What do Antiques, Gardens, Kitchens and Steampunk Have In Common?

steampunkSpring has arrived! although the cold, sharp, winter weather continues to linger, March has kept me, and the rest of the design community, busy with interesting activities and events. These events are de rigueur for designers.  We network. We chat with suppliers, retailers and other designers. Let me share some thoughts from a few of this month’s activities.

I kicked off the month attend Antiques & Art at the Armory.  This show is well known for dealers, of high caliber, presenting their incredible collection of antiques and art.  Although I do not have a direct or immediate need for these types of purchases, as a designer this a show that keeps me up to date on what is going on in the world of fine antiques and art.  This is a research trip for me. I thoroughly enjoy scrutinizing the details and craftmanship of fine furniture.  I am fascinated to understand the current market interests in artwork that is showing in collections, galleries and future auctions.  Studying the details in fine furniture opens my eyes to new ideas for developing custom pieces that would be appropriate for a modern lifestyle.

Sometimes, the hustle and bustle of life in this concrete jungle causes us to forget the respite of the quiet, gentle, greener side of New York.  On March 14, as a member of the Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY), I attended an illustrated lecture by NY photographer Betsy Pinover Schiff.  She took us on a photographic journey through some of the public and private gardens represented in her new book, New York City Gardens.  Why, as a designer, do I spend time at HSNY events?  I attend them because I draw inspiration from the shapes, colors, lighting and scent of nature.  Even if we don’t have the luxury of a private terrace or garden, we can bring a touch of the outside – inside.  We can avail ourselves of the new spring treats found in the Flower District or Greenmarkets.  A simple plant on our window sill or in a small container can spark the green thumb in all of us – and bring a pop of color or warmth to a room.

lipstick-stove-hoodClosing out the month, I and thousands of my colleagues attended the annual Architectural Digest Home Show.  There were several inspiring lectures during event, one of which, moderated by Florence Perchuk (leading designer and author on kitchen design). was a dialogue on “Designing for the “A” Word”.  (I’ll share more on kitchen design and the boomer generation in my next blog!)  I found great new designs in exhaust cook top hoods from the Best Group – one shape reminded me of a lipstick tube!  Besides new styles, Best is known for high quality products without the sticker shock!

A favorite aspect of the show for me, was the section devoted to Artisan craftsmen, exhibiting alongside a broad spectrum of talented artists.  Some long time favorites for me are contemporary artists James Kennedy and Bob Bachler.  One of the most fascinating exhibitors in this genre, was Art Donovan, who is part of the “Steampunk Movement”.  These artists create extraordinary art from unique devices and ingenious contraptions.  I felt as though I had walked onto a set of a Jules Verne film.  Beautiful light fixtures and clocks from piles, valves – you name it!

james-kenedy-artbob-bachelr-ceramics

 It’s been a busy month filling my head with more thoughts on how I can best help clients create the spaces they have always dreamed of.  If you’re in the early stages of considering a redesign, events like these may help you solidify some of your ideas or introduce you to new ones.  Are there events you’ve heard about or attended that inspire design ideas for your home?  Post your comments here about these events – I’d love to hear about them!

Do I Need to Get the LED OUT?

rockefeller_christmas_bati_t300We have all seen them.  They are the funny tubes of colored lights we used to decorate our children’s parties, or on the deck for summer barbeques, or as part of our kids’ crazy dorm room decor. They have advanced and are used in public areas – shopping mall lighting, directional traffic lights, industrial parking lots, interior lights in industrial plants.

They are LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and they are coming into corporate environments as well as our homes. It is part of the energy efficient movement. A LED lamp (or LED light bulb) is a solid-state light source.  Since the light output, of individual light emitting diodes, is small compared to incandescent and compact flourescent lamps, multiple diodes are often used together. They have two primary advantages over conventional lights sources:  1) their life span is as much as 55 times loner than the life of a standard source and 2) they do not emit heat.  Both are great energy-saving features. The primary disadvantages are the light color emitted and the high expense.

Recently, I attended a discussion, targeting the design community, on LED lighting at the Benjamin-Moore NYC Showroom.  Since the NY electrical codes changed as of July 2010, whereby the wattage usage per square foot has been reduced for commercial application, it is not surprising for LED lighting to move into the residential area. In fact, California has already implemented new guidelines for homeowners.  By the year 2012, all incandescent light bulb wattage will be capped at 75 watts.  By the year 2013, it will be dropped to 60 watts – and this is at the time when baby boomers need brighter lights due to failing eyesight!!  As a side note, just in case you do invest in this new lighting technology – be aware that this type of lamp does not die like your average bulb.  LED light just get dimmer and duller – so it’s not your eyes failing, it’s the bulb!  Californians take energy savings and environmental issues seriously and homeowners will be subject to non-compliance fines.  New York usually follows shortly behind California on such issues.  So you are forewarned!

As a designer, I must understand how this new light source will effect my color selections for paint, fabric and other materials necessary for my clients. You may ask, “Pat, why does this affect color selection?”  Well, let me explain.  This type of light has a harsh white color output – harsh because it emanates a cool blue hue. Newer LED lighting is starting to address this unattractive effect.  However, at present, it comes at a cost. I have found that getting the best quality lighting, requires investing in high quality fixtures.  The best quality that I have found, in NYC, is Specialty Lighting whose manufacturing facilities are located in New Jersey.  Their great showroom in Midtown is set up perfectly to assist in guiding the professional through various potential applications.

I’m presently working on a kitchen renovation and exploring the possibilities of utilizing new light sources, such as LEDs, in this project.  LEDs make sense in a kitchen due to their long life, energy savings and low-level of heat emitted. In addition, they provide the best light for preparing meals. I haven’t made a final choice, but am considering incorporating alternatives that would balance the budget to minimize the high cost of LED lighting.  These options include halogen lamps, which offer great light color but give off tremendous heat, or compact fluorescents which emit a harsh white light, but are much cooler. I’m looking forward to creating a fine balance in offering my client a functional, aesthetically pleasing light while embracing the new technology.

Like so many technologies in our daily lives, lighting continues to evolve. My focus is on those technologies that impact design and how we enjoy our living spaces at home and at the office.  Please note, that despite the difference in cost when acquiring LED lighting, commercial space usage has seen a break even in as short as two years.  The upfront cost is balanced by the long life and improved energy savings.  As these technologies change, we all make the best decisions give the information and technology available at a given point in time.  I’ll keep you posted as I learn more about LED lighting and its use in interior design!

Is space planning an aesthetic or a necessity?

Some of you may know me as working on residential projects – however, when I first started in this field, I was working with firms that specialized in corporate interiors and had the opportunity to work on some of the major law firms and professional organizations in New York City. I want to share a few tidbits that I have learned from working on commercial interiors.
law-offices-02I was bidding on a project for a growing tech company who were expanding to a second floor and also refitting their existing occupied floor. One person was assigned to act as the point person in the selection process for assessing and interviewing design firms. I was the first to be invited to participate. During my initial telephone conversation, it was clear to me that they were also working on their lease while this selection process was underway.

In today’s economy, it is understandable that all companies, big and small, look to save money, especially when the company is growing in uncertain times. I always find it amazing that these companies will forego retaining the services of designers or architects,  as they consider it to be a “luxury” and unnecessary since the landlord has offered a monetary concession toward the build out of their space. The build out can be done by the prospective tenant who will hire a contractor or having the landlord take responsibility for the build it out by retaining  a contractor.

It’s a simple scenario – and this is how it goes. The landlord:

  • evaluates the lease term, square footage and basic construction costs
  • comes up with a formula and adds this to your rental
  • tenant does not spend incremental budget on construction

The landlord has “saved” your company the effort of allocating additional budget for construction. You believe this is a win-win, BUT, the landlord has calculated a rental that is in his favor and your company has not necessarily thought through some important issues. In many cases, more pertinent to smaller businesses, questions are not asked by the negotiators for the company, as they are not usually directly affected by what is required for the daily operation of their organization.

For example, how many electrical outlets are required? What type of connections, electrical or otherwise, is required for your IT operation? The hours of your operation will determine what additional requirements you may need ( i.e., additional security, coffee area, etc., receiving deliveries, filing capacity). Depending on the nature of your business, the productivity of your staff may be affected by the type of lighting that the landlord is going to install. If you are negotiating for a lease term longer than 7 years – hire a professional to do a needs evaluation. They will help you formulate ideas for the best use of the space. It is risky to rely on casual assumptions such as,  “ well we have five offices, a conference room, etc. etc. – I guess we should have 7 offices, and double the size of the conference room–yeah–that’ll work”. Now you have a  conference room to accommodate a meeting you have once every 6 months, but its too big for meetings with 6 or so occupants every two weeks. What a waste of valuable space!

Hire a professional, let them evaluate your needs and your growth potential. They can incorporate your needs and future plans into the design. They can offer ideas for the best lighting and determine what your equipment needs electrically. Then you will be prepared when you  sit down at the negotiating table with your landlord,  with a list of priorities to discuss and gain commitment from the landlord,  before you settle with  the landlord’s standard offer. These are uncertain times, and everyone is being cautious, so you won’t get everything – but get what will save you headaches, mistakes, and unnecessary money. You are not like ”every other tenant in the building” – this is your company and it has to function for you to succeed in your business!

If you find yourself approaching a new lease in a new or existing space,  think of your company’s needs, and if you find yourself in a quandary – feel free to give me a call, I’d be happy to make suggestions.

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