Before I recommend some home design-related books for your last-minute gift list, let’s consider the bookshelf that will hold those new tomes. Thanks to a cool website called The Design Vote, I came across a poetic version: two artworks by Mike & Maike (produced and sold by an innovative design company called Blankblank) that comment on the influence of words and ideas. Each is a cluster of books on a single theme notched into a shelf that’s a piece of reclaimed hardwood. One, called “Juxtaposition: Religion” holds religious tracts, including the Bible, Qur’an, and Tao Te Ching (according to the company the art piece is one of twelve things Gwyneth Paltrow can’t live without).
The other, “Juxtaposition: Power” holds political treatises, from Plato’s
Republic to The Communist Manifesto. By bringing such volumes together and scribing slots for them into the wood so that they all sit at the same level, the artist makes us think about the influence of each book, their competition with each other, and how juxtaposition is important in stimulating curiosity and the imagination itself. The fact that each book has its specific (literal?) slot is also suggestive –
things can get messy — and interesting — when ideas move off the page (out of the slots we invent for them) and into the world at large (a land of many suppositions and juxtapositions).
On a somewhat more practical level, what’s a good shelf that’s flexible enough for changing needs and expanding collections? We used the infinitely adjustable Rakks system of extruded aluminum shelf supports (photo courtesy Rakks),
in the laundry and closets of our Online Ranch House, Plan 508-1 (detail below). The brackets notch into the vertical strips at any point so shelves can be placed
at whatever level you wish. We’ll be using the same system in our Online Country House, Plan 508-2, which is now under construction.
Three New Design Books
Counter Space, by Juliet Kinchin with Aidan O’Connor, accompanied the recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition on design and the modern kitchen – shown below – and offers a fascinating look at how
architects, product designers, and artists re-imagined the kitchen in the 20th century. For some, such as Viennese architect Grete Schutte-Lohotzky,
it was a kind of laboratory where efficiency, cleanliness, and storage became standard elements. The photo shows the MOMA exhibition replica of her 1926-27 “Frankfurt Kitchen” for affordable public housing. MOMA started collecting stylish kitchen implements in the mid 1930s. Ideas for “Kitchens of Tomorrow” proliferated during World War II. Tupperware appeared in 1958. Television writers and film directors used the kitchen to communicate harmony or chaos. In short, it’s a huge subject – this book just scratches the surface – or should I say, scrubs the sink.
Salvage is always of interest but especially during a difficult economy, so I was drawn to Salvage Secrets by Joanne Palmisano (W. W. Norton & Co.),
which offers a wealth of ideas for using old objects and materials in new ways. She includes a helpful lexicon — for example, recycled refers to items made from salvaged materials whose basic structure has been changed and repurposed means items reused in a different area of the home or used in a different way — like the antique swing doors adapted as sliders, shown below.
Chapters are on wood, glass, metal, stone/concrete/brick/ceramics, lighting, where to find salvage outlets (a countrywide listing is included), and design concepts. The book shows the wide range of salvageable material available and what to do with it.
Edward Durell Stone was one of the most influential yet least appreciated modern architects. His work was uneven but fascinating. The excellent and exhaustive new biography by his son, architect Hicks Stone (Rizzoli, publisher)
lucidly describes the man, his work, and his contradictions. An abstract modernist, he was strongly influenced by pattern and texture. He developed a form of ornamental grillwork — beginning during his participation in the design of Radio City Music Hall during the 1930s — that culminated in his famous American Embassy in New Delhi,
completed in 1959 (image above courtesy David Cobb Craig blog; below, courtesy Goat Hill Resorts).
Hicks writes that here “Stone had essentially taken a glass building and wrapped it with ornamental screen block.” The interior courtyard is an elegant water garden, expressing — with the screens — not just connections to Indian landmarks like the Taj Mahal, but also to Stone’s lifelong interest in unifying indoor and outdoor space (photo below courtesy Bustler.net).
Stone later used similar concrete block grills on other commissions and then other architects and designers copied the idea and it became a cliché-victim of its own success. (I remember wondering about such screens on dental offices and shopping malls as a boy.) Stone rose from poverty to become one of the country’s most successful architects who counted Eero Saarinen, Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other visionaries among his friends. He also designed some of the earliest dramatically modern American residences,
like the Mandel house at Mt. Kisco, New York, of 1935, with its iconic curving
glass block dining room (photos courtesy Arch News Now). And yet he had a lifelong drinking problem that no doubt lead to his multiple marriages, poorly managed office, and work that occasionally verged on the simplistic and banal. The story brings an important but largely forgotten architect, and architectural culture, back to life. It turns out Stone isn’t easy to pigeonhole — or slip into a notch on a book shelf.