The Brothers Bloom meets The Bauhaus

About two months ago I saw a great movie called The Brothers Bloom and of course, out of no where, BOOM!, design.  I was happy to spot a dining table surrounded by Bauhaus style chairs.

The dining table and chairs in the movie

My first thoughts turned to Marcel Breuer.  The design of the dining room chairs reminded me of his Wassily chair.

As a student and a teacher at The Bauhaus in Germany in the 1920s Breuer helped to invent tubular steel furniture.  His most famous and well-recognized piece is the Wassily Chair, originally named the Type B3 Steel Club Chair.  The chair was later named for Wassily Kandinsky, who admired the chair and had one made for his own home, by the designer and fellow Bauhaus artist, Breuer.

And while the chair is most often seen in black leather, I’ve shown it here in white because it is most similar to the chairs seen in the movie.

Director's style chair, (This is a modern interpretation.)

But, after more investigation and reading, I learned about Mart Stam, a Dutch Bauhhous designer from the same time as Marcel Breuer.  From what I have found, they both developed tubular steel chairs around the same time period, but it seems Breuer usually gets the credit.

And since The Brothers Bloom was all about the underdog or the over-looked getting his due credit, I’m going to give Stam the credit on this one.

Mart Stam's cantilever chairs

Even as exact replicas of his Cantilever Chai S34 are sold today, they are billed as Breuer style chairs.  (See the cream colored Director’s Chair above – it’s sold as a “Breuer Director Style Chair.”)  To be fair, Stam and Breuer’s chairs are VERY similar.

Marcel Breuer's cantilever chair

So can we agree to disagree?  I say Stam.  But they are from the same school: Bauhaus, and they are from the same time period: the late 1920s.  Maybe they helped each other?  The difference seems to me, to be in the arm rests.

Another piece of furniture I noticed in that flash of a dining room scene was the table.  Not that I recognized it, but I had to look into it after the chairs revealed so much.  I could very easily be wrong here, but I’m going to guess this table is from Design Within Reach.

Dining room table "inspired by" Marcel Breuer

DWR describes the table on their website as having, “the angular beauty of …the strict architecture of Marcel Breuer’s seminal work and the clean geometry of Le Corbusier’s ‘equipment for living.'”  I mean, it is a movie set after all and they probably are using modern reproductions, so I’m just going to go with the flow and say this isn’t a piece of historical design, but a modern one that works beautifully.

Even if it is only on screen for 17 seconds.

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Sleepless in Seattle & the vague term of Egg Chair

I remember watching Sleepless in Seattle when it came out in 1993 and thinking Jonah had the coolest chair I’d ever seen – and that was it.

The chair in Jonah's bedroom in the movie

But now, watching it again as an adult and as a follower of design, I had to find out more about it.

Jonah's egg chair

I started by researching “egg chairs” and soon discovered that term opened up a whole can of worms, or, rather, a whole timeline of chairs!  His chair is the most recent in a long design lineage of chairs.  Jonah’s chair, originally known as the Alpha Stereo Chair, was designed by Lee West (dates unknown) and was made for Krypton Furniture.  It is now called the ModPod Egg Chair and they can now be purchased from a company called inmod.

Inmod's Mod Pod Egg Chair

But the story behind this “egg chair,” I think, begins in 1957, with Arne Jacobsen’s design of the first named Egg Chair.

Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chair, 1957 (This picture is of Design Within Reach's reproduction.)

Jonah’s egg chair has arm rests that are reminiscent of an Eames design.

The Eames' Molded Plastic Armchair, 1948 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

Also from 1948, and also featuring a similar arm rest design is the Womb chair, designed by Eero Saarinen.

Eero Saarinen's Womb chair, 1948 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

The final design component I noticed on Jonah’s chair was the base.  This great swivelling base that makes the whole scene in the movie as he and Jessica spin the chair around using only the tips of their toes that touch the ground.  This base must have been inspired by Eero Saarinen as well, in his Tulip Armchair from 1956.

Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair, 1956 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

And finally, there is another egg chair …not like Jonah’s and not like the original by Jacobsen, but one from 1968 designed by Henrik Thor-Larsen.  It was first shown at a Scandinavian furniture fair in 1968 and became a quick classic – and let’s face it, shape-wise, it is the most deserving of the name, Egg Chair.

The Ovalia Egg Chair, 1968 (These are modern reproductions.)

The chair was manufactured from 1968 to 1978 and has been so popular that the company re-released it in 2008.

The egg chair, not to be confused with the ball or globe chair, by Eero Aarnio from the early 1960s, is a term that encompasses more chair history than I would have ever thought of in 1993 when I just wanted Jonah’s cool chair.

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Mackintosh in Spain

I went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s latest movie in the cinema, Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotas), this past weekend.  Besides being amazed by his ability to tell a story and Penelope Cruz’s beauty, it delights me to report I spotted two chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh!

The Hill House Chair, as seen in the master bedroom, Helensburgh, Scotland

The chair, as seen in the image above,was designed to go in the master bedroom of The Hill House, built for Walter Blackie and his family in 1903.  Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the chair and the house.  Walter Blackie was a book publisher in Glasgow, Scotland.  Many of the books he published were fairy tales.  So, The Hill House, very fittingly, has a subtle theme of roses and Sleeping Beauty.  The lattice-shape of the back of the chair fits both in dimension and theme the stencils on the walls of roses growing on trellises.

Ernesto Martel and Lena in their dining room

The Hill House Chair, as seen in the movie with red seat

I was unable to find a still from the movie that included the Hill House Chair.  It was the customary black, however, it had a red upholstered seat.  There are two in Ernesto Martel’s dining room and they are visible in the scene pictured above.

This is my first post in my new category of “Double Takes” where I plan to document quick views of famous design in movies and not get into the history, philosophy or interpretation of it all.

Although I do have to say, besides having a chair meant for a bedroom in a dining room, there is an interesting layer here with the theme of this chair.  As this chair was meant to evoke the feeling of a trellis where Sleeping Beauty’s roses might grow around her and cage her in with their thorns, so does Ernesto Martel to Lena in Broken Embraces.1

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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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Vampires Have Style

Here’s the entry I didn’t think I would ever do.  And then once I saw the movie and spotted famous designs, I spent as much time as possible avoiding writing this entry.  But, I can’t deny that the Cullen’s house in Twilight is rather magnificent.  And Edward’s room, in particular, caught my eye.

The Cullen's house, Forks, Washington

The house used as the Cullen’s home was designed by architect Jeff Kovel and is actually the Hoke Residence (2007) in Portland, Oregon.  But I think Christopher Brown (who has also worked on Mad Men) and Ian Phillips, the movie’s art directors and  Gene Serdena, the movie’s set decorator, are to be credited with designing Edward Cullen’s cultured bedroom.  Remember, Edward Cullen is 109 years old, so if anyone would know good design …I’m just saying he’s had time to work out the kinks in his personal style.

Edward Cullen's bedroom

As everyone knows, vampires don’t sleep.  But who am I to question their necessity of a daybed, especially when it is the iconic daybed designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Barcelona couch designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1930

This classic piece of furniture has an interesting background.  In 1929, Mies van der Rohe designed the German Pavilion for the International Exposition of that same year in Barcelona, Spain.  It was for this pavilion that he designed chairs and stools, creating the Barcelona collection.

The Barcelona Pavilion and the aptly named Barcelona chairs and stools

The accompaning daybed/couch was designed in 1930 for use in Philip Johnson’s apartment at 424 East 52nd Street, New York overlooking the Museum of Modern Art’s garden.  And it was not until 1931, at the Berlin Bau-Austellung, or the German Building Exhibition, in Berlin, Germany that this piece of furniture was seen by the public.  Featured in an exhibit called “The Dwelling of Our Time,” the couch was featured in Mies van der Rohe’s Apartment for a Bachelor.

The daybed has also been photographed in The Farnsworth House (1945-1951) in Plano, Illinois and Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1949) in New Canaan, Connecticut.  Mies van der Rohe sold the design to Knoll in 1953 and it is still made by that company today.

Living room in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, 1951, with the Barcelona chairs and couch displayed

Living room in Philip Johnson's Glass House, 1949, with the Barcelona chairs, stool and couch displayed

Besides liking a piece of furniture that had been displayed in a bachelor pad exhibit, I think that I could see the 109-year-old unattached Edward Cullen adhering to Mies van der Rohe’s maxim of “less is more.”  (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Another view of Edward Cullen's bedroom reveals more design objects

Other famous furniture in Edward Cullen’s room includes his desk chair.  It is an Eames Molded Plywood Dining Chair, or in his case, a desk chair.

Eames Molded Plywood Dining Table and Chairs set

Charles and Ray Eames designed this ergonomical chair in 1946, making it a fairly ironic chair for a vampire to use.  It’s not like he’s going to have a stiff back or sore shoulders, is it? It has been sold since 1946, as it is sold now, by Herman Miller.  This influential design couple met when they were both adult students at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1940.  By 1942 they had moved to Los Angeles California and went on to design furniture, architecture and create films together.  They were both proponents of modern design and major influences on Modern Architecture.

According to the Herman Miller website, in 1999, the Eames Molded Plywood Chair was named by Time Magazine to be The Best Design of the 20th Century.  They playfully mention that the locomotive came in second.

It is interesting to note that in the early 1940s, Charles Eames was a set architect for MGM Studios. And he is noted, by the Design Museum, as having worked on Mrs. Miniver.

Edward Cullen’s room, while, I would venture to say, is nothing like a regular teenage boy’s room, it may be our first glimpse of an average vampire posing-as-a-teenager-but-who-in-reality-is-over-a-century-old’s room.  Minimalist in decoration, a little messy and filled with icons of design he’s collected over the years.

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Wimbledon

It’s no coincidence that when I saw this movie I was instantly taken by Peter Colt’s parents’ house.  I had just moved back to the US from the UK where I spent a year travelling around with my graduate school class studying residential architecture and interiors.

Peter Colt's parents house in the movie Wimbledon is actually Norney, Shackleford, Surrey, 1897 by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey

We had even made a trip to see Broadleys (1898)  on Lake Windermere in Cumbria.  And except that Broadleys in on the water, the two houses – Broadleys and the Colt’s home in the movie – are quite similar.

Broadleys, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, 1898

It was a house called Norney, by C.F.A. Voysey, that was used in the movie Wimbledon as the main character, Peter Colt’s, parents’ home.  I think that’s what I love about Voysey’s houses; they always feel like a parents’ home to me.  The warmth of the wood, the organic feel of the interior design and the way they appear to have grown over time, as the family has, makes them welcoming and comfortable.  Yet, at the same time, their use of vernacular architectural details and their sheer size give them a regal quality that their often used title of ‘cottage’ usually doesn’t cover.

Norney's facade as seen in Wimbledon

According to the English Heritage website, Norney was built for Reverend Leighton Crane.  The round window, seen in the picture above, was often seen in Voysey’s architecture.

Exterior of Norney near the rear garden as seen in the movie

At Broadleys, large bands of glazing jut out from the house in bay windows, a design feature also seen at Norney

C.F.A. Voysey was an English architect, textile designer and furniture designer during the Arts and Crafts period.  And though his designs followed the simple country look of the Movement, using the English vernacular style of the 17th century, he is still considered a pioneer of Modern Architecture.  Though, that distinction comes from those whom he influenced and was not his intention.

Broadleys lock detail

Voysey paid very close attention to detail – he designed the furniture for his houses – and even the lock designs as seen in the example above from Broadleys.  Other similarities I noticed between Broadleys and Norsey, while watching Wimbledon, included the upstairs hallway and the staircase.

Upstairs hallway at Broadleys

Upstairs hallway of Norney as seen in Wimbledon

Both hallways feature a balcony where one can look over the room below.  They also both have rounded doorways and slanted ceilings or walls that make sure you know you’re upstairs and just below the line of the roof.  I associate upstairs ceilings that slant with small cottages and it is with details like this that Voysey is able to give these substantial homes the feel of a small cottage.

The staircase at Broadleys

The staircase at Norney with Carl and Peter Colt (James McAvoy and Paul Bettany) in the movie Wimbledon

While you can see that the layout of Broadleys and Norney are mirror images of each other, their similarities are striking.  They are after all both created with the architectural language of Voysey.  Both staircases feature flat and closely spaced rails.  They also both have wood panelled walls and a highly placed windows in the stairwell that lives in an area between the two floors, not really belonging to either one.  Unfortunately, during my trip to Broadleys, I did not find James McAvoy on the staircase.  But it wasn’t a total loss because I loved my time spent there and it helped me to instantly recognize the house of Peter Colt’s family as a piece of Voysey architecture.

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Men Who Stare at Goats

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you that I find myself once again writing about Scandinavian furniture. Even more shocking is that it was from a movie about the American Army in the late 1970s. But, none-the-less, there I was last weekend, in the cinema, watching Men Who Stare at Goats and I found that I was staring at the furniture.

Kevin Spacey's character hides under a teak bench.

The movie takes place, partially, in the late 1970s on Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina.  I’m not sure how successful I’m going to be at researching standard issue Army furniture – so far – I’m not turning up much!  But I do know that Scandinavian furniture was very popular for office furniture in the 1960s and 70s – just think Mad Men.

Don Draper's Office

The furniture was mass-produced, sleek, functional and masculine.  So, extrapolate that into the Army not putting quite the same amount of importance on aesthetics as advertisement executives on Madison Avenue and there you have Kevin Spacey’s character, Larry Hooper, hiding under a teak bench with Danish corded seats next to a coordinating teak side table, about a decade after they were first popularized.

Danish Corded Chair

(Sidenote:  if we think too much about Mad Men I’m going to have to develop an entirely new blog devoted to how I adore the set design of that show.)

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The Julie/Julia Project

This past week I went to see Julie & Julia – which, if you’re interested, I thoroughly enjoyed.  Julie Powell moves into a new apartment with her husband in Long Island City, Queens at the beginning of the film.  It’s right above a pizzeria and she and her husband have the whole top floor to themselves – though it’s still a studio.  Their front door is on the ground floor, but as soon as one enters the door there is a flight of stairs leading up to the apartment.  They do a lovely job of decorating their apartment with a mix of modern, comfortable furniture and a sort of unfortunate dorm-like sense of style.  I like the mix’n’match where nothing really matches, but everything goes, like the different sets of drapes.  But, the baker’s rack as a room divider and clothing storage is a little too revealing for me.  The thing that really got my attention in their apartment was the dinging room table and chairs.  (What also got my attention was how movies are able to make apartments in New York City seem to be the most quaint  and cozy places you’ve ever been rather than the most minuscule and cramped.)  The dining room table is an old farm style pedestal table, like the one every member of my family from the mid-west has; it just seems so quintessentially homey to me.  The chairs around Julie Powell’s table are what really caught my eye.

Julie Powell's Thonet chairs in her Queens apartment.

Julie Powell's Thonet chairs in her Queens apartment.

They have a set of four Thonet bentwood dining side chairs.  This is interesting because we see Thonet chairs in Julia Child’s part of the story too.

Julia Child at Le Cordon Bleu with Thonet chairs

Julia Child at Le Cordon Bleu with Thonet chairs

Pictured above at Le Cordon Bleu are several Thonet Vienna Cafe No. 18 chairs.  The houses Julia and Paul Child lived in in Paris, Marseilles, Oslo and Cambridge were fantastic! I really enjoyed getting to move around with the Childs.  In Paris, we mostly spent time in the kitchen – oh, wait, we spent the whole movie in kitchens and dining rooms!  My favorite was the cool colors of the Norwegian kitchen; in that scene we follow the Childs from the kitchen into a sitting room.

The Childs' kitchen in Norway

The interior reminds me of a mid-20th century take on one of my favorite artist/illustrators, a Swede, Carl Larsson.

Old Anna by Carl Larsson, 1896

While he was from the early 20th century, his Scandinavian sensibility was obviously still influential on material culture 40 years later.  And it was in the 1950s when Scandinavian design became popular with its simple, clean lines of design.  This is around the time that Julia Child would have lived there.  So, we can see in her kitchen what appears to be a cane back chair by mid-century Danish designer Jens Risom.

Jens Risom cane back arm chair

Jens Risom cane back arm chair

Wow, I really didn’t expect this post to turn into such a Scandinavian love fest! But starting with Thonet’s invention of bentwood was bound to lead us straight to those indebted to him – the Scandinavian modern movement.  So, since we’re already on that path, I’ll finish up by noting that Julie Powell’s desk chair, in her apartment, also appears to be Scandinavian – maybe even Danish.  I rather like the symmetry of Julie’s interiors reflecting those of Julia.  It also shows how powerful and timeless great design can be!

Julie's Scandinavian desk chair

Julie's Scandinavian desk chair

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Let’s begin at the very beginning …a very good place to start.

Of course they grew up singing ...they had a stage built into their house.

Of course they grew up singing ...they had a stage built into their house.

When you think back to the first time you watched The Sound of Music – I’m assuming you’ve seen it more than once – what is it you remember about it?  The music?  The love story?  The dancing?  I remember the von Trapps’ house and how I wished I could make a dramatic exit each night as a child ascending the grand staircase as I bid my parents good night.  I remember that Maria goes to an armoire to get Liesl a clean and dry night gown after she has gotten caught in the rain – and I had never had an armoire.
Maria and the children ...but check out that armoire!

Maria and the children ...but check out that armoire!

I was looking around the dining room while the children were playing tricks on Maria and trying to absorb every detail of it.  And, I remember wishing I could somehow fit a marionette stage in my house.
The dark wood, crystal and smooth wallpaper drew me in.

The dark wood, crystal and smooth wallpaper drew me in.

All my life I’ve been watching the backgrounds in movies.  OK, I’ve been watching the stories too, but maybe my brain was doing double time or something because I would always look over at my mom after a movie and ask something along the lines of, “Did you see the dress that girl was wearing?” or, “I would love to have a room like those girls, with an en suite bathroom!”  (I didn’t actually know words like ‘en suite’ when I was 8), but I knew what I liked in movies and it was the interior decoration, the furniture, the clothes and the design.  So, I’ve since gotten two degrees in historical architecture and design and thought I’d share what I noticed in movies with others.

The marionette stage

The marionette stage.

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