Gritty Glamour: the elegance of dirty spaces

I’m fascinated by the beauty of turn of the century functional spaces – of train stations and power plants, pump houses and grain storage silos. These buildings didn’t need to be attractive, after all few will see the inside of a silo, but they were. Maybe form followed function and in so designing, it became an elegant missile preparing for launch into the stratosphere of stars, but that doesn’t account for the finishes inside of the turbines. There to produce power, first utilizing the dirtiest of fuels – coal, and later electricity, I can’t imagine they really needed to be outfitted with grand Palladian windows, their wrought iron mullions forming a decorative cross pattern that I long to replicate in a home that I have yet to call my own.

Fashion Designers, event planners, and visionaries of all sorts become glassy eyed at the prospect of showcasing their goods, setting a scene, being seen in their finest threads, bedazzled with baubles, and beads, twinkly lights, and crystal candle stick holders, their tapered forms reaching increasingly slender degrees toward their twinkling height, casting their flickering glow against the centuries old tiled walls.

There are levers and pulleys, catwalks and balconies, and elements for whose function will likely never be known to me. I envision the s-shaped scrolls that are mounted to the interior walls, 20′ in the air, carrying hurricane lanterns, entwined with ivy and honeysuckle. The tables would be scattered about, draped in fine white sateen table cloths, green handblown glass goblets would compliment the tiled walls. A dark herringbone wood dance floor would be installed in the very center, the pink seven tiered wedding cake, topped with a single white anemone, will be cut to the swirling notes that drift from the brass bands situated on the balconies above.

Beauty and the Beast – there is nothing like pairing two disparate things together to watch them shine.

Design Narrative: The Stories Your Spaces Tell

Design narrative sounds so technical and it can be. Temperature controls, and programs, and mandates and specifications, are part of a serious design narrative, but it should start with the story, and the story should start with a word, a feeling, a texture, a place. It should evoke emotion, unite the team in a vision, pave a plush velvety pathway for the designers to wiggle their toes in as they explore the possibilities that await.

Everyone can appreciate the unifying nature of a powerful story. Video Gamers call it Narrative Design, and use the hero of the game as the central character in which to tell the story. Event Planners, focus on theme, book cover designers peek into the pages to understand the heart of the tale and utilize fonts, colors, photos and icons to hit the viewer hard and quick, but to reward them visually upon closer inspection, inviting them to investigate what lies within.

Designers make use of a number of tools to unearth their clients’ goals and desires for a project. A great story takes you on a journey of discovery, and is deeply satisfying because it teaches you something, reminds you of something, or introduces you to a melange of disparate ideas, bringing them together in magical fashion. To be a real story it must have a beginning, middle and an end. Seemingly simple, sometimes this roadmap is ignored entirely, which can leave a design, and the inhabitant of the space feeling less than inspired.

Start by asking your client, or yourself the following questions:

  • What is your favorite season,
  • Favorite home scent, and why
  • Plants or fresh cut flowers – type
  • When you aren’t working how do you spend your time
  • What do you want guests to feel when they visit?
  • What colors, materials, and textures make you happy?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

Add your own to the list, discover and explore together the items and images that evoke emotion and you’ll be off to the races.

Good Bones: Adding the details where details lack

Applied trellis detail, and sophisticated screens bring interest to the Hotel Thomiuex . Paris Designed by India Mahdavi

Though I’ve been surrounded by construction my whole life, I don’t remember picking up the term “good bones” until I started working at the architectural firm after college. My dear friend Brooke made mention of it when we looked at some fine old house. I think I intrinsically understood that it made reference to its skeletal structure, its roof and foundation, wires and plumbing – which are all incredibly important, but once I was assured of their soundness, I only had eyes for the details. Did it have grand proud baseboards with any kind of molding that might draw the eye, or that I could draw eyeliner on in the form of a black painted stripe. Did it have crown molding, adorned with the ancient egg and dart motif, rosettes or wainscoting, paneled walls with carved diamond patterns. Did I ever hope it would, but more often than not, it didn’t.

Look at the baseboard detail by Claude Cartier in this living room – simple square of light blue against the charcoal casing.

What’s a gal to do if it is just a simple, clean, unassuming white box? I have answers, you didn’t think there would be no answers to my own questions did you? While I rarely start with a budget, I suggest you do. When you don’t, and you have a wild imagination like me, it often leads to disappointment and self flagellation when you stare down at the estimate in astonishment and realize there is absolutely no way you can swing it. Avoid that if you can. If you are wondering how you’ll know, without having an estimate developed in the first place, you can use the level of detail you are looking for as a yardstick for measuring cost. If you are willing to DIY parts of the process – it can help keep the cost down.

A simple California Living Room by Cliff Fong utilizes inexpensive molding to create interest. Painted all the same color it adds subtle texture.

I love adding a trim detail to the top of a baseboard, or throwing up a plastic molding. While it’s terribly unsustainable, it’s super easy to work with, and inexpensive, AND from way down on the ground, it’s pretty hard to tell what the material is. If you don’t go too wild with it all, it can be relatively inexpensive to add it. If that is still too much, paint can do the trick. Hombre the walls, paint the casings in a color, add your diamonds or moldings to the wall with the dip of a brush into the silky center of a pool of paint, and draw it on. Spray an old screen, wooden or rattan in a hue just a few shades darker than the wall for added texture, or a metallic for extra drama. In the end, it’s never ONLY about the money. Creativity, riffed on, borrowed, or stolen from the pages of a magazine – the marrying of ingenuity and execution makes it more fun than just showing up when it’s all done.

Ramy Fischler takes the hombre look to the extreme in this “good bones” Parisienne apartment.