Sunday, August 29, 2010

Refusing to Accept "Discontinued With No Stock Available:" Custom Embroidery to the Rescue!

I posted a few weeks ago about my client's house fire and showed you some photos of the destroyed home office and game room.  All of the upholstery and textiles (including my custom drapery designs) on the main level of the home were destroyed as well, including these embroidered silk Kingston swag valances in the master bathroom.  If you're on my mailing list, you'll probably recognize this room from one of my postcards:

This master bath ended up being one of my client's favorite rooms in her whole home.  This is what it looked like when I first saw the room in the summer of 2008:

Stark white painted cabinets, partially marble-tiled walls that blended into the builder-blah pinkish neutral paint color on the rest of the walls, and builder-grade light fixtures in a much more traditional style than what my client had in mind. 

My client had already purchased plantation shutters from someone else before she brought me in, and was auditioning various rug options in front of the tub area.

The client wanted something contemporary, something with an Asian feel, but very restful and not so contemporary that her traditionally-styled mahogany furniture in the master bedroom would look out of place.  The first thing we changed was the lighting, choosing a dramatic Asian-inspired lantern pendant and coordinating sconces from Fine Art Lamps' Singapore Moderne collection.  The window treatments came next.  I didn't want to drill into the marble tile on the wall above both windows, so I knew I wanted decorative ceiling hooks for these swag treatments.  When I couldn't find stock ceiling hooks with the right look for this project, I designed these geometric wrought iron ceiling hooks to coordinate with the light fixtures and had them custom-made for this client.

And then there was this fabulous embroidered silk fabric from Pindler & Pindler.  The little chocolate brown square embroidered medallions were the perfect complement to the client's silk oriental rug.  We trimmed the swags with this square veltet bead trim from Kravet and papered the non-marble portions of the walls with a chocolate brown grasscloth wallcovering.  The cabinetry was repainted and warmed up with a brown glaze as well.

The textured brown and gold damask wallpaper in the water closet was just a fun little hidden surprise that repeated some of what was going on in the master bedroom. 

So, fast forward to today.  The grasscloth wallcovering needs to be stripped and replaced, and the window treatments were most likely tossed into a dumpster because they were so badly damaged by smoke and soot.  It's sad, but at least with good insurance coverage everything can easily be replaced, right? 

WRONG!!  The embroidered silk fabric has been discontinued from the mill in our colorway, it was exclusive to Pindler & Pindler so I can't source it anywhere else, and there is no stock available.  I begged P&P to custom order another bolt for us from the mill, but the answer was no.  I was told that this fabric was still available in Hot Pinkish Red colorway (no!), Sickly Mint Green colorway (no!), or Weirdly Orange-Yellow Gold colorway (no!).  I searched the designer showrooms for hours, with the assistance of the showroom staff, and we could not find any acceptable substitute for this fabric.

Then, between sobs of desperation, for some reason I thought of my poor, neglected embroidery machine, waiting patiently for me in my studio beneath a dust cover while work and family life pull me in opposite directions.  I started looking critically at the sample of unobtainable fabric in my hand.  The embroidery motif was a simple satin stitched design, very similar to a traditional monogram motif.  The stitch density was pretty light.  It was a single-color design, about 3 1/2" square; I could digitize the motif myself with my Artista embroidery software, and stitch it out in the medium-sized embroidery hoop, marking the motif placement carefully, repositioning the hoop, stitching the motif out about 350 times...  Yes, for a short, crazed moment, I considered attempting to personally embroider evenly-spaced medallion motifs on 16 continuous yards of silk dupioni...  Then I came to my senses.  Princess Petunia's pettiskirt is still exactly as I left it the last time I blogged about it.  Yes, I could probably digitize the motif with my software, but I'm not exactly a professional digitizer, and the thought of rolling out all that fabric, marking it, embroidering it, and re-rolling it without any catastrophes is a bit overwhelming.  Or so the local commercial monogrammer told me when I asked whether she might like to tackle this job.  "You want me to do WHAT?" she stammered, backing away with a look of fear in her eyes...

However, I found a couple of terrific resources, and I am going to have this fabric recreated on plain silk taffeta by a custom embroiderer.  Richards Jarden of Embroidery Arts is custom-digitizing the embroidery motif in a commercial embroidery format for me, working from a scrap of the original fabric.  Then Kadire Biberaj of European Designs is going to custom-embroider the silk yardage in her workroom in Virginia before sending it off to my drapery workroom for construction of the window treatments.  Kadire specializes in custom embroidery for interior designers, and her monogrammed linens are in the current White House.  She once recreated 80 yards of a discontinued embroidered silk fabric for celebrity designer Barry Dixon, who proclaimed that Kadire's version of the fabric was of even higher quality than the original. 

I must admit, I love a challenge, and I enjoyed seeking out and finding these talented individuals.  I also get a certain satisfaction from fighting back against discontinued status instead of crawling away in defeat.  But the best part of all of this is knowing that my client, who has been through so much, and lost so many mementos, photos, irreplaceable antiques and artworks, will at least get to enjoy her beautiful bathroom again, with every detail exactly as it was before. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ultimate Beach Vacation for She Who Hates the Beach

I know what you're going to say, so let me stop you right there.  Everyone is supposed to love going to the beach.  If I don't enjoy parading around the seaside in 90+ degree weather, clad in scraps of spandex, dripping with sweat, and smeared with sunscreen, then there must be something wrong with me.  I'm probably an alien, or a communist, or a Death Eater.  My family has suspected as much for years, so to head off your argument, let's all just agree that I'm an alien commie Death Eater weirdo who hates going to the beach.

Unfortunately (for him), I'm married to a man who LOVES the beach, who has been begging me to accompany him to one of these horrible sand-and-sweat factories for several years.  So this year I gave in, and attempted to pull off a Beach Vacation for She Who Hates the Beach.  Last week, our whole family escaped to The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort on a small island near Charleston, South Carolina in an attempt to find "something for everyone" in our little clan to enjoy. 

Kiawah Island appealed to me for its non-beachy aspects: No crowds, no boardwalks, no traffic, and no noise except for the sound of waves crashing against the beach (until we arrived, that is).  The resort area is restricted to residents and resort guests, and the only other place I've seen such lush tropical landscaping is at my father-in-law's place in Naples, Florida -- and his property outshines the local botanical gardens.  This 5-star hotel has all the mandatory Rebecca amenities such as air conditioning, spacious marble bathrooms, room service, fine dining, beautiful decor, as well as balconies overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where we were able to eat breakfast in the morning and relax with a bottle of wine in the evening after the kids went to bed.  Check out the view from our balcony:

Isn't it gorgeous?  I would have spent more time out on the balcony if it hadn't been in the 90s and so humid during the day.  When I stepped outside to take this picture, my camera lens immediately fogged up and I had to clean the lens and wait a minute for my camera to warm up before I could get a good picture.

The Sanctuary is only six years old, but it was designed to give the impression of an Old Southern pedigree.  I love the authenticity of the slender wood ballasts on this curved stairway descending to the hotel lobby, and the serenity of the enormous Low Country murals on opposite walls, painted by Karen Larsen Turner, whose available paintings are displayed in the Wells Gallery at The Sanctuary.  I also noticed that every speck of trim throughout the public areas of the hotel -- the lobby, the stairwell area, and the hallways leading to guest rooms -- was painted with a glazed finish very similar to what my decorative painter did for my master bathroom cabinetry.

Here we have Lars and Anders, enjoying a game of chess in the hotel lobby.  A few minutes after I snapped the picture, I had to end the chess game prematurely due to rising tempers, rising voices, and raised eyebrows from a few other guests.

But by and large, The Sanctuary is a very family-friendly resort.  We were pleasantly surprised to see families with children of all ages everywhere we went, and the hotel concierge even arranged babysitting services for us for the one evening that I dragged Bernie to a "Jacket Required" dinner destination. 

The Golf Learning Center at Kiawah Island offers Junior Golf Camp for two hours each day after lunch, and I signed Lars and Anders up for these lessons on three of the five days that we were there.  They had a ball, and even after two hours of golf lessons in 94 degree heat, I still had to drag Lars off the golf course kicking and screaming when it was time to go to dinner.  Isn't the scenery beautiful?  This is Lars on the Cougar Point golf course, mugging for the camera.

Anders' Batman driver cover was a big hit everywhere he went.  It was a recent birthday gift from Aunt Janice the Manice, one of Anders' favorite gifts.  We also had to get him new clubs while we were on vacation, so his previous clubs are destined for his cousin James.  Now Anders tells me, "Mom, I'm a serious golfer."

...Oh yeah, and there was also that beach that everyone makes such a fuss about.  As far as beaches go, it was great.  You just walk onto the beach directly from the hotel, and the staff sets up chairs for you with fresh, clean terry cloth chair covers and towels and beach umbrellas.  Complimentary bottled water is available to hotel guests in a huge cooler right on the beach, and they even have shovels and buckets and other sand toys for the kids.  All you need to do is show up in your swimsuit with some sunscreen, a good book and your sunglasses and you're good to go.  I lasted all of four hours under the shelter of my beach umbrella on Tuesday, which has got to be a record for me.  On other mornings, I made myself comfortable in the air conditioned hotel lobby with a mimosa or a cappuccino and my book while Bernie and the boys worshipped the sun and played in the water on their boogie boards.  But I couldn't resist venturing down to the beach from time to time to see what they were up to and to snap some pictures.  I love this one of Lars flying his dragon kite on the beach.  A perfect memory of a perfect summer day:

So, would I have rather gone to Paris, or anyplace else with gorgeous architecture and museums and historical tours and no sand?  Absolutely!  But this one was for Bernie, and for my little boys.  May they always remember what it felt like when they finally smacked the golf ball 50 yards, and when the kite soared up into the air and Lars harnessed the power of the wind to sail a dragon through the sky.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hooray -- My Espresso Machine Died! Meet the Expobar Office Pulser I Just Ordered from Whole Latte Love

I firmly believe that God invented espresso just to give tired working mothers a fighting chance.  Everyone else in the family gets breakfast in the morning before they head out the door, but I'd rather drive the kids to school in my pajamas than skip my morning latte -- so why am I doing the happy dance about my broken espresso machine?  It's because I have had its replacement picked out for a year, but couldn't justify the cost as long as my old machine "still worked just fine."

My newly deceased machine was the second of two Starbucks Barista machines, made by Saeco.  The first one cost $300 and lasted three years after paying for itself about twenty times over ("That's $3.46.  I'll see you at the window...").  The machine that just died was a newer model of the same machine that lasted about three and a half years and cost about 20% more than the first one, if memory serves me well.  Yesterday morning the steam function just petered out in the midst of steaming my milk, kind of like the air being let out of a balloon, or a car running out of gas.  Briefly, I toyed with the idea of going to the drive-through Starbucks (in my pajamas) and trying to purchase another espresso machine through the window, because then I would get a new machine instantly.  Now is nicer than Later.

But awhile ago, I did some research at and decided that, next time I was in the market for a new machine, I would upgrade to a model with a heat exchanger that can steam milk and shoot espresso at the same time.  The new machine will be a manual, like my old one -- no fancy electronic controls, this is a hands-on machine but easy to use once you get the hang of it.  My Starbucks machines, like others in their price point, need time to cool off in between steaming the milk (which needs to be done first so the espresso shots don't get cold by the time the milk is ready) and pulling the espresso shots.  That means that it can take 15-20 minutes to make a single latte, and 30-40 minutes to make two lattes.  I would have to heat the machine to steam milk, steam a pitcher of milk for one latte, then wait for the machine to cool down, then pull the shots for the first drink, then heat it up to steam milk for the second drink, cool it down again for shots...  The steam wand on the Barista machine also wasn't long enough to work with a larger milk pitcher to steam milk for more than one drink at a time, unless you're drinking cute little baby lattes and restaurant-sized cappuccinos.  We supersize our coffee at my house -- I'm told it's a Lutheran Thing.  All of this adds up to a selfish Rebecca drinking lattes in front of other people and not offering to share (see photo above of me not sharing my latte in 2008 -- and no, that's not my natural haircolor, either), so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to make multiple drinks at once and rejoin the ranks of polite society.  My mother and husband should both appreciate that!

If you're in the market for your first espresso machine, check out this guide from Coffee Geek that covers all bases, How to Buy an Espresso Machine. The machine I selected is the Expobar Office Pulser, a Spanish machine that gets great reviews from every site I visited and seems to be the best balance between price tag and performance. It is annoying, however, to see that the price on this model has gone up several hundred dollars over the last couple of years. This is probably the inevitable result of so many elated coffee lovers blabbing all over the internet that the machine is worth twice what they paid -- of course the manufacturer is going to raise the price!  Where are Bill and Ted with their excellent phonebooth when I want to go back to 2003 to buy an espresso machine?

Overnight shipping would have been insanely expensive, and the machine cost enough on its own so I went with ground shipping.  I ordered my machine from Whole Latte Love, exlusive U.S. distributors for Expobar.  Their site contains a wealth of useful information on all things related to coffee, and they have a 30-day return period in case I turn out to be the first coffee lover who doesn't love this machine.  I'll let you know when it shows up, and if all goes well, maybe next time you come to my house I'll make you a latte!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Design Tragedy on the Golf Course: Before, After... and After Disaster

This is what my client's husband's home office looked like when I first laid eyes on it in the summer of 2008.  It's located in the walkout basement level of a magnificent custom home in an exclusive country club community.  My clients chose this home because of its breathtaking views of both the golf course and lake, the floorplan and layout of the home, and the impeccable quality of construction and materials used throughout the home.  However, they hated the previous owner's taste in window treatments, such as this vinyl vertical blind wrapped in beige polyester chiffon that reminded my client of "wadded up pantyhose."  Most of the light fixtures and ceiling fans in the home seemed to have been someone's temporary solution rather than a deliberate choice, such as the builder grade white ceiling fans in this room.  Recent retirees, my clients were combining the contents of two previous homes, one in the United States and another in Singapore, and brought with them a unique collection of Asian antique furnishings and art as well as more traditional furnishings, like the solid mahogany desk in this photo.  My assignment was to help the clients make everything work together with new light fixtures, new wall and ceiling treatments, and to design one-of-a-kind window treatments and custom throw pillows for every room in the home. This client was a geologist, so instead of the usual "decorative accessories," this home, and in particular this man's office, was accessorized with museum-quality displays of sculptural fossils, geodes, and enormous gemstone specimens -- to say nothing of a lifetime of mementos and souvenirs collected throughout his career, family photos, and personal papers.

This is what my client's office looked like when I'd finished.  It was the first room I worked on in their home, the very beginning of a project that I worked on continually for at least a year and a half.  The solid granite coffee table in the foreground was hand-picked by my client because he loved the stone.  The armoire on the right is a hand-carved, solid teak Asian antique.  My cornice is upholstered in a menswear inspired silk woven fabric from Beacon Hill, and the multilayered rectangular upholstered pieces on the face of the cornice combine the drapery fabric with a solid black silk/linen, an "X" of Kravet feather braid trim, and a wrought iron pyramid medallion at the center.  The tall, dark cabinet behind the chair is another priceless Asian antique. 

...And THIS is what that same office looks like today, after an electrical fire that started in this room a couple of weeks ago.  The whole wall of window treatments, as well as the windows themselves, are completely gone, as are the silk oriental carpets, all of my beautiful pillows, the hand-carved figurines...  It was so hot in this room that the granite coffee table exploded, but miraculously, the solid mahogany desk protected the important papers filed in its drawers.  Although the doors were closed and the blaze was contained in this room, temperatures exceeded 700 degrees Fahrenheit and the air conditioning was running full blast, blowing smoke and soot through all three stories of the home.

This photo shows an area just outside the office -- taken before the fire, obviously -- at the base of an open circular staircase that functioned like an enormous chimney in the disaster.  I designed the quilted silk cushion and custom throw pillows for this teak bench to complement the handmade silk carpet you see here as well as some antique Indian textiles that were displayed on the wall above (not visible in this photo).  The fabrics are a silk woven from S. Harris, a wool/silk Schumacher, and an embroidered linen Saree Stripe from Schumacher that was also used to cover seats on some teak chairs that aren't in this photo.  All of the pillow and cushion trim is 100% silk from Vervain.

It was so hot that ceiling can lights melted and dripped liquid plastic all over the silk cushions -- that stuff you see in the picture that looks like a giant bird poop is a melted can light. 

This is how the basement game room looked when I first saw it, in the summer of 2008. 

Here's that same room again, in January of this year.  This was one of my favorite spaces in the whole home. The only thing I wanted to change was the stark white ceiling -- and I was working on that before the fire.

This is a closeup of the stunning Lee Jofa upholstery-weight graphic woven fabric we used for the cornices and the silk velvet drapery panels with beaded metallic trim from Kravet Couture.  This is the room with the largest television and best setup for movies, with a secondary kitchen area, a wine cellar, powder bath, and full-sized dining table that you can't see in my pictures.  It was a fabulous space for entertaining, and contained some of the client's most contemporary furnishings.  This was a space casual enough for three generations to relax and play in together, yet formal enough to serve as the backdrop for a catered New Year's Eve party.  Sniff, sniff...

So here you see the lovely game room as it looks today.  It's not that the camera was out of focus, by the way -- there was an incredible amount of lingering smoke and soot in the air when I went through the house with my client and her insurance adjuster to assist with documentation of the loss.  The ceiling isn't white anymore; it's streaked with oily soot, as are the walls and everything else throughout the entire three-story home.  The dark spots you see on the ceiling are burn marks made by the drywall nails due to the extreme heat of the fire.

You can really appreciate how much soot is on everything in this photo.  The two lighter rectangular areas on the wall were covered by artwork.  All the carpeting in this room has been ripped out, the windows across the back wall and all of the drywall, every light fixture, the draperies, and every stick of furniture will need to be replaced.  The whole kitchen area on the other side of the room needs to be ripped out and completely rebuilt as well.  Almost everything on this floor is a complete loss, and it looks like 50-75% of the contents on the main floor will be lost as well, including the kitchen cabinetry and all of my drapery treatments.  Notice how I say "my" draperies -- of course they belong to the client, but it's just devastating to see so much hard work literally gone up in smoke.

So, that's why my blog has fallen silent over the past few weeks while I've been meeting with my client and her insurance adjusters and working on replacement quotes for everything that was destroyed.  My client loved everything I did for her and wants almost everything exactly the way it was before, which is such a wonderful compliment, but some several key fabrics and a couple of trims have been discontinued with no stock available, and I'm going to have to find substitutes for those.

The silver lining to this story is that no one was hurt in the fire and the clients had updated their insurance coverage and documented the contents of their home just the previous year under the advice of their financial planner, so they will be adequately compensated for their material losses.  The moral of this blog post is to take the Boy Scouts' advice and BE PREPARED!  If you haven't done so recently, give your homeowner's insurance agent a call and check to see how much coverage you have for the contents of your home.  Most policies base the contents coverage on a set percentage of the value of your home.  If you have a great deal of expensive electronics, artwork, antiques, or anything else that might push you above that number, you can purchase additional coverage to make sure you can put your home back the way it was in the event of a fire or other catastrophic event.  It's also a good idea to go through your home with a video camera or take still photographs documenting the contents of your home room-by-room and store that information in a safe deposit box or with a relative so you can prove what was in your home if you ever suffer a loss like this one.