It’s possible you’ve spent hours foraging flea markets, wondering how a Russel Wright pitcher or an Eames shell chair or a Jens Risom credenza might fit into your home décor. But did you ever stop to wonder how those pieces may have figured into the homes of their own makers? Leslie Williamson, a San Francisco–based photographer, did — and the result is Handcrafted Modern, a new book that offers an intimate glimpse inside the houses of 14 of America’s most beloved mid-century designers.
Williamson writes that the book was born of pure, old-fashioned curiosity: “What would an architect build for himself, without the demands of a client upon him?” she wondered. “Would he experiment? Would what an architect builds for himself be the purest manifestation of his creative vision?” But as she immersed herself in the project it became less about the big questions and more about the tiny details, the items that told the story of who each designer was as a person rather than as a “demigod of design,” as she puts it. Williamson photographed personal artifacts as much as furnishings — Walter Gropius’s bath towel, Ray Eames’s bedside bobby pins, Vladamir Kagan’s shower, Jens Risom’s drafting tools — and in doing so, she’s created a warmer, more humanizing portrait of modernism than has perhaps ever been captured in print before. We’ve excerpted eight of our favorite details in the following slideshow.
There's a certain taboo attached to pop stars who attempt to forge acting careers, and vice versa. Painters aren't normally supposed to take up fashion design, and just because you're a great photographer doesn't mean you'll make a great chef. But here at Sight Unseen, where we attempt to travel to the very heart of creativity, we delight in any and all cross-disciplinary meanderings, which is why our ears perked up when we heard about American Fashion Designers at Home, by Rima Suqi. Even if some of the more than 100 CFDA members featured in the book hired professionals to craft their spaces, the translation of their aesthetics from one genre to the other is an endless source of curiosity.
When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it.
Andy Beach had quite a few strange, obscure books from his personal collection for sale at the Apartamento pop-up store in Milan last April. But America's Favorites kept us captivated for hours: A 1980 anthology of junk food that treated each item like some kind of museum specimen, listing its package dimensions, date of origin, ingredients, and backstory — from macaroni and cheese to Cheez Doodles. The best part was that there seemed to be not a trace of irony behind the presentation, a fact I confirmed by painstakingly tracking down and then interviewing its authors, Kay and Marshall Lee. They simply wanted to present food as art, and the 75 choices in the book happened to be Americans' most beloved.