Self-Affirmation through the Choice of Highly Aesthetic Products

Dear readers, This may be old news to those of you whose subscriptions have not lapsed to the Journal of Consumer Research, but buying good-looking products evidently makes you feel better about yourself. My friend and colleague Alice Kriz called my attention to the August 2012 edition which carries a study Self-Affirmation through the Choice of Highly Aesthetic Products by Claudia Townsend and Sanjay Sood in which it was demonstrated that participants who picked out a better looking lamp (over perhaps a better functioning but less attractive one) increased their self esteem.

Another benefit of buying good looking product was that the participants were more open minded after their purchase. Perhaps with the positive glow of just acquiring something beautiful, they were more at peace with themselves, less guarded, and more empathetic to others’ views.

“What our research shows is that purchasing an attractive item causes a person to feel better about themselves {sic} and this ‘affirmation effect’ frees them up, mentally, to admit to the error in their ways. The result is that they no longer need to justify their initial bad investment with additional funding and consequently make better decisions.”

This is music to my ears. Music, I tell you: Buy beautiful lamps, feel great, and keep an open mind… perhaps you should buy some more beautiful lighting. I sense a virtuous cycle. Can I interest you in a pair of beautiful lamps?


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The French government just announced that they are taking the vanguard position on light pollution and energy conservation with a new law to control lighting at night. The environmental ministry announced the law yesterday (to go into effect July 1 2013) to require businesses and municipalities to shut their lights between 1AM and 7AM. There will be exceptions for some public monuments and holiday celebrations but shop windows, streetlights, facades will all be dark in the wee hours.

This is supremely good news on many fronts. The move is expected to save some 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That’s a massive step in the right direction for reducing greenhouses gasses and the attendant global warming. It’s also an acknowledgement that light pollution itself is a huge problem that needs addressing. Light pollution negatively effects human health (specifically as it disrupts circadian rhythms), negatively impacts the ecosystem of nocturnal animals, as well as ruining our view of the night sky. Have you seen a great starry night recently?

I can only imagine there will be a backlash of billboard owners, searchlight operators, and makers of exterior-grade flood lights. But, try this and let me know what you find: take a walk in the dark. Let your eyes adjust to whatever light comes from the moon or stars. You’ll be amazed, I think at what you see and what you have been missing.

Perhaps against intuition as well, less brilliantly lit areas, ones with down-pointing/shielded fixtures, and ones with motion activated controls are safer than glare-y flood lit ones.

If this sounds interesting and you want to learn more, the International Dark Sky alliance’s website has great info: including tips for talking to those neighbors who’s prison-yard lighting is streaming in your windows.


-David Calligeros

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Vice Squad

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has seven vises listed in its collection. I was able to find one of them and pored over it for a while last Sunday.

This is an armorer’s vise. I don’t know what makes it specifically an armorer’s as opposed to any other smith’s tool. It’s undoubtedly one of the prettiest tools I’ve ever seen, and all the more so as vises are among the most brutish workhorse tools in a shop.

Mermen and putti help support the jaws and bench clamp. The lever ends are turned with acorns and concentric stepped finials.

My favorite artistic flourishes are the cartouches on either side of the body with Jacopo De Ferrara’s name and the date commemorating the making of this tool.

This vise was collected and passed on to the MET by Samuel Yellin. You will see his name on many, many examples of metalwork from ancient Iran to rural Pennsylvania in the MET. Yellin was a master craftsman and designer in metal in his own right in the Arts and Crafts movement. His own works now reside in museums.

The Met has a high quality image of the Jacopo De Ferrara armorer’s vise on the museum site.

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Twas the fortnight before Christmas…

Twas the fortnight before Christmas and I had the New York architect Alan Wanzenberg on the brain. Alan and I have known each other for a decade or so and over that time Remains has been lucky to contribute to several of his projects. Alan loves to talk about big ideas, resolving geometric puzzles of space and use patterns, or leaving satisfying tensions between them. All the while, he succeeds in being both direct and sumptuous in his work.

He came to me with a question a few years ago while we were working on a project of his in Colorado. How could we make appealingly plain and forthright fixtures that would fit almost anywhere but avoid seeming generic and unremarkable? Nothing feels abstract or theoretical about his houses, nor is his work particularly decorative, in the sense of a needlessly dressed up surface. In part, he manages the combination of forthrightness and attractiveness in his work through the use of rich material, and I don’t mean necessarily exotic or expensive material, just plain old rich, like dark chocolate is rich, or lush floor coverings are rich. That project and several more saw the creation of a few core shapes, finishes, and materials that, gathered together, form the kernel of a new collection by Alan, for Remains. Here I am delighted to tell you about the first five. Stay tuned for more revelations…

Our collaboration puts that combination of rich material and satisfying geometric play on view in a series of wood, dark brass, and ceramic table lamps which we are releasing this week.






Now what does that have to do with Clement Clark Moore the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” better known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”?

Way back when Chelsea was simply called a bit of rural Manhattan above the settled part of the city, Moore’s grandfather built a house and named it and the many acres of land on which it sat. The name Chelsea stuck long after the orchards and manor house were built over. Besides the place name, however, Clement left a full block’s worth of land to the General Theological Seminary, which stands there today between 20th and 21st streets and 9th and 10th avenues. Many, many decades later, with not so many seminarians to keep it humming, the General Theological Seminary has been selling parcels to the Brodsky organization for residential development. Those interiors are designed by… Alan Wanzenberg.

The General Theological Seminary

I bet the Brodsky group was happy to see their architect’s name in relation to the sale of a $33,500,000 apartment in this past Sunday’s NY Times real estate section.

Have they been good boys and girls? Visions of sugarplums dancing?

-David Calligeros

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The Hearst Building (as in William Randolph, American publisher of note) in San Francisco was built in 1910 and remodeled in 1937. The remodel was designed by Julia Morgan who also designed Heart’s “castle” San Simeon. I stopped by recently to look at the bronze grillwork above the entrance. In a repeating square grid, there’s a pattern of antelope, lions, jaguars and other beasts in foliate bordered rondelles that date to the 1937 renovation.

If you walk through the lobby to a small entrance in the back, there’s a beautiful triangular stair of marble and iron that rises the full height of the building.

-David Calligeros

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Mark di Suvero at the San Francisco MOMA

I’m usually completely unmoved by the type of large industrial sculptures you find at Storm King or Dia Beacon but I make an exception for a few. Sculptures like Torqued Ellipse (or others by Richard Serra) that physically impose upon me are impressive, and especially works that are kinetic (who doesn’t like twirling a mobile?) bridge the gap between object and viewer.

When I visited the San Francisco MOMA I saw tons of good work, including some fabulous pictures of limestone quarry explosions by Naoya Hatakeyama and the strangely hilarious wall/music piece by Ed Osborn pictured below, but the most fun I had was evading the guards trying to keep me away from Mark Di Suvero’s steel sculptures on the roof garden.

They looked like something out of Dr. Seuss books or Philip Guston paintings. Large plumbing sections and curved plates delicately balanced on tiny pivot points just demanded to be spun and rocked.

The placement (and movement) of the sculptures on the roof made for fun juxtapositions and framings of the nearby construction projects. I wonder why museums buy and display sculptures with obvious kinetic intentions and then forbid the public touching them.

The welding on the round sections was quite masterful. The line of puddled metal looks like fine stitching.

-David Calligeros

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Chas. J. Weinstein and The Loew’s Kings Theater in Brooklyn

I got a call from a friend of mine who’s bidding on the restoration of one of the massive old movie palaces in New York City. The Loew’s Kings Theater opened in Brooklyn in 1929 with marble, crystal, velvet, and bronze furnishings and headlined major releases until it was closed in the 1970s. It has been crumbling in the decades since. Recently, a new roof, a big infusion of funding, including millions from NYCDEC, and an operating partner promise that the theater will reopen as a an arts space hosting 200-250 performances a year. Completion is several years out.

When I scrolled through the images of the theater online I notice (of course) the huge lighting fixtures still floating overhead. They are very similar, if not identical, to some which were made by Chas. J. Weinstein & Co, Inc. of New York in the 1920s and 30s. I happen to have one of their old catalogs.

The scale of the fixtures pictured and described in the catalog, some hitting 11’ diameter by 12’ in height, makes it seem as if the market was strictly theaters and ballrooms. Those dimensions are larger than a lot of peoples’ studio apartments.

We have a pair of lanterns from this company in inventory. While I always thought they were the largest and most grand things I had ever seen, they now seem kind of modest… perfectly scaled for a small New York apartment.

-David Calligeros

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Pumpkins and Lanterns at Van Cortlandt Manor

Alix and I dragged the kids up to Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton on Hudson recently to see their annual pumpkin extravaganza. Aside from this hilarious seasonal confection, I diligently documented a few lights on the 18th Century house, lovely punched tin and glass examples of rural style, which are less common in my work than citified examples.

The house also has a beautiful, very tall, Dutch front door, shown here with my nine year old Eugene, for scale.

I apologize for the strangely half-lit photos but we visited at night, which brings me to the main event of this post.

Every year Van Cortlandt Manor enlists the help of a team of artists and artisans to carve thousands of pumpkins and “Funkins” (more on this later), groups them in thematic arrangement around the grounds and paths, lights them, and invites the public. The results are otherworldly.

We spoke to one of the carvers who was demonstrating the technique of gradual subtractive carving, which uses clay loops to sculpt the pumpkins in three dimensions, and relies on the gradations of translucence resulting from the differences in wall thickness to produce subtle designs. They resemble large, orange tinted, lithophanes. There are also tons of traditionally pierced-carved pumpkins. With the faint but discernible smell of overripe pumpkins in the air, I asked about how long they can keep the display up, do they have to replace pumpkins, and they keep the delicate and intricate designs from collapsing in a squashy mess. The answer in many cases is: “Funkins”. Funkins are a species of artificial foam pumpkin, albeit molded from real pumpkins, that won’t rot or collapse and that are indeed individually carved by the team. Well, I suppose that makes some practical sense. Nevertheless, while it leaves the pumpkins stiff and perky for many nights of fun to come, it left me slightly deflated.

-David Calligeros

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