Arcadia

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.
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The Mounted Life by Danielle Van Ark

It started with a dead hamster. In the late ’90s, Dutch photographer Danielle Van Ark was living in Rotterdam, reacquainting herself with the charms of the grain-eating, wheel-chasing starter pet. Her hamster expired right around the time the Beastie Boys were coming out with a single called "Intergalactic". “The cover of that single was basically a giant hamster attacking humanity, and it inspired me to have my hamster stuffed,” Van Ark says. “I found someone in a village near Rotterdam who does it, and I loved the place instantly.”
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Greece Is For Lovers in Athens

A disclaimer: Athens can be a beautiful city, with striking juxtapositions between ancient and modern architecture and sunshine on par with Los Angeles. (check out this video for proof). But when seen through the eyes of the young design trio Greece Is For Lovers, who grew up there and now keep a studio at the foot of the Acropolis, the view isn’t quite so rosy.
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Nacho Carbonell, Designer

It’s half past eight on a Wednesday evening, and in the kitchen of the Pastoor Van Ars church, a few miles from Eindhoven’s prestigious Design Academy, a long table has been set with two propane gas burners. Normally, the burners here are used to boil massive amounts of newspaper into pulp bound for the cocoon-like structures of Nacho Carbonell’s Evolution collection. But tonight the Spanish-born designer has hijacked the flames to fry up two huge paellas: chicken and pancetta for the meat-eaters, eggplant and artichokes for the vegetarians.
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Russell Whitmore, Owner of Erie Basin

Certain areas in the Northeast are generally regarded as nirvana for antique collectors: Hudson, New York; Lambertville, New Jersey; Adamstown, Pennsylvania; Brimfield, Massachusetts. Red Hook, Brooklyn, isn't one of them. But that’s where 29-year-old Russell Whitmore decided to set up shop three years ago, on a corner just a few blocks from the East River wharfs. His much-loved store, Erie Basin, specializes in Victorian- and Georgian-era jewelry, furniture, and curiosities, with a dash of 20th century thrown in.
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Iriarte Iriarte, Clothing Designers

For more than three years, the Argentinean sisters Sol Caramilloni Iriarte and Carolina Lopez Gordillo Iriarte kept a design studio on the second floor of a building in Barcelona, handcrafting an eponymous line of leather bags in relative privacy. Sol, 32, was working part-time as a set designer for films; Carolina, 25, had just finished a year apprenticing under her friend Muñoz Vrandecic, the Spanish couture shoemaker. Called Iriarte Iriarte, it was a modest operation. Then in June, fate intervened.
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Sissel Tolaas, Scent Expert

“I’m a professional provocateur,” Sissel Tolaas says between sniffles, her Norwegian accent blunted by one of the colds the artist and world-renowned scent expert often gets after maxxing out her mucous membranes. Visit her at-home laboratory in Berlin, where she concocts conceptual fragrance studies for museums and for megabrands like Coty, and the provocations begin almost immediately.
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Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators

Francesca Gavin is a London-based writer, editor, and blogger, and, like you and me, she’s a major voyeur. For her book Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators, she traveled the world, slipping inside the studios, apartments, and houses of designers, artists, photographers, stylists, curators, writers, and filmmakers to document the chaotic interiors she found there.
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Freitag’s Zurich Headquarters

When you arrive in Zürich, you arrive with a few certainties: The trams will run like clockwork, the city will be spotless, and at least a third of the population, it seems, will be carrying a Freitag messenger bag. During my weeklong stay in Switzerland this spring, the Freitag bag — with its recycled truck-tarp shell, seatbelt strap, and inner-tube edging — began to seem something like a national accessory.
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Paul Loebach at the Brimfield Antique Fair

Once or twice a year, Brooklyn furniture designer Paul Loebach gets out his straw hat and bandana, ties on a pair of crappy old sneakers, drags out his huge canvas tote, and drives up to Massachussetts, where dealers from all over the Northeast gather every spring, summer, and fall for the Brimfield Antique Show.
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Annie Lenon, Jewelry Designer

“I grew up going to pow-wows and stuff” isn’t the first thing you expect Annie Lenon to say as she’s puttering around the garden apartment and studio she shares with her boyfriend in a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. But then you recall that the 25-year-old jewelry-maker and Pratt grad hails from Bozeman, a city of 27,000 located in the southwestern corner of Montana — a state that with its prairies and badlands and Indian reservations seems downright exotic to most New Yorkers — and you realize she’s working from an entirely different reference point.
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Dror Benshetrit, Designer

This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.
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