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Remembrance of Stores Past

17 Jan

One of my favorite scenes in the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon is the recreation (above) of the department store B. Altman in New York. The stellar production team transformed an old bank into the bustling department store of the 1950s.

It reminded me of visiting the J. L. Hudson department store in Detroit as a child — complete with beautiful chandeliers, ornate drinking fountains, an elevator operator and a beautiful dining room.

So, it was nostalgic to read this piece in the New York Times, “New York’s Lost Department Store,” by Vanessa Friedman. Henri Bendel and Lord & Taylor are closing their Manhattan flagship stores.

What stores do you miss? Anyone remember Bonwit Teller?

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Brutalist Style in Motown

20 Nov

Shane Pliska lives in a glass house. He wakes at dawn and spends hours gazing out of his windows at a forest and a pond. Snapping turtles lay eggs on his yard, and fawns sleep right below his deck. But this isn’t Walden Pond. It’s a suburban cul-de-sac in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

“It’s changed my life,” says Mr. Pliska, 38, president of a family-owned plant and interior-landscaping company. “It gives me clarity of mind.”

The house, which was built in 1956, wasn’t for sale. So he asked a real-estate agent to keep a close watch. When the home was listed—and marketed as a teardown—Mr. Pliska immediately offered $5,000 over the asking price and bought it in 2012 for $230,000.

The home, a 1,890-square-foot glass-and-wood rectangular box on 1.3 acres, was designed by Edwin William de Cossy, a former instructor at Yale University who had studied under Paul Rudolph, known for his Brutalist style. The cost of construction at the time: $30,000.

To better understand the architect’s vision, Mr. Pliska traveled by train to Connecticut to meet Mr. de Cossy, who was wearing a tie and white racing gloves when he picked him up at the New Canaan train station in a vintage black Mercedes. Over lunch, Mr. de Cossy explained that the style of the house was partly influenced by his work on modern homes in Florida in the 1950s and partly by the time he’d spent hanging out with Philip Johnson at his Glass House in New Canaan. “It’s a dream site,” says Mr. de Cossy, 89, adding that he built it originally for his brother-in-law, Leo Calhoun, who owned a Ford dealership outside Detroit.

Mr. Pliska lived in the house without changing anything for about two years. Then one stormy night, he heard a loud boom and felt shaking as a giant oak tree punctured his flat roof. The redwood roof beams saved the house from complete collapse.


 A modern Italian Scavalini kitchen inside Shane Pliska’s home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
PHOTOS: BRIAN KELLY PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
 Mr. Pliska bought the 1,890-square-foot glass-and-wood rectangular box on 1.3 acres in 2012 for $230,000.
“It was in a pretty sad state,” says Roman Bonislawski, the co-owner of Birmingham, Mich.-based architectural firm Ron & Roman who led the $300,000 renovation, which took two years to complete. The project includes new windows, replacing the cork flooring with slate in the living-room conversation pit, redoing the bathrooms and bumping out the master bedroom to add a small balcony. Mr. Pliska picked a modern Italian Scavalini kitchen (paying a discounted $35,000 because it was a floor model) with reflective avocado-green glass cabinets and put in new decks made of composite materials in front and out back.

What didn’t change was Mr. de Cossy’s fundamental design. The house is raised on a pedestal with redwood beams that cantilever out from below on all four sides and on top to hold up the roof, giving it a floating illusion. All the rooms are visible from the exterior except the bathrooms, one of which is enclosed by the kitchen wall and the other by the fireplace chimney.

The younger Mr. Pliska oversaw the building of a new glass-enclosed headquarters with a plant-adorned courtyard that doubles as a wedding-venue business. “He really changed things,” says Larry Pliska, 72, who still works there.

Shane Pliska’s neighborhood has also changed: It was once a laboratory for modern design, inspired by the nearby art academy Cranbrook, which owns the Eliel Saarinen Art Deco-style Saarinen House. Now, existing houses are torn down to make way for large new structures that Mr. Pliska calls “Barbie castles.”

Still, some Midcentury Modern homeowners there have tried to preserve an element of the past, gathering regularly for cocktails to admire each other’s architecture and discuss design. Neighbor Nancy Lockhart says one thing about Mr. Pliska’s house remains unchanged: A feral tabby cat cared for by the former owner, an artist named Fern Tate, still sleeps under the house and roams the neighborhood. They take turns feeding the cat, which they named Fern.

In the early 1950s, fresh out of the army with no college education, Edwin William de Cossy started designing modern homes in St. Petersburg, Fla. His work caught the eye of Paul Rudolph, who became one of the central figures of postwar American architecture, and the two began collaborating.

Mr. de Cossy earned a degree in architecture from Yale University in 1957, where he later became an instructor. As a principal with Douglas Orr, de Cossy, Winder & Associates, Mr. de Cossy designed a number of significant buildings, including the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven.

Mr. de Cossy’s career lagged until 1975, when he resurfaced as a builder of wooden sailboats. He had a comeback five years ago, designing several homes, and is now retired, currently building a 20-foot cruising sailboat with his daughter in North Branford, Conn.

 

Treasured Shopping

1 Nov

This website is truly a jewel — www.usejewel.com

It’s an e-commerce site where you shop for luxury goods and receive cash back. Detroiter Andrew Landau is the website founder. The offices are based in Detroit, but the shopping spans the globe. Jewel partners with 350 brands from high-end department stores to indie labels. Some of the partners include: Neiman Marcus, Barney’s New York, Lululemon, Tumi, Tory Burch, Charlotte Tilbury.

The blogger the luxe strategist, explains the process simply here:

  1. Make sure you’re on the Jewel website and signed in.
  2. Find the store you want to shop at, then click the blue ‘Shop Now’ button. This will kick you over to the actually retailer site now.
  3. Complete your purchase in one session, and make sure you’re not paying with points or gift cards (these will not qualify for cash back, as I learned).
  4. Within 72 hours, your shopping trip and cash back amount should appear in Jewel.

Your check arrives quarterly.

Landau, a former Google employee, is a bona fide entrepreneur as he founded Chalkfly.com and sold it in 2014. This site is his latest venture.

Landau knows his customer base. “Every one, no matter what their wealth is, wants a good deal.”

Classic, Chic & Classy

15 Jun

Ever wonder how to create a classic style? Fashion expert and illustrator Kate Schelter walks readers through an illustrated guide on how to develop a personal, timeless style in the book Classic Style.

I literally stumbled upon this book on Madison Avenue a few weeks ago peering into the window of the boutique Veronica Beard. There was a book party with free mimosas. Well, I was lured in and saw the author Kate Schelter. I did not have time to interview her, but I snapped a photo and asked the publisher (Grand Central, Life & Style) for a press copy.

Kate is the lovely lady on the left. ( I have no idea who the lady on the right is. If I find out, I will update this post.) The book has lovely illustrations all by Kate. (See the photo below.) One tip on defining your own classic style is your pajamas. (I think I’m in big trouble here.) It’s what you do naturally. She also discusses how “less is more.” She reveals what makes an outfit stylish — your grandmother’s ring, a signature hat, comfy jeans. Interspersed are vignettes of other people’s personal style. For example, author Julia Chapin’s favorite piece of furniture is a 1970 Bellini sectional couch, while her favorite makeup is Bobbi Brown lip gloss and NARS bronzer stick.

I love how Schelter suggests finding a good tailor and breathing life in old clothes. “I try to find a balance between shlumpy and high-gloss,” she says.

Schelter ends her book aptly with these words:

Find your unique mix.

Have less.

Do more.

Be more.

Be yourself.

Today.

Detroit’s Architectural Legacy

4 Apr

We, Motowners, recognize the beauty of Detroit’s architecture. Now, others are finally acknowledging. The New York Times article, “Detroit’s Looking Up” by John Dorman, highlights the grand buildings from the Fisher Building to the First National Bank Building. The article delves into the famed architect Albert Kahn. Be sure to check out the NY Times story here.

But, there is so much more. Frank Lloyd Wright, Yamaski and Saarinen have a large footprint in the city.

As a former magazine editor in Detroit, I had the opportunity to work with the late Balthazar Korab. His architectural photography is outstanding. Here is his photo of the fountains at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Michigan Modern, by Brian Conway and James Haefner is a new book eleased last month and features a Frank Lloyd home located in Detroit. On the cover is the General Motors Tech Center designed by Eero Saarinen.

 

 

A Natural Path

27 Jul

Some months, like June and December, denote a fleeting romance, but these months are the name of a motown business for Katie and Nick Forte. The couple’s website junedecember.com and business is named after the months in which their children were born.

The company, based in Michigan and produced in Michigan with mostly all American-made products, is a home decor and paper goods business with many themes of nature. They sell napkins, pillows, notepads, desk pads and pencil sets. Their newest product is a pencil terrarium.  This set includes five fern patterned pencils packaged in a glass tube. The glass tube can be turned into tiny terrarium.

In their previous work lives, Katie worked in advertising and graphic design while Nick was a restaurateur.

Katie designs the many kitchen style motifs and paper good products. Some have catchy phrases like Smitten with the Mitten. (Michiganders know that we carry a map of the state with us at times and show where we live on our hand.)

Michigan is more than a place to live for Katie and Nick, “It’s where we share our journey with children and where our roots go deep.”

The business started out at the NYNOW trade show and now is nationwide in many boutique stores.  For more information, go to junedecember.com

 

 

Be Green in 2017

11 Dec

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The Pantone Color Institute has spoken for 2017, and green will be the color trend of the year in fashion and decor. It’s neither hunter green nor kelly green, but a leafy green like nature. So don’t be green with envy. Be like Kermit — “It’s easy being green.”

Here are the thoughts from Pantone:

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ArtPrize Friends

28 Sep

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Every fall the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan transforms into an art paradise for artists and art lovers. It’s all because of ArtPrize — an open competition for artists to submit their work and have the opportunity to win more than $500,000 worth of prizes. Artists’ works are displayed throughout the city, and the venues are open to the public for free.  The artists connect through the official ArtPrize website.

Here is the mission statement: “ArtPrize is an international art competition and festival open to all and determined equally by public vote and expert jury. ArtPrize encourages critical discourse, celebrates artists, transforms urban space and promotes cultural understanding.”

This is the eighth year, and I’m proud to announce that two of my friends are part of the 2016 ArtPrize competition.

Janet Kelman’s glass sculptures are spectacular and the piece “Oracle” (above) is no exception. The aqua hues are breath taking.

Photographer Gene Meadows does not disappoint with his edgy work “de-con-struct,” which is below. Although I also like his traditional photos of home interiors along with his beautiful series of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press included Janet and Gene in an article highlighting metro Detroit artists at ArtPrize.

 

 

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Bon Apetit in New York

10 Jun

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There are many fantastic restaurants in New York. On a recent visit, I ate at La Grenouille in Midtown. It’s an authentic French restaurant in Midtown.The food and the atmosphere were superb. The decor is awash in pink with flowers galore. Just the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine with fine food.

Motown Home Pops With Color

16 Apr

 

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This Motown home makes a bold statement. It’s featured in the May 2016 issue of Traditional Home magazine in a story written by Khristi Zimmeth. The interior designer is Corey Damen Jenkins.

“Taking cues both from Courtney’s closet (the owner) and from the fashion runway, Jenkins presented a combination of bold hues and modern choices juxtaposed against a traditional backdrop,” writes Zimmeth.  The emerald green color choice adds elegance and richness to this 1939 historic home, located in a Detroit suburb. This settee in the parlor invites guests.

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Although the home is traditional glam, I love that these kitchen chairs (below) are from Pier One.

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There’s a wonderful mix of unexpected fabrics, textures and hues.

Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Doris Athineos

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