Monday, March 31, 2008

Window Shopping

Edgar Kaufmann, the Pittsburgh department store tycoon, commissioned Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, in 1935.  It's clear he had great taste in architects.  So, it makes sense that he would hire Richard Neutra to design his next home, a desert escape in Palm Springs in 1946.  Fast forward to 2008 and take a look at the J.Crew store windows.  Their recent photo shoot at the Kaufmann house delivers the iconic structure to the masses, using it as a backdrop for their spring collection, along with furniture that defined the era.  

"The Architecture of the Jacket"?  "The Architecture of the Chino"? Usually interior design follows fashion, so it's refreshing to see an apparel retailer borrowing inspiration from my side of the equation.  I'll take one cashmere cardigan and a Bertoia diamond chair, please.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dress Up Your Walls

Danish company, Ferm Living,  just branched out to the U.S. last year and we just celebrated their one year anniversary at this month's Designer's Networking Group at Vanessa De Vargas' Turquoise showroom.  Ferm offers wallpaper and wall stickers in a variety of delightful patterns and whimsical silhouettes.  

The stickers are great for minimal commitment (i.e. apartment dwellers) because they leave no residue.  They can add instant drama to any space; small areas such hallways, entries, and stairways.  The products are also washable, so even kitchens and bathrooms are fair game. Check out Ferm Living's Clever Spaces blog for more ideas on how to use their product.  Also check out Domino's Guide to Wallpaper  for more great patterns to dress up your walls.    

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Huntington Library and Gardens

I've been in L.A. for five years and I still wait in anticipation for each weekend, for what niche of Los Angeles to explore next.  Last Sunday, I chose the Huntington Library and Gardens, which happens to be just a couple of miles from my home and shamefully I had not been there since 2003.  Even more amazing, my boyfriend has lived here all his life and had never been!  If you haven't been either, here's a glimpse of what you're missing: 

The grounds are varied; Sub-tropical, Desert, and Rose gardens.  It's the Japanese and Chinese gardens that truly take my breath away though.  The Huntington also has an amazing art collection, including Gainsborough's Blue Boy.

Hopefully, I have left you with some inspiration for the upcoming weekend.  Get out, about and enjoy!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Evolution of L.A.

There are two men that have chronicled Los Angeles' recent past; one with words and one with photographs. The first, Julius Shulman, established architectural photography as an art form and captured the evolution of L.A.'s landscape on film.  The other man, Jack Smith, was a renowned columnist for the L.A. Times for 37 years until 1995.

If you happen to be unfamiliar with Shulman's work, there is no shortage of exhibits now that the Getty has acquired his archives.  The Desert Museum is currently showing his Palm Springs work through May 4, 2008, publisher Taschen recently released three volumes of his photography called "Modernism Rediscovered", and at age 97 he is still making many personal appearances around Los Angeles speaking about his work and signing books.

I was unfamiliar with the other man, Jack Smith, until a recent visit to view an exhibit at the Huntington Library.  I haven't been in L.A. long enough to have been a reader of his column, but I could instantly relate to his vivid descriptions and humor relating to this city that I know and love. The following words are those of Jack Smith from a note card that he kept on file:

"One reason L.A. is so hard to get down on paper and hard to photograph is that it has no easy recognizable look; no ancient squares, no medieval alleys, no rows of brownstone houses. LA has been created on a spacious coastal plain by a westering people who were bound by no traditions, cowed by no academy of peers or elders, suppressed by entrenched elite. They were restless, uninhibited, playful, and sometimes gauche, but always energetic and creative.
It is a place in which a immigrant Italian tile setter could spend 30 years building three fantastic towers of junk, because he loved America, and, as he said, he wanted to do something big. 

It is a place where an entrepreneur could build a hot dog stand in the shape of a hot dog without being run out of town.  

In our freeways, which move traffic better than those in any other large American city, and are nothing less than works of art; in our music center, our stadiums, our palm trees and eucalyptus trees and in our hard wild lilac foothills; as Raymond Chandler called them; in our mansions and our bungalows with yards in front and back; in our boulevards and marinas, and in 'our big dumb ocean' as one critic called it.

But the Los Angeles that makes us stay here, including the critics, who rarely go home again after their second visit, is invisible.  It is space, newness, openness, tolerance, energy, optimism, and exuberance, and the probably truth that, as Will Rogers said, 'we are all a little bit cuckoo'.

Besides all that, or because of it, Los Angeles is simply the freest city in the world. As one critic of architecture said; 'To be able to choose what you want to be and how you want to live, without social censure, is obviously more important to Angelenos than the fact that they do not have a Piazza San Marco'." 

Smith so well captures what makes Los Angeles special, granted some of the description is outdated.  Our freeways are no longer efficient and the openness is quickly being replaced with thoughtless architecture that jeopardizes our quality of life.  It is the free spirit that he writes of, however, that Shulman was also able to capture through his photography, that fascinates me about our city's past and inspires hope for our future. Without these two men, without their words and images, so much of LA's past would be lost.  What will we now do with the knowledge that they have left for us?  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Best of CA Boom '08

From handmade to high tech, CA Boom showcased a range of unique products this year.

Custom furniture makers exhibited some amazing pieces like the ones shown here. The credenza by Sidecar is fabulous because it has smooth gliding sliding doors, mesh wood panels on the back that provide great ventilation and can easily be removed for cord management, and has plenty of space inside for media equipment.

The kitchen cabinetry by A Handmade Home is the definition of quality and has great features, including small cookbook niches so all your favorite recipes are at your fingertips.
The Hollywood coffee table by Studio Roeper had a beautiful brass inlay and an unbelievable finish. Keep all of these artists in mind for you next project. It’s not as expensive as you might think to get custom furniture and the quality and detail is unmatched.

Next up, the rugs from Della Robia. Check out all the plush patterns and any combination of colors can be ordered. The roses rug was especially showstopping. It's like walking on a masterpiece!

The Modern Parenting Zone featured some clever children's products like this bunk bed from Color and Life. It had smart storage built into the staircase and a large drawer to store bedding. Other products reflected more of a sophisticated look, like the desk from Duc Duc with a very kid friendly surface and say goodbye to the Disney princess bedsheets and opt for bedding from Boodalee. It's cheerful and age appropriate, but still designed with a stylish parent in mind.

Wallter has a new product on the market I hadn't seen yet. We all know and love the paintable, stickable shapes they introduced a few years ago for walls. Now, they have mobiles where you can adjust the shapes along the cord and customize the look.
Last, but not least, check out this clever stool from Go.Lo.Gor.Sky.Studio (Try to say that 3 times fast!) Flip the stool on different sides to create different surfaces. One way it's a rocker, the other way it's a stable seat with a backrest, and the other side allows it to be used as a small end table. Available in red and white, also.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mad About Mad Men

An instant classic, the critically acclaimed Mad Men (an AMC Original Series) captures New York in the early 1960's through impeccable set design, costumes, and acting. It's just plain fun for any mid-century modern fan and great inspiration for creating sophisticated interiors that recapture the era.
It must be quite an adventure for the set designers in creating the look of this show. I mean, where do you even start in search of two dozen matching vintage typewriters? What about the handsome bar cabinet in the photo above? Similar items usually come at a high price on 1st Dibs, but you may get lucky if you faithfully search Craig's List, Ebay or flea markets. You can also try designer Vanessa De Vargas' Turquoise, Alie Waldman Home Couture, and Floor Model at H.D. Buttercup for great mid-century finds. The amazing robin's egg blue headboard is probably custom upholstery, but I did find this really reasonably priced version in a lighter blue at Home Decorators.
Of course, the show is best enjoyed with a glass of scotch, so vintage glassware is required. Try Bar Keeper in Silverlake for both new and old, kitsch and elegant, snifters, tumblers and martini sets like this one:
A second season of the show is on the way this summer, but in the mean time, the first season is currently being repeated on AMC.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Timeless Advice

Long before Martha Stewart came along with all her frills and fuss, and Ralph Lauren built his empire, there was another design personality who taught Americans a thing or two about fine living.  Russel Wright (1904-1976) was an industrial designer who revolutionized households across America.  With his simple yet elegant style and practical approach to organizing the home, he persuaded ordinary people to embrace modern design. 

The products he created were spectacular, including his line American Modern, the best-selling ceramic dinnerware in American history.  What I really want to talk about though is his book, Guide to Easier Living, published in 1950.  It offers timeless advice for every room in the house and details his view on how the home can be full of personal expression, but also practical and easy to care for.  Sound like a familiar dream? Finding a balance can be difficult, but at the core of any well designed space isn't the perfect wall color or accessories.  It's about creating personalized solutions for the way you live.

Start by identifying what activities happen in the space.  If you make an actual list, you'll be surprised at how quickly it grows.  Our homes are expected to perform day and night for everything from personal comfort to entertaining friends and family; not to mention all the stuff that has to be organized.  Try to break down the activities into individual tasks, so it's not simply dining, but setting the table, serving the meal, pouring drinks, eating, and then cleaning up.  Creating atmosphere can also be considered an activity.  What will make these tasks as simple as possible for you? That's the next step.

From that list of activities, create a second column that quantifies your needs.  If watching movies/television is one of your activities, how many DVDs do you own?  How many media components do you have and how much space do they take up? Also make sure there is proper ventilation since certain units put out a lot of heat.  How close do you need to be seated from the TV to be comfortable? What is a comfortable height to insert a disc or access the controls on your components?  Add a mood light to lessen the contrast around the TV and reduce eye strain.  Also keep in mind durability, ease of maintenance, and cord management.  If dusting is not one of  your favorite chores (and let's be honest, who actually enjoys it?) then store everything behind doors so dusting doesn't need to be done as often.  Just make sure the remote will work through the type of door you select (clear or frosted glass, or a signal repeater).  If you have kids, maybe glass doors aren't the best option because you'll be constantly cleaning up fingerprints or it may be a safety concern.   

Once activities and needs are identified, solutions can be tailored to your lifestyle.  This is where it all comes together!  Sketch out your space and create bubbles for each of the activities and try to keep the needs associated with each grouped together for ease of use.  Also think about the flow from each of the zones that you have created.  Do they make sense or will you be running back and forth across the room to complete a task?  Remember when you're creating solutions for collections, whether it be books, DVDs, or decorative objects, plan 25% more space for your collection to grow.  Own 200 DVDs?  Plan for 250 and make sure they are stored so that the titles can be read and the discs can be accessed easily.  As you create these solutions, you'll soon discover you'll be able to quickly find your favorite romantic comedy when you need a good laugh, the mail won't pile up by the front door and you won't have to make a dozen trips across the kitchen just to bake a frozen pizza.  You may want to consult an interior designer to help you with this process, especially when it comes to finding the right solutions.   

Although Wright's book doesn't dive specifically into the activities/need/solutions model, it's right in tune with his "easy living" philosophy and there are plenty of useful tips he details that I haven't mentioned here today.  Hopefully, I've piqued your curiosity enough to check it out.  It will certainly be more useful than an issue of Martha Stewart Living.    

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Concrete Ideas

Hi all! Welcome to my blog, Modern Wonder. What's it all about? Well, I'm an interior designer and a mid-century modern fanatic. Post-war architecture, furniture and decorative arts will be frequent topics in hope that the remarkable past of Los Angeles and beyond will not only be appreciated, but also spark new design ideas.

The logo for my blog is inspired by the decorative concrete sunscreens that were used in many mid-century buildings are still very much a part of our urban landscape. Above is a vintage photo of the LAX theme building and check out this photo of the Parker Palm Springs.

These are just a couple of examples, both of which were intended to be decorative, although the screens do shade buildings from the sun and can act as a sound barrier. There's no busier place than LAX, but if you've ever been in the courtyard of the theme building you barely notice the cars, buses, and airplanes whizzing by!

For structural examples of concrete block, look no further than Frank Lloyd Wright's textile block homes. The Freeman, Storer, Millard, and Ennis houses (1923-24) were some of the earliest examples of concrete in residential applications and the first to use it structurally. Wright challenged himself to take a common material which was widely regarded as ugly, and transformed it into these amazing homes that still stand in Los Angeles today.

His experimentation with concrete can also be seen in the Hollyhock house from 1921, perched on a hill high above Hollywood. Check out just one of the many concrete details in this photo:

After being closed for several years for rehab, the Hollyhock house is open for tours now, Wednesday through Sunday. It's an amazing example of Wright's work and I encourage you to see it in person. The Ennis house will hopefully be open to the public again soon, but the other three textile block homes are privately owned. No such luck on visiting those, but make an effort to check out the LAX theme building and the luxe Parker Palm Springs. The view from the dining room at Encounter is one in a million and I doubt much convincing is needed to visit the Jonathan Adler designed Parker. Just remember, as you pull up to the valet, take a moment to appreciate the concrete screen that defines the hotel's entrance. Who knew concrete could be so glam!
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