finnish contemporary in france.

The Maison Louis Carré, the eponymously named home of a French art dealer and collector, was designed by master of Finnish modernist architecture (and design hero of mine), Alvar Aalto. Set in the French countryside 60km from Paris, the building and landscaped gardens were designed by Aalto in the late ‘50s, in his characteristically functional, modernist style, using natural materials and organic forms. 

A perfect backdrop, then, for the group exhibition of Finnish contemporary sculptural works by glass artist Laura Laine, textile designer Kustaa Saksi and sculptor and ceramicist Kim Simonsson. 

‘While working with different materials, the artists have a common material approach, presenting works with a three-dimensional feel that perfectly fit with the characterising organic, functionalist atmosphere of the Aalto-designed surroundings.’

There is something rather wonderful about seeing art and sculpture in a relatable, residential setting rather than the rarefied environment of a white-walled gallery. Aalto’s interiors are typically congenial and light-filled and as was his way, everything down to the light fittings, fixtures and loose furniture were Aalto designed. The house itself emerges from the French countryside, its swooping roof of blue Normandy slate imitating the surrounding landscape, evocative also of the simple form of a Finnish laavu. Walls and base of nearby Chartres limestone create a patchwork with white rendered brick and panels of timber. The pine wood continues within, adding warmth and interest against the expanses of white walls. The roof, a simple but dramatic line when viewed externally, becomes a glorious feature of the large entrance hall on the inside – timber lined, it utilises Aalto’s often used organic curves – as seen in his signature Savoy vase, with its iconic quintet of curves. Column free and with vast expanses of wall for hanging art, this space is the predominant gallery space. The adjoining living room fronts on to the expansive view, with its panorama window, and provides a more intimate domestic setting for the art.

The bespoke light fittings and fixed and moveable furnishings are evident throughout the house, including an early version of Aalto’s Golden Bell pendant light (more Aalto lighting, here), and his classic Stool 60.

Call to the Wild / L’appel de la nature 

Maison Louis Carré, 2 chemin du Saint-Sacrement, 78490 Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, France

20th of June to 29th of November 2020 (advanced booking is necessary).

Photographs: Frederik Vercruysse, with thanks.

brazilian modernism: midcentury furniture in brasilia.

Brazilian modernism is some of the most enigmatic and delightful of the modernist genre, often designed by well known architects of the times – Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi, for example. The forms of their furniture are as iconic as their buildings – strong in form, playful and spirited. 

Here, the owner of specialist gallery Naiara gallery, Neri, shares her thoughts and findings on the best of mid-century Brazilian furniture, and where to find it in Brasilia’s civic buildings.

Furniture making has always been one of the main industries in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil since 1960. Throughout the 1950s Brazil had experienced an economic boom, which expanded the middle classes. As such, there was more demand for furniture. Some of it, like the letter Z-inspired creations of José Zanine Caldas, was made from plywood on assembly lines. This increased its affordability; at the time most residential furniture was still hand-crafted. Around the same time, Michel Arnoult introduced cheap, ready-to-assemble furniture for middle-class interiors. He used finer woods, like imbuia and pau-marfim, in the manufacture.

Little wonder then that Brasilia’s civic buildings contain many fine examples of vintage furniture. The works of top designers like Sergio Rodrigues, Joaquim Tenreiro, Lina Bo Bardi (more Lina Bo Bardi, here), and Anna Maria Niemeyer can all be found here.

Stylish and minimalistic, this beautiful furniture turns administrative interiors into art gallery settings. It’s worth noting though that much of this modernist furniture gets overshadowed by the architecture. You must pass through the exterior walls to glimpse the treasure trove of art and furnishings within.

Here are four government buildings in Brasilia where you can see some of the best examples of Brazilian vintage furniture.

The Palácio da AlvoradaPhotograph: Gonzalo Viramonte

When Juscelino Kubitschek became president in 1955, he revived the idea of building a new capital within Brazil’s interior. He chose Oscar Niemeyer as its architect, and Brasilia was inaugurated as the new capital in 1960.

The first government building constructed was The Palácio da Alvorada, completed in only a year. This magnificent structure has become symbolic of Brazilian modernist architecture. Niemeyer applied principles of simplicity and modernity to the design. The facade is famous for its colonnade of white lancet-tip arches which look like upside-down concrete kites. These same arches inspired the patterning used in the Brasilia chairs and cabinets made by the US furniture maker, Broyhill.

Niemeyer invited Sergio Rodrigues and Joaquim Tenreiro to contribute furniture for The Palácio da Alvorada. And in fact their works grace many other civic buildings he designed. But it was his own daughter, Anna Maria Niemeyer, who did the lion’s share of the interior design. In keeping with the current trends, she chose to combine Persian rugs and antiques with modern designs. The large conference tables, and any other furniture she could not source, she designed herself.

Inside, visitors walk up ramps on plush, deep red carpets. The walls are decorated with tapestries, mirrors, jacaranda panelling and abstract gold tiles. Beside the grand piano stand upholstered, brass-and-leather copies of Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona chair. Elsewhere on the main floor can be seen copies of Lina Bo Bardi’s Bowl chair, still produced today over six decades later.

Jorge Zalsupin’s unique 1960’s L’Atelier designs are on show here too, as well as at Planalto Palace, all brought in by Oscar Niemeyer. Zalsupin created a bewildering array of one-off chairs, stools, desks and side tables, often in jacaranda rosewood.

Between 2004 and 2006, The Palácio da Alvorada underwent modernisation work. All the furniture and decorative objects were restored to their original condition.

Brasilia Palace Hotel

The Brasilia Palace Hotel was the second Niemeyer building to be completed. In its time, it has played host to such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth, Dwight Eisenhower, Indira Ghandi and Che Guevara. It was opened in 1958, two years before Brasilia became inaugurated.

The Brasilia Palace Hotel is a work of art in itself, eschewing today’s sterile urban standards. Inside, much of the furniture it houses also has considerable aesthetic appeal. There are the distinctive khaki-coloured womb chairs designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1950s. In the public spaces are provided Bardi Bowl chairs, which were designed by Lina Bo Bardi in 1951. Both vintage designs express modernity and simple functionality and are bold art statements for their time.

Other chairs on display show the same timeless economy of design and structural rigour. Pride of place is given to Oscar Niemeyer’s black rocking chair with its futuristic contours and laminated wood surface. You feel safe rocking in this, as well as very comfortable.

You’ll also find large, plush, wine red Odilon armchairs, which almost swallow you up in comfort. And the ‘Beto’ armchairs designed by Sergio Rodrigues will delight with their chunky jacaranda rosewood arms.

During the latter years of the last century the Brasilia Palace Hotel fell into neglect and disuse. After extensive restoration, it reopened in 2006.

Palácio do Planalto

Photograph: Andrew Prokos

Similar in design to The Palácio da Alvorada, The Palácio do Planalto is the official workplace of the Brazilian president and was opened in 1960. Its large white marble lancet-tip arches give the impression that the building barely touches the ground. As with many other of Brasilia’s government buildings, The Palácio do Planalto underwent restoration between 2009 and 2010. As part of its restoration, the lounge area on the fourth floor is furnished with 1960s modernist Brazilian furniture.

Black leather easy chairs with distinctive sweeping metal supports furnish the reception area. Introduced in 1971, they were the first furniture Niemeyer designed in his long and illustrious career. You’ll also find his famous black Marquesa bench elsewhere in the building, designed with tight half-coils at both ends and a braided wood seat.

Niemeyer also designed one of the very long tables, which can seat 38 ministers, 19 on either side.

A long sweeping white ramp takes visitors from the ground floor to the first. Close by are examples of jacaranda rosewood chairs and stools designed by Sergio Rodrigues.

Itamaraty Palace

Photograph: Yellowtrace

Also known as The Palace of the Arches, this building is the headquarters of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It looks out onto a large, beautiful water garden and houses one of the largest art collections in Brazil. Itamaraty means ‘river of small stones’ in the ancient Latin American language of Nheengatu.

Inside, there is a monumental 2.3 metre-wide spiral staircase without a bannister. As well as being rich in statues, rugs and other objets d’art, the palace interior houses a selection of Brazilian modernist furniture. Included is the distinctive cane-back ‘Itamaraty’ dining chairs made from indigenous jacaranda hardwood. They were designed by the pioneer of modernist Brazilian furniture, Joaquim Tenreiro, who first made a name for himself in the 1940s.

1  Marquesa chaise, 1974, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer, Espasso; 2.  Itamaraty dining chairs, 1965, Joaquim Tenreiro, 1stDibs; 3.  Lia armchair, 1962, Sergio Rodrigues, Artsy; 4.  Armchair for Linha Z, 1950s, José Zanine Caldas, Pamona; 5.  Cubo chair, Jorge Zalszupin, Naiara Gallery; 6.  Rio rocking chaise, 1970s, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer; 7.  Bowl chair, 1951, Lina Bo Bardi, Arper; 8.  Alta armchair and ottoman, 1971, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer, Espasso

References: Brazil Modern: The Rediscovery of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Furniture, by Aric Chen, published by The Monacelli Press; Itamaraty Palace – About Brasilia & Brazil; In design, Niemeyer also created icons, Casa Vogue, Dec 8th, 2012; BRASILIA 50 ANOS/ The Buildings :: The Palace of the Dawn as Seen by Elizabeth Bishop in August 1958, June 29th, 2010

Founded in 2018, Naiara is a specialist  gallery dedicated to Brazilian midcentury design, showcasing Brazil’s top designers, such as Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Lina Bo Bardi, Jose Zanine Caldas, Jorge Zalszupin, Carlo Hauner & Martin Eisler, Branco & Preto as well as beautifully crafted unassigned designer pieces.

Featured Image, spiral staircase inside the Itamaraty Palace; here.

from the archive: intimate spaces, defined.

Since I first wrote about the work of Romain Laprade, he has gone on to photograph campaigns for Isabel Marant, Kinfolk and Aesop amongst others: a dizzying array of exciting brands. His work is stylish and bold, often reminiscent of a movie still, and always distinctive. From the archive – my post from 2017:

Bold, modernist spaces in and around European cities dominate the site of French photographer Romain Laprade. He seeks out the intimate places often forgotten or deemed unimportant – foyers and entry halls – transition spaces that are too often seen as a luxury. It is these spaces that in reality allow a building to breathe, provide a place for occupants to pause, a space to contemplate or to stop and chat before passing through.

Romain started working as a graphic designer, working at French Vogue for 4 years. Now 28, his obsession is photography. The places he has found and photographed – the ones I like the most – are the foyers of modernist buildings from the ‘60s and ‘70s, most often in Paris. These wonderful interiors are rich in colour and texture – black granite cladding inlaid with bronze, or rows of mosaic tiles in bold hues of orange or red; bold concrete forms standing like voluptuous, oversized chess pieces, and floors of verde green marble. All surfaces have been considered – fine, dark bricks laid obliquely adjoin a ceiling of glossy black and red tiles; a vertical screen of rich brown wood opposes perfectly proportioned piers of tiny, matt black mosaic.

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Images 1, 2 , 3,  Paris 15; image 4 and feature image, Av. Paul Doumer, 1960, Paris.
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Image 5, Carrer de Brusi, Barcelona; image 6, Le persicope, 1972, Paris; images 7, 8, Le Meridien, 1964, Paris.rl_crimee_ohl02rl_creteil_ohl01rl_beaugrenelle_ohl06
 Image 9, Crimée, 1968, Paris; image 10, Créteil; image 11, Beaugrenelle.

See more Romain Laprade imagery, including beautiful fashion photographs for John Galliano and Tomasini Paris, here.

All images, courtesy Romain Laprade.

marvellous modernist: the Isokon building.

I wrote about the wonderful Isokon Gallery for Museeum.com. You can read the article, here

 

 

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.