April 24, 2014

The Expats of Tangier

In case you missed the last issue of the Sunday New York Times’s T Magazine (April 13, 2014) there is a most remarkable article about the eccentric Expats of Tangier. Their homes remind me of my parent’s way of decorating a house: consisting primarily of books, colorful mismatched paintings, textiles, prints, trinkets and gifts given to them over the years — and most importantly mementos from their travels and years living abroad. Homes like these feel real to me: they are accurate reflections of the people living in them rather than the vision of an interior designer (who provides his or her own ideas of what “interesting” look like.) In the Editor’s Letter in this same issue, Deborah Needleman does a superb job defining what is so anemic about the term “personal style” and why is is so meaningless. Nobody says this, but you really have to read, travel and DO something to have style. You don’t have to have money, but you have to be interested in the world. You can’t just go to a store and buy real style. Those are the hard and fast rules, it seems. These expats are immensely appealing. I wonder if Moroccan Tangerines living in the US would have as much to soak in and make their own? It would be an interesting experiment. Maybe they would turn their two-car garages into lush courtyards with tiled floors.

The Times also made the video (above) which captures what brought these expat individuals to this famous Moroccan city of light. There is certainly a lot in the piece about how they live. Much can also be gleaned from the unbelievable photography of these peoples Tangerine homes, shot by Will Sanders. The Times also put out the video, above, which leaves me breathless for a trip to this North African city. (All photography by Will Sanders)









March 11, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Angelo Garro’s Artful, Salty World

angelo_profiles_v2I once had the sublime opportunity to play hookie from work to pick grapes with Angelo Garro. It was a memorable day. At dawn we gathered at The Renaissance Forge, Angelo’s blacksmithing studio-and-gourmet-kitchen housed in an historic industrial space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, for a coffee before our caravans left for Napa. Angelo had arranged for us to glean the vines where the winery had already finished harvesting. Fifteen or so of us picked grapes with gardening clippers for a few hours, picnicked on a hill with blankets spread out while Angelo passed around plates of pasta and home-made wine that he’d had brought along. A simple, heavenly meal – paired perfectly with our sweaty brows from the grape-picking and buzz from the midday vino. Then we drove back to the Forge to crush the grapes in a giant contraption he’d set up out in the alley. I thought I’d died and had landed in a Gourmet Magazine photo shoot. But no, this is just how Angelo takes advantage of a typical autumn day: with friends, outside celebrating nature’s gifts, and then preparing and eating these gifts. In his native Sicily, which he left behind as a teen, these traditions are based on seasonal customs. Nature informs your annual habits; but it is Angelo himself who is a Vigilante for keeping these traditions alive here in the USA.

Laurie Frenkl_Angelo Garro

The Forge. Photograph by Laurie Frankel


Angelo in his kitchen at The Forge.

You may have heard of Angelo – he was the badass Italian who Michael Pollan featured prominently in the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, referring to him his “foraging Virgil.” If you recall from the book, Angelo invited Pollan on a wild boar hunt (an exhausting, laborious sport.) What sets Angelo apart from a typical hunter is that he is also an expert in what to do after you kill the animal. Angelo can outline exactly how to butcher and prepare the entirety of the pig to turn it into many varieties of sumptuous dishes. It’s all part of his repertoire. And naturally, no part of the animal was wasted. He is master of the hunt, the kill, the butchering, the curing, and finally the cooking and celebrating. Not to mention the community-creating.

Perhaps what strikes me as most Vigilante about Angelo is how much of his life is genuinely cinematic by virtue of it’s gusto — he blasts his opera at dangerous decibels, he offers big bear hugs for “Hello”, he stands on a hillside picking grapes in his straw hat, he is a sure shot with a wild boar… One might think, “God, if only a documentarian could capture this original man” — BUT WAIT, one did. Angelo’s buddy Werner Herzog (of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man fame) has recently done so. Herzog filmed a movie about Angelo, The Story of Omnivore Salt in celebration of Angelo’s most recent project — a gourmet salt company. With Omnivore Salt, Angelo attempts to bring to people inspiration for cooking with his same sense of passion and connectedness to the earth.

“I have been making my Omnivore Salt for many years”, Angelo explains. “My grandmother taught me the family recipe when I was a young boy in Sicily. This salt blend works on everything – meat, vegetables and fish; just a pinch unlocks the deepest flavors of your food. Many of my friends are chefs, restauranteurs, and artists, and for years I have been giving my salt to them. They loved it and urged me to share it with the community and with food lovers everywhere.”

Is there not an aura about this man that makes you want to slow down, put away your iPhone, pour youself and your friends a glass of wine, converse, and enjoy your sweet existence? Sign me UP! Angelo is a poster child for Vigilante Living: his life itself is a work of art. There is no artificial separation between his work and his play. It’s all one cohesive project called Living Well. Signore, please pass me some of that salt.

Courtesy of the selby_TS_AngeloGarroSF17635_300-e1349026099177

Courtesy of The Selby


Courtesy of The Daily Meal


Meat bring cured neatly in the back of the Forge.


The blacksmithing studio is adjacent to his open kitchen.


Blacksmithing tools.


Angelo Garro’s newest endeavour, Omnivore Salt.

Angelo Garro


January 22, 2014

How to Survive Winter

As a native Californian now located in the Midwest, it has taken me several years to develop methodologies for how to survive winter. Here are some Vigilante Living tools for my friends in the wintery climates to keep in mind while getting through these next few months.

1. Wear bright colors. Go right now to the sale section of JCrew.com and pick yourself up something wildly colorful that will cheer you up. Houseoflavande.com is a marvelous resource for vintage jewelry of high quality that you will not find anywhere else.

2. Buy insanely colorful items for your home or apartment. Christmas is over, and if you didn’t get what you wanted, go to Bellocchio.com and buy yourself a magnificent turquoise metlasse box to hide all your trinkets in. They are not expensive but they look it.

3. Wear a dab of perfume — behind your ears and your knees. If you are a guy, work a smidge of aftershave. Try Sephora.com for small bottles in new fragrances so you can test them out.

4. Pour yourself a drink and make a homey warm dinner. Just forget about salad. It does not help you feel better in winter. Make yourself a hot cider for dessert if you still do not feel the sunshine running through your veins.

5. Music is the most essential blues breaker for winter doldrums. If you want to spice things up cheaply, get a used record instead of hitting up iTunes — record shops are curious places where you can stumble upon something magical — get a record to just to shake it up and actually read some liner notes. The tactile nature of a record will go well with your cocktail at the end of the day! Tropical music, like ska, reggae, salsa, or other latin music will do wonders for your sun-deprived self.

6. The next time you are at your corner bodega or grocery store, look at the flowers for sale. If they are not dying and brighly colored, just buy  them. Even baby’s breath look nice on your kitchen windowsill or on your desk at work. (I am not a flower snob. Almost every plant has some beneficial qualities.) The smell of something alive is not to be underestimated. Plants are great too — but only if you remember to water them. A dead plant is only going to add to your winter woes.

I hope these tools for surviving winter are at least a little helpful. They are not avant-garde, but they are cheap and appeal to everyone’s need for color, humor, and desire for JOY in everyday life. For those of you in California, India or Australia (where it’s now summertime) please do have a margarita for me and take a look at your legs. I totally forget what mine look like they’ve been in pants for so long.

Sayonara from the polar vortex….



January 15, 2014

Preppy Edge: A Manifesto – Part 1


It’s January 2014 I’m suffering from hipster fashion fatigue. I am tired of you, hipster. Raise your hand if you’d much prefer a hot date with the late, conservative poster-child William F. Buckley than spend an evening with a skinny-jeans clone on a fixed gear. It would be more original to be with Buckley! More fresh! He’d probably suggest doing more shocking and fun things, and order you one too many a cocktail. Sure, I might have more in common with the hipster, in terms of music and cuisine, but there is something to be said for a little SHOCK VALUE. This brings me to an existential design question: does what’s on the inside have to match what’s on the outside? What if someone who held the interests of a hipster dressed like William F. Buckley? I admire people who don’t wear their political alliances as a costume. Give me contradiction or give me death.

preppy_quoteSo here at Vigilante Living, we’re deeming 2014 The Year of Preppy Edge. How on earth is preppy dressing revolutionary, you might ask? Well, khaki trousers and a button down are a classic way to pass under the radar and spend your core energy doing something original with your life. In essence, you are not screaming “I AM DIFFERENT” as you sashay down the street. You are whispering to others to come closer, listen to your stories, make some mischief, and offer just a sliver of a window into your interior life, which makes everyone realize that you are much more rich and complex than your preppy uniform suggests. It’s about subtlety and the slow reveal.

I find it immensely appealing in both men and women when conservative clothes on the outside sheath avant-garde leanings (whether Left or Right) on the inside. It’s only once you talk to this person that you realize they are a true original, or a weirdo. These are the people who are so comfortable with their originality that they don’t have to wear it on their sleeve. Preppy Edge is irresistible because it defies visual expectation. (Preppy Edge, by the way, is not to be confused with the disastrous, over-used phrase “classic with a twist,”  used of late by influential interior designers and celebrities.) Lord, bring me a severe preppy in plaid pants. But give him a rebellious interior life filled with knowledge of obscure 1960s reggae groups and a penchant for reciting naughty bits from important literature. Or deep knowledge of astrophysics. Edge preppy is preppy on the outside, 100% original on the inside. This is what style in America needs right now. A little more substance, a little more humor, and a little more reserve.


October 31, 2013

My Yul Brynner Pumpkin

yul_brynner copy

I have always had a thing for Yul Brynner. Maybe this is due to a childhood peppered with musicals from generations prior (i.e. The King and I (1956), in which he starred.) And then of course, he is owed tremendous props for his strange continental-eurasian accent. I took note in the early 2000s when Stephen Malkmus wrote “Jo Jo’s Jacket” which is a 100% idiosyncratic song which begins with an excerpt from a Brynner interview about his shaved head. My family pumpkin this year is a tribute to Yul Brynner and Malkmus. While the face design is mine, the masterful carving is the handiwork of my surgeon husband who relishes cutting and sewing in a tidy fashion. Not sure if it actually looks like Brynner. But it was the intent that mattered to me.

Happy Halloween y’all. Malkmus’ song is below.

YouTube Preview Image



June 12, 2013

On Philip Johnson, LifeEdited and The Virtue of Tchotchkes


Some of my favorite tchotchkes.

Raise your hand if you love mid-century style, but are suspicious of bare, minimalist interiors. Especially those that are so minimal as to be devoid of tchotchkes. Tchotchke is a Yiddish word for “a decorative knick knack — with an emphasis on its worthlessness.” The fancy sister of a tchotchke is the pompous term objet d’art, or “an article of some artistic value” (i.e. antiques, or a small significant Picasso sculpture or whatever.) Neither of these words, however, capture the importance of the smaller objects in a home that provide it with vitality. Sacred and profane objects, collected over one’s lifetime, provide a visual feast for the eye: a tin box found in Ecuador, a small Finnish vase given to you by your well-traveled Aunt Madeline, little bottles of vodka from the flight to St.Petersburg. These are talismans of a life well-lived and remind you of your experiences and past. They are the detritus from your career moves, momentos from trips with old boyfriends, a stolen ashtray from IHOP, or even a framed rejection letter.


tchotchke_3The Phillip Johnsonesque minimalist house is far too devoid of tchotchkes to be a real person’s house. Surely in the plans for his 1949 Glass House he considered a storage bunker underneath the pristine box? Where else would its inhabitants store all the little bits of life: your child’s trophys, National Geographic subscription, and grandaddy’s matchbox collection? Johnson left no place for tchotchkes in his crystalline architecture. The problem is, Mr. Johnson, that’s just not how an interesting person lives. Graham Hill, the urbanist and serial entrepreneur behind TreeHugger.com and now LifeEdited, approaches modernist living from a similar less-is-more perspective, but adds a layer of “less space is more” ethos to the argument by suggesting that 420 sf is plenty of space to lead a fulfilling life (see Fast Company’s piece about this new eco-architecture movement.) And naturally, his LifeEdited prototype home is entirely devoid of tchotchkes, or the suggestion of comfort, for that matter. I have nothing against living in 420 sf in New York City — one of the most fabulous places to live in terms of public amenities. But can’t I bring in grandma’s little Victorian sofa? And what about my vintage Paris Review collection? Are there even enough shelves? I do indeed have an axe to grind in terms of the LifeEdited’s suggestion that stuff is meaningless. Are you supposed to photograph all your favorite objects, toss them, and show a streaming slideshow of what your formerly tactile life was like? This depresses me the way that ebooks depress me. You can’t smell an ebook like a musty old hardback. And you can’t live in a perfect clean box and expect to be reminded of your past. The visceral is too important to be left behind for the sake of ecology. I hereby challenge LifeEdited to continue to think in small square-footage numbers, but consider a more open-ended prototype that allows the user to be themselves, rather than a minimalist robot. Just because LifeEdited is ecological does not mean the result is humanist. Mr. Graham, if you’d like to collaborate with Vigilante Living, we’d be more than happy to address this architectural conundrum! But maybe we could meet somewhere more comfortable than the LifeEdited apartment.

cn_image.size.philip-johnson-glass-house_architectureal digest

Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House in Connecticut



Graham Hill’s prototype 420sf New York apartment for his company, Life Edited.

Tchotchke montage photos by Olivia Joffrey/ Life Edited prototype apartment via Lifeedited.com / Philip Johnson’s Glass House photo by Thomas Loof/ Trunk Archive via ArchitecturalDigest.com

June 5, 2013

Santa Maria Novella: The Best Soap in the World

Santa Maria Novella

There is soap, and then there is the best soap in the world. Santa Maria Novella soaps are capable of transporting you to another world, another place in time — and are really in their own category of perfume meets soap. Santa Maria Novella soaps come from an ancient Florentine pharmacy founded in 1612 by Franciscan friars associated with an infirmary for the monks, and was later supported by the Medicis. While I have never been to the pharmacy, by all accounts it is a magical, historic complex. My absolute favorite soap scent is “Sapone Per Uomo,” which is expensive and hard to find in the United States. The beautiful paper from inside the soap packaging looks as if were printed in 1900 and works nicely in lieu of scented lingerie drawer sachet to make you want to bury your head in your sock drawer. If you’re in San Francisco, the place to buy Santa Maria Novella soap is Bell’occhio. Located on a little alley off Market Street, this jewel-box of a European-style general store not only sells Santa Maria Novella, but uses the Sapone Per Uomo as a room scent; there is nothing more heavenly than swimming in a room saturated with notes of this sandalwood blend. It’s entirely unisex and pleasurable in a non-floral way. Whenever I order things from Bell’occhio, the tissue paper in the package releases subtle hints of this heavenly scent. If you have a summer guest coming to stay at your house, order some Santa Maria Novella soap for their bathroom, and make them feel special and welcome.

Santa Maria Novella2

Santa Maria Novella 3

bellocchio-exterior via paper Pastries

Photo of Bell’occhio courtesy of Paperpastries

May 31, 2013

Dinder House, Vigilante Family

NYT Magazine_interiors

While I always relish the arrival of the Sunday New York Times, when there’s a T Style Magazine tucked inside, I positively squeal. A particularly good issue lands itself on my bookshelves, like a book. The April 3, 2011 issue was one of those. The magazine’s cover story “Family Style” by Pilar Viladas, above, depicted a children’s playroom in a grand Georgian estate in Somerset, England. Rarely have I felt a photograph encapsulate my own idea of how a stylish house (where children live) can look and function. It’s messy, but it’s still elegant due to the building’s bones and the wise choice not to pack it full of period antiques. Who are these people, I thought? Turns out they are Jo and Chris Mycock the owners iof a successful English I.T. company. The c.1801 Georgian Estate, called Dinder House, was re-imagined for the Mycocks by the genius interior designer Ilse Crawford. To quote the story, Dinder House “was spectacular in its grand but subtle blending of the minimal and the baroque.” And, I would add, vibrant color, space to play, and in the former basement kitchen turned playroom — a setting for imagination and spontaneity. Turns out the rest of the house is perhaps more austere than I’d want for myself but still tremendously appealing in it’s use of color, scale, and respect for historical architectural elements like the classical moldings and parquet floors. Apparently, the best drawing room in the house, with hand-blocked Zuber wallpaper from Paris, houses a Ping-Pong table for spontaneous tournaments. I love how unstuffy this house is, especially given how grand it’s provenance is. A very vigilante house and family indeed.

NYT Magazine_interiors2 2

NYT Magazine_interiors2

May 15, 2013

My Nathan Oliveira

White Woman, Lithograph 1967 is the piece I grew up with in my house. We're pretty sure it a portrait of my mother.

White Woman, Lithograph 1967 is a piece I grew up with in my house. We’re pretty sure its of my mother.

When you grow up with the work of a particular artist around your house, their art becomes a part of you. In my case, that person was the Northern California painter, sculptor, and printmaker Nathan Oliveira. Wherever we lived, the lithograph White Woman hung above our fireplace. The piece had significance to my family, as is was suspected to be a depiction of my mother, a San Francisco stage actress in 1960s San Francisco who was a founding member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Perhaps Oliveira had seen her in a performance? Regardless, the mystery of how this lithograph so resembled my mother was always of great intrigue. Later, when I went to college at Stanford University, Oliveira was a Professor in the Art Department and I’d go visit his shows. I felt a personal stake in his work; his work shaped my eyes from an early age.

My mother Anne-Marie. Her stage name was Mimi Carlile.

My mother Anne-Marie. Her stage name was Mimi Carlile.

Blue Head, Painting 1990

Blue Head, Oil on Canvas, 1990

Oliveira’s lithographs and other prints are superb (he was a member of San Francisco’s Crown Point Press) but his paintings are marvelous too. I love his command of color and the human form. And his references to shadows in his figures. He was lauded in his lifetime, having over 100 solo exhibitions, but I am surprised that he was not more famous. I adore his work for it’s subtle and quiet quality. His 2010 obituary included this statement form him, that made sense to me: “I’m not part of the avant-garde. I’m part of the garde that comes afterward, assimilates, consolidates, refines.” I agree with the last part especially: exceptionally refined.

Man with a Hat, Cane and Glove, Oil on Canvas 1961

Man with a Hat, Cane and Glove, Oil on Canvas, 1961

Nineteen twenty-nine, Oil on Canvas 1961.

Nineteen twenty-nine, Oil on Canvas, 1961.

Oil on Canvas

Nathan Oliveira 1928 - 2010.

Nathan Oliveira 1928 – 2010.

May 7, 2013

What Would Lou Lou Do? Part 2

As much as Lou Lou de la Falaise inspired people with her irreverent and whimsical style of dressing, her home was equally inventive. There are rich people who hire famous decorators to design their houses and apartments, but Lou Lou, daughter of a French aristocrat and an Anglo-Irish fashion model, was more personal and bohemian in the way that she laid out her home. She filled it with colorful textiles from all over the globe (suzanis, Moroccan fabrics and rugs, and traditional French fabrics) and placed them artfully in her high-ceilinged Paris apartment.  Lou Lou’s immensely appealing habit of  casting antique chairs casually around the room alongside wild ethnic prints is perfectly haute bohemienne. In a breezy, worldly way, it is very rebellious. There is nothing self-conscious or stuffy about these rooms despite their grand proportions. If anything, these rooms have the rare quality of reflecting their owner’s life, not about adhering to any strict stylistic sensibility. I love houses like this. Lou Lou inspires me to take my house’s interiors to the next level in terms of color and mismatched, magpie layers of visual interest and storytelling. Dear Lou Lou, could you be any more brilliant? Bravo!

Suzani bed with layers of florals, tartar pillows -- it might make some people cringe with it's busy-ness but I adore it.

Suzani bed with layers of florals, tartar pillows — it might make some people cringe with it’s busy-ness but I adore it.

wonderful red walls and a North African seating area: so warm and casual but refined.

Wonderful red walls and a North African seating area: so warm and casual but refined.

Lou Lou's library; don't you adore the casually draped fabric?

Lou Lou’s library and dining rom; I adore the theatrically draped fabric to separate the rooms.

I suppose even Ikea furniture would look marvelous in this window. But it's spare and I appreciate her asymmetrical tableau of plants.

I suppose even some broken Ikea furniture would look marvelous in this window. But it’s the perfect balance of spare and warm. I appreciate Lou Lou’s asymmetrical tableau of plants.

Another angle of the seating area with bold pops of red.

The seating area with bold pops of red.

Casually grand seating area.

Another shoot of the same seating area: casually grand and colorful.

A neutral room with a glorious red carpet is certainly an idea to take away.

A fairly neutral white room with a glorious red carpet is certainly an idea to take away.