Lights of Scotland and England

It is a wonderful thing to be inspired by your work.

My colleague David Calligeros created a mobile app for a series of annual design conferences that maps out significant or noteworthy light installations in the cities or countries that host the conference. Each pin on the map pops up a photograph and image of the installation, historical or technical notes, and the location of a nearby café or watering hole so you can rest your travel weary feet. He documented Lights of Copenhagen, Lights of Morocco. I’ve never been to Copenhagen, so the app was a fun way to imagine the city, and the entries are a fantastic mobile museum for the design inclined. Taking up David’s game, I like to document remarkable lights I see when I’m traveling. This summer I spent a month in the UK. I’m not quite as tech savvy, but here are my Lights of Scotland and England.

World Heritage status should have prepared me, but still I was blown away by Bath. The Roman ruins, the Circus, the River Avon, the fashion museum. The fashion museum? Yes. Housed in the Assembly Rooms, which are a traditionalist’s dream, the Museum of Costume surveys dress over hundreds of years. In addition to the corsets and crinolines you can try on in the basement, there is elaborate plasterwork, layers of painted decoration, and banks of lofty windows to enjoy upstairs. A trio of crystal chandeliers hung in a pretty pale ballroom on the south side of the building. We had acres of dance floor available from which to gaze at the intricate ceiling. After I got up off my back from taking this photo, my mother taught an impromptu class in English country dance, the proper stuff you’d find in an Austen novel. If only we’d had some of those gowns from the basement.

I made a point to return to Glasgow on this trip to steep in nouveau architecture. It was a great counterpoint to Gaudi’s work which I saw in Barcelona a few years ago, fleshing out how the style expressed itself in different parts of Europe. Rennie Mackintosh was the rose of the Glasgow school. I craned my neck walking through the core of the city to admire the metal flowers ranked below the Art School windows, and the blossoms carved in sandstone at the Lighthouse. His work is striking because it encompasses every detail of interior and exterior, from facades to furniture, stonework to table service. This simple fixture of woven metal strips was designed for the Willow Tea Rooms. It seems inspired by rustic countryside baskets. The open lattice work creates beautiful organic patterns with the light, a hallmark of a great decorative fixture.

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, was bursting at the seams with art. Festival season was about to start, and it felt totally normal to have performers on every street playing everything from bagpipes to panpipes to steel saws. The National Museum in Edinburgh just underwent an incredible makeover, and I spent the better part of a day bouncing around their diverse collections. This monumental bronze lantern in the museum’s collection originally hung in a central public space at the Scotsman newspaper building in Edinburgh. It was the heyday of newspapers, a prestigious institution that brought a world of information, education and sophistication, and the massive light in the advertising hall communicated that stature to the crowds thronging the place.

Thistles never fail to make me smile. I grew up in a Scottish household, which instilled in me a lasting appreciation for all things Scot: tartan and bagpipes, thistles and bland food. Edinburgh Castle was definitely a highlight of the trip: just the views over the walls to the city and the water made it worth the climb up that huge rock. The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle is known for its fine hammer beam ceiling, from which two rows of massive chandeliers hang. The gothic foliage on the arms and the fretwork of the painted lantern body are exceptional. The pale greenish tone contrasts with the serious red of the hall and the somber ceiling, and is a lovely foil to the thistle shields placed between the arms.

Driving through England, I stopped outside of Manchester at a place called Tatton Park. A sprawling acreage, the Egerton family’s neoclassical manse is managed by the National Trust, as are Lord Egerton’s apartments, the stables, and sundry other outbuildings on the property. Like similar stateside preserves I imagine they constantly totter between dilapidation and resplendent restoration. Here were perhaps my favorite lighting moments on the trip. I found this in the stairwell in a back hall at Tatton Park. Imagine one of those spaces in Downton Abbey that links upstairs and downstairs, the servants to those they serve. The brass fitter of the pendant creates a shadowy halo on the ceiling: the best lights harness shadow. And the glass throws chattering golden swirls around that dark.

The morning I visited Tatton Park, I was delighted to see staff at work cleaning the crystal chandeliers in the library. Housing 8,000 books, the library is a perfectly symmetrical room. It could have been a classically trained architect’s Rorschach: one side mirrors the other, like the inky plan was drafted then folded in on itself.

One by one, each crystal is removed from the chandelier, tagged to ensure it’s properly ordered, cleaned and polished by hand, then replaced on the frame in its original spot. First one chandelier, then its mate on the other side of the room. This industrious team reminded me of one of my favorite colleagues, antiques specialist Jenna Major. With a meticulousness that verges on insanity, she restores the antique lights for the Remains Lighting collection. Her work astounds me: not only is her metal artistry amazing, her service for lights is a bit like what animal rescuers do for all those cute little puppies and kitties wandering the streets. She loves these neglected pieces back to good health and ultimately helps them find good homes. Watching them work delighted me. Those chandeliers glistened. It must have been a coup for the Trust. It was a warm, fuzzy moment that made me glad to travel, and glad to know I had good work to come home to.

-Valerie Thomas, Remains Lighting Los Angeles

More….

In vogue in Bath: http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/

The cult of Mackintosh: http://www.crmsociety.com/default.aspx

Manchester, England, England: http://www.tattonpark.org.uk/

More from Valerie Thomas: www.curveimprovement.blogspot.com

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Tony Duquette Splashing Water Chandelier by Remains Lighting in The New York Times

We were thrilled to see the Splashing Water chandelier in the Home section of the New York Times:

Bathed in the Glow of Splashing Water
By Linda Lee 

As much theatrical designer as interior designer, Tony Duquette occupied a studio on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles that featured a ‘tray ceiling’ made of gold plastic trays. In 1956, five years before he won the Tony Award for his costumes for ‘Camelot’ on Broadway, he created the exuberant Splashing Water chandelier for the space. ‘That was an interesting challenge for us, to find a way to retain the lightness of the original fixtures made by hand, but make them consistent,’ said Alix Calligeros, an owner of Remains Lighting, in Brooklyn…..”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/garden/bathed-in-the-glow-of-splashing-water.html

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Alan Wanzenberg named to Elle Decor’s A-List

Among his many accolades, Alan Wanzenberg is one of the ten new designers named to the 2013 Elle Decor A-List, the magazine’s “fourth annual salute to the country’s top talents-designers who continue to excite, inspire, and intrigue us.” We are proud to introduce his lighting for Remains: the Ashland Collection of fixtures and the Taghkanic Studio Collection of lamps.

Nevins 10 Chandelier in the entry of the 150 Charles Sales Gallery apartment designed by Alan Wanzenberg

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The Museum of Things

My friend and former colleague from Remains, Bryn Veditz, gave me a tour of her new gig in the Museum of Things a few weeks back. She won a yearlong fellowship in curatorship/museum studies in Germany and I overlapped with her in Berlin for a few days.

The Museum Der Dinge houses, among other things, the archive of the Deutscher Werkbund, an organization founded in the early 20th century by artists, architects, and product designers intent on promoting their ideals of good design. The collection consists of everyday consumer objects (teapots, televisions, fans, souvenir mugs, stuffed animals… all sorts of things). Originally the expressed purpose of the collection was didactic. By posing DW-approved good design (plain surfaces, clean lines, mass produced) against bad design (kitch, crafty, decorated) the curators taught the public how to distinguish between the two and hopefully make the “right” decisions in their future consumption. The museum is less specific in intent and broader in interest now however. It has taken a role as a repository and interpreter of twentieth century material culture in general.

 

 

I love the museum’s “open storage” presentation of its collection. Glass fronted cases are jammed with objects grouped thematically (tools, urns, adult toys, sewing machines, etc.) but with little in the way of descriptive tagging. It’s very dense and rich.

 

 

 

I liked this set of decrepit desk lamps (unearthed from the a construction site? Remnants of a bombing? Dredged from the river Spree?)

-David Calligeros

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Industrial Architecture in Berlin: P. Behrens’ AEG Turbine Factory

I tricked two friends to ride 15 kilometers from our hotel on rented bikes to check out the architect Peter Behrens’ 1909 turbine factory on a recent unseasonably freezing cold morning. Michael Graham and his partner Phil Leiderbach of Leiderbach and Graham Architects in Chicago were in Berlin with me for a design conference and they actually were planning on visiting the very same building, only they had the sensible idea of taking a car. Adventure won out over comfort however. I really can’t get a feel for a city unless I walk or bike through it. If I am driven or take the subway, I experience it as a series of disconnected points, and can’t stitch any of the geography together. Once we figured out we all had the same plan we pedaled away, with only a brief visit to a hardware store for an emergency purchase of gloves for frostbite mitigation. We saw this striking building along the way; a city jail, with this none-too-subtle sculpture on the façade.

Behrens’ AEG Turbine building was built for the manufacture of steam turbines. It was put up quickly, talking only a brief 8 months and made of mainly glass, steel and concrete. Its aesthetic power comes in large part from the expression of the dynamic forces in its engineering. Behrens treated those forces and the functional needs of the manufacturing process (for instance the need for large column-free spaces, high ceilings, and huge windows for illumination) as principal design elements. But this building is not a plain engineering exercise; Behrens manipulates the expression of the structure’s and the fabrication process’ needs as if they were a design tool set. Neither does Behrens limit himself to a purely functional vocabulary. I was struck by the essentially classical handling of the building. It’s anchored by large, rounded, rough-aggregate concrete corners, scored with horizontal channels. The scoring recalls massive, simple, masonry construction. These corner elements tilt inward significantly (reminding me of ancient near eastern or Cycladic architecture) and set up a tension with the steel column legs of the building frame. The long façade that stretches down Berlichengenstrasse has a strongly rhythmic feel. The masonry and glass modules seem in tension with the columns separating them.

 

I was completely prepared to be underwhelmed by a building I studied at length in college and was familiar with only in vintage black and white slides. My experience of much modern industrial architecture is that it holds up pretty poorly to both its bottom line driven requirements as well as the weather; the business side having no sympathy for aesthetics and history over productive use (and often changes uses) and (usually) poor quality, cheap, materials used in construction not wearing well over time. The Turbinenfabrik defied my expectations. First of all, it’s still standing (which I knew, of course, but…). If I was directing bombing raids over Germany in WW2 any prominent turbine factories would have been reduced to rubble. Secondly, it underwent a decent maintenance/restoration in the 1970s. It’s in pretty great shape from all external appearances. Thirdly, it’s beautiful and has a dramatic street presence. Set back on a wide sidewalk, on a corner lot, you can easily appreciate the classic base, body and gable/cornice arrangement as well as the play between massive concrete, tense steel, and sheer glass. The concrete is a pretty tawny color with big aggregate showing. The glass appears to be original and the steel is not rusting wildly, in fact it was painted a pretty olive green on the Huttenstrasse façade. Lastly, it’s still a turbine factory. You can hear the machinery humming as you walk around the building.

We all had the brilliant idea of trying to improvise a tour inside and walked into the office at the opening of the courtyard. Before we could open our mouths a guard met us with a friendly “NO”. I think perhaps he had seen pleading architectural enthusiasts before. Certainly he was immune to our charms.

 

-David Calligeros

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Hiking by Design: Solstice Canyon

Valerie Thomas of Remains Lighting Los Angeles will be leading a hike to Solstice Canyon in Malibu this Saturday April 27th to explore two of her favorite passions: hiking and design.

Valerie will guide an easy 4 ½ mile loop through Solstice Canyon. The initial incline and overall elevation gain of 800 feet will get hearts pumping, but the hike will be at a relaxed social pace.

This hike, in a lush Malibu canyon, passes a babbling brook, some great vistas and the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House, built in 1952 by architect Paul Williams. The Tropical Terrace, as it was known, was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. The ruins give a clear shape of Williams’ design, which was all about the natural setting. This is a hidden gem of LA architecture with stone walkways and brickwork, fireplaces with chimneys still intact, and vintage appliances in the kitchen!

  Before the fire: Julius Shulman’s shot of the interior of the Tropical Terrace.


The ruins of the Roberts Ranch House today.

Hikers will also see an 1865 stone cottage built by Matthew Keller, the oldest stone building in Malibu.

The group will meet at 10am near the amphitheater. There is parking just off Corral Canyon Road. The hike should take approximately 2 hours, depending on the group. And there are great lunch spots nearby at the Country Mart for those who have worked up an appetite!

Trail Map

For more information on Solstice Canyon

For more about Paul Williams and the Roberts Ranch House

If you are interested in joining the hike, please contact Valerie directly: valerie@remains.com or call her on 646-723-2488 with any questions.

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From Darkness, Light

It’s spring. Buds are breaking on twig tips, fine sprays of grass fringe walkways, and a shifting palette of salt, slate and blue in the foggy mornings lifts to reveal gently sunny afternoons.

With spring comes an itch to move: I’ve been dying to get out of town.

So it was perfect timing for “Cities within a City,” the first of the Southern California Institute of Classical Architecture’s local tours.

I drove about an hour south of Los Angeles Saturday morning with a fresh iced coffee, and met a host of new and familiar friends at the fountain at Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes. A herd of lithe young people were stretching on the grass by the plaza, their bicycles propped nearby.

They would ride the ragged coastline of the Pacific Ocean, hidden from view just beyond the stands of pepper and eucalyptus trees.

The inscrutable sound of peacock cries echoed around the hills.

After a morning tour of the plaza and the public buildings at Malaga Cove, we convened in the courtyard of my friend Steve Shriver’s home out near Portuguese Bend for an intimate al fresco lunch. The home was built by Los Angeles luminary Gordon Kaufman. The Shriver family has lived at The Farmstead, as it’s called, since 1984. A humble set of apartments, they were actually the service buildings of a grand imagined but unrealized Italianate home overlooking the ocean.

Steve is an artist, and this is an artist’s home. Surfboards are propped in the horse stables. The coastal land is settling constantly, revealing fissures and charm in the thick plaster.

One bit of charm the home recently revealed is an age darkened folio that Steve found in the attic: the sheaf contains a set of watercolor renderings of light fixtures that were designed for the home when it was being built in the 1920s.

Steve had mentioned these drawings to me some time ago, knowing my interest in antique lighting. I could not have anticipated my delight in finally seeing them in person.

A precisely metered cursive, penciled almost 100 years ago, captions the drawings. Gentle wrinkles and a wide border naturally frame each drawing.

The watercolor renderings would fit in the palm of your hand. The B.B. Bell Company proposed a series of wrought iron lights for the Levinson Estate, aka The Farmstead. There is little information about B.B. Bell floating in the ether, but they are credited with lighting the Adamson House in Malibu, and Greystone, the Doheny Mansion in the hills not too far from where I live and work in Los Angeles.

The Bell artist handles the bleeding color deftly, revealing the twist in the iron framing, spikes rising like a crown around a glass lantern body, the open mouth of a dragon peering down from a wall bracket.

Charcoal and slate and a cadmium-bright yellow whisper over the graphite, the color illuminating the sketches.

I imagined the bare terraces of the peninsula when it was first being developed in the 1920s, and in turn the Bell designer imagining how his dark, scrolling lanterns would sway in the sea breeze. Wall sconces hanging from elaborate brackets would illuminate the gate posts of the quiet, thick walled villa.

Some of the fixtures were less Mediterranean – simple geometric forms fashioned from sheet metal. The artist mottles the dark colors representing the metal as if anticipating the patina that sea air and salt would bring naturally over time.

To catch the likeness not just of metal, but light, and glass. My heart leapt at these:

The crackling edge of a pale color used to render the glass seems to glint off the page.
When I think about the photographs of our lights that I print by the dozens, I am stunned. (And that’s not at all to diminish the artistry of our in house photographer, Jerome. His detail shots regularly make me catch my breath). But these renderings are one of a kind, and stand as art in their own right, with no need of the artisan-made lights that they conjure.

Sadly, the lights were never made. I wondered if that might be because the main house was never built, but the notes make it clear that they were proposed for the outbuildings. The captions note fixtures for Entry, Lavatory, Service Porch, Outside of Tool Room, Bath Lavatory, Servant’s Hall. Humble spaces to support a grand villa.

And those numbers? 1920s pricing!

Steve does have some beautiful lanterns on the gateposts before his home. And I saw a light on the Villa Francesca just down the road that looked a lot like one drawn for the Farmstead. Villa Francesca is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Whether or not the light is by Bell, I think the spirit lingers here.

-Valerie Thomas, Remains Lighting Los Angeles

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Sugaring on the Farm

Recently, one of our colleagues based in Vermont has been lending a hand in her spare time to a different kind of artisanal producer, she’s helping to haul in this year’s crop of maple sap.

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.comEach year during Vermont’s famous mud season, when the days start to warm and the nights still dip well below freezing, the maple sap begins to flow and is harvested by sugarers across New England. On Daph-A-Dill Ranch in Pawlet, Vermont, Chris and Daphne Ross are still collecting sap the same way their parents and grandparents did, in galvanized aluminum buckets that are collected each day into large holding tanks, hauled down to the sap house by tractor, and boiled into maple syrup.

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

Image: courtesy of Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

-David Calligeros

All photos by Jonathan Weiss, surfacist.com

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