Tag Archives: Scandinavian design

The Avengers Background

When I’m watching an action movie, I don’t necessarily think I’m going to see (or pay attention to) the sets.  And if that action movie is also based on comic book characters, then I tend to think it’s going to be so futuristic that the sets might not have any relationship to historic design.  But, The Avengers proved me wrong! And I love it!  Here are some things I noticed.

Scarlett Johansen as Black Widow

When Black Widow goes to visit Hawkeye in the recovery room she pours him a glass of water.  I noticed the pitcher she poured the water from as a bit of Scandinavian design.

Black Widow pours water for Hawkeye from …of course …a black pitcher.

Erik Magnussen designed this pitcher for the company called Stelton.  He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1940 and graduated as a ceramist from the School of Applied Arts and Design in 1960.  In 1983 he was chosen “designer of the year” by the Danish Design Council.

Black Widow and a refreshed Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)

I also noticed Tony Stark’s home.  Truthfully, I’ve been noticing his home(s) since the first Iron Man movie – but that will be a post of its own.  If the saying is true, and money can’t buy taste, then Mr. Stark is fortunate enough to have both.  For the first two movies, production designer, J. Michael Riva created a horizontally sprawling Charles Lautner-inspired dream space for Stark.  For The Avengers, James Chinlund created a vertical tower, with Tony Stark’s multi-story penthouse at the top.

Stark Tower and landing pad

Besides the completely bad-ass landing pad where Iron Man lands – and through the talents of Stark technologies disassembles his armor – and emerges as Tony Stark, there are the modernist interiors.  In an interview with the LA Times, Chinlund says of Stark Tower, “Tony Stark bought the iconic MetLife Building (formerly the PanAm Building) and ripped off the top, adding his own piece of parasitic architecture to the top. The height of arrogance and the essence of Stark.”  Parade magazine also has a great feature on Stark’s penthouse in The Avengers.

Tony Stark and Pepper Pot’s penthouse in Manhattan.

The penthouse, just like his houses in previous movies has a circular shape to it and is surrounded by windows, and magnificent views.

Loki and Tony Stark in the penthouse with a view of the Chrysler  Building

My favorite thing I noticed in this movie was an obvious one, I know.  But, Iron Man wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt made me chuckle; like, even he gets the joke.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt

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The Dragon Tattoo and Swedish Wallpaper

When this film started, I had no way of knowing how much I would get wrapped up in it!  (I had a similar experience with the book too.)  The story is excellent, the acting is amazing, but it was the interesting British and Swedish decorative arts and parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (one of my favorite things to talk about) that made me into a full-on fanatic about this movie.

First, let’s start with the decorative arts.  This movie is filled with design.  (Oh, and I just want to say that I’m not going to spoil anything …the story is too good for me to deprive anyone of that suspense!)  The story revolves around a wealthy Swedish family, the Vangers, so of course they live in some fabulous buildings.  The family’s main home, is so grand and austere, you would think they were royalty.

Erstaviks castle in Nacka Municipality, Sweden, that played the part of the Vanger family home.

When we are introduced to the Vanger son’s home we get a glimpse of modern design.  Martin Vanger’s home was supposed to have been built in 1979, and is unlike any other space we visit in the movie.

Martin Vanger's house

The plot centers around a journalist who is brought in to investigate a long unsolved the murder of one of the Vanger children, Harriet Vanger.  His investigation begins as he is hired by the patriarch of the family, Henrik Vanger.  Henrik received a framed pressed flower every year for his birthday, just as Harriet had given him, every year, when she was alive.

Every year for his birthday, Henrik receives a pressed flower in a frame. Uhh ...he's pretty old.

While researching the family and unsolved crime, the journalist, Mikael Blomqkist, stays on the family estate in a small cabin, down the road from Martin Vanger.  It is here that we see some historic designs.  The wallpaper in this cabin is by the Swedish (born Austrian) architect and designer, named Josef Frank (1885-1967).  Frank’s work in architecture, and especially in furniture, textile and wallpaper design had a profound impact on the Swedish Style of the mid 20th century.  But this so-called Swedish style did not begin with Frank.  It  began around the time of his birth in the 1880s with William Morris (1834-1896) in England. As William Morris shaped the public taste of Victorian England, he influenced a movement that was spreading across all of Europe.  The Arts and Crafts Movement stressed the importance of handmade craftsmanship and an appreciation for nature.  (To sum up the movement in far too few words!)  These beliefs can be clearly scene in his wallpaper.  Creating in the traditional style, William Morris’ wallpapers were made from vegetable dyes and used the hand woodblock technique.

William Morris' "Daisy" wallpaper, 1864

William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts Movement directly influenced the Swedish painter and interior designer, Carl Larsson (1853-1919).  He, in following Morris (he was 20 years Morris’ junior), created an artistic house.  Larsson and his wife, Karin, filled their home with their artistic touches.  Where previously only the “fine arts,” painting and sculpture, would have been used to decorate a house, they painted and decorated walls, furniture and textiles.  The Larssons also documented their entire house in the book, Ett hem, published in 1899.  Their use of Swedish folklore and their belief in the beauty of nature can be seen in every print Larsson put into the book.

"In the Corner" by Carl Larsson, 1894 and published in Ett hem, this is a view of the drawing room. Notice the hand painted stove to the right. It is covered in botanical prints, similar to Morris' "Daisy" pattern wallpaper. (This artwork is now at The National Museum Sweden.)

With the publishing of this book, and the introduction of his style and views on home life to the Swedish people, Larsson helped to create a modern Swedish style.  (I do also need to point out Larsson’s debt to the English illustrator Kate Greenaway and her depiction of English childhood surrounded by Queen Anne architecture.)

Here is another view of the stove in the drawing room, with painter, carpenter and Carl Larsson himself in the mirror.

Okay, okay, back to the movie!!  So, with that brief history of Morris and Larsson in mind, imagine my excitement, when Blomkvist walks into his cabin and we see a view of the paper covering the walls.

Josef Frank wallpaper in Blomkvist's cabin

Josef Frank would have been familiar with Larsson and Morris’ work.  And as a last generation of the Arts and Crafts Movement, he held on to the love of brightly colored, stylized natural motifs and it shines here brightly in his botanical print wallpaper with a print called Vårklockor.

Josef Frank's wallpaper pattern, Vårklockor, from the 1940s. It was manufactured by the Norrköping Wallpaper Factory.

This is such an interesting choice to me.    In reconciling the design against the movie’s plot, it is curious that the wallpaper put up in a Vanger cabin was designed by Josef Frank, a man of Jewish descent.  (Part of the story behind the Vanger family is its involvement with the Nazi party …and I’ll leave it at that.  Like I said, I don’t want any spoilers!)

Another view of Blomkvist's cabin, with Josef Frank's wallpaper.

There is another scene in which we see this wallpaper, but this time it has a dark background.  Also, the bench in this scene caught my eye.

Once again we see Frank's Vårklockor pattern, along side an Eastlake style bench.

Up close, as seen below, the wallpaper is very vibrant.  But,  I like the aged look it has in the film.  Still, the pattern is distinct, and it is certainly Josef Frank’s design.

Josef Frank's Vårklockor pattern wallpaper with a black background.

The bench, in the picture above, where Lisbeth Salander is seated, will again take us back to England.  And, I can’t imagine how I made it this far into my story without mentioning Lisbeth!  She is a fantastic heroine, and I think one of my favorites.  Curiously enough, one of Carl Larsson’s daughters was named Lisbeth, and is featured in the prints of Ett hem.  ( I love little coincidences like that.)  I can’t say for certain whether the bench is Swedish or English, but it definitely finds its provenance in England.  As part of the firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., designer and architect, Philip Webb (1831-1915), created the Morris Adjustable Chair in 1866.

The "Morris Adjustable Chair" from Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., by Philip Webb, 1866.

Notice the similarity in the chair rail, arms and legs of the Morris Adjustable Chair to the bench Lisbeth sits on …and yet there are differences.  The bench takes its slimmer silhouette from the Firm’s Sussex line.

The Firm's Sussex chair line, designed 1865.

Yet, that still doesn’t quite cover it.  I think the bench we see in the movie was very much influenced by Charles Eastlake (1836-1906).  And his influence too would have been felt by Carl Larsson.  Eastlake, an English architect and designer was William Morris’ contemporary.  His book, Hints on Household Taste, published in Great Britain in 1868, presented the idea that the decor of a home should have a continuity in style.  His ideas not only help spread the word of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but it would have influenced Larsson in the decorating of his family home too.

This is an American example of the Charles Eastlake style, and I think a very close look-alike to the bench in the film. (Circa 1880 from D. Dexter's Sons, it is now a part of the Brooklyn Museum's collection.)

Finally, the parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo gave me chills!  Not in a, “oh I’ve already seen this but it’s still great” kind of way, but in a way where new life was brought into a mystery and love story so dark, it chills you to your core beliefs.  Henrik Vanger bears a resemblance to Jimmy Stewart’s main character in Vertigo, Scottie Ferguson.  And just like Scottie, Henrik finds himself so entranced with a dead woman, his niece, that he has put his life on hold trying to find her and bring her back to life.  It is the botanical prints that he loved so dearly as a gift from Harriet that now haunt him on a yearly basis …and also offers the production designers of this movie a brilliant reason to incorporate such historically charged botanical wallpaper into the set design.

There is a necklace that plays a role in the story of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while it is not as central to the story as the necklace in Vertigo is, it is still a game changer.  The necklace Cecelia (Henrik’s niece) is wearing at one point is the same necklace that Harriet is wearing in a photograph, this brings back Michael’s memory, just as Carlotta’s necklace brings back Scottie’s.  Michael is reminded of his childhood, when his nanny was the same Harriet Vanger that he is now searching for, and two women’s identities are woven together into one.

Sources:

The Arts & Crafts Companion, Pamela Todd, Bulfinch Press, 2004

Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style, Michael Snodin and Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark, Bulfinch Press, 1997

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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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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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