On a bright, brisk Sunday afternoon in April, with household chores beaten back and feeling a longing for rural vistas, we bundled ourselves into my new old Saab to do some bike route reconnaissance in the northern Virginia countryside. Avoiding the crowded interstate highways, we picked our way across Bethesda, past oversized new houses in the outer Washington suburban developments, and crossed a steel truss bridge over the Potomac into Virginia at Point of Rocks.

Abandoning maps and online route finders, we followed winding roads with sparse traffic through woods and open fields, the gently rolling landscape unscrolling. On an intuitive impulse, we turned down a road that disappeared into a hollow with a view of the distant Blue Ridge and a glimmer of waterway through the still bare trees.

We were greeted by this scene. A very small town surrounded by pastures and woodlots, announced by an imposing four story brick mill with a mansion tucked behind a scrim of big old trees on the hill above. A graveled pull off beside the road beckoned me off the pavement, and we stepped out into a pastoral scene from the 18th century.

Ina wandered off exploring the town while I squatted with my sketchbook balanced on my knee, huddled under the chilly breeze in the marshy weeds next to the mill. After drawing this impression, I joined her on her walk and we strolled up and down the old streets, peering between houses into intimate, partially hidden courtyards and across fields where sheep grazed. The occasional barking dog, a friendly wave from residents on a stone patio behind an iron fence. A landscape painter's studio and gallery, the door open, trustingly unattended. Quiet, peaceful.

Waterford, Virginia was established in 1733. It gained distinction during the Civil War as the only place in Virginia that spurned the Confederacy and kept its allegiance to the Union. It was a place where escaped slaves and free African Americans were welcome. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, one of only three in the entire United States. Its well preserved old homes and buildings stand proudly as a testament to the ideal of embracing all without prejudice or bigotry. A moving tribute in these turbulent times when inclusiveness is being threatened and our very democracy seems at risk once again from within.

And of course, a lovely outing on a beautiful day, to a place we'd not planned to find. The best destinations are often the least expected.

waterford mill, waterford, virginia; 11-1/4 x 7-1/2, pen and ink


New York's no-show snowstorm

the Flatiron Building

The annual Architectural Digest Home Design Show opened on Thursday morning at New York City's Pier 94. In the face of dire warnings that the heaviest winter storm of the season would bury the region on Wednesday, my colleague Meghan Browne and I rolled out of Chevy Chase, Maryland at 10:30AM as the air became thick with big, fat snowflakes. With four new snow tires on my Volvo wagon and winter driving skills learned in central New York's snow belt, I figured we'd be fine unless the turnpike commission closed the highways. We'd looked forward to getting out of DC and seeing what's new in New York, and a dubious weather forecast wasn't going to stop us. Everyone thought we were nuts.

Still, for the first couple hours, the snowfall got heavier, the roads more slippery, and driving took a lot of focus. We couldn't see the river as we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge. But while the going was slow, traffic was light. Schools and many businesses were closed and most people had cancelled travel plans. By the time we got into central New Jersey on I-95, we had the highway mostly to ourselves except for the occasional slowdown behind a snowplow or road salting truck. The normally long line into Lincoln Tunnel was non existent, and the streets of Manhattan were as deserted as I've ever seen. Within 20 minutes of emerging from the tunnel, the car was safely stowed in a parking garage and we'd checked into our lodgings, marveling at our good luck. Meghan headed out to meet a friend for dinner, and I walked through a scrim of flurries a couple of blocks down 10th Avenue to a popular middle eastern restaurant catering to an unusually thin crowd. I watched the snow fall on weirdly empty streets and sidewalks, and the waitstaff stood around wondering how early the place would close so they could get home. It was quiet and magical like a snowy evening in my childhood on the farm, except I was in the middle of New York City.

The storm never arrived. When we headed out for coffee Thursday morning before going over to the show, there was enough snow to make it look like winter, but it was sunny and the city glistened, and by the time we walked out of the exhibition hall late afternoon, it was melting away. By evening it was all but gone. The show was terrific, and neither of us could remember an easier trip to the city.

Next time I want to go to New York, maybe I'll just wait for a really nasty weather forecast ... and wait for hubris to strike me down.


standing on the corner of 10th and 55th




Neglect hasn't killed the geranium that sits on my kitchen windowsill. It clings tenaciously to life, waiting for me to come home and remember to water it. Blossoms shrivel, leaves drop away, and it's still beautiful.

14" x 12", watercolor and 2B graphite pencil


Old school

Computer modeling and rendering have transformed the design industry at most every level. In the early 2000s, I made myself sit up late at night learning from technical manuals, knowing that was where the world was headed, and that it would help keep me from sliding into professional obsolescence. Still, I never gave up drawing by hand.

Today's designers can produce 3D visualizations of kitchens, choosing facsimiles of cabinet styles and finishes, countertop and flooring materials, appliances, furniture, and lighting from drop down menus embedded in easy to use design software. The more sophisticated programs can yield digital models and renderings of nearly photo-realistic quality, and even virtual reality walk throughs. Not so long ago, such results were only available to those with considerable professional training and experience. Nowadays, with a plethora of powerful programs, very little skill is required. Hand rendering seems threatened with extinction.

I'm an AutoCAD user, and with over 25 years of it under my belt, I'm pretty adept. Beyond the concept sketching phase of my work, it's become indispensable, whether I'm designing a new product series, a one - off furniture piece, or a room. I find its rendering tools useful in form and space studies, but when I produce design manuals and presentation renderings, they're almost always drawn by hand, using hardline drawings plotted from my digital models as a guide for accuracy. It's a lot of extra work, but these hand renderings have an evocative, emotional quality that I've found impossible to achieve any other way.

Call me old school, but drawing is still something I do by hand. Sometimes it almost feels like making art.

Kitchen design project for a residence in Washington, DC with Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd.



Small town longings

A Friday morning, the last in January this year. In the predawn darkness, I drive a variant of my usual traffic-avoiding route along Rock Creek and through quiet, wooded residential side streets in picturesque Chevy Chase. Last week, I noticed a short commercial block with a grocery store, pharmacy, barbershop, realtor, dry cleaners, and a café on the edge of one of those neighborhoods. This chilly morning, I turn back after driving past it, to slow the pace of the day, for a cup of coffee.

Inside the warm café, a counter with old swivel seat vinyl padded barstools on metal columns bolted to the floor, a handful of four top tables, a long chalkboard with breakfast and lunch menus stretching above an open griddle. A few customers waiting for breakfast, the sizzle of bacon and eggs. A small middle aged Korean woman, hair tied back under an indigo dyed cotton kerchief, busily cooking orders while her six foot tall son makes coffee and mans the cash register. No blaring TV. Something tugs at my heartstrings. I’m going to stay for breakfast.

I leave my silenced iPhone in my coat pocket and look around. A big sixth grade class picture outside of Chevy Chase Elementary School, and a poster for an upcoming local event hang on a wall. The woman deftly cracks eggs onto the hot griddle, popping two yolks with the edge of a jagged shell, leaving mine intact. Reaches up on a shelf stacked with melmac plates, quickly but carefully slides eggs, homefries, bacon and buttered toast onto them and sets them on the serving counter. I eat my breakfast and watch her work. Drop a tip in the jar by the register and place my used plate and silverware in a plastic pan next to the door on my way out. Back in my car, I drive the last mile to arrive, still early, at the office on bustling Wisconsin Avenue.

Working in Washington is a big adjustment for me after twenty years of designing in solitude in my airy studio. I enjoy my colleagues and clientele, and the projects are a welcome challenge, but the big city is, for me, cold and foreign. I long for the familiarity of farm country and small town. Today brought back a hint of what I love and miss.