Saturday, March 17, 2012

Eichler: part 1 of a few parts, hopefully.

There's not a whole lot I am able to investigate with Peanut in tow. He's an active little almost-two-year-old who's into exhibiting his unbridled enthusiasm. Sitting still while Mommy does her research is so not going to happen. But on that rare occasion he takes an afternoon nap, I can tour around our new neighborhood looking for interesting architecture to j'adore. Knowing that we now live in the land of Eichler, I decided start with those original post-war modern neighborhoods...but of course!

Joe Eichler, as his son Ned puts it, "...was the right man, in the right place, at the right time." Eichler formed the Sunnyvale Building Company in 1947. He initially sold ho-hum prefabricated homes then later developed small housing tracts. It goes without saying that the strong post-war economy and the many mommas bountifully birthing babies contributed to the massive housing boom. And sunny California was an ideal setting for the burgeoning developer.  After being inspired by a Frank Llyod Wright home he and his family were renting, Eichler eventually teamed up with the architect Robert Anshen, of the firm Anshen and Allen out of San Francisco, to help develop the second phase of the Sunnyvale Manor subdivision. You could call Eichler and Anshen kindred spirits...both headstrong and opinionated and both admirers of the brilliant Frank Lloyd Wright.  Eichler's partnership with Anshen -who shared his artistic sensibilities, was the birth of something truly special.

Why so special you ask? To start, Eichler was steadfastly committed to creating homes for people that were far more than little mass-produced boxes. He wanted his homeowners to experience and live in esthetically pleasing modern spaces (a shared FLW concept) which simultaneously tended to and fulfilled their practical "quality of life" needs. And, as homeowners' needs changed with the times, so did Eichler's designs; his hell-bent desire for improvement was a constant. This included every aspect of the building process --a truly rare undertaking for the time (and for today, too, or so it would seem). From the design process, to new engineering and building techniques, to material selection, to the landscaping -even sales & marketing, Eichler and his entire team -famed architects included, made sure that each and every aspect of the building process progressed smoothly and efficiently.  Oh, the envelope was pushed.  Of course some saw this as a waste of time.  Eichler's son Ned recalls a leading builder of the day suggesting that his father could make a whole lot more money if he built more conventional homes. Just fogettaboutit Joe! Well, while money was, of course, a driving force, it was just a part of a bigger picture. Many builders didn't get that...they just didn't understand Eichler's pioneering passion for perfection.

Ok, so what did they do that was so groundbreaking? Eichler and his dream team (famed architects included, Anshen&Allen; Jones&Emmons) were able to come up with a successful solution to the housing crisis conundrum of that booming period: How to quickly & economically build (mass produce) these modern masterpieces? The answer: Use Post-and-Beam construction. This, along with strict-sized modular Philippine mahogany veneer paneling allowed for efficient mass production, plan flexibility and a unique look and feel that wasn't being built anywhere else.  Profit could actually be obtained while simultaneously evolving the houses' designs without sacrificing their unique personality. Ta-Dah!  And we haven't even gotten to the other big design coups: radiant heat, floor-to-ceiling windows, A-frames, and the alluring atriums! (I gotta leave something for the else do I expect you to return to this blog for moi?)

But being a pioneer is not without challenges; one must wage through a whole lot of buffalo dung along the dusty trail. In the beginning for Eichler and Anshen, that meant dealing with outdated local building codes and hesitant perplexed building departments (and we all know how dealing with the building department can be akin to getting a horse to drink the water) not to mention a balking Federal Housing Authority (an agency set up to insure home mortgages so the emerging middle class could afford them...). The FHA thought modern homes were nothing more than a passing fancy equating to a piss-poor investment. They imposed "anti-modern" [no, not sic, just my words] design guidelines for evaluations which limited the amount of assistance they could give a "conspicuously modern" houses such as "an Eichler". This threatened Eichler's ability to compete in the housing market. So what does one do when a steak dinner and a couple double scotch-on-the-rocks won't ease such resistance? You lobby congress. And that is exactly what Eichler did along with Eichler Homes' first marketing director, Jim San Jule. Jim there was a Don Drapper cum Jimmy Hoffa that could sell ice to an Eskimo.

Jule was the smooth talker, the diplomat. He knew how to sweet talk a city council and he always wore the proper kid gloves when dealing with passionate pursuer of perfection Eichler who was known as a demanding, outspoken (to put it mildly) son of a gun. Here's a little anecdote: One evening after Eichler called the city council of Palo Alto a bunch of ignorant "men without mothers", Jule politely yet pointedly suggested to Eichler that he do all the talking instead. From then on, Eichler zipped it, and Jule turned on the charm. You can catch more flies with honey, honey.

And so it begins...the road to modern mass produced gems has been paved. But will they sell? Will there be accolades or outcries? Will Eichler in his quest for perfect perfection eventually "jump the shark"? Stay tuned folks...


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Study in Symmetry.

This room makes me want to say 'thank you, may I please have another'.  On the surface, it has all the things I love: Chinoiserie, sconces, chandeliers, french furniture (though I'm also a fan of English and American furniture as well). a beautifully proportioned room, but the feature it possesses that I think is the most admirable is it's use of symmetry.  Louis XV pier mirrors over Regence iron consoles flank the mantelpiece in matched harmony.  The Louis XV bureau plat is surrounded by Cresson bergeres that radiate out from the corners (a rather novel idea that serves to open up the defined conversational areas of the room), clusters of seating balance each other visually.  Symmetry gives a calming effect, and even when it is asymmetry at play, it is the balance in form and mass that give the effect of tranquility.

- Ian

Blue Room by Benjamin F. Garber and William C. Kennedy. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Budda Desk Tray for Your Zen Moment.

I saw this while out shopping and fell for it.  It's so elegant and has the feeling of an antique from the early 20th/late 19th century.  The Buddha's robes flow into ripples that surround him, creating a pool like effect.  Perfect for placing your pens and paper clips in plain sight.  I love the contrast between the golden jewelry and the bronze finish, too.  Such an attention grabbing piece.

- Ian
Buddha desk trya from L'objet.  Retails for 395.00.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fortuny by L'Objet.

You all know how I j'adore all things Fortuny.  So imagine how giddy I became when I was walking through Neiman Marcus and saw the new collection from L'Objet that features Fortuny's designs on table wear and home accessories.  Tidbit trays, bowls, boxes, decanters, coaster and glasses are all embellished with golden prints of his original textile designs over earthenware colored with the organic hues he loved so much.  Consider this entry level Fortuny.  If you can't dress your windows in it, then how about your cocktail table or night stand?  It doesn't take much to make something special happen.

- Ian

I love the little boxes and those journals.  The boxes are perfect for a bedside table.
This marvelous box covered in textile and accented with metal retails at 895.00.
This adorable little tray has a cabochon stone at the center and retails at 85.00.
I love the gold plated base on this petite dessert server that retails for 295.00
A perfect hostess gift, the scented candles from the Fortuny collection are packaged in a fabric wrapped box. 
It's like two gifts in one.  Each candle retails at 125.00.

Death by Television.

I have no words to describe how hideous the monstrosity I am about to discuss is.  OK, that is a lie.  I have words.  Lots of words, but I won't go down that road right now.  I went to the Greystone Showcase House sponsored by Luxe Magazine last December, and it was OK.  Lots of big name designers phoning it in for publicity, some quite horribly.  I'm not going to name names, but if you went, you probably saw something awful.  Don't get me wrong, there were some delightful things, but most rooms were forgettable and some of them should be burned.  Out of an entire mansion filled with every item imaginable, this monster topped my list of things that should never have been created - the flat screen television framed in Venetian mirror.

One of my cardinal sins is a television in the bedroom; it should never happen.  You'll never sleep.  Another of my cardinal sins is mounting a television above a fireplace.  This applies to every room in the house.  No TVs above fireplaces.  Period.  I know this Designer has done a Fornasetti screen saver to give the impression of art, but it's not cutting it.  Commit to a piece of art or even a mirror and take the high road.  Through this installation, I have also discovered a new sin I hadn't thought of, because who in their right mind would ever consider doing it; that sin is surrounding a television in Venetian mirror.  This grotesque invention was part of a scheme for a mans bedroom; sorry, but no man I know, gay, straight, bi, thai...would ever do that to a television.  I don't think you could be gaudier or more gauche than this, but then again, I didn't think something like this would ever happen.  This is the design equivalent of Lindsay Lohan.  This is Bruce Jenner's face in television form.  This is the hottest mess I have seen in a long time.

I'm doing this as a public service announcement, for your own safety.  As a Designer and a friend, I would never do this to you, but there a people out there that will tell you this is a good idea.  Those people need an intervention and possibly some sort of medication.  If you know anyone who has anything like this in their home, break off all communications.  You'll thank me later.

- Ian

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Govenors Mansion, Atlanta Georgia.

Staircase Rotunda at the Governor's Mansion, built in 1967. 
Architect Thomas A Bradbury, AIA.
A wonderful job was done recreating a period home
in the modern age. 
Scale, proportion, and details are all pitch perfect.
A long time ago, I remember watching an episode of Designing Women in which Julia Sugarbaker (the late Dixie Carter), in a brief moment of enforced fun, put her head between the railings on a staircase and gets her head stuck.  The staircase was at the Governors Mansion in Atlanta and the crew of Sugarbaker's Interior Design was decorating it for the annual Govenor's Ball.  The plot revolved around getting Julia's head out of the railing without having to cut through the wood handrail which was made of one continuous piece of timber (known is the episode as the 'Abbott Banister', a fictitious piece of historic memorabilia).

Silly little things like the plot of a defunct sitcom episode from 1989 have a funny way of sticking with you.  So when I found a spread in a 1970 issue of Architectural Digest that was all about the Atlanta Mansion immortalized (for me, at least) by one of my favorite television shows, I had to share it.  In addition to nostalgia, it's also a beautiful example of a Greek Revival style home that pays accurate tribute to its antebellum roots, but was built in the 20th century.  If architectural interest isn't enough, it's also home to a fine collection of American Federal antiques.

Surrounded on all sides by fluted Doric columns, the rose-toned brick structure is a perfect example of the Greek Revival style popular throughout the South during the first half of the 19th century.  Assembling the furnishings was a two year process that involved acquiring important pieces attributed to noteworthy cabinetmakers from Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia, plus antique chandeliers and period marble mantels imported from England.

I'm sure that in the past 40 years the interior of the mansion has changed slightly with new upholstery and window treatments, but with a grand collection of American Federal furnishings, significant American art and the drama of the architecture, the core strength of the home has surely stayed the same.  and I'm sure countless tour groups have attempted to get their heads between the rail, just like Julia.

- Ian

In the Reception Hall, American Federal chairs, c. 1880, surround an English podium table in the Greek Revival style.
The niche in the background holds a bronze bust of George Washington by Houdon, c 1778.  The marble topped pier table in the background, c. 1815, is one of four pieces in the home attributed to Charles-Honore Lannuier.
The State Dining Room room with reproduction 19th century chairs and a
New England accordion Federal style table attributed to John Seymour.

The State Drawing room features and Aubusson rug and a marvelous mantle with a
gold Greek Key motif.  The red upholstery, by Scalamandre, is a document silk woven originally for the Red Room at the White House.  The sofa,one of a pair, is Duncan Phyfe.

The Cherry paneled library with a Tabriz rug and a collection of books relating to Georgia.
I love the simplicity and elegance of the window coverings and that Greek Revival
chandelier with it's spare use of crystal and gold.  So understated.

The Ground Floor Guest Bedroom houses an alcove bed (with gilded Egypian busts and animal paw feet)
attributed to Charles-Honore Lannuier, c. 1815.  The rug is English needlepoint, the artwork
is a wallpaper panel illustrating Psyche showing her jewels to her sisters. 
The arm chair is Sheraton in style.

Julia gets her head stuck in a fence.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Blue and White Display

You all know how I love me some blue and white china.  Timeless, classic, elegant, fun for all ages, a great party favor, nice place to stash your stash, etc.  I love seeing it en masse, and until I have my own plethora, I will have to live vicariously through the collections of others.  Case in point, the home of Benjamin F. Garber and William C. Kennedy, both former associates of Syrie Maugham, the white queen of Interior Design.  The pots sit on a Regence table a gibier with a Chinoiserie tapestry designed by the Rococo painter Francis Boucher behind.  The pots below the table are Louis XV.  Also catching my eye is that minimal spray of dogwood blossoms.  How architectural and organic, and such a nice contrast to the uniformity of the pottery.  The white carnations with the excessively long stems, however, are another story.

- Ian


Monday, January 30, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Private Study.

Continuing to farm my vintage Architectural Digest collection, I came upon this room by designer James Julius Killough III, in Hong Kong.  As most would tell you my affinity for Chinese art and decoration is rivaled only by my affinity to cram as much of it as possible into one room without it looking like a Chinese take-away.  Obviously, this image was like ambrosia to me.  The Coromandel screen, the altar table used as a desk (an idea I LOVE), the Ming chair and that adorable little tea table make me want to light a cigarette and cuddle, and I don't even smoke.  The oriental carpet and those Queen Anne japanned chairs are just the fortune cookie at the end of the meal for me. 

With all of those marvelous things, I think the most unique and eye catching feature of the room is the pottery jar filled with an artistic arrangement of pampas grass and paper scrolls.  How fantastic is that!?  You know it was just for the photo shoot because it's absolutely impractical, but still, it's rather arresting visually and really, probably the most affordable accessory in the room.  There's nothing quite as luxurious as space, and to have personal area like a study is really a treat.  So why not deck it out with all the things you love?

- Ian

Friday, January 27, 2012

Inspiration Rooms : A Private Library.

I happened on this image in an old Architectural Digest from 1974.  The room is by the decorator Michael Greer; it's his private library.  How elegant with the metal mesh doors, the mirrored pilasters and the subtle color scheme.  I am rarely beige, and when I am, it's only when the occasion calls for it.  But in this case, the beige becomes a wonderful backdrop to that 18th Century terra cotta sculpture of Autumn (from a four seasons group) and perhaps more importantly, a wonderful foil to bold color, such as the turquoise blue Louis XVI bergere.  I'm also mad for those bouillotte lamps, the slightly contemporary Empire gueridon and those flaming urns atop the pilasters.  A beautiful room that's understated yet dramatic, and one that could be a source of inspiration for any room of your choosing.  How wonderful to replicate that cabinetry in a bathroom, walk in closet, or breakfast room.  So timeless and chic.  

- Ian

Monday, January 23, 2012

Elsie de Wolfe and the Circus Ball.

The Circus Ball by Oliver Messel.
Oil and Gouache on Paper.
Elsie is shown as Ringmaster with white steeds.
Ages and ages ago, people with style had money and people with money had style.  It used to be that a celebrity or socialite (a real one, not one from the loins of Kris Jenner) could give a party (without corporate sponsorship) that would live on in the great big social diary in the sky forever (without having to sell footage to the media).  Elsie de Wolfe was one of these people, and on the night of July 1, 1939, she gave the Circus Ball.
Held on the brink of World War II, it was the last great party of the Season, and indeed, the last great party of it's era.  Elsie, the American born Socialite who had been a bad actress, then a ground breaking Decorator, then finally the international hostess known as Lady Mendl, held the Ball at her beloved Villa Trianon; a gift to a royal mistress of the 18th Century which Elsie had purchased with her lover at the time, the theatrical agent Bessy Marbury, and the heiress Anne Morgan.

The Villa was Elsie's true love and life's work.  Purchased in semi decrepit condition, Elsie restored the interiors, added a new wing, and installed modern bathrooms. During her life, she saw it used as a military hospital during World War I, and after fleeing Paris for the United States, returned to find it destroyed by Nazi's after World War II.  Upon each return, she would lovingly restore the home back to it's de Wolfe splendor.

The interior of the Dance Pavilion, now permanent.
For her grandest party, Elsie would add another appendage to her home, a Ballroom.  Elsie sought to recall the late 19th Century trend wherein fashionable ladies with means would construct temporary party rooms for a single evening's use.  The Dance Pavilion, as it was called, was open on three sides to the Villas gardens and painted in green and white stripes.  For the interior, she contracted with Maison Jansen, the first international design firm, based in Paris, and their premier Decorator, Stephane Boudin. 

Elsie could have done the work herself, but it was much simpler for her to hire it out and have all the details sorted by someone else.  As a bonus, Boudin has become one of the most sought after decorators on both sides of the Atlantic.  Having his name associated with one of her parties would surely impress Elsie's elite guests, which numbered 700 for that evening.  Naturally, Elsie, who invented the game Boudin was playing so well, would not be so smitten with his tact and flair as the rest of the world. 

A view of the Dance Pavilion with glass walls,
set up for cards.
Boudin's treatment of the Dance Pavilion was an utter confection.  The green and white stripes of the exterior were repeated on the interior through Regency style draperies.  The furnishings were eccentric pieces shaped like whitewashed tree trunks and there were button tufted leather semicircular banquettes crowned by Venetian Blackamoors wielding parasols that concealed electric lights.  Flanking the entry to the pavilion were two artificial tree trunks that had been whitewashed and ornamented with artificial leaves.  One tree bore a heart pierced by an arrow with the initials 'E& C' inside (for Elsie and her husband, Charles.  By now she had dumped Bessie in favor of marrying a titled English dignitary).  Yet the piece de resitance of the room was surely the spring loaded floor, imported from England, designed to combat weary feet with its diving board qualities.

Elsie's Mainbocher gown from the Circus Ball,
now part of the MET's permanent collection.
Ivory silk chiffon embroidered with white and
silver sequin butterflies over a taffeta slip.
Outside, there was a champagne bar housed in a circular structure with a matching striped roof that had been built around a large tree in the garden.  The main attraction of the Circus themed ball was, of course, the Circus, and Elsie was there to act as it's honorary Ringleader (clad in a size 2 Mainbocher evening dress and her favorite diamond and aquamarine tiara), leading eight trained ponies (white of course) through there paces.  The Circus ring was laid out on the lawn and featured acrobats, tight rope walkers, clowns and jugglers in addition to Elsie's pony routine.

So that her guests wouldn't go hungry (an novel idea for Elsie, who often starved her party guests by limiting the amount of food served), the buffet, which served lamb chops, scrambled eggs, cold salads, cakes and champagne, stayed open until 5 am.  So that her guests could work up an appetite, the Dance Pavilion housed three orchestras on rotation, and the grounds were home to a strolling blind accordion player and a Hawaiian guitarist who floated on a boat in the swimming pool.  Whether eating or dancing, the guest list read as a who's who of European Society (which in reality was just Elsie's little black book); Chanel, Maugham, the Windsors, Eve Curie, all were all at home at the Villa.

A period view of the the formal gardens at the Villa Trianon.
Pleased with her Ball, Elsie decided to make the Dance Pavilion a permanent structure.  She had the spring loaded floor replaced with parquet to match what ran through the Villa, and had the walls glassed in so the views to the garden wound still be open.  She even situated a fireplace in one wall so the room could be enjoyed in cooler weather.

Surely, a party of this magnitude would be met with more criticism than praise, as we are in a tight economic pinch as of late and this was not a frugal effort.  However, how wonderful to reminisce of an era that has past, and of great people that made it what it was.  How marvelous to dream of such a glamorous life and find inspiration in it.  Certainly I feel no shame admitting that I would have loved to be in attendance, even it it meant floating on a dinghy in the pool.

- Ian

Most of the Maison Jansen furniture was purchased at auction by Victoria & Son
in New York.  You can see the Blackamoor banquette and the marvelous 'x' based
stools with faux bois bases.  The Chinese stand and cache pot as well as the snail,
was not part of the lot from the Villa Trianon.  Part of the suite was purchased by
Michael Taylor for a client in San Francisco.