Street Seens: Homage to Home Design – Predictable and “Un”
What does this unlikely cast of characters have in common?
The Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Hen, the rebirth of Metropolitan Home Magazine, champions of Universal Design, plumbing companies that fine tuned zero threshold drains, friends like Linda and Joe and their temporary need to move a wheelchair down the corridor of their spacious condo on the water, Milena and Chris building hospitality and Taiwanese art into a new home in the US, and millenials who dare to discover the rewards of elegance.
They all deserve a shout out aka homage for exemplifying what I consider some of the most needed insights that define the gifted home designer/advisor. They also illustrate why I celebrated the announcement this week that the magazine Metropolitan Home is set to return after some seven years. The sophisticated home style publication listed a number of reasons that this move is both timely and needed. Their rebirth rationale confirms many of the observations I have had over more than a decade of relationship with the worlds of home deign and luxury marketing. With that as a starting point I had to answer my own question to myself, namely what does it take to qualify as a successful creator of or supplier for a home that deserves the name home. What are the ingredients needed to turn a basic shelter into a place that facilitates and enhances life. As I set out to answer the question, the cast of characters that follows began to look less like “strange bedfellows” and more a collection of players capable of adding vital ingredients to the mix that ends by being a life-enhancing home.
No accident that the trio of porcines led the way. And be assured it was the third pig that came to mind as the hero of the piece with the other two as “object lessons” in the realm of false bargains, lack of foresight and unwillingness to look to history and unexpected sources to find workable solutions. Knowing even a little bit about wolves, the third little pig, decided to up his budget and shop for building materials that stood the best chance of being there to testify to his savvy when the “big, bad wolf” did what his kind are known to do causing the romance, glamour or as yet untried trendiness of the other options to be unmasked as short term, and basically unworkable options. Score one for Pig Three. There’s something to be said for entertaining the idea of “just in case” planning.
Besides being a model of self-reliance, the Little Red Hen won my homage for being enlightened enough to recognize that not even the best architect, designer and landscape artist can succeed in creating your home, without your input. You need to bring a solid mix of self-knowledge and experiences sad or joyful to the table when planning your home. Outsourcing has its limitations unless it also includes the honest and thoughtful ideas of the persons whose home is being designed. There’s a great deal to be said for having your home reflect you, and not just the best techniques of the people you enlist to assist you.
The executive director of the Hearst Group administering the planning and launch of Met Home identified Gen X and millenials as potential target subscribers for the magazine’s relaunch, saying, “Last year, we recognized an opportunity to create a magazine for a new audience that is becoming more and more interested in home and design—Gen X and first wave millennials. We also saw an opening for a magazine with an exclusive focus on city living and contemporary style.”
How will the redesigned product be different from its predecessor?
Newell Turner: We went back to the brand’s DNA to fashion a new magazine for a new generation. For example, features in Met Home are more about design than Decorating (with that frivolous but intimidating capital D). Today there is so much more access to great design. We believe an informed consumer is the best consumer, whether they’re shopping for themselves or working with a professional.
Turner went on to promise that the reborn magazine would focus on quick, actionable profiles on thought leaders, movers and makers doing exciting things in everything from product design and fashion to architecture, real estate, the food scene and more.
So this homage is for seeing and acting on finding readers where they really live and addressing them there. There’s a great deal to be said for recognizing that today’s reader is pretty much by definition a multitasker who doesn’t separate home design from living productively in that home.
Linda and Joe’s House along the Intracoastal
Champions of Universal Design got my attention years ago when they recognized that however much people love the ease of spaces designed to accommodate physical challenges and limitations, no one wants to trade those values for the aesthetic appeal of their homes. The good news is that because gifted design “minds” found a way to translate their ideas for increased access and safety into things of beauty. These were the practical “artists” who knew that wider doorways that could accommodate wheel chairs, and floor coverings that facilitated walkers and canes need not be sterile or institutional looking. They were the geniuses who recognized that installing shelves that reached to the top of Victorian homes’ tallest ceilings might not be a good idea for people who would rather not spend their lives on ladders; that heavy pots and pans can be replaced with ones equally attractive and much more lifter-friendly; that oven shelves can still carry the Thanksgiving turkey without demanding the skills of professional weight lifters and/or contortionists. So bravo to those who insisted that aesthetic appeal is a “must have” for successful home deign solutions.
And what about the plumbing design pioneers of the technology that liberates the home shower from the minor inconvenience of shower curtains, shower curtain liners and all their related hardware? To say nothing of the need to step up and step over the “barrier reef” of the shower entrance? Try telling the person recovering from a skiing accident, just step up and over the tub side or the high step into the home shower. And that leaves out the person who would rather not have a personal assistant dedicated to hefting him or her into range of the soothing and renewing waters of the daily shower. Let’s revisit those two less foresighted ‘little pigs” for a moment with the reminder that the initial cost of the plumbing required to achieve a shower that needs no curtain and is a barrier free zone for the wheel chair pales in comparison to the wider freedom it buys. There’s a great deal to be said for the wisdom of the old adage, “Penny wise and pound foolish.” It didn’t get recognized as a truism by accident.
My friends Linda and Joe faced and productively addressed the issue of the cost of spaciousness. When they opted to trade the space limitations of Long Island living for a home on the Intracoastal Waterway with water views on every side, they didn’t let distance from the most convenient elevator deter them when it was temporarily necessary for Joe to use a wheel chair. There are any number of options out there and like smart consumers, they reviewed and “auditioned” them to find the best solution. With the same, “look ahead before making a decision” mindset they recognized that they wanted to be in this new home for a long while and with “aging in place” as a value while condo shopping, they made sure that the home they chose had the wide doorways throughout that would accommodate any walking device or mobility aid they might require down the road. There’s a great deal to be said for recognizing what values are most important to you (in their case spaciousness was high on the list) and then being clear-sighted about the trade offs you should or should not accept to get those top options.
Chinese Scholars Table
For global professionals like Chris and Milena who had built a family and careers in Japan and Taiwan, they knew that they would one day return to the US while their children were in their pre-college years. They had moved far more than the average US family ever does and each location had left its impression on their hearts and their good taste. So when the movers brought their possessions into a new home in the US Midwest, the boxes and cartons contained a number of the treasures they had learned to love in the Far East. With Milena’s gift for graphic design, married in those global years to experience in home design, she directed the movers to pieces of art and a smaller number of pieces of furniture having evaluated them not just for their beauty but also for the “story value.”
As a docent at Taipei’s National Palace Museum she had fallen in love with the art and artifacts of the Ming Dynasty. So the choice was made to bring the Scholars Table to Michigan and then Illinois. Originally designed to accommodate the scholar’s frequent review of long, narrow scrolls of calligraphy, the table, like its family, fits perfectly into the welcoming context of an entry hall or foyer. At present it draws in visitors with a revolving group of favorite lamps or bronzes. And because its intriguing, slightly exotic beauty combines blending in with making a statement, it is a perfect illustration of the “home design philosophy” of joining design excellence to the conversation-starting potential of objects selected for their story value. There’s a great deal to be said for aspiring to make a place in the family home for the stories that family has acquired in its years of global citizenship.
Opening photo: Chinese Scholars Table