Design for Living
Architects have been designing fabrics, furnishings, and fixtures for the home since the pharaohs (some of whom could well have been architects in their own right — or at least major developers). I am thinking of England’s Sir John Soane, whose wonderful London house from the early 1800s functioned as a kind of architectural laboratory as well as a showplace and storage locker for his many collections. He invented a clever swing-out panel system for storing and showing
multiple paintings in a small space, as shown above (courtesy Time: Gill Allen/Bloomberg News/Getty Images). In 1965 Philip Johnson updated that system on a grander scale at the underground art bunker on his estate in New Canaan, Connecticut where the paintings are stored on huge panels that pivot around a circle (courtesy philipjohnsonglasshouse.org). You rolled out the Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly so you could contemplate it for a while from your stool, and then pushed it along so you could see the next one on the carousel. Frank Lloyd Wright was perhaps the most famous American designer of home products, with his
compelling but notoriously uncomfortable furniture — like the dining room set for the Husser house of 1899, shown here, and now in the collection of the Huntington Museum in San Marino, CA (courtesy the Huntington). Wright’s chairs were really small buildings for your bottom and back — not necessarily a place to sit. If he could, Wright would design everything in your house, from furniture to lighting to tableware so it’s no wonder Wrightiana is a thriving business. You can see examples of this omnivorous design appetite in the shop of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
All the great modern architects designed objects for the home, from Aalto’s bent wood tea cart and swoopy glass vases to Mies’ uber-luxe Barcelona chair to Frank Gehry’s cardboard furniture to practically everything listed in the Design Within Reach catalog. In the last few years Seattle architect Tom Kundig — of Olson Kundig — has launched a robust line of steel hardware to complement his
firm’s inventive machine esthetic — like this distinctive door knocker. The line is available from Avenue Iron. Most recently, well-known New York architect
Robert A. M. Stern has thrown his hat (or is it upholstery) into the ring. His firm has developed textiles in multiple arresting patterns, like this circular design, based on leaded bottle glass windows of the 16th century. And at the home builder show in Las Vegas last month I saw examples of his latest line of classically-inspired wall tiles for tile and stone manufacturer Walker Zanger. The Ionic pilaster example makes me wonder if you could just order the capital pieces to make your own version of a cornice — a heretical view, I know. The Robert A. M. Stern tile collection was actually announced in 2014 but won’t be available until later this year.
The home continues to be a rich mother lode for architects thinking inside the box. To read more posts on home furnishings click here.