29 April 2008

Ich Liebe Liebherr!

My brand loyalty to Sub Zero refrigerators is under attack again, and this time it's from a Swiss Company called Liebherr. Liebherr has been in the refrigeration business for 50 years and showed up on my radar about three years ago. I think they've been in the US for about the last ten years and based on what I've seen of their increased efforts to tap into the US market, they are planning to stay around for a while.

Like Sub Zero, Liebherr uses dual compressors (that's a separate motor and cooling system for the refrigeration side and the freezer side). Dual compressors make for a more efficient use of electricity and better temperature control. Better temperature control equals longer-lasting food.

Liebherr is also onto something that caught my eye in their latest product bulletin an they call it their "Active Green Initiative." Active Green means that Liebherr goes above and beyond the call of EPA regulation in the manufacture of their appliances and most notably to me, they comply with something called the RoHS. From their website:
The second key element of ActiveGreen is Liebherr’s RoHS compliance. As of summer of 2007, all Liebherr appliances in North America met RoHS compliance making Liebherr the FIRST refrigeration manufacturer to comply with this practise worldwide. RoHS stands for the “Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment” and eliminates the use of major hazardous substances in the production of Liebherr products such as lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd) and certain types of chrome and biphenyl.

The RoHS is a directive adopted and phased into practice in the European Union in 2006. With the coming change in US administrations, look for something similar to start showing up in the US. But in the meantime, the EU has presented a pretty noble goal in reducing the amount of toxic substances that show up in households.

For the life of me, I will never understand why people have such a cavalier attitude about bad news elements such as lead or mercury in their appliances. Lead shows up in Chinese-made children's toys and people freak out and demand Congressional action. Yet at the same time, these same peoples' US-made refrigerators and dishwashers are awash in the same levels of lead, mercury and cadmium.

Anyhow, a Liebherr refrigerator will set you back anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars, placing firmly in the luxury appliance market. So for the time being unfortunately; lead-, cadmium-, mercury- and hexavalent chromium-free refrigerators aren't available to the middle and lower ends of the market. But as is always the case, upper end innovation works its way down the market until it becomes a standard. I wish it would hurry up.

27 April 2008

Cool new appliance thing

This is a new soda maker from a British company called Soda-Club. I found this through the great website from Dwell Magazine. I stopped dead in my tracks when I came across this thing. I drink a lot of club soda, I would say that it's my beverage of choice and that would still be an understatement. Nothing satisfies my thirst like a cold seltzer. It has no calories and no foul-tasting artificial sweeteners.

I used to buy San Pellegrino, but then I realized that Pellegrino is carbonated tap water. Ditto Perrier and the rest of them. If it's not just filtered tap water, then it's filtered spring water mixed with filtered tap water and then carbonated. Yet another marketing ploy in other words. A couple of years ago I got smart and started buying less-expensive seltzer in cans. Then I started becoming aware of the amount of solid waste my club soda habit was generating so I switched to two liter bottles of the stuff. I recycle the plastic bottles, but I still don't like the idea of drinking out of plastic.

For I while, I was making my own seltzer with an old-school soda syphon. The kind that use the small, disposable CO2 cartridges like in an old movie. But that's not a workable solution either. The cartridges are hard to come by and I went through them ridiculously fast.

But now I think I've found a solution in the Soda-Club Fountain Jet. It uses no electricity, it's attractive, I fill a reusable bottle with my own filtered tap water and presto change-o, real club soda. The Fountain Jet also comes with sweetened flavors that will allow one to make alternatives to Coke or Mountain Dew or any of the rest of them, only without using high-fructose corn syrup. No high-fructose corn syrup means no diabetic obese kids.

Best of all, this thing will allow me to imbibe in my club soda habit while saving money and generating zero solid waste. That's a one-two punch that sings to me, it really sings to me!

26 April 2008

Do something positive

I took a week off of blogging last week but I'm back. I suppose it was a dry run for the ten days off I'm taking when I go on vacation in less than three weeks. Hot Dog!

Anyhow, I took a week off to think deep, design-related thoughts. Part of that process is coming up ways to position myself as a part of the solution to the global challenges of environmental degradation, climate change, efficient use of natural resources ad infinitum. Seriously, I urge people to use water filters for their drinking water to get them off the bottled water to cite an example. It's funny how snowed most people have become by the bottled water industry and it's happened so quickly it's downright shocking when you think about it. Seriously, think about how exotic and indulgent Evian seemed ten years ago. Now they sell the stuff a quickee marts along with 30 other brands of bottled water. Most of those brands are filtered tap water, all of 'em cost more than a buck, and all of 'em are bottled in pseudo-estrogen-leaching future solid waste. STOP USING BOTTLED WATER PLEASE.

Vestergaard Frandsen has developed a personal water filter called a Life Straw. Life Straw is an over sized drinking straw with an on board water filter. A single Life Straw can provide safe drinking water for an individual for a year-and-a-half. They cost two dollars. For two dollars, already crapped-upon people in the developing world won't die from waterborne diseases. That's a little more than cost of a single bottle of Fiji. Vestergaard Frandsen has also developed a larger version of the Life Straw that can purify the water for a whole family for the same period of time. The whole-family version costs $25 --that's less than I paid for my Brita and I have safe drinking water to begin with

Project H is a humanitarian, non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the impoverished by distributing products such as Life Straw. Project H is now running an initiative to distribute Life Straw Family filters in Mumbai. For $25 dollars, you can provide safe drinking water to a family in India. And all you have to do is charge it through their website. So rather than buying cases of water at Publix this week, why not pass on it and make a donation to Project H instead? I did it this afternoon, sponsored a Life Straw Family that is. Think about it.

19 April 2008

I love a solution!!!

I love a solution and I hate writing bitter and complaining blog entries. To redeem myself for my last slide into bitch mode, I just found this:

This is the Quench shower system from a plumbing company in Australia called Quench Showers, easily enough. The Quench is a dual mode shower system made for an Australian market suffering from water use restrictions most American can't imagine but will have to live with sooner rather than later. The dual mode of the Quench allows one to shower normally and then after rinsing off, the user can then switch the shower to recirculating mode and stay in there for the rest of the day without using any more water. Brilliant! Watch the video and then hatch a plan to bring them to the US and make millions in the process. Who says responsibility has to involve sacrifice and penury?!

Enough with the bottled water already!

If you need another reason to stop using bottled water, this weeks' finding that Bisphenol A (an ingredient in polycarbonate plastics) is of "some concern" regarding its harm to human health is one more to add to the pile. So not only is bottled water a scam to sell over priced, filtered tap water to a gullible public; a way to use up even more increasingly expensive and scarce petroleum on packaging; and a way to generate even more solid waste. Bottled water will make your daughters hit puberty at age nine and cause who knows what else in everybody.

From the LA Times,

A controversial, estrogen-like chemical in plastic could be harming the development of children's brains and reproductive organs, a federal health agency concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that there was "some concern" that fetuses, babies and children were in danger because bisphenol A, or BPA, harmed animals at low levels found in nearly all human bodies.

Read the article, and others like it and pretty soon you'll see that this research is the first official finding that wasn't bought and paid for by the plastics industry. This is not news, I've been reading about pseudo estrogens in plastics for at least the last ten years. I had no idea of their omnipresence until this week though. "BPA is found in nearly all human bodies," the report said. Think about that. In yet another example of industries' complete inability to police themselves, chemicals like BPA are swimming around unseen and unknown in all of us and it's only now that someone raises a red flag. What other harmful substances am I harboring and don't know about? Wait a minute, I don't want to know.

This is not solely a concern of the granola-eaters and fringe elements of the environmental movement. This is another glowing example of the unsustainability of life as we've come to know it in the last 50 years. The move to plastic packaging happened because it was supposedly cheaper, and cheaper was supposed to mean better. As with just about anything, looking for cheaper is a short term goal that always carries with it a host of unintended consequences. All I can say is please give me back my glass bottles.

17 April 2008

What's modern and what's contemporary?

I had a client come to me some months ago and she wanted to do a gut and re-do to the first floor of her house. As we discussed the direction she wanted to go with her renovation, she repeatedly used the term "modern." As in "I want everything to look modern." She didn't show any photos or clippings she'd collected that looked like what she wanted and I didn't have her go through any of my books so she could show me things that she liked the way I usually do. She was pretty determined to get what she wanted and what she wanted was Modern in her words.

I work in how things look, but I have to describe how those things look in pretty exact terms. Modern means something very specific to me. It means no ornamentation, it means simple lines, it means repetitive shapes. Modernism relies on the big picture to set a mood. Modernism asks you to step back and take in the whole thing rather than concentrate on smaller vignettes and details. Modernism is the Guggenheim on Fifth Avenue. Modernism pares down forms to their barest essence and asks questions of me like "how to I maintain total function while using the fewest numbers of shapes?" Modernism makes people live simple and uncluttered lives, modernism makes someone throw away the junk mail as it arrives and pay their bills on time. Modernism is minimalism. Always. I love Modernism. I love it I love it I love it.

I set about a plan for my client and I took a good week-and-a-half to complete some preliminary drawings and find some samples of the finishes I would use in her newly Modern home. Modernism is a classic --it's timeless. I love telling myself that my designs for a client will stand the test of time and I was pretty happy with the direction I was taking this client's home.

She hated it and I had to re-do everything. I lost another week coming up with a new direction. It wasn't a total loss though. Armed with my concept drawings, we now had something to talk about and she could show me what she wanted. Unfortunately, the drawings were examples of exactly what she didn't want. She wanted ornamentation. She wanted small picture stuff. She wanted every sight line in her renovated home to feature a series of focal points that related to one another. She wanted crown moldings and inlaid floors and paneled appliances. She wanted original and she wanted something very now. About five minutes into my presentation I saw that I'd missed the mark completely and I did so because we weren't using the same vocabulary.

She had been using the term Modern to describe Contemporary. Contemporary is a very different thing from Modern. Contemporary means Now. Contemporary isn't timeless and a classic. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Contemporary, it's just another thing all together. Contemporary is never minimalist and that's the easiest way to identify it.

Using architecture as an example again, if Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim on the Upper East Side is Modern, then Michael Graves' Swan Hotel at Disney is Contemporary. The Swan Hotel is a marvel --it's impossible to walk around it when you're in a hurry. There is so much going on with it, yet all of its parts combine into a cohesive whole. As with anything Michael Graves designs, it has a sense of whimsy about it that makes it sit perfectly in the middle of an amusement park. The Guggenheim on the other hand sits on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 89th Street in a neighborhood lined with tall apartment buildings and across from the leafy expanse of Central Park. Its rounded lines form a perfect bridge between the hard surfaces and lines of the buildings on the east side of Fifth Avenue and the trees in the park on the west side. It's also impossible to hurry past, but because its simple facade contrasts so strongly with its surroundings.

The lesson? If you're going to embark on a renovation and you're going to talk to a designer about it, start a clip file of things you like. Be sure that you and whoever you're talking to share a vocabulary. My lesson? Anybody who comes to me without such a clip file is going to spend some time in my design library. Clients and I need to speak the same language, even if we have to make one up.

15 April 2008

Is there such a thing as a sustainable counter?

There's a lot of talk about the need for and the importance of using renewable, sustainable materials and practices in home construction and it's difficult to get a clear picture about what's "green" and what's not. Avonite makes a solid surface counter material that it markets with a recycling symbol. Avonite's recycled patterns do have chopped up scraps of solid surface in them and it's better that those scraps end up in a counter than in a landfill, but solid surface is hardly a benign product. Between its petroleum-based polymers and the powdered aluminum ore that is all solid surface materials' primary ingredient, making it leaves behind a toxic soup. Even so, recycling some of their industrial waste is laudable, but it doesn't negate the unsustainability of their product.

Natural stone counters are inert for the most part, but quarrying and transporting them around the globe brings a host of environmental and human rights along for the ride.

Quartz counters are made from stone aggregates of questionable origins and a whole lotta petroleum. They are unrecyclable and don't biodegrade.

So what's left? It seems that everywhere I turn I find something non-renewable or non-sustainable when I go to specify a counter material.

Or maybe not. There are two products that have recently come to my attention as possible "green" substitutes for the counters that end up in most peoples homes now.

The first is a product called Fireslate. Fireslate is made by a single manufacturer in East Wareham Massachusetts and has been around since the early years of the 20th century. Fireslate was developed originally as a fireproof lining for the undercarriages of cars but it makes for an interesting counter top. Fireslate is also what the counters in my High School chem lab were made from. I think that's what all chem lab counters were made from it now that I think about it. Anyhow, Fireslate is made from cement, sand and recycled paper and looks for all the world like soapstone. It's available in a few colors beyond black and gray and I predict that it's appeal will grow in the coming years and that they won't be the only manufacturer of this material for long. In the meantime, their website isn't the most helpful thing out there and finding photos of a Fireslate counter is quite the task. It does seem to have a large following out there though. Fireslate is rock hard and needs to be treated with tung oil to keep it sealed. It does scratch and develop a patina in the same way that soapstone does and is water resistant enough that it can be used to make sinks. Interesting stuff this Fireslate, I just wish the company behind it did a better job of telling me about their product.

The second product I found is also made from sustainable wood pulp. Yes, these are counters made from paper essentially. Tacoma, Washington-based Richlite is the manufacturer that gets the most attention, and they have a pretty helpful website. Richlite is heavy, heat, scratch and bacteria-resistant. The counter to the left is a Richlite counter.

Another Washington-based company is making a sustainable and non-toxic product called Paperstone. Paperstone is made from post-consumer recycled paper and a resin derived from cashews. It's interesting stuff. To the right is a vanity top made from Paperstone.

So there are products out there that do take this environmental responsibility thing seriously. I think you'd do well to think about them at he very least if you're in the market for a new counter. Even if you're not, these three products are the leading edge of a something we'll be seeing more and more of in the coming years. And that my friends, is a very good thing.

14 April 2008

Listen while I opine some more about counters.

I love granite as a counter top material. It has a liveliness and a depth to it that other materials can't come close to. How cool is it to bring something into your home that was once part of the seething cauldron below our feet? It's neat stuff all right, and when it first started to appear in American homes about 20 years ago it was a luxury item. Now it's everywhere and using it in a kitchen renovation is practically a standard. As it's caught on and become more popular it's also become less expensive. No one's giving it away, that's for sure. But gone are the days when it cost as much as a car to have put in your house.

As it is with most things, granite is beginning to suffer from its own popularity. The fact of its near omnipresence has certain segments of the market looking for something else. Don't get me wrong, you cannot go wrong with having granite counters. But even so, my mind does wonder sometimes to what else is out there.

I mentioned Quartz tops in my last post and I want to look at a couple of other new materials that are beginning to show up. As with most new stuff, these new materials are making some inroads in the high end. And just as it does with just about every other aspect of life in a consumer culture, what the high end goes for today is what the masses go for tomorrow.

I often refer to Quartz as a variation on terrazzo. Well, there's a company called Vetrazzo and they are onto something. Vetrazzo is a Richmond, CA based company that makes actual terrazzo for use as counter tops, and they make it out of recycled glass. It's really pretty stuff in the right setting. The pattern above and to the left is Indochine Amythest and it is made from discarded glass and fine grade cement. It's shiny, hard, scratch-resistant and all of the other things you'd expect a counter to be. Yet because of its glass content, it has a depth that quartz tops can't touch. To the right is a pattern called Green Vetrazzo. I'll give you a quarter if you can guess its primary ingredient.

Also interesting and incredibly expensive is a product from France called Pyrolave. Pyrolave the counter material is made from a very dense volcanic rock from the Auvergne region in France. Pyrolave quarries this volcanic rock in the same way that one would quarry granite or marble. Then they do something completely different --they glaze it the way one would glaze pottery. Pyrolave is available in many colors, in both glassy and matte finishes. These counters are templated on site, fabricated in France and then installed by team of crack tradespeople flown in just for you. I can't imagine how much all of that costs by the time it's all said and done, but what's notable here is their method. Glazed stone is a material unlike anything I've ever seen. I touched a Pyrolave counter at a trade show last year and I was really blown away by it. It feels for all the world like a single piece of ceramic. Absolutely amazing stuff, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if some enterprising Yankee came up with a way to do a similar process to a more prosaic material.

So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that there's a world of innovation out there and someday soon, those innovations will trickle down through the market. Just in time for people like me to rediscover Formica. Hah!

13 April 2008

Counter currents

Last week, I had a visit from the Florida rep for Caesarstone. Caesarstone is a brand of manufactured quartz that gets used primarily as a counter surface. For anyone who doesn't know, Quartz is the new, at least in the US, category of counter materials. Quartz is made from stone aggregate and polymers and is essentially terrazzo. It is hard, resilient, stain and scratch proof. Its manufacturers also market it with some really wild claims that make it sound a lot better than it is. The truth of the matter is that it is a good product. But it is hardly perfect and it is certainly not going to replace the market for natural stone counters any time soon.

Of the many brands of quartz out there, Caesarstone stands out. It's more expensive than most of the other brands and has a more adventurous palette than the rest of them as well. Caesarstone is harder to find and is unavailable in the big box stores. Caesarstone has a lot of cachet in the industry, and that's due in a large part to its unavailability outside of major markets. For a long time, anybody in Florida who wanted it had to go to Miami to get it. But no longer. Caesarstone is now available to those of us who find ourselves in second-tier cities like mine. I've long admired Caesarstone for their lime greens and bright oranges and now I have a sample kit of my very own. Hot dog! In addition to having more interesting colors than their competitors, Caesarstone's been experimenting with more adventurous finishes too. Some of their concrete- and soapstone-looking materials are really intriguing and well worth looking into if you're in the market for new counters.

Something I've always noticed is the way Caesarstone positions itself too. Silestone, Zodiaq, Cambria, Avanza and the rest of them refer to themselves as an alternative to granite. Caesarstone tends to stand by itself and assert that it's a good product without having to draw comparisons. I think this is a more respectable and honest tack. The truth of the matter is that quartz and granite aren't interchangeable. There are some designs that call for one and not the other. Similarly, there are people for whom quartz isn't appealing or appropriate no matter what kind of smoke DuPont is blowing in its latest ad campaign.

So if the quest for new and different is making you look askance at granite counters, you may do well to take a look at Caesarstone --especially their color Tequila Sunrise.

10 April 2008

Meet Christopher Peacock

Today's New York Times Home and Garden section is dedicated to the humble (or not so humble) kitchen. The lead story is a profile of kitchen designer Christopher Peacock and bears the headline, "The Six-Figure Scullery." Christopher Peacock is the only kitchen designer I can think of who has turned his name into a brand successfully. There are some other eponymous brands out there, e.g. William Ohs, Clive Christian; but those guys were cabinet and furniture makers before they started on kitchens. Christopher Peacock started at a drawing table, just like me.

Anyhow, Christopher Peacock's signature style is a stylized Edwardian throwback and he charges dearly for his look and his wares. He's important because his aesthetic is catching on faster than his name and I have had a rash of people requesting things that are very similar to his "Scullery" pictured above.

When the Mediterranean and Tuscan styles started to fade away from the popular press I started expecting the new must-have to be a transitional contemporary. And I have done a lot of that sort of design over the last two years. But transitional contemporary hasn't really gelled into a real aesthetic. It seems to me that it's a reaction, nearly a backlash against the overdone Mediterraneans that dominated the design press for years.

Peacock represents something else entirely. His is a genuine, defined aesthetic that stands on its own, it doesn't appear to be a reaction. His designs, as originals, command prices far beyond the budgets of most people. I will not be at all surprised though to see more and more Peacock-inspired rooms to show up in the press and in the minds of the people who call on me. It's interesting stuff and I welcome it whole heartedly. Let me use painted, inset cabinetry and marble counters any day.

08 April 2008

Fun, new refrigerators

I found this line of refrigerators from an Italian appliance manufacturer called Ardo. Ardo's website is in Italian and it's worth picking through. If you're on their home page, hit the tab "Prodotti" (Products). Once on the Prodotti page, hit "freddo," and you'll be directed to their refrigerators. Freddo means cold by the way.

Now, if you're not in Europe, you're not going to find an Ardo. Even if you do find one, it won't work on American current. So why am I telling people to check out their site? It's simple really. Companies like Ardo are on the cutting edge of where the appliance world is headed. Ardo's fun new refrigerators are interesting because Ardo doesn't treat a refrigerator as a necessary evil. Ardo spend a lot of time and energy designing them and making them interesting. That impulse falls in line with the American kitchen design trend to make the kitchen the center of the home. Ardo may end up coming into the American market in the same way that a lot of other European brands have over the last 20 years. And even if they don't, the impact of the refrigerators pictured above will be.

Ardo's nearly furniture-like refrigerators are in perfect keeping with the idea of a kitchen as a furnished room used for entertaining as much as for food preparation. So remember that name kids.

Elmira Stove Works is an Canadian company that makes retro appliances. Until recently, their products have concentrated on wrapping modern cooking technology in an appliance that would have looked at home on the prairie in about 1860. In fact, Elmira still makes wood-burning cook stoves for the purists out there. But new from them is a line they're calling Northstar. Northstar ranges and refrigerators are an exaggerated return to the middle of the last century.

I mean, look at these things. They make me laugh sure enough, but I'm not sure sure I want that kind of a laugh every morning. But Florida being Florida, there is a lot of mid-'50s architecture here. An increasingly popular thing to do with a vintage '50s Florida ranch house is to take it back to the period when it was built. Finding Eisenhower-era furniture and lighting isn't so tough. Linoleum is making its old vintage patterns again to fulfill that niche. When it comes to appliances however, you're left with trying to breathe life into actual vintage appliances or abandoning the idea of a period kitchen.

Enter Northstar. Trying to make a go of it with 50-year-old kitchen appliances may sound like a good idea, but even when they were new they didn't work as efficiently as modern ones do. I remember what a pain non-self-defrosting freezers were and thanks but no thanks.

Northstar's stuff is different though. They are modern, efficient appliances wearing retro clothing. Though they are not cheap, their prices don't cross the line into outrage either.

Now if you notice the color of the gas range I'm showing a couple of inches above. I would call that Avocado Green. It's the first use of Avocado Green I've seen on a new appliance since Avocado joined hands with Sunset Gold and disappeared some time in the late seventies. I am no psychic, but the smart money's on a resurrection of those old colors.

So Ardo and Northstar speak to a larger trend of attention-grabbing appliances. Expect that to be a trend that will continue well into the future.

07 April 2008

More retro fun

I found this gem on another website dedicated to vintage TV ads for appliances and detergents. Man, there really is room for everybody on the Internet, isn't there? This one is a three-and-a-half minute promo from Frigidaire and I can't stop watching it. I guess that makes me a song and dance man at heart.

The appliance industry is huge and has been for a long time and it's interesting how their approach to reaching their target market has changed over the years. As someone who specifies appliances for other people every day, that industry is always sending me new stuff to get me to specify their brand above all others. I'll tell you though, the minute any of those manufacturers decide to start doing numbers like this old Frigidaire video, they will win my everlasting loyalty. I don't care who the brand is or how good the appliances are.

Frigidaire has come a long way since 1957 and has come back onto the American scene with a vengeance. Check out their website and see some of their new offerings.

06 April 2008

More mid-century daydreams

I just can't help myself. Here are parts one and two of a video of Monsanto's House of the Future, an attraction at Disneyland that opened in 1957 and kept pulling in the crowds until 1967. Part one is nearly ten minutes long. Part two comes in at about three minutes.

This stuff's amusing now, and incredible how all of it hinges on the idea of cheap oil and cheap electricity. I paid $3.40 a gallon for gas on Friday. So much for cheap oil. What all of these future forecasters missed was how much people in that future would look back to 1966 and 1957 respectively, with unapolegetic longing. Hah!

The kitchen of the future

This is a Google Video I found this morning from a 1967 movie called "1999 AD." It's a look into what 1967 thought 1999 might hold. Hilarious! This is also the first time I've ever tried to embed a video in this blog. If it doesn't work, try This Link. HTML is fun kids, try it some time.

Anyhow, I'm old enough to remember the Brave New World-like predictions about what life would be like in the year 2000. I remember thinking that 2000 was so far in the future that anything was possible. I think a lot of people felt that way. All of those forward thinkers did get some of details close if not necessarily right. But one thing all of them missed was how much we'd have to work to pay for all of this life-enhancing stuff. I guess I'm present to both; the future and working a lot, because it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm working on actual kitchens of the future.

I've getting e-mail blitzed with new stuff and ideas for homes all week and I'll start sorting through it and posting a lot of it here in the next week or so, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, the movie 1999 AD is available through a website called AV Geeks. Man, you gotta love 'em for the name alone. Sniff around on that site --all of the old, ridiculous films and filmstrips from High School Health calss are available. I'm actually glad someone saved them.

03 April 2008

Trend-proof design is a contradiction in terms

I had someone ask me yesterday if I could design a room that would be trend proof. I explained politely that I could design a room that went easy on obvious trends (Tiffany box blue and chocolate brown color schemes come to mind) so that someone could get more time out of a room before it looked dated, but to try to make something last forever is a fool's errand. A time-resistant kitchen is even more so.

A kitchen in 2008 is the de facto center of a home and this is an entirely new concept. A kitchen 40 years ago was seen as a private area for the family, not ground zero of every social event on a homeowner's social calendar. From the looks of things, kitchen-as-the-omphalos will continue, and that's as good a guess as anybody's. Even so, it's a guess. For the sake of my livelihood, I hope it continues but who knows?

Rooms and buildings that are considered to be classics now are considered to be classics only because they've been around long enough to have survived the winds of change and the ravages of time. I live in what's now considered to be a classic Florida structure. It's a beautiful pre-1920s frame building with original heart pine floors. It's a classic today because no one bulldozed it in the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s or '80s when tastes changed. In 1955, this building would have been considered an eyesore and the people who owned it then lacked the means to tear it down and build something more in keeping with the times then. For most of this building's long life, it has been stuck in a time warp --retro before retro was cool.

Who knows? The next ten years may bring in a wave of nostalgia for the '70s, heaven help us. All things Bicentennial may become the new stainless steel. I keep an issue of House and Garden from 1965 in my bookcase to keep me humble. I was born in that year and the interiors featured in my old copy of that magazine are jarring to say the least. Will the glass mosaics and inspired color schemes I dream up now be as jarring to someone 40 years hence? You bet they will. But in the unlikely event that my designs are around in 90 years, I'd like to think that they will be considered to be classics. As I said, I'd like to believe that.

But as I look at the photos that are accompanying this posting today, it really makes me wonder. Will any of this stuff ever look good again? (Man! the yellow Congoleum floor in the first photo is the identical floor to the one that made my mother the envy of the neighborhood in about 1977) To my mind though, it's not something I spend a whole lot of time stewing over. I believe strongly that architecture and design should look like the time when they were created. I don't try to re-create 1940 (trendy now) any more than I try to re-create 1970 (most definitely not trendy now). In 2008, my clients use my projects differently than they would have 40 years ago. We have access to a world of products and services that no one could have predicted in a time long past.

So the answer to the quest for trend-proof design is to look for quality and value. Something that's still working doesn't need to be replaced. A stainless steel refrigerator goes with any color scheme and will look better longer than a harvest gold one. Buy good stuff and let the winds of change blow past you. Shifting your expectations will make something more trend resistant than any color possibly can.

02 April 2008

I'm a fan of the fan

If you watch enough of the dreck programming on HGTV, you will be left with the idea that there's something inherently wrong with ceiling fans. This is just one more thing to add to an already long list of design crimes committed by that network. Don't believe it. Ceiling fans have a place in a remodel and an important role to play, especially in a climate like Florida's.

However, the quest for a ceiling fan starts and stops in the lighting aisle at Home Depot for a lot of people. This is as big a mistake as believing something you hear on "Extreme Home Makeover." If you're in the market for lighting or a ceiling fan and you're going to buy from a home center, please read up on the good stuff so you can buy a better knock off.

Back in the day, ceiling fans were dominated by the brand Casablanca. Casablanca is still very much in the business and they set the standard for traditional ceiling fans. All design is derivative and the lighting industry adheres to that maxim with a surprising tenacity. When ceiling fans started to get popular again about 20 to 25 years ago, the industry looked to Casablanca as a resource to imitate. At the time, all of Casablanca's offerings were uber traditional with a distinct Victorian feel. That Victorian feel continues to this day in most of the fans in the $50 to $150 price range in the previously mentioned lighting aisle. These cheap fans are also precisely the fans that deserve to be pulled down and given the heave ho.

A ceiling-mounted fan with three or four, hundred-watt light bulbs nestled underneath it is the stuff of a bad dream. However, regardless of the style of a room; a subtle, unlighted fan can be a welcome addition. In a cathedral ceiling-ed great room, they circulate cool air in the hot months and warm air in the cool months. In a climate like ours, this is a vital task and it will save money on utility bills. In a smaller room, a ceiling fan will do the same thing but on a smaller scale. Air circulation is their primary function, looking to them as a source of everyday ambient light is best avoided.

There are two companies whose offerings I like and specify. Neither of them feature a Victorian line (although one of them does have a traditional line of fans) and they are blazing a path toward a new era in air circulation. The Modern Fan Company and Minka make some pretty cool stuff. Although they are premium brands, their prices fall into a price point I consider to be reasonable for the value their products bring. You will find neither of these brands in a home center and to see them you'll need to go to an independent lighting retailer. Patronizing an independent, local vendor is a better practice for a couple of reasons. They know what they're talking about for starters. Additionally, they offer products the home centers won't touch. And finally, they pay their employees a living wage. Keeping local money local is in the best interest of everybody. If you're local to me, I usually take my clients to Blaylock's Lighting in lovely, lovely Seminole, FL. If you're not local, Form Plus Function is a great website for interesting fans and lighting.

So before you listen too closely to Paige Davis and yank out your fans, take a closer look at them and think about whether or not you use them for their intended purpose. If you do use them, by all means keep a fan on the ceiling. Just don't allow it to be an unintentional focal point.