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 (1987) 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.
Ladies & Gentlemen on Scandinavian Design Gallery: “The ’80s is typically disregarded as a period of excess and gaudiness. The reality is that it was an extremely creative time and books like this give a better view of the variety and thought that went into design back then. Granted, there was ridiculous over-the-top stuff happening, but there were many simple, smart, restrained pieces too. Overall, we admire how expressive and artistic the profession was at the time. The ‘rules’ of design and art had already been thrown out the window, so designers were truly free to explore from more angles than ever before.
“Possibly the best part of this book is the styling — we find ourselves chuckling nostalgically on almost every page. Like the designs themselves, the photo styling is all-over-the-map creative: draped fabrics, crazy patterns, foggy atmospheric effects, random props… It really takes us back to our childhood and has us thinking we need a fog machine at our next photoshoot.”
After Jean Lee met Dylan Davis while studying industrial design at the University of Washington, and after a string of successful school collaborations led them to start dating, the two of them did a semester abroad together in Rome. “Those were the good times,” laughs Lee. “We saw all these independent studios there, and designers working more as artists, and it was really inspiring for us. That wasn't happening at all in Seattle.” And so after they graduated in 2005, Lee went on to work for a messenger bag company based in Philadelphia, while Davis joined the team at Henrybuilt. They did a small trade selling vintage finds on Etsy for awhile, and eventually started repurposing those objects into new designs as a hobby. But what finally led them to join forces as Ladies & Gentlemen in 2009 were the first signs that they might be able to find in Seattle what they experienced in Rome after all: Not only had studios like Iacoli & Mcallister and Grain begun to flourish by making and selling their own work, their new coalition Join was gathering together local designers to collaborate and exhibit together. “Jamie Iacoli asked us to contribute to a show, and were like ‘What the hell? Let’s do it!’”
Just walking into Bodega Gallery in Philadelphia’s Old City and being greeted by one of its five cool, young founders — or browsing its online archive of past exhibitions, which is peppered with names like Sam Falls and Travess Smalley — you could easily file it alongside similar edgy, high-brow art establishments in cities like L.A., New York, or Paris. And then you find yourself conversing with a few of said cool, young founders (all of them artists themselves and graduates of Hampshire College), and you hear them say things like “stuff is for sale if people want to buy it, but that’s not the driving force,” or “this is just a space — everything happens around it, and nothing happens at it,” and you realize that the economics of a place like Philly can be even more freeing for projects like this than you’d imagined. Bodega really is just a space, one that's run by Elyse Derosia, Ariela Kuh, Lydia Okrent, James Pettengill, and Eric Veit, but where it feels like almost anything could happen.
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.