates and you could hear a pin drop if not for the equivalent of Daffy Duck making his entrance.  We all know the ditty - Da, da, da, da, da!  Da, da, da, da, da! Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da!

This was hijacking of the highest order - interruption of art. Just imagine some 2,700 people and musicians transfixed by the ethereal and sublime music of Mahler's 9th Symphony. Along comes the insistent, obnoxious, and uninvited instrument. Captain Gilbert endured the massacre as long as he could stand it, then stopped the engines and everyone waited.  And waited while the marimba made merry. That so many were held hostage by this banality is true theatre of the absurd.  These gentle appearing patrons soon had murderous thoughts, but apart from angry shouts and rhythmic clapping, why didn't anybody DO anything? Music is an experience when we voluntarily suspend our belief for a period of time with a start and a finish. The magical moment was destroyed. 

No, this is not a mallet for striking a marimba, but Mahler's baton.  He had a very successful conducting career before dying at the age of 50. And yes, the curse of dying after composing 9 symphonies held true. Good thing he didn't have to hear this altered performance.

On January 10, 2012, civilization as we know it was brought to its knees by the power of technology. 

Thus sprak Malus Domestica - a tone poem

Enter the iPhone, disguised here as the monolith in 2001 Space Odyssey.  Little did we know that we would become helpless victims to the Hal that played annoying ring tones.  This is the one glaring mistake that Steve Jobs didn't address in his obsessive quest to design the best.

I object to the inanity of most of the ring tones offered on Blackberry and iPhone. Please do everyone a favor and be sure that yours is one that isn't irritating.  And learn how to turn off the damn thing.  You may have to customize it and pay a few bucks plus be sure to ask your friends if the ring tone you choose is offensive.  Otherwise, listen up cell phones designers, don't insult us with your meager, mediocre menus to select from when we've just shelled out a lot of loot.

So, the psychological repercussions of all this percussion will echo for some time...will Patron X ever be able to use an iPhone again without experiencing trauma?  Or ever listen to Mahler again?  Will he be expelled forever from Avery Fisher Hall?  Will he have to keep this a deep, dark secret forever from friends and family?  Patron X, and we, unfortunately, will never be able to forget.  I think it would be in the best interests of iPhone to delete that tone entirely and let there be silence!                                        

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Renee's Believe it or Not!

"Hunka, hunka, hunka!  You can't beat the fun!", yelled the carnival barker.  I didn't know what hunka meant, but the carney's cadence was mesmerizing.  Young people with blank faces were enticed to strap themselves to a flat trapezoid that torqued in increasingly sharp angles, starting ever-so-slowly and ending at tortuously high speeds. I listened to his cajoling banter, and marveled at how he engaged and entertained the crowd in a tight, twisting medieval street in St. Andrew's, Scotland,  many years ago.  The carney's call still resounds in my memory, and the funny words he used came to mind as I considered the acquisition of a bunkie board...

A bunkie board is a thin foundation for the mattress that  replaces the box spring.

The process of interior design is always fun, and I am especially delighted by serendipity. You never know when what you are looking for may be found in the most ordinary of places and circumstances! Recently I had been cogitating about purchasing a bunkie board for a home decorating project. I had a small room that served dual purpose as a guest room and study.  By replacing the twin box spring with a bunkie board, the height would be more sofa-like. With an assortment of pillows and bolsters, its rare function as a mattress support would be further disguised. 

Just now while walking Chewy, I spied a large, rectangular canvas leaning against a dumpster. As I walked around the block, the size stuck in my head; they closely echoed the dimensions of a twin bed; and why were the corners curved?  It seemed rather peculiar.  I  completed our walk, and returned with a tape measure.  Sure enough, it was a standard twin size: 39" x 75".

Well, what did I expect when I turned it over?  This definitely falls in the realm of 'bad paintings'. It is only heroic in its use of unorthodox stretched canvas and bravery in scale.

And what is this mysterious painted out portion that says 2 + 2 = 5?  What does that mean? Not only is the perpetrator artistically naive, but mathematically defiant!

Aerial Born Bunkie Board

Aesthetics aside, could it be that what I had been poised to purchase that very day was right under my nose? I couldn't believe the odds of this very obscure find.  I had researched the price, $95 with delivery, and only had to pull the trigger when I returned home from our walk. Thank god for dog walks!  Dogs are in the details, or is it God is in the details?  (When you were a child, did you ever spell  D-O-G when you meant to spell G-O-D?) This enigmatic painting could be laid to rest serving its original purpose, and be saved from the landfill.  All is well as long as it doesn't contribute to nightmares for unsuspecting sleeping guests. All in all, a hunky dory ending.

Bunkie Delivery Service
Dumpsterside accessible

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Art Hijacked by Yacht Hoppers and Party Hijinks

Last Year, I had meant to remind you all to make the pilgrimage to Venice for the 54th Biennale, the oldest   and biggest and most important art exhibition in the world.  Closing day was November 27th.  Art Basel Miami Beach, a little closer to home, was another big one which closed December 4th.

Was it the art or the parties that made all the headlines?  My impression was that the parties got just as much coverage, if not moreso, than the art!  The super-rich art crowd is annoyingly predictable with both their collections of trophy wives and trophy art.  Whether it's multi-million dollar contemporary art collections in a surround of cabbage leaf chintz and dainty Chippendale antiques or austere modernist revisions, there is an emotional disconnect.  I'm tired already of seeing the same old iconic artists (especially my favorites) being rehashed again and again, in over-the-top homes just because they have been stamped Certified and Approved by the DDCWC, or, Department of Dealers, Curators, and Wealthy Collectors.

This article by Charles Saatchi, art's own Oprah Winfrey for laying the golden mantle on young artists, is commendable for its candor.  Saatchi could likely afford the yacht shown below, but more likely he will spend his profits on more art to feed the world.

Quick Quiz Question:  Who is the biggest art spender?

Answer: Sheikh Saud bin Ali-al-Thani, of the Qatar royal family. He reportedly spent several hundred million dollars in just the past two years.  So put THAT in your decorating budget and smoke it!

A super yacht moored in Venice for the art biennale.
 Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters/Corbis

And now may I introduce Charles Saatchi, self-professed artaholic, commenting on the State of the Art: 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Jus Wanna Sing Songs

So to finish off 2011 with a song...and what better way to start the new year?

My current repertoire:

Caro mio ben
 by Giuseppe Giordani (1744-1798)
A sad love song that's more difficult than it seems.

Where'er you walk (Semele) 
by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)
I usually sing this song while walking my dog, but in the art of survival, now I know that I could take to the streets if necessary!

Come unto him (Messiah)
 by George Frederick Handel
When I first heard this song, I could no longer be a spectator, but had to sing it, too!

Pie Jesu (from Requiem)
 by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)
Faure's Requiem is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.  Hear it in its entirety!

The assorted words and messages from these songs are good ones to wish you all in the new year: 
 love and peace and may there always be music in your life!