So this came in the mail

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 28, 2017 9:08 PM

Once upon a time, it was 1957. I was not yet born and wouldn’t be for several more years. This was back when a crooner named Perry Como was popular and that year he gave the world his second RCA Victor 12” long-play album. It was called We Get Letters and it was a concept record, based on requests from the singer’s television show. It was a soft, breezy record and did not include a song by the same name. Years later, David Letterman had a regular skit on his show where he sang, gleefully, “letters, we get letters” while opening his mail. 

This morning, Riley was on the deck and I was in my office, a ritual we engage in daily. He had just had a bath and was drying in the cool desert breeze; I was working. It was about 9:30. I had just taken a sip of coffee when suddenly, from the general direction of the deck, came the apoplectic barking and carrying on of my dog. I got up as I usually do and went to the door with the intention of asking what I usually ask when the dog is apoplectic. What is the issue? But before I got the door open I saw exactly what the issue was: trotting up the hill toward the house, as nice as you please, were two dogs, one a beagle, the other what looked to be a beagle mix.

I sprang into dog wrangling mode and headed toward the front door, yelling behind me that there were two dogs and for Kevin to grab a couple of leashes. As dog people, we have at least six leashes, only one of which do we use on a regular basis. Outside, I crouched down and in my friendliest voice called to the dogs who both came to me willingly. Kevin got the leashes, I attached them, and down the hill we went. 

I hadn’t met them but knew they were our new neighbor’s dogs because I knew they had beagles. I also know every other dog in the neighborhood. It’s not that big of a ‘hood. My neighbor, Alan, who had several workers at the house, couldn’t believe the dogs were out. 

“How…?” he asked, his question trailing off. 

“Gate’s open,” I said just as the worker – a pool guy – came in apologizing for leaving the gate open. 

Mission accomplished, I decided to head back up to the house. Alan remembered something as I started out the door. 

“Oh, hey,” he said. “I have some mail here. It has your house on it.” 

My house? How could that be? Someone was sending mail that showed my house? Our house? What? 

Alan handed me an oversized postcard and there, sure enough, in the place of honor taking up the top two thirds of the card, was the home we affectionately refer to as Il Sogno. The card had been sent by our architect/builder because our neighbors had pulled permits to build a house and he was advertising his services. Better late than never, since the house is already built and the card was stamped 4/18. 

So our house is being sent all over the city, perhaps further. We’re famous. Just like Perry Como. Without the crooning.

So about that door

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 18, 2016 8:59 PM

When we built the house, our goal was to make it completely our own. Everything was chosen or designed by us, with the exception, obviously, of the actual house. For that, we hired an architect. He was also a builder, which was a big selling point for us. We told him from the beginning, when we were in the process of designing, that we wanted to be completely involved. At his request, we sent images that we found online, of houses, colors, tile, stone, cabinets, bathrooms, everything so that he could get to know our taste. And then we had countless discussions over the phone. Months later, he called and came to LA for an afternoon, armed with designs. He spread them out on our dining room table, and we were amazed. There it was. Our house. We were speechless. 

Years later, when we finally decided to build, we had more meetings, in person this time. We went over the budget, and armed with the knowledge of what we needed to find and buy, off we went. Every weekend we roamed through tile stores. We were on a first name basis with the kitchen cabinet guy and the granite countertop guy. Ditto the appliance guy.

Everything in the house had to work together. The tile and the stone, the interior doors. All warmer, earthier colors. Deep rusts, bronzes, golds, coppers. That was the vision.

We chose sinks and faucets, bathtubs, and tile. We chose cabinet hardware and appliances. We chose a grill for the deck. After much discussion we settled on an exterior color for the stucco and an interior color for all the walls, accents to come later. We chose garage doors and pavers for the driveway. We chose rock for the fireplaces and columns. We chose light fixtures and railings; we chose doors. 

Except for the front door. We didn’t know what we wanted to do for the front door other than to a) have one and b) have it made of iron. We didn’t want one of the newly popular pivot doors. I hate the way they open and I think they’re terribly heavy. We wanted iron and glass, a single door, with two side windows on either side to expand its look. We had a budget for it, just like we did for everything else. 

We went to several places and ended up at First Impressions. They do gorgeous doors, in a variety of “colors,” of you want to call them that. Black, brown, iron, rust, bronze and different variations and combinations on iron. We looked at their designs and didn’t really like any of them. Then it occurred to us: We have a friend who just happens to be an artist. We called Roy and asked if he would do us the honor of designing our front door. He said yes. 

It’s a beautiful door. Fluidly geometrical, with open spaces and closed ones. We chose a bronze color for the iron. The glass opens to make cleaning easy and it latches back tightly. It’s inset, in the portico, and it makes us proud.

Evidently, we are not alone in our infatuation. First Impressions called today and they’d like to photograph our door to use in advertising. Our door is going to be famous. It’s going to grace magazines around the state, perhaps even nationally.  

Our door. Roy’s design. It’s something to celebrate.

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It’s like we knew, one day, some day

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 1, 2015 9:03 PM

A long time ago when knowing your color season was what everyone did, I found out that I was an autumn. Because of my dark hair, my brown/hazel eyes and my skin tone which has more red in it than yellow, it was decided that I looked best in the colors most associated with fall. Browns, golds, greens, oranges. Warm colors. I had always felt most comfortable in those colors anyway so I was glad I didn’t suddenly have to start wearing brilliant reds and blues.

My love of warm colors always translated to my taste in furniture and accessories. I suppose it’s also one of the reasons I’ve long loved pottery. Pottery, regardless of the glaze used, is still made from clay, by nature earthy. I used to love to visit pottery studios and galleries when I was young; I still do. I took pottery in college, and have taken two recent classes here in Tucson.

Years ago, when I was married to my first husband and the Southwestern decorating style was all the rage, I bought two big pottery type lamps. They were tall, about 5 feet each, with broad bases that were rough in texture and creamy in color. I still have those lamps. I recently put new lampshades on them, silk-screened shades with browns and greens, golds and oranges. They’re perfect in the new house.

After husband number 1 and prior to current and favorite husband, I dated a guy named David. One weekend, we went up to Cambria, about 3 hours north of Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful coastal town filled with galleries. I fell in love with an amazing hand-shaped vase in a pottery studio. Rough red clay base with drips of blue, orange, red, purple glaze. He gave it to me for Christmas that year and I still have it. It looks absolutely gorgeous on our new fireplace hearth.

Kevin and I spent months trying to find a dining room set we liked when we moved into our Oak Park house. We finally settled on pieces that are sort of Scandinavian in design. The wood is a dark red. We still have the table and the hutch here and they look perfect with our tile.

Ditto the leather couches we bought several years ago as well. They’re a taupe color, overstuffed, comfortable. Perfect in the great room.

I stand and look at my new house and I realize that I’ve actually been decorating it for years, perhaps even before Kevin and I got together, but definitely since then and long before we actually built it. From the iron sleigh-type bed we bought for our bedroom along with the side tables, the bed that Kevin made for Justin that we repurposed for our guest room, the pub table and stools that were in our kitchen and are now in the breakfast nook, the antique music stand, the other eclectic pieces of furniture and accessories. Everything looks like it was bought specifically for this house and none of it was. The only exceptions: the three bar stools at the eat-at bar, and the deck furniture.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve always had similar taste, and that I tend to like furniture and things that are earthy in color, never ornate, but always interesting and hopefully comfortable. Maybe we’ve been buying everything in anticipation for building this house in the desert. Maybe we knew that one day, some day, it would all come together beautifully in a house that comes out of the desert, surrounded by greens and browns and golds. My colors. It was meant to be.

Frankly, it’s interesting

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 7, 2015 7:58 PM

I have long had a love of architecture. I am fascinated by buildings of all sorts, and especially by homes. I think the different styles that are indicative of certain parts of the country are intriguing. The colonial on the east coast, the Cape Cod in New England, Santa Fe style and desert contemporary, Mediterranean in Southern California. There are modern houses everywhere, of course, in styles that mirror their location. There are no stucco houses in New England that I know of; there are very few clapboard houses in the desert. Roofs on the east tend to be pitched and shingled while in the west they’re mostly tile, or in the case of many desert homes, flat, stuccoed and painted.

This morning, Kevin and I went to Bookman’s, a wonderfully eclectic bookstore that is all used books, musical instruments (a ton of guitars, both acoustic and electric as well as banjos and ukeles), antiques and art. We were hoping to find a New York Times. They didn’t have one but they did have several books we decided we couldn’t live without, one of which is a photography book for Kevin. As he was perusing, I happened upon the architecture section. There were a number of books on one of this country’s most famous architects, one Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright. He has a number of homes all over the country, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Illinois to California and many places in between.

I’ve been to Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, Kevin has been to the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois, where he was born and raised. June 8 would have been Wright’s 148th birthday. It’s a testament to his vision that many of his homes are still landmarks, still known as Wright houses.

It got me thinking, though, not just about Frank Lloyd Wright but about all of the famous architects named Frank. 

Frank Lloyd Wright house, Kankakee, Illinois

Frank Clark house, Medford, Oregon

Frank Gehry, Disney Hall, Los Angeles, California

In Oregon, Diane and Gene have been looking at a house designed by Frank Clark, a famous and famously prolific architect in the Pacific Northwest. There is of course Frank Gehry who designs more commercial buildings including the famous and famously blinding Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Francis Fleetwood was a designer of the big time homes that sit on the North Shore of Long Island, in an area affectionately known as the Hamptons.

Of course there are also Frank architects of some repute who are not American, like Francis Greenway who was an architect in Australia in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. And Francis Golding, a London architect, who was killed just two years ago while bicycling. 

Michael Bratton, Michel House, Tucson, Arizona

Our architect, Mike Bratton is an honorary Frank because he is very frank in his conversations, sometimes to the point of appearing rude. We quickly became used to it and actually embraced it because he designed and built us one hell of a house. He says what he thinks, he has an opinion and he knows what he’s talking about.

I find it all incredible, the ability to design a building from nothing. It’s like creating a piece of art on a piece of canvas or a story on a blank page. Frankly, the ability to create anything from nothing is interesting. And if it lasts through the ages, like Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Clark or Frank Gehry, it’s definitely something to celebrate.

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Hair today, art tomorrow

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 12, 2015 10:43 PM

This month, our friend Roy gets his first full gallery show. The install is on March 27, the opening is on the 28. It goes through April 29. During that time, he will exhibit approximately 30 or so acrylic paintings and pen and ink drawings. The paintings, on canvas and cardboard, are always vibrant in color. The various series’ he paints, like music or architecture, often consist of a modern, 21st century take on his own style of cubism. His landscapes are highly abstract, large swaths of color slashing across the canvas in such a way as to become multi-dimensional. Amazing.

I am also amazed at the process of creating art, of how each artist thinks and wonders, how the ideas manifest; how mediums are chosen. Some artists, like Roy, work primarily with acrylic paint. Others prefer watercolor or oil. Some work in fabric, others work with charcoal, chalk or colored pencils. Some choose clay and other elements of the environment. There have been artists who take pieces of garbage and make it interesting and pretty. Architects use wood and steel; musicians use guitars, sitars, pianos and oboes.

Today I discovered a Texas artist who uses her hair. My first thought was, ooh. Creepy. My second thought was “won’t she eventually run out?” Then I started looking at the art and my third thought was still a little odd but very interesting.

The artist is a woman named Rosemary Meza, who in addition to hair drawings also works in more traditional mediums like watercolor and pen and ink, started experimenting with sewing human hair into paper. It was a different way of creating a line, a drawing. She uses Thai rice paper and Mylar. Some are encased in resin. When she first started working in this medium in 2000, she was using her own hair for only about half of the drawing. The other half was done with a more traditional graphite. Now, the “drawings” are done entirely with hair.

Each morning she runs her fingers through her hair and holds onto the strands that fall out. She even collects the hair she loses in the shower, keeping it all until they’re needed. The shorter hairs are separated from the longer hair. She has also started collecting a growing number of gray hairs that she dyes in shades of reds and browns in order to bring a bit more depth and color to the drawings.

According to Meza, she likes using hair because it’s sexy and engages people. It’s an adornment and one of the first things people notice about another. And yet, it can also be a bit repulsive. No one wants to find a hair in their soup or on a pillow in a hotel room.

After looking at the art, I have to admit, all of my initial three thoughts still apply. It’s kind of creepy, but won’t she eventually run out? And it’s intriguing.

I love that she’s doing something different. I applaud the idea aspect of it. I find it refreshing in a just washed my hair kind of way. Tonight when I take a shower, I’ll think about the hair that’s washing down the drain. And when I comb it out and blow it dry, I’ll look at the hairs left behind and think, briefly, Hey I made art today. Roy would be so proud.

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How to name a house, part 1

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:38 AM

My husband thinks our house needs a name and he thinks I’m just the person to come up with one. I’ve never named a house before though I have named commercial buildings for real estate developers and I’ve named my share of products. It’s a process; rarely does the perfect name simply present itself, standing up in a crowd to shout here I am.

I named a hair vitamin once. It took about five minutes to come up with Vitamane.

I named a number of products at Sebastian, things like Potion 9 – another easy one. It had nine essential oils and extracts and the effect was magical.

When we got Maguire, we didn’t have a name picked out beforehand. In fact, we had no idea what to call him. We picked him up at 7:30 on a Monday morning, all stinky 10 pounds of him. As we walked to Kevin’s car, we talked about a name but had no ideas. We climbed in, me holding the pup, who was quite curious about this car thing. He immediately buried his head in the center console and when he pulled it out, he had a dollar bill in his mouth. Show me the money. He was Maguire before we got home.

We had a terrible time finding a name for Cooper. When we met him, our soon to be rescue was called Andy. He had originally been Lucky, but when the rescue got him, they named him Andy. We didn’t like the name Andy because we used to have a financial advisor named Andy and we didn’t like him. We met “Andy” on Thursday and decided on Thursday night that we would take him; we would pick him up on Friday. We also decided that he had to have a different name. On our walk on Friday at lunch, as we tooled up through the neighborhood, we talked names. My husband was throwing out ideas based on what he saw. Street Corner, Street Sign, Lawn Mower. Gardner. Mail Box! I honestly didn’t know what to name him so I was basically saying no without offering any suggestions. I thought about Jackson or Jax. But nothing felt right. Finally Kevin said Cooper. A Mini Cooper had just gone by. I thought it had merit. He kind of looked like a Cooper. Plus, he had/has red fur so he’s kind of copper. Copper Cooper.

As I said, naming is a process. When it’s personal, it’s even more difficult. Having distance helps. I don’t currently have distance unless you count 16 miles, which I don’t.

I have begun thinking about names for the house but I don’t want it to sound arrogant or lofty. I want it to be true and real and yet magical. I don’t want it to be too cute nor do I want it to be ordinary. I also don’t want it to be in English so whatever I might come up with has to translate into Spanish and sound beautiful.

I have played with something about stars, about the view, and desert vistas. I’ve thought about dream house. It’s a dwelling, a casa, a castle on the hill.

The word star translates to estrella. I like that. Dream house is casa de los sueños. Not crazy about it. Also too boring; too expected.

I am currently stuck. I figure I have a few months before I actually have to come up with something magical and poetic and lush and memorable. Until then, we’re simply calling it the dirt. La suciedad. It has a certain sensación, a certain sonido.

Our casa es su casa. Probably too big to fit on a sign. Perhaps just The Michels. Or Cooper’s house. Something will come to me one of these days, or more likely one of these nights when I’m supposed to be sleeping and I let my mind travel east and up to where you can reach out and touch the stars, where the sound of the night is just darkness and where the twinkling lights of the city promise a new day and a view that goes around the world.  

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If you build it

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 6, 2013 8:23 PM

In his book Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “They can do without architecture who have no olives nor wines in the cellar.” It’s an odd quote, one that requires a twisting of the mind. When I encounter a quote like this, one that makes me wonder, I find myself saying it out loud, as if speaking it will somehow make it instantly understandable. Sometimes it works. My simplistic understanding of this quote is that if you don’t have stuff you don’t really need a place to keep it. If you are not encumbered by the accumulations of life, an elaborate dwelling, or any dwelling at all, is not necessary.

I have both olives in the pantry and wine in the cellar so I cannot really do without architecture. I also happen to be a very big fan of architecture, especially as it relates to homes. Most homes are gentle designs. By that I mean, mostly functional, not necessarily interesting though not at all boring. They are places to live, to decorate with family photographs, favorite posters and pieces of art, to arrange furniture, to paint and wallpaper, built for their inhabitants to cluster around the dinner table or the fireplace. They provide shelter; they are a place where we love our kids, our pets, our favorite television shows, each other. They are mostly non-descript. Pretty but ordinary. They are where we people with olives and wine live. They are homes.

We live in a small tract home in Southern California. It’s cute and meets all of the criteria just described. There are at least a dozen just like it – save for the exterior color and landscaping – all around us, dotted between other homes of which there are a dozen just like. We bought it back in 1997 because the school system here is great, one of the best in the state, and because it was what we could afford. The tract home is the affordable home. They are designed by someone but they are not unique, there is little attention paid to detail. They are cookie cutter designs; lots that are exactly the same. It’s inside where they come alive.

Real architecture is done by those hired to design and build custom homes and buildings. It’s a process that is nearly as old as man. The word itself is from the Latin architectura and the Greek arkhitekton meaning chief builder/carpenter/mason. It has come to describe the process of planning, designing and construction of a building. The best buildings are thought to be cultural symbols and even works of art. Architecture can be both a generic term, or something that infers a particular style or method of design. It encompasses everything from urban design and landscaping to construction details and even furniture. Since the internet became part of our daily lives, architecture is also now used to describe information technology.

Much like what we use our architecture for today, yesterday’s building evolved from need. Shelter, security, worship. In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece architecture was used as a way to engage the supernatural. Witness the pyramids and the Parthenon. Building evolved from there, building its way toward structures like the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame in Paris, the castles of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Paris Opera. Architects like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Ieoh Ming Pei and Frank Lloyd Wright ushered in the era of modern architecture with their buildings like the Villa Savoye in France, the Seagram Building in New York, the controversial glass and steel pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, and Falling Water in rural Pennsylvania.

One of the worst remake movies ever filmed featured the re-teaming of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in The Lake House. Perhaps the only decent thing about it was that Reeves’ character was an architect and at one point in this rather dull and uninspiring romp, took Bullock’s character on a walking tour of some of his favorite buildings in Chicago. With his voice-over guiding her, she discovers the history and wonder of both monumental buildings and forgotten bungalows, of walls and bridges and water fountains. It shows the scope and the power that buildings and designs have to form our lives even as we form them.

I have long been fascinated with the art of designing and building buildings. It is so precise and yet so organic, so meticulous and still completely flowing and interpretive. I love to look at the angles, the height. When I find a building I truly love, I can sit in front of it for hours and stare. It talks to me somehow; it tells me stories, sings me lullabies, makes me want to know its history, its loves and its sorrow. My dream is to someday build a building – specifically a house – that tells me all of those things, tells me stories of my life to come, and especially tells me where I can put my olives and my wine. Hopefully it will be in a wine cellar built for us and only for us.

Some day.

Some day soon. 

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We’re thinking something in bomb-shelter chic

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 19, 2012 10:14 PM

One of our new favorite things is the Houzz app on the iPad. We can spend hours with it, just surfing through its over 634,000 photos of all things house related, from exteriors and landscapes to porches and patios to interior wall and floor treatments, fireplaces, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, media rooms and wine cellars. We have started a folder for our favorites. At this point we have at least one hundred photos cataloged with notes as to why we find them so fascinating. Occasionally we also scroll through our folder to see if there’s a pattern emerging. There is and it’s mostly one of clean lines and modern designs. Except for the wine cellars.

It will probably come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that the majority of our photos are of wine cellars. Many are fairly straight-forward; most are not modern but lean more toward traditional. The racks are often identical save for the color of the wood stain and placement, depending on the size and shape of the cellar. Most have tile floors, some also have tiled walls. We came across one today that had stucco for walls and liked that very much. It would add great texture and might actually serve to make our eventual cellar more cellar-like, more cave-like.

Some cellars are created by using otherwise wasted spaces, like putting something underneath a staircase. Our current cellar, if it can be called that, is under our stairs. Kevin built the small room that’s more like a closet in unused and thus wasted space. He stuffed insulation in between the wall studs, sealed them with moisture-resistant plastic and used thin plywood to create walls. The front of the closet is about five feet high and it slopes down as the stairs above it ascend up to the second floor. The solid door to the room is at least two inches thick. He built wine racks inside, on both sides of the door. In the back there is space for several cases that we leave in the boxes. The room holds about 300 + bottles, all kept at a balmy and constant 58º, the best temperature for storing red wine.

Many of the photos we saw today do something similar. Some are visible to the world, and show off the wine through a glass door. Some become little circular caves with stone encasings. There are cellars that spiral down into a seemingly finished hole beneath the house; some are actually in a cellar, or basement. Others are off of a game room; some are near the kitchen or dining room. When we eventually build our house in Tucson, our wine cellar will be off the dining room, and we’re obsessed with how it will look.

The space is 13’ X 7’ and will hold up to 2,000 bottles. The floor will be the same tile that flows through the house, big and ceramic. The interior will have racks. Whether they’re wood racks or perhaps something a little more modern, like steel rods suspended vertically from the ceiling with wooden pieces placed horizontally to actually hold each bottle. We’d like the walls to be textured. We’ve looked at paint, which is always an option, more tile, the aforementioned stucco, or some combination thereof. But there’s another idea that presented itself this morning as we browsed through Houzz. We’re calling it bomb-shelter chic.

The exterior of the house will be stucco with some additional stonework for texture. Mike, our architect, wants to bring the stone into the house, pulling through the motif in order to keep the house even more fluid. We’ve talked about putting the same stone on the wall of the fireplace in the great room as well as the outdoor fireplace and the outdoor kitchen. Today, we wondered about also bringing the stone in on the wall just inside the entry way, in the dining room, then having the stone taper off so that it looks unfinished in a highly finished and on-purpose way. This wall is where the door to our cellar will be. The doorframe for the arched door will be inset and house, most-likely, a solid door, maybe one with a window to allow the exterior world to look in and the interior world to look out.

We’re thinking this could be very interesting, very chic, especially if the interior looks a bit like a cave. As far as bomb shelters go, this is one we would gladly spend time in until it was safe.

Or until we ran out of wine. To run out of wine would be oh-so shabby (chic). 

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live out loud

Watch this

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 17, 2012 11:43 PM

Kevin found a watch this morning on our walk. I’m not sure how he saw it as it was off to the side in the foliage, and it was green. He picked it up; it was still fastened as if on a wrist. It had no face. His temporary ‘cool’ was replaced with ‘oh, well.’ He stuck it in his pocket until we got home and then he tossed it in the trash.

Kevin is a big watch person. He has an old watch like his dad used to wear and we hunted for a long time to find a band that had a vintage look. He also has my dad’s old watch, one with a silver and gold face and a metal elastic band. He doesn’t wear that one as much because it grabs at the hairs on his arm making it a little uncomfortable. It brings up a good point, though. How does anyone wear a band like that and not have the same thing happen?

Kevin's watch, only his band is blue

Many years ago I bought him a beautiful watch with a gold and silver face and a rich, brown leather band. On its face was one of our favorite cartoon characters: Mr. Bugs Bunny. There’s a Swiss Army watch with a big, bold white face and a thick silver band. I wear that one sometimes. I like the bulk of it. But his favorite watch is the one I bought him when we got married.

We had gone to a local jeweler in Westlake Village, DeJaun Jewelers, to pick out wedding rings; actually to pick out a wedding ring for him. My engagement ring was/is such that a ring needed to be designed to fit around it. Kevin had designed it; we just needed someone to craft it. We found him a plain platinum band with just a hint of gold around the edges. DeJaun then took a mold of my engagement ring, along with Kevin’s design, and made mine. It took 10 days.

As we were in the store, waiting to pick up both rings, we were browsing the cases. So much of the jewelry in jewelry stores is not to my taste. It tends to be heavy on precious stones, too heavy, and I’m more of a minimalist. My engagement ring has a solitaire stone of about one karat, with five tiny stones on each side that curve up and down and eventually form the perfect circle of the ring. That’s plenty of bling for me. My wedding bands (yes, two) are gold and platinum, one of each. But both Kevin and I love watches. We’re fascinated by them, and while some can border on too much, many are stunning in simplicity, color and detail. We’re partial to TAG Heuer. I’ve had one since 1990. It has a thick stainless steel and gold serpentine band; the watch face is round and white. It’s simple and still beautiful. In the TAG display case was a man’s watch with a sapphire blue face, encased in high chrome with diver’s marks all around. The band was thick, navy blue leather. He was in lust. I went back several weeks later and bought it for him for a wedding present. It’s still his favorite.

This is an $11 million watch.

Watches evidently fell a bit out of favor for a while but they’re making a comeback. It seems that with the proliferation of cell phones and even mp3 players, all equipped with time that syncs to the world atomic clock in Greenwich, England (Kevin calls it the mother ship), many people stopped wearing watches. If they needed to know what time it was, they simply looked at their phone. If they had a pre-determined appointment somewhere, they set their phone’s alarm.

But watches are back and boasting new retro styles and equally bold designs. The fashion designers are including sexy new time keeping devices on the wrists of male and female models strutting down the runways in New York, Paris, Tokyo, London and LA. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reports that watch sales are the highest they’ve been in 20 years, with exports from Switzerland surging 19.2 percent last year. Sales of watches up to $300 increased 22 percent; watches $300 to $1000 increased by 25 percent. Swatch and Fossil had increases of 40 percent in sales.

Men’s watches are selling faster than women’s, though it’s not just men wearing men’s watches. Women are also buying men’s watches because they’re bigger and bolder. They’re like the new version of the boyfriend jeans. Remember the 1980s when women wore their boyfriend’s jeans and just cinched the waist tight with a really cool belt? Yeah, I know. But we all did it.

Watches range from cheap to absurd with most people wearing something that falls in between. Many are like tiny mechanical sculptures – pieces of art – for the wrist. Some have enormous faces that seem to engulf the arm. The cheapest seem to be made by Casio; the most expensive are made by Patek Philippe at $11 million. Yes, you read that correctly. Many are analog rather than digital, with arms that can even make intellectual statements while telling time. A watch by Mr. Jones called The Accurate, which sells for $189, has a hour hand that reads “remember” and a minute hand that reads “you will die.” Not exactly cheery though I prefer to think of it as more of a carpe diem message.

Since none of us knows when our time is up, seize the day (and subsequently the time) and live life out loud. Just watch the time.

House arrested

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 9, 2012 9:54 PM

I have long been a fan of architecture. I remember falling in love with a gray house that sat at the top of a hill in New Hampshire. It was long, jagged, like a ship, with lots of glass and a view that was undoubtedly spectacular. My mother and I used to drive to the road beneath it and just sit and look up at it. She seemed to like it as much as I did. I don’t know where it was or if it’s still there; I suspect my mother does if only because she still lives in the area. I think those drives with mom are when I started to appreciate the art of the house.

We live in a house that is lovely but it’s a tract home, one of three available styles in the Monaco tract here in Oak Park. It’s small, with three bedrooms, two upstairs and the master down, two and half baths. We have vaulted ceilings in the great room with both high and low windows. It gives the impression that the house is bigger than it is. It’s open, airy and we truly do love it. We’ve made it ours. But it’s not great architecture. It’s cookie-cutter architecture.

Eventually we will build a custom-designed home on our 4 acres of cactus, mesquite and dirt in Tucson. That will be great architecture, if our initial designs are any indication and I believe they are. Until then, I pacify my love of architecture by dreaming, by driving through areas where custom homes are the norm and by reading Architectural Digest. Correction: by looking at the pictures in Architectural Digest. For years, I’ve looked forward to each thick issue arriving in my mailbox. This month’s issue arrived just days ago. It’s dated May 2012 and I did what I usually do which is a quick perusal to see if anything catches my eye. It did. It was just one page, with a photo and paragraph on a place built on the Isle of Capri in Italy called Casa Malaparte.

It seems this extraordinary piece of modern design and contemporary architecture was conceived of around 1937 by Adalberto Libera for the writer Curzio Malaparte. As a journalist, Malaparte made many enemies in the Fascist party. He often took very controversial, even contradictory stands on the wars and leaders of the time. He even took a stand against both Hitler and Mussolini, so enraging the latter that he was exiled to the island of Lipari and finally to Ischia. But rather than feeling ostracized, Malaparte embraced his exile, so much so that even after being released to travel the world, he returned to Italy and purchased a site on Capri’s eastern coast where he would build his house on a lonely promontory overlooking the Mediterranean.

Though Libera had designed a beautiful home, Malaparte threw out the plans in favor of an unapproachably cold, jutting design, with a lyrical windbreak on the roof and a reverse pyramid-like exterior staircase. It was a contradiction in terms, much like the owner. The stairs lead up to a roof that has an unbroken view that’s 360º. The exterior walls are colored red, prowling the high cliff like a predator. It’s clumsy, coarse and elegant, old and new. It’s only accessible by foot from the town of Capri or by boat from the sea and a staircase cut into the cliffs. When Curzio Malaparte died in 1957, his house was abandoned. It was vandalized and damaged by years of storms and neglect. But Malaparte’s great-nephew Niccolò Rositani had the house restored in the early 1990s.

Homes like this are why I’m so fascinated by architecture. It’s an impossible dream, artwork you can live and entertain in. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments of humanity.

If I was to be exiled I can think of worse places. As a loner, I can hardly think of a better place. As a writer, I can only dream of such a life.

That would be the definition of living it out loud.

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live out loud

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