My first brush with the architectural style known as Brutalism occurred at this building. I spent many many hours at John P. Robarts library at the University of Toronto, poring over original journals for my thesis "British Travellers in France During the Revolutionary Era". The building was commonly referred to as Fort Book, but comparisons were also made to a peacock or Viking ship. The latter seemed apt to me as I often felt like a prisoner trapped in the hull. Good times.
You'd be forgiven if you assumed the term 'Brutalism' was a derivative of the word brutal. After all, take another look at that building. It's a brute. In fact, Brutalism originates from the French béton brut, or "raw concrete", a term that describes the material used to clad these buildings. Brutalism was reviled by many. Haters gonna hate, including Prince Charles.
But you know how sometimes the coolest thing to do is embrace the thing most people think is ugly? Well, that and a good dose of nostalgia, are behind a new appreciation of Brutalism.
In the decorative arts, the style is realized in rough hammered bronze, oxidized brass with jagged edges and bulky wooden case goods decorated in geometric designs. A recent trip to New York to tour the 1st Dibs gallery at the New York Design Center confirmed that Brutalism is definitely happening. Here are some finds.
This 1970s wall sculpture by Silas Seandel called "Sunspots" was tagged at $20,000.
I didn't catch the price on this mirror, but I predict you will be seeing modern reproductions of this type of item more and more in the coming year or so.
Brutalist lighting takes statement lighting to another level. I love this 1966 chandelier by Tom Greene, $5,200. Do you love it or hate it?
Here's another Tom Greene design, $3,800. This one reminds me of a wasp nest.
The 1st Dibs bricks and mortar location doesn't lend itself to displays of larger furniture pieces, so I clicked over to the site and found this interesting piece. It's a cerused oak credenza made by The Lane Furniture Company in the 1960s. This block front design is a reference to the Cityscape line by Paul Evans. I must say it also makes me think, hmmm, I wonder if you could DIY a plain credenza by adding blocks of wood and then staining it all black?
And for reference sake, here is a pair of wall-mounted cabinets by Paul Evans featuring the geometric Cityscape design. I'm pretty much in love with these. Just need $13,500.
What do you think of Brutalism? Love? Hate?
Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of going behind-the-scenes at West Elm's HQ in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Only days before, former president Bill Clinton had also visited the office. He was there to learn more about the brand's commitment to pay $35 million directly to artisans around the world who produce products for West Elm using handcrafted techniques — and the buzz of his visit still lingered, leaving everyone in high spirits.
I was soon being led past beautiful rooms where product for Holiday 2014 was perfectly styled and presented, and into the busy design offices where shelves were messily piled with samples, walls were littered with pictures and palettes, and the seeds of new ideas were being planted and grown.
Jonathan Orr, West Elm's VP of design for textiles and decorative accessories, had recently returned with his team from Peru carrying armfuls of pottery, blankets, knits and photographs that were laid out on tables. Why Peru? Orr said something about it being "in the air" — you see a nod to it here, a hint of it there, and suddenly it's of the moment... or it will be next spring and fall, when the designers at West Elm turn their inspirations into the pieces we'll all be coveting in 2015.
Expect to see lots of fabulous fringe, shaggy textures, bright but earthy colours and beautifully woven textiles. I was surprised to discover that there's a mini loom right in the office, which is used to work out patterns and create the samples that are later put into production.
Indeed, a lot of design work, at least in the initial stages, is still done the old fashioned way — by hand. In an area removed from the main offices, down a hallway and tucked behind industrial shelves stuffed with stock, was what amounted to an art studio. Pots of paint, colour-stained brushes and clusters of mini bottles topped with eye droppers crowded a long desk. I also spotted delicate watercolour sketches that may one day be turned into patterns for bedding and textiles.
Images painted for spring and summer 2015 had already made the leap from paper to pillows.
I was particularly excited to see these two mood boards. Alexander Calder is one of my favourite artists, and while Scandinavian mid-century is hardly a new idea in 2014, never mind 2015, I found myself swooning over the tangerine, midnight blue and cream palette. Perhaps it's time for me to get my own hands dirty with a little paint.
While I was in New York, I spent the weekend at the new Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side. The hotel, which is owned by the same team behind The Marlton, opened its doors in early June and was still undergoing construction when I was there, but any resulting inconveniences were overshadowed by the serendipitous moments that came out of the dust. After a maintenance man visited my room to monitor the air conditioning, he kindly snuck me up to the unfinished rooftop to take in the incredible view and peer into the windows of the still-unfinished luxury suites. Once the hammers and the drills fall silent, I will be back.
This is the courtyard, where I enjoyed breakfast.
And here some professional pics of the rooms.
1-10. Kimberley Brown
11-12. Ludlow Hotel
Historically toiles (scenic patterns printed on light cotton) have featured romanticized pastoral scenes: gamboling sheep, rolling hills, cavorting shepherdesses. These toile wallpapers riff on themes that reflect a more modern experience: think strip malls, trash day collection, and even the odd crime and misdemeanor, and offer a hip spin on urban life.
Undoubtedly one of the most famous of the urban toiles (an inductee into the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum) is NYC designer Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile, which lampoons cultural African American stereotypes. Viewed from afar, the look of this toile is traditional, but the social context is much more complex. "Eighteenth-century French toile depicted pastoral scenes with classical ruins, ladies in frilly dresses on swings," Bridges says. "I wanted to make my own pastoral countryside, and the countryside of America is the suburbs."
Timorous Beasties is known for their lush, striking and edgy wallpaper designs, and this London Toile is rife with contemporary social ills that plague urban centres: homelessness, solicitation, public intoxication and a gunpoint mugging.
A rusted Mercedes and creaking metal gate is part of the cityscape of Darling, on the coast of South Africa, which inspired the pattern for The Wren Design.
Jessica Smith's toile fabric on the left is an homage to the time-honoured ritual of trash day pick-up, while a Gaugin-esque sun worshipper lolls under the palms at one of South Beach's boutique hotel pools.
This Spying on China toile pattern, also by Jessica Smith, has political overtones, showing the after-effects of a 2001 collision between an American spy plane and a jet off the coast of Hainan Island.
Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys worked with Revolver New York to create his Brooklyn Toile that extolls life in the King's borough, sprinkled with images of the Coney Island roller coaster, Hasidic Jews, Notorious B.I.G. and elevated subway tracks.
The banalities we pass every day are present and accounted for in Groovy Q's Dirty Linen collection. Strip malls, shopping carts and gas pumps are elevated to new, poetic heights, even though the toile itself is discontinued.
See our photo gallery of Wallpapered Rooms for more inspiration.
1a. Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile, Style Noir blog
1b. Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile, Blu Label Bungalow blog
2. London Toile, Timorous Beasties
3. Darling Toile du Jouy, The Wren Design
4a. Jessica Smith's Trash Day Toile, Furniture Seen blog
4b. Jessica Smith's South Beach Toile, The Well-Appointed Catwalk blog
5. Jessica Smith's Spying on China, Design Salad blog
6. Mike Diamond's Brooklyn Toile, Revolver New York
7. Groovy Q, If It's Hip, It's Here blog
Maybe it's coincidence, but the past three stories I have worked on all incorporated some industrial barn lighting (one cottage used exterior lights picked up for a song at country hardware stores as sconces in a living room). The cage doesn't seem to rattle anyone, inside or out, and you can milk the industrial vibe and vintage charm anywhere. (No more corny farm references, promise.)
On working farms, the safety cages protected startled farm animals from smashing the lightbulbs with a swing of their heads. Both the gooseneck light and Demerara shutters on this Florida bungalow (left) can stand up to hazards of a different kind: high winds and blowing debris during hurricane season. Indoors, barn lights offer an industrial touch as a gritty alternative to picture lights, and match the mood of these battered leather club chairs perfectly.
Barn lights are a natural fit with homespun details like a beadboard ceiling and a simple medallion.
Unpainted steel versions have a nice patina, but these black pendants are distinctive and sharp.
Get more ideas in our Statement Lighting photo gallery.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine who's a real estate agent told me that if she saw one more tasteful grey living room, she was going to throw a can of hot pink paint at it. Thankfully, it didn't come to that. Not long after, the current trend for colour and pattern brought a welcome relief from the blah of all that beige, greige and grey.
I still cheer the era of wild florals, bold graphic prints and brave colours — alone or mixed, if you dare. But lately I find I'm also drawn to a simpler setting, although one that still takes some guts. More specifically, I can't get enough of vertical black and white stripes.
Their mod mood and stark palette offer a welcome relief from the richly layered boho look adopted by global nomads and armchair travellers alike (it's a virtual world after all). And the stripes slip seamlessly into every style of home, just as easily as they moved from Marc Jacob's runway (above) — always an arbiter of trends to come — to rooms.
Whether you take an all-or-nothing approach or introduce the look in small but mighty doses, its effect is the same: fashion forward without trying too hard — a cardinal sin of great style.
I'm thinking of introducing the look in my bathroom, which already has black and white tiles. Where would you adopt the trend in your home?
See our gallery of black rooms for more ideas.
Recently one of our design editors spied a tony Toronto residence with synthetic grass, and commented how odd it was to see an emerald green lawn in January. We admit, faux grass has come a long way since the first indoor/outdoor variety, when the "blades" were a blazing, toxic green and a uniform height.
It ended up sparking discussion about how real the new versions look (RyMar's Sequoia even has root tendrils), and whether it was a design faux pas.
Even on something as decidedly downscale as the Spadina streetcar island (above). The pluses of synthetic grass? It can be installed under a tree where real grass won't grow, or in punishing, full sun. It saves water and doesn't need fertilizing. No cutting, mud or bugs.
And dogs can't yellow it (pet turf, pictured above — and disinfectant sprays — are a category unto themselves in the world of faux lawns). We've even heard of designers installing it on their condo balcony so their dogs can use it in a pinch.
But for many, faux grass remains a "lawn toupee" and too lushly fake, especially in a northern climate. Would you say synthetic grass is wonderful, or just plain weird?
To see how faux grass can fit right into a backyard, watch this video tour of a lush urban oasis.
Black Swan may have put ballet back in the spotlight, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I'm declaring 2013 the year of ballet. People are watching ballet sitcoms and doing ballet-inspired workouts. The New York City Ballet recently launched a street art series, Vivienne Westwood is rebranding the English National Ballet and fashion designers showed ballet-inspired collections for spring — everyone is stepping up to the barre.
Christian Siriano Spring 2013
Interiors are no exception to the trend. Soft, sun-washed shades of pink offer a look that's feminine but grown up. Just a whisper on walls or curtains will cater to your inner ballerina, while still looking sophisticated.
I dare you not to sashay your way from room to room.
I love the barely-there blush tones in this room.
Pair pink with cream and white for a dreamy, airy interior.
Isn't this plush bedroom heavenly?
Modern furniture with tan and taupe accents keeps pink curtains looking contemporary.
Add a hit of pink to any neutral room with this Moroccan pouf.
This vintage Louis XVI Gilt Armchair is fit for a princess — or a prima ballerina.
Subtle silver sequins add a glam touch to this velvet throw pillow.
2. House & Home June 2010 issue, photography by Pieter Estersohn
4. Crystal Gentilello
5. House & Home April 2011, photography by Virginia Mcdonald
6. Serena & Lily
7. The Cross Decor & Design
8. Chapters Indigo
9. Farrow & Ball
Talk about back-handed compliments. Upholstering chair backs in a contrasting fabric doubles the impact and is an easy way to stage a design surprise. It also solves the dilemma of having to choose between two favourite upholstery fabrics. Here's to having your cake and eating it, too.
Business in the front, pretty in the back.
An Asian-inspired print on the back of designer Laura Day's turquoise settee is like the portal to another world.
A marriage of serious stripes with a curvaceous boho pattern, for a layered effect.
A contrasting back tempers the bold hue on the cushions.
And there's no need to go hog wild with sharply different colours or patterns; the texture of burlap lends a subtle bump to canvas.
A splashy floral print is the equivalent of a permanent bouquet in this home office.
Read more about reupholstering chairs in this blog post.
Since seeing Juli Daoust and John Baker's (owners of Mjölk in Toronto) plywood cottage in our June 2011 issue and on Online TV, plywood's been all over my radar. Although the floor-to-ceiling look shown below is mighty eye-catching, I'd rather showcase it in a smaller fashion.
Here are some quirky ways to get into the plywood trend without committing to a wood-veneer-overhaul:
Plywood furniture and lighting are über-cool right now. The aesthetic is simple and minimalist, but most importantly, incredibly easy to make!
If the thought of mitre cuts and wood glue make you cringe, ask your local lumberyard to cut you a piece, and fit it as a headboard. Throw a few wooly blankets on your bed and you've achieved that cabin-cool look in your builder-basic condo. That was easy.
For additional texture, particle board does the trick. These cubbies scream "backyard shed!" but look perfect against the grittiness of this home's exposed brick and knotty pine floor.
No more space for furniture, you say? Don't fret — you can still be part of the cool clique with this plywood-print pillow by Swedish company How Are You.
For more trends, check out our January 2013 issue.
1. Dwell magazine, photography by Simon Devitt, designed by Pattersons Architects
2. Wolfgang Behnken's home from Elle Decor Italia, photography by Mark Seelen
4. Plank by Frida Ottemo Fröberg & Marie-Louise Gustafsson, Northern Lighting
5. Design Hunter
6. Plywood print canvas pillow from How Are You
Lucite has a fantasy mystique about it. Maybe it's because it looks like a block of ice even on the hottest day in summer, or Lucite's space-age "nothingness" seems to magically levitate objects placed on top of it (including people, in the case of chairs). Lucite's a neat trick in any room.
Warm metal heats up icy backs and legs on Lucite chairs.
A lighter-than-air dining table floats off a white plank floor.
A glam coffee table lets a rug pattern peek through.
A clever use of Lucite, this clear shelving is thick enough to be substantial, yet almost invisible.
A Lucite console cuts the sweetness of a girly vanity ...
... and steps in as a sleek display in a foyer.
1st Dibs is a great spot to source vintage Lucite furnishings.
Browse our Iconic Furniture From A-Z for more classic furniture.