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Jennifer Morla, photo: Jock McDonald

I was in Las Vegas yesterday doing a speaking engagement for AIGA Las Vegas and Mohawk. The term "design rock star" was thrown about quite a bit. While this might seem flattering, it's remarkably unsettling. I'm just me, kind of a bozo. A "design rock star" is someone like Jennifer Morla. Since we're on a roll with powerful women designers in San Francisco, Jennifer must be included. She is from the generation that followed Marget Larsen and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. She began her career when San Francisco was a field of Michael's (Vanderbyl, Cronin, Mabry, Manwaring, Schwab...). See no girls here. Jennifer entered the scene and stood as tall (sort of) as the dudes.

Jennifer made and continues to make work that could only be made in San Francisco. It is playful and light, Victorian and sleek, dark and complex. Like San Francisco, the work is a study in contradictions. A DWR catalogue has organic imagery of a bird set, not in a forest, but on a minimal modernist white background. Jennifer's felt screen uses forms that would typically be constructed with materials such as lace, but are re-presented with a utilitarian textile. The Mexican Museum recasts Frida Kahlo as a large set of photo-mechanical halftone dots, denying the painterly or sentimental representation typical of Kahlo. Each project slams one form against another creating work that is always unexpected and wonderful.

I can't say that envy is a big part of my emotional composition. I know that everyone has their own wacky shit going on even if the exterior looks perfect. And like every designer, I have the sensation of joy and discovery when I find a designed item that I wish I'd done. However, when Jennifer showed me her solution for the Clorox 100 Anniversary book, I was jealous. I was envious that she did something so remarkable and simple using the Clorox plastic material as the cover, and I would never have thought of that. And I was really envious that she owned that artifact. I wanted to have it for myself. This is pretty positive proof that a solution is great. I regret my sinful thoughts of envy, but excuse myself as it was caused by the extraordinary. And she has the most magnificent laugh.

 

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The Customs Of The Barbarous And Civilized

I planned on taking photos of the good and awful outfits at the AIGA Bright Lights event. But, then I was sidetracked by the sight of the bar. Clearly, my drinking is getting in the way of my fashion photo-journalism (is that an oxymoron?). What I need is another person who follows me around and takes photos while I'm busy spilling cocktails on someone.

This year, the event called for cocktail attire, as opposed to black tie. Personally, I prefer the black tie option. It's nice to show respect for the Medalists who are honored for a lifetime of work. This year, however, I was relieved to not wear the tuxedo. When I tried it on for another event, it was like putting on a child's suit. I must have been ten pounds lighter when I bought it. I guess those Sunny Von Bulow dinners of martinis and ice cream sundaes were a bad idea. I was confused about the "cocktail attire" idea. Was this what I wear at home at cocktail hour? Pajamas? Fortunately, Michael Vanderbyl, the best dressed man in design, gave me the low-down. The other guests ranged from elegant and gorgeous, like Pam Williams, to clownish. Sorry, I won't name those people. I still need to work in this profession. But look for the tell all book ten years down the line.

 

Jennifer's Body... of Work

Tomorrow, my wonderful friend Jennifer Morla is having an opening in San Francisco. I am trapped at my desk and will miss the fun, but at least I can talk about her here. Now I know, someone is probably muttering, “Why promote someone else? It should only be me, me, and me. I’m cranky.” In this instance, it’s obvious. If we looked at the work of Jennifer Morla alone, we should bow at her feet. Jennifer’s vision is so clear, and focused, its razor sharp. Her work is intensely energetic and unapologetic. It has a no holds barred approach paired with surgical finesse. And then, there’s Jennifer herself. She’s committed to the profession, an educator, and an industry leader. She is also a remarkable and rare friend. Whenever I feel tired and think, “I can’t take so and so out for dinner. It’s a Wednesday night.” I consider what Jennifer would do. She would ignore being tired and go to dinner. Which she has done for me many times.

On one visit to San Francisco for a speaking event at CCA, she, Clement Mok, and Michael Vanderbyl stayed up late on a Wednesday and took me to dinner. Afterward, Jennifer drove me to the CCA apartment. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the exact address. I only knew it had a steel door. We found a house that matched the description, and the key fit.

Once I opened the door, however, I realized I was in someone’s hallway. There were coats on a rack, little children shoes on the stairs, and umbrellas in a stand. I didn’t know if the CCA apartment was upstairs, or down the hall. I also, wasn’t convinced I hadn’t broken into someone’s house. I opened the door on the right; it was the garage. I opened the door on the left down the hall; it was a closet with clothes. At the end of the hall, the door opened onto a bedroom. Either this was the CCA apartment, or someone’s bedroom who wasn’t home yet.

I put my pajamas on and went to bed, hoping that I wasn’t sleeping as a surprise guest for a sleepy owner. Nobody ever came home, but I didn’t want to be discovered sleeping in their extra bedroom by the innocent family upstairs, so I left at 5:00am and waited for the sun to come up.

Jennifer is having an opening Friday, November 5th at 6pm at California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco.

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