4.27.2014

domestic voyeur

red door with white scroll-detail railing between ivy, NW Portland

I am, I confess, a sort of Peeping Tom. Whenever I go for a walk in the evening or drive by a lit-up house or apartment building, I glance in, peeking from the sidewalk or street. Who are these people? What are their lives like? What are their dreams? Whom do they love? And why are they exercising at 10:30 at night? Why do some people keep old flea-infested couches stacked up on their front porch, or windows blocked by a crush of dying, yellowed plants, or plastic toys and broken chairs strewn across the lawn, while others . . . don't? So of course I also spy on people online. Who doesn't? So much is spread out here on the Net for all to see who care to look. We all love a good story, even if we have to make most of it up.


white pansy, March 2014


front yard: parked car with graffiti and flags, NW 21st, Portland, Oregon

These are some of my favorite home tours on the Web, places I keep returning to over the years for inspiration:


1. Window to the Soul

I've long loved the space interior designer Rebekah Sigfrids and her former design team put together for herself in Cincinatti, Ohio, several years back. (Per her Twitter account she now appears to be living in NYC.) The tension between elegant and rustic materials—an old church pew in the bedroom, ethereal Etsy art leaned against the walls atop an IKEA console and an antique buffet, vintage trunks, a black marble Saarinen dining table, a striped rug, a cowhide lounger, a light-gray herringbone-tiled Carrara marble bathroom, and artfully arrayed touches of pink in the bedroom—is rarely achieved this masterfully, proof that neutral minimalism can be warm, inviting, sexy, saintly, and a little mysterious all at the same time. 


wisteria arbor, NW Portland

2. Living Outside the Box

Some people, usually visual artists, know exactly which unusual objects and proportions make for a striking, one-of-a-kind home. Simon Cavanough and Anna-Wili Highfield's Sydney, Australia, home does this to effect, even as simply as the large yellow balloon floating off a chair in the kitchen, decor choices that include some of her haunting, mask-like animal sculptures made from cotton rag and his more practical props, such as airplanes, juxtaposed with draped mosquito netting over the beds and quaint old fireplaces in corners. They could almost be living on a movie set, which wouldn't be a bad thing, depending on the movie. I would love to own one of Highfield's pieces, particularly the crows, which look like something out of the Hitchcock film, if anyone ever wants to send me one. (This is not your typical bird art satirized in Portlandia, by the way.)


3. Quirky Details in a Tight Space

Colleen Kelly, a consultant and freelance writer with a personal blog called The Style Heist full of useful tips, has a stylist's eye for detail and makes every inch count in her (former) small yet sophisticated D.C. studio highlighted on Apartment Therapy. Her plant-stand side tables inspired me to thrift something of the kind for my own place.


unknown flowering bush, March 2014, Portland

4. Hollywood Glam in Australia

Interior designer Sarah Davison styled up for herself a glamorous but livable Deco-era home in Sydney, Australia, that feels more like old Hollywood than Crocodile Dundee—not that I've ever been to Australia. (Some of the most original tours on Design Sponge are in fact Australian, e.g., see #2, no offense.) Of course the diva in me adores the giant round mirror in the living room, the masses of roses, the tall candles, the Bertoia Diamond chair, the large amethyst chunk sitting on the coffee table, two types of herringbone floors, and her belief in "touches of black." I'm not a fan of the entire apartment (e.g., the birds-and-bamboo screen on one of the walls, the slight green-and-yellow jungle vibe in the kitchen), but it'd be a lovely place to airbnb, if you could. In fact, the place reminds me of a posh hotel, the kind that leaves flowers on the table and whole chocolate bars on your pillow—which is actually the problem I have with interior designers in general, trained to create overly formal matchy-matchy spaces that can be beautiful but sterile—meaning the most natural interior decorators tend to be fine artists or stylists.


pink lilac tree, NW Portland


5. Masters of Vertical Storage

David and Im Schafer won Apartment Therapy's Small Cool Space Contest way back in 2006 and to my mind have never been topped. Their former San Diego loft space would never work without the Jolly-Green-Giant-sized ceilings—or their architecture training—and their ingenious use of wall space makes their loft experiment feel like some kind of tall mid-century ship, but that's also what makes it so novel. It's interesting that the competitor whose entry they themselves liked, Ivar, was a seeming minimalist, essentially their opposite, despite all their obsessive organization.


6. Textile Mix

Design director and artist Gregory Beauchamp combines thrifted textiles and rugs, old wood, vintage oil paintings, and lush houseplants into a desert-bohemian artist mix full of light in Venice Beach, California, though looking at his beloved ratty vintage office chair is a little like finding yourself a passersby at a car accident: you stare even though you try not to.


yellow sidewalk graffiti scrawl, NW Portland

7. Modern Playhouse

Interior designer Cecile Carré's house in Barcelona, Spain, is like a Case Study House turned day care—but in a good way. Actually, the only things I love about this house are the dining room and the living room adjacent to the patio where I could probably spend my life, apart from changing up all the furnishings. This is more a house where I appreciate the overall indoor-outdoor family mood and physical structure rather than the objects themselves, a place that's personal, well lived in, and well loved—the very definition of home (and an exception to the rule mentioned in #4).


8. French Explorer

Ooh là là! French antiques, intricate off-white moldings and rosettes, giant gilded mirrors above the fireplaces, leather trunks and sunken seats, large old black-and-white maps spread like wallpaper, and herringbone wood floors under acres of books, all mixed with a marble Saarinen dining set, a tiny IKEA-ish kitchen, and a large record collection all put together by historical landscape architect Gabriel Wick (and proving that a designer is a designer, no matter the medium). Could a French apartment be any more perfect—meaning without any feminine brights and florals?


white house, NW Portland

9. Bohemian Treehouse

Here's another bohemian abode, but one for a freelance interior designer, Kristin Korven, and her musician partner Derek James in Laurel Canyon in the Los Angeles hills: large round mirror, giant wrought-iron crystal chandelier, library wall, ethnic rugs and textiles, wood floors, fireplace, brick walls, orange, brown, black, mustard, red, and fuchsia tones, old maps, bentwood, antiques, a touch of MCM, tons of plants, draped turquoise jewelry—of course I'd like this one. Part of its appeal is that according to the owners, the space has evolved over time through additions to the original cabin and shows its age like an old film star full of dark secrets (and yet another exception to the rule in #4).



street brick exposed under asphalt, NW Portland


10. Eames House

And of course the sneak peek of all sneak peeks would be Ray and Charles Eames' Case Study No. 8, the house of all houses designed by the most modern renaissance artists of all artists (the architectural credit also including Eero Saarinen). I can't say I admire all of Ray Eames' sometimes traditional and magpie-cluttered decorative objects that appear in photos well after their move-in (like blue-and-white china and dull floral arrangements); however, she was photographing them in much the same way as so many food and design bloggers today. Plus, the overall effect of the house is still revolutionary—since most American home owners are still living in low-slung bungalows and ranch houses. If a house is a kind of necessary cage, I'd rather have ceilings soaring above and walls of books and windows—the more exterior window the better. 


mossy stairs with iron gate, NW Portland

See any themes in my choices? Okay, your turn.

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