As spring is now here, we are all about changing up routine and exploring outlets of renewal in the studio. If you’ve kept your new years resolutions, great. If not, now is a perfect time to invite a new status quo. As our physical surroundings can dictate much of how we feel about ourselves, we suggest approaching this rebirth from the perspective of your home or place you spend the most time.
New accessories are one of the easiest ways to update a space, making it a new and welcoming change for your eyes that see your home everyday. More often than not, I think people tend to underestimate the role fine details play in the overall effect of a design. For example, a rug defines the perimeter of a space, so a larger size often translates to a space that feels bigger. Or a reflective surface such as a mirror or light refracting vessel can render a dark corner as warm and contemplative.
For this season’s “refresh effect” I tend to gravitate towards more organic textures such as jute rugs and linen throws and I also especially like 19th century Turkish rugs that can anchor the space in a new place or time. Another great means of metamorphosis is to play with placement. Combine vessels with more translucence near a window reflection or install a multi-dimensional lighting fixture near a new piece of art to highlight in an avant-guarde way. White textural pottery does a mix of both by reflecting light and creating a dimension with texture.
By subtly shifting the details of the room, the eye focuses on new stimuli and thinks you’ve done much more! Check out our new additions to the shop to find your home’s spring renewal.
When booking the flight to Tokyo, one really must take pause to consider if this is a place you definitely want to see. At 13 hours minimum the flight isn’t the most egregious but in combination with the time change, it can take even the most seasoned travelers more than a few days to adjust. Depending on what time you arrive, resist the urge to immediately crash. Instead rely on your best relaxation method, a calming yin yoga pose, a walk, or in my case a bath. May the force be with you…but speaking of baths upon my arrival to my accommodations at the Aman hotel, I was greeted by the most amazing display of the Japanese bath ritual. In my suite was a stunning, minimalist soaking tub and all the accoutrements to bring me back down to earth after my day on a plane. It was heavenly, the salts all arranged in their perfectly designed chambers and a dried orange filled with aromatics to float on the surface. As if this ambience wasn’t enough, the view from this little aquatic oasis is of sprawling Tokyo’s lights. A great entry point to this wonderfully large but thoughtful city. When I emerged into the city proper it was into a sea of chic neutral ensembles vs fantasy costume culture. Regardless the dress, everyone absurdly polite. Even in a crowd there is no chance someone will bump into you or even make it difficult to pass by. This extreme level of awareness is something that transcends all areas of the society. Politeness, decorum, graciousness and awareness are themes that not only exude from the Japanese people but from their very landscape; perfectly groomed streets, values and traditions of their everyday way of life. Every level of detail is thought out in a way that makes it seem effortless and extreme at the same time.
Tokyo + Kyoto
When booking the flight to Tokyo, one really must take pause to consider if this is a place you definitely want to see. At 13 hours minimum the flight isn’t the most egregious but in combination with the time change, it can take even the most seasoned travelers more than a few days to adjust. Depending on what time you arrive, resist the urge to immediately crash. Instead rely on your best relaxation method, a calming yin yoga pose, a walk, or in my case a bath. May the force be with you…but speaking of baths upon my arrival to my accommodations at the Aman hotel, I was greeted by the most amazing display of the Japanese bath ritual. In my suite was a stunning, minimalist soaking tub and all the accoutrements to bring me back down to earth after my day on a plane. It was heavenly, the salts all arranged in their perfectly designed chambers and a dried orange filled with aromatics to float on the surface. As if this ambience wasn’t enough, the view from this little aquatic oasis is of sprawling Tokyo’s lights. A great entry point to this wonderfully large but thoughtful city.
When I emerged into the city proper it was into a sea of chic neutral ensembles vs fantasy costume culture. Regardless the dress, everyone absurdly polite. Even in a crowd there is no chance someone will bump into you or even make it difficult to pass by. This extreme level of awareness is something that transcends all areas of the society. Politeness, decorum, graciousness and awareness are themes that not only exude from the Japanese people but from their very landscape; perfectly groomed streets, values and traditions of their everyday way of life. Every level of detail is thought out in a way that makes it seem effortless and extreme at the same time.
Lead by our fabulous guide, we had an inside track to experiencing more than just the surface in one weeks time. I was eager to learn by doing, and started with the calligraphy course that taught patience and virtue. Politeness and tradition is encapsulated in the identity of the Geisha, of which we were fortunate enough to view at a private performance. Plucked from the 600s, geisha came from the desires of the beauty obsessed elite of the time but managed over time to transform into an age-old beacon of their society with a bit more dignity than when they began. The impeccability of the dress, the layering of the hand-woven fibers, and the subtle placement of color on the face reminded me of how we also choose to design our physical identities; some preferring a more traditional look, others more avant-garde but neither superior.
Along with the Geisha, timeless ancient relics and rituals of the area live on but there seems to be an inherent battle between old and new values; on one corner a shrine, the other a Hello Kitty Emporium. The opposing forces are visible in the underlying framework of Tokyo with it’s tall faceless buildings and lack of color but behind closed doors is a thriving cultural experience that will simply charm you. Once in the interior, literally and figuratively, we found ourselves welcomed into the intricate traditions that the Japanese have been practicing for thousands of years. Perhaps one of the most recognizable is the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We were able to attend, and it truly was an art unto itself. As I observed, my overwhelming thought was about the level of skill and control that transformed a banal daily task into a show of beauty and refinement. Taking many years to perfect, this ritual is meant to be deeply symbolic of the act of serving an honored guest, which was not lost on me. Design at its very core is a service profession and, I, too, work to set a stage for everyday life and sacred moments alike.
A small bit of culture shock hit when I learned that typically restaurants are on the top floor within office buildings and usually divided by the type of food; tempura, soba, ramen, group/family style, hot pot,etc. Don’t be thrown off by the unconventional entry, every speciality is delectable and you should follow your tastebuds on what sounds appetizing. For me, Tempura at Ozashiki Tenpura Tenmasa and Robataya open grill seafood were phenomenal.
Good design is everywhere in Japan, and for me it was especially apparent in the use and conception of original materials. A prime example of this is in the pottery and textiles. From the plaster used and made by hand with fermented seagrass, to the hand-painted silkscreens, antique or new, the texture and hues of color are timeless. If you’re looking for some art and artifacts in your life I have two suggestions Oedo Flea Market and Zaoshima. The flea is located in Chiyoda, Tokyo and has a variety of treasures. Above you’ll find some of the pieces that caught my eye. For those who are more art minded, check out Zaoshima. Affectionately called “the art island”, it’s island off the east coast of Japan and is known as a modern art, sculpture and architecture mecca. And for good reason, with Tadao Ando as the official art director of the island and all its artful inhabitants. Plan for a two day trip here as it’s not a quick in-and-out endeavor, but very worthwhile with its temperate weather and a more laid-back atmosphere than Tokyo. Guided tours are available but the main museum houses worth visiting are Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, Benesse House Museum, and Art House Projects at Honmura Area. Infamous in his own right, Tadao has some structures and installations of his own there, in company with other colorful artists such as Yayoi Kusama.
Once in Kyoto, we made our way to a compound of sorts: The grounds house Nijo-Jinya, an ancient ninja residence frozen in time — the 1600s. The castle wraps you up into blind staircases for trapping enemies, secret corridors and soundproof hiding places with multiple escape routes for bodyguards — a twisted alluring fun house. On the same plot as the Ninja relic was an artisanal plaster maker, who offered myself and travel partners a private tour! The use of fermented seaweed is a signature ingredient that satisfy many ecological concerns, as well as a full-bodied organic texture. Above are photos of this enchanting space and below a closer look of the plaster that gave me archival light to the problem-solving through design the Japanese mastered long ago. It felt like we time-traveled just for the afternoon and as we finished up I looked back at the castle — it dawned on me that despite its grim history it still stands empirically beautiful in it’s growing age.
Another show of depth in Japanese culture is Butoh dancing. This style of dance began in the late 1950’s and is a rare but traditional theater native to Japan. A friend and I attended a one-man evening performance before dinner. To our surprise it was both riveting and unsettling. One arrives to a singular room, with 8 seats. Once everyone was seated, our show began with pitch black stage. After a moment a pin light appeared on the performer, who was mostly nude. There are no words from the performer but based on the gesture and noises he made, my take is that by the end of the narrative, he ended his life. I had no expectations of the show but realized my interpretation of “dance” was not inclusive to this rarity and was still contented for the exposure. I recommend this to you based on the level of skill in portraying the cerebral nature of the subject matter in this performance. It expanded my thoughts on theater.
Post dance, we had a prearranged dinner. Shaken and in need of comfort we arrived at Monk. It was exactly what we needed — the coziness of cooked dishes, mixed with the brightness of raw foods. Prepared by the esteemed chef Yoshihiro Imai, everything was roasted over an open flame, in front of us. Truly, a not to miss meal that will warm your soul as well as Kikunoi if you’re interested in a traditional 11 course Japanese meal (Kaiseki). Its silent atmosphere aims to focus on the quality of conversation at your own table. If you’re not much of a conversationalist the presentation is somewhat of it’s own built-in entertainment with each delicacy served in its own individual container and served with exceptional care.
If you plan to stay on the mainland and not venture to the art island, my favorite museum was the Miho Museum designed by I.M. Pei situated in the forested hills of Shiga, Japan. The ascent up was as much of a beauty as the museum itself. Just outside of Kyoto and an easy afternoon of nature, and asian/ western antiques. Another site we loved was the Golden Temple. The multi-use shrine has a hardened past but beautiful presence as it shimmers its gold-leaf in the surrounding water. The accompanying gardens and sculptures make for a serene vista, and contemplative moment outside of the city lights of Tokyo. When our week in Japan was over, I felt full as if I had just left a large meal. The spectrum of experiences one can have here is vast; so many facets to their way of life and a welcoming spirit of inclusion.
Abstract: the art of design
With many current shows focusing on friendship, satire and dragons it’s rare to find one that focuses on the individual. Abstract: The Art of Design is a recent series produced by Netflix that profiles a single designer and their work. Each episode treats their process and personal story as an art from; each individual’s personality and body of work colors the narrative set-forth and the arc of the show focuses on seminal moments. Starting with their first big break or breakthrough and wading through the learnings that helped shape the artist they are today. From illustrators to photographers there is an area of interest for all looking for a case study on how design effects our everyday environment. Of special interest for me was Es Devlin, Bjarke Ingels and Ilse Crawford.
Es is a set and installation designer based out of London with a portfolio that is as introspective as it is flat out impressive. She’s worked with the likes of Kanye, Beyonce, U2, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Vergennes Opera House to name a few but doesn’t let that influence her ego. Her creativity started at a young age with music and has lead her to design for some of the top names in the music industry today. Guided by her “5 ingredients” she manages a commercial and personal body of work that will inspire you to think in 3D.
Bjarke Ingles is a Danish born architect known for his “yes is more” mentality on design. Ingles is driven by his unapologetic way of delivering an uncompromising concept. Admittedly, he has ruffled the feathers of the industry that has been very traditional in its ways for some time. With 17 simultaneous projects all around the world, Bjarke refuses to say “no” which has lead to his firm’s nomination to design a pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London. A hallmark of an accomplished designer, Bjarke is one of the youngest to have this honor but will his ambition be sustainable?
Ilse Crawford opens her feature with the thought that “we spend 80% of our lives inside buildings. They really effect how we feel and how we behave. Design is not just a visual thing, it’s a thought process, a skill. Ultimately, design is a tool to enhance our humanity, it’s a frame for life.” As founder of Studioilse, together with her multi-disciplinary, London-based team, she brings her philosophy to life. This means creating environments where humans feel comfortable; public spaces that make people feel at home and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them.”
Abstract is currently on Netflix. We highly recommend the series if you’re looking for an engaging weekend dip in the design pool.
We caught up with Julie Nelson, an admired artist and colleague. What gets me is the simplicity of her work, despite having 3D texture. More importantly, it is very unique, not resembling the work of other modern ceramicists. Throughout her breadth of work, it all looks surreal and abstract, yet literal and modern. Curious? Read our exchange below for a glimpse into the mind behind the maker.
How did you become interested in working with ceramics?
My parents encouraged my sister and me to make things and we’ve both followed creative paths. I grew up by the sea in Torquay, Devon. It’s taken some time to realize just how much the coastal landscape has influenced me. After moving to London to do an honors degree in 3D design, I started working in ceramics, glass metal and wood. I found this an incredibly stimulating environment, with a renowned library of books on art, craft and design. I was always borrowing my full quota. My tutors encouraged me to experiment with clay and the themes I developed at college still interest me.
What is your philosophy on life as an artist and maker?
I strongly believe that everything is connected. The thought that everything on earth is made from a combination of a few chemicals is very humbling. I’m interested in the microcosm and macrocosm of the natural world. Ceramics, made from clay, oxides and fluxes seems an appropriate way to represent that. I feel very privileged to be doing what I do. Ceramics does border on the therapeutic, however you have to have a relaxed mindset as work does not always go to plan. I am very interested in science, landscape, history and nature. I regularly try to learn something new either with the materials I use or my choice of subject matter. Everything is constantly evolving.
How does your creative process unfold?
I regularly look through my references, photos, drawings. I sketch then make small models. It works better for me to go into the studio prepared. I use black and white stoneware clay. It has a fine grog for hand building. I like my work to look resilient. I make glazes from the recipes of some of my favorite ceramicists, preferring a very elemental, monochrome palette. ‘Decoration’ of my work doesn’t appeal to me and I prefer the surface to resemble a natural quality such as bone, pebbles, sand…. It’s not easy to achieve. I always look to nature for inspiration. I like studio ceramics to reveal the maker’s hand and find a beauty in imperfection and depth to the surface. It’s a fine balance to make this work. When I’m glaze testing I take a scientific approach and document everything in order to repeat the parts that work. I think most ceramicists endlessly research and experiment. I work iteratively which allows me to evolve the shape, color, meaning.
What’s next in the evolution of your work?
Currently I’m organizing an expansion of my Flock installation (of over 100 ceramic birds), this time involving other people, some of whom may have little experience of ceramics but who may benefit from the process. I am looking to integrate other materials with my ceramic pieces and to create some books of my work. I have also been asked to make some vessels, which I’m excited about. I will be taking part in a couple UK art fairs and my home town, Brighton, has a large arts festival starting next month. I will be showing at a gallery called Cameron Contemporary Art.
on frequent travel
Over the years of travel to various locations, I’ve distilled my on-flight essentials down to a well-refined list. My priorities are not only to be comfortable but to be presentable, which involves a few carefully curated items.
Before I leave town, I plan ahead and I always keep my travel toiletries/ products stocked and visible when packing so I don’t forget to bring them along! Before boarding I make sure to have applied a moisturizing mask. I vacillate between two options; Fresh’s Black Tea Overnight Firming Mask and two Natura Bissé products. Both are nude so it won’t be obvious that you’re masking in public. Fresh’s mask is widely available product and gives a subtle tan tint to the skin that settles in quickly. A more extreme option for very long flights is Natura Bissé Diamond Extreme Mask + Oil combo. Apply the oil first, mask second and you’ll wake up with a glow that will make it look like you just left a facialist, not an airport terminal.
During the flight at some point, I make sure to drink a glass of warm water with lemon just as something familiar and calming. Similarly, I take mind to mist my face and décolletage with a nice thermal water throughout! I like Avène and Evian. – Very affordable abroad in pharmacies.
I like to travel wearing something super comfortable but chic. Cashmere pants with a tee and cashmere sweater are a go-to combo. The texture and finish of the fabric elevates the level of athleisure to sophisticated yet is comfy and wrinkle free. As for a tee, this recent designer collaboration has a great classic fit. The idea here is the sweater can be removed if weather is warm upon arrival or used as a layer beneath a jacket if the weather is chilly. This set has great color ways and durability.
If sleeping is your go to, a silk eye mask will help you wind down quicker and also protect the delicate skin around your eyes during flight because of its natural fibers and non-abrasive nature. Amazon or Sephora will easily solve this for you.
These towelettes have saved me in many unsavory travel moments. Lemon for cleansing the plane seat, eucalyptus to refresh, lavender to calm, peppermint for uneasiness or fatigue…I could go on. They seem silly now, but soon you’ll find a reason to always have one on hand. Get them.
Through trial and error I have narrowed this list down to my favorite saves that make flying somewhere new a comfortable and pleasurable journey no matter what turbulence comes.
PHOTO SOURCES | Title Shop Image by Janet Mesic Mackie | Textural pottery by in-house team | Mortar and Pestle | Japan Images by Michael and Lukas Machnik | Es Devlin | Bjarke Ingels | Ilse Crawford | Julie Nelson | Skyview Image