wherein i curse aggressively at new yorkers who stole my paris stash.

in a 22-minute moment of weakness, i watched an episode of the mindy project where mindy was all like “my favorite painting is monet’s water lilies!” and her snooty date was all like “HAH good one, that’s the katy perry of art!” and mindy was all like, “but i heart katy perry!”

…and i heart monet’s water lilies. on our vacation in august, i had stared in the musee de l’orangerie at purple-no-blue-no-purple brushstrokes of flower evoking every nanomoment of the sun’s slow glide through the sky overhead across three hundred feet of canvas, and thought, i am tripping balls.


les nympheas / claude monet / le musee de l’orangerie, paris

in related news this manhattan couple has a monet in their master bedroom. also, a chagall on their headboard and a picasso in their mancave. WHAT THE FUCK.*

eran chen / architectural digest / dec 2013

eran chen / archictural digest / dec 2013

eran chen / architectural digest / dec 2013

*i’m just jealous.

oh that sculpture in the bedroom corner behind the monet is a rodin. a rodin, motherfuckers.*

the thinker / rodin / musée rodin / aug 2013

*i’m just jealous.

rodin happens to have his own personal museum with some of his own works, such as the garden sculpture i snapped above, and the rare photographable van gogh. so here we are in touristface with the only painting we captured on camera.**

portrait of père tanguy / vincent van gogh / musée rodin / aug 2013

the musee d’orsay grabbed my innards and yanked. do you think you’ve seen impressionist art? do ya? fancy yourself a fanboy of a little degas, do ya? maybe have some renoir with your peach cobbler? that’s right i’m talking to you atiya-circa-july-2013? shut your mouth and go to paris.

also go to saint-paul-de-vence where your moody little mountainside hotel offers lunch under a picasso and a swim under a calder.

a picasso / la colombe d’or / st-paul-de-vence, france / aug 2013

a calder / la colombe d’or / st-paul-de-vence, france / aug 2013

swim under a calder? i gaze at a calder in my apartment on sunday afternoons whilst massaging the kale for dinner. eat that, motherfuckers.*

giancarlo giammetti / architectural digest / dec 2013

*i’m just jealous.

syed and i, starry-eyed and determined to start an art collection, met a charming french artist in saint-paul-de-vence named leo who paints out of his studio. we chatted in broken french and waving limbs, laughed together, handed over our amex with giddy american energy. (i’m embarrassed.)



impressionist in style and cheerfully intense with provençal fields bursting off the canvas onto your face, these guys will fit right into our lives for the rest of time. they tell us a story and they will tell our story.

tchotchkes be damned. i’m an art collector, y’all.*

*humor me.

**except mona lisa, that diva bitch. more on her later.


how to tame your hard drive of travel photography before it grows a robot brain and destroys you

hold on to your pants, guys.  this is a long one.

i had promised in an early post re: travel tchotchkes to describe a clever tool for showcasing travel photos in a design-conscious way without defaulting to black & white prints.

chowmahalla palace / hyderabad india / dec 2009

don’t be timid about manipulating your prints.  exploit them like a corporate pig, because digital photography is probably ruining your life anyway.

consider this:

1.  in the era of purchasing film, you were selective about using the 24 available exposures on the roll.

2.  you strolled up to the fontana di trevi in your fly new tevas.  you gasped at the realism of its carefully sculpted figures.  your friend pointed out triton’s awkward expression and you all shared a laugh.

3.  you pulled out your camera and thoughtfully chose a few frames:

first, a group shot of you and your friends with the fountain behind you, taken by a fellow tourist.

next, a view facing the fountain head-on and capturing the full extent of the building in all its glory.

finally, a close-up with a beam of sunlight graphically cutting across neptune’s face with a vibrant blue sky as the backdrop.

boom.  three pictures: one for documenting your presence, one for capturing the moment at a macro level, and one for artistic value.  you drop off the film on your way home from the airport and have trevi’s neptune on your wall a week later.

fast-forward fifteen years.  you walk up to the fountain, SLR hanging around your neck.  you say, ooOOoo!  then you pull the camera to your face and start snapping.

a week later, you’re sitting on your couch staring at a folder of 86 fontana di trevi pictures.  you think, shit.  i don’t feel like doing this now.

a year later, those pics are still prisoner in your laptop.

i am SO guilty here.

it’s no wonder that i hestitate to take photographs at all anymore.  photography management is a full time job requiring a mechanically cooled data center and paid interns.  i don’t deny the value of digital photography… i just balk at the time commitment forced on me by this tyranny of choice.

so.  in the rare moment when i do get around to printing photographs, i like to take advantage of their digital-ness to the fullest extent i know.

remember these guys above my tv?

my place

they’re 14×11 prints of trips to playa del carmen, istanbul, and hyderabad.

my place

looks all right, yeah?  the mexican palm tree on my honeymoon beach went from standard:

royal hideaway playacar / playa del carmen mexico / aug 2008

to epic:

all it takes is a single filter in GIMP, the free open source equivalent of photoshop, to turn a typical photograph into dramatic – and meaningful – artwork.

choose an image with the most eye-catching silhouette and adjust the frame and tilt until the composition of your photo is to your liking.

blue mosque / istanbul turkey / nov 2009

apply the posterize color tool.

set posterize level to 2.


red-pill-or-blue-pill?-like awesomeness.

manipulating a digital image doesn’t imply that the original is a crappy photograph.  no, the goal in using this GIMP filter is to unify your best pictures so that their most stunning qualities do the following:

a) fit cohesively in the color story of your room, and

b) leap off the wall onto the innocent guest sipping chai on your couch

your friends shouldn’t have to walk up to your travel photos and stare closely as if analyzing a museum piece.  your travels DEMAND attention, damnit.  force them on people.

i haven’t printed this one yet, but i intend to replace chowmahalla palace with these south american beach cliffs which are pretty like so:

miraflores / lima peru / dec 2011

and badass like so:

as i inch forward in developing the home office gallery wall, i’m using GIMP to toy with the prints.  my personal favorite?  a shot i grabbed of the opera house while riding a ferry through sydney harbor.

opera house / sydney australia / sept 2012

after a little GIMP massage, check it:


in boston, i will weld my bones to the city

spectating at the boston marathon / 18 april 2005

i belong in boston.

if you belong in the place where you were chiseled by fire hose and lasers into the rich complexity of your adulthood, i belong in boston.

i am a nomad everywhere else.

in boston, i will buy the restoration hardware tufted monstrosity and bolt it to the frame of my ten million dollar brownstone.  in boston, i will take out a loan for a baby grand piano to put at the comm ave bay window so i can finally learn to play chopsticks with both hands.

in boston, syed will run the marathon for the second and third and fourth and fifth times.

in boston, i will mortgage my life to brick walls laid by some guy who shot the shit with john adams if john adams were the kind of guy who shot shit.

there are no fugitives in boston.

and because this is supposed to be an interior design blog, here is a picture of my nerdy broke teenager’s dorm room circa 2004.  just a bunch of todd oldham for target and a pile of hobbit posters.

mccormick hall / MIT / 2004-2005

(a salary makes all the difference.)

lest we forget, boston hosted a war that birthed a nation.

spectating at the boston marathon / 18 april 2005

this piddling attack cannot leave a mark on the greatest city i know.

my sorrow for the victims, and love and support.

three good excuses for your home decor laziness

the ONLY three good excuses:

1.  blindness

2.  hmm.  couldn’t think of a second one.

3.  aspen

lea sisson / luxe magazine / spring 2013

if your home stands on floor-to-ceiling windows open to the glorious bosom of Mother Earth, i don’t give a flying f about your couch.

lea sisson / luxe magazine / spring 2013

lea sisson / luxe magazine / spring 2013

note that without nature’s WOW, the decor is gross:

lea sisson / luxe magazine / spring 2013

house perfection lives at the sweet spot where architecture sheds the role of a ticky-tacky deadbeat dad and steps up to the plate in the residential interiors-architecture-landscaping family.  remember the barcelona cement factory and the LA frank lloyd wright house?

lea sisson / luxe magazine / spring 2013

add this one to the list of houses worthy of my mortgage.  (still counting on one hand.)

salvage win

chicago has one. I WANT ONE.


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago


salvage one / chicago

i was introduced to this place on sunday by my maestro sister-in-law.

detroit begs for it.

one man’s boonies is another man’s MoMA

my bffs in boston and new york spent today burrowing their way out from under an avalanche.

i spent today in a building that you could use to burrow out from under an avalanche.


zaha hadid / eli and edythe broad art museum

zaha hadid’s eli and edythe broad art museum opened just a couple months ago in east lansing, michigan.  east lansing.  EAST LANSING.  there is an extension school of sheeps and goats a few blocks away from this world-class feat of angular poetry.  i know what you’re thinking.  how do i get zaha hadid to build a contemporary art museum in MY backcountry village?

i’m being unfair to east lansing.  it’s home to a big ten university, neighbors the state capital, and has other good stuff probably maybe.  it’s also the home of frib, another world-class institute which consumes the other part of my double life as 98%-something-slash-2%-interior-design-blogger.

what east lansing did well was this:  it produced a bajillionaire couple who values community access to arts and culture to the tune of thirty million dollars.  i better see my state capital-neighboring hometown of york, pennsylvania vigorously taking notes or i will drag it by the ear to the principal’s office.

just look, damnit.


zaha hadid / eli and edythe broad art museum


zaha hadid / eli and edythe broad art museum


zaha hadid / eli and edythe broad art museum


zaha hadid / eli and edythe broad art museum

take pleasure in the sunlight dancing with the building.

oh.  there’s also art.

some museums curate to an educational or pleasurable experience.  the broad museum clearly chucks that intention for a dramatically thought-provoking – borderline radical – collection.  i felt intellectually stimulated at every moment.

for example:  the installation of video art is, for me, groundbreaking.  until now i had considered video art to be too visually abrasive for use in interior design… WRONG.  i’ll let these thought bubble lightbulbs burn to maturity before posting on the topic.

if you live in michigan, for the love of god, go.

don’t mind the body parts in your noguchi fountain

detroit’s waterfront showcases a fountain by sculptor isamu noguchi.


yes, THE noguchi of the iconic 1940s herman miller coffee table, godfather of all things awesomesauce that sit in front of your couch.

Picture 83

feast your eyes on this snowy nighttime instagram of noguchi’s fountain i just snapped from my apartment overlooking hart plaza.


[update:  on further review, i realize that this image is blechhh.  the superpowers of instagram are heavily compromised by darkness… should’ve had the patience to wait for a snowy daytime shot.]


a coworker of mine – one with forty years of experience in the field and one of my greatest teachers – once told me the story of his struggle to fix the noguchi fountain.

the year was 1980-something.  i was twirling my pigtails while reading a berenstain bears book to my baby sister.  “bart” was assigned by our architecture/engineering firm to fix the monumental hart plaza water fountain, broken from the moment of its installation a decade earlier, as a gift for mayor coleman young’s birthday.  (the city may have been crumbling from within, but regional cashflow surged onward thanks to The Big Three Jerkfaces.)

bart supervised the construction of the project on site through the dead of night as the detroit police stood guard to keep hobos at bay.  the mayor being in charge of the city and whatnot, this installation had to be completed in utter secrecy.

the city couldn’t understand why the fountain wouldn’t run.  as bart directed the disassembly of the hydronic system under hart plaza, he pointed to the basket strainer.

Picture 84

what a basket strainer looks like, fyi.

off came the nuts and the bolts… and out flowed the boots and the hats and the arms and the legs.

oh.  so that’s why the fountain wasn’t working.

apparently the local bum network had, in the deep concrete well of this broken fountain, found a comfortable shelter from winds off the detroit river.  i’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

the fountain was scheduled to reopen under much pomp and circumstance at a ceremony with the mayor and a large crowd of well-wishers.  a few moments after water began cascading from the sculptural metal halo to music and cheers, a floating bum emerged over the lip of the well, sputtering and cursing and shaking himself off.  happy birthday mayor young!

noguchi was invited to the reopening of his fountain, but someone botched the travel paperwork.  he arrived on the wrong date without any arrangements at a time of day when the city had decided not to run the fountain.  noguchi took a cab from the airport to the city, wandered around hart plaza in disgust, headed right back to the airport and hopped a plane home, where he died a month later having never seen his detroit fountain actually work.

well.  that’s the way bart tells it.

the hunt for a coffee table continues.  etsy has not yet yielded a reclaimed wood table that meets my willingness to pay, and in the meantime, a noguchi knockoff in natural wood tones is singing my name.

Picture 85

i am intoxicated by the prospect of having my feet up on a noguchi table whilst staring out into the city at a noguchi fountain.  somebody talk me off the edge, please.

interior design for fugitive dummies

i have commitment issues.  wait, don’t yawn yet.

not referring here to your stock mr.-big-can’t-admit-that-carrie-is-the-one saga.  i have commitment issues when it comes to places.  observe:

i picked a career with a market in every city.  engineer buildings, and you can live wherever there are buildings.  (as opposed to, say, spaceships.)

i have a partner with a career path as translatable as my own.  health-care-related-verb people, and you can live wherever there are people.

i rent.  having transitioned to financial independence just before the economic shitstorm of 2008, i will rent to the grave unless the fates bless me with an architectural treasure to transform as my opus.

this claustrophobia bangs up against my pickiness about interiors.  the most mobile of my friends live out of a suitcase and a handful of boxes, bouncing from adventure to adventure, using craigslist as a personal library of ikea furniture to be checked out when needed and checked back in months later when the adventure continues elsewhere.

wish i had the luxury of that low-maintenance extreme, but no dice.  my space WILL slam.  (and i will not sleep until it does.)

…also, i need to be able to drop everything and move across the world in 30 days.  you know, without destroying my credit and losing five or six figures of cash.


when i watch a farce such as the episode of ‘million dollar decorators’ in which martyn lawrence bullard moves a 3,000 pound dining table into a manhattan high rise over the balcony and through windows by crane, i throw my head back and do an evil laugh.


martyn lawrence bullard / bravo

this room is amazeballs ugly.  the more i watch rich people direct the design of their spaces, the more i realize that rich people have horrific taste.


martyn lawrence bullard / bravo

if i ever amass such wealth and use it to move ugly furniture rather than open STEM charter schools for urban youth, kick me in the mouth.  knock a few of my teeth out.

i digress.

so how do you furnish your place awesomely without giving up mobility?

i like to think in terms of how i would feel if we had to move tomorrow.  syed and i better be able to

1) carry it onto a rental truck with our own hands, or

2) leave it behind without going through the five stages of grieving

let’s sample the thought process for a couple large-scale furniture purchases.

no matter how you slice it, a comfy couch is a beast to move.  this was my seating vision when we last purchased couches in 2011.


restoration hardware / soho tufted collection


restoration hardware / soho tufted collection

reeks of manhattan crane rental, yeah?

syed and i opted for cheap + easily discarded after what we anticipate will be a 3-year stint in this apartment.

Picture 80

ikea / kivik sofa

i sacrificed on tufting but maintained the light, neutral, super comfortable, easily dressed qualities of that gorgeous monstrosity from restoration hardware.


the ikea kivik is a casual and contemporary blank slate with arms wide enough to hold your macbook and a coffee.  since making the purchase, i’ve noticed that this series is go-to living room seating for tv designers on a super low budget.

meanwhile, that tufted lounge is stored away on a mental back shelf for a settled, wealthier version of myself.

dining tables are another dilemma.  but the massive variety in this furniture type actually makes possible a polished AND mobile design.  no need to get a city permit months in advance to block off the street for the crane that will carry a three thousand pound monolith into your home.

i decided to spend the bulk of my dining room budget on chairs from west elm.  didn’t even have to reserve the elevator for these because they were left with my doorman by UPS (!!).

Picture 81

west elm / curved leather chair

here’s how they fit into my mobility schtick:

1)  movable.  i mentioned they arrived by UPS, oui?

2)  flexible!  with their classic silhouette and neutral leather upholstry, these can function as occasional chairs in a living room, bedroom, foyer, home theater, tennis court in almost any design scheme if i want to switch dining chairs in a later home.  bazinga.

of course, this meant i needed a disposable table.  enter pier 1.

Picture 82

pier 1 / simon x table base / 48″ round glass table top

at $100 for the painted hardwood base and $100 for the 48″ beveled-edge glass top, i feel as though i mugged a child.  i could throw this thing to the side of the road next week and not experience a millisecond of remorse.

if the goal is to burst with happiness over my space today and be ready to skip town for the next big adventure tomorrow, there is some serious cake-having-and-eating going on around here.

lonnymag may or may not be psychic

i spent the weekend in houston.  when we first arrived, our friends had suggested a museum tour but i dismissed the idea in typical jetsetter’s arrogance.  please, son.  i was weaned on the smithsonian and cut my teeth on the louvre.  what the hell does texas know about museums?

a winter wind and gray skies led us to one anyway.


we meandered through the menil collection all sunday afternoon.  i had never heard of this place but was swallowed whole from first glance.  every few moments as i stepped sideways to a fresh piece of art, i re-lived a cycle of surprise, confusion, analysis, understanding, pleasure…  and then a pinch of regret about the ‘no photography’ sign at the front door.  the menil collection rips art out of a late-renaissance-naptime and into the NOW.

sometimes you know in your innards when you’ve experienced something world-class without being spoonfed by experts in words.  my parting thought: houston, you win.

two days after stepping off the flight home, i downloaded the newest issue of lonnymag and found myself staring into spaces i had just experienced in the flesh.  per lonny: the menil collection is “arguably the world’s finest privately amassed cache of 20th-century modern and contemporary art.”

well, shit.

in its jan-feb 2013 issue, lonny magazine features “unlikely houstonian” dominique de menil, philanthropist and patron of the arts who built the menil collection in 1987 to share her treasures with the community for free.


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

magazine photographer >> me sneaking shots on iphone.  (not that i did.)


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

the confusion phase of the cycle lasted a little longer than normal on this one:


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

it’s called ‘cousins’.  you had it all figured out until i told you its name, right?


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

after sitting on a bench and letting thoughts wander, i complained to syed that the center-left piece called ‘the seasons’ is out of order.


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

hours later as we passed little houston bungalows with yards full of fallen leaves and pumpkins by the front door, we realized that maybe the seasons ARE out of order in houston…


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

this one looks silly because you can’t tell what it is at the scale lonny chose to print.  on the right is a piece called ‘long distance lover’ by senam okudzeto, which is a mass of human figures stamped in paint in various states of wrestling on old telephone bills.


menil collection / lonny magazine / jan-feb 2013

squint at this image i pulled from lonny’s website.  what the piece lacks in subtlety, it gains in hilarity.  not all modern art borders on obtuse.

two things:

1.  become dominique de menil when i grow up.

2.  figure out how to end this lonnymag-sponsored episode of the twilight zone.

gutter rat worldview

the most scathing insult in my arsenal is ‘boring’.  (a close second is ‘nice’.  if i call someone nice, you can safely assume i have already forgotten he exists.)  lowly or mean, offer me fresh insight and i will listen.

i seek that which will tickle or shift or shatter my worldview.

this weekend, syed brought home a getty museum coffee table book that introduced me to a frank lloyd wright style of architecture called “textile block houses”.  first thought:  what in tarnation is that?  something that happens when a tipi and an igloo make a baby?

no.  well, maybe.


this 1923 house in socal is called the millard house, or la miniatura.  you’re probably as confused as i was when i first laid eyes on it in the book.



oOOo.  hmm.  looks slightly native american, yeah?



i find it strangely beautiful in the same flavor, though less epic, as bofill’s cement factory.

FLW was looking for a way to elevate the aesthetic value of architecture’s cheap ugly gutter rat, concrete.  (wish i could take credit for that description but it belongs to frank.)  there was also a nod towards maintaining the ecosystem of the land by reusing excavated earth as an ingredient of the concrete.  also seeking to create indoor-outdoor continuity through something or another.  precast stuff.  modular housing shiz.  more random architectural terms, etc.  this is when i start to nod off…  if  you want the technical description, look up millard house on wikipedia or elsewhere because it IS worth knowing.  just isn’t worth my paraphrasing.

do you taste the once-in-a-lifetime interior design opportunities that bubble up in a room woven of textile blocks?



my imagination is whirring like the fan on your old laptop.

you can tell that this home has not seen the hand of a master interior designer.  i empathize – the maintenance costs of this outlandish construction type are probably embarrassing.  leakproofing budget trumps furniture budget every time.

but.  BUT.  the house is a rare treasure of art and intellect.  if i ever consider home ownership, it will be for a building that shatters my worldview much as this one does.

and if i ever consider taking out a mortgage for something nice, please duct tape this link to my face.