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June 13, 2013 / Robert Ross

Past is Present….

tumblr_m3yije0YSp1qlf642o1_1280This time of year, I have no need for an alarm clock. The birds awaken as the sky begins to light and there is no sleeping through their cacophonous greeting of the day. It is odd that in a world where most city dwellers are awakened by traffic noises, I am awakened by birds!

My neighborhood, Ormewood Park, was one of the original trolley suburbs of Atlanta, and still lies moments from downtown. It was carved out of farmland at the turn of the 1900’s as the city was resurrecting and recreating itself following the Civil War. The landscape surrounding the neighborhood figured heavily in the Battle of Atlanta. It experienced several layers of development from the 1910’s on which resulted in a comfortable neighborhood mixture of Craftsman bungalows, WWII era starter homes, a few ranch homes and even a dash of the new contemporary homes exemplified by Dwell! It also is a neighborhood of old trees, which explains the birds.

Another wonderful feature of the neighborhood is that it in many ways hearkens back to the halcyon time of the fictional Mayberry.  People know each other throughout the community. The teachers that work in our schools live in the neighborhood. As do the Policemen and Firefighter’s. Kid’s ride their bikes and walk to to and from school. Neighbors stop in the street to talk and visit as they work in their yards. There are many houses with chickens. In fact, across the street they have goats. Not your typical slice of suburbia!

Happy-Hour---Website-400pixelWhat I believe contributed to the development and preservation of this neighborhood and it’s adjacent sisters, was the imposition of Interstate 20 on the landscape of the city in the 1960’s. This man-made feature acts with all the presence of a river, cutting the neighborhoods from the rest of the city and living limited access points north. Streets that bear the same name occupy both sides of the concrete ribbon. Those portions of the neighborhoods to the north of the interstate languished and fell into a greater state of disrepair than those south.

As a result, we are very lucky to be able to share some of my favorite childhood memories with our children! We are around the corner from a Zesto’s. A local chain of restaurants that still serve soft ice cream cones. Twelve inches of swirled sweetness hand dipped in chocolate and then rolled in nuts. The famous Nut Brown Crown! And yes you can get it half vanilla and half chocolate!

Another vanishing feature from the national landscape of my childhood is the drive-in theater! We have the Starlight Drive-in a quick five minutes from the house. Opening in 1949 and now a multiplex with 6 screens, the Starlight shows first run films and always tries to have a family friendly screen. The last day  of school was celebrated by going to see the new Star Trek flick under the stars. We went with one set of friends and happily discovered about 30 other families from the school had the same idea! You can go to the drive-in 364 nights of the year. In our climate it is comfortable to sit in your folding camp chair from April into October. We have watched movies wrapped in blankets while drinking hot chocolate! As an added treat, the snack bar has also managed to maintain 1980’s pricing!the-last-drive-inn-starlight-six-drive-inn-corky-willis-and-associates-atlanta-photography

For the 4th of July we avoid some of the larger attractions that pull in thousands of people from the suburbs. We choose to drive to nearby Decatur to watch their fireworks in the town square. Families picnic and there is an orchestra that plays the requisite combination of movie themes and patriotic music in the bandstand prior to the show. Of course the peak is the 1812 Overture.

A recent addition to the neighborhood is the Sonic drive-in restaurant. It is a treat for the kids to go and have the food brought to your car! While they don’t have the window trays, it is a novel enough experience. If we are feeling the need for the real thing, and the trays, we can always go the the iconic Varsity, 10 minutes a way on Sunday!

I feel very lucky to be able to re-live these childhood memories with my children. They are gaining first hand knowledge of a vanishing America in the heart of a modern urban landscape.

March 28, 2013 / Robert Ross

The Living and the Dead

On a warm February afternoon, while much of the northeast was digging out from a major snowstorm, the family and I went to visit one of our favorite local parks. Oakland Cemetery. This trip was prompted by a glorious day, with temperatures in the upper 60’s and the posting of a game called Cluetown, that showed up in my Facebook feed. Cluetown is a a scavenger hunt puzzle game where you solve the riddles to move to the next point on the map. It was a nice diversion.

For those of you who don’t know Oakland Cemetery, it is Atlanta’s oldest Park. Surrounded by former factories converted into restaurant and loft space and bordering the revitalized neighborhoods of Grant Park and Cabbagetown it is located less than 1 mile from the tall towers of downtown.  It is perhaps Atlanta’s greatest living history park and home to the final resting place of 70.000 souls. Thousands of people drive by it’s red brick enclosure daily not fully realizing the range of activity that goes on there. Oakland is anything but a quiet resting ground.

Founded in 1850 as Atlanta Cemetery on a 6 acre plot at the Southwest corner, by 1872 it had expanded to the current 48 acres and was renamed Oakland in honor of the many oak trees in the area. While the last plots were sold in the 1880’s, burials are stilled regularly performed. Because of this an incredible history of the last 150 years of funerary monuments and practices are on display ranging from simple stones to elaborate Gothic mausoleums including Tiffany Stained glass windows.IMG_1130IMG_1133IMG_1132

Oakland is a living example of the Victorian garden cemetery and laid out as a landscaped park. As such, plots were prized for their location and obelisks, mausoleums, and monuments were designed to take advantage of their location. In keeping with Victorian era customs, the cemetery also hosted family picnics and Sunday visits to Grandma, during which the families would maintain their plots. Each October these practices are remembered in the celebrated “Sunday in the Park” which benefits the Historic Oakland Foundation. Volunteers dress in period costume, vendors and musicians set up their booths, and the city shows up for a great outdoor event. In addition to Sunday in the Park, are the June “Tunes from the Tombs” and sell out nighttime Halloween Tours. There are also weekly guided tours of the grounds. Being a public park, there are also daily dog walkers, joggers, and bicyclists that take advantage of the winding paths and picturesque grounds. It also still hosts burials on a regular basis. It has also hosted weddings.

The city of the living rises behind and merges with the city of the dead. The tops of the Georgia Pacific Building, 191 Peachtree and the Westin Peachtree Plaza
blend seamlessly into the tombscape.

Founded in 1976, the same year the Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Historic Oakland Foundation has been instrumental in saving and preserving the park. It has worked with the city to repair and replace portions of the brick enclosing wall and the adjacent sidewalk. It has recently celebrated the completion of the restoration of the damage caused by a tornado passing through 5 years ago that uprooted 100 old trees and toppled over 300 monuments.

Oakland is steeped in Atlanta history. It includes the best know names in the city’s history including mayors, governors, business owners. It includes the grave of Martha Lumpkin that Atlanta was once named for. It also includes the graves of author Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) and golf great Bobby Jones. It’s very layout serves to remind us of the segregated society that was the past. There is the Jewish section, a section of contiguous plots purchased by the city’s oldest temples for the use of its members. There is a slave section (relocated once as the cemetery expanded) and an African American Section. There is even a beautifully serene potters field in the low lying part of the cemetery.

The Jewish Section

The Jewish Section

Visually striking is the Confederate Memorial section that provided the final resting ground for 6,900 known and 3,000 unknown soldiers.  These graves are marked by uniform rows of simple markers that lay in stark contrast to the more exuberant civilian tombs. The Confederate section is marked by the tall white marble Confederate Memorial and one of Oakland’s most photographed monuments, the Lion of Atlanta. This section also holds the remains of three Confederate Generals – John Brown Gordon, Alfred Iverson, Jr.,  and Clement Anselm Evans. Generals Lucius Gartrell and William Stephen Walker are buried elsewhere on the grounds in personal family plots. There are also the graves of 16 Union soldiers who died of wounds in the local hospitals.

Far from quiet, Oakland Cemetery is very much a living monument to a great city. After a busy afternoon, it is an easy step across the street to one of our favorite restaurants. Serving seafood, it is the aptly named Six Feet Under. The roof deck with it’s exceptional views of the skyline and the cemetery is one of the most popular spots in the city for lunch or dinner.

View from Rooftop deck of Six Feet Under

View from Rooftop deck of Six Feet Under

January 30, 2013 / Robert Ross

the color of possibility

white on white on white kitchen

white on white on white kitchen

Color has always trended. From year to year the palette of clothing and interior design lurches this way and that in a seemingly random way. You can clock the shifts with the seasons at your neighborhood Target or Pier 1. The last year or so I’ve noticed the overbearing emergence of a new trend…..white. It is everywhere. In the glossy magazines, the rooms are filled with white furniture. Clients have arrived wanting white marble counter tops on white cabinets with white back splashes to create white kitchens.

Even one of my favorite Blog reads, Jody Brown has picked up on the trend with a recent post on his page featuring the many whites available to architects! To be fair, he also decrees that all architects wear black. It’s about the angst!


I have to wonder why white? Why now? Color always conveys meaning and emotion. The calming influence of blues, the use of greens to symbolize ecological values or the dual nature of yellow representing both caution and happiness. White though? White typically represents purity, cleanliness and sterility. In some cultures, it is the color of perfection, in others death!

Depending on your point of view , white is either the complete absence of color or the visual blending of them all. White light can be broken into a rainbow when shot through a prism. White can represent purity or cleanliness. It also represents the opportunity of a blank paper or canvas. It can even represent a reboot as in fresh beginnings.

In architecture, white is frequently used for its capacity to reveal form. The contrast between black and white is manipulated in architecture to reveal form through shadows. Contemporary Architects are stereotypically said to only recognize white, black and grey as colors. Some of this has been the popular response to the work of iconic designers like Richard Meier. The truth is that most of use appreciate and rely on the rich and varied natural textures and colors inherent in the materials we select to create our works.

Though I can appreciate the crispness of white, the over abundant and inappropriate use of it is driving me nuts. Let’s talk about the current rage for white marble counters in kitchens. This is one of the most inappropriate uses for a material I can think of! White marble stains….easily!  Red wine, spaghetti sauce and it is a goner. Yes, you can seal it, but I have never had a client follow up on the recommended resealing. The polished surface will be permanently etched with vinegar or lemon juice. Vinegar is frequently used by the trade to cut the polish and create a honed sample. Another issue with marble, white or otherwise, is that it is a soft stone. It is guaranteed to scratch and show wear and tear. Not something you want to encounter in a surface that requires durability! This is why granite and the man made quartz products have become such popular counter choices.

All white living room

All white living room. This was an interior designers infliction on the living room of a home I designed.

Taken shortly after move in. White balanced by color!
Taken shortly after original move in. White balanced by color! Trim and other details enhanced by subtle shift of wall tones.

White furniture looks great……….as long as it is rarely never used.  Normal use will add a patina to the fabric that will rapidly make it look dingy. Think of a crisp blanket of snow…… after a week. I’m guessing that most of my clients would find this reality undesirable.

This accretion of this patina will be accelerated in an environment that hosts anyone under the age of 30, a dog, or most destructive of all – a toddler with a chocolate bar or sharpie!  In an age of everyone using i-pads and tablets, I guess it is possible that people forget the effects that newsprint can have on fabric.

One other little thing, white yellows over time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate the look of those images too! That is what they are after all images. Images that come with a promise of a lifestyle attached. The reality is vastly different. Perhaps that is why there is such a resurgence in the use of white at this particular point in time. We all need the optimism and opportunity inherent in  a blank canvas!

My prediction for next year….COLOR!

August 30, 2012 / Robert Ross

the next wave……….

It seems every time you turn around there is another social media platform that becomes an indispensable marketing tool (AKA time sink) for business. The newest rage is pinterest. Pinterest is a virtual scrapbooking system. This easy system allows the user to create and maintain individual “boards” on topics of their choice. by letting users easily save or “pin” images and items from across the web into a single place, the “board”.

Originally, used by hobbyists to maintain project ideas, it has exploded in popularity to become the 3rd largest social medium platform in use today. As such it has caught the eye of a those in the creative fields. They are after all used to working with collections of images and items to create something new.

As part of my new marketing plan I have opted in and am now a huge fan. Unlike facebook, it is simple to keep a collection of projects and ideas easily accessible for yourself and others.  You can search for ideas and products and create a board tailored to your whims. For myself, I am creating boards for projects that I want to share and give my clients and friends a glimpse into what makes me tick! Here is a screenshot of my current page.  To see the full page click here .

Each board contains images of individual projects that I can reorder as the library grows. I’ve created other boards for ideas and are they are inspirational in nature. After the images were loaded and everything was in place, it amazed me that the projects and images, though spanning almost a decade in time, maintained a consistency that I was not aware of.

Currently I don’t think it will replace facebook for constant contact, but it will certainly augment and enhance my marketing efforts. My website, facebook and now pinterest form a terrific trio for internet marketing. Catch the wave!

March 15, 2012 / Robert Ross


Last fall purchased an electronic reader. A nook color from Barnes and Noble. I had resisted for a while, after all, you can’t turn the pages. One of the reasons (justifications/rationalizations) was it might be a novel way to engage the kids with reading. In reality, I decided I just wanted it! Isn’t that enough?

For some reason, this process got me ruminating about what it was about reading that I really enjoyed. The storyline that transports you to another world or takes you on an adventure was first level thinking. The chance to learn about things outside my usual path, or along it for that matter, was another.  When you have a 9 year old who seems to resist reading, you have these thoughts. This started me thinking about why? And for that matter, why didn’t I read as much as I used to. Even in college with a full load I somehow managed to find some time to unwind with a book.

Then reality hit. The TV, the computer, smartphones, Facebook, blogs, and a myriad of other intrusions into our daily lives that didn’t exist when I was learning to read.  The 24 hour cartoon/news channels, computer games, wii, x-box, nintendo DS. On demand programming! All of these distract and somehow give us permission to buy into the myth of multitasking. And it is a myth.

When I was young I read ….a lot. I remember being able to sit in a room full of family with the TV going and intensely reading a book. I had the capacity to tune everything out and focus specifically on the storyline held in hand,  oblivious to everything around me. My mind was fully engaged with the task of visualizing what I was reading. Reading is perhaps the best training tool for the brain. It allows you to develop your capacity to focus. Video game marketers will claim that for their products as well, but I would argue that the creative effort of taking an author’s words and mentally “seeing” the story a much greater exercise.

Today I have friends and colleagues who consider multiple screens at their workstation a necessity. Personally I can’t direct my eyes …or my brain….at more than one at a time! On the other hand, they seem to become unglued if the connection to any one of 6  tasks is lost! Perhaps the greatest luxury in this age of over connectedness is intentionally choosing to turn it off!  No one wants to spend time with someone who is constantly checking their email, or interrupting a real life conversation by texting, tweeting or taking a phone call. All of the instant connection has thrown civility out the window. People are becoming incapable of communicating in other than soundbites or thought blasts of 140 characters or less. A recent phone service ad from Sprint has capitalized on this phenomenon by having a woman breaking up with her date by texting, emailing and then calling him-  they are sitting at the same table. The phone service is advertising free text messaging!

I don’t often seem to be able to reach that level of self engagement anymore. Too many life distractions! There are still moments at work where I become so immersed in a design challenge or in making a detail work that I manage to hit that intensely focused state. It is simultaneously draining and reinvigorating. Time stops. Perhaps the most disquieting thing about a video world is that the act of imagination is removed. We are no longer required to actively engage those creative portions of our brains. It has been done for us. I wonder what it means for the future that the visual has replaced the intellectual.

Back to the nook. I finally finished up some reading I was doing in traditional books and able to actually start using it. So far, I like it. It allows you to “carry” hundreds of books in the space of one. Because it is a lit screen, I’m not dependent on the light level in the room to use it. This is great for when the kids are watching a show with dim lighting and I want to be with them, but not necessarily watch the umpteenth viewing of the current favorite.  I also downloaded a couple of games to make trips to the doctor easier. The downsides are the battery runs down and unlike a “real book”, you can’t just leave it lying on the seat of your car. After all, I don’t think many thieves want to steal a book! I also wouldn’t read it in a bath, but who has time for a bath! And I still find traditional books satisfying. While I don’t think it will replace my library altogether, it will prevent  reduce the piling up of paperbacks

Has it helped the 9 year old? The jury is still out, but there is still time.

Photo from ihtatho’s photostream from Flickr and is used under the creative commons license

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