Category Archives: Furniture

Furniture News: Reworking the Desk

Stand and Deliver

According to The Wall Street Journal, the stand-up desk is becoming popular at places like Google and Facebook. It’s not a new idea: Jefferson, Dickens,  Hemingway, and Churchill all used one at various times. (And I thought Winston did all his writing in the bathtub!) It turns out they were on to something, because this piece of furniture is better for you, ergonomically speaking. Too much sitting is generally unhealthy — it’s important to get that blood circulating! Industrial designer Martin Keen has developed a cool new version at Focal Continue reading

Architectural Real Estate and Home Office Ideas

Architecture Road Show

When I studied architecture in college it did not occur to me that the residential landmarks I was learning about — works by Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Kahn, for example — could be sold or even changed. They existed in lectures as immutable ideals, much like paintings in a museum. So it’s exciting to realize how many architecturally significant houses are for sale at any one time. Here are three gems I just found on architectureforsale.com, a remarkable resource.

La Miniatura, in Pasadena, California, above, is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous houses from the early 1920s, after his return from Japan and work on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Designed for his client Alice Millard as a way to take advantage of a difficult (and therefore inexpensive) site in a small ravine, it

was built of ornamented or “textured”concrete blocks in conventional mortar. He was evolving a less expensive version of masonry, aiming for an architecture that seemed to grow out of the land. He ultimately perfected a system of steel reinforced “textile blocks” that would be a way of knitting together engineering and architecture. The house has been beautifully restored, for at least the second time. I remember visiting during an earlier refurbishment and being struck by the way the house stepped down the slope to create a hidden indoor-outdoor world. You can have it for $4.495 million.

Or, on the same website, for much less money, how about Louis I. Kahn’s Esherick house in Philadelphia, of 1961, available for a bargain-sounding $1.25

million. This one bedroom, two story house has a monumentality that belies it’s

relatively small size, thanks to a rectilinear geometry, tall multi-faceted window walls, a double-height living room with balcony, and symmetrical chimneys. According to historians, Kahn used houses as a way to test his ideas for larger buildings; in this case there are similarities in outline and in the separation of “service vs. served” spaces with his Richards Medical Research Building of about the same time.

Another listing has special resonance for Houseplans —  it’s a mid-century modern Eichler tract house in Granada Hills, California by architect Claude

Oakland, shown here. It’s listed for $739,000 and has been carefully updated to meet current codes, not to mention appliance and fixture expectations.

I like Architectureforsale’s clever description of the wide gable design as a kind of airframe: “Like a B-2 Bomber’s absolute symmetry…seemingly as if lining up along a tarmac from one of the many Los Angeles area airports.” An apt description! (All above photographs courtesy Architectureforsale).  The significance for us here at Houseplans is that we carry copies of several original Claude Oakland plans in our Historic Eichler Plans Collection,

like this one, which is Plan 470-7, with its segmented gable organized around

a central gallery. Price? Only $4,500 — but you do have to build it.

Back to School at Home

Where do you work when you’re at home? In an alcove off the kitchen like this

one in our Plan 56-604. Or maybe at the dining table? Or perhaps in the

Oval Office? (Photo courtesy Whitehousemuseum.org) Wherever it is, you know home work spaces are evolving. They can be almost anywhere with a little help

from today’s shelving/storage systems, like this clever desk that converts to a

Murphy bed so you won’t miss an inspiration that strikes in the middle of the night — or where there’s not enough space for a desk. It’s called the “Harry” (sounds presidential!) by Smartbeds of Italy and is available from FlyingBeds. Sweet dreams.

 

An Olympic Salute to the Inventive British Home

Vaults, Jumps, and Other Leaps of Faith

Cheers to the organizers of the London Olympics for using the games to highlight some of Britain’s most famous architectural landmarks. Take the

equestrian events, where you could see riders jumping over clever architectural models of Number 10 Downing Street (photo courtesy

The Guardian), and the Tower of London (the latter is shown above, photo courtesy Hussavelos) — all within sight of the Queen’s House by Inigo

Jones (ca. 1635, just behind the jumps) and the Naval Hospital by Sir Christopher Wren (ca. 1695, twin domes behind the Queen’s House)  at Greenwich. Horse Guards Parade — the grounds in front of the

the symmetrical Horse Guards by William Kent  (1753) in central London made a very theatrical backdrop for beach volleyball (photo courtesy Eurosport.com). Indeed it became a marvelously improbable stage set — like an urban, open-air

version of Palladios’s Teatro Olimpico (a serendipitous name) of 1585 in Vicenza, above, no less (photo courtesy wikipedia). Kent would have known a lot about Palladio and his theater but probably not much about volleyball, not to mention

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings (photo courtesy London2012). Horse Guards Parade Ground was an inspired choice of venue because it was designed as a ceremonial setting in the first place. One good parade — or should I say, ace serve – deserves another.

London definitely had a starring role, which made me think about how British design in general has contributed to the shape and character of the home. It’s a huge subject but here are three especially influential figures.

1. In the late 1800s print maker, textile designer, and author William Morris helped found the English Arts & Crafts

Movement and gave us wallpaper designs like this one, called “Vine.” The movement’s hand-crafted, nature-oriented approach lead to the development of the Craftsman style (image courtesy Historicstyle.com).

2. Early twentieth century Scottish architect Charles Rennie Macintosh designed his iconic ladder- and oval-backed  chairs, which remain popular today (image

courtesy Makedesignedobjects.com).

3. London-based designer/author/impresario Terence Conran has been influential through his modern design shops (Conrans) and books promoting an eclectic functionalism. In the kitchen and living room of Conran’s own house

you can see how he deftly combines spare modern lines, open planning

and abundant daylight with subtle colors and the warmth of wood (photos by Paul Massey courtesy HousetoHome.com). A good place to toast a British accent in design.

“Mad Men” and Mid-Century Modernity at LACMA

Stereos and Studebakers

The start of Mad Men‘s fifth season this week on cable TV is fortuitous. Though the series spawned a new appreciation for slick Madison Avenue Modernism of the early 1960s — not to mention accompanying cocktails — it wasn’t easy to see

where part of that esthetic came from (photo courtesy shinyshiny.tv). But now you can, thanks to the exhibition running through June at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965 curated by Wendy Kaplan. In fact, the advertising firm that the character Don Draper runs, seen above at his desk with drink in hand, ought to be developing campaigns for many of the products in the exhibition, like the Studebaker Avanti of 1961-2 by Raymond Loewy, below.

California — and especially Los Angeles — became a remarkable incubator of modern design during the middle of the 20th century. The benign climate, burgeoning post World War II economy and population, and movie mystique attracted imaginative designers and take-a-chance clients. I toured the exhibit recently and was impressed with the way it explores connections between popular and high style design, from furniture and clothing to houses and cars while bringing the Left Coast side of the Mad Men era to life.

Time here begins in the 1930s, quite literally, with one of the first digital clocks,

the Zephyr clock by Lawson Time, from around 1938 (photo courtesy LACMA blog). My uncle had one of these and I always admired it — when the numbers turned over they bounced slightly before resting in place (perhaps a metaphor for hanging fire?). Time did appear to be hustling as new tracts developed across

the LA basin. Modern architects were designing houses and filling them with furniture like this 1931 bent plywood chair by Richard Neutra or this squared off

corner grouping by A. Quincy Jones from 1961 and Mondrian-esque glass coffee table of c. 1950 by Milo Baughman for Glenn of California  — which look like they belong in one corner of Don Draper’s office. Living In A Modern Way shows how California designers celebrated the casual indoor-outdoor living that

the California climate made possible, as in this promotional image for a development called Monarch Bay Homes at Laguna Niguel by delineator Carlos Dini, from 1961 (image courtesy LACMA).  My favorite part of the exhibit juxtaposes two elegant designs from 1961 by LA’s most minimalist architect,

Craig Ellwood: a superb elevation of his Rosen house and the Rosen’s custom stereo cabinet. Now this takes Machine Age abstraction to its logical extreme: house and stereo are extensions of each other, if not virtually indistinguishable —  do I live in the stereo or does the stereo live in me? Talk about surround sound! The only real difference, besides scale and some plumbing, is that the stereo has four bays while the house has only three. Clearly the sort of house where you would expect to hear Frank Sinatra, not to mention the architect, crooning My Way — and sotto voce “or the highway.” (Images courtesy LACMA.)

Even Barbie went modern, and her Dream House of 1962, shown below, is fun to

to see. The largest element in the show is a replica of the loft-like living room of  the Charles and Ray Eames house of 1949, the most famous structure in the

Case Study House Program of the late 1940s and early 1950s sponsored by Arts + Architecture magazine (photo courtesy NY Times). It functions both as a frame for nature and an elegant specimen box for the Eames’ collection (1,869 items in this space alone!). Which reminds me: Case Study House #3 shown below, by William Wurster and Theodore Bernardi is not in the exhibit but is in the

Houseplans.com Signature Studio and is Plan 529-1. See how it too blends indoor and outdoor space into a seamless whole: the house is the lot. Our Eichler Plans offer further variations on the modern living theme. They’re all part of the Mid-Century Modern design history you can own.

So, Don Draper — time to put down that highball and get back to work. You have a lot of selling to do!

 

Praise and Parody for the Minimalist Home

Nature Abhors a Vacuum Cleaner, or Maybe Not

I’m always drawn to the orderly, spare, modern designs you see in glossy home magazines and books. But my house is not so spare and not everything is in its place. I’m kind of a pack rat as my wife — and office mates — will tell you. I go through periodic bouts of frenzied cleaning but the tide of newspapers, magazines, and books rises regularly. So I was pleased to come across the ingenious new book by Molly Jane Quinn and Jenna Talbott aptly titled It’s Lonely in The Modern World (Chronicle, 2011), which is an ironic primer on how to navigate the field of architectural minimalism.

These are the people who started the clever blog Unhappy Hipsters, which takes a wry look at ambitiously artful modern homes like this one and the way they’re

portrayed, where the individuals on the stoop seem quite unaware of what’s behind them (or perhaps it’s the elephant on the deck; image courtesy ifound). In these sorts of houses messy realities — like the need for windows and daylight, for example — never intrude, especially in architectural magazines. But spoofs are the sign of a publication’s success. (Remember the Tolkien parody Bored of the Rings by the Harvard Lampoon, and the one of Sunset magazine with a photo of a family picnicking in front of a nuclear reactor.) So I started looking around for ways to be both hip and realistic — i.e hide the clutter in sleek and elegant ways —  like this handsome storage bench from Herman Miller. It would help with all the bags

and blankets at the bottom of our bed. Or maybe we just need a new bed frame that incorporates storage drawers, like this version from Bluedot, which

streamlines a storage idea that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. Then what about a place for charging cameras, iphones and ipads? Bludot’s “Juice box” is

a clever solution in the way it hides the plugs and keeps the wires under control (image courtesy Mashable). This loft bedroom by Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture includes an

especially clever stair/bureau with pull-out storage drawers — though I would

probably need a railing, and I notice that the books seem to be piling up…

So in the end I confess I am impossibly conflicted because I am a huge fan of spareness and the uncluttered look and am always promoting it, while only rarely achieving it myself. Our Plan 491-2 by Braxton Werner and Paul Field

might be one answer to my dilemma — it’s uncluttered but not severe, there is storage, and pillows are scattered on the floor!

Monterey Design Conference 2011, Part One

Nature, Machines, and Robotics, Oh My!

The 20th Monterey Design Conference, sponsored by the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, took place last weekend. The two days of lectures and seminars by architects and landscape architects from across the country, Canada, and Spain offered up a superb architectural feast. There was the usual architectural jargon — overuse of words like “aperture,” meaning window or opening, and “iteration,” meaning version — and sometimes you just want a clear declarative sentence explaining the purpose of a  particular design — but all in all this was a wonderfully stimulating experience.

Of course the setting at the Asilomar Conference Grounds – a California state park on the ocean at Pacific Grove near Carmel — sets a high design standard. The marvelous serpentine boardwalks that wind through the dunes (to protect them) aren’t just useful as a kind of palette cleanser between the high intensity talks,

but  also act as a powerful metaphor for the journey of discovery that a good conference makes possible.

In addition the original Asilomar buildings designed by California’s most famous woman architect, Julia Morgan (who also designed Hearst Castle), like “The Lodge” shown above from 1917, set a high architectural standard by deftly using natural materials to make buildings that seem indigenous.

And inside, the cinnamon-hued, redwood board and batten walls and stairway have a visual and tactile power that is unforgettable.

All the large lectures took place in another Julia Morgan building, called Merrill Hall (above), a rustic-elegant barn on a hill. In other words, at a place like this, any design talk better be good!

This conference succeeded because it offered  a strong cross section of contemporary work. Here are first impressions —  more reporting on the conference will follow in a subsequent post.

Newly anointed MacArthur Genius Grantee Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang — whose most famous building is the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago, shown below and described in an earlier Eye On Design post –

spoke about how nature, context, and materials research inform her work in the US and India. How appropriate for a lecture in a sand dune by ocean waves!

Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, designs seductive modern buildings with vividly expressed mechanical systems and hot rod elements like super scaled cranks and rollers, as in his famous Chicken Point Cabin (photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy Olson Kundig Architects)

or his Rolling Huts — guest cabins on giant steel wheels (photograph by Tim Bies, courtesy Olson Kundig Architects).

Tom has been influenced by the painter and kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, whose most famous work, titled “Homage To New York” and shown below,

(image courtesy New York Times) was a machine that was designed to self destruct. It was easy to see how Tom’s fascination/obsession with machines has lead to an architecture that becomes kinetic sculpture.

Part of the conference was devoted to “Emerging Talents” and one of these talks showed how architects are embracing new tools and techniques, like Andreas Froech of Machineous, who is adapting industrial automotive robotic systems to fabricate not buildings, but polymorphic structures that might be used in buildings, like this screen

or this extraordinary table (both images courtesy Machineous).

I wondered about the practical application of some of this work but now thinking back on the talk I see how “natural” it is — though a nature that has been rethought through the computer. The table is a table unless it is a tree — sounds like Gertrude Stein! More about MDC in my next post.

Drawing from Frank 

The latest book from the vast and ever expanding publishing engine that runs on a fuel known as the imagination of Frank Lloyd Wright is a splendid collection of his conceptual sketches and presentation drawings, just published by Rizzoli. They are selected and explained – with some fascinating anecdotes — by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, longtime director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  For anyone interested in Wright it is a must-have because it lets you follow his mind at work.  The cover image

is for an unbuilt project in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood – it’s the house as sculpted cliff and monumental exclamation point. The book shows just how lucky Wright was to have such super-natural sites to work with but also how brilliantly he rose to each topographic occasion. It would have been fun to see what he could do next to Julia Morgan at Asilomar — then again maybe that wouldn’t have worked…

News from the 2011 Dwell On Design Expo

From Hobo Lanterns to Infinity Drains

The yearly Dwell On Design expo in Los Angeles took place last week: it’s an important venue for innovation in home design and always has surprises in store. We asked architect Sarah Sobel to scout it and give us a report. Here are her top new product picks.

Nature Nurtured. These eye-catching pendant lights inspired by brain coral are the “brainstorms” of David Trubridge. They’re available through Ford & Ching in a variety of colors — like a modern version of the classic lightbulb-as-idea metaphor (this is Dan talking).

Trubridge calls them“kitset lightshades” and they’re made of painted bamboo and plywood with nylon clips. Something for the dining room or the lanai, as shown here in a photograph by David himself.

Fencing that Fans the Imagination. Harwell Fencing and Gates shows how a fence can be more than just a barrier. 

It can be a backdrop that draws the eye and creates a dramatic frame for outdoor living space and plants. Precise horizontal spacing makes all the difference — these fences are built like furniture and carefully sealed against the elements.

Simpler Sinks. Undermount sinks are easier to clean because there is is no rim where dirt can build up along the seam. Duravit’s vanity basin is a simple clean design that works well.

Flexibility and the Disappearing Drain. A traditional center drain — for a shower, say — requires that the floor be pitched in four directions, which limits tile size or slab material. Enter the Infinity Drain making it possible to pitch the surface in just one direction so there’s no  limit on tile size or slab.

The drain comes in a variety of lengths to suit different shower sizes.

One version can even be camouflaged with the shower floor material for a sleek seamless look. Can you see it along the edge of the shower above the sprayer?

Everyday Objects Transformed. Molo Designs is an exceptionally creative industrial design firm specializing in re-imagining furniture and lighting. Sarah says: “The studio of 18 from Vancouver makes beautiful, ingenious, flexible furniture /walls from paper, Tyvek, felt, and LED’s.” I could not agree more! I am especially taken with their “Softwall and Softblock” space partitions, which turn the screen into a form of animation.

The partition is made of pleated kraft paper — like a giant accordion/paper slinky — and expands in serpentine arrangements. According to Molo, it’s a modular system that connects flexible honeycomb elements of various heights, colors, and material to one another simply and seamlessly with concealed magnets to create continuous lengths of wall.

When compressed for storage it takes up little space. The material can also be stacked vertically “like stretchy lego blocks.” The “Softwall” suits a loft or great room  — say, to create intimacy within a larger space for Plan 64-183, below.


Molo’s Hobo Lanterns use an LED light in a felt bag.

It’s both a tote and a lantern — or is that a lote or a tanturn? Thanks, Sarah for lighting our way to all these innovative home products.