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.

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)!

03/23/11
Cassa Hotel & Residences: Our AD Show Headquarters!

Digesting the AD Home Design Show

Cassa Hotel & Residences: Our AD Show Headquarters!

What’s chic and dynamic and fabulous all over? The three days Roaming by Design spent gallivanting around Manhattan as we made our way from our sophisticated digs at Cassa Hotel & Residences to the 10th annual Architectural Digest Home Design Show. There were furniture launches (our Blogger19 cohort Susan Serra being among the buzziest of all), tweetups (the magical Veronika Miller, @Modenus, and Troy Hanson, @troynyc, holding one that drew some topnotch Twiterrati to the Ligne Roset/Valcucine/Margaritelli/Rimadesio lounge), parties (the DIFFA Cocktails by Design being a highlight) and dinners (more tweep talent at one table than any on design junkie deserves)! Making our RBD headquarters at Cassa was a smooth move, as the amazing mid-town location meant we were at the center of everything. We had an extended-stay apartment in the sexy building designed by Enrique Norten. The luxe treatment and serene setting were just the balm for the manic schedule we maintained.

On Thursday evening, we had the pleasure of saying hello to Margaret Russell, the editor in chief of AD, at the DIFFA cocktail party, and ran into some of our favorite design elite, including Daniele Busca of Scavolini and Tamara Stephenson of NestNestNest. We then whisked away to dinner with some of our favorite friends from twitter. Carmen Natschke, The Decorating Diva, cornered the evening on photo ops, Sabrina Velandry out-ordered everyone, Cynthia Bogart, whose site The Daily Basics we love, was a surprise addition to an already amazing night! Getting to see Modenus’ UK contingent, Tim Bogan, was a blast; and we adored hanging out with Andie Day! Friday was all about the show, beginning with Modenus’ Mary’s & Mimosas Tweetup and continuing through a dizzying display of design where we bumped into the always vivacious Amy Dragoo of ABCD Designs, Cheryl Kees Clendenon, Sarah Lloyd, Marcy Feld, Catherine Avery, Chuck Wheelock and Talis Lin. Susan Serra’s Bornholm Kitchen debut drew a stellar crowd. The Scandinavian-inspired furnishings were given a fitting tagline “Warm Heart, Cool Designs,” and we salute Susan for producing such a finely-crafted collection.

Think Fabricate was also at the show with an artful line of furnishings, and our friends at Boca do Lobo brought some interesting pieces to the show once again this year. A newbie to us, perched perfectly within The Paris Apartment booth, was Munna. We couldn’t have been happier to see Aston Smith and Manhattan Center for Kitchen & Bath at the show, and Maybelline Te’s newest introductions for Snug Furniture were as exciting as ever—how she continues to push the envelope in design is beyond us!

Maybelline Te with her Woven Nest table

We were particularly fond of the MADE section of the show, where artisinal products of every stripe were showing, the array of materials included within the booths covering the spectrum. While making our way through the maze of products, we bumped into the talented duo Eric Slayton and Elena Lyakir—a pair to watch, as we are convinced their stars are on the rise. Among the offerings in MADE, Douglas Thayer’s designs in concrete & wood were standouts, as were the mod-Asian wares in Jia Moderne’s booth.

We’ve spotted a few other worthwhile recaps of the show that we thought you might want to see. Modenus has one, as does Quintessence.

03/11/11
@SarahFrazier @SaxonHenry and @concretedetail at #TheArthurShow tweetup @Moss_Online

What a Day for a Tweetup!

@SarahFrazier @SaxonHenry and @concretedetail at #TheArthurShow tweetup @Moss_Online

Roaming by Design has been on the road a bit lately (uh, I guess that’s what we’re supposed to be doing when we promise roaming, huh?)! We’ve been around town (and across the pond, actually) gathering tweeps around us for some excellent partying. Recently, we had a highly successful tweetup at Moss Gallery in Soho during their #TheArthurShow, joined there by @abcddesigns @StudioBrinson @williambrinson @goodwithstyle @RMManhattanEd @sarahfrazier @concretedetail @RodRuizPhoto @MelissaCantor @DESIGNCOMMOTION and (yours truly) @SaxonHenry to name a few.

At the sexy rooftop lounge at the Gansevoort Park Avenue recently, we gathered a good group of tweeps around us to celebrate #PlungeWeekend. Keeping it cool that night were @Joeod3 @SusanWilber @concretedetail @GansevoortPark and @SaxonHenry. Where are we next? Well, Vegas, baby–we’ll be cozying up to @Paul_Anater and a long list of tweeps he’ll be gathering at the #Coverings2011 show (which includes the divine @jolocktov)! And at the #ADshow2011 in NYC late next week, there will be a large gathering of twitterati (a little birdie tells us @Modenus @AndieDay @SabrinaInc @troynyc @Tim_ModenusUK and @gwphoto38 will be there!). If you want a twitvite, leave a comment and we’ll make sure you are in the know! Happy Tweeting everyone!

Plunge at the Gansevoort Park Avenue

02/25/11
Gordon Ramsay (left) and chef Alessandro Delfanti in Contrada at Castel Monastero

Where in the World is Gordon Ramsay?

Gordon Ramsay (left) and chef Alessandro Delfanti in Contrada at Castel Monastero

One of my favorite trips of 2010 was a jaunt to Italy in late September/early October. During my tour of the beautiful country I had two amazing days at Castel Monastero near Sienna where I caught up with the renowned chef and television bad boy Gordon Ramsay, who heads up the cookery program at the resort and is the visionary behind the restaurants there. I was impressed with the refreshing honesty the Hell’s Kitchen host brought to the interview and enjoyed getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the rocking-and-rolling life of this intrepid adventurer.

RBD: Has anything surprised you about your career?

GR: Yeah, all the crap I get! Behind all the shouting, aggression and swearing is a passionate individual who is very focused on getting it right. I think I’m the luckiest chef in the world and I love food so much that I never stop; I literally never stop. I went out last night in Sienna and I tasted rabbit prepared in a way that I thought was inspirational, and I will use that. I suppose I’m like a magpie: I love traveling all over the world and picking up these shiny little bits of magic that are put out in restaurants—not just food but service as well.

RBD: Is there anything you are particularly excited about right now?

GR: I recently came back from Vietnam where I was filming for my new show called Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape—it’s almost like Tony Bourdain meets Planet Earth. I thought about the gloabal domination of supermarkets because here I was in Vietnam living with the locals, and buying fresh vegetables and meat twice a day—in the morning for lunch and in the afternoon for dinner, spending 75 cents to a dollar per person per day. I cooked with no dairy—no cream and no butter—and everything was fantastically fresh. The experience was a huge eye opener. Sometimes when you’re traveling at this pace, you don’t take anything for granted but you forget what it’s like right when you’re at the very beginning of your career. I had a limited budget. It was a fascinating time because I was stripped of everything—from my exemplary knives to my chef’s jacket—and I was just there in tee shirts and shorts in 100 degrees, living locally, which I recommend to every chef in the world.

I always get asked about striving for the highest level of perfection and I say to other chefs, “Come out of your comfort zones. Become vulnerable. With the base of knowledge and excitement you’ve got about food, the level of creativity multiplies ten-fold the minute you become vulnerable because you act on instincts.” There’s a huge soul-searching dilemma going on when you haven’t got the most amazing chopping board, you haven’t got fresh ingredients arriving on your doorstep delivered by artisan producers, you haven’t got the most amazing baked bread twice a day, and nobody is making ravioli and tortellini for you: get out of your comfort zone and become self-sufficient!

After Vietnam, I went straight to Cambodia and that was seriously mind-blowing. It had nothing to do with Michelin Stars, Zagat, the Good Food Guide or food critics, and yet some of what was served in these villages was better than you could get in Cambodian and Vietnamese restaurants anywhere in the world—it was exquisite, I mean really exquisite.

RBD: Speaking of Michelin Stars: you have what is becoming an embarrassment of riches, no?

GR: I’m very lucky to have an amazing team. I suppose the criticism we come under is that I can’t be everywhere at once. Well, I’ve never portrayed that I cook in all of these restaurants. There are two restaurants bearing my name: Gordan Ramsay at Claridges, which means an awful lot to me, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Next year we celebrate ten years at Claridges and we have so much talent behind it: from Angela Harnett to Mark Sargeant to Marcus Waring to Mark Askew to Claire Smith to Jake Hamilton—these are thoroughbreds who’ve been with me for ten years. When they leave the nest, it’s a natural level of progression where it becomes a rite of succession. It’s almost like in government in that you’re roosting the nest with food, and you’ve got peers and prodigies that are coming back to stamp out their own sort of uniqueness. What’s wrong with them going further afield? This level of succession has always been my forte: always, always.

RBD: Do you think it’s your passion that allows you to foster people to this level? I ask because I would think some chefs would be a little more selfish than you’ve been in supporting people to go out on their own?

GR: I’m an over-generous guy and so when you’re in the fold it’s anything and everything. I’ve always believed in sharing and the level of manners that my mum taught me from an early age. It makes no sense to compare chefs for their styles: I love Joel Robuchon; love what he’s done for formulaic menus, but I’ve got a different style of setting up a business and my menus are different. Clearly Robuchon has the same menu in Paris as in Tokyo as in New York as in London. What I want to do is to support the chefs that are driving my restaurants behind the scenes, backing me up for years. At some point, they’ve got to go out and take the next step on their own. I enjoy financially backing them—personally but quietly—and unfortunately that always gets misconstrued in the press because it’s said that another chef leaves Ramsay, but we know what goes on “hand on heart” behind the scenes. I know how important it is for these guys to strike out and become individual, and I’ve never been anything less than caring as a father figure to push them to the extreme. And I’m not done yet. That’s what I constantly tell myself. It’s not that I want to spend 16 hours a day behind a stove; I’ve done that! I’ve served my apprenticeship and I have the fascination of that next new discovery.

I have a series of new restaurants opening—the new Savoy Grill, which we’re all incredibly excited about; the Bread Street Kitchen in St. Paul’s Cathedral; and the restaurant in Borough Market opening up in September 2011 ahead of the Olympics.

RBD: Your energy is quite remarkable. To what do you attribute your verve?

GR: It’s a vibe for me: I’m more nervous when I stand still.

RBD: How has being a Scotsman made an impact on your sensibilities as a chef?

GR: Scotland, as you know, is not renowned for its phenomenal food! Great produce but sadly enough we don’t keep any of it for ourselves—we send it all abroad, which doesn’t make sense! I remember my early days in Paris when I was working for Guy Savoy and I’d see these amazing Scottish Langostines come through the door. The French were so arrogant they would be ripping the Scottish flag off the side of the box because they couldn’t quite believe all this produce was coming out of Scotland. I get it, because here was our country with a reputation for deep-fried Mars Bars and deep-fried pizza: it didn’t make sense. But think about it: hand-dived scallops from the west coast of Scotland were being shipped out to Paris. It was frustrating. Then when the venison arrived, it was like another stake in the ground. With fingers up to the French, I’d say, “Here we go—that’s three, four, five amazing kilos of produce that you haven’t got in your country.” So, yeah; I love that battle!

RBD: Do you think the drama of your career prepared you well for television?

GR: That’s a very good question. When you’re cooking at this stake and it’s under this level of pressure, you push the boundaries and, no disrespect, but there’s never going to be a time when you politely say, “Please be so kind as to pass me the bass!” When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to hit the fan or I’d be flipping burgers or dressing Caesar Salads while high-fiving everybody and running a chain of TGI’s! I’m not. I decided to go to the very, very top so I demand the best. In terms of the genre unfolding, there’s no script. If I give you seven identical ingredients, myself seven and Chloe seven, we’d come up with three different dishes: that’s the exciting thing about food. So chefs are notorious self-motivated insecure little fuckers: we’re always looking to please; looking for that big hug because we’re constantly striving to be the best! But when we are the best, we never realize we’re the best so we continue to be incredibly insecure!

RBD: People are always surprised at how nice you are in person compared to your television personae; is that something you set out to do or is it a natural process of the show?

GR: I’ve been in Marco White’s kitchen and Guy Savoy’s kitchen and Daniel Boulud’s kitchen, and I’ve seen the shit hit the fan. I have seen them rip somebody’s head off and absolutely cane someone and then 30 seconds later, I’ve seen them glide through the dining room to shake hands with their amazing customers—like a swan with such character, and amazing elegance and grace. Then they walk back through that door and if there’s something wrong with a dish—the ribeye is overcooked or the scallops are like rubber—then they blow off. I’ve learned from the best!

So if anyone tells you any different when they get to a certain age and condemn that level of ambitiousness by 35- or 40-year-old chefs, you must remember it’s how they made their names. God bless him, Daniel Boulud—one of the most amazing chefs in the world—I would not like to ever get on the wrong side of him. But very few chefs have that brutal honesty, whether they do it in front of the customer or in front of the camera. With me there’s no agenda. My biggest problem is the brutal honesty because if there’s something wrong there and then, I’m not going to wait to see if the cameras have stopped rolling before I let go: I let go. The unfortunate thing when you get into your 60’s and 70’s, these chefs then start to feel guilty about how mean they’ve been so they start philosophizing. I’m 43 years of age; I’m not going to start thinking, “You know what: we really shouldn’t get upset at sending an overcooked pigeon to the head inspector of Michelin! We should just relax and open a bottle of Bordeaux!” Uh, no! That doesn’t quite work out, now does it?

RBD: It feels to me like one of your greatest talents is nurturing people; does that come out of your nature, maybe your upbringing?

GR: From the early days when I was playing soccer, I was always the captain of the team so today’s role I play is a coach because I’m not done with cooking. I’m certainly not bored with it but I just need that level of stimulant to keep me excited about it and nothing gets me more excited than raw ingredients still, even though I look for the experience that will hit all of those notes on the back of the experience—exposure, what I’ve done for food, how many kings and queens I’ve cooked for and the amazing dinners I’ve prepared during my life. Last year was a seminal year cooking for Nelson Mandela twice in one year—once for his 90th birthday. That said, I never started cooking to become rich and famous in the first place. God forbid, if it all stops tomorrow, you’re still going to see me in my restaurant.

RBD: You’re fascinating to interview!

GR: I suppose I keep it real; unfortunately, the bigger you become in this industry, the more you get baby-sat because they see me as too fucking dangerous! I’ll admit I’m a naughty boy so I just watch as they crap themselves when they are afraid I’ll say something detrimental! I’m not that stupid! Also, you’ve made an effort to be here so if I can’t talk to you in an open and honest way, then I’d rather not do the interview!

RBD: Do you have a favorite dish? If so, why and who cooked it?

GR: There’s never been one dish on my agenda—there are thousands because I think there’s no such thing as the greatest soccer player in the world; there’s no such thing as the greatest chef in the world because it depends upon that particular time and temperament, and I never liked things to be set in stone—I like to keep on moving the goal post. One of the most sought-after dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life was when I sat with this family of eight on the river in Vietnam on this houseboat. It was braised pork belly done with fenugreek and star anise, and it was this amazing broth I just couldn’t, couldn’t stop eating. It was done with noodles, braised pork, their equivalent to sea spinach picked from the side of the river—it was mind blowing!

I’ve come across nothing along those lines in the last four months. In six-month’s time you ask me that and it will be something completely different. But, if I wanted to take something to bed, it would be my mum’s bread and butter pudding. When we grew up, she made it with plain bread, but as we became a little more successful, she changed to baguettes. Now she makes it with croissants—Mum’s gone up in life! She changes her recipe every decade! How cool is that? She went from bread to baguettes and now in the 21st-century she finally makes it with croissants. She volunteers for the WI, the Women’s Institute, which is an organization against domestic violence. Now when she makes it, she glazes it. We had no glaze in the first phase, then she went to brown sugar, now she has an apricot glaze! Isn’t it great that she makes it with croissants and an apricot glaze for these houses of single parents?

RBD: She’s been inspired by her boy?

GR: Oh yes! It’s traveling down; food is going back down!

RBD: Is she proud of you?

GR: Yeah! Well, she never, uh, overindulges. She comes to Claridges once every 18 months or so with her neighbors but it’s tough to get her out on the town because she’s obsessed with bingo! It’s nice in that she looked after me for twenty years of my life so now I look after her—I mean, I try! We bought her a house, I try to send her on holidays or on cruises, but she’s not easy to manage! She passed her driving test five years ago on the eleventh time! I said, “Mother, it would be a lot easier if I just get a driver for you!” She said no, so god bless her that she passed it! I got her a mini for Christmas, but I think it’s so terrific that she’s real and completely unspoiled.

RBD: Tell our readers what you feel makes Castel Monastero so special.

GR: I suppose no matter what happens after me, after you, this place is still going to remain the same—it’s unchanged, it’s steeped in history and it’s something that’s being brought back and put on the map but it’s still part of the local village. What I love is that it’s not a hotel, it’s a retreat; this is a gem, ever involved as part of the community where they make those who live here as important as the visitors. They hold onto that ritual; they hold onto that service on Sunday. The village is part of them. That’s not fake or any sort of put-on; that’s real. I don’t know if you heard the church bells this morning? God bless them I was sleeping above those bells! No need for an alarm clock or for any of my three daughters to ring me this morning at 8 o’clock! I’m teasing, of course; that’s what’s so beautiful here. The personality of place is being nurtured and preserved. (For Ramsay’s three choices for rock-star chefs of the future, see my piece in Delta Sky magazine this month.)

12/21/10
Inn by the Sea

#LetsBlogOff, the Cha-Ching Edition

Inn by the Sea

This week’s #LetsBlogOff topic is “if money were no object…” This past weekend, I spent two delicious nights at a beautiful resort on the coast in Down East Maine, soaking in the scenic beauty of the surroundings and being pampered in so many ways that make me grateful to be a journalist who happens to write about amazing travel experiences that take place in spots just like Inn by the Sea, nestled into Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth. So you might think this post is going to go the way of bragging rights that I snag such experiences, right? Wrong, darlings: this is about something that took place at the Inn that I believe is at the true spirit of “if money were no object.”

Not only is Inn by the Sea one of the “greenest,” meaning environmentally-conscious, places I’ve stayed in a very long time, the property has its heart in the right place with its holiday philanthropy program called “The Giving Tree.” The afternoon I arrived, Rauni Kew, the publicist for Inn by the Sea, was hosting area school children who had visited to see the ornaments they’d made, each of which had been hung with care on a brightly lit tree in a corner of the lounge by a blazing fireplace. These local students had joined members of Thatcher Brook Center to make the ornaments, which are intended to entice the hotel staff, inn guests and community members to make generous donations of warm mittens, scarves, hats and/or Chap Stick, which will be given to the less fortunate people in the area.

The thing that caught my attention, a part of the program which is new to The Giving Tree this year, is that bookmarks decorated by Skillin School students were being sold for $10 each, the money from which will be used to purchase books for at-risk boys who have not had the opportunity to learn to read well. They gather to learn to read as part of a book club to which these books are donated. As a writer and someone who makes her living putting words on a page, I can think of no better way to spend money during this or any time of the year. Yep: I ponied up what I could afford and if anyone out there is looking for a good cause for their holiday giving, I’d say this is one.

My Spa Suite at Inn by the Sea

If money were no object, I’d make sure that every child the world over would have the best education possible so that the playing field was leveled and talent could really shine. When my ship comes in (and believe me, it will), I will be doing what I can to make sure this will happen! So in 2011, as I was roaming to my heart’s content along this beautiful slip of coastline in Maine, I gave the gift of a few books: it’s a start. I’m grateful for the program and the awareness it brought as I move through my own holiday celebrations with dear friends because it has reminded me to never take for granted that I have the good fortune of spending my time each and every day fumbling around with the written word. I would like to give this same gift to everyone who desires it from as young an age as possible.

Kudos to you, Inn by the Sea; I hope this call to action will inspire others to give as well and that your program will be a smashing success. If you want to donate funds to The Giving Tree, send them to Inn by the Sea, 40 Bowery Beach Rd, Cape Elizabeth, Maine 04107, c/o Rauni Kew (and tell her Roaming by Design sent you)! And, as I am want to do on Let’s Blog Off days, I leave you with a poem (today a Haiku): LUMINOSITY Dark harbinger sings. I halt his coaxing; turning to ravage the light. Saxon Henry Happy roaming on this #TravelTuesday, everyone! A full list of Lets Blog Off posts, and trust me, they are worth reading, can be found here.

12/15/10
Cecconi's Restaurant at Soho Beach House

Grit and Glamour in South Beach


Cecconi's Restaurant at Soho Beach House

When Soho Beach House owner Nick Jones asked Martin Brudnizki to create an oasis nestled into Miami Beach’s sand-strewn shores for the inimitable members of Soho House, the designer knew without hesitation what he wanted to achieve. “I set out to create a place that would exude both grit and glamour,” said the Brit during an interview in the club’s courtyard restaurant Cecconi’s, casually chic in a tee shirt and cotton shorts. “Nick’s vision for the Soho Beach House was relaxing and informal, and I wanted there to be a timeless appeal to the design so I looked to the colonial roots of the club for the underpinning of my plan.”

Jones has a knack for creating retreats that bring everything to a member’s fingertips, which means once on the premises, there’s no reason to leave them unless an escape is desired. “Because this is one of those special places in the world where someone might want to check in and not leave until their stay in Miami is over, I paid special attention to materials and to comfort,” Brudnizki said. In order to achieve a calming backdrop, he considered every detail, down to the pavers in the courtyard, which are new but look like stone salvaged from a hip resort in Tuscany–think Gio Ponti in turquoise and beige. The region of Italy was foremost on Brudnizki’s mind when he designed the deliciously serene spot that segues to sparkling sand and glittering waters, as he wanted the delectable Italian fare of Cecconi’s to feel at home in its setting.

As I feasted on wild mushroom risotto, I couldn’t help but notice how well he’d succeeded! Where are you heading on this #TravelTuesday? Hope it’s as fun as this Soho House outpost on the beach. It’s a celeb hotspot: A-Rod sauntered by while we were dining. Wonder what he ordered for lunch?

12/14/10
Mathieu Lehanneur's Once Upon a Dream

Sleeping Around: Veuve Clicquot Style!

Mathieu Lehanneur's Once Upon a Dream

If you’ve ever dealt with jet lag or insomnia, you just might decide Mathieu Lehanneur is your new best friend, especially if you are heading to the Hôtel du Marc after his Once Upon a Dream sleep capsules are in place late next year. Veuve Clicquot, the official champers of Design Miami, brought the capsule to the fair a few weeks ago, enticing the curious into its soothing confines. The bed-built-for-one has a timer that can be set to achieve your ideal temperature, ambient light, sound level and mood.

There’s research behind the design, and the materials and colors purportedly are calibrated to help people rapidly recover and adapt to new surroundings during travel that would normally bring about jet lag. The philosophy behind the capsule is based mostly on the work of Dr. Alain Nicola, a sleep disorder specialist in France. Lehanneur and his team used the doctor’s precepts, such as “going to sleep is like stepping off into another state, shifting down into consciousness by successive stages,” as inspiration

After a few nights on the party circuit in Miami, I needed only a slight nudge to slip inside and recline on the uber-soft perch. Had Lehanneur not been so eagerly awaiting to talk about his high-tech, super luxe design, I would have been hard-pressed to leave!

12/11/10
Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

The Luxe Touch


Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

Those of you who know me have heard me whining all week that one of the most fabulous trips I’ve ever been offered to Paris was derailed by a head cold. I know you’re all sick of it, cyber pals, but humor me for a moment while I wallow in self pity. For those of you who are just stopping in for the first time, forgive the melodramatics; the read will be worth the intro as I’ve got a few insider travel goodies up my sleeve.

At this very moment, I would have been in the presence of one of the world’s greatest chefs, Alain Ducasse, as he presented his new cooking concept “Essential,” a back-to-basics gastronomy that Chef Ducasse says takes a radical approach. “It takes courage to produce artlessly simple dishes by cooking elegantly,” he explains. “Like an architect that turns his back on flamboyance to achieve perfect harmony through austere lines.” If anyone can create simple elegance, that would be Chef Ducasse. Now are you getting the picture as to why I’m so disappointed to be sitting in front of my computer screen in Brooklyn?

As they liked to shout on those Ginsu knives commercials, “But wait!” I would have been staying at the incredible Hotel Plaza Athénée and I would have luxuriated in a spa treatment at the famed Dior Institut this morning. “But wait!”; that’s not all: I would be heading to Le Meurice this evening for cocktails at Bar 228 and dinner at Restaurant Le Dali, and I would have seen the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris yesterday. Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart breaking!

The Luxe Mobile App for Paris (and the Chic Guide)

How have I made myself feel better as I’ve gone through five boxes of kleenex? By playing with the Luxe City Guides new iPhone app for Paris. Well, a girl’s gotta dream! I’ve used the paper guides for a few years and I love how much information is packed into such a small package without sacrificing wit (and, when it’s warranted, snarkitude). The feisty first-take in each city always includes a tutorial as to a few phrases you’re likely to hear while in town.

Take the Miami edition, which I was carrying with me last week during the Art Basel/Design Miami mania: “Sorry, the sunbeds are all reserved” = “Honey, you’ve got more bush than Australia, ever heard of a wax…?” And who hasn’t bumped into this one in New York City: “Can I help you?” = “You look too poor to shop here and I have no interest in helping you now, or ever.”

My favorites, however, punctuate the opening page of the London guide, which I used during my trip to the UK a few weeks ago when I stayed at two beautiful Dorchester Collection properties, Coworth Park in Ascot and the Dorchester in London. Here are four phrases to help you decipher “Brit-speak”: “Really, how interesting” = “You’re boring me to death”; “Not bad” = “Very good” (Now I realize why they had a difficult time understanding me and vice versa! Not bad = Very good; really?) “Quite good” = “Rather disappointing”; and “Bob’s Your Uncle, Fanny’s Your Aunt” = “Voila!” They had to make me think of Paris again, didn’t they? Just when that fabulous trip to London had distracted me for a moment.

If you’re the hip/no-electronic type, you’ll love the cool bespoke boxes into which you can tuck your printed guides until you’re off on your next adventure. I hope to be back on the road before too long myself. Until then, I’m checking out the “Loves & Loathes” section of the Paris guide on my phone. Guess what? It says Le Meurice has the best luxe lunch deal in town. No kidding! Why don’t you just rub it in! Seriously, happy roaming everyone!

11/22/10
Doesn't get sexier than Gio Ponti's Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Sorrento; tiles by Ceramica Bardelli

Ceramic Tile: The Perfect Bedfellow


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.