The recent launch of our online store offered up the unique opportunity to shoot Herman Miller designs in iconic homes. Working closely with Hello Design and photographer Juergen Nogai (who was the late Julius Shulman‘s longtime partner) Herman Miller’s Steve Frykholm set out to showcase our pieces in some pretty amazing settings. This is the first of five interviews with the architects who designed the houses we shot in. All reside in California and each has an interesting and unique story to tell.
We start with Jim Jennings who founded his practice in 1975. When interviewed by Architectural Digest for their top 100 designers list Jennings said of his work, “it always begins with the site and with the clues and conditions found there. Each physical circumstance suggests a particular expression of scale, space and material. For me, a great building is one that is both rational and poetic—and projects a quiet strength.” For more from Jim and shots from the shoot check out our POV site.
Your recent work spans so many climates – with the retreat you designed for yourself in Palm Springs and a house on the beach in Oahu. Yet even with the very different terrains I see a common language in your forms. There’s a strong horizontal quality to your work and a use of sliding walls, screens or open rectangular spaces that engage with the outdoors. What drives those design decisions? The two houses (Lanikai and Palm Springs) illustrate a similar approach to architectural form. They are both rectilinear in composition with strong hovering roof planes. Both have walls that open large areas of interior space to the outside Both respond to the need for shade and the free movement of air. Although the formal aspects of each building link them, each is conceptually grounded in its very specific place with opposing site conditions. The Lanikai house is designed to block heavy ocean breezes, which is why it stretches the entire width of the site. Glass doors will stop a strong wind but can be pocketed to modulate airflow. Teak lattices can be positioned to provide protection from the sun without interrupting moving air or visibility. The house is permeable.
The Palm Springs house is the opposite. It is a walled enclosure that is inwardly focused, protective, self-contained. The surrounding wall is designed to create an environment that relates only to itself and the nearby mountain that dominates the view. When the glass doors are opened, the house becomes the entire space inside the wall.
It’s always interesting to see how an architect, who designs homes for a living, has set up their own home. You are based in San Francisco. How did that city impact the way you designed your own space? My residential loft is adjacent to the studio in a mixed industrial/residential area. Very urban. Very convenient, in the way that cities are. While occupying the same building, the residence has an outside entrance on a different street from the entrance to the studio, enhancing the separation between them. As a response to the urban condition, large areas of translucent glass let in a great deal of light without compromising privacy. At a smaller scale than is typical of my work, the space is simple and logically organized similar to client projects.
What inspires you in your work? Looking—really looking—at buildings. As with the differences between the Lanikai and Palm Springs projects that take a little time to discern, I find that buildings often reveal principles or motives or things in operation not obvious at first glance. For a San Francisco example, the overall form of Wright’s V. C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane (above) is greatly influenced by the subtle way the mortar was used in the brickwork. Emphasizing the horizontal coursing by employing Roman brick, raking the horizontal joints, and flush-grouting the vertical joints unifies the entire mass of the building.
I’m also inspired by artists that respect physics and materials. Long before his Torqued Ellipses, Serra inserted a sheet of steel into the corner of a gallery. To me, that simple act of defining space in a way that respects the physical world is remarkable—both obvious and sly. I deal with gravity and leverage every day in my work, and to see those forces at the center of a work of art inspires me.
Portrait and Palm Springs home by Joe Fletcher