Monday, January 31, 2011

Back Off I'm Starving!

The other day I was sitting in the store watching the snow fall when I had one of those reflective moments. What would I do if I won the lottery? Now, mind you, I haven't played the lottery in a year. But it was one of those days.

So I thought about island getaways and airplanes piloted by John Travolta, ninja assassin training and genetically engineering puppies so that they never age, but in the end I settled on probably my best idea: I'd buy a loft in Jersey City and then hire all of my friends to do art projects with me. All day. We'd have photo shoots and product launches and bring back old fashioned techniques like sign painting and making clothing by hand.

And that brings us to the above photo.Because even though I didn't win the lottery I still have an awfully talented bunch of friends. And I sure do have a ton of projects. So a special thanks to Melanie McLean for always being the seeing eye dog to my crazy ideas. She makes my mental vomit palpable for the rest of society.

And we sure have been cooking up some special treats .... so stayed tuned. This is just the beginning.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Put a bird on it!

Okay, if you aren't into trends (especially home accessories) you might not find this THAT funny ... but if I could get a nickel for every time a customer commented, "What's up with the birds? They're everywhere now!" I'd be a rich lady. Actually, I'd have multiple Kanibal Home shops.

So watch. And don't ask me about birds anymore.

(Video: IFC's Portlandia)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Styles in the Shop

Just a few new looks in the shop this week ...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

KH in the News: New Jersey Monthly

Somehow I get my two cents added in everywhere ... but in this case it's for good, not evil. Congrats to the Silvermans! The below is a great article about two guys who really do try to help (not hurt) the downtown Jersey City community:

January 17, 2011
Brothers in the 'Hood
Paul and Eric Silverman turn the old bones of Jersey City into vibrant new neighborhoods.

Two trucks arrived at a vacant lot one chilly morning last fall loaded with 500 bales of hay. Paul Silverman was waiting. Armed with a computer-generated sketch of a hay maze and a staff of volunteers, Silverman planned to turn the lot into a harvest extravaganza, complete with pumpkin patch, craft tables, hot chocolate, toffee cookies and kids galore.

“I wanted to do some kind of fall festival,” says Silverman. “My wife and I go out to West Jersey to pick apples and pumpkins. I knew we couldn’t do that here.”

Here is downtown Jersey City, where he and his brother, Eric, through Silverman, their property-development company, are transforming the former St. Francis Hospital into Hamilton Square, a sleek 11-story building with 125 loft-style condos, along with a wine shop, home boutique, health club with Pilates gym, cooperative food store and other businesses, all owned by locals.

Over the past 30 years, Paul and Eric, who live in Montclair and Bernardsville, respectively, have created some of Jersey City’s most charming properties—15 projects in all. Most of them are rehabs of noble, old buildings, like Bar Majestic, the lobby of a circa-1907 former theater, now a bustling wine and tapas bar with live Flamenco music on Tuesday nights.

That vacant lot alongside Hamilton Square is slated to be the site of future buildings. So far it has been a revolving door of community fun fests. A month before the hay maze and pumpkins arrived, the Silvermans, Smith & Chang General Goods—one of their tenants—and other sponsors, threw a massive barbecue for more than 3,000 people. Last summer, the field hosted a mini golf course designed by local artists; proceeds went to the Jersey City Museum. Before that, there was the Cinco de Mayo party at a Grove Street location and, before that, the Silvermans helped fund a makeshift playground to occupy kids during the year-plus restoration of the adjacent Hamilton Park. Anything, Paul says, to attract eyes to the area.

“We want to keep people engaged,” he says. “I hear so often, ‘Wow, this is my neighborhood!’”

Eric Silverman, the more soft-spoken of the pair, once challenged his brother not to say hello to everyone who walked by. “I couldn’t do it,” admits Paul. He is also barely able to let a day go by without attending a social function or ribbon cutting. Watching him glide through a crowded room—shaking hands, grinning for photographers and dropping references to all the things his company is doing for the community—you can easily imagine him when he was Ridgewood High School prom chair or when, at Muhlenberg College, he served as a tour guide and fraternity council president.

Both brothers can be convincing. “When I meet with a potential retailer and I like their concept, I always tell them, ‘We’ll work out the rent,’” says Eric. “If it’s good for the neighborhood, we’ll make it work.” Many of the shopkeepers who occupy Silverman buildings live a few blocks from their cash registers; some had never owned a business until one or both of the brothers sat down with them over coffee. In the case of Downtown Coop owner Mary Suliburk, the brothers convinced her that of course she should open an alternative food market. “They found us,” she recalls. “They keep their eyes and ears open for people who might have a good idea that could add something to the community.”

Opening a business in Jersey City is a notoriously thorny ordeal, even for old hands. In some circumstances, the permit process can drag on for years. (The owner of a local Atomic Wings sued the city last fall, blaming his restaurant’s failure on the two years he spent trying to get the right permits.)

Meanwhile, at Hamilton Square, the Silvermans helped a local Pilates teacher develop a business plan for her 6,500-square-foot fitness center; helped coax the city to revise an outdated liquor-license ordinance for a neighborhood couple trying to open a wine shop; and offered Suliburk names of Jersey City-friendly architects and engineers. Those tough-to-obtain permits? “They actually did all that for us,” she says. “They did all the paperwork.”

To be fair, each of these shops still opened months behind schedule—partly, according to some tenants who prefer to remain anonymous, because the brothers’ office is poorly organized. Some business owners who have been in town forever resent the well-funded, arriviste Silverman machine. But on the whole, these guys have earned a reputation in this town as coveted landlords who hold their tenants’ hands.

When Jersey City resident Kristen Scalia opened her decor and lifestyle shop, Kanibal Home, in 2009, “one of the first questions I kept hearing from neighboring business owners was, ‘Have you met the Silvermans?’” she remembers. Indeed, the brothers—whom Scalia dubs “unofficial mayors”—walked into her new shop, “offering an ear if I had any problems. Not once have I ever seen Jersey City’s real mayor at any local businesses, but on multiple occasions I’ve turned around at a restaurant and seen one of the Silvermans.” (The real mayor, Jerramiah T. Healy, calls the developers “a boon and asset to Jersey City.”)
If the brothers have been good for this city, the city has been even better for them. Eric remembers the eyebrows he raised as a 23-year-old, back in 1981, when, after obsessively driving around the Paulus Hook neighborhood, he fell hard for a building with a roof that had collapsed in a fire. “I thought he was crazy,” says Paul, who was 25. “It was a boarded-up, bombed-out, 15-unit apartment building on Sussex Street. We did a gut rehab, took out an ad in the New York Times and rented the whole thing in three weekends.” One of their first tenants was a guy who worked at J.P. Morgan, just across the river, and was thrilled to have the Manhattan-bound PATH train just around the corner.

The brothers were babies then—an age when crazy is more daring than dumb. As Eric continued to poke around Jersey City’s downtown—a landscape of abandoned piers, derelict factories and neglected brownstones—he noted the yawning windows, copper roof finials and gleaming New York skyline. “I kept circling Hamilton Park,” he laughs. “It was decrepit and surrounded by a chain link fence with an old hospital on one side. I kept thinking: This could be something someday.”

Paul looks wistful when he recalls those early days. “We were ignorant of stumbling blocks and felt like nothing could get in our way—that youthful exuberance kind of follows us,” he says. “Even though we’re in our 50s now, we feel like there’s no obstacles we can’t overcome. That’s part of being a developer.”

It’s also part of being a Silverman. Growing up in Ridgewood, Paul and Eric played games of Monopoly that went on for weeks, even months. “We used Lego blocks for hotels,” Paul recalls. After graduating from Muhlenberg in 1978 with a degree in business administration, Paul helped manage his father’s warehouse and trucking company in Kearny.

Eric remembers his late father, Edward, as “a risk taker and pioneer”—but also as a hard-working, old-school businessman who sealed deals with handshakes. “His relationships with large companies like RCA and Whirlpool lasted for decades with no contracts,” says Eric, who struck out on his own after graduating from the University of Vermont in 1980 with an economics degree. After a two-year stint with a New York real estate development company that owned two large Jersey City properties—including a 100-unit art deco apartment building—Eric left the company, transformed that boarded-up Sussex Street place and recruited his brother as an investor.

Since then, Paul has largely handled the business side and Eric has been the visionary. In college, Eric spent a year in London, where he first “started looking at buildings and trying to picture them renovated or altered.” Later, he would travel to Paris—once, for an entire year with his family—and record architectural details with a sketchbook and camera. “We would walk our girls to school,” remembers his wife, Constance, “and cruise around on a Vespa. I’d jump off and photograph window arrangements.”

Some may criticize the Silvermans for focusing on Jersey City’s leafy, brownstone-lined downtown—they have no plans to break ground in grittier areas, like Journal Square and Greenville. But when the brothers build, they don’t typically go for easy or obvious, says Robert Cotter, Jersey City’s planning director, who has known Eric Silverman for more than 20 years. “They’re up for a challenge and look for opportunities those challenges present,” Cotter says, citing the preserved movie theater vestibule in Bar Majestic’s entrance and the large converted factories where they’ve transformed giant windows into balconies.

It’s surely this tenacity that helped them not only survive the recession of the early 1990s, but eventually grow from it. “We lost a lot of money and properties,” says Eric, who finally learned what his dad meant when he said setbacks are good. “We learned to manage risks better, not to be quite as ambitious and realized that real estate doesn’t go in only one direction.”

It certainly doesn’t. Last fall, the New York Times reported that Jersey City had a nearly 18-month inventory of unsold condos. At press time, a quarter of Hamilton Square’s residential units remained unsold, and other Silverman properties sat undeveloped in other parts of downtown. The bleak outlook notwithstanding, the Silvermans, who stroll around the mini villages they’ve built wearing suits and confident smiles, rave about “the sixth borough” (Paul’s words) using all the right buzzwords: Diversity! Restaurants! Architecture! Proximity to Manhattan! Asked why they don’t move here, they’re ready with carefully groomed answers. Eric owns an apartment in the Majestic building, where he stays a couple of nights a week. Paul has served the off-duty roles of Montclair PTA dad and soccer coach—but admits that he spends the bulk of his waking hours in Jersey City.

Back at Hamilton Square, Councilman Steven Fulop admiringly recalls times when the brothers operated certain struggling businesses “at a loss in order to create a restaurant-friendly streetscape.” The Silvermans contend that the key to Jersey City’s ultimate transformation is not the hermetically sealed skyscrapers on the waterfront, as many assume, but neighborhoods. (The company’s tagline is “building neighborhoods.”) “They have a big role to play in the city’s future,” says Cotter. “As they continue to expand their empire, they’re more ambitious than ever.”

Just take a drive with Eric Silverman one day, and you’ll see. “Sometimes he’ll show me the most pitiful pile of bricks,” says Constance, “and I’ll say, ‘Eric, are we going to do this again?’”

Rutgers grad Cara Birnbaum is a freelance writer and author of the book Universal Beauty. She lives in Jersey City.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Around Town: Creative Grove Benefit

Come out tomorrow evening to support Creative Grove ... and seriously what better way than with a wine benefit? Can't really beat that (plus they'll be giving out prizes, gift certificates to local spots and more).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shop Renovation: Wall Decor

Some people may see snow as an obstacle, but over here at Kanibal Home we see it as an opportunity.

I've been waiting to start a new project that -- like most undertakings -- had only two possible outcomes: awesome or awful. I'm happy to report that after a day of gluing, nailing and board breaking not only am I pleased with the outcome, but my legs got quite a workout in the process. Double bonus.

So the inspiration for this project came from all the great decorative wood walls I've seen popping up lately. Unable to commit to destroying the shop's wall, I turned something that should have been permanent into an installation. And I got to use one of my favorite types of wood too! Yay lath.

Here's the wall before:
(Not bad, but missing a little something-something)
And now a little recap of the process:

(I might have stated this weird fact about myself before, but it's worth repeating: If I could bottle the Home Depot smell I would. There's something about a lumber aisle and infinite building opportunities that really gets my gears going. So I was super psyched to truck over there Tuesday night just as the snow started falling to stock up on supplies ... including a jumbo canister of Liquid Nails.)

(I needed a wood board 5.5 feet wide and 6 feet high, but that was never fitting in my truck, so I split it up. Not evenly, obviously. I also had to wait to tackle this project on a snow day because -- as you can tell -- it took up the whole floor in Kanibal Home.)

(The fun and time-consuming part = measuring and cutting all the lath pieces to fit into an aesthetic grid pattern.)

(Bundles and bundles of lath ... and me and my little saw. I have a big girl circular saw in the shop, but I was trying to minimize the dust. And loss of fingers.)

(Getting there ...)

(Finally finished laying everything down! Now it's time to rip it all up again so I can glue/nail it back into place.)

(Another angle.)

(The diminished wood pile. There are no images of me actually nailing and gluing this monster together because 1. I was trying my best not to affix myself or wood scraps to the nice tile floor, and 2. It was just me doing this project. I'm not that patient to set up a photo shoot of myself doing construction and no one really wants to see that disaster anyway.)

(The finished project. Mounted to the wall. Securely.)

It's not completely finished ... I still have some elements to add. But at least the largest portion of this project is completed. Lesson learned: Snow = Productive day in the shop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Greetings from Two Trick Pony

More greeting cards just arrived in the shop from the talented Boston-based Two Trick Pony! Here are two of my favorites:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Home Decor in the Shop!

Just the beginning of all the new products arriving in the shop ...

(New jewelry display area and vanity)

(Back in stock = vintage-inspired locker baskets)
(Hands down one of the best side tables we have gotten in the shop to date!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kanibal Home Renovations: Part 256779

I'm sure there's a saying for people who always strive for perfection, but always just wind up causing more work instead. If you find it, let me know. In the meantime, check out our new dressing room!

(Something look different?)

(Woohoo, chalkboard paint!)

(There's chalk hidden in here ... if you can find it, feel free to write a message on the wall.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jersey City Snow Storm: Part II

Just a little look at the world directly outside Kanibal Home this morning:

Spring 2011 Preview - Life Imitates Art :: Fashion Imitates ?

It's a bit "chicken or the egg?", but I have to side with Oscar Wilde in the anti-mimesis position that sometimes it truly seems life does imitate art. Or art imitates art. Or ... there are just some things that shouldn't be replicated over and over and over, ad nauseam.That was my immediate thought when checking out the 2011 Spring/Summer fashion collections. Thinking that I could draw some inspiration, I was instead confronted by Art History 101 flash backs.

I just don't understand the fashion industry's stance on creating clothing that looks like ... well, I'll let you figure it out. It's like the fashion equivalent of a Rorschach print when presented to a known sexual deviant. No really, what do you think it looks like?

I agree that fashion should be fun, but this much fun?

QUESTION: Is Georgia O'Keefe rolling in her grave as life, art and fashion have an orgy?

(Red Canna, O'Keefe)

(An interesting neckline on Alexander McQueen's Spring 2011 RTW collection, all fashion images via

(Black Iris, O'Keefe)

(A jacket that reminds me to make a gyno appointment from Marc Jacobs, Spring 2011 RTW)

(A painting of New Mexico by O'Keefe)

(I'm not quite sure how this would be worn -- is it a vest? -- but I do know it looks like someone's overgrown and untamed nether regions. VPL Spring 2011)

ANSWER: The spring/summer 2011 collections are a chaotic consortium of art, nature and design. We have the usual suspects that pop up in fashion: Butterflies, flowers and vaginas. All of which do nothing to flatter the female figure or attract mates.

KANIBAL HOME PROMISE: I will do my best not to dress any of you like an overgrown flower or provacative lady bits this upcoming season. However I do have grand plans to unveil a new special line in the shop. So stay tuned ... and stay away from any of the above.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Vendor: Hunter NY + Mathmatiks

Hey kiddies - Kanibal Home is now happily carrying two new jewelry lines: Hunter NY and Mathmatiks. One is a little bit girlie/vintage and the other is manly/badass. Pop into the shop to check them out OR head on over to our online shop, where a selection will also be available.

And take a look at their respective websites for additional products: Hunter NY and Mathmatiks.