Monthly Archives: February 2010

Contemporary Floor Coverings

Modern Patterns Under Foot

It may still be dark and wintry outside but here’s a way to brighten the indoors: browse the range of contemporary floor coverings now available. Start with the new rugs designed by Los Angeles architect Stephen Kanner, FAIA and his 14 year-old daughter Caroline. These floor coverings give new meaning to the phrase “cut a rug:” the grid of vivid colors seems to float and dance, creating a room-within-the-room.

It, and the elegant runner below, are part of the “Squares” line.

The rugs are part of the Ariana + Kanner Modern Rug Collection, constructed by Ariana Rugs’ Ahmad and Alex Ahmadi, who are third generation Afghan rug weavers from Kabul.

These hand-knotted, hand-tufted cotton and wool rugs incorporate sustainable materials including bamboo silk and banana. The one above is from the “Square Compressions” line. Inspiration for the designs comes from the geometries and color field explorations of 20th century painting, including Russian Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and American Abstract Expressionism.

Stephen is known for sleek machine age architecture — from futuristic homes and a zig-zagging In-‘n-Out Burger outlet to the sweeping car-commanding canopy/marquis of his United Oil Gasoline Station,

completed in 2009 (photo by John Linden, courtesy archdaily) and  shown here.  But in the rugs I detect a new found freedom with hue and pattern that must have come from his collaboration with Caroline.

Another product — more a floor covering than a rug — is by a company called FLOR. It’s all about flexibility: you can mix and match the 19.7 inch squares or “carpet tiles” (made of renewable and recycled content) as you see fit. Launched in 2003, FLOR’s offerings keep expanding. We used FLOR in several Sunset Idea Houses and they were very successful.

These blue striped squares are part of the “Stripe It Rich/C Note” line and run about $16 per tile. Or here’s the “Shiny Doodle 2 Rug Kit:”

which includes ten tiles. A special “FLORdot” system holds each square securely in place.

Chilewich is a New York company that has made a name in very contemporary matting made from woven vinyl in a variety of textures, patterns, and colors.

They can add lightness as well as warmth to a room, as the image of a modern dining area, above, shows. Here’s their “Bright” series:

And the more subdued “Dark Neutrals:”

These mats are elegant and practical at the same time: easy to clean by vacuuming, or mopping with a detergent solution.

So now as you take a break from watching the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, you can think about ways to bring a little gold medal design excitement into your home!

Collecting Retro Modernity

Paper — Or Plastic — Chase

Design collecting takes many forms. I recently attended a workshop on the mid-century modern design photographer Maynard Parker at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California and met Charles Phoenix, resplendent in a vintage Hawaiian shirt, who is one of the great collectors of 50s and 60s modern Americana, a frequent guest on NPR and Martha Stewart and author of Americana The Beautiful: Mid-Century Modern Culture in Kodachrome (Angel City Press, 2006)

His enthusiasm for popular culture — from high style to kitsch — is infectious and his frequent slide lectures

– showing a vast collection of Kodachromes like the one above — are famous. He calls thrift shops “museums of merchandise” that are “the perfect place to study the underbelly of our mass consumerism culture.” I agree and think a lot can be learned about our culture by studying everyday life in any decade — just think how the phrase “better living through chemistry,” which became synonymous with the 1950s and derived from a Dupont slogan adopted in 1935 (according to Wikipedia), has now acquired an ironic edge. And don’t forget the “one word” that Mr. McGuire said to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman)  in The Graduate (1967) : “Plastics.”

Charles’ interest in ordinary mid-century life made me think about the parallel universe of high style retro modern imagery — also called classic  modern —  that’s visible in current paper goods like these eye-catching note cards by Annacote (6 cards and envelopes for $12), available at Esty.

The famous diamond-pattern metal chair designed by Harry Bertoia, originally produced by Knoll, makes a vivid design, as do the even more  famous

Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe — designed in the late 1920s but coming to embody a corporate American look in the 1950s — and the

bent plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames. These sleek and elegant forms remain powerfully seductive. Perhaps a Happy belated Valentine to the designer in your life!

Vintage modern plans are seductive too — browse our Historic Plan Collection, for example. The Stock plan exhibit mentioned in a previous post has made me review my own collecting habit.  I am fond of ranch house plan brochures like this

one from 1946. And in doing my research for Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House (Rizzoli, 2008 — Shameless Self-Promotion Department!) I found this brochure

from the early 1950s for May’s tract ranch houses in Denver. With some updates — kitchens and bathrooms always need adjustment for today’s living patterns, and low-e glass, and higher grade insulation are essential — such a plan would work for today. Robert Nebolon’s updated Eichler (Plan 438-1), shown below in floor plan and elevation,

is comparable — and he’s already done all the upgrade work! For similar plans see our Ranch House Collection.

News from the New York Gift Show

Top New Home Products

From our Manhattan correspondent, Michael Cannell (author and former NY Times Home Section editor):

The new home product show season got started this past week with Accent on Design, a division of the sprawling New York International Gift Fair held at the Jacob Javits Center. Accent on Design showcases contemporary work, offering an early glimpse of evolving design ideas and a wealth of affordable smaller-scale products. (The splashier high-end furniture introductions come a few months from now at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York and the Milan Furniture Fair. ) Below are our picks for Best of Show.

Bright Box

Here’s a handsome example of how designers are reacting against all the automation of modern life.

This lamp is concealed in a box. It operates by what might be called a “hands-on dimmer:” it slides in and out to adjust the light level. The Box Light by Jonas Hakaniem from Design House Stockholm — famous for their light bulb encased in clear glass resembling a block of ice — is available May, 2010 (10 cm wide, 8 cm high, 15 cm deep): $275.

Message Center

Bamboo was prevalent at the show as the appetite for green materials gains momentum.

For kitchen or entryway, this Dry Erase Panel by Three by Three allows you to scrawl a message or shopping list without resorting to that office-style whiteboard. It’s magnetic too. Large, 31.5 by 15.75 inches, including letter holder, three hooks, bamboo cup and holder, magnetic strip (1″x12″), four strong magnets, and a dry erase pen: $100. Small, 23.5 by 11.5 inches, including two hooks, bamboo cup and holder, magnetic strip (1″x9″), three strong magnets, and a dry erase pen: $70.

Valentine Glow

Lighting designers are moving toward the atmospheric effects of indirect lighting,

as evidenced by these 5 inch-tall silicone Mood Flame tealight holders by Jan Hoekstra, from gSelect: $25.

Relative Merits

Like family members gathered around a dining table, these Family Chairs by Lina Nordqvist are similar but unique.

Available in beech, black and white lacquer, from Design House Stockholm: $700 for two.

Low-hanging Felt

Felt is the material of the moment—a reaction against the sharp lines and hard surfaces of modernism.

This pendant made of stitched wool felt triangles provides a soft, glowing presence. Called Icosa, it was designed by Ross Menuez; available from Areaware after March 3rd, 2010: $120.

Flexible Table

Swedish furniture design tends to be minimal but inviting, and the Wing collection by Sara Szyber is no exception.

The solid-wood Drop Leaf Table is big enough to seat six people

and small enough (30 centimeters) to serve as a side table when it’s folded down. Comes in black or white, from Design House Stockholm: $695.

Wood Light

Throughout the show designers used materials in new and surprising ways, and with an emphasis on the natural and renewable.

In this case the standard plastic flashlight is redone in beech wood with an LED bulb. The Small Torch is by Jonas Damon.  Something to keep on a table instead of in a drawer; from Areaware: $32.

Return — Recline? — of a Classic

It is increasingly common to see classic furniture pieces reintroduced at design shows as companies squeezed by the economy play their trump cards.

In this case it’s the award-winning canvas NY Chair from 1958 by Takeshi Nii, which also happens to feed the current appetite for flexible furniture. It folds  to five inches in width when not in use; from yliving: $590.