Monday, August 24, 2015

The Beauty of Venetian Plaster

In Venice, Italy in the 1500s, builders began to use a very special material to finish the walls and ceilings of the dwellings in this magical city on the sea. They mixed plaster and colored tints with limestone and marble dust--and sometimes chips of marble--to create a finish that is quite dazzling. On my last trip to Venice, the finish was indeed everywhere, even in my Hotel Rialto, right next to the Ponte Rialto.


Venetian plaster is still done in this ancient method. In this time- and labor-intensive process, multiple layers of the plaster, infused with slaked limestone, are applied by hand. Once on, the layers are then burnished either to a satin or a very high gloss, glass-like texture and appearance. A more matte texture is also possible, but the hallmark of Venetian plaster is the gloss.


Once burnished, the plaster hardens and dries to stone...which makes sense since it is basically wet stone that is being troweled on to the surface. It is incredibly hard and durable. It can even stand up to water and is acceptable to use in bathrooms...and even in showers!

Walls look fantastic in Venetian plaster. Because of the multiple layers of plaster and limestone, the material has a startling and alluring depth. It can look like suede but the gloss brings out the depth even more.


But real luxury is a Venetian plastered ceiling. Below we see a bedroom with walls and ceiling in the same tone of Venetian plaster. Additionally, it appears that the walls are satin but the ceiling is high gloss.


Here are some more examples of Venetian plastered ceilings. The look is gorgeous--and is especially attractive on tray ceilings or barrel vaulted ceilings.


And Venetian plaster can be very versatile in terms of style: it may have originated in Venice in the sixteenth century, but the look is very at home in a modern setting. The "stone" texture and sensibility bring a contemporary edge to any space.


Happy designing!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Heath Ceramics

I went to Sausalito last week to visit my dear friend Sherry Page of Culinary Getaways and we took an impromptu field trip to the Heath Ceramics Studio, located right down by the water. I've loved Heath for years but had never had the opportunity to visit the factory and store until now.


Although there are other Heath locations, the Sausalito space is the original factory started in 1948 by Edith and Brian Heath. In the early 40s, Edith began making ceramics and despite the fact that she had no formal training (or perhaps because of it), she quickly made a name for herself. She had a one-woman exhibition at the San Francisco Legion of Honor in 1944 and a few years later, Heath Ceramics was established. Heath creations went on to adorn many Eichler, Neutra, and mid-century modern homes on tables (in the form of hand-crafted dinnerware), and on floors and walls (in the form of stunning dimensional tile). Edith's work led to advances in clay and glaze development, securing Heath a unique place in ceramic history, along with design awards including the Industrial Arts Award from the American Institute of Architects. Many of her original pieces are a part of the permanent collections of museums such as MOMA and LACMA. The factory itself was built in 1959, and was designed by the Heaths and Marquis and Stoller Architects.


In 2003, the company was bought by Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey and all of Heath’s products are still handcrafted by skilled artisans in small runs in the Bay Area. Edith and Brian Heath’s vision of making good things for good people—the right way—lives on.

In addition to serving platters and trays, Heath makes dinnerware of all kinds, including some very special collections, such as the Chez Panisse collection designed in collaboration with Alice Waters and made for the legendary Berkeley restaurant (which is ground zero for the modern foodie movement!).


They also produce clocks, house numbers, candle holders, and vases. But for me, as a designer, I am most interested in the specialty tiles they produce. The Sausalito location boasts an extensive tile design studio where you can see the many different colors and glazes they use in addition to the stunning shaped and raised tiles which can be used for many applications such as on fireplace breasts, and as kitchen back splashes or even bathroom walls!


Visit the Heath website for more information about the history of the company and how they make their products. And if you are in Northern California or will be, consider visiting as well as taking a tour of the Sausalito dinnerware factory or the San Francisco tile factory!
http://www.heathceramics.com/

Yours truly at the Heath Ceramic factory and store
Photo by Sherry Page

Happy designing!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Seletti Monkey Lamp

I am always on the look out for fun, unique, and interesting new products. And I think the newly released Monkey Lamp from Italian design company Seletti fits that bill nicely! I can imagine a pair on a Mid-Century Modern dining room buffet, or the hanging monkey perched in a hallway...


http://www.seletti.it/lighting/monkey-lamp.php

Happy designing!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Know Your Chairs: The Tolix

One of the most classic modern chairs to come not from a designer per se, but a manufacturer is the Tolix chair, created by Xavier Pauchard in 1934. The son of a roofer and zinc worker, Pauchard introduced to France in the 1920s a way of galvanizing steel that involved dipping the material in molten zinc. This imbued a protective layer onto the steel which made it highly durable and resistant to rust and wear and tear from the elements. He expanded his sheet metal business to include household goods, and then in 1927 he trademarked the name Tolix and added a line of chairs and stools.

Xavier Pauchard

Because the metal was so hearty and able to withstand sun, rain, and temperatures, Tolix chairs and stools became the natural choice for French cafés and bistros. They were also stackable, allowing cafés and bistros to store the chairs much easier. The lightness made them easy to move as well.

The original A chair is the classic.


Xavier Pauchard also designed an accompanying chair with a wider back, called the AC chair (now called the Marais A chair).


And in 1956, Xavier's son Jean designed an arm chair version called the A56.


Although you can still see Tolix chairs in use at Parisian cafés as well as restaurants here in the States, we now see them in interior residentail applications. Their industrial look is a great foil for use next to chairs from other periods or made out of different materials. Remember Design Mantra #1: "Contrast brings interest." Look at the images below to see the many inspiring ways this classic chair can be paired and utilized.


Vintage Tolix chairs with some wear (and a wee bit of rust) are highly prized and can be found at auction. But Tolix still manufactures their chairs in a variety of styles and shapes...and in either plain galvanized steel of in a wonderful array of colors.
http://www.tolix.fr/
Here in the States, their major distributor is Design Within Reach.
http://www.dwr.com/

Happy designing!

Monday, July 27, 2015

What Is Jacquard?

Let's look this week at jacquard fabric. You may have heard this term used for a kind of fabric but wondered exactly what it is.

Before we dive in to a description of this kind of material, let's go over a few basics of fabric. Nearly every type of fabric is woven from individual fibers on a loom. The fibers or threads that are attached to the loom which run vertically (away from the weaver) are called warp threads, and the ones that run horizontally (left to right of the weaver) are called weft fibers. Differing fabrics and effects can be achieved by varying the color, material, and number of warp and weft threads.

Jacquard is a type of fabric manufactured by using the Jacquard attachment on the loom which permits individual control of each of the warp yarns. This attachment which used punch cards was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801. Thus, fabrics of almost any type or complexity can be made, and jacquard fabrics can be very complex indeed. The punch card was later modified into an early form of a calculator, the forerunner of our modern computers.

Brocade and damask are types of jacquard woven fabrics. And there are other fabrics that can be woven on a loom with a jacquard attachment such as jerseys.

Below you can see a Jacquard attachment on a loom.


Here is a close-up of the punch cards, made of thin planks of wood. If there was a hole, a hook would raise. If not, the hook wold go down. In this way, a pattern would emerge in the fabric.


Joseph Marie Jacquard (July 7, 1752 – August 7, 1834), the inventor of the punch card attachment, was the son of Jean Charles Jacquard, a master weaver in Lyon, France.


Now, machines are computerized but still use a version of a Jacquard head attachment.
Below is a Jacquard loom at Sunbury Textile Mills in Pennsylvania.


And here we see a Jacquard loom at use in the Horred, Sweden factory of Ekelund, master weavers since 1692.


Take a look at some of the stunning jacquards that can be created using the Jacquard attachment. Up until the Jacquard attachment, such intricate patterns had to be hand-stitched of printed onto fabric, both time- and labor-intensive undertakings.


In a future post, we will talk about two other types of jacquard fabric: damask and brocade fabrics! Stay tuned...

Happy designing!