Thursday, November 17, 2011


"The Period Room is Dead!"

Attention modernists: note the mural.

Look at those painted walls! For that matter the rug is undoubtedly painted as well.
Even though it's mostly hidden the mural in this room is integral and simply beautiful.

I wish I could attribute this quote.  "The Period Room is dead!" It's was some shelter magazine, some designer, years ago. Obviously it struck a cord with me since I remember it. The idea is that you don't really want your room, your house to be all one thing. If you're sort of shabby chic then you better have some cool contemporary lighting. That sort of idea. Most people know this or do this instinctively in their own way. Usually period rooms are only found in the homes of the ultra-wealthy who have the money to assemble such a thing or in museums where they really should be. But fittingly here in Los Angeles where iconoclasm is the order of the day we have a period room installed in a museum that breaks the mold.

This is a shot of the Eames house (living room) taken on site.
The installation process at LACMA.

View into the installed  living room at LACMA.

Naturally I would have wished for the Eames' to have a mural in their living room because to me that follows the same dictate. You have all this architecture in the usual materials and finishes and then, what, there's a mural to throw things off a bit. Having said that the Eames living room installed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a thrilling sight. And in their day the materials and finishes that make up their house were completely unusual. The period pieces (Charles and Ray's own designs), are really only period pieces because that's how we view them today. What's so brilliant is the mix. Their furniture which owes everything to the industrial design and manufacturing process is draped and strewn with the quirky, crafty, and handmade. There's so much creativity and life in this living room it's really hard to believe someone's not actually living in it.

The Eames Living installed at LACMA
A closer view of a portion of the room (see above).

So for contrast I'm including in this post some of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago. You'll excuse my slightly compromised shots. It's just me, my handheld camera, and viewed through glass. (Follow my link for more and better views.) The arrangements seem stilted and as lifeless as an animal preserved in formaldehyde. But just as we are transfixed by the sight of Damien Hirst's vitrines these little rooms engaged us. The craftsmanship is awesome so that brings us back to the Eames whom I've no doubt would have appreciated the rooms for that reason alone. Then there are the period murals to go with the period rooms and so I am hooked. Brilliant. Even delicately hand painted wall patterns. Just amazing. Let's get busy people.


  1. I remember visiting the Thorne Rooms when I was about twelve. The scaling is so incredibly accurate that children and adults are equally delighted and awed. I don't think that's too strong a word.

    I would love to visit the Eames House exhibit. I note that bouquets of flowers abound, which was always the case when Ray was alive.

  2. Surely our graffiti epidemic must in part be a reaction to minimal, rational, modernism.

  3. Mark I think it's sort of shame that the rooms bear only the name of the money that commissioned them but I was delighted to find information about Eugene J. Kupjack the craftsman responsible for much of the work. A number of these rooms were first shown at the 1939 NY World's Fair. Follow my link for more.

    Terry I can't say I agree. First Modernism which is more than 100 years old is not nearly as minimal as people think which is part of the reason for my blog -Corbu's Cave. I want to dispel that falsehood. Le Corbusier one of the giants of Modernism loved murals in architecture. And second there's plenty of graffiti at the ruins of Pompeii so it's really old.

  4. "is not nearly as minimal as people think" let's just say it's often a bit more minimal than average and a tempting platform for decoration. Tagging is pretty old.

  5. Well considered post---and love the juxtaposition of the Thorne rooms (which are so friggin' brilliant--this ain't your grandma's dolls house---with the Eames room

    Art, Architectural and Design history are a continuum, and as we strive to preserve the past, as we should and must, we must also remember that now will soon also be so.

  6. Thanks D.E.D.!

    Curiously enough I didn't give the post much prior consideration and dashed it out with hardly a rewrite. In general I love house museums and the like so I feel the subject is close to me. The miniatures could be your grandmother's doll house..... if she were an heiress! The Thorne Rooms represent an artificial world -more like the Twilight Zone or that end scene in 2001 A Space Odyssey that actual history.

  7. Terry, No! I won't say it's more minimal than average. That's a meaningless statement on the face of it. I reject your supposition totally.

  8. Nice post, Scott! While I love period style work, I grew up in Southern CA in the land of the new and minimal and the celebrated modern, and still have a large place in my design heart for rooms with no baseboards, window-walls,soffit lighting (sigh!) our home was designed by a "minimalist" architect and was then crammed with family antiques, which worked beautifully and still looks fabulous 40+ years later. As an architecture student at UC Berkeley I had a chance to visit the Ruth house (the home of architect Donald Olsen and his wife) built in 1960s, it's far from a soul-less modern white interior-- it boasts a fantastic mural that runs up the center stairway of the house, which warms and anchors the interior. You CAN love modern and minimal architecture and still love gold leaf ceilings and cerused oak and site-specific colorful murals. The techniques for the decorative artists are the same, the only difference is in the design or even just the framework of it. I think it's a huge mistake to assume that a minimal or modern interior should do without any of these things.

  9. meanwhile, i had no idea they had moved the eames house. wow, i should visit that!

  10. Lynne, the whole premise of my blog Corbu's Cave is that there's a place for a mural in every sort of architecture from caves to le Corbusier. Modernists who worship Corbu like to turn a blind eye to the murals he painted. Also the Bauhaus was not at all about snow white walls which is another popular misconception. Today with the popularity of Design Within Reach and all the other outlets for modern masters there's a great need for education of designers and architects on the need for a healthy mix. I hope the (temporary) installation of the Eames living room at LACMA will help a little.

    Donald Olsen and Ruth House are unknown to me. Can you suggest any links?

  11. oops it was built in 1954. I cannot find much on that house except exterior shots. it's now a landmark:

    agree re the unfortunate misconception that the international style = unhappy hipsters. far too many people do seem to collect icons of design without understanding what made them great.

  12. Thanks Lynn! The house looks great. And yes, unhappy hipsters really sums it up!

  13. My favorite Modern mural--OK, Moderne, which is close enough for me--has always been the one Winold Reiss designed for the bar-room of Donald Deskey & Edward Durell Stone's Mandel house up in Mt. Kisco, New York. Of course, the mural got painted over when the style was on the outs, but a decade or so ago, new owners restored the house & recreated Reiss' mural.

  14. SG, thank you so much for your 2 cents.

    Btw you got me going. I looked and looked but couldn't find a picture of the Reiss mural in the Mandel house. Obviously you've seen it. Were you there? DO tell. And if you've got a link, great.

  15. Well, the reason you couldn't find it is because I mis-membered the artist's name. Winold Reiss is one of my favorite 1930s designers & muralists, but this wasn't his work--this was the work of Witold Gordon, another under-appreciated artist of the period. You can see how I got confused, especially after a few Pepsi's. Either way, the mural is a beauty.


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