What I Would Have Bought in Sweden
Had the exchange rate not been so disastrous, my luggage so stuffed. Pattern porn, if you will.
10 Swedish Designers, Rope oilcloth
Svenskt Tenn, Elephant linen
Polarn O. Pyret, onesie, Landscape Print
Lotta Kuhlhorn pear mugs
Maria Dahlgren, Breakfast in Bed Tray (so many trays!)
Mon Amie porcelain, Rorstrand
Viola Grasten “Festivo” fabric, Ljungbergs Textiltryck
A theme emerges. While the Swedish modern architecture we saw ran to blank surfaces of stone, glass and stucco, every store was bursting with color and pattern—all of the above designed by women. Even the stripes were better: one could have done a photo essay on the different thicks and thins and combinations on the striated hats of every Swedish child. (Those that were visible. All babies were invisible, deeply swaddled in buntings, fleeces, and new-model enormous prams).
The two Swedish homes I entered had the light floors featured daily on From Scandinavia With Love, plus patterned floor cushions and little rugs. I had a whole discussion with one hostess about Royal Copenhagen’s Mega teacups. She had just one or two with the blown-up pattern, the others plain white, deployed on coasters in yet another pattern. Her children were eating quince soup (from a mix) with whipped cream and croutons for snack. It was like another world, the world of the textile fairies.
Not Afraid of Color
For once, Alice Rawsthorn and I think alike.
From her T Magazine piece on the Le Corbusier palette.
Whatever you imagined, I’ll bet it was in black and white. It’s a safe bet, because our perceptions of early Modernism — at the Bauhaus design school in 1920s Germany, or the purist villas that Le Corbusier was building in France — are shaped by the photographs taken at the time, and they were all in black and white.
In fact, Modernist interiors were much more vivid than the photographs suggest. When you go to those places, you’ll discover that although many of them do indeed sport gleaming glass, tubular steel and so on, there are often glorious splashes of color to complement the white walls. And one of the most gifted colorists of the era was none other than Le Corbusier himself; the vibrant shades he chose then are among the best you’ll find today.
That’s Maison La Roche-Jeanneret, now home of the Le Corbusier foundation, built in 1925.
Cranky fact-check: Can you have a nickname for a (self-bestowed) nickname? It is not as if Le Corbusier was known as such at birth. Corb is really just archi-shorthand. I always write LeC in my notes.
From “Why This Book?” in Design Research.
I wrote my dissertation on American corporate architecture and design of the 1950s and 1960s, and one of my discoveries was the amount of color and texture in the work of designers like Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen. The black-and-white photos we typically see of their work leave that out, as do many of the history books. Caring about interiors began to seem like a subversive interest for an architectural historian, yet it turns out it was a subversive interest for architects such as Ben Thompson.
We usually see icons like Eames chairs in a vacuum: in expensive catalogues against a white background, or in minimalist apartments with white walls and oak floors. As museum pieces they seem like a cliché. But the D/R way of combining modernism and folk and crazy fabrics and fruit and flowers was much richer, more interesting, and more personal than that, as I hope this book shows. Ben Thompson was trying to overcome staid, matchy-matchy formalism; today we need to overcome matchy-matchy modernism.
Marigold, Goldenrod, Egg Yolk
In other words, yellow. I am doing some research on lifestyles of the mid-century and fabulous, and checked out fellow D-Crit professor Russell Flinchum’s book on the MoMa’s American Design collection. I was immediately struck by the color of the cover, so close in hue to that of my D/R book. Russell says, just by coincidence, it is the same hue as the (R.I.P.) Kodak Carousel boxes all card-carrying art historians used to carry their slides around in. And Mad Men made famous all over again. (All these shades are a little distorted onscreen.)
In the original Pentagram design, our cover was going to be all yellow with a big die-cut D/R, a little like Michael Beirut’s own book. Then marketing wisdom prevailed and we switched to a Marimekko fabric. The pattern of choice only came in red and white, but the company allowed us to recolor it.
I’m too much of a classicist to approve of recoloring, especially when there’s so much original yellow in the Marimekko oeuvre. One of my favorites is Dombra, in the yellow, pink, orange colorway, which I have in oilcloth on my kitchen table. My backsplash is also just the color of Russell’s cover.
I think of this color yellow as being so 1960, whatever it is called. And there are few colors that have such strong associations for me, since most cycle through our visual field regularly. But yellow is not a color most people wear outside the stadium, and so when it turns up in fashion it is noticeable. My most recent sighting was at LeSportsac, in this bag, which I love enough to look out for at Century 21. Surely it will be remaindered. Yellow is a color for tablecloths, not clothes, and I love that the Passerby looks very much like oilcloth attached to a handle.
If 1960 is back, perfect. We can have a long, hot Marimekko summer. Lemondade from a Kobenstyle pitcher? I’m looking up my molded salad recipe now.
Please Stop Coloring
I did some exasperated tweeting last week when I saw the new citrus Hans Wegner wishbone chairs on Design*Sponge.
What would Hans Wegner say? Anyone else hate recolored classics too? They had paint in 1950, he chose not to use it.
Sam Grawe at Dwell then alerted me to a number of other outrages to mid-century classics, including the green stain on the Eames LCW, and the Victorian legs on the Eames fiberglass shell. Turns out D*S should have been the least of my worries, as a blue wishbone is on the cover of this weekend’s T (which has my bete noire Kelly Wearstler too!).
I’ve written before about my dislike of the new versions of Jens Risom’s chairs, made insubstantial in blonde wood, when I think their original purpose was to stand up to the floating volume of the modern interior. I grew up with my grandparent’s set of wishbone chairs, so this is another chair deeply imprinted on my design mind. The beauty of it is its lightweight, sensual shape and unassuming color. The papercord seats blend into the beech or oak frames, which would blend into an ordinary hardwood floor if not for the assertive back curve. Their sculptural quality is stealth. Lacquering them makes them look like plastic, pop, even Starck. They are really a chair associated with the beginnings of modernism, which is why they can skew contemporary or classic.
I know this is a fussy fussy point. There are more important things to think about. And we don’t really need any more chairs. But if contemporary designers and manufacturers are going to keep mining the past critics need to call them on their misunderstanding of its beauties. I am not even sure I wholly approve of House Industries’ Girard and Eames typefaces. I know I should be thankful for the exposure for Girard (the Eameses hardly need a push), but I keep thinking there was a reason he didn’t expand his lettering into a full alphabet himself. Maybe he wanted to keep a few things more folk, less mass-produced. Braniff was one airline, and one that didn’t last that long in its Girard/Pucci incarnation. Does it help our collective memory to mine his whimsy, or Wegner’s grace, for new brands?
UPDATE: And another one from Sam, Le Corbusier’s LC2. Obviously I am in the minority. Or are the modern classics manufacturers just desperate? They are making everything over as Memphis.