L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Books

'Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors': Modern living with 'Mad' looks

Atomic Ranch: Midcentury InteriorsDuring a recent trip to San Diego, I drove by my childhood home in Point Loma. The low-lying 1956 ranch house still looked the same from the street. Were my hand prints still in the patio concrete? I also found myself wondering if the home’s period details inside remained. The lovely diamond pane windows with the stubborn hand cranks were gone. And surely the small kitchen with its funky brown appliances had been edited by now. But I hoped the wide brick and flagstone fireplace -- the one that could easily seat four and doubled as a stage for my sister and me -- was still there.

Atomic Ranch coverRetaining those classic ranch-house elements while adapting to modern living is precisely what Michelle Gringeri-Brown, editor of the quarterly Atomic Ranch magazine, tries to encourage through her new book, “Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors.”

“We try to point out the charm of original features,” Gringeri-Brown said in an interview. “We encourage homeowners to be cautious. Don't rush to gut the whole thing before you make interior design choices that can’t be undone. The period pieces often stand out as things to be appreciated.” 

Gringeri-Brown credits the popularity of “Mad Men” for fueling appreciation of ranch houses. A new generation is attracted to what she calls “retro cool.” Ranch houses also appeal to aging baby boomers who are wary of stairs. “Because ranches were built when property was cheaper, they tend to sprawl on one floor and have a larger yard,” the author said.

This is her second book on ranch houses with husband, photographer Jim Brown, and it highlights eight homes, from a tract house in Calistoga, Calif., to a split-level in Ohio. (That's a 1958 house in San Mateo, Calif., at the top of the post.) Homeowners share their remodeling stories, offer tips on projects such as windows and plumbing, and detail the design elements they have retained. In one case, homeowners found original metal kitchen cabinets in their garage. The book is filled with creative ideas as well as informative sidebars, floor plans, vintage photos and a list of nearly 200 resources.

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'Bookshelf' by Alex Johnson holds volumes of fun design


Stacked cinder blocks and boards work just as well as most, but they’re nowhere near as fun — or as optimistic in this e-book world — as the swirling, angled, wacky shelves in Alex Johnson’s new book. “Bookshelf” (Thames & Hudson, $24.95) has more than 300 color photos of minimalist, ladder-shaped shelves, jumbled boxes, swirling towers and the occasional farm animal. (That's Estante Vaco, above, by Brazilian designer Dennys Tormen). One disorienting design built into a staircase holds 2,000 books, but many others were created without much apparent thought to storing more than a few volumes.

Bookshelf Alex Johnson“It’s partly that designers like taking something small and basic and playing with it, and there’s nothing much more basic than a bookcase,” Johnson said from his home in Britain, where his three children, ages 3, 9 and 11, are all big readers.

“The truth for many readers is that their bookshelves are nearly as important to them as their books,” he said, adding that he remembers the size and shape and smell of his childhood bookcases with as much fondness as the books in them.

Nobody & Co. designer Alisee Matta, whose Bibliochaise is included in the book, said life in a small, book-filled apartment inspired her to create a leather armchair that envelopes the sitter with 16 feet of shelf space. “Sitting and living in the middle of your favorite books is a very strong feeling,” she says in “Bookshelf.”

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Kishani Perera: Eclectic can be livable in designer's 'Vintage Remix'

Kaitlin Olson and Rob McElhenney house
In her new book "Vintage Remix: The Interiors of Kishani Perera," the Los Angeles designer proves that "eclectic" does not have to be code for "messy" or "absolute disarray." The homes she decorates mix high-end furnishings with EBay and Etsy finds, flea market pieces and mass-market purchases for rooms that reflect an individual's personality with warmth and often a touch of glamour. 

Kishani"Vintage Remix" ($35, Abrams) delivers its advice partly through profiles of Perera's celebrity clients, including the bedroom of Kaitlin Olson and Rob McElhenney, stars of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" and a married couple in real life, and the kitchen of model and actress Molly Sims. Perera shared her design philosophies and strategies for the Q&A at the end of this post, and she also talked through a few of the rooms featured in the book, explaining how readers could apply some of the same concepts in their homes. We started with Olson and McElhenney's living room, pictured here.

"In the living room, I tried to work with what they had," Perera said. "They already had the high-end sofa and the custom leather ottoman, which was a wedding gift."

To add pattern to the room, Perera added Firenze embroidered window treatments from the Ballard Designs catalog and website and a zebra rug from Home Decorators Collection, another online resource with inexpensive buys.

"You'll notice there are black, cream and charcoal elements," Perera said. The charcoal in the drapes ties in with the charcoal in the rug and the throw on the chair. To put more emphasis on the large window on the right, Perera hung white sheers on both sides of the fireplace to make those smaller windows fade away. "Patterned drapes on all of the windows would have been too much," she said. 

Accessories include mercury glass from Anthropologie on the antique bar cart. Vintage bottles on the fireplace were from the the couple's wedding, originally used in the place settings. "We needed something on the mantel that wasn't too distracting," she said. "The bottles add a little shape."

For a look at two more Perera rooms plus the Q&A, keep reading ...

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Broccoli, beets and more 'Breaking Through Concrete'

"Breaking Through Concrete" chronicles the authors' road trip to urban farms to see nothing short of a food revolution in progress

City sidewalks with weeds poking through the cracks might be what most people think of when they hear the title of the new book "Breaking Through Concrete." But that’s not what the authors have in mind.

The book chronicles a 2010 road trip to a dozen of the hundreds of urban farms that have sprouted recently, and those that have survived for years around the country -- farms that, the authors say, are the think tanks of a food revolution.

"Breaking Through Concrete," by David Hanson and Edwin Marty with photographs by Michael Hanson, David's brother, presents stories of hope and triumph over homelessness, over difficult municipal regulations, over hunger.

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Can I recycle books?

In an ideal world, books would be read and passed along for years. But that isn't always the case. Some books get damaged and are unreadable. Los Angeles residents can recycle hardcover and softcover books, with or without jackets, as mixed paper in curbside blue bins.

It's still best to resell or donate books in good (or even moderately good) condition. Most local charities, such as the Salvation Army, as well as thrift stores, youth groups, literacy centers, homeless shelters and -- as one reader kindly pointed out, libraries -- accept books. Organizations such as Bridge to Asia, a nonprofit that supplies donated books to Chinese universities, is also an option.

Because policies and recommendations can vary from city to city, each week we ask a sampling of officials from various municipalities to weigh in. Can you recycle hardcover and softcover books in ...

Recycling booksArcadia: Yes

Burbank: Yes, with hardback spines removed

Glendale: Yes

Irvine: Yes, with hardback covers and spines removed

Long Beach: Yes, with hardback covers removed

Los Angeles: Yes

Manhattan Beach: Yes

Pasadena: Yes

Riverside: Yes

Santa Ana: Yes, if hardback covers and spines are removed

Santa Barbara: Yes

Santa Monica: Yes

Torrance: Yes

Unincorporated L.A.: Yes, if hardback spines and covers are removed

Ventura: Yes, if hardback covers are removed

West Hollywood: Yes

Recycling illustrationALSO:

The archive: Can I Recycle ... ?

Trying to reduce junk mail at home

Kids' party with no trash? That was the goal

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Julie Ewan / Washington Post

What's new in 'The New Sunset Western Garden Book'?

"The New Sunset Western Garden Book" is released with new features including a digital Plant Finder, plant profile photos instead of illustrations, and a new section on ediblesWhether you're new to gardening or have logged many planting seasons with your hands in soil, the go-to reference in the West remains the "Sunset Western Garden Book." This essential guide to the region's ornamental and edible landscapes has been around for 80 years.

The just-released ninth edition, "The New Sunset Western Garden Book" (Sunset Books, $34.95 for flexible binding, $44.95 for hardcover) came out last week with a fair number of changes. So I asked Kathleen Brenzel, garden editor for Menlo Park-based Sunset magazine and editor of the book, to walk us through the changes in the 768-page guide for this edited Q&A:

How did you go about updating this edition?
Before we did anything else, we assembled a panel with landscape architects, horticulture educators from UC Berkeley and UC San Luis Obispo, nursery people and new graduates who had used our last edition as a textbook. The recent grads told us that in order to make "The New Sunset Western Garden Book" relevant, it had to have a digital component. They said: "We go everywhere with our smartphones, so we want to be able to take a photo of a plant we see on the hiking trail and look it up instantly." 

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L Conceal bookshelf: Umbra's new twist on a classic

L-Conceal Umbra bookshelf
No, it is not an anti-gravity book bookshelf. Umbra's L Conceal, shown as a pair here, is the latest twist on a minimalist design that allows books to be stacked on an invisible bracket, so they appear to float on the wall.

Screen shot 2012-01-12 at 1.34.07 PMIn 2005, Pratt Institute student Miron Lior won a competition sponsored by Umbra with the simple powder-coated steel hardware -- an L-shaped bracket with a clip that holds the bottom flap of a hardcover book in place, right. The bottom book creates a cantilevered platform upon which other books could be stacked.  

Nicely priced at $13, the Conceal was an immediate hit when it launched in 2006. Umbra has since rolled out three additional sizes, including one specifically created for stacking towels.

The newest addition to the line, L Conceal, uses the same apparatus placed on both ends of a bentwood shelf. 

"The beauty of this L-shape shelf is that it plays with the traditional and typical straight line shelf, and creates the unexpected," said Matt Carr, Umbra's director of design, in an email.  "The gentle bend in the shelf allows the user to make compositions on the wall." 

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Do-it-yourself projects, by the book

DIY book collage
DIY craft books have been landing fast and furious this year, many in time for do-it-yourself holiday splendor. But are the projects really as easy to make as the authors say? Do the decoupaged chairs and stenciled lampshades and concrete candleholders really turn out as well as promised — well enough to be deployed as holiday décor or given as gifts? We put three books to the test (see links at the bottom of the post) and wanted to point readers toward other books that might make nice gifts for the DIYer:

“Vintage Craft Workshop: Fresh Takes on Twenty-Four Classic Projects From the '60s and '70s” by Cathy Callahan, better known to shoppers of L.A. mod craft fairs as Cathy of California. Think macramé plant hangers, papier-mâché gift boxes and bottle wind chimes for the Highland Park vintage vinyl crowd. Chronicle Books, $19.95.

“Stencil It: 101 Ideas to Decorate Your Home, by Helen Morris. A rundown of techniques as well as ideas for stenciling drapes, lamps, tables, walls, pillows and more. For those who need more hand-holding, the book provides 15 stencils — dogs, agapanthus flowers, even babushka dolls. St. Martin's Press, $29.99.

"State of Craft," edited by Victoria Woodcock. In sifting through books and identifying projects that readers could pull off quickly, the Home crew set aside ideas that we hope to tackle later. Chief among them: a decoupage children's chair in this book. Cicada, $19.95.

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'Hardware Store' decor: Candlesticks made of plumbing parts

Hardware candlesticksOne minute, 26 seconds. That's how long it took to assemble the largest candlestick pictured here, one of more than three dozen ideas in Stephen Antonson and Kathleen Hackett's “Home From the Hardware Store.” The best craft projects generate an immediate reaction — quick recognition of a bit of wit. In this case, it's an amusing riff on silver candlesticks using steel hex bushings from the plumbing aisle of Lowe's. Wipe them clean with a damp rag, screw them together, done.

The only other work left is to shave the base of a standard taper, so it can nestle snugly in the top hole, and to light the match.

The authors suggest uniform candlesticks made with hex bushings, starting with one that's half an inch in diameter on one end and three-quarters-inch on the other. That piece screws into another bushing that's three-quarters-inch on one end, and 1 inch on the other. The size of the bushings grow in quarter-inch increments, ending with a 1.5-inch piece as the base. I used the same gradations of hexings but bought different bases, including one 1.5-inch T-shaped pipe fitting.

For the sake of photography, and to emphasize the contrast between the rough industrial candlesticks and the smooth, refined tapers, I left the hardware in its raw silver state. But I do think it would look good sprayed a glossy white or black.

Other projects in the book (Rodale, $22.99) — wall shelves, room screens, retro lighting, even a table runner made from copper flashing — seem plausible, if you don't mind a distinctly homemade look.

The results for this one? Quirky candlelight for a modern loft or even a Craftsman table. A fitting gift for the hammering-sawing-sanding ultimate DIYer. A prank present for the mother-in-law, perhaps wrapped in a Waterford box. The possibilities are endless.


Concrete cupcakeConcrete cupcakes

Geodesic dome gingerbread house

Top picks from the L.A. Renegade Craft Fair

— Craig Nakano

Photos: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Sweet little cupcake pots in 'Concrete Garden Projects'

Concrete cupcakes
What says “I like you” more than a concrete cupcake? They look sweet and are half-baked in a humorous way. In terms of potential holiday table decor and DIY gifts, these little treats — one of many in the new book “Concrete Garden Projects” — have all the ingredients.

Concrete Garden ProjectsPart of the appeal of Malin Nilsson and Camilla Arvidsson’s book is simplicity: Most of the pots, vases, candle holders, stepping stones and decorative figurines in the book were created using the same easy steps: Find an interesting mold, fill it with concrete, let it dry. 

If you’ve picked your molds well, the results look great. The pots pictured here were made with jumbo cupcake molds made of silicone, which was firm enough to hold its shape but pliable enough to remove the concrete with incredible ease.

The authors recommend brushing molds with vegetable oil; I spray my silicone forms with Pam. Plop in wet mixed concrete, push in a smaller object to create the interior well (I used cheap IKEA glass votive candleholders, also sprayed with Pam), then level and smooth the top with wet fingers. After two days of baking in indirect sunlight, the silicone molds and the votive holders can be removed. Your cupcakes are ready.

These things work best as tea light holders, but if you want to use them as miniature pots with drainage, put a half-inch piece of oiled-up wine cork at the bottom of the mold before pouring in the wet concrete. After the pot has dried, the cork should pop out.

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