Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Powerful, Ethereal: The Arts of Persia

Figure of a griffin, gold, 4th century BC

In a mindset familiar with art exhibitions that cover several centuries of material, one might do a double-take at the newest show to open at the Amsterdam Hermitage, one of the city's exciting new cultural venues. The exhibition, Persia: Thirty Centuries of Art, is on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

That's right, thirty centuries. Thirty centuries of art from the Russian Hermitage, for the Amsterdam Hermitage, on view in a 17th-century Dutch canal building that's undergoing a Modernist renovation. That's a lot in one bite.

In the early 1990s, the State Hermitage began researching satellite venues in Western Europe, as a means of further displaying its collections. They had already worked closely with the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam's main exhibition center, on a variety of cultural projects, so the city seemed a likely option. All they needed to find was a location. When the Amstelhof building, built in the early 1680s, was given to the city in 1999, a deal was struck and the €39-million Amsterdam Hermitage is slated to open in 2009. In the meantime, a smaller gallery has opened within the complex and functions as the primary venue. When completed, the Amsterdam Hermitage will provide the St. Petersgburg Hermitage with more than 40,000-additional square feet of programmable space.

Bas-relief fragment depicting a Persian warrior, stone, 5th century BC

Flask, faience, late-16th/early-17th century

The Hermitage's collection of material from the Persian Empire was amassed largely by Peter the Great, who began excavations of Scythian Empire burial grounds in southern Russia during the early 18th century. The collection has grown over the centuries, and now contains objects from antiquity to the end of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925).

Promotion of the arts of Persia in a Western capital city, offers a rare glimpse into the often-misunderstood Islamic culture, via the powerful and ethereal arts it produced. It also clearly reaffirms the millennia-long connection, as well as the present alliance, between Russia and modern-day Iran.

Two lovers, oil on canvas, early 19th century

Persia: Thirty Centuries of Art
March 31 - September 15, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'Miss Potter' Opens Doors

In an extraordinary effort to meet the demand of Beatrix Potter fans after recent release of the film 'Miss Potter', starring Renée Zellweger, Hill Top, the Lake District home of the author, will be open to the public more than usual this year.

Potter is one of England's most beloved authors, and her popularity brings thousands of visitors to Hill Top every summer. The film is expected to dramatically increase that number, and Lakeland has prepared for 'Potter-mania', establishing Potter highlights throughout the area, not solely at Hill Top. Its a welcome boom, mind you, as, despite Potter's evidenced draw, the Cotsolds have lately had the lion's share of tourists seeking quintessential English countryside.

Hill Top, a 17th-century farmhouse located near Sawry, in Cumbria, was where Potter wrote many of her children's books, and it was the inspiration for numerous illustrations, especially those of Samuel Whiskers, Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddleduck. Mr. McGregor's garden is here, too, still producing the herbs, vegetables and flowers - including gooseberries, rhubarb, roses, and foxgloves - planted by Potter during her years at the cottage, and famously ravaged by a naughty Peter Rabbit.

From the 1880s, the Potter family closed up their London home for annual summer holidays in Scotland, and later England's Lake District, which became their most favorite, and frequented, destination. Despite the accompaniment of a sibling, Beatrix's childhood was a lonely one and typical of the Victorian era, which distanced children from their parents. Out of this loneliness grew a vivid imagination, ignited by the English countryside and forever influencing her life.

In 1905, Potter, then in her late 30s, purchased Hill Top with the royalties from her first few books and a pre-Disney savvy for marketing. She continued to write primarily in London, visiting the farmhouse as often as possible to make sketches of the house and garden, and its myriad of animals. In 1909 Potter purchased a larger, nearby property called Castle Farm, which became her main Lakeland residence, and one she later shared with husband William Heelis, a local solicitor whom she married in 1913 at the age of 47. She retained Hill Top, which remained her greatest source of inspiration, and purchased several other buildings and farms in the area, as well.

Potter died in 1943 and left Hill Top to the National Trust (along with more than a dozen farms, over 4,000 acres, and several flocks of Herdwick sheep), with the stipulation that the cottage be maintained precisely as she left it. The house, which contains a wide range of her possessions, has been open to the public since 1946.

Due to the high number of annual summer visitors to the house, a considerable amount of conservation work is needed during the winter months, when the property is closed. National Trust staff this winter, however, have been feverishly working to complete the necessary work that will enable them to open early this year. For the first time in its storied history, Hill Top will open the first weekend of March. From the end of the month, additional days will be added, and summer hours will also be extended. The garden and gift shop are open daily. An exhibition of Potter's drawings are also on view at the Beatrix Potter Gallery, located in nearby Hawkshead, in the former law office of her husband.

How Green was my Childhood

A large, 1930's Bermuda rigged-sloop pond racer, $4,200

English Country Antiques and Home Furnishings, is the Bridgehampton, New York, shop of Chris Mead, a photographer and author of books on design and gardening. Mead carries a wide range of materials, both old and new, primarily scouted in England. He offers a large collection of pond boats and vintage airplanes for hobbyists, as well as more rare pieces, such as the 19th-century children's furnishings, below.

Child's rocking horse, pine, circa 1880, $4,850

School pews, circa 1880, $2,250

Friday, January 26, 2007

Like Moths to a Flame

French café wine glass
$8.25 each (3-1/2 oz., 4" tall)

Mothology, an online shop based out of Atlanta, offers a broad assortment of European designs for the home. From bar ware and aprons, to porcelain and furniture, you'll find everything you need to recreate the Old World feeling of a café in Prague or Paris. But in true marchés aux puces style, if you like, nab it. Mothology's stock can go quickly.

Bird finial pot de crème
$18 each (3 ½ “ x 5”)

Metal Prague table and chair
Table: $84 (11" x 11" x 26 1/2")
Chair: $150 (17 1/2 "x 16 1/2" x 34")

Hanging glass globes
$10 small (4 ¾" x 5")
$18 large (7" x 7 ½")

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Top of their Class

Working Class Studio, the in-house product design center at the Savannah College of Art and Design, is out with a brand-new line of melamine plates and trays. Their bold graphics are based on 19th century British designs (Pugin tiles, for example), but most have a twist: deer, birds and flowers wander across the Gothic patterns. Others, such as the tray above, use a small repeat of period drawings of crowns and cornets, surmounted by a silhouetted coat of arms. Prices range from just $6-12. A lot of dash for a little dosh.

Sit Down and Take Notice

A pair of early-19th century Northern Italian cassones, polychrome painted with Baroque-style architectural elements, will be offered next week at Christie's Interieurs sale, held at their avenue Matignon location in Paris. Voluminous. Elaborate. Over-the-top. And yours, for 8,000-10,000 euros.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

London's "Queen of Gustavian Style" Takes Her Bow

In a thoroughly-modern move, London-based interior designer Filippa Naess (yes, singer Leona's mum), is closing her shop on Kinnerton Street for a new address - this time on the Web. The beautiful Swedish antiques and furnishings for which she is known will be found on request, and her collection of contemporary fabrics and accessories will be available for order online.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mallett Goes Modern

Since 1958, Bourdon House, located in London's prestigious Mayfair district, has been home to Mallett, Britain's premiere dealers of antiques and fine art. In conjunction with their main gallery on nearby New Bond Street, Mallett used the historic town house not just for offices, but for life-like displays of the fine furnishings and paintings that have established them as the country's chief exporter of English-country house style.

Above: Entrance hall and dining room displays at Mallett's Bourdon House location.

The house, built in the 1720s, was the private residence of the 2nd Duke of Westminster, until his death in 1953 and is a Grade II listed building. Mallett has been the sole owner since (or, rather, owners of a 95 year lease by the Grosvenor Estate), but all that changed last December. In a tremendous decision to redefine its mission (and to survive today's troubled antiques market) Mallett sold the 15,225-square foot town house to Richemont, the luxury goods group whose clients include Cartieer, Alfred Dunhill and Van Cleef & Arpels, for £14.25 million. The contents of the Boudon House will be auctioned off by Sotheby's on the 9th of March.

Mallett will retain its New Bond Street and Madison Avenue, New York, locations. What it has added to the mix, however, are two rather surprising components. The first is a new restoration business in partnership with specialists H.J. Hatfield & Sons, at a new location on Clapham High Street, in South London. The second is a £1 million exploratory effort to develop a line of contemporary furniture, created by leading British architects and designers. Mallett certainly isn't the first to move in this direction, but it is particularly surprising for a company who's nearly 150-year history has been firmly rooted in the 18th century. Whether they will produce antiques-inspired furnishings or completely modern designs is yet to be seen, but country-house style hasn't been reconsidered since David Hicks cleared out the chintz in the 1970s. Perhaps it's time for a redo.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Through the Drinking Glass

In 2004, Riedel, Austria's world-reknown glasshouse, purchased one of its German competitors, the historic Spiegelau factory. Nearly 500-years old (it was established in 1521), Spiegelau's greatest attribute was its small size, which made it possible to tailor the manufacturing and shift gears easily. Over the centuries, the firm continually changed its focus to produce whatever kind of glass was in demand - from mirrors to beads to snuff bottles. Their primary focus for the past 100 years, however, has been particularly-durable drinking glasses (above) supplied to restaurants throughout the world. Stemware designs were always clean-lined and modern (in fact, sometimes lifted from the more design-savvy artists at Riedel) and they were often the first choice of restauranteurs, not only for their simplicity, but for the amazing strength and scratch resistance of platinum glass, Spiegelau's special recipe of sand, soda and lime.

Having waited for contractual obligations to wind down, 2007 will see Reidel's launch of the new Spiegelau line - and this time the aim is squarely on retail. Look for a broader range of Spiegelau's tabletop designs as well as traditional stemware. All of the beauty, less of the breakage. Mazel Tov!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Reign in Spain

Begoña Zunzunegui, on the eve of her adventure.

In 1964 a young Spanish woman, Begoña Zunzunegui, opened Becara, an import business that would jump-start the home furnishings market in her native land.

At the time, Spain was an isolated nation, with very little influence from neighboring countries, let alone those farther afield. Zunzunegui, who was educated in England and had lived in the United States, returned to Spain and settled in Madrid. She soon recognized the absence of all the worldly materials and designs she had come to love through her travels, and decided to open a small boutique. She imported glass from Portugal, tableware and antiques from Britain, and ceramics from Italy.

During the early 1970s, the Far East opened to the Western world and Zunzunegui was one of the first Europeans – one of the first females – to travel throughout Asia and successfully establish business relationships with manufacturers in Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong and India, to name but a few. All of these new things she brought to Madrid; all of these new things awakened Spain to international design. Eventually, the walls of her shop could no longer accomodate the abundance of goods, and the sheer volume of materials led to the establishment of trade fairs and gift shows, a new concept in Spain. Becara was a founding participant in Regalofama in 1976, The International Furniture Fair in Valencia (1979), Habitat (1985) and Intergift (1989).

Becara's beautifully composed and romantic advertising images helped to secure its role as one of Spain's most influential design retailers.

During the late 1990s, Becara reached another milestone in its history. It had outgrown its warehouse in the Pinto neighborhood of Madrid, and Zunzunegui undertook a major modernization of the company, relocating and unifying the entire firm under one roof in Valdemoro, Madrid’s most prosperous industrial area. She also developed a new line of antique-inspired furnishings, a bespoke-design department, a corporate gift program and associations with numerous Spanish hotels and restaurants. Since then, Becara has also opened factory offices in Jakarta, Beijing and Delhi.

Madrid's Hotel AC Santo Mauro, furnished by Becara.

Zunzunegui, a mother whose four grown children are now part of the firm, has also chosen to return some of what she has been given and is a major supporter of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation’s effort to aid development in India, particularly the Anantapur region. Her story is one of foresight, fearlessness, and, ultimately, faith, not just in herself, but in the world around her.

Begoña Zunzunegui, today.

Home Couture

A Chinese snuff bottle with a pink peony design, 340.00€

For a limited time, Lanel, the Paris-based embroiderer for such couturiers as Dior, Chanel and Givenchy, is offering special editions of elaborate beadwork pictures that showcase the firm's mastery of the art. Picture subjects include Chinese bottles, flora and fauna, as well as nursery images. The incredibly-detailed designs highlight Lanel's delicate technique of combining fragile silks and organza with semi-precious stones, crystals and other rare beads. Pictures are mounted in 18.5 x 21.5 cm gilt-wood frames and numbered in editions of 100.

A brightly-coloured fish with organza fins, 450.00€

A Chinese-style bottle with a flowering tree and bird, 675.00€

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Plastic Made Perfect

The assembly room at Koziol, where even employees get a smile.

Since 1912, the German company Koziol has been producing objects of tremendous delight. It all began humbly enough, when Bernhard Koziol opened a small pottery and ivory-carving studio in the town of Erbach. But by the early 1930s, the popularity of his quirky carvings lead Koziol to move the studio to a much larger space, this time a converted barn in nearby Michelstadt. Demand for his designs continued to grow and in 1935, Koziol was the first to employ a new hand operated, injection-molding system that enabled him to produce his designs quickly and easily in plastic, rather than the more expensive, slow and difficult-to-obtain ivory. With this new technology, Koziol became a booming operation with over 150 employees and an international distribution.

But the early 1940s brought about major changes at Koziol and, as with factories throughout the Western world, production shifted to assist the war effort. Suddenly Koziol found itself making wartime products like buttons and combs, rather than purely decorative accessories. The factory and its machinery survived the war, largely due to its billeting of U.S. troops, and grew even stronger as a result of it, not only because of war-time research into synthetic materials, but because of a post-war desire for normalcy, not to mention a revived appreciation for joy in daily life.

A snow globe designed by Bernhard Koziol in 1950, inspired by the idyllic winter landscape he viewed through the rear window of his VW bug whilst stuck in the snow.

The 1950s saw an altogether new level of success for Kozial, especially in the areas of toys, games, souvenirs and snow globes, designs guided by master ivory-carver Jakob Müller, one of Kozial's first artists. The company's popularity continued through the 1960s, a decade that embraced plastics and saw the development of some of the 20th centuries most iconic designs: Verner Panton's Tongue chair (1960-67), Leonardi-Stagi's Rocking chair (1967) and Ettore Sottsass's Valentine typewriter (1969).

Kitz'y, a bottle stopper/dispenser, was designed by Koziol in 1963 and remains one of the most popular designs.

In 1963, Koziol's lead designer, Jakob Müller, designed Sissi, a small footed bowl with a carved-rose design. The design was duplicated in a larger size and reworked as a flower pot in 1971. As with all Koziol designs, it is available in a wide range of colors, both opaque and transparent.

The next wave of change faced by Kozial was the retirement of Bernhard in 1980 and the handing over of the company to his two sons, Bernhard Jr. and Stephan. The young men continued to make traditional Kozial items, but they also took a new direction with the development of more functional housewares and new color effects. When Bernhard Jr. passed away in 1998, Stephan took the company even farther in this new direction and commissioned well-known product designers like Peter Naumann, Alessandro Mendini and Mariscal to create an even more dynamic range of contemporary designs, not only for the home, but for the office, too. With nearly a century of experience behind it, Koziol continues to produce some of most inventive, clever and award-winning responses to our design needs. The only thing they've produced in greater number than their products are the smiles of those that use them.

Serge Atallah designed Elvis, a hip-swinging tape dispenser, in 2003.

Hommage, a modular candelabra system, is one of Koziol's more recent additions and was developed by Werkdesign in 2005.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Crafting Collectors in London

A 22-carat gold bowl by Scottish metalsmith, Michael Lloyd, represented by The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, showing at Collect

This February 8-12th London's Victoria and Albert Museum will hold Collect, the 4th annual-international contemporary design fair, co-organized with the British Crafts Council. It is the only art fair of its sort in Europe and provides a special opportunity to view a broad selection of work by some of the world's premiere artists in the areas of ceramics, metals, jewelry, textiles, glass, furniture and woodworking.

As the name annouces, Collect is aimed precisely at collecting and is intended not just for curators and collectors, but for novices as well. It is justifiably blatant in its encouragement and support of the passion and provides a world-wide stage for new and already established artists, ensuring that European crafts remain central to the international discussion and study of studio arts. This year brings together 41 galleries from all over the world representing more than 350 artists.

For more information visit or

Carrie it With You

In 2004 Swedish designer, Marie Louise Gustafsson, created an epoxy-and-crochet basket that quickly detached from her bicycle's handlebars to be used for shopping. The not only smart, but adorable, prototype caught the attention of the folks at Design House Stockholm and they've recently put it into production. The Carrie bicycle/shopping basket is available in white, green or black, each with an adjustable-polyester strap. For a list of international stockists, visit

The prototype basket, 2004

The final production design, 2007

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Future is Eero

A watercolor of the TWA Terminal at New York's JFK Airport, circa 1955

In October 2006 the Helsinki Kunsthalle opened the first retrospective to study the entire career of legendary Finnish-born American architect and designer, Eero Saarinen. The exhibition will then travel to Oslo, Brussels, Detroit, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, St. Louis, New York City and New Haven, Connecticut, where it will make its final stop in 2010 at the Yale University Art Gallery, the university from which Saarinen graduated with a degree in architecture in 1936.

Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, organized by lead curator Donald Albrecht, offers a unique opportunity for enthusiasts to view the complete archives of Saarinen's office, which were given to Yale in 2002. All aspects of the architect's work from the 1930s until his death in 1961 are covered in the exhibition, as well as its dual catalogues and documentary film. Highlighted projects include the St. Louis Gateway Arch, New York's TWA Terminal and Dulles International in Washington DC. His furniture designs, as well as plans for universities and civic centers, are also included, as are never-before-seen sketches, drawings, models, photographs, films and other ephemera from various archives and private collections.

The goal of the exhibition was to study the global effects of Saarinen's work. In order to meet that challenge, and in a nod to collaboration, a process in which Saarinen believed, an international group of scholars and curators was brought together to bring different perspectives on the relevance of Saarinen's work, both in its time and today. Shaping the Future shines new light on the era that turned simply being modern into what we now know as Modernism.

The definitive reader, Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, published by Yale University Press, 2006

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fortune Smiles on Potsdam

At the heart of Potsdam, a city known for its formal gardens and beautifully-restored palaces, lies a dormant plot of land, a yet unhealed wound from the Second World War and the Communist oppression that followed it. But as life will spring through even the smallest crack in concrete, so will a people's spirit make its way through the most challenging obstacles. This January, Potsdam voters did precisely that and approved - overwhelmingly - a controversial referendum that will enable the reconstruction of the historic Potsdamer Stadtschlosse, or city palace, and kick start the city-center renewal program.

The original palace buildings dated to the 1660s but the entire site underwent a major renovation during the mid-18th century when newly-crowned King Frederick II moved his royal court to Potsdam. The king hired Georg Wenceslaus von Knobelsdorff, a highly-regarded German painter and architect, to modernize the palace, both inside and out, and appointed him director of parks and buildings. City-wide renovations in the modern French style were underway, as was the construction of a summer palace, Sans Souci. It was Potsdam's awakening as a cultural center and literary figures like Voltaire visited the court. To this day, Potsdam offers some of the finest Baroque and Rococo architecture in all of Europe, though the Stadtschlosse is not one of them.

An engraving of the Potsdamer Stadtschlosse, circa 1720

An pre-WWII arial view of the palace, showing the full spectacle of von Knobelsdorff's 18th-century renovations, with the church of St. Nikolai near entrance gate

In the final days of World War II allied forces bombed Potsdam, striking the palace, but not destroying it entirely. Much of the building survived but in 1959 Communist leaders tore down all that remained, leaving only elaborate Rococo stables as evidence of the once-great palace.

The palace, April 1945

Since the 1990s several attempts were made to establish a rebuilding campaign, but each attempt was met with rejection by the governing Left Party, successor to the Socialist Unity Party that ruled East Germany until 1990. There was initial interest from a private investor who offered to fund the rebuilding in exchange for space to build a hotel, but the offer was declined. There were also preliminary excavations in the late 1990s during which parts of the original structure were found, along with artifacts like vases, but that start, too, was halted and the site was backfilled, abandoned yet again. The lone hope was a privately-funded reconstruction of the Fortunaportal, a replica of the original gate surmounted by a gilt figure of Fortune, that lead the way to the palace.

The palace's original entrance court, before the war

The new Fortune Gate, completed 2002

So it came as a tremendous shock when a record number of voters (even more than turned out for the last European Parliamentary election) turned out this month to approve a €120 million project that will rebuild the palace and reinvigorate a section of the city that has too long been ignored. Call it economics, call it pride - its a clear declaration of national identity and a reaffirmation to King Frederick II's quest for culture.

The approved plan is not an absolute replication of the Stadtschloss, but rather a recreation of its northern façade set in tune with a Modernist structure to the rear. Construction is slated to begin in 2008 with its new residents, the State Assembly of Brandenburg, moving in in 2011. It is early, though, and there is much to fall into place. A significant portion of funding must still be secured by private donations before ground is broken, but if the Fortune Gate is any indication, the coffers will overflow.