MARCH 2012 - The General Aesthete

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Wilder Quarterly

Wilder Quarterly is a new print publication that explores the modern world of gardening, amateur to expert, it is a celebration of plants, soil, food, and everything surrounding the horticulturally inclined community. From renegade growers (think rooftop gardening), to Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the magazine’s features are as varied as they are niche. Printed seasonally, this journal is not a throwaway; beautifully composed, Wilder Quarterly also stands for the value of print, and the authenticity of tactile word and image.

A one-year subscription is available for $60 (a portion of which is donated to the Fresh Air Fund), newsstand price is $19.

Current issue, subscriptions, and a lovely blog at: Wilder Quarterly

Hôtel Americano

In Manhattan, near the much-celebrated High Line park, and alongside Chelsea’s world famous collection of galleries, stands Hôtel Americano. A Grupo Habita property, it is their first in the United States, expanding a collection that includes ten acclaimed boutique hotels throughout Mexico. While Hôtel Americano encompasses a variety of international influences, its heart is in the warmth and hospitality of Latin America.

The ten-storey building, designed by architect Enrique Norten, is a glass structure encased in a metal mesh facade made from repurposed conveyer belts. This strong industrial appearance is both a nod to the neighborhood’s history and a relevant example of modern architecture. The fifty-six guest rooms and studios, designed by Parisian designer Arnaud Montigny, known for his work at famed boutique Colette, suggest something of an urban ryokan; with wooden platform beds, natural materials throughout, and warm lighting, the space is a welcome respite from the bustling city outside. Custom-crafted furnishings in company with classic mid-century designs, make for a smart and thoughtfully composed tableau.

At Hôtel Americano, design details can be found at every turn; in-room robes and staff uniforms designed by Loden Dager, Japanese Imabari washcloths, guest iPads, bento box room service, Zanotta bean bag chairs, and Joe Colombo-designed alarm clocks are just a few of the specifics that work to encourage a design dialogue between guests and the hotel’s spaces.

From the rooftop pool that converts to a winter thermal bath during the colder months, to the Manhattan-built Bowery Lane bicycles for guest jaunts around the neighborhood, Hôtel Americano is just the right size to employ this sort of detail and design-centric personality, without feeling contrived.

Not only do I recommend Hôtel Americano to travelers, but also to those that live in New York City. The hotel is certainly worth visiting: simply to admire, for a drink on the rooftop, or maybe a meal at the chic, ground-floor restaurant, The Americano.

Hôtel Americano is located at 518 West 27th Street, rates range between $325-750.

More at: Hôtel Americano

House Numbers by Heath Ceramics

In collaboration with type foundry House Industries, legendary California ceramic manufacturer Heath has released a line of dimensional clay address tiles, employing House’s brilliant Neutra and Eames fonts. A charming example of American design and craft, the tiles are equally suitable as an object to display inside the home as they are for marking the outside.

This tribute to California modernism is made even more admirable when you realize the craft aspect of production, wherein each tile is pressed, hand-glazed, trimmed, and kiln-fired at Heath’s original factory in Sausalito, California.

For installation, Heath offers a simple, salvaged teak and stainless steel track-mounting system.

The tiles are $38 per number, available at Heath Ceramics.

Marcus Gunnar Pettersson

Swedish artist Marcus Gunnar Pettersson’s abstract “Blob” series is an interesting diversion from his typically character-driven illustrations. Pettersson cites his interest in exercising the mind by exploring different paths as an artist, with the intention being creation, rather than format.

More at: Marcus Gunnar Pettersson

Timepieces by Braun

Braun is most recognized among design aficionados as introducing German modern industrial design, based in minimalism and functionality, to the masses. In the mid-fifties, Braun created its first design department, headed by Dr. Fritz Eichler, who instituted a collaboration with the Ulm School of Design. Renowned consumer goods, such as the SK4 record player, propelled a young man named Dieter Rams to becoming the most influential designer at Braun (and one of the most important industrial designers of our time). Eventually holding the position as head of Braun’s design staff, Rams released a series of iconic, and entirely practical designs, many of which have found a permanent home at the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1971, Dieter Rams and Dietrich Lubs, for Braun, launched a series of travel alarm clocks and watches. Premised exclusively on function, and no-fuss design, the pieces became instantly recognizable.

A select few of these clocks and watches have been reissued by Braun, keeping with the high standards of quality and honest design, while also incorporating new designs that feel at home alongside the classics.

The fundamental principals of uninterrupted, ageless, and high-caliber industrial design are equally relevant today, and Braun’s timepieces serve as a reminder that well-thought, common materials, as well as an affordable price, do not make for design with less integrity.

Above: BN0032 Steel Band Watch, $225; BNC006 Wall Clock, $60; BNC002 Travel Alarm Clock, $25

More at: Braun Clocks

Taza Chocolate Mexicano

Taza is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, specializing in the centuries-old Mexican technique of chocolate making. Using hand-chiseled, Oaxacan stone mills called molinos, Taza produces its Chocolate Mexicano. Whereas most chocolate is refined with advanced steel machines, this traditional technique allows for pieces of cacao and crystals of sugar to remain in the finished chocolate, lending intense flavor, and a unique, rustic texture. All of Taza’s chocolate is roasted, winnowed, ground, tempered, and packaged in-house, by hand, at their small factory.

Complex flavor combinations, from guajillo chili, to salt and pepper, bring attention to the true and bright flavors of the cacao, in dark chocolate form. Taza has also formulated a natural flavoring extract that captures the intensity of cacao and the warm spice flavor their chocolate is known for, perfect for baking, or for use in a distinctive cocktail, imparting true chocolate flavor, not cloying supermarket sweetness.

Taza only uses organic and sustainably farmed ingredients to craft their chocolate, and also maintains relationships with their growers in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Mexico, and Belize, visiting and evaluating at least once a year, as well as paying a quality premium over the Fair Trade price.

“Artisan-crafted” chocolate can be found at every corner these days, but Taza has actually followed through with this very true-to-the-source interpretation, which is certainly worth trying.

Chocolate Mexicano discs ($4.50), and Mexicano Extract ($18) are available at Taza.

The Good Flock

The Good Flock is a Portland, Oregon-based maker of hand-crafted accessories and technology cases. Using the simplest of materials, either waxed canvas or Pendleton wool, their pieces are both subtle, and decidedly American. The company prides itself on practicing responsible business, from relationships with the craftspeople making the goods, to environmental accountability and reasonable pricing.

Above: Pendleton Wool iPad Sleeve, $59; Waxed Canvas Dopp Kit, $69; Waxed Canvas Weekend Bag, $249

More at: The Good Flock 

Photographer Fayna Attasara

Two selections from the eerily tranquil Encuadrar Circunferencias series, taken at Tenerife, Canary Islands, by Madrid-based photographer Fayna Attasara.

More at: Fayna Attasara

Swans Island

In the early 1990’s, John and Carolyn Grace moved to Swans Island, off the coast of Acadia National Park in Maine. Traditionally, many of Maine’s islands were used for wool production, and the Graces made the decision to reintroduce the long-established method of wool processing and weaving with their business, Swans Island Blankets.

Using the traditional techniques of artisans before them, and with a dedication to the highest of quality standards, Swans Island Blankets became well known for not only their craftsmanship, but the sheer beauty of their blankets. By 1996, Swans Island Blankets was nationally recognized and won a Smithsonian Blue Ribbon for Craft.

By 2003, with new business partners, the company moved to the mainland, where weaving takes place in a 1780 farmhouse in Northport, not far south of Swans Island. This move, from the sheep to the looms, allowed for a boost in production as well as jobs for weavers and finishers in the Midcoast area. What was originally known as Swans Island Blankets, is now simply named Swans Island, as their output has reached beyond blankets to other woven goods, including scarves and wraps. Swans Island also sells their yarn and a number of knitting patterns.

The production process is almost as graceful as Swans Island’s final product: First, the wool is carefully chosen, each blade of grass removed from the fleece by hand, then gently washed (in order to retain the inherent lanolin), and then spun. As synthetic dyes are derived from petroleum, Swans Island only uses natural dyes produced from living things. With a multitude of variables (from the water’s mineral content, to the time of year the dye-producing plant was grown), the skill involved in the dying technique is an art in its own right. The yarn is then woven on American-made hand looms, using techniques that result in goods that are intended to last many, many years.

With a foundation of authenticity and quality distinction, married with the production of practical, utilitarian goods, Swans Island is a paramount example of the American craft principal and its importance today.

If you’re in the area, you can visit the Swans Island studio in Northport, Maine. Otherwise, their products are available for order on their website.

Above: Domestic Corriedale Wool Blankets, starting at $595