Weekly Feature

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Design Goes Online

December 10, 2007
by findingDulcinea Staff
This week we explore five elements of modern design online, including the inspiring designers of the 20th century, the technological developments of today, and the wealth of designer products and services available on the Web.

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Modern design, whether it’s sophisticated Web site design, interior decoration, commercial architecture, or type, has an online presence that permeates several generations and reaches out to an audience around the world. Contemporary designers, both independents and design firms, view the Internet as the most accessible and visually accommodating way to present their aesthetic vision, communicate with other designers, and connect with clients. But modern innovation doesn't forget the past, especially not the founders of industrial design and other stylish innovators of the 20th century.
Modern designers are taking the industry several steps further by incorporating computer technology into their work, but often the aesthetic philosophy is the same, with careful emphasis on the client, environment, and function of the object, whether a piece of furniture, a book cover, or a Web site.

Norman Bel Geddes

Born in 1893, Norman Bel Geddes was a crucial player in early 20th century design in America, creating beautiful and simple household items like chairs, cocktail sets, desks, and lamps, a few of which are photographed on the site Architonic.
At the Met Museum’s site you can see a gallery from the museum’s “Design for a New Age” exhibit, which featured work by Norman Bel Geddes, other contemporaries like Paul T. Frankl, and Bel Geddes’ onetime apprentice, Henry Dreyfuss.

Bel Geddes studied art at the Cleveland Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago but, like Tony Duquette, another important 20th century designer, theater was a great love of his. He worked on about 200 plays and operas, designing sets, writing scripts, and directing, before turning to industrial design in the 1920s.

Another interesting facet of Bel Geddes’ career was his interest in aircraft and automobiles. You can view some of his floor plans and prototypes for strange, inventive versions of these vehicles at a Stanford University page that discusses his transportation design philosophy, particularly his interest in aerodynamic and simplified forms.

Raymond Loewy

Raymond Loewy was next in line in the movement of streamlined, aerodynamic industrial design. Unlike Bel Geddes, who was born into a rich Midwestern family, Lowey came to America from France at the age of 26 with $40 in his pocket. At the site Designophy is a biography of Loewy and a photo gallery of some of his most memorable work, including designs for NASA’s “habitability” program, brand logos such as Shell, and prototype designs for buses and trains.

At Loewy’s official site you can find galleries, career highlights like the Greyhound bus design, a biography, and a bibliography of works about and by Loewy, including his respected autobiography, Never Leave Well Enough Alone.

An online exhibit of Loewy’s life and times is hosted by the Hagley Museum in Delaware. Calling Loewy the “most important industrial designer of the 20th century,” the exhibit curators take us through his young adult life with photographs, drawings and sketches of his designs, his magazine advertisements, and some of his telltale streamlined works that never made it to production.

Power Couples

Charles & Ray Eames

The Library of Congress honors design power couple Charles and Ray Eames with an online exhibit illuminating their varied accomplishments in the field of design. The brains behind art exhibitions, magazine covers, buildings, textile designs, and gadgets, The Eameses emphasized the connection between designers, their clients, and the broader American society. Each of their projects attempted to connect multiple facets of American culture, society, and commerce to one another. The exhibit has some great images of the Eameses as well as photographs and notes.
Tony & Elizabeth Duquette

Starting in the 1940s, Tony Duquette was one of the most important designers in Los Angeles, primarily working as a costume designer in Hollywood and quickly amassing the résumé, connections, and taste of a collector. Duquette, whose wife Elizabeth was a painter, also designed furniture and acted as the arbiter of style among many actors, socialites, and other members of the postwar Hollywood scene. Visit the tribute site, TonyDuquette.com, here to learn more about Duquette’s life and work.

Perhaps Duquette’s greatest legacy is Dawnridge, a residence that now serves as the hub of an organization that continues his work and philosophies.

The art deco style, originating at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes in Paris, was an important component of Duquette’s collection, and can be seen in gilt objects and furniture, and increasingly machine-inspired design. In turn, many of these elements look back to the Rococo period of the 17th century.

You can learn more about what classifies something as art deco, and about other art and design movements, at ArtLex, a dictionary of art terms.

Tony Duquette’s studio in Los Angeles, now a historic landmark, is a primer on lavish taste, worldliness, and design epochs of the past. Duquette and his wife turned this residence into a palatial abode where they could showcase their own works, including furniture designs and artwork; their antique collection of furniture and art pieces, and customize each room to fit this extraordinary collection.

The house includes the “big room,” a 150-foot-long living room, of sorts, with an 18-foot ceiling; a tree house built off a protruding porch; and even nooks and hallways displaying such novelties as ostrich eggs, stuffed birds, and Elizabeth Duquette’s jewelry collection. And this was only one of the Duquettes’ half-dozen estates. Browse TonyDuquette.com for photo tours of his residences and some of his art installations, both commercial and residential.

Under the “Design” topic on the New York Times site you’ll find hundreds of the newspaper’s articles on design, including a recent story by fashion and style writer Guy Trebay discussing another one of Tony Duquette’s residences: the ranch house Sortilegium in Malibu, California.

William Haines

William Haines, slightly older than Duquette, was even more connected to modernity as a decorator and furniture designer for the Hollywood elite. Haines made pieces with clean lines, simplified art-deco detailing, colorful leather upholstery, and materials fabricated to look like luxury or exotic materials, such as bamboo. Haines’ legacy acts as a kind of decorative response to the client-driven but spartan architectural philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright. Like Tony Duquette, Haines was a well-connected presence in American design and is now an icon, recognized by established fashion tomes like Vogue as well as up-and-coming design firms.

A Bevy of Creative Types

For more insight into the lives of modern designers—and some antecedents—the online magazine Design Addict hosts a database of 350 designers, providing links to their Web sites, their firm’s Web site, or Web sites that honor them.

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