One of the benefits of living in a highly coveted and dense urban area is that space becomes a premium. The hidden spaces and hard-to-find stores are part of the charm and lure of living in that city. Great cities utilize their urban space with care and detail. This is in direct contrast to the number of poorly designed buildings and vast paved-over parking lots that are indigenous to the suburbs of some American cities. Here are two good examples of well-utilized urban space from Melbourne and Knoxville:
In Melbourne, Australia, the city is known for laneways that are tucked behind the main thoroughfares where tiny cafes, small shops and boutiques thrive. DeGraves Street, between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane, is a great example of street life fully utlilized. I walked around here a few years ago, and you feel that you have discovered a secret, second life in the city.
The Squre Room is a music venue off Market Square in Knoxville, TN. To arrive at the Square Room's back entrance, you first move through a brick archway between two buildngs and are then presented with a curved sidewalk, complete with benches, greenery and small statues to your right and left. A back wall mural provides a stopping focal point for the eye. There is visual interest and delight in every part of the space, which is quite small. However, these tactics add beauty, usability and vitality in an otherwise dormant space, all points of good urban design.
Perusing downtown Knoxville's O.P. Jenkins Furniture store, I found there are four floors of furniture, lamps and accessories to browse. Each floor contains a good mix of pieces and some very reasonable prices, and the staff is friendly and very approachable. Below are two fun lamps and a chandelier I spotted there. The last picture is a chandelier from Blue Coast Burrito, a West coast /Mexican themed chain restaurant in Market Square. This chandelier could be recreated by purchasing a similar one at a thrift store and then spray painting it the color of your choice! Easy, inexpensive and good looking...
I have been spotting some great overhead and floor lamps in retail stores and restaurants. In the next few posts, I will be sharing them from various locales. Today I am including a few from my photo archive that were taken in Los Angeles in December. 1) Anthropologie, 2) Modernica, 3) Coffee Shop on Beverly Boulevard:
Marimekko, the famed Finnish textile and clothing company, is celebrating being in business for 60 years! I have long loved their prints, which you can find in many forms, including fabric rolls, wallpaper, home textiles, clothing and accessories such as purses, bags and shoes. These fabrics manage to be fun, modern and winsome all at the same time. Also, a little bit of Marimekko can be acquired without spending a fortune, which is great. Here are a few of my favorites:
Converse Shoes - Jack Purcell and Helen Marimekko
While strolling past Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville, I did a double take and backed myself up to look again. Yes, those are sections of a cast-iron radiator serving as railings outside of the pub. Each of the different buildings in Market Square have a unique set of railings outside their establishment---acting as both a decorative element and a way to demarcate the space. I do think this is a very creative solution for old radiators, whose specific shape and function definitely limit their salvage potential as a new object. Kudos!
Searching for a house to rent or buy is a bit like falling in love. You search, look around and suddenly you find yourself face-to-face with a potential suitor. The romance can start as a double-take at the grocery store or on the street. You feel drawn to the person, you are curious to find out about them. If you do become friends or start to date, will the relationship become a long-term partnership or even marriage?
Finding a house can offer much of the same experience. You view the house from a distance and suddenly you want to be closer, so you can take a second look. While poking around downtown Knoxville, I found a series of town homes that were located directly off Locust Street. Yes, it was a bit of love at first sight! The sturdy brick structures were early 19th century, but still very solid and captivating. The New Orleans style balconies and ironwork gates were aged and not perfect. A clear sense of order and beauty was created by the two rows of neoclassicaly designed townhouses. Peeking over the low iron gates, I had a longing to see the interiors for myself--would I feel a sense of belonging? Could it be a good match? And lastly, would I fall deeply in love?
I have loved books since I was a small child, when I read them in the corner of our living room or surreptitiously by flashlight under the covers. Books gave me access to people and adventures I had not had, as well as knowledge of life in other towns and cities.
In my house, a wooden bookshelf took up one whole wall of our den, with an additional set of free-standing shelves lining the upstairs hallway. I was allowed to freely examine and read any of these books. The older books had leather or paper covers and yellowed interior pages, which belonged to my grandparents or had been bought by my parents. My mother also had some of her university books there, which included drawings, quotes and notes she wrote to herself and friends as they sat side-by-side in class. My sisters and I had our own children's books, given to us with a handwritten note inside the front cover for Christmas and birthdays.
By touching and reading these older books, I had direct contact with that particular time and place, and had some vision of my parent's and grandparent's generation. This experience is simply not replicable with digital versions of books (or digitized music). Digitized versions are here to stay, but I still want the traditional format of books and music.
This all leads me to the new covers of Penguin Books. Penguin has been commissioning artists to recreate book covers with their Penguin Deluxe Classics, such as the Coralie Bickford-Smith editions that were bound in cloth. Last week, I discovered that Brooklyn-based Jillian Tamaki has completed three exquisitely detailed covers for Penguin that are embroidered! They are: Jane Austen's Emma, Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. The new books will not be embroidered individually, but reproduced with a sculptural-embossing technique. There is such unique beauty in each of these works of art. I would hope these books would be bought and treated as treasures to be read, kept and ultimately passed on, not tossed away. They are scheduled to be released in October, 2011.
*Images courtesy of Jillian Tamaki: http://jilliantamaki.com/embroidery/penguin-threads/
Since I now reside outside of Knoxville, TN, I wanted to write about my first thoughts of the city, particularly downtown. The first important item to note, is the weather. It is at least 20 degrees warmer here than in Pittsburgh. Western PA recently had snow and hail but spring had already arrived in Eastern TN with green grass, flowering trees and striking purple and white dogwoods.
According to the locals, downtown Knoxville has seen a renaissance over the past several years. There are now restaurants, bars and retail stores, combined with great music venues. Downtown is home to many festivals, including the Dogwood Arts Festival and the International Biscuit Festival celebrating arts and the southern biscuit, respectively.
Along with the storied Gay Street, Market Square is the center of downtown. First established in 1854 so that farmers could sell their produce and goods, it developed into a place where commerce, music and politics intersected. It is now registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Market Square Commercial Historic District. Market Square has great urban design features: compact space, connection to others, ease of access via foot, bicycle or car/bus, along with gracious architecture and activity beaming from all sides.
When you first enter Market Square, the whole visage of the square is visible. It's just fun to people watch and then decide whether you should have lunch or search for new treasures at Bliss Home. The 19th and 20th century architecture that lines the square is visually interesting and also allows the locally owned Tomato Head to sit easily in the same space as Subway, a national sandwich chain. Adjacent to the Square is the Krutch Park, bequeathed to the city through the endowment of Charles Krutch. Personally, I am looking forward to attending a big festival here soon, and I hope it doesn't rain...
*Pictures: Diane Bossart
**For more information on Market Square: http://knoxvillemarketsquare.com/
In recent months, two traditional brick and mortar fanchises have filed for bankruptcy or reorganized their companies. Borders Books has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and is closing a third of its stores. Last year, Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy protection as more people use Netflix and other on line streaming devices for their movies.
However, I would not sign the death knell to all brick and mortar stores just now. First, both of these stores offered lower priced products that were easily translated to an on line shopping format, but not all merchandise fits into that category. Second, there is still great value in the privately or publicly owned business that has a personal connection to their customers and offers specialty merchandise. Third, urban areas offering a multitude of stores and options (mixed-use) is usually a great experience, and more interesting than the proverbial indoor mall.
An example: a small section of West Hollywood. While in Los Angeles to visit friends (thanks Sophie and Seth), I was near Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. Yes, there was multi-lane traffic, but you could still walk to the stores on Beverly Boulevard, where I found a showroom for Heath Ceramics, home to handmade pottery crafted in America since 1949, a Modernica showroom store, and stores that ranged from salons to clothing and shoe stores. Close by was the Farmers Market, located on Third and Fairfax, which is 74 years old (!) and has a mix of old and new establishments, from Bob's Doughnuts to Bath and Body Works and Sur La Table. It was great to see all these stores so close to where I was staying and it definitely lends the area its own character.
Design Activism -- defined by me as indivudals or non-profit groups who are working to bring about positive change in the built environment for distressed invidivuals or communities. This is an incredibly important part of improving communities. A great example are the Community Design Centers (CDC's) that were created in the late 1960's to provide architectural and planning services to communities in need, particularly inner cities at that time. Many of these CDC's were started through local universities and still exist today as part of the same university or acting as separate, functioning non-profit entities with their own sources of funding. Pittsburgh has the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh. http://www.cdcp.org
In addition to CDC's, there have been other non-profit groups started in the past 20 years to address similar architectural and planning problems in the United States and internationally. One of these groups, Design Corps, was created by Byran Bell in 1991 to provide planning, design and grant writing services to communities, primarily small rural communities. They complete this work through the services of Community Design Fellows, and a summer fellowship program. The group will also be holding an annual conference, Structures for Inclusion. Their eleventh conference will be held in Chicago, IL in March 25-27, 2011.
To learn more about the Design Corps, visit their website: http://www.designcorps.org.