Thursday, December 2, 2010

Essential Elegance

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture at the Corcoran given by Jose Solis & Paul Sherrill of Solis Betancourt in celebration of their new book, Essential Elegance. I know there are a LOT of beautiful books out this season but this one surely deserves its' place as a stocking stuffer (as said by Solis himself!).Solis Betancourt has been operating out of Washington, DC for 20 years and to celebrate that landmark, they decided to publish a book of some of their favorite projects. One of the first in the book is also one of my favorites (which I've loved ever since I first saw it published), an elegant french styled house here in DC they did in collaboration with Barnes Vanze Architects.Above is the living room. In this remarkable renovation, the team turned a pokey little house into an airy and spacious feeling masterpiece with amazing views. One of my favorite parts of the lecture was that they showed the 'befores' for every 'after' which got a lot of gasps from the audience! The master bedroom above benefited from the use of Portieres, or curtains to delineate space, a common element found in much of their work. The amazing mahogany windows and french doors from MQ windows which fill the house don't hurt either! Another ingenius element that often pops up in their work is decorative mouldings on the ceiling in which all of the ugly necessities are ganged; such as air vents, lighting fixtures and smoke detectors.
The use of natural materials and simple, modern furniture in a classical space was important to the client. Solis stated that their work at the firm is extremely client based and personal. This is evidenced by the broad range of styles seen throughout the book. He believes that the process should be 'amazingly fun' for everyone involved and that the client is the most important part of the process.In another more recently completed project just outside of NYC, Solis collaborated with architect Ward Welch to create a soothing environment for the client as an escape from the city. Solis believes his training as a painter (and also as an architect at Cornell) has trained him to see his interiors as still-lives and he excels at creating vignettes, as in this bedroom above. One of my favorite spaces was a bathroom in the same house. The modern glass sinks benefit from tons of natural light and the contrasting ornate mirrors add a little excitement to the room. I also love when bathrooms are finished like real rooms with pieces of furniture.
In the end, Solis and Paul left us with some great points. The earlier an interior designer is involved with a project, the better and smoother the end result. Solis believes his training as an architect helped his communication skills with clients, architects and the whole building team and believes that a team process is needed for a coherent project.
Editing is the most crucial part of design and Jose likes to work with existing furniture and architecture when possible, but in new ways; thinking outside of the box.
Jose said that entryways are the most important room of any house as they provide the introduction. He believes that no matter the size, it must give the 'story' of the entire house and he likes to include all of the main materials found throughout: stone,wood, iron, etc.
While Jose tends towards the modern and Paul towards traditional, their work together has created some stunning interiors as proved by this book. No matter whether the house is old or new, they like to provide a bit of wabi-sabi to the space by adding age and patina to give a sense of history. This one is a must in the fall line-up of interiors books!
principal photography throughout the book was provided by Marcos Galvany

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Casa Milà

One of the most famous Gaudi designed structures in Barcelona is the Casa Mila, an apartment building completed in 1912. This is Gaudi at his best with an interesting amorphous shape and amazingly colorful details.
Besides the beautiful ironwork which I've shown in a few of my previous posts, many of his buildings are exceptional in their roof architecture. Not content with ugly chimneys and ventilation shafts, Gaudi would decorate these utilitarian objects and turn them into works of sculpture.
While I wasn't able to tour the Casa Mila due to time constraints, I was able to bring a small piece home with me. Over the past few years I've been collecting tiny (tacky?) miniature buildings from house museum gift shops and the main ventilation stack from the Casa Mila now sits on my bookshelf in between Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and Gaudi's nearby Casa Battlo. What do you like to bring home from your travels as a momento?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Palau Güell

One of the lesser known Gaudi designed buildings in Barcelona is the Palau Guell. Unfortunately closed for repairs after years of work, I wasn't able to see inside which I hear is pretty amazing.
The Guell name is not unfamiliarly associated with the architect, as many of Gaudi's most famous designs were commissioned by the family. This was the Guell's main townhouse, built by Eusebi Guell from 1886-1890 directly off La Rambla. The house stayed in family hands, with a brief confiscation as army barracks during the civil war, until it was gifted to the country in 1945.
The main entrances seen on the facade were meant for carriages, one for 'in' and one 'out'; hows that for efficiency, much like a restaurant kitchen! The house revolved around entertaining and a large main entertaining room was located just inside off the entry court. The ceiling was studded with holes into the private rooms above to look like starlight, which also provided views of guests below so that the family could decide what to appropriately wear to greet their guests. Another efficient and ingenius idea!
As I wasn't able to see this for myself (the house should be open to the public again by summer 2011) I had to content myself with the beautiful ironwork on the windows outside; true masterpieces.
The small street that it's located on off La Rambla makes it hard to get a very good picture but you can see below that the facade is actually rather plain and quiet for a modernista structure, no matter how lovely. The exterior interest lays in the details of course which I've tried to show here. I think the lesson here is that Gaudi knew when his buildings should be stand out stars, and when they should be background structures. They can't all be masterpieces; sometimes a house is just a house, no matter how extraordinary!