Monday, December 31, 2012

No.7 Artisan of the New School- How Ben Rosner of E Home Wants to Simplify Your Life and Revolutionize Your Home

Who: Ben Rosner
What: E Home - Home Technology Consulting
When: Since 1996
Where: New York City
and Wherever His Clients Need Him

Ben Rosner has seen a thing or two in his day- and at the end of it, has decided there is truly no better tool to simplify life than technology. And thank goodness he has, both his firm E Home and later creation E Sommelier, have revolutionized the way we can utilize technology to simplify and organize our lives.

An artisan, or artist, whose masterly command of a specific craft can be used both as a mechanism of aesthetic improvement and self expression. Here at Artisanal Specs. we look at the myriad of hidden, long standing and age-old crafts in the building arts that go into creating so many details in architecture and design today. Many of these can be traced back decades and centuries, to countries all over the world, for their inception and blossoming as an art form. However, today, in 2012, one of the newest of these crafts and mediums in design is technology itself.

Both Ben Rosner and E Home's moto
Surely the evolution of fireplaces, chandeliers, candelabras and torch-like wall sconces saw a massive shift from necessity to aesthetics when electricity was invented and then further instated into buildings and homes. And as with any evolution, technology's running start hasn't slowed much since then; think about it- the radio, the telephone, the television, records, cassette tapes, compact disks, the internet, mp3's, cell phones, iPods, iPads, smart phones... (this is hardly a comprehensive list that could do justice to technology's massive growth in the 20th Century, but food for thought nonetheless.) So naturally, the ways we are able to design buildings also evolved, to include newer and newer technology. And for Ben Rosner, this was an exhilarating evolution, and one he grabbed hold of and passionately pursued and advocated for.  

Ben Rosner was always curious as a boy, but nothing was as magic and fascinating as what his dad did. Ben's father, Alex Rosner of Rosner Custom Sound, Inc., was also curious. In the 1950's Alex Rosner's hobby of playing around with technology developed into more and more of a passion and one which he began to market into a small part time business from his home. He may not have known it at the time, but all the ways in which he was looking at technology and how it could be fit into homes and buildings was actually what began his role as the forefather of custom home entertainment systems. 
"I remember when I was little he had started selling his products and services out of the basement," Ben recalls of his father, "and I would always sneak to the stairs to watch him work. He even invented a button in the wall to turn on music- it was amazing."
Ben recalls watching his father do many things with technology which today are a 'norm' in high-end design abilities for homes, but were then revolutionary, like building speakers into walls rather than have them sit around the room. 
Sleek and masculine, this New York City Penthouse may appear simple in terms of technology. You might never know E Home fully facilitated engineering of invisible technology throughout the whole home (lighting, speakers, temperature control, security cameras, television, audio and video systems) that was interwoven into the design process; and all controllable via iPad nonetheless.
Ben couldn't get enough of it. So it was no surprise that later on throughout his teen years he would work for his father's company (which quickly turned into a full time venture) on his spare time. Along with constantly absorbing the miraculous ways technology could be created and utilized, Ben also picked up his strong work ethic and became a natural addition to the team. As his father's work and inventions (such as the Tweeter Array High Frequency sound system) continued to grow his services were more and more coveted- everyone wanted to see the newest technology in their home, and people loved the elaborate sound systems. And as time progressed, into the 1970's something new happened- The Age of Disco. 

 Suddenly people needed sound systems for nightclubs like never before. The Disco Era was in full swing and Alex Rosner found his services and abilities in high demand, thus deciding to branch out from the residential realm and into the public sphere working with night clubs and commercial venues to enhance their sound abilities. And naturally, as was Alex's habit, the more he saw and the more experience he gained, he began inventing more new technology and audio based products for these clubs along the way, putting him in even higher demand than ever, quickly making him The Authority on entertainment systems for Disco's. 
"It was an exciting time." Ben reflects,"I'd worked for him part time on vacations when I was in high school and college and then full time after and really got to see the growth, it was amazing."
Amazing indeed, throughout the part time and full time work Ben did with his father's company he got to travel the world creating and installing all kinds of sound and technology systems. As disco had caught on all around the world so had nightclubs (or discotheques, if you will) and the need for Rosner Custom Sound's services. From Mexico to Singapore to Antigua and even a secret disco in Saudi Arabia, Ben was on the road regularly seeing sound and technology evolve all over the world. By 1984, after graduating from Columbia University with a Bachelor's in Computer Science (just at the jumping off point of the 'personal computing revolution', no less), Ben was working for his father full time and traveling regularly. Residential projects would still pop up here and there but the majority of their work was in commercial/ social venues. 
E Home worked to improve sound and technology in this gymnasium turned lounge

Alas, as technology continued to evolve, as it always does, and Rosner Custom Sound was rolling smoothly into the 1980's, the Disco Era had begun to phase out and interestingly enough, their company was seeing a need for their sound services in various houses of worship, which became yet another new market for them. Everyone everywhere was seizing upon the opportunity to come together and share the gift of sound and visuals by use of the newest technology that continued to develop.

But along Ben's journey, busy with work for Rosner Custom Sound, he did start to notice there were some other technological developments that caught his eye. In the 1980's while the developments of home and micro- computers were chugging along, there were also developments in other forms of home automation - such as with home security, lighting abilities and sound- as well as of other public and private sector venues in need of new technology. One of these developments was spawned by the need of a centralized technology source for corporate boardroom's. One of the true predecessors of the iPod came from these boardroom technologies, where there were keypads and touch-screens being developed to sit in the wall. Ben had an itch at the back of his brain that began nagging at him and growing louder as time went on. 

A masterly NYC E Home as seen in March 2012's Interior Design Magazine. Ben worked closely with the design team to ensure every aspect of home automation and technology was completely invisible, with the exception of  the home's entertainment center, which was integrated seamlessly with the millwork.
Truth was, while Ben had the great privilege of gaining priceless hands-on experience in the field of audio and visual technologies all over the world, there was a part of him that was still passionate about where he saw all the wonders of technology begin: In The Home. 
"Maybe it's because it was where I first got to see my father make magic of technology in his first basement office," Ben ponders, "but it has always resonated with me, the idea that our personal lives could be simplified by technology. And I've always loved architecture and design..."
A Central Park West Penthouse E Home worked on shines bright in natural light.
Between home automation's steady advance in development and the technology Ben saw cultivated in corporate board rooms, the nagging itch in the back of his mind emerged from his imagination and into the forefront- Ben Rosner lovingly resigned from Rosner Custom Sound in 1996 to branch out and found E Home, a home technology consultancy where he could get back to focusing on technology exclusively for residential projects. His father understood, and so the son of home technology's forefather ventured out to begin his own revolutions to home technology. 

There are multiple invaluable skills to be picked up from 'in the trenches', hands-on, real-world experience- especially if one is passionate about what they are doing. In a way, when we care about what we are doing, we tend to open up more, become a sponge that gladly absorbs and digests new information and creatively apply it to future work. Ben Rosner easily falls into this category of the willing and devoted [once] apprentice. See, not only had Ben taken in both the formal training from his studies in computer science as well as his real-world experience with his father's pioneering company- but he had also digested and cultivated a skill he learned from his father: to invent or create what was still missing. If something is needed- Create It. 

An E Home engineer implements strategic technology into a home's planning
During his schooling at Columbia, Ben recalls that as personal computing was a coveted technology experience many were in line to take turns with, the school's mainframe had limited access. So Ben went ahead and created a computer terminal he could log in to from his dorm room. Easy. Utilize technology, create what's lacking, simplify life. We note this as perhaps it was telling of what his own future pioneering would bring. When Ben went out to create E Home his mission was not simply to provide services like those of any other 'Audio/ Visual (A/V) guy' might get pegged with. E Home's mission was to simplify life by means of technology in the home- by way of working closely alongside architects, interior designers and builders to create a custom crafted technology system for each home; specializing in early- phase drawing and planning development with engineers of their own. 
This Brooklyn dining room got an E Home invisible touch...

In 1996, when Ben started E Home he also met a man named Jonas Buzzerio, another innovative, organized and motivated pioneer who had years of operational and project management experience in the high-end design industry. Jonas understood where Ben was coming from and where he wanted to go. Ben hired him as E Home's first ever employee where Jonas would conduct the installation and customer service end of the company. The collaboration was so seamless that two years later Ben offered Jonas a partnership in the company. E Home had taken off at full speed and was happily plugging away at work integrating technology into residences. 

But as we know, as technology evolves and progresses our ideas continue to as well. The more exposure to both new design and continual home automation upgrades that Ben and Jonas got, the more they pursued even newer technology. At one point, finally sitting down to think and talk it over, they had a moment of genius: Media Access Solutions. 

It was one thing to have a button in a wall to turn well concealed speakers or TV on and off, but what about the media that would be played on these instruments, the movies, records or CD's? If it was a large home, as many of E Home's projects were, how many TV's, radios, record or CD players were there in a house? 2? 3? 6? Did people always have to walk from the one den to get videos to watch and bring them to the next room to watch? Lo! That could be much easier to do! Yet again, as Ben had learned, if there is any technology that doesn't exist and is needed- Create It. Ben, Jonas and a third partner, Ronnie, got together and actualized a CD and DVD archive and distribution system that would become the true predecessor to the iPod- a Media Server. 

Yet another glowing example of E Home's ability to hide technology in design.
Together Ben, Ronnie and Jonas designed, engineered, developed, patented and distributed Media Access Solutions Media Server. The first product of it's kind developed specifically for the simplification of home life. How it worked: a computer loaded a CD into a hard drive, a central server, that central server was utilized by connecting to other outlets wherein multiple rooms could access and retrieve any of the data that had been loaded onto the central server. Translation: load your movies and music into one place and be able to access it all from any room of your home. Brilliant. This product's popularity and demand spread like wildfire and Ben was back on the road traveling the world to sell the product along with E Home's implementation and installation, and was a total success. By 2003 Media Access Solutions had caught the attention of AMX, a "leader in advanced control system technology", especially for the home. By September of 2003, AMX had officially acquired Media Access Solutions, which seemed fitting, as they were one of the large companies Ben had seen develop advanced technology for corporate boardrooms only 10 years before. 

When selling a company and patent like Media Access Solutions, one is not allowed to invent or duplicate a product of the same nature in the same genre or market of use, naturally, so as to insure a newly acquired product won't become obsolete right after its purchase. This was fine and understandable for Ben, Ronnie and Jonas, however Ben had another light-bulb moment. The fundamental need for a data storing and distribution technology was so easily helpful to many, and they had the algorithms down so well, one niche market that popped up that could utilize this same function and service was that of the wine industry.

When working in the high end architecture and design industry, one gets to see some pretty spectacular things, including some clients personal wine cellars and collections. As E Home and it's partners Ben and Jonas were plugging away at both their own projects and their growing list of clientele, they got to see more and more of the wine collections out there. While it is a luxury to have a private wine collection, how quickly un-luxurious it becomes when you cannot find the wine you want! Lo! That could be much easier to do! Yet again, as Ben and now Jonas too had learned, if there is any technology that doesn't exist and is needed- Create It. 
An E Sommelier wine App for Hospitality

And so E Sommelier was born, the first of its kind, a wine cellar management system. (Which turned out to also
be very useful in the commercial, hospitality and storage cellars too- well done! The entirety of which can be managed from an application on an iPad.)

Yet still, all the while, what has remained at the heart of all of Ben's endeavors has been his passion for technology in residential architecture and interior design. It's never-ending ability to be innovative always stems from a homeowner's personality and designers vision for creating their home. Inherently personal and always full of character, residential projects and their owners will offer fun and exciting ways to utilize technology.
"As we got to know the homeowner better on one project bordering Central Park, a fan of the arts, wanted to sort of collaborate to create something custom for him and his home." Ben smiles,"We wound up implementing a large screen inside, framed, and camera system so he could see Central Park on it at all times. It was fun and he loves it."
For technology to take on it's own form as an art is no small task, but Ben thrives on it. He has the experience and insight into design and foresight into technology to help create beautiful interiors alongside the design industry's best. 
"Home technology in design today has to be used artfully- sometimes it should stand out and be seen, others it should disappear into the background." Ben says passionately," But there really is something magic about having music invisibly come from the walls." 
Whether it's embracing the confluence of art hanging from the walls  and the rooms lighting and shades surrounding it, one must be able to envision the room ahead of time to know how technology should be used in it. This intelligence in and of itself is one that makes Ben's consultancy, E Home, invaluable, not everyone, who has actually been an innovator of home technology products themselves, understands both design and technology so intimately.  For Ben Rosner, technology is an expression of who he is, and we believe he's made it an artisanal craft at that. 
"Technology is a pallet." Ben smiles. 
Indeed it is Ben. We'll be giving you a call just as soon as we're done writing this...
E Home is committed- they go where their clients need them, like in this gorgeous outdoor lounge in Kenya. Can you spot the home technology? Neither can we...

An E Home with their famous invisible technology, design by Dufner Heighes Architecture.

Friday, November 30, 2012

No.6 Inventing The American Bathroom with Barbara Sallick of Waterworks

Who: Barbara Sallick
What: Waterworks -
The Destination for Artisanally Crafted Bathroom Products
When: Since 1978
Where: It began in a warehouse in Connecticut and now has showrooms internationally
To call Barbara Sallick delightful may be an understatement. Her voice barrels through the phone lines excited, energized and as enthusiastic about design today as a newly hired architect might be at their first job. She is flipping through an early copy of Gil Shafer's latest book The Great American House and relishing his talents and each detail she hones in on.
"Gil really is so talented." She says; you can just tell she is smiling and leaning over the glossy pages.
And she would know. Barbara has been the leading force behind what has come to be The American Bathroom Style. Brilliantly designed and meticulously crafted, Waterworks has changed what it means to have quality, beauty and excitement in a room that has often been undermined in the home: the bathroom. And as any truly successful craft or product for the home, this one was born out of a necessity.

A glowing assortment of Waterworks fittings.
Plumbing- perhaps not the most coveted utility of the home, but one that is functional, necessary and non-negotiable ever since the Romans first designed and implemented it. The distribution of water to and from buildings was no small feat and certainly not one that was mastered right away. As with any invention the trial and error of many a material came and went. Earthenware and timber failed the meeting the challenge when it came to implementing the various designs, sizes and geometry of these envisioned water systems. But then someone tried using lead to create a water distribution system. The dawn of the first plumbing standard was set when various apparatus' were fitted, jointed and worked out in lead. The word plumber itself derives from the Latin 'plumbus', or 'lead'. A big idea, exposure to building and design and lots of experimentation got it all going.

'Etoile exposed thermosaic shower system, unlaquered brass'

So, when a man named Samuel Gorgins started and ran The Nutmeg Plumbing Supply Company in Danbury, Connecticut in 1925, he may not have realized that his sheer knowledge, love of his family and exceptional skills at business would lead to yet another dawn in the evolution of water's relationship to a building (the home especially). And he would, as he had a very smart, curious and artistically inclined daughter named Barbara. 
"He [Samuel], his brother and his sister oversaw the company throughout Norwalk, Greenwich, Danbury [Connecticut]... I don't know how they managed but they started it and managed to keep it open through the War." Barbara Reflects. "He was alright as an engineer but a very good businessman. So my husband Robert [Sallick] joined the business in 1963 to help him out."
The Clothilde all hand polished, free-standing copper bathtub is made in the 19th Century French tradition, both in design and artisanal manufacturing method, but with a new regal scale and immeasurable elegance.
It's one thing to become familiar with the work one's parents do, but if you come from a family business it is all the more likely one might help out, work there part time, or, like many, perhaps fully go into and work at the family business full time. Regardless of which of these one might engage in, a sort of default education is cultivated sheerly from exposure to the business.

A sneak behind the scenes into the Waterworks Design Studio
So Barbara certainly had her fill of knowledge about the plumbing supply world, and so did her husband Robert, after beginning to work there full time. But this wasn't the only knowledge they shared- Barbara and Robert also shared an affinity for the American Decorative arts and architecture. 

"We've really always been collectors at heart." Barbara says warmly, "And I have always had a childish passion to look for new houses." she laughs, noting that while she and Robert have lived in the same house for 43 years, they became enamoured with 18th Century architecture and still love to tour historic houses open to the public in rural Connecticut, Massachusetts and beyond- emphasis on beyond.
"We're nosey!" Barbara laughs, "Shortly after we married we began taking regular trips to Europe, and wanted to get into as many buildings as possible to have a look around..."
Which is also no surprise, as Barbara had a hunger for discovering details in design, which, alongside the base knowledge of her father's business, was cultivated in a more formal education during her time at Yale. For over 6 years she had worked at a Yale art gallery where she assisted and oversaw a wide array of collections of American Decorative Arts. She absolutely loved being there and came to see the importance of maintenance, size, color, material, style... what it meant to create something that would stand the test of time.

A Waterworks white and taupe bath set.
As Barbara and Robert continued their sporadic trips through Europe, Barbara was of course more and more intrigued with the European bathrooms she was seeing.
"There were a lot of changes happening in the 1970's" Barbara recalls. "There were the waterfall faucets, and Villeroy & Boch were doing some interesting things..."
But Barbara and Robert had some new ideas about the bathroom. Sure, we all had the option to perhaps pick a color for our shower curtain and towels, our toilet or bathroom tile- but the quality of the choices available weren't enough. And they certainly weren't as personal as they should be. Furthermore- why not white? Keeping things white, spacious and with an Edwardian aesthetic, as Barbara had so often seen done in Europe, offered a new perspective to The Bathroom as Barbara had known it, and it seemed Robert agreed... And so, with enough pooled knowledge and passionate research, Barbara and Robert Sallick founded a new bathroom-devoted company in 1978.
"To help us get started my father gave us 1 year free rent for a section of his warehouse where we could set up shop." Says Barbara. "And it was my job to get the architects to our showroom to show them what we were doing."

Design Development Sketch of handle for Waterworks new R.W. Atlas collection
And they liked what she and Robert were doing- so did the general American public, who became enamoured with the new style they were seeing. This endeavour offered a completely new set of aesthetic options to use when designing (or redesigning or renovating or even envisioning) a home. Not to mention (finally) raising the bar of design in the bathroom while concurrently reviving the definitive standards of European craftsmanship. They had pooled together their knowledge of architecture, design, art, art history, plumbing, plumbing supplies, engineering, craftsmanship and materials all to create something that would officially set a new standard for bathrooms; especially as they were offering expertly crafted products made with exceptionally outstanding and luxurious materials. They were beginning to not only develop products that were completely reliable and functional, but that were also aesthetically superior to any bathroom products that were on the market. (Today Waterworks has grown all the more by offering a very full array of products from fittings and fixtures, to furnishings and surfaces.)
Some of Waterworks favorite Raw Materials
For example, some materials of many products on their website today range from: nickel, silver, bronze, copper, brass, chrome, metal, carbon or gold-- oh yeah, and those materials may each have options of finishes such as: antique, matte, shiny, burnished, lacquered, unlaquered and so on.

And such a visual astuteness and attention to detail came from both Barbara's exposure to the nuts and bolts of the industry but also from those many years working at that Yale art gallery.
"There's something you learn from experience with a three-dimensional object," Barbara says "I spent a lot of time taking things apart and putting them back together."
And this experience and appreciation for hands-on learning ripples throughout the company today. As Waterworks grew over the years, and was finally given a name (the Sallick's threw a dinner party with close friends asking for help brainstorming- one of them came up with Waterworks and Barbara knew that's it!), they continued to make sure they only worked with the finest manufacturers. And how else to do this other than to partner with some of the finest artisans throughout Europe and America?
"We seek out small talented artisan(s) outfits and work with them to teach them how to manufacture on a larger scale." Barbara says.
A Waterworks Artisan works in his shop to cast and forge meticulous gold hardware. Later it will be carefully retouched and hand polished.
She, and her son Peter Sallick, who joined their team in 1993 and now serves as President and CEO of the company, work together to seek out these artisans. Together they are searching for experience and quality, rather than criteria (as most crafts are taught generationally or via apprenticeship and hands on work- not through a college degree). Whereas some of their faucetry may come from a shop in Normandy, France, other hardware and furnishings may be made in a variety of allied shops here in New Jersey, New York, California... Which makes sense, considering how thoughtful each product, selected artisan and employee in the company is. When asked about working with her son, Barbara replies enthusiastically: 

Sultry color comes out in Waterworks' District Tile Collection

"Peter's eye, taste and extraordinary abilities as a visionary and a strategist make it an exceptional collaboration. But also I think it's a part of our strength as a whole that we say: Family First."

Peter Sallick has helped take Waterworks to the next level, offering a complete range of services for a complete bathroom. The Sallick's seem to know talent when they see it, as well as how important it is to uphold and maintain it in the design industry. Everything in Waterworks, from selecting materials, overseeing the design process and carefully controlling manufacturing has been and continues to be undertaken with meticulous care and attention to detail.

A Waterworks Surface Template

Furthermore, what makes Waterworks beautiful, aside from the products themselves, is that by continuing to seek out and partner with small shops and studios to manufacture their products, they are keeping a small and important pool of artists, artisans and craftspeople alive and well (the world always needs more art, and value of it, this is a rare field and place where that can happen). Even if some of the products may be out of your price range, the products, designs, textures and color pallets serve as a new set of precedent images to work from when creating and personalizing your own bathroom.

Over the years, becoming something of an expert on it, Barbara Sallick has continued to be none less than thrilled to continue developing and cultivating superior bathroom aesthetics. If you still aren't sure where to begin, or the countless ways to imprint your personal style and tastes into your bathroom, you can always follow her on The Perfect Bath, Barbara's personal design journal and blog. She cares deeply about the relationship between a person and their personal space and goes to great lengths to fuse her experience in this unique field and share it with one and all so you might benefit too.

Aside from carrying on and discovering new and old design styles everywhere to create something new, Barbara does want to leave anyone- experienced or new to design- who wants to improve their bathroom with these words of wisdom:
"Plan well, be sure to do your homework and lots of research- on the web and in libraries- and be sure you hire a true professional to work with. [When you are ready] Engage knowledgeable sales people and don't be affraid to ask questions. Hire a good architect and contractor and stay on top of them- this way you'll own the outcome."
The complete R.W. Atlas Collection makes its launch!
A shot of Waterworks' 58th Street Showroom showcasing the new industrial inspired R.W. Atlas Collection alongside its complimentary sibling the 'District Tile Collection'.
Barbara Sallick is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President and spokesperson of Waterworks [Opertating Company, LLC]. She is the author of Waterworks: Inventing Bath Style as well as her ongoing blog The Perfect Bath, in which she shares her insights. She sits on the Board of Directors at the Institute for Classical Architecture & Art and still lives in her home in Connecticut with her husband Robert, and frequently travels overseeing Waterworks new endeavours.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No.5 A Rare Species - G. Michael Merritt of Merritt Woodwork Shares On A Legacy of Excellence

Who: G. Michael Merritt
What: Custom Architectural Woodwork
When: Since 1972
Where: Based in Ohio, Florida + Connecticut,
Services Projects on Land + Sea, Internationally 

George A. Merritt was an utterly dedicated man- a man that sought perfection above all else. Little did he know that his own personal talents, along with his uncompromising work ethic and high standards of knowledge and quality, would set sparks flying and ignite a unique flame for refined, superlative architectural woodwork.
"His talent was in educating and working with his hands;" Reflects George's son, current Merritt Woodwork CEO G. Michael Merritt, "he always wanted to start his own business, but he didn't know what..."
A Merritt Woodwork hand carved floral ornament.
Always handy, and interested in design, George A. Merritt had also begun training under an Italian master cabinet maker- which soon proved a good fit. Not long after quickly mastering new skills of his own, George A. Merritt and his mentor decided to begin their business in 1971; just the 2 of them providing outstanding custom products. One of their strengths from the start was also the ability to draw. As drawing and sketching provided a unique service to potential clients, George soon became something of a developer. Realizing he could work and engage with designers in a rare way, serving as an interlocutor between the moment an interior designer or architect began describing their ideas and and his ability to sketch them out in the shop. Between he and his mentor, George began providing artisanal abilities to American designers in his humble Mentor, Ohio shop.

Mahogany: egg + dart, Acanthus leaf, ornament
These designers often needed him to put these ideas on paper, drawing by hand, so they could work together to capture the details, have them approved on paper so George could flawlessly move forward with their creation. He would then gladly take these approved drawings to the shop and he and his partner would work their magic in making them real.

A Merritt Woodwork custom carved capital in White Oak.
So the sparks had struck up a flame and the game was on- the vision of a highly focused, quality cabinet and millwork outfit had begun. Yet, as George A. Merritt desired to truly house a solid business, he began looking for other talent to join their team. As he began to hire in the late 70's- early 80's, he could see that those that were truly talented were already of age, which was fine for the   moment... But being a keen and thorough businessman, he'd already pinpointed that there weren't many young people in the business and began to ask himself: 'well what am I going to do in 20 years? I cannot just rely on my sons...' And it was through this foresight he made the executive decision to take the path of teaching and educating to grow the company slowly and meticulously over time. He wanted to find high energy people that genuinely wanted to be there and were interested in the trade. And he did. He began to work with people who grew into their talents and were devoted to the team, turning around higher and higher quality cabinetry and millwork as they went.

Merritt gives this parlor's architectural woodwork detailing a white lacquer. Design by Scott Snyder, Inc.

Down the line, George A. Merritt's mentor and original partner decided he didn't was a bit less interested in the business, and opted to let George take it down the new path it was headed. And so it went, spending the days on the shop floor getting dusty from drawing shop plans and working with wood, and dusting off to spend the evening going to dinner and meeting his future clients and designers, all in an effort to truly build something special.

Hand Carved Mahogany Rosette by Merritt
And he did. Merritt Woodwork has grown into what is today an organization of over 150 highly trained artisans and craftspeople, installers and engineers. They have serviced remarkable projects for some of the design industry's most coveted names- Robert A.M. Stern, Bunny Williams, Scott Snyder and the late Albert Hadley to name a few.
"All of my first jobs were in the shop, since I was in junior high." recalls Michael, "And [my] Dad was very stern, no handouts, no nonsense, everything you got you earned. He laid a very structured foundation and installed a strong work ethic in all of us- had everyone complete a 5,000 hour work-training program when they joined the team." 
After years of watching his father work and grow his company, and slowly becoming more and more involved himself, Michael began to consider that perhaps this really could be something for him to do. There was a huge satisfaction in working with designers to orchestrate the undertaking of a custom woodworking program. Besides, Michael jests,
"After enough time around the smell of sawdust, I think it grows on ya'."
Merritt puts it's masterly finishing touch on this dining room with a white lacquer, design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
Another white lacquered masterpiece; design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
But there's more to it than that. We've had the privilege of seeing Michael in action, making his thorough presentation of wood's possibilities to some of today's most coveted addresses, and he may well be underestimating his own passion for wood in architecture and design. You can tell in his presence and intensity that he demands excellence in craftsmanship , engineering and installation, and nothing less, to bring his clients designs to life.  He alone holds a wealth of knowledge to various wood species and types, custom finishes, veneers, and even which architectural vernaculars and geographic locations might benefit best from various materials. He is just as thorough as we imagine his father might have been.

"I suppose due to my English heritage I've always had an affinity for Mahogany, which carves beautifully." Says Michael, reflecting on some of his personal favorite materials. "And Walnut Cherries and Maple woods are also beautiful American woods; but since so many of these trees have been decimated with so much of them wasted, they are harder to come by in solids. So [we] still use them, more sparingly, for veneers."

After 30 years of building a successful company with a sterling reputation, passing his affinity for strategy, beauty and craftsmanship on to his sons Michael and Keith, George A. Merritt passed in 2001. It was right at a pivotal moment in Merritt Woodwork's company history, having progressed just enough for a new level of expansion, and it was at that time Michael and Keith Merritt decided to grab hold of the reins and let her lead the way.

Merritt stuns with this custom globe with hidden compartments.
Merritt Woodwork has grown from servicing high end residential projects with it's astounding abilities (and even custom creation of home furnishings for their projects) and has also moved into not only retail and corporate environments, but also marine environments. Yes, you heard that right, Merritt Woodwork also provides their talent to enhancing yacht joinery, furnishings and living environments. Michael himself has always been a fan of sea life and saw an interesting opportunity to expand Merritt's abilities there. One of his favorite hallmark projects in this new realm was working on Cakewalk: a mega-yacht of luxury, has been the largest to be built in the U.S. since the 1930's.

Cakewalk: 281 feet long and 2,998 tons is grand indeed.
 "It was really a moment of pride for us," says Michael, "we were very involved with the preliminary development and the outcome was beautiful."

Another one of the many ways Merritt Woodwork has since grown into the unique powerhouse of woodwork it is today, has been in utilizing technology and fusing it with highly trained craftspeople it employs along with other trained artisans as well. (One of their favorite artists Merritt sometimes collaborates with is Master Carver Ian Agrell.) Of course with programs like AutoCAD and various new machines to assist with handling and roughing out large quantities of wood (followed by hand carving and touching up), Merritt Woodwork employs an even more exceptional technological tool to their package of services: climate controlled workshops and vehicles.

Being thorough in every way possible, Merritt is also dedicated to being just as economical with time as they are with detailing. Many millwork outfits can struggle to provide timely delivery on job sites or installations as the seasonal humidity, temperature and geographic location affect the expansion and contraction of wood. Michael has pointed out that if the workshop is finishing detailing a project in Ohio in August for September delivery and installation in New York or California- both the climate of the shop and the project location will affect the size and measurements of the material. The best way to avoid being incorrect on sizing or potentially holding up a schedule because they can't install until the wood goes back to the correct size, is to make it and deliver it in climate controlled environments. This way, when the project is ready for them, they arrive and deliver the pre-completed product via refrigerated vehicle and install it first thing. The result is flawless excellence that lasts for lifetimes to come.

This residence gets a Merritt Woodwork finish with an authentic, rustic use of wood.
So aside from all we know now about what a thorough, comprehensive woodwork experience can be for a space, should one choose to work with an outfit like Merritt; we know just how dynamic even more details of design can be. This company has truly taken the age-old crafts of wood, addressed and premeditated all of it's pros and cons, and found solutions to be able to apply its beauty everywhere. And we're glad- now that we've seen wood and millwork intelligently utilized and applied properly, we can be aware when we're not having it done right.

When we ask Michael finally, if there was anything he would like to leave us with, anything he'd like to say to the world about his craft and company, he pauses thoughtfully and says:
"Really, more than anything, I wish I could energize the enthusiasm for woodwork in trades and design, and encourage it's use. It's a special craft. One that never stops being beautiful."
Thanks, Michael. We totally agree.
Merritt Woodwork utilizes Makore wood to bring this modern residence to life. Architecture by Jeffery Berkus Architects
Merritt Woodwork enriches this lush dining area with cerused White Oak. Design by Scott Snyder, Inc.
Merritt Woodwork has worked on projects featured in Architectural Digest, Robb Report, Bunny Williams' Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses, and many more. You can learn more about them at, or contact their headquarters in Ohio: 440.220.7816.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

No.4 Treating the Room Right With Robin Feuer of The Ruffled Window

Who: Robin Feuer
What: The Ruffled Window - Custom Drapery Workroom
When: Since the year 2000
Where: The Tri-State Area and Beyond
Always delightful and dressed to the nines, Robin Feuer generally lights up the room with her optimism, warm smile and playful New York accent; so perhaps it's no surprise she would wind up in a career where she literally illuminates rooms everywhere. When Robin discovered she had more than what it took to craft highly customized window treatments she went on to create what is now one of the industry's most coveted to-the-trade-only, custom drapery workroom's.
TRW custom drapes enrich a residence's sitting room. 

When Robin's grandmother immigrated from Russia in the 1920's she brought her art, talent and high design standards with her- creating highly sought after custom couture dresses for the next two decades. Naturally, her mother, and later she too, was raised immersed in fashion, sewing and fabrics, learning unparalleled attention to detail and craft. This matrilineal apprenticeship fit nicely for Robin as she grew to enjoy and master her own designs. So when I ask her why drapes and window treatments (You should all know by now I always must know how one winds up in such a specialized niche of an already niche market), she laughs:
"Oh totally by accident! I was a menswear and specialty children's designer for years." Reflects Robin. "I went to F.I.T. for Fashion Design and later on designed textiles and home furnishings. So a family member of mine who is an interior designer called me one day with a really difficult window treatment she thought I may be able to help her with."
"I said sure and wound up having a ball!"
TRW Installers securing hardware.
And so in the year 2000 The Ruffled Window was born. As it turns out, having a background in fashion, textiles and tailoring gave Robin a huge advantage in her new trade- she found plans weren't so difficult to navigate and was able to easily sidestep some of the large architectural issues that might arise in an a room's production. What's more is the ease that came with conducting an installation on site; after years in fashion, the attention to detail and ability to be meticulous under pressure was nothing short of the norm. 

"I get to work in these gorgeous homes, with beautiful fabrics and with some incredibly talented people." says Robin, not minding a moment of the stress "I love what I do!"

An elegant treatment by The Ruffled Window, interior design by David Kleinberg Design Associates.
After working on her first project accidentally and deciding she would and could do more with window treatments, The Ruffled Window began doing mostly retail projects. However, the more Robin worked with interior designers the more she began to thrive on this new aspect of design. Project to project, Robin was referred to a big interior designer who wanted to try her services on a high end residential project- and this was where it all came together. Both Robin and the designer were able to collaborate and thrive on detail, and in ways many retail projects might not call for, and this was where Robin knew she was onto something.

"Interior designers really do have a vision, and I think that generally when we work together they really appreciate the professionalism, efficiency and attention to detail we bring. We contribute to their vision and make the process go more smoothly."
A Ruffled Window seamstress + artisan preps fabric in the workroom
The workroom, where The Ruffled Window conducts the full preparation and customization of their treatments- be it creating a mock-up of motorized shades; crafting, finishing or gilding their custom hardware (rings, finials, curtain rods); hand stitching an endless array of drapery and curtains; or upholstering custom items- is always bustling with activity. It has been noted before that interior designers understand fabrics and treatments, and great designers especially, know that curtains should hang like a gown, or quite simply how various fabrics should be treated (steamed, pressed, lined etc)- every member of Robin's team understands this as well, and has often been trained by Robin herself.
A Ruffled Window Artisan hand stitches decorative lace drapes in the workroom.
 In fact The Ruffled Window goes to such painstaking lengths as to hand stitch many treatments, as well as coming up with ingenious ways to craft the shape a drape should take. (Once they hand stitched a light chain-mail into the bottom hem of a delicate chiffon drapery so as to have it hang properly and keep its form).
An NYC penthouse gets a custom upholstered column

This often includes a fabrics pre-treatment, mock up, hand detailing and treatment again before an installation. When all of the design specifications are approved, details arranged and fabrics selected with the interior design team, Robin and her team are able to work their
A custom hand-stitched shade in progress.
magic. The effect is often subtle but making all the difference in the world to the end result, lasting quality and ambiance of a room. Especially if your home is being designed to suit your every need and bit of character, be it modern, classical or nouveau traditional, there is likely to be a difficult moment in the design that only a highly trained professional could address properly. Be it having customized motorized shades or drapes, specially cut blinds or a very particular installation...
"We specialize in those hard-to-treat areas and windows," notes Robin, "the detailing should be seamless."
Custom circular blinds
 But really, when you think about it, why shouldn't every inch of a room in the home you are having specially designed for you, your life, needs and desires, be this customized? Investing in the expression of your home through design wouldn't be the same if it were low quality and only partially thought through; which is why companies and trades like this one make such a difference- they are helping dress the room, treating it with the TLC it needs.

With all her knowledge and experience, it's no surprise that some of the biggest names in interior design have Robin on speed dial- The Ruffled Window knows how to treat a room right. And in addition to being pleased she stumbled upon the the custom drapery niche of the high end design world, we're confident to say it probably doesn't hurt that Robin also brings her charisma and warm, positive energy in tow to any project she takes on.
"It's funny," Robin smiles, "I've always said [and really do believe] that having a room or window without a treatment is like going to a black tie ball with no lipstick!"
And ain't that the truth. Down to the last column, pillow, headboard and window, there aren't enough ways to craft and treat elements of our homes with sophistocation and quality care so they last a lifetime. If the eyes are the window to the soul and the windows are the soul of a room, then surely they deserve the attention. I don't know about you, but I just might put Robin Feuer and The Ruffled Window on speed dial myself.
The Ruffled Window works their magic with custom drapery + gilded detailing in this David Kleinberg Design Associates design.
Classic meets modern in this custom treated stairwell. Interior Design by David Kleinberg Design Associates.

Robin Feuer is the CEO and owner of The Ruffled Window. She has received numerous awards as a fashion designer and superlative recognition as a custom draper. The Ruffled Window's workroom is located in Engelwood, New Jersey and they service projects everywhere. You can contact them at: 201.439.9799