When I was a little girl, my Grandmother bought me a subscription to Harper’s Bazaar and continued to do so, every year through college. I distinctly remember being around fifteen or so, and anxiously flipping through an issue I’d just snapped up from the mailbox. As always, I dutifully read Editor-in-Chief and idol Glenda Bailey’s foreword, skipped to my horoscope and then began moving through the magazine’s content. I remember that I had gotten to the last third of the issue when my hand fell flat across the pages and for a moment, my heart stopped. Ironically, this reaction was not the result of discovering Kate Moss in a canary-yellow Gucci jacket (á la Tom Ford) nor stumbling upon a smoldering Julianne Moore, clad in Balenciaga with an almost invisible waist (though both did garner an audible gasp). The photographs and story had little to do with fashion at all: rather, they showcased the stunning exterior and interior of a sprawling single-story home in the Hollywood Hills. Built in the 50’s, it was a mid-century masterpiece: floor-to-ceiling windows providing breath-taking views of Los Angeles and a floor-plan masterfully laid out for the ultimate in entertaining of cocktail, dinner and pool parties. I was smitten.
It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the work of Pierre Koenig, his legendary “Case Study House No. 22” (obsessed) and the intelligent post-war modernism that came to define an era. It continues to blow me away how these architects, designers and their passionate patrons so carefully created spaces and products that optimized the climate and natural beauty of their surroundings while at the same time, remaining efficient and cost-conscious. Mid-century modern design was innovative yet intuitive, and it is no accident that it has sustained to this day.
…Which brings me to an exhibit that I recently visited at the LACMA: California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way.” Closing in just a few days, the exhibit opened during the citywide art event Pacific Standard Time, earlier this year. Upon entering the museum, visitors follow a winding path that begins with a vintage Airstream camper and then walks them through an extensive collection of textiles, furniture, toys, blue-prints, print-work, even electronics. While showcases like this one can often be superficial, the LACMA did a fine job of getting below the surface and displaying an incredibly thoughtful array of objects, sounds and ideas from a bygone era. In fact, the exhibit even houses an actual replica of Charles and Ray Eames’s living room, complete with windows, doors, furniture, even throw pillows and plants! There are also video interviews that you can sit down and listen to by yourself with headphones; I chose Deborah Sussman.
I learned so much about the process behind which all of the aforementioned things were designed and how vast the reach of the modernist movement in California, was and has been. It makes so much sense to me why architects and builders now build modular, glass homes on hilltops and shorelines; how else are you able to completely immerse yourself in your natural surroundings? Likewise, it is no mystery why the Eames molded plastic chair for Herman Miller can be found in almost any interior design magazine that you flip through today. The Jetson-esque chair is a versatile, affordable and whimsical piece of furniture. It’s also incredibly comfortable for adults and durable for children.
I urge you to go see California Design for yourself: you won’t be disappointed. Spanning so many different avenues of media and approach, there is literally something for everyone.
Click below for more pictures!