your source for contemporary designs

September 21, 2006

Interior Design Rules

J_adler_1_1For Jonathan Adler, there's one overriding rule for interior design: keep it fun.  Safe design, he says, is such a bummer. But that doesn't mean it's ok to ignore all pretense of good taste. Beyond the one rule, Adler does have an important guideline:

I believe that design should be chic and happy at the same time. I think the key is to strive for a classical foundation--good proportions, timeless sofas, furniture you won't get sick of--and then add a layer of playful punctuation with accessories.

Accessories can be fun, seasonal, less expensive than the big stuff, and easy to swap when tastes change. But doesn't everyone know that?  To create a truly unique, fun, stylish and self-expressive home Adler suggests everything from a punch of orange to ignoring the neighbors.  Get all his tips and tricks in his Interview with Pure Contemporary's Caroline Barry.

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September 19, 2006

Meet Möbelform


People looking for a flexible way to mount their plasma tvs often turn to wall mounted arms.  The robotic limb holds, tips and turns a tv easily, but lacks any real aesthetic refinement. The Periscope from Möbelform offers good looks with ease of movement.  It’s available in floor and wall mounted configurations through Möbelform showrooms and online at Expect to pay about $5,800 for the floor mounted and $3,800 for the wall mounted version.


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September 11, 2006

More Modern Kids Furniture


Modern kids' mecca Modernseed just launched an online retail shop for Modern Essentials, their exclusive line of children's furniture.

Rooted in the belief that children’s furniture should be multi-functional, playful and affordable, Modernseed founder Melissa Pfeiffer collaborated with husband and designer Eric Pfeiffer to develop a collection that would initially explore the area of play to meet the demands of parents who want more value from an under-served area of children’s furnishings. The result is Modernseed Essentials’ pint-sized furniture, launching with the “Chalker” table, “Chip” chair and the “Bro/Sis” seat. These unique pieces blur the traditional boundaries between functional furniture pieces and “toys”, without compromising on style.

Find out more about what's hot in kids rooms and discover how the Pfieffer's do it your self approach led to founding Modernseed in Kids Go Mad for Mod. Technorati Tags: , , ,

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An Eco-Tip for Modern Lighting

Thumb_simple_steps_1Buying modern lighting is enough of an investment--save cash and environmental resources by powering your new fixtures with compact fluorescent bulbs.

According to ENERGY STAR®, if every American home exchanged the five most frequently used bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs, one trillion pounds of greenhouse gases would be kept out of the air over the course of the bulbs' lives. That's equivalent to the annual emissions of 8 million cars, the annual output of more than 20 power plants, and $6 billion in energy savings.

From General Electric.

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September 08, 2006

Modern Home Design Talent Search!

Whether you're a design field professsional or an average homeowner giving your space a modern look, Pure Contemporary wants to hear from you.

PC will feature the best of the modern home makeovers our readers submit.

No project is too big or too small. Your great ideas for moderinzing and organizing your laundry room or closet could be just the inspiration that gives someone the confidence to go for it in their living or dining room. Your tales of hunting, finding, disappointment and success in trying to do a sustainable, eco-friendly remodel will draw out the advice from other green conscious modern lovers. Have a major design idea breakthrough for kitchens and baths? Show us what you did. We love an inspirational before and after.

Once the hard part of planning, budgeting and actually finishing your project are done, you can finally enjoy it--and show it off. But believe us, we've been around enough home design situations to know that the friends and family you consult with before making any little decision are sick and tired of your project long before the paint dries. Show it to the millions of PC readers who are interested in your real life modern design solutions, ideas, budget buys and budget busters.

Email us at

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Space Age Design


Although they attribute their inspiration to nature's elements, Odue creations for lighting and seating look anything but natural. It's technology that allows the company to bend, color and float materials with space age dexterity and modern, minimalist appeal.

But the undulations of its Amaki sofa, and the suspended colorful loops of the Lyla lighting collection could be said to recall water and air. Maybe that's fire we see in the yellow and orange colorways of the lamps. The collection absolutely stands out, but as an homage to nature? It seems a stretch.

Odue is now being sold through Excelsior.


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September 07, 2006

Fashion Rocks the Small Screen


Pop culture bands brand like no other and have power to turn small fashion designers into couture stars with the change of an outfit. Paring fashion and rock is a no-brainer, as tonight's concert Fashion Rocks 2006 prooves.

Fashion Rocks performers Elton John, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Bon Jovi, The Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Elton John, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, The Pussycat Dolls, Scissor Sisters, and Kanye West make statements with music as well as with their styles. This is a group for whom looking good and sounding good are top priorities. And after the show they'll head to a party that indulges those very needs.

The guests will be entertained by technology's most impressive mirrors––Seura's Television Mirrors. And because each mirror/tv will be playing the entire Fashion Rocks show during the party, the A-listers will get what they really want--the ability to see themselves in the present as well as the past. Finally, those all important questions, "How do I look? and, "How did I look?" will be answered at once! For anyone not on the after party guest list, Fashion Rocks will air tomorrow on CBS at 9pm eastern, 8pm central.

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Eco Electronics


When it comes to embracing modern design, electronics manufacturers lead the way. Their high-design, high-tech products ease consumers into a mindset that's increasingly accepting of modern design in non-tech products, like furniture. But when it comes to the environment, these forward thinking manufacturers fall far behind the curve.

In a recent study of tech. companies, Greenpeace International declined to give a "green" rating to any, but marked Nokia and Dell as the most eco-minded businesses. Falling far behind the pack was the electronics company most closely aligned with the young, conscious consumer--Apple computer.

Apple is known for cutting edge electronics with simple interfaces, and for having built a consumer network that praises the company with cult-like devotion. Innovations like the iPod and $499 Mac Mini computer helped the company shoot from 16th in 2004 to 3rd the next year in's ranking of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies. With so many people buying the iPod as first in a series of long term Apple choices, Apple could easily continue including toxins in their products. We buy them anyway.

Greenpeace urges consumers to contact companies lagging on environmental initiatives and ask that they start recycling old products and keep toxins out of new ones. It credits such consumer feedback with the declarations Samsung, Nokia, Sony, and Philips made to remove toxic chemicals from their products in the future. But, according to The Economist, even Greenpeace can't avoid being a little supportive of the coolest computer company. It plans to spread the word on e-waste through the technology Apple made commonplace--podcasting.

Check out the full report and tell companies your electro-style is sustainable at Greenpeace.

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September 05, 2006

Fall for your Home


Pure Contemporary falls for seasonal design in its latest cover story...

Since we’re long past dorm days and needing classroom ready knits for fall, we’ve turned our “back to school” shopping eyes toward the home. This is the time to exchange summer bright pillows and accessories for trappings in fall's warm, natural tones. Think of it as home design to help us look forward to sweater weather. But it's not all nesting and wool throws, we've got obligations--to all those newlyweds whose weddings we celebrated this summer, without giving a gift just yet.

See our favorite fall finds in Fall for your Home.

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August 29, 2006

Modern Cork Furniture


We've long loved cork for its sustainability, natural insulation, and warm comfy look. Now, we love it as a furniture material. Eco-friendly cork has inspired furniture makers for some time, but we've never seen a cork design executed in such lithe, modern style as it is in the Cork Continental Lounger Chair by UK co. Alexander Rose. It may be made for outside use, but this chair deserves a spot under any roof. It retails for about $470.

For more on cork, check out:
Cork Floors. Do or Don't?
Flooring that Clicks

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August 28, 2006

Living Homes


When shopping for a home, we might think about square footage, kitchen appliances, closet space. Good health and the environment? Not so high on the list.

Living Homes, a California-based architectural company, wants to change that. It custom builds homes of good design, health and sustainability in an effort to bring the custom and healthy life to eco-conscious house dwellers.

The home shown grabbed the Platinum rating (that's the highest one possible) from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Evironmental Design, or LEED®, for Homes pilot program, and it's the first residential project in the U.S. to do so.

All Living Homes projects are designed to earn a minimum of a Silver rating from LEED.


Want one? Budget about $250/square foot. It includes finishes (that's your floors, doors, walls, ceilings, windows, exterior cladding), fixtures (lights, handrails, handles, sinks, tubs, toilets, skylights), appliances, a living roof, inside garden, the heating and cooling system, cabinetry for kitchen and bath, and other LEED certified materials like paint and wood. (It excludes design costs––figure 10-15% of your budget––permit fees, engineering, transport, and install or foundation, all of which could add $70-$90 or more per square foot.)

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August 22, 2006

Clearing Up Contemporary


We often discuss the differences between modern and contemporary with readers, and thought a recent newsletter from Moen helped to clear things up a bit more. It does mention their Icon Collection (pictured) as an example of a contemporary accent (the newsletter is, after all, marketing material) but we don't disagree, and a shameless plug is a small price to pay for the solid advice this little article packs in.

So click the link below to read the article and to check out related stories from Behind the Curtains.

Confused by Contemporary?
New Products Create Modern Looks You Can Live With

North Olmsted, OHIO–– Mixed up by modern? Confused by what’s considered contemporary? With more emphasis on home design today, it can be difficult for homeowners to distinguish between the array of design styles.

Contemporary (or “modern” as some may call it) is characterized by clean lines and smooth surfaces without intricate details. But that doesn’t mean your home will look stark, cold and sterile. Long gone are the days of boxy furniture and eccentric decorating. Today’s updated contemporary look is a blend of comfortable, livable elements that create a sophisticated, fresh feel.

To create this look in your home, start by incorporating these five key elements: color, metal accents, texture, wood tone and lighting.

Contemporary design is offset by neutral color palettes. When painting the walls, choose shades of brown, taupe, cream or pure white. However, neutral does not mean boring, so be sure to infuse the room with small splashes of a more vibrant, bold color. This may include painting one wall with an accent color, adding a bold red sofa, or adding vivid accessories, such as decorative pillows, towels, rugs or art. Just be sure not to over-accessorize—the key to contemporary design is simplicity.

Metal Accents
Stainless steel, nickel and chrome metals are prevalent in contemporary design, providing a decorative framework of sleek finishes. Furniture, end tables, lamps and even bathroom fixtures featuring beautiful metal accents provide this look in all rooms of the home. In the bath, Moen’s new Icon™ suite features clean, geometric lines, a high-arc spout and Chrome and Brushed Nickel finishes. Plus, with accessories, such as a robe hook, decorative tank lever, towel bars, and glass shelf, it’s easy for homeowners to coordinate the urban, stylish look throughout the entire room.

To offset the clean, smooth lines of the metal accents, use fabrics such as silk, crushed velvet, linen or wool, in your room to add texture and create a more natural, inviting feeling. In the bathroom, this may include fluffy rugs, towels or fabric shower curtains. In family rooms, this could include over-stuffed pillows, window treatments, or the furniture upholstery. Texture can also be added to walls. New wallpapers made of linen can be an interesting way to add depth to the vertical surfaces of the room. But, one word of caution—stay away from elaborate patterns or intricate details when choosing fabrics, as this will confuse the clean, contemporary look you are trying to achieve.

When it comes to wood surfaces, contemporary designs bring out the extremes, featuring very light or very dark tones. When incorporating woods into your design, look beyond the coffee table and utilize wood surfaces in accessories such as picture frames, large dramatic flower pots, or shelves. Feel free to mix the design styles of the wood accessories, but be consistent with the wood tone and carry it throughout the room for a professional appearance.

Lighting is extremely important in contemporary design, often seen as the key in illuminating the room’s design. When choosing lighting for your home, there are many new choices available that provide interesting, clean lines. Track lighting or floor lamps are popular in contemporary design and often utilize metals or bold colors to reinforce the other metal accessories or splashes of color incorporated into the room.

By looking at these five different elements and incorporating them into your home décor, you’ll be on the path to creating a sophisticated, yet contemporary-styled home. Just make sure that you choose items that you love and elements that inspire you and you’ll be on the right path to a beautiful and inviting room.

Related story from Behind the Curtains...
Modern? Contemporary? What's the Diffference?

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August 17, 2006

Home Makeover--Why it Works

Redesigning an unbalanced space, designer Leonard Braunschweiger focused on natural materials and proportion to restore unity. He ended up with a minimalist look in natural maple and walnut with wool and leather accents. The neutral color scheme and straight, pared down lines could have made these rooms look a bit on the cold side, but Braunschweiger prevented that.

Here's how––

Pure_contemporary_copy_1It's Only Natural
Woods, wools and leathers are warm, materials people respond to in a positive way. We equate them with nature and think of them as welcoming.

Loosen Up
Curvaceous shapes add character and a lighthearted affect to the minimalist straight lines. See them in the Joy Brown sculpture, undulating cabinet pulls and organic objects in the dining room.

Color Me Happy
Unexpected jolts of color let us know this space isn't too buttoned up. Check out the hand-painted chandelier from Peter Mangan--just like those he created for Wolfgang Puck's restaurant extraordinaire Spago–– and the bunch of huge green leaves on the storage cabinet.

See the whole makeover from before to after in Balancing Act.

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August 16, 2006

Frank Gehry Tiffany Jewelry

Frank Gehry's turned his obsession with metals to a new venue, at Tiffany & Co. The household name architect created an amorphous looking line of jewelry in a variety of materials––from opal to ebony, granite, sterling silver and gold. The pieces reflect his signature style and, we note, the prices his work so consistently demands. The Gehry Collection ranges from about $145 to well over $6,000.


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August 08, 2006

Rethinking the Umbrella

Every year, 33 million umbrellas are sold in the U.S. while a good portion of those that flipped inside out the year before flutter around the country's landfills. Umbrella skeletons and their tattered skins may become a thing of the past though, since Treehugger, I.D. Magazine and the Sustainable Style Foundation teamed to sponsor the Umbrella Inside Out Competition.

Entrants to the competition can solve the umbrella problem one of two ways, either by creating a "Cradle to Cradle" umbrella; or by using old umbrellas to make a woman's couture garment.

I'm looking forward to seeing the finalists but can't imagine a better use for an old Paracuina2_1umbrella than "Paracucina," by Marc Ayats. It takes about a half hour to make, once you've got the parts--an umbrella, aluminum foil, scissors and few other items--and, it can cook your dinner. Paracucina is a solar cooker, and the best use for an old umbrella I've seen yet.

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August 07, 2006

MaudeDècor Canvas Rugs

Once a staple of Victorian design, canvas rugs are laying on style in modern homes. Vancouver-based artist Patricia Baun revived the form with bold geometric shapes and muted organic designs inspired by nature and from artists like Piet Mondrian and Frank Stella.

Baum's works on canvas are floor art in the most accurate sense. She prepares each thick, custom-painted canvas sheet for paint then applies three layers of latex topped with four of polyurethane. The layers make the canvas rugs durable, easily cleanable and even hypoallergenic.

The rugs are available from $50 per square foot. MaudeDècor also makes tiles and wool rugs.

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August 04, 2006

Eames Movies Screen at DWR

Eames_image_1DWR teamed with the Eames Foundation and Hermann Miller for the Home to screen Charles and Ray Eames's movies at DWR Studios throughout the country.

Starting August 5th and continuing through October 4th at 16 Studio locations, the Festival will show seven of the design duo's films, including Toccata for Toy Trains, Powers of Ten, and Design Q & A. Showings in San Fran, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Birmingham will feature a presentation by the Eames's grandson, Eames Demetrios.

For a schedule of the cities and show times click here

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August 03, 2006

Inspired by China: Contemporary Furnituremakers Explore Chinese Traditions

Contemporary furnituremakers from the U.S., Canada and China
come together to create works for the Peabody Essex Museum

Oct. 28, 2006 – Mar. 4, 2007

Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square, Salem, MA 01970

Twenty-nine original and historic pieces of Chinese furniture will be displayed along with 28 modern works they've inspired. The few shown below give a glimpse of the variety and quality of the modern pieces, which were all created specifically for this exhibition by artists selected for their innovations in studio furntiure.

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August 01, 2006

Relax in Modern Outdoor Furniture


Jane Hamely Wells finds great furniture pieces worldwide and channels them through a handful of select retailers. We haven't seen these in person but love the sleek lines of the chaise lounge and fun curves of the plu'MO chairs.


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July 31, 2006

Modern Wallpaper

Image: Twenty2's Columbia Heights paper.

Wallpaper's back and bucking the paint trend by serving up true modern style and ingenuity. From Scratch and Reveal paper (think giant lotto ticket, and have a vacuum handy for foil shavings) to digital prints and hand painted sheets, modern wallpaper's filling the void left by a fading faux finishing trend.

We've found everything from Wallpaper By Numbers, wall-hung strips in the classic paint by numbers mold, to Flexible Glass (Maya Romonoff) and papers that imitate granite and metals (Wallteriors).

Interior designer Anita Lang Mueller, founder of Interior Motives, a high-end, full service interior design firm in Arizona, says she's noticed a growing demand for distinctive wall treatments. She's currently working on an entry way done in Maya Romanoff's Mother of Pearl with Venetian Plaster. It's a classically influenced clean, modern look, and Mueller says, gorgeous but it might not work for everybody. Lucky for us, she disclosed a few insider design secrets that can help us make the right decisions when we choose to cover our walls with paper.

Thinking About Wallpaper?
Check Out These Design Tips First!

• Always think about the light quality in a space (before you do anything, but this especially holds true for painting and papering). Brighten a room with less sun exposure with lighter colors and save the darker, richer hues for rooms with more natural light.

• Wall coverings are like anything else--they have an emotional impact. Before you commit to one, think about the way you would like to feel in a room. You've already narrowed your choices and can choose a treatment that evokes the feeling you want.

• Textural treatments like grasscloth, stringcloth and bamboo are sustainable options that have an inherent sense of quality and timelessness.

• It's hard to find a bold large print that you'll love forever. If you think you might get sick of it before it's time for a revamp, go for wallcoverings with texture and variations in tone. They're hard to get wrong.

• If you love a bold or large print but don't want it to take over the room, try it on one wall.

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July 27, 2006

Green Grids Grow on Residential Roofs


For green-thumbed city dwellers, finding garden-ready sites can be a hassle, even depressing during those flower filled summer months. But for gardeners who have a home with a flat or slightly pitched roof, taking plants to the rooftop can be a great way to indulge those Mother Earth yearnings, and make a positive environmental impact to boot.

Green_grid_aerialGreen Grid, a modular grid system designed by engineers, roofers and horticulturists, gives good reason for rooftop parties and reduces energy costs. The grid is pre-planted and can be arranged quickly and easily to give homeowners a string of blue-ribbon benefits.

Consider this: The average outdoor hangout/party garden lacks stunning views, energy savings, and storm water management. A Green Grid has those. Plus it shades, insulates and cools homes, insulates sound, extends roof life and is made of recycled materials. Not to mention the pre-planted bit. Just organize the grid and you're gardening is done. We love it. Too bad our roof is steep as a chute.

The GreenGrid DIY Kit (, 847-918-4149) starts at $34.40 (plus shipping) per module with a minimum order of 12.

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July 26, 2006

Good Fences Make a Better Future


BamboofencesWe're all for sustainable materials, and those that can be made into variety of oft used and attractive items are even better. Bamboo grows to the top of our list as we see it made into gorgeous wallcoverings, flooring, even fences and gates.

Check out these sustainable, and inexpensive, bamboo barriers. These and many more are available at Master Garden Products, which takes too long to load but is worth the wait if you're looking for unique, sustainable garden items.


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July 24, 2006

Reclaimed Dining Tables


Giving modern tableware a streamlined, classic wooden backdrop exudes good taste and lets eco-conscious style stand out.

This Alan Vogel dining table is made from reclaimed antique fir and constructed the old way, with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and hardwood pegs. But the sensibilities are modern: clean lines put the wood grain in the limelight; recycled wood use is a responsible response to modern environmental woes.

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July 21, 2006

The New Home & Garden


An Inconvenient Truth, the sad and inspiring documentary of Al Gore's battle to explain the links between human behavior and a devastating global impact, begs viewers to rehab their thinking and make small daily changes that would help us reduce the amount of CO2 we send into the atmosphere.

MIT architect Mitchell Joachim of the Media Lab's Smart Cities group and his colleagues, environmental engineer Lara Greden, SM '01, PhD '05, and architect Javier Arbona-Homar, SM '04, have given Gore's audience a new goal, far beyond the standard of leaving the car at home whenever possible. They've conceived of a living home.

It's a home made from trees. Trunks trained and woven together to create a skeleton would be covered with thick vines and made stable with clay and additional plants. The home has natural systems for drainage, water and heating and cooling.

This is still in the "someday" phase.

But as Tracy Staedter reports in MIT's Technology Review__

For now, Joachim concentrates on a current project called MATscape, a house project in California incorporating about half recycled materials and half living materials, such as grasses, plants, and soil. But Joachim and his team hope to plan a Fab Tree Hab community someday, creating homes that don't interrupt the surrounding ecosystem but become integrated with it. "Design intervention only guides the growth," he says. "Nature -- life -- does the rest."

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July 18, 2006

Huge Fridge Cools Modern Kitchens


For big families or just big appetites, the new GE Monogram refrigerator takes up more space, and delivers more storage, in America's ever expanding kitchens.

Design shows and home magazines tout small space living as a great way to save energy, purchase unique designs with maximum functionality, and emerge with the truest expression of personal style, hopefully while using some sustainable products along the way. Meanwhile, GE chases McMansion consumers for whom bigger is always better.

We can't argue with the convenience of being able to fit the inventory of the average corner store into a kitchen. And the space created by enormous great room/kitchen combos can only be filled with so many cabinets. Plus, GE's double Monogram fridge, a 72" unit that's essentially two refrigerators, side by side, will probably use less energy than two separate fridges would. (It's not uncommon for Americans to buy a new refrigerator but keep the old one in a basement or garage.) With the double sized Monogram, GE invites consumers to ditch those energy inefficient models, stocked with beer and frozen foods, and bring our excess to a room with more access.

The GE Monogram in 36” and 72” models will retail for between $6,799-$6,999 and $13,999-$14,499 respectively and will be available in August 2006.

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July 14, 2006



For aquarium hobbyists and open water swimmers, algae is best avoided. But lets not get that confused with Algue.

ModerncurtainsBrainchild of the brothers Bouroullec for the Vitra Design Museum, Algue pieces snap together at the owner’s whim to create screens, curtains, wall art or other algae inspired designs. Sets are available in red, green, black or white in 6 - 50 pieces and range in price from about $30- $200, meaning one could conceivably spend quite a bit to truly capture the underwater experience on terra firma.

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July 13, 2006

Eva Solo Grabs Top Honors from IDEA


The Industrial Design Excellence Awards, sponsored by BusinessWeek gave Eva Solo a Gold Award for their Tea-Maker. A totally self contained tea making cup, the Tea-maker gives tea drinkers an attractive, practical upgrade from the standard steeping methods. The Tea-maker with Tumblers retail for about $99.

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Eva Solo Grabs Top Honors from IDEA


The Industrial Design Excellence Awards, sponsored by BusinessWeek gave Eva Solo a Gold Award for their Tea-Maker. A totally self contained tea making cup, the Tea-maker gives tea drinkers an attractive, practical upgrade from the standard steeping methods. The Tea-maker with Tumblers retail for about $99.

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July 11, 2006

Hang it All: Beyond the Eames Coat Rack

Not that I’m ready for winter, but once summer ends, jackets, hats and mittens will be piled high at my front door. So in the interest of being proactive, I'm doing a little seasonal shopping now, when shipping later suits me fine and coat racks just might be on sale.

The Symbol Coat rack from DesuDesign, $395 in Color as shown.


The idea for this came from a domestic squabble about the unkempt look of ordinary coat racks and wall hooks. A strip of MDF with brightly painted steel hooks that pull out when needed, this coat rack is pure art, whether or not it's put to work.

Kotree_2The Kotree by Material Furniture, $450 in four colors.
With tall branches for long coats, a low branch for handbags or umbrellas and a shelf for those always missing keys, wallets and cellphones, this coat rack seems to have it all. And the design is so obvious—plus, it ships flat packed, is easily assembled and made from an eco-friendly SCS-certified wood product called Medite II without added formaldehyde and 100% recovered and recycled wood fiber.

Burtscher and Bertollini’s Twist Coatrack, $278.
A twisted double helix shape holds outerwear in sculptural style. The minimal design allows only what is necessary to make the form function. Note the stabilizing wide base and steel center connector that make this airy design stay strong.

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July 07, 2006

ArtQuitect Modern Bath


The first major collection for ArtQuitect Edition by Spanish designer Jaime Hayon lends an elegant Hollywood look to a very modern project.

Hayon's reinterpreted classical shapes to give them modern appeal and added functionality. The tub's ceramic containers keep your beauty secrets hidden, but close at hand.


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July 06, 2006

Five Architects you Need to Know


We won't keep you in suspense, they're the Harvard Five, a group of forward thinking architects who met at Harvard, then infiltrated New Canaan, Conn.  There, they built modern homes without a care as to what those traditional New Canaanites would think, but they sure got an earful of opinions.

From public meetings to published poetry, modern architecture became political and the Harvard Five (Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson, John Johansen and Eliot Noise) left New Canaan with a modern legacy the neighbors still talk about.

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July 05, 2006

Modern Hardware for Kitchen and Bath


Appliance pulls start to look the same once you've seen about 10 of them, but Atlas Homewares’ designer Adrienne Morea has created a collection that's sleek, modern and surprisingly fresh.

Zanzibar_brown_brush_1Her Zanzibar Collection combines metal and leather for a slightly masculine look we don't often come across in accessories, even for the home. Pairing brushed chrome or nickel with black or brown leather, Morea's design speaks of harmony and balance. And we think they could bring those to just about any space: sober up a wild look, lend elegance to an organic style, or add a manly touch to very feminine room. After all, switching hardware is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to improve your style at home.

The Zanzibar Collection will be available in August 2006 and includes cabinet, appliance and bath pulls and accessories that will retail for between about $17 and $100.

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July 03, 2006

American Flag, Modern Art?

Three Flags by Jasper Johns, 1959
The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine

With the United States' Independence Day coming tomorrow, we thought it was a great idea to revisit an article The Washington Post ran just a few weeks ago, on Flag Day. Writer Blake Gopnik manages to show us a new way of looking at the flag, a huge feat considering the iconography of the stars and stripes is so ingrained and historic, we barely even notice it anymore.

But for a country that takes to modern design with all the excitement of a criminal to a hanging, it's quite strange that our symbol carries all the hallmarks of the avant-garde. Then again, doesn’t breaking from the artistic traditions of the time seem the perfect way to embody independence?

Blake Gopnik, Washington Post Staff Writer

The American flag is an impressive work of modern art.

You can tell, because of its asymmetries, awkwardness and almost grating energies. It is very nearly ugly. Ugly in the best sense of the word, the way Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" or Warhol's "Marilyn" -- or Jasper Johns's "Flag" paintings -- are more than a little ugly, too, and all the better for it.

Today, Flag Day, seems a fine time to look at Old Glory -- to just plain look, for a minute, without thinking at all about its history or what it represents -- and admire its strangeness.

The color scheme, for one thing, is more than a little jarring -- it's the kind of thing you don't see except in flags. "Red, white and blue" may have a jolly ring to it as a phrase, but when was the last time you saw someone dressed in those three hues, or with their living room done up in them, except in a burst of patriotic fervor? There's a reason why a town square bunted up for the Fourth of July has a memorable zing to it: No adult would combine those colors in one place without some good excuse. It's a mix a 5-year-old might think of wearing, as special party gear.

Then there are those weird stripes: 13 of them -- a prime number, such as isn't often chosen for a memorable design -- arranged in horizontal rows that stretch farther side to side than seems altogether natural. (Don't wear the flag. It'll make you look fat. It might also get you arrested in the District, under Section 4, paragraph (d) of the Federal Flag Code, Public Law 94-344 -- which specifically declares such "public display" in D.C. a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail.)

And let's not forget that small blue box with white stars scattered across it. The type of unstructured, all-over pattern those stars represent, pulling a single web of marks from edge to edge across a field, wasn't seen in the fine arts until Jackson Pollock's splats.

The stars themselves are strange: Instead of a symmetrical twinkle of points that seem to circle evenly around a central spot, each one looks like some kind of two-legged gnome with its arms akimbo. (George Washington, the story goes, was all for six points, but Betsy Ross showed him how a five-pointer could be folded, origami style, then cut out all at once with a single, thrifty snip of her scissors.)

Even the relationship between the stars and stripes is strange. The smaller field of stars (the "canton," in flag-speak), doesn't take up any likely proportion of the larger field of stripes, since it starts only six-thirteenths of the way up the flag, and then stretches two-fifths of the way over from the left edge of a standard flag.

Traditionally, in flag culture, a canton is used to graft one symbolic order onto another, the way the flags of many former British colonies still have a Union Jack stuck in one corner, on top of whatever symbols the countries have adopted as their own. But in our flag there isn't that kind of hierarchy between the zones -- any sense of a lesser "this" grafted on top of a primary "that," or of a smaller "that" superseding an expanse of underlying "this-ness." There's just a feeling of redundant additivity -- a sense of "this-plus-that" which, in purely graphic terms, seems willful and arbitrary. It's the kind of strange composition a modern artist might dream up, in rebellion against traditional ideas of how a surface should be turned into a winning pattern.

Think of the art and design of the Founding Fathers' time. It was all about elegant symmetry and harmony and clarity of form, with a strong dose of classical ornament and naturalistic representation thrown in. Now imagine someone raised in that tradition choosing a long oblong of red-and-white stripes, with a star-spangled patch of blue stuck in one corner. Sounds like the kind of brusque, four-square, functional design some military man might come up with.

Marilyn Zoidis, an expert on the flag at the Smithsonian, describes it as beginning life as "a military symbol with a very utilitarian function." It started to mean more than that only after Francis Scott Key published "The Star-Spangled Banner," and didn't really take off until the Civil War and centennial celebrations built a demand for symbols to unite the country -- however unlikely the flag's design may be to bear that kind of freight.

Of course, design aesthetics hardly mattered in the isolated world of military ceremonial and signals where the flag was born. It's a world where bold, recognizable geometric patterns have been the norm for centuries, justified only in historic and symbolic terms.

In the early days of the American Revolution, before independence had been declared, the so-called "Grand Union" flag of Washington's army had been the 13 "Liberty Stripes," one for each colony, in white and red. (In traditional heraldry, two colors can't abut. Only silver-white or golden yellow -- considered "metals" -- can sit beside a color.) And then on top of that there was, sensibly, a canton with the blue-grounded Union Jack, to make clear the colonies' original dependence on the British motherland.

When it came time to make a new flag for the more fully rebellious states, it made sense to keep the basic pattern and coloring intact. That provided some continuity between the old banners and the new, because the same troops would be fighting under them. The canton, however, clearly had to change: Washington described how his soldiers, flying the old British-tinged standard, were once mistaken for loyalists.

In the end, the canton's Union Jack was replaced with another revolutionary flag, already in use by Washington's troops, which reiterated the egalitarian thirteen-ness of the new nation's almost-separate colonies by portraying them as a "constellation" of white stars sitting on blue.

That final stars-and-stripes flag may be crucial in this nation's visual culture, but it doesn't have much in common with all the art and artifacts we've chosen for pleasure's sake. Maybe that's because the flag came about almost by accident, without a whole lot of choice involved. The Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777, is almost a casual thing, just four lines of messy scribble stuck into a page of other business at the Continental Congress.

The earliest surviving flags -- even the Star-Spangled Banner of Key's poem, which now lives at the Smithsonian -- are workaday objects, often with stars cut out without much care and stuck on any which way. They didn't seem to invite the fine artistry of their era's best needlework or tailoring. One of the official flags preserved at the Smithsonian, which flew proudly from Fort Hill in Maine during the War of 1812, is laughably crude.

It wasn't until the later 1950s that the flag finally began to take up room in mainstream art. The standard explanation is that artists began to riff on the flag's iconic -- and ironic -- charge, as a central symbol of America's new self-confidence and superpower status. That must be mostly right. But it could also be that artists were commandeering the symbol for more purely visual ends: The flag was a kind of readymade-in-waiting, sitting in the wings already costumed for the role of modern art.

A half-century of modernism had prepared artists, and their audiences, to enjoy the weird, off-kilter boldness of the stars-and-stripes design and coloring. At long last its patterns had started to feel natural instead of remote and were ripe for full assimilation into art. Plenty of rigorous abstraction from the 1960s shares the hard edges, asymmetries, unusual proportions and unlikely color combinations of the American flag; stripes and even starlike forms were big in pictures that made no explicit attempt to cite the country's central symbol. Think of the stripes, zigging angles and jarring color contrasts in the 1960s abstractions of Barnett Newman and Kenneth Noland. In 1955, Johns, the great pioneer of flag-based art, for the first time made a painting that was just a U.S. flag, covering his canvas from edge to edge. He must have realized that, whatever else the flag might stand for, it also could stand as a daring modern picture -- even if he still chose to cut down its stripes to more standard artistic proportions.

We've come a way since then. Thanks to Johns and other modern artists, we've now become so comfortable with the flag's ungainliness -- even in its untrimmed state -- that it takes work to appreciate how promisingly ugly it really is.

Posted on July 3, 2006 Permalink | Discuss Design! (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

America gets Smart


Already a hit in Europe, the Smart car by Mercedes-Benz is slated to hit U.S. roads in the first quarter of 2008. Small size makes the car urban friendly and good on gas, cool styling make it a smart move for style conscious city slickers. Mercedes had been looking for a worthy distributor and seems to have found it in UnitedAuto Group. They'll send the cars throughout the U.S and Puerto Rico.

Welcome! We like great design on four wheels too.

Posted on June 29, 2006 Permalink | Discuss Design! (4) | TrackBack

Room #2, The Mirrored Room


I couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on the reference, made below, to Greek born sculptor, painter, performance artist and photographer Lucas Samaras.

Room #2, 1966, later retitled The Mirrored Room, is the first piece of art I remember seeing. It takes up little room in the gallery and is described just as "Mirrors on wooden frame," along with the dimensions, 96” x 96” x 120".

But take off your shoes and go in, two at a time, and you've entered an enormous palace of a place. A place, much more than mirrors on a wooden frame, where you see yourself reflected countless times in millions of ways and where you somehow get to know the person in there with you.

According to Samaras, “The idea for a completely mirror-covered cube room occurred to me around 1963 when I incorporated the idea into a short story, Killman. The reason I used a cube rather than any other geometric shape was to minimize the number of planes that would reflect the space enclosed within them but still give a convincing illusion of perpendicular extension in every direction…"

As a child, I believed in the reflections and thought I could walk straight in any direction.  I learned to keep my arms outstretched, and paid attention to the edges of the floor, where I could see the wall rising forever upward.

But the most fascinating part of The Mirrored Room was at the center.  There, sat two items I'd seen in perhaps every room I'd ever been in.

"I included a table and chair, two important objects that can be found in a room…A table and a chair for someone to sit down and imagine or think or discover,” said Samaras.

Indeed, these were normal, comforting, regular-day items. But mirrored and in this otherworldly place that distorted everything in sight, and sight went on for miles, a table and chair were suddenly very interesting.  They gave the possibility of finding stillness in a crazy, closed in room. 

I never did, but I always wanted to pull the chair out, have a seat, and with my elbows propped up on the table, look up at the ceiling and see into infinity.

Today I called the Albright to see if The Mirrored Room was currently on display (it is in the permanent collection but sometimes goes to storage when other exhibits come through).  “Yes,” the woman on the phone told me, “It’s here. Are you coming by today?”

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it,” I said. “But perhaps later on, I will.”

Posted on June 29, 2006 Permalink | Discuss Design! (3) | TrackBack

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