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.

Riding the Rails

Herman Miller Metaform System

Raw space, 1111 South Arroyo Parkway

I've begun to believe that if you're on the wrong train on the wrong track, things just don't seem to work. But when you're heading the right way, everything falls into place. It's been this way with the ArtCenter Graphic Design Graduate Program (MGx). It's a challenge and never easy, but the process to launch in Fall 2016 has been remarkably smooth. With the help of Chris Hacker, last week, we met with the folks at Herman Miller who have agreed to partner with us on the space. Just another hint that this is the right direction.

The program will be house in the 1111 Building in Pasadena, just across the tracks (see the train metaphor) from the ArtCenter Wind Tunnel. From the outside it looks like a perfectly normal office building, but the interior is fantastic raw space. The open space on the MGx and Gx floor goes on forever with amazing light and views. You could put a roller rink in there. 

Herman Miller is working with us to use the space as a case study with the new Metaform system. The system is entirely modular. The pieces can be rearranged and rebuilt in minutes. A student could create a space to work alone, and quickly pick up the pieces to make a group workspace. I know we'll see some amazing hacks. The system even has pieces to use with 3d printed custom elements. I'm jealous of the students who get to work with Metaform.

I intend to use the 3d printer to add garden gnomes.



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.

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

Hold Me Now

How many times have you come home after a long day to find all of your wall hangings crooked? I don’t know if tiny earthquakes cause this, or someone is purposely making them crooked to prove they’ve been cleaned. If I had one massive painting on each wall, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But I have photos and paintings specifically arranged. I plan the groupings out on the computer, measure with my Schaedler ruler (if you don’t own one, stop right now and buy one) and make sure everything is square with a level. This is not OCD.

Last weekend I was determined to solve the problem. Some people lie in bed awake at 3am wondering about a serious issue. I lie there trying to decide what adhesive will work best to fix the pictures in place. After much trial and error, Quake Hold Museum Putty works best. This is how to achieve perfectly square images that will always stay in place.

  1. Roll out a piece of the Quake Hold like a roll of dough
  2. Cut pieces off, about 1/8” each
  3. Roll these into little balls
  4. Affix the little Quake Hold balls to the bottom corners of the frame
  5. Use a small level to make sure the frame is correct, and push the bottom into the wall

Voila, you pictures will remain in place even when small children attempt to dislodge them. And when you want to remove them, give them a little pull, and they lift right off, no damage to the wall or frame. Then you will no longer be ashamed when you find a guest glancing at your wall.

Kitchen Confidential

Many of you have sent me notes asking about details on some of my house projects. “Sean,” they typically begin, “I’ve been looking for a sink that I can use to wash my dog. What would you recommend?” So, I’ve decided to devote a few posts to helpful renovation tips. I’ll start with the kitchen. I loved the original kitchen. It looked great as a Pleasantville kitchen, but the drawers didn’t open, cabinets were too small, the appliances had past their prime, and the space was crowded. I wanted a kitchen where everyone could gather and not say, “Get the hell out of my way.”

I entertained the idea of designing the kitchen myself, but I know that hiring a professional is always best (note to those who think they can design their own logo). I hired my friend, Sidney Cooper, who is a genius. I told Sidney we needed a functional kitchen, but wanted to nod to the house’s history. Being obsessive, I took Sidney’s plans and redrew them to make sure I had space for all of the kitchen’s contents, and to test colors.

Kitchen renovations are expensive when you change the footprint, so we tried to match the layout to existing gas and water lines. Sidney replaced the peninsula that bisected the room with an island. We avoided upper cabinets to keep the room open. All of the lower cabinets have drawers for pots and pans, plates, and Tupperware. I bought stainless steel shelves from Big Tray for plastic cups. The countertops are Caesarstone, which is almost impossible to ruin. If I stain it, I can use Bar Keepers Friend to make it look new. We used standard vinyl composition tile for the floors. These are cheap, can take a beating, and are simply waxed and buffed every 6 months.

There are a couple of decisions I’m not sure about. I like my range, but I never use the griddle. I don’t know what to make or how to clean it. I love the amount of room my refrigerator has, but it’s kind of a giant machine in the middle of the room. I love my pre-rinse faucet. It’s not fancy; it’s an off-the-shelf commercial unit. This helps to wash animals in the sink if you need it. Or, as my friend Jill said, “It looks like something used for enemas.” But I still love it.

The Hidden Den of Shame

Recently, it was suggested to me that I was too minimalist. I'd like to be minimalist. I'd like to be the type of person who has all white walls with Shaker furniture, and one tiny painting of the New England coast. But, I have too much stuff. I can keep some of the rooms at home simple and clean until I begin adding things like Danish pottery and Mexican figurines to to the fireplace mantle.

The den has become a real problem. Most of the stuff came from the Ranch or my grandparents' house. Western was the theme at the Ranch, while Victorian parlor was the theme at their  house. Consequently, the den is a hodgepodge of western paintings, Edward Curtis photographs, and Paiute baskets. And I found a great case to hold all of my tiny nick-nackery. It holds my birds nests, rock collection, Mexican tiles, and any other little object I can cram in there. So, as you see, I may preach minimalism, but like Mies Van der Rohe, I can't live in it, too much stuff.

It's not easy being green

There is a sofa at my grandparents’ house that we all call “the Nancy Reagan” sofa. I like it, nobody else does. I’d put it in my house, but it weighs a ton because it’s a sleeper sofa, and impossible to move. And I have no idea where to put it. My other grandmother had a cousin who was a bastion of good taste, Nancy Lancaster. Lancaster is credited with creating “the English-country” style. My mother and aunts follow this style. So that side of the family would not approve of the sunny and flowered Nancy Reagan sofa.

I found a book, though, that helps me understand how to change my décor to accommodate the Nancy Reagan sofa, The Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book from 1968. It clearly demonstrates how to use purple and green as a color scheme, or golden harvest as a theme. I particularly like the burnt orange and brown Venetian inspired kitchen. The room for a college student is nifty, too. I can imagine a bong on the shelf and some Jefferson Airplane posters adding some individual personality. The purple and magenta room gives me a perfect way to use the Nancy Reagan sofa.

If I do this, I will be leaving behind ½ of my family. My mother’s side (the Nancy Lancaster side) will never accept this. I will be ostracized or pitied for my awful and tragic taste.

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.

The Hallways of My Mind

The happy hall of different colors

As we've previously established, I'm not particularly good about sitting still. I try to sit by the pool and read a magazine, but after 5 minutes I notice that the patio needs cleaning, or there are weeds in the cacti garden. When it rains, I'm forced to find things to do inside. Fortunately, the work never ends. I have a dark hallway in my house that bugged me since we bought it. It's an interior hall and perfect for attacking someone if you plan a mugging. I tried painting it white and this made it seem like being in a dark hallway in a mental hospital. Then I found an article in a 1965 Sunset magazine that gave tips on brightening up a house. "Try painting each door a different color," was a small throwaway piece of text.

What could be better? This would take hours. Each door would need to be taken off, cleaned, and painted. And I would need to buy several cans of paint, and rewash the brush for each door. It turned out to be a larger undertaking than I imagined, but idle hands are the devil's playground.

The dark mugging hall

The many colored doors after

in process

Brighter, happier hallway

More hallway

The Blue Door

Warts and All

Noreen's and my office

I love visiting other designers when I travel. Michael Vanderbyl’s office is, as expected, immaculate and classic. Pentagram in New York is a hotbed of activity and energy. VSA in Chicago is deeply impressive. Each office is consistent with the designer’s personality. When I’ve asked designers for photos of their office for a book or magazine I don’t get them. It’s like pulling teeth. You’d think I asked for personal sex videos. Typically, it’s because everyone feels like they need to clean up and have a professional shoot done. Bit that’s not real, and everyone seeing the final images thinks, “I’m a pig.” So here is a visit to AdamsMorioka with all the mess exposed. I came in early today before everyone was in and things were flying all over. I didn’t clean up anything. This is the reality.

We’re in the Flynt Building in Beverly Hills. William L. Pereira & Associates designed the building in 1972. It started life as the Great Western Bank Building, hence the 21 foot John Wayne sculpture at the entrance. AdamsMorioka is on the 6th floor. We face west; we have a great view all the way to the beach. But we get afternoon sun directly for half the day, so when people ask me why I’m tan, it’s my office. I’d love to say we demand a clean desk and spotless tables, but I can’t hold to that, so I can’t make everyone else do it. The one aspect we couldn’t control was our sign; it matches the signs throughout the building. We even offered to design a news signage program for free to fix it, but someone in building management loves brass and Tiffany. My biggest concern is that it’s a fairly open space and everyone is forced to hear my music. It ranges from Rosemary Clooney to 100 Strings. Today, I’m playing American music like America the Beautiful. It’s a hardship for those who decide to work here. But it could be worse, well maybe not.

8484 Wilshire Blvd

The beautiful Tiffany typography

lobby wall of posters, we running out of space, so we hide the ugly ones

The lobby wall

Conference Room

The library wall

Some books

These are the good designers who come to work early

The Shah of Iran poster that looks over the crew

Noreen's side of the room, bitmapped so she won't hurt me

My desk this morning

Today's donuts Noreen brought to make us fat

The tiny kitchen

I am not an animal

Living room, after

This is how I feel when I visit other designers’ houses: I usually feel like I live like an animal after I leave. Down the road, I’ll track down images of some of my favorites: Michael Vanderbyl’s Napa house, Debbie Millman’s slice of Palm Springs in Manhattan, Jennifer Morla in San Francisco, and others. But today, I only have photos of my own renovation. We moved into the house a couple of years ago. The family who built the house in 1954 lived there until we bought it. Fortunately, they had maintained most of the original qualities. Most of the renovations had to do with making things more functional, or better suited for the way we like to live. The most recent addition was the flagpole I got for Christmas last year for the lawn. Next up is the oddly enormous laundry room that is mysteriously bigger than the bedrooms. This comes in handy when I throw dirty dishes and laundry on the floor so I can really live like a wild animal.

Living room, after

Living room, Before

Kitchen, after

Kitchen, before

Kitchen, after

Kitchen, before

Den, after

Den, before

Back yard, after, with new flagpole

Back yard, before; the pool pump was dead

Pool equipment wall, after

Pool equipment wall, before