Up in Smoke

A Rock Industry Insider Recalls the Malibu Wildfire that Consumed (Almost) Everything 

I miss the change of seasons in New Jersey. Transplanted here in Southern California, I must make do with Football Season, ’Tis the Season and the new TV Season. And then there is that other, more ominous, time of year: Fire Season. In a matter of minutes, it can turn you from a “have” into a “have-not”. For my friend Sue Sawyer (right), the November 1993 blaze that raged through the Malibu canyon where she lived swallowed more than just her home. It took a bite out of the joie de vivre she once had—the loss of which she is still coming to terms with today. In the early 1990’s, Virgin Records America was in its heyday, and Sawyer was its V.P. of Media Relations. Her clients included Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, and The Clash. Over the years she received many gold records from artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Sade, and Cheap Trick that she hung on her living room wall. Her five platinum albums from Michael Jackson had an inscription from Michael that read Dear Sue, thanks for the hard work. These also were displayed in her home. A triptych photograph taken in the early 1980’s, showed Sue sitting on a sofa with Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Ozzy was promoting his first solo album, and a marketing meeting was set up at Epic Records. Ozzy walked in with a photographer, which was unusual; this should have been the tip-off for Sawyer that he had something up his sleeve (or in his pockets, to be exact). When everyone was seated, Ozzy produced a white dove from his coat, smiled sweetly at it—and bit its head off. He reached in his other pocket and pulled out another white dove and prepared to dine on that one, but the conference room erupted in protest, and the bird and everyone else in the room was saved from another unsavory spectacle. Although the photographs showed Sue’s expression going from Oh, what a pretty bird Ozzy has to utter revulsion, the triptych was exhibited on her walls to prove that, yes, this really did happen… I was there. The fire took everything. Sawyer’s “to die for” record collection? Vaporized. Her priceless collectibles? Incinerated. Early punk rock singles, including Elvis Costello when he was with Stiff Records? Up in smoke. A few charred 4×4’s, the bottom drum to her Weber grill, the blackened and ash filled carcass of her boyfriend’s vintage1967 metallic gold Thunderbird, the blob of melted coins from her piggybank, and the over-baked Halloween pumpkin that was sitting on the porch, was all that was left. There wasn’t even a place to hang the red UNSAFE FOR OCCUPANCY notification, so it was left under a rock. After the fire ran its course and Sawyer was allowed back on to the smoldering property, it was her incinerated books that she mourned the most. Everything that Graham Greene and Raymond Chandler wrote she collected. She had all of her childhood books, especially Winnie-The-Pooh, lovingly placed on bookshelves. “I would look at my books and it gave me a kind of a…hug,” she recalls. “I don’t have that now.” The literary collection was her treasure. Through the day-today roller coaster ride that was her job, those books provided a sense that everything was going to be all right.

It kept her grounded in a world of music icons and crazy, all-night industry parties. Sawyer has since acquired more books to fill new shelves, but the concertized connection to her younger, more carefree self was gone; as was the piano that she was more than proficient in playing. “When I was seven, I could play Rachmaninov in C sharp minor,” Sawyer says. She hasn’t owned a piano since she found the twisted remains of its soundboard nestled in the ash and soot of what was once her living room. “My house was completely gone.” The great Malibu fire of 1993 burned for three days. Sue Sawyer and 267 others lost their homes. Among her burnt-out neighbors were Sean Penn and Madonna, Ali MacGraw, Dwight Yokum, and Roy Orbison’s widow, Barbara. Three people perished in the fire, which was fueled by a combination of oil-rich and highly combustible chaparral, severe drought, and the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that roared through the canyon. In the first 10 minutes the fire spread from one acre to 200, and within an hour it had scorched over 1,000. It was about 20 minutes into the burn that Sawyer knew her house was in its path, and she had to get home to save her pets. Normally, there were a lot of meetings on Tuesday mornings, but she happened to be in her office with the television on. There was a breaking news bulletin about a fire sweeping toward the sea. “I knew this was no small deal by the way the newscasters talked about it,” she recalls. “And I knew my house was directly between the origin of the fire and the ocean.” The sick feeling that started to take hold of Sawyer was confirmed when a neighbor called. He told her he was evacuating and would take her Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, but she needed to come and grab her cats. Driving along Pacific Coast Highway toward he

r threatened home, she was struck by the surrealism of it all. “The ocean was glittery with the sun bouncing on the surface, and the sky was such a beautiful blue,” she remembers. “And then there was this huge plume of smoke going up into the sky.” There was a state-of-the art fire station with a helicopter pad just up the road from where she lived. Would her home be spared? She knows now that when an out-of-control fire is in the mood to burn, there’s not much you can do about it. She reached her home with minutes to spare. With two cats and one cat carrier, she ended up stuffing one in a pillow case and tossing both in the car. Then she bolted back into the house to save what she could. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon and the sky had darkened with soot. Ash was everywhere, inside the house as well as out,

and an orange glow was licking at the ridge line, edging ever closer. “I was rushing around sick to my stomach,” Sawyer says. “There was no rhyme or reason to what I was putting in the car. I grabbed a photo album, my skis, a computer, and bicycles.” “But not enough clothes,” she chuckles wryly. “Next time I’ll pack better.” There was only one way out of the canyon; if an ember had leapfrogged onto her escape route, there would have been no way out. She took one last look at her home and—still hopeful that this evacuation would turn out to be nothing more than a fire drill—thought, “This is going to be so much work putting everything back!” Sawyer retreated to her parents’ house in Simi Valley, where a friend phoned to tell her that the street Sue lived on was gone. Wow, she thought, I guess I’m homeless. The next morning, with the fire still gobbling up homes north of Los Angeles, Sawyer’s office phoned to ask if she would be coming in for the marketing meeting. Hey, that’s show biz! “I don’t have a toothbrush or any underwear,” she told the caller, “I think I’ll be a little late for work today.” A month later, Sawyer began her slow return from the weightlessness of the dispossessed. She was living in a rental home in Burbank and her friends and co-workers threw a surprise benefit party to help her pick up the pieces. “This outpouring of kindness was the best thing that happened after the fire,” she says. “These were not the wealthy people of the music business; these were the publicists and writers. The $50 checks that they gave meant so much to me. I still have the checks from the freelance writers. I didn’t cash them. They didn’t have a lot of money, and I still had a job. The irony was that those same people got hit by the [January 1994] earthquake a month later.” Sawyer has regained most of her zest. But part of that happy-go-lucky, young woman vanished that November morning. “I regret the loss of my books and my music,” she says. “And my love letters. I dated a lot of writers, so there were some incredible love letters. I regret that I didn’t really mourn what I had lost; I was changed by the loss, but I didn’t mourn it. I wish I had had some therapy, it would have helped.” From the ashes eventually there is growth. The élan that defined Sue Sawyer both personally and professionally was replaced with a “don’t sweat the little stuff” sensibility that has served her equally well. After a hiatus from the world of media marketing, she is working as an independent publicist for a boutique public relations firm in Los Angeles. And she bought another house, in Glendale, where she can hear her neighbors’ son practicing the piano. With a twinkle in her eye, she says that she would like to start playing again. EDGE

It’s a Gift

Wish List

Great Toys for Grown-Up Girls & Boys

You may be too old to fire off a letter to Santa, but that’s no reason for the kid in you to let the holidays pass without making a decent wish list. From old games to new electronics, there’s something out there to please even the most discerning inner child. May your season be joy filled…and toy filled!

CHRISTMAS PAST Ask anyone older than 30-something to name their all-time favorite game. The across-the-board answer: Monopoly, the ultimate Boardwalk Empire. The game we remember has undergone a serious makeover as the Monopoly Revolution ($35 at your local Target), which upgrades the staid old board with sound effects and credit cards instead of cash. Buying houses you can’t afford in real life is fun! History’s happiest accident—the Slinky— has returned to the family staircase in a 14- karat, gold-plated-brass 55th Anniversary Edition ($100 at Buy.com). According to legend, the discovery that the spring could “walk” was completely serendipitous. The rest is history, with more than 300 million sold and still counting. Another beloved blast from the past is the Rubiks Cube, now available in a glitzy high-tech Rubiks TouchCube version (on amazon.com for about $70). Nostalgia is also available in book form. The Official Preppy Handbook, that iconic, tongue-in-cheek treatise on the WASP-y culture of the 1980s, finally has its longa waited sequel. One of the original authors has taken another satirical look at the “new old guard” in True Prep: It’s a Whole New World. Buy it in hardcover at your local brick-and-mortar bookseller, or go for the preppier Kindle or iPad editions.

CHRISTMAS PRESENT An unfortunate reality of being a self-indulgent grown-up is that fitness and exercise equipment often migrates onto our holiday wish lists. If you think walking (or even running) is for wimps—and can put off that new car purchase for another year—then you might want to trade in your treadmill for a Treadwall, a motorless rotating climbing wall that moves by body weight alone. The good news is you are never more than 1-2 feet off the floor. The bad news is that this will set you back about $10,000 (a KidWall version is less). Check it out at uniquefit1.com or call around to some climber-friendly gyms. If work intrudes on your workout, then consider equipping your home office with a Gaiam BalanceBall Chair (on Amazon.com for about $80). Chiropractically engineered, the chair continues working those core muscles even if you sit at your desk for hours. You’re basically buying the chair’s framework; the rest is BYOB (Bring Your Own Ball). It’s the same balance ball you use in your workout routines. Need to exercise on the road? You’ll have no more excuses away from home thanks to the Tumi Travel Fitness Trainer. It’s equipped with a pedometer, heart rate monitor, stopwatch, MP3 player and FM radio. Look for it at the Tumi store in the Short Hills Mall (or online at tumi.com) for about $165. Masochism comes in myriad forms, not all of which involve calorie burning workouts. Golf leaps to mind. Feeling the burn in this sport mostly happens between the ears. If greens are what get you blue, then consider the Laser Alignment Putting Trainer, which uses a laser beam to tell you when your putt is perfect— before you even touch the ball. Look for it online at hammacher.com for $329.95.

CHRISTMAS FUTURE If racing ahead of the pack gets you in the holiday spirit, then you’ll be happy to hear that the toys of tomorrow are here today. For instance, you can actually carry around a computer in a pen with the LiveScribe Echo Smartpen. It captures everything you hear, write or say and delivers it with just a tap of the pen ($170 for 4GB and $200 for 8 GB versions at livescribe.com; also at Target). Or treat yourself to a Gyration Air Mouse, which controls apps on your computer, TV or DVD player with a wave of your hand ($70 and up at amazon.com or compusa.com). Gadget gals are turning cartwheels over the latest Flip Video Cams. Their fetching case artwork belies their impressive HD video capabilities, with up to two hours of record time ($150 to $230). Best to go direct to theflip.com, where you can even upload your own photo for a personalized one-of-a-kind camera. If your final wish for 2010 (or final wish, period) is to careen down a snow-covered slope at 70 mph, then you’ll want to invest in an Airboard. Think of these Swiss-engineered inflatables as really Felixible Flyers. Popular for years in Europe, the Airboard has just begun appearing on American mountainsides. You may want to rent before you buy (they sell for $200 to $630 at airboard.com), and probably review your insurance policy. If your thrill-seeking tends to be a bit less public, then the Spy Net Secret Mission Video Watch may be more your speed. It’s a 21st Century take on those old decoder rings buried at the bottom of cereal boxes. It can audio record for 3 hours, video record for 20 minutes, and take still photos with a snake cam that lets you see around corners ($50 at jakks.com and also carried by Kmart).

Editor’s Note: Chris Gibbs is the brains behind EDGE’s “It’s A Gift” section. She’s been waiting all year to do this story!

Game On

 In Search of the Ultimate Sports Poster

Most experts agree that there are four cornerstones to a successful marriage. 1. Trust. 2. Honesty. 3. Unexpressed anger. 4. No sports junk on the walls. Many a man has tested rule #4 only to see that framed jersey or signed photo, without warning, donated to a local charity auction. Like a game of Jumanji, the priceless heirloom insidiously then works its way into another home, where it initiates marital chaos all over again. Bill Crouse is the exception that proves rule #4. One of the world’s leading authorities on Art Deco posters, his collection may be the best ever assembled. When Crouse purchases a sports poster, it’s invariably a jaw-dropper. In these pages we present a handful of sporting selections from the renowned Crouse Collection. You won’t find these masterpieces at your suburban gala or fundraiser. You will see them in museums and galleries in Europe and the U.S. (including right now at the Guggenheim’s Chaos and Classicism exhibit). If you want to buy them at auction, be prepared to spend somewhere in the mid-six figures!

Cycles Brillant • A. M. Cassandre (1901-1968) Only a few copies of this 1925 poster—a gleaming example of Cassandre’s adherence to minimalism—are know to exist. Not many commercial artists would be brave enough to hand a client an ad concept for a bicycle that shows no details of the product. Even fewer could actually pull it off.

Campeonato Abierto de Basket-Ball • Caroselli (Dates Unknown) The image of the angled competitor was popular among Art Deco posterists. In this advertisement for a 1934 tournament, Caroselli used this technique—along with an airbrushed black “cocoon”—to capture the energy of a layup.

Monaco/19 Avril 1931 • Robert Falcucci (1900-1989) This rarest of Monaco GP posters—possibly the only example in private hands—shows a Mercedes SSK in hot pursuit of a red Bugatti. Falcucci’s use of white streaks running the length of the racer, concentric arcs of white behind to convey the rush of the wind, and the bright palette of red, yellow and blue give this streamlined design great panache. A multitalented painter, decorator and illustrator, Falcucci received his formal training in Paris and served as the historical painter for the French Army.

Beristain/Todo Para Deportes • Jacint Bofarull (1903-?) on prior page Although Bofarull earned a reputation as a politically outspoken artist, none of his political leanings are evident in this promotion for Beristain’s Barcelona department store and its line of sporting equipment and apparel. Despite the fact that pipe-smoking is no longer a part of sports, it would not be a stretch to call this 80-year-old poster “timeless.”

Coupe Davis • A. M. Cassandre (1901-1968) In Cassandre’s advertisement for the 1932 Davis Cup, he grabs viewers’ attention by placing them in the path of an oncoming shot at net. The use of geometry and dynamic perspective in this extraordinarily rare poster— as well as the ease with which the design’s elements are assembled—are superb examples of what made Cassandre the most important Art Deco figure in the history of advertising posters.

Mistrzostwo Swiata/Krynica 1931 • Stefan Osiecki (1902-1939) Jerzy Skolimowski (1907-1985) This promotion for the 1931 World Ice Hockey Championships in Poland can barely contain the action within the frame. The featureless depiction of the competitors captures the team-oriented nature of the sport, while the flags along the bottom clearly convey that 10 national teams will by vying for the title.

Sables d’Or les Pins • Lec (Dates Unknown) For the dedicated golfer, playing a well-designed course borders on a religious experience. In this breathtaking 1926 poster, the artist captures this feel using a stained-glass style.

III Olympic Winter Games • Witold Gordon (1885-1968) Gordon left no doubt in this iconic poster where the center of the sports universe would be in February of 1932: Lake Placid. These Winter Games—the first held in North America—were opened by New York Governor (and soon-to-be U.S. President) Franklin Roosevelt. Gordon also designed the grand murals at Radio City Music Hall and the 1939 World’s Fair.”

World’s Greatest Air Race • Percy Trompf (1902-1964) The 1934 England-to- Australia air race covered more than 11,000 miles and was won by Lieutenant Charles William Anderson Scott and Captain Tom Campbell Black. Their scarlet DH.88 Comet finished with a time of 71 hours. Art Deco posters typically pared down or simplified the human element. However, in this poster, Trompf chose to zero in on the pilot’s face to convey the focus, determination and uncompromising will of the participants. Trompf created thousands of posters for companies in his native Australia, and attracted clients in England and Canada, too.

1er Campeonato Mondial de Football • Guillermo Laborde (1886-1940) This poster for the inaugural World Cup is the Holy Grail collectible for soccer fans. Laborde conveys the action and athleticism of the sport with just a few linear elements. An acclaimed South American artist and sculptor, he agreed to judge the poster submissions for the 1930 World Cup. Later, Laborde resigned from the panel and submitted two of his own—which came in first and third.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Tim Gazinski for his assistance in selecting and describing these posters. William Crouse’s 2009 book Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco Posters was hailed as “unmatched in the field” by the International Poster Center.


Local Talent

Buying art means buying smart. So what’s the deal with your neighborhood gallery?

In the typical suburban New Jersey home, you’re more likely to find a good guy named Art than good art. That’s fine if your goal is to own an undistinguished sofa-sized oil. But what if you want fine art—the kind that will brighten your life and fatten your bottom line? The answer may be as close as your local gallery. For those who believe you have to cross the Hudson to find investment-grade art, this idea may go against the grain. But the fact is that building a relationship with a gallery (or galleries) here in the Garden State can yield a far greater return—not just in terms of value and quality, but in so many other ways.   This applies to the seasoned collector as well as the novice. In fact, if you’re like so many New Jerseyans, the thought of opening your checkbook in a local art gallery is nothing short of terrifying. First things first. Let’s wrap our minds around the reasons New Jerseyans don’t buy art. Above all there is the intimidation factor. Most people are afraid they’ll be taken to the cleaners by an unscrupulous gallery owner. Second, they are nervous that their friends will make fun of a purchase that is different and modern, or simply out of character. Feeding this double-barreled paranoia is the fact that—particularly in the case of an abstract piece—one cannot specifically define the level of talent and technical skill involved in producing modern art. And on top of these very legitimate fears is the great, big elephant in the room: Why, when New York City is so close, would anyone buy art in New Jersey in the first place? Permit me to deal with this last objection first. Galleries here in New Jersey are indeed different than most galleries in the city. That is to say that they are friendly and approachable. If you think about it, it makes complete sense. Gallery owners are where they are, and do what they do, because they love and appreciate art. If they were in this business to make a killing, I hate to say it but they would be in Manhattan. What else does New Jersey have to offer art buyers that the city doesn’t? Well, there is a lot of first-rate talent that, for one reason or another, is only shown on this side of the Hudson. There is no comparison in terms of service. Try walking into a gallery on West Broadway or Madison Avenue and asking the owner to drive out to your place in Westfield for a consultation. That thud is the sound of his jaw hitting the floor. A gallery owner in or around your town, on the other hand, will likely welcome this opportunity. New Jersey art dealers are genuinely interested in the people who live around them, and cultivating relationships that extend beyond the buying and selling of art. They are part of the fabric of the community. Connecting with a local gallery also happens to be a superb way of adding texture to your social life. Once you’re “on the list” you’ll be invited to opening receptions whenever a new artist is featured. How often do you get to mix and mingle with new people who just happen to share a common interest? The majority of people attending gallery openings are like you—they want to know more about art and the people who buy it. (By the way, a free wine-and-cheese gathering is a wonderful springboard to dinner, a movie, or whatever else you’ve planned for an evening out.) Okay, so what about the financial side of the gallery relationship? Now more than ever, as we balance the merits of saving and spending, it is important to know what you get for your money when you purchase a work of art. Whether the price tag is several hundred or several thousand, dealers who live and work nearby are unlikely to “rip off” customers; they have reputations to uphold. If you happen to be one of the fortunate few who have five or six figures to invest in art, a good dealer will have solid connections to galleries that can point you in the right direction (and more importantly, steer you clear of the wrong direction). Either way, if your appreciation of art is tied to its potential appreciation, make that clear to the gallery owners you deal with.They will help you assess potential purchases (or emerging artists) with that goal in mind. Another advantage to buying in New Jersey—besides the good feeling that comes with supporting a local business— is that gallery owners here may be much more likely to work a deal that fits your finances. Their overhead is lower than in the city, which may translate into wiggle room when you whip out the checkbook. Finally, keep in mind as you shop or budget for fine art that you are buying something that could turn out to be a family treasure. Art is timeless. Art is priceless. Unlike a sofa or granite countertop, it does not depreciate the moment it walks through your front door. If you’ve chosen wisely, in fact, it could appreciate dramatically. And as it moves from your home to your children’s, and then to your children’s children’s and beyond, it serves as a link between the generations. In the meantime, this investment will enhance your quality of life every time you fix your gaze upon it. Indeed, as Pablo Picasso once observed, art “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Amen to that. Some other art icons have also had a thing or two to say on the subject. Jackson Pollock famously noted that every good painter paints what he is. Rembrandt suggested practicing what you know to make clear what now you do not know. Believe it or not, Michelangelo often insisted, I can actually draw. Clarity and simplicity enabled these great painters to create magnificently complex works of art. When it comes to buying art in the Garden State, a little clarity and simplicity also goes a long way. EDGE 

Editor’s Note: Kathy Donnelly is an art collector and dealer. She owns Beauregard Fine Art Gallery (beauregardfineart.com) in Rumson.

It’s A Gift

Tank Girl

Tank Girl

A (Saltwater) Fish Story Finding Nemo is not the problem. Keeping Nemo alive is. 

How many finny lives are upon my head? As a writer and editor of reference books, magazine articles and web pages on the care and feeding of all manner of aquatic life, how many kids did I help to take that final, fatal step after Disney had entranced them with Finding Nemo? How many gazillion brave little Clownfish lives were sacrificed in the service of a silly fad…and what was my part in it? It breaks my heart. Even more distressing is the fact that I may be in the minority. The pet industry, with which I have been entangled, like fishing line around the foot, professionally as an aquatics editor the past 20 years (and personally as a hobbyist for over fifty), does not profit from our successes. It’s a paradox, and perhaps it carries a larger message to our critical selves:

Photo by Matt Wittenrich, courtesy of Jeff Turner Reef Aquaria Design

The industry that supplies the livestock and equipment for people who would like to enjoy a small slice of the coral reef in their homes and offices profits from the woes and disappointments of the average beginning aquarium fish hobbyist—particularly in the marine fish and invertebrate hobby. Does the average Joe (or Joanne) starting a saltwater tank stand a fighting chance? The short answer is Yes. The long answer is that keeping a successful marine aquarium is equal parts difficult and satisfying. I am here to tell you that it can be done…as long as you’re willing to keep your eyes and wallet open, and understand how this hobby actually works. I offer the following nuggets of wisdom to help the budding “tank girl” (or boy) build a foundation for success. • Captive-bred specimens are recommended for beginners in marine aquarium keeping, regardless of the species desired. Captive-bred animals are hardier, acclimated to aquarium living, and are virtually disease-free. Also, if your pet shop is selling captive-bred stock, you can generally assume that they actually give a hoot about the environment. • More expensive fish are generally in better shape than bargains. At the grocery store, wild-caught fish are more expensive and worth it. That’s because you are eating them. But in a good pet store, it’s the captive-bred fish that are more expensive. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but please buy the expensive fish. In the end, the dead fish is the most expensive one of all. • The biology of the coral reef is as complicated as it is achingly beautiful. The ability to duplicate the ocean’s floor is a skill that comes with dedication, experience, and a whole lot of reading and working with other like-minded people. An honest pet industry professional will find some way to convey this point to you. A hard-nosed one won’t. That’s because the pet industry counts on the great turnover in hobbyists. All those glass boxes at garage sales represent money down the drain for overwhelmed or under-informed owners…and countless tiny lives flushed away. • Patience, patience and more patience. Don’t become a statistic. Start slow and keep it simple. Is it too much to ask that people not buy their first saltwater aquarium along with the fishes, live rock, and invertebrates all on their first visit to a pet shop? I experiment constantly, and found the very best aquarium I ever kept was limited to live rocks for a whole year before I put any fish in. I always tell my friends to “grow something” in the water first. No matter how many products are available to help start aquariums quickly, the aquarist’s best friend starting out is time. • Patronize the local brick & mortar pet shop and—I’ll say it again—beware of bargains. Even though it may not be able to compete with Internet prices, your local pet shop was likely opened as a labor of love and expertise; these folks are looking to make a living, not a fortune. Pet shop insiders will be the most generous of people with their time, experience, and good advice. However, be aware of the fishmonger who repeats whatever it is you just said, who agrees with a wayward premise. (Yeah! I always feed live guppies to all my cichlids.) If the advice smells like a bucket of week-old dead fish, this is what you’ll probably have next week if you buy from this guy. I only thank my lucky stars that Clownfish are now being commercially farmed at facilities like the ORA hatchery complex in Ft. Pierce, Florida and need not be collected from the wild. Had Nemo been an equally adorable Banggai Cardinalfish, collection pressures on the small wild populations would definitely have put this species at serious risk, even though it too is able to be bred in captivity; just not enough to supply the demand for fish that a movie like Nemo would generate. Although some of us in the industry wrestle with our consciences, in the end we believe that every person who begins a saltwater aquarium—regardless of the outcome— gains new respect and appreciation for our delicate planet. I can’t think of any other exercise that shows us in such acute detail just how difficult it can be to keep a small being living under our care. Perhaps if more people dedicated themselves to maintaining flourishing saltwater tanks, the Gulf of Mexico would still support a shrimping industry, global warming would be addressed in a more proactive way, and we would realize that the line between the coral reefs of Fiji and the Arthur Kill can be an astoundingly fine one. EDGE 


 Editor’s Note: Mary Ellen Sweeney is the ultimate Tank Girl—a lifelong hobbyist and a razor-sharp writer and editor for aquatics magazine, books and web sites. 28



It’s A Gift

Feng Shui for Lovers

Don’t be misled by the racy cover slugs on your favorite supermarket magazines.
Solving tricky “bedroom problems” is not the exclusive domain of sex columnists.
For countless millions of troubled couples, the answer isn’t the art of love, but the art of placement.

AHong Kong-based movie director sought to smooth his turbulent marriage by trading in his traditional king-sized bed for one with rounded corners. All in the spirit of taking the edge off the relationship. In California, parents of four daughters in their twenties painted each of their bedrooms peach, a color the Chinese associate with romance and flirtation. To ensure future wedding bells. Having trouble in your marriage? Still looking for that special someone with whom to share your life? Do you sleep like a baby—a colicky one? Are you restless when you should be resting, waking up in the morning jumpy and nervous? Do you suffer from constant headaches or stomach cramps? Before contacting your local couples counselor, sleep specialist or gastroenterologist, consider this: your bedroom might be suffering from bad feng shui.

Feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, addresses the environment to achieve peace, harmony and tranquility. In a bedroom, a delicate balance must be struck between serenity and suggestiveness. Calming aspects are desirable and contribute to sweet, langorous slumber, but in a marriage or relationship, desire and intimacy also need to be stoked. We spend one-third of our lives in our bedroom, where we rest, relax and recharge our energies. No wonder that, to the modern feng shui expert, the bedroom is one of the most important areas of your home. Indeed, for thousands of years, the Chinese have believed that where you sleep will influence how you sleep—that the structure and layout of your bedroom can affect your well being. When arranging a bedroom, certain ancient Chinese principles should be employed: the flow of ch’i (which translates as “energy”), the balance of yin and yang, and the wholeness of tao (which translates as the “way of nature”). Common and uncommon sense also are invaluable. In a bedroom, to the Chinese, position is an important consideration—of the bed location, that is. Ideally the bed should be cater-corner to the room’s entrance, with a view of the door so that you can comfortably see anyone entering and not be surprised. This position is called the commanding position; it gives you a sense of control over your environment. A poorly placed bed may disrupt your sleep at night and make you edgy and unbalanced during the day. Given that the ideal bed-to-door relationship is not always possible, the best cure is to hang a mirror in a way that  reflects the door toward you as you lie in bed. In some cases, a bed lies between two opposing windows, so a draft blows continually, disturbing sleep. This can be cured by hanging wind chimes, a crystal, or light between the windows, thus symbolically disbursing the draft.

“Whether you’re looking for a little luck or just hoping

to get lucky, a little feng shui can go a long way.”

Avoid locating your bed under a load-bearing beam. If it runs down the center, it will be divisive to a married couple. One couple in Manhattan rarely slept together an entire night. The wife always got up in the middle of the night and slept in the guest bedroom. Her midnight rambling ended after they moved the bed out from underneath the beam.

Similarly, avoid having a beam running over your stomach or you may experience cramps and intestinal problems. A newer aspect to modern feng shui deals with all the senses—including lighting and tactile elements—in creating a romantic environment. While a good, bright light is fine for reading in bed, a softer light or pleasantly scented candle will enhance the romantic mood. Deep, slow music is also conducive to intimacy. In addition, silky, velvety fabrics create comfort and help fan the flames of love. Carpets that feel good under foot are preferable to hard sisals or cold wood floors.

Color also is important in a bedroom. While you should always select the colors you love, it’s worth noting that pink is best for romance. Light green and pale blue are also good, as they symbolize hope and development. And peach may be the way to go if you’re still in search of that special someone. Finally, it’s worth mentioning the importance of purging your bedroom of any keepsakes or reminders of failed relationships. Keep it positive. Flowers and happy images are far more effective at creating an atmosphere conducive to a happy connection. Indeed, whether you’re looking for a little luck or just hoping to get lucky, a little feng shui can go a long way.


Editor’s Note: Sarah Rossbach is the author of Feng Shui: The Art of Chinese Placement, which was described by The New York Times as the “bible of the practice.”

Net Results

The Good Earth

A sustainable solution to heating and cooling is right under our feet. But will it pay to ‘Go Geo’ in 2022?

A generation ago, green was a crayon color and sustainable was rarely heard outside a CPA’s office. Nowadays, these words are used to sell products, mobilize activism and promote environmental stewardship. They are flexible, sexy adjectives that pair nicely with more familiar words to create catchy phrases like “going green” and “sustainable energy.” For most homeowners, turning those ideas into meaningful action steps involves junking an ancient HVAC array in favor of a more efficient one. For a forward-thinking few, however, harnessing the constant temperature of the earth to power a geothermal heating and cooling system is the cleaner, greener and more cost-efficient long-term investment.

Traditional HVAC systems (also called air-source heat pumps) pull in the outside air as the exchange medium to regulate indoor temperatures. As we all know, the weather in New Jersey fluctuates throughout the year, so at the extremes of heat and cold, your air-source heat pump has to work harder to keep you comfortable—and puts a bigger dent in your bank account. On the other hand, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs)—alternately referred to as geoexchange, ground-source, earth-coupled or water-source heat pumps—channel the underground temperature into the heating and cooling systems of a home.

Below the frost line in New Jersey, about 4 to 10 feet under the surface, the earth maintains a subterranean temperature of approximately 54° Fahrenheit. With this persistent heat source, geothermal heat pumps can warm your house in the winter, cool your house in the summer, and, if equipped with a desuperheater accessory, even provide hot water to a home—all while using less energy than your standard air-source HVAC.

Geothermal stems from the Greek words “geo” (earth) and “therme” (heat)—heat from the earth. If you’re forming a mental picture of hot springs, deep caves, oceanic vents and molten rock, you’re correct. But, when it comes to a geothermal heat pump in your home, the “geo” in question is, well, dirt.

Modern geothermal technology dates back to the late 19th century, when the world’s first district heating system was implemented in Boise, Idaho. In 1892, Boiseans directed water from the nearby hot springs to provide heat to local establishments. In 1908, homes in Iceland began to use geothermal steam as a heating source; today, 90% of Icelanders use geothermal heat.
During the 20th century, geothermal technology gradually progressed, with innovators constructing geothermal power plants at hot springs and steam fields. In the 1940s, Ohio State University professor Carl Nielsen developed the first residential geothermal heat pump.

From there, however, the technology has done a mostly slow roll. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, there was a brief spike in interest, but the technology was still wonky and geothermal heat pumps didn’t become popular until a decade or so ago. Now there are roughly 50,000 GHPs installed every year in the US alone.

Can You Dig It?

The first step in installing a geothermal heat pump is to dig a shallow trench and bury a loop of pipes, called a heat exchanger, underground. Once the heat exchanger is in place and connected to the heat pump inside your house, the loop is filled with a fluid, typically a combination of water and antifreeze. During New Jersey winters, the constant underground temperature of 54° is typically warmer than the air aboveground, which averages around 34°. The antifreeze solution in the heat exchanger circulates underground, where it absorbs the earth’s natural heat. The heated solution is then redirected back to the heat pump apparatus in your home, which warms it up another 20° or so and then sends warm air through the ventilation ducts in your house.
During the summer, when New Jersey temps average in the 80s, the same solution in the exchange loop absorbs the heat inside your house, sends the heated solution to lose heat underground and then returns the now-chilled solution to the heat pump to save you from the summer swelter. In this case, heat pump is a bit of a misnomer; the unit is more of an air circulator at this temperature.

When considering a geothermal heat pump, it is helpful to understand your options—for instance, what type of heat exchange loop you want (or need) to install. There are four types of ground-source loops to consider, with three closed-loop options and one open-loop option. Closed-loop systems operate in the same way as I previously described and are the most common type of residential heat exchangers. The three types of closed-loop systems are horizontal loops, vertical loops, and pond/lake loops.
Horizontal loops are typically more cost-effective than other GHP options, because you are digging out into your yard instead of straight down. However, horizontal loops require a decent amount of property to dig the trenches needed for the exchange loop. Once the trenches have been excavated, two pipes are connected and buried—either staggered at 4 and 6 feet deep, or side-by-side at 5 feet deep. Horizontal loops can more easily accommodate difficult geology, like bedrock, since they don’t require deep excavation. Vertical loops are better suited for commercial properties, properties that have limited space or homeowners who wish to minimize soil disturbance. In order to install a vertical loop, holes are drilled two feet apart and down to a depth of 100 feet or more, depending on the residence. Vertical loop installation is the priciest of the GHP options, but it may be necessary for certain properties.
Pond/lake loops make up the last of the popular closed-loop options, and they are a wonderful and relatively inexpensive choice for those with access to a nearby body of water. Pond/lake exchange loops are coiled under at least eight feet of water in order to prevent freezing. This type of system is cost-efficient and effective, however it must meet potentially restrictive criteria regarding the depth, volume, and quality of the water.

The last option is the aforementioned open-loop system. Unlike a closed-loop system, open-loop systems use clean water instead of an antifreeze solution as the heat exchange fluid. This requires a well or an adequate source of clean surface water in order to function properly. As with pond/lake systems, there may be local codes and regulations (for instance, on groundwater discharge) that could inhibit the use of this type of GHP.

Buried Treasure?

There are plenty of reasons to invest in a geothermal heat pump for your home. One of the principal arguments in favor of geothermal heat pumps centers on efficiency. Geoexchange is a remarkably green technology. When it comes to HVAC systems, geothermal heat pumps are the most efficient and the most sustainable. By harnessing the constant underground temperature as a source of heat energy, GHPs are particularly steady and sustainable systems in regards to energy consumption. According to the EPA, geothermal heat pumps use 25 to 50% less energy than standard air-source units and can effectively reduce overall energy usage up to 44%—and up to 72% when compared with standard electrical air-conditioning systems. They can also excel in particularly humid areas by enhancing indoor humidity control. Geothermal heat pumps are also quieter, saving you from the gnawing buzz of traditional systems. GHPs typically run at 40-48 decibels, while standard air-source systems can reach over 70 decibels when they kick on.

Geothermal heat pumps also have a longer lifespan than their traditional counterparts and require less maintenance. While a standard HVAC system has an average lifespan of about 15 years, the geothermal ground loop can last up to 60 years; the average lifespan of the indoor component is almost 25. You can also get a 25-year-or-more warranty for your geothermal heat pump, depending on the installer.

So what’s not to like? Well, installing a ground-source loop on your property requires intense digging and/or drilling, depending on the type of loop you plan to install. Not only can installation of an underground loop temporarily tear up your property, but the actual process can take quite a while. Retrofitting a GHP into your residence can take 6 to 8 weeks to fully complete. New installations in ongoing construction can take even longer, considering all the necessary coordination and scheduling with the other contractors. By comparison, an air-source heat pump typically takes less than a week to install. You also need to be aware of the type of soil your house is sitting on. Dense clay soils are the best option for geothermal heating and cooling systems, followed closely by wet, sandy soils. Dry, sandy soils are the worst option due to poor heat transference, so if this is the soil that you have on your property, your GHP may not function as efficiently.
If you live in heavily forested or (like my family) in earthquake-prone areas, you may want to reconsider buying a geothermal heat pump. Dense forestry means that there are lots of roots that could damage the underground exchange loop. Earthquakes can also be a major threat to your heat exchanger. Not only are repair costs expensive, but the hazards of soil contamination with runaway antifreeze solution can create a small environmental catastrophe.

The Long Game

Purchasing and installing a geothermal system will cost you several times more than a traditional air-source unit. The earth-friendly aspect of GHP ownership may be worth a premium to you, as well it should, but even the most ardent fan of green sustainability may choke a little on the price. So the big question is usually When does it pay for itself?
Let’s start with what we know. If you own a 3,000 square-foot house in New Jersey, purchasing and installing a traditional five-ton HVAC system will cost you around $8,000. Unless you love sauna-like heat in the winter and meat-locker AC in summer, your average annual operating expense for an air-source unit will be around $2,000 give or take. By comparison, a GHP unit serving the same home has an average annual operating cost of just over $800, due to minimal energy consumption.

The return on investment (ROI) in energy savings for a geothermal system typically pays back the upfront cost in 5 to 10 years, depending on a number of variables, but mostly on the initial installation expense—which is where the real damage to your wallet is done.

In 2019, horizontal loop installation fees ranged from $12,000 to $25,000 dollars, while vertical loop installation ran anywhere between $16,000 to $30,000. The total cost of a high-quality GHP in a large home could touch $50,000 in a structure where new ductwork and carpentry was necessary. Still, the ROI seemed reasonable for all the good you might do the planet.
Unfortunately, 2019 was a lifetime ago. The cost of everything—labor, materials, electronics, etc.—shot up during the pandemic. Many homeowners had to put their geothermal dreams on hold when they received the bad news that an additional $10,000 or $15,000 would have to be added to the original estimate. Most folks in the industry believe that this is not the new normal; geothermal project costs should come back into line at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Perhaps infrastructure legislation will help homeowners with the costs. Congress already extended a 26% federal tax credit for geothermal home energy efficiency upgrades until the end of 2022 (it will be reduced to 22% in 2023). Certain municipalities offer an “energy-efficient mortgage,” so you should consult your local banks and mortgage companies for information about that. And geothermal installers usually offer low- or no-interest short-term financing.

To be sure, the financial burden of “Going Geo” is not for everyone. Even in the best of times, with the best of terms, embracing geothermal is a long game. Ten years (or more) is a long time to wait to be made whole. However, if you are deeply concerned about climate change and, especially, if you’re the kind of person who wakes up in a cold sweat wondering how in the world you’ll pay your energy bills in 2030 or 2040, why not let the earth help you out a little?
And do the planet a solid in return. EDGE

Editor’s Note: Caleb Szarabajka is a freelance writer with a degree from Berkeley and a keen interest in earth-friendly tech innovations. For more information on geothermal heating and cooling, visit the Geothermal Exchange Organization web site at geoexchange.org.

Seller’s Market

An inside look at New Jersey’s unbelievable real estate boom.

Distressing unemployment numbers. A busted economy. Stay-at-home orders. A terrifying pandemic. In early 2020, it was time to cut your portfolio losses and forget about selling your house, right? Wrong. Against all predictions and, frankly, common sense, the stock market surged and the housing market went completely berserk.

Here in New Jersey, a pandemic-induced perfect storm saw home inventory evaporate by the summer of 2020, triggering bidding wars among panicked buyers fleeing New York City and Philadelphia. They were competing with first-timers hoping to take advantage of historically low fixed interest rates (as low as 2.1%) and voracious house-flippers looking at soaring demand for rental properties. The normally healthy and predictable housing market of 2019—which had only just recovered from the 2008 housing bubble—turned into a heart-pounding, high-stakes game of chicken between desperate buyers and stubborn sellers, which has continued into the summer of 2021. Who the winners are may take a while to sort out.

Pandemic pricing created a strange new normal, where a reasonable asking price was merely a starting point for bigger, better offers. If you were a realtor with a listing, you were sitting pretty. If you were chauffeuring couples from house to house, the property you showed in the morning had offers by afternoon. New Jersey was particularly appealing to unnerved city-dwellers who equated the garden in Garden State with a virus-free suburban/ex-urban/rural landing spot.

Millennials Drive the Market

The decision to move has become especially popular among Millennials, who represent the hottest age group in today’s market. “These younger buyers are ready to buy into the boom,” says Frank Isoldi of Coldwell Banker in Westfield. They are well-educated and well-versed in the finances of home buying. As they enter their 30s and their earning power increases, they begin to plan ahead—for a first home, for starting a family, for more space. They appreciate the financial perks that come with investing rather than renting. They are comfortable working remotely for companies seeking to reduce in-office space requirements without compromising personnel performance. This change in the business culture eliminates the need to “live close to the office” because the office can be right at home. As commuting has become a non-issue for many younger buyers, the concept of “geographically attractive” has been dramatically redefined.
That being said, New Jersey has become a particular hotbed of relocation activity because of its proximity to New York. You may not need to pull a 9 to 5 in the city every day, but physical proximity to clients, customers and co-workers—not to mention top-notch entertainment and dining—will never completely lose its importance or appeal.
Perception has also contributed to a red-hot New Jersey real estate market in 2020–21. Indeed, we are experiencing one of the rare moments in history where buyers believe it is the ideal time to buy and sellers are convinced this is the perfect time to sell. Just ask anyone in real estate: If you don’t move quickly, someone else almost certainly will.

“My buyers’ only concern is getting a house,” says Isoldi, who cites a tangible move from rent to buy along with COVID-phobia and lock-up lethargy as significant motivators. The downside of this frenetic pace is “fatigue,” he points out, explaining that some buyers are so exhausted from missing out on homes that they resort to unrealistically padded offers. This has led to a noticeable upswing in the number of withdrawals during the requisite three-day attorney review period, when some buyers and even some sellers have been known to back out.
“This scenario is not for the weak of heart,” agrees Stephen Smith, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway on the Rumson peninsula in Monmouth County, who saw selling prices there jump on average 17% to 20% from the shutdown in March 2020 to March 2021. “The challenge for buyers is getting traction for their offer when there are multiple offers above the asking price. In Monmouth County MLS, we have a new ‘Coming Soon’ category for buyers to be able to view a property, online only, ahead of it going live on MLS. There are strict regulations preventing any property ingress during this period, but it enables the buyers to architect their offer with not only the number, but also the seductive terms along with a personal letter. The challenge for an agent is having the energy, the experience and the temperament to help your buyers woo the sellers. It’s a wild-wild west environment for everyone, including the appraisers, who need to keep up with rising values in order to support the financing for the robust contract prices.”

The secret to success? A smart buyer must quickly formulate the best possible offer, one that the seller simply cannot refuse. A bidding tug-of-war among the bravest buyers often leads to a seller resorting to a master list of the “highest and best” offers from which to select a winner. Long gone are the days of emotional and drawn-out (yet sometimes exhilarating) face-to-face negotiations—antidiscrimination laws have made those risky. Gone too is the endless trekking through open houses; realtors have upped their game on virtual tours. It is no longer unheard-of for an out-of-town buyer to make a strong offer on a home he or she has never set foot in.

What makes an offer irresistible? As always, cash is king. A full-asking-price offer is also tempting. An above-asking offer even more so. In lieu of an all-cash offer, buyers have been sweetening deals with the waiving of contingencies that were once accepted as part of the transaction, including no appraisal, no inspection, no house-sale contingency and a convenient and flexible closing date. “Love letters” accompanying offers have become popular, but there is growing concern in the real estate profession that they expose sellers, agents and even buyers to possible legal repercussions down the road (see sidebar on facing page).

Ask a New Jersey realtor what they’ve seen over the past 18 months that they couldn’t have imagined a few years ago and you get some really interesting answers. Jaynie Wagner Carlucci of David Realty Group in Westfield has noticed a couple of aggressive new buyer strategies. One is offering all cash for a house and then refinancing after closing. This eliminates the mortgage contingency, which is appealing to sellers in a hot market. “I have also heard of people losing a bid and then ‘stalking’ sellers by going on social media and finding some way to reach them,” she says. “For instance, they find mutual friends of the seller to create an emotional connection…and sometimes actually change the seller’s mind to win the house.”
Like many realtors in the Garden State, Carlucci has written successful offers for buyers who didn’t set foot in the house until the home inspection. In another instance, she had a client offer $100,000 over asking price with appraisal waiver who still lost the bid. Recently, she posted a fast-forward video of the staging of a house, mostly for fun. She ended up getting calls from 10 realtors, triggering a bidding war before the property was even listed.

Buyers and Sellers

Are sellers experiencing remorse that they sold their homes too early, missing future appreciation? Smith answers with a resounding No. Sellers, he says, are appreciative of this opportunity to capitalize on a hot market and are cognizant that the stimulus of this surge in demand may not be sustainable. “And buyers express little or no regret at having paid top dollar, because by the time the deal closes, they have often seen additional appreciation. It’s a win-win scenario, and a win-win-win if you factor in the State of New Jersey, which is experiencing a transfer tax windfall at a time when it needs the money most.”

One change in the business, Isoldi points out, is that the relationship with buyers has become trickier, while sellers have become easier to deal with. Realtors are reticent to make recommendations to buyers about making “best offers”—particularly waiving contingencies—but also when it comes to sweetening the deal in other ways. One buyer, he says, resorted to dangling expensive box seats at a critical Yankees game. Sellers, on the other hand, are more open to advice now, since the best agents come loaded with detailed metrics, a long list of “comps” and recent contract closings. And of course, proposing an attractive asking price is easier in a town such as Westfield, with an enviable mix of home sales, from brand new to historical vintage, in all price ranges.
Isoldi has been enjoying the energy and buzz in the marketplace and doesn’t mind the chaos. As he looks to the future, he is convinced that the market will stay strong, although it might not continue to rise at the same rate. In his opinion, there probably will come a point at which more buyers start to get cold feet and the seller boom levels off. Still, he points out, if interest rates stay low—and if the construction industry rebounds to feed the inventory, jobs increase and the economy stabilizes—the prognosis looks excellent. Despite so many “ifs,” according to Isoldi, “There’s still a lot of wind left in real estate’s sails.”
The real estate market shows no sign of cooling down thanks to the widespread availability of vaccinations and some positive signs of economic recovery. New Jersey’s current inventory shortage is projected to persist in the near term, keeping prices high through 2021 and into 2022. The consensus is that sellers will continue to maintain the edge in the tug of war with buyers, who will continue to find daring and creative ways to make their bid the best.
“Timing is everything when houses are selling as soon as they hit the market—or before,” Carlucci says. “Being able to act fast and in a compelling way is the key.”

How the Other Half (of the 1%) Lives

Match the properties with the stars!

In the seller’s market of 2020–21, a lot of over-the-top homes in America sold for big money. No bigger than on that “other” coast, where some eye-popping California properties went up for sale during the pandemic. For eight figures—guess what?—you get a half-decent view!

Coming in Hot

What’s fueling the rush to install home pizza ovens?

One of the triumphant survivors of COVID-19 in New Jersey was the old-school pizzeria. Only a handful of these stores shuttered and many actually saw an uptick in business. The curbside pick-up/home-delivery model had already existed for decades when thousands of restaurants in the state were forced to adapt or die. This gave pizza-makers a huge edge when everyone went into hunker-down mode.

But I know another reason why pizza-makers made it through with flying colors: We learned just how impossible it is to make a decent pie in a standard oven.

Some of us have come tantalizingly close, but it’s never quite right, is it? Even the most talented home chefs with “professional” equipment and designer kitchens eventually arrived at this conclusion. In fact, I’ll bet they were the first to pick up the phone and order out once it was safe. So how do you make an honest-to-goodness pizza-parlor pie at home? With an honest-to-goodness pizza oven.

Your first steps on this journey begin with finding an oven that meets all the necessary criteria and lines up with your budget, kitchen space and other needs. If you’ve got a buddy in the business, obviously that’s an excellent place to start, but for most of us the Internet is where the search begins. Google “pizza oven suppliers” and you’ll notice that the word forno—which translates as “oven”—appears in many trade names. Examples include Forno Bravo, a company that builds and ships from Monterey; Forno Piombo, a father-and-son team that annually produces only 160 custom ovens (starting at $9,500) that are inspired by Tuscany but handcrafted in the Napa Valley; and Fontana Forni, which offers made-in-Italy models using techniques crafted by generations of the Fontana family.



Pie Chart

Three billion pizzas are sold in the US each year accounting for $40 billion in revenues. During the pandemic, Pizza Hut and Domino’s saw delivery and off-premises sales soar by 21% and 36% respectively. Here are some other fun facts about pizza in America…

  • 41% of Americans have pizza at least once a week
  • About 12% consume pizza on any given day
  • The average American will consume more than 6,000 slices in a lifetime
  • There are roughly 2,000 pizza restaurants in New Jersey and nearly 70,000 in the U.S.
  • In a recent poll asking consumers to name their favorite food, pizza finished fifth—behind hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and Oreos.


More important than finding a cool name is determining the type of oven appropriate for your situation. These are your four basic choices:

  • Brick Oven A centuries-old wood-fired method capable of reaching 700-1,000°F with a rustic look and taste of days gone by. These ovens can also be heated with gas or coal, or a combination of sources.
  • Deck Oven When space is at a premium, offers one to three decks made of stone heated by a gas or electric burner; not quite in the same league as a wood-fired oven, but it will look familiar if you frequent your local pizza place.
  • Convection Oven You may have one already; if not, you may want to consider one on your next remodel. It circulates hot air from the bottom, which gives you a fighting chance to produce a crispy, thin crust—but it’s not made specifically for pizzas, so lower your expectations.
  • Impinger Oven Uses specialized radiant cooking technology to distribute hot air from both the top and bottom to penetrate the pizza quickly and cook it in five minutes or less. You don’t typically find these in homes, but it doesn’t mean you can’t.

Ask any pizza aficionado and you’ll almost always be told that an authentic Italian pie can only come from a wood-fired oven with a traditional stone base. Although these ovens are not unheard-of in residential kitchens in New Jersey, you’re far more likely to find one a few steps outside the kitchen, on a patio or as part of an outdoor entertainment area. Would it surprise you to know that one of the top people in the outdoor pizza business is located in New Jersey? Decades-old Backyard Brick Ovens is right in the neighborhood, in Edison. Its owner, Scot Cosentino, is not only a master builder of wood-fired pizza ovens, but he takes pride in billing himself as a World Champion Pizza Maker. For more than 30 years, Cosentino has been designing, engineering and producing pizza ovens for sites ranging from private backyards to commercial restaurants.

Today, the company focuses on outdoor and stand-alone installations. Its brand name is Forno Bello and its most popular model is the Neapolitan. That oven is priced at $2,800, with an additional $300 set-up fee. Cosentino offers videos to his customers with instructions on setting up, lighting up, doughing up and dishing up his favorite recipes. He confirms that the pandemic has hardly dented the business, as many New Jersey families chose to invest in their homes over the past year: “Backyard ovens sold like hot pizzas during the pandemic.”

Okay, let’s stop for a second. I have never experienced daily cravings like I did while researching this story, so let’s talk about the kind of pizza that comes out of a great oven. The most basic traditional pizza is a margarita, which at its best is prepared with a thin crust generously topped with patiently simmered fresh tomato sauce and finished with generous slices of fresh bufalo mozzarella and an aromatic chiffonade of basil leaves. A less common, but equally traditional option often found on more sophisticated menus is the Pizza Quatro Stagioni. To live up to its label, this pizza is divided into four quarters, each symbolizing one of the seasons by featuring a vegetable typical of the time of year (e.g., artichokes for spring, mushrooms for fall, tomatoes and basil for summer, and prosciutto and olives for winter). Once again, all ingredients are crowned with a fresh tomato sauce drizzled over a thin crunchy crust.

If neither of these more orthodox versions excites your palate, the variety of pizza toppings available is limited only by the creative spirit of the resident pizzaiolo. Your pie of choice might reflect your mood (“I feel like…”), your budget (Wait, 30 bucks for what…”), or even the time of day (“I’ll have the Florentine breakfast pizza with bacon, eggs and spinach…”). I learned there is such a thing as a dessert pizza, too.

When I mentioned to my son how hungry this story was making me, he showed up with my grandson and a Ninja Foodie and we shopped for ingredients to create a couple of small, homemade pies on my countertop. Although certainly not wood-fired and perfect, they were okay. Which is something we all love about pizza: even when it’s just okay, it’s still pretty good.

A Slice of History

We all know that pizza originated in Italy, but where does the name come from? Etymologically, the word pizza is derived from the Latin pinsere, which means to pound or stamp—which became pinza and then pizza. Anyone who has watched a pizzaiolo (or pizza master) at work appreciates that making pizza requires much serious pounding of dough, followed by skillfully draping it over the closed fists of both hands and rotating it to stretch it to the proper circumference and thinness.

The first description of pizza dates back to a 10th century Latin manuscript from a town in Southern Italy. Although many Sicilian-Americans claim owner-ship on this basis, the modern pizza actually traces its roots to Naples. In fact, a non-profit organization,

The True Neapolitan Pizza Association, was founded in 1984 to safeguard Napoli as the true pizza source. As a further fact, in 2017 UNESCO awarded the Neapolitan pizza its seal of approval by listing it as “intangible cultural heritage.” It is no surprise that actor Stanley Tucci, for the first episode of CNN’s Searching for Italy, opened with a visit to Naples for meetings with a family of mozzarella cheese makers, several San Marzano tomato experts, and some very famous pizzaioli as a proper introduction to the authentic roots of pizza in its native habitat.

Back to business. If you prefer an indoor pizza installation, the options at the low end begin with electric, compact, and countertop ovens that can start as low as $299. The Ooni Fyra is a popular pick at that price point. If you are willing and able to make a $999 investment, the Breville Pizzaiolo model qualifies as a very high-temp “smart” pizza oven. With no unique set-up involved, these ovens can sit on any flat surface in the kitchen to quickly turn out crispy 12-inch pizzas, whether you’ve made them yourself or grabbed one out of the freezer.

Although there are more sophisticated indoor ovens available, their installation requirements are more complicated and therefore more expensive. Typical kits are available from $1,500 to $2,500, but if kitchen remodeling is necessary to install, the average costs to the homeowner is likely to fall into the $15,000 to $20,000 range, which includes carpentry, tiling and electrical costs, as well as permitting and compliance with local ordinances. And as anyone who’s redone a kitchen knows, you can easily blow through that number if you look at a contractor wrong. The outdoor option may be a bit less intrusive, but is still likely to set you back between $5,000 and $20,000.

A final thought on “cost.” As anyone who spent time in a college dorm can tell you, the price of pizza is measured both in dollars and pounds. Think of all the empty freezer cases during the height of the pandemic; those carbs had to go somewhere. Maybe that’s why Pelotons were on back order and people started buying those black-mirror home gyms. Alas, the uncomfortable truth about our favorite comfort food is that consuming a typical pie—whether all at once or as reheated leftovers—can easily surpass 2,000 calories…and depending on the quantity of cheese on the pie, more than 200 grams of fat.

Is every bite worth the calories? Maybe not—if it comes out of a cardboard box from your local delivery joint or supermarket freezer. On the other hand, if you’ve crafted each ingredient by hand and it emerges bubbling from your own wood-fired, charcoal-fueled or top-of-the-line convection oven, I just have two words for you: buon appetito!

Reliable Meets Riveting

In the realm of wines & spirits,  Old School has a definition all its own.

By Andrea Clurfeld

The bottle stood before me, 3000ml emptied, the memories of a classic night with classy friends still percolating at full tilt. The evening technically had started a couple months before, with the acquisition of that XXL-size bottle of the 2010 Pepiere Muscadet Clisson. Once procured, I began thinking about what I would do with a bottle holding 20 glasses of one of the world’s finest-ever Muscadets. To be honest, the thoughts came quickly. Oysters, lots and lots of oysters. People on board who would appreciate the partnership of oysters and the wine born to drink with them. Simple. And it was—because something that resolutely traditional can be trusted without the need of flourish or frill.

It’s old school, and you don’t muck with old school.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Old school is indeed where reliable meets riveting. It’s the intersection of something at once comfortable and compelling. It’s always that way, that very same way. When I think about “old school” wines, I don’t think of the big guns of, say, California cabernet and Rioja in Spain, or first-growth Bordeaux, but of the umpteenth generation of a family grape farm in a back-roads part of France or Italy. I don’t think of state-of-the-art wine-tasting rooms, but of a woman in the dusky cellar of a small vineyard in the southern Rhone Valley shrugging when asked the stupidest tourist question of all time (“What’s your favorite wine?”) and responding politely (“That depends on what I’m eating.”)

I think of a Riesling from Ostertag in Alsace, France, when I’m craving Asian. A Prosecco from Italy’s peerless Bisson when a little something needs celebrating. A murky Malbec from Cahors in the way south of France when I’m headed for a supper of a meaty stew. They’re my classics, my go-to’s, my versions of old-school wines.

The Clisson falls into that category. I could frolic through descriptions of this particular wine from Pepiere, made by the masterful and grape-respectful Marc Ollivier in the southern part of the Muscadet appellation of the Loire Valley in France. (OK, I can’t resist: It’s ripe, and considerably richer, than its Loire peers in citrus fruit, fruit that darn near takes on a honeyed quality. Yet it manages to be crisp and sharp and mineral-strong, a study in balance.) But, truly, like my favorite Ostertags—like my other personally anointed classics—it’s most significantly about heritage, a purist master, M. Ollivier,  plucking grapes for his Clissons from vines ranging from 60 years old to 90 years old and following only traditional farming and vinification methods start to finish. Nothing in the lineage quits, not grape, not method, not winemaker.


If you’re a cocktail maven, you may feel the same way I do about your drink of choice. You’re not particularly impressed with the try-anything-every-way current cocktail-crafting school of thought. There’s something rather unassailable about a perfectly made Manhattan that needs only the best ingredients and a barkeep who understands proportion, balance.

That’s not to dismiss the rage for cocktails concocted of the most meticulously made spirits, cooled as appropriate only by solid-block ice, and garnished with accents both organic and obscure. They’re admirable and often delicious. They’re just not old school. That old school is embodied by something the Father of American Gastronomy himself, James Beard, who advised in his seminal James Beard’s Menus for Entertaining (recounted in the more recent A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell) that a “large cocktail crush for 40” start about 6 or 7 o’clock, proceed to 8:30 or 9, and include both “enough food so people do not need to go to dinner,” a “full bar,” “some champagne” and “white wine with cassis.”

“A small elegant cocktail party for 10,” to be given in honor of a “friend who loves the elegant things in life or a visiting mogul,” would sport nothing less than chilled champagne and vodka meant to accompany “caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras.” The epitome of old school, heh?

Or perhaps something in between? Say for 20 or 30? Go with hearty fare, advises Beard the party bard, served astride a variety of drinks, plus “beer, champagne and chilled dry sherry.”


Yes, sherry. Now that’s an old school fundamental hardly reserved for female detectives of advanced age (and experience) conjured by Agatha Christie. Sherry isn’t just for sweetening a pot of stewing mushrooms or spiking soup, but most apropos as a segue from day to evening and/or from dinner to a little night reading. I’ve long admired the line from Lustau and the way Spaniards serve an impressive range of dry sherries with an equally impressive range of jamon, the cured porks of Spain.

Feeling inspired to go old school? You don’t have to invest in a mint’s worth of single-malt Scotches. (Though checking out some small-batch Bourbons with proper pedigrees will add to your education.) You can ponder life’s most serious questions over a spot of Port (the value-priced Fonseca Bin 27 will do, and nicely) or toast the night to come with a Bordeaux wine glass filled with Lillet on the rocks, served with a twist of orange peel or a squirt of fresh lime juice. The aperitif from western France charms with its mysterious mix of wine, fruit and herbs—and it is mysterious, since the folks at Lillet long have refused to divulge the recipe. You can plow through Sitwell’s 1,000-page tome fortified by one of those acquired-taste spirits, Campari, Pernod or Aperol. You can even make a martini, as long as you follow the rules of cocktail crafting set down in the Jazz Age.

Or you can do as I did, and track down a super-size bottle of a wine for the ages—a classic such as the Clisson that allows you to pour freely for your very best friends. Because, after all, Old School imbibing means effort happens behind the scenes so the entertaining is easy.

Editor’s Note: Andy Clurfeld is a former editor of Zagat New Jersey. The longtime food critic for the Asbury Park Press also has been published in Gourmet, Saveur and Town & Country, and on epicurious.com. Her post-Sandy stories for NBCNewYork.com rank among the finest media reporting on the superstorm’s aftermath and recovery.


Love Thy Neighborhood

When it comes to serious yard work, it’s what’s out front that counts.

In Chinese, the word “crisis” consists of two characters. One represents danger, the other opportunity. This sums up rather neatly the state of suburban lawns in post-Sandy New Jersey. Hopefully, by now you have taken care of the downed wires and looming limbs and are focusing on the opportunity to re-imagine your front lawn.

Every plot of land presents its own challenges, of course, but there are some cosmetic rules-of-thumb that can make your property more appealing.  We checked in with four Garden State landscaping experts, gave them a suburban home with a sidewalk in front, and asked them for their tips and tricks to undo what Sandy did and punch up the curb appeal.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Dave Williams

Williams Nursery • Westfield

If you’ve lost trees during Sandy, there is a silver lining: you have gained more sun. So now you can plant shrubs with more summer blooms that would have suffered in the trees’ shade. Over the past few years, shrubs with multiple blooming times have come on the market.

Take hydrangeas—they used to have a shorter blooming time and if there was a cold winter, you might not get a good bloom that year. A few years ago, we were thrilled when “Endless Summer” hydrangeas arrived. Now we have additional varieties that continually bloom, such as “Forever & Ever” hydrangeas.  Along with the traditional blues, “Forever & Ever” offers wonderful color choices, ranging from “Pistachio’s” pink with green edge and “White-out” to “Peppermint’s” white with pink brushstroke and “Fantasia’s” lime green and pink flowers that fade to blush pink with apricot/mauve hues. An added benefit to “Endless Summer” and “Forever & Ever” is that they are less daunting: hearty, easier and not as affected by weather.  You don’t even have to worry about when to prune. If you plant these hydrangeas, you can cut the blooms for your home and have wonderful color inside and out.

Repeat-blooming plants are also an option. Lilac “Bloomerang” has spring and fall flowers and azalea “Encore” and “Bloom-a-thon” bloom in April/May and again in September/October.

If you miss impatiens—not on the market due to Downy Mildew—a great substitute with a similar color palette is caladium. While not a flowering plant, caladium has heart-shaped leaves in a variety of colors—white, red and pink. Caladium can tolerate the growing challenges of summer months. You can plant it in a dry site in the shade and forget about it.

Bob Sickles

Sickles Market • Little Silver

For myself, in general, I like evergreens, such as hollies and boxwoods for year-round color and structure, and they are easy to maintain. I plant one or two specimen plants, such as fancy-leaved Japanese maples. While it can be finicky like a thoroughbred, this red-leaf plant is a pretty, elegant plant worth the trouble. It looks great all season, whether in leaf or budding or exhibiting fall color.

In the spring, scented plants such as Korean lilacs (May to June), Viburnum carlesii (Korean spice viburnum; early May) and Daphne (mid-April) have beautiful, fragrant blooms. I have planted them near the entrance to our home and particularly like to entertain friends when they’re in bloom.

Perennial shrubs and flowers can give you attractive splashes of color. If you’re looking for hardy, easy-to-care-for plants with nice blooms throughout the summer months, you can’t go wrong with “Endless Summer” hydrangeas and red “Knock-Out” roses. I also love Nikko Blue and Annabelle hydrangeas. For a softer texture, I like Liriope, a broad-leaf grass that you mow once in March and then watch, as it transforms through the seasons from a soft mound of grass to blue flowers to black berries. Liriope is a no-care plant that can take sun or shade. For ground cover, instead of invasive ivy, try Epimedium, which can grow with little sun and water under a tree and has orange and yellow fairy-like flowers.


Kevin Bullard

Kale’s Nursery • Princeton

My home in Lawrenceville has a small front yard that I have landscaped with classic, simple lines. I have boxwoods as a backdrop hedge planted in front of my house, with two feet of mulched bed in front of them that I plant with annuals in the spring. My much larger backyard has a less formal cottage-y feel with more colorful, flowering trees and shrubs. a vegetable garden and perennials of all types. On one side of the front yard, I planted a viburnum, which flowers three to four weeks in the spring. For winter interest, I also have different colored hellebore that flower from February to May or June. A Japanese maple balances the other side of the house.

You also can improve curb appeal by installing a Walpole mailbox or lantern post. These  are high-end products—around $1,000 installed—with high impact. If you’re going for more of a cottage feel, you could install a decorative post with a birdhouse with a shingled or copper roof within sight of a front window.  Large planters—clay, aged terra cotta, cast-iron, concrete—can be planted at your nursery with a burst of colored flowers and delivered to the front step.

Beyond landscaping, my family enhances our home. My three-year-old son helps me mulch, plant annuals and small perennials and keeps me company as I work on our landscape. What could be better!

Todd Thompson

Guaranteed Plants • Middletown

For many of my clients, my landscaping approach is “less work, more reward.” To this end, hearty, deer-resistant plants work best. For next spring’s blooming season, start this fall with planting pockets of daffodils about 4 to 6 inches deep. Daffodils are great. They’re deer-resistant, have lots of varieties and colors and, unlike tulips that only seem to last a couple of years, they multiply until needing to be divided in five years or so. I call this the “First Act.”

For the “Second Act” later in the spring (mid- to late-May), you can plant over the daffodils with annuals that will bloom for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Here I try to create “continuous show” with some variety taking place during the growing season. Along with continuous show, shrub roses also make for “less work, more reward.” The compact “Drift Rose” comes in peach, apricot, white and pink and grows 3 feet wide and between 1 ½ to 2 feet high. For larger impact, “Knock-Out” roses get to be 5 to 6 feet if you let them go. I like to pair the shrub roses with hydrangea macrophylla, either the snowball type or lace-cape. “City-line” from Proven Winners offers compact hydrangeas named for different cities and are re-blooming varieties that flower late into the fall. They need to be deadheaded to encourage more flowers—if they aren’t they won’t bloom prolifically.

If you want to decorate your mailbox or trellis, try Lonicera, a long-blooming ornamental honeysuckle vine that is non-invasive and comes in white, yellow, pink and orangey-pink. For continuous color and curb appeal, in early spring, I like to use large pots with frost-tolerant annuals near the front door. These can be filled with sunscape daisies, verbena, mini-petunias, pansies, nemesia, bacopa, lobularia or diascia (aka twinspur). You can make these pots convertible and stick a 6-inch pot with tulips or daffodils in them. When they are finished blooming, pull them out and pop in a salvia or geraniums and angelonia.

Again, less work, more reward.

Best Recipe

In her upcoming book, Martha Stewart offers a new design for living.

By Sarah Rossbach

There’s no way to avoid the fact that life is finite. And so it’s wise, at some juncture, to ponder how to live life well. My parents and in-laws were wonderful prototypes: engaged, nurturing grandparents. Sadly this isn’t always the case. In my twenties, I discovered a frightening breed of wizened elderly who emerged from their apartments on Senior Tuesdays to terrorize the local supermarket—crabby crones elbowing and shoving over produce, grumpy old geezers maneuvering walkers and canes that accidentally, on purpose, tripped up fellow shoppers. It was a veritable gerontological demolition derby. What happened to make these people forget their humanity and behave so badly in their old age? If only those crusty, complaining, miserable folks had been able to read Martha Stewart’s new book on aging gracefully, Living the Good Long Life.

The name, the brand, the media empire. Martha Stewart, like her or not, brings to mind weddings, entertaining, do-it-yourself craft projects, seasonal recipes—all aspects of living graciously. Now in her eighth decade (Martha’s 72 years old), she has departed from her signature material approach to life and penned a 400-plus-page instructional, a practical guide to aging gracefully.

Martha draws on the collective insight of assorted experts, including her mother and herself, to provide lucid advice, step-by-step exercises and helpful medical information that every aging person will find useful. It reads like a trusted older friend dispensing wisdom. Encouraging us to be the “CEO” of our own wellness, Martha covers nutrition, exercise, cosmetic health and caring for a loved one. No subject is too embarrassing or off-limits. From incontinence, hormone replacement and prostate, to plastic surgery (she hasn’t had it, yet), fillers like Restylane, and Botox—and everything in-between, including sex—Martha tackles it all in a simple, clear, straightforward way.

Given how the Baby Boom generation is advancing toward the rocking chair, this is a very timely and useful book. Many a qualified gerontologist is probably kicking him/herself for not coming up with this idea.  But I doubt they could have written such an approachable book. Martha and her team have sifted through mountains of medical studies, heaps of lore and practical information and organized the relevant data in this easy-to-use and digest resource. While I’m sure some will quibble that she’s left out this or that, I imagine Living the Good Long Life will serve nicely as a sort of What to Expect When You’re Elderly, as well as a valuable resource for children caring for an elderly parent.

That being said, this is hardly textbook Martha Stewart. On the contrary, in many respects it is a departure from the Martha stereotype. Of all the areas she covers, her focus on mind, attitude and spirit strikes me as being most different. She approaches life and its challenges on a far deeper level than in her previous books. She provides the information and approach that are critical in determining whether you age positively or miserably.  Over and over, she stresses a positive outlook and offers suggestions on how to enjoy your later years with grace, love and a sense of adventure.

While diet, eating healthy fresh produce, sensible exercise and good habits enhance our bodies, how do we feed and enrich our soul? To this end, the love of pets, offspring and friends, volunteerism and openness to the new play a large role. Martha draws much of her inspiration not only from reflecting on her own life, but also from her positive relationship and experience with her mother as she aged. Her love and admiration is palpable in these pages.

I’ll be curious how this wonderful book is received by the broader public. While Living the Good Long Life was written with the best intentions, a more jaded reader might wonder if a whole new Martha brand for marketing to the aging will emerge: Martha vitamins, Martha hearing aids, Martha walkers, Martha diapers, even Martha dentures (for the record, she prefers dental implants). If so, bring it on!

Over the years, Martha Stewart has given us meticulous, easy-to-follow instructions for a range of delicious dishes from coq au vin to boeuf bourguignon to valentine cookies to the perfect piecrust. Now, more importantly, in this new book, she gives us her most treasured recipe of all—the one for growing old in happiness, good health and grace.

Editor’s Note: Living the Good Long Life ($35.00, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.) will be available on May 7th. For the latest news, photos, and recipes from Martha— delivered daily—log onto marthastewart.com.

Photo credit: Reprinted from the book Living the Good Long Life. Copyright © 2013 by Martha Stew-art Living Omnimedia, Inc. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

Barbarians at the Gate

The grandkids are coming…is your home ready?

How long has it been since I’ve had to worry about child-safety in my home? It seems like lifetimes ago that my own babies and toddlers began to explore their environment. And, in a way, I guess you could say it has been. Alas, the clock has kept ticking and I now have come full circle, with children of varying ages starting to descend once again. I believe I speak for all grandparents when I say that I’m ready for all the love and laughter they bring with each visit. The question is, is my adults-only house safe and sound for these home invasions?

Having recently been introduced to my “grand-dog”—a 3- month old Golden Doodle gifted by my son to his two children—I am impressed that childproofing and puppy-proofing have much in common. Both species require one to take the time to think ahead in order to identify and eliminate unhealthy but irresistible attractions, any vulnerable but off-limits personal items, any unidentifiable yet edible crumbs (and other easily digested floor debris), and certainly any potentially dangerous household items capable of being ingested or harmfully dispensed. So much to consider; so little time to correct…especially since the little barbarians are already at the gate.

The lapse of time between my children and my children’s children is enough to make me feel very insecure about how to eliminate juvenile HazMat. In theory, I should be able to slip back into my parental shoes and see my world as they do—a house of potential horrors. Or perhaps, I could regress even further and evaluate domestic terror from the standpoint of a toddler. I am reminded, in fact, of a very dear friend and neighbor who, upon being advised that my two-year old grandson had hidden the TV remote, fell on all fours and crawled through my house, explaining that she felt a toddler’s eye view would ultimately reveal the well-hidden device. And so it did! However, I can’t imagine me, as someone who is definitely more knee-challenged these days, performing such a physically demanding search. There must be a better way.


An Accident Waiting to Happen?

About 2.3 million children are accidentally injured every year and more than 2,500 are killed in what seem to be “perfectly safe” homes. Unintentional childhood injury statistics are alarming, as evidenced by a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Every hour, one child dies from an injury.
  • About 1 in 5 child deaths is due to injury.
  • Every 4 seconds, a child is treated for an injury in an emergency department.

The above statistics reflect not only accidents that occur in the home, but also external tragedies such as car crashes and fires. According to the KidsHealth web site (kidshealth.org), household injuries are responsible for the majority of ER visits for children under age 3; 70% of accident fatalities in children under 4, not surprisingly, occur where the very young spend most of their time: at home.


Safe Kids Worldwide (www.safekids.org)

Safe Kids has an extensive network of more than 500 domestic and 25 international coalitions that are dedicated to reducing childhood injuries and fatalities. Since it was co-founded in 1988 by Dr. Marty Eichelberger (Children’s National Medical Center) with support from New Brunswick-headquartered Johnson & Johnson, the accidental injury rate among children 19 years and younger has decreased by 56%.

International Association for Child Safety


The mandate of IAFCS is triple-fold:

  • Encourage manufacturers to produce higher quality child-safe products.
  • Educate parents on home safety issues.
  • Enhance professionalism among child safety professionals through certification of professional providers.

US Consumer Product Safety Commission


A conservative estimate of the CPSC is that child and adult deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than$1 trillion annually. Over the past 40 years, CPSC has successfully protected consumer families’ children through its vigilance in identifying a long list of unsafe products to include cribs, strollers, bicycle helmets, pajamas, and innumerable toys and gadgets.


There is some very good news. Even though Safe Kids Worldwide (www.safekids.org) has reported that the estimated number of emergency room visits for children has increased 31% over the last decade, the CDC has reported that the number of childhood fatalities from injury has dropped nearly 30% over the same time period. Thankfully, most accidents are preventable and much is being done to prevent them. According to a recent National Safe Kids’ Report to the Nation, many factors have contributed to the dramatic decline in the accidental childhood fatalities:

  • Recognizing that child injury is a preventable public health issue.
  • Educating the public through campaigns at the national and community levels.
  • Improving safety devices through ongoing R&D and encouraging their use.
  • Collecting feedback from “child-proofers,” both private and professional, to develop even safer new products.
  • Enacting and enforcing child safety laws.


What can you, as a grandparent (or non-parent caretaker) do to keep those numbers moving in the right direction? Create a safety-product checklist that applies to your particular situation. It should include standard-issue items such as safety gates, kitchen and bathroom cabinet safety locks, corner and sharp edge bumpers, doorknob covers and door locks, outlet covers and outlet plates, window guards or safety bars, doorstops and door holders (to prevent fingers getting caught), wall brackets (to secure tip-able furniture and TVs to the wall), safety hinges on toy chests and window seats, and non-skid bathtub strips.

Once you’ve covered the basics, consider safety precautions that are not always obvious. These include outdoor alarms made for pools, gates and doors, blind winders and drapery cord cleats, anti-scald devices for baths and taps, safety netting for balconies and decks, appliance locks for dishwashers and stoves, safe-locked storage for firearms & ammo, toilet lid locks, and fire escape ladders. If your grandkids are “regulars” at your home, you should consider enrolling in an infant & child CPR class (or at least purchase a how-to DVD). And if you own a dog or other animal that is threatened by little ones, talk to a professional pet consult to understand how you can desensitize your pet.

Big Business

Professional childproofing has evolved into a very lucrative business over the past two or three decades. So perhaps it’s time to turn to the pros for some advice—hopefully accompanied by some reasonable housecall pricing. Industry experts recommend that child-proofing be done before a child can crawl (typically at 3-6 months). According to the pros, the six main areas of focus for proofing purposes are:

  • Electrical safety
  • Physical access
  • Chemical access
  • Medicine access
  • Fire safety
  • Reporting potentially dangerous products

As with most professional home services, the cost for childproofing comes with a price tag. An initial at-home consultation typically ranges between $50-$100. Actual services rendered depend upon the size and safety conditions of each home. Complete packages can begin as low as $300, but can easily soar to $1,500 or more. As an example, the typical two-bedroom/two-bath apartment might cost $300-$600, whereas a suburban two-story home can reach the top of the price scale.

Professional Proofers…

These NJ-based childproofing experts confirm that business is booming:

A–Plus Childproofing • Jersey City apluschildproofing.com

Baby Proofers Plus Inc. • Summit babyproofersplus.com

Home Safe Home • Livingston homesafehomenj.com

Royal Baby Safety Corp • Summit


Home Safe Home

Whether you’re brand new at the baby game, a seasoned parent of a rollicking group of toddlers (and their slightly older siblings), or proud grandparents of a growing second-generation brood, the houseproofing challenge remains the same. The responses to this challenge can vary, from complete paranoia to a somewhat less vigilant “my kids survived, so will theirs” attitude. Personally, I am closer to the former than the latter. I am not sure whether it is the added generational difference or a bit of senior OCD that makes creating the perfect germ-free, chemical-free, hazard-free home environment such an inordinate obligation for me. Thinking back, I question whether I was this conscientious? To be honest, probably not.

Ironically, after paying a visit recently to my grandchildren’s home, I found myself somewhat taken aback by what I considered to be their parent’s rather laid-back attitude toward houseproofing. I actually noticed a sharp table corner missing a buffer cushion, an electrical outlet with a safety plug dangling, and a kitchen cabinet with a childproof lock unlocked. Hard to admit, but it does remind me somewhat of my own home back when my kids were as young as their children are now. It was a reminder of how easy it is to let things slide as an overwhelmed parent.

Even with the most vigilant and meticulous household policing, there’s always the potential for some danger to be overlooked or to go unsuspected. Even the most painstaking household safety campaign is never as effective as the ever-watchful eye of an alert and devoted caretaker, regardless of the generational relationship. Despite the most intensive childproofing protocol, vigilance is the real secret. And, of course, that primordial responsibility does not stop within the confines of our homes.

Finally, in my hyper-vigilance to ensure that my home is not a toddler trap, I think I’ve discovered an additional benefit. I’ve started thinking very realistically about the safety measures I might want to take in anticipation of growing old in this very same home. Indeed, down the road, my “senior-proofing” project should be much easier after everything I’ve learned. Just one change—no more childproof caps!

Editor’s Note: According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, last year suffocation was by far the major cause of fatal childhood accidents—including 77% of the deaths under the age of 1. Choking and falls came next, followed by furniture and TV tip-overs and fatal injuries caused by toys.

Kitchen 2020

Relax…let your nano-robots do the dishes

Speckled linoleum. Avocado appliances. Fluorescent lighting. These design tragedies are a distant memory compared to the contemporary kitchens of the 21st century. There’s no doubt about it: We’ve come a long way, baby. Yet, by 2020, the kitchen we are so proud of today may be just as outdated, antiquated and embarrassingly obsolete. And although the word kitchen will never entirely disappear from our vocabulary, it’s possible that we may be grasping for a new name that describes a room that plays a much more expanded role in our domestic surroundings.

Photos courtesy of Michael Harboun

If you have redone your kitchen in the past decade, you may be in for a rude awakening when the 2020’s hit. The state-of-the-art hallmarks that we so proudly (not to mention, expensively) included in our dream kitchens will seem like art only in the sense that some will belong in a museum. Indeed, the kitchen of the not-too-distant future will embrace science and technology as well as aesthetics.

Whirlpool already began previewing its Kitchen of 2020 at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. One item in particular had kitchen remodelers dancing in the aisles: a refrigerator that will be Bluetooth-enabled to stream music into your kitchen. You will be able to coordinate your menu to an appropriate musical background at a tap of a finger. If it’s salsa your prepping, then salsa can be your music of choice. If it’s an elegant and high-end Beef Wellington, then something classical may be in order. Downhome spread? How about some Brad Paisley? No need to drag that iPod or iPad into your work area. That’s so 2013.

One day, by the way, your refrigerator may not even have a door—at least as we know it today. Instead, you’ll be able to push and pull your food through a see-through gel-like framework (hopefully tinted to coordinate with your color scheme). If you think this sounds like something out of a Jetsons cartoon, think again. To retrieve an item from the Bio Robot Fridge, all you will have to do is reach through an odorless, non-sticky polymer gel and pull it out. No more leaving that refrigerator door open or endlessly wiping off greasy little fingerprints. Russian student Yuriy Dmitriev took second place at the Electrolux Design Lab competition with this idea. Four years ago.


One cannot discuss the Kitchen of 2020 without addressing its very essence, the stove. From huge cauldron-bearing hearths to black and bulky cast iron relics to built-in multi-burner tops, the kitchen remains first and foremost a place to cook. The word kitchen actually comes from the Old Latin word coquere, meaning “to cook”—which evolved into the Old English Cycene, to kichene in Middle English, to cucina in Europe, and eventually to our word. At its CES exhibit, another Whirlpool highlight was an induction cooktop designed to turn your countertop into a stove. Four dozen micro-inductors create one large cooking surface on which you can position up to four pots and pans. Since the heat is produced only where needed, the rest of the top stays cool to the touch. By the time this technology hits the market, there won’t be any control knobs; you’ll just tell the stove what you want it to do. Voice recognition technology will almost certainly be available on most appliances in 2020 and—perhaps more intriguingly—appliances may be talking back. Think about that for a second.

A go-green sensibility will also be part of new kitchens in 2020. Eco-clean, eco-friendly and eco-smart features will be available in almost every aspect of kitchen design. We might be looking at recycling sinks that hygienically reuse the same water supply, as well as more advanced versions of products that are already hitting the market: Nutrima (a foldable appliance to calculate nutritional values, possible toxins and food freshness), the Kitchen Hub (a food inventory and expiration monitor), the GE Advanced Filtration System (which removes 98% of important trace pharmaceuticals), and the LG Blast Chiller (five minutes to chill a can and eight for a bottle of wine).

Glass will almost certainly play an expanded role in the Kitchen of 2020. It is already becoming a popular design choice, replacing ceramic tiles above counters, sinks and stoves. However, in the next decade, we will begin to see glass used as part of energy solutions and not just aesthetics. There are plans afoot to use this material in roof and wall components that will funnel the power of the sun into kitchen appliances. We could also see glass-enclosed “living” walls that produce herbal greenery and edible fish and sea vegetation. The goal? To make the kitchen of the future a standalone, self-sufficient space that will reflect sustainability above all else.


When envisioning the Kitchen of 2020, one of the greatest challenges is separating fantasy from reality. It’s one thing to brainstorm and another to pick the brains of people in the know. Two individuals with hands-on knowledge of what’s actually waiting in the wings are Maria Stapperfenne and Brian Pagel. Stapperfenne is a Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer, President-Elect of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and a Manager at Tewksbury Kitchens & Baths. Pagel, a VP of the Kitchen and Bath Group for Emerald Expositions—one of North America’s largest trade show producers—gets the ultimate sneak peak of future products as he works with exhibitors to showcase their most innovative kitchen components.

Stapperfenne shared what she learned on her recent travels to expos in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Milan. She saw, up-close and personal, some technological “super products” and design concepts that may not be available by 2020, but which are certainly in the pipeline. Her enthusiasm for what’s to come is infectious (see page 26). At Eurocucina in Milan in April, she was allowed to photograph one of the aforementioned induction-type cooking spaces that has been seamlessly integrated into a countertop. Understandably, makers of advanced technologies can get touchy about photos; this was the exception that proved the rule.

According to Stapperfenne, most major kitchen renovations are being undertaken by people in the 30-to-50 age range. These clients often save up for years for a new kitchen, so naturally they expect their investment to last 20 years. Given the increasing speed of technological advances, the actual “lifespan” may be much more compressed. Which can make for some nervous customers. Consequently, Stapperfenne describes her professional mission as “educating our clients to make intelligent and informed decisions, and then to have confidence in their choices.”

Cost is another issue. According to Stapperfenne, a kitchen remodel is a reflection of individual budgeting. She found an exhibitor at the Milan show who indicated that the level of investment for his displayed 18’ x 20’ kitchen was somewhere between $495,000 and$500,000! When asked what she would want most in her own future kitchen design, Stapperfenne put comfort and convenience at the top of her list.

Brian Pagel feels that, despite all the technological advances, the Kitchen of 2020 will still reflect many of today’s design touchpoints—in other words, what’s in now won’t necessarily be out by then. However, for longer-range predictions, he believes emphasis will be placed on accessible living, aging in place and the “totally wired” kitchen, with technology as integrated as in the rest of the house. Pagel also predicts that manufacturing will focus on reclaimed, reused and eco-friendly materials, along with energy efficiency. His most recent exposition in Las Vegas, the 2014 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, was a joint venture with the National Association of Home Builders. This co-sharing opportunity reflects his conviction that close collaboration between construction and design—with the added advances in technology—represents the future not just for the kitchen, but for the entire home.


With all its cutting-edge electronic enhancements and techno-friendly gadgets, tomorrow’s smart kitchen will remain the hands-down favorite gathering space—where “gathering” is the operative word. Granted, a kitchen may no longer be defined by any distinct perimeters, and will almost certainly migrate into other functional areas of the home. However, as the designated area for food-focused activity, high-tech efficiency and social interaction, it will remain the heart and soul of our homes in 2020 and for generations to come.

2020 & BEYOND

When Maria Stapperfenne looks into her crystal ball, this is what she sees…

Wireless Power

We will power up our kitchens as easily as we access our Wi-Fi connections elsewhere in the house today. Countertops will be equipped with conveniences like Duracell’s PowerMat, a built-in charging pad that makes plugs obsolete, and we’ll get wireless delivery of our morning newspaper simply by tapping on the counter surface.

Lower Maintenance

People generally don’t like to clean, so the trend in kitchens is to modern styling with less ornamentation and flowery crevices in which to catch dirt. Modern and minimalism go together.


One day, you may be able to change the look of your kitchen as easily as you change your wardrobe. Kitchen cabinetry and appliances will no longer be permanently installed, but instead will be wall-hung for easy removal to minimize the labor and upheaval associated with kitchen remodeling.

Voice Recognition

With a simple code word, you will be able to turn on your lights, start your oven, or order your favorite latte.

Personalization, Organization  and Accessibility

Cabinet shelves and drawers can be personally outfitted, right down to contour-specific routing and grooving as cradles for your personal cutlery and dishware. Another exhibit at the Milan exposition featured a center island complete with a built-in storage unit that rises from the counter via remote control for quick access, much like today’s lift cabinets that hide large flat-screen TVs.

So what else will be in your kitchen in 2020 and beyond? Interactive cookbooks and recipes should be available on pop-up or drop-down video screens, or through tablets and other devices connected to your kitchen’s “brain.” There are folks looking at creating smart countertops with bio scanners that can assess your nutritional needs. Your fridge will keep track of what you’ve got, what you need, and what’s about to go bad—and connect with your smartphone when you’re at the grocery store. The most-used source of heat in your kitchen? It could very well be steam. And that smart countertop may include built-in extractors to transform the steam to water for other general uses after it flows through the heating element. Nothing wasted; everything gained.

Speaking of water, Perez Zapata’s Mab, a first-place winner in the 2013 Electrolux Design Lab competition, is a futuristic system designed as a spherical hive of hundreds of small flying robot drones that clean surfaces just by touching them with a drop of water. Getting still more fantastical, Michaël Harboun’s Living Kitchen explores “claytronics,” which is basically a form of nanotechnology, where tiny little robots can arrange themselves into macroscopic structures that will let you create any forms out of a moldable mass. Touch the moldable mass and you will be able to pull out a faucet, scoop out a deep sink, or access any appliance on demand (google Harboun on youtube for a truly “unbelievable” video). And if it’s company you long for, laser hologram technology will let you invite your favorite chef into your kitchen or arrange a face-to-face cook-off with virtual friends and relatives. Virtual relatives…hmm. The kitchen of the future is sounding better and better!


Whatever high-end kitchen solutions the future brings, it’s a pretty good bet that the Eardly T. Petersen Company will be involved in some aspect of floorcare and water filtration. Interestingly, the company carries one particular product that has been a component of cutting-edge kitchens for 35 years…and is likely to be there in another 35: The Ladybug. The beachball-shaped Dry Steam Vapor cleaner cuts through the biofilm created by bacteria on countertops without the use of chemicals or toxins. “Study after study shows that the kitchen is the most contaminated room in the home, and that bleach does not kill all bacteria,” Keith Petersen points out. “The Ladybug cleans and disinfects surfaces with ordinary tapwater heated to make a hot, dry steam. Countertops, floors, ovens, stoves, sinks, dishwashers, refrigerator interiors, windows, doors—it’s amazing.”

Since the 1950s, the Westfield-based company has identified, sold and serviced leading-edge products for inside and outside the home. The founder’s sons, Keith and Douglas, have doubled down on their father’s unbending commitment to quality, offering the most revered brands in the industry and backing them up with the human touch. “People look to us for our knowledge,” says Douglas. “They come to our retail location on Elmer Street and say, Wow, this is like an old-fashioned store. If we don’t think a product is the best in its industry, we won’t sell it.”

Building a Better Man Cave

A professional take on that most personal of male spaces.

By Stacy Ewing

One of the terms we’ve seen thrown around a lot of late is Man Cave. A lot of interior designers cringe when they hear it. It carries with it testosterone-laced connotations of memorabilia- choked dens and musty basements with cheesy paneling, with a crudely scribbled No Girls Allowed sign thumbtacked onto the door. I’m not really sure those even exist; I have yet to meet the man who would actually want one. When you reach a certain point in life, your vision of a Man Cave is distinctly un-cavelike. I love those two words. What guys are really talking about is a lifestyle space, and that’s something every designer should be happy to hear. 

Photo by Wendy Gedack

Which is a good thing…because when my design team is hired to build a Man Cave in a new or existing home, I need husband and wife on the same page. When a wife tells me, “I don’t care, the basement’s his, just do it,” that’s a huge red flag—just as it is when a husband says, “I don’t care, my wife makes all the decisions, I just want the house decorated.” I have yet to encounter the couple that doesn’t want significant (if not equal) input on a design project. Better to come to a meeting of the minds in the planning stage, because once the build-out begins, changes can get contentious and expensive.

I always start with the assumption that a couple shares similar tastes. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem that way, but at the end of the day they’re usually not that far apart. They may have different visions for a space, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that common ground. I typically do a three-hour consult and also ask prospective clients to fill out a detailed questionnaire. Occasionally, I’ll have to employ techniques a psychologist would, but it’s really critical to get everyone on the same page. My job at that point is to evaluate the space, to determine what’s going on in with rest of the house in terms of architectural style and color, to understand how people relate to the different spaces, and then continue that into the Man Cave. Continuity is really the key. Whatever you do in that Man Cave has to marry with the rest of the house. That’s where the magic happens. You don’t want it to look like What exploded in that room?

One of the mistakes people make when they start a project like this is to tear out pictures from architectural magazines and say, “I want that.” What’s big right now in the interior design business is finding eclectic touches and working them into a space. That’s particularly true for a Man Cave. I saw a story about a home that belonged to the director of one of the Batman movies. He had a full-size Batman model that would have looked terrible standing by itself in any other part of the house. But the entire room was designed intelligently and tastefully and it looked great. That’s why eclectic items work really well in a Man Cave. It really personalizes the space. If that item

Photo by Wendy Gedack

is a neon beer sign, well, that may present more of a challenge than a deer head or an autographed jersey, but you can definitely pull it off. Even if you don’t have that one off-the-wall detail to work with, in an ideal situation you like to start a Man Cave with a focal point—a pool table, a fantastic piece of furniture, a large collectible item—that’s Design 101. More often than not, however, your client just says, “Just create a space that blows me away.”

Photo by Wendy Gedack

In those cases, again, it’s important to listen. You’re trying to find a way to bring his things and her things together in a space, especially if the Man Cave is a place that a couple is going to share and entertain in. Recently I had clients where the husband and wife were both Starbucks executives. He grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She was a city girl from Chicago. He wanted warm tones and lots of wood. She liked glass and steel and cool colors, and really disliked wood.

Immediately, I knew I had to figure out what they both liked. In our discussions, it turned out she was very focused on her wine collection, and was keen on having some sort of storage configuration in their dining room. At the same time, he liked sports but his Man Cave didn’t have to be full of Broncos memorabilia. He just wanted a really cool, refined space—”a place where I can smoke a cigar, have a mug of beer and enjoy the space.” I ended up using two basement storage areas to create a wine grotto. It had the wood that he wanted and enabled her to show off her collection in a space they were both comfortable in. He feels good about it because he can have his buddies over, and she’s happy because the shelves we built were tilted at 45 degrees so that people could see the labels of the wine bottles.

Of course, not everyone can afford to hire an interior designer to plan out a Man Cave. If you are tackling this project yourself, there are a few rules of thumb. Limit yourself to two or three colors. Ideally, carry through the main color of your house into the space, and pick one or two others. If one of those colors is a bright team or school color, that may present a challenge—but also an opportunity. For the “NFL Female” Super Bowl Party, I purchased a black and white cowhide, Googled “chalk paint by Annie Sloan” and found a local stockist who painted it orange crush and blue (see below) and it really pulled the room together.  Another way to get continuity with the rest of your home is in the matting and framing of photos and collectibles. 

Most importantly, re-read the beginning of this article. It’s critical to get on the same page as your spouse. Understand what’s important and what’s not, and pick your battles wisely. You’ll end up with a space you’ll both be happy with.  

Photo by Elizabeth de Sordi

Editor’s Note: Stacy Ewing runs Stacy Ewing Interiors & Design in Denver. The company works from concept through completion for a wide range of residential, commercial and hospitality projects. Stacy has designed Man Caves for six residential clients in recent years. Many of her past and current projects can be viewed at stacyewinginteriors.com.