Posts made in June, 2016
Avenue South Space and Interior
By reissuing the patterns of such luminaries as Verner Panton, Anni Albers, and Alexander Girard–and weaving the fabrics to high standards–the brothers Maharam have reinstated an important modernist legacy. In addition to making such historically important textiles available again, the company exhibits great zeal in bringing the energies of leading contemporary designers to bear on the field. (Recently, Maharam has added Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius, Canadian graphic designer Bruce Mau, and French interior designer Andree Putman to its stable.) Not to mention that a consistent push for technological innovation has resulted in introductions of high-performance fabrics that are as functional as they are beautiful. Such an impressively multipronged approach to high level design and development could only be the work of a perfectionist.
As befits that character description, Michael Maharam interviewed 30 to 40 architects when the time came to refurbish the company’s network of corporate and sales offices and showrooms. “I was despondent. I couldn’t find anyone with whom I felt on the same page,” he says. That frustration prevailed until, through a mutual friend, he found husband-and-wife team Solveig Fernlund and Neil Logan. Their firm, Fernlund + Logan, concentrates on residential and commercial work for clients with highly evolved visual sensibilities. “A lot of our clients are photographers. We have a very niche business,” Logan says with a laugh. At Maharam’s Park Avenue South space–in the same building as George Nelson’s onetime studio–the firm had to tackle two entire floors, encompassing 14,000 square feet slated to accommodate 32 people.
Inside The Space
On the lower floor, occupied by marketing and sales staff, Fernlund + Logan cleared away a warren of corporate cubicles and replaced them with Vitra’s Ad Hoc workstations, a move that imposes a more consistent white color palette and lowers some barriers. “We’ve opened up lines of communication by literally breaking down the walls,” says Michael Maharam. “There’s a decrease in pettiness as information becomes less something to guard.”
Principals and designers inhabit the penthouse level, pared down to show off 16-foot ceilings, multiple skylights, and elegant half-moon windows. Birch-plywood desks and storage cabinets, pale maple floors, industrial felt rugs, white laminate surfacing, cheap recliners and conference tables topped by crisp white Corian populate the largely unobstructed space. Almost none of the furnishings are mass-produced; all workstations, storage files, and tables were fabricated by a Brooklyn woodworker.
Orderliness was the highest priority, but creating pleasant surroundings came a close second–hence the upper floor’s African tribal masks, Donald Judd cadmium prints, Tapio Wirkkala glassware, and 20th-century chairs. During the past five years, Michael Maharam has been steadily moving toward more rarefied acquisitions. “I stumbled across chairs as a sculptural idiom,” he says of his 150 pieces by the likes of Jean Prouve, Gerrit Rietveld, and Arne Jacobsen. “They never stay in one place very long. After hours and on weekends, I move them around, put some away in storage, take some out. Change keeps us all stimulated.”
In keeping with the firm’s collection, Maharam’s office is more evocative of an art gallery or a retail setting than a contract environment. The interior is furthermore intended to serve as a benchmark for company sales offices and showrooms around the country, Now, if only someone would replace that stone-colored Xerox copier with a snowy-white model, even Michael Maharam might achieve full aesthetic harmony.
Bear and Moulton
Bear and Moulton’s original area of expertise after graduating from the architecture program at the University of California at Berkeley. The promising duo then secured a commission to design Holcomb and Yamashita’s New York pied-a-terre. On this second project, Union Studio applied furniture design’s concern for materials, scale, and craft to the larger canvas of an interior–sharing all tasks with extraordinary equity. When the-couple moved to a larger residence in San Francisco, Union Studio won the job again, giving the firm a chance to work on finishes and fixtures as well as the plan and furnishings.
Built in 1941 by Anshen + Allen, the house was a duplex high above the Castro district, with views of the city and the bay beyond. Union Studio’s first goal was to open up the plan. To take advantage of the incredible views, the designers removed walls on the top floor, which featured a balcony running the entire length of the front facade. The designers placed French doors along that wall as well as along the rear courtyard, set into the rise of a hill. “The most outstanding thing about the original architecture was the siting, the way the house wraps around the courtyard,” Moulton says.
The upstairs, originally divided between the house’s two apartments, is now a single space. Each half, however, maintains a distinct personality: one for formal entertaining and dining, one for more casual living. Both of the two original units featured fireplaces, backed against each other at the dividing wall, and Union Studio preserved them while removing flanking plaster and studs. This creates separation without sacrificing the easy flow of light and visitors. Similarly, opening doorways all the way from floor to ceiling makes surrounding walls seem like isolated floating volumes.
When Holcomb and Yamashita bought the house, the units featured original dark-walnut wall paneling, sun-bleached after years of neglect. Although the treatment was unsalvageable, the designers decided that it had established a space-defining vocabulary. Panels of rift-sawn white oak now play the same role. The texture of the paneling, the white plaster ceiling and walls, and the near-blackness of the stained-oak floor keep the eye in motion, traveling from the lounge and den, past the fireplace, to the formal entertaining areas and the kitchen.
Behind the kitchen and master bedroom, in the huge bathroom, the floor is tiled in black porcelain hex, the walls in light blue glass mosaic squares. The blue is luminous in the sunshine, managing to feel simultaneously underwater and celestial. A freestanding tiled wall divides a storage area, with dark jarrah-wood shelving and towel bins, from a skylit sunken shower. A jarrah vanity supports a porcelain basin sink. A Japanese-style soaking tub made of epoxy-coated jarrah offers a view–through custom vertical shades concealing the bather from his neighbors.
Access to the top floor is via an existing staircase. “The stair’s big, curved plaster form was really compelling. It serves as a counterpoint to the crisp forms we like to work in,” Moulton says. At the foot of a second staircase, a small guest room is almost wholly devoted to a built-in bed. A full-length mirror and a silk-screen blowup of the house’s original blueprints, mounted on a sliding panel, conceal storage space.
Down the hall is the home office. Here, Holcomb and Yamashita set aside the formality of the upstairs as papers, photos, and knickknacks spill out of Union Studio’s elegantly capacious shelving. It is in this room that modernist austerity makes room for the Eamesian dictum about comfort and the making of a home, a sentiment immortalized by Yamashita’s little booklet that noteworthy Christmas.
Union Studio (“A Perfect Union,” page 184) was formed in 1995 by Matthew Bear and Scott Moulton, two furniture designers who earned their bachelor’s degrees in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and met on staff at a woodworking magazine. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired their oak-and-walnut console and three-legged spring-back chair in maple in 1997. 1046 39th Street, Emeryville, CA 94608; 510-652-0602.