Tag Archives: NOSTALGIA

MID-CENTURY MODERNISM: STOP THE INSANITY!

March 2, 2018

The Refill, by Shag

I am exhausted watching Mid-Century Modern (“MCM”) seep into every crevice of design. As popular as this design movement is, I find MCM outdated and old fashion, like the styles of 19th century Victorian or 17th century Baroque.

Why are people obsessed with living in this particular MCM past? Are these fanatics doing away with their computers, going to drive-in movie theaters, wearing saddle shoes, and twisting to Doris Day? No, these MCM zealots are only interested in the superficial look of a vintage era, roughly the 50’s and 60’s.

An ’embalmed’ MCM interior in Palm Springs, California (photo from soosxer.com)

Returning recently from my lecture at Modernism Week, where 100,000 attendees descended on Palm Springs to celebrate the MCM movement, the crowds were more interested in embalming the style vs. understanding it. Some of the attendees arrived in full 50’s theme attire, similar to how Trekkies and Fanboys proudly share their geekdom, dressing as Kirk, Spock and Klingons at Comic-Con.

The current MCM mania is an unfortunate approach that is merely design paint-by-numbers. For example, the enthusiasts create homes for themselves that are nothing more than architectural historical replicas. Call it curating or antique-ing, but all I see are devotees trying so hard to obtain that mint condition, original issue, Saarinen table within a Neutra house, where the Zeisel pottery sits perfectly in the room of avocado green paint.

Nice MCM yes, but only as a piece of history, Palm Springs, California. (photo from birdcourage.com)

Stylish, yes—but has anyone ever sat in an Eames rocking chair? The majority of MCM pieces have been panned as not just uncomfortable, but not all that functional.

So predictable and so uncomfortable; every piece is a cliché, Palos Verdes, California. (photo by Nate Cole)

My view: MCM should stand for Mid-Century Mausoleum. The owners of these fetishized environments have not created a pleasant home, but rather, forced their families and visitors to live in an ironic display from a history museum. Nostalgia is fine, but not when it is only a kit-of-parts, or worse, a collection of stale clichés.

To my 1957 MCM Bird Streets house, I added Brazilian Cherry and Maple flooring, along with a hand-troweled, sculptural fireplace, by Poon Design. The predictable Eames chair is not in the usual black but in putty leather, and the chair’s wood is not the usual Walnut, but Cherry. In Hollywood Hills, California (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

There is nothing wrong with collecting, like when a child buys, sells and trades baseball cards. But ask any kid the stats of a particular player, and you will get a wealth of data. Ask a MCM collector about the design movement’s origins, and it is unlikely that you will receive a grasp of post-war housing crisis, the drive for affordability and production, middle class views of wilderness, high rag content paper, and offset lithography. No, you will probably just hear some MCM buff bragging about his Satellite 23 clock.

I have learned from MCM ideas, i.e., the open plan, indoor/outdoor connections, and walls of glass. But I choose to view MCM as inspiration, not an ancient source for replication. As a point of departure, I view MCM as a place to stand and look to the future.

Do something different with MCM, like bright white, laser-cut, Italian cabinets, blue Brazilian marble, and a pair of Parallam ridge beams, by Poon Design. Renovation of my 1964 house, Bel Air, California. (photo by Anthony Poon)
A distinctive addition adds new life to a 1957 MCM house, in New Canaan, Connecticut. (photo by Peter Aaron / Esto)

To my clients who are fans of MCM architecture, I suggest this: Your homes can have MCM ideas, but let’s add your own ideas. Let’s add your personality, and it doesn’t have to come from one catalog. You are not living in a period film, but rather, you are breathing a modern existence, full of current ideas about lifestyle, technology, media, sustainability, and invention.

Here is a good example of adding personality to a 1962 MCM house, Palos Verdes, California. (photo from redfin.com)

ARCHITECTURE FROM A TO Z

April 29, 2016

Campus Library, American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Pfeiffer Partners)

ALLOWANCE
Allow creative ideas to resonate in your head. Like wine aging in a bottle, the clamor of an idea seasoning in your cranium is called imagination.

BE
Be original. Be remembered. If you do the same thing over and over again, you will always get the same results, of which, most have already been done, or might be boring and forgettable.

CREATE
The medium of our art is not just pens and paper, paint and canvas, or software and megabytes. The medium of our art is life itself. Design your world.

Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Lance Gerber)

DIVISION
There should be no divisions between architecture, graphics, landscape, fashion, poetry, music, photography, theater, and all artistic endeavors. In the act of creation, design industries must overlap and blur, operating as a comprehensive force of artistry. Our contribution to progress and civilization.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914
Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

EXISTING
Promote society’s advancements, and acknowledge the legacy of traditions. Beware: nostalgia can be a yearning for a false past that either does not apply today, or never truly existed. “Nostalgia” is made up of two Greek roots: nostos “returning home,” and algos “pain.”

FOCUS
Focus. Listen. Don’t forget what you have heard.

GATHER
Design communicates more than aesthetics. Design communicates ideas: everything from our culture and community, to the solutions for each client. We call this content.

HIGH TO LOW
Our work explores everything, from high art to pop art, from Schubert to So You Think You Can Dance.

Jeanine Mason on So You Think You Can Dance
Jeanine Mason on So You Think You Can Dance

IS
Form is function, and function is form. Style is not superficial. Though a purist, don’t assume that style is only artificial. That trap is known as pretentious unpretentiousness. Understand style as the expression of character.

JUICE
Design is about thinking strategically. As in chess, plan all your moves. Start by seeing a few moves ahead, then grasp for more. This is called experience.

KIN
All works of art are in progress. A good idea advances, evolves, and changes.

LEVERS
Good design balances imagination and reality. Architecture must balance greatness and fantasy, with things like schedule and budget.

Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbarto Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Poon)
Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbarto Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Poon)

MUST
Process and product: both fascinate. The end of the journey is as exciting as the journey itself. We design both the outcome and the process that leads to the outcome.

NOT
Do not subscribe to the cliché, “Work hard, play hard.” Work can also be play. We do not divide our lives into boring work and fun play.

OUT LOUD
Enjoy your life. Laugh out loud. Arthur Rubenstein suggested that one should not practice piano too much: Limit your practice time, enjoy your life, and you will have much to express when playing piano.

Hands of Arthur Rubenstein (photo by Yousuf Karsh)
Hands of Arthur Rubenstein (photo by Yousuf Karsh)

PRACTICE
Don’t take yourself seriously, but take your work seriously.

QUIRKY
As in jazz, when a mistake is made, exploit it as a delightful thing. In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it gets buried under a flurry of other notes. In jazz, when an unintentional note is hit, the musician bangs on that note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it.

READY
Embrace improvisation and creating impromptu. Be prepared to make up things off the top of your head, from the tips of your fingers.

SLEEP
A fresh mind has the most creative potential. Don’t subscribe to the romanticized and fatalistic belief that sleepless nights bring about incredible imagination. And don’t believe that an artist needs to struggle, bleed, and die to be considered a genius.

Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907
Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907

TAKE
Take a lunch break every day. Give your brain a rest. Even if the day is hectic, take that break—not just to have it, but to decree that you are still in control of your day.

UNDO
If your work is boring you, do something different. If you are boring yourself, be someone else.

(photo from warosu.org)
(photo from warosu.org)

VICTIM
Try not to dress in all black. Don’t be a fashion cliché.

WRITTEN
Read everything: not just design magazines and blogs. Read poetry. Read the classics. Read autobiographies, non-fiction, comic books, music. Even read horoscopes and advice columns.

XANADU
Get used to senselessness and not knowing everything. The world is asking for too many answers. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” so said Albert Camus.

Sisyphus (photo from theonwardupwardjourney.com)
Sisyphus (photo from theonwardupwardjourney.com)

YOUTH
Like a young student, believe that you will save the world through your idealistic spirit. Hold tight your hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

ZENITH
Terms used to describe Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: icon, masterpiece, seminal and absolute. The curse of The Ninth prevented superstitious composers from attempting to write a tenth symphony and surpass perfection. It goes so far as believing that the composer will die after writing his own Ninth. Gustav Mahler did. What would the world be if Beethoven had written a Tenth Symphony?

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

 

© Poon Design Inc.