Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 5/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The Decoration of Houses
by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr.
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $35
328 pages, 65 black-and-white illustrations
"My photographic memory of rooms and houses. . .was from my earliest years a source of inarticulate misery, for I was always a little frightened of ugliness," Edith Wharton wrote in her 1934 autobiography. Pointers on combating that enemy filled her first book, The Decoration of Houses, which she and Ogden Codman, Jr., published in 1897. Three reprints later, this edition restores all the illustrations and sports a dust jacket based on the original cloth binding. The introduction this time is by Richard Guy Wilson, professor of architectural history at the University of Virginia—a fitting choice, given the two authors' decidedly classical tastes. (Wharton particularly admired the Italian classics, Codman the French.)
Obviously, the book's remarkably long, vigorous life is due not to its classicizing slant but rather to an espousal of fundamental qualities that can improve any style. In the last sentence, Wharton and Codman advocate the "application of principles based on common sense and regulated by the laws of harmony and proportion."
edited by Emilia Terragni
New York: Phaidon Press, $70
444 pages, 1,000 color illustrations
Phaidon Press published Spoon, presenting the work of young product designers, in 2002. In this follow-up, 10 design experts—including Tom Dixon from the U.K.; Guta Moura Guedes, director of Lisbon's National Design Museum; and Maria Helena Estrada, editor of the Brazilian magazine Arc Design—each discuss 10 designers. From those 100 representatives of design in 24 countries, Emilia Terragni's introduction identifies two positive trends: the "widespread use of recycled materials" and the rise of space-saving objects intended to be "folded, dismantled, and easily stored."
Carla Tennenbaum of Brazil makes chairs of kraft paper and tapestries of industrial refuse. The Vienna label Polka constructs furniture covered in tattooed leather. London's Julia Lohmann turns cow stomachs into light fixtures, and Trent Jansen of Australia recycles street signs as stools. From the Demakersvan workshop in the Netherlands comes the rubber-and-metal Waiting for You chair, which can disarmingly cross its legs. Florence Doléac of Paris presents a ceramic coffee cup topped with an edible lid of hazelnut cake. Stockholm's four-woman Front collective offers Wallpaper by Rats, patterned by gnawing rodents.
At the end of the book, each curator puts forth a single example of good design from the recent and ancient past. Among these are such familiar friends as Dieter Rams's 1959 TP1-T4 radio and P1 record player, Max Bill's 1954 Sgabillo Stool, Alvar Aalto's 1932 Paimio armchair, and Johan Vaaler's 1899 paper clip. Perhaps nothing by the newcomers matches such classics, but today's work offers much to admire, much to smile at, and much to make us optimistic about future inventiveness.
Modernist Paradise: NiemeyerHouse/Boyd Collection
by Michael Webb
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $45
224 pages, 250 color illustrations
This attractive book tells a rich story. Oscar Niemeyer's 1964 Strick residence in Los Angeles is the Brazilian master's only one built in the U.S. The house was bought in 2001 by a developer who planned to raze it, but the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission blocked that action. Two years later, the property was purchased by Michael and Gabrielle Boyd, zealous collectors of modern furniture, objects, and books. The Boyds and their two young sons have made their home in a series of locations, including the complex 37-level town house Paul Rudolph designed for himself in New York. "We lived there two years," Michael Boyd is quoted as saying, "and I never figured it out."
Now back to California, where they were married, the Boyds have settled comfortably into Niemeyer's environment, altering little but adding sunscreens and a fireplace and surrounding the house with gardens inspired by Roberto Burle Marx, the landscape designer who worked so often with Niemeyer. Most of the book is devoted to the Boyds' furniture and how they place and use it. Tim Street-Porter's photographs capture modern milestones by Marcel Breuer, Josef Hoffmann, Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Adolf Loos, George Nelson, Jean Prouvé, Gerrit Rietveld, and Otto Wagner as well as Niemeyer himself—who has never come to the U.S. to see what is now the Boyd residence. Still active at 100, he will surely enjoy seeing this thorough study.
What They're Reading. . .
Principal of Single Speed Design
by Cecil Balmond
New York: Prestel Publishing, $30
400 pages, 400 color illustrations
Best known for a suburban house composed of 300 tons of steel and concrete salvaged from Boston's Big Dig, Jinhee Park focuses on big concepts. "The conversion of structure and space is a theme I'm exploring," the architect says. For inspiration, she turns to structural engineer Cecil Balmond, deputy chairman of Arup. His book features eight projects that illustrate the pliability of buildings in light of technological innovation. Park is particularly taken by the diversity of the work so far—she admits she has yet to finish. "This is the kind of book you don't read at once," she says. Rather, each page should be savored "like a box of chocolates." —Deborah Wilk