Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 1/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Clodagh: Your Home, Your Sanctuary
by Clodagh with Heather Ramsdell
New York: Rizzoli New York, $50
224 pages, 225 color illustrations
One-named, multitalented Clodagh was initially a successful fashion designer in her native Ireland. Then, after some years in Spain, she transformed herself into a singular force of interior design in the U.S. In 1987, this magazine published her first important commercial interior, the New York office of the American Can Company; she became a member of the Hall of Fame in 1997; and our September 2008 issue celebrated her 25 years in the business. She is at heart a spare modernist, but it is a highly personal kind of modernism, personal both to her and to her clients and overlaid with touches of Zen, a serious concern for ecology, and a virtuoso hand with textures.
Clodagh's first book, Total Design, came out in 2001. Hundreds of commissions later, a second book is welcome and overdue. This one is organized not on the usual project-by-project basis but broken into an investigation of elements, beginning with types of rooms followed by considerations of color, sound, and wellness. There is a glossary of terms that relate to Clodagh's particular concerns—aromatherapy and chroma therapy, for example—and a section listing recommended manufacturers. The fine photography is by Clodagh's husband, Daniel Aubry, and perhaps the most beautiful pages are simply juxtapositions of atmospheric images, some of them interior details and some details from nature: grass, tree trunks, water, pebbles, even a wild hare. More than any of the practical advice in the text, these visual collages tell us about Clodagh's sensibility.
The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs
by Joseph Cunningham
New Haven: Yale University Press, $65
304 pages, 337 illustrations (321 color)
This book accompanies an exhibition that opens in June at the Milwaukee Art Museum, then travels around the U.S. Although less well known than his near-contemporaries Gustav Stickley, whose furniture remains in production, and Elbert Hubbard, of the Roycrofters, Charles Rohlfs was one of the most innovative furniture designers and makers at the turn of the last century. His style has been characterized as mission, art nouveau, aesthetic movement, and arts and crafts—all labels that were pertinent, all labels that he rejected: He preferred Artistic Furniture. One can also consider him, as the book's introduction claims, a "precursor of the American studio furniture movement" and perhaps even an early pioneer of modernism, similar to Joseph Hoffmann, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and William Morris. Like their styles, his was completely his own.
The introduction could hardly be more loving or lavish. It's followed by a wealth of color and information, and each chapter opens with full-page details of the extraordinary wood carving that was so basic to Rohlfs designs. An appendix shows more than 70 sales-catalog pages issued by his Buffalo studio and later acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. (They offer chairs, tables, buffets, dressers, chests, beds, umbrella stands, dishes, trinket boxes, picture frames, and candleholders, lots of candleholders.) Altogether, this is a remarkably vivid portrait of a unique talent flourishing at one of those extraordinarily adventurous periods of transition, an idealistic time when there was a belief that design and art could transform society.
What They're Reading
Mark Myers (Owner of Farm Architecture)
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
by David Foster Wallace
New York: Back Bay Books, $15
Serious meditations about authenticity and the past are required for Mark Myers's practice of primarily residential projects in San Francisco, where wild interpretations of Victorian architecture were once the order of the day. "A lot of the structures have been entirely stripped down, and we have to figure out how to bring them back, to create a sense of permanence," he says. Which is why a collection of essays by the suicidal MacArthur Foundation "genius" David Foster Wallace has such resonance for Myers. The title essay, which refers to the experience of going on a cruise, makes a case that a barrage of pop culture keeps people from identifying true meaning. "Can anything be meaningful?" Meyers asks. "It's tough in this day and age. It's why we go back to nature." Unfortunately, green thinking makes many original building materials, such as old-growth redwood, off-limits for renovations, rendering the pursuit of authenticity largely conceptual. Myers says his solution is to be sure things "feel solid to the touch or embrace the visceral experience of the built environment." That's the sort of subtlety those with a flair for the ironic would surely appreciate. —Deborah Wilk