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Istanbul's Wooden Houses

Sitting between Asia and Europe Istanbul is one of the longest habited cities on earth. Founded in 600 BC by Greek colonists from Athens, it has absorbed influences from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Venetians, and the Turks. Some of the most striking architecture in the world is found here to be sure—everyone has heard of sites like Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Wall of Theodosius, Topkapi Palace, the Suleymaniye and many more. But I'm always surprised by the wooden houses of Istanbul.

We first visited Istanbul in 1990 and it was a bit heart breaking to see the old houses, once owned by the cities pashas and elites turned into piles of decaying wood through neglect. Now in 2011 many of them have disappeared but Turkey has prospered in those intervening years and the Turks have taken steps to preserve many of the old wooden homes. Istanbul is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site but one in danger. The great monuments aren't so much the concern, they are in good repair and under constant restoration. UNESCO is more worried about the fate of lesser known bits of history like the wooden homes. 

This picture says it all. I was walking through back streets after a visit to the great architect Sinan's Suleymaniye Mosque. Not really lost but not following any particular path either. The neighborhood had seen better days, still you can see hopeful signs here.

Sometimes it's just too late to restore a building. In my walk I saw buildings with the top floor fallen in but scaffolding erected to restore the other floors. Here is one they are rebuilding using the old methods.

The reasons for the neglect are complex. Changing tastes and economic conditions contributed but Istanbul has a long history of disastrous fires too. When concrete frame construction came along it replaced wood because it was more fire resistant. Later after some nasty earthquakes the Turks found that the wooden houses survived them better than concrete. 

Today there is an urgency to save what can be saved and a new respect for the old homes. You can see the effect along the Bosporus which is a showcase for the 'Yali' style wooden home—a country home usually on the water. Here are a few we saw one day.

I'm writing this post from the Yesil Ev Hotel or "Green House". It's tucked away behind the Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque and is itself a great example of restoration.

Notice the woven wood screens that can be move up or down to give the best protection from the sun.

Another traditional element is the intricate ceiling details. The walls are plaster but the ceilings are wooden planks and the molding designs help hide the seams.

The hallway to the courtyard. Now you can see why there are so many carpet sellers in Istanbul.

The best rooms are on the top floor with incredible views but don't expect elevators. A few trips up these stairs is a small price to pay.





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Bakelite: Material of a Thousand Uses

Leo Baekeland was born in Belgium in 1863 and eventually emigrated to the US where he invented Velox photographic paper which transformed the world of popular photography. He sold the process to Eastman Kodak for enough to make him financially secure and able to pursue his own interests. And he was interested in resins. It took him several years but he came to produce many many patents for variations of a material he named Bakelite (first patent 1907.) Baekeland claimed without exaggeration that his product was ‘the material of a thousand uses’. When he died in 1944 his products were in use by nearly every industry and he had become the father of the plastics (though Bakelite is not strictly speaking a plastic.)

Bakelite has a luster and finish that make it more organic than plastic—almost like tortoise shell. It also has a soft feel to the hand. It's loved by collectors for reasons that should be clear if you read on.

This is one of the few Bakelite things we have but a great example, designed by Jaeger Lecoultre. 

more Bakelite clocks

simple office objects were made of Bakelite too like this pencil sharpener and pen holder.

and this colorful desk set

some of the most striking designs have the streamlined curves and angles of machine age and art deco pieces. Since Bakelite is molded it is easy to create these shapes.

A French shortwave radio from 1948 that we have.

and there are a bunch of great radio designs

How could we end a post about Bakelite without some phones? Love that braided cord.

sorry we couldn't find a mobile phone of Bakelite.

we could go on and on but there isn't room for all "thousands of uses" in one post.

Photos coutesy of the Bakelite MuseumWiederseim Associates, Vintage Tunes Radios, JDM Directory,,, CXO Community.


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Discoveries this week: fun chairs

Incredibly comfortable Peacock chair by Dror Benshetrit made from three sheets of folded felt. It is constucted without any sewing or upholstery.




 beautiful hand-rubbed walnut and cherry wood chair created by Brian Fireman from North Carolina


Dutch designer Bertjan Pot used his knitting and weaving skills in his "seamless" chair.  basically this is a knitted coat over a base frame

Coconut chair - 1960.  made of coconut palm wood.  The wood has beautiful texture and is quite strong but very light so the 'drum ' under the seat is filled with 'real' wood so that they don't blow over in high wind. 

Zanotta chair by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba. a unique feature is that head and feet are elevated when reclining

in leather

this chair by Bertjan Pot is called 'The Lazy Bastard', which I read as an invitation. 

the Osso chair is by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi( a small family owned company in italy.)  the two brothers found that working with Mattiazzi was really interesting.  they use a combination of sofisticated tools and forty years of know-how to create a hybrid way of producing furniture pieces. Each of the eight pieces that make this chair fit together so well because they are literally sculpted for chunks of wood by NC (numerically controlled) machining techniques. They brag that the machines are solar powered and the wood has no chemical treatment, hence the 'hybrid' aproach—machine made but green and organic of design. 

Tron armchair by Dror Benshetrit - looks great from every angle. you couldn't call this one organic but it has the appeal of a cubist painting.


Sergio Rodriguez is 83 and is still actively designing chairs.  hailing from Brazil, he is known for his playful, beautiful and whimsical designs.   he was especially prolific in the mid-century, founding his firm Oca in 1955.  here he is sitting in his famous Mole chair

Sergio's "Diz" chair, designed in 2005

Massimiliano Adamo's sharpei chair by Capellini (no dogs were harmed in the making of this chair)

start saving those wine corks now's not too late

Sources: Dror Benshetrit, Brian Fireman, Bertjan Pot, Ludovica and Roberto Palomba, Sergio Rodrigues, Capellini, cork chair.




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Cleveland Art: Restored, Reclaimed, Recycled

Between the price of oil and the euro going crazy; it is becoming harder for us in the U.S. to buy those great pieces in France and Europe but there are some great options closer to home.

Cleveland Art is one of my favorite places to visit to find incredible vintage and modern industrial finds.  Jason Wein is the founder of this Ohio company; hatching the idea when he was working at his family's salvage yard.  Now he has a crew that helps him scout down old machinery and salvage to turn into reclaimed furniture.  

The artists use wood, hand-blown glass and steel; successfully mixing the old and the new.  Below are some of my favorite new and vintage pieces:

pendant lamp made from wire, pipe and corrugated glass

beautiful wood vintage chairs, just in from Europe

pendants made from salvaged conveyor belts

a storage unit AND a hand truck

beautiful chandeliers from reclaimed glass

In the shop Image via New York Times: Style Magazine

who needs California Closets when this will organize your socks quite nicely, and with more style

 seven foot long steel table with vintage cast metal base

rare vintage medical cabinet 

jaunty green vintage lockers with tops of reclaimed wood. 


the store

Images courtesy of  Cleveland Art, and The New York Times

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Discoveries: Vintage Medical

There is something about vintage medical and dental equipment that is fascinating. The science was young but the design was worthy of survival to say the least.  Here are a few things I found this week

An elegant vintage dental cabinet from the US

vintage French choppers dating from 1920.  Actually this is a model made from metal and enamel.  Each tooth was fired individually and secured to the mandible with brass pins which are removable. Found in the U.S. 

3-wheeler invalid bath chair (stuffed dog not included) in the U.S.


This vintage dental cabinet is from France.  it has sixteen drawers, curved glass doors and drawers, a black ''opal" turntable, and sports casters. It's aptly called The Girator

vintage lung model from the U.S.  the two lungs can actually be removed to show the heart and other important and notable organs

fifty glass eyes, one to go with almost any outfit.

the vintage eye chart below explains why you can see

paper mache' brain;  left AND right!

vintage flutterbies

Anatomical mannequin with removable parts (France)

Not sure what this is but it looks like something herr doktor Frankenstein used in transporting spare parts to and from the operating room.  From france...

Sources: Modern 50; Phisick; Empiric Studio; Elemental UK; Factory 20; Nord Ouest Antiquities, Urban Remains, Curious Science

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Traditional Form, Modern Function

I used to have a simple old pine table that served as a computer table. It was always cluttered with cords, keyboard, and mouse along with the inevitable pile of papers. Maybe I needed a desk but even a vintage desk would end up in pretty much the same state, minus the paper piles maybe. Still I loved that old table, I just could never see it under the mess.

I'm all for reusing old things in a new way but sometimes the best solution is the old form with new functions added. One of the best examples of this principal is this Shaker inspired computer table by Inventia Design. It was a special commission for a customer who wanted a simple design to stay clean and minimal while serving a modern function.

All the clean classic lines of Shaker furniture are preserved. The proportions (all important in Shaker style) are maintained. But there is much function here that is hidden.

Hidden holes allow you to keep the cords out of the way. The height of the keyboard takes the strain off your wrists and shoulders, de rigueur in ergonomic design. 

My pine table is retired now that I have bundled up my life into a laptop otherwise it would be green with envy.

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Matthias Pliessnig: Master Bender

Matthias Pliessnig started out exploring the cooper's methods (barrel makers) later he developed unique and sensuous forms taking steam bending of wood to new levels.

Why this drive to bend wood into such unlikely shapes? “Wood has a lot of natural plastic resins in it,” Matthias explained, “so it is capable of far more than what has been done with it in the past few hundred years. People are making very sexy and attractive forms with plastics, but I feel you can do anything with wood that you can do with plastic and carbon fiber. When you do, you end up with something much warmer and more alive, and made of a material that is more ecologically responsible and sustainable.” Quote courtesy of  Wood Workers Journal.

Matthias Pliessnig from Philadelphia, pushes steam-bending to a new level. This curvaceous bench is created entirely from air-dried responsibly harvested sheets of oak.  It speaks for itself.


the work....

Pliessnig has mummified an old Thonet chair in woven strips of oak just because he can.

a place to curl up and take a nap


One of many tiny sculptures built under incredible tension. Watch your fingers...

"Insum Itineris"  armchair made from white oak strips

Seemingly fragile; this bench dares you to take it on

Gotta light?

The artist relaxing in his studio

Sources:  Mattias Pliessnig; Core 77; first photo: courtesy of Gene Young - Smithsonian American Art Museum

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Jaime's Chairs

Jaime Hayon hails from Madrid and is a force to be reckoned with in the design world.  He immersed himself in the skateboard and graffiti culture of the 70's and that whimsy and playfulness is evident in his designs. He is an artist, a celebrity (and apparently a bird-lover)  but he is foremost a designer. He works with some big names—Camper, Berhardt, Moooi, Faberge, and Baccarat but I especially love his chairs.  


a stunning chair made for Ceccotti

Jaime in his studio 

The Ceccotti chair is made from 22 carved individual pieces of wood


The reference to Charles Eames is obvious but Jaime has added his own personality to the  "The Lounger" made for BD

it comes in a variety of colors to match any outfit


This is called the Bardot sofa for obvious reasons.  Although curvaceous, it has a deceptively small footprint to work in city apartments.

a detail from one of his chairs in the Showtime series 


Jaime worked with Camper to design this chair for their showroom. this guy is NOT afraid


this may not be for everyone but it can also fit in an apartment.  Where is the melting watch?

Photos courtesy of Hayon Studios

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Mid-Century Modern Chairs

This week we got in so many great chairs from Bloomberry that we thought it would be fun to talk about some of the iconic chair designs from mid-century modern designers.

One of the most influential designers of the era was Charles Eames, and American who was (some say) equal parts Charles and Ray (Bernice "Ray" Eames). The couple are responsible for some of the most recognizable designs of the 50s and 60s. Charles' philosophy was to get back to simple, organic forms.

A Zenith Arm Chair made to fit the seated form.

Here is second edition fiberglass chair with the characteristic cross bracing and with wooden legs.

Here are some with the original black "Eiffel" bases

And when you thought the basic idea had been explored, you get what I think is perhaps his most playful design the Eames Rocker. Boy you bet it's comfy.

Lest you think he was only using fiberglass here are two formed rosewood chairs from Eames, still just as simple and organic in form.

Warren Platner made use of parallel wire to create a variety of organic forms

Gianfranco Frattini liked to incorporate more of the streamlined Jet Age into his designs

And we finish with these side chairs from Frattini for the George and Jane Jetson in all of us.

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Organic and Eclectic

Dave Allen's shop, Artefact Design and Salvage in Sonoma has an eclectic mix of architecural salvage, organic stone forms, and reclaimed furniture designs.

Check out his marble sink:

curved slab table

detail of a table made from reclaimed railroad ties, concrete top with metal corners

stone cubes from Java—the same natural forces that make caves also make furniture aparantly

Sometimes the materials speak for themselves and the designer just has to get out of the way


Dave knows how to put a showroom together.

Sources: Artefact Design & Salvage

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Discoveries this week: here's looking at you

A great use for all those one-eyed dolls in the attic;  extract and mount them under glass.  Below are vintage mechanical doll eyes from France.  "Here's looking at you kid"

From the UK; a vintage child's car dating to 1900.  It's been overhaulled and ready to roll.

The incredible frog below is crafted by Edouard Martinet from France.  He assembles amazing sculptures from found objects in fleamarkets along with old typewriters parts, and kitchen utensils. He does not use solder but carefully fits each piece together like a puzzle. This frog can also swallow coins from his paisley-lined gullet.

a fantasmical bee by Edouard crafted from typewriter keys, among other things....

Edouard holding one of his scaly creations

An old train signal post from the UK.  A great decorative element that can double as a serious wake-up call.

These four French vestal virgins were reclaimed from an old hotel and are looking for a new home.

Nine happy bowling pins from France.  These date from the '30's and ready for action.


Below is an articulated dress-stand model made of plaster and papier-mache' with hands and arms that can be arranged to pluck birds from cages or any number of other poses. It is in excellent working condition made for the stylish boutique of the 1930s.

Andy Aaron rebuilds vintage electronic calculators from old heavyweight switches, cranks and levers.  Each one is unique.

Who says downspouts can't be a work of art?  The marine creatures below are made from cast iron and sport one of natures best finishes—rust.

Sources:  Du Cote du Designelemental UKEdouard Martinetnord 'ouest antiquities; Aaron Adding Machines

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Discoveries this week: Let There Be Light

Who says fluorescent tubes can't be stylish? These communist-era pendants were discovered in a factory in Eastern Germany and made of polished steel with bakelite junction boxes.  They are from an incredible London shop called Trainspotters who specialize in industrial, architectural salvage and, of course, lighting. We always check with them when looking for something unusual like these.

These early production cast aluminium spotlights were made by Strand in the 1950's also from Trainspotters.

Vintage Sollux "grandiosa" from France.   This metal and bakelite lamp was originally designed to provide heat therapy (note the red filter.) Excellent for warming up while reading your novel.

Below is a fun pair of vintage street lights from France. Make sure to mount above head height (these are sturdy.)

British made "Furse" theatre lights from the 70's.  heavy bases have been added to the tripod legs for stability.   Eyeball and focused beam lenses allow plenty of options from making movies to lighting your coffee table.

These Art Deco wall lights from 1939 were removed from the famous Ascot Cinema in Glasgow and still have their original green and silver paintwork. The opaline glass has been replaced. They are truly one-of-a-kind.

Stupendous cast-iron industrial pendants from a communist-era factory in the Czech Republic with prismatic glass domes at Trainspotters.

Elegant counterweight Stilonovo pendant lamp beautifully crafted from brass and plastic with a green metal shade. 

This 60's Italian beauty is by Sergio Mazza and is currently residing in Amsterdam at Bloomberry.

Super set of seven seventies sconces 

Beautiful hand-stitched leather sconce by Gemma Povo in Barcelona

Sources:  Trainspotters, Gemma Povo, Les Nouveaux Brocanteurs, Bloomberry, LeGrenier

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New Life For Old Tiles

I met Mesa Bonita founder Benedicte Bodard when I was working and staying in Madrid one Summer. She lives in Barcelona and has such passion for the underappreciated and often discarded Spanish decorative tiles that it is contagious. She literally scours the streets for the discards of remodeling projects, cleans the tiles up and turns them into tables, coasters, and wall art. Marte Marie Forsberg writes about her here.

Here is the video:

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Discoveries This Week: Bring Out The Color

This week I found myself gravitating to playful, colorful furniture (probably due to the relentless rainy weather in Seattle.)  I found some great mid-century pieces as well as new designs this week. Starting with mid-century:

 Wim Rietveld  was a master when it comes to using color. Below is a beautiful example from his 5600 series that is available here

with drawers open

a small wardrobe by Willy van der Meeran, 1952 available here

below is another example from Willy van der Meeran.  It is aptly called the "Tomado" and sports nine adjustable shelves in carnival colors. 

Friso Kramer was also adept at using color-blocking.  Below is a cabinet from his Stabilium series available at Vintage Interiors

Six jaunty chairs by Arne Jacobsen with a rich warm patina

Now for the contemporary:  Piet Hein Eek is well known in the Netherlands, and although he is a true original; his work harkens to Wim Rietveld and the Dutch designers of the 50's. Below are a few examples of his designs using wood scrap:

Dark Waste Box

detail of handles

Classical Cabinet - wood scrap

Classical Cabinet in open position

Small wood chair made from Indonesian teak wood scrap

Enormous Lounge Chair, 2000 

Piet's shop

Sources: Vintage InteriorPiet Hein Eek

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Discoveries: Pioneers of Industrial

Steelcase (an american company) and Forges de Strasbourg created the Strafor brand in 1926, which was to become the renowned pioneer of French metal furniture. Below are two  "Forges de Strasbourg" (or Strafor) cabinets.  

their signature detailing

a three-column Strafor file cabinet below.  these cabinets were originally painted but are now typically stripped and waxed when they are restored 

..nice legs..


a petite Strafor cabinet. (notice the brass details)

Strafor from William Oury's shop in the Paris Flea Market

okay this is not Strafor but it is elegant.  From the UK

A beautiful Strafor desk from the 50's

Refer to link for more information on Steelcase/Strafor

Sources:  le grenier, les nouveaux brocanteurs, nord-ouest, elemental uk, little Paris store, william oury

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