Circle Cafe: An Adorable Oasis in the Middle East

One of the things I love about visiting unfamiliar places where friends live is that they have had the advantage of time to find all sorts of hidden gems around their area. (For our friends that visit us in Los Angeles, I have a ton of them!) So we were thrilled to visit some of our friends’ favorite places in Abu Dhabi.

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On our second day there we had a delightful and delicious lunch at Circle Cafe. It was a lovely place with enormous windows that let in an incredible amount of natural light, which was soothing and hapiness inducing. AbuDhabi150

I’d not thought about creating a design theme around one geometric shape before, but somehow the “circle” theme was inspirational to this interior designer and became a successful grounding element for the entire cafe.  Circles were repeated in the tables, chairs, ceiling, and lighting fixtures throughout the cafe. Even the placemats were circles.AbuDhabi151

And smartly, those circles were broken up by beautiful brown leather chairs and natural wood tables that were set up in an invitation that seemed to say “come in, stay a while, bring your laptop or borrow a book and be our friend for the day.” And there were a few people there who had done just those things it seemed.AbuDhabi157

I loved the unfinished wood pieces along the sides of the space as well. I am a total sucker for combining modern and vintage/antique furniture, so this subtle nod to that method made me feel right at home.
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Of course I also felt at home staring at their baked goods all during lunch. Yum! I should also say, they had chosen the perfect gray wall color to contrast with the white furniture and trim. This place feels much like what I hope our kitchen will feel like when we’re finished redecorating it!AbuDhabi152

And I loved their paper lighting fixtures. They are definitely decorative (I don’t think these would light the space at night in the slightest), but I love the way the light within glows through just enough to highlight the edges of the strips that make up this whimsical design.AbuDhabi139

Ok, I know this isn’t design related, but I can’t resist mentioning how delicious these juices were. The green one was the best mint lemonade I had the whole trip. Yum!AbuDhabi137What do you think? Do you like the design of this cafe?

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Architecture of Abu Dhabi and Dubai

One of the things I was most excited about when planning our trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai was the chance to see, in person, some incredible architecture that I’d only previously heard about in books or on the web. Because the area is so new, and so rapidly developing, there is a tremendous amount of innovative, almost futuristic looking design on their skylines. Some of the skyscrapers will make you feel like you’re living in a science fiction movie. By contrast, there’s also an effort to create full-experience environments in some other cases. Those buildings seem to emphasize opulence, sometimes boast a specific theme, and have a bit of the feeling of Las Vegas or Disneyland. Going from one to the other can seem a little disjointed at times, but it’s all an important part of the look of the cities.

In Abu Dhabi, there was a recurring style element of buildings that almost looked like sliced sausages, with the roof sitting at an extreme angle. We saw this all over the city.

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Of course there’s the surreal environment I talked about last week created at the Grand Mosque. This design was the result of a combined effort by architects and designers from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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We also stopped by Ferrari World to take a look at that architectural feat. It’s an indoor theme park (so imagine a structure big enough to house Disneyland), home of the fastest rollercoaster in the world. Designed by Benoy Architects, the scope of the structure is hard to describe. There’s no easy way from the ground to get a good view of the entire building, but from the pictures I’ve seen of it from above, it doesn’t look real! The design of the building and it’s entryway were quite modern and futuristic feeling. And very smartly, the architects included a light funnel to bring daylight into the center of the structure.

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In the more residential parts of Abu Dhabi, we came across a different kind of design style altogether. These buildings were much more modest, and seemed to embrace the desert and Middle Eastern cultures and traditions much more than the competitive skyscraper designs.

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I loved these bridges, which combined so many different shapes; they were geometric but also somehow organic at the same time. They were always a really interesting view on the water.

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Next to a museum we spent some time in, we also stopped to take a look at the UAE Pavilion. Designed by Foster and Partners for the 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair, the entire structure was reassembled in Abu Dhabi and is now used as an international art museum. Unfortunately it was closed the day we went, so I didn’t get to see the inside. (Side note: Right nearby they are working on building a Louvre and a Guggenheim museums, which promise to be spectacular!)

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Our friends who live in Abu Dhabi have an apartment high up in one of this cluster of buildings. They are new skyscrapers, built within the past couple of years, and definitely seem to fit with the efforts to build now with future design in mind.

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But then they have a view of Emirates Palace, which is just about as opposite as you can get. Emirates palace has a bit of the pretend-world feeling that Las Vegas tends to have.

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Dubai sometimes took that Vegas-like pretend world to another level. We took a stroll through Atlantis, a huge, over the top, themed resort that made me feel like I could be in the king’s castle in The Little Mermaid. No corner was left untouched by the ocean theme. They even had a very impressive aquarium.

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The Dubai Mall also had an amazing aquarium, sharks and all. And outside of the mall was a dancing water fountain, designed by the same people that designed the water fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

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Dubai’s reputation in architecture is a bit more well-known, largely because of two buildings. One is the Burj Al Arab, designed by architect Tom Wright. Built to look like a sail, it is currently the fourth tallest building in the world. It’s a high end luxury hotel and sits on a manmade island, connected to the mainland by one bridge.

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And the other is, of course, the Burj Khalifa, by architect Adrian Smith. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s hard to mentally process just how incredibly enormous this building is. It only starts to become clear when you realize just how much taller it is than any other building that surrounds it. It is so tall in comparison that it gives the impression of being the only building in the sky. To put the sheer height of this incredible structure into perspective, there is a new project I heard about recently in Los Angeles to build the city’s tallest building, which will sit 78 stories high. The Burj Khalifa has 163 floors, and you would be able to see the curvature of the earth from the top. Aside from the extreme height of it, it is a beautiful building. It really seems like this perfect precious gem among all that surrounds it. This was my favorite building we saw, and having drinks on the 124th floor was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Only since I’ve been home have I begun to realize how rare of an opportunity that was.

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Dining and Design in the UAE

For our entire vacation in the Middle East, it struck me how well we were eating. We never had bad food, not even once. It also struck me that the service at restaurants in the UAE was always top notch. Really impeccable. We certainly felt spoiled! Here is a highlight of our favorite dining experiences from the UAE.

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One night, the friends we were visiting took us to their all time favorite restaurant in Abu Dhabi, called 18 Degrees (named because if the building it resides in, which is built at an 18 degree angle). It was an opportunity to meet their friends (mostly expats from the US and the UK) and for them to share with us one of their favorite places.

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The interior embraces the building’s lean, and seems to use the steel reinforcement as an important element of the decor, rather than trying to disguise it.

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The kitchen is open to the dining room, and we were lucky enough to be sitting right next to the kitchen so we were able to watch the magicians at work.

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When we got to our table, the restaurant manager had left this note for each of us, addressed to each individual person. This was not prearranged by our friends, just something that they did to make us feel welcome and well taken care of.

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All of the food was incredible. They had started us off with a variety of appetizers, already divided into a sample plate of sorts for each of us, to ensure we could all try each one. Then our main courses arrived. I ordered their duck leg (which was our friend’s favorite dish there… which such a shining recommendation, I couldn’t resist) and it did not disappoint! Definitely the best duck I have ever had. And we even had a chance to tell the Michelin rated chef as much. He came out to our table a couple times to see how we were doing and to chat with us a bit.

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They treated us all to complimentary champagne, and then of course we drank lots of wonderful wine. And after our meals were done their cheese specialist came downstairs with these unexpected and quite decadent variety of cheeses, some as old as 15 years and all unpasteurized. The staff described each cheese in detail, just as they had done with each appetizer, meal, dessert, and cocktail (each by their own specialist). If you know me well, you know I love cheese… a lot! So I was in heaven!

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AbuDhabi610Just the next night, to cap off a day in Dubai, we had reservations for another incredible place. Rather than pay an entry fee to ride an elevator to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, we opted to have a luxurious evening of cocktails at the bar and lounge on the 124th floor, called Atmosphere.

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Yes, the cocktails were unique and delicious. And yes, the service was once again amazing. But I was in interior design heaven, surrounded by what looked to be glossy bent mahogany, like something you might see on a very expensive yacht. The warmth of the wood exaggerated the warmth of the sunset coming in through the windows.

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And yes, we were 124 stories up for sunset. This photo will not do the view justice… it’s hard to describe just how far you are able to see while looking out a window at that height. It doesn’t seem real!

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On our final night in Abu Dhabi, before the four of us jumped on a plane to Istanbul, we took my hubby to Emirates Palace for dinner at Hakkasan, an awesome Asian fusion restaurant (which I understand has locations in several cities around the world).

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I loved the decor! Once again, we felt surrounded by beautiful wood, but this time in a form much more open.

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There were a couple different seating set-ups, but all were both modern and comfortable with great use of materials like wood and leather.

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Outside, there was what seemed like a bridge or boardwalk leading to beautiful, almost tropical looking, outdoor lounge areas.AbuDhabi706 AbuDhabi708

Once again, the food was to die for. It started with some delicious, tender, perfectly flavored dim sum.

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Then we shared a few main courses, family style if you will. My favorite one was the sea bass cooked in wine (I’m sure the menu described it much more eloquently!) But the lotus root dish was pretty amazing too, I’d never had anything quite like it before.

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And when they learned that it was his birthday, they brought this dessert out so we could sing to him embarrassingly. Because what would a birthday be without that.

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One thing I feel certain about is that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are doing it right when it comes to hospitality and dining. No expense seems spared in the design, and the service could make any average joe feel like a millionaire!

What do you think? Do you like the design of these restaurants? Does the food look intriguing?

Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque

While in Abu Dhabi, we took some time to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi’s grand mosque. This was the first mosque I had been to, and quite an extravagant one for me to make my introduction with. (This mosque is worlds away from the seemingly ancient mosques we visited in Istanbul the following week.) As I mentioned earlier this week, Sheikh Zayed was the president of the Emirates and the beloved leader who was responsible for the oil lease arrangement that ensured the wealth of their country and its natives. This enormous structure is a striking symbol of both that extreme wealth and of their dedication to the Muslim religion.

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This mosque is the source of the daily prayer for the entire city. Unlike the centuries-old mosques of Istanbul, which seemed to almost compete for your attention, in Abu Dhabi the call to prayer is broadcast out to all of the surrounding mosques in one unified declaration.

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The outside of the mosque features pools of water meant to shows the mosque’s own reflection when lit up at night.

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The floors and columns throughout are climbing with vines of inlaid stone floral designs. An incredible variety of stones  were used for these designs, and they are the most colorful ornamentation on the grounds.

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Gold leaf is also used in detailing and on columns, highlighting the opulence of all the materials used.

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When you first walk into the lobby area, before entering the courtyard, you immediately begin to get a sense of the scale of this enormous place, with high ceilings and the even higher inset undersides of the domes. Each dome is ornamented like lace, and each seems to be of a different design than the last.

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A little bit of a precursor to our trip to Istanbul, there were also a couple walls of Iznik tile designs. We would be seeing lots and lots of this in Turkey!

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Even the ablution room (where worshipers go to wash their hands and feet before prayer) is an incredible place, built almost entirely of green marble.

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The entire structure is constructed of white marble. Between the marble and the bright, hot sun, when you enter into the courtyard you feel like you might be in a glowing white dream world.

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There is an incredible amount of detail carved into the marble, again in the form of these beautiful, lace-like vines.

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Each dome is topped with a crescent moon, an important symbol for Islam.

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The lobby at the entrance to the prayer room boasted a different kind of design. Almost a combination of the inlaid stones and the carved white marble, these flowery vines used the same tremendous variety of stones but were embossed rather than inlaid.

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The chandeliers throughout use Swarovski crystals, including this one in the lobby, and were surrounded by even more elaborate ornamentation.

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You are greeted by more gilt gold as you enter the prayer room.

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The grand mosque’s prayer room is large enough to house 40,000 worshipers at a time.

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Upon entering the room, the first thing you will notice is the giant Swarovski crystal chandelier, estimated to be the third largest chandelier in the world. It’s also surrounded by a tremendous amount of beautiful ornamentation, some carved and some inlaid.

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It seems that little goes untouched by ornamentation here. Inlaid mother of pearl, carved marble, and gilt gold details can be seen throughout.

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Not even the wood elements, like the carts that hold copies of the Quran for worshipers or the wood panels that line the room, are free of this incredible detail and craftsmanship.

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The wall opposite of the entrance is not only peppered with the names of the profits (written in Arabic), but the detail around them glows from daylight being subtly let in from the outside through the vine-like designs.

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The carpet that lines the floor in the prayer room is the world’s largest carpet, handmade by more than a thousand people. It is one piece that covers the entire floor, and is even made to perfectly fit around the flower-petal column bases.

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The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is otherworldly, a sight I am so glad we took time to experience while we were there. A product of architects and designers from around the world, the craftsmanship is impeccable and the use of materials and ornamentation seems to be of another era altogether. It’s hard to imagine this was just recently built (in 2004). It’s such an integral part of the Abu Dhabi horizon, it seems that it should have been there forever.

What are your thoughts on the ornamentation and inlay?

Australian Oxidized Paint?

Last Friday I went to a mixer thrown by UCLA’s student ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) chapter at the Sydney Harbour Paint Company showroom in West Hollywood. It’s a part of the La Cienega Design Quarter, where the Legends event I went to a couple of weeks ago was held, so it was fun to be back there. (The more time I can spend in that part of town, the better!)968219_10100486264773535_1987732867_o

 The Sydney Harbour Paint Company showroom provided us a room to socialize and drink a little wine in, and then they gave us a run down of their paint products and a did a short demonstration on one that I thought was pretty cool!

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Everywhere else in the world the company is called Porter’s Original Paints, and originates in Australia and has family owned and operated since their inception. They make truly artisan paints (no mass production) and offer what sound to be incredibly durable paint in hundreds of colors and a huge variety of textures and finishes.

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The room we were in was small but had very high ceilings and a sky light, and was striped with examples of some of their more interesting colors, textures, and finishes.

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They also sell some wallpapers, which you can customize if you want to. So for example if you want this one patterned in a color other than blue, they can custom make it in the color you choose.

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I also loved this wallpaper, black with gold beetles. I feel like it belongs on one wall of a huge dining room somewhere!

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This was my favorite of their paint creations, and the one they demonstrated for us. This is Liquid Copper with Patina Green, and basically the way it works is that you paint the copper color on first, and then lightly coat it with a formula that oxidizes it, turning it green just like you see on old copper statues like the Statue of Liberty, or copper antiques. And just like those, the paint will even gradually change over time, looking different from one year to the next. I don’t know what I’m going to use it for yet, but I really want to try it out on something!

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The board in the picture is what it looks like right after the top coat before oxidation has had a lot of time to happen. The light is a cheap ikea light that has been painted with the copper and patina coat.963095_10100486260327445_2113120595_o

What can you think of that would be a fun project for this paint? Ideas are welcome!

LCDQ Legends 2013: Kelly Wearstler

Last week at La Cienega Design Quarter’s annual Legends event, I went with a friend to Kelly Wearstler‘s storefront for her book signing. The store is in the high-end stretch of Melrose, only a short walk from her design studio, and was filled with all sorts of wonderful things. Here she mainly sells clothing, jewelry and sculptures. They also had a bunch of her books for sale that day, so if you hadn’t come prepared with one you already owned, you were able to pick one up then for her to sign.

In my efforts to stick to a budget, I just asked to take a picture with her. I told her I’m a design student and that I was excited to be in her store for the first time. She seemed pleased that my friend and I had stopped in to check it out. It was very cool to see her in such a casual, nonchalant state, as opposed to being all dolled up for a photo shoot.

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If you don’t know much about her, Kelly Wearstler has very quickly built an impressive brand and a very recognizable style. She is responsible for several of the Viceroy hotels, including the one in Santa Monica. They are hip and young, colorful, but also classy. I’m not a big party girl, but even for me hanging out in the bar at the Santa Monica Viceroy makes me feel glamorous!

I love the way she uses bold patterns and sculpture, making the room it’s own piece of artwork.

Bright colors and gold accents make this space feel glamorous, young, and energizing.

Kelly Wearstler has a bunch of books, including her latest “Rhapsody,” and all are a delight to page through.

Do you follow Kelly Wearstler? What do you think of her style?

LCDQ Legends 2013: Susanna Salk on C.Z. Guest

Last week I was able to go to the La Cienega Design Quarter (LCDQ) in West Hollywood for their annual Legends event. I had been once before, a couple years ago, and had a great time. This year I sat in on some great presentations and discussions, on topics including how to use social networking to help brand your design business, and the state of the interior design business today.

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On Thursday I sat in on a presentation by author Susanna Salk, who recently finished book all about C.Z. Guest. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about C.Z. before but Susanna had some fantastic tid bits on her very interesting life.

C.Z. Guest was a high society debutante from Boston who is most known for her all-American sense of style, both in fashion and design. Susanna described C.Z. as having a mischievous desire to be kicked off the social register. She was friends with the likes of Truman Capote, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Joan Rivers, to name a few. She once accompanied Joan Rivers to an interview with John Gotti in prison, mainly because she was curious and thought it would be interesting.

Rather than having a traditional wedding as would have been expected, she and her husband we married at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba, with Hemingway as the best man. This was quite a departure from high society expectations!

Many people know that she commissioned Salvador Dali to paint a portrait of her. What less people know is that she also had traveled to Mexico to pose in the nude for Diego Rivera. This was quite scandalous at the time, especially for a debutante of the her stature. The resulting portrait hung over a bar in her and her husband’s home until, it’s rumored, her mother ordered it burned. To this day no one can be certain whether it was burned or simply hides in an attic somewhere.

Susanna Salk’s book on C.Z. Guest is called “C.Z. Guest: An American Style Icon” and includes some incredible photos that have never been seen before. It was a pleasure hearing about her process of collecting these images and some of the storied she collected from the people she interviewed in her efforts to know C.Z. more intimately.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

Well, I’ve finished my research paper on Frank Lloyd Wright, and one thing’s for sure: He was REALLY committed to nature. While aesthetically his designs are unmatched and went on to influence nearly every architect to follow him, his sustainability intentions were not always completely realized. But hey, at least he tried, which is more than most architects of his time were doing. My research turned up all sorts of interesting quotes, and today I’m sharing some of them with you in the hopes that Frank Lloyd Wrights words of wisdom will inspire you to do more to connect with your own natural environment.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

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“Go to the woods and fields for color schemes.”

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“The best way to light a house is God’s way – the natural way, as nearly as possible in the daytime and at night as nearly like the day as may be, or better.”

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“Now there can be no organic architecture where the nature of synthetic materials or the nature of nature materials either is ignored or misunderstood. How can there be? Perfect correlation, integration, is life.”

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“To me air conditioning is a dangerous circumstance. The extreme changes in temperature that tear down a building also tear down the human body.”

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“I think it far better to go with the natural climate than try to fix a special artificial climate of your own. Climate means something to man. It means something in relation to one’s life in it.”

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“In speaking of integrity in architecture, I mean much the same thing that you would mean were you speaking of an individual. Integrity is not something to be put on and taken off like a garment. Integrity is a quality within and of the man himself. So it is in a building.”

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Taliesin West – Phoenix, AZ

Which quote speaks to you?

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Sources:

Lind, Carla. The Wright Style: Recreating the Spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).

Spirn, Anne Whiston, C. Ford, Peatross, Long David Gilson De, and Robert L. Sweeney. Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs    for an American Landscape (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996).

Wright, Frank Lloyd, and Donald D. Walker. The Natural House (New York: Horizon, 1954).

Style and Support: Solutions for your Spinal Freedom

I have had desk chairs on the mind lately… well, really my back has been on my mind.

Whenever I start a new job, one of my first orders of business is to get myself all set up as ergonomically as possible. The funny thing is that when I started sitting day in and day out at my desk at home, it took quite a while for this to cross my mind. Because being at home feels like home not work, there was a part of me that didn’t want to mess with the “home” look of home. Well, in the end, my back and my lack of comfort have been screaming at me to do the right thing.

So often, when trolling through design blogs, magazines, and catalogs, we see adorable home offices set up with cozy and stylish chairs that usually come from the “dining” category of furniture. That’s all well and good when you only sit at your computer for a few minutes at a time to check your email or do a little online shopping. But for sitting hours at a time, your body requires something much more supportive.

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West Elm – Parsons Desk

Pottery Barn – Phoenix 72″ Work Table

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Crate and Barrel – Ava Metal Desk

So after sitting in this chair for the past two and a half months, and spending the past two weeks writhing in discomfort, trying everything, from pillows behind my back to swapping out different chairs from around the house, to relieve the pressure on my lower back, I have finally given in.

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This is what I ended up with. And I love it.

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Our office is a corner of our living room, and so I was really concerned about messing with the style I’ve been so carefully crafting only to add a bog ugly office store desk chair to it, and eye sore I did not want to have to embrace. So I searched high and low for a stylish chair that would also have raise/lower capabilities (so I could plant my feet firmly on the ground… I’m not very tall at all, so this was an issue with the old chair), tilt adjustment, and lumbar support. Oh, and I’m  on a pretty tight budget, which makes this task all the more challenging! Thankfully, I found the CB2 bubble chair on sample sale. Woo hoo!

CB2 – Bubble Camel Leather Chair

If you’re less concerned about budget, there are actually a lot of great stylish and supportive options out there. Design Within Reach had the most variety. Here are some of my favorites that I came across during my search for spinal freedom. I was looking for adjust-ability, lumbar support, and style.

Crate and Barrel – Haworth Very Charcoal Task Chair

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CB2 – Studio Office Chair

Freedom® Task Chair with Headrest in Prima Leather

Design Within Reach – Freedom Task Chair

Egoa Task Chair Soft Wheels - Wood

Design Within Reach – Egoa Task Chair

Cherner® Task Chair

Design Within Reach – Cherner Task Chair

Eames® Aluminum Management Pneumatic - Vicenza

Design Within Reach – Eames Aluminum Management Chair

Have you struggled to find a balance between comfort and style in your office? What was your solution?

A 1920’s California Town

One of the things I love about my neighborhood is that you can see and feel how much history there is here. Most of the houses in the area were built in the 1920’s, and while very well maintained they still show the character of that bygone era. Adam’s Hill is the neighborhood, and the people here work to preserve that history and charm.

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Adams Square Mini Park

Adam’s hill used to be part of a town called Tropico, although it’s now all part of the city of Glendale. Glendale was established in the 1880’s but the residential boom really happened here in the 1920’s. My next door neighbor told me that the owner of my house 2 owners ago, who had been here for 50 years, was a postman and first dreamed about moving here when it was barely developed and there were only a few houses built on the hill. It looked quite different then! 

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a view of the hill today from my front door

My favorite spot to drive through is on the corner of Adams and Palmer, where I like to imagine what it might have looked like 80 years ago. I imagine a giant Plymouth parked out front of this ice cream shop as a couple sits inside with a root beer float. 

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the Snowbird Ice Cream owner went on to co-found Baskin Robbins

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corner of Adams and Palmer today

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corner of Adams and Palmer today

Right across from here, the Adams Hill Neighborhood Associate was able to preserve an old gas station built in 1936 by the Richfield Gas Co, that had been abandoned for some time. In 1997 the neighborhood landmark was turned into this beautiful mini park, and there is always someone there during the day, either reading, walking their dog, or playing with their kids in the playground.

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the former Richfield Oil Co. gas station

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Adams Square Mini Park sign reuses the gas station’s original sign

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now the old gas station is surrounded by flowers, trees, and other greenery

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flowers in the park

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this overhang used to protect the gas pumps but now it is a shady spot for a picnic

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there are plenty of places to sit under a tree with a book

And just up the street is this 1928 Art Deco building saved from destruction and recently turned into a neighborhood library. It’s small, but has some basic resources, and offers all sorts of public programs, computer access for neighborhood locals, and even a few video rentals.

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this rescued Art Deco building is now a neighborhood library

Even though California is one of the newer states and doesn’t quite have the history of New England, I’m continually surprised at how much history there actually is here. And I love that there’s so much of it right outside my front door!

 Do you know the history of your neighborhood or town?

Resources: