When we first met Brooklyn artist Alex P. White, it was in his role as a co-conspirator with interior designer Kelly Behun, with whom he'd created one of the most genius furniture collections in recent memory. But we've since gotten to know him as much, much more — as an interior designer and artist in his own right (whose playful project names include Playshroom and Wytchbytchru); as a designer whose latest furniture collection will debut in two weeks at Sight Unseen OFFSITE; and as the proprietor of a wonderfully specific Instagram feed, where we first stumbled upon this book in his rather extensive printed archive. When we asked him to write about Underground Interiors for our recurring From the Library column, we had no idea we'd get such a fun, deeply personal romp through its pages. If you're into conversation pits, wall-to-ceiling carpeting, elephant side tables, geometric travertine, or tubular steel, we suggest you read on in full.
There are some books that are quoted, referenced, or photographed so often in our line of work that they begin to feel like touchstones for design-world enthusiasts all over the world. The Nathalie du Pasquier–illustrated Leonard Koren bible Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement is of those such books; the late-'90s graphic-design manifesto Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist is another. But recently, another book has begun popping up no matter where we look. Esprit: The Comprehensive Design Principle — a huge, softcover paean to every design aspect of the beloved 1980s fashion brand — was published in 1989 by its founder Douglas Tompkins, but has experienced a resurgence of late in these '80s nostalgia–tinged, Memphis revival–happy times.
If there's anyone we would trust to guide us through the annals of vintage fashion literature, it's Lisa Mayock, co-founder of the sadly defunct, cool-girl label Vena Cava and now a Brooklyn-based creative consultant. So we were pretty thrilled when we sent out a call for this column a few months back and Mayock immediately responded with one of her most beloved and referenced books, BIG BIBA: Inside the Most Beautiful Store in the World. The book traces the short life of the 7-story Big Biba department store, which opened in 1973 after the fashion label's massive success as first a mail-order catalog and then a series of London boutiques.
Until about six months ago, there was only one Munari we idolized: Bruno, one of our favorite 20th century designers and design theorists. (If you haven't read Design As Art, we suggest you hop to it!) But then, one fateful day this past spring, we were wandering aimlessly around the internet when we stumbled on what is perhaps the biggest editorial coup we've scored in years, and thus began our love affair with Cleto Munari — the Italian designer, who as far as we can tell is unrelated to Bruno, commissioned a dream-team of architects like Ettore Sottsass and Peter Eisenman in the early '80s to create a jewelry collection for his eponymous company, and the project had almost no coverage anywhere on the web. We immediately snapped up a copy of the incredible out-of-print book that documented it, which we're excerpting just a small portion of here.
If there's anyone who knows a little something about calibrating the perfect pattern, it's Ellen Van Dusen. The D.C.-born fashion designer is Brooklyn's reigning queen of prints, with nine seasons under her belt as Dusen Dusen, the line for which she creates flattering basics marked by colorful fruits, stripes, curves, dots, geometrics, and the like. So it made sense when we recently learned two things about Van Dusen: one, that she studied in college the psychology of design and the brain's reaction to visual stimuli; and two, that she has a pretty incredible resource library to back that major up. On a recent visit to her Williamsburg studio, we perused her stacks, which included the massive, Todd Oldham–designed Alexander Girard monograph from a few years back and some amazing old Esprit books that we already had planned to excerpt in the coming weeks. But it was this book on Yaacov Agam, an Israeli sculptor and experimental artist known for his optical and kinetic work, that seemed to best represent Van Dusen's joyful spirit. "As a textile designer, this is a huge source of inspiration," Van Dusen admits. "I have named more than one print after Agam!" Here she tells the story of how she discovered Agam's body of work and the long-lasting effect it has had on her own.
Last summer, we ran one of our favorite stories to date: a glimpse inside an 1980s-era Scandinavian design book that Seattle designers Ladies & Gentlemen Studio had unearthed while cleaning house. We'd intended to keep going with the column — ostensibly a place where people could show off the strange, beautiful, and mostly out-of-print volumes that populated their libraries — but somehow it fizzled out. We'd been talking this summer about resurrecting it, when at the same time we found out that Joanna Williams, the LA-based owner of the Kneeland textile studio and online marketplace was opening a third branch of her multi-faceted business: a research library, where clients could comb through the curated images Williams has amassed over the years or search through books or magazines focused on graphics, textiles, decorating, and more. We'd found our first subject.
Books about mid-century Scandinavian design are a dime a dozen. Jacobsen chairs, Aalto stools, Juhl sofas — you know the drill. But if you've ever been to a design museum in Stockholm or Helsinki, you probably also know that some of the coolest objects made in the region date back to a more unexpected era: the '80s, when good things weren't just happening in Italy, believe it or not. A few months back, we spotted some examples of said amazingness on the Instagram feed of the Seattle design duo Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, which they'd noted were pulled from a vintage book they'd rediscovered while cleaning house. And so this column was born, a place for people to show off strange, beautiful, and mostly out-of-print volumes that wouldn't otherwise see the light of day. Browse selections from Scandinavian Design Gallery in the slideshow here — complete with caption text plucked from the book and sporadic Ladies & Gentlemen accompanying commentary — then let us know if you have a gem of your own to share.