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76 posts categorized "Newsletter"

November 30, 2011

Filmmaker Q&A: Eames: The Architect and the Painter.


Now in theatres, this is the first film about Charles and Ray Eames to be made since their deaths. Filmmakers Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey take you inside the crazy, exciting, and sometimes sad worlds of Charles and Ray. You’ll hear from people who worked with them in their Venice Beach studio, as well as from Charles’ daughter, Lucia and grandson, Eames Demetrios. The name of the film came from the fact that Bill was “interested in the relationship between Charles [the Architect] and Ray [the Painter] and felt really strongly about getting into the lives of these two.” As for Jason’s goals with the film, “I wanted people to see design differently,” he says. Indeed, neither disappoints with this in-depth, intriguing film. It’s a must-see for anyone who loves design.

To learn more about Jason Cohn and this film, DWR’s Suzanne Shrekgast interviewed the filmmaker. He shares insights to his process, as well as hints of what you’ll find on the soon-to-be-released DVD.

DWR: What inspired you to make this film about Charles and Ray Eames?

Continue reading "Filmmaker Q&A: Eames: The Architect and the Painter." »

November 18, 2011

A DWR Film: The Genius of John Kostick

A combination of mathematics and art, the Foldable Star Sculptures by John Kostick are as mesmerizing as the designer himself. We recently spent an afternoon with Kostick, and it was like attending a lecture at MIT. As he explained (very patiently) the principles of tensegrity and non-Cartesian axes, he continued to spin, fold and unfold his bronze Stars, which he refers to as “mathematical truths that you can hold in your hand.” Step into the fascinating world of John Kostick, designer of the Foldable Star Sculptures.

P.S. That flame that he works with is over 3000° Fahrenheit. His only protection from it: a pair of Ray-Bans.


See the Foldable Star Sculptures

Music: "Every Night For A Year" by Patrick Ellis. "I Am Running Down the Long Hallway of Viewmont Elementary" by Chris Zabriskie. Licensed under Creative Commons.

October 27, 2011

From our CEO: My favorite new products.

Dear Readers,

My favorite thing about launching new product is sharing our excitement with you. The passion that our team has put into this assortment is evident on every page. When I first saw how the Hex Copper Bowl reflects the light, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. When my team showed me the leather Tablet Portfolio, I declared it the attaché of 2012. The Foldable Star Sculptures from John Kostick are the most addictive objects I’ve ever held in my hands, and when I brought the Mohair Blanket home to my family, my son declared it “the coziest blanket ever.” And just wait until you see the modern Menorah by Brad Ascalon, and Lucy the Crocodile by David Weeks. At Design Within Reach, we continue to make authentic modern design accessible, whether it’s accessories, gifts, or what we’re best known for, furniture. Please read the stories and enjoy the beautiful pictures. I guarantee they will make your holiday, as well as your life, aesthetically happier. Call us, chat with us at, and please visit us at a Studio near you.

John Edelman
President and CEO 



May 18, 2011

ICFF NYC Party: Photo Booth Pictures.

Here's what happens when you put DWR customers and employees (plus one very pink Swan Sofa) in front of a camera. These photos were taken during the ICFF party at our W. 14th Street Studio in NYC.


March 15, 2011

Family secret.

Imagine designing the quintessential café chair that’s been in production since 1934, but without one crucial skill: the ability to draw. “Dad didn’t draw,” recalls Henriette, the daughter of Xavier Pauchard. Instead, the designer “drafted” his prototypes by working with the material with which he was most comfortable: steel. Learn more about the Marais Chair designed by Xavier Pauchard and produced by Tolix in France.

March 14, 2011

Behind the scenes at our March catalog photo shoot.


See the DWR catalog team in action. This video was filmed on location in Miami during our photo shoot for our March catalog. The "models" included five new collections for outdoor living. After five days and a few mini-dramas (every chair wants to be the star) the shoot was complete.

August 26, 2010

How does that sofa make you feel? Therapist wins Mad Men contest.

When our Mad Men contest winner told us that he thinks DWR catalogs are kind of like mid-century pornography – pages of glossy, artful photographs of modern objects of desire – we knew we'd enjoy meeting him. We invited our winner, Dr. Mark Adams, to our Austin Studio where he posed for us (clothes on) on the loveseat version of the Raleigh Sofa, one of the many items that he won.

The winner of our Get the Look of Mad Men Sweepstakes, Dr. Mark Adams, in our Austin Studio. Photo by Eric Bricker, director of Visual Acoustics.

Adams is a fan of the mid-century modern look of the Mad Men set designs, and first became interested in the show in 2007. "I was drawn in by the comparison to The Sopranos, which ended that same year, leaving a void in the pop culture terrain." His interest in modern furniture and design began in the 1990s, and the first DWR Studio he visited was in Boston.

His favorite piece of mid-century modern furniture, however, isn't in our assortment (thanks, Mark), but we agree, a Heywood Wakefield coffee table that spins like a Lazy Susan is a pretty sweet piece to own. (He made this score on eBay after he completed his doctoral dissertation.) Fortunately, this table will look quite smart with Adams' new Mad Men-inspired living room, which was the grand prize of our contest and includes most of the items shown below.

The Grand Prize: Raleigh Sofa, Raleigh Armchair, Skagen Nesting Tables, Skagen Coffee Table, Strata Rug and AJ Floor Lamp (not shown).

It's not every day that we speak to a therapist (well, perhaps that's not 100% true) so we took this opportunity to talk shop with the doc (aka Bert Cooper, since that's the character he thinks he's the most similar to). "Which Mad Men character is most in need of therapy?" we asked. To which he replied:

"Don Draper, especially in the current season, but he is not the sort of man who would engage in psychotherapy (unlike Tony Soprano). Betty Draper was actually in psychoanalysis in an earlier season, but reflecting the complicated gender issues in the show, the analyst reported to Don on the sessions. The characters who I think would make good psychotherapy cases would be Peggy Olson, Joan Harris, Salvatore Romano and Bert Cooper."

Thanks, doc. And be sure to let us know how that sofa makes you feel.

-Gwendolyn Horton

P.S. The contest also included four winners of Mad Men Seasons 1, 2 and 3 on DVD. Congratulations to Nicolas Bajwa, Anchorage, AK; Terry Graham, Andalusia, AL; Aimie Aronica, Emerald Hills, CA; and Samantha Humphreys, West Hollywood, CA.

Tune in to Mad Men, Sundays 10/9c. Only on AMC.

July 23, 2010

DWR Design Gallery Contest: And the winners are...

We were overwhelmed by the response to our DWR Design Gallery contest and we’re very excited to show you the winners. A panel of judges rated each entry on a scale from 1 to 10 in each of the following criteria: innovation, honesty, timelessness and approachability. The four with the highest scores were our winners. Congratulations and thank you to everyone who entered.

Russell Hill Road Residence, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Designed by gh3 - Pat Hanson (Partner in Charge) and Anthony Provenzano (Project Architect)

Built in the Brutalist style of architecture of the 1970’s, the house had been changed over the years by previous owners who converted large open spaces into cellular rooms. Hanson and Provenzano reversed this by reopening the ground floor so that it became an open loft-like space from front to back (the house is about 70′ long). They also stripped back the interior to create a neutral shell punctuated by sculptural elements like a curved stair and stone fireplace wall.
Interior finishes were chosen for their neutrality. Most surfaces were painted white and other surfaces that would incur more wear – like bathtubs and counters – were finished with custom fabricated white Corian. All floor surfaces, including the stairs are wood, stained nearly black. The contrast with the walls also serves to extend and unify the space.

Vinto Restaurant ( 418 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City, UT
Designed by David Harries and Louis Ulrich, principal Lu’na Design Studio

David Harries immediately saw the potential in this old building to house a casual, modern Italian food concept. Working once again with Louis Ulrich, AIA, the first goal was to create a feeling of simplicity. The narrowing of the restaurant allowed for visual variety and booth design, but also pulled the eye to the back of the space; the choice to use the Random Light by Bertjan Pot, reinforced this visual goal while maintaining the airy view to the back.
Because of the exposed ceiling joists, they explored industrial finishes, with the end result being exposed metal, wood, marble, and cork. The industrial-chic, Icon Chair and Barstool by Philippe Starck, and the 20-06 Counter Stool by Foster & Partners provided added enhancement. This seating choice provided simplicity and comfort, while the open back maintained visual openness.

McGuire Warman Residence, Ludlow, Kentucky
Designed by Carey McGuire Warman

Carey McGuire Warman’s philosophy is that if you design with things you love, they will always work. The trick is, you just have to be really picky about what you choose to love. With that in mind, the design challenge she had with her 120-year-old house was how to blend two long rooms split by pocket doors into one cohesive living room. And since she was her own client and her own design team, she had to figure it out herself. This is a designer who loves to blend modern design with vintage and antique pieces, and creating striking contrast between the two. So, seeing as the house already brought a lot of vintage character to the space, she looked to some modern pieces for inspiration.

Satzger Residence, Menlo Park, CA
Designed By Douglas Lorie Design

Husband and wife design team Doug and Lorie Satzger took a simple approach to designing their home. They selected pure designs for simple design for everyday indoor-outdoor living.

Congratulations to our winners and check out for honorable mentions. We'll be posting them for the next week or so.


June 24, 2010

Visually seductive: Julius Shulman on the big screen.

Julius Shulman’s 1947 photograph of the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, CA. Courtesy of Getty.

We’re always gushing about the work of architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1911–2009) so when we found a director who shares our passion enough to make a film about the man, we knew he was someone we wanted to meet.

Director Eric Bricker (left) with photography director Dante Spinotti filming Visual Acoustics at the Case Study House #22. Photo by Aiken Weiss.

I spoke with director Eric Bricker, whose film, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, appeared in theaters last year and was recently released in DVD. Like everyone who spent time with Julius, Bricker has wonderful stories to share. And rather than archiving them away, decided to bring them to the big screen for all to enjoy.

Julius Shulman’s 1960 photograph of Case Study House #22. Courtesy of Getty.

Gwendolyn Horton: Why did you make this film?

Eric Bricker: While working as an art consultant, I was looking for black and white photographs for a project, and I was introduced to Julius and we became friends. Up until then, I wasn’t familiar with his work, so you could say that I met Julius and his photographs at the same time. Getting back to your question, I made Visual Acoustics for two reasons: One, because I wanted Julius’ photographs to be seen on the big screen – to see them large – they’re worthy of that; and two, to allow more people the chance to meet Julius and get to know his work.

Julius Shulman’s photograph of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. Courtesy of Getty.

GH: Tell me more about what you call the “profound energy” in Julius’ photographs.

EB: To me, Julius’ photographs “sing” – I can feel him in these photographs. Julius always told his students to “infuse all that you see, hear and feel into one frame.” That’s what gives his photographs life and movement.

Julius Shulman’s photograph of Duffields Lincoln-Mercury Showroom. Courtesy of Getty.

GH: Do you think that Julius himself also possessed this profound energy?

EB: Yes.

GH: What surprised you about working with him?

EB: He helped me reframe the way I look at things. I have a greater appreciation for the built environment. However, what surprises me the most, is where I find Julius now – and it happens almost daily – is in the blue bonnets, the clouds, the blue sky. It’s through nature. It doesn’t happen so much through the built environment.

Enjoying nature with Julius Shulman. Courtesy of Arthouse Films.

GH: What would you change about Visual Acoustics?

EB: I’ve spoken with other filmmakers and they all tell me that there are things they’d change about their films – like a picture that’s crooked on the wall that they didn’t notice when they were filming – and they all say that you have to let that go, you can’t help having some inconsistencies. With VA, what I would change is that I’d like to slow down some of the images to allow the eye to linger longer.

Julius Shulman’s 1963 photograph of the Culver City Auditorium. Courtesy of Getty.

GH: What are you working on now?

EB: A hybrid documentary/narrative film called “What If: How Geeks and Gamers will Change the World.” It’s a project that explores my belief that through aligning and utilizing social media and social gaming with social causes, we can make powerful changes on a global scale.

GH: How so?

EB: Well, my goal is to inspire people through the film, and then give them an interactive game through social media, like Facebook, to use as a tool to go out and make a difference.

Julius Shulman’s 1958 photograph of Convair Astronautics. Courtesy of Getty.

GH: Why did you decide to make this film so different from Visual Acoustics?

EB: They’re actually similar, in that this new project is about looking at technology and how we can apply this system to better the lives of many people. Which is just like modernism or, as Charles Eames said, it is about making “the best for the most for the least.”

Design Notes readers are invited to learn more about Eric Bricker and his work by watching an interview he gave with Leo Marmol at the DWR Studio in Austin.

And if you haven’t seen Visual Acoustics, I highly recommend that you do. Peppered with Shulman’s quips and anecdotes (and a bit of gossip) about some of architecture’s most iconic figures, the film is a marvelous refresher course on the subject of modernism. You’ll also pick up photography tips from the master himself, as Shulman discusses his use of one-point perspective and how to avoid distortion through a wide-angle lens. He jokes, he reminisces, he basks in well-deserved praise. A fun ride that’s touching, informative and stunning, I strongly recommend it.

-Gwendolyn Horton

May 25, 2010

Yellow dresses, naked men and a furniture show.

When I heard that seven women were sharing a 100-square-foot platform for five days in Bryant Park, I was curious. When I heard that they were wearing matching yellow dresses and were not allowed to talk to each other, I knew I had to see it. I caught the end of their “act” when I flew to NYC for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF).

Seven women in taxicab yellow dresses participating in an art project in Bryant Park, NYC

The “Walk the Walk” project was the work of Kate Gilmore, who asked her volunteers (a questionable term since a ladder was required to escape from the eight-foot-high platform) to walk with purpose from 8:30am to 6:30pm. However, even with a shift change at midday, the hours spent in matching ivory pumps had turned the walk into more of a hobble, and the answer to “is there a Dr. Scholl’s in the house?” was clearly “no.”

In contrast to the yellow-clad gals on the move is the Antony Gormley exhibit of naked men who don’t move at all. The lack of movement is because they are iron statues, and it’s a good thing too, because they are perched on the edges of rooftops.

Two of the life-size naked figures perched on buildings in NYC.

The figures were controversial when they first appeared – not because they’re nude, but because people thought they were jumpers. But after New Yorkers understood that it’s just art, they embraced the idea of looking for naked men on buildings around the Flatiron District. What could be better? Like an Easter egg hunt for grownups, there are 31 life-size naked figures to find in NYC; the identical forms are cast from Gormley himself.

It’s ironic that the ladies in yellow were so desperately in need of a chair (and I suppose the naked Gormleys might have enjoyed a bed) since the event happened during Design Week. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is an annual event held at the Javits Convention Center, and while it lacks the punch of Milan’s Salone, there are still interesting things to be found.

Here are some of my favorites:

Cloud Softlight by Molo Design. Made from recyclable Tyvek, these floating forms are lit up by LED bulbs.

“Happy Hardcore” (right) is a tire and hemp seat designed by Fernanda Fajardo, a student at Pratt. “The tire is a symbol of extreme toughness and unwanted filth,” said Fajardo, “while the hemp twine symbolizes the unity and support within the HardCore punk culture.” On the left is Philippe Starck’s lamp for Baccarat (a symbol of the hardcore penthouse culture).

The Private Cloud by Kloker. I imagine that those ladies in yellow dresses would’ve paid money to take a break in this. Add one of Gormley’s naked statues to the mix and we’ve got a showstopper.

Eco-friendly wall coverings by Miss Print (left), made with organic pigment inks. On the right are Jeff Taly and Greg Benson, the designers of our Adirondack Chair and other outdoor furniture. While it looks like Greg is thinking about having some milk, the wall graphics depict the fact that their furniture is made out of recycled milk jugs.

Norman Cherner’s iconic 1958 armchair, shown in natural Redgum. On the right are 1006 Navy® Chairs in a quiet moment before the DWR launch party of the 111 Navy Chair®.

I’ll be posting more images from NYC, and writing about the Hospitality and Design Expo in Las Vegas, so be sure to check our blog this week to see what’s new.

May 01, 2010

Under the ash plumes in Milan.

Despite the horror stories of being stranded in Italy under a veil of volcano debris, I’m still incredibly jealous of the DWR group who just returned from the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. Fortunately, our outdoor buyer Ben was kind enough to share his photos with me, and now I’m inviting you to share in this virtual journey to Milan.

The foliage-studded exterior of the Hedgehog (left), and it’s interior as seen when looking up at the sky (right).

Continue reading "Under the ash plumes in Milan." »

April 08, 2010

Dear DWR Readers,

Wow! We’ve just mailed our first new catalog in months. Welcome back to the DWR world. I have been on the job since January, and I’m so excited about our beautiful company. For the past 11 years, I have been a fan of DWR just like you. I have purchased Bubble lamps, lounge chairs, a fire pit, a bottle opener ... you get the idea.

John Edelman at the DWR Studio in Westport, CT. Photo courtesy of Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times/Redux

I have spent the last 15 years working with my family and my closest friend, John McPhee, producing the finest leather in the world for interior design. After we sold the company to Knoll, it was time to move on, and the opportunity to become the leaders of DWR came at the perfect moment.

Continue reading "Dear DWR Readers," »

March 26, 2010

Brutal love.

UC Berkeley has had a decades-long on again, off again love affair with the Brutalist structure designed by Mario Ciampi for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA). Built in 1970, the building was the largest university art museum of its time. A behemoth of site-cast concrete, the fan-shaped building lacks wow-factor from the street, but when you walk into the courtyard, it engages you with its gravity-defying spans of (originally unsupported) cantilevered concrete. Inside it’s organized chaos. Satisfying in how the floors and ceilings mirror each other, creating the essence of walls where there are none, while natural light coming through skylights softens the grayness, and makes the artwork pop.

The Berkeley Art Museum entrance on Bancroft Way (left). The cantilevered sections that fan out as you walk around the building (right).

Despite its bunker-like appearance, the structure was designed as two axes (aligned with the energy centers in the Egyptian zodiac – lest you forget we’re in Berkeley) that rest on just five columns. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake seriously undermined the building’s long cantilevered sections, and that’s when the romance began to crumble. Topping the list of the “most unsafe buildings on campus” (it’s not you, it’s me), the Ciampi building was given a $4 million seismic retrofit in 2001, but that wasn’t enough to restore the broken trust.

The interior of the Berkeley Art Museum.

The 2001 upgrade was really only a partial seismic retrofit – just enough to keep the museum open while they planned for a new facility. Funds were raised for a complete retrofit, but the folks at UC still weren’t embracing this building, which was suddenly deemed ill equipped to handle the latest multimedia installations. (Um, films? For which you need … walls?) Claiming that they needed space, the Pacific Film Archive Theater moved to “temporary” campus quarters in 1999, but has not moved back.

The goal of having a new museum in downtown Berkeley became the mantra, all the while, Ciampi’s design, wearing the stigma of being “seismically inadequate” awaited its fate. Ten years and a handful of (albeit small) earthquakes later, the BAM remains open despite the claims that it’s needy of attention, stubborn about how its space is used, ill equipped to try new kinds of installations, too far from public transportation and poorly located because it’s not downtown.

In the 2001 seismic retrofit, black steel columns were added to the exterior (left) and white steel columns to the interior (right).

In 2005, the building was slated for demolition, and architect Mario Ciampi was still proposing solutions to save it until his death at age 99 in 2006. “Now we have a seismic problem,” said Ciampi, “but I have not received a seismic report.” One of the architect’s ideas was to add an extension that would house a museum store and act like a brace. But the university was already wooing another architect, smitten with a shiny new plan for a visual arts center by Japanese architect Toyo Ito.

But after toying with Toyo, UC cancelled those plans in 2009, citing economic challenges and the weak economy. The goal then shifted to a retrofit of the former University of California Press printing plant (which was going to be razed to make room for Ito’s design). “The adaptive reuse of an older building is the greenest thing you can do,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf. And while I agree, one has to wonder why the same can’t be said for the Ciampi building.

At top, Aristide Maillol’s 1922 sculpture “La Douleur” (“grief” in French) awaits the museum’s fate. Below, Alexander Calder’s “The Hawk for Peace” (1968) greets museum visitors of all ages.

There have been suggestions that the Ciampi building will saved, given an $80 million retrofit (the funds have been raised), and used for another purpose (let’s just be friends) – but nothing specific has been identified. So, while the art center sits by the phone waiting to hear about upcoming plans, the university’s long-range development map suggests a new campus building might be earmarked for the Ciampi site. 

As with all relationships, it’s important to compromise, and perhaps there’s a lesson in Alexander Calder’s sculpture near the museum’s entrance. Titled “The Hawk for Peace,” we should consider that “hawk” can also be a verb. 

Gwendolyn Horton

January 26, 2010

Removing stains and neon signs.

Your clothes say a lot about you, but if they could literally speak, they’d tell you a secret: Dry cleaning and French cleaning are the same thing. The latter just costs more because it shows that the proprietor knows his history (thus, earning that history degree left him with student loans to pay off).

As the story goes, a Frenchman named Monsieur Jolly-Bollin noticed that camphene from a spilled lantern removed stains from a tablecloth. Sadly, his discovery was named “dry cleaning” and not “jolly cleaning,” which would've been more relevant (your clothes need cleaning after you’ve been jolly in them) and less misleading since the process is very wet. When clothes are dry cleaned they’re washed in a solvent called perchloroethylene or “perc” for short. The perk of perc is that it’s good at removing oil-based stains. Unfortunately, it’s also toxic and a source of ground-water pollution. And that smell? It’s actually caused by dirty perc, so if you don’t like the odor, find a place that consistently uses fresh perc.

The question of “organic” dry cleaning is a lint trap I’ll avoid right now, but I’ll share with you that when I pushed my dry cleaner to tell me what makes his process organic, he told me that he will wash my clothes in water (no perc) if I request that service. All-righty then.

What got me on the topic of dry cleaning are neon signs. Dry cleaners have some of the best ones around. In contrast to how neon is used for Vegas and beer signs, the medium is simplified and a bit architectural when it’s used to distill a white button-down shirt into a crisp illustration made with tubes. It’s simple and straightforward – a world where being wild means putting on a tie.

In a case of stating the obvious, I especially like the sign that says “SHIRTS,” as if that’s hard to find in a cleaner. It’s like me creating a sign for myself that says “WORDS.”

In a case of stating the obvious, I especially like the sign that says “SHIRTS,” as if that’s hard to find in a cleaner. It’s like me having a sign that says “WORDS.”

Neon is a noble gas, and that’s not a reference to Prince Charles and baked beans. Rather, the term refers to an odorless, colorless, monatomic gas that has a low chemical reactivity. When a high-voltage current is run through a glass tube filled with neon (or argon or phosphor), the gas glows. The tubes are often made of borosilicate glass, which is highly heat resistant. (We sell glass coffee mugs made out of this stuff.)

There’s an art to how the glass tubes are bent into words and images, and some of the most outrageous examples of neon signs appeared in the 1940s and ’50s in Las Vegas. Unlike the furniture that defines mid-century modern, the signs from this era are aces in decorative excess.

The Stardust Hotel in 1958 (left), and the updated façade and roadside sign in 1964 (right).

The Stardust Hotel in 1958 (top), and the updated façade and roadside sign in 1964 (bottom).

Doing justice to neon was the Stardust Hotel, with its façade covered in an exploding solar system and sparkling neon starbursts. Using 7,100 feet of neon tubing and more than 11,000 light bulbs, the sign was visible from 60 miles away. In 1991, the typeface was updated to a less groovy-age font but that wasn’t enough to save the hotel, which closed in 2006.

The first neon signs in the U.S. were in 1923, for a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. At right, signs in the “bone yard” don’t appear to be as randomly placed.
The first neon signs in the U.S. were in 1923, for a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles (top). Retired signs in the “bone yard” continue to make statements (bottom).

The Stardust building was demolished, however its signage went to the “bone yard” of retired signs at the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO). In the mid 1990s, the Allied Arts Council realized that YESCO had hundreds of these cultural relics on their property, which led to the creation of the Las Vegas Neon Museum. The Museum’s holdings of decommissioned signs are currently stored in two open-air lots, but in 2011 it will open a park filled with neon artifacts from 70 years of Vegas landmarks. The Museum’s visitors’ center will be in the former lobby of the La Concha Motel, designed in 1961 by Paul Revere Williams.

The lobby of the La Concha Motel in its original location, before being moved to the Neon Museum’s property.

The lobby of the La Concha Motel in its original location, before being moved to the Neon Museum’s property.

Like a neon sign that was saved when its hotel was demolished, the La Concha lobby was rescued by local preservationists when the hotel’s owner wanted to make room for a larger casino. To move the lobby, with its 28-foot-high swooping concrete roof, the structure was cut into eight pieces and reassembled on the Museum’s property.

I look forward to checking out the Neon Museum when it opens, and I’m especially interested in seeing the museum’s own signage – will it be outrageous neon or simple and straightforward, like a dry cleaners’ shirt?

Gwendolyn Horton

December 17, 2009

Building time at MIT.

I could do my job with a typewriter and a bench (and the bench is optional), which is why I’d be lost in a workspace described as: “housing a gigabit fiber-optic plant connecting a heterogeneous computer network, ranging from fine-grained, embedded processors to supercomputers. There are 3D printing prototyping resources, and laboratories for DNA labeling, new sensors, micro-encapsulation, quantum computing and perceptual studies.”

I’m betting that one of those things is MIT-speak for a typewriter, but if ever there were a building packed with gizmos I don’t understand, it would be the space described above. Namely, the newly expanded Media Lab at MIT, which I checked out last Saturday on a 22-degree, “I’m a genius for relocating to California” morning. 

The recently completed Media Lab expansion at MIT.

Designed by architect Fumihiko Maki, the exterior of the MIT Media Lab expansion is spot-on with its balanced proportions, sense of scale, use of materials and appreciation for setting. There’s a satisfying rhythm in the repetition of rectangles and squares, creating a composition that’s elegant and sophisticated. Parts of the building are veiled in metal screens that filter light for a more comfortable interior while providing a bit of privacy. These screens will also help maintain a uniform aesthetic after the occupants move in and MIT-ize their new spaces with robotic window blinds and convolution theorems taped to the glass. 

As pleasing as Maki’s work is, I’m wondering if it’s too perfect, like a mathematical proof that’s no longer challenged, it doesn’t make anyone think. Every detail of this building is so well resolved that there’s nothing left for us to do but admire it. And where’s the fun in that? I’m curious to hear how the Media Lab students and faculty like the space, especially since they’re moving from the somewhat cavernous Weisner Building, designed by MIT alumnus (class of 1940) I.M. Pei. The Weisner, with its rounded corners and white tiled exterior, has been compared to an inside-out bathroom (earning it the nickname “Pei Toilet”), and as the target of an MIT “hack” (prank), its gridded exterior was transformed into a Scrabble game. (The next time you play, keep “Pei” in mind for an easy five points.)

The Weisner Building (which I.M. Pei described as “a space-making object”) with the new expansion in the distance.

If Maki’s building doesn’t wake up your cranium, then Frank Gehry’s building is sure to give you a brain freeze. A few months ago, I was asked my opinion of MIT’s Stata Center and I clambered onto my soapbox and denounced the Disney-like cartoonish building ripped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss story with all the fury of someone who’d clearly never been to the building site. Shame on me. And shame on Mr. Gehry for not inviting me sooner. (Not that Mr. G and I are friends or anything. The fact that I mention him in almost everything I write these days is as baffling to me as it is to you.)

The Stata Center at MIT.

After spending time at the Stata Center, I still think it reeks of overreaching – both by the architect and the school – but there’s also something very special about it. It’s packed with surprises. They lurk around every corner. It’s the type of space where if I were an MIT student (all day long I’d biddy biddy bum), struggling with how to make two plus two equal five, a walk through the Stata might just help me generate the idea I’m looking for.

There are unexpected moments of beauty that made me stop and stare. And when I stepped outside and saw the Airstream-like orb that punches through the pavement, I literally gasped (although, that might have been from a blast of arctic air). Yes, it’s very carnival like, and I even photographed my distorted reflection as seen in the orb’s stainless steel siding, but isn’t the whole point of creative thinking to have fun? Think unsystematically? Tear down (or construct, in this case) walls?

The Stata Center, including the Airstream-like orb that extends into the interior space below the pavement.

I was enchanted. Sort of like a date-from-hell who turns into someone you’re actually interested in. This building has got something. In its kaleidoscopic configurations, I see a metaphor for how making random connections can lead to new ideas. We tend to think that places of order and balance (like Maki’s new building) are pleasing environments, but to MIT students, maybe Stata feels more comfortable – providing relief from the order they’ve imposed upon their lives.

What do you think about these (and other) buildings at MIT? Drop me a note in the comments field below.

Gwendolyn Horton

November 25, 2009

Looking beyond the façade.

There’s been some press this week about the completion of the latest building by Jean Nouvel. Much to my surprise (and embarrassment), this is a building I’ve been photographing because I actually thought it was being disassembled, not the other way around. (“Architecture is a visual art,” said Julia Morgan, “and the buildings speak for themselves.”)

Jean Nouvel’s building is located next to Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. I first noticed it when I saw what looked like a shirt hanging among the construction debris – as if the tenant didn’t even have time to pack his white chef’s coat before the cranes started ripping off the sides of the building. And as you can see from my photos below, the “façade-removal” theory is not that hard to imagine.

In an awkward building stage, especially with unidentified objects hanging in windows.

Fortunately, no “top chefs” were harmed in the construction of this building, and my apologies to Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel for the blunder. The building, which is at 100 11th Avenue, is a 23-story luxury condominium tower that showcases Nouvel’s interest in “skins.” The curving façade wrapping around the south and west sides of the building is made up of prefabricated metal grids and more than 1,600 windows of different sizes and shapes. Each window is set at a unique angle and torque, and thus reflects light differently than the other panes around it. The result is that the building appears to shimmer, and some people say it looks like it’s draped in sequins. Personally, I think it looks like a pair madras shorts, but I’ve never been much of a couture gal.

The windows, which are colorless but take on various shades of blue in the reflected light, also make me think of the Kaleidoscope House, the children’s toy with the transparent sliding walls that I seriously wish they’d bring back into production.

Nouvel’s new building at 100 11th Avenue (left); the Kaleidoscope House toy (right).

You can’t spin a protractor in New York without hitting a building by a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, and this block is no exception. Both Gehry and Nouvel have been honored with the prize and I wonder what the jury would say about how the IAC Building and 100 11th Avenue work in relation to one another. In the States, we spend a lot of time debating whether or not a new building “fits in” with the existing context, but we rarely speak to how one building improves another, or provides an additional benefit to another.

For example, in Masdar City – the carbon-neutral development in the Abu Dhabi desert – the buildings are being designed to work together to funnel hot desert air upward, and in the process create breezes to cool the city. The entire city is orientated to make best use of solar movements and prevailing winds, and “the relationship of one building to the next provides shading and generates year-round useable spaces in between,” say master planners Foster + Partners.

Computer-generated images of Masdar City. “One day, all cities will be built like this,” say Foster + Partners.

I’m both freaked out and awestruck by the Masdar City project, but despite the fact that I think it would feel like being in the movie Sleeper, I would still like to go there. Especially since my little cottage just got “red tagged” by the building department for a permit issue. Silly me, I didn’t realize I had to ask permission to repair my front door so that it opens, closes and (wait for it) locks. My mind must have been elsewhere, perhaps in Abu Dhabi.

Gwendolyn Horton

November 13, 2009

Happy 103rd Birthday Eva Zeisel!

We usually shun exclamation points at DWR, but I had to make the exception for Eva Zeisel who turns 103 today. (103!) Truly the matriarch of the industrial design, Zeisel has been producing her signature fluid looks since she was 18, and launched a new career as a furniture designer when she was in her 80s. Her career has spanned centuries, continents and cultural clashes, and the inventions that have occurred in her lifetime include the telephone, jetliner and penicillin, just to name a few.

Zeisel at her 1951 solo exhibition Eva Zeisel: Industrial Designer at the Akron Art Institute. Courtesy of the Eva Zeisel Archives.

Born in Hungary in 1906, Zeisel’s life has all the elements of a great novel, and in fact, part of her life inspired the book Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. (A timely read considering it’s the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.) It was May 1936 when everything changed for Zeisel. She was 29 years old and working as the artistic director of the China and Glass Industry in Russia – an important job that Zeisel says she got because of her “personal charm.” But charming or not, with the job came enemies, and one night “at 4am, the doors knocked and so began a different life.” Falsely accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin, Zeisel was sent to prison for 16 months, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. Her release happened as mysteriously as her arrest, and to this day, Zeisel doesn’t know how it happened. “I hadn’t seen any colors for a year and a half,” says the designer.

Zeisel’s sketch for a collection inspired by the Kispester-Granit factory in Budapest, where she briefly worked in 1926.

Despite this dark period in her life – and perhaps because of it – Zeisel is continually intrigued by what she calls her “playful search for beauty.” Upon her release from prison, she married Hans Zeisel. They lived in Vienna briefly, before the threat of Hitler made them leave for America. “I saw the Statue of Liberty and my fears came down. It was a very touching reception,” says Zeisel of her October 1938 arrival. The next day she went to the magazine China and Glass and was immediately commissioned for 10 ceramic miniatures for $100. She was also hired at New York’s Pratt Institute, where she became the first person to teach ceramics as industrial design for mass production, rather than handicraft.

DWR Design Studio worked closely with Zeisel to launch her Granit Collection. Originally designed in 1983, and inspired by the factory where she worked in 1926, the collection was put into production in 2009.

Zeisel’s work continued to gather acclaim, and in 1946, her all-white modern dinner service – a first by an American designer – was honored with an exhibition at MoMA. Her work is included in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, including MoMA, the Met and the V&A. In 2005, she was awarded the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.

When Zeisel was in her early 80s, she started designing tables. The medium may have changed, but her Coffee Table (1993) is still very Zeisel, with its whimsical lines and ornamental motifs.

A person of delightfully defiant spirit, Zeisel has never been one to follow the predictable path of the fashionable avant-garde. “I didn’t accept the purism of modern design,” she says. “In my definition, if it gave beauty to the eye, it was beauty.”

To learn more about the woman who many (including me) believe to be the most important ceramic designer of the 20th century, check out the documentary Throwing Curves – Eva Zeisel (click here for the trailer) and her talk at TED.

And of course, please join me in raising a glass to Eva Zeisel and wishing her a very happy 103rd birthday.

Gwendolyn Horton

October 21, 2009

Can it!

In Danish, the function of opening and closing is called “vipp,” which is also the name of a design company that’s been producing iconic pedal bins since 1939. To celebrate their 70th anniversary, Vipp has partnered with Design Within Reach to hold a charity auction that will benefit DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS). Being auctioned are 35 Vipp bins that have been customized by Ralph Lauren, David Rockwell, Calvin Klein, Nigel Barker, Yoko Ono and others.

While you can’t rub elbows with these celebs at the actual auction (it’s by invitation only) there are two other ways you can participate: Five bins are on eBay, and through October 28, all 35 bins are on display and available for bidding at the DWR: Tools for Living in SoHo. And I don’t want to make your head explode or anything (thus, needing a bin for a beastly task) but the SoHo store also has a new window design by artist Mike Perry.

Of the 35 bins, the award for the farthest-flying Vipp goes to Michael Aram, who sent the bin to his workshop in India to be transformed into a golden pear.

A Vipp Bin in size medium at left, and a Vipp Bin transformed by Michael Aram into a Golden Pear at right. (Pear photo courtesy of Christian Larsen.)

“In the world of mythology,” says Aram, “pears represent bounty and gluttony. What’s more perfect for a receptacle of waste than a golden symbol of excess?” Sporting an oxidized bronze stem (the leaf was lost in transit), the brass body was hand-hammered from the inside to give it the somewhat nubby texture of a real pear. Perhaps, however, it was a bit too realistic, as the bin ended up stuck in Customs when it was deemed a botanical and flagged as a possible restricted item for entry into the U.S. Fortunately, the Homeland Security folks didn’t blow up the suspected Trojan Pear, but I’m guessing that at least one of them jumped when they pressed on the pedal and popped open the top.

From a symbol of gluttony to an example of what’s at stake if we do not curtail our habits, the Vipp bin customized by Nigel Barker is wrapped in a photograph he took when he spent two weeks on the ice in northern Canada.

Nigel Barker, and a Vipp Bin wrapped in his photograph titled “Frozen Cauldron.” (Nigel’s portrait courtesy of Nigel Barker LLC. Photograph of customized bin courtesy of Christian Larsen.)

Barker took this photo in 2007 when he went to investigate the horrors of seal hunting. Since then, there have been significant changes, including strong bans on seal product trade, thanks to the efforts of the Humane Society. The seals, however, are still at risk. A few years ago, the ice melted earlier than usual and hundreds of thousands of baby seals drowned because they were not old enough to swim. The concept behind Barker’s Vipp bin is that it provokes the user to think about the climactic effects of waste before throwing something away. He selected his photo “Frozen Cauldron” because “it’s beautiful, and yet the ice also looks a bit angry, as if Mother Nature has something in store for us.”

David Stark with his Vipp bin transformed into a cactus. (Photo courtesy of Christian Larsen.)

To appease Ma Nature, designer David Stark used a material that is normally seen as trash to create his Cactus bin. Made of simple cardboard, the cactus was hand assembled out of 279 individual and uniquely shaped laser-cut pieces. When asked about his inspiration, Stark said, “it was a trip to Arizona and the various sculptural forms of cacti throughout the landscape, along with my ongoing interest in turning everyday unsung materials (including trash) into extraordinary objects.”

The fact that Stark chose a cactus – a plant covered in sharp thorns – is also interesting. As if to remind people that there can be painful consequences to the items we throw away. Congratulations to all the designers who participated in this special event for DIFFA.

Gwendolyn Horton

P.S. To see a Vipp bin transformed into a xylophone, click here, and to see a video of the Can It! exhibit in SoHo, click on the video below.

September 24, 2009

All a twitter about Russel Wright.

I paid $289 for admission to a Russel Wright exhibition in San Francisco. That price didn’t include a docent, but it did include a one-way flight from SFO to New York. You have to be a ticketed passenger to see many of the exhibits presented by San Francisco Airport Museums (SFAM), which have been treating the traveling public to a bit of culture to soften the feeling of cattle herding since 1980.

Through October in Terminal 3 is Wright at Home: Modern Lifestyle Design 1930–1965, an exhibit of dinnerware, furniture and accessories by the American industrial designer. Russel Wright is considered the first brand name or “celebrity” in home furnishings – the Martha Stewart of his time – largely in part to the brilliant marketing skills of his wife, Mary Small Einstein.

American Modern pitchers (left) in the SFO exhibit, and an American Modern pitcher (right) in Wright’s New York home.

It was Mary who encouraged Russel to put his signature on his work – a wise decision considering that 250 million pieces of his American Modern dinnerware were sold between 1939 and 1959. But the pair was interested in more than just giving people the tools for easier living; they also wanted to teach people how to live in more efficient, less formal ways, and in 1950 they published their manifesto Guide to Easier Living.

Speaking of Wright’s signature, it’s worth noting that he spells his first name with one “l” which isn’t a ploy to make him seem more unique (like the Wendy who spells her name “Wendi” with a heart over the “i”), but rather the missing “l” is the result of a typo. In the 1920s, a stationer who is certainly not a household name (except for @*%#$ typesetter!) produced letterhead with Wright’s name misspelled. Always the practical (cheap?) industrial designer, he decided to go with it, and Russell became Russel.

And it’s a good thing too, because if you want to learn more about Wright, and you accidentally google Russell (two l’s), you’ll stumble upon the Twitter account of a Wyoming-based musician who beautifully demonstrates why I think Twitter is a craptacular (thank you NPR for adding a word to my vocabulary last Sunday) use of time:

“Get Joel some wedding cake.”
“What the…”
“He, he”

However, Russell the Wyoming musician did tweet, “Wow, Frank is all that!” which made me wonder what Russel the iconic industrial designer would tweet about Frank Lloyd Wright. Unlike Wright and Wright, Wright has access to new technologies that Wright and Wright could never even imagine. And I’d bet you a potluck dinner that mid-century designers like Eames, Wright (you can pick which one I’m referring to), Bertoia, Panton and others would’ve used Twitter in smart, relevant, compelling and useful ways.

Russel Wright sent the plans for his Hudson River valley home (above) and studio (below) to Frank Lloyd Wright for review. The two met when FLLW was in New York working on the Guggenheim, but there’s no evidence that Frank visited (or tweeted about) Russel’s property.

I don’t tweet because things like, “Everyone in the IT department appears to be wearing the same shirt today,” are better left in my head than expressed to others. Instead, I offer you “tweets” by Russel Wright, taken from the pages of Guide to Easier Living, along with images of his work and Hudson River valley home:

Spun Aluminum designs by Russel Wright. In the 1930s, Wright discovered that this affordable metal was easy to work with and could be made to look like pewter.
The dining area in Russel Wright’s home is next to a wall of boulders and the trunk of a cedar tree, which serves as the building’s primary vertical support post.
Wright built his fireplace to accommodate logs stacked vertically because he believed they burned more efficiently this way.
The bathtub in Russel Wright’s studio overlooks the quarry and has a view of the pond.
Low-maintenance steps in Wright’s home.
The plate-like “Ceramic” clock that Wright designed for General Electric in 1951 is on display at SFO (left) and hangs in the kitchen (right) of his New York home. (Drat! If I’d taken the photo at Wright’s house a half-hour earlier, it would’ve accurately reflected the time difference.)

It’s unclear how the plate-clock is the ticket to easier living (perhaps in a pinch you can serve on it, if you don’t mind that pesky second hand sweeping through your food), but it’s a fun item to troll for on eBay. The original retail of $9 translates to about $75 today, which is close to the final hammer prices I’ve seen online.

Check out the Russel Wright exhibit if you’re traveling through SFO, and if you’re on the East Coast, be sure to visit the Russel Wright Design Center (pay attention to the doors and doorknobs) and if you’ve seen either one, let me know what you think.

Gwendolyn Horton

September 04, 2009

Swinging left and right, north and south.

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door,” said Coco Chanel. And yet, Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that “every wall is a door.” As the fashion designer and the transcendentalist agree to disagree, may I present a few doors (and windows) that caught my eye on a recent trip.

The birch-bark door shown below is at the Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York. Wright created this for his own studio, which is next to his Dragon Rock home and surrounded by 75 acres known as Manitoga.

A birch-bark veneered door at Russel Wright’s studio where no two doorknobs are the same.

I applaud Wright for not making the door convex, as a literal tree-door was not what he was after. Both indulgent and playful, Wright used the birch bark to make a connection to the surrounding landscape and show the contrast between it and the few man-made materials used at the property.

It surprised me that this is the door to a bedroom rather than an exterior space, but the latter would have been impractical. Imagine herbalists stealing bits of bark to put in their tea, and woodpeckers tricking you into thinking there is someone at the door. 

Being an interior door also forces you to interact with it, and thereby with nature, each time you enter or exit the room. By snagging your sweater on its curlicues that grab softly at anything that passes by, Wright’s door makes it impossible to forget the source of this door’s (and many doors’) natural material.

Wright’s home is an hour north of New York City, where it was 95 degrees and news reports warned that wearing flip-flops could be fatal. (I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that things percolate on sidewalks when it’s scorching in New York.) Seeking air conditioning, I strolled through the chaotic Chelsea Market at Ninth Avenue and West 16th Street where I was drawn to the gouged and scratched doors (below).

New York’s Chelsea Market.

Looking like an idea that began with a mistake, I discovered that there is an intentional “theme of industrial archaeology that runs through the space” and a desire to showcase damage, not conceal it (lucky break for the construction crew). The door was locked and I wondered what secret it held. Is it a utility closet, conference room or a practice stage for U2? If you know, post a comment below.

Rich in visual texture, it’s easy to imagine these doors having acoustic qualities as well. The look of the New York door reminds me of chains dragging on concrete, whereas the door at the Hatch Cottage (below) elicits auditory mirages of clicking ice in summer cocktails.

The Hatch Cottage in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Speaking of chains, the Hopkins House (below left) by Charlie Zehnder was disparaged in a recent Boston Globe blog for looking like a prison. To which I reply, “Lock me up.” These windows edit the view and accent how light and foliage change with time. And because another house is nearby, the small openings ensure privacy (or maybe the peek-a-boo view teases the heck out of whoever lives next door).

The work of Charlie Zehnder: the Hopkins House (left) and the Kugel-Gips House (right) are in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Also by Zehnder is the Kugel-Gips house, which has two elevations that are bunker-like in their use of concrete blocks and oblique windows. Facing south and west, however, are ribbons of glass (above right) running the length of each wall, and butt-glazed corner windows that project the living space into the landscape.

The last windows I’ll share with you are in honor of the new school year.

In 1965, Louis Kahn was commissioned by Phillips Exeter Academy to build a library. Described by the American Institute of Architects as a “modern architectural masterpiece,” I’ll tell you more about this library in an upcoming Design Notes. Until then, I offer a preview of its windows, which showcase Kahn’s ability to pull the sky into his buildings, creating fields of blue on the exterior while filling the interior with natural light. 

Gwendolyn Horton