Monday, March 27, 2017

Century by Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore has just released a new line of paint called Century. Hand mixed in small batches at a single workshop in New Jersey, it took Benjamin Moore scientists and colorists five years to formulate this new paint that has a matte, soft-touch finish giving the end product the look of soft leather. While you probably won't want to encourage people touching your walls, the end result is a stunning depth of color unlike any other paint on the market.

"Century was created for the finest of designs that require flawless execution and impeccable quality," said Harriette Martins, Benjamin Moore Senior Brand Manager. "The unmatched richness and color saturation, coupled with the tactile experience of Century, delivers a new dimension in paint unlike anything the design world has seen. With Century, color becomes an experience."

Century comes pre-mixed and sealed in a curated collection of only 75 hues, and is available at select Benjamin Moore outlets. I'm excited to use this product and to see these lush, sumptuous colors on a wall...

Happy designing!

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Obama White House by Michael S. Smith

While we are on the subject of famous houses, let's take a recent look at what is arguably the most famous house in the United States.

When each President and family moves into the White House, it is a tradition for that family to design their private living quarters, most often with the help of a high-profile interior designer. Nearly every President has done so, and at the end of last year, Architectural Digest was privileged to photograph the Obama White House.

Renowned interior designer Michael S. Smith designed the interiors in close collaboration with the Obamas and the results were stunning. I adore the way Smith and the Obamas mixed very contemporary art to highlight and contrast with the traditional antiques that populate such an historic building (see Design Mantra #1, at right). Luxury materials like grass cloth wallpaper and Oushak carpets brought a sense of current style to the White House.

The Family Sitting Room contains a Sean Scully artwork, a Roman Thomas sofa, a Baker floor lamp, and a Jasper side table.

Mayer Rus reported for Architectural Digest:

Considering the epochal achievements of the Obama administration—the Affordable Care Act, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Recovery Act, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and so much more—it seems trivial to append a footnote that reads, “The President and First Lady have a pretty chic dining room, too.” But the fact is, they do. And for anyone who appreciates the power of design, Michelle and Barack Obama’s emendations to the White House speak volumes about the sea change in American culture the two have championed for the past eight years. Adorned with an unprecedented array of 20th- and 21st-century artworks, their private quarters remain an oasis of civility and, yes, refined taste in a political arena so often bereft of both.

“Because of Michael Smith, the private residence of the White House has not only reflected our taste but also upheld the proud history of this building. Above all, it has truly felt like a home for our family,” says Mrs. Obama in praise of the Los Angeles–based decorator, who has collaborated closely with the First Family during their tenure in Washington, D.C. Smith returns the compliment by describing his work as a response to the First Lady’s progressive spirit: “Mrs. Obama often talks about bringing new voices into the national conversation, and that idea informed many of the decisions we made,” he says. “We selected artists and designers who would never have appeared in the White House before.”

Smith was introduced to the Obamas by a mutual friend in Chicago following the 2008 election. “They were unbelievably charming, gracious, and thoughtful, and those qualities were reflected in the design of their home,” the decorator says. “It was very welcoming and comfortable, with books everywhere, and I immediately grasped the spirit of their family.”

With less than two months to make plans before the Obamas moved into the White House, Smith had to hustle. “The number one priority for the First Lady was getting Malia’s and Sasha’s rooms and her mother’s room set up,” explains Melissa Winter, who is the deputy assistant to the President and senior adviser to the First Lady. “The most important thing was ensuring the comfort and happiness of her family.”

The Smith-Obama collaboration progressed in much the same way as any typical designer-client relationship. Smith began by sending the Obamas various design books—his own included—which they notated extensively. “They’re very focused, and they laid out their preferences quite clearly,” he says. “They’re drawn to elegant, simple things.”

Still, for all the talk about the comfort and ease of a young family, the Obamas and Smith were acutely aware of the symbolic resonance of any changes they made to the White House. “To understand the context, I read every letter and note from Abigail Adams, Jacqueline Kennedy, Sister Parish, Stéphane Boudin, Kaki Hockersmith—anyone who had ever contributed to the history of this building,” Smith says. That immersion process extended to phone calls with Nancy Reagan and a lunch with Lee Radziwill, Mrs. Kennedy’s sister.

Smith had a more hands-on ally in William Allman, the curator of the White House. “Michael was sensitive to staying within the traditions of the White House while at the same time adding strategic modern touches,” Allman says. “He managed to introduce an array of abstract and contemporary artworks—particularly in the Obamas’ private rooms—without disrupting the gravitas and historic character of the building.”

That delicate balancing act comes to life with particular eloquence in the redesign of the State Floor’s Old Family Dining Room, which, at Mrs. Obama’s behest, was opened for public viewing in 2015 for the first time in White House history. There, alongside a stately early-19th-century mahogany dining table and a sideboard once owned by Daniel Webster, the First Lady selected several American abstract works that were donated to the White House permanent collection. They include two of Josef Albers’s signature nested squares, a 1998 piece by Robert Rauschenberg, and a 1966 canvas by Alma Thomas, the first African-American woman artist represented in the White House.

Art intended for the permanent collection goes through extensive vetting by Allman’s office as well as the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, an advisory board on which the First Lady serves as honorary chair. The works displayed in the residence and offices, however, are chosen at the discretion of the President and First Lady, and it is in those private spaces that the Obamas unleashed their desire for a more diverse art program that underscores the message of an inclusive administration and closely hews to their own particular tastes.

More than any of Smith’s soigné flourishes—the dreamy Oushak carpet in the Yellow Oval Room, the custom-stenciled abaca wall covering in the Treaty Room, the Peter Schlesinger ceramic urns in the West Hall Sitting Room—it is the art that rings the most clarion bell of modernity in the Obama White House. With many works borrowed from august Washington repositories—the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn and Smith-sonian museums—the remarkable assortment includes pieces by contemporary artists Glenn Ligon, Sean Scully, Robert Mangold, and Pat Steir, as well as by Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Sam Francis, and Hans Hofmann.

Lest any traditionalists start clutching their pearls over the influx of so much bold modern and contemporary art, it should be noted that the President and First Lady selected an unimpeachable nocturne painting by James McNeill Whistler to hang above the fireplace in their serene, monochromatic master bedroom. As Smith points out, "This is their sanctuary—private, elegant, and calm. You really want to make sure that the President of the United States gets a good night’s sleep."

At the Treaty Room entrance, Sir Jacob Epstein’s 1946 bust of Winston Churchill stands on a circa-1810 New York card table.
The Treaty Room—filled with memorabilia including one of the President’s two Grammy Awards, family photos, and a personalized football—is where Mr. Obama often retreats late at night. He uses the room’s namesake table (far right), which has been in the White House since 1869, as a desk. George Catlin scenes of Native American life hang on walls covered in custom-stenciled Larsen abaca. Eighteen-fifties overmantel mirror; 1930s Hereke carpet.
Smith mellowed the Yellow Oval Room with smoky browns, greens, golds, and blues. The 1978 Camp David peace accords were signed at the antique Denis-Louis Ancellet desk in the foreground.
In the West Hall, Alma Thomas’s 1973 Sky Light hangs above a circa-1895 English mahogany pier table.
The Center Hall contains Peter Schlesinger urns (at rear, on pedestals) and paintings by Sam Francis (far right) and Hans Hofmann.
The Family Dining Room.
Late-1960s Robert Mangold works hang on the Family Dining Room’s Jasper-fabric-covered walls. The circa-1800 sideboard hosts Christopher Spitzmiller ceramic lamps.
A view of the Family Sitting Room, with Glenn Ligon’s Black Like Me #2 (far right).
Works by Robert Rauschenberg (left) and Alma Thomas make a modern splash in the Old Family Dining Room. Curtain fabric by George Spencer Designs; Anni Albers–style carpet by Scott Group Studio.
Luncheon is served in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room.
The Solarium on the White House roof.
The master suite’s antique canopy bed is curtained with Larsen and Jasper fabrics and outfitted with Nancy Koltes bed linens. Mirrors and sofa fabric by Jasper.
In the master suite, Giorgio Morandi paintings meet a circa-1903 A. H. Davenport & Co. armchair.
President Obama and his daughters, Malia (left) and Sasha, are seated in the Treaty Room under a painting by Susan Rothenberg.

We truly miss the Obamas. Such caring, such humanism, such elegance, such class.
Happy designing!

Monday, March 13, 2017

STUA at The Stahl

Hot on the heels of last week's post about the iconic Mid-Century Modern home The Stahl House, here is Spanish furniture manufacturer STUA's special line of furniture they created with Design Within Reach...and photographed in The Stahl House itself!

STUA furnishings at The Stahl House
The STUA Costura sofa and Solapa and Marea tables in the living area
The STUA Laclasica dining chair in a black finish
Left, the Deneb table and benches, Onda stools at the bar, and the Globus chair at the rear
The STUA Globus chair and the Deneb table and benches
The STUA Deneb table and benches
The STUA Gas swivel chair with black leather back and seat
The STUA Marea side table

Happy designing!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Famous Homes: The Stahl House

There have always been homes, houses, and residences--sometimes palaces--throughout history that were or became highly influential to architecture and interior design. Let's examine one of these homes...which I'm sure you have seen in magazines, advertisements, or film or television shows.

The Stahl House--or Case House Study #22--was built in 1959 by Pierre Koenig in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles as part of the Case Study House program sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine (previous prestigious homes in that series include the Charles and Ray Eames House or Case Study House #8, previously here). The Stahl family commissioned Koenig to build their dream house on the lot they had purchased four years earlier. And that house was destined to become an icon. In 1960, legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman took a photo of an image of two women sitting in the cantilevered section of the living room overlooking a night time view of Los Angeles and the rest is history.

The house's entrance guides visitors past a courtyard and pool into a public space area consisting of living room, dining room, and kitchen that is composed of steel and glass.

Of course the main feature of The Stahl House is the view and kitchen cabinetry is hung high and the fireplace is open so nothing impedes sight lines.

Like I mentioned, the Stahl house has been featured in so many advertisements, films and television shows over the years. Films include "Smog" (1962); "The First Power" (1990); "The Marrying Man" (1991); "Corrina, Corrina" (1994); "Playing by Heart" (1998), where Jon Stewart’s character lived; "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (1998); "Galaxy Quest" (1999), where Tim Allen's character lived; "The Thirteenth Floor" (1999); "Nurse Betty" (2000); and "Where the Truth Lies" (2005). Television shows include "Adam-12"; "Emergency!"; and "Columbo." The house can also be seen in the music videos for "I Don't Wanna Stop" (2003) by ATB, "Missing Cleveland" by Scott Weiland, and "Release Me" by Wilson Phillips.

Here is a shot from the "Columbo" episode...

...and it even showed up on an episode of "The Simpsons!"

The Stahl House was declared a Historic-Cultural landmark of the City of Los Angeles in 1999. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects listed the Stahl House as one of the top 150 structures on their “America’s Favorite Architecture” list, one of only 11 in Southern California. The house was included in a list of all time top 10 houses in Los Angeles in a Los Angeles Times survey of experts in December 2008. In 2013, the Stahl House became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can visit this historic landmark on guided tours offered by the Stahl House, Inc.
Visit for more information.

Happy designing!