02/19/13

As the World Turns…

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Roaming By Design and there’s a reason for my absence. My writing life has changed since I began this effort four years ago next month, and rather than letting this blog, which once thrilled me as a place for a means of expression, languish without explanation I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to now and to direct you to the place where I feel I’ve finally created my online writing home. When I launched RBD, as I have come to call this virtual spot on the web, I was coming away from nearly two decades of writing for shelter publications, a career that had sincerely satisfied me while I was involved in the research of and writing about design and architecture, covering everything from Art Basel to Cleto Munari and Dale Chihuly to Droog. But I had begun to see the writing on the wall: the publishing industry was in disarray, especially magazines devoted to these two subjects in which I had become heavily invested.

Publications containing my monthly columns shuttered, the features I’d been assigned regularly came into my inbox with much less frequency, and the newspapers whose home design sections my name frequently appeared within evaporated. I was fortunate to have an architecture book, Four Florida Moderns, published during that time, and I felt very lucky to have found travel writing as a sustaining foundation to journalism because it allowed me to continue publishing articles in print and online as I transitioned to a work life that included content creation and editorial calendar management for clients through Improvateur, and social media platform development and management through adroyt.

It is only recently I have deepened my virtual focus, so to speak, and I feel excited I have finally found my bearings. I also celebrate that my point of view, if I may say so myself, has matured. The subjects I tackle are a bit more complex for the audience I targeted here so I have moved my attention to my blog at Improvateur.com. I usually post on #WriterWednesday but it depends upon the subject. I hope you will stop in and see me there; all you have to do is knock!

Here are a few links to my most recent posts in case there is a particular subject you’d prefer to explore first:

Julian Fellowes: A Sustained Narrative As Legacy

Dispatch From Amherst: Emily Dickinson Masters Love

Let’s Do Some Wilde Writing on This #WriterWednesday!

A Plumb Line Into Literary History

The Architecture of Tango

Of Salt Spray and Canvas: Weatherbeaten Maine

Melancholia: Depression as One Perspective

I’d like to take this moment to express deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me in my writing career over the years, both in print and in the virtual world. I truly enjoyed all the subjects and cities I covered here for the four years I posted. I had the privilege of staying in some of the world’s most incredible hotels, including the Hotel Principe di Savoia (right in the midst of the area that would soon host the World Expo 2015 when I was there), the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice (covering their coveted Le Meurice Prize), a number of W Hotels and The Betsy Hotel. I’ve experienced wine tastings in Buenos Aires and interviewed Chef Gordon Ramsay in Tuscany. I walked through the Centre Pompidou with hot French designer Patrick Jouin and saw original Gibson Girl drawings by Charles Dana Gibson at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine (though I still have yet to hear a loon in person)! Thanks to the Dorchester Collection during a trip to London, I had the great privilege to see the Paul Gauguin show at the Tate Modern. I had a profound moment standing alone in the study of Honore de Balzac and walked the same streets as Madame de Pompadour while in Paris!

It was the rare moment when I didn’t have my writer’s notebook with me (and it travels with me always so I feel there are many more adventures to come)! If you are inclined to let me know how you feel about my new effort of deepening my writing, I’d love to hear from you, either here or on Improvateur.

07/30/12

Music without Borders, Especially Considering Talent

I cannot think of a place I’ve visited where everyone I met was authentically generous and welcoming. Until my visit to Bethel, Maine, two weeks ago, that is. I was so genuinely impressed with how I was treated that I feel I have come away with a new community of friends. I will definitely return, hopefully to see the bucolic town covered in a blanket of snow.

My incredible food experiences included dinners at SS Milton, the Black Diamond Steakhouse, The Jolly Drayman Pub, The Millbrook Tavern and Grille at The Bethel Inn, 22 Broad Street, The Mill Hill Inn, and The Sudbury Inn. After dinner at Scott Davis’ Sudbury, the magnanimous host invited me; Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Zinchuk; and Amanda Smith, co-owner of Nabos, to a remarkable event, which takes place at Gould Academy in Bethel each summer. Music without Borders brings its International Piano Festival to town and this year was its sixth incarnation.

Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

As you can see from the video I took that evening, the pianists are of remarkable talent. What also may occur to you is that they are quite young for the level of ability they have achieved. The prodigies of Tamara Poddubnaya visit Bethel for three weeks each summer to study with the lauded solo pianist and chamber musician, who is currently a professor at and head of the piano department at the Long Island Conservatory, and a visiting professor at the Portland Conservatory of Music. They ranged in age from 13 to 24 this year and hailed from diverse countries, including Russia, the Netherlands and the United States.

Performing the evening I attended were Kelia Ingraham, Mark Demidovich and Veselin “Vesko” Ninov. The video is of Ninov performing Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12” in C-sharp minor. As the notes flowed into the room, I was inspired to try to capture the experience in words so I could translate how it felt to have the experience. Here are the riffs that flowed from my pen as the notes poured into the small theater:

Tamara Poddubnaya with prodigies Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

Those soft refrains bring joy to the lips of the chords. The upper body sways as the music ebbs and flows, the arms lifted as if in a ballet of sound. Eyes closed, a smile, then a creased forehead when the music grows serious. As the whimsical rhythms come, eyes open, head swaying, not in a refusal but in the loving gesture one shows to a serious moment of emotional impact.

When the music slows, the last chords leak into the room like fireflies dancing on a summer night or fairies flitting across an azure sky. Marching. Scampering. Sprightly. Then death knell, followed by the relief of gentle notes lifting sound to serenity. Chaos. Keys bluntly ordered into submission by strong, nimble fingers. Ah, breezy riffs of melody. How can staccato be interwoven with high-tinged wanderings so perfectly?

The softest notes seem to hang in the air and pauses are built for the sounds to linger, the piano’s voice gleefully loving the opportunity to dally. Then marching notes return, signaling a change in mood. The staccato melody is a volley unleashed to make one fall in love with reverberation. And so I did! Bravo, I say!

07/17/12

What’s a Gibson Girl to do in Bethel, Maine?

The Gibson Girls get a day at the beach!

If you believe Wikipedia, we have illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who created the slender-waisted, chignon-crowned Gibson Girl, to blame for the American woman’s obsession with beauty. The online encyclopedia claims he personified the feminine ideal with his “satirical” pen and ink drawings. If you believe Richard D. (Dick) Rasor, a former advertising executive for J. Walter Thompson and the current owner of The Bethel Inn Resort in Bethel, Maine, Gibson was the first American feminist.

The Gibson Room at The Bethel Inn Resort.

Rasor has dedicated an entire room at the Inn to the long-necked beauties and their eponymous creator. He took me on a tour of the Gibson Room earlier today, pointing out how the graphic designer riffed on men, the weaker sex, in many of his renderings: “With absolute clarity, he shows how screwed up men are!”

Leave it to Rasor to have a different take on Gibson’s standing in American history, as he has a razor sharp way of cutting through ambiguities (pun intended)! The hotelier bought a very different resort in 1979 than the one I am sitting within as I write this today. The 60-guestroom hotel surrounded by 100 acres and a 9-hole golf course saw 3,000 visitors a year in the late seventies. Today the property hosts 35,000 guests to its gracious spot off the commons in the Maine mountain village; has 200 acres surrounding its charming Victorian façade, an 18-hole golf course, 40 condominiums abutting the green, 40 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, and a popular spa.

During lunch in the Inn’s Millbrook Tavern & Grille, Rasor explained that from the start he was intent on founding a marketing-based business when he left the “Mad Men” world of New York City advertising. He paid $400,000 for the property in ’79, which he pointed out was about the same amount of money a home in Scarsdale, New York, would have cost during that time. In an article printed in Snow Country in 1989, Rasor advised everyone in the high-pressured world he had left to sell their $800,000 homes, buy a $150,000 home in Bethel, and use the rest of the money to open a small business: “There’s no way, really, to be on a power trip in Bethel, Me,” he quipped.

The talented businessman practiced what he preached, trading in his room at the top for a room at the Inn, and he’s been thrilled about his decision ever since. I, for one, am happy to have been in his spirited presence as he shared his passion about building a unique property with an abundance of character in the heart of one of the prettiest mountain destinations in our country. I am also happy he didn’t take his father’s advice. “Don’t get into the hotel business,” was the elder Rasor’s first caveat. Then he told his son, “If you do, don’t be dumb enough to buy a resort!” Had Rasor listened, not only would he have missed out on the opportunity to create a unique vacation experience for thousands of tourists each year, he might not have met his beautiful wife Gretchen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last evening.

"A Little Story. By A Sleeve." by Charles Dana Gibson.

And back to the Gibson Room: Rasor owns several original Gibson Girl drawings, which explains his fascination with the comely women with pert chins and perfectly pursed lips. He motioned me over to a framed drawing—one of about a dozen in the room—titled “A Little Story. By a Sleeve.” As we leaned down and peered at the illustration, he asked me why I thought the piece of art was given such a title. I said, “I have no idea!” With a very pleased expression on his face, he said, “Look at her sleeves: one is flat! Guess where the guy would have been sitting before the waiter came in! And a Gibson Girl would never have a lock of hair out of place!”

Detail of one of Charles Dana Gibson's drawings in the Gibson Room at the Bethel Inn Resort. It's all in the details!

Though this may seem completely unrelated to a story about an inn, I beg to differ. A successful hospitality venue is built upon a precept that Rasor’s keen observation skills attest to: it’s all in the details. One of the results of this at the Bethel Inn Resort is an ample dose of charm.

You can like the Bethel Inn Resort Facebook page here, and follow them on Twitter here.

07/10/12

The Room by the Sea

The view from my terrace at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine.

I’m in Maine, enjoying the hospitality of The Cliff House in Ogunquit, perched above the sea on a wildly gorgeous stretch of rocky coast. Being able to drink in the surroundings has been one blessing from my opportunity to stay; having access to the same stretch of shoreline that wooed May Sarton when she lived a few miles from here is another. Having her words has brought my experiences greater depth and has intensified this writer’s pleasure beyond words.

As I’ve watched flotillas of waterfowl bobbing in the tiny coves created by the jagged outcropping below my terrace, I imagined Sarton at Wild Knoll. She wrote about living there in a journal she kept during 1974. It was published in 1976 as The House by the Sea. She described her first taste of the landscape in the book: “…once I had stood on the wide flagstone terrace and looked out over that immensely gentle field to a shining, still, blue expanse, the decision [to move there] was taken out of my hands.” She describes this part of Maine as a place “creating the atmosphere of a fairy tale, something open yet mysterious that every single person who comes here is led to explore.”

The waning light paints a resplendent portrait of the end of this day.

The blue expanse Sarton wrote about has a powerful presence that infuses every part of the day with altering moods. While having a glass of wine as the sun slid away to the west, I studied the view from the terrace from an al fresco table holding a bright red umbrella like summer’s promise of glee. The scene revealed a swath of water turned the color of liquid mercury, crimped in spots where the wind touched its surface. The sky, palest blue and powdery pink except at its meeting point with the water, seemed to want to emulate the blue notes from the strip of darkest hues where the ocean met the horizon. A boat cut a wake, marring the serenity and leaving an indelible blue line drawn in the liquid sheen. The mark became ruffled as the rising tide nudged it to shore. Caught in the movement, it splashed above boulders and slabs of striated moss-laden rock until it was picked up by the breeze and dashed heavenward. Puddles of water formed erratically shaped mirrors reflecting the waning daylight, mercurial in contrast to the wet darkness of the seaweed-draped stones.

Sarton wrote, “I have slipped into these wide spaces, this atmosphere of salt and amplitude, this amazing piece of natural Heaven and haven, like a ship slipping into her berth.” Like Sarton, I came here seeking a place to write, and I have found it. The staff here has been attentive but respectful of my desire for solitude as I scribbled in notebooks and slashed pieces of writing long needing my attention while “real life” made it impossible for me to give them the concentration they deserved. I had a wonderful massage yesterday and as Julie gently rocked me from side to side, causing tears to spring to my eyes from the gratitude of having someone create such a lovely experience just for me, I thought about how the theme of this stay is about being touched. Not just by her knowing hands, which helped to relieve the tensions brought on by the world; but by Christian’s carefully selected wines; by a staff eager to please; and most gloriously by a powerful landscape.

Christian Bahre shared with me a delightful Moscato D'Asti from Italy.

Thirty-eight years ago to this day, Sarton intended to take an afternoon nap; she found herself caught up in the surrounding natural activity instead: “…unable to fall asleep, I amused myself listening to all the summer sounds—the leaves stirring like the rustling of taffeta; beyond it the gentle steady roar of the sea, tide rising; but what surprised me was how many birds were singing at that hour, two in the afternoon…I lay there for a half hour, listening, and got up refreshed.” I am being given the same opportunity for refreshment as I let the magic of this place wash over me. Thanks to Patrick, Matt, Brenda, Cheryl, Courtney, Christian, Birget and Julie for making my stay so peaceful. You have helped me to achieve what Sarton sought when she wrote, “I mean every encounter here to be more than superficial…”

[This post was written on July 10, 2012, in Ogunquit, Maine. I have been given comped stay and services by this property but the generosity has in no way swayed my opinions expressed here.]

06/12/12

Catch an Expeditious App and Put It In Your Pocket!

Geolocation is integrated into Fodor's City Guide apps.

Six cities have updated wanderlusting apps from Fodor’s Travel, who has announced the re-launch of their City Guide apps for iPhone and iPad (Nook and Android versions are in the works). The free apps now integrate partner functionality from Expedia, OpenTable and Ticketmaster, and are available for New York City, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona and San Francisco. They offer geolocation features and interactive offline maps, which are powered by developer Red Foundry’s new Fusion Platform, the world’s first network uniting app developers and publishers with service providers.

Travelers can book hotels through the Expedia Affiliate Network, make dinner plans with OpenTable, and buy show and concert tickets through TicketsNow, Ticketmaster’s resale marketplace. The geolocation features allow sojourners to see what is nearby by interest—categories include what to see, what to eat, shopping, nightlife/arts, and where to stay.

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is a trendsetter's alternative to Little Italy in Manhattan. Photo by Paul Clemence.

I decided to take the New York City app for a test drive on my iPad, and it nailed my location quickly. I agreed with many of the “what to see” listings it put up, several of which I would recommend for tourists visiting NYC who want more than the usual suspects of places to see. One of which was Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which my pal and architectural photographer Paul Clemence has photographed so eloquently, as the above photo proves.

Fodor's City Guide Apps Offer OpenTable Reservations.

The “what to eat” suggestions were a bit all over the place but I did ask for the best recommendations in New York City without determining a culinary style, and the fact that they could narrow it down as tightly as they did impressed me! Shopping brought up everything from Betsey Johnson in SoHo to Beads of Paradise in the Flatiron District and the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, which I have frequented (and give the app a high five for referencing).

The oh-so-edgy tiki bar Painkiller wasn’t listed under “Nightlife & the Arts” (though I’ll admit, it would probably cause anyone who is less than an intrepid traveler to freak out when standing on the street in front of the bar’s address and see no discernable sign of a party until someone entering or exiting opened the graffiti panel serving as the venue’s door)-steamy! Pegu Club is there—excellent sourcing by featuring this mixology-driven venue, Fodor’s.

The Lower East Side has its own version of a hip, Parisian cafe for writers and filmmakers to hang.

Kudos to the travel experts for listing the Pink Pony on the Lower East Side. Any café with a mural of Arthur Rimbaud on the wall and a tagline like “Café Littéraire & Ciné Club” is high on my “kicky and quirky venues” list, which we locals pride ourselves in compiling for those times we want something out-of-the-ordinary. The Field Notes section is great—the perfect place for accumulating the lists you’d like to share with friends who will be visitng the same city or for resourcing your highlights the next time Hērmēs, the god of travel, wings you to the same town.

Sax in the City has only one request of the developers: I would like to have seen an easier search function for places by name. Those of us who travel frequently, especially travel journalists who are writing about cities, often go armed with recommendations for venues to experience. This app only allows search by previously determined categories unless it’s not obvious and if it’s not obvious to me someone using this level of technology for the first time wouldn’t likely find it. That said, these apps are definitely well worth the time it takes to download them. Off I go to Paris (if only)!

06/10/12

A Few New York Moments…

NYC Street Scenes

Man with Hammer versus the Empire State Building!

Sax in the City here: it’s been awhile since I thought about sharing little vignettes like I used to do. Love coming upon little street scenes that express the Metropolis so succinctly (always makes me think of Frank O’Hara)! Anyone who lives in the city knows there are endless opportunities each day to capture how life unfolds. Who else has shots to share? Tweet or Instgram them and put them in a comment so I can share them?

Brooklyn Festooned in an Arc of Water Vapor Kissed by Sunlight!

05/30/12

A Taste of Maine

I attended a wonderfully executed event held by Visit Maine earlier this month, which has me dreaming up some idyllic summer plans. The food during the evening at the St. Regis Hotel was delicious, and the wine crisp and clean juxtaposed against the rich flavors of crab, clams and lobster.

I’ll be sharing news here about treks to Ogunquit, where I will visit The Cliff House, as well as other wonderful venues in the seaside town. Then I’ll hightail it to the mountains to a charming spot on the hem of the White Mountain National Forest to a town called Bethel. I can’t wait to peruse the architecture of the quaint village, which will be celebrating its centennial next year.

I’ll be taking a day-trip to Cape Elizabeth to see how the eco-friendly initiatives being supported by Inn by the Sea are going. I will always have a soft spot for the wonderful resort perched on the edge of Crescent Beach Sate Park and Seal Cove. I’m especially keen to see their Bunny Habitat Restoration, which they are undertaking in collaboration with the Maine Department of Conservation and the Parks Department, as they take steps to restore the habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail rabbit.

My head was swimming with thoughts of fun escapades when I left that evening—cultural events at the Stonington Opera House and the Maine Maritime Museum, along with the sounds of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival caught my eye; a sand-nestled cottage from Seaside Vacation Rentals in York, and news of Amtrak’s Downeaster expanding northward to Brunswick rounded out the exploratory legwork I am hoping will take me far away from the steamy cement of NYC this summer!

09/20/11
Toma Clark Haines definitely knows la dolce vita!

The Antiques Diva Does Italia!


Toma Clark Haines definitely knows la dolce vita!


We’re speaking Italian on this Travel Tuesday with some exciting news. Our ONLY choice for European lifestyle tours, The Antiques Diva, is expanding to, you guessed it, Italia; and Toma is already working her magic on the romantic language by saying, “Buongiorno Baby” to anyone wanting to come along for the Tuscan ride!

Tuscan tastemaker Susan Pennington will create and direct the tours, which will amble through the best venues in Florence, Sienna, Arezzo and Lucca (here’s a feature in Belle Inspiration). A British expat living in the heart of Tuscany, Pennington was once an antiques buyer for Harrods in London and an auction-house specialist in New York City. She’s lived in Tuscany for the past two decades, running Montestigliano, a local agriturismo business known for its sumptuous Tuscan-style luxury décor.

Word up, Diva fans; this is Toma’s sixth country, and the list of destinations for gallivanting is impressive: France, England, Belgium, Holland, Germany and, now, Italy. Where’s my passport? Did someone say the University of Bologna is calling?

P.S. We understand there is a spot of royalty in The Antiques Diva’s future. Check in at adroyt in the next week or so and we’ll fill you in!

08/24/11
Lisa S. Roberts at the Cooper Hewitt event

My Design Life (Well, Not Mine!)

Lisa S. Roberts at the Cooper Hewitt event

The Cooper Hewitt was buzzing on August 16th when Lisa S. Roberts‘ show “My Design Life” was screened for an elite audience of design devotees. The docuseries premieres tonight with two back-to-back episodes on the Ovation network at 8:00 pm ET. The show, which will consist of ten thirty-minute episodes airing on consecutive Wednesdays at 8:00 and 8:30 pm ET/PT, follows Roberts and her team as they visit museum exhibitions, trade shows, retail stores and designers’ studios in order to gather ideas and inspiration for her upcoming book DesignPOP: Popular Trends in Contemporary Product Design. The new book explores the trends taking place in contemporary design throughout the past 30 years.

Highlights from the show include visits to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the design studios of Harry Allen and Tony Wurman; retail stores such as Design Within Reach and Moss; and restaurants, including David Rockwell’s Pod and Christine Liaigre’s Buddakan. Viewers will learn about the history behind the featured designs, as well as back stories of the designers and manufacturers who created them. The aim of Roberts and her team is to educate their audience about the importance of contemporary design while adding an air of whimsy and accessibility at the same time.

Lisa Roberts began her career as an architect. After six years, she left the field to pursue her professional interests in product and graphic design. Most recently, she has designed products for museum stores, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum, among others. In the early 1980’s Roberts began collecting contemporary product design objects, which she calls “Antiques of the Future.” In 2006, Roberts published a book by the same title and, since that time, has traveled throughout the country speaking on the subject of design. She has been featured on HGTV, The Today Show, and the Early Show, and Antiques of the Future was reviewed in Time, USA Today, Parade, Dwell, and local publications. In addition, Roberts serves on the executive committee and as a trustee of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and as a trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), where she is a longstanding member of the museum’s contemporary design group, Collab.

Tune in design fans for a vivid romp through the contemporary design world; you’ll love the full-on, behind-the-sceens access!

06/22/11
DWR_Marshmallow_multi_silohi.jpg.scaled500

A Mad Men Night: A Full Nelson!

If you’re in San Antonio, Texas, tonight, you’re a lucky duck because the McNay Art Museum is hosting “A Mad Men Night” with George Nelson. The architect, writer, designer and educator is going to revisit the heyday of American Modernism. Who better to do so than someone who had a tremendous impact on it (the images floating through the kicky video are his designs, munchkins; and who will ever forget their first sighting of the Marshmallow Sofa?)! The retrospective of Nelson’s work is being brought to McNay from the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and the exhibition will remain on view through September 11, 2011.

The lecture + libations go from 6pm to 9pm tonight. Sigh…if only that Roaming by Design private jet would crystalize, we’d be all over this one!