Give Me The Simple Life

Several years ago I was at a photo shoot at a large estate in Santa Barbara. When I asked to use the restroom, I was directed to a tiny bathroom in the garage, the staff bathroom. Of course, I was shocked, dismayed, and indignant. Then I realized that this was probably karmic and I should be glad I wasn’t told to go down the hill to the gas station.

The thing that really bothered me, though, was how expensive this multi-million dollar house was (in the upper-teens) yet it looked exactly like a Macaroni Grill. It was designed in a Tuscan style with not an item out of place. Everything was brand spanking new. Each brick and stone was perfectly clean fresh from a box. There were no books, family portraits, or odd nick-knacks.

If you’ve ever watched Beautiful Homes on HGTV you know what I am describing. Each luxurious “beautiful home” is more overdone than the next. Yes, a closet probably cost more than my house, but all that marble, gilding, and brocade wallpaper. Why? I understand that most people don’t want to live in Philip Johnson’s Glass House, or deal with a waterfall in the house at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. But does anyone require a bedroom that looks like it belongs to a Disney Princess, or a kitchen that was designed to fit in at Versailles?

I look at Paul R. Williams’ houses and know this is the right way to do it. They’re beautiful, tasteful, elegant, and functional. They’re never overwrought or heavy handed. Williams took classical and simple forms and created warm spaces. If I were going to spend 18 million dollars on a house I’d buy the original family estate in Virginia, Castle Hill. Or, I’d buy a Paul Williams house, not a Macaroni Grill or Olive Garden disguised as a house.

For more: Williams/ grand-daughter, Karen Hudson monograph, Paul R. Williams, Classic Hollywood Style (source of many of these images). 

Paul R. Williams, Beverly Hills Hotel Suite, 1949

Not my Nuts!

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

There are times in history when all elements come together at a specific place to create something remarkable. Fallingwater, the Lever House, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, and, yes, the Nut Tree in Vacaville, California. For most people growing up in northern California or Nevada, the Nut Tree was a ritual. Every trip we took between our ranch in the Sierras to San Francisco required a Nut Tree stop. I believe I have the Nut Tree to blame for my vocation. I was mesmerized by the packaging, signage, typography, and artwork. And I was 4. Much of the design was the creation of Don Birrell. He introduced high California modernism to the farming fields of central California. The Nut Tree had Eames chairs in the Toy Shop, and Dansk flatware in the Dining Room. The mix of folk art, hand-crafts, and minimal modernism predated Alexander Girard’s Textile & Objects shop by 8 years. There was a clear sense of joy, clarity, and quality that pervaded the atmosphere. And this was, basically, just a roadside store and restaurant, with a small local airport. If one of the tenants of modernism is to bring good design to the masses, the Nut Tree is a prime example and is long overdue for the recognition it deserves.

Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train
Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train

Nut Tree Train, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

The Nut Tree Shop

The Nut Tree Plaza

"Dendriform" by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978
"Dendriform" by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978

Charlotte Patera poster, 1975, Nut Tree

Lowell Herrero poster, 1970 at Nut Tree

Woodcarvings, Stan Dann, Nut Tree Poster 1977