Wednesday. 21/12/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Fernando Guerra

Present moment

This week we admire a 16th-century Alpine chalet given a revamp by Thierry Lemaire and his interior-designer sister and head to Portugal to seek out a Joan Miró exhibition in an art deco villa (pictured). Plus, we have plenty of desirable gift ideas, ranging from a state-of-the-art Japanese kettle and a high-end portable speaker that assesses its surroundings to a festive Venetian lamp and a cleverly designed wine rack. We begin with Ed Stocker lighting up New York.

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Let it glow

Back when I lived in New York, I went to the opening of a new pizza restaurant in the East Village. The food was excellent but it’s the lighting that I remember most – far more than the fluffiness of the dough, in fact. The long, thin space was spot-lit in a stark white light that was the polar opposite of cosy. With just a small turn of the dimmer switch, the restaurant would have been transformed. But alas, no.

To be fair, New York normally has a decent lighting game. Or it certainly knows how to do what one might call “intimate”. My local Brooklyn bar is so dark that the only way to read the menu is with a smartphone light (under the table, of course, so as not to disturb the ambience). So which nation gets it just right when it comes to lighting? Which one knows how to not overdo the wattage during this festive season but also not plunge a place into eye-straining murkiness? Well, we’re not giving away any prizes if your first reaction was to head for the Nordics.

Scandinavia’s inherent good-lighting taste was reinforced to me during a recent trip to Copenhagen and Malmö. Getting a taxi from the latter’s train station to a friend’s house, I stared out of the window as the impeccably kept residences slid past and made sure I had a good ogle – not that the open curtains were doing anything else but inviting my voyeuristic stare. Alongside the fact that everyone seemed to have a designer and mid-century pendant lights were often alongside the requisite Christmas stars in the windows, I was simply struck by the level of the lighting. It was like the whole world had been tuned to the perfect frequency to make everything look that bit nicer.

The truth is that you don’t need expensive lighting to be able to do all of this. And actually, given the cost-of-living crunch that we’re currently experiencing, you might end up saving money by turning the dial down. As I continued to look out of the taxi window in residential Malmö, I could swear that even the streetlights’ wattage was just so. Or maybe my mind was playing tricks on me?

Ed Stocker is Monocle’s Europe editor at large, based in Milan.

The Project / Chalet Saanen Gstaad, Switzerland

Rustic renovation

French architect and designer Thierry Lemaire is known for his angular furniture pieces and impressive portfolio of high-end interiors, which includes a renovation of the Elysée Presidential office. His latest project, however, is a little more personal. In the Swiss town of Gstaad, Lemaire teamed up with his sister, interior designer Sophie Prezioso, to renovate and redesign a chalet that she purchased as a holiday home. Lemaire looked after the furniture and architecture, and worked hand in hand with Prezioso on interior design and decoration.

The 16th-century building was originally a farmhouse and the pair wanted to keep its rustic character while introducing contemporary design elements. The architect was also keen to “create a cosy and timeless environment”. Rough Meleze wood and smooth Hainaut stone was used throughout the building, while old paintings and vintage furniture were combined with more modern pieces. The result? An Alpine holiday home that feels contemporary but still reflects the original qualities of the building. “It’s a house that’s somewhere between elegance, authenticity and preciousness,” says Lemaire.

Read more on Lemaire’s work in Monocle’s winter newspaper, ‘Alpino’.

Design News / Casa de Serralves, Portugal

Art house

Those looking to pick up a few last-minute gifts would be wise to step into the Christmas market in the grounds of Casa de Serralves. Sitting on the edge of Porto’s Parque de Serralves, this palatial pink art-deco house is not only a picturesque setting for a market but also hosts temporary art exhibitions. The current show includes 85 paintings, collages, sculptures, drawings and weavings by the renowned Catalan artist Joan Miró.

Image: Fernando Guerra
Image: Fernando Guerra

And while the markets and exhibition are reasons to visit, so too is the site's history; the building’s story begins in 1925, when textile magnate Carlos Alberto Cabral visited the Paris Expo. On returning home, he immediately commissioned José Marques da Silva to realise his dream residence. It took almost two decades to complete Casa de Serralves but it was worth the wait: the villa contains elegant decor and ample natural light and is surrounded by an expansive landscaped park. Cabral did not have long to enjoy his vision: his business failed post-war and he sold the villa in 1955. It remained intact and the state bought the complex in 1987. A few years later, famed Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza designed the nearby contemporary structure that houses the main building of the museum.

To discover more architectural icons in Portugal or for a great Christmas gift, pick up a copy of Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.

Christmas Gift Guide / KEDP-X1 electric kettle, Japan

Hot stuff

Illustration: Eugen Fleckenstein

Here’s one for the early birds: wake up and smell the coffee with Kalita’s new KEDP-X1 electric kettle. The family-run company has been producing all the necessary equipment to produce barista-quality brews in the comfort of your home since 1958. The KEDP-X1 has a slim, curving spout for ultimate control over water flow and its wooden base is fitted with touch sensors to set the exact temperature. Little wonder it’s popular with coffee and design enthusiasts alike.

Around The House / Mania speaker, France

Sounds good

Image: Benjamin Swanson

French high-end hi-fi brand Devialet makes stunning and usually very expensive audiophile speakers. The Mania, the company’s first portable speaker, is far from cheap but still surprisingly affordable. Its musical output is much bigger than its size suggests with strong bass and 360-degree sound. Room-calibrating microphones assess the shape of the speaker’s surroundings and tweak the sound accordingly. There’s plenty of audio oomph here and subtle clarity of tone, even at full volume. It works well in the living room, bedroom or garden.

Around The House / Binic lamp, Italy

Red glare

Image: Benjamin Swanson

Foscarini has been making fine lighting since 1981 and the Venice-based brand has revisited one of its classic designs this Christmas. The Binic lamp range – named after a small lighthouse on the coast of Brittany, the region that the lamp’s designer, Ionna Vautrin, comes from – has been expanded to include a matt lacquered festive red version (Foscarini’s trademark colour). The result is a compact lamp that is visually striking when turned off and highly practical when switched on. Its curved head can be rotated about its conical base, allowing its user to cast a soft, directed spotlight downwards.

Around The House / Silo wine rack, Sweden

Rack it up

Stockholm-based furniture company Massproductions is known for creating smart, high-quality furniture, which draws inspiration from classic and modernist designs. Case in point is this simple yet well-made wine rack, which keeps bottles snugly tucked into its milled-out compartments.

Image: Benjamin Swanson

Inspired by storage systems in traditional wine cellars, the Silo has been designed so that any bottles placed in the rack are gently tilted. This ensures that the wine is in constant contact with the cork to stop it from spoiling. The stackable timber racks come in natural or black-stained ash, making them a versatile addition to the homes of wine lovers everywhere.


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