If you run around with “designer” types as I sometimes do, a conversation often sparks up about celebrity designers and decorators. As a professional designer for three decades, I have very little respect for those self-styled, celeb-styled decorettes whose only claim to fame is their ability to smile on cue for moan-and-bicker reality TV.
The class of professional I am referring to are the ones that have made an impact in design and had influence over the trend du jour, penciling and sketching whole new ways of designing spaces that would become uniquely their own.
Certainly Elsie De Wolfe comes first to my mind. She challenged the decorating conventions of her day, reinvented how spaces were to be used and made up rules as she saw fit. Many know her as the “Mother” of decorating.
And then there was Dorothy Draper who helped inspire a generation of home improvement devotees with her 1939 book, Decorating is Fun!, subtitled "How to Be Your Own Decorator." The book was a popular diversion for house-bound wives looking for ways to "feather" their nests.
But for me, one "decorating" legend that is not remembered as much is William Baldwin, Jr., the “Father” of interior design, and the first “male” designer to achieve such fame.
Baldwin, or Billy B. as he was known to clients and friends, was a classicist, a modernist and a man of strong likes and dislikes. Not one to hold back, he was known to verbalize his disdain for the baroque and rococo, in fact,... just about anything that was stuck in the 18th Century. His pet aversions were jumble, clutter and ostentation of any kind.
In an interview he once said, “The word that almost makes me throw up is satin; damask makes me throw up.''
He was born in 1903 and studied architecture at Princeton but that only lasted two years. He then worked, unhappily he said, in his father's insurance agency, while reading everything he could find about interior decorating. By the late 1920's he had built up a decorating clientele in Baltimore and was growing quite popular among the elite.
Early on in his career, he defined a smart, dapper personal style that favored a clean-cut, hard-edged form combined with a nearly immaculate and pared-down aesthetic. He often mixed the ordinary with the exotic.
When the top decorator of the time, Ruby Ross Wood, asked Baldwin to work for her in 1935, she said she had never thought of hiring a man. In those days, all the leading decorators were women. But it was thru his successes as the leading designer during the early and mid-century that did much to open the art of decorating and the profession of design to men.
His unique style attracted celeb-clients including Cole Porter, Greta Garbo, Mike Nichols and Diana Vreeland. Probably his most notable clients were John and Jacqueline Kennedy. He had the honor to serve the President and First Lady in guiding some of the restoration of the White House during the early 1960s.
I first came to know of Baldwin when I purchased a copy of his first book, Billy Baldwin Decorates. In that book published in 1972 (I still covet my first edition copy), toward the front is a photograph of a grand entrance hall. That image of a high-styled space with a black and white checkerboard marble floor and a gleaming white painted sweeping staircase has, for me, remained the epitome of timelessness.
Increasingly he played an important role in the development of the design profession in the forties and fifties. He reflected about those times in a newspaper article, “We were the upstarts and between our younger ideas and the fabulous and growing array of fabrics, papers and colors everywhere, decorating in America was just about as emotional an art as it had ever been.”
From his first book (and a second one I also dearly covet, Billy Baldwin Remembers,) I discovered how much he liked pure cotton and fake leather, but loathed faux fireplaces and fake books, believing that books were the greatest decorative element that any room could have. Built-in bookcases, Parson-style tables, comfy chairs and sofas and a certain basic practicality were essential Baldwin staples.
One favorite quote of mine seems to sum up a lot about this dean of design and his timeless approach.
“Lately I have been thinking how comfort is
perhaps the ultimate luxury.”
I would add....comfort is also a necessity.
--Michael A Thomas, FASID, CAPS
As designers, we help our clients make certain important decisions in the design of their home. And whether that be a kitchen or a bath, one of those decisions addresses countertops since they play a significant role in the design of those spaces.
Many choices and options are available for counters and making such a decision is an important and key element and something not to be taken lightly. Certainly natural materials such as granite, stone, marble and slate are timeless choices. And man-made materials such as solid surface products that include quartz as a part of their content are wise and smart since they can provide a cleanable, virtually seamless installation.
But there are several other materials worth consideration if only for accent materials.
The first is glass. A thick, translucent slab of glass is tough, sanitary and has a pleasant tactility, while still remaining easy to clean. Available in a huge variety of colors, finish and patterns, it certainly isn't the least expensive choice but can provide a certain "glitz" to a kitchen or a bath.
It is important to use cutting boards so as not to scratch the glass but as important, keep knives razor sharp.
The most unusual alternative countertop recently introduced at EuroCucina, the trade event for kitchen and bath cabinetry, came from Italian designer Arrital, courtesy of Arpa Industriale. Referred to as a “nanotech matte material,” the Fenix NTM countertop is anti-reflective, anti-fingerprint, self-healing, and soft to the touch without being... well, soft. It felt great under our hands, and looked great.
Solid wood and wood-finished countertops have become most popular in recent years, often contrasting with or overlaid on a stone or synthetic material. Choices include everything from mahogany and ebony to light pine and even bamboo. Often paired with matching cabinetry to create a minimalist yet warm look, there is some minimal maintenance and care required to keep the counter looking fresh.
For some of us designers, stainless is nearly as played out as granite. But when combined with other materials, it can be a real standout. Stainless counters gleam under light, are pretty indestructible and make a dramatic statement. One might consider using this material on an island or perhaps at a wine bar or accent counter.
When it comes to countertop finishes, tile is pretty old school. It’s a style that’s generally beholden to a certain era or area—especially homes of the 40x and 50s.
They stand up to a lot of wear - except for minor chipping that can occur with a lot of use. In bathrooms, tile can provide a texture and a pattern that can provide an added dimension. Plan on sealing the grout on a regular basis to keep a clean look and avoid a dingy appearance.
More and more people are realizing concrete’s value for making countertops. Shapes of concrete countertops are only limited by imagination and the ability to build the forms.
With the use of color pigments and in combination with various aggregates including glass and metals, the spectrum of colors and patterns available in concrete countertops is virtually limitless. One thing to keep in mind is that concrete counters must be occasionally sealed to prevent stains. Creating a concrete counter can be labor intensive so prices are often as much as natural stones like granite and marble.
Paper.. really? Bet you never ever thought paper would make a countertop but it can be quite effective. Products made from compressed, recycled paper provides a non-porous surface and a lifetime of stain resistance since it absorbs virtually no water. The paper "matt stone-like surface" is extremely rigid and dense, lending to additional applications beyond countertops and mars may be sanded or rubbed out with an abrasive pad. We used to see these as lab counters in college and they would stand up to all sorts of abuse.
Still confused? Too many choices? Keep in mind that your choice should be just as much about the function as the visual effect. Price may influence your decision, but keep in mind that you are going to live with your choice over the years... perhaps even decades. And the price per square foot stretched out over a decade equalizes the choices we shared in this post.
And STILL CONFUSED?
We can help. Call us for a complimentary consultation and we'll help provide some direction and advice. After nearly three decades of practice, we can give you the kind of well informed guidance to make your decision the most proper and appropriate one.
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By Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS
Whether creating a residential or commercial environment, interior design always begins by establishing how a space is to function. Without defining how the interior is to work, no matter how great it looks, the space can fall short of expectations. And in those first critical steps, the designer applies their knowledge, education and experience to define how the interior is to function.
Having collected sufficient data, space planning was the next step. The new interior for the library is organized to accommodate practicality, traffic flow and storage. Fixtures, furnishings and equipment were blocked into a scaled drawing to show and demonstrate their relationship to architectural elements such as walls and columns, doors and windows.
However in the case of the interior design for the Welwood, an additional set of criteria was necessary due to the historic nature of the Class One designation by the City of Palm Springs.
REHABILITATION : A PLAN TO ADAPT AND REPURPOSE FOR THE WELWOOD
At the beginning of this design phase, it was important to refer to best practices established by national leading authorities for the design of such interiors. For this project, documents published by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior and especially the Standards for Preservation and Guidelines for Historic Interiors were essential tools.
These guidelines clearly identify four distinct paths that designers can take.
• The first is Preservation and is defined as the process of applying measures necessary to retain the furnished interior's materials and character-defining features and use them as before. Since the library had been previously been cleared of nearly all the original furnishings and fixtures, preservation was not a consideration.
• Another possible path is Restoration. That is defined as the process of depicting the form and function of a property at a particular period of time. Since the function of the space has changed dramatically from an interior once filled with books to a space that will serve as a visitor’s center hosted by the Palm Springs Board of Tourism, a secured environment for the Palm Springs Historical Society and a micro-branch of the Palm Springs Public Library providing concierge-style services, a path of restoration was not an option.
• The third path is Reconstruction. This means depicting, by means of brand new construction, the form, function, features and detailing of a non-surviving site. Since the library exists, this was not an appropriate selection.
• The final path, and the one chosen to guide the library’s design, was Rehabilitation. This is the process of creating a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or existing features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.
Based on the criteria provided by the staff of the Palm Springs Library, the Palm Springs Library Board Of Trustees and with the assistance of Mr. Kleindeinst, the vision for the interior became clear.
Once the space plan was complete and approved, the design of the furnishings was next. With the exception of the reception desk, furnishings, cabinetry and seating have been designed with clean, simple and straight lines to honor and compliment the work of the original architect, John Porter Clark. The reception desk will follow the shape and location of the original but will adapt for computers, printers, point-of-sales equipment and accessibility requirements required by the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
SYMBOLISM PLAYS A ROLE
To represent a new use of the space, an embellishment was created: a circle in a square. This design is adapted from an ancient tribal design and represents the information, education, research and knowledge to be delivered by the three stakeholders. This symbol will be used discreetly on furnishings and cabinets to reinforce the “brand” and communicate graphically the library’s new function.
LIGHTING WILL BE BOTH SPECIAL AND SUSTAINABLE
Of particular note is the energy efficient LED fixtures that will softly and quietly illuminate the space unlike the type of lighting seen in retail spaces. Hanging pendant lights were inspired by the existing coach fixtures that flank the main entry of the building.
Classic, library-styled lamps with shades made from recycled newsprint and book ends will provide the needed task light for visitors to view their tablet computers, to check emails on their smart phones or to lounge in chairs and read the numerous newspapers and magazines the library will make available.
The design solutions for the Welwood have been created to stand up to the acid test, a requirement for projects like the Welwood. While reminiscent of the past, the timeless design of the interior when opened late in 2014 will serve the needs of many types of guests, providing locals, tourists and historic researchers with a space that is comforting, inviting and memorable for now and for years to come.
About: MICHAEL A. THOMAS, FASID, CAPS
Michael is a professional interior designer with three decades of residential, commercial and hospiltality practice. He is an award winning designer, including a Presidential Citation from Florida Southern College for his contributions to the preservation of the FSC's Frank Lloyd Wright West Campus. He is the past National President of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), and is one of only 250 "Fellows" of ASID, the highest honor ASID gives to a member. In addition Michael is the co-author of the well respected book, Residential Design For Aging In Place, a "certified aging in place specialist" and founding member and current President of DAASE (the Design Alliance for Accessible Sustainable Environments).
In the first of a multi-part series for Spaces + Places, a new design magazine, interior designer and author Michael A. Thomas suggests how to bring that "spa hotel' look right to the bedroom.
For three years, I was traveling as a volunteer leader for my professional society, ASID, sometimes heading out every ten days or so to meet members, crisscrossing the country to host meetings and teachworkshops. And with all that traveling, a basic hotel room with a mini-frig, good Wi-Fi connection and a comfy bed often became a welcomed refuge for the night.
During those travels, I began to notice a distinct change in the design of hotel rooms. Spaces once decorated with overtly busy floral quilted bedspreads, matching shams and blackout drapery were giving way to plain, simple and easy to maintain materials. Sometimes bed linens were just layers of perfectly ironed sheets and pillows of various shapes and sizes.
This trend was a result of hotels switching to “spa-resorts” designed interiors complete with comforters, oversized towels, fluffy robes and toiletries with exotic names. In some higher end accommodations, basic black coffee makers were replaced with in-wall cappuccino machines, a great amenity for those who need their early morning shot of caffeine. I prefer my ice-cold diet Pepsi.
So how do you create the “spa” feel in your own bedroom without spending a fortune? Here are ten basic tips gathered together after so many days on the road to help turn your bed space to a spa resort.
(1) Get rid of all the excess color and go for a splash of white. Lots of white. Bed sheets, shams, comforters and throws in a crisp white will do more to create a “luxe” hotel room than any one thing. And if you want a “pop” of color, use a set of accent pillows with interesting weaves or patterns,… just keep it simple.
(2) Make the bed a “work of art.” Tuck and fold and tuck some more. Make sure the bed garments are neatly folded with no loose ends showing, right down to the edges of the pillowcases. And if you really want to make a statement, press and iron the top layer of the bedding. And use starch. I know it is a pain but it creates a rich, crisp look.
(3) Lots of pillows on the bed are a nice look but what do you do with layers of pillows when you are ready for bed? Instead opt for sham-style pillows with lots of loft, two for a queen, and three for a king bed. And two sleeping pillows each with pillow protectors. Not only do protectors extend the life of a pillow, they give the pillows a smoother appearance.
(4) Clear out excess clutter in the room. Minimize the accessories and art. Get rid of the stacks of year-old magazines or books you’ve been meaning to read or hide them away in a basket. And if the room needs a paint job, consider mid to deep toned neutrals with an ultra flat finish. White colors look even whiter against a background of nothing-neutrals.
(5) Give yourself a treat : purchase a new robe and towels. White or off-white of course. I prefer robes without too much bulk but they must have pockets. And I suggest oversized bath towels with plenty of size, texture and bulk. One client of mine will only have bath sheets (not bath towels) in her bath that have additional width and length.
(6) Make an investment in a fine radio, one with a connection port to charge your smart phone and that can playback your favorite tunes you have downloaded on it.
After a rough day, you’ll appreciate having your own music in the background to take your mind off the activity of the day.
(7) Put all the lighting on dimmers. Whether table and floor lamps, overhead or accent lighting, the warmth and coziness of a space will be greatly enhanced by the softer lighting. And for those bedside lamps, put them on “touch-sensitive” switches… available for less than $12.00 at the big box stores. The make it so much easier to turn them on and off without reaching up under a lampshade to find the switch.
(8) Think about the windows as you develop your plans for your own personal spa-type bedroom. For me, I like to look out to my private courtyard as much as possible so I have no window coverings other than roll down, damask-patterned sunscreens.
But for some of my clients, they must have total or near darkness. Roller shades with black out shading behind or sliding panels of blackout materials work really well and reduce the need for yards of dust-collecting drapery fabric.
(9) There should be at least one chair in a bedroom area… and size matters here. Think about how you might use the seating. If a chair is only a space to “store” the extra bedding overnight, you probably have too much bedding. Consider one good stiff chair, ideally near the closet to put on shoes. Space permitting, and if you like to read someplace other than the bed, select a fully upholstered chair with a “pillow” back cushion, rather than a more ‘traditional style” back cushion. If the space is small, consider adding a bench near the bed or at the window.
(10) And finally, add a tray. A fine wooden, painted or woven rattan tray is an excellent place to store the purse, wallet, iPad or other daily essentials. Make it a habit to drop off these items in one location every day. It will save time the next day. You might add to the tray bottles of water, a scented candle or a bowl of your favorite potpourri. Mine is clove and cinnamon.
Now you are ready. Sit down. Lay back. Enjoy your spa.
- Michael Thomas, FASID is a well known designer, teacher and author with design offices and retail home decor studio in downtown Palm Springs, CA.
By Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS, Interior Designer
The Welwood Murray Memorial Library in downtown Palm Springs was distinctive from the first day it opened that winter of 1941. And it must have been a proud moment on that Wednesday, February 19th for the residents of the recently incorporated City of Palm Springs. While there were many other buildings, retail stores and hotels already along Palm Canyon at the time, the Wimmel, as it was soon called by many of the town’s residents, was positioned at the very heart of the growing community.
After the library being in several locations, operated by a group of very dedicated locals, this new building would now be the city’s first permanent location. Designed by architect John Porter Clark, the costs to build were entirely paid with private donations ranging from just a few single dollars to one single gift of $10,000 from Palm Springs benefactor Thomas O’Donnell.
The library board commissioned the architect to “design the building and directed him to take best advantage of the prime corner lot…” according to the book, At Sunrise – the History of The Palm Springs Public Library.
Clark did just that and positioned the main entry to the library at a forty-five degree angle to Palm Springs’ zero-zero corner. The agave-green “proscenium” surrounding dark stained double wood doors welcomed residents and tourists alike.
The clean lines of the building, off-white painted concrete walls, steel casement windows and terra cotta roof material helped Clark introduce a “desert modern” vernacular to Palm Springs. The use of the same materials can be seen in a Spanish revival residence he was designing for the Hamrick family on West Vista Chino at nearly the same time.
Before Tahquitz was widened from a smaller two lane road, a six-foot wide band of green grass ran along the north sidewalk, perforated by four well established palm trees, each with green bushy tops and dark tree trunks. This band acted as a frame for the building.
When the Wimmel opened on that February day, the winter sun kept the daylight short. The cool morning light shown down on the copper used for the rain gutters around the perimeter, down spouts and coach-style wall sconces at the entry, bright shiny like a new penny at the time of installation, It must have given off an amber sparkle to the library in the sunlight.
By mid-afternoon, long shadows stretched out along Palm Canyon Drive as the sun dropped behind the mountains. By about 5:30, the library staff would have switched on the copper framed square and rectilinear recessed can lights above the entries, and together with the perforated metal design of the coach sconces, there must have been a distinctive warm glow that very first night.
Despite the donations collected to build the Wimmel, there evidently wasn’t much money allocated for the interior. Letters and memos seem to suggest that furnishings and fixtures may not have been on anyone’s immediate agenda if not totally left out of Clark’s assignments.
In January of 1941, at just six weeks before the library was to open, a letter to then-Mayor Philip Boyd from James Geggie, the chairman of the library board, asked that Clark be given instructions to prepare the details necessary and “with the hope that he may go forward without any further delay.”
Certain assumptions can be made about how the interior might have appeared on that opening day from records, letters, and photos. While bare concrete floors may be a popular trend today, it is unlikely that the library actually opened with such a finish. However, there appears to be a red-brown color to the exposed floor that could indicate that at least for a time, the floors were stained. What is known is that linoleum covered at least parts of the interior, perhaps in the bathroom and that wall-to-wall carpeting was installed sometime later.
A counter-height semi-circular reception desk positioned to greet visitors once inside the entry featured a clear-stained oak wood top and matching toe kick. The curved façade appears to have been covered with “faux” leather, a material that might have been "Fabrictoid" and perhaps in a reddish brown color, though it is difficult to determine from black and white images.
Shelving to hold the very small number of books the library had on hand at the time was made by a Riverside company from agave green stained pine and clear-stained oak. Construction of the box-style cabinets, bookcases and shelves were quite elementary, void of commonly used woodworking details such as mitered, rabbet or other joinery, and as such would have been modestly priced to fabricate.
Wood framed oak chairs with vertical splat backs and stepped-style bookracks were standard-issue, common and without detailing, identical to those found in libraries all over the country.
The interior must have been quite dimly illuminated. Small round ceiling-mounted shiny metal pendants are seen in photographs. Other documentation reveals that before the library was opened, at least some of the overhead lighting, along with air conditioning and heating, was eliminated “from the plans so that there would be funds to pay for a children’s wing.”
The finish on the walls in a light color continues, to this day, to show the poured-in-place construction of the concrete walls. Was this a specific choice made by Clark or one made because of limited funds? In fact, it might have been a little of both; a modernist approach to finishing wall surfaces that was also economical.
In moving forward with the rehabilitation of the interior, the character-defining assets are being respected. The concrete walls, the vault in the ceiling that extends in two directions from the angled entry, dumb waiter, steel casement windows and existing entry doors will remain.
However, it is apparent that the interior wasn’t “designed” to be particularly special. After all, one of the tenets of design is ‘Form Follows Function.” And the Wimmel was designed to function. Designed to be utilitarian, Clark created a building to be practical and laid out in a sensible and efficient manner.
But it doesn’t have a high level of aesthetics nor visual appeal like the many residences or the St Paul’s Church that Clark (and his partner Albert Frey) designed about the same time. The interior was there to do a job and it did that successfully for decades.
In some ways, the new design for the interior will be similar to the original design. In other ways it will be different. The new interiors will have the same efficient functionality as before but will now have to accommodate the needs of three stakeholder groups. The Palm Springs Historical Society and the Board Of Tourism will join the library staff in the daily operations.
A strong design statement however will allow the Wimmel to be a memorable experience and inviting to both locals and tourists. A higher level of esthetics and quality will continue the branding of Palm Springs as a place of well designed environments. Clean lines and simple forms will continue to echo Clark’s theme. The semi-circular form of the original reception desk will be incorporated but in an updated version, one that will hold computers, phones and point-of-sale equipment. The new reception desk along with other areas in the interior, must also meet the standards for accessibility as specified by the American For Disabilities Act(ADA).
Technology will be installed in tables, cabinets and near seating areas that will provide opportunities for people to plug in their laptops and charge their smart phones. And free Wi-Fi will be available to all.
Lighting will be more appropriate to the use of the space yet kept at lower levels than one would find at a retail store in keeping with the historic nature. LED lights in a warm color tone will be both energy efficient and provide the visitors with task lighting from candlestick lamps.
One “green design” goal is the consideration and choice of vendors to supply goods, such as the seating for the community room, determined by being no further than 500 miles from the Welwood location and thus limiting the carbon footprint effects of transportation.
When the rehabilitation is complete at the end of 2014, the Wimmel will be then positioned for the future. It will be a place to hang out and a source for information and education. Researchers interested in all things historic about Palm Springs will cross the threshold to examine the archives of the Palm Springs Historical Society. And tourists will be given another opportunity to discover what makes Palm Springs so special.
This is just the beginning for a new life and purpose for this very special building. It may not have the sparkle from the copper fixtures but in its own way it will be a shining bright spot in an evolving downtown.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Desert, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.