Travel – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Day Trip: Milwaukee Art Museum Mon, 09 Jan 2012 21:07:34 +0000

If you haven’t visited the breathtaking Milwaukee Art Museum, which was created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, I highly recommend that you check it out. Although I’ve lived in Illinois for most of my life, I’d never actually visited Milwaukee proper. Prior to my recent visit, I couldn’t understand why one would bother to make the trip. What would be the point? With plenty of culture, shopping and lots of action, Chicago has it all, right? Well, not really. Not if you like hills, of which Milwaukee has plenty. Not to mention the historic architecture, new downtown loft developments and the friendly populace. On the way out of town, we popped into the indoor public market, where there was no shortage of tasty treats. We left Chicago around 1 or 1:30 p.m. and were back in Chicago by 7:00. Not a bad day trip.





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Burning Man spirit in the Illinois boonies Tue, 06 Sep 2011 16:39:03 +0000

Intrigued by the massive public art displays, anti-commerce ethos and the rich photographic opportunities that would have undoubtedly presented themselves at Burning Man, I briefly contemplated heading out into the Nevada desert for the annual festival this year. (Click here for a 2009 New York Times slide show depicting some of the art installations). It was general cowardice that stopped me, not to mention a lifelong aversion to dirt and grime, which come part and parcel with the periodic dust storms and scarce water. Instead, I visited my Mom and her husband Jake, who took me on a tres interesting drive through the back roads of Will and Grundy counties. As I learned in short order, there’s Burning Man spirit right here in Illinois. You just have to know where to look for it. Hint: start at the Three Rivers Yacht Club where there’s a massive stone skull facing a Totem pole that points the way to Valhalla.

If I could attend Burning Man in the comfort of a decked out Airstream, I might be singing a different tune. Click here for the New York Times story.

The eyes must light up at night. I’d love to party there one evening. Maybe we should get a group together?

Just add wheels and this could be way cooler than that Airstream.

Don’t ask me.

This yurt, which might make a decent Burning Man dwelling, is now available on a riverfront road between the Joliet and Three Rivers yacht clubs.

Pretty decent view but watch out when the water rises.

Something tells me that watch towers will soon be the hot trend in home construction.

Speaking of towers, these are the cooling towers for the spent fuel rods at Dresden nuclear station. Note the massive cloud of steam. (A clump of my hair fell out this morning, but I’m sure it’s just psychosomatic).

Sorry to end on a corny note.

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Ace Hotel Palm Springs design lessons Thu, 25 Aug 2011 05:53:17 +0000

I just returned from 11 days in California, four of which were spent in a very smart, super comfortable, uber-cool two room suite at the Ace Hotel, which is my new favorite place to stay in Palm Springs, which is one of my all-time favorite places. Although it’s hotter than hell in the California desert at this time of year (114° F hot), lounging by the pool under a cooling mist made the heat tolerable. Eminently so. The people watching was fun too. The Ace attracts a diverse crowd that includes the youngish and the oldish, the coiffed and the grungy, the parents and the kidless, the gays and the straights, the bears and the waxed and even a few people with no tattoos. Everyone was friendly and laid back. It was great. (Granted, it’s easier to be chill in such a setting). And I love the room so much that I want to copy every idea. To see what I mean, continue below. What say you about the Ace? Like? Or no?

Brown linoleum floors are cool in more ways than one.

Slatted wood panels dress up simple drywall. Simple, interesting and cost-effective. I’m swiping this idea for my own place. But where?

Drapes between the two rooms take the place of French doors and create the feeling of a tent in the desert.

The record player adds appropriately retro flair.

I’m pretty sure the upholstered headboard is actually a twin bed, but I forgot to measure so I could be wrong. The denim cover had magazine pockets sewn in.

If you know where I can find these sconces, please let me know.

The bathroom was clean and clutter-free. It became absolutely imperative to keep it that way. See the black bar running along the edge of the vanity counter? I thought it seemed odd until right after I washed my face with a small towel. Then it made perfect sense.

One not so good point – the couch was not comfortable and while I appreciate that coffee table, my big toe did not.

Every area had its own outdoor lounge with a fireplace.

Like so.

Some suites also included a private outdoor living area.

The cafe outside the gym. There’s a $20 per day spa fee, which includes use of the big pool, gym and sauna.

Time goes slower out there in the desert heat, at least that’s what I used to think; this trip went all too fast.

This is the lobby. That rope hanging in the windows is way 70’s huh? I kind of love it, but I probably won’t steel that idea.

Check out the display case above the front desk.

This is the onsite restaurant, which was excellent. Seriously, I ate the chicken club three times. The fries were good. The sirloin white bean chili was amazing as well, as was the spaghetti.

It was a little Pulp Fiction-y, which I dug.

Somebody tell me the name of the fab fabric artist who made this elephant bust.

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Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home 3.0 Wed, 03 Aug 2011 16:10:15 +0000

Few things are more eco-friendly than recycling, which is something that vintage enthusiasts have been exclaiming since the first “green” products began hitting the market several years ago. This year, the Museum of Science and Industry acknowledged this fact by selecting Scout owner Larry Vodak to curate version 3.0. of their Smart Home, which I toured last week. While the inspired exhibit has always impressed, Vodak’s vision has imbued the space with the same kind of soul that pervades Scout and my other favorite haunts. One of my favorite elements are the upper kitchen cabinets, which are vintage steel cabinets from the University of Chicago science lab. If you haven’t visited yet, check it out. Smart Home 3.0 is well-worth the trip. Click here for more information about the Smart Home. Click here for more information about Scout.

After the exhibit closes on January 8th, 2012, Larry will be selling many of the furnishings at his Andersonville shop, Scout, so ask if you see something you can’t live without.

This is one of my (many) favorite Ted Harris pieces.

Another Ted Harris piece, this chandelier was made from old fluorescent light bulbs.

The open upstairs landing makes an ideal place for an office.

This Italian bed is one of the few new pieces. I love it. What do you think?

In the garage, a cool way to grow plants.

Larry Vodak

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A cool hazy patch of lakefront on a hot, humid July Chicago day Thu, 21 Jul 2011 18:50:33 +0000

Speaking of the beach . . . despite the fact that a heat dome has been hovering stubbornly over Chicago for the past several days, I decided to go for a stroll by the lake earlier this week and was surprised to find that the water hitting the hot air had created a cool (but humid), hazy bubble of its own. One lifeguard described it as mystical, and that’s how it felt.

How about an annual beachfront flea market / art festival? It might be a pain for vendors, but think it would be mobbed with curious shoppers.

Although the day felt real (and I have photos), some of the people enjoying the beach might have been doing so via dream projection.

It looked like sheets of light.

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Photos: Summer in Edgewater Glen Tue, 05 Jul 2011 18:11:00 +0000

I’m kind of obsessed with this retro building on the north side. My friends think I’m crazy and that the building is ugly, but as you can see from this photo, they are mistaken. What do you think?

This is the house directly across the street from the building in the top photo. It reminds me of that house under the roller coaster on Coney Island as featured in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

On a parallel street, this private abode is very intriguing.

This garage balcony looks pretty swank. You can almost feel the buzzing of the electric lines. (If the Secret works, I will soon have a similarly lovely retreat atop my garage).

Ms. A has always struck me as a bit plain Jane, but she looks sensational in this Smart Water ad.

Since The Return of the Bed Bugs, I’ve quelled any impulses that I might have once entertained to rescue upholstered furniture from the trash. But I do like the lines on this one.


I’ll bet that there’s an apple pie cooking in this Uptown single family.

I lived off the Argyle stop for a year or so in the late 90’s.

Along the lake.

I call this one The Gates of Heaven.

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San Francisco Sights Mon, 31 Jan 2011 08:07:55 +0000

San Francisco’s steep hills, scenic vistas and historic housing stock make it one of my favorite cities to take a stroll, which is it and of itself one of my all-time favorite pastimes, especially when I have a camera on my person. As an aside, the iPhone’s camera isn’t so bad. It’ll be interesting to see just how advanced cell phone cameras will become, but I’d wager they’ll continue to improve a lot. When I was a kid, taking a picture was kind of a big deal. Disposable flashes, photo albums, processing etc. My point is that it all added up. Now even I take it for granted that photos are limitless. What’s next to go limitless?

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Happy New Year! Plus: What’s the verdict on vertical blinds? Mon, 03 Jan 2011 04:23:56 +0000

Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season. I was very fortunate to spend Christmas with family in a rented condo overlooking Hanalei Bay on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I arrived the evening of the 21st, and I woke up at 5:30 the next morning to the sound of waves crashing on the rocky shore just outside the front balcony (and down a 180 ft. cliff). I’m not normally an early riser, but I was still on Chicago time (four hours ahead), so even though the sun hadn’t risen and the sky was still dark, I felt like I’d overslept and decided to get out of bed and enjoy the warm breeze on the balcony. The vertical blinds were closed, and at first, I had trouble finding the right cord. Too many cords is one of the reasons I never much liked vertical blinds, but they might be the perfect window covering for large windows with fantastic views. They can be pulled open to reveal the entire vista, partially closed or shut entirely. Sure, there are alternatives, but none are quite so, um, flexible. Many of the island’s homes have privacy walls with geometric patterns cut to allow light and airflow. Chinese screens work the same way, as do beaded string doors (ala Greg Brady), but unlike vertical blinds, all three solutions partially obstruct the view. It only took a minute or two before I pulled the correct cord, and the plastic blinds slid opened with a mechanical swoosh to reveal an awesome view of the full moon shining brightly in the inky early morning sky. I’ve never felt so grateful for jet lag.

This week I’ll finally announce the Strange Closets reader who will win a stack of design books from Ryland Peters & Small and CICO Books. My apologies for the delay, and thanks for all those who entered!

A room with a view.

Don’t worry. They couldn’t get through the window.

Obstructing this view is grounds for arrest, don’t you agree?

The quality of the light on Kauai was quite good. We should move Chicago to the Pacific. The world is making new islands all the time.

Although the listing agent claimed the condo had Internet, it didn’t. At first, I was stressed and kept trying to get a signal with my cell phone (I’ve defended AT&T’s network in Chicago, but I can’t take the same position about their Kauai coverage). After a day or so in the tropical climate, I decided to follow the cue of the seemingly much more relaxed islanders. For example, they only have one lane bridges on the island, and they follow simple rules about when to yield.


Above: Hanalei Bridge. When I arrived, the deliberate quirkiness of the bridges annoyed me a bit, but it wasn’t long before I was lamenting that anybody would ever want to replace them. When in Rome . . .

A very long exposure of the evening sky.

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Check out Designtripper Tue, 21 Sep 2010 05:52:32 +0000

Paris, France might be my favorite city in the world. The food is wonderful, the Seine is romantic and in my experience, the people are friendly and helpful. On the downside, Parisian hotel rooms are notoriously small – great for a couple days but potentially claustrophobic for more extended stays. Ditching one of the city’s infamous cramped rooms in favor of  a swank apartment (the one above would suffice) is a good idea in theory, but I’ve always found the prospect kind of intimidating. What if it’s a con? What if the people won’t leave? What if the place is a dump? That’s my idea of a vacation killer. That’s why I’m digging CS Interiors editor-in-chief Meghan McEwan’s new blog Designtripper. The avid traveler loves figuring that stuff out, and her posts feature stylish boutique hotels and private vacation pads like Chicago Studio F Design founder Patrizio Fradiani’s glorious (yes, glorious) Tuscan vacation home, Podere Palazzo. Designtripper’s About page sums up the site: “We put authenticity, character, and thoughtful design before hi-definition plasma TVs, iPod docking stations and in-room jacuzzis.”* Amen. If you’re a design freak who enjoys traveling, I think you’ll love Designtripper.

* Whatever happened to vibrating beds?

Podere Palazzo

Photos courtesy Designtripper

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Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon Tue, 03 Aug 2010 21:17:45 +0000

Antony Gormley’s Madison Square Park Conservancy public art exhibit, Event Horizon, ends on August 15th, so I was happy to have visited New York in time to see at least a few of the 31 sculptures cast from Gormley’s own body, which stand on the rooftops and streets surrounding the Flatiron District. Police have fielded more than a few calls from citizens concerned that the figures might be jumpers, and indeed, that was my first thought when I spotted the London version of his show in 2007. But according to Gormley in an interview with the New York Times, that’s the idea: “You could almost say the insertion of the sculpture is like the insertion of acupuncture needles within a collective body. And seeing how the body as a whole reacts to the presence of this irritation is very much the point.” I read about the exhibit back in March, but it had slipped my mind until I stumbled across a group of people smiling and taking photos of one of the sculptures on a sidewalk just outside the park. I scanned the skyline and was delighted to see two more perched on rooftops near the Empire State Building. There’s no place quite like New York City.

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