Wednesday, July 9

Batchelder Tiles in DTLA

Hello! It's been a while. I do have some exciting plans for this blog in upcoming months, but more on that later. Today, I wanted to share this feature I wrote for The Quest to Save LA's Century-Old Batchelder Tiles.

In 2004, when I was living in LA, I went downtown to pawn a ring. A gift from a complicated man many years before; I just didn't want it anymore, and at the time, the $33 I got for it bought me a tank of gas. I was also an editor at Western Interiors & Design (a wonderful magazine of contemporary architecture founded by editors from Architectural Digest), and I'd recently done a column on the range of materials for tile surfaces. Scott Wells of Wells Tiles & Antiques let me borrow a couple of his Batchelder tiles for a photo shoot, and I was captivated by one of the peacock designs. You know how sometimes things just strike you? I couldn't help researching the history, and I learned of this exquisite installation of Batchelder's work at the Chocolate Shop, pictured above (photo by Elizabeth Daniels). After pawning the ring, I went around the corner to check out the Chocolate Shop, but I thought I had the wrong address: The building was nothing special, and there was nothing significant in the space. Cell phone cases, tables of electronics, pegboard, trucker hats.

But I was wrong. The murals you can see here were completely covered with plywood, and the owners had turned it into an arcade. How could that have happened? Ten years later, I finally found out, and the story grew to include a few more installations around LA; the limitations of historic preservation; real estate drama; an eccentric tile cleaner who'd been jailed on suspicion of stealing tile at the El Dorado; trends in tile; and more. Thanks for checking it out.
Photo above: The original interior; photo via USC Archives.

Thursday, August 1

David Ling, Upstairs: A Cantilevered Bed, a Waterfall

Yesterday I introduced the loft of architect David Ling, which you can read about here. Today I'll lead you onto the I Ching steppingstone blocks and across the pond (below) to the stairs that lead to the bedroom. (If you'd like to throw virtual I Ching, the link at the end of this sentence will lead you to a random throw. I've always been intrigued by John Cage's use of the ancient method.)

UPDATE: A reader wisely asks: "Where's the cat throne?" It's the large conical metal piece in the foreground of the photo below, cantilevered from the ceiling. It opens to the front, and there's a soft blanket inside. There's another photo of it at the end of this post. 
A couple of artists painted the wall with 24 layers of ultramarine blue, black, and shellac so it would develop a patina. The cantilevered bed, constructed of 2x4 framing and clad in plywood and salvaged wood flooring, is painted a custom mix of espresso and black. What you can't see in these photos, because it's not turned on, is a waterfall that cascades from the foot of the bed to the pond below, where it flows throughout the system and is recycled. One of its effects, says David, when admired from the ground floor, is that it obscures the harsh diagonal of the stair and becomes yet another device to partition the space.

The open shower is a sloping U-shape of galvanized metal, a nod to David's appreciation of the conical. Richard Serra. Calla lilies. Tornadoes. It also echoes the conical cat throne downstairs. The curtain conceals the doldrums of everyday, and a time machine. Mei Mei claims the Josef Hoffmann settee as her second-floor velvet perch. 
The view from the front, with the galvanized-metal cat throne visible in the background, on the right:

Wednesday, July 31

Architect David Ling, Manhattan

An architect’s home is often his lab, and at David Ling’s live-and-work loft in a 1880s building near Gramercy Park in Manhattan, the experiment is a balance of opposites. Wood and metal; brick and sheetrock; mass and space; water and fiery lighting. There's heft and weightlessness and so far no accidents where the bed (the black protrusion above) cantilevers over a pond and four translucent chairs. Nearby, a 13-foot conical cat throne provides pet Mei Mei a plum view from which to oversee the office of David Ling Architect in the front. 

David's clients include Steve Wynn, Louise and George Beylerian, a founder of the Blue Man Group, Alberta Ferretti (flagship boutiques), and the Guggenheim. This home has been published widely, but here's a video by Gary Nadeau for Dwell that I think best captures its beauty and fluidity. In subsequent posts I'll write about the bedroom upstairs and the furnishings. 

The 100-by-24-foot space has three distinct areas: work in the front, living in the middle, and sleep upstairs. Several strong compositions—the cat throne, the diagonal stair, and the kitchen’s monolith inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—carve out space. Instead of walls or doors, David partitioned areas with light, water, and a pair of airy two-story volumes; wood elements help make transitions. In the front, for example, a bridge (below) made of shoring posts (on site when he bought the building in 2000) connects the office to the living area and passes over the art-filled library downstairs: the first two-story volume. 

In the back, in the second two-story volume, segments of shoring posts are steps across a pebbled pond from the living area up to the bedroom. The three posts—I Ching blocks,” he calls them—aren’t completely secure. When they rock gently on the pebbles, as do flat surfaces resting on round, and when your arms raise instinctively from your sides to steady yourself, your attention is brought to the moment, and it's one of the many meditations that inhabit the space along with sculptural pieces by Nakashima, Josef Hoffmann, and Poul Kjærholms. At his Chinese New Year party in 2001, which doubled as a housewarming, a client lost her mindfulness and a velvet shoe. 

Below photos: Artwork near the firefly pendants above the library, from left to right: tryptic by 2Michaels Design, assemblage of bones by Penny Lamb, drawing by Dan Miller, photography series by Antoine Bootz; the kitchen’s concrete monolith and building guts; Turrell-like skylights through 19th-century beams (the sheetrock's 45-degree edges dematerialize the ceiling—you don’t see the thickness of the edge); acrylic mirror flooring and its aquatic reflection of light. 

Saturday, June 1

Artist Olivia Barr at the home of Kristy Davis: Bushwick Open Studios

Today I visited the Bushwick home of writer and editor Kristy Davis, whose apartment has been transformed into a magical space for mmm muse me, an installation of new and impressive work by artist Oliva Barr. When Kristy told me she was lending her apartment to her friend for Bushwick Open Studios this weekend, I envisioned her blocking off the back of the apartment so Olivia could exhibit in the front. But to my amazement, the entire railroad apartment is cleared of her furniture and belongings, and it didn't even occur to me until hours after I left, because I was so mesmerized by the show. 

In the above photo and in a few below are pink silk hankies laser-etched with her grandfather's cursive love letters to her grandmother. Sigh. I noticed one was dated 1937. Her grandfather wrote on very thin paper, front and back, so as part of the process, she photographed the back-lit letters "so that the words on the back collapse to the front." The hankies, suspended by thread, dance in the breeze. Underneath the hankies are glass plates she also etched; these feature her most cherished sext messages with an ex, entire conversations, etched photos, even, stacked in piles so that when you look down at them, you see the top message clearly plus layers of history underneath. From one line below: "looked at your toys yesterday." I should mention it was 90 degrees in Bushwick today, before I arrived at this show. Olivia has on hand a narrow light strip that illuminates one plate at a time, so you can read the entire stack more clearly, if you wish. In the photo below, she's lighting up a bottom plate

Two other incredible pieces are in a front room, and like these, they involve process, layers, the movement of light, and the passing of time. One is a small-scale interpretation of a plan for a large outdoor installation: three photos printed on transparent material, spliced horizontally, casting images on the wall where the sunlight filters through. The other is a glass plate printed with a photograph of a corner of her apartment. In this corner is a large piece of fabric (also exhibited, below) on which she traced over the course of a year the various shadows made by plants in the window. It's beautiful, and if you go visit, Olivia will give you a tour and a glass of white wine, and she will turn on large lamps and move them along floor over the work so you can see them transform. 

mmm muse me, which was featured in the Bushwick Daily, will be open to the public from 12-7 pm tomorrow (Sunday), and it's at 1054 Willoughby Avenue.

Wednesday, April 24

Sunday with Sarah Dohrmann

Recently on a Sunday I stopped by the Williamsburg home of my dear friend Sarah Dohrmann, a writer and also "my boss" at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, the org through which I teach creative writing in public schools, and which she leads as education director. I was in her neighborhood for lunch; she was at home in a vintage sweater and crazy-print housepants, the weekend usual. Here's Sarah, pictured above, presenting her beloved otter pillow, a recent gift from writer Nicole Callihan, who gave it to Sarah when Sarah fell inexplicably in love with it at first sight in Nicole's home. Cooing sounds not pictured.

Below, a Bedford-facing window with hem and hat; an assemblage above the desk; a perfect little lamp—like if the lamp was in a cartoon, it would have this shape. More captions below...

The paintings are by her friend, artist Andy Ness. I love the one of lungs. That's Sarah gesturing over a spread of his works (with otter pillow!), the result of a collaboration of his paintings and her writings. The gorgeous textile is a Moroccan Berber wedding cape that hangs on the wall next to her bed. A stack of books rests on the desk; crazy housepants and a rug handmade by her grandmother; a ribbon from a baby shower tied to the neck of a lamp (what's life without a little fire hazard?); a collage; the underside of a horned mask, a Puerto Rican vejigante, looking up.

Monday, December 3

Tea at Willa's

Last week I stopped by the Manhattan home of Willa Carroll and Andreas von Scheele. She's a poet and a friend of mine from grad school; he's a cinematographer. Walking through the front door, you're greeted by this beautiful blue beast. Hello. 

Below are some pics from a walk around the pad. (I need to upgrade my camera-on-the-go. These were taken with an old iPod Touch.) Trees screen views of the city and the charming red Roosevelt Island aerial tram; graphic white chairs at a dark table; a wall of the old building's wavy bricks; kitty beast; tea.