Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making the Best of a Rainy Day

ain rain go away used to be my mantra as well, that is, until I learned how to accessorize for rain properly.  There are those $3.00 umbrellas you can buy on the street (and I've bought my fair share) and then there's umbrellas.  Real umbrellas.  And once you get into those, there's no turning back.

Take a wild guess where the best umbrellas in the world come from...  I'll give you a hint:  They have really crappy weather.  If you guessed England, you're following along perfectly!

There's a company in London that has been making umbrellas since 1750.  I've mentioned them before in passing: it's Swaine Adeney Brigg.  As you might imagine, with over 250 years of experience in one of the rainiest, crappiest, most foul weather parts of the world, they've gotten quite good at it.  It's good enough for the Queen at least, and one might imagine that she is a very discerning woman.

Brigg's best umbrellas are those that are "full stick" meaning that the handle and shaft of the umbrella is made from a single branch.  They sell those and two piece umbrellas, but if you're going to do this right then go solid.  As far as their selection of hardwoods, I doubt it can be surpassed.  There's oak and cherry and chestnut and ash and maple and hickory and more.  Some have the option of leaving the original bark on the handle, while others are polished.  There's a good range of canopy options as well from nylon to cotton to silk.  Plaids and solids.  You can customize the length, choose from gold or silver collars, get an end cap for the handle.  You can order the umbrella cover, have the collar engraved, and even get different color fabrics for each frame in the canopy.  The possibilities are endless.

I ordered my umbrella in February this year and opted to go bespoke.  I chose a standard size 26 umbrella (suits me well) that is bark chestnut.  I love the feel of the bark and I think it gives a better grip.  The chestnut color is outstanding, and the difference in color tone between the bark handle and the stripped shaft is amazing.  I went with a nylon canopy since I wanted a color that was not available in silk.  It's a pretty bright orange.  There were two oranges available, and the colors looked different from monitor to monitor.  I imported the fabric swatches into Photoshop and measured the RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) values for both oranges, and ended up taking the one with higher red values.  As I mentioned, the standard collar options are gold plate or sterling silver.  I didn't like either for this umbrella, and had them make the collar from solid brass instead.  No engraving (I remember my name) so just the standard royal warrant.  I'm looking forward to the collar oxidizing some.

The order was placed with Sterling & Burke Ltd based in Washington DC.  They are one of the few places here in the US that offer Brigg umbrellas and all the options available.  My experience with them was... well, less-than-stellar.  I asked about canopy colors and the brass collar.  It took a followup email to get them to send the fabric swatches, but they forgot to tell me about the collar.  Question about pricing took a few emails.  Each time they replied back, they included this templated, flowery writing style reply that included less information than I asked for:
Thank you very much for your order. We are delighted to assist you and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

[lacking message here]


I hope you find this information helpful. Please let us know how we may be of further service. We look forward to hearing from you again and until then wish you,

Kind regards,
STERLING & BURKE LTD
Finally, I got my order put through (Feb 17), and was promised my umbrella would be ready in four to six weeks.  On April 5, I got a followup message (complete with all the embellished language) stating that, "your bespoke Polished Chestnut Umbrella by Swaine Adeney Brigg ..." was ready.  Fail.  I hard ordered the Bark Chestnut and they had sent in the order incorrectly.  I dispatched a strongly worded email that they flubbed the order.  On April 11, I was finally informed that the umbrella would need to be rebuilt from the beginning.  No expected date; they were still looking into it.  By May 23, it was time to hassle them again.  And again, prompt reply with no information:
Dear Mr. (AS):

Thank you very much for interest in our fine goods.  We are delighted to assist you and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

We have enquired with the Swaine Adeney Brigg factory in England in regards to a completion date.  We will forward you our findings once they become available.

I hope this information is helpful.  Please let us know how we may be of further service.  We look forward to communicating with you again soon and until then wish you a delightful day and,

Very kind regards,
STERLING & BURKE LTD

No, I did not find that information helpful.  By May 27, I was certain to inform them of that.  On June 2, I was notified that Swaine Adeney Brigg had run out of bark chestnut shafts, and that they were attempting to source them.  Estimated arrival: mid June.  By June 29, patience had worn thin, and my followup emails were beginning to reflect this.  On June 30, I was informed the shipment (that might include my umbrella) was delayed.  Perhaps it will arrive the following week?  On July 6, I was finally notified that they had the umbrella in hand, and were ready to then ship it to me directly.

Sore points aside, the arrival of the umbrella was something to behold.  It came in a long, slender box something like a box of long-stemmed roses.  Inside, Swaine Adeney Brigg tissue with a gold seal sticker.  Under that, a SAB umbrella bag with a bow tied around the handle.  Inside of that, the umbrella sealed in plastic.  Inside of that, the most magnificent umbrella I have ever held.

A short video on Brigg umbrellas compliments of Deutsche Welle:



This will not be my last; I plan to get others!

--A

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sealing the Sleep Deal: Sheets

id you get yourself an awesome mattress? Nice. Now scrap those $40 sheets and let's talk about how to accessorize it properly.



Don't get me wrong, not that long ago I balked at the thought of replacing my single, thread-bare, pilled set of sheets.  The holes were barely noticeable, and who the hell cares about sheets anyway?  But with the new mattress, those weren't going to do, and it was time to do my research.

How you should feel about your sheets
Researching sheets is as stupidly complicated as choosing a mattress.  The easy part (at least for me) was choosing a material.  I think silk is gross.  Flannel is nice, about half the year.  Anything that's not a natural fibre - gone.  Linen is interesting (yes, they make linen sheets) but it's tough enough keeping my pants reasonably pressed.  That leaves cotton, which I love.

Next, you have to deal with thread count.  Thread count, the number threads per square inch, is the latest way that sheet manufacturers are trying to sell you sheets.  The more threads per square inch, the softer the sheets (must) be, and the higher the price you (should) pay.  But there's a catch, as always.  The sheet manufacturers, in an endless competition to outdo one another, have gamed the system a bit.  If the threads are two ply, they can double the advertised thread count.  The National Textile Associate (NTA), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have been fighting over this for a few years now.  Best advice:  Be suspicious of thread counts higher than 500.

Some big names in sheets include Pratesi, Frette, SFERRA, Schlossberg, Zimmer + Rhode, and more.  Prices can be north of $1200 or $1400 for a sheet set.  They're nice, but you're paying more for the name or the design than you are for the quality or feel of the sheets.  Does a $700 sheet feel better than a $500 sheet?  Or an $400 sheet?  I doubt it.  To tap into my grade school math:  What is the point of diminishing returns?  The point where top quality meets value?  Answer:  Thomas Lee Ltd.

I first heard of Thomas Lee when I saw their sheets featured on OneKingsLane (flash sale site).  As is sometimes the case, the price of the sheets purchased direct from Thomas Lee was the same as that on the flash sale site, except you didn't have to wait 2 weeks to get them or pay for shipping.  (A hint for the peeps at OneKingsLane).  Thomas Lee offers 500 (actual) thread count sheets woven from American Pima Cotton.  I'm not sure when the Egyptians thought they cornered the cotton market, but they lose when compared with American cotton.  The ring spun weave makes for the softest anywhere.  At $189 for a queen-sized sheet set (two sheets, two pillowcases), you'll probably sleep better than the people with the $700 sheets.  For an extra thrill, put two or three bottom sheets on your mattress - it feels wonderful and protects your mattress more.

--A

American Pima Cotton