Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Michael Pelkey

I met Michael Pelkey years ago when I had my design business in New York. I was always looking for good crew people, and he was introduced to me by Cheri Wagner. She brought him to my brownstone on 15th Street. I was still working from home then, and the dining room table was the work table.
We were hand wiring a zillion flowers, and I asked Michael if he could do this, and he said sure. So I asked him to make a dozen corsages for a wedding, and he made the most beautiful ones. From that day on, he became a part of my A-team, and a friend forever. Later he confessed that he had never hand wired a thing, or made a corsage, and that is so typical of this man with a myriad of natural talent.

Michael in his kitchen in Key West with a portrait someone did of him

Michael lived off his innate talent (we used to call it living by the seat of our pants). A rough childhood resulting in dozens of foster homes, he learned to use humor as his calling card. And uber generosity. And a tremendous capacity and joy for hard work.

The door to Michael's deck revealing the shell encrusted folly he made

He started collecting antiques when he was sixteen. He lived in the Boston area, where the pickings were fine. He always had a the eye for the hidden gem, the treasure buried under the grime. Eddie Ross and Michael are cut from the same jib when it comes to this.

Besides working for me for many years, Michael was a personal chef before those words ever became trendy. He worked for many interesting wealthy clients, and this took him all over the world, traveling with the people he cooked for. In every port and city, he dug out little treasures to bring home. He had several warehouses over the years of beautiful things.

In every home he worked in, he often did a little redecorating, along with planning and executing the most fantastic parties for his clients. He often used things from his collections, and the word got out. Eventually he accumulated an impressive list of interior design projects and dedicated clients.
Michael eventually made Key West his home. He bought a derelict Conch House and turned it into a show house, and nearly every style editor from Mary Emmerling to Martha Stewart used his home for a photo shoot.
The book Key West, A Tropical Lifestyle, features his home on the cover, along with a great spread inside.

Michael was so ahead of the time, as often is the case with original thinkers, and those with true talent. He was collecting alabaster lamps twenty five years ago. His ironstone collection is dedicated to pudding molds, and is legendary. He also used old ironstone bowls as vessel sinks long before the words vessel and sinks were used together in design jargon. The farm house sink was another one of his ideas that pre-dated it being a catalog item.

He was also first in using Carerra marble, rain shower heads, and so many things that became mainstream in bathroom design.

Note the black and white stripe gross grain ribbon used to extend the length of the shower curtain
The fan light window is an antique especially fitted into the shower

He collected windows and doors of all sizes, always knowing he would find a perfect place to build around them.

This little old stained glass window is hinged to open

When I lived in New York, Michael and I saw one another every day, yakked on the phone, hung out. He moved away first to Key West, then I moved away to New Orleans. We see each other every couple of years, and it is not nearly enough.
Recently he bought a new house he is re-doing in North Carolina. He is working for the design firm Tanda Design, who currently specialize in luxury projects all around hunt country. He seldom gets back to his Key West gem of a house, and often rents it out now. Once in awhile a buying trip will bring him to our open arms in New Orleans.

I don't have many photos of Michael's house. BB, Before Blogging, taking photos of houses was just not something we did ha ha. I found these in a folder tonight, and it made me miss Michael more than ever. Alberto took the bathroom photos the last time we visitied Michael in Key West, as an idea notebook for our bathroom renovation in New Orleans.

Alberto appreciates Michael on every level, but he is enchanted by all the little built-in cabinets in Michael's tiny 600 square foot house.

Michael and Alberto one Christmas in Key West-
I spy a clock that you all seem to love these days
Michael has had this clock for as long as I know him

I hope to do a book on Michael's body of work one day.
Michael doesn't do the internet; he doesn't blog; he doesn't twitter. He rarely uses the cell phone, except for work. So I doubt that he'll ever see the posts I've done about him, but I hope he feels my tenderness reaching out to him where ever he's making beauty today.


Jan said...

Love those built in cabinets (I like to call them cubby holes) so nicely done.

my favorite and my best said...

valorie, what a bittersweet story. as i get older i find a yearning space in my heart that was most def not there when i was in my 20s or even early 30's. this space i believe is fear. fear of knowing that life is REALLY short and i'd better get my ass in gear and do the things i want to do, reach out to the people i love and do what i can for them and that includes people i don't see anymore or regularly. i hope you get to see your friend soon.
BTW was his house featured in a cottage living at one point? i seem to recall a really cool, albeit tiny guest house with just enough rooms for a bed?? but it was FABULOUS!! and i remember that shell wall thingy too.
great post val.

Linda/"Mom" said...

* G' morning, Valorie!

I am in agreement w/ "MY FAVORITE AND MY BEST"!... And this was one of your loveliest, warmest, most heartwarming & full-of-love "dedications" ever~~~ friends n' friendships like yours don't come along everyday, as we all know, & how blessed you are to recognize that NOW~~~

I have to sign off for a bit~~~ want to call my BFF & tell her I love her!!!

THANKS again, Valorie!
Linda in AZ *

allie in g'town said...

What a gem of a guy! You are very blessed to have found such a great friend and it's doubly sweet that he has such amazig raw talent.

Visual Vamp said...

Good Morning All!
Yes, Michael was in Cottage Living, and that is his tiny and perfect guest house he salvaged from a tattered shed. The man is a genius!
xo xo

Laura [What I Like] said...

I fully intend to rush out and purchase his book, both because I yearn for a little island time (vicariously of course) and because I am the hugest fan of built in shelves. Plus I am absolutely enchanted by the fact that he doesn't do the internet. I feel that at heart I too am not an internet person...except of course when it comes to New Orleans based design blogs!

Lorna said...

You Design People have such eloquent, lovely blogs.


FeeFee said...

Hi. I really like your blog. I have been a follower for a while now. I just started my own- if you like it will you add it to your list? Also, I started collecting pics for my personal use before I started blogging so if you see any you recongize please let me know and I will give credits and link! Thanks, FeeFee

Jaithan Kochar said...

Love the bathroom! Miss you honey!


Renae said...

What a sweet post....having tender memories of friends is sometimes hard to put on paper, but you did a great job. Such an interesting man, I know he knows you love him!

Anonymous said...

Got a great sense of Key West. A nice, visual getaway!


jerseygirl211 said...

Good Morning Valorie,

I too have friends that own a special place in my heart, so I know the feeling you have for Michael. The miles may seperate us, but those special feelings for them will live with us for our lifetime. Michael has a unique talent, thank you for sharing it with us.


Jill said...

What a lovely tribute...sounds like a man I'd love to get to know.

Anonymous said...

VV, I love reading your blog. You bring a bit of beauty and love into my life every day. Thanks.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Sounds like the perfect kind of friend to me. Kind, funny, generous and uber talented!! Hold on to him!

And I do remember seeing photos of his Key West place. Divine!!

Fabulous Finds & Co. said...

The man was a genius!! That patio took my breathe away! Thanks for sharing.

pve design said...

I too have a friend like that too.
I need to blog about those without blogs too.
It is refreshing to meet a non-blogger (even if I am a blogger and love my fellow bloggers)

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said...

He sounds like a doll. How lucky you get to see him still! A book would be amazing. Do it.

A beautiful heartfelt tribute!

Helen said...

This was fascinating!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What a tender post. Isn't it true that for those of us who are drawn to good design, it is sharing and connecting which become the final accessory. Do the book, Miz V., and soon.

Lisa Lewis said...

Michael Pelkey is my Uncle, my mother's brother. Everything that I have read about him here is true, he is one of the most talented people I know. Everybody loves him and always wants to be around him, it is impossible not to have a smile on your face when he is in your presence. I do not get to see him that often and I do miss him very much. I remember when my brother and I were little and we were told that Uncle Michael was visiting, we could not contain our excitement. Uncle Michael is coming!!!!!
I have never ever heardc one person say anything negative about my uncle probably because there jus isn't anything to be said.
I guess I just can't say enough.... he is just the best uncle and I am very lucky to have hime in my life.... love you Uncle Michael!!!