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.

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