Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

I wish all my readers and followers in the United States a very Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Happy designing!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Know Your Sofas: The Victorian Sofa

When surveying antique furniture, one of the broadest--and most abundant--periods is the Victorian Era. Strictly speaking, the term "Victorian" really only applies to a style in architecture, art, clothing, and interiors in Great Britain since Victoria's reign, from 1837 to 1901, only covered that realm. People use the term for a certain style of architecture here in the United States for homes that are actually more aptly termed "Italianate" but that is for another post.

During Victoria's reign which was quite long (a record broken by the current Queen Elizabeth II), several styles came into vogue. Interestingly, nearly all were revivals of some sort. The decades of her rule saw a Rococo Revival, a Gothic Revival, an Egyptian Revival, a Renaissance Revival, a Jacobean Revival, and digressions into styles known as Orientalism and American Eastlake (based on the work of English architect and furniture designer Charles Locke Eastlake). But I think more than any other style, we equate the Rococo Revival with what we stereotypically think of as Victorian furniture. Massive pieces, elaborate curves, dark woods, and phenomenally complex and ornate high-relief carvings are hallmarks of the Rococo Revival (Victorian) style which lasted longer than any other style in the era.

Sofas were upholstered in luxurious fabrics like velvet, damask, brocatelle, satin and silk and feature oval, round medallion, or cartouche backs.

As you see, Rococo Revival is a very specific style that is not easily integrated into other periods or designs. I feel it works best in a strict period room of the time. But it's helpful to know about this period of furniture since subsequent styles such as Art Nouveau, the Secessionist Movement, and Arts and Crafts were rebellions against the massive, heavy design and over-the-top sense of embellishment of Rococo Revival. If there's one thing one can count on in matters of style in any art form, it is that the pendulum will eventually swing the other direction!

Happy designing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

History of Furniture: The Eameses

What would Mid-Century style and design be without the enormous contributions of architect/designer duo and husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames?

Starting in 1941, Charles and his wife Ray pioneered the early technique of using molded plywood for the construction of furniture. When World War II began, they were tapped to use their molded plywood technique to create splints, stretchers, and glider shells, but thankfully, after the war, they continued their fruitful and imaginative furniture design.

The LCW Chair (Lounge Chair Wood)

The first piece of furniture produced at the close of WWII was the LCW chair which utilized all they learned about molded plywood during the war.

The DCW Chair (Dining Chair Wood)

The LCW Chair was followed by the DCW Chair which, as a dining chair, was created in a slightly different scale...more erect and upright for dining at a table.

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Wanting to create a chair that has the “warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt,” the Eameses introduced their Lounge Chair and Ottoman in 1956. This chair is sometimes referred to as the 670/671 Chair since that was the name of the Herman Miller part numbers used to make the seating!

While traditionally produced in black--and sometimes white--leather, the Eames Lounge chair looks great upholstered in unexpected fabrics, like this ethnic ikat shown below! Herman Miller currently sells the chair in many different leather and wood choices.

Eames Molded Plastic Chair

When Charles and Ray were creating their molded plywood chair, they initially wanted it to be composed of a single shell but the chair had issues at the curve where the seat met the back. With advances in plastics and fiberglass, they were finally able to fulfill their vision of a single shell (integrated deck and back) seat in their Molded Plastic and Fiberglass Chairs.

Eames Molded Fiberglass Chair

Designed in 1950, the fiberglass shell chair was the first mass-produced plastic chair in the world. The wire seat base is sometimes referred to as an "Eiffel Tower base" because of its resemblance to the famous Parisian landmark. The chair is also available with a wooden dowel base and a rocking base. And if you're worried about the environmental impact of fiberglass, fear not: Herman Miller now produces the chair by means of a less volatile, monomer-free "dry bind" process that is environmentally friendly and recyclable through the Herman Miller Take Back Program.

La Chaise

Charles and Ray designed the La Chaise lounge chair for The Museum of Modern Art’s 1948 “International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design.” Its name references both its function as well as Franco-American sculptor Gaston Lachaise’s Floating Figure (second image below), whose shape the Eameses thought would fit the chair perfectly. Although the chair was not produced for sale while Charles and Ray were alive, in 1996, long-time Eames partner Vitra International began manufacturing and distributing the La Chaise in response to public interest and demand. It has since become an icon of modern design.

Charles and Ray lived in a very special home in Pacific Palisades in Southern California. As part of the famous Case Study House program for John Entenza's Arts & Architecture magazine, the Eameses designed and built the now-legendary Case Study House No. 8, also known simply as The Eames House. Built in 1949, the modernist structure--with nods to Bauhaus and Mondrian--was not a cold, sterile shrine to minimalism but was instead lovingly filled with thousand of books, Isamu Noguchi floor lamps, Japanese kokeshi dolls, Chinese lacquered pillows, and Native American baskets. On September 20, 2006, the Eames House was designated a National Historic Landmark.

To learn more about Charles and Ray Eames and their other amazing creations and designs including film and textiles, visit the official Eames website. Their on-line shop is a treasure of original Eames designs.

The authentic and licensed Eames pieces in this post are also available through Herman Miller and Vitra International.

Happy designing!

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Celebration Of Red

Now that autumn is underway, let's look at a color we associate with this time of the year: red. Apples are ripe for the winter, cranberries will grace our holiday tables, and holly berries peek out from under a first snow.

Inside, red can be dramatic. It can be modern or historical. It can be bright and saturated or smokey and deep. Red can be polarizing too: I have read quotes by some celebrity designers who either love red or loathe it. Either way, you have to admit that red stands out. Especially when walls and ceiling are a cherry red lacquer, like in the dining room below...

If that is too bright for your taste, how about this deep claret sitting room by Jan Showers? People often think that painting their walls a dark color will make the room seem to be closing in on them, but in fact the opposite is true. Light colors advance, dark colors recede. Just like in a theater where black velvet is draped around the stage to mask the dimensions of the off stage area, a darker room does not allow for the eye to perceive the edges.

There is nothing more traditional for a library than a liberal coating of red!

The graphic black and white art work in the photo below looks superb against intense crimson.

Robert Couturier gave the walls in the following dining room of a Parisian townhouse a coat of glossy red lacquer, and paired it with tapestry material and an historical painting to reference the plush interiors of the Renaissance.

Designer Martha Angus painted her son's bathroom in her own Napa home in a red geranium--actually, she confesses she let her son pick the color but she went with it, and coated the base boards and trim work in the same hue to a spectacular effect.

Red is a constant presence in this eclectic bedroom in the Madrid home of antique dealer and interior designer Lorenzo Castillo. The headboard is upholstered in a sumptuous Bordeaux colored velvet by Valentino.

Compare the red lacquer dining room walls in our first image to the red lacquer walls in this dining room below and you will see how context can change everything! Brian McCarthy uses red here to invoke a Federalist style residence such as Monticello.

And what better use of red velvet than for a private screening room in a home in Beverly Hills designed by Kerry Joyce. Red velvet was used extensively in the "movie palaces" of the 1930s to the 50s. Look at the red curtains by the usherette in Edward Hopper's iconic "New York Movie."

Whether you love or loathe red, I wish you happy designing!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rub-A-Dub-Dub: The Skinny On Bath Tubs

I am working on several bathrooms for clients right now and one of the biggest elements in a bathroom is often the bath tub. A glance into the world of tubs reveals a plethora of configurations, sizes, and choices which can be a bit overwhelming. I'll try to break down some of the more common issues and terminology...

Undermount Tub

This term refers to a tub whose edge or lip is under the tub deck or surrounding surface on the top. As you can see in the images below, the deck is over the tub itself. This look is clean and streamlined and allows for more of the deck material to be seen, whether you choose marble, granite, or quartz.

Drop-in Tubs

On the other hand, drop-in tubs are literally dropped into the tub deck and the edge sits on top of the surround. The first image below is of a luxurious drop-in jetted whirlpool tub by Jason International I designed for a client (previously here). Depending on how large the tub surround is, much of the deck material (a gorgeous grey and white Letoon marble from Turkey in this case) is still seen. We designed this one with enough room to set down a book or glass of wine.

Alcove Tub

Also referred to as a skirted tub, or what is called an "apron," this tub fits into an alcove, as seen below. Walls at the head and foot of the tub create an alcove. This is commonly seen in smaller homes and apartments since it saves on space. The face, side, or apron can come in different shapes and configurations as well. Another thing to look for when looking at an alcove tub is which way the drain is oriented. You want to make sure you are replacing your old tub with a model that will fit with your current drain position since moving plumbing lines can be a very expensive prospect. The first photo below is a right hand facing drain and the next is, as you can guess, a left hand facing drain.

Free Standing Tub

A free standing tub is quite classical, even in a modern design. Such tubs now have beautiful swooping sides, dramatic sizes, or contemporary, design-forward sensibilities like the half-egg shape below. But unlike alcove tubs, free standing tubs generally require space to look good. They don't want to be crowded.

Clawfoot Tub

What could be more traditional than a clawfoot bath tub?

This design is based on the clawfoot leg on furniture, a version of which can be found as far back as the Renaissance. But the style really became popular when Thomas Chippendale, a British cabinet maker and furniture designer created the claw and ball foot. As its name implies, the terminus of such a leg features an animal claw over a ball. And you can see that very design in the claw foot tub below. But a clawfoot leg or a tub does not have to have a ball, as seen in the second image.

Jetted Whirlpool Tub

Some people call a jetted tub a "spa" and there are a few different types. The most common one is the jetted whirlpool type which recirculates water and forces it out in jets. Jacuzzi is a company that pioneered the creation and manufacture of these tubs and is a brand name, not a generic overall name. However it has become synonymous with any type of jetted water tub; in this way it is much like people using a Q-tip (a cotton swab) or a Kleenex (a tissue): companies love it when their name becomes the name of the product!

Just like regular soaking tubs, whirlpool tubs are made in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. The jets themselves come in many different configurations as well with some featuring more jets at the bather's back, or jets all around including the leg and foot area!

Here is a drop-in jetted whirlpool tub by Jason International that I did for a client (previously here) to a relaxing fireplace!

As you can see below, water shoots out of a set of jets but because of the nature of the mechanism, there are a few challenges that come with this type of tub. It requires electricity to power the motor needed to pump the water. An access panel to service the motor must be built into either the foot of the tub, the side (or apron), or outside on an exterior wall, as is the case with the tub I designed above.

Another consideration is the cleaning and upkeep. You can see in the photo below how water exits the jets. It feels wonderful to relax in such a tub but there should be regular maintenance as water tends to settle and remain in the pipes after a bath. Mildew and mold can collect, as with any tub or shower in a bathroom, and your whirlpool tub should be cleaned, disinfected, and flushed. How often? Well, that depends on  how much you use it. If you are using the jets nearly every day, clean the system at least once a month.

Jetted Air Tub

Much like a whirplool, this kind of tub uses jets but instead of water, it forces out air. Some of the jets are larger, like a whirlpool, but some tubs have very small holes all along the bottom or sides so air streams out, making the water feel almost carbonated! The fizziness and bubbliness is delightful.

This underwater view shows a lot more air, as opposed to the photo of a water jet in the last section.

And finally, a word about size: tubs come in differing widths, lengths, and depths. The best way to understand tub size is to go to a showroom or warehouse and "test drive" as many sizes as you can. Tubs come as small as 20" wide (which, in my opinion, is way too tight) up to as much 50" or more! A comfortable width is generally around 36" or 38" for a single person. Now, you will want to pay attention to whether these numbers are total dimensions or dimensions of the basin, or in other words, from outside to outside (exterior) vs. the opening in which you will be sitting (interior).

The length will depend upon how much space you have and how tall the bathers are (another vbery important consideration).

And some other dimensions that can be confusing are the depth not only of the tub from floor to top (a 24" high tub is about normal but I wouldn't want to go higher or much lower) but of the bathing depth which is measured from the bottom of the inside of the tub to the top of the overflow, the maximum depth of water. I had a client with an existing tub whose bathing depth was only 9"--that was not a bath, that was just sitting in a puddle! If you want a good soak, try to get the interior depth as deep as you can!

I hope this helped to solve some of the more perplexing questions about bath tubs. If you need more help with a tub or a bathroom remodel, feel free to contact me!

Happy designing!