Monday, February 23, 2015

CoeLux Brings A Sunny Sky Anywhere

Since the atmosphere of our little planet is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases, the sunlight that passes through the atmosphere has a very specific and identifiable quality and color...and creates our familiar and comforting blue sky. And now, physicist Professor Paolo Di Trapani of Insubria University at Como, Italy has created a revolutionary technological discovery that brings sunlight and blue skies to any space, no matter where it is. Even underground. After a decade of research and development, Professor Di Trapani uses an LED light source filtered through several layers of nanoparticles (which function as the layers of nitrogen, oxygen, and miscellaneous gases in our atmosphere) to mimic exactly the sun as an orb of light in a blue sky. The results are simply jaw dropping--look at the photos below that CoeLux assures us are not Photoshopped. They are raw photos of the actual product.

In November 2014, CoeLux was crowned “Light Source Innovation of the year” at the Lux Awards, and rightly so. The implications for this invention are staggering and will change interior architecture forever. Subterranean homes and businesses, parts of the world that don't see much sunlight for reasons of latitude or pollution, or areas of buildings where a roof line or second story will not permit a skylight will all benefit tremendously from this marvel.

CoeLux is currently offered in three levels, each with a regional, or geographical cast. CoeLux 60 creates sunlight at a 60 degree angle to create near-equatorial tropical light. For light with a Mediterranean feel, CoeLux 45 delivers a 45 degree beam. And CoeLux 30 features a 30 degree angled beam of light reminiscent of Nordic light. But the company is at work producing a commercially feasible version for regular applications.

Watch this short video about the product. It is just mind boggling...keep in mind that you are not seeing sun and sky but an artificial light source that seems to be anything but.

And visit their site for more details:

Happy designing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Three Patterns of Africa: Kuba, Kente, and Mud Cloth

Using ethnic cloth as an accent in interiors is a wonderful way to add character, texture, and pattern. The following three cloths, all hailing from Africa, are beautifully earthy and graphic, and would lend tremendous panache to any space.

Kuba (KOO-buh) cloth is made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, out of raffia. Men grow, harvest, and weave the raffia into a coarse material which is then given to the women who pound the cloth in a mortar to soften it. Once it becomes supple, the women then appliqué geometric patterns to the yardage of the base cloth. The result is a fabric that bears a resemblance to cut velvet. The patterns traditionally vary in a single piece, abruptly shifting from one repetitive pattern to another.

Because of the nature of the raffia, this material is better suited for smaller, decorative items like pillows or displayed as wall hangings and art, but one does see it used on seating and chairs. The first photo below shows a bench upholstered in kuba cloth from West Elm (now discontinued).

Native to the Akan people of South Ghana, kente (KEN-tay) cloth is unique in that it is actually comprised of many individual strips of tightly woven cloth. These strips are woven into a bigger piece of fabric, much like the strapping of lawn chairs, in an "over-under" pattern, creating rich layers of stripes and lines. A hallmark of kente cloth is its bright colors of orange, green, blue, and black.

Below we see it used as a pillow cover for a bright sitting area by Glenn Gissler.

Mud cloth from Mali, also called bògòlanfini (bow-hoe-lan-FEE-nee), is dyed and patterned using fermented mud high in iron content which lends the rich rusts, browns, and blacks characteristic of this fabric. The room below uses mud cloth and kuba cloth! Like kuba and kente cloth, mud cloth also features highly geometric patterns with, generally speaking, extra thick lines.

Mud cloth is perfect for using in upholstery because of its thicker, near-burlap-like texture which holds up well on chairs and sofas. It looks good on simple pieces of furniture as seen in the desk chair in the first photo below, but it also looks amazing on antique or European pieces like the Louis XV chair in the second photo below. Remember Design Mantra #1: "Contrast brings interest!"

I used a piece of authentic mud cloth as a tree skirt under an African themed holiday tree I created a few years ago for a charity called The Holiday Designer Showhouse, here in Northern California. You can read the original post here.

I have access to many sources of fabric which invoke kuba, kente, and mud cloth, but also know where to get the original versions of these cloths. If you would like to reupholster a chair, or create some custom pieces of furniture utilizing these stunning fabrics, give me a call!

Happy designing!

Monday, February 9, 2015

History of Furniture: Japan

At first glance, this installation of History of Furniture might seem to be not much about furniture at all, but stay with me. Like everything else that exists on this planet, furniture has evolved and grown over time. We did not always have a "sofa" or a "chair" to sit on. At various times throughout history and in different cultures, homes may have contained an array of objects which might not seem familiar or comfortable to our 21st century sensibilities.

This might be the case with the interiors of ancient Japan. Interestingly, in both ancient and contemporary traditional Japanese culture, the floor is really the place to sit or sleep. Notice that furniture seating is conspicuously absent in the beautiful room above (the only furniture pieces are low tables for eating, writing, or display). Japanese interiors were furnished with a type of woven straw floor mat called tatami. These mats were finished on the edges and could be laid in different configurations to adapt to the shifting dimensions of the rooms which could be adjusted using sliding shoji screens. Then, as now, shoes were left outside before entering a home. In this way, the tatami mats remained clean for sitting and sleeping.

The concept of ma, or of negative space, and the simplicity inherent in the Zen belief system both shaped the way the Japanese approached interiors... and indeed nearly every element of their lives. Notice how there is a tremendous amount of open space, or interval between objects in the room above. Psychologically and spiritually, this allows space for the imagination, for living, for an actuality that goes beyond simply a person in a space. This attention to ma was, and to a great degree still is, an integral part of life in Japan. Notice the long and large inset niche in the wall below... it is meant simply to hold a sumi (a special Japanese black ink) calligraphic scroll or perhaps a painting on silk, and a small seasonal ikebana floral arrangement. This follows the Japanese idea of awareness and contemplation induced by certain objects.

Another very important aspect of Japanese interiors was and is the idea of inside and outside and the symbiotic relationship between the two. I mentioned that shoji screens are used to close off rooms. But the converse is true as well: shoji screens are used to open up rooms to each other or to walkways and views beyond, linking rooms and linking nature to the rest of the house. The Zen rock garden is a vital feature, one that exemplifies all the ideas we have been discussing: ma or empty space, objects that stimulate awareness or contemplation, and a connection to nature. Rock gardens are meant to look like mountains rising out of fog or islands in a sea. The asymmetrical arrangement of varied and unusually shaped rocks is an example of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, or the idea that imperfection and the randomness found in nature instead of imposed uniformity is what creates true beauty.

Above: A view of the rock garden at Koyasan, a Buddhist monastery.

Above: Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple in Kyoto, features one of the most abstract rock gardens in Japan.

Despite all this talk of space and an absence of furniture, there were indeed wooden pieces of furniture. In addition to small, low tables that could be used as Buddhist prayer tables or to hold smaller altars...

...there were the altars themselves. More modest homes naturally possessed modest altars but wealthy homes boasted large, intricate, and gilt-covered altars large enough to stand on their own.

And of course any household in any period needed--and we still need!--storage. The earliest examples of Japanese storage pieces show up in the 8th century in the form of wooden chests called tansu. These chests were often plain but could be covered with iron strapping or decorative iron work. Another common feature: handles on the sides so the piece could be moved out of the house quickly in case of fire (which unfortunately happened frequently with homes being made of wood and rice paper).

A variation of the tansu is the mizuya, or kitchen storage chest. This held any and all kitchen objects behind convenient sliding doors.

A very popular variation on the tansu is the kaidan tansu or step tansu which looks--and functions--like a staircase. It first appeared in the 1700s.

When looking for actual Japanese antiques, keep in mind that not much has survived before the Edo period. Such items are rare and quite expensive. What you will find will be pieces from the Edo period (1603-1867) but more likely from the Meiji (1868-1912) or Taisho (1912-1926) eras.

Happy designing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

From Brick To Stone: A Fireplace Make Over By Fiorito Interior Design

One of the components of a recent remodel for some clients was a fireplace in a family room/kitchen area. As you can see in the image below, the fireplace had an ugly brick face--but what you don't see is the brick mantel and floating shelves made of the same brick, removed by the contractor in preparation for a gorgeous new gold and grey stacked stone face. We also removed an unsightly pellet-burning stove that sat outside of the fireplace.

Once we picked a stacked stone we liked that had a nice amount of warm and cool colors, a pleasing rustic profile, and a uniformly slim cut...

... my client and I were able to go to a stone yard and pick out some slabs of slate for the raised hearth. We tried some of the lighter tones to see if they would play well with the gold in the stacked stone, but none of them felt right. As you can see in the finished fireplace at the bottom of this post, we chose a light grey which seemed to ground the entire façade quite well.

The end result looks so much more sophisticated yet retains a casual, organic warmth. You can see in the first photo at the top of the post that we installed some recessed ceiling fixtures to wash light down the front of the fireplace breast, to highlight the beautiful rough texture  and bring out the lovely, almost sparkly gold tones.

This fireplace is adjacent to a kitchen remodel I created for my clients which will be featured here soon. Stay tuned...

Happy designing!