A Day at the Derby

Tuesday  July 07, 2009

Some things you just have to learn the hard way. Take, for instance, the importance of hubcaps on a Pinewood Derby car. Without those little plastic holders, the wheels will jettison from the body of your handmade vehicle, reducing your father/son labor-of-love to a heap of embarrassment-coated kindling. That's exactly what happened to me back in my Scouting days, so when the Los Angeles men's store Secret Service and the west coast blog A Time to Get announced their own Pinewood Derby, I knew it was my chance to reclaim my lost racing dignity.

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Being a little crazy, and someone more than a little obsessed with a certain Milwaukee brew, I knew exactly how my car should be designed. While technically being outside the rules, the judges couldn't help but approve an entrant bearing what I referred to as a "built-in celebratory device."

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The competition proved to be fierce, with some participants clearly paying for wind-tunnel testing time and black-market, friction-fighting lubricants from government defense contractors. The west coast folks at Steven Alan even made a little branded Mini Cooper for the event.

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In the end, races were run, trophies were handed out, and, in one gentleman's case (thankfully not mine), hubcaps were forgotten. But like the beers (maybe that's what the Boy Scouts are missing?), the good times flowed, and there's always a chance for redemption at next year's Pinewood Derby.—michael williams

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A Matter of Space

Sunday  June 28, 2009

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John Galliano

About to hop a plane to New York to get back to the family and job. One final thought on Paris: As impressive as the shows are, the spaces in which they're held are often even more memorable. In Milan, labels like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Armani keep it consistent, hosting shows in their own little arenas; in Paris, it's anything (and anywhere) goes. You get centuries-old churches, sky-lit parking garages, magnificent government buildings, Napoleon-era mansions and deserted train depots, from the center of town to the farthest, dumpiest outskirts. This week, John Galliano commandeered a crumbling, 1930s indoor swimming pool, drowning in layers of grafitti. An hour later, at 10 p.m. (just as the sun was finally dipping below the cityscape), Raf Simons welcomed the crowds to an immaculate gardened courtyard, at what is now a school for the blind. The two venues couldn't have been more different, or more stunning.

Alright, gotta go—about to take off. See you in September at the New York shows.—adam rapoport

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Raf Simons

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Junya Watanabe

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Commes des Garçons

Like a Drug

Friday  June 26, 2009

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I've always loved the neon signage above Parisian pharmacies. You spot 'em all over town, from blocks away. Not exactly what you'd find at a CVS or Rite Aid.—a.r.

Different Strokes

Wednesday  June 24, 2009

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It's true, as Adam says, that Milan can be gray and drab in its architecture. One of the few things that break that up visually is the ever-present graffiti, which adorns seemingly every building. Here's my favorite piece I've seen this trip.—michael hainey

Green Certified

Tuesday  June 23, 2009

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As a city, Milan ain't much to look at—lots of bulky post-war buildings, not much in the way of parks. But, man, I do love this furry green apartment house, around the corner from where Burberry usually shows.—a.r.

Droog Opens First U.S. Store in New York

Tuesday  March 10, 2009

When you buy a piece from Droog, you’re making a statement: I have a sense of humor. The Dutch design company has long had a reputation for crafting inventive tables, chairs, and other fixtures with a wry perspective for clientele overseas and now, thanks to their new Droog N.Y.C. store, in the States.

Located in New York’s SoHo, Droog N.Y.C. is the company’s third location (the other two are in Amsterdam and Tokyo) and is housed in a massive two-story space that is, fittingly, more akin to a gallery than a retail store. Everything in the store is up for grabs (hell, even the register)…for the right price. Keep in mind that those items that look like high-end art—like, say, the Lego chair or the table composed entirely of shredded magazines—are priced as such, while mass-produced items—like wall-attachment light bulbs, hippo-shaped rugs, and wine glass doorbells—are closer to most budgets. No matter how playful the item, though, these are pieces that really are functional enough to use.—andrew richdale

After swinging by their their recent store opening, here are some of our favorites:

Walltable

This makeshift wall—perfect for an office in any loft—has detachable tables built right in.
Price available upon request

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Designed by Jen Praet, this table is composed entirely of recycled and shredded magazines that have been compressed and molded using resin. This one is one-of-a-kind, but a similar "One Day Paper Waste" table—made of shredded "confidential documents"—is also available for around $5,100.
Price available upon request.

Ragchairs

This chair is sort of like recession-era art: Each unit consists of 15 bags of rags that have been secured by metal straps.
$5,200

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Available in rows of three-by-four (like old-fashioned Dutch milk crates) or in singles, as pictured, these milk-bottle lamps—designed by Tejo Remy—are the same ones you'll find in the MoMA.
$210

Glowing Recommendations

Monday  March 10, 2008

Michaelhsu
Glowing Recommendations

A floor lamp is one of the few pieces of furniture tall enough to look you in the eye. So don't be shy about choosing one that demands some elbow room—it should be substantial enough to justify its height.

For most spaces, you want a lamp that casts its light specifically rather than generally. Glowing orbs and paper lanterns are valid sculptural objects, but they don't cast the type of light you want to read or work by. The more focused the light, the more focused the activity the light will effectively illuminate.

Choosing the right floor lamp is simple. Just make sure its size is proportional to—and that its style complements (rather than matches)—the chair or table sitting next to it. A lamp, after all, exists only in relation to something else. It needs a reason to shine.

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1. Satel.light
Satel.light is otherworldly, evoking the technological without being complicated. A halogen bulb shines on a large reflector dish, which bounces light toward the room.
Height: 79"
$2,840
www.ingo-maurer.com

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2. Twiggy
Every aspect of Twiggy is slim, from its stem to its base. And its long reach allows you to illuminate a dining area or living room without installing a ceiling light.
Height: 77"–85"
$2,022
www.propertyfurniture.com

3. Melampo Floor
A cutout in this lamp's shade lets you swing the light source into three different positions—normal, askew, and upturned—to vary the direction and intensity of the light.
Height: 54"–65"
$648
www.artemide.us

4. Toio
The Toio is a bold yet refined alternative to the halogen torchère that nearly burned down your dorm room. Its bulb is a car headlight; fishing-rod rings guide the cord down its stem.
Height: 67"–78"
$1,375
www.mossonline.com

5. Tripod G5
Functionally, a tripod base provides stability without adding weight; visually, it gives the lamp generous proportions without adding volume.
Height: 70"
$1,020
www.ameico.com

6. Ballfinger
Some of the sleekest task lamps have been reproportioned for
an easy transition from desk to floor. Place one next to your favorite chair; it'll save space on your side table.
Height: 49"
$1,040
www.ameico.com

7. Uphill
The Uphill is part of a series called Lampscapes, in which quotidian lampshades melt
into one another to make a larger one. The result, as you can see, is magical.
Height: 67"
$1,600
www.retromodern.com

Photographs by Kent Larsson

Thursday  May 17, 2007

Michaelhsu
Ineke Hans

Cappellini introduced many a sublime piece at the Milan furniture fair. My favorite was the Neo Country chair, designed by the Dutch designer Ineke Hans. Here she is, sitting in it:

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The proportions of the chair are generous. It has a solid feel to it. Hans's goal was just to create "simple, beautiful wooden furniture," she said. "And I'm a bit of a country girl myself, very down to earth." The chair reflects that, but without being boring about it. For example, Hans gave the chair a lovely detail: The surface is sandblasted to create a wood-grain pattern, in turn creating a wood-grain-upon-wood grand effect. You can see it better in this photo:

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At first glance, the chair looks handmade, but the decorative process is very "hi-tech," said Hans.

She also introduced a line called "Fracture," which consists of a chair, stools of varying heights, and a coat rack. Each piece is made from polyester bandages—the kind used to make casts for broken limbs.

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Keep in mind that each piece is made almost entirely of bandages. That is, Hans didn't simply take a chair and cover it. There's no internal frame of any sort. At the center of each piece are just polystyrene (Styrofoam) pellets, which are non-structural.

Her intention, she told me, was to see if it was possible to make furniture out of more than just wood, metal, and plastic.

Clearly, it is.

Wednesday  May 16, 2007

Michaelhsu
Kartell in Milan

Before I walk you through the newest designs that Kartell introduced at the Milan furniture fair this year, I want you to understand something about the company's approach to design and manufacture.

To start: Don't think of Kartell as that hip Italian company that hires big-name designers to make cool objects out of plastic. Yes, Kartell does do that—and they're damn good at it—but that's a shallow reason to be interested in their work, and if that is your approach, all you will be able to say when you look at their latest products is, "Wow, that's really cool!"

I know you can do better.

Instead, I suggest you think of Kartell as that hip Italian company that hires big-name designers to explore the process of industrialization. The question they keep asking (and answering in interesting and novel ways) is this: How can we make great furniture entirely with machines? For Kartell, plastic is simply an end to a means. "We use plastic because it's the only way to be industrial," explains Claudio Luti, Kartell's president. "It's the only reason."

What does it mean to be industrial? Consider, for example, that many Kartell chairs are made using a single mold: Molten plastic is poured into a large and expensive machine and, a bit later, a fully-formed chair emerges. That's it. Nothing more needs to be done. After the chair sets, it's ready to ship to the store. (In fact, Kartell created the first plastic chair to be manufactured this way: Philippe Starck's La Marie.)

What you'll usually find in a new Kartell product is not simply a novel shape, but also a novel process of manufacture.

This year, for example, Kartell introduced the Thayla chair, which was designed by the very dapper-looking Patrick Jouin. The chairs he's showing me here were literally manufactured the day before we spoke.

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Jouin's goal with Thayla was to create a plastic chair without any ribbing. Almost all plastic chairs, Jouin explained, require some sort of ribbing to make them structurally sound. "All of the design of a plastic chair is about the ribs," he says. "You play with the ribs and you try to make them elegant."

But Thayla, as you can see, has no ribbing. To make this possible without the chair collapsing when you sit in it, Jouin suggested gas-injecting the chair's legs and frame. With this process, gas is literally blown into the plastic to hollow it out, creating tubes.

These hollow tubes, counter-intuitively, make the chair strong enough that it doesn't need any ribbing, an approach that has never been done before.

"It was very difficult," says Jouin, "but what is really incredible about a manufacturer like Kartell is that you present something like this and they don't say no. They like to take risks. They say, "Okay, maybe it will not work and maybe we'll throw away the mold, but let's try. Because if we do it, nobody would try to be as crazy as us!'"

With Thayla, Jouin's intention was to link the high-tech with the past. The pattern on the seat and back, for example, was derived from the lines created by his CAD program, but is meant to evoke the cannage of a traditional chair. "The graphic is a play of something which is virtual and something which is old," says Jouin. The chair's other contradiction: "It's transparent, but it's not transparent. You can see through it, but what you see is diffracted."

Two new Philippe Starck chairs also took advantage of new processes of manufacture. The Mr. Impossible chair, for example, is made from two plastic shells (opaque for the inside of the seat, clear for the base and legs) that are welded together with a laser. The connection is seamless:

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Here, by the way, are Starck and Luti sharing a pensive moment at the Mr. Impossible display.

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Starck's other chair, Dr. Yes, also plays with contrast between the seat and the rest of the chair. In this case, it's texture: The seat is matte and a bit rough, while the back and legs are glossy and smooth. The technical innovation here is that Kartell managed to pull this off using a single mold.

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Friday  March 16, 2007

Michaelhsu
The Unanswered Question

A few weeks ago, I made my way up to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum to see Design Life Now, the overview of American design that the museum mounts every three years.

This is the third installment of the Triennial series, and I found the exhibit easier to navigate this time out, probably because I've come to accept the fact that the question it asks—What's the state of design in America today?—is unanswerable. Or maybe my hang-up used to be that no matter how thoroughly we try to answer the question, we can't help but feel unsatisfied.

Now, I try not to overthink it, and I find I'm happier if I just go along for the ride.

The exhibition is best approached, I've realized, as an interesting conversation: probing, thoughtful, meandering, impulsive, frivolous. (Why is that object included while another is not? Because someone wanted it to be—which is as valid a reason as any.) The conversation starts among the four curators and continues among the objects themselves. According to co-curator Ellen Lupton, the exhibition wasn't organized by discipline or theme. "Instead," she writes on the exhibition's blog, "the show is more like life, where diverse objects and images sit beside each other in loose affiliations."

You can peruse the collection on the exhibition's Web site, loose affiliations intact, since the objects are smartly organized by tags.

But better to go in person and join the conversation yourself, literally: Visitors are invited to draw on a six-foot tall Munny Toy from Kidrobot that's been covered with chalkboard paint. This is how it looked at one point in time:

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To keep the conversation lively, the museum staff erases the drawings each night.

Thursday  March 15, 2007

Michaelhsu
Efficient Recycling

Umbra's U+ Studio Collection has two new products that make interesting use of reclaimed materials. "Reclaimed" and "recycled" are sometimes used interchangeably, but recycling usually involves some type of processing and is rarely 100% efficient. Reclaiming or salvaging (on the other hand) entails taking something that already exists and finding a new way to use it.

A fine example: Thea Yuzyk's Parquet Frame. It's made from slats of solid rosewood and costs a reasonable $55.

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The slats are actually Indonesian railway trusses, which were salvaged when the tracks were decommissioned. (If you're wondering why such a beautiful wood was used for such a mundane purpose, it's because rosewood doesn't swell in humid climes.)

Similarly, Matt Carr's Treasure Clock makes use of toys that Carr found at the Goodwill next to Umbra's design studio in Toronto. All of the toys were on their way to the incinerator (that's what happens to donations that don't sell), but Carr snatched them up and, in some cases, spray painted them for this limited edition series.

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The clocks come in white and black. Only 200 of each color were made. And unlike most Umbra products, which are manufactured offshore, the clocks were assembled by hand at Umbra's studio. You can buy them at Barneys New York.

Friday  February 23, 2007

Michaelhsu
Evolution of an LED Clock

"Numbers" is a disjointed, strung-together LED desk clock designed by Jonas Damon. It's gotten a lot of attention lately (we picked it for our best-of-the-year list last year):

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It evolved from another LED clock, called simply "LED," that Damon had designed for the British design company Habitat a few years earlier:

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The idea behind "LED" was to reduce a digital clock to its essence—just red LED numbers and casing—and to express the beauty of the parts rather than try to hide them. That's why Damon lets you see all the screws, wires, and electronics inside the casing.

You can't buy "LED" in the States (Habitat products are only available in Europe), though a knockoff recently became available here. Damon first came across it in the Conran Shop and, despite the fact that it was a copy, he bought one for his New York apartment. ("I'd always wanted one," he says.)

The piracy, to my surprise, doesn't seem to bother him that much. "It may not be the officially sanctioned version," he says. "But they're both made in factories; they might as well be the same clock."

One detail of the knockoff does peeve him, though. In his original design, the transformer was housed in the clock's plastic case (you can see it to the left of the numbers in the photo above). The knockoff (below) moves it to a wall wart—one of those big hulking plugs. "That's why there's this dumb empty space and the numbers are off center for no reason," says Damon. "It's a stupid translation."

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"Numbers," the newer clock, draws on the same vocabulary as the first—they share the same material (plastic) and the same underlying technology (LED)—but it arrives in a very different place. While "LED" is transparent—you can understand what it's made of and what makes it tick—"Numbers" is unapologetically opaque. "The cubes could be made of anything—painted metal, Japanese lacquer—you can't tell. There's a light that glows through them, but you don't see the components," says Damon. "There's something powerful about it when you don't know what's going on inside. It has a mystery which makes it more intriguing as an object."

And while "Numbers" may look modern, it gets there by way of the '70s, when electronics were more chunky, less slick. "We were deliberate in not making it feel iPod-y." The goal all along, he says, was "medium-tech."

There's a new version of "Numbers" coming out this summer, and it's an explicit blend of the first two.

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And to keep things interesting, Damon's newest clock, which he debuted a few weeks ago, takes things in a completely different direction: analog.

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Wednesday  January 31, 2007

Michaelhsu
Sublime Projection

Adam Frank is an artist who uses new and old technologies to manipulate light in surprisingly simple and sublime ways. He just recently turned his attention toward objects scaled for the home (you might have seen Lumen, his series of shadow-projecting oil candles).

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His latest design (finished just a few days ago, he tells me) is a small light that draws the outline of a window and not-so-distant trees on your presumably windowless wall.

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A lovely detail: The movement of air caused by the heat of the bulb makes the "branches" tremble from time to time, as though they are being blown by a gentle, arbitrary breeze.

Friday  January 12, 2007

Michaelhsu
Foiled Design

Sometimes, design simply doesn't work. Something goes awry between the time the drawings leave the designer's hands and the product finds its way onto store shelves.

Case in point: Polder's Z-Series Ironing Board, which won a "Design Distinction" award in I.D. magazine's annual design review last year and is pretty much the only stylish ironing board money can buy. It was designed by Scott Henderson, who's done great work for OXO (check out his dust pan and brush) and Mint.

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Besides its sleek looks, it boasts a fair number of functional enhancements. Forgoing creaky tubular legs for something L-shaped and flat gives the board an ultra-slim profile when folded and makes it easy to hang on a wall. Plus, it has a built-in outlet right under the board and a smartly placed rail for hanging your newly pressed shirts.

That said, the ironing board itself is ridiculously wobbly. Even when I stuffed about three inches of folded cardboard under one of the feet, it was still completely unstable.

I talked to Henderson briefly about it. The prototype he'd submitted to Polder didn't have that problem, he said, and he wasn't involved in how the product was ultimately realized. A rep at Polder told me that they're coming out with a new version of the ironing board with stabilizing rubber feet next month (Henderson wasn't consulted on the fix). If you were thinking of buying one, hold off until the new version comes out.

Similarly, I'd had my eye on Jasper Morrison's gorgeous kitchen appliances for Rowenta—a coffee maker, toaster, and water kettle—until Morrison mentioned to me that people had been e-mailing his office to complain that the electronics in the appliances were malfunctioning.

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Morrison, of course, has no control over the electrical components inside these products, but he's since taken a proactive approach by putting a warning on his Web site: "Reports received on malfunctioning products. Buyers beware!" (The warnings are in red type and are the only use of color on his ultra-minimal site. They also have the site's only exclamation points, as well.)

As frustrating as it is for us consumers, I know these problems frustrate designers as well. It's a loss for everyone when a great design is just a step or two away from being realized.

Friday  December 15, 2006

Michaelhsu
Best Lamp '06

GQ's Best Stuff '06 list is out, and among our picks for your home is Roberto Cárdenas's lovely Corner Lamp.

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The premise of the lamp is so rational (it's essentially a traditional floor lamp, quartered) that I expected Cárdenas to have a certain Swedish practicality to him. After we met, though, I realized that Cárdenas—a painter, poet, and former high school teacher—is all heart. "If I have to choose between beauty and function, I will always choose beauty," he told me.

It's often the simplest designs that are the hardest to pull off (there is nothing to distract your eye, so the details must be perfect). In this case, it took a great deal of trial and error to manufacture the lampshade's unique frame and upholster it so the seams would be unobtrusive.

What makes the design resonate for me is that it manages to be unquestionably novel, while at the same time staying rooted in the familiar. And knowing how much attention went into creating such a seemingly simple object only makes me appreciate it more.

Tuesday  November 14, 2006

Michaelhsu
Book Review of IKEA Catalog

In this month's issue of Canadian magazine The Walrus, Ryan Bigge writes a "book review" of the latest IKEA catalog:

If read conventionally, the plot is pedantic, resembling an overdetermined romantic set piece in a chick-lit novel: beginning in the kitchen, it quickly moves through the living room before reaching the bedroom. But the genius of Kamprad's work is how it can be treated as a grown-up choose-your-own-adventure that allows readers to assemble their own narratives.

It's high-quality, cerebral design humor (which is hard to come by these days): "Swedish for Great Literature."

Monday  November 13, 2006

Michaelhsu
The Worst Phone Ever Made

My favorite gadgets blog, Gizmodo, ran a post recently about my declaring the BeoCom 2 the "worst phone ever made." Here's what ran in the November issue of GQ:

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The coolest-looking phone on this page will, unfortunately, look the most ridiculous next to your face. Even the most masochistic consumer will resent the two-column number pad, a bewildering design choice that complicates what should be a simple act: dialing. This is a phone we'd only consider using at gunpoint.

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For the bulk of the page, though, I sang the praises of four classic landline telephones, whose appeal—perfect voice quality, zero brain-tumor risk—still endures.

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Clockwise from left:

1. Jacob Jensen T5
$110, shop.improvee.com

While other phone designers seem enamored with garish, mismatched buttons, Jacob Jensen offers sweet relief: a telephone that is uncluttered, rational, and clean.

2. BeoCom 1401
$130, www.bang-olufsen.com

Its diminutive base and resolute simplicity—the handset plugs directly into the wall to cut down on wires—make it ideal for small surfaces (nightstands, end tables), as does a brilliant old-school flourish: the built-in notepad holder.

3. ITT 2500
$50, www.customphones.com

This bold, iconic telephone has a mercifully chunky handset (no chiropractic care required after use) and a mechanical bell that delivers the last dignified ringtone on earth.

4. Enzer ET-8408
$60, shop.improvee.com

A desk phone doesn't have to be a rectangular hunk of plastic. Enzer offers a fine alternative by carving away the inessential, leaving a perfect right angle.

Thursday  November 09, 2006

Michaelhsu
The Photographs of David S. Allee

The November issue of GQ is, as many of you know, the All-Star Sports Issue. I don't follow sports (not even enough to have an opinion on the uniforms), so let me contribute to the conversation by sharing two photographs by David S. Allee: "Office Hoop" and "Garage Driving." Both are part of Allee's exhibition Cross Lands, which is on display at the Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York City. (Click on the images to enlarge them; they won't make as much sense when viewed at this smaller size.)

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While glamorous sports images abound, Allee's photographs document the odd realities that result when shortsighted design (in this case, of our towns and cities) collides with our innate need for space to play. We end up in surreal situations: playing (half-court) basketball at unnaturally high altitudes, teeing off over concrete parking structures.

Even when their subjects aren't explicitly sporty, many of Allee's photographs suggest a squaring off between rival teams. In "Turnpike Condos," for instance, it's The Residential vs. The Industrial (you can almost see the line of scrimmage).

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Allee was an urban planner for seven years before becoming a photographer, and he has an uncanny way of conveying a sense of overcrowdedness and congestion using landscapes that are utterly barren.

The series has other lovely contradictions, too. My favorite juxtaposition is "Big Box Retail," which shows a dense, somewhat wild patch of skylights (they almost look as though they sprouted from seed) with "Tree Farm," in which saplings are arranged in perfect rows, assembly-line style, along a roadside. The machine-made somehow looks organic; the organic looks machine-made.

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Cross Lands is on view until December 2. And although they don't do justice to Allee's large-format chromogenic prints (some are five feet wide), digitized versions are available on the gallery's Web site.


Tuesday  October 31, 2006

Michaelhsu
The GQ Design Spooktacular

I know how crazy life gets this time of year. You're so busy dabbing fake blood on your chin and pulling apart cotton balls to make fake cobwebs that, quite frankly, you forget all about Design and the important role it plays in your life. That's why I've taken it upon myself to present the first (and probably last) ever "GQ Design Spooktacular."

The design aficionados among you may scoff—maybe even snort—at the very idea of holiday-themed design. But cut me some slack today and I promise I'll go easy on all things pilgrim-inspired during Thanksgiving, okay? Besides, I may never get another chance to show you these dark, disquieting objects. And to use such terrible puns while doing so.

At the top of my creepy list: a cuckoo clock that designer Michael Sans fashioned from a digital clock, chrome nails, and a chain. Oh, and a once-live cuckoo (which, Sans assures us, died of natural causes).

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It's a one-off and isn't for sale. And if it were, I'd urge you not to buy one.

Those looking to infuse their bathing experience with morbid humor should consider Alessi's Mr. Suicide drain plug, designed by Massimo Giacon.

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By the way, that little blue dead guy? He floats.

On a similar note, Raffaele Iannello's knife block gives new meaning to the word "painstaking."

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In Italy, it's sold as the Voodoo knife block; in the US, it's marketed under a less ambiguous name: the Ex (which, I suppose, says something about our respective cultures).

Last but not least, no haunt-worthy home would be complete without one of Harry Allen's white resin "hand hooks." Use them to hold coats, keys, loose change, et al. Shown here are C'Mere and Grab.

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They're part of Allen's sometimes disturbing, sometimes sublime (and oftentimes both) Reality series.


Wednesday  October 25, 2006

Michaelhsu
Front Design

While in Stockholm, I met up with Anna Lindgren, a member of the four-woman design team called Front (which the Swedes pronounce froont). Here she is on the terrace of the Hotel Rival:

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She and her design partners met while studying at Konstfack, Stockholm's premier design school. The other members of Front are Sofia Lagerkvist, Katja Sävström, and Charlotte von der Lancken.

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Front has been generating a lot of buzz lately, not because (as some of you might be thinking) it's comprised of four twenty-something Swedish women, but because they take such a lovely route to get where they're going: their process can be just as interesting as the objects they create.

The decorative element of their modestly named "Insect Table," for example, is based on the paths taken by live beetles meandering across its surface:

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The table is part of a series called "Design by Animals," for which Front enlisted a motley assortment of critters (a snake, a rabbit, a rat, a fly, a dog) to play an integral part of the design process. (As Anna explains, every design project is influenced by random factors; their use of wild animals was an attempt to enhance that randomness.)

Taking the animal theme to new heights, Front introduced a floor lamp (of sorts) for the forward-thinking Dutch design company moooi this year. It's basically a life-sized cast of a horse with a lampshade on its head.

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According to Anna, Front was given a simple brief by moooi's art director, Marcel Wanders: create a lamp "that your grandmother would like." This is what they came up with. (For an earlier project, Front had interviewed people all over Stockholm about their favorite objects, and figurines consistently topped the list.) The preposterousness of their proposal is not lost on them; they admit the line is "furniture to fall in love with at first sight, or hate forever."

Front's designs range from mass-produced objects for the home to one-off art pieces aimed at galleries—and sometimes a combination of the two. They made interesting use of everyday objects in their interior for the Tensta Konsthall, an art gallery on the outskirts of Stockholm.

In the gallery's coat room, Front unleashed a ridiculous number of generic, self-adhesive plastic hooks and invite visitors to stick more up wherever they see fit. The result: an object that you usually don't notice becomes one that you can't ignore.

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In a similar vein, all of the seating in the gallery is derived from the anonymous, ubiquitous lawn chairs sold in hardware stores everywhere. Front upholstered the chairs in leather and, for the office, added wheels to wring novelty from the everyday. (The leather version is available from vlaemesch() and is sold under the name "Leather and Plastic Chair.")

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My favorite, though, is the seemingly non-descript mug they created for the gallery cafe. Where you usually find a funny saying or a rainbow, Front imprinted an image of the gallery space reflected in the mug itself:

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This results in a double-exposure effect: you end up seeing the actual reflection of the gallery in the mug, as well as the image of the reflection of the gallery in the mug. And to make sure your mind is completely blown before you've had your morning coffee, the imprint is heat sensitive, so it only appears when the mug is full of hot liquid.

On a slightly less heady level, Front has designed some nice home goods for Materia, including "Bin," a wastebasket that changes shape as it gets filled. (I mention to Anna that I'd read that the inspiration for Bin came from the trashcan icon on Macintosh computers; she says she read it, too, and that it is untrue. She wonders herself where this story came from.)

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There's also "Peg," their contribution to the world of plastic, self-adhesive wall hooks.

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Like many industrial designers, Anna has a fascination with mass production. (When I called her earlier in the week, she was at Ikea was shopping for officey stuff.) She points out: Even though mass-produced objects are made to be exactly alike, they never look the same once they leave the store—maybe they end up being used for an unintended purpose; maybe they're broken; they all wear in different ways. As a result, an object that is generic becomes, through use, unique.

With this in mind, Anna hopes people will find ways to use the wall hook, which is intentionally unremarkable, in a way that makes it their own.