Category Archives: Interior Design

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 Exclusive Studio and is Plan 470-9. 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!

Paint Palettes New and Old

Hues and Dyes

I just played the online Color Sense Game by Voice of Color from Porter Paints (part of PPG Paints). It’s a kind of test – your answers to a range of questions like “pick 5 words that inspire you” (out of a given list), or “where would you feel most at home?”(you select one image out of a wide range), or “what animal would you be?” (again from a range of pictures) –  result in your own personal paint palette. It seemed fairly accurate in my case; that is, I liked the color range that my answers produced.

Apparently I’m “Al Fresco” – or is that the brother of Bill Fresco. Apparently it means that I like green tones. You’ll note that there is a little tab on the upper right corner that says “Your Secondary Harmony Family” (this will be news to my wife — and me too, come to think of it!).

My secondary family turns out to be the Whites…It all sounds a little corny, but I think it can help you figure out what colors are meaningful to you. Painter beware, however because if you play again and change one or two answers you may get a very different set of colors…After I switched from tiger to eagle

my secondary harmony family became Desert Spice. I think I like Al Fresco and the Whites better. I guess I’m just a cat after all.

Color is at once very simple and subjective (you instinctively like certain hues) and highly sophisticated and complex (the psychological study of color perception, for example). In the history of architecture there are many color palettes, from the vibrant reds and yellow ochres of Pompeiian frescoes (image below courtesy Natural Pigments)

to the white and intense chromium yellow that Thomas Jefferson used

in the dining room at Monticello. According to retrofit guru Bob Vila, this particularly vivid palette is a relatively recent discovery, thanks to scientific analysis of the original pigments (photo courtesy his website). At the turn of the 20th century architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and the Bay Area’s Bernard Maybeck became identified with an Arts & Crafts palette (from the movement of the same name) and evolved their own set of hues and tones

often with autumnal hues like red, burnt orange, and even gold to complement the use of natural materials like redwood and brick. In fact Wright’s favorite color was what he called Cherokee red (photo of Wright’s Zimmerman house, by David J. Bohl, courtesy Currier Museum of Art, from About.com).

European modernists like Le Corbusier developed their own palettes as well;

his was based on primary colors, but, as shown above,  included a variety of subtle variations. These colors (and the image) are from the website Aaltocolor.com. The elegant palette published in 128 Colors: A Sample Book for Architects, Conservators, and Designers, by Katrin Trautwein (Birkhauser,

Basel, 2010) includes 68 Corbusian hues along with 60 others. Trautwein founded an artisinal paint manufacturer in Uster, Switzerland in 1997. She explains how Le Corbusier’s colors were designed to “remain stable in space to support architecture’s three dimensional effects.” As a painter as well as an architect (remember his Purist efforts,

like this still life of 1922, courtesy Ferris) he knew what he was talking about. He probably was not thinking about tigers and eagles.




Fireplace Focal Points and House Plans

Architectural Warmth

Here are some images of fireplaces to help you take a breather — or just plain zone out — during the holiday shopping rush. The flames, not to mention the surround, can be mesmerizing.  The Pasadena architects Greene and Greene designed one of the most famous fireplaces  for their Gamble house of 1908.

It’s an inglenook in the living room — rather like a very elegant compartment on a train that just happens to have a large fireplace between the bench seats where the window would be (photo courtesy The Gamble House). Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for his fireplaces and an almost ritualistic attitude toward the hearth as the very center and soul of a home.

At Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, of 1937,  he created an organic inglenook from boulders on site (photo courtesy About.com). In the late 1940s, ranch house popularizer Cliff May took the fireplace

outside and added a rotisserie/barbecue. The architectural possibilities are vast and have grown substantially with today’s prefab gas units, like these examples from Ortal Heating Solutions. One can extend across an entire wall

or become a minimalist room divider

that doubles as a display space for artifacts. A frameless glass front can turn the

corner in a minimalist modern way (these three photos courtesy Ortal).

So how do the architects and designers at Houseplans.com treat the fireplace? For Sarah Susanka in Plan 454-6, the fireplace becomes part of a multifunctional wall

with space for storage and display as well as a flat screen television. In Plan 491-7 Braxton

Werner and Paul Field treat it more abstractly as part of a stone wall. Lorenzo Spano echoes Cliff May by going outside with it in Plan 473-3,

only now making it a freestanding piece of sculpture. There are many ways to spark your architectural imagination.