Archive for October, 2015

Art | Women Artists Kick up a Storm in Frankfurt

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Maria Uhden, Four Nudes,
Woodcut, reproduced in Der Sturm, 1915

Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg,
Frankfurt am Main

Storm Women
Women Artists of the Avant-Garde in Berlin 1910 > 1932
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
Frankfurt | Germany
30 October 2015 > 7 February 2016

Lavinia Schulz
Toboggan Woman, original, c 1924
Linen, papier mâché, wire, leather
© Photo Museum für Kunst
und Gewerbe Hamburg

One man, Herwarth Walden, made certain that women’s early 20th century avant-garde art got the exposure it deserved. Despite his efforts, however, many of them and much of their work vanished into obscurity. Most of us are familiar with their work or have at least heard of Sonia Delaunay, Natalja Goncharova and Gabriele Münter, but such names as Alexandra Exter, Else Lasker-Schüler, Marianne von Werefkin, Marthe Donas, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Hilla von Rebay, Lavinia Schulz, and Maria Uhden probably ring few bells. A new exhibition in Frankfurt, for the first time ever, brings together work by 18 of the 30 female artists, representing expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism and the new objectivity, which Walden promoted, and aims to set the record straight.

Walden wasn’t exclusively concerned with female artists, indeed he began by publishing woodcuts by, mostly by male, expressionist, Die Brucke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) artists, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, and Max Pechstein amongst them, via the mass-produced and inexpensive Der Sturm / The Storm periodical, which he established in Berlin in 1910. It ran as a weekly up until in 1914 then changed to monthly publication, becoming a quarterly in 1924, before ceasing publication in 1932, when Walden, fleeing the Nazis emigrated to the USSR.

Composed of friends with similar interests, the international network Walden was eventually to develop served as a forum for intense discussion on the buzzing ideas, theories, and concepts of the avant-garde. In Berlin, the Sturm evening events, the Sturm academy he founded, the Sturm theatre and bookshop, as well as the occasional balls and a cabaret, offered those who were interested a broad variety of opportunities to gain access to the diverse artistic currents and trends from 1910 to until the early thirties.

To celebrate Der Sturm’s 100th issue in 1912, Walden opened Galerie der Sturm, with an exhibition of fauvist and Der Blaue Reiter work, soon followed by the Italian futurists. Particularly during in the years preceding the outbreak of World War I, Sturm played a crucial role in the development of a special relationship between Berlin and Paris, exhibiting work by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, as well as the Franco-German artist, Jean (aka Hans) Arp and Robert Delaunay. Walden showed Edvard Munch, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall: Kurt Schwitters’ would have his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm, in 1920.

Gabriele Münter
Apples on Blue, 1908
Oil on cardboard
Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
- Museum Gunzenhauser
Property of Stiftung Gunzenhauser,
Chemnitz VG Bild-Kunst,
Bonn 2015

Jacoba van Heemskerck
Houses in Suiderland, Drawing No 13, 1914
Ink on paper
Kunstmuseum Bern, Donation Nell Walden

Sigrid Hjertén
Woman with Fur and Red Hat, 1915
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo ©

In the early decades of the 20th century, women artists were barely recognised by society and had no access to the academic training their male colleagues enjoyed. The subject of women in visual art was openly discussed in many publications during those years, but their claims to originality and creativity were generally brushed aside. The more broad-minded Herwarth Walden, however, claimed it was the individual work of art that was most important to him, regardless of whether the maker was a man or a woman. Sharp and always on the lookout for the new and the cutting edge, he disregarded the typical prejudices of the time and gave women artists their first big chance. Roughly one fifth of the Sturm gallery artists were female. A disparate group, their life stories, personal circumstances, and critical reception varied enormously, as did their styles and approach to creating art.

The expressionist painter Gabrielle Münter (1877 > 1962), who would gain only moderate success throughout her life, was honoured with a posthumous major retrospective exhibition, celebrating the artistic achievements of her early career, at London’s prestigious Courtauld Gallery in 2005, and has since become more widely appreciated. During the pre-World War I years, she lived with Wassily Kandinsky in Mürnau (Bavaria), where their home became an important meeting place for the highly-influential Der Blaue Reiter group. In 1913, Münther had an exhibition of eighty-four paintings at the Sturm, Walden arranging for some of the work to be shown later at galleries in Munich, Copenhagen, Dresden, and Stuttgart.

Along with Münther, Maria Uhden and Nell Walden (Herwarth’s second wife, her predecessor, Else Lasker-Schüler was an artist and poet), Marianne von Werefkin (1860−1938) was one of the most frequently exhibited female artists at the Sturm. Walden, who was impressed by her passion for the concepts and forms of expression in modern art, shared many of her views and was responsible for introducing her work to a broader public throughout Germany and Europe. Dutch artist Jacoba van Heemskerck (1876−1923) was featured in ten solo shows at the gallery, and, with a total of twenty woodcuts, was represented more often than any other artist on the cover of Der Sturm.

Sonia Delaunay, Design B53, 1924
Gouache and pencil on paper
Private collection
Foto © Privatarchiv

Maria Uhden (1892−1918), some of whose woodcuts anticipate the 1980s work of the American graffiti artist Keith Haring, drew inspiration from historical prints and book illustrations that had been revived in the Almanach Der Blaue Reiter. Walden continued to show her works at his gallery and in touring exhibitions well after her premature death.

‘Sonia Delaunay is now rightly seen as a stronger and more complex artist than her husband, who died in 1941,’ wrote The Guardian in April this year, in a review of The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay, her retrospective at Tate Modern, that had started life in 2014 at Paris’s Musée d’Art Moderne, for which over 400 works: paintings, wall decorations, gouaches, prints, fashion items and textiles, tracing her career from the early 20th century to the 1970s were assembled. Born Sonia Terk (1885 > 1979) into a well-to-do family in the Ukraine, she studied painting in Germany but travelled to Paris before settling there in 1905. Already under the influence of Gaugin and German expressionism, she encountered Picasso and by 1908 was exhibiting alongside him, Braque, Derain, and Dufy. By about 1912, in conjunction with her second husband, Robert, she was producing pioneering abstract work in a style that the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was to christen Orphism. Coming to Paris in search of new work Herwarth Walden and Nell stayed with the Delaunays, returning to Berlin with many of their pieces of which twenty-one of Robert’s and twenty-five of Sonia’s were included in the Erster Deutscher Herbst Salon / First German Autumn Salon exhibition at the Sturm Gallery in 1913. In 1920, Walden presented a selection of Sonia’s works in a solo exhibition.

A friend of the Delaunays and also from the Ukraine, Alexandra Exter (1882−1949) served as a mediator between the East European and Western avant-garde circles in Paris, producing her own cubo-futurist style work in several different media. The Schirn is presenting her Female costume design for Aelita (a silent film that premiered in Berlin in 1924). In 1927, her unique cubist and constructivist marionettes, were given a solo show at the Sturm.

Storm Women: Women Artists of the Avant-Garde in Berlin 1910 > 1932, at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt honours each of the artists included with a separate room and features some 250 works.

All images courtesy Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Culture | Hippie Modernism Comes of Age

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Environment Transformer / Flyhead Helmet, 1968
Archive Zamp Kelp
Photo © Haus-Rucker-Co, Gerald Zugmann

Hippie Modernism:
The Struggle for Utopia
Walker Art Center
Minneapolis | Minnesota | USA
24 October 2015 > 28 February 2016

Archizoom Associati
Superonda Sofa, 1966
Archive Centro Studi Poltronova
Courtesy Dario Bartolini
(Archizoom Associati)

In the year 1967 – incidentally that in which contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson was born, but more of that later – the total number of American troops serving in Vietnam was increased to 475,000. Peace rallies multiplied as the numbers of anti-war protesters swelled. In the Middle East the Six Day War saw Israel attacking Syria, Egypt and Jordan, resulting in Israel’s occupation of massive areas of land outside their previously-designated borders.

That summer cities throughout America exploded with rioting and looting, Detroit being the worst-effected, where, to restore order 7000 National Guardsmen were drafted in.

In stark contrast, 1967 also played host to the ’summer of love’. For three days in June, 200,000 young Americans gathered at the Monterey International Pop Festival in California where they smoked a lot of dope, danced and were entertained by some of the biggest names in music including Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel and the Mamas and the Papas, and where Scott McKenzie would sing the words of his anthem that came to symbolise the era, ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…’ While it is claimed that the counterculture movement began in the USA before it became established in Europe, the peace symbol, designed and first used in the UK during the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, later became synonymous with opposition to the Vietnam War, and was much in evidence at events such as Monterey. Elsewhere the ‘flower children’, or ‘hippies’, as they became known, stuck flowers in the barrels of guns held by US National Guardsmen in demonstrations against the masculine culture that gave rise to wars and supported racial discrimination.

Was the hippie culture naive and deserving of the scorn that was poured over it over the next few decades? Once dismissed as both a social and aesthetic failure, the counterculture of the period embraced themes and ideas – ecological awareness, audience participation, the resurgent interest in yoga and spirituality, organic foods, local agriculture, marijuana legalisation, climate change, alternative energy, and social protest movements – that persist and are growing in popularity today. Step into one of fashionable contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama’s immersive visions of endless dots and nets or infinitely mirrored space – currently on show at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art – and you’re sampling experiences that began life in the ‘hippie’ era. Indeed, regarding them as fundamentally important to her life and work, 86-year old Kusama, who talks of seeking a cosmic vision, longs for love and peace.

Corita Kent
yellow submarine, 1967

Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, LA
Photo Joshua White

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville
Women in Design: The Next Decade, 1975

Poster, cut blue-line process print
Courtesy Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

The conceptual work of the Viennese group Haus-Rucker-Co, founded in 1967, explored the performative potential of architecture through installations and happenings in which, using pneumatic structures or prosthetic devices that altered perceptions of space, viewers became participants with the possibility of influencing their own environments. The radical ideas promoted by seminal British group Archigram include Walking City, a peripatetic giant reptilian structure, Living Pod a miniature capsule home and Instant City, an airship containing all the cultural and education resources of a metropolis which could land in remote areas giving inhabitants a taste of city life, ideas that were not lost on Richard Rodgers and Renzo Piano when they came to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and later on Future Systems, founded by experimental non-conformist architect Jan Kaplický, said by fellow Czech and also British-based Eva Jiřičná to be ‘considered one of the visionaries of modern architecture’.

As radical as they come, Ant Farm, though rooted in architecture, was devoted to cultural critique in different forms, especially video with Cadillac Ranch Show (1974), Media Burn and The Eternal Frame (both 1975) ranking among the most poignant early examples of the genre: the collective is infamous for having briefly ‘kidnapped’ their hero Buckminster Fuller, whose ideas and work continue to influence new generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a sustainable planet.

Fuller’s former protégé, Icelander Einar Thorsteinn (1942 > 2015), sometimes referred to as architecture’s mad scientist, worked with Frei Otto from 1969-1972 helping to design the futuristic Munich Olympiapark for the 1972 Summer Olympics and later designed mobile lunar research laboratories for NASA. In 1996, he would team up with Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson, 25 years his junior, and become the mad scientist collaborator behind some of Eliasson’s more renegade works. It would be Eliasson, who would pick up the torch of countercultural experimentation and carry it into the third millennium, in so doing making himself into one of the most successful artists of our era. In 2003 he installed The weather project at the London’s Tate Modern, converting the massive open space of the gallery’s Turbine Hall into an awe-inspiring sun-worshipper’s paradise. His design for the annual London’s Serpentine Pavilion in 2007 was produced in collaboration with Kjetil Thorsen of Oslo and New York’s Snøhetta architectural practice. The timber-clad structure, resembling a spinning top, acted as a ‘laboratory’ where, every Friday night, artists, architects, academics and scientists lead a series of public experiments. The programme culminated in an extraordinary, two-part, 48-hour marathon event exploring the architecture of the senses. In November 2013, at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin, Olafur presented with Ai Weiwei, connected via an internet link from Beijing, their collaboration Moon, an open digital platform that allows users to draw on an enormous replica of the moon via their web browser, is a statement in support of freedom of speech and creative collaboration. For Contact, which ran from December 2014 to February 2015 at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, and reflected Olafur’s on-going investigations into the mechanisms of perception and the construction of space, artworks appeared as a sequence of events along a journey. Moving through passageways and expansive installations, visitors become part of choreography of darkness, light, geometry, and reflections. Rooted in the late 1960s and 1970s, Eliasson’s ideas lead us on into the future.

Neville D’Almeida and Hélio Oiticica
CC5 Hendrixwar / Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, 1973

Coloured hammocks, 35mm slideshow, audio disc
Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
T B Walker Acquisition Fund, 2007

Explorations into domestic living during and after the hippie period led to innovative designs such as Ken Isaac’s Superchair – a frame structured structure with inbuilt shelving, suitable for books, and supporting a platform that doubles as an easy chair or bed. In 1973, Switzerland’s Ubald Klug combined diverse elements into ‘lounge landscapes’, comparable to layered topographical models, on which Mick Jagger posed for an advertising shot illustrating the extent to which the concept captured the contemporary zeitgeist. Also in Switzerland, Danish architect and designer Verner Panton, who idiosyncratically fused pop art with design, created a domestic utopia in his own home, which he used as a showroom and laboratory for his experiments. Echoes of this pioneering spirit could be seen at London’s V&A Museum in 20111, when French designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec laid a striped field of fabric loungers inside the Raphael Court as part of the London Design Festival. The Textile Field installation covered 240 square metres of the gallery floor and encouraged gallery visitors to sit or even lie down, to contemplate the renaissance artworks exhibited rather than merely to view them.

Works on show in a new exhibition at the Walker in Minneapolis include Ken Isaac’s pioneering The Knowledge Box (1962 > 2009), a room-size chamber where one is immersed in a montage of projected images culled from the popular press. According to the Time Life website ‘built in 1962, [it] predated the internet by three decades — but also hinted at information-gathering techniques that we all use today, everyday, online.’ An integral part of the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas designed potent, hard-hitting artwork for newspaper illustrations, posters and pamphlets that became symbolic of the movement and which inspired many to act are also included. Meanwhile, work by Corita Kent, aka Sister Mary Corita, who gained international fame for her vibrant typographic silk screen prints during the 1960s and 1970s, who was a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, running the Art Department at a convent until 1968 when she left the order to pursue her commitment to social justice and hope for peace, is featured.

Loosely assembled around the American psychologist, writer and advocate for psychedelic drugs, Timothy Leary’s famous mantra, ‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out’, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, at The Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis examines the intersections of art, architecture, and design of the era.

All images courtesy The Walker Art Museum

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Design | Logos Unlimited

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

1967 poster for Italian car manufacturer Fiat. Changes of colour and configuration give the various brands and models their unique identity.
© Armin Vogt / Reiwald Werbegentur for Fiat

Logo Modernism
By Jens Müller + R Roger Remington
Published by Taschen
Hardcover + jacket
432 pp, multilingual edition in
English / German / French.
Available now

6000 logos explore the distillation of modernism in graphic design

Not so amazing, I suppose, as finding a Charles Eames chair in a skip, I picked up a compact, concise book in used but good condition, jam-packed with logos, symbols and signs, off the top of an overflowing litter bin at the offices of a magazine I was working in Germany in 2001. It’s a little gem, called Zeichen + Signets / Signs + Emblems, originally published in 1982 by Bruckmann München in association with the famous design bible Novum Gebrauchsgraphik, (copies can be found online for around €12). Many of the same logos also appear in Taschen’s great big – soon to be even bigger, when the XL version comes out – new tome of a book, Logo Modernism, which covers the period from around 1940 to 1980, ie, from when ‘modernism in graphic design really began to take hold’ and before the post-modern era began. Amongst the 6000 logos included – almost every one credited and dated – some examples from the 1990s that share the same or a similar spirit are also shown.

Cleanly and simply laid out, in black on white cartridge paper with generous margins, the designs grouped into those based upon squares, dots, lines or crosses, and so on, with seemingly limitless permutations of approach, limited only by their method of production and with an eye to how they might be used in the limited variety of media available at the time, share a certain unity that contemporary computer-aided branding designers, often producing work intended for a much broader range of uses, find it neither useful, nor necessary to adhere to.

Massimo Vignelli’s, 1967, simple and striking
visual identity for American Airways
© Massimo Vignelli for American Airlines

Case studies such as Armin Vogt’s 1968 Fiat logo that continued to be used, albeit with modifications, until 1999, and FHK Henrion’s 1969 LEB (London Electricity Board) revamp, over a spread, or up to six or eight pages, act as breakers at irregular intervals throughout the book, and show how simple designs could be adapted to create distinctive visual identities.

Each of the studies has a useful potted history of the designer, while towards the back of the book there’s an extended, illustrated profile section on several leading designers of the period, including Adrian Frutiger and Paul Rand, describing and demonstrating via examples of their work, the consistent approach each adopted or developed over the course of their careers.

Almost limitless as a logo archive for the period, Taschen’s Logo Modernism means business about the business of good design.

All images courtesy Taschen

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Auction | I Buy & Sell Therefore I Am

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Roberto Capucci
The Butterfly Dress, Haute Couture, 1985
Full-length gown in pleated and
stiffened silk taffeta.
Estimate £3,000 > 5,000

A Visual Odyssey
Selections from LAC
(Lambert Art Collection)
Staged by Jacques Grange
Christie’s, King Street
London | UK

Gordon Coster
Fashion for Marshall Field, c 1934
Gelatin silver print
Estimate £600 > 800

Of collectors, Baroness Marion Lambert once said: ‘[They're] hoarders, and probably fodder for shrinks. I’m no exception, although with the years I have learned to control myself, while weeding out the mediocre and superfluous from the essential and best…’. Doyenne of the art, and particularly photography collecting world, she has also learned exactly when to buy and how best to sell. On Friday 14 October, around 300 items from the Lambert Art Collection, which she amassed with encouragement from her late husband Baron Philippe Lambert of the Belgian banking family, will be sold in London via a groundbreaking sale by Christie’s in association with Simon de Pury.

The baroness achieved certain notoriety in 2004, when, having pioneered the collecting of photography as an art form since the early 1980s, she named her collection Veronica’s Revenge, after the patron saint of photographers (and, incidentally, laundry-workers). Roman Catholics, apparently, believe that a woman called Veronica, later canonised, wiped the face of Jesus when he fell under the weight of the cross on the way to Calvary, leaving an image of his face on the cloth, thus creating the first example of image transfer. Lambert’s intention had been to hang her collection in the new headquarters of the Bank Brussels Lambert Suisse in Geneva. However it contained, among other works deemed perhaps understandably by the bank’s senior executives as too shocking for their clients, Larry Clark’s Tulsa, (1971), a portfolio of ten prints of naked teenagers playing with guns and injecting amphetamine.

Giving up on that idea, shortly afterwards, with the help of Swiss auctioneer de Pury – once described for his flamboyant auctioning style and jet-set lifestyle as ‘the Mick Jagger of art auctions’, then chairman of Phillips de Pury & Company – the 300 works were sold for a total of $9.2m in a record-breaking 100% sell-out, single-owner New York sale that far exceeded the $6.3m estimate. When the last item, Barbara Kruger’s iconic 1983 image, I Shop Therefore I Am, fetched $601,600, spontaneous applause erupted in the saleroom.

Marilyn Minter
Twins, 2005
Chromogenic print
Estimate £20,000 > 30,000

Erwin Blumenfeld
La Pudeur, 1937
Gelatin silver print
Estimate £8,000 > 12,000

It was Baroness Lambert, always keen to try out new ideas, who again and more recently approached de Pury – his having left Phillips in 1997, set up his own company which later merged with Phillips, which he once more had left, now running an art consultancy de Pury & de Pury with his wife – asking him if he would be prepared to embark on an internet-only auction of the collection she had built up in the intervening years. He accepted the challenge, but in the end a hybrid solution was agreed upon, which involved his teaming up with Christie’s.

Not a company to stint on its sale pitch, no less than eleven videos, each an introduction to artists or other aspects of what became the Visual Odyssey event appear on the Christie’s website, the first being an introduction by Simon de Pury and Christie’s Chairman and Head of Postwar and Contemporary, Francis Outred, who talks about this sale as being an evolution of the legendary 2004 auction. Describing the main difference between that and next week’s sale, Outred, who praises Lambert’s ever-restless eye, is that although it contains a good deal of photography, A Visual Odyssey, spanning three centuries, and which includes objects that are as diverse as a wonderfully minimal Donald Judd desk and two chairs from 1989, to a 1953 Fiat 500 C Topolino, is about how to acquire a variety of great things and how you can successfully put them together. To that end, and as if the idea of Simon de Pury teaming up with Christie’s wasn’t going to turn a enough heads, exalted French interior designer Jacques Grange – his customers included Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Isabelle Adjani, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Alain Ducasse, Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld and Paloma Picasso – he owns and lives in Colette’s former Palais Royal home – was invited to stage the exhibition, assembling all of the items together for twelve preview days at Ely House in London’s Dover Street.

A Visual Odyssey: Selections from LAC (Lambert Art Collection), the sale, takes place on 14 October at Christie’s, King Street, London, the first day of Frieze Week 2015. It will be presented on both the de Pury and Christie’s websites.

All images courtesy Christie’s

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Books | Cosy Contemporary – Maximising on Minimal

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Living room with wide wood floorboards, minimal
cantilevered shelf and Eames rocker in a home in Barcelona

The Monocle Guide
to Cosy Homes

By Monocle
Published by Gestalten
402 pp, full color
Clothbound hardcover
Text in English
Available now

Monumental Mies van der Rohe-style architecture in São Paulo
softened with wood furniture, a large rug and soft lighting

I can lay claim to being the first person ever to tell the architect John Pawson – in about 1988, before he was world famous, but was nevertheless well-known amongst the London design and architecture cognoscenti for his minimal approach – that any of his interiors felt cosy.

It was the first house Pawson had adapted for himself and his family to live in – pictures of which are rarely seen now – that we were photographing for a main feature in The Sunday Times Magazine. Invited to have a look around before a group of friends would arrive for a casual supper to which I was welcome, I had got there at about five-thirty. John led me past his signature, geometric wood staircase that due to the gaps he used in his treatment of the edges appeared to float. Via the main living area – two rooms knocked together to create one making the interior of the relatively small house less cramped than it was originally – he took me through the white kitchen. Nothing cluttered up or was even visible on the long, wide work surfaces. Sliding open a drawer with his fingertips – there was no handle – he showed me his ingenious built-in and very sensible system, designed to keep the assorted implements necessary for cooking, tidy and accessible. Outside, down a few steps were a lawn and a single, elegantly-shaped tree, probably birch. To a height of about two metres above the white-painted end and two side walls, all about two metres high, tennis-court-style chain-link fencing had been erected, up and across which climbing plants – evergreen, all the same – were trained, so that nothing but sky was visible above them.

It must have been either early or late on in the year, when it starts to get dark round about six o’clock, and having been shown the little niches built into the floor-to-ceiling bedhead upstairs, where money, watches, etc might be deposited so as to remain out of sight, I paid a quick visit to the bathroom with its deep, square wooden tub – the toilet, which at first I was at a loss to locate, hidden beneath a lidded wooden bench. I re-joined John in the pristine, white space of the living/dining room with its wide-boarded wooden floor, plain white blinds that he had contrived to open from the bottom, that were drawn halfway up for privacy, and just enough to mask out any intrusive views of the outside. Other than a wooden dining table and (I think) two wooden benches, there was no freestanding furniture. Half a dozen floor-to-ceiling panels along the greater part of one side, were closets, containing anything from store-cupboard items such as tinned food, to a television that could only be watched if the door of the particular cupboard in which it was located was kept open. There were other benches built into the alcoves on either side of the chimney-breast, in the simple square aperture of which a (wood?) fire was ablaze…

Stockholm interior shot through simple square windows with cushions,
dog, blazing fire, plants and lanterns – all the elements of cosiness in place

That was a long time ago and long before Canadian journalist, entrepreneur, and magazine publisher Tyler Brûlé launched Wallpaper*, the style and fashion magazine, in 1996, at a time when minimalism, in terms of global interior design and architecture was at its zenith, John Pawson having been commissioned to design the Calvin Klein Collections Store, New York, completed in 1995. Not long afterwards, French design diva, Andrée Putman (1925 > 2013) would be quoted as saying: ‘Minimalism in interior design has become a caricature. Everywhere you find shops or hotels with an ambience that makes you feel like you are in a refrigerator.’ She could easily have made the same observations about some minimalist-inspired homes. In 2007, having left Wallpaper* in 2002, Brûlé launched Monocle, which carries the tag-line ‘A briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design.’ Monocle also has a website, a 24-hour radio station and a shop, and publishes various other spin-offs including books. Published by Gestalten, the latest of these is The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes.

The book’s unobtrusive format and simple typographic clothbound cover dispenses with the more usual, but unnecessary paper wrapper, and is a cosy coral pink. Inside, the pages are laid out in a manner consistent with Monocle magazine, however the book is constructed as a manual. At the front, essays by such design luminaries as Ilse Crawford, Terence Woodgate and Stephen Bailey appear alongside The River Café’s Ruth Rogers‘ description of the perfect kitchen, while a section called The Directory, at the back, shows how best to plan your kitchen, as well suggesting cosy places to live wherever you happen to be in the world, and offers craftsmen and retailers for your consideration.

Practical arrangements for ‘the most important room in the house’.
Another spread suggests cosy arrangement for seating in the living area

Functional, fold-away Le Corbusier-influenced and
approved kitchen, by Janette Laverrière for a Paris apartment

As unlikely as it may seem, the minimal modernist aesthetic, sometimes visible, often obscured, provides the unlikely framework on which The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes comfortably sits. Albeit every example shown is contemporary, the influences of early modernists such as Adolph Loos, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe – all of whom continue to influence the work of such minimalists as John Pawson and David Chipperfield, neither of whose work, understandably, is included – is not difficult to spot. Much of the furniture, too, is either first generation modernists like Alvar Aalto, or second generation / post war modernists, such as Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Hans Wenger, all of whose pieces might be chosen as sculptural accessories for a minimal interior. While fake ‘vintage’ will never have lasting value, the sense of history inherent in patina is important; in his introduction Brûlé tells us that ‘a few dents and scratches only make them [our homes] better.’ What is uncovered by this book is that we’ve learned from modernism – and minimalism which was one development from it – that a little less can be a lot more. Uncontrolled clutter remains a no-no – we need to keep our houses in reasonable order – but it’s fine to put some pictures up and to scatter a few cushions about. It’s important to remember that people make and live in homes and unlike the majority of books and magazines about the subject, this one shows quite a lot of them.

…By now John’s wife, Catherine, had come home and we were introduced. As the fire started to glow, candles were lit and the whiteness of the walls glowed a soft golden yellow. The bunch of friends arrived all at the same time. Conversation filled the room. Wine was poured from the big 1.5 litre bottles John preferred, and very soon we were all sitting at the table enjoying a simple cosy supper.

Photographs of the book pages by Pedro Silmon

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin