Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 4/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living
by Phyllis Ross
New Haven: Yale University Press, $60
274 pages, 190 illustrations (45 color)
George Nelson’s long creative association with Herman Miller is well known, as is his introduction of other major designers to the furniture company: Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Girard, and, most important, Charles and Ray Eames. Less celebrated until now has been Nelson’s predecessor as Herman Miller’s chief designer. Gilbert Rohde joined the company in 1932 and dominated its output until his sudden death in 1944 at age 50.
Rohde’s greatest contribution, of course, was to bring modernism to Herman Miller. Much of this was what we would now call moderne, showing the influence of 1925’s Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. With joints exposed rather than camouflaged by moldings or paint, these simple pieces demanded unprecedented care in manufacture. Still, they resonated with owner D.J. De Pree’s nearly religious zeal for frankness and honesty. Rohde gave Herman Miller its first systems designs, including the 1942 Executive Office Group, a kit of parts offering more than 200 configurations. At the opposite end of the spectrum was his 1941 Paldao collection, which abounded in shapes that author Phyllis Ross calls the “first instance in America of manufactured biomorphic designs.” They had occurred earlier in Alvar Aalto vases and would occur later in Noguchi cocktail tables, but Rohde had a field day—his own word was ectoplastic. He also designed showroom displays and devised marketing strategies. As Ross states in her introduction, “A comprehensive appraisal of his diverse career is long overdue.”
Thad Hayes: The Tailored Interior
by Thad Hayes
New York: Rizzoli New York, $55
240 pages, 175 color illustrations
Thad Hayes formed his namesake firm in 1985, his work appeared in Interior Design three years later, and a showroom and office project made the cover in 1991. This big, beautiful book clearly proves that we were betting on a thoroughbred. The 21 residences shown embody the adjectives that former Vogue associate editor Charles Gandee uses in his introductory essay: rigorous, restrained, and reserved. Hayes himself describes his philosophy at the end of the essay: “'Waste not, want not’. . . . 'Cleanliness is next to godliness’. . . . All those puritanical, American ideals. . . . I think in many ways I feel more aligned to the Shakers and other sects in which good, orderly behavior leads to a good life.”
If that makes Hayes interiors sound a bit dull, think again. They can be uncluttered, even Spartan, but are also full of surprises. In a New York apartment overlooking Central Park, George III armchairs cohabit with Jean-Michel Frank side tables, boxy contemporary sofas, and modern paintings and sculpture. Pale taupe walls and white woodwork go as far as the master bedroom, where they give way to deep blue walls and the zing of cherry-red Venini glass lamps. In a Greenwich Village town house, a blue ceramic Buddha sits on a Ward Bennett table made of a steel I beam, and picturesque Chinese scholars’ rocks perch on a custom elm-and-steel table that is simplicity itself.
The book concludes with a graceful autobiographical note, “A Life in Design,” in which Hayes thanks designer Robert Bray, the “best of all possible mentors.” Scott Frances is credited with “most of the images,” and they are beauties.
What They’re Reading. . .
Kristen McGinnis, founding principal of Kristen McGinnis Design
The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970’s Paris
by Alicia Drake
New York: Back Bay Books, $15
439 pages, 39 illustrations (25 color)
The art and design community recently got a respite from grim economic news when Christie’s brought in the equivalent of $484 million at a triumphant Paris auction of collectibles belonging to the late Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. As a former fashion designer and a Saint Laurent aficionado, interior designer Kristen McGinnis was driven by the sale to read Alicia Drake’s juicy account of how he and Karl Lagerfeld, both emerging talents at the time, embarked on a rivalry to be crowned fashion king amid a world of hedonism and glamour. “The story really shows what drives creative people. Clearly, Saint Laurent was compulsive on every level, from shutting himself away for a few weeks and emerging with 1,000 sketches for a single collection to his extreme interest in art and antiques,” McGinnis says. As a designer whose clients include a number of collectors, she often finds herself in the role of curator, selecting objects to be showcased in reconsidered spaces. “When I realized the magnitude of his collection,” she says, “I just had to get the backstory.” And learn the lessons behind the legend. —Deborah Wilk