Wednesday. 12/1/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Cottage industry

“I spent my Christmas holidays with the in-laws.” It’s a phrase that doesn’t necessarily imbue jealousy in your colleagues when they ask you how your winter break was. But it’s one I’ve had to trot out for the past few days, after spending mine holidaying in England with my partner’s American parents. Our break didn’t start well, with a bag left at the airport and the instant emergence of a holiday villain: the “interior designer” of our first accommodation, a rented apartment in Bristol.

Situated in a carefully restored 18th-century factory, with high ceilings and big windows, the beauty of the exterior structure sat in stark contrast to the inside: its large living room featured couches tucked into one corner, a rug that sat like an island in the middle of the room and tiny artworks on the walls. The result was an empty and lifeless space that none of us wanted to spend time in. Despite this, we pushed on and our holiday hero soon emerged: the designer of the second place we stayed in, an old cottage in the Cotswolds.

Despite its smaller size and oddly shaped rooms, a restrained colour palette, carefully selected furniture and a spread of lamps illuminating the pokey corners of the house all helped to make the small spaces feel welcoming and generous. Despite being in the Cotswolds, where natural beauty abounds, all we wanted to do was spend time in the cottage.

For me, it was a physical reminder of the importance of interior appointments that respond to the space. And for anyone looking to invest in their own rental property, I hope that this tale can serve as a reminder to always work with quality designers. I know where we’ll be booking to stay again.

The Project / Palm Heights, Cayman Islands

Island retreat

For those not quite ready to return to work, a stay at this idyllic new hotel in the Caribbean might prove too tough to resist. Beyond its breezy beachfront location on Grand Cayman, Palm Heights’ creative director Gabriella Khalil and interior designers Sarita Posada and Courtney Applebaum have shaped a hospitality environment that’s both relaxed and refined.

The furniture (some new, some vintage) includes pieces from industry greats and has been sourced from France, Italy, Mexico, Morocco and beyond. But this eclectic combination does not bombard the senses; the contrasting colours and textures of wares such as Mario Bellini sofas and an original Ettore Sottsass rug are in harmony with each other. The attention to detail within this sun-drenched design paradise continues in the staff’s beachy uniforms, crafted by respected New York label Bode.

Design News / Hotel Marcel, USA

Bouncing back

The HQ of the Armstrong Rubber Company in New Haven, Connecticut, was designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer in 1967. It had been sitting empty for some time before it was acquired by architect and developer Bruce Redman Becker in 2020, who has transformed it into a 165-room hotel.

Becker worked with New York studio Dutch East Design to bring Hotel Marcel to life. Its sensitively restored interiors, muted colour palette and geometric patterns on custom-made textiles nod to Breuer’s pioneering work at the Bauhaus. “It is a rare opportunity to be offered such an iconic structure to reimagine into a hotel,” says Larah Moravek, co-founder of Dutch East Design. “We wanted to honour the distinct architecture and celebrate the building in all its glory.”

What’s more, the entirely electric hotel will generate all of its own power, with an array of solar panels on the rooftop and parking canopies. “I felt an obligation to build a building that can serve as a model for environmental sustainability,” says Becker. “The question should not be, ‘why are we doing this?’ but, ‘why isn’t everyone else?’”

Words with... / Félicie Krikler, UK

Beauty contest

In recent years, federal governments across the globe have made efforts to include definitions of beauty in their planning policies and regulations. It’s a complex matter that can pit architects against local authorities but it’s one that French-born, UK-based architect Félicie Krikler is well-placed to comment on. As a director at design studio Assael and an associate on the Design Council, she works closely with both governments and private clients. To find out more about the notion of regulating beauty, we caught up with Krikler for this week’s episode of Monocle On Design.

Why are governments such as those in the US and UK introducing the concept of beauty into their building codes?
In the UK, when [former] housing minister Robert Jenrick was introducing the revised National Model Design Code last year, which makes reference to beauty, he said that the government wanted to “put it back at the heart of how we build”. He explained that we shouldn’t just build houses because we know there’s a housing crisis but instead strive to create beautiful places in which people want to live and dwell.

Beauty is a subjective term. Is this problematic when it’s used to regulate the work of architects?
Recognising the importance of design, quality, attractiveness and beauty – and the positive effect that these have on our lives – is really important. But there are inherent issues with that because beauty is hard to define. There are some incredible places and buildings that are not beautiful per se, but they are successful and people love them. But also, with some much-loved buildings, if you were to judge them on a design review panel, they wouldn’t pass; what would we say about the Sagrada Familia if we received drawings for it today?

With this in mind, is there such a thing as universally beautiful architecture?
There are certainly some objective rules of beauty, focusing on proportion, materials and harmony. In addition to this, beauty takes time; what is beautiful now wasn’t necessarily beautiful at the time it was built. Furthermore, many beautiful buildings that are older exist now thanks to their quality and an adaptability that has allowed them to be transformed and retained – so there’s an element of beauty that is about versatility too.

For more from Félicie Kirkler tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Ettore Sottsass chair, Italy

Turning point

Ettore Sottsass’s most famous design is a 1969 bright-red portable typewriter for Olivetti, which explicitly was, “for use in any place except an office”. The Italian designer was clearly no great fan of the corporate workplace. But just a few years later, Olivetti tasked him with designing an entire range of office furniture, including this swivelling chair.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The Synthesis 45 collection, which had more than 100 pieces ranging from filing cabinets to umbrella stands, was relatively muted by Sottsass’s irreverent standards. The colour of this adjustable chair, for example, is toned down several shades from the eye-popping Valentine typewriter. Today the oxblood hue is known as “Memphis red”, after the famed design movement that Sottsass later founded. We think that it would still be just right for any office worker needing to snap out of the post-holiday blues.

Around The House / Anibou, Melbourne

Making room

The Melbourne suburb of Cremorne continues to be the city’s top spot in which to roll out a coveted design showroom, the latest of which is Anibou. Standing out with a sleek and minimalist design, the Sydney-founded brand’s latest offering in Melbourne spotlights the works of much-loved European furniture brands including Artek, Classicon, Thonet and USM.

Image: Sean Fennessy
Image: Sean Fennessy

The showroom’s architect, Nick Souksamrane of international firm BVN, says that the aim of his design was to “create a simple backdrop that lets the products speak for themselves”. Warmth and character have been added through clever interventions, such as a huge bold blue curtain that is also used to divide the voluminous space.

In the Picture / ‘Vo Trong Nghia: Building Nature’, UK

Green shoots

As conversations about climate change and the threat of large-scale environmental catastrophes loom larger, the sustainable designs of Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia feel increasingly relevant. It’s why a new, two-volume monograph by Thames & Hudson pays homage to the architect’s innovative work over the years. Featuring images of his key projects – including the bamboo-thatched Wind and Water Bar in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province and his renowned series of eco-friendly residences, House for Trees – Building Nature offers an in-depth exploration of the architect’s mission and signature style.

And while the monograph’s lush visuals and tropical landscapes alone make it a worthwhile purchase, the book is, above all, a meditation on the transformative power of design. Urbanists and architects willing to have a closer read will likely find themselves thinking about how they can incorporate Nghia’s sustainable ideas into their own communities and cities in the years to come.


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