Monday, January 27, 2014

The complete history of neckties.

Historians attribute the first instance of neckwear to ancient China.  In 1974 archeologists unearthed a massive dig of terracotta warriors buried in Qin Shih Huang, the emperor who died in 2010 BC.  Before he died, he wanted his army to be buried with him, as a guardian of his soul during its transition into the afterlife.  He wanted to bury his soldiers alive with him but luckily his advisors talked him into creating terra cotta replicas instead.  When found by Westerns in 1974, the terra cotta warriors all wore a wrapped neck cloth.  There’s no other record of anyone else in China wearing these so they’re though to be a distinct garment worn only by the Emperor’s army – and the first neckties.

They were also seen in ancient Rome in Trajan’s column from 98 to 117 AD, with thousands of soldiers wearing neckwear otherwise unseen in Italy.

However, most people attribute the modern birth of the necktie to France during the 17th century.  In the midst of the 30 Year War, King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries to help him fight the English.  The Croats all wore a piece of cloth around their necks to help them keep their uniform jackets closed.  King Louis admired the look so much that he required everyone to wear one at royal gatherings.  To pay tribute to the Croats he named the neckwear “La Cravate” which is still the French word for neckties.

After the war was over in 1660, the cravat came back to England as Charles II reclaimed the throne.  The cravat became the fashion of aristocrats and the elite, and the trend spread over Europe and also to the English colonies.  No longer did it just look like the Croatians wore it, but now could consist of ruffled collars, ribbons, linen, cotton, tasseled strings, or even lace.

In 1715, a spinoff of neckwear appeared, a leather collar with lace at the back called “stocks.”  It was popular among soldiers because it kept their heads high and offered some protection against bayonets. 

 In the 18th century, the fashion movement spread to all men no matter what level of society or wealth they belonged to.  By the end of the century, wearing a cravat in black was considered the apex of fashion.  General Sherman can be seen wearing a leather stock in some Civil War era photographs.

The traditional Cravate made a resurgence all over Europe, donned by a new class of young men who called the macaronis (named in the song Yankee Doodle) who had come back from Europe with new fashion sense.

By 1815, the French Emperor Napolean Bonaparte wore a white cravat against his black attire during the battle of Waterloo.  History books tell us he did so to honor the Duke of Wellington who always wore white into battle.  Around this time people started calling cravats “ties” after the practice of tying them around their necks.

As ties took off, the rage became tying them in interesting ways.  There were even books written about different knots; The Neckclothitania was a satire published in 1818 about tying ties.  A more serious volume was released in 1828 by H. Le Blanc, The Art of Tying the Cravat.

The world changed dramatically with Industrial Revolution and so did the acceptance of the tie.  In fact the term “White Collar” workers comes from the dress of a new class of businessmen who left the gritty manual labor for the lower classes, who also wore ties. 

In 1880, the Oxford University rowing team had the first school tie and the practice spread quickly.  Over the next decade, the standard tie had some competition with the fancier ascot.  It was the favorite of Britain’s King Edward VII, who wore it to the horse races and who was emulated by his subjects.

But by 1910, the popularity of ascots started to fade as fashion became more casual and bow ties were reserved for “White tie attire” events.   

The fashion sense of ties changed dramatically in the early 1920’s when a New York City tailor by the name of Jessie Langsdorf invented a brand new way of cutting the fabric for ties, allowing it to stay in shape after use.  His ingenunity opened the door for new knots for ties became the most popular neckwear, the bow tie now being reserved for black tie functions (like with a tuxedo.)

In the 1930’s ties became wider and were printed in bold patterns and art deco designs.  They hung well shorter than our current tie length because pants were worn near the belly button, not on the hips, and men also wore vests that covered up the bottom of the tie.  They were still usually tied with a Windsor knot, named after the Duke of Windsor.

Of course during World War II fashion wasn’t exactly a priority for the country, but one it was over and troops returned home they donned reinvigorated neckties with strong patterns and colors.  But post war, men wanted celebration, not military uniformity, so the vibrance of America society reached fashion as ties grew wider in what was coined the Bold Look and art deco motifs included hunting scenes, floral patterns, photographs, and Cuban/Miami “tropicalism.”

The pendulum of taste swung back to conservatism in the 1950s, the “Mad Men” decade where skinny ties and flat patterns were most common, though bright colors were still in vogue.  Branded the “Mister T” look by Esquire, the ties were longer once again as belt height dropped and tapered suits and slim lapels were the look of the day.  As the calendar turned to 1960 and then 1961, these skinny ties reached the epicenter of the “IBM/Men in Black” look with widths as small as 1” and colors usually dark and uniform.

Later in the 1960’s, fashion went haywire with psychedelic bad taste and Pop influence, with ties followed suit.  The Kipper tie became popular, a clownish 6” wide short time with outrageous swirls of color named after designer Michael Fish at Turnbull & Asser.  The 1970’s saw no relief from these faux pas as the Disco era ushered in stranger Kipper ties and new fabrics with plenty of shiny things.  Interestingly, the Bolo Tie (Western tie) emerged around this time in Arizona, and it even became Arizona’s official state necktie in 1971.

From the frying pan of the 60’s and 70’s we jumped into the fire of the 1980’s with an explosion of options - everything from Kipper ties to skinny ties and bright pastel colors to dynamic plaids.  Novelty, or kitschy ties were considered avante guard, with Pop art images like fish or strawberries rendered on ties, and faux-materials like fake plastic or wood grain images catching popularity.  Ties also grew in length to 57 inches as men wore their pants lower, still.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that ties took a step back toward business fashion, with widths becoming uniform at 3.75 to 4 inches and plenty of bold yet uniform striped and paisley patterns.  In the first decade of the 21st century the standard tie thinned out by about a quarter inch and more European designs and influences came in.

In the last three years we’ve seen ties get even skinner with more influence from Italy and France, with a range from 3.5 inches to skinny ties again at 1.5-2” and everything in between.  There’s a mix of old-world tradition mixed with varying fabrics, bold prints, paisleys, and dynamic splashes of color.  The rules have all been broken and we’ve adopted the best looks for neckwear from the past century.  Anything goes in ties these days – as long as it looks good!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

8 Big-time celebrities who are selling their real estate!


One of the wealthiest people in America, Oprah is still not immune from biting off more than she can chew in terms of real estate.  In her case it’s not a money issue, but having so many properties she can’t sleep in all of them since she’s mostly splitting time between California, Hawaii, and Tennessee.  The latest to go is her 57th-floor Chicago luxury condo at the Water Tower.  She bought it in 1985 for an unreported sum and it’s on the market now for $7.75 million.  In the interim, she bought three other condos directly below or around hers and expanded her residence into one mega unit.  Now, it’s a combined 9,625 square feet with 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, and 2 half baths.  Her master bedroom suite takes up the entire 57th floor and downstairs she has two kitchens, multiple living suites, and enough storage to satisfy even the queen of American media.

Michael Jordan.

Jordan recently tried to auction off his 56,000-square-foot home in Highland Park, the affluent suburbs of North Chicago, only to have no bidders.  That’s a shame for all parties involved, considering potential suitors had to plop down $250,000 just for the opportunity to be at the auction!  He original listed the 1994 home in 2012 at $29 million but later brought the price down to $21 million.  Of course it’s equipped with 9 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms (in case the whole Bulls team comes over on a whim,) a putting green, garage for 14 cars.  Oh, and front gates adorning his #23 a full court basketball court on premises.

Queen Latifah.

The hip hop star turned award-winning talk show host and actress, Latifah, real name Dana Owens, has put her Colts Neck, New Jersey estate on the market for $2.399 million.  A New Jersey native herself, she’s trying to rid herself of the 9-acre 7,500 square foot, 6 bed, 8 bath mansion that includes an Olympic-size swimming pool.  She originally purchased it in 2001 for $1.685 million.

Robert Pattison.

The trendy Twilight co-star is selling is Los Feliz residence after a nasty breakup with co-star Kirsten Stewart.  The charming tutor in the hills overlooking town is 4,026 square feet but has only 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.  But the open floor plan and architectural details more than make up for it, with several patios, water falls and features, a pond, a pool, and great views.  Built in 1922, it used to belong to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and now sold quickly to Jim Parsons of the Big Bang Theory for $6.375 million

Reese Witherspoon.

Coincidentally, when Pattison moved out of his Los Feliz house after a nasty infidelity-affair by his wife Kirsten went public, he took refuge at his buddy Reese Witherspoon’s Ojai ranch. Now, the Libbey Ranch is up for sale at $4,983,500 (apparently they need that $500.) The California-vintage home, built in 1923, was designed by famous architect Wallace Neff as horse stables for the glassware tycoon Edward Libbey.  Witherspoon bought the home in 2008 for $5.8 million and used it as a second home/vacation getaway.  The ranch is loaded with stone turrets, arched windows, beamed ceilings, huge fireplace, and library loft with fireplace, 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.  It also has three guest cottages (for all of her friends going through breakups,) a carriage house, swimming pool, barn, horse stables, and forest of oaks along 7 picturesque acres. 

Eddie Murphy

The comedy and movie superstar’s (and occasional singer) former palatial estate at 9125 Vista de Lago Court in our own Granite Bay is on the market.  The asking price is “only” $12 million.  If we got a typical mortgage loan on that, it would come to about $47,418 a month.  No problem!

Murphy is originally from New York and spends a lot of time in Los Angeles, but bought this house in 1998 when he married his ex-wife, Nicole Mitchell. It was sold for $6.1 million in 2007 to its current owner.
The views of the Sierra foothills, Folsom Lake, and Sacramento skyline are spectacular, but this 2.5 acre estate has much more to offer.  The home is 12,600 square feet and there’s also a 5,200 square foot guesthouse.  It also has a Vantage lighting system, in floor heating, elevator, gourmet kitchen, great room with floor to ceiling windows, gym, 12-seat theater, arcade, and billiard room.
Annie Leibovitz.
The iconic New York photographer unloaded her Greenwich Street, West Village ivy-covered townhouse.  She originally wanted $33 million when it went on the market in 2012 but it sold for $28.5 million, a boon to Leibovitz who’s gone through significant financial troubles in the past years.  The townhouse includes a 10,200 square-foot floor plan, 7 bedrooms, 5.5 baths, 13 fireplaces, garden and patio.
Christina Ricci

We may feel like we’ve seen Ricci grow up on screen, from Married with Children to successful movie and television projects these days, but in reality she grew up in Los Angeles as the daughter of a real estate agent.  Buying and selling homes must be in her blood because she’s been active in remodeling and turning a few properties lately.  The most recent one is a 1,900 square-foot bungalow in the Los Feliz neighborhood in LA.  It’s a 2-bedroom, 3-bathroom home that’s on the market for $1.695 million (she paid $1.5 million for it in 2005).  It’s been described as “non-traditional and with good flow,” and has dark hardwood floors, a chef’s kitchen, outdoor garden, patio, pool, and spa.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

25 House hacks that will make you say, "Cool!"

Have you ever heard of "life hacks?"  They're short cuts that creatively solve problems in your everyday life.  Well now we have house hacks, ways to alter your home or creatively use every day items to uniquely enhance your living spaces.  Some are simple and will only take you a few minutes to set up, others would require a million dollar budget, but all of them else can we describe these house hacks?  For lack of a better word, they are just COOL!  

Check them out and don't be afraid to try some of them around your house!  

1. Attach a wooden CD rack horizontally above your bathroom sink for a great organizer.

 2. If your closet doesn't have enough light, add a string of Christmas lights to the door frame.

3. String a bunch of aloe branches and leaves to your shower head - the steam will release the fragrance for your own aloe spa treatment.

4. Antique door knobs make fun, funky towel pegs in the bathroom.

5. Growing a vertical herb garden in your kitchen is easy, looks great, and smells wonderful! 

6. Ok, so this one may take a bigger budget, but install a glass bathroom floor with a stone shaft underneath.  Ok, it's nearly impossible to do - but it sure looks cool! 

7. Instead of an ugly white board, use a dry erase marker to write your grocery list on a nice picture frame with only glass.

8. Women always want more closet space and places to put their shoe collection so this will be appreciated - install painted crown moulding against the wall and use it to hang all of your high heeled shoes!  

9.  Put together a false front of book spines to hide your router or other unsightly electronics. 

10. You can hide your thermostat, alarm, or any other wall gadget with a painting affixed to hinges.

11. Attach bolts to the studs in your ceiling and use chains to hang a hammock bed.  You can also set up a cool indoor swing or bench like this with old rope.

12. Glue a magnetic strip under your kitchen cabinet and you'll be able to hang your spice jars by their metal lids.

13.  Get locked out of the house a lot?  (I do that all the time!)  Put your spare key in a pill container and then superglue the top of a pine cone to the top.  You can then bury the pill box and only the pine cone will show.

14. Painting in bathrooms and other small spaces is never fun because you have to tape off everything.  A faster, easier way to do that is to use plastic wrap to cover surfaces, and then take it off and throw it out in a jiff when you're done.

15. This one may take a lot more construction, but it's COOL!!!!  An indoor/outdoor pool that flows right into your house!  

16. If you can't easily bolt into the rafters in your ceiling you can build a frame to hang a table and chairs for your own personal swinging dining space!

17. City dwellers and those who work at home will LOVE this: put your work desk in a big box with soft beach sand so you can get the feel of a tropical beach while you're working! 

18. Do you call the kids for dinner over and over but they don't want to come downstairs? That won't be an issue when you have a slide attached to your spiral staircase!

19. Speaking of stairs, you can set up a system of drawers and storage closets in the empty, unused space under your staircase.

20. Or, make a staircase lined by book cases instead of walls.  Look closely - this one even has books in the hollowed-out steps!

21. What child wouldn't want a tree house right in their room?  

22.  Replacing a boring door in a dark space with a glass door covered by color swatches or glass tiles.

23. There's always so much blank space above stairwells, so bolt in to the studs and hang a strong gymnastics net - it will make the perfect hammock lounging area.

24. Coming back to earth, how about plastic shoe holders hung on the back of a pantry or kitchen closet door for better organization?

 25. Wine racks hung on the bathroom wall make great decorative towel holders.  


Do you have any cool home hacks that you use or know of?  Let us know and we'll post them next time!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are drones the future of real estate and private business in the U.S.?

The strange aircraft hovers outside your front door, floating twenty feet off the ground with the buzz of a lawnmower engine.  It’s camera eye whirls toward you and registers what it sees for a moment before speeding up and moving on down the street.  What was that thing?  A super hi-tech model airplane?  Are we under attack by flying robots?  Or was it a UFO manned by little green aliens?!!!

No, it was a drone, or "UAS," Unmanned Aerial System as industry-folks call them, and this scene wasn’t something out of a sci-fi movie but something you might see in every day in your neighborhood in the near future as drones are starting to be used in everyday life for a multitude of commercial applications – including real estate.
Yes, drones are even being used to sell homes as real estate agents try to get a leg way up on the competition by utilizing them for aerial photography and virtual tours to promote their high-end listings.

Of course, drones have a certain stigma, as they were first developed as military technology that could offer recon intelligence or deliver a deadly aerial strike without putting soldiers in harms way.  The controversy of drones in military use aside, it seems their future has far more to do with business and every day life.  But no one expected the industry of real estate sales to lead their charge into normal society.  Real estate brokers using military tech that cost millions of dollars to develop to sell your home?  It’s a fascinating example of the tail wagging the dog. 

Sure enough, some agents are using drones to sell their listings.  We’re not talking about a $150,000 3 bed/2 bath listing in a working class neighborhood, here – drones have mostly been used to market million dollar luxury homes.  They actually fly the drones into and the homes and film the whole thing, an above-eye-level virtual tour that is more NASA than stagnant photos with a dinky digital camera.  They can even fly around the house, through the yard, and of course go as high as necessary to produce stunningly-detailed and unique birds-eye views of the property never seen before.  Drone-shot aerial footage is particularly snazzy when you have grand entranceways, great rooms, and expansive back yards that can be viewed from story-high vantage points.  The video footage is then collected and edited into a polished Hollywood-style trailer used to build excitement and build a buzz about the property.  In the past, some eager Realtors have hired helicopters to circle and shoot footage of their super-listings, but the expense is prohibitive, access is restricted by the flight plan, and the footage comes out so loud and choppy that it needs considerable editing.

Realtors who specialize in ultra-luxury listings from Maryland to California to Vancouver, Canada are already using these drones to market their listings – and separate themselves from the pack.  But it’s not without controversy – as the legality of drones in commercial use is a huge grey area that is being refined and articulated as we speak by the FAA, Federal Aviation Administration. 

The real estate agents say they are sticking to the rules, only using the drones on private property and keeping their flight paths below 500 feet, just like a model airplane, but the FAA doesn’t see it that way.  In Vancouver, Canada’s high-end market, the realtors have to take out a special permit every time they intend to use the drone, and even submit a flight plan. 

Drone technology has evolved remarkably as it hits the private sector.  The size of drones varies from the size of a model airplane to bigger than a person, and the cost can be anywhere from $1,000 to up to $20,000.  Piloting it is another challenge.  Some are easy to use and can be operated remotely with a remote control device or through a touchpad on your cell phone, but others are more difficult and recommend you use an experienced drone “pilot” to operate the craft so it doesn’t smash into a tree or fly out of range and become lost.  The latest drones, perfected by pimply-faced tech wizards not military personnel, can be so small they fit into your pocket, and even look like somewhat mechanical insects or humming birds. Others are more standard model aircraft or mini-helicopter variety. 

So why the sudden push of drones into commercial use?  Maybe we can attribute it to the axiom “There is nothing as powerful as an idea who’s time has come,” or refer to the lineage of government and military inventions that have shifted to practical use by ordinary citizens from LSD to the Jeep, but in this case, had a lot to do with it, too. 

The online book, movie, and everything-else retailer announced in December that it would start testing “octocopters,” that could potentially deliver packages to customers.  Instead of sending off the copy of “Harry Potter” you just ordered via a traditional UPS or post office method, where it’s trafficked between warehouse, shipping center, airplane, and then delivery truck fighting traffic and wasting gas, the largest online vendor would just attach it to a drone, plug in your address, and fly it on out to you remotely with a drone, landing at your front door in as little as 30 minutes.  They expect to see widespread use of drones for their deliveries in the next 4-5 years, but it very well could “take off” much sooner than that. 

Other companies are quickly taking note, and doing business via drone could quickly become the new normal.  Once one company starts utilizing drones, all of their competitors will surely scramble to keep up, both in perception and increasing the efficiency of distribution. 
Already, the we can smell the gun powder of a drone-phenom boom coming our way – the President of Wired Magazine dropped out to start his own drone company; a British company is offering drones that can follow you around (via your mobile phone’s signal) and shoot a personal documentary for those who are narcissistically-inclined; a Bay Area startup wants to utilize the first “taco drone” to usurp the taco truck; and an upcoming beer festival in South Africa plans to use drones to deliver beer to its concert patrons!   Heineken-by-hovercraft aside, the dawn of a new age of aerial tech is irrefutably upon us.  In fact, upcoming regulation rulings not withstanding, the Federal Aviation Administration anticipates there will be 7,500 commercial drones operating domestically by 2018. 
Others in the private sector say those numbers are pedestrian and lack vision, and we can probably add a “0” or two to that estimate.  The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which is an advocacy group for the budding industry, is actively lobbying lawmakers to allow drones in commercial use for farmers, delivery companies, Hollywood moviemakers, and many other industries.  They expect that if new regulations open the way for private drone use in business, commercial entities will grow nearly 600 percent by 2025, worth more than $82 billion, and create 100,000 jobs in the process.
Since we’re talking about the FAA, that big agency with three little initials, how exactly do they feel about drones on our streets and in our air space?  Currently, the letter of the law is that drones are prohibited from being used for explicitly commercial purposes.  But everything from their jurisdiction to the definition of Unmanned Aerial Systems is on the table for debate. 
Some claim that drones are still unregulated by the FAA, but in reality they have strict rules on any craft that flies above 50 feet.  The government body has already made it clear that drones are not to be classified as merely model airplanes.  No permits have been issued for them to fly like in Canada, but the FAA has issued over 1,000 waivers from 2009 and 2012 to public entities, including law enforcement, to operate drones.
Very soon, the i’s will be dotted and the t’s, crossed, as lawmakers and the FAA draft a new proposal that sets to clarify the rules as Congress mandated the integration of drones into U.S. airspace by a 2015 deadline.  They are currently accepting proposals for six new drone testing facilities to aid in drafting their regulations.  It’s expected that the FAA sets to regulate any drone under 55 pounds (commercial airline rules will take over for bigger vessels) some time in 2014.  As is, they don’t sanction flying drones outdoors for business purposes, and can impose heavy fines if operators fly drones in a “careless or reckless” manner.

And how can we blame them – imagine a world where the skies are dark with these unmanned flying objects, bumping into each other, stopping traffic, crashing through billboards and trees, and generally causing mayhem.  In September, a Government Accountability Office study concluded that drones are not yet able to avoid other aircraft and that there are serious “concerns about national security, privacy and interference with Global Positioning System signals." 
There are also huge fears that universal access to drones will cause a host of privacy and civil rights violations.  Catherine Crump, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, expresses concern “that Americans will be subject to persistent aerial surveillance every time they leave their homes."  In fact, right now drones are being used by the Department of Homeland Security for border security and port surveillance.  The possibilities to expand anti-terrorism and crime-fighting efforts are endless, and perhaps comforting.  But dark clouds quickly blow over that sense of comfort as the use of drones becomes more nefarious.  Law enforcement agencies have already inquired about using drones for police surveillance, unmanned ticketing and fining, and possibly affixing a Taser or chem grenade to a drone to apprehend dangerous criminals with no human risk.  The Defense Department is “assisting” the FAA in drafting the necessary regulations by the 2015 deadline, which lends us to think they’re trying to keep their hands in the drone pie even as it surpasses military application into privatization. 

Of course, with any new technology we have to juggle the good and bad implications of its use (think: cell phones, computers, and splitting the atom!)  But there is also a huge upside for philanthropic purposes to serve humanity.  Drones can go where human beings (and helicopters) cannot – faster, cheaper, and endure and weather and harsh conditions with little concern.  Farmers want to monitor their land and cattle, miners could use them to explore the safety of caves, missing hikers could be found, endangered wildlife tracked and protected from poachers, medicines distributed to remote villages, firefighters can send in drones to measure hot spots in burning buildings and deliver oxygen or fire shields to those who are trapped; the potential to help goes on and on.  Already, Canadian police used a drone to locate and then treat a man who had been hurt in a car accident in a remote, inaccessible area, saving his life. 
It’s hard to even imagine the cornucopia of benefits that could come from the use of drones in everyday life, but for now it’s relegated to tech geeks, hobbyists, early innovators…and a few real estate agents in ultra-luxury markets.  So if you happen to be at a million dollar open house and a little drone flies up to you with a plate of cookies and sign-in sheet, you’ll realize that it’s a sign of things to come – the new normal in business over the next 5 years – and the future of technology in real estate.