Designer Infuses Rusticity Into His Abode

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 17, 2012.

Designer Bruce Norman Long has always maintained that the things that touch our lives most are the clothes we wear and the rooms we live in. The self-proclaimed clotheshorse prefers classics in his closet (a navy Gucci suit, Ferragamo shoes, and London-made French-cuff shirts, khakis, and jeans), as well as in his home.

For his most ambitious renovation, he converted an old schoolhouse in Carversville, in Bucks County, with partner Mark Todaro, a commercial designer in Philadelphia, decorating it with leather Barcelona chairs, bold upholstered antiques from different eras, and a trove of art amassed over the years.

“My decorating evolves like my closet,” says the designer, who has just moved offices from Princeton, New Jersey, to Bryn Mawr. “I don’t invest too much in trends. It’s the ‘classic sofa, club chairs, and coffee table’ [method] of dressing—interesting pillows and lamps are the necktie and cuff links. Paint color is like choosing which shirt to wear.”

Deciding on the house was a leap of faith. The eventual winner was derelict and had not been touched since 1949; it was two years before they could move in. “Sometimes it was like peeling back layers of an onion. When we found plaster, we took that off and found stone, which we sandblasted. Architecturally, it is textured with personality. The house holds its own even when it is empty—the wood beams, the stone, the 14-foot-high windows.”

The kitchen, living, and dining areas were kept open with floating walls and partitions for displaying art. But because of the volume of the main room, with its 20-foot ceilings, normal furniture was swallowed up. “Scale played into the design. Bigger pieces were better,” says Long. “The sofa is 10 feet long, the lamps are huge, the coffee table is big, and so is the artwork. To match the size of the room, we had to have an 11-foot kitchen island.” The living room furniture includes a theatrical, neoclassical lemon-yellow cut-velvet récamier, a long, claret-red sofa paired with carnation-pink pillows, his nod to designer David Hicks, and a pair of black leather Barcelona chairs. “This is me at my truest voice,” explains Long. “A mix is where my heart is.” In the dining room, he used blue upholstered chairs around the table. Bought at Ann-Morris Antiques, the chairs were credited to Billy Baldwin. “There is nothing like having your own upholstered chair.”

The brightly colored pieces play off the art. “Every painting is based on primary colors—yellow, red, and blue—and my fabrics are those colors.” For simplicity’s sake, the walls are all white, “otherwise it would be too much going on. Besides, stone has a strong personality.” On the walls, Long hung an impressive collection of regional art, from Impressionists to Modernists.

Long’s love of design and art began well before he settled on a career. He was raised in Pittsburgh, where his family collected art and antiques. “Antiques were part of our education as kids,” he says. “My mother made it clear we were the most important people in our home, not guests. So the house of three boys was ‘lived in.’ My best friend lived in a house that was done by a big decorator in Pittsburgh. There were rooms he wasn’t allowed in. It was odd to me then, and it is odd to me now.”

After studying architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, Long worked for designer Mark Hampton on everything from a private office in the White House for the elder President Bush to the biggest and most expensive house in Palm Beach. After five years at the firm, he went looking for a new challenge; following a brief stint in home furnishings retail, he opened his own design firm in 1993, focusing on homes in New York and Princeton. His client list now spans from London to Loveladies, from the Main Line to Switzerland.

For himself and Todaro, Long will begin decorating a new home near his Bryn Mawr office. “Every home I have has a distinctive voice,” he says. “Each is different from the other, each a creative exploration and testing ground.”

Accessories Council’s Karen Giberson

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 10, 2012.

It is 8 AM, and Karen Giberson is conducting a phone interview during a rainstorm as she walks in New York from Penn Station to her office at 36th and Fifth. The president of the Accessories Council, she is scheduled to take the week off with family, but a last-minute call from Evie Evangelou to join Fashion 4 Development has brought her in from her home in Media to prepare for meetings and a speech at the United Nations in three days. The organization, which helps fashion designers in developing countries sustain themselves and market their wares, is just another place where she is happy to make a difference.

It is all part of her role as president of the Accessories Council, a nonprofit advocacy group representing 160 of the biggest brands in the industry, where she does everything from nurturing new designers and helping them get picked up by stores, to hosting events like the ACE awards, an industry black-tie gala held every November that has honored the likes of Lady Gaga and Kanye West, and draws fashion legends like Tom Ford, Alber Elbaz, and Michael Kors.

Her latest initiative, of which she is quite proud, may have a far-reaching economic impact. The USAMade jewelry initiative will keep accessory manufacturing stateside and will add jobs to the economy. “There is a huge potential to bring an industry that was here 25 years ago back to the US,” says Giberson. When a number of AC’s brands said it was getting more expensive to make things in Asia, Giberson wanted to help. She researched factories here, built databases, and helped create a logo and signage to promote the initiative. “We had 25 companies sign up right away, and others are converting production from offshore to stateside. We are working with factories to see if they can make things here at comparable prices.”

One such designer who will participate is John Wind of Maximal Art in Aston, Pennsylvania, who has been in business 26 years. Wind appreciates what Giberson has done for the industry and for his business. “Discovering that the voice of our industry was a ‘secret Philadelphian’ was an amazing moment,” he says. Giberson’s career started in college, when she was part of the prestigious Macy’s executive training program. She moved to three states in four years with the company, but longed to come back to her native Northeast Pennsylvania. In 1991 she joined a small start-up called QVC, where she spent seven years as a merchant before rising to director of accessories, footwear, and intimate apparel. But it was her Shoes on Sale program with the Fashion Footwear Association of New York, which launched in 1995 and has raised millions of dollars for women’s cancer research, that helped land her a position as director of event marketing at the company.

At about this time, the Accessories Council was formed, and Giberson served on the board in different positions. When president Sheila Block died of leukemia in 2005, Giberson was asked to take the post. “One of my first days at the job, I found her shoes under the desk. It was symbolic—they were big shoes to fill.”

Giberson is thankful to be in the industry now, as it continues to blossom. “This is an exciting time. In the ’90s accessories were not really seen on the runways. Now there is great stuff out there and because clothes are less embellished, accessories can be the star of the show.”

While she likes the frenetic pace of her days in New York, she loves living in Media, where she is raising a son and a daughter. Her daughter, who has come to events with her mother over the years, plans on studying fashion marketing at Philadelphia University this fall.

“I remind her that the day before an event, I can be found crawling on the floor stuffing gift bags, working on seating, or fielding a call from a concerned sponsor,” she says. But Giberson still loves it. “The highlight for me has been the people. I feel lucky to work with designers and top executives in this amazing business network.”

Social Promotion

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the on August 25, 2012.

In early 2009 Bridget McMullin went from 30 clients to five, and then eventually to none. After being in business for 12 years, the Haddonfield-based designer found herself with plenty of time to assess her marketing plan.

With no advertising budget, she addressed what she could: revising her website and starting a blog, where she would write twice a week about anything from establishing a design budget to choosing a TV for over the fireplace.

“That has been one of our most popular posts,” McMullin, 39, said.

Three years later, she hired four new employees.

“You have to commit to do it, but people are now finding me through my blog and then my site. I am giving away a little, but I have gotten so much.”

McMullin is one of many designers and architects who have either tiptoed or cannonballed into the unsure waters of social media to promote their business. Some have company Facebook pages, others tweet, some network through LinkedIn, still others have embraced the virtual pinboards of Pinterest or Houzz, an online home resource site.

But for every professional (not to mention the general universe) who sings the praises of these tools, spending hours a day offering advice, posting pictures and tweeting wisdom out into the ether, another calls them exercises in vanity, showing little return for a mighty investment of time.

“Our clientele is not a Facebook client,” says Philadelphia-based architect Spence Kass, who still gets many high-end projects in the city, including a Parc Rittenhouse penthouse and townhouses in Society Hill and the Art Museum area. And although he networks with tradespeople through LinkedIn and recently posted his work on Houzz, which has thousands of pictures of residential projects, he’s not impressed with the feedback.

“We mostly get readers asking ‘What is this paint color?’ or ‘Where do you get this faucet?’ I’d be surprised if it led to something.”

Designer Ashli Mizell says her website and word of mouth have kept her busy enough with projects in Philadelphia. “I have never had a client ask if I’m on Facebook or Twitter, and I have never felt it has hindered my business,” says Mizell, whose clients, on average, are in their mid-50s.

Neil Sandvold, architect and principal of Sandvold Blanda, also relies on his website, but he sends out news, too, about recent projects, like the latest Iron Hill Brewery in Voorhees, through his company Facebook page. The company also has a portfolio on Houzz with hundreds of page views. “Viewers have picked our projects for their inspiration boards. It certainly gets our name out there to a larger audience,” says Sandvold.

Houzz, which started in February 2009, can work as a powerful advertising venue, free of charge.

“Seventy-five percent of the calls I get are from people who see my work on Houzz,” says Ani Semerjian of Semerjian Interiors in Wayne. The designer, who regularly appears on NBC10’s The 10! Show, also blogs and has a company Facebook page. She recently landed a high-end client because of her online presence.

“Because I have so much content online, I am pretty searchable,” she said. Once she lands a client, she uses Pinterest to post ideas for his or her home, putting the client’s initials on them to ensure privacy. Clients can view the boards at their leisure.

Social media can be just as much a part of a firm’s institutional makeup as invoicing clients. Architect James Morrissey, principal of Morrissey Design in Flourtown, discusses with his team at weekly meetings what projects will be promoted on their Facebook page. A number of images are projected on a screen, and the group decides what to post. Project manager Tracy Chin writes the Facebook content three times a week, posts it, and then tweets about it.

One client, Scoogi’s in Chestnut Hill, saw photos of Morrissey’s work at Magerks Pub in Fort Washington and called the firm. When Morrissey completed a job for the mod Xilantro Restaurant in Wayne, a customer found his name through Facebook photos and hired him to work on her home in Vero Beach, Fla.

The conclusions designers draw about social media might just be a matter of available energy (if you can dedicate a lot of time to it, you’ll see results) and the demographics of their targeted clientele. Whereas a twentysomething looking to remodel her bathroom might start her design research on Pinterest, a 60-year-old is more likely to consult with the neighbor who raved about the guy who did her kitchen.

Another factor is considering clients’ privacy, especially residential ones. Who wants pictures of their living room out on the Internet? Some do, but many don’t.

Katie Guzinski, executive director of Marguerite Rodgers Ltd., says keeping projects private is part of protecting their brand and client. The firm recently joined Facebook in response to employees asking “Why aren’t we doing this?”

Employees can link to the MRL Facebook page or LinkedIn site but they aren’t allowed to post photos from any project sites. “It is important for us to be cautious about social media,” says Guzinski. The firm mainly uses its Facebook page for announcing projects or events, like the opening night of a 10 Rittenhouse condominium it furnished.

Susan Taylor has attended seminars at the last two High Point Markets – the popular semiannual North Carolina trade show for home furnishings – discussing the urgency of participating in social media, says the designer, who also owns the store Black Eyed Susan in Holicong.

With hundreds of blog followers, Taylor has been blogging for many years, documenting buying trips and giving design tips to engage clients. But it was her boards on Pinterest, which she joined a year ago, that recently earned her a new client.

A woman who had shopped at her store for years finally hired Taylor for an entire home project.

Taylor’s firm currently is establishing an e-commerce division, and she plans to use Pinterest to market it.

In the end, some find social media good for, well, socializing. Carrie Leskowitz’s two-year-old blog, Carrie’s Musings, has connected her with like-minded professionals.

“I haven’t gotten clients out of any of this, but my goal was to connect with other designers because this business can be isolating,” said Leskowitz, who is based in Fort Washington. But it’s a lot of work.

“I guess you have to ask yourself what your goals are if you want to start one,” she said of the three-day-a-week commitment. “For me, it is like another part-time job.”

Strathmere Beach House Radiates Fun

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on July 10, 2012.

When Maureen Doron asked interior designer Mona Ross Berman to be a little irreverent with her beach house, Berman knew exactly what to do. After all, the pair had worked together on the design of Doron’s Philadelphia home; her hip Bryn Mawr clothing boutique, Skirt, in 2000; and its Stone Harbor sequel in 2010. The seaside store was the perfect reason for Doron to spend more time in Strathmere, a quiet slip of a town just south of Ocean City, New Jersey. It was here she vacationed as a child and met her husband, Nate, and where she and her parents had bought a double lot with a cottage on it.

From the start, Doron and Berman were simpatico about making this house fun and totally different. Channeling The Endless Summer and other surf classics, Berman contacted Asher Architects (115 West Ave., Ste 202, Jenkintown, 215-576-1413), who designed a simple, three-story, saltbox-style home with one big deck to enjoy the ocean views. It was inside where the classic house was given a hip shakeup.

“We streamlined the interior design a bit to make it more modern, more fun,” says the Philadelphia-based Berman. Known for her use of bold colors and patterns, and an affinity for Mid-Century furnishings, Berman worked with Doron on a plan to create a classic surfer-chic ambience perfect for a family of five that includes three boys under the age of six. Doron already had some ideas in mind for incorporating her love of fashion; a colorful, chevron-patterned Parsons-style dining table, with a Missoni feel, was the jumping-off point. “The table was the genesis of the whole house,” says Berman. “I saw a version of it in Miami years ago and thought Maureen was just the girl who would like it.” She had it reproduced by Tom McGinnis of Phoenix Design Works in Phoenixville, who did all the custom pieces in the Philadelphia house and in her stores. The colors in the stripes run throughout the living spaces—yellow, turquoise, and orange.

The backdrops of the living and dining spaces are white with pops of color, all anchored with ebonized floors. There are yellow leather John Derian poufs, curvy vintage occasional chairs upholstered in an op-art-print fabric by Trina Turk, and a plethora of vibrant pillows. Berman added architectural intrigue to the fireplace surround and all of the doors around the house. “With trim and millwork, you can create a sense of age in a house that is new,” explains Berman.

In the kitchen, a yellow fabric cornice over the sink has a chinoiserie feel; it perfectly complements the seaglass-tile backsplash and the all-white cabinetry. Classic Carrera marble counters are a wonderful counterpoint to the mod Mid-Century stools that line the breakfast bar. Berman did not hold back in the powder room, which she wallpapered in a punchy graphic turquoise print from Studio Printworks, a New York–based company that creates hand-printed wallcoverings. “A powder room is a license to be silly. It should be an experience,” says the designer.

The master bedroom was a place that is still lighthearted, and with nods to fashion. The orange and pink room features YSL framed prints from the 1980s and ’90s, and a bright-orange lacquered steamer trunk Berman found at auction. Says Berman: “It’s finds like these that can make a room.” Even Nate was on board with the doses of color. “He got really into it,” says Doron. “He went online to bid on vintage surfboards and found old surfing posters. In the boys’ room, there are two sets of bunks and a crib. They found real porthole covers, and Nate found brass marine brackets to use as drawer pulls.”

Builder Michael Donahue of Avalon (2123 Dune Dr., Ste. 9, 609-368-2227) created the built-ins and playful barn doors to conceal the washer and dryer. “Here was an opportunity to take something that may be an afterthought and make it fun,” says Berman, who chose a tangerine hue for the doors. “If you are doing something, why not make it interesting?”

Donahue blanched when Doron told him they would paint the brand-new hardwood floors in the master bedroom a pink and white zigzag print, another homage to Missoni. But “once he saw them finished, he liked them,” says Doron.

For the laid-back mom, the house is far away from the demands of retail life, and appropriately about fun and family. “We have a mini compound here, with grandparents next door and cousins nearby,” says Doron. “We have bumper stickers and T-shirts that say, “where the hell is strathmere”—and that is what we love about living here.”

Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on March 7, 2012.

5 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square

1706 Rittenhouse

4 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
Dan Neducsin in his new home at 1706 Rittenhouse

Dan Neducsin had no intention of moving from the sprawling 19th-century threestory brownstone on Delancey Street that he shared with his wife, Luana, when he read about a new high-rise to be built in Center City. The project, however, hit the trifecta of developments: a contemporary-style building at 1706 Rittenhouse Square, one residence per floor; luxury amenities such as an automated parking garage that brings your car to you, a gym, and a pool—oh, and panoramic views of the city from each home.

Neducsin’s interest was piqued. You see, as the man who is responsible for bringing Manayunk from hilly, dormant neighborhood to bustling destination town, he is a guy who loves views. His house in Avalon has them, and he thought if he could replicate that feeling in the city, then he would most certainly move. “I read about 1706 Rittenhouse’s big outdoor spaces. A lot of what I loved about Avalon was here,” says Neducsin.

His wife was on board when she learned she could get the privacy she craved, atypical of many high-rises (there are 31 total owners, and a private elevator takes you to your home). He also knew the developers of the building, Tom Scannapieco and Joe Zuritsky, and trusted their work and promises for this one-of-a-kind plan. “I am a developer, and it is an issue you always worry about—what will the guy next to you build? There weren’t those issues here. I knew a building like this wouldn’t happen again.”

3 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
Each residence has panoramic views of the city.
2 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
A Peter Gallo relief sculpture commissioned by the Neducsins separates the living and dining rooms.
1 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
The dining room maintains the home’s light, modern tonality.

And so they made a deposit before a shovel even entered in the ground. Neducsin quickly called Gabrielle Canno of Canno Design to start working on a floor plan and design. She had worked on his other homes, both with a modern bent; the Neducsins’ house on Delancey was a mix of old (architecture) and new (furnishings). “Everything we did there was modern. He wanted even more modern here,” says Canno, who worked on the project in conjunction with David Amburn and Jerry Jarosinski of architecture and interior design firm Amburn/ Jarosinski.

Each resident bought a box and had it fit out, she explains. Building standards were high, so they kept many things. She laid out the two-bedroom, 4,300-square-foot space before the residence was built, making an open plan that would take advantage of the 360-degree views of the city and rivers. Almost every room has two entrances and not many doors; any ones they do have are hidden. “Because there are so few walls in the apartment, it really was a lesson in paring down,” says Canno.

Most of the furniture and art from the Delancey brownstone made the trip to the new home. To unify the open rooms, Canno used large, palebeige porcelain tiles on the floors throughout the house. “Light transfers from room to room in this space. It is pretty spectacular,” she says. Special draperies and solar shades were installed to keep the furniture and art from fading, but walls are white with golden colored accent walls to make the space feel crisp. Canno designed built-ins for the library, living room, and master bedroom, made by woodworking craftsman Michael Lutz.

The challenge in this large open space was not to have too many focal points in a room. “The view is already a focal point,” says the designer. That is not to say the home is without visual treats of its own, such as the fireplace, clad in steel and surrounded by millwork. “The steel and wood are a nice juxtaposition. You see it right when you walk in the door,” she says. Across from it is a relief sculpture commissioned from Peter Gallo. Canno created a floating wall for it that doubles as a partition between the living and dining rooms. Two steel columns on either end suspend the wall and frame the artwork. In the master bedroom, she designed a stained white-oak bed with a leather headboard that conforms with the light palette throughout the home. And Joanne Hudson worked with the couple on a custom kitchen. “We picked out everything from the appliances to the stainless-steel countertops,” says Neducsin.

Outdoor spaces include two decks, one of which spans 45 feet, and these areas are enjoyed as much as possible by the couple. Now in their home a year, Neducsin says they use every inch of the house. “Our old house was three stories, and we didn’t use all of the rooms. Here we use every one.” Especially those in which they can enjoy the views, facing west and south. “You can see the park and all the way to the stadiums. Everything I loved about Avalon is here, but in the city.” Sales center located at 1708 Rittenhouse Square St., 215-731-1706.