“Coral Reef” isn’t so much a coral color as a Pepto color. Or a shade of stomach lining.

The colors of 2015: Just add a squirt of black pigment to last year’s colors. Did you know you can buy just the squirt of color, so you can mix your own paints at home?

You might want to start.

Real coral, in antique Chinese jewelry. It's more orange than pink. [PD] Wikimedia

Real coral, in antique Chinese jewelry. It’s more orange than pink. [PD] Wikimedia

Sherwin Williams is striking out for the tropics with something called “Coral Reef.” I painted my kitchen this color once, and lived to regret it. It’s Pepto Bismol with a squirt of black. You’ll like it if you’ve ever dreamed of living inside of a seashell.


Benjamin Moore: Ben is sticking with the foggy-beach palette. In 2012 Ben called for Wyeth Blue, a pale gray-blue. In 2013 Wyeth was supplanted by the unlikely and unremarkable Lemon Sorbet. In 2014, Wyeth Blue shed some of the black to return as Breath of Fresh Air. And for 2015 we have dusty and inoffensive Guilford Green, categorized as a “natural neutral.”

Pantone, which last year picked a desperately unattractive color, which I also have used in my house by accident, will not name its next color until January. Here’s last year’s Hollering Orchid, aka Purple Teletubby, aka Grape Kool-Aid.pantone-color-of-the-year-2014-radiant-orchid

Pantone has released the palette–the card of color it feels will dominate the year to come. Im glad to see gray is still in there; and orange. But the blues aren’t working for me. Especially with the grayed-out almond and custard. And there’s more pink, this time as “Strawberry Ice.” 2015colorpalette

[PD] WIkiimedia

[PD] WIkiimedia

I’m not inspired by any of these. The natural neutral green is my favorite of the lot, but it looks a little faded to me, like it’s already 10 years old. What am I in the mood for? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps something like this: I know–same as last year.




Although one of my dearest childhood toys was a wallpaper sample book a neighbor rescued from the dump, there hasn’t been a minute of my adult life that I wanted wallpaper. Until now. Raumbild-LED-Wallpaper-407719-RU

Wallpaper has fallen on hard times, as a less stifling design ethos has peeled off about 90 percent of the stripes, flowers, frippery, froth, gilding, ribbons, swags, drapes, tufting, carving, texture, color, and assorted visual bombardment that characterized the Reagan Years. It’s going to take a while to get that cotton-candy taste out of my mouth.

On the bright side (heh) wallpapers now have to sing for their supper, so to speak. They have to justify their existence. And lately I’ve come across a few innovations that do just that.ZAR

LED Wallpaper: Genius. It’s wallpaper and lighting in one. Thus far many of the patterns seem a bit… engineery? Not particularly beautiful, considering the potential. And while they’re not terribly easy to find yet in this country, you might try this map of Ingo Maurer retailers:

Now for the tile-weary, how about waterproof wallpaper? Not the shiny crap from the 1970s, but a new “Wet System” from papermaker Wall & Deco. With a special primer, fiberglass sheet, and finish coat of something mysterious, you end up with a tough, striking alternative to tile. Allegedly. you can apply it over old tile, which could be a giant hassle-saver.

And finally, digital printing is making custom, 638f175f7288535f96e79e52283abbc37d77a54e

“hand made” paper designs a whole lot simpler to produce. Flavor Paper in Brooklyn prints off custom acreage of pretty and peculiar stuff in all shapes and sizes, and numerous colorways.

I am partial to Brooklyn Toile. It makes me think Laurie Spugnardi could work up a righteous Portland Toile; and Sally Brophy ought to be pondering on a Provincetown Pattern.








Humans: secretly swapping spit since spit began. [PD] wikimedia

Humans: secretly swapping spit since spit began. [PD] wikimedia

Even strains of bacteria native to the “oral cavity and saliva” are more common in the air when you’re around.

If you really want to purge your house of microorganisms, put on a hazmat suit when you come in the door. Like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic, each of us schleps around in a groty cloud of  our own skin flakes, saliva spatter, and even nose bacteria.

Scientists monitored the air in a classroom to see where airborne bacteria might come from. They covered the floor with plastic to prevent old dust from rising up under foot traffic. And they found more life forms hanging in the human-fouled air than they measured outdoors in “nature.” Tiny beings native to the human hair, skin, spit, and nostrils all registered their presence.

Is this a problem? The authors seem to think we ought not to stew in each other’s zoology. But haven’t we always? And prior to the habit of frequent bathing, isn’t it likely we inhaled a whole lot more of each other? Just because we can now do a head count, should we suddenly be alarmed?



Friendly Fungi. [PD] Wikkimedia

Friendly Fungi. [PD] Wikkimedia

Indoor mold combats asthma in children. OK, maybe not. But this is a really intriguing study, regardless.

Scientists measured the humidity and the number of fungus species present in a bunch of houses. A few years later they checked in to see if any children in these homes had developed asthma–an immune system disorder that renders your respiratory system hysterical.

Hey! Weird! The houses with high moisture had more breeds of fungus–and lower rates of asthma!

That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Except that there’s more than one road to asthma and allergy.

One is overexposure: You stand a shot at freaking out your immune system by overexposure to pretty much anything. Wood dust. Flour.

The other is underexposure. The Hygiene Hypothesis holds that we evolved as dirt-sleepers, cave-nappers, mold-breathers. Our immune system evolved a process of “learning” early in life what to freak out about, and what to ignore. But in our increasingly sterile homes, young immune systems miss out on early education. A house with low moisture offers poor habitat for fungi; and low exposure to fungi may handicap a growing immune system.

It’s just one study, and a small one at that. But it supports my private concern that ever since Stachybotrys molds made headlines in the early 1990s people have developed unnecessarily hostile attitudes toward household mold. It’s not all toxic, just as not all mushrooms are poisonous.

So there’s that. But there’s also this: Perhaps it’s interactions among mold species we need to study. Perhaps humid homes support “good” molds who compete with “bad” molds. Perhaps dry conditions favor a particular bad*ss strain of mold.

We’re pretty innocent regarding the mold kingdom. But it seems clear to me that damp, dirt floors were the standard in human shelter until quite recently; and that the lack of them is more likely what plagues us.



Portrait of a Banker/CLouet [PD] Wikimedia

Portrait of a Banker/CLouet [PD] Wikimedia

Houses aren’t always great investments, but they are almost always a better way to spend your housing dollar than renting is. And right now, a generation of young people is missing that opportunity to build equity.

OK, not the whole generation. The real numbers: First-time home buyers normally make up about 40 percent of the housing market. Just at this lousy moment, however, they make up 33 percent. It’s the lowest fraction in decades.

I am weary of the term “perfect storm.” And while I have always been partial to the term “clusterf*ck,” it is, as my mother would say, uncouth. It’s time for a new natural disaster with poetic potential.

Idiom notwithstanding, a few tributaries pour their tears into the current swamp of mortgage woe.

1. Many banks acted deplorably; caused the housing bubble; and as a result, made abject groveling for credit harder than ever.

2. Many colleges forgot their mission; students, never a particularly pragmatic demographic, apparently chose colleges for their stance on organic kale; and student debt achieved bizarre and novel proportions.

2.1 (The soaring cost of health care has also been ratcheting up alllll the money gears, too, as more medical interventions are invented and each of us feels entitled to try each of them. But I’m trying to be succinct.)

3. And a seller’s market has been holding sway, pushing up prices and undermining humble offers based heavily on borrowed money. Cash is king.

So “kids today” have a hard time borrowing, both because they’re already dragging around debt, and because banks are on shorter leashes.

So these young people are renting. Which is currently an expensive way to go, given the low supply and the high demand for rental housing. And that makes matters worse: Expensive rents make it that much harder for people to save money for a down payment. Even FHA loans require 3.5 percent down. For a $200,000 “starter home” that’s $7000.

To escape the usurious private mortgage insurance and assorted other monstrosities, you have to put down 20 percent. Otherwise, about $225 of your monthly payment will fly into the ghastly black hole of an insurance policy to protect the lending institutions from their own deplorable behavior and crummy judgement.

Result: A chunk of the population is sidelined, both from the opportunity to direct their income toward equity, and from the civic awakening that comes with writing that first property-tax check.

It seems like Things Might Happen. Losing 20 percent of first-time home buyers seems like it could produce a few ripples. But only time will tell.


Photo: Rebuild by Design

Photo: Rebuild by Design

Yesterday’s United Nations report that nobody’s doing diddly to slow climate change puzzled me. Haven’t they heard about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contest to design a bunch of dikes and stuff?

Just this summer HUD announced nearly a billion bucks in funding for clever designs to Sandy-proof Manhattan and Friends. At a press conference, a HUD official distributed cool fake-photos of dikes and declared, “Bring it, climate change! Game on!” (Not really.)

Two winning designs featured man-made improvements on what, in a more unkempt era, went by the name of “wetlands.” A Staten Island project will employ modern “rocks” to form innovative underwater barriers that will be called “reefs.” The winning plan to barricade the entire Meadowlands marsh inside a brand-new ring of elevated roads-and-condos has generated a trickle of controversy, given that this may just divert flood waters to unsuspecting and dikeless towns.

I had wondered where the first dikes would rise. My money was on Florida, but of course everybody else’s money is in Manhattan. Fortunately, not all of Manhattan requires diking, as the elevation of the island actually rises as you head north. So only 10 miles of dikey parks, or parky dikes, will be required to wrap the southern portion.


Manhattan’s BIG U: Berm view


New and Improved Meadowlands: Power boats equipped with anti-climate-change motors. I presume.

Anyway, United Nations, somebody’s doing something about climate change after all. Or talking about doing something. About, well, flooding caused by climate change. You gotta start somewhere. HUD is gonna start with bulldozers. Cool fake pictures, right?

Cool new book about Hurricane Sandy: SUPER STORM, by cool local writer Kathryn Miles.