Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Brutal The Better

I have always been- and still am -a big fan of "Brutalist" art and architecture. The term is not commonly known as it originated in the late 1950s and continued into the mid-1970s, but has regained it's popularity in design the past few years - not so much in new design as it is in recovering it's origins.
Perhaps it's popularity today is mostly credited to Paul Evans whose hand made designs of metal sculpted furniture has made a huge comeback in home decor and mid century modern collecting.
But the origins or "Brutalism" date to over a decade before Evans introduced his sculpted bronze series of furniture.
The term; "Brutalism" was coined in 1953 by two architects - Alison and Peter Smithson and was spawned by the modernist architectural movement but relating to a phrase used by Le Corbusier translated from the French "beton brut" or "raw concrete." The material was used widely in post WW2 European, North and South American buildings, however the brutalist style was usually formed with striking repetitive angular geometries, creating sculptural characteristics and sometimes revealing texture of the wooden forms used for castings.
Typically as interior design follows the form and function of its habitat, brutalism found its way in furnishings, but as concrete is far too heavy the materials were substituted with bronze coated resins or metals. This is most evident in the Evans sculpted bronze series but we also see obvious attempts in the stunning copper chandeliers by Tom Greene for Feldman Co. and in Fantoni's abstract iron sculptures. (Pictured above).
Critics of the Brutal period architecture found the buildings to be "Monstrous, cold-hearted and inhuman" but perhaps the biggest critic were the buildings themselves, some of which decayed, crumbled and stained if not easily vandalized by graffiti, this making alternative building styles more superior. By the mid-1980s the brutalist popularity was dead making way for Structural Expressionism and Deconstructivism. Newer buildings soften their angular lines and existing concrete facades were subjected to sandblast or stucco. Thankfully, the furnishing have remained intact and have made a comeback... however, in the day it was all about sets - today the last thing you want is a room full of brutal furniture. Ah, but the beauty of adding a piece here and there can bring an important moment of mid century modern architectural history alive in your contemporary setting. Check our online store for some examples of brutalist furnishings now available in home decor, furniture and lighting.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

KRENIT BOWLS by Herbert Krenchel

Krenit Bowls are the invention of mid century designer Herbert Krenchel in 1953 and derived it's name from the combination of "Krenchel" and "eternit" (a fiber cement used for the coating of the exterior of the bowls). Manufactured in Denmark, the bowls were produced in an assortment of vibrant interior colors with a clear coat of enamel and matt black on the outside. They came in an assortment of serving and portion sizes and used for salads, fruit, etc.
In 1954, the design won a gold medal award in Milano, Italy. Production came to an end a decade later after over one million units were produced.
Like much of the great modern designs of the 20th century which have gained recently popularity in the collectors market, these have been recently reproduced for the contemporary consumer who does not want to scout for the originals. They are manufactured by Norman Copenhagen but they differ from the originals in that they typically have the same color inside and out and are limited in color scheme., i.e., white, black, green and blue and are more shallow in shape.
If you are a purist and covet the originals like me, you can find them online or contact Modlife @ for pricing and sizes as shown in the image above.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Tribute To Geoffrey Baxter

Like most drawn to my profession, before we became dealers we were collectors. My initial interest was in 20th century modern Italian art glass and Scandinavian pottery. For me, there was only Murano manufactured art glass and ceramics by Stig Lindberg or Gufstason that peaked my interest and soaked up my paypal account back in the days of buying impulsively from European dealers on ebay. Naturally, opening a showroom I found it necessary to segue that obsession into more functional objects, however in time I would come across an art glass designer whose amazing work in mid century modern design would force me to look at Britain's contribution to this genre. He is not a famous designer, at least not to the states which makes him a strong candidate for me to blog about.

Geoffrey Baxter was born in 1922 and worked for the leading handmade glass company, Whitefriars owned by the James Powell & Sons family of glass makers. Since 1834, the Powell family developed their glass manufacturing reputation as internationally important as Tiffany and Galle. When Baxter joined the company in 1954, he was the first glass designer hired outside the family to produce, "modern" glass which was monopolized at the time by Scandinavian manufacturers. While Baxter was himself influenced by the clean modern lines of Scandinavian art glass he definitely threw his own spin on his work that would make his designs stand out from that of Scandinavian and Italian modern art glass alike.

Not only was his strong point of view apparent in his designs but also his use of color and, I believe, a sense of humor and pop culture. His textures were produced by deep relief mouldings designed of organic and mimicking shapes of tree bark, musical instruments, tools, technology, and, my favorite; a layer of bricks piled by a drunk! His colors were bold and typically produced in tangerine, kingfisher blue, indigo, pewter, aubergine, cinnamon, willow and the rather rare - lilac.

You can visit the website to learn more about Baxter and his glass and the fair value of these pieces. Occasionally you can find them on ebay fetching anywhere from $100 pounds (not very common in the states - typically sold by British dealers) to over $700 pounds each.

This is where I would say "Or you can find them at Modlife for much less" but quite honestly, I sold out of much of them and what I have left I'm not ready to let go of. But I can always acquire them for the serious collector.

Friday, July 23, 2010


One of the coolest things about being a collector is uncovering variations of items that you covet the most. For example, the iconic mid-century modern chrome candle holders made by Nagel, Germany has a myriad of styles and metal finishes. You will find these candelholders sprinkled about the U.S. usually purchased from 20th century modern stores like Modlife or from dealers on ebay. Typically, you will find the classic chrome 3-footed candlestick which allows you to build various configurations by plugging them into one another like a jigsaw puzzle of your own design. You can build a tower or a centerpiece adding accessories such as the bowls. They hold thin danish style candles which aren't always easy to find in the states but the candlesticks are so decorative you needn't really dress them with candles anyway.
The candlesticks where designed by Fritz Nagel and Ceasar Stoffi and manufactured by BMF/Nagel, Germany (Beyerische Metall Fabrik) in the space age area of the 20th century. Since then variations have circulated including brass/gold metal, brutalist textures, bird-shapes, shooting stars, rosewood and metal candelabra (pictured above) to name a few. What they all share in common is how they are designed to stack and create a centerpiece or a sculpture to your own specifications depending on the size, variations and number of units you own. Typically the popular Nagel chrome unit sells anywhere from $10-$50 each depending on where and how many you buy - the most affordable naturally, being in Germany where they originate. You can still find dealers on ebay but unless you buy them in large quantities it may not be worth the cost of having them shipped internationally. As for this collector - I keep my eye out for the rarer less common variations - some of which are on sale at Modlife. For more information call the showroom at 773-425-8338

Friday, February 19, 2010


When I decided to write a blog I never intended to make it a daily journal however, I certainly intended to keep it up. I have failed to do that but in my defense, I have been busy with other pressing issues. Modlife is now on and I am thrilled to report that we have over 80 items posted with various photos, accurate dimensions and detailed description of our inventory. In the past month we have sold dozens of vintage modern furnishings to various designers in New York. I was rather suspicious as to why all the clientele was coming out of New York and then I discovered an Apartment Therapy story on which highlighted a pair of my Ward Bennett sleigh chairs (now sold) with a link to my storefront on the website. Lesson? Go global. There are those who like to see and feel the furniture, "kick the tires" if you will, but as we have become electronic consumers it does not seem to matter if we are buying shoes, soap, a television or a chair - we have come to trust buying online as a preferred way of shopping.

That being said, we have updated our website: as well. We now feature, in addition to our inventory, a gallery page which displays vignettes of furnishings in our showroom complete with lighting art and accessories. We also added "Mod Makeover" which shows the "Before and After" images of reinvented furnishings including chairs, case goods, lighting, etc.

Finally, we have been fortunate to exhibit some local talent here in our showroom. Our 5 year anniversary in October (wow! it has been a long time since my blog updates) we sponsored "ARTiversary" a cocktail reception celebration featuring 3 Chicago artists; Paul Roberts, Mel Platzke and John Park. We completely sold out of Mel Platzke pieces but he has worked diligently to restock us with a few more pieces and they just keep getting more amazing.

Well that is all I have to report now but I promise to be more frequent with news, updates and mod stories.