Posts in Stories
Retro Stylin’

This 90-square-metre flat in Singapore is staged for mid-century modern design

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The owner of this apartment had a singular request of his designer. Mikael Teh, principal of The Monocot Studio, recalls, “Daryl came to me saying, ‘I’ve bought four retro pink dining chairs and a Karimoku 60 sofa. Can you incorporate them into my apartment?’” 

Teh understood that Daryl Foo was really asking for a home in which the beauty of midcentury industrial design could shine. Teh shares, “My approach is quite architectural. I wanted to clean up the space and give it a cohesive look with clean and straightforward layout with basic fixtures and fittings—nothing too fancy to let the carefully curated pieces of furniture stand out.”

Foo and Teh agreed to preserve as many existing elements of the 38-year-old flat as possible, including the terrazzo, the main gate, and louvred windows. The palette is then controlled, with new interior constructions rendered in basic and muted building materials of concrete, plywood, stainless steel and wired glass. As the flat is only 90 square metres, the plan was to gut the interior and create a flowing, open plan for the living spaces.

The living spaces segue into one another, transitioning only subtly as the flooring change from terrazzo (in the living room) to concrete (in the dining and kitchen area). The combined dining table and cooking unit stands anchor as a central island. Peripheral spaces are maximised, with the kitchen unit and the bookcase sharing a long wall. A sitting bench is also installed under the window, lit by the wall-mounted, limited edition Jean Prouvé Petite Potence lamp—itself a minimal design, reduced to its essential components. 

Another decision was to retain only one bedroom and keep it open to maximise light as well as a sense of spaciousness. Wired glass (paired with privacy blinds) allows the room to be enclosed for air-conditioning while letting light in.

For the compact bathroom, Teh proposed to relocate the sink outside so the shower area could be enlarged. He shares of that the choice of concrete for the custom-built sink stand is a nod to the concrete sinks of the past. In the area, again, the palette is controlled. Teh shares, “I wanted the retro element to be subtle therefore we both agreed to only use mosaic on the floor on the bathroom. The WC and shower area are tiled in basic 100x100 white tiles with green grouting.”

Other notable design features include the Louis Poulsen lamps (PH 4/3 over the dining table and PH 5 in the kitchen), Marko dining chairs (that eventually replaced the retro pink ones Foo bought), as well as vintage Danish side tables in the living room and the bedroom. 

Text / Yvonne Xu
Images / Marc Tan

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Less is More

Our world is in a constant state of flux. It’s only natural, then, that humanity would be drawn to spaces that are calm and soothing, a nurturing shelter from the outside world. That’s exactly what Shanghai-based Hip-Pop Design had in mind when they designed this private clubhouse in Nanjing, China.

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The spacious clubhouse has been divided into a series of generously-sized living and dining spaces, each with prominent windows that boast an almost panoramic perspective of the surrounding landscape. Designed with family-time, entertaining and relaxing in mind, the ample seating allows inhabitants a front-row view of the changing seasons.

The Japanese-inspired minimalist interiors have avoided any risk of feeling cold and sterile with the thoughtful selection of materials. Natural in their origin, reflecting the building’s setting, finishings and furnishings are made from silk, oak, leather and copper - and exude warmth.  Oversized artworks were carefully selected and arranged throughout to balance with the otherwise zen-like spaces. Proving the old adage, the less really is more.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Zhang Jing

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Lap of Luxury

How Australian interior design studio Infinite Design gave a 1980s penthouse a modern revamp

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A stunning piece of architecture does not always make for a beautiful home. In the case of this 1980s penthouse in Sydney, the property may have offered a prime location surrounded by greenery, but its interior design left much to be desired. The space was split up into small rooms and offered very little in the manner of natural light. In order to transform the penthouse into a comfortable place to live, the homeowners — a couple who spend part of their time traveling abroad for both business and pleasure — brought Australian boutique interior design studio Infinite Design on board. 

Lead interior designer Michelle Macarounas' prioritised natural light and the surrounding views when redesigning the home. In order to open up the space and grant better interconnectivity between rooms, she removed a number of walls and rejigged the layout. She then filled the home with textured veneers and fine details to evoke the feeling of a luxury boutique hotel. 

The entryway is dark and moody, leading you on a journey through to the rest of the rooms, which in contrast are open and light-filled. Warm woods and neutral tones pervade the home, with metallic accents, sculptural accessories and lighting pieces, and statement artworks adding interest. Lines are clean and modern, with Macarounas taking ample inspiration from Japanese designs as well as the surrounding lush landscape.

Since the concept of having a small living space in Australia is an uncommon one, Macarounas ensured that the home would be clutter-free with a carefully planned layout and ingenious concealed storage spaces throughout. Design touches such as a smoked mirror grants the illusion of space. The end result is a compact yet comfortable base for when the couple is home in Sydney — a far cry from the penthouse's beginnings.

Text / Leanne Mirandilla
Images / Prue Ruscoe

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The Niche Showcase

If you've ever visited a jewellery and gem exhibition in Asia, you would have noticed entire sections and floors dedicated to pieces coming from Thailand. 

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A renowned source of jewellery craftsmanship, Bangkok hosts its own Gems and Jewelry Fair, taking place this September for its 62nd year, and backed by the Department of International Trade Promotion, Ministry of Commerce, where everything from gold to diamonds is traded. But the fair also aims to spark inspiration and conversation over the various trends in the industry through The Niche Showcase, which features five main trends for the year and selected pieces that reflect those trends. 

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The first of these, called The Moment, explores accessories for special occasions, be they weddings or Chinese New Year, that are celebrated across Asia, particularly in India and China where auspicious dates and the exchange of jewellery go hand in hand. The pieces shown are influenced by nature, and are as delicate as they are intricate. Metro Men, on the other hand, displays gender-fluid pieces, like silver rings and bracelets that can be worn by both men and women, all in a textured rope motif that gives the jewellery a more casual touch. Pieces in line with the Spiritual Power trend are inspired by ancient beliefs in healing gemstones and the mystical nature of certain stones, some of which prevail today. Think a hammered silver necklace stamped with animal-head figures to evoke the spirit animals of yore.

The Beyond Jewellery section explores pieces outside of traditionally worn jewellery. Extending into the lifestyle space with phone cases that have decorative elements made from precious stones, the accessories are often as luxurious as jewellery themselves. And last but not least, the crown jewel (pun intended) of the show this year is the Heritage and Craftsmanship section, which highlights jewellery honouring cultural influences and local savoir faire. Beautiful representations come in the form of asteroid-shaped earrings from the Big Bang collection inspired by the raw shapes and space-like hues of tourmaline, and geometric gold and opal earrings from The Compass Collection inspired by the ancient tools of navigation. 

Guests will also have a chance to go behind the curtain of this showcase and witness live jewellery making demonstrations by the masters from the Thai Goldsmith Association, where tricks of the trade like invisible setting, gemstone carving and metal forming will be performed.

Text / Chloe Tan


Lane House, Beijing

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto once said that architecture should be 'in harmony with the human being'. Extrapolate from this what you will, but Beijing-based architect Nolan Chao of ARCHISTRY design&research office has taken the literal route.

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When an adventurous young design-loving couple approached the architect to redesign the high-rise apartment they had purchased in the PRC capital they were looking for something different. Together with his clients Chao wanted to investigate a new typology for space planning within such a high density urban context, and break away from tired stereotypes of what a modern apartment might look like. Taking into consideration the client’s daily rituals and working from there, a new floorplan was created. The new layout contains contradictions between public and private space, not unlike the traditional alley homes, or ‘Hutongs’, that are an important part of Beijing’s architectural vernacular.

Chao says he removed many of the internal walls to create a significantly larger feeling space which allows the couple an enormous sense of flexibility and freedom. Moving curtains and partitions allow the homeowners more control over when and how they use their space, and its this movable, shape-shifting nature that Chao refers to when he says the plan is essentially ‘a block within a block, or ‘a lane within a lane’.

Efficiency is likely a word that Le Corbusier would have used when referring to his buildings, or ‘machines for living’, which seems to contradict Aalto’s theory entirely. But here, in one of China’s most expensive cities, the two sides coincide peacefully.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Cai Yunpu

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In Conversation with Doshi Levien

Design duo Doshi Levien spoke to us on the sidelines of Salone about their creative process and their new collection for Kvadrat.

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Design Anthology: I wanted to ask you about your childhoods and how they may have influenced your sense of colour, because both of you've obviously grown up in very different countries.

Jonathan Levien: If you were to limit it to the subject to colour, I'd have to have to say I like brown especially. I grew up in a factory environment. My parents soft toy kit manufacturers. And they had a factory where they were stamping out fabric and sending it off in brown carboard boxes all over the world.

Design Anthology: Not the green rolling hills of Scotland?

Jonathan Levien: No, <laughs> materials aplenty, tape machines and cardboard to play with. I think that did more than anything to inspire my love of making and design. So that's the colour of my childhood, sorry. Corrugated cardboard.

Nipa Doshi: The colour of your childhood was about making.

Design Anthology: That's interesting. What about you Nipa?

Nipa Doshi: I grew up in a dusty pink Art Deco house, in the heart of Delhi. But I was born in Bombay. My grandmother had a beautiful Art Deco apartment in Bombay. But they also had a beautiful little house in the village, a really old Indian house. And then my Aunt's house was designed by Le Corbusier's assistant, in Ahmenabad, where I went to college. We had Le Corbusier's Sanskar Museum opposite. Then Louis Kahn developed this incredible campus. And I think for me that the world that I grew up in was incredibly plural. I used to think that Vesper was an Indian brand. That Art Deco was a distinct Bombay style. And I think growing up there was a modernity, and in a way that also influenced everything in life. And you know everybody sees India as a land of colour. I think India is also a land of textiles. Colour and textiles. Of course we have incredibly barren desert. And yet the tribal women wear the brightest colours. And then you go to Kerala where everyone wears white because everywhere there is so much green, there is already so much colour.

For me I think the plurality of architecture, tradition, modernity, manufacturing and everything happening around me, really influenced my approach to colour. There's a plurality in how I see colour. I don't have a preference for colour, I think every colour is beautiful, it depends on how and where you use it. And it's something that's constantly evolving. I'm a person who looks, I'm a visual person. I remember when I was off to college when I was working in Delhi, and how it was incredibly painted it was. And I remember sitting in traffic and a really smoky bus was coming up next to us. And I noticed the red of that bus. You can see beauty in really ugly situations, there's always beauty everywhere. If you have the eyes to look. And I think perhaps that's where my love for colour came from. And I try to show that in our work, both of us. There is a sense of daring. Not having a style, but really going deep into something. And having an approach and making, and painting. It's a very hands on way of creating.

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Design Anthology: I guess it's hard to pick one color when you're from a country like India. The two of you obviously have grown up in very different countries but also what you studied was very different.

Jonathan Levien: Le Corbusier didn't come to Scotland, unfortunately.

Design Anthology: What a shame.

Jonathan Levien: Deco pink was not there either. We had the yellow of the heather gorse bushes by the sea. But brown cardboard it is, I'm afraid <laughs>.

Design Anthology: Brown is a color.

Jonathan Levien: It's true. Every color is beautiful.

Design Anthology: Absolutely. So how much of that contrast between the two of your upbringings and your studies and your set of interests before you came together, how much of that do you think makes up the dynamic of how you work together as two creative people? Is that a big part part of what makes you two successful as a design duo?

Jonathan Levien: I think in the way that we work, and the way we think about our work and our process is remarkably different. I think that probably has more to do with the contrast in our work, and how we complement each other. I'm coming from making background and I would say I'm more three dimensional in my thinking and design approach. Making is still a really intrinsic important part of my process. Although I'm not making the final article any longer, it gives shape to what we create. Nipa, I think has a very different skillset and a very different way of looking. And as she just explained, her upbringing in India obviously contributed a lot to the way she sees the world, and how she interprets visual culture in her work. I don't have access to that. And I think that's wonderful, that we have this, that we have to reconcile our differences through our work. Fortunately there's an openness to each other that was established at the Royal College of Art. It's important to have contrasts and differences. But then you also have to be open to change, to see things from the other person's perspective. I think it's a very important part of being able to create something out of our different abilities.

Design Anthology: I can imagine being based in London must be quite unique, for a lot of the reasons that you've just explained. I'm wondering about the effect of Brexit, wherever that is right now, how are you feeling about being based in London? Do you feel like the creative energy is changing there or is it still as appealing as it always has been?

Nipa Doshi: London, for me, London belongs to everybody. London doesn't belong to Britain. It belongs to the people that come there because they can express their creativity, where young people have opportunities. Where you can be from any country. And I think London has many things which are beyond Europe. Our relationship with Europe is very important but I think London is bigger than that. And I think the relationship that London has to the rest of the world, it's not provincial. Which other European city can you go to and find people from everywhere, and dress in whatever way you want and nobody will even look at you twice. No one will say 'what are you wearing?' For me, it's incredible freedom. You know and coming back to your question about upbringing, I think that upbringing is one thing, there are a billion people like me. And there are a million people like Jonathan.

Jonathan Levien: Only a million? I'm more rarefied. <laughs>

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Nipa Doshi: For me it's not the upbringing that's important. It's what you do with what you're exposed to. I think that for me that's more important. And it's also about the other person having something you don't. It's not even necessarily the cultural background, it's the fact that Jonathan can make things beautifully.

Jonathan Levien: The question was about Brexit.

Design Anthology: We're circling around to that.

Jonathan Levien: I think it's annoying. It's a big annoying waste of time.

Nipa Doshi: It's a political tragedy. 

Design Anthology: I'm looking at it as an outsider. 

Nipa Doshi: I don't think anything's going to change actually. 

Jonathan Levien: Ultimately it'll get resolved and we'll carry on as usual. But how can you undo something as intrinsic as the deep cultural relations that we've formed, over decades. How can you have the arrogance to think you can just undo that, and just unpick it. You can't. It'll find its way back once the politicians have stopped, you know. 

Design Anthology: Yeah, I think I think you're right. 

Jonathan Levien: I mean making a mess of things. I don't feel any differently. It hasn't impeded or enhanced my creativity or my desire to stay. I would say we are slightly apologetic to our European clients. I felt a little bit sheepish I think when the vote was called, and just to make it clear we're definitely not on that side. How could we be? All our clients are in Europe. 

Design Anthology: I agree with you Nipa, I think London is an entity unto its own almost, in way that it is almost a country in a city. So I hope you're right that it will never change. 

Nipa Doshi: I think it comes back to what's happening in Britain with Brexit is not that different to what's happening in Austria, or Hungary or the United States, or Australia. Or many other parts of the world. They have this wanting to go back to being 'pure'. 

Design Anthology: Whatever that is. 

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Nipa Doshi: Whatever that is, right. And I think for me, that's the issue here. Brexit is just one thing. I mean, look at Italy. So many countries are now wanting to keep the foreigners out. When they were foreigners in the first place. It comes back to this idea of plurality of global culture. I think that there's beauty in plurality. And I think Brexit in a way is a rejection of plurality. But you know what's interesting to say that 'I don't want to be friends with my neighbour's but I'm going to be open to the rest of the world. 

Design Anthology: Yeah, it's ludicrous. 

Nipa Doshi: We'll do trade in Australia, and India and Brazil, and all over the world. But I don't want to do it people who are actually ethnically probably closest to me. It's like Australia or Hong Kong saying that we don't want to do business in Asia, but everywhere else. 

Design Anthology: So I'm curious to know about the creative process with you two. You now have a studio, there is a small team that you work with. How does that start when a client approaches you? Are you two off drawing or talking on your own, and then come together? Is the studio involved in that from the very beginning? And is it different with every project? How do you approach the process, considering your background and your training is quite different, maybe your approach is too? 

Nipa Doshi: I think that at first when we started the studio, you know, we had more client designer relationships. And I think what's interesting about working in Europe, in fact we don't call them clients, we really think we're collaborating with B&B, we're collaborating with Moroso, with Kettal, all the companies we work with. But of course there are situations where a make-up brand would come to us and say we want you design our packaging, and then of course you have a very different scenario, almost like a creative service provider kind of relationship. But the way we are working now with Kvadrat, who are equally interested in what we are bringing to the table, it's a true collaboration. If we are successful, they are successful. And that's something that underpins European design. Most designers in our industry talk about collaboration, not 'Kvadrat is my client'. 

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Jonathan Levien: And as for how we work together, I think it comes back to a reconciliation of each other's approaches and we'll sit opposite in the studio where we can sit down and work together. We have a lot of other things to do also... But when we are just sitting face to face around a table with our sketch books out, and materials, and what have you. I think the real genesis happens, and the spark occurs, when we're interpreting each other's language, or ideas. And quite often it's a misinterpretation but it leads to something else. Like Nipa will be pouring through her art references and then she'll be re-drawing them as a way of learning about them and getting closer to the thinking behind those artworks and then that'll kind of morph into an object or it'll become something, it could be a table for example, and I'll look at her drawing and I'll say well there's a light idea in there, you know maybe because I'm seeing everything upside down from the side of the table. <laughs> So I'll start creating a light with that concept, that will quickly become a mock-up or a model.

Design Anthology: So it's a very organic process? 

Jonathan Levien: It is organic, even to the degree that, at the end of the day having created something you had no intention of making in the beginning. You have to be open to ideas, and you can't tell where the're going to lead. That's how the creative process plays out. 

Design Anthology: I heard you say in a previous interview that you often argue, and that you both think that you're right. That you always argue the point, and as a couple as well... Has there ever been a situation where you haven't been able to resolve a disagreement in a work setting? Or does it always end up with something that you're both happy with? Is that how you decide to go ahead with a design?

Nipa Doshi: I'm always right. 

Jonathan Levien: You're so predictable. It's really whoever argues the strongest. It really sharpens your intellect and you have to argue the idea out, rigorously, and fight for it. If you really believe in it. And try and encourage the other person to see the way you're seeing things, so you really have to describe it.

Design Anthology: The power of persuasion?

Jonathan Levien: The power of persuasion. And it's great, to have that.. It's good.

Design Anthology: Is that how the collection with Kvadrat came about?

Jonathan Levien: I have to say this is really, the colours, as a project, is coming from Nipa. Absolutely. I'm sort of looking from the wings, from the side. While Nipa is working on this, and she's painting and creating colours, not choosing colours. It's really about the process of painting. So there's that sort of coming back and taking a look, and really enjoying it, the process.

Design Anthology: That must be a really fun way to come up with a color palette.

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Nipa Doshi: Actually this collection was interesting because we were looking at the royal miniature paintings from the Jodphur Palace, and equally I'm very inspired by Le Corbusier's paintings, his paintings are absolutely stunning. And looking at Chinese porcelain colours and trying to get a feel around the palette. And this idea that when you're looking at the paintings that other colours are coming through, and I think that's something that's really visible in this collection. Like you feel that there is another colour coming through, or there were two layers of colour and one layer has been taken off. So in that sense for me, this project was really about creating texture through colour. And texture through the actual yarn. So we were basically trying to capture the colours that we were putting together, and I was also looking at 50s fashion. Looking at Lanvin and Balenciaga. We were looking at ceramics from Sevres, so it was a very layered process of finding colours. You'll see the palette, they're not bright, bold colours. They're mid tones, they're quite soft in a way, and the combinations are really unusual. In the way that we combined Lavender with Brown. Or a Maroon with this almost Lemon Beige. So hence you have a new neutral. So their was a lot of research that went into creating the colours, and I think I painted at least 150 colours. We had stacks of these painted sheets. 

Design Anthology: What medium were you using to paint? 

Nipa Doshi: Guache. I love painting painting with Guache. It doesn't have any sheen, just that nice flat matte finish. We have images of some of the process. 

Design Anthology: So this is what you took to Kvadrat in terms of coming up with the actual weave and the texture of the fabric itself, it was still paintings?

Nipa Doshi: Yes. But I have to say that this exercise was mainly in colour. Because also when you look at a fabric like this, when you just have one colour, it's a different fabric. It's about working with the warp and weft and how do you add colour to it, and mix it, and play with it.

Design Anthology: How long was that process then, from you experimenting with these paintings, in terms of color, but also texture, and then translating that into a physical woven product?

Nipa Doshi: We started in March, last year.

Design Anthology: So not a quick process then.

Nipa Doshi: Relatively quick. With textiles you don't have to tool up. So then we gave the references of the colours to the textile mill, not references,the actual painted samples, they matched the actual painted samples. Rather than an NCS or something else. Because actually when you paint colour it's very difficult to get that colour in a another reference. And we didn't want to compromise.

Design Anthology: Right, it would've defeated the purpose almost.

Nipa Doshi: So, some of the colours don't exist in both collections. But some of the colors are across both. The collection is called Raas and Lila. And Raas and Lila in Hindi mythology is a sort dance of aesthetics. It's symbolic of the dance between Radha and Krishna, the god and goddess. And this idea that there's a play of aesthetics between these two fabrics. And it's very much about beauty as well. So Raas is like the essence of something, and Lila is play. So it's the play of the essence, or the dance of the essence, so to speak. So we called it Raas and Lila because basically one is more precise, almost contract and sharper, shall I say, and the other is a little bit looser and more flowing.

Design Anthology: I have one more question. So the studio is quite multidisciplinary in terms of the projects and the products that you do. Is there anything that you haven't designed yet that you like to?

Nipa Doshi: A hotel.

Jonathan Levien: We've done everything else, you know, to go in it.

As told to / Suzy Annetta

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Photo by I Do Art Agency

Get Surreal

That the most exclusive accommodation in Bolivia is a caravan says as much about the country’s paucity of luxury lodgings as it does the thrilling off-road adventures in store for travellers to this surreal, landlocked nation high in the Andes.

It’s an other-worldly setting for a retro-deluxe Airstream camper built for earthly comforts, while channelling a space capsule transported in from another galaxy. Getting to it involves hurtling in a 4x4 across the dazzling expanse of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats. Spread across some 11,000 square kilometres and at 3,600 metres above sea level, Bolivia’s greatest attraction is a blinding-white saline sea devoid of life — except for a few hapless llamas, lizards and rabbit-like viscacha stranded on Incahuasi, a bizarre island where cacti forests tower overhead.

Spectacular at any time of year, the salt flats transform into a gigantic, mind-boggling mirror during the rainy season when their shallow, glassy waters reflect the mountains, sky and clouds. It’s catnip for world wanderers, who traipse across the globe in search of photo opportunities like this.

The other-worldly landscape of Bolivia’s Altiplano is ringed in vast, desolate plains stained ochre and rust-brown, and speckled with turquoise lagoons that turn a brilliant emerald green when the wind blows

The other-worldly landscape of Bolivia’s Altiplano is ringed in vast, desolate plains stained ochre and rust-brown, and speckled with turquoise lagoons that turn a brilliant emerald green when the wind blows

The caravan comes with a private chef who doubles as waiter and barman, as adept at mixing an Andean-gin and tonic as whipping up chocolate souffle in the middle of nowhere. At night, I venture outside in sub-zero temperatures to revel in the solitude and silence under a magnificent constellation of stars.

No less alien are the lagoons and deserts of the Altiplano within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve — a stunning landscape formed millions of years ago when the planet was a heaving, seething mass. Volcanoes — some still smoking — ring the vast, desolate plain, much of it stained ochre

and rust-brown from mineral deposits. It’s a land so strange that Salvador Dali, who never visited the Altiplano, is said to have been inspired by it. Look at his works and the likeness is clear.

The patchwork of lagoons, at altitudes up to 4,500 metres, will almost certainly take your breath away. Laguna Verde, arguably the most dramatic, turns a brilliant emerald green when the wind blows, while the crimson waters of Laguna Colorada may as well be blood seeping up from the bowels of the earth, though its colour is caused by algae and minerals. Incredibly, the lagoons teem with pink flamingos, hardy birds that can withstand the extreme microclimates’ salty, sulphurous waters, burning sun, freezing cold and lack of oxygen.

Travellers here are likely to overnight in the capital La Paz, a high-altitude conurbation that sprawls along a valley, precariously up clay cliffs and along a plateau. It’s not the place to get your design fix, though things are changing.

The Atix, the city’s first true boutique hotel, opened in late 2016. Clad in native wood and Comanche stone, the minimalist interiors are spiced up with colourful works by the country’s best-known artist Gastón Ugalde. Boosting the city’s luxe credentials further is the new, mid-century-meets-neoclassical Altu Qala hotel, which also houses the city’s coolest cafe, Hb Bronze Coffeebar.

My journey concludes at Gustu, the brainchild of Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. While the modern dining room could be in Lima or London, the ingredients and menu sing of Bolivia. Quinoa from the Andes, trout from Lake Titicaca and fish from the Amazon, paired with wines from Tarija. I leave sated, but with a hunger for more of this extraordinary land.

Text / Kee Foong
Images / Jose Cortes III

Amateur Architecture
Humanity is more important than architecture, and craftsmanship more important than technology
— Wang Shu
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China’s first and only recipient of the Pritzker — the world’s most respected prize for architecture — Wang Shu, along with his wife and practice partner Lu Wenyu are the founders of Hangzhou-based practice Amateur Architecture Studio. The name refers to the couple’s rejection of what the pair say is the “professional, soulless architecture" practiced in China. Their interests lie in vernacular Chinese architecture, traditional techniques, craftsmanship and locally sourced materials.

Reducing tradition to a decorative symbol and then applying it to the surface of a modern construction... that’s exactly what kills the true meaning of tradition.
— Wang Shu

Over the last ten years, Amateur Architecture Studio has created a respected body of work and a unique style that challenges the role of the architect today in China and internationally.

This summer a retrospective exhibition of the work of Amateur Architecture Studio at the arc en rêve centre d'architecture in Bordeaux, organized in partnership with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, showcases five projects with a series of models, material samples, large scale photography.

The exhibition runs from 31 May – 28 October 2018 at arc en rêve centre d'architecture, Bordeaux. For more on Wang Shu, check out the feature on the Hangzhou Academy by Amateur Architecture Studio written by Alastair Gordon in issue 2 of Design Anthology.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Exhibition images / Rodolphe Escher
Project images / Iwan Baan

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Blue Jewel

This Hong Kong jewellery designer’s London penthouse has dazzling blue, bespoke, industrial-chic accents

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The pied-a-terre of a Kong Kong jewellery designer who splits her time between Hong Kong and the UK, a 1450-square-foot, two-level penthouse apartment in Covent Garden, received a full revamp that includes a striking blue anodized aluminium staircase and hypnotic neon sculptures by award-winning glass artist Jochen Holz.

As someone who engages in creative work, the owner is keenly aware of advantages of the creative benefits of a carte blanche. She sought out Eryk Ulanowski of London firm Studio Ulanowski and gave him free reign to remodel the interior of her penthouse. Her only requirements were that there be three bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, and spaces that are adaptable enough to be used for different purposes. 

The jewellery designer’s husband is a big fan of industrial aesthetics, so Ulanowski combine elements from jewellery design and industrial style to come up with the design concept. 

“The floor plan was completely re-designed. We took the apartment back to a raw concrete shell and started again from scratch. The goal was to make the apartment flow better, to blend the different functions, and to bring in more light,” says Ulanowski who envisions the bold, metallic blue staircase by Joe Faller Fabrications as the jewel of the apartment. “We wanted it to be precision made with industrial materials, but to have an ethereal iridescence that was soft to the touch. Through a long process of research and development with the fabricators, we created a finish that would do just this,” he adds.

In the main living area, Ulanowski removed the existing designated living room, dining room, and kitchen, and brought these areas together in a single, open-plan space. To fulfil the brief for adaptability, the kitchen cabinetry wraps around and extends into the living area, and the dining table can either be linked to this cabinetry or turned and extended to seat a party of 12. A modular sofa was used to enable endless configurations that can accommodate family movie nights, intimate interactions, or lively parties with many guests. 

The modern and simple bedrooms each have a desk, a wardrobe, and an ensuite bathroom. “In the children's bedrooms we kept a datum line, taken from the height of the living room floor, and ran it around the rooms to serve as a reminder of the main space and view out into Covent Garden Market and the Royal Opera House,” says Ulanowski. 

The bespoke, hand-lacquered bed in the master bedroom, and a number of soft furnishings used in the apartment were custom designed and produced by artisans at British furniture and craft company The New Craftsmen.

“The challenging part of the project was the lengthy research and development of all the be bespoke items. While we worked with talented fabricators and craftspeople who understood our vision, it was difficult to get the external suppliers – for instance the company who anodised the stairs – who were often not used to projects like ours, to align with our vision and go beyond their comfort zones. But with a great team and lots of determination, the project turned out beautifully,” says Ulanowski.

Text / Michele Koh Morollo
Images / Michelle Young Photography

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Precious Home

Bali has a lot of spectacular villas, but the one recently completed by French architect Maximilian Jencquel is particularly extraordinary

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It all started when a Polish woman knocked insistently on his front door. ‘She moved to Bali and was looking for a house when she stumbled on mine on the internet,’ he says. Designed in a Balinese vernacular style, it embodied all the reasons Jencquel had moved to the Indonesian island in 2011 — the skilled local craftsmanship, the tropical climate, the harmony between nature and the built environment. The woman wanted to buy it, but Jencquel didn’t want to sell.

So they reached a compromise: she rented Jencquel’s house for a year, enjoying her time so much that she bought land and asked him to design her a home. ‘She wanted something super modernist, but I wanted something timeless, something people here would know how to build,’ recalls Jencquel. ‘A modernist house needs people who know how to do concrete, you need to bring in people from Switzerland to do the windows.’ In the end they compromised on a blend of vernacular and modern.

The client flew in Dutch landscaper Menno Landstra to ease the transition between the dense jungle on the edge of the 4,000-square-metre property and the open living areas of the 400-square-metre house. ‘The jungle is very lush — it’s so rich it becomes part of the decor,’ says Jencquel. With that in mind, he designed many parts of the house without walls, to encourage a typically Balinese indoor-outdoor lifestyle. ‘We look at where the wind is coming from, what the sun is hitting, so the house is ventilated properly and there’s enough air flow.’

Working with local craftspeople, he used a limited array of materials to build the house, including Indonesian ironwood for the structure and roof. ‘We use it for aesthetics but mainly because it’s a wood that does extremely well outdoors in the humidity,’ he explains. ‘The termites don’t even like it.’ Inside, the floors and walls are richly hued teak, some of which was recycled from the site’s former home, including an entire log whose ends are riven with a century’s worth of rings. ‘It would be worth then thousand dollars if you bought it,’ says Jencquel. ‘The client said, “We’ve got to use this for something”, so we turned it into a vanity in the master bathroom. It’s become a bit of a sculptural piece.’

Paras stone also figures prominently. ‘It looks a little bit like concrete but if you look closely it has these patterns,’ he says. ‘It comes out of a river in Ubud — it’s volcanic ash that’s been compressed. It’s a very soft stone. You can literally break it apart in your hands but it does really well as a wall cladding.’ The one concession to foreign luxury was Carrara marble, which Jencquel used on the floor of the master bathroom. ‘It’s facing a garden that’s quite dark and we wanted something that would reflect the light,’ he says, noting that the veins also complement the teak.

The result is a villa that makes the most of its setting and context. ‘We managed to take a concept that I’d created for my own house and took it really far,’ says Jencquel. ‘The house has a humble feeling but at the same time it’s very luxurious. The quality of the materials in general was such a pleasure to work with. Some people might think it’s a cottage, but it’s not. It’s a precious home.’

Text / Christopher DeWolf
Images / Edmon Leong

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Coastal Zen

In Queensland’s Noosa National Park, a family retreat fully immersed in the surrounding treescapes and seascapes

The surfboards propped in the entryway of this peaceful 650-square-metre house set in the lush  rainforests of Queensland’s Noosa National Park set the tone for what’s in store. The spectacular location uniquely combines treescapes and seascapes, and left an immediate impression on its owners — two Australian sisters with young families looking for a coastal retreat.

Originally built in the early 80s, the three-storey house has been given a new lease on life by Melbourne-based Mim Design, which has instilled the interiors with a sense of natural luxury and homey comfort. ‘This is our fourth project with this client, and we’ve been able to immerse them in the feeling of living within a rainforest and the luxury of a unique, relaxing and authentic home,’ says principal designer Miriam Fanning. ‘We know each other well at this point, so it was a great collaboration.’

A planked boardwalk leads guests through the tropical rainforest surrounds to a small entry vestibule flanked by surf gear and other beach paraphernalia. The small space opens up to an airy extension bathed in natural sunlight, including an open kitchen, dining area and outdoor balcony. ‘The balcony is like a second living and dining space in the summer months’, says Fanning. Beyond the central island, a glass backsplash frames views of jungle palms, highlighting the integral indoor-outdoor design of the home.

‘The previous floor plan lacked connection to the rainforest and ocean, missing the sentiments of relaxation from nature’s surrounding abundance,’ says Fanning. ‘With planning and reconfiguration of each room, we’ve created a sanctuary. The new layout of the space creates a total sense of ease.’

The home’s relaxed holiday vibe is achieved through a mix of natural materials and a simple colour palette. Natural stone, timber flooring, concrete and charred timber cladding, and copper detailing contribute to a subdued environment for rest and relaxation. In the bathroom, subway tiles in a vertical formation echo the high-reaching palm branches visible through new black-framed windows.

‘Our inspiration came from the surroundings, making sure the home worked within the tropical rainforest, combined with the coastal surf environment,’ says Fanning. ‘This project is one I’ve always dreamed of working on. It’s an easy, beautiful home that transports the dwellers from their everyday routine with a sense of ease.’ Just steps away from the legendary breaks of Granite Bay, the owners enjoy active relaxation — or what Fanning calls ‘a calm coastal Zen’ — in their rainforest retreat. ‘Our clients have been holidaymakers in Noosa for more than fifteen years, and this home embodies everything Noosa is to them — pristine, coastal, forested, calm,
elegant, textured, casual and effortless.’

Text / Karine Monie
Images / Andrew Richey

Rock the Kasbah

A bespoke home in Hong Kong’s up-and-coming Tsueng Kwan O neighbourhood designed by JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio

A romantic anniversary dinner for a recently repatriated couple at TATE Dining Room — a luminary on the Hong Kong dining scene — provided just the inspiration they needed for their home renovation. Reaching the end of their tether with the process of interviewing designers, they finally reached out to the man behind the venue’s sophisticated interiors — James ‘JJ’ Acuna of JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio. Acuna has, in the short time since founding his studio, made a name for himself, designing Instagram-worthy projects across the city. Not typically a residential designer though, he and his new clients negotiated for several months to ensure their visions for the home aligned.

Once the agreement was made, no time was wasted. The five bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom 947-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong’s up-and-coming Tseung Kwan O neighbourhood was gutted and the space opened up by cutting it back to two bedrooms and one bathroom. The blank slate was just what Acuna needed to create something tailor-made for his well-travelled clients and their growing family.

Framing the compact entry is a patch of hand-made, glazed-clay mosaic tiles purchased directly from one of Morocco’s heady souks on a recent trip. These tiles became the impetus for the rest of the apartment’s colour palette and material choices, including the chevron oak plank floors, warm camel-coloured feature walls and textured, fabric-like wallpapers. An open-plan kitchen in a delicious shade of pistachio green accented by custom terrazzo countertops presents an unexpected and somewhat brave colour choice.  

The bespoke service didn’t stop at finishes, though. Acuna and his studio also custom designed several one-off pieces for the home including a light fixture that floats above the kitchen island and two Windsor-style chairs. By deputising a small team of talented craftspeople, Acuna has achieved what any homeowner working with a designer want — something personal and tailored, and perfectly set for making memories.

Words / Suzy Annetta
Images / Adam Kuehl

Serene Corridors

An elegant new office space for Changsha-based China Resources Center finds harmony between modern aesthetics and traditional values

A calm, inviting ambience conjures up pleasant emotions and is key to spaces that people respond favourably to. The China Resources Center, designed by Shenzhen-based Rongor Design & Consultant, demonstrates an understanding and mastery of just this.

Located in Changsha, the capital city of China’s Hunan Province, the new office space resembles an ethereal utopia and drew inspiration from the Eastern Jin dynasty poet Tao Qian’s piece Peach Blossom Spring. ‘We believe that there is a peach blossom garden in everyone’s heart,’ says Qin Yueming, founder and design director of Rongor Design & Consultant. ‘Though it’s not tangibly accessible, the rationale underneath can be perceived and experienced.’

The client’s brief was simple but concise, calling for a well-balanced environment that embodies oriental values through modern components. From there, Qin and his team approached the interior design from a traditional Chinese perspective, applying layers and spaces that gradually reveal themselves, unfolding to eventually reveal an interior courtyard with grace.

Circular landscaping stones resonate with curated art pieces, depicting mountains and rivers in traditional shanshui form and beckoning visitors in for further discoveries. The interior palette is comprised of versatile materials such as marble, wood, metal mesh and stainless steel, while a cool colour palette expresses a modern design language. By working with elements from both traditional and contemporary worlds, a sculptural peach blossom garden has taken form.  

The creative team also sought to imbue the space with expressions of humanity. ‘There are specific dispositions and expressions in different spaces, which would greatly affect a person’s psychological state and behavior,’ explains Qin. ‘It’s our role to employ such expressions and determine what message we deliver to the audiences.’

A long, narrow corridor offset by two miniature pavilions and sculptural wall dividers — inspired by intricate latticework and made of sleek convex-concave acrylic — encourages passersby to slow down and appreciate the surroundings; on one end is a lofty project model area, distinguished by a sprawling ceiling installation that mimics the swirling petals of a peach tree blossom, recently liberated. Such a dramatic change in the spatial scale induces a calming effect, according to Qin.  

Other highlights include several richly appointed break out spaces for meetings and reading nooks, which continue the theme of a harmonious marriage between present day practicality and traditional delicacy. ‘The two aspects have no contradiction. Ancient values were modern once, modern elements will become traditional as time goes by,’ says Qin. ‘To master the art of balance is to respect and restrain the two aesthetics.’

Text / Nikey Cheng
Images / Courtesy of Sunshine PR

Darker Temperaments

Clever rejigs and a deftly applied colour scheme set this Singaporean HDB flat apart from the pack

This 400-square-metre apartment in Singapore’s west is what locals familiarly call a five-room HDB (Housing Development Board) flat — but not many would recognise it as such. With a redrawn floor plan and a colour scheme in which black features prominently, the apartment takes on a larger character that belies its HDB origins.

Singapore’s HDB flats are the outcome of a national public housing project started in 1960. Today, there are more than one million such flats across the country’s 26 towns and estates, housing over four-fifths of the resident population. HDB is lauded for its successful provision of comfortable and affordable housing in the densely-populated, land-scarce city. While remarkably efficient as a housing scheme, the flats — cast in the same mould — turn out more or less selfsame. The challenge of working with one is therefore in defining its personality.

For the home of brothers Fabio and Hendro, designer Joey Chia of IN-EXPAT had a bold proposition — to use the colour black as a thematic anchor. Chia shares that while the brothers are adventurous and open to novel propositions, they desired a home with a calming atmosphere. ‘The brothers do not like anything over the top. Most importantly, they were after a clean look that doesn’t compromise on the potential of the space,’ explains Chia. They found black to be suitably masculine, modern and sleek, yet also quiet and toned down.

But black can be tricky — too much of it overwhelms. To give dimensionality to the all-black surfaces, metallic accents were introduced in the form of brass plates fitted into the wardrobe's customised door handles as well as a gold-glass backsplash over the kitchen counter.

The overall atmosphere is subdued and well-composed with accessories that the brothers personally shopped for. The living room is anchored by a brown leather sofa, set atop a rug with brushed tones of blue and white. On the wall, an abstract painting in soft watercolours offsets the black tones in the adjoining dining area.

Other interior alterations personalise the space, including the enclosing of floorspace previously allocated to a balcony, making for a continuous — and much more spacious — living area. A bar ledge spanning the length of the windows makes for an additional perch with outside views. The door of the master bedroom was also repositioned to incorporate a more pampering vanity area outside the bathroom.

The kitchen, in particular, was co-designed with the brothers for whom both functionality and aesthetics are priorities. ‘We consolidated the storage requirements into a larger single tower in order to avoid having cabinetry above the kitchen counter,’ shares Chia. ‘The kitchen storage units were then designed as a minimalistic black colour block.’

Text / Yvonne Xe

Barefoot Luxe

Luxury carpet company Fort Street Studio premieres its first limited edition collection Progetto Passione in New York, signalling a new chapter for its artist-designers

When American artists Brad Davis and Janis Provisor decamped in China in 1994, they fortuitously founded Fort Street Studio — now the world’s foremost luxury carpet company. From their apartment in Hangzhou, in the search of something just for themselves, the duo took their distinctive painterly artworks as inspiration and applied them to a pattern for a woven silk carpet. In the process, they pioneered a carpet style that is now so celebrated that it belies the tedious and skilled nature of the techniques involved. Over two years went into research and development to determine how to transform their distinctive artworks into a format that could be understood by the weavers. That first carpet came off the looms in the fall of 1996, and the pair have hardly had a chance to look back since.

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Fast forward 20 years and the increased availability of computer software has made designing the rugs both faster and easier to copy. But with a shrinking pool of master dyers and weavers with each passing generation, the carpets are ever more difficult and time consuming to produce.

Despite their seriously impressive artist credentials, the duo has insisted that the carpets not be viewed as artworks, but rather completely functional and usable pieces of (highly tasteful) home decor. Each of their designs takes into account a sense of symmetry, adaptability around various room shapes, sizes and furniture arrangements, and is customisable in terms of shape, size and colouring. Their latest collection, however, represents somewhat of a departure. Born of the desire to work outside their usual self-imposed constraints, Progetto Passione straddles the worlds of art and collectable design.

‘In 2015 we began spending time in a magical small mediaeval village called Roccantica in Italy. While in residence, we began to collaborate on a group of designs that pushed the boundaries of our work for Fort Street Studio into a realm that sits more comfortably at the nexus between art and design,’ recalls Provisor of the origins of the collection. ‘Drawing on our background of being the originators of watercolour affects in hand-knotted carpet design, we opted to produce a group of pieces that both employed this technique and was also emphatic and singular in their use of colour and iconic bold forms. We also chose to include a metal sumac detail in each of the eight pieces, copper, tin and brass/gold, along with a finer knot count than our standard wild silk production.’  

The eight designs that make up the Progetto Passione collection are 150 knot wild silk and took three years to create from the initial designs to the finished carpets. ‘Not only is this an artistic collaboration between the two of us but also with our masterful weavers in our workshop in China, of whom there are only six who have the expertise to weave these pieces,’ adds Provisor.

Part of the motivation behind the ambitious collection is the dwindling availability of skilled weavers who can produce such highly complicated designs. Each piece requires at least four to five months on the loom, meaning the designs will be limited to between five and eight per run, depending on its complexity. And in case you were be wondering — these may be some of the last carpets of their kind ever produced.

The origins of the collection inspired its nomenclature. Pieces are named after real or fictitious Italian towns, plus other Italian words alluding to the collection’s underlying passion project roots. ‘So we've entitled the collection Progetto Passione!’ explains Davis with excitement.

Founder and principal of Art Agency Allan Schwartzman, who also serves as a partner, chairman and co-leader of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division had this to say: ‘Janis and Brad have singlehandedly transformed high carpet design from the traditions of Eastern cultures to the cutting edge of innovation in contemporary creativity and craftsmanship. Their newest and most exclusive Progetto Passione carpets raise that bar even higher. They’re in a league of their own.’

Schwartzman’s contemporary Jodi Pollack, also of Sotheby’s where she is co-heads the International Design Department, added her own accolades: ‘Weaving a carpet with the fluidity of watercolour has become a standard sought after by many contemporary carpet designers. Janis and Brad were the originators of this approach. Their new series of Progetto Passione carpets reinforces their premiere position as design leaders and masters of their field. The complexity of composition, palette and material, and the extraordinary workmanship required to execute each of these unique works, transcends anything that has been presented in the universe of contemporary carpets. Their finely knotted craftsmanship, as well as the forms and colour combinations they have designed for each of these eight remarkable carpets are breathtaking, a true achievement of both design and execution.’

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Courtesy of Fort Street Studio


The Progetto Passione limited edition pieces will be on display in Fort Street Studio’s New York City flagship showroom from 1 – 29 June 2018. Private viewings will also be available through Sotheby’s

Artist in Residence

In a leafy São Paulo suburb, the brutalist home and studio and of Japanese Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake

Japanese-born, Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake (1913-2015) is celebrated for her large-scale public art installations and abstract paintings, characterised by strong, monochromatic colour streams. Visitors to São Paulo today can experience Ohtake’s striking works on display through her many public sculptures scattered throughout the city, at The Tomie Ohtake Institute and, in the near future, the artist’s own home and atelier — currently undergoing transformation to become a new cultural space open to the public. 

Born in Kyoto, Ohtake first travelled to Brazil in 1936 to visit her brother and when the Pacific War prevented her from returning, she stayed, making São Paulo her new home — a city that today plays host to the largest Japanese overseas population in the world.

Though Ohtake was drawn to painting from a young age, it was only after years of homemaking that she first truly devoted herself to her art at the age of 39. Her early painterly endeavours were encouraged by landscape artist Keisuke Sugano, another Japanese immigrant to Brazil in the first part of the 20th century. Building on this legacy, Ohtake’s work has come to represent a bridge between Brazilian and Eastern cultures, the calligraphic gesture echoed in the strokes of her paintbrush reinterpreted through Brazilian abstractionism.

Established in 2001 to showcase the artist’s oeuvre alongside that of others from the same era, The Tomie Ohtake Institute is now a respected centre for the arts in its own right. Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama rank among the high-calibre artists who have exhibited here, while a true highlight involves a visit to the leafy São Paulo suburb of Bello Campo for an intimate view into the atelier-home of Tomie Ohtake for those lucky few who are able to snag a private tour.  

Designed in the ‘60s by Ohtake’s eldest son Ruy Ohtake, the brutalist structure was declared a monument of cultural heritage in 2014. Incorporating a studio and residence in one, the house offers guests an intimate glimpse into some of the artist’s more personal spaces. Ohtake’s bedroom, for example, is rather monastic, reflecting her simple way of living. 

Upon entering, the ground floor is organised around an open-plan layout and relies on architectural cues to define the different living, study and studio spaces. Throughout, visitors are immersed in the home's varied moods, ranging from restful and studious to convivial. In the study, a red ribbon-shaped scale model of a public sculpture Ohtake created in 2008 to commemorate one hundred years of Japanese immigration to Brazil takes pride of place. Surrounding this, the walls are bedecked in works from her collection.

The largest concentration of works is left to be discovered in Ohtake’s studio, where the monochromatic grey of the concrete walls creates an ideal backdrop, offsetting her lavish works on canvas. Overhead, a glass ceiling is covered by a skeleton-like structure, as if the workshop was inside a creature, in isolation, swallowed in artistic immersion.

More than a mere place of retreat for the artist, Ohtake’s home is an embodiment of her life and creative path where her artistic spirit lives on.

Text / Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva
Images / Courtesy of The Tomie Ohtake Institute

David Rockwell, The Diner

Veteran designer David Rockwell speaks with Design Anthology   on the sidelines of this spring’s Salone del Mobile about his pop-up diner installation, design trends and the role of research in his own practice

Design Anthology: In terms of interior design, many firms tend to specialise in one particular area but your firm seems to be very multidisciplinary and working in many sectors. Do you feel that because of that you need to be an expert in each those areas?

David Rockwell: I think what interests me and interests our studio is essentially not being defined by a box around project type. On the other hand, I believe that our design strategy and design research is very fluid. We believe in deep, deep, deep research. So if the you look at the thirty-five years of the Rockwell Group and our divergent practices, they're all connected.

I just turned sixty-one. As a designer, I now have a chance to look in the rear-view mirror to see what are the drivers, what are the things that I'm most interested in, and they're not project types. They‘re about certain ideas including design as a way to bring community together. As different as you could say an airport and a theatre project are, or a pop-up diner, there are certain common investigations. One of them is space as a way of bringing people together and connecting people. When we begin something, like the theatre, not only had I studied it, but I spent two or three years just meeting with directors, talking and sketching and realising that what they were interested in was what I was interested in. And that's how design helps tell a story.

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As you mentioned, your firm has been around now for over three decades. I'm curious to know what are some of the biggest changes that you've seen, particularly in hospitality, but also just in design?

That's such an interesting question because I really believe that by the time you can point to a trend, it's already over. So you know, diners for instance, as I started to work on this I looked into the history of diners. Diners have been in and out of fashion almost every ten years, as has some of the iconography of diners. But from the beginning, diners were about a place that was open when other places were closed, and a place where you could be alone and together. So I've seen so many waves of changes in hospitality.

You know, I've been through pre-‘everything looking like Brooklyn’ and hopefully post-‘everything looking like Brooklyn’. I've been through ‘open kitchens are no good’ and then ‘everything should have an open kitchen’. I think one of the trends I'm seeing now that's a good trend is restaurants based on a point of view of hospitality and food. I don't think design is a starting point. I think design has to come out of some point of view and I'm seeing a return to that. There are a million food markets and food halls and you know of course people will realise they're all similar too, and then that will change.

Well that leads to my next question, which is what do you expect to see more of in the future, either in hospitality specifically or just design in general?

One of the things is, this is a good example of what I'm interested in, is the balance between permanence and impermanence. Theatre is alive for the two-and-a-half hours you're there seeing the show. When you're not there, it's not alive; it only lasts for that period. So this [The Diner installation] is just here for one week. I'd love this to be up longer actually, but I think we're going to see more spaces that morph from day to night because of the difficulty in getting real estate. I think this place will be used for talks and lectures in the evening. It'll be used for karaoke on Wednesday. It's a very flexible space, and I think it's going to be a place people want to be. Not just something that looks good on Instagram and in photographs. The biggest memory will be being here, hopefully.

The day-to-night thing is quite interesting. It sounds like something that will have an effect on any big city in the world and be quite important, as you said, as real estate becomes very expensive. My next question is about the LAB that you have. Can you tell us a little about why you set that up and what you hope to achieve through it? 

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So I set it up I think in 2007 and it came out of a project in which a client was interested in having us develop a whole series of strategies that were outside of our core expertise. It really was there to look at the architecture projects we were doing and explore ways to use technology to keep people together, not to separate people. More and more people are separated by their technology. You can get your food at home, you don't need to leave for any reason. So the reason to come out is to, as I said, be alone and be together, or be alone together. So the LAB worked on a whole series of projects. And then there were sort of two projects where we started to find a rhythm for it, beginning with the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. When we came on board, we inherited a space that had concrete pillars like some Egyptian tomb. It had been built by someone else and abandoned before it was finished. I proposed that we look at technology as a way to put imagery up. It was all open source, so we created a lot of content but it would change over the years. The next project was the Biennale in Venice, where we did an installation around film and architecture. So the LAB has grown now to have several specialties but it is essentially R&D. I think the challenge is to not be predictable. The challenge is to keep looking for new ways to explore ideas and the LAB helps us do that.

That must be a very attractive capability for your clients, that you have the LAB and that you don't necessarily need to be an expert in any one field because you have that capacity for research.

The tech conference just finished. It was in a theatre we created in Vancouver. It’s a really interesting project that is a fifteen hundred seat pop-up theatre that sets up at the convention centre. It creates the perfect space for a one-on-one talk, then packs up in two days and sets up again a year later. That took a lot of R&D. 

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Well this diner is almost theatre in a way, as well. Had you participated in Milan for Salone in this way before?

I have. I wasn't here last year but we had participated before for other things, though nothing on this scale.

So how did this come about? It's a collaboration between you and Surface magazine and then there's a material partner as well — is that right?

There’s a whole bunch of us. What happened was Surface called us and said, ‘We'd like to talk to you guys about doing an installation’. So they said, ‘How would you like to design a diner in Milan?’. And I was immediately compelled and started to research the concept and thought it may be one of the great last symbols of American optimism in design — the history of the diner is fascinating! Plus if I was to create a big installation, the idea that it'd be a place where people could hang out and not just look at was sort of irresistible. So we just dove in head-on. And then we were like whitewashing the fence, like in Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain where he's whitewashing the fence and had to get everyone to help out — we got a lot of other partners who wanted to participate, including Design within Reach.

Speaking of optimism in design in America, is there optimism there at the moment in the design industry? What is the atmosphere like?

I think design is one of the ultimate optimistic professions because you're making things. There's a lot of complicated, challenging conditions in the US now, as there are around the world. Particularly in the US, I think there's a kind of sourness about the country being unified. But diners are a place that appeals to young kids, older people, singles, so I saw it as a chance to go deep into some of the symbols, like the counter. There's a reason why there's a culture called 'counter culture'. It allows you to be a part of the central element that almost organises the space. So there certainly was optimism in getting people to participate in this project. And we got to look back at the counter and the diner's role in popular culture.

Yeah, there's a very strong nostalgic element to it as well, which is quite charming. How long did the entire process take? When did you start working on this?

I don't know the answer to that — it’s one big blur! I don't know. But you know this was custom, custom chemetal. So there are these continuous elements, like the counter, and then there're these different environments. And if we stand here we're going from monochromatic East Coast luncheonette and then this feels more like the Midwest, with brighter colours. And the food, this grilled cheese, we brought the best cheese guy from New York. Murray's Cheese. You really have to try.

I've been hearing good things about the grilled cheese.

It's amazing!

Are diners in the US really that different if you travel from state to state?

Not necessarily. I wanted to emphasise the idea of movement and differentiation.

So the experience changes as you travel through space?

Right. The counter is very solid and on top of it, I've always loved internally lit globes, so we've got these white globes and our shop made these tattoos of the continents. So this is the looser space, where you can see this little stage in the centre, looser furniture, different kinds of booths, the banquette. So when you sit here, you can see there’s this unifying element but there're all of these individual places around, and I do think that people are going to find this to be of use. You can have a meeting, a bite to eat. There's one other subtle design feature, but it's significant, that if you follow this line, there's a clear horizon that continues. So people feel very nestled because of the horizon and the scale. And all of it’s back-lit, so people look great.

As told to / Suzy Annetta

Designer Q&A: John Pawson

Design Anthology’s editor-in-chief sat down with esteemed architect John Pawson at Milan Design Week for a conversation on his latest collaboration for Swarovski, some of his struggles as a perfectionist and his views on minimalism

Design Anthology: How has Milan been for you so far?

John Pawson: It’s weird being in Milan. On the way here from the hotel, we were stopped by three people who had to have a selfie together. I thought, 'Is this what it's like?'

That's part of the novelty of Design week in Milan for all of us, spotting designers on the street.

You mean I'm not unique? <laughs>

Of course you are, but it’s like Hollywood for the design industry.

It must be, yeah. I suppose in the age of the selfie and the age of Instagram, all these installations must be Instagram friendly. It's not my thing. I like Instagram, but I couldn't design for it. And I resisted doing something for Swarovski for ten years or more. Nadia's been after me.

I heard that you two are quite good friends, so that must have been hard for you to resist for so long. She gave you a hard time then, did she?

It’s hard to have a tall attractive blonde chasing me <laughs>. I'm lucky my wife is very calm and doesn't get worked up or jealous. And Nadia's very cool. So, I'm just really thrilled that we've been able to make it work, for myself, you know. I can only design things that I want and use, and this will suit our new house.

Is that how you’ve always approach things then? It's not about the prospective client, but about something you would want?

Yeah, it’s like that with architecture. If I’m designing a monastery, I design it obviously to help them run their lives, but also how I would want to live if I was a monk. So it’s the same with objects. All my glasses and plates and knives and forks are all designed for what I want. It's not that there aren't other really beautiful ones out there. It's not that I want everything at home to be me but I quite enjoy getting it right.

Personalising things?

Yeah

Architects designing products is not really a new thing. There have been several architects over the course of history who have kitted out spaces with products that they've designed, either for themselves or for that space. I think maybe architects collaborating with brands came along in the 20th century. How do you feel about that trend? And I'm wondering if you see it pushing architects in the direction of becoming brand names themselves and reinforcing this whole 'starchitect' phenomenon. What do you think about that? Do you want to be a brand name?

I mean, I'm part of this new phenomenon and it's fantastic, but it doesn't affect how you design. It just makes it easier to convince people. And you know, until I worked for Calvin Klein everyone was quite wary. They wouldn't commit themselves. But as soon as someone like him committed then Cathay Pacific hired me and it just went from there. Having a bit of profile certainly was a huge help.

So you would only really collaborate or design a product if you felt a legitimate desire to own that yourself? You have no desire to proliferate the market with John Pawson-branded product?

No, I think it's quite difficult because, well, architecture of course works very differently, fee-wise. When you're doing a building you get an advance because you have to run the office, you have to employ lots of people, whereas with objects it's more royalty-based. I think some manufacturers couldn't understand why I didn't jump at doing a sofa or a chair or something, which they could sell hundreds of. They kept saying to me, 'yes, but you will get the royalties' and I'd think, ‘Yeah, but that doesn't help me’. I mean, you have to be liquid to be able to finance the running of the office. But Catherine, my wife, likes the idea of future royalties. <laughs> They just come in, you know. You've done the work, then they just start coming in.

Is there anything appealing about how quickly you can design a smaller product as opposed to the length of time it takes to finish a building?

Of course, yeah. It's very satisfying and also you can go on designing it until the object is sitting in front of you and you can say ‘Okay, I'm not so happy about that’, whereas with a building, you can never. Of course, when I first started I drove my clients mad. It would go on and on and on.

And the contractors as well?

Yeah. One guy floored me. I didn't see it coming. He just went bang, and when you're hit properly, you just go straight down. It was quite dramatic. We were on the street in London, so I was in the gutter looking up at this guy. I know, I was stupid. First of all, I was standing too near, obviously.

I presume that never changed your resolve or your principles, or your wanting to see things the way you felt they should be done?

Well no, but I did learn to be a little more diplomatic. Also, you know at the beginning I had issues with clients because it mattered so much to me. If I wanted to reduce the height of the ceiling, I would, and some clients got upset about that.

Did you ever have arguments with clients who, after you'd created a beautiful space, filled it with all their stuff?

Well I think if I can get the building right, of course I'm interested in what goes in it. It’s really really important — it changes the building hugely. But, I mean, you can't control everything. I tried, back in the early days.

But now you must have clients that come to you for a certain aesthetic?

Yes, but everyone's different. Some people want you to do everything, including getting their lapsang souchong tea. Whatever. And of course, that's an extreme. Some people say, ‘I don't want you to do anything with the furniture, just the architecture’. And some people just want the interiors, not the architecture. So, we're flexible these days. As long as I'm able to contribute something.

So this is not the first time you've worked with Swarovski, but it is the first time that you're showing a product collaboration in Milan?

Yeah absolutely, with them, yes. As I said, I resisted for a long time. I mean you wouldn't normally associate me with what they do but I saw a way in. We'll see, who knows. When you do it, you don't know where it will go from here. But I'm happy.

It's a beautiful collection.

We did this church in Augsburg, a catholic church in the centre of town which the British had bombed. It used to be the most exquisite seventeenth century church and really beautiful, by father and son architects, quite well known, who did it very simply. But gradually stuff got added and subtracted and it was made a mess off, so they hired me to redo the church.

It was a very popular local place for people to just pop in, to talk to God and so on. And so there was a huge expectation. We had the opening with the bishop and I had to give the bishop the key during the ceremony, and we had a huge crowd outside because it was a very big church and everyone was of course eager to get in — a lot of people worshipped there. So they opened the doors, and it really was a spectacle. I was, like, in this scrum, and then there was this couple who saw it and, I don't speak German but, they were saying 'This is terrible, it’s horrible, a travesty!' I mean, I'm just imagining what they said, but they were absolutely apoplectic, and then they stormed out. And I thought, 'Oh no, I've messed up here' and I felt so bad. But then the others came in, and the whole place filled up and they had an amazing mass and an amazing concert afterwards, and everyone was really, really happy. It was just those two people. So, you can't please everybody.

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That's always bound to happen. Like you said, you can't make everyone happy.

Well if you could, it wouldn't be good work.

How did you approach the collection then? What was your thinking and process at the very beginning?

Well, I tried all sorts of things. I mean, to be honest, I tried that idea of having a tiny bit of crystal and a lot of silver, or something else and then I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ You know? And they kept explaining to me the properties of crystal, which of course means you have to face it. If you don't cut it in that way...

So we developed these random widths, which change as you move around it. I wanted things I could use and things I could put in my own home. So I just designed things that I wanted or needed: candlesticks, vases for flowers and just one centrepiece that you can put fruit on.

Does your wife ever get a say in this or are you the final decision maker?

You should interview her! She's incredibly calm and incredibly patient and generous. With our new house in the country — she wanted somewhere out of London — I said to her, 'Look, I've just got to make it clear before we go that I'm doing it' and she said 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, but when it's finished I can put stuff in that I want' and I said, 'Yeah, just after I'm finished.' So she's quite upset with me because I haven't put up any fixings for the curtain rods. But I will do it. I really will do it. We will have curtains.

But you'll have to get it photographed before then? <laughs>

Yeah. The thing is that I have to feel comfortable in the space all the time. I mean it's quite therapeutic to have it photographed in its idealised state. But then I tend to want it like that the whole time.

Well I guess that's the whole idea of having a comfy house. It’s somewhere to relax and if that for you is somewhere visually quiet...

Well yes, but there is more than one of us.

Marriage is all about compromise.

Luckily for us the compromise is in different areas.

My final question is how do you describe your work? I feel like ‘minimalism’ doesn't really cut it. Is there another word?

No. There isn't. I talk about clarity and I talk about feeling comfortable and atmosphere, but I wouldn't describe it as simply atmospheric or architectural. There are a lot of words, but whatever nice words you can think of should apply: honest, clear, direct.

I've never been bothered about being called a minimalist. To begin with, in the seventies when I first started doing this my sisters thought I was completely mad and they used to send blank pieces of paper saying ‘This is a membership to John's club’. They never understood — there was no one else doing it, no one would join the club. And then suddenly I look around and anybody who remotely felt they were doing something simple, even if it wasn't, suddenly became a minimalist. So there was a big group, of which I was just one, and then it shrank back a bit.

I can imagine that as the world gets more hectic, your architecture becomes more desirable.

It's always been hectic. I was always amazed because I always did it for myself. And then I was amazed that other people wanted it. It took me a long time to get my head around that.

As told to / Suzy Annetta

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Best in Show: Milan Design Week 2018

Our favourite installations from around the city during the most exciting week on the design calendar

Lasvit 's "Monster Cabaret" @ Teatro Gerolamo

Lasvit's "Monster Cabaret" @ Teatro Gerolamo

Calm and serenity from  Meridiani  @ Rho Fiera

Calm and serenity from Meridiani @ Rho Fiera

Hermes ' stunning Moroccan-inspired installation @ Palazzo della Permanente

Hermes' stunning Moroccan-inspired installation @ Palazzo della Permanente

Raw-Edges Design Studio 's "Fine Cut" at Really, Cicular by Design

Raw-Edges Design Studio's "Fine Cut" at Really, Cicular by Design

Layers of beauty from  Apparatus  at their via Santa Marta showroom

Layers of beauty from Apparatus at their via Santa Marta showroom

Kengo Kuma 's "Breath/ng" air purifying installation for Dassault Systèmes

Kengo Kuma's "Breath/ng" air purifying installation for Dassault Systèmes

Lee Broom's "Observatory" installation of his new lighting designs

Lee Broom's "Observatory" installation of his new lighting designs

bulthaup's installation inside an empty church in Brera

bulthaup's installation inside an empty church in Brera

Designers Rachel and Nick Cope of  Calico Wallpaper  and designer  Lindsey Adelman  in their shared space  image / Lauren Coleman

Designers Rachel and Nick Cope of Calico Wallpaper and designer Lindsey Adelman in their shared space
image / Lauren Coleman

New designs at the showroom of  Collection Particulière

New designs at the showroom of Collection Particulière

COS  x Philip K Smith III @ Palazzo Isimbardi

COS x Philip K Smith III @ Palazzo Isimbardi

Gubi goodness @ Palazzo Serbelloni

Gubi goodness @ Palazzo Serbelloni

Michael Anastassiades ' "Jewels after Jewels after Jewels"installation for  Flos   image / Germano Borrelli

Michael Anastassiades' "Jewels after Jewels after Jewels"installation for Flos
image / Germano Borrelli

People-watching at the new  Paper Moon Giardino  by  AB Concept   image / Michael Weber

People-watching at the new Paper Moon Giardino by AB Concept
image / Michael Weber

Minotti  celebrates 70 years @ Rho Fiera

Minotti celebrates 70 years @ Rho Fiera

Bethan Laura-Wood 's eclectic brand of fun at  Moroso

Bethan Laura-Wood's eclectic brand of fun at Moroso

The Rockwell Group 's "The Diner" in colalboration with Surface magazine

The Rockwell Group's "The Diner" in colalboration with Surface magazine

Ceasarstone  x  Snarkitcture  "Altered States"  image / Alex Lukey

Ceasarstone x Snarkitcture "Altered States"
image / Alex Lukey

Sensuous new sofa design "Infinity" by  Space Copenhagen  for  Stellarworks

Sensuous new sofa design "Infinity" by Space Copenhagen for Stellarworks

Chinese designer  Mario Tsai  at Salone Satellite

Chinese designer Mario Tsai at Salone Satellite

Curtain Call

In the Melbourne suburb of Kew, this Victorian house honours the legacy of its 130-year-old structure, while a modern addition brings added transparency and functionality. According to Matt Gibson, director of his eponymous studio, the design team opened up and repurposed the interior spaces — spread over 383 square metres — to provide ‘a more fluid and flexible spatial arrangement.’

Built on a 1,000-square-metre plot, the house is surrounded by garden and newly installed sliding glass doors that fully open up. Inside, an airy living area includes a sleek kitchen, which connects to the dining room through a large opening in the brick wall. Behind the dining room, a new cosy family room features darker tones with impressive floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The family's bedrooms are on the upper level.

‘The process of renovation allowed for the act of revealing, exposing the history of the existing building by tracing the original materials and the history of alterations over time,’ says Gibson. The distinction between old and new is clearly visible and helps to create interesting contrasts. ‘Spaces and eras are distinguishable yet able to bleed into each other, allowing subtle connectivity. Each space, while unique, continues a dialogue that's integral to the story of the whole.’

From the exterior, a uniquely woven stainless steel mesh curtain catches the eye. Just beyond, lead designer and project architect Erica Tsuda built off the Japaneses architectural concepts of hiro-en and engawa — referring to deep verandas in traditional Japanese structures — to create a seamless indoor-outdoor transition and sheltered area for year-round use. The result is 'a free flowing and kinetic foil' that offsets the otherwise-permanence and solidity of the heritage structure, according to Gibson. 'A functional device at its core, the curtain provides an invigorating spatial blurring — layering and overlapping notions of interior and exterior, and through its translucency offers a counterpoint of exposure or enclosure depending on how light falls on it.'

Shortlisted in the Heritage category for the Australian Institute of Architects annual awards, this project exemplifies how architecture can be adapted to contemporary life in a subtle and respectful way.

Text / Karine Monie
Images / Shannon McGrath