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July 27, 2009

DWR People: He Knows Prefab.

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This summer we’re introducing you to some of the folks at Design Within Reach. In the “hot” seat this week is Dow, who’s in charge of contract sales, including our prefab solution called Kithaus.

“Each prefab Kithaus that I’ve sold has been unique in the solution it provided for the client. The end uses have included a meditation room, kids’ playroom, home office and exercise room. I even sold one to a woman who wanted to give her husband a place to enjoy his cigars. She turned a Kithaus into a ‘smoke shack’ for her husband, complete with a flat screen TV.
“What most customers are surprised by is the speed of installation. We’re talking two days. If you want the K4 model with kitchen and bath, that takes only five or six days, which is so much better than having your life disrupted by six months of construction. Most places won’t require a permit for the Kithaus K3, but even in places like Los Angeles, where permit requirements are challenging, we’ve successfully completed Kithaus projects.”
– Dow O. DWR Contract Sales Dept.

July 26, 2009

Remembering Julius Shulman.

This special edition of Design Notes is a continuation of the following post that appeared on the DWR blog on July 16:

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend Julius Shulman. The legendary photographer died on July 15 at the age of 98. Shulman has been part of our family since the beginning, and it seems like everyone at DWR has a great story about Shulman or one of his photographs above their desk or a favorite book of his work in their library. Shulman amazed us with his talent and kept us laughing with his stories. We loved him dearly, and as my colleague Matt Wilkerson so graciously put it, “we should all be so lucky to live a life as full as his was.”

After posting this, my coworkers sent me photographs and stories to share, and I invite you, our readers, to share your own stories as well.

At home with Shulman.
“In 2003, a group of DWR folks visited with Julius Shulman in his Hollywood Hills home. It was a wonderful visit. Shannon and I sat in matching vintage Egg chairs in his Studio/office.” Editor’s note: The Egg chairs were a gift from his friend Arne Jacobson, after Shulman photographed them in Denmark. “When Shulman spoke to us about his work, it was clear that his approach to life was to stay true to himself. He talked about real living in the modern world and the homes he photographed. He was big on being comfortable and indoor/outdoor living. He also made a point of having us take note of his new plush lounge chairs in the living room. After that visit, I added an Egg Chair to my home. It lives in my son’s room where many books will be read, stories told and fond memories of Julius Shulman will be had.” – L.R.

“I was new to DWR when we visited Shulman in 2003. All I knew was that we were going to some architectural photographer’s home. It was a little awkward at first, but then this man started talking about how perturbed he was at Martha Stewart. Her team had just photographed a ‘Dining Al Fresco’ spread at Shulman’s home for her magazine, and he was disappointed at the proofs they sent over. ‘All they show is this damn tabletop, and the stuff she sells,’ he ranted. ‘There is not one photo that shows any architecture or any space where you can actually dine al fresco.’

“The rant continued for some time, and he was constantly stopping to answer the 1950s telephone on his desk. ‘That was Taschen. I guess they want me to do another book,’ (he’d shrug) ‘I guess, so.’ More rant…another phone call. ‘Shulman. Where? Germany? If you say so.’ Click. ‘I guess I’m going to Germany for some award.’ It was like a scene from a movie.

“While he was talking I noticed a large book promotion poster on the wall. It was at that moment that I realized that this ‘architectural photographer’ was Julius Shulman. And that poster was the front cover of a book that an architect friend had given me for my birthday years earlier. The book was Julius Shulman: Architecture and its Photography. It is a big, beautiful book with amazing pictures of mid-century homes. Up until that point, my education in design and architecture had been focused on heavy moldings, lots of fringe, boxed ceilings and Corinthian columns. But then I was given this book and everything changed. It was an epiphany. I started emptying my shelves and cleaning off my tabletops. I started receiving this very cool catalog from some company in San Francisco called Design Within Reach. My interest grew, and within a year of being given that book, I was working for DWR, sitting in Shulman’s home. It was a magical moment, the kind that affirms you are on the right path. I had made a decision at a fork in the road, and here was confirmation that I went in the right direction.” –M.W.

"A certain talent."

"His humility and almost self-effacing attitude were very endearing as well as refreshing. He told me that as a young man he sent some photos to Frank Lloyd Wright, asking if he could photograph some of Wright’s designs. Wright responded with a very FLLW-type no, saying he did not allow amateurs to photograph his work. At the end of the letter, Wright added a P.S.: 'But stick with it young man. You do appear to have a certain talent.' Shulman still had this handwritten letter from Wright pinned to his office wall when I met him. I knew that Shulman had later become Wright’s exclusive photographer and friend, so I asked him why he kept the letter. He said it was to remind himself." –R.B.

Shulman’s wit.

“Julius Shulman was a regular guest and honoree at DWR Studio events. One evening in 2008 we hosted a book signing at Beverly Boulevard for Julius Shulman: Palm Springs. When Julius took questions from the crowd, someone asked him what the key to his success had been. Julius simply replied, ‘I am a damn good photographer.’ Later that evening, after a few cocktails, he pulled me aside and handed me a card on which he had written ‘Vodka Within Reach’ and chuckled. We are going to miss him very much. I feel so fortunate to have met him.” – S.W.

…and sometimes biting wit.
“For the opening of DWR: Tools for Living in Santa Monica, Matt and I decided to escort Julius to the event in style. We rented a large comfortable car but we got stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard and were very late picking him up. He wasn’t pleased. All the way to the party, he was giving backseat directions to avoid traffic, and referring to our VP as ‘driver.’ Fortunately, he settled down when we got to the party, he loved being the center of attention and basked in the affection of many ladies.” –V.C.
The documentary.

“Julius was a national treasure; mostly cheerful, quick-witted, well weathered and never short to task. If you would like to fall in love with him all over again, I recommend seeing the documentary film Visual Acoustics, the Modernism of Julius Shulman by Eric Bricker. You will cry when, in his 90s, he receives an honorary architecture degree from Woodbury University and laugh with him and his anecdotes through the whole film. The DWR Studio in Austin is working with Bricker to host a reception for the release of the film.” – V.C.

“Driver, pay attention.”

“The night that we picked up Shulman to take him to the opening of Tools for Living – when he was calling me ‘driver’ for the entire ride – that night was the last time I saw him. He was a great man. He inspired me, he helped me realize how much can be accomplished in 98 years. His world was big, and he said yes to so many things, and at 98 he was still saying yes and still enjoying new experiences, people and great design. He will be missed.” –M.W.

A final toast.

“About a month ago, I spent a day with Shulman. We talked, laughed and planned a future event together. He wanted to come to San Francisco and photograph my home and was going to stay with us. As we were making these plans, I noticed a photograph of Shulman in the corner. He was wearing a smart sport coat and an ascot, and there was a comely redhead sitting on his lap. I told Julius that this woman appeared to be smitten with him. He laughed and told me to turn over the photo. (It was three feet tall, more of a poster, but in Julius’ office anything could get lost in a corner.) On the back were Polaroids of this lovely young lady emerging from a large champagne glass. The photos were taken at Shulman’s 98th birthday party. When I told him she seemed to be a lovely gift, he advised me that he did not get to keep her and he laughed. At 98 he was still a young man, enjoying every minute. So when I heard of his passing I poured a glass of bourbon, toasted him one last time, and thanked the fates for allowing me the privilege of calling him friend.” –R.B.

- Gwendolyn Horton

July 23, 2009

Dan's our (storage) man.

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Dan C. of Boulder, Colorado, is the winner of our Facebook Storage Contest (with a whopping 212 “likes”). Dan used a wall of Cubitec Shelving to creatively make space for his Elise Floor Lamp. A lovely backdrop indeed for an LC4 Chaise Longue. We totally agree with the scores of people who “liked” his smart storage solutions. But he’s not alone. We got tons of neat, creative entries, including drawers built into stairs and shelving made of Legos. See them all (and maybe get some inspiration) here.

July 20, 2009

DWR People: She Knows Clean Design

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Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to some of the folks at Design Within Reach. In the “hot” seat this week is Aimee, who’s in charge of DWR: Bath products.

“Our assortment is fundamentally about improving the utility of the bath area, where space is often at a premium. The collections are clean and simple, but packed with functionality. The Block Sink, for example, has extra-deep drawers thanks to the plumbing being positioned in the far back of the cabinet. We looked at bath collections all over the world and these were the ones that delivered the one-time investment, user-friendly bath solutions our customers appreciate.”
- Aimee E. DWR Bath Dept.

July 16, 2009

We’ll miss you Julius Shulman.

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend Julius Shulman. The legendary photographer died on July 15 at the age of 98. Shulman has been part of our family since the beginning, and it seems like everyone at DWR has a great story about Shulman or one of his photographs above their desk or a favorite book of his work in their library. Shulman amazed us with his talent and kept us laughing with his stories. We loved him dearly, and as my colleague Matt Wilkerson so graciously put it, “we should all be so lucky to live a life as full as his was.”

July 15, 2009

DWR: Tools for Living SoHo Artist Window Series, No. 2

The Tools for Living June window was such a success, that the storefront has become a favorite spot for a quick NYC flick for tourists, bloggers and even the occasional tweeter. For the month of July, we asked Mike Perry to do a piece inspired by the word “Home.” Mike’s signature line-drawn style, with his bright spray paint splashes and black Sharpie-drawn houses and keyholes, is the perfect interpretation of the theme for our SoHo community. Mike’s work is modern and hip without being pretentious – and that’s what Tools for Living is all about.


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Continue reading "DWR: Tools for Living SoHo Artist Window Series, No. 2" »

July 13, 2009

DWR People: She Knows Storage.

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Over the next few weeks we'll introduce you to some of the folks at Design Within Reach. In the “hot” seat this week is Evyn, who’s in charge of Storage and Workspace products.

“One of DWR’s most unique storage solutions is Cubitec. As a DWR Basic, Cubitec is affordable and highly versatile, giving you options that other shelving systems don’t. We worked closely with the designer, Doron Lachisch, to develop this modular shelving system so that it would be easy to understand and use. We also expanded the line earlier this year to include a choice of two depths, which is something our customers really wanted.

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"The fun aspect of Cubitec is that it allows you to be creative with your space. It is multifunctional and you configure its shape and size to fit your needs. With limited closet space, I use Cubitec in my bedroom for extra clothes storage. It’s simple and it works great.”
- Evyn D. DWR Storage and Workspace Dept.

July 10, 2009

Warehouse Sales coast to coast: this weekend.

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If you find yourself in Palm Springs, Cleveland or Secaucus, New Jersey, this weekend, stop by the DWR Annex Warehouse Sale. Happening Saturday and Sunday at all three locations you can save as much as 70% on all kinds of furnishings, like seating, dining, outdoor and DWR: Tools for Living accessories. Learn all about the sales here.

July 09, 2009

I scream, you scream, even modernists scream.

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Via the Times blog, we started salivating (just a little) about Coolhaus’ ice cream confections, served out of a retro aluminum and hot pink ice cream truck. Sure, street food is all the rage in the urban centers these days, but this takes food design to a whole new level. Their ice cream sandwiches are artfully crafted and include flavors like Mies Vanilla Rohe and Richard Meyer Lemon. You can follow them on Twitter to find out where they’ll be next. Nice Q&A with the founders here.

July 08, 2009

DWR People: Touring the Emeco Factory.

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Over the next few weeks we'll introduce you to some of the folks at Design Within Reach. In the “hot” seat this week is Kari, who’s in charge of Classic products.

“I recently toured the Emeco factory in Pennsylvania, where I saw 1006 Navy Chairs being made from start to finish. Sixty-five years of history can be seen everywhere in this facility, like the railroad tracks on the factory floor, recalling a time when trains pulled into the center of the building to pick up chairs for government orders. But it is the people at the Emeco factory that really bring this place to life. There is a sense of heritage, craftsmanship, family, community and dedication at Emeco. They all seem to have a ‘let’s not do it unless we do it right’ attitude, and they inspect each chair as though their life depended on it.

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“We just launched the 1006 Navy Chair with a wood seat and I think it is a testament to Emeco’s ability to stay relevant without sacrificing the traditions that have made them a success. They have proven that if you stick to a design that works, and materials that are honest and continue to hone your craft, then you’ve got a product (and a customer) that will last a lifetime.”
- Kari W. DWR Classics Dept.

July 02, 2009

From the CEO: To list or not to list?

After our announcement last week that we would be delisting from NASDAQ, I have fielded a lot of questions from DWR folks, investors, manufacturers and just plain curious people. Generally I believe that for every one who asks a question there are 10 or 20 people who have the same question but won’t raise their hands. Kind of like high school but with older people – you get the idea, and I am sure many of you have experienced the same human phenomenon. So, for all who have asked (and for all who want to ask but are too shy), I thought it might be good to provide a very simple and hopefully concise review of our reasoning and intentions relating to this step. So here it goes: 

Continue reading "From the CEO: To list or not to list?" »

Two Franks and one city.

I flew to NYC to sit on a bench. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. I flew to NYC to ogle a bench. Not just any bench, but a polished aluminum wing-like creation by Frank Gehry. The architect created this one-of-a-kind item with Emeco, the folks who make indestructible aluminum chairs like the 1006 Navy® Chair.

Included in the Sotheby’s Important 20th Century Design auction on June 12, the bench was available for preview in the days before. I went to see Tuyomyo (the name of the bench, which means “yours and mine”) and arrived in a bubble of ladies-who-lunch, walking en masse through the gallery. With the exception of one woman who used the mirror-like bench to check her lipstick, none of them tested the bench for its ability to position two sitters facing each other so they can converse. And conversing was not something these women were afraid to do. Instead, they gave “the tush test” (their words) to the nearby Maria Pergay “Target” Chairs (final hammer price: $32,500 for the pair).

Perhaps you have to be a hard ass to understand the auction world.

As for the Gehry bench, Sotheby’s estimated selling price was $250,000 to $350,000, and when the final bid did not meet the reserve (it was very close), Emeco donated the bench to the Hereditary Disease Foundation. In 1968, Berta and Frank Gehry helped establish this Foundation for research in genetic and brain disorders. All proceeds from the sale of the bench will go to the Foundation’s Leslie Gehry Brenner Award for Innovation in Science, a research fund established in honor of the Gehry’s late daughter. “Interested buyers should contact the Foundation,” says Emeco’s Dan Fogelson, who’s already got his hands full selling $400 aluminum Navy chairs.

From a sinuous bench to a swirling museum, the next Frank on my list was Mr. Wright who’s having a banner year. There’s a novel out about his form-follows-function love life, and the Guggenheim, which he designed, is featuring an exhibit of his work. The NYC landmark was completed 50 years ago, and this is the first FLLW exhibit within his circling walls. Perhaps it’s true that “the mother art is architecture,” as FLLW would say.

I’m a wall-hugger at the Guggenheim. I fear that a suctioning force will come from the void in the center and pull me down, like a giant toilet flushing, dragging with it tourists, tchotchkes and works of art. The white porcelain-like walls don’t help alleviate this sensation, and as if Wright recognized this, the toilet in this restroom appears to have been installed with a wink and a smile. 

Embracing my vertigo, I took the elevator to the top floor and worked my way down through the museum’s spiraling ramp. This is the Wright way, and how he intended the space to be experienced, but the museum – in some sort of Guggenheim guffaw – arranged the FLLW exhibit to start at the bottom. Write to me if you know why. Security grumbled when I asked.

The Guggenheim followed me to lunch at Elmo, where there’s a painting by Robert Loughlin, an artist with a story that’s as interesting as his work. Actually, make that two stories. Story one, as told by the maitre d’, is that Loughlin is a homeless man who has been painting the same face of his late boyfriend since the 1970s. Story two, as I discovered in my research, is that Loughlin works in antiques and the face is actually his boyfriend Gary, who he has been with since the 1980s. Either way, this macho face with cigarette is compelling, and I imagine that what he’s saying about the Guggenheim is: “Start from the top. Work your way down.” 

And if being followed by the work of one Frank wasn’t enough, I was also followed by Gehry, as I could see his IAC Building from my hotel room. (You can also get a great look at it from the High Line, which I’ll discuss in the next Design Notes.)

Gwendolyn Horton