Michele Varian’s wonderful architecting

Cabinet of curiosities was my first “ahaa”-reaction when I entered Michele’s home in New York City three years ago. Her take on the interior design impressed me as a combination of cultural romanticism, folklore and local and international history, which is seemingly inspired by old European palaces and by American colonial style. Among my first impressions were careful details, which were adding an extra feel into the objects and furniture. Playing with light she emphasizes smaller and bigger objects against their background, adding dimension to wallpaper and painted walls. The candles together with the wooden surfaces create an atmosphere of light and shadow; this play is making beautiful things look even more attractive.

Michele Varian’s name and style has become famous deserving a new bigger flagship store on Soho’s 27 Howard Street (the former store used to be on Crosby Street). First Michele Varian’s name is attached to her own designs, which are amazing silk, velvet, linen and suede pillows with so much imaginary. The designs show patterns with inventive names too, such as Versailles. The pillows have colorful Asian-inspired textures, embroidery, and floral and nature inspired prints in them, and of course strong single colors. Varian’s store carries lighting, eco designs, and objects and gifts with organic materials and with aspect of social responsibility.As a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ her store carries items that add almost ghostly dimension from the nostalgic past times.  The valor and texture of the baroque breaths through her choice of picture frames and mirrors. They tell about the lifestyle that echoes beaux arts and obscurity at the same time, communicating with shiny metallic objects, curved glass and inventive porcelain. This amazing Menorah designed by a Californian Company is made of metal and looks especially elegant with long candles. Menorah without candles is almost 2 feet tall.

Michele Varian has chosen local artists, which have created great little pieces of art. Also, industrial vintage is present in the store’s selection as steel tables etc., the small animal sculls create both rough and decorative touch. Michele Varian’s Architecting comes with every single aspect, which is thought through. Her new flagship store in New York’s Soho is a reinvented loft space. I interviewed her about the loft and the history related to it.

MV: I had always admired the space I have moved to. It is one of the few “loft” retail spaces left in Soho that hasn’t been ruined by previous occupants. It used to be a metal works, and then a print maker so there is still a long metal rail on the ceiling along with chain, hooks and winch for lifting heavy pieces. The previous owner of the building was Jasper Johns, for whom the print maker did lots of work. Before me it was Ted Muehling’s Atelier. I love that I’m now in a space with so much great history.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who is the designer for the porcelain animal sculls (and they are all real, right)?

MV: The porcelain animal skulls are cast by a woman who has done illustrations for the Museum of Natural History here in NYC. She is Norwegian and you can find her pieces on our website. They are some of my favorite pieces in the store and are made in Brooklyn.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you end up choosing Kristian Vedel’s little wooden birds? (I love them by the way, and know his daughter).

MV: I had been admiring Kristian Vedel’s family of birds for years in European design mags, but had difficulty finding them here in the US. Their modest simplicity is so appealing to me. It’s amazing how much expression they have just by moving their heads. It’s very cool that you know his daughter.

Shop Michele Varian online: http://www.michelevarian.com/
(photos:firstindigo&lifestyle)

Feeling good about my environment

I was tuning into Björk’s Joga, looking at videos of Icelandic landscape and thinking about the affective aspects of our environments. Where we grow up, the landscapes that we get used to, has an impact on us. I strongly believe that landscapes shape our emotions and our approaches to different environments.

When I think about some of Björk’s own comments about the environment she grew up in, I feel the same way as she does about the North. We should reconsider the Arctic resources and the Northern environment, and take climate change more seriously. Rapid climate change would be huge threat to our landscapes, and even change our feelings about them. I recently learned about a new book, which speaks about the unspoken sites of the climate change process. “To Cook a Continent. Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa” is a book by Nnimmo Bassey.

Bassey writes about Africa, where nature and natural resources have been traditionally considered a blessing. His insight is that by using the nature in a wrong way can turn it into a curse. Bassey accuses global North for taking raw materials from Africa. This also means that when the wealthy economies are consuming fossil fuels, indigenous forests, and commercializing the global agriculture, those economies also destruct their own sense of the good. Our question should be, how to maintain our responsible approach to nature and environment? Perhaps one way is to keep enjoying the nature, and also bring that sense into our designing.

The human aspect in the community development is a central part of the contemporary design of environments. A new and innovative design-thinking considering public spaces is now more focused in the ‘good-feeling’ aspect that can be attached to making the spaces. Adding dimension of ‘feeling good and happy’ recreates the interiors and designs to fit better in our lives, and to serve us better as communities. Design education at its simplest comes with a recognition that people want to feel good, weather they are in their work offices, at home, or visiting serving centers and service points in public spaces.

Also, another important question is, what is my favorite place and environment? And, how do I define the good feeling attached to my favorite environment?  I consider a human component to be the core factor even when it comes to a work environment. Feeling good would come with additional space for interaction, which would bring awareness and a sense of collaboration. My experience of my favorite environment is attached to my own memory of different places, which I have visited in my life. Then, the collective images surrounding places shape my feelings about them. In retrospect, my feelings about different environments is influenced by various representations about them.

In modern design the interiors and exteriors can change my perception of my surroundings quite significantly. How I experience the space, of course, depends of my age, size, and my habitat. I have become nostalgic about the childhood landscapes that my family used to visit. Calling those national parks also my favorite places on this earth makes me rethink how important they are today. Feeling good and remembering the favorite places is one way to respect the future of our environments and the nature.

Fashioning ‘eco’ concepts

If fashion is now promoted with both ecological values and celebrity cultures, a question of who is wearing what and whose designs, includes a new kind of conceptual thinking.  Historically, fashion is the clothes that we are wearing. Then, a questions of social class plays an important role, since we are making the clothes our own by wearing them. Traditionally, women have been thought to be the ideal consumers of fashion, so fashion magazines have also created platforms where to discuss and make fashion as part of the women’s lives. In the circulation of fashion, clothes become fashionable again when the trends come back as new combination, and also next to new concepts and ideas. The historical, futuristic, and the near-past fashion are re-produced together with popular cultural icons. The cultural references of fashion keep also changing so that they are able to maintain the ‘hype’ status attached to classical designs. New technologies used in the fabrics, as well as green values are  important factors, which also reflect the moment. More importantly, ecological aspects that promote global awareness and respect the local traditions are now a necessity.

When in previous decades, the fashion products (and other products) did not take into consideration the ecological dimension of production, today’s processes are very different. The economics behind the change is pricing, as the prices in materials have been rising. Then, today’s consumers cannot be entirely responsible for paying the high cost, so the companies and designers have to be able to reduce the amount in production, and reconsider the materials, which they use.

When we are making our choices as consumers of fashion, more important to us than who is showing up in the shows is to be a conscious consumer. We should be asking, what is the ecological dimension behind the clothes that we buy. In addition, a cultural and geographical referent can become a conscious factor in our decision making; when in the making of the products this means emphasizing the local craftsmanship. One example of this type of local fashioning is a collective Contept Korea that has utilized an idea of Korean fashion culture in their global marketing. Designers who are participating in the collective aim at making Korean cultural image and national competitiveness as their goal. The Korean fashion, which has been promoted overseas has been sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture. With that governmental aspect, Concept Korea has been looking for new forums to promote Korean fashion and culture together, and to interact with new technologies. I participated in their showing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in February 2011.

One of the designers Lie Sang Bong (based in Paris), has been drawing inspiration from Korean folk painting, from the black and white graphic designs which have drops of bright color like red in them. He has also created fashion sculpture and a bauhaus-architecture inspired collection, which both show sculptural dimensionality in clothing. Then, a Korean woman designer Doho impresses with work that has a feminine and flowy touch (see picture from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2011). Concept Korea perhaps comes as a continuation of the collective creativity that started with Seoul being the World Design Capital in 2010.

In today’s economical climate, the design world is thinking alternative solutions. When European countries struggle with economical difficulties, a good news could be that the countries are re-thinking the carbon limits in the production processes.  Only a few decades ago, environmental problems were thought to be part of the policy making of the governments. Now the industrial processes are considering the environmental questions as part of their designing of products.

Designer Lie Sang Bong with his crew at NY fashion week.

I found this architecture book from St. Mark’s Bookshop

What a nice thing to find out that St. Mark’s Bookshop can celebrate its upcoming 34th anniversary with victory.  Cooper Union agreed to a new one-year lease to reduce the bookshop’s monthly rent, this was necessary so that the bookshop can continue serving the Lower East Side community (and other visitors as well).  Every signature did count, I was one among the 44,128 on the online petition. The organization behind the action is the Cooper Square Committee, and for over 52 years it has ensured that the diverse community of Lower East Side may continue to bloom.

The bookshop has become my favorite, it is a smaller scale, and yet, the books that the store carries makes it really a big bookstore. Among subjects of philosophy, arts, religion, psychology, social sciences and so forth, St. Mark’s Bookshop carries great books about architecture and design. I found one of my favorite architecture books from their selection.

‘The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt‘, is a book written by architecture professor Mark Wigley (1993, paperback 1995, The MIT press).  The following theme of ‘the image of the house, and the visitors in the house’ offers a good puzzle for reading architecture from more deconstructionist points of view. In the narration, “it is the spacing that makes the architecture possible even while, or, rather, only by, violating its apparent order” (1995, 219). The sense of space, the rhythms of spacing, come about with the visitors, the house guests. It is the visitor, when entering the space, who brings forth the laws of the house by his well-rehearsed behavior, or by her disruption of the space. What is compelling in this puzzle is that, especially the ill-behaviored guest actually provides the law of the house by her disruption of the space; whereas architecture itself stands for the all-too-welcome house guest, who would guarantee the space.

The idea of the inside and outside of the space, the house and the architecture is interesting, because it seems that the outsiders would create the space/architecture when entering into it. Fascinating thinking. This can be applied to considering our contemporary architecture as well. A question would be, how can we as diverse communities share the same urban public spaces that we use, when in fact each of us perceives and experiences the ‘same’ spaces so differently? From Derrida’s point of view, perhaps, the idea of the ‘same’ space sounds to be false, since the visitors, outsiders (we), who, each time while entering it, actually make the space?  So, the urban environment would also be experienced by and as diverse encounterings and as the spacings, which show the urban environment as possible. The book offers us a puzzle, which can go on and on.

…back to the St. Mark’s Booshop: Join the Victory Celebration and the St. Mark’s Bookshop in their 34th anniversary, on Thursday, December 1st, 2011, between 5:30-7:30. The address is 31 Third Avenue (corner of 9th street).

‘New Nordic Oddity”?…and other design definitions

What I find very intriguing in the current design-discussion, is the questions of how we signify the things, and how we see the world-object -relations from different points of view. What now seems timely, is to define and differentiate ourselves as consumers with more softer values. We are ‘humans’ after all, meaning that we are responsible of the planet, therefore, what kinds of significations we give to the things and objects in the era of mass-production is crucial. How we consume, how we define what we consume, how we differentiate things, adds value to the objects. The meaning-systems behind the branding of products are referential, but they are also truthful from the point of view that they engage our participation in the entire definition-game. As it is also true that what kinds of nouns and adjectives we give to the objects, puts them on the market more.

Where comes a need to define the objects, which we use, which surround us, and so on? A question is relevant in relation to design, since we incorporate the objects in our daily lives. That is the pre-value of the design. ‘National’, or should we say ‘regional’ or ‘geographical’ instead of a national as we share a global world, is attached to the design-products, and calls for several attributes. This is strongly the case in the branding of Finnish design. Let’s look back to 2008.

The summer of 2008 generated an exhibition of Finnish design in the Helsinki Design Museum. The exhibition was called Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity. One of the exhibit curators, professor Timo Salli from the University of Art and Design in Finland, told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that the Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity -exhibition aimed at honoring the local Finnish culture. It tried to find “weapons” from the Finnish culture. Additionally, Salli mentioned that the show was not trying to bring in the latest trends from Paris to be shown “too late” in Finland, but when viewed from the “Slavic-urban” perspective, the contents were precisely that of the “national romanticism” (Pöppönen/HS 11.6.2008).

In the interview, it became evident that the fennofolk idea had been invented couple of years prior to the show together with Salli and co-artists Jari Leinonen and Paola Suhonen (founder of Ivana Helsinki brand). Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity displayed works from 80 different artists, who deployed a great variety of media in their works, not just birch and birch bark, which are the traditional folk art materials that Salli himself used in his exhibition designs.

What inspired me immensely about the show itself, and what also captured my curiosity when I read Salli’s interview,  was the idea of design branding; the core idea of how we choose to define the objects and things, give them certain value. And look at them in respect to our own pasts, weather it is local histories or our own experiences in Finnish forests, for example. The beauty of the Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity is hidden in the paradox. Finland is, first, a culture of the ‘fenno’, what ever that means. At least it comes with the traditional methods of designing the birch. Second, Finland seems to represent in the design imaginings some kind of New Nordic or Northern Oddity, which could mean something Nordic (as it is part of the Nordic countries) and then something New (as exiting?). What remains is the definition of Oddity. A question remains, what would that be? How do we define Oddity in relation to Finland and its designs?

Helsinki World Design Capital might come up with some answers…

See also Paloni Designers on this blog

Finnish design pop-up store in the Museum of Arts and Design (NY)

Starting end of this week, we can scan bits of Finnish design in a pop-up store in the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) foyer. The event is taking place soon, in 21-28 of October… Another great chance to get a glimpse to the 2012 World Design Capital…Helsinki and the surroundings. New York is promoting the uniqueness of Finnish design, as 2012 promises to be creating something extraordinary out of the concept thinking that is so true to contemporary design. The materials and products are connecting to the sustainable values, which global north now represents. ‘Arctic design’ is a concept, which will add dimension to Scandinavian design parameters and tradition. Finland’s architectural roots will be visible in Helsinki, so looking back in history is important. What is creating the contemporary presence, yet, is the remaking of the tradition. When looking back in the history of Finnish design, Alvar Aalto (among others) was not only an architect. His Aalto-vases have become well-known products around the world. His glasswork and furniture appear still in North American museums (MoMA, Philadelphia Museum of Art)… The conceptual thinking of adding different ingredients in the pot and then seeing and tasting what is the flavor of the ‘end-product’ describes today’s designs. Urban settings, architecture, city panning, environment, green values, greeneries, food-cultures, music, technologies, and so on, define what has value as a design. What still remains important is the craft and tradition to the content.

As Philadelphia Museum of Art was exhibiting Finnish design classics among its contemporary design exhibition in the summer,  Caroline Tiger wrote for The Inquirer (in May 20, 2011: “Philadelphia Museum of Art to open major contemporary design exhibition”): “Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s modern design collection has grown to be the biggest and best-regarded of any general museum in the country, it has lived mostly under the radar” . Saying that this ‘low profile’ exhibition in the Perelman building’s modern design gallery showed several interesting pieces from Finnish design masters, is quite modest. Furniture of Alvar Aalto, for example Armchair Model No. 31 (picture below),  ‘Kilta’ Tableware from Kaj Franck, and a pitcher, glasses and basket combo from Saara Hopea (in the picture above).

Eero Saarinen’s TWA in Open House New York

(TWA-terminal)

I am proud to be Finnish appreciating our architectural roots. Finnish-American Eero Saarinen’s father Eliel Saarinen was an architect visioning Finland’s future together with the architect partners Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren (the firm was established 1896). Architect-trio designed Finnish Pavilion for the World Expo in Paris is 1900s (Exposition Universelle). Finland, The Grand Duchy of Russia at that time, was first time exhibiting its designs in the own pavillion, so appearance in the expo was creating a strong sense of new future (Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917). Architects Gesellius, Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen designed Hvitträsk in Kirkkonummi (near Helsinki). Constructed in 1902, It was first the firm’s studio and became then Saarinen’s private home. The house was named after Lake Vitträsk, [H]vitträsk meaning White Lake. The striving National Romanticism and Jugend/Art Nouveau of the late 19th and early 20th century opened up the way to the modernism and futuristic agendas in the arts and design.  Finland’s national epic The Kalevala (Finland’s poems), which had been published in 1849, inspired the designers and architects with mythologies and epic poetry in the earlier times, the mythical characters might still enter the modernism in new abstract forms.

In New York, Eero Saarinen designed TWA-terinal. It opened in 1962 (another wing was added in 1969). TWA inspires with the natural organic forms and continues to be a timeless piece that shows the essence of environment in the architectural structure?  The monument does not threaten people with massive interiors, but organically pads and holds. TWA should be open for public and it should be site for great artistic works, a surrounding for innovations and discussions, as the design echoes sustainability and continuation. When TWA terminal opened it paraded modernism with red-colored seats and swanlike arches. Curvy white lines of modernism speak in the Flight Center, and it pays homage to the era in architectural history.  A question is timely today as the terminal is open to public for visit as part of the Open House New York weekend.

(below: Hvitträsk in Kirkkonummi)

Forest echoes

I have recently been thinking the forest in the aesthetics. Patterns and wood structures are back in current interior design. The recent trends have been bringing the nature into our living spaces. This updated, seemingly nostalgic approach can be retrieved into decades of design innovation where arts and crafts were not that far from the  ideas of industrialism and mass-production. Nature, fall colors, flowing trees in the wind, curved themselves into airy designs.

This chair tro is by Finnish Interior architect Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914-1999), exhibited as part of his chair collection in R GALLERY, in New York’s Franklin street in the Spring of 2011. I loved to see the chairs which were so familiar from my own childhood.  Did that red chair ever get to ‘mass-production’, or how do we define ‘mass-production’? The individual craft is still speaking to us its simple organic language.

The R GALLERY’s approach to research and innovation behind their design curating (for 10 years now) is an achievement. They have been picking trends, which have value for the future developments in the industry, giving priority to individual craftsmanship in the design and supporting innovation, which stands for sustainability, form and aesthetics in the works.

(Tapiovaara’s exhibition catalog is available in here)

 

Arctic sensing/design senses

It is almost twenty years now when Danish author Peter Høeg published his novel (1992) Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne, in English Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1996 in English). I could not at that time understand all the possible turns and meanings that the novel encompassed but was still very thrilled by the beauty of the snow. In the book, the character Smilla has an extraordinary ability to understand all types of snow, and name them.

What was so thrilling for me was the idea of snow being so central to one’s experiences and consciousness. In Finland (Norway, Sweden, Russia), the indigenous circumpolar Sami People, had hundreds of words for snow in their language defining the qualities of snow. Their traditional way of life included reindeer herding, and nomadic lifestyle was dependent on the snow conditions in pastures especially in winter. People knew how to define the snow.

In the arctic, the sensing of nature is important. I was growing up in a close relation to the nature. The aesthetics of snow come to my sensing of art and design. Shaping snow into ice and experiencing it in the landscape.

Another creative, artist Marc Chagall took inspiration from snow and wintry landscapes. One of his signature paintings is Over Vitebsk. The beauty of the painting is in the flying figure, and in the silent houses below him. Everything seems to be resting in the quiet of snow, yet there is an undercurrent movement. Chagall is having a nostalgic dream and sees his past hometown in a picturesque image full of movement and life.

I saw couple of recent Chagall shows pondering the corpus of his works. How little I knew that he had created so diverse collections in the United States.  I went to Philadelphia twice in the summer and saw the exhibition where curators wished to frame Chagall next to his fellow avant-garde Parisians. Again, Chagall’s presence in Philadelphia was surprisingly vivid.

Asian art markets

Does copycatting rule the Asian markets, where much of the world’s small technological innovation is located? Mobile-phone industries, small pieces in massive volume are centrally part of the future of the east.  What I find problematic in America is that the ‘westerner’ thinks we have invented it all. Today’s Asia is very creative, the arts are sensationally inventive, international, and not hostile at all in terms of who gets to participate. But, is there still a question of freedom of speech (what one is allowed to say and where) stirring in the air? Perhaps societal problems can build a frame for creation, meaning that when one comes from the ‘margins’ the experiences enhance new creativity? Artists and designers have to make it work and gain new presence in the world? All good signs. This reminds me of Finland too. A small nation started striving to get visibility with its original designs approximately hundred years ago. Design and fashion have become visible in almost every corner of the bigger cities in Asia, then the performing arts are moving forward. The traditions are remarkably present in design, and there seems to be value towards local traditions also in the new works of art. Yet, impacts of globalism are present; slums in the city corners and prostitution. The discussion about the trafficking of people has become loud.