As The World Learns | Design Times

Louis Postel’s Swatches from the Editor | Design Times

I hope (pray!)  design writer Marc Kristal will be standing in for me at Design N.Y.C. when I go to China.

While I’ll be trying to learn a little more about the world, Marc is supposed to be leading my seminar on design globalization. Learning never stops in the design world; there’s always something new. So I called Marc to make sure he hasn’t forgotten that he’s taking my place.

         “So how much am I getting paid for this Design N.Y.C. gig?” he asks. I stammer. There’s no budget for this appearance, even for sought-after New York writers like Marc. Our seminar at Design N.Y.C. could be in jeopardy without a moderator. Our panelists, Juan Montoya and Chippy Irvine, would have to go it alone without a referee.

A long, embarrassing pause follows.

         “So,” Marc says, “if your silence is telling me there’s no budget, I’ll do it for the prestige.”

I whisper quiet thanks to the design gods who must consider learning one of the greatest virtues. In another breath, I thank them for helping us with this showhouse issue, where some wonderful designers have been working out their ideas for the next millennium-always learning, learning.

“So what am I supposed to talk about?” Marc asks.

“Well,” I offer, “how about the difference between fads and trends when it comes to globalization? You can buy things anywhere, but what does it mean? What’s the significance? Does Italy mean elegant and France mean grand? England cozy, China serene, and Africa kinetic? And what do these traditions mean all mixed up? What do we all learn from each other?”

“What I was thinking,” says Marc, “is to ask if globalization is making everything homogenous without any real cultural differences. What if we have learned nothing and should go back to what we know firsthand?”

“I like it, I like it,” I say, putting on my editor’s hat. “And by the way, can you do a story on Juan Montoya as a follow up?” But Marc can’t do the article. He’s going to design school. I’m suddenly less enthusiastic about all this learning. How can anyone get the anything done? Last summer, Marc said he was going to Parsons to study interior design. He’s not doing it to practice design, but to improve his design writing skills. People vow to do a lot of things during vacations that never happen, but Marc had obviously followed through.

“School is great,” says Marc, “and not so great. . . I’m developing a deep feeling for the design process, but it’s also made my life a living hell. Nothing looks right in my house anymore. Right now I’m on my fifth out of the 10 basic overview classes, and then I get a certificate like the kind you get at camp for canoeing. The next one is on classic scale and proportion.

“I’ll give you an example of how important these classes are. I was in L.A. last week covering a project for the ‘New York Times.’ When I walked into the house, I immediately felt comfortable. I could now read the motifs. I could see what the architect was up to and the ways in which the spatial architectural requirements were organized. Also, the wooden beams were so beautiful.”

“And how does your wife respond to all of this new-found knowledge?” I ask.

“She used to say, ‘You liked it the way it was before, so why do you have to change it?’ But the other day I pointed out that one wall in our house just wasn’t working. There was this huge iron torchiere her family had given her breaking up the space right in the middle. I said, ‘Let’s take it out.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, instead of her saying, ‘Put that right back,’ she said, ‘Well, where else can we put it?’ That is a big change for us, and I can attribute it to taking the classes. There’s more of an organic, fluid feeling in our lives. The more you know, the more difficult things are, but also the more nuanced they become. Your ability to perceive becomes greater, more comprehensive. Studying design has really helped me as a writer, except now my stories tend to be a lot longer.”

For a sample of Marc’s new, more-informed approach, you’re invited to read his story in this issue of Design Times It’s about designer Gillian Rose and how she made an Early American project not nearly as musty as Early American sounds. In fact, it has all the earmarks of globalization, which, if you attend Marc’s seminar you’ll learn even more about. Or I’ll see you in Guangzhou at the White Swan Hotel, where I’ll be studying globalization close up.

Louis Postel