Sunday, March 31, 2013

...table hopping for DIFFA: Dining by Design 2013.

The tables may be cleared, but the inspiration is still being served up. Dining by Design, the annual tabletop design extravaganza to benefit DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, is one of my favorite events of the year, for its inspiration, cause and hot-ticket parties. And while it’s short-lived (a mere few days, during the run of the Architectural Digest Home Show), it does manage to linger on the memory... only fitting, since the tables and environments created around them no doubt take months of thought, planning, soliciting, fabrication and then finessing.
The entrance gallery was custom created by Clark Gaynor Interiors and Input Creative Studios, and framed the Ralph Lauren dining pavilion.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending the New York event (or companion events in one of five other cities), the premise is simple: create table-based vignettes, high on creativity but with a dose of practicality: the tables have to host an actual dinner. And every year I’ve attended and secretly scored and ranked the tables, it’s been based on two main factors: who has assembled something particularly creative, and who has created a table, were I invited to dinner, where I’d be particularly happy to turn the corner into a dining room or home and see the table before me. The table, to me, has to look like a party you want to be invited to.
Clark Gaynor Interiors and Input Creative Studios gave the event's entryway the buzz of a broadway marquee, setting the event's color story-- AIDS-ribbon red-- in motion.
The successes this year were a mixture of both, while overall it seemed in some ways a return to the roots of the event, with emphasis squarely focused on the tablescaping. In years past, there have been herculean efforts by companies like Disney where the set-ups were almost as much about the architecture of the space as the setting of the table. (I’ve joked in the past that the event is almost Habitat for Humanity). I’m a tabletop fanatic, so I love the return to basics. Well, if you can call any of these gorgeous creations “basic.” But you can't Blanche, you can't!

Here’s my tour of the top designs, and some trends I was both happy, and not so, to see.

Ralph Lauren
Pride of place and my top honors went to the folks at Ralph Lauren, whose desert-driven dining pavilion was the anchor table set at the event’s entrance. In the past, Ralph’s people have created saloon porches, a rose-laden equestrian race-day and last year, one of my favorites, a chic aprés ski set-up (one step away from ski lodge mod!). 

This year, in spite of scale, the table was remarkably understated, and my favorite for its earthy, sandy colors, running water wall, palmetto trunks, and flower arrangements that, while simple, garnered the praise of many an astute colleague, including Ken Wampler of The Alpha Workshops. “Those are some ranunculi!” he marveled, at the opening night dinner, even among the considerable distractions of the evening.

It seems a tad unfair to give top honors to Ralph Lauren, since, well, this is what they do. It’s a bit like praising an Olympic marathon runner for finishing first at a charity 5K. But, assuming plentiful resource, they showed an elegant restraint, with lots of tricks to take home: limit but repeat your elements, mix high and low, pay extra attention to texture in a simplified set-up, and watch your scale.

Moody, interactive, elegant and CHOCOLATE. Gensler Architects went dark, swanky and glamorous without losing the celebratory sense of the event. That gorgeous purple back wall wasn’t some Swarovski indulgence: It was purple-foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses, which people were invited to unwrap. 
The wall then became a living art piece, and took on the wild beauty of a fading bed of tulips, more exuberant in its demise than its original state. It was an idea as brilliant as the crystal candlesticks, and a testament to the ingenuity of using a humble material in a most remarkable, memorable and engaging way.

With such a big idea behind it all, they kept everything else clean: simple shapes and repeated blacks, in both matte and gloss, another way to keep a limited scheme from falling flat, tabletop or room.

Benjamin Moore
Party designer extraordinaire David Stark once again took the colorful helm of the Benjamin Moore booth, and this year went literal: this table vignette about paint was, well, about paint. Colorful, fun, but missing a tiny bit of the clever wit of past designs that featured last year a colorful library, and my favorite, the year iPods took the place of candles on candelabra to celebrate the then-new Benjamin Moore app. 
But it was still fun, lovely and with an Alice in Wonderland feel that style and brand blogger Jan Maclatchie has noted popping up just about everywhere.

David Rockwell for Maya Romanoff
Long aligned with DIFFA (he was Chair for ten years before passing the reins to Interior Design magazine’s Cindy Allen), design Renaissance man David Rockwell channeled his sets for Cyndi Lauper’s new Broadway endeavor, “Kinky Boots” at a table enlivened with Maya Romanoff’s “Stitched” wall covering in Candy Apple. 

Laces, boots and corsets were all evoked, in a ruby-red room where you half expected to see Sally Bowles or Bob Fosse spin a chair around after a quick eight count. And while she didn’t do a number, Cyndi herself made the ultimate (and gorgeous!) centerpiece on the night of the dinner gala.

Inson Dubois Wood for Fendi Casa
Black, white and chic all over: show house vet Inson Wood created an enclosed dining room to showcase the collections of Fendi Casa. While the sense of enclosure is a tricky risk for the main public viewings of the show, I can tell you this: It made for a wonderful dinner venue, as I was honored to join the likes of Inson himself, Holiday House impresario Iris Dankner, designer Kara Mann and the charming hosts from Fendi at the actual dinner. 
As always, Inson makes traditional look fresh. And in a deft display of form following function: those stripes on the wall? A super-graphic extension of the Fendi F.

Federico Delrosso for Corinthian Capital Group
Most interesting construction went to Federico Delrosso, hosted by Corinthian Capital Group, a spartan but still elegant table seeming to sprout up from the floor of a an actual water tank. 
I especially loved the lighting, three tiny halogen spots from a wood light bridge, the whole thing scented with fresh wood, and later, the free-flowing wine of one of the event’s main sponsors, La Crema. I'd love to be invited to this table, and any smart restauranteur with some space to spare should snap this idea (or the tank itself) right up as the perfect private room.
Other Tables of Note
Barry Barr Dixon’s new line for Arteriors was minimally styled but with artistry, and created a tiny corner of Qarth itself, framed by his carved screens, and a counterpoint of simplified stools. It managed to be evocative, mystic and mysterious, fit for a Khaleesi.

Lighting is key at this event, and Beacon Hill used it theatrically, to create a moonlit garden.

Elizabeth Bolognino Interiors created a bronzed and burnished dining nook centered on circles.
A pair of high-backed banquettes framed out the space for Croscill.

Kenneth Coponbue created an entire pavilion from his signature woven materials. The table's clipped corners were a stroke of necessary genius, giving access and squeezing in two more seats. 

Vern Yip created this flowered-drum song for Fabricut, including a centerpiece made from fabric rosettes.

Marc Blackwell was busy: Host Committee, DIFFA Trustee, Student Initiative table mentor, and he had time to create this sunny little ode to orange, where high and humble mixed happily.
Marimekko took a moodier-than-usual look at color, inspired by the grays and blues of a changing sky. It was an interesting alternative to their normal boisterous, joyous color stories.

The table for Architectural Digest used one of my favorite tricks: build a neutral, low-key envelope, and you end up getting a LOT of mileage from whatever color you introduce. Lighting was key to making this grown up in spite of its obvious playfulness.

Student Design Initiative
Each year, the gap between student tables and the creations of design pros and veterans narrows, and this year, the students had some of the most successful, creative, and conceptual tables, in an event where some of the other corporate endeavors were heavy-handed with product placement and branding. These students should be proud.

Pratt Institute, with mentors Arpad Baksa and J. Josephson Inc.
New York University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons and Pratt Institute all turned it out and held their own, under the deft tutelage of professional mentors like David Rockwell (with Barry Richards, for NYU) and 2Michaels, the ladies themselves no strangers to Dining by Design or theatrical, poetic presentation, for Parsons The New School for Design (the cloud-formed organic/geometric exercise.)
ALL wire hangers: with mentor David Rockwell, NYU students created chic from humble: that architectural grid was all coat hangers, beautifully enlivening the freeing concept that "closets are for clothes, not people."

What I especially loved about the student tables was the head-on addressing of the main reason for, and heart of this event: the social issues surrounding AIDS funding, awareness and remembrance. In years prior, AIDS was absent in theme and conversation. Kudos to the students and mentors for making sure the A of DIFFA was honored, with grace, elegance and respect. The tables they created kept those in the industry lost over the years in the hearts and minds of many. It was a lovely reminder.

Corporate Tables
This is a fundraiser, and to be honest, participation ain’t cheap. So it’s no wonder that the corporate sponsors really want to get the biggest bang for their branding buck. But that can sometimes mean a table or room that looks more like a well-designed trade show than creative fete. While I am a huge fan of Design Within Reach, the chair graphics on the walls made this look like a store window. A bit of a shame, since the styling of their catalogs of late has been remarkably gorgeous, curated and art-directed to true perfection. It would have been great to see, for example, an architectural slatted wall, or even one of their own pre-fab buildings as the backdrop or setting. The tabletop itself, monochrome and architectural, was perfect, with an understandably mismatched suite of iconic chairs. So close! (but don't misunderstand: there are no losers here).

Lee Jofa was another display where product placement almost overrode artistry, but it still managed a garden-party-pretty setting with the allover fabric from their line designed by Aerin Lauder. It was proof, like Gensler, that repetition of one element can give a space architectural presence, even if in this case the repeated thing is organic and floral.

The Non-Table Dining Set-up
This year, for the first time, two tables weren’t tables at all: Charlene Bank Keogh, Adeline Olmer and Blane Charles teamed up to create “Dinner in le Boudoir de Madame,” and Thom Filicia, for The New York Design Center, created a living room, plenty of seating but no dining table in sight.
I love Thom and his work, but I don’t love this trend, at all. Don’t get me wrong, his room was GORGEOUS (perfectly appointed, dramatically lit, an amazing assemblage of high-personality pieces from NYDC showrooms like Designlush and Profiles), as was the bedroom set up (which, in fairness, did have one small table). But to take the dining out of Dining by Design just doesn’t work. It’s precisely that common denominator that showcases the creativity of the participants each and every year. And it needs to remain a baseline. It’s a bit like the trend at this year’s Holiday House... where some designers seemed to slide from actual holidays. That just takes the fun, and the core differentiating brand, out of both events.

Missing this year also were the “entry level” five-top tables, which in years prior have showcased up-and-comers. Perhaps a casualty of the cost of the event, and the need for bigger tables and bigger sponsors to generate funds and justify real estate. Maybe DIFFA will consider a scaled down “Luncheon by Design” to give a new generation of designers and vendors with slightly more shallow pockets the opportunity to serve up some serious tabletop design. They’re already doing a summer “Picnic by Design.” Maybe Luncheon by Design could become their fall signature event. I’d go. Even better, I'd design!

The slight lack of tables aside, I’m still dreaming of what I’d create, given the chance (this event is squarely on my design bucket list). The party guests might hate me, but I’m thinking canoes. Around, of course, a dining table.

Get Social! Find DIFFA, Clark Gaynor Interiors, and the New York Design Center on Facebook.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

...about meeting in the middle: when monochromatic isn't entirely in the cards.

It is great compliment, and very flattering: New York reader Brett writes: "I really like your work and am hoping that you can help me "Patrickfy" my bedroom. I got inspired by your blog ("...about a beige bedroom") and tried to do my bedroom in shades of black/dark grey.” 

Well, he’ll get no argument from me: my very favorite room in the house to build from one notch on the color wheel is the bedroom. It’s calming, it’s soothing, and you can get a LOT of high style look by keeping color constant.

Brett continues: “I like a clean contemporary type room. Simple lines. I want it to look sexy and confident, but it has to be practical (i.e. sufficient storage space).

“I don't mind spending money on something that I will take along with me when/if I move, but would like to kind of get options or pieces at different price points.” Sounds like we’re on the same page: my philosophy has always been “Invest, Save, Splurge,” for any room, at any stage of your life, rented or owned.

But while Brett wants a possibly-all-black bedroom, he’s not giving me carte blanche. There are some givens, some starting points and some “client request,” all fairly familiar situations with my real-life Manhatttan clients. So let’s see where we’re starting before we see where to go.

Working with What’s There
Brett is off to a GREAT start with his headboard, Calvin Klein bedding, the side table and that rug (which I WANT, by the way). So we’ll start there. No problem, no argument, no returns.

Coming Up Short
Like most New Yorkers, Brett wants more bedroom storage, and the bane of everyone’s existence— laundry bins!— have to be addressed. I like his idea of banishing the bins to the closet by introducing a dresser. Sold. I'd leave the tall wall next to the closet empty, except for a sexy, sculptural chair and a piece of art or mirror.

Renter Madness
I’m no stranger to designing for renters. But while some renters in Manhattan will tackle a rental just like a long-term or more permanent residence with paint, minor renovation, installed lighting and swapped out hardware (I’ve done almost all of that to my own rental), Brett doesn’t want to paint, and is reluctant to make any change more permanent than fleeting. Okay, we can work with that. Sort of. We’ll come back to this one.

Now that we know the givens, let’s start to talk style.
To Tone-on-Tone or Not to Tone-on-Tone?
It’s a clunky intro but a valid question. When we’re talking monochromatic—a room made up from just one color, or very closely related colors— it’s all about repeat, repeat, repeat. But don’t be fooled: a monochromatic room can be “mono-ANY-chromatic.” It doesn’t mean beige, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean bland. (Take a look at the work of my friend Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz to see how his all-one-color philosophy means there is NO compromise on drama...)

Making monochromatic rooms really work takes a full commitment, and that’s true of rooms that start beige, taupe, white, red or even black, like Brett wants to do. To stop short of full-on color commitment looks like you ran out of steam, or just chickened out, and you lose that seamless, buttoned-up look.

So would I tell Brett to go ALL black? You bet your paint cans.

I LOVE dark bedrooms. They’re sexy, cave-y, in this case, appropriately masculine, restful and did I mention SEXY? So why not all black?

But Brett doesn’t want to paint (and to be honest, having to paint BACK an all-black room to deposit-returning Builder’s White doesn’t sound fun). Our first hurdle. And that means the basic rules of a monochromatic room have to be tweaked right out of the gate.

Dark done right: The bedroom of San Francisco designer Agustin Sanders, as featured on Apartment Therapy
Connecting the Envelope to the Love Notes Inside
I tend to think of rooms in two parts: the “envelope” and the “contents.” The envelope is made up of the actual structure of the room, but in addition to flooring, molding and drywall, I extend the concept to the first layer past that: rugs, window treatments, anything else “installed” (like built-ins or drapery hardware, and (if you can) paint.

I think any good room is then a connection of the envelope and what you put in it. Even if the shell is a traditional Brooklyn Brownstone, and you want a polished modern interior, you can do that if there are some nods between the envelope and the furnishings, with transitions made with fabric at the windows, shared color and textures. Sure, you may have great and ornate original moldings, but modern sconces start to transition between built-in and brought-in.

But what does that mean for Brett? Well, with all the introductions of all-black content in a white box of a room, there’s never going to be full and cohesive connection... and the furnishings might end up looking like funeral guests at a wedding.  But fear not: there’s a solution to this awkward party.

Meeting in the Middle
It’s a lesson Congress could benefit from, too: when faced with polar opposites, the only way to cohesion is to meet somewhat, somehow in the middle. (I think there’s more chance of that happening here than in Congress, but let's move on.)

So for Brett, we may have to back off on the all-out monochromatic, and embrace the black and white, with some strategic grays and most importantly, some elements that marry two ends of the spectrum.

Even so, I’d still make the case for a little paint... knocking the walls down just the slightest with even a light gray on the walls is worth the paint (and lease-end repaint).

If there’s more interest in paint, I’d do at least the headboard wall black. But if that’s not in the cards, that wall needs another layer. I’ve done temporary installation of fabric stretched across a frame, like a stretched painter’s canvas as the headboard wall, and that could certainly work here.


Brett Should Go Bi
With big expanses of black and bigger expanses of white, we need a middle layer of things that are both black and white. If he didn’t already have a headboard, I’d push hard for Z-Gallerie’s James headboard, perfect with his existing bedding, too. Even his main addition, the dresser, can be “bi-color”: the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Westwood dresser is a great graphic way to make the room’s two color parts look intentional, not the product of rental limitation. I’d see that dresser paired up with the Pool side tables from DWR, if he wants to really ramp up the modern. Otherwise, I’d love an old-new mix between vintage and high modern with dresser and nightstands.
But a little goes a long way. I’m not proposing that EVERY new addition is both black and white. A little zebra goes a long way (and if you’ve been paying attention, you know I loves me some zebra). One black-and-white pattern, like these Ballard Designs Hayden Upholstered Side Tables done C.O.M. with Edelman’s Cavallini Embossed Black and White leather, one black-and-white or gray piece of art, and that’s probably enough of a marriage to make sense of all the rest.

By the way, those tables are a HUGE trend now: applying upholstery to Parson’s and waterfall tables, a well as extending the upholstery all down the leg, like Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams’ brand new-for-spring Trent chair.
Layered and Layered and Layered
Monochromatic, or here, “dichromatic,” really relies on getting the depth you might not be getting out of color with other things, like materials and texture. And layering.

So behind that headboard, and to beef up the bed, I’d get a fabric folding screen back there, like Mitchell Gold + Bob William's Eve Room Divider, flattened against the wall, in an all-black or nearly-black fabric, like Weitzner’s Estuary, in Chestnut. That will start to take some of the thunder away from the white walls, and get one step closer between the envelope and the content, since a screen like that, used in that way, has one foot in both camps: it talks to the room as architecture, it talks to the bed as a upholstered furnishing. It’s also something Brett can take with him when he moves.

Or bring INSTANT layering, with either those Nevelson-inspired Constructionist wall screens (one behind the bed, a pair flanking it) or the Curved side table, both from Weisshouse, one of the best-curated ready-to-wear furnishing outlets around. I could also see those screens behind the dresser, or soldiered up on each side of the window.

Spit and Polish
I love the starting mix Brett has: Soft and sharp, matte and shiny, traditional and not-so. He’s really wise to bring in some shine, super important in all all-dark or nearly all-dark scheme. It’s also, itself, a step between black and white of sorts. So the next steps should also bring in more shine, either with glass, lacquer, chrome or mirror. Or all of the above. The darker the room, the more it benefits from some shine.

Get Your Drape On
Even in a rental, and even with a killer view like Brett has, window treatments are worth the bother. I’d flank the window with panels of West Elm’s Velvet Grommet  drapery panels in Iron.

And even though Brett was on the hunt for in-window tension rods, DON’T DO IT. Step AWAY from the windows with tension rods. It will make your window seem smaller, and even expensive drapes will look cheap. Get those rods up and out of the window well... as far across the wall as you can, as close to the ceiling as you can manage. Your window will look bigger (I promise) and you will get far more mileage out of the fabric’s impact. 
Simple hardware can go up with minimal drilling, and it really makes a difference even if your light and privacy controls are already addressed. 

Suddenly, with softening draperies, the bed and the window are speaking to each other (and I think the biggest connection in a bedroom should be between the bed and the window treatments). Plus, a thin black rod or a thick chrome one and you've already started to knit your room elements together.

In the very least, an inside-mount Roman shade, in black. But even then, I'd flank it with panels that match in color, but vary in fabric, like a nubby black linen shade and black velvet or silk drapes. Super swanky.

Even if you like a dark room like I do, you’re going to need lighting, and lots of different kinds, especially in a bedroom, über-especially in a DARK bedroom. Lamps (black shades are great in this scheme), indirect, incandescent and halogen all have a place, and a role here, whether you’re sorting your navy and black socks or when you are engaged in, um, other pursuits that require lighting more flattering.  

If there’s not room for two nightstands, get a standing floor lamp for the window side of the bed. Get an uplight in a corner. Decide if you read in bed or not, and determine the best kind of bedside lighting (don’t dismiss wall-mount, either) based on what you do in bed. Wait. You know what I mean.

And lighting is ALWAYS a place I encourage the splurge. You can take it with you, and a classic lighting choice will stay with you for years (I’ve had my first Tizio since college).

Mixing it Up, Finishing it Up
When you limit your palette, you can have a LOT of fun with the mix. Geometric and curvy. Found and finessed. And don’t “set up” the casegoods: it's more interesting when the nightstands and the dresser don't match. I'd love to see Weisshouse's BLACK GLASS Chest of Drawers paired with Ballard Designs Small Serpentine Chest, as just one example. If there’s room for two nightstands, I’d do it (and those I don’t mind as a matched pair.) But adding a nightstand doesn’t mean tossing the mirrored stool. Let that sit just in front of a stand that gives you some storage (see “Layered, Layered, and Layered,” above.)

And on finishing up, I'd keep building from what Brett has: Although it needs some reframing love (match the whites, ditch the black bevel, beef up the outside frame... or mirror it), the cheetah print he has works nicely. I'd give it one other reference in the room: A bolster of Edelman's Cavallini Embossed Snow Leopard cowhide with a simple black leather welt would be a sexy, sexy note on the bed. Well, when Brett's not already on it.  

So, yes Brett, there’s good news and bad: you can get one step closer to a monochromatic scheme without a total blackout. And without losing your security deposit. And, unlike many things, the answer here IS black and white. Well, mostly.

Which pieces from this batch would you pull together for a sultry, sexy men’s bedroom? What tips made you go HMMM or WTF? Could YOU live in a all-black bedroom? I want to hear from you!!

And head over to Pinterest, where I've pinned all the items shown here (and then some!) so you can recreate the look.