Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 10/1/2010 12:52:00 PM
Lifting the Curtain on Design
by Vicente Wolf
New York: Monacelli Press, $50
224 pages, 180 color illustrations
Travel and photography, Vicente Wolf's two passions, come together in this beautiful book, his third. Throughout its pages, the Interior Design Hall of Fame member's residential projects, captured by his own camera, are accompanied and enriched by his distinctive views on life and design. He writes of his "yearly trips off the beaten path" and gives us pictorial samplings of three: to Bhutan to "hear the temple bells and smell the incense and breathe that fresh, sweet air," to Papua New Guinea to visit "tribes that were still living in complete isolation," and to Namibia to see "the tallest sand dunes in the world." Thus refreshed and inspired, he goes to work, producing interiors that are spare and contemporary but spiced with unexpected relics from other places and times.
The text and occasional before-and-after floor plans explain the spaces, pleasingly personalized by Wolf's remarks. On the idea of spareness, for example: "I've learned that an empty room can work perfectly well. If the architecture is strong and balanced, it is already giving you the emotion of the space. It may not need much to make it work even better." Conversely, on oversimplifying: "A room that has only one thought, and one note, never works." On the mix of old and new: "A piece doesn't have to be 500 years old to be valuable to me. It doesn't matter if it's a Louis XVI chair or a crude African stool. I just want something that speaks of another culture or another time." On trends: "If you do a room and buy everything new, it's too homogenous. And it's dated as soon as you finish, because next week the design world will be on to something else."
Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes
by Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, $50
192 pages, 250 color illustrations
As Design Within Reach founder Rob Forbes says in his foreword to this book, "Design Research. I loved the name the first time I heard it. I grasped the notion that design was not about superficial styling but rather about a process, an investigation, a try-out, and a passion based in creativity and discovery." The store invited customers "to think differently, to be bold, and to live differently. . . . If you hear the words ‘modern lifestyle' and do not connect the dots to Design Research, then you are either too old with a fading memory or too young to know who's your daddy." For those too old or too young, the subsequent chapters will be a revelation. Those in between will encounter a generous, skillful, exuberant salute to one of the great institutions of modern design history-and will recall the exhilaration in 1953 when architect Benjamin Thompson opened Design Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then expanded to New York.
The book's design, credited to Pentagram, is unsurprisingly stunning. There are impressive images of the award-winning Cambridge store as well as the Manhattan outposts. Even more images show the products that were sold there and how they were displayed. In addition, almost 70 staff members, supporters, and friends offer brief remembrances, all skillfully assembled by journalist-historian Alexandra Lange and Jane Thompson herself, the 2010 winner of the National Design Award for lifetime achievement.
What They're Reading...
- Alexis Readinger, founder of Preen
Ant Farm 1968-1978
by Constance M. Lewallen and Steve Seid
Berkeley: University of California Press, $32
201 pages, 184 illustrations (88 color)
When Alexis Readinger was growing up in Fort Worth, she'd often catch an odd view from the backseat of the family car: 10 Cadillacs partially buried, nose down, in the middle of a barren plain outside Amarillo, Texas. The evocative installation, Cadillac Ranch, remained a mystery to her, however, until she picked up Constance M. Lewallen and Steve Seid's overview of the work of Ant Farm, the radical and revolutionary 1960's collective behind the cars. "I'm such a fan of the utopian explorations from that period," Readinger says. Now a hospitality designer in Los Angeles, she adds that she's especially taken with Ant Farm's experiments using inflatable materials: "My dream would be to do groups of eco-pods in different environments, for example surfing or snowboarding resorts." For the moment, she'll console herself with L.A. projects including a Sweet Lady Jane bakery and a Steven Webster flagship combining a jewelry boutique and a private-event space. -Deborah Wilk