In 1944, a formerly lucrative pottery factory, Joaquin Pottery, having suffered the effects of WWII, sold their factory to Nancy Ann Abbott, owner of Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls. “Story Book Dolls,” made of bisque pottery, were manufactured at the factory until around 1948, after which Abbott switched to hard plastics to create her dolls. No longer needing the pottery factory, it was sold and renamed Laurel Potteries of California. Laurel Potteries used an electromagnetic process to remove iron from their clay which was then used in flat plate and slip pottery pieces. By 1953, the factory doubled in size and their pottery lines could be found coast-to-coast in high-end department stores like Bloomingdales, Wannamakers, Macy’s and The May Company. During the 40s and 50s, Laurel Potteries produced several successful MCM dinnerware lines. California Life, California Seaside and Cerama-Stone were designed by in-house designer, Ted Scarpino; California Holiday was designed by award-winning potter Edith Heath; and California Living, which won the Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design Award” in 1951, was designed by Caleb Jackson and Ted Scarpino. After two decades of steady growth, Laurel Potteries suffered a setback that crippled the once thriving business – lead poisoning. After two reports of poisoning connected to the Cerama-Stone line, and subsequent attempts to rework the glazes to prevent lead leakage, Laurel Potteries ceased operations and sold the plant to Sylvan Ceramics. Laurel Potteries pieces are still readily available and collectible.
“There are no ugly objects, they need only be displayed properly.” –Franco Albini
Franco Albini (b. 1905) was an Italian Neo-Rationalist architect and designer. Neo-rationalism was a minimalist aesthetic movement that emphasized geometric forms and raw materials. Unlike its neo-classical predecessor, neo-rationalism eschewed ornamentation, and emphasized the practicality and functionality of a structure.
After earning an architecture degree in 1929, Albini joined Studio Ponti é Lancia and became an assistant to Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia. By 1931, and during the height of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Albini opened his own practice with partners, Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti. Together they designed “social housing” for the Instituto Fascist Autonomo per la Case Populari.
While many of Albini’s contemporaries fell victim to Mussolini, Albini persevered and explored new progressive design despite the watchful eye of the nationalist regime and the ravages of WWII bombing on Milan. By 1945, with the end of Mussolini’s regime and the reintroduction of democracy in Italy, Albini began a new era of modern design and introduced the iconic designs we know today. He received three Compasso d’Oro awards, Italy’s most prestigious design accolade. While Albini’s designs for Mussolini’s regime were out of necessity, his desire to “make rational order” of a city torn by war continued throughout his career through his large-scale civic architecture. Albini was awarded his 3rd Compasso d’Oro award for the Milan subway stations in 1964.
Considered a “founding father of Italian design” by many, Albini preferred to call himself a “craftsman.” “It’s through our works that we can best spread our ideas rather than by speaking.”
Franco Albini died in Milan on November 1, 1977.
“Any work of Architecture that does not express serenity is a mistake.” -Luis Barragan
Regarded the “most prominent” Mexican architect, Mexican Modernist, Luis Barragan (b. 1903), was known for his colorful, modernist homes outside of Mexico City. Barragan, one of nine siblings from a wealthy Mexican ranching family, was an aesthete from an early age. In a local newspaper, he was quoted as saying that he would notice “the play of shadows on the walls…and how the look of things changed.”
After graduating from the Escuelo Libre de Ingenieros in Guadalajara in 1923 with a Civil Engineering degree, Barragan traveled to Europe and lived in Morocco where he was exposed to Mediterranean and North African architecture. He was also introduced to the writings of landscape architect, Ferdinand Mac, as well as meeting Le Corbusier, both of whom would be influential throughout his career. But unlike Le Corbusier, who believed a house should be a “machine for living,” Barragan believed his homes should be a “refuge” and not a “cold piece of convenience.” Barragan eschewed the trend of functionalism and minimalism, and devoted his life to creating “emotional architecture.” A gifted landscape architect, he developed his own style using “natural siting,” taking great care to incorporate the natural features of the landscape into his buildings.
Barragan’s designs were also reflective of the Mexican climate and culture. The harsh climate necessitated “structural simplicity” and “few materials.” The intense sun and wind, as well as economic restrictions were major influences. Barragan, instead, used this to his advantage. The walls of the courtyards would block the winds and serve as canvases for sunlight and shadows. Walls were placed so that sun would cast a variety of shapes onto the courtyards throughout the day. Using hidden openings to capture sunlight, shafts of light would serve a dual purpose of art and lighting.
In addition to being a gifted architect and landscape designer, Barragan was a talented furniture designer, although he only designed for individual projects.
His work has been described as “poetic,” “mythical,” and “monastic.” Barragan’s devotion to Catholicism can be seen in his work. He created homes, as well as religious spaces, that reflected quietude and meditation.
Barragan was an intensely private man so little is known about his personal life. Anecdotes point to a kind, but somewhat eccentric man. He was a generous gift-giver and he supported and encouraged fellow artists by commissioning works for his projects and personal home. He wore English sport coats and ascots, and was known to cancel lunch plans “if the light was not right.”
In 1980, Luis Barragan won the “nobel prize of architecture,” the Pritzker, “for his commitment to architecture as a sublime act of the poetic imagination.”
Luis Barragan died from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.
“Solitude. Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself. Solitude is good company and my architecture is not for those who fear or shun it.” -Luis Barragan
“It makes me feel guilty that anyone should have such a good time doing what they are supposed to do.” –Charles Eames
While Charles and Ray Eames took their craft seriously, they approached it through playful experimentation. “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas.” And it was that approach that resulted in a portfolio of toys and furnishings that blurred lines. Construction toys that encouraged architectural creativity in young minds, and colorful adult furnishings that were whimsical yet purposeful. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of the Eames credo is the application of their experimental, cutting-edge technology of molded plywood for the creation of a child’s chair in the shape of an elephant. While the production of the Elephant Chair was too complex to create a viable commercial product, it ultimately became one of the most charming and “unforgettable” contributions to the American MCM tapestry.
“… arguably the single greatest omission of design history.” –Nina Stritzler-Levine
Marsio (b. 1894) was a Finnish architect and industrial designer, and the first wife of Alvar Aalto. In 1920, Marsio earned a degree in architecture at Helsingin Suomalainen Tyttökoulu (Helsinki University of Technology), and four years later took an assistant’s position with a young architect by the name of Alvar Aalto. In 1925, Marsio and Aalto married and would begin a collaboration that would influence the design world for many decades to come. In 1935, the Aaltos, along with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahlin, co-founded Artek Oy, a Finnish design firm with a storefront in a busy shopping district in Helsinki. There, the Aalto’s introduced their Functionalist masterpieces to Finland. In 1936, Aino and Alvar collaborated on a vase that was inspired by the dress of indigenous Lapland women, which was coined the “Savoy Vase” after it was displayed at Restaurant Savoy, a tony restaurant in Helsinki designed by the Aalto’s firm. The Savoy vase design won a competition by Karhula/Iittala and was subsequently shown at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. That accolade, however, went to Alvar alone. And again, in 1939, Alvar won 1st prize for Aino’s Finnish pavilion design at the New York World’s Fair. But one of Aino’s must enduring contributions may be her simple, but iconic Functionalist pressed glassware for Iittala. Designed in 1932, it was inspired by the ripples that form on the surface when a stone is thrown into the water. While Aino Aalto’s contributions to the Artek legacy may never be fully know, her talents are unmistakable and the ripple effect created by her known classic designs has lasted for nearly a century. Aino Marsio-Aalto died in Helsinki in 1949.
“Less, but better.” — Dieter Rams
Dieter Rams (b. 1932) is a functionalist German industrial designer known for his work with Braun and Vitsoe.
In 1947, having recognized Dieter’s talent his father enrolled his 15-year-old son in Wiesbaden School of Art to study architecture and interior design. After two years, Rams left the school to take a three-year carpentry apprenticeship after which he returned to the school and completed his degree with honors in 1953.
During his absence, the school took a decided turn toward modernism. It was then that Rams was introduced to German modernism and the Ulm School of Design. After graduating, he worked with Otto Apel’s architecture firm and was further exposed to modernism through the firm’s association with modernist colleagues in America. These brushes with modernism would prove fateful two years later when Rams accepted an in-house architect and interior design position with Braun to design new office space for the company.
Rams went to work planning a new space that included a wall-mounted shelving system. With this design, his collaboration with Vitsoe was born. With the approval of Edwin Braun, Rams took the idea to Vitsoe. One year later, the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System was launched.
In the early 1960s, Rams used his architecture background and began work on a planned community in Kronberg for Braun employees. “Roter Hang” is a community of grouped and terraced bungalows that line a sloped hillside. There can be found his only fully-realized architectural design;his L-shaped dopplebungalow. Although Braun delayed the project, it was eventually completed by Rudolf Kramer in 1974. The community, as well as Dieter Rams’s personal home, which is a testament to his personal credo of “less for more,” due to its modest footprint and sparse decoration, have been granted protected status and designated a cultural monument.
Rams is known for his “10 Principles of Good Design,” one of which is “environmentally friendly.” In a 1976 speech, Rams said, “there is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources.” He has long believed we must “move away from the throwaway habit” and “[that] it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams products fully embody his 10th principle – simplicity and purity.
Dieter Rams retired from Braun in 1995, but continues to work for Vitsoe. He and his wife still live in the Roter Hang bungalow in Kronberg.
“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
― Dieter Rams