June 28, 2011

Oh là là! C'est Magnifique!

Many moons ago I had the pleasure of spending time with extended family in Santa Barbara – the town that bills itself as The American Riviera.

Knowing both the French and Italian versions, I was skeptical about the comparison. Although I had been here before on quick day trips from L.A., I could not recall anything resembling a riviera.

Anyway ... in addition to spending cherished quality time I had a lot of free time to explore the town. Left to my own devices in a new place, I can while away the hours forever. Exploring I did and fell for the place, as they say, ‘hook, line and sinker’.

Forty years on, ‘Auntie’ has decided to give her place a makeover and to my delight, she has entrusted me with the project…lucky me

old postcard hotel "El Encanto", Lasuen Road, Santa Barbara

Let me have color, except in the bedroom (I need my beauty rest)”...

...Your wish, our command, Auntie.


In 1984, I was ‘best woman’ at her wedding.  
In 2011 she returned home. 
An artist in need of a space to work.

We restored a '60's something studio cottage set in a priceless natural landscape.

June 25, 2011

California, said Fred Allen, is all right if you are an orange.

Pasadena’s history of architecture is interwoven with the social history of Pasadena. Historic preservation has been vitally important to the cities success.

Within this context, a debate has emerged regarding how contemporary art and architecture can and/or should relate to historic fabric and what new architecture should be preserved in the future. Discussions have explored how future innovations in technology, sustainability and the need for in-fill growth can embrace the future.

The area around the California Institute of Technology has many fine old houses that serve as living quarters for students.  It was my pleasure, again, to re-vamp such a place.

June 20, 2011

Serene Genius

It does not take a Ph.D. in art history to recognize that what the art establishment is foisting off on us as high art has veered to... So much is couched in such obsessively personal, even secretive, imagery that only a handful of so-called experts any longer pay it much attention. For quality and depth of expression I turn to artists the establishment overlooks almost entirely. Who, for example?

The late potter Lucie Rie, who learned her craft in Vienna and refined it in her adopted London after WW II. Early aesthetic influences were the Roman pots excavated on a family estate – and the clean, new shapes of Viennese architecture. These ideals still dominate. “What use can I make” she asked, “of the Della Robbias?”

Lucie Rie’s magnificent vessels are far more than mere pots. Shaped, glazed, and fired with supreme patience, they reflect the intelligence of an unpretentious, deeply humane mind. They are as pleasing to the touch and the spirits as they are to the eye. To hold one of these powerful vessels in one’s hands is to make contact with the whole universe.

Albion Mews, London, U.K.

June 15, 2011

Water Rites

“Nothing in the world is a s soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it.”

WATER IS THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF life, the most common and most powerful substance on earth, carving mountains into canyons and wearing stone to sand. It covers 71 percent of the earth's surface, filling rivers, lakes, ponds, and the air we breathe.

As embryos, we are composed almost entirely of water; by old age, the proportion is still 65 percent. "Water precedes all forms of life and upholds all creation," says theologian Mircea Eliade. "Every contact with water implies regeneration. "

It is hardly surprising that water has long been a central element of landscape design, from the earliest gardens in the irrigated Mesopotamian valley to the water walls in the pocket parks of contemporary cities. Today, we excavate pools and ponds, lining them with clay, plastic, vinyl, and concrete. We divert streams, construct waterfalls, install fountains. All are designs that depend as much on water's physical properties as on one's individual taste. The latter is, of course, specific to every gardener. Let us here explore some of the former.

• Water refrains from taking a form of its own but instead fills out any offered to it. We experience these forms in two very different ways: as a contained element (a pool) and a flowing one (a channel).

Examples of both are offered at Shalimar, the Abode of Love, a Mogul garden set high in the foothills of the Kashmir Himalayas. A central water-course fed by mountain streams falls down the terraced mountainside, forming the garden's aesthetically pleasing structure through alternating turbulence and stillness, slowing to a near eddy in Shalimar's wide pools and accelerating to a rush in its narrower channels. Thrones placed within, above, or upon the water evoke the contemplative state that was surely the architect's intention. In creating our own gardens, we must always remember that water will only go where, in what form, and at what speed we tell it to.

• Water reflects when still. We feel invited to ponder a pool's silent depths and contemplate the latency of its glassy surface, aware that even a single raindrop or the softest of breezes will send ripples cascading to its outer edge. The darker the pool's color, the deeper it will seem; the mood of the visitor may darken or deepen accordingly.

An ornamental reservoir-a bassin acts as a reflecting pool in Andre Le Notre's first great garden at Vaux-le Vicomte in Seine-et-Marne, France. Constructed between 1656 and 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV's minister of finance, the chateau's grounds also boast a moat, pools, cascades, a grotto, an allee of water fountains, and a great canal more than three thousand feet long. But the biggest surprise is the square bassin called the Grand Miroir d'Eaux, which reflects the entire facade of the chateau from a great distance. Although we can hardly expect to recreate such grandiose visions on our own property, we should imagine how our constructions will appear to guests stepping onto the grounds for the first time.

• Water always seeks its lowest level. In so doing, it creates the rivers and streams that delight our senses with their complex patterns, unpredictable rhythms, velvety softness, and murmuring sounds. Watching water spill down a mountain slope or meander through a sunny meadow is one oflife's simplest, most eloquent pleasures.

The Rill Garden at Coleton Fishacres, in Kingswear, Devon, England, is a channeled streambed built in a combe - a deep, narrow valley along the flanks of a hill. Designed by Oswald Milne for Mr. Rupert and Lady D'Oyly Carte in the 1920s, the rill emerges from a grotto to flow through a thin canal of silver stone into a bright perennial garden. From there it wanders down into the landscape, ever seeking its lowest level, creeping along the valley floor in ponds and rivulets before disappearing over the cliffs into a harbor in the English Channel. The footpaths that crisscross the stream transform what was merely a storm-water runoff into a fluid focal point of the surrounding gardens and an inspiration for today's designer who would use the laws of gravity to create charming watercourses at home.

• The character of a waterfall is determined by the edge over which it spills. Do you want a smooth or aerated sheet of water falling into your garden? Will it flow in threads or tiers? Here are some quick tips: a wide mouth will produce a thin expanse of water; a narrow mouth, a denser column. The longer the drop, the louder the sound at fall's end. The more obstacles in the water's path, the more it will rime. A stone at the base of a waterfall will produce more of a splash than will water falling directly onto water.

A particularly lovely example of water's strength, speed, and energy can be seen in Lawrence Halprin's Lovejoy Fountain, a public watercourse in Portland, Oregon. Halprin created it as a series of natural falls, concrete cliffs, and chasms upon which viewers can perch or stand, or from which they can dangle their feet into the gushing flow.

• Water seeks to travel in a straight line. It will both erode and build up streambeds through this process, wearing away a channel until it hits a non-erodible surface, depositing the refuse on the opposite shore.

The designers of traditional Japanese stroll gardens took care that their ponds and streambeds be honest representa tions of natural waterways, using rocks to maintain the banks of a stream that would otherwise suffer erosion, or reproducing the buildup of sand that occurs in the lee of a small island. When creating our own gardens, we can hardly use a better model than nature herself.

• Water pressure can direct a flow against gravity. This principle can be seen in anything from a geyser or a water fountain to a spouting whale, and put to dramatic or amusing effect. Italian horticulturists of the Renaissance loved to create giochi d'acqua (waterjokes). Trick fountains (automata) generated by concealed pipes surprised and delighted strollers caught unawares.

The Villa Medici at Castello, in Tuscany, boasted hydraulic wonders that showered on-lookers with water manipulated by a gardener said to be "two hundred paces away."

Other fountain options included the obscene: giochi d'acqua at the Villa Mondragone at Frascati consisted of priapic water features that will otherwise remain undescribed here.

"Meditation and water," wrote Herman Melville, "are wedded forever.” This miraculous silver liquid, the creator and sustainer of life itself, can transform an ordinary garden landscape into a spiritually rejuvenating refuge, a shimmering oasis of aesthetic beauty and peaceful contemplation. The only limits lie in our own imagination.

June 13, 2011

The Magic of the California Coast

Last year I received an invitation to spend a weekend at a beach house (the invitation turned out to be an indirect job interview) in Half Moon Bay, California an idyllic quiet spot south of San Francisco. Lured by the name, I drove there in early spring this year. I welcomed the chance to explore the area more, and when I saw the house, I fell in love with it. It sits isolated at the end of a long winding dirt road, beyond stretch green hills and the Pacific Ocean where you can hear the surf break and the tinkling of goat bells. Magic.

At the end of my stay I was ask if I would consider sprucing-up the beach house in time for my Hosts to celebrate their 25th. wedding anniversary. I was moved by this request and delighted to accept. I could not have been awarded a lovelier project and I wish them many more years of happiness.

June 8, 2011


Design today is an international affair that is rapidly blossoming into a delerious long-term relationship. Designer regularly hop on planes to Paris for Maison et Objet, to Milan for Salone Internazionale del Mobile, to New York for ICFF and to myriad exhibits and summits in such far flug locales as Copenhagen, Maastricht, Basel, Stockholm, Hong Kong, India and St. Petersburg.

Why all this fashionable globetrotting? It is not just for the air miles. Designers seek out what is new, what is authentic and what is spurring design in provocative directions. After all, designers think differently about design in different parts of the world. They draw inspiration from their unique cultural traditions, and their use of color, texture and craftmanship reflects that diversity.

After venturing into the international arena, one cannot help but see one’s own design landscape with fresh eyes.