Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 1/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
by Elizabeth Gaynor
New York: Monacelli Press, $75
304 pages, 150 color illustrations
Juan Montoya was born in Bogotá, Colombia, the son of a widely traveled diplomat. He grew up in a house furnished with French antiques, studied at New York's Parsons School of Design, and worked for an interiors firm in Paris and a furniture manufacturer in Italy. Is it any wonder that his aesthetic, though basically modern, exhibits an eclectic richness?
This is the second book on Montoya. The first, published in 1998, featured a preface by the late Monica Geran, this magazine's senior editor at the time—20 years earlier than that, she'd been the first to write about his work, specifically a New York studio apartment that doubled as his office. Immediately after its publication, his firm outgrew that space, and his career was off and running. He was inducted into Interior Design's Hall of Fame in 1988.
Elizabeth Gaynor presents 22 of his recent commissions. Among previously unpublished projects is Florida's Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club, with its groups of white upholstered seating centered on sisal rugs, under custom Italian glass chandeliers. A lavish apartment, with bronze-inlaid hardwood columns and French moderne furniture, represents New York, as does an Upper East Side apartment, renovated for a second time and now combining contemporary art, Murano glass, and pieces by Ward Bennett and Mark Newson. Montoya transformed a Philadelphia apartment with walls clad in mohair and gray-green onyx, lighting coves trimmed in ebony, flooring of dark brown-veined cream marble, and furnishings such as a Biedermeier cabinet, an Eileen Gray screen, a panel salvaged from the S.S. Ile de France, Chinese-inspired dining chairs, and, of course, his highly innovative custom pieces. As Geran wrote in that earlier book, "The man is brilliant." And the world is obviously his showroom.
Tadelakt: An Old Moroccan Plaster Technique Newly Discovered
by Michael Johannes Ochs
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, $25
112 pages, 83 illustrations (78 color)
This handsome little book tells us that tadelakt, translated freely from Arabic, is kneaded plaster. It's a surfacing technique developed 2,000 years ago in Morocco—but well suited for contemporary use around the world. Tadelakt walls, fireplace surrounds, counters, sinks, and tubs are durable, water-repellent, mold-discouraging, and odorless. Best of all, they seem to glow with a high polish and colors as subtle or as vibrant as you might want.
Limestone is the basic ingredient, with lime as a mineral binder. Traditionally, surfaces were finished with a wooden trowel, which absorbs more water from wet plaster than a steel or plastic tool does. They were then rubbed with soap, made from black olives, and polished with stones. Michael Johannes Ochs, a graduate of Germany's Schule für Farbe und Gestaltung Stuttgart, gives more than ample explanation of the steps involved, including diagrams of chemical changes; he likewise includes practical information about the process today. At the back of the book, you'll find a brief bibliography and glossary, a checklist of materials and processes, and a list of Web sites for further information.
Irregularities and imperfections are part of the material's charm. As Ochs writes, "Objects covered with Tadelakt emit a feeling of comfort and relaxation because of their naturalness and soft irregular coloring. . . . The surfaces shimmer in fine color nuances and develop, depending on the treatment, interesting crack patterns. Each is unique and comparable to a work of art." He offers a portfolio of approximately 30 recent examples from architects and designers not only in Morocco but also in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, and Greece. There's also a comparison between "classic stucco veneziano," applied in several thin coats, and tadelakt's one or two thicker coats. One caveat: Tadelakt looks beautiful but, because of the labor involved, doesn't come cheap.
What They're Reading. . .
Craig Hartman, Partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
In Praise of Shadows
by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki
Sedgwick, Maine: Leete's Island Books, $10
When it comes to books, Craig Hartman can't help but refer to his Tower of Guilt: the stack by the bed that patiently waits. Some of the titles currently guilting the architect—James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Thomas L. Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded—would in fact inform his current slew of high-density urban architecture projects comprising multiple mixed-use buildings. Still, he found himself drawn instead to novelist Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's 1933 essay, In Praise of Shadows. "He observes the human condition through meditations on both spareness and mystery, creating a bridge between ephemeral minimalism and earthly realities," Hartman says. In line with good Japanese aesthetics, he adds, these big ideas are packed into "a tiny little book that fits in your coat pocket." Now that's high-density. —Deborah Wilk