Friday, April 23, 2010

Cruising Vogue

Photo courtesy Flickr
Seattle’s Asian Art Museum has had a standing display of snuff bottles as far back as I can remember. Every now and then I stop by to say hello. The bottles that looked fresh in the Fifties still look as if they just came off somebody’s bench.

Like looking at type faces, studying variants of one application is an easy way to teach oneself about form. Ben Shahn discusses this basic question in Form Is the Shape of Content. Any exercise class or etiquette book will fill in details about good form outside the workshop.

Now and then I think about what I’m wearing. Several years ago, I wandered downtown to the spectacular new library and looked through old issues of Vogue magazine. Vogue’s legendary editor Diana Vreeland had commented that the fashions of the Twenties were much stronger than those of the Thirties, so I concentrated on that decade.

The pickings were so rich I only looked through a few issues from around 1925. I went shopping armed with visions of garments that looked as fresh and relevant post-9/11 as they did when women were first driving cars. I kept the clothes that matched that vision and acquired a few new pieces to expand it. My wardrobe shrank by half and became four times as useful and current.

Looking at the history of a given area of design allows one to distinguish between true innovation and fresh ribbons on an old hat. Research is a good investment, especially when scouting used things.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Carla's Dining Room

Photo courtesy Flickr
Carla is one smart cookie.

Her big house in Portland started life as a small tract home. It grew with the years and the families that lived there. She bought it with the profits from the sale of a small place in Palo Alto.

The original poky dining room was surrounded by new construction and transformed into a major entry hall without windows. Carla set a sturdy wood table in the middle of the space, lined the four walls with inexpensive freestanding bookcases, chock full, and used it as a study hall.

When the kids got home from school, they shed coats and packs in the corner, grabbed a snack in the kitchen next door, and then did homework at the table. In retrospect, I realize Carla had recreated the dining hall we shared at school.

The evolution of the house had created a family room at an awkward distance from food central, so the easy traffic patterns of the family worked in favor of learning rather than escapism.

-30- More after the jump.