Category: Design

BOTKYRKA!

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Perhaps you wonder why I’m appending an exclamation point to a Swedish municipality named after a guy who was killed with an axe in a boat and buried in a church dedicated in some way to the original Salem. Well, friends, wonder no more! In naming lies (some of) the genius of IKEA, which calls many of its products after places in the Scandinavian realm. So what does Botkyrka stand for? Simple: My current IKEA obsession…these gorgeous little wall-mounted shelves:

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Yum, yum, YUM.

We have the need for some added storage space in our dining area. I was briefly considering the oh-so-Swedish-peasant-mixed-with-just-enough-modern-to-not-make-me-crazy Olofstorp cabinet (made famous by Anna of Door Sixteen), but I think these might work better.

As of February 1, they’ll be available in the IKEA paradise that is ‘somewhere overseas.’ Wonder when they’ll hit the U.S. and Canada?

Oh, and if you want a laugh…here’s a guide to IKEA pronunciation. You go check that out while I sit here salivating.

Images via Botkyrka and IKEA.

Oh, Frank, you’re just so fantastic.

I have mentioned before (probably too many times) my love for Swedish realtor Fantastic Frank. This love exists for many reasons, among them the following beliefs, each of which I hold dear:

1. I believe that all people should style their properties before they put them on the market.
2. I believe that all realtors should style their listings before they publicize them.
3. I believe that styling is not wrong. It’s not manipulative. It simply presents a property in its best light. And, it’s cost-effective (styled properties sell for more).

OK, those are all the highfalutin’ reasons I love Fantastic Frank. But the real reason? I’m a real estate porn connoisseur, like so many of us…but the properties I see on Zillow are mostly, shall we say, not presented as well as they could be. On the other hand, every single thing on the Fantastic Frank website is so pretty. Plus, the prices are all in Swedish Krona, so I don’t have to translate them and find out that even if I could find a way to move to Sweden, I could never afford a single one of Frank’s properties!

Take a look at this latest from my boy Frankie:

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Wood! White! Black! Green! Gorgeous, right? It’s the perfect Swedish late summer idyll. The lushness of the house’s surroundings really comes through in the stunning styling, and the equally beautiful photography. The living room/kitchen combo looks like it offers the ultimate in relaxation, and that little girl’s room (I’m imagining it’s a little girl who lives there) is just precious. And that deck! That greenhouse! That hammock! That dock! So many places to hang out with friends (or with yourself). I should really own this house. I already have the matching sneakers.

Frank, you’ve done it again.

Sigh.

Images via Fantastic Frank.

MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo!

I referred yesterday to my decorating style as ‘Mid-century Scandi-American modern farmhouse industrial boho schizophrenia.’ Some of you might, quite rightly, be scratching your heads as to what exactly that might mean? Let’s explore a MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo living room, in the form of an Etsy roundup of things I own and things I’d like to own:

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We begin, as always, with an Eames rocker. This one is quite fetching in its ochreness.

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I own this John Keal for Brown-Saltman side table. It’s just as fantastic as it looks, and I paid $135 for mine. (Yeah, I hate me too.)

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This sweet little credenza would make a great bar! But it needs a couple things up top…

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first, these three Sara Paloma vases…

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…and second, this amazing lamp.

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This Lisa Congton print would anchor any room nicely…

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…and this old camera box could store all kinds of things.

Let’s assume you have (as we do) an IKEA Karlstad sofa with this Bemz cover. You need pillows! Here you go: Pillow one, pillow two, and pillow three.

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And I know I’ve shown it before, but how about this clever substitute for a side table?

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I’m still searching for the perfect coffee table. This one, with a new glass top, would work well in my fantasy MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo room:

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Of course, it would need a stack of books on it, with this on top:

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This lamp would be just perfect on the other side of that sofa:

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And finally, I know this rug is too small for the space, but it has the right feeling:

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So there you have it! The world’s first MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo room! Say it with me…MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo. It sounds good rolling off the tongue, doesn’t it?

MiScAmMoFoInBoSchizo. Its time is now. Spread the meme.

Field trip!

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It’s no surprise to anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes in my company that I love IKEA with a passion that will not be denied. And so, for me, the advent of fall means not just back to school…not just crunching leaves…not just casseroles and sweaters…but the debut of a new IKEA collection. Now that we live in Vermont, I actually get the catalog that’s mailed to me around early August—no more worrying about it being liberated somewhere along the mail route by another crazed IKEA fan. This means that I have plenty of time to savor obsess over room stylings and new products before I make my first trip to IKEA Boucherville to see what’s up and coming in the world of Swedish furnishings—and plenty of time, too, to involve the spouse in my perhaps unhealthy obsession make shopping lists, cross things off them, add new things to them, and talk incessantly about them.

A few days ago, I took a day off and journeyed north to see the new offerings from my favorite retailer. Thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, and online retail stock checks, I can now make sure that all the items I’m particularly interested in are available at IKEA Boucherville before I go! So, armed with foreknowledge, my passport card, and a heavily annotated list, I hit the border about 8:00AM last Monday, and—thanks to a startling lack of both fellow border crossers and traffic—was at IKEA a whole half hour before it opened, giving me plenty of time to check my texts and get in line with the other salivating shoppers.

If you’re a true IKEA fan, you know that there’s often a theme to the introduction of a new collection. This year, it seems to be textiles:

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I like the French version of this caption (“Textiles at the heart of your life”) better than the English, don’t you?

IKEA’s always been on target with its fabric collections, but hasn’t always carried that great design through to its manufactured items. So, it was fun to discover this year’s plethora of new textile designs; they seemed to be much better quality, and encompass a much greater variety of modern motifs, than in the past. Right off the bat, I really liked these two duvet covers. The grid in the first just popped off the fabric (and I love it with the striped duvet cover underneath1), and the second looked like the love child of Finn Family Moomintroll and Marimekko:

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As well as placing a greater emphasis on small things that can upgrade your home’s overall feel, IKEA’s looking back to its roots this year, not just in its Stockholm range (more on that later!), but with the reissue of two classic designs. The first, the Lövbacken table was originally issued in 1956 as Lövet, and was IKEA’s first flat-pack piece (imagine how many boxes owe their destruction to this little table!). I didn’t like the table in person, but was delighted to see this piece of IKEA’s history made available again. The Strandmon wing chair—also a nod to an old IKEA piece—wasn’t available in the blue velvet I wanted to see, but the orange linen-blend iteration was lovely!

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I’ve been salivating over the new Stockholm collection since the press releases started hitting the interwebs some months ago, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint. I love walnut in all its forms, so it was exciting to see IKEA return to using walnut veneer, which I hadn’t seen used this extensively by the company in years. Not all of the pieces were out on the showroom floor (I couldn’t find the large surfboard coffee table, the large round coffee table, or the dressers anywhere), but I was able to get a good sense of the collection from the pieces that were available. This is the nesting coffee table set:

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I apologize for cutting the smaller table off like that! I wanted to show the tables in relation to the older Stockholm coffee table, which is seen to the left of the picture. That table (which is on sale at IKEA Boucherville for $115 while stocks last, in case you remember it and want to snap it up!) was about 17″ high. These are much lower, and I think they work much better and are more versatile. I’m trying to figure out how we could use them in our living room. The one thing I don’t love about them is the shape of the leg. It’s a little clunky, and I find it less than graceful when compared to the shape of the top.

I was particularly interested in the new Stockholm dining furniture, which was as solid as I had expected from the press coverage. The dining table is as stunning as I had imagined; it’s too big for our space, sadly (really, it’s huge—it’s eight feet long and looks, in person, even bigger because of the orientation of the grain!), so I’ll have to keep admiring it from afar. The chairs, which are made to fit under the table, are a lovely and comfortable complement to that gorgeous table. If you have room for the sideboard (no kidding; this year’s Stockholm dining offerings seem to be tailored to those with baronial dining rooms!), it’s beautifully made and detailed in, again, walnut veneer; I didn’t love the beige laminate, though.

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IKEA Québec seems to merchandise its wares much better than IKEA USA—not a big surprise, considering the French origins of the province. I always love looking around in the kitchen organization and hardware section of the showroom—Virgo paradise!

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Every time I go to IKEA, I fall in love with one piece I hadn’t expected to, and this trip was no exception. The Nyvoll dresser looks like nothing online, but in person, it’s beautiful. Maybe IKEA’s trying to hide its loveliness to Internet shoppers, because that “medium brown” they talk about online is, in person, a luscious walnut veneer (yes, I might have a walnut problem) that wraps around the top and sides of the piece, as well as the insides of the drawers. And the white laminate (used to fabricate the drawer fronts which, as you can see from the weird angle of this photo, are designed to appear integral with the pulls!) is such a beautiful contrast with the dark grain of the wood:

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That laminate is so glossy! See my foot, reflected in the drawer front? Yummy (the dresser, not my foot!). Nyvoll will definitely be a contender if we ever replace our old IKEA walnut veneer dressers (still gorgeous after ten years).

After an hour or so of drooling up in the showroom, it was time to move on to the Marketplace (always a décor paradise and, at Boucherville, particularly so). I did see a couple of moose on the way downstairs:

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This montage will give you a taste of the Boucherville Marketplace. It’s beautifully styled and arranged into smaller boutiques that make shopping easier (I do still want to check out the new Marketplace at the Montreal IKEA, which is supposed to be even more boutique-y—we got a small taste of it earlier this summer, but the store hadn’t officially reopened after its massive redesign). I didn’t buy everything shown here (the personal exemption for US travelers to Canada staying less than 48 hours is only $200), but I wanted to! That’s the Stockholm mirror in there, by the way. It’s sized to make an impact (yes, there’s a definite theme here), and someday, when we redo the upstairs bath, I want to use two of them over a double vanity.

After more drooling, it was time to triage my cart:

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A lot of what I got was stock-up stuff (candles, napkins, etc.)—this trip was really more about looking than about major purchases. The only things I took out of my cart, in the end, were two of the three sets of the new Stockholm small plates you see at the top left. I decided to see whether the plates, which have a very pronounced lip, would work as wine coasters before I committed to them as appetizer plates. (They will.)

And so…a fun (and successful!) day at IKEA. I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or so with the spouse, purchasing a couple of pieces I checked out (maybe that mirror!). Meanwhile, as I so often do at IKEA, I learned something new…who knew there was a fitness movement called Aquajogging? IKEA did:

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Thanks, Ingvar Kamprad and friends, for keeping me au courant. À bientôt!

The photograph up top proves that IKEA’s perfect room styling often starts out as total chaos. Makes me feel better about our home!

Pillows.

As I think everyone knows by now, when I’m not drilling holes in things, painting, refreshing furniture, or plumbing, I’m thinking about obsessing over The Styling Of Our House. So much so, in fact, that even the spouse plaintively said a few weeks ago, ‘Sometimes I wish I had time to get used to something being in one place before you move it.’ Poor guy. On the other hand, he married me. He should have known what he was getting himself into.

We’ve been tweaking the house quite a bit lately, and I’m looking forward to showing it to all of you. Not quite yet, though…I still haven’t solved the living room pillow problem. You see, we moved some art. And got a new sideboard. And some other things happened. None of which I’m showing you yet. But they’ve occasioned a pillow problem. Which I need to solve.

You all know how important pillows are, right? They need to express the innermost gestalt of a home’s inhabitants while simultaneously reflecting the owners’ design sensibility/ies and radiating a certain flirty charm not always achieved by a couple of squares of fabric and some duck parts. Yes, friends, we ask a lot of our pillows. Which may be why, in addition to those scattered about our house, I have a closet full of pillows that are rejects in temporary hibernation. But no matter! Change your mind (and I do, often), change your pillow! (Apologies to the Dalai Lama.)

Herewith, some living room pillow options. If you’d like to link to your pillow pick of the week, please do so via a comment.

From West Elm, this style-straddling silk wonder:

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From Artsy, this Finnish beauty:

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From Lekker, this delightful abstraction:

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From Mogwaii via Etsy (just discovered her!), this, which is much more figural than my normal taste, and probably too small, but lovely:

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From TiendaURSA via Etsy (another recent find), this poppy pattern:

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Again via Etsy, this very un-Ikat Ikat:

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From Affaires Nomades via Etsy, this beauty (way outside my price range, but so pretty!):

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I think I linked to this, from Melongings via Etsy, before, but it’s now under serious consideration:

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I’ve linked to the work of From Past to Present before, but this is new to me:

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West Elm just announced the fall preview, and I love this:

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I’ve been crushing on this for a while, and now it’s an extra 20% off! Practically free!

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From Bluebellgray via Gretel Home, this painterly gorgeous thing:

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What to do? I’m thinking of a blend of three of the blue patterns. Then again, I’m wondering whether we don’t need some contrasting color (via Bluebellgray) in the living room (there’s a lot of white, cream, black, and wood in there, not to mention a very large Michael Eastman photograph which reads very blue at times). Plus, I just found out that Bemz, from whom we bought our sofa cover,* makes 50 x 50 cm pillow covers, which opens up a whole new line of thought (plain linen pillows in complementary shades, anyone?)! Honestly? At the moment, I have no idea what I’ll do, and I probably won’t until everything I’m interested in has been sold off to less dilatory purchasers. Pillows for me, it seems, are mostly about dreaming and aspiration (some of us, clearly, ask more of our pillows than others). So, maybe for now I’ll just rearrange all the pillows I have and put them in different places around the house. (And oh, yes, save money for that bathroom reno.)

*The online pic makes the sofa cover look really brown. In person, it’s a lovely soft sage greeny-taupe, and reads 100% neutral.

Sweet little Buttercup.

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We’ve had a Blu Dot Buttercup walnut veneer rocker for about five years now—it was a birthday present to me from my dad (yes, we do give good gifts in our family). Blu Dot, a lovely little industrial design outfit in Minneapolis, used to manufacture all of its pieces right there in Minnesota, but since the company got bigger, it’s moved some of the work to Europe, and quality control is sadly not what it used to be. I wasn’t satisfied with the finish on my sweet little Buttercup when I first got her, but ignored the problem because I love the chair so much (plus, as you can see, it’s the perfect complement to our walnut Eames LCW). When the poly covering the veneer started to craze about six months after I got it, though, I began to think perhaps something should be done.

I delayed, of course, actually doing anything about the problem until the store that my Buttercup came from had long gone out of business (sigh; it was a truly excellent little design store in Carroll Gardens whose name I forget, but that started with an ‘M,’ and was run by a lovely Turkish guy, and I think opened about three years too early). At that point, I had very few alternatives for recourse (especially since the manufacturer’s warranty had long expired). Thanks to Blu Dot’s very friendly, very effective customer service, I was able to exchange the shell even at that point (Buttercups are manufactured like Eames rockers, with shells and bases that are interchangeable)—but the replacement I got was equally poorly finished. So, I sent it back, and decided to wait (and wait, and wait) until the day when I either got sick enough of the finish to do something about it myself, or could afford to have the chair professionally refinished.

In subsequent years, the crazing got worse, and the chair yellowed, and we moved three hundred miles away, and the chair looked even more yellow in the clearer northern light, and then yellowed more and more until it looked downright awful, and then one day last week (probably one of the days I had spring fever), I decided that I Just. Could. Not. Take. It. Anymore. Funds being what they are in the self-employment-new-business-too-much-pro-bono-work-world, I decided I should tackle the renewal of my Buttercup myself*—with, of course, some serious help in the form of Morgan’s excellent tutorial on refreshing aging wood and Daniel’s equally excellent follow-up on the same topic. Where my project diverged from theirs was simple: My chair started out with a polyurethane finish. (I called Blu Dot last week just to make sure the finish was, indeed, poly over veneer, and Chad assured me it was.) That meant I was actually going to have to strip. (Daniel was right; projects like this are full of unfortunate metaphors.) I was not going to apply poly to Buttercup again, though—why ruin a good walnut veneer a second time? No, a natural low-luster look for my gal, via a teak oil and wax finish, was what I was after. Hence, the addition of stripping to the refreshing. (This horrible syntax and general language idiocy must stop now.)

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Digression: Here’s a before picture of the chair (sort of; I was half way through the job yesterday before I realized that I hadn’t taken any before pictures, and apparently I hated the finish that little Buttercup had ended up with so much that when I photographed the house earlier this year I tried to show as little of the chair as possible). You can see just from the tiny corner showing how yellowed and miserable she was. Poor thing.

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What would a project report be without a crazily enhanced, strangely backlit tool kit photo? (I’m embracing the crappy iPhone photo aesthetic!) Let me say also here that this was an excellent project because it allowed me to buy, use, and store in our basement (never had a basement before, folks! Using it all up!) several new products, and also allowed me to send my spouse to the hardware store twice in one day (thank you, spouse, for your help!). I chose Citrastrip for the stripping agent, because it gets uniformly excellent reviews, is (relatively) non-toxic, and has an insanely stupid branding tagline (click here if you don’t believe me)—and because Buttercup is veneered plywood, and I didn’t want to eat through the wood with a stronger stripper. Yes, I know that sentence is offensive, and also conceptually makes no sense. Let’s move on now, shall we? We’ll get to the other products in the picture in due course.

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This is Buttercup from the top and then from the bottom, each time halfway through stripping and scraping that particular side. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, I slathered the Citrastrip on one side of Buttercup and waited 30 minutes—at which point I was able, unbelievably, to scrape off the old poly. Boy, does that stuff work fast. At this point I was feeling completely (a little too much, perhaps) like a rock star. This feeling persisted right through the slathering and scraping of side two, and all the way to the next paragraph.

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At this point I had a chair shell without any patches of poly, and with a much better looking grain, but with a whole lot of what the Citrastrip people call ‘residue,’ which amounted in my case to black balls of poly and Citrastrip all over the shell. I mention this in case you, too, decide to spend a tranquil hour some morning blithely stripping a chair shell and, flushed with your initial success, think you will be done with the entire refinishing project before lunch. If you are ever in this position, know that the worst is yet to come. You will have to get that residue off before you proceed, and it is icky and tenacious. If you are smart, you will already have sent your spouse off on trip no. 2 to the hardware store for mineral spirits (AKA paint thinner) and steel wool. If not, you will lose your temper a couple of times while trying to get the residue off with a scrub sponge and a bowl of soapy water. Then you will send your spouse off. He will be unerringly patient and cheerful while you act like a crazed DIY lunatic on crack (or menopausal hormones). Then he will go off and purchase your supplies, returning with a smile and an offer of help, at which point you will feel even more like an ungrateful moron. You will probably cry a little while removing said residue, which will take you more than an hour and a half and put you very far behind schedule for the rest of your workday, thus ensuring continued good times of feeling bad about yourself. If any or all of this happens to you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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That’s Buttercup, minus the poly and (thank God, finally) the residue. You’ll notice that she looks a little hazy and, in fact, I had to fight absolute panic at this point, thinking that she would never recover, and that I had ruined her. But I am a rational person (sometimes, the above paragraph notwithstanding). Also, I remembered that Morgan said in her tutorial that the wood would look hazy after cleaning. I figured this was an analogous situation (plus, what was I going to do at this point if it wasn’t?) and pressed on to cheesecloth, and wiping on my first coat of Watco Teak Oil.**

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After the first coat of oil, Buttercup was looking downright sleek. The instructions said to leave the oil on for half an hour; Morgan said ten minutes. I split the difference and, after fifteen minutes, wiped off the first coat, and wiped on the second. This I let sit for a good twenty minutes before taking a rag to Buttercup. After a couple of minutes of smoothing and polishing, I began to notice how incredibly different the shell looked already. Just like Morgan said it would be, it was lustrous! And beautiful! It looked like walnut—satiny, smooth walnut—rather than some icky yellowed crappy cheap-ass pasteurized process fake wood food product! I couldn’t stop grinning and petting Buttercup. I made the spouse come ooh and aah with me just for good measure (and so I could take a break and take some Advil). After oohing and aahing some more, I slathered on some Howard Feed-N-Wax (best stuff ever), let that sit for 20 minutes, and then polished. Then I carried the shell inside, and reassembled the chair. And this—this—is what she looks like now:

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So much better. I will admit, in this picture, she is not perfect***; there are a couple areas that still look a little sketchy (although some of that shininess is that the second coat of Feed-N-Wax had not entirely soaked in before I took pictures; I could not wait!), and she could probably use a little more polishing. But all in all? In one day, to go from a sad, forlorn little nebbish of a chair, deprived of her rightful place in the pantheon of modernist furniture, to this sexy, gorgeous supermodel chair thing? Va va voom, sweet little Buttercup. You go, girl.

Now, I have a problem. I want to refinish all the things. Let’s start with our beat up walnut Mag table, shall we? And the dining table? How about tomorrow? Or should I actually do some work this week? Like, you know, for people depending on me for things? Actual clients and stuff?

Yeah. Back to work.

BONUS PROJECT! The snowshoes? Spouse got them at our local flea market for $50 Saturday, and I cleaned them, polished them (more Feed-N-Wax; seriously, there is nothing that stuff cannot do) and hung them yesterday. Pretty cool as Scandi-modern American farmhouse midcentury cabin décor, eh?

* Let me digress here by saying that “refinish a chair” should have been on my life list. I’ve never refinished a piece of furniture—before today, that is—all by myself. My mom would be proud!

**This is what Morgan said to use for a super-natural look. She said I could also have used Danish oil, but I wanted the chair to look like walnut and not something else (we’d had enough of that), and so I chose an oil with zero added color. True, I kind of winged it here; teak oil is supposedly for super hard, dense woods, and I wasn’t sure it would work as well on Buttercup’s walnut veneer as it had on Morgan’s and Daniel’s teak pieces. But in for a penny, in for an expensive refinishing job if my plan didn’t work. Also: I should buy stock in Rustoleum.

***Try the top pic. I took that one this morning.

Life list.

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Spring always ushers in a need for a refresh, and I’ve been thinking about how best to accomplish the things I really want to get to this year (some excellent thoughts on this by other people via links in tomorrow’s post, by the way). All that thinking has, not unexpectedly, brought up once again the concept of making a life list. Believe it or not, I—a woman who lives and dies by her lists—don’t have a life list (or at least didn’t, until today). Full disclosure: I always thought life lists were a little weird (what happens if you die without crossing everything off? Are you mad at yourself for eternity?)…until I came across this truly excellent exemplar by AB Chao. So, is it weird to write your first life list when you’re almost 50? I hope not. Because here’s my first draft (complete with a couple of things I did in the past year entered and crossed off, just because I’m so proud that I did them). Comments and suggestions for additions strongly encouraged!

JUDI KAMIEN’S LIFE LIST (IN PROGRESS)

Pilot a plane
Build a house
Learn to knit
Make the perfect steak tartare
Travel to Sweden
Plumb a sink
Write a novel
Learn to recognize trees by their leaves
Design the perfect skirt
Drive across Canada
Live in Italy
Live in an Eichler home
Get an MA in graphic design
Watch a lamb being born
Plant grapevines (and harvest them!)
Eat in twenty three-star Michelin restaurants
Live in Germany (again)
Build a stone wall
Move somewhere completely new
Bake the perfect loaf of bread
Travel to near Dillon, Montana
Go up in a glider (with my glider pilot spouse)
Sail through the Greek islands
Build a pizza oven
Learn to fish
Start a non-profit
Drive a Maserati
Start a blog
Quit my job
Plumb a toilet
Travel to Alaska
Learn to kayak
Design the perfect boots
Open an art gallery with my friend Jennifer
Plant an olive grove
Travel to Budapest and Prague
Have a photograph published
Learn to make wine
Celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary
Restore a Saab 900 Turbo
Go snowshoeing
Design a landscape
See the Easter Island statues
Get elected to something
Travel to Mount Rushmore
Buy and renovate a brownstone
Write a cookbook
Live in California
Learn to recognize birds by their calls
Drive across the US (on both routes)
Occupy an ‘owner’s suite’ with an en-suite bathroom
Learn Spanish (properly)
Travel to Helsinki for Christmas
Learn to sew (properly)
Live in a loft space
Install a tile backsplash
Paint a painting
Build a chair
Start a business
Publish a book
Own an Eames leather lounge chair and ottoman
Go to law school
Bake a wedding cake for a friend
Design wallpaper
Create a new line of jewelry

Photo by the exceptionally cool George Conklin (taken at our wedding).

Oh, IKEA, how I love you.

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For some time now, I’ve been thinking about composing a paean to the Supreme God of Home Decoration.* After all, I’ve been shopping there since I was a wee tot (OK, since I was about 7, actually), which makes it forty-three years now that IKEA has been enjoying my custom (not to mention feeding me shrimp sandwiches and, since I’ve moved to the US, assuaging my homesickness for Europe and European culture). My love for IKEA and all it implies is legendary among my friends, and my husband learned early on that my favorite date night always involves the Swedish behemoth. What’s not to adore about a store that combines good design with democratic socialism to make, in IKEA-speak, ‘a better everyday life for the many people?’**

Until today, IKEA had for me but one flaw, a flaw I discovered not long after moving far, far away from the Brooklyn store in Red Hook: It can be very hard to get IKEA products if you’re not actually at an IKEA. Oh, sure, IKEA says you can order most items off the website, but in practicality, that’s not true (especially when, like me, you purchase a lot of well-designed everyday items, like paper napkins and candles from IKEA, which tends to sell only larger items online; also, the freight charges can be as ridiculous as this run-on sentence). And this can be just slightly problematic when you’re (a) a Virgo; (b) you procrastinate so long when deciding to purchase an item that it appends to its description that fatal word, ‘discontinued;’ and (c) there’s only one central IKEA telephone number for the US and one for Canada, and getting through to any store in North America directly is a task roughly equal to that imposed on Sisyphus.

Last weekend, the spouse and I escaped to Montreal for a couple of days of steak tartare at our favorite Québécois resto and some serious urban strolling and window shopping. (Bet you wondered where I was, didn’t you?) And, of course, on our way home, we stopped at IKEA for a few hundred dollars’ (we didn’t mean to, but there was that lightweight duvet, and the pillows, and the magnets, and…) worth of necessary (see above) household items. And, as usual, on our way to the self-service checkout, we detoured through the As-Is section. The Boucherville store has a particularly excellent As-Is (for those of you unfamiliar with the IKEA philosophy, this is where you get showroom items, returned items, and slightly shopworn merch at deep, deep discounts), and there, in all its glory—just three weeks after it disappeared with no trace from the website and was presumably discontinued—was the tiny but perfect Ånn sink, lusted after for years by me and just the right size for our downstairs guest bathroom. For $49. New. In box. Unblemished. Untouched by other shoppers. Pristine. Perfect. Gentle reader, what would you have done?

The only problem with Ånn is that she’s kind of idiosyncratic; she has her very own faucet, and no other will do (she’s also kind of particular). In the hazy glow of satisfaction at finding our perfect guest bathroom sink (let alone at the price we had found her for), I kind of forgot that if the sink had been discontinued, the faucet probably had, too.

Then I remembered. About 10:00PM last night. After we were back in the US. Two and a half hours from our nearest IKEA.

Rather than admit defeat and prepare to return the sink (yes, we do go to IKEA that often; yes, those trips involve an international border; yes, we are somewhat crazy people), I decided to start looking for alternate faucets (that’s a technical term, right?). After about an hour of looking, I became extremely testy about the whole enterprise. Why is it that only Europeans can make tiny little sinks? If Americans could make tiny little sinks then the tiny little faucets that go with them wouldn’t cost $400 and be manufactured by people with names like Dornbracht (well, I’m used to that name, but you’re probably not). And I was certainly not going to buy Ånn, cute as she is, a $400 faucet. Hell, Rocky only got a sheepskin rug out of the weekend, and he’s a dog. At least, this was my thinking along about, oh, say, midnight last night (obsessed? Me?). So then I went to bed and slept on the problem and got on the phone to IKEA Canada this morning, which couldn’t ship me a faucet, and then called IKEA Brooklyn, which also could not, and was contemplating calling IKEA Frisco (that’s Texas, not California), and IKEA Denver, both of which have shipped things to me before (I really do not need help for my IKEA problem, my sentence structure, or my love of parenthetical references, thank you very much), but then decided to call IKEA Stoughton first to see whether they could help. (Boston’s only a little more than three hours’ drive. What’s three hours when there’s a renovation at stake?)

And that’s when I learned, via Sherry at IKEA Stoughton, that IKEA Pittsburgh (oh, city of my spouse’s birth, you have such enterprising people within your borders) has a home shopping service, and that—until I just bought one—they had 21 Ånn faucets still in stock. (I provide this information as a public service just in case you, too, are looking for Ånn, but hurry! Once she’s gone, she is like unto a Gillian Flynn novel.) And then, in a miracle of no doubt Swedishly-mandated (no, I do not care that that is not a real word) technology, Sherry connected me to Janet.

Hello, Janet of IKEA Pittsburgh, my new best friend. How mellifluous your voice. How dulcet your tone as you tell me that yes, Sherry was right, and you have 21 Ånn faucets still in stock. How sweet your demeanor as you look me up in the system (look me up in the system? IKEA does that? Oh yes, they do now) and tell me that you have all my information from when I made that recent purchase via the Frisco store. How accommodating your manner when you quote me a mere $18 for shipping (recall, gentle reader, I was going to drive three hours each way for this $79 faucet; imagine the cost of 93 octane gas for that trip) and tell me that no, there will be no tax, since I live in the wilds of the frozen North where (curse you, my adopted state) there is no IKEA store. How friendly your farewell. How unblemished your service. How mighty your power.

Ånn (the completer set) arrives next week and—assuming I don’t trip over her other half and crack it—will be ready for installation as soon as we figure out the toilet (we’re thinking of this), the tile (thinking of this), the paint color (thinking of this), the light (God only knows; any ideas?), and the fan (the current fan is atrociously loud). And black doors!

Oh, IKEA, how I love you.

*Yes sirree Bob, that link is to IKEA Canada. Have I mentioned more than twice yet that our nearest store is in Boucherville?
**Except that embarrassing thing about Ingvar Kamprad, but he’s reformed, so let’s just move on.

That pic up there? Yep, that’s our ‘local’ IKEA. Or, you know, a repository of extremely giant hot dogs.

The untimely end of Folk Art.

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UPDATE! After a storm of criticism in the design community, The New York Times reported on May 9 that MoMA is reconsidering its decision. Hooray for public protest!

What do you do with a building when you don’t like it? Well, if you’re a behemoth cultural institution, you just…say…no. This week ushered in yet more bad news from the art world: MoMA is planning to demolish the former headquarters of the American Folk Art Museum. Apparently, according to the New York Times, the building—which MoMA acquired for $32 million in a lopsided deal that the Folk Art hoped would allow it to pay off most of its outstanding construction loan—just didn’t fit the MoMA aesthetic: ‘the opaque facade [was deemed] not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum.’

AFAM—a lovely, lyrical small project on Manhattan’s West 53rd Street—was created by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who are generally acknowledged to be masters of their particular vernacular, which is site- and subject- and time- and gestalt-appropriate buildings. The four-story structure is only twelve years old, which makes MoMA’s decision particularly interesting and particularly, well, horrifying. The news that yet another bulldozer will soon show up in Midtown has incited a plethora of richly deserved criticism; from Designboom to HuffPo to the New York Review of Books, concerned citizens on both sides of the Modernist fence are lining up to take pot shots at MoMA. There’s a petition, and a Twitter hashtag. Heck, even the original project architects have spoken out. Perhaps the harshest words, though, came from Ned Cramer, who wrote in Architect this week that ‘It’s as though the [MoMA] board voted to incinerate a Gerhard Richter painting because it didn’t match the floor tile or fit through the doorway.’

I can honestly claim to have somewhat of a relationship with both the erstwhile Folk Art and the new MoMA, since I worked at the Museum of Arts and Design on West 53rd Street (across the street from both museums) during both the construction of the Williams/Tsien project and the expansion of MoMA. I should clarify here that I am not an architect (although I would have liked to have been), nor do I play one on TV. I am, however, a former museum professional, and as a lifelong student of culture—much of that study accomplished in a country where it was taken for granted that the arts would be nurtured and supported by citizens and the state alike—I think I can claim to have some idea of the worth of public architecture. I am also an ex-New Yorker and a former Midtown worker, and—thus—a reluctant student of the disruptions caused by large construction projects. And, without turning this into a modern-day David and Goliath story, I am more than happy to testify here on the smaller building’s behalf.

Leaving aside the obvious comparisons between AFAM and MoMA (I said we wouldn’t get into the David and Goliath story)—relative size, relative budget, relative endowment (not that endowment…the other one!), relative pronounceability of acronyms, relative whatever else there might be—and reacting to the news in a purely subjective way, wow. This one hurts. I remember, as I said, both the construction of AFAM and the reconstruction of MoMA, and while the former was fun to watch (Huge slabs of metal! Large hunks of wood! Outsider art! Resin!), the latter was decidedly not (Glass! Concrete! Glass! Concrete! Glass! Modernist tropes!). And, with regard to the reversal of AFAM’s construction, I, a rationalist to the nth degree, am—as I implied earlier—going with feeling on this one. I suppose I could, to honor that rationalist streak and bolster my argument that new public architecture deserves a chance, enumerate the differences between the demeanors of the AFAM and MoMA public relations machines when it came to justifying the hell that MAD, as a cultural neighbor, was going to have to withstand during construction. I could talk about the believability of one machine over another when it came to making that cultural neighbor feel that it had a stake in the ground when it came to the owner of the machine’s success. (I suppose it’s not relevant to mention here the howls of disgust that echoed through MAD when David Rockefeller came out in the Times for MoMA’s then-astronomical $20 admission fee, but what the heck; it’s out now.) I could even drag out joint programming that ensued between that cultural neighbor and one of those institutions (can’t find a link for that one; I assure you, it happened), and talk about how the other institution existed, in most of the MAD staffers’ minds, as little more than a bar we could drink at after work, but I won’t. (No point in that now, anyway, since the new MAD has its very own bar!)

What I will say is that when my brilliant curator bosom buddy Jennifer and I toured the new AFAM for the first time, I was moved beyond words. What Williams and Tsien had created was, simply, a brave building—an iconoclastic vessel for outsider dreams that stood apart from both its subject and its time and yet somehow managed to incorporate the spirit of the moment. It was strange, and wonderful, and exuberantly modern (no, MoMA, you do not own that word), and like no museum we had yet experienced. Its exterior had (some said) nothing to do with the art it showed within. It was (some said) hard, somehow, and unyielding. And it had (some said) bad feng shui. And yet (we all said), it worked. It worked in a completely visceral way, and I loved it. I loved it for what it was, and I loved it for what I saw in it, and I loved it for what I imagined it could be, and could represent, and for what it meant to MAD as our neighbor. I loved its long and hard birth as a forerunner of what we were about to experience during our reconstruction of 2 Columbus Circle. I loved it because it took a stand. And I loved it because it wasn’t like anything else out there.

And MoMA did not.

End of story?

Some people still think of MAD’s 2 Columbus Circle project as the desecration of a great work of public architecture (thanks again, Tom Wolfe, for that two-part editorial in the Times). Without going into great detail about the differences between the re-imagining of a building that was unsuccessful as a cultural space because it was not built for the type of art it would show and the destruction of a building that was unsuccessful as a cultural space because the institution that originally commissioned it failed economically, let me say this. It is entirely characteristic of the MoMA bureaucracy that I came to know and despise, during my tenure in the world of New York City cultural institutions, that it would make a decision to tear down a relatively new and undeniably interesting and important building rather than work hard to save it. Why? Because the act of destruction bespeaks a complete failure of imagination. And, sadly, that is what (to me) MoMA most accurately represents these days, what with its desperately blockbuster exhibitions and its less than innovative public spectacles: A failure of imagination, clinging to posterity. Sorry, MoMA.

It’s anyone’s guess how this story will end…debates over architecture in New York tend to incorporate a lot of surprises. However it ends, I hope it’s MoMA that ends it, and I hope in a creative and (dare I say) imaginative way. How about a lab for Paola Antonelli? How about a new home for Kickstarter? How about a 3-D printing campus? How about a tech startup incubator? How about, in fact, anything except yet another extension of your glass curtain wall? Come on, MoMA. Show us some balls. Or don’t you remember when your art was outsider, too?

Image by ryanouimette, via Flickr. And thanks, Jen, for this post’s title.

Written by Comments Off on The untimely end of Folk Art. Posted in Art, Design

Monday Etsy roundup.

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I spent the weekend tweaking the house (more about that later), and so—of course—this resulted in a fit of Etsy browsing. Herewith, some old and new favorites, for personal and household adornment (I won’t blame you if you get there first):

This necklace is both unusual and lovely (and I can attest to the quality of Jen’s work, since I already own a couple of pieces by her):

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I’ve had my eye on these mugs forever! Maybe it’s finally time to pull the trigger…

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We have a set of Sara’s vases in black already…how about these bottles for some contrast?

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These shelves could be the perfect answer to our living room dilemma:

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It’s surprising to me that I don’t already own these studs:

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The last thing I need is another sugar and creamer set (especially since I drink my coffee black). But just look at this one!

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I’m in love with this totally impractical bag:

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The rule of Eames applies similarly to pillows. How about this for spring?

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Another pillow (for my spouse, of Welsh descent):

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Someone has to own this gorgeous vase. Why not me?

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This pendant is huge and gorgeous. Imagine the statement it would make against a black turtleneck:

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I’ve had my eye on Logan Hendrickson’s work for some time, and now that this lamp comes with a walnut socket, I’m trying to figure out a place for it:

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And finally, returning to my Eames obsession…from CoMod, an Eames rocker, in vintage seafoam!

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All images via Etsy (first image via this listing).