Step into Kinfolk magazine

Every few months we look forward to being greeted by a gorgeous cover of Kinfolk magazine. The toothy paper, natural lit photos and bold composition are always a delight for our senses.

The Design Issue

The magazine founded by Nathan Williams and Doug Bischoff  in 2011 is based out of Portland.  It features photo essays, fashion, design and most notably food and entertaining. Each issue of the quarterly lifestyle/arts magazine is themed around a topic such as “Family” “Work” or “Travel.” The magazine uses different contributors for every issue to give each topic its own personality.

A spread from the “Age Issue,” features all things that age well…including pickles

The warm pastel colors and crisp type have become the hallmark of current north west publication design.  Since Kinfolk does not feature any advertisements the strong use of the grid and negative space give extra room for us to take in the lush photography.

It’s clear that Williams puts great thought into how the magazine flows, “We try to think of the experience from cover to cover, always asking ourselves if the stories blend well and if the colors and images feel like an intentional experience.” The latest issue, “The Weekend Issue” should be arriving soon.

In the meantime, we have the Kinfolk Home book to keep us company.

 

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Chicago: A Beautifully Detailed City

Chicago is a unique city: from its master plan by Daniel Burnham right down to its crafted brickwork, the Midwest Metropolis oozes its own character.  The Great Fire of 1871 and the construction of the Sears Tower in 1970 bookend a century of development in which the city showed its architectural daring.  In these architectural pursuits, the details were never overlooked; Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham and Root, and Mies Van Der Rohe, as well as scores of other architects, were all seeking a kind of truth in the craft of the detail.  Sometimes we forget to fully appreciate the work that goes into the construction of our buildings, of our city, but here we’d like to hone in on some of the little moments around the city that inspire us.

Window Ornament – Carson Pirie Scott, Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan was one of the pioneering architects of the Chicago School, his organic layered ornament can be found around the city.  This first example from the Carson Pirie Scott Building (now City Target) can still be seen today on the corner of State and Madison.

Interior Ornament from Old Chicago Stock Exchange

This example shows Sullivan’s prodigious eye for proportion and order, even while working with challenging forms.  The Interior of the Trade Room from the Chicago Stock Exchange was preserved after the building’s demolition, and can now be experienced at the Art Institute.

In the early 1890s, a young Frank Lloyd Wright came to work for Sullivan.  The two collaborated on the Charnley House in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, and there we can see what would be the beginnings of the “Prairie-Style”, which would embody wrights ideals of harmony between man and nature.

View of the Charnley House Balcony

The way the freshly conceived ornaments seem to appear out of the proportions of the building continues to inspire, and as designers we are always asking, “how does the part relate to the whole?”

Interior of Unity Temple

Fast forward only fifteen years to Wright’s design for Unity Temple, and we can see a totally different kind of detail emerging; Wright was incorporating every aspect of the building, the pews, the lights, the windows, into a unified whole.  The way the light fills the space and cascades over the form of the nave creates an ephemeral experience.

Reliance Building Burnham and Root

At around the same time as the Auditorium Building, the Reliance Building was being designed by Burnham Root for the corner of State and Washington.  It should be noted that Burnham and Sullivan were not on good terms at this time; Burnham was chosen as master planner for the 1893 Exposition and the city at large, and Sullivan vocalized his distaste for both.  The repetition and precision of Burnham’s details contrast the organic flowing nature of Sullivan’s, but both contribute to the city’s beauty.

We hope that you can find wonder in the details of Chicago as we do.  Next time you’re walking around our city, or another, take some time to look around, chances are there’s something beautiful that isn’t immediately apparent.

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Norman Kelley: Young Artists to Know About

Does one have to design a building to be called an architect?  Perhaps, but then there must be something else, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes the design more than the sum of its parts.  One group of architects continually prodding into these questions is the practice of Norman Kelley.  Founded by Carrie Norman and Thomas Kelley and based between New York and Chicago, the practice is unafraid to venture into all areas of design.  Through all kinds of media, interior design, exhibition, and installation, the group responds to poignant questions regarding art and architectural practice.  The objects that result range from curious to intriguing to “wrong”.

“Rubin’s Barrel”

This work is from the practice’s “object” category, and we find the reference to the classic faces and vase silhouette pretty funny.  It’s always nice to find an object with a bit of humor.

Norman Kelley’s interior design work is almost incomparable to their object work.  The firm is able to approach totally different design questions with the same irreverent curiosity.  Their design for the Aesop store in Chicago’s own Bucktown elegantly weaves an international brand into a local feel.

The floors and walls of the interior are completely lined with reclaimed Chicago bricks and the display for the products are neatly tucked into the brickwork.  With a single material, the designers made a Chicago home for the brand, and we do not foresee them leaving anytime soon.

“Comb-Back Writing-Arm Chair” from the “Wrong Chairs” collerction

Another series of objects from these talented designers, their “Wrong Chairs” also reveal a humorous spin on a classic idea.

The chairs intrigue us and make us laugh at the same time, they’re like artifacts from some alternate “wrong” universe.  The one thing they don’t do is make us want to sit on them.

We love Norman Kelley’s ambitious practice, and are quite impressed by the diversity of their portfolio.  Indeed, we hope to see more from these talented young designers, what other surprises have they got?

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Collage in Architecture: a New Image

More than its predecessors the typewriter and printing press, the computer has had a profound impact on human life.  This humble post was written on one and is likely being read on one as well.  Indeed, we are surrounded.  So, how do we adapt to this technology?  Architects have been working on this problem in their practices for decades, and as the technology continues to improve, they have found some surprising answers in the mixture of old and new techniques.

Executives Shadows Bridge Guy Billout

Spurred by disdain for the highly sterile computer rendering, many architects have reverted to old techniques such as watercolor and collage to convey their ideas, and the results are captivating images.

Isolated Architecture by Joseph Ignacio Ruiz

With these new techniques, architects are crossing over into the art realm as the images they produce become increasingly beautiful.  They will often insert art historical references into the works, like this swimmer above who appears to have been plucked from a David Hockney painting.

Floor Plan for Hamptons House also by Ruiz

In this beautifully crafted plan, we can see the contrast between the nature of the site and the rigidity of the building.

Egocentric House by Chelsea Kilburn

Miami Architecture by Architectonica

We love the way these architects take a playful approach to create the image of a building.  It’s always a pleasure when an architectural representation becomes a work of art in itself.  For more of these intriguing drawings, take a look at the blog Koozarch, “a visionary platform of architecture” that inspires us with work from architects all over the world.

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Diverse and Stylish New Hotels in Chicago

We love our hometown, and of course we should, but we know that Chicago pride runs deeper than that of most places.  Here we have rich institutions, some of the best universities, parks, museums, and architecture in the world.  The words “I’m from Chicago” carry some weight no matter which corner of the world we say them in (sometimes we’ll even let kids from the burbs get away with it, if only out of sympathy).  Given all these lustrous attributes, it stands to reason that visitors from all over the globe want to come experience the Windy City, the Second City, the City of Broad Shoulders, the city of too many nicknames!  Approximately 52 million people come to visit our beautiful town every year (that’s 20x our permanent population) and recently those visitors have gotten more options in where to book a room.  We’d like to briefly note some of the stylish new and soon-to-be hotels that are making Chicago an even greater city to visit.

The Robey is a freshly repurposed office building in the middle of Wicker Park.  It features a rooftop pool and 69 rooms with hardwood floors and excellent views of the city.  As the only skyscraper for some distance, the Robey is unique in its stature and placement in one of Chicago’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

 

The Kimpton Palomar is a luxurious 261 room retreat at the corner of State and Illinois.  Its location right in the middle of River North makes it a perfect place to check out happenings downtown, the lake and Navy Pier, and the nearby Old Town neighborhood.

 

The Gray describes its rooms as “modern and minimalist, with a touch of irreverence” and provides additional services to compliment the modern, irreverent life-style.  Guests can find custom designed bicycles to borrow for rides around town and comfortable, homey lounges where The Gray hosts a nightly social for guests.  Located on Monroe and La Salle, the Gray is only minutes away from Millennium Park and Michigan Ave.

 

The Jaslin Hotel  is right in the heart of Chinatown, making it another unique option for a Chicago stay.  Featuring 101 rooms and excellent views of the skyline, the Jaslin is simple and straightforward.  The hotel’s location and modesty make it a great option for those wishing to experience Chicago on a budget.

 

The Ace Hotel is slated to open in September and is located in the middle of the Fulton Market area of Chicago, next to some of Chicago’s finest eateries and a host of galleries.  While still finishing up the remodeling, The Ace seems to advertise stylish rooms on their website, complete with record players? guitars?

The Viceroy Hotel  is yet to be constructed, but it will be located at 1118 N State, the site of the former Cedar Hotel.  The designs recently revealed by Goettsch architects show an 18 story tower rising out of what appears to be the old building.  It will be just the facade that remains in tact, as all of the structure will have to be updated.  The building should bring a definite change to the character of the area.

So whether you are planning a visit to Chicago, need to recommend a place to a friend, or are just in need of a stay-cation, we hope this list sheds some light on the exciting trends taking place in our town’s hospitality sector.

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Ed Wormley, a Lesser-known Master Modernist

Among the ranks of the Eames’s, Corbusier, Breuer, Nelson, and Bertoia is a Chicago native by the name of Ed Wormley.  Born at the end of 1907, Wormley began his professional development in interior design while still in high school.  He went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1926, dropped out three semesters later, and drifted around Europe for a bit before taking a job as an interior designer with Marshall Fields in Chicago.   Then the Great Depression hit, and it might have been for the better in the case of this soon-to-be modern master.

Wormley looking visionary

In 1931, at the height of the depression, Wormley was offered a job at Dunbar Furniture Company in Berne, IN, where he would go on to design modern classics and bring the company’s collection into the modern age.  The designs that would follow are all characterized by a modern aesthetic supported by fine traditional craftsmanship.

Captain Chairs by Wormley for Dunbar

Wormley spent the years of the depression improving furniture design in a way few others were; while most modernist designers favored industrial processes to keep costs down, Ed would employ hand crafted details, giving his pieces a human feel and quality unique to the period.  The legs and back of these captain chairs were hand-made by traditionally skilled craftsman.  Wormley’s design philosophy was totally different from the Eames’s, whose Lounge Chair Metal (LCM) could only be formed by a newly conceived industrial process.

The ‘Listen to Me’ Chaise

Ed’s eye for blending tradition and modernity is evident in the sophisticated wood construction of this chaise lounge.  Maple, cherry, brass, and leather work in concert to exude comfort and lightness.  Its form references earlier Victorian lounges, but its simplicity is undeniably modern.

Bracket Back Sofa

Work with Dunbar would continue into the seventies for Wormley, and today we have over 1500 pieces from this alliance to inspire us.  Each of these designs is a testament to the virtue of traditional craft in the face of ever-changing aesthetic tendencies, something we hold quite dear at Maxine Snider Inc..

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Depth and Illusion at the Graham Foundation

The Graham Foundation is a Chicago Institution that continually inspires the arts and design world through exhibitions, talks, and performances, mostly held in the historic Madlener House in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.  The Prairie-style mansion is gorgeous from its outlook to the street to the detailing of its grand staircase.

The Madlener House from W Burton Pl.

An afternoon at the Graham Foundation is always an uplifting experience.  Take a car, train, or bicycle to Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, find the mansion on the corner of State and Burton Pl, walk through the flowing galleries, absorb the finely curated shows; it can be a feast for the senses and the mind.  We are indeed fortunate to have such a place for the architecturally curious in our city.

Currently showing at the Graham, Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth is an exhibition that “examines the recent proliferation of collage in architectural representation in relationship to scenography and theatrical set design”.  The rich collection of collages, architectural models, models for set design, and sculptures show how the thought processes of each discipline may overlap, particularly relating to the perception of depth.  Each piece displayed possesses a strong perspective, raising questions about our relationship to space.  The exhibit as a whole offers thought-provoking ideas of the many uses of perspective across media: new perspectives on perspective.

David Hockney’s design for the Magic Flute

The exhibit features works from over twenty architects and artists, each employing a particular medium (or media) in an evocative way.  One of the stand out pieces for me was an installation by artist Norman Kelley, consisting of a distorted end table near a door, with a model of the same scene sitting atop the table.  The artist places a reality onto another onto another, and ironically plays with the perspective at the full scale while leaving the small scale as real.

In addition to the curated show, which is free to all, the Graham is hosting a series of talks by some of the artists to muse about the meaning of their work in the context of the exhibition.

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Making combinations with Dieter Rams

Furniture by Dieter Rams, the iconic industrial designer, will be showcased at the Vitra Design Museum‘s exhibit “Modular Furniture” in Weil am Rhein, Germany. In the sixties and seventies Dieter’s designs for Braun electronics set the standard for minimalist design.  Designed for Braun, the radios, lighters, and record players are all characterized by a sleek aesthetic exposing the anatomy of the object.

“Snow Coffin,” record player, a Dieter design for Braun

 

“Modular Furniture” will display Rams’s lesser known furniture designs, in which we see the designer’s sensitivity to the lives of the user:  understated yet sleek, the lightness of the pieces lend themselves to the fluidity of modern life.  Shelves are designed to be reconfigured, chairs are inviting from any angle, and tables are simple and functional.  These qualities enable the user to change her space with changes in life.  New books?  add a shelf.  Friends coming over? rearrange the living room.  Wanna play with your dog? move the table aside.  Indeed, the lightness of the modern pieces makes them seem effortless, functionally and visually.

His vision for furniture that changes with your life is best executed in the 606 Universal Shelving System,  still manufactured today by  Vitsoe.  The 606 is like a great enabler, giving people the power to shape their own spaces.  The elegance of the system reminds me of a quote by the great 20th century economist E F Schumacher – “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” The shelves are a beautiful marriage of simplicity and effectiveness.

Dieter, a living legend is influential in his work as well as his design philosophy of “less is better.” We’ll share his 10 tips for good design, tips we incorporate into our work as well.

 

 

 

 

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Design and Science, Past and Future

Design practice and scientific methodology became increasingly intertwined in the twentieth century.  This shift may have begun at the Bauhaus school in Germany, where designers, artists, and architects explored the relevance of industrial materials with an experimental curiosity.  The question that arose then remains much the same today: with our ever-expanding empirical understanding of the universe, how do we retain a sense of beauty?

One example that comes to mind is Josef Albers and his experiments with color interaction.  Advances in the quality and stability of mixed paint in the beginning of the century enabled Albers to control pigments with a scientific exactitude and his findings became more relevant as the distribution of paints increased throughout the century.

The increased control enabled Albers to isolate color as the only variable.  The paintings are both legible as works of art and artifacts of scientific experiment simultaneously.

Another Bauhaus master very close to our hearts is Mies van der Rohe.  At a time when structural engineering was making great strides due to industrial standardization and refined calculation, Mies ventured to give these new technologies architectural relevance.

In his Crown Hall, we can see the limits of the technology tested to give rise to a new architectural expression.  In his inaugural address as Dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mies asks, “Where can we find greater structural clarity than in the wooden buildings of old?  Where else can we find such unity of material, construction, and form?”  The themes of clarity and unity appear to be the most essential to Van Der Rohe, and he sought to convey these in a time of changing materials, constructions, and forms.

Now you may think, “a brief analysis of the Bauhaus is all well and good, but what is the relevance to design today?”

Between the time of the Bauhaus and now, nearly one hundred years later, we have seen extraordinary scientific and technological innovations.  If we maintain the Bauhaus assumption that science and design are interdependent, then these advancements must have extensive and reaching ramifications for the design world.  Rather than dive into the depths of elaborating on this technological history (a dissertation or two of its own!) we would like to highlight work which exemplifies the relationship of scientific exploration and design thinking in today’s context.

In the past one hundred years, perhaps some of the most striking scientific developments have been in the fields of biology and computation.  The dramatic improvements in the instruments related to these fields has placed us in a scientific environment unrecognizable to any Bauhaus master.

One designer who has been fast to embrace the new technological connections offered by this intellectual climate is Neri Oxman of MIT’s Media Lab.  The experimental studio is focused on articulating the perpetually changing relationships between man, technology, and nature.  Their projects challenge us to imagine new possibilities belonging to our time.

The Mushtari project by Oxman exhibits a relationship between synthetic biology, computer-aided manufacturing, and design.  “Mushtari was designed to act as a potential ‘host’ environment for the coculture of engineered microorganisms that make up a synthetic ‘community.’ Synthetic biologists use disparate bacteria to capitalize on each microbe’s unique physiological specialties and evolved capabilities.”  This experimental project is suggestive of future relationships between living organisms and designed objects.  Some day these wearable designs may be able to harness the sun’s energy to produce nutrients for the wearer.

The Gemini project is an attempt to generate an amniotic experience in a variation of the chaise lounge.  The outer shell is CNC-milled hardwood while the inner membrane is a combination of 3D printed materials responding to differing structural and acoustical needs by location.  With its daring form and advanced construction, the project provokes us to consider Man’s relationship with nature in the 21st century.

Here at Maxine Snider Inc we find our answer to the question of science’s relationship to design in the continuing pursuit of delight in craft.  We find that craft may always be improved; just like scientific understanding, it is to be built upon, iterated, and prodded.  While science will continue to give rise to new traditions, we will continue to elevate our understanding of the timeless tradition of making.

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Shaker purity

Shaker furniture is unsurpassed in its purity and craftsmanship. An exhibition of the Protestant sect’s work is on display now through Fall 2017 at the Art Institute in Chicago titled “Shakers and Movers: Selections from the Collection of Dr. Thomas and Jan Pavlovic.” The Shakers followed a humble lifestyle, practicing Christ-like purity; their beliefs are echoed in their minimalist designs. Reducing design to its most simplified form was considered an act of piety.

A delightful group of pieces from the Shakers and Movers exhibit

The Shaker’s did not use any ornamentation or veneers and exclusively used local woods such as pine, maple and cherry. Any manipulation of the wood was considered a dishonest representation.  At Maxine Snider Inc, we constantly find inspiration from Shaker design philosophy,  using natural materials and hand craftsmanship to find purity without compromising a dreamy style.

Shaker chair, early 1800s

Most of all, the Shakers considered work to be an act of worship. The precise methods used to make their furniture were a type of meditation for them. John Baker, co-founder of Möelk, a store specializing in selling Shaker style furniture in Toronto remarks, “It’s an idea that’s as old as religion-making these grand gestures, like a fresco or a big painting on the ceiling of a church. The Shakers were amazing because we can look at this on a domestic scale.”  It is the same braid of divinity that runs through the Sistine Chapel and the Shaker chair: one we recognize for its grandeur and awe, the other we cherish for it steadfast humility.

Shaker side table, late 1870s

Shaker women, early 1900s

Renewed interest in the classic Shaker aesthetic has flared up due to recent popularity of Danish Modernist styles in the design community. Danish Modernists incorporated Shaker minimalism as well as multi-functionality into their pieces.  The combination of design purity and usability enhance the material expression of the furniture; we can read these pieces as refined constructions as well as perfectly functional objects.  The Shaker classic slatted chair backs, for instance, are designed to be hung up when not in use to conserve space.  This construction saves material and enhances both the visual and tactile lightness of the chairs, owing to the fact that function and beauty are in the best cases inseparable.

 

Kaaer Klint’s church chair, 1936

We would like to tip our hats to Danish modernist furniture designer, Kaare Klint, whose work perfectly compliments that of the exhibit.  Klint was able to draw from Shaker ideals while retaining a stylized construction defined by local craft.  We find kindred spirits in the Shakers and Klint as we continually strive to marry the best of functional style with high-quality Chicago craft.

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