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March 27, 2009

Design (not quite) Within Reach | Design (just out of) Reach

For years we have heard these names for our business and looked at them as sort of like “Whole Paycheck” for Whole Foods. Nicknames like these indicate that our things are certainly not cheap, but that they represent a quality and value level, much as Whole Foods represents freshness and organic purity. In fact, over the last few years we have even embraced these nicknames. When we moved from faithful, but unauthorized, reproductions of the classics, our prices for these timeless products rose further, but “that is the price for authenticity and our clients value that” was our belief. 

We focused our marketing and messages more on these products and perhaps even let our egos get a little over exuberant. Our printed materials and our main focus moved more toward a trend-driven design aesthetic, and frankly, depicted almost unobtainable lifestyles. The further we went in that direction, the louder we heard that nagging little voice in our heads that kept saying “modernism is about egalitarian design and affordable, accessible, real products that function in everyday life.” But we convinced ourselves that we were presenting the quintessence of modernism. 

Then the tsunami hit our economy in late 2008 and threw cold water on the party. 

Continue reading "Design (not quite) Within Reach | Design (just out of) Reach" »

March 26, 2009

Digging up dirt on John Deere.

My aunt and uncle recently sent me pictures taken on Maine Maple Sunday, an event that includes maple syrup tasting. My guess is that this process is a bit like wine tasting in Napa, but with more sugar and no hangover. It was fun to see photos of my syrup-tipsy family, but what really caught my eye was the John Deere tractor with the vat of maple sap in back.

According to my aunt, this “modern hauling vehicle” replaced the horse and sled that were traditionally used for transporting the sap. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup, but I have no doubt that John Deere is up to the task.

Indulging my passion for these green-and-yellow machines (what is it about them that reminds me of basketball uniforms?), I researched John Deere and discovered that the future-founder of the farm-machinery conglomerate began his career as a blacksmith in Illinois. In 1836, he was approached by a group of farmers who asked, “How can we stop the #&*$%! soil from jamming up our #&*$%! plows?”

Deere quickly recognized that cast iron wasn’t the right material for cultivating the sticky soil in the Midwest, so in 1837 he introduced his “self-polishing” plow made of steel that the soil would not adhere to. Combining innovative thinking with an expertise in materials, Deere solved the farmers’ problem. Today his steel plow is archived at the Smithsonian.

Fast forward 100 years and countless happy farmers later, the John Deere Company decided to design a new building for its Moline, Illinois, headquarters. With a goal to create something that was unique but also reflected the character of the company, their choice of architects was none other than Eero Saarinen.

Staying true to Deere’s legacy, Saarinen designed the building in steel. Not polished steel like the plow, but rather Cor-ten® steel, a material that had never before been used in architecture. When this material is left unpainted, “a rust coating forms which becomes a protective skin over the steel itself,” explained Saarinen. This corrosion-resistant coating gives the steel an earthy color that the folks at John Deere describe as being “much like newly plowed soil.”

If you know anything about Saarinen, you know that one of his greatest strengths was the ability to express a client’s identity through architecture. That talent is made even more notable here by the fact that the architect died in 1961, two years before the John Deere building was completed. If you’d like to see the structure, it’s open to visitors 365 days a year. In addition to marveling at Saarinen’s work, be sure to check out the 180-foot-long mural by Alexander Girard. This three-dimensional timeline depicts the company’s first 75 years of operation, from 1837 to 1918, and contains 2,200 pieces of memorabilia (it would take a genius like Girard to make that look interesting). And of course, be sure to check out the displays of John Deere products.


Gwendolyn Horton

March 25, 2009

DWR’s best kept secret goes national.

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If you live in or around the San Francisco Bay Area (and you’re a fan of our brand), you might remember the mythic DWR Warehouse Sales of times past. Big discounts. Lines around the block. Heated battles over discounted Eames chairs. With the opening of our first DWR Annex in Secaucus, New Jersey, we aimed to make the DWR Warehouse Sale a thing of permanence. It worked out so well that we’ve opened two more Annex locations – one in Cleveland, Ohio, and the latest spot in Palm Springs, California. For four days this weekend, the Annex locations, as well our fulfillment center right outside Cincinnati, will be transformed into Warehouse Sales. You’ll find coveted pieces in every category, all up to 70% off. And if you’re not located near any of the four sales, you can even shop our online clearance, where you’ll find deep discounts on brand new overstock product. It’s about time we got the rest of the country in on our sales. Come early. We’re expecting lines around the block. Learn more here.
 

March 24, 2009

Mid-century male.

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In February, Metropolis printed a little piece about a fertility center in San Francisco that’s targeting the more masculine portions of the general public. The Turek Clinic was opened by Paul Turek last year and features a Noguchi Coffee Table and Eames Aluminum chairs, alongside lad mags, a flat-panel TV and a framed photo of Turek’s Maserati. It’s all an effort to make men feel more comfortable (and, well, enthusiastic) in a place that involves visits to the “masturbatorium” (a.k.a., the semen-sample room). Metropolis describes the clinic as having “the antiseptic swagger of a Design Within Reach showroom.” I guess that’s what they call “design porn.” Literally.

March 19, 2009

For Sale in California: a later work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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California’s seminal role in the history of modernism has been well documented. Now you can buy a piece of that history (provided you have about $2.7 mill and a strong, unyielding passion for modernist history). Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fawcett House, nestled in California’s Central Valley, is about 3,700 square feet and sits on 80 acres of farmland (and don’t forget the walnut orchard). It has five bedrooms, a wine cellar, tractor bay, koi pond, aviary and (very angular) outdoor pool. But more than that, it has Frank Lloyd Wright’s look, feel and style. Designed in 1955, when Wright was 87, the house was created for Randall and Harriet Fawcett who felt that California’s Central Valley was an ideal spot for the master’s work. Wright certainly used the landscape to inform the look and feel of the home, which was finished in 1961, two years after Wright’s death. To learn lots more about this icon of American modernism (including how to buy it), visit this site.

March 10, 2009

Focus on felt.

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An exhibit just opened at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York that celebrates felt. Yes, felt. “Fashioning Felt” follows the evolution of this surprisingly versatile material. Tracing its origins, the exhibit covers the history of the material, up through its contemporary uses (like Tord Boontje’s Little Field of Flowers, above). The exhibit will be on view through September 7, 2009.