Monday, November 16, 2009

"The coolest person in the room is usually the one who looks like the biggest geek."


Go HERE to read Stephen Drucker's take on the demise of Met Home and his thoughts on design with a capital D.

Here's the short essay for those to lazy to click:


What Is "Modern Design" Now?

With the closing of Metropolitan Home magazine last week, the design world lost a champion of modernism. There has been a great deal of breast-beating ever since: What magazines are left to fight the modern fight?

I salute Met Home and I'm sorry to see it go. But those old battle lines of modern-is-hip vs. traditional-is-stuffy just don't work for me anymore. I've had it with hip. We are drowning in hipness, in the blind worship of gallerylike rooms in glass-walled buildings that are to me the biggest cliché of all. Who isn't hip these days, when there are "next hot neighborhoods" and "artists' lofts" in every city, when everybody is drinking the vodka of the moment to the same thumping bass line in indistinguishable "boutique" hotels?

Now that we're all certifiably hip and modern, maybe we need to rethink what the word "modern" means today. To me, it's not just the lone-chair-in-an-empty-room stories in the T section of The New York Times; it's about the dynamic, original thinking going on across the working design community every day. Modern thinking is there to be found in every style, the traditional as well as the hard-edged ones. It's time we started judging the true originality of all design again, not just design with a capital D.

Haven't we learned by now: The coolest person in the room is usually the one who looks like the biggest geek.

-Stephen Drucker




The funny thing is, I haven't paid much attention to design with a capital D in a long time. I know it's still out there. The fact that W hotels are still invading new cities like Istanbul means the Starkly Modern and Hip program is still being distributed around the world as a kind of shortcut to style. But even though the Lady Blogger contingent may have leaned too far Regency in the last three years, I guess it's good to see that the group of bloggers I follow religiously doesn't do much genuflecting to Starkly Modern and Hip. Noguchi tables and Marcel Wanders and rope chairs for their own sake seem like ancient history. I like Drucker's idea of finding something "modern" in every style of design. I think a lot of this blog's readers here do this. We don't write off granny for the sake of it (unless there is actually a doily on a table, of course...).

But there is the problem, I think, of too much. The response to overly clever and spare design has often been to throw everything together, right? We talked about that HERE.


So here are the open topics:

1. So what is modern design now? Or, more specifically, who is getting it really right? Who's the most exciting designer working today? Post your thoughts to comments, and send in links and photos, too.


2. Didn't anyone at Met Home see it coming? Seriously, unless there is an alternate universe of design bloggers who worshipped at its altar, that magazine seemed really out of touch. Each issue was cold and painfully consistent. It was like eating chicken for dinner every night. Modern fucking chicken EVERY NIGHT. Was no one running around the offices saying, "Uh, we have a problem... Every issue of our magazine is like Dwell, except with no plywood, better hardware on the doors and an occasional Barbara Kruger on the walls. We have to change or die." Can someone with inside scoop give us the story, please?

The heartbreaking thing is that the magazine wasn't awful, and the designs weren't bad. It's that Met Home was religious about its point of view and too tasteful. They needed to put something offensive in there. Remember Elle Decor getting HATE mail over the John Derian feature? I couldn't even believe that people were so furious and offended by tattered furniture. I loved it. I mean, to be outraged over a sofa is so fucking awesome. I wish Met Home had evolved a bit, or even tried to offend its own sensibility now and again, just to keep it spicy.


3. I am not sure how to elegantly tie THIS really pitiful New York Times profile/slideshow to the demise of Met Home, but something is connected here. I think of these photos and the whole sad story makes me think of the reason Met Home lost its appeal to me years ago. The rooms didn't just look empty. They felt empty.

47 comments:

shuddleston said...

Know what you mean, to the best of my mind. I compare it to my grandparents. My dad's parents had this gigantic house that they filled with plastic-covered furniture, huge scary sculptures, & yelled if I touched their books. My mom's parents had the exact same house that I've been reminded of somewhere, that was decorated just like Julia Childs'- useful objects, loved books, & weird tools set alongside gorgeous & touchable woodwork that my grandpa carved with a chisel, to pass the time.

Growing up I always wanted the huge sterile house, but now I feel at home, completely, buried in worn books, scratched furniture, art made by someone I know, & a kitchen that reeks of someone's cooking. No matter how big the place is. I think it's that those places don't make the kinds of photographs that the sterile rooms do. Those cluttered rooms take the best pictures when they're filled with their grinning inhabitants.

my favorite and my best said...

this is not boring decorno. thank you.

my favorite and my best said...

oh! and what steven said.
and i had no idea elle decor got hate mail over the john derian feature. i fucking loved it too!
and i don't know what modern design is now, i THINK it might be balance and the marriage of all of it together. not to just say "old and new" but to reaaaally know what that is. maybe?

GL said...

Met Home rooms lacked warmth. Plain and simple. Sometimes the photos were interesting but the rooms always looked uninhabitable and without soul.

To be honest, I always thought it was a generational thing (I'm over 50) so it's somewhat refreshing to hear a young woman's perspective.

As for the NYT tie-in. It's absolutely perfect. So much invested in those rooms but it didn't look or feel like "home". Once again, I found them to be without any heart or soul.

Traci Zeller Designs said...

Met Home was the first to introduce me to Darryl Carter (www.darrylcarter.com), and I still think he's fantastic. But he does modern in exactly the way described by Stephen Drucker. It's a new type of modern, a new way of looking at the familiar, that is so appealing now.

Arched Brows said...

Props for your beautiful eulogy of sorts.
I wrote in a previous post about not caring much about Met Home going away, but now I feel pangs of remorse. I subscribed to it for fifteen years, and there were times when it inspired me. But that was when an Emeco naval chair still seemed avante garde.
And the high/low thing was a Met Home original that many other magazines copied.
One of the most modern and memorable homes I have seen in a long time was Kelly Wearstler's beach house from last month's issue. It was, to me, the definition of what modern is now.

Decorno --
May I ask your brilliant readers a question?
I was recently gifted by my MIL with four Marcel Breuer Wassily chairs that belonged to her late husband.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassily_Chair
They are the definition of the 80's bachelor pad.
Can't get rid of them without starting WW3.
Any suggestions about making these things "modern"?

Thank you!

Decorno said...

AB - - give them to me. I still love those chairs.

Decorno said...

Traci - it's good you point that out. Met Home did feature great designers and ideas. I think the overall effect in recently years was too... I dunno. Too something.

Met Home used to do reader contests (maybe they still did near the end), and featured the homes in an annual issue.

I remember one of these issues featuring Ron Marvin's old San Francisco place, and it blew my mind.

I was young and just starting out and those photos of a real grown up having made a home out of two rooms made a huge impression on me. In another issue (maybe it was the same one, actually) they featured this young gay couple, all of 23, I think, who made this great apartment for themselves and I remember the warmth of the rooms. They were clean and uncluttered, but it looked like a home you could both envy and emulate.

Those were great spaces, and for along time, Met Home's approach & affection for thoughtful modern spaces was inspiring.

gatherings home said...

GL has it right. I can appreciate modern design and it certainly has its place, but the look is becoming too strained. Associated with lenear, cement laden homes or, on the flip side, monotonous, one dimensional wood lofts with a single sectional on a vast sea of floor. I have often felt as though the media was too enamored of this ideal. It takes a heavy weight like Stephen to say it and make it okay for us to breath a sigh of relief. He was right, it does feel like it has become a signature look for hipsters. Almost an exclusivity to it that most of us felt intimidated by.

The story about the couple was especially poignant. People trying to hold onto a dream that would never become reality. Why do we try so hard?

And lastly, when will we stop using eclectic to describe a style? It really does seem to be an excuse to throw a whole lotta crap together, stand back and declare ones good taste. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

I must start out by admitting that I have an addiction for shelter magazines. At my peak, I subscribed to at least 9, three of which are now gone (House and Garden, Domino and Met Home). I am down to 4, ranging from Better Homes and Gardens to Dwell. I am going to miss Met Home, probably because I considered it a visual break from my other magazines.

My thought lately is that a lot of my mags are just "trying too hard" The most recent Elle Decor made my eyes hurt. Electric, bright blue entryway that burned my retinas? (I'm talking to you Miles Redd). An all black living room? Oh, please stop. There was not one page I wanted to keep out of the three mags I have received this month so far. I find that rather sad as I typically tear out at least one complete story from each of my mags.

To me, modern is about how you live at the moment. For sure, my tastes have changed over time to something more spare and clean lined, but more to the point, my lifestyle has evolved and my sense of what is modern has as well. I need spaces that WORK, both style-wise and flow-wise. If I could hire one designer, it would be Eve Robinson. Her rooms make me calm and happy at the same time and they are beautiful to behold. Her 2004 Kips Bay living room is just one favorite. They also seem made for living a full and robust life where the people in the house are more important than the things in the house.

Tara Dillard said...

Just had these thoughts about a garden I saw recently. Prince Charles's, Highgrove.

Couldn't figure out why I liked it and hated it. Couldn't figure out its style.

Finally concluded it is MODERN. Not ubiquitous mid-century modern but truly MODERN. Something new.

Wondering if it was him or a designer or complicity. I think it's much harder to be MODERN and new in a garden than interior.

Gardening, afterall, is the oldest profession.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

gp193 said...

I can't comment on Met Home, but I just wanted to give you a thumbs up for the excellent writing in this post. Well-said!

Anonymous said...

Your posts of late are rocking my world. I love that you put formica back on the table (so to speak) and take some hipsters to task for their sameness.

WTF Is Something Wrong with me ! said...

Great opinion! Thank you for posting it.
I've been collecting 50's and 60's for 30 years. Now it's pretentiously called Mid Century Modern. Unfortunately it also Now greatly copied by Ikea, and
sneered at by decorating snobs. When I see the countless photo layouts chosen by design magazine
editors, it looks like they have a checklist for uniformity.
Eames Chair ...check
Bertoia chair...check
fake Noguchi table....check
Egg chair....check
you've already seen these.

There is so much wonderful 50' and 60's out there,
lets stop the mid century "uniform"
....oh yeah .....check !

STUDY said...

Modern fucking chicken I love that! It’s so much more evocative than “sterile”.

I’m going to echo a lot of what’s already been stated here already, but despite Modern’s (capital M) hard and fast meaning, modern for me is design that is unambiguous, something that “eclecticism” often manages to be the direct opposite of. This isn’t to say that I can’t enjoy an “eclectic” room, but I also don’t want to be looking through a shelter mag and expending huge amounts of brain power wondering what exactly is so fantastic about these spaces. Be it Mid-Century, Baroque, Bauhaus, what have you… you shouldn’t have to blow synapses to appreciate a room.

Anonymous said...

But MH was, in fact, trying to change. I'm looking at the latest issue, and it has a Heywood-Wakefield table ('50s, blonde birch, curvy) on the cover. That's pretty much as far from the Patrick Bateman aesthetic as you can get.

I'm not defending it, exactly. I didn't like it as well as Elle Decor, and their stuff was often just second-best (Vicente Wolf in the Oct. issue), but I give them credit for at least trying to turn it around.

And I'll just say it, despite all the haters: It was a triumph that they got that Kelly Wearstler story last month, and Elle Decor didn't. (Not a triumph that got them anywhere, obviously, but still: It was a great moment in decorating journalism, such as it is.)

I think Steven Drucker's thing sounded a little facile, and mostly just a not-well-hidden advertisement for House Beautiful. He's not saying anything that hasn't been said for decades: that the corporate co-opting of hip kills it. Yup. Got it.

the carolyn said...

I still think that Steven Sclaroff's work on the Kate & Andy Spade apt is unparalleled ... and undeniably modern. (And is it any surprised that it was first published in the UK?)

http://tinyurl.com/yfyndvo

Also: Thomas O'Brien is kind of amazing, right? (Or is he just the Tom Ford of interior decorating?)

http://tinyurl.com/ylkjobc

Anonymous said...

Re. the NYT story:

This was the most interesting sentence:

"This tale begins with Ms. Williams, alone in a nearly finished loft with 200 cardboard boxes."

Which makes me wonder: "200 boxes of WHAT?!"

Bloggers Abode said...

I'm sorry, did I miss something? What was the point of that reno/divorce piece? Sad & Random. I think the internet is taking over all publications one by one. It's just a matter of time before it's all at the flick of a mouse. Have you seen the latest in decor mags thats only online? Not bad for a first issue. http://www.lonnymag.com/

Anonymous said...

"Didn't anyone at Met Home see it coming? Seriously, unless there is an alternate universe of design bloggers who worshipped at its altar, that magazine seemed really out of touch.

I have a theory that what killed MH was trying NOT to be out of touch.

MH had been trying to be a little more eclectic--more like what the ladybloggers liked--and the result--sort of an on-the-cheap, lackluster Elle Decor--might have just confused potential advertisers. Hewing closer to the original strict definition of "modern" might have projected a clearer identity to advertisers. (Just speculating though.)

As for the John Derian apt.: Agree. Brilliant piece. But has Elle Decor followed up on that--tried to again "offend its own sensibility," to flirt with tastelessness? I had the impression it was a one-time experiment, one they vowed not to repeat, given the reader vitriol.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure to be exiled to a planet far far and away but is anyone else over Kelly W?

decor muse said...

Best post in a while, Decorno.

I feel that the time is coming when genuinely relaxed, interesting and individual interiors come into their own. Kinda bohemian, sort of.

Maxime de la Falaise's marvelous apartment is my sort of space and in its own way uber modern.

And I do think so much mid-century modern has been a hoax. Mostly it simply doesn't look that good.

Anonymous said...

"The coolest person in the room is usually the one who looks like the biggest geek."

File under: "Wishful Thinking."

mary said...

I love Stephen Drucker's thoughts on modern and completely agree with everything in this post. Good design either modern or traditional transcends time, but a home needs warmth and a feeling of being embraced--a little bit messy, a little bit worn. I love mixing modern abstract art with period antiques; and the reverse of mid-century furniture with old masters--the ying and the yang of life.
As to the Wassily chair question: how about pairing a pair with a classic high back/arm John Saladino sofa or even a Knoll (sp?) sofa or a chesterfield? A typical traditional sofa probably would not work.
The French have always been masters of the perfect mix. Thanks for provoking this discussion.

COCOCOZY said...

I liked Metropolitan Home. I'll go out on a limb.
Best,
Coco
Cococozy
http://www.cococozy.com

Anonymous said...

Kelly Wearstler killed Met Home and I'm telling. She's the design world's equivalent of Donald Trump - except he has better hair.

There are some stats here

http://www.thefutoncritic.com/rant.aspx?id=20091007_10things

that I'm beginning to feel apply to shelter styles. I think everyone appreciates what I appreciate because we visit the same blogs and make the same noise (I recognize the same cunty posts from AT followers who also frequent Datalounge).

Dealing in dead people shit, I still have many buyers who are into Tuscan. Stray too far from venetian plaster walls (with bits of straw!) and they tune out. They'll pay $50k for a kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Elle Decor and Met Home are owned by the same people. So, I suspect that Met Home was instructed from above to be as different as possible from Elle Decor in order to justify its existence. I think we have to view those 2 magazines together within one corporate culture.

decoratrix said...

Re John Derian Hate
Most Americans simply don't understand anything old. They want everything to be perfect, even antiques and hand-made objects like hand-woven fabrics, ceramics, architectural stonework, blown glass. Rust, dust, patina, natural flaws, lichen growing on stone, fossilized wood, shredded silk on an 18th century chair are perceived as messy, dirty, imperfect. In Europe, signs of age and imperfection are celebrated by magazines like World of Interiors and Casa Vogue, magazines which speak to people with a completely different sensiblility.
WOI looks for homes which are original, soulful, poetic, considered, lived-in, personal rather than spaces tricked out by decorators for clients whose tastes were formed by staying in boutique hotels (clients who buy their books by the yard). It features both ancient and modern and still retains a consistent aesthetic. There is no decent magazine left here. Elle Decor always looks the same and also suffers from the 'perfection' malaise. Hotel Style would be a better name for it. Very occasionally they break the mold and feature something like the John Derian house.
I was on the staff of Metropolitan Home when it launched in the UK in 1989. It lasted 18 months.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Drucker may be confusing "modern" with "hip." If "hip" means popular to the point of being required by hipsters, then, something can be modern and not "hip" at all, at least in its time. Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring": modern, not hip. Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase": modern, not hip. Kelly Wearstler's guest house in domino: modern but loathed by all, so: hip-free zone.

Anonymous said...

One thing that seems completely UN-modern to me is how overly styled this and other design magazines still look. . .I mean, how many of us have an artfully arranged Italian glass bowl of perfect green apples that exactly match the $1500 cashmere throw on the couch? In a clinically spotless house? I miss Domino---I'm sure they styled too but at least those spreads gave the impression of real people living real lives in real spaces.

Lisa said...

This is super interesting, I just started my masters in interior design and every damn architect we study is modern. I used to love it but now I just think I drowning in it. When I think modern I think Le Corbusier and 1929...1929 is sooo not current. What is next? Do you really have to be modern to be innovative? Can someone PLEASE tell me some Iconic Architects that were not modern because my professors sure can't!

Anonymous said...

@ "I'm sure to be exiled to a planet far far and away but is anyone else over Kelly W?"

Guess I am going to that planet too...She can go sit in the corner with Miles.

Oh, and Eve Robinson..sorry for not including th url earlier: http://www.everobinson.net/

B said...

Lisa - I love your point. So many "modern" pieces are nearly antiques now!

I hated Met Home, and I won't miss it at all. To me, a house isn't a home if it's cold and impersonal. But that doesn't mean you need to go overboard with clutter, either.

Anonymous said...

In response to your #3 ?: Sometimes I think it's because the interiors, they're basically about the stuff. The person who had the dough to buy the iconic stuff, and hire someone who knew all about the stuff to put it together in some way or another.

Don't get me wrong, I like my stuff. But I think it all got a little material for my taste. Be spontaneous!

Anonymous said...

A LOT of people drinking the KW juice. Talk about trying too hard! I don't get her, I think it is more about creating a "buzz" than good design. She is doomed, and with good reason.

Valerista said...

Wow. Elle Decor got HATE mail over the John Derian story?

I must have stared at that article for hours. It was fascinating.

With decoratrix on love for what's imperfect. Entropy is part of our world, and it feels like some modern interiors are trying to force order onto people's lives. I love it in some spaces, but for day-to-day living, not so much.

Arched Brows said...

Just wondering how many KW haters out there are ladies that just HATE that she seems to have it all.
She is a true artist, and her influence is undeniable.
The beach house featured in MH is completely original, breathtaking in its complexity and also its simplicity -- it will be copied ad infinitum, the way that Regency was, but never done as well.
I would guess that if she were instead, say, an average looking gay man she would be universally revered.
"Love the gays!!!"
Its crazy how a talented woman with sex appeal polarizes everyone.

Anonymous said...

Re: KW...don't really care that she "has it all." Never actually gave much thought to her personal life, as I don't give much thought to the "sex appeal" of designers in general. If she were a short, balding gay, I would still hate it. The reason I don't like her stuff is I have not seen one of her rooms that I actually wanted to live in or could appreciate for its interesting qualities. I thought the MH beach house was overdone with uncomfortable-looking furniture and somehow managed to be dull at the same time. But that is just me...watched as a judge on some design show (as I recall) and found her personally a little strange, but it is her design that grates on my nerves. But to each his own...

slag said...

Since I am usually the biggest geek in the room, I am all over this description. But that's because I live in an alternate universe wherein those who try to do the most good are the ones "getting it really right". Not being up on names, I would describe these people as conscientious designers. People who put individual needs into a greater context and design accordingly. Smaller homes that use space efficiently, older materials imaginatively repurposed, and more uses for less stuff are what I think of as modern.

Weirdly enough, this says "modern" to me. But clearly, I'm no expert.

ChrisToronto said...

I, too, couldn't resist a hard and fast dis of Met Home, in my case the October issue. The Warner gang had been slipping for months: http://stylenorth.ca/blog/2009/09/met-home-celebrity-silliness/

AilanthusAltissima said...

These were interesting editorials, but I will sorely miss Met Home. It was my absolute favorite shelter magazine.

I think Met Home did go through a period of extreme austerity, but that was several years ago and I suspect that they were providing a reflection of the design ethos at that time.

I always saw something exciting and something thoughtful on Met Home. Always. Met Home engaged me at an intellectual level yet within the framework of a visual vernacular that I could understand (I have no formal training in design). Met Home always made me think; I see this as a virtue. I applaud how they remained true to their editorial focus on modern design - I don't see this as a weakness or a failure. Met Home had an aboutness to it rather than simply floating along with the tide of whatever was "hip" that year/day/minute/second.

I was a subscriber for about ten years and I saw change but it was generally within the editorial focus of the magazine and within the design idiom that they embraced. This could not have been an easy feat to accomplish.

In the end, I don't think the magazine folded because of what it did or didn't do. I think it folded largely for economic reasons. Too many target readers are struggling economically and many companies are cutting back in how much they spend on advertising in order to make it through this economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

Oh, anon 11/17/09 1:25:

I am poor, don't have much to speak of, recently moved from a 1 bedroom, and had more than 200 boxes. Big ones, too. Full of forks, books, sheets, and cans of corn.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Hi! Being a decorator for over 40 years now (and female); makes me probably an "old geezer geek"!!

And I can tell you guys this! I am not jealous nor envious of KW's sex appeal. (guess what? Sara Palin is even hotter!!!!) And they remind me of each other!

Sara can't speak a complete sentence.....(she was not raised in a foreign country) KW cannot do one single coherent room.....(showcase house.....all those rooms scream!!!) can you imagine living in one single room? ( If you can......I don't know you.....and have never met anyone like you!)

"Shuddleston " has it all right. That is what makes great decorating.....and great houses. Many magazines have lost all sight of personal, personality, and the sense of living.

And can they please, oh please stop calling houses "homes"? so "realestateagenty" (that is a language all its own)

Nancy Lancaster was one epitome......but not the only one. I could move into any of her houses.....(would prefer the last one Haseley) with my toothbrush.....and just be fine. My hat would be on the hatrack by the front door.....I would go out to the garden....the ducks would walk into the house if you left the door open (wild mallards...or formerly wild)! The dogs slept on the bed.....natch!

Beautiful, comfortable personal and authentic. Not much of that do you see in mags today.

(I actually went to Hasely a few years ago.......the (not so new owners) let us have lunch.....(a Sotheby's tour) and lady of the house told me the ducks came into the breakfast room a few days earlier and were eating their houseguest's cereal when she left the table for a minute! She was horrified! I was charmed!)

YES!!
not much of that in magazines in the US. today!

Kim said...

Preach it, Sister! Modern has become so cliche' that it's arguably not at all modern. Change or die, as you say.

Anonymous said...

Yes, well. Lonny would be a lot more convincing as a replacement for print magazines if the text were edited into something that at least resembled English. Dismal.

Lisa said...

I'm with decoratrix in my love for the World of Interiors aesthetic.

I don't hate modern; I just think most of it fails to pass the functionality test. Roofs leak, chairs are uncomfortable, "storage" pieces don't hold anything that hasn't been "curated" for display. It's telling that only design-obsessed people live with modernism; it really isn't comfortable or forgiving enough for anyone else. And it too often makes living rooms look like an airport lobby.

Anonymous said...

you are modern your blog is modern.