Waking up. Looking up to the morning sky. Past an artful split of wooden timbers. (Designed by Suppose Design Office, Japan.)
Showering in style. Training the bears to pass the soap.
Breakfast delivered in a basket. I did not make this up: On the small island of Saynatsalo, several hours north of Helsinki, Finland, breakfast in a basket was brought to me one early morning by a woman who worked for the Alvar Aalto Museum. I’d been invited to sleep over in one of the guest rooms available within the Aalto masterpiece, the Saynatsalo Town Hall. Imagine how good the coffee tasted while I gazed upon the courtyard of the Town Hall and listened to the soothing sounds of the fountain in the reflecting pool.
Closer to home, when spring is still wrestling with winter, there’s the comfort of sheepskins, good books and a fire to transition from morning to afternoon.
To pour out
The sweeps and the slants
And the snow on the back roads, where the horses and buggies run
Because the Helleborus has blossomed
Gestures of love take time to imagine and create. So, to honour the time that it takes to create beauty, I’m renaming Valentine’s as Valentime’s. Like this table made one summer at the cottage by my son, Alexander. Every stick was selected from the North Kawartha forest, measured for scale and texture, then cut to size and secured with tiny, delicate dowels. Not a single nail was used. Rustic and honest, it seemed the perfect plinth for the Venus de Milo-style dark chocolate and golden goddess (made around the corner by the chocolatier Sharon Shoot), presented by my romantic man this morning as part of our 24 hour Valentime’s.
My version of Valentime’s means not only honouring each other, but spending time looking up and being amazed by all that grows beautiful on this planet of ours. Stake your claim to love. Make your mark on the Canada Kiss Map. Happy Valentime’s!!
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.
Hike into a forest and your heart slows down. At least, that’s what happens to me. Here’s what I discovered after three flights, a long train ride and a taxi with a really lost driver: Nordic pine forest, west coast of Finland, surrounding the world-famous home, Villa Mairea, designed by Alvar Aalto. Harry and Maire Gullichsen were among the wealthiest people in Finland when they commissioned their good friends, Alvar and Aino Aalto to design their Villa Mairea during the Depression. The architects called the villa an “opus con amore,” a house imagined with affection. The Aalto design emphasizes local, rustic materials: rattan mats on the floors rather than Persian carpets. There are paths made of local flagstone and columns of spruce at the front entrance – not exactly what you’d find in Beverly Hills.
I was amazed by the curved cedar balustrades and arbours made of spruce saplings at the Villa Mairea. In a home filled with paintings by Picasso, Fernand Leger and Alexander Calder mobiles, built-in bookcases in the study were designed using birch plywood to be engaging and human-warm.
Hercules on our (yes, Aalto-inspired) curved back deck, doing what he likes best: posing.
Our side deck, made of clear cedar, doubles as a green space and lounge seat to catch the late afternoon rays.
Designed with a whole range of green tones, this little garden catches my eye every time I walk through the kitchen. And, because it’s sheltered on the north side of our house, the plants flourish even after the first snowfall.
“…But I love your feet only because they walked upon the earth and upon the wind and upon the waters, until they found me.” Tracing this poem by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda on our front hall stairs was one of the first things I did when we moved into our home in the Beaches. Everybody from the couriers to kids at Hallowe’en like to stand in the hallway and read it out loud. One of my best anniversary gifts to my (gorgeous) husband.