High Point Market: A Delicious Invitation...

There's always party somewhere at High Point Market. This year the fete to attend is the star studded Rizzoli book signing. Sunday from 4 - 5:30 PM in the Courtyard at Market Square you will be elbow to elbow with some of the brightest stars and biggest names in the business. 

The Trendsetter Book Event will offer for sale the fresh titles from top designers, who will also be on hand to sign the books. Are you ready for this list? Martyn Lawrence Bullard, signing his tome Live Love & Decorate. The impossibly glamorous Mary McDonald penning your name in her book The Allure of Style. Suzanne Kasler (a dear personal and professional favorite of mine) with her fabulous book Inspired Interiors. Designer Bobby McAlpine signing his book The Home Within Us: Romantic Houses, Evocative Rooms. Star Michael Connors with his volume Caribbean Houses, The Splendor of Cuba, and British West Indies Style. And last but not least, Florence de Dampierre with the terrific title Walls: The Best of Decorative Treatments, and French Chic. 

Put away your corporate AMEX, the event is free and open to all who attend High Point Market. Insider tip: the fab designers will only be on hand for an hour to sign books, so be sure to get there early. 

Bring a tote to lug away all of those terrific hardback books. These are more than just pretty coffee table books to decorate a space, they are incredible published works you'll want to devour when you have a free moment. They are indeed seriously delicious. 

For more scheduled events, be sure to visit the High Point Market Authority's comprehensive site.

High Point Market: Wearing my Halo...

Although I spent a disproportionate amount of time at the Hickory Chair showroom (how could I resist with Suzanne Kasler and Alexa Hampton, Thomas O'Brien, Mariette Himes-Gomez and Ron Fiore in the house?), a highlight of my High Point experience was the ultra cool British import Halo. The chic furnishings experience is a bit challenging to describe. It has a hipster loungy vibe by day, with full coffee bar and creative-types milling about, and is quite the VIP magnet at night. Whether you identified yourself with the studied and serious day crowd or the black-clad evening group, one thing was certain: this was the place to be.  

If you haven't been to HIgh Point before, it will help if I set the scene for you. There are a cluster of main buildings. Massive, gleaming, modern structures complete with transportation bays and information desks. Entering those buildings you realize you are entering into a Vegas experience. By that I mean you'll see no clocks, have no concept of hours passing and leave not find your way back to an exit until long after dusk. Along the way you'll see bizarrely beautiful things, cram into packed elevators with strangers, part with lots of hard earned cash and feel the rush that only mingling with massive crowds can deliver. It's an adventure.

Last time I visited Market I spent most of my time in the main buildings. This time... not so much. The place to be, it seemed, was Hamilton Street. Thanks to ideal weather (72 and sunny), this amazing design district drew me in and kept me coming back for more. Hamilton is a sunny and meandering street lined with high end furniture shops and luxury showrooms. Sunlight streaming into tiny little boutiques and breezes blowing on silk draperies: this was designer heaven.  There are plenty of people along Hamilton, but no crowds. Instead you're free to pop in and out of various shops and bask in the warmth of the Carolina sun. The breeze was amazing and you had that "all is right with the world" feeling. It was amazing. Further downhill the showrooms could be found. Hickory Chair, Pearson and others. There were places to grab a drink, live jazz bands playing in plazas and cocktail tables in clusters.

I'm setting the stage for you so you get a sense of the relaxed atmosphere of the district. It was worlds away from the formal experience of the main buildings. Less to see, yes. But I felt I could actually take in the scene and focus on the objects in front of me at my own leisure. A block or two over was Halo. It actually occupies two buildings. Brick two story structures across the street from one another. Each building had it's own personality. Between the floor to ceiling tapestries brandishing the image of The Queen and the well curated mix of repurposed antiques, you got the sense that Bob & Cortney Novogratz pulled from their inventory. The offerings were eclectic and cool, funky and different.  

While I was there I walked upon a photo shoot in the works. Union Jack upholstered chairs and weathered leather tufted ottoman's being pulled together to form a cool vignette. The place just had "cool" written all over it.

A few items I had trouble parting with... an airplane wing repurposed into an executive desk. Mr. Venti has been wanting one for ages (since we saw one in a movie). Now, I can order one for him. It was truly amazing, all that gleaming metal buffed to just the right level of imperfection. Very cool, indeed.

They had a few amazing Louis XVI objects, too. Chairs and ottomans. Gorgeous. But you know that insanely large mirrors are my weakness. The best was an Italian flourish framed beauty that was priced so low I had to catch my breath. Truth be told it's the shipping that kills you on these things, but a girl has to plan for the future. That mirror needs a home in my Texas living room. Badly.

While I was there I met the owner as well as one of the brand managers. He indicated they were looking at expanding their US footprint and were even considering a place down south. With any luck they'll choose the Big D as the site of their next location. Until then, I'll continue refining my list of "must have" items from their fabulous inventory.

Halo... I'm drinking the kool-aid. This Venti girl is a full fledged fan. Keep up the fantastic work.

Tastemakers: Suzanne Kasler's Effortless Glamour...

I've been giving it more thought and come up with a great way to describe the three designers from the Hickory Chair event. Here goes: Thomas O'Brien is the designer you want on your team for Trivial Pursuit. Although I did not quiz him, I'm certain he could regale you with detailed stories of historical events just as easily as he could recite Yeats without a moment's hesitation.

Alexa Hampton is the girl you want on your Pictionary team. She's bold, vivacious and wouldn't think twice about performing in front of a crowd. I adored her energy and her contagious laughter. Alexa is a girl who knows how to enjoy herself, and it shows. Having said that, she, Suzanne and Thomas could go head to head on their exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of the origins of design and the history of furnishings. Each of them shared such a rich passion for design and the classical references of each piece in their collections at Hickory Chair. It was beyond impressive. (more on Alexa in an upcoming post!)But let's talk about my favorite girl's girl of the bunch: Suzanne Kasler. Where do I begin? Suzanne is a woman blessed with radiant warmth. She's gracious, feminine and absolutely charming. Standing in the midst of her gorgeous collection in the showroom, it was clear that the sheer beauty of the pieces themselves was a direct expression of her inner glamour and her ability to translate that sophistication into three dimensional forms.

So if I'm continuing my theme of games I'd play with each designer, Suzanne would certainly be my partner for a game of dress up - as silly as that sounds. She's so warm and inviting that you immediately feel you could spend a full day weaving through the cobblestone streets of Rome in search of the perfect dress. You'd laugh at yourselves as you tripped on the cobblestone along the Via Condotti. Inevitably, you'd find yourselves losing track of time as the afternoon passed. You've chatted so much and admired cultural surroundings so much you'd nearly forgotten to shop. The two of you would share stories as you sipped your afternoon espressos at Sant'Eustachio (the best espresso in Rome, in my opinion!). And you'd continue the fun through dinner and well after dessert at the most quaint local restaurant, barely noticing the waiters who would no doubt be trying to catch her attention. Yes, she's that approachable and that remarkably beautiful. You meet her.. you feel you've known her for ages. She has a sort of quiet charisma that pulls you in and akes you take notice.If you haven't familiarized yourself with her work, I recommend you take a peek at my post from the springperuse her recent collection for Hickory Chair and most certainly pick up a copy of her latest book, Inspired Interiors. I've still clinging to my signed copy (woohoo!), thinking it might be nice to read over coffee on a quiet afternoon. (Rome, anyone?)

In spring I was overcome by the sheer beauty of her icy blue color palette with gold accents. A chinoiserie inspired look. This season's palette featured an invigorating orange, perfect for fall, but timeless on it's own accord. I can hardly stop thinking about this stunningly simply orange leather chair. It strikes me as the ideal perch from which to write - espeically if paired with one of her sexy desks. Yowza!

As I look back on my experience with Suzanne, I can't help but feel that she has altered my view of the typical successful businesswoman. She embodies a certain quiet confidence and graciousness I haven't often encountered. As I observe all that she has achieved and the body of work she has produced, I realize that never for a moment was she anything less that generous with her time and sincere in her interest of the talents of others. It's that same grace that can be seen in her work. Her furnishings are lovingly designed and exude quiet elegance. They are feminine without being frilly. Warm and approachable without being casual. Elegant and wise without losing that fresh edge. Full of authority without the use of any visible force. Much like the woman herself, the pieces feel inviting, as if they're good friends you can't wait to spend more time around. If you have the opportunity, be sure to go to a Kasler book signing near you. I promise it will be an experience you won't soon forget. You'll meet a fascinating woman and acquire a fabulous book at the same time!

Thank you, Suzanne, for serving as such an inspiration!

Tastemakers: Thomas O'Brien, The Thinking Man's Designer...

Funny how certain people strike you as extraordinary. Persons teeming with so much star quality that they'd have been famous whether they drilled oil or worked in a paper factory. Thomas O'Brien is certainly one of those rare individuals with "change maker" written all over him. He enters the room and the energy shifts. It's a wonderful quality and I found his frenetic energy quite refreshing. 

Last Saturday night I had the rare opportunity to share a meal with Thomas and a small group of other bold-faced names in a private dining room in High Point, North Carolina. (For the record, what he ordered looked far better than my choice.. but I digress...) As you surely know if you've read PalomaHeather or Cassandra's posts, we enjoyed the company of Suzanne Kasler, Ron Fiore and the impossibly fun Alexa Hampton. And while it seemed the entire room was abuzz with conversation, I suspect our table might have been the most rambunctious of the bunch. Between me, Ron, Thomas, Karen (Thomas's PR guru), Keith (Thomas's right hand man) and my husband, I can safely say we were not a quiet bunch! To say that we had a great time would be an understatement! 

The thing about Thomas that stood out to me was how he simultaneously embodied such precision and absolute chaos. Everything about him is a study in contrasts. His perfectly tailored clothing, masterfully tossed on with a devil may care attitude. His mathematically precise furnishings that somehow still ooze laid-back ease and comfort. His freshly cut hair that's haphazardly coiffed - making you suspect he only had moments to fix it, but it looks great regardless. Anyway you look at it, Thomas enjoys the dichotomy of his (and my) Gemini personality. Fully controlled, drawn to precision, a total perfectionist - and yet a total riot and easy to be around. Spend a moment in his company and you'll find yourself laughing hysterically. His quick wit and sheer breadth of knowledge makes him a powerhouse personality. Trust me, you notice when this guy walks into a room. And you'd better be prepared.  

Back to my story... dinner was amazing. The group of us laughed so hard we nearly cried. And the next morning Thomas and the other designers walked us through the Hickory Chair showroom discussing their respective collections. It would be difficult to overstate how well informed Thomas is about design. He understands scale, historical significance, functionality and attention to detail in ways many of us can only dream. Much of his influence comes fro his New England upbringing. He recalls the furnishings of his childhood home and appreciates quality pieces that can be passed down from generation to generation. This all very clearly translates in his work. Each piece easily can stand on its own and could be repurposed in near limitless arrangements in almost any room of the home.
 
Clearly, the collection is beautiful. A classic settee covered in a tweedy menswear fabric was completely modern and fresh in a strangely familiar way. A geometric sectional finished with touchably plush upholstery straddled the line between masculine and feminine design perfectly. It was all absolutely flawless and just slightly "off" in that uniquely TOB way. If you can imagine staying with well-heeled friends in the Hamptons for the weekend in a house that exudes relaxed elegance - that's how every piece of the Thomas O'Brien collection reads. Utterly fabulous and over the top in a completely approachable and familiar way... much like the man himself. Genius. 

Many more tales to come.. stay tuned!

Tastemakers: An Interview with Ron Fiore...

Lately it seems that durable pieces of furniture look...well, durable. Not stylish. Not luxurious. Not achingly beautiful. And the pieces that I typically do pine for simply aren't designed to endure the challenges that my husband and tiny daughter are sure to put them through in years to come.

I've scoured catalogs, showrooms and web sites in search for pieces that look sensational and can hold up over time. I've spent the past few years convinced that these pieces existed. There must be furniture that gets better with age. Louis Vuitton luggage, a prized vintage bottle of Lafite Rothschild, George Clooney...some things simply improve with age.

So surely a settee, a sofa, an end table, a dining room chair could look as timeless and grand in 20, 30, 50 years as they do today. Well...they do. I've seen them. I've sat upon them, I've touched them, smelled the kiln dried wood that they are made from and - yes - met the man largely responsible for their beauty.

Ron Fiore, creative director for Hickory Chair,  is a creative visionary with a "venti cup" outlook on design. Rather than ask why, he and the team at Hickory Chair ask "why not?" The result is a brand of furnishings unlike any I've ever seen. Handcrafted, made in the United States, allowing customization down to the most minute details. This, my friends, is the very furniture I've been seeking for years. Sophisticated, sexy, classic and timeless.

I had the privilege of asking this creative genius pressing questions about style, today's clientele and even what lies beneath the lid of that Venti cup. Ron shared so much insight that I've decided to break this into two posts. Pour yourself a fresh cup and settle in to see what he has to say today...

ON FASHION

You worked in the fashion industry prior to becoming Creative Director for Hickory Chair. There's certainly a visual dialog between trends in fashion and changes in how we style our homes. How strong of an influence would you say the fashion industry has on home furnishings? How do you consider those changes in your work?

Fashion has a huge influence in home furnishings. By the way, I just saw a fabric collection by TRINA TURK for Schumacher. It was awesome. It really, really looked like her clothing. The color is amazing. Anyway, fashion is a part of our culture. Incorporating it into the home is a bit more difficult. Clothing and accessories are more “throw away”. Furniture and renovation projects are more permanent. For us fashion works best as an accessory….. Throw pillows, bed dressings, accent lighting……you get the idea. Design and fashion oriented fabrics are great for wood frame chairs, large ottomans, fabric covered screens, accent type furniture, etc. because they are easily and cost effectively recovered and changed out. Very tailored slip covers are also great for this reason. Paint is another great way to refresh a space and create a “fashion moment”. 

A very long time ago, I worked on a study about HOW WE DRESS vs. HOW WE LIVE. The most interesting thing that came out of it was the greatest percentage of people who dressed classically usually lived very classically or minimally. But, the greatest percentage of people who dressed modern and chic usually lived with a more vintage style………I’m taking COUNTRY here. Interesting…………………right? But, that was a long time ago. I often wonder if that has changed a lot since that time.

ON THE MODERN CLIENT

Customers are so informed today. We know what's happening on the runways, we've seen interiors of otherwise private homes around the world and we've got an eye on international style thanks to technology and our the ease of international travel. Even ten years ago this kind of VIP access to otherwise elite information was almost unimaginable. Customers are more informed or at least more interested in design, it would seem. What observations can you make about designing for the more informed client?

People are more informed about design. Many people just don’t know where to start. There are many, many beautiful images out there. Some are “staged” within an inch of their life. But, I think the bottom line is what are their needs or how do they live……being honest. Are they a cook, do they work at home, do they have children, do they entertain a lot, etc. I also like to take a look in their closet……how they dress or favorite things. Checking out their personal style is essential. If someone doesn’t wear color or pattern, they probably can’t live with it either. She may have a closet full of black /white and neutral clothing, but the handbags, shoes and accessories are vividly colored. Which, for me, would mean a whole house full of neutral backgrounds with colorful accessories…………..simple, right? Favorite possessions are another indicator. At some point it all should come together.

ON CLASSICS

There's a lovely quote from you regarding Alexa Hampton's collection for Hickory Chair: "I think that the whole world has been looking for what's the next traditional. And this may be it." It's an interesting way to phrase it... "the next traditional." How would you describe today's "traditional" look and what does that say about how we live? Are we rejecting the past? Embracing it? Where do you see us going in terms of interior style?

Never, ever in a million years ever reject the past……………reinvent it. Today’s classic look is not all buttoned up. It is very easy, personal and livable. We don’t live in museums. We are using all of our living spaces. Alexa’s collection is all about that. It’s all about comfort. It’s all about mixing it up. These are great classic pieces that mix well with both antiques and modern furnishings.

ON MUSES

In the showroom, you mesmerized us with tales of various muses. Sometimes it's a destination, a shop, an object, etc. But I am always intrigued with the idea of a person as muse. I've often wondered...how closely do you like to work with a muse. Is it a glimpse from across the room and an idealized vision of his or her lifestyle that fuels the imagination? Do you like to leave most of it to mystery or does it help to get to know them? Do tell...

I gotta have a muse. It makes all the work interesting. When you are merchandising a showroom as big as ours that character becomes apparent without even knowing what the story is all about. The muse creates a visual dialogue or reference………….it creates a familiarity. “This reminds me of something” ……………you know what I mean? And, you know, that glimpse from across the room always works for Hickory Chair.

 Ron shared so many insightful observations that it warrants two separate posts. Tune in tomorrow to find out where he goes to get away, his thoughts on collaboration, what his favorite pieces are and - last but not least - what's keeping warm under the lid of that venti cup. 

ON COLLABORATION

Hickory Chair has teamed up with some amazing designers to create collections. Suzanne Kasler, Thomas O'Brien, just to name a few. It takes confidence to invite the disruptive force of outside ideas and opinions. Is it challenging to ensure the capsule collections relate the "whole" of the company's furnishings? How does the collaboration process work? What is it about these designers that make them ideal for collaboration?

"The collaborations between Mariette Himes Gomez, Alexa Hampton, Suzanne Kasler and Thomas O’Brien are amazing. These are real people. Each one of these designers brings something unique to Hickory Chair that complements the other and the architecture of our merchandising philosophy. They are family…………..family with great style."

ON GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

In my mind it would be a dream come true to design beautiful pieces of furniture. The concept...the sketches, the revisions, the finished work. It is an amazing profession. But we all need to get away once in a while. Where do you go to relax and refuel? Do you love to travel? What does Ron Fiore do to recharge his creativity?

"It’s great when it all works. At the end of the day though, it’s most gratifying when you get an order……you know what I mean?

Honestly, I have traveled all over the world and have worked in amazing, amazing places. Never in my life would I have thought I would have been allowed such a life. But, I actually love to stay home, clean, move things around, read, watch sports on TV. I’m kind of boring, really. Books allow me to recharge and refuel. I am able to travel in my mind. Been there, done that. 

I was at an event recently (you know I am not going to tell you where or what) and was told the event was designed in the Belgian style. Unfortunately my response was “Have you ever been to Belgium?” Travel makes you honest."

ON PLAYING FAVORITES

I must know... what are some of your favorite pieces and why?

"Hands down it has to be the Hallings Secretary from the Thomas O’Brien Collection. That piece just works……..with anything."

FINALLY...JUST WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING IN THAT VENTI CUP? 

"I am typically sipping an Americano with WHOLE milk and REAL sugar OR I drink an espresso doppio with sugar………not in the Venti cup."

Ron's take on coffee pretty much sums up my view of him as a designer and by extension, the essence of the Hickory Chair brand. The focus is on top quality ingredients and authenticity. There are no shortcuts, no substitutes, no quick fixes. Start with the best and the results speak for themselves.

Thank you, Ron, for taking time out of your busy schedule. We look forward to seeing what your next muse inspires you to create!

Out & About: Crashing Kasler's Pad...

 One of the most drool worthy moments inside the High Point showroom tour was when we stepped into Suzanne Kasler's gorgeous chinoiserie room at Hickory Chair. It was like stepping into a jewel box. Your eyes could barely stop looking at the impressive center arrangement of quatrefoil chairs beneath a hulking yet appropriately delicate light fixture. The architectural detail of both the space and the furnishings was truly the centerpiece of the showroom for me. Of the many rooms we toured, this one begged to be lingered in more than any other. 
 
Suzanne, the famed interior designer from Atlanta, worked with the brand to create a refined collection of glamorous furnishings. The chair, which Cassandra has written about previously, will is perfectly proportioned. Nothing quite explains how well balanced the design is until you see it in person. It seems so often that when a chair back veers too far from the normal rectangular shape that you lose the comfort of the piece. Nothing could be further from the truth with this chair. It sits like a dream, and that gorgeous decorative back offers just the right *oomph* when seated. I need several of these in my home. Perfection.
 
And everywhere you looked, stacks and stacks of books every girl I know would love to have on her coffee table or bedside. Chanel, Vogue, Louboutin, Jacobs, Dior, Lanvin...a fashionista's dream dream. It was such an exercise in storytelling. That we'd stepped into someone's private dressing room. That somewhere nearby, the woman who lived here had a collection of designer gowns, fun frocks and (surely) an admirable collection of Chanels to accompany these glam pieces of furniture. 
 
And my new BFF Cassandra La Valle of Coco+Kelley and I just couldn't stop swooning over the feminine perfection of the room. At one point we were begging people to take our photo in the space, just so we could remember what it felt like to live - even for a moment - with such design perfection. Umm... yeah, I'd say we got a bit carried away with our personal pix. But can you blame us? Look at the stunning surroundings.

Suzanne Kasler nailed glam with this collection. Honestly, I think we were both overwhelmed by the magnificence of the brand as a whole. But when you entered this room you knew you were in the midst of something tremendous. The lighting, the placement, the slight shimmer on the walls. It was heaven. 
 
You'd just entered a new level of furnishings. The drawer pulls, the curved leg of an ottoman, the added flourish on a divan, the timeless design on a chair back. This was no ordinary designer and these were far from ordinary furnishings.  
 
The furnishings begged to be touched, sat upon, admired and - yes, blogged about. It all just felt so perfect. And just when you thought the room couldn't possibly get more gorgeous, you walked a bit further and found something else that made you stop in your tracks. Honestly, I think we both felt that this room was pitch perfect. Feminine without being frilly. Elegant without a hint of stuffiness. Rich and relaxed. There was just a confident ease to the space you could not possibly ignore. And isn't that what style really is at the end of the day? Ease?
 
So I leave you with these lovely, dreamy photos of the furnishings (and a few silly ones of us living the luxe life for a few moments, imagining this was our home).

Be sure to check out Cassandra's coverage of the tour as well!