Tag Archives: style

What a hotel can teach us about home design

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a hotel room and you just want to fall on that big white bedspread with the fluffy pillows?

Here are some tips from three hotel brands — Renaissance, Baccarat and Loews — on how to create that same serene and inviting atmosphere at home.



Marriott opens the Renaissance NY Midtown hotel this spring in Manhattan. Its design concept involves creating moments of “surprise and delight” in public spaces like the lobby and dining areas, as well as in guest rooms. For example, open a closet door and inside you’ll find bold graphics livening up a space that’s usually unadorned.

Toni Stoeckl, vice president of Marriott’s Lifestyle Brands, offers these tips for a similar approach in home design:

  • Target all the senses, including “what you see, the music, the fragrance,” said Stoeckl.
  • Pepper the environment with “moments to love,” he said. But remember: “Less is more: If you have too much art, you can’t pay attention to any one piece.” Good interior design is “more about uncovering beauty and decluttering space.”
  • Keep design elements “real and authentic. No fake flowers, no fake candles.”
  • Change artwork periodically. “Have a few pieces of art that you rotate,” said Stoeckl. Consider using the seasons as a scheduling guide for when to change displays.
  • Showcase objects and art that have layers of interest or meaningful stories. For example, a large, bright red work of abstract art near the hotel’s front desk is comprised entirely of buttons, but you can’t see the buttons until you get close. The button art was inspired by the hotel’s neighborhood: It’s in Manhattan’s Garment District, and many of its design elements are connected to the apparel and fashion industries, from little ceramic sewing machine decorations in guest rooms, to quotes from famous designers placed on coffee tables in the club lounge. Another large artwork displaying a quote from Diane von Furstenberg — “Attitude is everything”— is made from tiny pushpins.

“We want you to look at the space, but there is another layer, and we want you to look again,” said Stoeckl.



Baccarat is not just a famous brand of French crystal. There’s also the Baccarat Hotel & Residences New York, across from the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Chandeliers, glassware and artwork made from Baccarat crystal are hallmarks of the hotel decor, but so is lighting. “The idea of illumination is one of the central reasons why we created the hotel,” said Kemper Hyers, head of design for Starwood Capital Group, which created the hotel.

Yet lighting is sometimes overlooked in home design. Lighting your home isn’t just about finding the perfect lamp, Hyers said. It’s also about “painting with light. How do I bring this room to light?”

Some tips:

  • Experiment with tape embedded with LED lights. It’s inexpensive, easy to apply and remove, and widely available. The tape is not only handy for illuminating a shelf or dark corner, but it can also light a wall behind a piece of furniture or spotlight a work of art.
  • When you buy LED bulbs, “don’t go any cooler than 2700 warm white,” said Hyers, referring to the numerical scale used to measure bulb color. The higher the number, the whiter and cooler the light.
  • Bulb design improves every few months, so look for the latest options and “play with a mix of bulbs.” You can even buy LED bulbs shaped like classic “Edison bulbs with the long filament, perfectly done,” Hyers said.



Loews Hotels launched a “Loews Knows” campaign in December offering short videos at https://www.loewshotels.com/loews-knows with “hints and hacks” from housekeeping managers and other staff. Topics range from cleaning to entertaining to creating the right ambience.

Some tips:

  • For “insanely fluffy bed pillows,” toss pillows in a dryer with a tennis ball.
  • To dust “like a pro,” use a microfiber cloth (avoid terrycloth). Spritz cleaning solution on the cloth (not on the surface you’re dusting) and wipe in a circular motion from high to low.
  • To create a cozy ambience for a relaxing bath, light a candle, add essential oils and Epsom salts to the water, and provide accessories, both functional and decorative: sponges, stones, body wash and handmade soap. Place a drink and book tubside, with a fluffy robe and slippers.
  • To make a guest room welcoming, fold down covers, stand pillows up, put a bottle of water on one side and a glass of milk with cookies and sliced fruit on the other, close the shades and leave one light on by the bed.
  • To remove crayon from walls, spray WD-40 and scrub vigorously with a rag or paper towel. To remove coffee stains from fabric, blot with light beer, club soda, white vinegar or baby wipes, then scrub with a toothbrush. To remove a red wine stain, soak a cloth in white wine and blot gently.


Dialect coach Jill Walmsley Zager helps Milwaukee Rep actors find their voice

Dialects. Singing. Even a simple shout. 

Those are just a few of the things Jill Walmsley Zager works wit as the Milwaukee Rep’s dialect coach. For the past five seasons, she’s been an invaluable asset to the Rep, ensuring the company doesn’t just perform well, but also sounds good.

Zager’s role goes further than that of the average dialect coach. At most theaters, contractors are hired on an hourly basis, brought in for a single production to meet with actors and teach them the fundamentals of an accent or dialect. 

Zager does that too. Most of her help is delivered in individual hourlong sessions. She instructs actors in the proper pronunciations of words, and also in how to shout or sing without causing undue vocal strain and how to improve vocal clarity so audiences can understand clearly what they’re saying.

“If (actors) are in the moment, the last thing they want to be doing is thinking about something technically. So if I load in that kind of technical work early on in the process, they can just be acting,” Zager says. Sometimes helping actors requires her to focus on their physicality, helping them stand or sit properly, breathe efficiently or move with stronger muscles during stage combat. Physical action can affect vocal quality.

But Zager also is involved heavily in the rehearsal process, which she says is a step above what the average contractor can expect. She helps actors and directors think about a production’s vocal elements consistently, rather than in separate workshops.

“I get a lot of autonomy,” Zager says. “Although I’m not a company member at this point, I feel like my position is respected throughout the organization … as opposed to someone who’s just jobbed in to make sure the R’s are where they should be.”

The most surprising thing about Zager’s position at the Rep is that it didn’t exist before artistic director Mark Clements’ arrival in 2010. Prior to that time, voice work was mostly handled by the resident acting company, whose members would teach each other and visiting actors particular dialects as needed. Occasionally, dialect coaches were called in.

When Clements arrived, he decided to place renewed emphasis on that latter option, taking the onus of the work off the actors and always letting a specialist handle it — something Zager suspects is reflective of the British director’s training.

“I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but the Brits that I know are very voice and speech conscious. That’s just part of their approach to the work,” she says.

Clements’ first show at the Rep was Cabaret, so he needed a dialect coach from the start. By coincidence, Zager had recently moved to Milwaukee from Chicago, because her husband (fellow theater artist James Zager) had accepted a position as head of the theater department at Carroll University. 

Zager had the right background to impress Clements. She began her career as an actor and opera singer, working for about 25 years for companies all over the country. During that time, she, like the former resident company actors of the Rep, often had to teach herself dialects and foreign language pronunciations. Over time, she discovered that she had a facility with languages. 

So when she decided to go to grad school in the early ’00s, Zager set her sights on vocal training rather than performance. She ultimately earned a spot at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London — considered the best program for voice and speech in the world — part of a now-defunct exchange program with Northwestern University. As the only American there, she trained with British colleagues and instructors before returning to the States in 2003 and splitting her time between coaching companies in Chicago and working on the faculty at University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign.

During her first six months in Milwaukee, Zager didn’t attract much interest in her services. But Clements’ interest was piqued after he looked over her resume and he selected her as dialect coach for Cabaret. “He didn’t really know me, but he certainly knew the Royal Central School. And the rest is history,” she says.

Since Cabaret, Zager has done more than 30 shows with the Rep. She originally split her time with San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, but after three years she committed to working almost exclusively at the Rep, except for an occasional show in Milwaukee or Chicago. In January, for example, she worked on the Marriott Theatre’s acclaimed production of Spring Awakening in Lincolnshire, Illinois. 

Earlier this year, she worked on The Mousetrap, A Christmas Carol and The Devil’s Music, and is wrapping up the season with two complex shows: The Invisible Hand, a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar about an American banker kidnapped by militants in Pakistan, and American Song, a world premiere under development at the Rep about a father whose son is involved in a school shooting.

Both plays are extremely different from one another, but that’s fine with Zager. She says one of the most exciting aspects of her job is each show is so different from the last, and each challenges her in a different way.

It’s easy to understand why The Invisible Hand would need a dialect coach: Three of its four characters are non-American and the play’s text is accented and occasionally not in English. To tackle a scene that’s written in English in the script but must be spoken in a language used in Pakistan, Zager contacted experts in Chicago about the Punjabi and Urdu languages. She also consulted with Akhtar, director Lucie Tiberghien and the actors. Ultimately, they all decided that the language would be a colloquial form of Urdu, which is Pakistan’s official language, both because it better fit the backgrounds of the characters and one of the actors spoke a little Urdu and could assist in the translation.

Each of the play’s three non-American characters has a different background, and Zager worked with them to make their accents sound different as well. A well-educated imam speaks with an almost-British accent that suggests a childhood in Pakistan but an education at Oxford. One of the militants doesn’t speak much English at all, so his lines in English are delivered in a disjointed fashion that’s not always grammatical. The other militant was raised partly in London and possesses a Cockney-style speech pattern.

Such a high degree of differentiation begs the question of why the Rep needs to get so specific. That’s a question Zager says she and the rest of the creative team ask every time she steps into a rehearsal hall. They must ask both “What do we gain by having it?” and “What do we lose by not having it?,” she explains. “I think if those questions aren’t asked, then it becomes an effect, and it pulls the audience out of what’s the point of this story.”

In The Invisible Hand, the “gain” is a greater emphasis on Akhtar’s themes: the negatives of capitalism and imperialism in Pakistan and around the world.

Zager always takes care to ensure the dialects she presents come from a place of respect. In plays like The Invisible Hand, an overwrought or stereotypical accent would come across as caricature, undermining the play’s message and possibly offending patrons.

Many of the productions Zager works on with the Rep don’t require such extensive dialect work. American Song is the perfect example. Zager says it’s likely they won’t ask actor James DeVita to take up an accent other than his own.

But there’s still more than enough work for her, director Clements and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith to collaborate on: making sure the right words are chosen, helping DeVita deliver them in a way everyone on the team approves of, working with him to ensure his voice stays strong throughout the 80-minute one-man show.

In a very real sense, because American Song is a world premiere, Zager’s work as dialect coach will help shape the final work.

“(American Song) is uncharted territory in some ways,” Zager says. “It’s always exciting to be part of a new script.”

Zager says she’s excited to see how audiences respond to both plays, but she’s not anticipating conversations about her work on them.

“My work should be like smoke,” she says. “It shouldn’t be something you can put your hands on.”


The Invisible Hand opens at the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio Feb. 26 and runs through April 3. Tickets start at $20.

American Song opens at the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse March 15 and runs through April 10. Tickets start at $25.

For more information or to order tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit

Fall 2015 decor is all about mixing it up

If you’re looking to update your home decor this fall, you’ll find new furniture profiles, accents and textures galore, in everything from rugs to wall coverings to ceramics and bedding.

The trend toward mixing things up continues, from rustic to contemporary with a dash of traditional.

“What’s interesting is the warm breath of traditional style that infuses the season’s midcentury influence: Furniture, textiles and accessories, no matter how sleek-lined, are warm, inviting and touchable,” says New York designer Elaine Griffin.

Also coming on is the handmade or “collected” vibe.

“Our desire for authenticity, as well as for finely crafted and small production design, is resonating,” says Jackie Jordan, color marketing director for the paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams. “We want to know whose hands actually created the object we’re purchasing, and how and where the materials were sourced.”

Griffin concurs: “This season, the handmade look reigns supreme, with highly-textured fabric weaves, wallpapers (faux bois, faux hand-painted murals, and multicolored and metallic-layered geometric prints) and appliqued effects on upholstery.”

Expect more tabletop accent pieces and furniture labeled with place of origin and/or maker’s information, whether they were crafted in Indiana or India.

One new kid in town is Scandinavian style. Simple, clean lines, gentle colors and charming motifs make for a look that’s contemporary and accessible.

And the dark horse? With the popularity of midcentury modern, some designers are ready to move forward to a 1980s redux. Decorators have welcomed ‘60s- and ‘70s-era macrame, flame stitch, classic furniture and retro fabric prints. Will they also embrace Memphis style — the ‘80s design movement characterized by disparate geometric shapes and contrasting colors? Griffin thinks there’ll be more to this trend come spring.


Jordan sees a shift “to soft monochromatic palettes,” citing creamy whites and mineral tones — gray, khaki, earth tones, and nature-inspired hues like spruce, smoke, pond and shell pink.

“The serenity of these colors provides a sense of calm to balance our hectic lifestyles, and celebrates natural materials, honed, soft and sheer finishes,” she says.

Stronger hues are in play, too. Griffin sees last spring’s pale pastels evolving into deeper, Southwestern hues like terracotta, pale pumpkin, deep salmon, dusty rose citron, and smoky French and teal blues.

Look too for boozy, midcentury-modern hues: brandy, burgundy, whiskey and merlot, as well as navy and olive.


Again, it’s all about the mix. “For both furniture and accessories, when it comes to finishes this fall, one is a lonely number,” Griffin says. “The freshest looks combine at least two colors and materials, like black lacquer with metallic accents (especially brass and copper); white enamel with gleaming metallic, acrylic pieces in harvest hues; and industrial iron paired with chrome.”

Patinated and polished brass, marble, copper, steel and mirror clad everything from accent pieces to furniture. See West Elm, Wisteria and CB2 for examples.

While silver and chrome are big players, Michael Murphy, design and trends producer for Lamps Plus, says brass and gold will be especially strong, especially in softer, burnished tones.

“These metals can be easily introduced in the home with a table lamp, chandelier or distinct accessory like a large vase or unique table sculpture,’’ he says.

Jordan says the handmade look extends to metals: “We’re seeing materials hand-carved, forged and assembled. Imperfections and flaws in materials like iron, wood, concrete and hand-woven wool only add to the character of the piece.”

One interesting place to see this trend is the bathroom: vintage-style, weathered-bronze and cast-iron fixtures. Stone Forest introduced the Ore vessel sink, inspired by an antique steel pipe cap. The Industrial series, with a cast-iron sink, towel bar and paper holder, has an old-school factory quality.

Interesting woods continue to make inroads in furniture, flooring and doors. Watch for acacia, walnut, birch, maple and beech, and finishes ranging from weatherworn to highly lacquered.

Pottery Barn’s new Bowry collection of tables and storage units uses reclaimed acacia, teak and mango hardwoods. The Warren pulley lamp’s rustic-finished iron and functioning pulleys make for a steampunk-style fixture.

Konekt designer Helena Sultan’s Pause chaise lounge perches a comfy upholstered seat on brass or chrome legs, in several finishes.

And saddle and butter-soft leathers are strong players in ottomans, director’s and club chairs, and benches.

The flip side is the proliferation of translucents like acrylic and glass, often combined with other materials.

“These materials are being combined with unique fabrics like fur to create a clearly contemporary trend,” says Murphy. “We see this where the tops of settees, benches and stools are covered with a luxe fur and fabrics, and the legs are made from clear materials.”

Jonathan Adler has a Lucite etagere with polished brass joinery, and a burled wood desk on Lucite legs. Gus Modern’s acrylic end table is etched with a white grain pattern to look like a piece of timber.


Channel quilting, in which stitching runs in one continuous line, is another trend to watch for. The straight lines, even spacing, design detail and comfort all add to its appeal. “This is part of the continued resurgence of Art Deco, which is synonymous with fluid lines, bold shapes, lavish ornamentation and metallic finishes,” says Murphy.

Look for rattan and other woven fibers in items beyond basketry, like wall art, bowls and ottomans.

Shags, nubby wools, Southwest-patterned flat weaves and Impressionist-patterned Indian silks will be on the floor of rug departments this fall. West Elm has some graphic kilim rugs and pillows.

Geometrics and facets cover textiles, vases and mirror frames. Some have an organic quality — think beehives or reptile skin. But rendered in iron or wood, they can have an industrial vibe.

In wallpaper, look to Tempaper, Wolfum and Timorous Beasties for intriguing patterns ranging from ‘80s Southwest to Japanese archival prints to nature themes.

How midcentury modern classics adapted

In the years after World War II, when suburban towns were still “the country,” the unassuming village of New Canaan, Connecticut, just an hour north of Manhattan, became an epicenter of modernist architecture, and a birthplace of then-radical concepts like family rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and open-plan living.

Since then, the surviving homes have continued to evolve, a transformation explored in a new book that looks at 16 of New Canaan’s 91 remaining homes from this influential era.

“These homes were meant to be truly modern, to adapt. Preservation is about keeping the character while allowing these homes to move on,” said architect Cristina A. Ross, who with architect Jeffrey Matz, photographer Michael Biondo and graphic designer Lorenzo Ottaviani produced the book, “Midcentury Houses Today” (Monacelli Press, 2014).

In New Canaan, she said, “the concentration of homes and the number of surviving houses to this day is incredibly unique.”

Through photos, detailed floor plans and time lines, and the voices of architects, builders and occupants, the book traces the original structures and subsequent additions, devoting a full chapter to each home.

Unlike the modernist architecture of the Midwest, New Canaan’s modernist homes directly reflect the principles of the Bauhaus school of design in Germany, established by architect Walter Gropius. When the Nazi regime closed down the Bauhaus in the 1930s, Gropius became chairman of the architecture department at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. He was later joined by Marcel Breuer. Together, the two passed on their aesthetic — emphasizing volume; large areas of glass juxtaposed by blank walls; flat roofs; freedom from architectural ornamentation — to students and associates.

Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and John Johansen, all early promulgators of modernism in New Canaan, became known as the Harvard Five. They moved to New Canaan, near the last stop on the commuter rail line and near the newly constructed Merritt Parkway. Land was cheap and plentiful enough to allow for new experiments in architecture. They were soon joined there by architects Victor Christ-Janer, John Black Lee and others.  

“They were experimenting, and they were fast and furiously creating the way they felt people should be living,” said Ross. “They were designing the offices for IBM, for big corporations, and people became so enamored of the work environment that many CEOs wanted to bring that streamlining and flow to their home life.”

Although these architects’ work is well-known, the ways their structures have been transformed over time is not. The book offers ideas and a rough roadmap for those looking to adapt modernist-inspired homes throughout the U.S.

“Some of these homes now have a second story, and some were expanded in other ways, while others were restored and updated and not expanded at all. There are many different approaches that allow the original house to continue to shine while moving on,” Ross said.

Both Johnson and Black Lee, when invited to see changes made to homes they had designed, said they thought their works had been improved, the authors say.

In fact, the evolution of homes of this era seems crucial to their survival. The original homes tended to be modest by contemporary standards, with interior areas of around 2,000 square feet. Their designs reflected European sensibilities and so tended to have small bedrooms and minimal closet space.

To adapt to changing expectations of comfort in affluent New Canaan, many of the homes were expanded, with larger bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, media rooms and wine cellars. Also, higher energy costs meant that glassed-in areas had to be upgraded and homes refitted with state-of-the-art mechanical systems.

At the same time, additions demanded a creative approach so as to retain the aesthetics of movement, simplicity, openness, and sensitivity to site and nature, while respecting zoning regulations limiting the structures’ footprint.

One of the more striking additions is a glassed-in staircase and cantilevered master suite by Toshiko Mori, a sort of transparent floating tree house that extends out into the woods behind a 1951 Breuer house.  

“Additions to midcentury modern buildings do not necessarily harmonize with existing construction. Instead, they may introduce a different, more contemporary interpretation of modernism,” writes John Morris Dixon.

Adds Ross: “Preservation doesn’t mean stagnation. These houses were meant to live and breathe with families, and not end up like museums or time capsules.”


For a firsthand look at midcentury modern architecture in New Canaan, visit the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s well-known 1949 residence and surrounding structures, which became a National Trust Property in 2007. (www.theglasshouse.org )

Also, the New Canaan Historical Society features a detailed survey of the town’s midcentury homes, and runs tours of the 1957 Gores Pavilion (Irwin Pool House) and, every couple years, tours of some of the modernist homes in the town. (www.nchistory.org )

Film highlights art from Works Progress Administration

Eighty years after the federal Works Progress Administration put unemployed artists to work creating sculptures and murals for post offices and courthouses comes this reminder from film maker Michael Maglaras: Look around.

Much of the art is still there and has as much meaning now as it did during the Great Depression, says Maglaras, whose documentary “Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA” will be released May 15.

The 90-minute production by his Connecticut-based 217 Films revisits the inclusion of artists in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s WPA program, better known for the bridges and buildings that it paid workers to build.

The arts piece offered creative types like Sinclair Lewis, Orson Welles and Jackson Pollock $42 a week.

“The goal was that you would walk into a public space — a post office, federal office building, courthouse — and you would be transacting your business, standing in line, passing through a hallway … and look at what was on the wall,” Maglaras said, “and what was on there would spiritually enlighten you and lift you up and take you away from the terrible burdens that all Americans were suffering during the Depression, and give you confidence and hope for the future.”

“Our film,” Maglaras said in a telephone interview, “is about recapturing, 80 years later, what it was like during the Depression to put people back to work, and not just folks that could use a pick and shovel, but folks that wrote books and painted paintings and wrote plays.”

Among 100 featured works is a 1936 Orson Welles production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth featuring an all-black cast and set in Haiti, instead of Scotland.

“This is a 21-year-old Orson Welles and we have found archival footage that no one believed existed of rehearsals for this play,” Maglaras said.

Also featured are two murals, each 22 feet high, painted over eight months in 1937 by artist Carl Peters inside a school in Rochester, New York. Peters drew on the passing faces of students and teachers at the former Madison High School for “Life of Action,” a softly colored depiction of construction workers in the shadow of a skyscraper. The companion “Life of Contemplation” is meant to show the need to balance action with education and thoughtfulness.

Madison High was torn down in the 1980s but the murals were saved and moved to another school, the Wilson Foundation Academy, where both are now preserved behind glass.

Other works have been lost or scattered through the years.  The U.S. General Services Administration is in the process of tracking down the tens of thousands of pieces created through 1943.  At last count, more than 20,000 works had been inventoried.

The agency said the artwork is most commonly found when it’s offered for sale.

“GSA has been contacted by museums staff, appraisers, lawyers, state and local government officials, conservators, scholars, and citizens with information regarding New Deal artwork,” the GSA said in a statement. “In some instances, special agents and GSA staff have found New Deal artwork by searching online auction houses.”

Maglaras said enough still exists in their original locations to make a state-by-state tour.

“Walk into a post office and buy a stamp in very small towns in Missouri, Montana, Illinois, Maine and see up on the wall something that was created by an artist that Franklin Roosevelt essentially hired to help lift America out of the Depression,” he said. “We still have a ton of WPA art within our grasp.”

The documentary will premiere at the New Britain, Connecticut, Museum of Art and then tour the country through December.

Tender trend | As prices drop, home cooks get immersed in sous vide cooking

Call it the tender trend. Sous vide cooking, once strictly the province of professionals, is spreading to home kitchens as cheaper equipment puts the once avant-garde technique within reach.

Sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, is a so-called modernist method of cooking in which food is sealed in plastic bags (often vacuum sealed, though that’s not mandatory) and submerged in hot (but not boiling) water for long, slow cooking. The result is juicer food because no moisture is lost and cooking temperatures can be maintained within tenths of a degree.

“You’ve condensed these flavors: the chicken, the turkey, the salmon, the asparagus. Whatever it is that you’re cooking, the flavor is not dehydrated because there hasn’t been this war going on between heat and the food,” says Barb Westfield, a strategic director for SousVide Supreme, a pioneer in home sous vide cooking equipment. “Everything is protected; the flavors are intensified, the textures sublime. It really is love at first bite.”

That love used to come at a high price. Though the Internet abounds with DIY plans for building sous vide cookers (usually digitally-controlled heaters and water circulators submerged in large basins), for a long time the only commercially available equipment was aimed at professional kitchens and cost thousands of dollars.

That started to change in 2009, when Broomfield, Colorado-based SousVide Supreme introduced a home model for around $450 (it now lists for $429 on the company website). Since then, they’ve added a second version, the smaller SousVide Supreme Demi, at $329. Meanwhile, companies such as Anova and Sansaire have introduced even smaller immersion-style models for around $200.

SousVide Supreme appliances are self-contained; you fill them with water, set the temperature and close the lid. Immersion models combine a heating element with a water circulator in a wand-style device (they resemble immersion blenders) that you set into your own water-filled container.

Though sous vide cookers may be an emerging niche, they fit into the larger and longer standing trend of companies adapting professional kitchen gear _ everything from trophy cooking ranges to powerful blenders and massive refrigerators _ for home cooks, says Dinesh Kithany, a senior analyst covering the home appliance industry for IHS, Inc., a U.S.-based global business information and analytics provider.

The rise of sous vide cookers, however, has run parallel to growing interest in the science of food and cooking, says Michael Tankenoff, spokesman for Anova.

The company started with an immersion cooker, the Anova One, that costs $199. Then they ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised $1.8 million for a second model, the Anova Precision Cooker. The newer model costs $179 and uses Bluetooth to communicate with a companion app that allows you to select and control recipes and get cooking updates.

Home cook Jason Logsdon became a convert to sous vide cooking after trying it out on just two things, a chicken breast and pork tenderloin. “Right after doing that I was convinced it was a great way to cook food,” says Logsdon, who runs the website modernistcookingmadeeasy.com and wrote the recently released cookbook, “Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide.”

Though simple in principle, sous vide cooking is more involved than conventional techniques. In addition to taking far longer, it also requires greater care. Because the food is cooked at low heat, time and temperature guidelines must be followed carefully to ensure any pathogens are killed. It also usually requires more steps.

For example, food won’t brown in a sous vide cooker. So getting a good sear on a steak requires cooking it first in the water bath, then transferring it to a broiler or skillet to briefly brown the exterior. Also popular: blasting the cooked food with a blowtorch, a technique Logsdon says is “always fun at parties.”

Westfield spent Thanksgiving in France where she pitted two turkeys against one another _ one cooked the traditional way, the other cut up and cooked sous vide.

“My American friends were, ‘How are you going to fix the skin? Is it going to be crispy?’ It was as if I was committing a crime against the turkey,” Westfield says with a laugh. She cooked the meat before the big day, giving the dark meat extra time, then chilled it. Before serving she reheated it, then pulled out “the coolest new blowtorch” to brown the bird.

“People were amazed and out of the 13 people I had as guests, three voted for traditional and 10 voted for sous-vide turkey,” she reports. “Even on the leftovers the sous vide turkey outpaced the roasted 90 percent.”

From vintage to city chic: Holiday decorating trends

For those who love to decorate, there’s no time like the holidays for adding fun, festive touches to our living spaces. This year, there’s something for many tastes and styles.

A look at the trends you’ll see at stores:


The 1920s inspire a lot of holiday décor, with West Elm offering glittery Art Deco letter ornaments and star garlands, as well as Deco-patterned, mercury-glass hurricanes in silver and midnight blue. Elegant, gold, blown-glass animals fit the vibe.

At Pier 1, you’ll find beaded tree swags, as well as ornaments encrusted with sequins or glass mosaics. Beaded metallic pillars, champagne glasses and bottles, and chevron-patterned pendants add Jazz Age style.

Throw pillows and signs printed with a vintage-style chalkboard Christmas greeting hold charm at Pottery Barn, where the design is also available in a door mat. Here too, a decorative collection of old-fashioned village homes, churches and schoolhouses evokes turn-of-the-century German ornaments similarly made of cardboard and silver glitter. Purchases from the collection support shelters nationwide through the Give a Little Hope organization.

For a more midcentury look, consider Crate & Barrel’s teardrop ornaments in a sexy, red matte glass. If you’re into making some of your own midcentury modern Christmas decorations, check out the DIY Network’s website for suggestions including stockings and ornaments.


LED lighting is now in just about anything, including holiday decorations. Ikea’s Strala collection includes a garland of pierced gold balls fitted with LEDs, and a bright red tree mat has built-in LEDs.

Frontgate’s Meteor light set twinkles, showers, shimmers and glows at the touch of a button.

Clusters of string lights look gorgeous under glass cloches; Restoration Hardware offers both in various sizes. And snow globes that send up a flurry of up-lit flakes with the push of a button are a twist on the traditional.

Also at the retailer: spare, birch-wrapped branches wrapped in warm LEDs, in various sizes for tabletop or entryway floor.


“This year I’m seeing deep, rich hues,” says designer Taniya Nayak. “Think sapphire, deep emerald and sexy violet. The real wow factor rolls in with the metallic touches. There is a cool juxtaposition that happens when you mix the sophisticated richness of jewel tones and the medley of copper patina and copper shine.”

Pier 1’s peacock-inspired tree skirt anchors a collection of vibrant ornaments in faceted glass, sequins or feathers.

There are accent pillows on the market this year decorated with glitter, bugle beads, sequins or metallic embroidery thread. Look for snowflake or tree motifs, or seasonal words like “Noel” and “Joy.” One or two on an entryway bench greet guests with panache; Target and Homegoods have nicely priced options.

Z Gallerie has the glamorous Folly collection of white and gold pearl wreaths, table trees and garlands, as well as crystal flower spheres and ornaments in trendy turquoise.

Stylized foxes and owls in white or gold acrylic add a soft, metallic accent to the tree or tablescape, from Ikea.

Pottery Barn’s chinchilla, fox or bear faux-fur tree skirts add a touch of luxe. Dress the tree with midcentury-style copper and brass trims for a cool and current vibe.


The rustic, cabin-y look that took off last year has held strong. Woodland creatures populate the ornament collections at Land of Nod, while, in a twist, hedgehogs and raccoons are photoprinted on little stuffed ornaments at Target.

At West Elm, Boston designer Mimi Kirchner’s felt foxes, deer, raccoons and bears sport jaunty scarves and plaid coats.

Ikea’s Vinter collection features Swedish patterns on cushion covers and guest towels. At Pottery Barn, an advent calendar with farmhouse charm is created out of small, galvanized buckets mounted on a pine frame.

Artists Petra Borner and Fiona Howard have designed ornaments for Crate & Barrel evoking European folk art designs. Here too, clever tree collars made of glossy red or galvanized metal to resemble vintage tubs.


Nayak loves “any mixture of glam and rustic,” including “a winter-white backdrop with reclaimed wood and a bit of polished chrome.”

Crate & Barrel’s got a selection of laser-cut, crocheted and curled paper snowflakes in creamy hues of champagne, bronze and white; add a few glittery, beaded ornaments in silver and muted grays.

Sandy Chilewich has a new collection of mats and runners rendered in gold, silver, gunmetal and brass, in a chic geometric Pebble pattern.

At Target, Nate Berkus’ Ascot Star dessert plates and trays feature a classic foulard pattern in smart black and white that would work for get-togethers straight into New Year’s Eve.

For Hanukah, Jonathan Adler offers a blue, Lucite cube menorah, as well as an array of mod, ceramic-animal menorahs. At Williams-Sonoma, a collection of porcelain plates and serve-ware in cream with a graphic print of ancient temple menorahs would add style to a holiday buffet.

Sara Peterson, editor-in-chief of HGTV Magazine, likes colorful décor beyond the traditional red and green. “Felt pom-pom garlands are always a party hit, and not just for Christmas trees,” she says. “String them on stair railings and around mirrors, and drape them from your curtain rods.”

Think beyond the living room, Peterson says.

“Add a little decorating twist here and there throughout your house,” she says. “It’s fun to do something beyond just setting the table. In guest bathrooms, use a whiteboard marker to write a fun holiday message on the mirror, and put down a holiday-themed bath mat. In the kitchen, plant mini cypress trees in colorful glazed pots, and swap out regular dish towels for festive tea towels.”

In Skylight’s ‘Cinderella,’ couture makes the character

Fashion takes center stage in Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

Couture designer Cesar Galindo, whose CZAR line of dresses was warmly received earlier this month at New York Fashion Week, is the costumer responsible for this fashion-forward production of the most popular operatic rendition of the Cinderella myth. Galindo also has designed for Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein.

A Houston native who began by designing corsets and period costumes for the Miami City Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera, Galindo is a personal friend of Skylight artistic director Viswa Subbaraman. The pair had wanted to work together for some time and La Cenerentola, recast as a 21st-century fairytale, was the perfect vehicle, Galindo says.

“The first thing that came to mind was the ball scene, which as a designer was an exciting thing for me,” Galindo notes. The resulting scene is largely inspired, he adds, by Truman Capote’s infamous Black and White Ball.

In 1966, when Capote was at the height of his fame and financial success following the publication of In Cold Blood, the out author finally was able to throw the type of party he felt would attract the socialites he was trying to court. The result was the Black and White Ball, a masquerade held at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in honor of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

The event, on which Capote spent an estimated $16,000 (more than $113,000 in today’s dollars), became the benchmark for New York social events for years to come. 

In La Cenerentola, the Capote-inspired ball scene becomes a dramatic monochromatic moment in a show Galindo otherwise describes as a Technicolor riot of excess. 

At the center of that excess are Clorinda (Erin Sura) and Tisbe (Kristen DiNinno), the two wicked stepsisters. They suffer from a hoarding disorder and an obsession with wearing the latest fashions — often all at once and regardless of pattern or color palette. They also smoke and drink gratuitously throughout the performance, which Galindo says bears testament to their moral weakness.

“We were very ‘AbFab’ when it came to the sisters,” says Galindo, referring to the 1990s BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous starring Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. “This is, after all, an adult take on Cinderella.”

Rather than a wicked stepmother, Rossini’s version features Don Magnifico (Andy Pappas), a wicked stepfather whose wardrobe follows a level of excess as well, largely in how poorly it fits. He is rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth.

The wardrobes for the Cinderella character Angelina (Sishel Claverie) and the prince Don Ramiro (Luke Grooms) follow a deliberately different color palette, one that’s more tempered, clean and “preppie,” Galindo says. Their more conventional wardrobes, which reflect the characters’ virtue, are the opposite of the sisters’ gaudy couture.

“Angelina is a simple girl that we’ve dressed in a simple pastel palette that’s very Ralph Lauren,” Galindo says.

The home in which the characters interact contains many archive pieces from Galindo’s own studio. Ramshackle walls are styled to represent the characters’ moral decay. It’s a set deliberately at odds with the costumes, which are “very couture, glam and over the top,” the designer says.

Galindo may be better known for his dress designs than his costumes, but he says he enjoys theater work — even though it requires a more collaborative approach. “You have to learn how to work together,” he says. “After all, there is a show to be had and that’s everyone’s first priority.”

On stage

Skylight Music Theatre’s season-opening production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola runs Sept. 19-Oct. 5 in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. For more information visit skylightmusictheatre.org.

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Future of Frank Lloyd Wright School divides leaders

The future of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has divided the institution named for the iconic designer. The quest to keep its accreditation status has some school board members concerned the degree program will end, while its foundation denied the school is in danger of closing.

The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which operates the school, announced last week that it would not independently incorporate the school as a way to stay accredited. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in 19 states, changed its bylaws two years ago to prohibit accreditation for schools that operate as divisions of a larger organization.

Without accreditation, the school would be unable to offer a Master of Architecture degree, which offers students the chance to learn from those who once worked with the legendary architect.

The foundation’s decision has shaken the school’s Board of Governors, who say the program may have to shut down when its accreditation expires in 2017.

“The school could continue but it would not train architects that could become licensed. I’m not sure what value it would bring to them or to the profession,” said Maura Grogan, board chairwoman.

Foundation President and CEO Sean Malone disagreed, saying the possibility of the school closing in the future was not “grounded in fact or reality.”

He said he understood the board’s desire to try separating the school from the foundation to meet the new accreditation criteria, but it wouldn’t have been feasible.

“It was determined that it just wasn’t appropriate to do that and simultaneously be committing long-term funding at well over $1 million a year,” Malone said of the foundation’s financial support.

Wright, who died in 1959, designed 1,141 architectural works. More than one-third of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are in a National Historic District. His Taliesin estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and one in Scottsdale, dubbed Taliesin West, became laboratories of sorts for student apprentices.

Approximately 20 students are enrolled at the Wright School, which was initiated in 1932. They divide their time between Scottsdale and Wisconsin. Besides education programs, the foundation also oversees preservation, restoration and tourism related to Wright-designed buildings.

Since 2012, Wright officials have considered other options to keep its accreditation, such as jointly partnering with another institution.

“It’s my understanding the foundation has looked into this in the past and has not found suitable partners,” Grogan said. “I’m unclear what has changed at this point.”

Malone said the school has already received “significant interest” from a number of institutions nationwide.

“I’ve heard suggestions that partnering with somebody else is in essence the definition of closing the school – which is completely inaccurate,” Malone said. “There are no plans, intentions or willingness whatsoever to close the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.”

Grogan said she is hopeful that the board and the foundation can come to a resolution. Now, the sides agree that the school provides a unique learning environment.

“To sit in a dining room and overhear conversations from four or five generations of people all debating, arguing, sharing and laughing – it’s a very, very special place,” Grogan said.

PrideFest workshop focuses on ‘feminine gender’ presentation

PrideFest, at 4 p.m. on June 7, will feature a presentation on the Stonewall Stage about “feminine gender” presentation. Led by local filmmaker and transwoman Ashley Altadonna and Tool Shed owner Laura Stuart, the presentation will explore “options in make-up, clothing choices, body language, transition-related products, and more.”

WiG recently connected with Altadonna to learn more about the program.

You’ll be presenting on the Stonewall Stage, one of the more intimate settings at PrideFest. What can people who attend expect from the talk? We’ll be hosting an honest conversation about the challenges of female presentation. We’ll have useful tips for the participants on clothing choices, hair styling, voice modification and products like gaffs and breast forms.

Do you do these presentations on a regular basis, or is this event a one-of-a-kind experience for PrideFest goers? I have done several presentations on trans issues before, but this is my first time presenting on this particular topic. I’ll be doing another presentation on transgender sex topics at The Tool Shed later, in the fall.

It seems there has been an increase, at least online, in resources and retailers catering to LGBT customers and our fashion preferences and styles. Still a relatively small number, but an increase. Are there some resources you’d like to recommend? One of the best ways to find out about fashion resources is to connect with other members of the community. One of my goals with this event is to help facilitate those connections. For local transition-related needs, The Tool Shed has a wide selection of products and an LGBT-positive setting

The PrideFest promotion for the program says the targeted audience will be people assigned male at birth who are exploring feminine and/or female presentation, but everyone is welcome. What would you like the “others” in the audience to take away from the presentation? I hope others take away a great appreciation for the challenges facing those beginning their transitions and that they can be an additional source of support for the trans community.

You’ll be presenting the program after a drag makeover involving the Miltown Kings and before a performance by Funkin Wassels comedy troupe. Do you plan on catching these shows? What’s your favorite element of PrideFest? I’m certainly hoping to catch the Miltown Kings. My favorite activity at PrideFest is people watching. 

Besides preparing for this presentation, what are you working on these days? I’m finishing my documentary Making the Cut, which looks at trans health issues and the insurance industry and what it means to be trans and male or female bodied in our culture. More about the film can be found at www.tallladypictures.com.