Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Homes and Gardens

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

October 28, 2009
Art-Vent House Report #7

Well God really is on Facebook (see Hiatus below). Before leaving for California, I wrote this Status Update:

Carol Diehl is flying to SF in the early morning, off to Big Sur for son Matt & Michelle's wedding. Sun predicted for the Friday nuptials (yeah!), tomorrow heavy rain and high winds—just the thing for driving down Highway 1.”

….and got this message:

"hi carol, it’s your old neighbor from greene st! i now have a ranch about an hour south of sf right off of hwy 1. the winds and rain are supposed to be formidable (60-80mph sustained!!!). here’s my number if you need a pit stop. you might and it would be great to see you. best jane"

So when I found myself in San Francisco following a white knuckle flight (after circling for an hour in zero visibility, the pilot announced that he’d “never been so happy to land”) looking out the airport windows at trees bent in half by the wind and wondering what to do, I called Jane Rosen, who I never knew that well and hadn’t seen in (fifteen? twenty?) years, who told me the road was washed out from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay and that I should sit tight. A good thing because when I called the Ripplewood Resort, where I was to have stayed that night, the woman at the desk made out like I was being a wimp (“there are other roads to get here…”) and then next day when I did arrive I saw that a giant redwood had come down across the river not 50 feet from my cabin.

I got the last available room in an absolutely lovely airport Marriott with a balcony looking out on trees and the smell of eucalyptus in the air (“Toto, we’re not at JFK anymore”), and the next day on the way to Big Sur stopped off at Jane’s. “I want you to see what a loft on Greene Street will buy in California,” she’d said, her words echoing my mind as I navigated the steep dirt road to the house at the top of the mountain with vistas all around, where Neil Young is her nearest neighbor.

“My lover is a place not a person,” Jane says, “I’ve never loved a man as much as I love this property—I’m romantically involved with it, I hate being away from it, and I want everybody to meet it.”

On Thanksgiving vacation in 1989, while visiting her brother, a physician at Stanford, they were driving the gorgeous stretch of Highway 1 below San Francisco when, she told me, “we got to this road and there was a moment of recognition. I said ‘I want to live here' and my brother said, ‘Don’t be silly, Jane, no one lives here. Cows live here.’ But I was clear, more than I’d ever been in my life.” After renting nearby and going back and forth to New York, there was the miracle of the property not being officially for sale but owned by a woman who knew her work….and when, in 2001, she sold her loft (which she bought, raw, in 1969 for $10,000 when hardly anyone lived in SoHo) her friends celebrated, she says, because they couldn’t stand to listen to her talk about her ambivalence any longer. By 2005, she was living out her "Jewish cowgirl" fantasies full time.

Giving up the loft, the art world, her friends—all New York meant—to live on a mountaintop with her dogs (and now horses, although she doesn’t ride) took a tremendous leap of faith. In so many ways Jane was convinced she’d committed career suicide. But her sculpture, always nature-based, took on new life in the fresh air, and through many connections to regional galleries, her career is thriving. “I didn’t want to be Queen of the Art World,” she says, “I wanted to be Morris Graves and make work until the day I died. I wanted to show people the story in nature so they wouldn’t fuck it up anymore, so found other ways to do business and make the best work I can.”

Recycled Provencale limestone, discarded cut-offs from stone used for building, waiting to turn into sculpture

In that she is enthusiastically assisted by Alex Rohrig and former student Sebastian Ages, who made us a wonderful lunch of fresh, local produce—after which, eager to get back to work, Jane sent me on my way.

Jane with Alex and Sebastian

While the top of the mountain was sunny, the beach at the bottom was still gray from the storm.
June 14, 2009
Regarding the post below, Robby Baier's comment to Scott on Facebook:

I love your place. Such artistic order. Carol's Blog reminded me of a story about my friend Peter in Stuttgart. I was staying with him about 4 years ago and was struck by how impeccably the place was organized. He doesn't have your artistic sense so it was just super neat and very clean. When we left in the morning, after the beds were made, the dishes cleaned and put away, the sink wiped down with a fresh, dry rag (who wants those unsightly stains on the stainless steel?), he stopped in the doorway and turned around one last time to make sure everything was in place. Sharing with me that he "doesn't like it when things are too perfect", he went back inside and took a coat off of one of the hooks by the door, walked over to the couch and tossed the coat on the armrest. Not happy with the way the coat had fallen, he picked it up again and threw it a second time. Ahhhh. Now, for him, the place was imbued with just an air of the casual.

Note to manically tidy self: go downstairs and throw some magazines around.
June 11, 2009
Art Vent House Report #6:

Scott Cole is often mentioned in my posts, sometimes as Scott Who Knows Everything, as he’s frustratingly multi-accomplished. Musician, painter, and chef (Scott owns
When I’m there I’m always taking pictures and the only challenge is editing—basically you can point the camera anywhere and get a beautiful vignette. For instance you can guess what vantage point I took this from. But really, isn’t this just the world’s sexiest toothbrush?

You get the feeling that it's all intentional, but not too intentional, and that there's a sense of humor behind everything:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s Scott, preparing the dinner he made last night for a few friends, in his kitchen which, except for the black cat lurking nearby, is white and innocent:

As is the upstairs bathroom:

The dining room:

Master bedroom:
A corner of an upstairs guest room:

Because it fit him perfectly, I gave Scott this kimono, which was made for my uncle when he served in China during World War II. He wore it once for Halloween, then hung it on the wall:

And outside, the hand-carved pickets on the fence that came with the house. Even they tell a story:

April 19, 2009
Art Vent House Report #5: Easter, for the second year in a row, was celebrated at Kurt Andernach’s home, which he calls Somersault House, on the Athens/Catskill, NY border, so deep in the woods that it takes a high clearance vehicle, preferably with all-wheel drive, and a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to negotiate the seemingly endless narrow dirt roads that lead to it. Each time I go there (once, scarily, by myself, near midnight on a dark, snowy New Year’s Eve), I wonder if I’m really going to find it, and if not, how I’m going to get out.

Even if you didn’t know Kurt was German, the siting of his cottage in the forest would make you think of Hansel and Gretel, but then you go inside and the fairy tale feeling is complete. Both rustic and elegant, it could be Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house—provided Grandma had exquisite taste and a penchant for Biedermeier furniture.

But finding such a house in the middle of the Catskill woods isn’t the only incongruity. The other is that Kurt is an architect, a designer of chic store interiors (such as those for Diane von Furstenberg and my favorite department store, Bon Marche in Paris) and blindingly white loft-like spaces. Obviously he has range. How many modernist architects do you know who proudly display a cuckoo clock?

One of the many distinctive aspects of Kurt’s house is that there are no screens—“How European,” a friend said. Yeah, except northern Europe doesn’t have insects (a Swiss friend once told me it was because they wouldn’t allow them) and this is New York State, where mosquitoes rule. Kurt, however, is uniquely oblivious—or impervious—to mosquitoes, and one summer evening I ate in his dining room largely untouched—even though the room was buzzing with them—because his dog, sitting next to me on the bench, was incredibly efficient in snapping the insects out of the air with his mouth.

The massive, elaborate antique furniture is from his family, and when I asked Kurt how he got it into the house he said, “Oh, it was easy. It came from Europe in a container, which was left on the main road, and I rented a U-Haul…” Clearly what’s easy for Kurt would be challenging for a normal person—he's also moved hundreds of rocks from the woods to form patios and walkways around his house. I hope to do a summer update on the extensively gardened exterior which, when everything is in bloom, is as magical as the interior.

Living room:

Upstairs office:
A corner of the kitchen, set for Easter brunch:

A corner of the dining room:

And bunnies!

Kurt now splits his time between his architectural practice and a storefront in on Main Street in Catskill, where he makes indoor/outdoor furniture to be marketed under the name Somersaultwoods. Solidly handcrafted in rustic Bavarian style without glue or screws—all joints are made by hand—his focus is on green technology for the materials and finishes.

April 11, 2009
Art Vent House Report #4--Last week I dropped in on Reggie Madison, a longtime friend and painter I admire, who has eked out a home and studios (plural) in a crumbling industrial complex smack on the edge of the Hudson River in the village of Athens, NY. This is one of several industrial spaces he's "Reggified" since I've known him, and patrons of Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, MA, where he designed the interior, will recognize the the style--humorous conglomerations of objects only Reggie would choose, more of which can be found in his shop on Warren Street in Hudson. The building is so close to the water that inside it feels like an ocean liner, especially the living room with its narrow windows:

Reggie can make even knotty pine look exotic:

The entry way:

The music room:

A corner of the bathroom:

The upstairs studio:

The downstairs studio:

And outside, the Hudson, still bleak in early April:

December 9, 2008
Einar and Manuela are coming to visit next week, and in their honor I’m posting the pictures of their home that I took in October. I met Einar—mathematician, architect, artist, and all round visionary—on my first visit to Olafur Eliasson’s studio in 2004 and a couple of years later he and his wife Manuela, a jewelry designer, took me on a tour of “alternative” Iceland (or so Einar called it—I thought all of Iceland was alternative). Their small house outside Berlin fairly bursts with the results of their combined creativity, and being in it you just want to make things. Now that I’m posting the Art Vent House Report #3, I’m noticing that the homes that interest me most are chock full o’ stuff, while in my own domicile I'm manically minimal. I’m also aware that although I’m a painter, I tend to write most about installation and sculpture. Hmmm. Let’s not make that mean anything.

Einar's studio:

The office:

The living room:

The dining area:

Einar at work:

August 29, 2008
I’m online after another weekend of hell with Verizon DSL Customer Service, clearly a misnomer. Please, please bring back the era of public utilities, because what we have here is the worst of both worlds—a private, profit-making company with a monopoly. For some reason, I only have trouble on the weekends, when getting through to tech support is possible only after over an hour (and I’m not exaggerating) of continually calling and yelling “repair” into their voice prompt system (a repair guy also told me to punch in “1” five times—this also worked once, after half hour of trying and calling back, etc. but then didn’t work again). I’ve been this route before, so therefore knew there were willing tech support people amassed in Calcutta just waiting to talk to me if I could just get past the supercilious voice prompt that kept telling me the offices were closed and to call back on Monday. So after that hour of hysterics I did finally get through to “Abby” who (after asking me such questions as “do you have a dial tone on that line?” which I hardly knew how to answer since I was talking to her on that line and she had the number in front of her) made an appointment for a repair person to come to my “premise” on Monday. I’ve been trying to get people to come to my “premise” my whole life. It’s gratifying to learn my point of view is finally taking hold.

So Monday came, and after several hours of panting up and down the three flights from the basement to my studio and back again, the very nice repair guy fixed everything—for now. After all, the last guy thought he fixed everything, too.

Tuesday I got a voice message from Debbie, at the local company that provides me with propane, telling me that even though I’d signed up for their “budget” plan, where they deduct a predetermined amount every month from my credit card, the number of which they have on file, I would still need to call her each month to “remind” her. I did not make this up—however the delivery guy, who came the next day, was able to go back and set her straight (I get my tank filled 3 or so times a year, for a total of $2200 to heat about the same number of square feet. He told me he has a client he goes to every week. “It’s a big house.” OMG.)

Wednesday it was Design Within Reach. I’d phoned ten days before to say that the replacement bulbs they sent me for my Cortina Table Lamp didn’t work, yet hadn’t heard from their tech department as promised, nor did I get an answer to my “Contact Us” email—so tried Customer Service again this afternoon where I got J., whose only proposed “solution,” which she repeated over and over, consisted of sending me another set of the same bulbs, because those were the only ones they had listed for that lamp. After hearing that one more time than I could stand, I hung up.

Let me digress a bit to say that I believe (or did believe) in designer lighting—to the point that it’s been something of an obsession. I think crappy lighting makes even the most expensive furniture look crappy, whereas a designer lamp (like this Artemide Tizio lamp I have on my desk) brings everything else (scarred library table bought off the back of a truck at Broome and Greene, Ikea bookshelves and Kmart computer stand) up to its level.

Although expensive to begin with, I saw my designer lamps as mini-investments that would hold their value, which I could sell if I moved or changed my mind. I’m not so sure anymore. Although I’ve had great luck with Artemide (I sent a lamp, broken by a visiting child, back to the factory for repair and they turned it around as quickly as if it were a computer), a very expensive B.Lux lamp went kaput because a fuse burned out—a fuse that’s now unavailable. The company’s solution was to offer me a new lamp at half price—still a hefty amount—but I did it because I’d designed part of my house around it. Now the Cortina Lamp, which I’ve had for about six years, is out-of-date and needs (according to the manufacturer who I looked up online and called myself, thank you very much, DWR) for me to send back my old base for a new dimmer that will accommodate the new bulbs ($25 plus $13 shipping each way)—or buy a completely new base for $70. (Update: I called the manufacturer again yesterday and got someone else who offered to send me bulbs she thought would work. Customer service tip: keep calling until you get someone who tells you what you want to hear).

So while I’m not quite ready to entirely give up on designer lighting, I’d advise anyone who’s willing to shell out that much money for it to be aware of the possible pitfalls—and stock up on lots of replacement bulbs.

I know, I know, these should be the only problems I have in life. But it may be an extremely long-winded way of addressing the national situation of economic depression (or maybe just depression), which I think may be happening because we simply no longer know how to conduct ourselves in business. How different my week (and their profits, no doubt) would have been if the people I dealt with had been actually trained in customer relations and there was some incentive for them to think rather than just go through the motions (at least the simulated person manning the phones at Verizon is making no bones about it).

For those in customer service, or just life, I recommend a small book: Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them by Ronald M. Shapiro and Mark A. Jankowski. The authors tell you how to identify the type of difficult person you’re up against, and suggest methods to handle them accordingly. These are the “Situationally Difficult Person” – a normally reasonable human being who simply has been pushed to the max, the “Strategically Difficult Person”—someone who’s employing certain learned strategies to get what they want, and the “Simply Difficult Person” –a person who you can’t predict or negotiate with, who’s reacting to all kinds of emotional triggers.

Most people who call customer service, including me, are among the “Situationally Difficult”—people who are irritated because something isn’t working, for whom an apology and a little empathy would go a long way. Suppose J. at DWR, instead of insisting over and over that they sent the right bulbs so therefore they should work, end of story, had said: “I am so sorry no one called you back; I’d be very frustrated too. Let me see what I can do to help.” And then, of course, she’d actually have to call the manufacturer, as I ultimately did, but is that really too much effort to keep a loyal customer?

When he came to fix my line, the Verizon guy was empathetic. “No one should have to go through that,” he said, referring to the voice prompt system. A friend, who had had the same experience, likened it to the Bush administration, and after a couple of days of thinking about it, I see what means—people who say they care when they don’t really give a shit—as with Katrina, or the returning injured from Iraq. When the people at the top are insincere and unaccountable, it has a trickle-down effect. What a difference it could make—will make—to have a president who could actually be a role model.

Wow, I had no idea where this was going; it’s turned out to be my longest post ever when, really, I was just sounding off about Verizon. But you know what? I just tried to publish it and discovered that the DSL light is blinking again, and I can’t go online….
August 14, 2008
Art Vent House Report #2, the Berkshire home of Joe Wheaton, sculptor, and Dick Lipez, writer of, among other things, a series of mystery novels featuring a gay detective in Albany, NY (nom de plume Richard Stevenson), who had a dinner recently for 19 friends in order to reconnect after their extensive travels in Southeast Asia. Joe, who also has a background as a chef, went to cooking school in Thailand and, after travelling to Boston the day before for rare ingredients, recreated a mind-boggling array of tasty dishes. I think sometimes about how the synergy of some couples I know adds up to more than the sum of their parts. Well, in the case of Joe and Dick, in terms of accomplishments, experience, good works, and all round good will--their combined contribution to the world--is that of about 10 people. On top of it, they make everything seem easy and fun. Joe's response to my comment about about much work it would take to pull off a dinner like that was "No problem."



During: a random slide show of Joe's photographs documenting the trip. While not all artists make good photographers, Joe's photographs are gorgeous. More pictures and the story on their blog.
The stairwell:

Sculpture with extras:

The lounge:

Where the magic happens: