Thursday, October 13, 2016

One has to appreciate the immense risk corporate Restoration Hardware took in deciding on the concept for their new Chicago store and the restoration of the building they chose to do it in. The building they picked against the advice of many of their consultants was the former Three Arts Club located in the heavily residential Gold Coast area to the north of Chicago's main commercial action.
The club was built in 1914 but over recent history had become derelict and rundown, still the bones were there for a magnificent building. Yet its biggest negative was not having any foot traffic. Hidden in this residential enclave it would have to become in Restoration Hardware's CEO estimation their "Field of Dreams", make it and they will come.
CEO, Gary Friedman, fell in love with the building's Byzantine decoration, its arched windows and the open interior courtyard that let in so much light. It was his belief, a bet he was ultimately willing to make, that this should and could be the new home of his enterprise. So against the advise of many others the Three Arts Club very quickly became the property of Restoration Hardware.
Now for the concept, it has always been the goal of Restoration Hardware to blur the lines between furniture store and residential inspiration. The new element they wanted to incorporate into their newest venture was hospitality.
The Three Arts Club gave them a footprint that would make this possible. One of their first tasks was to convert the interior courtyard into the spectacular Three Arts Café. The original courtyard was only usable on a seasonal basis so the architects covered the area with a glass and steel ceiling and then put the café into the courtyard, the heart of the building.
It's a brilliant concept in the way they've incorporated dining into the commercial experience. There are other stores that have used this concept but most have done it by placing their restaurants in adjoining spaces usually with separate entrances. Here the lines are blurred. You have to walk through  several of the company's vignettes before you enter the café and then while in the café you have a view of the surrounding vignettes.
The hominess of these views give the entire first floor a vey comfy and inviting feel. I got the sense that there might have been patrons who had come in and spent the majority of their day sipping tea and dining on their signature grilled cheese sandwiches and fries.
In addition to the café the building's first floor includes a coffee and pastry shop and a wine bar.
In deference to the tradition of the original building that promoted the three arts of music, drama and the visual arts, the original stage remains and is open for use as a performance venue.
The store is arranged by floor. Each floor is designated to a particular division of the company's stock.
The first floor in addition to the café, pastry shop, wine bar and performance stage displays a series of lifestyle vignettes highlighting the buildings previous public rooms and the traditional Restoration Hardware offerings.
The second floor is designated as its bed and bath experience along with a design atelier where design professionals are given space and support to work with clients.
The third floor is given over to its children's collection along with its newly developed teen line. This is a big move for any retailer.
Most will allow a much smaller percentage of precious floor space to this category but here the under twenty group is given a lot of play with its own floor.
On the fourth floor you find the company's newest collection directions, Restoration Modern and its new fine art offerings.
The Modern line is a pared down version of its aesthetic with cleaner lines and a more industrial approach. The line includes all the same categories as its traditional line: casegoods, lighting and upholstery.
Each vignette is set up as a room where you are encouraged to sit down, put your feet up and see how it feels. There's no pressure, only smiles and an occasional "if you have any questions please let us know".
The top floor is an open outdoor garden complete with its own refreshments and a place perfect for hosting your own party.
You can take a subway there if you're like me and find yourself in Chicago without a car. I prefer to park my little Ford Focus at the airport in Milwaukee and then take Amtrak into Union Station. That renders me without my own wheels but absent of the headache of trying to drive into the city and find a decent parking place.
There's a subway station only a few blocks away from Restoration Hardware and on the warm day I was there the walk was refreshing but there's always Uber or a cab. Anyway you can get there it is worth the trip.
Now all we need is a client who wants to do a complete RH look so I can go back and purchase everything I coveted and drooled over.
Negro Cabaret, South Side Chicago, 1941
Russell Lee, photographer
Available through Shorpy Historic Picture Archive


Thursday, October 6, 2016


Lets go back to the sixties in Madison when the current mayor was a radical anti-war rebel rouser and Willy Street was synonymous with tie-dyed t-shirts and hallucinogens.
For the past thirty-nine years the hippies of yore and the counter culture wannabes of now have gathered together for the annual parade and festival that takes us all back to the halcyon days of bellbottoms, long hair and bongs. Old hippies and families whose parents are younger than the festival itself celebrate their beautiful weirdness and the eccentricity that makes Madison Madison and lets Willy Street be Willy Street.
The festival runs for two days in September with craft vendors, beer trucks, food for every taste and music to groove out on.
There's even a giant pumpkin judging contest guaranteed to stump all the stoners thinking they've probably swallowed Alice's "one pill that makes you bigger and one pill that makes you small"
The biggest attraction, at least for me, is the parade that takes place on Sunday morning. It's the going to church moment for us true Willy Street believers. The parade starts out with the two tuba tooting bubble mobile and the ringmaster Bubble Man in his kaleidoscopic apparel.
He stands on the back of the tricked out convertible tossing massive bubbles along the parade route. If this doesn't get you in the mood I doubt anything will.
Following behind on the tips of slender wooden pegs were the stilt ladies. Like a harem of nymphs and butterflies they precariously glided along the street we call Willy.
Once the parade started there was never a moment when music wasn't dictating the cadence of the march. Music drummed over us onlookers with a pounding bass beat. It started out with the crazy misfit musicians dressed in traditional Badger red and white, although their outfits were as non-traditional as their music and their performance.
As the brassy sounds of the misfits were fading to a memory another percussive sound began its overlap on the auditory aspect of the parade. A brigade of freaky drummers joined the airways of Madison's east side. Wigged out and cross-dressing they pounded the pavement with gusto and heels.
Bringing up the end of the parade was a youth group drum corps once again pounding out an ending to the parade but a beginning to the rest of the day's musical entertainment.
The parade wouldn't be a Willy Street sensation if it weren't for its characters and there were many. They marched in picturesque groups or as stunning individuals and all tapping in to their inner sixties.
From the raging grannies standing up for all things political
to the young stay-at-home moms cranking out cookies and keeping the neighborhood vital
to young kids putting their own spin on what the parade will look like in the future
to a whole new generation of little lions
even the world of anthropomorphism had its representation in Mr. Frog straight out of a children's picture book.
Beauty had its queens and kings with a costume parade that was nothing short of inspirational. Who wouldn't fall in love with this iconic beauty?
Or the sheer joy of a transformed unicorn twirling her hoops to her own inner drummer
And she wasn't the only one shuffling to an inner drummer. This dude definitely sported a look that possibly only he understood, although I hope I can someday hear that same drummer and add a plastic tray to my head thinking it the height of elegance and ingenuity.
So hop on the Willy Street saloon bike and grab a local craft beer with a couple of dinosaurs. This flash back to a time when acid Kool-Aid flowed like water and beads and dreads were oh so hip made me forget my own biological clock and set me back to a time when I could still touch my toes and stay awake after 9pm.
Janis Joplin, Newport Folk Festival, 1968
Elliott Landy, photographer
Represented by Monroe Gallery, Santa Fe

Friday, September 30, 2016


The New York Design Center celebrated its 90th anniversary on Wednesday evening with a gala event at Marta the new Danny Meyer restaurant located in the Martha Washington hotel. It was an invitation only event for the interior design industry.  Every major designer from across the United States was present to honor the building and more accurately James Druckman, its President and CEO. The building started out as the New York Furniture Exchange in 1926, a 16-story, 500,000 square foot building designed by Ely Jacques Kahn. It catered to  mass-market suppliers: mostly furniture and department stores. The shift to becoming a high-end outlet for designers and architects didn't happen until the 1970's. At that point the building was under the ownership of a pair of partners including Jim Druckman's father. Jim had no intention of following in his father's footsteps. He had graduated law school and began his career as a lawyer but it was relatively soon into his career as a legal practitioner that his father made him an offer he couldn't refuse and Jim began his career in the furniture and design business. By the mid-nineties Jim was raised to the position of president where he has remained.
It's been through Jim's vision and generosity that the NYDC has grown into the preeminent source for high-end furniture and design, but beyond the growth of his own business there's been the growth of so many careers nurtured by a man who deserves all the credit that comes his way. So that evening when the speeches of welcome to the dinner had ended there were hundreds of glasses raised not so much for the building's birthday but for the man who has made the design industry what it is and helped to create the fortunes of so many of us designers.
The following day was the eighth annual What's New What's Next event held at 200 Lex. The event began at two in the afternoon and ran well into the night. Many of the showrooms hosted events with speakers from the design industry coupled with most of the current prominent shelter magazines. Hickory Chair-Pearson-Henredon paired up with House Beautiful Editor-in-Chief, Sophie Donelson, and LA designer Mark Sikes. CF Modern opened up its showroom for a discussion of Living with the Things You Love with designers Daun Curry and Ryan Korban moderated by Elle Décor's design editor, Mieke Ten Have. C&G Media Group moderated a panel discussion on East Coast vs. West Coast design with designers Jay Jeffers, Amy Lau, Thom Filicia and Jeffery Alan Marks. That's just to name a few of the events. In all 7,500 people roamed the sixteen floors of NYDC on that day and night.
One of the last events was held at the New Traditionalists showroom. After a day of highly serious talks the event at the New Traditionalists was a little, well a lot, less serious. There were three sets of design duos with the task of exposing their design differences moderated by Jessica Romm from Domino magazine: Lydia Marks and Lisa Frantz of Marks&Frantz, Lindsay Weiss and Noah Turkus of Weiss Turkus and then us, Rick Shaver and Lee Melahn of Pleasant Living. Our event was billed as a Design Duo Face Off that was more like a game show than a lecture. They had lined us up on six padded barstools and plied us with alcohol that had started flowing very early in the evening. Then they gave us bullhorns and told us to have at it with insults and fighting words appreciated and encouraged.
The one thing they didn't prepare us for was they'd invited Hillary and the Donald to add their two cents on design and politics. I've got to say I believe we had more fun than anyone. Thanks to the New Traditionalists, thanks to Domino magazine, thanks to the other designers and thanks to Hillary and the Donald for covering up our comedic shortcomings.
View of the Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building, 2009
Luca Campigotto, photographer
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery

Saturday, September 24, 2016


I'm not sure if this falls under the heading of simple lack of knowledge or yet another senior moment but my first memory of the Rookery had nothing to do with my architectural history lessons but instead the photography of Rodney Smith. I've always been a covetous admirer of his work; the quirkiness, the imagination and shear genius of his imagery drew me in from the first commercial photographs I spotted of his work in fashion magazines.
There was one image in particular that drew me in not so much for the fashion that he was so renowned for capturing but for the location. Location always plays a significant role in his images sometimes even overshadowing the fashions themselves. In this particular photo it was the staircase that I became obsessed with. I thought since he was a New York based photographer that somewhere hidden in one of the city's castiron buildings I'd some day stumble on this staircase. It was always at the back of my mind every time I walked into a building in Soho or midtown that I hadn't been into before that that staircase would appear.
Apparently the decades that transpired between Arch History 101 and now had erased any recollection of the Rookery from my brain trust. It was only recently after a trip to Chicago that I was doing some research for a posting on our trip that I googled Chicago architecture and there sandwiched between images of the Public Library and the Sears Tower was a picture of Rodney's staircase. I clicked on it like a sleuth who stumbles on his final clue to trace the photo to its bigger location and there it was - The Rookery, right there in Chicago. All this time I had been snooping in the wrong city. This to me was justification for another trip to Chitown if only to see this staircase up close and personal.
Then came the second revelation. I remembered a conversation I had with my University of Illinois pledge son who has become a major developer in Chicago about how he had worked on the most recent renovation of the Rookery when he was a fledgling architect with McClier Architects. Carl had played an important part on sourcing much of materials important in the restoration. It was only natural to call Carl and ask to meet him in the lobby for a private tour and history lesson.  I knew he'd be more than happy to impart.
So as not to totally embarrass myself I did a little historic research before our tour. I discovered or rediscovered that after the great fire of 1871 a major building boom took over Chicago giving the city an opportunity to come to the forefront in a new era of architecture filled with technological advancements and a new means of construction. The Rookery, designed by the firm of Burham & Root, was one of these buildings. Today, along with its National Registry status, the Rookery is considered Chicago's oldest standing high-rise.
The exterior of the building has been described as a blending of a multitude of styles from Moorish to Islamic that to some seems chaotic but to Chicagoans tells the tale of a city enveloping many cultures and welcoming all.
The interior has an exotic tale all its own where the building has gone from prized jewel to derelict eyesore and then back again. Its most significant renovation happened in 1905 when Frank Lloyd Wright was brought in to refurbish the building.
It was his chore to bring the building into the twentieth century with a more modern appearance. He immediately covered over Root's elaborate ironwork with a more refined marble envelope and adding simpler grillwork along with his signature oversized planters and hanging light fixtures making the Rookery into one of Chicago's most sought after office spaces.
In between then and the most recent renovation that Carl worked on beginning in 1992 the building suffered more episodes of neglect. It was Carl's responsibility beginning in 1992 to reconstruct much of the destroyed interior. He was in charge of replacing all of the missing marble, duplicate the tile floors in the lobby as closely as possible, and reopen and restore the glass ceiling.
They now give tours of the building which is the only way you can get up to see the oriel staircase. There's also a Frank Lloyd Wright gift shop and an unsupervised opportunity to spin around one of the world's most amazing lobbies. If you get to Chicago don't miss this stunning piece of historic architecture and don't try to find the oriel staircase in New York. It's not there.

The Oriel Staircase at the Rookery
Rodney Smith, photographer
Purchase images through