Eye Candy and Open-Space Connections: Spotlight on Hampton Designer Showhouse Interior Designers Gideon Mendelson and Keith Baltimore

By Masha Leon

Published August 04, 2011, issue of August 12, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Eye Candy and Open-Space Connections: Spotlight on Hampton Designer Showhouse Interior Designers Gideon Mendelson and Keith Baltimore

One week after the Hampton Designer Showhouse Gala Preview Cocktail Party, held July 23 in Bridgehampton, N.Y., to benefit Southampton Hospital, I met with two of the 25 interior designers who had been chosen to decorate a room in the Showhouse: Gideon Mendelson, head of New York City based Mendelson Group, and Keith Baltimore of Baltimore Design Group, which is based in Port Washington, N.Y. Never again will I look at a professionally designed room without reflecting on some of the philosophical imperatives about the use of space and the function of design postulated by these two designers.

Keith Baltimore of Baltimore Design Group.
Karen Leon
Keith Baltimore of Baltimore Design Group.

During our chat at his Manhattan office, Mendelson told me: “I was born in Brooklyn. My father was born in 1941 on a train enroute to Alma-Ata [the former capital of Kazakhstan, now known as Almaty], arrived in the U.S. in the 1950s.” He said, “Though I went to Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah, I consider myself a cultural Jew….”

At a New York Midtown Chinese restaurant, Brooklyn-born Baltimore told me: “I have no idea where the Baltimore name came from. I was raised Orthodox, was kosher, wore tzitzit, spoke Yiddish [and] rebelled. I am now a Reform Jew and feel more connected to Judaism…. I understand what I read, [and] I like rabbis — they are the most wonderful people in the world.” On the subject of his chosen profession, Baltimore said: “I was born to be a designer. When I lived at home, I was rearranging my parents’ furniture weekly.” Baltimore stated that the challenge he faced was to design homes in order to promote family socialization. Mendelson comes from a design-related family: His maternal grandmother was an artist, his paternal grandfather an architect and his mother an interior designer.

Mendelson continued, “If a job is exciting, I am an authoritative listener. I listen to [design] symptoms like someone listens to a piano, then fit the pieces into the puzzle. I strategize with everyone and [decide] on a palette we are comfortable with. The best clients are those who hand over the reins to the architect. In the Showhouse, I was assigned a stairway landing. My design theme was inspired by aviation — a landing pad.” What first meets the eye as you ascend the stairs to this innovatively designed space is a large World War I wooden airplane propeller, mounted on the wall. The wall covering, furniture, rug and accessories all have an aviation motif in both color and texture. Mendelson added: “To me, lighting is like jewelry…. Eye candy should be everywhere. When you walk into a room, I want you to have a visceral experience.”

“I am an anthropologist when it comes to how people live and [how] I sculpt their lives,” said Baltimore, who designed a guest bedroom for the Showhouse. “My style? I don’t have one. The American family has changed. Everyone is hooked up. The art of conversation is gone. I will not have a desk in the bedroom. No more dining room! You use it once or twice a year, for a Seder or family get-together…. The kitchen is the heart of the house — an open space where the family’s socialization takes place. My challenge is how to solve the issue of ‘flow.’ There is no psychological separation in an open space, [which] enables you to keep an eye on kids, traffic, conversation…. You get involved in the rhythm of peoples’ lives. I love what I am doing. I always end up getting attached to the people.”

The 2011 Showhouse was presented by Traditional Home magazine. More than 450 guests attended the opening gala party, which ran until after dark. I was told that by the end of the summer, more than 7,000 visitors will have gawked at the Showhouse’s spectacularly designed rooms.

“Love, Loss and What I Wore”: A Closet Full of Insight and Humor

Why did it take me so long to see the delightful, delicious, alternately poignant and sidesplitting off-Broadway play “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron? Based on the book by, and drawings of, Ilene Beckerman, this showcase of love-kvetch relationships between mothers and daughters had the almost all-female audience laughing and nodding in recognition. You might call it a “closet” play — because all the stories revolve around clothing, accessories and the memories they trigger.

Marla Maples portrays one of the five women in the current production.
Karen Leon
Marla Maples portrays one of the five women in the current production.

The play has had rotating casts since its October 2009 opening (it won a 2010 Drama Desk Award), Marla Maples portrays one of the five women in the current production. Maples who was the catalyst for getting me to the Westside Theatre, on 43rd Street, where she shares the stage with Alison Fraser, Anita Gillette, Aisha de Haas and Zuzanna Szadkowski Why Marla? Thereby hangs a tale.

Those hated outfits your mother bought for you; oft-heard phrases such as, “Never wear white after Labor Day” “Never wear velvet before Rosh Hashana” and “Nice Jewish girls don’t get their ears pierced.” All this is intermingled with bits of universal motherly wisdom and mother-daughter angst. The segment labeled “The Closet” had the audience in stitches (pun intended). The cast functions like a well-oiled machine, seamlessly inveigling the audience into sharing the characters’ life trajectory while interfacing with such side-splitters as a segment one of the women introduced as “The Bra” — its ups and downs — and a vignette about showing the wedding dress to the rabbi.

As for Maples, I first met her in June 1990 in Las Vegas, at the American Booksellers Association’s convention, when Random House, publisher of his book “Surviving at the Top, ” was feting Donald Trump. I spotted Maples at a boutique at The Mirage where I went to buy a hat to survive the 107° heat. Per her request, my daughter Karen (the photographer for this column) did not take a photo of her. We met again, at Cindy Adams’s December 1990 bash for her husband Joey Adam’s 80th birthday, where Trump thanked Karen for not taking the photo. And then we met yet again, at the August 3, 1992, opening night and after-party for “The Will Rogers Follies,” in which Maples starred. I was also at the Plaza for her December 20, 1993, wedding to Trump.

I plan on revisiting “What I Wore” no matter who is in the cast. It’s a hoot.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.