Monday, March 31, 2008


I've been extremely busy lately, but I also just went to the New York International Auto Show.  I LOVE the Auto Show.  So I'd like to post some of the things I found most interesting.

I'm not particularly crazy about SUVs, in principle, but of all the new ones, I thought Land Rover's LRX Concept had the most beautiful profile.  It's a really stunning vehicle.

Ryan Witte

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cyberpunk Granny's House


Okay, this is some of the freaking coolest lighting I have seen in a VERY long time.  It's a Williamsburg, Brooklyn company called Collura & Co.

Back in 1960, Denis Collura asked grandma to describe what kind of lamps she thought she'd have in the year 2060.  I'm kidding, he's very likely much younger than that.  But they're almost like precious--even prissy--little antique lamps that have just completely overdosed on steroids and turned into cyborgs.  The contrast between the delicacy and the heavy, futuristic industrial edge--the feminine and masculine, actually--is absolutely brilliant.  They might be a little difficult to mix into an aged brown-leather and mahogany pipe-smoker's library, but I love them nonetheless.  [Click the images for larger views.]

The hardware on this one in particular is really stunning:

©2008, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Edge of the World

Here's a group of designers from New Zealand distributed by Essenze (spelled with "nz" for the location).

Lucy Tupu

Catherine David Designs
This was really fun and quite beautiful: "Vintage Axminster 'Cow Skin'"

David Haig
This piece was at the show and I thought it was extremely elegant: "Signature Rocking Chair"

Conscious Design
This was at the show, as well: "Tio"
I'm really loving these old-timey upholstery fabrics a LOT, especially when used on clearly contemporary pieces.

Their star designer though, in my humble opinion, is David Trubridge.  He's doing a lot of really amazing work with housewares, lighting, and furniture.  Some misses here and there, but mostly hits from him.

I'm not terribly crazy about his housewares, but one item I did really like is his "Pebble Bowl Set"
I really appreciate how natural they look, and they're quite stunning in a group.

Similarly, much of the lighting I don't feel is breaking any especially new or interesting ground.  However I do really like "Squirt," which is quite distinctive.

And "Floral" is kind of really lovely, and could look very organic.

I imagine them being hung in groups.  The light patterns they'd fill a room with would be very interesting, too, I suspect.  There's another very similar to this called "Coral," with a more geometric pattern.  I wasn't sure that one was quite as successful.

His furniture is extremely elegant, though, and he obviously has an eye for line.  "Dondola":



"Ruth Rockers 2 & 1"

"Ruth Upholstered"

A good number of their designers' smaller items: housewares, jewelry, pottery, glassworks, etc. are available by mail order.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Much Wider Range


Here's some awesome appliances from a company called Elmira Stove Works.  Now, this may seem ridiculous at first glance, but what really impresses me concerns the idea of context.

Let's say you buy a house built in 1952, and it looks it.  Most people of age to purchase and renovate a home aren't going to want it to look like the inside of a kitschy antique store.  But with Mid-Century Modern becoming so wildly popular, there are obviously a lot of contemporary pieces out there to give you the right feel, but also remain extremely classy.  Maybe you reserve the kitsch for a fun table lamp or vase as merely an accent piece.  Even a brand new bathroom can have the right lines and color palette appropriate to the house.

Kitchens, on the other hand, are continually in an extremely ironic rut.  Ironic because the rut is being mired in the continuously "new."  Everyone wants a brand new, freshly renovated kitchen.  It's probably one of the key selling points of any property.  So kitchens, being always newly renovated, continue to be out of time, out of context for the homes in which they end up.  For sure you could buy fancy new appliances and have them custom retrofitted at great expense in a more appropriate style, but there's enough other things to worry about in a kitchen renovation, which can take literally months of aggravation and tens of thousands of dollars.  I assume only the most obsessive compulsive renovator would bother with such an appliance project.

Well, here's the answer.
There's a microwave, too, but that's a pretty unrealistically space-age feature in 1952:
(I think they were invented in the late-1940s, if I'm not mistaken).

These are fully functional, modern appliances that make a great deal more sense in this hypothetical 1950s house.  I started out with the white ones, because they're the least flashy.  When you get into the 1950s pastels, it starts looking a lot more dated, even comical:
The website mentions family rooms/ game rooms, and these colors might indeed be way better suited--and extremely fun--for those types of rooms than the main kitchen of a house.  They also have a matching range hood, by the way, and a dishwasher front panel that will fit a number of different manufacturers' models.

Going back yet further, the same question arises if you're to purchase a house built in 1902.  Their Antique line is fully modern appliances that mimic those of that era:
This is evidently how Elmira started, making wood-burning ranges for Mennonites--who can't use electric or gas?  And then began fitting them with other fuel types and so on in the 1970s.

I'm not quite as crazy about the refrigerators in this line, because it doesn't really make any sense:
In this context, I think you'd be far better off having a new fridge paneled and hardwared to look like an old icebox (which they could certainly start manufacturing themselves, but oh well).

The wall ovens, on the other hand, are extremely cool:

I really hope they do a 1930s line next.  Kitchens were never quite as fabulous as they were in the age of streamlining.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For the Floor


Here are some beautiful rugs from Esti Barnes of London's Top Floor.

"Esquire" was the one I really loved:
In hand-tufted wool, as if somebody wrinkled it.  It's always nice to have the hand of the artisan in the work, but this one does lead me to wonder if anyone is working with computer-guided cutting tools to create impossible textures in the pile of their rugs.

Here's "Stone":
I've seen stuff like this before, namely from Nani Marquina, but I just can't get enough of the heavily and interestingly textured floor coverings.  We need less boring carpets.

I hadn't seen "Esquisse" before, but this is extremely clever:
Around the edges, it appears like it's trying to be a more-or-less traditionally-inspired rug, but then it fades out in the center, almost like the pattern has been worn away by use.  It's a wonderful way of symbolizing this most ancient of crafts, that of carpet-weaving.

She's also doing some very elegant work with metallic threads, this is "Endless":
With silver thread against black.  Although there was a similar one at the show with blue fibers fading into gold against a khaki background, and I think that one was much warmer.

Here are some of her latest works, but it's unclear which one is which on the website:
I very much like the round one, a very sharp, geometric pattern, but still obviously inspired by natural forms, a stunning contrast.  I also love the slight illusion of three-dimensionality.

I think the most brilliant of them--and I wish they'd had one of these at the show--is "Luminoso":
It's a rug interwoven with LEDs, so it lights up?  AMAZING.

She also offers some really exquisite cashmere throws and things, which look exceedingly cuddly.  You can see those on their website.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Furniture from New York

Last week I went to the Architectural Digest Home Design Show.  Some of the products on display were rather insipid, as with any trade show, but there were quite a few interesting things to see, as well.

In no particular order, I'd like to talk about some of the products/ designs that I really liked.

First is a company called Shimna (they also have a blog, by the way), on Lafayette here in NYC, right above Houston.

What drew me to their booth, really, was this coffee table, called "Susquehanna" (click on the pictures for larger views):

It's a nice simple table with a seat carved out of the top of it, but then it also opens up to provide storage space:

Giving it three different functions, which I really like: table, seat, and storage.  The hydraulic hardware was very smooth and solid, evidence of quality craftsmanship.

Here's another little end table called "Tidy Table":

Toward the back of the shallow "V," if you look closely, there's a wooden disc between the two panels where you can rest a drinking glass or a vase.  I guess that's what they mean by "tidy."

But I was also really impressed by their seating.  It's very clean, sharp, and minimalist, in a delightfully 1950s sort of way.  "Three Seat Beam Sofa":

I can't tell you how many sofas I've seen that would be so wonderful if not for some stupid, rinky-dink legs they slapped onto the bottom, or some ridiculous plastic casters, for that matter.

But they've rested this sleek, clean, almost delicate geometric sofa on top of heavy, rough, rustic wooden beams, creating an incredible contrast in textures.  Here's the Sectional:

I really like those lines.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tomorrow MoMA Knows

Last night I went to see the new show at the Museum of Modern Art, Design and the Elastic Mind.  It’s truly a brilliant and inspiring collection of items that will no doubt shape our world in the decades to come.  They describe the exhibition as going from the micro level to the macro, which it sort of does, but really it’s divided up into to various categories, Bioengineering, Nanotechnology, Green Design, Technology Interface, Bodily Perception, etc. 

As far as I was concerned, the most incredible section was all about information processing.  For the first time in human history, we have the ability to collect and store vast amounts of data on an unprecedented scale.  So the question arises as to how we’re going to organize, sort, interpret, analyze, and understand these huge collections of information.  The far back room showed a number of examples.  One screen showed a map of the world that would skew and warp according to with what geographic locations New Yorkers made telephone contact over a certain span of time.  So if a large number of people telephoned Berlin around 8PM, Berlin would grow larger (or come forward, depending on your perspective).

Another showed different views of our planet in terms of digital information from New York to other parts of the world over “the past 24 hours.”  Here the cities would light up in a huge point of light, or darken again according to how much we’re communicating with them.  Pulsing lines of communication shot up out of New York, rendered three-dimensionally, like missile trajectories, flowing to every corner of the globe.  One piece was a graphic analysis of the Wikipedia entries/ edits for popular search terms, “Abortion” and “Chocolate.”

A screen showing the flight paths of airplanes coming in and out of the United States over the course of 24 hours was simply mesmerizing.  I stood there almost trancelike watching the waves and bursts of squiggly lines crisscross around the country and the world, the lattice blooming from East to West at 8AM or so and slowly fading out at nightfall.

There were some other pieces that were just goofy, like a line of products for a bachelor to simulate being in a relationship.  “Sheet Thief” is an appliance that will rip the sheets off you in the middle of the night.  “Hair Alarm Clock” whips a ponytail in your face to wake you up.  “Heavy Breather” is fairly self-explanatory, as is “Cold Feet.”  I thought the whole thing was hilarious.

There were quite a few ecologically poignant items on display, although I wish there’d been more, considering our current climate (multiple meanings intended).  But that wasn’t the biggest problem I had with the show.  For the most part, the work on display was top-notch, technologically, conceptually, and both.  But the curators really should have done a lot more pruning.

Part of the problem was that this was Target Free Friday Night, the first Friday of a brand new (and much anticipated) show.  We heart TFFNs, MoMA, so thank you—although one might be inclined to wonder if the reason the museum is swarmed by 50-million New Yorkers 4PM Friday is because you charge a ridiculous entrance fee the rest of the week. 

It’s such a scene.  Everybody’s young and hip, these are New York’s starving artists: the ones making Art History in this city.  It’s them, I’m sorry to say, not the stuffy socialites invited to the private openings, not the tourists from the backwoods of Alabama, not the card carrying collectors.  It’s these people, Friday nights, and it’s quite fun to be a part of it.

But the enormous crowd merely exacerbated problems with the show that would confront a visitor unless they were the only person in the gallery.  The nature of this work, being SO new, SO unprecedented, means that in 75% of the cases, you have absolutely no idea what you’re looking at if you don’t read pretty much all the text on the neighboring plaque.  Some of them are insufficient still; as far as I could tell, the description of the work of Materialise (which I’ve talked about here), did nothing to illuminate what makes their technology so brilliant—and who knows for how many other unfamiliar objects that was the case and I wasn’t aware of it.

Meanwhile, the text is in most cases so tiny that you have to be standing less than two feet away from it for it to even be legible, thereby blocking anyone else’s view (and museum etiquette is sorely misunderstood, as it is).  So only one or two people can engage at any one time.  One pertinent aspect about the progress of our technology is that it continues to rapidly decrease in size, but because of that, and because there’s way too much on display, the items are so close together that you’re practically breathing down some stranger’s neck the entire time.  I’m leaning back and forth, back and forth around some fourteen-year-old kid blocking my view and totally unaware that anyone else is trying to see the work.  One plaque was so badly located that I practically had to stand right on top of the artwork to read it.  Others are grouped together in so jumbled a manner that, since we’re talking about extremely unusual research projects and so on, it’s unclear to which piece they even refer.

Certainly it’s possible that I’m missing the whole point.  It’s been discussed that our new technology has this bizarre way of grouping people together in some ways, while isolating and alienating us from one another at the same time.  Perhaps by designing a show where I’m in excruciatingly close proximity to someone I don’t even know, and yet at the same time not really able to share an experience with them, the curators are calling attention to the times in which we live.  Nonetheless, it makes the show unfortunately less enjoyable, and there were a number of items I didn’t feel like bothering to barge through groups of people to get a look at.

So while the show is extremely comprehensive and jam-packed full of great stuff, they'd have been way better off scaling it down, and including more videos showing what these objects do, more movement, objects in use, more visual examples of what's on display, more interactive pieces (there were a couple).  I felt for two Asian women behind me who, from their tones of voice it would seem, had to struggle a lot harder to understand what they were seeing because one's only recourse, really, was to read the accompanying English text.

Another irony of this show, because so much of it at least touched on communications technology, was the fact that about 50% of the people there were so busy taking pictures with their camera phones they likely weren’t even paying any attention to the exhibition.  I’ve never seen so many people snapping pictures in a museum before in my life.  I was unable to find out what their exact policy on photos is, but while there I overheard someone saying “it’s okay, as long as we don’t publish them.”  Especially in light of this particular show, what the hell does that even mean anymore?  “Publish them…” in professional print?  Is what you’re reading right now a “publication?”  And how could they ever possibly enforce that, anyway?

I do highly recommend going to see this show.  It will very likely blow your mind, but leave the camera at home, and I’d suggest either waiting until it’s been up for a long while, or paying the $20 admission so go at a slower time of the week.

©2008, Ryan Witte