From Trade Secrets by Louis Postel published in New England Home
Back in April, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston introduced a show called D is for Design (through February 22). The curators juxtaposed works on paper from its own collection, a refreshing and synergistic mix of design, art and architecture — disciplines that in our specialized, super-efficient world feel unnaturally compartmentalized. Each practitioner was awarded a letter, just for fun — L for stained-glass-window maker John Lafarge, and R the architect Aldo Rossi, who gave us the Alessi tea kettle.
Excellent idea, but why stop there? Why not alphabetize everything. New England 2014 certainly merits a letter designation, at least its first two quarters — namely, a capital U for highly Unusual weather.
Who can forget the Polar Vortex of January and February clipping us from the Artic flip side of global warming? It was so cold for so long, many of our heartiest designers, builders and architects, among others, took to constructing custom igloos in their backyards. How do we know this? When the snows finally melted, emptied bottles of Sam Adams and Grey Goose began to appear on lawns from Portland to Hartford.
And then just to drive the U in Unusual home, within days of the opening of D is for Design, another surprise occurred. Meb Keflezighi at 38, crossed the Boston Marathon finish line, its oldest winner since 1930 as well as the first American in 31 years to take first place. So old and a unlikely a guy was Meb, in fact, that Nike had given up on him as a sneaker sponsor, only to be replaced by Sketchers. What a statement, cultural, aesthetic, historic — Meb’s flying red sneaks and death-defying bib, inscribed with names of last year’s bombing victims. It makes one wonder what could rise to the glorious occasion of those red sneaks here in the realm of design and architecture. It turns out there have been a number of U for Unusual moments. If not earth-shattering, they present abundant evidence of our design community’s ongoing commitment to innovation as well as tradition. Which is to say, if you happened not to have attended the Marathon or been invited a designer’s igloo party last winter, or have yet to visit D is for Design, all is not lost. The timeless world of design still holds many surprises, and all can be yours.
That said, let’s check in on the state of things, beginning with the letter B for architect Mary Brewster of the Brewster Thornton Group in Providence, RI. “Homeowners are thinking longer terms these days,” says Brewster. “They’d like to make a statement about improving their corner of the world without making their house look like a science project. Right now we’re installing two geothermal systems, drilling wells three hundred feet down. Long term thinking also involves ageing, wider doorways, for example, for wheelchairs, and ramps, discretely tucked away if they’re needed later.
“We’re working on a large institutional project which involved consulting with a gerontologist. ‘Walking,’ he said, ‘is destiny.’” While some people will need wider doorways for wheelchairs along with ramps, Brewster explained, almost everyone will need a destination to walk to — a restaurant, a library, even the drugstore.
Also in Rhode Island, we found our letter C, for Dave Caldwell, Jr. of Design-Build firm Caldwell & Johnson in North Kingstown. “I’m installing photovoltaic roof shingles — as opposed to panels — with great success. They provide the same power as solar, only you just can’t see them. We installed the first one right before Hurricane Sandy on the ocean side of Narragansett Bay, and it came out fine. And we just installed a second set on a rebuild in Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, which is in southern Rhode Island near Watch Hill. The tiles themselves are from CertainTeed, called the Apollo II Roofing System.” In addition to preserving the architectural integrity of rooflines, Caldwell says owners are getting a special thrill from seeing credits on the electric bills.
D is for Design, and also stands for Karen Dzendolet of Pelham, MA, which is the academic hub of Amherst and Northampton. “I’m seeing a lot of renovation work where clients are looking to bring in more of nature, where we want to reflect what’s going on directly outside the window, acknowledging what’s going, how the light changes, or where a maple tree’s positioned. We just did a kitchen with cabinets mimicking greyish bark, and a bath where we added a window, and tiling that looks and feel like slate, but is actually a high-tech porcelain. We have a great showroom here called Arrow Tile that carries it. “
E goes to David Eisen of Abacus Architects in Boston. His clients are relating more to the issue of time with a capital T. “I think we are increasingly broadening our view of what it means to connect to history and tradition. Just because you are nailing shutters to the side of a house doesn’t mean you are connecting to history in a meaningful way. You can use more abstract forms to make people think about where they are in time and space. For example, we’re doing a synagogue in Milton where we wrap the congregation in something like an oversize prayer shawl, with fragmented walls. Separated by large expanses of glass suggesting the ruins of the second temple in Jerusalem, the walls also invoke the rough stone walls crisscrossing the New England Landscape. Our residential clients are more open to such poetic evocations of architecture and its traditions, as well.”
Representing the letter H, it’s Amanda Hark of Boston’s Hark Osborne Interior Design. “It’s LED everything now,” says Hark. “It’s the new norm. We noticed all our jobs changed overnight about six months ago. Our clients don’t even want the ubiquitous halogen MR-16’s, let alone incandescents…the best thing about them is they cut our clients’ energy bills in half.” Hark’s partner, Jeff Osborne, is equally enthusiastic about LEDs in recessed lighting. “With ever warmer Kelvin ratings, specifying LED trims aren’t a problem. The key, however, is to use a proper lens in the fixture to act as a diffuser for an even light, masking any flares or highlights.”
Kitchen and bath designer Sarah Steinberg of Cumberland, ME brings us all the way to S. She’s using LED’s, too, under floating shelves of driftwood in the kitchen. “Embedded into a steel sleeve right into the studs, the L bracket’s not visible, but the shelves can hold stacks of plates. I usually recommend that glasses be turned upside down. Other than that, my clients tell me that dust is not a big concern, because these are dishes and glasses they’re using daily and you only really have to worry about the top plate, if at all.”
“I’m also using a lot of quartzite as counter slabs and backsplashes. It has the curviness of marble veining, but far more durable. People often confuse it with Caesarstone and other products made from crushed aggregate and resin. Quartzite, on the other hand, is a natural metamorphic stone, originally quartz sandstone that’s been subjected to great heat and pressure which morphs into something free of pores and much harder.”
Nima Yadollahpour gets the Y. Formerly of Payette and Office dA, Yadollahpour founded his own studio in 2004, ONY Architecture in Boston. A 2011 New England Home 5 Under 40 Award-winner, he sees clients wanting to make dramatic changes in houses they have been living in over many years and by “digging deeper” he can do in accordance to their limited budgets. “One client in Dover,” he recalls, “was interested in a kitchen, mudroom, and casual dining renovation and was considering expanding their existing kitchen with an addition. Our solution was to create an S shaped wall instead, separating the mudroom and kitchen. And instead of a conventional wall with storage cabinets attached to each side, taking up a lot of square footage, the S-shaped wall was constructed of cabinets only. They were accessible in an alternating pattern, providing ample storage for the mudroom (as lockers) and the kitchen where we also increased counter space.”
And there U have it — another Unusual solution in a highly Unusual year.