Friday, February 20, 2009

Like a Blirgin

I wish the thank the many personal friends and friends of Modlife for their complimentary emails and for checking out my blog. I realize I am a blog-virgin (Blirgin) and have a way to go before I am well versed in the many features so I really appreciate the positive feedback so early in the game. I am especially appreciated to Joe Kunkel, who paid a personal visit to the store after checking out the blog, especially since Joe is perhaps the original blogger of mid century modern furnishings well before the birth of the blog.
Several years ago Joe maintained a website providing information and an online store as a supplement to inventory he sold at Broadway Antique Market (BAM) in Chicago. He later became a realtor for Baird & Warner, specializing in Modernist properties in Chicago and the suburbs.

I first met Joe shortly after I opened my first location then again later when he represented the sale of a mid century modern home in the north shore. He then took me to a new listing of a Keck & Keck home which had barely been altered from it's original 1950's state. The two of us walked around this home like a couple of archaeologists uncovering primitive artifacts that could lead to the mysteries of Atlantis or Noah's Ark. For purists as ourselves, these modernists homes deserve the preservation or restoration in respect to the vision of the architects and designers who implemented them. As I am not against updating a moldy bathroom or removing the asbestos in the basement or even adding an addition which blends with the integrity of the architecture, when I hear of the amateur renovations people make on their historic, albeit modernist homes, I feel they have committed a mortal sin.

Not long ago, before ebay taught people the value of their attic treasures, weekend renovators would replace a murano chandelier for something new at "Hardware" lighting store - or throw away an Eames lounge chair and replacing it with a brand new recliner. And if that fit the design aesthetic of your home, I say, "Go to it!" But if your working with the bones of good modern architecture, don't deface it with commercial grade graffiti. Consult with a modern enthusiasts.. you'll find one in your closest metropolitan area... we are everywhere!
Joe is also President and Co-Founder of Bauhaus and Beyond and you can sometimes catch Joe as a keynote speaker at Modernist shows, but I would highly encourage you to check out his website at And if you are in the market of buying or selling a Mod home.. he is your man.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Check Mates

Picture it... the space age of the 1960's and in a technologically advanced America where business is looking forward to modernism, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) launched a marketing program to advance the selling of ALCOA aluminum products. The players: Austin E. Cox A.S.I.D. of Austin Enterprises and the advertising agency Ketchum, McLeod & Grove. The game: Chess.
Chess? What is modern about Chess? Well the design is for one. In 1962, Austin Cox designed these sleek pieces which were cut from aluminum bars and packaged in protected wood cases and blue plastic windows. The pieces range in size from 4 7/8" for the King down to almost 3" for the pawns. They appear the same untainted color in the box but as you remove the pieces from it's holder the opposing pieces bare a black tint on the sides.

The designs subtract the typical symbols of chess pieces to simple forms, i.e., the Queen is represented by a crown, the bishop is a cross, the knight is a shield and the King, is fittingly, the symbol of ALCOA.

So why Chess? Well, it actually is symbolic as well. The game of chess is associated with intelligence and problem solving. A literally strategic move for the company and the executives they did, or wished to do business with who could proudly display the set in their offices with the mounting capabilities on the case.

I have typically seen the set in the 30" case but there is a variation of this set in a smaller format in which all pieces are identical in size and fit in an 18" long case. I have bought and sold these sets over the years and have seen them increase in cost considerably up to $3,000 retail.

In a recent trip to Palm Springs, I uncovered a rare set I have never seen nor have seen since. The pieces are stored in an 18"x18" box and the pawns depict a fist holding an axe. As opposed to mounting the display case it is actually the checkerboard on the opposite side. Very clever design and is a part of my private collection.

The other sets, however, are available at Modlife and retail $595 for the 18" case set and $895 for the 30" case set. And if you check out our ebay store you'll find a rare chess set made by Avon in the 1970's which where individually sold as men's aftershave and hair care products. This collectors set comes complete with boxes and most of which still have the Avon product in the bottle. SEXY!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentines Day

My Funny Valentine

It's that beloved holiday that creeps up on us every year to remind us that we need to buy a Hallmark card and some chocolates, or reserve a table at a dark-lit restaurant in a lame attempt to appear, "romantic." And, if you think that is annoying, try being single and reminded that you don't have a date on Valentines, just as you were getting over your insecurities from New Years Eve. In, fact, the two holidays are so obviously consumer-driven for the "couples" that it should be labelled, "Amateur Night part 1" and "Amateur Night part 2."

It seems odd that we should even attach romance to a Christian holiday that originated by recognizing martyrs - all of whom served the church and had suffered and died for it. Mmmm.. maybe it isn't such a stretch from romanticism.

All I know is modern love is something not preached by the church or by David Bowie. And for this Chicago-born Italian, Valentines day marks the anniversary of the Valentines Day massacre which celebrates its 90th anniversary. For those of you who missed school that day, the Valentines Day massacre took place in 1929 in a Chicago garage where 7 men where gunned down after forced to face a wall by what they believed to be a police raid. These raids where common during the prohibition era. The victims where part of the Irish north side gang led by Bugs Moran and believed to be murdered by the Italian south side gang led by Al Capone. The garage was demolished in the 1960s and is now a landscaped parking lot.

Nothing romantic about this story, but it does give me an idea of what to do this weekend. I'm filling a flask of Baileys and sharing it with one of my many Irish friends, if not all I can pile into my Range Rover and drink in the parking lot of 2122 N. Clark St. where that bloodbath occurred. Maybe I'll even pick up some cannolis.

And when I get home, I have several episodes of Love American Style, that 70's sitcom that featured short vignettes of love stories often starring television personalities such as Karen Valentine and John Davidson. Ah, a perfect mod evening.
Happy V.D. all!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Josep Maria Subirachs

Once while travelling in Spain I visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; a very well known cathedral designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. I've seen it in books and magazines and was excited to see it in person. What I wasn't familiar with was the contemporary facades of the nativity, or the "Passion Facade" of the basilica which was designed by the 20th century Catalan painter and sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs. While there has been controversy over his lack of concession to the style of Gaudi, which is suspected as with any contemporary spins on beloved legends of accepted art, the facade has become Subirachs most popular works.

I took several photographs which were rather tricky as there was a considerable amount of construction surrounding the installation at the time. As a former photographer, I couldn't let that stop me... I've put myself in greater dangers trying to get the perfect shot, but I'll leave that for another blog.

My next visit in Spain was the beach community of Sitges, a lovely town 35km south of Barcelona. My travelling companion had booked accommodations at an art hotel called Hotel del Arte Estela, about 10 minutes from town but it was modern, hip and near the marina which boasts great restaurants serving up tasty paella and sangria. The Estela Hotel represents some of Spain finest painters and sculptures, well displayed in the lobby, for sale in the gallery or painted as a mural in your room. As I walked past the lobby to my room a brutal, figural sculpture caught my eye and as I got closer to it, I noticed the signature labeled on the piece: Subirachs.

For those of you who visit museums, art galleries, surf the net or know anything about the world in which you live, these are very fundamental experiences that create a love for an artists work. To find yourself stopping to notice an artist's work that you have aesthetic connection to, only to discover that it is the same artist to whom you are repeatedly responding.

When I returned home I did some research and found several works from Subirachs and I am officially an educated fan. I could go on about his numerous works including public monuments, his strong drawings, the mathematical applications in his art, etc., but this is a blog, not a post graduate thesis. I will, however, leave you with this documentary slide show I produced featuring some of the Subirachs strongest works and a handful of my photographs of the Sagrada Familia and the Hotel Estela.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Now who can forget the absolute mod madness of the quirky comedy show LAUGH IN? The show always ended in a beloved segment in which the players poked out of windows on a psychedelic painted wall and threw lame one-liners at each other, most of which were bloopers resulting in hysterical laughter. This is Modlife's pick for most valued mod moment of the psychedelic 70's family hour... though it's pretty neck to neck with the Brady Bunch's "Sha Na Na" number.

Letter from the Publisher

Welcome to the Modlife, Inc. blog!

When it was first suggested to me to start a blog I thought, "Yeah, right, like I've got nothing else to do... blogs are self-serving pastimes for people with too much time on their hands and no one reads them anyway." I mean, seriously, all the time I spend on a computer I never read anyones blog. I do research, catch up on the news, browse ebay, sometimes craigslist, surf youtube and read endless mundane updates of friends on facebook - but never waste my time reading a blog.

So why write one? Well, there's a great deal of information that I have learned over the past few years as a dealer in Mid Century Modern furnishings that I want to document and share. but I'm not referring to the information we can all find on websites like Architonic, Design Within Reach or from the trades. All good resources, by the way - I've learned much myself from them. I'm interested in the less iconic underdogs.. the b-sides of modernism that we don't see in catalogues or in the homes of the new modern enthusiasts who are craving Eames lounge chairs and Saarinen tables. Don't misunderstand me. I love those items too. They are classics and I have them in my home as well. But there is little to teach and nothing more to learn about these standards.

So I will introduce to you what in modern design excites me. Documented, research and plucked from photo archives, I will feature modern furnishings and objects that you may never have seen or have but knew nothing about, but, hopefully will come away with an understanding and appreciation. And, just to keep myself from being too dry and preachy, I will stir in some pop culture moments in the mid-20th century history, just to add some vintage modern flavor.

I hope you enjoy the blog and visit our store and website. Thanks for reading.

Robert Zizzo
Modlife, Inc.