Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The Interior Lives of Black Homes

Helen C. Maybell Anglin outside her home in the Chatham Park neighborhood in Chicago, circa 1974.

Helen C. Maybell Anglin, the self-described “soul queen of southern cuisine,” is posed on the steps of her fieldstone house on the South Side of Chicago, swathed in black mink. It is 1974, and the house, which she commissioned in 1965 from the architect Milton M. Schwartz, is as bold and glamorous as its statuesque owner, with a recessed portico, double entrance doors and a skylighted, shag-carpeted living room that’s big enough to dwarf her white baby grand piano.

Ms. Maybell Anglin died in 2009, and the house remained under family ownership until last year. Bertina Power, an author and real estate broker, was asked to give her professional opinion to someone who wanted to rehab and sell it.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to buy it,’” she said. “I have been going in and out of million-dollar houses for years and nothing moved me like this house did. I didn’t know why.”

Ms. Power is, like Ms. Maybell Anglin, a Black woman and entrepreneur just under six feet, and she has come to believe her ownership was fate. While Ms. Power did not know her new home’s history until after she stepped inside, it seems unlikely that such a house could fly under the radar now.

Ray Eames: Beauty in the Everyday

New Angle: Voice is back! We kick off Season Two with a profile of Ray Kaiser Eames.

Many know Ray Eames as the small, dirndled woman behind her more famous husband. In this episode, we uncover the talented artist who saw the world full of color, the industrial designer bending plywood in the spare bedroom, and the visionary who treated folk art, cigarette wrappers, flowers, and toys as equally valuable and inspiring. Ray brought the sparkle to the legendary Eames Office, as you’ll discover in this episode.

Special thanks to the people you’ll hear in this episode: Pat Kirkham, Lucia Dewey Atwood, Llisa Demetrios, Jeannine Oppewall, Donald Albrecht, Meg McAleer and Tracey Barton at the Library of Congress, and Alexandra Lange.

Dansk and the Promise of a Simple Scandinavian Life

Illustration by Carolina Moscoso

In the summer of 1958, the sleek, modernist Statler Hilton in Dallas hosted the presentation of the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, an annual prize created by the department-store president Stanley Marcus and his aunt Carrie Marcus Neiman. Onstage that day were Yves Saint Laurent, fresh from the creation of his Trapeze line, which freed the waist; the children’s couturier Helen Lee, known for bright, poofy girls’ dresses; and a rather standoffish Danish housewares designer named Jens Quistgaard, plucked from the remote island where he lived, wearing antiquated knickerbockers and sailor’s shoes. Under the headline “Designing Dane, Isle’s Only Man,” a reporter for the Atlanta Journal later warned, “All you men who have wives with roving eyes, blindfold them—HURRY! The bearded Dane . . . is in town today, and the ladies are giving him looks akin to those you gave Brigitte Bardot at the movies the other night—remember?” The next day, a trifecta of models, wearing Y.S.L. sweaters and Pucci pants, posed with an ice bucket designed by Quistgaard held high like a trophy. Danish design was having its “Mad Men” moment.

In a classic American twist, the brand that Quistgaard was promoting while wearing his “customary attire of Copenhagen,” as another retailer put it, wasn’t Danish at all. Dansk originated from Great Neck, on Long Island. “ ‘Dansk’ is like when you sell vodka in the USA,” Quistgaard told his biographer, Stig Guldberg. “You use its Russian name and you kind of keep the original letters on the bottle and brochures.” Guldberg’s new monograph from Phaidon, “Jens Quistgaard: The Sculpting Designer,” seeks to disentangle the man from the brand, but the housewares consumer of 2023 treats the book like a catalogue. Yes, I would like Fjord flatware, which almost seamlessly combines teak with stainless steel. Yes, I would like an enamelled Købenstyle casserole, whose lid serves as a trivet, in brilliant red or turquoise. Yes, I would like a wenge bowl with matching salad servers, which cleverly hook on the side. Yes, I will cook and eat an Emily Nunn salad, an Alison Roman pasta, a Smitten Kitchen bake, from any of the above. The life style that Quistgaard’s design suggested—and that the Dansk founders Ted and Martha Nierenberg deftly promoted—so closely aligns with how we aspire to live now that the food-media juggernaut Food52, which acquired the Dansk brand in 2021, has begun a series of reissues and planned collaborations with contemporary designers.

I'll Miss You, Design Bots

A weekday, workaday afternoon. The endless scroll: News photos, airbrush artworks, animated GIFs,and – what is that? Peacock-blue satin, a regal flare. Click to still the image. It’s a chair, folded-back quilted fabric over a flared red base. It looks like the standup collar of a frock coat. It looks like the skirt of a princess dress. It looks like a parka.

It’s Gaetano Pesce’s Feltri armchair, designed in 1987 for Cassina and tweeted into my consciousness by slam_decorative, a Twitter bot created by Twitter user andrei that automatically shares objects from the St. Louis Art Museum Decorative Arts and Design department. The museum doesn’t run it.

Twitter bots like slam_decorative crawl public records and public collections and tweet historic, anarchic, and beautiful images and texts into your everyday feed. They provide an escape from the influencers, an escape from the algorithm, an escape from 2023 – or they will until February 9, because TwitterDev announced yesterday that the service will stop supporting free access to Twitter API and start charging, reportedly $99 per month for the basic tier.

Santa Claus, the Spirit of the Mall, Is Back

Santa Claus with a client at the King of Prussia Mall, December 2022. Mark Makela/Getty Images North America

Santa arrives at the Grove, the outdoor luxury shopping center in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District, in dramatic fashion: His red sleigh, with eight tiny reindeer, arcs over the mall’s central fountain, framing the 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Reservations are recommended for Santa’s Workshop, decorated to look like the gooiest of gingerbread houses. And despite December temperatures hitting the 60s in LA, faux snow falls nightly at 7 and 8 p.m.

As Americans mark their return to in-person shopping this holiday season, they are also coming back to the mall, where Mariah Carey still reigns, giant baubles hang from the rafters, and Santa presides over his village. Santa, after all, is the spirit of the mall — a little bit nostalgic, a little bit exciting, and a whole lot commercial, with photo sessions starting (at least at the Grove) at $50 for the Holly Jolly package.

This combination of community and commerce has been part of the mall’s DNA since its birth. Southdale, America’s first indoor mall, created a jingle advertising “Southdale’s Wonderland” in 1956, its first year. And yet the mall Santa can also seem entirely now: What could be more 2022 than an immersive Yuletide selfie station?

Mask Optional! It's the 2022 Architecture + Design Awards

By Alexandra Lange, Mark Lamster & Carolina A. Miranda

There are big changes here at Awards Central as we deliver our 13th consecutive annual prizes: We are pleased to announce that the most eminent Carolina A. Miranda of the Los Angeles Times has joined our esteemed panel. What does that mean for you? More awards. More geographic diversity. More hilarity. Welcome Carolina!

Moving on to the business at hand: It has been yet another busy, dispiriting, ridiculous, racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and all around stupid year. Which is to say, a lot of material for us. And so….on to the fake awards:

The 2022 Architecture and Design Awards

Golden Anniversary Chalice: The Kimbell Museum, Gund Hall, and Pentagram all hit the big five-oh. Many happy returns.

The Golden Carbuncle Trophy: Charles III is now the literal king of the trads. Will he relocate to Poundbury?

Bye-Bye Birdie Badge: We would have preferred it if Elon Musk immolated his tunnel business, rather than our favorite place to post buildings we can’t stop thinking about. How will architects make friends without Twitter?

Bruno Taut Award: To Miles Bron, Glass Onion’s Musk-esque bro, who decided architecture should resemble an allium.

The Brooklyn Condominium That’s Reinventing Outdoor Common Space

Photo: Iwan Baan / Illustration: Stephanie Davidson

Courtyard apartments have a long history in the US, particularly in temperate climes, where shaded outdoor corridors and centralized playspaces can be year-round amenities. New York City, however, has only selectively embraced this approach, with private yards and public parks taking up the slack. A new 18-unit condominium, 450 Warren — one of four planned Brooklyn collaborations between architects SO-IL and developers Tankhouse — aims to change that relationship, while also twisting the idea of common outdoor space into something that gets used.

Rather than creating one large courtyard, with the open space protected from the street by an L-shaped plan, SO-IL chopped up the outdoor amenities, betting that smaller, more carefully shaped and planted terraces would be more popular than a large undifferentiated expanse of grass. The building’s plan reads as three towers connected by curvy concrete walkways.

Exposing the messy, technologized, and undervalued nature of reproductive labor

Ani Liu, Untitled (feeding through space and time). Photo by Celeste Sloman

Messy coils of plastic tubing sprawl across the gallery’s concrete floor. The liquid inside—opaque, white with a yellowish tinge—pulses once, twice, and the eye tracks its progress thanks to the air bubbles cycling through the loops. Could that be … milk? Follow the tubing back to an unassuming rectangular box. If it is milk, a panicked brain might ask, where is the mother?

At this moment the mother, artist Ani Liu, is standing by the door of the pocket-­size Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space in Lower Manhattan, wrapped in a tie-dyed T-shirt dress for tonight’s opening of her solo exhibition, “Ecologies of Care.” But she has also sat, pumping milk, in the broom closet next to her classroom at the University of Pennsylvania; in her basement studio in Queens; on trains and in cars. The volume of milk circulating through Untitled (pumping) and Untitled (feeding through space and time) represents a week of such sessions, or 5.85 gallons—some of the invisible labor of motherhood. It also represents modern breastfeeding technology—specifically, the Spectra pump that allowed Liu the alleged freedom to return to the workplace just weeks after having her first child. After headlines about a national formula shortage earlier this year, the liquid seems even more precious.

KQED Forum: Get In Loser, We're Going to the Mall

A very fun conversation with some of the best mall memories from callers I have heard yet. Stay to the end for a Chuck E. Cheese cameo.

“The mall is personal,” writes design critic Alexandra Lange in her latest book Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall. For denizens of the suburbs, the mall is the place where people got their first jobs, got their first taste of independence goofing around with middle school friends, or bought their first hot dog on a stick. And while often derided by design critics, the mall in its heyday has been immortalized in movies like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Clueless,” “Mean Girls,” and more recently “Stranger Things.” With the rise in the online economy, many have heralded the demise of these temples of commerce but malls continue to reinvent themselves. Mina Kim talks to Alexandra about the cultural and design history of malls and we hear from you about your favorite mall memory.

Decoder Ring: The Mall is Dead (Long Live the Mall)

I spoke to host Willa Paskin about all things mall. Listen to the end for an amazing Victor Gruen haunting!

What do we lose if we lose the mall? 70 years into their existence, these hulking temples to commerce are surprisingly resilient and filled with contradictions. In this episode, Alexandra Lange, the author of the new book Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall walks us through the atriums, escalators, and food courts of this singular suburban space. We also hear from mall-goers whose personal experiences help us make sense of this disdained yet beloved, disappearing yet surviving place.