Welcome to the DesignLAB

The Ubiquitous No. 14

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You may not know the name Michael Thonet, but you’ve probably sat in one of his chairs hundreds of times. Thonet was a German-Austrian furniture maker and designer who developed bentwood furniture and the incredibly

Spotlight: “Making Design” at The New Cooper Hewitt

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To celebrate its renovation and reopening in the incredible Andrew Carnegie Mansion, New York’s Cooper Hewitt—Smithsonian Design Museum is showcasing a selection of its collection of 210,000 furniture and decorative objects from all over the world and spanning 30 centuries—with a new exhibit, “Making Design”, on exhibit now and, according to the Cooper Hewitt, “until it’s not.”

The History of Mirror: Through A Glass, Darkly

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The mirror has been in existence almost as long as humankind. By legend, the first mirror was formed in the ancient Himalayas when a little brook tarried to rest itself, as if to ponder and reflect upon its course. Thereby, in time, the first woman walked and looking down into the pool was surprised by­—another girl!—which she slowly came to understand as a reflection of herself.

Eileen Gray’s Bibendum: A Modern but Feminine Chair

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Eileen Gray is a name closely tied to women’s dignified entrance into the male-dominated design world. Born in 1878, Eileen Gray was the youngest of five children of a wealthy Scots–Irish family. This privileged background allowed her to travel frequently and to attend prestigious private art schools in London and Paris. Nevertheless, because she was a woman, not even her advantageous upbringing and notable life experiences granted her access to important professional networks.

Duncan Phyfe and Fine Furniture

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Duncan Phyfe, cabinetmaker, designed furniture just about 200 years ago. Yet his name, more than that of any other furniture maker in our history, embodies fine craftsmanship—fine American craftsmanship. His name has been whispered reverentially in art museums for decades, alongside the creators of the finest oil paintings and best porcelains. His is a legacy and a “brand” that tastemakers today would die for.

Use of the Ball & Claw – Design Motif

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Almost all historical sources believe that the Ball & Claw design was derived from the Chinese: a dragon’s claw grasping a crystal ball, or a pearl, or sometimes a scared, flaming jewel. In Chinese mythology, the dragon (Emperor) would be guarding (with the triple claw foot) the symbol (ball - for wisdom, or purity) from evil forces trying to steal it.

Furniture Design Genius – Timeline

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Often while researching furniture design, people do not know exactly which designer they are looking for, when the designer lived, in what country, or how most furniture historians describe the designer’s style. Bienenstock Furniture Library offers this reference to help you to find the design information you seek.

The Lyre & Sweet Harmonies

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Cosmic harmony. Who could pass that up? Not Greece 2000 years ago and not America and Europe 200 years ago. Apollo was the mythological god of music and dance, and his stringed lyre was thought to represent not just artistic sensibilities but also harmony and heavenly peace, social order, and all that was rational in ancient Greece.

The Dichotomies of Saarinen’s Tulip Chair

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Are futuristic and classic and mass-produced and organic all terms that can be used to describe just one chair? Let me introduce the Tulip Chair. Mostly defined by its formal unity and unique organic shape, this chair has been a symbol of futuristic thinking in furniture design since it was first introduced and mass-produced by Knoll as part of Eero Saarinen’s pedestal series in the 1950s.

The Urn: Logo From Antiquity

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When we see an Apple logo on our smart phone, we don’t think fruit, we think cutting-edge devices. When we see Starbucks’ green mermaid with long wavy locks, we don’t think sea creatures, we think a cool place for cappuccinos. And when citizens of America and Europe in the 18th century saw urns, they didn’t think funerals and ashes, they thought noble simplicity, beauty, and reason.

Design on Film: A Festival of Style

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The focus in the design world last month was on the High Point Market, the largest home furnishings trade show in the world. So you may have missed another festival that took place in New York. The Architecture & Design Film Festival is in its fourth season, showcasing over 25 films on architecture and design from around the world.

The Sea Shell: Design Motif

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“Why are there so many sea shell designs on furniture, textiles, and architecture?” As with many decorative and design patterns, the answer lies in a combination of ancient superstition, the borrowing from nature’s unchanging harmony, and

  • Barcelona Chair
  • Barcelona Chair Details

The Barcelona: iChair or Diva?

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Is there any other 20th-century chair that is as iconic as the Barcelona? Designed in 1928 by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and interior designer Lilly Reich, little did they know that by 2012, this chair would have been showcased in so many movies and television shows.

  • Highclere Interior and Exterior

A Proper Setting

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the wildly popular BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey. Fans are eagerly anticipating the third season here in the U.S., which will begin airing in January. The series has sparked a renewed interest in Edwardian style and an appreciation for British historic homes like Highclere Castle, which is the real-life setting for the fictitious Downtown Abbey.

Learning Design

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One of the things I enjoy most about my profession is the opportunity to meet and work with the talented design students attending or graduating from design schools. Thankfully, we have the privilege to host interns several times each year.

  • Elders Chair Details

On Shaker Design and Ornament

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Inarguably, Shaker furniture has influenced modern design. Many decades before phrases such as Sullivan’s “form follows function,” Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more,” and Wright’s “nature of the materials” became modern design mantras, the Shakers were creating chairs that were functional and unadorned while displaying integrity and honesty of construction.

Set Design: The Great Gatsby & Anna Karenina

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Set designers are becoming more influential in the world of home decor, offering inspiration and nostalgia on the big screen and on television. A perfect example is the huge influence Mad Men has had on fashion and furnishings. Set decorators Amy Wells and Claudette Didul paid attention to the smallest details to recreate the homes and clothing of the 1960s, sparking a mid-century-modern trend that is still going strong.

  • E Sottsas: Carlton Room Divider, Ron Arad: Bookworm, Chippendale Rosewood Bookcase

Bookcases

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I am a firm believer that yes, in this digital age, we still need books, libraries and bookcases. As Mark Lamster points out in "Still Here, Metropolis", libraries remain vital places. Many of them are more crowded than ever as people come to study, work together, consult with experts, and to discover rare and hard-to-find books.