from the archive: lessons in modernism.

If I could be anywhere this coming week it would be Palm Springs for Modernism week and the Palm Springs Art Fair. Palm Springs is of course a modernism enthusiasts’ delight, with its plentiful single and split level homes, all shifting planes and open plan layouts, with big glass sections and cantilevered floors.

Instead, I’m rediscovering the work of one of my favourite proponents of the style, the Melbourne architect and writer Robin Boyd. His work and in particular his writing were hugely influential on me growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. His two key tomes – Australia’s Home and The Australian Ugliness – defined for me everything that was wrong with suburban living.

One of his best known works is Walsh Street house designed by Boyd for his family in 1957. It now houses the Robin Boyd Foundation and remains in its original condition.

Walshst-backroomWalshst-diningroomWalshst-mezzWalshst-balconyWalshst-kids2Walshst-bathroom

Furnished with pieces designed by Boyd’s contemporaries – Grant Featherston and Clement Meadmore (whom I once met, and visited his home in NY) amongst others – it demonstrates the design principles championed in his books, utilising an introspective layout, with the main house and a separate children’s pavilion facing inwards toward a central courtyard. (This was in direct contrast to the usual model of building a suburban house in the middle of the block).

The finishes are bold and intense – deep, saturated colours and dark-painted brickwork walls; rich red woodwork, glimmering mosaic and even copper (how very contemporary…). Floor-to-ceiling plate glass, soaring ceilings and clerestory windows ensure light and nature are ever present.

An (almost) fitting substitute for a trip to Palm Springs…

Walsh Street House via Photographs, Eve Wilson

modernist works on paper.

I discovered the work of Carsten Nielsen, owner of Bycdesign Studio, on Instagram. Appealing to both my modernist and minimalist sensibiliites, Carsten’s works are simple and geometric in form, bold, and resolutely modern.

Born and raised in Aalborg, Denmark – the ‘Paris of the North’ – inspiration came early, from photographs of buildings and geometric shapes through to mathematical equations. His background is print making and photography, and he only started printing shape and form onto paper and canvas in 2016.

‘The simple lines create a new object fascinates me, and force me to think art in a new way though the simple lines’. 

His inspiration is mid-centry design, both in classic furniture and architecture and modern art. He works from his home studio which forms the perfect backdrop for his works.

bycdesign studio

 

the hypatia collection.

Good art and beautifully designed chairs. Two of my very favourite things will be brought together in an exhibition by the Madrid-based artist Nikoleta Sekulovic, at Rebecca Hossack gallery in London. 

The Hypatia Collection, named after an Ancient Greek female philosopher famous for being the greatest mathematician and astronomer of her time, consists of ten paintings of female nudes, each seated on a chair from furniture company Viaduct’s collection. Each chair has been personally selected by the sitter. 

The paintings are acrylic and graphite on canvas, in a limited palette of mostly white, greys, black and browns; the soft, muted forms of the figures both contrast with and complement the angular lines of the chairs. I love how the paintings feel both modern and timeless. Nikoleta Sekulovic, Hypatia, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 180 x 130 cmNikoleta Sekulovic, Nossis of Locri, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 167 x 150 cmNikoleta Sekulovic, Moero of Byzantium, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 170 x 125 cmNikoleta Sekulovic, Anyte of Tagea, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 160 x 165 cmNikoleta Sekulovic, Aesara of Lucania, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 150 x 160 cmNikoleta Sekulovic, Porcia Catonis, 2019, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 150 x 175 cm

The models, all known to the artist and all fellow mothers, are given classical titles – the names of ancient Greek female poets and philosophers, and a small historical description of her will be inscribed on the back.

‘…. perhaps the most significant concept behind the combination of a muse and designer furniture is the idea of finding the stillness within, even if it is for a fleeting moment.’ Nikoleta Sekulovic.

The chairs include several of my personal favourites –  He Said chair by Mattiazi, Hiroshima dining chair by Maruni, Tri-Angle stool by Karakter, the enigmatic Eugene lounge chair by E15, amongst others.Nikoleta Sekulovic is an artist presently based in Madrid. Born in Rome to a German mother and a Serbian father, she has worked in London, Paris and New York.

The Hypatia Collection, 28 January – 21 February 2020, Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, Conway Street, London.

Images courtesy Rebecca Hossack Gallery

 

the tractor shed.

It’s been a good long while since I’ve been here, so I’m starting with a project we completed late last year. I’m very much looking forward to regular postings again.

The Tractor Shed involved the conversion of a dilapidated tractor shed in Hertfordshire into a 4-bedroom home for an artist, including two generous studio spaces.

Approaching the house from the north, the simple, bold openings of the elevation are evocative of the original building with its giant barn doors; the entry though is not here, but through a small porch recess to the side where a last glance of the landscape can be seen through a corner window before entering.

An unfolding sequence of spaces of different scales are tied together with unexpected glimpses between rooms and strong connections to the landscape. On entering the hall, light filters down through rough-sawn oak slats into the hallway below from a skylight at the apex. The dramatic scale of the barn is fully revealed in the main studio and open-plan kitchen. The lowered ceiling height in the adjoining dining area is intimate yet expansive, opening onto the garden and landscape beyond. Adjacent to this is a cosy snug room with deep heather-brown walls, a raised timber floor and wood burning stove. A traditionally proportioned living room with a large picture window to one side is centred around a wood-burning stove set into a herring-bone brick lined recess. Oak floor boards are used to line all surfaces of the the stairwell; this immersion  is interrupted by a glimpse through a cutout slot down to the seating nook below. Split landing levels at first floor allow generous raked ceilings in bedrooms to the south and two smaller scale bedrooms to the north. Eaves are utilised for the most intimate spaces; a dressing room with a slot window down to the main studio and a hidden mezzanine.

A restrained palette of materials is left as natural as possible and evoke the building’s industrial past – polished concrete floors to the living spaces downstairs, an oak-faced plywood kitchen, and solid oak floors upstairs. The  original precast concrete frame is left expressed rather than hidden, and is seen at different scales as one moves through the building. Timber used for the exterior cladding was cut from trees felled from the client’s own land, which he blackened using a blow-torch – after scouring YouTube videos for instruction – creating a soft, variegated effect. 

Tractor Shed by HeathWalker Studio.

Photographs: Adrien Fouéré (@weareurbananimals)



lubetkin’s house.

If you’re the architect of one of the best examples of modernist architecture in this country, then chances are your own apartment – in the same building – is going to be fabulous.

Berthold Lubetkin designed this penthouse as this own home, set atop Highpoint II (Highpoint I had been designed 3 years earlier in 1935) with its panoramic views across London and afar. I wrote about Highpoint I previously, here.

A striking entrance lobby sets the scene, with tiled floor, richly textured, timber-board cladding (a gib door leads to a cloakroom behind), and thick, vertical louvres of sand-blasted Norwegian pine. These striking finishes are bold, almost rustic, an unusual choice within the refined and elegant building. But they are contained, and as such are not allowed to dominate. The views beyond remain the scene-stealer.

The main space is rectilinear, open plan and 12 metres long. A barrel vaulted ceiling forms the double-height space, with lengths of fully retractable glazing extending along both walls. The rich, dark tiled floor contrasts with the white walls and window surrounds; then, more rough-hewn, wide boards of timber clad the walls vertically in the low-ceilinged snug at one end. A slab of creamy travertine beneath the windows on one side forms a continuous seat, the terrace beckoning beyond.

Elsewhere, walls are white and bare, and colour is used boldly but sparingly in tiles and feature walls.

The penthouse is for sale on The Modern house, here.

A Grade 1 listing means that the owner is unable to alter the apartment, but then, why would you want to?

The Lubetkin Penthouse, Highpoint II, London, N6. More, here.

a neapolitan modernist.

If our summer vacation involved a trip to the south of Italy, then this is where I would want to stay.

Built by Italian architect Michele Capobianco in 1964, the aptly named Villa Bianca is all geometric lines and elegance. Perfectly suited to the heat of its southern location, slim, double height columns elevate it high above its already lofty perch on the hills above Naples; the roof over-sailing the floors below, forming shady, travertine-lined terraces to sit and while. The garden too, is a sculptural, lush oasis of palms and grasses.

Inside, the entrance hall is a double volume, airy space, with artworks placed nonchalantly here and there. A stair to one side is flanked by a low wall which rises up to form a gallery at first floor level. All is white and cool. Dark wood adds warmth; tiled floors change pattern and tone depending on which room they inhabit. A secondary, circular stair spirals up, changing floor pattern as it arrives on each level. A beautiful fireplace niche, patterned with hand made brick, offers a place to sit and contemplate.

Simple, rectilinear furniture compliment the simple layout, the palette of dark wood and black leather bringing a sophistication to the mix.

Villa Bianca, Gulf of Naples, Italy, here.

I’ve also been seduced by this beautiful, contemporary farmhouse in Puglia. And I’m still looking forward to visiting this glamorous modernist in Portugal.

 

the wonderful world of peter d. cole.

Peter D. Cole is known for his wonderfully exuberant and playful works. I discovered him on Instagram, his works colour-bright set against their pure, white background.

His abstract, watercolour paintings and bold, minimal sculptures are firmly rooted in the landscape of his native Australia; a simple vocabulary of singular elements floating on a sea of colour. Forms are broken down to represent the most fundamental elements of sky, earth, sun and moon, picked out in primary reds, vivid yellows, intense blues and other clear, saturated hues.

Displaying the modernist language of his art school training in the mid 1960s, he cites Miro, Calder and González as influences, along with the Constructivists Moholy Nagy and El Lissitzky. Specific works too – Giacometti’s The Palace at 4am and Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp – have informed his sculptural pieces, styled out of powder-coated steel, aluminium, marble and brass.

Peter works from a purpose built studio adjoining his home in country Victoria, having designed both studio and house himself. Influenced by Japanese houses and the natural desire to capture the afternoon breeze, the main house sits on an elevated platform with a simple set of stairs leading to the entrance. The high ceilinged, white walled, light filled rooms offer perfect, gallery-style spaces in which to display his work.

The palette of materials is thus restrained, starting with floors of richly polished timber and walls of glass, creating an almost invisible boundary with the outdoors. Extraneous elements have been removed –  doors are recessed into wall thicknesses or simply framed in wood; junctions abut each other crisply. Elements of singular colour counterbalance the bold hues of Peter’s sculptures. Door handles and drawer pulls were designed and made by the artist, along with many of the light fittings. Furniture is a mix of antique and modern. Marc Newson’s idiosyncratic pieces are stand-outs, from the fabulous Wicker and Embryo chairs to the Super Guppy floor lamp, all of which sit comfortably amongst Peter’s bold, architectural forms.

More about the artist here, and his website, here

Photographs: Sean Fennessy via Peter D. Cole, with thanks.