Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 4/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Knoll: A Modernist Universe
by Brian Lutz
New York: Rizzoli New York, $75
300 pages, 300 color illustrations
This is not the first definitive book about Knoll. That distinction belongs to Eric Larrabee and Interior Design Hall of Fame member Massimo Vignelli's 1981 volume on the company—which, as everyone in the world must know, is one of the manufacturers at the apex of modernism. "We were always so much more than a furniture-manufacturing company. We were about good design," reads a Florence Knoll quote on the frontispiece, reminding us of how much Knoll has meant to our profession. Obviously, it was time for an update covering the last three decades of continuing excellence, including textiles by Hazel Siegel and Suzanne Tick and furniture by a slew of Hall of Famers. (Davis Allen, Frank Gehry, Gary Lee, Peter Shelton and Lee Mindel, Robert Venturi.)
Of the photographs capturing Knoll's history, some are repeated from 1981, but all are splendid. However, the graphic design seems, at least to this pair of old eyes, hardly up to the standard of Knoll's own graphics—established by Vignelli in 1967, except for the iconic original logo. I hasten to add that this claim is hardly an insult, as Vignelli's work sets a high standard difficult for anyone to emulate. Still, did the text have to be so small, and did the caption type, which is even smaller, have to be gray rather than black? A further complaint is that a book filled with valuable images and information about an extremely important company, 300 pages that could have long served as a valuable reference, is infinitely less useful because of the lack of an index. What a terrible shame.
Roy McMakin: When Is a Chair Not a Chair?
by Roy McMakin
New York: Skira Rizzoli, $65
224 pages, 250 color illustrations
A perfect beginning to an attractive book, almost three dozen pages display no words at all, just images of Roy McMakin's ordinary-seeming furniture. But wait. Look. That's a bit odd, not ordinary at all. In the images that follow, deceptively plain seating and case goods exhibit subtle tweaks or arresting eccentricities. Unexpected gaps appear between the drawers of a chest; another chest sprouts knobs in unconventional places. In a set of dining chairs, no two are exactly alike. A side chair tilts, because its legs are different lengths. A stairway combines metal treads on the left and wooden ones on the right. Six subtly different shades of green paint cover a cabinet. Pairs of tables may be devouring each other or trying to have sex.
"I see the job of an artist as that of a philosopher of visual experience. . . . I am interested in how memory, familiarity, scale, craft, and functionality factor into this investigation. I am interested in how emotionality becomes perceptible," McMakin explains in his text. His words appear interspersed among essays by the likes of Seattle Art Museum curator Michael Darling, photographer, publisher, and writer Lisa Eisner, and conceptual artist John Baldessari. "I don't think Roy has designed an ironing board yet, but I'm sure it would double as a painting," Baldessari writes. And he should know. He's commissioned a houseful of McMakin furniture in Los Angeles.
What They're Reading. . .
James Biber, Partner at Pentagram Architects
The Function of Form
by Farshid Moussavi
Barcelona, Spain: Actar and Harvard University Graduate School of Design, $40
520 pages, 490 illustrations
As a partner in a firm that has designed such fashion-forward interiors as London, Milan, and New York shops for the late Alexander McQueen, architect James Biber knows a thing or two about building drama—he's even dreamed up a competition proposal for a vertical zoo that would stretch up like a skyscraper in Buenos Aires. That's why professor Farshid Moussavi's reexamination of the Louis Sullivan mantra "form. . . follows function" stands out among the thousands of books in Biber's personal library. Using real-life examples from the ancient to the contemporary, Moussavi reduces a building to its most basic components. Then, after the striptease, she dresses the structure back up with every possible variation, starting with the simple and austere before layering on fabulous flourishes. "The book goes beyond formal manipulation, though," Biber says. "It's not about geometry. It's about design." —Deborah Wilk