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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.

“Thermo Fisher donated many of the components, while we added on a lot of ducts and tubes,” said Reindorf. “We made all the lab equipment mobile on the floor or serviceable bringing it down from the ceiling.”

Now this sounds like a great idea for just ordinary living. Take the beautiful barn-like, high-ceilinged house Goldman Reindorf designed in Edgartown on the Cape. What if you could move everything around it capacious interior just like in the movie lab, either move it on wheels or tracks or pull it down from the ceiling? Porch screens can already perform this way — can be pulled down when needed — so why not draw down an entire dining room table this Thanksgiving, chocolate turkeys and all?

Ally Maloney
Ally Maloney

Design neurons take us on many unexpected paths from Hollywood to the High Seas. As a Wentworth student, Ally Maloney of Warren, RI had no idea there was such a thing as a yacht designer. She only recalled being wowed by how big they seemed compared to her diminutive childhood self. Soon enough the recent grad found herself working as a Joinery Engineer on one of the grandest “floating palaces” ever built, the 85-meter, 2010 mega yacht Cakewalk at the Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, CT.  Now Maloney finds her residential work catching up to her yacht interiors, from 10% residential last year to 25% this year. Whether on land or sea, the theme she says remains much the same: high-end coastal. Her craftspeople do the customizing locally from upholstery to case goods while she mainly shops the BDC for Duralee, Stark, Donghia, Robert Allen, and Greenhouse.

If New England can be said to have a cumulative Cortex of Perception, the recession of 2008 was an epic neuron-zapper! The Junior League of Boston temporarily discontinued its Decorators’ Showhouse after forty some continuous years, while The Ellis Antiques Show at the Castle in Park Square dropped out for good after a forty-nine-year run.

Tony Fusco
Tony Fusco

Showhouse is now in very good shape, as anyone who has seen the latest Spring-time iteration, bringing to full flower a Greek Revival manse in Newton, MA that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now one of New England’s leading design impresarios Tony Fusco along with his business and life partner Robert Four of Fusco & Four have done equally visionary after closing the Ellis Antiques Show. After purchasing the show in 2011 and keeping it going for a few years at a new home at the Cyclorama in the South End, they felt it was time for something new. In 2015, the partners replaced the Ellis with the Boston Home Décor Show, also at the Cyclorama. (The 2nd year gala takes place November 17 and the show runs to the 20th).

Tony Fusco and Robert Four
Tony Fusco and Robert Four

Why the change? “We found people have become much more eclectic in their taste than they were, say, ten years ago,” says Fusco, noting a shift in New England’s acute cortices of perception. “Today’s altogether a more interesting time, and far more challenging. Mixing and matching in a way that still hangs together and creates a gestalt. For example, last year we had Boston’s Sedia exhibiting in one booth and Knollwood Antiques from Thorndike, MA right across from it. While Sedia’s highly regarded for its reproductions of early 20th Century modern designs — Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, etc., Knollwood’s on the A-List for designers seeking more traditional furniture. I’m happy to say both exhibitors did well.”

A forty-nine year run for the Ellis Antiques Show, continues in another form. After a 2008 hiatus, Junior League Showhouse is back with renewed vigor. Too often, when a designer dies, there is no such second act, no projection of her genius into the future. Fortunately, for those who miss and who mourn decorator Ann Sullivan who passed away in June, her presence has a home at Hilary House, a prolific design firm she formed in the late eighties with her daughter, Hilary Hickok.

Designer Phillip Hugh Smith, noted on Facebook: “I just learned of the passing of one of the great interior designers in my memory, Ann Sullivan. A beautiful woman and great professional talent, she represented the top of the high-end designers of Boston. Lots of fun and a joy to travel with.”

“She was a great favorite of mine,” rejoined designer Charles Spada of the BDC, echoing the thoughts of many in the trade.

Alan Ricks
Alan Ricks

Paul Farmer founded one of New England’s most celebrated non-profits, Partners in Health in 1987, almost thirty years ago to provide health care to mountainous regions of Haiti. Author, activist, Harvard Professor, UN Special Adviser, builder of hospitals and champion of environments that promote human dignity, there was one thing Farmer was not: a design client. All that changed in 2008 when recent Harvard Graduate School of Design grad Alan Ricks happened to ask Farmer what architect he was using for the new Partners in Health hospital in Butaro, Rwanda.

Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy

None, replied Farmer, who had drawn up plans on the proverbial napkin. Shortly Ricks and fellow GSD grad Michael Murphy signed on to the project, forming Mass Design Group, geared towards improving social equity and outcomes. Contract Magazine named the Butaro project Medical Facility of the Year in 2011. Now it’s fair to say that along with NIH’s slogan “Poverty makes you sick” the notion that “Design can help make you better,” is here to stay, thanks to Ricks, Murphy and their ever-expanding team of recent architectural grads around the world.

Lately, we Skyped one of these recruits, architect

Christian Benimana Mass Design Group
Christian Benimana Mass Design Group

at his hotel in Amsterdam where he speaking at a conference entitled What Can Design Do?  “Our clients aren’t just looking for a building,” said Benimana, “they’re looking for impact, a building that enhances their mission.”  Benimana cites a project for the Malawi Ministry of Health working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. In Malawi, it turns out, design can do a lot. As recently as 2010, in one in thirty-six Malawian women had a lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or delivery.

“MASS Design’s brief for the Maternity Waiting Village,” says Benimana was to make the village as home-like and un-clinical-looking as possible, with work and living spaces of compressed earth blocks intertwined in the traditional Malawi way. Open wards for five or six women encourages a sense of belonging and allows more experienced moms to help out the less experience. Every one of these nine wards offers outdoor patio spaces covered by an overhang. If pregnant women who have sought care there once, keep returning and can persuade other women to join them in seeking neonatal care at the Village, then we will have been successful.”

Suffice to say, there won’t be any ducts and tubes and science fiction gadgets hanging from the ceiling. If a delivery runs into trouble, there’s a hospital nearby. Meanwhile, just the thought of so many fresh-faced cortices of perception coming to the world spreads joy from southeastern Africa to New England. Design conquers all.

Cortex of Perception 2016
Cortex of Perception 2016