In honor of Sight Unseen’s first anniversary, we, the editors, decided to turn the lens on ourselves, revealing what inspires us as writers about and champions of design and art. If you’re an especially devoted reader of Sight Unseen, you might have noticed that Monica — who spent her childhood putting bugs under a kiddie microscope and was at the head of her high-school calculus class — often tends towards subjects inspired by geometry and science, while Jill — whose love for color and pattern likely began with an uncommonly large novelty earring collection — favors maximalist, throw-every-color-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks types. We were interested to see how those formative experiences would play out in a documention of our own reference points. Here’s a closer look at eight of Monica’s editor’s picks.
Darkroom: I have yet to visit this London concept shop, which is run by a textile designer and a fashion-industry veteran, but its ethos alone is enough to convince me: It focuses on the crossover between fashion and interiors, and “the juxtaposition of materials, scale and form.” With a slant towards Bauhausian colors and geometries, it’s all about the statement piece at Darkroom, to the point where most of the objects could just as easily be worn or used as they could be displayed as art.
Darkroom: I can’t tell if I want to buy every single thing in there or if the owners just have an incredible gift for styling — likely it’s both. Favorites, though, include the African-print cushions, David David umbrellas, DMK ABC Triangle plates, leather-wrapped hand mirrors, Phil Cuttance vases, and Ana-Maria Bird of Paradise necklace.
Necklaces: Speaking of statement pieces, necklaces are probably the one outlet besides writing that I funnel my creative energy into. When it comes to fashion, I’m a minimalist — I rarely dress in loud prints or colors, so all of the attention goes to whatever strange vintage pendant I'm wearing. My collection, pictured here, speaks to my love for materials: It includes necklaces strung with Southwestern rocks, tiny silver-filigree baskets, huge hammered-brass beads, knotted strips of suede, and everything in between. I also like how the scale of necklaces lends them so perfectly to handicraft and experimentation, both of which we champion at Sight Unseen.
Necklaces: Inventive contemporary jewelry makers I follow include Renata Abbade, whose lamé-and-tortoise-shell creation above sells at the Soho boutique Maryam Nassir Zadeh, itself a major inspiration point for Sight Unseen. Abbade used to keep a studio across from Salvor's Ross Menuez, but she recently relocated to Los Angeles. Expect a full profile as soon as we manage to catch up with her (not to mention one on Menuez).
Necklaces: Also overdue for a story is up-and-comer Lauren Manoogian, whose paper-wrapped paperclip necklaces I first noticed at Apartamento magazine’s pop-up shop during the Milan Furniture Fair in 2009. Her Manu line has since launched with a new line of edgier metal and leather necklaces that are equally covetable.
Miniatures: I am not a collector of tiny furniture. Nor did I have a dollhouse growing up. But all the same, I have always been taken with seeing inanimate objects shrunk down to a small scale, whether in the dioramas I loved constructing for school projects or the Thorne Miniature Rooms I used to go nuts for on family trips to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Miniatures: I’ve been toying with the idea of teaming up with an interior-designer friend to curate and style something I like to call “The Ugly Dollhouse,” where we purchase hideous dollhouse furniture from around the web and turn it into a kind of pint-sized house of design horrors. Maybe in the spring...
Machines and industrial landscapes: My best flea-market find ever was a set of three black-and-white poster-sized photos of industrial machines I bought for $12 in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, when I was 19. In a similar genre are images of 1960s supercomputers, which I would collect if I ever came across any. Above is the Elea 9003, Ettore Sottsass’s first design for Olivetti after joining the company in 1957. It reminds me of a patchwork quilt.
Machines and industrial landscapes: I love that back then, you had to build this massive hulking metal monster in order to, relatively speaking, add 1 + 1. Now that bioscience is supposedly going to be the next technological revolution, I can only imagine what life is going to look like when I’m 80. Before I die, I would like to be able to watch someone spontaneously regenerate a body part right in front of my eyes.
Machines and industrial landscapes: That said, I’m very much inspired by artists like Edward Burtynsky, who manage to create poetic and beautiful images that also capture the dark side of technology’s impact on the living world. His photograph above is from a 2005 series documenting China’s largest steel factory in Shanghai.
Machines and industrial landscapes: Charles Sheeler — whom I first learned about in high school art history class — also captured the power of industry in amazing paintings and photographs in the early half of last century, but he was actually hired by Forbes magazine and Ford Motor Co. to make it (and by extension, America) look good.
Swimming pools: It’s a wonder I’m a Taurus and not a Pisces, because I’m magically drawn to swimming pools, both aesthetically speaking and for swimming/lounging purposes. While this is just a random image with a nice geometry that I found on the web, Julius Schulman did capture some pretty lovely pool scenes in his photographs of Case Study homes, particularly Pierre Koenig’s Stahl house.
Geodes: Yes, geodes are trendy right now, but this is one instance where I’ve liked them since I was a child more because I was a nerd than a trendsetter. When I was young I collected rocks, and I had a purple geode I loved to just pick up and stare at. (I also had a rock tumbler, and I tried to grow crystals from a box a few times, too.) Now I have new geodes, and one set into a pendant that I found in a crappy rock shop in Barcelona for 3 Euros. I highly endorse decorating with them — plants are not the only things that can bring a natural element indoors.
Tatiana Trouvé: The detailed paintings and room installations of the Italian-born, Paris-based artist Tatiana Trouvé are supposed to make you feel a bit ill-at-ease — they’re essentially bizarre unoccupied interiors from a parallel world, where the furnishings are at once familiar and all wrong. But that slightly haunting, absurd, or off-kilter feeling really moves me, and it influences my taste in design as well. The Surrealists took the idea to an extreme of high camp and shock value, but some of the most skilled contemporary designers — like Maarten Baas, for instance — know how to harness it to make beautiful objects.
Tatiana Trouvé: Another Trouvé piece I love is “360 points towards infinity,” from a show earlier this year at the Migros museum in Zurich. In it, hundreds of hanging pendulums are seemingly frozen at various points in mid-swing. Try to imagine encountering it in person.
Cable ties: Only in the past two years have I been awakened to the practical genius of the cable tie, one of those simple, overlooked design triumphs whose full range of possibilities only designers themselves seem to be aware of. It started when a mechanic in Berlin used one to fix a difficult-to-reach detachment in my bike frame in lieu of charging me to dismantle and rebuild the whole thing, and then I began to notice cable ties in use all around me: to rig lighting, to connect two things, etc.
Cable ties: And then there’s the Ultra-Conductive table by one of Sight Unseen’s favorite design talents, Brooklyn’s Paul Loebach, which uses extremely long cable ties to lash copper tubes together into a geometrically stable base. He designed the table for my “McMasterpieces” exhibition during ICFF two years ago, and then I commissioned a coffee table for my living room. I admit that I’m secretly worried one of the ties will snap someday, but a year in, and they’re doing just fine. Amazing.