Recently I have been noticing adjustable back chairs, sometimes referred to as ratchet chairs, in magazines and on web sites. It brought to mind a classic version of this chair that Formations makes - the Italian Ratchet Chair.
I have wanted to use this chair for projects on several occasions in the past. For some reason the chair was always met with resistance by the client. I don’t know why as I think it has this interesting element of an exposed mechanical feature, plus the option of reclining (the precursor to the Barcalounger but with infinitely more style).
I did a little research into the history of this type of chair and found that most versions of this chair were prevalent in the later 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The design seems to have originated with William Morris and Company. A prototype chair made by a carpenter named Ephraim Colman was adapted by renowned architect Philip Webb (often referred to as the ‘Father of Arts and Crafts Architecture’) for a chair to be produced by William Morris and Co. The chair was widely copied after Morris’ introduction and has varied from very ornate Victorian styles to American Craftsman, all featuring some sort of “ratchet” style metal hardware allowing for the back to recline into 3-4 positions.
In 1905 Josef Hoffmann created a beautiful beechwood and sycamore bent wood chair, called the Stizmaschine, for his Purkersdorf Sanatorium in Vienna. The sanatorium was an important commission for Hoffman and his partner Koloman Moser as it represents one of there earliest experiments in unifying a building and it’s furnishings as a total work of art. The Sitzmaschine was a clear reference to the the English Arts and Crafts chair known as the ‘Morris’ chair. Several versions of this chair were made, most with cushions on the seat and back.
Somewhere along the way someone made this lovely Louis XVI ratchet wing chair, which is part of a collection of chairs belonging to Rose Tarlow.
Which brings us to the most recent versions of the ratchet chair. Restoration Hardware is offering this desk chair version called the Bruges Desk Chair and below it the French Dentist chair.
And, my favorite of them all, the Gilda Chair designed by Carlo Mollino for DDC, in oak-died ash with leather upholstery. Reclining should be this beautiful!
As Marilyn Monroe sang in her cover of the Irving Berlin song “You’d Be Surprised”:
"At a party or a ball, I’ve got to admit, he’s nothing at all. But in a Morris chair, you’d be surprised." ooh lala!
We are thrilled to have a design featured on Houzz! Please also check out our page at houzz.com for more room designs and inspriational material. We are adding projects and images all the time, so check back soon and often.
Have books gone the way of the VCR and LP’s? Is the arrival of tablets and e-readers leading to the extinction of the good old fashioned printed book, made of pieces of paper bound together with stitching and glue? I must admit I’m beginning to feel it is inevitable that at some point I will start reading novels on my ipad, and succumb to the trend. It’s more “green” – right?
The next question is how does this affect the world of interior design? Without books do we need bookcases? Bookcases lining the walls of a library room or study goes back centuries. Most traditional homes feature built-in bookcases somewhere in the house.
Photo of Minneapolis Living Room
Photo of Minneapolis Bedroom
Granted, mixing interesting objects with books on those shelves has been a part of interior design for a long time, but are we now at the point when even the books themselves are objects and not necessarily there to read? It also seems to me that bookcases made to actually hold books are disappearing and being replaced by étagères. With an étagère the books are meant to be stacked on their sides, or used as a platform for other objects. A classic example of an étagère is the Richard Shapiro one shown here.
Photo of Modern Gilded Iron Étagére
Because books add an element of depth and dimension to a room, they can still be used as a design element. It is possible to buy books “by the yard” or “by the foot” if you don’t have any. There is a company in California, Book Décor, that imports books from Europe to sell to interior designers and directly to homeowners. Using books as decorative objects, or really like art, requires that they be beautiful – cloth, or preferably leather, bound and never with their gaudy paper jackets.
Photo of Designer Mix Book Décor
I think one does have to say that even though you may read a novel on your tablet, coffee table books, like those for design or art, are best experienced as a beautiful printed and bound book. Speaking of which, you might want to check out “Brilliant: White in Design” by Linda O’Keeffe which features a room by Andrew Flesher Interiors.
Of late I have been noticing artists and designers who are taking up those discarded books and doing some really interesting things with them. If you go to a restaurant in the TriBeCa neighborhood of NYC called Brushstroke, you will notice that the walls in the bar lounge area are comprised of stacks of paperback books coated with shellack.
Photo of Brushstroke Walls
Or check out the website for Tracy Kendall, a British wallpaper designer, who does a series of digitally printed wallpapers with images of books, books on shelves and typeface as a collage. Also check out her interesting 3-dimensional wallpapers.
Photo of Tracy Kendall Books
Photo of Elle Décor Japan Dec 2006
Photo of Tracy Kendall White Room with Text
Artist, Janet Jones, in San Francisco makes collages using pages from books mixed with other found papers and materials.
Photo of Janet Jones Mirage Pieces
And the one that I really think is great is Jessica Drenk, who soaks books in water, twists them into different shapes, coats them with wax, and then carves them – truly beautiful! Check out her other sculptures as well. She can make the most mundane object a work of art.
Photo of Jessica Drenk Sculpture, Books, Pages, Wax
Photo of Jessica Drenk Sculpture, Books, Wax, Sticks
Photo of Jessica Drenk Carving Books, Sculpture, Books, Wax, Sticks
I recently saw a really great show of paintings at the Spanierman Modern gallery on East 58th Street in New York. The exhibition features the “Cool Series” of paintings made from 1961 to 1964 by the artist Perle Fine (1905-1988).
Photo of Perle Fine
Fine was a contemporary of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others who were part of the New York School and the Abstract Expressionist movement of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. The abstract style of Fine’s early work evolved over time until in the early 1960’s when she started working on the paintings that became her “Cool Series”, originally exhibited at the Graham Gallery in ’63 and ’64. This series of paintings parallels the era’s change in painting style, moving from Abstract Expressionism to what became known as Color Field painting. Of her artwork of that period, she declared: “Out of revelation, which came about through endless probing, came revolution. All irrelevancies in my painting are eliminated to exact an explicit image resulting in a clarity that rings a bell-like awakening.”
Photo of Rough Hewn
Photo of Tan Over Orange
The beauty of the paintings in this exhibit is very much tied to Fine’s use of color and composition. As Lisa Peters points out in the catalog “…each painting, through both color and form, reveals spatial and emotional qualities. In one, a yellow rectangle pushes forward from a rich russet background, while in another, the deep brown rectangle sits back and the dusky orange-red ground pulsates forwards. The placement of the rectangles and squares in the compositions also impact the way we read the space. As a result, the images create a sense of the meditative and peripheral at once.”
Photo of No. 9 Gilbralter
Photo of No. 35 Shape-up
The exhibition was truly inspirational. What could be better than being able to express emotion through the medium of paint, light, and color on canvas, and to subsequently involve us, the viewers, in a direct emotional and intellectual experience.
I was recently at the de Young Museum in San Francisco where I saw an exhibition of pre-nineteenth century Anatolian Kilims from the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection. It was fascinating to walk through the dimly lit exhibition hall going from one fragile tapestry fragment to the next, admiring the incredible sense of color and design achieved by the hand weavers. As I looked at one exceptionally beautiful piece from the 17th century, marveling at the relationship of color placement and pattern, I realized that what appealed to me most were the asymmetry of the hand woven pattern, with the sophistication of the weaver’s eye in creating the harmony of the color palette.
I also have the same appreciation for the mirrors and objects made by the English artist Sam Orlando Miller who is represented by interior designer Steven Volpe’s Hedge Gallery in San Francisco. Orlando Miller, who came from a family of silversmiths, graduated from art school with honors and had his own commercial workshop, decided to move to a rural area of Italy a few years ago. He decided at that time that every piece he made would be made by his own hands, and the materials would be in some way meaningful to him. He says he is “instinctively drawn to materials that carry the beauty of time, that already have a patina”, and is fascinated by forms that are elusive, where mistakes are the most interesting part. The mirrors that he makes are somewhat subjective in that you don’t necessarily see yourself in them. They can be a slim oval outline framing a blank wall, or a faceted jewel in colors created from plant based paint. The beauty is in the asymmetry of form and reflection of light, and not necessarily in function. Here is a link to a great little film made by his wife Helen that shows his process in making a mirror: http://samorlandomiller.co.uk/film/
Something else that recently caught my eye was the free form brass bowls created by Omer Arbel for Karkula. Each one is made by pressing a shape into sand to create a void, then when the metal is poured in the “overspill” creates a completely unpredictable shape. The overspill is left to oxidize while the center bowl is polished to a near mirror finish.
This month I want to share with you something I am really excited about. We’ve just installed a custom made wool flat weave carpet on the grand staircase of the three story brick colonial house we are doing the interior design for. The installer just completed this last week and it is a stunner if I do say so myself. The orange stripe offset into the more neutral brown and beige stripes draws your eye to the stairs and beckons you upward. The stripe relates to the dining room walls (off to the left of the foyer), which are upholstered in an orange glazed linen, and to the finish on the dining chairs in the kitchen beyond. Additional accents of the color will be forthcoming in the living room to the right of the foyer.
Here is the “before” shot – your basic beige (with the accent of a red vacuum):
Photo of Redleaf Before
And here are the “after” shots of the main flight of stairs, the landing and a shot from one of the upper levels down onto the landing:
Now that we have finally finished remodeling our home on Long Beach (and I can say I will never live on site through another remodeling project!), I am starting to get the interiors done and furniture in place. I have realized how much I appreciate that fact that I have been able to use many of the same pieces in four different homes that I’ve lived in over the last ten years (why I’ve moved so often is another story). Previously I have lived in a loft, two downtown apartments—one in Minneapolis and one in New York, and now in a multi-level house on the beach. The wonderful thing is that it all still works. It just goes to show the value of having beautifully designed, well made, classic pieces of furniture that you love.
Here are shoots of past homes and previews of the house on the beach.
So, it’s happened again. I pick up one of the latest shelter magazines and page through, subliminally critiquing (OK, maybe consciously critiquing) the projects until I happen on one that catches my eye—“oh, I like that”. I linger over each page, savoring the details until at last I look at the story line. And, sure enough, it’s someone whose work I have admired before. Such is the case with the latest issue of Interiors magazine. A “Hotel Articulair”, as it is called, in Paris, the work and home of Anne-Marie Midy and Jorge Almada, designers and owners of the contemporary metal furniture company Casamidy. Of course, the use of those wonderful handcrafted metal pieces from their line, mixed together with classic furniture from various periods should have been my first clue. As Anne-Marie states “I find it, I like it, I buy it—if it’s a beautiful piece, it will find it’s place”. Her theory being that objects find you rather than the other way around.
Photo of Paris Dining Room
Photo of Paris Living Room
Photo of Paris Stairway
I also had the same “ah hah” moment this spring when their townhouse in Belgium was featured in Elle Décor. The starting point in both locations was an apartment with “good bones”—wonderful architectural structures. In Belgium it was a 1907 stone townhouse located on Avenue Moliere, a grand boulevard of embassies and private residences. In Paris it is an apartment designed by famed Neoclassical architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux in the 1760’s. Then there is also their use of color, a sensibility that seems to come, at least partially, from living for 15 years in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Photo of Belgium Guest Room
Photo of Belgium Kitchen
Photo of Belgium Living Room
Photo of Belgium Living Room
As it turns out, we selected a few pieces from Casamidy several months ago for a project in Minneapolis. Any reservations I had about working long distance with someone in Mexico have been swept away in the interim. Our contact, Roberto, made the process simple and straight forward. He also helped us resolve a logistical problem with how to get a tall, king size upholstered headboard with a metal frame into a second floor bedroom via a flight of stairs that splits and turns. Our solution was to have it made in 3 pieces, so that it could be bolted together on site. When we do our installation in the next month or two I will post a photograph of the beautiful end result.
I am remodeling a small bathroom, keeping it very simple and clean because of the limited space. Wall tile will be white subway tiles with 1 ½” white hexagon tile on the floor; a white pedestal sink, tub and toilet. One wall will be mirrored above the tile to the ceiling and there will be two pendant lights hanging in front above a narrow glass shelf. Walls, what there is of them, and ceiling will be painted. My first thought was a dusty grayed out lavender, but I’ve settled instead on a soft slightly muddied pink called “Calamine” from Farrow and Ball which on first blush conjures up images from childhood of run ins with poison ivy and mosquito bites, but really is a beautiful soft “easy to live with” tone. Towels would be a leafy green or perhaps a deeper rose color.
Photo of Calamine
So after making my color decisions I’ve been noticing it popping up in nature in the last couple of weeks. Ramps, that early spring “vegetable” related to leeks and garlic, are available for a very short time right now. I spotted them at the local grocer a week ago, and snapped up a bunch. When I got them home and on my cutting board, I realized that here was my bathroom color scheme. The soft pink of the bulbs deepening as it goes up the stem and ending in leaves of green. It was almost a shame to cut into them, but cut into them I did sautéing in olive oil and butter with a splash of lemon – yum!
Photo of Ramps
Then after that appeared rhubarb and the blossoms of flowering crab apple trees! It seems everywhere I look is an example of the pink and green of spring, and I think it will work quite well in that tiny bathroom.
All of a sudden I find myself struck by wallcovering lately, and not the beautiful subtle linens we love to use (and always will), but large scale statement making patterns. The following are a couple of examples.
No. 1. I don’t know what I was doing a couple of years ago that I missed the press about Randall Buck and Jee Levin’s wallpaper company Trove, but I did. Perhaps the idea of photographic images as wallcovering brought back nightmares of the 50’s and 60’s forest scenes in the family room. However, when Holly Hunt Minneapolis recently took on the line I was instantly entranced. What Trove does is not remotely related to those days of old. They print on high quality paper with eco friendly solvent ink with a wax based non toxic coating. There is nothing plastic looking about it—the images are beautiful and alluring. My favorites are the lush blossoms of Alcyone (wonderful in a feminine bedroom), and the flying birds of Indi (would love to find a spot to use this one). They also print on window film and on wood veneer. With the later the possibilities of using this on furniture gets the creative juices flowing.
From left to right: Alcyone, Indo, Io
Which brings me to No. 2—I was perusing the April issue of “W” last weekend when I was bowled over by the article featuring large scale images of 18th and 19th century portraits, blown up and applied as wallcovering in rooms at Glenham Hall in England. They fill the spaces floor to very high ceiling, over doors and wainscoting, and behind curtains—Brilliant! Kudos to set designer Rhea Thierstein and photographer Tim Walker. Of course it works in a house of this scale, but would be equally interesting in a high ceiling loft. I love it when I see something like this that stops me dead in my tracks and leaves me amazed.
Portrait of Baroness James de Rothchild
King George III
Madame de Pompadour at Her Tambour Frame
Rene-Charles Dassy and His Brother Jean-Baptiste-Claude-Arnede Dassy
This is the first line in the introduction to a book that I discovered a few weeks ago, and am completely enamored with, titled “Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-Century Designers” by photographer Leslie Williamson. This is book of photographs taken of houses designed by architects or designers considered icons of mid-century design. What completely draws me in, to the point of losing all track of time, is the way these photos were taken. The photographer shot only homes that were either currently lived in by the original owners or preserved as they were when the designer lived there. She shot the house the way it was when she arrived, using only natural light or lighting from the house, and over the course of 2 days. The book abounds with “quirky details” and the personal objects of the owners, and as the author asks, “are the mundane objects of our life the things that humanize us?” which appears to be answered with a resounding “yes”.
Common among most of the houses in the book are beautifully designed custom cabinetry and doors, many featuring unusual knobs and pulls, bookshelves overflowing with the owner’s books and wonderful collections of art – the personality of the owners clearly stated. The detail shots are particularly evocative of daily life. It makes me think about how we, as interior designers, have our projects photographed and is it effective. Is the time of having everything in perfect order, looking brand new and unlived in over? Let’s have life as it is happening included. I think one of the things that strikes me the most is the use of natural light. Looking at the photographs makes me want to go and be in that space, to sit down in that beautifully designed chair and gaze out the window. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.
I have been thinking lately that there is a subliminal flow of energy and ideas, that exists in another realm from our day to day consciousness, that the design world is connected to. Kind of like cosmic creativity. Every once in a while an idea manifests at the same time in different parts of the world and with designers who have no personal connection to each other.
Case in point – I came up with a design for a custom sectional for one of my clients that would have seat cushions made like an old fashioned mattress with thick edges tacked all around by hand. The next thing you know there are two pieces of furniture that show up in the Feb/Mar issue of Elle Décor with the same seat detail! One is the Dmitriy daybed shown below, and the other the Jacobson Sofa by James Huniford on page 56 (photo unavailable). At this point in time my sectional design has evolved in a slightly different direction, but I find it very interesting that all of a sudden this design detail appears in the world of interior design.
There is a show at the Walker Art Center (link to web site) that I went to see today featuring the artwork of the visionary French artist Yves Klein, who took the European art scene by storm in a career that lasted only eight years from 1954–1962. My interest was piqued by two things: the photograph that was used for the promotion of the show (Leaping Into the Void), and the fact that Yves Klein named a blue pigment after himself—International Klein Blue.
The show did not disappoint, and in fact was much more intriguing than it might have first appeared. As stated at the end of the show in the last gallery—“at the very root of his audacious practice was an irrepressible desire to achieve “immaterial sensibility”. He was an artist “who imagined his paintings as vehicles capable of transporting us elsewhere”, and for me they did. From his monochrome paintings, to his use of the naked body as a “paint brush”, to his painting with fire, I was amazed.
Internal Klein Blue
The color, “International Klein Blue”, is an intense ultramarine pigment that almost hurts the eyes. The paintings that are covered completely in this shade of blue, seem almost to create their own internal shadows drawing you into their depths. Yves Klein’s preference for this color made me think about our own personal preferences for certain colors, and what that means on a psychological and tangible level.
Leaping Into the Void
As far as the photograph “Leaping Into the Void” (which is an actual photograph of Yves Klein leaping off of a building), it depicts to me the leap into the realm of possibility. Or as stated in the book “Yves Klein—Works/Writings” by Klaus Ottmann, it was “a symbolic death that took art into the infinite air of a new freedom, unconstrained by the old rules of academic painting—of lines, nationalism, and narrow minded academism”.