A recurring theme in my life, and probably yours too, if you live in New York, is that we have astounding access to people, information, events and ideas here. Infrequently it’s overwhelming; more often it simply creates richly textured days.
On Thursday the 15th I started the morning arriving at Teknion, the furniture showroom in Chelsea, at 8:15 for an Industry Leader Breakfast set up by AREW, the Association of Real Estate Women. The speaker was Pamela Jerome, an architect at WASA. While her firm does a fair amount of restoration work in New York, Pamela’s area of expertise is the restoration and adaptive re-use of mud structures – mansions, to be more precise – in Yemen. I won’t go into the detail of how she became one of the world’s leading experts on this topic but trust me, she is. Pamela spoke passionately about the beauty and intricacy of a series of amazing homes that were built at the turn of the 20th century by very wealthy Yemeni families who made their fortunes in Singapore through the 1920’s. Among other fascinating points we learned that the lower walls are up to 4′ thick, and that they thin out as the structures rise. That most have separate entrances for men and women. That many included central courtyards, gardens or pools. And, most interestingly, that she has worked closely over a period of 14 years with the people of the town of Tarim to help them understand the cultural value of keeping and restoring these buildings; that tourists from all over the world will come to this place and it can be revitalized. The 16 or so people in the conference room were transported as she showed photos and plans of the homes in this faraway place, and when Pamela finished talking we were blown away by her knowledge, experience and largesse of spirit.
Crossing Sixth Avenue I was exhilarated, and started the next meeting almost buzzing. Stephanie Miller and I had two back-to-back client meetings that day with an interlude at City Bakery, where I had a quick lunch with a colleague’s daughter who is looking for a job in marketing. Leaving our afternoon meeting I ran over to the office of architect Eric J. Smith to hand-write 15 envelopes inviting 15 editors to his 25th anniversary party on the 29th, then caught a #6 train uptown to arrive by 6 at the Museum of the City of New York at Fifth Avenue and 104th Street.
At the museum, a convivial, design-y crowd was gathered to hear a lecture by Linnaea Tillett, a wonderful lighting designer whose parents are the subject of an exhibit there: “The World of Leslie and Didi Tillett.” They were textile designers in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who ran their business from their East Side townhouse and used the first floor as their showroom. Linnaea, somewhat magically, spoke about her childhood and parents; about her experience as first a stage lighting designer; why she got a PhD in Environmental Psychology; the importance of context in lighting design; about some of her firm’s projects; and then she closed the lecture discussing everyone’s need to know about light bulbs and energy. It all flowed flawlessly into an informative, smart, funny and very personal lecture, and the museum stayed open late that night to allow the audience to visit the show. Upstairs were many wonderful fabric samples, letters (including two, handwritten, from Jackie Kennedy and Diana Vreeland), artworks and artifacts that reflected the Tilletts’ time, work, relationship and aesthetics.
I walked back to the train at 103rd Street, through the NYC Housing Authority projects, feeling inspired, fascinated and aware of how luscious and thought-provoking the day had been, grateful to Pamela and Linnaea specifically but even more generally the people doing fascinating things here who help all of us understand the world in a much more nuanced way than we might otherwise.