‘Paris is Always a Good Idea’...

By Bianca Mills

“There are two kinds of travelers. There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see, and the kind who has an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it. The first visitor has an easier time, but I think the second visitor sees more.” – Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik

I have always valued the experience of traveling alone and in May I went to Paris by myself for a week.  I had been to Paris twice before and on those trips I had lit candles in the Sacre Coeur and watched the sunset from its steps overlooking the city, visited the graves of my favorite artists resting in Pere Lachaise and walked through the expansive tunnels taking in the gravity of the history of the Catacombs.  This trip was a somewhat spontaneous venture for the gluttonous purposes of beauty, solitude, food & drink, as well as finally making it to Versailles.

This time around I was more comfortable trying to use my high school level French. My ‘bonjour’ must have been pretty convincing because I got full rambling sentences as a response on my first day, thus abruptly ending the fantasy that I am practically bilingual.  I had rented an apartment on a side street near St. Sulpice in the 6th arrondissement. Arriving jetlagged and happy, I spent my first night having dinner at a familiar place, Les Antiquaires, the restaurant where I had spent my 40th birthday on my previous trip.  I tucked into a small table between a group of Canadians celebrating birthdays and a group of Austrians on a layover, all of whom would soon adopt me and befriend each other.  A few of them individually shared their stories with me of visits to San Francisco, a love affair that ended in Paris, and the hope of a new baby. As new friends, we wrapped up our dinner by inflicting a red wine saturated version of ‘Que Sera Sera’ on the other patrons, which seemed totally appropriate at the time.  That night, I walked back to my apartment in misty rain with no umbrella, a relaxed smile and tired, happy tears running down my face.  It was the kind of magic that I regularly only imagine.  It was charmed.  It was perfect.

My first two full days in Paris were quiet.  It was over a holiday and most of the city was closed.  The weather was beautiful so I just walked.  I went through the 6th and 7th arrondissement.  Rue Cler was one of few streets where shops and cafes were bustling despite the holiday.

The following day I had breakfast at Café Panis and watched the people crossing the Pont au Double bridge to line up in front of Notre Dame. I visited the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie and took my time looking through the galleries of photographs.

My nephews wanted to FaceTime during my trip so they could see the Eiffel Tower live from San Francisco.  So I made a date with them at midnight one night and stood at its foot as it twinkled and glowed.

Me: “I arranged for it to twinkle during our call’.

Nephews: “Really?!”

Me: “No. That’s just what it does every night because it’s Paris and it’s beautiful and I love it here because Paris is magic’.

Café de Flore was a famous gathering place for writers and painters of past times primed for a revolution.  It was 4 blocks from my apartment and it was always a good place to start or finish the day.  I would alternate between Café de Flore, Mabillon and Café de la Mairie just down the street on the square of St. Sulpice.  I’m sure at a certain point, I went to all three in one day.

All that time spent in cafes was my chance to write in my travel journal and finally read a book my cousin gave to me years ago, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life written by Anne Lamott.  It was the perfect book for the trip.  It was a metaphor for life, about a process that relies on perseverance despite an internal dialog of imminent failure. It rescues the process with a little blind faith and just enough of my kind of dry humor.

“ I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’ and she said to me slowly, ‘Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.’

It’s true.  We really don’t have that kind of time. A realization too easily saved for twice a year in a place far from home, but I keep trying.

My last full day, I finally made it to Versailles.  I am always wary of tourist traps on vacation after living in San Francisco for so long but Versailles is truly awe-inspiring. The grand presence of it from the bottom of the uneven stone street hill was worth just standing there for a few minutes to admire even though people were piling up in front and I didn’t know where I was supposed to get a ticket or which long line was for what.  Another great part of traveling alone is that you decide on your own what is worth a rush.

The gardens are poised to spend an entire day enjoying on their own.  Classical music played from hidden speakers and families picnicked along the greens.  I walked along the corridors of trees and finally sat on the stairs overlooking the parterres of the garden to take it all in.

That night I decided to go back to Les Antiquaires.  By coincidence I was seated at the same table with the same waiter who remembered me from my first night.  He told me that if I ever wanted to make a reservation for that specific table it is table eight.  Eight happens to be my numerology life path number.  It represents balance, harmony and trust in one’s self.  It mirrors the symbol of infinity.  It has always been a lucky number for me.  Of course it was table 8!  I told him it was my last night in Paris so unfortunately I would not be needing a reservation.  When I got up from my table to leave, I caught his eye and said goodbye. As I walked out the door he waved and said, ‘have a safe trip back to San Francisco’!  Good bye for now Paris..

Living Future ’18: Designing Solutions...

By Ben Welty

This past May I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend the Living Future 2018 unConference, an annual gathering, now in its 12 year, that is hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The ILFI is best known as the administers of the sustainable design certification program, The Living Building Challenge (LBC), which is widely considered the most difficult green building certification to achieve. A Seattle based collaborative, they’ve emerged on the scene in recent years as a challenger to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and it’s more commonly known green building certification program, LEED.

While still somewhat considered grassroots in relative comparison to the scale of the USGBC and LEED, as interest and participation in the LBC has grown, so has the reputation of the ILFI and the conference itself. The quantity and diversity of the seminars was evidence of this, as the content avoided going stale and structured themes afforded attendees the opportunity to define their own paths without fear of getting lost in the shuffle of what can sometimes feel like convention center musical chairs. Taking this approach I chose to hone my focus on the somewhat familiar but complex topic of water conservation and policy, while also exploring the less commonly known field of Biophilic Design.

The water issue is complex. It’s the only necessity of life for which humans are in direct competition with every living organism that surrounds us. Compounding this are the difficulties we seem to face when it is made abundant, as it oftentimes remains unsuitable or insufficient for human consumption. 11% of the world’s population are currently without access to clean water while 25% do not have access to proper sanitation. Yet even in the most arid of places we’ve learned to harness it, treat it, consume it and release it back into the environment in a symbiotic relationship with land not necessarily suitable for human habitation. So why the struggle?

Simply put, we have the tools to solve the issue of water scarcity but our policies and practices do not currently support this. These points were made clear as one after another passionate speakers made their cases for water conservation, policy and equity, each noble in cause and abundant in information. However, there did seem to be a lack of a common thread between the extremes of the spectrum to tie it all together. For instance, I could not help but feel a disconnect between the conversations surrounding the obstacles of building modern, private residences in arid climates and the struggles of the city of Detroit as they deal with a public water crisis in their marginalized communities. This underscored a social chasm that is the widening gap of privilege vs. poverty, an issue that is manifesting itself at local, national and global levels. But this in no way diminishes the importance of the individual conversations themselves, because as world populations continue to grow and climate change tightens its grip, water scarcity is quickly becoming one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century.

One possible design solution to this growing problem could be found in the concepts of biophilic design, whose modern incarnation is still somewhat emerging in the broader field of sustainable design. I found Living Future ‘18 to be a great platform for these concepts, as I imagine this group is far too often passed off as hippies-cum-scientists selling the idea of nautilus shell living as a means to saving the planet. But that would be cliché, as its core tenets that combine nature and design in order replicate natural processes in the built environment have shaped a movement that, for the most part, has avoided its mission coming off too literal (Read more about biophilic design and the ILFI’s initiative HERE). This point was made clear at the beginning of nearly every seminar I attended on the subject, a sign that they’re conscious that the stigma still exists. That said, the content by and large proved otherwise and as building technology advances and sustainable living engrains itself into the social conscious, it’s predictable that these interests would be widely embraced by the design community. The results of this is a broad catalogue of well-designed, contemporary buildings whose numbers continue to grow. No longer is “good design” exempt from incorporating sustainable features. In fact, good design and sustainable design are becoming synonymous, if we’re not there already. So, moving forward, I’m anxious to see whether or not biophilic design assimilates into our contemporary design language as fluidly as sustainable design has over the past two decades.

While the breadth of the Living Future conference pales in comparison to the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference, the quality, knowledge and passion of the speakers did not fail to impress. And though this year’s group of exhibiting product vendors leaves much to be desired, I trust that the list of participants will become more robust in the years to come as more manufacturers survive the strict vetting process that is a perquisite to attending. So, as the ILFI and its unConference enter its formative teenage years, I anticipate (and hope) that the next step in its growth will be largely subsidized by the design and building industries themselves, as it continues to undergo the transition from admirable ideology to established principle.

ICFF in New York City...

By Lindsey Theobald

ICFF is known for being a High End Furniture Fair that showcases the latest and greatest furniture, finishes, and lighting from all over the world.  This last May was my first trip to the fair and now I wonder why I haven’t gone every year.  Practically every manufacturer, designer, and product I admire showcased there and it was such a treat to see it all in person.  As a specifier of furnishings and lighting, I believe that products are understood so much better when seen in person.  Scale, quality, craft, and detail can be realized only when seen in person.  And that’s exactly what I was able to do at ICFF.

The show itself was at Javits Convention Center, NYC’s HUGE convention space on the Hudson. However, some of the best showcases were dotted throughout the city as part of New York’s Design Week.  One of these treasures was the design gallery NEXT LEVEL.  A handful of NYC contemporary designers (Asher Israelow, Eskayel, Hart Textiles, Here Projects, Patrick Weder, and others) curated a large gallery space in NoHo that blurred the line between furniture exhibition and art gallery.

The furniture was crafted to a high level of artistic expression and it was a treat to discuss inception and procedure with the artists themselves.  I had picked NEXT LEVEL as a must see because of wood worker Asher Israelow and leather artist Brit Kleinman (of AVO).  Asher takes brass inlays to a new level, creating brass constellations in wood table tops and brass rivers in dressers.  He collaborated with AVO, an artist of printed leather rugs and tiles that I’ve used in past projects, on a low slung walnut chair with painted leather upholstery.  Patrick Weder was a new find for me.  His wood and concrete credenzas were insane!  Hand carded concrete molded perfectly into beautifully crafted wood credenzas and turned simple furniture into art pieces.  It’s wonderful to find new artists and designers and Patrick Weder is one I hope to use in future projects.  Another fun find at NEXT LEVEL was Kin & Company, a collaboration between two cousins (get it? Kin?).  I had the pleasure of talking with co-founder Kira de Paola about her whimsical side tables and mirrors that are the exact products that can add so much life to an otherwise neutral and “safe” design.  I’ve been liking the half circle shape and I saw it reflected frequently in Kin & Co’s work – a beautiful balance between architectural and decorative.

Since it was Spring in NYC, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked from NEXT LEVEL in NoHo to my next destination – SoHo.  Not only were there multiple New York Design Week pop-ups throughout SoHo, it was a thrill to see other stores and spaces that just had great design.  One of these spaces is the Rachel Comey flagship store designed by Elizabeth Roberts and Charles de Lisle.  My idea of heaven is where architecture and fashion come together!  Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of terrazzo and the store used a concrete version on the floors.  The store is located in a former mechanic’s garage, so a bit of the industrial flavor remains in the steel store front and some heavy timber.  Those items, plus the terrazzo and the addition of board form concrete walls highlighted by soft natural light from skylights above, create an idyllic serene setting that highlight the clothing on display.

The first night consisted of party hoping in SoHo, starting with the Boffi/DePadova showroom, organized by our friends at DZine here in SF.  Boffi is located right in the middle of the design district of SoHo, so I was able to stop in at many more design store happy hours from there, including Artemide, Ingo Maurer, Lee Broom, USM, Foscarini, Tom Dixon, RBW, and Kartell.

The next day was another off-site design stop, this time at the Radnor curated apartment in The Bryant, David Chipperfield’s new residential tower.  Upon arriving I was thrilled to see even more terrazzo!  Tons of it!  David Chipperfield used concrete terrazzo panels on the exterior and interior walls.  The terrazzo was gorgeous, with large aggregates of marble and stone in them.  Plus, Radnor’s curated rooms were the perfect complement to the stunning apartment.  Radnor is a new company formed by the amazing Susan Clark who has a total knack for finding amazing artists and designers and taking them under her wing to curate a showroom of beautiful artists.  Radnor currently represents about 11 designers, only a couple of which I knew (Pelle, Egg Collective, and Workstead I’ve used in past projects and am a huge fan of all three).  Su is a kindred spirit in terms of the design world.  I could easily sense her excitement about each of her designers and that excitement transferred as she spoke about each one and told me their story. I even got to meet one of her designers, a fabulous woodworker name Adam Rogers, whose work celebrates the construction of furniture in its design.

I could have wandered around the city visiting off-site exhibitions all week, but I needed to focus on the actual ICFF fair itself!  I thought it may be dull compared to the amazing exhibitions I’d seen so far, but I was wrong.  It was amazing to see so many of the brands and manufacturers in-person that I usually only view online. I got to say hello to the folks at Brendon Ravenhill, who supplied most of the decorative lighting for our new office, make new connections at Concrete Collaborative (from San Clemente, my old hood!  And they have gorgeous concrete terrazzo!!), and learn about new-to-me designers and manufacturers (Larose Guyon, Hinterland, CVL Luminaires, Sollos, Empire rugs, District Eight, Ercol, I could go on and on!).  I loved talking directly with the designers themselves and just seeing so many products in person was a huge treat.

Another wish list item for me was to visit Bec Brittain’s showroom and studio.  Bec is a lighting designer, originally from Lindsey Adelman’s studio, and now very much successful in her own eponymous line.  Each line of fixtures from Bec Brittain feels like individual art pieces, yet I’ve been able to use them in many projects without them looking out of place or too precious.  Bec opened her studio for NYC X Design Week and showcased a collaboration between her and John Hogan, a glass artist.  I was blown away by their new line, ‘Aries’, where Bec’s lights shown on John’s glass pieces in such a way that each piece threw off rainbows of color, looking different depending on your point of view.  Again, her pieces are super fun without crossing the line into gaudy.  Her showroom is also her working studio, so I was able to see prototypes, items used at special installations, custom pieces, and all the baubbles and shiny pieces that get crafted into one of Bec Brittain’s fixtures.  I continue to be a super fan of hers!

Many of our SF reps were busy at ICFF too.  I got to meet up with Anne Luna from CRI San Francisco to swap stories about what we’ve seen and liked.  I attended a cocktail party thrown by Jenne and Adam from Jak-w at the Bolon flagship, which was great, not only because Jenne and Adam are the best, but because I finally got to see the vinyl carpet they’ve been raving about.  One night, I was invited to attend a dinner hosted by a favorite of mine, Muuto.  The dinner was held in a large space on the 4th or 5th floor of a downtown building that was completely furnished in Muuto sofas, chairs, lights, rugs, etc.  As a big fan of Muuto, I thought the place looked awesome.  And in a classic NY moment, the dinner was being prepared by nineteen-year-old Flynn McGarry, the boy wonder chef who just opened his own restaurant on the Lower East Side.  He has been written up in the Times on a couple occasions, and he’s a bit of a phenomenon, so that made the dinner even more special!  Only in NY.

On my last day in New York, I got to meet up with our SF Herman Miller reps at their flagship store.  Not only is the store home to the Herman Miller NY offices, it also is home to Maharam.  We were treated to a champagne breakfast and then given a $100 golden ticket to spend on anything in the store on the street level.  The store itself was super interesting.  For each season, the curators make up a family and give them personalities, jobs, interests and use those stories to craft their displays.  I forget their entire story, but it was a fun concept to think about while browsing the store.  I picked out a Jaime Hayon vase that uses the Japanese flower arranging technique, Ikebana.  It’s beautiful and I’m pleased to own an item from a designer I admire.  After shopping, we toured the Herman Miller offices; got to try out their newly launched task chair, the Cosm; and then were led on a tour of Maharam to see how they operate, get a glimpse of their sample library, and get a sneak peek at some of their new collaborations.

I needed to stay in NY a couple more days to absorb it all, but I had to get back.  I feel now that ICFF is a must, at least every other year, though I’d love to go again right away in 2019.  Not only was it an opportune way to see so many products in person, it was great to meet up with so many SF reps and designers 3,000 miles away!

Portland in 48 Hours...

By Evan McCurdy // Photos by Liza Karimova

Recently, Liza and I spent a short rainy weekend in Portland. Traveling around with a group of 8 friends, we were in search of two things: beer and architecture. In that order. We made the most of our first day in Portland by exploring Kengo Kuma’s pavilions at the newly renovated Japanes Gardens. It was an absolute architectural gem. Soon after, we found ourselves wandering from brewery to Powells bookstore to brewery to Voodoo donuts. We also managed to discover many street murals, food trucks, and coffee shops. Not bad for under 48 hours!

 

East Asia Tour: A Cultural Trip Through Thailand & Vietnam...

By Ben Welty

My wife and I spent our honeymoon in southeast Asia this past January visiting the northern and southern regions of both Thailand and Vietnam. The first stop was Chiang Mai, Thailand, for temple touring, hiking with and feeding and bathing rescued elephants at a preserve, white water rafting, and visiting remote villages via ATV in the Golden Triangle. However, the best part of our stay was participating in a Thai cooking class where we got to visit local markets and using the ingredients we found there to make our new favorite Thai dish, Khao Soi! After Chiang Mai we were off to Koh Lanta in southern Thailand for some rest, relaxation, snorkeling and motor biking before heading off to Vietnam.

We spent our first night in Vietnam in Hanoi before making the trip to Halong Bay for a 3 day, 2 night cruise. Though overcast for most of the trip that did not take away from the experience of exploring one of the most unique geological formations in the world. The views were breathtaking and it was truly an amazing experience waking up on the water in the midst of towering, monolithic limestone islands covered by rainforests. Finally, our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City where we spent our last few days exploring the city, taking in some somber history at the War Museum, and dining at a rooftop restaurant during a very rare Super Blue Moon.

Overall it was an amazing experience! Great people, great food and great culture. We will be visiting again!

African Expedition...

By Matt Lindsay

At the end of 2017, my wife Abby and I traveled for just over two weeks to South Africa and Victoria Falls.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit Abby’s cousin and her family, who are currently serving their third tour as employees for USAID in Harare, Zimbabwe.  We agreed to meet them in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday, but spent the first four days of our vacation in the eastern South African Lowveld on the Timbavati Game Reserve.  From our lodge in the bush, we were treated to twice-daily guided game drives where we saw an unbelievable array of wildlife: endless birds, baboons, leopards, lions, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and more.

After relaxing days on safari, we flew to Cape Town to meet up with our family for the holiday.  Despite being a world away, Cape Town felt very familiar to us San Franciscans.  The center city is densely populated and sits at the foot of towering mountains that overlook the broad bay.  During our stay, we experienced some of the city’s most popular attractions, with a hint of Bay Area nostalgia: urban hikes (Lion’s Head and Table Mountain), great museums (Zeitz MOCAA), wine regions (Stellenbosch), a decommissioned island prison turned historic landmark (Robben Island), and even an impending water crisis…

After Christmas, we flew from Cape Town to the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where the Zambezi River surges over Victoria Falls and cuts a narrow canyon through the surrounding hills.  Despite a few frustrating border crossings and battling the crowds at the falls, we found unmatched natural beauty at the falls and in the surrounding river valley.  From our river lodge, we were also able to explore local villages and spot more wildlife including hippos, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and monkeys.  After fifteen incredible days, our first visit to Africa was over and we made the long journey by plane straight over the top of the globe and back to San Francisco.

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