It's Not Easy Being Avocado Green

Once again, I was driven to drink by an HGTV home improvement show. Rather than naming these shows Color Splash or Spice Up My Kitchen, they should be named more honestly. I’m thinking, “Search and Destroy Historic Value”, or “Incredible Vintage Tile Replaced: A Spa Bathroom Cheap.” Why would anyone look at a beautiful bathroom with turquoise tile and fixtures that would stand after thermonuclear war and think, “If I could only rip that out and replace it with some bamboo paneling?” On a show last weekend a new homeowner decided her avocado green bathroom was dated. Uh, yeah, that’s what makes it good. So they ruined it. Why? Why? I kept asking as they tore into the tile, “Boy this tile sure is set in here. It’ll take days to take this bathroom apart.” Of course this is God’s way of telling you to stop.

I understand that avocado green is difficult for some. I’ve found that there are two ways to make some one turn beat red with anger in a presentation. First, urinate in the corner and say, “That’s how you treat my work.” Secondly, use avocado green. People really get mad when they see it. Personally, I love it. It’s important to differentiate avocado green from hunter green. Hunter green has more blue, and avocado (or cactus) green has more yellow.

Coming out of the flower child, granola movement in the 1960s, avocado green was popular in the 1970s because marketers wanted everyone to feel good about buying a station wagon that got 7 miles per gallon. As it was avocado green and brown, it was clearly natural. The same went for plates, dresses, washing machines, fondue sets, and anything that needed to be cloaked in “natural.” If marketing people were smart now, they would realize the same thing was happening. Then you could buy an avocado green truck and leave it running all night long, just in case you needed to leave in a hurry. It’s a natural tone; it’s good for the earth.

Stop the Madness

There are few things in life that really enrage me. One is when people turn on their turn signal only after the light has changed and I am stuck behind them. The other is when someone on HGTV decides to renovate a perfectly good bathroom. “Look at this atrocious 1950s bathroom,” the designer says, “We’ll get rid of that turquoise bathtub and make a relaxing spa retreat.” I want to go through the television with a baseball bat and knock some sense into them. First, the turquoise fixtures are impossible to find now. The sea-foam tile is built to last during an atomic war. The bathroom is efficient and stylish. Second, why does everyone want a “spa retreat” in his or her bathroom? I like to use my bathroom for hygiene and then leave. I don’t want to linger, light candles, stare at the wall, and soak in filthy bath water. It’s just plain disgusting.

I am guilty of the crime of renovating a pink mid-century bathrooms. I will, no doubt, be run over by the karma train for this. I tried valiantly to save the bathrooms. But, the fixtures had been replaced and didn’t match the tile. The bidet was odd and not needed, and the flowers on the tile pushed it over the edge from mid-century sweet into sickening old age home. The tile that ran up the wall to the 6-foot level also left the impression of being in a Frances Farmer insane asylum hosing down room.

I did my best. I found style appropriate sinks and faucets at Waterworks. I used plain white square tile, as opposed to something hip like glass pebbles. And I put in a terrazzo floor that might have been chosen in 1953. This should not be taken to be an absolution by the renovation people on HGTV. I am begging you to please stop destroying the national treasures of pastel bathrooms and replace them with faux Asian bamboo retreats.

Life without hard edges

Robert Burle Marx, Safra Bank roof garden, Sao Paulo 1982

I love working in the yard. One of my favorite activities is growing indigenous plant species, and working with my cacti. I’ve cleverly planted cacti along one edge of the pool as a special treat for anyone who dares to run at the pool.

Several years ago, I came across Roberto Burle Marx, the Brazilian landscape architect. Marx (not one of the famous brothers) was born in 1909 and studied in Germany during the Weimar Republic. He initially considered the Brazilian vegetation as scrub, but evolved to recognize its inherent beauty. His forms clearly are derived from a modernist sensibility, with a touch of the organic. Marx’s landscapes read like a Miro painting or Calder sculpture. The paving at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro echoes the forms of the waves and creates a wonderful sense of motion.

I was watching one of those design shows on HGTV yesterday. The owners of a new house insisted that the freeform palette shaped pool, clearly based on one of Marx’s forms be taken out and replaced with a rock/waterfall pool. I’m not one to talk back to the television, but I found myself doing that. “No, no, no, for the love of everything sacred, please no,” I found myself begging the hapless homeowners on the screen.

Roberto Burle Marx, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro 1970

Robert Burle Marx, Cisneros Residence, Caracas 1980

Roberto Burle Marx, New York Botanical Garden

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo 1953

Roberto Burle Marx, Safra Bank, Sao Paulo 1982

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo 1953