Friday, June 29, 2007

Over and Out

Have a lovely almost-holiday weekend! (And Bay Area locals, don't miss the Alameda Antiques & Collectibles Faire this Sunday at its new location.)

(Above: "First Sparkler," by flickr member Erin MJ.)

Low to High: Capiz Shell Chandeliers

So I was clicking around on the amazing Emmerson Troop site the other day, drooling at all the gorgeousness that I will never, ever be able to afford.

Then I spotted the capiz shell chandelier above. "Oh," I thought, "that's just like the one from West Elm that we hung over the staircase." Then I looked at the price: $3,360. (Yes, you read that right: Three thousand three hundred and sixty dollars.)

Now, I'm sure that Emmerson Troop's chandelier is handmade by skilled artisans over the course of three years in an endangered rain forest in the South Pacific and that each delicate, iridescent shell is backed in solid gold or something. But $3,360? The West Elm version is $99.

Then I did a little Googling, and quickly found five other variations of this pretty light. Turns out that West Elm's isn't even the cheapest, and there are a few versions that cost a few hundred bucks apiece.

Lets take a look at them all side-by-side, shall we?

Top left to right: Gwen Carlton Hydromedusa #4 Pendant, $3,360, at Emmerson Troop; Tiered Capiz Chandelier, $645, from BeachDwelling; middle left to right: Ballard Designs' Capiz Shell Pendant, $349; Capiz Shell Chandelier, $318, at The Well Appointed House; Capiz Chandelier, $128, from SeaCrest Trading Company; bottom left to right: West Elm Capiz Circles Pendant Lamp, $99; Capiz Hanging Pendant, $70, at Cost Plus World Market

Granted, the Emmerson Troop-version has a designer name attached -- plus, it's triple-tiered, larger, and clearly has a lot more shells than the others. But is that worth the $3K price difference?

You decide.

eBay Find of the Day: Slipper Chairs

These slipper chairs are restored, reupholstered, and super-swanky.

Current bid: $100.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Low to High: Egg Chairs

I've been noticing a lot of furniture "inspired by" the classics lately -- everything from subtle homages to straight-up ripoffs -- as well as some very similar styles in non-trademarked designs that are available at a startlingly wide range of price points.

So I'm trying out a new blog feature called "Low to High" that will compare the high-end designs and the knockoffs side-by-side. (Please feel free to alert me to other examples, and to share your thoughts on buying high vs. low -- and the quality and aesthetic compromises that entails.)

Here, we have Arne Jacobsen's iconic 1958 Egg Chair. Well-preserved originals and authorized reproductions, which are made from the original plans and often by the same manufacturer at the same factory as the real deal, command several thousand dollars. Unauthorized reproductions are a bit less, but probably don't quite measure up in terms of quality of construction and materials, as well as investment value. Finally, there are the pieces that are clearly modeled on the original, but that sell for a fraction of the cost -- and often offer a fraction of the quality and long-term value.

To wit:

Top to bottom and left to right: IKEA Karstad Swivel Chair, about $490; Commander Swivel Chair, $499, from EQ3; "Bolero" Egg Chair Reproduction, $1,150, from Modern Furniture Classics; Egg Chair in wool, $4,892, from Hive Modern; Egg Chair in leather, $10,680, from Design Within Reach

Clearly, DWR's authorized leather Egg is the best-looking of the bunch, and will likely retain its value in the long run. But is it $10K worth of better looking? I guess that depends on your standards -- and your bank balance. Hive Modern's wool version -- which is also manufactured in Denmark by Fritz Hansen, the maker of the original Egg -- is equally swanky. The Bolero looks OK, but I don't think I'd spend more than a grand on a chair whose provenance and authenticity was a little murky. EQ3's polyester-covered Commander just looks a bit saggy, sad, and shabby in comparison to the others.

Personally, I think the IKEA Karlstad is a fine-looking chair at a reasonable price, and it's upholstered in real wool. (This chair is currently available only in the United Kingdom, but I'm hoping it hits these shores soon.) Of course, being from IKEA, I know that it will probably fall apart in a few years. Maybe someday I'll be in more of a position to choose "investment pieces." But for now, that's my pick.

What's yours?

eBay Find of the Day: Karl Springer Lucite Table

Did I mention that, in addition to all my other design fetishes, I have a little Lucite fixation as well? (In fact, I wrote a whole article about it, called "Clearly Cool," which you can find here.)

One of the great things about Lucite is the way it draws the eye without adding any visual weight to a space (great for smaller rooms and those you're trying to keep light and airy), as well as the way it bounces light around the room.

This cool little table was designed by none other than Karl Springer, one of the icons of Lucite furniture (and of general Seventies fabulousness). The Greek Key detail on it is very unusual -- and pretty dang awesome, if you ask me.

Current bid: $154.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wanderlust: The Madonna Inn

When I was growing up, I’d spend a few weeks every summer with my paternal grandparents, who lived in San Luis Obispo near the Central California coast.

Those balmy days with my Grandma and Grandpa hold some of my most cherished childhood memories: Picking strawberries at a local farm (that's me above with my grandmother -- check out my stylin' Seventies short set). Canning pickles with my Grandpa, who used to run an L.A. coffee shop that was frequented by movie folk, as the small kitchen filled with the sharp fragrance of marinating cukes. Baking cinnamon buns with Grandma, and licking copious amounts of her trademark sticky “cinnamon goo” off my fingers. Squeezing the tomatoes to test for ripeness in the tiny but lushly productive garden behind my grandparents’ mobile home. Learning to cast off the pier at Pismo Beach. Attending the hotly redolent county fair, from which both of my grandparents would always take home a blue ribbon or two for the jams and canned goods they’d whipped up. The strange but intoxicating smell of the VO5 pomade in my grandfather's hair, which lingered long after his goodnight hug. Getting tanned, sun-streaked, and freckled from the long afternoons spent at their retirement-community pool ...

My grandfather passed away years ago, but Grandma is still in pretty good shape for a 96-year-old. (The last time I saw her, she took my hand and said, “What’s your name, dear?” But hey, she is 96.)

When all the aunts and uncles and cousins were in town, we’d attend Sunday mass together at the breathtaking, circa-1772 Mission San Luis Obispo. (My grandparents’ devout Catholicism never took, but experiencing the hushed coolness inside those thick adobe walls was a spiritual experience of sorts for me; I dug the architecture, anyway.) Afterward, we’d all head out for brunch at the Copper Cafe, below, in San Luis Obispo’s famed Madonna Inn.

Visiting the Inn was something of a family ritual, and after gobbling down our French toast, we kids would set off to explore the hotel: There’s a waterfall urinal in the men’s room, right, that Grandpa always sneaked everyone (even the girls) in to see. And to our young eyes, the over-the-top rococo décor in the lobby and in the hotel's "fancy" restaurant, below, was nothing short of magical.

Because we were a hide-a-bed and (for a big splurge) motel-dwelling kind of family, we never got to stay there. But we always marveled at the gift-shop postcards depicting some of the Inn’s 109 legendary rooms, each with a different theme -- from baroque Austrian palace to primitive Stone Age cave -- and each decorated with what seemed to be an utter (and utterly lovable) lack of irony.

I was just thinking about the Madonna (apropos of nothing, of course), and -- oh, the wonders of the internets -- stumbled upon this quote about it from Umberto Eco's book Travels in Hyperreality: “The poor words with which natural human speech is provided cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn. Let's say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli."

I also discovered that all 109 of those gloriously tacky guest suites can now be viewed online. Behold, a few of my favorites:

Everything Nice

Irish Hills

Tall and Short

Caveman Room


American Home

Austrian Suite


Kona Rock

Crystal Room


Tack Room

The Madonna Inn aside, though, San Luis Obispo has grown up a lot since my childhood summers there. As the unofficial capitol of the Central California coastal wine region, it could even be considered somewhat sophisticated these days. (Did you see the movie Sideways? The locations are like a cinematic postcard of my youth. Minus the wine, of course.)

You can now visit a few wineries and then stroll through San Luis Obispo’s pretty downtown, with its upscale shops and stylish home boutiques. (Don’t miss Bubble Gum Alley, above, where generations of visitors have written messages on the walls and even created art with their masticated wads.) Check out the Mission, too, and then settle in for a leisurely lunch or dinner at one of the lovely nearby creekside cafés.

Other attractions in the area include Hearst Castle, above, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s historic (and completely off-the-hook) love shack, as well as the quaint beach towns of Pismo, Avila, and Cambria, and the so-cute-it’ll-give-you-cavities Danish village of Solvang (below).

Whether SLO-Town (as the locals call it) is your destination or you're simply seeking shelter during a drive down the California coast, consider booking a night at the Inn.

At the very least, stop in at the Madonna and sneak a peek at that waterfall urinal. I know I'm going to.

Etsy Find of the Day: "Birch Nest" Painting

Portland, Oregon artist Lucia Johnson paints on an unusual medium: Salvaged windows.

Because they're applied directly to glass, Johnson's oil-and-acrylic works have a watery, luminescent quality that's just lovely. I really like her use of color and her slightly surreal style, too.

The 24-by-21-inch painting above, dubbed "Birch Nest," is $250 in Johnson's Etsy Shop. (If that's a little outside your budget, Johnson also has a selection of equally pretty archival prints for just $20 each.)

Color Obsession: Tantalizing Turquoise

I’ve always been utterly immune to blue’s charms. As I’ve said before, the shade simply left me cold, and I failed to see why anyone liked it. At best, I was neutral on some of the prettier French and robin’s egg blues. Even turquoise didn’t do it for me.

But suddenly, I can’t seem to get enough of the happy hue -- whether it’s called turquoise or some variation like “pool,” “azure,” “aqua,” or "Caribbean blue." I’m even trying to figure out which room in our house I can paint the exact color of a Tiffany’s box (and to prove it, I have an actual Tiffany’s box filled with paint chips that are a pretty close match).

For this, I blame my 9-year-old daughter. She has an abiding obsession with anything -- and just about everything -- sporting the beloved color she calls “aquamarine.” Half of her wardrobe falls under this category, as does a good amount of the items in her room. Even the rubber bands on her braces are turquoise.

So at our house, it’s all aqua, all the time. I guess I couldn’t help but be won over.

(And happily, I’ve discovered that turquoise mixes really well with a whole host of other colors, from light neutrals like white, beige, and gray to deep neutrals such as brown, taupe, and charcoal to other poppy brights like yellow, green, and orange, and even deep, dramatic colors like red. Which means that it’s super-easy to migrate in and out of your décor as the mood strikes you.)

Apparently, I’m not alone in my growing appreciation for this summery shade. Textiles, accessories, and even furniture featuring the hue abound these days. Here, a collection of my favorites:

Left to right: West Elm Baton Vases, $4 to $6 each; Jonathan Adler Chroma Small Bottle, $95; Lotus Bleu Lacquer Bamboo Vase, $62

Top left: Urban Outfitters Spindle Lamp Base, $36, and Flocked Mum Lampshade, $28; top center: Pier 1 Teal Drum Table Lamp, $50; top right: Oscar de la Renta Turquoise Lamp, $300, from Horchow; bottom: 1940s French Turquoise Ceramic Lamps, $1,250, from 1stDibs

Left: Shine Citrine Pendant, $490, and Palisades Pendant, $640, from Cottage & Bungalow

Top left to right: Flocked Flower Pillow, $15, from Pier 1; Jonathan Adler Big Sur Pillow, $68; Avis Pillow, $98, from Anthropologie; bottom left to right: Flocked Floor Cushion, $100, from Urban Outfitters; Designers Guild Tatami Turquoise Pillow, $145; Judy Ross Trellis Pillow, $190, from WeegoHome

Left to right: Urban Outfitters Danish Dot Bedspread, $32; Designers Guild Esperanza Bedding, $45 to $280; Mod Coverlet Set, $100, from Pier 1

Left to right: Hollywood Turquoise Fabric, $8.50 per yard, from Contemporary Cloth; Dandy Damask Turquoise Fabric, $9 per yard, from Tonic Living; Denyse Schmidt Katie Jump Robe “Allure Bows” Fabric, $9 per yard, from Purl Soho

Left to right: Florence Broadhurst Dusty Turquoise Shadow Wallpaper and Turquoise Yvans Geometric Reversed Wallpaper, both $448 per roll, from Wandrlust

Left to right: Urban Outfitters Paisley Flower Rug, $28; Jonathan Adler Lacquer Wastebasket, $45; Rainbow Wall Shelves, $49 for three, from the Company Store

Top left: Urban Outfitters Brocade Slipper Chair, $100; top right: ModernDose Trellis Table, $175; bottom left: ModernDose Pop Pedestal Table, $399; bottom right: Eames Molded Plastic Armchair, $329, from Room & Board

Top left to right: Cayman Dinnerware, $1.50 to $7, and Comma Plate, $1, from CB2; Pier 1 Hibiscus Dinnerware, $5 to $6; bottom left to right: Acrylic Diamond Goblet, $6, and Ethereal Decorative Plate, $8, from Urban Outfitters; Le Creuset Caribbean Cookware, $60 to $160, from Sur La Table

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who Knew? The Amazing Shedding Shag

About a year ago, I bought the Quinn Felted Shag Rug from Pottery Barn for our family room. (Our old oriental rug had been through house-training with a new puppy and kitten, and alas, had not survived to tell the tale.)

I had lusted after this rug -- with its incredibly thick, nubby plushness and slightly shagadelic vibe -- for ages, and loved the way it looked in the room and felt underfoot. (Our corgi, Bonnie, regularly throws herself down on it and wriggles all around while emitting yelps of pure joy. Our best guess is that she thinks the rug is another animal, and that they're playing together -- or maybe they're doing something a bit more adult, but I don't want to think about that ... ) I even felt a little smug about snagging the brand-new shag for about half of regular retail, from an eBay seller who lived near a Pottery Barn outlet store.

But let me tell you: This rug has become the absolute bane of my existence. It sheds more than our three housepets combined, and I'm regularly scooping up tumbleweeds of shed shag fibers from around the house. Just vacuuming the rug will fill a brand-new vacuum bag to bursting.

Some internet sleuthing led to a message board where owners of the Quinn and similar felted shags (like the Crate+Barrel Pebbles Shag and West Elm's Cable Shag), as well as trendy-again wool flokati rugs, were ranting about the problem. The consensus seemed to be that the shedding would calm down over time. Sadly, a year down the line, that doesn't seem to be the case with ours. Some nights, I dream of giant spheres of soft white rug fibers blowing across the floor ...

Anyway, consider yourself warned.

(And if anyone has a similar tale to tell -- or, even better, a possible solution to the problem -- please feel free to share it!)

Good Reads: "An Imagined Life"

Don't get me wrong -- blogging is a blast. But if you post every day (on top of having a "real" job or other responsibilities that tend to fill the better part of your waking hours), it can sometimes be a bit of a grind, too. It's all too easy to fall into a quick and businesslike "Look at this: It's cool" blogging style. I'm guilty of it myself.

That's why I especially admire other design bloggers who take the time and invest the blood, sweat, and tears to craft prose that's funny, clever, and surprising.

Right now I'm just loving the "An Imagined Life" posts from Apartment Therapy: Chicago's new contributor, Jessica (aka Cardboard, who moonlights on the great Design Boner blog as well).

Jessica takes a vintage item found at a thrift shop or antiques store and tells its story as she imagines it -- where the piece came from, who its previous owners were, and what it might say to you if you stumbled upon it in some dusty shop corner.

In Jessica's able hands, these furnishings not only have personality, they have dialogue.

Check out "An Imagined Life" here and here.

eBay Find of the Day: Ginger Jar Lamps

Go ahead, call me a "lamp tramp." I won't deny it.

Case in point: I started salivating the second I saw these vintage ceramic ginger jar lamps. The deep turquoise color is amazing, and I love their glamorous form and crackled glaze.

I think I must have them.

Current bid: $153.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cool Stuff: Beearo Wood Wall Graphics

No matter how you feel about the whole wall-decal trend, there's no denying that these wall graphics from Beearo are lovely.

Made from real teak and walnut veneers, they have a naturalness to them that would work well in an "organic modern" space or a spare, Scandinavian-style room. You could also use them to customize a plain white table, cabinet, or dresser.

Unlike some disappointingly small wall decals, Beearo's designs have a generous scale, with a few patterns measuring up to 8 feet tall. Prices range from less than $1 for individual pieces to $263 for larger, more intricate patterns.

Find out more about Beearo wall graphics here.

(Thanks to Phil and Darrin Wilson for giving me a heads-up about their product!)


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