L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Mary MacVean

San Simeon style painted onto tiles made of wood

Hearst Celestial Fruitwood 15x15 Margarita Hearst Driftwood Aloe VeraJacqueline Moore, a furniture restorer and decorative painter, felt the recession hit in 2009. Worried about the future of her business, she spent a day walking around Lotusland, the garden near Santa Barbara. She became intrigued by the Malibu tiles she saw there and was inspired to try tiles in her medium -- wood.

“I started sketching. It really kicked my interest,” Moore said one morning last week in her Santa Monica studio.

Using the research skills she gained doing restoration work, she sought out the wood, glazes and sealers that would make her tiles useful indoors and out. Though silver and gold leaf are too delicate for ceramic tile, she said, they can be used on wood.

Each handmade tile, she said, is like lasagna -- layers of Baltic birch and layers of design and finish. Twelve to 20 layers of conditioners, glazes, paints, inks and sealers are on the wood. The final step for each tile is a “secret sealer” to make it durable without altering the appearance. She even submerged some for two months and they were fine, she said.

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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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Palm Springs museum dives into pool culture in 'Backyard Oasis'

Bill Owens "We Don't Have to Conform"
The backyard swimming pool can be an object of desire or a sign of suburban sterility, an icon of the good life or a symbol of its demise. The Palm Springs Art Museum’s new show, “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography,” looks at these contradictions and provides a revealing peek at this fixture of Southern California life, one that dots the landscape but nonetheless often remains hidden from view.

The photographs, taken from 1945 to 1982, are just plain fun to look at — the exquisite skill of the photographers, pretty bodies in pretty settings, recognizable pieces of recent cultural history. But a closer look uncovers a much more thought-provoking exhibition.

PHOTO GALLERY: ""Backyard Oasis" at the Palm Springs Art Museum

“I had been wanting for a really long time to do a show that looked at cultural geography,” the idea that place is not just its physical coordinates but also “the ideology that makes up people’s imagination of a place,” said Daniell Cornell, senior curator.

Life seems perfect in the 1970 photograph “Poolside Gossip” taken by Slim Aarons — from the pose of a lounging woman and her flip hairdo, to the glassy blue of the generous-sized pool, to the purples and blues of the mountain view.

The group of partygoers in “We Don’t Have to Conform,” a 1971 photograph shown at top by Bill Owens, practically screams Southern California stereotypes. Seven people, drinks in hand, sit in a hot tub with their feet raised at the center, touching, forming a leg tepee.

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Clifford Wright's kitchen: worldly, with a dash of Three Stooges

Clifford A. Wright
Clifford A. Wright is an earnest culinary scholar who has worked at the Institute of Arab Studies and has written 14 books. His kitchen is a history of his travels. But over his kitchen sink hangs a Franklin Mint plate on which Larry, Curly and Moe, wearing chef’s jackets, are about to get to work on a turkey.

Wright takes food seriously, with a dash of Three Stooges demeanor.

Three Stooges plateA careful look around reveals charm and humor again and again. As he puts it: He is a scholar who writes for people who watch their happiness before their weight.

The author of the classic “A Mediterranean Feast” was testing recipes one recent morning: Frittata‘i Rosa Marina (eggs and smelt) and Chiculliata (a salad of tuna, capers, anchovies, olives and chile). He has thousands of tested, unpublished recipes in his files and two new books — “Hot & Cheesy,” released this month, and “One-Pot Cookery” due out in 2013.

Wright, who worked for years at think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Institute of Arab Studies, found his way to culinary scholarship combined with good food on many journeys; the mementos fill the galley kitchen and adjacent dining area of his house in Santa Monica, where he moved in 1996, just a few blocks from the Pacific.

Coming up the stairs and into the room, rows of colorful plates on three sturdy shelves grab the eye. There are a few, from France, where Wright lived as a child. Others come from Sicily, the subject of one of his cookbooks; still others from Turkey. And that institutional-style white one decorated with a pineapple? That came from the Encyclopedia Britannica cafeteria in Chicago, where Wright held his first job, as a proofreader.

“So I stole it,” he says.

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Ivy grows in students' 'Raisin in the Sun' garden

For proof that digging a little dirt and poking a plant into the ground is an investment in hope, look to the frontyard of a run-down house next to the Kirk Douglas Theatre, where five human forms have been sculpted from chicken wire. Over time, the ivy planted within them is meant to climb over the wire and fill the characters.

Through a Center Theatre Group program, students from Culver City High's Academy of Visual and Performing Arts worked with a set designer to come up with the art installation related to the current production, "A Raisin in the Sun," said Traci Cho, Center Theatre Group’s director of school partnerships.

"In the play, one of the main characters is the matriarch, and she keeps a potted plant. It’s a symbol of her dreams for the family," said Azalie Welsh, 17, one of the students. "It’s sort of like the garden she could never have."

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Foundry chef Eric Greenspan's home kitchen

Chef Eric Greenspan and his fiancée, Jamie Molever
Chef Eric Greenspan and his fiancée, Jamie Molever, share the kitchen of the future.

More accurately, the kitchen of their future. In the present, it gets used just about never.

“This was the first apartment that I even looked at the kitchen,” says Greenspan, the chef at the Foundry on Melrose and the Roof on Wilshire, in the boutique Hotel Wilshire. In previous places, his feeling toward the kitchen was: “Who cares?”

This time, he cares. He and Molever, above, are getting married this spring in Palm Springs, and they plan to have children. When they do, they plan for the kitchen to be a center of their home.

So two years ago, when they moved into the apartment just south of Melrose, they made sure the kitchen would suit. What Greenspan likes is the plentiful granite counter space, including a bar that looks into the dining area, counters on both sides of the stove and the double stainless steel sink.

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Chef Suzanne Tracht comes home to a cozy kitchen

Suzanne-Tracht-home-kitchenChef Suzanne Tracht is quietly elegant; her teenage daughter is beautiful and casually fashionable in black leggings. Their kitchen? Kind of like grandma's house — and that's just how they like it.

Tracht doesn't want to spend her off hours in a modern, stainless-steel kitchen that feels like the kitchens at her restaurant, the Beverly Boulevard chophouse Jar. “I don't want to come home from work and see that,” she says.

The atmosphere was set when she moved to the house in Beverlywood about a decade ago. Her friend, the artist Jill Young-Manson, painted a still life of pretty pink and yellow flowers in a pale blue vase near two blue teapots.

“It's done on the back of a grocery bag,” Tracht says. “It was the first thing I put up in the house.”

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The Keurig question: What to do with those used coffee cartridges? [Updated]

CoffeeIf you received a one-cup coffee maker — or a box of coffee for one — as a Christmas gift, by now you likely have brewed through and tossed out plenty of those little capsules, and perhaps you’ve started to wonder about the environmental impact and the value of convenience.

Turns out that many people have opted for that convenience: In the 12 months ending in November, nearly 46% of the dollars going toward the purchase of coffee or espresso makers went to single-serve machines, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

Keurig, a major player in the one-cup coffee business, reports that research it commissioned indicated that 13% of all U.S. offices have one of its brewers.

The company confronts the green issue head-on, saying on its website: “As the single-cup coffee market and our Keurig brewing systems grow in popularity, we understand that the impact of the K-Cup portion pack waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges.”

The K-cup coffee and tea cartridges are difficult to recycle because they are made of three materials: a plastic cup, which is lined with a heat-sealed paper filter, plus a polyethylene-coated aluminum foil top. Keurig says the packaging keeps coffee fresh, but the cartridges are not biodegradable.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has reported that 9 billion cartridges have been sold. Keurig said it doesn’t make that information public, but it did say sales of K-Cups more than doubled in 2011 over 2010.

“Finding a more environmentally friendly approach to this packaging challenge is a big priority for us,” Keurig said on its website. “We are working on a few different fronts to improve the environmental characteristics of the K-Cup system.” The company encourages consumers to put used tea and coffee grounds into a composter.

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Celestino Drago's haven at home, his backyard kitchen

Celestino Drago beehive
Walk in the front door of chef Celestino Drago's Sherman Oaks home, through the soaring foyer and the wide-open designer kitchen and out the back door, and you might think you've shape-shifted your way to the Italian countryside.

Celestino Drago pizza“The best thing for me is when it's Sunday and I am here with the kids in the garden, picking what I want to go and cook,” says the chef, whose restaurant Drago Santa Monica just celebrated its 20th anniversary. That could mean a simple pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil. Or vegetables to grill with chicken or fish.

PHOTO GALLERY: Drago's backyard kitchen

Drago seems fairly indifferent to his indoor kitchen, though it's the sort of room that agents use to sell a house. “To be honest, we don't use the one in the house much,” he says.

No wonder. Outdoors, he has a huge beehive-shaped wood-burning oven, a massive dining table and everything else necessary for cooking and eating. Drago can look out, past the pool, to the hills. Or he can sit and watch one of two flat screens set high on walls at either end of the long, rectangular, open-sided room.

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Digging into the gift closet for last-minute presents

Last-minute presentsWe've been asking all sorts of people -- city officials, musicians, chefs -- whether they keep a little storehouse of just-in-case presents (or things they plan to regift). Their answers are coming later this week on L.A. at Home and in Saturday's paper -- just time for people who are still shopping.

All year, I squirrel away gifts for no one. Or anyone. So I’ve got a big drawer full of earrings, scarves, cool dishes -- honest, you can’t tell they’re seconds. There are toys that never seem to be exactly right for any kid I know. Clever dish towels. And when we travel abroad, I bring home a dozen of this or a handful of that -- you never know, right?

Last-minute presentsCome December, I pile it on the bed and sort it out. And there are always treasures I’ve found over the years that I’m thrilled to give to friends and family. Often, I’ve gotten a lot of my shopping out of the way.

I admit it doesn’t always work out. I finally got rid of the last of the Russian trinkets -- and my family left there in 1999. (There's a hand-painted bowl at the top and a box above.) Don't ask about China; we were there just a few years ago. And there was a time when my sons would holler, “Nooooo, not something from that drawer,” whenever they needed a birthday party gift.

What about you? Any secret stash of would-be presents lurking in your home? Let us know about the gold and the coal you've got stored away by writing in the comments section or emailing us at home@latimes.com. We'd love to hear from you.


A sharp-looking gift: a good knife

A light-hearted gift: DIY candlesticks

A gift of pot: Quirky concrete planter

-- Mary MacVean

Photos: Sam Landsberg


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