On Permanent and Temporary Design

Horst.jpgJay Johnson -- I admire the way photographers frame the world. They have an instinct for zeroing-in on the essential bits of everyday life, and cropping out all the rest.

Horst P. Horst, the famous fashion and interior design photographer, is a great example of someone who could pose a subject or frame an interior just so. Vogue and House and Garden were better off for his amazing photography.

This photographer originally wanted to be an architect, became an apprentice to Le Corbusier in Paris in 1930, and eventually became a mentee and companion to photographer George Hoyningen-Huene.

When Horst was asked about his iconic photo "Odalisque, New York," he said, "I don't know how I did it. I couldn't repeat it. It was created by emotion."  

Look at the amazing photo on this Horst book cover of a young Jessica Tandy. Pure heaven, and an amazing design achievement! Horst took photographs of Coco Chanel, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, and many others. While this photographer passed away -- physically -- in 1999, he lives on forever with his photographs.

I got to thinking about mortality and how temporary things are after starting to read the exceptional Rodale press memoir Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived, written by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton. Barton is the one who dies in the end, and it's his life on the line, so to speak.

I got on this rather morbid kick after looking into the many famous designers who we salute here on Design2Share and other design-related sites and shelter magazines. Many famous, trademark interiors have been dismantled and sold off piecemeal after the deaths of famous designers. Great, of-the-moment interiors oftentimes do not outlive their creators. Witness many furnishings and whole rooms by greats like Dorothy Draper and Billy Baldwin (of course this would apply to many, many others). Sold off. Scattered. Temporary interiors, although their decorators originally poured emotion and passion into them . . . as if they were designed to last forever.

177.jpgSo now I'm looking at photographs of an non-typical decorating project done by Irwin Weiner ASID, a New York interior designer.

The assignment was to take a power penthouse in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, fluff it up on a very tight budget, and make it look livable to prospective buyers.

Weiner had completed a similar project in Midtown for the same client, and the results were impressive: before the decorating, over 100 showings had yielded no offers; after the decorating, the next showing turned into a sale.

For this project, the designer used auction finds as well as items from a variety of retail stores and lower-end catalogs. Putting them together quickly, he staged the rooms well and did the job of assisting a real-estate marketing firm to take some brochure photos and quickly sell properties.

18.jpgThis is temporary interior design commissioned to be temporary on purpose. It's part of a huge movement around the world to "stage" homes to get them looking exceptional so that they will be appealing enough to sell.

For new construction, design staging is particularly important. Empty rooms look lifeless and potential buyers are oftentimes unable to visualize themselves living there.

It seems that bedrooms are particularly hard to visualize empty. "Will my king size bed fit the space?"

In the almost 400 video shorts contained in my Design2Share Video Library on YouTube, you will see examples where I have taken my video camera -- a sturdy palm-sized Radio Shack $99 camtastic Sanyo special -- and shot many interiors. I have never pretended to be the Horst P. Horst of interior design video guys. Maybe the Horst P. Schultz of video guys (or any other unknown fellow shooting away for the fun of it). But it occurs to me that what I shoot is a video record of things that may not be permanent. Buildings will be torn down, apartments will be gutted and refurbished, people will die, food will be eaten and thrown out, and all things pass.

john%20street%20lr.jpgI do not apologize for morbidity, but I do bow to the realism of design. We make our interiors and our lives beautiful for today and the foreseeable future. We have faith and hope that our decorating will last and be appreciated.

Even temporary design, meant to stage a house or apartment for fast sales, is meant to look like a beautiful interior. And here's a project update: the buyer of one of Weiner's fluffed penthouses bought all the furniture and kept things exactly as found during the showing. So this temporary design project became permanent.

I hope you enjoy some videos I took of a design photographer, taking some pictures of our country house: Shooting the Dining Room, Shooting the Kitchen, and Backyard Photo Shoot. Watching a photographer work made me think of the true temporary nature of our decorating projects, and of the concepts of owning a home and building a life.

Still, it's nice to know that we have photographs to show the way things once were.

Thank you for sharing your comments with me here on the site, or email me at jay@design2share.com.   


Photo credits: Thomas Pindelski

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