Archive for the Architecture, interiors and design Category

All the stars (The Wealth Collection)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Just how many luxury hotels can a single small island support? With the number of hotel rooms in New York City set to soar past 90,000 next year, and with the Manhattan landscape changing fast to accommodate the most luxurious, it’s possible to imagine a time when the steel and glass canyons of the central grid system will be populated almost exclusively by well-heeled short stay visitors and businessmen. Welcome to the new New York City…

This year has seen the opening of an astonishing amount of five star deluxe properties: two Andaz hotels, a new W, a new Gansevoort, an Intercontinental, the Trump Soho, and the Chatwal. Each is attempting to bring more to the city than just a decent square footage of bedroom with en suite. In an echo of the 1920s, when New York social life revolved almost exclusively around hotels, these new – or in some cases reinvented – properties are cultural magnets for tourist and locals alike. They raise the bar, make headline news and reinvent whole districts.

The new Andaz and W hotels that opened this year are integral to the rejuvenation of the financial district after dark. The Andaz Wall Street is one of the finest, and most progressive hotels in the city – complimentary minibars and wifi come as standard, and the rooms are immense. Instead of a TV shoved against a wall, there’s an island work station that enhances the feeling of space. It’s a sleek, pared-down, modern residence. The BLT Bar & Grill at the new W, a few blocks away, is perhaps the best restaurant in the neighbourhood, serving refined but muscular comfort food: filet mignon; macaroni and comté gratin… It’s all done so perfectly, and is a blessing for the hedge funders who recently snapped up real estate in the area. If everything in the vicinity of Seaport is off your radar, readjust your sights.

Just as the Meatpacking district (or MePa, as some are determined to call it) seemed to have peaked and was being handed over to the declassé bridge and tunnel crowd, Andre Balazs’s Standard (technically ‘thestandard’, and if we’re being pernickety that should be read upside down) developed a spectrum of intense social scenes this year and rebooted it. From its beer garden to offbeat bingo nights and the rooftop Le Bain ‘invited guests’-only parties ‘curated’ by Le Baron’s André Saraiva, Balazs creates buzz after buzz. He also continues to court notoriety: although The Standard has stopped actively encouraging exhibitionism by its guests in glass-fronted bedrooms overlooking the new public High Line park space, the New York Post’s website still has a gallery of past peepshow escapades.

Far away from the bottle service and velvet ropes of the Meatpacking district, the Ace Hotel has its spiritual home in the indie-rock hipster milieu of Portland Oregon. The new New York outpost is no different, but it’s anything but a slouch. Think of it as a Chelsea Hotel for the ambition-driven 21st century. Along with the painstakingly studied letterpress-style typography, the urban art in the lobby and the industrial-chic utilitarian bedrooms, the Ace has imported the Stumptown Coffee crew. That line that you see snaking out of the door and along W29th street every morning is for the best latte in the country, served by bearded, tattooed, flat-cap wearing boys in braces. The Ace has injected high style adrenalin into a previously dead block of perfume wholesaler and florists. On-site are the pitch-black booths of the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar – Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield’s newest installments in their growing foodie empire. Next door are branches of Project 8 and Opening Ceremony, two of the most directional of the city’s boutiques. The Ace is a microcosm of contemporary New York City: a midtown, glossy redux of downtown cool.

There was a time when genuine downtown hotels were a rarity. When the Soho Grand opened in 1996, it was almost shocking to be able to bed down between the lofts and galleries. Now the area is infested with boutique properties alongside Banana Republic, J Crew and Apple. The Soho Grand’s designer, William Sofeld – who also works regularly for Tom Ford – remembers that it was a difficult as well as radical addition to the area. ‘There was a lot of resistance to development in the neighbourhood,’ he says. ‘But people were relieved when we opened. We respected the roots of what was unique to the neighbourhood, incorporating the works of local artists and artisans.’ The industrial-plush bent of the interior, including the Grand Street sidewalks’ round glass tiling, has always been in sync with SoHo, and this summer Sofeld returned to create a sumptuous Club Room and a floor of masculine, plush suites, with cine-screen Macs and coffee tables made from recycled newspaper. The hotel has never slipped off the cultural radar for festivals and, in particular, Fashion Week parties. ‘The paramount rule in my book is to create something that has a legacy,’ says Sofeld.

The new Manhattan hotel scene is radically different from the Ian Schrager era, when your room was the size of a postage stamp and you couldn’t actually visit the bar in your own hotel because of a private event. There’s too much choice out there for that to have remained the status quo. It’s now all about rooftop pools, shopping (The Plaza’s Assouline book store is the best thing about it), public bars and restaurants. Celebrity chef Todd English’s August opening at the new Intercontinental on Times Square, Ça Va, is his best kitchen yet, with a confident American take on classic brasserie fare, like roasted lamb ‘French dip’ that appears burger-like, with a side order of mildly curried potato chips. At the same time, the best ultra fine dining restaurants in the city are within the confines of the most polished hotels. The two Michelin-starred GILT (no lower case letters for this restaurant!) at the New York Palace Hotel is housed within the most imposing wood-panelled room of the old Villard Mansion, and Justin Bogle’s degustation menu, from hamachi sashimi to chocolate Liège waffle, represents the city’s most reliable excuse to dress up for dinner. Meanwhile, taking a kitchen-counter seat at the Manhattan outpost of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, on the second floor of the Four Seasons, is to be ringside for the finest chefs in action in the city. Keith McNally may be able to command a hipper, impossible-to-book scene downtown, but the food within the classic, I.M. Pei designed Four Seasons is superlative – you’ll know and worship the burger and the butter-rich potato emulsion already from London and Tokyo, so try the sea bass with lemongrass foam and amadai in yuzu broth. This is food sorcery and practical magic. Then of course there’s Adour at the St Regis, still the most enjoyable, sophisticated but relaxed dining experience in the Ducasse empire.

Many of the best hotel dining experiences replicate or interpret European classics, but it’s always refracted through a New York lens. Upper East Side native Tony Chi may well be the most Manhattan of hotel and restaurant designers, and certainly one of the most prolific. His designs for the new Andaz 5th Avenue, opposite the iconic New York Public Library, are typically clean, with high ceilings, huge windows and modernist expanses of uninterrupted surface, structurally ‘a reference to pre-war New York apartments’. His design for Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental – still one of the most consistently impressive Asian-fusion restaurants anywhere – treats the Central Park South vista as an opera, and the dining tables as a cloud level dress circle. ‘I’m trying to make design less visible,’ says Chi.  ‘Invisible design is what touches you rather than what you see.’ Brunch at Asiate is a definitive only-in-Manhattan experience.

If there’s one style that continues to define Manhattan, it’s Art Deco. New York City as we know it was invented in the 1920s and 1930s, when industrialists forged it with ego-driven skyscrapers, gilt and streamlined marble lobbies. Some of the newest hotel projects are a sensitive update on the look, each of them with the sheen and glow of a beautifully crafted jewel box. The Chatwal recently opened within the chaos of Times Square and the theatre district; its lobby is reminiscent of a fin de siècle ocean liner, and the fittings in its rooms echo vintage fine leather steamer trunks (but the Toto Japanese washlet toilets are very 21st century). General Manager Joel Freyberg believes deco has an emotional significance for the city. ‘It harks back to the end of the great depression,’ he says. ‘The mood of the city was on the rebound. People wanted to relax and enjoy all that life has to offer. It’s timeless and chic.’ The Mark hotel on the Upper East Side reopened recently after an extensive refurbishment by Jacques Grange – famous for his work for YSL and Pierre Bergé. It’s an exquisite experience, with black and white striped marble bathrooms and lobby, and a Jean-Georges Vongerichten dining room that is incandescent with glamour; impeccably coiffed old money and visiting celebrities tuck nightly into refined versions of steak house classics and Grand Marnier soufflé.  A short stroll away, Le Caprice has set a radically different visual pace for the reopened Taj Pierre hotel: step away from the Italianate trompe l’oeil lobby and into the bold monochrome outpost of the London original. The transition is as dramatic as a scene from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook The Thief; the new room is cool and long, with shiny black walls and David Bailey photo flourishes from the 60s. Eating fish and chips after a dry martini (gin based, of course) with a plate of Pimms jelly to follow at Le Caprice might be a quintessentially London experience, but here on Central Park, surrounded by Condé Nast fashion editors and society grand dames with immaculately Elnetted hair-dos, it becomes quintessentially Manhattan. And that’s the magic of the best hotels in New York – you can’t get that high gloss, dynamic Gotham feeling anywhere else in the world.

Mark C.O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of Delta Airlines. Delta now fly three times daily, direct, from London to New York with fully flat bed seats, each with direct aisle access, in BusinessElite. www.delta.com; 0845-600-0950

Choc tactics (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Weekday afternoons at the tiny Mast Brothers chocolate factory in Brooklyn are a family affair. A close-knit team of ten sit down for lunch before Rick Mast and his wife take turns, along with friends and brother Michael, hand-wrapping chocolate bars in exquisitely patterned papers. The Mast Brothers operation is one of a growing number of small-scale, young chocolatiers who have a fresh, contemporary style of presentation as well as an innovative, artisanal approach to production.

Many of the new brands are bringing aspects of fashion and graphic design to the table. While the Mast Brothers have been celebrated by foodies as the sole bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in the US, and had most of their kitchen hardware designed and created exclusively for them, they’ve also captured the imagination of the hipster neighbourhood of Williamsburg – they look like Amish Comme des Garçons models and have been feted for their natty attire, luxuriant beards, and choice of typography as much as for their wonderfully pure dark chocolate with fleur de sel. More tellingly, they are Thomas Keller’s source of choice for chocolate dishes at Per Se and French Laundry.

‘We started off by wrapping our chef’s kilo bars in butcher paper,’ says Rick Mast. ‘And then found some old vintage Italian papers from New York Central Art Supply to wrap the smaller bars in. But that was dead stock, and our dream was always to design everything ourselves. So we design and print everything with our friends. We’re not businessmen with marketing majors, we just like the imagery and the typography that we’ve used. We have an appreciation for an old world aesthetic and the handcrafted. It’s one of the reasons why we created a chocolate with Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland – they have a similar ideology.’

Mast Brothers’ chocolate ($10/bar) sells extremely well at the Manhattan branch of Stumptown Coffee, where each tattooed barista wears a variation on a 19th century pioneer-cool outfit with waistcoat, braces and flat caps. Twenty blocks uptown, at Bergdorf Goodman, Alice Chocolate ($30) has a very different, but no less distinctive look. Alice is a Swiss product that echoes the minimalist sleek and impact of Chanel: each stark white flip-box has the silhouette portrait of a young girl on the front and contains five slender silver bars of Wild Amazonian Criollo 68% dark chocolate. The high style, glossy milieu of Bergdorf’s is its ideal home.

Many of the most interesting arrivistes to the world of haute chocolate have direct links with fashion. The scene at Cocomaya in London’s Connaught Street, is colourful, gossipy and very chic – all zesty acid colours and gold cups. The café is a favourite hub for high tea, thanks to the bonhomie of cofounders Joel Bernstein, former head of concept at Liberty, and luxury accessories designer Walid al Damirji. They create incredible chocolate – their passionfruit, olive oil and fig and sugar-free rose ganaches have customers ordering large bright orange selection boxes (£36) – and they have just launched a collection of colourful bars, adorned with bright florals and butterflies. They’ve worked with Manolo Blahnik on a chocolate shoe and have just opened a concession – Chocolate Wonderland – at Liberty.  ‘We’re very image conscious,’ says Bernstein. ‘The aesthetic is very important for us – our background in fashion brings a unique attention to detail. And we like kitsch.’

The artist Andreas Gratze has created all of the imagery for Zotter, the Austrian bean-to-bar company that specialises in offbeat but delicious ‘hand-scooped’ slabs (£3.25) that coat layers of fruits and other ingredients (including Scotch Whisky and Peanuts and Ketchup) in couverture. Collectors of Gratze’s work ensure they buy and keep the wrapper from every new bar that appears, and rather like buying someone a box set of anything else, gifting a set of 10 or 20 different bars is as exciting for the aesthete as it is the gourmet. His work has something of the flourish of the graphic novel about it, particularly the voluminous male and female silhouettes on Zotter’s Rose and Basil bar. The imagery on the Labooka bars have the essence of vintage fashion illustration, with a man’s hand, in a floral-printed Edwardian-style smoking jacket, reaching onto the petals of a rose on the wrapper for the Bouquet of Flowers duo bars.

Both Mariebelle founder Maribel Lieberman, and Chantal Coady, who established Rococo, the UK’s default high end chocolatier, have backgrounds in textiles. Lieberman grew up amidst the cacao fields of Honduras but moved to New York City to study fashion at Parsons. She segued into food ten years ago when she opened Maribelle in NoLita, selling chocolates emblazoned with fashion illustrations. ‘The images were based on my lifestyle in New York,’ she says. ‘The pistachio ones had hats and mannequins on, and the espresso one has a woman walking energetically in the street. When I first started it was very hard to put the graphics on the chocolates and I had them done in Europe. Now we do it in house, but it’s still very complex – each colour is its own layer, and takes 24 hours to dry. The lavender has five colours, so takes five days to do.’ Boxes at Mariebelle range from four pieces ($14) to 100 ($260).

The blue and white antiquarian literary illustrations on the packaging at Chantal Coady’s Rococo have become as classic as Coca Cola in many discerning households. This year, they redesigned 18 of the bars with a distinctively different look. ‘I was looking out of the window on to the Moroccan garden at our Motcomb Street store, staring at the patchwork of different colours in the tiling,’ recalls Coady. ‘I had a lightbulb moment.’ The result was a collection of bars with emotive colours and patterns, including spicy orange for chilli pepper and crystalline blue and white for sea salt. For Christmas, Rococo will be producing gift sets containing three bars (£14.50).

Reinvigorating an established brand is one thing, creating one from scratch is another. Curious Chocolate was set up last year by Ben Bailey and quickly found favour at Terence Conran’s Albion deli in Shoreditch as well as at Harvey Nichols and now John Lewis. As well as high quality bars (£3.50) of dark, milk, white, marmalade, crystallised ginger and caramalised almond, Bailey produces boxes of truffles and wafers (£9.95), each instantly identifiable by its retro letterpress-style packaging. ‘I found a tiny shop in Amsterdam with drawers full of all kinds of print block,’ says Bailey. ‘The images that stood out were locks, keys, pigeons and cutlery, all of which we’ve used. The graph-paper graphics lend an air of nostalgia, and I found the typeface in an obscure magazine when I was getting my hair cut. Then we chose sophisticated chocolatey colours, with a flash of fluoro pink to keep it fresh and modern.’

Some chocolatiers are creating whole retail environments as well as products. The space-age Chocolate Research Facility in Singapore has more in common with the high concept beauty interior of its neighbour Aesop than it does with a traditional confectionary store. And the 100% Chocolate Café in Tokyo is another sweet-toothed destination that chimes more with stark, clinical and directional parfumeries than with candy vendors. The stand-out item at the café is 365 Days Chocolates, a novel gift that allows you to order a year’s supply of chocolate, month on month (5,500 ¥/£41 per month). There are 56 styles of chocolate (from single-bean to fruit and herb) that appear throughout the calendar, and each is dated in sharp ITC Avant Garde Gothic type.

There’s more to modern chocolate than design, of course. The chocolatiers behind Choki of Brockley sell their pretty, artisanal, pink and gold embossed bars at London’s Greenwich Market, but also create fine preservative-free truffles with fresh cream to be consumed within a fortnight.

Melt is one of the smartest and most progressive chocolate shops in west London. They sell a range of Chef’s Chocolates (£10.50) created by some of the UK’s most renowned kitchens, including The River Café (a 75% bitter chocolate truffle from nine different beans) and Mark Hix (cider brandy). Each is packaged with Melt’s distinctive lower case type, as well as the collaborator’s logo.

Many of the most style-literate chocolatiers have embraced a sea change in chocolate tastes. As Daniel Sklaar of Fine & Raw in New York City says, ‘There’s a trend for darker chocolate, of course, but also single origin bars and an approach that provokes different levels of flavour. It’s more of a wine mentality. You might be a fan of Madagascar bars in the 80% range, or prefer 70% Ecuadorian.’ Sklaar’s attention to detail includes packaging with bold flowing lines: ‘Like the chocolate… simple ingredients with rich flowing flavours’. He claims to have traded a lifetime’s supply of chocolate for his company’s distinctive logo, created by lingerie designer and close friend Kristina Kaye.

Eco-awareness has had a radical effect on the look and taste of fine chocolates. Philipp Kauffmann co-founded Original Beans in 2008 and has just released a newly packaged range, the result of a collaboration with the Department of Graphic Sciences in Los Angeles. It’s intricate and rich and stylish, but also fits with the Original Beans ethos of ‘the planet: replant it’. ‘We wanted a tactile feel, with a lot of detail to discover,’ says Kauffmann. ‘It should feel as much like a gift to oneself as to others. It’s also a product entirely derived from trees – cacao beans, FSC certified cardboard, and wood cellulose foil.’  Original Beans’ Esmereldas Milk (£6) with fleur de sel and 42% cacao has a stand-out taste of creaminess and mild saltiness, but Kauffmann’s own favourite Original Beans product is the Cru Virunga (£6), which is produced on the fringes of the Virunga National Park, home to some of the poorest populace on earth. ‘We’ve started to introduce cacao and make this chocolate to restore livelihoods. And because of its quality, you can find it on the menu of Scott’s and the Ivy in London.’

The best modern chocolate tastes good, looks good and comes with a clear conscience. While the world’s best chefs may be drawn primarily by taste, and the likes of the Mast Brothers represent a new kind of foodie rock and roll, the smaller and more exclusive the operation, the more control the chocolatier has. Although Rick Mast sees the chocolate he produces as a proud Brooklyn phenomenon, from the roasting and winnowing of the beans to the wrapping, he also admits ‘there’s nothing local about chocolate’, because ultimately the beans don’t grow in New York City. ‘From next year we’re actually going to sail our beans here from South America to diminish oil abuse. We want to utilise the power of wind.’ The imagery of the chocolate box has changed radically, and at the same time, chocolate need no longer be a guilty pleasure.

STOCKISTS

Alice available from Bergdorf Goodman, 5th Avenue at 58th Street, New York City 10019 (+1 800 558 1855; www.bergdorfgoodman.com)

Cocomaya, 12 Connaught Street, London W2 (020-7706 2770; www.cocomaya.co.uk) and at Liberty, Great Marlborough Street, London W1(0207-734 1234; www.liberty.co.uk)

ChokiofBrockley stockists detailed at http://www.chokiofbrockley.co.uk

Curious Chocolate available by mail order at 01989 567132 (www.curiouschocolate.co.uk) and from John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, London W1  (0207-629 7711; http://www.johnlewis.com)

The Chocolate Research Facility, The Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture Plaza, 9 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore (+65 6338 5191; chocolateresearchfacility.com)

Fine and Raw available by mail order at http://www.fineandraw.com

Marie Belle, 484 Broome Street, New York City 10013 (+212 925 6999; www.mariebelle.com)

Mast Brothers available from Dean & Deluca, 560 Broadway, New York City 10012 (+212-226 6800; www.deandeluca.com) and from www.mastbrotherschocolate.com

Melt, 59 Ledbury Road, London W11 (0207-727 5030; http://www.meltchocolates.com)

100% Chocolate Café, 2-4-16 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (+81 3 3212 5025; http://www.meiji.co.jp/sweets/choco-café)

Original Beans global stockists detailed online at www.originalbeans.com (+646 894 2929)

Rococo, 5 Motcomb Street, London SW1 (0207-245 0993; http://www.rococochocolates.com).

Zotter available at branches of John Lewis and online at http://www.zotterchocolate.co.uk

Moving down a gear (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by markcoflaherty

There is little point in attempting to reinvent the wheel. The 130 year old ‘safety bicycle’ is a simple, perfect machine currently enjoying a long overdue renaissance. It’s enticing a new kind of rider onto the road and reinventing a culture that for years was dominated by fluorescent Lycra-clad 18-gear vulgarity. The most popular bikes for the contemporary urban rider are simple, largely single speed models that have infiltrated design stores and fashion shoots, and chime with a sunny, sepia-toned Continental dolce vita. These updated classic frames are as practical as they are beautiful. No fuss, minimal or no gears; get on and ride off.  Forget the aggressive trappings of the Tour de France; think instead of the freewheeling lovers in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and the romance of cruising in the open air. As James Thomas, product designer and editor of the influential website bicycledesign.net says, ‘People want objects that do one thing very well and don’t have a lot of extra features that just add clutter to their lives.’

Many of the most coveted bikes on the market have an impressive design pedigree. The Pedersen Model T (£1855) – based on Danish designer Mikael Pederson’s 1893 design – has the visual presence of an updated museum piece. Originally built in Gloucestershire at the turn of the 19th century, to very high specifications, manufacture is now in Denmark, though no less craft-intensive. Its look is thrillingly modernist, a whisper-thin crossbar angling upwards from the saddle at the top of a frame that resembles an artful bow and arrow. It’s also exceedingly comfortable, forcing you to sit pronouncedly upright.

‘Nostalgic bikes are actually a perfect fit for modern life,’ explains Tom Morris of the Islington cycle boutique Bobbin, the self-proclaimed ‘most beautiful bike shop in Britain’. ‘The chains are often covered so you don’t need trouser clips. You have mudguards, lights and broad handlebars for luggage. You can choose a step-through frame if you wear a skirt. It’s all pared down and functional.’ As well as selling their own brand of bikes – constructed by Pointer in Holland – Bobbin stocks the very popular entry-level Pashley, the Poppy (£435).  ‘It has straight handle bars so you sit a little more forward than usual and feel nippy through traffic,’ says Sian Emmison, Tom’s business partner and wife. ‘Also, it comes in blush pink and has cream tyres which is rather delicious.’

British heritage brand Pashley is one of the most renowned manufacturers of classic town bikes. ‘We’ve found that, all of a sudden, we’ve been “doing retro” for 84 years,’ says Pashley MD Adrian Mills. ‘The bikes seem to click with people’s imaginations. A daily commute through the city feels more like a Sunday ride down a leafy village lane.’

Pashley bikes are amongst the most popular at Adeline Adeline, a boutique-styled store that opened in New York’s Tribeca in May, aimed primarily at Manhattan businesswomen. It’s the first New York space to stock classic European frames. Owner Julie Hirschfield rides a Pashley herself, which she likes for its ‘stability and comfort’, but appreciates that some of the lighter-framed Abici bikes she stocks – the GranTurismo Donna and GranTurismo Uomo (both $950) – might be more suitable for New Yorkers with walk up apartments. ‘I ask people how they are going to use their bikes and where they live before making recommendations,’ she says. Adeline Adeline also stocks Biomega’s Amsterdam bike ($2000), a piston rather than chain-driven model with no exposed greased elements. Alongside this, there are carbon belt-driven bikes entering the market; unlike chains, the belts do not need to be changed every 30-50km. These new bikes are for people who don’t do maintenance.

In the window of Push, a new cycle store on London’s Newington Green, there is a latte-coloured Bianchi Pista Via Brera (£699) with cork grips and a light praline-toned suede saddle. It’s simple, slightly retro and so beautiful that it stops passing foot traffic. ‘Those bikes are like gold dust now,’ says Push’s proprietor Ciaran Carleton. ‘We’ve had so many people see it and come in who’ve never cycled before.’ Push is a paradigm of the new culture in bike retail. ‘I initially thought about having a sign above the door saying “no Lycra”,’ says Ciaran. ‘I’ve never liked bike shops. They’re stuck in the past. I used to work for Paul Smith and I wanted to open somewhere that would offer the same quality of service that you’d get if you go to Floral Street to buy a jacket. After all the expense is the same, if not more.’

Adeline Adeline is based on the same principal. The casual design-literate cyclist doesn’t necessarily know anything about mechanics and doesn’t want to. ‘I wanted a retail experience that made sense to me as a woman rather than going into a gritty and cluttered garage atmosphere,’ says Julie Hirschfield. Adeline Adeline have adopted a system first pioneered by Bobbin in London – the appointment-only, personalised consultation and test drive. As Sian at Bobbin says ‘It doesn’t have to be about talking techy. Sometimes it can just be about getting the right red bike to match your red jacket.’ Customers try out what looks good, and buy according to what feels right.

One of the first boutique-style cycle stores to appear in the UK was Velorution, which opened in London five years ago. ‘I’ve seen changes comparable to the development of the restaurant scene in the 80s,’ says owner Andrea Casalotti. ‘We’ve seen a huge boom in the number of riders, but also more interest in different designs. We’ve seen a lot more women come in. When we opened, the riders in London were probably 80% male, now we have more women customers than men.’ The Brompton, the award-winning British-designed fold-up bike (from £600) is a key functional and commercial success story at Velorution. It’s a bike that Castalotti believes ‘will end up in every home at some point’.

Many of those who will be taking advantage of the planned ‘cycling superhighways’ within central London, and who have been making use of the recently opened 170 extra miles of cycle lanes in Manhattan are part of the Bobbin, Adeline Adeline, Push and Velorution zeitgeist. They are more likely to own Dutch, upright, town bikes, not garish mountain ones. Some of them may be nostalgia enthusiasts who take part in the annual Tweed Run in London, meandering 12 miles through the capital in dapper attire, but more of them will be patrons of the recently opened Old Street café Look Mum, no Hands! where they can have a puncture fixed while working on their laptops with an espresso and a slice of millionaire shortbread. It’s a functional and stylish lifestyle enterprise on one of the capital’s main cycling arteries.

Patricia Barrameda is a Financial Services Manager at KPMG LLP and rides a limited edition Pashley Phantom Roadster, numbered 75 of 80; Bobbin continue to stock several versions of the original (£495-£615). She’s typical of the new urban cyclist. ‘I cycle because I gain a different perspective on the city than when travelling on foot or by tube,’ she says. ‘I also like the new London bike culture because it’s thriving and accepting of everyone and a bicycle can say a lot about a person, it becomes an expression of the individual.’

Barrameda was recently photographed with her Pashley by Marcus Ross, editor of the online style magazine Jocks and Nerds. He’s been working on a documentary project called LondonBikeStyle, shooting portraits of Londoners with their bikes. It’s a personal passion for Ross. He believes that cycling is the most sensible as well as handsome form of modern conveyance. ‘For all the engineering, technology and money bestowed on cars, it’s difficult to see how they function better than a bicycle. They’re certainly not quicker in London. I’ve often ridden several miles through the city and kept pace with or whizzed past a Porsche.’ One of Ross’s photo subjects is Sir Paul Smith, who has collaborated on two bike frames with Mercian and a sold-out limited edition striped saddle with Kashimax of Tokyo. Smith is a cycle devotee. ‘My love of cycling started when I was 11,’ he says. ‘And I think bikes are just getting more and more special and beautiful.’

The advances in design-led bike culture can be attributed partly to the style press. Liberated from its garish sporting shackles, cycling is more fashionable than it’s been in over 100 years, something that has prompted Giorgio Armani and Chanel to collaborate on long sold-out limited edition frames. Filmmaker and journalist Mikael Colville-Andersen set up the website Copenhagen Cycle Chic in early 2007, documenting riders going about their business in one of the most sophisticated cycle cultures in the world. Now there are similar websites documenting riders in cities from Japan to Canada. ‘It started when I took a picture of an elegantly poised Copenhagener at a red light,’ says Colville-Andersen. ‘I didn’t notice the bike. I just saw the morning light, the poise and the street. The photo proved to get a lot of attention on Flickr; so many people thought it was odd that the subject was wearing a skirt. I thought it was ridiculous because that’s how you ride, in your normal clothes.’

People are now, as Sian at Bobbin says, ‘buying bikes the same way they buy shoes, on impulse.’ And the accessories are just as desirable, from polka dot pannier bags to helmets disguised as bowler hats and stylish jackets cut from fabric that blends traditional tweed with high visibility reflective material. More than anything, the cycle revolution is happening because the bikes are beautiful and they fit with their owners’ lifestyles. People who never saw themselves as cyclists are being seduced by the healthy, eco-conscious ‘two wheels better’ ethos. As Mikael Colville-Andersen says: ‘Go and open your closet. It’s already filled with cycling clothes.’

Adeline Adeline, 147 Reade Street, New York NY 10003 (001 212 227 1150; www.adelineadeline.com)

Bobbin, 397 St John Street, London EC1V 4LD (020 7837 3370; www.bobbinbicycles.co.uk)

Look Mum No Hands, 49 Old Street, London EC1 9HX (020 7253 1025; www.lookmumnohands.com)

Pedersen Manufaktur, Kalle Kalkhoff, Donnerschweer Straße 45, 26123 Oldenburg (00 49 441 88 50 389; http://www.pedersen.info)

Push, 35c Newington Green, London N16 9PR (020 7249 1351; http://www.pushcycles.com)

Velorution, 18 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 8BD (020 7637 4004; www.velorution.biz)

LA interiors: Sam Nazarian (Sunday Times Style)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , on August 6, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Sam Nazarian is the new king of Hollywood nightlife. You might know him from cameo appearances on The Hills and Entourage, but LA’s A-list know him best as the Iranian-born jetsetter who owns and operates their favourite velvet-roped stomping grounds. From various branches of Katsuaya – the futurist-chic Japanese restaurants that have out-Nobu’d Nobu – to the SLS hotel, which opened last year in Beverly Hills, he’s the man making the scene in LA right now.

‘We’ve come a long way in a short time,’ says Nazarian. ‘Three years ago it was Paris Hilton turning up at Hyde (his 100-capacity, ultra exclusive hole in the wall lounge bar next to the Chateau Marmont), and this week we had the Beckhams having dinner with Kate Beckinsale at XIV (his lavish, highly acclaimed restaurant with chef Michael Mina). He counts many of his guests as close personal friends, including his neighbours in the Hollywood Hills: ‘Leo (nardo) and Toby (Maguire) live next door to me, we grew up together.’

Nazarian might be the man about town, and the brains of the club, hotel and restaurant operation, but it’s Philipe Starck who has given his company its look. ‘We’re creating the next generation of smart luxury with Starck,’ says Nazarian. ‘When he was working with Schrager some of those projects were done very cheaply, and I think he’s ready for the next chapter… a lot of people questioned my choice and said that Starck is finished, but I felt that he’s just beginning.’

Nazarian’s most exclusive venue is, undoubtedly, his home, which he built from scratch and which he moved to in 2007 after selling his previous mansion (which he bought from Jennifer Lopez) to Gwen Stefani. For his recent 34th birthday party (Nazarian is nothing if not a business prodigy) he threw a party for 175 guests on his pool deck overlooking the city. ‘This house has the best spot on the best ridge in the Hills,’ he says, which would, ipso facto, make it the best house in the city. But then, it’s only fitting that the king of Hollywood has the most impressive castle in La La Land.

INTERIORS

The furnishings in the guest bedroom are 1950s in style. ‘We’re a culture based on trends and cycles,’ says Sam. ‘The green upholstery is something you might see in my grandmother’s house, but it’s warm and comfortable.’ The photograph is by Slim Aarons. ‘His work gives me a peek into the 50s, yet some of the beach scenes could have been shot yesterday.’ A red leather chair is vintage Scandic from JF Chen in LA (www.jfchen.com); try www.danish-homestore.com in Nottingham for similar.

Sam Nazarian poses next to an artwork by Milton Glaser, the designer who created the ‘I love NYC’ graphic: ‘It was for my 30th birthday,’ says Sam. ‘He actually hates LA – the pink is supposed to be a Playboy Bunny colour and the grey is smog.’

Sam Nazarian describes his home style as ‘ a mixture of warm contemporary with mid century modern.’ The white oval dining table, by Eero Saarinen, is available from the Conran Shop (£4,395 for the same size as pictured; www.conranshop.co.uk). The chairs are a 1930 Brno design by Mies van der Rohe, made by Knoll. Beach stock reproductions in black or cream for £350 (www.beach.uk.com).

Nazarian has a sizeable collection of art – the triptych is by Kirtland Ash and the mirror by the entrance is a Jeff Koons.

Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made, including the armchair in the lounge. For similar styles try www.leatherdiningchair.co.uk. The black chandelier is a Zenith 24L by Philippe Starck for Baccarat and sells for over £25,000 from Baccarat in Paris. ‘I also have one of Starck’s gun lamps and a crystal floor lamp identical to one at the Delano hotel in Miami.’ Try www.chandeliersandmirrors.co.uk for a range of black crystal chandeliers, from £124.99.

Many of the walls in Nazarian’s lounge are covered floor to ceiling in framed family photographs: ‘Parts of my life that I never want to forget,’ he says.

The lounge opens up to a vast deck with an incredible view over West Hollywood and the rest of the city.  Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made. For similar low L-shaped sofas try the Como and Celano modular ranges at Bo Concept (www.boconcept.co.uk).

The house offers astounding privacy: ‘When I stand in the tub and shower I get to enjoy the view across the city but no one can see me because the house isn’t overlooked,’ says Sam. For a similar bath, try the Cleo Freestanding (£1771 from http://www.thelivinghouse.com).

When Nazarian has friends over for dinner, they invariably dine at the long dining table on the pool deck. He can also host up to 200 people for private parties. ‘This is actually a serene house for me, not a party house,’ he says. ‘There are stairs to the decking from the front of the house so that people don’t have to go through the house.’

Ballard of the motorway (Quintessentially)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by markcoflaherty

There’s an elephant in the room, hiding behind a sacred cow: JG Ballard wasn’t a particularly great writer. There were landmark novels but then there were airport thrillers let down by clunky prose and clumsy deus ex machina endings. What made him such a genius was a bold, glacial, prophetic style that had little to do with turns of phrase. Ballard was the urban soothsayer, armed with ideas that continue to manifest themselves in, and shape, the worlds of art and design. He is gone, but all around us.

Like ‘Kafkaesque’, ‘Warholian’ and ‘Jarmanesque’, ‘Ballardian’ has quickly passed into the lexicon of popular culture, describing a particularly modern dystopia of industrial landscapes and the effects on their inhabitants of technological, social or environmental depredations. Like Warhol, Ballard had a heightened awareness of the effects on British post-war society of developing technologies and media. He was also very conscious of Brand Ballard.  Like Jarman, he mapped out his physical territory with precision. Instead of Dungeness and burning Union Flags, he had Shepperton and car wrecks.  His imagery was potent, pernicious and miraculously ahead of the curve. He was punk before punk existed. Think of the Seditionaries period at McLaren and Westwood’s World’s End, with its intimidating frosted glass frontage, bombed out ceiling and civil unrest propoganda. ‘Why I want to fuck Ronald Reagan’ and ‘Plans for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy’ are chapter titles from The Atrocity Exhibition from 1970, but could just as easily have been World’s End T-shirt slogans six years later.

When Kingdom Come was published in 2006, it was easy to raise an eyebrow at the central conceit: society enslaved by consumerism and the shopping mall as fascist cathedral. It felt over-familiar, something revisited ad nauseum ever since George Romero set his slow-walking zombies loose in Dawn of the Dead in 1978. Two years later, in 2008, Westfield opened in London to a curiously hysterical press and public, in defiance of the implosion of global finance. The culture vacuum of Westfield is classic Ballard, from the LVMH and Gucci luxury stores at the Village, never troubled by more than a couple of bemused visitors a day, to its identikit All Saints and its multiplex cinema. Shoppers sleepwalk towards it, reassured by its shiny surfaces, distracted from shootings in the local Nandos. Across the Atlantic, the insular 1111 Lincoln Road development in Miami, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is gloriously Ballardian – effectively one big multi storey car park that also happens to be an apartment and retail complex. 1111 Lincoln Road is a place for cars rather than people.

Architecture is key to Ballardian philosophy, and he was one of the most high-profile members – along with Ian Sinclair and Will Self – of a loose collective of British literary psychogeographers. His perspective on urban planning and the motorways of the hinterland was contrary and radical. ‘He touched the imaginations of architects as diverse as Nigel Coates and Rem Koolhaas,’ says the Design Museum’s Deyan Sudjic. ‘They shared his interest in dystopia.’ Dystopia for Ballard wasn’t the traditional ghetto, defined by socioeconomic conditioning, it was the Costa del Gated Community and the ‘new town’ and how it altered the state of mind. He would have been enthralled by the Olympic developments, destined to become immense white elephants. Likewise the sleek overground trains which now run through a reinvented Dalston full of new build apartments with floor to ceiling glass and balconies, sterile and halfway to ethnic cleansing – Ballardian, all of it. It is the architecture of wealth, disenfranchising to the last brick.

The flipside of all of this can be found in the brutalism of Trellick Tower in W11 – once reviled, but now adored without much sense of irony by lovers of modernist design, its walkways reduced to a Margo Selby textile print used on luggage, ties and furniture. Meanwhile, Paramount, on the top floor of Richard Seifert’s rehabilitated 1960s Centre Point, has become one of the most desirable destination dining rooms – and sumptuous Ballardian experiences – in London.

Ballard was in love with roads and runways – transient zones. He believed the Westway should have extended right through NW1 and Hampstead. He embraced an unsettling future, and hungered for change. His favourite building in London was the Heathrow Hilton, designed by Michael Manser, which, he said, ‘resembles a cross between a brain surgery hospital and a space station. Sitting in its atrium one becomes, briefly, a more advanced kind of human being. Within this remarkable building one feels no emotions and could never fall in love, or need to.’ He wanted all of London to look like this, as if ‘everybody was getting ready to leave for Mars’.

Ballard’s attitude towards architectural design was wilfully anarchic and nihilistic: windows broken, swimming pools drained. We are so used to the cosy and preordained nature of interiors and architecture that dereliction and the ability to explore a space unintended for lingering has a dangerous frisson to it. It’s popular subject matter for contemporary art photographers. Dan Holdsworth – whose work will be appearing in this year’s Out of Focus: Photography Now show at the Saatchi Gallery in London –  creates gloriously light-saturated imagery of abandoned motorways, shot at slow speeds so that they take on a hyperreal quality. The light-sensitive materials in the camera work in a way that the eye cannot, creating a visual opera of yellow-striped concrete and starbursting streetlights. Troy Paiva, who documents crumbling, vacant American landscapes, shoots in a similar style, and has been profiled by the Ballardian.com website as a particularly Ballardian photographer. ‘There is that sense of desolation and isolation,’ Paiva says, ‘the fetishism of decay.’

The artist Roger Hiorns created what must surely be the most Ballardian piece of art in recent years. His Seizure installation, filling an abandoned council flat in Elephant & Castle with dazzling blue, alien-like crystals, was the very essence of The Crystal World (1966). There were layers and layers of Ballardian ideas present in a space that was as unsettling as it was beautiful. Hiorns has spoken of ‘the desire to capture the building, to impregnate it – introducing strangeness into a functional utilitarian space’, as well as a ‘pscyho-sexual element’ in the installation. ‘… introducing a liquid in the building so that the host environment is seeded, and then the crystal grows out… an aggressive process.’ The project strikes an amplified chord with the cinema of perennially Ballardian director David Cronenberg, the perfect choice of filmmaker for the 1996 big screen adaptation of Crash. His mid-70s film Rabid dealt with residents of a suburban high rise who turn into sex-crazed fiends when exposed to a fast-spreading virus, with obvious parallels to Ballard’s High Rise (1975). Cronenberg’s 1983 Videodrome created a world where pornography carries a deadly virus which causes its users to hallucinate and mutate. The latter film, along with much of Ballard’s more sexually aggressive work, predicts today’s world in which the internet has sexualised the media, and a whole generation, to a degree that would have been seen as science fiction in the 1970s: a world of Grindr casual-encounter iPhone applications and DIY suburban-pornstars getting their 15 minutes of fame on Xtube.com.

The Ballardian style was celebrated in the Crash show at the Kings Cross Gagosian gallery earlier this year, an exhibition which captured his aesthetic perfectly. Adam McEwen’s Honda Teen Facial – the undercarriage of a 747 –echoed Ballard’s self-staged Crash exhibition of car wrecks at the New Art Laboratory in 1970, while Chris Burden’s L.A.P.D. Uniform, an 88 inch high policeman’s boilersuit, loomed with menace and implicit violence. Plans are now afoot for a more underground – and literally subterranean – show in London, planned by Ballard’s partner Clare Walsh and artist Gee Vaucher, while Ballard continues to be namechecked by cultural commentators and artists dealing with subjects as diverse as postmodern architecture and reality TV.

Ballard’s vast body of work is a national treasure (his archive, which takes up 12 metres of shelf space, made its way into the British Library in June), but the Ballardian style was most succinctly nailed down by his poem What I Believe. ‘I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.’ From whorish media celebrity and legal highs to 9/11 TV footage, BP oil slicks, Cumbrian massacres and imploding, brutalist council estates, Warm Leatherette to Madonna’s Drowned World, road rage and beyond, his influence will continue to be seen and heard for decades to come.

Michael Nyman’s Mexico City (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Art, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 6, 2010 by markcoflaherty

“From the window of my house in the Roma district I can hear the continual sound of an ice cream van with a particular kind of repetitious chime. I’ve tried to transcribe it several times in my mind to work it into a piece of music but it hasn’t happened quite yet. At my other home, in Islington, the street is so quiet that a car horn would be dramatic, but in Mexico City it’s all noise, noise, noise – as London would have been in the 16th and 17th century. These are the cries of the city.

La Colonia Roma is full of local industry, artisanry and loud, drinking people. It’s a reality of existence that goes back decades and generations, and I really like that. The pavements look like they haven’t been repaired since the earthquake in 1985, just after I first came to Mexico City at the invitation of my artist friend Felipe Ehrenberg. The city blew my mind. I remember my first meal here with Felipe was at a Pre-Colombian restaurant where I ate fried grasshopper.

I have three terraces in the house looking out towards the downtown area. I hear the children playing in the primary school opposite my house, people selling corn on market stalls, and people singing out to the owners of empty gas bottles to come and have them refilled. I like to make secretive films of the old men and women walking around the streets with my little Leica, visually and conceptually self-contained pieces that I score myself while editing. When I’m making these films, music is the last thing I think of, but I’m the best filmmaker I’ve ever worked with – sometimes I sit at my piano for weeks trying to get the music right with a director and sometimes the negotiations break down and they find another composer.  When I work with myself here, I always make the right decision.

After my first visit to Mexico City I revisited every two or three years to play concerts and then three years ago came to play a solo date in Puebla and stayed on with Marc Silver and Max Pugh, who I work with on my personal film projects, to edit something. We stayed in the Hotel Condesa DF for a week having a really good time, and the experience introduced me to the experience of Mexico City as a resident rather than as a tourist.  The hotel is very elegant – it’s rather ‘boutiquey’, the rooms are nicely turned out and it and has a fantastic roof terrace. You can sit and have breakfast and bump into interesting people, like Rhys Ifans with Sienna Miller, or an American digital philosopher. I love the Condesa district, which is familiar but unfamiliar at the same time. There are elements of Hoxton in the way it’s been remodelled but it’s still Mexican rather than something that feels transplanted. It’s very vibrant, with dozens of restaurants and lots of nightlife. It has a strange combination of elegance, freedom and control.

The same people who own Condesa DF own the similarly contemporary Habita, which was the venue for a great party I went to and which, like the Condesa, has a fantastic roof terrace with a pool. The hotel restaurants in Mexico City are surprisingly good, the Mexicans tend to really enjoy them; I particularly like the Hip Kitchen and Bar at the Hotel Hippodrome.

In 2008 I came here to edit another film with Max and Marc and we set up in a large suite at the Red Tree House, which is a sort of post-hippie kind of hotel that reminds of being in Istanbul in 1966. I stayed on to look for a house, initially in Condesa and then in La Roma, where I found the perfect 1930s art deco place.

My whole life here is the reverse of what it is in London, where I protect my work and don’t socialise in the day. Here, I live outside and have lunch with friends and speak to people. There’s a brilliant old cantina quite near me that I like to go to called Covadonga. It used to be a typical hangout of old dominoes players but seems to have been taken over, not unacceptably, by a younger arty crowd.

There are a lot of extravagant individuals in Mexico City. There’s a fantastic French guy called Emamanuel Picault who has a design store called Chic by Accident. His furniture is brilliant but staggeringly expensive, but it doesn’t stop me buying it. I tell him how expensive I think it is and he just shrugs in that French way and says ‘yes… it is.’ He’s something of a design guru and created the interior for the very chi-chi French tea shop, Maison Francaise of Thé Caravanserai, which has excellent cakes.

I often take breakfast at a beautiful place called Casa Lamm. It’s very elegant and has an excellent art bookshop inside, Libreria Pegaso. It’s a cultural centre, in a classic 19th century building, with a glassed-in restaurant very stylishly added on. There’s also Atrio, a short walk away, which is a café with a lot of tables on the street and three-piece suites inside with books on shelves, all for sale. They also have regular live jazz there.

My favourite fish restaurant in La Roma is Contramar, which is only open until 6.30pm, and which might well be the best quality restaurant in the whole city. I also love Pesces, partly because it’s so close to my house. Outside the restaurant there’s a sign that reads ‘the only restaurant in Mexico City not owned by Carlos Slim.’ Pesces is a tiny space with tables outside and live music. It’s run by a wonderful middle-aged woman called Teresa who sings every Friday night. After just a few days of living here I felt like a family friend. There are some artists who frequent the restaurant that I’m acquainted with, and the film director Carlos Reygadas, who made the best film I have seen in the last 20 years, Silent Light, is a regular.

The best thing I have discovered in La Roma is Mercado Medelin, the most immense fruit and veg market. It’s utterly fantastic and has eight or so restaurants inside. It’s great to wander around in and find ten different varieties of mango.

There’s a café and bookshop close by called El Péndulo which has a fantastic collection of Spanish language books that make me realise how relatively uncultivated Britain is in terms of the number of foreign language books that are translated into English. I have a hankering to learn Spanish, which I still don’t know, in order to read books translated from German and Croatian that aren’t available in English. A strange reason to learn, I suppose, as the most usual reason would be to be able to explain to the cleaner what needs doing. They have a bookcase with English language title books and I think if I lived there permanently, its turnover would be enough to satisfy me. The second time I went in I was amazed that they had three copies of my book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, sitting next to Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche. I had my photograph taken in front of them. I doubt it was ever restocked.

I sometimes force myself to be a tourist for an afternoon, and leave La Roma. There are fantastic museums and churches that I still haven’t been to. Obviously every time you come to Mexico City you should visit the Frida Kahlo museum and Trotsky’s House – where he was assassinated by a Russian agent with an ice pick in 1940 – and I think the best way to understand the Mexican people is to go to Alameda park, where everyone hangs out.

I have a great desire to play in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, facing Alameda Central. It’s a most beautiful art deco theatre and it also has a great art bookshop inside. On the other hand, you could lose yourself in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (the National Museum of Anthropology) for days. Every region in Mexico has its own room, and it makes you realise that the British Museum’s Montezuma exhibition was very Eurocentric.

I prefer to stay within La Roma – I feel totally self sufficient there. I could live in Polanco, with the Armani and Gucci shops, but I’d forget I was living in Mexico City – it could be Milan. Santa Fe is interesting for it its high-rise tower blocks if you have an interest in contemporary architecture, but I’d never live there. I like to photograph and shoot films in the streets where I am.

One of the best things about the city is that it invites you into a social scene much more quickly, directly and effortlessly than somewhere like London, where everyone welcomes you and pushes you away at the same time. I have met the most wonderful people here, and had the most extraordinary experiences. I went to a party held by an art book publisher and the next day my hosts invited me to Plaza Mexico, the largest bullring in the world, to see a bullfight. They are season ticket holders. I hate bull fighting but I went along and took my Leica and shot an anti-bullfighting film by removing the bull from every shot. I made a study of the men in the red jackets and trousers who repaint the white lines in the ring and respread the sand after each fight.

I recently made a short film of a guy pushing a cart through the streets of La Roma, and it highlighted my preconceptions and cultural misinterpretations of the city. I’d assumed he was dispossessed and carrying all of his possessions with him. Three of his bags fell off and a dustman picked then up and threw them into his dustcart. I thought he was throwing the man’s belongings away, mistaking them for rubbish. I showed it to a friend who explained to me that I’d got it wrong – the man with the cart was collecting rubbish for the dustbin men, and being paid to do it. I can’t imagine how he knew where the dustmen would be, but this is what happens. There’s a whole dustcart culture here that’s really worthy of study. Like so many things in Mexico City, it’s entirely unique.”

HOTELS

Prices are for a double room per night with breakfast.

Habita, Avenida Presidente Masaryk 201 (+52-55 5282 3100; www.hotelhabita.com), from $175 (about £109).

Hotel Condesa DF, Avenida Veracruz 102 (+52-55 5241 2600; www.condesadf.com), from $175 (about £109).

The Red Tree House, Culiacan 6 (+52-55 5584 3829; www.theredtreehouse.com) from $50 (about £32).

RESTAURANTS AND CAFES

Prices are for a three-course meal with half a bottle of wine, unless stated

Atrio, Orizabo 127 (+52-55 1054 7250).

Casa Lamm, Alvaro Obregon 99 (+52-55 5514 8501), about £20.

Contramar, Avenida Durango 200 (+52-55 5514 9217), about £30.

Covadonga, Puebla 121 (+52-55 5533 2922).

Hip Kitchen and Bar, Hotel Hippodrome, Avenida Mexico 188 (+52-55 1454 4599), about £25.

Maison Francaise of thé Caravanserai, Calle Orizaba 101-A (+52-55 5511 2877).

Pesces, Jalapa 237 (+52-55 8596 9004), about £20.

SHOPS

Chic by Accident, Alvaro Obregon 49 (+52-55 5511 1312).

El Pendulo, Nuevo León 115 (+52-55 5286 9493)

SIGHTS

Museo Frida Kahlo, Londres 247 (+52-55 5554 5999); Tue-Sun 10am-5.45pm.

The Leon Trotsky Museum, Viena 45 (+52-55 5554 0687); Tue-Sun 10am-5pm.

Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Paseo de la Reforma y Gandhi (+52-55 5533 6381); Tue-Sun 9am-7pm.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Avenida Juárez y Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas (+52-55 5130 0900); Tue-Sun 10am-6pm.

Plaza Mexico, Augusto Rodin 241 (+52 55 5563 3961)

LESS THAN AN HOUR AWAY

Xochimilco is 17 miles south of the city centre and is all that remains of a time when Mexico City was originally built on water by the Aztecs. The area looks  like, and functions like, Venice – visitors explore the artificial islands and canals in brightly decorated boats. It’s quite surreal.

WHEN TO GO

The weather is warm but changeable year-round. July-September are the wettest months and best avoided. The high altitude keeps mornings and evenings consistently cool.

HOW TO GET THERE

Air France (0871 66 33 7777; www.airfrance.co.uk) flies twice daily to Mexico City from Heathrow via Paris to Mexico City, from £546 return.

Lufthansa (0871 945 9747; www.lufthansa.com) flies daily from Heathrow to Mexico City via Frankfurt, from £633 return.

Sam Nazarian’s nouveau nightlife (Aston Martin magazine)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Dorothy Parker’s jibe about Los Angeles being ‘seventy-two suburbs in search of a city’ has been a truism for over a century, but the landscape is changing. The home of film and television is morphing into a different kind of influential cultural force, from the regeneration of Downtown and the expansion of the Pacific Design Center to the work of Michael Govan at the LACMA and the arrival of Jeffrey Deitch at the MoCA. Arts aside, no one has done more in recent years to give downtime in the city a provocative and distinctive look than Sam Nazarian. His SBE group includes four Katsuya restaurants, the haute dining rooms XIV and The Bazaar, three Hyde lounges and the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. While his short-term aims have been to reinvent the leisure industry in Los Angeles, his vision is global, and he curates every design aspect of his growing empire masterfully.

Iranian-born 35-year old Nazarian has an acutely visual way of working. His home in the Hollywood Hills, sprawling across 6,000 square feet and cantilevered from a cliff face, embraces a multitude of fantasies of Californian living, from the Rat Pack to David Hockney’s Bigger Splash. His pool deck can entertain 200 guests, he has his own screening room complete with classic Cretor popcorn machine, and the panoramic view through floor to ceiling glass from his lounge evokes architectural photographer Julius Shulman’s most glamorous work. On one wall hangs a birthday present from Milton Glaser, the designer who created the iconic ‘I love NYC’ logo; it’s an LA version of the same piece but against a graduated tone of pink and grey. ‘Milton hates LA,’ explains Nazarian, ‘the pink is supposed to be a Playboy Bunny colour and the grey represents the smog.’

Nazarian, of course, loves LA. He’s hard-wired-in to its culture of celebrity. On the desk in his bedroom there is a framed picture of him courtside at a basketball game sitting with David Beckham. He’s appeared onscreen in The Hills and Entourage, playing himself. This is his milieu, and sets the criteria and parameters of SBE. ‘This city is home to 70% of the celebrities you see in the media every day,’ he says. ‘But it’s never really had a central heartbeat, like Manhattan or London. When I started this business eight years ago I looked at the world of design and LA was light years behind. I aimed to change that by bringing the right people here.’

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Nazarian’s enterprise is that the key Right Person for him was Philippe Starck who was commissioned to generate the bulk of the Nazarian Look. A curious choice perhaps – after all, Starck was firmly aligned with Ian Schrager and the Morgans hotels, and his brand of surreal wit can seem passé and horribly over familiar next to the likes of Marcel Wanders or Droog. ‘A lot of people questioned my choice of Starck,’ says Nazarian. ‘Many feel he’s over, but I think he’s just beginning. We’ve proven that with the SLS, XIV and Katsuya. We’ve given him the scope for much more creativity than he’s had in the past. A lot of those initial projects with Schrager were very low-budget.’

Starck’s SBE projects are anything but thrifty. The SLS hotel in Beverly Hills is intended to be the first in a chain to rival the Four Seasons rather than a louche, over-grown boutique stunt. It feels grown-up. Starck’s work has always been most successful with either a light touch (the Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires) or a grand scale (the Delano in Miami) and the SLS falls between the two. The hotel’s launch at the end of the 2008 may well come to be seen as the moment that the Starck aesthetic passed from iconoclastic to modern classic.

Nazarian has cleverly forced function to dictate the way the SLS works. It’s not all about the lobby. There’s an outdoor living room richly furnished with oversized plant pots and couches that look like they’ve been designed for a Sun King in Space. In a city of constant sunshine that lives outside as much as it does in, it’s a clever, flexible area: Aston Martin launched the Rapide here last November. It’s also a pleasant café in which to work on a MacBook and a practical place to wait for valet parking. The indoor public spaces are aggressively contemporary but also deeply plush and serene – the non-stop late 90s lobby party has been moved next door, to Jose Andres’ buzzing molecular gastronomy restaurant, the Bazaar (the most financially successful restaurant, in terms of profit per square foot, in the States). The guest rooms are slick but subdued, and without the baffling bells and whistles of over-designed utilities. The open-air rooftop pool sells the hotel on image alone: the cabanas and immense baroque-style mirrors that disguise the balcony structure are inspired and chic and guests aren’t elbowed out by twentysomething local hipsters in stupid little hats. There isn’t a pool “scene”, it’s for residents only.

Nazarian’s XIV restaurant, billed in foodie auteur terms as ‘…by Michael Mina’, has a stately feel. Starck has created a ‘European chatueau’, albeit one that combines elements of futurism with Versailles. It might be considered a gentleman’s club with a flamboyant penchant for Murano goblets. The most striking element of XIV is the exterior – the structure is a bold reductionist grey squared-off bunker with the restaurant’s name/logo grown neatly in green foliage beside the door. Nestled between the Chateau Marmont and Nazarian’s original Hyde nightclub – the quintessential bottle service lounge, where waitresses light sparklers and parade from bar to table to herald the popping of each new cork – XIV is designed to be a one-off, or at least the first in a very limited edition. Katsuya, conversely, has been conceived as a chain.

Executive chef Katsuya Uechi’s involvement in the project has brought gravitas to the cuisine, but Katsuya is branded as being ‘…by Starck’, the designer’s logo incorporated into the restaurant’s. These rooms are, perhaps, his finest interiors work to date: holistic, futurist zen-tinged spaces that make the idea of eating contemporary Japanese food exciting and glamorous and which don’t regurgitate any of the predictable Starck canon. You don’t feel assaulted by Alice in Wonderland kitsch or confused by the chairs, instead there are pared-down counter areas and quiet booths, and a palette that is all-white, with graphic wall-sized back-lit high-contrast, extreme close up beauty shots of geisha girls. It’s pop, but it’s appealing rather than grating. ‘We’ve created a brand by using the model of Nobu and then pushing the envelope,’ says Nazarian. More Nobu than Nobu? Maybe.

Nazarian is sticking with Starck, but not exclusively. A rocky economy necessitated a slow down of expansion plans in 2009 and right now the focus is back on nightlife, but with a typical emphasis on all things visual – a new club space, Industry, opened in March with an art deco influenced interior and an intent to capture ‘the spirit of the exclusive Hamptons lifestyle.’ He launched MI-6 last September with a ‘multimedia environment’ designed by Montreal-based company MomentFactory, best known for their work with Cirque du Soleil. Shortly afterwards, a branch of Hyde opened at Staples Center and another at ski resort Mammoth Mountain. Nazarian still has the immensely successful Abbey bar in West Hollywood in his portfolio, continues to keep one foot in Las Vegas (where he owns the Sahara Hotel & Casino and spends at least one night a week), and remains involved in film production and real estate. New York, predictably beckons, but he’s looking for the right project. He’s honing the SBE brands right now while planning to turn the Sahara into an SLS, as well as opening up another in South Beach, Miami next year. The ultimate goal remains, of course, to take his distinctively LA lifestyle product and to export it to the rest of the world. A little bit of Hollywood can go a long way.

Harris Tweed (Quintessentially)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Fashion with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by markcoflaherty

No textile, apart from the kind that grows around a pair of bright Bambi eyes and Maybelline lashes, carries quite the emotional weight as Harris Tweed. Beloved of the Victorian country gent and produced exclusively by just three mills in the Outer Hebrides, this raw-looking wool has a texture akin to something that Rei Kawakubo may have magicked up at her most inventive, while at the same time reflecting the mossy wind-blasted colours of the Hebridean landscape… oranges, blues, emeralds and pinks; as dense as they are bright; masculine and warm. It’s impossible not to love.

A new wave of designers are reclaiming Harris Tweed from the deathly shortbread gift shops north of the border and are taking it on more inspiring creative journeys.  Earlier this year Ann MacCallum of the label Hebridean Dreams created a Harris Tweed wedding dress for the singer Alyth McCormack; a butter-soft, white, lamb’s wool weave that was fashioned into an elegant sleeveless, flowing gown. In terms of subverting expectations, it was akin to Jeff Koons creation of inflatable children’s pool toys out of dense metal, though infinitely more practical. MacCallum has also been working with a denser, grey version of Harris Tweed on more traditional, but no less contemporary, pieces, including dramatic, ankle-length overcoats with off-centre buttoning and sweeping asymmetric collars. They would be more at home making an entrance at the Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village in January than on the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.

The potential for Harris Tweed has never fully been explored, although Vivienne Westwood – whose logo is an adaptation of the fabric’s trademark – first dragged the material into the world of directional fashion with her 1987 Harris Tweed collection, remembered best, perhaps, for Stephen Jones’ iconic woolly crown. Its appearance in the international collections has been cyclical but patchy, but it’s having a moment again. Judy R Clarke’s fantastically coloured gowns share some of the Alice in Wonderland-meets-Marie Antoinette-on-acid aesthetic of Dame Westwood at her most extreme.

When avant-garde Glaswegian designer Deryck Walker instructed the models at his January show in Paris to get tactile with his audience it was to dispel the misconception that the Harris Tweed collection may be ‘itchy’. In November of 2009 Walker – Designer of the Year at two consecutive Scottish Style Awards – opened a tiny industrial-chic store in Glasgow’s Argyll Arcade: Micro, inspired by the diminutive directional boutiques of the backstreets of Tokyo, is full of modern, wearable, tailoring-with-a-twist, the bulk of it in Harris Tweed sourced from heritage wool merchants Holland & Sherry.

London’s Dashing Tweeds, who sell through Dover Street Market – the capital’s most directional fashion store – recently started working in a specially commissioned variety of Harris. In the east end of the city, the burgeoning DS Dundee label has fuelled the trend with a range of very modern Harrington and belted jackets that are nothing if not a very smart twist on casual. Similarly, womenswear designer Sara Berman’s tweed Tulip coats have been a sensation at US-import Anthropologie.

Edinburgh-based Howie R. Nicholsby creates made to measure mod kilts in a variety of Harris Tweeds, styled in a contemporary rock star way: Robbie Williams and Vin Diesel are clients, and his kilts are hipster-style (in both senses), with detachable pockets. They smack of work wear as much as wedding garb and are infinitely more Omotesando than Highlander.  Most exciting is the work coming out of the Harris Tweed Artisan’s Co-operative, which launched in February. It’s early days yet, but clothing and accessories designs by Co-op members Diggery Brown, Sunny Bunny and Rarebird have already gone transatlantic, and made it across the Atlantic to Saks 5th Avenue.

Some of the most unusual and inspiring work is developing in the world of interiors. A new mill, Harris Tweed Hebrides (which already supplies the likes of Paul Smith, Margaret Howell, Ally Capellino, Balmain, Lanvin, Prada and Comme des Garçons) has been collaborating with Graven Images, the cutting edge Glasgow-based design agency responsible for the Hotel Missoni interior, on a range of fabrics, lampshades, soft seats and the Bradan, a sculptural, scalloped, charcoal grey throw for a king size bed; it’s a beautiful, textural and boldly three dimensional piece. The range launched to great acclaim in Tokyo last year and was used to furnish Glasgow’s newest and best-dressed hotel, Blythswood Square. Even if you aren’t sporting Harris Tweed this season, your living room soon will be.

Blythswood Square, 11 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4AD (rooms from £133 per night including breakfast) 0141 248 888 http://www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare

Deryck Walker

http://www.deryckwalker.net

Harris Tweed Artisans Co-Operative

http://www.lewisstudio.co.uk/HTAC

Harris Tweed Hebrides

http://www.harristweedhebrides.com

Sara Berman

http://www.saraberman.co.uk

21st Century Kilts

http://www.21stcenturykilts.com

Hot off the press (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Art with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by markcoflaherty

No shopping safari in New York’s SoHo is ever complete without a visit to Kate’s Paperie. The Spring Street flagship’s is lined with meticulous displays of journals, cards and an infinite rainbow of fine papers and envelopes that make you want to abandon your Macbook and email software in favour of handwritten missives using only the most luxurious of stationery. Amongst the most seductive product at Kate’s are the bespoke letterpress items that they produce to order. From monogrammed writing sets to wildly ornate Christmas cards, letterpress – where inked plates press into paper and leave a distinctive textural mark along with the imprint – is the vellum-white-hot trend in stationery right now. Partly it’s a reaction against the trite and corporate lack of creativity that spelt doom for the unlovely Clinton Cards empire and partly its because we’re embracing nostalgia for early 20th century modernism, but mostly it’s because the paper products made this way are utterly lovely.

‘I think the charm of holding something in your hands and having a connection with the person who made it is very basic and universal,’ says Krista Stout, the designer behind the boutique letterpress studio Papered Together. ‘People want something authentic and personal, something with a story behind it.  When I send a box of 500 wedding invitations to a client, I’ve personally held every piece of paper in my hands at least twice, and often four or five times.  I’ve spent hours mixing the ink to perfectly match a paint chip or a fabric swatch, or the October leaves, and many, many more hours printing and reprinting until each one is just right.’ Stout sells a range of cards through the homecraft website Etsy.com and Luxepaperie.com but the focus of her business is bespoke, combining vintage elements and nature-inspired imagery with seasonal colours and, of course, the clients needs. Her style is chic and pared down, taking something from letterpress’ past and mixing it with contemporary design. Her thistle and cross-stitch adorned cards (£2.50) are typical and enchanting. Greenwich Letterpress, a studio with a store in New York which also stocks through Etsy, has a similar aesthetic. Many of their cards feature classic animal prints, while their ‘a holiday toast’ Christmas cards ($18 for six) are a charming nod to Victoriana, with two hands clinking goblets, one with a ruffed sleeve end.

A lot of modern letterpress work is a direct descendant of the medium’s core beginnings in publishing, so by inspiration and homage is largely text-oriented. The commercial artist Alan Kitching is widely regarded as a genius for creating bold imagery purely with letters and a variety of colour – his work has been shown at the Pompidou and the Barbican. Echoes of his work can be found in some of the greeting cards produced by small UK based letterpress companies: Typoretum sell three-fold greeting cards that spell out, prosaically in bold type, ‘WITH LOVE’ and ‘THANK YOU’ in four different colours (£3).  Similarly, Turnbull & Grey is another small London company who produce quirky greeting cards (£6 for three) with the word ‘Humbug’ next to a graphic of the boiled sweet – a neat twist on the festive seasonal salutation – as well as ‘Kiss xx’ and ‘LOVE’ Valentine’s cards, all distinguished by the rough hand-set, imperfectly flecked block type that’s reminiscent of playbills and vintage rock concert posters. The designers at Elum riff on a similar style: their range of customised Christmas cards, which come with the sender’s name incorporated into the text, and personalised envelopes (starting at $327 for 50), include the Holiday Woodblock design, which resembles the advertising for a circus or carnival, with artfully gnarled type. Rather like John Cage’s silences between notes, it’s not so much the ink, as the gaps within the inked areas that make the works so special, that and the obvious passion that its creators have for the process.

Chris Turnbull of Turnbull & Grey discovered a love for printmaking in the letterpress studio at Camberwell College of Art. ‘I loved all the presses, machines and blocks of wood and ink,’ he says. ‘It reminded me of being in my grandfather’s shed as a child. There is a magical moment in printmaking when you pull the paper up from the press and see the printed image for the first time. It’s crafted and it’s handmade.’

There is such romance around a return to those simplistic production techniques – not least because so much of the iron letterpress machinery is so ornate that it could serve as an interiors feature – that London letterpress company Harrington & Squares offer the kind of one-day workshop gift vouchers (£125) more commonly associated with wine tastings. For those interested solely in acquiring their product, they offer a wide range of bespoke services, from Z-fold Christmas cards to wedding stationary, as well very lovely editions of the Brothers’ Grimm’s The Golden Key (£65), gold foil blocked, hand sewn and hand perforated.

In the States the taste for letterpress stationary has been growing for some time. Kimberly Yurkiewicz who manages the print studio at Kate’s Paperie says that she used to see around three or four letterpress designers at the National Stationery Show in New York every year, ‘and then it jumped to about 20, and then it seemed there were hundreds, as if a legion of art school students were simultaneously taught that a great way to make a living was to create a letterpress studio line. But it grew out of being a cool in-the-know secret.’ The designers that work on the ranges at Kate’s Paperie are at the very top of their game, including Julie Holcomb who is a veteran of the art. The possibilities with bespoke at Kate’s are endless, from the simple to the avant garde. ‘Bespoke stationery has become a personal signature for some customers,’ she says. ‘I like it to accessorizing rather than a business product.’ Such a bespoke approach is, of course, time and craft intensive, and large sets of elaborate invitation stationery from a high-end letterpress studio can carry a price tag of up to $5,000.

Much smaller in scale are boutique US letterpress operations like Sesame Letterpress and Lucky Paperie. Like many of the more progressive designers, Sesame Letterpress work with photopolymer – designing often complex plates on the computer and then, by exposing light sensitive polymer through the design, creating a raised pattern. The process is similar to printing a photographic negative. Then they ink and print with the plate in the traditional letterpress way. Sesame Letterpress’ designs are a blend of ornate scriptwork and Victorian natural history imagery. As well as short runs of cards that they sell to stores worldwide, they offer their own bespoke service. The bulk of Lucky Paperie’s business is creating wedding invitations, with prices from £300 for 50 cards, in four different categories of style: ‘elegantly traditional’, ‘beach chic’, ‘vintage-style’ and ‘modern minimalist’, and 15 different designs.

The Luxepaperie website stocks letterpress work by Egg Press – their sasquatch and their ‘What’s growing on’ cards (£2.80), emblazoned with a selection of moustaches, are particularly eye-catching – and Carrot & Stick, who make their green apple and leopard-patterned pieces on five letterpress machines in California. Also at Luxepaperie, and perhaps the biggest success story in modern letterpress, is Hello! Lucky, run by Eunice and Sabrina Moyle, two sisters based in San Francisco. Compared to most of their competitors, their off-the-peg range is huge, from gift wrap to Dorothy Parker-style ‘It’s a marvellous party’ RSVP cards. Their Christmas cards, from their Woodland Friends to their Folk Angels (£9.65 for six), are refreshingly unique and Santa-free. The Moyle sisters began making cards after buying an old Vandercook printing press on eBay, and now make 2,000 cards a day. ‘Our style is happy, vintage, graphic and bohemian,’ says Sabrina. ‘Our L’Oiseau wedding invitation suite cards (£432 for 25) is most representative of our style – it’s graphic and chic but light hearted.’ Sabrina cites the rise of Etsy.com as evidence that the zeitgeist is handstitched, handsewn and letterpressed. ‘Letterpress is part of a broader, and growing, swell of interest in the handcrafted and the “slow”; just like hand-fed beef, artisan-crafted cheese and the slow food movement. When something heartfelt has to be conveyed, an email can’t compete with the human hand. The stationery of the future will be increasingly unique and handcrafted. If it feels mass-produced, why bother?’

The style moves easily from greeting cards to other gift ideas. UK company Hand & Eye create their own children’s books (£15) as well as ‘Thank you’ cards (£3.75) and posters  (£50) in tribute to the typographer Eric Gill that read, in one of Gill’s classic 20s fonts: ‘If you look after goodness and truth, beauty will take care of itself.’  Gill may have been talking about design, but it’s a truism that reads well when framed on a hallway wall.

Ironically, some of the most sophisticated Adobe imaging software around today is being used by designers to ape letterpress style, and the web is full of tutorials for designers who want to ‘get the look’. But, just like the quality of leather on a piece of Hermes luggage, or the softness of Loro Piana knitwear, you can’t fake it, you have to feel it. And as Kimberly Yurkiewicz at Kate’s says, ‘a letter is a gift, receiving it is one of life’s great joys, and regardless of how hyper-tech reliant we become, that won’t change. It’s a universal feeling that will keep letter-writing alive.’

 

Elum; 001 858 453 4500

www.elumdesigns.com

 

Greenwich Letterpress, 39 Christopher Street, New York, NY 10014; 001 212 989 7464

www.greenwichletterpress.com

 

Hand & Eye; 020 7488 9800

http://www.handandeye.co.uk

 

Harrington & Squires; 020 7267 1500

www.harringtonandsquires.co.uk

 

Hello! Lucky; 020 7378 9740

http://www.hellolucky.co.uk

 

Kate’s Paperie, 72 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012; 001 212 941 9816

www.katespaperie.com

 

Lucky Paperie; (US) 866 531 6609

http://www.luckypaperie.com

 

Luxepaperie.com

 

Osborne Samuel, 23a Bruton Street, London W1; 020 7493 8939

www.osbornesamuel.com

 

Papered Together

www.paperedtogether.com

 

Sesame Letterpress

www.sesameletterpress.com

 

Typoretum

http://www.typoretum.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Surrealism in design (Quintessentially)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2009 by markcoflaherty

Injecting a sense of humour, or at least a sense of fantasy, into design is a perilous business. For every person who loves a colourful Alessi espresso cup, there is another who feels like offering violence when presented with a grinning corkscrew or any other kitchen draw item that comes day in, day out with a personality and punchline. In the last few years there’s been a new movement taking place at the more adventurous and higher end of the design pitch, one that does embrace wit, but which has been looking to the anti-disciplines of classical surrealism to fashion inventive and radical pieces. It’s a movement that has developed in tandem with the way in which the furniture editions market has caught up with the fine art market, and developed a parallel kudos. These aren’t items to fill with salt and pepper, or to grate cheese with. These are grand, investment, showcase pieces. These are objects that, surface functionality aside, are unique and special, like any great work of art.

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You can physically sit on Fredrikson Stallard’s Pyrenees Sofa, a foam and steel structure that resembles an Alpine landscape, but a POA limited edition piece like this is unlikely to ever be troubled by a human bottom, even if its designers, Ian Stallard and Patrik Fredrikson, have a fantasy of seeing Jerry Hall splayed across it.

London-based partnership Stallard and Fredrikson are at the forefront of the surrealist movement in high-end design. ‘Form following function is so yesteryear!’ says Patrik Fredrikson. ‘It is a boring and imprisoning term. Any “law” like this backfires against creativity.’ The duo’s work, shown by the David Gill gallery at October’s DesignArt fair in London, has also been at the focus of the ‘art or design?’ debate. It is beginning to seem more and more of a moot point: Gill launched his gallery in the 80s with furniture by the conceptual artist Donald Judd, while the very name of DesignArt London suggests a collapsing of boundaries. ‘A new futurism’ is how Francis Sultana, the director of the Gill gallery describes it, often with a surreal or even disturbing tendency, such as Fredrikson Stallard’s urethane rug, The Lovers, which resembles two pools of intermingled blood, each containing the precise volume of liquid tissue held by the human body. ‘It would be amazing to see that piece in a monastery or convent,’ says Ian Stallard. ‘Though it would be equally exciting to see it in an elegant apartment on 5th Avenue.’

Much of what Fredrikson Stallard are doing taps into notions of pure sensation as well as the surreal: Their Rubber Table makes no sound when you place a glass on it, while Unit Number 4 is a coffee table made from solid ice. While that may be taking surrealism to the extreme, as much as a clothes iron with nails jutting out from its ironing surface, it’s no less arresting than Dutch avant garde interior company Moooi’s life size Horse Lamp, designed by Front in 2006, or any of Studio Job’s oversized Alice in Wonderland  white gold mosaic pixel tea service pieces which were rapturously received at last year’s Salone di Mobile in Milan. The pieces were surreal in scale, but in a very modern way: ‘If these objects were scaled down to their conventional sizes, the pixels would create the illusion of smooth silver surfaces,’ explains Nynke Tynagel of Studio Job. Rather like Margiela’s playful upsizing of doll’s clothes to adult size, Studio Job’s ‘eat me… drink me’ aesthetic says something about the unfettered imagination of childhood, and our place in the world of logic and scale. In the editions market, there are also practical concerns too. As the celebrated author and design critic Alice Rawsthorn says: ‘Big equals better… you can see that you are getting more for your money’. Equally, there’s no confusing an unusably gargantuan item – with the exception of perhaps Marcel Wanders’ cartoon-huge lamps which, no matter how much space they take up, still act as a light source – with a functional item, and a form that doesn’t follow function has to be interpreted as art, or at least as an extravagance in the same way that wearing a pristine white Chanel coat with a pencil skirt and perilous high heels suggests that you don’t get the bus.

Linked in with the seductive exclusivity and collectibility of the new wave of surrealist furniture is the notion of craft. Designers are reacting against mass-produced flat packed furniture by prototyping pieces that necessitate more care and attention from the human hand. The designer Hella Jongerius produces a range of what she calls ‘unique plates’, with animal figures in their centre. Each one is unique and is intended to ‘place greater emphasis on the manufacturers handcrafted products and to show the numerous steps involved in finishing a product.’ Her Props collection for Vitra last year consisted of simplistic looking vessels and spoons that had sprouted ears and wings. ‘They are a hybrid of functional product and a character from the fantasy world of animals fables,’ she explained.

In summer 2009 the V&A in London is showing Telling Tales, a collection of work by furniture and product designers split into three sections: The Forest Glade, The Enchanted Castle and Heaven and Hell. The exhibition will be a showcase not only of furniture that falls into the design art category by having a narrative and an inherent complexity that prices it way out of Heals and Habitat, but of the surreal tendency in design today. Studio Job will feature, as will Maarten Baas, who in the past has had shows based around antique furniture that he has burnt and charred, and whose ‘Hey, chair, be a bookshelf!’ is an assemblage of items subverting their function: A lampshade became a vase, a violin became a coat rack, etc.

Not all surrealist edition work is entirely avant garde in nature. David Linley is a designer whose work often has an edge to it (he has produced one-off couches with tribal-style slashes across the leather), but is more at home in plush, moneyed Mayfair than in East London lofts. His Time Table, produced in an edition of 20, is a wonderfully classic piece that is also classically surrealist. Like much of his work it is tasteful and, finished in rosewood, it has the air of the establishment about it. The acrylic clock dial set into its top surface is, however, quietly subversive – is this a table or a time piece? Can a form follow more than one function? No matter what your take on the surrealist trend in furniture, it’s certainly displaying a level of accomplishment and style that is in a different league from the world’s superfluous inane kitchen gizmos and jokey Mr Suicide bathtub plugs.

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