How would you describe your style? Is it Scandinavian, Mid-century, Transitional, Farmhouse, Contemporary or some hybrid of a bunch of styles? Many of us prefer a mix of styles and are not rigid in just one aesthetic and fusing objects from different styles into one cohesive design can be tricky. Luckily, there are a few pieces of chameleonic design that can help us meet this challenge. When I say “chameleonic design”, I’m referring to pieces of furniture that can morph into the style of its surroundings. This is a pretty neat trick to pull off because most furniture items have a predominant style and when you combine that style with that of another, it can easily look like a mess of ideas and not a unified statement. This brings me to an iconic piece of design that can pull a lot of weight in the area of fusing styles, the Hoffman Chair a.k.a. 811 Chair by Ton.
This is gold standard chameleonic design in my opinion. It looks equally Mid-century, Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Hamptons Coastal, Rustic, Transitional and even Industrial in context. Its classic lines, modern feel and natural cane seat and seat back come together in a sculptural form that works in almost any environment. Okay, so it doesn’t really work in a glitzy glam style but if we’re honest, you shouldn’t be doing that in your home anyway! Most people who try to get Glitzy-glam usually end up with tacky-overkill but I digress. For the majority of styles that the populous will pursue, the 811 chair will be beautiful and right on message.
Designed by Austrian architect Josef Hoffman in collaboration with Josef Frank in 1925, the 811 chair is a modernist synchrony of the arts & crafts style influence and industrial age technology into a timeless piece of design. It is this chair’s incredible design adaptability that makes it a great investment. The trick to this chair is not only in its form but also it’s color or finish. Selecting the right finish for this chair can transform its style statement almost magically before your eyes. If your space changes, it changes and that’s the kind of chameleonic design that I think you need to know about.
In my new life, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the many signs and symbols presented to me and the latest sign has come in the form of a wall lamp designed by Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier. Three months ago, I quit my sales job at a prestigious Scandinavian furniture design company and my partner and I packed up and moved into what is quickly becoming my dream apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York. I say “becoming” my dream apartment because New York City rental prices can disillusion even the most ambitious Capricorn like myself from fantasizing too hard about dream apartments here. Still, I’ve loved my last apartment in Harlem where I lived for 11 years and where I thought I’d never leave. That was until COVID happened and changed our lives, our needs and most significantly, my perspective. There were many signs and symbols leading up to this move and I followed them right to this paradise hidden in plain sight.
It has now been three and a half weeks since we moved into our new place. Now that the aches and exhaustion are wearing off from our frantic day and night sprint to unpack, put away, buy furniture, build furniture, return furniture, repeat, I can start to feel the place awaken into life. The birth process of this apartment was strenuous but now that all the nasty slime has been cleaned away, the space lays before me like a new naked life ready to be molded and shaped from whatever I give it. Much like a newborn, this place has its own personality but it’s up to us to nurture it through design.
Enter Charles-Édouard Jeanneret alternatively known as Le Corbusier. He’s been dead for 56 years now so he didn’t physically enter but entered my life did his influence so. Typically, my YouTube search history is a mélange of interior and architecture design related videos that include home tours, profiles on designers and architects as well as various automotive and smart home tech reviews. Since we decided to move and actually found a place, my YouTube searches have been heavy on the home tours in an effort to titillate my design brain. In these videos is where Le Corbusier has been lurking, whispering to me quietly from the background trying to get my attention. It kind of sounded like “psst, psst, dude I made a lamp and you’re going to want it”. Yes, this is how I imagine the French architect sounded when he spoke, isn’t it obvious!
Now, I know the works of Le Corbusier, like Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer are not rare appearances in modern designed homes but for all the Le Corbusier classics I’m familiar with, his Lampe De Marseille was not one of them. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know he made lighting that you can buy. I’ve known about his work with light, color and perspective in architecture since I was a student attending the High School of Art & Design in New York. I’ve marveled at edifices like his organic but brutal Colline Notre-Dame du Haut (1950–1955) and have long been seduced by the body-morphic lines of Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s LC4 Chaise Lounge (1927–28); I just haven’t found the $5,000 dollar modern entrance fee to lounge on one at my leisure.
But here was the Lampe De Marseille, appearing quietly but noticeably in at least two random house tours I watched on the Never Too Small and The Local Project YouTube channels. Coincidently (maybe), both homes were in Australia, one large and one small and neither video focused any one shot on the lamp itself, I just sort of caught glimpses of it in the background and it stuck with me. At first sight, I thought, “wow that’s a beautiful lamp, I wonder where he got that” but being that the apartment was in Sydney, Australia, I just assumed it was some local furniture brand that I couldn’t get access to here in the U.S. Then, about a week later I clicked on another home tour on YouTube, this one done by The Local Project channel on a beautiful architect designed home in Australia and again, I caught a glimpse of that same lamp in the background. “Oh shit, there’s that lamp again” I thought, “okay, now I need to know what it is” and off to Google I went. I searched “cone wall lamp”- nothing, “up/down cone shaped wall lamp” – nada, “designer cone shaped dual light cone lamp” – zilch. How the hell do I find this thing that apparently all these architects know about and I don’t? Google Lens for the win! I used my Google app to scan a freeze-framed clip from YouTube and voila, Lamp De Marseille by Le Corbusier!
Not only was I shocked to learn that it was a lamp designed by Le Corbusier in 1949 for his Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, France but also that Nemo USA was producing it and I could actually buy it. This discovery felt the same way it feels when I find an album I’ve never heard from one of my favorite musicians and it slaps! This lamp slaps! It comes in two sizes, the regular and the mini. The regular version has an 180º arm that features two additional joints for flexibility and can stretch out to reach 65″ from the wall (use a stud…stud!). The multi-directional double cone shade is spun from aluminum and can cast light up and down with a 340º swivel. This lamp celebrates Le Corbusier’s love of pure and organic forms and is wonderfully democratic in its flexibility. The lines are classic, yet modern and dare I say futuristic even for today. It’s the lighting and the main performance piece all in one and my god is it sexy.
This lamp works symmetrically or asymmetrically over a sofa, stretched long over a dining table, perched dramatically over a staircase like a 19th century gas lamp or just nekkid on a bare wall all by it’s lonesome being the bad mid-century post war illuminated bitch that it is.
I’ve been paying attention to the signs and symbols presented to me lately and not only has this light been whispering to me through YouTube but it’s dimensions, flexibility and function are exactly what we need to stretch long over our new dining room table. I have to have it and you should know about it. At nearly $1,700 dollars it ain’t cheap though but, it’s history, it’s beautiful and it’s a sign I’m going to pay attention to; just as soon as I can get these coins together!
I’m a lover of design, all design, sometimes even bad or weird design but also, I have a profound love and respect for designers. These are the brave people who do the miraculous work of objectifying intangible ideas into tangible objects of desire or disdain. It is my respect for these designers that creates tension between my dislike for the knockoffs of their work (often mislabeled as “designer dupes”) and my belief that great design should be democratic and accessible to all.
In my mind, I’m developing a clear distinction between a “designer dupe” and a knockoff. Designer dupes are objects that have been influenced or inspired by another design in style, material, scale but are not near exact copies of that original design meant to deceive unknowing eyes. Knockoffs are just that, near exact copies of another design meant to deceive our eyes. You’ve seen all the knock-offs of the Eames Lounge Chair and the Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair online for a fraction of the original price. I mean, the original Herman Miller produced Eames chair starts at $5,000, how is that you can buy the copy online for $800 bucks?
Yes, I know, part of the price is related to the name and the caché but even that is worth something and more of the price is related to the materials and the craftsmanship. There are even whole companies like France & Sons devoted to selling cheap copies of influential designs. I have a problem with this because it’s not design, it’s forgery. A designer dupe can have clear inspiration in its form but should also be unique enough to stand on its own as an individual piece of design. I say all of this in reference to one of the loveliest chairs/designer dupes I’ve seen in a while, the Ikea FRÖSET Chair.
Clearly, this chair has some influence from Charles and Ray Eames’ Molded Plywood Lounge Chair (LCW) from Herman Miller but it’s not a copy.
This chair, designed by Sarah Fager and Henrik Preutz, is gorgeous and definitely has its own identity. The rounded seat back and seat evoke a similar molded shape as the LCW but done uniquely with its own distinct form. The scale is also similar to the LCW but the Ikea chair is slightly taller and narrower in dimension. Most importantly, the FRÖSET Chair shares the same low to the floor and sculptural play with wood that the LCW does but at a much more accessible price point ($99). The designers achieve this without trying to trick your eye into thinking it’s an LCW. The FRÖSET chair is simply a beautiful sculptural moment that stands on its own in design and you should definitely know about it.
Why is it so fucking hard to find a small dining table that gets big? This is what both my partner and I have been saying for more than three years now while searching for an apartment sized table that expands to fit eight people and shrinks to seat four. We were convinced after two years that this table just did not exist affordably and beautifully. We searched all the retail staples both online and offline and finally came to the conclusion that we must be the only people in all of America who need a smallish table under 48″ wide that grows up to 65″ or 70″ wide for occasional dinner parties. This realization annoyed me but I accepted it and let it go. My partner Vinny, however, did not. Once we decided to move and found a place, he reignited our quest to find the perfect small to big, mid-century or mid-century style dining table. Once again, we were shooting blanks. We did find some vintage tables that worked but they were um, very expensive to say the least. The closest we got was the round expandable Ventura table at Room & Board but honestly for the price, it wasn’t an exact match for us.
One night while I was feverishly unpacking and Vinny was feverishly online searching for furniture, he found himself back on Etsy, a place we’d been before with no luck. He said “Um Clif, I think I might have found something” I didn’t break stride as I’ve been disappointed before. He brought his computer to me and said “what do you think of this table?”. I took a look at this beautiful teak table with tapered legs and said “wow, it’s gorgeous but how small is it and how big does it get?” To my surprise it started pretty small and expanded pretty big. Not wanting to get too excited I asked for the price to which he responded “$650 and free shipping to New York”. I nearly fainted into a box of flatware. What was even better is that the table was an hour and a half upstate in Gardiner, New York and we could schedule an appointment to see it. I never said “book it” so confidently in my life.
The day of our appointment we took a leisurely Sunday drive through the Hudson Valley to get to Gardiner. We arrived onto the most beautiful piece of property with a winding drive leading up to a barn style garage with open doors revealing an impressive collection of beautiful Danish modern furniture. If this is your style, this is your heaven. The window into the space above the garage revealed two Louis Poulsen PH5 pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling letting me know that we were in the right place. We were greeted by the owner Steve and his partner who was busy oiling a dresser and he showed us to the table which was assembled and displayed on a rug. I don’t know if it was the table or the environment but I was smitten. It was an imported Danish modern extendable dining table with two leafs on either end. The table was made in the 60’s and had slight imperfections that factored into the lower price. I loved everything about this table from the teak wood, to the gently tapered round legs to the simple operation of the expansion, sold! After agreeing on the table, we had a brief stroll around their inventory, absolutely lusting over the Danish modern dressers, desks, chairs, nightstands, wardrobes, everything! We left there feeling like the luckiest and most clever people having found these guys. It was a Sunday and they agreed to deliver to us in New York for free on Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning came and 10:15am they were at our door, table in tow and 15 minutes later, they were gone, perfection!
We’re in love with our table and cannot stop looking at it and caressing it when we walk by. We love knowing it’s old, it’s Danish, it’s imperfect and it’s ours. If you’re in New York, make an appointment and take the ride, they’re not that far out, geographically that is. If you love Danish Modern furniture from the mid-century, you need to know about Far Out Finds, period.
What’s so damn special about Mid-Century modern design? I mean, why does this style prevail to this day when we’re nearly to the middle of the next century? Why do names like Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Joseph Eichler and R.M. Schindler elicit wide smiles, from so many modern design enthusiasts and um, Tesla drivers? How many major stores have you been to that are entirely dedicated to selling originals, copies or new pieces styled from the 1970’s, 80’s, or 90’s? I’ll bet you that it’s probably zero, okay, maybe Raymour and Flanigan and Bob’s Discount Furniture are stuck in 1996 but even they have a mid-century inspired collection. So, what was so great about the 50’s?
Well, in my opinion, it’s the last time we collectively had a new idea in American interior design.
The War at Home
Sometimes the brightest ideas come from the darkest places. In the period between 1939 and 1945 much of the world was in the midst of our second world war; it was our deadliest war, which saw the demise of more than 80 million people worldwide. This physically, emotionally, and economically taxing battle left those back home to contemplate what life would be like in post-war America.
In 1945, Editor of Arts & Architecture Magazine, John Entenza, was entertaining these thoughts in the editorial halls of his publication alongside some of the world’s budding architectural giants. Architects like Richard Neutra, Charles Eames and Ralph Rapson were among the group of architects who debated what would become the post-war home. The intellectual volley between one visionary and another along with the general public conversation about life after the war instigated one of the largest and most daring industrial experiments ever commissioned by a private publication to explore modern home design.
These experiments became known as the Case Study program. In this program, Arts and Architecture magazine commissioned the design and construction of eight homes in Southern California by eight nationally known architects to explore new styles, new methods of building, and the newest construction materials to create attainable, livable and repeatable homes for the average American home buyer. The game was set and the specifics of the program were laid out in an announcement made in the magazine.
In the January 1945 issue of Arts & Architecture, John Entenza announces the Case Study program and details the conditions and expectations for this experiment. He writes:
“We hope to be able to resolve some part of that controversy now raging between those who believe in miracles and those who are dead set against them. For average prospective house owners the choice between the hysterics who hope to solve housing problems by magic alone and those who attempt to ride into the future piggy back on the status quo, the situation is confusing and discouraging. There it occurs to us that the only way in which any of us can find out anything will be to pose specific problems in a specific program on a put-up-or-shut up basis. We hope that a fairly good answer will be the result of our efforts.”
Arts & Architecture Magazine’s Case Study program would commission the work of influential architects like Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Charles Eames, Pierre Koening and Richard Neutra to name a few. This began a major exploration into what would be the most idyllic post-war American home life. These experiments were just the beginning of the redefinition of residential architecture as exterior studies brought about interior innovation and a contemporary modern style emerged.
Form Follows Function
In my view, the Case Study program was instrumental in not only advancing the exploration into modern post-war architecture but in parallel, the advancement of interior design. Architects began to apply the same set of criteria to the design of the furniture they used in the design of their homes. How will this be used? Who will be using it? How comfortable does it have to be? How much visual and physical space does it take up? Perhaps some of the most important questions became, what materials would be used and how would it be constructed. All these questions, along with war-time restrictions led many architects like Charles Eames and his wife and partner Ray to explore materials like plastic, fiberglass and the malleability of ply-wood.
Towards the end of the 1940s, Eero Saarinen, a good friend and partner to Charles Eames, began exploring the development of a chair that achieved its comfort from its shell design and not merely the plushness of its seat cushions. He was challenged by his long-time friend, designer Florence Knoll to design a big chair that felt like a basket full of pillows and was comfortable enough to curl-up in. In 1948, Eero Saarinen, designed the now iconic, Womb Chair which was a masterful study into how the form of the chair follows its function for comfort. Explorations and creations like these changed home design dramatically and left an indelible mark on how we design and live today.
Contemporary Now or Contemporary Then?
Let’s not forget that Mid-Century modern design was not referred to as mid-century during the mid-century! At that time, it was referred to as contemporary design because it was the design of the time. That’s what contemporary design is, the design of the present time. It just so happened that much of the contemporary design of the late 40’s to early 60’s outlasted the many styles that followed.
So what’s the contemporary style of today in 2021 and why hasn’t anything thus far been as generationally sticky as the stuff from the 50’s? In my view, it’s because while we’ve had many style changes since then, we haven’t seen a collective shift in thought. That is, until right now. I believe we are entering into the first significant shift in collective design thinking about the home since the late 40’s and I’m glad about it.
With governments and economies upside down, populations on the rise and ecosystems on the breaking brink, there’s a new focus on reusability and sustainability. There’s increasing consideration on the where, how and with what our things are made. Globally, interior space is decreasing inversely with home prices and more and more people are living transient lifestyles.
How does interior design reflect these times? You see it in the rapid development of modular furniture and modular homes, that is, furniture and spaces that can change as you change. Sofas and shelving that can flip, rotate, expand and shrink to your changing environment. This means we are starting to not only think about furniture that is beautiful and functional but also about how it changes over time and how we can reuse it in new and different spaces. This question alone is one about sustainability because it asks how we keep our things longer and how do we make them work harder?
A New Era
I define this new era of contemporary design as the “Mod Modern” era or “Mod Mod” if you’re that guy. Now of course all modern roads lead back to the 50’s and modularity is not an entirely new thought. Luminaries like George Nelson explored modularity in the past but never before has it become necessary. Every major retailer from Ikea to Design Within Reach features modular furniture as it has become a major selling point for furniture investment.
Companies like Civil Furniture and Floyd are building entire brands on furniture that’s beautiful, high-quality and adaptable to any space. These companies are also thinking about their environmental impact and injecting fair and sustainable processes throughout their supply and distribution chains.
As we are again, in a post-war “ish” America, our dark times are influencing some major changes in how we think and live. Droughts in places like California are forcing us to rethink how we consume and as cities grow, we must often consider the practicality of moving before the beauty of the design. Modular, flexible design is a concept that will continue to influence future generations no matter what new style emerges and that is why I think we are at another defining point in design history.
Designers of the mid last century set the stage for this kind of open design thinking and designers of today will draw the blueprints.
As an early twenty-something, night school college student at The Fashion Institute of Technology back in 2007, I was already well on my way to jadedness. Still hopeful about my future and potential prospects, I was otherwise bored to death about most things. The people in my circle were mostly starting to seem like clones of one another and the diameter of that circle showed no signs of radical expansion.
It was the beginning of my fall semester and I, an Advertising and Marketing major, walked into my branding 101 class at 6:00pm on a Thursday evening, tired from working all day and praying the professor knew more than I did, or was at least entertaining enough to keep me awake until 8:30pm.
There, in this class of mostly other twenty-somethings sat this older gentleman with all white hair tossed and curled, wearing all black accented by dark violet low-top Dr. Martens. I thought to myself “that’s unusual, oh well maybe he’s observing the class or getting a degree late in life”, I turned my attention away and carried on with trying to stay alert. The professor, about whom I remember no details at all, came in, explained the basics of something I’d been doing professionally for two years at that point and I struggled to look interested until 8:30.
Fast forward to two weeks later and that older gentleman is still in the class. I noticed but wasn’t shocked as it seemed to affirm that he was probably pursuing a degree and not a member of the administration observing our professor’s performance. The professor announced that there would be a group project and he will be assigning us to teams. “Great!” I thought, “just what I fucking need, a night school group project to work on after an 8-hour work day”. The professor assigned four people to each group except there was an odd number of people so our group got five; the odd man in was none other than the older gentleman I’d wondered about. He introduced himself as Barry Wine and after an awkward assigning of roles, we all began to discuss ideas. I don’t remember the project and it’s not really important but what was interesting is that all the ideas that Barry kept offering were completely unlike the run of the mill ideas that we were passing around. Everything was just a bit more wild and unconventional and I kept thinking “how does his brain even think of these things?”.
At the end of the class I walked up to Barry and said “I don’t mean to pry but I’m just really curious; are you pursuing a degree? Why are you in this class? He replied “Oh, oh no, I’m just trying to learn a little more about branding so I’m taking this class”. “Ah” I replied, “I totally get it, that’s cool. Can I ask what you do?”. Barry looked me in my eyes and with a soft smile he said “when you get home tonight, Google me”. My bottom lip slightly dropped in a bit of shock and I said “oh, okay, yeah, i’ll um do that” and we walked out of class and parted ways.
So, I Googled him, anxiously anticipating what I might find that would elicit such a mysterious invitation from the white haired man in my branding class. Up came article after article from the New York Times to Town & Country magazine profiling Barry Wine as a legend and icon of the restaurant and food business. These articles were discussing his apparently extraordinarily influential restaurant, The Quilted Giraffe which shuttered its doors in the early 90’s. Barry and his restaurant were lauded as beacons of the food business and the NYT even profiled his homes in Upstate New York. I couldn’t believe what I was reading in part because of how I came to find the information and second because I was a major foodie and this guy knows and loves food at the highest level, it was fascinating.
The next week, after class was over, I went back to Barry and said “so I Googled you”, Barry with that same soft smile replied “Oh yea?”. I told him all the things I found and that I had one-million questions. He laughed and said “why don’t we go grab a drink and I’ll tell you all about it”. We walked out of the building and Barry suggested we go to his place as he lived nearby in Chelsea. I was a bit reluctant because I didn’t know him and it was Chelsea after-all so this could end poorly but, it was raining and I oddly trusted him. I was not prepared for what I was about to see.
We walked a few blocks south and a few blocks west to this massive luxury building complex which was impressive enough on its own. We walked in, Barry being greeted enthusiastically by the doorman, we got into the gold plated elevator and Barry hit “PH” and we zoomed to the top floor. Okay, now my expectations were set for some fancy smancy, luxurious penthouse apartment but as we turned the key to his apartment, that’s not quite what I saw. As I entered into what was essentially a large studio apartment house sitting on the roof of this building, my jaw became permanently locked in the open position and my eyes began moving around my eye sockets in a wonderment I’m not sure Disney could provoke.
I didn’t know where to look first. There were paintings and art everywhere, naked mannequins draped in wire and bejeweled with trinkets and his handmade jewelry. There were mannequins everywhere, on the floor, the walls and even hanging from the ceiling. There were mirrors smeared with graphic notes written in lipstick, very expensive classic mid-century furniture adorned with wild fabrics in colors of chartreuse and violet. Everything seemed expensive and nothing seemed pampered, this place was lived in. Everything was random and not random all at the same time, curated is not even the word. There were books, oh boy were there books. There were books on top of books, organized in the most eccentric of ways, Barry’s face even appeared on the spines of a sequence of books. There was color and light, glimmer and sparkle, texture and depth everywhere I looked. His bed rested in the center of the apartment on a platform made from Japanese bento boxes he kept from his restaurant. I mean, who would think to save something like that and then use it for this purpose?
My eyes couldn’t find a resting place no matter where I turned and I didn’t want them to. Every step deeper into this magical space revealed some eye candy, brain candy, questions upon questions rushed into my brain, pushing out the last ten questions about the last ten things. This place looked like the inside of Barry’s brain and I hadn’t even seen the giant wrap-around roof terrace yet. I probably spent the first 15 minutes in his home roaming about without uttering a single word.
Barry offered me a drink and I needed one. We sat down like we were old friends and I basically said “start from the beginning”. This began the most interesting friendship with a man, I learned to admire and respect and who has done more to inspire me creatively than any other single entity I can distinguish, including the eight years I’d spent in art schools. Over the next few years, I experienced wild parties with captains of industries, experimental projects together and fantastic dinners. Barry was my pal, I was in awe of him.
To give you another quick example of the depth of this guy’s reach, FIT was honoring the work of the legendary David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group during a large evening ceremony one night. I left school that night and texted Barry to see what he was up to and he replied “come over, I’m having a party”. When I arrived, I emerged into a packed house with gorgeous models serving food from trays and I walked on to Barry’s terrace to find David Rockwell himself grilling exotic mushrooms over charcoal. This was the kind of thing that happened all the time!
Fast forward to today and Barry is no less the creative genius he was more than 10 years ago. His homes have gone through changes as the inside of his brain shifts from idea to idea. He has given up the additional studio space on the first floor of his building he used to take the overflow of his handmade jewelry work and provide him space for his larger than life paintings, sculptures and art installations.
Barry is really like no other, his home is a living, breathing organism that changes constantly as it is a direct reflection of the right side of Barry’s brain. He’s a lawyer, turned chef, turned painter, sculptor, mixed media artist, turned jewelry maker and that’s just what I know of at the time of this article. Barry defines reinvention. Between his home and office you will find some of his most radical creations from abstract paintings to wild and unconventional jewelry to massive sculptures made to symbolize the “notorious Russia pee-pee tape”. This is a glimpse into his rooftop home and his ground level office/studio although we could not possibly capture all there is to show you in this post.
I’m a lucky guy. I get to share with you a little story about my friend Peter Levinson and his lovely wife Robbin. Their story takes place on a fairly quiet street a few steps away from an even quieter cemetery in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn, NY. Their home is a red-bricked row home adorned with beautifully weathered cerulean wooden garage doors and charming yet distinguishing blue and white striped retractable window awnings.
Here in this home live two people who have not only been life mentors but design mentors as well. I owe this entire site to Peter as he has single-handedly helped to develop my understanding and appreciation for all things design. Without him, I might not know Bob’s Furniture from Le Corbusier or Helvetica from Times New Roman; this is the crux of the very special gift that Peter has bestowed upon me. I met Peter seventeen years ago and he became a key component to making me who I am today.
While in my sophomore year at the High School of Art & Design in 2004, my school partnered with software developer Adobe and the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) to create the Adobe/AIGA mentoring program. The goal was to partner a select group of high school arts students with mentors who were working in the field they aspired to work in. At the time, I had dreams of becoming a prolific graphic designer and so I was paired with Peter Levinson who had been running his own graphic design agency out of his Brooklyn home for about fifteen years. Admittedly, as a seventeen-year-old kid from Queens, I had no idea what I was going to talk about or do with a 40 something year-old man with a wife and kid. Surely, he felt the same way when learning of our pairing. Little did we both know that our pairing would continue on for the next seventeen years of our lives and have an exponential impact on my life.
We began to meet once a week, after school, for lunch or coffee and we’d just walk and talk. I talked about me, he talked about him, I asked a lot of questions about his job, art and design and he did his best to cultivate meaningful answers. We went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, The MOMA and most importantly The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in which I later became very involved.
I had my first Polish meal with Peter at Neptune, my first cappuccino at Café Reggio, and my first cold hot chocolate at De Roberti’s in the East Village. I loved the village and on our many after school treks around town, we would often start there and begin what was essentially neighborhood walking tours. While we walked and talked, Peter would point out interesting New York architecture, funky typefaces on old signs, and local institutions like the New York Central Art Supply store that had been in business for decades. We would sometimes duck into furniture stores where my eyes would light up as he enlightened me on Eames chairs, Nelson clocks, and Noguchi tables and lamps. He exposed me to a world I instantly connected with and not only opened my eyes but, changed my eyes. I’ve never looked at any physical form the same since.
Peter and Robbin’s Brooklyn abode effortlessly reflects an easy, quiet and non-conformist artsy of a laid-back Brooklyn family with a truly developed style. The space has air as well as an air. I describe it as quiet artful non-fuss elegance, Robbin describes it as “a reaction against French Provincial furnishings!”
“A wonderful soundtrack for their lives.”
Peter and Robbin are a musical pair. Robbin fiddled with the mandolin for awhile, while Peter gets on with his guitars. Their son Matt is quite musical as well, which makes them quite the musical family. Throughout their home, the sound of the guitar adds a wonderful soundtrack to their lives..
“A seal about sea and a dog about land.”
Selkie is the Orcadian dialect word for “seal” and is rooted in Orkney Folklore about mythical creatures that appear to be seals in water but take a human form on land. Selkie’s smooth somewhat iridescent fur is indeed seal-like making it quite probable that she is a seal about sea and a dog about land.
The very vintage kitchen is a mix of charm, color, history and old plumbing for the family and so, it’s slated to be renovated in the near future. I will personally miss this staple blue hued cove of culinary development.
Bed, Bath and Beyond
Sleeping above your office is surely the way to the top!
The second level of the home is an amplified minimalism where the functions of sleeping, cleansing and separating from others take center stage. A vintage bathroom with a very necessary skylight and an uber retro shower “room” continue the flow of charm.
A Brooklyn Botanical Backyard
An organic source of pride and joy for Peter and Robbin is their backyard garden. Evidence of their shared love for horticulture grows green right out of the ground in the form of Ferns, Grasses, Hollyhocks and Joe-Pye weed among others. The garden reflects the purposeful minimalism seen in the interior; manicured but not overly so. It’s a great spot to catch some rays, play some chords, sip some tea and breathe some air.
And The Living’s Easy…
Peter and Robbin are great examples of how style is your own, style is developed and how style can be easy when you have a partner that fits your style. I continue to learn a great deal from these two as my phone calls never go unanswered and my questions never go undiscussed. Being a mentor is about being there for someone, providing guidance and example. Peter has done this and so much more over the years and continues to remind me that life isn’t easy but life is good!