Posts Tagged ‘modernist’

new vacation home!

Monday, October 24th, 2011

The first-grader announced that whoever wins a game of…

crazy eights card game




















… will win this fabulous vacation home he has recently constructed in California…

vacay home 1












It has a modernist sensibility, dontcha think?

vacay home 2












View of the back. (The 7-year-old architect informs me that the green and red blocks just inside the back door are the stove)…

vacay home 3












How about that sweet upper deck?

vacay home upper deck




















I am so gonna win this game! Afterwards, you’ll find me on the lounger…

vacay home lounger












In my Luke Skywalker clothes and random blue helmet. The furrowed brow? I must be waiting for my icy cold margarita.




one perfect thing

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

my leonard chair

What is it? It’s a modernist’s vision of the ideal child’s chair, that much is obvious. What’s not obvious is who made it. There’s no maker’s mark. Figures. It took a surprising amount of sleuthing to discover this chair’s pedigree, but I did it.

Turns out this chair is the work of  James W. Leonard for the Education Supply Association (Esavian Ltd) in the UK. The cast-aluminum alloy frame and bent beech-plywood child’s school chair made by Esavian was designed to be stackable. So this is no frou-frou object. It’s a utilitarian piece of furniture designed to stand up to rigorous use — and yet it’s a thing of beauty.

Where did it come from? I happened across it on eBay a few years back via a seller in upstate New York, not the UK. Once I spotted that slung-back aluminum leg, I was hooked. These chairs are tough to find in the states — believe me, I’ve tried since lucking across this one. They do, however, turn up upon occasion on

Circa? Post-war. The design dates to 1948.

Interesting tidbit:

There were also adult-sized chairs, some in molded ply and others vinyl covered…

james w leonard chair for adults |

james w leonard chair for adults |

and a gorgeous stacking table that’s to die for…

james w leonard table for esavian |

james w leonard table for esavian |

Much to-do has been made about whether Leonard or Jean Prouvé first designed what’s come to be termed as the “compass leg.” As I understand it — from what I’ve read — Leonard’s design predates Prouvé’s by a few years. But what do I know anyway?

Want to see a few other perfect things I’ve dug up while sifting through our premodel mess? I can show you a vintage aluminum clock we hope to have a place to hang someday and a vintage steel sculpture David’s grandfather made that deserves an eventual special spot.

ooh, we’re “significant”!

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

A little something to make you chuckle… Just after we moved in at the beginning of 2008, we got a letter from the Providence College Department of Art and History asking if we’d consider adding our house to their “online exhibition” as a “significant example of modern architecture.” Really? Our place?

letter from PC architecture

Sure, why not. I guess we do own the only modern in the ’hood after all. So we were visited by a shiny young thing from the architecture class who then did her research, we gave her photos and told her what we knew, and she put together this entry for the PC architecture website. Keep in mind that this was a student project and makes our house sound a little, how you say, highfalutin?

Page 1 (click to biggify)…

PC site | page 1

Page 2 …

PC site | page 2

Page 3 …

PC site | page 3

I’ve told you what we know about Irving Haynes in previous posts. I wonder what he’d think about being compared to Le Corbusier and Schindler? Flattered? Embarrassed? Which brings me to an unexpected syncronicity…

David’s grandmother, Maria Fenyo McVitty, was an architect who worked in Paris with Le Corbusier right after World War II. No, really! I’m pretty sure she’d laugh off the comparison to Le Corbusier. However, she did give this house her stamp of approval on an all-too-rare visit to Providence the year we moved in — unfortunately also the same year she passed on. Hers is a fascinating story I intend to share with you someday.

Miss you, Ria!

we have forsaken thee, paul rudolph

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
the micheels house by paul rudolph, westport ct '72-'07 |

the micheels house by paul rudolph, westport ct '72-'07 |

Yesterday I happened across two separate posts concerning Paul Rudolph, the modernist architect both celebrated and scorned for his groundbreaking work. Now heartbreaking work, because many of his buildings have succumbed in quick succession to demolition… and this country’s blatant  disdain for meaningful, historic architecture.

Design Observer, a favorite stop of mine, posted a link to a series of photographs by Chris Mottalini entitled After You Left, They Took It All Apart (Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes). The collection captures three Rudolph houses in sad states of decay just before they were demolished. Wiped off the map. I can’t encourage you enough to look at the whole set… it’s very moving.

The Micheels House (above and below) was built in 1972. The same year as our house! Torn down and replaced by a hideous McMonstrosity. That’s exactly what the world needs more of.

the micheels house by paul rudolph, westport ct '72-'07 |

the micheels house |

the micheels house by paul rudolph, westport ct '72-'07 |

the micheels house |

the micheels house by paul rudolph, westport ct '72-'07 |

the micheels house |

Mottalini’s  photographs are haunting. And depressing. Ugh, so depressing. He writes:

This project focuses on a group of now-demolished homes by the acclaimed and controversial Modernist architect Paul Rudolph, which I photographed mere days prior to their demolition in 2007. The resulting images capture a state of Modernist architecture few people have witnessed, revealing the grace of these homes as they stood in defiance of severe neglect and abandonment.

Among the houses torn down is one right here in Rhode Island — the Cerrito House. I recall following the news of its plight with great horror. The Paul Rudolph Foundation made valiant efforts to save it but it all fell through in the end. What was wrong with the house? According to the New York Times article:

The house’s owners… who live on the West Coast, want it removed so they can build a larger vacation home on the site…

cerrito house by paul rudolph, watch hill RI '56-'07 |

cerrito house by paul rudolph, watch hill RI '56-'07 |

cerrito house |

cerrito house |

cerrito house |

cerrito house |

Our disposable society has no hesitation in throwing away a perfectly good home, even if it is functional, beautiful and the only one if its kind. It’s maddening. As Mottalini notes:

Several other Paul Rudolph projects are currently slated for demolition and, as a result, he has become representative of a tragic disregard for mid-century architecture.

the twitchell house by paul rudolph, siesta key fl '41-'07 |

the twitchell house by paul rudolph, siesta key fl '41-'07 |

the twitchell house |

the twitchell house |

the twitchell house |

the twitchell house |

A few hours before I came across Mottalini’s photos, I read a tweet by Grain Edit that lead me the excellent Metropolis Magazine film, Site Specific: The Legacy of Regional Modernism. It’s a fascinating look at the Sarasota School of Architecture’s desire to “escape the international culture of uniformity” by combining site-specific modern architecture and the clever use of local materials. Woven throughout the story is Riverview High School (circa 1956), Paul Rudolph’s first civic building and an example of revolutionary thinking. There were efforts by many to save it from destruction. Regrettably, it saw the wrecking ball last July when the school board decided to turn it into blacktop.

If this subject saddens you as much as it does me, you might be interested in a new exhibition currently at AIA New York’s Center for Architecture: Modernism at Risk. It’s open to the public February 17 – May 1. From the website:

Modernism represents the defining movement of twentieth-century architecture and design; yet, every day, important works of modern architecture are destroyed or inappropriately altered…

Saving modern landmarks is important because they enrich a community’s sense of place – providing continuity between its past and important buildings of our own times.

Damn straight. I’ll be in attendance some time soon. Hope to see you there.

… the idea that you need to show off your success to the world in the form of a gargantuan mock-Georgian or mock-Tudor manse, the bigger the better, is to me more than a little depressing. If McMansions are like enormous, overdesigned, gas-guzzling Cadillacs, then early modernist houses are like Toyota Priuses — fresh looking, reasonable, modest, elegant in a simple, understated way. So there is a lesson — I might almost call it a kind of moral lesson — in a lot of the modernism that is now threatened. It’s a lesson of understatement and rationality.

— Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker and National Trust for Historic Preservation Trustee | from The Modernist Manifesto

*     *     *     *     *

Important reading for those so inclined

The Modernist Manifesto: Why buildings from our recent past are in peril, and why saving them is so crucial Insightful perspective from the magazine of the Trust for Historic Preservation

Modern Homes Survey: New Canaan Connecticut A survey of modern homes in New Canaan prompted by the demolition of Rudolph’s Westport home in 2007, along with a cry for historic preservation — amazing photos and extremely important work

The Sixties Turn 50 The Los Angeles Conservancy and its Modern Committee celebrate Greater Los Angeles’ rich legacy of 1960s architecture, which starts turning 50 years old in 2010 — a droolworthy mix of mid-century modern and Googie photos here

Recent Past Preservation Network Promoting preservation education and advocacy to encourage a contextual understanding of our modern built environment — includes a link to a petition to save yet another Paul Rudolph site

Cape Cod Modern House Trust Incorporated in 2007 to promote the documentation and preservation of significant examples of Modernist architecture on the Outer Cape — includes news of open houses and annual tours of their amazing preservation projects

old-modern i’d put my butt on

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Old vs. modern. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive — especially since modernism took root in the 1920s if not earlier. Old can be very modern, at least in principle. An example…

Last October, David, Bix and I spent a few days in Denver — loving that city a little more every time we go. In search of great sushi, we stumbled onto the amazing REI Flagship store, which rubs elbows with the Greenway Trail, South Platte River and Confluence Park. REI is located in a drop-dead gorgeous Tramway Power Company Building built in 1901. It’s an excellent example of sustainable development, in which historic preservation, adaptive reuse and social responsibility combine to create something the city can take pride in.

Take a quick peek at the inside — it’s mind-blowing.

Enough background. Outside the REI building, I saw a few of these:

bench at Denver REI Flagship

Ancient. Rustic. Beautiful. Not modernist per se and yet in my eyes modern. An example of reuse that’s completely in keeping with its sustainably inspired environment. I think the simplicity of the steel and the bolts works well… Nothing fancy here.

detail on bench

So would a super organic bench hewn from an old log work in the context of a “modern” house like ours? I say yes. Maybe not inside as we’re really taxed for space, but outside, absolutely.

When I see the word modern, I think of an aesthetic that embraces not just the past — not just modernist icons like Le Corbusier and the Eameses, among many — but what also makes sense now. Beyond simplicity of form and a focus on function, modernism has always celebrated a connection to nature. That deep respect for the environment makes more sense than ever.

Then there’s this, which I just came across today…

1838 Bench 2 by BILT

1838 Bench 2 by BILT

Similar to the bench outside REI but a more refined interpretation. Instead of a log, the wood was taken from 19th century wooden beams. Imperfectly gorgeous and another great example of reuse. The steel that holds it off the floor is more stylized but still simple, unadorned, absolutely modern.

steel detail on 1838 bench by BILT

steel detail on 1838 bench by BILT

Turns out BILT, the designers of this bench and other drool-worthy furniture, is from Providence. You’ll find more about BILT’s work here and here. They take commissions. Uh-oh.

*   *   *   *   *

UPDATE 02/16 | It’s been less than a week since I posted this and suddenly their website and their etsy shop are empty. What up?!

a note about irving

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The house was buried in the Providence Craigslist real estate postings under the standard fare of colonials, capes and Victorians. I remember pulling up to the house for the first time. After more than 30 disappointing property viewings, we’d finally found it: our bold, sunny modern.

The real estate agent told us the house was built by a Rhode Island School of Design architecture school grad student — a woman no less. We liked the sound of that. But a trip to the city records revealed that  the architect of our house was actually a well-seasoned New England native by the name of Irving B. Haynes. A little online sleuthing told us more… and then we really got psyched.

Born in Waterville, Maine, in 1927, Irving became an architect, a long-time RISD professor, historic preservationist, jazz musician and an accomplished painter. He was a busy, busy man that Irving. His art would look completely at home in this house.

Just a few of my favorites from his website, which you should really visit if you’re into this kind of thing:


1969 | Untitled, watercolor on paper 15"x20"


1974 | Untitled, watercolor on paper 18"x24"


1988 | Untitled, acrylic on paper 14"x17"


1988 | Untitled, acrylic on paper 44"x30"


1988 | Untitled, acrylic on paper 44"x30"


1998 | Johnny's Boogie, acrylic on paper 44"x30"


2003 | Blue Roof, acrylic on paper 30"x22"


2004 | Well-Braced, acrylic on paper 14"x17"

Writer Joe Leduc in the art journal Big, Red and Shiny shares this bit of history about Irving:

Born in Maine, Haynes came to Rhode Island in 1948 as a transfer student to RISD from Colby College.  After earning degrees in painting and architecture, he spent the 1950s working for a variety of architectural firms by day and playing jazz by nights in area nightclubs. By 1968… Haynes had his own architectural practice, Haynes and Associates, in Providence. Another career began in 1973, when he started teaching Foundation Studies at his alma mater, assuming an Assistant Professorship in 1980.  Haynes’ association with RISD would continue, as he retired from architectural practice in 1990 to concentrate on painting and teaching, becoming a Full Professor in 1997 before retiring in 2005.

There’s not a ton of information online about Irving. Someday I may make a trip to the RISD Library to see what else I can find out. In the meantime, here are a few more links for anyone who stumbles across this post and is so inclined:

  • A writeup of the man and his art for a posthumous show of his work in 2005 at RISD’s Industrial Design Department Gallery in the Brown Daily Herald.

Thank you, Irving, for designing a house we absolutely love. We promise to keep any updates true to the spirit of the house. And put some Brubeck on the turntable every now and then.