L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Books

Decorating madness from Carleton Varney, 'Mr. Color'

In “Mr. Color,” his lavish new 232-page coffee table book, Carleton Varney provides plenty of proof to back up his nickname. The book, subtitled "The Greenbrier and Other Decorating Adventures," takes readers on a tour of the greatest hotel projects of Dorothy Draper, the midcentury Manhattan decorator (and Varney mentor) whose style could be called Park Avenue Rococo. Varney, now president of Dorothy Draper and Co., updated the venerable interiors of the Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, and his book lovingly describes the method to his colorful madness.


"Mr. Color" also serves as a guide through Varney's clients’ homes, which run the gamut from Christmas-colored lake house to Moroccan casbah. Sometimes, as in the case of carousel horses marching around the pink and white cove above a Moorish kitchen equipped with Tiffany lamps, they boggle the mind. By contrast, Varney throws open the doors to his own Palm Beach “villa,” a three-bedroom 1950s condo, to reveal a restrained palette of navy blue and white.

Those who love exuberant rooms can’t help but be charmed by this collection of interiors. Unlike so many decorators who barely annotate their books, Varney actually tells you what he used and why it works.

PHOTO GALLERY: Carleton Varney's "Mr. Color"

“I use color to define the architecture of a space, to connect one room to another. I use it in fabrics, carpets, draperies and accessories to add glamour and vibrancy to a room," he writes, adding, "Living with color changes your life."

"Mr. Color" is produced by Rooster Books for Shannongrove Press. The suggested retail is $95 but at last check was selling for under $60 on Amazon.

-- David A. Keeps


Photos, from top: The drawing room of a home near Lake Charlevoix in Michigan, where the blue, pink and red furnishings feel contemporary despite the abundance of antiques; a client's pink dining room with Staffordshire dogs; the green lobby of the Grand Hotel. Credit for all: Michel Arnaud


Side-by-side small houses by legendary Rudolph Schindler

California Midcentury meets Latin American Modern

Joshua Tree shack remade into vintage retreat


'Michael S. Smith Kitchens and Baths' book

Michael Smith kitchen
"Michael S. Smith Kitchens and Baths," released this week by Rizzoli ($45), is a detailed look at the White House decorator's projects with an emphasis on the parts of the house that often require the strongest marriage of style and function. Though stressful financial times have made many readers sensitive to anything with a whiff of opulence, authors Smith and Christine Pittel speak with an unapologetic voice as they walk through high-priced commissions from Malibu to Martha's Vineyard. It helps that many of the projects are not the kinds of decorating stunts that fill show houses (and books) but, rather, Smith's attempt to deliver livable spaces for clients who have the means to execute his ideas and indulge the occasional fantasy.

Photos: "Michael S. Smith Kitchens and Baths"


"Design Sponge at Home"

"Garden Up!" on vertical gardening

"Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings"

 -- Craig Nakano

Photo: For a family house in L.A., Smith deployed a simple butcher-block counter and playful light fixtures whose shades were flea market finds. Credit: Scott Frances

Joel Dovev on the decorating horrors of Mom and Dad

0-Parents-House-Raggedy-AnnFor those who grew up in the pre-HGTV era, comedian Joel Dovev's “Crap at My Parents' House” might trigger a familiar cringe. The book (Abrams Image: $14.95) is filled with 190 photos drawn from Dovev's blog of the same name, where similarly affected children from around the world contributed snapshots of unusual, inappropriate and just plain weird knickknacks masquerading as decoration in their parents' homes.

Creepy dolls, nightmare-inducing clown figurines and religious icons deployed in a non-spiritual context (think Jesus-playing-soccer statue) are all represented here, along with those improbable yet hard-to-resist contraptions such as the radio toilet paper holder (with crossword puzzles imprinted on the paper).

Dovev, a stand-up comedian from Brooklyn, came up with the idea after contemplating his mother’s mantel, adorned with a menorah, a dreidel and a shofar displayed next to a replica pirate ship.

“My theory is," Dovev said, "if you keep it, then it has a purpose.”

Continue reading »

'Design Sponge at Home': Blog is now a book

Design Sponge Bonney

Design Sponge blogger Grace Bonney, above, has taken a break from the Internet for a moment to publish “Design Sponge at Home,” a hardback compilation of the site's best decorating ideas.

PHOTO GALLERY: "Design Sponge at Home"

The book, released last week, is the latest in a refreshing string of new design books focusing on affordable, eclectic interiors. The homes featured here are aspirational but realistic, as iconic furnishings share space with inexpensive finds from thrift stores, flea markets, EBay and Etsy.

1 DesignSponge_Cover"Design Sponge at Home" ($35, Artisan Books) is divided into five categories: sneak peeks, DIY projects, DIY basics, flower workshop and before-and-after. Fans of Design Sponge will be delighted to hear that the book is a good representation of the blog's coverage of home tours, crafts and do-it-yourself makeovers.

Although the book is 400 pages, it's not overwhelming. The projects are easy to follow, and Bonney says many can be done in an afternoon -- an inexpensive bird feeder made of bamboo dinner plates, or a succulent wall composed of bricks.

The DIY basics and before-and-afters don’t offer a lot of instruction, but it’s a good place to get ideas. Think of "Design Sponge at Home" as the ideal coffee table book for the Pinterest addict in your life: a virtual scrapbook of ideas to inspire. With its tips, resources, how-tos and 600 photos, this book will get dog-eared quickly.

As part of her book tour, Bonney will appear from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 28 at a craft workshop at Anthropologie, 211 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Reservations required.


'Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design"

Kristin Cunningham, still living the DIY life

Home of the Times: California design in pictures

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credit: Johnny Miller


'Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings'

Nano House"Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings" by Phyllis Richardson, scheduled to be released Oct. 17 by Thames & Hudson, features more than 40 living spaces, each less than 800 square feet, from around the world. The focus is efficient use of a tiny area. The book covers traditional houses, mobile spaces, small vacation spots, concepts built for replication and low-energy houses, including Solar Decathlon entries from 2009 and 2010. The styles range from eccentric to elegant — all built with function in mind.

When fashion designer Lela Rose's apartment started popping up seemingly everywhere around the Web, versatility was the most admired aspect of the 6,000-square-foot space. But this book shows off similarly versatile living in about one-tenth of the square footage — flexible designs that can adapt to people's needs even when space is tough to come by.

Solar House I Paco 3M3 Roll It


Photos:'Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings'



'Design Sponge at Home': Blog now a book

Photos: Kristan Cunningham's L.A. house

Photo, top: Thames & Hudson.

Photos, bottom, from left: Pod Home in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Brad Feinknopf. Paco 3M3 in Tokyo. Credit: Takumi Ota. Roll-It in Karlsruhe, Germany. Credit: Sebastian Salopiata.


Home Room: Prouvé Raw, 2012 color forecast, Pets on Furniture

Prouve Raw 2 Prouve Raw 3 Prouve Raw 1 Prouvé Raw, 2012 color forecasting, "Carrot City" and other notes from the principal's desk this morning:

Prouvé Raw: Vitra premiered Prouvé Raw, a collaboration with the clothing brand G-Star Raw. Says the publicity machine: "G-Star, the Prouvé family and Vitra have worked on giving some of Jean Prouvé's best known designs a fresh and contemporary look and feel, while re-discovering some of Prouvé's less known designs." Photos above. Credit: Vitra.

2012, the year of blue: Benjamin Moore released its 2012 color forecast, which says "blue will be big in 2012 as the population seeks out a sense of calm, trust, and the tried-and-true." Smug note of self-congratulation: In early 2011, when so many were hailing Pantone's choice of pink as the color of the year, we noted a shifting tide toward blue. Of all the hues highlighted in Benjamin Moore's 2012 color forecast, let me go out on a limb and say I'm most drawn to a gray called Sharkskin. Will we be feeling a bit gray next year? (Sharkskin photo below.)

Home office: In a new survey from the American Institute of Architects, members report that the "specialty room" most requested by clients is (drum roll): the home office. Shocking, thinks the reader taking work home every night. The Home office blew away outdoor living rooms, mudrooms, home theaters and exercise rooms. 

Pet portraits: Modernica, maker of Eames shell chairs and George Nelson bubble lamps, declared its third Pets on Furniture photo winner. The most brilliant contest in the history of retailing?

"Carrot City": Next week the Monacelli Press is scheduled to release "Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Architecture" by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar and Joe Nasr. The pitch: "40 projects, created by designers from the United States and around the world, that explore innovative approaches to making space for urban food production."

Continue reading »

'Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening'

0-Strawberry-PVC-tower 0-Vintage-ladder Vertical gardening remains a trend in every sense of the word, good and bad. Frequent readers of our blog may remember an earlier post, a skeptic's view that some vertical gardens are little more than overpriced plant pockets that waste water.

Authors of “Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces,” however, take a different approach. California designers Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet focus on garden surfaces planted in other ways -- many involving materials you already have on hand.

Writer Debra Prinzing offers two ways to join the conversation:

Q&A: "Garden Up!" authors on vertical gardening strategies

Photos: "Garden Up!" featured projects

Left photo: San Francisco gardener Emily Goodman turned PVC pipe into a 5-foot-tall strawberry tower. Photo: Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet

Right photo: An old ladder used as a nontraditional trellis provides a nice distraction from Theresa Loe's cinder block wall. A nest for pollinating bees rests on one rung. Photo: Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet

Bottom photo: To hide an ugly chain link fence, this gardener bought a standard wood lattice, artfully cut out portions to create a pattern, then stained the whole thing. A tri-fold rattan screen was stained the same color, reflecting light back into the garden and further camouflaging the chain link. Photo: Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet


Artichokes ALSO:

Community Gardens: The Times' year-long series

Home of the Times: California design in pictures

The Dry Garden: Our weekly sustainable landscaping column

'Pocket Neighborhoods' documents the modern quest to balance privacy with connection to community

"Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World"

By Ross Chapin, Taunton Press, 224 pp., $30

The phrase “think globally, act locally” takes on new meaning in this recently released book, which shows what is possible when residents in close proximity share a commitment to community.

Chapin, an architect, refers to these groupings, typically 12 to 16 households, as pocket neighborhoods.

Pocket-cover “Pocket neighborhoods are clusters of homes or apartments gathered around a landscaped common area,” he writes, citing other shared elements: a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, joined backyards or perhaps an alley.

The book presents different types of pocket neighborhoods in rural, suburban and urban areas, including new construction and established homes. Most often, the neighborhoods are a socioeconomic range of families, singles and older residents. The focus, Chapin emphasizes, is a coherent design that connects people and their houses to one another while maintaining privacy within individual homes.

Successful neighborhoods make interaction easier and natural, whether residents are on a front porch, in a garden or inside a common shared building. Sustainability becomes not just a matter of materials but a concept that relates to the emotional and psychological well being of residents.

The book looks at pocket neighborhoods developed with direct involvement from residents. These are thriving models that show bigger is not always better when it comes to houses or neighborhoods. More important than size are a sense of belonging and pride of ownership.

The book highlights “neighborhood pioneers,” and through their stories and interviews with architects, we learn how residents were able to achieve a sense of community. In several instances, it took new laws to ensure development of a pocket neighborhood.

“Pocket Neighborhoods” includes an extensive list of resources and organizations related to urban design and eco-friendly neighborhoods, but this is not a how-to book. It is information and inspiration, a timely discussion as regions grapple with housing density and look for ways to build a sense of community along with every new house, apartment and condo.

PHOTOS: "Pocket Neighborhoods"

-- Jeffrey Head

Photo, top: Conover Commons in Redmond, Wash. Credit: Ross Chapin

Barber-Osgerby MORE BOOKS:

DIY Marimekko in "Surrur"

"Marcel Wanders Interiors"

"Modern Vintage Style"

Barber Osgerby monograph

"Tomorrow's Garden"

Make your own Marimekko? New book 'Surrur' shows you how

There is much to love at the new Marimekko store-within-a-store at Crate & Barrel at the Grove. Sweet dinnerware inspired by community gardens, rippled glassware whose Finnish name translates to "socks rolled down," and yards and yards of boldly patterned fabric are among the highlights, but the one breakout hit: the colorful patchwork hassocks, above.

"A lot of people have Marimekko in their heart," Crate & Barrel's Gretchen Zuk said, and though that might sound a little funny, she's not kidding. Shoppers have been tossing and hugging the irresistible Surrur_media_01hassocks displayed throughout the store. Kids jump on the bouncy balls. Curious crafters are trying to figure out how the things were pieced together. The biggest disappointment to the new mini-shop just might be that the hassocks are not for sale.

At the press event on Tuesday, though, I learned that detailed instructions for making the hassocks are in the new book "Surrur: Make Your Own Marimekko." ("Surrur" is meant to evoke the sound of a sewing machine.)

Marimekko designers share instructions and patterns for more than 60 projects, such as Aino-Maija Metsola’s ScareOwl, right.

"Surrur" costs about $49. Look for readers' completed projects on the related Facebook page. Representatives from Crate & Barrel said the book should be available at the Grove store by next week. 

 -- Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Marimekko


Marimekko shops to open within Crate & Barrels

Marcel Wanders' new book, 'Interiors,' compiles the high notes from a maestro of design


Marcel Wanders has serious swagger. The Dutch designer known for his imaginative furniture designs -- a chair made from knotted rope, a chandelier covered in an otherworldly stretchy skin -- is playful enough to wear a gold clown nose and put a rose between his lips in the opening pages of his first book, "Interiors" ($60, Rizzoli).

"I call myself the jester -- the only one in the court who is allowed to make fun of the king because no one questions his loyalty to the king," Wanders said at a book signing Sunday at the Flos showroom during New York Design Week.

Substitute the word "design" for "the king" and you'll begin to understand what makes Wanders so special. As the artistic director and co-founder of Moooi and a gun-for-hire at other firms, Wanders' designs for furniture, lighting and accessories are grand, often absurd, yet usually regarded as beautifully conceived and executed.

Picture 3The new 256-page book documents Wanders' work as an interior designer for clients such as the Mondrian Hotel in Miami, above and right. "Interiors" also shows Wanders' fanciful takes on wallpaper, carpets, mosaic tiles and artwork. 

"In product design I am a sculptor, working in marble," he wrote in one of the few pages with text. (The book also has two essays, by Frame Editor in Chief Robert Thiemann and Fast Company senior writer Linda Tischler.)

"In interiors," Wanders wrote, "I feel like a composer creating an opera." 

As he stood underneath his new Flos lighting collection, Wanders said what makes his interiors stand apart: "We don't shop," he said. "We design and make most everything in the room."

"Interiors" includes the Hotel on Rivington in New York, as well as restaurants in the Netherlands and stores in Britain and Bahrain. They're eye candy that engages the brain, raising provocative questions about what interiors should and could look like. Wanders communicates best through visuals, and the book includes renderings and Wanders' musings on proposed projects, including an apartment building in Guadalajara that looks like a floating cloud. Keep reading to see that and more.

Continue reading »


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