From around the World


Easter weekend, 2012.  The hunt begins.

In search of something unexpected but nearby, we took a road trip to the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, NYC.  Where a colony of artists, writers, ironsmiths and furniture designers came together to reject convention and all of the design wisdom borrowed from European castles and churches.  Think of Andy Warhol’s Factory if it was a century ago.

Before becoming the intellectual leader of the Roycrofters movement, Elbert Hubbard was in marketing at the Larkin Soap Factory, the company that produced several millionaire executives who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design iconic houses for them.    The Roycroft Inn and Colony, awarded National Historic Landmark status in 1986, might well have inspired Taliesin West. From East Aurora we went in search of Frank Lloyd Wright…

At the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, in a genteel neighbourhood designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the house is part showstopper, part serious institution, pulled down on its acreage like a low slung Japanese hat.  All piers and deep overhangs, a series of horizontal walls of roman brick; it’s impossible to tell where the bedrooms might be so abstract is its composition.  Exacting renovations and rebuilding of a complex fallen post-Depression into ruin are impressive.  And worth hunting down.

Next to the Darwin House is the Visitor Center Pavilion by New York architect Toshiko Mori, all light and reflecting surfaces, distinguishing itself from Frank Lloyd Wright’s earthy palette rather than risking the battle.

Back home in time for the Easter hunt.  Chocolate ‘buffalo’ wings to go.  May yours bring you many unimaginable surprises.


Today’s Google Doodle celebrates a great, ominously talented architect…it’s the 126th Anniversary of the birth of the modernist Mies van der Rohe.  The Google image is of the German architect’s minimal design for Crown Hall (with its sweeping interior room) at the Illinois Institute of Technology on the south side of Chicago. Mies modernized ancient ideas of exquisite, unflinching logic, the embrace of courtyards and an honest use of the earth’s materials.  Consider his Toronto-Dominion Centre as a modern-day Pompeii.  His devotion to his principles meant repeating the same ideas of architecture in Chicago, New York and Toronto – and, in lesser versions, around the world.  Today my blog background gets changed to Miesian black.

Last weekend, I went to NYC’s Armoury Show 2012 to see art from around the world, and found plenty by the South Americans to dream about:  Fluffy mini clouds caught between layers of plexiglass by the Argentinian artist, Leandro Erlich. (Sold, apparently, for $65,000.)

I thought she was made of wax, until I circled back after an hour and noticed that she was not merely still, but still breathing.  Bed for Human Use, 2012, Luciana Brito Galeria of Sao Paulo, Brazil, as conceived and dressed by artist  Marina Abramović. How do you install this – her – in your living room? And, would she agree to share that rockin’ crystal?

Travelled south along the Hudson River and discovered newly created public space in the Meatpacking District, where historic architecture still matters as much as contemporary condos and people are starting to matter more than trucks and cars. That’s the art of urbanity, and my pick for #3.

 Across the street, there’s the radiant-cool Pastis restaurant, where New York and Paris artfully intersect, and wine comes in glass tumblers and  the bartenders rarely smile even if the arugula salad is divine.

Look up and around and you’ll find work #5: grafitti and collage laid on thick on a wall in the Meatpacking District, 2012.

 Late afternoon, Bryant Park at 42nd Street: an artful arrangement of Plane trees, sage-green chairs (just like the ones in the Jardin du Luxembourg) and the Beaux-Arts symmetry of the New York Public Library by Carrere and Hastings architects.  Another reason to stand up for cities, then sit down and luxuriate in the middle of artwork #6.

Why does New York’s Meatpacking District draw masses of people to it?  Because of all the collisions of culture still happening there.  The butchers and packers in white smocks are still at work in their brick factories.  There are edgy, industrial-looking boutiques like All Saints. And, not far away, on 14th Street… Alexander McQueen, Carlos Miele, Diane von Furstenberg…and, until last month, Stella McCartney who has moved to Soho – where the rents are cheaper.

 There is street art that The Pace and Mary Boone Gallery on 5th Avenue should collect.    Don’t sterilize this away to please the clubbers, or the growing ‘South Beach’ crowd that swarm the Meatpacking District on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Of course, there’s the powerful pull of the High Line, once an old elevated freight line, now transformed through design to become one of the most magnetic new public spaces on the planet. That’s where I spent the last couple days, joining the spectacle of people.  Where art collides with history, and spring appears to arrive in techni-colour.

Shelter from the wind.  Countless sound and visual experiences happen as you walk along the High Line, like this one:  artist Spencer Finch’s “The River That Flows Both Ways”, panes of glass based on a single pixel point taken from a day’s shooting of the Hudson River.

A hotel that opened with impeccable timing over the High Line three years ago, The Standard looks like a vintage inn – nicely done by Polshek Partnership – hoisted up and over the High Line.

Morning dawns golden at The Standard Hotel.  Interiors by Roman and Williams of NYC.

 And, no, despite what the weather man was warning, it didn’t rain.

Nature’s veil:  Sea fan and Geneviève, Nevis.

A veil is the mystery that comes before. Before the great flood of humanity moves below: Brookfield Place by Santiago Calatrava casts a veil over historic and modern office buildings, creating a monumental atrium in downtown Toronto.

Particularly astute at combining seductive forms with astounding engineering, New York based-Asymptote Architects created a grid-shell exterior veil for the Bas Hotel, Dubai. It edges a Formula 1 racetrack.

 Anybody recognize the bride?  Her dress and the barely there veil of ivory silk tulle was designed by Alexander McQueen. Please note that the trim of hand-embroidered flowers was embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework. The veil is held in place by a Cartier ‘halo’ tiara, lent to Miss Middleton by The Queen…something new, something borrowed, something blue…

Blue Light Showers by public artist Jill Anholt.  Water from Lake Ontario, purified by ultra-violet light, cascades down the mesh veil and into water channels at the newly opened Sherbourne Common on Toronto’s waterfront edge. Feeling blue?  Go see this at night.

Holes open up a home to the outside world, making it seem extra enchanting. In a forested area of Japan where there’s plenty of rain, architect Kotaro Ide of ARTechnic decided to design with elliptically-shaped concrete forms rather than cladding the house with more traditional (and fragile) wood. Then he cut holes into the concrete to liberate the space.

Given the organic, seamless flow of the Japanese vacation home all windows and doors had to be custom designed.  The result: a sumptuous, all-embracing environment, one that’s now been published all over the world.

Just when you thought you couldn’t take any more concrete slab towers or steel-and-glass cliches along comes the O-14 Tower by Reiser + Umemoto Architects.  The 21-storey skyscraper rises like a latticework tower in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The perforated “superliquid” concrete skin measures only 15 inches thick, a remarkable achievement in high-performance, seemingly elastic concrete.  Given that most skyscrapers in North America are uninventive lookalikes, this is the kind of architectural daring worth applauding.  I’ve written about Reiser + Umemoto before.  Maybe somebody in Canada will commission them to design something intelligent and gutsy soon. S.V.P.

What the O-14 tower is to clothing design…Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. clothing line (named for her 2004 solo album Love, Angel, Music, Baby,) has been around for six years but her latest coat design rips apart conventional thinking about covering up.  For L.A.M.B.’s long, winter coat the wave of olive colour is heightened by hundreds of peek holes in the lower half.  It makes walking on the snow extra flirty.

 Punctured with openings, this chair (1952) was among the very first to depart radically from thick, brutishly heavy chairs to offer a lightweight sculpture to arrange yourself in.  Designed by Harry Bertoia in steel wire to be as much about sitting as it is about changeability of sculpture.  Something to curl into and watch the world go by.  


Nevis is an enchanting balm for the soul…A mountainous, historically-charged island in the West Indies that’s untouched by the overzealous commercialism of many islands in the Caribbean.   And, yes, you have to commit to getting there. After two long-haul flights, our third and final one was a wild ride on a 20-seater designed in the 1960s.  Vintage is something I like in furniture.  Not so much for planes.

 We flew straight into the sunset, and massive storm clouds, leaving Christmas festivities and sub-zero temperatures far, far behind.

The island is a storybook of how to live and create a home – especially an intimately-scaled home – like this colourful wood-frame pitched delicately, magnificently against the rolling foothills of Mount Nevis. The legendary Hermitage Inn, built 340 years ago, is a collection of pitched-roof private villas at 800 feet above sea level with a Great House finished in Nevis hardwood and defined by its perfectly proportioned dining room, verandah and library.

 There’s tragedy, too, pressed into many of the island’s ruins. The Eden Browne estate looms dark and foreboding against an overgrown landscape where the groom killed his best friend on the night of his wedding.

There are copper vats and iconic stone kilns still scattered across the island where slaves historically laboured on sugar plantations.

The production of “white gold” produced monuments in stone.  They might be confused as temples to Mayan Gods.  And now many of these artefacts are left to fall into ruin, while wild goats graze around them.

 The beaches are vast, untouched and deserted.  Just us and the palm trees bent over the sand, and the vervet monkeys prankstering around in the bushes.

Several plantations on Nevis have been transformed into elegant restaurants and hotels.  The Golden Rock Inn and Restaurant has been given a bold contemporary look by its owners, the acclaimed New York minimalist artist Brice Marden and his wife Helen.  (Marden’s work was featured at the MoMA in NYC in 2006, and his large abstracts have been sold on the block at Christie’s and Sotheby’s for many millions – each.)

Marden asked the Paris-based designer Ed Tuttle, whose portfolio includes the luxury Aman hotels, to put his stamp on Golden Rock. A large podium with reflecting pool and steps leading to a dining terrace has been inserted into the lush landscape.  Stone plantation buildings with vaulted ceilings serves as a cafe and bar, revitalized with lounge furniture and shutters painted the plantation’s signature colour of burnished red.     Marden tours around the open-air restaurant, wearing his favourite black toque, saying hullo to us today and supervising the ongoing upgrades and aesthetic ordering of the wild, dense rain forest.

The Nevis fireworks on New Year’s Eve were dazzling.  So was the ‘Killer Bee’ rum punch at Sunshine’s beach restaurant.  And, most of all, dancing in the sand in bare feet.  Happy New Year !   It’s going to be a good one.  With love, from Nevis.

The Rodin Museum on the Left Bank, Paris, is where sublime connections happen between art and nature.  I’ve experienced the gardens and Rodin’s masterworks such as Le Penseur (1880) under a veil of snow and through a mist of rain.  A few days ago, under brilliant blue skies, the naked brooding man in bronze seemed as intense as the harshly clipped shrubs.  I learned for the first time that Rodin’s museum was previously a girl’s school run by the Ladies of the Sacred Heart.  And, later, in the early 1900s the mansion served as an atelier for painter Henri Matisse with Rodin commandeering a suite of rooms on the ground floor, and, across the street, Isadora Duncan conducting her dance studio.  Eventually, Rodin ensured that the entire mansion, L’Hotel Biron, would become the permanent resting ground for his vast collection of bronze sculptures and drawings.

A walled, secret garden with some 2,000 roses, many of them in full bloom despite the cool autumn temperatures.  This one still radiating youth and vitality, like Rodin’s muse and lover, Camille, who was 17 years old when she joined his studio.

Place des Vosges, one of the world’s greatest living rooms, where the Linden trees and  lawns of grass soften the epic scale of the square.  Victor Hugo once lived here, and the influential French Culture Minister, Jack Lang and, these days, behind his shuttered windows, Dominique Strauss-Khan, who almost became the next French President.  (Almost only matters in horseshoes.)

A dance of dormers and chimneys, peaks and valleys, on the roof of the 17th-century Hotel Sully, connected, by way of a massive door, to Place des Vosges.

Late Friday night. Most of the six million visitors to the Louvre journey deep into the museum to see the mythical Mona Lisa.  Seven minutes, on average, spent hanging with her and being part of the spectacle of seeing…and being seen. This time I noticed her peasant hands, so much darker than her neck and face.

Located through a monumental arch on the north side of Place des Vosges, this is an ultra discreet boutique hotel set within a leafy courtyard.  Night time all peace and quiet except for the occasional high arias by a castrati in a long blue coat performing one arcade over.  The ambiance is warm and intimate, best expressed by the honesty bar in its lounge.

Constructed as a private mansion during the early 17th-century, the hotel is suave, elegant and layered in velvet, on the walls and over its furniture.

 The muted, earthy colours of autumn were all around.

Why settle for mere drywall when you can transform a surface into crackling, shimmering art ?

Every building needs a meeting spot. The wooden ‘peniche’ or barge where students still gather at my alma mater, L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques, a.k.a. Sciences Po, 27 rue St. Guillaume…right next door to the iconic Maison de Verre, designed by the early modern architect Pierre Chareau. 

Birthday celebrations at George, top of Centre Pompidou, with organic pods for private dining rooms.  Vintage sequined dress a friend bought for me at Bungalow, Kensington Market, Toronto. (I bought a silvery one for her.)

Third day back in Paris and I’m starting to notice the details that sustain the enchantment of a city.  Can you spy a spotted creature on this 17th-century archway?

 He’s watching you.

Chez Janou, an excellent Provencale restaurant, (absolutely packed even on a Sunday night) graces a rounded corner in Le Marais. The curve of the sidewalk, the striped canopy, the bistro tables all combine to make something grand of a small urban space. Which helps to explain why Paris is always hard to leave behind.

One evening walking downtown Rio de Janeiro with the after-work crowd, I found these bubble shoes in the Melissa store.  Every year, Melissa commissions architects such as Zaha Hadid to design a line of shoes.  These ones are by the Italian architect Gaetano Pesce, famous for his organic, bubble-inspired architecture and furniture.  They’re made of recycled plastic and smell like bubble gum.  They’re my new amphibian friends.  You can pop out bubbles to customize the shoes to your foot.  I haven’t take out any bubbles yet.  They fit me like a glove, or friendly reptile.  I love them !  Sorry, they’re not available in North America.