November 10, 2011
Architect, writer and publisher Robert Kahn talks about balancing a busy architecture practice, a publishing house he runs with his wife and his family life. Kahn set up his own practice in 1986 when he left James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Associates in London. He is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and has received numerous awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Kahn is also the creator and editor of the City Secrets series. His wife, Fiona Duff Kahn, is the managing editor of Fang Duff Kahn Publishers, which they founded together in 2009. They live in New York with their daughter, Kiki Fang Duff Kahn.
Balance, Design, Products
November 3, 2011
New York-based architect Deborah Berke shares her busy life for this week’s Q+A. Berke is a professor of architectural design at Yale University and author and co-editor of several books, including The Architecture of the Everyday. The work of her award winning firm – Deborah Berke & Partners Architects – has appeared in numerous publications as diverse as Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and Remodelista. Today Berke gives us a look at her residential projects and a peek into her work space.
October 24, 2011
We came across Elizabeth Roberts, who runs her design practice from her home in Brooklyn, on Remodelista back in February. Here Roberts talks about her work, how she found herself studying architecture at Berkeley to opening up her own practice after working at William Turnbull in Northern California and Beyer Blinder Belle in New York.
1. You are a designer based in New York. Tell us about your background. What led you into this field? In high school I thought about going into architecture. A friend of my mother’s who was an enviably strong woman and feminist suggested that it was a great field for women. Everyone in my family were doctors so in my sophomore year in college I told my mother I’d finally decided to declare my major as “pre-med”. She was silent and finally she blurted out that she’d hoped I would do something with my creative abilities. That summer I spent as an intern at an architecture firm and I studied art in Paris during my Junior year. When I finally decided to study architecture my mother was the one who helped me apply to transfer to UC Berkeley while I was in Paris –I will always appreciate that encouragement from her!
After I graduated I ended up in New York City. It was a recession and there weren’t many jobs out there. One of my professors who I had worked with at William Turnbull Associates suggested that I specialize in Historic Preservation. It made sense. I had spent a few summers as a “site architect” at a dig in Crete and was interested in architectural history. I’m glad that I followed his advice, mostly because I ended up in New York and haven’t left ever since…
2. Your work exudes a warm minimalism and I think part of that is your use of timber in your projects -whether it be a beautiful wood dining table or kitchen island. How would you describe your style? Are you conscious of keeping spaces spare but soft-edged? Yes, I think one of the things that is very important to me is to “showcase” certain elements in a space –to allow enough space and “quiet” around an object for it to be seen. That often translates into wood against a painted surface, or a colorful item beside a white surface.
September 19, 2011
Magdalena Keck‘s interior design work spans retail, commercial and residential spaces and also moves up and down the east coast from Miami to New York. The homes she works on for her clients inevitably include a home office. Here the designer talks about a signature style and what inspires her.
You’ve been working as an interior designer for over a decade now and we see your work published widely. Do you have a signature look that typifies what you are trying to achieve with your residential work? I strive to create more space and light then the spaces have in actuality. I like a good functional use of space and an easy flow with one or two interesting pieces. No fuss really, but elegant simplicity and comfort. I love a really light or a really dark palette, you will not see much of in between in my projects. I am drawn to colors that are hard to define: blue grays, brown grays, black browns, brown aubergine etc.
Looking through the homes you’ve worked on I see a common thread of clean-lined simplicity and restrained color schemes. There’s a real serenity to your work. Is that a conscious choice on your part? I think it is subconscious, but I do believe we have enough stimulation in the “outside world”.
Tell us about some of the favorite home workspaces you’ve created. Do you find people ask for similar things in a home office? People want home work space to be integrated well into the home instead of being some forgotten isolated corner.The home office of Upper East Side Residence is one of my favorites (pictured below). I love the huge window one can look out from at NYC from 34th floor. It’s dark: a combination of browns, grays and aubergine, which I think it makes it sophisticated and warm at the same time.
How do you strike a balance between work and home life? Do you find yourself designing at your kitchen table or are your work hours clearly defined and contained to an office space? I like what I do, so I have no problem working at home when inspiration strikes. I do quite a lot of research in the evening if nothing else is going on. I think as a designer one never really stops working, the wheels are always turning.
What inspires you in your design? Many different things: it sounds like a cliché, but one of them is Nature. She has it all figured out: the light, the darkness, the textures and colors. I am drawn to “found objects” in nature as well as made man. Art history and European renaissance and baroque architecture are beginning to play a significant role as well.
August 30, 2011
Here Eugene Stoltzfus talks about his worklife – from his experience as chairman of the Rosetta Stone, a language software company, to his return to practicing architecture.
Your architecture firm was founded in 2006 after you left your job as Chairman and President of Rosetta Stone – the language software company. What spurred that change? I had joined my brother and brother-in-law to start Rosetta Stone because they had invented a language-learning system that was very impressive and seemed to have the potential to change language learning, as it has! This was in 1992, in another recession, and I was ready to leave working for someone else as an architect. Actually, working for Rosetta Stone had a lot in common with architecture because we were all about generating the unknown. I always knew I would return to architecture so when a change-of-control opportunity presented itself for Rosetta Stone in 2006, I was happy to sell most of my interest.
Above: The Singer’s Glen Schoolhouse.
You buy older buildings and give them a new life but you also work for clients remodeling and building from the ground up. What kind of project do you prefer? My first choice is building from the ground up. Sundial House (below) was an opportunity to put together a lot of my ideas. I think of it as a manifestation of the nexus where function, material, form, site, ecology, engineering and construction come together.
I do also like working with existing buildings, particularly old ones like the Singer’s Glen School (above), where structural forces and materials give form in a natural integration. Doing a modern contrasting intervention based on the values of simple revealed brick and timber construction is very appealing to me. We got into buying, and giving new life, as you say, because right after I left Rosetta Stone, the recession hit, and it wasn’t a good time to start an architecture business.
Above: The Sundial House.
You are also a furniture designer. I came across your work at the Dwell conference this year – the cork pieces seemed to really strike a cord. What drew you to that particular material? We love cork because we can use it as structure and finish, it can be shaped three dimensionally, and because cork has that subtle give that makes it so accommodating to the touch. The response to the Euclid Series was very gratifying. People loved touching it, sitting on it, and playing with arrangements of the squares, rectangles and cylinders. We like being a part of the chain of invention and seeing the ideas that other people come up with.
Above: Inside the Sundial House. The coffee and side table were designed by Stoltzfus using cork.
Does your work life spill over into your home space? How do you strike a balance between your architecture practice and the rest of your life? Balance? Who said anything about balance? Actually, while I have to admit I am somewhat consumed by my work, it feels integrated into my life. The furniture line was started because I was designing furniture and objects for Sundial House. The meditation hut came because I wanted a solitary place where I could meditate, a protected place that could be left out in the weather. Something like the design of the meditation hut has brought me so much satisfaction, I don’t really think of it as work. Of course, the practice of meditation, in itself, brings tremendous balance into one’s life.
What inspires you in your work? I am inspired by the idea of openness to the new. I see it in so much of the architecture, art, and music that is around us in our communicative world, but also in the most unexpected places.
For instance, sometimes I see something and my eye misinterprets it for something else and that is the beginning of a new object. I had glanced at a picture of fireplace logs on andirons but I caught a quick moment where my eye interpreted the logs as a bench, so our Andiron Bench was born.
One of the things that inspires me the most is when we get a simple idea and immediately see that something about it does not work. That is an opportunity to look at it in a new way or let it evolve into something we had never thought of. Designing is as much about letting go as it is about finding the new.
Learning to generate options, plowing new ground, and letting go are extremely good exercises for human beings. I say sometimes that while we are contributing by building structures and designing objects, what is for sure being made is us, as human beings.
August 22, 2011
Bruce Bolander designed the Chicago offices of the Whitehouse film editing company we featured in June. I was really impressed with his work and eager to share more of it with you. Here Bolander talks about the impact of place on design and his roots as a furniture maker.
Above: Bolander’s office is 100 feet across a driveway from his home in Malibu.
While studying architecture you also learned to build furniture. How do those skills impact the buildings you design today? I still design some furniture and every once in a while even build something. I think that designing and building furniture gave me a better sense of both material and assemblage, details of how different pieces (small in the case of furniture and larger with architecture) unite.
Above: The Mosquito table and Hoist stool designed and fabricated by Bolander.
For the Whitehouse Chicago office I designed the edit desks, the reception desk and also a table that we ended up using both in the lunchroom/café as well as in the conference rooms and other meeting areas.
It is a simple plywood table that is built with just a couple of sheets of plywood and simple tools. It is made of a top and two base pieces that all just key together. To illustrate the table to the client I built a rough prototype myself in a few hours.
August 8, 2011
Drive by this live/work space in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake and you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. The undulating metal fence reads like a piece of sculpture. The cement-board structure behind could be a home, it could be a duplex, it could be an office. In fact it is the home and office of architects Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler of Oyler Wu Collaborative. I visited the space during the Dwell house tours last month and was impressed with how they’d set up their live/work space. A common design language linked the office/public space downstairs with the private/home area upstairs, creating a clean-lined oasis on a busy urban road.
In 2001 Oyler Wu was established when you were both were living in New York City. You both went to Harvard – did you meet there? Yes, during our time there we entered a couple of competitions together. The partnership turned out to good one – in a couple of ways.
You are currently located in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles where you’ve taken a 1930′s residential duplex on a very busy street and turned it into a live/work space. Can you describe that process? The building wasn’t residential when you took it over. At the time we purchased the building in 2009, there was a wood flooring company operating out of the ground floor, and it was in serious need of an overhaul.
Although it had been renovated numerous times, there was never any real attempt to change the exterior from the pseudo-Spanish style stucco box to something more modern. Because of its simplicity, we saw the potential of the building to become a simple, elegant volume.
Because we have been doing most of the work ourselves, the renovation has happened slowly, beginning with those elements that just made it livable. And over the two year period, we’ve begun slowly adding design elements.
The building is clad in cement board with recessed aluminum windows. Why those material choices? The cement board was chosen for its simplicity and the honesty of its materiality. The clear coating reveals the richness of the board and the nailing pattern across the surface. We felt that there was beauty to that that one just can’t get with a stucco surface. The deep recessed windows came out of the need to flatten the surface of the building. The existing building essentially required a second layer, and that process ultimately made the walls incredibly thick. Recessing the windows was a way of expressing that thickness.
You have stripped the interior back to its essentials, exposing the 1930′s wood frame construction. Tell us how those design decisions impact they way you work and live in the space? Nearly everything we own is modern. The exposed wood (and the shelving that was made from wood salvaged during the renovation phase) made for a contrast with those more modern elements in a way that we felt was complimentary to both. I’m not sure that particular aspect dramatically changed how we live so much as it highlights the aesthetic qualities of both. What does change our lives is the live/work configuration of living upstairs and working downstairs, as well as the incredibly vibrant Silver Lake neighborhood.
What inspires you in your work? We’re occasionally asked this question, and we always have a hard time answering it. While we love the work of so many architects (Gaudi, Otto, Miralles, Saarinen to name a few), our work more often works in an evolutionary way. We tend to draw on unanswered questions and tectonic discoveries produced in previous projects as well as specific contextual problems of a given project (a site constraint, for example). It’s also fair to say that we’re constantly inspired by our students (at the Southern California Institute of Architecture – SCI-Arc).
August 1, 2011
Los Angeles architects Silvia Kuhle and Jeffrey Allsbrook of Standard share their east-side home, tracing the design aesthetic back to their shared German roots.
Your design studio – Standard – is based in Los Angeles and in your work your European roots seemed to have merged with a particularly modern Californian aesthetic giving both a warmth and a rigor that is really striking. Can you give us a bit of background – you both studied architecture in Germany. How do you think that has influenced your work in California? We met in Germany, and while we went to different schools there, it was like an intersection in our studies. We both went to architecture school in the US as well, but on opposite coasts. In American schools the emphasis is on process and forms but in Germany the modernist project continues to be an influence; our work reflects some of that idealism. When we started to work together in Los Angeles, the dominant trend was to create new form. We were more interested in creating space, and in LA’s modern history. Early in our practice, we had the opportunity to work on a couple of projects that were interiors combined with landscapes, so we designed from the inside out. We worked with materials, openings in walls, views, and light; and less with the outward appearance of the building.
Your own home, aptly dubbed “The Tree House” is perched on a steep hill on the east side of Los Angeles. How did that site influence your design? We had lived on the site for about seven years before we started the project, so we understood the site well and we knew how we wanted to live there.
Under the tree there is a microclimate that’s usually about 10 degrees cooler than down at the street.
We wanted the house to be under the tree’s canopy, and to create the living space there. The south orientation and expansive views led us to open the house up on that side, and to keep the back more solid.
The material palette is very restrained – concrete, redwood and white cabinetry with marble in the bathrooms. How do you go about making those choices? We wanted to balance the materials and create contrast. In the main living space we defined the perimeter with white walls and cabinets, so the wood in the center of the room looks more like built-in furniture. It is a small house and the approach to materials and the glass help make it feel more expansive.
The home includes a desk/work area in the master bedroom. Do you find your work life spills over into your home life? Our work spills into our home life probably a little too much, and thankfully, this desk is rarely used for work.
Currently our office is very close to the house, so we try not to bring work home.
What inspires you in your work? Silvia: New York, aged finishes, vast (higher altitude) landscapes, Rick Owen’s fashion, Edith Heath’s ceramics (below).
Le Courbusier’s concrete (and glass) architecture, Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima’s material-less seeming architecture (below Sejima’s New Museum in New York City. Image via StarMedia).
Jeff: Furniture design: Charlotte Perriand, Joe Colombo, Jean Royere. Automotive design: Alfa Sprint Speciale, classic Bertone designs. The architecture of Jose Antonio Coderch (below Coderch’s Casa Ulgade, Barcelona 1953) , Mies van der Rohe’s early work.
Photos: Shots of Silvia and Jeff’s home by Benny Chan/fotoworks.
July 25, 2011
As part of our continuing architect Q+A series we tracked down DEX Studio‘s principal Glen Bell. Here he talks about his residential and commercial work and the impact growing up in Los Angeles has had on his work. Bell’s Redcliff Residence (above) was part of the recent Dwell on Design house tours.
You opened your own Venice, CA-based design practice, DEX Studio in 1999 after you graduated from with a degree in architecture from USC. How do you think being based in California has influenced your work? Growing up in California has had a tremendous impact on my design approach. My earliest memories are of my home life around a large patio, a pool, and a yard full of fruit trees.
This connection between interior and exterior spaces continued throughout grade and high school. The school I attended had a campus designed in part by A. Quincy Jones. The grounds were a series of spaces that were centered around small courtyards. The post and beam architecture included vast walls of glass and flat roofs nestled within eucalyptus trees. To this day, my designwork centers around connecting interior and exterior spaces. This sensibility has developed into a philosophy of interacting with the environment through designed forms. My schooling at USC focused on finding ways to define shelter and its interaction with the environment. This includes using natural elements around a site to inform, animate, and provide comfort for the user.
The Redcliff Residence was designed for John Shields. a concept site planner for theme parks and his partner, artist/illustrator Nat Reed. The property is steeply sloping with Nat’s studio at street level and the more private sections of the house travelling up the hill. How did the sloping sight effect your design? The site offered an opportunity to maximize desirable views and bring in a better quality of light for the owner. The existing home had all of the elements of a modern design including a minimal geometry and extensive use of glass. Unfortunately, the two buildings were originally sited to maximize the square footage, not to create the best space for the home-owner. In addition, the existing windows let in too much heat, glaring light, and unattractive views of neighboring houses. These factors made the program more complex and rich. It developed in a way to use the whole site to connect a series of outdoor spaces with the existing and remodeled architecture. We took advantage of the topography of the site to highlight the best city and neighborhood views, while screening less attractive areas.
We implemented overhangs and operable glazing to reduce the heat load and glare on the interior space. We then provided a passive cooling system to draw airflow up from the lower spaces of the house into the second floor, thereby cooling the entire house. The owner’s landscape design softens the geometry of the architectural elements through animated movement of leaves, plants, and flowers. Inside the home, no two rooms are alike in view, light quality, or orientation. You are compelled to move from space to space throughout the day to take advantage of what each space has to offer.
Was there a conscious decision to separate the live and work spaces on the property? The accessory space on site helped the decision to keep the scale of the house modest and to separate the uses between work and live. The distinction is made more clear when you leave the home and travel through a landscaped walkway to get to the work studio at a lower elevation. It’s not a bad commute.
How does the use of texture in this home – with its detailed exterior screens, timber-lined internal walls connect to your larger body of work? I always work with texture. We prefer working with natural materials that express an honesty and quality through their imperfect attributes.
Balance, Design, Products
July 11, 2011
Well, we’ve now made it even easier for you to get through to us – and each other. There’s a new Q&A feature over on the store that lets you ask us anything about any of the products sold. We’ll answer but we’re encouraging all of you to get involved too. Need to find out how to clean the aluminum on your Aeron? Or how to set the height of your new SAYL chair? Maybe you’ve got a great tip on how to organize a George Nelson Swag Leg Desk? Or you found the perfect use for the Eames Molded Plywood Screen? Whether you’ve got a question or an answer we’d love to hear from you. Just look for the Product Q&A link right below the item’s description.