Sunday, July 22, 2007


We're just back from the CALIFORNIA gift show in Los Angeles, and like every trip to market, we look for the unique, the unusual, and most importantly good design. With the globalization of commerce and the rampant opportunities to market ones product to the general populace, what suffers the most is style, design and fabrication. Sometimes, I fear, that finding the unique may not have an audience after all. No matter, we forge ahead with our convictions that good design lives, though perhaps it just lives in fewer and fewer places. It's a little like a fairy tale, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly, and even some things that were indefinable. This show was no different, and we saw some things that we would have been better off having not seen! I've got a sneaking suspicion that "Mean Guy" is just around the corner!


The best of show may well have been a group of Chinese, Ming Dynasty vessels, in traditional blue and white porcelain. There were five pieces in particular that caught our eye, which were in beautiful condition, with handsome shades of blue that only centuries can effect. The sizes ranged from 6-10" in height, with diameters of 5-9". The collection was presented by John Lee, a Japanese- American antiques dealer based in San Francisco, and from whom we have purchased several Chinese and Japanese antiquities over the years.

Mr. Lee noted that these jars are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and that interest in this period (Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644) has continued to increase each year , citing recent auction records set in Japan for porcelain vessels of similar size, condition and age, selling at US $5,000. each.

Lee, the consummate Asian antiques dealer, known for buying more for his personal collection than he could ever resale, said that these were from his personal collection, and that he wasn't sure how many Ming porcelains he owned. He said he sells them as he finds them in his warehouse, and had we not personally visited his warehouse, one might think he was just another antiques dealer parroting the oft and over used statement, "they're from my personal collection". Look for these Ming rarities on the Cabana Home website in early August 2007 (


Of particular interest were the collections from BO Tree, a California based importer of reclaimed exotic hardwoods, recycled into handsome interior furnishings. Most of the wood is found in Indonesia, but don't confuse this designer with the all too common and typical cheap Indonesian furniture importers that liter our streets of commerce. No bad copies of British colonial antiques here, but fresh and beautifully proportioned side and cocktail tables, consoles, and dining tables. Using virtually petrified tree stumps, our favorites were the square cocktail tables, finished with a clean and clear hand rubbed finish, that would be equally at home in a New York loft, or mixed with traditional antiques in a faux Tuscan manor house in Beverly Hills. The dark interior age rings of the former tree, are highlighted and illuminated in stark contrast to the lighter, outer edges of the trunk.

Old wooden gears, or cogs, standing approximately 22-24" tall, and 12-14" in diameter, had been highly waxed and polished, and were reborn as terribly unique and sophisticated chair side tables. Though somewhat diminutive as compared to the occasional tables reported on above, these tables weighed in excess of two hundred pounds each.

Huge slabs of old growth teak, mostly organic in form, were recreated as Dining tables, large enough to seat twelve persons. These tables cannot be delivered to your home by your average two-man delivery team, four to six persons are required to lift these beauties into place.

The occasional tables will be available on the Cabana Home website in early August, and the larger pieces will be available by special arrangement.


Okay, now, I've been to many a home furnishings show in the last 3o years, and there is always a hideous something or other that we just cannot bear. Just as in a group of people gathered together, there's always one in the bunch that stands out from the others, and I don't mean in a good way. That's a doozy. The doozy can be a conversation overheard; a person--the Buyer or a Manufactures Representative; the Store or Shop, the Showroom, or the Item name or Label.

One of the first times I traipsed through a home furnishings show at the ginormous (you've got it--gigantic and enormous combined--and coined by the MTV set) Dallas World Trade Center and the attached Dallas Trade Mart, which total more than three million square feet (or 914,400 meters for you metro-metric purist). I thought wow, look at this place, what don't they have here? I was perusing the goods at one of the thousands of showrooms, and I happened upon a twenty-something man with big Texas hair (which was hard enough to take on the women). I watched him as he sashayed about the showroom, all in a twitter. I tried to read the name of his store, printed on the required name tag, and finally he slowed enough so I could make it our, it read, Let's Decorate.

Let's Decorate? What? Can you imagine telephoning that store?

"Let's Decorate, when and where? This is Bobby Dale Smith, How may I help you?"

I mean, really now!

More recently we were at the International Home furnishings show in High Point, NC, riding on the shuttle bus to the market center from our elegant Days Inn accommodations, though it was priced like the Pierre in New York.

The women seated in front of us was just having a wonderful time on her cell phone, and talking so loudly we could hear her entire conversation. As she began to hang up, she said, "Oh, girl, I'm so glad we connected. I was meaning to call you so we could get together and snyergize, and all."

Snyergize? What? Is that a word? An activity? I'm sorry! We lost it ojn that one; our complimentary Maxwell House coffee sloshed out of our thin-walled Styrofoam cups. Let's synergize! LOL.

Now, here's one from yesterday: We were sitting in the cafe at the Los Angeles Convention Center, enjoying an overpriced coke and an under-warmed hamburger. A couple sat down at the next table, and you know, I just had to look at the name of their store.


Suddenly, I wasn't hungry any longer. My sick head went straight to the Diaper Cakes part of the name. What are Diaper Cakes anyway?

Lastly, I spotted a banner hanging above one of the booth's as we were making our way out of a vast hall, which read Baby Gag. I have no idea what it is that these people sell, and I'm not sure that I shouldn't have whipped out my cell phone and called Child Protective Services, just in case. Lawsy me!

STAY TUNED as next week we're headed to the San Francisco International Gift Show, where we always find a jewel or two.

More tomorrow! Stick around with the Design Guy, because you'll never know what you didn't know before you got to know the Design Guy.

Good Night Moon.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007



Yes, I'm in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, I've been in an LA state of mind since I got off of the 101 and started my decent into LA on the 405. Traffic was bumper to bumper even before I had hit the city limits, and the outbound lanes were as well. What, was this, rush hour? No, it was 9:55 A.M. and it's a typical day in paradise, albeit, life in the slow lane. An oxymoron, the fast life in LA, but traveling in the slow lane! Humph!

I Love Paris In The Spring Time ...(okay so it's summer and I'm in LA!)...

Okay, since we talked about outdoor foam in my last column, I thought I might spice it up a bit today, so hang onto your outdoor foam seat...

As I inched past the Hollywood Hills, I couldn't help but think of that pitiful Hilton girl. Did you catch her on the Larry King Show last week? She was commenting to King that she wants to help the girls that she had met while in jail, and about how their troubles stemmed from being given too much too soon.
Larry asked her, "Paris, have you been given too much too soon?"
Hilton, seemed surprised by this question, (humm, is this a trick...?) and she looked down at the desk-top, and the camera followed revealing several jumbled pages of notes.
There was silence as she fumbled through the pages, the answer though obvious to everyone watching, somehow wasn't readily apparent to her.
Larry's a pro, so he sat there in silence, patiently giving the poor little rich girl a chance to come up with the right answer, though one might have thought that he was giving her the proverbial rope with which to hang herself.
Finally, King asked her again, "Paris, have you been given too much too soon?"
Hilton looked at him blankly, whereupon King cut to a commercial.
I was just thinking about how little time we have for the important things in life, but how many millions of people (and I truly hope it wasn't millions or I'm going to be really concerned) sat riveted before our television screens to see how this white trash heiress fared in jail. I watched about three minutes of it, all the while hoping that my 19 year old daughter wouldn't walk in and catch me.
I could only imagine her surprise at seeing me glued to the television set.
"Oh, honey!", I'd respond quickly, calmly reaching for the remote control and carefully pressing the jump button so the screen would flip back to the sports channel.
"What are you watching?"
"I was just flipping through the channel's trying to find something to watch", I would answer, though it would have been easier admitting to her that I had been watching the movie, Best In Show.
"I thought I saw Paris Hilton on the screen when I came in" she said.
"Oh that, I just wanted to see her latest act", I fessed up, just in case she had seen Paris on the screen.
I cannot believe that just watching Paris, made me lie! I think I will do just fine in LA, today!

Why am I here?

We're looking for new product, and working with vendors; we're looking at new lines of merchandise, visiting a couple of direct importers, making price comparisons, and shopping the competition; The cross town traffic is so bad, that we can actually talk through entire business concepts or problems in between stops! My wife, Caroline, and our Mill Valley partner, Michael, are discussing our current business, future business, and the possibilities of opening another store (or two, or three, or five).
One thing that has been become readily apparent to me is how few wholesalers actually manufacture what they sell, though many of them claim that they are the manufacturer of the products they represent. More accurately, they are merely an importer; sometimes importing the same goods as one or more of their competitors, who are more often than not, located just blocks away from one another.

Know Your Product--

Perhaps its easier for us to spot differences in the market place, duplications, repetitiveness, and trends both good and bad, because we shop our tails off (a southern expression). We do see more than most buyers because of our exhausting travel schedule, sourcing the home furnishings markets, both domestically and internationally. We attend every major home furnishings show in the US. From High Point to Atlanta, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. This fall we'll be adding the Las Vegas show into our travel schedule (no, not that one, the furniture show!).
We shop for antiques across the US and in Europe; Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. We shop the flea markets in Paris (Saint-Quen and Porte de Vanves), Arezzo (Tuscany), Brussels, the famed Porto Bello Road (London), and even the Santa Fe "Flea" (New Mexico), adjacent to the famed Santa Fe Opera).
Side Note: I'm beginning to think that every piece of furniture we see in this country is made in China. And that's not a bad thing. We'll talk about that in the near future. More on this later, so stay tuned.

Comparative Shopping--

In just three hours, I found three different vendors who offered the same imported chair for sale. One was at $1,000; another one was $1,400; and one of them offered the chairs as a pair for $3,000. Our customers will save between $400-500 per chair, not because we're having a "sale", but because we did our home work. We shopped the market place for them.

Isn't this the damn'dest--

Even when attending the bi-annual Home Furnishings Market in High Point, NC, the grand daddy market of them all, and the largest furniture show in the world, we hear over and over from the showroom sales people, "Oh, your from California, your sales representative isn't here."
"Where is he/she?" I inquire.
"Oh, the California sales rep's never come to High Point because the retailers don't come all the way over here to High Point".
"Don't come? You've got to be kidding me! I'm here, whose going to help me?"
Well you can only imagine my surprise. But that surprise quickly turns to an adrenaline rush. Hummmm, my competitor's aren't here...goody for me!

LAST STOP...Hollywood--

Just kidding. Actually it was in Culver City (South of Beverly Hills and the 10). We overshot the street we were looking for, and had to make an "I dare you" u-turn on La Cienega Blvd (if you know this street, you know that is no small feat!). Our destination was located on a street that was more akin to an alley, so I double checked that the doors of the MB were locked before proceeding. We traveled about 25 feet, when, like a mirage, a spectacular green garden arose from what had most recently been an oil stained concrete parking lot. It was breath-taking, I'm telling you! Unfortunately for many of you, this oasis is "to the trade only" so to visit it you'll have to pay your decorator to take you.
The gardens were created by the owner, Charles Jacobsen. The plantings were wonderfully original in their combinations, and planted in large wooden tapered, square planter boxes which were painted flat black. Perfectly maintained specimen plantings prevailed throughout the exterior garden showroom. Intricately carved marble planters gave way to serene white marble fountains, all, tasteful and restrained in every way. One small garden was formed by placing an intricately carved, antique wood Indonesian doorway, raw from exposure to the elements over time, was flanked by tall columnar plantings. Other areas were divided or were designated by low rectangular boxes of varying dimensions, planted with perfectly coiffed green grass.
This location is a huge departure from the Charles Jacobsen, Inc., showroom at the Pacific Design Center (referred to as "the blue whale" by the trade), where the cool elegance of that showroom is usurped by the stunning gardens of this tasteful outpost. The gardens ultimately lead you to the warehouse showroom, where the exquisitely restored antiques are presented. The furniture is highly waxed and polished to absolute beauty. Old mirror frames with what appeared to be the original mirror glass (expect to pay more for old, faded mirror glass) graced the walls.
Charles Jacobsen's shop is a real testament to his exquisite taste and style. It is pristine to the point that I'm certain there is a bit of anal retentiveness being practiced here. This perfectly planned and executed presentation runs from the garden throughout the warehouse showroom, where brick walls exposed and others lined with matchstick blinds. The original wood framed ceiling, its framing rendering the ceiling bowed, was freshly waxed making the warehouse hardly recognizable as such.

Our salesman was obviously a bit uncomfortable with us, when suddenly he said, "You may want to see the far building as it will be closing first."
I glanced at my wife, "he's rushing us!" I said to her without speaking a word (an art perfected after twenty two years of marriage).

I asked the salesman, "What time is it?"
"It's 4:20" He answered.
"What time do you close?" I ask.
"5:00 o'clock" He responds.
You get the picture. It was so LA!
We did have ample time to see everything; and we did, we toured the two showrooms; spent time in the gardens; made notes on several items that we had admired, and we then sent our salesman to retrieve the information wee needed. Unfortunately my aloofness afforded us better service. He returned with the info I had requested, and we were on our way, the gates to the garden practically shutting on my wife's pricey little German auto--good thing I hadn't driven the truck!

More tomorrow! Stick around with the Design Guy, because you'll never know what you didn't know before you got to know the Design Guy.

Good night moon.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Is it an Innie, or an Outie?

Alright, alright, so I use made up words! You know what I mean. However today I'm not talking about belly buttons, I'm talking about outdoor cushions. Yeah, cushions are either Innies or Outies, and make no mistake about it or you may be sorry. Read on.

Outdoor Foam...

What a captivating subject, don't you think? Well, it is, I promise. Not only have outdoor
fabrics come into the 21st Century, foam for outdoor cushions has as well. In the old days, outdoor cushions were made from your regular old household foam, the same type used
for indoor cushions. We would upholster our cushions in outdoor fabric, say for that
treasure of a wicker love seat that once adorned Grandma's front porch. You know the
one, the one you found next to the trash after her estate sale. You thought it looked so
sad as you gazed upon it sitting there next to the garbage cans. Then suddenly, a light
bulb went off in your head.
"Why, I'll give that little love seat a new coat of paint and make a new cushion, and it will be wonderful again".
You proceed to try and get it into the back seat of your Eco-friendly sports car, to no avail.
Next, you try the trunk. It works, so you tie the trunk lid down to keep your new found treasure from bouncing out and becoming road kill. When you get home you appraise your
"Oh, I didn't realize that so much of the wicker was broken". Or worse, your spouse or significant other rolls their eyes at you when you show it to them. There will be no approval forthcoming!

Next you...

So, you get an estimate from the local caner (the guy who repairs cane seats and backs
on chairs). It'll be $400. You reconsider your original idea, a coat of paint and a new cushion
will suffice after all. You begin the painting process, but get eleven splinters in the first three minutes of the process. You initially resisted spray painting, for the sake of the ozone, but
now it seems like a pretty good idea, for the sake of your hands.
When the painting is complete you make a template out of the Sunday newspaper for the
new seat cushion; you select one of the new outdoor fabrics at Cabana Home, and rush to
the upholstery shop to drop everything off. There is no discussion about indoor or outdoor
foam. Outdoor fabric should do the trick, right?
No. Not right.

The scoop on outdoor foam...

Okay here we digress again. Its not that the outdoor fabrics of old that didn't work, because after all they too were fade and mildew resistant. What didn't work was using indoor foam
for an outdoor cushion. Indoor foam retains water, becomes water logged, sours, smells, and
can take five to seven days to fully dry. While wet, the limits of an outdoor fabrics "mildew resistance" are tested. Yes, even outdoor fabric will mildew if left to dry on indoor foam.
And, outdoor fabrics are typically 100% solution dyed acrylic and they don't breath like a natural material indoor fabric would.

Now the Details... and technology have now given us the outdoor foam of our dreams. With catchy names like EZ-Dri, Evidri, Drifast, Dryfast (a different one), and Rain-Thru, all of which are mildew resistant outdoor foam.
Is there a difference? Yes but not as much as one would think, as the technology is virtually
the same for all of them. The main difference is the foam's density, or firmness. Evidri is a medium soft outdoor foam, while Drifast is very firm. EZ-Dri has a built-in fungicidal
additive which inhibits fungus, mildew--important for retarding stains and odor.
All outdoor foam has open cell construction in common. The open cells are large, completely open pores. The open pores are actually holes caused by reticulation; that is, holes created
by air pockets when the foam is manufactured. These holes are what permits rapid draining
and maximum air circulation for fast drying. Ah um...the last two sentences have a strong resemblance to a paragraph from one of the foam manufacturers websites. Okay, maybe
from all of the web sites consulted!

Now there...

Wasn't that interesting?
"No," you say?
Oh come on, you've got to know about this. I mean, think about one of those roadside
treasures that you've passed by, only to regret it later. Now, you can pick it up with new
found confidence gained from your knowledge about outdoor foam!

Stick around with the Design Guy, because you'll never know what you didn't know
before you got to know the Design Guy.

Later .

Good night moon.