Friday, February 23, 2007

those ducks, them birds, oh my!

Three little birds, sat on my window.
And they told me I don't need to worry.
--- Put Your Records On | Corinne Bailey Rae
currently playing on Michael's My Space

I thought Michael's room was great.

His client was lucky that to have a designer who could create a room that was better than they knew how to describe. A graduating design student should have aspired to live in this kind of a space. Michael's taste and style was sophisticated but it wasn't old. There were a few problems : it needed a coffee table and as Linda Merrill pointed out, too much furniture was clustered at the back of the room leaving it feeling empty up in front. Nonetheless this was mid-century modern (up to seventies Scandinavian design) but in an unpredictable and quirky enough way so that it wasn't too obvious or theme-y. The art on the back wall was nice but I'm just going to address the confusion that the judges had with the three birds on the side wall.
Margaret: And those ducks?
I don't know what was up with them birds on the wall.
-- re: Michael's room from Margaret & Jonathan's blogs on

Let's start at the beginning with what was probably, for anyone between the ages of 10 and 70, the obvious association:

Created by Sandy Dvore the Partridge Family logo and hatching egg opening title sequence is a brilliant work of graphic design and one of the most iconic images from television.Furthermore, this image is inseparable from the television show's theme song "C'mon Get Happy." (See also Top Design Blogger's "Michael Made Us All Sing" posting.)

Isn't that Jonathan Adler's mantra? He sure wasn't giving Michael any of it.

This kind of graphic imagery is still popular. Sometimes it is explicitly referencing the Partridge Family logo:
Partridge Family Remix
Anabella Gebhardt

Nonetheless, more often than not this look is just part of a particular graphic style used by an artist. It may be evoking the graphic idiom of the sixties and seventies: either for a more stylized pop retro look or for something that is more of a subtle reference to higher graphic arts trends (or something in between).


These basic cutouts are, of course, commonly seen in the simple shapes used in children's illustration or by crafters who work with materials such as paper cutout:
rachel herbert

They also recall the birds seen in a variety of folk arts.

I am fairly certain that Michael would be familiar with the work of Charley Harper, an artist whom Todd Oldham champions. It is possible that the bold graphic shape and lines of Harper's birds may be another source of inspiration.

cardinal courtship
charley harper
snow goose gallery

While I can't really claim that three wood cutouts are explicitly related to any of these various artistic forms, I do think that the shape was modern and bold enough to suggest an awareness of a particular graphic look.

At any rate, my simple answer to Margaret and Jonathan is that with "them birds" Michael is using a popular style of graphic imagery -- simple, folk, craftsy, a bit cutesy but also funky and retro -- that has pop culture associations connected to the message of being happy and being yourself.

margaret russell : observation 4

Margaret Russell
edited by kora in hell


| 4 |

I. Afghans need to stay in the family that made them.

II. You let me say some nice things tonight.

III. I'm not in the places where people live.

consuming girls

the current scene with barbie, bratz, and princesses

The guys on Project Rungay are blogging season two of Project Runway (as is Eric3000). Right now they are writing about Episode 3, when the designers had to create an outfit for the new My Scene Barbie. My Scene Barbie is Mattel's answer to Bratz, which is putting a serious dent into Mattel's monopoly of the market. This reminded me of two very smart (and quite funny) articles that were recently published:

Little Hotties : Barbie's New Rivals
On t
he rise of the Bratz doll phenomenon.
By Margaret Talbot, New America Foundation
The New Yorker | December 5, 2006

What’s Wrong With Cinderella? One mother's struggle with her 3-year-old daughter's love affair with princess culture.
The New York Times Magazine | December 24, 2006

[ related kih postings : ]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

quality time together

(with apologies to E3K for the conversational genre imitation, um, homage.)

I wasn't sure if I would watch Top Design last night but my husband wasn't feeling well so he stayed home. While the show was on he surfed the web and I read the long New Yorker article on the Hewlitt-Packard surveillance scandal.
FYI: This is such a disgusting example of the board room old boys club that I wanted to take a shower after finishing the article, the upshot being that Silicon Valley zillionaire and numero uno a-hole Tom Perkins, a soft? porn writing skeeve screwed over Patricia Dunn because she made the cardinal sin of not kissing his ass. Now she is facing felony charges meanwhile his bud Mark Hurd, the CEO of HP -- who knew as much as Dunn plus he was her superior -- not only walks free but was just given an $8.6 million cash bonus plus stock options. Oh, and Dunn has been going through treatment for ovarian cancer throughout the entire ordeal and will probably die before she is forced to serve any time in jail. Perkins now claims he feels bad for her and that he didn't mean for this to go so far -- like it is some sort of fraternity prank that got out of hand, which, in a way, it is. Some things never change. Ain't life grand?
Anyway, having company made the show slightly more interesting, especially because otherwise it was just another bunch of white boxes. What little conversational energy we had was spent marvelling at two things:


Me, distracted by reading article in the New Yorker: Where do they find these people? First an interior designer who has never painted. Now one who has never been to a garage sale?

Husband, distracted by being sick and surfing the web: How could someone never have gone to a garage sale?

MDBRANY: She's part Swiss. Maybe she went to a Swiss finishing school. They sent her away from the damaging affects of American garage sale culture.

HDBBSSW: So she has always had something new or auction quality antiques?

MDBRANY: She's also the one who said that she always gets what she wants.

HDBBSSW: Is she Veruka Salt?


MDBRANY: Who in their right mind would be wowed by somebody else's grandma's afghan?

HDBBSSW: Someone who did not come from a family whose grandma made afghans?

MDBRANY: But she's an interior designer. Look at those colors. That has got to be the cheapest acrylic yarn there is.

HDBBSSW: When are you going to finish knitting those socks for me?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

the geography of modern art

from Saint-Tropez to Tahiti

I sure as hell don't know what it is like to go on vacation to Saint-Tropez so I don't blame Team St. Tropez for their ignorance on that front.
(I know there is the whole Brigitte Bardot thing but I'm more taken by the romance of the La Dolce Vita on the Italian Riviera. Of course the reality is that on both the French and the Italian side the beaches are over crowded and the water is polluted. Anyway, whenever I think of the French at the beach all I can think of is Mr. Hulot's Holiday!)

Nonetheless, I would expect them to be familiar with these places not through travel but through art; they are associated with two key movements in Modern Art: pointillism and primitivism.I know this is pedantic but, frankly, they should know this stuff. Understanding twentieth century design requires a knowledge of visual idioms such as pointillism and primitivism (along with other avant-garde innovations such as cubism and surrealism and later movements such as abstract expressionism and pop art).

For that reason it is disapointing that the designers were not familiar with Saint-Tropez or they could not think of what to do with Tahiti other than Gilligan's Island. (And Ryan is an artist for chrissakes. Oy. Don't even get me started.)

There are many technical and business aspects to the work of Interior Designers and Decorators
( and every job has administrative and related tasks). (Click here to to go Linda Merrill's discussion of the professional responsibilities of decorators and designers in her online : : surroundings magazine.)

However, Interior Design is also an applied field in the Arts. The art historical focus is more on architecture, decoration, furniture, textiles, etc. Nonetheless, it would seem to me at least that an awareness of the key movements of art and design is basic knowledge for working in the profession.

Am I right? Professionals out there?

Anyway, if it isn't part of the training they should know it anyway. And it should be part of the training.

There. I've said it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

let's get real

or, fantasy is overrated when everyone’s fantasy is exactly the same

the look of luxury

The "Tahiti" cabana won and yet -- or, I would argue because -- it had nothing to do with Tahiti.

It did, however, fit the current design rage for everything fitting into the "luxury spa look."
  • white curtains,
  • bamboo blinds,
  • white linens,
  • teak and bamboo wood furnishings
  • martini glasses and shaker, etc.

In other words, that Tahiti "cabana" was the look of upscale Club-Med-Anywhere design.

This style is about how it doesn't matter where you are because you are always in the lap of luxury. Every place is provided with the modern conveniences of any other place. Even the various beach names are literally interchangeable. They are just theme names given to clubs that basically all look the same:

Above, clockwise from upper left: Nikki Beach St. Tropez in Miami; "Kon Tiki" Tahiti Beach in St. Tropez; Miami's Nikki Beach in St. Tropez with Tahiti-style cabana.

Above: Club Med Anywhere & Luxury Spa Anywhere.

anywhere but here

The important thing about this kind of travel is that you are always in the care of the hotel/spa and remain on their grounds where the environment is controlled: you are chauffeured to and from the airport and aside from special helicopter tours with catered picnics you never leave the confines. That way you never have to encounter anything that is actually indigenous or that won't take Visa.

The local environment is so completely mediated so that it will always be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. Thus you avoid the hazard of encountering anything that might be unfamiliar or not up to your standards of taste like local design, culture, food, and, of course, people. The only locals you meet are the ones that work for you.

bright colors are so . . . ethnic

They kicked off the person whom they thought picked colors that were too garish and bright. Nonetheless team Miami was the only group that took a chance and did something that was actually informed by local culture and style. Miami is associated with bright colors –- not just 30s art deco but also 50s mambo; with Cuba, Latin America and the Caribbean; with tourist kitsch, 80s pastels, and neon lights: it is a place of exuberance to the point of excess.

For another example of a cabana design that probably would have offended the sensibilities of the judges as well check this out: The WOWhouse Cabana (a backyard playhouse/cabana planned with the input of the two girls who will use it).

a bahamavention intervention

Top Design has an opportunity to challenge the design world by rewarding the designers that take risks and that break away from the most staid and predictable of trends. However, those trends are what make money. The problem is that if something is new then it hasn't proven itself marketable yet. (And if it doesn't make money then, of course, it can't possibly be any good.) Television and magazines make a lot of money from the advertisers for all of these luxury spa goods and vacations. I'm sure they don’t want to reward the designers that don’t reinforce this industry.

Is this too cynical? Well I don’t think it is possible to be too cynical about advertising motivations, and I see little evidence that this show is aiming for anything higher.

Do I think the judges are consciously doing this? Of course not. But the judges live in the world of luxury spas. They aren't going to question the fact that when in Tahiti one expects to have beautiful flowing white curtains, bamboo blinds, white linens, teak furnishings, martini glasses and a shaker.

blots on the otherwise tasteful country club look

Undoubtedly when Margaret saw an item that reminded her of the hamburger shack at her country club she threw up a little bit in her mouth. How she must have suffered at the trauma of such an aesthetically impure association!

If your environment is the country club then I suppose you would be horrified by the idea of something that looks like the hamburger shack. On the other hand, you might want to broaden your environment.

what they don't know will hurt us

They're in Surf City. Southern California. Beach side hamburger shacks – and surf shacks -- are part of the culture. I think it would have been more fun to see them design updated versions of these.

One problem with this assignment was that some of the designers did not know what a cabana was (seriously) or anything about St. Tropez or Tahiti. (I know. I know.) The fact that team Tahiti could not think of anything in between Gilligan’s Island and Generic Luxury Spa is a sad combination of a lack of knowledge and a lack of imagination.

Nonetheless, if the assignment was to do surf shacks at least the designers would have been able to grasp the idea better and therefore perhaps they would have been more creative in their designs. And, more importantly, it would have been more interesting for us.

The question remains whether Margaret could have handled the concept of leisure outside of luxury spas and country clubs!