Some people consider renovations to be a trial; decisions and discomfort are borne for the end result. Others consider renovations a creative act, a process that is just as much of a reward as a home tailored to your exact taste. The clients for this luxurious yet laid-back 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill neighborhood were firmly in the second camp. “Together, we’ve renovated two apartments, and we built a house from the ground up on the Jersey Shore,” says the wife, a lawyer. “Our last apartment definitely leaned traditional. Our beach house was midcentury modern. Over time, we’ve become more interested in taking some design risks.” She and her husband, who works in finance, were looking for a younger designer, one who thrives on collaboration with craftspeople. “We live in a city that is filled with artists and talent and creativity, and we wanted to harness that in our home,” she says.
They found their match in Michael K. Chen Architecture, a nine-year-old practice known for bold colors and bolder juxtapositions of materials, eras, and shapes. “They asked me specifically to challenge them a bit,” says Chen.
By Mark Lamster & Alexandra Lange
It has been a year, people. COVID-19. Economic collapse. Political madness. Social unrest. Fire. Mank. Through it all, we’ve been keeping tabs, marking down who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, so we can bring you, for the 11th consecutive year — !!! — our annual architecture and design awards.
With no further ado, here’s what we’ll remember from this year to forget:
Design of the Year: The mask. Cotton, silk, knit, disposable, novelty, high fashion, political, N95. Whichever option you have chosen — and you better have chosen one — no human-made object has had more impact on our lives in 2020.
Chemosphere Prize: To Dua Lipa, who had us levitating with her John Lautner call out on the title track of our favorite album of the year, Future Nostalgia.
Playskool Badge of Dishonor: Trump’s itty-bitty widdle desk. It should have been colored plastic, for design consistency, but as with all else in his benighted administration, it wasn’t thought through.
Richard Scarry Vision Award: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bizarro kiddie art “New York Tough” COVID poster left us speechless.
No one wants to receive a dud gift, but in a year when a pandemic has narrowed our experiences, stuff has a heightened allure. It’s hard not to feel especially invested in the idea of shopping well, of swashbuckling through the retail landscape to find just the right thing.
So, for this bizarre holiday season, The Washington Post asked Ted Chiang, Jenny Odell, Ken Liu, Sara Hendren and Alexandra Lange to dream up the presents that they’d love to parcel out this year but that don’t exist.
My response to this prompt? A magic box.
“Sweetheart, we could strip out everything and start fresh, maintain the look outside. Go modern minimalist on the inside. White walls. Black and gray furniture. It would be so open and airy.”
Modern minimalist? Something died inside Kincaid. “You can’t be serious,” she blurted out.
Something died inside me, too, as I read these lines in Roni Loren’s romance novel The One for You. The first speaker, an Austin architect, wants to turn a gorgeous, needs-work farmhouse in Texas wine country into an urban loft. Clearly the only reasonable thing for the book’s heroine to do is buy it out from under him, protecting the house’s good bones from going the way of every fixer-upper in Waco. And thank goodness for that. I wish more characters in romance novels had Kincaid’s backbone, interiors-wise.
Romance has a serious décor problem. Contemporary romance novels, my pandemic escape of choice, provide a wide variety of settings, pairings, relationship dynamics, and even kinks. But the world of romance has settled, it seems, on a default style of interior design for its heroes. Every time I read about yet another “modern minimalist” living room—let’s just say it kills the mood.
If summer 2020 in Brooklyn had been anything like summer 2019, my 13-year-old son would have been at camp, sleeping in a tent, sending me monosyllabic postcards and, in moments of downtime, playing a game called Mafia. The role-playing game, created by Dimitry Davidoff in 1986, splits a cabin full of campers into two groups, the mafia and the villagers. During the “night” — eyes closed — the members of the mafia pick off one of the villagers. During the “day”— eyes open — the remaining players try to figure out where evil lurks among them.
Instead, this summer, my son was at home, sleeping in a bed, learning how to be a Dungeon Master, sending me monosyllabic texts from another room and playing an online game called Among Us. The online role-playing game created by developer InnerSloth in 2018, splits a spaceship full of astronauts into two groups, “impostors” and “crewmates.” Impostors pick off the crew and sabotage the ship’s systems. Crewmates try to do their jobs and figure out where evil lurks among them.
Among Us is one of a number of unexpected beneficiaries of the global pandemic. In 2018, as Quartz reported, only 30 users were playing the game at any given time. In September 2020, 3.8 million players were playing the game at once. Many of the first people to bolster that trend were teens, who spotted it on the streams of several Twitch celebrities.
Screen time, often demonized as destructive to interpersonal relationships, has come to resemble a life raft (or escape pod) for families that have found there is such a thing as too much togetherness. Platforms including Discord, Roblox and Minecraft have transformed in response to users’ needs — and adults are starting to take notice.
It has been a long time since the world found a new chair. But in the apartments and dens of mostly young men and women, across from the soon-to-be-upgraded PC and multiple screens, there is one, introduced in the past decade and a half: the gaming chair, built for stress-free full-body support when the keyboard and heavy-duty mouse come out. It’s wheeled like an office chair, but it’s also something else. Although both types support the spine, with seats and armrests intended to keep knees and elbows at the optimal ergonomic 90-degree angle when playing or working at a desk, gaming chairs generally accommodate a greater range of movement. Many of the seatbacks can recline to 135 degrees, for cockpit-like play, while the armrests can be adjusted front to back, side to side and angled toward or awry from the body. They also typically come with adjustable pillows to support the lumbar and neck. Is a gaming chair sports equipment? Is it an office chair? Is it personal billboard? The answer is all of the above, and the boundaries are collapsing.
Alexandra Lange, design critic and author, joins us to discuss designing for childhood. From groundbreaking concepts in early childhood development to the environmental dangers we’ve created in cities, Alexandra shares the extensive insight she gained while researching for her latest book, “The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids.” We dig into the external forces that have evolved and shaped the world around children – blocks, homes, schools, playgrounds, and cities.
Picnic basket. Badminton racket. Jigsaw puzzles. Cold-weather gear. All these items and hundreds more spill across the floor, as a sorrowful blonde clutches more rackets and a baseball glove, a Madonna of the closet. This full-page photograph by Herbert Gehr was staged to accompany a 1945 Life story on the storage wall: the revolutionary new system, designed by architects George Nelson and Henry Wright, that was going to help the American family organize the 10,000 objects they had stashed in attics, on shelves, and in basements. Thirteen feet long and 12 inches deep, the storage wall would separate living room from hallway and house a tenth of the average family’s worldly goods, from sports equipment to stereo system, stationery to board games behind closed doors.
I always thought of the storage wall as #housegoals, a place for everything and everything in its place. I dreamed of clearing the decks of clutter, from counters to coffee table to bureau top, and seeing only clean space and that Aalto vase every architect owns. As millennial home décor has trended toward the minimalist — by choice and by economic necessity — mobile versions of the storage wall, by IKEA and others, have achieved their own level of name recognition. Interiors influencers like Sarah Sherman Samuel have even designed semicustom doors for the Besta in Blush, Agave and Juniper, so their closets and their kid can match. As a mother, I knew putting it all away to be largely impossible, surrounded on all sides by LEGO and stacks of graphic novels.
But from the first days of the pandemic, when flour sold out and masks were hard to come by and the (mistaken) powers that be told us to stay inside, my relationship to clutter changed.
The last shelters on the Marangu route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro are little structures known as Kibo huts, the first built in 1932. When Robert Hune-Kalter, a Colorado-based bank employee, reached the huts, in July 2019, he might have been thinking of nothing but scrambling to the top of Africa’s highest peak. But he found himself admiring their triangular shapes with their steep, green-painted gables and vertical black siding.
“I liked how symmetrical it was,” he said, “and even mentioned to my friend that it reminded me of the symmetry of a Wes Anderson scene.”
After descending, he sent a hut photo to the Instagram account “Accidentally Wes Anderson,” where it joined pictures of pointy roofs taken in Wildwood, N.J.; Siglufjordur, Iceland; and Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory. All these places resembled alternative sets for Mr. Anderson’s 2012 film “Moonrise Kingdom,” a golden-toned story of young love set against rocky shores, lighthouses and scout camping tents.
In Victorian England, the baked potato had dual purposes. Sold from street-side “cans” — metal boxes on four legs, with charcoal-fueled fire pots within — the potatoes could be used as hand-warmers when tucked inside a mitten or muff, or body warmers when consumed on the spot as a hot and filling snack. Potato sellers by the hundreds set up cans on London streets, selling their wares from August to April, as ubiquitous as today’s ice cream trucks but serving the opposite season.
Buyers and sellers of those spuds had little choice but to be out on the streets, whatever the weather. That’s where the business was, that’s where workers could buy a quick meal, that’s where friends might encounter each other, standing close to the can for warmth. A little food, a little fire, a little chat — these elements made being outdoors in winter bearable.
A hot potato is a small gesture against the elements. But it is also inexpensive, portable, requires minimal setup to cook and comes in its own wrapper. For the winter ahead, American cities need a lot more ideas like the baked potato: pop-up comforts, at many scales, that can gather a crowd outdoors and ensure people get the sun and socialization they need. Don’t write off the darkest season before it even begins. What if cities took their cues from the Victorians, and made no retreat from the elements? What if we spent Covid winter outside … and enjoyed it?