Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 9/1/2010 4:02:00 PM
John Pawson: Plain Space
by John Pawson and Alison Morris
New York: Phaidon Press, $75
240 pages, 400 color illustrations
Awesome is as overused a word today as cool once was. Both apply perfectly, however, to arch-minimalist John Pawson. Despite the Interior Design Hall of Fame member's worldwide renown, this is the first thorough survey of his work in a decade-showing how his scope of commissions has expanded beyond interiors and objects as well as how a single powerful vision can transform a wide variety of applications.
The book opens with some felicitous little essays on the history of Pawson's namesake firm and closes with glimpses of projects not yet realized. In between, delights include a serpentine footbridge at the U.K.'s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; a cricket pavilion for the University of Oxford; monasteries in France and the Czech Republic; New York projects such as an apartment for Ian Schrager and a pavilion for Calvin Klein's 40th anniversary; a 60-foot yacht; an ebony soap dish; and bronze church candlesticks. Photographs of the designs are accompanied by highly readable plans and apt aphorisms. This one comes from the 18th-century poet and landscape designer William Shenstone: "I think a plain space near the eye gives it a sense of liberty it loves. . . . [S]implicity is essential to grandeur."
by Pauline C. Metcalf
New York: Acanthus Press, $75
300 pages, 230 illustrations (65 color)
When it comes to the decorators who gave birth to the modern profession of interior design, the ultrachic Syrie Maugham would appear on even the shortest of short-lists. The estranged wife of the celebrated writer W. Somerset Maugham was a contemporary-and a friend and competitor-of Elsie de Wolfe and Sibyl Colefax. Maugham collaborated with furniture designer Jean-Michel Frank, textile designer Marion Dorn, set designer and plasterwork artist Oliver Messel, and floral designer Constance Spry in the U.K. and architect David Adler and his decorator sister, Frances Elkins, in the U.S. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Noël Coward, Evelyn Marshall Field, DeWitt and Lila Wallace, and William and Babe Paley were all clients.
Maugham's most celebrated interior was her own London house's party room, all-white except for a black grand piano hidden behind a screen by Frank. There was a white plaster floor lamp shaped like a palm tree and a low table surfaced in white shagreen. Even the lilacs, chosen by Spry, were white. The site of the 1932 debutante party of the Maughams' daughter, the room instantly became the talk of the town.
Many articles and at least one other book have been devoted to Maugham, but this is the most comprehensive, featuring 25 of her schemes. The knowledgeable Pauline C. Metcalf has written previously about Adler and Elkins as well as Ogden Codman. For this book, Metcalf has chosen a wealth of photographs showing designs not just by Maugham but also others and not just interiors but also people. Altogether, we are given a vivid impression of a time in design history that was very different from ours but remains very important.
What They're Reading...
Jeff Miller: Principal of Jeff Miller Design
In Search of Time: The History, Physics, and Philosophy of Time
by Dan Falk
New York: Thomas Dunne Books, $16
329 pages, 30 illustrations
Nowhere is time more at a premium than in the city that's home to the New York Minute. "There's a lot of meaning and culture attached to the idea of time," Jeff Miller says. He divides his own between designing products and furniture for such companies as Itoki, Bosch, and Herman Miller and being a husband and father-occasionally managing to slow things down with a bit of nonfiction. A foray into Dan Falk's philosophical overview of the nature of time set the designer's mind reeling. He was especially jazzed by the examination of current scientific theories that compress the present and future into a continuum. Then, inspired, he turned back to his work on a chair. "It will present a new paradigm, breaking the mold of current task-chair understanding," he jokes. Kidding aside, let's hope his innovations will make the minutes from 9:00 to 5:00 evaporate. -Deborah Wilk