L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Gadgets

The MegaPhone, an iPhone speaker unplugged


Think of the MegaPhone as an iPhone speaker for the analog sentimentalist. Or as co-designer Enrico Bosa declared, "It's a digital Gramophone."

Indeed, as Bosa demonstrated his music amplifier, a Ferdinando Buscaglione tune crackled with the tone of a days-gone-by music player, charming passersby in the Salone Satellite area for emerging designers at the Milan furniture fair last week in Italy.

Bosa and Isabella Lovero, who design under the name En & Is, have created a ceramic piece that looks less urinal-istic and more like minimalist sculpture than the photo here might imply. It falls into the cute-and-clever category, and I easily could imagine it playing on an L.A. patio some summer evening.

Bosa said the MegaPhone will sell for 250 Euro, or about $360. I'm not sure how large of a market he will find for speakers that make digital music sound like vintage recordings, but in terms of sheer novelty, the design was a hit.

-- Craig Nakano in Milan, Italy

Photo: Franco Forci / For The Times


Milan furniture fair 2011 highlights


Starck lamps double as iPad dock

Porro's best in show

Why Milan matters

Story vases from Front, Siyazama and Editions in Craft

Sleek Identity pops up on Abbot Kinney


Sleek Identity, an online store for contemporary housewares that launched in May, is testing the waters of retail with a pop-up store that opens Friday on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

Among the streamlined and super-cute items, all exclusive European imports, is the shower caddy, Octopus, above. The $35 natural latex critter loops over a shower head (no suction cups required) and has eight arms with adjustable loops for bottles, brushes and washcloths. Bonus: You can hang those shampoo and conditioner containers upside-down.

Sleek Identity was founded by Stefanie Gelinas, a TV producer who often travels to Europe for work and comes home with new home designs.

Bendino "I have to deal with the horror of international shipping," said Gelinas, who has a special affinity for pieces that can be flat-packed.

One such product is Martin Konrad Gloeckle's Bendino lamp, right, a laser-cut, powder-coated steel piece that folds into shape.

The 10-inch-high light comes in five colors and sells for $72. 

Gelinas and her kids test everything at home first, "to make sure it doesn't just look good, but that it is also good design."  

Her missionary zeal for the products led to the holiday pop-up shop, which will be open for at least four weeks.

"None of the designers are known in the U.S.," she said. "And a lot of the items need to be seen and touched to be understood and appreciated."

Keeping reading to see more designs ...

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Fan fare: 7 ways to stay cool in the next heat wave


Dyson-Air-Multiplier Sure, summer here has been remarkably mild. We all know it's a matter of time before those hot Santa Ana winds starting to blow through. How about a little preparation?

Whether you're living without A/C or simply want to lower your energy use, modern fans can help you beat the heat without compromising style.

The LoftWing ceiling fan, above, is designed for large spaces such as lofts or foyers. It moves approximately 5,500 cubic feet of air with a back-and-forth motion that only requires 50 watts of electricity. It is designed and manufactured in Los Angeles. Price: $6,200.

More affordable but no less novel: the Dyson Air Multiplier, left. The Home section reviewed a prototype of the blade-less fan in January, and the product has since hit the marketplace. Yes, the design magically delivers a steady stream of smooth air. But function clearly takes a backseat to aesthetics. As our reviewer wrote, "the thing is simply lovely: futuristic, sleek, vaguely enigmatic" ­ -- a fan you buy not just to keep cool, but to be cool. Price: $299.

We've got five more fans on the jump, from a $12,000 sculpture at Moss to a budget buy from Target.

Continue reading »

Mark Frauenfelder's 'Made by Hand' DIY experiments

  Mark Frauenfleder's DIY beekeeping

There’s a beehive in the backyard, a dark closet full of fermenting kombucha tea and music from cigar boxes-turned-guitars floating through the air: Welcome to the do-it-yourself Studio City haven of Mark Frauenfelder.

Jessica Hundley over at Brand X recently spoke with Frauenfelder, who is the current editor of MAKE magazine and founding editor of tech/culture webblog Boing Boing, about these DIY experiments and others, chronicled in Frauenfelder’s new book “Made by Hand.”

What immediately stood out about this DIY approach -- which also includes pickling experiments to make sauerkraut (“great with eggs”) and a machine to make the homemade yogurt Frauenfelder eats with fruit and nuts twice a day -- is its function over form.

“I think it's great that people make these bizarre robots, or windmill or Burning Man style sculptures, but ... I wanted to make things that would be part of my life -- coffee, yogurt, that sort of thing. I wanted to try to make some things by hand that I would normally just go out and buy,” Frauenfelder said in the interview.

“With this book I wanted to do things that would enrich our lives and would be possible to do and still work and write and spend time with my family.”

As for the attached temperature control device on his espresso machine that helps him brew the perfect shot (the same one is used by NASA), well, that would definitely enrich my life.

Read Brand X’s full interview with Frauenfelder or see more of his DIY projects.

-- Kelsey Ramos


Bookshelf: New titles tackle backyard farming

Keeping guests happy: Five temporary room dividers

Photo: Mark Frauenfelder tending to his beehive. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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Weber's Performer Grill and matching barbecue accessories from Crate & Barrel


Other than the occasional flame-red top, charcoal grills aren't all that colorful. Until now. In a bid to put a little more green in its cash drawers, Crate & Barrel cooked up a new color with the folks at Weber. 

Sold exclusively through Crate & Barrel, the made-in-the-U.S. kettle grill is colored to suit a variety of California patios. The shade of green sits somewhere between the tangy Palm Springs modern lime, Mediterranean olive and Mexican guacamole and is available on two models. The portable Smokey Joe has a 14.5-inch diameter and an entry level price of $49.95.

The 22-inch diameter Weber Green Performer Grill, above, is $329.95, and has a host of upgrades: a hinged grate, built-in thermometer, propane gas ignition to light the coals and a one-touch cleaning system. 

CrateIt sits in a steel cart with a lid holder, scorch resistant work surface, wire storage shelf and hooks for accessories. 

And yes, grill masters, there are color-coordinated utensils including tongs, a $14.95 extra-long suede barbecue mitt, right, and a $19.95 hamburger press that makes a pair of half-pounders, far right.

-- David A. Keeps

Become a fan: For daily design headlines and sales alerts, click to our Facebook page.

Photos: Crate & Barrel

Pick, rinse, repeat with Pike's Original Maine Garden Hod


One of my favorite things about my vegetable garden is sending my kids out to get herbs and vegetables while I'm cooking. They may refuse to eat the Swiss chard that has taken over my no dig bed, but they are always happy to run outside and pick something.

Spraydown for category page Pike’s Original Maine Garden Hod, new to Sur La Table, is the perfect accessory for collecting nearby produce. I can easily imagine keeping this basket  on my kitchen counter for nightly ventures to collect Sweet 100 tomatoes, basil and lots and lots of chard. The basket is made of food-grade PVC-coated wire mesh that allows you to wash and drain your veggies right in the hod -- either over your kitchen sink or outside with a garden hose.

The ends are made of pine wood and a steam-bent solid-oak handle provides for easy transportation. The adaptable basket also can be used as a picnic or knitting basket.

The hod comes in two sizes: small (16 by 9 by 5¼ inches) for $39.95 and large (19¼ by 11 by 14 inches) for $49.95. Available from Sur La Table and Maine Garden Products.

-- Lisa Boone

Become a fan: We've set up a page dedicated to gardening at facebook.com/latimesgarden.

Photo credits: Sur la Table, Maine Garden Products

How it works: the SunCache solar water heater

Perhaps you've heard about the California Solar Initiative Thermal Program, which the state Public Utilities Commission approved in January. It's a $350 million rebate plan that will replace natural gas-powered water heaters with those that heat water using nothing but the sun. Sounds interesting, right? But how does it work?

We've got the answer right here:


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: Join our Facebook pages for home design and California gardening.

The Deal: New Joule iPad stand from Element Case

Kicthen HR

You might have trouble finding an iPad in stock at Best Buy or an Apple Store this weekend. So as you have a little time to plan your gadgety future, size up this new accessory.

Element Case, a Belmont, Calif., manufacturer of high-end protective cases for iPhones, has just released a sleek new iPad work stand called Joule. It provides a prop-up base so you can look up recipes from your kitchen countertop, surf the Web at your desk or watch movies from your coffee table.

Joule Back HR The solid-aluminum stand comes in a polished finish or with an anodized black coating and has rubber feet so it won't slip or tip over when you tap or swipe the touch screen. And the recessed slot is lined in velvet to be gentle on your precious new gadget. Custom laser engraving with your name, company logo or other graphic is also an option.

The Joule retails for $129.99 plus $9 shipping to Los Angeles, but Element Case is offering a special promotional discount of $99 to the first 100 L.A. at Home Readers. Simply enter the code H3U2LF9VR at checkout.

-- Lisa Boone

Become a fan: For daily design headlines and sales alerts, click to our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Robert Hatch

The Deal: Get organized for less money
(sweat and aggravation still required)


The "spring cleaning" impulse is not one I have. Never, not once, have I experienced an urge to give my house a top-to-bottom scouring because of the season. To me, spring is about being outside and smelling freesias, not putting away my winter wardrobe (this is California after all) or contemplating garage organization.

P-can-deluxe-rct-recy That said, the Container Store's spring organization sale offers so many discounts on cool tools that I almost feel emboldened to face my jam-packed garage. From kitchen to bedroom, the annual sale features discounts on everything you need to get organized.

The platinum elfa freestanding reach-in closet, shown above, for instance, is marked down to $909.09 from $1,175.09.  Other reduced elfa products include room dividers, mudroom setup and entertainment systems. The sale also features drawer organizers, cabinet and pantry organizers, clear storage boxes and Simplehuman trash and recycling bins. (The nifty 13 gallon two-part trash-and-recycling bin at right is reduced from $179 to $129.)

But that's not all. The Container Store is also offering free organization demonstrations every Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m. through May 9. They'll even give away one $25 gift card at every demonstration.

There are three stores nearby: Pasadena, Century City and Costa Mesa

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credit: The Container Store

Back Story: The men behind a sweet design

This week we revived an occasional feature called Back Story, in which Bettijane Levine tells the story behind everyday objects at home. On Thursday she posted an item on the mystery behind the Lazy Susan and its unknown origins. When she launched this series back in 2008, Levine tracked down one of the creators of another iconic item: a beautifully simple sugar shaker that you'll still find in diners and homes across the country. The original article is seemingly impossible to find online anymore, so we're reposting it here. Look for more installments in the next couple of weeks. Here's Levine's 2008 article:

BackStory_Sugar Consider this humble sugar shaker, a staple of kitchens and coffee shops across the land. About 35 million have been sold -- maybe double that if you include all the knockoffs -- and not one of them labeled a work of art.

Yet that's exactly what they are, says design historian Bill Stern, a connoisseur of ubiquitous and unsung objects. "This decanter is iconic," he says, "the very essence of modernism, a perfect meld of function and form."

Stern, the guiding force behind the development of the Museum of California Design, extols the comfortable swell of the shaker's glass belly, which is shaped to be cradled in the palm. And the clean gleam of its smooth, slightly canted metal top, which cues a user's eye to tilt in the right direction. And the placement of the pouring flap, ingeniously engineered "so that when you tip the shaker," Stern says, "the whole weight of the contents is concentrated at the precise point where it has to come out."

Previous models were inferior, he says. They didn't pour easily, and they collected dirt. But this design?

"There's not a whit of unnecessary decoration," he says. "It's made inexpensively but responsibly, so it won't prematurely break or wear out. Viewed at a distance, it is an extremely elegant object." And those are just some of the reasons it's still around.

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