In the Desert

My furniture at home hasn't changed in 25 years. Some items have been repaired and others replaced with the exact same thing. When we started to buy furniture for the Palm Springs house, I realized I hadn't bought anything new since 1991. WTF? Furniture is expensive today. I feel like that old person who says, "When I was a kid the movies were a nickel." But it's slowly coming together.

There is another house that has been on the market in PS that has been covered by everyone on earth already. But it's worth another look if anyone is facing the same issues and asking, "Hmm, what sofa should I buy?" It's truly remarkable. I can see why it's hard to sell. Whoever buys it couldn't touch a thing. It would need to be preserved as is. Changing anything would be like redecorating Monticello at Sears. Think of the super groovy parties you could have making Harvey Wallbangers and playing backgammon. Or making soft core porn?

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Fearful Symmetries

Guests visiting AdamsMorioka for the first time are often disgusted. William Pereira designed our building in 1969 as the Great Western Savings and Loan headquarters. Today it is the headquarters for Flynt Publications. The classic mid-century aesthetic has evolved into a lush “Las Vegas casino” style. I’ve grown to embrace the beautiful silk flower arrangement on each elevator lobby and the faux-marble elevator walls. The disgust our guests experience comes from our door sign. Clearly Tiffany Heavy and Optima are not expected here.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “black rock.” The New York headquarters for CBS designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962. The signage for the building is a flawless version of Didot. Lou Dorfsman commissioned a new version of the font specifically for CBS. This served as the corporate typeface for over a decade. As designers, we disagree on many issues: Fillmore posters sucked or ruled, modernism is over or relevant, AdamsMorioka does vapid and fun or smart and seductive. I don’t think anyone would argue, however, that the CBS Didot signage and collateral is remarkable.

Think of it this way: a client asks you to do a signage program, a designer in your office suggests Didot, what would you say? If I weren’t aware of the CBS program, I’d probably say, “Are you out of your mind? Do you really think that’s legible? Who is going to fabricate these letterforms and not break the very thin parts of the letters? Get the hell out of my office! In fact, leave for good.” Actually, I probably wouldn’t say that. I’m the nice one. Noreen would say it.

All Shook Up

I’ve owned the same Florence Knoll sofa and Saarinen Womb chair for 20 years. I bought them both from Skank World. Back in the late 80s, there were only a couple of mid-century stores in Los Angeles and New York. I could afford these just a few years after leaving school; it was that cheap. Alas, that has all changed. After spending a couple of days with my friend Erica looking for a sideboard, I have learned that mid-century has moved into a hell on earth. For the love of God, stop. At these shops, I don’t think I’ve seen so many hip, young couples with a baby dressed in black, stylish lesbians with Converse high tops, and entertainment types with jaunty pork-pie hats. I told my niece, Izabelle, as we shopped, “Never, ever, trust someone wearing a jaunty hat.”

Now, I don’t know what to do. I like my furniture. I don’t like change. But I don’t want anyone to think I wear pork-pie hats and shop for that special Danish modern end table. I am now considering raiding my grandparents’ house and switching to Victorian. It’s a little scary, and might look like the Haunted Mansion. There is so much stuff in the house; nobody would notice any missing items. For example, there are, at least, 12 Victorian hanging lamps. I have one in my bedroom now, so 11 more would be even better.

Let's Make a Pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957

One of the stories in David Sedaris’ Naked is about his Greek grandmother. At one point, she is moved into a high-rise complex for the elderly. Sedaris describes his visits:

I enjoyed pretending that this was my apartment and that Ya Ya was just visiting. “This is where I’ll be putting the wet bar,” I’d say pointing to her shabby dinette set. “The movie projector will go in the corner beside the shrine, and we’ll knock down the dividing wall to build a conversation pit.” “Okay,” Ya Ya would say, staring at her folded hands. “You make a pit.”

When I read this, my first thought was of the conversation pit at the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. Eero Saarinen designed the house in 1957, Dan Kiley designed the ground-breaking (no pun intended) modern landscape, and Alexander Girard designed the interiors. Of course, the house is a masterpiece of modern architecture and design. The interplay between the sleek and hand made folk art is remarkable, and the breakdown of the interior versus exterior space is elegant. But, I can’t stop thinking about that pit. When you are in there do you see everyone’s shoes when the move out of the pit? Does it promote licentious voyeurism from the ground level up? Do you set your drink on the floor/edge of the sofa? I ponder these questions. And there is something about conversation pits that screams “Key Party.” Maybe I won’t dig that hole in my living room.

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, from exterior

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, the pit

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, dining room

Eero Saarinen, Miller House, 1957, hall

Miller House exterior