Category Archives: As Seen On TV

Debate Style

In honor of tomorrow night’s third and final Presidential debate of this election, I thought I’d take a look back at a couple of the past debates and point out the true winners …in design.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon

The first televised debate, in Chicago, Illinois, 1960,  is famously known for staging the cool, calm John F. Kennedy Jr. against the sweaty Richard M. Nixon.  But, did you know it also featured the elegantly designed chairs of Hans Wegner?  Known simply as The Chair, it was designed in 1949.

The Chairs, 1949, used in the 1960 debate are now a part of The Smithsonian Museum’s collection.

Hans Wegner was born in 1914 and lived until 2007.  He was a Danish designer known the world over for his sleek, sometimes historically referential  and always modern designs.  Also visible in the picture below are four gentlemen seated just in front of the stage, though the picture is quite dark, they appear to be seated in office armchairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, full stage view

If not by Eames, these four chairs were certainly influenced by his Office series furniture.  These particular chairs, known as DAT-1, were introduced in 1953.  D.A.T. stands for Desk Armchair Tilt.  They were part of the Eames Office series and were the first chair to offer the ability to tilt back in your seat.

1953 Eames DAT-1 chair, shown here in a lighter color than was used at the debate.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

This was not the last time an Eames chair would make an appearance at a Presidential debate.  After the 1960 debate, there was not another until 1976 – and Eames was there.  In San Francisco, California, 1976, it was incumbent Jimmy Carter debating President Gerald Ford.

Carter and Ford at their podiums with Eames chairs behind them.

The chair behind each gentleman is the EC 118 by Eames.  It was introduced in 1970.  It is very similar in appearance to the DAT-1, although it is at a taller height and has a round foot rail near the base.

The Eames EC 118, 1970
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

While the podiums from the 1976 debate appear to be in The Smithsonian’s collection, I was unable to find the chairs.  These same chairs were in the Vice Presidential date of that year, with Bob Dole and Walter Mondale in Houston, Texas.

Mondale and Dole debate with the E 118 in the background
AP PHOTOS

In both of the above cases, the chairs that were used, were relatively new designs.  In 1960, they were using designs from 1949 and 1953.  At the 1976 debate, they used chairs that had been designed only 6 years earlier.  But the iconic designs of Charles and Ray Eames have made it into the 21st Century.  Upon first glance at the set for the first debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, I was totally bored!  There was nothing.  No chairs,and the podiums were standard issue.  Then the camera zoomed out and we caught a glimpse of Jim Lehrer’s chair.

Jim Lehrer and his chair steal the show at the first residential debate of 2012 between Obama and Romney.

How exciting! An Eames chair!  All the way from 1958!  Mr. Lehrer is seated in the Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of a series of aluminum furniture created by Charles and Ray Eames.  Originally designed for the residence of J. Irwin Miller, designed by the architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard.

The Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of the Eames Aluminum Group series, 1958, produced by Herman Miller

This is a little sidetrack, but I wanted to include a picture of the house that J. Irwin Miller had built by Saarinen and Girard and where this chair originally went.  Miller was an interesting and important figure in the patronage of Modern architecture in the 1950s and 60s, and he and his house deserve a mention.  The house is now a part of the collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The Miller House, 1957
INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART

The set of the second debate between Romney and Obama left me wanting more.  All it takes is an Eames chair, so I think I’m pretty easily satisfied!  But the wooden bar stools with blue upholstery and the tall metal plant stand-looking tables left me thinking, who designed this?  I’m still trying to figure out where they’re from.  Does anyone have them at home?

The second Presidential debate set at Hofstra University.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge too harshly; maybe it was the simplicity of the second set which allowed for a more exciting debate.  Although, I like to think that good design excites the mind and creates a better dialogue.  Happy debating!

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Revenge

Oh yeah, I’ve been watching it.  And I’m hooked.  But, when Tyler Barrol tied Nolan Ross to a chair in his living room, in Episode 10, Loyalty, I was too busy noticing the famous chair to worry about Nolan.  Anyone else?

Nolan Ross, played by Gabriel Mann in Revenge.

The chair that Nolan is tied to is the Wassily chair, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925 while he was on the faculty of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany.  Since 1968 it has been produced by Knoll.

Nolan's living room.

Considering the show is filled with wealthy characters, I’m surprised that it took until the tenth episode to spot some famous furniture design.  Here’s hoping there’s more soon!

The Wassily chair.

 

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True Blood Season 4: No Really, I Watch It For the Furniture

In just 25 days, the new season of HBO’s True Blood comes out …so, I thought I would take a quick look at the set and find out a little bit more about a painting that caught my eye.

Behind Eric Northman, the vampire character portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård, is a painting by Alex Ross.

In the upper left corner of the image above, from True Blood’s Season Three, Episode 9, “Everything is Broken” there is a painting that is hard to miss.  It hangs in Fangtasia, the vampire bar in True Blood’s world of Shreveport, Louisiana.  The painting depicts George W. Bush as a vampire, sucking the blood and life out of the Statue of Liberty, and was originally published as the cover to New York’s The Village Voice in 2004.

The painting is by famed comic book and graphic novel illustrator, Alex Ross.  A fan of Norman Rockwell growing up, Ross has gone on to illustrate for Marvel Comics as well as DC Comics.  He has also worked on movies like Spider Man and Unbreakable.  He is quoted as saying, “I’ve been called ‘The Norman Rockwell of comics’ more than a hundred times. I’m not going to suggest I’m on the same level as Rockwell, but attempting that sort of realism in my work has always been part of my approach.”  I like this comparison of Ross to Rockwell in relation to the use of his painting in True Blood.  If Norman Rockwell was depicting the idealized innocence of America, Alex Ross has perfectly portrayed the pure evils of modern society.  That’s just the sort of Rockwell Eric Northman would go for.

For a glimpse at the forthcoming season of True Blood, check out CNN’s Marquee Blog or watch this trailer.  Season 4 being on June 26 at 9 PM.

Like I said, the furniture.

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Dream Room, Age 8.

Here’s a fun one: gummy bears.  It’s weird how much they’ve been popping up in my life lately.  I originally saw the chandelier below on a design blog, called Likecool, this past March.  Then in August, I saw stills from Nickelodeon’s TV show, iCarly, of the main character’s bedroom and knew I wanted to write about it.  In September, a friend sent me a link on giant gummy bears.  I’ve since seen a commercial on TV for adult gummy vitamins.  And finally, it culminated in a nostalgic discussion of the cartoon Gummi Bears and their Gummi Berry Juice with my co-workers.  It’s funny how life works like that, as soon as you become aware of something, you see it everywhere.

Gummy Bear Chandelier, Designed and made by Kevin Champeny, Acrylic, Edition of ten, For sale at Jellio.com

Anyway, back to design.  What is it about gummy bears?  I’ve always liked them, and clearly, I’m not alone.  I had a bracelet made up of acrylic gummy bears growing up.  They’re like shiny, glowing gemstones, that are sweet and gooey.  As a child, I don’t think it could get much better than this.  And even though I was growing up in the 80s, thirty years later, they are still as popular as ever.

Gummy Bear Bracelet, available on Etsy.com

Of course, it’s not like I was the first child to have this fascination.  In the early 1970s, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (based on the 1964 book by Roald Dahl) came out in theaters and we all caught our first glimpse of a Gummy Bear tree.

Gummy Bear trees in the foreground at Willy Wonka's factory

Carly Shay’s bedroom, is every little girl’s dream room.  Colors abound, like an over-sized jewelry box, every surface in that room sparkles or twinkles.

Carly Shay's bedroom, and yes, that's a trampoline at the end of her bed. Photo Credit: Lisa Rose/Nickelodeon

While the chandelier is a known design object, as well as some of the other lamps, the rest of the set was created by a very talented and young-at-heart, art department. (Here are their credits on IMDB.com.)  With Harry Matheu as Production Designer, Jason Howard as head of Set Decoration and Art Direction by Jim Jones, they managed to create a candy palace.  A sort of Dylan’s Candy Bar as a bedroom.

Carly's wall of gummy bear lights, a shrine to gummy bears! Photo Credit: Lisa Rose/Nickelodeon

These lights, pictured above, are also available at Jellio.com and are LED, battery operated lights. The practical adult in me thinks, “oh good, so there’s no electrical cord to mess with.”  But, eight year old me thinks, “cool! so you can put them anywhere and take them with you anywhere too!”  I like the eight year old me.

Gummi Lights, also by Kevin Champeny

The plot of the episode of iCarly where the gummy bear room is revealed, “iGot a Hot Room”,  starts with Carly’s older brother making her a gummy bear lamp of his own design, for her birthday.

Carly's birthday gift from her brother, Spencer, based on her favorite candy, the gummy bear. Photo Credit: Lisa Rose/Nickelodeon

But when Spencer’s gift ends up setting her room on fire, her bedroom is re-created into the gummy bear wonderland that we see pictured.

And just in case your sweet tooth wasn't filled with a cavity yet, there's this setee that looks like an ice cream sandwich. Photo Credit: Lisa Rose/Nickelodeon

If you’re wondering how to make this room in your own house, Nate Berkus created his version on his show.

Now …who else has a craving for gummy bears?  What’s your favorite flavor?  Mine’s pineapple.

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Girls vs. Suits and The Woman as Creator

Barney's motto: Suit Up!

If you’re a fan of the CBS TV show How I Met Your Mother, like I am, then you already know all about Barney Stinson.  If you’ve not seen the show, let me fill you in on a little background detail.  Barney is the loveable chauvinist.  He loves women, he loves Star Wars, he loves his friends and he loves his suits, but he loves nothing so much as he loves himself.  Of course we all suspect there’s something deeper there than he lets on, but he is ever the showman and usually pretty good at hiding his true emotions.  Back when he was in college and dressed like a Hippie, he had his heart broken, and so has since then decided to wear only suits and “be awesome.”

This, the 100th episode, of the sitcom finds Barney trying to woo a new woman to bed – as he does in every episode – but this woman is at the top of Barney’s list.  She’s a hot bartender.  Unfortunately, her last few boyfriends were Wall Street men who also only wore suits.  So, the story finds the hot bartender resolved to never date a suit-man again and Barney struggling between his love of girls and his love of suits.

How then, you might ask, do we find ourselves looking at a book written by Bruno Taut, a late 19th/early 20th century German Expressionist architect and Utopian visionary?

Bruno Taut's book of the mid-1920s, called "The New Apartment - The Woman as Creator."

Easy, when Barney decides to give up suits in order to get the hot bartender he dons a t-shirt and pair of jeans.  The t-shirt he wears has this book cover on it.

Bruno Taut wrote this book in the mid-1920s (it’s earliest edition seems to date from 1924) to promote a new functional, modern design.  Since women were the housekeepers and decorators of the home, he wrote this book to persuade them into accepting the modern interior, by seeing its benefits.  Whereas Victorian interiors were full of fabric and dust-collecting knickknacks, modern interiors were simple, sophisticated and easy to clean.

Barney Stinson and the hot bartender

As Barney’s story continues …he succeeds at getting the girl back to his apartment but when she mistakenly walks into his closet thinking it was the bathroom …well, I’ll let you see for yourself what happens next. 

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Girls vs. Suits

The reason I find this all so interesting is because of the clash between the meaning of this book and the philosophy of Barney Stinson.  While Barney was doing everything possible to get this girl into bed, he was wearing a t-shirt that suggests women are the creator of the home, and yet when it came right down to it, when this woman suggested he change his home (i.e. throw out all his suits) he wouldn’t do it.  OK, this is a bit of a stretch, since she was not suggesting he decorate in a modern style while he firmly held to his belief of a traditional Victorian interior, but I think the irony is still there.  The character of Barney Stinson fears nothing more than a woman coming into his life and creating a new look for it.

Also interesting is the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche’s influence on Bruno Taut’s architecture and there is definitely a little Superman complex in Barney.

Whether the writers of my very favorite TV show meant for this irony and debate to come from the t-shirt worn by a character on the show, I would be curious to find out.  But, no matter what, I love it a little more with every episode.

My favorite part of the song is when all Barney's friends ask him if he'd rather have riches, eternal youth, etc. or suits. And when Lily asks him if he'd rather have world piece or suits, Barney's answer made me laugh to the point of tears.

And finally, as a sidenote:  I love Cindy and her roommate’s apartment!  Random, but just thought I’d share.  Nothing beats a warm yellow room.

Ted, the architect, and Cindy in the apartment Cindy shares with his future wife - but no one knows that yet.

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