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.

You can now find me blogging about literary adventures on the Improvateur blog and on Sharktooth Press, an indie publishing imprint I have recently co-founded with Gerard McLean. I hope you will stop in one or the other (or both) and have a read!

Here are a few links to a few of my most recent favorite posts:

The Old Familiar Faces

Dante and Shelley at the Duomo di Milano

Horace Walpole Shops the Decorative Fair


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)!


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!


Ceramic Tile: The Perfect Bedfellow

Doesn't get sexier than Gio Ponti's Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Sorrento; tiles by Ceramica Bardelli

Doesn’t get sexier than Gio Ponti’s Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Sorrento; tiles by Ceramica Bardelli.

You might not think of ceramic tile as the perfect bedfellow, but that’s exactly what was on our minds in May when I participated in a panel with Bart Bettiga, the executive director of the National Tile Contractors Association, and Christine Abbate of Novita Communications in Las Vegas during the Hospitality Design show. Ceramic Tiles of Italy has been a forerunner in the concept of using nonporous surfacing materials throughout hospitality design projects in order to create cleaner, easier-to-maintain environments without sacrificing style for decades.

Many hotels have learned that hard surfaces like ceramic tile are perfect for common areas but so many venues, especially in the U.S., haven’t quite gotten the message that it’s great to take it into the bedroom. They taped our workshop and I thought it might be interesting to share the three-parter with you, especially with the subject of bed bugs being such a hot topic right now, one that won’t likely go away any time soon.


Architectural Adventures

Indian Creek house by Rene Gonzalez, on one of AIA's tours

Indian Creek house by Rene Gonzalez, on one of AIA’s tours

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention is in town and the sun-dappled streets of Miami Beach are filled with lots of serious people looking up at buildings and pointing out iconic facades. While exhibitors bring their new products to the convention center, tours are taking place and events are spilling out into venues across the beach and the mainland.

Two of the homes in my book Four Florida Moderns are on Jaya Kader Zebede’s tour “Miami Modern Homes: Contemporary Expressions.” Jaya, a Miami-based architect, will be guiding attendees through the residences as she speaks about the aspects of modernism that make the tropical modern homes unique. On the event front, Architizer is teaming up with SCI-Arc to hold an event at 1111 Lincoln Road this evening.

The structure by Herzog & de Meuron will be teaming with one of architecture’s hippest crowds and I’m thrilled to say I’ll be in attendance. Take a moment to read this incredible “Required Reading” review Architizer posted about the book yesterday.

Inside the convention center, I wanted to point out several noteworthy booths: Ceramic Tiles of Italy is highlighting some sexy products (and a killer booth designed by Dante Donegani & Giovanni Lauda of D&L Design), as is Axor (check out the Patricia Urquiola fixtures:, the sophisticated result of a five-year collaboration!).

Brizo is wowing attendees in the Kraftmaid and Delta Faucet booths. I can just feel the new design programs taking shape as I write this a few blocks away: the energy is stimulating!


ICFF Editors Awards Announced

The Table of Contents Page of Four Florida Moderns

I haven’t made it to ICFF yet (I’m usually there the first day by the time the doors open) because I’ve been stuck at home on deadline. I’ll be there bright and early in the morning, though and will be cruising the maze of booths to see what’s hot this year. You’ve likely heard (because I’ve hardly talked about anything else lately!) that Archivia Books is hosting a book signing for Four Florida Moderns inside the fair tomorrow in booth 1066 at 3 p.m. If your in Javits Center, we hope you’ll stop by. All four architects will be on hand to sign the books, pretty much a miracle given their jam-packed schedules!

The editors awards were just announced. I thought I’d share them with you. Blu Dot won for “Body of Work”; Objeti, LLC, and Studio Dunn won for “New Designer”; the award for “Craftsmanship” went to Cocochi Design; Mabeo nabbed the award for “Furniture”; the nod for “Seating” went to Arper spa; the “Carpet and Flooring” award went to Ardeco Interier Sro; Peter Stathis & Virtual Studio were chosen for the “Lighting” category; “Outdoor Furniture” was nabbed by Snow Peak, Inc.; Triple Pin Blue Denim Tiles presented by Material ConneXion won the “Materials” category; the “Wall Coverings” award went to Timorous Beasties; the “Accessories” award was given to Kikkerland Design, Inc.; Dana Barnes Design won for “Textiles; Axor took top honors in “Kitchen and Bath”; Tom Dixon got the nod for “Multiple Production”; The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) won the “Design School” category; and Molo took top honors for “Booth” design. Congratulations everyone!


Silence is Golden

Tomorrow night, Nisi Berryman of NIBA Home is hosting a book signing for Four Florida Moderns and on May 11, Archivia Books will host us inside the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. It’s an exciting time of getting the word out about the book. My other “baby” is the memoir I’m writing about my experiences in the mission field, which I’m revealing post-by-post on my blog The Road to Promise. My first experiences were in Costa Rica, and I thought this could be a good opportunity to connect the two projects with this excerpt from Four Florida Moderns in which Chad Oppenheim talks about how he designs architecture in such a lush natural setting as this Central American country. The project—San Silencio—is illustrated with renderings his team did during the design process, for which they won a Florida/Carribbean AIA Honor & Design Award. I hope you enjoy Chad’s sensual take on creating elemental architecture

RBD: You have remarked about a push/pull you experience between the built and the natural world. How does this inform your creative process?

CO: I guess it depends on where I’m working. When I’m designing a project in a potent natural environment, I want to respect that environment as much as possible. I’m always in awe of the beauty of nature so I feel that it’s difficult to actually create something more beautiful than nature. I like to let the natural surroundings infuse our projects and become the star of the show. For instance, with San Silencio in Costa Rica, the idea was to have the architecture blend seamlessly with nature, to disrupt nature as little as possible by minimizing the mass and the experience of the architecture. In a sense, we’re letting the architecture frame the natural world, which I believe is why people want to go to Costa Rica. Our work is to unlock the power and the beauty of a particular site. This concept could obviously be transformed into an urban setting as well, but I think it’s more potent in a natural setting of great drama.

When I was designing San Silencio, I sat on this cliff overlooking the jungle and it was like a dream. I thought to myself, I don’t want to build anything: I just want to sit here and enjoy. I’m the architect who doesn’t want to build, so I’ve always tried to build as little as possible and to do the minimum to achieve the maximum. But I’m also a romantic, so the natural projects are about the free elements—the trees, the sky, the water. For another project in the Turks and Caicos Islands, we orientated the village similar to the way ancient civilizations would have worked with the movement of celestial bodies. I think this is important because we have become somewhat removed from the natural world with all of the technology we have in our lives. For this project, we are letting the natural environment create orientations and dictate where we are placing buildings. This is similar to how the ancient art of geomancy or Asian principles would dictate how to locate a project. In a natural setting, this is one of the challenges—how do you locate architecture.

We try to work with the natural forces like the movement of the sun and the moon as we try to capitalize on the beauty surrounding the buildings. In this sense, the natural world actually becomes one of the materials that we work with. There are physical materials but there are also metaphysical and ethereal materials, such as the sky, the light, the weather, the reflections and the greenery—all those things to me are my main ingredients for a project set in nature. I believe the architecture is there only to allow one to appreciate these elements.

* * *

I, for one, truly appreciate the fact that Chad feels so passionate about nature. So few architects consider the elemental to this extent. And on a side note, it just so happens that Costa Rica just won more honors in the relaxation and spa destinations category in TripAdvisor’s 2010 Traveler’s Choice Awards than any other Central and South American country. Congrats Costa Rica and happy roaming, everyone!


Italy of My Dreams

Matthew White

Matthew White

Interior designer and author Matthew White, who co-founded the New York design firm White Webb, has a new book out. The expressive title, Italy of My Dreams, hints at the beauty contained in the book, both in terms of imagery and of the prose White so beautifully composed. Here’s a taste of his choices for the dreamiest locations in one of the most heavenly countries on earth! In his own words: In these pages, I share how I was seduced by Italy, and how that seduction affects the style in which I live (case in point: though each of the homes featured here could be nestled into the Italian countryside, each one is on American soil). Just as the grand tour so deeply affected travelers three hundred years ago, Italy continues to move and inspire me. So this is my “grand tour” of sorts, a tour of my Italian-inspired homes, past and present. Each one of these houses, whether situated in town or country, East Coast or West, link three essential elements: love of domesticity, love of beauty, and love of Italy. There’s an old Tuscan proverb that says “Man makes the place, and the place makes the man.” From my earliest days at the trailer park I have pursued one thing—beauty. I may have found it in Italy, but I made it at home.

Matthew’s living room in the country is filled with Italian art and antiques, while the room itself was inspired by Palladian architecture.

Matthew’s living room in the country is filled with Italian art and antiques, while the room itself was inspired by Palladian architecture.

Matthew’s First Trip to Venice: It was from a train that late September evening when we first laid eyes on Venice. Night was falling, and our view through the window as we crossed the lagoon made the city appear as a sleeping giant lying thin and elegant on the water. I knew I would love Venice long before we had even begun to plan the trip, long before I arrived there. Venice represented to me a city from a different realm. A place not really of this world. How else could one explain a city of stone palaces built on water? Matthew’s take on the influence of the Tuscan villa on American design: Il Poggio and various other great Tuscan houses would inspire architects, artists and writers for centuries. Edith Wharton wrote the book Italian Villas and their Gardens as a way to share her enthusiasm for these romantic places. Bernard Berenson, the famous art historian who specialized in the Renaissance, lived in a charming villa in Fiesole, just outside of Florence. These nineteenth and early twentieth-century American tastemakers understood the architectural importance of the Italian country house and were in part responsible for bringing that understanding to a larger audience in the modern age.

Villa delle Favole was a house Matthew restored in California. Its old garden, like its architecture, was inspired by the Italian Renaissance.

Villa delle Favole was a house Matthew restored in California. Its old garden, like its architecture, was inspired by the Italian Renaissance.

How Thomas Jefferson was inspired by Italian architecture: Monticello was unique in eighteenth-century America in that it looked back to the great buildings of Palladio and ancient Rome yet seemed very contemporary. And because of Jefferson’s ingenuity, the house incorporated some original and very American ideas. The concept of referring to the romance of European history while living in the present and casting an eye toward the future is a completely American trait. Italian influences in the work of McKim, Mead & White, and how that spirit continues: Charles McKim said…”As Rome went to Greece, and later France, Spain and other countries had gone to Rome for their own reactions to the splendid standards of Classic and Renaissance Art, so must we become students, and delve, bring back, and adapt to conditions here, a groundwork on which to build.” More than a century later, I was inspired to follow a similar path. By taking inspiration from the past — ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, and Stanford White’s New York — I created a place for living in the twenty-first century. The result is a home steeped in two millennia of Italian history yet created by, and for, Americans.

This library holds ideas that are both Italian and American.

This library holds ideas that are both Italian and American.

Venice’s admiration of styles from the East: No city in the world is a more alluring melting pot of Eastern and Western styles than Venice. Every arched window and each glittering façade stands as glamorous testament to the admiration Venetians had for the art and architecture of the Eastern Mediterranean. And yet each architectural element shows how Venice took that style and made it uniquely its own.


A Thoroughly Modern Milieu

I’m heading to Sarasota today for a book signing for Four Florida Moderns, which will honor the town’s talented architect Guy Peterson. I thought it would be great to share with you an article I wrote about one of the many insanely gorgeous residences he’s designed. I wrote this for Robb Report Vacation Homes and it was slated for the January issue of this year but was never published because the magazine shuttered late last year. Wish us luck as we sign books tonight and present a panel discussion tomorrow at Coverings in Orlando. We’ll talk about how the tradition of using materials in avant-garde ways is a hallmark of modernism.

To see how the early modernists made this a habit, visit my Examiner page. It’s little wonder that Annette Theisen, an avid fan of modern architecture, was drawn to Sarasota when she searched for the perfect place to build her second home, as the very name of the town is uttered each time a certain group of modern architects is discussed. Known as the Sarasota School, these early American modernists were quietly designing and erecting buildings from the early 1940s to mid 1960s while unknowingly creating a movement that would become important to the evolution of modern architecture and influence future modernists all around the world.

Theisen Couldn't Have Been Happier With Her Home

Theisen Couldn’t Have Been Happier With Her Home

“I have always been seriously drawn to Richard Meier’s architecture and had always wanted to have a home that evokes his designs,” says Theisen, whose next move, her choice of architect Guy Peterson, wasn’t much of a surprise either. “After interviewing Guy, I was very impressed with the homes he had designed and with his philosophy of architecture.” Peterson, who considers himself a third generation Sarasota School architect, says of his modernist leanings, “I wasn’t a part of the Sarasota School, but it was part of me when I was growing up: I went to elementary school in a Victor Lundy building, to junior high in a Ralph and William Zimmerman Building, and to Rudolph’s Riverview High School; I swam at Ralph Twitchell’s Lido Casino and went to the Field Club, which Tim Seibert designed—I was literally steeped in the Sarasota School aesthetic!”

Theisen House by Guy Peterson.

“What I’m most pleased with is how the home became very sculptural while remaining intimate,” says Peterson.

There were only two things Theisen asked of the Sarasota-based architect. “I wanted a minimalist architecture that would speak for itself and expansive views of Sarasota Bay,” explains the retired manufacturing executive, who relishes the fact that Peterson, known for an experiential architecture that elicits unfolding sensations, gave her so much more. When it was time to furnish the serene backdrop of crystalline glass and polished porcelain, Theisen asked Sarasota designer Wilson Stiles to complement the home’s minimalist lines. He did so with a monochromatic interplay of her favorite color—white, eleven shades of which intermingle in the furnishings.

Since Theisen is often seeking privacy when she’s in residence, Peterson was determined to prevent the rooms in the 10,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home from being uncomfortably voluminous. “Annette wanted the spaces to feel welcoming to her when she was there alone so it was important to design rooms that would feel intimate,” says Peterson. He achieved this by breaking the home into three separate cubes—the front holding the main living spaces and her private living quarters, the middle one containing an office and maid’s quarters, and the rear cube serving as the guesthous

Theisen House by Guy Peterson, living room

“A feeling of serenity and calm became evident the moment I moved in,” says Theisen.

“The lot is very narrow, so I designed the home to unwind as it moves away from the water,” says Peterson. “The scale goes down from the large volume in the front to the guesthouse in the back, the elements becoming less transparent as the home progresses toward the street for greater privacy.” Peterson knew that the outdoor spaces would be as important as those indoors, so he paid close attention to the exterior “rooms” that link the three cubes. To join these outdoor rooms to the interiors, the pale porcelain flooring was extended onto the courtyards and the areas tucked beneath an angular protrusion, which points toward the bay.

“One of Annette’s desires was to be able to see the entire bay from the first-floor kitchen,” explains Peterson. “To provide as full a view as possible, I angled the front element to 45 degrees to open up the area of the bay to the north, which is the widest part.” This jutting triangle illustrates Peterson’s ability to be geometrically expressive, as does the wall running the perimeter of the courtyard containing the swimming pool, into which Peterson placed a grid of openings that allows breezes to waft through and serves as up-lit points of light at night. “The house is magnificent in every detail,” remarks Theisen, whose private quarters are on the second floor above the main living spaces.

Peterson left her private living quarters above the formal living room open to the lower level, creating the illusion that it’s suspended or floating. The massive wall of glass facing the water infuses these spaces with such a high quality of light that switching on interior illumination is rarely necessary during daylight hours.

Living room of Theisen House by Guy Peterson

Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Furniture is Perfect in the Modern Milieu

Theisen’s desire to live completely free of clutter inspired Peterson to design clean-lined cabinetry, which keeps life’s accoutrements out of sight. “In some ways the house feels museum-like,” he says. “Annette wanted to live in a home that gave her peace and it is a strikingly Zen-like environment.” For Theisen, it was infatuation at first sight. “I fell in love with the house—the simple design, the sunlight streaming through the rooms with rainbows appearing everywhere, and the palm trees and sky reflected in the floor,” she says. “There’s a beautiful sense of peace about it.” All photos by Steven Brooke Studio.


Voices of a Vernacular

I’m heading to the Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, this evening to present a poetic riff on my new book Four Florida Moderns. The idea was inspired by the ever so brilliant Joanne Molina, who I came to know and love during her days as the Senior Arts + Culture Editor at Interiors Magazine. She’s also the artful arbiter behind the intelligent site The Curated Object, and it was for an article she ran on the site—written by another perceptive writer/editor JoAnn Greco, whose site The City Traveler is one of my favorite regular reads—that spawned this “take” on the architecture of the four moderns featured in the book. I hope you enjoy what I believe these buildings might say if they could! If you have a different voice in mind, feel free to join the conversation by leaving your riff in a comment box below the post.

Alberto Alfonso’s Lake House 2

Albert Alfonso’s Lake House 2: What frolics below the surface of my heart is pure poetry. Serene I am in my confidence that I share the earth’s breath with no one. There’s little room for diffidence in a world that builds walls instead of avenues. My crown is not the most eloquent of my attributes: it’s the tangle of my voice as it whispers, “move.”

KARLA by Rene Gonzalez (photo by Jose Zaldivar)

KARLA by Rene Gonzalez (photo by Jose Zaldivar)

Rene Gonzalez’s KARLA: So, you think you have me figured out: all delicious glow and disdainful shimmer? Look closer. No, closer. Yes, you see it now, don’t you? I am the elemental that comes before and after the most fundamental of all. Who else could make the tree dance, its arms entwined toward heaven? Its reach is love’s heartbeat for itself.

Chad Oppenheim's Villa Alegra (photo by Ken Hayden)

Chad Oppenheim’s Villa Alegra (photo by Ken Hayden)

Chad Oppenheim’s Villa Alegra: Ah, I adore how the water needs me. Without me, its surface would be flat and empty like a page untouched by alliteration. Look at my lines, so strong in the captivity of the liquid’s sheen. The wonderment of discovery is mine because lady luck set me like a gem next to a pool with a face like a dream.

The Theisen Residence by Guy Peterson (photo by Steven Brooke Studio)

The Theisen Residence by Guy Peterson (photo by Steven Brooke Studio)

Guy Peterson’s Theisen House: As the light wanes toward an inky sky, the spaces within spaces tell their own stories: I’m passing through time, invisibly bold; I’m anchored on a threshold of light; I’m married to the moon. Each precious pinprick of illumination declares, “I was born to shine.” Each fissure in the surface of my unblinking eye makes me a witness to all eternity.


A Nobel Undertaking

Siza Viera pen created for Jose Saramago.

Siza Viera pen created for Jose Saramago.

The Pulitzer Prizes are being announced today at 3 p.m. and as a writer, I am anxious to learn which names will be added to the list of history’s literary luminaries. Beyond my love of words, I’m a writer who values aesthetics greatly—it’s likely why my path led me to a career as a design and architecture journalist. When my latest book, Four Florida Moderns, debuted recently, I was given an incredible gift by a dear friend—a beautiful writing instrument that I was to wield at my book signings. It was designed by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira for Cleto Munari’s tribute to five Nobel laureates—another award that distinguishes the world’s greatest writers from the rest of us. When I pulled it from its artful box, I looked at its architectonic beauty in awe. Munari asked Vieira to create the pen in honor of Portuguese author Jose Saramago, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998.

In his book Blindness, the author tells the story of a fictitious country whose entire population was suddenly treated to a loss of sight. Rather than describe the lack of vision suffered by the masses as a plunge into darkness, as is commonplace in literature, Saramago’s characters suffered “white” blindness—his protagonist describing it as being “caught in a mist”; as having “fallen into a milky sea.” It may seem like a small distinction of originality but I believe it is subtleties like this that signal the mark of a great talent. If my pen brings me a smidgen of the creative genius I find in Saramago’s work, I will feel blessed indeed! The other four pairings that brought the pens to life are Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz; Italian architect Alessandro Mendini and American author Toni Morrison; Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca and Canadian author Saul Bellow; and Munari himself, who designed the pen inspired by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.

Alvaro Siza Vieira

Alvaro Siza Vieira

In order to preserve the process that resulted from the collaborations, Munari published The Book of Five Pens, which holds biographies of the architects and authors, renderings of each pen, excerpts of prose by the authors and a replica of the letters written to Munari that describe each author’s personal relationship to the act of writing. I feel humbled to have been given such a heartfelt gift and I have to admit that each time I use the instrument it feels like a celebration of a fine literary lineage, which I aspire to deserve. The pen is also so architecturally substantial that it makes the act of writing feel like a bold declaration, even when—or perhaps because—I’m most often signing my name.

Munari—a designer, patron and curator from Vicenza, Italy—has launched so many careers and made design celebrities of so many talented people throughout history that I will go so far as to say we will someday be awarding the Munari Prize to some of the most distinguished names in design. To see one of the visionary’s latest projects, visit my Examiner page. There you’ll find the Magnificent 7, a set of limited edition tables designed by Munari, Alessandro Mendini, Mario Botta, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sandro Chia, Mimmo Paladino and Mark Strand. Asking poets to design tables: now that’s what I call A Movable Feast!