design Influences

There are times when, looking through a magazine, I will see a window detail, a roof line, or an entryway which stops me cold. I have to look at it, think about it, look again. There can be, rarely but often enough, something which calls out to me in the line and mass of a piece of work. If it is in someone else’s work it is a moment of delight and admiration. If it is in my own work…well that is a moment of song and validation. That is what I live for in my work. 

“That is when I stand back, drop the ego, and just dance in the moment”

No one working in the MCM style can escape the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright...

… so that is a given. Also, Mies, Schindler, Neutra. I am what I refer to as a “conflicted minimalist” or a “warm minimalist”. I love the clarity of Neutra’s Kaufman house in Palm Springs, but I love the warmth and organic feel of FLW’s Kaufman house (Fallingwater). I ache for the open, sparse, simplicity of a minimalist interior but I don’t want it to appear cold, as they too often do. All monochrome walls and stainless steel. I want to have art on the walls, shelves of books,comfortable furniture. So, I am conflicted. 40 French Creek or 15 Burgoyne are close to my ideal as a balance between the clarity of minimalism and the warmth of a living space. 

DRACO Design and Construction A dining room with a table and chairs.
Since I first wrote this I have done another 10 years of design/build. Among many examples of the “warm minimalist” concept, 1720 Yorktown stands out, although 2090 New Brunswick, 2008 New Brunswick and 2067 New Brunswick all fit this definition as well.

I find a great deal to admire in the regional vernacular of Julia Morgan’s work along with her willingness to sublimate the ego of the Architect to the betterment of the project.

I will never get over the fact that the Schroder house was Gerrit Rietveld’s first architectural effort! It isn’t enough that he built that chair? I admire a lot of the extremely French elegance in Ruhlmann’s furniture and interiors, elaborate though they are there is a sense of proportion which keeps them close to perfection in their own style. At the same time I enjoy the very French take on minimalist modernism which Robt. Mallet Stevens brought to the party in the interwar years. Not as stark as the Germans and Austrians, but still clean and simple.

DRACO Design and Construction A modern home with a red door and garage.

I like the streamline deco of Erich Mendelsohn. I have learned quite bit about perspective and proportion from the Saarinens, father and son. The transplanted Scandinavians brought with them the distinctive style of their homeland but tempered it with a distinctly American post war exuberance. Alvar Aalto cannot be dismissed from the list nor do I want to skip past Juha Leiviska’s crystalline purity. Something in the air up there I guess. 

2023 Note: Aalto’s Library at the Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, just South of Portland, is well worth a visit by any fan of modernism.

Being an Eichler dweller as well as remodeler I have studied the work of Gregory Ain, Anshen and Allen, Pierre Koenig, A. Quincy Jones, Raphael Soriano and the rest of that crew.

Living in the Bay Area I can’t avoid a connection with Maybeck, Esherick, Donald Olsen, Greene and Greene.

I love the fearless style of Oscar Niemeyer, so well suited to his usual warm South American settings.

I enjoy and have been inspired by, particularly in my design for the patio room at 761 W 26th Ave. and the color blocking at 2260 Allegheny, the monumental simplicity and use of color by Roberto Legoretta. In fact Luis Barragan and Legoretta are two of my favorite Architects.

I see many examples in design magazines and books such as “100 of the World’s Great Houses” or “Forgotten Modern” or “The New American House” of one house by an architect or practice of whom I’ve not previously heard. Sometimes I can’t track down any more but I’ve been impressed by just that one example.

DRACO Design and Construction A modern kitchen with a blue wall.

Then there are the outliers. The maverick Architects who follow no rules but their own. John Lautner, Wallace Cunningham, Antoine Predock, the Harriri sisters. Each of these have given me much to consider. Much to simply gaze at and admire. Like listening to a favorite piece of music.  

When it comes to the crunch though, I steer by four dead men; Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, Roberto Legoretta; and two living; Robert Swatt and David Hovey. In my opinion David Hovey is the greatest residential Architect practicing today in America.

2023 Nicholas: Hovey’s Arizona residential experiments appear to have been a limited exercise for him. He is not doing that work these days. Also, since I wrote this I have become aware of and entranced by the work of Tom Kundig, of Olson/Kundig in Seattle. I had the wonderful opportunity to take a self guided tour through a list of Tom’s work provided to me by his office so that I could see that which I had previously only experienced from the books. Tom’s work is at the top of modernist movement. Rooted in organics, designed/built for people, yet floating with an exuberance, a levity, which makes you smile…if not outright laugh. Wonderful, wonderful work. Although I haven’t seen any of it up close I have followed Carney Logan Burke, now CLB, through their books. Very regional and mainly for the wealthy, their work is extraordinary. The harmony in the proportion of their spaces and the use of materials is a design seminar in itself.