The Enduring Appeal of Art Deco


By Brook S. Mason

A heightened interest in art deco design is taking hold these days, say a number of dealers. “As today’s collectors see art deco as the precursor of modern design, that element of historical importance makes for enor­mous appeal,” explains Fabien Mathivet, whose eponymous gallery is located on the Left Bank in Paris. Susan Weber, founder and director of the Bard Graduate Center in New York, says the style resonates on multiple levels. “The pared down silhouettes, luxurious materials, and sophisticated palettes of art deco continue to exert influence in the collector’s market, in museums, and in popular culture,” she notes. Weber cites such exhibitions as Bard’s An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1925–1928, and the Centre Pompidou’s Eileen Gray, as well as last year’s remake of The Great Gatsby as reflecting the “enduring influence of this style.”

Cascades of glass beads form the shades on a pair of silvered-metal sconces by André Groult, c. 1922. Courtesy of Galerie Mathivet.

Commode in amaranth wood with lapis–lazuli inlay and silvered-metal handles by Marcel Charles Coard, designed 1928–1929. Courtesy of Galerie Marcilhac.

One index of soaring prices for art deco in the auction world is Eileen Gray’s Fauteuil aux Dragons of about 1917, which climbed to an astonishing $28 million-plus at the Christie’s Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale on February 23, 2009. That record price remains unbroken, but there have been some other hefty sales. At Christie’s auction of Steven A. Greenberg’s holdings, on December 12, 2012, a Jean Dunand vase of lacquered metal inlaid with eggshell from about 1925 went for $902,500 against an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. Most recently, at Sotheby’s Paris sale of Félix Marcilhac’s private collection on March 11 of this year, a 1924 Pierre Legrain nickel-plated brass and glass console far surpassed its $139,000 to $167,000 estimate and climbed to $852,790.

“L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels moderns, which was held here in Paris in 1925 had a profound effect on design” says Fabien Mathivet. “A stunning sixteen million visitors took in that exposition—whose name gave rise to the term art deco—to see outstanding examples from the period.” At this fall’s Paris Biennale, Mathivet showcased a rare 1925 circular Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann rug with a beige background and a design of rose rosettes along with a pair of 1922 André Groult silvered-brass sconces with cascades of glass beads as shades. Interior designers Jacques Grange, David Kleinberg, and Tony Ingrao frequently acquire art deco design from Mathivet.

Another Biennale participant, Galerie Marcilhac, also on the Left Bank, likewise specializes in deco. “Both new and seasoned collectors are drawn to the highly refined craftsmanship,” Félix Marcilhac says. He cites a commode by Marcel Charles Coard in amaranth wood with lapis-lazuli inlay and silvered-metal handles as a fine example. Another is Oiseaux Exotique, a 1928 Jean Dunand and Jean Lambert Rucki lacquered screen inset with painted silk panels. “As demand for art deco design has doubled in the past five years, sourcing masterpieces is increasingly difficult,” he says. He has a waiting list for pieces by Ruhlmann.

The steady stream of interior designers seeking out Marcilhac include François-Joseph Graf, François Catroux, and William Sofield. As for other fairs, Marcilhac will take part in PAD London and Salon: Art and Design in New York.

Silver tea and coffee service made by Roberts and Belk, Sheffield, England, 1932–1936. Courtesy of Koopman Rare Art.

Lewis Smith, who serves as director of Koopman Rare Art in London, is witness­ing widespread interest in art deco silver. “Our market is truly international with clients from America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South Africa, and Australia,” says Smith, whose fair roster includes the Haughton International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show in New York in October, TEFAF, Masterpiece London, and the Fine Art Asia fair in Hong Kong. Certain to be snapped up is a George V tea and coffee service made in Sheffield in the 1930s by Roberts and Belk.

Specializing in period silver and design, Michael James who founded the Silver Fund, also in London, has opened a 2,500-square-foot gallery in Palm Beach. In addition to period silver, he now carries art deco furniture and lighting. “Because the 1920s were really the beginning of a kind of minimalism, as the designs were linear and the decoration pared down, more contemporary art and design collectors are requesting Jean Puiforcat and Georg Jensen silver,” James says. He cites Harald Nielsen’s iconic 1930 Dolphin Pyramid pattern fish dishes with covers, which were designed for Jensen, as highly sought.

Architect Peter Marino and interior designers Juan Montoya and Jamie Drake routinely purchase deco silver from James. He participates in the October Haughton show as well as the American International Fine Art Fair in Palm Beach, Master­piece London, and others.

This is the only known example of this Émile- Jacques Ruhlmann armchair, documented in a studio photograph of c. 1922. Coutesy of Calderwood Gallery.

Gary Calderwood launched the Calderwood Gallery in Philadelphia in 1982 and today has thirty thousand square feet in the downtown area devoted to art deco. He says collectors especially prize examples that were included in the 1925 Paris exposition, such as an amboyna wood piano designed by Maurice Dufrène that was showcased at the fair. “With its sleek lines, the piano is a work of sculpture in its own right,” Calderwood says, adding, “we also have the original studio photograph of the piano.” Another important piece at Calderwood is a mahogany Ruhlmann armchair with an oval back and faceted legs tapered at the bottom. “It is the only known example of that model,” Calderwood says.

Calderwood does not participate in any fairs—the core of his business is with architects and interior designers internationally. “We even have designers from Japan as clients,” he says. 

Longtime dealer in art deco and modernism Ric Emmett of the Modernism Gallery was forced to close his Coral Gables, Florida, premises due to a fire in 2004, but has been operating privately and online since. He has just opened a Miami premises where he sees even more clients drawn to art deco design. “Clients appreciate the grain of the wood and lacquer as well as the element of historical importance,” he notes. Currently, he has a group of graphics related to the 1925 exposition, including the poster shown here, by Robert Bonfils  (the entire set is $75,000). With a growing number of col­lectors, demand for quality has more than tripled, Emmett reports. “Prices currently are more than double what they were before the recession.” Emmett has sold exam­ples to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Colorful birds are enameled over a copper base on this c. 1930 vase signed by Camille Fauré. Courtesy of Valerio Art Deco.

Nearby in Coral Gables, Valerio Art Deco has been in business since 1982. Waltford Gonzalez, who serves as gallery director, reports their clientele has grown far more international and now includes South Americans, Russians, and Chinese. “Clients are attracted to the exotic materials like amboyna and shagreen along with French glass and fine enamel work,” he says. Gonzalez points to a 1925 Edgar Brandt gilt-bronze table lamp with a Daum shade as certain to find favor. “A similar example was in the Yves St. Laurent sale,” he notes. Frequently requested are vases and table lamps by Camille Fauré. “A classic example is a Fauré vase from about 1930 with a design of birds in hand-applied enamel over a copper base.”  

On the Upper East Side of Man­­hat­tan, Tony DeLorenzo’s DeLorenzo Gal­­­­­lery has long been a pacesetter when it comes to art deco. Located for many years on Madison Ave­nue, the gallery moved to a new location on East 76th Street in September. Adriana Friedman, DeLorenzo’s director, says the deco period “demanded linear, non-con­structive design, different from the previous art nouveau era.” She refers to a pair of Pierre Chareau wall sconces as “totally minimalist,” juxtaposing hand-hammered iron plates with alabaster block shades. “There was not only innovation in design, but also in the use of disparate fine materials that, when used together, provided profound aesthetic innovation.” In that regard Friedman cites a Marcel Coard cabinet that incorporates shagreen, lapis lazuli, lacquer, and macassar ebony all in one piece. The gallery will offer a Ruhlmann prototype chair of lacquered metal from Michael Chow’s collection at Salon: Art and Design in November. Samuel Amoia, who will be designing their stand at the fair, is just one of many designers plucking up art deco pieces at DeLorenzo.

Gio Ponti designed this mirror hand blown by Venini. Courtesy of R. Louis Bofferding Decorative and Fine Art.

R. Louis Bofferding Decorative and Fine Art, also on the Upper East Side, focuses on design from the 1920s through the 1960s. Just this summer, Bofferding sold the rare 1928 Gio Ponti mirror shown above. “Hand-blown by Venini, the mirror was made for the 1928 Venice Biennale,” Bofferding says, adding that it is the only one known to survive. Currently, he is offering an orange Venini glass bowl of about 1928. 

Bofferding’s A-list clientele includes figures as diverse as interior designers Jacques Grange, Alex Papachristidis, and Mario Buatta along with fashion designer Valentino, art dealer Matthew Marks, and art consultant Tobias Meyer.

Private New York dealer Dr. Stephen E. Kelly, whose Kelly Gallery specializes in 1920s and 1930s design, says the global market for pre-1900 antiques is “past its prime.” “Decorative arts from the 1920s work well in contemporary interiors and also with twentieth-century fine art like Mark Rothko and Franz Kline,” he notes. He is currently featuring an Eileen Gray lacquered screen of about 1922. Among the ceramics he has on exhibit is a 1923 Henri Simmen and Eugenie O’Kin miniature stoneware jar in deep blue with a carved ivory top, from the collection of Karl Lagerfeld. Kelly’s clients hail from Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Pierre Chareau’s model MT344 stools of 1926 are fashioned in wrought iron and mahogany. Courtesy of Maison Gerard.

In Greenwich Village Maison Gerard has long attracted art deco enthusiasts. Of particular note is a 1926 Jules Leleu amboy­­na barbière, or shaving stand, with nickeled-bronze fittings. “It was designed for the family of filmmaker Louis Malle,” says gallery partner Benoist Drut. “With its spare, elong­ated design and distinguished prove­nance, it is bound to be snapped up quickly.” Also of interest is a pair of 1926 Pierre Chareau mahogany and wrought-iron stools marked by spare lines and a total lack of orna­mentation. On Drut’s fair roster is the Haughton International show, the Winter Antiques Show, and the Collective Design Fair, all in New York. Designers who are clients include Thad Hayes, Michael Smith, and Brian McCarthy.

Reneé Lalique’s Stockholm III is one of the four Stockholm chandeliers introduced in 1927. Courtesy of Paul Stamati Gallery.

The Paul Stamati Gallery in Long Island City, New York, specializes in period Lalique glass and art deco furniture, with the largest selection of Lalique glass in the world. A starlike 1927 Lalique Stockholm III chandelier is tagged at $60,000. “As the techniques required in producing Lalique glass are so complex and the machinery so heavy, there are no fakes on the market,” Stamati says. Among his art deco furnishings is a 1920 Raymond Subes console in wrought iron for $12,500. Designers favoring ex­amples from Stamati include Robert Couturier and David Kleinberg.

In Los Angeles, Morateur Gallery pulls in such clients as fashion designer Tom Ford and architect Peter Marino, among others. Philippe Morateur opened his gallery in Paris in 1991 and moved to L.A. in 2009. Currently he has on display a set of six large Ruhlmann etched and gilded-glass panels, never seen outside of Paris before. They’re from the historic Parisian restaurant Drouant, for which Ruhlmann designed the entire interior in 1924. Also certain to spark interest is a 1935 Eugène Printz palm wood and oxidized-brass desk with curvilinear brass legs. “It’s exceedingly rare, perhaps one of only three,” Morateur says. In addition, he has a circa 1925 Albert Cheuret patinated bronze clock with an alabaster face and a silver key.

He has sold to such prestigious in­sti­tutions as the Musée des Années 30 in Paris. He says interest in design by the masters of art deco has never declined. “As the taste for art deco endures, the value will never be diminished,” he adds, noting that art deco pieces mix well with both modern and contemporary design.

“The twenties design style is timeless,” Adriana Friedman concurs. “The stream­lining of design coupled with the richness of the materials and fine craftsmanship in deco makes it the perfect counterpoint to a range of design and fine art today,” Kelly adds.

Defying Gravity


The Art,Design, and Craft of Sebastian Errazuriz

By Rachel Delphia

Sebastian Errazuriz in his studio in front of his wall of sketches, 2014. Jason Falchook Photo.

ONE HAZY DAY IN AUGUST 2013 Sebastian Errazuriz stood with fellow artists on Rockaway Beach, New York, as a competitor in Creative Time’s second annual Sandcastle Competition. While other participants mounded and molded the sand, Errazuriz made an outline on the ground and poured bucket after bucket of water to “paint” a subtle silhouette. In slightly darkened sand the finished product conjured the shadow of a jet approaching Manhattan.

Although his entry did not break the rules of the competition, one could argue that Errazuriz most certainly did not build a sandcastle. (Nor did he win the sandcastle contest.) But what does it matter? Unlike the ephemeral sand creations themselves, the poignant impact of his gesture—a startling demonstration of how something as innocuous as an airplane’s shadow still haunts a post 9-11 world—lingered and lingers still.

Redefining terms and twisting the perception of iconic images are the wonderfully confounding hallmarks of Errazuriz’s work. The thirty-seven-year-old Chilean keeps a studio in Brooklyn, where at any given moment he toys with a dozen or more projects that resist classification— conceptual furnishings or quasi-functional sculptures—each of which is meticulously designed and constructed. His dual commitments to conceptual rigor and impeccable craftsmanship set him apart from those who excel at one while missing the other. Rather than delving into a potentially sophomoric debate over the definitions of “art,” “design,” and “craft,” it suffices to say that Errazuriz blurs all the boundaries in ways that make one wonder why anyone bothers with labels at all. The work delivers with such verve that arguing over what to call it becomes moot.

The Magistral cabinet, 2011, guards and obscures its contents by way of eighty thousand bamboo skewers. Collection of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman/Ari Espay Photos

He has no shortage of strong ideas. A prolific sketch artist, Errazuriz captures them on paper as they come and tacks them up on his studio walls for further consideration. Beauty alone is insufficient; every work must seduce and provoke. The precise issues he tackles are wide ranging, but they boil down to heady themes: life and death; morality; and social, political, or economic injustice. The Boat Coffin enables its user to end life on his own terms and to exit with style. The Occupy Chair functions as a protest sign and a folding chair. But, transformed into a fetish by its display at a major art fair it becomes a Trojan horse, carrying the cries of the 99 percent into the homes of the collectors in the 1 percent.

Occupy Chair, 2012, carries the message of the 99% into the homes of the 1 %.

At other moments Errazuriz provides mental puzzles devoid of subject matter, just for the purpose of flexing the mind. His favorite motif for this exercise is the cabinet, which is literally a box that he can deconstruct in countless ways to remind viewers that they can still be surprised and that nothing is what it seems. The latest in this series is the Explosion, a minimalist maple, glass, and stainless steel credenza recently acquired by the Carnegie Museum of Art. On closer inspection, this tidy box looks to defy basic physics as the entire facade expands to startling proportions. Some of his previous game-changers include the Porcupine, which opens with an onslaught of hinged and ebonized wooden “quills”; and the Kaleidoscope, a staid walnut sideboard with an astonishing mirrored interior revealed through peepholes at either end.

Once Errazuriz has an idea, his execution is direct. It boils down to elegant visual communication design. He creates objects, images, or experiences that evoke a specific “aha!” in the mind of the beholder, enabling her to see something that was already there. The communicative act must be clear, devoid of distractions, succinct. As in a map or diagram, if the user does not get it, then the work is failing.

Explosion, 2014, in maple, glass, and steel, is a cabinet that expands to startling proportions via sliding dovetails.

In order to pack the most visual and cognitive punch, Errazuriz plucks existing symbols to appropriate the substance of cultural memory. Cabinets are standard and banal containers for the stuff of life. Desks and tables are places for routine thinking or eating. Motorcycles are modes of transportation but also symbols of power, masculinity, freedom, or folly. Birds are lovely, delicate, and fleeting. Errazuriz relies on his audience for this preexisting sub- conscious knowledge and then intervenes in ways that change the message. He disrupts the expected narrative, challenging assumptions about what things are and what they mean.

One example is the Narcissus desk, which features a mirrored top and inset niche that physically surrounds the user with her own reflection. Rather than a place for productive work the desk becomes a potentially lethal distraction. Errazuriz could easily have created a desk from scratch, but his belief in the power of existing forms led him to rework a rococo style bureau plat instead. Complete with its original brass mounts and richly burled veneer, the ready-made desk creates a befitting aura of luxury and excess that contributes to the overall impact.

The mirrored glass inside Errazuriz’s walnut Kaleidoscope, 2013, delights viewers with a riot of visual pleasure.

Found plant and animal matter also hold a special place in his heart as objects that were once alive and therefore carry a powerful emotional charge. Branches, trunks, and taxidermy birds appear in numerous objects, such as his Duck Lamp, which gave a found fowl with a broken neck new life as a bizarrely compelling task light. Speaking about this first foray into taxidermy, he recalls that it felt morbid and wrong, yet naively beautiful at the same time.

In all of these pursuits, Errazuriz recognizes that the mode of delivery is as important as the idea and the image. Materials and perfect execution are critical. His dedication to detail leads to some of the most tedious efforts for him and some of the most rewarding elements for the audience. The Explosion Cabinet began some five years ago as a quick sketch of a woman reaching into a cavity of horizontal rails that expanded at her touch. A three-dimensional digital rendering in 2012 showed the incredible visual and experiential promise, but the challenges for physical execution were significant. After six frustrating months of attempting to solve the mechanical conundrum with magnets, Errazuriz turned to one of the oldest tricks in the cabinetmaker’s book: the sliding dovetail. His choice of maple with its tight blond grain paired with a stark stainless steel base lent just the right modernist note.

Porcupine, 2010, inspired by samurai armor, the cabinet unfurls by means of hinged quills of lacquered rauli wood.

Another flawlessly detailed work is Time Lapse, a racing motorcycle and memento mori conceived and designed by Errazuriz and executed in collaboration with the Worth Motorcycle Company and NYC Norton. Built around a vintage engine, the bike lacks the usual excesses of paint or badges. Instead, it sports a streamlined metallic housing of custom, hand- hammered parts. As a machine and a function- al object, it is breathtaking. But the clincher is the tiny coffin-like cavity in the body, against which the rider presses his own chest, containing a small taxidermy bird. Heart to heart, it serves as a chilling reminder of the margin between life and death and the inherent and sublime danger of riding a motorcycle.

Again and again Errazuriz delivers work that is strong across numerous axes: conceptual, communicative, aesthetic, functional. He makes it look deceptively simple, which begs the question of how one arrives at such an effective, multifaceted approach. A native of Santiago, he spent nearly a decade of his youth in London while his father pursued a PhD in art education. Steeped in the old masters of his father’s slide lectures and the hallowed halls of the city’s greatest museums, Errazuriz developed a keen appreciation for the history of art and internalized an exceptionally high standard for greatness. Time passed in his grandfather’s workshop also instilled admiration for the craft of woodworking. Having no desire to become an artist unless he could make a serious contribution, he wandered to the seemingly safer realm of the applied arts, receiving his undergraduate degree in industrial design in Chile. But purely practical or decorative pursuits were not enough, and Errazuriz eventually moved to Manhattan to complete an MFA in fine art at New York University.

Duck Lamp, 2004, is a beautiful and macabre repurposing of a taxi­dermy bird as a task lamp.

After a decade of professional practice, it is fair to say that Errazuriz has made substantive contributions, yet in what guise? That of an artist? A designer? A craftsman? The answer is probably a hybrid of these and more, and only time will render his ultimate legacy. However, as long as he continues to bring forth overlooked kernels of truth and resonance and to deliver those messages in such compelling packages, he will remain an important figure to watch. So, regardless of which field usually holds the most interest for you—art, design, craft, or yet another—take a second look at Sebastian Errazuriz. There is something there for everyone.

Sebastian Errazuriz: Look Again, the first museum survey of Errazuriz’s work, is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh through January 12, 2015. He is also the subject of exhibitions this fall at the Cristina Grajales Gallery and Salon 94 in New York.

Hollywood Glamour Takes the Stage


In Los Angeles, Sid Avery’s Photos capture Celebrities Off-Screen
A collection of iconic photographs from Hollywood’s Golden Age has found a new home at the Los Angeles-based Dragonette Ltd. Photographer Sid Avery pioneered celebrity portraiture by capturing screen legends such as James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando in impromptu, natural poses. Whether shot on classic film sets or at home, Avery’s work humanized his subjects by presenting them in unstaged moments that ranged from comic—Rock Hudson on the phone, wearing only a towel—to poignant—Elizabeth Taylor seated with her eyes shut, enjoying a breeze on the set of Giant. Ron Avery, the son of the late photographer and president of MPTV, which owns the images, describes the collaboration with Dragonette as “the perfect fit to have this imagery in Los Angeles…in a setting that is as beautiful as the subjects.” For showroom owner Patrick Dragonette, representing the Avery collection allows the pictures to be displayed in a more home-like setting among the mid-century furniture and contemporary productions of his firm’s own line. “No one lives like they are in an art gallery,” Dragonette explains, noting that the framed black-and-white images will hang throughout the space. Patrons may buy prints directly off the walls or order custom versions in an array of sizes.
— By Adam Dunlop-Farkas

Collection of John Henderson Davey/Sierra Robinson of The Golden closet photo,Museum of fine arts, Boston.

And in Boston, showing off Fashion and Jewelry from Film’s Golden Age
A different sort of look at Hollywood can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen, on view to March 8, 2015. Focused on the 1930s and 1940s, when jewelry and fashion designers were busy creating new styles for a new elite—the actresses minted by the studio system in Hollywood—the show includes gowns worn by Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Betty Grable, and others, as well as exquisite jewelry designed and owned by such stars as Mae West, Myrna Loy, and Ginger Rogers.
— By Modern Staff

Danish Master Hans Wegner




Hans J. Wegner (1914– 2007) in his Ox chair (designed 1960), his favorite easy chair at home.

IN HIS PURSUIT TO CREATE A PERFECT CHAIR, Danish furniture master Hans J. Wegner designed hundreds of them, often experimenting and working out details with scale models. The results led to innovations and precedents that largely defined hand- crafted, studio produced pieces from the modern era. Recognition of the furniture’s long-standing appeal coincides this year with the centennial of Wegner’s birth.

Knud Erik Hansen, CEO of Carl Hansen and Son, longtime producers of Wegner furniture, explains contemporary appreciation for the master: “He highly valued simplicity and comfort and he is recognized for providing minimalism with an organic and natural softness. His designs are characterized by functionality, aesthetics, and high quality—often in an exquisitely simple design that is easy to relate to and without unnecessary details. The fact that Wegner was a cabinetmaker first and a designer second makes him a unique furniture designer—a master of detail who flawlessly merges craftsmanship with exquisite design.”

Wegner-designed Papa Bear (or Teddy Bear) chair and ottoman (1950) made by A. P. Stolen. Courtesy of Wright.

Among the events to mark the centennial of Wegner’s birth is a large retrospective at the Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen, Hans J. WegnerJust One Good Chair (on view through December 7), where visitors are encouraged to try out dozens of newly produced Wegner-designed pieces. The Kunstmuseet i Tønder, in Wegner’s hometown of Tønder near the German border, is simultaneously exhibiting Hans J. Wegner: A Nordic Design Icon from Tønder (through November 2) alongside its permanent Wegner installation of some forty chairs that the designer considered among his best works and donated to the museum in 1995. Both museums have published accompanying catalogues. Danish filmmaker Pi Michael is completing a documentary about Wegner as part of the centennial. For collectors, perhaps the most accessible and gratifying event is Bruun Rasmussen’s forthcoming auction in Copenhagen in December, “Centenary of the King of Chairs.” This special Wegner sale of rare and familiar pieces will include works from the Designmuseum exhibition.

Interior of Wegner’s home. Courtesy of Designmuseum Danmark.

Installation shot of the Hans J. Wegner—Just One Good Chair exhibition at the Designmuseum Danmark.

Today Marianne Wegner Sørensen, Wegner’s daughter who is also a furniture designer, leads her father’s studio near Copenhagen. While she concentrates on new work, Anders Brun oversees daily operations and works with the “seven and a half manufacturers” currently producing Wegner’s furniture. He playfully explains that the “half” is the Vitra Design Museum, which makes miniature versions of Wegner’s 1949 Wishbone chair and his 1963 three-legged Shell chair. Brun says that about 170 different full-sized chairs, tables, and other pieces are currently in production from Carl Hansen and Son, Erik Jørgensen, Fredericia Furniture, Fritz Hansen, Getama, PP Møbler, and Pandul. This year’s reintroductions include the first (1948) Shell chair and bench, made by Getama exclusively for London-based retailer John Lewis, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The Wegner Studio also occasionally introduces Wegner designs that were never manufactured or only briefly available during the master’s lifetime. For example, as part of the centennial observance, Carl Hansen and Son has issued the CH88 chair designed in 1955, which had previously existed only in prototype.

The Hansen firm has been producing Wegner’s furniture since 1949, when it first issued the Wishbone chair, a perennial best seller. They also manufacture about thirty of his other designs, and were the first to make such popular models as the Elbow, three-legged Shell, Wing, and Oculus chairs, in addition to a few limited edition pieces. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the three-legged Shell chair, the company produced a numbered edition of 150 upholstered in a special red Niger goat hide. This year, for the Wegner centennial, Hansen is offering a limited series of chairs upholstered in Maharam fabrics designed by Paul Smith.

Peacock chair, designed 1947, made by Johannes Hansen, c. 1960.

The CH07 Shell Chair has long been viewed as one of Hans J. Wegner’s strongest designs. It first saw the light of day in 1963, but took 35 years before it enjoyed it’s popular breakthrough and received numerous design awards. The CH24 Wishbone Chair, designed in 1950, was one of the first four pieces that Hans J. Wegner designed for Carl Hansen & Son. It has been in continuous production for over 60 years. Photos courtesy of Carl Hansen & Son.

PP Møbler, another longtime producer of Wegner furniture, today makes a different set of Wegner’s classic, best-selling chairs—the Teddy Bear (or Papa Bear), Peacock, Swivel, Round, and Circle models—along with dozens of his other designs.

While the availability of authorized, newer production pieces is growing, the market for Wegner’s vintage furniture is also strong, with examples often selling above estimate at auction. Last May a vintage 1954 desk and organizer offered by LA Modern Auctions sold for $50,000, five times its high estimate. Missi Bullock, showroom manager at Wyeth, a mid- century modern retailer in New York, points out, “The original is ideal for many reasons, including an increas- ing market value—but buying vintage can be challenging. For one thing it is difficult to find large quantities, and it is also costly, since vintage pieces usually require some level of restoration.” Wyeth, which is PP Møbler’s partner, is considered to have the largest collection of new and vintage Wegner furniture and is known for its in-house craftsmen who specialize in the restoration of Wegner designs. The choice of new versus vintage is not a question of aesthetics or aura, since the high levels of craftsmanship and material specified by Wegner are virtually unchanged. In several instances the only difference between new and vintage are subtle variations in wood finishes.

Hans J. Wegner (1914 – 2007) in his studio studying one of the many models he constructed throughout his lifetime. Courtesy of Carl Hansen & Son.

Bullock thinks international demand for Wegner’s classic designs will continue to outpace supply, and adds, “There are markets that have yet to discover Wegner. His designs are now featured prominently in Japanese interiors, and I can only imagine what will happen when the rest of Asia becomes aware of Wegner.”

Why Joris Laarman Matters



Joris Laarman introduced his Leaf table in 2010, following his successful Bone series.

THREE TIMES IN MY TWENTY-FIVE years of collecting, I have been stopped in my tracks on first encountering the work of a designer: Ettore Sottsass, Gaetano Pesce, and, about eight years ago, the young Joris Laarman. I have followed his career since 2006, when I saw his first works at Design Miami, and he continues to amaze me with each new series.

Laarman is a 2003 graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven. He gained international recognition with his senior project: a functioning baroque looking radiator named Heatwave. Then, at Design Miami in 2006, he introduced the prototypes of the aluminum armless Bone chair and the resin polyurethane translucent Bone chaise longue (they’re now in the Rijksmuseum and Victoria and Albert Museum, respectively). Both were created using a computer algorithm that mimics the growth of bones. As a radiologist and design lover, I was blown away. I was looking at a modern reincarnation of Carlo Mollino. I spent the next three days analyzing which of these two masterpieces I should buy. There was no right answer. Both were spectacular. I finally picked one—number one of the production of ten chaise
longues—only to be sorry later that I didn’t buy both.

I saw Laarman’s work again at Friedman Benda in March 2010. By this time he had extended the Bone series to include an armchair and a rocker. At this exhibition he also introduced the Bridge and Leaf tables, the Starlings coffee table, the Halflife lamp, the bronze Branch bookshelf, the Cumulus coffee table, and the eighteen-foot-tall In Case of a Thousand Books bookcase.

Laarman’s 2014 Maker chairs and tables are created with 3-D-printing, allowing for endless design possibilities in a variety of mediums.

Just recently, in May 2014, at Friedman Benda, I saw a new direction in Laarman’s work. Using 3-D printing, he and his team have developed the Maker series of chairs and tables, which has endless design possibilities. These can be made in different shapes and materials—resin, wood, plastic, and metal—depending on the designer’s will or the client’s wishes. He also showed two Vortex steel bookcases and consoles and two Micro Structure metal chairs that are as aesthetically strong as anything he’s produced previously. The metal-lattice serpentine Dragon bench, shown as a prototype, was extraordinary. It was purchased by the High Museum in Atlanta.

I had been lucky enough to visit Laarman about six weeks earlier in Amsterdam where I saw his MX3D Metal robotic machine extruding the raw metal cables for the production of the Dragon bench. I thought the machine was making Giacometti sculptures right in front of me. When I asked Joris how he was going to take these three-foot pieces of raw metal and produce a twelve-by-eight-foot bench, he just winked and said, “I do not think my team or I are going to get much sleep in the next month.”

Also employing 3-D printing, this prototype aluminum Vortex console starts with an ordinary horizontal shelf at the bottom, with higher shelves becoming more curved and convoluted.

I think what makes Laarman special is his rare combination of math, science, and technology with a very refined design mind. He is tougher on himself than most of his clients are. As a designer using computers, lasers, and 3-D printing, he creates work that stands out for its unique DNA and its beauty. I cannot wait to see what is next.

Photos courtesy of Joris Laarman and Friedman Benda, New York.

What Makes Design Pop?



By Daniella Ohad

Lisa S. Roberts is an architect, graphic and product designer, collector, writer, speaker, and promoter. She is a trustee of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and has been vice-chair of the National Design Awards. She’s also a trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a board member of Collab, which supports the museum’s modern and contemporary design collections and is known for its annual awards, which have been given to such legends as Zaha Hadid, Marc Newson, and Maya Lin.

Within the nineteenth-century walls of her house in Philadelphia, Roberts has created a mini-museum of her comprehensive collection of contemporary design—from the singular to the everyday. Her first book, Antiques of the Future, published in 2006, put forth the contemporary objects she feels will one day be considered icons, those that best tell the story of our era. In accordance with this publication, Roberts hosted the TV program “My Design Life,” where she began a journey of raising public awareness about design. In DesignPOP, just published by Rizzoli, Roberts continues with this mission. She seeks to illuminate twenty-first-century design, to teach us how to judge design, and to interpret the story of the design renaissance through such key themes as new materials and processes, sustainability, and social responsibility.

How would you define the design culture of today?
Rather than defining design culture, my mission is to interpret design to a broad audience—to get people to see things they may not see, to point out features that increase understanding and appreciation for design—and to do this by taking a lot of the complexity out of the industry and simplifying it for people who are not in the design world. We all start with our personal taste but with knowledge, we get a better understanding of why some- thing is good, why we should pay
attention to it. I want to help people gain that knowledge.

I surround myself with experts—curators, designers, manufacturers, and people in the press— getting their opinions and thoughts about design. I try to stay current with this rapidly changing field— learning about materials, manufacturing processes, and, most of all, technology. After I wrote my first book, people came up to me and said it was an eye- opener. They had never really noticed a lot of the objects they used every day. Now, they look with a more critical eye. Their design awareness, or design IQ, is elevated, so they seek out better design; and ultimately that means there is greater demand, which means more work for the industry.

Bertjan Pot and Marcel Wanders’s Carbon chair, 2004, made of carbon fiber and resin, weighs less than three pounds.

What has had the greatest impact on design in the twenty-first century?
The single biggest influence on design in the twenty-first century emerged in the late twentieth century—and that was technology. Beginning with computer-aided design, technology has affected the development of new materials, new production processes, and even new types of products. Among new materials, for instance, there is carbon fiber, which is very strong and lightweight and led to Bertjan Pot and Marcel Wanders’s Carbon chair. New production methods include 3-D printing, laser cut- ting, and CNC milling. Dirk Vander Kooij 3-D prints his plastic Chubby chair using an extrusion method.

A trend going forward is customization of mass-pro- duced products. Designers are finding ways to individualize their designs. Look at François Brument’s Vase # 44—it’s a 3-D printed vase whose shape is created by sound. The louder the noise the wider the vase—modulating one’s voice creates different shapes.

Wasara tableware by Shinichiro Ogata, 2008, resembles delicate porcelain but is made of sustainable materials— sugar cane fiber, bamboo, and reed pulp.

How is the notion of “good design” different today from in the postwar years?
Good design in the mid-century referred to form and function. It also began the process of democratizing design, lowering the prices, and making well thought out design accessible to a mass audience. Toward the end of the twentieth century designers and architects began to design the most basic household objects, such as teakettles, lemon juicers, even toilet brushes.

But today, good design also includes sustainability and socially conscious design. Each replaceable filter in the Bobble water bottle by Karim Rashid saves three hundred bottles of water. Socially responsible designers can bring design to people who have not had access to it in the past. Yves Béhar stands at the forefront of this approach with his colorful eyeglasses for school children in Mexico, and his One Laptop per Child program that dispenses computers to children in developing nations around the world. Or look at Michael Graves, who after becoming a paraplegic devoted a good part of his practice to designing for people with disabilities. Here you have a world-renowned architect using the same level of design attention he gives to his buildings to designing a handrail for people who have a hard time getting in and out of a bathtub.

So good design goes beyond just the end product: it starts with how it is made, what materials are selected, but it ultimately depends on how it improves our lives.

DesignPOP by Lisa Roberts is published by Rizzoli.



By Nicole Anderson

There’s a streak of fearlessness in designer and architect Pedro Barrail’s work. He doesn’t shrink from unorthodox juxtapositions; in fact, he welcomes them. His handcrafted furniture comfortably marries contemporary forms with the traditional craftsmanship of his native Paraguay. For more than a decade Barrail has been working with an artisan from a village outside his hometown of Asuncion, designing wooden tables, benches, and chairs, among other objects, bearing the intricate woodcarvings of the Pai Tavytera tribe. Brought to life by pyrography, or “writing with fire,” these ancestral tattoos play off the contours of his furniture and foster what Barrail describes as a “dialogue between modern and traditional design.”

A number of these pieces will be on display in his upcoming solo exhibition, Welcome to the Jungle, opening at the Cristina Grajales Gallery in New York on October 30. In addition to his tattoo-etched furniture, he will also be showing a very different body of work, one that draws inspiration from the construction sites of his “day job” as an architect. Barrail has been capturing this landscape in photographs since college, homing in on the structural elements of industrial processes, such as handcrafted wooden scaffolding, cranes, and iron rebars. The pictures emphasize the amorphous shapes, angles, and light that emerge from these forms. For this show, he has printed the images onto chairs, tables, and other objects: “I find in architecture and construction, that the process is often more interesting than the finished product,” Barrail says. “I find the chaos fascinating.” The result is an abstract, almost graffiti-like pattern cast on the surface of his furniture. And while the industrial images are far from the elaborate tribal carvings found in his other work, both are rooted in a rich visual language composed of symbolic gestures.

Haystack Diary


By Harry Allen

Haystack’s award-winning campus on Deer Isle, Maine, was designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1960. This view from the dining hall shows the fiber studio on the left, jewelry studio on the right, and Jericho Bay in the distance.

Last summer I had lunch with my friend Rama Chorpash, a talented designer and director of the industrial design department at Parsons, the New School for Design. He told me about a residency he’d had at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Only in its second year, the Haystack Open Studio Residency is an honor bestowed on fifty or so creative people each spring. Residents are given studios, meals, and housing and have the run of the place to focus on their craft and exchange ideas. Rama said it was an amazing experience so I put it in my calendar to apply for the 2014 program.

Haystack is located on beautiful Deer Isle, Maine. It was founded in 1950 (near Haystack Mountain with a later move to the coast) as a place to nurture fine craftsmanship. Its mission has been updated in recent years to include the exploration of craft in all aspects of the arts. I, for example, am not a fine craftsman, but my design ideas often touch on or incorporate craft. The residency is open to artists, designers, and craftspeople, and the diversity of the group is its strength.

As it turns out, the residency started three days after my fiftieth birthday. I had been envisioning a yoga retreat or travel, but this was the perfect gift— a challenge to create with my hands, though I was not sure how I would function in this environment. It was like going back to school. And two weeks in an unheated cabin in the woods with an unknown roommate was a concern.

The bell tower by sculptor George Greenamyer. When it rang, we ate.

May 25th
Awake at 6 a.m. and on the road by 6:40.
Early on I decided I would not bring work from the studio, but at the last moment I decided to bring some fledgling projects just in case. Along with my clothes and bedding, I load an Eames fiberglass chair shell (just the shell, no legs), four empty wine bottles, and a box of colored glue into the car.
Wait until Deer Isle to eat lunch, a lobster roll at the local ice cream parlor. Arrive at Haystack at about 2:40 p.m. The residents are slowly arriving and I meet a few people. I claim a desk in the fiber studio as it looks clean and has a nice view of the water. Also, several of my projects might incorporate soft elements.
Dinner is served family style. It’s healthy and plentiful and I meet a few more residents at my table. We are welcomed at dinner by Stuart Kestenbaum, the charming poet who runs the school. He is quick-witted and knowledgeable. Stuart, it turns out, makes an appearance at most meals.
Later in the evening I finally meet my roommate, a mellow artist from Brooklyn. Whew. The cabin is very cold, but I am settled.

May 26th
Awake 6 a.m. Do some yoga in the auditorium. A few others are practicing yoga also and meet up most days during the residency at 6:30 a.m. It’s early but breakfast is at 8. Fog gives way to a cool sunny day.
Settle in the fiber studio and sketch. Insecure about what I will do with my time here, I share some of my ideas with the fiber studio tech, Carrie Dickason. She suggests some research in the library, which is one of the few heated rooms in the school. I linger in the warmth as I research textile artist Gyöngy Laky and the sculptor John McQueen. I am in a new world of craft, and I love all of the new information. There is much to learn. I decide my direction— a combination of working with the things I brought and incorporating local materials. Some projects are forming in my head.
Things are off to a slow start. Residents are setting up. Most have brought their own supplies. The school provides equipment but materials are the resident’s responsibility. I must go shopping tomorrow.
After lunch Stuart leads a tour of the property. The school is located on a beautiful rocky hill leading down to the sea. Mounds of soft moss and lichen feed off fog. The forest is predominantly spruce and fir. On the walk I catch glimpses of water and sunlight through the bare weathered branches. I might try to incorporate some of these sticks into a project.
Haystack is housed in buildings designed by famed modernist architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. The cabins and studios are humbly constructed, and shingled on the outside, but their lofty angled ceilings give them a defining form and their large windows take advantage of the beautiful site. It reminds me of the Pines in Fire Island. The bathrooms are small and cramped but as far as I am concerned Haystack has its priorities right.
I’m very happy with my selection of studios. Turns out most of the residents in fiber are women or gay, or both. At one point I jokingly ask if I have accidentally joined a coven, and apparently I have! The nickname sticks. I form an immediate bond with the people around me. Textile artists Judith Leeman and Liz Collins and collage artist/quilter Aaron McIntosh form the core of my support system, of my new creative circle, “The Coven.” It’s a joke, of course, but the energy in the studio is very real.
In the evening the first half of the residents present their work. The format is ten slides, twenty seconds each. It’s a lot of information, but we are visual people and it is great to pair images of work with the residents. It is an impressive group of creative individuals.

My new friends in the fiber studio (left to right), Yunjung Kang, Liz Collins, Judith Leemann, and Aaron McIntosh.

May 27th
Awake 6:24. Yoga in the auditorium.
I head into town. The drive is beautiful. Shopping is part of my process and the hardware store is impressively stocked with everything on my list plus a few things I find along the way. I search in vain for another lobster roll, but restaurants are still closed for the season. I buy some wine and socks and just make it back in time for lunch.
I attempt my first project. I thought I might be able to work with silicone and broken bottles. But after breaking the bottles I realize it is not going to work. It’s too difficult to get the shards organized. I make a mess, but the glue works, so that is progress, and I realize it would be much better if the bottles were cut into cylinders—easier to reorganize and a more deliberate statement.
I remove the rim on my Eames shell in the metal shop with a hand-held grinder. After, I find a desk in the wood studio to begin work on my chair project. I plan to use the shell as a form over which I will build a chair. I create a wooden base, mount the shell, and my jig is complete.
After dinner the second half of the residents, including myself, present their work in rapid-fire succession. My work sticks out as being very commercial.

May 28th
Another very cold night, bad sleep. No yoga. Breakfast tastes good.
Gathered sticks in the moist woods. My new fiber friends are encouraging me to explore lashing and weaving as forms of attachment, and I like the idea, but I have brought these amazing colored glues with me and I do not want to get too crafty.
I start to attach dowels to the chair model. Inspired by the work of Gyöngy Laky I develop a system of screwing the dowels together—no lashing, no glue, just small countersunk screws. It goes together easily. The best projects do. I use masking tape to hold the dowels in place before screwing them. Someone jokes about my “masking tape joinery,” but I know I am onto something.
After dinner I sketch in the fiber studio and later walk down for a drink at the bonfire that has been lit on the rocks by the ocean.

May 29th
6:30 yoga. Breakfast.
The “Fab Lab” is a studio dedicated to digital fabrication, and although I will not use it to its greatest potential I am excited to have access to make some accurate templates and molds. The studio techs help me cut a hemisphere as a form for my stick bowl.
I run to the hardware store for more dowels and spend the afternoon in the wood shop screwing dowels together over my form. The chair comes off for the first time, and my idea is working!
After dinner, I walk down to the ocean with Liz—it’s gorgeous, clear, and cool. Then back to the fiber studio to try out the sticks. I make my first pass and it looks to be working, but unfortunately I totally underestimated the quantity of sticks I need.

My chair takes form as dowels are held in place with masking tape and then screwed together over an Eames shell.

May 30th
Sleep till 8. Gather sticks all morning. Times flies. I spend some time on the internet in the library. This is the only place one can get wireless and it is often not working. Haystack only has a wireless connection and does not encourage the use of cell phones on campus. It’s nice being disconnected, but a few projects at home need attention.
The Haystack environment is a perfect place for new ideas. After my failure with the broken bottles I realized this concept would be much more successful if it were more organized. The breaking was too random and hard to reconcile, but cylinders of glass could easily be glued, and I am wondering if it might be possible to combine the glass cylinders with some ceramics. I ask Farrell Ruppert, the studio technician in the metal shop, if there might be a way to cut my bottles into cylinders.
The best aspect of this residency is the cross-pollination between studios. As soon as I decide I want to make some ceramics I talk to the studio tech, Siem van der Ven, claim a cubby in the pottery studio, make a template in Fab Lab, and am ready to work on my ceramics ideas tomorrow.
Witchy evening in the fiber studio! I work on my stick bowl, sketch, laugh, and dance with my very fun, hardworking studio mates. Off to bed at 1:40 and they are still working.

May 31th
Yoga at 6:30. Breakfast at 8.
Ceramics all day. I have not made pottery since high school, and it is fantastic getting back into it. With some help from the folks in the ceramics studio I get up and running with a little slab factory. I extrude clay cylinders and make donuts and disc components that will be joined with silicone.
There has been much talk of the Deer Isle dump. Often it is a place for Haystack residents to find materials, and Liz and I feel compelled to check it out this morning, but it is disappointing and sort of depressing. We also run into town and pick up some wine for tonight—a special Saturday night lobster party on the rocky bluff below the school.
Work on stick bowl in the evening. Need more sticks.

Clothespins salvaged from the fiber studio are glued over a blue foam mold.The completed Clothespin bowl.

June 1st
Sleep in till 9! Miss breakfast! Shower, wash socks. Putz around in various studios all morning. I am in three studios now and everyone is making fun of me running around, but I am good at multitasking and most projects, after they are set up, require only a little bit of attention every day.
My ceramics make it into the bisque kiln.
Gather more sticks, and my stick bowl is taking shape, but I try to lift it off the mold this morning and discover that the vinyl glue is a little soft and it is not holding its shape.
The Coven, plus or minus a few, duck out for dinner at the Fisherman’s Friend in Stonington.

June 2nd
What day is it? The weather has been beautiful the last few days, food is plentiful, studios are open 24 hours a day, and the makers that surround me are industrious. Haystack is a utopia where everyone is well fed and employed doing something they love. This morning however it sets in that this Shangri-la of making will soon come to an end. Thursday is clean-up day, Friday we leave, so that leaves three full days of making.
I discover a treasure trove of old clothespins in the fiber studio. They have been used for dying cloth and each one is a different color. I am excited to use them and envision another bowl. I head to the Fab Lab to make another form.
In the afternoon I give some final attention to my chair. It is basically done, supports my weight, and looks great.
In the evening a few of us from the Coven help Liz hang her spider webs down by the water so she can photograph them the next day.

June 3rd
After breakfast I start assembling the clothespin bowl and add another layer to my stick bowl.
Glazing my pottery takes up the whole afternoon. Low fire clay limits my selection of glazes to one—a water blue. It is from 2010 and needs to be strained. The pottery studio is getting organized for a salt firing which is very exciting, but my project will not be part of it. I prepare a smaller kiln for my slab pottery system. My high-school ceramics training comes back to me. I apply a wax resist and create circles of what will be a greenish-blue glaze.

June 4th
After breakfast I spend the morning in the glass cold-working shop. Everyone was very accommodating when I said I wanted to cut glass bottles into strips. The glass shop was not open as part of the residency, but they set up the wet saw just for me. I had collected some new bottles over the last few days and they cut easily.
More stick gluing. More stick gathering. More clothespin gluing.
I am done with my chair so I pack up my desk in the wood shop and bring it back to the fiber studio.
I start assembling the ceramics and glass but decide maybe they are better as separate projects. The ceramics look very handmade next to the glass cylinders.
We all work late into the night and I complete the stick bowl. I have two heaters on it trying to get the glue to dry in time to show it.

June 5th
Our first truly rainy day is also the last day of making. We are to finish up our projects, clean up the studio, and display our work for an evening “Walk-through.” All of the residents, and a few invited guests from outside, will walk through the various studios to see what the residency has produced. After the Walk-through there will be an auction—which the collector side of me is very excited about—and after all is done we will close the residency down with a dance party.
A residency is time to use as one wishes, and projects do not need to be finished, but the Walk-through is a nice punctuation point to have at the end. I get enough of the clothespin bowl done to make an impression and finish gluing my glass and ceramics. I love the colored silicones and they work very nicely on the glass and ceramics. The thick red and blue beads do exactly as I expect them to. I am however learning as I go. I want to experiment more with silicone when I get home. I bring all of my work to the fiber studio for the Walk-through, and surprisingly it pulls together around my experiments with glue and building structure over forms.

This is one of several sketches exploring concepts that I might eventually build using my Eames chair form. Here, the concept marries my stick bowl configuration with the chair form.

June 6th
After breakfast I say my goodbyes and finish packing up the car. The eight hour drive home passes quickly. Steuart Padwick, a furniture designer from England, travels with me. We are tired from the last night of revelry, stop in Kennebunkport for what has to be the worst lobster roll I have ever had, and talk endlessly about the incredible time we just had.
My reentry into the real world over the next few days is bumpy. Fortunately I have the weekend to decompress, but one realizes, after such an idyllic time and place to work, how little of one’s life is truly creative—life at home is filled with social obligation, business to be chased, and meals to be figured out. It’s hard to carve out creative space for oneself and I feel very privileged to have had my time at Haystack.

Final Notes
I wonder how my residency at Haystack will resonate going forward. I enjoyed exploring new territory but most of what I made were seeds of ideas, not finished products. I will definitely expand upon the idea of building structures over forms, and my gluing experiments produced some nice effects that I would like to take further.
More than anything I appreciate the re-exposure to craft. When I was heavily into pottery in high school I attended a few craft fairs and was wowed by virtuoso craft, but I grew out of it. My design education taught me to start with an idea and figure out how it will get made after. Of course the better the craftsmanship, the better the product, but craft for craft’s sake never made much sense—for me it is a means to an end. That said, I regret the way craft and design were divorced here in the U.S.A. It makes no sense—designers and craftspeople have too much to learn from each other. Liz Collins and I have collaborated on some furniture as part of her show at Art Market Province­town at the end of August, and in addition to producing some beautiful objects, it has created a valuable dialogue for both of us.
I have long thought that twenty-first-century design will be about undoing much of what we built up in the twentieth century—hopefully reversing some environmental damage and rethinking the systems put in place by industrialization. The “makers movement” is an indication that this process is underway, and there are many style currents in which craft is playing a role. But “making” is more than a style, it is an integral part of the fabric of our society—honest and human and satisfying—and I want to make sure that my work stays grounded in humanity even as it moves into the digital age.

The Next Chapter


Michael Graves adds painting to an already rich résumé
By Beth Dunlop

Bridge at Narni by Michael Graves after Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, 2009. Acrylic on canvas.

The Clos Pegase Winery in Napa Valley by Graves, completed in 1987.

It’s probably a safe bet that as you are reading this article, someone is pouring water from a teakettle designed by Michael Graves. It’s more than likely that someone is pushing a clove of garlic through a Graves-designed press or checking the time on a Graves-designed wristwatch. And it’s quite possible that in Orlando or Burbank or Marne-la-Vallée, France, a visitor is staring at the facade of a Graves-designed building or in Denver, Topeka, or San Juan Capistrano, California, is checking a book out of a Graves-designed library. The rich and varied work of Michael Graves has permeated our lives.

Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort, designed by Graves in 1990.

Graves’s buildings for the Walt Disney Company and gadgets and objects for Target have given him the kind of instant recognition that most architects never attain. In 1998 he designed the scaffold that encased the Washington Monument during its two-year restoration, another prime public moment. The wit and caprice, not to mention the deep understanding and love for history, that moved Graves to put a miniature bird on the spout of a whistling teakettle or giant swans and dolphins atop a hotel are only part of a much deeper story.

It is a story told in overlapping chapters of a multifaceted career. It’s a story that has great peaks (a national Medal of Arts bestowed by Bill Clinton) and deep valleys. In 2002 Graves was paralyzed from the waist down after a virulent sinus infection moved through his body; he nearly died, more than once, but has emerged from this to become a leading proponent of reinvigorated health care design—with work that ranges from better hospital furniture and wheelchairs to his recent widely regarded Wounded Warrior housing project at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

Michael Graves, 2008.

The first houses for the Wounded Warrior Home Project opened in 2011 at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, designed by Graves to better serve soldiers with varying conditions including but not limited to paralysis, blindness, loss of limbs, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael Graves turns eighty this year, and simultaneously celebrates his firm’s first half-century of architecture and design

A major retrospective exhibition, Michael Graves—Past as Prologue, opens on October 18 at Grounds for Sculpture on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Trenton and runs through April 5, 2015. It will showcase the five decades of Michael Graves and Associates with a chronological look at architecture, design, drawing, and painting. This last, Graves’s latest (and in some ways longest-standing) calling—along with architecture, design, and teaching—will also be honored at the Studio Vendome gallery in New York in an exhibition, opening October 8, of his luminous acrylic paintings curated by the longtime Metropolitan Museum of Art design and architecture curator Jane Adlin.

Denver Central Library, Colorado, designed by Graves, 1995.

“I just do it,” he says of this current prevailing passion. “I have this stupid little room in my house downstairs that was made for my mother who never got to use it. I’m in the smallest room in my house, and it is filled with paintings from floor to ceiling.” His process is replete with decades worth of notebooks full of drawings of observed and remembered landscapes. He draws every day (“it’s like playing the piano, though I’m not a musician—you have to practice”) and then paints from sketches of Italian landscapes made over the years that he rearranges on the picture plane “to make a new composition,” he says. A painter friend said to him recently, “Michael I think you’re onto something,” but Graves demurs. “There’s a certain sameness to them I think,” he says, “a specific palette—I don’t use bright colors and I don’t use heavy impasto—but there’s also a lightness to them. I think they wear very well.”

Graves grew up in Indiana, went off to study architecture at the University of Cincinnati, then Harvard. In 1960 he won the Rome Prize and headed to Italy, probably his greatest life-shaping force. When he returned he opted to teach at Princeton University (which he did for thirty-nine years) and for a few early years was part of a group of young intellectuals eventually and notoriously dubbed “The Five Whites” by Tom Wolfe in his still-entertaining From Bauhaus to Our House (for the record, the others were Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduck, Peter Eisenman, and Richard Meier). Then Graves began producing work that diverged not just from his fellow architectural intellectuals but for the most part from any other architecture being produced in America. It was metaphorical, allusive, figurative, classically inspired, and most definitely not white.

The University Bridge over the Werra River, Germany, by Graves, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 18 by 24 inches.

Among his earliest commissions were the Newark Museum (which remains an ongoing partnership), the Clos Pegase Winery in Napa County, California, and the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky. The latter two, especially, were full expressions of a new aesthetic particular to Graves—a muted color palette, over-scaled ornamentation that alludes to a long history of architecture, and a visual and tactile intensity that most other buildings of the 1980s lacked. Early on, in an essay entitled “A Case for Figurative Architecture,” Graves likened his work to poetry, contrasting it to the more utilitarian technical approach espoused by many modernists. “Poetic forms in architecture are sensitive to the figurative, associative, and anthropomorphic attitudes of a culture,” he wrote.

In the late 1980s Graves won a competition (against Robert Venturi and Alan Lapidus) for a new hotel complex at Walt Disney World that became the iconic Swan and Dolphin—notable for the outsized mythological and classic forms atop it (the dolphins, especially, alluded to Bernini, which was not lost on all Disney visitors). Almost simultaneously, Graves was commissioned by the then head of Disney, Michael Eisner, to design the company’s corporate headquarters in Burbank, which likewise incorporated powerful cultural imagery (in this case, Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs holding up the pediment). Memorable, of course, but these buildings also captured the attention of an intrigued general public and provoked their fair share of discussion and debate.

Graves transformed a 1950s Dutch government residence into the Castalia, housing the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in the Hague, 1998, by cladding the original building in brick and adding tall peaked roofs

A breathtaking number of building commissions followed, across America and around the world—more than 150—accompanied by four major monographs (among other books on his work), documentaries, exhibitions, and more. And yet, at the same time, he was establishing a second path, one less usual for American architects. In the heady 1980s Graves was one of a number of architects called upon by the Italian manufacturer Alessi to design products, and he was to produce some of the company’s most iconic pieces, notably his bird-whistle teakettle.

A particular shade of blue became so associated with him that it is often called Graves blue

Then Target called, and Graves was ready. His accessibly priced design collections for Target were a sensation to the point that the particular shade of stone blue Graves favors became inextricably linked with him. The Target designs (and his product design in general) are as diverse as can be imagined—from cleaning tools to chess and checkers sets (an exhibition devoted to Graves’s game designs was on view for much of 2014 at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis). And when Ron Johnson, the retail guru behind Target’s successful branding schemes, moved on—albeit briefly—to J. C. Penney, he commissioned yet another line of household goods. Graves’s firm will continue to design and produce for J. C. Penney for another four-plus years.

Drawing by Graves and the resulting Ellington lounge chair, 2003, made by Baltimore furniture manufacturer David Edward.

If you ask Graves about his products—a whisk or a spatula for example—he will say “shake my hand.” And you do. “Now, keep that grip,” he’ll instruct and then tell you to pick up the spatula, which with its fat blue handle fits perfectly in your rounded hand. The reasoning isn’t so different from, for example, what might on the surface seem to be a complex architectural move—the placement of a window sill or a wainscot.

Somewhat slowed, but definitely not stopped by the paralysis, Graves continues apace. He adapted his house (a former warehouse just blocks from the university in Princeton) to accommodate his wheelchair needs and found a new passion in accessible design and health care. His enchanting gabled houses at Fort Belvoir are the most recent addition to this area of his work.

“Michael Graves has created art that surrounds our lives,” said President Bill Clinton in 1999 as he presented the National Medal of Arts to the architect, designer, teacher, and artist. And true, few architects—at least American architects—become household names in the way that Michael Graves has.

Alessi at Home and Afield


By Arlene Hirst

Photography by Santi Caleca

The living room of the Alessi's house is dominated by a massive dining table, designed by Alessandro Medini, the house's architect, who also did the fireplace, created from three large chestnut trees in the garden.

Alberto Alessi had a dream. He wanted to be a vintner, but not just any kind of vintner. “My ambition is to do the best wine ever in Italy,” says the sixty-seven-year-old head of Alessi, SpA, the $130 million family company he has headed since 1970. He has transformed it from a staid producer of stainless steel housewares into a dynamic powerhouse driven solely by design, be it in metal, glass, wood, ceramic, or plastic, and be it housewares, tableware, kitchens, baths, furnishings, or fashion— the company introduced a collection of eyeglasses in Milan this April.

To turn his dream into reality, Alessi set out to find land where he could not only grow grapes but create a home for his family. After a long search, he found an old farm, Villa Fortis, in the Piedmont village of Pratolungo, a small town just six miles from Crusinallo, where the Alessi factory and offices are located. But both the buildings and the grounds of this estate, which dates back to the early nineteenth century (its actual origins go all the way back to the sixteenth century), had been completely abandoned, and part of the land had returned to the wild. It was not habitable.

Alessi is a major figure in Italy’s Piedmont region—the Alessi factory is an important driver of the local economy—and yet when it came time to embark on a renovation, there was no favoritism; in fact, Alessi’s chosen architect, Alessandro Mendini, a longtime collaborator and trusted consultant, had to submit four different plans before he was finally able to satisfy the requests of the various local authorities. Alessi closed on the property in 2001, but construction didn’t begin until 2007. “Finally, after three proposals, we realized what they wanted,” he says—the restoration of the old house and surrounding buildings that stood on the grounds. Fortunately, total fidelity was not required. “They were really only interested in the facade and volumes,” he says.

Alberto and his wife Laura, on the grounds of their estate in Pratolungo, a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy.

Before the move, Alessi and his wife Laura and daughter Emma had lived in a small, loft-like space in an old villa in Suna on Lake Maggiore and they wanted to re-create the same sense of intimacy, hiring a fengshui expert to consult with Mendini. In spite of its lofty presence on a hilltop, surrounded by a serene rolling landscape, the house’s interiors are simple with a warm farm-like feel, thanks to the extensive use of wood and stone, much of which was recycled from the old house and grounds.

The one touch of extravagance is an indoor spa, complete with swimming pool. “I wanted to fulfill a long-term dream of living close to a spa so we could combat the humidity of our beloved lake,” explains Alessi. Eleven-year-old Emma loves entertaining school friends there.

The entrance to the house is through a long hallway with a study for Laura Alessi off to the side. The graphic intarsia walls add a touch of drama. The two-story living room, where the family spends almost all of its time, has a welcoming fireplace that was built using three chestnut trees from the property. At the other end, an open kitchen—a super-sized version of La CucinaAlessi produced by Valcucine and Oras and also designed by Mendini—dominates the space. Both husband and wife cook. A large wood table also crafted from the felled chestnut trees is surrounded by a virtual hall-of-fame of designer chairs including ones by Jasper Morrison, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, Enzo Mari, and Naoto Fukasawa.

Arlene Hirst is a design journalist living and working in New York.


The Dream Factory of Alessi


Promise and polish in Silver and chrome (and plastic and porcelain)

By Katrine Ames

The Try it trivet designed by Dror Benshetrit in 2009 is composed of three stainless steel arcs. Each piece can be considered a trivet in its own right; when assembled together they create a stable suppor for multiple uses.

In 1918 four Polish immigrants opened a studio on Sunset Boulevardin Hollywood. That studio, Warner Brothers, soon became one of the best of the so-called Dream Factories, most admired for its gritty Depression-era movies.

Around the same time, Giovanni Alessi, an Italian metalworker who excelled at making brass knobs, opened a studio of his own, in a valley near the Swiss border. Though this studio made small objects for the home—metal coffee- and teapots, trays, flask holders—it shared something with Warner Brothers: Alessi was rooted in handsome practicality, not lavishness.

Today, the Hollywood Dream Factories are long gone, but Alessi is thriving, with one eye still focused on function and the other on art and invention. Some of the greatest designers and architects of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including EttoreSottsass, AchilleCastiglioni, Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, Norman Foster, and Jasper Morrison have worked with the company. The president, Alberto Alessi, grandson of the founder, calls it “the dream factory.”

Since 1921 Alessi has operated from the same northern Italian valley within striking distance of the Alps, and it doesn’t outsource everything to China: virtually everything made of cold-pressed metal or of wood is still manufactured in Italy. “Everyone there is extremely loyal,” says the gifted Israeli designer DrorBenshetrit, who is creating a collection for the company. “For many of the people I work with at Alessi, it’s their first job, and will probably be their last. And they maintain a lot of their local craft, even though it costs more.”

These days you can indulge in an Alessi bathroom, equipped not only with Alessi fixtures but with an Alessi bathtub plug, toothbrush holder, toothpick holder, toilet brush, soap dish, and laundry basket. Not to mention a scale, which you might want to avoid after cooking dinner in an Alessi-designed kitchen, deploying Alessi pots, pans, dishes, glasses, and cutlery. The company has produced (and this is by no means a complete list) egg cookers, honey pots, spice jars, nutcrackers, timers, clocks, watches, graters, bottle openers, compact-disc racks, corkscrews, candlesticks, calculators, colanders, lemon squeezers, trolleys, garden tools, vases, cruet sets, toast racks, telephones, radios, desk organizers, wastepaper baskets, tables, figurines, frames, mirrors, and (dare we mention them in the United States?) ashtrays. In some corners of the world, you can even drive a Fiat Panda Alessi. “I believe that all industrial products would strongly benefit from a design-excellence approach,” Alberto Alessi says.

Carlo Alessi—Alberto’s father—was an industrial designer who shepherded the company through the Depression and World War II, and produced the sleekly stout Bombé tea and coffee sets that his son has called the “archetype of early Italian design”—a harbinger of what was to come. “Right after the 1940s,” Alberto Alessi says, “the company changed from pure craftsmanship to industry, from lathe-spinning to presses.” It was not until 1988 that the company expanded its manufacturing base to wood, and in the next five years added plastic, ceramics, and glass. “We are metalists by roots,” Alessi says.

The quantum leap came in 1979 when Alessandro Mendini proposed having several architects, including Robert Venturi and Richard Meier, design classic silver tea and coffee services. Produced in limited editions, they were elegant, inspired—and witty. Something was changing. Philippe Starck may have said it best: “Alessi sells joy.” Who could not respond happily, for instance, to Michael Graves’s now-classic tea kettle with a bird at the spout or his cheese tray with a mouse for a handle? Alberto Alessi agrees. “I trace playfulness in our design history in Michael’s works for us,” he says, “and in a different way also in masters like Castiglioniand  Mendini.”

Though the company’s association with superb designers is long, Alberto Alessi has brought in the greatest number and variety (none is a resident employee, however). In 1990 Alessi began working with unestablished designers, including students, which has revivified the house; the firm has also established workshops, including one at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Alberto Alessi thinks of his job, in part, as “managing a stable of racehorses. There are approximately two hundred and I try to take care of every one of them in the best way. They well know how I rely on them.”
Designers clearly relish not only the freedom Alessi gives them, but the technical risks the company is willing to take. Says the Milan-based Miriam Mirri, whose items for Alessi include the delicious porcelain and stainless steel Babette coffee cup: “They have the courage to follow my intentions or to suggest new solutions, sometimes based only on trust.” Bonnie Mackay, the former director of merchandising, creative, and marketing for MoMA Retail, has worked closely with Alessi. “They’re open to anything, which a lot of companies aren’t,” she says. “That’s why we love them. Alessi does a lot of investigation. They mix things, like plastic with stainless steel. That needs two different molds, but they’re willing to take the step. They push it farther than other people do. ”

Then there is the instantly identifiable Alessi look. Like music, it is difficult to describe. “They are unbelievably focused on their product,” DrorBenshetrit says, “to make sure it has the Alessi DNA and integrity. They keep it solid. You have to; otherwise you dilute your image.” He still marvels at “how many hands one single product, even a little oil cruet, moves through.” Bonnie Mackay frequently observes customers’ reactions to Alessi and may come as close as anyone to identifying our response to “the look.” It’s not just the quality of the pieces, she says, “it’s the aha! factor. When you see something of Alessi you think, ‘I never knew you could do this.’”

Gaetano Pesce: Homage to the Master in a Major Rome Retrospective


photo courtesy Gaetano Pesce's Office

“I find him more interesting than any other industrial designer,” says the collector Alberto Eiber of Gaetano Pesce. “Everything is an experiment and unique. It is purposeful that each piece is imperfect and irregular.” Eiber, who lives in Miami Beach, is a major collector of Pesce’s work, both large and small, and has followed his career for several decades.
This summer, a major retrospective devoted to Pesce’s work will open at MAXXI, the Roman museum devoted to art and architecture of the twenty-first century. The exhibition will include some eighty pieces conceived and executed during Pesce’s full career, from the 1960s, when, starting in his student years in Venice, he was part of the collective Grupo N, to the present. He has lived in New York since 1980 and before that, resided in Paris for fifteen years.
Pesce’s work ranges from architecture, interior design, and urban planning to industrial and furniture design and art. It is generally figurative (if in an abstract way) and often fulsome. He has long used unexpected materials and ideas to explore difficult and emotionally charged contemporary themes from love and peace to violence and war—often expressed in complex, even contradictory, and yet compelling ways. “I think he is on a different level,” Eiber says.
At MAXXI, Gaetano Pesce: The Time of Diversity (June 26 to October 5) will rely on an unusual exhibition design in which the works will be displayed on moveable panels, allowing visitors to change the order, the point of view, and the organization. Pesce describes it as being like a “mutant labyrinth” that is intended to express his notion that diversity is fundamental to life. One gallery will be given over as “the ice room,” to be kept at a frigid temperature and featuring a video installation that will address such concepts as the difference between “official time” (which is the division of the year into months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and is what we live by, tracking them on our watches, cell phones, and clocks) and the more metaphysical or existential notion that no two instances of time are ever, in our lives, exactly alike.
The museum’s courtyard will feature an eight-meter (somewhat more than twenty-six feet) version of Pesce’s famously anthropomorphic UP chair (based on the female body) that will actually be a structure housing video installations dealing with the global issues affecting women (the idea is for visitors to enter into the “womb” of the chair, which was designed forty-five years ago). Pesce conceived this as both a celebration of his most iconic design and as a cautionary message, which only underscores the depth and intricacy of his thinking.
— by Beth Dunlop

Textiles and the City: Design by Inspiration


Sina Pearson Textiles

In 1934 New York City opened an elevated rail system spanning Manhattan’s Lower West Side. The freight line was an integral part of the city’s transport of goods and materials until the rails were closed in 1980; but after some thirty dormant years the structure reopened in 2009 as the High Line—a public park hovering thirty feet above the busy streets. Today visitors to the High Line can mingle with indigenous plants, contemporary art, local cuisine, and of course the city itself. It is these elements that combined to inspire Sina Pearson’s rhythmic new Walking the High Line series of fabrics. The four patterns are geometric and call to mind everything from the railroad ties underfoot (in Tracks) and the surrounding layers of square and rectangular glazing (in Windows) to the tall buildings in the distance (Skyline) poking above the overlapping grid of modernist structures (in Facades). The patterns appear in four color families combining the neutral grays of the metropolitan landscape with bursts of color taken from the High Line’s array of wildflowers; the adaptive reuse of the High Line also inspired Pearson’s interest in sustainable design and use of recycled materials in the fabric.


New York City isn’t the only source of railway-inspired design. UK-based Kirkby Design has taken the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground to introduce its Underground Collection, which re-creates five iconic fabric designs taken from the London Transport Museum. The original thick velvety moquette fabrics were created under the direction of Frank Pick, publicity manager and later managing director of London Transport from 1907 to 1940. Pick commissioned innovative designs for everything from station architecture, maps, and signage to promotional posters and the fabric on the seats. To this end he enlisted the talents of artists like Marion Dorn, Paul Nash, and Enid Marx, who was told that in addition to looking well in artificial lighting, the material should “look fresh at all times, even after bricklayers had sat on it.” Pick’s legacy of a well-designed commuter fleet endured, and today’s re-creations draw from designs for 1930s buses, 1950s Green Line coaches, and tubes from the 1970s and 1990s. The goals for today’s fabrics are the same: innovative geometric designs in bold, contemporary color palettes, and of course the ability to hide wear, tear, and bricklayer’s dust.

James Shanks Photo

Another collaboration bringing the urban environment indoors is the new Grethe Sørensen Collection produced for Wolf-Gordon. The Danish Sørensen combines her traditional weaving expertise with an extensive knowledge of digital photography and technology. She has developed a “random weave” method that combines the two mediums by translating photographic pixels into thread. Her images of light-filled cityscapes are abstracted into delicate, ethereal compositions effecting the look of unfocused light. Millions of Colors, the upholstery fabric in her new line, is aptly named. Sørensen’s random weave technique arranges pixels of basic colors to create endless gradations that gradually shift into each other. While Sørensen’s work is undeniably modern, it certainly owes a debt to the study of light and color in impressionist painting and even the beauty of chance in surrealism. Wolf-Gordon, an American company, released Sørensen’s line in March, which includes three versions of the Millions of Colors fabric and twenty-six colorways of her three wall-covering patterns.

— by Katy Kiick

Scoping Out Salone


Marco Covi photo

It was mid-afternoon of a balmy April day, the fourth day of Milan’s massive annual International Design Fair, and out at the Salone del Mobile, the fairgrounds were abuzz. Matteo Renzi, the handsome young prime minister of Italy, was paying a visit. A crowd gathered at the top of the escalators expectantly, as a smiling Renzi rode up to visit the hall to see some of Italy’s finest furniture companies showcasing their wares.

The visit had larger significance than politics alone. Italy is a nation of artisans and fabricators, but in recent years, the country (like many others) has been plagued by a stagnant economy, in some ways exacerbated by a somewhat controversial government, which meant that Renzi’s appearance at the Salone signaled better days ahead. “In Italy, we believe that design is value, that quality is value” says Claudio Luti, who is not only president of the design company Kartell but also heads Cosmit, the consortium of Italian furniture manufacturers that mounts Salone.

Each year designers, architects, collectors, showroom owners, gallery operators, journalists, scholars, and aficionados descend on Milan by the thousands. The Salone itself is a prime destination for most. This year a special exhibition, Where Architects Live, offered a multimedia glimpse at the personal homes of architects Shigeru Ban, Mario Bellini, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Zaha Hadid, Marcio Kogan, Daniel Libeskind, and Studio Mumbai/Bijoy Jain.

It is almost axiomatic that at the fair itself, lovers of contemporary design make a beeline for Halls 16 and 20, where brands (many though not all of them Italian) ranging from Artek to Zanotta can be seen. (Other modern and contemporary brands can be found elsewhere at the Salone, but these two halls offer the concentrated study of what’s new and what has endured.) Among the many standouts: Patricia Urquiola’s rugs for Gandia Blasco and Artek’s launch of new work by Konstantin Grcic and reinterpretations by Hella Jongerius of some of Artek’s Alvar Aalto staples.

The celebration of contemporary design spills out from the fair across all of Milan, with entire districts (Brera, Tortona, Lambrate) devoted to showcasing design, often, though not always, from younger designers. The venerable Milan design guru Rossana Orlandi showed an array of fascinating (and sometimes provocative) work at both her gallery in an old tie factory, and in the separate Untold, which took over the historic Museo Bagatti-Valsecchi. Orlandi’s acute eye is legendary, and this year was no exception with works from the Lebanese duo known as Bokja, the Viennese firm of Lobmeyr, and the Japanese-born Yukiko Nagai, just to name three.

Others—among them Hermès and Established and Sons— similarly occupied venerable Milan palazzos and other landmark buildings to display often remarkable new work. At the Palazzo Clerici, for example, one could see edgy new work from Formafantasma for Gallery Libby Sellers using cooled lava as a primary material. The Dutch brand Moooi, on the other hand, took over a modern factory space and then reshaped it with Massimo Listri’s giant-sized photos of palazzo interiors shaping the spaces.
“It goes from the young to the stars,” Luti says. “I like to think that it is the best in the world.”
­—by Beth Dunlop

Taking It Outside: Design for the Garden


Ingrid Donat's white concrete armchairs and Art Book coffee table, 2010.

Look at today’s concentration on nature,” says Lowery Stokes Sims, chief curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, who organized the museum’s 2013 exhibition Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design. “It stands to reason that designers internationally are turning their attention to the garden and outdoor living in general, and in doing so embracing a decided movement away from the traditional iron bench to more creative interpretative designs.”

A host of designers is offering pieces intended specifically for the garden, and collectors, curators, interior designers, landscape architects, and archi­tects are turning their attention to this area with renewed interest. In this high tech age, many designers are using new materials and new technologies, while others are rooted, so to speak, in traditional materials and techniques. For example, the London design collective Yard Sale Project, which is represented by Todd Merrill in Greenwich Village, is turning out computer-generated wood chairs. On the other hand, both Brazilian designer Hugo França and New Yorker Michele Oka Doner focus on fashioning enormous felled tree trunks into organic seating in tune with the millennium’s emphasis on the environment.

Aurélie Julien heads the Paris branch of the London-based Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Com­manding center stage there are Pablo Reinoso, Ingrid Donat, and Rick Owens. “The swirling, curvilinear organic shape of Reinoso’s 2010 steel Huge Sudeley bench is in harmony with nature,” Julien says, making it perfect for the garden (see our cover). The work of the Argentinean-born Paris-based Reinoso can be found in the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the Vitra Design Museum.

Donat turns to concrete for furniture that is surprisingly sleek rather than cumbersome. She also works in bronze, creating pieces—from seating to chests—that bear engraved patterns drawn from sources as diverse as art deco and tribal tattooing and are frequently used outdoors by designers and collectors alike. For decades Donat’s furniture has been sought by A-list architects and designers such as Jacques Grange, Tony Ingrao, Peter Marino, and Robert Couturier. In fact, Couturier furnished practically an entire Jackson Hole, Wyoming, com­mission with Donat designs. “Her work is strong, always innovative and surprising,” he says. Prices run from $27,500 to $275,000.

Rick Owens is best known as a fashion designer, but he also lends his hand to design for the garden. One example at Carpenters Workshop is his 2013 Plug table in white marble, in an edition of eight, priced at $175,000.

Besides PAD Paris, Carpenters Workshop Gallery takes part in Design Miami/Basel, Design Miami, the Paris Biennale, and the Salon: Art and Design fair.

The black iron legs of Eric Robin's coffee table evoke tree branches, juxtaposed with the seven gold-leafed circular tops.

Also in Paris, the gallery En Attendant Les Barbares features the work of Eric Robin, who was first discovered by the late interior and product designer Andrée Putman. The blackened iron legs of his tables evoke tree branches, making them perfect for the outdoors. “Clients for his oeuvre include Pierre Bergé,” says Agnes Standish-Kentish, who heads up the gallery. A coffee table with seven gold-leafed circular surfaces is about $15,000. “We had a huge response to Eric’s work at PAD Paris with many sales,” she says.

The sleek lines of the 1997 Loop chair by Niels Hvass are created in aluminum with wood details.

Paris dealer Maria Wettergren features the work of Danish designer Mathias Bengtsson, whose Spun Chaise in carbon fiber can be found in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. It wasn’t designed specifically for the garden, but, Wettergren says, it “can be put outside.” The same is true for Danish designer Niels Hvass’s 1997 aluminum Loop chair, the slim lines of which appeal to contemporary art collectors. Besides the PAD fairs in London and Paris, Wettergren participates in Design Miami and Design Miami/Basel as well as Salon: Art and Design.

In Cologne, Germany, Gabrielle Ammann’s eponymous gallery has long been an international magnet for collectors, connoisseurs, and curators. Demonstrating her global reach, Ammann participates in Design Miami and Design Miami/Basel as well as in Collective in New York and PAD London. Noting that a number of designers are stepping up and creating a wide range of challenging work for the garden, she singles out India-born, Amsterdam-based designer Satyendra Pakhalé, whose designs, she says, are “rooted in India with its long tradition of bronze and marble work, but his viewpoint is the future.” Also of note, she adds, is Korean Bo Young Jung and Belgian Emmanuel Wolfs’s 2009 Tree Trunk series of bronze benches and stools, which appear to be bark-clad but with the “cut” ends polished. Prices range from $40,000 to $90,000. “The demand is huge and in the past five years, I’ve witnessed a jump of 40 percent for design created for the garden,” Ammann says. “No one can compete with the beauty of nature. But to find design that is in dialogue with the landscape is a rarity, and the work of Pakhalé and of Jung and Wolfs achieves that with sensitivity.”

Max Lamb’s Rusty Steel Sheet tables come in a variety of shapes, each produced in an edition of ten.

Back in 2008 Gallery FUMI was the first design gallery to open in Shoreditch, London’s trendy contemporary art district. Since then it’s been a go-to destination for collectors and curators. Max Lamb was among the first designers brought in by directors Valerio Capo and Sam Pratt. Driving demand is Max’s distinctive sensitivity to sculptural design,” Capo says. His 2008 editioned Rusty Steel Sheet tables and chairs are desired by collectors for garden use. “Lamb also has a series of tables, chairs and cabinets that look like black rocks coated with a slick oil like finish,” Capo says. Called Poly, objects in that line are tagged at $5,000 apiece and up. Lamb’s garden seating also includes his 2013 Chatsworth Yew Logs, from yew trees felled at the historic English country house, with some of the bark still intact. Each is priced at $7,600. FUMI will show Lamb’s work at its Porto Cervo gallery in Sardinia this summer, as well as at Design Miami/Basel in June. FUMI also takes part in PAD London, Design Miami, and Collective.

Los Angeles dealer Patrick Dragonette offers a range of design for outdoor use. Top of the list, Dragonette says, are vintage pieces by the late William Haines, acclaimed for his interiors of Sunnylands, the Palm Springs home of Walter and Lenore Annenberg, and his work for Ronald and Nancy Reagan, among other Hollywood notables. On offer, for $12,000, is a set of four Haines rope and wrought-iron chairs of about 1950 from the Irene Rich estate. A pair of cast bronze torchères from Jack Warner’s Palm Springs place is priced at $11,500.

Three from a set of four woven-rope and wrought- iron chairs designed by Haines for the Beverly Hills estate of Irene Rich, 1950s.

New York’s R and Company, based in Tribeca and a regular at Design Miami, Design Miami/Basel, and Collective, represents Brazilian designer Hugo França, who carves furniture, predominantly seating, out of felled pequi trees. Zesty Meyers, who heads up R and Company, says, “Hugo’s work is an important commentary on sustainability and material re-use.” França’s work can be found in notable public collections in Brazil, such as the Instituto Cultural Inhotim in Brumadinho and the Museu Da Casa Brasileira in São Paulo, but his organic and highly sculptural seating and sculpture are hardly strangers to these shores. They were recently on display in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami in an installation curated by Cristina Grajales. This summer and fall (to October 11) his work in craggy pequi wood is included in an exhibition titled exteriors the explosion of outdoor furnishings, at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York. The price range for França’s work runs from $3,000 for small wall-mounted shelves to over $250,000 for large scale works.

Byung Hoon Choi’s basalt after image of beginning 013-394
dates from 2013.

“I love selling works that are installed outdoors because of the way they interact with nature,” says Marc Benda of Friedman Benda in New York’s Chelsea district. These would certainly include the basalt benches of Korean designer Byung Hoon Choi (some measure up to nine feet in length), which were featured in the gallery’s recent exhibition Byung Hoon Choi: In One Stroke (see MODERN, Winter 2014, p. 88). The show practically sold out with prices from $40,000 to $200,000. Another favorite of clients at Friedman Benda is Ron Arad’s 2007 striated stainless steel Thumbprint chair—one from the edition of six was placed in a collector’s garden.

Jim Elkind, a Harry Bertoia specialist, is the head of Lost City Arts also in New York. “Bertoia’s Sonambient works are well suited to the garden as the components, when rustled by the wind, sound like church bells,” Elkind says, adding that examples can be found in one client’s wading pool in Arizona as well as in gardens in the Hamptons, on Boston’s North Shore, and even in Mexico. Recently Auckland, New Zealand, interior designer Katie Lockhart acquired Bertoia’s copper Hollow Gong of 1965, which stretches eight feet across by more than four feet high, for a garden in India. Prices for large Bertoia sculptures range from $100,000 to $300,000. Of course, contemporary renditions of his 1952 Diamond chair for Knoll now found at Design Within Reach are popular in gardens and poolside as well.

Greenwich Village dealer Todd Merrill spotlights the work of Britons Ian Spencer and Cairn Young who make up the Yard Sale Project collective. “For their 2012 Roccapina V chair, the pair fused the natural and digital worlds,” Merrill says. Spencer and Young turned to computer technology to make the pattern of hundreds of rectangular wood pieces that comprise the chair, which appears “pixilated yet with a smooth surface.” It was included in the Museum of Arts and Design traveling exhibition Against the Grain.

The Yard Sale Collective’s Roccapina V chair and OSMA chair (pictured) are offered by Todd Merrill.

The Yard Sale Project’s 2013 OSMA chair is entirely handmade of polypropylene plumbing pipes that have been hand-cut and hand-sanded and assembled in a honeycomb pattern. The chair is intended to be buried six inches deep in the garden, allowing plants to grow up through the pipes. “It’s about making the chair into a living part of the garden,” says Merrill, who participates in Art Miami, Art Southampton, and Masterpiece London.

In Soho Cristina Grajales also showcases design appropriate for the garden, among them pieces by Christophe Côme and Michele Oka Doner. Côme is creating tables with cast-iron sides in open rectangular and square shapes topped by slabs of Spanish cedar. “Côme is recognized globally, and Peter Marino alone has commissioned his work for several Chanel boutiques,” Grajales says. Artist-designer Michele Oka Doner, who is represented in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Centre Pompidou, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, works in many mediums and on many scales. Appropriate for the garden would be her two 2012 Chitra benches, carved from massive Australian pines and priced at $45,000 each. They were featured in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in 2011 and 2012.

— by Brook S. Mason

East Hampton aplomb


New York collectors Joel and Helen Portugal reveal an affinity for mid-century design
By Brook S. Mason
Photography by Thomas Loff

Paradigms of mid-century and later design fill the open living and dining areas in the summer house of Helen and Joel Portugal, including a George Nakashima hanging wall cabinet and a Greta Magnusson Grossman coffee table.

The built landscape of Long Island’s Hamptons is dominated by late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century shingle style houses and the very latest in contemporary residences.  But Joel and Helen Portugal opted for a twentieth-century modernist aesthetic when it came time to outfit a new summer and weekend retreat in East Hampton. This is in marked contrast to the couple’s Upper East Side apartment, which showcases art deco from Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann to Jean Dunand and Edgar Brandt.  “Art deco particularly suits a Manhattan environment as the city is filled with so many major buildings from that period, such as Rockefeller Center and the Eldorado apartment house,” says Joel Portugal, who founded a corporate-identity consulting firm with clients ranging from Texaco to Citibank. “We did not set out to collect modernist furniture for our house in the country but rather to find furnishings and art we could live with while relaxing,” he says. “We had been drawn to design examples from the fifties and sixties such as Prouvé and Nakashima for our former summer home in Southampton and wanted to further emphasize that specialty in our new house.”

A ten-year-old residence in the modernist style gave them the opportunity to do so. To complete the setting the couple turned to East Hampton architectural consultant Sandra Brauer, who had executed a string of projects in the Hamptons that draw on the modernist aesthetic, and Amy Lau, who heads up Amy Lau Design in the West Chelsea arts district.  Brauer enlarged the footprint of the house from twenty-nine hundred square feet to thirty-four hundred, extending the kitchen and adding a guest suite.

The foyer contains a 1950s Jean Prouvé-Charlotte Perriand shelving unit and George Nelson’s 1946 Platform bench for Herman Miller.

For the interiors, Helen Portugal says, “with her knowledge of and sensitivity for mid-century design, Amy understood our needs on multiple levels.” Indeed, Lau, who started her firm in 2001, is no stranger to the fine points of mid-century art and design. After completing Sotheby’s graduate program in fine and decorative arts, she became design director at New York’s Lin-Weinberg Gallery, which specialized in modernist furniture. She subsequently co-founded the Design Miami fair in 2005 and served as co-chair of the Design Council of the Museum of Arts and Design. In addition to Lau’s extensive retail and residential commissions, she acts as an advisor to private collectors of twentieth-century decorative arts. “I first met Joel and Helen sixteen years ago while at Lin-Weinberg, when I introduced them to the work of such influential Swedish mid-century ceramists as Gunnar Nylund and Stig Lindberg,” Lau says. “Stoneware by those masters in specialized glazes from neutral to brilliant shades of red are really unique small works of art. Helen and Joel’s penchant for design from the fifties and sixties complements their ceramics collection to perfection.”

The upstairs guest bedroom contains Gilbert Rohde’s biomorphic Paldao coffee table, 1941, and a pair of Osvaldo Borsani P32 lounge chairs designed in 1965 and manufactured by Tecno. The contemporary ceiling fixture is by Ray Power from his Linke series.

Lau says that overall she “kept to a neutral palette to make the rooms appear larger and to emphasize their modernist furnishings.” “But Amy went far beyond paint chips and fabrics to sourcing pivotal design examples,” Helen says. Dominating the foyer is a Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand oak and enameled-metal shelving unit from the 1950s. Typically, such Prouvé-Perriand pieces are in a palette of black, yellow, and red, but this one is heightened by blue. “We purchased it from Tony DeLorenzo who was enormously helpful,” Helen Portugal says. DeLorenzo Gallery director Adriana Friedman adds, “We have never seen one in this exact shade of blue—it was probably a commission for a private residence.” Placed opposite the shelving is a George Nelson 1946 Platform bench for Herman Miller. “Everything works together because they are all icons of their period. Since Joel was in graphics, he understood from the beginning the importance of integrating balance in design, color, and line,” Lau says.

The loft area opposite the living room is a place for work and relaxation. The desk and desk chair are from B and B Italia. Patricia Urquiola designed the Fjord chair and ottoman for Moroso, as well as the Fergana tables in front of the Vitra sofa. On the 1960s table beside the sofa is an Otto Kolb table lamp, c.1950. The ceiling fixture is Foscarini’s Big Bang chandelier.

In the living room Lau reworked a brick fireplace wall by covering it in white stucco and building bookcases on either side, “so it’s the focus point to the room.” Over the fireplace is a 1940 Erik Nitsche lithograph for General Dynamics in brilliant red and yellow that provides a shot of color. The contemporary white ceiling fixtures by David Weeks give a Calderesque touch. Flanking the fireplace are Vladimir Kagan’s 1960 Swivel armchair number 524 and ottoman in a shade of citron and a classic Osvaldo Borsani P40 lounge chair designed in 1955 for the Alitalia lounge in Rome’s Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. Lau had the Borsani chair reupholstered in Tecno fabric in the original poppy red. On one wall hangs a George Nakashima walnut cabinet. The coffee table by Greta Magnusson Grossman for Glenn of California adds another nod to the 1950s and the small triangular Alexander Girard mirrored table, to the 1960s. The contemporary sofa is backed by Judy Ross needlepoint pillows with a design in homage to Sonia Delaunay. 

The living room opens into the dining area, which contains a contemporary Mira Nakashima walnut table surrounded by eight chairs in the vein of mid-century Australian designer Allan Gould’s Compass chairs.

Among the furnishings of the master bedroom are several pieces in walnut by George Nakashima and two Pierre Paulin Tulip chairs. Lau had the Edmund J. Spence 1950s Wave chests with undulating fronts lacquered in sea foam green.

Helen Portugal refers to the master bedroom as “our Nakashima room.” The bedside tables, chest of drawers, and a small table, all in walnut, are George Nakashima’s designs; the bench at the foot of the bed is a 1950 design by Jens Risom for Dual Modern. “We wanted two of a particular Pierre Paulin chair for the bedroom, but there was only one,” she says, referring to Paulin’s 1965 F545 Tulip chair for Artifort. “Within forty-eight hours, Amy had found a matching one in Paris.”

That sort of expertise from Lau and their taste have helped the Portugals fill their new country house with exemplars of postwar and modern design.

A Bird’s-Eye View of Modern Architecture


Photo courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York

Step into the gallery at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), and you are enveloped by song, melodic and enchanting. Look up, and you will see scale-model modern houses sitting high atop skinny tree trunks, almost as if they were, in fact, designed for very forward-thinking birds. All this might seem to be homage to something romantic, perhaps the way Case Study Houses appeared to cantilever over the edge of the land, but in fact they speak to far less idyllic moments in the history of architecture and social policy. Look closer, and you’ll see the varied metal screening covering windows, favela style, and you’ll notice that the wooden facades are mismatched—not glamorous at all. The birdhouses are the work of the artist Simon Starling, whose projects are embedded in research and offer surprising views of the modern world.

The two mahogany structures atop the poles were in fact designed after a failed public housing project built in the 1960s in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. At the time the houses were built, a kind of tropical optimism still reigned in Puerto Rico; even the poorest residents left their houses open. But, says Maria Elena Ortiz, a curatorial assistant at PAMM, all that changed as the island’s crime rate rose, and once-airy houses began to be turned into makeshift fortresses. “It’s a very complex story in terms of the history,” says Ortiz, who was also charged with writing the essay for the brochure that accompanies the installation of the birdhouses, a recent gift to the museum from Dennis and Debra Scholl.

The English-born Starling (he now lives in Denmark) sought to capture the glories and indignities, the successes and failures of such social programs in his Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA (House for a Songbird), which he created during a 2002 residency at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Starling first came to this idea during an earlier residency in Vienna where he was probing the works of the musician Arnold Schoenberg; from that he began to explore the connections between music and architecture, which in turn led him to the Austrian architect Simon Schmiderer, who—as Ortiz points out—was also inspired by Schoenberg. And in the 1960s, Starling discovered, Schmiderer had designed a social housing project in Puerto Rico. One thing clearly led to another.

Schmiderer’s housing, inspired in part by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was not only open in plan but open to the elements, but within a decade, the residents had begun to adapt the units to local customs and local needs, adding ornate screening and enclosures, “producing a dramatic visual contrast between the simple, rectangular doorways and windows and their individually designed baroque gates,” writes Ortiz in her explanatory essay.

Installed in a small gallery in the new Herzog and de Meuron-designed PAMM (and on view to September 14), Inverted Retrograde Theme USA has a powerful presence—enhanced by the bird melodies that sound like they are coming from within. The recorded birdsong conjures up memories of sultry island days and nights where one would be enveloped in the sounds of birds singing and frogs croaking, says Ortiz, herself a native of Puerto Rico. “It is highly poetic.” In Starling’s interpretation, “you wonder, who is being caged now?”
— by Beth Dunlop

Dream Job: Design Miami’s New Director


We talk to Rodman Primack about past, present, and future

By Beth Dunlop

Andrew Meredith photo

Rodman Primack became executive director of Design Miami this past March, succeeding Marianne Goebl. He comes to the job with a rich history in the design world. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the interior design firm of Peter Marino, and then went on to work at Christie’s, run the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, and restart Phillips in London. He was later director of auctions at the online-only Paddle8, and now heads his own multifaceted art and design consulting firm, RP Miller, along with its subsidiary RP Miller Textiles.

This summer’s Design Miami/Basel, which runs from June 17 to 22 and features forty-eight design galleries, is Primack’s debut. For the show, he is inaugurating a new program called Design at Large, which will be curated by the creative director of Barney’s New York, Dennis Freedman, and consist of large-scale design installations proposed by Design Miami’s exhibition galleries. Ranging from an homage to historic modern interiors to a monumental display using digital technology and from the playful to the serious—all exhibited outside the more confined gallery spaces—the installations (most of them interactive), add a new dimension to Design Miami, which in Basel is housed in a new building designed by Herzog and de Meuron and completed in 2013. In its tradition of commissioning a large-scale work from an architect or designer early in his or her career, Design Miami/Basel will also feature an interactive light sculpture by New Yorker Jamie Zigelbaum entitled Triangular Series, a translucent acrylic installation that uses high-powered LEDs, advanced sensors, and software to create what is described as a “luminous respiratory system” that allows interaction both between the various stalactite-like pieces and between the observers and the installation.

Recently MODERN Magazine caught up with Primack for a conversation.
MODERN: In some ways, this seems like a job that is tailor-made for you because it brings together so many of your skills in the auction and gallery worlds as well as your talents as a designer (not to mention a blogger and writer). Is it a dream come true? 
Rodman Primack: Yes, you could say this is an ideal job for me. I have always been a huge fan of Design Miami and I am probably one of the few people who has such a round view of the fair in specific (having worn collector, advisor and exhibitor hats—at both Design Miami and Art Basel) and in general, from my previous lives as you mentioned.  I love that my role at Design Miami really brings together every area of interest and professional experience in my life like an intricate origami—if we can just figure out how to do the fair on a ski slope it will all be covered!

What in your upbringing led you to design?  Tell us a little bit about your past.
Firstly, I am a fifth-generation Californian, and I don’t think you can have that much California in you and not have an innate sense of aesthetics—the West Coast and the Rocky Mountain valley where I was raised are just too beautiful not to be in your visual DNA. I do not come from a “collecting” family but one that has always lived un-selfconsciously in great houses and gardens with excellent food. I was heavily influenced by my grandparents’ innate style in all they did and by their specific interests in architecture, engineering, and design. They commissioned a house by Case Study architect Carl Maston, where I spent much of my childhood, and they were best friends for sixty years with Al Martin whose firm designed the iconic Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Building. I was aware early that some things were more beautiful than others….From the moment I could hold a pencil I was drawing and thinking about buildings, furniture, fashion…in short, design. 

Eske Rex’s 2009 Drawing Machine is Galerie Maria Wettergren’s contribution to the new Design at Large program at Design Miami/Basel. Courtesy of the gallery and Joseph Barnett Photo.

You are taking over Design Miami at a high moment. What are your aspirations for it in the future? 
Oh my, I think it is too early to really say. I need more time to be in this organization before I can truly understand it and how I might like to grow and change it. It would be different if it were a mess, but it is the exact opposite, and the market is getting stronger every day. I feel rather lucky—fundamentally the fair is great, the level of quality and range of material are unparalleled. But just off the top of my head I would love to see more deco and before too long I would like to feel like we really have the twentieth century covered. Certainly I feel like the twenty-first century is pretty well represented, but I hope we can be ever more supportive and involved in new and experimental projects.
Do you see a shift in direction at all?  Or a widening (or narrowing) of the scope?  What are your ambitions for Design Miami?  
I am personally not only interested in the limited edition collectible design market, I am also interested in a bigger conversation that includes broad definitions of the decorative arts, in the excellent design we see in some unlimited production pieces as well as in technology and science….It is all design, but how that will come to affect Design Miami remains to be seen. I can say I have never been afraid of experimenting and making mistakes—what I like is interest, conversation, and growth. 

Gallery Libby Sellers is presenting Wrapped Architecture 020514 of 2014 by Anton Alvarez.

You are also a specialist in Latin American art and design. Do you foresee a stronger Latin American presence at Design Miami in the future?  
Not due to me directly. I think there is growing interest in the global market for work from Latin America, whether art or design or music—certainly Brazil’s emergence in this decade as a major economy has allowed people to see it and the region as a whole in a new light. Of course amazing things have been happening there for the last eighty-plus years but I think many people are still just discovering the rich history of modernism there. And yet there is so much more to see and uncover everywhere.  I do believe the market is increasingly global and we hope to be part of making it more so every day. In a way, the language of design is global yet local, and those local voices are exciting to see and foster and translate to a global audience. 

One of the bigger challenges of your career so far was relaunching the then-closed Phillips auction house in London. Can you tell us about that?
I have to say that working with the team to relaunch Phillips in London was to date my most rewarding professional experience. Truly it was a huge job and yet was so much fun—one has to remember that it was during an ebullient moment in the market and world. I am glad that I have also learned quite a bit since then and have much clearer ideas about what I think works and what doesn’t…yet I have not lost my fearlessness, in the sense that I don’t think it is ever worth just playing it safe, things have to be a risk in order to be interesting.

Tell us a bit about your career as a designer. You did a recent line of textiles, right?
Yes, the textiles were for my interiors firm RP Miller. I love textiles and have always collected them. The RP Miller textile line grew organically out of a big residential project we did for clients in Hawaii, where we either designed or commissioned most everything beyond the incredible collection of furniture and art we helped them collect along the way—everything from Joaquim Tenrerio to Jean Royère and Atelier van Lieshout. My work as a designer has always been with just a couple of clients who are basically interested in collecting contemporary art and design, and so we create environments with them and for them while we help build collections—it feels natural and organic.

Several fabrics from the textile line Primack launched in 2011. Courtesy MANUFOTO.COM.

What do you personally collect? Do you have a proudest possession?
I think the word collector is over-applied, and I think that although we are lucky to be living with beautiful things I wouldn’t say I have the focus and discipline to be the kind of collector I respect. I am too emotional and excited and lose focus. However we do have wonderful pieces—from a Michele de Lucchi Memphis table to a Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh chair—and art works by Gabriel Orozco, Dario Escobar, José Kuri, Marylin Minter, Carlos Amorales, Ugo Rondinone, and avaf [assume vivid astro focus], among others.



Norman Timbs Special, 1947. Courtesy of Gary and Diane Cerveny/Peter Harholdt photo.

In search of a (vicarious) thrill ride? Make your way to the High Museum in Atlanta, where curator Sarah Schleuning’s exhibition Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas is on view until September 7. Featuring some of the rarest and most imaginative automobiles ever built, the show includes seventeen “concept” cars from the 1930s to 2001—cars that represented (and represent) the amazing possibilities for the future of driving.

Built by automakers, custom coachbuilders, and independent designers, most concept cars are never intended for series production but rather are the testing ground for innovations that might find expression in automobiles produced decades later. William Stout’s 1936 Scarab, for instance (which he envisioned as essentially a living room on wheels), could be considered the grandfather of today’s minivan, while “L’Oeuf électrique,” a small, almost spherical electric “bubble car” designed in 1942 by Frenchman Paul Arzens for his personal use during the German occupation of Paris, anticipated the postwar boom for fuel-efficient mini-cars.

Chrysler’s sleek 1940 Thunderbolt offered a radical aerodynamic aluminum body, hidden headlights, enclosed wheels, a retractable one-piece metal hardtop (controlled by push buttons on the dashboard, which was leather- covered and featured round, etched Lucite dials), and an experimental semiautomatic overdrive transmission. Mechanical engineer Norman Timbs hand-built his gorgeous 1947 Special, a futuristic doorless roadster capable of more than a hundred miles an hour. General Motors’ 1953 Firebird I was the first gas turbine-powered automobile built and tested in the U.S. In essence a wingless jet plane for the road, it never took off for myriad technical reasons. Then, there was the three-wheeled Runabout with a built-in shopping cart.

These are just a few of the autos that make up the story told in Dream Cars. In addition to the cars, the exhibition includes conceptual drawings, patents, and scale models. The accompanying catalogue is gorgeously illustrated and packed with every bit of information you could possibly want about these dream machines, built and unbuilt. If you’re a car person and can’t get to the show, the book alone is a must-have.
— By Eleanor Gustafson

Taking Risks in Creative Design


Goldner (left) and Geva in the chicken-house-turned-foam factory on Kibbutz Reshafim in Israel where they sometimes work.

An innovative duo combines industrial techniques with craftsmanship and high design

Designers Gal Goldner and Iftah Geva thrive on pushing boundaries—not only merging technology with design concepts, but also working without a designated studio or schedule. The two men create complex furniture, jewelry, and sculpture at night and on weekends in a diverse trio of locations in Israel—their laptop computers at home; a former chicken coop-turned-polystyrene-foam facility on their northern kibbutz; and a drone aircraft factory in the south of the country. “Each location serves a particular purpose and we work whenever we can,” Goldner says. “The computer is essential for our original three-dimensional designs, and the other places offer the specialized machinery we need, from the unique wood CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling machine to the equipment for the final polishing by hand.”

The duo’s Solar Plexus table of birch wood and carbon fiber, like the Jihad table, was created over a period of three years, and first shown at the New York Salon in 2012.

Unknown to the design world before 2012, Geva and Goldner had developed techniques for carving local woods into undulating curves and organic shapes, animated by industrial carbon fiber. They were discovered on a trip to Israel by Daniella Ohad, a New York–based design historian and consultant and director of the collecting design program at the New York School of Interior Design. Ohad recalls that she was impressed by their unusual choice of materials. “The result is a unique, personal aesthetic that can be defined as a fusion of two opposites—high tech and craft—but with the hand of the makers always visible in the sleek, streamlined forms,” she says. “Efforts to adopt materials and technologies from other sophisticated sectors to design is seen everywhere, but Goldner and Geva have done it successfully.” She compares the way they have used technologies from the drone industry for their furniture designs to Charles Eames, who famously adopted the molded plywood he had used in developing leg splints for the U.S. Navy to his furniture.

Born thirty-seven years ago on neighboring kibbutzim in Israel’s fertile Beit She’an Valley beneath Mount Gilboa, Geva and Goldner had comparable experiences growing up close to nature and helping out in the kibbutz fields, chicken coops, and fish farms. They also learned their way around tools: “I tried welding in the blacksmith’s shop at the age of twelve,” Geva says. Both recognize the influence of their early surroundings and later travels on their creativity. “I think the abstract inspiration for our work comes from within us—from where we grew up and what we absorb in our lives,” Goldner adds.

The two met after high school and went on to serve in the same unit for their mandatory army service. Afterward they toured Australia together by motorcycle and Jeep and then Goldner continued on to New Zealand followed by ten months in Chicago. Geva, meanwhile, returned to Israel and worked in a drone aircraft factory, where he honed his knowledge of machinery and metalworking. He also discovered the fabric-like material carbon fiber: “I was fascinated by its light and flexible properties,” he says. “I saw the creative possibilities of using it in combination with wood.” He enrolled in the industrial design program at the Holon Institute of Technology, in Israel where he found the first year enlightening and stimulating but was disappointed by the second year’s practical aspects. He left, brimming with ideas and armed with the belief that he could create remarkable pieces marrying art, design, and function, unshackled by tradition.

Goldner, back in Israel and studying mechanical engineering, cut back on his courses (it took him two additional years to graduate) to partner with Geva in forming a company they called GGI to implement their ideas. They produced a number of successful, innovative products, including one for chopping onions without tears, a next-generation playground, a drone-launcher, and more.

The black and white kinetic sculpture is titled Relations to symbolize human connections of different kinds. Measuring one meter in diameter, the sculpture is constructed of painted carbon fiber that has been polished to a high gloss. Internal weights help balance it at a critical angle.

Nowadays they divide their time between two enterprises: Life Assistant Ltd., which designs technologies and products to aid the disabled and elderly and GoldnerGeva, which focuses on design and art—furniture, jewelry, and sculpture. Geva is the artist and designer while Goldner handles the studio’s business side, but they share decision-making and the practical aspects of sculpting and sanding.

The first furniture collection from GoldnerGeva received outstanding reviews at the New York Salon: Art and Design show in 2012. Their Inside Out series of three tables embodies their personal philosophy of balance and harmony in work and life. Each represents a different aspect of deep inner search transformed into matter. The fifty-one-inch diameter Solar Plexus table represents different levels of the mind expressed as a perfect circle, but concealing corners and empty spaces. It began as a thousand pounds of thick sheets of raw birch plywood and took two thousand hours to complete. Ninety-five percent of the original material was meticulously sculpted away to create spaces that were reinforced with carbon fiber painted black. “There were times when we were faced with the unexpected complexity of the process,” Goldner says. “Instead of discarding it, though, we kept innovating and turned it to an advantage.”

Geva chose olive wood for the Jihad table, taking the literal translation of the word jihad—“effort”—to represent the spiritual sense of human beings aspiring to inner balance. The table requires effort to maintain equilibrium when placing objects on its top. The Anicca table, still in model form, represents the Buddhist term implying constant change. Its sculptural curves transform from dark to light, inside out and from top to bottom.

“Their work is so much on the cusp of what can be done that some pieces couldn’t be completed until technology caught up with their design concepts,” says Robert Aibel, owner and director of Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, which represents the pair. “Their use of beautiful wood and organic design elements clearly relate to the work of Nakashima, Esherick, Maloof, Ebner, and Castle in our gallery.”

Geva and Goldner’s first bracelet, seen here in two views, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

When Israeli-based multidisciplinary artist Ilana Goor saw Geva and Goldner’s tables at Moderne, she suggested that they apply their furniture techniques to creating jewelry. Their first bracelet was acquired by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design in 2012, and in 2013 they launched a second series of jewelry in olive wood and carbon fiber, some of which incorporates gold inlaid into the wood grain.

Dale Anderson, a noted collector and co-founder of the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA), which promotes Israeli artists in the United States, says: “It is tremendously exciting to see such sophisticated contemporary design and craftsmanship coming out of Israel. This small country is producing many talented designers in different fields.”

Geva and Goldner continue to develop new furniture forms, including a pair of stools, and they say they are planning a second series of tables to be called Duo to symbolize the relationships between couples. Meanwhile, their kinetic sculpture, launched in New York in May 2014, presents their latest challenge to the ways we perceive the boundaries of design.

— By Helen Hill

A Well-Stated Place


The London-based designer Philip Michael Wolfson filled his mid-century Miami Beach apartment with treasures of its own era
By Beth Dunlop
Photos by Robin Hill

After he moved into his mid-century building in Miami Beach, Philip Michael Wolfson began to scour open-air antiques sales, flea markets, and thrift shops to fill it—thus many of the pieces in his apartment lack specific provenance. The Eero Saarinen Tulip table and chairs were a thrift shop score from a period when the demand for modern furniture was not as strong. The living room sofas were a kind of hand-me-down from an apartment Wolfson designed for Swiss clients in a nearby Miami Beach condominium. When the clients sold their apartment, he was able to reuse the large-scale Italian sectionals. The rug, a junk-shop find, is Scandinavian.

Italian glass and an acrylic sculpture sit atop a table that Wolfson calls an “homage to Noguchi.”

IN 1957, WHEN BELLE TOWERS OPENED, the apartments came fully furnished (if you wished) with interiors by a society decorator no less. There was seven-day maid service, a round-the-clock doorman, modern all-electric “dream” kitchens, plus “speed” elevators, car washers, and porters. “Belle Towers apartments are not to be compared to any other apartments,” read one 1957-era advertisement that expounded: “A private estate would serve as a better comparison…the quiet seclusion required for refined gracious living is zealously guard- ed by the carefully selected staff of Belle Towers.”

Conceived as a luxury rental building with a lot of panache, the building itself is a bit of a Miami Beach icon, designed by Robert Swartburg, whose other works include the famed Delano Hotel and the just-renovated Vagabond Motel. Another advertisement pronounced it the “Established Address of Prestige.” Today in the lively South Beach, “quiet seclusion” is a glimmer of a memory. But the eight-story Belle Towers, now flanked by bigger and taller buildings, remains a prime and almost-untouched example of Miami’s best mid-century architecture.

In fact, it was one of the few buildings that the London-based designer Philip Michael Wolfson considered when he shopped for an apartment in Miami. And though Wolfson’s formal interests as a designer revolve around the dynamic forms of futurism and its contemporary interpretation in furniture and sculpture, he wanted to live in the Miami of a particular era—and in a building that was an icon of that time. A great aunt had lived in Belle Towers back in the “refined gracious living” days, so he had strong childhood images of it. “The building is exactly what I remembered about Miami,” he says.

An American by birth, Wolfson had moved to London when he was still in architecture school and stayed. But the time came when he yearned for “a place in the states.” At Belle Towers, he found a one-bedroom unit that was basically unchanged. It still had its original bathrooms and kitchen, which featured (and still does) a Frigidaire Flair Custom Imperial countertop oven and range. “It’s still the original apartment,” he says. “Really, I just stripped the floors.”

Cuban-born Gilberto Ruiz painted the toreador who presides over the Wendell Castle Castle chair in the bedroom.

He filled the space with fine examples of modern design—much of it found through serendipity at Lincoln Road’s Sunday antiques and collectibles market or in thrift shops, pieces more readily nabbed by astute buyers in the 1990s—to create a rich but spare aesthetic. “Absolutely, I found treasures,” he says. “Everyone did. Those were the days.” The furniture ranges from an Eero Saarinen Tulip dining table and chairs to two Wendell Castle Molar chairs in the living room and a Castle chair in one corner of the bedroom. There’s an Aldo Tura side table, Swedish chests, an American 1950s desk, a set of Noguchi “homage” tables, a table by Richard Schultz for Knoll, and two Charles and Ray Eames Aluminum Group chairs for Herman Miller. The porch features a few family hand-me-downs from his cousin, the collector and museum-founder Mitchell Wolfson Jr.

To all this, Wolfson added in “lots of objects,” in wood and glass especially, plus works by African, Cuban, and African-American artists, notably Gilberto Ruiz, who is Cuban-born but works in New York, and the late Purvis Young, who despite fairly widespread national recognition continued to work as he always had in his back-street studio spaces in central Miami. “I was drawn to their figurative qualities,” Wolfson says.

Wolfson spent his childhood in such cities as Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles—wherever his father’s career as a rocket engineer took the family. In his third year at Cornell University, he decided to study abroad and enrolled in the Architectural Association in London. “And I realized that the AA was what I wanted—more design-oriented and less engineering-oriented.”

As luck would have it, he was hired for a summer job by a then-little-known emerging architect named Zaha Hadid, a professor of his. He was one of two designers she hired for her tiny office that year, and the work was largely competitions (most of which they won). “That summer,” Wolfson recalls, “was a very important summer.” One thing led to another and Wolfson stayed as Hadid’s career grew, then founded his own firm, Wolfson Design. London became home, along with Zurich, where his longtime partner Beat Raaflaub, lives. Miami makes three.

The designer of the mid-century American desk is unknown; the chairs are Charles and Ray Eames Aluminum Group for Herman Miller.

His career has taken Wolfson around the world. The Shanghai gallerist Pearl Lam has long represented him (and has displayed his work at Design Miami shows). Not long ago, he created the furniture for Robert, the restaurant in the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. In recent years he’s shown his work in such divergent locations as London, Lake Como, and Miami. There’s a range, from interiors to furniture to what he likes to call “functional sculpture” (most typically one-off or extremely limited editions) to sculpture itself. “Futurism is what interests me most, and postwar abstraction, the development of contemporary art from its beginnings,” he says, “mostly minimalism and motion. The dynamic of motion interests me, and the fluidity of it. I just like to give it more speed.”

For the most part, one might not sense that from his Belle Towers apartment, where only small pieces of Wolfson’s own design, some RSVP candleholders and a maquette among them, are on view. Yet when he sits just so in the living room and looks past the Molar chairs and the bronze sculpture and catches a glimpse of the Noguchi-esque tables, he sees a “continuation of the dynamic,” he says. “It’s all there.”

Reminder: NYC Makers at MAD


Misha Kahn photo courtesy of MAD

NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial, an exhibition that spotlights the creative communities thriving across New York’s boroughs today opens on July 1 (to October 12) at the Museum of Arts and Design. It’s the first exhibition to be organized under the leadership of MAD’s new director Glenn Adamson (see MODERN, Spring 2014, pp. 132-137) and will showcase the work of approximately one hundred highly inventive artisans, artists, and designers who create objects or environments through exquisite workmanship and skill. Exemplifying the museum’s ongoing commitment to craftsmanship across all creative fields, the exhibition will serve as a platform not only for makers who typically display their work in a museum setting, but also those who operate behind the scenes. — by Cynthia Drayton

Looking Forward: Finland in the 21st Century


A new exhibition in Minneapolis explores contemporary Finnish design
By Mason Riddle

Bagley Nature Center, University of Minnesota-Duluth, designed by Finnish-American architect David Salmela, 2010.

Who doesn’t covet an Alvar Aalto bentwood Paimio chair? And what’s not to like about Iittala glassware designed by Aino Aalto, or Kaj Franck’s iconic mid-century Teema ceramic cup for Arabia, or a striking stretch of Marimekko fabric? And those orange-handled scissors by Fiskars are everywhere. Of course we embrace these things: they are all twentieth-century examples of Finnish design burned into our aesthetic consciousness.

Innovative, elegant, and to-the-point design has long been Finland’s international calling card, and the new exhibition Finland: Designed Environments at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts provocatively reinforces this idea. Organized by Jennifer Komar Olivarez, MIA’s associate curator of decorative arts, it is the first in-depth museum exhibition in the United States since the 1990s to explore Finnish design. It takes us well beyond the twentieth-century object and thrusts us into the more comprehensive notions of twenty-first-century Finnish design.

“The legacy of Finnish design runs deep,” Olivarez says. “It is a step above what we normally consider good design. The Finns continually find ways to improve upon design ideas of the past and always ask how design can meet the needs of the people. How can design address the problems of today?”

Designed Environments handily demonstrates the ways in which, over the last fifteen years, the Finns have incorporated thoughtful design into virtually every aspect of their daily lives. Accompanied by a well-illustrated catalogue, with essays by Olivarez, Jukka Savolainen, director of the Design Museum, Helsinki, and Juulia Kauste, director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, the show is divided into five thematic areas: “The City Redefined”; “Relax, Recharge, and Reflect”; “Artful Living”; “Design and the Body”; and “New Design Realities.” Topics addressed include the ways in which urban design is reshaping the quality of Finnish life; the significance of summer homes, saunas, and recreation to Finnish notions of well-being; how well-designed domestic objects are integral to daily life; contemporary ideas of fashion; and innovations in areas of sensory design, graphic design, food, and systems design.

Birch Octo 4240 lamp designed by Seppo Koho, 2005, manufactured by Secto Design, Espoo, Finland.

Helsinki was designated the World Design Capital 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, an award that highlights accomplishments of cities that use design to improve social, cultural, and economic life. Designed Environments will feature several projects from this event, including photographs of the 2012 pavilion, designed by Pyry-Pekka Kantonen and the Aalto University Wood Program as a temporary “living room.”

Several other architectural designs are also represented, including Olavi Koponen’s Sauna and the Kamppi Chapel of Silence by Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola, and Mikko Summanen. Bridging Finnish and American design thinking is the Bagley Nature Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, designed by Finnish-American architect David Salmela.

In terms of objects, Olivarez says, “Alvar Aalto’s legacy of strong, clean lines with an organic feel in form and material is still apparent in Finnish design. However, ideas of creative sustainability and non-material design are increasingly explored.” The Orange Box chair by Hannu Kähönen, for example, is made from wooden fruit crates to draw consumers’ attention to waste and recycling. Japanese architect and designer Shigeru Ban, recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize and globally renowned for his sustainable design thinking, has created a modular 10-Unit System chair that is manufactured of recycled material by the legendary Helsinki design company Artek, founded by the Aaltos in the 1930s.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Helsinki, by K2S Architects (Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola, and Mikko Summanen), Helsinki, 2008–2012.

The array of innovative functional objects includes Esa Vesmanen’s sleek Balance chair, a chaise longue that integrates a personalized audio system into its “sound pillow.” Savoy, a limited edition ceramic dinner service by Karin Widnäs, honors the seventy-fifth anniversary of the still celebrated Aalto-designed Savoy Restaurant. The long tradition of Finnish textiles is continued by Vallila Interior’s colorful fabrics, screened with images that bring elements of the outdoors inside. Two bicycle designs, so important to the twenty-first-century city, make an engaging appearance, including the 2000 update of the classic 1965 Jopo.

“One of my favorite pieces in the show is the Sukupuu (Family Tree) Maternity Package,” Olivarez says. “The World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 wanted a fresh new design for a maternity package, and a student, Johanna Öst Häggblom, won the competition. It’s not necessarily the first thing people think of when they think of contemporary design, but it has everything needed for a newborn and shows how design is a part of the lives of even the youngest Finnish citizens.” Affectionately called the “baby box,” it is distributed to new parents by Kela, the Social Insurance Institution.

Olivarez is also inspired by contemporary Finnish lighting design. She notes that the Octo 4240 by Seppo Koho “shows how wood is used in ways that we don’t think of for lighting—as the integral fixture and shade.” Likewise, she thinks the Kubo light therapy lamp by Eero Aarnio “will be revelatory, since most of the lamps treating SAD [seasonal affective disorder] available in the U.S. look like makeup mirrors. Innojok, the manufacturer has really evolved the SAD lamp from medical equipment to sculptural lighting.” Mikko Kärkkäinen’s birch LED1 lamp is futuristic in feel but made from wood, perhaps Finland’s most revered design material.

Sense Light swing designed by Alexander Lervik, 2005, manufactured by
Saas Instruments, Helsinki.

Information technology plays a role in Designed Environments too. Who knew that what may be Finland’s biggest worldwide export, the video game Angry Birds, was designed by Jaakko Iisalo in 2009?

But what might be the quintessential twenty-first-century object in this cornucopia of Finnish design is the Sense Light swing by Swedish designer Alexander Lervik, made from acrylic and LED lights by Helsinki’s Saas Instruments. In a country that spends much of the year in darkness, what better way to generate a little breeze and the sensation of a shooting star on a warm summer night?

Smiljan Radic’s Serpentine Galleries Commission


External indicative CGI © 2014 Smiljan Radic Studio

Internal indicative CGI © 2014 Smiljan Radic Studio

Architect Smiljan Radic becomes the fourteenth architect commissioned by the Serpentine to design a pavilion outside the entrance to its Kensington Gardens gallery. Conceived in 2000 by director Julia Peyton-Jones, the Pavilion project has presented works by highly prestigious architects and become an important site for architectural experimentation. Radic’s design references his earlier work, much of which resides in his native Chile, but also speaks to the architectural traditions of England. “The Serpentine 2014 Pavilion is part of the history of small romantic constructions seen in parks or large gardens, the so-called follies, which were hugely popular from the end of the sixteenth century to the start of the nineteenth,” Radic says. His semi-transparent cylindrical structure atop large quarry stones resembles a shell and encloses a flexible, multipurpose social space with a cafe?. During its four-month tenure (June 26 to October 19), it will provide a venue for the Serpentine’s Park Nights series— interdisciplinary events combining art, poetry, music, film, literature, and theory. The pavilion itself will offer additional enticement for visitors at night, Radic says—the amber-tinted light showing through the translucent shell “will attract the attention of passers-by like lamps attracting moths.”
— by Sara Spink

Cape Cod Modern


The Race Against Time to Save an Overlooked Legacy
By Susan Morgan

The Kugel/Gips house in Wellfleet, designed by Charles Zehnder, 1970, has been restored by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust. Courtesy of Raimund Koch photos.

In 1959 Massachusetts Senators John F. Kennedy and Leverett Saltonstall introduced legislation to create the Cape Cod National Seashore—a plan to preserve 44,600 acres of wild and fragile coastal land along a forty-mile stretch of the Outer Cape, a sublime and mutable terrain comprised of windswept beaches, parabolic sand dunes, salt marshes, creeks, ponds, and pine barrens. When the proposed legislation passed in 1961, President Kennedy signed it into law, and the existing buildings within the newly designated park’s boundaries fell into what architect Peter McMahon, founding director of the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, describes as “an administrative limbo.” Although the federal government acquired the land through eminent domain, the structures were leased back to their owners under a twenty-five-year agreement; at the end of the lease period, the buildings were slated for demolition and the land was to be left to nature.“The Park Service owned all these buildings, most of which were abandoned,” says McMahon who has been steadily identifying the Outer Cape’s important cache of derelict or overlooked mid-century architecture.

McMahon, principal of South Wellfleet-based PM Design, had studied in Boston and started his career in New York but always migrated back to the Outer Cape. “When I was ten, my parents hired Charlie Zehnder [one of the region’s most prolific self-taught architects] to do a summer house for us in Wellfleet,” he recalls. “Growing up in that modern house, I was fascinated by it.” In 2006 McMahon and Bob Bailey, a Truro-based artist, co-curated A Chain of Events: Modernist Architecture on the Outer Cape, Marcel Breuer to Charles Jencks for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. As their initial exhibition concept expanded from simply photographing abandoned houses to collecting archival material, producing new architectural models, and selecting local art from the postwar period, the idea for the Cape Cod Modern House Trust evolved. Meeting with Bill Burke, historian for the park, McMahon began to pore over binders filled with blurry images of endangered structures still standing throughout the National Seashore and tracked down any place that displayed a “flat-ish roof” and a whiff of modernism. While inspecting the 1970 Kugel/Gips house—with its rotting wooden decks and weather-beaten plate glass—McMahon quickly recognized Zehnder’s architecture. “Bill told me if I had a nonprofit organization, the park could lease the building to it and I could figure out what to do with it,” McMahon says. “So I filed for a creative 501(c)(3) and that was it.”

Established in 2007 as a grassroots or­ganization, the trust has obtained leases for three of the surviving modern houses on the federally owned seashore. Working with an extraordinary range of volunteers, donors, and support from the Community Preservation Act, a Massachusetts initiative dedicated to preserving historic sites and open spaces, restoration has been completed on the Kugel/Gips house, the Hatch house (1962), and the Weidlinger house (1953). During the spring and autumn, the houses are used to host a residency program for artists and scholars; in the summer, they are rented to appreciative modernist aficionados or traditional nature lovers and offered to trust members as a premium. “The summer rentals make a huge difference,” McMahon admits. “If we’re able to get a building on its feet, it supports itself and we don’t have to fund-raise our entire budget every year.”

Overlooking Cape Cod Bay in Wellfleet, the Hatch house, designed by Jack Hall, 1960, has been restored by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust. By Koch photos.

Since the early twentieth century, the Outer Cape has attracted unconventional holiday makers—avant-garde circles of artists, writers, and designers with a reverence for rustic living and progressive ideas. As writer Mary Heaton Vorse, a 1920s Greenwich Village radical and long-time resident of Provincetown, observed in 1942, “People here have been nourished by beauty and change and danger.” Thus came houses and studios that rested lightly on the land, constructed with a knack for improvisation: the “Paper Palace,” a nautical moderne beach house (1938), was made out of reclaimed timber and Homasote fiberboard; a chicken coop artfully repurposed as a string of sleeping huts provided inspiration for the refined modular grid of the Hatch house; and Bernard Rudofsky, the influential architect and social critic, summered in a primitive cabin, a remnant from a defunct Girl Scout camp. Beginning in the late 1930s an extraordinary wave of European émigré architects and designers—including Marcel Breuer, Serge Chermayeff, and Olav Hammarström—settled in the area; the homes they made for themselves provided an idyllic escape, laboratories for testing design prototypes, and a social roundelay of cocktail parties and invigorating conversation.

Hatch house porch by Koch photos.

In addition to restoring endangered houses, the Cape Cod Modern House Trust has identified and archived information about nearly one hundred local “modern houses of interest.” In July Metropolis Books will publish Cape Cod Modern: Midcentury Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape, a vibrant cultural history that considers how time, place, and intersecting lives coalesced to generate the built environment. Co-authored by McMahon and Christine Cipriani, a Boston-based writer and Wellfleet summer resident, the pages of Cape Cod Modern brim with captivating images, original scholar­ship, un­expected legacies, and humorous anecdotes. Central to the trust’s mission, the authors state in their introduction, “is the notion that buildings and landscapes bear cultural memories.” In Cape Cod Modern, those cultural memories have been preserved with great dedication and joy.

Celebrating the first half century of a master woodworker’s life


Courtesy Moderne Gallery

It is safe to say that David N. Ebner was born to work in wood. Among his earliest recollections—as recounted in a new book on his work—are the hours spent in his father’s workshop, where, by the age of nine, he had made his own baseball bat. Beginning in 1964, as a student at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen he studied with Wendell Castle and William Keyser and began to identify himself as an artist-craftsman.

Not quite fifty years later, Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery is mounting a major retrospective of Ebner’s work. The exhibition, which opens April 25, includes more than sixty chests, stools, chairs, mirrors, desks, benches, and consoles that, taken together, paint a portrait of the designer’s craft. Robert Aibel, the founder of Moderne and a leading expert in the American studio furniture movement, has represented Ebner for more than a decade. “He forged a style of his own from the very beginning and has never allowed himself to stop evolving,” Aibel writes in his foreword to the lively and wide-ranging newly published David Ebner: Studio Furniture, by Nancy N. Schiffer. “It is exciting to present David’s sculptural furniture as he is constantly developing his own ideas and styles in fascinating ways, Aibel says.”

Ebner likes to call his designs “antiques of the future.” Because he often draws on traditional forms but remakes them in a thoroughly contemporary way, he sees them as “classical impressions” in which he relies on the forms of the past but removes the embellishments.

His work, most often in fine hardwoods, melds sculpture and furniture, art, and craft. It is sometimes graceful and delicate and sometimes far sturdier and more forceful. His Twisted Sticks series from the mid-1990s incorporates naturalistic forms drawn from his observations of the way honeysuckle vines wrap around themselves. His scallion- and onion-inspired chests and coat racks (he says they are among his favorites) are at once witty and timeless. His elegant, highly articulated Sternum series—it includes both a music stand and a dictionary stand along with tables and chairs—was inspired by looking at the bones of a duck he had eaten for dinner. Although he is versatile, his most recognizable pieces usually stand on improbably slender splayed legs and have precise joinery.

Courtesy Moderne Gallery

A dovetailed joint stool he made shortly after settling in Eastern Long Island (first in Blue Point, then Brookhaven, and finally Bellport) was selected for the 1975 exhibition Craft Multiples at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and was later selected for the museum’s collection. Dated 1974, it is now known as the Renwick Stool and signaled the start of Ebner’s success and recognition. Another 1974 piece, a rocking horse made of carved Douglas fir and German yellow pine, was selected for the juried exhibition Bed and Board at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Moderne’s exhibition, entitled David N. Ebner: 50 Years of Studio Furniture, traces all this and much more. It runs through June 30.
– by Beth Dunlop

“DAVID EBNER: 50 YEARS OF STUDIO FURNITURE” has been extended through August 15, 2014

Open House


The restored Kraus house in Saint Louis is a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Gem
By Joanne Kohn and Laura Meyer

The open living and dining area of the Kraus house with the central hearth as well as the furniture and built-ins designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Kristen Peterson.

Another view of the open living and dining areas, with the terrace doors to the left. The art pottery on the shelves was collected after the house was made into a museum.

For decades, Ruth and Russell Kraus lived quietly in their small modern house in Kirkwood, a Saint Louis suburb. Few people other than their friends and acquaintances even knew that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright treasure tucked into the secluded wooded site. But the house built between 1951 and 1955 for the Krauses, she a lawyer and he an artist, is not only exemplary of Wright’s work and way of thinking but also stands as testimony to what can happen when a small but determined group of people bands together to preserve historic architecture.

After Ruth Kraus died in 1992, Russell realized he needed to sell the house and agreed to a plan to preserve it as a Frank Lloyd Wright museum. A nonprofit organization was formed and, after an eight-year effort, $1.7 million was raised to purchase the house, its original furniture, memorabilia, and ten and a half acres as of January 18, 2001.

Today Ruth and Russell Kraus’s house is owned by Saint Louis County and operated as a house museum by the nonprofit Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, the name also formally bestowed on the house. The property it sits on is a county park named for Alec W. and Bernice W. Ebsworth, the parents of philanthropist Barney Ebsworth.

Wright began designing his Usonian houses in the 1930s for middle income clients with the understanding that these modest and economical dwellings would be integrated into the surrounding landscape. This is particularly true with the Kraus house, which is sited in a lovely grove of persimmon trees and nestled into a hillside surrounded by woods and grassy fields.

To reduce costs in his Usonian houses, Wright advocated a simplified approach to construction and a paring down of elements. He developed a “unit system” method of design based on geometric shapes—squares, rectangles, equilateral triangles, hexagons, and parallelograms. For the Kraus house, he used intersecting parallelograms with 60 and 120 degree angles, which created geometric intricacies and dynamic spaces.

The Kraus house has all the elements that Wright considered essential. True to Wright’s Usonian concept, the floor plan is open, including a living room, with a large central hearth, and shared dining area looking out onto vistas of the persimmon grove and woods beyond. The living and dining space opens onto an adjacent, efficient kitchen, and what Wright called the “work space.” The bedrooms are small, typical for Usonians, but the Kraus house is one of the few Wright houses in which the shapes of the beds conform to the geometry of the house. The entire house features built-in furniture, storage, bookshelves, and indirect lighting. It is efficiently warmed by radiant heat, with hot water flowing through pipes embedded in the concrete slab. The Krauses made no structural changes and retained all the original furnishings, making the house an exceptional historical document as well as rare in a world where change is constant.

Like other Usonians, Wright designed the house without a basement, attic, interior trim, radiators, overhead lighting, gutters, downspouts, or a garage (a carport was sufficient). Materials are the same inside and out: brick, concrete, tidewater red cypress, and glass. The interior walls are of wood board-and-batten construction, requiring no paint or plaster.

This expansive view of the house from the southwest gives a sense of the dynamic angles of Wright’s design. The motor court is on the right, with the tool house at the end.

The architectural attributes and historical importance of the Kraus house were evident, but the years had not been kind to it. Financial constraints in his later years had left Russell Kraus unable to adequately maintain the house—water had proved particularly destructive. After research, Chicago architect John Eifler, known for his expertise and experience in the restoration of Wright Usonian houses, was selected to direct the project. Jeff Markway was chosen as the contractor.

Throughout the restoration, museum quality standards and museum quality craftsmen were used. Original finishes and materials were preserved whenever possible. Stains were painstakingly removed from tables, countertops, and other furniture rather than removing original finishes.

Neglected exterior cypress was cleaned, restored, and treated with Sikkens, a protective wood coating. The terrace doors had suffered too much water damage to be saved, so new cypress doors were constructed; the original stained glass designed and executed by Russell Kraus (who was not only a painter but a designer of mosaics and stained glass) was reinstalled in the doors. Adding gutters to the roof above the doors would prevent further water damage, but this was not an option because one of Wright’s core principles was that houses should be low and parallel to the ground and that gutters and downspouts called attention to the vertical rather than the horizontal. The contractor suggested slightly slanting the door sills to shed water, and to repeat a layer of Sikkens whenever the wood begins to weather.

Drainage issues affected the brick even more dramatically than the wood. Wherever the brick was exposed to the elements, it had spalled. Forty percent of the brick had to be replaced, including walls of the motor court, main terrace, and master bedroom lanai. Eifler found new brick in Sioux City, Iowa, that was a perfect match to the original Alton Brick, which was no longer available.

The doors to the main terrace incorporate stained glass designed by Russell Kraus.

Throughout the restoration, the walls were made to look as Wright intended, but were fortified with protective measures to help prevent future disintegration. For example, when rebuilding a brick living room wall that had buckled from the weight of the vaulted ceiling, steel rebar was incorporated into the brick to make the wall stronger and better able to absorb the weight of the ceiling. Old brick was salvaged and reused on the new wall, so all the brick inside the house remains original.

Restoring the concrete that Wright prescribed for inside and out has been the most challenging task. Wright liked to use red concrete—which he called Cherokee red, as it reminded him of the earth, of clay—and almost all Usonians have aging red concrete damaged by staining and weathering. The repair of concrete is complicated, however, because it absorbs products deeply; if the wrong product is used, the concrete cannot be returned to its original state. John Eifler suggested Kemiko English red wax for the interior concrete, which blends beautifully into Wright’s original floor. A search continues for the right products and methods to restore the coloration of the exterior concrete, watching how other Usonian owners handle this ubiquitous problem.
Saint Louis Art Museum textile curator Zoe Perkins directed restoration of the original Schumacher fabrics used for drapes, bedspreads, and chair, bench, and floor cushions. Replacing cracked drapery linings, shortening draperies, spotting, and vacuuming the fabric were all done by hand to protect the fragile materials.

Electrical problems included replacing aluminum light fixtures built into the brick terrace walls. The fixtures, intended for interior use, were dangling, exposing the light bulbs. They were rewired and replaced with exterior-grade aluminum fixtures, but water seepage continues to be a problem. Still, the nighttime glow of these lights is magical.

To improve the electrical system, wires were buried underground and fed to circuit breakers, which replaced old fuse boxes. Recently, wiring in the tool house failed and electricians had to dismantle part of the ceiling to gain access to brittle wiring, which led to a new challenge—how to replace the sixty-year old particle board ceiling that crumbled when panels were removed. (A similar particle board was eventually found by the contractor and stained to match the original.)

One of the three Taliesin lamps Wright designed for the Kraus house, all different from one another.

It is nerve-wracking to care for a Wright house. There are constant concerns about what will need to be fixed next and who is trained, sensitive to historic restoration and Wright’s original intention, and available to make the proper repair. It can make one crazy, but it is worth the challenge. Now, visitors from all over the world are able to experience a Usonian house just as Wright intended it.

The house is open year-round for guided tours, Wednesday through Sunday, by advance reservation only. For further information, call (314) 822-8359 or visit
Joanne Kohn led the campaign to raise the money to save the Kraus house and open it to the public, oversaw its restoration, and has chaired the nonprofit board that operates it since 1997. Laura Meyer has been administrative director of the house since 2008.
Several other Usonian houses are open to the public, including the newly restored Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House in Rockford, Illinois, which opens on June 6. Considered by Wright to be one of the thirty-five best works of his career, it is the only building he ever designed for a person with a disability—a wheel-chair-bound World War II veteran and his wife. Visit for a list of the Usonian and other Wright houses that are open to the public.

LED “Bubbles” by Grimanesa Amorós


Courtesy Amoros Studio

The graceful undulations of LED tubing compose a striking display in the windows of 125 Maiden Lane at the heart of New York City’s financial district. The latest sculpture in Grimanesa Amorós’s most recent body of work, the installation plays on the artist’s signature “bubble” sculptures while providing a new mode of exploring her longstanding interest in lighting effects and diffusive materials. For Amorós, the work conveys ties to her birthplace of Peru, with bubble shapes recalling man-made islands in Lake Titicaca and LED tubes referencing distinctive reeds that grow in the northern reaches of the country. Such references inspire her intuitive process of formulating site-specific works. Here, a structural grid against the back wall echoes the building’s monumental windows and acts as a spine for the seemingly weightless swirls of light. A dynamic pattern activates LEDs in four shades of white and a golden yellow. At night, the sweeping and curving work reflects off the marble walls, steel ceiling, and windows to create a hypnotic illumination.
For more visit
—By Sara Spink



Perriand’s prefab units for baths and kitchens were the centerpieces of economical modern apartments

CHARLOTTE PERRIAND (1903–1999) PREFABRICATED BATH UNIT Polyester and fiberglass shell, ceramic, and chrome-plated brass 1975–1978

Charlotte Perriand is best known for tubular steel chairs designed in the office of Le Corbusier in the late 1920s, but her subsequent work explored an ambitious and populist “art of living” that embraced craft and rural models, as well as cutting-edge research on mass production and household technology. These different strains came together in a remarkable prefabricated bath unit designed in 1975 for Les Arcs, a large ski resort in Savoy, France (built between 1967 and 1985), where Perriand served as furniture and interior designer as well as consulting architect. Her prefab units for baths and kitchens were the centerpieces of economical modern apartments with ample windows, built-ins, and advanced space planning designed to open the Alps to a wider sector of society while minimally disrupting the surrounding landscape. Perriand outfitted these utilitarian rooms with pop-inspired fixtures, curved doorways reminiscent of those on a ship, and shiny molded fiberglass surfaces in bright orange, red, and green. Paired with the apartments’ rustic pine walls and simple furniture in wood and leather, Perriand’s design for Les Arcs productively married her lifelong passion for traditional alpine architecture with a dedication to useful and playful design for the masses.

Assistant Curator, Architecture and Design Art Institute of Chicago

Mies: Modernism’s Master


A newly published book by the late Detlef Mertins considers the architect’s work, deeming it both progressive and conservative

Mies by Detlef Mertins, recently published by Phaidon Press (

The historian, architect, and university professor Detlef Mertins died in 2011 without seeing the publication of his long-nurtured book on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The book, now out from Phaidon Press, is the first full-blown study of the architect’s work, and it is a major opus. A noted scholar, Mertins focused on the history, philosophy, and theory of modernism in all its complexities. His scope was broad-reaching and accompanied by an all-encompassing grasp of the many cultural forces that feed architecture. In selecting the excerpt below, MODERN Magazine pays homage to Mertins’s brilliant mind and his final work, entitled simply Mies.

Heralded in his lifetime as the heroic inventor of the all-glass skyscraper—the genie behind the curtain wall, master of modularity, philosopher of perfection—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) became, for critics of modernism, the destroyer of familiar traditions and the architect of cold technology and faceless bureaucracy. He had been attacked by conservatives throughout his life, but beginning in the 1970s, a younger generation of progressive architects and critics sought to define themselves in opposition to him. He was called boring, anti-historical and authoritarian. Urbanists riled against the destruction of the traditional city and the endless proliferation of neutral glass boxes for which he seemed to stand. Having been cast as a leader of the “International Style,” Mies was later held responsible for creating the universalizing modernism carried by his followers into the corporate boardrooms of America and disseminated from there to the far reaches of the globe. For social critics the spacious elegance and material sumptuousness of Mies’s buildings were no longer appreciated for redeeming instrumental rationality but were seen to aestheticize the alienation, exploitation and dehumanization of mass society.

Mies van der Rohe in a 1957 photograph for Life.

Yet Mies gradually re-emerged, and by the turn of the millennium he was widely celebrated once more, not only as a looming figure of the twentieth century but also as an active presence in contemporary architectural culture….

Having defined modernism of the post-World War II period more than any other architect, Mies served to inspire a renewal of modernity after postmodernism and was in turn reborn through it. Like this new modernity, Mies has become more complex and contradictory, less black or white; in fact he now appears both black and white, dark and light, complicit and resistant, classical and modern, ordinary and extraordinary. Today it is possible to see him as part of an alternative stream within modernism….

Cast initially as a simple story of development from experimental beginnings to monuments of a new paradigm, today this linear narrative must be recognized as self-construction and self-fulfilling prophecy, based on native confidence and a knack for publicity. Not withstanding Mies’s goals and desires, his career was in fact marked by discontinuities and struggles as much as continuities and success. In retrospect, its trajectory was less inexorable and more contingent upon changing contexts, challenges, clients and collaborators….

At the same time, Mies’s oeuvre now appears more relentlessly experimental, even as the architect was driven to monumentality. His works are, he once said, both progressive and conservative. They are monumental experiments and experimental monuments. If it turns out that his oeuvre was more formally disparate than previously acknowledged, it nevertheless holds together—perhaps even more strongly—as a sustained quest: a lifelong effort to forge a new architecture that would be adequate to the evolving history of modernization and the philosophical and cultural challenges it raised. In an interview Mies recalled how, as a young man, he had asked colleagues what architecture was and how it could reasonably relate to a world that was equally difficult to grasp. Not receiving an answer, he embarked on his own path. It was a good question—perhaps the question—to be asked, and he answered it over and over again, each time differently: sometimes a little differently, sometimes a lot. From the beginning of his career to the end, he longed for the guidance of a comprehensive worldview….

New National Gallery, Berlin, 1962–1968.

Rejecting “any aesthetic speculation, any doctrine, and any formalism,” Mies declared in 1923 that architecture was “the spatially apprehended will of the epoch. Alive. Changing. New.” A few years later, he was even more explicit in his vitalist realism: “Life is what matters. In its entire fullness, in its spiritual and concrete interconnections…We want to open ourselves to life and seize it.” He focused his prodigious talents and a penchant for large-scale drawings and model-making on clarifying and monumentalizing the emergent building types of modern society by developing a new language that married elemental geometry with new materials and modes of construction in steel, glass and concrete. His work on emergent building types—the open plan house, central core office tower, and apartment block—and modern structural types—the high-rise skeleton frame, low-rise repeated bay frame, and long-span structure—has often been taken for granted or overlooked but is crucial to understanding the terms of his engagement with social modernity. His dazzling Glass Skyscraper (1921–2) was the first high-rise tower to be conceived as entirely clad in glass; his robust Concrete Office Building (1923) provided well-lit and flexible space for what was then a new function—the modern office; and his organic Concrete Country House (1923) and Brick Country House (1924) offered unprecedented spatial fluidity and continuity between house and garden to support new ways of living as much outside as in. With a combination of economy and grand vision, as we shall see, these projects exploited the potentials of new technologies and spatial organizations to open a new landscape.

Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, 1945–1951.

Yet Mies went further: he elevated these emergent types to self reflexive forms, enlarged them in scale, and used them (at least implicitly) to represent a modern cosmology that was scientific in character, just as monumental architectures of the past had represented the cosmologies of their time. Many of his later built works would be equally celebrated, and a remarkable number would achieve paradigmatic status: most notably the Barcelona Pavilion (1928–9), T=ugendhat House (1929–31), Farnsworth House (1945–51), 860–880 Lakeshore Drive (1945–51), RS Crown Hall (1950–6), Seagram Building (1954–8) and New National Gallery, Berlin (1962–8). Each offered a new Gestalt and a new symbol of history-in-the-making. Like a worldview or world-image, each clarified potentials immanent in the world and offered an orientation and guide for going beyond what was given to live life large….

Mies accepted the defining traits of modernity and insisted on returning to their origins. He did not return those traits to any false premodern purity but instead elevated them to a higher level of maturity, expression and consciousness. In seeking to provide orientation in the new world, his architecture belongs to, rather than stands apart from, the modern age.

Cartier Foundation For Contemporary Art Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary


Marc Newson, Kelvin 40, 2003. Photo © Daniel Adric

James Lee Byars, The Monument to Language, 1995. Photo © Florian Kleinefenn

In 1984 Cartier, the luxury jewelry maker, established the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, making it the first European company to support and raise public awareness of the world’s great artistic talents through direct commissioning. Today, the Cartier Foundation has an impressive and rapidly developing collection of over thirteen hundred works by 350 artists from forty countries.
To commemorate its thirtieth anniversary, the Cartier Foundation has invited the public to a range of exhibitions, performances, and other events—which continue through March 2015—at its Jean Nouvel-designed headquarters in Paris. The first part of the celebration presents the exhibition Vivid Memories featuring iconic pieces marking events in the foundation’s history, including images from its archives, photographs, videos, and film by artists such as Marc Newson, Cai Guo-Qiang, Peter Halley, and others. One of the highlights on David Lynch’s giant LED screen is a live and impromptu performance at the foundation in 1990 of the Velvet Underground with the late Lou Reed. This first part of the anniversary celebration can be seen through September.
From October through March, part two will address the past and the future with an interactive scenography that will combine the visual and performing arts using new technologies produced by the architectural and design studio of New York’s Diller Scofidio and Renfro.
— By Cynthia Drayton

A Museum in Tennessee Looks at Life’s Cycle


Installation view © 2014 Elizabeth Felicella Photography

Knoxville is located in the center of the Great Valley in eastern Tennessee, nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The city’s location at the headwaters of the Tennessee River and its railroad connections made it a prize fought for during the Civil War. It soon became the epicenter of the region’s economy and cultural history. In the last ten years, the population has nearly doubled, and the city seems determined to continue to thrive.

In 1990 renowned museum architect Edward Larrabee Barnes designed the four-story steel and concrete Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) overlooking the site of the 1982 World’s Fair in downtown Knoxville. The reductive cube building clad in locally quarried pink marble serves as a foundation to contextualize the area’s rich cultural legacy and promote regional artists. On the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary, internationally acclaimed glass artist Richard Jolley was commissioned by long-time KMA supporters Ann and Steve Bailey to create a monumental permanent installation. Jolley was given complete artistic freedom to develop the ideas and imagery for the installation. The work took over five years to create, three months to install, and cost more than $1 million.

Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity spans the entire length of the KMA’s Great Hall (more than one hundred feet) and is one of the largest glass and steel sculptures in the world. Weighing more than seven tons, this tour de force required massive reinforcement of the building’s steel structure and the installation of new lighting controls to illuminate it. The piece is an epic seven-part narrative portraying the progression of life. “I looked at old black- and-white films with painted backgrounds and the actor in the foreground to grasp the idea of filling the frame or space,” Jolley says, adding, “I felt this space demanded monumental scale—I have seen ten by ten foot paintings on the wall, and they floated like small postage stamps so I knew scale was critical.” “Cycle of Life is a game-changer for the museum— it reveals Richard’s exceptional artistic rigor and vision—an aesthetically stunning masterwork that is also an engineering marvel,” says KMA director David Butler.

The first six stages, three representing youth on one side and three representing maturity on the other, flank a stair- case to the mezzanine; the seventh phase, “Sky,” hangs from the ceiling. Suggestive of the unknown and likened to both the structure of DNA and the cosmos, it represents the future.

There is no denying that the future looks bright for the city of Knoxville—certainly there seem to be nothing but blue skies ahead.

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture in Knoxville has collections and exhibitions in anthropology, archaeology, geology, natural history, and decorative arts. The Tennessee Theatre, which opened in 1928 as a grand movie palace with Spanish-Moorish designs by the once- famous Chicago firm of Graven and Mayger, was restored in 2005 and is now the city’s leading performance arts center. Legend has it that Ironwood Studios, a former bus repair depot turned studio was an old moonshine distill- ery. Metal artist Preston Farabow and woodworker John McGilvray established Ironwood in 2006. Farabows has built a name for himself with the NASCAR trophies he crafts on-site from metal parts thrown off by the cars during a race.
— By Danielle Devine

Bigger and Bolder is Best


The twenty-two-foot height of the ceiling of the living and dining areas betrays the warehouse origins of this Long Island City house with interiors by Maria Brito. She designed the bookshelves and storage space around the giant window panels overlooking the deck and backyard to reflect the building’s simple lines and chose the huge red Isis fan by Big Ass Fan to be sculptural as well as practical. Based on the clients’ preferences Brito selected a foundation of mid-century modern pieces to mix with more contemporary accents and lots of wood for warmth to anchor the large space. An Eames lounge chair and ottoman for Herman Miller are at rear right; the sofas are by TrueModern and the coffee table is Oggetti’s Orgo design.

MARIA BRITO was dubious the day she boarded the subway from Manhattan to Long Island City. Sum- moned to interview for a job decorating a house there, she took the train, as instructed, just one stop from Grand Central and entered a world apart—a low-rise residential-industrial zone almost entirely devoid of signs of gentrification. Though the Muse- um of Modern Art’s exhibition space for experimen- tal work, PSI, was just a couple of blocks away, the neighborhood did not seem promising, but she did not turn back.

The house, originally an industrial warehouse and garage, had a chilly but generous entry hall. Then came the living room—a two-story space substan- tially wider and deeper than it is high—twenty-two feet—with a back wall made almost entirely of floor- to-ceiling windows overlooking a backyard and patio that, by New York standards, could only be described as vast. Here was spaciousness unattainable in Man- hattan or Brooklyn at any price, with walls that cried out for the sort of bold artworks Brito steers her cli- ents toward. “When I saw this light and this ceiling, I thought, ‘I have to do this.’”

The dining table is by Artless. The chairs at both ends are Warren Platner’s 1966 design for Knoll called Platner; the others are Star chairs, in walnut, by Domitalia. The centerpiece on the table is by Washington State glass artist Stan O’Neil. Above hangs Chatta Island, an acrylic on canvas dyptych, by Erik Parker. The standing lamp is Ipogeo designed by Joe Wentworth for Artemide, 2008.

Variously described in the media as a celebrity art advisor, interior designer, and decorator, Maria Gabriela Brito herself answers to “luxury lifestyle consultant” and has dubbed the business she conducts from home Lifestyling by Maria Brito. (Her work and life were the subject of her 2013 book Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping from Pointed Leaf Press.) At thirty-seven, she looks, dresses, and has the professionally toned body of a movie star, which has not kept her from being taken seriously by artists, gallery owners, and collectors. Clearly she has applied the same intelligence and appetite for learning that got her into and through Harvard Law School to acquiring a grasp on a far more slippery subject— art from 1947 to the present. In addition to helping clients choose furniture and fabrics, Brito has proven herself to be an astute consultant to collectors—both neophytes such as the rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and old hands such as the actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

The wallpaper, Library— Colourful Knowledge by the Swedish firm Mr. Perswall, gives this small room the intimate air of a study. The rug and console table are vintage, while the sofa was custom-made to Brito’s specifications and the mohair ottoman is by Eastern Accents.

For all the glitter of the company she keeps, Brito’s interiors are surprisingly relaxed—less precise and controlled than typical shelter magazine fare. To create a foundation of heft and warmth in the house’s living/dining space, Brito steered her clients, a Brazilian couple with two young daughters,toward a large-scale walnut-topped dining table by Los Angeles-based Artless, a mix of dining chairs by Domitalia and Warren Platner for Knoll, and an Eames lounge chair and ottoman from Herman Miller. Overhead, a giant red metal industrial ceiling fan hovers. While the heft of the fan does nothing to diminish the room’s airiness, it lends a comforting illusion of cover—similar to the effect of a clown’s umbrella that’s been stripped to its frame. “It had to be installed with special scaffolding,” Brito recalls, adding that the effort was not in vain. “It’s sculptural so it keeps the eye engaged, yet it serves a purpose.”

But the real energy here, as in nearly every space Brito designs, is in the art. Pride of place has been given to a diptych by Erik Parker, a Stuttgart-born, American-educated artist who has works in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Parker’s intensely patterned painting on the wall behind the dining table has an anthill-like energy that enlivens the serene volume surrounding it. Brito balances the dynamism with boldly patterned toss cushions on the custom sofa opposite.

The wallpaper in the foyer is Remix by Ferm Living; the Big Bang light fixture is by Foscarini.

Lacking the living/dining room’s bravura scale, the remaining rooms of this 3,200-square-foot house—an entry, two bedrooms, and a den—originally betrayed the building’s industrial past all too readily. Brito’s one-step character builder: wallpaper. “Short of extraordinary, large-scale art, nothing can transform a room, a space, a hallway the way wallpaper does,” she says. “It engages the eye and sets a tone. And since it’s made its comeback in the past few years, it’s being printed with the coolest designs.” The result here: in one fell swoop, characterless industrial spaces are rendered witty, colorful, and audacious. In the smallest room, for instance, which is great for watching movies since it doesn’t have any windows, she played with the idea of a study, lining the walls with Library—Colourful Knowledge by the Swedish firm Mr. Perswall.

Wit, color, and audacity come naturally to Brito, who was born in Caracas and first visited New York with her parents as a seven-year-old. From that day forward, she was hell-bent on making the city her home one day. Law school was her ticket out of Venezuela, a job at a New York firm got her to Manhattan. Soon she met and married Marcio Souza, a Brazilian who works in finance. Then the couple had the first of their two boys. Upon returning to work after her maternity leave, Brito had an epiphany: she and the law were not and never would be at one.

The wallpaper in the master bedroom—Bronze Age by French American Wallpaper—was chosen to create a lush, sensual environment in an otherwise sterile space. The bedside tables and lamps are vintage; the platform bed is by Modloft. Above it hangs a mixed-medium artwork by June Glasson .

By then she had become a popular figure in the New York art scene and also had been rewarded for her knack for interior design. When she and her husband listed their first apartment, it sold in a nanosecond, despite a sluggish market at the time. Their broker assured them it was Maria’s deft touch with decor that had closed the deal. Their current three-bedroom apartment in the Chelsea neigh- borhood of Manhattan became a calling card for her new chosen field—it has been published around the globe in no fewer than a dozen style magazines. Her art and design advice blog has been picked up by the Huffington Post, and she has been an occasional contributor to Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s popular lifestyle blog. Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping is an off-and-on best seller in its category on Amazon, among other lists.

Brito encourages both readers and clients to spend as much time as possible in galleries or, better yet, at vetted art fairs, such as Art Basel Miami. “You want to look for something that en- gages the brain as well as the eye,” she says, indicating the compelling Erik Parker diptych that now dominates the room that had so wowed her on her first visit to this house. “In a massive space like this, you’ve got to have a big piece with punch and impact.” Daunting as an aggressive work of art can be to the non-initiate, she counsels against timidity, what she calls “going for subtlety. You also can kill a room with art.”

Then she adds, in what could well be her mantra, “You have got to make a splash.”

— By Marilyn Bethany, Photography by Fran Parente
Marilyn Bethany is a design writer and editor.

East and West: Robert Kuo’s Four Decades in Los Angeles


By Adam Dunlop-Farkas
Images courtesy of Robert Kuo

At designer Robert Kuo’s warehouse studio in south Los Angeles, two white lacquer rabbits stand by an entrance ramp leading to the front offices. To those familiar with Kuo’s work, the tongue-in-cheek placement of his playful animal pieces might appear as a decorative calling card for his unique style, a way to set the space apart from its industrial neighbors. Yet Kuo himself offers a more practical alternative: “The rabbits are out there to dry in the sun.” The Chinese lacquer process the designer uses on works such as these requires each coat to cure and dry in natural air before the next coat is applied. Depending on the desired color, shade, and sheen, this application can take up to two years, with the final layer occasionally needing extra time after arrival from the village in China where traditional lacquer artisans execute Kuo’s precise specifications. “The penguins are the most difficult,” Kuo adds, referring to another of his popular animal designs, “as the black and white lacquer coats must be applied entirely separately.”

The seeming contrasts between pragmatism and artistry, East and West, traditional handcrafts and assembly production have driven Robert Kuo’s career in design. Born in Beijing and raised in Taiwan, he opened his original Los Angeles studio in 1973. His father, Kuo Ming-Chiao, was a painter and art professor who started a business producing cloisonné, the ornately patterned enamelware well known to collectors of Chinese decorative objects. “He could not support the family simply as an artist,” explains Kuo, despite the fact that his father’s work hangs in the Vatican. As an apprentice in the family’s factory, the younger Kuo learned the meticulous craftsmanship involved in cloisonné. Equipped with this knowledge, he brought the process stateside where, outside the confines of tradition and in the face of a more art-savvy market, he began to innovate. Ordinarily, the cloisonné artisan fires the piece several different times before completion. At the incomplete “middle” stage, the color pattern takes on an amorphous quality that more closely resembles the abstract expressionism of Kandinsky than the intricate forms of imperial dynasty works. Drawing on art deco designs he had encountered in the showrooms and museums of Europe, Kuo developed a new process to make finished pieces with the fluid quality of the “middle” stage. Further trial and error led to the creation of a matte finish, as opposed to the usual glossy shine of cloisonné.

Today, however, Kuo rarely works in cloisonné. “There are very few places that produce cloisonne? above the gift store level,” he comments (his father’s Taiwan factory closed its doors a decade ago). Instead, Kuo’s repertoire of techniques has expanded to include repoussé, Peking glass, and lacquer. As a designer, this set of skills allows him to exhibit a versatile range: cabinets with repoussé bronze panels, colorful lacquer sculptures of fruits and vegetables, Peking glass vases, or rock crystal lamps. The accompanying growth of his production line prompted the move to his current warehouse atelier, as well as an additional showroom in New York to complement the family-run store across from the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Despite having incorporated modern design principles into these traditional Chinese art forms, Kuo remains old-fashioned in some respects. He still draws his designs by hand, not seeing the need to learn to use a computer (a family member prints e-mails for him to read every day). He remains an avid collector of Chinese antiquities, which he displays in both showrooms and which often serve as the inspiration for his pieces. A miniature beaded coral knot transforms into a marble drum stool, for instance, or a Song dynasty bronze bracelet becomes the basis for a chandelier. Kuo even sees a place for Western design on his work, noting how Josef Hoffmann, Jean Dunand, and Jean-Michel Frank all drew on Chinese sources in their works. “I view their influence as a dialogue between East and West that is reflected in my work,” he says.

If It’s Fall, It’s Fairs


photo courtesy of David Gill Galleries/PAD London

Fall is the season of shows—from New York to Istanbul, Philadelphia to Palm Springs, all seize the opportunity to examine and celebrate their architecture and design. The farthest flung of these is the second Istanbul Design Biennial in Turkey. Entitled “The Future is Not What It Used To Be,” the biennial is curated by Zoe? Ryan, chair and curator of architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, and runs from November 1 to December 14. Ryan selected projects from more than fifty practices on topics that range from design to food. Though the biennial will be based at the Galata Greek Primary School, exhibitions will take place at pop-up locations around the city as well.


Dolphin Promotions produces the popular wintertime Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale; this year it is mounting a fall edition—a two-day show and sale at the Palm Springs Convention Center on October 11 and 12 that will feature some forty-five dealers of modern furniture and decorative and fine art.

In London the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD) opens in Berkeley Square in the Mayfair district on October 15 and runs to October 19. PAD—with shows in London in the fall and Paris in the spring— focuses on twentieth-century art, design, and decorative arts—and draws galleries from Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

The acronym SOFA stands for sculpture, objects, functional art and design, which means that SOFA Chicago 2014’s focus is slightly different from fairs devoted more strictly to design and art. The show, which runs from November 6 to November 9 at Navy Pier, has a line-up of more than seventy galleries featuring work in glass, ceramics, textiles, wood, and metal as well as lectures, demonstrations, and special exhibitions.

The Salon: Art and Design runs from November 13 to November 17 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and will feature thirty-eight returning galleries joined by seventeen first-time exhibitors, who are from Berlin, Cologne, London, New York, Paris, and Turin. The Salon is produced in association with France’s Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the most prestigious dealers’ association in Europe.


For the second year in a row, Dwell on Design takes on New York for three days starting October 9 at 82 Mercer Street, in Soho. It’s the East Coast version of the wildly successful show held each summer in Los Angeles. Dwell on Design New York is a three-day “think tank” aimed at becoming a vital forum for the exchange of ideas and features talks from architect Daniel Libeskind, Cooper Hewitt director Caroline Baumann, and architect Barry Svigals (whose field is “creative engagement”), among others.

In Florida, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation is sponsoring a four-day symposium focused on its iconic mid-century modern architecture and the legacy of such mid-century Gulf Coast architects as Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, and others. SarasotaMod Weekend, runs from October 9 through October 12 and will feature talks by architects and scholars, including Carl Abbott, John Howey, Tim Seibert, Joe King, and Lawrence Scarpa.

photo courtesy of Gallery Seomi


The tenth-anniversary DesignPhiladelphia Festival, mounted by the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, runs from October 9 to October 17 to showcase the work of architects, designers, and others in a city with a lively and ever-growing creative economy (see Design Destination p. 60).

Open House New York’s OHNY Weekend (October 11 and 12) offers the public a chance to visit more than two hundred important works of architecture and history as well as cultural sites throughout the city’s five boroughs. Many of the buildings are not generally open to the public.

Open House Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, offers a free weekend-long look at the city’s buildings. Some 150 buildings will be open on October 18 and October 19, and the offerings include repurposed mansions, hidden rooms, sacred spaces, private clubs, iconic theaters, offices, and hotels among other sites.

— by MODERN Staff

Michele Oka Doner: Decades Past and Future

By Nicole Anderson

photos © Michele Oka Doner

“There is no divide,” explains Michele Oka Doner on a rainy afternoon in her light-filled Soho loft. “When I get up in the morning, I look over the ledge and think about my work. I like having it around. I like living in it. It feels natural.” This vast space, once part of a former button factory, is where the artist and designer has lived and worked since the early 1980s. In every corner, sculpture and art mingle with found objects, raw materials, and the vestiges of everyday life. Her large black and white works on paper stretch out across a wall, the Burning Bush candelabrum is perched atop a piano, and stones and carvings, along with books and catalogues, speckle her bronze Ice-Ring bench.

Soon, however, many of these pieces along with other works of art will be leaving Doner’s downtown retreat and become part of a private selling exhibition opening November 24 at Christie’s New York. Entitled The Shaman’s Hut, the show will feature roughly ninety objects from the last four decades. “I’ve been working for fifty years and at some point it is nice to release some of the work I’ve held onto to make way for the next decades,” Doner says.

The format of the exhibition will bring her designs together in a setting that is intimate and contextual— in much the way that they’ve existed in her loft. “What we’re going to do is re-create the kind of moment that is here,” she notes. “An exhibition like this allows us to focus on a way of life, and in a sense art is a way of life—of living visually, of living with ceremony. You just see one, two things at auction, you don’t see the interplay between a table and a chair. There is a dialogue that’s established between the objects.”

Doner has a busy year ahead of her, and she will need to make room for the pieces she will be creating for several upcoming exhibitions and projects. Next February or March she will have a solo show of works on paper and her organic bronze figures at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea, called “Feasting on Bark.” For it she will return to a subject that has informed much of her work: the natural world. Doner describes the show as a “mise-en-scene” that will explore the myriad ways we “feast,” be it physically, emotionally, or intellectually. She’s also preparing for an exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami and is developing ideas for stage and costume designs. “What is interesting about what we’re doing at Christie’s and at Marlborough is that I am creating a stage set again, and it is not just an object or a thing, but much more of an idea about how we live and how we move through the world,” she says.