Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More to the book than its zebra print cover



I am always happy to infuse more adventure into my work, so it was with great pleasure that  I welcomed Steve Jones and Amanda Malson to the Remains Lighting showroom for this year’s Legends of La Cienega event. There is a great backstory to Steve and Amanda's window, which interprets the 2014 theme, Novels Interiors: Storytelling by Design.

Most design aficionados have seen Osa Johnson’s autobiography I Married Adventure, even if they don’t realize it. A bestseller when it was published in 1940, the book recounts Osa and husband Martin’s travels: picture exotic Africa and the South Pacific, headhunters, pygmies and big game animals. The book introduced truly novel countries and customs to the imagination of folks who might not even identify Kenya on a map of darkest Africa. Used as a styling piece and prop in countless interiors and photoshoots over the years, the graphic zebra print cover of early editions of the novel has established it as a design icon in its own right.  

But the plot thickens: Amanda grew up in the small town of Chanute, Kansas, where Osa spent her years prior to marrying adventure and traveling to farflung locales. So to create the window, Amanda tapped friends, relatives and colleagues back home to fill the Legends window with their cherished copies of I Married Adventure. Amanda worked with The Safari Museum in Chanute, which houses artifacts the Johnsons collected on their travels. It might be worth a trip to Kansas to discover more of the story that Osa and Martin Johnson and the legacy of adventure they installed on American bookshelves.







Steve and Amanda's window will be on view through May 16. Please visit us at Remains Lighting, 808 North La Cienega.


See what else is in the window:
www.remains.com

See more of Amanda and Steve's work:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Frisco Rainbow

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Four colourful days near my favourite Bay:

1. Lisa Bakamis at the San Francisco Decorator's Showhouse. 
2. Artist Bernadette Franks, represented by Dolby Chadwick in San Francisco. Thank you, Cecilia Sagrera Hill.
3. Heath Ceramics' luscious glazes.
4. Hayes Valley welcome kisses.
5. Test driving the Olli lounger at Heath.
6. HAG Capisco chairs remind vertebrates to sit up straight.
7. Vertebrates at play.
8. PapaLlama prints at Aesthetic Union. Smirk.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lights of the UK

It's a wonderful thing to be inspired by your work. 

My colleague David Calligeros created a mobile app for a series of annual design conferences that maps out significant or noteworthy light installations in the cities or countries that host the conference. Each pin on the map pops up a photograph and image of the installation, historical or technical notes, and the location of a nearby café or watering hole so you can rest your travel weary feet.

He documented Lights of Copenhagen, Lights of Morocco. I've never been to Copenhagen, so the app was a fun way to imagine the city, and the entries are a fantastic mobile museum for the design inclined.

Taking up David’s game, I like to document remarkable lights I see when I’m traveling. This summer I spent a month in the UK. I'm not quite as tech savvy, but here are my Lights of Scotland and England. 




World Heritage status should have prepared me, but still I was blown away by Bath. The Roman ruins, the Circus, the River Avon, the fashion museum. The fashion museum? Yes. Housed in the Assembly Rooms, which are a traditionalist's dream, the Museum of Costume surveys dress over hundreds of years. In addition to the corsets and crinolines you can try on in the basement, there is elaborate plasterwork, layers of painted decoration, and banks of lofty windows to enjoy upstairs.


A trio of crystal chandeliers hung in a pretty pale ballroom on the south side of the building. We had acres of dance floor available from which to gaze at the intricate ceiling. After I got up off my back from taking this photo, my mother taught an impromptu class in English country dance, the proper stuff you'd find in an Austen novel. If only we'd had some of those gowns from the basement.


I made a point to return to Glasgow on this trip to steep in nouveau architecture. It was a great counterpoint to Gaudi's work which I saw in Barcelona a few years ago, fleshing out how the style expressed itself in different parts of Europe. 

Rennie Mackintosh was the rose of the Glasgow school. I craned my neck walking through the core of the city to admire the metal flowers ranked below the Art School windows, and the blossoms carved in sandstone at the Lighthouse.

His work is striking because it encompasses every detail of interior and exterior, from facades to furniture, stonework to table service. This simple fixture of woven metal strips was designed for the Willow Tea Rooms. It seems inspired by rustic countryside baskets. The open lattice work creates beautiful organic patterns with the light, a hallmark of a great decorative fixture.

Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, was bursting at the seams with art. Festival season was about to start, and it felt totally normal to have performers on every street playing everything from bagpipes to panpipes to steel saws.

The National Museum in Edinburgh just underwent an incredible makeover, and I spent the better part of a day bouncing around their diverse collections. This monumental bronze lantern in the museum's collection originally hung in a central public space at the Scotsman newspaper building in Edinburgh. It was the heyday of newspapers, a prestigious institution that delivered a world of information, education and sophistication, and the massive light in the advertising hall communicated that stature to the crowds thronging the place.

Thistles never fail to make me smile. I grew up in a Scottish household, which instilled in me a lasting appreciation for all things Scot: tartan and bagpipes, thistles and bland food. Edinburgh Castle was definitely a highlight of the trip: just the views over the walls to the city and the water made it worth the climb up that huge rock. 

The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle is known for its fine hammer beam ceiling, from which two rows of massive chandeliers hang. The gothic foliage on the arms and the fretwork of the painted lantern body are exceptional. The pale greenish tone contrasts with the serious red of the hall and the somber ceiling, and is a lovely foil to the thistle shields placed between the arms.




Driving through England, I stopped outside of Manchester at a place called Tatton Park. A sprawling acreage, the Egerton family's neoclassical manse is managed by the National Trust, as are Lord Egerton's apartments, the stables, and sundry other outbuildings on the property. Like similar stateside preserves I imagine they constantly totter between dilapidation and resplendent restoration. 

Here were perhaps my favorite lighting moments on the trip. I found this in the stairwell in a back hall at Tatton Park. Imagine one of those spaces in Downton Abbey that links upstairs and downstairs, the servants to those they serve. The brass fitter of the pendant creates a shadowy halo on the ceiling: the best lights harness shadow. And the glass throws chattering golden swirls around that dark.




The morning I visited Tatton Park, I was delighted to see staff at work cleaning the crystal chandeliers in the library. Housing 8,000 books, the library is a perfectly symmetrical room. It could have been a classically trained architect's Rorschach: one side mirrors the other, like the inky plan was drafted then folded in on itself. 




One by one, each crystal is removed from the chandelier, tagged to ensure it's properly ordered, cleaned and polished by hand, then replaced on the frame in its original spot. First one chandelier, then its mate on the other side of the room.

This industrious team reminded me of one of my favorite colleagues, antiques specialist Jenna Major. With a meticulousness that verges on insanity, she restores the antique lights for the Remains Lighting collection. Her work astounds me: not only is her metal artistry amazing, her service for lights is a bit like what animal rescuers do for all those cute little puppies and kitties wandering the streets. She loves these neglected pieces back to good health and ultimately helps them find good homes. 

Watching them work delighted me. Those chandeliers glistened. It must have been a coup for the Trust. It was a warm, fuzzy moment that made me glad to travel, and glad to know I had good work to come home to.



In vogue in Bath:
http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/


The cult of Mackintosh:
http://www.crmsociety.com/default.aspx


Manchester, England, England:
http://www.tattonpark.org.uk/







Saturday, April 20, 2013

From Darkness, Light

It’s spring. Buds are breaking on twig tips, fine sprays of grass fringe walkways, and a shifting palette of salt, slate and blue in the foggy mornings lifts to reveal gently sunny afternoons.

With spring comes an itch to move: I’ve been dying to get out of town.

 So it was perfect timing for “Cities within a City,” the first of the Southern California Institute of Classical Architecture’s local tours.

I drove about an hour south of Los Angeles Saturday morning with a fresh iced coffee, and met a host of new and familiar friends at the fountain at Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes. A herd of lithe young men were stretching on the grass by the plaza, their bicycles propped nearby.

They would ride the ragged coastline of the Pacific Ocean, hidden from view just beyond the stands of pepper and eucalyptus trees.

The inscrutable sound of peacock cries echoed around the hills.

After a morning tour of the plaza and the public buildings at Malaga Cove, we convened in the courtyard of my friend Steve Shriver’s home out near Portuguese Bend for an intimate al fresco lunch. The home was built by Los Angeles luminary Gordon Kaufman. The Shriver family has lived at The Farmstead, as it’s called, since 1984. A humble set of apartments, they were actually the service buildings of a grand imagined but unrealized Italianate home overlooking the ocean.




Steve is an artist, and this is an artist’s home. Surfboards are propped in the horse stables. The coastal land is settling constantly, revealing fissures and charm in the thick plaster.

One bit of charm the home recently revealed is an age darkened folio that Steve found in the attic: the sheaf contains a set of watercolor renderings of light fixtures that were designed for the home when it was being built in the 1920s.

Steve had mentioned these drawings to me some time ago, knowing my interest in antique lighting. I could not have anticipated my delight in finally seeing them in person.










A precisely metered cursive, penciled almost 100 years ago, captions the drawings. Gentle wrinkles and a wide border naturally frame each drawing.














The watercolor renderings would fit in the palm of your hand. The B.B. Bell Company proposed a series of wrought iron lights for the Levinson Estate, aka The Farmstead. There is little information about B.B. Bell floating in the ether, but they are credited with lighting the Adamson House in Malibu, and Greystone, the Doheny Mansion in the hills not too far from where I live and work in Los Angeles.

The Bell artist handles the bleeding color deftly, revealing the twist in the iron framing, spikes rising like a crown around a glass lantern body, the open mouth of a dragon peering down from a wall bracket.



Charcoal and slate and a cadmium-bright yellow whisper over the graphite, the color illuminating the sketches.

I imagined the bare terraces of the peninsula when it was first being developed in the 1920s, and in turn the Bell designer imagining how his dark, scrolling lanterns would sway in the sea breeze. Wall sconces hanging from elaborate brackets would illuminate the gate posts of the quiet, thick walled villa.

Some of the fixtures were less Mediterranean – simple geometric forms fashioned from sheet metal. The artist mottles the dark colors representing the metal as if anticipating the patina that sea air and salt would bring naturally over time.




To catch the likeness not just of metal, but light, and glass. My heart leapt at these:






The crackling edge of a pale color used to render the glass seems to glint off the page.

When I think about the photographs of our lights that I print by the dozens, I am stunned. (And that’s not at all to diminish the artistry of our in house photographer, Jerome. His detail shots regularly make me catch my breath). But these renderings are one of a kind, and stand as art in their own right, with no need of the artisan-made lights that they conjure.

Sadly, the lights were never made. I wondered if that might be because the main house was never built, but the notes make it clear that they were proposed for the outbuildings. The captions note fixtures for Entry, Lavatory, Service Porch, Outside of Tool Room, Bath Lavatory, Servant’s Hall. Humble spaces to support a grand villa.

And those numbers? 1920s pricing!

Steve does have some beautiful lanterns on the gateposts before his home. And I saw a light on the Villa Francesca just down the road that looked a lot like one drawn for the Farmstead. Villa Francesca is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Whether or not the light is by Bell, I think the spirit lingers here.



Entertain and educate your inner classicist with the Institute of Classical Architecture:
http://www.classicist-socal.org/

Visit the light side, where this was originally posted:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Design Discontent




















We were sitting on the deep, shimmery gray, mohair sofa in the lounge. Nine massive portraits of Hollywood stars simmered on the wall behind us, larger than life and infinitely more composed.

We were at the Reserve, a home built by Gordon Gibson and designed by Kristoffer Winters. The place was like a vintage stage set, a study in Art Deco, ready to host a cast of beautiful, angular people.  The finishes gleamed, dark and masculine. "Who's going to move in here?" one of us asked over a cocktail. Five illuminated globes shone above the gleaming arc of the bar and glanced off bottles. Five was almost in excess, but decorative fixtures were a hallmark of machine age design. It was as if they thought they might harness the unruly, spectacular nature of light itself.

Definitely a man. A sports star? A family, polished in every particular. A foreign family. Just passing through from a country rich with oil or export money.

Before the debut of an owner, freshly relieved of $25 million, we toured the home privately, a group of architects, designers, builders and related tradespeople. We oogled over every well-wrought detail.

The crisp lustre of the walnut doors parading down the main hallway. The gleam of freshly minted door hinges, like nickel butterflies alighting to bask in the rays from the angular pendants above. The chalky softness of the honed marble countertops in the kitchen and the twin islands that converged toward a view of the pool lively with fountains beyond a wall of glass. The thick loam of the area rugs that held the seating arrangement in a shaggy embrace by the fireplace.

We walked from room to room choosing favorites, admiring moments. My shoes would go here in Her Closet, a space larger than my current bedroom. I'd place my comb there, regarding my likeness in the vanity mirror in Her Bath. (His Bath, with a vintage barber's chair perched in the dressing area, trumped Her's.)


The design team talked about their collaboration, and the standard to which we all must aspire in creating magnificent residences. The builder stood before the flickering fireplace in the lounge, which was set to one side in a wall tiled with something that looked semi-precious, like tiger's eye.

Surmounted by a glamourous screen star on the mantel, the builder alluded to the fact that this home would be standing long after most of us were laying six feet under. It was as if it were timeless, immortal.

"And now I have to go home," my friend lamented on the mohair sofa beside me. To a humble single family home in Pasadena. And I, to a somewhat flavorless box that I rent in a lovely neighborhood very close to my West Hollywood office. No crown moldings, barely a quarter round at the baseboard, which may have been nibbled here and there by termites, and is fuzzy with the memory of wall to wall carpet.

At the Reserve, the moon is just past full and it picks out the stylized eagles on the corner friezes of the facade. I walk down the long driveway to my car. I am in two spaces at once.

Sitting here on my well-loved vintage sofa, the original horsehair upholstery starting to wear in spots, I feel a wistful movement in my heart. There is a niggling desire for something beyond all this. It's a feeling I call design discontent. I yearn for beauty and fineness, not for the materiality of it, but because it moves my spirit.

A continuous aesthetic rhythm runs through the Reserve, from the flow of the floor plan, to the duet played between the wavy glass in the kitchen doors and the wind's ripple on the long slender pool, down to the staccato of the slotted screws holding the place together.

We talk lightly about money as no object. But to experience what that means is intense. A beauty greater than the sum of its parts is attainable with near endless funding. The homes we work on are the manifestation of design visions so pure they're almost unearthly. The pavers in some of these homes actually are gold.

We are deeply aware of the standard that we work for - it can still the heart. Yet we may never experience such fineness in our own dwellings. But of course, it isn't the rug that really ties the room together: it's the artistic energy behind it.

Beautiful as it is, the Reserve is not yet someone's home. I imagine those who come to live there in my mind's eye. I hope that their hearts beat like ours.



If you're shopping:
http://www.hiltonhyland.com/listings/107-delfern-los-angeles-ca-90077




Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making Things With Light


On a Saturday night in Portland, with the threat of frozen precipitation during my weekend getaway from LA, I found myself at Disjecta on the north side of town. The gallery recommendation came via circuitous route from LA friends.

I knew only that it was installation work.

Chris Fraser, a Bay Area artist, works with camera as concept, ergo he works with light. Passing through the entry of the space one first had to negotiate a cloud of paint fumes while adjusting to the dim light. The dawning recognition of simple shapes and color followed.

The installation was built of light and surface: a corridor constructed around three sides of the room, each segment of which was cut to allow in light from pendants mounted in a central space.

We entered the corridor gleefully and then slowed. It was easy to rush and immediately apparent that this was not right. Art intends to stop you in your tracks, and we obeyed, pausing in this dark 8 foot wide x 7 foot high opening.

In the first segment Fraser cut thin vertical notches out of the wall, an inch or less wide. Three strips of light, purple, red, green, cut through the gap and splayed onto the concrete floor at three distinct angles, and painted parallel lines on the outer wall of the corridor. The sheen of fresh latex paint defined the incandescent light as crisply as a laser.

One or another color would flick off at intervals when an unseen figure passed in front of the light outside the corridor. Occasionally an abbreviated silhouette caught in an inch strip of light on the wall.

In the second segment Fraser notched the wall on the diagonal. The notches themselves were triangular if viewed from above, the angle opening to the outside of the wall. This brought to mind a prism.

We wondered if we were walking through a triptych: was each segment a distinct light painting, this assemblage the role of the curator credited at the start of the show?

The ambient light in the corridor seemed to increase after we passed the second, diagonally cut section. Here we slowed again: it was hard for the eye to delineate the corner despite the lift in the darkness. It was as if concentrating on the colors had fuzzed our ability to see the subtle gradations of white that marked the intersecting walls. We oozed through this alpenglow, anticipating a moment.

In the last segment of the piece, a cluster of bodies and wide bands fills the eye. The tight notches give way to openings a foot or more wide. Wide enough to pass through, the last one (the foot of the corridor was walled off) was ostensibly a door to the central courtyard of the installation.



In the center space were a trio of industrial caged lights lined with translucent purple, red and green Mylar. The alternating combination and contrast of lights as you move through the space casts distinct colors: the lights were not actually blending to create secondary or tertiary colors, yet the eye read them as such. Fuchsia, white, yellow, distinct, recombinant hues. The colors really weren’t there, but were implied in the shadows cast by the corridor roofline. Lights at differing distances from the white wall stacked in bands of different hues.

In that final moment, color coats the wall thickly, while the light source becomes evident through the cutaway. People lingered here chatting, and their crisp black silhouettes broke into the color. The relationship of light, shadow and color resolves in this passage, and it brings a playful feeling of recognition.

Fraser’s previous work with light often uses a mobile source, the sun, to make the installation innately dynamic. In one piece he installed slatted raw wood panels in the bay window of a partially gutted San Francisco townhouse, framing a day's changing shadow and light. I read that the Disjecta installation was his first use of colored lights, but anyone who’s tracked the sun from morning to late afternoon knows its changeable hues.

When I entered the corridor at Disjecta I remembered the delight with the neon work of Dan Flavin. Both use light to pigment space. "I want to call attention to a type of beauty that usually goes unnoticed" Fraser said. Walking slowly to absorb the space and the effect reveals the art already there. 

I was aware in this piece, called "In Passing," of why art is considered a sacred act: it calls us to mindfulness, to creation. In this simple intervention, cuts in a wall, Fraser calls our attention to what already is and in that creates a space of awe at the nature of things. I found myself wondering if the three colors were a prism being split by the aperture. If the colors were being split, like the atomized colors of a projector, which we see in an image in a million shades and hues, and the lines a refraction of those components. 



"Rather than describing the dry mechanics of how light moves through space, I prefer to show concrete examples of what it is capable of doing." That simple motion is capable of delighting the heart.


Chris Fraser:
http://chrisfraserstudio.com/

Disjecta, Portland
http://www.disjecta.org/


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Do you hear what I hear?


i said to the barista "wow, you guys have a bangin' sound system here." it was like being in the ocean. the music totally surrounded me, like warm water so thickly salted it cradles you into weightlessness.

he pointed wordlessly behind me, and i followed his sightline. i'd missed the black-clad quartet arranged in the front corner when i scanned the room at the first swell of strings. half of them backed against the plate glass and the bright december sun outside.

i sat at a table about three body lengths from the source of the sound. warm cup on top of newsprint.


i would not normally sit in the shop, but the music moved me to stay. i would not normally welcome the same ole' christmas chestnuts. i don't believe the myths. what's more, i don't care for most of the tunes: showy bright and silly. i grew up in los angeles. winter wonderland is quaint, dated, and as resonant with my life experience as explosions made in the nearest soundstage that some action hero will later be dropped into via cgi.

first violin focused on her part, tripping up a set of sixteenth notes with simple intent. it was admirable playing, neither terrible nor sublime, but her focus said that it might be graceful one day. watching her track the cascade of black notes before her made the music come alive. it burrowed into my heart. there was a subtle bodily collaboration from viola, second violin, and cello: an inclined head, a torso leaned forward, an elbow shot out. a whole posture unfurling - dropping hands, bow and shoulders, lifting chest, chin and smile in the relaxed aftermath as vibration evaporates into stillness.

i sat at attention, through images of clip-cloppity horses, blond angels in red and white raiment, turbanned silhouettes shuffling forward under a clear night sky. then the harmonies of 'silent night' rose softly. i sat floating in their music, in the buoyancy of it. it was as if their bows drew directly across my heart. motes of rosin caught the sunlight of the window.

i clutched my cup, choked at the sweetness of it, letting salt tears drip into the ocean of their music.




i sat at meditation this morning. i discovered after a year of practice that trying to focus on my breath often brings up anxiety, with it a slight asphyxiation. when offered, i will often choose sound as the object of attention.

the heater set the tone. the vent clacked and clattered. a dull rush enveloped the staccato notes. it encircled my consciousness. periodically a flat arc of a car's passing. closer, a woman coughed a rough triplet, low low lower, the plosive notes offset by pause. the sounds spontaneously built the space, carving concentric circles that marked distance from my ears, my consciousness, inside and outside the building.

the teacher spoke. i heard the bright pitch of her voice. it tickled through my head. i relinquished, somewhat, the meaning of her words, and simply felt five horizontal copper strands vibrate with the pluck of her tongue. i registered the rise and fall of her tone, when syllables were drawn long, or pulled over a series of notes. a cascade or a cataract.

i listened as intently as i could. sometimes my breath shortened, and commanded my attention. it usually does when my legs start to fall asleep. a bright voice. thought: call the cat sitter. a cough. my own mental voice storytelling, explaining, imploring. the demand of my tingling legs. from outside: an instruction to return to expanded consciousness if the concentration is stable. thoughts tinkling like a xylophone.

i settle on the symphony of the heater.

and then it stopped. the system cycled off. it was like thick cotton wool and tattered pinky gray insulation tearing back. breath. a rustle of limbs and shifting weight. footsteps and laughter muffled by the glass door.

soft quiet layers, a gentle flow of woodwind and brass. surging gently.

i heard people
near me
breathing.

with the machinery off, i settle on the symphony that is.