Celebrating a decade of incredible work, Roman and Williams' Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch signed copies of their new book Roman and Williams Buildings & Interiors : Things We Made with some friends and a gallery of shots in the lobby at Ace Hotel New York last week — you can grab signed copies of this beautiful tome on our shop. We’re old friends with Robin and Stephen, and our studio director, Eric, and interiors maestro Loren worked on the Roman and Williams team when Ace Hotel New York was taking shape. They had a chance to sit down with Stephen and Robin amidst the mayhem to ask about the book, their work together and the subconscious.
Robin and Stephen, you still appear from time to time in Eric and Loren’s dreams. Do you find that creative collaboration spiked with a sobering dose of real business tends to dye the subconscious in this way, and do all the collaborators and team members you’ve had continue to affect your psyche?
Well everything that’s difficult tends to dye the subconscious and work itself into dreams, and we are and always have been difficult. We are proud of that tradition. Easy things are forgettable and have no impact –- no staying power. No dream or haunting qualities ever came from something easy.
The title Things We Made speaks to a sort of portfolio of finished products, however we know how important the process of design is, and how imperfections in that process go into your work, aka “fucking things up.” Will readers get any insight into this rebellious stance?
We hope so! We really put so much work into creating a book that would give insight into our ethos –- where readers could get a sense of us as people, not just our projects. We included hundreds of drawings –- we even drew on the drawings. And the text is a series of conversations, rather than just descriptions.
The book celebrates a “decade of design” — what do you hope the next decade will bring in terms of your studio and practice?
Even more humanistic, careful and unpretentious design. We hope to spread the warmth that the Ace embodies. We’d love to design an airport or a hospital in a way that would move people. The International Style, and what it has bred, and benign contemporary design have made for boring, dreary places that need to me be made more interesting –- interesting for everyone, and not just for architects and designers.
We love your beautiful spot in Montauk — how did the garden do this year? For the green thumbs out there, what’s your favorite vegetable to grow?
It was a hot summer and the garden was absolutely prolific. This year, we built eight-foot tall towers for our tomatoes and we grew eight different varieties. We have been harvesting them well into late October. We never thought they would grow that high – but they did –- they could have grown another few feet even! Our peppers also did well this year because of the heat.
We love growing cabbages, artichokes, and brussell sprouts -– vegetables that take two years to harvest. It is fascinating to watch the process -– how the vegetables grow over one summer, how they retract over the winter and then explode the following spring into super vegetable power.
We’ve also love growing medicinal plants like Angelika, Wormwood and Echinacea, which we like to use. We could go on …
In the act of making things there are many people involved in the process, especially with international projects internationally. In your experience, are Americans still good at “making things”?
Absolutely. American manufacturing almost disappeared — another price of the post-war obsession with cheapening architecture and design. It focused on zero craft and lack of detail. American manufacturing is known for being meaty, strong, simple and good. Things we love. We try to support American craftsmanship as much as we can. It is hard to convince developers and owners to pay more for things made in this country, to pay for things that last longer, but we do the best we can. Whenever we build something for ourselves, this is always the case.
We blessed to call you family and we’re honored to call you friends — excited to see what the next decade brings.
We feel the same about the Ace team. The world is a better place with Ace in it. Thank you. So proud to have had our book party in the Living Room! It’s the project that’s closest to our hearts. Thank you!
MEN is a Brooklyn-based band and performance collective that focuses on the radical potential of dance music. They’re touring the Pacific Northwest this month and we asked member JD Samson to present us with a photo essay from the road.
+ The first song you fell in love with.
+ Your role model.
+ Favorite thing to see in the audience from onstage.
INTERVIEW : BIG FREEDIA THE QUEEN DIVA SENDS HER BEST WISHES TO NY
It’s not quite clear if New York will have to weather the Sandy aftermath with or without Big Freedia — who we realize needs no introduction here. The Nola Bounce Queen Diva’s scheduled Halloween show at Brooklyn Bowl is looking likely — but nobody can make any promises. We got in touch with her Monday in the Crescent City via phone, where she chatted with us about the music and politics of bounce and sent her prayers from storm country.
There’s been a couple darker records to come out of New Orleans post-Katrina — like Juvenile’s Reality Check comes to mind. But overall New Orleans music is pretty joyful — especially for having been through something like that. Why is that? What makes it so resilient?
Well, definitely Bounce music is more of a happy music, and then you know we have all other other types of music here in New Orleans — the Jazz and Brass bands and even the Hip Hop, some of them keep it positive. We have a lot of versatility here and we use that.
Yeah, it seems like that can’t-keep-it-down energy is just engrained in the musical culture, sort of like a jazz funeral. How do you feel about the term “Sissy Bounce”? The piece in the New York Times a couple years ago said the artists didn’t really like it — not because of the word ‘sissy’ but because they just didn’t want to be separated from Bounce music in general.
Right, we don’t separate it here in New Orleans. It’s all bounce music. There’s no such thing as Sissy Bounce. We have some gay artists who do this music but we don’t separate it. There’s a lot of straight artists, [many who came before] the gay artists who feel offended when people be saying Sissy Bounce because it’s not Sissy Bounce, it’s Bounce music in general — New Orleans is really open to all artists.
Does it ever get competitive in Bounce? Are there battles like there are in other genres of Hip Hop?
Oh definitely (Laughs). We get competitive in many ways. When there’s a hottest artist all the other artists are trying to get to that point and they’re definitely gunning for that artist.
Any battles you’ve had you want to talk about?
No, but I’m always battling. That’s why I’m always on stage.
Are you still doing interior decorating?
Yeah, every chance I get I am.
As you tour more does it get harder to do that?
Yeah, it does. I’m touring a whole lot more and it’s been a challenge to try to decorate and perform at the same time. When I’m not here though I send out my staff and they go take care of it.
The more you tour and do shows around the country, is the vibe at a Bounce show becoming more similar to the way it is in New Orleans?
Yeah, it’s changing a lot. They’re learning the music. They’re jamming even more. They’re learning the dances. It’s feeling more and more like home everywhere I go.
How do you feel the rebuilding effort in New Orleans is going at this point?
I’m very excited with the way that the city’s coming back. It’s amazing what they’re doing. It’s an uplift on the whole city — it’s a slow process but it’s definitely changing.
Do you feel like the music scene is back in full swing?
I would say yes. It’s gotten back to where it needs to be at. It can always get stronger and bigger and better.
Quintron mentioned you in his shortlist of New Orleans artists when we interviewed him a few weeks back. Have you played with Quintron and Miss Pussycat?
Oh yeah, definitely. We’ve performed together before. When I first started touring a lot, Quintron was a big help with that. Yeah, he’s very familiar with me and I’m very familiar with him.
We have our own storm situation here as you know.
Yes and I’m very disappointed. I’m praying for you guys that the best happens, that God takes control over the whole situation. We’re a storm city here so we’re definitely praying that you guys will be safe.
Ben Swank is a former Soledad Brothers drummer, cofounder — with Jack White and Ben Blackwell — of Third Man Records and sometimes Rolling Record Store truck driver and vinyl slinger. He was circling our block at Ace New York in the Third Man Rolling Record Store as our CMJ shindig Notes From the Underground got started — looking for a spot to land for the weekend and shill wax — and he kindly double parked for a moment to chat with us about the state of music and stuff. Catch him in the shop outside Ace New York today from 5pm til around midnight.
Do you have any insider info on the Blunder-Blue vinyl recipe?
It’s a mixture of polyvinyl chloride (CH2=CHCI), salt, oil and polymerized chlorine resin mixed with MK Ultra Blue Tab 25 disco dust.
You’ve been a pretty outspoken advocate for musicians placing their livelihoods over 90s style concerns about indie street cred. Is there anything you’d consider going too far? Would you advise an artist to license their song so that it’s activated by the opening of Big Mac boxes?
It’s all what the artist is comfortable with. It’s an individual choice in the same way a person may enjoy the disgusting endorphin rush of a Big Mac over the smug self-satisfaction of a nice kale salad. I think it’s pretty difficult to “sell out” these days. It’s tough for up-and-coming bands to get by. It’s probably weird for fans to hear The Strange Boys in a computer commercial or Eddy Current Suppression Ring hawking AT&T… but I just think, at least they are paying some bills. The corporate landscape is different now. There’s rock’n’roll kids working for advertising companies. Sounds silly, but seriously that’s ridiculous. You wouldn’t have heard Tad in a Pepsi commercial (despite having THE BEST song about Pepsi) because in the 90s slackers didn’t work at ad firms. Or work at all. Cause it was the 90s and everyone was depressed and serious.
Has somebody ever given you a demo when you totally thought the conversation was not leading to giving you a demo, but then it did, but it was cool ‘cause it was actually really good?
That hasn’t happened… but some kid posted on my Facebook page the other day with his band and at first I was pissed about it — the flagrant self-advertising. But I listened to it and it was really good and I kind of learned a lesson that day.
Not a flat, but it’s on the road a lot so it has had some issues pop up. Usually, it’s finding a cool mechanic that can sort it out right away that just wants to work on a cool truck. But usually they’re just like, “What the hell is this thing? You sell records?” And then they shake their heads in disapproval at us and shame us.
Tina Snow Le is a local genius of petite stature and outsized brain skills. She is also on the Action Team for the first ever Design Week Portland and the in-house graphics maestro at Solestruck (where we are about to buy an obscene amount of footwear in twenty minutes). Amidst the fantastic chaos of her life and in a cloud of gentle profanities, Tina answered some questions from comrade and Ace designer Martie Flores.
What connections do you find between your work, personal projects and everyday interactions?
They’re all mostly fueled by lack of sleep and a ton of yerba maté. My family has always instilled in me the value of hard work and I hold true to that. I absolutely enjoy what I do and feel fortunate to even have the opportunity to make something everyday. I don’t ever feel like I’m working; the line between work and play doesn’t exist. I think the biggest challenge of that is giving people and projects the attention they deserve. It’s important to me to be honest, be kind and to give my best at all times. My friend Ashley has always told me, “If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing right,” and I foster that in everything that I do.
What would you like to see graphic design do for others?
You know that moment when you fall in love, and that thought beautifully haunts you to where you can’t think of anything else? This feeling of being in love is the reason why I am a designer; this is why I make. I get to fall in love again every single day. I hope that graphic design can help others feel the same way that I do about design, even if the subject is not anywhere near related.
How would you make someone fall in love with graphic design?
I don’t like making anyone do anything, or tell anyone what to do or how to do things. I get excited about things and like to share what I’m excited about with others. I probably use more exclamation marks than anyone will ever use in their lifetime, and my caps lock button is broken on my keyboard. Energy is contagious, and I can only hope that somebody out there will enjoy what I love as much as I do.
What are you doing now and what do you want to do to improve yourself as a designer?
I thrive when design is fused with community to create an experience that is exciting, engaging and, most of all, fun. It’s important for me to put myself in uncomfortable situations, because that’s when I feel like I learn the most. I want to use design to solve problems that don’t necessarily have anything have to do with design and have fun with it at the same time. If I can’t figure something out, I try to find a way or make one.
What’s one thing everyone, designer or not, should remember?
Lose your entitlement, not your integrity.
If you only made animated gifs for one person, who would it be and why?
It would be for my mentor and friend Kate Bingaman-Burt. Gosh I freaking love this woman and, honestly, who doesn’t? Kate and the Portland State Graphic Design program are to blame for all this trouble I’m causing with graphic design. If anyone loves a fat cat eating pizza while surrounded by hot dogs with lasers shooting around, it would be her.
My role is to coordinate the open house portion of Design Week where 60+ businesses, studios, firms, and shops all over Portland open their doors to the public. I’m overwhelmed by the generous hospitality of the design community here, and so proud of our city for getting together to make this week happen. I don’t think any of the organizers, including myself, had any idea how big Design Week was going to get, especially with it being the first year in Portland. It’s been rewarding to see all of the events unravel and to hear the discussions all around town between designers and non-designers. I feel so honored to be a part of it, and I hope to cause even more trouble with the supreme dream team next year.
Roscoe Orman has played the character of Gordon on Sesame Street since 1974. We caught up with him in advance of his appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con to talk about what it’s like to spend nearly four decades in a happy place surrounded by good people and mythical creatures (a lot like our jobs, in fact).
Gordon occupies this poignantly innocent place for at least a couple generations of grownups and a whole bunch of kids. How has a mere mortal lived up to being Gordon for all these years?
Well, for all of us who have done Sesame Street for so many years — we’re all a part of a team that’s committed to children and that is such a big part of who we all are as artists and workers. Sesame Street is us. What we’ve become is synonymous with what’s known as Sesame Street. And in fact it’s one of the easiest, most fun jobs that I’ve done. It comes quite easily because of that rapport that we have with each other and the common bond that we share.
It seems like that rapport extends to the viewing audience as well. It feels like we know these Sesame Street characters.
Yeah, I think so. I think there’s a strong identification with us, including us human cast members who have matured and aged over the years but are still recognizable, that those who grew up watching us feel like they know us. They know us intimately and when we’re doing any kind of an appearance together in public, it can become an emotional experience for people who have all those memories with us.
As for the non-human characters, Elmo, for example, was around for years before he broke out and became a star. Are there any muppets on the precipice of being a superstar? Is Hoots the Owl one performance away?
Funny you mention Hoots the Owl. I haven’t seen Hoots for a number of years, but he was performed by Kevin Clash who does Elmo as well. Kevin is a creative force. He grew up with this dream of working with Jim Henson and it’s a dream that came true. What emanates from all his performances is this incredible enthusiasm and love and spontaneity. He’s really in the moment and enjoying everything each time he puts on that little red monster. The entire group of puppeteers have a kind of synergy together that’s wonderful to watch. Of course, everyone has their favorites. In my case, it’s Grover.
It’s been nearly thirty years since Will Lee, who played the character of Mr. Hooper, passed away and the producers of Sesame Street decided to deal with that directly with the famous “Farewell Mr. Hooper” episode, in which Gordon consoles Big Bird. There have been references to Mr. Hooper throughout the years, including recently. Big Bird still keeps a drawing of him above his nest. Those kinds of things demonstrate this genuine commitment to the human ethos of the show. What’s it like to be part of something like that?
I remember when that decision was being made and the producers and writers really thought it was an opportunity for them to address a very difficult topic which most children at some point in their lives will experience. It was a brave move, but I thought it was handled really well. It aired on Thanksgiving, so families could be together when they watched it and it was an educational moment for all of us. Those of us who were in that episode were experiencing the grieving process in a genuine, real-time way. It wasn’t something that we had to try to create, and I think that came through. Those kinds of difficult issues are something that Sesame Street occasionally steps up and confronts and deals with in a way that reflects how we educate children about not only letters and numbers but feelings and community.