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.

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

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)

 

FALL vitamin time

(Kuplat in different colors by Yki Nummi, the lights displayed in Mbar, Helsinki)

…It is almost fall, although the concept has changed over time. So when does the actual fall begin, when is the late summer? What is sure is that we tend to push the starting of the fall further. Nevertheless, the fall is time for energizing oneself with colors. Vitamin drinks give energy with color, and cocktails in different glass shapes are an important part of the bar designs. The ‘food’ is also becoming more of a matter of design.

…With the colors, then, when it comes to the design-thinking, we need to reconsider the white as a basis for creating interiors. Design Modernism in itself is often taught as to be ‘black and white’. But, in fact, bright colors, would not stand out so much without the basic concept of white in the background surfaces and objects… Some timely and popular classics include remakings of the ‘vintage’ lighting designs by Yki Nummi (Kuplat, Lokki are popular). Then there is Arne Jacobsen’s Ant-chair, which looks great in white, as well as Eero Aarnio’s Ball-chair, with white exterior, and the color splash is found inside…