CHURCHILL DOWNS RANT
(Churchill Downs Exterior 2013)
I have been posting images on instagram, “pinning”, and writing about my love of Louisville on this blog. Generally, acting like some crazed Louisville lobbyist- unpaid (note to Louisville city council people)- for the last year. Now, after a weekend at The Kentucky Derby, I am truly having Derby withdrawal. Frankly, I always thought that “grown up” life was going to be just like Derby weekend everyday.
Everyone dressed their best, parties and interesting conversation, delicious food — one continuous cocktail party! It probably helps that I was hosted with so much style. Well of course life is not like that. However, just at the periphery of my memory of that weekend and despite all of my Louisville love, I cannot get around the fact that Churchill Downs, the actual physical racetrack, is highly disappointing.
Nothing drives me crazy like waste. I love leftovers. I re-use every single scrap of paper. I re-use nice wrapping paper. I love composting. I wish I had chickens for all food scraps. I turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth, etc. So it really drives me crazy when I see waste, particularly money and opportunity wasted. Churchill Downs is a huge billboard for this kind of missed-opportunity-waste or MOW. The “improvements” made in the name of progress and profit here have missed their mark entirely, and seemingly have obliterated the actual character of the place.
When a place has history, charm, and vernacular swagger in existence, it is a crime to ignore it. This sense of place is priceless in terms of branding, creating, and selling a story. One often goes places today where a developer has tried to create an idea of history and place in order to make something new and manufactured, like a mall, seem like it has some nostalgic pull.
(The Grove, Los Angeles)
Hoteliers across the globe create visions of what they think visitors want to experience as “local” and often make up a visual and cultural language in the absence of something real. When you look at old pictures of Churchill Downs you see a place that was overflowing with atmosphere, charm, history, and character.
(Top two pictures: Churchill Downs, vintage images)
It is beyond me how anyone could look at what they had to start with and come up with this:
(Top two pictures: Churchill Downs Interior 2013)
I have spent days thinking about how ‘upgrading” the facilities there could have been done in a way that didn’t result in nameless mid level hotel ballroom in any city style. How could they have missed the chance of creating an atmosphere that felt like “old Kentucky”, even if it was completely manufactured? A complete MOW. Disney is so often brought into these kinds of arguments pejoratively, and I know and often agree, but I have begun to think that if done correctly a little bit of stage craft is necessary and a good thing. I used to dream about living in the “bayou” at the beginning of the Pirates of Caribbean ride with its crickets, stars, cool humid air and antebellum architecture. I know that Disney is not really the answer here, but I do think that whoever directed this project missed a major source for inspiration and direction, that being: Dorothy Draper.
Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier is like the perfect sort of starting point for what Churchill Downs could and should have been, not a ‘historic” place….. Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier is like the perfect sort of starting point for what Churchill Downs could and should have been. Not a historic place, but a stylish one. Draper developed her own kind of look in the 1920’s and codified it through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. The look was a little bit American, a little bit Moderne, and a little Baroque with bright colors and chintz fabrics. It sort of resembled what came to be known as Hollywood Regency, with oversized plaster elements and mixed references and scales. Somehow it was just what one wanted in a rebuilt pre-Civil War era Hotel in West Virginia. This is just what I think Churchill Downs needs. Her style exudes confidence and graciousness. Her vision is uniquely American. The drinks are always mixed and good manners are of course there, but maybe second to having a little fun. Hello, a racetrack?
I don’t need every new building in the world to progress the dialogue of contemporary architecture from Zumthor to Moneo. If a place already has a clear visual language about it, use it. Play with it. At Churchill Downs there is painted beadboard, gabled roofs, painted green trim and red roofs, stable vernacular and hardware, and riding equipment. Major brands have been built on this kind of iconography, why haven’t they done it for themselves?
Going to the Derby, visiting Churchill Downs, should feel like stepping back trough time. Not in a freaky civil war re-enactors kind of way, but passing through the turnstile should be completely transporting. For a moment, you think it might be as you pass the old betting windows on the ground floor, but then you are guided to the important seats and you are suddenly at a pharmaceuticals convention at the Trenton Marriott with wall-to-wall carpet, escalators, and drywall soffited ceilings. Where is old Louisville? War Admiral? Secretariat? Julep jars and maybe some black and white checked floors…
Recently an edited version of this article was published in Departures. Although I am thrilled with the story, they had to edit it down quite a bit and I was sorry that they lost some of the things I really like about Louisville.
I have been lucky enough to find myself recently engaged in decorating a project in Louisville, Kentucky for a fabulous client. The city has revealed itself to me much like the client, full of contradictions in the most positive of ways. Simultaneously dignified, quirky, funny, unpretentious, sophisticated, cultured, well traveled, and aware of history but not bound by it.
I don’t know what I was expecting of this old American city, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to like it so much. Every May, on the first Saturday of the month, for the last 138 years, Louisville has been on view to the world thanks to the Derby founded by the grandson of famed American West explorer William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I do love a town in which the local sandwich place includes a bacon based treat in its vegetarian offerings! My favorite meals here have basically been all about the local Country Hams, which are superb. Also exciting for me is the expansion of the lovely local museum dubbed the SPEED by my friend and internationally regarded architect Kulapat Yantrasast. Ham and culture together, HEAVEN.
I must admit that I have never had a strong desire to visit much of America, preferring always to book tickets that require passports at a moments notice. Now, after having gotten to know this independent, unusual town, my sights are on other small American cities, where I hope to find a similar locavore culture and a “can do, will do” spirit. Here are some things to bring into your life either from Louisville or inspired by its plucky charm.
Muth’s Candies: Most famous for the delicious marshmallow and caramel MODJESKAS created in honor of the famed Polish stage star Helena Modjeska who visited Louisville several times in the 1880’s—this old fashioned local candy store has delicious bourbon balls, brittles, barks, and other treats!
Julep Cups:Wakefield-Scearce has been making the iconic sterling silver cup, still in production in Kentucky since the 1790’s. It has been made to commemorate the US president since Truman was in office, with a date and seal on the bottom. These cups are the right shape and size for a correct julep. I think they are perfect for small flowers by a bedside or in a tray with books, etc. They can be engraved with a monogram, favorite pet, flower, or left unadorned. Of course, mixed with vintage and antiques.
Shaker Brooms: The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is the nations largest restored shaker village. It is so gorgeous. There is a wonderful craft shop that sells locally handmade products inspired or based on shaker wares. I LOVE their handmade brooms.
Country Ham: Meacham Country Hams have been made by the same family in Sturgis Kentucky for the last 80 years. I love their “Derby” Country Ham, which is a little less salty than the original. It is absolutely delicious on little biscuits or just sliced thin like prosciutto or jamon serrano.
Speed Art Museum: Kentucky’s largest and oldest art museum. The speed is in the process of expanding, with an incredible new addition designed by renowned Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast. The collection includes work from Tiepolo to Alice Neel and Yinka Shonibare.
Old Forester “Birthday” Bourbon: The locals favorite drink of choice. To be taken just neat or for mixing up the original Louisville cocktail “The Old-Fashioned”, and of course for Derby Day Mint Juleps. The bourbon was first bottled in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, whose family continues to make it today.
(Freeman and Low)
Parrish Holdings/Land of Tomorrow Gallery: A contemporary art and design fabricator. Who could imagine that a world class fabricator would be hiding out in Louisville? Drura Parrish’s Parrish Holdings produces fantastic pieces with incredible artists and designers like Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Hernan Diaz-Alonso, Jason Yates, and Zaha Hadid. The gallery has an incredible project space in downtown Louisville.
Astier de Villatte: If I were having a derby lunch I would want these great dishes. Even though they are made in France, they feel equally American to me, could it be the red-white and blue. They are handmade and individual. Wouldn’t some Kentucky ham look great piled up on one of these?
Pendleton Blanket: How chic would this wool felt blanket be for a Derby day picnic? Pendelton has been creating Indian Trade blankets since 1909 in Oregon. This one is a reproduction of a 1920’s design. It is beyond cool! It would go great with those Aster de Villatte plates. Mine is on order.
Work Hard/Play Hard/Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music (1923-1936): This would be the perfect thing to have playing in the background during a Derby picnic lunch. An amazing compilation of country music from 1923-36 that was put together by Nathan Salsburg mainly from a Louisville collector.
AMANGIRI AND MAGIC APPLE POBLANO BUTTER
I was on a mini vacation last week and I cannot help but share some pictures from my incredible adventure in a corner of the American Southwest. The incomparable Amangiri, in southern Utah, is nestled at the foot of soaring sandstone cliffs on a bluff above a finger of Lake Powell, and that is just the location.
The hotel feels like a desert fort oasis, as though unbelievably conjured up by a genie, shimmering through heat waves in the distance. Well, it was more like three genie architects: Marwan Al-Sayed, Wendell Burnette, and Rick Joy working together.The result is nothing short of transcendent. I do not say this lightly. The project is both monumental and intimate, majestic and humble. The buildings are constructed of thick concrete walls into which local sand has been mixed, so they literally feel rooted in the landscape. The walls reflect the light and the atmospheric changes throughout the day. The whole place is organized around a series of courtyards and wide open corridors with occasional openings and gaps that frame the desert views. The whole space feels organic and serene.
This area of the country is defined by physical extremities, dry flat hot plains are punctuated by soaring rock escarpments and cliffs. The scale of space is different from anywhere else in the world: the enormity of the sky, the delicacy of the desert flowers, the blistering sun, torrential rains, cold nights, and big winds that sculpt the rock faces of the canyons into undulating waves, severe faces and crags. The entire place is so visually stimulating that the incredible restraint in the material choices of the buildings allows one to truly feel connected to the physical place and to really experience it.
Okay, after all that waxing about the buildings the real thing I wanted to share and write about is the absolutely delicious Apple Poblano Butter that they serve at breakfast with toast at the Amangiri. I must say it was my favorite thing eaten on this trip, even more then my much enjoyed In-n-Out burgers. This is a true standout.
I will be making this butter immediately upon return. Although not just for breakfast, as I see it as a perfect thing to bring some subtle spice and smokeyness to a roast pork sandwich with manchego or sasuages from the grill. It was so nice of them to give me the recipe which I am sharing here:
Amangiri Apple Poblano Butter
15 green apples, peeled and cored
18oz poblano peppers, de-seeded
48oz granulated sugar
18oz brown sugar
138g apple pectin
4g vanilla powder
Purée the poblano peppers with water. Cook the apples and the puréed peppers together in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until slightly tender. Mix the sugars, vanilla powder and pectin in a bowl and then mix into apple poblano mixture and continue cooking until the apples have softened. Purée (I would use a hand immersion blender) and continue cooking on low heat until thickened to a jam like consistency.
I have not made the recipe myself yet, but it seems like it could be halved for a smaller portion.
For more information on Amangiri, see their website here.
Isn’t it crazy that there are people out there who are not interested in seeing how other people live, cook, entertain, dress, and garden? I really like the way I do things, but I am nonetheless intently interested in how others do it, too. It always shocks me when I find out a friend doesn’t read a myriad of international shelter magazines, doesn’t tear out pages from T Magazine or stock pile issues of World of Interiors, full of flagged pages and dog ears.
I sometimes feel like I am going to end up on one of those sad television shows where friends try to stage an intervention before the afflicted is suffocated by newspapers. However, in my case it would be magazines and books. Not to mention: piles of cut-outs, postcards, tear-outs, matchbooks, (to recall an amazing typeface for later use), place-cards, thank you notes, fabric swatches, tile samples, invitations (as a reference for the perfect red), announcements (to remember the weight of a certain paper stock), letter pressed coasters (perhaps for a chic monogram?). I keep all these things on my desk or in drawers, or pin them to my cork walls. They are waiting to become something, hoping not to be forgotten or obscured by the next thing that gets pinned on top. I am a pack rat.
(My Miami Studio)
While I was looking through ”Creativity at Work”, the recently published book by decorator/blogger Heather Clawson, I noticed and found it interesting that many people seem to share my affliction. A consistent theme throughout her book is the prevalence of the wall collage and of saving images and junk.
(From “Creativity at Work” by Heather Clawson)
What made me happiest to see is that the people in the book are all successful creatives and clearly have use for the stuff they are saving. Immediately I felt better about my desire to hold onto the inside label of an old shirt or a shred of textile. Just look at how Jenna Lyons put that piece of lint to good use, surely I am justified in keeping this pinecone.
(From “Creativity at Work” by Heather Clawson)
It was also of further interest and validation that people who do things I like have the same things up on their walls. I love the work by my friends Roman Alonso and Stephen Johanknecht of Commune Design (http://www.communedesign.com). They have an image of my favorite Gabriel Orozco piece and a photocopy from my favorite Dupre Lafon book, both images which have been on my wall at one time.
(Frank Muytjens workspace in ”Creativity at Work” by Heather Clawson)
(Frank Muytjens workspace in ”Creativity at Work” by Heather Clawson)
Rather than feeling frustrated or competitive, these commonalities allow me to see why I like them even better. Furthermore, when I see what is around the workspaces of Jenna Lyons and Frank Muytjens, I understand completely why every time I walk by a J. Crew window, I think it looks great. We like the same stuff.
(Jack Gerson’s inspirations in ”Creativity at Work” by Heather Clawson)
In the April issue of WOI there is a story on the interior designers Christophe Decarpenterie and Abel Naessens. They have a really enviable office space, but most notably for the cabinet filled with invitations, photos, and even a pinecone!
(Photo credit: Eric Morin for World of Interiors in the April 2013 issue)
I feel a sense of soliditary with all of these people. We seem to speak the language of loving of objects and images, the meanings they have, the histories they share, and the stories they tell. And yes someday that old Cy Twombly invite above my desk is going to inspire something!
Habitually Chic: Creativity at Work by Heather Clawson
Ceramics at the V&A
Without a doubt one of the BEST things about London is the Victoria & Albert Museum, period, full stop. The Museum was founded in the early 1850’s. Today it is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. The V&A has incredible collections and always puts together fantastic shows.
(photo credit: V&A website)
One of the most astonishing areas to visit, in this gigantic museum, which really blows me away, is the recently renovated (2009/10) Ceramics Gallery. The collection is so big it feels like the ceramics constitute a significant percentage of the the 4 million plus objects in the museum’s collection.
The ceramics collection and numerous adjacent galleries seem to run the entire length of the front of the building, with case after case after case of ceramics and porcelain. There is every kind of ceramic: from ancient vessels to recent productions, artist made wares and manufactured pieces, as well as heavily decorated pieces and strictly utilitarian pieces.
It is simply amazing to see how universal the production and usage of ceramics has been. It is also interesting to think about how the distribution and export of these goods has influenced, cross pollinated, synthesized and disseminated design, style, and taste across the globe for centuries.
I think it is not untrue to say that the entire history of design and decorative arts can be seen reflected through ceramics. This idea is particularly evident in the way the ceramics have been organized at the V&A.
If only one had the time to move from case to case without barriers of time or risk of visual overload and total decorative exhaustion! However, even with limited time and risk of visual exhaustion, the collection is worth seeing, even if one cannot stop thinking about all those patterns for days after, like a bad “good” pop song that is on repeat in the brain.
To learn more about the ceramics department: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/c/ceramics/
To learn more about the creation of the ceramics gallery: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-ceramics-galleries-old-and-new/