Major Mashups

by Louis Postel as seen in Showboats International, November 2016

The Modernism Moment looks here to stay for mega yacht design from hull to hardware. The clean lines born of Modernism’s form-is-function aesthetic just makes so much over-arching sense, especially at sea. Efficiency, elegance, and a low-key elitism continue to find inspiration in Le Corbusier’s Vers Un Architecture of 1923, and before that Greek Temples, high and heroic on the hill.

But for every action there’s a reaction, propelling M/Y’s through water, and design through culture. Along comes Postmodernism: an aesthetic embrace of the every day, the ironic, the messy, the vulgar, explosive, fragmentary, witty and pluralistic. For Postmodern champion and architect Robert Venturi, co-author of Learning from Las Vegas (1972), Modernism was at risk of becoming a phony kind of orthodoxy, ripe for a major mashup. Read more

Page Nation | Graphisoft USA

by Louis Postel for Graphisoft USA / Archicad

How to reverse drastic declines in Facebook’s organic reach.

Let’s say you’re giving a lecture on architecture to five hundred of your most ardent followers. It’s something you care about deeply. Years in the making, multiple more-than-satisfied stakeholders, leading engineers working around the clock, advanced, sustainable technologies, major impact, along with a Pritzker thrown in for good measure. Read more

What Can Design Do, Really? | New England Home

by Louis Postel | Trade Secrets in New England Home| August 2016

Newton, MA-based architect and artist Lisa Reindorf and her partner Mitchell Goldman of Goldman Reindorf Architects have been consulting on a new film called Cortex with Josh Lucas premiering next year. Does not such a project point to the future of design itself, how the neurons and synapses in our brains shape the spaces we live in, and are shaped in return by those same spaces? And how fitting for Reindorf and Goldman to be the ones exploring this brave new frontier between architecture and neuroscience. After all, Goldman Reindorf just designed MIT’s Neuroscience Lab. Read more

Feel the Blur     

  by Louis Postel in Showboats International June 2016       

            

As luxury items become increasingly globalized and mass marketed, Ikat is leading the opposition.

On a field of snow and frozen mud, Uzbek horsemen of Central Asia play a form of polo with a goat carcass. Another stands apart, about to release a falcon into the crystal air. But it’s their splendid Ikat clothing that catches our attention.

For Ikat’s unique designs, born of a painstaking tie and dye “resist” weaving process, bring us from the tribal to the modern mega-yacht world in a psychic second. Ikat’s blurred geometric patterns are soft, its rhythms a quiet breath in a noisy world. Read more

Through the Looking Glass

Trade Secrets by Louis Postel, first published in New England Home, July 2016

Transparency. Transparency. Transparency. Now, more than ever, we want to know what’s going on. Not the appearance of what’s going on, but what’s really going on. Transparency, after all, is the stock in trade of the design profession: the play of light and shadow, windows and walls.

Is that handsome, silver-haired politician merely the tool of lobbyists? Is that proud, global-thinking auto executive cheating at every opportunity? Is America’s favorite, pinochle-playing Dad also a rapist? Read more

Five Easy Packing Pieces | Showboats, January 2017

 Imagine tossing one of these babies in the overhead bin. Then dragging it along the quay with for a midnight triste. And, later, on a bet, trying to escape from one like Houdini, wrapped in chains. However difficult—even laughable— such feats are to imagine, boxy steamer trunks have upsides the design world’s just waking up to.

Such luggage has the advantage of sparing its owners and staff from having to watch those twenty-four million You Tubes videos on how to pack, for example. A steamer trunk will keep most unruly stuff unharmed and unwrinkled over many a nautical mile, performing like nothing else short of a Moser safe. And what’s more, you can get double duty out of these clunky trunks, converting them to a bench, a desk, a wardrobe and more, as you shall see.

A bench trunk, trunk bench
A bench trunk, trunk bench

Where’s the booty? You know those pirate chests with the domed tops? In landlocked Nebraska, Charlie Zeller excels in the fancy bending of wood these domed tops require. While such chests will keep the rain off the booty, they won’t stack. Therefore, consider Zeller’s relatively flat version: an ostrich-top padded trunk that doubles as a bench, a perfect seat for changing into the flip flops one can readily stash below.  $ 6,800.00 Chucks Woodbarn

Iron fists in soft gloves. One day in the early 70’s, Marley Hodgson came across a collection of boots, belts and backpacks belonging to a British Ghurka commander at UK estate sale. Despite the Ghurka soldiers’ global reputation for toughness, their centuries-old leather gear felt surprisingly soft, after almost one hundred years. Whereupon, Hodgson designed the first of his famous Ghurka collections in a Connecticut factory. This desk/trunk, made in collaboration with noted Italian luggage maker Bertoni, comes in French bull leather with studded trim, cotton twill lining, hand-painted stripes, and brass palladium hardware finishes. 130 x 55 x 55 cm, $19,500 from Ghurka

Ghurka-esque
Ghurka-esque
Iron monger
Iron monger
Goyardian
Goyardian

Piles for miles. Rockefellers, Romanovs, and Grimaldis may have charted different courses, but they all did so with Maison Goyard trunks in tow. Piled up, they appear to celebrate the very dawn of the machine age— in the form, say, of steamships— and at the same time old world craftsmanship, the combination of eye, hand, and mind working leather, metal, Goyardine canvas. $5,200 – $35,800. Goyard

  • Iron supplement. Keen on the metal muscularity left exposed in converted lofts? Consider adding a classic Victorian trunk in industrial chic gray iron to your luggage collection. Studded leather corners and wood rims define the nail-trimmed body of a four-drawer “Coberg” model from Kathy Kuo Home. 25.5” high x 50.5” wide x 20.5” deep. $3,348.00 Kathy Kuo

lv-trunk-open

LV for short
LV for short

LV at Sea. When sixteen-year-old Louis Vuitton arrived in Paris, he arrived on foot, a poor apprentice. At that time, the more privileged got around in horse-drawn carriages, boats and trains, but this didn’t stop their luggage from getting battered mercilessly—even more so than today, believe it or not! Such abuse drove many a customer to Vuitton’s master, Monsieur Maréchal, for help in packing, crating, and protecting their belongings. Seventeen years later, Vuitton open his workshop near Place Vendome. This steamer trunk from the 1930’s features the iconic LV stenciled monogram on canvas, leather top handles, brass locks and an interior with folding hangers, a shoe section, and six drawers. $21,000 from Luxury Vintage Interiors, Saint-Quen-sur-Seine, France. Luxury Vintage Interiors

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beasts: Exploring the Art and Architecture of Estate Agriculture

By Louis Postel, as seen in New England Home, Special Spaces, November 2016

If you close your eyes and listen to the clip-clop of a great steed being led across the cobblestone courtyard with a three-spouted fountain playing counterpoint into a cistern behind, it’s easy to imagine yourself reincarnated as one of those riders born to royalty you read about in romantic fiction.

Indeed, when architect Marcus Gleysteen set out to design the Beechwood Stables complex in Weston, the first stop on his research trail was the regal 18th Century Bourbon stables in Chantilly, France. And before drawing the most preliminary sketch he went on to check out just about every notable stable within driving distance of his Boston office. This included Vanderbilt’s Shelburne Farms on Lake Champlain, and Sandy Point and Glen Farms in Portsmouth, RI where he was able to put his considerable riding skills to work as a further test.

Marcus Gleysteen
Marcus Gleysteen

“My term for Beechwood is Estate Agriculture,” says Gleysteen, “while built for utilitarian equestrian use, the architecture itself needs to embody the values of the people who own it and live around it. That’s why we don’t use perfectly functional corrugated siding for Estate Agriculture.  The Beechwood idea was to combine that functionality with beauty.”

Open your eyes, and you see the three buildings comprising the Beechwood complex: Gleysteen’s Estate Agriculture, a modernized use of traditional forms in steel and wood. Across the courtyard stands a 4,500 square-foot timber-framed, multi-gabled stable with extended roof beams on each side, and a skin of board and batten and Douglas Fir.

In addition to the stable, a 22,000 square-foot enclosed, irrigated arena with six pneumatic, bi-folding hangar doors angled slightly below an observation room, bar and granite, Stonehenge of a double fireplace. And third, the 4,200 square foot utility barn, kitty corner from the arena and its outdoor patio. Here is where the owners Lise and Dan Revers put the seventeen-foot dark-stained slice of walnut with its light maple wedge of inlay to use as a dining table entertaining guests after drinks in the observation room. About 30,000 cars a day see the outside of the barn facing the street.

When Lise rode as young girl she recalls how stables were mainly converted cow barns with 150 years of cow urine odor filling the dank and dark interiors. “What makes a happy stable,” adds Gleysteen, “is a healthy smell.” The proper setting of the doors to prevailing winds. The ingenious ventilation flaps in the hayloft and the twelve extra-large, airy stalls below. The ten leafy private acres set in 200 acres of conservation land. All these elements combine with ubiquitous fresh hay to make not so much a smell, but a heady fragrance one would be tempted to bottle.

Uninsulated, but comfortable given the biomass of the horses themselves, with a heated floor for 6 am February grooming, the choice of timber-frame construction posed some challenges for Gleysteen. While Douglas Fir with its striking horizontal graining, is one of the most stable and sustainable of woods it’s rich with resin which is highly combustible. “That’s why we put a sprinkler system in here worthy of a nuclear plant,” says Gleysteen. Though well-concealed behind steel-strapped columns and beams, the piping is unavoidable. “Sadly, every week I read about stables going up in flame,” notes Lise. The other challenge about timber-frame relates to the first: there’s no way to hide the smallest detail, timber-frame leaves everything exposed. “This fact provided a real opportunity for creative expression,” says Gleysteen, “and to develop a vocabulary that expresses the structural geometry in each building. Though in the construction, one occasionally had to use a cat o’ nine tails — no improvising allowed.

beechwood-stables-14

For example, in the stable, Gleysteen made sure nothing juts out that might hurt a horse coming by, not the smallest latch, nor scores of other functional details having to do with the constant circulation of thousand pound, champion hunters. They pass cleanly down the halls, past vet stall, farrier stall, bathing stall, laundry, and hotel-quality tack room to the arena or one of the five grassy paddocks outside.

In the arena building, attached to the stable by an enclosed link, Gleysteen had the walls inclined slightly to afford space for riders’ legs if their horses happen to run along them, while making sure the arena’s illumination was uniform so the horses won’t shy from odd strips of light. He also designed elaborate fireplace doors with horsehead inlays in copper and bronze for the double-sided granite fireplaces in the observation room and patio outside where the fountain pours its notes. Above the dining table, Gleysteen, who began life as a sculptor, created a huge, ring-like light fixture inspired by the leaf springs of old, and forgotten tractors.

“So many barns are moving South these days,” says Lise “The snow loads are collapsing the enclosed arenas.”

“Which is too bad,” says Gleysteen whose practice is based in Boston, “because a tradition here is getting lost.” Meanwhile, Kingpin, a majestic horse with an elegant white blaze, seems happily unconcerned. Luminous in the light and air and complementary honey hues of the Douglas Fir columns, he seems to point to a future where good design everyone feel ennobled.

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Our Inner Cities | Louis Postel for New England Home, Feb 2017

How do you paint what’s going on inside your skull?

Lost City
Charting our brains

Heidi Whitman hails from a long line of artists who make such invisible things visible. In 14th century Florence, the architect and painter Giotto di Bondone thawed out frozen-faced divines with a human warmth. Impressionists such as Mary Cassatt and Henri Matisse infused pictures with light and movement. Later, in the 20th century, Elaine and Willem de Kooning along with other abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline made painting itself an event that would last long past their lifetimes.

In the same tradition, Whitman performs the magic of bringing unseen networks to life, both internal and external. In comparison, an fMRI scan is but a pale shadow. Electro-chemical brain happenings explode in anger, ripple gently in meditation, take off unexpectedly, driven by curiosity, running complex codes in rhythmic patterns. Networks of civilization as surveyed from the sky contrast with and conflate thisbrain activity. Take away the hard matter of our skulls, says Whitman and observe how the networks within us enmesh themselves with the networks outside streets and train tracks, switchbacks and footpaths, rooftops and road signs.  No matter how meticulously an anthropologist records his digs through ancient ruins, the conflation of brain inside to world outside requires the imagination and drawing prowess of a Whitman to describe.

Mappamundi 2
Mappamundi 2

Whitman discovered her love for drawing while in film school in New York. Unlike film, she realized drawing didn’t involve perpetually raising funds, or working with stubborn machines. She delighted in the fact that all drawing asked of her was to maintain a direct connection between brain, eye and hand. In 1980, Whitman graduated from the Museum School in Boston and shortly thereafter joined its faculty where she remains part-time. She shows here and abroad, most recently at TAG Fine Arts in London, the Kemper in Kansas City and Carroll and Sons in Boston, in  private collections, Fidelity Investments, Bank of America, the Federal Reserve all number among her many collectors. Whitman’s art also figures prominently in Katharine Harmon’s book “The Map as Art,” (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009). Whitman’s prices range from two to twelve thousand dollars.

Brainstorm 7
Brainstorm 7

“You know the Flower District has been sold,” she says, pointing outside the window of her studio in Boston’s South End. “I’m worried development will ultimately take this building as well, where I’ve been for so long.” Artists and designers occupy every floor. The night before, many of them came to an open house to see Whitman’s “Lost Cities” constructions pinned to the freshly-painted walls one on top of another, old school salon style. Whitman considers the net of shadows cast by these pinned pieces as a key medium in these mixed media constructions and mashups, as elemental as paper, paint, canvas and glue.

Unpinned and compact, Whitman’s Mappamundi 3 combines her passion for ancient worlds with classical cartography ever suggestive of the mind’s mysterious terrain. “I have always been in love with maps,” she says. “Even as a little girl, I loved those stories featuring maps. Treasure Island, Winnie the Pooh. I got so into mapping brains, people started asking if there was something going wrong with mine. Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Natural History gave me permission to pursue my research drawing their shrunken heads. Quite ghastly they were, especially with their little tags, saying what anthropologist had collected it. One day I recall the Director asking me not to sketch so publicly but to use his private office for fear of upsetting the public.”

Lost City of G
Lost City of G

Under Whitman’s studio worktable lies a cardboard box of scraps, bits of canvas, old map shreds, odd paper Whitman had painted for other projects. Such waste you couldn’t pawn off on Goodwill, but with an X-ACTO knife routinely “using up zillions of blades”, tiny scissors, and a glue gun, Whitman transforms it into crisp topographies and traceries of the mind, these grids of pure consciousness.

This is not to say the work is not without humor. In her construction titled the Lost City of G, a train track leads incongruously nowhere, mocked by an upside-down palm tree. Loops, marshes and switchbacks and various topographical markings cause a double take: are they real, or merely symbols standing in for mental activity?

In Lost City of G, the colors are of the desert, which explains Whitman is hardly colorless. Her travels through various deserts taught her that. Her recent sojourn in Central Asia inspired Lost City of G’s palette of sand, blue, green, orange-brown, and slices of red.

How many other lost cities lie under those Central Asian sands and the entire spinning crust of our planet, for that matter? And how will they seek out the networks in our minds to make some unifying connection? Conversely, what do our minds yearn for, one wonders — our memories hold, our dreams conflate, what happenings within and without our skulls triggers us, deadens us, confuses us, uplifts us and awakens us to art?

 

 

 

Today’s Design Tack

LouisPostelby Louis Postel | Trade Secrets | first published in New England Home, November 2016

Are you calling about the Olympics?” asked designer Lynne Shore of Rhode Island Kitchen and Bath in Newport, RI.

“So many reporters have been calling. It turns out the state of Rhode Island wants to give all its Olympic medalists special license plates, and there’s some excitement about that, following Rio.”

There’s a pause, a confused moment on the line. “Well, actually, my sailing partner Allison Jolly and I won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.”

The only sailors to win that year after an unimpressive start and capsizing twice, both moved on to seemingly unrelated careers, Jolly to computer programming and Shore to design. But when you think about Shore’s on-shore kitchen and bath career involves many of the attributes of champion sailors and athletes in general. You have to respond quickly to every shift in the wind and currents from concept to construction, and you have to do it with precision in a fairly unforgiving environment.

Olympian Designer Lynne Shore
Olympian Designer Lynne Shore

As Shore sees it, her entire baby-boomer generation is tacking hard in an unforgiving environment. “Baby-boomers want to take a step back now, but can’t afford to because of the cost of living. So they figure ‘if I can’t stop working, at least I can do something to soften the blow.’” They’re the ones driving this trend for aging in place, especially aging in place with a big shower, soaking tub and comfort height toilets for getting up and down easily.”

“To make space for the shower and soaking tub, I’ve ripped out more whirlpools than I can count on my fingers and toes,” adds Shore. There’s the noise factor, they’re hard to get in and out of, and many people would rather have a hot tub outside.”

Just as baby-boomers drive bath design, millennials are driving kitchen design. “They want kitchens where their kids can participate in cooking. They’d like them to eat healthily and see mom eating healthy, too. It’s all about the earth,” says Shore. Meanwhile, all baby-boomers and all millennials, don’t hesitate to wave our Olympian hello if you see a BMW with a number 2 Rhode Island license plate in your neighborhood!

Architect Duo Dickinson
Architect Duo Dickinson

Architects, like designers, may combine wonderful qualities — creativity, precision, know-how — and yet says architect Duo Dickinson of Madison, CT, latest generation of architects may have nowhere to go.

“The architecture schools are simply pumping out too many graduates, with 24,000 kids currently taught by 6,000 faculty at over one hundred schools,” says Dickinson. “Meanwhile, there are over 200,000 people in the US with architecture degrees and only 60,000 in the profession, with more than half of those listed as sole practitioners, some whom may be only sketching a project on a laptop once a month. Even more discouraging, the number of architects who say they have a base in residential work has fallen from 18% before the recession to 11% now.

“As I see it, architecture is in danger of becoming a lifestyle choice, rather than a profession, more about

‘liking architecture’ than about making real buildings for real people, more about black clothes and expensive eyeglasses, more about architecture as sculpture and aesthetics rather than the nitty work of getting projects past the zoning board, etc.”

Dickinson whose parents called him Duo rather than George No. 2, combines a busy practice (500 projects completed in ten states) with writing columns on architecture for the Hartford Current, New Haven Independent, a blog and a podcast. The author of many books including The House You Build: Making Real-World Choices to Get the Home You Want (American Institute Architects), Dickinson is tentatively titling his next opus “A Home Called New England” (Pequod Press). The idea is to trace New England’s real people, real buildings trajectory from Cape survival mode to split-level suburbia and beyond.

Designer Carolina Tress Balsbaugh of Manuel de Santaren Inc
Designer Carolina Tress Balsbaugh of Manuel de Santaren Inc

Carolina Tress Balsbaugh celebrated another Gold Medalist last August, tennis ace Monica Puig from Puerto Rico, where Balsbaugh was born and raised. “Monica’s win meant so much to all of us,” said Balsbaugh.

Twenty-one years ago Carolina Tress Balsbaugh (pronounced Bals-baa) was clothes shopping at Serenella when someone whose name she recalls as Inez introduced her to designer Manuel de Santaren. Born and raised in Puerto Rico and fresh out of Mt. Ida, Balsbaugh soon became de Santaren’s assistant and later his sole partner. The secret to such a long-standing relationship? “We know what buttons not to push,” she said.

Until recently, they shared an office in the Boston Design Center with de Santaren’s friend, the widely-known restaurant designer Peter Niemitz. They have since moved to Newbury Street above Simon Pearce, and, incidentally, a far easier jog to Serenella.

Like Lynne Shore and all good sailors, Balbaugh sensed a change in the design wind over the past few years. “Clients have become more casual, less concerned with silks and satins, and more interested in indoor/outdoor fabrics. They can be extraordinarily soft and velvety and yet you don’t have to worry about them a lot. They’re solution-dyed, so the threads themselves are the color you’re seeing. They don’t run and you can clean most with a little bleach. Now you can dare to use lighter colors, mainly textured white and gray solids and use the whole house with no parts ‘off-limits.’”

“I love silk velvet, but if you sit on it or get water on it like wet hair on the back of the chair, there’s no way to get that watermark out or fingerprints out. Some people don’t mind the marks. For them, the marks are a kind of patina they’re ok with, but others don’t feel that way, and I don’t want anyone calling me two years later them. That’s why so many clients are opting the indoor/outdoor once I explain the advantages to them. We have been sourcing a lot of these indoor/outdoor fabrics from Holly Hunt and Great Plains while adding some old world embroidered pillows in linen and cotton, patterned beautifully by Fortuny.”

Designer Marianne Donahue
Designer Marianne Donahue

If Rio games showed metaphorically the world’s potential, it also showed in living color the scary possibility of gangster-ridden, class-war dystopias spreading from the favelas to everywhere else. “Clients used to say ‘We don’t want our house to look like grandma’s’” says designer Marianne Donahue of West Hartford. “But now they do. They want traditional. They want a comfort a certain comfort level compared to the harshness and instability they see in the world. This development has been going on for the past year or so. They want to be surrounded by history, good history: tufted, carved back sofas are back! A client couple that just inherited a very large house from a grandmother wants to keep not some but all the furniture.”

“Also I’m seeing a change in walls from white and gray to warmer and more dramatic colors: soft corals and gold, peacock blue, burgundy red, and especially now purples such as eggplant, which I haven’t seen in a long time. Paintings just explode against purple. The Morgan Great Hall at the Wadsworth Athenaeum here in Hartford has just gone from red to a deep blue with floor to ceiling paintings and it looks marvelous.”

What about the conventional wisdom that white and light make small rooms feel larger, and darker smaller? Not necessarily, according to Donahue.  There are other considerations: “the number of windows, the direction of the sun, the drapery treatments, carpets, the size and visual weight of the furniture and art on the walls all have a visual effect.”

Furniture Designer Emre Bagdatoglu
Furniture Designer Emre Bagdatoglu

Somewhere among the 25,000 architectural students, 6,000 adjunct professors and an untold number of designers-to-be, there’s someone with attributes necessary to survive and thrive no matter how many times we capsize. And that’s a readiness to laugh at the great comedy of life. Providence-based furniture designer and recent RISD grad Emre Bagdatoglu (pronounced Bat-dat-olu), exemplifies this persona which delights in what he calls “engineering humor.”  While he picked up the engineering skills mainly at ITU (Istanbul Technical University which was very serious and “very Bauhausian”, his wit’s surely his own. “A successful object, for me, is one that will make you laugh, even though you can’t place what, exactly, is funny about it,” he says. To make his Wall to Wall Chair ($2,800) Bagdatoglu painstakingly knotted rolls of carpet in a send-up of box-spring tied-downs.  “It’s extremely resilient, held together by friction and forty hours of elbow grease.”

Whenever the Design Olympics happens next, Bagdatoglu will indubitably be carrying the torch.

Correction: We stated that architect Lisa Reindorf had a hand in designing the set for Cortex of Perception of 2016. Rather she worked on Cortex starring Josh Lucas which is now in post-production.