Posts Tagged ‘50s’

Design Traveller – the online game

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

The Virtual Museum of Canada has released on online game called Design Traveller. It’s a little on the blocky side, perhaps, but Canadian design nerds might like it. And USA design nerds might be surprised to see which iconic designs are actually Canadian in origin. Make sure your shockwave is updated first or it will just abort when you look at each room in 3D… which is why I haven’t finished the game and don’t have to admit how bad my score is.

Why is Australian design so cool?

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Not a rhetorical question. This is a hodgepodge sample, for sure, and spans decades, but all of it seems to partake of some form or other of adventurousness. It’s possible I’m projecting, and that my view of Australia is entirely filtered through my childhood fixation on that girl in National Geographic who crossed the outback on camels. But I doubt it. Above are from the National Archives of Australia appearing in the Heide Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia. Top: ‘A modernist vision of Australia: Grant and Mary Featherston’s wing sound chairs were a feature of the Australian Pavilion, designed by architect James Maccormick with exhibits selected by Robin Boyd, at Expo 67 in Montreal, 1967′ and ‘View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane’ by James Birrell. Most images below are from desire to inspire, the half-Australian blog. House directly below is the Wheatsheaf House. House in woods below by Drew Heath; room with screen, photo by Lucas Allen; geometric bedroom by Greg Natale; provenance of last 3 photos is lost, please advise; last photo is room by Marion Hall Best, considered the mother of modern Australian interior design.

Photographer Dana Gallagher's NY apartment

Australian Home Journal Budget Decorating September 1979 E

Whatever happened to the seating platform, the conversation pit?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Modern Seating Platform

Above, the 1970s modern two-level platform in painter Frank Stella’s loft, from the classic book Inside Today’s Home. Below, a recent photo of the renovated 1950s conversation pit in the Number 31 Hotel in Dublin.

conversation pit

Maybe it’s because I grew up around a hip artist aunt whose 60s/70s handmade house had a seating platform in it, but I am mourning the disappearance of the freeform seating arrangement. And apparently I am not alone. The seating platform and conversation pit of the postwar period (sort of the inverse of each other but amounting to the same thing, mood-wise) probably have their origins in the interior design of the Middle East or North Africa. Over time this form spread to regions within that sphere of influence, such as Greece, Turkey and Spain. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, conversation pits and raised seating areas looked variously Eastern, hippie, shagadelic, or modernist, but the effect was the same. Obviously architectural design influences mood and behaviour, and these seating styles do inherently invite a completely different form of socializing. And a different quantity of it. As a kid at my aunt’s I would spend all day on her padded window seat platform, which was large enough for about 6 people (maybe 4 stretched out) and which was covered with a huge, natural pale brown Greek flokati and pillows, far more comfortable than any couch or chair. Now when I visit her we still invariably congregate there. Of the two styles I think I actually prefer the seating platform, because it allows you to be even more free-form and informal than most sunken pits, and because it’s cheaper to build. Below, seating platform/window seat in British Columbia; further below, seating platform in the Standard Hotel in LA, by ChimayBleue on Flickr.

At the lake

The Standard Hotel Downtown LA

Miller House, Columbus, IN, designed by Eero Saarinen, 1957

miller house by saarinen, photo by ezra stoller

Saarinen's Miller House, 1957, via High Steel Heels on Flickr

Above, three photos of perhaps the most famous modern conversation pit of all: it’s in Eero Saarinen’s Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, built in 1957. The top two photos are recent; the last photo is how it originally looked.

Edersheim Apartment by Paul Rudolph, 1970

Above, the Edersheim apartment by architect Paul Rudolph, 1970. Most Paul Rudolph houses featured a conversation pit or equivalent seating arrangement. Below is a related but sort of rustic space age option: suspended sitting and sleeping pods in architect Bruce Goff‘s experimental Bavinger House (1950-55; photo by Lizzy Brooks is from here). Below that is another Bruce Goff building, the Nicol House of 1965, photo by Robert McLaughlin.

Bavinger House by architect Bruce Goff

Bruce Goff's Nicol House, by Robert McLaughlin

teen conversation pit

Teen conversation pit, above; below, the early 70s living/dining room of sculptor Sydney Butche—it appeared in House Beautiful in 1972.

Seating platform, house of sculptor Sydney Butche

Below, some historical precedents:

Estrado, from the Museo Casa Cervantes

The seating area above, an “estrado,” is from Cervantes’ 16th C house, now the Museo Casa Cervantes:

Estrado is the name given to the reception room which is characteristically taken up in part by the a dais ( the estrado itself) covered with rugs where normally the women sat in Moorish fashion on cushions following the Spanish custom of Islamic origin which foreign visitors found very surprising although it in Spain it survived practically until the Bourbon era.

There are numerous testimonies to the use of the estrado, both in literature and in painting in Spain and in the inventories which document household contents. It was normally the most richly decorated room in the house and the one used for receiving visitors .

Topkapi Harem - Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince

Above, the Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince (Çifte Kasırlar / Veliahd Dairesi), via onethirteen. Below, the low seating platform (at right) on Crete is typical of many traditional Greek houses, though some of them are more comfortably padded than this one.

Postcard - House in Rhodes

If building code (or cost) prohibits conversation pits and sunken living rooms, then raised seating platforms are a great cheap substitute – for that matter, make a raise platform with a recessed area within it. If you have an appetite for more images, see here and here, and there are more photos below. And if you’ve ever made one of these, man I’d like to see it.


If you have six million, you can buy this Arthur Erickson

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Filberg House - 1133 Moore Rd, Comox, Vancouver Island, BC, Built: 1959

Erickson’s Filberg House, posted here on May 20, is actually for sale. A friend found it online by accident, while idly searching for midcentury modern houses outside Vancouver. (Above photo by MidCentArc on Flickr; below from It’s near Comox on Vancouver Island. I’m ambivalent about this era of Erickson, or maybe it’s this material; I prefer the Graham House, which has unfortunately been demolished, or one of his other cedar houses. But still. In any case at 6 million it’s pretty hypothetical.

Filberg House by Arthur Erickson

Filberg House by Arthur Erickson

Furniture makers of Middle Earth

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Todd Merrell Antiques, magazine ad

Every time I see this Todd Merrell Antiques magazine ad, which I find weirdly compelling, I invariably end up at his website and am suddenly transported into some dark Middle Earth underworld, where I feel I might be asked to retrieve an amulet with the help of a talking dog with eyes as big as saucers or something. Normally, dark, blocky, pseudo-primitive  furniture doesn’t appeal to me, but this particular antiques dealer collects pieces that are so well-made, so uniformly amazing, so farfetched, and – despite their number and diversity – so consistent in their level of fantasy, that I find it hard to resist any of them. Of course none of these objects is the slightest bit affordable. But together they point to something really funny about the early 70s – something that perhaps had its roots in the 50s or earlier – that brought together vague tribal fantasies, Middle Ages sci-fi, Beowulf, some sort of odd minimalist baroque, the rustic, the pagan and the just plain weird. Maybe what’s appealing about the dark, fantastical solidity of this stuff is that it’s a welcome relief from the relative spindliness and occasional prissiness of all those Danish teak settee legs and arms, or from the over-hygiene of minimalism, I don’t know. But these objects undoubtedly originate in some sort of rebellion against the disenchantment of a tamed machine-age aesthetic. I think that everyone, especially every midcentury-modern purist and every fussy 60s minimalist, desperately needs one mad, pagan piece of furniture, just to work against whatever it is you’ve got going on, and also, you know, to open an enchanted portal into the underworld. Details and many more pieces on Flickr.

Lounge Chair and Ottoman with street lamp, Jack Rogers Hopkins

The chair above includes lamp, bookshelf, ottoman, heads of deer to rest your hands upon, as well as dominion over a mountain forest kingdom.

Rocking Chair by Jack Rogers Hopkins - lo res

And for your queen, this rocker. (Both wooden chairs above are by Jack Rogers Hopkins, USA, 1970s.)

Paul Evans Paste Console

A bronze wall-mounted chest by Paul Evans, USA, 1969, provides storage for vintage board games, 1970s Playboys, your fur cape, bottles of mead, your sword, whatever.

Sculpture Front Console, signed, Paul Evans. USA 1968

If I had the Paul Evans credenza above, I’d store the anti-Voldemort amulets (the ones my nephew requires to go to sleep) in it.

Serving Cabinet / Bar by Phillip Lloyd Powell

Forget Narnia! This wardrobe opens onto candlelit forest groves full of bacchanalian dancing all night long, and no martyr-y lions. Serving Cabinet, Phillip Lloyd Powell, 1960’s, USA

Pair of Room Dividers by Monteverdi Young 1950's, USA
Pair of Room Dividers by Monteverdi Young, 1950’s, USA


Exeunt all, through the doorway to Valhalla.

Elsbeth Kupferoth

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Elsbeth Kupferoth textile, Cristal, 1970s

Fantastic 1970s geometric supergraphic textile by German designer Elsbeth Kupferoth, who deserves to be much better known. Interesting short essay on her work and more photos at The Textile Blog. Her unusual colour schemes make these designs much less dated than the more common 70s combinations.